February 17/14

Bible Quotation for today/The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Luke 18/09-14: " Jesus also told this parable to people who were sure of their own goodness and despised everybody else.  “Once there were two men who went up to the Temple to pray: one was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood apart by himself and prayed, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there.  I fast two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all my income.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even raise his face to heaven, but beat on his breast and said, ‘God, have pity on me, a sinner!’  I tell you,” said Jesus, “the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, was in the right with God when he went home. For those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great.”  


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For February 17/14

Do 'Syria,' 'Iraq' and 'Lebanon' Still Exist/By: Jonathan Spyer/The Tower/February 17/14

Lebanon’s Sunnis, between ISIS and Hezbollah/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabyia/February 17/14

Syrian ‘terrorism’ and U.S. retrenchment/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabyia/February 17/14

Islam's Second Crisis: The troubles to come/By: Mark Durie/ 17/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For February 17/14
Lebanese Related News
Nasrallah Says Hizbullah Seeks Dialogue in 'Settlement Cabinet', Offered Portfolio Concessions for Country's Sake
Lebanon’s new cabinet: A modest compromise
The long road to Lebanon’s new government

Army Defuses Explosive-Laden Vehicle in Bekaa

Tammam Salam: 40 years in politics

Gemayel Says Party Will Not Tolerate Attempts to Tamper with Lebanon's Sovereignty

Berri Meets Emir of Kuwait, Calls on Muslims to Consolidate Ties

Suleiman Calls for International Support to Army

Ashton Considers Salam's Cabinet 'Key Step' to Deal with Challenges

Report: Suleiman Appoints Charbel as Adviser on Military Affairs

U.N. Chief, Security Council Laud Formation of New Cabinet

Kerry Calls on New Cabinet to Address Urgent Security Needs, Meet Constitutional Deadlines

Fire Sweeps Through Seven Syrian Refugee Tents in Tyre

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Kerry said the United States remained committed to the Geneva process and all diplomatic efforts to find a political solution.
Israel uneasy over Russian arms flooding into Syria in the north, Egypt to the south

Iran to produce own S-300 anti-aircraft system by 2015, official says
Report: Egypt creating buffer zone on Gaza-Sinai border, destroys 10 tunnels
Canadian-Iranian businessman claims man was involved in assassination of Hamas man in Dubai. Canadian passport

Report: Egypt working to create buffer zone around Gaza border

Egypt Adjourns Morsi Espionage Trial in Stormy Start

3 Tourists Dead, 14 Hurt as Blast Hits Egypt Bus near Israel

Powerful Iraqi Cleric Sadr Quits Politics

Protesters Evacuate Kiev City Hall after Long Occupation

UAE Expels 8 Kuwaiti Students for Forming Union

U.N. Refugee Chief to Visit Iran for Talks about Afghans

Most Rebels Have Left Syria's Yarmuk
Syria blacklists opposition’s Geneva delegates

Hamas Rejects International Force in Future Palestine

Principles, Stances and Opportunism
Elias Bejjani/16.02.14/The gap is too wide between those Lebanese politicians and parties who are motivated by patriotic solid principles and those who use principles as a transient means to achieve their own personal agendas. The issue here is a matter of self respect and respect of the Lebanese people. This dilemma of principles versus opportunism strongly surfaced yesterday after the formation of the new Lebanese government that disappointed the majority of the 14th March coalition supporters.  Simply those who participated in the government represent the 14th of March coalition leadership and themselves, but not its people, the cedar's revolution actual makers. Those 14 of March coalition politicians and parties who joined the government have boldly and shamelessly licked all their vows to prove that they do not honor their promises.
Stances in life are great and highly valued when they are based on a set of solid and unshakable principles. Based on this concept we seriously question the kind of respect those politicians and parties in March 14th coalition that hold for themselves and for the Cedar's Revolution people!!

Nasrallah Says Hizbullah Seeks Dialogue in 'Settlement Cabinet', Offered Portfolio Concessions for Country's Sake
Naharnet16 February 2014
Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday blamed “those who wanted to eliminate Hizbullah from any government” for the 11-month deadlock in the cabinet formation process, describing the cabinet that was announced Saturday by Prime Minister Tammam Salam as a “settlement cabinet.”
“Every person can evaluate the outcome of the cabinet formation process the way they like, whether it is positive or negative, and we respect all opinions,” said Nasrallah in a televised speech commemorating “Hizbullah's martyr leaders” Sayyed Abbas al-Moussawi, Sheikh Ragheb Harb and military commander Imad Mughniyeh.
“It is normal for people to have divergent evaluations, as each evaluation depends on the perspective through which the issue is being approached,” said Nasrallah, referring to the dismay of some of Hizbullah's allies and supporters over the cabinet line-up, which included fierce critics of the party, such as Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi and Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq.
He explained that Hizbullah has always been “with the state and with national partnership.”
“We never said that we reject a cabinet containing any of March 14's components. We never said that we reject the representation of these parties in cabinet and never said that we won't sit with the Mustaqbal Movement or any other party around a dialogue table. We had rather always called for a cabinet of national partnership and unity,” Nasrallah added.
“We are not in any way embarrassed to be in this cabinet,” he pointed out.
Addressing the 11-month impasse in the cabinet formation process, Nasrallah said “it was not portfolio rotation that impeded the formation of the cabinet for 10 months, but rather those who were rejecting the formation of a political cabinet in Lebanon and those who called for eliminating Hizbullah from any cabinet.”
“It was those who called for forming a neutral cabinet,” he said, referring to the March 14 camp.
Nasrallah noted that “those who opened the door for a solution in the cabinet formation process were AMAL (Movement) and Hizbullah,” adding that “had a neutral or de facto cabinet been formed, a problem would have happened in the country.” “Consultations between AMAL and Hizbullah have produced the cabinet,” he said.
“The political problem was resolved as the rotation and distribution of portfolios lingered, so we offered concessions. We are the ones who offered a lot of sacrifices and did not discuss or care for the issue of portfolios, even in the last hours, because our concern was the formation of a cabinet as the country's interest lied in the formation of a cabinet,” Hizbullah's leader clarified.
He stated that evaluating Hizbullah through the ministerial portfolios it got “is a mistake.”
“The country was facing several choices. We never wanted vacuum at the political, economic and security levels. A de facto, neutral cabinet would have posed a threat, that's why the 'settlement cabinet' was formed. You can call it a cabinet of rivals or a national interest cabinet, but a settlement cabinet is the best description. But this is not an all-embracing cabinet as some forces have not taken part in it,” added Nasrallah.
“This cabinet is a settlement cabinet. We want it to be a cabinet of rapprochement and we will enter it with the intent of launching dialogue, not with the intent of setting up barricades inside it. It should alleviate tensions in the country and lower the intensity of political rhetoric,” Hizbullah's chief went on to say.
He pointed out that the cabinet's “priority” must be holding the presidential and parliamentary elections in a timely manner.
“We hope this cabinet will shoulder the responsibility of confronting terrorism,” Nasrallah said.
“Some allies and people have concerns and fears over the new cabinet. For example, some are saying that it will release (detained Qaida-linked militants) Naim Abbas or Omar al-Atrash,” he added.
“If someone has confessed, no one can release them, whoever the justice minister might be,” Nasrallah reassured.
Hizbullah's leader had started his lengthy speech by reminding of the Israeli threat to Lebanon and the region.
“I remind those who have forgotten in Lebanon that Israel is still an enemy and a threat to Lebanon's people, water, oil, security and sovereignty,” said Nasrallah.
“Over the past weeks, Israel seized the chance and wanted to wage a psychological warfare against the resistance, so we heard several threats, but no one in Lebanon cared, as there are some parties who consider the resistance to be the threat against the country,” Nasrallah lamented.
“The enemy does not scare us and after all these experiences and achievements, it knows that the resistance maintains high readiness despite everything that is happening in Lebanon and Syria. Our assets are ready and are growing and although martyrs from the resistance are falling in Syria, it is capable to confront the Israeli enemy,” he reassured.
Turning to the issue of the recent Saudi donation to the Lebanese Army that aims to buy French weapons for the poorly-equipped military institution, Nasrallah said: “In the past, I had said that we hope to see the day when we will have a Lebanese state that can protect and defend Lebanon so that we can rest. And today I want to reiterate that we hope to see the day when the army becomes the sole force that shoulders the responsibility of defending Lebanon.""Our concern is defending Lebanon and its sovereignty and dignity. We are with everything that can strengthen the army in terms of equipment, personnel and advanced weapons that can protect Lebanon in the face of Israeli threats," Nasrallah said.
"Days will prove if there is a will in the international community to offer these arms to the army or not. Should this assistance take place, we will thank anyone who offers weapons to the army," he stressed.
Nasrallah devoted much of the drawn-out address to defending Hizbullah's involvement in Syria, vowing that the group would prevail against extremists fighting in neighboring Syria.
"We will win this battle, God willing," he insisted, after describing the group's role in the conflict in Syria as a fight against "takfiris" -- extremist Sunni Muslims.
"It's a question of time," he said of Hizbullah's promised victory in the fight.
"Planning and preparations... exist, but it's a question of time," he added, describing the fight in Syria, which a Britain-based monitoring group estimates has killed several hundred Hizbullah members, as a "decisive, historic battle."Hizbullah's strongholds in Beirut's southern suburbs and the Bekaa have been targeted in a string of car and suicide bomb attacks that have killed dozens of civilians, with jihadist groups saying the blasts are revenge for the Shiite movement's role in the Syria conflict.
“Tonight, it is a duty to hail people's patience and their will. We must laud the discipline of these people who have refrained from any retaliation in the wake of these bombings. In this confrontation, we must know that this issue deserves patience and the endurance of repercussions. The martyrs who fell in these bombings are exactly like our youths who are falling martyrs in Syria, as this is the same battle,” said Nasrallah.
Nasrallah said the attacks, and others in Syria against religious minorities, proved that the group needed to fight extremism in Syria to protect Lebanon.
"If the armed groups control Syria, what will Lebanon's future be?" he asked.
"Where are your priests, where are your nuns, where are your statues of the Virgin Mary?" he added, referring to Syrian priests and nuns kidnapped by extremists, who have also desecrated churches.
"This is a danger that threatens all Lebanese... If they (jihadists) have the opportunity to control the border regions, their goal will be to transform Lebanon into a part of their Islamic state," he said.
Nasrallah noted that “claims that withdrawal from Syria would stop the bombings are lies,” referring to arguments by Hizbullah's political rivals in Lebanon and a recent statement by the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which laid out two preconditions for stopping its bomb attacks in Lebanon – Hizbullah's withdrawal from Syria and the release of Islamist inmates from the Roumieh prison.

