December 28/14

Bible Quotation for today/A Warning Against Hypocrisy
Matthew 23/01-37: "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:  “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’  You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?  You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’  You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.  And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.  And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.  Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?  Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 27-28/14
Where will ISIS be this time next year/Abdullah Hamidaddin/Al Arabiya/December 27/14
Tunisia, A Pioneer Again/
Eyad Abu Shakra /Asharq Alawsat/December 27/14
The Arabs circa 2014: Despair and disintegration/Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/December 27/14
Islamic State Fighters are Moving Ever Closer Towards Israel/Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post/December 27/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 27-28/14
Second round of Future-Hezbollah talks Jan.5
Geagea, Hariri Commemorate 'Man of Dialogue' Shatah on First Anniversary of his Assassination
Salam: Parties should use dialogue to elect president
Report: Berri-Aoun End their Oil Dispute as Cabinet to Approve Decrees
Report: STL May Summon Hizbullah MP as it Seeks to Add 6th Suspect in Amended Indictment
Salam Meets Audeh and Berri, Stresses Need to Unify Stances to Elect President
Hariri remembers Chatah as symbol of moderation, dialogue
Nostalgic Palestine film is Lebanon's most shared
Pilot recalls last flight to Cyprus airport
Hezbollah delegation tours Jbeil, Kesrouan
Reports: Gemayel to Riyadh on an Official Visit
Jisr: Mustaqbal-Hizbullah Dialogue to Resume on January 5

Siniora: Alternative to dialogue with Hezbollah 'frightening'

Authorities arrest Lebanese man who shot Qatari
Syrian boy found dead in south Lebanon home

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 27-28/14
ISIS loses ground to Kurds in Syria’s Kobane
US-led coalition hits ISIS with 39 airstrikes
Iran's army tests suicide drone in drills
Erdogan: Turkey is not Europe's scapegoat
Turkey: 2 killed in clashes between rival Kurds
Two million Iraqi refugees in Kurdistan: official
Islamists seeking complete control of Libyan oil: officials
Syria says to discuss Russia peace plan talks, opposition rejects
Syria ready to meet opposition in Moscow: AFP govt source
Egypt writer to face trial for 'insulting Islam'
Egypt cuts jail terms in gay wedding case
Snow, ice sweep Britain, stranding drivers
Woman who bared breasts in Vatican square freed
Pakistan airstrikes, gunbattle kill 55 militants
Bahrain opposition chief re-elected, gets summons
Media should stop speculating over pilot’s fate: Information Minister
Saudi females to be taken to court for driving
Palestinians held after firebomb injured Israeli girl: Shin Bet
Germany needs immigration, finance minister says after anti-asylum rallies

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Second round of Future-Hezbollah talks Jan.5
The Daily Star/Dec. 27, 2014
BEIRUT: The second round of talks between Hezbollah and the Future Movement will be Jan. 5, two weeks after the rivals launched their much-needed talks to contain sectarian tension, a Future lawmaker said in remarks published Saturday. "The second round of the dialogue will be on Jan. 5,” MP Samir Jisr told Al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Saturday. "People sense the danger, and this dialogue sends positive signals that there is at least a desire to find solution.” Jisr said that his party remained committed to its principles and beliefs, be it its opposition to Hezbollah’s role in Syria or its support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. "Any wise person would, however, seek to defuse the tension and try to contain it and most importantly to cool it down," he said. He said the first round touched on general topics and was "very honest and serious." The dialogue will discuss means to defuse rising sectarian tension as a result of the crisis in neighboring Syria as well as a mechanism to resolve the presidential deadlock. Jisr said Hezbollah and the Future Movement would refrain from discussing possible candidates to the presidency, the country’s top Christian post, but would instead means to end the paralysis.

