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|Saudi Arabia has pledged $3bn in aid to the Lebanese armed forces, a gift that comes in a time when tensions run high, both inside Lebanon and across the region.Lebanese President Michel Sleiman announced the donation on Sunday describing it as the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces. It is almost double the amount of Lebanon’s entire defence budget for last year.
“This aid aims to support Lebanon in all its religions and support the Lebanese army that is known for supporting national unity. We will provide it with all the needed conditions to achieve the great national cause that it was set up for,” he said.
Sleiman made the announcement after the funeral of senior Lebanese politician Mohamed Shatah who was killed in a car bomb on Friday.
Shatah was critical of Lebanon’s Shia movement Hezbollah and Syria’s president, which Hezbollah supports. But there has been no claim of responsibility for his killing.
Lebanon’s army has struggled to deal with violence spilling over from Syria’s civil war and is seen as weak in dealing with armed internal groups, especially Hezbollah.
In the last three years, Saudi Arabia has been pushing to be the Middle East’s most powerful player.
In Egypt, the Saudis backed the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi; within two hours of the coup, they pledged $5bn in aid.
They have also positioned themselves as crucial players in Syria, funding the rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and providing them with weapons.
And in Yemen, Saudi Arabia carefully brokered the power transition in 2011 following the uprising there. That allowed its long-time ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to leave office with immunity from prosecution.
So, is the donation to Lebanon a recipe for further turmoil or will it allow for greater security? And what does it mean for Saudi Arabia’s role in the region?
Inside Story explores the reasons behind this donation and the potential ramifications. Presenter Laura Kyle discusses with Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and head of the Middle East Centre for Studies and Research; Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University; and Mustafa Alani, a military analyst and senior adviser at the Gulf Research Centre.
Day After Saudi Arabia Gives Record $3 Billion To Lebanese Army, Lebanese Troops Fire At Syrian Warplanes | Zero Hedge
That didn’t take long.
It was only yesterday that Saudi Arabia pledged a record $3 billion to prop up Lebanon’s armed forces, in what the WSJ described as “a challenge to the Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia’s decades-long status as Lebanon’s main power broker and security force.” Lebanese President Michel Sleiman revealed the Saudi gift on Lebanese national television Sunday, calling it the largest aid package ever to the country’s defense bodies. The Saudi pledge compares with Lebanon’s 2012 defense budget, which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put at $1.7 billion.
The Saudi move was announced hours after thousands of Lebanese turned out for the funerals of former cabinet minister Mohamad Chatah and some of the other victims killed Friday in a bombing in downtown Beirut. The bomb was believed to have targeted Mr. Chatah, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanese affairs and security. No group has claimed responsibility. Saudi Arabia on Friday responded to the assassination by calling for Lebanon to build up the government and armed forces “to stop this tampering with the security of Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Surprisingly, the biggest winner here may be none other than France: “Lebanon would use the Saudi grant to buy “newer and more modern weapons,” from France, said Mr. Sleiman, an independent who has become increasingly critical of Hezbollah. It followed what he called “decades of unsuccessful efforts” to build a credible Lebanese national defense force.”
However, back to the Lebanese quid pro quo: less than 24 hours after the announcement, what does Lebanon go ahead and do? Why it fired at Syrian warplanes (recall Syria is the archnemesis of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar) of course, the first time it has done so since the start of the Syrian conflict. From BBC:
Lebanese troops have fired at Syrian warplanes violating its airspace, for what is thought to be the first time since the conflict in Syria began.
Lebanon’s National News Agency said the army had responded to a raid on Khirbet Daoud, near Arsal in the Bekaa Valley.
Syrian government forces have fired into Lebanon in the past, targeting rebels sheltering over the border.
The Lebanese authorities had until now not responded militarily, hoping they would not be dragged into the war.
Arsal is predominantly Sunni and its residents have been broadly supportive of the Sunni-dominated uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The north-eastern town has been flooded with refugees since the Syrian military launched an offensive in the Qalamoun mountains last month.
Some 20,000 people have settled in makeshift camps, as Syrian troops backed by members of the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah have sought to cut rebel cross-border supply routes.
And that is how Syria buys proxy war access on yet another front in an indication that its hopes that sooner or later the Syrian conflict will re-escalate enough to allow the “developed west” to stage another chemical attack and finally have the US topple Assad, are still alive. The only question is whether this time Putin, instead of simply diffusing the Syrian confrontation once again, will have an incendiary present or two for the Saudi princes, in part as gratitude for the string of recent Saudi-inspired terrorist attacks in Volgograd.
