Game-changer: Why the UAE-Israeli peace deal is so historic. How we got here. And the role of Evangelicals. (My interviews with Fox News, AP and the Israeli media.)

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — Tragedy in Beirut. Triumph in the United Arab Emirates and Israel. All in one week.

Welcome to the modern Middle East.

Look away if you want, but forces in this region have a way of pulling you back in.

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve done a dozen interviews with U.S. and Israeli journalists, commenting on the significance of this new peace deal, including how the Crown Prince of the UAE told me and my Evangelical delegation in a private meeting in Abu Dhabi in October 2018 he was “ready to make peace.”

Here is some of those interviews.

Let’s start with the live interview I did last night (eastern U.S. time) with Fox News anchor Shannon Bream, telling her Israelis are “electrified” by news of the first new Arab-Israeli peace deal in a quarter of a century. Bream also interviewed two former State Department officials who provided bipartisan praise of the deal. David Tafuri served as a foreign policy advisor to President Barack Obama. Kiron Skinner served as a foreign policy advisor to President Donald Trump.

To watch the full interview, please click here.

The following are excerpts from my portion of the interview:

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BREAM: Now, Joel, I know – because of conversations that we’ve had – that you have been in communications with a number of key people and people connected to this. Would you give us some context about what it could mean for the rest of the Middle East as this comes together?

ROSENBERG: Well, I think this is historic. It’s a game-changer. We haven’t had an Arab-Israeli peace deal in 26 years, almost, since the King of Jordan in 1994. This is huge. I’m talking to you from Jerusalem. This is a country that is electrified by this decision. And I will tell you that the UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed invited me to bring a delegation of Evangelical Christians to meet with him a little more than 18 months ago. We sat in the palace in Abu Dhabi and he said directly – it was a two-hour, off-the-record conversation, but I can tell you now – he said, “I am ready to make peace.” We were stunned, and we talked through what the process would be like. And I said to him, “Look, I have no political power. I’m a novelist. I’m a political analyst. But I live in Jerusalem. I’m an Israeli-American citizen. I want to invite you to come to Jerusalem.” And he leaned forward and he said to me, “Joel, that day is coming sooner than you realize.” So this is just an extraordinary set of developments. And also kudos to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has decided to set aside the issue of annexation to focus on regional peace. This is a huge, huge development.

………..

BREAM: Very quickly, Joel, I see you nodding your head about the Iran piece [of the story]. Can you give us a quick comment on that, what it means to them?

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ROSENBERG: Absolutely. The Iran nuclear threat – and the Iran terrorism threat and subversion threat – has been the key ingredient that has fundamentally recalculated every Arab leader’s view in the region to ask, “Who is my friend, and who is my foe?” And I will tell you, there is a slight degree of credit that needs to go to President Obama here, almost inadvertently. Because by siding with the Iran nuclear deal, and not including the Sunni Arab states and Israel in those discussions – in fact, we were all blindsided by the fact that secret negotiations were going on – it really accelerated the UAE’s decision, “I need allies like Israel.”

If you’re interested, here are links to other stories I’m quoted in:

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BREAKING: ISRAEL AND UAE AGREE TO FULL NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS. President Trump brokers deal. First Arab-Israeli peace agreement in 26 years.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — Historic, stunning events are breaking here in the region.

President Trump announced today that he has brokered a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. 

This is the first time in 26 years that an Arab state has agreed to make peace with Israel. The first was Egypt in the period between 1977 and 1979. The last was the Kingdom of Jordan, in 1994.

The president held a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to finalize a deal that has been in the works for month.

When I was in Washington, D.C. last month, I met twice with the UAE Ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, and spoke with him by phone, as well. With each conversation, it was becoming clearer that the UAE was working on a peace deal.

However, UAE senior officials were also making it clear to Israel that they could have full normalization, or annexation, but not both.

Throughout the summer, the President and senior U.S. officials who had initially supported Israeli “annexation,” or “incorporation” of some percentage of Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) into the sovereign state of Israel, began rethinking. 

