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Middle East Press on Hezbollah Losing the Support of Lebanon’s Shia and Clash of Civilisation: New Age Islam's Selection, 21 December 2020


By New Age Islam Edit Desk

21 December 2020

• Why Hezbollah Is Losing the Support of Lebanon’s Shia Community

By Hanin Ghaddar

• Perception Shift Needed To End ‘Clash Of Civilizations’ Mentality

By Mohamed Elbaradei

• Hezbollah’s Global Trail of Criminality And Corruption

By Baria Alamuddin

• Saudi Arabia's Geographical Location Role In Yemen's Solidity

By Ekleel Badr Sallam

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Why Hezbollah Is Losing The Support Of Lebanon’s Shia Community

By Hanin Ghaddar

19 December 2020


Hezbollah’s adventurism in Syria and the wider region has alienated the support of many Lebanese Shia. The organization has also lost its military discipline and is under financial pressure, putting it in a precarious position.

Hezbollah currently faces four main challenges that have disillusioned previous supporters.

First, its ongoing involvement in the war in Syria has exhausted the organization militarily and undermined its mission statement to its support base. The heavy price paid by Lebanese Shia, without any tangible victory, has caused some to question their relation and loyalty to the militia and its ties with the Iranian regime.

Hezbollah originally emerged in south Lebanon in 1982, with substantial training and funding from the Iranian Islamic regime, with resistance as its core goal. However, its mission statement clearly adhered to the Islamic revolution and with a broad goal of creating an Islamic state in Lebanon. Gradually, its Shia ideology, commitment and support to Iran’s regional operations in the region – first in Iraq then in Syria – exposed its real goal: supporting Iran’s hegemony in the region. Its members and support-base constituted mostly of Shia fighters and loyalists, who eventually found themselves tied up in Iran’s regional plans. With the outbreak of the war in Syria, Hezbollah decided to intervene on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, sending thousands of fighters across the border.

The intervention has been costly. Not only has Hezbollah lost many fighters and commanders, but it has failed to achieve a clear-cut victory that it could use for propaganda purposes, such as the “divine victory” against Israel that was proclaimed in 2006. The main so-called achievement has been keeping President Assad in power, which has done little for Lebanese Shia. In contrast, many Lebanese were killed fighting for Assad in Syria, while at home the community feels more isolated than ever, as they lost access to and help from regional stakeholders, mainly the Gulf, which has a history of supporting Lebanon in times of need. With Hezbollah’s growing regional activities, the Shia felt they had to pay the price.

Second, Hezbollah’s rhetoric of resistance has lost much of its appeal.

The organization has taken on an increased regional role under its Iranian backer. Beginning in Syria, the group is now involved with pro-Iranian forces in Iraq and Yemen.

This expansion has led to considerable and frequent Israeli military responses, with air strikes and targeted killings causing major losses to Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Despite its rhetoric of resistance, Hezbollah has not retaliated to any of the Israeli strikes on its bases.

Instead, both Hezbollah and Iran now prioritize regional hegemony over resistance against Israel. They are reluctant to sacrifice the significant investments they have made in their regional infrastructure means in a conflict with Israel, which could lead to major losses in their arsenal and infrastructure that they would struggle to replace immediately.

Third, Hezbollah’s military has lost its discipline and has weaknesses in its arsenal.

To sustain its involvement in Syria, Hezbollah needed to recruit tens of thousands of new fighters who lack the discipline and training of the group’s previous fighters.

Hezbollah now has a fighting force that has been infiltrated by disruptive elements that could easily go out of control. Whether the group’s leadership will have the time to establish discipline and control over its entire force remains to be seen, as it is overextended and could find itself in a conflict.

As for their arsenal, although they have started to develop a network of precision missiles, these are now more exposed to Israeli strikes and international pressure, because they constitute a serious danger on Israel’s infrastructure, and at the same time they endanger US regional allies.

