December 14/2013


Bible Quotation for today/The Triumphant Approach to Jerusalem

Luke 19/28-40/: "After Jesus said this, he went on in front of them toward Jerusalem. As he came near Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead  with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you; as you go in, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If someone asks you why you are untying it, tell him that the Master needs it.” They went on their way and found everything just as Jesus had told them.  As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying it?” “The Master needs it,” they answered,  and they took the colt to Jesus. Then they threw their cloaks over the animal and helped Jesus get on. As he rode on, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road went down the Mount of Olives, the large crowd of his disciples began to thank God and praise him in loud voices for all the great things that they had seen:  “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God!” Then some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke to Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “command your disciples to be quiet!” Jesus answered, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting"


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For December 141/13

DEBKAfile/No US, EU objections to Iran holding nuclear-capable missiles able to reach Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey/December 14/13
Peace in the Middle East: Last call/The Daily Star/December 14/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For December 14/13
Lebanese Related News

President Slieman Seeking Formation of Neutral Cabinet before May

Suleiman More Lenient on 2-3 Year 'Renewal' of his Mandate

More rain and snow leading into sunny weekend

Death toll from Lebanon storm rises, schools close

STL President Again Urges Merhi to Appear before Court, Appoint Lawyer

Amelie Zinzius Sworn in as New STL Deputy Registrar

Report: Hizbullah Engaged in Direct Contacts with CIA, Pentagon

Italy PM Arrives in Lebanon for Talks with Top Officials

Several Hurt as Residents Clash with ISF over Minieh Building Violation

3 Indonesian UNIFIL Troops Hurt as Jeep Overturns Due to Storm

Report: 3-Month-Old Syrian Dies from Cold in Akkar

3-Member Lebanese Network Arrested over Counterfeit Money Scam

Owner of Expired Meat Depot Gets 1 Year in Jail

Tripoli Building Evacuated over Fears of Collapse

Jumblat Says he Will Go to Syria Only after Regime Collapses

Miscellaneous Reports And News

UN panel: Sanctions against Iran must be enforced despite Geneva deal
15 Iranians among 18 Pipeline Workers Killed by Iraq Gunmen

FSA struggles with Western aid freeze ahead of Geneva II

Final UN report confirms chemical weapons used multiple times in Syria

Islamists kill 15 Alawite, Druze civilians in Syria
Iran, Saudi among 30 countries invited to Syria talks

Kerry Says Iran Nuclear Talks Expected to Resume in 'Next Few Days'

Senate bill 'in the oven' as US tightens existing sanctions on Iran

Be careful in Iran talks, B’nai B’rith president urges US
Israeli, Palestinian officials to coordinate civilian emergency responses
American who went missing in Iran in 2007 was on rogue CIA mission

Israel voted full member of CERN, first non-European country to be admitted
Israel suspends controversial Beduin resettlement plan
Kerry back again, continues pushing Abbas, Netanyahu

U.S. Airport Worker Arrested for Car Bomb Plot

President Seeking Formation of Neutral Cabinet before May
Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/President Michel Suleiman is seeking to form a neutral cabinet ahead of the end of his term in May 2014, al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Friday. Ministerial sources told the daily that Suleiman might adopt this option in coordination with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam if he believed that the rival parties won't extend his presidential term. The sources said that Suleiman is relying on a Western diplomatic support for him in order to find the appropriate way to extend his term despite the international community's continuous demand that the Presidential elections should be held on time. In September, Suleiman said that he would challenge the extension of his mandate if the parliament took such a move amid soaring political tensions and the failure to form a new government. Suleiman’s tenure ends in May 2014, but the constitutional period to elect a new head of state begins on March 25, two months prior to the expiration of Suleiman’s mandate. The daily quoted sources as saying that Suleiman is seeking to form a government before his term end not to avoid vacuum but to guarantee his election for a new term. The March 14 coalition had continuously called for the formation of a neutral cabinet while the March 8 alliance urged the formation of a political, national unity cabinet. Salam has repeatedly blamed the conditions and counter conditions set by the rival March 8 and March 14 camps on his failure to come up with a cabinet line up since his appointment in April.

