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Quotation for today/Love
01 Corinthians 13/01-13/" I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burned but if I have no love, this does me no good. Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; 10 but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear. When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways. What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God's knowledge of me. Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources
Time for G8 to Make Hezbollah Statement/By: Matthew
What Obama can (and should) do about Iran/By: David Meyers/Ynetnews/June 20/13
Rohani, the Supreme Leader, and the ‘Key’/By Ghassan Charbel/Al Hayat/June 20/13
Rohani’s Iran: Between Two Hopes/By: Hazem Saghieh/Al Hayat/June 20/13
They Are All Khamenei/By: Elias Harfoush/Al Hayat/June 20/13
Change in Syria Following Rohani’s Victory and Obama’s Action?/By: George Semaan/Al Hayat/June 20/13
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for June 20/13
EU holds fresh talks on blacklisting Lebanon's Hezbollah
Hezbollah says spared lives of wounded Syrian rebels
March 14 calls for Hezbollah retreat from Syria
Berri warns of security threats facing Lebanon
Asir Does Not Rule out Military Option if Hizbullah Apartments in Sidon are Not Vacated
Report: Palestinian Factions Vow Neutrality after Asir Asks for Military Aid
Qassem Says Hizbullah Rejects 8-8-8 Formula: Hariri Incites Sectarian Strife, Supports Terrorism
Sidon Scholars Urge Disbanding of 'Groups Operating under Resistance Name', Mufti Says Sedition is 'Haram'
Syrian Troops, Hizbullah Battle Rebels near Damascus as Obama Refuses to Specify Opposition Aid
Berri to Revive Parliamentary Subcommittee for 'Intense' Talks on New Vote Law
Michel Samaha's Trial Kicks Off
Report: Brigade of Jihadist Fighters Claims Wadi Rafeq Crime in 'Fabricated' Tape
Mouawad: Lax International Approach on Syria Threatens Elimination of Entire Mideast Countries
Mansour Denies Reports of Expulsion of Lebanese Expats from Qatar
Adib al-Alam Gets 15 Years Hard Labor, Wife Gets 4 over Spying for Israel
Blogger Questioned for Swearing and Insulting President Contradicting Freedom of Expression
Berri to al-Rahi: We Will Adopt 1960 Law if You Agree
Mouawad: Lax International Approach on Syria Threatens Elimination of Entire Mideast Countries
Aridi: New Government Cannot Be Formed in Light of Unyielding Conditions
March 14: Lebanon's Salvation is Lebanese People's Collective Responsibility
Popular Nasserite Organization Chief Warns of Sectarian Strife in Sidon
Mansour Denies Dispute with Suleiman, Describes Relations 'Excellent'
Constitutional Council Chief Warns of 'Dangerous Precedence,' Calls for Quorum Article Amendment
Blair Says Time Running Out for Mideast Peace
Syria Opposition Says Any Solution Must Bring Down Assad
Experts Says Limited U.S. Arms to Syria Unlikely to Harm Israel
Hollande: New Iran President Welcome at Syria Peace Talks
Syria troops fight rebels near Shiite shrine
UAE charges 30 Egyptians, Emiratis over Brotherhood cell
Somali Islamist rebels launch deadly attack on U.N. compound
Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie says Syria crisis 'worst', calls for more aid
EU holds fresh talks on blacklisting Lebanon's Hezbollah
June 19, 2013/Daily Star
BRUSSELS: European Union experts held a second round of talks at Britain's behest Wednesday on whether to add the military wing of Lebanon's Hezbollah to its list of international terrorist groups, diplomatic sources told AFP. After months of hesitation, counter-terror specialists from the 27-nation bloc first met on the issue June 4 but failed to reach unanimity on blacklisting Lebanon's most powerful group.
Formally requested by Britain, "new talks will take place today," an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity. The addition of the group to the dozen people and score of groups currently on the EU terrorist list -- including Hamas and Colombia's FARC guerrillas -- would make them subject to an asset freeze. Diplomats had said they hoped to have an accord by end June, but while France, Germany and the Netherlands have backed Britain, the Czech Republic is opposed on the grounds this could destabilise politically fragile Lebanon, where Hezbollah is in government. And with other eastern European nations "still needing some time to weigh the issue", as one EU source put it, diplomats held out little hope of an immediate deal. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is visiting Israel on Wednesday and Thursday, is expected to face sharp criticism there on the issue. If left unresolved the matter could be discussed by foreign ministers or heads of state and government at talks in Brussels next week, another diplomat said. Wednesday's closed-door talks take place within a committee known as CP931 after the EU's "common position" 931, setting up the bloc's terrorist blacklist. It meets regularly to oversee the EU list. Despite months of strong pressure from Israel and the United States to follow their example and designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group, the EU up until this month skirted an issue seen as sensitive and divisive, with Britain openly in favour but France and Italy reluctant. As the former colonial power, France feared a negative impact on Lebanon, where Hezbollah is the leading political group while heading an armed wing more powerful than the country's army. There were worries too from France, Italy and Spain for the safety of national troops committed to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL. But mounting global concern over the group's active support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad finally swayed even the most reluctant EU nations.
In Europe, the mood had shifted somewhat last year after an attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria which Sofia blamed on Hezbollah. In March, a Cyprus court sentenced a Hezbollah member to four years behind bars for planning attacks there. There was some confusion in Brussels earlier this month however when Bulgaria appeared to backtrack. But Bulgaria's new Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin was subsequently cited in a statement as telling Ireland's ambassador to Sofia John Rowan that "Bulgaria has not revised its stance on the terrorist act". "Bulgaria is ready to join a consensus decision of the EU and it is our responsibility to present an even more solid basis for this," Vigenin was cited as saying. Hezbollah has been on a US terror blacklist since 1995 after a series of anti-American attacks, including the bombing of the US embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s.
Currently, Britain and the Netherlands are the only EU nations to have placed Hezbollah on their lists of terrorist groups.
