April 11/14


Bible Quotation for today/Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
Luke 4,1-13/Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread. Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, One does not live by bread alone. Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours. Jesus answered him, It is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, and On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. Jesus answered him, It is said, Do not put the Lord your God to the test. When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time."

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
Jesus teaches us to not be ashamed of touching human misery, of touching his flesh in our brothers and sisters who suffer. (EG 270)
Pape François
Jésus nous enseigne à ne pas avoir honte de toucher la misère humaine, de toucher sa chair dans les pauvres qui souffrent. (EG 270)

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 11/14

Lebanon and the Search for a President/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/April 11/14

Russia, Iran barter deal revives sense of Cold War/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiyia/April 11/14

U.S. turns the page on old Middle East order/Joyce Karam/AlArabiyia/ April 11/14

The Muslim Brotherhood has been exposed - and so has Britain/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiyia/April 11/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 11/14
Lebanese Related News

Lebanese banks to close in protest of proposed taxes

Rai rules out Geagea, Aoun for president
Israel Calls for U.N. Action against Hizbullah after Nasrallah's Claims

Traffic Chaos as Roads Blocked with Rainwater

Joint Parliamentary Committees Approve Fines on Illegal Seaside Properties to Fund Wage Scale

Arrest Warrant Issued against Rifaat Eid, 14 Others in Tripoli

Bekaa Security Plan Kicks Off amid Reports of 'Escape of Fugitives from Brital'

Berri Urges Ambassadors Not to Interfere in Presidential Vote

Smuggling of 12 Million Captagon Pills to Dubai Foiled at Beirut Port

Four Syrians Indicted for Belonging to ISIL

Shaky Security in Tripoli as Army Strikes with Force to Restore Calm

Roumieh Prison Break Inmate Arrested in Tripoli

March 8 Camp Gearing Up to Discuss Presidential Elections

Ambassadors of Major Countries to Kick Off Tour on Key Presidential Candidates

Miscellaneous Reports And News

51 Dead as al-Nusra Front Loses Ground to ISIL on Syria's Border with Iraq

Police: Booby-trapped Car Explodes Outside Bank of Greece

Ship ready to destroy Syria's chemical arms at sea

Syria Qaeda loses ground to jihadist rivals on Iraq border

Israeli launches spy satellite after US refusal to push for Iran’s weapons program's dismantlement

Nuclear talks: Iran may compromise on plutonium at Arak


God bless Former Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's Soul
Elias Bejjani/On behalf of the Lebanese Canadian Coordination Council (LCCC), and all those Canadian -Lebanese who share its aims and objectives, we offer our deeply felt condolences to the family, friends and the conservative Party for the sudden loss of the Former Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who passed away today in Ottawa because of a massive heart attack.


Former Canadaian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty dead at 64
By Chase Kell | Yahoo Canada News
Jim Flaherty, former finance minister, has passed away at the age of 64. Emergency crews were called to Flaherty's home in Ottawa Thursday afternoon, and reports that Flaherty was in "grave condition" quickly began to emerge. Police ordered reporters to step aside from the door to Flaherty's condo building "out of respect," CBC reports. Sources indicate Flaherty passed away due to a massive heart attack. Here's the House of Commons moments after finding out Jim Flaherty died. - Paul McLeod, Ottawa Bureau Chief for …The House of Commons had been suspended just before the daily question period was set to begin at 2:15 p.m. ET. Cabinet ministers refused to comment as they passed through a throng of reporters on Parliament Hill. Some of the MPs appeared to be emotional, CBC reports.
"After consultations among House leaders, there is general agreement the House will now suspend," Speaker Andrew Scheer shared with MPs, according to CBC. Opposition MPs walked across the floor in the House of Commons to offer their condolences to Conservative MPs. Flaherty resigned as finance minister less than a month ago, stepping down from cabinet as he had planned on returning to the private sector. He had spent nearly two years fighting health issues. "He had been suffering acutely from a rare skin disease but when he resigned he denied his resignation had anything to do with health," Reuters reports. Flaherty dead at 64 Ambulances were reported to be at the residence of former finance minister Jim Flaherty, with reports that he was in "grave condition." Shortly after, several news agencies confirmed that Flaherty had passed away. Huffington Post began reporting just after 2:00 p.m. ET that former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty had passed away.

Lebanese banks to close in protest of proposed taxes
April 10, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Local banks will close Friday to show their opposition to additional taxes proposed by lawmakers to finance the public sector wage hike bill, the Association of Banks in Lebanon said Thursday.
"Banks will close Friday April 11, 2014, in protest of the taxes put forward by the Parliamentary joint committees,” the association said in a statement. It added that the association would hold contacts with several government officials and lawmakers to discuss "the dangers of the proposed taxes," seeking "more realistic" alternative means to fund the draft law. The statement was issued as lawmakers from the country’s various blocs reconvened in Parliament and resumed discussion on legislation to raise the salaries of public sector workers and teachers. Speaker Nabih Berri, who chaired the session, pushed for the wage hike bill to be finalized this week. At the beginning of the session, Berri was quoted as telling MPs, “The night is long because the importance of the discussion stems from the importance of the issue at hand.” The Union Coordination Committee, which represents civil servants and teachers, suspended their strike and protests until Monday based on a promise made by Berri that Parliament would pass the draft law before then. The union has been protesting for over two years to pressure the government and Parliament to pass the wage hike, which estimates suggest would cost the treasury $1.6 billion annually. The private sector has repeatedly voiced its opposition against the bill, saying it would spell doom for the economy. MP Ali Fayyad said lawmakers would do their best to approve the draft law as soon as possible, voicing optimism that MPs could finish their discussion in the next few days. During a parliamentary session earlier in the day, Berri said he would hold another session Friday if the joint committees approved the wage hike. The Joint Committees approved Wednesday most of the proposals to finance the hike, including one to raise the 5 percent tax on deposit interest revenues to 7 percent.
They also passed a proposal to impose taxes on seafront properties, although have yet to discuss the percentage of the raise, and to tax financial institution profits. Other proposals that have yet to be addressed include one calling for paying out the hike in installments, along with reforms.


