December 21/14

Bible Quotation for today/The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
Matthew 15/21-28: " Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.  He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 20-21/14
Iran as an Occupying Force in Syria/Fouad Hamdan and Shiar Youssef /December 20-21/14
Obama’s Cuba December surprise/Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/December 20/14
Tumbling Oil Prices and Assad’s Friends/Tariq Alhomayed /Asharq Al Awsat/December 20/14
The Dangerous Wars of the Future/Osman Mirghani /Asharq Al Awsat/December 20/14

Who is responsible for the Pakistan school massacre/Dr. Nafeez Ahmed /Al Arabiya/December 20/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 20-21/14
Lebanon judge charges 13 over fuel scandal
Rifi lauds ISF over raid on Baathists
U.N. Asks Israel to Pay Lebanon $850 M for Oil Spill

Jumblat Urges IS to 'Appreciate' His Stance, Says Won't Give Up Efforts for 'Swap Deal'
Lebanese Army arrests seven including terror suspect

Hiba Tawaji auditions for France's The Voice
Masri Warns Collapse of Negotiations with Islamists Threatens Lives of Hostages
U.N. Asks Israel to Pay Lebanon $850 M for Oil Spill
U.N. Asks Israel to Pay Lebanon $850 M for Oil Spill
Berri Pessimistic on Adoption of New Electoral Law
Army Carries Out Raids in Several Areas, Arrests Suspects
Report: Apprehension of Terrorists to Impact Case of Captive Servicemen
Ghanem Urges Election of President for Breakthrough on Electoral Law

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 20-21/14
ISIS executes 100 foreigners trying to quit: report
Kurds advance against ISIS in Kobani
Kurds press Sinjar operation in north Iraq

Canada Condemns Chemical Attacks by Assad Regime
Saudi forces kill four militants in Awamiya
EU divided on de Mistura’s Aleppo ceasefire plan: diplomat

Erdogan praises 'clean' legal process against opponents
Extremists in Nigeria lining up elderly and shooting them
Franciscans in 'grave' financial trouble after massive fraud
Afghan civilian casualties hit record high: UN
Dozens arrested at Ankara education protest
Maqdisi’s arrest killed negotiations over Kassig’s release: Cohen

UK ambassador to Libya says no military solution to crisis

Nigeria military, Islamists clash near site of latest kidnap
U.S. drone strike kills five in Pakistan
Israel launches first Gaza strikes since 50-day war
Russia Says New U.S., Canada Sanctions Will Fuel Ukraine Unrest

Jihad Watch Site Latest Posts
New York legislator gets Islamic State-style threat

Obama: Against the freedom of speech before he was for it
Muslim cleric gets death threats after wife appears with him on TV without face veil
Video: Robert Spencer on Sun TV on the Peshawar jihad massacre and more
North Carolina public high school proselytizing for Islam in vocabulary lessons
Pakistan grants bail to Mumbai jihad massacre mastermind
After $28 billion in aid, US still can’t get Pakistan to confront jihadists
Islamic jihadists in Gaza fire rocket into southern Israel
Islamic State propagandist: “I’m a soldier…I don’t regret what I’ve done”
Jihad groups largely mum on CIA torture report
Spain frees ex-Muslim jailed for criticizing Islam, expels him from country
Yazidis cheer Kurds on Iraqi mountain for breaking ISIS siege

Lebanon judge charges 13 over fuel scandal

Dec. 20, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim filed charges of embezzlement of public funds Saturday against 13 people, including nine already in custody, implicated in a scandal over state fuel contracts.  The suspects include eight employees of the Rafik Hariri Hospital, the state-run institution that is among eight hospitals that contracted with Al-Sahra Petroleum for fuel. The judge accused the 13 of embezzling public funds, bribery and tampering with fuel meters. He referred the case to Investigative Judge Ghassan Oeidat. Last week, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour filed a lawsuit against the company, which he accused of manipulating the quantity of petroleum products including fuel and issuing fraudulent invoices. The owner of the firm and a police officer have also been arrested in the case. Many of the institutions that have contracts with the company have complained that Al-Sahraa was mixing sulfur with diesel to expand its volume, and then manipulating the bills for the transactions.

Lebanon Army arrests seven including terror suspect
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army said Saturday that it arrested seven people including a Syrian terror suspect in the Metn region and the northeastern town of Arsal. In a statement, the military said an Army unit raided several locations in Sabtieh and Fanat and detained two Syrians, a Palestinian and three Lebanese. The detainees had light arms and drugs as well as a number of cameras and telecommunication devices. In Arsal, the northeastern border region, the Army arrested Syrian Mohammad Mustafa on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization and possessing “suspicious documents.”He was on his way to Arsal from the outskirts bordering Syria on his motorcycle when the Army stopped him. The Army has launched a nationwide crackdown following clashes with militants in several parts of north Lebanon.

Berri Pessimistic on Adoption of New Electoral Law
Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri expressed pessimism on Saturday regarding the new electoral law, considering that the rival parties will not reach consensus over the matter. “I expect that the 1960 electoral law to remain for a long time,” Berri's visitors quoted him as saying in comments published in al-Joumhouria newspaper. He expressed belief that the electoral law will not be adopted ahead of the election of a new head of state nor after it. The presidential seat has been vacant since President Michel Suleiman's term ended on May 25.
The speaker, who is the head of the AMAL movement, pointed out that the expected dialogue between Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal Movement could present a new chance to adopt an electoral law. The newspaper said that the agenda of the dialogue between the two parties, which is expected to kick off on December 29, will also included discussions on the thorny elections law. On Tuesday, the Lebanese Forces suspended its participation in the electoral subcommittee until a parliamentary session is scheduled to vote on a new draft-law. The subcommittee is discussing several proposals, the so-called Orthodox Gathering proposal, a draft-law that divides Lebanon into 50 districts based on a winner-takes-all system, in addition to the hybrid suggestion made by Berri. The 11-member parliamentary subcommittee tasked with discussing several electoral law proposal kicked off meetings recently, in light of the extension of the parliament’s tenure, in an attempt to reach consensus over a hybrid electoral draft-law. The March 8 and 14 alliances are represented in the committee, which was granted a one-month ultimatum by Berri to reach consensus. The new parliament should approve a new electoral law and issue a decree that shortens its term after it was extended to 2017. The parliament extended its term in November until June 2017 despite the boycott of the Free Patriotic Movement and Kataeb MPs. Most blocs have announced their rejection to the 1960 electoral law that is based on a winner-takes-all system. It was used in the 2009 elections.

