November 17/2013


Bible Quotation for today/The New Command
01 John 02
/07-17:"My dear friends, this command I am writing you is not new; it is the old command, the one you have had from the very beginning. The old command is the message you have already heard. 8 However, the command I now write you is new, because its truth is seen in Christ and also in you. For the darkness is passing away, and the real light is already shining. If we say that we are in the light, yet hate others, we are in the darkness to this very hour.  If we love others, we live in the light, and so there is nothing in us that will cause someone else[a] to sin.  But if we hate others, we are in the darkness; we walk in it and do not know where we are going, because the darkness has made us blind.  I write to you, my children, because your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ.  I write to you, fathers, because you know him who has existed from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you have defeated the Evil One.  I write to you, my children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who has existed from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong; the word of God lives in you, and you have defeated the Evil One.  Do not love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you do not love the Father.  Everything that belongs to the world—what the sinful self desires, what people see and want, and everything in this world that people are so proud of—none of this comes from the Father; it all comes from the world.  The world and everything in it that people desire is passing away; but those who do the will of God live forever.

Pope Francis ‏

Jesus kept his wounds so that we would experience his mercy. This is our strength and our hope.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For November 17/13
DEBKAfile/Hollande and Netanyahu to consider forming a joint French-Israeli-Arab front against Iran/November 17/13

Hezbollah: Talking points/The Daily Star/November 17/13
Iran cannot export its revolution/By: Huda Al Husseini/Asharq Alawsat/November 17/13

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For November 17/13
Lebanese Related News
Baabda Declaration needed now, for future: Sleiman

Sleiman warns against ‘minority alliances’
Suleiman: Essence of Baabda Declaration Must Be Incorporated in Constitution
Lebanon says responding to ‘large’ refugee influx
Thousands of Syrians from Qalamoun flee to Lebanon

Hezbollah’s strengths create weaknesses
US: ‘Resist’ financial dealings with Hezbollah
Hariri-Nasrallah war of words obliterates hope
Activists in Beirut call for return of missing journalists
Syrian gunmen attempting to enter Lebanon arrested
Mikati says Tripoli security plan under way

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Six Killed in Kabul Ahead of U.S. Security Pact Debate
New Tripoli Clashes Mar Stage-Two of Security Plan
Family of Lebanese Cameraman Abducted in Syria Holds Sit-in to Demand his Release
Higher Islamic Council Calls on Formation of National Salvation Cabinet

Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops Calls for Swift Formation of 'Capable' Cabinet
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Berri Says Local Initiatives 'Ineffective,' Urges Foreign Efforts to Solve Lebanon's Crises6:46
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On Iran, cavernous tactical gaps separate Israel, US
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US official says Iran interim nuclear deal 'quite possible' next week

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Syrian regime forces target rebel commanders
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New clashes in Libya's Tripoli as toll tops 40

Brotherhood offers talks to end Morsi crisis
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Hollande and Netanyahu to consider forming a joint French-Israeli-Arab front against Iran
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis November 16, 2013/French President Francois Holland and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrive in Jerusalem Sunday, Nov. 17. Their talks with Israel’s leaders are likely to determine how France, Israel and Saudi Arabia respond to the Obama administration’s current Middle East moves, with critical effect on the next round of nuclear talks taking place in Geneva Wednesday, Nov. 20 between six world powers and Iran. France will be given the option of aligning with the Middle East powers - Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt - which challenge President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s race for détente with Tehran. If he accepts this option, the next decision facing President Hollande will be whether, how and when this grouping is willing to consider resorting to military action to preempt a nuclear-armed Iran. This option has been abandoned by Washington, a decision succinctly articulated Tuesday, Nov. 12, by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “The American people do not want a march to war,” he told reporters. Therefore: “…spoiling diplomatic talks with Iran would be a march to war.” Ergo, opponents of a US-Iranian deal – Carney omitted mention of Iran’s military nuclear program to leave US negotiators a free hand for easy terms – are pushing for war. Hollande and Netanyahu will have to decide between them whether to create a joint French-Arab-Israeli military option to fill the gap left by Washington’s abdication from the war choice and, if so, whether, how and when to exercise it. Foreign Minister Fabius, whose vote torpedoed the original US proposal for Iran at the first Geneva conference, analyzed the implications of Obama’s policy in a lecture this week marking the 40th anniversary of the French Policy Planning Staff, which largely shapes Paris government foreign and defense policies. He said: “The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest. Because nobody can take the place of the United States, this disengagement could create major crises left to themselves. A strategic void could be created in the Middle East, with widespread perception of Western indecision.” The self-evident corollary to this diagnosis is that by foregoing resistance to the US-Iranian understanding, France, Saudi Arabia and Israel would share America’s responsibility for the major crises erupting in the region, which none of them would be able to control. debkafile sees another dimension to this argument: Paris, Riyadh and Jerusalem do not feel guilty of wantonly attacking the Obama outreach to Iran; they rather feel they were driven into a corner by a policy inimical to their interests and from which they were forced to step aside.
Although confronted at home with anger over soaring prices and rated one of the most unpopular French presidents in recent times, Hollande instructed his foreign minister at the six-power negotiations in Geneva on Oct. 9 to stick France’s neck out and challenge the American proposal for a deal with Iran The French president also chose to visit Israel at a moment of high vocal discord between the Obama administration and Binyamin Netanyahu, with Washington acting to isolate the Israeli leader for his stand-up fight against what he calls “a very bad deal” with Tehran. However, the French president felt the need to talk to Netanyahu at this stage, before deciding whether or not to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by his foreign minister and continue to pursue an independent French path against the Obama administration – possibly, hand in hand with likeminded Middle East governments. Hollande’s decision is also of high significance for Netanyahu when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next Wednesday, Nov. 20.
It will determine whether he stands alone on the key issues or is backed by France and Saudi Arabia. In any case, the prime minister will try and sound Putin out on how far Russia is willing to go to fill the “strategic void” left by America in the Middle East. He will ask whether Moscow is willing to work ad hoc with Israel, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to defeat Obama’s Middle East moves – even though each has its own individual interests to look after.The decisions reached by the French president and Israeli prime minister are therefore of critical import to the next round of nuclear negotiations with Iran next Wednesday.

