February 22/14

Bible Quotation for today/Christ Our Helper
01 John 02 -06: " I am writing this to you, my children, so that you will not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have someone who pleads with the Father on our behalf—Jesus Christ, the righteous one. And Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven, and not our sins only, but also the sins of everyone. If we obey God's commands, then we are sure that we know him. If we say that we know him, but do not obey his commands, we are liars and there is no truth in us. But if we obey his word, we are the ones whose love for God has really been made perfect. This is how we can be sure that we are in union with God: if we say that we remain in union with God, we should live just as Jesus Christ did."

Pope Francis Twet For Today
Confirmation is important for Christians; it strengthens us to defend the faith and to spread the Gospel courageously.
Pape François
La Confirmation est importante pour un chrétien ; elle nous donne la force de défendre la foi et de répandre l’Évangile avec courage.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For February 22/14
Toward conflict or concord in Beirut/By Michael Young/The Daily Star/February 22/14
Opinion: Has the time come to acknowledge the conspiracies/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/February 22/14
Signs Of a Shift In Washington's Attitude On the Syrian Crisis/By: Raghida Dergham/February 22/14
A ‘good start’ in the final phase of nuclear talks/By: Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabyia/February 22/14

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For February 22/14
Lebanese Related News
France yet to respond to Army weaponry needs
Hariri Meets al-Rahi in Rome, Says March 14 to Have One Presidential Candidate
Policy Statement Panel to Hold Last Meeting Monday, Resistance Clause Remains Point of Contention
Woman Held for Trying to Recruit Females for al-Nusra, Fugitive Hurt in Bekaa Chase
Jackie Chamoun Competes in Sochi, Lets Skiing Do the Talking
Saniora: Hizbullah Pullout from Syria Can Boost Ties with All Lebanese, End Suicide Attacks
Salam Holds Security Meeting as Tension Rises in Tripoli
Racing Beirut Player Released after Arrest on ' Suspicion of Terrorism'
Rockets, Shells from Eastern Mountain Belt Hit Several Bekaa Areas
Airport Authorities Foil Smuggling of 7.5 Kilos of Cocaine into Lebanon
Report: Aoun Likely to Reach Presidency over Saudi, U.S. Backing
Lebanon to Top Agenda at Kuwait Arab Summit
Bir Hassan Death Toll Rises to 11, Saqr Says Efforts Ongoing to Identify Second Bomber
Fatfat in Maarab to Stress Strong Alliance between al-Mustaqbal, LF
UNIFIL Patrol Pelted by Rocks in Aita al-Shaab
Damascus Condemns 'Terrorism' in Lebanon, Says Ready to Help Fighting Criminals
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Kiev agreement if it holds saves Ukraine from disintegration
Dutch Nix Passports for 10 Would-Be Syria Jihadists
Syria Opposition: Brother of Peace Talks Aide Arrested
Fighting Rages in Northeast Damascus
Abbas Says U.S. Peace Efforts Have Failed 'so Far'
Plane Crashes in Tunisia
Ukraine President, Opposition Sign Deal to End Crisis
U.N. Says Executions on Rise in Iran
Palestinian Source: Kerry Peace Proposals 'Unacceptable'

Toward conflict or concord in Beirut?
February 20, 2014/By Michael Young/The Daily Star
According to the new information minister, Ramzi Joreige, President Michel Sleiman is pleased with the government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam, because it reflects the nature of the Lebanese system and was “made in Lebanon.”The Cabinet certainly reflects the nature of the political and confessional system, for good and evil, but it is far less certain that an agreement became possible because the Lebanese parties alone decided that an 11-month vacuum was intolerable. Clearly, regional governments wanted to calm the volatile Lebanese situation. That’s reassuring. Since we’re incapable of agreeing between ourselves, let others make us do so. Perhaps that’s the only positive thing in the Salam government, which will have little time to do much before the presidential election in May. But then the government isn’t really here to do more than generate concord and ensure that a successor to Michel Sleiman can be consensually agreed. Hezbollah’s haste is motivated by the situation in Syria, and the success of President Bashar Assad’s regime in regaining ground in recent months. The party seeks to reflect this by reinforcing its own dominance in Lebanon through the presidential election and parliamentary elections scheduled for November. Most important, it does not want such a project undermined by a breakout of sectarian violence in Lebanon, which is why Hezbollah has sought to contain the consequences of bombings, the latest yesterday, in Shiite areas. It was with full knowledge of this reality that the Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea refused to join a national-unity government. He did not want to appear to be covering for Hezbollah at a time when the party has violated the Baabda agreement by entering into the Syrian conflict, effectively pushing Sunni jihadist groups to take their war to Lebanon, threatening the country as a whole.
But what is most troubling is that Geagea’s attitude, while understandable, reveals a lack of coordination between the different parts of March 14 at a key moment for the country. The Lebanese Forces are understandably suspicious of Hezbollah, but the best way to respond is by staying united with its March 14 partners and preparing for the next phase, namely the formulation of a new election law. If the Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement remain on different wavelengths, Hezbollah and the parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, will have no trouble dividing them by putting forward election law proposals over which they disagree.
Hezbollah today has serious political and security challenges to juggle. Whatever the party’s successes in Syria, it is trapped in an open-ended conflict, while virtually every week a bomb is going off in Shiite-majority areas of the country. Hezbollah can control the response for a time, but it is doubtful it can do so indefinitely. These pressures give its adversaries more leeway to press their demands, most recently the naming of March 14 or Sleiman appointees to head the Interior, Defense and Justice ministries.
In this context, internal March 14 disputes are pointless. But something else bothers Geagea, namely that government deadlock was ended through an agreement between Saad Hariri and Michel Aoun. While resentment of Aoun remains high in the Future Movement, some in the Hariri camp feel more should be done to exploit the differences between Hezbollah and Aoun.
For Geagea, this represents a danger, since he has always sought to be the principal Christian interlocutor with the Future Movement. The relationship began fraying when the Lebanese Forces last year backed an election law, the so-called Orthodox proposal, that was opposed by Hariri. Geagea’s calculation was that the proposal, if implemented, would significantly boost his power in Parliament, in that way giving him a bloc able to counterbalance Aoun’s. Geagea’s strategy may have backfired. By refusing to enter the government, he has ceded ground to the two major Christian political parties – the Free Patriotic Movement and the Kataeb – with which the Lebanese Forces are in competition for Christian votes. And with Hariri and Aoun engaged in a dialogue, Geagea’s relative political value could decline. Aoun, in turn, benefits from maneuvering between Hezbollah and Future, even as both sides will avoid alienating him as they prepare for the parliamentary elections. Salam’s government will not have an election law to worry about; that headache will likely occupy the government that comes after the presidential election. But in much the same way that Hezbollah sought a government to create the mood allowing Sleiman to be replaced, it may seek to use the new government to lay the groundwork for future harmony over an election law because, as things stand, no alignment can unilaterally impose a law. Hezbollah will be weighing its domestic behavior against regional developments. If the Syrian rebels, who are being trained by the Americans and receiving American and Gulf Arab money and more advanced weapons, mount an offensive in spring against Damascus, the party will find itself in the forefront of the battle. This could impel Hezbollah to freeze domestic cooperation pending a clearer outcome. At the same time, Hezbollah will have to measure how this affects sectarian relations, which the party does not want to see deteriorate.
Hezbollah will also await the result of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. It will try to exploit any breakthrough to consolidate its position. But with Syria increasingly imposing itself on the United States and regional actors, nuclear matters may be pushed to the back burner, even if Tehran will have to balance the gains from a nuclear deal against the economic crisis at home, made worse by Iran’s costly commitment to the Assad regime.
Michel Sleiman may well believe that the Salam government was made in Lebanon. But wherever it was really made, it is the events in the region that will ultimately decide whether it breaks or not.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

