Quick Updates

Few really quick comments:

US Tax Cuts:   Headlines in the NYT on Tuesday, sums it up pretty nicely, “Rosy Forecast for Economy Defies Evidence.”   with the lead line, “When President Trump adds his distinctive signature to the tax bill, he will be making a huge bet that the Republican strategy of deep cuts for businesses and wealthy individuals will fuel extraordinary growth across the board.”    He’s termed the tax cuts as “rocket fuel.”   It’s a bet, and there are many doubters including Goldman Sachs, which forecasts a meager 2.5% GDP growth rate,  which will mean big deficits for 2018.    A few House Republicans voted against the  tax bill,  as Republicans are supposed to be conservative minded, and want to reduce not increase the national debt.   The reductions in corporate tax rates are permanent, but all benefits to individuals expire in 2025.

Hezbollah:  Just as my Hezbollah story was posted,  a story published by Politico  slammed the Obama administration for not investigating Hezbollah criminal activities, to push forward with the Iran nuclear deal.   There were many immediate strong denials from officials close to the investigation at the time.  It really got out of control, not about Obama administration, but the fact that a number of newspapers did not immediately make this their lead story with 2″ headlines.   Republicans immediately attacked the press for lack of coverage.      See links at bottom of page.

Backlash on Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem:  VP Mike Pence “2017 Christmas Pilgrimage”  was being planned in October, but it’s not going to happen.   It would have been a nice TV show, made to order for the Republican conservative base.   NYT reports,  “When he first floated the idea of a trip in October, Mr. Pence, an evangelical Christian, vowed to highlight the persecution of Christians at the hands of Islamic State extremists, and he scheduled meeting with several Christian leaders, which was sure to play well with his conservative American base. ‘Christianity now faces an exodus in the Middle East unrivaled since the days of Moses,’ he said in a speech sprinkled with biblical references. ‘Help is on the way.’   NYT reports many leaders both Christian and Arab have cancelled, as they can see this simply as a political stunt.  There are real humanitarian crises in the area, but they relate to the Palestinian refuge camp in Lebanon, and Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.  Not likely stops for Mike Pence – too many Muslims there. See NYT link below.

Mike Pence went to Afghanistan to visit troops over Christmas – which was very successful.

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the US for recognizing Jerusalem.    Seven countries sided with the US (Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, Nauru and Palau, Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia).

Fact Check Whoppers of 2017 (Fact Check) and Liar of the Year  (Politifact)

And the winner is,  (drum roll)  President Dald J. Trump    He has not wasted a minute, from inauguration day (crowd size largest in history) to just last week, on the tax bill (tax bill will raise taxes for the rich, my taxes will go up).   And how can we forget, “Obama had the Trump tower bugged.”    Bob Corker wonderful quote, “Donald Trump has difficulty dealing with the truth.”

 

Politifact.com:  Trump is now a 3 time winner of “Lie of the Year”  (2015, 2015 and 2017) for the lie of the year.  He takes the honors for (drum roll) “Russian election interference is a ‘made-up story.'”    He’s called the media’s reporting of Russian interference as “Fake News.”   His attacks are way out of the ballpark as he calls reporters both disgusting and dishonest.

In 2016,  Donald Trump was the winner as one who would promoter of false news stories.   Politifact stated: “Fake news found a willing enabler in Donald Trump, who at times repeated and legitimized made-up reports.”

Candidate Donald Trump did not disappoint in 2015, taking first place again, and this time not for any one single lie, but for a constant stream of false statements as he hit the campaign trail.  “Trump’s 2015 inaccurate statements exhibited range, boldness and a disregard for the truth. By December 2015, we had rated 76 percent of Trump’s claims Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire. No other politician had clocked more falsehoods on our Truth-O-Meter, and our only real contenders for Lie of the Year were Trump’s. We rolled all them into one big trophy in 2015.”

See links below.

Well, have a Merry Christmas.   I’m giving this blog a rest until next year.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Fact Check – Whoppers of 2017

VP Mike Pence Trip to the Middle East is Canceled

Politico:  The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook

Washington Post: Former Obama officials criticize Politico story alleging weakness against Hezbollah

Sessions orders review of abandoned Hezbollah-linked drug prosecutions

AG Sessions chose his words carefully.   He’s simply is saying  Department of Justice will review this matter, without addressing whether the Politico story is correct.     This is not the first attempt by Josh Meyers to allege something terribly wrong with Obama’s nuclear deal negotiations.