Lebanon’s new cabinet: A modest compromise
By Joyce Karam | Al Arabiya News
Sunday, 16 February 2014
Late German leader Otto von Bismarck said politics were “the art of possible,” a phrase that holds true for Lebanon’s newly formed government founded on internal and regional compromises. While the new cabinet is a team of bitter rivals and doesn’t promise a big agenda, it gives Lebanon a chance to ease tension and build stability away from Syria’s turmoil. After ten months and nine days of political stalemate and consultations, designated Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced yesterday the formation of the new cabinet. The announcement effectively ended the longest power vacuum seen in Lebanon since 1969 and brought together a broad-based national unity government with the participation of both the March 14 and the March 8 blocs.
Win for compromise
Forming the government represents “a very important and long overdue benchmark for Lebanon” says Paul Salem, the Vice President of the Middle East Institute. Salem, known for his expertise in Lebanese affairs, says he saw a series of internal and regional compromises leading to the breakthrough. Internally, Salem tells Al Arabiya News that “there are no winners and no losers, all sides compromised to get to this government.”Hezbollah compromised in agreeing to the 8-8-8 formula for seat distribution while its political opponents in March 14 “backed down on Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria as a prerequisite for joining the government.”
Hezbollah also agreed to include ardent foes it had vetoed in the past, such as Ashraf Rifi, appointed as minister of Justice, and Botrous Harb, the new minister for communications.
Regionally as well, Salem sees traces of cooperation that helped deliver the government in Beirut. “A Lebanese government bringing March 14 and March 8 together means there was a slight compromise from both Saudi Arabia and Iran,” he explained. Salem says that Riyadh accepted Hezbollah in the government while Iran, under the new presidency of Hassan Rowhani, chose a power-sharing formula to ease Sunni-Shia sectarian tension and contain the backlash on Hezbollah over its role in Syria.
Hezbollah’s change of calculus
Three years ago, Iran was under a different leadership and a stronger al-Assad regime existed in Syria. These factors led Hezbollah to opt out of a power-sharing government in Beirut and form a one-sided cabinet under Prime Minister Najib Mikati. The Syrian conflict, however, appears to have changed Hezbollah’s calculus at a time when the war’s spillover and the resulting sectarian divide are becoming costly for both Lebanon and the powerful Shia party. Salem contends that the idea of a national unity government only came after a realization that the one-sided models such as that from the Mikati government preceding this cabinet were ill-equipped to contain the Syria spillover. “Waiting for the Syrian crisis to end is no longer an option,” he says, citing recognition among different Lebanese parties, including Hezbollah, that Syria is a protracted conflict and that halfhearted measures are not enough to protect Lebanon. Since Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria in May of 2013, there have been several car bombings in areas where the party has a strong presence. The volatility has forced some of Hezbollah’s leaders to consider leaving south Beirut and to cancel a rally planned today.
A chance at stability?
The Tammam Salam government, which brings with it a lineup of political rivals, each with a partisan agenda, is not designed for ambitious political projects. Salem describes the coalition as “the best that Lebanon can do for now” with an austere mission set “to maintain some peace and absorb the tension.” As Hezbollah continues to fight in Syria, it hopes in Lebanon “a national unity government will help in containing the sectarian tension, and in reaching out to the Lebanese Sunnis.”The Sunni community is better represented in this government with members such as Nouhad Machnouk, Ashraf Rifi and Prime Minister Tammam Salam who enjoy wide support in the community. This “helps in places like Tripoli, particularly in filling the political deficit felt with the previous Mikati government,” says Salem. Having an operational government will help Lebanon to have a more robust international outreach ahead of a key meeting in Paris next month and is essential in processing overdue legislations on gas and energy. The new cabinet, “will not be tasked to do miracles” concludes Salem, but rather to help build a more stable environment at a time of grave international and regional concern over Lebanon being drawn deeper into the Syrian fire. You can follow Joyce on twitter @Joyce_Karam

Suleiman Calls for International Support to Army
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/President Michel Suleiman urged on Sunday the International Support Group for Lebanon to meet its pledges during meetings expected to be held in France and Italy. “The international cover should be provided to enable the Lebanese army to acquire its needs through Saudi Arabia's grant to the military to obtain French arms,” Suleiman said during a telephone conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban and several other officials have contacted Suleiman on Sunday to congratulate him on the formation of Prime Minister Tammam Salam's cabinet. On Saturday, PM Salam unveiled a compromise government, capping nearly 11 months of political wrangling. Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X Yazigi and deputy head of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan also congratulated Suleiman on formation of government. “The army should be able to defend Lebanon, control the situation, preserve civil peace and confront terrorism,” Suleiman added. The International Support Group for Lebanon is expected to meet in March in Paris at the invitation of France for the establishment of two funds the first to support Lebanon's economy and the second to aid the Syrian refugees in the country. Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and Foreign Minister Emma Bonino had confirmed during a short visits to Lebanon that the Rome conference aims at fortifying the capabilities of the Lebanese Armed Forces and easing the Syrian refugees crisis. The support group was inaugurated in New York in September 2013,on the sidelines of the 68th session of the General Assembly. It undertook to work together to mobilize support for the sovereignty and state institutions of Lebanon and to highlight and promote efforts to assist the country where it was most affected by the Syrian crisis, including in respect of strengthening the capacity of the Lebanese Armed Forces, assistance to refugees, and structural and financial support to the government. Lebanon is struggling under the weight of nearly one million Syrian refugees, who are testing its already limited resources.


The long road to Lebanon’s new government
By Nesrine Hatoum | Al Arabiya/Sunday, 16 February 2014
A new Lebanese government has been born, 10 months after Tammam Salam was tasked with forming one. Speaking as the country’s new prime minister, Salam described the new authority as a “unifying government and the best formula to allow Lebanon to confront challenges.”After meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri at the presidential palace, the new prime minister said: “this government was formed in the spirit of unification, convergence without challenge, and it is able to revive the National Dialogue and tackle conflicting issues, and pave the way for presidential elections and be the catalyst for a new electoral law.”The government, labeled by Salam as “the government of national interest,” consists of 24 ministers, divided into three equal parts for the two opposed groups (14 March and 8 March) as well as the centrists.
Prime Minister Salam noted that the seat allocation was formulated so as to steer the government away from negativity and that the rotation of seats would be applied so that the government would be free from any religious or sectarian monopoly. The Lebanese Forces Party is not represented in the new cabinet as they refused to be part of any government that includes ministers from Hezbollah, as long as the armed wing of that party continues to fight in Syria. Commenting on the new government, political analyst Tony Francis told Al Arabiya that “the present government has a heavy and wide representation and gathers key players in Lebanon, noting that the Lebanese Forces Party is represented through the coalition of 14 March even if it isn’t directly represented.” Francis added that the new government is facing real issues that cannot be procrastinated upon, namely social and economic issues. The government must also find a solution to the pressing issue of the growing number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and deal with it in a way that preserves national interests. Furthermore, Francis stated that the new government has to prepare for the upcoming presidential elections, as this is a national priority not just the cabinet’s priority.
Many obstacles have hindered the smooth formation of the new government, such as the position of the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, General Michel Aoun, who insisted that his son-in-law Gebran Bassil remains minister of Energy, as Lebanon was about to launch international tenders for oil and gas exploration. This was solved by appointing Arthur Nazarian from the Armenian “Tashnag” party, a member of the “Change and reform” coalition presided over by Aoun. Hezbollah also stalled progress when it refused the appointment of the former director general of the Internal Security Forces, General Ashraf Rifi, as the minister of interior because of differences and accusations based on Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and its support to pro-Syrian regime forces in the northern city of Tripoli. This issue was solved by appointing another candidate from the al-Mustakbal movement, Nouhad Mashnouq, while Rifi was appointed as minister of justice. Nouhad Mashnouq, the MP from al-Mustakbal movement, is a journalist and a former adviser to the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, while General Ashraf Rifi is a prominent Sunni personality from Tripoli, considered by many as being able to contain Sunni extremist groups. Supported by the former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rifi contributed greatly to dismantling the terror network of former minister Michel Samaha, accused of orchestrating terrorist attacks in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s maneuvers
The editorialist Georges Soulage explained his theory as to why Hezbollah accepted to grant March 14 coalition members the seats of Justice, Interior and Telecoms, although these ministries have a key role in security and intelligence. According to Soulage, Hezbollah’s stance is an indicator that Lebanon is in the wake of a positive period and regional entente, which will have a positive impact on the political and economic situation the country. He added that the new government reached by the different Lebanese factions is a result of the regional entente, nurtured by American and French pressures, and supported by Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, Soulage doubted that major breakthroughs will be achieved at the security level, as Lebanon’s security is related to regional conflicts such as the bloody war in Syria. The road is difficult and the challenges are immense. As the new Prime Minister Tammam Salam said, his government has many tasks to achieve in little time. The the next challenge will be the cabinet’s manifesto, as some consider it a crucial part of the formation of the government. Controversy is expected to arise over Hezbollah’s arms and their role in the Syrian conflict.Last Update: Sunday, 16 February 2014


Report: Suleiman Appoints Charbel as Adviser on Military Affairs
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/Former Interior Minister Marwan Chabel was appointed as an Adviser on Military Affairs, An Nahar newspaper reported on Sunday. According to the daily, President Michel Suleiman appointed Charbel in the post to benefit from his expertise in the field. Charbel succeeded Abdul Motleb al-Hennawi in the post, after his appointment as Youth and Sports Minister in Premier Tammam Salam's new cabinet.
On Saturday, PM Salam unveiled a compromise government, capping nearly 11 months of political wrangling.  Charbel expressed hope in comments to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) that all parties cooperate with the newly appointed interior minister for the sake of the country. "We have had enough of political disputes and rift," Charbel said. Salam had appointed March 14 lawmaker Nouhad Mashnouq as Charbel's successor in the new cabinet.
Charbel also called for the complete cooperation between security agencies to overcome the security challenges facing Lebanon.

Berri Meets Emir of Kuwait, Calls on Muslims to Consolidate Ties
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/..Speaker Nabih Berri hailed on Sunday the “ongoing initiatives” by the Gulf state of Kuwait to support Lebanon, voicing hope that Muslims would consolidate ties.
Berri, who is currently in Kuwait on a two-day visit, discussed with the Emir of Kuwiat Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah the conditions of the Syrian and Palestinian on Lebanese territories. Lebanon is struggling under the weight of nearly one million Syrian refugees, who are testing its already limited resources. Berri expressed hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Gulf Counties, in particular, Saudi Arabia would rectify their ties, pointing out that this matter will have a positive impact on the region. Kuwait is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council led by oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which has long viewed Iran as a regional rival. Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, while Saudi Arabia backs the Sunni-led rebellion. Besides Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the GCC groups Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited four Gulf states in December, skipping Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and called for opening a new page in relations with the Sunni-ruled bloc.
Berri also called on Kuwaiti authorities to remove the travel ban to Lebanon. Kuwait had previously advised its citizens avoid travel to Lebanon and its nationals currently present in the country to leave due to the unstable security situation. For his party, the Emir of Kuwait stressed that his country is keen to “put all its potential to assist and support Lebanon in various fields.” Berri also held talks with Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Sabah in presence of Lebanon's ambassador to Kuwait Khodor al-Halwi. Berri is also expected to visit the Kuwaiti National Assembly. Berri was expected to kick off on Friday a tour on several Arab and European countries but he delayed his visit until the cabinet was formed. On Saturday, PM Salam unveiled a compromise government, capping nearly 11 months of political wrangling.
The tour began in Kuwait and is expected to include the Islamic Republic of Iran, Germany and Albania. Berri's Kuwaiti counterpart Marzouq al-Ghanim welcomed him at the airport on Saturday.