A car bomb shook downtown Beirut today, killing former Finance Minister Mohamad Chatah and five other people, underscoring how the fallout from Syria’s civil war is deepening divisions in neighboring Lebanon.
Fifty others were injured when the bomb, rigged with about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives packed inside a stolen Honda, detonated around 9:45 a.m. local time, the state-run National News Agency reported. Chatah, 62, a member of the Western-backed March 14 coalition, was traveling to meet other people in the group when the attack occurred.
The strike was the first to target a member of the March 14 organization since a wave of explosions began shaking Lebanon in July. Most of the assaults have targeted Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group, a member of the rival March 8 alliance that has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“This comes in the context of the Sunni-Shiite conflict triggered by the war in Syria,” Sami Nader, a professor of international relations at Beirut’s St. Joseph University, said in a telephone interview. This blast was a “direct message to the moderate Sunnis in Lebanon and their Saudi supporters,” he said.
News of the death of Chatah, an adviser to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, was posted on March 14’s official website.
Security officials and forensic experts inspected the scene of the blast in an area of Beirut that houses the Parliament building, government headquarters and Hariri’s house, where the March 14 coalition was set to meet. Hariri has been living abroad for security reasons.
The attack occurred amid deep divisions in Lebanon over the war in Syria, pitting mostly Sunni rebels against Assad, who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. March 14, a coalition of several parties including the mostly Sunni Muslim Future Movement, supports the opposition while the March 8 alliance, which includes Iran-backed Hezbollah, supports Assad.
In his last statement on Twitter, posted shortly before today’s blast, Chatah, a Sunni Muslim, wrote that Hezbollah “is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security & foreign policy” that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years.
Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, with a stronghold in southern Lebanon, receives support from Iran. The group has sent fighters to support Assad’s army in Syria.
“This ugly crime comes in the framework of the crimes and bombings that aim at destroying the country,” Hezbollah said in an e-mailed statement. The group “strongly condemns the crime” that led to Chatah’s death, it said.
Iran, whose Beirut embassy was targeted by twin blasts last month, alleged today’s attack carried “fingerprints of the Zionist enemy,” the Islamic Republic’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghzanfar Asl Roknabadi, told Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV today in an interview.
Violence has surged in Lebanon in the six months since Hezbollah acknowledged joining Assad’s side in the Syrian civil war. Attackers have targeted Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley while twin explosions also ripped through Sunni Muslim mosques in the northern city of Tripoli.
Chatah’s assassination came two weeks before the U.N.- backed Special Tribunal for Lebanonbegins the trial of four Hezbollah suspects over the 2005 killing of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“This is a message of terror to Lebanon,” Hariri said in a statement on Future TV, adding that those responsible for assassinating Chatah were the same who killed his father.
Chatah spent years learning and working in the U.S., according to his resume. In 1983 he received a doctorate in economics from the University of Texas. From 1997 to 1999 he was Lebanon’s ambassador to Washington. A former adviser to the International Monetary Fund, Chatah was married and had two children.
While a military campaign against Syria (and Iran) on the usual grounds has been postponed indefinitely, two nations in the Middle East have been seething: Saudi Arabia and, of course, Israel. Yet while Saudi Arabia rarely if ever gets its own hands dirty, instead executing its geopolitcal strategy through puppet states in need of its oil, Israel has never had a problem with engaging in offensive wars. And now that the threat of an imminent war, one which would have been largely carried out on the back of the US military, is gone Israel is preparing to do just that.
According to UPI, “Israeli generals are preparing for a decisive — and probably brief — war against Hezbollah, one of Israel’s most implacable foes, with plans to smash the Iranian-backed Lebanese movement’s military power, a study says. The Israelis’ primary objective will be to eradicate Hezbollah’s reputedly massive arsenal of missiles and rockets “for years to come,” the report by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv said.”
In other words, Syrian script, rinse repeat – spook with stories of massive weapon arsenals, propose a permanent resolution that involves invading – “briefly” although it never really works out that way – and then leak a few false flag videos “proving” just how evil the nation that is about to be invaded is.
Full story from UPI
Israel gets ready for ‘short, sharp war’ against Hezbollah
Israeli military intelligence estimates Hezbollah has 80,000 missiles and rockets of all calibers, ranging from ballistic missiles with warheads packing 700 pounds of high explosives, to short-range rockets, many of them aimed at cities including Tel Aviv. Some estimates go as high as 100,000.
