June 23/2013

Bible Quotation for today/The Change in Paul's Plans
02 Corinthians 01-12-24 " We are proud that our conscience assures us that our lives in this world, and especially our relations with you, have been ruled by God-given frankness and sincerity, by the power of God's grace and not by human wisdom.  We write to you only what you can read and understand. But even though you now understand us only in part, I hope that you will come to understand us completely, so that in the Day of our Lord Jesus you can be as proud of us as we shall be of you. I was so sure of all this that I made plans at first to visit you, in order that you might be blessed twice.  For I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and again on my way back, in order to get help from you for my trip to Judea.  In planning this, did I appear fickle? When I make my plans, do I make them from selfish motives, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God speaks the truth, my promise to you was not a “Yes” and a “No.”  For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was preached among you by Silas, Timothy, and myself, is not one who is “Yes” and “No.” On the contrary, he is God's “Yes”;  for it is he who is the “Yes” to all of God's promises. This is why through Jesus Christ our “Amen” is said to the glory of God. It is God himself who makes us, together with you, sure of our life in union with Christ; it is God himself who has set us apart,  who has placed his mark of ownership upon us, and who has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us. I call God as my witness—he knows my heart! It was in order to spare you that I decided not to go to Corinth. We are not trying to dictate to you what you must believe"

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources 

The Awakening Sunni Giant/By: Michael Weiss/Now Lebanon/June 23/13
Sectarian suicide/Michael Young/Now Lebanon/June 23/13
Mursi digs himself into a hole/By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat/June 23/13
Opinion: Egypt after June 30/By: Abdel Monem Said/Asharq Alawsat/June 23/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for June 23/13

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman: We will not allow strife
Obama Taps Mideast Envoy David Hale as New Lebanon Ambassador
Heavy Syrian Shelling on Akkar Border Town

Lebanese Anti-Extension Protesters Issue Symbolic Verdict Preventing 'Illegitimate ex-MPs' from Entering Parliament
Beirut/Tensions in Bir al-Abed as Personal Dispute Erupts into Gunfire
Saniora Meets Lavrov, Explains 'Dangers' of Hizbullah Involvement in Syrian War
Report: Abu Faour and Taymour Jumblat in Riyadh Next Week over Cabinet Formula
Russian Deputy FM, Mikhail Bogdanov: Nasrallah intervened in Syria to save Damascus

Mansour, Iranian FM meet in Tehran
Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour Denies Lebanese Expats in Gulf Undergoing Mass Expulsion
Premier-designate Tammam Salam Rejects Veto Power, Prioritizes Productivity Not Cabinet Shape

Sidon residents brace for further violence
A crack in the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance
Rocket attack was 'message' to Lebanon president: Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya official MP Imad Hout
US troop buildup in Jordan after Turkey shuts US-NATO arms corridor to Syrian rebels
France gave Syrian opposition anti-sarin gas kits, FM says

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz: Israel has every right to defend itself against Iran
Amman Denies CIA Training Syria Rebels in Jordan
French President Francois Hollande in Qatar for Talks on Syria, Economy
Secret Steps' Adopted to Change Syria Balance
Friends of Syria Call on Hizbullah to 'Stop Meddling' in Syrian Conflict

Report: Turkey Arrests 23 More over Anti-Government Protests
Egypt's ElBaradei Calls on Morsi to Resign
Egypt Airports on High Alert Ahead of June 30 Protests

Hamas Executes Two Israel 'Collaborators' in Gaza


Friends of Syria Call on Hizbullah to 'Stop Meddling' in Syrian Conflict
Naharnet/Countries supporting Syria's rebels demanded on Saturday that Iran and Hizbullah stop meddling in the country's civil war, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "In the text that we have just released, we have demanded that Iran and Hizbullah end their intervention in the conflict," said Fabius, referring to their support for the regime of Bashar Assad. "Hizbullah has played a terribly negative role, mainly in the attack on Qusayr," which was recaptured from rebels earlier this month with the group's help. "We are fully against the internationalization of the conflict," he told reporters following a meeting of foreign ministers of the so-called Friends of Syria in Doha.
Earlier at the opening of the meeting, Qatar FM Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani called on Lebanon to halt the involvement of any party in the conflict in the neighboring country Syria. “The Lebanese government should stop the intervention of any party in the Syrian conflict,” he said. To that end, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also while addressing the FMs said that Syrian President Bashar Assad “escalated the conditions by seeking support from Iran and Lebanese fighters,” in a reference to Hizbullah. Kerry accused Assad of an "internationalization" of the conflict which has claimed nearly 100,000 lives by bringing in the support of Iran and Hizbullah. The Foreign Ministers held talks in Qatar to discuss boosting their assistance after rebels hailed recent deliveries of new types of weaponry. Arab and Western assistance to the rebels has taken on new urgency after loyalist forces made key gains on the battlefield in recent weeks with support from Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbullah group. They have retaken the strategic central town of Qusayr near the Lebanese border and are trying to oust rebels fighters from footholds around Damascus which they have used as launchpads for attacks inside the capital. Hizbullah is a key ally of Assad and has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian army against rebels seeking to overthrow him. Hizbullah's intervention has raised tensions in Lebanon, where many Sunnis back the Sunni-led uprising against Assad, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman: We will not allow strife

Now Lebanon/Lebanese President Michel Suleiman stressed on Saturday that he will not allow strife to engulf the country. The president also said on his Twitter account that “the fact that the rockets were fired from the Keserwan district shows intentions to create strife more than just in the targeted location.”A rocket targeting the area of Dahiyeh was fired on Friday at 12:40 a.m. but failed to reach its target, instead hitting high voltage power lines in the Aley area of Kahale. Later Friday, an unfired rocket installed on a launcher was discovered in the Keserwan area of Ballouneh as reports emerged that another rocket launched from the area had been behind the loud blast that rocked Kahale overnight. Two rockets were fired on May 26 into the Shiyyah area of Dahiyeh, the morning after Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah promised his party’s supporters that the Shiite movement would emerge victorious in Syria.

Obama Taps Mideast Envoy David Hale as New Lebanon Ambassador

Naharnet/President Barack Obama Friday nominated his special envoy for Middle East peace, David Hale, as the next U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, as part of a shake-up of the administration's regional team. Hale took over the Middle East post after veteran peacemaker George Mitchell left in May 2011, disheartened by a lack of progress in the peace talks. It was not immediately clear who would be named to replace him, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry engaged in intensive diplomacy to try to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The news came as Kerry left Friday on a 12-day trip which will see him criss-cross the Middle East, visiting both Jordan and Israel for talks with senior leaders on both the peace process and the raging conflict in Syria. Al-Monitor, a new online website dedicated to Middle East news, speculated that former Clinton advisor Rob Malley, currently with the International Crisis Group, may be tapped by Obama to take over from Hale. A veteran diplomat, Hale has served in embassies all over the Middle East including in Jordan, where he was ambassador from 2005 to 2008, having moved up from charge d'affaires and deputy chief of mission. Hale joined the Foreign Service in 1984, and also spent two tours of duty in Lebanon from 1992 to 1994, and then again from 1998 to 2001. His nomination will have to be confirmed by the Senate. The US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who was forced to leave the country in 2011 amid the fighting, is also reportedly said to be stepping down in the coming weeks, exhausted by efforts to mediate with the opposition. Hale's nomination came amid a slew of announcements from Obama aiming to fill some long-standing gaping holes in his second administration.
Obama also tapped Linda Thomas-Greenfield as assistant secretary for African affairs to take over from the widely-respected Johnnie Carson who left in December. Thomas-Greenfield was the ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012, and has also had overseas postings in Nigeria, The Gambia, Kenya, Jamaica and Pakistan. Source/Agence France Presse

Heavy Syrian Shelling on Akkar Border Town

Naharnet /More than 12 shells landed on Saturday on a border town in the northern Akkar district without causing any casualties, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the shelling on al-Dbabiyeh from the Syrian side of the border caused panic among the residents. They urged the Lebanese army to help the occupants of two houses to evacuate after three of the shells landed near the homes of Mohammed and Walid Kouha.
NNA said two more shells hit an area near the house of Tajeddine Kouha. The shelling on Lebanese territories was the result of heavy clashes on the other side of the border between Syrian government troops and the rebels in the town of Tall Kalakh.

