August 24/14



Bible Quotation for today/Teaching about Charity
Matthew 6/1-4: "1 Make certain you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly, you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it.  Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.


Bible Quotation for today/Divisions in the Church
01 Corinthians 01/10-17: "By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my friends, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose. For some people from Chloe's family have told me quite plainly, my friends, that there are quarrels among you. Let me put it this way: each one of you says something different. One says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Peter”; and another, “I follow Christ.” Christ has been divided into groups! Was it Paul who died on the cross for you? Were you baptized as Paul's disciples? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius. No one can say, then, that you were baptized as my disciples. Oh yes, I also baptized Stephanas and his family; but I can't remember whether I baptized anyone else.) Christ did not send me to baptize. He sent me to tell the Good News, and to tell it without using the language of human wisdom, in order to make sure that Christ's death on the cross is not robbed of its power.


Question: "How can I experience joy in my Christian life?"
Answer: Periods of sadness and depression can enter the life of even the most devout Christian. We see many examples of this in the Bible. Job wished he had never been born (Job 3:11). David prayed to be taken away to a place where he would not have to deal with reality (Psalm 55:6-8). Elijah, even after defeating 450 prophets of Baal with fire called down from heaven (1 Kings 18:16-46), fled into the desert and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:3-5).
So how can we overcome these periods of joylessness? We can see how these same people overcame their bouts of depression. Job said that, if we pray and remember our blessings, God will restore us to joy and righteousness (Job 33:26). David wrote that the study of God's Word can bring us joy (Psalm 19:8). David also realized that he needed to praise God even in the midst of despair (Psalm 42:5). In Elijah's case, God let him rest for a time and then sent a man, Elisha, to help him (1 Kings 19:19-21). We also need friends that we can share our hurts and pains with (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). It may be helpful to share our feelings with a fellow Christian. We may be surprised to find that he or she has struggled with some of the same things that we are going through.
Most importantly, it is certain that dwelling on ourselves, our problems, our hurts, and especially our pasts will never produce true spiritual joy. Joy is not found in materialism, it is not found in psychotherapy, and it most certainly is not found in obsession with ourselves. It is found in Christ. We who belong to the Lord “glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). To know Christ is to come to have a true sense of ourselves, and true spiritual insight, making it impossible to glory in ourselves, in our wisdom, strength, riches, or goodness, but in Christ—in His wisdom and strength, in His riches and goodness, and in His person only. If we remain in Him, immerse ourselves in His Word, and seek to know Him more intimately, our “joy will be full” (John 15:1-11).
Finally, remember that it is only through God's Holy Spirit that we can find true joy (Psalm 51:11-12; Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). We can do nothing apart from the power of God (2 Corinthians 12:10, 13:4). Indeed, the harder we try to be joyful through our own efforts, the more miserable we can become. Rest in the Lord's arms (Matthew 11:28-30) and seek His face through prayer and Scripture. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).


Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 23 & 24/14

From the Ashes of Iraq: Mesopotamia Rises Again/By: y Alexander H. Joffe/The National Interest/August 24/14

Michel Aoun’s proposal: Change and reform/Daily Star/August 24/14

Iraq requires a long U.S. attention span/By: Michael Young/The Daily Star/August 24/14

Nouri al-Maliki still doesn’t get it/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed /Al Arabiya/August  24/14

Syria and Iraq crises are joined at the hip/By: Eyad Abu Shakra /Al Arabiya/August  24/14

A week of hellish annual remembrances in Egypt, Syria/By: Hisham Melhem /Al Arabiya/August  24/14


Lebanese Related News published on August 23 & 24/14

Rocket fired from Lebanon lands in open area in Western Galilee

Geagea: Developments of Syria, Iraq Cannot Be Replicated in Lebanon

Report: Lebanese-Turkish-Qatari Efforts Underway to Release Troops Abducted from Arsal
Rifi Announces Launch of Probe in Tripoli Bombs: Kidnapped Troops to Be Freed without Exchange for Militants

Hezbollah: Gulf states fear 'monster' they created

Minister reassures no gunmen from Syria in Shebaa

Soldiers: Hezbollah must leave Syria or we die
Levels of FDI expected to remain constant
Harb: Faster Internet expected within weeks

3 Syrians Arrested in Bekaa for Belonging to Extremist Group

Qahwaji: Militants' Victory in Arsal Would Have Had Alarming Repercussions on Lebanon
Engineer Freed in Arsal after One-Month Abduction


Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 23 & 24/14

Iron Dome intercepts rocket over greater Tel Aviv area

Israeli army set for ground strikes in Gaza. Hamas conceals terrorist and suicide ambush units

Hamas backs push for ICC Gaza war crimes probe
Hamas assassinations prompt calls for revenge

Question: "How can I experience joy in my Christian life?"

Merkel: Ukraine-Russian border key to peace

Egypt calls for Gaza cease-fire as fighting rages
Iraq investigating Sunni mosque attack

Illegal refugees given a grace period to return home
Philippines to repatriate UN troops in Golan, Liberia


Rocket fired from Lebanon lands in open area in Western Galilee
A rocket fired from Lebanon landed in an open area in the Western Galilee on Saturday evening. There were no reports of injury or damage. Last month, two Katyusha rockets launched from Lebanon landed in open territory outside of Nahariya. IDF artillery responded by targeting the launch site in Lebanon. On the southern front, terrorists in Gaza continued to fire rockets into Israel late Saturday evening. More than 100 projectiles from Gaza were fired at Israel on Saturday by 11:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Geagea: Developments of Syria, Iraq Cannot Be Replicated in Lebanon
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea accused some political powers of intimidating Christians in Lebanon with the threat of Islamist movements in the region, reported the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday. He told the daily: “The LF has been seeking in recent weeks to reassure the people of the contrary. The developments in Syria and Iraq cannot be replicated in Lebanon for several reasons.” He did not elaborate on the matter, but added that people have been receptive of the LF's assurances. “Who said that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is seeking to spread to Lebanon or that it is capable of doing so?” he wondered. “It will meet their grave should it come here,” declared Geagea. He lamented however that some Christian sides are working on fueling fears, hoping that the parliamentary elections would be held in order to determine whose side Christians really support. Moreover, he remarked that ISIL forces would advance on Lebanon from the eastern mountain range should they decide to attack the country, “so why haven't the borders with Syria been properly controlled?” Several countries have proposed to help the Lebanese army control the Lebanese-Syrian border, “so why haven't we accepted these initiatives?” he asked. He noted that it takes five soldiers to monitor every ten kilometers of the border, “which the army is easily capable of doing, so why hasn't this happened?” Geagea accused Hizbullah of seeking to keep the border undemarcated so it would continue to be able to cross into Syria and fight alongside the country's regime uninhibited.
Clashes broke out on August 2 between the army and Islamist militants from Syria in the northeastern border town of Arsal. Several soldiers were killed and wounded in the unrest.
A ceasefire was reached in the area on August 7. The development raised concerns that the extremism sweeping Iraq and Syria could spread to Lebanon. Several officials had been calling for better control of the border with Syria in order to curb the flow of refugees, whose numbers have exceeded 1.1 million, according to the U.N. The Change and Reform bloc warned on Tuesday that extremists “are hiding under the guise of the refugees,” warning further of the spread of extremism to Lebanon.