Israel urges France not to waver on Iran

November 16, 2013/Daily Star /PARIS: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged France to stand firm in international negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. "We hope France will not yield," Netanyahu said in an interview to Le Figaro newspaper due out on Saturday, on the eve of French President Francois Hollande's visit to Israel. "For us, the United States remains an important ally, the most important ally. But our relationship with France is also very special," he said. France took a tougher line than its Western partners last week in Geneva talks aimed at resolving the impasse over Iran's nuclear program. "On the Iran issue, our countries have defended common stances for years, regardless of the party in power, and we are maintaining this vital partnership with President Hollande," he said. "We welcome his coherent and resolute stance on the Iranian issue," he said. Iranian hardliners blamed France for scuppering a deal that would have given the West guarantees Tehran was not acquiring atomic weapons in exchange for an easing of crippling economic sanctions against the Islamic republic. The Iranian government however stopped short of blaming France for the failure to reach an agreement in Geneva. The talks are due to resume next week. Israel -- widely thought to be the Middle East's sole albeit undeclared nuclear power -- has repeatedly warned its Western allies they were being too soft with Iran. "I strongly believe we should not lower our defences," Netanyahu said, calling the Iranian regime "aggressive, violent, messianic and apocalyptic." "This country is in the process of acquiring intercontinental ballistic missiles, of which the Geneva draft accord says nothing," the hawkish premier said. "And what are they for? Not for striking Israel, which they can already do, but for extending their reach to Paris, London, Washington or New York... When dealing with Iran, being weak or naive is not an option."


