“While Hamas has maintained a precarious calm with the Jewish state for almost a year, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad attempted to stand out by taking a much more hostile attitude towards Israel – one it can afford since it does not have to provide for the needs of the civilian population of Gaza (unlike Hamas).”
“Israel attempted to restore some form of deterrence against the group with the targeted assassination of one of its commanders last November. Yet, it is clear that this did not change the group’s strategy.”
Nick Grinstead, Senior Regional Security Analyst
With little popular goodwill and diminishing time before key decisions on economic recovery and debt management need to be made, Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s new government appears to be gathering the low-hanging fruit – changes in the consumer sector – while leaving the more difficult reforms in the political and banking sector for later. This comes after the Lebanese cabinet barely won its parliamentary vote of confidence last week as a quarter of MPs boycotted the session. Outside parliament, anger filled the streets as demonstrators protesting corruption and economic malaise protested the Hezbollah-backed cabinet by blocking the building and wounding an exiting MP.
Given the lack of public support or broad political consensus behind Diab’s government, the PM and his ministers have chosen to take a slow and measured approach, announcing the formation of technical committees to study the situation rather than take immediate action. This may be the safest short-term course of action as the cabinet gathers support for the more important and painful reforms ahead. In a bid to jump-start this process, last Wednesday the government announced that it had invited the IMF to provide technical advice on economic recovery for Lebanon. Engaging with international lenders at some point was almost a certainty for Lebanon, although there was a conspicuous lack of mention of a bailout or debt restructuring in the announcement. The IMF’s reputation for austerity-driven measures could be used to justify decisions like VAT or gas price increases that will directly affect the Lebanese consumer sector. The Diab government may think that the IMF’s reputation will give it political cover to carry out these reforms and allow it to defer moves against the banking sector.
Following the IMF announcement, Diab’s government further telegraphed its strategy to delay the more serious reforms by decided to postpone a decision on whether or not to make the upcoming March $1.2 billion Eurobond repayment. Making the March payment is a bit of a lose-lose situation for the government and Lebanon’s finances: if they make the payment, its foreign reserves deplete even further, putting more strain on the lira and creating a perception that the government prioritizes its external debts over the well-being of its own citizens while using their own deposits no less. In the other scenario, Lebanon does not make the payment and defaults and while the March payment is the largest the upcoming tranches, it is only one of several large bond payments the country must decide on in the coming months.
Both the invitation of the IMF technical team and the wavering on bond repayments demonstrate the government’s preference for incremental measures with a near-term focus on consumer sector reforms. Diab’s cabinet may be betting that decreasing subsidies and increasing revenues through VAT, petrol, and electricity hikes will be easier to pull off and would satisfy demands of international lenders like the IMF in order to unlock bailout packages. While the latter part may be true, these price hikes will undoubtedly cause large-scale demonstrations in Lebanon.
The intensity of these demonstrations will be further exacerbated if these reforms and the upcoming bond repayment are given a go-ahead without equal and simultaneous measures taken to reform the country’s banking sector. Many demonstrators blame politicians and the country’s private banks equally and the IMF’s approval will do little to ease the anger if only consumer sector reforms are announced. Indeed, in the event of an announcement of bond repayment without commensurate banking reforms, there is a high probability that Lebanese banks will be targeted by rioters again.
Le Beck’s head of intelligence was quoted in the Telegraph regarding the use of Man-portable anti-aircraft systems (MANPADS – shoulder-fired surface to air missiles) by opposition forces in Syria.
“I think it is likely that Turkey either supplied or approved the use of a previously supplied MANPADS. These systems are kept under close watch, and they have only been used, lately at least, during times of greater tensions between Turkey and the pro-regime camp,”
“MANPADS could be used to target civilian air traffic, particularly during the landing and take-off phase, thus presenting a significant threat to aviation. This is one of the main concern and reason why many countries have limited their supply of MANPADS to rebels or acted to prevent the unsanctioned used of such weapons,”
“Lebanon is burning. World leaders at Davos have little interest in putting it out,” in Euronews.
After months of near-constant protests, Lebanon is on fire. Rising tensions over the country’s deteriorating economy, coupled with an unhurried political class, have prompted protesters to attack Lebanese banks and clash with security forces in Beirut.
While rioters broke into storefronts and threw flares at police, protesters’ tents were torn and burned down in a stark image underscoring a crisis the likes of which Lebanon has not seen since the end of the country’s Civil War in 1989.
In a metaphor parallel to the fires in the streets of Beirut, the country’s Central Bank (Banque du Liban) continues to burn through dollar deposits financed by borrowing from private Lebanese banks as it tries to make loan interest payments and simultaneously shore up the rapidly depreciating Lebanese lira.
With the lira having lost more than 60% of its value since last summer, and with withdrawal limits in place, average Lebanese people have struggled to pay for fuel and other basic goods.
Marco Tulio Lara, Regional Security Analyst
The January 19th conference held in Berlin gathered all the parties involved in the Libyan conflict, including PM Fayez al-Sarraj, who heads the Tripoli-based and internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), and General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), affiliated with the eastern-based government.
In appearance, the summit took place in a positive atmosphere and did lead to a relatively tangible outcome – one that was not a given, considering that the previous attempt by Russia and Turkey went out the door (alongside Haftar) when the Libyan leader left Moscow without signing a newly drafted agreement. Although the Berlin conference is part of a broader political process and follows several attempts by other European countries to broker a political solution to the crisis, the recent conference marked the first truly multilateral push to address the Libyan crisis.
The agreement signed by all the participating parties involved a range of topics, but a few stand out from the list. The commitment to fully respect the long-ignored UN arms embargo, work towards a permanent ceasefire, end foreign interference in the armed conflict, and pave the way for free and fair elections all represent areas critical to de-escalating tensions and eventually stabilizing the country. Yet whether these steps will indeed materialize in actual de-escalation – both in violence and foreign involvement – is far from certain.
Indeed, the agreement does not include any kind of punitive measures or sanctions for any party breaching it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that potential sanctions were not even discussed, suggesting the mediators knew well that such discussions would bring about the collapse of the talks.
To be sure, the EU is discussing a restructure of its ongoing naval mission in the Mediterranean sea, “Operation Sophia” (initially designed to fight against migrant smugglers and human traffickers), to also enforce the embargo. Yet the mission is already understaffed and may not be the appropriate tool to actually enforce the embargo – given that much of the (largely state-sponsored) smuggling of military assets to the country is done by air rather than sea. The Libyan dossier has further exposed significant divides within the EU – to say the least, divides that will likely continue to impact the EU’s ability to enforce the embargo. Beyond that, and even if the flow of weapons to Libya was somehow stopped, the agreement makes no mention of a deadline for the removal of foreign troops from Libya.
The agreement reached in Berlin thus underscores the fact that while each party knows what path should be taken to stabilize Libya in the longer term, none are truly willing to commit to it. The slightest push – in the form of new attacks or the arrival of more foreign assets to the country – will likely lead to its collapse.