Report: Lebanese-Turkish-Qatari Efforts Underway to Release Troops Abducted from Arsal
Naharnet/Turkey and Qatar have kicked off efforts to negotiate the release of the soldiers and security forces abducted from Arsal following the clashes in the northeastern town, reported As Safir newspaper on Saturday. Diplomatic sources told the daily that the initiative is being held in coordination with Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Mustaqbal Movement chief MP Saad Hariri.
General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim is following up on the case with Turkish intelligence head Hakan Fidan and Qatari Intelligence chief Ghanim Khalifa al-Qubaisi. The sources revealed that Ibrahim had met with Fidan in the Turkish capital Ankara three days ago before traveling to Doha to meet Qubaisi. Qubaisi relayed to Ibrahim Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani's advice that the Lebanese government provide all means to facilitate the release of the soldiers and security forces held by Islamist militants, said As Safir. The diplomatic sources added that a mechanism to begin negotiations to hold a prisoner swap was put in place. It calls for providing the list of the abducted Lebanese, which will then be followed by the formation of a Lebanese-Turkish-Qatari committee to follow up on all aspects of the case.The Lebanese side has however emphasized that the captives will not be swapped with Islamists held in Roumieh Prison. The captors are reportedly demanding the release of ten Roumieh inmates in exchange for each captive soldier, reported An Nahar daily on Saturday. A list of the names of 32 Lebanese and Arab prisoners has been sent to the Military Command. It includes Imad Jomaa, whose arrest prompted the Arsal clashes. Salam meanwhile told al-Mustaqbal daily Saturday that he prefers not to disclose the details of the negotiations “in order to ensure their success.”
He also called on the media to “take into consideration the sentiments of the families of the captives” and refrain from sensationalist reporting. A Muslim Scholars Committee delegation had announced on Friday that it was suspending its negotiation efforts to release the captives, saying that it will pave the way for other initiatives to that end. The soldiers and security forces were abducted by the Islamist militants in Arsal at the end of clashes between the army and the gunmen in the northeastern town earlier in August. The fighting broke out on August 2 upon the arrest of Jomaa, who is a member of the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front. ed with a ceasefire on August 7 and the withdrawal of the gunmen with the Lebanese captives.


Qahwaji: Militants' Victory in Arsal Would Have Had Alarming Repercussions on Lebanon
Naharnet/Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji criticized on Saturday the campaign directed against him and the military and their handling of the clashes with Islamist gunmen in the northeaster border town of Arsal earlier in August, reported An Nahar daily. He told the daily: “The army's response was decisive and the militants' victory would have had alarming repercussions on Lebanon.”
“The issue is much more dangerous that what is being portrayed in the media as evidenced by Premier David Cameron's recent remark that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant threatens Britain itself,” he added. Addressing the Arsal clashes, Qahwaji said that the army came under attack by 190 Syrian and non-Syrian gunmen, while there are 120,000 residents and Syrian refugees living in the town.
“Had some of my critics preferred if I destroyed Arsal and killed Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees?” he wondered. “The whole area is in disarray and no one knows what will happen next, so all sides should halt petty criticism,” he stressed. “It is shameful that politics is being linked to military affairs,” he lamented. Clashes broke out in Arsal on August 2 between the army and Islamist gunmen in light of the arrest of a member of the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front group. Several soldiers were killed and wounded in the unrest that ended with a ceasefire on August 7. The gunmen withdrew from the town, but abducted a number of soldiers and security forces. They remain in captivity and efforts are underway to ensure their release. Media reports said that Lebanese, Turkish, and Qatari officials are tackling the negotiations.


Michel Aoun’s proposal: Change and reform?
The Daily Star/Michel Aoun’s proposal on reforming the method by which the president is elected is indicative of his absolute disregard for the stability of the country and his preoccupation with his own power. Aoun’s bloc has proposed a draft law to do away with presidential elections in Parliament and instead allow Christians to choose two candidates who would then face off in a vote by the entire electorate.  In any functioning democracy, MPs from parties across the board should be allowed the opportunity to suggest reforms on a number of various topics. But in the current climate, with Lebanon at one of its most sensitive junctures in perhaps decades, to suggest such a reform is irresponsible. The Taif Accord which closed the Civil War and drew up a power-sharing agreement came at the cost of nearly 200,000 lives and years of war. Of course not all parties were completely satisfied with the details of the agreement, but such is compromise. To rock the boat now screams of self-interest and is clearly not in the interests of the country. Aoun’s unspoken ultimatum is clearly, “myself as president or no one else.” Such behavior is not befitting of a statesman or a nationalist – it is the act of an opportunist. The proposal has already been slammed by the March 14 coalition and has absolutely no chance of ever passing in Parliament. Indeed, Aoun knew all along that it would be shot down – suggesting that the proposal itself was just another way to obstruct efforts to fill political vacuums in the country. Politics is clearly little more than a game to Aoun now, but it is more than that to the rest of the country, ordinary people who want to get on with their lives. It is about time some politicians realized where their priorities should lie.


Captured soldiers: They will kill us, if Hezbollah remains in Syria
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Nusra Front released a video of captured soldiers and members of the Internal Security Forces asking Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria or else their kidnappers would kill them.
"This apostate group is killing our Sunni families in Syria while it has no business in doing so. I call on my people in Taraya to hold protests against this apostate group. If they don't, we will be killed,” a soldier who identified himself as Mahmoud Maarouf Hamaye said. Hamaye was among nine ISF officers and troops who were seated in a group with a large tent-like material hanging in the back alongside the Nusra Front black flag. “If you don't withdraw from Syria, these people will kill us. You have no business in Syria and I am a Shiite,” an ISF officer said, addressing the camera. “I call on my relatives and every Shiite [to know] that Hezbollah has nothing [to do in Syria] ... they are killing heroes.” The video was released Friday evening on the YouTube channel of the so-called Network of the White Beacon Correspondents, a group that publishes statements and video issued by the Al-Qaeda-linked group. The five-minute video was titled "bits from a movie of Lebanese security forces demanding Hezbollah's withdrawal from Syria."

Minister reassures no gunmen from Syria in Shebaa
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Health Minister Wael Abu Faour Saturday visited the southern town of Shebaa, reassuring residents that there were no gunmen in the area and urging them to leave security measures to the Army and security forces. “We are here today to tell residents of Shebaa and Arqoub that the Army is doing its job in closing the border crossing, unless it is for humanitarian issues,” Abu Faour said during his tour in the town, where fears of a Arsal-style scenario have grown given the presence of thousands of refugees. Shebaa’s location on Lebanon’s southeastern border with Syria and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights prompted concerns that militants from rural Damascus could enter the town and clash with the Army, similar to recent events on the northeastern border in the Bekaa Valley.
Starting Aug. 2 and lasting for five days, Lebanese troops battled gunmen from Syria who attacked military and police centers following the arrest of an ISIS commander. The Army has said that the fighting in Arsal was systematic and premeditated. Shebaa, similar to Arsal, is home to thousands of Syrians fleeing the ongoing civil war in their country. Abu Faour said municipalities were also carrying measures to better control the presence of refugees. “There are no weapons here or gunmen. So people should stop disseminating fear and intimidation with the aim of sowing divisions,” he said.
“The circumstances are difficult and what we are doing is a preemptive effort.” “Today's visit is to strengthen coexistence. I carry with me Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan's salutations. They want this area to be like the rest of Lebanon and enjoy calm and peace.” He also said residents of Shebaa and surrounding villages should not adopt their own security measures, asking not to “fall prey to rumors of ISIS or the Nusra Front coming to take over the town." Lebanese authorities have taken measures against Syrian refugee gatherings across the country in light of the Arsal clashes, with Army troops raiding informal refugee camps and carrying out arrests against suspected militants.