Hezbollah says spared lives of
wounded Syrian rebels
June 19, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Hezbollah's deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said Wednesday his group fought “with honor” in Syria and had helped in the transfer of wounded Syrian rebels in accordance with the party’s religious beliefs. “We fought with honor because we were clear [about our involvement in Syria] and we did not [use deception],” Qassem said during a commemoration ceremony in Beirut’s southern suburbs, according to a statement from Hezbollah. “A lot of Arab and regional countries send arms and money and commit ugly acts with their tools then try to deny what they did,” he added. “And this is what happened with some tools [parties] present in Lebanon,” he said, apparently referring to the Future Movement. Hezbollah accuses the Lebanese opposition party of sending fighters to Syria. The Future Movement has denied the allegations. “As for us, we have fought with honor and we did not kill those fleeing [the battles] in adherence to our Islamic [principles] and religion, and we contributed in transferring the wounded in the battles although they were fighters because our religion commands us not to kill any wounded,” he added. Hezbollah has admitted to fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in Syria, claiming it is defending against a U.S.-Israeli-Takfiri project targeting Damascus, which it regards as the “backbone” of the resistance group. The group’s involvement in Syria has been widely condemned. Qassem, during the ceremony, also slammed former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who heads the Future Movement, and accused him of implementing an American-Israeli plot in the region and inciting strife. “Saad Hariri is committing a mistake when he [basis] his political future in accordance with the American-Israeli plot and when he incites sectarian strife, when he refuses a national unity Cabinet and when he supports terrorists in Lebanon and Syria,” he said. The Hezbollah official also reiterated opposition to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s suggestion of a 24-member Cabinet lineup, divided equally between figures acceptable to the March 8, March 14 and centrists. “We nominated ... Salam to form a national unity Cabinet and his responsibility is to be fair in the formation and to form [a Cabinet] in line with national unanimity,” Qassem said, adding that such a government could only be formed if ministerial portfolios are distributed according to the respective representation of parties in Parliament. “We are not a trivial group to accept a marginal share that does not influence [Cabinet] decisions and this is why the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal is something we totally reject,” he added. Hezbollah has called for the formation of national unity Cabinet in which the March 8 coalition is granted veto power. Salam has rejected such a demand and said that no political group will be granted a blocking third in his government. Salam is seeking a non-political government of “national interest” that would see the rotation of ministerial portfolios between sects. The Future Movement and Lebanese Forces, both leading parties in the March 14 alliance, have called for the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet in which political partisans are excluded.
March 14 calls for Hezbollah retreat from Syria
June 19, 2013/By Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition called Tuesday for an immediate withdrawal of Hezbollah from the fighting in Syria and the deployment of the Lebanese Army along the tense border to prevent recurrent attacks on Lebanon.
In a memorandum delivered to President Michel Sleiman, the coalition also called for the formation of a “neutral” government to prevent the collapse of the state and halt Lebanon’s drift into the abyss. A delegation of 57 March 14 lawmakers headed by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora visited Sleiman at Baabda Palace to hand him the memo that mainly warns of the consequences of Hezbollah’s heavy involvement in the 27-month-old civil war in Syria on Lebanon’s fragile security and stability. After receiving the memo, Sleiman underlined the importance of national reconciliation and dialogue among the rival factions for Lebanon to be able to overcome the challenges it is facing, the state-run National News Agency said. “We demand an immediate and full withdrawal of Hezbollah from the fighting and the termination of its military presence in Syria as a prelude to tackling the dilemma of its arms in Lebanon,” said the memo, which was read to reporters by Siniora, head of the Future parliamentary bloc, during a news conference in Parliament. It said Hezbollah’s arsenal of missiles supplied by Iran and Syria had made the party stronger than the state. The memo added that Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria alongside government troops against Syrian rebels constituted “a violation of the Constitution, the law and the Lebanese state’s sovereignty, in addition to breaching the Arab and international charters.” With its military intervention in Syria, the memo said, “Hezbollah is serving the Syrian and Iranian regimes at the expense of Lebanon.”The memo also called for the deployment of the Lebanese Army with assistance from the U.N. troops along the poorly demarcated northern and eastern borders with Syria in order to control the border crossings between the two neighbors.
The memo, the second of its kind by the March 14 parties since the uprising erupted in Syria in March 2011, comes amid mounting tensions in Lebanon as a result of Lebanese divisions over the war raging next door.
It also comes following a series of bloody clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tripoli and Sidon, as well as rocket attacks from Syrian territory targeting Bekaa Valley towns near the border with Syria. “Our previous complaint and suggestions focused on two key issues: The first is the Syrian regime’s violations, which are frequent and go without any response, to our borders, sovereignty and security,” the memo said. It said that the Syrian regime aimed at expanding its war against the Syrian people to Lebanon in line with its declared threat to “spread the chaos in region.”
“The second issue is the dilemma of the illegitimate arms of Hezbollah, which has established for itself a state, a military and security authority that is stronger than the state authority, and extended its domination and sway over many state institutions and [the state’s] sovereign decision,” the memo said. It urged Sleiman to launch an initiative to stop the “quick collapse” of the state and give the Lebanese hope.
The memo called on Sleiman to use his wisdom and prerogatives to save Lebanon and work to facilitate Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s mission to form “a homogeneous government that adopts a policy of neutrality and bias toward the country’s supreme national interest” in order to stop the collapse of the state and prevent the country’s descent into the abyss.
Referring to Hezbollah’s alliance with Iran and Syria, the memo said: “Hezbollah has established external military and strategic alliances in such a way that contradicts the state’s sovereignty and security and its constitutional institutions.”The memo blamed Hezbollah, which has armed allies in the north and the south, for the proliferation of arms and gunmen in various Lebanese areas. Hezbollah’s military role in Syria has drawn local and international condemnation amid warnings that the party’s involvement in the Syrian fighting was dragging Lebanon into the abyss. Hezbollah helped Assad’s forces retake the Syrian border town of Qusair from rebels this month. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah vowed last week to continue fighting alongside Assad’s troops, stressing that his party’s decision to intervene in the Syria war had been a calculated one.In September 2012, the March 14 alliance handed Sleiman a petition calling for the deployment of U.N. troops along the northern border with Syria in response to Damascus’ repeated violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and for the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador to Beirut. Future MP Ammar Houri told a local radio station that a copy of the memo would be sent to the General Secretariat of the Arab League and the United Nations. March 14 MP Butros Harb said Sleiman was responsive to the contents of the memo. “The president considered that our objective is to protect sovereignty,” Harb said. Siniora told reporters that the March 14 coalition, which supports the uprising in Syria, would keep up efforts to confront Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. “This is our second memo and we will keep on calling for ending Hezbollah’s military presence in Syria ... carrying on with mistakes will not make it right and it is unacceptable for Hezbollah to involve Lebanon in the crisis of a neighboring country,” Siniora said.
Berri warns of security threats
June 19, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri warned citizens Wednesday of the security threats facing Lebanon and called for multiplying efforts to ward off sectarian violence. Berri “expressed concern over attempts at shifting sectarian strife from one area to another,” the state-run National News Agency quoted the Speaker as telling one lawmaker. Berri “called for doubling efforts to put an end to such attempts that threaten [to destabilize] the country,” the NNA added. Lebanon has been gripped by recurrent security incidents linked to the crisis in Syria. The speaker also said that he would call on the parliamentary subcommittee discussing electoral proposals to resume talks in a bid to reach a new voting system. He said that the subcommittee would hold extensive meetings within a specific timeframe to achieve its mission. He did not specify however when he would call for the committee to recommence its work.
Michel Samaha's Trial Kicks Off
Naharnet/The trial of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, who is in custody, and of two wanted Syrian officers kicked off at the military court in Beirut on Wednesday. Samaha, who is considered close to the Syrian regime, was arrested in August last year for planning attacks in Lebanon along with Syrian security chief General Ali Mamlouk and a colonel known only by his first name as Adnan. They were indicted in February this year "for transporting explosives from Syria to Lebanon in an attempt to assassinate Lebanese political and religious leaders." A military magistrate said in his indictment that Samaha and Mamlouk should be given the death penalty. They were also accused of targeting "Syrian gunmen" and "smugglers" in the northern Akkar region that lies near the border with Syria. Investigators have said that explosives were found in Samaha's car. According to the indictment, they were delivered by Adnan to Samaha in Syria with the approval of Mamlouk.Samaha is also accused of "inciting sectarian strife.”Arrest warrants have been issued for Mamlouk and Adnan, whose full identity hasn't been established yet.
