December 19/14

Bible Quotation for today/  we cannot do a thing against the truth, but only for it.
02 Corinthians 13/01-13: " This is now the third time that I am coming to visit you. “Any accusation must be upheld by the evidence of two or more witnesses”—as the scripture says.  I want to tell those of you who have sinned in the past, and all the others; I said it before during my second visit to you, but I will say it again now that I am away: the next time I come nobody will escape punishment.  You will have all the proof you want that Christ speaks through me. When he deals with you, he is not weak; instead, he shows his power among you.  For even though it was in weakness that he was put to death on the cross, it is by God's power that he lives. In union with him we also are weak; but in our relations with you we shall share God's power in his life.  Put yourselves to the test and judge yourselves, to find out whether you are living in faith. Surely you know that Christ Jesus is in you?—unless you have completely failed.  I trust you will know that we are not failures.  We pray to God that you will do no wrong—not in order to show that we are a success, but so that you may do what is right, even though we may seem to be failures.  For we cannot do a thing against the truth, but only for it. We are glad when we are weak but you are strong. And so we also pray that you will become perfect.  That is why I write this while I am away from you; it is so that when I arrive I will not have to deal harshly with you in using the authority that the Lord has given me—authority to build you up, not to tear you down.  And now, my friends, good-bye! Strive for perfection; listen to my appeals; agree with one another; live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with the kiss of peace. All of God's people send you their greetings. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 18-19/14
What Future and Hezbollah should discuss/Michael Young/The Daily Star/December 18/14
Muslims Must Save Islam from Islamists/Tarek Fatah/The Toronto Sun/December 18/14
The Reality of the de Mistura Plan for Syria/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/December 18-19/14
Iran unlikely to be another Cuba for Obama/Joyce Karam /Al Arabiya/ December 18/14
EU Court Annuls Hamas Terrorist Designation/Matthew Levitt/Al Arabiya/December 18/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 18-19/14
STL Trial in al-Jadeed, Khayat Contempt Case Set for April 2015
Report: Detained Abdullah Azzam Militant was Involved in Shatah's Assassination
Lebanon braces for attacks from ISIS and Al-Nusra Front
Aoun, Geagea to meet in effort to break presidency impasse
Families of servicemen, Future on the same page
Gloom in Tripoli ahead of festive season
Govt. Admits Negotiations 'Tough' as Masri Says Met with 9 IS-Held Captives
Army Battles Militants in Arsal's Outskirts
Haftar set to be Libya’s highest-ranking military official: minister
Houthis take control of Central Bank of Yemen: sources
STL Trial in al-Jadeed, Khayat Contempt Case Set for April 2015
Army Battles Militants in Arsal's Outskirts
Salam Considers Cabinet 'Hijacked', Sets Roadmap to End Case of Captive Servicemen
LebanonGovt. Admits Negotiations 'Tough' as Masri Says Met with 9 IS-Held Captives
Palestinian UN draft calls for Israel occupation end by 2017
Suspect Wounded during Police Raid in Rashaya
Abou Faour: Major Violations at Wheat Silos, Ministry Employees Colluded to Acquit Culprits
Aoun Says he Would Meet Geagea but Refuses to Make Compromises on Presidency

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 18-19/14
Syrian rebel Yarmouk Brigades ditch US and Israel allies, defect to ISIS
ISIS kills more than 150 women, girls for refusing ‘Jihad marriage’
Recapture of Mosul key to defeating ISIS: Iraqi commander
Israeli Election Less About Conflict, More About Economy
Sodomite Justice at the EU General Court
Israeli Messianic Leaders: The Church Needs Israel
Haftar set to be Libya’s highest-ranking military official: minister
Houthis take control of Central Bank of Yemen: sources
|Yemen's parliament approves new Cabinet
Palestinian UN draft calls for Israel occupation end by 2017
Iraqi president announces steps towards national reconciliation
Iran to hold military drill near Strait of Hormuz
Putin says deal on Iran’s nuclear program ‘very close’

UN agencies seek $9bln for Syria aid
Palestinian UN draft calls for Israel occupation end by 2017
U.N. Will Take Time to Decide on Palestinian Resolution
Houthis take control of Central Bank of Yemen: sources

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Lebanon braces for attacks from ISIS and Al-Nusra Front
Lebanese army bolsters presence on border as hostage crisis drags on
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—18.12.14/The Lebanese Army has boosted its presence along the Syrian border after receiving intelligence that Islamist militants were planning to launch attacks on Lebanese villages in the run up to the end of the year, a security source told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, a Lebanese security source said militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front are preparing to launch a series of “coordinated attacks on Qalamoun and Qusayr as well as other areas along the border [with Syria].” According to the official, Nusra will attack Arsal while ISIS will push into Qusayr. In the most violent incident of the fallout from Syria to date, militants from ISIS and Al-Nusra crossed the border and entered the Lebanese town of Arsal in August, killing and wounding dozens of Lebanese soldiers and kidnapping 29 more. A number of the captives have since been killed by their kidnappers, who are demand the release of Islamists detained in Lebanese prisons in exchange for releasing the hostages.
In a bid to counter Islamist attacks, the Lebanese army has set up new checkpoints along the border where military vehicles and weapons have been positioned, the source added. With tensions on the Syrian border high, Lebanese forces remain on alert following the latest intelligence and a number of other incidents, including the shoot-down of an aircraft believed to be conducting reconnaissance for militants along the border with Syria, Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper reported earlier this week.
“The army managed to monitor the aircraft and fire in its direction,” an official was quoted as saying by the newspaper. Meanwhile, with negotiations over the abducted Lebanese soldiers deadlocked, the Lebanese government is scheduled to hold what may be decisive cabinet meeting on the issue on Thursday. A spokesman for the families of the abducted Lebanese soldiers, Hussein Youssef, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Al-Nusra and ISIS were waiting for the outcome of Thursday’s session, and that they had threatened to kill another hostage if the government fails to meet their demands. Youssef called on the government to clearly state its position on the crisis and assign a new mediator to negotiate with the soldier’s captors. Families of the kidnapped soldiers have been campaigning heavily to put pressure on the Lebanese authorities to exchange Islamist militants held in Lebanese jails for the kidnapped soldiers. Meanwhile, clashes continued between Syrian government forces and rebel fighters on the Syrian-Lebanese border. Syrian jets carried out three airstrikes on militants near the Al-Zamrani crossing in the Qalamoun area stretching between Syria and Lebanon, the state-owned National News Agency reported on Wednesday. Activists also told Asharq Al-Awsat that heavy fighting had taken place in the Qalamoun area between the Free Syrian Army and Islamist militants.