Gulf states fear 'monster' they created: Hezbollah minister
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Hezbollah Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan Saturday said the Arab world should confront the conspiracy that is distorting the image of Islam, saying Gulf countries now fear the “monster” they created, in reference to ISIS. “The biggest conspiracy against Islam is distorting its image and making every Muslim be seen as a terrorist,” Hajj Hasan said during a ceremony in the coastal city of Sidon. “Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians and everyone, including Christians, Muslims, Shiites and other sects, are concerned with confronting this [conspiracy] culturally and socially - in defense of Islam not a party, a sect or a people,” he said. “We have to defend Christians and Muslims, not against killing but against this social, psychological and infrastructure destruction that is threatening countries.” Hezbollah has said they were fighting in Syria against the rise of takfiri groups and the possibility of such fighters infiltrating Lebanon. While voicing the party's undying support for the resistance in Gaza, Hajj Hasan said countries now feared "the monster they created." "We are facing a real challenge in security, military, economic and social fields. I am not only talking about Lebanon and Syria ... but Gulf states are now concerned about the monster they created in order to destroy the resistance,” he said. Hezbollah has repeatedly accused Arab states of funding and backing extremist groups against resistance forces in the region and with the aim of forcing the collapse of President Bashar Assad.


Rifi Announces Launch of Probe in Tripoli Bombs: Kidnapped Troops to Be Freed without Exchange for Militants
Naharnet /Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi announced on Saturday that the investigation in last year’s double blast in the northern city of Tripoli has kicked off, assuring also that troops kidnapped by jihadists in the border town of Arsal will be released without exchanging them for Islamist detainees. “I announce to the families of the martyrs, to my people in the city and to all the Lebanese that the judicial investigator started yesterday his probe with the detainees in the mosques' blasts,” Rifi declared in a speech he gave during a commemoration of the double Tripoli bombs of August 23, 2013.
On the same day last year, two car bombs exploded outside the al-Taqwa and al-Salam mosques in Tripoli, leaving 45 people dead and more than 800 injured according to an unofficial toll. The first bomb struck in the city center at the al-Salam mosque as worshipers were still inside. The second explosion struck just minutes later outside al-Taqwa mosque, about two kilometers away, near the port. Rifi continued: “We promise you that we will follow up on this case to achieve justice and to punish the assailants.”“They tried to silence the city to eventually seize control of it, of the North and of Lebanon... but that blood that was shed was a sacrifice that protected the city and the nation,” he added. Rifi considered that “it is not strange that criminals have targeted places of worship, as their history is filled with killing and terrorism.” “Those who committed the worst crimes in Beirut and Syria aimed at targeting the resilience of this city and its religious coexistence through their partners here. But your faith was greater than their hatred and criminality.” “There is a huge conspiracy planned against the city and the nation...and we must commit to the state’s institutions and avoid getting dragged into chaos and into the implementation of individual security measures,” the northern leader went on to say. Rifi slammed the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad as an example of “organized terrorism that killed thousands of people and wanted to transport the fire to Lebanon.”“But we have prevented (Assad’s regime) from doing this in this dear city (Tripoli) and our people in Arsal did the same,” he noted.
He assured, however, that moderation is capable of confronting terrorism and eradicating it. Commenting on the Arsal clashes between army troops and jihadist militants earlier this month, Rifi assured that the kidnapped soldiers and Internal Security Forces members will be freed “without any exchange for detained Islamists.”The soldiers and security forces were abducted by the Islamist militants in Arsal at the end of clashes between the army and the gunmen in the town. The fighting broke out on August 2 upon the arrest of Imad Jomaa, who is a member of the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front.
They ended with a ceasefire on August 7 and the withdrawal of the gunmen with the Lebanese captives. The Islamists who took part in the Arsal clashes have demanded the release of a number of their colleagues in the Roumieh Prison in exchange for the release of the kidnapped troops.

FPM proposal for popular vote draws scorn
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement Friday defended its draft proposal to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected via a popular vote, saying it was aimed at restoring democracy and ensuring proper Christian representation in the country’s top Maronite post.
“We have presented a draft proposal to elect the president by the people based on our right and our belief that the people have the right to elect their president and we want to restore this right to them,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, told a news conference in Parliament.
“The proposal is democratic and national. It is not a political or individual proposal. Let Parliament assume its responsibility,” he said.
However, the FPM’s draft proposal drew fire from Aoun’s Christian rivals, the Kataeb Party and the Lebanese Forces.
Former President Amine Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party, dismissed the proposal as “destructive.”
“With regard to strange and weird proposals made by some for the election of the president by the people, I had made such a proposal 25 years ago and we are today 25 years late on it,” Gemayel said after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, north of Beirut. “At that time, the proposal could have been implemented, but today its results are destructive for the Lebanese and for the Christians who need the election of a president.”
Kanaan said the draft proposal provided a permanent solution to the presidential deadlock after Parliament failed for the 10th time in four months to elect a successor to former President Michel Sleiman over a lack of quorum.
“A permanent solution that ensures a proper selection of a president who can fulfill the conditions of representing his sect and ensuring a genuine partnership is by the election of the president directly by the people in two stages,” he said.
Kanaan, flanked by other bloc members, spoke a day after 10 MPs from Aoun’s bloc submitted to Parliament a draft proposal to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected directly by the people instead of by lawmakers as stipulated by the Constitution.
He explained that the proposed amendment would be limited to the second clause of Article 49 of the Constitution and did not entail a change of Lebanon’s political system from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. “The election of the president by the people will not lead to transforming the parliamentary system into a presidential system because this matter requires several constitutional amendments,” Kanaan said.
“For those who claim that amending Article 49 leads to undermining the National Reconciliation Pact, we remind them that this clause has been amended several times over the past 25 years and in a negative way, twice for extending presidential mandates and twice to hold the presidential polls at the last minute,” he added. Under the proposed amendment, the president would be elected in two rounds of direct voting by the electorate. In the first round, only Christians would vote. But in the second round the whole electorate, both Muslims and Christians, would choose among the two candidates who scored the highest in the first round.
“With these [two rounds of voting], the president’s sectarian and national representation can be secured, thus providing a permanent solution to the problem of Christian participation in power according to the rules of the National Reconciliation Pact,” Kanaan said. He rejected the argument that the draft proposal was floated after Aoun’s chances to be elected president declined.
“The proposal emanated from an initiative announced two months ago and is not only linked to the election of the president, but also to rectifying democracy and its practice in a sound manner,” Kanaan said.
The proposal, initially put forth by Aoun on June 30, does not stand any chance to be passed in Parliament, after it has been rejected outright by March 14 coalition parties which dismissed it as an attempt to meddle with the Constitution to serve the interest of one person.
Any constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority of the 128-member legislature, which cannot be secured by Aoun’s bloc and his allies in the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.
Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam likened Aoun’s bloc to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), saying that they are “two sides of the same coin.”
“ISIS is causing the exodus of Mosul’s Christians while the Change and Reform bloc is emptying the presidency from a Christian political presence,” Karam said, in response to the bloc’s proposal to allow the president to be elected via a popular vote. The Change and Reform bloc was trying to “exaggerate threats,” not to benefit Christians or other minorities, but to reinforce their alignment with “dictatorships,” Karam told a news conference in Maarab. “The party exaggerates threats without offering solutions,” he said, arguing that the bloc is at the forefront of blocking solutions.
Karam argued that Aoun’s bloc utilizes the existential threat ISIS poses to Christians as to show that “only the regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon could protect them.”
Future MP Assem Araji said the FPM’s proposal for a constitutional amendment was untimely and would deal a blow the Constitution and the Taif Accord which ended the 1975-90 Civil War.
“Aoun might think that his proposal for direct election of the president by the people would increase his chances, but the Constitution should not be amended for the sake of a single person,” Araji told the Voice of Lebanon Radio station.