Kerry Calls on New Cabinet to Address Urgent Security Needs, Meet Constitutional Deadlines
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said his country hopes the new government will "address... urgent security, political and economic needs" after Prime Minister Tammam Salam's government was announced on Saturday nearly 11 months after his appointment. Kerry listed the challenges ahead for Lebanon, including holding forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections "in a timely, transparent, democratic and fair manner". “Amidst growing terrorism and sectarian violence, we look to the new cabinet, if approved by parliament, to address Lebanon’s urgent security, political and economic needs,” Kerry said in a statement. He noted that the challenges include “addressing the needs of Lebanese communities hosting refugees from Syria; strengthening national institutions; countering extremist ideologies and redoubling counterterrorism efforts; encouraging economic growth, including offshore energy development; and holding presidential and parliamentary elections in a timely, transparent, democratic, and fair manner, in accordance with Lebanon’s constitution.” He reiterated his country's “strong commitment to Lebanon's sovereignty, security, and stability.” “We will continue to support the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces – the sole legitimate security forces in Lebanon,” Kerry added. He urged the new government to ensure that all parties comply with Lebanon’s obligations and commitments, including U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 and uphold the Taif Agreement and the Baabda Declaration. Kerry described the “disassociation policy as the best way to ensure Lebanon’s stability and security.”The Baabda Declaration was approved unanimously during a national dialogue session in June 2012. It calls for Lebanon to adopt a policy of disassociation from regional developments. Syria's nearly three-year war has deeply divided Lebanon, and the violence has spilled across the border into Lebanon, which has been hit by car and suicide bomb attacks.


U.N. Chief, Security Council Laud Formation of New Cabinet
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/The United Nations Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the formation of the new Lebanese Cabinet, urging Premier Tammam Salam to act effectively to address the challenges facing Lebanon. “The political leaders in Lebanon are encouraged to build the constructive engagement which led to the formation of the new government to ensure that the country's forthcoming presidential election is successfully conducted within the timeframe set by law,” Ban's spokesperson in New York quoted him as saying. “The Secretary-General pays tribute to outgoing Prime Minister Najib Miqati for his leadership,” said the statement. Ban expressed readiness to “working with the new Government in its efforts to serve the people of Lebanon and to ensure the effective implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 and other resolutions which remain essential to the country's stability.” Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah, calls for respect for the Blue Line, the disarming of all militias in Lebanon, and an end to arms smuggling in the area. He urged Salam's cabinet to act effectively to address the security, humanitarian and economic challenges with the full support of all parties and without any delay.
President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May. The Security Council also voiced support to the new cabinet. “We looked forward to the constructive engagement of the new Government with the international community, in particular the U.N.-backed International Support Group to mobilize support for Lebanon,” a statement pointed out. The Council also underlined the need for the Government to uphold Lebanon's long standing democratic tradition in particular in ensuring that presidential elections will take place within the constitutional framework. On Saturday, PM Salam unveiled a compromise government, capping nearly 11 months of political wrangling. Since April, efforts to form a government had stumbled over disputes between Hizbullah, whose fighters have been helping the Syrian army crush the revolt, and the al-Mustaqbal movement chief Saad Hariri's bloc which backs the Sunni-led uprising. Hariri paved the way for the breakthrough when he announced in a U-turn last month that he was willing to allow his so-called March 14 bloc join a government with arch-rival Hizbullah.
The new government brings together for the first time in three years Hizbullah and the Hariri bloc, and the agreed compromise ensures neither side has veto power over the other. The 24 portfolios are divided into three groups, with the March 14 and 8 alliance each taking eight ministries, with candidates considered to be neutral allocated the remainder. To preserve the delicate balance between the country's 18 sects, the government is also equally divided between Christian and Muslim representatives.


Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Considers Salam's Cabinet 'Key Step' to Deal with Challenges
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the formation of a new government in Lebanon was a key step in dealing with the country's challenges, highlighting an "unprecedented refugee influx".  She expressed hope the government would maintain "peace and security in Lebanon including by the reassertion of a policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict".
Lebanon is struggling under the weight of nearly one million Syrian refugees, who are testing its already limited resources. Ashton hailed the efforts exerted by Prime Minister Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman to form the new cabinet after “tough negotiations” between the arch-foes. She expressed confidence that the new cabinet will revive all the sectors, maintain peace and security in the country and reaffirm the country's commitment to the dissociation policy, in addition to carrying out the presidential elections in accordance with constitution. “The EU will continue to contribute to the rising needs in Lebanon to confront the current challenges,” Ashton pointed out. On Saturday, PM Salam unveiled a compromise government, capping nearly 11 months of political wrangling. Since April, efforts to form a government had stumbled over disputes between Hizbullah, whose fighters have been helping the Syrian army crush the revolt, and the al-Mustaqbal movement chief Saad Hariri's bloc which backs the Sunni-led uprising. Hariri paved the way for the breakthrough when he announced in a U-turn last month that he was willing to allow his so-called March 14 bloc join a government with arch-rival Hizbullah. The new government brings together for the first time in three years Hizbullah and the Hariri bloc, and the agreed compromise ensures neither side has veto power over the other. The 24 portfolios are divided into three groups, with the March 14 and 8 alliance each taking eight ministries, with candidates considered to be neutral allocated the remainder.
To preserve the delicate balance between the country's 18 sects, the government is also equally divided between Christian and Muslim representatives.


Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel Says Party Will Not Tolerate Attempts to Tamper with Lebanon's Sovereignty
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel said on Sunday that the party will not tolerate attempts to undermine Lebanon''s sovereignty, stressing that Hizbullah will be confronted at the cabinet and not by any other means. “The Phalage party has been demanding the formation of an all-embracing and capable cabinet,” Gemayel said during a press conference in Bekfaia. He expressed hope that Prime Minister Tammam Salam's cabinet would be capable of meeting all the constitutional deadlines on time. “We have been waiting for the formation of this cabinet, which was formed after a long period of sufferings, hope that it would meet the aspirations of the people,” Gemayel said. He hailed the efforts exerted by President Michel Suleiman and Salam to form the government, describing it as a necessity to restore calm in the country. “This cabinet isn't expected to make miracles,” Gemayel noted. However, he expected from Salam's cabinet to “consolidated among its components despite the differences to achieve stability.” “We disagree with Hizbullah but we are not afraid to confront it at the cabinet, the battle should be political and not by the use of arms,” the Christian leader added. “We are concerned with moving the political battles to the government and parliament,” he stressed. Gemayel lauded the sacrifices made by head of al-Mustaqbal Saad Hariri and his courageous stances that helped the formation of Salam's government. On Saturday, PM Salam unveiled a compromise government, capping nearly 11 months of political wrangling. Since April, efforts to form a government had stumbled over disputes between Hizbullah, whose fighters have been helping the Syrian army crush the revolt, and Hariri's bloc which backs the Sunni-led uprising. Hariri paved the way for the breakthrough when he announced in a U-turn last month that he was willing to allow his so-called March 14 bloc join a government with arch-rival Hizbullah.
The new government brings together for the first time in three years Hizbullah and the Hariri bloc, and the agreed compromise ensures neither side has veto power over the other. The 24 portfolios are divided into three groups, with the March 14 and 8 alliance each taking eight ministries, with candidates considered to be neutral allocated the remainder. To preserve the delicate balance between the country's 18 sects, the government is also equally divided between Christian and Muslim representatives.


Lebanese Army Defuses Explosive-Laden Vehicle in Bekaa
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/The Lebanese army announced dismantling on Sunday an explosive-rigged car in the outskirts of of Ham town near the eastern Bekaa district of Hermel, a Hizbullah stronghold.
A military expert arrived at the scene to inspect a silver Toyota RAV4 vehicle after its driver abandoned it 600 meters before reaching an army checkpoint in the area. Another military expert was later called to the scene. According to the state-run National News Agency, the car entered Lebanon from Syria's province of Qalamoun that is located near the border. The NNA said that the vehicle was heading to the capital Beirut.
Military experts said that the RAV4 contains a large quantity of explosives. Media reports said that explosives estimated to weigh around 300 kilograms were found in the car, in addition to a quantity of fuses.
The army later issued a communique saying that an army unit suspected a Toyota RAV4 vehicle in the outskirts of the town of Ham in the Bekaa. “The unit pursued the car and opened fire at it but the driver was able to flee the car,” the statement pointed out. “After inspecting the car it turned to be containing a quantity of explosives.”State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr ordered the army's intelligence to transfer the car to its headquarters and launch preliminary investigations. Last week, military experts defused a booby-trapped vehicle in Beirut's Corniche al-Mazraa neighborhood after the army announced the arrest of a leader in the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, it also intercepted another explosive-laden vehicle in the Bekaa region. Lebanon has seen a string of deadly attacks, including car bombs, linked to Syria's war, claimed by al-Qaida-linked groups. Although officially neutral in Syria's conflict, Lebanon is deeply divided over the Sunni-led rebellion against President Bashar Assad, whose troops are backed by fighters from Hizbullah.


Fire Sweeps Through Seven Syrian Refugee Tents in Tyre
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/A fire swept through seven tents in a Syrian refugee camp in the southern city of Tyre, causing only material damage, the state-run National News Agency reported on Sunday. According to the news agency, Civil Defense teams controlled the blaze and prevented it from reaching other tents. Several people suffered from respiratory distress, however no injuries were reported as the refugees were able to escape the tents. The NNA said that the fire was caused by a heater in one of the tents. Lebanon is also struggling under the weight of nearly one million Syrian refugees, who are testing its already limited resources. Lebanese authorities have refused to set up official camps for refugees from Syria. Many live in hundreds of unofficial tent settlements across the country, mainly on Lebanon's northern and eastern peripheries. Better-off refugees rent apartments in towns and cities, but face exorbitant rents. Lebanon is hosting the highest number of refugees from Syria, while more than a million others have fled to Jordan and Turkey. The refugee crisis has brought serious economic and political challenges to Lebanon, where there are regular clashes linked to the war in Syria. Source/Agence France Presse


Sayyed Cuts Ties with March 8 Camp after 'Huge Mistake' of Rifi's Appointment
Naharnet Newsdesk 15 February 2014/Former General Security chief Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed announced on Saturday that he will be “cutting his ties” with the March 8 camp, following the appointment of the former Internal Security Forces chief as the new Justice Minister. "I announce cutting communication ties with the March 8 camp,” Sayyed said in a released statement. He explained his stance: “Any political party has the right to nominate any personality to be represented in the new cabinet, including nominating (Maj. Gen.) Ashraf Rifi.” "But there is no ethical or logical reason that justifies March 8's step of giving away the Justice Ministry,” he added.
"March 8 had recently objected the extension of Rifi's mandate as an ISF chief, and they have toppled the cabinet of former premier Saad Hariri for rejecting to refer the case of the false witnesses to the Judicial Council, in which Rifi was involved.” He expressed that it isn't the first time the March 8 camp, including Hizbullah and AMAL Movement, “commits a huge mistake.”"But this time, the entire coalition bears the responsibility of this huge ethical mistake that cannot be politically justified for any reason.”Sayyed then announced cutting his ties with the camp, but assured that he will commit to its “strategic political path.”Prime Minister Tammam Salam finally announced on Saturday the formation of a 24-minister cabinet, ten months and a week after his appointment. The ministers have been distributed equally between the rival March 8 and 14 camps and centrists and Rifi was named as the new Minister of Justice after the March 8 camp objected his nomination for the Ministry of Interior. Sayyed, spent four years in prison on suspicion of involvement in the 2005 murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri. He denies any involvement and claims to have been subjected to arbitrary detention. .