Aoun, Geagea to meet in effort to break presidency impasse
Wassim Mroueh/The Daily Star
Dec. 19, 2014
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s largest Christian parties, are working on holding a meeting between their two leaders in a bid to end the presidential impasse, officials from both groups said Thursday. “The two parties are positive and are working on ensuring that the dialogue will be successful,” LF MP Fadi Karam told The Daily Star. “The initiative was first made by [Lebanese Forces leader] Dr. [Samir] Geagea, when he said that a meeting was necessary in order to resolve the presidential deadlock and other disputed issues,” Karam explained. Last week, Geagea said he was ready to meet FPM leader Michel Aoun at his Rabieh residence if he had a serious proposal to end the presidential impasse, now in its seventh month. Aoun said in remarks published by a local newspaper Thursday that he would meet Geagea soon in the hope of ending the presidential dispute.  He said talks with Geagea would take place when the LF leader returns from his visit to Saudi Arabia. Asked about the possibility of agreement on a third presidential candidate, other than himself or Geagea, Aoun stressed that “Geagea does not come here to agree on a third person. No one can come to me to tell me I don’t want you.” “We believe we have the strongest representation and no one can overstep us ... Also, the majority of Christians support us,” he stressed. “I am a candidate and I’m not willing to give up my vote or withdraw in favor of anyone.” Karam said that while the presidential deadlock would be the main topic on the agenda of their future talks, “this meeting between the two most powerful Christian leaders will be an opportunity to discuss other issues as well.”MP Alain Aoun, from Aoun’s FPM, said the meeting would be an attempt to end inter-Christian divisions over the presidency which has kept the country’s top Christian post vacant for over six months. “All parties are saying that they support a Christian-Christian agreement [on the presidency]. This meeting will be an attempt to reach such an agreement,” Aoun said. Karam said no date has been set yet for the meeting, while Alain Aoun said it would remain a secret. Separately, Speaker Nabih Berri told visitors he would highlight during a meeting with UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Luciano Portolano Friday the role the U.N. and peacekeepers should play to help Lebanon preserve its rights to its exclusive economic zone which was being “pirated” by Israel. Lebanon and Israel are at loggerheads over 870 kilometers in the southern territorial waters. Lebanon insists this disputed zone is part of the Lebanese territorial waters and is not willing to concede a single kilometer to Israel.
Berri said earlier this month he had evidence Israel has begun stealing from Lebanon’s offshore gas wealth. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who is part of a Future Movement delegation visiting Saudi Arabia for talks with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, told The Daily Star that the outcome of the ongoing talks would appear within 48 hours.

STL Trial in al-Jadeed, Khayat Contempt Case Set for April 2015
Naharnet /The trial of the contempt case against Al-Jadeed S.A.L. and Karma Al Khayat has been scheduled for April 2015, announced the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Thursday. STL Contempt Judge, Nicola Lettieri ordered the trial to start on April 16, 2015. Following opening statement(s), the Amicus Prosecutor will present his case-in-chief from April 16 and onwards, as needed. The Defense shall present its case, if any, from May 12, 2015, added the STL statement. Karma Mohamed Tahsin Al Khayat and Al-Jadeed S.A.L. are charged with two counts of contempt and obstruction of justice under rule 60 of the Tribunal’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The initial appearances of the Accused were held on May 13, 2014. Both the Accused entered a plea of not guilty. Khayat and al-Akhbar daily's editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin and their media organizations New TV S.A.L. and Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. had been charged with contempt by the tribunal after they disclosed details of alleged STL witnesses. In April 2013, a list of 167 names of so-called witnesses for the trial of former Premier Rafik Hariri was published by a previously unknown group identified as "Journalists for the Truth." The group said it wanted to "unveil the corruption" of the STL. Both al-Akhbar and al-Jadeed published the list.