Much Ado About Nothing: Politico’s Iran Deal Investigation Debunked

 

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Hezbolla

This blog follows my prior blog on terrorism.   Hezbollah has been considered a terrorist group by some countries, and a political  group by others.  In no way should it be lumped together with Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

It was  unnecessary to explain why  Al-Qaeda and ISIS are classified as  terrorists organizations as their actions make this abundantly clear.     Same goes for Boko Haram. and Al-Shabaab,  equally evil and destructive.  No country supports any of these groups.  Individuals within some countries find ways to support terrorist activities.   ISIS found many ways to support its organization,  from taking over oil fields and selling oil, to looting antiquities and selling them.   Boko Haram and ISIS sold captured women as “brides.”    These groups are truly defiling the religion of Islam.

Now, Hezbollah is different in its origin.  It originated in defense of Lebanon, at least from the Muslim’s perspective.   From the Israel’s perspective, this invasion was the only alternative to ending the attacks  by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).     The PLO originated as a group to liberate the country of Palestine from Israel through armed struggle.  It was founded in 1964.  After being attacked in Jordan,   the PLO sought refuge in south Lebanon.  The PLO  continued to attack Israel which retaliated with air strikes into southern Lebanon.  The Israel and the US in 1982 considered the PLO a terrorist organization.  The  PLO as Yasser Arafat as its leader relocated in 1982  to  Tripoli,  located in the more  northern area of Lebanon.

I watched an Israeli commentator on television explain, “Hezbollah is something we created.”  I would never go this far,  but Hezbollah certainly arose as a resistance militant group , after Israel occupied southern Lebanon. After the Israel invasion of Lebanon,  Iran saw an opportunity to strengthen its hand in Lebanon, by consolidating the Shi’a militants into united party.

40 Years of Peace gone in four months

There is no question that Israel through it’s military force, was determined to join with the Christian (Maronite)  militants  in south Lebanon (“Lebanon Free State”),  and create an “Israeli friendly” country to its north.  From the Muslim perspective, they installed a puppet government controlling Beirut. According to Wikipedia:

By expelling the PLO, removing Syrian influence over Lebanon, and installing a pro-Israeli Christian government led by President Bachir Gemayel, Israel hoped to sign a treaty which Menachem Begin promised would give Israel “forty years of peace.”

The Maronites Christian population has been estimated to be nearly 22% of the Lebanon’s population.   Begin’s plan began to fail with the assassination of Gemayel in September 1982 and begun the Lebanese civil war.

Lebanon Civil War (1982 to 1990) and Hezbolla emerges to an organization to defend Shi’a Muslims against Occupation by Israel

The civil war starting in 1982 in  Lebanon was a proxy fight on a large scale, very similar to the conflict today in Syria.  Iran funded Hezbollah, to fight on behalf of Shi’a Muslims.  Israel supported the Lebanon Free Army formed by the Maronite Christians.  Outside countries were picking their proxies to fight in the Lebanon war.

According to Wikipedia:

Hezbollah was founded in the early 1980s as part of an Iranian effort to aggregate a variety of militant Lebanese Shi’a groups under one roof…

Hezbollah was conceived by Muslim clerics and funded by Iran primarily to harass the Israeli occupation. Its leaders were followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, and its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of 1,500 Revolutionary Guards that arrived from Iran with permission from the Syrian government,[30] which was in occupation of Lebanon at the time. Hezbollah’s 1985 manifesto listed its objectives as the expulsion of “the Americans, the French and their allies definitely from Lebanon, putting an end to any colonialist entity on our land”, submission of the Phalangists to “just power” and bringing them to justice “for the crimes they have perpetrated against Muslims and Christians”, and permitting “all the sons of our people” to choose the form of government they want, while calling on them to “pick the option of Islamic government”.[31]  Hezbollah waged a guerrilla campaign in South Lebanon and as a result, Israel withdrew from Lebanon on 24 May 2000, and SLA collapsed and surrendered.

