February 28/14


Bible Quotation for today/The Tongue
03/01-12: " My friends, not many of you should become teachers. As you know, we teachers will be judged with greater strictness than others.  All of us often make mistakes. But if a person never makes a mistake in what he says, he is perfect and is also able to control his whole being. We put a bit into the mouth of a horse to make it obey us, and we are able to make it go where we want.  Or think of a ship: big as it is and driven by such strong winds, it can be steered by a very small rudder, and it goes wherever the pilot wants it to go.  So it is with the tongue: small as it is, it can boast about great things. Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame!  And the tongue is like a fire. It is a world of wrong, occupying its place in our bodies and spreading evil through our whole being. It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself. 7 We humans are able to tame and have tamed all other creatures—wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish.  But no one has ever been able to tame the tongue. It is evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison.  We use it to give thanks to our Lord and Father and also to curse other people, who are created in the likeness of God. Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth. My friends, this should not happen!  No spring of water pours out sweet water and bitter water from the same opening.  A fig tree, my friends, cannot bear olives; a grapevine cannot bear figs, nor can a salty spring produce sweet water.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For February 28/14

Israel’s new game plan with Hezbollah and Syria/By: Joyce Karam/Al Arabyia/February 28/14

Missiles and the fear of Syria’s opposition/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabyia/February 28/14

Dozens of Young Men Burned to Ashes by Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria/ICC/February 28/14

Multiculturalism's Child Brides/By:  Mark Durie/Quadrant Online/February 28/14

China’s assertiveness leaves its neighbors anxious/By David Ignatius/The Washington Post/February 28/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For February 28/14
Lebanese Related News

March 14 Urges Army to Clarify Israeli Strike: Hizbullah is Not Sole Protector of Lebanon's Border

Mustaqbal: Policy Statement Should Adhere to Baabda Declaration, Bkirki Charter

Suleiman: Baabda Declaration More Significant Politically than Policy Statement

Jumblat Wants 'Consensual' President, Says Hizbullah's Decision to Withdraw from Syria 'Not in Lebanon' 26 February

Abou Faour Says 'Satisfactory Formula' Reached over Baabda Declaration, Discussion Now on Resistance

Aoun: Presidential Vote to Happen on Time, a Consensual President is a Weak President

IDF raises level of alert on Lebanese border following alleged strike

Report: Car Theft Gangs Sell Vehicles to Assailants to Carry out Bombings in Lebanon, Syria

Bassil Says to Cooperate with President, Premier to Shape Country's Foreign Policy

Bassil Meets al-Rahi: Bkirki Charter Serves as Basis for Dialogue

Unknown Assailants Toss Hand Grenade at Army Post in Tripoli, One Detained

Large Quantity of Spoiled Foodstuffs Seized at Ashrafieh Depot  

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Syria Jihadists Lay Down Rules for Christians

US: Syria leads human rights violations in 2013
Pro-Moscow coup in Crimea. Russian fighter jets on W. border on combat alert. Kiev deploys security forces

Partisan tactics in the US mark new effort to pass Iran nuclear sanctions bill

Kerry: US must pursue Iran nuke talks before considering war
US unlikely to unveil peace framework during Netanyahu-Obama meeting next week

Amnesty International to US, EU: Suspend all arms transfers to Israel
Yanukovych Says Still President, his Security 'Ensured in Russia'

Ukraine Warns Russia after Gunmen Control Crimea Parliament, Govt HQ

Nine Killed in 'Gas Cylinder' Blast in Qatar

Palestinians Reject U.S. Push for Peace Talks Beyond April  


Syria Jihadists Lay Down Rules for Christians
Naharnet/26 February 2014/
A jihadist group in Syria said Wednesday that Christians in the city of Raqa will have to pay taxes and hold religious rituals behind closed doors, under a set of rules.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), listed 12 rules which made up an "agreement" with Christians in the northern city to provide "protection."
The terms, bearing the stamp of ISIL which controls Raqa, were distributed on jihadist forums.
They include a provision that Christians must pay a "jiziyeh" tax, as imposed in early Islam on non-Muslim subjects.
It said wealthy Christians must pay up the equivalent of 13 grams (half an ounce) of pure gold, that middle-class Christians pay half that sum, while the poor pay a quarter.
The agreement also demands Christians "do not put on display a cross or anything from their book, anywhere on Muslims' path or markets" and that they should not "use megaphones to make their prayers heard."
Christians must also refrain from "holding any of their rituals... outside the church."
The jihadist group demands that Christians follow "rules imposed by ISIL, such as those relating to modesty in clothing." ISIL is rooted in al-Qaida in Iraq, which also imposed the jiziyeh tax on Christians after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Raqa was once home to some 300,000 people, and less than one percent were Christian. Many Christians fled the city after ISIL started attacking and burning churches. ISIL also said that Christians "must not restore any monasteries or churches... in their city or elsewhere in the vicinity." Christians must not carry arms, it said, warning that offenders of the rules would suffer "the fate that the people of war and rebellion faced."
ISIL is accused of holding scores of people prisoner, including peaceful activists, rival rebels, foreign journalists and aid workers. It is facing an all-out war by rival anti-regime forces in other parts of Syria.
Source/Agence France Presse.Middle