Forth, Hezbollah is going through an unprecedented financial crisis due to the US sanctions on Iran.

This crisis is affecting Hezbollah’s capability to build its social and military. Most of their social services – such as health and welfare system – are no longer catering for the whole Shia community. Instead, they are only offered to the close circle of military personnel and high-ranking executives. Even the contractors that were hired to fight in Syria are not all able to access Hezbollah’s welfare system.

Hezbollah has recently created a new system to avert the repercussions of this crisis, which is now aggravated by the deterioration of the Lebanese economy. However, flooding their stores and centers with Syrian and Iranian goods, and moving hard currency within a small circles of loyal Shia, will only increase tensions. The financial crisis is exacerbating divisions within the Lebanese Shia, first between Hezbollah’s military and civilian employees, and second between Hezbollah members and the wider Shia community.

While most Shia have lost their jobs or are receiving a fraction of their salaries, Hezbollah’s important personnel are still receiving their salaries in US dollars – a rare privilege in Lebanon today.

Accordingly, the sense of inequality is exacerbating discontent among the wider Shia community, many of whom are feeling sidelined. Most importantly, many in the Shia community feel that they are going through the same pains and struggles as the rest of the Lebanese, who have called out a corrupt political class that includes Hezbollah.

The Shia are not immune to the political elite’s destruction of the country, and Hezbollah will not shield them from the collapse. This is a feeling that will grow, and could lead to more tension within the community.

Eventually, the Shia will regain their national identity, one that highlights their Lebanese citizenship, rather than a dependence on Hezbollah and the Iranian regime. Rebuilding Lebanon’s state institutions, rather than foster a deeper relationship with those who weaken it, will protect all Lebanese, including the Shia population.

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Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Fellow in The Washington Institute’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2020/12/19/Lebanon-crisis-Why-Hezbollah-is-losing-the-support-of-Lebanon-s-Shia-community

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Perception Shift Needed To End ‘Clash Of Civilizations’ Mentality

By Mohamed Elbaradei

December 21, 2020

The year 2020 demonstrated, once again, that the relationship between the Western and the Arab and Muslim worlds remains muddled, complicated by lingering memories of colonization, wars, and atrocities that date back to the Crusades and, in modern times, to Algeria’s war for independence from France and the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a relationship marred by suspicion, distrust, and resentment on the part of many (if not most) Muslims, as well as many in the West. The thin knowledge that both sides of the relationship have of other cultures doesn’t lend itself to mutual understanding — a grim fact that radicals (again, on both sides) cynically exploit.

A plethora of recent initiatives have sought to promote intercultural dialogue and foster deeper understanding between civilizations and cultures, particularly Islam and the West. Regrettably, these efforts, including the establishment in 2005 of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, have remained mostly confined to the well-educated and their efforts have had no impact on ordinary people. On the contrary, an extremist attack or utterance overwhelms such initiatives and reinforces the perception of two antithetical cultures locked in inevitable and immutable conflict. The recent renewed uproar in France over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and the shocking atrocities that followed, clearly demonstrate the deep cultural divide that continues to roil relations between Islam and the West.

Why have these cartoons deepened this fissure anew? Non-secular Muslims perceived these caricatures in a strictly religious framework, and the resulting anger and indignation spanned the entire Islamic world, from North Africa to Indonesia. Many Muslims regarded the images as another deliberate and vicious Judeo-Christian attack on Islam — a continuation of the Crusades by other means. Why, some ask, are attacks on Islam and its sacred symbols permitted, or even encouraged, while criticizing Israel or Holocaust denial is regarded as anti-Semitic and even punishable by law? Likewise, why are the French flag and national anthem protected against desecration, while the most revered symbol of the Islamic faith is not?

Many in the West, on the other hand, regarded the attacks in France, and previous and subsequent barbaric killings of innocent civilians in European cities, as outright assaults by “Islamist terrorists” against Western culture and the West’s way of life. These infamies, they say, were an attack on the West’s defining values and freedoms. In the wake of these attacks, public awareness of the depth of the cartoons’ offensiveness has diminished.