Premier-designate Tammam Salam Rejects Veto Power, Prioritizes Productivity Not Cabinet Shape

Naharnet /Premier-designate Tammam Salam reiterated on Saturday that he rejected giving veto power to any party, saying his priority was forming a government based on trust and good performance.
“The nature of the cabinet should take into consideration the nation's interest,” Salam said from Baabda Palace after meeting President Michel Suleiman. “The shape of the government is not the essence. The most important thing is it's performance,” he said. Salam stressed that forming a 24-member cabinet in which the three major parties – March 8 alliance, March 14 coalition and the centrists - would have equal representation was necessary. This prevents giving veto power to any party, he said. “I hold onto it because it allows the government to be in harmony and productive.” he March 8 alliance and mainly Hizbullah are requesting a veto power, claiming that their representation in the government should be based on their parliamentary weight. But Salam called for an “atmosphere of trust” among future cabinet members as opposed to rivalry on division of shares.
He said there is a division of power in the political system, and it would be “undemocratic” to form a cabinet that is the parliament’s miniature. Salam also called for cooperation rather than bringing political differences to the government. He refused to give himself a deadline to form the government, saying “I don't count the days.” But he told reporters at the presidential palace that he had a moral duty to exert all efforts to come up with a line-up without any further delay. The PM-designate's meeting with Suleiman came after the extension of parliament's mandate entered into force. The parliament extended its term for 17 months after the rival parties failed to agree on a new electoral law. After midnight Thursday, the extension law became valid after the Constitutional Council, which was set to study petitions filed against the legislature's move, failed to meet over lack of quorum
During this period, Salam's efforts to form a new government had come to a standstill.

Report: Abu Faour and Taymour Jumblat in Riyadh Next Week over Cabinet Formula
Naharnet /Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour and Taymour Jumblat are likely to travel to Saudi Arabia on Monday to meet with the head of the Saudi intelligence and ex-Premier Saad Hariri, a well-informed official said Saturday. The official told As Safir daily that the meeting of Abu Faour and Jumblat with Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Hariri, who is also the head of al-Mustaqbal movement, would come amid a new proposal to give the March 14 alliance eight ministers in the new cabinet along with a ninth minister, who would also be part of the share of centrists. Hariri is part of the March 14 coalition while Abu Faour is loyal to Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblat who is a centrist. The centrist bloc in the government includes ministers loyal to the president and the prime minister. The official, who was not identified, said Jean Obeid could be the person representing both March 14 and the centrists in Premier-designate Tammam Salam's government. The source added that the form and shape of the new cabinet would only be known after the visit of Abu Faour and Taymour Jumblat, who is Walid's son, to Saudi Arabia. While the source did not provide details on Hizbullah and the March 8 alliance which insist on getting veto power in the cabinet, he said there were positive signs from the Gulf countries and the international community that there was no veto on granting Hizbullah portfolios. The party has been widely criticized by the March 14 alliance and by countries backing the revolution against Syrian President Bashar Assad for its involvement in Syria's war. Hizbullah fighters are among those backing Assad's armed forces.

Mansour, Iranian FM meet in Tehran
Now Lebanon/Lebanon’s caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour kicked off his visit to Iran by meeting with his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salihi on Saturday, the National News Agency reported.
Discussions centered on bilateral ties, the regional situation and the need to find a solution to the Syrian crisis through dialogue between the Syrian government and national opposition. The Iranian foreign minister expressed his country's great admiration for Lebanon, adding that “Iran's interests lies in Lebanon's security and stability.” Salihi voiced his country’s readiness “to support boosting bilateral relations with Lebanon and activating previously signed cooperation agreements between both countries.”He also stressed that “Iran welcomes any solution to the Syrian crisis through dialogue.” Mansour, in turn, congratulated Salihi on the election of the new Iranian President Hassan Rowhani. Rowhani’s election as the new Iranian president ends eight years of conservative grip on the presidency. The Lebanese FM noted that “the region's security cannot be separated, whereby the repercussions of the Syrian crisis shall reach all regional countries, including Lebanon.”He also called for halting all acts of violence and initiating a political solution in Syria, adding: “We support Iran in any act that ends bloodshed in Syria.”The conflict in neighboring Syria has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon, with the Damascus regime’s ally Hezbollah dispatching fighters to battle alongside the Syrian army against rebel forces.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour Denies Lebanese Expats in Gulf Undergoing Mass Expulsion

Naharnet/Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour denied on Saturday that the Lebanese expats in the Gulf are subjected to a mass extradition campaign, calling on the media to report accurately the news.
He pointed out that Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awadh Asiri said that the Gulf Cooperation Council states will extradite any foreigner, whether Lebanese or from another nationality, if the person violates the immigration rules in the GCC countries. “Gulf authorities haven't so far taken measures against Lebanese compatriots in their countries,” Mansour told reporters at Beirut Rafik Hariri International airport, ahead of an official visit to Tehran.
Asked about the expulsion of at least 18 Lebanese citizens from Qatar after the Gulf Cooperation Council pledged to act against members of Hizbullah, Mansour ruled out that the Gulf state has targeted a specific sect.
“We have to differentiate between the expulsion of expatriates for no obvious reason and those who failed to fully carry out their tasks,” the official added. Media reports said on Thursday that “those who were deported from Qatar belong to one team that was in charge of overseeing an engineering project for the interior ministry and the expulsion is linked to mistakes whose price was paid by the Lebanese team.” Mansour previously denied that the expulsion was linked to a decision taken by the GCC against Hizbullah, the employees “had employment contracts ranging between one year and two years and as a result of the evaluation, 21 employees were sacked – 15 Lebanese, one Pakistani, one Indian, one Bahraini, one Canadian and two Egyptians.” On June 10, the GCC said it would implement measures affecting the "residency permits and financial and commercial transactions of Hizbullah" in response to the group's involvement in the conflict in Syria. Mansour said that he is set to meet with senior Iranian officials during his visit to Iran, where talks will focus on the bilateral ties and the latest developments in Lebanon and the region. “No doubt the developments in the neighboring country Syria affects directly and indirectly all the region, in particular Lebanon,” he told reporters. Mansour said that he will address with Iranian officials ways to prevent the turmoil in Syria from spilling over into Lebanon. The Syrian opposition accuses Iran of providing Damascus with weapons and encouraging Hizbullah, which relies on Tehran for support, to dispatch fighters to Syria.

Rocket attack was 'message' to Lebanon president: Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya official MP Imad Hout

The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya official MP Imad Hout said Saturday a recent rocket that knocked out a high tension wire near the Lebanese capital aimed at a delivering a warning to Lebanon’s president.
“The two Ballouneh rockets are a message to the president of the republic,” Hout told Voice of Lebanon radio station. “It appears that is forbidden that we have a sovereign president,” he said. The Lebanese Army found Friday launch pads in Ballouneh, Kesrouan, hours after a rocket landed in Jamhour, near the Presidential Palace in suburban Baabda and the Defense Ministry in Yarze. In his comments to the Lebanese radio station, Hout also slammed Hezbollah, saying the resistance group had lost its credentials. “Hezbollah will pay if it launches any venture inside [Lebanon] and we hope the state will fulfill its responsibilities,” he added.