Israeli Defence Forces raises level of alert on Lebanese border following alleged strike,7340,L-4493135,00.html
US Secretary of State Kerry indirectly addresses strike, says US is aware Syria is smuggling weapons to Hezbollah that pose a threat to Israel.
Yoav Zitun, Yitzhak Benhorin/02.26.14, 22:22 / Ynetnews
After Hezbollah has threatened to retaliate against Israel for its alleged role in a strike on a weapons convoy en route from Syria to Lebanon, the IDF Northern Command decided Wednesday evening to increase the state of alert for forces stationed along the border with Lebanon, fearing of retaliatory fire.Farmers whose lands are near the border were also instructed to stay away from the border fence. The IDF refused comment.Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry indirectly addressed the Monday night attack on a weapons convoy en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon that Lebanese reports attributed to Israel. In an interview with MSNBC, Kerry said the United States was aware that Syria was smuggling weapons to Hezbollah - weapons that pose a threat to Israel. The American administration is having discussions on what are the next moves to be taken to address the Syrian crisis, and includes Syria's neighbors - including Israel - in the talks, Kerry said. According to Kerry, US President Barack Obama was urging him and other administration officials to seek out other options to resolving the Syrian crisis. "No one is happy with the situation today," Kerry said. "We all understand that this is a massive humanitarian crisis that puts pressure on Jordan and Lebanon. There are threats of weapons transfer from (Syrian President Bashar) Assad to Hezbollah and this is a threat to Israel. There are challenges in Turkey. All of these states are involved in talks with us about what the next move is. I promise you the administration's working to enter these discussions and the president is not taking any option off the table."
Earlier Wednesday, after a day and a half of silence, Hezbollah admitted for the first time that Israel Air Force conducted an attack on the Syrian-Lebanese border. According to Hezbollah, the attack caused damage but there were no fatalities. "The new aggression is a blatant assault on Lebanon and its sovereignty and its territory...The Resistance (Hezbollah) will choose the time and place and the proper way to respond to it," a statement on the group's Al-Manar television station. Lebanese media reporting on Hezbollah's statement said reports the attack targeted a weapons convoy were wrong, and denied reports of four fatalities.
On Tuesday night, an Israeli official told TIME that the IDF is the one that conducted the strike in the Beqaa Valley. He stated the convoy that was attacked likely included missiles equipped with warheads more powerful and dangerous than what Hezbollah currently has. On Wednesday morning, security sources told the Lebanese Daily Star that the strike's target were two trucks - one carrying missiles and the other carrying a missiles launcher. According to the report, the trucks were on their way to Hezbollah missiles storage facility in Lebanon. At first, the strike was reported to have happened on Lebanese territory, but a Lebanese army official did not rule out the possibility the attack was on Syrian soil.


Hezbollah: We will respond to Israeli strike at the 'right time and place'
02/26/2014/Shi'ite organization, which had denied Israeli strike on Syria-Lebanon border, says IAF bombing sorties targeted base, causing no injuries. Hezbollah will respond to what it says was an Israeli air strike that hit one of its bases on the border with Syria Monday night, the Lebanese Islamist group said on Wednesday. The new aggression is a blatant assault on Lebanon, its sovereignty and its territory.... The resistance [Hezbollah] will choose the time, place and proper way to respond to it,” the group said in a statement read out by a news presenter on its Al-Manar TV station. The resistance [Hezbollah] will choose the time, place and proper way to respond to it,” the group said in a statement read out by a news presenter on its Al-Manar TV station.
The delayed reaction came after Hezbollah indirectly referred to the attack on Tuesday while mentioning the Palestinian struggle against Israel.
The strike, which Israel has not claimed responsibility for, hit a base near the Bekaa Valley village of Janta, Hezbollah said. It denied reports that the strike targeted artillery or rocket bases, and said there were no casualties. However, Lebanon’s The Daily Star reported on Wednesday that four Hezbollah members had been killed.
Security sources told the paper that the attack targeted two trucks, one of them carrying missiles and the other a missile launcher. The weapons were headed to a Hezbollah warehouse in Lebanon, they said. Lebanese security sources said they believed the attack took place on Syrian soil, but Hezbollah’s reference to Lebanese “sovereignty” suggested it took place on Lebanon’s side of the border.
Israeli planes have struck areas on the Syrian side several times in the past two years. If the location is confirmed, this would be the first air strike on Lebanese soil since the Syrian revolt began in 2011.
“We at Hezbollah wish to stress the following. First, nothing that has been said in the media about targeting artillery or rocket sites, or the martyrdom of a member of the resistance, or anything else, has any truth to it at all. Second, this new aggression is a blatant assault on Lebanon, its sovereignty and its territory, not only on the resistance – it reinforces the adversarial nature of the Zionists and it requires an honest and clear [commitment] from everyone,” the statement said.
An Israeli drone flew over Lebanon on Tuesday, entering the country’s airspace at 9:10 p.m. in the evening, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported on Wednesday.
The Lebanese-Syrian border area is frequently used by smugglers. Security sources in Lebanon say the target in Monday night’s air strike in Syria may have been weapons trucks destined for Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, the American magazine Time said a senior Israeli security official had confirmed that Israel had been behind the attack, which hit a convoy carrying surface-to-surface missiles to Lebanon.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz on Sunday accused Iran – Assad’s ally and Hezbollah’s patron – of moving weapons to the armed group.
“There is no theater in which Iran is not involved – giving out, if you like, torches to pyromaniacs – be it munitions or missiles or intervention in the fighting,” Gantz said. “We are tracking the processes of arms transfers in all of the operational theaters. This is something that is very grim and very sensitive. And from time to time, when the need arises, things can happen.”
Channel 10 television on Tuesday broadcast what it said were satellite images of the locations that were struck, which appeared to show missile silos being readied for weapons.
The Lebanese army reported that four Israeli planes had flown across northern Lebanon on Monday night toward the Bekaa Valley before heading southwest toward the Mediterranean Sea near the border with Israel. Israeli jets regularly fly through Lebanese airspace without permission.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu neither claimed responsibility nor denied that Israel had been involved, but said on Tuesday Israel would “do everything required to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens.”Hezbollah called on Wednesday for the Palestinians to continue to resist Israel, warning that the Jewish state was planning to destroy the Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount, Iran’s Press TV reported. In a statement, the group praised Palestinians for resisting Israeli aggression and its goal of judaizing Jerusalem. This came after a debate on Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount that was held on Tuesday in the Knesset.

Partisan tactics in the US mark new effort to pass Iran nuclear sanctions bill
By MICHAEL WILNER/J.Post/02/26/2014
Israeli envoy to US says pressure on Iran "dissipating," as monthly oil exports increase.
WASHINGTON – Republicans in the US Senate are trying to revive a stalled bill that would trigger new tools for sanctions against Iran should negotiations over its nuclear program fail. With a majority of senators against a vote on sanctions while talks between Iran and world powers remain underway, Republicans are now attempting to add the text of the bill as an amendment to unrelated legislation. On Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said he hoped to attach the sanctions language to a bill expanding healthcare and education programs for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And on Tuesday, a similar suggestion was made by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) regarding a bill reforming military procedures on instances of sexual assault. French officials, meanwhile, told The Jerusalem Post that new action from Congress would be “counterproductive” to the diplomatic process in Vienna, saying it would threaten to undermine implementation of an interim agreement reached last November in Geneva that temporarily froze Tehran’s nuclear work. The French spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of engaging in foreign political debate.
The Republican tactic, used frequently in Congress by the party in the minority, is not guaranteed to work – but might be the Republicans’ best chance to debate the bill on the floor after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) declined to give it a vote at the height of the bill’s popularity. Since the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 was first introduced in December by a bipartisan group of legislators, President Barack Obama has threatened to veto it, warning that new action in Congress would undermine the Geneva agreement. “A broad bipartisan majority in the Senate would like to vote on Iran sanctions,” McConnell insisted on Wednesday.
“The dilemma we have here is that the majority leader does not want this vote to occur.” Meanwhile, new figures from tracking agencies show that Iran’s oil exports increased yet again in February by over 100,000 barrels per day, to up to 1.3 million bpd for the month, calling into question the integrity of the international community’s existing sanctions infrastructure after the Geneva deal. Citing the figures, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, tweeted on Tuesday that “pressure on Iran is dissipating.”