Suleiman More Lenient on 2-3 Year 'Renewal' of his Mandate

Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/President Michel Suleiman prefers to renew his mandate rather than extend it, well-informed diplomatic sources told As Safir newspaper published on Friday. The sources quoted Suleiman as telling his French counterpart Francois Hollande in September that he rejects the extension of his term, even for a day. “But if the Lebanese want to keep me in my post to avoid the vacuum in all state institutions, then I am ready to carry out this mission on condition that it goes through Constitutional channels,” Suleiman allegedly said. He meant by it the amendment of the Constitution and then his election by the 128-member parliament.
The sources told As Safir that Suleiman has also confirmed to some of his advisers that he was ready for the renewal of his term for two to three years “but not at the expense of my dignity.” The daily said that a visit by Hollande to Saudi Arabia at the end of this month could facilitate the push to avoid vacuum in Lebanon's top post. It added that Paris along with the U.S. have taken the initiative to resolve the crisis. Suleiman's six-year term ends in May 2014 but there are fears that differences between the rival March 8 and 14 alliances would lead to a further clash among the MPs and prevent them from heading to parliament to elect a new president. The 60-day Constitutional deadline for the election of a new president starts on March 25.

STL President Again Urges Merhi to Appear before Court, Appoint Lawyer
Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/Special Tribunal for Lebanon President David Baragwanath on Friday urged the suspect Hassan Habib Merhi anew to appear before the court and appoint a lawyer to represent him. “Seven weeks ago, on October 21, 2013, I invited you to consider whether you are prepared to face the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to answer the charges in the indictment,” Baragwanath said in a written statement addressed to Merhi. “These are very serious charges, including acts of terrorism and murder. I urge you to get legal advice and appoint a lawyer to represent you before the Tribunal,” the judge added. “As an alternative to appearing in person in the Netherlands, you may have the right to participate in hearings by video-conference,” Baragwanath noted, addressing Merhi. On October 21, Baragwanath had announced the confirmation of an indictment accusing Merhi of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, for which four other accused are to be tried in absentia. The trial will begin on January 16, 2014. “The Lebanese authorities have so far been unable to locate Mr Merhi. I have therefore ordered the service of the indictment in alternative modes, which include public advertisement. If, following such procedures, Mr. Merhi has not been brought under the Tribunal’s authority, the Trial Chamber will be asked to decide whether to initiate proceedings against him in absentia,” Baragwanath said on October 21. The court had delivered on Oct. 11 posters of Merhi to the Lebanese authorities “for the purpose of public advertisement.”The confirmed indictment and an arrest warrant were transmitted confidentially to the Lebanese authorities on August 6 so that they could “search for, arrest and transfer the accused to STL custody.” The Lebanese authorities were given 30 calendar days to carry out this obligation and report back on their efforts by September 5, 2013. On Sep. 6, the Lebanese Prosecutor General submitted his confidential report to the tribunal's president, stating that the accused was not found. Merhi is charged with a number of crimes including "the crime of conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act." He is alleged to have acted in a conspiracy with Hizbullah members Mustafa Amin Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra in relation to the attack on February 14, 2005, all of whom have already been indicted. The accused Merhi is alleged to have coordinated the preparation of the purported claim of responsibility as part of the preparations for and in furtherance of, the attack, said the STL.
The STL said Merhi is “a supporter of Hizbullah” who was born on December 12, 1965 in Beirut. “He is the son of Habib Merhi and Latifa Abbas,” it added, revealing that he has resided in Burj al-Barajneh and that “he is a citizen of Lebanon.”Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has rejected the STL, describing it as an American-Israeli conspiracy against his party. He has vowed never to cooperate with the tribunal, saying that the suspects will never be found.


Amelie Zinzius Sworn in as New STL Deputy Registrar
Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/Amelie Zinzius was sworn on Friday as Deputy Registrar for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. She replaces Daryl Mundis, who was appointed Registrar in July this year, announced the STL in a statement. “Zinzius will be working with the Registrar to provide administrative, legal and other essential support to the Tribunal and will deputize in his absence. She will also oversee judicial services to ensure the smooth running of court proceedings,” it added. Zinzius has been a lawyer since 1992. Prior to her role as Acting Deputy Registrar as of August 2013, she was Chief of the STL’s Court Management Services Section which deals with a range of court management services, including information management, trial activity, and international and stakeholder relations. Before joining the Tribunal, she was Deputy Director and Senior Counsel for more than three years at the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Section Department of Justice in Canada. She has also worked as the Senior Legal Officer for the Appeals Chamber in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, providing legal advice to the Appeal Chamber Judges in relation to complex legal matters involving substantive and procedural issues in international criminal law.


