December 13/14

Bible Quotation For Today/Hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh
 Jude/ "a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James,To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. The Sin and Doom of Ungodly People
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.  For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.  And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.  In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones  to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 12-13/14
Is Iran getting a free pass on Iraq and Syria/Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya/December 12/14
Ignoring the orphans of Syria’s uprising/Michael Young/The Daily Star/December 12/14
Gen. John Allen carries a heavy rucksack in the fight against the Islamic State/ David Ignatius/The Washington Post/December 12/14
A Strange Budget for a Strange System/Amir Taheri /Asharq Al Awsat/December 12/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 12-13/14
Salam Meets Hollande, Final Arms Contracts 'May be Signed in Beirut Next Week'
Archbishop Elias Audeh Marks Tueni's Assassination Anniversary with Calls for Unity
Israeli Military Official Says New Security Plan Aims to Counter Hizbullah Threat
Bogdanov Holds More Meetings with Lebanese Officials
Salam: Army to get French arms very soon
No Lebanese Cabinet approval for hostage negotiators: Salam
Lebanese Army arrests son of Salafist leader in north Lebanon
FPM blocked key info from STL: Hamade
Renewed calls for negotiations over vacant Lebanese presidency
Aoun, Geagea dispute a tough nut to crack
Widow recalls harrowing Syrian attack on Arsal
Public Works and Transportation Ministry Ghazi Zeaiter: Build public transport system
Jumblatt to Abu Hamzeh family: I’m not a monster
Renewed calls for negotiations over vacant Lebanese presidency
Senior U.S. Defense Official Highlights Battle against Terrorism during Visit to Lebanon
Army Arrests Two Suspected Terrorists in North
Report: Al-Dulaimi Moved Freely in Lebanon under Husband's Coverup
Jumblat Urges Lebanon to Follow in U.S. Footsteps in Swap Deal

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 12-13/14
EU confirms new Iran nuclear talks on Dec. 17
U.S. Senate committee backs new war powers
Calls for revenge at funeral of Abu Ein
Abdullah, Sisi call for renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
New Israeli centrist bloc must stay sane
Greece condemns gun attack on Israeli embassy
Livni, Herzog attack: Netanyahu weak on terror
Israel blames Palestinian incitement for attack at Athens embassy
Iraqi Turkmen demand formation of own military force
GCC to consider steps to see off foreign interference: Gulf source
Peshmerga only “effective” force against ISIS: official
Tribal chief: ISIS seizes 15 villages in Iraq’s Anbar
EU bans export of jet fuel used by Syrian air force
Middle EastFighting Kills Al-Jazeera Syria Reporter in His Hometown

Jihad Watch Site Posts For Thursday
Jakarta Post’s editor faces blasphemy charge for cartoon mocking Islamic State

Video: Robert Spencer on Islamic State beheading children and more
Afghanistan: Jihad suicide bomber attacks play condemning suicide bombings
Islamic State jihad suicide bomber murders 12 Shi’ite militia fighters
Islamic Republic of Iran: Muslim cleric says “unclean” Baha’is must be banished from city
Philippines: Muslims pledged to Islamic State blamed for bus bombing that murdered 10
UK Muslima gets prison for promoting jihad terrorism on Facebook
Jihadi from Scotland: “Read the Koran…Find out what is jihad”
Ahmadi Muslim leader Qasim Rashid whitewashes Muhammad’s support for torture
Biden tried to lecture Hirsi Ali about Islam
Qatar allows money to flow to Islamic State, other jihad terrorists
Malaysia: Islamic scholars say playing guitar and piano against Islamic law

Salam Meets Hollande, Final Arms Contracts 'May be Signed in Beirut Next Week'
Naharnet/The signing of the final contracts for equipping the Lebanese army with French weapons might take place “next week in Beirut, not in France,” a media report said Friday, as Prime Minister Tammam Salam met French President Francois Hollande at the Élysée Palace. “After the contracts are signed, the file will be sent to Saudi Arabia for approval and it would then pay 20% of the total amount of the grant so that the delivery process can begin,” LBCI television reported. Earlier on Friday, Salam met with Hollande on the third day of his visit to Paris. He said following the talks that discussions on the technical details of a $3 billion Saudi grant have been completed. “The weapons will be delivered to the army as soon as possible,” the premier told reporters. His remarks came a day after he told Lebanese expatriates that the delivery of French arms under the grant would take place in the coming weeks. The grant was announced last December by former President Michel Suleiman. Under the deal, the money will be used to buy French weapons and equipment for the Lebanese army, which is facing a growing terrorist threat linked to the war in neighboring Syria. Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, who is accompanying Salam, has discussed with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian the details of the arms package.
Following his talks with Hollande, Salam said France is following up the issue of the presidency and “is trying to assist us to end” the deadlock. Lebanon has been without a head of state since Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May.
Separately, Salam stressed that the Lebanese authorities would not task the Muslim Scholars Committee to negotiate on their behalf in the case of the Lebanese hostages. “I read about the scholars' negotiation request in the newspapers,” Salam told pan-Arab daily al-Hayat in remarks published on Friday. “We haven't tasked anyone,” he stressed. Salam said ministers were united on the case of the soldiers and policemen who were taken hostage from the northeastern border town of Arsal last August. But he later admitted there were differences between the cabinet members on how to resolve their case. The servicemen were taken captive by jihadists from al-Nusra Front group and the Islamic State when they overran Arsal and engaged in bloody clashes with the Lebanese army.

Renewed calls for negotiations over vacant Lebanese presidency
Presidential hopeful Michel Aoun says Taif Accord under threat

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat— Friday, 12 Dec, 2014/There have been renewed calls for negotiations between senior Lebanese politicians ahead of a January deadline after parliament failed, for the 16th time of asking, to elect a new head of state this week. The Lebanese parliamentary speaker postponed the new session until January 7 following a lack of quorum over the vote, with March 8 Alliance legislators continuing to boycott the vote.
March 8 Alliance presidential candidate Michel Aoun tied negotiations over his nomination to the fate of Lebanon after the country passed the 200-day mark without a president this week. Former president Michel Suleiman’s term in office ended on May 25.
Aoun called for negotiations over “the survival of the republic,” warning that he has no intention of withdrawing his nomination unless there are “key changes” in how the state is run.
“The problem is not over electing a certain person as president of the republic but rather over electing the republic and the survival of the republic,” the Free Patriotic Movement party leader said in a press conference following Tuesday’s parliamentary session.
“I will only negotiate with anyone according to this principle, or else I will stay in the [presidential] race,” he added.
Future Movement MP Ahmed Fatfat criticized Aoun’s comments, saying that comparing the presidential race to the fate of the republic is nothing more than an attempt to secure the “highest political price” for the appointment of a “consensus” president. “Aoun has finally recognized that his presidential ambitions will not come true,” Fatfat said.
While the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance is backing Aoun’s presidential bid, the Future Movement-led March 14 Alliance continues to support Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
“Aoun is well aware that the time is not right to talk about a new system of government in light of what is happening in the region and the current balance of power. He is also aware that this ‘other’ system of government would consecrate authority through force of arms [Hezbollah] on the ground,” Fatfat added.
In his earlier press conference, Aoun claimed that the failure of parliament to secure a new president was indicative of a wider failure within Lebanon’s political system. “There is no equal power-sharing in the parliament. There is no partnership or balance and there is no electoral law that respects the stipulations of the National Accord document. There is no balance in implementing the developments projects, and in short, the main articles of the Taif Accord are not being implemented,” Aoun said.
Aoun warned that the Taif Accord, which virtually ended Lebanon’s decades-long civil war and set the stage for Lebanon’s quota-based political system, is under threat. “The Taif Accord is not being implemented and the malicious approach is not ethical,” he said.
However Lebanese MP Farid Al-Khazan, who is a member of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, denied that the presidential candidate is seeking to secure political gains through fear-mongering over the fate of the republic.
“There are no indications that we are on the verge of securing an agreement over the election of a new president, despite the efforts of international envoys,” Khazan told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Free Patriotic Movement parliamentarian said any solution regarding the current stalemate over the election of a new president must come from the Lebanese themselves, not the international community.
“The primary role regarding the issue of the presidency must be for the political parties inside Lebanon to play, not for regional or international players,” he added.