On Iran, cavernous tactical gaps separate Israel, US

By HERB KEINON /J.Post/11/16/2013
On Sunday afternoon, in the midst of considerable disagreement with Washington over Iran policy and hours after the Geneva talks between Iran and the world powers ended without agreement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took to the US airwaves to present Israel’s case to the American public. “I think the president and I share the goal of making sure that Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said with tremendous understatement on CBS’s Face the Nation, referring to US President Barack Obama. “I think where we might have a difference of opinion is on how to prevent it.”
To which one could have been forgiven for shouting at the television, “Ya think?!” Saying that Jerusalem and Washington share the goal of keeping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, and only differ on how to achieve it, is like saying two parents concur that they want their children to grow up to be good and decent human beings, and differ only on the educational philosophy needed at home to bring it about.
What Netanyahu discussed is a pretty fundamental difference on a pretty significant issue. But, as a senior American official said in a briefing with Israeli reporters this week, that type of difference need not break up relationships. Husbands and wives love each other, the official stated, but that does not mean they don’t disagree and fight from time to time – nor that those natural fights and disagreements necessarily put the relationship in danger of collapse. Which is a valid point, one that everyone from US Ambassador Dan Shapiro to Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz were at pains to stress this week.
“The truth is that the US and Israel have as close a relationship as any two countries on earth,” Shapiro said on one occasion. Steinitz said on another: “USIsrael relations are not good, they are very good.”
BUT STILL, what emerged in the very loud, public and testy dust-up this week between the US and Israel over a proposed agreement with Iran on its nuclear program were basic conceptual differences about how best to approach the issue. Up until the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was ruling the Iranian roost and – because of his radical extremism – made it easier (though not easy) for Israel to rally opinion against Tehran, the differences over Iran had to do with timeline: when it would be necessary to act militarily to prevent Iran from getting nukes.
This was the core of the disagreement last year over redlines for Iran, with Netanyahu urging for a redlineto be set, and Obama unwilling to do so. The difference back then – pre-Rouhani days – could be summed up using a cake metaphor. Imagine you want to keep someone from baking a cake. What is the best way to do it? Do you prevent the prospective baker from gathering all the ingredients – the eggs, flour and water – and putting them on the table to mix together and place in the oven at his pleasure (the Israeli position)? Or do you say you have time, and can wait to physically stop the baker if he dares to stick head and hands into the oven to remove the cake once it is baked (the US position)?
The entire debate over redlines was a discussion over whether military action was needed to keep the Iranians from gathering all the ingredients needed for a nuclear bomb, but not mixing them together – or whether it was wiser to wait until they mixed all the ingredients together, and were just about to pull a finished bomb out of their centrifuge-spinning military/industrial ovens. That huge Israeli-US tactical difference could be explained by differences in proximity, threat perception and capabilities. Since Israel is so much closer to Iran than the US and feels so much more immediately threatened, and also because its military capacities are less great than those of the US, it does not feel that military action could be delayed until the very last minute – like the US. Rather, Israel asserted that military action would have to be taken to keep the Iranians from getting all the ingredients together on the table.
That was Netanyahu’s famous redline on a diagram of a cartoonish looking bomb at the UN in 2012; a redline defined as the Iranians acquiring 250 kilos of uranium enriched to 90 percent – a redline, by the way, that the Iranians have been careful not to cross. That was then. Now, with Rouhani’s election, the discussion has shifted and is less about a redline for military action, and more about the efficacy of diplomacy, and how best to get the Iranians to back off. Here, too, a cake metaphor can illustrate the differences.
If you don’t want the persistent baker to bake his cake, and are physically twisting his arm to keep him from doing so, do you take the pressure off his arm when he says he is no longer interested in the same type of cake and agrees not to touch the ingredients on the table for a while? Or do you only start letting up on his arm when he pours a good amount of the eggs, flour and water down the drain so he can’t make the cake, even if he might still want to? And therein lies the major conceptual differences in the US and American approach. Those differences can be seen along two major planes. The first plane has to deal with the idea whether the P5+1 – made up of the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – should pursue an interim agreement or move only toward a final one with the Iranians, and the second has to do with sanctions.
Regarding the type of agreement to pursue, according to the American approach – as articulated this week by a senior American official who briefed Israeli journalists – the proposal put on the table in Geneva was a first stage agreement. The idea, she said, was to get the Iranians to freeze their nuclear program for six months, and then use those six months to negotiate a comprehensive agreement on the nuclear program.
The guiding philosophy here is it will take much longer than half a year to negotiate a comprehensive deal, but that it was necessary to ensure that during these negotiations, the Iranians don’t use the time to “run out the clock” – meaning that as the negotiations plod on, they don’t use the time to continue spinning their centrifuges.
The approach advance by the US is to get the Iranians to freeze their program for six months, thereby putting some more time back on the clock for negotiations, and in return grant the Iranians some sanctions relief.
Israel has a couple of problems with that approach. The first is that it believes that if everything is frozen for six months, then Iran – for the first time – would gain international legitimacy for being a nuclear threshold state, something it will then be more difficult to roll back.
“Iran became a de facto nuclear threshold state 12-18 months ago,” Steinitz declared this week, saying this means that once it makes a political decision to go for a bomb, it would take it less than a year to do so.
Up until now, Steinitz said, this threshold status for Iran has put it in clear violation of international law, of UN Security Council resolutions and of various stipulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Now after this interim partial agreement, Iran is actually in a very sophisticated way achieving international legitimization for being and remaining, a least for the time being, a threshold nuclear country,” he said. “It is the most dangerous thing, and it will be more difficult later to roll back their capacity, because once you give it some kind of international legitimization, it is very difficult to say it is impossible, not legitimate.”
Or, as Home Defense Minister Gilad Erdan put it even more bluntly later in the week, “We must not be mistaken: An interim agreement will be a permanent agreement.”
Steinitz said that Israel adamantly opposes a partial agreement with Iran, because Jerusalem believes in the formula that “the greater the pressure, the greater the chances for diplomacy to succeed.”
If you accept that principle, he continued, “it logically follows that the lower the pressure, the lower the chances. So the conclusion is clear: Don’t ease the pressure on the Iranians until you reach the final goal, before you reach a final comprehensive and satisfactory agreement. If you ease the pressure before that, you will lose the chances to succeed.”
Or, as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon put it, if the Iranians are only freezing their nuclear program, and not taking any significant steps to dismantle their centrifuges and actually roll their program back, then the world should freeze its sanctions in place, but not begin to roll them back.
A freeze for a freeze, he said, a rollback for a rollback; but definitely not a rollback of sanctions for only a freeze of the nuclear program.
Which leads to the second major conceptual difference with the US, and that has to do with sanctions – both how the Iranians will respond to heavier ones, and how to keep the world on board. These differences are larger even than the spat Wednesday between Washington and Jerusalem, about whether sanctions relief offered to the Iranians was “moderate” as the US claimed, or reached up to $40 billion, as Steinitz maintained.
ACCORDING TO the US way of thinking, if some sanctions relief is not provided in the midst of negotiations, certain countries that have been difficult to get onboard – but which are now onboard – will view this as unreasonable and begin to abandon the sanctions ship. The countries that come to mind in this context are China, Russia, Turkey, India, even South Korea.
The senior US official said that if sanctions are not relieved, but indeed more sanctions are piled on – as the US Senate is considering – two things would happen: Iran would leave the negotiating table and move more aggressively forward in its nuclear program, and the international coalition in place would say the Americans were just pressing for military action, deem this position unreasonable and begin to abandon sanctions altogether.
Israel believes the opposite. Tougher sanctions, or at the very least not removing sanctions, would not embolden Iran to move more aggressively forward in its nuclear program, but rather render it more pliable – since the pressure of the sanctions is what brought Tehran to the table in a serious mood to begin with. Moreover, the sanctions regime won’t collapse with more measures, but rather would begin to unravel if it is relieved because – as Netanyahu said this week – if you punch a hole in a tire, it is just a matter of time before all the air escapes and the tire goes flat. Granted, as Netanyahu said on Meet the Press, the American and Israeli strategic goals on Iran are identical. The devil here is not in the details; rather it is in the significantly different approaches to the tactics. Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!

Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops Calls for Swift Formation of 'Capable' Cabinet
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 November 2013/The Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops called on Saturday at the end of its 47th meeting for the swift formation of a new capable cabinet, lashing out at the political disputes among the rival politicians. “The increasing political disputes that are disrupting the country are distressing,” the final statement of the council said. The council's week-long meeting was held under the auspices of Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki It pointed out that the rival parties should facilitate the formation of a new government and reach an agreement over a fair electoral law that represents all the Lebanese people. The sharp rift among Lebanese foes over several issues reached a deadlock as disputes are ongoing over the line-up of the new cabinet, which Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has been trying to form since his appointment in April and over calls by Speaker Nabih Berri's for the parliament to convene amid a resigned cabinet, in addition to several other disputes including the tasks that should be carried out by a caretaker cabinet, which is led by caretaker PM Najib Miqati. The Council also expressed fear over the security situation in the northern city of Tripoli, considering that it is “disturbing the lives of the citizens.” Tripoli is Lebanon's second city and is the scene of frequent Syria-linked battles, that pit Sunnis from Bab al-Tabbaneh against Alawites in Jabal Mohsen. Most Sunnis support Syria's revolt against President Bashar Assad, while Alawites, who belong to the same Shiite-offshoot sect as Assad, support his regime. The latest fighting ended when the army deployed along Syria Street, which separates the two districts and acts as the makeshift frontline. Tripoli suffered horrific car bomb explosions near two mosques in August, killing 45 people. The council also slammed the “unacceptable” conditions in Lebanese prisons, calling on the state to assume its responsibilities and rectify the situation from its roots. Lebanese prisons are crowded to almost twice their capacity and are dangerously neglected and mismanaged by the authorities. Roumieh, the oldest and largest of Lebanon's overcrowded prisons, has witnessed sporadic prison breaks in recent years and escalating riots over the past months as inmates living in poor conditions demand better treatment. The council also called for the release of the two kidnapped bishops in Syria and the missing Lebanese persons in the neighboring country. Bishops Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi were kidnapped on April 23 in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo while they were on a humanitarian work.

