January 07/14


Bible Quotation for today/The Enemy of Christ
01 John 02:18-29: " My children, the end is near! You were told that the Enemy of Christ would come; and now many enemies of Christ have already appeared, and so we know that the end is near.  These people really did not belong to our fellowship, and that is why they left us; if they had belonged to our fellowship, they would have stayed with us. But they left so that it might be clear that none of them really belonged to us. But you have had the Holy Spirit poured out on you by Christ, and so all of you know the truth. I write you, then, not because you do not know the truth; instead, it is because you do know it, and you also know that no lie ever comes from the truth. Who, then, is the liar? It is those who say that Jesus is not the Messiah. Such people are the Enemy of Christ—they reject both the Father and the Son.  For those who reject the Son reject also the Father; those who accept the Son have the Father also. Be sure, then, to keep in your hearts the message you heard from the beginning. If you keep that message, then you will always live in union with the Son and the Father.  And this is what Christ himself promised to give us—eternal life. I am writing this to you about those who are trying to deceive you.  But as for you, Christ has poured out his Spirit on you. As long as his Spirit remains in you, you do not need anyone to teach you. For his Spirit teaches you about everything, and what he teaches is true, not false. Obey the Spirit's teaching, then, and remain in union with Christ. Yes, my children, remain in union with him, so that when he appears we may be full of courage and need not hide in shame from him on the Day he comes.  You know that Christ is righteous; you should know, then, that everyone who does what is right is God's child.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 07/14

Hezbollah's Ideological Crisis/By: Matthew Levitt/Times of Israel/January 07/14
The Jordan Valley: Israel's security belt/By: Efraim Inbarl/Israel Hayom/January 07/14

Iran looking beyond the nuclear issue/By: Shahir Shahid Saless/Asharq Alawsat/January 07/14

The Syrian Coalition and the challenges ahead/By: Fayez Sara/Asharq Alawsat/January 07/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 07/14

Lebanese Related News

Pope reaches out to 'indifferent' Catholics on Epiphany, says he respects them

Report: Contacts Ongoing to Persuade Pope to Visit Lebanon in May

Geagea Strongly Opposes Formation of All-Embracing Cabinet

Several March 14 Figures Threatened

STL Trial Chamber to Hold a Third Pre-Trial Conference 0
Suleiman Condemns Linking Cabinet to Presidential Vote: Why Can't Lebanese Have a Neutral Govt.?
U.N. Sends Invites for Geneva 2, Iran Not on First List

Jabal Mohsen Man Assaulted in al-Baqqar

Plumbly Meets Saudi Officials, Stresses Importance of Supporting Lebanese

Saudi Condemns Dahieh Blast, Calls for Extending Army Authority across Lebanon

Hizbullah Delegation Meets Qabbani: Ties with Mufti Constantly Evolving

March 14 General Secretariat Suspends Weekly Meetings, to Hold Talks 'Away from Spotlight'

Hareit Hreik Death Toll Rises to Five after al-Manar Journalist Dies

Airport Customs Thwart Attempt by Lebanese to Smuggle Cocaine

Qaouq Says Nusra, ISIL 'Present in Lebanon', Urges Formation of Unity Govt.

Dark days ahead for Lebanon

U.S. Embassy warns citizens of possible attacks

Hezbollah undeterred by ISIS claim, threats

Salam rebuffs Jumblatt’s new Cabinet proposal

Al-Manar reporter wounded in Beirut bombing dies  

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Iran FM says his country is model of democracy for region

Syria Rebels Lay Siege to Qaida-Linked Jihadists in Raqa

Syrian Authorities Reportedly Drafting Law to Impose Visas on Arabs

Syria Rebels, Regime Agree Truce in Damascus' Barzeh

Syria rebel infighting spreads to city in east
Handle with care

Kuwait Prime Minister Reshuffles Cabinet

Egypt Summons Iran Envoy over Crackdown Comments

U.S. Says Iran Should Urge Syria to Halt Bombings before Peace Talks

Iraq PM urges Falluja to expel Al-Qaeda-linked militants
Ex-U.K. foreign minister Straw visiting Iran
In surprise move, Hamas signals readiness for reconciliation with Fatah

Suleiman Condemns Linking Cabinet to Presidential Vote: Why Can't Lebanese Have a Neutral Govt.?

Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/President Michel Suleiman on Monday condemned attempts to link the cabinet formation process to the May presidential election, wondering why can't the Lebanese have a “neutral government” after 10 months of political vacuum. “Should we fail to form an all-embracing political cabinet, don't people have the right to contribute to the formation of a neutral government? In the absence of consensus on an inclusive cabinet, do we have to stay without a cabinet?” Suleiman wondered in a televised speech he delivered at the Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture in Beirut. “Is an agreement on a cabinet equivalent to national agreement? Don't the nonpartisan Lebanese have the right to contribute to the rise of the country and would these people undermine national unity?” the president added. However, he pointed out that “the door of consultations is still open and we hope the PM-designate will reach a solution that can pull the country out of its constitutional crisis.” The president noted that Lebanon is facing “several challenges, including the Syrian refugee crisis,” calling on the Lebanese to “intensify efforts to preserve security, confront terrorist operations, calm down the political rhetoric and close ranks, in line with the Baabda Declaration.” Suleiman stressed that it is impossible to “fight unemployment and poverty and achieve prosperity” without “the formation of a cabinet that is capable of addressing people's affairs, overseeing the presidential vote and securing the election of a new parliament.”“Have we acted with responsibility that respects the confidence placed in us by citizens? Do we realize that the human remains that fly in a certain blast might be those of a dear person or relative?” the president said. “A cabinet that reassures investors must be formed, a new president must be elected and parliamentary elections must be held,” he stressed. “We are performing our duties towards citizens. How can we be less keen on our country than the international community and the brotherly nations? Is it reasonable to say that the initiatives of the International Support Group and Saudi Arabia are aimed at extending the president's term or at forming a cabinet with a certain affiliation or structure?” added Suleiman. He asked if the president's role was “limited to rejecting the line-ups that might be submitted by the PM-designate.” “What is the maximum timeframe that the president has regarding postponement? Are you convinced that the formation of a new cabinet would have an effect on the presidential election? No, citizens know this and they know about the obstruction that happened in the past,” he said. “I pledge to you that we will spare no effort to achieve prosperity for citizens and I hope people won't allow that their dreams be stolen by those who are seeking to drag them into strife and war,” the president added.


Pope reaches out to 'indifferent' Catholics on Epiphany, says he respects them
By The Associated Press | The Canadian Press –VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis offered another gesture to Catholics who are estranged from the church, saying Monday he respects them but that God is waiting for them.
Francis made the comments after he celebrated Epiphany, a major Catholic feast day that recalls the visit to the infant Jesus Christ by three kings. "I would like to tell all those who feel far from God and the church — and I say this respectfully to those who are afraid or indifferent: The Lord calls you and wants you to be part of his people and does so with great respect and love!" Francis said. "The Lord doesn't proselytize, he gives love and this love looks for you, waits for you — for you who don't believe or have drifted away. This is the love of God." Francis has made a priority of reaching out to atheists and Catholics marginalized by their church, particularly gays. He has tasked priests, bishops and cardinals with going out to preach on the margins of society and not wait for the faithful to come back to the church. Francis himself is leaving the Vatican on Monday to go visit a Rome church where parishioners are acting out Jesus' nativity scene.