In a conversation with a very senior U.S. official, I made the case that a peace deal between Israel and the UAE was far more important, historic, strategic and game-changing and pressed the administration to pursue that route with vigor.

I’ll share many more details in the days ahead.

For now, here is the officials statement released by the White House:

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I’ll have more updates on Twitter on this exciting, dramatic development.

How Can You Help Lebanese Christians Love Their Neighbors After Devastating Explosion? The Joshua Fund has set up an emergency fund to help trusted Lebanese Evangelical ministry allies. A matching grant will double value of your donation.

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The Joshua Fund is a ministry that Lynn and I founded in 2006 to educate and mobilize Christians to “bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus.”

Lebanon is one of those neighbors, and the people there are suffering terribly right now in the wake of the horrifying explosion last week.

  • Nearly 200 dead. Some 6,000 wounded.
  • More than 300,000 homeless.
  • Plus an economic meltdown that has caused 80% or more of the value of their currency to vanish.

Many of you have reached out and asked how The Joshua Fund can help. I want to personally thank you for your compassion and kindness.

Of course, the biggest impact you can make is to pray — please intercede on behalf of those whose lives have been uprooted and likely forever changed.

At the same time, I want you to know that we have worked closely with trusted Evangelical Christian ministries in Lebanon for years. We have Arab Evangelical allies on the ground who truly understand what’s happening and know where new resources can be effective. We are hearing directly from these partners that the explosion on August 4th, has “intensified and multiplied the needs of the people, especially in Beirut.”

True, we can’t bring in tens of millions of dollars of aid like world governments and the U.N. But we believe that it is important for followers of Jesus Christ to show up in an unprecedented way and respond to this crisis in Lebanon.

So, The Joshua Fund quickly set up a Lebanon Emergency Response Fund to invest $200,000 into Evangelical ministries there to be a blessing and bring hope and God’s love.

Almost immediately, one gracious donor has provided $100,000 matching grant towards this effort. Will you help us now by giving today towards the additional $100,000?

Because of this generous matching grant, your gift’s impact will be instantly doubled – if you give $50, your donation will be matched and we’ve receive $100; if  you give $1,000, we will receive $2,000 towards caring for those in Beirut.

This fund will enable The Joshua Fund to underwrite critical resources by providing food, hygiene items, life-sustaining essentials, and COVID-19 protection to those who have been displaced — and all through local, trusted believers. 

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On behalf of our allies, and the many devastated by this humanitarian crisis, will you respond with a generous gift today?

Thank you in advance for helping us show the love of Christ. Together, we can strengthen the church in the Epicenter and demonstrate God’s love towards our brothers and sisters Lebanon, all in the name of Jesus.

To make a secure, tax deductible donation to The Joshua Fund today, please click here — thanks so much!

Who is Kamala Harris? Married to a Jewish lawyer, she’s actually more moderate on Israel than many in the Democratic Party. But Jewish Republicans say she’d be a disaster. Here’s the story.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — The race is on.

With Joe Biden’s announcement on Tuesday that Senator Kamala Harris, the California Democrat, will be his running mate, the two tickets are now set. An epic battle for control of the White House is underway. Expect it to get brutal as both sides will work overtime to paint the other as extremists who endanger the future of the United States.

So, who is Kamala Harris? 

  • “Kamala Devi Harris was born in Oakland, California on October 20, 1964, the eldest of two children born to Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher from India, and Donald Harris, an economist from Jamaica,” notes Politico, in their helpful article, “55 Things You Need To Know About Kamala Harris.”
  • “Her mother chose Kamala’s name as a nod both to her Indian roots — Kamala means ‘lotus’ and is another name for the Hindu goddess Lakshmi — and the empowerment of women,” reports Politico.
  • “As a child, Harris went to both a Black Baptist church and a Hindu temple — embracing both her South Asian and Black identities,” reports Politico.
  • She is the first African American woman to be named a vice presidential contender.
  • She is a lawyer, the former District Attorney of San Francisco, the former Attorney General for the State of California, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.
  • She married Doug Emhoff, a lawyer, in 2014.