Baabda Declaration needed now, for future: Sleiman

November 16, 2013/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Baabda Declaration that seeks to neutralize the country from regional crises, namely in Syria, should not be regarded as a provocation to any party and deserves to be incorporated into the country’s Constitution , President Michel Sleiman said Saturday. “The Baabda Declaration... is not a challenge to any party, it complements the Taif Accord and validates it, ” Sleiman said during a conference at the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut.
The conference, attended by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and a number of officials, was titled “Independence since the National Pact up to the Baabda Declaration.”
Sleiman said that “there is no way to challenge” the declaration and called for returning “to the Lebanese house that embraces everyone,” apparently referring to Hezbollah which in May openly acknowledged fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against Syrian rebels. Hezbollah’s actions in Syria have come under heavy scrutiny by the West and locally by the March 14 coalition.
Lebanon officially adopts a policy of disassociating itself from developments in its neighbor and in 2012 rival political leaders met at Baabda Palace and agreed to distance the country from regional crises. The pact is commonly referred to as the “Baabda Declaration.”Sleiman detailed the events leading up to the Baabda Declaration, starting with reports of gunmen from north Lebanon going to Syria to fight in the conflict. He said the reports prompted him to launch a tour of Gulf countries, where he urged Arab leaders to distance Lebanon from the crisis in its neighbor. “The Baabda Declaration came weeks after this tour,” said Sleiman, who noted that the document was official endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. “Article 4 of the declaration stipulates that Lebanon should not be a threat to Syria’s security and that Syria should not be a threat to Lebanon’s security ... that’s why neither Lebanon nor Syria should accept gunmen from either country,” he said. Sleiman said all sides needed to abide by the Baabda Declaration, reiterating its significance in terms of safeguarding the country from any present or future regional crises. “We should not drift away from the Baabda Declaration because it is not a temporary agreement,” he said. “We will be in need of the agreement in the future and those who find it insignificant today will later discover that it adds value to Lebanon,” he added. The president also suggested the pact should be included in the Constitution’s preamble. “We should exert efforts to that end,” he added.
Sleiman argued against linking Lebanon’s situation to regional developments and urged all parties to return to the National Dialogue table. “The upcoming months might hold major developments: there might be a political solution to the Syrian crisis and a breakthrough in the Arab-Iranian ties but there might also be a setback in the international situation and a possible military intervention in Syria,” he said. “Do we want to tie Lebanon's fate to regional developments? Do we lead the country to the unknown or resort to national wisdom and go back to dialogue?,” he added.


Hezbollah: Talking points
November 16, 2013/The Daily Star

The lines of communication between the rival March 14 and March 8 camps in Lebanon aren’t in good shape, but this doesn’t mean that dialogue in some form isn’t taking place.
Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, was busy this week reiterating his party’s stance on the issues of the day, earning robust responses by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Nasrallah was particularly critical of the March 14 alliance and voiced the March 8 camp’s core stances on the formation of a new government and on the links between events in Lebanon and those in Syria, and Iran.
Hariri rejected Nasrallah’s reading of the situation and reminded the Hezbollah leader that the formation of a new government required an agreement on how to approach the Syria war, among other things, since the Baabda Declaration of neutrality on regional crises has been routinely violated by March 8 parties. Hezbollah’s arsenal is of course a related and divisive issue, and both sides know this. March 8 is demanding progress on the political front while March 14 also wants movement, in the executive and legislative branches of government, provided that certain criteria and guidelines are established first.
For now, the dialogue is being conducted largely by megaphone, but both sides know that in the end, they will sit down and thrash out the many items that divide them. Otherwise, Lebanon will be headed for the abyss.
Over roughly the last year, Hezbollah officials have changed the way they talk about the party’s involvement in the Syria war. After months of muted rhetoric and claims that Hezbollah had a limited, defensive role to protect Shiite shrines such as Sayyida Zeinab, people are now hearing more bellicose and triumphant language, as if the war has ended. A leading American magazine recently quoted a Hezbollah fighter as saying the Syrian regime would have fallen “in two hours” were it not for the party’s assistance. Buoyed by successes by Syrian government troops and their non-Syrian allies in the last few weeks, Hezbollah is now basking in the “glory” of seeing even more Syrian villages and towns destroyed as part of the regime’s scorched-earth policy. However things turn out, politicians will have to figure out how to coexist and make the country work. The only way this can happen is through serious, transparent dialogue, and not merely the restating of positions. Every day that is wasted means a weaker Lebanon, in terms of its political system, economy and social fabric.
Next week Lebanon will celebrate Independence Day, and while it’s too soon to expect any dramatic change in the political stalemate this year, perhaps by 2014 the two sides will finally be able to sit down with each other and come up with homemade solutions to the country’s many problems.