Salam: Parties should use dialogue to elect president
The Daily Star/Dec. 27, 2014 /BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam called on the country’s various political parties to take advantage of the dialogue that Hezbollah and Future Movement launched this week to address pressing issues including the election of a new president. “There are many issues that need to be addressed including the oil sector and the waste dump, which is a danger to the entire country if we do not find a solution soon,” Salam told reporters after meeting Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain al-Tineh. “Therefore, my call today is for political forces to take advantage of the dialogue and the calm so that we could resolve these issues.” Salam said Berri, who prepared and oversaw the first dialogue session between Hezbollah and Future Movement, briefed him on the talks and described them as “promising.”“The issue of the oil [sector] is similar to many other issues that benefit Lebanon and the Lebanese and requires finalization and consensus from everyone in the difficult circumstances we’re living,” he said. “I want to reiterate that the most pressing issue is electing a new president so that all the elements are available for this democratic institution and we could together confront our problem.” The absence of a president has crippled the work of the government, especially Parliament as some lawmakers refuse to attend legislative sessions amid a presidential vacuum. The Cabinet has also been unable to settle issues in light of political disputes, preventing the government from issuing the long-delayed oil decrees and finding alternative waste dumps. Asked about the hostage crisis of 25 servicemen held by ISIS and the Nusra Front since August, Salam said he would prefer to remain silent about the issue. “We are dealing with this matter in utmost secrecy to give it a chance to succeed and to those who are still involving themselves in this political and media folklore, I say that it does not benefit anyone.”

Hariri remembers Chatah as symbol of moderation, dialogue
Dec. 27, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri remembered Saturday his senior adviser Mohammad Chatah, who was killed in a car bomb last year, saying that the former minister was a symbol of moderation and dialogue. “With his absence, we are missing a critical symbol of dialogue and never giving up in looking for solutions and finding an end to difficult crises,” Hariri said in a statement commemorating the first anniversary of Chatah’s assassination. "Mohammad Chatah is absent today from a political moment in which he should have been at the front row, expressing the Future Movement's decision to make Lebanon's safety a top priority above all sectarian, religious or regional interests.”Hariri is referring to the dialogue between Hezbollah and Future Movement that the two rivals launched earlier this week in an attempt to contain sectarian tension and search for means to end the presidential deadlock. Chatah, 62, was assassinated on Dec. 27, 2013, when his convoy passed by a car rigged with explosives parked in the heart of Downtown Beirut. Seven other people were killed in the attack, which Hariri had implicitly blamed Hezbollah for. In his statement Saturday, Hariri, the head of the Future Movement, said Chatah’s killing was a loss for the party and for himself. “Those who took a decision to eliminate Mohammad Chatah recognize today that they attacked an irreplaceable target,” Hariri said. “Eliminating Chatah from the political circle of the Future Movement leadership was a painful blow to me personally and created a vacuum in our political work.” Hariri said that he had never thought Chatah could be a target of assassination, which the former prime minister described as part of a series of crimes “to eliminate symbols of moderation and national thinking and drag Lebanon further into division and sectarian strife.”“Chatah is a name that equals moderation, complements moderation and an idea that instilled in our minds the responsibility to protect Lebanon. Therefore, he is always present in all of us.”

Hezbollah delegation visits Jbeil, Kesrouan figures on Christmas
Dec. 27, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: A Hezbollah delegation visited religious figures in Jbeil and Kesrouan Saturday, congratulating them on Christmas. The delegation, comprising Sheikh Jamal Kanaan and head of the Jbeil and Kesrouan sector in the party Sheikh Ali Berro, met with Bishop Michel Aoun at the Jbeil diocese. The sheikhs then visited Jounieh’s Maronite diocese to extend their greeting to Bishop Antoine Nabil al-Indawi. Religious figures whom the Hezbollah officials met stressed on the importance of unity and coexistence in the face of strife and wars

Siniora: Alternative to dialogue with Hezbollah 'frightening'
The Daily Star/Dec. 27, 2014/BEIRUT: Head of the Future bloc MP Fouad Siniora defended his party’s decision to launch talks with Hezbollah Saturday, saying that the alternative to dialogue was “frightening.” In a speech inaugurating a street in the capital named after Mohammad Chatah, a former minister who was assassinated on Dec. 27, 2013, Siniora said it was no longer acceptable for a single party to jeopardize civil peace “by involving themselves in foreign or local adventures,” referring to Hezbollah’s role in Syria.
“They ask us why we agreed to launch this dialogue with Hezbollah and [said] that it would be futile like previous ones. ... This does not justify refraining from trying and honestly seeking progress,” Siniora said. “The other alternative is frightening and only strengthens failure and paralysis and we have the honor to try once again,” added Siniora, a former prime minister. “Our only option is dialogue and to search for means to strengthen our unity and civil peace.” Rivals Hezbollah and the Future Movement launched a dialogue Tuesday under the patronage of Speaker Nabih Berri with the aim of containing sectarian tensions that have alarmingly increased as a result of the crisis in neighboring Syria. The talks will also attempt to find a solution to the presidential deadlock, but participants will not discuss contentious issues such as Hezbollah’s presence in Syria or the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Siniora said the talks were aimed at “paving the way to revive the idea of a Lebanon as a nation; as a strong, just state that has exclusive rights over all of its territory” and its borders.
“It also aims at reactivating and protecting its constitutional institutions and for the state to expand its sovereignty to all of its territory and borders so that no foreign or local party can prevent it from achieving justice,” he said. Siniora expressed hope that the much-needed dialogue would be “honest, committed to and encouraging, contrary to what some people seek to promote.”