U.N. Asks Israel to Pay Lebanon $850 M for Oil Spill
Naharnet /The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution Friday asking Israel to pay Lebanon over $850 million in damages for an oil spill caused by an Israeli air force attack on oil storage tanks during its war with Hizbullah in July 2006.
The assembly voted 170-6 in favor of the resolution, with three abstentions. Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, Micronesia and Marshall Islands voted "no." General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but they do reflect world opinion. The resolution says "the environmental disaster" caused by the destruction of the tanks resulted in an oil slick that covered the entire Lebanese coastline and extended to the Syrian coastline, causing extensive pollution. Israel's U.N. Mission said in a statement late Friday that the resolution is biased against Israel. "Israel Immediately responded to the oil slick incident by cooperating closely with the United Nations Environment Program, as well as other U.N. agencies and NGOs, addressing the environmental situation along the coast of Lebanon," the statement reads. "This resolution has long outlived the effects of the oil slick, and serves no purpose other than to contribute to institutionalizing an anti-Israel agenda at the U.N.."
The assembly acknowledged the conclusions in an August report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that studies show the value of damage to Lebanon amounted to $856.4 million in 2014. It asked Israel to provide "prompt and adequate compensation."
The assembly also asked Ban to urge U.N. bodies and other organizations involved in the initial assessment to conduct a further study, building on the work conducted by the World Bank, to measure and quantify the environmental damage sustained by neighboring countries.
The resolution notes that "the secretary-general expressed grave concern at the lack of any acknowledgment on the part of the government of Israel of its responsibilities vis-a-vis reparations and compensation" to Lebanon and Syria for the oil spill.
It notes that Ban concluded that the spill is not covered by any international oil spill compensation funds and therefore recognizes "that further consideration needs to be given to the option of security the relevant compensation from the government of Israel."
Lebanon's U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam said his country considers the resolution to be "major progress" because it puts forward a figure for compensation, acknowledges the conclusions of the secretary-general's report, and reaffirms the General Assembly's commitment to justice. "We affirm that Lebanon will continue to mobilize all resources and resort to all legal means to see that this resolution is fully implemented, and that the specified compensation is paid promptly."

Masri Warns Collapse of Negotiations with Islamists Threatens Lives of Hostages
Naharnet /Salafist cleric Wissam al-Masri warned on Saturday that the failure to strike a deal with the Islamist militants, who are holding several Lebanese soldiers and policemen captive, threatens the lives of the servicemen, revealing that he will head to the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal soon. “We are exerting all efforts to resolve the case,” Masri said in an interview with As Safir newspaper, expressing belief that the servicemen “will not be well if the negotiations collapsed.”
“The abductors have previously stressed that they will not wait for long.” The cleric revealed to his interviewer that he is waiting for the kidnappers to contact him in order to head back to the outskirts of Arsal. “They will supposedly hand me over their official demands and maybe a pledge not kill any of the captives,” Masri said. He called on the Lebanese state and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to take serious action and present practical solutions. Masri said Friday that he had met with IS leaders the day before in Qalamoun, Syria, near the Lebanese border and seen nine of the soldiers.The Sheikh said that his initiative is individual as “none of the sides tasked me with the negotiations in public.”“We have broke the ice by meeting the IS leaders and the captives, which is a positive step.” The kidnapped soldiers and policemen were taken hostage after the al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front and the IS group overran Arsal in August. Four captives have been executed so far, and the jihadists have threatened to kill the remaining hostages unless there is a deal to free Islamist prisoners in Lebanon. “The main reason behind my initiative is the dire situation of the Syrian refugees and the oppression against them,” Masri told As Safir daily.
The Sheikh said that the captive servicemen are in “high spirit,” saying: “They are treated well.”
Masri remarked that the IS fighters “expressed anger the state's handling of Hizbullah intervention in the war raging in the neighboring country Syria.”The Salafist cleric said that he didn't meet with al-Nusra Front leaders due to heavy shelling on the outskirts of Arsal, expressing hope that in the upcoming stage he will meet with them. On Friday, a French-speaking jihadist threatened to execute Lebanese soldiers held hostage by the IS group, saying three prominent anti-IS Lebanese politicians would be responsible for their deaths. The threat was made in a video Agence France Presse obtained from al-Masri. The speaker attacked the Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblatt for what he said is their support for Hizbullah, whose fighters are aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war against largely Sunni Muslim rebels that include IS. "You are certainly criminals, but you have added to your crimes today by your collaboration with Hizbullah and your transformation of the Lebanese army into a mere puppet in the hands of Hizbullah, with which it oppresses Sunnis."IS is a radical Sunni organization that considers Shiite Muslims to be heretics. It has murdered many of them in a campaign of atrocities in areas under its control in Syria and neighboring Iraq. "You are therefore responsible for the fate of your fellow citizens. Their future, their life and death, depends on your next decision," he said without making any specific demands of the three men. However, the jihadists have demanded that Islamist prisoners held in Lebanese jails be released in exchange for the hostages.

Jumblat Urges IS to 'Appreciate' His Stance, Says Won't Give Up Efforts for 'Swap Deal'
Naharnet /Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat responded Friday to a threat from the Islamic State group that held him along with two other top Lebanese leaders responsible for the possible execution of three of the captive Lebanese servicemen.
“We have not and will not give up the mediation role, according to the principle of a swap deal, under any circumstances,” Jumblat said on his official Twitter account, citing the IS' threat that was announced in a video message.
“I do not understand the accusation of the Islamic State's representative regarding France or parties other than France … We have nothing to do with what others are doing or saying,” Jumblat added.
“I'm not saying this to offend (al-Mustaqbal movement leader) Saad Hariri or (Lebanese Forces chief) Samir Geagea,” the PSP leader went on to say, referring to the two other leaders who were described in the IS' video as “the allies of France in Lebanon.”
Jumblat noted that his close aide, Health Minister Wael Abou Faour, “has exerted efforts and will continue to do so according to the approach of a swap deal, away from the calculations of the others.”
“I hope the Islamic State will appreciate this stance,” Jumblat added.
The IS' threat was made in a video distributed by a Salafist cleric, Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, who is mediating the release of 25 policemen and soldiers held by IS and the Syrian branch of al-Qaida the al-Nusra Front. Four hostages have already been executed by the two groups. The men were kidnapped during August clashes between the jihadists and the Lebanese army in and around the northeastern border town of Arsal. The speaker in the video attacked the three politicians for what he said is their support for Hizbullah, whose fighters are aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war against largely Sunni Muslim rebels that include IS.
"You are certainly criminals, but you have added to your crimes today by your collaboration with Hizbullah and your transformation of the Lebanese army into a mere puppet in the hands of Hizbullah, with which it oppresses Sunnis," he says.
The jihadists of the IS and al-Nusra have demanded that Islamist prisoners held in Lebanese jails be released in exchange for the hostages.