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What are Jewish Democrats saying about Kamala Harris?

  • The first thing Jewish Democrats point out about Harris is that she is married to a Jewish man (Emhoff) and is the step mom of his two Jewish children from a previous marriage.  
  • At a book tour event in 2019, recounted by The Forward, Harris shared the story that her Jewish in-laws are from originally from Brooklyn, and lived for many years in New Jersey. “Imitating the thick accent of a New York bubbe [grandmother], Harris said, ‘The first time I meet my mother-in-law, she looks at me, puts my face in her hand … she looks at me and she says, “Oh look at you. You’re prettier than you are on television. Mike, look at her!”….I swear to you.” (see video clip)
  • Jewish Democratic leaders also note that Harris is far more moderate on Israel than many in their party.
  • Tuesday night, the “Democratic Majority For Israel” — a group of pro-Israel Jewish Democrats founded by pollster and strategist Mark Mellman — immediately Tweeted out: “We hope you’ll join us in congratulating Senator @KamalaHarris on her selection as @JoeBiden’s running mate! They are the perfect team to take on President Trump and restore American leadership!”
  • Mellman’s group also Tweeted: “Pro-Israel Democratic presidential candidate. Pro-Israel Democratic vice presidential candidate. Pro-Israel Democratic platform.”
  • As a freshman Senator, Harris visited Israel in November 2017 and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who Tweeted out a picture of their meeting. 
  • The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported Tuesday night, “As a senator, Harris has been aligned with Biden on Israel: She is seen as a strong supporter with ties to AIPAC, the country’s largest pro-Israel lobby, and unlike some Democrats has not broached the idea of conditioning aid to Israel to influence its policies. During her presidential run, Harris separated herself somewhat from even the mainstream moderates in the pack, firmly opposing the idea of condemnatory U.N. votes or even strong public criticism aimed at swaying Israeli policy. While the more liberal pro-Israel group J Street has endorsed the centrist Biden, who also has committed to keeping spats with Israel private and the idea of not allowing any ‘daylight’ between the U.S. and Israel in diplomatic terms, it has not backed Harris. J Street, which lobbies for a two-state solution, has endorsed more than half of Senate Democrats.”

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What are Jewish Republicans saying about Kamala Harris?

  •  Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, immediately issued a statement on Tuesday night warning that Biden and Harris would “push the Left’s agenda on the American people…endangering our allies and weakening our relationship with Israel.”
  • “Joe Biden has sealed the Democrat Party’s move to the extreme left with the choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate,” Brooks said, making the following points.
  • “Senator Harris wants to put the US back into the disastrous Obama-Biden nuclear deal with Iran.”
  • “She does not stand with Israel and the Jewish community.” 
  • “She voted against an anti-BDS bill in the Senate that also extended an existing loan guarantee program with Israel.”
  • “As Attorney General of California, she received numerous letters from Jewish organizations urging her to act against anti-Semitic activities on campuses in the California public university system, but she refused to answer those pleas.”
  • Brooks added that “Harris is right up there with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party in supporting ‘Medicare for All’ and opposing fair trade deals like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). In a 2016 California Senate candidate debate, then-Attorney General Harris said she had directed local law enforcement that they were not required to comply with ICE detainers for illegal immigrants who committed crimes. A Biden-Harris White House would push the Left’s agenda on the American people, weakening our national security, choking off our economic opportunities, endangering our allies, and weakening our relationship with Israel.”
  • Ari Fleischer, a Jewish Republican who served as White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, was interviewed on Fox News by Laura Ingraham on Tuesday night. He, too, was sharply critical of Harris, but chose to focus on domestic matters, not Israel or foreign policy.
  • “I think two political things are going to happen now that Harris is named,” Fleischer said. “One, this race is going to tighten up even more. The reason is because Biden naming her reminds people that Biden exists. He is so much better off hiding in his bunker and not making any news that he is making news….Secondly, I just question whether or not this is going to boost African-American turnout at all. I don’t think it will. She’s just not that historically exciting to African-Americans, she certainly wasn’t during the primary. And that was the one of the biggest reasons Biden picked her in order to win. I don’t see it.” (watch video clip via Mediaite)

[Note: I wrote this column in my capacity as a private citizen and commentator, not as Chairman of The Joshua Fund, which is a non-profit, non-political and non-partisan organization.]