Nostalgic Palestine film is Lebanon's most shared
Dec. 27, 2014 /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: While ISIS grabs headlines amid mounting fears that the extremist group, which bases its media campaign on social media, will gain ground in Lebanon, the country's "most shared" Facebook post in 2014 focused on a major traditional concern: Palestine. Lebanese Blogs, a website that aggregates posts from Lebanon's most popular bloggers, some 364, reported that the most shared post on Facebook was one first posted by Hummus for Thought titled "What did Palestine look like in 1869?"The video, which was shared 93,961 times, was originally posted by, a website archiving rare and unknown films. The nearly 3-minute video shows black-and-white footage of Palestine with a narrator spotting a veiled woman, an Orthodox Jew and an Armenian bishop. It highlights the state of co-existence in Palestine at the end of the 19 century, particularly in Jerusalem, which today is the site of repeated, bloody clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police.  While the most-shared was a thoughtful look at co-existence, the second most-shared post was about what type of shoes men should have, with 52,902 shares, and the third most-shared was a CNN story about Beirut being the No. 1 city in the world to invest, a different perspective contrary to CNN’s 2010 story that Beirut was among the top five most dangerous cities. A rumored wedding in Lebanon for George Clooney and Lebanese-born Amal Alamuddin was the seventh most shared post on Facebook and the biggest rumor this year. The only political story in the top 20 list on Facebook was a post by Moulahazat blog titled “When warlords become presidential candidates.” The Palestine video was also Lebanon's most shared post on Twitter with 1,808 tweets. The second was by satirical blogger Karl Remarks: "We Give the Scottish Independence Referendum the Middle East Expert Treatment." The third on Twitter was a post by A Separate State of Mind on assailants who torched a historic library in the northern city of Tripoli owned by a Greek Orthodox priest. At least 50,000 rare books and manuscripts were damaged in the fire, which was reportedly in retaliation to a rumored article that the protest had published online insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammad. Lebanese Twitter users had more of a regional dimension with various stories on Egypt and Syria being among the most shared.
Lebanon's most viral blogger this year was Karl Remarks, while cartoonist Ink on the Side came in second place and Blog of the Boss third. Virality, according to Lebanese Blogs, is a measure of how well the blog is doing on social media. The most prolific blogger, with more than 1,557 blog posts in 2014, was Blog Baladi, averaging four posts a day. The second most prolific was a restaurant review blog by Anthony Rahayel, No Garlic No Onions.  Blog of the Year was awarded to Ink on the Side, run by Sareen Akarjalian. Lebanese Blogs define “Blog of the Year” as the blog whose posts that have the highest probability of becoming No. 1 on the website. When it comes to social media and reading articles online, Lebanese seem to divert away from the mundane political arena and be more involved in human interest stories and blog posts that ridicule the country’s depressing situation.

ISIS loses ground to Kurds in Syria’s Kobane
Agencies/ Saturday, 27 December 2014
ISIS militant group has lost ground in the Syrian border town of Kobane, where Kurdish fighters now control more than 60 percent of territory, a monitoring group said Saturday. The strategically located town on the border with Turkey has become a major symbol of resistance against ISIS, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq, committing widespread atrocities. The jihadists launched a major offensive in mid-September to try to capture Kobane, and at one point controlled more than half of the town, known in Arabic as Ain al-Arab. But supported by U.S.-led air strikes and reinforced by Kurds from Iraq, “Kurdish forces now control more than 60 percent of the city,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “ISIS has even left areas that the Kurds did not enter for fear of mines,” he added. A Kurdish activist from Kobane, Mustefa Ebdi, said that Kurdish militia defending the town had advanced eastwards on the frontline during the past week. ISIS has withdrawn from the seized Kurdish militia headquarters in the north of the city, as well as from southern and central districts, according to activists. “The Kurdish advance is due largely to the air strikes by the coalition,” said Ebdi. “The jihadists are now using tunnels after failing in their tactics of car bombs and explosive belts,” he said. Dozens of IS fighters have carried out suicide bomb attacks in Kobane in the face of fierce Kurdish resistance. More than 1,000 people are reported to have been killed in the battle for the town, most of them jihadists.