Salam: Army to get French arms very soon
The Daily Star/Dec. 12, 2014
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Friday that the Lebanese Army would receive arms very soon as part of the Saudi-funded French arms deal and that France would help the country overcome the presidential impasse. "France is following up on the presidential issue with us, although it is an internal affair, and it is trying to help us reach the point of electing a president and ending the deadlock,” Salam told reporters after meeting French President Francois Hollande in Elysee Palace in Paris. “I felt a support and an understanding for our situation in Lebanon.” Salam said the two leaders discussed a number of issues, including the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and the need to help the country cope with such overwhelming numbers. “We finished discussing technical issues [of the deal] and the Army will be handed over the arms very soon,” he said. Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil attended the meeting between Salam and Hollande. Salam is on an official visit to the French capital to finalize the arms deal for the ill-equipped Lebanese Army, in which Lebanon is using a Saudi grant of $3 billion to purchase weapons from France. Speaking to Lebanese expatriates in Paris Thursday, Salam said the arms would be delivered in the coming weeks. He also said the French National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission would form a special committee tasked with following up on Lebanese issues and devising proposals to help the country end its crises. France dispatched Jean-François Girault, head of the French Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa office to Beirut earlier this week. He held a series of meetings with several Lebanese officials in a bid to put an end to the lingering presidential vacuum.

No Lebanese Cabinet approval for hostage negotiators: Salam
The Daily Star/Dec. 12, 2014 /BEIRUT: Lebanon has not authorized the Committee of Muslim Scholars to represent the government in negotiations to release the captive servicemen, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said in comments published Friday, adding that political bickering had largely affected the hostage crisis. “I read their [the Committee of Muslim Scholars] request for authorization in the papers. They did not make an initiative as per an authorization and we did not give authorization to anyone,” Salam told Al-Hayat in an interview in Paris. “This is not a deal but a humanitarian case, and whoever makes an initiative is much appreciated.”The committee has met with some ministers, asking the government to officially task them with negotiations to release 25 servicemen held hostage by militants from Nusra Front and ISIS. The group has also urged the government to agree to a swap deal as requested by the gunmen. Their move came after Nusra Front said last week it killed a Lebanese policeman in retaliation for the detention of women and children related to Islamist militants. Nusra Front and ISIS took more than 30 soldiers and policemen hostage during August clashes with the Lebanese Army in the northeastern town of Arsal. Four servicemen have been executed, while Nusra has released at least six. The committee, which has been accused of working in favor of Nusra Front and ISIS, initially withdrew from negotiations after one of its prominent members was attacked on his way to Arsal. Asked about the withdrawal of the Qatari mediator from the negotiations, Salam said he did not know why Qatar halted its efforts in the case "or whether developments in Syria had anything to do with it." Salam said there were differences among Cabinet ministers on how to handle the hostage crisis, preventing the government from making a final decision.
"Political parties that express their viewpoint are not helping because there are clear and big differences in this crisis. If we look at other countries, we see that issues such as these are addressed with utmost secrecy, devoid of political bickering, because they are national cases.” Asked whether he believed Hezbollah's role in Syria had led to the abduction of the soldiers, Salam said: "The abduction happened during a direct confrontation between the Lebanese and ISIS and Nusra Front amid the situation in Arsal with the presence of some 100,000 Syria refugees in a town of 35,000. Consequently, a safe haven [for militants] was created. But, Hezbollah's fighting in Syrian is different issue.” He reiterated that there was a big gap between the policy of dissociation his government adopted and Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian conflict.

Lebanese Army arrests son of Salafist leader in north Lebanon
Antoine Amrieh| The Daily Star/Dec. 12, 2014
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army arrested the son of prominent sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal, the founder of the Salafist Movement in north Lebanon, a security source said Friday. The source told The Daily Star that an Army Intelligence patrol arrested Jaafar Shahhal around midnight in the neighborhood of Zahrieh in the northern port city of Tripoli. The Tripoli-based Dai al-Shahhal, himself wanted by authorities for weapons possession, has acknowledged the arrest, according to El-Nashra website. Shahhal said in remarks published last month that the arrest warrant against him belittled the entire Sunni community and would have consequences. He said the October clashes between Islamist militants and the Lebanese Army in Tripoli would have been worse if he and his allies had supported the battle against the military. “Hezbollah has a lot of influence on many measures and decisions and the way these decisions are carried out in Lebanon,” Shahhal said in a Nov. 4 interview. “The warrant, if it meant anything, signified the low level of treatment that institutions in Lebanon are stooping to, including discrimination.” Many Sunni religious and political figures have repeatedly criticized security forces for discriminating against them and turning a blind eye to Hezbollah, whose fighters are freely crossing the border to fight alongside President Bashar Assad's regime. The Army has arrested dozens of militants and seized a number of arms caches in Tripoli after a four-day battle in October that ended in the defeat of Islamists in the northern city and nearby towns. The military prosecutor issued an arrest warrant against Shahhal and Sheikh Bilal Deqmaq after the Army raided an arms cache at Deqmaq’s residence in late October. Shahhal said the weapons the Army seized belonged to him and demanded their return. Shahhal, who was in Turkey when the arrest warrant was issued, is still outside the country. He is believed to be in Saudi Arabia. Jaafar Shahhal had been arrested, interrogated and released following the discovery of the arms cache.