Report: Detained Abdullah Azzam Militant was Involved in Shatah's Assassination
Naharnet/19.12.14/A senior militant recently detained by the Lebanese army was involved in the assassination of Minister Mohammed Shatah, the transfer of suicide bombers who killed dozens of people, in addition to several other terror offenses, media reports said on Thursday.“Mahmoud Ahmed Abu Abbas was arrested in (the Bekaa town of) Majdal Anjar before being immediately transferred to the defense ministry building,” al-Mayadeen television reported.
It said he was involved in the 2013 assassination of Minister Mohammed Shatah in a central Beirut car bombing. Military sources informed on the investigations told al-Mayadeen that “the car used in Shatah's assassination came from the Ain el-Hilweh camp,” noting that Abdullah Azzam Brigades leader “Majed al-Majed was arrested four days after the assassination.”
Majed was reportedly the mastermind of the deadly twin suicide bombing that targeted the Iranian embassy in Beirut in November 2013. The Lebanese army announced in January that Majed, a Saudi militant, had died of illness at the central military hospital in Beirut after being arrested on December 26, 2013. On Thursday evening, al-Manar television announced that the detainee Abu Abbas had transported “more than one booby-trapped car” from the outskirts of the Bekaa border town of Arsal to areas inside Lebanon.
He was also behind sending the bomb-laden car that exploded prematurely at the Dahr al-Baydar checkpoint before reaching its supposed destination in Beirut's southern suburbs, al-Manar said.
Abu Abbas also confirmed that the Abu Assaf Cafe in Tayyouneh -- where dozens of football fans were watching a World Cup match in June -- was the target of the car bomb that exploded several meters away from the popular coffee shop.
Earlier on Thursday, al-Akhbar newspaper said the Army Intelligence captured Abu Abbas in an “ambush” around a week ago, describing him as a “hefty catch.”It said the prominent militant leader hails from the eastern Bekaa town of Majdal Anjar. The newspaper said that the detainee confessed that he transported the suicide bomber of Dahr al-Baydar and Beirut's Tayyouneh roundabout in June. Sources said that the suspect is the right hand of Sirajeddine Zureiqat, a so-called spokesman of the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
The detainee also provided a residence for Iraqi woman Saja al-Dulaimi, who was identified as a divorcee of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Dulaimi was arrested at a checkpoint on al-Madfoun Bridge in the North, along with her Palestinian husband and 8-year-old Hajar, her daughter from al-Baghdadi. The arrest took place last month and was kept a secret until the media put it out to public. Abu Abbas also confessed to moving fighters between Majdal Anjar, Arsal, the northern city of Tripoli and the southern town of Shebaa. He also said that he handed money over to Shadi al-Mawlawi, a fugitive Islamist militant, several times.

Govt. Admits Negotiations 'Tough' as Masri Says Met with 9 IS-Held Captives
Naharnet/The government admitted Thursday that the negotiations to release the captive servicemen are “tough” and “moving slowly,” as Lebanese cleric Sheikh Wissam al-Masri announced that he met the captors who belong to the Islamic State group in the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal.  “The crisis cell will continue its efforts to secure the release of the servicemen although the negotiations are tough and moving slowly,” Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced after a cabinet session at the Grand Serail.
Jreij, however, stressed that the negotiations are still ongoing, hoping they will eventually lead to the release of the hostages. The extremist al-Nusra Front and Islamic State groups have been holding more than 25 servicemen hostage since the early August clashes with the army in the Bekaa border town of Arsal. The families of the troops and policemen demanded a role for the Muslim Scholars Committee in the negotiations after Qatar ended its mediation on December 7. The committee has so far failed to obtain an official authorization from the government. The name of another mediator, Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, has recently surfaced in media reports. “I went to Arsal's outskirts and I met the relevant Islamic State officials and the man in charge of the case of the servicemen,” Masri announced on Thursday evening at the sit-in organized by the families of the hostages in downtown Beirut. “They expressed extreme dismay over the state's approach towards Hizbullah's intervention in Syria,” the cleric added, referring to the captors. “I asked them to allow me to check up on the situations of the servicemen and they blindfolded my eyes before allowing me to meet them and I can confirm that I saw nine servicemen,” he added. Asked about their conditions, Masri said “they are in good health and their morale is somewhat high.” He cautioned, however, that the hostage Seif Zebian is suffering from “an acute inflammation in one of his ears” while Mustafa Wehbe is suffering from “a foot infection.” Separately, the cabinet briefly discussed the issues of waste management and the introduction of new faculties and branches at universities before they were postponed to the coming session. As for the issue of the protracting presidential void, Prime Minister Tammam Salam reiterated during the session his call for the election of a new president, warning that “continued vacuum would strip the state of its head, without which the work of institutions cannot be regularized.” He also called for “putting the national interest above all else and exerting efforts to fill the vacuum without any delay.” The presidential seat has been vacant since president Michel Suleiman's term ended on May 25. Political differences and electoral competition have led to a lack of quorum in 16 electoral sessions in parliament, amid a boycott by the MPs of the Free Patriotic Movement and Hizbullah.

Army Battles Militants in Arsal's Outskirts
Naharnet/The Lebanese army engaged on Thursday in clashes with militants on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the military targeted the fighters with mortars in the area of Wadi Ata. The gunmen from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front have established footholds in remote mountains along Lebanon's remote eastern border. Their threat first came to Lebanon in August, two months after the group's summer blitz in which it seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. In a surprise attack, the militants crossed over from Syria and overran the border town of Arsal, hitting Lebanese army positions and killing and injuring scores of soldiers. After weeklong clashes, the militants pulled back to mountain caves near Syria's border, taking more Lebanese soldiers and policemen with them. The fighters have since executed four of the servicemen. Meanwhile, LBCI TV said IS gunmen and Free Syrian Army rebels engaged in battles on Arsal's outskirts on Wednesday. Twenty people, including an FSA official, were killed in the clashes that concentrated in the area of Wadi Mira, it added.