Franciscan Order in 'grave' financial trouble after massive fraud
Dec. 20, 2014/Agence France Presse
ROME: The Franciscan Order founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, who advocated a life of poverty, is in deep financial trouble following the discovery of massive fraud and is appealing for help. Italy's Panorama magazine said the 800-year-old order had invested tens of millions of euros in suspect firms currently under investigation in Switzerland for dodgy practices. The Italian press has also questioned the order's financial wisdom in spending millions of euros on renovating Il Cantico, a luxury hotel it owns in Rome. In a rare open letter, the American head of the order, Michael Perry, admitted the situation was "grave." "The General Curia finds itself in grave, and I underscore 'grave' financial difficulty, with a significant burden of debt," he said. "The matter involves our financial stability and the patrimony of the Order," he wrote in a rare open letter that appeals for financial support from "all Provincials and Custodes."  "While our first concern has and remains verifying the nature, extent, and impact of what has occurred, we also recognize the significant role that external actors, people who are not members of the Order, have played in creating this grave situation."The letter describes an investigation that was launched in September into accounts dating back to 2003. A general treasurer has resigned since then. The Franciscan order is present in 110 countries and includes 13,600 friars worldwide.

Yazidis cheer Kurds on Iraqi mountain for breaking ISIS siege
Reuters/Dec. 21, 2014
SINJAR MOUNTAIN, Iraq: Iraqi Kurdish fighters flashed victory signs as they swept across the northern side of Sinjar mountain on Saturday, two days after breaking through to free hundreds of Yazidis trapped there for months by Islamic State fighters.
A Reuters correspondent, who arrived on the mountain late Saturday, witnessed Kurdish and Yazidi fighters celebrating their gains after launching their offensive on Wednesday with heavy U.S. air support. The Iraqi Kurdish flag fluttered, with its yellow sun, and celebratory gunfire rang out. Little children cheered "Barzani's party", in reference to the Kurdish region's president, Massoud Barzani.  "We have been surrounded the last three months. We were living off of raw wheat and barley," said Yazidi fighter Haso Mishko Haso.
It was the plight of those trapped on the mountain, together with Islamic State's advance towards the Kurdish capital Arbil, that prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to order air strikes against IS in Iraq in August. Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority were killed or captured by the militants. Since then, Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq have regained most of the ground they had lost. But the war grinds on, as a weakened Iraqi army and Shi'ite militia volunteers battle back and forth with Islamic State across central and western Iraq. The United States is also carrying out air strikes on IS in Syria.  Kurdish and Yazidi fighters on Saturday predicted the Yazidi town of Sinjar to the south would soon fall to Kurdish forces. They said a battle there was already under way, although there was no independent confirmation. "Now there is fighting in Sinjar. Islamic State's morale has collapsed completely," said Haji Najem Hussim, a Yazidi fighter with the Kurdistan Democratic Party. "One hundred percent tomorrow, we will go to the town of Sinjar."
He said Islamic State fighters had only suicide bombers and snipers. A 32-truck convoy of aid sent by Iraqi Kurds to the Yazidis, including food, tents, medical supplies and food, arrived on the mountain on Saturday. At night, war planes could be heard roaring overhead.
No Yazidis appeared to have come down from the mountain, as many were waiting to see the fate of Sinjar town before attempting to return.