Lebanese Anti-Extension Protesters Issue Symbolic Verdict Preventing 'Illegitimate ex-MPs' from Entering Parliament

Naharnet/Dozens of protesters rallied for the second consecutive day on Friday to denounce the extension of parliament's term, after the Constitutional Council failed to rule on the filed challenges due to the absence of three of its members. In a statement issued by a coalition of civil society groups and activists, the demonstrators said “the accused – the speaker and members of parliament – have usurped power and prevented the Constitutional Council from practicing its authority.”“The accused have tried to cover up for their continuous crimes of obstructing state institutions, undermining judicial authority, terrorizing the media, making deals under the table, discriminating against women and the disabled, weakening social security institutions, harming the environment and inciting sectarian sentiments,” the statement said. And as the protesters noted that “the acts of the speaker and the MPs represent crimes punishable under the constitution,” they issued a “unanimous” symbolic verdict accusing “the speaker and the MPs of the 2009 parliament of usurping power and preventing them from entering parliament.” They called on citizens to “consider the 2009 MPs as former illegitimate lawmakers and to raise their voices against them during any rally they organize and not to implement any laws issued by their illegitimate parliament.” Protesters also urged citizens to take part in a demonstration organized by the civil society movement on Friday at the Riad al-Solh Square in downtown Beirut.
During the sit-in, some protesters tried to remove the barber wire surrounding Nejmeh Square which houses parliament's building, which resulted in a scuffle with security forces who prevented them from advancing.
“We will not stop until you leave” and “Go home,” read some of the banners carried by the protesters. Around 7:30 p.m., protesters started dismantling tents they had erected on Thursday evening, promising to stage a demonstration every Friday and noting that they suspended their sit-in in order not to “exhaust the participants.” On Thursday, hundreds of citizens and civil society activists demonstrated in rejection of the extension, as security forces prevented them several times from crossing the barriers into Nejmeh Square. Riot police several times tried to push protesters away from the square as demonstrators hurled plastic water bottles on them amid appeals from the organizers to keep the protest peaceful. Ninety-seven out of 128 MPs had voted in favor of extending parliament's term as three judges of the 10-member Constitutional Council have failed to attend four sessions so far, depriving the council of the needed quorum to rule on challenges. On Friday, parliament's extended 17-month term entered into force as the Council failed to meet to issue a ruling on petitions filed by President Michel Suleiman and the Change and Reform bloc against the extension.

Beirut/Tensions in Bir al-Abed as Personal Dispute Erupts into Gunfire

Naharnet/A personal dispute between a building janitor and members of the al-Meqdad clan erupted into gunfire on Friday in the al-Meqdad neighborhood near al-Msharrafiyeh, state-run National News Agency reported.
The janitor opened fire from his pistol, which left Mohammed al-Meqdad and a man from al-Ashhab family critically wounded. Earlier, MTV said two people were killed in the incident as al-Jadeed television said one person was killed and another was wounded. “The Hadi Nasrallah Highway was closed near al-Zaghloul Restaurant as the army sent reinforcements to the area,” al-Jadeed said. Security forces have launched a probe and are pursuing the shooter, NNA said.

Saniora Meets Lavrov, Explains 'Dangers' of Hizbullah Involvement in Syrian War

Naharnet/Head of al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc, former premier Fouad Saniora, on Friday explained to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “the dangers” of Hizbullah's involvement in the Syrian war, calling for the withdrawal of the group's fighters. According to Lebanon's National News Agency, Lavrov received Saniora during the International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg. Saniora explained to Lavrov “the dangers of Hizbullah's participation in the Syrian war and the need to withdraw its fighters, return them to Lebanon and deploy the army on the border with the assistance of the U.N. peacekeeping force,” NNA said. For his part, Lavrov stressed "Russia's commitment to Lebanon's independence and sovereignty over its territory and the need for Lebanon to abide by the self-dissociation policy and the Baabda Declaration.” Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has publicly announced Hizbullah's participation in the Syrian war. After the party helped regime forces recapture the strategic town of Qusayr near Lebanon's border from rebel hands, Nasrallah stressed that Hizbullah “will be where it needs to be” in Syria and that it will continue to “shoulders its responsibilities.” Hizbullah fighters, who have a strong presence near the Sayyida Zeinab Shiite holy shrine in southeastern Damascus, are trying to seize control of villages near Zayabiyeh and Babila in Damascus province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday.

Russian Deputy FM, Mikhail Bogdanov: Nasrallah intervened in Syria to save Damascus

Now Lebanon/Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told him that he intervened in Syria to prevent the fall of Damascus. “Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told me that the decision to intervene in Syria was made after [rebels] had arrived in Damascus and almost started to celebrate their victory,” Bogdanov told Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Hayat in remarks published on Friday. The conflict in neighboring Syria has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon, with the Damascus regime’s ally Hezbollah dispatching fighters to battle alongside the Syrian army against rebel forces. Bogdanov also stressed the need to quickly transform the conflict in Syria into a political one, adding that “the world has lost one year after the Geneva agreement.”The first Geneva meeting in June last year ended in a broad agreement aimed at forming a transitional government in Syria and introducing a long-lasting truce. But the deal was never implemented because of disagreements over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's role in the new government, and the lack of commitment by either side to lay down their arms. The Russian deputy FM added that “setting the date for the second Geneva meeting will not be possible before the nature and mechanisms of the Syrian opposition’s participation become clear.” According to media reports, the meeting has been tentatively scheduled for July or August, where the focus will be on ending the 26 months of bloodshed that a Syrian observer group says has claimed more than 90,000 lives.

A crack in the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance?

Analysts say Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is stirring unease among its Christian allies. In an unusual and perhaps suggestive departure from his party’s typical talking points, caretaker Energy Minister and senior Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) member, Gebran Bassil, launched a bitter attack Tuesday on his staunch political ally Hezbollah, accusing them of having “stabbed us and stabbed democracy.”  The remarks, given in an interview with the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, referred specifically to Hezbollah’s backing of a decision to extend the term of Lebanon’s parliament. However, Bassil further criticized Hezbollah’s military intervention in the neighboring Syrian conflict, saying such a move brought “problems to Lebanon that are not in [Lebanon’s] interests.” He also said the move jeopardized the country’s important economic relations with Gulf Arab states.
Indeed, these latter comments may be the more significant ones. For while Bassil stressed that any disagreements between the FPM and Hezbollah “would not affect the strategic alliance between the two parties,” analysts with whom NOW spoke said there was reason to believe Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has stirred considerable anxiety among the FPM’s Christian base. “Lebanese Maronites are divided, but despite their differences they have a common vision for Lebanon,” said Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. “They see Lebanon as a citadel of freedom and they enjoy their Lebanese way of life. They are aware that Hezbollah’s entry into Syria will backfire, and actually has begun to backfire already.” “What can Hezbollah’s Maronite allies do when wave after wave of Sunni jihadists converge on Lebanon from Syria? They see the threat. [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah and the rest of Hezbollah don’t see it, because they are driven by millenarian aspirations and they cannot say no to the quasi-infallible Supreme Leader of Iran. So while Hezbollah feels it is on the side of the winner, [FPM leader Michel] Aoun and Bassil are beginning to feel that their alliance with Hezbollah may bring about a disaster for Lebanon.”While not necessarily an accurate indicator of the party mood, posts on the FPM-affiliated ‘Orange Room’ web forum do provide some evidence of this unease. A poll last week, titled, “Was it right of Hezbollah to enter the Syrian war?” yielded a divided response, with 53 percent saying yes and a slightly smaller 47 percent no. Several commenters echoed the points made by Khashan, with one, for example, writing, “By entering the Syrian war, it is my opinion that [Hezbollah] took a bad decision and might have opened the Pandora[‘s] box.” Another said, “We should let the Syrians fix their mess on their own… [Hezbollah’s] involvement will ***** [sic] Lebanon in the end.”
Bassil’s comments about deteriorating ties with Gulf states may also have touched on many FPM members’ concerns. Earlier this month, Saudi media reported that Gulf citizens had been advised by their governments not to travel to “unsafe” Lebanon – a development to which Bassil alluded in the interview, saying, “We say to the [Gulf Arabs] come to Lebanon this summer, because we cannot imagine a summer without their presence among us.”
“That’s another factor, obviously,” said Charles Chartouni, a professor of politics at the Université Saint-Joseph and the Lebanese University. “It’s a question of major financial interests. [Aoun’s] people are not ready to compromise their jobs, their financial interests, for the sake of a political agenda. This is something that is even causing disagreement among the Shiites,” he told NOW. Khashan agrees, adding that the considerable Lebanese diaspora in the Gulf – and the many FPM voters among them – may be growing increasingly concerned for their financial security. “There are half a million Lebanese in the Gulf, and the percentage of Christians among them is quite high. And Lebanese Christians have excellent positions over there, and Aoun is putting them in the way of harm.”Ultimately, no analyst NOW spoke to believed the FPM-Hezbollah alliance is under serious threat for the moment. But, in Khashan’s view, it will not last forever. “I’m not saying the alliance between Hezbollah and the FPM is coming to an end now. But it is an awkward one… between two groups that felt marginalized in Lebanese politics at the time [in 2006]. Two groups coming together for negative reasons are not expected to develop a healthy alliance. It’s an alliance based on contradictions. Needless to say, such an alliance is bound to come to an end at one time or another.”