Syrian rebel Yarmouk Brigades ditch US and Israel allies, defect to ISIS
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
December 17, 2014
The Syrian rebel militia Al Yarmouk Shuhada Brigades, backed and trained for two years by US officers, mostly CIA experts, in Jordan, and supported by the Israeli army, has abruptly dumped these sponsors and joined up with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, debkafile’s exclusive military and counter-terrorism sources reveal. The sudden defection of this 2,000-strong anti-Assad force leaves IDF defense formations on the Golan, US and Jordanian deployments in the northern part of the kingdom, and pro-Western rebel conquests in southern Syria in danger of collapse. The Brigades’ jump into the radical jihadi camp was negotiated in the last two weeks by its commander Mousab Ali Qarfan, who also goes by the name of Mousab Zaytouneh. He was in direct contact with ISIS chief Abu Baqr Al-Baghdadi, whom our sources report has recently relocated from Iraq to his northern Syrian headquarters at al-Raqqa. Unlike the Sinai Islamists, Ansar Beit al Maqdis, the Yarmouk Brigades did not pledge allegiance to ISIS. The ir pact was forged as an operational alliance, which is just as grave a peril for the rebel militias’ abandoned allies. For Israel, in particular, the new development is fraught with three dangers:
1. The Yarmouk Brigades are strung out along Israel’s Golan border with Syria, from the UN peacekeepers camp opposite Kibbutz Ein Zivan (see map) in the north, down to the Israeli-Syrian-Jordanian border junction in the south. The Brigades therefore sit along 45 of the total 76 kilometers of the Syrian-Israeli border. This means that a long stretch of Israel’s Golan border with Syria has fallen under the control of the Islamic State.
2. This militia also commands sections of the Syrian-Jordanian border, as well as districts of the southern Syrian town of Deraa. Therefore, the link between Jordan and southern Syria, which served American strategic interests, is now under military threat.
3. Islamic State forces are preparing to take advantage of their new asset with a buildup near the Druze Mountains (see map) for a rapid push south towards the town of Deraa, where they will join forces with their new ally.

The Reality of the de Mistura Plan for Syria
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat
Thursday, 18 Dec, 2014
The public relations efforts on behalf of Damascus of former Lebanese government minister Michel Samaha reveal a lot about nature of the Syrian regime. Samaha, who is currently facing trial after being accused of conspiring with Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk to carry out bombings in Lebanon, made headline news twice before: the first time when he appeared in Paris as Bashar Al-Assad’s PR agent during the Syrian president’s last official visit to France; the second when it was claimed that he was the fixer who arranged the visit of American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh to Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
Following these two landmarks in Samaha’s career, he earned himself a position in Bashar Al-Assad’s “inner circle” of PR people. However, what the unfolding of the Syrian crisis has uncovered on the global scene underlines some more, equally-important facts.
First, the Syrian regime has indeed acted as a political post box and errand runner in the service of various global players. It has done so in return for their assistance in ensuring it achieves its sole raison d’etre: survival, at any cost.
Second, the Damascus regime, especially during the reign of Hafez Al-Assad, knew only too well how to manage the priorities that stemmed from its struggle to stay in power, and became skillful in maneuvering to accomplish this while avoiding passing a point of no return with any side that may support it, or at least not object to its actions. Thus, it was keen to maintain “friendly” relations with other Arab states, and allowed some prominent Sunnis to hold senior posts in the government and army despite its tacit strategic alliance with Khomeinist Iran.
Third, Hafez al-Assad never relied on his diplomatic missions and formal channels of communication with other government in his serious relations in major world capitals, but rather on particular people who were connected with the presidency on personal or special interest levels, as was divulged by Wikileaks. These people have offered their services to the regime in much more intimate and sensitive areas than what ordinary diplomatic missions were qualified to do. Sure enough, Assad Sr. had close links with several top expatriate Syrian businessmen and entrepreneurs in the Americas and Europe who have maintained property and businesses in Syria, providing him access at the highest levels in their respective countries of residence, as well as buying him influence with research centers, academics, and PR companies under different guises.
Fourth, Iran is now running the show in Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria. Since 2005, when Syrian troops had to be withdrawn from Lebanon in the aftermath of Rafik Hariri’s assassination, it became clear that an Iran-inspired and controlled security infrastructure was already in place. It is now also the de facto government of Lebanon. Thus, the regime of Assad Jr. has become the main beneficiary of the Obama administration’s decision to join Iran in making extremist takfirist-jihadist Sunni Islam its biggest enemy. The irony here, however, is that extremist Sunni Islam has never been a hurdle for America’s interests in the Middle East. Rather, the opposite was true throughout the Cold War era.
Fifth, Washington knows quite a lot about the role played by Damascus and Tehran in facilitating the flow of extremist jihadists into occupied Iraq after 2003, with the aim of harassing American troops and forcing their withdrawal, which is exactly what happened. Indeed, after these extremists did their job, Damascus and Tehran turned them into bogeyman for America and the West; and now ISIS and the remnants of Al-Qaeda have proven to be Damascus and Tehran’s—formerly the most “steadfast” of anti-Western rulers—best means of gaining Western support and uniting under America’s regional umbrella in its war against terrorism.
All the aforementioned facts are helpful to bear in mind when considering UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura’s plan to “freeze” hostilities in and around Aleppo, prior to this being extended to all of Syria’s conflict zones, and as a stepping-stone towards a national process of peace negotiations.
The reality is that the proposed “freeze” idea sounds very much like the much trumpeted local “reconciliations” the Syrian regime has forced on the neighborhoods and city suburbs it has surrounded or blackmailed by cutting off food and medical supplies after failing to retake these areas through conventional militarily means.
Furthermore, the “freeze” idea is said to be the brainchild of a pro-Assad and pro-Hezbollah American-Iranian journalist, who has been Special Adviser for Syria in The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Office. The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) is an organization that claims to be interested in peacemaking, mediation, and humanitarian dialogue, and receives financial aid for its endeavors and plans from countries like Switzerland and Norway.
Today, it is obvious that Assad’s regime has succeeded—thanks to Iranian and Russian help—in turning what began as a peaceful popular uprising into a bloody civil war, causing population displacement and human suffering on a massive scale, and has subsequently asked its agents and its PR machine in America and Europe to portray the whole situation as a “humanitarian crisis.”
Thus, these agents and PR machines are now active in drawing the world’s attention to two humanitarian aspects of the Syrian crisis while overlooking the culprit: the need to reduce the human suffering of Syrian refugee, and confront the threat of extremists to minorities. Regarding the latter, it is worth mentioning the “In Defense of Christians” summit held recently in Washington DC, which sought to “raise awareness about the threats to Arab minorities,” and was financed and organized by wealthy businessmen and activists closely connected to Bashar Al-Assad and Iran.
Those who are aware of the de Mistura plan also point out to those said to compose de Mistura’s “kitchen cabinet” of aides and advisors. They include American, European and Israeli academics, Syrian business figure and Assad functionaries and agents, as well American and Lebanese experts in negotiation tactics.
Among the interesting studies that have provided a useful background to this and similar plans is a report prepared by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government in cooperation with NUPI (The Norwegian Institute of International Affairs) and Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, entitled Obstacles to a Resolution of the Syrian Conflict.
The common denominator linking the contributors to this Harvard-NUPI-Trinity report, which appeared in November 2013, is that most are close “friends” or virulent supporters of the Syrian president and his regime. This is especially true of Professor David W. Lesch of Trinity University whose bio underlines his close links with Assad, and the Israeli academic Professor Eyal Zisser, who some have described as “Assad’s honorary friend” in Israel. Almost all express sympathy with the regime and strong doubts about the Syrian opposition’s intentions and actions – particularly its Islamist elements – and warn against underestimating the “complex” nature of the crisis.
This is, in short, what one needs to read into the de Mistura plan.
Yet, it has to be said too that such dubious plans would have never hatched had there been international leadership that truly valued freedom, and promoted urgent, efficient, and principled solutions to the Syrian crisis, instead of turning Syria into a trap and its people into bait to attracts the extremists of ISIS.