Rai rules out Geagea, Aoun for president
April 10, 2014/The Daily Star/File - Patriarch Beshara Rai speaks during an
BEIRUT: Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai rules out both Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun for the presidency in comments published Thursday. Asked about the possibility that one of those two leaders might win the presidential election scheduled for this spring, Rai told al-Joumhouria that he “does not expect that.” The president must be a consensus figure and accepted by the people so that he can bring together warring parties instead of creating a new crisis,” Rai said. However, the cardinal said Bkirki does not support a certain presidential candidate. “The next president should have strong morals, integrity, history, faith in the Lebanese state and in regional and international ties so that he can revive the role of the institutions and rule the country in the difficult times,” he said. Rai also called on Speaker Nabih Berri to hold a parliamentary session to elect a new president. Lebanon entered last month the constitutional period to elect a new president before the six-year term of President Michel Sleiman expires on May 25. In comments to the voice of Lebanon radio station Thursday, Future MP Khodr Habib described Rai’s comments as “realistic.” “Patriarch Beshara Rai's comments about the next president being from outside the March 8 and March 14 camps is realistic,” the Akkar lawmaker said. “However, let us wait to see what happens in Parliament’s session to elect a president.” Habib also said that the March 14 coalition will declare the group’s candidate for the presidency in the coming weeks. The LF, a main ally in the March 14 camp, has already declared Geagea as their candidate for the presidential election.


Roumieh Prison Break Inmate Arrested in Tripoli
Naharnet/A Syrian, who escaped from Roumieh prison in February, has been arrested by policemen in the northern city of Tripoli, the Internal Security Forces said. Police apprehended Muhannad Abdul Rahman in Tripoli's al-Qobbeh area at dawn Thursday, the ISF communique said. Abdul Rahman and two other inmates escaped from the prison on February 24. Mohammed al-Jouni and Saeed Sabra, two of them Lebanese, were arrested by the Internal Security Forces the same day of the jail break. But the Syrian inmate remained on the loose until his apprehension on Thursday. Roumieh, the oldest and largest of Lebanon's overcrowded prisons, has witnessed sporadic prison breaks and escalating riots in recent years as inmates living in poor conditions demand better treatment.

March 8 Camp Gearing Up to Discuss Presidential Elections
Naharnet/The March 8 coalition is set to launch discussions over the upcoming presidential elections to coordinate the stances of the parties affiliated in the alliance. According to al-Akhbar newspaper published on Thursday, Hizbullah is preparing for a meeting for the party's secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, AMAL movement chief Speaker Nabih Berri, and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun. The newspaper said that the meeting aims at mulling their stances over the presidency polls and to agree on their candidate. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but the Constitution states that the parliament should choose a new head of state within a two-month period, which started on March 25. Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea was the first to announce last week that he will run for the presidency. Lebanese media have in recent weeks identified other presidential hopefuls as Kataeb party leader and ex-president Amin Gemayel, MPs Boutros Harb and Robert Ghanem, who are like Geagea members of the March 14 anti-Syria movement. Other potential candidates are Hizbullah allies Aoun and Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh. Lebanese presidents are always chosen from the Christian Maronite community.

Israel Calls for U.N. Action against Hizbullah after Nasrallah's Claims

Naharnet/Israel has asked the United Nations to take action against Hizbullah after the party's secretary-general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said that his group was behind a blast that targeted Israeli troops last month. Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council that Nasrallah’s admission is further evidence that Hizbullah continues to operate south of the Litani River in violation of Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war between the two sides. "Yes, the explosion in the Shebaa Farms that Hizbullah has not claimed until now was the work of the resistance, which means the work of Hizbullah," Nasrallah told As Safir daily earlier this week. The explosion on March 14 came around a month after Israeli warplanes carried out air strikes in the Lebanese-Syrian border area of Janta that were believed to have targeted its positions. "This was not the reply, but this was part of the reply," Nasrallah said. Tensions have been running high between Israel and Hizbullah for months, with the Jewish state warning it would carry out strikes to prevent the group from obtaining advanced weaponry.

Traffic Chaos as Roads Blocked with Rainwater
Naharnet /Traffic came to a standstill in and around Beirut during the morning rush hour on Thursday after heavy rain blocked major roads, trapping commuters in their vehicles. The slippery roads also caused traffic accidents that left at least six people injured, the Traffic Management Center said. The heavy traffic was mainly concentrated on the Beirut-Jounieh highway, when rainwater submerged parts of Dbayeh highway, a scene that the Lebanese witness at the start of the rain season in October and November. But the ministry of public works began removing the dirt and water that swamped the highway, allowing cars to head slowly to Jounieh. In one neighborhood in Kesrouan, vehicles were almost completely submerged and houses were flooded with rainwater.
The residents of Hayy al-Wadi that lies between Zouk Mosbeh and Zouk Mikhael urged the Civil Defense Department and rescuers to help them. Capt. Michel Moutran, the founder of the TMC, told Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that the road closures due to heavy rains require preventive measures by the public works ministry and municipalities. In a tweet, Moutran stressed that the authorities should work on cleaning drainage systems, activating the role of municipal police and linking the involved agencies with the TMC. Such “things are difficult to achieve no?” he mocked.
Commuters deluged social media sites with pictures of submerged cars and flooded streets. They took their rant on the government for failing to act. An angry man said on Facebook that he was stuck in traffic for two hours. He said Lebanon was like a “blocked toilet seat.” But Minister of Public Works and Transport Ghazi Zoaiter told VDL (93.3) that he would investigate the issue. Thursday's road chaos was reminiscent of the floods that blocked major roads in and around Beirut last December.

Shaky Security in Tripoli as Army Strikes with Force to Restore Calm

Naharnet/The Lebanese army enforced strict measures in the northern city of Tripoli on Thursday to restore calm following overnight gunbattles with gunmen in the neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
According to a communique issued by the army command on Thursday, the military is carrying out raids in pursuit of offenders who opened fire at the army and arrest them. “At 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Houssam al-Dayekh and others tossed grenades in Bab al-Tabbaneh, prompting an army unit to apprehend him,” the statement said. The army continued that the army patrol came under fire after al-Dayekh's arrest that led to clashes with a group of armed men. “Arms and military equipment were seized during raids carried out by the army,” the communique added, noting that a soldier was wounded.
Another armed man, identified as Mahmoud Qassem, was arrested and mortar shells were seized in his possession. The army kicked off its security plan in Tripoli last week. It is aimed at putting an end to the rounds of clashes between the rival impoverished neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. Tensions between the two districts go back decades but have been exacerbated by the war in Syria, where Alawite President Bashar Assad faces Sunni rebels seeking to topple him. Successive rounds of violence between the neighborhoods have killed dozens of people and brought parts of the city to a standstill. The implementation of the security plan was faced with protests and attacks on Tuesday where angry men tossed several hand grenades in al-Baraniyeh as residents shortly blocked the roads of al-Dabagha and wheat market with burning tires. The grenade attack and the road closure were aimed at stopping the army from carrying out raids to arrest suspects involved in dozens of clashes that the city had witnessed in the past years.