US: Syria leads human rights violations in 2013
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Thursday, 27 February 2014
A chemical weapons attack in Syria last summer, which reportedly killed more than 1,400 people, was branded as the world’s worst violation against human rights in 2013, Washington said Thursday. In its 2013 Human Rights report, the United States condemned atrocities in which the Syrian people are witnessing amid a civil war that has ripped through the country for over three years. The report referred specifically to last August’s attack on the suburb of Ghouta, where President Bashar al-Assad's regime was accused of unleashing a sarin gas attack that allegedly killed some 1,429 civilians, including 426 children.“It is one of many horrors in a civil war filled with countless crimes against humanity, from the torture and murder of prisoners to the targeting of civilians with barrel bombs and Scud missiles, which has claimed more than 100,000 live,” the report said. “The tragedy that has befallen the Syrian people stands apart in its scope and human cost,” it concluded. Washington also denounced what it said was the growing use of security forces by repressive regimes to crackdown on pro-democracy protests worldwide. The report highlighted how new and fragile states, emerging out of the Arab Spring, are cracking down on civil society. pt was heavily criticized for “the removal of an elected civilian government and excessive use of force by security forces, including unlawful killings and torture.” The report also foreshadowed the unrest that has gripped the Ukraine in recent weeks. It claimed that parliamentary elections in Ukraine did not meet international standards for fairness or transparency, thus leading to protests that recently toppled the government. The report also said that Ukrainian security forces had beaten protesters with batons and other violent means at a peaceful Nov. 30 demonstration against the government at Kiev's main square. But it said the most egregious abuse in Ukraine last year was the government's crackdown on media, including violence against journalists. It criticized the now defunct president Viktor Yanukovych's and his regime for increasing pressure on civil society activists and non-government organizations. The State Department's annual country-by-country index was released on Thursday as the world marks the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But six decades later “more than one third of the world's population still lives under authoritarian rule,” the report found. “A widening gap persists between the rights conferred by law and the daily realities for many around the globe.” It threw a spotlight on a lack of labor rights in countries such as Bangladesh, where more than 1,000 garment workers were killed in a factory building collapse in April. “Governments that protect human rights and are accountable to their citizens are more secure, bolster international peace and security, and enjoy shared prosperity with stable democratic countries around the world,” writes U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the preface. “Countries that fail to uphold human rights can face economic deprivation and international isolation.”(with AFP and AP)


Kerry: US must pursue Iran nuke talks before considering war
By REUTERS/J.Post/02/27/2014/US secretary of state says Washington has to "exhaust all remedies" before contemplating military action to force Tehran to cease nuclear activities.WASHINGTON - The United States has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before it considers going to war with Tehran to force it to give up its nuclear activities, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday. "We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if before we go to war there actually might be a peaceful solution," Kerry told a group of reporters.Iran reached a landmark preliminary agreement with six world powers, including the United States, in November to halt its most sensitive nuclear operations, winning some relief from economic sanctions in return. US President Barack Obama, like his predecessors, has said that all options are on the table with regard to Iran's nuclear program, using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action. While US officials have long held out that threat, Kerry's comments appeared to indicate that the Obama administration would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks fail. "I happen to believe as a matter of leadership, and I learnt this pretty hard from Vietnam, before you send young people to war you ought to find out if there is a better alternative," said Kerry, who served in the Vietnam War as a young US naval officer. "That is an obligation we have as leaders to exhaust all the remedies available to you before you ask people to give up their lives and that is what we are doing" with Iran, he added. The Obama administration is under pressure from Republican lawmakers threatening to revive a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran, a move the White House is warning could interfere with delicate nuclear talks to find a lasting agreement. Iran denies allegations by the United States and some of its allies that it is seeking to develop the capacity to build nuclear weapons. Pressure from lawmakers may increase with signs that easing of sanctions pressure on Tehran has boosted oil export. Sources who track tanker movements told Reuters Iran's oil exports rose further in February for a fourth consecutive month. In addition extra cargoes had headed to Syria and South Korea in February, according to a second tracking source.