Hariri Meets al-Rahi in Rome, Says March 14 to Have One Presidential Candidate

Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri held talks Friday with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in the Italian capital Rome, in a meeting that focused on the issue of the upcoming presidential election. "We will seek to hold the presidential election on time," Hariri said after the meeting. "The March 14 forces will nominate one candidate for the presidential elections," he added.
The meeting was held at the Maronite College in Rome and Hariri was accompanied by MPs Samir al-Jisr and Atef Majdalani, ex-MPs Bassem al-Sabaa and Ghattas Khoury, and his advisers Nader Hariri and Daoud al-Sayegh, the ex-PM's office said in a statement. The talks were followed by a closed-door meeting between Hariri and al-Rahi before discussions were resumed over dinner in the presence of the delegation members, the statement added. “I reiterated the importance of the charter that was issued by Bkirki, which is a national charter indeed and represents a roadmap for all the Lebanese,” Hariri went on to say.
Asked whether reports were true about a prearranged agreement between him and MP Michel Aoun over the issues of presidency, cabinet and policy statement, Hariri said: “It seems you know more than I know.”
“Serious talks were held with the Free Patriotic Movement and thank God they were successful and led to the formation of the cabinet. We will continue dialogue because there are several issues that we as Lebanese can agree on. This is what happened when we all focused our efforts to form the cabinet,” Hariri added. “This thing must also apply to the issue of the presidential elections ... All political parties must talk to each other and hold consultations and we must resolve our differences,” the ex-PM went on to say. Hinting that he might be in Lebanon during the presidential vote, Hariri said “I want to see myself in parliament and each of us would raise his hands and vote for the president he wants.”Asked whether the agreement over cabinet will also apply to the ministerial policy statement and about his ties with his allies, Hariri said: “The relation with the allies is a strategic relation and no one can shake it or drive a wedge between us and the Lebanese Forces.”
“I mentioned the LF because even if they are outside the cabinet, they are not outside March 14. They are rather at the heart of March 14 and we are also at the heart of March 14. We will continue this path along with all of our allies,” Hariri stressed. “As for the policy statement, it is being discussed by the ministers concerned and we have a clear stance over some issues but I don't want to talk about that here in Rome,” Hariri said, hoping the deliberations of the ministerial panel drafting the statement will be crowned with success. Earlier on Friday, Hariri met with MP Sami Gemayel in Rome, according to the Phalange Party-affiliated radio station Voice of Lebanon (100.5). Future TV had reported that Gemayel would join the talks with al-Rahi. Sources following up on the preparations that preceded the meeting had told An Nahar newspaper in remarks published Friday that the discussion of the presidential vote “will not tackle names of possible candidates as talks will focus on means to secure holding the election within the constitutional timeframe.”
On Thursday, Hariri revealed that he would discuss the presidential elections with al-Rahi, stressing his rejection of a vacuum in the top post. “I will go to Rome and I will have the opportunity to meet the patriarch … to see what his stance is on the presidential elections,” Hariri told reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Egypt. Hariri reiterated that he rejected a vacuum in the presidential post, saying the elections should be held on time.

France yet to respond to Army weaponry needs
February 22, 2014/By Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: France has not responded yet on whether it would provide the Lebanese Army with weapons and equipment in line with a $3-billion Saudi grant provided last year, senior Army sources said. The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a Lebanese military delegation held tough negotiations with French military officials, who visited Lebanon recently. “Although Saudi Arabia has informed Lebanon that it can ask for the equipment it needs in order to boost its military capabilities as part of the grant, French officials, without any justification, have not responded to the list of needs submitted by the Army,” one source told The Daily Star. The source refused to divulge the content of the list. The sources said that Saudi Arabia did not specify the kind of weaponry and military equipment to be delivered to the Army, adding that the oil giant said the military would get the arms it deemed necessary and that France would respond to meet these needs. President Michel Sleiman announced in late December that Saudi Arabia had granted the Lebanese Army with $3 billion in military equipment to be purchased from France. In 2012, the government approved a five-year plan worth $4.4 billion to provide the Army with weapons. The Cabinet allocated $1.6 billion to this end, and the Saudi grant will secure the remaining funds needed to implement the plan. According to the plan, the Army will build facilities to the south of the Litani River and erect posts on borders worth $200 million. Additionally, $50 million will be allocated to rehabilitate naval bases. The Army will also improve its Air Force, purchase ammunition and radar equipment worth $300 million. Also, $200 million will be spent to develop Lebanon’s naval force, $80 million to improve anti-armor weapons, $600 million to bolster artillery capabilities and $80 million for armored units. It’s been decades since the Army has received advanced weaponry. The Saudi grant comes as the military establishment faces mounting security challenges resulting from the civil war in neighboring Syria. Lebanese troops struggle to contain recurrent armed clashes in Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and their rivals, in the mainly-Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh. The persistence of terrorist attacks is proving to be another challenge for the Army. The military establishment is carrying on with its crackdown on terrorist groups and arrested key figures from the Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades in recent weeks. Hundreds were killed and wounded in a recent spate of bombings which has targeted the Beirut southern suburbs and the Bekaa Valley, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support. Most of the bombings were claimed by radical Syrian rebel groups in retaliation for Hezbollah’s participation in Syria’s war alongside Assad. The Lebanese Army is also working to prevent arms smuggling from and to Syria.

Policy Statement Panel to Hold Last Meeting Monday, Resistance Clause Remains Point of Contention

Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/The panel drafting the ministerial policy statement held its third meeting on Friday at the Grand Serail as the controversial “army-people-resistance equation” remained a point of contention among the committee members. Several TV networks said the panel will hold its final meeting on Monday. “Discussions over the policy statement have made major progress and today's meeting could be the final meeting should a settlement over the army-people-resistance equation be found,” OTV quoted sources close to Prime Minister Tammam Salam as saying earlier on Friday. But al-Jadeed TV said the committee wrapped up its meeting without being able to reach a final agreement on the resistance clause. Quoting sources close to the committee members, al-Jadeed said “the statement will contain a bare-minimum agreement on the addressed topics in a manner that would not negate the beliefs of any of the two camps.” Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Telecom Minister Butros Harb said he would propose a formula that does not mention the army-people-resistance equation, noting that it would represent his own viewpoint, not that of the March 14 camp that he belongs to. “I will suggest a formula that expresses my own point of view,” Harb said, adding that “nothing prevents the mention of the word 'resistance' but” the army-people-resistance equation is “unacceptable.”In remarks to Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3), Harb said he intended to “demand the inclusion of the dissociation policy (towards the Syrian conflict) in the policy statement,” adding that “the Baabda Declaration was approved unanimously and nothing prevents incorporating it in the policy statement.”Meanwhile, Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) quoted Hizbullah's representative, State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammed Fneish, as saying that he was carrying a proposal to the committee meeting. For his part, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said: "We have almost finished discussing all the topics and only the resistance clause remains pending."On Thursday, the committee agreed on the need to find a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis in the country, as the ministers of the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp insisted on the so-called "army-people-resistance equation." The committee held its first meeting on Wednesday under PM Salam after it was formed Tuesday during the cabinet's first session. Salam has announced that the policy statement will be “consensual and concise and will focus on (the country's) priorities prior to the election of a new president.”