Aoun, Geagea dispute a tough nut to crack
Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star
Dec. 12, 2014
There has lately been daily activity by numerous delegations shuffling between the Free Patriotic Movement’s base in Rabieh and the Lebanese Forces’ headquarters in Maarab in order to find a solution to the presidential election file, according to parliamentary sources.
Both LF chief Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun believe that the next president should be someone who represents Christians and wields a political and popular presence, the sources said.
However, the longtime dispute between the top two Maronite politicians is still preventing any sort of meeting between the leaders on the topic, especially since Geagea has rejected outright Aoun’s suggestion of restricting the candidacy list to just the two of them.
The Lebanese Forces’ suggestion is that all the parliamentary blocs attend a session for a presidential election, or else meet up independently and agree on a third person. Geagea has confirmed, through the delegates, that he would be happy if any of the four main Maronite politicians are elected – himself, Aoun, Kataeb leader Amine Gemayel or Marada Movement chief Sleiman Frangieh – but that a figure of very high caliber should be chosen. But the answer from Rabieh – Aoun’s residence – is still the same, according to political sources. The only possible solutions are to narrow the candidates down to two names and then hold a parliamentary session to vote on it, or give support to what Rabieh sees as the Maronite leader who has the biggest Christian bloc in Parliament – Aoun.
The only silver lining is that Aoun has expressed a willingness to negotiate, the parliamentary sources said. The FPM leader is still prepared to hold discussions, through mediators or delegates, in the hope of reaching a consensus that will eventually allow a face-to-face meeting between the two Christian leaders. It is within this context that we should view the flurry of movement of international envoys, especially the French ambassador. They are aiming to elect a president other than the four candidates currently under consideration. And unlike Aoun and Geagea, the envoys do not think the future president has to be a strong figure that politically represents the majority of Christians, the sources said.
Still, a meeting between the two leaders is still a distant prospect that requires a U-turn in both leaders’ positions that will likely only be prompted by new local, regional or international considerations.
Bkirki’s role in this context is not important, the sources said, but Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai is in communication with the envoys mediating on the issue.
“I have put so much effort toward reaching the point where the two [Aoun and Geagea] announced their readiness to meet,” former Minister Wadih Khazen told The Daily Star. “And these efforts received internal and external support, especially from the Vatican.”
“In my mediation, I didn’t touch on issues that the two would discuss in case they meet,” Khazen said. “But I think they’re in a tough situation and they no longer have many options except for meeting, communicating and discussing the file.”
A number of FPM deputies stressed that Aoun would welcome Geagea in Rabieh, but only based on a mutual understanding that only a strong Christian leader can be elected president. These lawmakers are convinced that Aoun remains the most eligible candidate for the highest Christian post in the country.The meeting could happen, they said, but the outcome is not certain. The rivalry between the two dates back decades. At the end of the Civil War, Geagea backed the Saudi-brokered Taif Accord to end fighting, while Aoun, then Army commander and head of a transitional military government, refused to recognize it. A war broke out between the two leaders, dubbed a “war of elimination” by Geagea, that killed and wounded thousands and devastated much of the country’s Christian areas.
On May 18, 2005, the two came face to face when Aoun returned to Lebanon from his exile and subsequently went to visit Geagea in his prison cell in an attempt to turn the page on the past. But after Geagea left prison, the disputes continued and gradually became more and more complicated, with each having backed different political alliances ever since.

FPM blocked key info from STL: Hamade
Dec. 12, 2014
Kareem Shaheen| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A top adviser of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri alleged Thursday that Aounist ministers allied with Hezbollah had obstructed international investigations by withholding telecommunications data, in testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
But the defense lawyers of members of Hezbollah accused of complicity in the attack sought to discredit the testimony of MP Marwan Hamade, Hariri’s former economy minister, saying he was politically biased and believed in the guilt of the suspects without the benefit of a fair trial. Antoine Korkmaz, the defense lawyer of Mustafa Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah operative accused of leading the assassination conspiracy, told Hamade that he was not a reliable witness. Korkmaz showed excerpts of interviews conducted by Hamade, including one immediately after the start of trial in which he expressed disappointment that there were lawyers defending the “criminals” accused by the prosecution. “This means you are not a neutral witness and you violated the presumption of innocence,” Korkmaz said. “Even if they were criminals you cannot blame defense lawyers for defending them.” The defense lawyer also showed excerpts of a newspaper interview in which Hamade said the STL indictment showed Hezbollah’s complicity in Hariri’s assassination.
Hamade said the latter statement was of a political nature, and said he was emotional at the start of trial and responded as an individual who had been the target of an attack and knew personally others who were killed during the latest string of assassinations in Lebanon.
The tough cross-examination came on Hamade’s last day of testimony at the STL before his return to Beirut. The former Hariri ally’s testimony focused primarily on the breakdown of relations between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hariri ahead of the latter’s assassination, including alleged direct threats by Assad to Hariri, who was warned by allies to leave Lebanon for his personal safety. Hamade said the tensions with Syria were reflected in relations with Hezbollah, but defense lawyers pushed back, saying Hariri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah were preparing to unveil a comprehensive Sunni-Shiite alliance in 2005. Hamade’s testimony covers the political context in the run-up to Hariri’s killing, which prosecutors hope will reveal the political motive behind Hariri’s assassination. Hamade said that former prosecutor and U.N. commissioner Daniel Bellemare was periodically blocked from accessing crucial telecommunications data by ministers Gebran Bassil, Charbel Nahas and Nicolas Sehnaoui, all part of Gen. Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and allies of Hezbollah. Hamade said the lack of access to the telecoms data often occurred before security incidents in Lebanon and said was the cause of considerable controversy in the Cabinet.
“They stopped providing telecoms data to security agencies despite the objections of Mr. Daniel Bellemare which created a lot of controversy in the government, which we called the government of Hezbollah and which took over control of Lebanon in 2011 with the approval of Bashar Assad and leadership of Najib Mikati,” Hamade said. But Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, the defense lawyer of Hussein Oneissi, another suspect linked to Hezbollah, implied the collection of such vast amounts of phone metadata violated the rights of Lebanese civilians. As telecommunications minister, Hamade had ordered phone companies to cooperate with the investigation. Hamade said the access to telecoms data was necessary to “end impunity” and establish who was targeting Lebanese leaders.
Hamade’s testimony was the first in the second phase of the trial, which will focus on the political context and the reams of telecommunications data gathered by investigators. The prosecution is relying on the data to show that the suspects took part in a conspiracy that involved the surveillance and ultimately the killing of Lebanon’s former premier.