Question: "How can I experience joy in my Christian life?"
Answer: Periods of sadness and depression can enter the life of even the most devout Christian. We see many examples of this in the Bible. Job wished he had never been born (Job 3:11). David prayed to be taken away to a place where he would not have to deal with reality (Psalm 55:6-8). Elijah, even after defeating 450 prophets of Baal with fire called down from heaven (1 Kings 18:16-46), fled into the desert and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:3-5).
So how can we overcome these periods of joylessness? We can see how these same people overcame their bouts of depression. Job said that, if we pray and remember our blessings, God will restore us to joy and righteousness (Job 33:26). David wrote that the study of God's Word can bring us joy (Psalm 19:8). David also realized that he needed to praise God even in the midst of despair (Psalm 42:5). In Elijah's case, God let him rest for a time and then sent a man, Elisha, to help him (1 Kings 19:19-21). We also need friends that we can share our hurts and pains with (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). It may be helpful to share our feelings with a fellow Christian. We may be surprised to find that he or she has struggled with some of the same things that we are going through.
Most importantly, it is certain that dwelling on ourselves, our problems, our hurts, and especially our pasts will never produce true spiritual joy. Joy is not found in materialism, it is not found in psychotherapy, and it most certainly is not found in obsession with ourselves. It is found in Christ. We who belong to the Lord “glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). To know Christ is to come to have a true sense of ourselves, and true spiritual insight, making it impossible to glory in ourselves, in our wisdom, strength, riches, or goodness, but in Christ—in His wisdom and strength, in His riches and goodness, and in His person only. If we remain in Him, immerse ourselves in His Word, and seek to know Him more intimately, our “joy will be full” (John 15:1-11).
Finally, remember that it is only through God's Holy Spirit that we can find true joy (Psalm 51:11-12; Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). We can do nothing apart from the power of God (2 Corinthians 12:10, 13:4). Indeed, the harder we try to be joyful through our own efforts, the more miserable we can become. Rest in the Lord's arms (Matthew 11:28-30) and seek His face through prayer and Scripture. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

From the Ashes of Iraq: Mesopotamia Rises Again
By: y Alexander H. Joffe
The National Interest
August 20, 2014

The dissolution of the colonial creation named "Iraq" is now almost complete. Perhaps what comes next is a return to the past; not a brutal Islamic "caliphate," but something more basic.
Today, Mesopotamia is reappearing. The term is a Greek word meaning "the land between the two rivers." The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are the defining features, each arising in mountains far to the north of Baghdad. The rivers and their annual floods defined the landscape, the cycle of life and the worldview of civilizations. The deserts to the west and the mountains to the east and far north provided rough boundaries and were liminal spaces related to the center, but yet separate and apart, sunbaked and dangerous. Inside Mesopotamia was a cauldron.
From the Sumerians of the third millennium BCE through the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations of the second and first millennia BCE, to the Abbasids of the eighth century CE and until the arrival of the British in the early twentieth century, the space called Mesopotamia was the container for civilizations that rose and collapsed. Cultures invented writing and built the first cities, growing and shrinking in response to changing river courses and global climate. They conquered and were conquered, traded with surrounding regions, and formed a baggy but recognizable whole—what we call Mesopotamian civilization. Internal distinctions were paramount. Babylonia in the south was dominated by the rivers and the annual flood, irrigation agriculture and seemingly unrelenting heat and mud. Assyria in the northern, rain-fed zone sat amidst undulating plains and foothills. Culturally, Babylonia was older and more developed, the "heartland of cities" going back to 4000 BCE, a primacy that Assyria acknowledged even in periods when they dominated the south. By and large, both shared the same deities and myths, the same aggressive tendencies, and the same fear and loathing of surrounding regions. But competition, warfare and repression were constant. For inhabitants, that is to say the kings and priests whose thoughts we read on clay tablets many millennia later, Mesopotamia the whole, a unity of north and south, was an ideal—the supreme prize, something overseen by the gods—to be aspired to and claimed by quotidian rulers. But, much like the idea of "Iraq," it was conceptual, rather than practical. The south often dominated the north and vice versa, but never for very long.
Then, as now, the neighbors were a problem. One historical parallel seems especially apposite today. The Third Dynasty of Ur was short-lived, existing from around 2212 to 2004 BCE. It arose in southern Mesopotamia after the fall of the Semitic Akkadian Empire and revived the culture of the original or dominant southern ethnic group, the Sumerians. This dynasty created a fanatically integrated state, where temples, palaces and estates spun elaborate networks of supply and whose record keeping was unprecedented. As a territorial state, it was not far-flung; its core area extended only from modern Baghdad south to the Arabian Gulf, but it briefly reached into Iran and Assyria.
Toward the end of the dynasty, however, ruler Su-Sin faced a growing threat, the Amorites. These Semitic-speaking peoples arose somewhere on the middle stretches of the Euphrates River and surrounding steppe-lands in what is, for now, called Syria. Amorites were regarded with contempt and fear by the neo-Sumerians. It was said they did not cultivate grain, nor did they cook their meat. They did not even bury their dead. Whether this terrifying image was correct or was something cultivated by Ur III scribes, Amorites themselves, or both is unknown. But Su-Sin's response was to build a wall—the "wall against the Martu," perhaps 280 kilometers in length—to keep the Amorites out. It didn't work, any better than other walls in antiquity designed to keep barbarians out. The Ur III dynasty collapsed and was followed by centuries of conflict between various dynasties.
Eventually, the Amorites took control, their most famous scion being Hammurabi of Babylon. Like all Mesopotamian dynasties before and since, it was necessary to connect with the greater Mesopotamian tradition; Hammurabi's lineage was crafted to show he descended from ancient kings and was the restorer of justice. Hammurabi's famous "law code" described him as the pious defender of widows and orphans, when in fact he was their maker. No surprise that Saddam Hussein was often depicted with Hammurabi and with Nebuchadnezzar, destroyer of the temple in Jerusalem. Similarly, ISIS' claims to the Islamic "caliphate," to the restoration of glory and piety can be viewed through the same lens. In Mesopotamia, the past is always charter.
As concession to divisive reality, the Ottoman Turks had ruled Mesopotamia with three administrative units, in which a bewildering assortment of ethnic groups coexisted uncomfortably. About the Sunni-dominated state created by Britain, their "Iraq," a revived medieval term, little more need be said. The claptrap monarchy they invented gave way to a repressive and then tyrannical "republic." As it happened, America disposed of Saddam Hussein, although the Arab Spring may have done the same. In a historical irony, an act of imperialist intervention thus undid a previous one.
So it is as well with Syria, now divided into warring territories along lines familiar three thousand years ago. Many, especially ISIS itself, pointed to the vehement erasure of the so-called "Sykes-Picot" line, the 1916 boundary between British and French spheres of influence, from which the borders of Iraq and Syria were drawn. ISIS even bulldozed the berm that marked this mostly arbitrary line.
The symbolism of Sykes-Picot in the minds of Westerners and Islamists alike is telling, if nothing else, of the psychological impact of the last century. Their borders, drawn with thick pencils on imprecise maps, looked to the future, to a Middle East under Western domination. Iraq, and Syria, created holes where none existed.
Iraq has fractured along traditional lines; Kurdistan in the north, the Sunni regions around Baghdad and west toward the Euphrates and the Shiite regions of the south. These correspond roughly to Assyria and Babylonia, and the swing zones in the middle over which they fought endlessly. Hordes more terrifying than the Amorites—judging from their tweets of mass murder and crucifixion—rush in from the west while Persia struggles to defend its Shiite vassal state in Baghdad.
More of what is old is new again. ISIS threatens the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates, which if destroyed, would unleash catastrophic floods, much as the Assyrian king Sargon II did in 710 BCE against rebellious Babylonian ruler Merodach-Baladan. Cutting off the water supply, as ISIS did when it captured the Fallujah Dam earlier this year, is an even more ancient tactic; the cities of Lagash and Umma had fought a water war around 2500 BCE.
Ethnic cleansing and mass slaughter, proud announcement of the mutilation and execution of captives as nearly religious expressions of power, arbitrary decisions to provision or starve captive populations—all these are ancient Mesopotamian patterns of conflict. Only the destruction of Islamic religious buildings and sites by ISIS is truly new; Mesopotamian dynasties were fastidious about maintaining or restoring the cults and temples of conquered city-gods, even though the gods' statues might "choose" to dwell in the conqueror's city.
Geography is the container for cultures and helps create their possibilities and limits. Iraq was always a figment, as well as an ideal held by people who, for a few decades following the European style, thought of themselves as a nation-state. But underlying dynamics have proven stronger, and Iraq is no more. The ancient cauldron returns and decades of warring tribes and dynasties likely await.
**Alex Joffe is editor of The Ancient Near East Today, the monthly e-newsletter of the American Schools of Oriental Research. He is also a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Hamas assassinations prompt calls for revenge in Lebanon
Mohammed Zaatari| The Daily Star
SIDON, Lebanon: At the Khaled Ibn al-Walid Mosque in the southern Palestinian Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp Friday, Hamas was accepting congratulations rather than condolences on the occasion of the deaths of three of its commanders. Pictures of the Hamas leaders and other fallen heroes adorned the walls, while chants glorifying the assassinated leaders echoed throughout the mosque.
As the month-old Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip continued Thursday, Israel managed to assassinate three of Hamas’ top commanders by bombing a four-story building in Rafah.
But although the attack has been painted as large blow to the movement’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, not everyone sees it that way.
“I don’t consider the assassination of the three leaders as a setback,” said Ahmad Abdul Hadi, a Hamas official. “When we want to achieve something great for the Palestinian cause, sacrifice is inevitable.”
Abdul Hadi told The Daily Star that the Palestinian resistance in Gaza had been winning the war ever since fighting began in early July, adding that the Israelis had nothing left but targeting innocents and destroying houses.
“ Hamas isn’t new to sacrifices, it had martyrs in the past such as Sheikh Ahmad Yassine, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi,” he said. “As Palestinians, our wounds mend quickly.”
During the movement’s Friday meeting in the mosque, tens of speakers belonging to Lebanese and Palestinian organizations praised the Palestinians for their resistance and persistence in the face of Israel.
The Hamas official also had something to say about the negotiation process, which has dragged on for weeks and collapsed earlier this week amid a fresh outburst of rockets and air raids.
“The Palestinian negotiators in Cairo were aware that they were in a manipulative environment,” Abdul Hadi said. “They knew that the negotiations had a lot to do with the struggle between the different parties in the region and with the assistance provided to Israel.”
He said the delegation had dealt with the situation very smoothly to make sure that the demands were achieved, but all the deception and bluffing had prevented things from working out.
ase-fire gives us an advantage in the field and on the humanitarian level,” Abdul Hadi said. According to him, Israel wanted to end the war, but it and its allies wanted to make sure that two things wouldn’t be achieved: “They wanted to make sure that the Palestinian resistance wouldn’t win.”But the Palestinian delegation held its ground, and refused to make any compromises unless their demands were met.
“In a deceptive move, the enemy was monitoring the resistance and the fighters through spying devices and with the help of nearby and far-away countries,” Abdul Hadi said.
“After we discovered that, we cut off the negotiations.”
Many Palestinians are now eagerly awaiting Hamas’ next step, but the expectations are of violence rather than further attempts at dialogue.
For example, there was an enthusiastic reaction among Palestinians when arrested Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, currently held in an Israeli prison cell, called on his followers to prepare themselves to fight Israel in the West Bank. All eyes are particularly on Abu Obeida, the spokesman of Hamas’ armed wing in Gaza, who is expected to make an announcement that the Palestinian resistance has succeeded in detaining or killing Israeli fighters in retaliation for the assassinations. Abu Obeida, around 40 years old, is well liked among Palestinians, especially members and supporters of Hamas and other Islamist groups. He hides his face behind the Palestinian keffiyeh, and never appears publically except to announce a strong position or an operation against Israel. Outside the Khaled Ibn al-Walid Mosque, Palestinian youngsters in black T-shirts held plastic guns while they competed with each other over the best impression of Abu Obeida announcing an operation that has killed Israelis.
“To the red keffiyeh wearer [Abu Obeida], I am waiting for you to announce the death of an Israeli Chief of Staff,” Mohammad al-Hasan said. “We want to hear about Israeli captives ... we want bombings.”
“I love Abu Obeida because his voice is [strong],” Haroun Mohammad Ahmad said. “Make us happy, we are waiting for you.”