Sidon residents brace for further violence

ALEX ROWELL/Now Lebanon/Locals tell NOW they expect worse to come, though analysts downplay talk of a “new Tripoli”
Rina Hassan has only just returned to her apartment in Sidon’s Abra neighborhood, four days after fleeing heavy gun battles that raged on her street between partisans of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir and those of the Hezbollah-affiliated Resistance Brigades, leaving one dead. “When it started, [Assir’s] fighters were under my house. They blocked the street with burning oil so no cars could get in or out, and then began firing RPGs and machine guns non-stop. For two hours, I sat in the corner of my bedroom because it was the only room with no windows.”Terrified and alone in the house, Hassan then received a call from her son imploring her to come to the comparative safety of his restaurant nearby, which has an underground kitchen.
“He came to my front door and said, ‘Close your eyes, don’t look around, it will just take two minutes.’ Getting there was a real risk. We stayed for two more hours in that kitchen with two fighters outside firing M16s at any car that approached.” When negotiations between Assir and the city’s Mufti, Sheikh Salim Sousan, brought the fighting to a close, Hassan decided to leave Sidon for her native southern village.
“I called a friend who had a friend involved with Assir’s movement, and he told us of a safe exit route. We had to tell them exactly what cars we would be in so they would know it was us. Many people in Abra were doing the same thing.” “Today, I returned to Sidon, because I heard that Assir had agreed to postpone any military action for now. But I’ve prepared a bag in the house. The moment I feel tensions are rising again, I’ll get out of here.”
Hassan’s attitude is a widespread one in the city today, which residents fear could become the site of increasingly frequent and bloody clashes in future. Sheikh Maher Hammoud, a pro-Hezbollah cleric who survived an alleged assassination attempt in Sidon earlier this month, accused Assir on Thursday of wanting to turn Sidon into a “new Tripoli,” referring to the northern city that for years has witnessed repeated bouts of deadly sectarian violence.
Certainly, Abra locals NOW spoke to on Friday felt worse was yet to come. “There will be clashes again, of course,” said a roast chicken vendor directly across the street from Assir’s Bilal bin Rabah mosque. “Sheikh Assir agreed to postpone them until after school examinations [concluding on 6 July]. Next time, the fighting will be more intense, yes.”
Assir himself also appears to be taking precautions. The side-street leading up to his mosque now sports a new metal barrier, flanked by heavy concrete blocks and sandbags. A friendly young man, possibly in his teens, raises the barrier to allow a car to enter the complex. Like the two men standing on the corner behind him, he carries an AK-47, evidently undeterred by the heavy deployment of Lebanese Army troops on the adjacent street below. No, he says, we can’t take photos of him. But if we like, we can snap the large new holes on the building’s exterior – the results, he claims, of RPGs fired by the Resistance Brigades from Haaret Saida, the predominantly Shiite quarter two kilometers to the southwest. In Haaret Saida, where Hezbollah and Amal flags line the streets, another restaurateur initially shrugs off the prospect of further clashes before launching an animated speech about how dangerous they could become. “The problem of sectarian hatred here is huge. In Sidon, we have every sect: Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Christians, Palestinians. These Islamists are playing with fire. Since when did they care about school exams? Are children’s exams more important than children dying?”NOW also spoke to the mayor of Haaret Saida, Samih al-Zein, who was the target of a public death threat from the celebrity Assir partisan, former pop singer Fadel Shaker.“I made a formal complaint to the judiciary,” he said with regards to the threat. “The attorney general and the security apparatus will deal with this. We don’t have a personal reaction – we won’t sink to that level.” Al-Zein played down the possibility of further clashes, implying that Hezbollah and Amal would seek to avoid confronting Assir. “We won’t respond [to further provocations] because we won’t give them the chance to have sectarian fitna [strife].” He added that Assir’s movement was “too small to attack us.” That is, in effect, the view shared by analyst Hazem al-Amin, author of The Lonely Salafi, who told NOW the chances of Sidon’s violence reaching the levels seen in Tripoli are slim at the moment. “Assir is weaker than his opponents in Sidon, and the deciding party is Hezbollah, not Assir. If Hezbollah wants to create tension, it will. However, Sidon is an important road to the South, so it is not now in their interests to create clashes there.”Al-Amin added the situation in Sidon would be largely determined by events in Syria. “We’re operating on Syrian realities. The essential [factor in Tuesday’s clashes] was the results that Hezbollah has had in [Syria]. This has created a tense environment, which will continue and maybe increase – but the full-on explosion isn’t for now.”Some of the above names have been changed at interviewees’ requests.*Yara Chehayed and Maya Gebeily contributed reporting.

US troop buildup in Jordan after Turkey shuts US-NATO arms corridor to Syrian rebels

DEBKAfile Special Report June 22, 2013/The US decision to upgrade Syrian rebel weaponry has run into a major setback: DEBKAfile reveals that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan phoned President Barack Obama in Berlin Wednesday, June 19, to report his sudden decision to shut down the Turkish corridor for the transfer of US and NATO arms to the Syrian rebels. Against this background, the US President informed Congress Friday, June 22, that 700 combat-equipped American military personnel would remain in Jordan at the end of a joint US-Jordanian training exercise. They would include crews of two Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries and the logistics, command and communications personnel needed to support those units. The United States is also leaving behind from the war maneuver a squadron of 12 to 24 F-16 fighter jets at Jordan’s request. Some 300 US troops have been in Jordan since last year. Erdogan’s decision will leave the Syrian rebels fighting in Aleppo virtually high and dry. The fall of Qusayr cut off their supplies of arms from Lebanon. Deliveries through Jordan reach only as far as southern Syria and are almost impossible to move to the north where the rebels and the Hizballah-backed Syrian army are locked in a decisive battle for Aleppo. The Turkish prime minister told Obama he is afraid of Russian retribution if he continues to let US and NATO weapons through to the Syrian rebels. Since the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland last week, Moscow has issued almost daily condemnations of the West for arming “terrorists.” Rebel spokesmen in Aleppo claimed Friday that they now had weapons which they believe “will change the course of the battle on the ground.” DEBKAfile’s military sources are strongly skeptical of their ability - even after the new deliveries - to stand up to the onslaught on their positions in the embattled town by the combined strength of the Syrian army, Hizballah troops and armed Iraqi Shiites. The prevailing intelligence assessment is that they will be crushed in Aleppo as they were in Al Qusayr. That battle was lost after 16 days of ferocious combat; Aleppo is expected to fall after 40-60 days of great bloodshed. The arms the rebels received from US, NATO and European sources were purchased on international markets – not only because they were relatively cheap but because they were mostly of Russian manufacture. The rebels are thus equipped with Russian weapons for fighting the Russian arms used by the Syria army. This made Moscow angrier than ever. Until now, the Erdogan government was fully supportive of the Syrian opposition, permitting them to establish vital command centers and rear bases on Turkish soil and send supplies across the border to fighting units. He has now pulled the rug out from under their cause and given Assad a major leg-up  This about-turn is a strategic earthquake – not just in terms of the Syrian war but also for the United States and, as time goes by, for Israel too. Ten years ago, Erdogan pulled the same maneuver when he denied US troops passage through Turkey to Iraq for opening a second front against Saddam Hussein. President Obama reacted by topping up the US deployment in Jordan by 700 combat-equipped troops to 1,000. Patriot missile interceptors and F-16 fighter jets are left behind from their joint war game for as long as the security situation requires. DEBKAfile: The joint US-Jordanian maneuver was in fact abruptly curtailed after two weeks although it was planned to continue for two months until the end of August.
The widening disruptions of the surging Syrian war are on the point of tipping over into Jordan and coming closer than ever to Israel.