Iran as an Occupying Force in Syria
By Fouad Hamdan and Shiar Youssef
Dec 20, 2014
Middle East Institute
It is no longer accurate to describe the war in Syria as a conflict between Syrian rebels on the one hand and Bashar al-Assad's regime forces “supported” by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG), Hezbollah, and Iraqi militias on the other. Most major battles in Syria—along the frontlines of regime-held areas—are now being directed and fought by the IRG and Hezbollah, along with other non-Syrian Shi‘i militias, with Assad forces in a supportive or secondary role.
The Iranian regime has spent billions of dollars on weapons and fighters shipped to Syria since the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011. It has also financed a large part of the economy in the regime-controlled parts of Syria through loans and credit lines worth billions of dollars. The Assad regime would have collapsed were it not for this Iranian support.
One result of this heavy Iranian involvement in the war in Syria has been a change in the nature of the relationship between the Syrian and the Iranian regimes. From historically being mutually beneficial allies, the Iranian regime is now effectively the dominant force in regime-held areas of Syria, and can thus be legally considered an “occupying force,” with the responsibilities that accompany such a role.
The revolution in Syria can therefore also be considered an international conflict that involves a foreign military occupation by Iranian forces and a struggle by the Syrian people against this occupation, as defined by the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
Recognizing the war in Syria as an international conflict also means that, as an occupying force, Iran has certain duties toward the Syrian population under its occupation. There is sufficient evidence that the Iranian regime and its various forces and militias fighting in Syria have repeatedly violated many of these duties since March 2011.
In November 2014, the campaign group Naame Shaam, of which the authors are founders, released a report on the role of the Iranian regime in the ongoing war in Syria. The report, “Iran in Syria: From an Ally of the Regime to an Occupying Force,” provides many examples of human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Syria that would likely not have taken place without the Iranian regime's direct military involvement.
The Iranian regime's adventure in Syria is not just about saving Assad and his regime. Rather, it has been primarily driven by the Iranian regime's own strategic interests. At the forefront of these interests is keeping arms shipments flowing to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria, so as to keep Hezbollah a deterrent against possible attacks on Iran's military nuclear program. The other Iranian lines of defense include the government and various Shi‘i militias in Iraq, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and recently the Houthi militias in Yemen.
If the Assad regime falls, Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah are likely to cease, and Hezbollah would no longer be the deterrence against Israel that it is now. The Iranian regime would therefore feel more vulnerable and would not be able to negotiate from a strong position during nuclear talks with international powers. It may even have to at least temporarily give up its dreams of building a nuclear bomb. Resources in Iran—human, economic, and military—have as a result been mobilized to keep Assad in power.
The U.S. administration has so far been unwilling to intervene in a decisive manner against the Assad regime, the IRG, and Hezbollah. It was providing moderate Syrian rebels with just enough support not to lose the war, but not enough to win it either. Even this support has declined in recent months, and rebel groups have suffered more losses in northern Syria. The Naame Shaam report describes this as a “slow bleeding” policy adopted by the Obama administration toward Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.
The consequences of this policy have been catastrophic for the people of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, and they also pose threats to regional and international security. Failing to seriously support moderate Syrian rebels and not targeting the Assad regime and other Iranian-backed militias and forces fighting in Syria has predictably led to the weakening of moderate Syrian rebels. The heavy losses suffered by the Free Syrian Army against both Iranian-backed forces and al-Qa‘ida-affiliated groups in Aleppo, Idlib, and elsewhere in October-November 2014 are but one example of the outcome of a weak U.S. policy in Syria.
Moreover, even tacitly liaising or collaborating with the Iranian regime in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) antagonizes the Sunni majority in the region. It cannot be in the United States’ interest that the prevailing perception among many Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis today is that they are being left to the Iranian-influenced regimes of Syria and Iraq while the West is focusing only on fighting ISIS. It also cannot be in the United States’ interest that the Iranian regime is left to consolidate its dominance in the region through its Shi‘i militias.
One effective way to end the bloodshed in Syria is to link the Iran nuclear talks and sanctions to the Iranian regime's intervention in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. There is an obvious reason for this: agreeing to lift the sanctions on Iran for the sake of concessions from the Iranian regime about its nuclear program, and without any serious commitment to end its intervention in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, is effectively giving the Iranian regime a green light to carry on with its policies in these countries and is buying it time to consolidate its regional influence. The Iranian regime must remain under serious political and economic pressure, not only until it gives up its military nuclear program, but also until it ends its destabilizing policies in the region.
The United States and its allies should set an ultimatum for Iran, with a clear timetable of four or six months, to take the following steps:
•pull the IRG, Hezbollah Lebanon, and other non-Syrian allied militias out of Syria;
•allow for a truly inclusive transitional government in Syria without Assad
•press Hezbollah Lebanon to integrate its fighters into the Lebanese Army
•press for real power sharing in Baghdad and for the Iraqi National Army to be more inclusive, and arrange for all the Shi‘i militias it controls (such as Abu Fadl al-Abbas and Asaib Ahl al-Haq) to disband
•end its military support to the Houthi militias in Yemen
•end its military support of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip
During this period, the United States and its allies should support Syrian rebels by all means necessary to enable them to be on the offensive against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as the IRG-controlled forces and militias fighting on behalf of the Assad regime. They should also put all their weight behind helping the Syrian opposition to develop into a professional and effective representative of the Syrian people struggling for a free and democratic Syria, where the rule of law prevails. This political and military support should be provided through a unified channel supervised by the United States and the EU, rather than leaving it to various regional and international players with conflicting agendas.
If Iran fails to accede to these demands for it to cease its regional interventionism, the United States and its allies should put on the table a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter VII imposing safe and unhindered humanitarian access to conflict zones and people in need throughout Syria. If Russia and China veto this, then the United States and its allies should act unilaterally—in line with the international “responsibility to protect” norm—by securing rebel-held areas, imposing no-fly zones, and protecting the Syrian people from war crimes.
Only the credible threat to use force may convince the Iranian regime to end its destabilizing policies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. Other options will probably lead to the IRG expanding its influence in the region—and perhaps eventually to Iran having the confidence to move ahead with producing a nuclear weapon.