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NOW WHAT? Lebanon’s Prime Minister and entire Cabinet resign, but take no responsibility for explosion or corruption. What comes next — serious, sweeping reform or tighter Iranian, Hezbollah control?

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High drama in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his entire Lebanese government resigned en masse on Monday, but took no responsibility for the explosion or destruction, nor provided clear indications of what would come next.

“I discovered that the system of corruption was bigger than the state and that the state is bound by this system, and that it is not possible to confront it or get rid of it,”  Diab said at a press conference on Monday night.

“Between us and change, a very thick wall is protected by a class that resists with all dirty methods in order to control the state,” Diab added. “We fought fiercely and with honor, but this battle has no equivalence.”

Diab also took no responsibility for the corruption that he so forcefully denounced.

However, an exclusive Reuters story indicates that Diab and Lebanese President Michel Aoun had recently been warned about the enormous risk of storing the explosive materials at the Beirut Port.

“Lebanese security officials warned the prime minister and president last month that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port posed a security risk and could destroy the capital if it exploded, according to documents seen by Reuters and senior security sources,” Reuters reported. 

“Just over two weeks later,” Reuters added, “the industrial chemicals exploded in a massive blast that obliterated most of the port, killed at least 163 people, injured 6,000 more and destroyed some 6,000 buildings, according to municipal authorities.

The big question: Now what?

Are serious, sweeping reforms coming? Or will Iran and Hezbollah be free to tighten their grip even further?

HassanDiab-Lebanon

“Diab was assigned to lead the government on Dec. 19, 2019, following street protests that toppled the government of his predecessor, Saad Hariri,” noted Arab News. “His government won the confidence vote of parliament on Feb. 11 with the support of Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement. The Lebanese Forces, Future Movement and Progressive Socialist parties did not take part in the vote.”

The first indication that the entire government was stepping down came on Monday afternoon when Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s Minister of Health, told the Associated Press and other reporters that the government has resigned after the devastating blast at the Beirut port which sparked mass protests. 

“The whole government resigned,” Hassan said.

Pledges of aid to help Beirut recover and rebuild are beginning to come in.

“An emergency international donor conference on Sunday raised pledges worth nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief,” Arab News and Reuters reported. “But foreign countries demand transparency over how the aid is used, wary of writing blank cheques to a government perceived by its own people as deeply corrupt. Some are concerned about the influence of Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is designated as a terrorist group by the United States.”

[Photo credit: 1) Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab hands his resignation letter to President Michel Aoun — Reuters; 2) Photo of Diab — Presidency of Lebanon/Handout/Anadolu Agency]

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The Week Ahead: Joe Biden is about to announce his vice presidential running mate. Who will it be? How will it affect Israel? Will it be a winning ticket? The race is actually beginning to tighten. Plus, two other big stories to watch this week.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — Welcome to the first in a new series of columns I’m planning to write every Monday, looking at events and trends that are likely to shape the week ahead here in Israel and throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

These are the three big stories that I’m watching this week:

Big Story #1: Who is Joe Biden going to choose as his Vice Presidential running mate? The Democratic National Convention begins August 17th in Milwaukee and will run through the 20th. Due to the risk of COVID-19, Biden is not going to his own convention to formally receive his party’s nomination. He will, instead, speak via video.

That said, Biden is expected to announce his VP selection in the coming days, before the convention begins. His choice becomes all the more important since he has signaled that he will only serve one term in office, if elected.

Biden has promised to choose a woman, potentially elevating his choice to becoming America’s first woman Commander-in-Chief. His “short list” is actually quite long — and controversial. The New York Times’ “FiveThirtyEight” column has noted that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the pandemic have already pushed Biden “to the left” and asked, “how far will he go?” Could his VP choice push him too far left to compete effectively in the general election?