Public Works and Transportation Ministry Ghazi Zeaiter: Build public transport system
Wassim Mroueh| The Daily Star/Dec. 12, 2014
FAYADIEH, Lebanon: In light of the recent road floods, the Public Works and Transportation Ministry has put forth a series of “radical” solutions to the government, including a public bus system. “I presented a full report to the Cabinet about this issue [of road flooding] ... it includes immediate solutions that could take some time and long-term radical solutions,” ministry head Ghazi Zeaiter said. The report was prepared by the ministry and other relevant bodies at his request after several main roads in the country were hit by floods resulting from heavy rainfall last month. Zeaiter said radical solutions required cooperation between several ministries and bodies: “The Public Works and Transportation Ministry, the Energy and Water Ministry, the Interior Ministry, municipalities, the Environment Ministry are all involved.” In what has become an annual occurrence at the start of winter, heavy rainfall last month flooded several Lebanese roads and regions, including a vital tunnel near the airport, trapping motorists for hours inside their vehicles. Similar floods occurred on the highway linking Beirut to Jounieh just weeks earlier. An investigation found that the flooding of the highway in Ghazir was caused by drains blocked by soil, sand and gravel from a nearby construction site in Kesrouan. Zeaiter said the flooding mostly resulted from the failure of other ministries to fulfill their duties: “The municipality and the Interior Ministry should have made sure that the owner of the construction site built a fence around the sand and gravel.” As for the airport tunnel flooding, he attributed it to the overflowing of the Ghadir River, which passes through the southern suburbs of Beirut. This in turn was caused by unauthorized construction shrinking the width of the riverbed from 14 meters to 3 meters in certain areas. Some structures in the country were even built on top of storm drains, he added. As for his ministry, Zeaiter acknowledged there had been a “dereliction” of duties related to monitoring the work of companies it had tasked to clean storm drains on highways linking Beirut to the south, north and the Bekaa Valley. “On several occasions, I sent verbal warnings to some of the companies,” he said. “From now on, [I will make sure] these companies are satisfying the specifications book based on which they were granted the contract.”Zeaiter also implored the public to cooperate with the authorities. “For example, we might ask people not to take a tunnel like the airport tunnel at a specific time when a storm is expected. Or ask them to wait for 30 minutes before going through the tunnel. Zeaiter said the ministry was now fully prepared to deal with any emergency situations caused by storms. Separately, the minister dismissed public transportation in Lebanon as something that “did not actually exist,” and voiced his intention to modify and adopt an old plan to revive the sector. Currently, a private company operates a small number of public buses in Beirut and its suburbs, but the vehicles are in miserable condition and have not been renovated in over a decade. Zeaiter said that according to the plan, Beirut and its suburbs needed 900 new buses. “I am considering whether we operate it jointly with the private sector or whether the private sector manages it alone under the supervision of the Railway and Public Transportation Authority, which would set the price and routes,” the minister said. “I want to go ahead with this plan.”But one of the many obstacles facing the implementation of the plan is the presence of unauthorized structures on many of the suggested routes, he said. Zeaiter added that the construction of a train route linking Beirut to Jounieh, which would put an end to the horrendous traffic on that stretch of road, was awaiting government approval. “The World Bank told me it was ready to offer us a loan. We need to borrow $500 million. It is not an easy plan. It is expensive but it solves a problem.”He added that a funding shortage was behind the delay in finalizing the highway linking Sidon to Tyre.

Jumblatt to Abu Hamzeh family: I’m not a monster
The Daily Star/Dec. 12, 2014
BEIRUT: MP Walid Jumblatt defended his decision to pursue legal actions against his one-time close aide Bahij Abu Hamzeh, accusing his family who has been pleading Jumblatt to drop charges of shedding "crocodile tears." “I know the whole theatre of crocodile tears fomented in front of my house,” Jumblatt wrote in a tweet. “Let justice decide.”Abu Hamzeh’s daughter, sister, brothers other relatives confronted Jumblatt outside his Beirut residence Tuesday in an effort to persuade him to drop charges brought against the disgraced businessman.His daughter begged him to push for father's release, insisting he was innocent. “This decision [to send him to jail] is an execution,” Abu Hamzeh’s daughter told Al-Jadeed TV at the time. "If he goes to jail he will die." In Jumblatt's Twitter rebuttal, he wrote: “I am not that monster pictured by some people.”“Whatever happens to this intruder (Abu Hamzeh) will never affect the image of his respectable family,” he added, hailing the Abu Hamzeh family for its historic ties with the Jumblatts. But he stressed that all he wanted was “the money back to the Safa club.”Abu Hamzeh was sentenced last month to two years in jail and ordered to pay $3.45 million on charges of breach of trust and embezzling funds from the Safa football team, which is sponsored by Jumblatt, according to judicial sources.

Widow recalls harrowing Syrian attack on Arsal
Elise Knutsen| The Daily Star/Dec. 12, 2014
BEIRUT: Salha Ezzedine Hujeiri was cooking dinner for her family and guests Monday night when the first rocket struck her home in the outskirts of Arsal. “We started running, and crying and I said ‘God, please protect my children.’” The second rocket struck several minutes later, leaving her husband, Mohammad Hussein Hujeiri, and 6-year-old son Yehya dead. The Lebanese family was the victim of an apparent aerial bombardment. A high-ranking Lebanese Army source said the Syrian air force was responsible for the attack, but knew little else. “Honestly we have no details,” he said. Over the past year, the Syrian air force has repeatedly conducted strikes on the outskirts of Arsal where militants affiliated with ISIS and the Nusra Front have ensconced themselves. The Lebanese Army does not typically repel such attacks. Currently recovering in a hospital in Arsal, Hujeiri described the harrowing experience by phone. After the second rocket struck their home, Hujeiri herded her family into a car driven by an acquaintance. Her three surviving children were seated next to the corpses of their brother and father, who had both suffered head injuries. “We left the house at 6:10,” she said. Those wounded in the outskirts of Arsal are treated at crude first-aid stations, said Dr. Bassem al-Faris, who works in the Al-Rahme hospital in Arsal, where the Hujeiris are being treated. With one of her children requiring emergency surgery, however, Hujeiri decided to plead her case with the servicemen posted at the checkpoint into Arsal. “At first the Army refused to let us pass,” Hujeiri said. Finally, at 8:15, the family arrived at the hospital. A 7-year-old son is currently recovering from emergency abdominal surgery. Her daughter, age 4, is physically healthy but “psychologically doing very badly,” Dr. Faris said. “She saw her brother’s brain.”The same rocket attack wounded another Lebanese man and killed two Syrians, Faris added. Approximately 8,000 people, mostly Syrian refugees, are effectively trapped in the outskirts of Arsal, unable to pass the Lebanese military checkpoint, he said. As both the Lebanese and Syrian armies continue to pound the badlands between Arsal and the Syrian border, it is not clear whether the Lebanese authorities have any plan or clear intent to aid its citizens who reside in the war zone. According to a government source, there is “no kind of official estimate” of the number of Lebanese families who remain in the outskirts of Arsal, and “no discussion” of how to ensure their safety and care. Ahmad Fliti, the deputy mayor of Arsal, said 3,000 Lebanese remain in the outskirts of Arsal, as well as 30,000 Syrian refugees. “They are not receiving any aid. They are only getting what they grow and raise themselves,” the mayor added. While the checkpoint linking the outskirts of Arsal to the town is technically closed, he said Lebanese citizens who live in the remote region are normally allowed to pass.