With French President Emmanuel Macron at the forefront, Western leaders have argued for a strong and unwavering response to the recent murders in France. Even though the overwhelming majority of Muslims have always denied that murderous extremists represent their faith, these tragic events became yet another opportunity for some on both sides to score political points and promote their own narrow agendas. While some opined that Islam needs reform, others claimed that the solution is to restrict Muslim immigration to Europe. And some Muslims, in response, want all Muslims to hark back to the caliphate — a time when the Islamic world was united and powerful.

The truth is that the two cultures have profound philosophical differences regarding the meaning and scope of freedom of expression and belief. Secular Western culture has an expansive view of these freedoms, regarding them as ultimate guarantees against oppression and authoritarianism. The West thus gives precedence to freedom of expression over the sanctity of religious beliefs, regarding the latter as ideas that, like any other idea, should be open to criticism and even derision.

Islamic culture, by contrast, regards religious beliefs as sacrosanct and above the temporal fray, and considers mockery of any Abrahamic religious belief or symbol to be an attack against everything that Muslims hold sacred. The difficult ongoing political and social transitions in much of the Islamic world mean that many Muslims feel the need to rely even more on the certainties of their faith as a counterweight to the rapid changes in the world. They are not willing to tolerate an attack on the one constant in their lives that gives them solace, hope, and true meaning.

Given all the upheaval, confusion, and polarization in the world today, the last thing that either Islamic or Western civilization needs is new reasons for division and conflict. What is badly needed instead is a wide-ranging dialogue between the two cultures that puts all contentious issues on the table, with the hope of gaining a sympathetic understanding of the other’s perspective and thus narrowing the gap that exists between both. Whatever the ultimate outcome, the goal on both sides must be to agree on some formula of mutual respect and self-restraint that takes into account each culture’s particular sensitivities.

But for any dialogue to succeed, it must confront head-on the larger issue underlying the recent crisis: The distrust that exists between the two cultures. The discussion should therefore take place at the grassroots and not be limited to the elite. And it should frame intercultural engagement not as an inevitable clash of civilizations, but as an indispensable opportunity to seek mutual accommodation. Only with this shift in perception and mindset will it be possible to build a genuine partnership of equals between Islam and the West.

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Mohamed ElBaradei is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1780361

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Hezbollah’s Global Trail Of Criminality And Corruption

By Baria Alamuddin

December 20, 2020

While Lebanon bleeds, many essential medicines are unobtainable in mainstream hospitals and pharmacies. Yet in Hezbollah-land a parallel system of health facilities exists where a full spectrum of cheap Iran-imported drugs are readily available.

Hezbollah uses its control of the health ministry to systematically divert medical funds for its own purposes. Hospitals damaged by the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion, while treating thousands of injured blast victims, lost out on funds — but the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Rassoul Al-Azam Hospital, far from the blast zone, raked in $3.6m in additional funding. With its system of parallel ATMs from which dollars are miraculously available —parallel schools, parallel banks, parallel economies, parallel systems for paying salaries — Hezbollah is profiteering from Lebanon’s demise.

Hezbollah demands continued control over Lebanon’s finance, health and transport ministries precisely because the budgets and executive powers of these ministries multiply opportunities for criminal gain. Lebanon’s airport, ports and national borders are vital nodes for smuggling arms and narcotics. Lebanese financial institutions have been sanctioned for laundering funds for Iran.

Since Hezbollah’s 2018 State Department designation as one of the top five global criminal organizations, its criminal operations have massively increased, following explicit instructions from Tehran to “make money” any way it can to offset the impact of sanctions. Drug enforcement officials have been surprised to find Hezbollah criminal networks sometimes operating hand-in-hand with both Daesh operatives and Israeli criminal gangs to achieve this goal.