Obama’s Cuba December surprise
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
Saturday, 20 December 2014
The cold war is finally over. Its last vestiges in the Western Hemisphere are collapsing now that President Obama has declared his intention to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, lift most restrictions imposed over the last 54 years on travel, commerce and financial activities, and begin the process of removing Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
President Obama has recognized what some of his predecessors recognized too but were unwilling or unable to change: America’s remarkably consistent policy toward Cuba since President Dwight D. Eisenhower has never achieved its stated and implied goals; i.e., regime change ad democratization in Havana. For a cautious president fresh from a bruising midterm election defeat, this was a bold move. Relying on secret contacts for 18 months, Obama has gone where no other president has dared to go for more than five decades.
There is no guarantee that the opening to Cuba will begin the transition process to a more open and eventually democratic Cuba, and conceivably a Republican president in 2016 could unravel Obama’s new political scaffolding, but clearly the time has come to try the only other alternative that could hasten the transition: soft power.
Foreign policy as domestic policy
For many years, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Cuba’s vulnerabilities became more exposed, it was practically impossible for the American body politic to have a serious discussion about future relations with Cuba or the possibility of revisiting the efficacy of the embargo.
America’s relations with Cuba, like its relations with Israel, became an integral part of domestic politics. Given the electoral weight of the Cuban-American community, particularly in Florida; a pivotal state in presidential elections, presidential candidates and sitting presidents understood that U.S. policy toward Cuba is in part a function of domestic politics. The same was and is still true in the admittedly more complex relations between the U.S. and Israel.
There is no guarantee that the opening to Cuba will begin the transition process to a more open and eventually democratic Cuba
Second only to the American Jewish community in terms of influencing U.S. foreign relations, the Cuban-American community succeeded for a long time in maintaining the absurdities that characterized Washington’s approach to Cuba, particularly the discredited embargo. The political influence of these two communities, their electoral weight, their lobbying influence in congress, and in the case of American Jewry, their grassroot organizations, their financial contributions to sympathetic candidates and their domestic alliances, all legal and open practices, gave them political influence that was not commensurate with their demographic size. Nowhere are the boundaries of foreign and domestic politics more blurred than is the case with the U.S. dealing with Cuba and Israel.
Tortured relations
For the last fifty years, no two countries in the world were so close geographically, and with an intimate but painful history and yet so far politically than Cuba and the United States. President Obama called this tense intimacy “a unique relationship, at once family and foe”.
Before the revolution, Cuba was like an American protectorate, some would even call it a colony. It was America’s playground, a floating casino and brothel. The revolution not only radically changed the relationship between the former subject and his angry overlord, but at one time, during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, the communist regime of Fidel Castro led to the most dangerous confrontation in the history of the cold war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.
The potential horrors of this confrontation were deeply etched in the collective memories of a whole generation of Americans and Russians and were instrumental in shaping international relations until the collapse of the Soviet empire.
For more than half a century, the U.S. sought through punitive policies of economic embargoes and political isolation of the small island barely 90 miles from Florida, and through a farcical invasion and assassination attempt to topple the Castro regime but to no avail. Many years later, it was the U.S. that was isolated in the confrontation with an old, tired, autocratic and poor neighbor.
This is what President Obama acknowledged when he said that no other nation, “joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.”
The failure of the U.S. embargo against Cuba proves clearly that unilateral embargoes have little effect,t even when they are imposed by a superpower against a small country. Only an embargo imposed by an international coalition of powerful nations can be effective in influencing the behavior of the targeted state, be it the old South Africa, Iran or even Russia.
Soft power
This concept was developed in 1990 by Joseph Nye, a scholar and former policymaker, who argued that the end of the cold war and the emergence of globalization, and the beginning of the “Information Age” require a new approach to foreign policy that de-emphasize the use of military power and relies more on economic integration, growth, education, and values.
The assumption here is that since the U.S. is inherently the depository of these attractive values, it can use them to influence the behavior of other states and societies through the sheer force of this unique “soft power”.
While many critics argued correctly that there are severe limits to the supposed co-optation of “soft power” in a world that is still dominated by hard power (this is the essence of the neoconservative critique of “soft power, that ultimately led to the reckless invasion of Iraq) and leaders who are willing to use traditional hard power to defend their national interests, Ney’s concept still has its merits. In fact, even before Ney coined the concept of “soft power”, the U.S. used soft power tools effectively against communism during the cold war, by using public diplomacy, international organizations, cultural and academic exchanges and broadcasting factual news to the closed communist societies and introducing them to the incredibly attractive American popular culture (for decades, East Europeans grew up listening to American Jazz and blues, played by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty) . The Clinton administration which tried to apply “soft power” as a tool in its foreign policy, soon realized its dismal limits when confronted with the “Balkan Ghosts”. There is no room for “soft power” in the world that Slobodan Milosovitch inhabited. Military force had to be used in Bosnia and Kosovo to stop the worst mass killings on European soil since the Second World War.
The Obama administration is hoping that exposing Cuba to America’s “soft power” could achieve what all the other tools of hard power failed to achieve, that is putting the country on the path of transition to a more open society and eventually democratization. The combination of open trade and travel, public diplomacy, student exchanges, sport competitions, cultural exchanges, American investment in the nascent Cuban private sector, and opening Cuban society to the new media and finally by allowing the more than two million Cubans in America access to Cuba, could lead to a tectonic political change in Cuba. It is true that trade and diplomatic relations with China and Vietnam did not lead to political openings in those societies, but Cuba is different. Geography, culture and history could conspire against the Castro regime and slowly undermine it.
Iran is not Cuba
Can Obama make an equally bold move toward Iran and lift the sanctions by executive power as some are advocating? Iran’s challenge to the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East is infinitely more formidable and complex than the hapless Castro regime can ever be. Dealing with the Iranian regime requires smart power, which is the combination of soft power and the potential use of hard power. The confrontation between Iran and the U.S. is not limited to the bilateral domain, for it includes other international interested parties and goes beyond the nuclear issue. Also, the reason the sanctions against Iran have forced the regime to go back to the negotiations table, is that they are multilateral and not unilateral as was the case against Cuba. Iran’s destructive role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen represents a unique challenge that requires sustained smart power.
The Obama administration may be tempted to be more conciliatory towards Iran in the naïve hope that this could be reciprocated in the nuclear negotiations as well as in the regional flashpoints where Iran is the principal outside player. But instead of confronting Iran regionally, the Obama administration is developing an implicit partnership with it in Iraq in the name of confronting a common enemy: ISIS. Senior officials in the administration acknowledge in background briefings that one reason they don’t want to attack the military assets of the Assad regime in Syria is the fear that Iran will retaliate against American personnel in Iraq.
Yes, President Obama’s move towards Cuba is bold and should be given a chance to succeed. However, his moves in the Middle East in general and in confronting an increasingly assertive and belligerent Iran in particular are anything but bold. In the world in which the leaders of Iran, Russia and North Korea live, soft power, engagement and an extended hand can be seen as forms of appeasement.

Tumbling Oil Prices and Assad’s Friends
Tariq Alhomayed /Asharq Al Awsat
Saturday, 20 Dec, 2014
As oil prices continue to fall, it is evident that a state of paranoia has afflicted Iran and Russia—two allies of the government of Bashar Al-Assad. Tehran and Moscow have issued similar statements in terms of their condemnation of plummeting oil prices, both claiming that this is the product of a conspiracy, rather than prevailing economic conditions.
On the Iranian side, President Hassan Rouhani said last week that the decline in oil prices was the result of a “political conspiracy,” emphasizing that the reasons for this are not purely economic. Similar remarks were also issued by Iranian First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that there are grounds to believe that Washington is trying to destabilize the Russian regime through sanctions, even talking of attempts of regime change. Lavrov’s remarks came as the Russian rouble suffered a sharp price drop, prompting an emergency meeting at the Central Bank of Russia which took measures to try and protect its currency. For Russia, what makes things worse is Barack Obama’s intention to sign new legislation that would allow his administration to impose new sanctions on Moscow. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry hinted that his country may lift sanctions if Russia makes the right “choices,” adding that the Russian economy is in Vladimir Putin’s hands.
Well, what does all this mean politically? Interestingly, neither Iran nor Russia is now talking about the US seeking to topple the Assad regime. Rather, the talk now is about an international conspiracy against Iran and attempts at regime change in Russia, at least according to senior leadership figures in both countries.  Accordingly, we are facing a completely different scene in Iran and Russia. The two Assad allies, who have been providing him with money, weapons and fighters, are suffering economically from plummeting oil prices and are now worried of an international conspiracy against them. Therefore, the question that must be asked here is: To what extent will Iran and Russia continue to help and fund Assad?
How much longer can Tehran afford to finance its pointless adventures in the region? An example of Iran’s regional adventurism can be seen in its funding and support of the Houthis in Yemen, where Tehran thinks it can secure some quick and easy victories, contrary to the situation in Iraq and Syria. As for Russia, the question is: Will it be able to continue to pursue its reckless policy in Ukraine and to fund Assad in Syria? After trying to protect the Syrian currency, Moscow is now scrambling to safeguard its very own.
Another question worth asking is: So long as President Obama is trying to pressure Russia by imposing new sanctions, why doesn’t he use similar measures against Iran, which has been sponsoring the state of instability in our region, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen and Lebanon?