Gun sales rise as threat of violence mounts
Samya Kullab| The Daily Star/Dec. 12, 2014
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s fragile stability might deter investment, but the fear associated with the rising number of refugees and the presence of militants along the country’s fraying borders has bolstered the business of arms dealing. “Trading weapons is like trading stocks, it goes up and down depending on the situation,” said Abu Youssef, an arms dealer based in the Metn area who agreed to be interviewed about how the surge in weapons sales has affected his business directly and how he operates.
“In the past three month we’ve gotten a lot of work because people who’ve never owned weapons before are buying to protect themselves.” Demand for Abu Youssef’s weapons peaked after the Aug. 2-6 clashes in Arsal, when militants affiliated with ISIS and the Nusra Front overran the northeast border town and captured 30 servicemen. Twenty-five remain in their custody, after four were executed. Before the clashes, Abu Youssef would send his weapons to Syria during the early days of the uprising and catered to several factions. His consignments have also made their way to north Lebanon during the tenuous days of the Tripoli battles between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh. With the threat of spillover from Syria into Lebanon, his focus has shifted to Christians who appear to be purchasing weapons at an unprecedented rate because they feel threatened, Abu Youssef says. Recently his arms made their way to residents in Al-Qaa, a Christian town on the border which lies just 20 kilometers from Arsal.
“People are afraid, when they watch the news they start believing that ISIS will come to their doorstep. They become suspicious of every Syrian they see,”But Abu Youssef, a Christian himself, says he sells to all sects. Particularly in high demand are light-weight hand-held weapons, such as handguns, grenades and PKC machine guns. Abu Youssef also takes requests for larger weapons, such as RPGs. One month after the August clashes, he sold 80 rifles, 70 machine guns, six PKCs and several grenades. “And a lot of ammunition,” he adds. Before that time, on average, Youssef would sell one or two guns a month at best. “We used to wait for the clashes [in Tripoli] to start, and we would sell maybe five handguns and two machine guns per month.”
Since reports emerged of ISIS operating sleeper cells in the Bekaa Valley and north Lebanon, the rate of sales continued to increase, he says. “There is no government to protect us, so we have to protect ourselves,” he reasons.
Abu Youssef increases the price of his stock whenever demand rises. Before the August clashes, for instance, he sold his machine guns for $1,300-$1,400, today they are sold in the black market for $1,800. Likewise, RPGs, once $1,500, are now sold for $4,000, nearly three times the original price. The price of PKCs rose to $3,000 from $2,000.
He sells his most popular item, the GLOCK pistol, for $4,200, it was previously $2,800. “It’s American,” he says, adding with the assurance of a good merchant “If someone wants a piece, I can get it in 15 minutes.”
Like any tradesman of illicit goods, the dealer is reticent to detail where his supplies come from. “A little bit from Tripoli, a little bit from the southern suburbs,” was all he was willing to say. He learned the tricks of the trade from his father, an arms dealer who supported the Lebanese Forces during Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War. “That’s how everyone knows me.”
Abu Youssef was raised around weapons, there was always one lying around somewhere in the house, he recalls. It was easier doing business during his father’s anarchic times. “My dad would carry 20 guns and RPGs and cart them around in the open in those days.”
“It’s not like I dreamt of following my father’s footsteps, it was all I knew,” he explained, The arms dealer is careful with client transactions. For one thing, he never meets them directly, but employs mediators to make the exchange. He never has to worry about transporting large weapons, either. “We have something that protects us,” he explains, refusing to elaborate when asked whether he was alluding to political cover. With other arms dealers, he is selective. “We have a network, if someone is missing a piece, the other will help out.”
While he has noticed more dealers cropping up these days, the “big dealers” remain at the helm. The rookies, he explains, might buy a weapon at a time and sell it to turn a marginal profit. “You need to be well connected and supported by someone to be able to operate on a big scale.” Abu Youssef has been caught dealing arms on two occasions but only detained temporarily. “The government knows there are arms dealers, but as long as you operate within the prescribed limits they won’t come after you.”
According to a law issued June 1959, unlicensed arms dealers are punishable by law, which carries a prison sentence of six months to three years. Both times Abu Youssef was caught because he sold weapons that the authorities considered crossing the line. On one occasion, this entailed a soldier’s rifle that an officer had sold him. What differentiates a small-time dealer from a big one, is that the latter has the political cover to sell any kind of weapon. Despite the high demand, dealers won’t sell to just anybody. He goes to great lengths through his mediator to make sure the client can be trusted. For instance, he refused to sell a mortar to a man in the Bekaa Valley in September. “It was too big a weapon and something felt off.” But still, he is unconcerned by the idea that one day his weapons might fall into the wrong hands. “If I thought that way I wouldn’t work.”

Calls for revenge at funeral of Abu Ein
Agence France Presse/Dec. 12, 2014
RAMALLAH, Palestine: Thousands of Palestinians Thursday mourned a senior official who died after a confrontation with Israeli troops, while the Israeli Army sent reinforcements and dispersed protesters in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian leadership blamed Israel for the “killing” of 55-year-old Ziad Abu Ein, as tensions threatened to boil over into another round of violence in occupied Palestine. Officials and onlookers streamed into the Ramallah headquarters of President Mahmoud Abbas for the funeral procession, said a correspondent for the Associated Free Press. Uniformed Palestinians carried Abu Ein’s coffin, draped in a Palestinian flag, as nationalist songs blared and mourners chanted “Revenge!” and “Your blood will not be spilled in vain!” He was buried at a cemetery in Al-Bireh on the outskirts of Ramallah. Schools closed in a day of mourning and posters of Abu Ein appeared on walls throughout the city. A short distance away, additional Israeli troops and border guards deployed in anticipation of tensions with mourners and protesters, an army spokeswoman said, deemed especially necessary given the cemetery’s proximity to the Jewish settlement of Psagot. Police reported minor clashes in several places as Palestinians threw stones at security forces in Psagot, as well as in the West Bank villages of Nabi Saleh and Qalandia, and the city of Hebron. Abu Ein died Wednesday after a confrontation with Israeli soldiers during an anti-settlements protest march by roughly 300 Palestinians, who intended to plant olive trees as a symbolic act, an AFP photographer said.
Troops fired tear gas, three soldiers grabbed Abu Ein and he was struck in the chest during the confrontation. Videos circulating online showed the soldiers pushing him firmly in the chest and neck.
“After hearing the results of the postmortem, the Palestinian government holds Israel fully responsible for the killing of Ziad Abu Ein,” government spokesman Ihab Bseiso told reporters in Ramallah Thursday. A Palestinian minister said the postmortem, which had been carried out by Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian doctors, had shown that Abu Ein was killed by the actions of the troops. “The reason for the death of Abu Ein was his being hit by [Israeli] occupation troops and because of the heavy use of tear gas,” Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh told AFP. Israel’s Health Ministry said the death was caused by a “blockage of the coronary artery” which “could have been caused by stress.” The incident prompted Abbas to threaten measures in response, saying “all options are open for discussion and implementation,” but without elaborating. Israel urged calm, and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon expressed regret over the death, saying a military inquiry had begun. “Security stability is important for both sides,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message through one of his aides to Abbas in which he “pointed to the need to calm the situation and act responsibly,” his office said. However, hard-line Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lashed out at the PA for accusing Israel over the death. He said the accusations were false, disputed by the autopsy’s findings and “intended at inciting the Palestinian public.” The death of Abu Ein, who was a former PA deputy minister and was responsible for dealing with the settlement issue, follows months of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and a wave of unrest in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