Woman Held for Trying to Recruit Females for al-Nusra, Fugitive Hurt in Bekaa Chase
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/A Syrian woman has been arrested in the Bekaa for trying to recruit women for the extremist al-Nusra Front while a fugitive was wounded in a clash with the army in al-Masnaa, state-run National News Agency reported. “The army arrested in the town of al-Nabi Sheet a Syrian woman identified as Umm Jamal on suspicion of her collaboration with al-Nusra Front,” NNA said.
The woman used to work in the town in the past and she raised suspicions after her return to the same job, the agency noted. “During interrogation, the woman confessed that she was seeking to recruit women to assist the Front in its acts of sabotage,” NNA added. Al-Jadeed television said the woman was arrested three days ago. In a separate incident, “the fugitive Abdul Hayy Saleh Ammoun was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with an army patrol following a chase on the al-Masnaa road” in the Bekaa, NNA said. The agency said the incident took place near al-Akramiyeh's intersection and that the wounded suspect was rushed to the Hrawi state-run hospital in al-Maalqa. But al-Jadeed said the man was killed when a hand grenade that was in his possession exploded during the chase. On February 12, the army intercepted a booby-trapped vehicle on the Arsal-al-Labweh road in the Bekaa region. The Army Command announced in a statement that the vehicle had arrived in Lebanon from Syria's Yabrud region. Containing three women, the car was going to be transported to Beirut where it was to be handed over to would-be suicide-bombers. Quoting military sources, LBCI television said the women confessed to plotting "a triple bombing during which the car and two suicide bombers were supposed to blow up."
However, two of the three women were freed on Saturday afternoon. "State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr ordered the release of Hala Rayed and Khadijeh Audeh for not having any links with the incident,” NNA said. The third suspect, Joumana Hmayyed, was kept in custody, according to the state-run news agency. Extremist organizations, including a group calling itself al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, have claimed responsibility for a series of suicide attacks in recent months against areas considered strongholds of Hizbullah. Dozens of civilians were killed and scores were wounded in the bombings.

Fatfat in Maarab to Stress Strong Alliance between al-Mustaqbal, LF
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/Al-Mustaqbal Movement MP Ahmed Fatfat held talks with Lebanese Forces Chief Samir Geagea in an attempt to rectify ties between the two parties after the formation of Prime Minister Tammam Salam's cabinet. Fatfat stressed after a two-hour meeting in Maarab that the two parties are “allies,” pointing out that “it's is a necessity to reconsider the current political stage after the formation of the new government, which we hoped that the LF would have been part of.” However, he pointed out that al-Mustaqbal movement “respects the stance of the Lebanese Forces.”Ties have deteriorated between al-Mustaqbal Movement and the Lebanese forces after al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri agreed to participate with Hizbullah in Salam's government. Geagea had been adamant to stay out of the cabinet, saying he would not share power with Hizbullah. He has also reportedly expressed dismay at the recent rapprochement between Hariri and his foe Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun. Concerning Salam's cabinet ministerial policy statement, Fatfat stressed that the Baabda declaration should be the basis of any ministerial statement, which should be in alignment with the Bkirki charter. Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi had unveiled early in February a treaty that calls for holding the presidential elections on time. It also demanded that political powers adhere to the country's national pact and place national interests above personal ones. Asked about army-people-resistance equation, the lawmaker ruled out the possibility of mentioning the formula in the ministerial statement, whether directly or in an indirect way. “Hizbullah has realized that the party's intervention in Syria is imposing great threats on it and its popular base as we are on the doorstep of a historical stage that compels us to act responsibly and take straightforward stances,” Fatfat said in his statement. The MP warned that “if the there was no intention to safeguard Lebanon from its crises then the national unity cabinet doesn't exist.”He reiterated that the “dissociation policy is Lebanon's only salvation.”Fatfat revealed that several al-Mustaqbal movement lawmakers support the withdrawal of the party's ministers from the cabinet if “the army-people-resistance equation was adopted in the ministerial policy statement.”

Salam Holds Security Meeting as Tension Rises in Tripoli
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/A security meeting took place on Friday evening in the Grand Serail to discuss the latest developments in the northern city of Tripoli.
The meeting was presided over by Prime Minister Tammam Salam and was attended by Interior Ministe Nouhad Mashnouq, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi and Minister of Social Affaris Rashid Derbas. On ground, Tripoli witnessed a tensed evening as three stun grenades were hurled on the international highway. "Unknown assailants hurled three stun grenades on the al-Khnaq bridge on Tripoli's international highway,” the state-run National News Agency reported. The NNA explained that the bombs were thrown when “a group of men was protesting to demand the release of a detainee held by security forces few days ago.”"Army troops opened fire in the air to disperse the protesters.”OTV had noted that a hand grenade was hurled near Bank Audi at the Muharram intersection in the northern city. Meanwhile, radio Voice of Lebanon (93.3) said a bomb hit the Baal Darawish area in Tripoli. Later in the evening, two stun grenades were hurled on the Bab al-Ramel cemetery in the city, according to the NNA. "Army units have deployed in the Bab al-Ramel area and its surroundings," al-Jadeed television said. On Thursday, an Arab Democratic Party official was killed in the area of al-Mina. Abdul Rahman Diab, known as Aboudi Nwasi, was gunned down in his car by an unidentified motorcyclist. The slain man, who is an Alawite residing in Jabal Mohsen, is the father of Youssef Diab who is in detention as he was charged along with several others in connection with the August bombings of the two mosques in Tripoli. “We are still counting on the state to arrest Diab's killers and we're holding a series of meetings and consultations with the dignitaries to take a decision whose responsibility would be shouldered by everyone,” Arab Democratic Party politburo chief Rifaat Eid told LBCI on Friday. "Jabal Mohsen residents took to the streets in the evening to demand the arrest of Diab's killers," the NNA said.

Jackie Chamoun Competes in Sochi, Lets Skiing Do the Talking
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/..Jackie Chamoun insisted her mind was solely on skiing Friday as she competed in the Olympic slalom, days after footage of a topless photo shoot caused an uproar in the country. The 22-year-old finished the first of two runs in 58th place and said she had received plenty of support from people in Sochi and in Lebanon. Last week, video footage emerged online of a three-year-old photo shoot that showed the skier posing topless in ski boots and skis in Faraya mountains. The images sparked a flap in Lebanon, including a ministerial demand for an investigation. But Chamoun said the scandal back home was of no importance as she took part in her second Winter Olympics. "Seriously, I didn't think about that at all today. I was here, happy to do the race and I was focused," said the trim skier. "I mean, it happened but I put this to the side for the moment and I just focused on my race. I'm happy to be here, I cannot think about something else right now. (The race) is the best thing you can think about, you just have to focus.
"Small things are not going to disturb me even if it was a big story in my country. I just continue, it's not a big obstacle." The photographer behind the risque shoot, Hubertus von Hohenlohe -- who will compete in the men's slalom on Saturday -- had defended the pictures on Thursday. "I don't think the photos are offensive. It's a shame because I believe we did nothing wrong," he told Agence France Presse.
Despite the initial outcry, Chamoun said plenty of people had expressed their support for her. "I got a lot of messages from Lebanese people on Facebook, on social media, just telling me: 'We don't need your medal, we don't need you to win, we're just glad that you represent the country and you do it very well'." "So a lot of them are proud of me and are happy to see me here."Members of Lebanon's Olympic committee and ski federation, as well as friends, also came to see her race, "so it's nice to see Lebanese supporters in the crowd." Chamoun, wearing a white catsuit with pink webbing, a light blue helmet and fluorescent yellow goggles, raced in 87th place and was the last one down the Rosa Khutor course. But she punched the air on arrival and beamed at the crowd as if her time of 1min 16.05sec -- a full 23.43sec behind leader Mikaela Shiffrin -- was enough for gold.
"I always do (that) when I finish a run at world championships or Olympics," she said. "It's a great feeling just to be able to participate in these events so crossing the finish line is even better and I like to show my due to everyone." With 25 racers failing to make it down the course, Chamoun finished third from last, ahead of South Korean Kang Young-Seo and Iran's Forough Abbasi. "But I did my best, at least I finished the run. It's just the best feeling to cross the finish line, I'm glad and I hope to do better in the second run." On her left wrist she wore two colorful bands, proclaiming "Live love Beirut" and "Live love Lebanon"."I'm just wearing them to show everyone that I'm proud to be Lebanese," said the skier. SourceAgence France Presse.