Secret Steps' Adopted to Change Syria Balance

Naharnet /World powers supporting Syria's rebels decided on Saturday to take "secret steps" to change the balance on the battlefield, after the United States and others called for stepping up military aid to insurgents.
In their final communique, the ministers agreed to "provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people". Speaking in Doha, top Qatari diplomat Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said the meeting of foreign ministers of the "Friends of Syria" had taken "secret decisions about practical measures to change the situation on the ground in Syria". Ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the talks.
Washington and Doha called for increasing military aid to end what US Secretary of State John Kerry called an "imbalance" in Assad's favor. Kerry said the United States remained committed to a peace plan that includes a conference in Geneva and a transitional government picked both by Assad and the opposition. But he said the rebels need more support "for the purpose of being able to get to Geneva and to be able to address the imbalance on the ground". To that end, he said, "the United States and other countries here -- in their various ways, each choosing its own approach -- will increase the scope and scale of assistance to the political and military opposition".
Sheikh Hamad echoed Kerry's remarks, calling for arms deliveries to the rebels to create a military balance that could help forge peace. A peaceful end "cannot be reached unless a balance on the ground is achieved, in order to force the regime to sit down to talks," he told the ministers. "Getting arms and using them could be the only way to achieve peace." British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London had taken "no decision" to arm the rebels. On Thursday, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it was already receiving unspecified new types of arms that could change the course of the battle, but also said it needed anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.
Sheikh Hamad also voiced support for a peace conference but insisted there could be no role in the future government for "Assad and aides with bloodstained hands". And he accused Assad's regime of wanting to block the Geneva conference in order to stay in power, "even if that costs one million dead, millions of displaced and refugees, and the destruction of Syria and its partition". On the ground, loyalist forces pressed a fierce four-day assault on rebel-held parts of Damascus, while insurgents launched a new attack on regime-controlled neighborhoods of second city Aleppo. Government forces were attempting to storm the capital's northeastern district of Qaboon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, with overnight mortar fire killing three children from the same family. Battles also raged in the Barzeh, Al-Hajar al-Aswad and Jubar districts of the capital.
In Aleppo, large swathes of which are under rebel control, the FSA command announced the launch of "a battle to liberate several western districts". Saturday's developments come as the military pushed on with its bid to end the insurgency in and around Homs in central Syria, said the Observatory. They also come a day after at least 100 people were killed nationwide, it added. Source/Agence France Presse

Report: Turkey Arrests 23 More over Anti-Government Protests

Naharnet /Turkish authorities arrested 23 more people on Saturday over their alleged role in this month's anti-government protests, accusing them of acting on behalf of a far-left "terrorist" group, a news report said.
A court in the capital accused them of helping to organize the protests and engaging in violence in the name of the Communist Marxist-Leninist Party (MLKP), CNN-Turk said on its website. Another three were released but placed under judicial supervision, the report said. Interior Minister Muammer Guler said the operation had been planned for about a year against the "terrorist" (MLKP), but that the suspects were also implicated in the protests, the most violent since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government came to power in 2002,. Prosecutors could not immediately confirm the arrests, which follow a sweep last Tuesday against far-left groups in Ankara and Istanbul and bring to at least 47 those detained over the protests that grew from a peaceful demonstration on May 28. In Istanbul, 18 members of the small far-left Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP) were detained in the same operation on Friday and held for "belonging to a terrorist organization" and "destroying public property". On Tuesday police had arrested dozens of ESP members and searched the offices of the Atilim newspaper and the Etkin news agency, both tied to the group. What began as a peaceful protest against plans to demolish Istanbul's Gezi Park, one of the city's last large green spots, turned violent on May 31 when police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators. Police moved in on June 15 to evacuate Gezi Park, the last stronghold of the anti-government protesters after a series of police crackdowns. The protests claimed at least four lives and left thousands injured. Source/Agence France Presse

Egypt's ElBaradei Calls on Morsi to Resign

Naharnet/Leading Egyptian dissident Mohammed ElBaradei urged President Mohammed Morsi on Saturday to resign for the sake of national unity, ahead of planned opposition-backed rallies calling on the Islamist leader to step down. "For Egypt's sake, I call on President Mohammed Morsi to resign and give us the opportunity to begin a new phase based on the principles of the revolution, which are freedom and social justice," ElBaradei said.
"I would like to call on President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood to respond to the cries from all over Egypt," he said at a conference aimed at drawing up a plan for a post-Morsi Egypt. ElBaradei, a former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief who now heads the opposition, said the June 30 protests are intended to "correct the path" of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The opposition accuses Morsi of concentrating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood movement and failing to manage the country's economy and security. With Egypt deeply polarized between Morsi's mainly Islamist supporters and wide-ranging opposition, ElBaradei said it was time for "national reconciliation" in order to move forward. What is needed is "a system based on free and fair elections with international and local monitoring (and) parliamentary elections to have all segments of society represented," he said. "We want the Egypt that the revolution rose up for," he said. A campaign dubbed Tamarod (rebellion in Arabic) called for the anti-Morsi rally to coincide with the first anniversary of his taking office. Tamarod has rapidly picked up steam, and organizers say they have collected 15 million signatures demanding Morsi's resignation. Source/Agence France Presse

Egypt Airports on High Alert Ahead of June 30 Protests

Naharnet/Egypt's airports will raise their alert level to "high" ahead of June 30 when opposition-backed protesters plan to demonstrate against President Mohammed Morsi, security officials said on Saturday. "An emergency plan will be put in place from June 28 until July 1," the head of Cairo airport security, General Magdy al-Yussri, told reporters. At Cairo airport, security patrols will be increased, passengers will be thoroughly checked and new cameras will be installed "to monitor and confront any emergency," he said. Civil Aviation Minister Wael al-Maadawy has been in talks for several days with airport and security officials as well as the heads of companies affiliated with the EgyptAir holding company that runs the national carrier. "A state of high alert will be declared from June 28 to July 1," said General Magdy Elwan, who heads the EgyptAir holding company. In the provinces, security will be beefed up at airports and EgyptAir offices. Security personnel will be given the necessary arms and equipment "to protect these vital establishments," an airport official said.
A campaign dubbed Tamarod (rebellion in Arabic) first called for the anti-Morsi rally to coincide with the first anniversary of his taking office. Tamarod rapidly picked up steam, and organizers said they have collected 15 million signatures demanding that Morsi step down. Source/Agence France Presse

Amman Denies CIA Training Syria Rebels in Jordan

Naharnet/Jordan on Saturday denied an American newspaper report saying that the CIA and U.S. special operations forces were training rebels from neighboring Syria on its territory. "There is no training in our country whatsoever of Syrian opposition forces," Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur told a group of journalists including one from Agence France Presse. "The only Syrians we are dealing with in our country are refugees. There isn't any training" of Syrian insurgents in Jordan, he insisted. On Friday the Los Angeles Times reported that the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. special forces have been training Syrian rebels at a new U.S. base in the desert in southwest Jordan since November, The training covers the use of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and has been carried out at bases in Turkey as well, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials and rebel commanders. The CIA and the White House have declined to comment on the report which comes after U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has announced plans to arm opposition forces seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. The U.S. report was published on the eve of the "Friends of Syria" meeting of Arab and Western foreign ministers in Qatar on Saturday to discuss arming the rebels. Last week the Pentagon said that F-16 jet fighters and a Patriot missile battery deployed in Jordan for the "Eager Lion" military exercises that ended this week would remain in the desert country. And on Friday a U.S. defense official told AFP that Washington has expanded its military presence in Jordan to 1,000 troops. The United States is concerned about a possible spillover of violence from Syria to its southern neighbor Jordan, a key U.S. ally.
Nsur insisted that Amman has a policy of "not interfering in the incidents under way in Syria". Jordan is already struggling to cope with more than 540,000 refugees who have poured across the border since the conflict in Syria broke out in March 2011.Source/Agence France Presse