U.S. Senate committee backs new war powers
The Daily Star
Dec. 12, 2014
WASHINGTON: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Thursday to authorize President Barack Obama’s war against ISIS – the first vote in Congress to explicitly grant him war powers in the U.S. battle against the militant extremists.
The vote was 10-8, with most Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.
The committee chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez said he would seek a full Senate vote on the measure before the current Congress ends, but it’s more likely that the authorization will be delayed until the next, Republican-led Congress, which starts Jan. 1.
In the U.S. battle against ISIS, Obama has been relying on congressional authorizations that former President George W. Bush used to justify military action after 9/11.
Critics say the White House’s use of post-9/11 congressional authorizations is a legal stretch, at best.
Obama has insisted that he had the legal authority to send about 3,000 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces, and launch 1,100 airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria since September. More recently, the president has said that he wants a new authorization for use of military force.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday whatever new authorization Congress passes should not limit U.S. military action to Iraq and Syria or prevent the president from deploying ground troops if he later deems them necessary.
Menendez’ resolution, which was passed, would authorize the president to use military force against ISIS and associated persons or forces – individuals fighting for or on behalf of ISIS. It would limit the activities of U.S. forces so that there would be no large-scale ground combat operations. Menendez has said that if the president feels he needs that, then he should ask Congress for authorization to do that.
The authorization would be limited to three years and would require the administration to report on the fight against ISIS every 60 days. He said a three-year time limit would allow Obama and the next president time to assess the situation and make decisions about whether and how to continue military action against ISIS.
In Syria, ISIS militants continued their seemingly stalled offensives against mainly Kurdish fighters in the towns of Ain al-Arab and Ras al-Ain, both on the border with Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based, anti-regime monitoring group, said Kurdish YPG fighters killed at least three ISIS militants in one skirmish, near Ain al-Arab.
In Aleppo province, Syrian regime warplanes launched four strikes against ISIS positions at the Sheikh Jarrah airport, held by the militant group. They also launched two strikes against ISIS fighters around the town of Tabqa in Raqqa province, but there was no information about casualties, the Observatory said.
In Deir al-Zor, ISIS fighters seized territory from regime forces in the Huwayjet al-Sakr region, the Observatory said, as skirmishes continued around the perimeter of the city’s military airport, where regime troops are besieged.
The Observatory’s director, Rami Abdel-Rahman, told Al-Hurra television that although a recent offensive by ISIS to storm the airport had failed, the regime was exaggerating its achievements against the jihadis.
“The regime has stopped two attacks by ISIS in recent days, but the battles are continuing, in contrast to what the regime’s media is saying, trying to raise the morale,” he said.
“The regime’s army and the National Defense [paramilitary force] are taking casualties on a daily basis” at the airport and in several other areas in and around the city, he added.
The Syrian News Desk, an independent internet news outlet, said four hours of clashes between regime forces and ISIS militants raged in rural Homs province near the Shaar gas field, which both sides have been contesting in recent months.
Both sides suffered casualties in the fighting, which erupted after the regime sent reinforcements to the area.

Gen. John Allen carries a heavy rucksack in the fight against the Islamic State
By David Ignatius December 11
The Washington Post
Gen. John Allen must sometimes feel as if he’s navigating a maze as he organizes the coalition to defeat the Islamic State: Iran is a silent partner in Iraq but a potential adversary in Syria and elsewhere; Turkey and Saudi Arabia are crucial allies but skittish and self-interested ones; the very map of battle is uncertain, as boundaries in the region begin to blur.
When Allen took the job in September, Islamic State fighters had overrun much of Iraq and Syria, and President Obama was worried that Jordan and Saudi Arabia might be next. Allen’s appointment signaled a policy decision by Obama but not yet a strategy. It could be said of Allen’s effort, as Rick Atkinson wrote in “An Army at Dawn” of Allied forces in North Africa in 1942: “Only seers or purblind optimists could guess that these portents foreshadowed victory.”
Victory is hard to define in this campaign, let alone accomplish. But three months into his job, Allen has at least set the order of battle in the Iraq theater of this multifront campaign.
A broad coalition against the Islamic State has been formed, and its members are flying combat missions and preparing joint information operations; Iraq’s polarizing prime minister has been replaced by a more conciliatory one; an Iraqi army that had collapsed is being rebuilt in regional pieces. The Islamic State’s expansion has been halted, and its members now fear to travel in convoys; when the extremists fought an open battle at Kobane in Syria, they lost an estimated 1,000 fighters.
But the fundamental contradictions of Obama’s policy remain. Allen, a former commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan and one of the architects of the “Sunni Awakening” in Iraq, was a good choice for this evolving, ad hoc effort. But he’s carrying a heavy rucksack, as Gen. David Petraeus liked to say, that contains pieces of a strategy that don’t yet fit together.
The most perplexing problem is Syria, where the coalition members have different agendas. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar demand the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. But Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are wary of decapitating the Syrian regime before a transition is ready. Then there is Iran, whose Hezbollah proxy force is the main reason Assad survives.
What’s more, the coalition doesn’t now have a credible means of defeating the extremists in Syria. The Free Syrian Army remains a talking point rather than a real force. The CIA has trained covert groups that operate effectively in southern Syria, where Jordanian intelligence can dole out money and weapons, but are disorganized in northern Syria, where operatives backed by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia jockey for power.
Given the Syria conundrum, Obama favors an Iraq-first strategy. But this empowers Iran, whose fighters could threaten the thousands of U.S. military advisers streaming into Iraq. One administration official explains: “You’ve got a significant number of U.S. personnel in Iraq. Do you want to take on Iran in Syria and scramble that picture? We’re mindful of that.”
Syria may be a version of what economists call an “impossibility theorem,” in which there’s no good way of ordering conflicting preferences. The moderate opposition doesn’t exist; a strategy to oust Assad may imperil U.S. forces in Iraq; if Assad remains he will be a magnet for extremists; encouraging Turkish troops to help create a “safe zone” may give them lasting control of northern Syria. It’s a lose-lose situation.
When there’s no evident solution inside the box, it’s time to look outside, and that’s what Obama administration policymakers are beginning to do on Syria. They’re exploring a local cease-fire that would freeze combatants in Aleppo and discussing new formulas for political transition.
Secretary of State John Kerry explains in an interview: “There’s room for a lot of creative effort in diplomacy right now. And we’ve talked with the Russians and with others about ways to preserve the institutions of the [Syrian] state, get to a legitimate negotiation and transition, and try to end the violence.”
Another intriguing development is the planned dialogue in Lebanon between the Saudi-backed Sunni leadership and Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Nader Hariri, the Sunni representative, received a glowing profile recently in the pro-Hezbollah Beirut newspaper Al Akhbar.
A U.S. intelligence official notes: “Hezbollah through various means is signaling its interest in dialogue with key members of the Sunni community in Lebanon.” Is this a path to a broader dialogue about reducing sectarian tensions and perhaps a common front against the Islamic State? “That’s probably a long way off,” cautions the intelligence official. But it’s worth watching.
Read more from David Ignatius’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Ignoring the orphans of Syria’s uprising
Michael Young| The Daily Star/Dec. 11, 2014
It has been remarkable in the past three years that the Syrian human rights situation has failed to really scratch the world’s conscience. Syrians are indeed children of what Lebanese writer Ziad Majed has called an orphaned revolution.
While there has doubtless been international concern and assistance; while we’ve even seen some celebrities highlighting the plight of the refugees, a catastrophe of this magnitude demands far more. Yet by and large concern around the world has been limited. Syria is not a cause célèbre in the same way that Darfur was. No benefit concerts have been organized to assist Syrian refugees similar to the two concerts held for Bangladesh in 1971 to raise funds for refugees displaced by the genocide in East Pakistan. There are no Bonos or Bob Geldofs making noise about Syria. To her credit Angelina Jolie has tried, but it would help if she got her figures straight. In a recent interview with ITV she said that there were 51 million Syrians displaced, almost three times the country’s population.
You wonder what it takes for the horrors in Syria to shake the serenity in Peoria, Mantes-La-Jolie or Haversham. The regime of Bashar Assad has shot peaceful, unarmed protesters and ordered its air force and army to bomb civilians. It has tortured tens of thousands of people, and, thanks to the courage of a former Syrian government photographer, code-named Cesar, there is documentary evidence of the killing of around 11,000 detainees. The Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own population, killing perhaps as many as 1,700 people, including many children, in the Ghouta in August 2013. And it continues to deploy barrel bombs as a terror weapon against entire neighborhoods.
The reaction in America after the Ghouta chemical attack last year was illustrative of the mood in many Western societies. In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in September 2013, as Barack Obama was considering airstrikes against Syria, 60 percent of respondents said they opposed such action. This rejection came even though 75 percent of respondents said they thought Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons.
Yet until now the wheels of international justice have moved very slowly, and those of international outrage hardly at all. The most recent bombshell was the World Food Program’s suspension earlier this month of food vouchers for around 1.7 million Syrian refugees. The announcement brought in donations in excess of what was needed to continue the program. That was excellent news, but why was such a valuable humanitarian enterprise underfunded in the first place?
The indifference shown for the plight of Syria’s refugees is, above all, a moral deficiency. America shook the world after almost 3,000 people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. This week Americans have literally writhed with angst over the release of a report on CIA torture, with a Washington Post editorial proclaiming, “This is not how Americans should behave. Ever.”
Yet in Syria, such casualty figures and such disgraceful behavior have been unrelenting since the start of the uprising against Assad rule. Many people around the world have been understandably horrified by the savagery of ISIS, but remain utterly blind to the mass murder conducted by the Syrian regime. Indeed, there are those in the West inviting their governments to collaborate with Assad against the jihadists.
Other than representing a moral failing, the absence of any indignation toward the fate of the Syrians may affect security. It is not defending those who have flocked to ISIS and other jihadist groups to suggest that the resentment generated by the Syrians’ deplorable state of affairs could have been a factor in their decision to travel to Syria and fight. Watching people getting slaughtered amid global apathy is a powerful mobilizer, even when one ends up replicating similar barbarity.
Perhaps what is most disturbing about the situation in Syria is that somehow people see moral ambiguity in a conflict that for a long time was morally unambiguous. In 2011 and 2012 it was principally the regime that perpetrated the most monstrous crimes, while the opposition had not yet taken on a militant Islamist identity. It was the regime that transformed peaceful protests against the Assads into a sectarian civil war.
The Syrian leadership and intelligence services quickly grasped how easy it was to frighten Western leaders and societies by waving a beard in their direction. Many were duped by the Syrian regime’s manipulation of the war narrative and its claim to be fighting against Islamist extremism. This no doubt contributed to the doubts we are witnessing today with regard to the humanitarian tragedy in Syria. And it surely explains why Assad, who by any standard should be on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes, is still accorded minimal respect.
But overall the situation leaves a bitter taste. Some victims, it seems, are more equal than others. The Syrian population has endured frightful suffering in the past three years. That the world still has difficulty acknowledging this is profoundly unsettling, even intolerable.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