Racing Beirut Player Released after Arrest on ' Suspicion of Terrorism'

Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/A Racing Beirut player who was held for suspecting his involvement in terrorist acts has been released on Friday. “The army intelligence directorate has released Zuhair Murad two days after his arrest,” the state-run National News Agency reported. Murad was arrested on Wednesday in the al-Metn neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud pending investigation for his suspected involvement in terrorist acts. Media reports had noted then that the football player was detained following the the confessions of detainee Naim Abbas. Abbas, a top militant and one of the leaders of the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, was held last week and he informed the army during his interrogation about a car rigged with more than 100 kilos of explosives which was dismantled in Beirut's Corniche al-Mazraa district. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the deadly double blast that hit the Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hassan on Wednesday. However, the army intelligence assured that the arrest of Murad has nothing to do with Wednesday's bombings.

Saniora: Hizbullah Pullout from Syria Can Boost Ties with All Lebanese, End Suicide Attacks
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/Former premier Fouad Saniora, head of the al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc, urged Hizbullah on Friday to “return to Lebanon” and end its military intervention in neighboring Syria, which the party argues is necessary to protect Lebanon from extremist attacks. “We believe that there is an essential need for Hizbullah's return to Lebanon, as this move would make it gain a lot through enhancing its ties with all the components of the Lebanese people and putting an end to the excuses used by some parties to carry out suicide attacks, which we condemn and reject,” Saniora said as he inspected renovation works in downtown Sidon. “We must all cooperate to end these unhealthy trends in the Lebanese society,” the ex-PM added. “We should end the alibis that some might exploit to justify the acts that are targeting innocents due to Hizbullah's continued intervention in Syria,” Saniora went on to say. Eleven people were killed and more than 100 injured when two suicide bombers blew up two bomb-laden cars near the Iranian cultural center in Beirut's Bir Hassan district on Wednesday. The double bombing was claimed by the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which said the attack was in retaliation to the role of Hizbullah and Iran in the Syrian conflict. Extremist groups have claimed responsibility for a series of suicide attacks in recent months against areas considered strongholds of Hizbullah that have killed dozens of civilians.

UNIFIL Patrol Pelted by Rocks in Aita al-Shaab
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/A United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon patrol was pelted by rocks by residents of the southern town of Aita al-Shaab as it was taking photographs of the area, reported the National News Agency on Friday. Spokesman for the force Andrea Tenenti said that some 50 residents halted the patrol as it approached the area, surrounded it, and began pelting it with rocks. No one was injured in the incident, but damage was incurred to the vehicles, he added. UNIFIL Commander Major General Paolo Serra is has voiced his concern with the incident, which he interpreted as an obstruction of the forces' mobility in the South, continued the spokesman. This jeopardizes its peacekeeping mission, he explained, while revealing that an investigation by UNIFIL and the army has been opened in the attack. NNA said that the assault began when the patrol sought to take photographs of the Aita al-Shaab aarea. The residents prevented the troops from taking the photographs, but the situation escalated into a verbal dispute that ended up with the locals pelting the patrol with rocks and destroying their cameras. An Army Intelligence unit in Bint Jbeil soon intervened to resolve the situation as the patrol withdrew from the scene.

Damascus Condemns 'Terrorism' in Lebanon, Says Ready to Help Fighting Criminals
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/Damascus condemned on Friday the “terrorist operation” targeting Lebanon, stressing on its readiness to cooperate with Lebanese authorities to “fight terrorism.” "We are ready to cooperate with the Lebanese Ministry of Interior to fight terrorism, persecute terrorists, and to seize criminal tools that are destabilizing Lebanon, Syria and the entire region,” the Syrian Interior Ministry said in a released statement. The statement added: “We are also ready to provide all possible means to thwart terrorist operations targeting the security of the Syrian and the Lebanese people.” The Syrian Ministry of Interior considered that “terrorist operations aim at getting to Lebanese state and people through promoting terrorism and extremist Takfiri ideology that is harming the entire region.”The Damascus statement comes as Lebanon has recently been the scene of several deadly explosions, mainly targeting Hizbullah strongholds in the southern suburbs of Beirut and the Bekaa.The latest of these blasts took place on Wednesday, as a double explosion hit the Bir Hassan neighborhood in southern Beirut. The bombs were claimed by the al-Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades which explained that its operations are a retaliation against Hizbullah's interference in the Syrian war.

Rockets, Shells from Eastern Mountain Belt Hit Several Bekaa Areas

Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/ Rockets and shells fired from the Lebanese-Syrian border area landed in several regions in northern Bekaa on Friday. "Three rockets fired from the Eastern Mountain Range (on the Lebanese-Syrian border) have landed in the hills between the towns of al-Ain and al-Fakiha in Baalbek, causing no casualties," state-run National News Agency reported in the evening. At noon, NNA said said two artillery shells fell near a public school in the northern Bekaa town of al-Souwwaniyeh. The source of the fire was also the Eastern Mountain Range. No one was injured in the incident. Throughout the week, a number of rockets were fired from the Syrian side of the eastern mountain range against the Bekaa. On Wednesday, five rockets were fired from the Syrian side of the border against the region of Brital. A sixth rocket fell on the outskirts of the town of Maarboun. On Tuesday, five rockets fired from the Lebanese-Syrian border landed on the outskirts of the Bekaa town of al-Bazzaliyeh and nearby areas. A number of rockets had been fired from the Syrian side of the border against the Bekaa since Hizbullah's acknowledgment of its fighting in the Syrian conflict alongside the country's ruling regime. The “Marwan Hadid Brigades” usually claims responsibility for such border attacks.

Report: Aoun Likely to Reach Presidency over Saudi, U.S. Backing

Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun is highly likely to reach the presidency after a U.S. and Saudi rapprochement with him, al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Friday.
The daily said Washington believes that Lebanon needs a strong president, who is capable of discussing with Hizbullah about its arms or the defense strategy rather than provoking it. No one other than Aoun, who is Hizbullah's top ally in the March 8 camp, can play this role, it quoted sources as saying. The sources also said that Saudi Arabia, which similar to the U.S. backs the March 14 alliance, has improved its ties with the FPM and a similar rapprochement was made between Aoun and al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri.Such a rapprochement wouldn't have taken place without a Saudi-U.S. green light, they told al-Akhbar. “The dream of the presidency went out of the impossibility circle to reach the circle of possibility,” the sources said. President Michel Suleiman's term ends in May 2014. No one has yet officially announced his candidacy for the post. The Constitution says the parliament should start holding sessions in March 25 to elect a new head of state.