Iran unlikely to be another Cuba for Obama
Joyce Karam /Al Arabiya
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Obama’s historic announcement yesterday ending five decades of isolation with Cuba and preparing for full normalization with Havana left many in the Middle East wondering: will Iran be next? While this is a natural juxtaposition given the amount of time and attention that Obama has allocated for reaching out to the regime in Tehran, it remains a very unlikely hypothesis in terms of realpolitik in light of Iran’s behavior regionally and the current trajectory of the nuclear negotiations.
It is true that both Cuba and Iran share a history of animosity towards the United States, but the Castro regime offers a very different model and prospects than that of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his revolutionary guard. These differences chart two separate courses for Cuba and Iran regionally and with the U.S., promising more openness for Havana in contrast with more defiance from Tehran.
Khamenei vs. Castro
The end of the 55-year isolation policy on Cuba did not happen in a vacuum. The cold war that drifted Havana away from its powerful neighbor is bygone, and the Castro regime today is no longer the Communist hub of the Western Hemisphere. Cuba’s regional behavior, including its openness and increased ties with the European Union, Brazil and Latin American organizations since early 1990s puts it in a very distant light than Tehran’s.
“It is more likely to see U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry smoking a Cuban cigar in Havana than celebrating over a nuclear agreement in Vienna”
Cuba’s improved trajectory in the Western hemisphere has in many ways prompted a review of its ties with the United States, while Iran’s deteriorating relations in the Middle East increases its isolation. Havana’s participation in several regional summits starting with the Ibero-American summits in 1991 and normalizing ties with all of the countries in Latin America stands at complete odds with Iran’s path in the Middle East. From Syria to Iraq to Yemen to Bahrain, Iran is operating with a very different playbook than Cuba’s, defying its neighbors by relying on sectarian militias to advance its agenda. This tension has resulted in Iran’s exclusion of major summits on the Middle East, including the two Geneva summits on Syria, and it has complicated to a great deal Obama’s effort to improve relations with Tehran. It is no coincidence that the U.S. president pressures regional players such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE to try to improve their relations with Iran, as such an outcome is necessary for any comprehensive overhaul of relations between Washington and Tehran.
Another major difference between Cuba and Iran is a long determination on the part of the international community that the embargo on Havana is a bad idea, while the sanctions on the Iranian regime still enjoy full support. The Cuba embargo has been voted down 17 times at the United Nations General Assembly and Havana’s growing ties with the European Union, China and Russia broke the isolation policy. Compare that with the eight U.N. resolutions adopted by the Security Council and slapping sanctions on Iran. Cuba after all is not a nuclear power, and its ambitious plans with the help of Soviet Union to construct power reactors collapsed with the collapse of the latter.
Different ‘ideological markers’
During the last round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna and which ended without a framework agreement, the French Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud astutely remarked on Twitter: “For Iran, reaching an agreement with the west would be the loss of the last ideological marker of the revolution, foundation of the regime.” This ideological marker sets for Iran a very different path than that of Cuba’s and blocks efforts for full normalization with the West.
The Khamenei playbook is designed as such today to implement a delicate balance with the West, agreeing to discuss nuclear matters, end the hostile rhetoric of Ahmadinejad, but without letting go of the same old anti-Westen pillars of the Islamic revolution in 1979. Giving up on these pillars and normalizing relations with the West will be equivalent to ending the revolution in Iran. This is gradually happening in Cuba, but the Iranian regime is nowhere near that point. Hence, Obama’s four letters to Khamenei went unanswered, the language threatening to abolish Israel has not changed and the FBI warned last week of Iranian efforts to hack U.S. companies.
Politically, the failure of the November 24 talks to even achieve joint principles has significantly lowered the expectations in Washington on reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal. A Western source with knowledge of the talks summed it up as such: “Khamenei does not want a deal, we will try to add pressure to reach such outcome later but it is very far from certain.” This stands in contrast with the negotiations between Obama and Castro, leading to incremental steps easing travel and money transfers three years ago and a Castro-Obama handshake during Nelson’s Mandela funeral in December of last year.
The Cuba-Iran comparison falls apart when looking at their respective behavior regionally and vis-a-vis the United States. At this stage, it is more likely to see U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry smoking a Cuban cigar in Havana than popping champagne over a nuclear agreement in Vienna. For Obama, Cuba is the closest he will get to Richard Nixon’s moment in China in 1972, absent of a dramatic change inside Iran and its powerful ruling elite.