This is the historical context of Hezbollah. Hezbollah can claim they liberated south Lebanon from Israeli control.   As ironic as it might seem to non-Arab countries,  it is Israel which is portrayed as the terrorist state, and not Hezbollah.    Iran, according to Wikipedia, was responsible for creating unity among groups resisting the South Lebanon Army. Much of this support was for weapons and trained military forces.

The civil war in Lebanon  was brutal and left the capital devastated.  There were approximately 120,000 fatalities.   I have seen it first hand, as one of the bullet ridden buildings was left standing in Beirut after the reconstruction.  There are Shi’a and Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, in addition to the Christian population.   The list of belligerent groups is listed in Wikipedia.

It was easy for Syria’s military to enter the war  given the chaos and violence in Beirut.   They certainly had an interest of not having a flood of refugees come into their country and have country aligned with the Christians and Israel on their border.   They could claim they were simply helping Lebanon defend itself from Israeli aggression.   An peace agreement was finally reached in 1990, which mandated the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.   Since the Taif agreement, Lebanon has several more conflicts, but nothing in comparison to the civil war.  See links on Lebanon and the civil war for more information.   At present, there is a delicate balance between the various secular groups.   The government is basically a power sharing arrangement with a Muslim  Prime Minister (Hariri) and a Christian President (Aoun).

Hezbollah Today 

You do not hear of Hezbollah  being accused of or claiming responsibility for terror attacks in the US, Europe,  Africa and the Middle East.    Yet, right wing groups have vehemently attacked Hezbollah as a highly dangerous terrorist organization, controlled by Iran.   This is politics.  Conservative Republicans routinely criticized the Obama administration for the Nuclear Deal which they considered would greatly increase Iran’s support of terrorist activities, primarily Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the governments of the United States, Israel, Canada, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, along with its military/security wing by the United Kingdom, Australia and the European Union (Wikipedia).

Israel is the most vocal on their hate of Hezbollah.   They correctly state the Hezbollah is responsible for the deaths of many Israel citizens.  However,  Israel has been responsible for many civilian deaths.  In the conflicts between Israel and southern Lebanon,  it is sometimes difficult to say who is most responsible,  but civilian deaths result on both sides.

Hezbollah’s allies according to Wikipedia are Iran, Syria, Iraq, Russia, Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela.   Not a particularly nice group of friends!  The only country willing to support Hezbollah is Iran.  The headquarters of Hezbollah are in Beirut, Lebanon.

Any armed group outside government control would be considered a threat to an established government.  There is no question that Hezbollah has weapons, and is organized as a Shi’a militia.    Thus, the “military wing” of Hezbollah is condemned by many countries.   However,  the origins and intent of Hezbollah is very different from the terrorist organizations which we are currently battling.   Those who feel that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization,  would label it a “resistance force”  against Israel aggression.

Hezbollah is an anti-Zionism organization, but denies they are anti-Semitic.     The anti-Zionism ideology typically begins with the idea that Israel was created by the United Nations in 1948, and resulted in the displacement of many Palestinians from their homeland.   Muslims and Jews have lived in peace for centuries.  The anti-Zionist ideology blames the arrival of European Jews after World War II as the origins between the conflicts.  They consider Zionism an expansionary philosophy, giving the country of Israel the control of the West Bank and the Gaza strip based on biblical references.    As stated in the 2011 BBC article (see links below)

Hezbollah is committed to the destruction of Israel but it has also made statements indicating it would accept a two-state solution if the Palestinians agreed to it.

This is an obvious contradiction.   But, having lived in the Middle East, I’m pretty used to this being acceptable.

The condemnation by the Gulf Cooperative Council  of Hezbollah occurred in March 2016, even though Hezbollah had existed since 1984.  This likely had more to do with Saudi Arabia’s conflicts with Iran, which also has strong  secular basis (Saudi Arabia is mainly Sunni, Iran is mainly Shi’a).   Interestingly,  Iraq’s foreign minister came to the defense of Hezbollah in 2016, as follows:

Hezbollah “have preserved Arab dignity” and those who accuse them of being terrorists are terrorists themselves.