Report: Contacts Ongoing to Persuade Pope to Visit Lebanon in May
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Pope Francis expressed readiness to visit Lebanon during a trip planned to the Holly Land, al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Monday. According to the daily, contacts are ongoing with the Vatican to convince the pontiff to make a brief visit to Beirut during his first trip to the Holy Land, visiting Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem in May. Maronite sources recently voiced hope for a possible trip to Lebanon to preach reconciliation in the region. On Sunday, Pope Francis told crowds gathered in St Peter's Square for the traditional Angelus prayer that he will carry out a “ pilgrimage to the Holy Land from May 24 to 26.” Francis said the date of the announcement -- January 5 -- was significant because it "commemorates the historic meeting between pope Paul VI and patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople", 50 years ago. Francis said he would hold an "ecumenical meeting with all the representatives of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem" at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in east Jerusalem, which encloses the sites where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried and resurrected. Among those attending, he said, would be the current patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew. The assembly of Catholic bishops in the Holy Land warmly welcomed the announcement, expressing confidence that the trip would not be only an international event, but "mainly a message of love and brotherhood to all" those living in the countries Francis visits. Francis was invited to visit the Holy Land by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who said he would "walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ". The 77-year-old pontiff has made many appeals for peace in the Middle East. During his meeting with Abbas, he called for "a just and lasting solution" to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Reacting to Sunday's announcement, Abbas said the visit could "contribute to easing the burden of the Palestinian people who aspire to freedom, justice and independence," the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. The pontiff's visit had been anticipated by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, which said Francis would celebrate a high mass in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The daily said Israeli authorities were unhappy with the brevity of the visit and the fact that the prelate will not celebrate mass in Israel, but in the West Bank, which is part of the Palestinian territories. Francis made no mention of plans to hold a mass in Bethlehem in his Sunday announcement. Unconfirmed information from Roman Catholic sources in the Holy Land had earlier indicated a possible papal visit to a refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan.The Argentine pontiff's predecessor, Benedict XVI, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2009. Israel and the Vatican first established full diplomatic relations in 1993, but have been engaged in years of thorny diplomatic negotiations over property rights and tax exemptions for the Catholic Church, which have yet to be fully resolved. The Vatican used the term "State of Palestine" for the first time in January 2013.


Geagea Strongly Opposes Formation of All-Embracing Cabinet
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reiterated on Monday his rejection to the formation of an all-embracing cabinet, stressing the importance of carrying out the presidential elections on time. “We are passing through a delicate stage and only five months separate us from the presidential elections deadline... The only reasonable thing is to form a cabinet that aims at achieving Lebanon's highest interest without March 8 and 14 alliances,” Geagea said in an interview with al-Akhbar newspaper. He accused the March 8 alliance of obstructing the formation of the government by “terrorizing and threatening others.”
The Christian leader wondered why Hizbullah didn't discuss with the Lebanese sides it's plans to get involved in battles in war-torn Syria. “We seek partnership with the Lebanese foes on all levels but they are not ready to do so,” Geagea said. Asked about Speaker Nabih Berri's proposal to form a three-eight government in which the March 14 and 8 coalitions would have a so-called “decisive or key minister,” Geagea said that it's a disguised formula to Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat's 9-9-6 cabinet lineup. The March 14 alliance insists on the formation of a neutral Cabinet. “We reject these formulas because participating in a cabinet with Hizbullah indicates our approval on its regional strategies and acts ,” the LF leader said. Geagea urged President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to swiftly form a cabinet that fits their convictions to oversee the upcoming presidential elections. “We reject any regional or international settlement concerning the presidential elections... And reject any attempts by some European countries to pressure Lebanese foes to name the president in advance,” he pointed out. Salam was appointed in April but has so far been unable to put together a government over the conditions and counter conditions set by the rivals parties as fears mount that the differences between the March 8 and 14 camps would lead to a vacuum the presidential post. Suleiman's six-year tenure ends in May 2014. Concerning the latest bomb attacks targeting several areas in Beirut, Geagae noted that the “Lebanese foes should swiftly form a cabinet to end the security deterioration.”eek, a suicide car blast killed four people in the Hizbullah bastion. An al-Qaida affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack Saturday.
On December 27, a car bomb attack killed eight people including former ex-Finance Minister and ex-PM Saad Hariri's adviser Mohammed Shatah, who strongly opposes Syria President Bashar Assad's regime. That attack took place in the heart of the Lebanese capital.Analysts say Lebanon is suffering an accelerating wave of violence that reflects the conflict in neighboring Syria, which in nearly three years has killed nearly 130,000 people.