Italy PM Arrives in Lebanon for Talks with Top Officials
Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta arrived Friday evening in Lebanon for a two-day official visit, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.
Letta was welcomed at the airport by caretaker Economy Minister Nicolas Nahhas, who represented caretaker PM Najib Miqati. Italian Ambassador to Lebanon Giuseppe Morabito and an embassy delegation were also present at the Rafik Hariri International Airport. During his visit, the Italian PM will hold talks with President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and PM Miqati on “the relations between the two countries and means to boost cooperation in all fields,” said NNA. Letta is also scheduled to inspect the Italian contingent operating within the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and will meet with UNIFIL Commander Paolo Serra, who is an Italian general. In addition, the premier will visit a number of Syrian families who have sought refuge in Lebanon and will hold a press conference after meeting Miqati at the Grand Serail at noon Saturday, the agency added. On Wednesday, Letta won a parliamentary confidence vote after Silvio Berlusconi's party quit the ruling coalition over a tax fraud conviction.  Letta – who came to power in April following a 2-month stalemate after an inconclusive general election – promised to push through a pro-European reform agenda and bring political stability and economic growth to a country on the point of exiting its longest post-war recession. In October, a new Italian warship deployed off the Lebanese coast, joining the UNIFIL naval forces. The warship, Andrea Doria, had 237 Italian naval peacekeeping troops on board. It was first dispatched to the eastern Mediterranean in September with the aim of evacuating UNIFIL's 1,100-member Italian contingent should the conflict in Syria spill over the border.  Spain currently commands the 12,100-strong UNIFIL force, which was founded in 1978 and expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah. In 2011, six Italian peacekeepers were wounded in a roadside bombing in Sidon.


Report: Hizbullah Engaged in Direct Contacts with CIA, Pentagon
Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/The U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are engaged in direct and indirect contacts with Hizbullah, al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Friday. According to the report, the talks focus on several aspects and include the Islamist movement Hamas. However, information received by LBCI ruled out the report, saying it was not true. In November, the U.S. embassy in Lebanon denied a report by the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa newspaper saying that U.S. officials have been involved in talks with Hizbullah. "No official at the embassy has or is engaged in discussion with members of the terrorist organization Hizbullah,” the Embassy clarified to Naharnet in a statement. The newspaper had said in a report that indirect and secret contacts are ongoing between Hizbullah and the U.S. embassy in Lebanon. The daily quoted a March 14 MP as saying that the “relations between the Hizbullah and the U.S. are developing positively.” The MP also noted that U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale informed various Lebanese leaders that “a cabinet can not be formed without Hizbullah participation.” However, the embassy's statement also denied this claim, stressing that the makeup of the new Lebanese cabinet is to be decided by the Lebanese people only.
"We will judge the government not by its numbers, but by its composition, mandate and actions,” it remarked.

Several Hurt as Residents Clash with ISF over Minieh Building Violation

Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/Several people were wounded Friday in a clash between the Malas family and the Internal Security Forces over the removal of a construction violation in the northern town of Minieh. State-run National News Agency said a spat broke out between a man identified as Abu Ali Malas and ISF members “as they tried to remove a construction violation” in Minieh. Meanwhile, Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said “clashes erupted in Minieh between the ISF and members of the Malas family, leaving five people wounded, including two ISF members.”It later reported that the standoff had come to an end without elaborating any further. In November, three ISF members were injured when gunmen opened fire on them in the northern district of Zgharta and in the city of Tripoli as they clamped down on construction violators.


Jumblat Says he Will Go to Syria Only after Regime Collapses
Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat has said that he would visit Syria only if the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad collapses and the country is “liberated.”In remarks to French-language daily L'Orient Le Jour, Jumblat said: “Neither I nor my son have planned for a single moment to go to Damascus.” “We will head to Damascus when it is liberated from the group that is now in power,” he said. Jumblat's remarks came in response to accusations by Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdul Karim Ali that the PSP chief had contributed to a campaign against the Syrian regime by twisting facts and protecting armed elements. He said ties between the regime and Jumblat were totally cut. Reports that the doors of Damascus were open for Jumblat's son Taymour were not true, the diplomat added, drawing the PSP chief's retaliatory remarks.
"He is a deceptive person," Jumblat told the daily about the ambassador. Ali also lashed out at the U.S. for being the maestro of an aggression which takes Syria as a battlefield. He said Turkey is an essential springboard for the armed rebels while Saudi Arabia is a major financial backer. Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad are fighting rebels seeking to topple him. The fighting erupted in early 2011 when Assad launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests and has since evolved into a full-blown civil war that has claimed an estimated 126,000 lives.