Hezbollah’s strengths create weaknesses

November 16, 2013/By Rami G. Khouri/The Daily Star
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s two speeches in Beirut earlier this week before large crowds of Lebanese Shiites commemorating Ashoura did not break any new ground in domestic or regional affairs, but they did clarify trends that have been developing in recent years. Most of these trends continue the trajectory of Hezbollah’s political situation of the last decade, which comprises impressive, but contradictory and challenging, realities that seem to be accelerating.
Without judging Hezbollah’s cultural or political ideology, I continue to see the party as the greatest success story of the modern Arab world in political and organizational terms. Its impressive feat is how, since its inception during the 1980s, it has transformed the core of the Lebanese Shiite community from the subjugated and abused third-class condition of many decades into the most powerful group in the country, and perhaps the strongest non-governmental party, social force and military unit in the entire Arab world.
This strength, however, may also be its weakness, because it has generated intense opposition from many Lebanese, Arab and international quarters. This opposition has grown steadily since Hezbollah’s zenith in 2000, when it forced Israel to withdraw from south Lebanon, reaching the point where many Lebanese who dislike its various political, ideological, cultural and Iranian-linked identity dimensions not only openly criticize it politically, but also mock it culturally. Hezbollah says it does not care about such criticism and will continue along its chosen path of resistance.
This is one major dilemma – that at the moment of greatest strength, it seems willing to operate outside and above the Lebanese political system, and ignore its many critics at home. It is natural that Hezbollah would show a strong and determined face of resistance and independence, but this is problematic if it leads to its operating in arenas beyond its Lebanese base and anchorage. If its message is that Lebanon is not, in fact, its base and anchorage, but rather that Hezbollah is a regional actor merely domiciled in Lebanon like an offshore bank operating regionally is domiciled in Bahrain on the Bahamas, then this raises even more problematic challenges.
More and more Lebanese might argue that if Hezbollah is working primarily on Syrian, Iranian, Palestinian and anti-takfiri issues, it would be best for it to base itself in the epicenter of those resistance challenges on frontier territories among Syrian-Iraqi-Iranian lands. The more Hezbollah accentuates its military actions abroad in the service of preserving the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah Resistance and Deterrence Front, the greater will be the criticism it generates inside Lebanon accusing it of being mainly an agent of Iran.
Another dilemma that was accentuated by Nasrallah’s two speeches this week stems precisely from his insistence that the party will continue to operate militarily in Syria for as long as the government of Bashar Assad needs its help. Nasrallah stated that Assad needs Hezbollah’s military assistance in order to stay in power and roll back the challenges posed by foreign-assisted domestic and regional opposition groups. This raises two other dilemmas for Hezbollah. First, if Assad is so weak that he needs Iranian and Hezbollah troops to remain in office, what is the benefit of such a vulnerable strategic ally? The Syrian opposition groups are not particularly well organized, financed, equipped, trained or coordinated, and in fact are something of a mess right now. Yet despite their weaknesses they have taken large swaths of territory from the Assad government. We are likely to see significant increases in Saudi and other Gulf assistance to the opposition, which will increase the capabilities of those fighting to overthrow Assad.
This means Hezbollah’s fighting days in Syria may be just beginning, which will only increase the criticisms and pressures on the party in Lebanon, the Middle East and worldwide. Many people in recent years have asked if Hezbollah is a pliant appendage of Iran (which I do not believe it is); soon many may ask if the rump state of Syria under Assad government control is an appendage of Hezbollah, which probably is not a healthy situation for the party to be in. Second, the free movement of Hezbollah forces in and out of Syria to join the battle there means that the formal sovereignty of states in this region, as manifested in territorial borders, is slowly being erased. This is not only due to Hezbollah’s role in Syria, to be fair, but rather reflects a much broader recent legacy of free movement of Salafist-takfiri fighters and political provocateurs across the Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese borders, along with refugee and arms flows across the Jordanian and Turkish borders.
We should expect to hear counter-arguments now that because Hezbollah is fighting inside Syria, pro-Saudi or other forces can enter Lebanon at will to support anti-Hezbollah groups in the country.
**Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR. He can be followed on Twitter @RamiKhouri.