Amnesty International to US, EU: Suspend all arms transfers to Israel
By TOVAH LAZAROFF/02/27/2014/Foreign Ministry slams as "racist" report by NGO on IDF’s actions against Palestinians.Amnesty International called on the international community to suspend transferring arms to Israel to protest IDF treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. “Suspend transfers to Israel of munitions, weapons, and related equipment including crowd control weapons and devices, training and techniques,” Amnesty said in a 74-page report titled “Trigger- Happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank” that it issued on Thursday. Arms transfers by the United States, the European Union and other countries should only be resumed once Israel can ensure that they will not be used to violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law, Amnesty said. “Without pressure from the international community, the situation is unlikely to change any time soon,” said Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International. “Too much civilian blood has been spilled. This long-standing pattern of abuse must be broken. If the Israeli authorities wish to prove to the world they are committed to democratic principles and international human rights standards, unlawful killings and unnecessary use of force must stop now,” Luther said. The report provided case studies of 22 Palestinian civilians killed by the IDF since January 2011, of which most were under the age of 25 and four were children.
According to Amnesty, at least 14 of the deaths occurred during protests against Israel. It noted that according to the UN, the IDF killed 45 Palestinians in the past three years.
According to Amnesty, the Palestinians who were killed did not appear to pose a direct and immediate threat to Israeli soldiers in the 22 cases listed.
It added that “in some, there is evidence that they were victims of willful killings, which would amount to war crimes.”The report further stated that in that same three-year period, Israeli forces in the West Bank seriously injured 261 Palestinians, including 67 children, by firing live ammunition at them. It said soldiers wounded another 8,000 Palestinians, including 1,500 children, by other means, including rubber- coated metal bullets and teargas.
“The staggering numbers of wounded provide a sobering reminder of the relentless daily danger faced by Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank,” Luther said.
“The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers – and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators – suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy,” Luther added. The report called on the IDF to stop using live ammunition and rubber-coated bullets except when necessary to protect lives. It also asked the IDF to stop using teargas against Palestinians, explaining that the chemicals contained within it were dangerous. It called on Israel to provide reparations to Palestinians the IDF had unlawfully harmed. It also urged the IDF to protect Palestinians from attacks by West Bank settlers. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the report “smacks of bias, discrimination and racism.” He accused Amnesty of wanting to deprive Israel of the right to self-defense.
“Amnesty takes to making up its own laws. In their frenzied public relations stunt to grab a quick headline, they innovate in the legal realm: no right of self-defense under fire [for Israelis],” he said.
“Amnesty lies by omission, and otherwise.” The IDF said that Amnesty was ignoring the substantial increase in Palestinian violence against Israel in the last year. In 2013, Palestinians injured 132 Israelis, almost double the number of those harmed in 2012, the IDF said. It noted that this was “no surprise, considering that over 5,000 incidents of rock-hurling took place, half of which were toward main roads.”
It added that “there were 66 further terror attacks, which included shootings, the planting of [improvised explosive devices], blunt weapon attacks and the abduction and murder of a soldier.”
The report, it said, also showed “a complete lack of understanding as to operational challenges the IDF is posed with in the West Bank. “Where feasible, the IDF contains this life-threatening violence using riot dispersal means, including loud sirens, water cannons, sound grenades and teargas. Only once these tools have been exhausted, and human life and safety remains under threat, is the use of precision munition authorized,” it said.
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US unlikely to unveil peace framework during Netanyahu-Obama meeting next week
By HERB KEINON/J.Post/02/27/2014 /Despite speculation, Israeli officials say US president unlikely to unveil framework document on continued final-status deal talks to PM before Obama also meets with PA President Abbas. US President Barack Obama is not expected to present Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with the much-discussed framework document for negotiations with the Palestinians when they meet in Washington next week, Israeli officials said on Wednesday. The comments come despite some speculation that Obama would unveil the document during his scheduled meeting with Netanyahu in the White House on Monday. The officials said it was unlikely Washington would roll out the paper before Obama also meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.The Palestinians announced earlier this week that Obama had invited Abbas to visit Washington next month, though no final date was reported. Abbas met twice last week in Paris with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry has been working with the sides since November on the document that would serve as the basis for continuing the talks that began in July. Netanyahu may meet with Kerry in Washington as well. Both men are to address the annual policy conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington next week.
Israeli officials stressed on Wednesday that Iran would be the No. 1 issue on the prime minister’s agenda when visiting Obama for their 14th meeting, the most Obama has held with any foreign leader. The two men last met in Washington in September, and before that they met several times in Israel last March when Obama visited for his first time as president. Netanyahu has in recent days underlined his differences with the US on Iran, stressing that any final agreement with Iran must be one that denies the Iranians the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. As such, he has made clear that Israel believes Tehran must be denied all uranium enrichment capabilities.
The US, on the other hand, has seemingly resigned itself to Tehran retaining some low-grade uranium enrichment capabilities. The meeting is expected to be a chance for the two leaders to coordinate their positions and expectations regarding the recently renewed Iran negotiations. Regarding the negotiations with the PLO, Netanyahu is expected to underline Israeli security demands, as well as the importance he attributes to the Palestinians recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Kerry has indicated in the past that the US agreed with that position. The prime minister is to leave for the US on Sunday.
In addition to his session with Obama, he is expected to meet with congressional leaders, and there is a possibility he will meet with other senior administration officials as well.
On Tuesday morning, he is scheduled to address the AIPAC conference and then fly to Los Angeles. In the evening he will take part in the premiere of CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg’s one-hour special Israel: The Royal Tour, which is part of a series the newsman is doing on tours of various countries led by their leaders. The next day, Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to San Francisco for meetings in nearby Silicon Valley with the “heads of global companies at the forefront of hi-tech development.” He will then return to Los Angeles for a gala event with Hollywood personalities, before flying home on Thursday.