Iraq requires a long U.S. attention span
Michael Young| The Daily Star
The reversal suffered by the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, at Mosul dam has raised exaggerated expectations about the ability to defeat the group. The Islamic State will remain a major headache, even as there is still no comprehensive strategy in place to defeat it.
Much has been made of the Obama administration’s military intervention in defense of the Kurdish areas. Only when Irbil was threatened, the argument goes, did Washington deploy its aircraft. That’s only partly true. Turning back the Islamic State in the north was as much a priority for Iraqis in Baghdad and Basra as for those in Kurdistan. And Iraqi special forces were as involved in the takeover of Mosul dam as were the Kurdish peshmerga being rearmed by the West.
The real question is not why the United States entered the fray. It is where the campaign to defeat the Islamic State is going. Until now there have been only haphazard signs of what the U.S. administration intends to do, with President Barack Obama hesitating to outline the specifics of a sustained campaign for fear it may turn the American public, which has no appetite for a new war in the Middle East, against him. The Islamic State’s beheading of American journalist James Foley was apparently designed to exploit this mood.
On the political side, the United States was able to help oust Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In this regard it found an objective ally in Iran, which though it had intended to keep Maliki in office, was compelled to eject him when a significant number of Iraqi Shiite leaders, above all Ayatollah Ali Sistani, refused to endorse a third term for the prime minister.
Washington is hoping that Haider al-Abadi, Maliki’s replacement, will form a government that is more inclusive of Sunnis, and that can spearhead a counteroffensive against the Islamic State. In parallel to this, the United States is seeking to work out an arrangement between Baghdad and the Sunni tribes, one that involves devolving regional military decision-making to the Sunni-dominated governorates, and putting the forces there back on the payroll of the central government.
That’s a good plan, but one should watch out for Iranian displeasure. In recent weeks Tehran has seen several things in Iraq that it does not like: a return of the American military, which even if it does not fundamentally threaten Iranian hegemony today, does complicate the picture significantly; Western arming of the Kurds, which may help advance a project of Kurdish independence; the potential arming of anti-Islamic State Sunnis, which down the road could undermine the power of the Shiite-dominated central government; and signs of affirmation from Iraq’s Shiites, who compelled Iran to fall in line with their desire to oust Maliki, though he served Iran well.
Iran is caught in a tight spot today. If it derails Abadi’s efforts to unify Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites against the Islamic State, this could bolster a jihadist group that endangers vital Iranian interests in Iraq and Syria. And if it goes along with American preferences, it could see a lessening of its influence in Iraq, as Sunnis and Kurds gradually break away from Baghdad and view America as their primary mediator with the capital.
In Iran’s favor, as always, is America’s short attention span and Obama’s reluctance to play a deeper role in internal Iraqi politics. Even America’s military plan against the Islamic State is ambiguous. Obama has implied that the campaign may take some time, but he has not defined what the conditions are to end it. Instead, the administration has held to an absurd rationale, saying that American military intervention is designed above all to protect the safety of Americans in Iraq.
Obama needs to say this for domestic political reasons. However, it is worrisome if Americans swallow such nonsense while remaining oblivious to the very real dangers posed by the Islamic State. In this regard, Foley’s murder could backfire. Far from pushing Americans to oppose military intervention, it could have the effect of making them rally around the president in fighting the abomination that is the Islamic State.
More significant is what does the United States do about the Islamic State’s presence in Syria? For now the subject is off the table. But the reality is that any effort to push the Islamic State out of Iraq risks simply displacing the problem to Syria, where the group has made important gains.
The regime of President Bashar Assad is happy to portray itself as an enemy of terrorism, as this helps it to survive politically. It is not inconceivable that Assad will soon be part of a de facto anti-terrorism alliance, as he has been planning for three years after facilitating the emergence of the danger he is now fighting. Yet, if Iraq’s army can collapse as suddenly as it did, there are no guarantees that Syria’s army, worn down by years of battle, will not do the same. Assad’s confidence may be misguided.
Obama’s craven Syria policy has only helped the Islamic State. The president has promised military assistance to “moderates,” as much to fight the Islamic State as the Syrian regime. But the soonest this can happen, if it happens at all, is next spring. By then there will be no moderates left, as extremist groups, above all the Islamic State, overcome them. This shows why an Iraq-centric American military plan, as welcome as it is, may be neutralized by the absence of a Syria component.
American administrations shy away from multifaceted entanglements. The focus is now on Iraq, only Iraq. But such an approach poses risks, particularly with the administration having failed to define its aims there beyond protecting Americans. Obama may spoil everything if he fails to adequately address the complexity of the situation in Iraq and Syria.
***Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