Lebanon to Top Agenda at Kuwait Arab Summit
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/The Arab Summit that will be held in Kuwait on March 25 and 26 is expected to tackle the latest developments in Lebanon and will be preceded by a meeting for the International Support Group for Lebanon that is set to be held in Paris in early March. ce said in comments published in As Safir newspaper that the Arab Summit will address the situation in Lebanon and stress its keenness to safeguard the country's stability, security and reiterate its support to the state's dissociation policy. The source also pointed out that the Arab League Foreign ministers will also discuss the situation in Lebanon on March 5 and 6. Sources told As Safir daily that a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz that will be held in mid March in Riyadh is expected to tackle the developments in Lebanon.
The meeting will also discuss the upcoming presidential elections in Lebanon. President Michel Suleiman's tenure ends in May 2014, but the constitutional period to elect a new head of state begins on March 25, two months prior to the expiration of Suleiman’s mandate. Meanwhile, The International community is calling on the Lebanese to swiftly draft the cabinet's ministerial policy statement and attain the confidence vote at the parliament ahead of the International Support Group to Lebanon, which will be held on March 5 in Paris. 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. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon had surged to around 900,000 according to the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) as Lebanon has been facing difficulties in coping with their burden.

Airport Authorities Foil Smuggling of 7.5 Kilos of Cocaine into Lebanon
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/Customs authorities at the Rafik Hariri International Airport foiled two attempts to smuggle 7.5 kilograms of cocaine into the country on Friday. “Two Turkish citizens were arrested for trying to smuggle the drugs from Venezuela into Lebanon,” NNA said, noting that one of the Turks arrived from France and the other from Abu Dhabi. The person who came from France was carrying around two kilos of cocaine while the person who arrived from the UAE was carrying around 5.5 kilograms, the agency added. It noted that the operation was thwarted in coordination with the airport's General Security department.

Signs Of a Shift In Washington's Attitude On the Syrian Crisis
By: Raghida Dergham/Translated By: Karim Traboulsi
What has made Russia and China consent to a role for the UN Security Council in Yemen , making the latter a “success story” for international cooperation, while at the same insisting firmly on obstructionism on Syria in the Security Council, by wielding a dual veto, three times so far? Why have the two countries, which have the veto power in the Security Council, not objected to a role for the latter in Yemen , on the ground that they had been duped in Libya because of NATO’s intervention there, when the Yemeni crisis predates the Syrian conflict?
History shall answer these questions, and hold Russia and China accountable for the catastrophic outcome in Syria compared to that in Yemen . Nor will history be kind to the United States , which has washed its hands clean of Syria . So much so that it has allowed both the regime and extremism to triumph over the moderates and innocents, who wanted nothing more than reform when they took to the streets three years ago.
Protests in the public squares demanding change and reform in Ukraine , Venezuela , Thailand , and elsewhere have used Tahrir Square in Egypt as their model. The efforts to draft new constitutions in the Arab region and beyond take Tunisia ’s achievements as their model. Yemen has turned from a classical state that knew only strict centralization to a complex state that espouses and embraces federalism, which is something that planners are thinking about in some other countries now. Only Libya is still unable to recover, although Libya received the biggest assistance to help it get rid of its tyrant during the Arab wave of change. As for Syria , well, this country is a testament to the miserable failure of the local, regional, and international conscience.
It is being now said that U.S. President Barack Obama is ready to listen to advice and strategic options that would replace his uncompromising pragmatism. It is being said that Obama now understands that his strategy based on self-dissociation from the Syrian tragedy has empowered both the Neo-Jihadists and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – and his allies, Russia , China , Iran , and Hezbollah. Both sides, that is the Salafist extremist axis and the axis of quadripartite extremism fighting in the Syrian conflict believe they are about to win, something that seems to be taken into account in U.S. calculations. For this reason perhaps, Washington went back to the policy drawing board.
Moscow and Beijing have taken note, but they continue to wager that the U.S. President will not deviate from non-involvement in the Syrian crisis, no matter what happens. Tehran and Hezbollah have also taken note, but their wager is on long-term patience and the reputation the U.S. has acquired for itself for its “mood swings.”
Clearly, Washington is now unhappy about how Moscow have been dealing with the Syrian issue, and the extent at which it has taken advantage of American attitudes to further its interests and the interests of its camp, instead of building on the partnership that emerged over the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, in conjunction with Barack Obama backing down on his countdown for a military strike against Syria.
Clearly, the Obama administration has come to realize that the current dynamic makes its policy of self-dissociation and mutual exhaustion a bad investment, and a costly failure. Bashar al-Assad, whom Obama called on to step down, has grown stronger and more attached to power. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to al-Nusra Front, has spawned offshoots, swelled in size, and is now more determined to fulfill its designs. The moderate opposition has been weakened, and is now fighting along two fronts, one against the regime and one against the Neo-Jihadists. Russia and Iran are winning in Syria , while the U.S. reputation, influence, and clout are in decline, even among allies.
This reality is not conducive to U.S. national interests. Even in the best-case scenario, the proponents of U.S. isolationism and “Obamism” cannot argue that the policy of self-dissociation has succeeded in asserting long-term American interests in the Middle East and in the international balance of power. In the worst-case scenario, terrorism might return to the U.S. through the gateway of Syria .
For this reason, the Obama administration has returned to the policy-drafting board, and through the U.S. press, has revived talk abut military options in the form of arming the Syrian opposition and imposing no-fly zones using unconventional methods.
No one expects President Obama to upend his policy and directly intervene in Syria militarily. The Obama administration could study options for a no-fly zone, but its calculations will not be based on deploying U.S. troops to Syria. This is a foregone conclusion unless an extraordinary development is to occur. Most likely, there could be a no-fly zone enforced by unusual measures that cripple part of the Syrian air force’s ability to continue to pound the moderate opposition and civilians in the Syrian cities and villages.
What is new in the White House’s political discourse is the initiation of a practical intelligence coordination with the countries that back the Syrian opposition, to send the latter advanced arms shipments including man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), which had helped tip the military equation in the Afghan conflict in the 1980s. The meeting of the Saudi, Emirati, Qatari, Turkish, and American intelligence services in Washington recently signaled a shift in the U.S. attitude on the Syrian question.
This was accompanied by several measures and developments: Salim Idriss was sacked from the command of the armed Syrian opposition; more determination was shown at the UN to push for humanitarian aid corridors across the border; public blame was laid on Russia for the failure of Geneva 2, which seeks a transitional political process in Syria; and Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was put in charge of the Syrian issue, as far as Saudi intelligence is concerned, replacing Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
President Obama’s upcoming visit to Riyadh late next month has brought important momentum to the Syrian issue in its local-security, and regional-political dimensions. Riyadh has adopted tough new attitudes against its citizens who take part in the fighting alongside the Neo-Jihadist Salafist extremists. Riyadh then replaced Prince Bandar bin Sultan with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a development that carries extremely important implications and connotations.
One of the most important messages these measures represent is that Saudi Arabia is determined to have a serious and qualitative partnership with the U.S. in the war on terror in Syria. The goal is to turn the tables on the Syrian-Russian deliberate misinterpretation of Geneva 2, whose purpose Syria and Russia wanted to change from forming a transitional governing body to fighting terrorism.
Another indirect message is addressed to the moderate wing in Iran, stating that Saudi policy intends to head off any attempt to exploit the Syrian ordeal to foment Sunni-Shiite discord. However, this does not mean leaving the arena open to the axis consisting of the regime, Iran, Russia, China, and Hezbollah to achieve more military gains on the ground, but rather the opposite. What the shift in U.S. attitudes indicates is that there is no choice left but to escalate militarily to impose a political solution, against the other axis’s mobilization of its capabilities to consolidate its military successes.
U.S. military calculations, according to informed sources and insiders, anticipate that a period of 18 months is needed to weaken Assad structurally – if Russia continues to supply him with arms and Iran and Hezbollah to fight alongside his regime.
Washington favors persuading Russia to radically alter its relationship with Assad. However, it has finally concluded that Moscow is manipulating the U.S., and would not abandon Assad in any circumstances.
Washington has found itself suddenly in a confrontational posture with Moscow, after turning a blind eye for too long. Among the main causes are the current developments in Ukraine. Washington found itself in need to take advantage of the Winter Olympics to put pressure on Moscow to change its policy, escalating both in the UN’s corridors and coordinated intelligence activities.
Moscow has decided to take a step back and agreed to take part in negotiations over a humanitarian resolution, to be put to a vote possibly on Friday. The resolution would be the first on Syria since the dual Russian-Chinese veto wielded three times – with the exception of the resolution on dismantling the chemical weapons – if adopted and if it passes the test of the fourth veto. Russia’s approval of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria – if this happens – could be a tactical step or a qualitative one. Most likely, it will be a tactical one akin to losing a battle in order to win the war.
Inducing a qualitative shift in Russian attitudes certainly requires a serious and consistent shift in Washington's policies on Syria. This in turn requires a clear decision at the level of the U.S. president himself, not just at the level of his Secretary of State.
The other essential element in U.S. – and Saudi – policy to bring about a change in Moscow’s attitudes is China. Indeed, China has contributed to radically strengthening Russia’s hand in Syria. China hid behind its strategic alliance with Moscow, and allowed Russia to lead on Syria, flouting its economic relations with both Washington and Riyadh, and ignoring the humanitarian tragedy in Syria.
It is time for a serious squaring off with China, using the language of interests and strategic realities. It is no longer acceptable to exempt Beijing from accountability for its attitudes on Syria. Both China and Russia have contributed to the deterioration of the situation in Syria, and to its transformation into a crumbling state and an arena for the resurgence of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, who are now able to threaten the stability of neighboring countries.
Both China and Russia left the U.S. to foot the bill for the war on al-Qaeda in Yemen – and before that in Afghanistan – without contributing. This could be one of the reasons why on the Yemeni issue, China and Russia have overcome their anger over the “insult” they received in Libya, but have brought this anger over to the Syrian issue at the Security Council.
Both China and Russia have been extremely hostile to the so-called Arab Spring, perhaps fearing that protests and regime-changing uprisings would soon spread to Chinese and Russian cities. They both deliberately resolved to push to the fore the military option in Syria, to take revenge on the Arab Spring and prevent the proliferation of demonstrations.
Tahrir Square in Egypt – and before it Martyrs Square in Lebanon during the Cedar Revolution – has now reached Kiev, Bangkok, and Caracas. In Independence Square in Kiev, a translated version of the Egyptian documentary The Square directed by Jehane Noujaim and produced by Karim Amer was screened, as an inspiration for change and to reaffirm the ability to replace the need for authoritarian leaders with the need for conscience. Jehane Noujaim has been nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature. It is a great achievement that Jehane is the only Arab woman who has received a nomination in this category. Equally remarkable is the fact that she is one of two women candidates nominated in the Academy Awards for 2014 for documentary features – the other candidate being Yemeni-Scottish director Sarah Ishaq in the documentary short category for her film Karama Has No Walls.  Indeed, the squares that demanded change, reform, and the right to protest have won the confidence of people worldwide. The Square will triumph over the military field, no matter how differently things might seem to be.