Aoun Calls for 'Restoring Relations' Post-Cabinet Formation
Naharnet Newsdesk 15 February 2014/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun considered on Saturday that the new cabinet is a “key for restoring relations” between different factions in the country.
"This week we have witnessed two major events in the country,” Aoun said following the announcement of the new cabinet. "And these events are the dismantling of a terrorist ring and the formation of the new cabinet,” he explained. "And what is valuable is that the cabinet is a key to restoring normal relations between all factions in Lebanon after a long impasse,” the Christian leader stressed. “We hope institutions and companies can thrive, economical and financial matters can prosper, and security can be guaranteed as these were in deteriorating conditions lately.” Aoun pointed out that “authority cannot be in the hands of one party.”Standing next to Aoun during his speech were the Change and Reform bloc's newly appointed ministers.  New Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil noted that “we are living in a time of moderation.”“And we hope the cabinet can also witness that time, because we have all offered sacrifices for Lebanon's sake,” he said. “We would have hoped that the Lebanese Forces was represented in the cabinet and to have a council of 30 ministers to include the Syrian Social National Party, (Lebanese Democratic Party leader) MP Talal Arlsan and (Tripoli Minister Faisal) Karami.” The former Energy Minister also hoped that the cabinet would issue all decrees related to petroleum matters, considering it a “strategic issue in the country.” “We also hope that the presidential elections would be conducted on time,” he added. Commenting on the rotation of ministerial portfolios, Bassil described it as an “unusual suggestion.”
“But we hope it would be introduced on a stronger basis in the future and that each minister gets the chance to complete the pending projects,” he said. Prime Minister Tammam Salam finally announced on Saturday the formation of a 24-minister cabinet, ten months and a week after his appointment. The ministers have been distributed equally between the rival March 8 and 14 camps and centrists.

Tammam Salam: 40 years in politics
BEIRUT - As the new cabinet is formed, NOW publishes the resume of new prime minister, Tammam Salam:
-Tammam Saeb Salam, first born son of former Prime Minister Saeb Salam, was born in 1945.
-He received his elementary education at Lycee franco-libanaise and his intermediate education in Beit Al Atfal - Al Makassed and Victoria College in Egypt. He received his secondary education at Brummana High School.
-For his university education Salam traveled to England in 1965 where he studied economics and business management. He returned to Lebanon in 1965 to work in business.
-He was head of the Arab Works Company between 1969 and 1982 but was always inclined to political work so in the early seventies he worked alongside his father. In 1974, he established the Pioneers of Reform Movement which was able to attract youths from a number of areas in Beirut. However, he quickly froze the PRM’s activity at the beginning of the Lebanese civil war in 1975 and 1976 to prevent it from turning into an armed movement.
-Salam was able, during the war years, to organize political activities launched from his father’s house in Mouseitbeh, which aimed to mend damaged relations and preserve dialogue between the Lebanese.
-In 1983, Salam took up his father’s position as head of Makassed Philanthropic Islamic Association. He remained in the position until the year 2000 and is now the association’s honorary president. Salam also set up Voice of the Nation, Makassed’s radio station in Beirut.
-In 1996, Salam was elected as an MP in the Lebanese parliament but lost his seat in the 2000 elections. He took part in the 2009 elections in alliance with Saad Hariri and was able to achieve success. He is a current member of the committees for Foreign and Expatriate affairs and National Economy.
-From 2008 to 2009 he served as Minister of Culture in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government.
-Salam is married to Lama Badreddine and they have three children: Saeb, Tammima and Thuraya.


Israel uneasy over Russian arms flooding into Syria in the north, Egypt to the south
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis February 16, 2014/A new concern is preoccupying Israel’s strategists in recent weeks. On top of the al Qaeda fighting strength gathering around its borders, they are beginning to worry about the high momentum with which Russian President Vladimir Putin is capitalizing on America’s withdrawal from the Middle East. Moscow is working through military pacts with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Egyptian strongman and future president, Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to dramatically deepen its regional foothold. This and Putin's powerful personal backing for the two figures already have serious repercussions.
The Iran-Syrian-Hizballah alignment is making diplomatic gains. Tehran is stiffening its bargaining position and begrudging nuclear concessions in the current negotiations with the Six Powers. The knock-on effect on the Syrian crisis was clearly visible in Geneva on Saturday, Feb. 15, when the talks on a political settlement crashed before ending their third round.
In Beijing meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Friday that Obama was concerned about the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Syria and also by the fact that peace talks between the opposition and government had not produced a discussion of a transitional government as planned. President Barack Obama has asked “all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist [for the Syrian crisis,]” Kerry said. Have they been presented? He was asked. “No, they have not,” he said.
The top US diplomat was perfectly aware, like everyone else, that Obama has no intention of conducting even the most minor US intervention in Syria war and has opted to leave a clear field in that doomed country to President Putin. This hands-off policy has not only given the Russian president free rein to advance his interests, but further empowered Syrian ruler Bashar Assad to exercise his will on his suffering people undisturbed.
One of Assad’s most prominent characteristics is his ability to be beholden to no one – even Moscow, which supplies all his war needs even more generously than Iran. Assad goes along with Putin only when it suits his agenda, but is never in his pocket. This was demonstrated in the breakdown of the Geneva conference - for which UN Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi was forced to apologize Saturday. Assad flatly refused to accept a transitional government in Damascus in defiance of the advice pressed on him by the Russian president.
That fiasco also bankrupted the policies John Kerry managed for the Obama administration, which hinged heavily on Putin’s success in extracting from Assad enough flexibility to satisfy minimal US requirements.
So Putin failed to deliver the goods and Assad continued to wage his hideous war – a double setback for Washington, because White House policy-makers failed to appreciate that Assad and Putin each had their own agendas which were not uniformly in sync.
A similar relationship may be evolving between Cairo and Damascus.
This week, Egypt’s future president Defense Minister Gen. El-Sisi was in Moscow to sign a large transaction for the purchase of Russian arms. According to some estimates it is worth $2 billion; others put the figure as high as $3 billion.
Advanced Russian missiles and warplanes – and most likely S-300 anti-missile batteries – will flow into the Egyptian army’s arsenals for its two interlinked wars on the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed as a terrorist organization after its overthrow from power, and on the al Qaeda jihadists entrenched in Sinai.
These terrorists are hand in glove with the Brotherhood for striking Egyptian military and government targets and also in close coordination with Al Qaeda elements in Libya.
Gen. El-Sisi currently treats Israel as a welcome ally, mainly because the Netanyahu government has agreed to overlook key clauses of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in order to give him a free hand in Sinai and supports his campaigns with deep intelligence cooperation. But the Egyptian strongman's is trip to Moscow last week took him a long step away from Washington and an important step closer to Moscow, with incalculable consequences.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources draw certain disquieting parallels:
1. Although widely different in personality and leadership style, El-Sisis and Assad share the same lone rider instinct. They prepare their steps with meticulous care and advance planning for the sake of preserving their independence of action.
Assad’s maneuvers net him all the hardware he needs to fight his war from Russia. El-Sisi has designed his first arms transaction with Moscow to put him on the road to the independent path he seeks on the world and Middle East stages.
2. The Egyptian ruler and his following hold to the political orientation briefly summed up as Nasserist. He knows that Egypt’s fundamental economic woes are incurable, and so he is investing effort in building a strong regime that will promote the Nasserist form of pan-Arab nationalism, with Egypt in the forefront.
This policy may well bring Egypt into collision with the state of Israel, the national manifestation of the Jewish people.
Therefore, in many ways, the Egyptian strongman is an enigma. Neither Washington nor Jerusalem can foresee exactly where he is heading. The Syrian ruler for his part has confounded the most extreme predictions of how far he is willing to go in his pitiless determination to survive.


Syria blacklists opposition’s Geneva delegates
Reuters, Geneva/Syria has added opposition delegates at peace talks in Geneva to a “terrorist list” and seized their assets, including the house of one of them, anti-government negotiators and a diplomat said on Saturday. The opposition delegation only learnt of the decision when a copy of the Justice Ministry decision was leaked this week to the opposition website, the sources said.
The memorandum, issued by the Justice Ministry, says the assets had been frozen under a 2012 anti-terrorism law.

Canadian-Iranian businessman claims man was involved in assassination of Hamas man in Dubai. Canadian passport
J.Post/Canadian-Iranian businessman Arian Azerber told The Toronto Sun on Saturday that the Canadian government has granted a new passport to a suspected Mossad agent who had his picture published by Dubai Police in 2010 after the assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in 2010. Azerber claims that his information was obtained from Triana Kennedy, an employee at the federal agency Passport Canada, with whom he was having an affair. According to Azerber, Kennedy told him that the passport had been renewed after the assassination of Mabhouh in Dubai was exposed and that the Canadian government's claim that it had nothing to do with the affair is a lie. "It [Canada] provided a new passport," claimed Azerber. Azerber also told the newspaper the name and address of the person who received the passport. The Toronto Sun did not publish this information for privacy and security reasons. After pictures were exposed by Dubai authorities of 26 suspected Mossad agents reportedly related to the assassination of Mabhouh, several countries suspended the passports of those people identified in the pictures. The passports belonged to Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany, Ireland, and France. It is unclear if Arian Azerber is an uninvolved business man or if he has links to a foreign intelligence agency.
A spokesperson for Passport Canada refused to comment on the matter.

Report: Egypt working to create buffer zone around Gaza border
Ynetnews/02.16.14/Roi Kais/As part of new campaign to create buffer zone around Gaza, Egypt military forces launch Sinai operation, destroying tunnels, homes, and raiding villages serving terrorists, Palestinian news agency
Egyptian border forces destroyed tunnels leading into Gaza from Sinai as part of new campaign to create a buffer zone along the border with the Gaza Strip, Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.
According to the report, 10 tunnels and seven homes were destroyed on Saturday as part of the new plan to create the buffer zone, which would extend 500 meters in some places, the report claimed.
According to Ma'an report which cited an Egyptian security source, the campaign began with a military operation in the border town of Rafah, where tunnels leading into Gaza were targeted.
The security source added that the tunnels were destroyed and the homes they were located in were subsequently blown up.
He explained that the move was part of a wider campaign being led by Egypt to set up a buffer zone along the border with Gaza in Rafah that would extend 300 meters in populated areas and 500 meters in open areas.
According to Ma'an, the zone would pose a threat to dozens of Gaza homes, which has been divided by the international border since the 1982 Camp David peace accord between Egypt and Israel.
According to the report, thousands were displaced in the early 2000s when Israel demolished homes to build a similar buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the border with Egypt.
The Egyptian security source also told Ma'an that Egyptian army forces successfully foiled three explosive devices placed in military vehicles and armored cars in Sheikh Zuwaid, including two that were placed near the Sheikh Zuweid Hospital and a third on the road to a nearby village south of Sheikh Zuewid.