Israel launches first Gaza strikes since 50-day war
AFP, Gaza City
Saturday, 20 December 2014
Israeli aircraft hit Gaza for the first time since an August truce ended 50 days of war after a rocket hit the Jewish state, witnesses and the army said early Saturday.
A spokesman for Gaza’s health ministry said there were no casualties in the air strike, which came just hours after the rocket hit an open field in southern Israel on Friday without causing casualties or damage.
It was only the third instance of rocket fire from Gaza since the August 26 truce between Israel and the territory’s Islamist de facto rulers Hamas.
The Israeli army said the air strike had “targeted a Hamas terror infrastructure site”. Israeli security forces stand next to the remains of a rocket that was fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Friday, on the Israeli side of the border December 19, 2014. (Reuters)
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the “Hamas terrorist organization is responsible and accountable” for the rocket fire, which he said the army viewed “with severity.”
Hamas did not claim responsibility for the rocket launch but Israel holds the Islamist movement responsible for any rocket fire from Gaza regardless of who carries it out. The summer war between Israel and Hamas killed 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers. The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire which ended it was supposed to have been followed by talks on a more lasting truce but they were called off amid deteriorating relations between Cairo and Hamas. When the ceasefire went into effect, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that his government would not tolerate a single rocket fired on Israeli territory, and would strike back even more strongly if attacked.

The Dangerous Wars of the Future
Osman Mirghani /Asharq Al Awsat
Saturday, 20 Dec, 2014
The Internet has affected almost all aspects of our lives. Our online dependence has increased to a point where it has become difficult to imagine what our lives would be like without this technology. According to a recent International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report, by the end of this year, there will be three billion Internet users in the world, approximately 43 percent of the global population. Of this proportion, there will be more than two billion e-mail users, one billion Facebook users, and 200 million who use Twitter, sending as many as 175 million tweets per day. Of course, the Internet is not only limited to these websites and activities; rather, it has become part of most of the activities of modern life, from withdrawing cash, booking flights or hotels, to searching for information or news.
A survey, conducted in several different countries, asked what the world would look like without the Internet. More than 60 percent of respondents said they could not imagine their lives without it. This response is not surprising, as the use of the Internet now defines many of the details of our daily lives, not only in the fields of social networking, searching for information, watching videos, and the use of smartphones, but also in other significant and sensitive areas. The Internet is involved at the core of business, and even the military, economic, and political security of all countries.
A few days ago, air traffic was suspended at London’s Heathrow airport, one of the world’s busiest transport hubs, due to a computer failure. This has prompted authorities to open an urgent investigation into the incident in a bid to prevent potential failures that may lead to air disasters. Cinemas in the US canceled the premiere of The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of the leader of North Korea. The decision to cancel the screening came after hackers threatened movie theaters with an operation similar to the September 11, 2001 attacks. The film was produced by Sony Pictures which has recently come under one of the most prominent cyber-attacks ever, which saw hackers, suspected to be linked to North Korea, illegally access its network and leak its data and internal correspondence online.
The question that preoccupies many in decision-making circles in the fields of security, defense and intelligence is what will happen if computer networks are paralyzed on a larger scale, or if a country came under a coordinated cyber-attack by another country, gangs of criminals or terrorists.
In the event of such an attack, basic services and utilities such as banking, electricity, airlines, and air traffic, will be disrupted and in the process, paralyzing the country. The financial system and potentially the wider economy could suffer catastrophic losses, leading to the collapse or bankruptcy of millions of companies, costing people their businesses and jobs. Perhaps financial markets would collapse completely, sending the world into a deep recession. This scary scenario is not a figment of my imagination or a scene from a Hollywood film. In fact, in light of the repeated threats, systematic cyber-attacks, and accusations that some states have launched on others the danger is growing. This is not to mention that many “advanced” countries have resorted to drawing up emergency plans to counter such attacks, forming units to either defend or launch attacks in the event of a cyber-war erupting.
The US, for example, warned of the dangers of a “Cyber Pearl Harbor” just over two years ago. US officials spoke of a scenario where states or gangs could launch attacks on financial and state institutions or vital services, such as electricity, water and transport. Such attacks would prompt the US to respond or engage in a defensive or offensive cyber-war against other states, organizations or gangs.
The US is not on its own in this field. Other countries have been subjected to cyber-attacks, including Arab ones. There are constant complaints of large-scale operations being carried out by states and major organizations as part of industrial espionage, or in an attempt to steal information. Even more dangerous are viral attacks targeting states or institutions in a bid to sabotage their networks, steal information or disrupt services. Last month, for example, a new major virus was discovered. It sits dormant on devices and networks in order to collect information but without causing any damage, in contrast to the Stuxnet worm that targeted Iran in 2010.
The world is heading gradually towards a new kind of terrorism and warfare, one that involves no shots being fired but with the potential to wreak damage that exceeds all the destruction of traditional warfare.