Berri to Revive Parliamentary
Subcommittee for 'Intense' Talks on New Vote Law
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri revealed on Wednesday that he would call for a parliamentary subcommittee to resume its meetings to agree on a new electoral law.
Several lawmakers who visited Berri during his weekly meetings said that the speaker had promised them to revive the subcommittee as “soon as possible” to find an alternative to the 1960 law within a certain timeframe.
He promised “intense” talks by subcommittee members to reach consensus on the new vote system. The subcommittee's failure to agree on an electoral law was the main reason that led to the extension of parliament's four-year mandate. The lawmakers extended their term for 17 months, pushing the legislative elections to November 2014. The extension law becomes valid after midnight Thursday, when parliament’s current term expires. The 10-member Constitutional Council, which had received petitions from President Michel Suleiman and the Change and Reform bloc, has failed to rule on the challenges over the boycott of three of its judges – two Shiites and one Druze. The Shiite judges have been politically influenced by Berri and Hizbullah while the Druze member has boycotted the council meetings after the interference of Jumblat. Both Berri and Jumblat have said it was not possible to hold the elections this year amid the deadly security incidents shaking the country. Berri told the lawmakers on Wednesday that he would take more active steps towards helping Premier-designate Tammam Salam in forming the new government after the extension controversy comes to an end on Friday, the date the constitutional council is set to hold its last meeting to announce its failure to issue the ruling on the law.
The speaker expressed his concern over the efforts to "ignite strife," calling for "united measures to confront plots threatening the country."
Syrian Troops, Hizbullah Battle Rebels near Damascus as Obama Refuses to Specify Opposition Aid
Naharnet/Fighters from Hizbullah joined Syrian troops battling rebels near Damascus on Wednesday, monitors said, as President Bashar Assad's regime kept up a push to cut off the insurgents' supply lines. "Army troops and Hizbullah members fought rebels near the Khomeini hospital in Zayabiyeh village," southeast of Damascus, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "Hizbullah fighters, who have a strong presence at Sayyida Zeinab (in southeastern Damascus), are trying to seize control of villages near Zayabiyeh and Babila."The Syrian army shelled both Zayabiyeh and Babila, said the group which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground for its reports. Hizbullah's Al-Manar television said the army was advancing towards Zayabiyeh, just south of the confessionally mixed district of Sayyida Zeinab, named after an important Shiite Muslim shrine. The party has been fighting alongside the army for months in the district, which lies in an area that rebels from southern Damascus have used as their main rear base. Activists say the regime is trying to crush the rebellion on the outskirts of Damascus in order to cut off supply lines leading into rebel pockets inside the capital. "There is a fierce campaign against the (rebels) south of the capital," said Damascus-based activist Matar Ismail. "The humanitarian situation is very critical... We believe the (regime) is trying to test the (rebels') strength, in order to try to advance on the south of the capital," Ismail told Agence France Presse over the Internet. Ismail said Hizbullah and the Abu al-Fadl Abbas brigade -- a mostly Syrian Shiite force that has also attracted Shiite fighters from elsewhere in the region -- were playing a key role in the fight. Hizbullah was also credited with an important role in the Syrian army's recapture of the former rebel stronghold of Qusayr in central Homs province earlier this month. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has said the group will remain engaged in Syria's conflict. The Syrian army meanwhile renewed shelling of other rebel areas near the capital, including northwestern Zabadani and Qalamoun to the northeast. Both areas are also a short distance from the Lebanese border. Elsewhere, fierce battles broke out between rebels and troops in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, the Observatory said. Opposition forces captured an army post on the road linking the coastal province of Latakia to Ariha in Idlib province, and two tanks were destroyed. In regime stronghold Latakia, an explosion at an ammunition depot wounded at least 13 soldiers, said the Observatory. State television said the blast was the result of a technical failure, and that only six had suffered light wounds. Wednesday's violence comes a day after at least 83 people were killed across Syria, said the Britain-based Observatory.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama refused to specify the exact nature of new U.S. military aid to Syrian rebels, despite signals from top U.S. officials that they will be get small arms and ammunition.
"I cannot and will not comment on specifics on our programs related to the Syrian opposition," Obama said at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday. Obama has refused to publicly specify exactly how Washington will increase aid to the Syrian opposition, after his government said it would offer military support for the first time after determining President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons. Previously Obama had warned against pouring more weapons into the conflict and had kept U.S. aid limited to humanitarian and non-lethal supplies.The U.S. president also said in Berlin that reports in the United States that escalating American support to the rebels meant the White House was now on a slippery slope to a new Middle East entanglement were mistaken. He said reports were "overcranked" when suggesting the U.S. was heading into a new Middle Eastern war. "What we want to do is end a war," he said, calling again for a political transition in Syria that does not include Assad. Merkel said Berlin agreed that "Assad has lost his legitimacy" but reiterated the stance that "Germany has very clear legal rules that we do not send weapons into civil wars", saying this was universal and "has nothing to do with the question of Syria specifically". But she added: "This doesn't mean that we can't play a constructive role, in the political process, humanitarian aid and the question about the right way" to help the moderate opposition and the people of Syria.
Source/Agence France Presse.
Asir Does Not Rule out Military Option if Hizbullah Apartments in Sidon are Not Vacated
Naharnet /Imam of Sidon's Bilal bin Rabah Mosque Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir accused on Wednesday the army of “defending” alleged apartments owned by Hizbullah gunmen in the southern city. He demanded during a press conference that these apartments be vacated before Monday, saying: “The military option is one of several available to us should our demand fail to be met.”He hoped that the residents of the city would follow reason “in order to thwart greater dangers that are looming in the future.” “I am not issuing threats as we are all bound to coexist in Lebanon,” he stressed. “Do not support the oppressor against the oppressed,” demanded Asir. He then recounted how he had demanded that the Hizbullah apartments be vacated seven months ago. His demand was met with a vow by caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to fulfill the request within 15 days, but he failed to do so. On Tuesday's clashes between Asir's supporters and members of the Hizbullah-affiliated Resistance Brigades in the Sidon neighborhood of Abra, he said that the unrest started when Mahmoud al-Sous opened fire at a number of shops and attacked youths in the area. He accused him of carrying out his actions in collaboration with the army intelligence, rejecting the army statement on the clash and revealing that photographs of Sous and the members of the branch had been taken. The unrest on Tuesday left at least one person dead and four others wounded. Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said the fighting broke out between Asir supporters and “Mahmoud al-Sous' group, which belongs to the Resistance Brigades.” The Lebanese army deployed in Sidon as the violence comes amid soaring sectarian tensions in Lebanon that have escalated because of the raging war in neighboring Syria. The army said several people were wounded by the gunfire.He has alleged several times that the group uses several apartments in Abra to stockpile weapons and house fighters.