Four Syrians Indicted for Belonging to ISIL
Naharnet/Four Syrians were indicted on Thursday with belonging to the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, reported the National News Agency. It said that Military Examining Magistrate Judge Fadi Sawan charged the four detained Syrians for belonging to ISIL in order to carry out terrorist attacks.They were also charged with booby-trapping vehicles, manufacturing explosives and rockets, and possessing weapons and explosives in the Bekaa. Sawan issued an arrest warrant against each of them and referred the case to the permanent military court. ISIL grew in prominence in light of the Syrian uprising that began in March 2011. It has been linked to various rocket attacks against Hizbullah strongholds in the Bekaa, saying that they are retaliation to the party's fighting in Syria alongside the country's ruling regime.

Smuggling of 12 Million Captagon Pills to Dubai Foiled at Beirut Port

Naharnet/Internal Security Forces at Beirut port thwarted on Thursday an attempt to smuggle millions of captagon pills to Dubai. The pills were hidden among corn kernels in three containers that were stored at warehouse number six at the port, it added. They were prepared to be shipped abroad and seized at the very last minute before being taken on board a ship heading towards the Arab Gulf.
NNA revealed that seven similar containers had already been shipped to the same destination and contacts will be made with the concerned Arab country in order to arrest those connected to the case. Later on Thursday, the Lebanese Customs Administration announced that "more than 12 million pills" were seized, revealing that Dubai was the shipment's destination.

Mashnouq Says ISF Starts Deploying in Bekaa ahead of Security Plan
Naharnet/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq said on Thursday that a large number of security members were transferred from the northern city of Tripoli to the eastern Bekaa valley as the implementation of the security plan reached the zero hour. “We have transferred hundreds of Internal Security Forces' members and officers to the Bekaa ahead of the enforcement of the security plan in the area,” Mashnouq said in remarks published in An Nahar newspaper. He pointed out that the forces will need around a week at least to start deployment along checkpoints in the area. The army kicked off on Saturday preliminary measures ahead of the implementation of the northern and central Bekaa security plan. Media reports said that the army was handed over from Hizbullah checkpoints between the regions of Baalbek and al-Hermel and in Arsal, which is considered the first sign of the implementation of the plan. The Bekaa security plan is similar to the one executed in Tripoli. The impact of the Syrian crisis has also been felt in the Bekaa, with the army arresting a number of gunmen attempting to enter Lebanon illegally from the neighboring country and seizing booby-trapped vehicles that were to be used in terrorist attacks in Lebanon. Asked about the parliament's endorsement of a draft-law on the full-time employment of Civil Defense volunteers, Mashnouq hailed the decision in his comments to An Nahar.
“It was a nice way to repay those who had stood by the Lebanese at the most difficult times it passed through,” he pointed out. On Wednesday, the parliament approved a draft-law on the employment of Civil Defense volunteers that compels them to undergo a state exam. But it canceled an article, which gives compensation to retirees, a move that is likely to stir anger among them. The approval of the draft-law came after the volunteers held a protest at downtown Beirut's Riad Solh Square.

Ambassadors of Major Countries to Kick Off Tour on Key Presidential Candidates
Naharnet/The ambassadors of major countries in Lebanon are expected to kicked off “soon” a series of contacts with the main and serious runners for the presidential elections. According to al-Joumhouria newspaper the endeavors aim at inquiring the programs of the candidates. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but the Constitution states that the parliament should choose a new head of state within a two-month period, which started on March 25. The daily reported that the diplomats have set their priorities according to three elements; the importance of staging the presidential elections within the constitutional time-frame, the rejection of any constitutional amendment and the rejection of vacuum at the country's highest post. The report pointed out that the local rift increased between the political arch-foes, which indicates that the presidency polls might not occur on time, prompting the ambassadors to seek consensus among the rival parties to bridge the gap. However, al-Joumhouria said that the ambassadors voiced a common concern over the incapability of the new president to cope with the local and regional developments. The Lebanese Forces executive committee unanimously agreed to back the candidacy of LF chief Samir Geagea to the presidency. nt weeks identified other presidential hopefuls as Kataeb party leader and ex-president Amin Gemayel, MPs Boutros Harb and Robert Ghanem, who are like Geagea members of the March 14 anti-Syria movement. Other potential candidates are Hizbullah allies Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh. Lebanese presidents are always chosen from the Christian Maronite community.

Berri Urges Ambassadors Not to Interfere in Presidential Vote
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday called on the ambassadors of Arab and foreign states not to interfere in the upcoming presidential election, which is supposed to be held before May 25.
“Foreign ambassadors must not interfere in this election and must leave a chance to 'Lebanonize' it and allow it to take its course,” National Media Council chief Abdul Hadi Mahfouz quoted Berri as saying after he met the speaker in parliament. “There is openness at the regional level, especially between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and this will reflect positively on Lebanon," Berri added.
He said the recent appointment of a Saudi ambassador to Iran was a “positive indication” in this regard. Separately, Mahfouz said he asked Berri to push for the approval of a “unified press law” and that the speaker promised to exert efforts to that end.  A parliamentary delegation formed by Berri announced Monday that all parliamentary blocs promised to attend the first parliamentary session to elect a new president, which the speaker is expected to schedule "between April 15 and April 30." The constitutional timeframe to elect a successor to President Michel Suleiman began on March 25, amid the president's refusal of any extension of his term -- which ends May 25. Until the moment, only Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has officially nominated himself for the presidency.