Who is responsible for the Pakistan school massacre?
Dr. Nafeez Ahmed /Al Arabiya
Saturday, 20 December 2014
Depends who you ask.
The Pakistan Taliban (TTP), the breakaway group that is spearheading an insurgency against the Pakistani state, has proudly admitted to having executed the horrifying atrocity that took the lives of 148 innocents, including over 130 children.
U.S. officials have been quick to point the finger at Pakistan, noting the role of the notorious ‘S Wing’ of state military intelligence, the ISI, in covertly sponsoring various Taliban factions inside Afghanistan.
And Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, clearly feeling the pressure, has for the first time ever conceded the ISI’s duplicitous strategy and now vows that he will no longer distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban, but will bravely fight them all “until the last terrorist is killed.”
Some in Pakistani diaspora communities in the west, however, have a different view. “Mossad did it,” I’ve heard from a surprising number of people. “To make Muslims look bad.” Others blame the CIA, or MI6, or both – indeed, all three.
Denialism and finger pointing
This sort of pathetic, ignorant denialism is almost as bad as the pathetic official finger pointing.
The sad truth is that none of these actors are free of responsibility for the murky origins of the TTP.
It is, of course, a matter of record that the Pakistani ISI has secretly supported the Afghan Taliban for more than a decade, a matter I have tracked and documented since even before 9/11. Yet from the very inception of this policy, it has been pursued with tacit and selective U.S. support. In the run-up to 9/11, the idea was to use the Taliban as a proxy on behalf of two U.S. energy companies to achieve sufficient stability to permit the construction of the Trans-Afghan pipeline project – the Pakistani ISI, was the chief conduit of U.S. logistical, financial and military aid to the Taliban during this period.
Yet even after 9/11, despite U.S. intelligence agencies being intimately familiar with ongoing Pakistani ISI support for the Afghan Taliban fighting NATO troops in the country, Pakistan has continued to receive billions of dollars of military aid in the name of counterterrorism.
“The sad truth is that none of these actors are free of responsibility for the murky origins of the TTP”
Despite this U.S. counter-terrorism assistance, the ISI’s support of the very factions NATO forces are fighting in Afghanistan has gone on, unimpeded. Two declassified U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reports dated two weeks after 9/11, found that al-Qaeda had been “able to expand under the safe sanctuary extended by Taliban following Pakistan directives” and ISI funding.
In 2006, a leaked U.S. Ministry of Defense report showed that the British government was fully aware of how: “Indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism” – including being involved in the 2005 London bombings, and insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Confidential NATO reports and U.S. intelligence assessments circulated to White House officials in 2008 further confirmed ongoing ISI support for Taliban insurgents, tracing the complicity to senior ISI officials including Pakistan’s head of military intelligence, in providing extensive military support to Taliban camps in Balochistan and the ‘Haqqani’ network leading the insurgency around Kabul. Despite these reports being circulated around the highest levels of the White House, senior Obama administration officials went to pains to persuade U.S. Congress to extend military assistance to Pakistan for five years, with no need for assurances that ISI assistance to the Taliban has ended.
So this assistance continued, with U.S. support. In 2010, the massive batch of classified U.S. military cables released via Wikileaks documented how from 2004 to 2010, U.S. military intelligence knew full well that the ISI was supporting a wide range of militant factions in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, even while receiving billions of dollars of U.S. counterterrorism assistance. And a NATO intelligence report leaked in 2012 similarly showed that the ISI was directly sponsoring the Taliban, providing them safe havens, and even manipulating fighters and arresting only those believed to be uncooperative with ISI orders.
A double game?
So if it is, indeed, accurate to accuse Pakistan of playing a 'double game' in the ‘War on Terror’, what about the United States? The U.S. Congressional Research Service last year pointed out that after 9/11, “the United States has viewed Pakistan as a key ally, especially in the context of counterterrorism and Afghan and regional stability. Pakistan has been among the leading recipients of U.S. foreign assistance both historically and in recent years.”
This year, Pakistan received $1.2 billion in U.S. economic and security aid. Next year, while the civilian portion of aid is being slashed over concerns about misuse of funds, the U.S. will still provide a total of around $1 billion. The military portion of this will help the Pakistan military “to conduct counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterrorism (CT) operations against militants and also encourage continued U.S.-Pakistan military-to-military engagement.”
U.S. military aid in the name of counterterrorism assistance has in other words directly supported the ISI even while it has covertly sponsored the insurgency in Afghanistan. Why?
In 2009, I obtained a confidential report commissioned by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which provided a shocking explanation for this seemingly contradictory policy. The report, authored by respected defence consultant Prof Ola Tunander, who had previously contributed to a high-level Danish government inquiry into U.S. covert operations during the Cold War, concluded that U.S. strategy in AfPak (Afghanistan and Pakistan) is to “support both sides in the conflict” so as to “calibrate the level of violence,” ironically to prolong, not end, regional conflicts. This counterintuitive strategy, the report argued, appears to be motivated by a wider geopolitical objective of maintaining global support for U.S. interventionism to maintain regional security. By fanning the flames of war in AfPak, U.S. forces are able to “increase and decrease the military temperature and calibrate the level of violence” with a view to permanently “mobilize other governments in support of U.S. global policy.”
While pundits are now claiming that the TTP, which broke away from the Afghan Taliban to begin targeting the Pakistani state, is the avowed enemy of the ISI, the situation remains complicated. The TTP still maintains relations with its Afghan counterpart for some operations, members of which often flock to the TTP. And in 2009, an Independent on Sunday investigation reported that despite having burned down 200 girls’ schools and conducted 165 bomb attacks against Pakistani security forces, local politicians fleeing the attacks claimed that “elements of the military and the militants appear to be acting together … The suspicion of collusion, said a local government official in the town of Mingora, is based on the proximity of army and Taliban checkposts, each ‘a mile away from the other.’”
Pakistani investigative journalist Amir Mir noted that far from being staffed by mullahs, the TTP’s Shura councils are filled with former Pakistani military and intelligence officials. The “large number of ex-servicemen, including retired commissioned officers, as its members,” raised disturbing questions about the extent to which disgruntled extremists inside the ISI have been using the movement to impose their brutal Islamist ideology not just in northwest Pakistan, but within the Pakistani state itself.
Yet, as TTP violence has escalated, the Pakistani army has accelerated local military operations in response, just as Obama has accelerated indiscriminate drone strikes across the region. Both these approaches have tended to target not terrorists, but civilians. According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, Pakistani security forces have conducted major offensives in the northwest Swat Valley and neighbouring areas, killing “civilians with mortars, direct fire, and with bombs... In some years, it appears that Pakistani security forces were responsible for the majority of civilian killings,” as opposed to the TTP, which is clearly brutal enough.
Silent on the military
Indeed, while the TTP’s latest massacre of school children has captured public attention, the media has remained essentially silent on the Pakistani military’s killing of at least a hundred civilians through the first half of this year. No one knows the true scale of the casualties, but the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, analyzing public record news reports (which themselves are conservative due to being based on official government claims), found that the Pakistani airstrikes killed up to 540 people, and that as many as 112 of these could have been civilians. Not a peep of condemnation from either the media, or Pakistani diasporas in the west.
The CIA’s drone strikes are equally counterproductive. A secret CIA Directorate of Intelligence report just released via Wikileaks, reviewing the record of drone strikes and counterinsurgency operations over the last decades, admits that these “may increase support for the insurgents, particularly if these strikes enhance insurgent leaders’ lore, if non-combatants are killed in the attacks, if legitimate or semi-legitimate politicians aligned with the insurgents are targeted, or if the government is already seen as overly repressive or violent.”
The rise of the TTP, which appears in some ways even more extreme than its Afghan counterpart, is a direct response to the massive, indiscriminate violence deployed by both the U.S. and Pakistan in the region – which feeds the grievances driving locals into the TTP’s ranks.
Yet, the frankly disgusting double-game of the U.S. and Pakistani governments in the violence does not absolve the Taliban and its offshoots from their own responsibility for mass murder. The twisted ideology they use to justify their terrorist attacks against civilians, and children no less, must be condemned. But equally, the rampant expansion of this ideology in areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan has been enabled by the comprehensive breakdown of local institutions and basic economic infrastructure, where alienation and resentment find their outlets through a violent extremism fed by a fatal cocktail of covert foreign finance and selective ISI sponsorship. The short-sighted obsession with military solutions coming from both the U.S. and Pakistani establishments, in this context, merely throws fuel on the fire.
A way out?
Is there a way out? In theory, yes. The U.S. must wind-down its obsession with military aid to Pakistan, much of which is being used to finance the very enemies we are supposedly fighting. Instead of providing billions of dollars of ‘counterterrorism’ focused aid to a hopelessly corrupt government, such billions could be used in coordination with the state to empower genuine grassroots networks like the Rural Support Programs and others with a proven track-record in enfranchising communities in self-development and poverty alleviation. Only be empowering the Pakistani people, can the country hope to begin moving towards a genuine democracy based on a vibrant and engaged civil society.
From here, we may begin to see Pakistanis themselves further developing their own indigenous conceptions of Islam, drawing on the well-established Pakistani spiritual-cultural traditions of peace and inclusiveness represented in the musical movements of eastern classical, folk, qawwali, bhangra, Sufi and contemporary hip hop, rock and pop, and represented by nationally-acclaimed cultural icons like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Junoon, among countless others. Such Pakistani cultural icons demonstrate that truly populist approaches to Islam and spirituality are not regressive, but progressive.
And there is a role in this for diaspora communities to mobilize their wealth to help build the long-term capacity of Pakistani communities to resist the alien ideologies represented by movements like the Taliban – but the focus here must be on crafting positive visions for the future, through meaningful institution-building. More than that, diaspora communities need to recognize their responsibility to engage critically and relentlessly to pressure and hold accountable western government institutions, which are spearheading the architecture of failed foreign policies aggravating the AfPak quagmire.
Extremists are gleefully filling a vacuum of despair cultivated by ruthless domestic corruption and callous international geopolitics. It is never too late to begin cultivating the seeds of hope.
Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London, and author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization among other books. His work on international terrorism was officially used by the 9/11 Commission, among other government agencies. He writes for the Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises on his Earth insight blog. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed.