Time for G8 to Make Hezbollah Statement
Matthew Levitt /CNN Global Public Square
A G8 statement against Hezbollah would shine a spotlight on the group's widespread terrorist and criminal activities in a way few other multilateral agencies could.
The Group of Eight is holding its annual summit in Northern Ireland under the presidency of the United Kingdom. While the summit is slated to focus on trade, tax, transparency issues and of course Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron staked out several months ago a particular focus on counterterrorism for the G8 under the U.K. presidency. But with Hezbollah plotting attacks targeting civilians around the world from Europe to Asia, and in light of its military support for the brutal al-Assad regime in Syria, London should press for a G8 condemnation of Hezbollah at the meeting.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January, Cameron stated that among Britain's top priorities for the G8 agenda this year was tackling the threat of extremism and terrorist violence. "I'll put my cards on the table," Cameron said in Davos. "I believe we are in the midst of a long struggle against murderous terrorists and a poisonous ideology that supports them."
While his remarks at the time were specific to al Qaeda and its franchises, recent events from Bulgaria to Syria and from Cyprus to Thailand have exposed the extent to which Iran and Hezbollah have been frenetically plotting acts of terrorism and violent extremism around the world. According to the U.S. State Department, "Iran and Hezbollah's terrorist activity has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s, with attacks plotted in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa." Indeed, the increase in Hezbollah activities over the past few months led the Gulf Cooperation Council to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, European Union member states are now considering an EU ban of Hezbollah's military wing, at the U.K.'s request, in the wake of the bombing of a busload of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria last July and the conviction in March of a European Hezbollah operative who conducted surveillance for a similar plot targeting Israeli tourists in Cyprus.
While hard evidence linking Hezbollah to the Burgas plot has been slow in coming (and, since it reportedly is based on intelligence material, may never be made public), the arrests of alleged Hezbollah operatives in Thailand, Cyprus, and most recently in Nigeria have authorities on edge. The cases in Thailand and Nigeria are ongoing, but the conviction of Hossam Yaacoub in Cyprus provides unique insight into Hezbollah's international terrorist activities. A dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen, Yaacoub was reportedly recruited by Hezbollah in March 2007 and slowly groomed as a terrorist operative. Trained over several years in everything from the use of small arms to counter-surveillance and bomb-making, Yaacoub was first used as a Hezbollah courier and delivered packages to and from Hezbollah operatives in Turkey, France and the Netherlands. Finally, in 2009, Hezbollah sent Yaacoub on his first mission to Cyprus so he could create a cover story that would justify subsequent trips. Over several subsequent trips Yaacoub would collect intelligence on a variety of places, from a specific parking lot located between a police station and a hospital to specific hotels. He was reportedly told to look for kosher restaurants catering to Jewish customers and ultimately took careful surveillance notes as Israeli tourists deplaned and boarded buses to their hotels. Yaacoub confirmed his Hezbollah affiliation to Cypriot police, but insisted his surveillance of Israeli tourists was nothing out of the ordinary. "I don't believe that the missions I executed in Cyprus were connected with the preparation of a terrorist attack in Cyprus," reportedly Yaacoub told police. "It was just collecting information about the Jews, and this is what my organization is doing everywhere in the world."
Such an attitude reflects precisely the kind of "poisonous ideology" Cameron called on the G8 to counter under the British presidency. And while the G8 suspended its Counterterrorism Action Group in 2011 (well intentioned when it was launched with fanfare in 2003, it failed to live up to expectations), the group still has powerful tools at its disposal should it choose to take a principled stand on Hezbollah.
First there is the G8's Roma-Lyon Group on Counterterrorism and Counter-crime, which last met in January in Washington. The group aims to better align G8 counterterrorism and anti-crime policies, making it a particularly useful venue for a discussion of Hezbollah, a group engaged both in international terrorism and transnational organized crime as recently underscored by several Hezbollah cases involving drug-running, money-laundering and a host of other crimes. More recently, when G8 foreign ministers met in London in April, they "reiterated their absolute condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations." This week, the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland presents the group with an opportunity to act on this pledge by calling world attention to the growing threat from Hezbollah. A statement by the G8 carries significant weight, and would shine a spotlight on Hezbollah's illicit activities in a way few other multilateral groups could. "To defeat this menace we've got to be tough," Cameron warned his colleagues in Davos several months ago. "This is the argument I'll be making at the G8." This week, Cameron has an opportunity to do just that: Be tough and issue a statement deploring Hezbollah's international terrorism and transnational crime.
**Matthew Levitt directs The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and is author of the forthcoming book Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God
Syria troops fight rebels near Shiite
June 19, 2013/By Sarah El Deeb/Daily Star
BEIRUT: Syrian troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters clashed Wednesday with rebel forces south of a Damascus suburb that is home to a major Shiite Muslim shrine, in an attempt to secure the area surrounding the revered site, activists said. State TV said government forces were able to clear rebels out of one neighborhood, al-Bahdaliya, outside the suburb of Sayida Zeinab, home to the ornate, gold-domed shrine of Sayida Zeinab, the Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter. Meanwhile, rebel forces claimed they took control of a hospital in a village south of the shrine neighborhood, from which they were battling regime forces and allied militias.
Opposition fighters control several suburbs of the capital, trying to threaten the heart of the city, seat of President Bashar Assad's power. But the regime has largely been able to keep them at bay.
The area surrounding the Sayida Zeinab suburb, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of Damascus, has seen fighting before. But the regime forces and Hezbollah fighters launched an intensified assault there on Monday, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The assault appears aimed at decisively pushing rebels back and securing the suburb of the shrine, said Abdul-Rahman. The Observatory is a Britain-based group of anti-regime activists that has a network of activists on the ground. Before the war, Shiite pilgrims from outside Syria regularly visited the shrine. Last year, rebels kidnapped Iranian pilgrims visiting the area, accusing them of being spies. Now protection of the shrine has become a rallying cry for Shiite fighters backing Assad. Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah as well as Iraqi Shiite militiamen have been reported fighting in the area in the past weeks, though it was not clear if Iraqis were involved in the new assault. The Syrian uprising began more than two years ago with peaceful protests against Assad, but later grew into a civil war that the U.N. says has killed more than 93,000 people. In recent months, the conflict's sectarian overtones have been growing, particularly with the overt participation of Hezbollah on the side of the regime, dominated by Alawites - an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam. The rebels are largely Sunni Muslims, and have also been joined by Sunni fighters from countries in the region. U.S. officials estimate that there are 5,000 Hezbollah militiamen fighting alongside the regime, while thousands of Sunni foreign fighters are also believed to be in Syria - including members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaida affiliate that is believed to be among the most effective rebel factions in Syria. Buoyed by recent victories, regime forces have been on an offensive to dislodge rebel fighters from areas they hold in Damascus, as well as the country's heartland in Homs province. That would enable Assad's regime to secure a corridor leading to the coastal Alawite enclave that is home to the country's two main seaports, Latakia and Tartus. Also on Wednesday, state TV said an explosion at a military depot outside Syria's coastal city of Latakia left six people lightly injured on Wednesday. State TV said a "technical error" caused the explosion at a base used by the army corps of engineers. The Britain-based Observatory said it did not know the cause of the explosion in what it described as an ammunition warehouse. It said 13 people were injured, including some in critical condition. The difference in the casualty figures could not be immediately reconciled. The Observatory said smoke was rising from the depot, on the southern edge of the city. Latakia activists on Facebook also reported the arrival of ambulances and helicopters after the explosion. Syria's northwestern Latakia province bordering Turkey is , predominantly Alawite and a regime stronghold. Its coastal capital, the city of Latakia, is fully under regime control, but some northern parts of the province are in rebel hands. In villages to the north of the city, government troops on Tuesday destroyed an ammunition dump and several tunnels operated by Al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria's state news agency said on Wednesday. It quoted a military source as saying five Libyan fighters were killed in the operation. The United States decided last week to send arms to the rebel forces. But the G-8 summit of world leaders ended Tuesday without mentioning arms in its final statement, reflecting a split on the issue. The group includes Russia, which opposes the idea.