Hezbollah exports tons of the amphetamine-based drug Captagon throughout the Middle East and Europe,most of it produced in Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon and Syria. A single 2020 seizure in Italy consisted of 84 million tablets worth $1.1bn.

Europol warns of intensified Hezbollah criminal activities “trafficking diamonds and drugs.” Between Africa and Europe, Hezbollah has used its Lebanese émigré connections to carve out a niche in the illegal diamond trade, as well as major arms-smuggling operations throughout Africa.

Two Hezbollah-linked Lebanese businessmen sanctioned by the US in 2019 for their role in illegally trading diamonds were also thought to be trading artworks by Warhol and Picasso for laundering purposes. The 2017 arrest of Ali Kourani highlighted Hezbollah’s efforts to deploy sleeper agents, identify attack targets, and engage in criminal activities in the US itself.

In 2011 a US Drug Enforcement Administration investigation highlighted the role of Hezbollah operative Ayman Jouma (still at large) in shipping an estimated 85 tons of cocaine into the US and laundering over $850 millionin drug money through various front companies, including the Lebanese Canadian Bank. Jouma’s labyrinthine trafficking network stretched from Panama and Columbia, via West Africa and back to Lebanon.

Although Hezbollah’s Latin American network (masterminded by the late Imad Mughniyeh) was initially based in the tri-border region of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, these operations have increasingly consolidated themselves in Maduro’s Venezuela.

Lebanese émigré clans operate vast narcotics networks embedded along the Venezuelan coast, primarily targeting the US. These clans enjoy intimate ties with Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s oil minister and specialenvoy to Iran, who has been sanctioned for his role in the drugs trade. In one 2020 scam, Aissami contracted the National Iranian Oil Company to fix several Venezuelan oil refineries. The refineries remain out of service, but Iran netted $1 billion in gold bars from Venezuela’s bankrupt economy.

Hezbollah’s international crime portfolio is primarily managed by Hassan Nasrallah’s cousin, Abdallah Safieddine, Hezbollah’s envoy to Tehran. Safieddine and Hezbollah official Adham Hussein Tabaja oversee a vast network of businesses active in tourism, real estate, beef, charcoal, electronics and construction that are essential for laundering Hezbollah’s criminal revenues. Bulk materials such as charcoal are frequently used as cover for smuggling cocaine.

In Iraq and Syria, Iran-backed Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary forces are part of these transregional smuggling rings. A crucial difference, particularly since the assassinations of Qassim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, is that rival militias compete over territory and criminal opportunities, meaning that Iraq is torn apart by warring clans while citizens and their businesses are extorted for funds. These militias have made locations such as Basra world centers for crystal meth, and transit points for heroin and other contraband goods.

In southern Iraq, locals warn that a crackdown against Turkish alcohol, including paramilitary bomb attacks onshops, is motivated by aggressive efforts by Iran’s proxies to flood markets with infinitely more dangerous crystal meth and other Iran-sourced drugs. As one expert explained: “The drugs market rejoices in the misfortune of the alcoholic beverages market,” making Iraq the battleground between Turkey, the “mother of alcohol,” and Iran, the “mother of all drugs.”

Hezbollah’s spiritual advisers during the 1990s ruled that the narcotics trade was “morally acceptable if the drugs are sold to Western infidels as part of a war against the enemies of Islam.” Yet today, from Beirut to Tehran, these nations are plagued by millions of addicts, thanks to the theologically sanctioned criminality of the so-called “Party of God.”

One rarely discussed reason why Hezbollah and associates don’t want to put down their weapons is that Hassan Nasrallah, Hadi Al-Amiri, Ali Khamenei and their families manage billion-dollar criminal operations that make them unimaginably wealthy while their nations disintegrate as a direct consequence of these criminal enterprises.