Jewish groups are, of course, carefully analyzing the VP contenders’ views are towards Israel, Iran and the Arab world. Some Jewish leaders are absolutely convinced that Biden will be strongly pro-Israel. Others are not so sure, openly asking, “Would a Biden presidency be good for Israel?”

Palestinian leaders, meanwhile, are openly urging Biden and his running mate to tilt their policies away from Israel.

Two more key questions:

  • Is Biden — who will turn 78 on November 20th, and would be the oldest person ever to serve as President of the United States) — truly up for the challenge of serving the nation for the next four years? (Whatever your political views, please join me in praying for his health and safety throughout the campaign, along with the health and safety of all the candidates.)
  • And, regardless of whom he chooses to serve with him, is Biden the “shoo-in” to win in November that nearly all media analysts are predicting?

Recent polls show the race is beginning to tighten.

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That said, watch for Biden to get a significant “bounce” in the polls as the mainstream media lavishes high praise on him and whomever he chooses as his running mate.

Then comes the Republican National Convention, August 24 through 27.

Big Story #2: Is Netanyahu trying to take Israel to a fourth round of elections? The key date to watch is August 25th. That’s the day Israel must — by law — have a new budget passed by the Knesset (parliament). If there is no budget, Israelis must go back to the polls. You might think no one would have an appetite for a fourth round in 18th months. Yet Netanyahu’s recent actions suggest he may go there anyway. Why? His approval ratings are plunging. The size of the protests against him are growing. Here’s the column I wrote about this a few days ago. This week should prove very telling.

Big Story #3: Are the Lebanese people preparing to overthrow their government and drive Hezbollah and Iran? At least 158 people died, and more than 6,000 were wounded, in last week’s horrific twin explosions at the Beirut Port. More than 300,000 Beirut residents are now homeless after their apartments were either obliterated or severely damaged. Tens of thousands of Lebanese poured into the streets of Beirut over the weekend. We are witnessing volcanic, possibly revolutionary, anger, as I wrote about on Saturday. The protestors briefly seized control of several key cabinet ministry buildings, before being repulsed by security forces using tear gas and rubber bullets. The nation is beginning to rise up. People are demanding the entire government resign and be replaced. They want answers. They want their leaders to be held accountable for the worst single-day disaster in the history of the country. A few officials have, in fact, resigned. More resignations are likely coming. But will it be enough? Are we seeing an Arab Summer in Lebanon, similar to the Arab Spring revolts in other capitals from nearly a decade ago? Or will the latest surge of anger eventually dissipate, leaving behind no lasting reforms? And what will the international community do? Many nations are pledging billions of dollars to help Beirut recover and rebuild? But will the aid ultimately go to prop up the corruption of the current government, and help further entrench the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror movement? Or will the U.S. and other world government insist on serious, sweeping reforms? 

[Former Vice President Joe Biden talks with Senator Elizabeth Warren (center) and Senator Kamala Harris (right) after the conclusion of the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo]

[Poll: Real Clear Politics graphic.]

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BREAKING: Volcanic, revolutionary rage building against Lebanese government and Hezbollah. Massive protests. Government ministries stormed. Resignations begin. But will any of it be enough to set Lebanon free?

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Volcanic rage at the government and at Hezbollah is rapidly rising all across Lebanon.

The economy is melting down. Hyperinflation is ravaging the country. And since September, the Lebanese currency “has lost 85 to 90 percent of its value,” noted a recent news report.

Then came the devastating twin explosions on August 4th that killed at least 158 people and injured more than 6,000.

On the defensive, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was forced to deliver a televised address on Friday denying any responsibility for the storage of weapons or ammonium nitrate at the Beirut Port.

“I absolutely, categorically deny the presence of missiles or any material for us in any warehouse at the port,” Nasrallah said, despite widespread beliefs among the people to the contrary. 