Bekaa Security Plan Kicks Off amid Reports of 'Escape of Fugitives from Brital'
Naharnet/The Lebanese military carried out raids in several eastern towns in search for wanted individuals at the start of a security plan that armed forces launched on Thursday, amid reports that most fugitives had fled the town of Brital. The state-run National News Agency said the plan which was approved by the government last month, was launched in the eastern Bekaa Valley through raids in the towns of Brital and Hourtaala. Army units were backed from the air by three helicopters that flew over Brital and its outskirts and the illegal border crossings, NNA said.
"The two fugitives A. R. M. and H. M. T. were arrested and raids are still underway and will extend to areas other than Brital and Hourtaala," the agency announced. Meanwhile, MTV said that "the fugitives of Brital, who are estimated to number between 100 and 150, have left the town." "Brital's residents are dismayed by the 'violent' raids that were carried out by the army but they have welcomed its presence in their town, and they are saying that all fugitives have fled the town," MTV added. It said the residents "are rejecting the accusation that they were behind facilitating the escape of the fugitives and they're saying they did not have good relations with them despite the kinship." NNA said later in the day that the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau arrested in Brital the Syrians Ismail Ali al-Hussein and Imad Youssef Sweid for their involvement in the brief abduction of the child Michel al-Saqr. For its part, Al-Arabiya TV said the army will stage raids Friday in Baalbek's al-Sharawneh neighborhood.
Earlier on Thursday, Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) said that among the suspects the army is seeking to arrest is Maher Tleis, who has received a life sentence for his alleged involvement in kidnappings.
Reports have said that he has also been accused of preparing booby-trapped cars in Syria, which are later transported to Lebanon for terrorist acts.
The start of the security plan comes days after armed forces took full control of all checkpoints on the road linking the towns of Arsal and Hermel near the Syrian border. Hizbullah members used to search cars amid a wave of car bombs that killed scores of people. A similar security plan has gone into effect in the northern city of Tripoli where scores of suspects have been arrested for their involvement in several rounds of fighting. President Michel Suleiman said Thursday “it was important and urgent to assist the army (by providing it) with equipment and modern weapons given its huge tasks." The military is preserving security and stability and battling terrorism, in addition, to its role on the border in defense of the nation, Suleiman added in a statement issued by Baabda Palace.

Arrest Warrant Issued against Rifaat Eid, 14 Others in Tripoli
Naharnet/The military judiciary issued on Thursday an arrest warrant in absentia against Arab Democratic Party politburo chief Rifaat Eid days after he was charged with belonging to an armed group, possession of arms and inciting sedition. The state-run National News Agency also reported that State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr charged 15 Lebanese and Syrian suspects in the case of Eid. He also charged 14 others from Bab al-Tabbaneh, including one apprehended suspect, with belonging to an armed group, undermining the state's authority and assaulting civilian and military institutions. The two cases were referred to the First Military Investigation Judge Riyad Abu Ghida. On Saturday, State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr charged 12 Lebanese, including Eid, with seeking to carry out terrorist acts and involvement in gunbattles between the rival neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh in the northern city of Tripoli.
Ten suspects, including Eid, are fugitives and only one Lebanese suspect was apprehended.  Rifaat's father, Ali Eid, is wanted for questioning over an August twin car bomb attack against two Sunni mosques in Tripoli that killed 45 people. Security forces kicked off last week a security plan in Tripoli, seizing arms depots and detaining wanted suspects, who are involved in security chaos in the area. Even in this deployment, top wanted men fled, including Rifaat and his father, after they were given a warning of the implementation of the plan. witnesses frequent gunbattles between two of the impoverished neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which is dominated by Sunnis who support Syrian rebels, and Jabal Mohsen, which is dominated by Alawites, who share the same sect as Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Joint Parliamentary Committees Approve Fines on Illegal Seaside Properties to Fund Wage Scale
Naharnet/The joint parliamentary committees approved on Thursday imposing fines on illegal seaside properties as part of the plan to fund the new wage scale, reported several media outlets.
They approved the article on imposing fines on seaside properties with a retroactive effect of five years. Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said that 7.5 percent of the fine will be imposed on illegal seaside construction, while 2.5 percent will be imposed on illegal properties. LBCI television meanwhile spoke of a tense atmosphere at the joint parliamentary committees as a result of a dispute over the illegal seaside properties that preceded the approval of the article. The meeting witnessed the withdrawal of MP Alaeddine Terro, who accused some ministers at the talks of not wanting to resolve the dispute over the funding of the new wage scale. Earlier, Speaker Nabih Berri had warned that lawmakers “were in for a long night” in order to resolve the dispute over the wage scale and its funding.
Ahead of the session, Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Ali Fayyad had stated that he advocates increasing the Value Added Tax on luxury products as part of efforts to fund the scale.
He suggested raising the VAT to 15 percent. The Association of Banks in Lebanon later voiced its opposition to the tax measures proposed by the joint parliamentary committees to fund the new wage scale.
It consequently announced that banks in Lebanon will be closed on Friday in protest against the suggestions. The Economic Committees held an emergency meeting on Thursday in order to study the “catastrophic tax measures” adopted by the joint parliamentary committees and their effects on the national economy. “The arbitrary decisions were adopted as part of political interests aimed at scaring away Lebanese investments in their own country and killing the Lebanese economy,” they said. They therefore urged Speaker Nabih Berri to withhold presenting the new wage scale before parliament, noting: “Funding the wage scale through taxes will not only negatively impact the national economy, but all the Lebanese people including those who will benefit from the scale.” The Syndicate Coordination Committee had staged a strike on Wednesday to pressure the joint parliamentary committees to refer the new wage scale to parliament. The committees have held several sessions to study the means in which to fund the scale. The SCC had warned of escalation in the protests, of an open-ended strike and of boycotting (the correction of) official exams. Former Prime Minister Najib Miqati's cabinet endorsed in 2012 a new salary scale for public employees ending a long dispute that had prompted the SCC to hold several sit-ins and strikes. President Michel Suleiman signed the decree mid-June 2013 and it was referred to the joint parliamentary committees for further scrutiny. The wage increase will be retroactive from July 1, 2012. The state treasury will have more than $1.2 billion to cover as there are over 180,000 public sector employees including military personnel.