A Strange Budget for a Strange System
Amir Taheri /Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 12 Dec, 2014
What do you do when your ambitions are bigger than the resources you have to pursue them? The Tehran leadership must have asked itself this question when drafting the national budget for the next year (according to the Iranian calendar), which starts on March 21.
Since his election, President Hassan Rouhani has missed no opportunity to paint a black tableau of an economy, which he says—shaking his head in feigned sorrow—he inherited from “that man,” former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has promised to “repair the damage” done by Ahmadinejad and restore the health of the economy.
However, his new budget, because he is either unable or unwilling to contemplate serious reforms, amounts to a bill of goods rather than serious economic policy.
When presenting the draft budget, Rouhani made three claims. The first was that the budget was based on oil prices of around 75 US dollars per barrel. While oil represents around 11 percent of the Iranian gross domestic product (GDP), it accounts for almost 30 percent of the 312 billion US dollar budget. The trouble is that no one knows where oil prices might go over the next year. The problem is further complicated by the freezing of over a billion dollars of Iranian oil revenue every month by the so-called P5+1 group (the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany).
Rouhani’s second boast was that he is offering a balanced budget. He must have got that obsession from his band of “Chicago Boys,” US-trained economists who regard the need to balance the budget as an article of faith. They don’t realize that when an economy is in decline, as is the case with Iran’s right now, cutting public expenditure, which means reducing demand, could worsen the situation.
According to the Institute of International Finance, the Iranian economy has shrunk by 8.6 percent since 2012. This has led to a jump in unemployment from 11 to 16 percent, which, in turn, has provoked a sharp fall in consumer expenditure. In such a situation the sanest policy would be to aim to raise investment in sectors, most notably infrastructure, that could boost the job market. Obsessed by his “balanced budget” boast, Rouhani has done the opposite by reducing or cutting funding for over 4,000 projects of all sizes.
The president has also increased the military budget by 33 percent. The lion’s share goes to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which sees its budget rise by 50 percent to 6.7 billion dollars. If we take into account the part of the public sector controlled by the IRGC, often through Khatam Al-Anbia Holdings, it appears we are witnessing a dramatic militarization of the economy.
Then we have the separate, and secret, budget allocated to the IRGC’s Al-Quds Force, whose mission is to export revolution through Hezbollah and a network of other Khomeinist outfits in seventeen countries. Deeply involved in Lebanon and Syria, which costs the Treasury an estimated 2.8 billion dollars a year according to conservative estimates, Iran is being dragged into the Iraqi quagmire in the hope of seizing control of a corridor spanning from the Iranian-Iraqi border to Syria and Lebanon.
To balance his budget, Rouhani has done something else. Not only has he all but ended transfers to the Oil Revenues Reserves Fund set up by Ahmadinejad for a rainy day, but now envisages treating it as a cookie jar to be raided. Yet another trick Rouhani has used is to slash many subsidies that help the poorest Iranians survive. One immediate effect of this is a 30 percent rise in the price of bread, the staple food of 90 percent of Iranians.
Even then the figures simply don’t add up. By our calculation the proposed budget has a 7.8 percent built in deficit.
The draft is based on the hope that the inescapable deficit would be covered by an increase in indirect taxes, customs duties and a new generation of treasury bonds. Rouhani is not the first to use that stratagem. All Khomeinist presidents have practiced what could be called economic taqiyah (dissimulation) to produce balanced budgets. Rouhani is also counting on further falls in the value of the currency, the rial. Iran finds itself in a peculiar situation in which the government has a vested interest in the decline of its currency, which would allow the government to get more rials for its dollars. Thus, Rouhani’s promise of increasing public sector pay by an average of 14 percent could easily be covered with a 20 percent fall in the value of the rial. With inflation estimated at around 20 percent, public sector workers will end up at least six percent poorer.
In the best circumstances the Iranian state’s ability to collect taxes of all kinds is equal to 25 per cent of GDP. However, no government, under the Shah or under the mullahs, has ever come close to that amount. And yet the Iranian economic model is a top-heavy statist one. I remember a visit in 1978 by Margaret Thatcher, then leader of the British Conservative party but not yet prime minister, during which she mocked Iranian leaders for having created an economy that was “more Socialist than that of Poland,” then under Communist rule. Though not entirely accurate, the jibe contained a grain of truth.
However, the difference between then and now is that under the Shah the state did indeed dominate, and to some degree controlled, the economy. Under the mullahs the state has become one player among many. Para-state players, notably the IRGC, revolutionary foundations, the network of businesses reporting to the “Supreme Guide,” and business empires controlled by mullahs, are regarded as part of the public sector and pay no taxes to the state. They constitute a parallel “grey economy” worth at least 100 billion dollars a year.
Even in the private sector, many entrepreneurs have learned to circumvent the state by setting up businesses alleged to have a religious mission. Instead of paying taxes to the state, they claim to be paying the “share of the Imam” (sahm e emam) to mullahs, and refuse to publish their accounts. Call it “Islamic Socialism” if you like, but the system in which Rouhani presents his budget is a strange beast in which religion is in the service of business. Some in the West claim that Islam needs a separation of religion and politics. However, in the case of Iran at least what is more urgently needed is a separation of religion and business.