Yet even as the public demands answers and accountability, Lebanese President Michel Aoun is adamantly refusing to allow an international investigation into the cause of the disaster. “The goal of calls for an international investigation in the port case is to waste time,” said Aoun’s media office. 

Are conditions ripening for a full-scale revolution? Perhaps.

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Consider the latest events:

Will it be enough to truly set Lebanon free from corruption and terror?

Wave of Resignations

As the wave of anti government rage grows, senior Lebanese officials have begun to resign. Consider the latest examples:

  • Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad resigned on Sunday, the first cabinet-level official to resign since the twin explosions.
  • Five Lebanese Members of Parliament also resigned over the weekend — three were from a political bloc known as “Kateab,” another was from an independent party, the other was a member of the Progressive Socialist party. 
  • “The current constitutional institutions and those who are in charge of them do not represent my aspirations nor the aspirations of those who gave me the trust and honor to represent them,” wrote Kataeb MP Nadim Gemayel in his resignation letter to the Speaker. 
  • On Monday — well before the explosions — the nation’s Foreign Minister resigned, saying, “Lebanon today is not the Lebanon that we loved and wanted as a beacon and a model. Lebanon is slipping into a failed state,” and warned that there was no serious reform effort underway.

Resignations Not Enough

Many Lebanese, however, say such resignations are not nearly enough.

“The head of Lebanon’s Maronite church meanwhile called on the entire government to step down over the 4 August explosion, a blast widely seen as shocking proof of the rot at the core of the state apparatus,” reported Agence France Presse. “Maronite patriarch Beshara Rai joined the chorus of people pressing Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet to step down over a blast he said could be ‘described as a crime against humanity.'”

“It is not enough for a lawmaker to resign here or a minister to resign there,” the Patriarch said in a Sunday sermon. “It is necessary, out of sensitivity to the feelings of the Lebanese and the immense responsibility required, for the entire government to resign, because it is incapable of moving the country forward.”

This is not the first time that Lebanese Christian leaders have called for government ministers to resign. Last October — well before the explosions — Reuters reported that “the head of the Maronite Christian Lebanese forces party Samir Geagea said he asked his party’s ministers to resign from the government…amid widespread national protests” against corruption and poor leadership. 

Where Is Lebanon Heading?

Prime Minister Hassan Diab is now calling for early elections.

The critical question is this: Will the leaders of Iran who fund and control the Hezbollah terrorist organization — and by extension effectively control Lebanon as almost a province of Iran — allow real reforms to take place, much less free and fair elections designed to drive Hezbollah and Iranian influence out of the government?

The corollary question is this: Will world governments ready to donate billions of dollars to help the Lebanese people rebuild and recover condition their aid on the removal of the current government and all of its ties to Iran and Hezbollah?

Worth noting was a scathing editorial this week by Faisal J. Abbas, the editor-in-Chief of Arab News. Excerpts from his column:

  • If any one group is to blame for the mess in what was once the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” it is the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
  • For too long, these agents of doom have hijacked Lebanon’s opportunities, dreams and aspirations.
  • They decide, unilaterally, to drag the country to war, or to be involved in the affairs of other Arab states. They have been given numerous opportunities to lay down their weapons (which have in any case been redundant since Israel’s withdrawal in 2000) and confine themselves to peaceful politics. Instead they stand accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, for an unnecessary war in 2006, and for the takeover of Beirut in 2008, which may have ended in the direct sense but continues indirectly.
  • Hezbollah-backed Bashar Assad when he slaughtered his own people, they backed the Houthi militias in Yemen when they attacked Saudi civilians, and now they are slowly killing off any hope of Lebanon’s survival as a functioning state….
  • Hezbollah, the root of this cancer, must be isolated, targeted, and removed. The imminent tribunal verdict on Hariri’s assassination may begin that process, followed by an international “Marshall Plan” for Lebanon conditional on this terrorist group’s eradication….
  • If this disaster does not rid the beleaguered Lebanese people of their accursed leadership, nothing will. And the flood of aid already pouring in from countries such as France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE proves that the friends of Lebanon have not given up on it. Neither should the Lebanese.