UAE charges 30 Egyptians, Emiratis
over Brotherhood cell
June 19, 2013/Daily Star/ABU DHABi: A group of 30 Egyptians and Emiratis have been charged by the UAE authorities for allegedly setting up an illegal branch of Egypt's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, a prosecutor said on Wednesday. The suspects have been referred to the Gulf nation's State Security Court, prosecutor Ahmed al-Dhanhani said. He accused the group of having "established and managed a branch for ... the international organisation of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, without a permit". The founders of the branch set up an administrative structure aimed at recruiting members for the Muslim Brotherhood, strengthening its presence in the UAE and maintaining allegiance to the main party, he said. The group also "raised money through donations, Zakat (Islamic alms), and membership fees to support" the Muslim Brotherhood, he added. Around a dozen Egyptians, some of them doctors, engineers and university professors, belonging to the group had been arrested between November 2012 and January 2013, according to Human Rights Watch. The detained group was also linked to a separate network of around 94 Emirati Islamists, including 13 women, who are on trial for forming a "secret organisation plotting to overthrow the regime". Most or all of the 94 defendants are members of Al-Islah association, which UAE authorities say is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Wednesday's statement by the prosecution said the 30-member group "received financial support from the secret organisation". The case of the arrested Egyptians has sparked a sharp deterioration in relations between Abu Dhabi and Cairo, already strained since the June 2012 election of Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, as Egypt's president. The Gulf country, which bans political parties, rejected an earlier request from Egypt for the release of its nationals.
Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie says
Syria crisis 'worst', calls for more aid
June 19, 2013/Daily Star/AMMAN: Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie urged the international community to boost aid to Syrian refugees hit by what she called "the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century," a UNHCR statement said Wednesday. Jolie, who is UNHCR special envoy for refugee affairs, visited the Jordan-Syria border overnight accompanied by head of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
During their tour the two met Syrian refugees and heard how they had escaped their war-ravaged homes for Jordan. "By the end of this year half of Syria's population - 10 million people - are expected to be displaced and in desperate need," the Hollywood star was quoted as saying in the UNHCR statement. "The worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century is unfolding in the Middle East today," Jolie said, adding that the "the international response to this crisis falls short of the vast scale of this human tragedy". "Much more humanitarian aid is needed, and above all, a political settlement to this conflict must be found," she said ahead of Thursday's world refugee day.
Jolie said her visit was intended "to show support for Syria's refugees, to call on the world to address their plight, and to better understand needs in Jordan and other countries in the region most directly affected by this devastating conflict". Jordan says it is home to 540,000 Syrian refugees, 150,000 of whom are housed in the Zaatari camp in the kingdom's north, near the border with Syria. More than 1.6 million Syrian refugees have sought refuge in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey since the beginning of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, the UN says. It says the fighting in Syria has killed more than 93,000 people so far.
Rohani, the Supreme Leader, and the ‘Key’
Monday 17 June 2013
Hassan Rohani, the Iranian president-elect, did well to choose a key as the symbol of his campaign, as all doors had been shut tight, with no solution to the impasse in the horizon. Perhaps Rohani intended, from the key, to relight the flame of hope among young Iranians, who no longer passionately buy into the slogans of the Islamic revolution and its denunciations against ‘Great Satan.’
But in writing about Iran, one must be extremely cautious. The carpet of Iranian democracy is woven carefully under the mantle of the Supreme Leader. Its intricately woven fabric does not allow Western and ‘toxic’ threads to creep in. The institutions of the Islamic Republic allow for differences over the details but not over the essence. The crackdown on the Green Revolution was merciless. Iran aborted its Spring before its winds blew elsewhere and uprooted other regimes.Hassan Rohani is the legitimate son of the Iranian revolution. He joined Khomeini, who was preparing to return to his country and topple the Shah’s regime. He toured the corridors of the Islamic Republic, its parliament, official councils, army affairs, the media, and national security. He forged a strong relationship with Hashemi Rafsanjani and won the confidence of Mohammad Khatami, who chose him to lead the negotiations with the West over the nuclear program.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure was long and costly. True, it achieved ‘conquests’ in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. But it is also true that it ended in dire consequences: Sanctions crippling the Iranian economy; the deteriorating value of the currency; rising unemployment; a sharper confrontation with foes; and increased isolation.
Because Rohani is a regime veteran, he knows that the president is not the maker of policies, especially when it comes to the nuclear program and foreign policy. In the major issues, things are very clear: The key lies in the Supreme Leader’s drawers.
The economic situation in Iran does not need further explanation, and the figures are everywhere on the internet. The tension with the West is plain. The entanglement in Syria is very costly. Iran must no doubt be pumping massive amounts of money to allow the regime in Damascus to continue the war. Hezbollah’s involvement in the battle also increases its political and economic costs.
Iran seems to be like someone driven to a life-or-death battle. It is as though Iran is gambling all the political credit that it has. This is no exaggeration: Its isolation in the region is clear. The worsening Sunni-Shia strife threatens to lead to high walls, and more walls around those. Some believe that Iran has expanded beyond its economy’s ability to withstand this, and that Iran is now making the same mistakes the Soviet Union once made.
So the victory of a president being described as a moderate and a realist will no doubt help improve the image of a regime that has suffered heavy damage due to its involvement in the ongoing war in Syria. Rohani knows it. And he knows what the regime did to Khatami, and Rafsanjani.
But the situation today is more difficult and dangerous. It never happened before that Iran was this much isolated. Continuing its current policies will subject it to a myriad security, political, and economic dangers. Its failure to make true on its previous pledges will truly be like drinking a poisoned cup or worse.
In light of this bleak picture, Hassan Rohani raised a key as his symbol. He fought and won the battle. The purple color of his campaign won in the first round. His statements to Iranian television confirm his intentions. He considered his victory “a triumph for wisdom, moderation, development, and awareness, over extremism and zealousness.”