Thousands of Syrians from Qalamoun flee to Lebanon
November 16, 2013/By Rakan al-Fakih, Jana El Hassan/The Daily Star
HERMEL, Lebanon: Hundreds of Syrian families from Qalamoun and the outskirts of Homs have fled to Arsal, northeast Lebanon, the Social Affairs Ministry said Saturday, in what one official from the border area described as an “unprecedented” influx of refugees into the country.“The eastern Bekaa Valley region, particularly the town of Arsal, witnessed Friday night and [early] Saturday a large influx of Syrian families and they number some 1,200 families, the majority of whom are from Qalamoun and the outskirts of Homs,” a statement from the ministry said. The Qalamoun, a mountainous area lying roughly north of Damascus and adjacent to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, is expected to be a new front in the war between rebels and forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Assad. Ahmad Fliti, Arsal’s deputy mayor, told The Daily Star earlier Saturday that more than 1,200 Syrian families had arrived in his town since Friday morning, adding that mosques and wedding halls were being used to accommodate what he said was an “unprecedented record number” of refugees. Fliti said 90 percent of Qara, in Syria’s Qalamoun, had been evacuated after the Syrian army issued warnings it would launch an attack on rebel groups there. He also appealed to humanitarian organizations for help, saying their immediate assistance was needed.
Although the exact number of Syrians to arrive in Arsal could not be determined, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees described the flow of refugees to the Lebanese border town as “much higher than usual.” “Local authorities were speaking of over 800 Syrian refugee families having arrived from Qara to Arsal, mostly between yesterday [Friday] and this morning [Saturday],” Dana Sleiman told The Daily Star.
An Arsal-based activist told The Daily Star that more than 500 pick-up trucks had transported the families from Qara into Arsal, estimating the number of refugees at more than 10,000 by early Saturday.
The activist, who works with refugees, added that the crossing of Syrians into Arsal had abated by Saturday morning. The influx marks a significant increase in the number of refugees in Arsal, a town that already hosts a refugee population of more than 30,000. Lebanon’s Social Affairs Ministry said it was responding to the increase in refugee numbers entering the Bekaa Valley, particularly Arsal.
“Concerned agencies at the Social Affairs Ministry were put on full alert to confront this influx,” it said in a statement. The statement said a team from the ministry, accompanied by a team from the UNHCR, was dispatched to the area to assess the situation and take “the necessary measures.” Steps taken by the ministry included health checks for the majority of refugees that arrived Friday night, the provision of immediate assistance and temporary accommodation. The ministry said it had managed to register 420 families so far and “the operation [to register the refugees] is ongoing.”Lebanon has increasingly felt the impact of the lingering conflict in its Arab neighbor and hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees in the region. In its latest report on the Syrian refugee situation in Lebanon published Friday, the UNHCR said the number of displaced in the country stood at 816,000, with around 11,000 newcomers between Nov. 8 and Nov. 15. The movement of refugees into Arsal comes only days after a security source told The Daily Star two Syrian aircraft targeted the outskirts of the northeastern Lebanese area. According the source, two Syrian gunships fired rockets Thursday at locations linking Qalamoun to Arsal, a predominantly Sunni town which strongly supports the uprising against Assad.