Report: 3-Month-Old Syrian Dies from Cold in Akkar
Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/A Syrian infant has died from cold weather in the northern Akkar province, the state-run National News Agency reported on Friday, as the blustery storm kept a tight grip on Lebanon. NNA said 3-month-old Mahmoud Raad, whose parents are Syrian refugees, died in a room where his family was staying in the town of Akroum. But the agency said some witnesses claimed the baby was suffering from jaundice and that his death was not caused by the severe cold. If confirmed that Raad died from cold, it would be the first fatality in Lebanon directly caused by the severe weather. There have been several casualties in car crashes caused by slippery roads. The snowstorm, dubbed Alexa, has been battering Lebanon since Tuesday, bringing snow to areas as low as 400 meters above sea level, and a severe drop in temperatures. The snowstorm is expected to continue through Friday and early Saturday, the Meteorology Department said. It has forced aid agencies to scramble to distribute desperately needed winter supplies like blankets to Syrian refugees who have sought safe haven in Lebanon. Many Syrians in Lebanon live in appalling conditions, finding shelter in slums, tents and tin shacks strung with laundry lines and wedged between farmland outside towns and cities. Most public and private schools remained closed for the third consecutive day on Friday. All of Lebanese mountains were covered with heavy snow as military units worked to help stranded residents in remote towns and villages, NNA said.
The army evacuated scores of people and took their vehicles to safety, it added.

Peace in the Middle East: Last call

December 13, 2013/The Daily Star
As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in the Middle East Thursday evening, his ninth visit since February, the region was left wondering what exactly he hoped to achieve this time around, or perhaps he had simply developed a taste for the local shawarma. His last trip to Israel and Palestine was just last week, when he arrived with a new security plan which allowed Israel to retain control of security in the Jordan Valley.
Obviously it was welcomed by Israel, and lambasted by the Palestinians, who have rejected the plan. If Kerry is indeed here to try and find new support for the plan, it was a completely wasted journey, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warning Thursday evening that “If America wants to protect the security of Israel, they can go there [to the Jordan Valley], but we will not accept Israel being there.”
Or maybe Kerry is trying to manage the general situation so it does not look like yet another dramatic failure of U.S. foreign policy, another instance of the United States promising something but failing to deliver.
However, it does seem that the Americans have finally realized that the Palestine question is one foreign policy problem which will not simply disappear, something Israeli right-wingers continue to believe, having hoped, from their initial occupation of the land in 1948, that future generations of Palestinians would just move on and forget about what had once been their home. Other Middle Eastern issues come and go, and steal the headlines for months and years at a time, but the question of a homeland for the Palestinian people will be here until it is achieved. And instead of “forgetting,” younger Palestinians are often much more extremist in their commitment to the cause than their predecessors. After 65 years of living in what were initially intended to be temporary settlements, those Palestinians living outside are also similarly driven by their right to return. But America’s sudden interest in the Middle East peace process, signaled by Kerry’s flurry of visits to the region, which he has joked is his “commute,” is not down to any commitment to justice, or human rights or freedom. For then they would have been working earnestly on the issue since 1948. Instead they have just finally woken up to the fact that the issue is not going away any time soon.  But while the American policy on the Palestine issue has been severely lacking, ranging from the hazy to the objectively destructive, Arab neighbors have also failed. The Arab League announced Thursday that foreign ministers would meet in Cairo in a couple of weeks to “discuss the peace process.” How many times over the last six decades has a similar statement been issued? What good will this actually achieve, save for a nice weekend in a Cairo hotel? The coming days will reveal whether or not Kerry has something new up his sleeve, so perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt. However, the Palestinians have said they do not want an interim deal, but rather a commitment to all final status issues. Kerry said last week that a resolution was closer than ever. Would he really say that if it didn’t bear any element of truth? Instead of words, as American negotiators have brought before, Kerry needs to bring action: resolutions and concrete promises that Israel can be held accountable on. If the U.S. really wants to be an honest broker for peace, this is what is needed now. Now is the time for the U.S. to stand up for Palestine and to show that it can break away from Israel. A Palestinian state will not be achieved through words alone, nor through echoing Israeli policy.