Multiculturalism's Child Brides
By:  Mark Durie/Quadrant Online
February 26, 2014
Recent reports of under-age marriages in Australia are evidence that the authorities need to do more to enforce marriage laws in Western nations, and in particular to restrict the practice of unregistered 'clandestine' religious marriages, particularly Islamic marriages.
Two cases recently came to public attention of NSW girls being married to older men in unregistered religious ceremonies, allegedly with the approval of their guardians. The first case was of a 14-year-old girl who reported she was deceived into marrying a 21-year-old. After being subjected to years of sexual and physical abuse she fled the relationship. Her case came to light in October, 2013, when she needed to pursue custody of her daughter through the courts.
The second case was of a 12-year-old married to a 26-year-old overseas student by her father, an Australian-born convert to Islam. Imam Riaz Tasawar, who allegedly conducted the ceremony, has been charged by the police, which is remarkably the first prosecution in NSW for at least 20 years of someone for solemnizing a marriage without being an authorized marriage celebrant. The father has also been charged with procuring his daughter for sexual intercourse and being an accessory to a sexual offence against a child.
The Daily Telegraph has reported an 'epidemic' of young girls becoming 'child brides' or being in de facto relationships in NSW. The state Community Services Minister, Pru Goward, commented "I understand there are actually a significant number of unlawful, unregistered marriages to under-aged girls in NSW, particularly in western Sydney, southwest Sydney and the Blue Mountains."
The Australian Marriage Act 1961 (paragraph 101) makes it a crime for anyone to conduct a marriage without being authorized by the state. It is also an offense for an authorized celebrant to conduct a marriage without receiving proper notice of intention, ensuring on the basis of the information provided that the parties are eligible to be married, and registering the marriage with the state.
It is crystal clear from the legal history of marriage's evolution in the West that the reason for public registration of marriages was to protect vulnerable women — and their children — from predatory and dishonest men. As Sir Roger Ormrod stated in Collett vs. Collett [1968]), "The control of the formation of marriage in this country has a long statutory history, much of it intended to prevent clandestine marriages:" marriage laws were designed to to guarantee that marriages, through public registration, met minimum legal requirements in order to prevent abuses against women.
The public registration of marriages was first introduced in Western jurisdictions through canon (i.e. church) law: the Council of Trent ruled in the 16th century that a wedding must be preceded by public notices read out in church services; there had to be at least two witnesses; and an official wedding register had to be maintained. These provisions were justified on the grounds that 'clandestine' (unregistered) marriages put women at risk of exploitation.
In England registration of marriages was enforced by the state in the Marriage Act of 1753, which was formally titled "An Act for the better preventing of clandestine Marriages". The whole focus on this law was the prevention of private marriages – which had become a scandal in England – and again the reason given was the protection of women. Severe penalties were provided for clergy who solemnized illegal marriages.
In the light of the history of marriage laws, it is hardly surprising that one result of neglect in enforcing them would be a rise in exploitative, abusive relationships which disadvantage women, including forced and underage marriages. The Australian Islamic underage marriages which have attracted so much recent attention are but the tip of the iceberg of unregistered religious marriages across Western jurisdictions.
The practice of conducting unregistered religious ceremonies has become so widespread that in some cases those who solemnize or are a party to illegal religious marriages may not even be aware that they are committing an offence. When a former Muslim told me recently about his unregistered marriage in Australia, entered in to while he was still following Islam, he was shocked to learn that the marriage had most likely been illegal.
The proliferation of unregistered religious marriages in recent years is a sign that the Australian authorities need to do much more to enforce the provisions of the Australian Marriage Act.
In the wake of the recent cases, it was to the credit of the Australian National Imams Council that it was outspoken in rejecting underage marriages. However the Imams should also have spoken out against unregistered marriages, because it is a culture of unregistered unions which is placing Australian women and girls at risk of exploitation through forced and underage marriages. The whole point of registration has always been to help prevent such abuses.
The Imams Council also stated that 'any religion … should not be held accountable for violations by its followers.' It could be objected that many Islamic authorities have argued that the marriage of young girls is permissible in Islam. However this is beside the point: for the authorities it ought to be irrelevant whether a particular religion's teachings condones the marriage of young girls or forced marriages: the point is that these practices should not be tolerated in Australia, irrespective of what particular religions may or may not teach.
It is not just Muslims who are engaging in unregistered marriages in Western jurisdictions. The unregistered polygamous marriages of some Mormon sects present serious challenges for the authorities in the United States; Melbourne academic Sheila Jeffries in Man's Dominion has criticized a growing polygamous trend on the fringes of American protestant Christianity; and UK courts have also had to deal with the issue of unregistered Hindu marriages.
In the UK Muslim leaders have become concerned about the trend for Islamic unions not to be registered, because of the impact this has upon women. According to, a project of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, "it is clear that many thousands of [Muslim] couples, for one reason or another … are only in what is locally known as a nikah – a marriage that is not accompanied by a civil marriage and is therefore not recognized by the law in Britain. It is equally clear that this lack of proper legal status often results in problems for the couple and suffering, especially for the woman…" The site contrasts the situation in the UK with Canada, where Muslims 'almost always' register their marriages with the state.
The UK has badly mismanaged the issue of non-Christian religious marriages for decades. Although it is a felony in England to solemnize a marriage without meeting the requirements of the Marriage Act of 1949, Islamic marriages have proved to be beyond the reach of the law. In a key legal decision from the 1960's (R v Bham), a court of appeal ruled that a Mr Bham, who solemnized an unregistered Islamic marriage with a Christian woman, was not in violation of the English Marriage Act because the ceremony was not "a marriage of the kind allowed by English law" (see here): in effect the court found that because the union was not a Christian one, or purporting to be like a Christian marriage, it was not actually a 'marriage' at all, which had the effect that its solemnization was not regulated by the state.
A series of English rulings have reinforced this approach (see the review here). For example in Gandhi vs Patel [2002] Judge Park decided that a"Hindu ceremony did not give rise to a 'void marriage'. Rather it created something which was not a marriage of any kind at all, not even a marriage which was void. It might be described as a 'non-marriage' rather than a void marriage. … In the present case the Hindu ceremony … purported to be a marriage according to a foreign religion, and it made no attempt to be an English marriage within the Marriage Acts."
In a similar vein, in AAA v Ash [2010] it was accepted by the court that an Islamic marriage held in a mosque was a non-marriage in English law: English law distinguishes between a valid marriage and a 'void' marriage – both of which are regulated by the marriage laws – and 'non-marriages' which fall outside the scope of the law.
Such legal decisions were only possible because English marriage laws are constructed around the marriage ceremonial of the Church of England and its Christian understanding of marriage. The outcome is that in the UK today Christian marriages are far more rigorously controlled by the state than Islamic marriages.
In A-M vs A-M [2001] Judge Hughes commented that if the parties to a religious marriage were all fully aware that it was polygamous, then this could mean that "it in no sense purported to be effected according to the Marriage Acts, which provide for the only way of marrying in England." In other words, solemnizing a religious polygamous union in the UK would not be in breach of the marriage laws if the parties all understood that the union was not a legal marriage as defined by English law! This strays a long way indeed from the intended purpose of the marriage laws.
To treat Christian and non-Christian marriages differently disrespects non-Christian religions because their unions are considered 'non-marriages,' and not even 'void' marriages. More importantly, it puts the women who enter such unions at risk because the failure of the state to regulate their marriages makes them vulnerable to the very abuses which the centuries-old marriage laws were meant to to prevent.
It was the Islamic character of the ceremony which proved critical in the appeal's court decision in R v Bham that no 'marriage' had taken place, and thus there had been no felony of conducting an unauthorized solemnization of a marriage. Such legal decisions have been detrimental to the state of marriage in England. By declaring certain religious marriages to be beyond the regulatory power of the marriage laws, they have validated the proliferation of unregistered religious ceremonies. This has helped foster a culture of non-registration of (non-Christian) religious marriages which, through the privacy of such unions, can serve to conceal and validate abuses such as underage marriages and polygamous unions.
It remains to be seen what the outcome will be in the prosecution of Imam Riaz Tasawar in New South Wales. Will the union in question prove to be a 'void' marriage and thus against the law, or a 'non-marriage' and thus outside the scope of the law? A crucial difference is that, in contrast to the English situation, Australian marriage laws are not tied to the concept of a state church or any particular religion, so there is a much sounder basis for prosecution than there would be in the UK. In any case against Imam Riaz Tasawar will be an important test of Australia's apparently neglected marriage laws.
The central place of the established Church of England in the English Marriage Act of 1949 has attracted a good deal of recent attention in the deliberations of the English Parliament over revising marriage laws to allow same-sex unions. The debate has focussed on the tension between parliament's intention to change the marriage laws on the one hand, and the Church's rejection of same-sex unions on the other. A pressing question for the UK is whether the interests of vulnerable women and children would be better served by decoupling English marriage laws from a particular religion altogether, so that all religious marriage ceremonies can be placed on an equal footing under the one law, and Islamic marriages in particular can be regulated to the same extent as Christian or secular marriages.
If this were to happen, a key issue would be what constitutes a marriage. The comment of a 1973 Law Commission report on marriage laws in England and Wales is no less relevant today: "Unfortunately, the Act gives little indication of what are the minimum requirements of a form known to and recognised by our law … as capable of producing … a valid marriage."
Since the ceremonies of the Church of England can no longer be taken to be the yardstick by which a 'valid marriage' is defined – a situation which has become even clearer with the extension of marriage in England and Wales to same-sex couples – it should become a matter of some urgency for UK legislators to construct an agreed definition of marriage which will encompass non-Christian religious unions, so as to ensure there is equal protection afforded by the marriage laws to women in non-Christian marriages, and to allow the prosecution of those who conduct unregistered religious ceremonies.
There has been a great deal of debate in Western states about the function and purpose of marriage in recent years, much of it around same-sex unions. What is often forgotten is that the public registration of marriages, developed over centuries, was always intended as a device to prevent men from abusing women – and their dependent children – through poorly documented relationships. The recent rise in forced and underage religious marriages in Australia, and in other Western jurisdictions, underscores the need for greater vigilance on the part of the authorities to uphold and strengthen marriage laws. We can all learn a lesson from the shambolic failure of UK marriage laws to provide reasonable protection for women in non-Christian religious marriages.
It is concerning that in NSW no-one has been prosecuted for conducting an unregistered marriage in at least 20 years. It is equally troubling that despite the intense efforts devoted to extending marriage to same-sex couples in the UK, nothing has been done to bring non-Christian religious marriages under the scope of the marriage laws. This is despite the fact that the reasons for the state to enforce marriage laws through a transparent system of public registration by properly authorized celebrants are no less valid today than they were in centuries past. Not to do so is a failure of compassion. Why should women in Islamic marriages be treated as second class citizens, with fewer rights before the law than women in Christian or secular non-religious marriages?
**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.