Nouri al-Maliki still doesn’t get it
Saturday, 23 August 2014
Abdulrahman al-Rashed /Al Arabiya
Nouri al-Maliki, who had described the appointment of Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as a “conspiracy” and that removing him from office violates the constitution, is today offering advice on how to save the country from a crisis he had created! Maliki, the prime minister who was pulled out like a bad tooth, wants Iraq to continue bleeding. He is now advising Abadi on how to govern! Don’t let them overrule you, don’t accept to be commanded, use the majority to impose the government you want, so goes Maliki’s advice.
What a twisted man, haunted by personal, trivial conflicts. Maliki wants his successor to carry on personal political battles, at a time when Iraq is going through its most serious crisis in 10 years. The crisis is even more serious as there is no longer an international force supporting Iraq nor is there an internal force that can be relied upon. The only solution is a successful national salvation project that safeguards the regime and an integrated Iraqi state.
It is not mandatory that Haider al-Abadi form a government made up of the parliamentary majority because the parliament does not reflect the true majority of Iraq, it would not be able to prevent the risks of disintegration and nor would it ensure the support to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda and rebels! So, what would a government formed by the political majority, like Maliki has advised, be able to do? Nothing. It is just a legal statement that cannot exist on the ground.
What really exposes Maliki’s ignorance is that he is actively seeking to form a parliamentary “majority” that ensures designating him for the formation of a government and ensures a majority of raised hands in parliament. It does not matter how people think outside the walls of the Green Zone. His main concern is on concocting a “majority,” buying votes and preventing opponents from winning; this is the axis of his political project.
Maliki has sunk into the despotism that eventually blinded him. He can no longer see that the country is sliding toward disintegration and terrorism because of his insistence on excluding all those who are not of his team and all the teams that he cannot control.
The narrow-minded Maliki is now urging his successor Abadi to reject what he described as “dictates,” advising him to resort to the formation of a majority government!
If the parliamentary majority was a successful project, Maliki would not have been forced to step down. How can he advise his successor to do so?
The demands of Iraqi citizens are not dictates. The Iraqi people are speaking out to express their desire to cooperate. Otherwise, these forces would have been entrenched in their regions, holding on to their weapons. It is not wrong for these angry groups to ask for the release of the detainees who are still without trial, and for the re-examination of the cases of those who were sentenced in suspicious circumstances under the Maliki’s clampdown. These are not dictates; they are trying to redress past mistakes and create a healthy and united Iraq. Under Maliki’s term, one third of the country was lost to terrorism; another third wanted separation, and the remaining third wanted Maliki out and does not want a another tyrant in power.
The man who ruined Iraq
Abadi should not listen to the man who ruined Iraq. He should see how all the Iraqi forces, even the opposition, are willing to cooperate with him; a scene that has not been witnessed since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Only a fanatic man like Maliki will not be able to see this positive spirit because he believes that Iraq is the Green Zone, where he works and sleeps.
“Maliki wants his successor to carry on personal political battles, at a time when Iraq is going through its most serious crisis in 10 years”
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
The political process pledged by the prime minister-designate is not math. It is not just counting the number of raised hands in the Iraqi parliament; rather it seeks to bridge the gap, instill confidence, persuade opponents to participate, prepare for reconciliation between Iraqi parties and form a national government uniting the Iraqis. This is not a recipe that would work for Maliki whose euphoria of ruling Iraq made him unable to think rationally.
In his opinion, the parliament became limited to those who voted for him; justice prevailed through security investigators and judges who were appointed by him; and whoever disagreed with him was a rebel who was immediately accused of treason and conspiring.
Those who listened to his speech last Wednesday realized that Maliki does not understand why he was forced to stand down, nor does he understand that al-Abadi has come to save Iraq from his mistakes.