Question: "Why are there so many different Christian interpretations? If all Christians have the same Bible, and the same Holy Spirit, should not Christians be able to agree?"
Answer: Scripture says there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). This passage emphasizes the unity that should exist in the body of Christ as we are indwelt by “one Spirit” (verse 4). In verse 3, Paul makes an appeal to humility, meekness, patience, and love—all of which are necessary to preserve unity. According to 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God (verse 11), which He reveals (verse 10) and teaches (verse 13) to those whom He indwells. This activity of the Holy Spirit is called illumination. In a perfect world, every believer would dutifully study the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15) in prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s illumination. As can be clearly seen, this is not a perfect world. Not everyone who possesses the Holy Spirit actually listens to the Holy Spirit. There are Christians who grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30). Ask any educator—even the best classroom teacher has his share of wayward students who seem to resist learning, no matter what the teacher does. So, one reason different people have different interpretations of the Bible is simply that some do not listen to the Teacher—the Holy Spirit. Following are some other reasons for the wide divergence of beliefs among those who teach the Bible.
1. Unbelief. The fact is that many who claim to be Christians have never been born again. They wear the label of “Christian,” but there has been no true change of heart. Many who do not even believe the Bible to be true presume to teach it. They claim to speak for God yet live in a state of unbelief. Most false interpretations of Scripture come from such sources.
It is impossible for an unbeliever to correctly interpret Scripture. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). An unsaved man cannot understand the truth of the Bible. He has no illumination. Further, even being a pastor or theologian does not guarantee one’s salvation.
An example of the chaos created by unbelief is found in John 12:28-29. Jesus prays to the Father, saying, “Father, glorify your name.” The Father responds with an audible voice from heaven, which everyone nearby hears. Notice, however, the difference in interpretation: “The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” Everyone heard the same thing—an intelligible statement from heaven—yet everyone heard what he wanted to hear. 2. Lack of training. The apostle Peter warns against those who misinterpret the Scriptures. He attributes their spurious teachings in part to the fact that they are “ignorant” (2 Peter 3:16). Timothy is told to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). There is no shortcut to proper biblical interpretation; we are constrained to study.
3. Poor hermeneutics. Much error has been promoted because of a simple failure to apply good hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture). Taking a verse out of its immediate context can do great damage to the intent of the verse. Ignoring the wider context of the chapter and book, or failing to understand the historical/cultural context will also lead to problems.
4. Ignorance of the whole Word of God. Apollos was a powerful and eloquent preacher, but he only knew the baptism of John. He was ignorant of Jesus and His provision of salvation, so his message was incomplete. Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:24-28). After that, Apollos preached Jesus Christ. Some groups and individuals today have an incomplete message because they concentrate on certain passages to the exclusion of others. They fail to compare Scripture with Scripture.
5. Selfishness and pride. Sad to say, many interpretations of the Bible are based on an individual’s own personal biases and pet doctrines. Some people see an opportunity for personal advancement by promoting a “new perspective” on Scripture. (See the description of false teachers in Jude’s epistle.)
6. Failure to mature. When Christians are not maturing as they should, their handling of the Word of God is affected. “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3). An immature Christian is not ready for the “meat” of God’s Word. Note that the proof of the Corinthians’ carnality is a division in their church (verse 4).
7. Undue emphasis on tradition. Some churches claim to believe the Bible, but their interpretation is always filtered through the established traditions of their church. Where tradition and the teaching of the Bible are in conflict, tradition is given precedence. This effectively negates the authority of the Word and grants supremacy to the church leadership.
On the essentials, the Bible is abundantly clear. There is nothing ambiguous about the deity of Christ, the reality of heaven and hell, and salvation by grace through faith. On some issues of less importance, however, the teaching of Scripture is less clear, and this naturally leads to different interpretations. For example, we have no direct biblical command governing the frequency of communion or the style of music to use. Honest, sincere Christians can have differing interpretations of the passages concerning these peripheral issues.
The important thing is to be dogmatic where Scripture is and to avoid being dogmatic where Scripture is not. Churches should strive to follow the model of the early church in Jerusalem: “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). There was unity in the early church because they were steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine. There will be unity in the church again when we get back to the apostles’ doctrine and forego the other doctrines, fads, and gimmicks that have crept into the church.