Dozens of Young Men Burned to Ashes by Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria
Islamic Extremists Attack Government School,
Killing Male Students

2/26/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that at least 58 students were killed after Islamic militants attacked a secondary school in northeastern Nigeria late Monday night, February 24. The militants, suspected to be connected to Boko Haram, blocked the exits of a boys' dormitory, set it on fire and killed the boys who tried to escape the flames. Many of the boys who could not escape were burned alive.
In an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Ibrahim Abdul, a teacher at the Federal Governmental College located in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, said the militants arrived at the school "around 11:30 p.m. and operated till around 4 a.m., killing 29 students."
According to the most recent reports, at least 58 young men were killed in the attack. Many witnesses reported the Boko Haram militants either shot or slit the throats of boys who attempted to escape the burning buildings, but many died in the flames. "Some of the students' bodies were burned to ashes," Police Commissioner Sanusi Rufai told CBS News. One Christian charity active in Nigeria claims the death toll could rise above 100.
"I heard the cries of some people outside the school even before they [the militants] invaded the school," a student who survived the attack told Open Doors International, as reported by Christian Today. "From where I was hiding I could hear other students crying at the top of their voices. I saw fire on the roofs of the hostels and other buildings in the school. But God saved my life. After they killed the students and burnt the structures, they fled."
In an interview with ICC, Special Counsel for The Justice for Jos Project, Emmanuel Ogebe linked attacks on federal schools to Christian persecution and explained why the Christian population is hard hit by these attacks. "There are already confirmed reports of Christian victims," Ogebe said. "There is a high likelihood that many Christians attended the school since many northern state governments, like Yobe, spend public funds on Islamic schools and discourage Christian schools," Ogebe explained."The federal schools [like the school in Buni Yadi] afford a rare opportunity for Christians to send their kids to government-owned non-Islamic school."
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is a sin," has a stated goal of establishing a separate Islamic state in Nigeria's northern and central regions where it can implement its ultra-conservative interpretation of Sharia law. Boko Haram often targets schools, government institutions and religious minorities, mostly Christians, as part of a broader strategy to create a purely Islamic society in northern Nigeria. In 2012, Boko Haram demanded all Christians living in northern and central Nigeria to flee south. Since then, Boko Haram has targeted the Christian minority with church bombings, drive-by shootings and deadly raids on Christian villages as part of its strategy to 'purify' northern and central Nigeria.
ICC's Regional Manager, William Stark, said, "Boko Haram continues to operate almost unchallenged in northern Nigeria, unleashing unending violence on civilian populations. This heinous attack on the school in Yobe state comes less than a week after Boko Haram militants raided the Christian village of Izghe in Borno state, killing over 100 Christian villagers because of their religious identity. ICC has applauded action taken by the U.S. to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2013, but more decisive action must be taken. The Nigerian government, who declared a state of emergency in several of Nigeria's northern states, has shown an inability or unwillingness to protect civilians from Boko Haram. If no decisive action is taken either by the U.S. or Nigeria, the unbelievable violence being perpetrated in Nigeria will continue to accelerate and will likely reach genocidal levels in the near future if it has not already."