The Arab Spring uprisings have ended terribly in so many countries.  Hezbollah’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood (remember this is a Sunni organization) is another reason the GCC member states, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt condemn Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has been accused of being involved in many violent attacks including the assassination of  PM Rafic Hariri.   See link on Hezbollah from Wikipedia.

Hezbollah’s Social Services

As per Wikipedia:

Hezbollah organizes an extensive social development program and runs hospitals, news services, educational facilities, and encouragement of Nikah mut‘ah.[126][141] One of its established institutions, Jihad Al Binna’s Reconstruction Campaign, is responsible for numerous economic and infrastructure development projects in Lebanon.[142] Hezbollah has set up a Martyr’s Institute (Al-Shahid Social Association), which guarantees to provide living and education expenses “for the families of fighters who die” in battle.[128] An IRIN news report of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted:

Hezbollah not only has armed and political wings – it also boasts an extensive social development program. Hezbollah currently operates at least four hospitals, twelve clinics, twelve schools and two agricultural centres that provide farmers with technical assistance and training. It also has an environmental department and an extensive social assistance program. Medical care is also cheaper than in most of the country’s private hospitals and free for Hezbollah members.[126]

According to CNN, “Hezbollah did everything that a government should do, from collecting the garbage to running hospitals and repairing schools.”[143] In July 2006, during the war with Israel, when there was no running water in Beirut, Hezbollah was arranging supplies around the city. Lebanese Shiites “see Hezbollah as a political movement and a social service provider as much as it is a militia.”[143] Hezbollah also rewards its guerilla members who have been wounded in battle by taking them to Hezbollah-run amusement parks.[144]

Hezbollah is, therefore, deeply embedded in the Lebanese society.[30]

Recent Events –  Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salam and Trump’s actions

The ascent of Mohamed bin Salam as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, has greatly increase the rift between the Sunni gulf coast countries and Iran, which is predominately Shi’a.   Hezbollah and Hamas will be lumped together with all well known terrorist groups, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda in their united fight against terrorism.   President Donald Trump was played by the Saudi hosts in his trip to Saudi Arabia, bu a secular attack on Iran.

The most bizarre event recently was the resignation of Lebanon PM Hariri in Saudi Arabia,  then his “unresignation”  a few weeks later.  Technically, he’s putting his resignation on hold.  He is not denouncing Hezbollah.

It is my prediction that Iraq will in the future, distance themselves from Saudi Arabia’s efforts,  and seek improving relations with Lebanon, including Hezbollah.

Whether Hezbollah militias can someday be abandoned,  and a political party based on social services, is anyone’s guess.   Trump’s recent action to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, was a major setback to finding a peace agreement between Palestine and Israel,  It  may further  push Hezbollah to continue to be a militant force of resistance to  what they perceive as  Zionism and Israel expansionary policies.

Just as I was ready to post this,  Saudi Arabia claim they shot down a missile fired by Houthi militants aimed at  Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia.  There have been other recent missile launches against Saudi Arabia.  The air strikes on Houthi rebels by Saudi Arabia have resulted in many civilian fatalities, so this is why they are retaliating.

The increased violence  is extremely unfortunate, as there is a severe humanitarian crisis in Yemen with famine and disease, despite efforts by international aid agencies.   Numerous obstacles including the Saudi Arabia’s blockade has limited assistance.    Saudi’s contend they are not just at war with the Houthi rebels, but with Hezbollah and their number one supporter, Iran, as part of an overall campaign against terrorism.

Unfortunately,  these conflicts  just seem to get bigger and more polarized. And the civilian fatalities continue to rise.

It is very difficult to write a short blog on Hezbollah.   My next blog will be shorter, just on the aid agencies which help the victims of conflict around the world.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

NYT: Lebanon’s Vanishing Prime Minister Is Back at Work. Now What?

Wikipedia: Hezbollah  

Wikipedia: Lebanon Civil War

Wikipedia:  Palestine Liberation Organization

Wikipedia: Lebanon

Wikipedia:  Oslo 1 Accord

Wikipedia: Mohammed bin Salman

Very good commentary from the NYT, but you have to understand the players,  secular nature of these conflicts, and their history.

NYT:  The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy

Note:  I’ve made extensive use of Wikipedia.   I find their information concise and factual.

There are many other sources of information, and it would be impossible to list all of them.