EU Court Annuls Hamas Terrorist Designation
Matthew Levitt/Al Arabiya
December 18, 2014
The group's legal challenge will likely succeed for now, but the EU can reinstate the ban by relying on the plethora of evidence from European terrorism cases involving Hamas.
In the latest sign of the legal troubles facing the European Union's designation regime -- the authority under which governments can freeze funds and economic resources of illicit actors -- the EU General Court is expected to annul the terrorist designation of Hamas on December 17. The judgment comes on the heels of a similar action in October that annulled the Council of the European Union's designation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on similarly procedural grounds. Although the new judgment is not expected to acquit Hamas of charges related to violence, it comes at a time when the group's terrorist and militant activities are on the rise. And like the LTTE, Hamas will surely point to the judgment as "evidence" that it is not a terrorist entity.
On September 12, 2010, Hamas appealed its designation as a terrorist entity under the EU's Common Position 931. In 2002, the EU had banned the group's military "wing," the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, but not its social or political branches. Yet in September 2003, following a series of Hamas suicide bombings during the second intifada, the EU expanded the listing to include the entire group, though several European countries agreed to the action only skeptically.
Several years passed before the first of several Hamas-related appeals made its way before the General Court. The first, Case T-400/10, is the case at hand today. Two others involved the designation of the al-Aqsa Foundation -- a Hamas-linked charity -- and were dismissed by the court (cases C-539/10 P and C-550/10 P). Another amounted to a second Hamas appeal of its designation (T-531/11) and was therefore "dismissed as manifestly inadmissible" since it duplicated the preexisting case; in June 2012, Hamas was ordered to bear its own costs and to pay those of the Council of the EU as well.
The Hamas appeal laid out seven "pleas in law" in support of its action, all procedural in nature:
1. The group asserted a lack of due process, asserting that it did not receive notification of the act and insisting that "mere publication" of the EU decision in the Official Journal of the European Union "cannot be deemed to be notification of such an act."
2. Hamas asserted that its rights were infringed according to the standards laid out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, namely because "the act was virtually inaccessible for the applicant."
3. Hamas asserted that its rights were infringed based on the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 6(3)(a), "concerning the right of an accused person to be informed promptly, in a language he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him."
4. Hamas explicitly challenged the premise that it is a terrorist entity and alleged the designation was a "manifest error of assessment." Since Hamas "is a legitimate elected government," it argued that "in accordance with the principle of non-interference in the internal matters of a State, [Hamas] cannot be placed on lists of terrorists."
5. The group asserted infringement of its fundamental right to defend itself and its right to "good administration," since the designation decision "was not preceded by a notification of the evidence held against it and the applicant was not given the opportunity to present duly its submission on that evidence."
6. Hamas argued that "freezing of the applicant's funds is an unjustified restriction on its property right."
7. Hamas asserted infringement of its fundamental rights since "the Council did not provide a specific statement of reasons" for its actions either in notice of its decision or in the regulation enacting the decision.
The court is expected to rule along strictly procedural grounds, much as it did with the LTTE. In that case, the court rejected the LTTE's contention that its designation as a terrorist group was a manifest error of judgment. Specifically, it rejected the argument that as an actor in an armed conflict, the LTTE should be subject to international humanitarian law but not antiterror legislation (i.e., that the group was a legitimate militia, not a terrorist group). Indeed, the court emphasized that the annulment of the terror designation was "on fundamental procedural grounds [and does] not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of the LTTE as a terrorist group within the meaning of Common Position 2001/931." A similar caveat is expected to accompany the Hamas annulment.
Due-process and transparency challenges to the EU designation regime are not new, so the court is likely to concur with most of Hamas's arguments regarding sufficient notification, opportunity to challenge the designation, and a lack of transparency. Yet the court will probably deny challenges regarding the right to freeze property, as well as the contention that Hamas is a "legitimate elected government" and therefore cannot be placed on a terrorist list.
The most critical part of the decision will likely center on the technical question of what may be considered as evidence to underscore an EU designation. CP 931 requires information to come from "a competent authority." In the case of the LTTE, the court determined that that designation was based on information from Indian authorities as a "third state outside the EU." The court determined further that some of the information was "derived from the press and the internet," and that the Council did not carry out sufficient checks in determining "competent authority." The court will likely make a similar determination in the Hamas case regarding information from "third states" outside the EU -- namely, Israel and the United States, both of which reportedly provided information to support the Hamas designation.
The question of "competent authority" is an odd one in general, and especially in the context of Hamas, given that CP 931 lays out its standards rather clearly:
"Common Position 2001/931/CFSP applies to persons, groups and entities involved in terrorist acts, when a decision has been taken by a competent authority in respect of the person, group or entity concerned. Such decision may concern the instigation of investigations or prosecution for a terrorist act, an attempt to carry out or facilitate such an act based on serious and credible evidence or clues, or condemnation for such deeds. A competent authority is a judicial authority or, where judicial authorities have no competence in the area, an equivalent competent authority."
In this case, Israel and the United States reportedly provided information based on their respective designations of Hamas and evidence from criminal court cases within their jurisdictions. Moreover, information underpinning the Hamas designation likely came from at least one EU government, Britain, which banned the group's Qassam Brigades on its own in March 2001.
Meanwhile, another "third state" -- Qatar -- may have played some undetermined role in the Hamas appeal. A publicly available document on the EU website regarding this case includes a section entitled "Procedural Analysis Information." Under that heading is a section on "Nationalities of the parties," which simply states: "non-member countries, Qatar."
As with the LTTE, the Hamas judgment will likely include a three-month period during which frozen funds will remain blocked to ease the process of enacting the annulment. Meanwhile, EU officials will decide whether to appeal the court's decision and present additional evidence to support the designation.
While many European diplomats resent the designation of Hamas, pointing to the group's dominance of the Gaza Strip and its centrality to regional events, the EU will likely work assiduously to reinstate the designation for two reasons: first, to protect its designation regime from further legal challenges and defend the Council's original ban on Hamas, and second, to prevent an inherently apolitical, independent judicial action from damaging the prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East. The very same day the EU court issues its judgment, the UN Security Council is expected to vote on a Palestinian resolution setting a November 2016 deadline for outlining a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, including Israeli withdrawal from lands sought for a Palestinian state. These two actions will be seen by many, especially in Israel, as intertwined. And Hamas will no doubt point to the decision as vindication of its claim that it is not a terrorist group -- its recent kidnappings, rocket salvos, and tunnel attacks notwithstanding.
The good news is that a plethora of Hamas criminal cases have been opened within EU member states over the past few years, providing plentiful information derived from strictly European sources regarding the group's terrorist nature. Indeed, EU authorities have been working closely with Israel to counter the burgeoning Hamas fundraising network that has been taking root in Europe despite the EU ban (see "Kidnapped Israeli Teens Compel Scrutiny of Hamas's International Finances"). Those investigations should now serve as the basis for a renewed terrorist designation of Hamas.
**Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute. His publications include the 2006 book Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad.