Opinion: Has the time come to acknowledge the conspiracies
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
Over the past five decades, intellectuals in the Arab world have grown used to either believing conspiracy theories or refuting and trivializing them. What we are witnessing these days reminds me of a scene in the famous Hollywood movie Some Like it Hot. In the movie, Florida crime lord Little Bonaparte is toasting one of his men, mafia boss “Spats” Colombo, played by George Raft, on his birthday—only to end up listing his mistakes, castigating him for his “careless” and “sloppy” behavior, and killing him after a gunman pops out of the birthday cake.
This tragicomic scene comes to mind every time I hear someone talking about the “carelessness” and “sloppiness” of US foreign towards the Arab region. Of course, Washington’s mistakes are great and numerous. However, given the accumulation of these so-called mistakes without America ever learning the right lessons (rather, it repeats the same mistakes again and again) indicates they may not be unintentional.
Regardless of whether his regime deserved to remain in power or not, associating Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks was a fabricated claim on the part of an ideologically driven US administration that had a radical vision of the world, borrowed from the Israeli right-wing Likud party, and particularly regarding the future of the Middle East. After Saddam invaded Kuwait, the decision to topple his regime became almost guaranteed, given that the former Iraqi president had reached a point of no return in terms of his relationship with some of his neighbors.
But superpowers interested in regime change in Baghdad should have considered the geopolitical realities of the region, especially given that Iran managed to fill the political vacuum in Iraq created by the US invasion. Had the enmity between the US and Iran been real, the new Tehran-dominated status quo in Iraq should have prompted Washington to formulate a more balanced and prudent regional policy.
Alas, this was not the case.
Even when Lebanon was shaken by the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Washington verbally encouraged the so-called “Cedar Revolution” but avoided taking any serious decisions that might reflect a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of the polarizing regional struggle extending from Iraq to Lebanon through Syria. Syria, for its part, was and is a country ruled by a regime that is completely subservient to Iran’s regional project. What is worse, Israel itself has not genuinely viewed Iran’s growing regional influence as a threat to its borders and national security.
One may say that this point alone is enough for rational observers to realize why Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s approaches to Tehran and its stooge, the Damascus regime, has amounted to nothing more than empty words. This fact could not be lost on those who remember that only a few years ago both the US and Iran were enthusiastic about the use of force in Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
Of course, the White House changed hands in 2008, from conservative right-wing Republicans to moderate liberal Democrats, and thus priorities also must have changed in the process.
But in major countries where power is based on transparent democratic systems and constitutional institutions, differences over issues of national security and major international issues remain somewhat restricted. Even when the Democrats were in power before, Washington used Ted Roosevelt’s policy of “speak softly and carry a big stick”—and they used it for everything from the Cuban missile crisis to Vietnam to the resolution of the Bosnian conflict. Actually, despite his peaceful and passive approach, even President Jimmy Carter tried to launch an operation to rescue US hostages in Iran. Eventually, the peace-loving Carter suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of the “aggressive” Republican presidential candidate Ronald Regan, the price of his perceived passivity. Regan repeated his electoral victory and resolved his war against the bloated Soviet administration.
Earlier this week US Secretary of State John Kerry hinted, and not for the first time, that Washington may alter its approach to the Syrian crisis given the international community’s failure to stop the Damascus regime (and its Iranian and Russian backers) from systematically destroying the popular uprising and displacing Syrians and driving them into despair.
One could have believed Kerry’s remarks or accepted that US President Barack Obama has decided to protect his country’s reputation, after realizing the dangers of Tehran’s regional project. However, as usual, this was not the case.
Washington’s comprehensive passivity has given the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian backers confidence in their ability to resolve the crisis both militarily and politically. Allowing the regime to get away with using chemical weapons was perhaps the most dangerous step taken by the US. Thus, it was quite natural that the Syrian regime took full advantage of this passivity, adopting a scorched-earth policy across the country. The regime has also allowed its “fifth column” activists and takfirist organizations to commit violations against innocent people and the Free Syrian Army, which has ceased to be an effective power on the ground since Washington refused to provide it with the required advanced defensive weapons.
The situation facing the Free Syrian Army on the ground has worsened recently as the regime stepped up its attacks on the remaining rebel-controlled areas in the Qalamoun Mountains and in the northern and southern parts of the country. This is not to mention the surrender of rebels in the besieged suburbs of Damascus under the polite language of “truces” between local rebel commanders and Assad’s forces.
We are now confronted with a “surreal” situation where we see the international community blatantly and intransigently colluding with the Syrian regime in destroying the popular uprising. This bitter reality may explain how the formation of the new government in Lebanon suddenly became possible after ten months and ten days of bickering, trading accusations, security tensions and the return of the language of assassination.
This may also explains why Washington has provided Nuri Al-Maliki’s government in Iraq— which is accused even by Shi’ites of being an Iranian stooge—with advanced weapons to confront the suspicious takfirist organizations. This is despite the fact that over the past three years Washington has refrained from backing the Syrian rebels, who have been confronting Assad’s arsenal with their bare hands.
Isn’t this a true conspiracy?