French President Francois Hollande in Qatar for Talks on Syria, Economy

Naharnet/French President Francois Hollande arrived in Qatar on Saturday for talks on the Syrian civil war and on economic ties with the gas-rich Gulf state. He landed in Qatar as a "Friends of Syria" meeting there earlier in the day decided to provide urgent military aid to Syria's rebels. Ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the talks. They agreed to "provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people."Hollande said during a meeting with the French community in Qatar that he welcomed the decision, which allows "supporting the Syrian opposition." He said the countries taking part decided to "further strengthen members of the opposition, offer a guarantee to prepare for transition" in Syria, and "head to a conference aimed at finding a political solution." That was a reference peace talks in Geneva that the United States and Russia have been pushing for. Yet even as the Friends of Syria prepared to step up their own involvement in a war that has killed nearly 100,000 people, they demanded that Iran and Hizbullah stop supporting President Bashar Assad's regime. Britain and France have recently pushed for providing weapons to the rebels but have underscored that this must be done in a responsible manner to avoid the kind of anarchy that took place in Libya after the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. During his talks with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, a French diplomat said Hollande will highlight the "need for trust, clarity and coordination" in backing the rebels as Qatar is accused of "supporting Syrian opposition groups it does not know."The visit is also important economically, as a large delegation of business executives from major French companies are accompanying Hollande, who will speak at the Franco-Qatari Economic Forum in Doha on Sunday. The matter of "strategic importance" to France, according to the president's entourage, is its Rafale fighter jets, which Paris is trying to sell to Qatar.
The emir is preparing to hand control of Qatar to his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, according to Qatari diplomats and officials. Hollande will dine with Sheikh Hamad and the crown prince on Saturday evening. Later on Sunday he travels to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.Source/Agence France Presse

Hamas Executes Two Israel 'Collaborators' in Gaza
Naharnet/Hamas hanged two men accused of collaborating with Israel on Saturday, a statement from the interior ministry of the Islamist movement's government in Gaza said. The ministry said that it had executed the two men in accordance "with what Palestinian law stipulates,” identifying the two men as "the collaborator with the occupation A.G., 49, and the collaborator H.K., 43." A military court in Gaza had sentenced the two to "death by hanging after the tribunal convicted them 10 years ago of charges ranging from collaborating with a hostile foreign entity,” to involvement in "killing and espionage.” A number of representatives from civil organizations attended the execution, the statement said. The Hamas government executed three men in April 2012 after they were accused of "collaborating" with Israel. Source/Agence France Presse

France gave Syrian opposition anti-sarin gas kits, FM says

Now Lebanon/France has provided the Syrian opposition with treatment kits against the effects of the deadly sarin nerve gas, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Doha on Saturday. France has sent "treatments that can protect a thousand people," Fabius said following a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Qatar."This says a lot about the damage [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad has caused to his people," said Fabius.
Sarin, a deadly nerve gas which the United States has said the Syrian regime has used against rebel forces, was developed by Nazi scientists in 1938. Originally conceived as a pesticide, sarin was used by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime to gas thousands of Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988. Earlier this month Fabius said that experts had analyzed samples brought back from Syria and concluded that the deadly nerve agent had been used several times. Britain has echoed his remarks. Saturday's meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group agreed to offer military aid to rebels in the war-hit country, as loyalists make apparent gains on the battlefield. Ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the talks. The United States, Britain and France have accused the Assad regime of using banned arms, including the sarin gas, in attacks that have killed scores of people. Damascus has repeatedly denied such accusations.

Sectarian suicide

Michael Young/Now Lebanon/

This week, while driving in Beirut, I asked for the assistance of a parking attendant. Off to the side there was trash lying in the street that had apparently fallen off a truck. The attendant looked at the pile and made a remark associating it with a neighborhood in Beirut identified with a specific sectarian group.It occurred to me that the young man, who must have been no more than 25 years old, remembered nothing of Lebanon’s civil war. If he had, he might have thought twice about succumbing to a nauseating sectarianism that can only bring misery, ruin, and regret.
A few years ago I wrote a book, The Ghosts of Martyrs Square, in which I argued that sectarianism, for all its many faults, created a social reality that has enhanced Lebanese pluralism. Because the religious communities were stronger than the state, and because the state is the prime foe of liberty in the Middle East, Lebanon was freer and more open than surrounding countries. In the spaces created by sectarianism, individuals could generally act and think as they pleased, and I called this a paradoxical liberalism, because it emanated from the sectarian system, which is anything but liberal. Just how illiberal this system is was brought home to me by the parking attendant. When communal tensions reach a breaking point, the ugly face of sectarianism rears its head, consuming all before it.
Most disturbing is that the reality is different. Take the mounting Sunni accusations against Shiites for pursuing sectarian objectives. But are things really all that clear-cut? Not really. In recent weeks there have been efforts by Shiite opponents of Hezbollah to condemn the party’s entry into the Syrian conflict. In a demonstration before the Iranian embassy organized by Ahmad al-Asaad’s Lebanese Option movement – one man, Hashim Salman, was shot and killed. This came as other Shiite figures have become more vocal in their condemnation of Hezbollah, or have openly supported the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. One of these individuals is Sayyid Hani Fahs, a Shiite cleric who once backed Iran’s revolution. “Since its early days, I have always supported the uprising in Syria. Shiites must defend a position in line with their Arabism, Lebanese nationalism, and history: they have always been on the side of the oppressed against the oppressors,” he affirmed.
In other words, sectarianism uses a wide brush to paint a far more nuanced condition, where the exceptions tell us a great deal. As Hezbollah embroils Lebanon in a war next door, Shiites are among the first to pay a price. Family members of Hezbollah combatants killed in Syria have already done so, while Shiites working in the Gulf are increasingly finding themselves targeted by the authorities there and being forced to leave, losing their livelihoods. Even the parameters of sectarian discussion are vague. Many Lebanese are behaving today as if there were a long tradition of Sunni-Shiite animosity in the country. There isn’t, and the two communities essentially fought on the same side during the war years. In many (if not most) districts of western Beirut, Sunnis and Shiites live side by side. Any sectarian conflict would be traumatizing to both, tearing apart a longstanding urban social fabric. Nor did Hezbollah really enter Syria for sectarian reasons. Its support for the Assad regime has much more to do with the party’s strategic interests, and its need to keep an open line of communication to the Syrian coast and its ports in the event of a conflict with Israel, than with any ideological-religious affinity with the Alawite community.
Some will recall that in 1973, Lebanese Shiite cleric Musa al-Sadr issued a fatwa saying that the Alawites were a branch of Shiite Islam. This came at a time when the minority Alawite-dominated Assad regime had released a draft constitution that failed to make reference to Islam as the religion of the Syrian state. Protests ensued and the regime, taken aback, sought religious legitimacy. Sadr, who was then building up his relationship with Damascus, obliged. However, as scholar Fouad Ajami has noted, this was more a pragmatic political arrangement than a position anchored in any doctrine. “The Alawites were the bearers of an esoteric faith which Muslims, both Sunni and Shi[ite], put beyond the pale of Islam,” Ajami wrote in The Vanished Imam, his biography of Musa al-Sadr.
That is not to say that Syria’s Alawites today do not feel part of a broader coalition of forces stretching from Iran and through Iraq to Lebanon. Nor does it mean that members of this coalition do not share a sense of solidarity in the face of the Sunni majority in the region. But in drawing sharp sectarian lines, as some are prone to do these days, there is a tendency to play up the sectarian dimensions of this reality and to downplay the political rationale underlining it. And once the ideological or religious dimension gains the upper hand, the counter-reaction is similarly ideological or religious, and the ability to control things becomes more difficult thereafter. It’s then that we see the bearded demagogues emerging from the woodwork, calling for jihad and claiming to speak in the name of God and of righteousness, brooking no compromise and refusing to flinch before all excess.
Once we are prisoners of a conflict defined by such people, we are truly lost. Lebanon is particularly prone to the manipulations of populist charlatans. Yet, we lived through a war that should have taught us more. Instead, those who led us then are now still with us today, but as powerful as ever. We didn’t learn at the time and we’re not learning now. Lebanon, it seems, is eternally drawn to the flame.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