'American who went missing in Iran in 2007 was on rogue CIA mission'

By JPOST.COM STAFF 12/13/2013/'Washington Post' reports that ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson was not in Iran as a private citizen as has been claimed, but was on an unsanctioned mission at behest of certain CIA analysts to get information about Iranian regime. An American private investigator who went missing in Iran more than six years ago was working for the CIA at the time, in an unsanctioned rogue operation, The Washington Post revealed on Thursday. Retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Levinson disappeared during a trip to an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf in March 2007. US officials have said that Levinson made the trip as a private investigator. According to The Washington Post, CIA officials told Congress and FBI investigators in closed meetings that Levinson did not go to Iran for the CIA. However, the Post cited emails and documents as suggesting that Levinson was in Iran at the behest of CIA analysts who had no authority to direct such an overseas operation.The investigation into the incident eventually led the CIA to discipline 10 employees involved, including three analysts who were removed from their jobs, the Post reported.
The CIA also took responsibility for the abduction of Levinson, paying his wife a $2.5 million settlement, the Post quoted intelligence officials as saying.
Levinson, who worked for 28 years as an investigator for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, traveled on March 8, 2007 to Kish Island, a Gulf resort and free trade zone. Friends of Levinson said that, around that time, he had been investigating the counterfeiting of cigarettes, though mainly in Latin America.
On Kish Island, he was scheduled to meet Dawud Salahuddin, formerly known as David Belfield, an American Islamic militant, friends of Levinson say.
In July 1980, during the hostage crisis in which American diplomats in Tehran were held prisoner by Iranian students, Salahuddin allegedly shot dead a former spokesman for the Shah-era Iranian Embassy at his suburban Washington home. Salahuddin then fled to Iran, where he spent the following decades pursuing activities ranging from English teaching to fighting with militants in Afghanistan to acting in an award-winning Iranian movie.
Earlier this year, an Iranian lawyer for Levinson's family told the US-supported broadcasting outlet Radio Free Europe that Levinson did meet with Salahuddin on Kish Island before mysteriously vanishing.
According to the Post, Levinson believed that Salahuddin could provide him with information about the Iranian regime. The US suspected that Iranian security services were responsible for his abduction.
In November 2010, a video surfaced in which Levinson asked for help in winning his freedom but did not say who was holding him or where. The Iranian government has repeatedly said it knows nothing about Levinson's disappearance or whereabouts. In a March 2011 statement, Hillary Clinton, then secretary of State, said that Levinson was being held somewhere in South Asia, raising the possibility that he could be in the custody of a militant or criminal group. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Levinson's family in March and urged anyone with information about his whereabouts to come forward. The White House said at the time that finding Levinson is "a high priority" for the United States. According to the Post report, Levinson had gone around the world acting as a spy for the CIA, even though he was supposed to provide academic reports on money laundering only. In a violation of agency rules, he was reimbursed for his expenses while providing information on Iran's nuclear program, Colombian rebels and former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
*Reuters contributed to this report.