Muslims Must Save Islam from Islamists
Tarek Fatah/The Toronto Sun
December 18, 2014
Jihadists see Western-style education of the youth as a problem worth mass murdering for. It seems there is no respite for the ordinary Muslim. Barely a day goes by when news of fresh atrocities by our coreligionists isn't in the headlines.
Most of the world's billion-plus Muslims wouldn't dream of killing in the name of Islam, but enough do to form a critical mass that has put us on a collision course with the rest of humanity. The Sydney siege by an ISIS-inspired jihadist had barely ended when the horrific news of a Taliban massacre killing 140 children at a Pakistani school shocked the world. It took place at an "Army Public School", inside a Pakistan cantonment on the edges of Peshawar. Many of the students who attended this elite school were the sons and daughters of Pakistan army officers. Most of the world's billion-plus Muslims wouldn't dream of killing in the name of Islam, but enough do to form a critical mass that has put us on a collision course with the rest of humanity. Ironically, the Taliban barbarians who killed these children were a creation of the Pakistan military, aimed at controlling neighbouring Afghanistan as a satellite state. Why did the Taliban strike at a military school? Could it be retaliation for the recent Pakistan army campaign to expel the Taliban out of Pakistan and into Afghanistan?
That may be one reason. But knowing the workings of the worldwide jihadist terror movement and the Islamists who sow its seeds in Islamic countries and the West, there is another: the Islamist's rejection of Western-style education systems.
The school attacked had boys and girls attending classes in what is referred to as a co-educational "English-medium" school. The boys, smartly dressed in green blazers, white shorts and green neckties, reflect everything the Islamists despise.
And to be in the company of teenaged girls being educated at the same school would be seen as the worst of sins by those who promote Islamism, not just in Islamic countries but in Canada.
I suggest this is the "Boko Haramization" of the Pakistani jihadist movement that proclaims "western education is 'Haraam' (sinful)". Not that the Taliban have any tolerance for educating girls —Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai being one their early victims — but this attack appears to have been aimed largely at teenaged boys. Last month, Zahid Askani, an American-educated Baloch who ran a co-educational school, where boys and girls studied English and wore western-style jackets and neckties, was assassinated by suspected jihadist death squads with the reported backing of the military. Muslims who claim the actions of the Taliban or ISIS are not Islamic ... must renounce armed jihad as unfit for our age.
Massacres are not new to Pakistan, or its military. In the last few years Pakistan's army intelligence wing has reportedly abducted and killed hundreds of students in the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) in Balochistan who support an indigenous independence movement.
Just a day after an ISIS-sympathizer took hostages in Sydney, Australia, leading to his own death and that of two innocent civilians, the tragedy of Peshawar provides another opportunity for Muslims to recognize we have a serious problem that only we can correct.
Muslims who claim the actions of the Taliban or ISIS are not Islamic must match this rhetoric by coming together and calling for a strict separation between Islam and politics. They must renounce armed jihad as unfit for our age. If they don't, we will all be tarred by the actions of those who kill in the name of Islam and Allah. The hashtag on Twitter by an Australian woman expressing solidarity with Muslims, #Illridewithyou, may please us, but it will not save us from the proverbial Dante's Inferno.
Only we can do that, no one else.
***Tarek Fatah is a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a columnist at the Toronto Sun, host of a Sunday afternoon talk show on Toronto's NewsTalk1010 AM Radio, and a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of two award-winning books: Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State and The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism.