The Awakening Sunni Giant
By: Michael Weiss/Now Lebanon
Saudi Arabia is dead-serious about ending the Assad regime
Last Friday, King Abdullah cut short his summer vacation in Morocco and flew back to Riyadh not only to meet with his national security advisors but to coordinate a new strategy for winning the war in Syria, one that encompasses a unified regional bloc of Sunni-majority powers now ranged against Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime. The Wahhabi kingdom has exhausted its patience with miscarried attempts to resolve the Syria crisis through diplomacy and it will not wait to see the coming battle in Aleppo play out before assuming control of the Syrian rebellion. State-backed regional efforts to bolster moderate Free Syrian Army elements will thus be joined with the fetid call to jihad emanating from clerical quarters in Cairo, Doha, Mecca, and beyond. The mullahs have only themselves to blame. “Nasrallah fucked up,” one well-connected Syrian source told me recently. “He awakened the Sunni giant. The Saudis took Hezbollah’s invasion of Qusayr personally.”
Although long in coming, and evidenced in the recent contretemps between Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, this grand realignment has been unmistakably solidified in the last week. A day after the Saudi king returned to Riyadh, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi severed all diplomatic ties with Damascus and called for a no-fly zone in Syria, leaving no mystery as to reason behind this decision. “Hezbollah must leave Syria – these are serious words,” the Islamist president said. “There is no space or place for Hezbollah in Syria.”
Then, on Monday, June 17, it was Jordanian King Abdullah’s turn to strike a minatory, albeit more nationalistic, note. Ostensibly addressing cadets at a graduation ceremony at Mutah Military Academy, the Hashemite monarch was in fact speaking to Barack Obama and Bashar al-Assad: “If the world does not mobilize or help us in the issue [of Syria] as it should, or if this matter forms a danger to our country, we are able at any moment to take measures that will protect our land and the interests of our people.”
Unlike Morsi, who doesn’t have half a million Syrian refugees to contend with, Abdullah’s deterrent capability is not confined to persona non grata diktats and rhetorical posturing. Operation Eager Lion, the 12-day military exercise featuring the United States and 19 Arab and European countries, is currently underway in Jordan. Around 8,000 personnel – including commandos from Lebanon and Iraq who will no doubt be fighting some of their compatriots in any deployment into Syria – are given lessons on border security, refugee management, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism warfare. Patriot missile batteries and anywhere between 12 and 24 American F-16 fighter jets were left in Jordan as a multilateral insurance policy against Syrian, Iranian, or Hezbollah provocations. This royal Abdullah is more in sync than ever with his namesake to the south. If further proof were needed of Riyadh’s newfound earnestness about ending Assad’s reign, look no further than a recent column by Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist seen as quite close to Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former director general of Saudi intelligence who himself has described Hezbollah and Iraq’s Shiite Abu Fadhl al-Abbas Brigade in Syria as Iran’s “steel claws.” On June 15, Khashoggi published “The expanding Shiite Crescent” in al-Hayat. The piece can only be described as something between a Sunni cri de coeur and a Sunni fever-dream. Khashoggi begins by warning of creeping Iranian hegemony in the Levant, which is of course driven as much by energy and commercial interest as it is by ideology. Allow Assad victory and here’s what will happen, according to Khashoggi:
“The Iranian Oil Ministry will pull out old maps from its drawers to build the pipeline to pump Iranian oil and gas from Abadan (across Iraq) to Tartus. The Iranian Ministry of Roads and Transportation will dust off the national railways authority’s blueprints for a new branch line from Tehran to Damascus, and possibly Beirut. Why not? The wind is blowing in their favor and I am not making a mountain out of a molehill.” As against Hafez’s careful balancing of Sunni and Shiite interests, Khashoggi concludes, the dangerous Bashar has submitted completely to Iran and their Lebanese proxy. “Consequently, Saudi Arabia must do something now, albeit alone. The kingdom’s security is at stake. It will be good if the United States joined an alliance led by Saudi Arabia to bring down Assad and return Syria to the Arab fold. But this should not be a precondition to proceed. Let Saudi Arabia head those on board.” [Italics added.]
According to Elizabeth O’Bagy, the policy director at the Syrian Emergency Task Force and a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, the Saudis had a closed-door meeting with Gen. Salim Idris, the head of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Command, a few days ago, at which they offered to do “whatever it takes” to help Idris defeat Assad and his growing army of Shiite-Alawi sectarian militias. Though, this being a Saudi promise, “whatever it takes” can still be defined relatively: the discussion was limited to weapons, more resources and logistical support, O’Bagy said, though some of the hardware has already begun to materialize.
One unnamed Gulf source cited by Reuters has claimed that the Saudis have begun running shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs) into Syria. Furthermore, at least 50 “Konkurs,” Russian-made, wire-guided anti-tank missiles, have also turned up in Aleppo in the last week, as confirmed by the Daily Telegraph’s Mideast correspondent Richard Spencer (Konkurs are especially useful in destroying T-72 tanks, the most recent Soviet-era model that the Syrian Army uses.) More intriguing still is the Western power evidently facilitating this campaign – France. Israeli Army Radio reported this week that French intelligence officials are working with their Saudi counterparts to train up rebels on tactics and weaponry, in concert with the Turkish Defense Ministry (no doubt because Turkish supply-lines to Aleppo are now even more crucial.) Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and mukhabarat head Prince Bandar bin Sultan (also the former Saudi ambassador to the United States and King Abdullah’s national security advisor), have traveled to Paris in urgent fits of shuttle diplomacy of late.
“The French have been really, really pro-active in pushing for greater action,” O’Bagy told me. “They have a lot of really active people on the ground.” The same Gulf source who told Reuters about anti-aircraft missiles bound for Syria also said they were “obtained from suppliers in France and Belgium, and France had paid to ship them to the region.” The Hollande government maintains that it hasn’t decided whether or not to arm the rebels yet, but here it should be noted, as O’Bagy has elsewhere, that the U.S. was gun-running before it ambiguously announced last week that it would (maybe) begin doing so.
Indeed, the Saudi-French concord provides some much needed context for the Obama administration’s adherence to the status quo ante. This has been amusingly characterized by some commentators in near apocalyptic language. The White House is still only interested in guiding a process absent direct involvement in it. Everyone from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey to the president has loudly rejected the prospect of air strikes or a no-fly zone. (These “realists” fail to realize that the surest way to limit argument to arm the FSA is to destroy the regime’s own Iranian and Russian resupply capability – ah, but that would require dropping bombs and we can’t have that, can we?) Having thus determined that the Syria crisis was not in the U.S. “national interest,” the administration conveniently forgot about the national interests of its allies, all of whom lament the geopolitical vacuum left by a vanishing American presence and greatly fear the elements now rushing in to fill it. So instead, Washington palavers with Moscow about “Geneva II”, a conference set to resemble the last half hour of Rocky IV, as the war proceeds uninterrupted on the ground. Witness the buildup of Syrian Army soldiers and militants from Hezbollah and the Iranian-sponsored Popular Committees and the National Defense Forces in the Aleppo towns of Nubul and Zahra’a. Between 3,000 and 4,000 Hezbollah fighters, abetted by IRGC agents, are amassed in the province ready to try a repeat of their last victory in Qusayr. Congratulations are in order. The United States has just earned a court-side seat to exactly the kind of transnational Sunni-Shiite confrontation it wished to avoid.