Iran's army tests suicide drone in drills
Dec. 27, 2014/Associated Press
TEHRAN: Iran's army has deployed a suicide drone for the first time in massive ongoing military drills near the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf. Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, the army's chief commander of ground forces, is quoted by Iranian state media Saturday as calling the unmanned aircraft "a mobile bomb." The drone, named Yasir according to one Iranian newspaper, has been designed to plunge into aerial and ground targets, as well as ships. The six-day military exercise is being carried out over 527,000 square kilometers in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, Sea of Oman and the eastern part of the Gulf, through which one-fifth of the world's oil supply passes.

Tunisia, A Pioneer Again
Eyad Abu Shakra /Asharq Alawsat
Saturday, 27 Dec, 2014
Perhaps it is premature to talk about the success of Tunisia’s democratic experiment in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring”. The jury is still out following the announcement of the results of the first truly democratic presidential elections in Tunisia which has generally been accepted as fair and sound. The fairness of the result has been acknowledged by no less than out-going interim president Moncef Marzouki, when he both called on his disappointed supporters to accept the democratic choice of the voters and congratulated his victorious opponent Mohamed Beji Caid El-Sebsi. Amid this mood of goodwill Tunisia is taking its first steps on a long path, however we must also keep some interesting facts in mind. Foremost among which is that Tunisia, the pioneer of change in the “Arab Spring”, entered its latest elections in a state of relative stability and broad national consensus. Some may belittle the role of the forces of civil society in achieving this by pointing to the fact that Tunisia has learnt a lot from the tragedies that other countries suffered during this period of momentous change since early 2011. This may be true, but it is also true that the strength of Tunisia’s civil society has been proven by its ability to survive the era of Habib Bourguiba’s “cult worship”, and later Gen. Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s “police state.”
In Tunisia state and civil institutions of all types have managed to both survive and maintain their balance and pragmatism.
The military, to begin with, remained a proper state institution, never allowing their militarism to turn them into a sectarian “militia” that kills its own people, razes its cities and villages to the ground and destroys the fabric of its own society as what is still happening in Syria.
Another fact is that Tunisia’s Islamists—namely the Ennahda movement —unlike Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, were not hasty in seeking to consolidate power in their hands. Thus, they avoided committing the mistake committed by former Egyptian President Dr. Mohammed Mursi, whose dash for “consolidation” allowed a wide spectrum of diverse opponents to re-group and find a common cause to depose him.
A third fact is that Tunisia’s left-wing never forgot its priorities, remaining close to the pulse of the people and committed to fighting for their needs, unlike several childish and opportunist leftist groups in countries like Iraq and Lebanon which entered alien tactical alliances that rendered them irrelevant to their support base.
Last but not least, Tunisia has remained relatively immune against the ills of sectarianism, tribalism and regionalism, which are currently threatening to tear Yemen and Libya apart.
Given the above, and while it is still too early to say that Tunisia has succeeded while others have faltered, it is clear that the country possesses sufficient infrastructure, institutions and a well-organized civil society that are aware of where their interests lie and what threats may befall their country. Intellectuals, trade unionists, state institutions including the military, as well as the intelligentsia, were all keen since early 2011 to stay away from the precipice by ruling through broad coalitions as no single group proved able to muster an outright majority. Such coalitions were thus the right path in the face of the formidable and acute challenges ahead.
Mr. Sebsi’s party Nidaa’ Tounes has been accused by its political opponents of being a re-branding of the pre-2011 regime, which may be partially true. The reality, however, is that it is much more than that. It is a broad-based political gathering which has brought the urban bourgeoisie in the country’s largest cities—especially, in the north—together with centrist liberals and secularists, disassociating itself from the legacy of corruption, nepotism and other brazen “police state” practices.
Furthermore, this party has proven to be attractive to many who wanted secularism without the “police state” aspect, and Islam as a tolerant broad identity but not an incubator to extremists, terrorists and assassins.
The assassination of left-wing activists Mohammed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, the military confrontations in Jebel Sha’anbi near Algeria’s borders, the worrying high percentage of Tunisians now fighting under the banners of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the dangerously chaotic situation in Libya may have convinced many Tunisians not to take any undue risks. Many worried about self-declared “Islamic” terrorists decided not to gamble even on moderate and responsible “stately” Islamists, which would explain the drop in Ennahda’s ballot count in the latest parliamentary elections, securing it second place in comparison to its victory in the first elections held after 2011.
As for Ennahda itself, it has to be said that the movement has shown political maturity, and demonstrated—whether willingly or unwillingly—that it respects its environment and society. From the very beginning Ennahda was not in a hurry to take over the state, choosing instead to reassure the public about its belief in the freedoms and democratic slogans it utilized during its days in opposition. In fact, Ennahda—whether via its open or clandestine activities, inside Tunisia or in exile—has been aware that no single Tunisian party can excessively promote its “Islamist” credentials in a country where Muslims—particularly Sunnis—make up more than 98 percent of the population.
Add to the above the fact that Tunisia’s geographical location—very close to Europe—and its profound cultural, economic and social interaction with the continent have given the “Tunisian character”, whether Islamist or secular, a “Mediterranean” dimension that is at home with dialogue, diversity and flexibility in dealing with challenges. This “character” has accepted the social and organizational freedoms as welcome achievements from the early days of the Independence period, in spite, of some mistakes and abuse; and hence, is a guarantor of peaceful political change.
Today the Tunisian people seem to have found a common interest in stability, maintenance and protection of institutions, allowing the democratic process to take root. Tunisians are now confident enough that even if they make the wrong choice at the ballot box, or show too much patience with political malpractice, they are quite capable of effecting the required change when the time is right, in precisely the same manner that we saw in December 2010 and January 2011.