3 Tourists Dead, 14 Hurt as Blast Hits Egypt Bus near Israel
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/A bomb tore through a bus carrying sightseers near an Egyptian resort town bordering Israel on Sunday, killing at least three tourists and wounding 14, police said. The bus was carrying 33 tourists near the south Sinai resort town of Taba when it was hit by the blast, police officials said. A spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority, which is responsible for border security, told Agence France Presse that the Taba crossing had been closed in the wake of the blast. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Militants in the restive peninsula have waged a deadly insurgency against the military and police since the overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July. Scores of policemen and soldiers have been killed in bombings in Sinai and the Nile Delta, but Sunday's blast is the first targeting tourists since Morsi was deposed.
The unrest has severely hit tourism, a vital earner in Egypt, which has been targeted sporadically by militants over the past two decades. Between 2004 and 2006, scores of Egyptians and foreign tourists were killed in a spate of bombings in resorts in south Sinai. In 1997, Islamist militants massacred dozens of tourists in a pharaonic temple in the southern city of Luxor.Source/Agence France Presse.

Powerful Iraqi Cleric Sadr Quits Politics
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 February 2014/Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of a powerful political movement and a major figure in the formation of post-Saddam Iraq, has announced his exit from politics two months before legislative polls. "I announce my non-intervention in all political affairs and that there is no bloc that represents us from now on, nor any position inside or outside the government nor parliament," Sadr said in a written statement received by Agence France Presse on Sunday. Sadr's group currently holds six cabinet posts as well as 40 seats in the 325-member parliament. He also said his movement's political offices will be closed, but that others related to social welfare, media and education will remain open. It was not immediately clear if the decision was temporary or permanent, with Sadrist officials surprised by the announcement not in a position to clarify. One official from Sadr's office told AFP that no one wanted to discuss the issue "because it was a surprise decision." "I do not think it will be reversed... because it is a very strong decision," the official added however. If confirmed as permanent, Sadr's announcement brings to a close a political career spanning more than a decade. It began with his sharp criticism of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, with his movement subsequently gaining seats in parliament, cabinet posts and playing the role of political kingmaker. Sadr's widely-feared Mahdi Army militia also repeatedly battled American forces, and played a major role in the brutal sectarian conflict between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites in which tens of thousands of people died. Sadr suspended the militia's activities in 2008 following major battles with Iraqi and U.S. security forces. Sadr said the decision to leave politics was taken from the standpoint of Islamic law and of "preserving the honorable reputation of Sadr, especially of the two Sadr martyrs," referring to his father and another relative who were killed during Saddam Hussein's rule. The move also aims to "end all the corruptions that occurred or which are likely to occur" that would harm the Sadr reputation, he said. Source/Agence France Presse.


Kerry said the United States remained committed to the Geneva process and all diplomatic efforts to find a political solution.
Staff writer, Al Arabiya News /Sunday, 16 February 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry blamed the breakdown of the Syria talks in Geneva on the ‘obstruction’ by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, according to Agence France-Presse. “None of us are surprised that the talks have been hard, and that we are at a difficult moment, but we should all agree that the al-Assad regime’s obstruction has made progress even tougher,” Kerry said. Kerry urged the regime’s supporters to press for the creation of a transitional government and warned they would bear the responsibility “if the regime continues with its intransigence in the talks and its brutal tactics on the ground.” The second round of negotiations seeking an end to the brutal three-year-old conflict in Geneva broke off Saturday with no result. No date was set for a third round of talks and it was unclear whether any would be held, according to AFP.
Kerry said the United States remained committed to the Geneva process and all diplomatic efforts to find a political solution. “There’s no recess in the suffering of the Syrian people, and the parties and the international community must use the recess in the Geneva talks to determine how best to use this time and its resumption to find a political solution to this horrific civil war,” he said. A monitoring group said this week more than 5,000 people had been killed since the talks began on Jan. 22.Meanwhile, the evacuation of civilians from Syria’s Homs city has halted with no new efforts to extend a truce with governor saying “armed groups” prevented operations a day earlier.“The evacuation of civilians was not carried out yesterday (Saturday) because some of the armed groups prevented the citizens inside from moving to the transit point to leave,” Talal Barazi said in a statement. “The province will continue its efforts with the United Nations to evacuate all those who wish to leave,” he added. The United Nations and Syria’s Red Crescent began operations to evacuate trapped civilians and deliver aid inside besieged parts of Homs on Feb. 7. The work was made possible by a deal that included a ceasefire that was extended twice, but expired on Saturday night with no word of attempts to extend it further.
The U.N. and Red Crescent were able to evacuate some 1,400 of the 3,000 people estimated to be trapped in Homs for more than 18 months by a government siege.
But around 400 men and boys aged 15-55 were detained by authorities for investigation upon leaving. Earlier on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said several besieged neighborhoods of Homs came under regime shelling, and government forces battled rebels in the outskirts of the districts. Regime forces also shelled the Waer neighborhood, a Homs district under opposition control but not subject to the army siege, where most of the evacuees fled.More than 140,000 people have died and millions have been driven from their homes since the conflict began.(With AFP)

Syrian ‘terrorism’ and U.S. retrenchment
Sunday, 16 February 2014/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabyia
When I finally listened to the statements made by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mokdad in Geneva, in which he rejected any talk of President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, I felt frustrated and tense. My reaction was not in response to Mokdad or the Syrian government delegation at Geneva, but rather it was in response to the international community following an absurd and bloody path by pursuing a “political settlement” to the Syrian crisis. This comes after those who claimed to be “combatting terrorism” had succeeded in confusing the entire scenario.
What Mokdad said, and the tone in which he said it, likely came as no surprise to those familiar with his political history. It is nothing new to hear similar statements from his colleagues; political and media adviser to the president, Bouthaina Shaaban, Minister of Information Omran al-Zoubi and the rest of the gang, particularly with regard to the issue of the government “combatting terrorism.” What is new, however, and what has provoked surprise in many quarters, is the U.S. media reports about the al-Nusra Front—one of the extremist jihadist factions fighting Assad’s tyranny—and the direct and indirect role that Iran is playing in supporting and sponsoring this group. The reports claimed that this was taking place via two figures based out of Iran known by their noms de guerre, Jaafar al-Uzbeki and Yassin al-Suri.
It is true that reports such as this cannot be treated as conclusive evidence and, in fact, a number of figures sympathetic to the al-Nusra Front have rushed to deny these claims, denouncing them as an “American conspiracy” to undermine the Front and serve the interests of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They say that ISIS has now been exposed as a fifth column fighting against the popular Syrian revolution, seeking to destroy its reputation. This is based on claims that the government’s air force has been reluctant to target areas and bases under ISIS control, while civilians and “real” revolutionaries are being bombarded by barrel bombs day and night.
Difficult claims to justify
Emotional expressions of this kind are understandable, and in some cases there are mitigating circumstances that can lead one to form the wrong impression. However, from a logical standpoint, such claims are difficult to justify.
It is true that ISIS has now been exposed as a result of its atrocious and suspicious transgressions. This has affected all other factions of the Syrian revolution, particularly the Islamic Front and what remains of the Free Syrian Army. However, it is also true that the al-Nusra Front publicly pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, following which al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri explicitly announced his support for the group in the Syrian conflict, including its conflict against ISIS.
How can anybody expect the international community to sympathize with the Syrian revolution when a terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda is one of the uprising’s most prominent participants?
The al-Nusra Front does not deny this, and to this day it has not backed away from this relationship with al-Qaeda. At the same time, Zawahiri has also not shied away from confirming al-Qaeda’s relations with the Front.
Accordingly, how can anybody with even the slightest sense expect the international community—which is always in a state of fleeing its moral, humanitarian and political responsibilities—to sympathize with the Syrian revolution when a terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda is one of the uprising’s most prominent participants? How can any statesman face Russia’s new czar, Vladimir Putin, when this is the bitter reality on the ground? In this case, groups such as ISIS—and perhaps the al-Nusra Front—are serving as a “fig leaf” to cover up the sins of Putin and his ilk. This includes their neo-imperialistic policies, which are stoking the flames of religious and sectarian fanaticism and conflict. It is all part of an open war against what they describe as “takfirist” and “jihadist” groups. Despite this, the information that has been revealed to us about the support being granted by the Syrian regime, the Iranian regime, and their Iraqi allies—and perhaps also Russian intelligence agencies bringing in “jihadist” groups from Central Asia and the Caucasus—constitutes just one side of the Syrian crisis. The other side of that crisis is purely an American one.
A thoughtful article
Earlier this week, the New York Times published a thoughtful article by Columbia University Professor and Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Dr. Stephen Sestanovich. In his article, Sestanovich, who worked for the U.S. State Department during the administration of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, objectively criticized the policy of “retrenchment,” which he said has become the core of U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy in his second term in office. That was a long article, which included an academic look at similar cases of retrenchment by former U.S. presidents following costly wars or political and military adventures, affirming that this always leads to a change in the U.S. electoral mood.
Sestanovich said that former U.S. presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush “found it hard to manage a downsized strategy, [and] Mr. Obama should expect the same. He won’t abandon retrenchment, nor does he need to. The domestic foundations of American power do need shoring up. But he needs to tend to its international foundations as well.” He adds: “The president and his advisers sometimes do the opposite. When they say they want to pay less attention to the Middle East, they undermine the president’s own top goals: a nuclear deal with Iran and an Israeli–Palestinian settlement. These may be achievable only if allies and adversaries foresee a more active American role in the region.” Such talk addresses the “gap” in Obama’s policies. If a strategic expert who specializes in national security and the former Soviet Union views this as a political “gap” based on new “priorities,” then this is nothing short of a “disaster” for those affected by Washington’s Middle East policies, whether in terms of its preemptive wars or its retreat from the region. From this, some may understand the U.S.’s feelings towards violence, even if the Americans have committed mistakes in dealing with the region’s problems.
Dictating U.S. policies
However, this is not the crux of the matter, particularly as nobody can dictate U.S. policies. In this case, it is important to take two factors into account. First, politicians who come to power based on moral or ethical slogans, such as Obama, are more likely to be held to account over them. What is clear today, even to a large number of supporters and fans of President Obama, is that his actual policies on the ground are not in line with his ethical and idealistic orations. Second, throughout its modern history as a superpower, the U.S.’s political considerations have always been based on one constant, namely “expense.” Based on this, we are not expecting any change in Washington until the U.S. electorate is convinced that the policies being pursued by the president have become too expensive.This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 15, 2014.