Mursi digs himself into a hole

By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat
A few days ago, I watched an interview with the Egyptian tourism minister on a foreign media outlet. He was trying to convince the audience that Egypt is still a hospitable country, and promised that the government would not interfere in foreign tourists’ affairs—what they drink, and what they wear or don’t wear.
Then, in a very surprising decision, the president assigned a member of the extremist group Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya as governor of Luxor—the most important tourist area in the country. Why the contradictory decisions? Perhaps nobody is aware, not even president Mohammed Mursi himself. It could be that the inconsistency is the result of inexperience. Alternatively, it could be a consequence of the variety of leaders within the ruling party. The Muslim Brotherhood refuses to transform and recognize a presidential system, and insists on working as per its own structure—one that places emphasis on its own leadership. In either eventuality, we are confronted with a strange situation: a presidential republic with many presidents. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders have proven to be a dangerous opposition, but they are a failed government because they refuse to adapt. As time goes on, the gap between the Brotherhood leaders and other Egyptians continues to widen, to the extent that they are threatened by a second revolution—an option that was unthinkable when Mursi won the presidential elections.
Their rivals are increasing. First, there were the leftists and the revolution’s youths. Now, military individuals, Salafists, Copts, media figures and intellectuals have joined them. The dollar, the stock market and unemployment are also factors that negate the government’s authority—and more will come. If all these come together, they will be capable of burying President Mohammed Mursi’s government, not just toppling it. But instead of communicating with his domestic Egyptian rivals in order to reassure them, Mursi has created new external adversaries. The West, which the opposition accuses of allying with the Brotherhood, may also turn against the ruling establishment. By appointing an individual from a group that is internationally classified as an extremist organization to a position of power within government, the Egyptian political landscape has become far more complicated. The leader of that group, Omar Abdelrahman, is jailed in the US on terrorism charges.
Many doubt the American position, and consider it to be one that supports the Brotherhood’s style of governance despite its anti-Western sentiment. Washington’s stance—provided the Brotherhood is willing to co-exist and cooperate with the international reality—is, simply, “Why not?” After attaining power, the Brotherhood did not waste time in reassuring everyone, including the Israelis, that they would not cause trouble externally. They have done so on several occasions through either Essam El-Erayan, a member of the Brotherhood’s political bureau, or other presidential contacts. But actions speak louder than words. Under the Brotherhood’s governance, hundreds of tunnels that connect Gaza’s Hamas with the world were destroyed. The Brotherhood also guarded the borders with Israel and launched large-scale attacks in the Sinai, deploying heavy weaponry against terrorists. All of this can be considered a mere political act that aims to reassure the West that they are a government that respects agreements and relations.
The real threat against Mursi and his government is not the opposition or the West, but the Egyptian citizen whose aspirations increased following the promises made after the revolution. The future is bright. There is no more Gamal, Suzzane, Hussein Salam, or other symbols of failure from the Mubarak era. Month after month and promise after promise, Mursi’s government has failed to implement the many assurances that it made, even despite international loans. Egypt became a hole, widening over time. The president is digging himself in deeper by expanding the circle of rivals who will fight against him. Instead of presenting a project of cooperation to define the first presidency following the revolution, he chose to attack state institutions, mainly the judiciary, the media and the army, which are supposed to be independent. The result is not difficult to imagine.

Opinion: Egypt after June 30

By: Abdel Monem Said/Asharq Alawsat
Do not believe anyone who tells you they know what will happen in Egypt before, during or after June 30, 2013, the date that the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign will demonstrate for ousting president Mohamed Mursi and replacing him with a presidential council chaired by the head of the Supreme Court. I am not saying this because I question the millions of signatures collected by Tamarod, nor because major changes do not occur in this manner; rather, I am questioning it because surprises have become a natural part of the Egyptian landscape since 2011. Not only was what happened surprising, but so was what did not happen. Who imagined that the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which was overthrown on August 12, 2012, would be ousted only a few weeks after it had issued a constitutional declaration that led to it sharing power with the president?
The surprises before and after this date were unimaginable, not only in Egypt, but also in all Arab states that were affected by the tide of change. Furthermore, what happened in Turkey recently was unbelievably surprising, given that the regime there was believed to enjoy immense popularity, had sufficient international alliances to secure a place in NATO, and was believed by everyone to serve as an inspiration for Middle Eastern states and societies.
Of course, we can look for explanations and provide analyses of what happened and what continues to happen, yet we will never know the whole truth. Without doubt, the “structural” systems of the Arab Spring states and squares of liberation, including Taksim square in Istanbul, cannot change just because a group of people—even if they succeeded in collecting 15 million signatures—decided that the status quo must not remain the same.
The four major internal crises gripping the Egyptian state cannot be overcome in this manner, particularly the escalating security crisis in Sinai that saw the murder of army soldiers, the kidnapping of police officers and army soldiers, and the laying of the foundation for an Islamic emirate. The crisis will not end by ousting the president in the same way that a massive gathering of people cannot change the economic situation, or shift the ailing economy—that is most obvious in the long lines of cars in front of gas stations—into a good one overnight.
Today’s insurgents are not totally different from yesterday’s rebels; both have failed to consider how the next regime will be more capable in solving the Egyptian dilemmas at the time of change. No one knows whether or not the time of change will come. It is known that the time of change will result from a political and constitutional crisis that has stifled the Egyptians throughout the past months. This crisis is embodied by a deep political division that has left a wide gap in society to the extent that the dinner between Khairat El-Shater, the deputy general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Amr Moussa, the head of the Congress Party, was considered by the media as an unforgivable sin. Whatever its aim, the June 30 protests will not improve the Egyptian political process, which has become so chaotic that it is no longer possible to distinguish between the “former” and the “current” regimes or between those who are guilty and those who are innocent.
People called for the ouster of Husni Mubarak, then the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and most recently the Muslim Brotherhood. Who is going to fall next?
It is not important now to answer this question—not because we have no direct answer to it, but rather because the problems facing Egypt and all the Arab Spring states cannot come to an end by changing leadership. On top of the four complex domestic crises that I mentioned above, there is a host of external crises that are no less dangerous. Just as these crises have puzzled the former regimes, they place a heavy burden on the current one.
Egypt has nothing to do with the regional isolation it is facing today, thanks to the failure of its neighboring states. To the west, the situation in Libya is dire; to the south, the division of Sudan into two states improved the prospect of division in Egypt; to the east, the situation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine shows signs of impending doom. Let us set Turkey aside, as the state there does not show any symptoms of failure and is still deemed strong. However, it is no longer a shining example for Middle Eastern countries.
The failure that characterizes Egypt’s strategic neighbors should not distract us from other equally serious issues. Relations with the Gulf States, which were a cornerstone of Egypt’s foreign policy over the past four decades, have now become lukewarm. Egypt, which once enjoyed prominent alliances in the Middle East, has now become neither friend nor enemy to the United States and the West.
No one can deny the fact that the danger posed by the crisis over the Nile waters is no longer hypothetical. Rather, it has become a real danger exposing Egyptian political elites on public television. After June 30, Egypt will remain confused. The nascent BRICS countries (Brazil, India, China, Russia and South Africa) may turn their back on Egypt.
All of this will happen after June 30, so stay tuned.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz: Israel has every right to defend itself against Iran

By JPOST.COM STAFF06/22/2013/Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz supported Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's latest claim that Israel has every right to defend itself against Iran, during an interview with Channel 2 News. "We will never agree to give up our right to defend ourselves," Steinitz declared, "it is in the DNA of Netanyahu and the state of Israel."Netanyahu: Iran seeks nuclear arsenal of 200 bombs
"Even (US President Barack) Obama has emphasized Israel's right to defend itself," he added. Steinitz's comments come in reaction to the outcome of the recent presidential elections in Iran which saw moderate Hassan Rohani emerge as the winner.Rohani's victory has prompted cautious optimism from Western powers, an optimism which Netanyahu has strongly warned against. The former finance minister echoed Netanyahu's warning saying, "Rohani wrote a book...where he explains how to be a wolf in sheep's clothing." Steinitz's allusion to a book refers to a 2011 book Rohani wrote discussing foreign policy doctrines.
Beyond expressing his views on Iran, Steinitz expressed his hope that recent efforts to kick-start stalled peace talks with the Palestinians may bear fruit. "I hope that he (PA President Mahmoud Abbas) will come to the table without any tricks up his sleeves or preconditions, with the intention of opening a dialogue with us for the next year or so," he said. Netanyahu has called on Abbas in recent weeks to begin a new round of talks without preconditions, a call that Abbas has so far refused, citing the necessity for Israel to first accept east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. While some Knesset members, such as Steinitz have praised Netanyahu's recent efforts, others have questioned his sincerity.