Kiev agreement if it holds saves Ukraine from disintegration
DEBKAfile Special Report February 21, 2014/The issues between Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych and opposition protesters led by Vitaly Klitschko, which spiraled Thursday, Feb. 20, into gun battles with live rounds, appear at first glance to be black and white – but that is true only up to a point. Is Ukraine clearly divided between pro-Russian and pro-European factions? That too is an over-simplification – much like the determination that US President Barack Obama’s backing for the protesters, countered by President Vladimir Putin’s support for Yanukovych, is the genesis of a new cold war.
Both Obama and Putin have kept their intervention in the Ukraine conflict low key. Obama has no inclination to challenge Putin, at the risk of losing his understandings with Iran and a free ride out of the Middle East by courtesy of Russia’s entry. Neither does the US president want to be dragged into European affairs after he and three of his predecessors in the White House expended considerable energy on disassociating America from the continent and pivoting the US eastward.
The bloody confrontations in Maidan Square (renamed Independence Square by the protesters) were for him an unnecessary distraction from his chosen course. His warning of “consequences if people step over the line” was meant to sound grave, but people remembered his warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad seven months ago since when Assad is still going strong.
Vice President Joe Biden could not have expected his demand to pull security police back from the embattled Kiev square be taken seriously by that President Yanukovych, because it would have amounted to his capitulation and handover of rule to the protesters after three months of strife.
Putin has also been careful to skirt the conflict. Although he promised the Ukraine president $15 bn in economic aid and cheap Russian gas, he has not so far laid out a single dollar or ruble. Neither has he stepped forward to mediate dispute, leaving the task to the European Union, which sent the French, German and Polish foreign ministers to Kiev to broker a deal for ending the clashes.
On the ground, casualties soared and armed gunmen went into action Thursday, Feb. 20, raising the conflict to its most violent stage hitherto. Although neither side is likely to admit this, the escalation was not spontaneous; it happened after both quietly threw bands of armed, out-of-control radicals into the fray in order to finally end the standoff.
Yanukovich enlisted Ukraine nationalist extremists, some of them fervently pro-Russian, from the eastern provinces, where more than half of the 46-million strong population is Russian-speaking and close to Moscow.
The opposition rounded up armed radicals from the west, a part of Ukraine which a century ago was under Polish, then Austro-Hungarian rule. Here, Russian is not spoken and Moscow is anathema. These gangs seized the barricades in Independence Square.
The gunfire across the square Thursday came from the shooting between the warring camps of radicals. They also accounted for most of the fatalities.
Friday morning, Ukraine’s Health Ministry said 75 people had died and more than 570 were injured in the violent clashes in the capital this week.
After this explosion of violence, both sides understood that an agreement could not longer be postponed, both to stop the bloodshed and to prevent the armed radicals taking over and throwing Ukraine into full-blown civil war.
Neither Yanukovych nor Klitshko was prepared to let this happen.
Amid a shaky calm in Kiev Friday morning, President Yanukovych announced that all-night talks with the opposition, led by Klitschko and assisted by the European mediators, had culminated in an agreement to resolve the crisis.
Before this was confirmed by the opposition or the European ministers, the president’s office revealed that it centered on his consent to an early general election in December and the formation of a coalition within 10 days - provided that the violent protest was halted and order restored to the capital. Some Kiev sources added that Yanokovych has agreed to constitutional reforms for reducing presidential powers.
In the electric atmosphere in the Ukrainian capital, it is to soon to evaluate the life expectancy of this agreement or determine whether the two parties are capable of getting past their differences and forming a working coalition government.

A ‘good start’ in the final phase of nuclear talks
Friday, 21 February 2014
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabyia
The first round of high-level negotiations since the Nov. 24 interim deal addressing the over-a-decade-long nuclear dispute between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) and Iran came into action this week. Tehran and six world powers appear to have made a “good start” and agreed on a framework and timetable in order toreach a final nuclear agreement.The agreement is encountering its final critical points, as the interim nuclear deal will expire in July 20.
The actual objective here is to further build on the interim nuclear deal, under which Tehran is receiving sanctions relief in exchange for halting some of its sensitive nuclear developments. Although Iran is in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions for enriching uranium, the final deal will allow Tehran to continue enrichment at a specific level.
The stakes are high in this final-phase and the issues in the way of reaching a final nuclear deal are complex. The major issue for Western countries is to chart out a path and make sure that Iran will lower its nuclear activities to a level ensuring that they will not be capable of producing a nuclear bomb anytime soon.
The critical questions
To be more specific, the heart of the talks in this final phase include the following: the prospects of Iran’s planned Arak heavy water reactor, the Fordow underground nuclear enrichment site built deep in a mountain, caps on Iran’s expanding ballistic missile capabilities and discussions to allow visits to the Parchin military base— long suspected of being a nuclear-trigger test site.
Also, the six powers expect for Iranian leaders to agree torestrict the enrichment of uranium to a low fissile concentration (approximately 3.5 or 5 percent), putting limitation on nuclear R&D, agreeing to permit a higher level of monitoring by U.N. inspectors, and scaling down or stopping a large number of the existing centrifuges used for enrichment.
The Iranian leaders’ objectives are to be allowed to continue nuclear research andretain the rights to enrich uranium, easing Iran’s international isolation and international sanctions to allow Tehran to regain its economy, its currency’s (Rial) value, increase exports and oil sales, to ultimately lure back investment.
The optimistic trend
We can analyze the talks from either a cautious approach based onprevious nuclear negotiations with Iran or from a promising and optimistic prism.
From the auspicious view, the final nuclear deal looks to be reachable by some politicians, including President Obama. The first reason is that the West and the United States are hesitant to take any other path other than the current one. The tendency of the Obama administration to avoid confrontation with Tehran (like considering military action or tougher sanctions in case the nuclear talks fail), has contributed to pushing for a deal, releasing assets to Iran, easing sanctions in some industries, and reaching the interim nuclear deal. As a result, the West’s apprehension of another possible war in the Middle East has made them slog toward sealing the agreement.
Both sides, particularly Iran, have to address the hardliners at home
Secondly, the West (particularly France and the Netherlands) is looking to tap into Iran’s $500 billion economy. This open market could be another crucial factor in pushing for a final nuclear deal. This can open up vast business opportunities for Western companies.
Another argument is that Iranian leaders have come to the conclusion that the economic sanctions could not only further weaken Tehran’s economy but it can endanger the clerics’ hold on power. Iranian leaders are attempting to increase oil sales to strengthen their economy, to secure regional hegemonic ambitions.
Dampening optimism and idealism
If the stances of both sides and the nuances of their domestic politics are examined closely, the complexity of the final phase of nuclear talks can be highlighted.
Both sides, particularly Iran, have to address the hardliners at home. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has largely benefited from Tehran’s economic isolation. IRGC generals and officials do not desire to observe the success of the final nuclear deal for three reasons.
First of all, the final nuclear deal would mean that Iran would come out of geopolitical and economic isolation. The privatization and opening of the market to the other companies would be a risk for the IRGC.
Secondly, Iran’s most powerful deterrence in case of external intervention and domestic rebellion is nuclear weaponry. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on major matters of state in the Islamic Republic, previously blamed Qaddafi for giving up his nuclear program and pointed out that Qaddafi’s decision was the paramount factor in his overthrow by American and NATO forces. Iranian leaders view North Korea as a real example of how possessing nuclear weapons can be used as deterrent to prevent external forces from intervening.
Third, although United States view Iran’s ballistic missile program is a section of Tehran’s nuclear threat, Iranian leaders and IRGC generals have pointed out that Iran’s missile program is off the table. As Abbas Araqchi, Iranian deputy foreign minister, told Iranian state television: “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s defense issues are neither negotiable nor subject to compromise. They are definitely among our red lines in any talks.” The U.S. and Western allies were surprised that IRGC test-fired two domestically made ballistic missiles last week and President Hassan Rowhani praised the missile tests. The missiles are estimated to have ranges of approximately 1,500 kilometers which give Iran the military capability to strike U.S. military bases in the region and Israel.
In addition, Khamenei has also declared his cynicism about a final nuclear deal, stating on Monday that talks between Tehran and the six world powers “will not lead anywhere.”
The final phase of nuclear talks will be nuanced, complex, and likely lengthy. It will only leave the West with the option to extend the interim deal, if a final deal is not reached.
However, when it comes to a political, economic and military cost-benefit analysis, it appears that the priority for the Islamic Republic is to have powerful nuclear deterrence. This could not only ensure the survival of the current political establishment, but can also significantly change the power relations in the region in favor of the Islamic Republic.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar as Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC, Harvard scholar, and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at