Russia Says New U.S., Canada Sanctions Will Fuel Ukraine Unrest
Naharnet/The latest round of Ukraine-related sanctions by the United States and Canada hamper efforts to resolve the conflict, Russia's foreign ministry said Saturday.
"The sanctions are directed to disrupt the political process," the ministry said in a statement following the announcement of the latest measures on Friday. "We advise Washington and Ottawa to think about the consequences of such actions," it said, adding: "We will start to develop counter-measures."U.S. President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting trade with Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in March.
Additionally 24 individuals and entities were added to the U.S. Treasury blacklist -- people from Crimea and separatist leaders involved in fighting in eastern Ukraine as well as several Russians supporting the insurgency. Canada meanwhile slapped fresh measures on Russia's oil and gas sector and issued travel bans on several politicians in Russia and the separatist regions. "Crimea is the original and inseparable part of Russia. Residents of Crimea today are together with the Russian people, who never have and never will bend under external pressure," the Russian foreign ministry statement said. Instead of helping resolve the conflict, the sanctions "support Kiev's 'party of war'," it said, referring to Ukrainian officials who oppose negotiating with separatists.
Kiev is now preparing for a new round of talks with representatives of the self-proclaimed "people's republics" of Donetsk and Lugansk, the latest effort to put an end to fighting that has killed over 4,700 people since April. Crimea's new leaders dismissed the U.S. sanctions, saying the peninsula will now seek investors from Asia. "If the West doesn't want to work with us, we'll work with the East," deputy chairman of Crimea's council of ministers Dmitry Polonsky told AFP.
"Nothing scary is going to happen," he said. "There won't be any serious consequences, we'll just change our partners."
The newest additions to the U.S. blacklist are commanders and ministers in the separatist east, most of them Ukrainian nationals.
It also includes Crimea's prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya whose looks and stern demeanor became a web sensation and inspired Japanese manga-style comics earlier this year.
Among the Russians now banned from travelling or owning assets in the United States are Konstantin Malofeyev, a businessman Kiev accuses of funding armed groups, and Alexander Zaldostanov, the leader of the Night Wolves, a pro-Putin motorcycle riders club, who is known as Khirurg (The Surgeon). "I couldn't care less about what America does against me, but for me this is of course acknowledgement of my work for the Motherland," Zaldostanov told the Echo of Moscow radio, adding that his favorite bikes are Russian-made.
Agence France Presse

Netanyahu: We will not ignore even one rocket from Gaza
12/20/2014 20:58
Israel's safety is the number one priority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday, regarding a rocket from Gaza that landed in Israel on Friday and an IAF attack on a Hamas cement factory on Saturday in response.
Speaking during a Hannuka candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said "I want to thank you soldiers for your contribution to Israel's safety. Israel's safety comes first. I won't allow even one rocket, and that is why the IAF responded to the rocket and destroyed a cement factory that was making cement to repair tunnels that were hit during Operation Protective Edge. Hamas will be held responsible for every escalation. We will protect Israel's safety. Happy holidays to everyone," he said.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon also spoke on Saturday evening saying that Israel will not tolerate a new "trickle" of rockets from Gaza.
"Last night's IAF airstrike in Gaza, which was in response to Friday's rocket attack, was on a factory making cement that would be used to build tunnels. It is a clear message to Hamas that we won't put up with a 'trickle' of rockets on our citizens. We hold Hamas responsible for what happens in the strip, and we know how to respond to the attacks if they don't know how to stop them," Ya'alon said.
Hamas on Saturday accused Israel of violating the cease-fire by launching the air strike.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the airstrike was a “grave breach of the Egyptian-brokered” cease-fire that was reached with Israel last August. Haniyeh called on Egypt to “move quickly to force Israel to abide by the cease-fire agreement.”
Salah Bardaweel, a senior Hamas official, accused Israel of “tampering with the cease-fire.” He called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to stop the Israeli “violations.”
Bardaweel claimed that the airstrikes, which did not result in any casualties, were part of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s electoral campaign. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Israel against any “stupid” moves that could lead to a serious deterioration. He too called on the international community to intervene to stop the Israeli attacks.