Hizbullah Delegation Meets Qabbani: Ties with Mufti Constantly Evolving
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani held talks on Monday with a delegation from Hizbullah that condemned the recent assault against the cleric. Sheikh Abdul Majid Ammar of Hizbullah said after the talks: “Ties with the Mufti are constantly evolving.” “Our visit was aimed at checking on the well-being of the Mufti in light of assault and we relayed to him the regards of Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah,” he continued. “The assault against the cleric does not reflect the morals and values of the sect he represents,” he added, while slamming political rhetoric “that is aimed at creating strife.”
Asked by reporters if the incitement against Qabbani stems from his ties with Hizbullah, Ammar replied: “Our relations with the Mufti are constantly evolving despite all attempts to tarnish them.”The ties will remain based on common values “and therefore all attempts to harm this relationship will fail”, he remarked. Qabbani on December 29 attended the funeral of Mohammed Chaar, a youth killed during the December 27 Starco blast in downtown Beirut. Mourners at the funeral were angered by his arrival and began chanting slogans against him, prompting members of the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau's Strike Force to escort him out of the al-Khasheqji Mosque where the funeral was being held. Qabbani considered that the protesters were seeking to “kill him” upon his arrival at the premises. The Mufti's ties with al-Mustaqbal deteriorated last year when he met with a delegation from Hizbullah the same day the Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four party members in former Premier Rafik Hariri's February 2005 assassination. Relations between the two sides were also shaken when the Mufti met with Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdul Karim Ali, whom al-Mustaqbal and the March 14 opposition alliance have on several occasions said should be expelled.

Several March 14 Figures Threatened
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Several prominent March 14 politicians and media figures, who oppose Syria's regime and its ally Hizbullah, have been threatened, the state-run National News Agency reported on Sunday. The report comes less than a fortnight after a car bombing in central Beirut killed eight people including anti-Syria former finance minister and member of the March 14 coalition Mohammed Shatah. The NNA said Strida Geagea, a Christian member of parliament, March 14 member and wife of Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, had a series of threats sent to her mobile phone. "At 5:00 pm (15:00 GMT) on January 4, MP Strida Geagea started receiving calls on her mobile phone from several local, international and hidden numbers," the agency said, quoting the politician's media office. A statement said Geagea's colleagues answered the calls, and heard "personal threats against her life, insults and obscenities". More such calls came on Sunday, the NNA said. The threats were reported to the security forces, whom Geagea's office said should "take the necessary measures" to identify the callers. A string of other figures have received similar threats, the statement said. They include al-Mustaqbal lawmaker Ahmed Fatfat, outspoken TV presenter Nadim Koteich and assassination attempt survivor and journalist May Chidiac. All are seen as high-profile opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and its ally, Hizbullah. Hizbullah sent thousands of fighters into Syria to help Assad's troops in their bid to crush the revolt that erupted nearly three years ago. Reports have also emerged that Sunni politician and al-Mustaqbal MP Khaled al-Daher, a fierce critic of the Damascus regime, has also received threats against his life. Shatah's death on December 27 was the latest in a string of nine high-profile assassinations of Syria critics that began in February 2005 with former prime minister Rafik Hariri's murder. Syria and Hizbullah have systematically denied any links to the attacks. The trial of Rafik Hariri's alleged killers by the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon is due to open on January 16. Four members of Hizbullah are to be tried in absentia for the suicide bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others on the Beirut seafront in 2005. A fifth suspect, Hassan Habib Merhi, was indicted in October. Syria dominated Lebanon for nearly 30 years until the international outcry over Hariri's killing forced Assad's troops out. However, Damascus still exerts influence over Lebanon through its allies. Source/Agence France Presse.


Plumbly Meets Saudi Officials, Stresses Importance of Supporting Lebanese Army
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly on Monday met with top Saudi officials and stressed the importance of international support for the Lebanese Army, according to a statement issued by his office. “He met with senior Saudi officials, including the Second Deputy Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Royal Highness Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz,” said the statement. “Discussions during the visit, which had been planned for some weeks, focused on the support agenda for Lebanon and the region ahead of the conference on Syrian refugees which is to be held in Kuwait on January 15, and following the meetings of the International Support Group for Lebanon which was inaugurated in New York in September,” it added. Following his talks with the Saudi officials, Plumbly noted “the crucial importance of the Lebanese Armed Forces for security and stability in Lebanon and the calls by the (U.N.) Security Council, the (U.N.) Secretary-General and the International Support Group for international assistance in support of the LAF.” He warmly welcomed “the very generous pledge of assistance from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in that regard recently announced by President (Michel) Suleiman.”
On Sunday, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's office said he received a phone call from Plumbly during which they discussed the latest developments in Lebanon and the region.
“The conversation focused in particular on the issue of the Syrian refugees and the efforts exerted by the international organization to help them meet their basic needs,” the office said. On December 29, President Suleiman announced that Saudi Arabia had pledged to donate $3 billion to buy French weapons for the Lebanese Army. French President Francois Hollande, who was on a visit to Saudi Arabia, said his country would "meet" any requests from Lebanon.