The weapons that give Israelis nightmares are the long-range missiles with which Hezbollah can pound the Jewish state’s population centers and strategic installations without let-up for at least a month.
Israel’s military, which failed to crush Hezbollah in a 34-day war in 2006, “has prepared for a combined air and large-scale ground operation, driven by new intelligence and precision-firepower capabilities, to deliver a knockout blow and eliminate Hezbollah as a fighting force for years to come,” observed the report’s author, Yaakov Lappin, the Jerusalem Post’s military analyst.
Knocking out Hezbollah’s missile storage bunkers and launch sites will be the air force’s main mission, as it was in 2006, when Hezbollah only had about 20,000 missiles, 4,000 of which hit northern Israel.
Lappin said Israel will use “unprecedented capabilities” and a combat fleet that could destroy hundreds of targets a day.
In the last year, Israelis have been bombarded with government warnings to brace themselves for weeks of unprecedented missile bombardment if war comes — although the media have sought to reassure the public the armed forces will protect them with new weapons, tactics and all manner of electronic wizardry.
A key protection system will be the much-vaunted, four-tier missile defense shield known as Homa, The Wall in Hebrew. This includes the long-range Arrow 3 system, designed to destroy Iranian ballistic missiles outside Earth’s atmosphere, down to the Iron Dome, which has by official count shot down 84.6 percent of the short-range Palestinian rockets it has engaged in the last two years.
Even so, whatever the dimensions and capabilities of the generals’ plan, another report poured cold water on Israeli expectations of survival in the next war, which will — for the first time since the state was founded in 1948, a half dozen wars ago — target the home front.
Nathan Faber of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology, warned in an article on the website of the Magen Laoref, or Homefront Shield, foundation, that the Homa could crumble due to technological, operational and financial reasons in a multifront war with Hezbollah, Iran and others.
Faber, formerly chief scientist in the military’s missile division, said at least one-third of all missiles fired at Israel will in all probability get through.
He calculates Israel could be threatened by 800 Iranian Shehab-3b and more advanced Sejjil-2 ballistic missiles, and 400 Soviet-era Scud ballistic missiles held by Syria, some of which may be used in its 33-month-old civil war.
There will also be 500-1,000 medium-range tactical missiles — like Iran’s Fajr or Fateh weapons, which Hezbollah already has — and more than 100,000 short-range rockets held by Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas group in Gaza.
Faber reckons about one-third of the missiles fired at Israel will be intercepted by the air force, another third will malfunction and one third will get through defensive screens, including about 400 of the 1,200 ballistic systems.
Regarding tactical missiles, Faber noted that “since these are very precise missiles the great majority of them will hit their target” after evading the anti-missile defenses.
He calculates Iron Dome — which he assesses has a kill rate of only 66 percent — will have to deal with 30,000 rockets.
The cost will be awesome — and possibly prohibitive.
By Faber’s tally, Iron Dome operations will cost $6 billion, countering 400 ballistic missiles another $3 billion, while mid-range interceptions will total as much as $2 billion.
The “Too Big Too Jail” nonsense that surrounds large U.S. banks and their above the law employees has been glaringly obvious and thoroughly documented for quite some time now. Yet what represents an even larger slap in the face to millions of hard-working, law-abiding citizens, is how relentlessly the “justice” system goes after small time criminals, while merely fining oligarch thieves for far worse crimes. I first covered this theme earlier this year in my piece Some Money Launderers are “More Equal” than Others, which discussed how HSBC was caught laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels.
Well HSBC is back in the news. This time it relates to their transferring funds on the behalf of financiers for the militant group Hezbollah. If transactions such as these had even the slightest link to Bitcoin, there would be endless uproar, calls for countless Congressional hearings and demands to stop the currency at all costs. But when HSBC is caught doing it, what happens? A $32,400 settlement.
More from The Huffington Post:
A major U.S. bank has agreed to a settlement for transferring funds on the behalf of financiers for the militant group Hezbollah, the Treasury Department announced on Tuesday.
Concluding that HSBC’s actions “were not the result of willful or reckless conduct,” Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control accepted a $32,400 settlement from the bank. Treasury noted, as did HSBC in a statement to HuffPost, that the violations were voluntarily reported.