Lebanon’s Sunnis, between ISIS and Hezbollah
Sunday, 16 February 2014

Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabyia
Like all Lebanese sects, the Sunnis are in a state of disagreement over their identity ever since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the prominent Sunni leader. Ever since his death in 2005, Lebanon’s Sunnis became a major party in the country’s struggle, particularly against the Shiite Hezbollah which is accused of the assassination of Hariri and most assassinations since then. The tensions within the Sunni community increased after Hezbollah rushed to the aid of its ally, the Assad regime, which is besieged by the Syrian popular revolution that it considers part of the Sunni-Shiite struggle in the region. Rafiq Hariri’s son and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri broke what has become a trend and said that Sunnis in Lebanon do not want to be involved in Syria’s war and its sectarian struggles. He voiced his support for the Lebanese political system of confessionalism whereby the president must always be a Maronite Christian. Ignoring Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, he called on all Shiite leaders to stand against involving Lebanese Shiites in the Syrian war. Most importantly, he limited the Sunni-Shiite struggle to the armed extremists – namely al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. It’s no surprise that the Syrian war extended to Beirut where extremists are fighting, Jabhat al-Nusra versus Hezbollah for example. The wall of the Iranian embassy was destroyed in an attack last year, a number of cars exploded in Beirut’s southern suburbs and checkpoints at entry points to those areas. Also, the hunt is on to sniff out booby-trapped cars heading from Sunni cities.
Poking the wasp’s nest
Hariri knows that after Hezbollah poked the nest of Sunni wasps in Syria, those wasps will come to haunt the organization whose stronghold is in southern Beirut. Before the war between the extremist Sunnis and Shiites worsened, he decided to adopt an approach that distances Lebanon’s Sunnis from the battle in Syria that is attracting more and more youths to fight over identity every day.
Hariri knows that after Hezbollah poked the nest of Sunni wasps in Syria, those wasps will come to haunt the organization whose stronghold is in southern Beirut
His message is more to the Sunnis than it is to the Shiites since the Shiite decision is still in Hezbollah’s hands. Therefore, there’s no real value in appealing to helpless Shiite leaders.
Lebanon’s Sunnis usually brag that they are a sect with no militia. This is no longer a source of pride ever since extremist groups infiltrated northern Lebanese cities that are predominantly Sunni. What facilitated al-Qaeda’s infiltration of these areas is the fertility of Sunni soil for calls of vengeance against Hezbollah. Many Sunnis are angry at Hezbollah’s domination over Lebanon and its involvement in the war against the Sunni majority’s revolution in Syria. This makes Lebanese Sunnis susceptible to al-Qaeda’s calls for vengeance against Hezbollah.
Dragged in
Hariri must be worried that the sons of the Sunni sect are being dragged towards religious extremism and terrorism. The danger is compounded by the fact that thousands of brainwashed terrorists are arriving from Europe, the U.S. and Central Asia to fight in Syria. In addition to that, there are also Arab fighters. If Lebanese Sunni youths shift towards extremism, they will also fight Hariri and the other Sunni leaders just as they fought their co-religionists in the liberated areas of Syria. That is the worst case scenario. In the case of a victory, Hariri is formulating an early analysis of the Syrian struggle’s repercussions in Lebanon. The first of these repercussions is that Hezbollah will become an orphan when it loses its main ally after the fall of the Assad regime and the terrible war there will consume all of Hezbollah’s capabilities. All this means is that Hezbollah’s future will be worse than its present. Hariri, who emerged victorious recently in the battle to form a cabinet as he assigned his men the three most important ministerial posts, will consider himself a victor if Assad falls in Syria and Hezbollah becomes weak in Lebanon. It is a dream he never expected after nine years of fear and after living in hiding since the assassination of his father. But it is too early to talk about victories and celebrations because we live in a region marred by fluctuation. This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 16, 2014.

Islam's Second Crisis: The troubles to come
By: Mark Durie/
In What Went Wrong, Bernard Lewis charted the decline of Islam in the modern era and the resulting theological crisis for the Muslim world.
Now Islam is going through a second crisis, caused by the repeated failures of revivalist responses to the first crisis. This second crisis, combined with the cumulative effect of the first crisis, which remains unresolved, will lead to a long drawn-out period of political and social instability for Muslim societies. The first millennium of Islam was a period of expansion through conquest. However for five centuries from around 1500, Western powers were pushing back Islamic rule. There were numerous landmarks of the ascendancy of the West (which includes Russia), such as:
the conquest of Goa in India by the Portuguese in 1510;
the liberation of Christian Ethiopia in 1543 with the aid of the Portuguese soldiers;
the defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683 and
the ensuing liberation of Hungary and Transylvania;
Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in 1798;
the USA-Barbary State Wars of 1801-1815, which put an end to tribute payments by the US to the north African states to prevent piracy and the enslavement of US citizens;
a long series of defeats for the Ottomans in Russo-Turkish wars stretching across four centuries and culminating in the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish war,
which led to the independence of Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria;
the overthrow of Muslim principalities in Southeast Asia by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English;
the final destruction of Mughal rule in India at the hands by the British in 1857;
the defeat and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire as a result of WWI;
and finally, the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, in territory formerly ruled by Islam, which was considered by many Muslims to be the crowning humiliation in this long line of defeats.
We are not just talking about Western colonialism. Some of the victories over Muslim principalities involved the occupation or colonisation of primarily Muslim lands, but many involved the liberation of non-Muslim peoples from the yoke of Muslim rule, such as in Ethiopia, Hungary and India, and some were defensive responses to Islamic aggression, such as the defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna.
While the external borders of Islam kept shrinking, its position of dominance within its own borders was also being challenged. During this same period there were in many places improvements in the conditions experienced by non-Muslims under Islamic rule – a weakening of the dhimmi system – which communicated to Muslims an impression of their own faith's loss of dominance and its loss of 'success'. A landmark in this long process was the Paris Peace Treaty of 1856, which settled the Crimean War. As part of this settlement the Ottomans were compelled to grant equal rights to Christians throughout their empire.
The gradual process of improvement of conditions for Christians and Jews under Islam was regretted by Muslim scholars, who saw it as evidence of Islam's decline. For example a request for a fatwa from a Egyptian Muslim judge in 1772 lamented the 'deplorable innovations' of Christians and Jews, who were daring to make themselves equal to Muslims by their manner of dress and behavior, all in violation of Islamic law.
In a similar vein, the Baghdad Quranic commentator Al-Alusi complained that non-Muslims in Syria during the first half of the 19th century were being permitted to make annual tribute payments by means of an agent, thus escaping the personal ritual degradations prescribed by Islamic law. He concluded: "All this is caused by the weakness of Islam."
Why would Islam's lack of dominance be evidence of weakness?
Islamic doctrine promises falah 'success' to the religion's followers, symbolized by the daily call to prayer which rings out from minarets: 'come to success, come to success'. The success promised by Islam has always been understood to be both spiritual and material: conquest and rule this life, and paradise in the next. The Qur'an states that Allah has sent Muhammad "with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may cause it to triumph over all (other) religions" (Sura 48:28).
Islam's theology of success meant that the global failure of Islamic armies and states at the hands of 'Christian' states constituted a profound spiritual challenge to Islam's core claims. Just as Muslim scholars had always pointed to the military victories of Islam as proof of its divine authority, this litany of defeats testified to its failure as the religion of the successful ones.
The urgency of the question 'What went wrong?' drove the Islamic revival, an interconnected network of renewal movements which have as their central tenet that Muslims will once again be 'successful' – achieving political and military domination over non-Muslims – if they are truly devoted to Allah and implement Islamic laws faithfully. These are reformation movements in the original (medieval) sense of the Latin word reformatio, for they seek to restore Islam to its former glory by returning to first principles.
Some of the main formative strands of Islamic revivalism have been:
the Wahhabi movement which originated in the 18th century;
the Deobandi movement in India and Pakistan which dates from 1866;
Jamaat e-Islami, which was founded 1941 in India;
the Muslim Brotherhood, founded 1928;
and the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Out of these have come a myriad of offshoots and branches such as the Taliban (from the Deobandi movement); Al Qaida (a product of the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood theologian Said Qutb); the missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat; and Hizb Ut-Tahrir.
Even the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the 'United Nations' of the Muslim world, is a revivalist organization: this is reflected in its Charter which states that it exists "to work for revitalizing Islam's pioneering role in the world", a euphemism for reestablishing Islam's dominant place in world affairs.
In essence, Islamic revivalist movements aim to restore the greatness of Islam and make it 'successful' again. This hope is embodied, for example, in the Muslim Brotherhood's slogan "Islam is the solution". This implies that when Islam is truly implemented all the problems human beings face – such as poverty, lack of education, corruption, and injustice – will be solved. The flip-side of this slogan is the thesis that all the problems of the Muslim world have been caused through want of genuine Islamic observance: Allah allowed his people to fall into disarray because they were not faithful in obeying his laws. The correction to this spiritual problem should therefore be more sharia compliance. This is the reason why headscarves and burqas have been appearing on Muslim women's heads with increasing frequency all around the world.
For a time it appeared to many Muslims that the revivalist program was working. The Iranian Islamic revolution, and the later victory of jihadis in Afghanistan and the break-up of the Soviet Union was considered to be evidence of the success of the revivalist program. This was the certainly view of the translator of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam's jihadi tract Join the Caravan:
"The struggle, which he [Sheikh Azzam] stood for, continues, despite the enemies of Islam. 'They seek to extinguish the light of Allah by their mouths. But Allah refuses save to perfect His light, even if the Disbelievers are averse. It is He who has sent His messenger with the guidance and the true religion, in order that He may make it prevail over all religions, even if the pagans are averse.' [Qur'an, 9:32-33] Since the book was written, the Soviets have been expelled from Afghanistan, by Allah's grace, and the entire Soviet Union has disintegrated."
Utopian claims are risky, because they open up the possibility for even greater failure, and amplified cognitive dissonance as the gap between one's faith and reality widens. The first crisis of Islam was the rise of West through superior technological, economic and military prowess. The second crisis is the failure of Islamic revivalism as a response to the first crisis. The second crisis could prove even more painful and profound in its effects on Islam than the first.
The manifestations of revivalism's failures are as diverse as the Islamist movements which generated them. One could point to:
the atrocities and backwardness of the Taliban;
the corruption and cruelty after the 1979 Iranian Revolution;
the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to govern for the benefit of the Egyptian people, leading to a wildly popular military coup in 2013;
the present-day economic collapse of Turkey under big-talking Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan;
the genocidal campaigns of Khartoum's military campaigns against its own citizens, causing more than a million casualties;
and the ongoing Iraqi and Syrian jihad-driven bloodbaths.
Everywhere one looks there are good reasons for Muslims to question the Islamic revivalist creed. The outcomes of more than two centuries of theological fervor are not looking good. Muslim states are not realizing the utopian goals set by these movements. Indeed the opposite is the case: again and again, wherever revivalist movements have gained the ascendancy, human misery has only increased. Too many Muslim states continue to be models of poverty and economic failure, despite all those female heads being covered up.
One inevitable consequence of this trend is disenchantment with Islam, and a growing sense of alienation from the religion. The manifest failure of the revivalist creed creates a sense of anxiety that Islam is under threat, not from the infidel West, but from reputational damage caused by the revivalists themselves. It is a case of the cure being worse than the disease.
Recently General Sisi has been hailed by the population of Egypt, not merely as a liberator of the nation from the ravages of Muslim Brotherhood rule, but as the Savior of Islam: he is now a man on a mission is to save the religion. In a recent speech Sisi called for a 'new vision and modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam'. Sisi would rescue Islam's reputation, by improving 'the image of this religion in front of the world, after Islam has been for decades convicted of violence and destruction around the world, due to the crimes falsely committed in the name of Islam'.
By 'crimes' Sisi no doubt has in mind the prosecution of former President Morsi now underway in the Egyptian courts. Among other charges, Morsi is alleged to have been in league with Al-Qaida.
Sisi's statement represents a rejection of Islamic revivalism, because at the core of all revivalist movements is a desire to reinstate and vindicate the institution of jihad, as a symbol and a means of Islam's longer-for 'success'. Thus the eminent Deobandi Jurist Muhammad T. Usmani wrote in Islam and Modernism: "Aggressive Jehad is lawful even today... Its justification cannot be veiled … we should venerate ... this expansionism with complete self-confidence". While Sisi's comments imply a concern for the image of Islam 'in front of the world' – i.e. in the eyes of all, including non-Muslims – the deeper, more visceral angst will be about whether Muslims will come to doubt their own faith. This anxiety is not just theoretical. Christian aid workers in the Middle East have recently been reporting thousands of Muslim Syrian refugees who are leaving Islam to embrace the Christian faith. There was a remarkable growth of conversions to Christianity among Algerians in the wake of the Islamist regime in the earlier 1990's. There are also many reports of explosive church growth in Iran, in a context of declining mosque attendance and widespread disillusionment with Islam among young Iranians. It seems that the more intensely a nation is shaped by Islamist revivalism or radical jihad, the more likely it is that significant numbers of Muslims will want to leave Islam. This is not surprising: one cannot promise utopia and fail to deliver without risking reputational damage to Islam itself.
Another symptom of decline in confidence in Islam is the plummeting birthrates in Islamic states, no least of all in Iran. David Goldman has pointed out that lower birthrates tend to be correlated with loss of confidence and decline in faith: "A lack of desire for children is typically a symptom of civilizational decline."
Paradoxically, the revivalist movements have sought to promote the success of Islam but their actual trajectory provides strong evidence against Islam's ability to solve the problems of living well in this world.
This issue arose in an unusual recent interview on Egyptian television of a burqa-clad woman who declared her intention to leave Islam and become a Christian.
In the interview the woman rejects Islam on the grounds that if Islam was a valid faith, its followers would not be killing each other: "There is no (true) Islam, because (genuine) Muslims do not kill (other) Muslim(s), brothers do not kill their brothers, brothers do not send people from Hamas or Gaza to bomb us and kill us here; brothers do not kill their brothers in the police; brothers do not kill their brothers in the army." In essence this woman is agreeing with General Sisi's observation that some Muslism are causing Islam to be 'convicted' of violence.
There are reasons to doubt the authenticity of this interview: it could well be anti-Brotherhood propaganda, effectively saying "Look what a mess the Brotherhood have created: it is so bad that now Muslims are even thinking of leaving Islam because of all the violence and killing being done by Muslims." Nevertheless, even if this interview is propaganda – and some of what the woman says does sound quite peculiar – what is important is that the interview reflects a growing desire to give air space to the sense of disenchantment caused by the violent acts of the revivalists. Even as propaganda – if that is what this video is – it points to public anxiety about Islam being judged and found wanting because of the deeds of the reformers.
In the first part of the 20th century, the Dutch Arabist C. Snouck Hurgronje predicted that Islam would follow the path of Christianity in Europe, and become toothless. Muslims, he argued, would relegate Islam to the domain of personal piety, eschatology and the next life. He regarded the marginalization of Islamic practice – i.e. of sharia law – as inevitable, under the dominance of European values. He wrote in The Achehnese, "The … laws and institutions of Islam will share the same fate [as the laws of the Bible] … their study will gradually take the place of their practice. … Such is our prediction as to the future of Islam, which we utter with all the more confidence as symptoms of its realization have already appeared."
The opposite has proved to be true. The trend Snouck Hurgonje saw proved illusory and short-lived: in the post-colonial area, revivalist movements gathered force and credibility among Muslims the world over, until they became the dominant theological trend of twentieth century Islam. It is telling that Snouck Hurgonje completely underestimated the Wahhabi movement when he wrote: "The Wahhabite movement, which set Arabia in a tumult on the threshold of the nineteenth century … was subdued by Mohammad Ali and Wahhabitism has since been confined to an insignificant sect…"
Confidence in Islam is now being punctured as the bitter fruits of violent Islamist revolutions become more apparent. Snouck Hugronje also observed that "All uniformity of public and domestic life that prevails among Mohammedans of difference races… owes its origin to external force. The foreign missionaries of Islam were her fighting men, and her internal propaganda was the work of her police." While force may have worked in the past, it is not working as well today. In the modern era, with mobile phones and ready access to information via the internet, the attempt to impose conformity based upon the use of force is more likely to result in disillusionment. Today people know better and can find out information to help them choose what to believe.
Islamic revivalist groups are being convicted by Muslim public opinion of damaging the reputation of Islam itself, and this can only lead to further spiritual disorietation among Muslim populations. The first crisis of Islam led to such far-reaching effects, from the re-Islamicization of Muslim communities around the globe, to the 9-11 atrocity. The second crisis of Islam will also have a far-reaching impact no less profound in its effects.
For a long time revivalist movements have offered the only serious Islamic theological response to the first crisis of Islam. They were the only dog on the street. Now that this second crisis is unfolding and revealing its bitter fruit to the Muslim world, the manifest failure of Islamic revivalism means that there is no remaining theological safe-haven left where Islam can hide. The spiritual disorientation caused by revivalist movements, which only bring conflict and death instead of the promised utopia, will increasingly lead some Muslims to agree with the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, that 'Islam is the problem'.
While some will welcome this development, it will almost certainly lead to increasing political and social destabilization of Muslim societies, including aggressive backlash reactions in the form of attempts to shore up Islam's credibility. Communism, another utopian ideology, was also discredited due to its many abject failures, from Stalin to Pol Pot, but this did not prevent some from remaining true believers, even to this day.
The Australian Imams Council, in response to reports of under-age marriages among Australian Muslims, recently stated "any religion ... should not be held accountable for violations by its followers." Yet this is the nub of the matter and a naming of an anxiety gripping the Muslim world: Muslims will hold Islam accountable when Islamic revivalists promise utopia but deliver chaos and human rights abuses.
The Iranian nuclear threat is serious, not only because of traditional Shi'ite infidel hatred, but also because Iran's leaders are undoubtedly aware that the hold of Islam upon ordinary Iranians is slipping away. Spiritually, the revolution has failed. A nuclear bomb could be deployed as a desperate ploy to shore up Islam's credibility. It is the unpredictability of such 'backlash' reactions to the decline of Islam that is particularly concerning in the times ahead.
The religion of Islam has long been regarded by Muslims as a prestigious brand, a symbol of stability in Islamic politics. Thus politicians would be obliged to advertize their Islamic credentials. If Islam itself loses credibility– which is already happening – a spiritual vacuum of considerable proportions will be created. How this vacuum is filled will be difficult to predict, but what we can be sure of is that revivalism and the revivalists will not go quietly.
Fasten your seat-belts: the world will be in for quite a ride in the years to come, as Muslims – who constitute around a quarter of the world's population – struggle to make theological sense of the trashing of their religion's utopian vision. It is one thing to blame the infidels for this – or the proxy tyrants which revivalists claim the West has foisted on the Muslim world – what is more threatening by far is the damage being done to Islam's name by revivalist Muslims themselves.
**Dr. Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, Anglican pastor, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Adjunct Research Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology.