The Arabs circa 2014: Despair and disintegration
Saturday, 27 December 2014
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
Bad times have visited the Arabs before, but 2014 was a year from hell. The region stretching from Beirut to Basra continued to slowly disintegrate, with people clinging more than ever to their primordial identities as if the colonial constructs of the Nation-States that emerged after the First World War were only a passing moment.
Most Arabs in that part of the ephemeral Arab World are now seeing themselves and are being seen as Sunnis and Shiites, while others are stressing their Christian, Druze, Kurdish, and Turkoman identities, along with members of a plethora of smaller ethnic and religious groups that constituted what was once a promising and breathtaking spectrum of diverse human mosaic. In 2014, the Middle East became less Arab and more Iranian and Kurdish, with Turkey trying to jockey for influence in Iraq and Syria. Watching Iran’s emergence as the country with great influence in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa, and listening to Iranian officials saying that Iran has once again, since the reign of the Persian emperor Xerxes, (486-465 BC), become a Mediterranean power, one is tempted to say that this could be the beginning of Iran’s moment as the hegemon of the region.
Things fall apart
The fragmentation of the region, the unimaginable horrors of Syria and Iraq, the slow descent of Lebanon, Yemen and Libya into greater chaos, add to that Egypt’s continuing slouch towards greater autocracy, and you have the making of a dispirited region. It is impossible now to see how Syria, Iraq and maybe Libya and Yemen can be reconstituted as unitary states.
December was the fourth anniversary of the spark that exploded the season of Arab uprisings. An honest audit would have to show that the harvest of that season, with the exception of Tunisia, would show a worse than meager results.
“This could be the beginning of Iran’s moment as the hegemon of the region. ”
Yemen is more fragmented than ever before with the Houthi rebellion, strengthened by material and political support from Iran, being the most powerful political and military force in the country and capable of occupying the capital at will. When one adds the continuing threat of al-Qaeda, the secessionist sentiments in the South, the economic degradation of the country, and a depleted water table, one can see that Yemen is truly facing a perfect storm. Bahrain is still teetering from the painful days of 2011. Libya has been reduced to warring factions and fiefdoms vying for control of the country’s oil wealth, harbors and airports. The disintegration there is political and geographic, and the fault lines are religious and tribal. Libya’s travails in 2014 show that the deep scars the more than four decades of Qaddafi’s tyranny have caused, will not be healed any time soon if ever.
A Mesopotamian nightmare
Like an ill wind blowing from a scorched desert, a “Caliph” came into being and his nightmarish realm called the Islamic State, sitting astride the ancient lands of Syria and Iraq, and he brought with him the wrath of the devil’s rejects.
Last June, the self-anointed “Caliph Ibrahim, the Emir of the faithful” urged the Muslims of the world in flawless classical Arabic to join Jihad under his guidance to restore to the Muslim Ummah the “dignity, might, rights and leadership” that it once had enjoyed.
But what were restored were the times of the sectarian assassins, ritualistic beheadings, religious and ethnic cleansing. The scenes of long lines of Christian and Yazidi refugees fleeing their ancestral homes in Mosul and other towns in Northern Iraq and walking aimlessly in search of refuge under the merciless June sun looked as if they belonged to another bygone century. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and a historically important urban center of diverse communities was “cleansed” of its Christian inhabitants who lived there continuously for 1700 years. Iraq’s Christian population before 2003 was 1.5 million strong. Since the American invasion, two third of them were pressured to leave because of the deteriorating political and security conditions, or because they were terrorized and forced by radical Islamists to leave.
Strange alliance
In 2014, Iraq became a theatre for absurd conflicts and legitimate struggles, an arena for regional and international powers to compete and collaborate simultaneously in a disintegrating land that is still grappling with its identity and searching for its elusive cultural and political orientation.
A strange alliance came into being to combat the Islamic Caliphate led by the United States and its Western and Arab allies including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar along with Iran. At times American and Iranian pilots reportedly divided Iraq’s airspace among them during their sorties against the forces of the Caliphate. It appears that the U.S. has accepted Iran as a de facto ally in the war against ISIS as well as accepting its sponsorship of the two regimes in Iraq and Syria.