China’s assertiveness leaves its neighbors anxious
By David Ignatius/The Washington Post
Published: February 26/14
A Chinese military expert is explaining to a conference here what he sees as the benign inevitability of Beijing’s rising power in the Pacific. “You should trust China,” he says cheerily. “In 10 years, we will be much stronger, and you will feel safer.”This prediction did not appear to reassure most of the several dozen European and American experts who had gathered for discussions last weekend. Instead, there was a consensus, even among most of the Chinese participants, that Beijing’s growing military power has worried its neighbors and led to friction with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam over disputed islands and maritime rights.
“You think we are a bully,” concedes the Chinese military expert. “We think we are a victim.” But nobody in the room disagreed about the reality that tensions in the Pacific are rising — and that China and its neighbors cannot seem to find a way out. This leaves the United States awkwardly in between, trying to support traditional allies such as Japan without encouraging them to take reckless moves.
It is a sign of the times that delegates here talk openly about the danger of war in the Pacific. That’s a big change from the tone of similar gatherings just a few years ago, when Chinese officials often tried to reassure foreign experts that a rising China wasn’t on a collision course with the United States or regional powers. Now, in the East and South China seas, the collision seems all too possible.
Just two weeks ago, U.S. Navy Capt. James Fanell warned at a conference in San Diego that China had been training for a “short, sharp war” to assert primacy over islands claimed by Japan as the Senkakus and by China as the Diaoyus. “I do not know how Chinese intentions could be more transparent,” he said, noting that Beijing’s talk of “protection of maritime rights” was actually “a Chinese euphemism for the coerced seizure of coastal rights of China’s neighbors.”
This is the Asian real-world backdrop for U.S. debates over military spending. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Washington on Monday that the Pentagon “will continue to shift its operational focus and forces to the Asia-Pacific.” But will allies such as Japan and the Philippines be bolstered by such talk at a time when the United States is sharply cutting the number of troops and warplanes — and will potential adversaries such as China be deterred?
The changing political-military map in Asia formed the context for last weekend’s meeting of the Stockholm China Forum, an annual event organized by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (of which I’m a trustee). The not-for-attribution discussions were surprisingly frank on all sides. But they dispelled, at least for me, the hope that China would continue deferring to a powerful United States. Instead, we’re clearly entering a period of greater Chinese assertiveness, especially in maritime issues.
The Shanghai discussions also highlighted what’s ahead for the United States in what strategists see as its role as “offshore balancer” of Chinese power. The United States is committed by treaty to defend Japanese administrative control in the Senkaku Islands; the U.S. military has plans to defeat any Chinese “short, sharp war” there. But the United States doesn’t want to get dragged into war over a few crags of rock, either, so Washington is also urging caution to Tokyo.
The Senkaku situation is tense because Chinese coast guard vessels and planes shadow the islands every day. This harassment has settled into a pattern whose very predictability is one of the few stable elements in the dispute. But given that no diplomatic resolution is in sight, Beijing and Tokyo need channels for crisis communication — lest Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s analogy last month to the run-up to World War I prove true.
In the South China Sea, China’s ambitions involve what it calls the “nine-dash line,” which vaguely asserts Chinese maritime claims almost to the coasts of Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. This line has no legal foundation, in the United States’ view, and even the Chinese don’t define just what the line represents. The Philippine government has filed an international arbitration claim challenging the nine-dash demarcation, so perhaps legal limits will be placed on China’s maritime expansion.
When Chinese officials meet at international conferences such as the one in Shanghai, they often talk about “win-win cooperation.” It’s a soothing concept, and it has become the elevator music of international meetings. But looking at the Pacific region, it’s hard to see any such spirit of compromise at work.


Missiles and the fear of Syria’s opposition
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabyia
Russia’s foreign affairs ministry was ahead of Syria’s when warning of arming the Syrian opposition with advanced weapons - air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles. The Russian statements were directed against news that Saudi Arabia intends to seal a deal that breaks the international ban on Syria’s rebels. This is a very critical issue, and it’s also complicated due to security, political and legal reasons. Russia’s excuse - and previously also America’s excuse - is that Syrian opposition extremists, or those participating in the fighting with them, may use these weapons to down jets or engage in wars outside Syria. This has been a source of worry since day one of the revolution. This worry has pushed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime - along with Iran’s support - to play the al-Qaeda card and enable terrorist groups, like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front in Syria in order to terrify not only the West but the entire world, including the Gulf states. There are fears that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda will tomorrow down civilian airplanes in any place it infiltrates or that it will target civilians in Europe or the Gulf, or any country which is in a state of war against these terrorist groups. We must not forget that it never attacked Iran or Israel or Syria before this war. It’s not unlikely that the Syrian regime may commit these acts itself - acts of launching rockets and then blaming the opposition in order to terrify the world and besiege the opposition by sabotaging its international relations.
No finale
Syrian opposition leaders and Western officials have discussed this issue several times. It’s because of this issue that the opposition was only provided with simple weapons that cannot finalize the war in its favor. This is happening at a time when the Russians and the Iranians are supplying Assads forces with advanced weaponry which has killed over 100,000 people so far.
Prolonging the war by depriving the opposition of arms that finalize the war in its favor means prolonging the age of ISIS and al-Nusra Front
This injustice must push those concerned not to accept this ban and insist on reconsidering it. I believe that a certain segment of the opposition can be trusted and equipped with advanced arms and that all guarantees can be achieved to avoid suspicious parties from attaining missiles or using them outside Syrian airspace. The other solution may to ban arming both parties and thus leave the war in a state of a tie.
The Russians are afraid of arming the opposition with advanced weapons because they, and the Iranians, provide direct military support on the ground - including on the level of managing aerial shelling. This help has come in Assad’s favor during the second half of the war. Assad’s forces without jets and tanks cannot confront the armed opposition. Proof to that is that rebel groups bloodied the militias of Hezbollah which is getting help logistic and aerial help from the Iranian axis. Meanwhile, the Russians want their ally to resume destroying all areas where there’s opposition, regardless of how many civilians die on a daily basis.
Not the case
Due to legal and political reasons, countries in support of arming the opposition - such as Saudi Arabia - cannot risk defying the world by equipping the opposition with advanced weapons unless concerned parties agree. This is not the case yet. The paradox is that although these countries stand with the Syrian people during its ordeal, they are aware that the presence of the ISIS, al-Nusra and similar groups pose a threat to them later. This is why Syria’s war is complicated. There’s fighting among three parties. There’s the Assad regime which represents Iran, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, and the Free Syrian Army. which is considered the only hope for a united and acceptable Syria. We know that the coalition of Iran’s military axis - the Iranian revolutionary guards, Assad’s forces, Hezbollah and Iraq’s militias - is suffering from a severe drainage of its capabilities and forces during the conflict in the biggest war they’ve been involved in. If the Syrian regime loses the war, it will be the biggest strike against Iran and it will also be the end of Hezbollah as a militant power. This explains why the Iranian axis is sacrificing blood and money to win this war.
Impossible survival
Despite that, we repeat that it’s almost impossible for Assad’s regime to survive – whether the war continues and even if support increases. This is because of the size of the regime’s structure, the collapse of its security institutions, its enmity with the sweeping majority of Syrians and its complete dependence on Iran and Hezbollah. The only thing it can buy from its partial victory is to exit governance towards exile or perhaps reach a peaceful solution that maintains some regime remnants. Prolonging the war by depriving the opposition of arms that finalize the war in its favor means prolonging the age of ISIS and al-Nusra Front and increasing the capabilities of these groups - not only in Syria but in the entire region. Not supplying the opposition with missiles will not protect a few jets here and there. Rather, it will increase the threat of terrorists across the world.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 27, 2013.