He spoke of hope and new opportunities. But his litmus test will not take long to materialize. Is it true that the Iranian president has the right to brandish this key, or is the president merely the chief of staff of the Supreme Leader’s office? Has the Supreme Leader accepted the fact that the regime needs to open a window, or will the hardliners be quick to remind Rohani that the doors can only be opened using the Supreme Leader’s key?
We will need to wait to see Rohani’s style, the story behind the key, and the new demarcation lines between the reformists and moderates on the one hand, and the hardliners and the establishment’s guard on the other. But the clouds gathering in the region’s skies may not allow Rohani the luxury to quietly look for the key, or the opportunity to use his mandate. Indeed, we may wake one day to the crackle of one great blaze.
Rohani’s Iran: Between Two Hopes
Tuesday 18 June 2013
There is one important, very important, outcome of the election of Sheikh Hassan Rohani as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran: It has revealed the real desires of the Iranians, and their opposition not only to the policies of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the so-called Guardian Jurist. It was difficult to rig this election while the memory of the electoral fraud in 2009, and of the ensuing green revolution, is still cruelly fresh in the minds of the Iranians. But elections in Iran, as we know too well, are rigged in advance through the Guardian Council, where the most prominent candidates are disqualified. In the last election, only eight candidates were allowed to run (two of whom withdrew later) out of 600. If we add this to the fact that Rohani received half of the votes, it would become clear how popular will is not in the same place as the Supreme Leader is. However, the regime in Iran, regardless of the wave of sardonic cheering for ‘Iranian democracy,’ does not reflect the will of the people, but the will of the Supreme Leader and his instrument, namely, the Guardian Council. This imposes limits on what Rohani can achieve, and evokes previous experiences against which the ability of the president to effect change can be measured.
In 2009, the election was rigged to undermine two presidential candidates at the time, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who were once among the founding pillars of the Islamic regime. Similarly, on the eve of the last election, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and another regime pillar, was disqualified. If we go back further in time, to 1980-1981, when the first building blocks of the Khomeini regime were being laid down, we may recall the experience of the first President Abul Hassan Bani-Sadr, the relatively unknown professor of economics who resided in France. Khomeini nominated Bani-Sadr, whom he called “my son.” But at the first sign of differences between the president and his “father,” Bani-Sadr returned to exile, in Paris.
True, the two terms of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) relatively deviate from this norm. But then, that is exactly what Khatami’s presidency is: a relative deviation. To be sure, Khatami’s importance lies not in his achievements, as most of his time and efforts were consumed by the ‘dialogue of civilizations,’ but in the new climate that his presidency allowed to be expressed.
Khatami, with passion and good intentions, sought to improve relations with neighboring countries. This is what seemed possible on the back of the US ‘war on terror,’ and then the US-led regime change in Iraq which Tehran was confused and troubled by, long before its nuclear program went on to become the major issue of contention. So one can only imagine how different things are now, with the Syrian issue having occupied the top of the list of priorities for the Iranian regime, amid increasing withdrawal of American power.
In fact, the president cannot influence sovereign issues as such except in agreement with the Supreme Leader. Otherwise, the president may face a similar fate to Bani-Sadr, Rafsanjani, or Mousavi.
The foregoing, in general, produces hopes but shatters others. As for the hope that is being resurrected, it involves the Iranian people who, despite everything, insist on continuing to confront the Guardian Jurist and his will. And as for hope, the death of which is becoming more evident, it involves the good that a regime like this can ever bring to Iran and the world.
They Are All Khamenei
Tuesday 18 June 2013
The election of Hassan Rohani as the new Iranian president has spurred hope in the Arab world and beyond. This is because everyone wishes to end the confrontation between Iran and its neighbors, namely in the Gulf, in addition to Iran’s part in the Syrian crisis in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The West on its part wishes to reach a settlement in the matter of the nuclear file that would allow to end the crisis between both sides and avoid a potential armed confrontation.
However, if they are not based on real foundations, high hopes often lead to disappointment, as the Arabs and the world discovered with President Mohammad Khatami, who was faced with Khamenei’s iron fist. Therefore, one must look into how realistic the hopes for Hassan Rohani are, and the extent of change that he can induce in the Islamic Republic’s course.
Rohani comes from the Iranian religious institution. In this sense, he has no major reservations concerning this institution’s actions, its aggressive attitude towards the opposition, and its foreign policies. For instance, Rohani maintained complete silence vis-à-vis the oppression of the Green Revolution in Iran back in 2009. That revolution broke following the rigged elections that brought Ahmadinejad back to power. Yesterday, Rohani abruptly ended his press conference when one of the participants demanded the release of the candidate who had lost those elections, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and who is placed under house arrest – knowing that Rohani had promised during his electoral campaign to work on releasing all political prisoners.
Moreover, Rohani did not hesitate to consider that the latest elections that brought him to power constitute “a great epic that will attract the world’s respect for the Iranian people.” He also expressed his “gratitude for the Supreme Leader” and considered that he is his “younger son.” This “great epic” that Rohani is so proud of consists of the elections that Hashemi Rafsanjani was not allowed to run for under the pretext that he is not qualified. Iran might very well be the only country in history where the man who is entrusted with the “regime’s interests” is not qualified for running for president. This pushed Rafsanjani to accuse the Iranian leaders of being ignorant. He said: I do not think that Iran could have been run in a worse manner!
Rohani did have some positive initiatives to improve the relations with the Gulf States when he served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council in the 1990s. However, these initiatives quickly collapsed and turned out to be unserious thanks to the role played by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in supporting the armed cells that committed terrorist actions in a number of the Gulf countries.
As for the nuclear issue, Rohani’s first statement in this regard during his press conference yesterday was quite surprising. Indeed, he repeated Ahmadinejad’s positions and said that the “era” of the western demands for halting the uranium enrichment “is gone.” He also called on the United States to acknowledge Iran’s rights, “mainly the nuclear rights.” He added that the sanctions imposed on his country over its nuclear program “are unfair and unjustified.”
The ruling institution in Iran represented by the Supreme Guide and the Revolutionary Guards allowed Hassan Rohani, the candidate of the “reformists,” to win in order to avoid the same reactions seen against the forgery process during the former elections and also to give the impression that the Iranian regime is strong and capable of absorbing the “opposition” voices. This is the reason why Khamanei praised the latest elections and considered that they represent “a vote in favor of the Islamic Republic and a vote of confidence for the regime.”
The Iranian institution knows Rohani and his limits, especially when it comes to making important decisions concerning the foreign politics and the nuclear issue. These boundaries are the reason why Mohammad Khatami was hesitant to run for presidency again. He realized that changing presidents in Iran is useless as long as the main powers are in the hands of someone else.
Iran’s actual leaders were “smart” enough to stage the latest elections’ trick and to convince us of respecting their “democracy.” However, we must also be smart enough not to fall for this trick. We must not believe the illusion of change in the Iranian politics before seeing real proofs of that change. Pending that, everything we now see indicates that the Iranian leaders are nothing more than the echo of Khamenei’s wishes. As for those who oppose him, they are either confined to their houses or in jail.