EU confirms new Iran nuclear talks on Dec. 17
AFP, Brussels/Friday, 12 December 2014
The European Union confirmed Friday that talks between Iran and world powers on Tehran’s nuclear program will resume on December 17 in Geneva. The talks, first announced in a report from Iran on Thursday, will be at the level of senior officials rather than ministers, the EU’s diplomatic service said. “The political directors of the (world powers) and Iran will meet again on 17 December 2014 in Geneva for a one-day meeting to continue diplomatic efforts towards reaching a long-term, comprehensive solution,” it said in a statement.
Despite making progress, the UN’s five permanent Security Council members plus Germany and Iran failed to clinch a definitive deal by a November deadline at talks in Vienna and agreed to extend the talks until July 1. A final agreement is aimed at ensuring Tehran will never develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities, and would lift international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. Iran denies that it is seeking the bomb and insists its nuclear activities are for solely peaceful purposes.

Is Iran getting a free pass on Iraq and Syria?
Friday, 12 December 2014
Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya
As the leaders of the P5+1 states (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), and Iranian politicians continue to negotiate with respect to the nuclear program, the Islamic Republic is considerably being granted a free pass on both Iraq and Syria. This involves a green light for Iran’s military, financial, advisory, and intelligence engagements in Damascus and Baghdad.
The current geopolitical game change, and risk in the Middle East, plays a crucial role in this development. Since the fighters of the Islamic State have gained both territory and manpower, the international community, and the United States in particular, has made a tactical shift by geopolitically recalculating their position against Iran’s role in other regional nations.
For example, the extension of the nuclear negotiations, which was offered by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and was welcomed by the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, was an outcome of this geopolitical and tactical shift.
“The current tactical shift in the Obama administration has been shaped by making compromises with Iran”
The Obama administration frequently used to draw attention to Iran’s meddling role in Arab countries’ affairs, particularly in supporting President Bashar al-Assad, destabilizing Iraq, or interfering in other regional countries’ affairs such as Bahrain and Yemen. Nevertheless, this paradigm has shifted as a geopolitical game changer, ISIS has emerged.
In other words, the current tactical shift in the Obama administration has been shaped by making compromises to Iran, as well as overlooking Tehran’s regional hegemonic ambitions for the short term.
The confluence of geopolitical interests and objectives between the U.S. and the Iranian government, in combating ISIS, has resulted in the White House tacitly accepting Iran’s increasing military and security involvements in various regional countries, and has specifically led to the White House to turn a blind eye to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’s operations in Iraq and Syria.
Qassem Suleimani and Ayatollah Khamenei in charge
By examining the geopolitical reality on the ground, it appears that neither the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, nor Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi or the ruling Shiite coalition in Iraq are predominantly in control of their state’s policies.
Currently, two crucial figures appear to be shaping the national security of Iraq and Syria: Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force (a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps which operates in foreign countries), and the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Most recently, Iran’s political and military actions in Baghdad or Damascus reveal that the sovereignty of Iraq or Syria is significantly less of a crucial matter for Iran’s Supreme Leader and Suleimani.
Although the Islamic Republic denied using Iraq’s airspace to launch airstrikes in the Iraqi province of Diyala, Iranian leaders have recently confirmed the airstrikes. The Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour further asserted Iran’s role in Iraq by stating: “We will not allow conditions in Iraq to descend to the level of Syria, which has been created by foreign players,” and he added “and certainly our assistance [to Iraq] is stronger than our assistance to Syria, because they are nearer to us.”
When it comes to Syria, the Islamic Republic continues to provide military, financial, advisory, and intelligence assistance to the government of Bashar al-Assad and it has been shaping the policies of Damascus through various modes of power and apparatuses. The military armaments of the Syrian government have been repeatedly strengthened by Iran’s manufactured arms. Regarding the Syrian missile-production facilities, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force, boasted recently, “The missile production plants in Syria have been built by Iran and the missiles designed by Iran are being produced there.” With the U.S. acquiescence, Ayatollah Khamenei and Suleimani experience free reign and empowerment to shape the Iraqi and Syrian government’s policies.
The long term unintended consequences
Although the American geopolitical and tactical shift in making compromises to Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions might serve Washington’s interest for the short term, this policy will inevitably lead to unanticipated long term repercussions.
This illustrates that the U.S. has not learned from history, particularly the times that it decided to carry out uninformed policies or turn a blind eye to some geopolitical changes in the Middle East.
First of all, it is crucial to point out that Iran is fundamentally reshaping the security institutions in Iraq and Syria by its increased involvement. The Iranian leaders will be further cementing their religious, political, military and institutional footprints in Iraq and Syria. Secondly, the Islamic Republic has been playing a crucial role in remobilizing as well as reactivating the Shiite militia groups in Iraq. This will lead to the reinforcement of the sectarian divide in Iraq which has plagued the country for many years. Iran’s pro-government Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are fundamental pillars for advancing the Iranian leaders regional plans.
Finally, through the revival of Shiite militias, it is unrealistic to contend that Iran will not be seeking to create another Hezbollah in Iraq. The recent challenges that Iranian leaders have encountered with regards to the rise of the Islamic State, make them recalculate Tehran’s need to ratchet up its religious, economic, security and political influence in Iraq. Tehran has invested billions of dollars in Iraq’s security and military forces. The mobilization of the Shiite militia in Iraq can provide the platform for the establishment of another powerful proxy Shiite group in Iraq which is a replica of Lebanon’s Hezbollah.