Please continue to pray for the people of Lebanon as they face tremendous suffering and government oppression. It is time they be set free.

[Photo #1: Protesters gather in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square to demand sweeping political changes. AFP/Getty Images; Photo #2: screen capture of Sheikh Nasrallah’s televised speech on Friday.]

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Fourth elections? Amidst COVID-19 and high unemployment, Israelis have little interest. Yet Netanyahu does. Here’s why.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — To most Israelis, the very notion of a fourth round of national elections, one that could even happen before the end of 2020, seems insane.

  • The country is battling a serious second wave of the coronavirus.
  • The death toll from COVID-19 is rising daily.
  • The borders are still closed to foreigners.
  • The tourism sector is suffering terribly.
  • One-out-of-five Israelis are out of work — up from just 4% unemployment in January. 
  • And there is no clear plan to crush the coronavirus and fully reopen the economy, despite the fact that a “corona czar” was appointed in late July to coordinate all policy.

Yet the Israeli media are filled with speculation that new elections may be coming soon.

The key date to watch is August 25th. By law, if the government has not passed a budget by then, new elections will be automatically triggered. 

The national unity government’s coalition agreement between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister/Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz states that lawmakers will pass a two-year budget. Netanyahu is now pushing for just a one-year budget instead. Gantz is resisting. A growing number of political observers say Netanyahu is trying to force a crisis to go back to elections to prevent Gantz from becoming the nation’s next premier.

Why?

Because new polls show that Netanyahu could put together a right-wing government next time without needing the help of Gantz and his party. While Netanyahu’s own approval rating has plunged precipitously, and Likud’s numbers are dropping too, still there has been an overall resurgence of other right-wing parties. That could potentially give Netanyahu and the right-wing full control of the government after a new set of elections, allowing them to checkmate their centrist rival, Gantz.

Still, those same polls show serious risks to Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Gantz has at least one interesting card up his sleeve to counter Netanyahu. He and his allies are actively discussing passing legislation that would prevent a Prime Minister who is under indictment from running for office. Such legislation would have to be passed before August 25. While not be easy, it may be possible. 

Gantz’s “Blue & White” party issued a statement this week, according to Ynet News, declaring that “the citizens of Israel will not forgive he who drags the state to elections in a medical and economic emergency period…we must pass an annual budget as all Israeli economists recommend.”

How will it all play out? It’s impossible to say yet. Just keep your eyes on August 25th. 

[Photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/pool/Agence France Presse.] 

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BREAKING: In surprise visit to Beirut, French President Macron seems to call for regime change in Lebanon. Is that really what he meant? Here’s the latest.

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With at least 157 people dead and 5,000 people wounded, immense public anger is rising in the Lebanese capital.

As the smoke clears from two horrific explosions that leveled the Port of Beirut, some of that anger is directed at the Lebanese government, which some say is corrupt and possibly criminally negligent for allowing such a huge amount of dangerous, explosive materials to be stored in such an unsafe manner at the port.

Some of that anger is directed at Hezbollah — the “Party of God” — the Iranian-backed terrorist organization that increasingly controls the political and economic life of the country and is widely blamed for the economic suffering of the country.

Such anger boiled over Thursday as crowds welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron, who arrived in Beirut on Thursday to see the devastation first-hand and to offer both his condolences and his country’s financial assistance to recover and rebuild.

“Free us from Hezbollah!” some of the crowd demanded of Macron.

Others shouted, “Revolution!”, while still others told the French leader that “the people want to bring down the regime!”

“Macron visited shell-shocked Beirut Thursday, pledging support and urging change after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury,” reported French TV news channel 24.

“I will talk to all political forces to ask them for a new pact,” Macron promised. “I am here today to propose a new political pact to them.”

Macron, whose country once ruled Lebanon and Syria from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I to the establishment of two independent nation states after World War II, insisted that did not endorse the current “regime” governing Lebanon.

What’s more, he vowed that the financial aid that France is offering would not fall into the “hands of corruption.”