Change in Syria Following Rohani’s Victory and Obama’s Action?
Monday 17 June 2013
The Syrian crisis has taken a drastic turn due to a series of developments. The first was the fall of the city of Qussayr, which revealed the extent of Iran’s intervention via Hezbollah; the second was Washington’s recognition – following a period of abstinence or elusion – of the fact that the regime used chemical weapons; and the third was the victory of moderate reformist Hasan Rohani in the presidential elections in Iran, thus turning the page on eight years spent by the conservatives in power. These transformations naturally require change at the level of the rules of the game. The American administration has decided to arm the opposition upon the wish of its many allies in Europe and the region. In the meantime, a religious and political Sunni alignment is starting to surface, calling for confrontation with the Shiite Crescent in the region. And this heralds a new situation on the Syrian scene, i.e. the existence of an inclination to fuel religious sectarian war between Iran and several Arab states – in addition to Turkey – but also the cold war between America and Russia that wishes to maintain its military presence in the Middle East at whichever price.
Syria is facing three types of war, and there is nothing new about that. The internal fighting has led to deep domestic alignments and consequently summoned foreign interventions and alignments, whether regional between Iran and its allies on one hand and a number of Arab countries headed by the Gulf states and Turkey on the other, or international through American, Russian and European intervention. But the latter intervention by those states and powers is not limited to supporting one team over the other. It rather aims to enhance the positions and cards of the interveners in the ongoing conflict in the region, one which is mainly between the Islamic Republic and the United States, and the parties standing behind them. But regardless of the acuteness of the foreign factors, the final say belongs to the powers on the domestic arena.
The transformations around the world following the end of the Cold War two and a half decades ago and the eruption of the storms of change in the Arab world, led the populations from the sidelines to the heart of the action and allowed them to influence the making of their decisions and future. Therefore, regardless of the extent of regional and international presence on the Syrian arena, the internal forces will continue to enjoy the last say in directing the events and determining their course and outcome. Hence the difficulty to push these forces around a negotiations table to seek a political settlement which might remain distant, at least until the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s mandate mid next year. While the support offered by Russia, Iran and their allies to the regime facilitated its military advancement over its oppositionists, the decision adopted by America and its partners to arm the opposition might not extend beyond the restoration of balance on the ground, a process which will take a lot of time.
The regional and international calculations might not achieve their goals as fast as expected by some. They might have even hastened an unprecedented armament race, although all the players are aware of the fact that the crisis will not be resolved on the field or through military settlement, no matter how long it takes and how much war escalates. Indeed, the wager on previous experiences is misplaced, considering that the rules of the Cold War and the religious wars have drastically changed, or rather the Afghanistan experience and the Soviets’ defeat in it. Neither Russia is qualified by its geography and economy to repeat the experience of the Soviet Union, nor is the United States – in light of its economic crisis and that of its European partners, in addition to the rise of influential international powers in Asia and Latin America – capable of performing its old role. This is not to forget the new circumstances generated by the new weapons of globalization, from the technological revolution to the intertwinement of the states’ economies and the collapse of traditional borders and national sovereignties among other factors.
Moreover, the circumstances and nature of the crisis in Syria are not similar to the ones which existed in Afghanistan and in Vietnam before that, even if the entire region turns into an arena of confrontation. Indeed, neither Iran and its allies can annul the major and influential Sunni component in Syria, Iraq or Lebanon no matter how much the Revolutionary Guard, the Asaeb, and the Parties are mobilized, nor is the Sunni religious or political calling capable of repeating the Jihad experience in Afghanistan and annul Shiite and Alawite components - among others - in these three countries, regardless of how many extremist forces and weapons are channeled to them. This is due to the fact that none among the latter are foreign nationals or occupation forces. So how can the situation be settled in favor of this or that team? How can a sect, from Beirut to Baghdad going through Damascus, defeat another sect threatening it with total eradication? And consequently, how can the American project for example fully defeat that of Russia and Iran? Or how can Tehran defeat its numerous opponents or dream about controlling the Arab Levant and Gulf?
The winds of change in the Arab world uprooted the pillars of the regional system and changed the political scene at the level of the relations, interests and alliances, knowing it would be too soon to predict the new image which will take shape. At the beginning, it was clear that two main poles in the region, i.e. Turkey and Iran, will be the greatest beneficiaries from the outcome of the transformations that rocked the pillars of the Arab states, whether those swept by the storm or those affected by their repercussions. This pushed the major states to reconsider their strategies and their network of relations and interests. To the Islamic Republic, the fall of Arab regimes loyal to Washington constituted a blow to the American project in the region, while Ankara started promoting the model of the Justice and Development Party as an example to be followed from North Africa to the Levant. But after two years, the Syrian crisis altered all the calculations and expectations.
During the last few years, Turkey constituted a strong dam in the face of Iranian expansion, from its involvement in the Palestinian cause to its rapprochement with Kurdistan, its support to the Sunnis of Iraq and its backing of the new regimes in the Arab countries that witnessed change. It also went back to being a key part of NATO and was the first to host its missile shield. But today, it has started to be shaken by the protesters on Taksim Square in Istanbul and on the squares of other cities, while sectarian voices are being heard in the speeches of its political powers. Hence, the Justice and Development Party will have no choice but to turn back to the domestic arena to face the winds of change.
Iran on the other hand has a different problem. For a while now, it has been trying to emulate the Soviet experience by looking beyond the border instead of towards the internal scene and its economic, social and developmental ability to engage in a wide-scale regional and international confrontation. It was ecstatic about the collapse of the Taliban regime which kept it preoccupied in its backyard for a long time and limited its role in the Central Asian republics. This joy reached its peak with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, with which it sensed the collapse of all the obstacles that hindered its progress towards Iraq and from there towards the Gulf and the Mediterranean shores. There is no doubt that what is witnessed today in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon constitutes an ongoing depletion of its military capabilities and faltering economy due to the siege and the sanctions. And in light of the American decision to arm the Syrian opposition, it will find itself more preoccupied with the Syrian swamp. This will be the first file tackled by new Iranian President Hasan Rohani. Will he turn the clock backward, repeat his experience at the level of the nuclear file during the days of President Muhammad Khatami, and handle the domestic affairs? Or will he remain the hostage of the previous policy led by the extremist conservatives under the command of the Guide and the Guard, which will push the Islamic Republic to face the same fate as the Soviet Union more than two decades ago? Will President Rohani continue to rely on what the conservatives used to dub a combining political or Islamic project? Or will he resort to greater flexibility with the West (at the level of the Syrian crisis and the nuclear file) and to possible direct talks with the United States as promised in his electoral campaign? The opponents brandished their crescent – with its sectarian and political angles – in the face of the Shiite and nationalist crescent. So will the region slide towards sectarian war or will Rohani approach the Arabs with a different rhetoric and policy in regard to the nuclear and Syrian files?