In accordance with Israel’s predilection for panic-mongering about Hezbollah’s offensive capabilities, retired Israeli colonel, Eli Bar-On has been warning that Hezbollah’s firepower exceeded that of 95 percent of the world’s militaries. As usual, Al-Manar TV gleefully promoted Bar-On’s comments, proud of Hezbollah’s global-menace status.

Too many states continue to ignore Hezbollah’s criminal and terrorist activities. Rather than Saad Hariri and French President Emmanuel Macron bending over backwards to meet Nasrallah halfway on government formation (with sympathetic Shiite appointees turning a blind-eye to long-running criminal operations), Hezbollah should be banished from politics altogether, and UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army should play a beefed-up role in combating industrial-scale smuggling and organized crime.

I’ve always been proud to be Lebanese, but it’s a source of intense shame when the world sees our beautiful nation hijacked by Hezbollah’s corruption, criminality and terrorism.

Iran and its mafioso affiliates represent one of the world’s largest and most lucrative criminal franchises. Only when we begin dealing with these entities as the criminal-terrorists they are can progress be made in confronting the hydra-like threat that Tehran poses.

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Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1779821

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Saudi Arabia's Geographical Location Role In Yemen's Solidity

By Ekleel Badr Sallam

December 20, 2020

Saudi Arabia's dynamic diplomacy, efforts and policies that resulted in the implementation of ‘Riyadh Agreement’ on Yemen, was prepared through patience, intensive meetings and finding a deep innovative solution.

Saudi Arabia is committed to making all efforts to improve the lives of Yemenis, and it is the largest donor of aid to its neighbor. The Kingdom has provided more than $17 billion in humanitarian and development aid to Yemen since 2015.

Efforts that Saudi Arabia played are due to the fact that politics and geography are inter-twined because geographical relationships enter into political interests. Nevertheless, the only exception to the prohibition against the use of force in international relations contained in the Charter of the United Nations was the right to self-defense.

Saudi Arabia acted solely based on the principle of self-defense to prevent foreign interference, which seeks to impose a new reality on Yemen by force and stage a coup against the legitimate government and threaten the security of its neighbors and the region.

If we review the nature of Saudi policies in the Yemeni case, specifically after the Houthi militia’s coup against Yemeni legitimacy, the Kingdom did not hesitate for a second to pursue a policy of firmness, since the issue was related to national security, sovereignty and independence of Yemen, as well as Saudi borders.

Saudi Arabia has welcomed the formation of a new government in Yemen following the implementation of the mechanism outlined in the Riyadh Agreement between Yemeni government and Southern Transitional Council (STC).

Saudi leadership seeks peace and progress in Yemen: Riyadh Agreement will move forward to promote stability, putting the interest of Yemenis above all considerations, in addition to different alliances and entities announced by the Kingdom.

Arab Coalition for Supporting Legitimacy in Yemen: Safeguard alliance assists the coalition to support the legitimacy of Yemen to support Yemeni people from the influence of Houthi militias loyal to Iran and its violations.

Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY): SDRPY’s short, medium and long-term reconstruction projects boost the economy and renew hope in Yemen; with the goal to help all governorates in Yemen improve their standards of living, increase job opportunities and encourage sustainable peace within a secure and stable environment.

King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSRelief): KSRelief’s programs are chosen based upon the eligibility of targeted recipients in selected geographical areas; with the aim to provide humanitarian aid and relief to those in need outside of the Kingdom’s borders. KSRelief distributes food-baskets, emergency kits and blankets to the needy people of Yemen.

The Riyadh Agreement established a new phase of cooperation and partnership, uniting efforts to eradicate the Houthi coup, resume development and construction processes. The agreement has emanated to turn a new page in Yemen’s history so that it lives in security, stability and development.

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Ekleel Badr Sallam is a Saudi political analyst specialized in International Relations.

https://saudigazette.com.sa/article/601624/Opinion/OP-ED/Saudi-Arabias-geographical-location-role-in-Yemens-solidity

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