American officials have made it clear that they are not fighting the Assad regime in Syria because they don’t want to incur Iran’s wrath in Iraq. President Assad has gotten the message, hence his brutal escalation of his bombing campaign against the rebels in the vicinity of Aleppo, where he has been raining barrel bombs incessantly against military and civilian targets.
Assad’s depravity
Human depravity reached new lows in Syria when the world saw thousands of harrowing photographs of Syrians maimed and killed by Bashar al-Assad’s torturers in his many dungeons. The emaciated, disintegrated and scarred bodies, with eyes gouged out were photographed and catalogued as only the bureaucracy of a totalitarian regime would do. The contorted corpses looked like the gruesome and deformed bodies in Hieronymus Bosch’s most horrific and surreal paintings.
Last summer, the congress of the United States took a break from its mundane partisan squabbles to listen to the testimony of the photographer who documented the last expressions on the countless faces of those who lived and died in Assad’s underworld and their last mangled positions, before they were dispatched into unmarked mass graves.
The men, mostly young were slowly tortured, starved, beaten, stabbed, burned, shot and strangled. Some men were starved to the point where their ribs poked through the skin. A hush fell over the room where the House Foreign Affairs Committee met when “Caesar”, the photographer’s pseudonym began to tell his tale of horrors. His litany of brutalities and torments visited on the corpses that were shown in large prints after they were consumed by torture would have been too outlandish to believe had it not been for the photos he had taken in hospitals and other locations. A civil rights prosecutor said that the images document “an industrial killing machine not seen since the Holocaust.” It was only befitting to display some of the photos at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. In a more just world the photos would be used as evidence in a potential prosecution of Assad for war crimes; but that presumes a more just world.
A Northern star and a fading star
Once again Tunisia has proven that it is still the Arabs’ sole Northern Star. By successfully completing its formal transition to democracy after holding transparent parliamentary and presidential elections, Tunisia has shown – so far at least- that its two main competing political forces, the secular Nida Tounes and the Islamist Ennahda can operate within the same political universe without negating one another. Nida Tounes’ electoral victories are not wide enough to form a government without Ennahda. This will force both parties to cohabitate and learn the difficult art of forming and practicing coalition governance. This may well be the outcome a still fragile polity needs at this sensitive stage. Tunisia’s serious economic challenges require a broad coalition to address. Tunisia’s secular traditions, its educated population and its empowered women and small and none politicized armed forces, and the ability of its Islamists to learn from the failures of other Islamists movements in the region, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt came together to save the country from civil strife or the return of autocracy.
But if Tunisia is the Northern Star that kept the early promise of reform and change of its peaceful uprising, and continues to progress albeit with fits and starts, Egypt is the fading star that has regressed in the last four years and has returned solidly to the autocracy that the January 2011 uprising was supposed to dispatch into oblivion. Recently the Egyptian high court in Cairo dropped charges against ousted president Hosni Mubarak accusing him of ordering the killings of civilian protestors during the early phase of the peaceful uprising. And once again, a military strongman is in charge of the land of Egypt, albeit in civilian clothes.
The Egyptian military, which is having difficulties controlling a homegrown armed and brutal rebellion in the Sinai Peninsula, is fostering a new and toxic Egyptian hyper nationalism, an extreme reaction to the Islamists’ attempts at fostering a broad Islamist identity at the expense of Egypt’s unique character. This hyper nationalism is already hurting Egypt’s relations with the United States, but more importantly it is helping the new government in Cairo maintain the fiction that Egypt circa 2014 is still a regional power to be reckoned with. Rarely, in the modern history of the Middle East has a once very important country lived in such denial of its shortcomings and predicament as Egypt does today. Egypt cannot regain its old status as a regional power and a cultural center, unless and until its political and cultural classes engage and some badly needed introspection.
The beginning of the end…
What we are witnessing in many parts of the Arab world, particularly in the Levant, is the beginning of the slow death of the old order constructed by the European colonial powers a century ago. We cannot even imagine the contours of a new order that may lie beyond the pyramids of debris left after the collapse of the old order. Welcome to the long chaotic interregnum, the heart of darkness that is the death of the old order, before the birth of the new.