What Future and Hezbollah should discuss
Michael Young| The Daily Star
Dec. 18, 2014
So great are the worries that Sunni-Shiite relations may deteriorate in Lebanon, that everyone embraces the impending dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah. While nothing will likely come of it, most people believe, the mere fact that it is about to take place is regarded as important.
It seems to be dawning on all sides, particularly Hezbollah, that the conflict in Syria has reached the stage where it may easily overwhelm Lebanon. Not that it hasn’t done so already, with well over a million Syrian refugees in the country. Yet the potential is for something far worse, as the violence in Syria reaches new heights and as regional and international players appear utterly unable to manage the consequences.
In that context, the Future-Hezbollah dialogue would do well to focus on one scenario that could be devastating for Lebanon, both from a political and a humanitarian perspective: the sudden collapse of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus at the hands of militant Islamist forces.
That’s hardly to suggest that Assad is a stabilizing factor in Syria. If anything, the continued absence of a consensus over what to do with the Syrian president has only reinforced the jihadis in Syria. The United States in particular has simply refused to acknowledge that after almost four years of carnage, a vast majority of Syrians are much more concerned with what happens to the psychopath ruling over them than the potential for a chance terrorist attack in Western cities.
If Assad were to lose to the jihadis in Damascus, the repercussions would be infinitely more dramatic than what happened in Mosul last summer. The symbolism of one of the great Arab cities, the former seat of the Umayyad caliphate, surrendering to militant Islamist groups would be monumental. Worse, as the ultimate prize Damascus could quite possibly invite intervention from rival forces, turning the city into a battleground and exacerbating the humanitarian catastrophe.
Future and Hezbollah each has reasons to collaborate and guard against such an outcome. The moderate Sunnis in Future would likely be swept away by the triumph of the Islamists, while the community in general might see an opportunity to strike back at Hezbollah, which has humiliated them for almost a decade.
Hezbollah, in turn, would legitimately regard a jihadi victory in Syria as an existential threat. The reason is that the temptation of such groups could be to extend their reach to Lebanon by waging war against the Shiite community.
Christians, with existential fears of their own and uncertain of how Sunnis might tilt, would probably side with the Shiites. Minorities usually protect themselves by imagining, and preparing for, the worst-case scenarios.
Such circumstances might never come about, and there are those who insist the Assad regime will not soon disintegrate. Perhaps, but Hezbollah’s willingness to support the Lebanese Army’s efforts to consolidate defenses along the Lebanese-Syrian border suggest the party is not taking any chances.
Hezbollah no doubt has a short-term stake in encouraging border interdiction as it continues to fight armed groups in Syria’s Qalamoun region that seek to resupply themselves via Lebanon. But beyond that, the party is also keen to contain the Syrian war within Syrian territory, and protect Lebanese Shiite communities. It realizes that with well over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, most of them Sunnis hostile to Hezbollah for assisting Bashar Assad militarily, there is a need to prevent their political mobilization in Lebanon. Retaining tight control over the borders helps in this regard.
Is it realistic to assume that Future and Hezbollah can reach common ground on so divisive a subject as Syria, given their diametrically opposed interests in the country? To an extent yes. They have generally been on the same page in supporting the Army against the armed groups in Arsal. Both have also been pragmatic when the tremors of the Syrian conflict have threatened their power as well as Lebanese civil peace.
The parties should also examine ways to improve the performance and appeal of the Army. Everyone backs the Army, but its wanton arrest of people lately, in the north in particular, has generated resentment that has remained understated amid the jingoism sweeping the country. It may seem odd for two political parties to discuss the Army’s behavior, but together they represent a substantial share of Parliament and happen to be the two leading political forces in the country.
Yet Hezbollah will want to tread carefully when it comes to the military, as the party has used it repeatedly to advance its own political agenda. Nor does Hezbollah want any discord with its ally Michel Aoun, who had influence over the officer corps and would very much like to see his son in law, Shamel Roukoz, become Army commander.
But as the Army is bound to play a central role in both Future’s and Hezbollah’s visions for Lebanon in the coming years, it cannot be ignored as a topic of discussion and consensus. If Hezbollah is preoccupied with shielding Lebanon from the Syrian breakers, it cannot look the other way if the Army’s actions are increasingly alienating many Sunnis. By the same token, if Future is as supportive of the Army as its representatives claim, then it has to offer proposals that reconcile the Army’s priorities with those of Sunnis.
Dialogue is always good, but the situation in Syria demands more than a photo op and soothing words. Indiscernibly, the Syrian situation is going through permutations that may accelerate before long. Assad may feel secure, but those are the moments that should worry him the most. Lebanon must brace for his fall, whether it happens or not.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.