The moderate and reformists were able to lead their candidate to the Iranian presidency. But it would be too soon to expect a drastic and critical change at the level of Tehran’s policy. On the other hand, the pressuring powers were able to push President Barack Obama to change his reluctant stance towards the Syrian crisis and establish balance on the military arena. Will these two transformations force Russia to reconsider its positions? The Syrian spring altered the rules of the game of change in the Arab world, considering that military settlement is neither on the table nor allowed, while the settlement between the close and distant players is not imminent. This is due to the fact that these major powers should firstly start implementing what they are requesting from the fighting Syrian parties among themselves. But until the transformation is complete in Iran and Washington, will Syria move towards change, stay the hostage of the stalling and ongoing killings along with Lebanon and Iraq that are implicated on its soil, or turn towards the confederacy option and division on the beat of foreign intervention?
What Obama can (and should) do about Iran
Op-ed: US president's 'open hand' policy merely giving Tehran more time to pursue a nuclear bomb without repercussions
Americans' news feeds are overflowing with images of domestic scandals, protests in Turkey, and war in Syria. But the real story is Iran. By year's end, we may be confronted with a choice: Accept a nuclear-armed Iran, or support a military action to delay the program.
President Obama's policy on Iran has failed. Diplomacy has fizzled. And even The New York Times' news page and Obama's former advisors agree that sanctions aren’t working. And this is why Obama’s reaction to the recent Iranian election is so troubling.
As many others have noted, Rohani’s election will likely change very little in terms of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The nuclear program is entirely controlled by Supreme Leader Khamenei (who personally approved Rohani’s candidacy). And Rohani has previously articulated a strategy whereby Iran would continue to build a nuclear weapons program, while trying to convince the world that it was not doing so.
This is even worse than Ahmadinejad – at least he was honest with us. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration said it was encouraged by the election of such a “moderate” candidate and would pursue diplomatic negotiations with his new government. Yes, the election does demonstrate that Iranians are discontent. But we already knew that.
There is no sign, however, that the mullahs have altered their calculation regarding the nuclear program. In fact, they are racing ahead at record speed. By announcing a new round of talks, without requiring Tehran to make any meaningful concessions first, Obama is just giving Tehran more time to pursue a nuclear bomb without repercussions.
Obama tried a similar “open hand” policy when he entered office. In return, Iran sponsored terrorism, sped up its nuclear program, and used murder and violence to crush the Green Revolution. How could Obama be so naïve to make the same mistake again?
But criticizing Obama (as I and many others have done) is easy. What's difficult is finding an effective solution to the problem. President Obama is not a malevolent or incompetent man. If there were an easy, or even moderately difficult, answer to the Iranian crisis, he would have taken it by now.
Every possible solution presents serious consequences for the United States and the international community. But although President Obama is not incompetent, he has not shown the leadership, resolve, or bravery to make the difficult decisions on Iran. Instead, he's decided to drift along the present course as Iran races towards a nuclear weapon. Not only is this ineffective, it is dangerous. President Obama has shown the mullahs there will be no consequences for their actions, which has only emboldened Iran, and made a nuclear-armed Iran more likely. So what should Obama do? The first answer is anything. Right now, the Iranians do not take Obama's warnings seriously because he has not lived up to his past promises. Iran continues to make a masquerade of negotiations, but Obama continues to pursue them. Assad crossed Obama's "red line" in Syria, but Obama took months to react. Our "allies" such as Russia are turning into tyrannies before our eyes, and the president refuses to confront them.
President Obama needs credibility on the international stage, and he needs it now. There is no magic bullet for achieving this, however. Obama simply needs to start backing up what he says, and flexing America's hard and soft power. Arming Syrian rebels was a good start, but Obama must follow through here. Other ideas for building credibility include an even stronger stance in Syria, pressuring our allies to go after Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, bringing real consequences to bear on Vladimir Putin for his outrages at home and abroad, and taking a more aggressive posture on North Korea.
Unfortunately, even if President Obama were able to rebuild US credibility in these areas, it might be too late to have a meaningful impact on Tehran's behavior. The most obvious way to wake up the mullahs would be to seek an advance Congressional authorization of military force against Iran's nuclear program. President Obama has said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable and that all options are on the table to prevent it. Thus far, Obama has tried every option except for two: The serious threat of military force or the actual use of force. If President Obama still believes a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, he must choose one of these options.
We can all agree that a threat of military force that compels Iran to change its behavior is preferable to the actual use of force. But for this threat to work, Iran must actually believe it.
So what can Obama do to prove to Iran's leaders that this time will be different? First, he should make good on previous promises in places such as Syria. Next, Obama should undertake a series of speeches to explain to the American people why a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable, and why the use of force is necessary to prevent it. This would show the Iranians that Obama is serious about building the public support necessary to use force. Finally, President Obama should publicly announce that he would support an Israeli strike against Iran if Israel has proof that Tehran is on the verge of a nuclear breakout. The mullahs might continue to ignore these warnings, but if they really believed that Obama was serious, they might not.
If Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapon, Obama will be confronted with the most serious test of his presidency: Should he launch a military strike against Iran or let Tehran obtain a nuclear weapon? The dangers of a military strike are obvious. First, it could lead to a full out confrontation with Iran, lead Iran to retaliate against America with conventional and unconventional attacks, and inflame worldwide sentiment against the United States.
Next, a US attack could rally the Iranian people around the current regime - which is somewhat antithetical to our goals. The only peaceful way to stop the Iranian nuclear program would be an internal revolt or regime change. Given how effectively Iran crushed the Green Revolution, and the world's unwillingness to aid the Syrian rebels, an internal revolution seems nearly impossible. Nevertheless, an American attack could rally support for the regime, and destroy any chance of a future uprising. Finally it's unclear that a military strike could destroy the Iranian program completely or significantly impede it. It's likely that we can, but this situation is still a known unknown. So is a strike worth it if all other options fail? Reasonable Americans can disagree, but there are strong reasons to support a strike.
A nuclear armed Iran would be emboldened to export and sponsor even more acts of terror and violence, continue its nefarious activities in the region (which, including its support for Assad, have contributed to the deaths of more than 100,000 people - including Americans), make the regime immune to any future military attack no matter how horrendous its behavior, and spur a Mideast nuclear arms race. Still, it's easy to see why President Obama is reluctant to use force because the risks are severe. And although a nuclear-armed Iran would be a disaster for the Mideast and the world, it probably does not pose a mortal danger to America's existence. Israel, on the other hand, would be mortally threatened by a nuclear Iran. For the Israelis, a military strike against Iran is probably a much easier decision (although the consequences would be greater for Israel, so would the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran). President Obama should use this to his advantage, and announce his support for an Israeli attack. This would let Obama avoid committing US forces (at least at the outset), and offset some of the negative consequences of a US-led strike. There is a possibility that the US might need to get more aggressively involved if the Israelis don't succeed in taking out the program, or if Iran and its neighbors retaliate so severely that Israel’s existence is threatened. Nevertheless, the consequences would still probably be less than if the United States initiated a strike on its own. Hopefully, President Obama never has to make this choice. But if Obama really means what he says about preventing a nuclear Iran, this might be his least bad option.
**David Meyers worked in the Bush White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the Senate