Where will ISIS be this time next year?
Saturday, 27 December 2014
Abdullah Hamidaddin/Al Arabiya
Earlier this week, ISIS captured a Jordanian pilot part of the U.S. led coalition against the militant group. My heart goes out to his family, and to all the thousands of people brutally victimized by ISIS. The U.S. and the Jordanian government insist that his downed plane and was not shot down by ISIS.
The U.S./Jordanian denial is important to retain the morale of the coalition and to demean the military capacity of ISIS, but it does not make a difference to ISIS fighters, supporters and sympathizers. As far as those groups are concerned this is an indicator of the power of ISIS, and they may even see it as a turning point in the coalition’s recent successful air campaigns.
As far as ISIS is concerned, 2014 is ending with a small victory for them – even though the group does not recognize the Gregorian calendar’s New Year and only recognizes Hijri celebrations and milestones. There’s another small victory for ISIS, which is the absence of unanimous sympathy for the pilot since there are many in the region against the coalition strikes on Syria and Iraq. As much as those people hate ISIS, they hate the U.S. more. They also hold the U.S. accountable for the breakdown of order in Iraq which provided the right conditions for the inception and mushrooming of ISIS.
“We must fight them, eradicate them and confront their ideology”
This is not to mention the high number of people who actually see ISIS as a legitimate entity that may be going a bit too far in some of its practices; some even say that the brutal practices of ISIS are a natural phase in the evolution of a movement with a legitimate purpose that seeks to become a state – they even compare it the violence in the American and French revolutions.
So as the new year begins we still have a movement with enough military and financial capacity to retain much of its gains and a growing sentiment against American interventionism. In light of this where will ISIS be this time next year?
I will not try to predict where ISIS will be, but I can say with confidence that it will not evolve into a true state and that the borders of Syria and Iraq will not change (except if the Kurds gain independence).
This is because those borders are a product of a world order which ISIS cannot yet change and those borders have become to the vast majority of the region a reality. Much has been said about the coming end of the Sykes-Picot era, and about the un-natural borders which were drawn by the colonialists, but that is just empty talk. The borders are here to stay for the foreseeable future and neither ISIS nor any other militant movement can change that.
Another thing I can predict is that ‘ISISism’ will not end soon. ISIS in the final analysis is a product of power vacuums, local disorder, and widespread popular frustration due to the political and social injustices widespread in our region. If and when ISIS ends, others will come, and their tactics and violence will primarily depend on the power of the state which confronts them. I am pessimistic about the future of terrorism because a region susceptible to terrorism needs a long time before it regains its health and develops into one which repels terrorism.
I am also pessimistic because I do not have confidence in the capacity of this region to overcome its major societal and political challenges soon. This is not a call to surrender to the terrorists. We must fight them, eradicate them and confront their ideology. But we also need to be patient and focus on crisis management and crisis resolution strategies.