FSA struggles with Western aid freeze ahead of Geneva II
December 13, 2013/By Marlin Dick/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A powerful message sent this week by the U.S. and Britain to the leadership of the rebel Free Syrian Army won’t change much on the battlefield in the run-up to the “Geneva II” peace conference scheduled for next month, but the political damage to the mainstream rebel group is considerable. International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has given Syria’s warring sides until Dec. 27 to name their delegations to Geneva II, officials said Thursday.
More than 30 ministers from big powers, regional countries and others are due to gather in the resort of Montreux on Jan. 22 to give their blessing to the negotiations between the government of President Bashar Assad and rebels fighting to oust him.  Brahimi is scheduled to broker the first face-to-face Syrian talks beginning the following day. Iran and Saudi Arabia are among those slated to attend, diplomats said. The conference is designed to follow through on the Geneva I meeting, which endorsed the establishment of a transitional authority with full executive powers, part of a political process to end nearly three years of fighting that has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced millions.
Syria’s fractured opposition now has two weeks to name its delegation members as its military wing grappled with Wednesday’s decision by Washington and London to suspend shipments of nonlethal aid to the rebels via Turkey. The decision was announced several days after FSA warehouses and headquarters near the Turkish border were seized by fighters from the Islamic Front, a coalition of seven major rebel groups.
The FSA’s leadership dismissed as “nonsense” reports that its head, Gen. Salim Idriss, was forced to flee to Qatar as a result of the dispute. Its spokesmen said Idriss was busy meeting with leaders from the Islamic Front near the border, in a bid to sort out the issue of the warehouses. Both the FSA and the Islamic Front have portrayed the developments as a misunderstanding – they say the FSA asked for the Front’s help to defend the facilities from an attack by hard-line jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
Commenting on the decision, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that “what has occurred here in the last couple of days is a clear reflection on how complicated and dangerous this situation is and how unpredictable it is.”
“We continue to support General Idriss and the moderate opposition,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. “But this is a problem ... and we’re going to have to work through it and manage through it with Gen. Idriss and the moderate opposition.” The incident highlighted how Idriss’ SMC was unable to maintain control of its own bases and it coincides with recent statements by Hagel and other senior American officials that Washington is engaged in seeking out moderate, Islamist rebel groups in a bid to get them involved in the political process to be launched by Geneva II.
The SMC has failed to forge a coherent rebel force to counter either the Islamic Front or the hard-line jihadists of ISIS and the Nusra Front, although this dynamic has been in play for some time, according to analysts who spoke to The Daily Star. The decision to suspend even nonlethal aid to the SMC also underscores a policy of going all-out to move the Syrian crisis into the realm of politics and away from the battlefield, where officials fear the rising influence of the hard-line jihadist groups. Yezid Sayigh, of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said the decision by Washington and London “isn’t a hugely significant move militarily – but it is more significant politically, and will undermine the sense among some Syrians that the SMC is relevant.”The SMC, Sayigh said, has been on a “downward slope” ever since its founding last year.
“It has never exercised effective command and control, and never been particularly effective,” he said, other than in creating a framework for limited coordination among rebels in isolated military engagements. Sayigh expressed skepticism about Idriss’ supposed flight to Qatar, but said it would be instructive to monitor whether the FSA leader would be able to set foot inside Syria after the warehouse debacle. Idriss and other FSA commanders, meanwhile, have repeatedly criticized a lack of sufficient support from outside backers, including Western countries. The suspension of nonlethal military assistance nonetheless undercuts any “military option” that Washington can bring to Geneva, according to Joshua Landis, a Syria expert based in the U.S. “Most people understood the lack of control by Idriss, but an important pretense has now been pulled away,” Landis said. “ Washington can go to Geneva, but it doesn’t have the military option.”
A number of difficult decisions and challenges now await the rebels’ backers, Landis said. American officials recently stated that they are engaging with Islamist rebel groups to get them to accept a political process, but these groups have categorically rejected Geneva II. “The Americans can’t embrace the Islamic Front [as an alternative]. It’s diametrically opposed to U.S. values, and very anti-American,” Landis said.
Landis said that with no feasible military strategy, Washington should be expected to go all-out to convince international players – from Saudi Arabia to Iran and Russia – to halt assistance to the warring sides on both sides of the conflict.
For now, Moscow and Tehran are fully supportive of their ally Assad remaining in power, while Gulf countries don’t favor a political solution, Landis said. “It will all depend on what kind of compromises can be worked out between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Russia and America” as part of Geneva II, Landis said. Moreover, the Ahrar al-Sham militia, which is part of the Islamic Front, has recently been engaged in clashes and a power struggle with the hard-line jihadists of ISIS, also in Aleppo province, which presents a complicated picture for policymakers. “There are many dangerous elements. We know the Nusra [Front], we know Al-Qaeda, we know Hezbollah, extremist groups, terrorist groups, are involved in this [conflict],” Hagel said. “So it’s not a matter of just an easy choice between the good guys and the bad guys here.”
In Syria, fighters from the Islamic Front and the Nusra Front were accused of killing at least 15 civilians and a pro-government fighter from the Alawite and Druze sects in the Damascus suburb of Adra Wednesday and Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