Do 'Syria,' 'Iraq' and 'Lebanon' Still Exist?
by Jonathan Spyer/The Tower/February 2014
For almost a century, the Middle East has been defined by the nation-states that emerged following the Allied victory in World War I and the end of the colonial era. Since then, strategic analyses of the region have concentrated on the relations between these states, and diplomatic efforts have generally attempted to maintain their stability and the integrity of their borders. As a result, the current map of the Middle East has remained largely unchanged over more than nine decades.
But this is no longer the case. The old maps no longer reflect the reality on the ground, and the region is now defined not by rivalry between nation-states, but by sectarian divisions that are spilling across the old borders and rendering them irrelevant. Today, there is a single sectarian war underway across the Middle East, one that threatens to engulf the entire region.
This war has a number of fronts, some more intense and active than others, but it is everywhere defined by sectarian conflict, especially the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is most intense in the area encompassing the current states of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; but has also spread further afield—to Bahrain, northern Yemen, and to some degree Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia.
The core power on the Shia side is the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terror and founding patron of Hezbollah, which until 9/11 held had killed more Americans than any terror group in the world. The Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Maliki government and assorted Shia militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are all allies or proxies of the Islamic Republic, which is capable of rendering substantial assistance to its friends through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a powerful military and economic force that possesses substantial expertise and experience in building proxy organizations and engaging in political and paramilitary warfare.
On the Sunni side, the dominant power is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which after 9/11 has been wary of Tehran, but also has struggled against the Islamists of Al Qaeda. Its allies include various groups among the Syrian rebels, the March 14 movement in Lebanon, the military regime in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and sometimes Turkey. The Saudis, however, are at something of a disadvantage. They possess no parallel to the IRGC, and have problematic relations with the extreme Sunni jihadists of al-Qaeda, who have played a prominent role in the fighting on all three major fronts.
How did this situation come about? Is there evidence of a clear linkage between the various forces on the respective sides? Why is this conflict so extreme in certain countries—like Syria and Iraq—where it appears to be leading to the breakup of these states? How dangerous are these changes for the West?
Focusing on the areas of most intense conflict—Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon—can help us answer these questions.
This war is a result of the confluence of a number of circumstances. First, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are all home to a host of different sectarian and ethnic communities. The stark divisions that exist in these societies have never been resolved. In Syria and Iraq, they were suppressed for decades by brutal dictatorial regimes. The Assad regime in Syria and Saddam Hussein's in Iraq were family dictatorships based on minority sectarian communities—the Alawis in Syria and the Arab Sunnis in Iraq—while claiming to rule in the name of pan-Arab nationalism. In service of this ideology, the Syrian and Iraqi regimes ruthlessly put down ethnic and sectarian separatism in all its forms; in particular, Shia Islamism in Iraq, Sunni Islamism in Syria, and the Kurdish national movement in both countries. All were treated without mercy.
Lebanon, by contrast, is a far weaker state, which was ruled by a power-sharing arrangement between ethnic and religious groups that collapsed into civil war in 1975. The issues underlying that war were never resolved; instead, between 1990 and 2005 the Syrian army presence in Lebanon ended all discussion of basic issues of national identity.
Over the last decade, the once ironclad structures of dictatorship and suppression that kept ethnic and sectarian tensions from erupting have weakened or disappeared. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq destroyed the Saddam Hussein regime. A sectarian Shia government, based on the Shia Arab majority and conditionally accepted by the Kurds, took its place. In Syria, a brutal civil war has severely curtailed the power of the Assad regime, which now rules only about 40 percent of the country's territory. The Sunni Arab majority and the Kurdish minority have carved out autonomous sectarian enclaves in the 60 percent that remains.
Western hopes that a non-sectarian identity would take hold in the areas formerly ruled by Saddam and the Assads have proved persistent but illusory. Remarks about Iraq made by then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2004 sum up these hopes and the tendency to self-delusion that often accompanies them. "What has been impressive to me so far," Rice said, is that Iraqis—whether Kurds or Shia or Sunni or the many other ethnic groups in Iraq—have demonstrated that they really want to live as one in a unified Iraq…. I think particularly the Kurds have shown a propensity to want to bridge differences that were historic differences in many ways that were fueled by Saddam Hussein and his regime… What I have found interesting and I think important is the degree to which the leaders of the Shia and Kurdish and Sunni communities have continually expressed their desires to live in a unified Iraq.
This faith is shared by the Obama Administration, and as a result, it has continued to support the Shia-dominated government in Iraq, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It sees Maliki's opposition to Sunni insurgents in western Anbar province as an elected government's opposition to extremist rebels. This fails to take into account the sectarian nature of the Maliki government itself and the discriminatory policies he has pursued against the Sunnis of western Iraq.
The reemergence of sectarian conflict so evident in Iraq has also emerged in Syria and is, in turn, spilling over into neighboring Lebanon. Lebanon was first drawn into the conflict as a result of the significant and highly effective intervention in Syria in support of the Assad regime by Iran's Lebanon-based terrorist army, Hezbollah. This quickly led to retaliation against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon by elements among Syria's Sunni rebels. Supporters of the Sunni rebels have succeeded in attacking Hezbollah's Dahiyeh compound in south Beirut five times. The bombing on January 2 was carried out by a young Lebanese member of an organization called ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) named Qutaiba Muhammad al-Satem; ISIS are Islamic extremists who have been operating as a branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.
While Hezbollah's decision to intervene on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria and the subsequent Sunni reaction is partially the result of the divided nature of Lebanon and Syria and their unresolved questions of national identity, larger regional conflicts, also of a sectarian nature, are a driving force behind the violence.
Hezbollah's participation in the Syrian civil war came not as a result of automatic sentiments of solidarity, but because Hezbollah forms part of a regional alliance headed by Iran, to which the Assad regime also belongs. When Assad found himself in trouble, Hezbollah was mobilized to assist him. On the opposing side, the Syrian rebels have benefited from the support and patronage of Iran's rival, Saudi Arabia, and other states along the Arabian peninsula, including the United Arab Emirates.
This rivalry is long standing and not primarily rooted in theological differences. It is about power. Iran is controlled by a revolutionary regime whose goal is to become the hegemonic force in the Middle East. Although the Iranians certainly regard the Saudis as an enemy and as unfit custodians of Islam's most holy sites, the Tehran's main goal is to assert control over Arabian Gulf energy supplies, replacing the U.S. as guarantor of resources upon which world is dependent. Tehran understands that the real source of power in the region is the Gulf itself, with its enormous reserves of oil and natural gas that are essential to the global economy. To achieve its goals, Iran must tempt or coerce the Gulf monarchies away from U.S. protection and toward an alliance with Tehran, and ironically, American weakness in the face of Tehran's nuclear pursuit makes that all the more possible.
Riyadh has emerged as the principle opponent to Iran's regional ambitions, mainly because the former guarantor of the current regional order, the United States, has chosen to leave the field. Until 2011, the Middle East appeared to be locked into a kind of cold war, in which the Iranians, along with their allies and proxies, sought to overturn the U.S.-dominated regional order, which was based on U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Events over the last five years, however, have created the impression that the U.S. no longer wishes to play this role: America failed to back its longtime Egyptian ally, Hosni Mubarak, when he faced domestic unrest in early 2011. It failed to support the rebel forces fighting the Iran-backed Assad regime. And it failed to back Bahrain against an Iran-supported uprising in the same year. Now, the U.S. appears to be seeking a general rapprochement with Iran.
As a result of all this, Saudi Arabia has begun to take a far more active role in the region. Riyadh and its Gulf allies have certainly helped to finance and stabilize Egypt after the military removed Muhammad Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government from power. It began to take a leading role in supporting the Syrian rebels. It has well-documented relations with the anti-Syrian March 14 movement in Lebanon. In December 2013, the Saudis pledged $3 billion to the official Lebanese army. They also support anti-Maliki elements in Iraq. In addition, they are seeking to create an alliance among the other Gulf states in order to oppose Iranian ambitions, with some success.
This increasingly violent rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, intensified by American withdrawal from the region, has helped turn a conflict that was once cold into an increasingly hot cross-border sectarian war.
There is considerable evidence of links between Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and their respective allies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, on the other.
On the Iranian side, Tehran no longer makes any serious attempt to deny the enormous assistance they have given the Assad regime in Syria. Indeed, the Iranians have effectively mobilized all their available regional assets in order to preserve it. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards' elite Qods Force, Qassem Suleimani, went to Syria himself in order to coordinate these efforts. Perhaps most notably, in mid-2012 the Iranians began training a new light infantry force for Assad. Called the National Defense Force, it was necessary because Assad was unable to use much of his own army, which consisted of Sunni conscripts whose loyalty was unreliable. Iran has even sent its own IRGC fighters to fight in Syria; a fact revealed by footage taken by an Iranian cameraman who was later killed by the rebels, the testimony of Syrian defectors, and the capture of a number of IRGC men in August 2012.
In April 2013, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was summoned to Iran and instructed to deploy his own fighters in Syria. Up to 10,000 of them are now on the ground in Syria at any given time, and they played a crucial role in retaking the strategic town of Qusayr in August 2013. Hezbollah fighters are also taking a prominent role in the battle for the Qalamun area near the Lebanese border, as well as the fighting around Damascus.
Iranian financial donations have also been vital in keeping the regime alive. In January 2013, Iran announced a "credit facility" agreement with Syria that extended a $1 billion line of credit to Assad. Later the same year, an additional credit line of $3.6 billion was announced.
Iraq has also played a vital role in supporting Assad, mainly by allowing Iran to use Iraqi territory and airspace to transfer weapons to Syrian forces. At first glance, this appears to be a strange policy. Relations between Iraq and Syria prior to the civil war were not good, with Maliki openly accusing Assad of supporting Sunni insurgents. But this has now changed. Indeed, Maliki has openly supported Assad since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. This reflects his increasing closeness to Iran, which helped ensure Maliki's emergence as prime minister after the 2010 elections and pressured Assad to support him as well. Relations between Iraq, Iran, and Syria have only improved since.
In addition to government support, Iraqi Shia militias are now fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad. The Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigades, Ktaeb Hezbollah, and the Ahl al-Haq group all have forces in Syria. They are playing an important role, given that one of Assad's major weaknesses is his lack of reliably loyal soldiers. The eruption of violence in Iraq's western Anbar province has further cemented this alliance, since the insurgency is a direct result of advances made by Sunni jihadis in Syria.
As a result of all this, the Iranian-led side of the regional conflict has emerged as a tightly organized alliance, capable of acting in a coordinated way, pooling its resources for a common goal, and fighting effectively from western Iraq all the way to the Mediterranean.
The Sunni side of the conflict is more chaotic and disjointed. Saudi Arabia is its main financier, but it lacks an equivalent to the Qods force and the IRGC, who are world leaders in subversion and irregular warfare.
Only the most extreme jihadi elements appear capable of clear coordination across borders. For example, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as its name suggests, is active in both countries and controls a contiguous area stretching from the western Anbar province in Iraq to the eastern Raqqa province in Syria. ISIS regards itself as a franchise of al-Qaeda, although it does not take orders directly from the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Another al-Qaeda group, Jabhat al-Nusra, is active in Syria. In Lebanon, a third branch of al-Qaeda, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has played a role in the attacks on Hezbollah. In addition, both the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are active in Lebanon.
But there are also less extreme groups opposing the Syrian-Iranian axis. Saudi Arabia has backed the March 14 movement, which is the main Sunni opposition party in Lebanon, as well as providing financial support to the Lebanese army. In Syria, the Saudis have fostered the Islamic Front, an alliance of eight Islamist groups unconnected to al-Qaeda. It includes some of the strongest rebel brigades, such as Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Islam, and Liwa al-Tawhid. It is now emerging as the key bloc among the rebels. The Saudis also dominate the Syrian opposition in exile, with Ahmed Jarba, who has close links to Riyadh, recently reelected chairman of the Syrian National Coalition.
There are no indications that the Saudis are backing Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but the larger Sunni community is certainly looking to Riyadh for help. Relations between Saudi Arabia and the current Iraqi government are very bad. The border between the two countries is closed except during the Hajj pilgrimage, there is no Saudi embassy in Baghdad, and commercial relations are kept at a minimum. Some of the Sunni tribes in western Anbar have close links to the Saudis. While they are hostile to al-Qaeda, they are also opposed to the Maliki government, which they regard as a sectarian Shia regime.
There is a third element to this regional conflict that is something of a wild card: The Kurds. A non-Arab people who have long sought an independent state, the Kurds have succeeded in creating a flourishing autonomous zone in northern Iraq that enjoys most of the elements of de facto sovereignty. Since July 2012, another Kurdish autonomous zone has been established in northeast Syria. These two areas occupy a contiguous land mass, but are not politically united. The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, while the autonomous zone in northeast Syria is controlled by the PYD (Democratic Union Party), which is the Syrian branch of the Turkish-based leftist PKK movement.
These movements are rivals, and each sees itself as the appropriate leader of the Kurds. But while there is tension between them, each appears to be securely in control of its respective areas. The Kurds do not enjoy the support of any state in the region, and both the Iranians and the Saudis regard Kurdish national aspirations with suspicion. Nonetheless, the Kurds have managed to accumulate sufficient organizational and military strength to ensure the survival of their self-governing enclaves.
All these factors indicate that two rival alliances are clashing for hegemony over the region. There are myriad practical links between the various combatants, and their activities have long since spilled across the borders of the various states involved in the fighting; as indicated by the presence of Iranian fighters, ISIS, and Hezbollah in Syria; Syrian rebels in Lebanon; and many other examples. Iran is the leader of one side, Saudi Arabia is the main backer of the other, while the Kurds are concerned with maintaining their areas of control and are trying to stay out of the conflict.
The most significant result of this is that the continued existence of Syria and Iraq as unified states is now in question. Practically speaking, Syria has already split into three areas, each controlled by one of the three elements listed above. Iraq has also effectively split into Kurdish and Arab zones, with Sunni and Shia groups fighting over the latter.
In many ways, Lebanon ceased to function as a unified state some time ago; since Hezbollah essentially functions as a de facto mini-state of its own. The Lebanese Sunnis lack a military tradition and have proved helpless in the face of Iran's support for Hezbollah. But now, the emergence of the Syrian rebels and the growing popularity of Islamism among the Sunni underclass may be altering this balance. This appears to be borne out by the recent surge in Sunni violence against Hezbollah, which is the result of an attempt by Syrian jihadis and other rebels—in concert with their local allies—to bring the war to Lebanon.
Taken together, this indicates that a massive paradigm shift is underway in much of the Middle East. The eclipse of Arab nationalist dictatorships in Iraq and Syria, the historical failure to develop a unified national identity in these states, their mixed ethnic and sectarian makeup, and the U.S.'s withdrawal from its dominant position in the region—with the resulting emergence of a Saudi-Iranian rivalry—have all combined to produce an extraordinary result: A region-wide sectarian war is now taking place in the areas still officially referred to as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
For the West, as in the region itself, this has very serious implications. Dealing with it effectively will required an equally massive paradigm shift in strategic thinking on the Middle East, one that is capable of dispensing with previous illusions and admitting that sovereign borders once regarded as sacrosanct are swiftly becoming meaningless.
There are new borders taking shape, defined by sectarian divisions that the West ignores at its peril. Despite fantasies of withdrawing from the region, the security of global energy supplies and the maintenance of regional stability are still essential to Western interests. The West has as large a stake in the outcome of this sectarian conflict as the regional players involved. If it cannot adapt to the new Middle East that is swiftly taking shape, it will find itself on the losing side.
**Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.