Syria and Iraq crises are joined at the hip
Saturday, 23 August 2014
Eyad Abu Shakra /Al Arabiya
Has the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) become the only phenomenon that sums up all the problems and complications of the Middle East?
I am not one who is keen to look for excuses for ISIS and its like, nor do I spend sleepless nights searching for mitigating circumstances and helpful explanations for its heinous crimes. No, there are no excuses and no mitigating circumstances for those whose only means of control, government, and communication is murder. I do not believe that in the 21st century, amid an information technology revolution, we can allow an extremist group that belongs in the Dark Ages to hijack Islam and claim monopoly over it. Its brand of Islam has nothing in common with the enlightenment and scientific achievements given to the world by the alumni and scholars of Gundeshapur, Baghdad, Fez and Cordoba.
There can be no excuses, either for ISIS or similar gangs, that—without consulting the rest of the world’s Muslims—are hell-bent on distorting their religion, destroying their lives and the future of their children, and pushing them into an unequal fight with the international community. The latter could easily eliminate them were it not for the oppositions of two distinct blocs: the first, made up of progressives and liberals who in principle refuse to meet violence with violence, and a second, comprised of racists and extreme conservatives who believe that the societies that produced Islamist extremists deserve to live with their atrocities as “punishment” for incubating them.
Poisonous regional climate
With all of the above in mind, I believe we must not allow unacceptable and dangerous extremists – or so-called “Takfirists” (those who declare rivals as infidels) —to be the one and only face of our region and its complications. We must also draw attention to the fact that the poisonous regional climate has allowed dubious agents, thugs and despots to recruit brainwashed youth and use them in a battle with an aim to derail Syria’s popular uprising and undermine its credibility.
“Had the international community forced Assad to abdicate like it did with Maliki, it would have spared Syria political collapse”
Eyad Abu Shakra
Unfortunately, one has to admit that the leaders of the Syrian uprising were too slow to distance themselves from those who infiltrated it, extremists who crept in under the pretext of aiding it before turning their weapons on it. It must also be admitted that some states and media organizations in Arab and Muslim countries are indeed looking for excuses and explanations. They have been publishing and broadcasting foolish and irresponsible comments claiming that atrocities “are natural reactions against the injustice” suffered by Muslims and “Islamists” in our countries. I think this is poorly conceived demagoguery, as well as attempts to pander to those frustrated by the Palestinians’ suffering under heavy-handed Israeli occupation, the unease others feel about Iranian expansionism – with the American and Israeli blessing – throughout Iraq, the Levant, the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, in addition to the failure of some Islamist political parties to hold on to power after their short-lived success in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring.”
The developments that have unfolded over the last few weeks have proven beyond doubt that there are some practices that cannot and should not be tolerated, especially when they reopen old religious, sectarian and ethnic wounds that the world has never really forgotten. Here we need to recall how the criminal Syrian regime claimed to be a protector of minorities in order to hide its crimes and corruption. Indeed, it has succeeded in portraying the uprising as an “extremist Takfirist movement,” and has promoted this lie to a Western audience willing to believe it and a ruling Israeli establishment that has been interested in playing this card for decades.
As if all this was not enough, even Iran has joined the fight against the Takfirists—the same Iran that specialized in seizing Western hostages in Iran, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East during the 1980s and early 1990s; the same Iran that gives arms and money to the same Islamic groups in Palestine, that it is currently fighting in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, where it regards them as “incubators of Takfirism.”
Attacking ISIS in Iraq
Where do we stand now? Well, after Barack Obama’s pronouncement that the Iranian thinking was “strategic” and not “suicidal,” which paved the way to serious regional cooperation between Washington and Tehran, he recently revisited his derogatory description of Syria’s moderate opposition as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” who could not defeat a regime supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Furthermore, after Washington and other Western capitals ignored Bashar Al-Assad’s destruction of Syria’s cities, his use of chemical weapons and barrel-bombs, covering their betrayal with empty threats, they are now moving against ISIS… in Iraq.
Washington has moved swiftly and decisively—and rightly so—to put an end to ISIS’s brutal genocide against Christians and other minorities in northern Iraq. It also acted swiftly and decisively to stop Nouri Al-Maliki’s political blackmail, which made the assault by ISIS and its allies on Mosul, Sinjar, and even Jalawla near the Iranian border, possible.
It is absolutely right for Washington and Paris to attack ISIS, and to work to save Iraq from the abuses of the ex-premier Maliki and his associates. What is not right, however, is to pursue two different approaches and adopt double standards vis-à-vis Iraq and Syria, as the political and security atmosphere is the same in both countries.
Assad to abdicate like Maliki?
Enabling Assad, whose regime is dependent on a blatantly sectarian regional project, has helped the creation and development of an extremist counter-reaction. Had the international community early on shown more willpower and decisiveness, and forced Assad to abdicate like it did with Maliki, it would have spared Syria political collapse, sectarian fragmentation, and massive devastation, not to mention the emergence of ISIS, whose fighters entered its territory from all over the world.
What the international community is currently doing in Iraq is necessary but by no means sufficient. Attacking ISIS, and saving what can be saved of Iraq’s identity through a broadly based government, excluding those with blood on their hands, must be the prescription for Syria too.
In Syria there is lethal civil strife as well as a land that has become a destination for foreign extremists. This means it will be impossible to achieve a humane and viable political solution if a regime that has committed genocide and ethnic and sectarian cleansing remains.