Israel’s new game plan with Hezbollah and Syria
Joyce Karam/Al Arabyia
Under late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and for 29 years, Israel did not once directly strike Syria outside the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. This dynamic is quickly changing today, as the internal conflict spreads inside Syria, and Israel repeatedly violates the country’s airspace launching more than five strikes in the last two years, and one on the Lebanese border this week allegedly targeting a Hezbollah weapons transfer. Publicly, Israel has not taken responsibility to any of those strikes, probably in an attempt to contain the repercussions. But everything from the nature of the attacks to the locations and the parties targeted implicates the Israeli air power machinery, and “there is no reason to think it is not the case,” says Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
A new pattern
The six strikes that Israel carried recently began in Damascus on Jan. 30 of last year, then hit Latakia before reaching Lebanon and targeting the border town of Nabi Sheet last Monday. The strike inside Lebanon reportedly targeting an arms shipment to Hezbollah, enforces an “old new redline” according to White. He tells Al-Arabiya News that “part of the policy and the red line they (Israel) have established is they will not allow Hezbollah to acquire sophisticated weapons from Syria or from Iran through Syria.”
Israel has “made it clear that when they have the intelligence that indicates a shipment or weapons delivery is going to occur, they are going to strike it.”
So far, both Assad and Hezbollah have avoided retaliating to Israel, and instead promised to ‘respond at a time and place’ of their choosing
The fluidity of the situation in Syria and the deep involvement of Hezbollah in the fighting that enters its fourth year next month has heightened Israeli and U.S. concerns about the risk of the Assad regime passing sophisticated weapons to the Lebanese group. Jeffrey White who worked for 34 years with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency lists the type of weapons that qualify in this category. Primarily, they include “sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles that would threaten Israel’s ability to operate its air force.”
This means targeting “the SA 17 missiles, S-300 system if it were to be sent to Syria.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin last year that his government would hit the S-300 missiles if they were to be delivered to Assad. Among the weaponry that could be targeted by Israel are “surface to surface missiles, particularly the ones that have accurate capability,” says White, as well as “anti-ship cruise missiles, that Israel struck near Latakia” twice recently.
Less fear of retaliation
The frequency in Israel’s strikes is a product of the Syrian conflict and “a larger capability for Israel to operate with reduced risk against Syria or Hezbollah, and hence a greater ability to act” explains White.
So far, both Assad and Hezbollah have avoided retaliating to Israel, and instead promised to “respond at a time and place” of their choosing. But the reality on the ground, and the bitter long track of the Syrian conflict shows a difficult path for Hezbollah or the Syrian regime to respond imminently. “Fighting two fronts at the same time is not on the table,” says White, pointing to a “constrained Hezbollah” and degraded Syrian army.
Hezbollah certainly “has options to but they all are risky” says White. Those options include “attacking Israeli interest not along the border, but Europe or South America”, a mission that has proven more complex after the indictment in the Bulgaria bombing in 2012, and the jailing of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus in 2013 over plotting such attacks.
Risk Hezbollah, says White, could also choose to “carry limited military action on the Lebanese border using surrogates or its own members in the hopes that the Israelis would not react to it.” But that entails lot of risk if Israel escalates. The Golan Heights is another front where Hezbollah and the Assad regime could “create an incident” says the expert, but there is also the risk of heavy Israeli retaliation.
Despite the six strikes, “there is a degree of mutual deterrence now,” and to avoid an open war between Israel and Hezbollah, that the party might choose to keep. As for Assad, the “capacity of his regime to strike against Israel is greatly degraded by the war and the Syrian military apparatus has been significantly weakened,” adds White.
For the time being and “unless one side decides to quit or get into significant escalation” it is fair to expect the pattern of strikes to continue if and when Hezbollah tries to acquire sophisticated weapons. It is a pattern that reflects a new geopolitical and military balance for Israel, and a more complex reality for Hezbollah.


Pro-Moscow coup in Crimea. Russian fighter jets on W. border on combat alert. Kiev deploys security forces
DEBKAfile Special Report February 27, 2014/The Russian defense ministry announced Thursday, Feb. 27 that fighter jets stood on combat alert along its western borders with Ukraine. Moscow repeated its commitment to protect Russian-speaking elements in the Crimean Peninsula. Earlier, armed men carried out a pro-Russian coup in the Crimean capital, by seizing government and parliamentary buildings and hoisting Russian flags – in response to the pro-European coup in Kiev. Forces loyal to the provisional government in Kiev meanwhile surround the area which they say was occupied by “criminals in army fatigues.”
The pro-Russian coup came on the heels of a day of violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-European protesters in the Crimean capital, prompting a Russian military alert. DEBKAfile: Witnesses in Crimea Wednesday night saw Russian military equipment moving into the peninsula. We reported earlier that Vladimir Putin would never relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there - or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol.
Read DEBKAfile's report of Wednesday, Feb. 26.
There is no way that President Vladimir Putin will relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there - or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. This military stronghold is the key to Russia’s Middle East policy. If it is imperiled, so too are Russia’s military posture in Syria and its strategic understandings with Iran.
This peril raised its head Wednesday, Feb. 26, when pro-Russian and pro-European protesters clashed violently in the Crimean town of Simferopol, the Peninsula’s financial and highway hub.
Most of the protesters against Moscow were members of the minority Tatar community, who had gathered from around the region to demand that Crimea accept Kiev rule.
The majority population is Russian speaking and fought the Tatar demonstrators. However, rival historic claims to this strategic peninsula were in full flight, sparking red lights in Moscow to danger.
The Tatars ruled Crimea in the 18th century. If they manage to expel Russian influence from Simferopol and then the rest of the region, it would be the signal for dozens of the small peoples who make up the Russian Federation to go into separatist mode and raise the flags of mutiny. The Kremlin is therefore bound to nip the Tatar outbreak in the bud to save Russia.
And so, Putin ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to stage an urgent four-day drill to test the combat readiness of Russian military forces in central and western Russia, starting with a high alert for the military and the deployment of some units to shooting ranges.
The exercise will involve Russia’s Baltic and Northern Fleets and its air force.
In a televised statement after a meeting of top military officials in Moscow, defense minister Gen. Shoigu said the forces “must be ready to bomb unfamiliar testing grounds” and be "ready for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security.”
A senior Russian lawmaker on Tuesday told pro-Russia activists in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula that Moscow will protect them if their lives are in danger.
The Russian president’s military move Wednesday signaled his readiness to send his army into Ukraine and divide the country, if Moscow’s national interests and the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine are at stake. Having broadcast that message, Putin will now wait to see if it picked up by Washington and Brussels for action to restrain the new authorities in Kiev.
But it is no longer certain how much control Western powers have over the former protesters of Kiev, who appear to have taken the bit between their teeth.