51 Dead as al-Nusra Front Loses Ground to ISIL on Syria's Border with Iraq
Naharnet/Syria's al-Qaida affiliate lost ground to its jihadist rivals around a town on the Iraqi border on Thursday in heavy fighting that left 51 combatants dead, a monitoring group said. The fighting erupted at dawn after an assault by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on posts held by al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front and its allies. The clashes centered around the border town of al-Bukamal, from which ISIL was expelled from earlier this year, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said 51 fighters were killed. The bodies of another 10 fighters, apparently executed by ISIL, were found at two sites near al-Bukamal, the Observatory said, adding there were reports of other summary executions in the same area. Earlier, the monitoring group's head Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse that ISIL was advancing in al-Bukamal and had taken control of several districts previously held by al-Nusra and other Islamist brigades. The clashes prompted soldiers on the Iraqi side of the border to reinforce their positions. The border crossing itself on the Syrian side remained in the hands of the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army, according to a rebel chief and an AFP reporter on the Iraqi side.
The Observatory said earlier that fighters of the ISIL, a cross-border group which has been disowned by al-Qaida's leadership, launched a three-pronged assault on positions held by al-Nusra and its allies.
Al-Nusra, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for a twin car bombing in a pro-government area of the central city of Homs that killed 25 people and wounded more than 100 on Wednesday.
ISIL fighters were driven out of al-Bukamal in heavy fighting earlier this year and are seeking to link up with their comrades over the border in Iraq, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
"Since dawn there has been fierce fighting inside al-Bukamal. ISIL is advancing and has taken control of several neighborhoods of the town which were previously held byal-Nusra Front and Islamist brigades," he said. Later in the day, Iraqi troops put up blast walls and sand berms on their side of the crossing, the AFP correspondent reported.
Al-Bukamal has been under the control of fighters opposed to the Damascus regime since November 2012, but al-Nusra and its allies forced out ISIL fighters in heavy fighting earlier this year.
The Euphrates valley town had a pre-war population of some 70,000. Syrian government troops control just one official crossing on the Iraqi border -- al-Tanaf/al-Walid on the main highway to Baghdad.
A third crossing, Yarabiyah/Rabia in the northeast, is controlled by Kurdish militia. Al-Nusra said Wednesday's twin bombing in the mainly Alawite Karm al-Loz district of Homs had targeted militia loyal to President Bashar Assad's Alawite-dominated regime. In a statement posted on Twitter, the group said its militants had "penetrated one of the bastions of the Shabiha and placed two car bombs that detonated a half hour apart during a Shabiha gathering."On Thursday, rebels, including al-Nusra fighters, seized a building near a military intelligence headquarters in the Zahra district of the main northern city of Aleppo, the Observatory said. In Homs, unidentified gunmen killed 14 people, including several children, in the Karm al-Zeitun neighborhood.
The Observatory said the attack was carried out by pro-regime militia, but the state SANA news agency said an "armed terrorist group" was behind it.
Homs was an epicenter of the revolt but is now almost entirely in regime hands, with small pockets of rebels holding out in besieged areas in and around the devastated Old City.
Source/Agence France Presse

Police: Booby-trapped Car Explodes Outside Bank of Greece

Naharnet/A booby-trapped car exploded outside the Bank of Greece in central Athens Thursday but no one was injured in the blast, police said, as Greece was set to return to the debt markets after a four-year absence. The car which was parked on the sidewalk facing the central bank building blew up around 0255 GMT. The building is close to the office of Greece's international lenders.
Police said the car, a Nissan, had been stolen and was fitted with 75 kilos (165 pounds) of explosives. Internet news website Zougla and the Efymerida ton Syndakton newspaper had been informed of the planned attack by telephone one hour before the explosion. The blast came a day before a visit to Athens by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the head of Europe's largest economy who played a key role in ensuring Greece did not crash out of the eurozone at the height of the debt crisis two years ago. Greece announced Wednesday it would return to the debt markets on the same day protesters launched the first anti-austerity strike of the year, crippling key services across the country. Athens' move was welcomed by the International Monetary Fund, which along with the European Union and the European Central Bank has provided monetary support for the troubled economy. Greece is frequently rocked by blasts generally attributed to anarchist groups. Source/Agence France Presse