“I see the emotion on your face, the sadness, the pain — this is why I’m here,” the French president said, according to a Reuters dispatch, adding that “what is…needed here is political change. This explosion should be the start of a new era.”

Is Macron really calling for regime change?

It certainly sounded that way. Indeed, that’s the way many heard it.

But does he really intend to pry Hezbollah’s grip — and, by extension, Iran’s grip — from Lebanon’s throat?

Lebanon was once described as the “Switzerland of the Middle East.” Today, tragically, it is an economic basket case and effectively an Iranian vassal state.

Could Macron possibly commit the political will, much less the economic and military muscle, that would be necessary to truly liberate the people of Lebanon from the forces Iranian radicalism and home-grown corruption and mismanagement?

That would be something — but count me skeptical.

Macron said he plans to return to Lebanon on September 1st.

For the moment, “the Lebanese Army stepped in Wednesday to assume security operations in the capital amid a two-week state of emergency,” reported Fox News. “Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud told Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath, adding that nearly 300,000 people are homeless.”

Those estimates are double or triple what Lebanese officials were saying just 24 hours earlier.

[Photo credit: Reuters / Al Arabiya]

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BREAKING: Lebanon declares “state of emergency.” Explosions leave 300,000 homeless. Damages could total $5 billion. Pope Francis and Evangelical leaders call for urgent prayer for people of Beirut.

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Lebanese President Michel Aoun and his cabinet on Wednesday declared a “state of emergency,” as the magnitude of the devastation in Beirut became more clear by the hour.

“The governor of Lebanon’s Beirut, Marwan Abboud, said on Wednesday that the value of damages caused by the explosion which shook the capital ranges between $3 billion and $5 billion,” reported Al-Arabiya, citing the Lebanese National News Agency.

“I think there are between 250,000 and 300,000 people who are now without homes,” Abboud said.

Hundreds of Beirut residents are still missing at this hour.

“Pope Francis has called on people to pray for Lebanon in the aftermath of Tuesday’s deadly explosion,” reported CNN. 

  • “Yesterday in Beirut, near the port, there were massive explosions causing dozens of deaths, wounding thousands and causing serious destruction,” the Pope said in his weekly General Audience on Wednesday, from the library of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.
  • “Let us pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon so that, through the dedication of all its social, political and religious elements, it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”

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Other Catholic leaders called for prayers, as well.

  • “We ask your nation to carry Lebanon in its hearts at this difficult stage and we place great trust in you and in your prayers, and that the Lord will protect Lebanon from evil through your prayers,” said Father Miled el-Skayyem, a Lebanese priest, according to a report by the Catholic News Agency. 

Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society, sent out an email describing his city laying in “apocalyptic ruin” and providing a list of ways that Evangelicals around the world can be praying for the people of Beirut at this hour:

“The massive blast that took place at the port of Beirut late in the afternoon today left an important part of the city laying in apocalyptic ruin — the rumble of the explosion was felt all the way to Cyprus,” Costa wrote.

“Beirut looks like a war zone as the devastating shockwave shattered windows and vitrines sending debris and glass flying in all directions,” he added. “This calamity could not have come at a worse time for a country on the brink of financial collapse and social implosion while the number of coronavirus cases have surged in recent days. The reasons behind the explosion are still unknown.”

Among his prayer requests:

  • Please pray for those who have lost their homes and loved ones so that they may find comfort and healing.
  • Please pray for the doctors, nurses and paramedics who are caring for the injured.
  • Please pray for the rescue teams that are trying to find missing family members and neighbors.
  • Please pray for people who are in places of responsibility as they manage the catastrophic human and economic consequences.
  • Please pray for the Church as it seeks to comfort and serve the distressed and brokenhearted.
  • Please pray for the People of God as they seek the Lord and humbly cry out to Him for mercy.
  • Pray for LSESD/MEBO family of ministries and in specific for the Beirut Baptist School and the Gateway Bookshop, which suffered important material damage and for the staff who have been injured by the glass debris.

Developing…..

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[Photo credits: Hurriyet Daily News]