Islamic State Fighters are Moving Ever Closer Towards Israel
Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post
December 26, 2014
A view from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in September shows fighting between the Syrian government and Islamist rebels in the Syrian village of Qahtaniah.
Islamic State has suffered severe losses as a result of coalition air strikes in the last months. Over 1,000 of its fighters have been killed, and Kurdish peshmerga forces have driven the jihadists back on a wide front between the cities of Erbil and Mosul.
The terror movement has also failed to conquer the symbolic town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) close to the Syrian-Turkish border (further south, Islamic State losses have been more modest and at least partially reversed).
Yet despite these setbacks, there are no indications that Islamic State is anywhere close to collapse. And while American bombers and Kurdish fighters are preventing its advance further east, there are many indications the jihadists are continuing to advance their presence in a south and westerly direction – from the borders of their entity towards Damascus and Lebanon, and incidentally, in the direction of Israel.
A largely hidden contest is under way in Deraa province in southern Syria, between Islamic State and the rival jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra.
Deraa, where the Syrian rebellion was born in March 2011, has been the site of major losses for the Assad regime over the last year. Nusra established itself as a major force in the area after its fighters were defeated by Islamic State further east.
In recent weeks, reports have emerged that three rebel militias in Deraa have pledged bay'ah (allegiance) to Islamic State.
But now it appears that Islamic State is seeking to establish a foothold in this area, too.
In recent weeks, reports have emerged that three rebel militias in Deraa have pledged bay'ah (allegiance) to Islamic State. The largest of these is the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade; the others are Saraya al-Jihad and Tawheed al-Junub. While the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade has since denied pledging formal allegiance to Islamic State, the reports have Nusra and the Western- supported rebel groups in the south nervous.
They are acutely aware that in locales further east, such as al-Bukamal on the Syria-Iraq border, in the course of 2014 Islamic State came in not through conquest, but by recruiting the non-Islamic State groups that held the area to its flag. Nusra now fears that Islamic State wishes to repeat this process further south.
This fear is compounded by the appearance of Islamic State-linked fighters in the Damascus area in recent weeks. In the town of Bir al-Qasab, fighters affiliated with the terror movement have been battling other rebels since early December; Islamic State has engaged in resupplying these fighters from its own territory further east. Nusra and other rebel groups have begun to speculate about the possibility of a push by the jihadists either toward Deraa or Eastern Goutha, adjoining Damascus.
Finally, further west, in the Qalamoun Mountains, Islamic State and Nusra fighters have clashed in recent weeks. Reports have surfaced that Islamic State has begun to demand that other rebel groups in the area, including Nusra, pledge bay'ah to it.
This is despite the notable fact that the Qalamoun area had been the scene in recent months of rare cooperation between Islamic State and Nusra, out of shared interest in extending the conflict into Lebanon.
The events there come amid Lebanese media speculation as to the possibility of an imminent Islamic State push from Qalamoun toward the Sunni town of Arsal across the border (or even, in some versions, toward the Shi'ite towns of Baalbek and Hermel).
Such an offensive would form part of the larger campaign against the regime and Hezbollah in this area.
SO, WHAT does this all amount to? First, it should be noted that Nusra's presence in Quneitra Province, immediately adjoining the Golan Heights, is the point at which Syrian jihadists currently come closest to Israel.
As Islamic State loses ground further east, it seeks to recoup its losses elsewhere; this trend is bringing jihadists closer, toward the borders of both Israel and Jordan.
And while Nusra has not yet been the subject of hostile Western attention, it is no less anti-Western and anti-Jewish than its Islamic State rivals. The fact that it cooperates fully with groups supported by the Military Operations Command in Amman should in itself be a matter of concern for the West.
But Nusra, unlike Islamic State, appears genuinely committed to the fight against Syria's Assad regime. And at times, at least, it is prepared to set aside its own ambitions to pursue this general goal.
This means, from Israel's point of view, that while its presence close to the border is a matter of long-term concern, in the immediate future the al-Qaida franchise's attentions are largely turned elsewhere.
Such calculations could not be safely made regarding Islamic State, which by contrast works only for its own benefit.
Its sudden push into Iraq in June and then August show the extent to which it is able to abruptly change direction, catching its opponents by surprise. The record of Islamic State against other rebel groups thus far has been one of near uninterrupted success.
Conversely, it is now being halted in its eastern advances by the US and its allies. But neither the US Air Force nor the Kurdish ground fighters are present further south and west, so there is a clear strategic logic to the current direction of Islamic State activity.
As Islamic State loses ground further east, it seeks to recoup its losses elsewhere; this trend is bringing jihadists closer, toward the borders of both Israel and Jordan. It may be presumed this fact is not lost on Israeli defense planners – hence the reports of increased activity by Military Intelligence collection units and reinforcement of the military presence on the Golan Heights.
The single war now raging in Syria, Iraq and increasingly Lebanon, is moving closer – toward Israel.
**Jonathan Spyer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.