U.S. turns the page on old Middle East order
Thursday, 10 April 2014
Joyce Karam/AlArabiyia
A “new regional balance” is a phrase you often hear among policy wonks in Washington dealing with the Middle East. On the surface, it refers to obvious new realities that have shaped the region post-Iraq war and the Arab Spring, but it also reflects the Obama administration’s mindset in approaching new challenges, accepting that the old order is gone, and recognizing new elements of stability.
Practically, the U.S. strategy of embracing a new order translates today in pursuing a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program, a deep recognition that Syria will be a long-winded conflict, and a determination to work on enforcing areas of stability and to sustain relationships with traditional allies including Saudi, Egypt and Jordan.
Engaging Iran and accepting Syria
Most telling about Washington’s acknowledgement of a new regional order is how the administration views Iran’s role and the key negotiations happening in Vienna towards a comprehensive agreement on the nuclear issue. In his interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg last month, U.S. President Barack Obama did not mince any words while talking about “shifts that are taking place in the region” and that have caught U.S. allies off guard. Obama told Goldberg “I think there was a comfort with a United States that was comfortable with an existing order and the existing alignments, and was an implacable foe of Iran.” That old existing order has changed even before Obama took office in 2008. Iran greatly benefitted from policies during the George W. Bush administration, mainly the Iraq war, a degrading situation in Afghanistan, an expanded nuclear program and more empowered proxies in Lebanon and Yemen. Undoubtedly, Obama’s desire to quickly withdraw from Iraq and pivot the U.S. attention more towards Asia has also helped enforce this new reality. Today, Washington sees a priority in reaching a peaceful resolution with Iran on its nuclear program as soon as this summer, with the prospect of extending the current interim deal another six months. Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia, as well as increasing defense and economic cooperation with GCC countries reflects a broader theme that even when the U.S. minimizes its military footprint in the Middle East, such alliances stand at the core of U.S. strategy.
As it adjusts to Iran’s ascension, Washington is also doing so to Syria’s fall. The “war of attrition” as U.S. officials like to call it, has the potential to last for a longtime, with major repercussions on the central state of Syria, the al-Qaeda presence and sectarian strife. In that respect, the U.S. is mostly trying to accept the Syrian instability, and do its best to contain and minimize the risks. This is achieved mainly by implementing the chemical weapons deal, drafting a counter-terrorism strategy with regional allies that at its heart supports the moderate rebels, and driving for a political solution.
Sustaining stable alliances. Neither in its rapprochement with Iran, nor in its non-interventionist role in Syria, does the Obama administration want these goals to come at the cost of stable alliances. Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia, as well as increasing defense and economic cooperation with GCC countries reflects a broader theme that even when the U.S. minimizes its military footprint in the Middle East, such alliances stand at the core of U.S. strategy. Egypt is another area where Washington appears to be making a detour and emphasizing stability over a transition to democracy. A big chunk of military aid continues today and there is little evidence that the administration, despite its cold relations with Egypt’s former head of the army Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will not work with him if he wins the presidency next month. The administration’s designation yesterday of Egypt’s Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a terrorist organization echoes mutual concerns for stability, and the rise of al-Qaeda affiliates.
While it still pursues the peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is unclear how high this issue is on the U.S. president’s list of priorities. The current hurdles include facing indirect negotiations, and Secretary John Kerry’s inability so far to deliver a framework agreement cuts the momentum and enthusiasm behind the peace process.
As things stand, reaching a final deal with Iran, maintaining key regional alliances, containing the Syrian fire while also shying away from military interventions in the Middle East define the U.S. policy today. The success or failure of this approach will be a major part of Obama’s legacy and his attempt to redefine the U.S. role in the region and turn the page on the old order.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been exposed - and so has Britain
Thursday, 10 April 2014
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiyia
The British move to launch an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities is a step in the right direction. The move came very late and the Brotherhood benefitted a lot from British leniency which may be attributed to good intentions and to Britain’s respect of laws and public freedoms. And it also may be due to the historical relationship between the two parties, ever since the Brotherhood was established in 1928. Some go as far as saying that the British are savvy to the extent of exploiting the Brotherhood to serve their own ends. The Brotherhood, which established institutions in several British cities, were beneficial to the British either on the level of collecting information on terrorist organizations linked to religious extremism or on the level of pressuring certain Arab countries for blackmail purposes.
Better late than never

Although the British move came late, it’s still better than never especially after several Arab countries suffered due to this organization which only cares about taking over authority in any way possible, regardless of whether it’s prohibited or not. Those who suffered from the Brotherhood most are Arab societies in which the organization spread ignorance by infiltrating educational institutions and government departments. Their permanent aim was to spread ignorance and decrease the level of education so it would become easier for them to control naive people and prepare them to become Brotherhood members who obey orders without questioning their authority. This is the threat of religious groups which recruit citizens in the name of religion for the sake of serving purely political aims. Shiite religious groups are not any different from Sunni ones when it comes to this. Everyone is the product of the Brotherhood school which provides the ability to politically exploit religion.
However the major question remains. Why did Britain decide to investigate the Brotherhood’s activities? Why now? Have the British authorities realized that the damage caused from being lenient with the organization has become intolerable and that the Brotherhood has exceeded their limits, especially regarding the terrorist operations Egypt is witnessing? Have the British finally made the link between the Brotherhood and terrorism?
Brave move
The British government would not have made this brave move if Saudi Arabia had not flashed the red light.
Saudi Arabia considered the Brotherhood as a “terrorist organization.” Egypt had done the same before that. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates was also suffering from the organization which worked to infiltrate institutions and harm the coherent society. Why did Britain decide to investigate the Brotherhood’s activities? Have the British finally made the link between the Brotherhood and terrorism?
But it seems the factor which really exposed the truth about the Brotherhood was their activity in Egypt and the means they adopted to respond to the popular revolution which ousted their president. It turned out that the resounding fall of the Brotherhood was in Egypt. Egypt thus exposed the Brotherhood. It revealed that the Brotherhood cannot tolerate losing power and that they do not believe in the peaceful transition of power which is the basis of democracy. Attaining authority is an aim of its own for them. There’s no value of what they can present to ordinary people. What concerns them is that they stay in power. Why didn’t explosions and assassinations occur in Egypt when Mohammad Mursi was president, only when it was required to cut gas off to Jordan or to attack the Egyptian army to intimidate it like what happened in Sinai several times? Yes, Egypt exposed the Brotherhood. The most important issue it exposed is that the Brotherhood only believes in violence and that elections are only a means to serve an end and not an end on its own. They exploited the Arab Spring to make it to authority via elections. To them, elections are only beneficial to attain authority. Has Britain finally started to realize this truth which is organically linked to what the Brotherhood represent?
Bid democracy farewell
We can bid democracy farewell after monopolizing power. What’s more dangerous than all of this is that Egypt exposed that the Brotherhood’s only role model is the Gaza experience. The experience of Sudan has been a failure since the beginning, after Omar Hassan al-Bashir clashed with Hashan al-Torabi and after it turned out that there’s no problem for Brotherhood graduates when the option is between power on one hand and maintaining it and dividing the country on another. What has the Brotherhood, which call themselves “Hamas,” done in Gaza? They played a major role in altering the nature of Palestinian society in the strip in order to serve Israel to the maximum. The rockets launched from Gaza towards Israel serve Israel’s interests. Another way Israel is served is by making the Palestinian people look like they support the Brotherhood’s campaign to inflict Egypt with terrorism. Another service is represented in solidifying Palestinian divisions to the maximum.
There are many issues the Brotherhood could have achieved if it hadn’t resorted to violence in Egypt using the help of Hamas and those who resemble Hamas. It was not possible for Britain to go as far as providing a haven for the international organization of the Brotherhood. Moreover, the Brotherhood infiltrated posts in media organizations in London to broadcast ideas and spread information that serves the Brotherhood campaign in Egypt and that stands against anyone who confronts backwardness in the Arab world - or rather, Arab worlds.
The Brotherhood were exposed and Britain was exposed along with them. Will this help Britain restore its dignity in the Arab world? Will this help it raise the question which authorities should have raised a long time ago? Who benefitted from whom? Did Britain benefit from the Brotherhood or did the Brotherhood benefit from British services? That is, they were provided with a safe haven and media outlets which were intentionally or unintentionally put under their command - that occurred by coincidence which is sometimes better than a thousand plans!