U.S. Airport Worker Arrested for Car Bomb Plot

Naharnet Newsdesk 13 December 2013/U.S. authorities arrested an aviation worker Friday in an apparent sting operation after he tried to explode what he thought was a car bomb at an airport in the state of Kansas. Terry Lee Loewen, 58, was apprehended as part of an undercover investigation when he arrived at Wichita airport. The avionics technician had been under investigation for several months by a terrorism task force in Wichita. "Those explosives were inert and it was not a bomb that would ever explode," U.S. attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom told reporters. Grissom did not reveal where Loewen had obtained the inert bomb. In previous similar cases undercover officers have supplied suspects with bomb-making materials. He was charged with trying to use a weapon of mass destruction, trying to damage property with explosives and trying to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. "At no time was the airport perimeter breached, and ... at no time was any citizen or a member of the traveling public in any type of danger," Grissom said.
According to a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice, Loewen had earlier "made statements that he was resolved to commit an act of violent jihad against the United States." He had also studied the airport, its flight schedules and acquired bomb-making equipment, the statement said. There was no indication that Loewen was working with any religious communities in Wichita, Grissom said. If convicted, Loewen could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. "Lone wolves -- home grown violent extremists remain a very serious threat to our nation's security, said FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Kaste in the statement.
"Today's arrest emphasizes the continual need for the public to remain vigilant as law enforcement relies on the public's assistance." SourceAgence France Presse.

No US, EU objections to Iran holding nuclear-capable missiles able to reach Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey

DEBKAfile Special Report December 13, 2013/US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the provisions for Israel’s security in the future Palestinian state with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Jerusalem Friday, Dec. 13, just two days after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief Maj. Gen, Mohammad Ali Jafari laid bare an issue embodied in the Nov. 24 Geneva accord.which is of high relevance to Israel's security. After a lecture captioned “Islamic Revolution against Global Arrogance,” which he delivered at the Imam Sadegh University in Tehran Wednesday, Dec. 11, a student asked the Revolutionary Guards commander whether any of the Western powers in Geneva had asked for Iran’s missiles to be reduced. “We will never do this,” he replied. Asked by another student to clarify his statement that Iranian missiles can reach Israel, Jafari replied: “We are still increasing the range of our missiles, but currently the Supreme Leader has commanded that we limit the range of our missiles to 2,000 km.”The general therefore released to the public four facts already known to Israeli, Saudi and Turkish leaders,say debkafile’s military sources:

1. The American and European negotiators in Geneva asked to discuss the ranges of Iranian ballistic missiles with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, without citing the types capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Zarif refused to discuss this.
2. The Western delegations persevered, stressing that the US and Europe were concerned over the accelerated co-production by Iran and North Korea of the Shehab-6, which has a range of 3,000-5,600 km, and when operational can reach America and most parts of Europe.
3. The US and European delegates gave the Iranians to understand that they would like to extend the six-month nuclear freeze agreed in Geneva (for which no starting date has yet been set) to the apply to extra range being added to Iran’s ballistic missiles.
There was no objection, they said, to Iran retaining the Shehab missiles with a range of 1,500-2,000 km, which would be capable of striking Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. They were only concerned about extending their range to cover America or Europe.
4. Jaafari’s remarks to students’ questions, which were most probably planted beforehand, lifted a corner of the veil concealing from the public the secret provisions of the deal with Iran on its missile arsenal. According to debkafile’s Middle East sources, officials in authority in Ankara, Riyadh and Jerusalem knew all about it.

Iran halts nuclear talks after US blacklist move

AFP Published: 12.13.13/Ynetnews/Iranian negotiation team returns to Tehran for 'consultations' in wake of Washington's decision to blacklist companies, individuals who evaded US sanctions on Iran . Iranian negotiators halted nuclear talks with major powers to return to Tehran for consultations after Washington blacklisted a dozen companies and individuals for evading US sanctions, state media reported. "The Iranian negotiators interrupted the talks with the P5+1 for consultations in Tehran," a negotiator told Iran's official IRNA news agency.
The negotiators had been discussing the implementation of a landmark interim accord agreed last month with the P5+1 – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.
The decision to halt the talks in Vienna came hours after Washington blacklisted a dozen overseas companies and individuals for evading US sanctions on Iran.
The move prompted two top senators to bow to White House pleas not to introduce new sanctions in Congress.
But it risked angering Tehran after repeated warnings from Iranian officials in recent days that any additional punitive measures would be a violation of last month's agreement. Under the interim deal reached in Geneva, Iran agreed to freeze parts of its suspect nuclear program for six months in return for some $7 billion in relief from Western sanctions as it negotiates a final, comprehensive accord to allay suspicions it is seeking a weapons capability. The United States also agreed to refrain from slapping new sanctions on Iran, but senior administration officials argued that Thursday's measures were taken as part of the existing sanctions regime which had forced Tehran to the negotiating table.