Everett Stern, a former HSBC compliance officer who complained to his supervisors about the Hezbollah-linked transactions, told HuffPost he was “ecstatic and depressed at the same time.”
“Those are my transactions, I reported them,” he said, satisfied that the government was taking action. But, he added, “Where I am upset was those were a handful of transactions, and I saw hundreds of millions of dollars” being transferred.
Stern said he hopes the government’s enforcement actions against HSBC have not come to an end with the latest settlement. “They admit to financing terrorism and they get fined $32,000. Where if I were to do that, I would go to jail for life,” he said.
And the government watchdog’s claim that HSBC committed no “substantially similar apparent violations” in the past five years is likely to raise some eyebrows. In December 2012, the bank agreed to pay a $1.9 billion settlement for moving money that a 2012 Senate report found had likely helped drug cartels and a Saudi Arabian bank the CIA has linked to al Qaeda.
No one at HSBC was criminally charged for what U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer called at the time ”stunning failures of oversight.”The Senate report faulted the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an independent bureau with the Treasury Department, for weak oversight of HSBC.
You know you are a Banana Republic if…
Full article here.
An al-Qaeda linked group claimed responsibility for the November 19 attack [EPA]
|The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah has accused Saudi Arabia of being behind last month’s two suicide bombings that targeted the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s comments on Tuesday mark the first time Hezbollah has openly accused the kingdom, and marks a sharp escalation in the Shia Muslim group’s rhetoric.
An al-Qaeda linked group has claimed responsibility for the November 19 attack that killed 23 people, saying it was in response to Hezbollah and Iran’s involvement in Syria.
Nasrallah said the claim was credible but accused Saudi intelligence of providing backing and support.
He also said Saudi intelligence was behind daily attacks in Iraq.
Nasrallah spoke in an interview Tuesday with Lebanon’s private OTV network.
Elsewhere in Lebanon, clashes resumed on Tuesday between Lebanese armed groups who back opposing sides of Syria’s war and 21 fighters were arrested by the army as it pursued a six-month-long mandate to end bloodshed battering the city of Tripoli.
The conflict between the majority Sunni Muslim Bab al-Tabbaneh district and the adjacent Alawite neighbourhood of Jebel Mohsen in Tripoli has killed more than 100 people this year.
But residents, fighters and a local politician told Reuters on Tuesday it was unlikely to end soon despite army efforts.
Over the weekend, the relatives of the car bomb victims protested in a Tripoli square, demanding that leading Alawite political leaders be arrested and calling for Jebel Mohsen’s electricity and water supplies to be cut off.
The latest clashes started after repeated attacks on Alawite targets over the past week in which several people were wounded.
Ten people were killed over the weekend.
The army provided no details on the 21 men seized by soldiers.
- Events Are Moving Quickly In Syria … Here’s What You Need to Know (ritholtz.com)
- A Force 10x Bigger Than Syria Is Driving Oil Prices Higher (USO, OIL) (businessinsider.com)
- Syrian conflict stokes prices at the pump (globalnews.ca)
- Crude Climbs Over $110 A Barrel As Syria Drives Oil Spike (forbes.com)
14 Dead In Blast Near Pro-Syria Hezbollah HQ In Beirut, Syrian Rebels Take Responsibility | Zero Hedge
- Twenty dead as car bomb blasts Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut (abc.net.au)
- Death toll from car bombing in Hezbollah’s Beirut stronghold at least 14 – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
- Car Bomb Targeting Hezbollah in Lebanon Kills 20 (worldnewscurator.com)
- Turkish FM urges Arab-Kurd cooperation in Syria (worldbulletin.net)
- Will Syria Become Another Afghanistan? (counterpunch.org)
- Aaron Klein: Current Terror Plot An Al-Qaeda Payback Over American Involvement In Syria? (patdollard.com)
- UN Official Warns Syrian Fighting Could Ignite Mideast (voanews.com)
- Tony Blair sees growing grounds for hope in the Middle East (theguardian.com)
- Syrian conflict ‘is turning global’ (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- Syrian Unrest Could Have Broad Geopolitical Impact (voanews.com)
- UN urged to probe abuses by Syria’s Assad (foxnews.com)
- Iraq, Lebanon alarmed at spreading Syria war (scooprocket.com)
- Hatred between Sunnis, Shiites abounds in Mideast (stripes.com)
- Violence spreads in Lebanon as Lebanese troops die (updatednews.ca)