A week of hellish annual remembrances in Egypt, Syria
Saturday, 23 August 2014
Hisham Melhem /Al Arabiya
This is a week of hellish annual remembrances. One year ago, more than 1,400 people in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus perished after struggling mightily to breathe, writhing in excruciating pain, after being bombed with sarin gas by their own government. Days earlier, in the distant streets of Cairo, Egypt at least 1,150 demonstrators were horrifically killed by live bullets at close range, also by their own government.
Both remorseless attacks were premeditated and carried out methodically and in cold blood. The attackers were secure in the knowledge that they will escape retribution. And they were right. Both attacks will live in infamy. The chemical attack in Ghouta was the worst of its kind since the Assad regime began its systematic campaign to eliminate its domestic opponents.
The violent crackdown in Rabaa al-Adawiya was by far the bloodiest day in the modern history of Egypt. The men who ordered the attacks, Assad of Syria and Sisi of Egypt are still in power, a sickening testament to the resilient brutality of Arab autocrats and despots and the total absence of political and moral accountability in Arab societies.
What is most jarring about the two men now, is that Sisi’s metamorphosis from a coup leader to a legitimate president has been complete, with the stamp of approval from the Obama administration, and Assad finds that his savagery is being overlooked by a growing number of “realists” who roam the hallways of America’s think tanks, and among columnists and former officials who are calling for a tacit alliance with him to fight the new monstrous entity in the region the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS.
A year of living in impunity
A year later, the victims and their memory are being dishonored. In a brazen act, a spokesperson for Egypt’s foreign ministry claimed that his government is closely following the protests in Ferguson, a suburb of the city of St. Louis, MO over the killing of a young unarmed African American by a white policeman, adding that Egypt “called on U.S. authorities to exercise restraint and deal with the protests in accordance with U.S. and international standards.” The contemptuous statement came just days after the anniversary of the slaughter at Rabaa, and days after Egyptian authorities refused to allow Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth to enter Egypt to brief journalists and diplomats in Cairo on HRW’s report on the bloody crackdown in July and August 2013. In the months that followed Rabaa, the U.S. has agonized publicly and privately over the military coup in Egypt and reluctantly imposed a limited arms embargo. But with the passage of time, and with Egypt’s continuing struggle against violent Islamists in Sinai as well as in the streets of major cities, arm shipments were resumed, while the pro forma talk in Washington about Egypt’s return to the democratic track kept diminishing steadily.
“A year later, the victims and their memory are being dishonored”
Hisham Melhem
In the year that followed the chemical attack on Ghouta, the number of casualties in Syria doubled and has topped 191,000 according to U.N. rights Chief Navi Pillay. Among the dead were 9,000 children, she said and her team stressed that up to 6,000 people were dying in Syria every month. (It was estimated that 7,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred at Srebrenica in 1995) These horrific statistics mean that Syria is suffering almost a Srebrenica scale massacre every month. In the summer of 2013 President Obama, instead of delivering on his promise to punish the Assad regime militarily, struck a deal with Russia to rid Syria of its stockpile of chemical weapons. The agreement not only saved Assad and his regime, but made his remaining in power imperative to carry out the agreement that was hailed by the Obama administration as a great victory.
Obama’s sheathed sword
Secure in the knowledge that the American sword has been sheathed (Assad understands and fears the old Arab dictum that says: you don’t unsheathe your sword unless you intend to use it) Assad doubled down and cemented his military cooperation with Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite volunteers with the blessing of outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri el-Maliki and intensified his savage barrel bomb campaign against civilian targets in rebel held areas, particularly in Aleppo. He increased his medieval-like campaign of laying siege to cities and towns to starve them into submission. In Arabic this campaign is called التركيع او التجويع “kneel or starve”. In Arabic, they rhyme. For the first time since the First World War people in Syria, particularly the children were dying of malnutrition. The international community oscillated between issuing condemnations and silence.
A Faustian deal?
Even before the hordes of ISIS swept into northwestern Iraq last June, occupying Mosul and threatening Erbil, a number of former officials, notably ambassador Ryan Crocker, researchers at think tanks and columnists began to peddle the notion that Assad may be in charge of a criminal regime, but he is the lesser evil in Syria, and if we wanted to maintain Syria as unitary state and also defeat the Islamists, we have to enter into a tacit alliance with Assad, despicable as this may be. Writing in December 2013 in the New York Times, Crocker who had a stellar career as ambassador to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon said “it is time to consider a future for Syria without Assad’s ouster, because it is overwhelmingly likely that is what the future will be.” Crocker now is calling on the U.S. to launch airstrikes against ISIS fighters in Syria as well as in Iraq.
The proponent of this view claims that Assad does not constitute today nor did he in the past an imminent danger to the U.S. They say that his so-called secular credentials (he wears western suits, speaks some English and married to a wife known for her obsession with expensive haute couture) in addition to the well- known Assad dynasty’s violent opposition to the Islamists, make him a useful, even if repugnant ally. Therefore, a Faustian deal with Assad even if limited or temporary is imperative.
Assad’s bloody legacy
This motley crew of academics and former officials and self-appointed experts on the Middle East and the Islamists, conveniently overlook Assad’s alleged role in sending many jihadists through Syrian borders to kill American soldiers in Iraq, and his well-known record in destabilizing Lebanon, and providing aid and support to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and serving as Iran’s linchpin in the Eastern Mediterranean, all of which do not serve America’s interests. There are also the operational limitations that make such a deal unattractive. Assad does not have enough forces he can rely on to deploy in Northern and Eastern Syria, to retake them from ISIS, and most importantly holding them.
“The Syrians should not be caught indefinitely between the Scylla of ISIS and the Charybdis of Assad”
Hisham Melhem
Moreover, Assad played an important role in nurturing ISIS and coordinating implicitly and in a de facto sense with ISIS and benefitted from the war ISIS waged against the Free Syrian Army and the other Islamists groups fighting him. Even when ISIS controlled the provincial capital at Raqqa, taking the battle to ISIS was never a priority for Assad, who benefitted from the rise of the extreme jihadists to bolster his narrative that he is fighting radical Islamist terrorism and he deserves Western support.
A Faustian deal with Assad will reinforce the already deep Sunni skepticism in President Obama’s intentions, and will alienate many Syrians from the U.S. and may drive them to the arms of the jihadists. Finally the proponent of cooperation with Assad, whose depredations in Syria amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity are essentially telling Syrians, Egyptians and other Arabs by extension, that they are condemned to live in perpetuity either under the boots of military officers and fake “secular” autocrats like Assad, or under the brutal atavistic rule of various groups of Islamists.
In search of a policy
From the beginning of the uprising, the Obama administration’s approach to Syria was marred by wishful thinking, misunderstanding of the regime’s tenacity and savagery and misrepresenting the rebellion and finally by timidity, dithering and contradictions. Initially, officials at the National Security Council naively believed that there is no reason for the U.S. to intervene in Syria on the side of the peaceful protestors, because the “street” will sweep Assad away the way Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt were driven out of office in mostly peaceful uprisings. When the Assad regime played on the sectarian fissures and militarized the conflict, President Obama came up with his (in)famous statement, this is "somebody else's civil war."
President Obama in the view of many an expert on Syria, made a major blunder, and may have contributed to the rise of the radical Islamists when he rejected in 2012 the advice of some of his senior advisors to arm the Syrian nationalists, mostly defectors from Syria’s armed forces. Later on, under pressure from within and from the region, and with evidence that Assad was using chemical weapons (before the Ghouta attack) Obama agreed to provide limited military aid to ”moderate” rebels.
In the meantime there were those in the administration who did not mind Syria becoming a theater of death where the unsavory forces of Iran, Hezbollah and other Shiite volunteers are battling off-shoots of al-Qaeda and other assortments of extremist Sunni jihadists. President Obama was at his most disingenuous when he mischaracterized the Syrian conflict as “a professional army that is well-armed and sponsored by two large states (Russia and Iran)… fighting a farmer, a carpenter, and engineer, who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict.” President Obama’s conflicting views on Syria came into sharp relief when he told the New York Times recently that the idea of arming the Syrian rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.” This is from the same president who had asked congress a few weeks earlier for $500 million to train and equip Syrian moderate rebels.
Syria: Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis
In Greek mythology Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters cited by Homer in the epic "The Odyssey.” The two monsters were on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina. Scylla was a six-headed sea monster and Charybdis was a whirlpool. And because they were very close, they posed almost a deadly threat to the ships passing through the strait. Homer had Odysseus sailing closer to the monster Scylla and losing few sailors, rather than lose the whole ship in the whirlpool. Today, the Syrians are caught between the Scylla of ISIS and the Charybdis of Assad.
Navigating between the two monsters will require leadership dexterity and skills, perfect sailing conditions, excellent crew and a powerful ship. The only choice for the Syrians is to sail through the strait and put both monsters behind. A lot will depend on the rebels and their ability to reorganize themselves even in their current weak conditions. It is not too late to save the ship and train the crew and chose the Syrian Odysseus.
It is nihilistic to tell or expect the Syrians to choose one of the monsters, when they know in advance that either one will devour them. The United States and its allies (maybe including some in the region) will have to intervene to prevent Syria from falling into the hands of ISIS and other militants, but the best way of guaranteeing this outcome is to support those Syrian nationalists who were fighting the monster who committed the monstrosities that contributed to the creation of ISIS in the first place.
The world has seen recently the depravities of ISIS in Iraq. These depravities are frightening even though the Islamic State is not a state in the traditional meaning of the word and still lacks some of the systematic institutions of coercion. The Syrian state, over the last three and a half years has used its institutions of coercion to the fullest, reducing great and famed cities to wastelands, and in the process uprooting almost 9 million people. Assad’s crimes are the systematic crimes of state machinery, and they dwarf ISIS’ crimes in both Syria and Iraq. But in the end, the Syrians should not be caught indefinitely between the Scylla of ISIS and the Charybdis of Assad.

Israeli army set for ground strikes in Gaza. Hamas conceals terrorist and suicide ambush units
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 23, 2014/Both sides were preparing Saturday night, Aug. 23, for an impending battle on Gaza Strip soil, debkafile’s military sources report. Heavy IDF ground forces were poised ready to enter the territory for the initial mission of reaching and demolishing the sources of Hamas’s short-range rocket and mortar attacks, which have disrupted the lives of neighboring Israeli communities and forced their mass evacuation.
Hamas has been firing those short-range weapons from 3-7 km inside the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian extremists escalated the barrage in the last 48 hours as a provocation, daring the IDF to send in the forces massed around its borders.
All the signs point to Israeli forces preparing for limited ground strikes in the first stage.
Hamas spent Saturday deploying its strength to waylay an Israeli incursion. Whole brigades were pushed underground into tunnels and placed on preparedness. Groups of suicide killers were hidden in orchards ready to ambush advancing Israeli troops.
The decision by Israel and Hamas to raise the stakes of the conflict to another ground engagement in the Gaza Strip was dictated by a string of new developments, which made a final clash of arms unavoidable.
1. At their meeting in Qatar, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas failed to talk Hamas political secretary Khaled Meshaal around to a compromise to enable a negotiated ceasefire with Israel.
2. Abbas notified Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi Saturday night in Cairo that hope had run out for a political accommodation to resolve the Gaza conflict, because Hamas was set fixedly on full-scale war with Israel. Abbas passed the same tidings to Washington.
3. Hamas rejected every draft accord incorporating a ceasefire, including the draft resolutions to be submitted to the UN Security Council.
4. Abbas informed Washington and Cairo that the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim al-Thani, had conned President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah, when he promised to soften Meshaal on the Gaza crisis, when it fact he proffered Hamas all possible assistance for continuing the war with Israel.