Russia, Iran barter deal revives sense of Cold War
Thursday, 10 April 2014
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiyia
Reuters reported that “Iran and Russia have made progress towards an oil-for-goods deal sources said would be worth up to $20 billion,” prompting two U.S. senators to call on President Barack Obama to impose more sanction on Tehran if it pursues the barter deal with Moscow. This is like recent history, a cold war déjà vu, and who knows maybe the world will once again be divided into two camps.
It is too early to draw such a conclusion but it does explain the crises-laden political situation. Russia has over the past two years rejected all proposals made by Arab countries that oppose the Assad regime in Syria. Why did Russian President Vladimir Putin reject Gulf reconciliation proposals in exchange for halting his support of one worthless regime - that is the Assad regime in Syria? Moscow was offered economic and political benefits on a silver platter yet Putin rejected them! The developments in Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea show that an adventurous Putin has one project in mind - Russia’s rise as a superpower and Russia’s confrontation of the Western camp
The pain of collapse
Putin previously said that he feels the pain of the Soviet Union’s collapse, blaming his predecessor Gorbachev for what happened. He wasn’t talking as a communist but as a Russian who believes in his country as a superpower that shares the world with the United States.
If in fact Russia wants to use Iran to complicate the nuclear negotiations with the West, then it would be allowing for the resumption of competition between the two parties. This means that Moscow would build its new camp which would be made up of a number of countries that currently revolve in its orbit. It would also mean Russia’s geographic expansion.
Political bloc
For Putin, this is a major adventure given the difficult competitive circumstances resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite that, all stances which Moscow adopted in Syria, Iran and other countries give the impression that it’s building an allied political bloc. Otherwise, what pushes Moscow to sabotage the negotiations? Or, what makes it push the Iranian regime to toughen its demands in exchange of signing some sort of nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group? Russia has gone as far as signing a cooperation agreement with Iran at this critical time. If this is true, then it weakens the Western position. Russia’s position on Syria confirms that we are not facing a political maneuver but the beginning of a battle on a chess board
Moscow signals readiness to confront the West in restive regions and to buy loyalties which are hostile to Washington. This justifies the stance of Egypt, which under the current administration, has resorted to Moscow in response to Washington which sided with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Russian president, in an unprecedented move, sent his foreign affairs minister and his defense minister to Egypt to strengthen ties with the military leadership in Cairo.
Russia’s position on Syria confirms that we are not facing a political maneuver but the beginning of a battle on a chess board. This brings back memories of the Cold War. Unless Washington reaches a political agreement with Moscow regarding Ukraine, the struggle will deepen and old camps will be redrawn.
The statement that “Russia has proven it stands by its allies during their crises” has been repeated a lot in the Middle East region. What has the American government done in Syria against the Assad regime? It took a seat to watch the biggest and worst massacre in the region.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 10, 2014.

Israeli launches spy satellite after US refusal to push for Iran’s weapons program's dismantlement

DEBKAfile/Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to delay the launch of Israel’s improved Ofek 10 spy satellite Wednesday night April 9, hours after the six powers and Iran wound up another round of talks in Vienna on comprehensive accord on its nuclear program. Israel decided to show some muscle over the Obama administration's consent to raise Iran’s weapons program at the next round of nuclear negotiations next month, debkafile's Washington and Jerusalem sources report. But this assurance, relayed also to the Saudi government, was not accompanied by information on the points to be raised, or the US response if Tehran continued to maintain that its weapons program is non-existent and therefore not up for negotiation with the world powers.
Neither did Washington reply to questions from Jerusalem about how US negotiators would act in the light of the latest intelligence data supplied by Israel, Britain and Holland attesting to accelerated Iranian work on its putatively non-existent weapons program. The Israeli prime minister is still waiting for an answer from Washington. But at least one American official admits to knowing the truth.
“It would take Iran just two months to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday in a downbeat assessment of efforts to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
High-ranking US and Israeli sources told debkafile early Thursday April 10 that it is becoming harder than ever, in the context of US-Israel relations, to disentangle the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from the ineffectual nuclear talks with Iran.
The top level of the US administration appears to have fallen into two factions pulling in opposite directions: One group, led by President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, wants Israel to carry the can for progress or for obstacles in negotiations with the Palestinians, while appeasing the latter and letting Iran off the hook on the concerns of Israel (and other Mid East nations).
The opposing group, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, favors more flexibility and is trying to mediate between the White House and Jerusalem.
National Security Adviser Rice is the toughest nut to crack in this regard.
The rift between the two factions led to the cancellation of Kerry’s White House meeting with the president that was scheduled for Tuesday, April 8 for an evaluation of the Israel-Palestinian peace track and whether or not to end US involvement.
Rice would have urged the US to pull out and lay the blame squarely at Israel’s door.
By postponing this confrontation, Kerry bought time for another bid to salvage the negotiations. And indeed, his envoy Martin Indyk has kept low-profile talks going between the two sides.
There is every indication that Prime Minister Netanyahu is at the end of his tether on what he regards as the Obama administration’s unfair appreciation of the concessions Israel made to keep the talks alive in the face of Palestinian negativism. Sources in Jerusalem say White House lenience toward the Palestinians hardens the intransigence of their leader Mahmoud Abbas and so undermines the entire peace effort.
At least for now, Netanyahu is taking a hard line himself, debkafile’s Jerusalem sources report. Wednesday, Netanyahu punished Abbas for his unilateral application to 15 UN agencies to bypass negotiations with a dose of his own medicine. He ordered all Israeli ministerial contacts cut off with their Palestinian peers and the cancellation of VIP privileges for Palestinian high-ups.
For a show of Israeli muscle, he ordered the Israel military spy satellite Ofek-10 to be launched from the Palmachim air base Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, it was circling in earth orbit every 99 minutes from an altitude of 600 kms. Ofek-10’s improved surveillance capabilities include high-resolution cameras able to distinguish between objects of half a meter and operate in varying lighting and weather conditions.
That afternoon, the entry of the Samson cargo plane, the new Super Hercules C130J, into service with the Israeli Air Force took place in a public ceremony. Samson markedly extends the IAF’s ability to carry troops forces and hardware over any point in Iran. It was the first of six giant air transports to be delivered by the end of next year. The message the show was meant to convey was that Israel is again preparing to conduct a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program after being pressed by Obama into holding back for some years.
The old confrontation between Obama and Netanyahu is therefore back in full force. Will the Israeli prime minister continue to tough it out on either or both the Palestinian and Iranian nuclear tracks? That is anyone’s guess. But Wednesday, he was heard to say that a sovereign nation has the right to say no.