Iran cannot export its revolution

By: Huda Al Husseini/Asharq Alawsat
Like all other twentieth century revolutions, there were ambitions to export the Iranian Revolution immediately following its eruption. The Iranians thought the revolution could be portrayed from a cultural standpoint, in the sense that other countries might seek to emulate Iran. During this period, Iranian propaganda sought to spread Tehran’s influence across the Islamic world in general and the Middle East in particular. However following an eight year war with Iraq, Tehran came to the conclusion that exporting the revolution would be economically and politically expensive and would not only isolate Iran, it could even threaten the Tehran regime’s survival. Iranian Professor Mansour Farhang argues that, although it spoke of exporting the revolution in the name of Islam, Iran aimed at exporting the Shi’ite concept of Islam. Farhang draws similarities between this situation and that of Iran under the rule of Mohamed Reza Pahlavi who aimed to ensure that Tehran was a major regional power by allying with the United States. This alliance was not underpinned by religious or Shi’ite components; rather, it was raised in the name of Iranian nationalism. The Islamic Republic has the same ambition today, albeit with an added ideological dimension; the Shi’ite ideology.
Professor Farhang has been teaching International Relations and Middle East Politics at Bennington College, Vermont, in the US, since 1983. He had previously worked as an advisor at the Iranian Foreign Ministry and was then appointed as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. He resigned from his position after his efforts to release US hostages held at the US embassy in Tehran failed. In the early stages of the Iran-Iraq war, he worked together with international mediators to put an end to the conflict. It was during that period that he wrote and spoke extensively about the many dangers of religious extremism that dominated the course of the Iranian revolution.
I asked him about the reasons why Iran is holding tight to Syria today. He replied that Syria was the only country to have supported and endorsed the Iranian Revolution since the start. “After Saddam’s fall, Iran saw a new opportunity in Syria.”
“The irony is that when George W. Bush said that he had received divine guidance to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, Iran was the only state where such claims were taking seriously. I remember that during a Friday prayer, an Imam said that God works in mysterious ways, and that Bush had been divinely inspired to topple Saddam,” Farhang said.
The Syrian professor argues that “In the eyes of Iran, the invasion of Iraq was intended by God in order to fulfill Tehran’s ambitions.”
Syria became even more important after the Shi’ites got to power in Iraq as the Shia scope of influence expanded from Iran to Iraq and then from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. After the invasion of Iraq, Iran became Syria’s “fatted calf”. Up until 2010, before the start of the Syrian revolution, Iran also supported the Syrian economy.
Professor Farhang told me: “The Syrian government is exploiting Iran to stay in power. The regime of Bashar Al-Assad is the most secular dictatorship in the Middle East and if Bashar’s wife were to walk in Tehran’s streets, she would be arrested and whipped.” According to the Iranian regime’s perspective, Tehran views Syria as an anti-Sunni state rather than a theocratic one. Iran’s relationship with Syria is, according to this perspective, similar to its relationship with North Korea.
Before the civil war broke out in Syria, Iran had concluded a ten billion dollar agreement to build a pipeline through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in order to export Iranian gas. The agreement was never implemented. Others projects with Syrian banks were also halted due to the international sanctions that were imposed on Syria.
Farhang stressed: “The Syrian issue lies in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the government of President Hassan Rouhani does not have a say in it. However, Syria is becoming more and more costly to Iran, especially given that there are no short-term prospects of a political resolution to the crisis. Nevertheless, Syria remains a crucial component in Iran’s policy to becoming the dominating power in the region.”
I asked the Professor whether Syria could be considered Iran’s Vietnam. He agreed but said that Iran does not have a comparable military presence in the country. The actual size of the Iranian military presence in Syria is unknown. while Iran claims that any military figures present across the border are “consultants” or there for training purposes. In any case, it is clear that Syria has become an extremely costly problem for the Iranians. Does Iran support Syria or does it only care about Bashar Al-Assad? Professor Farhang replied: “Iranians acknowledge that the situation in Syria is not similar to that of Egypt and Hosni Mubarak. In Syria, there is a handful of groups who rule the country. Sidelining Bashar would mean sidelining the ruling elite. There is no independent military institution or security apparatus in Syria. The state there is a ‘family affair’ and if Bashar were to leave, there would be no one left around the negotiation table.”“There is no political solution to this tragedy; one of the two sides has to lose. It is very improbable that a coalition government would include the Alawites. As the Iranians are fully aware of all of this, they have exerted a great deal of effort to back Bashar, his family, and his entourage,” he added.
I asked the Professor whether he thinks that we are witnessing another Palestinian tragedy in the Middle East. He replied: “The situation is extremely tragic. America’s 60 Minutes television show hosted an American photographer who was detained and tortured over a period of 230 days by the Al-Nusra Front. It was a very painful account. We must realize that the people fighting the regime are some of the worst that exist in terms of human and civil rights and freedoms.’
He added: “The Syrian tragedy is worse than the Palestinian catastrophe, with 120,000 people killed so far and a third of the population displaced.”
As for why Iran doesn’t open the gates to Syrian refugees, Professor Farhang said that Irna has no interest in the humanitarian situation in Syria.
“When the Shi’ite community in Bahrain were persecuted, or when the rights of the Hazara people of Afghanistan were violated, Iran spoke up about the rights of the Shia. It is only when Shi’ite rights are at stake that Iran adopts the rhetoric of human rights and civil freedoms. Whereas when it comes to Syria, it is indifferent to the humanitarian situation. Iran has not donated a single penny to support Syrian refugees,” Professor Farhang said.
Syria has become the region’s “sick man,” but will its collapse as a state have an impact on Iran? Professor Farhang argues that the fall of the Syrian regime will not affect the standing of Iraq, its Shi’ite dominated government, or its ability to mobilize other Shi’ites in the region. Just as Russia, China, France and Cuba all realized that revolutions cannot be exported, Iran will end up reaching the same conclusion. Professor Farhang argues that “Iran’s rapprochement with the West in order to settle the nuclear issue indicates that it is sensing danger. At the outset of the revolution, the discourse was religious, and the government was capable of promoting its cause. Now, after 34 years, no concrete results have been achieved. Iran will not be an exception.”