Lebanon and the Search for a President

Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi is tireless and unwavering in his calls for the election of a “strong” Lebanese president, who under Lebanon’s constitution must be a Maronite.
The term “strong president” has many different possible connotations. The most prominent is that the president should enjoy widespread popularity within his own sect. However, the Lebanese know that traditionally, the Maronite leadership is not held by one person alone. Even the charismatic Camille Chamoun, a former president whose influence lasted from the 1950s to the 1970s, was unable to cancel out the heritage of the Eddé clan or the power of the Lebanese Phalange (Kataeb) Party in the street—not to mention others such as the Frangieh clan in northern Lebanon and Jean Aziz in Jezzine, in the south.
Even more, Bachir Gemayel achieved his near-absolute leadership during the Lebanese Civil War by eliminating the competition through bloody confrontations. Afterwards, Gemayel’s organization, the Lebanese Forces, experienced a period of exhausting leadership disputes and confrontations, prompting it to accept the Taif Agreement. Michel Aoun—the army commander at the time—put himself forward as the “sole leader and savior” of Lebanon’s Christians, outgunning even the Lebanese Forces—then the foremost Christian militia—in his Christian and Maronite rhetoric. He then tried to subjugate them militarily and reject what he considered to be their “concessions” in the Taif Agreement.
Today, the patriarch recognizes four Maronite leaders whom he consistently invites to decisive discussions— especially discussions about the presidency—to the exclusion of others. These leaders are Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea, former president and current leader of the Phalange (Kata’eb) Party Amine Gemayel, and former minister Suleiman Frangieh Jr, the grandson of former President Suleiman Frangieh Sr. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that a “strong” president would be one of these men.
But the word “strong” could also be related to the size of representation in parliament. Frangieh does not enjoy any significant influence across Lebanon as a whole, despite his strong local power base. Some may even say that a President Gemayel must also be out of the equation, in the light of the fact that he lost a by-election in the Christian Northern Metn area in 2007 to a relatively unknown pro-Aoun candidate after the Armenian vote turned against him. This leaves two candidates in the ring: Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, and Geagea, the current leader of the Lebanese Forces.
Aoun’s people claim Geagea’s strong presence is due to the support of Sunni Muslims, to which the Lebanese Forces reply that Aoun is indebted to Shi’ite and Armenian voters for most of his bloc’s parliamentary seats.
Neither accusation is far from the truth, especially with regards to Aoun’s bloc, which would not have won a parliamentary representation in either North or South Metn, in Baalbak-Hermel, or in other areas of Lebanon were it not for the support of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the “Dashnak” Armenian Party that supports Iran, and inevitably fears any Turkish (Sunni) regional influence.
This reality in itself reveals the fragility of the “strength” claimed of any Maronite president who hopes to be elected before the deadline bet under the constitution expires on May 25.
However, if we must be explicit, let us recognize that Lebanon is currently being de facto ruled by an Iranian security and military power represented by Hezbollah, and now—more than any other time since its independence in 1943—it is practically an occupied land. Lebanon today, together with Syria and Iraq, forms an area of Iranian influence, with tacit Israeli and public US acceptance. In a country under occupation, a “strong” president cannot exist, because the real “strong” party is the occupier.
On the other hand, and after accepting this fact–that there is no one who could be described as a “strong” president—the qualities of the next president remain subject to a host of considerations. First is the regional powers’ perspective on the Lebanese arena. Second is whether there is consensus among the regional powers on the complicated and fragile Lebanese arena far from the region’s crises. Third is the effect of the American–Iranian “understanding” on the Lebanese arena, especially given that Hezbollah has already announced that it has a candidate, in the same way that the president of the Syrian regime has called for a “resistance president” in Lebanon. Fourth are the stances of the other regional players, particularly if Washington and Israel’s interests are in line with Iran’s interests in Lebanon.
The regional balance of power, it seems, is in Tehran’s favor, in the absence of any obvious objections from Washington and Tel Aviv under the pretext of eliminating extremism, Al-Qaeda and terrorism. This is what tips the balance in favor of the March 8 Alliance, which is strongly linked to the Iranian axis.
Then, with active and continuing Hezbollah participation in the fighting inside Syria, it becomes clear that it is now a waste of time to try to keep the Lebanese arena away from the crises of a region, which is now under the serious threat of a new Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Here, we come to Washington’s position.
In 1982, Washington did not object to the ascendency of a hardline partisan—namely, Bachir Gemayel—to the presidency while the country was still under Israeli occupation. This ultimately proved catastrophic for the president-elect and Lebanon within just a few months. Later, near the end of 2006 when Iraq was also under occupation, Washington did not hesitate to hand in a deposed president to be executed following a trial which is still seen by many as an act of sectarian retribution.
The two examples above indicate that the American position does not hold undue concern for civil peace or national unity. Some observers today even suspect that Washington is exerting both direct and indirect pressure on Lebanon’ Sunnis to accept the “Iranian axis” candidate after he is re-packaged as a consensus candidate. Indeed, this is the explanation many give to the sudden and unusual meetings between the Future Movement and Aoun’s bloc.
In my humble opinion, polishing the image of Aoun—or whoever represents him—will not solve the problem. What it will do is push the Sunni street into feeling more alienated and more indignant, and quickly create an environment of persecution that could easily become an incubator for extremism.
The real solution for Lebanon lies in the election of a wise and fair-minded president who is equidistant from all the local players and who can truly just “manage” the deep-seated crisis.
The four aforementioned main players, unfortunately, are not qualified to manage any crisis. General Jean Kahwaji, the army commander, is according to many no longer seen as an impartial candidate, either. This means that Lebanon’s presidency must go to independent personalities who are known for their skill, such as central bank governor Riyad Salameh, whose nomination deserves the ratification of a procedural amendment to the constitution related to his current post.