Saudi Condemns Dahieh Blast, Calls for Extending Army Authority across Lebanon

Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/The Saudi cabinet on Monday condemned the bombing that rocked Haret Hreik and the blast that killed former minister Mohammed Shatah, describing them as “terrorist” attacks. Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja said his government stressed “the kingdom's condemnation of the two terrorist bombings that have recently occurred in Beirut.” The Saudi cabinet called on all Lebanese parties to endorse “the approach of wisdom and reason” and to “put their country's interest above the narrow factional interests which are exhausting Lebanon and its assets.”It also stressed the need for “the Lebanese state and its army to extend their authority across Lebanese territory to stop the tampering with the security of Lebanon and the Lebanese.” On December 29, President Suleiman announced that Saudi Arabia had pledged to donate $3 billion to buy French weapons for the Lebanese Army. French President Francois Hollande, who was on a visit to Saudi Arabia, said his country would "meet" any requests from Lebanon. Source/Agence France Presse

STL Trial Chamber to Hold a Third Pre-Trial Conference

Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/The Trial Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will hold a third Pre-Trial Conference on Thursday 9 January in preparation for the start of the trial in the Ayyash et al. Case, announced the STL in a statement on Monday. The Pre-Trial Conference, which will be public, will begin at 10:30 AM (Central European Time). The Trial Chamber may decide to go into closed session if confidential matters need to be discussed. The start of trial in the Ayyash et al. case is scheduled for January 16, 2014. The STL was set up to tackle the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.In 2011, it indicted four Hizbullah members,Mustafa Amin Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra, were indicted in the attack. A fifth Hizbullah suspect, Hassan Habib Merhi, was indicted in 2013. Earlier in December, STL spokesman Marten Youssef said that joining the cases of Ayyash et al. and Merhi is up to the international judges. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has rejected the STL, describing it as an American-Israeli product bent on destroying the party. He has vowed never to cooperate with the tribunal, saying that the suspects, who remain at large, will never be found.

Hareit Hreik Death Toll Rises to Five after al-Manar Journalist Dies
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/The death toll of last week's deadly bombing in the Beirut's southern suburb of Haret Hreik rose to five as Al-Manar TV journalist Abbas Karnib succumbed to his wounds on Monday. Karnib, who had worked for more than 20 years in the TV station, was submitted to Bahman hospital after being critically injured in the head. The al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on Saturday claimed credit for the bombing that killed four people and wounded 77 others. It was the latest strike against Hizbullah, whose fighters are aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad. The army said Saturday that a young man from the North was the bomber who blew himself up. "The DNA test results on the remains of a suicide attacker found in the car used in the bomb attack... confirm they belong to the youth Qutaiba al-Satem," said the army. "Investigations are ongoing by the relevant judicial authorities to uncover the full details of the event," it added. An official from Satem's native area of Wadi Khaled told Agence France Presse on Friday suspicions over the 20-year-old's role were based on a family document found at the scene of the blast. Satem's father was then called in for DNA tests.

Airport Customs Thwart Attempt by Lebanese to Smuggle Cocaine

Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Customs agents at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport foiled on Monday an attempt by a Lebanese national to smuggle 4 kilograms of cocaine into the country, the state-run National News Agency reported. The 49-year-old man, who was identified by his initials A. D., who was returning to Beirut from Cyrpus was detained and referred to the Anti-Drug Bureau. According to the NNA, the seized quantity was packed in a professional way in a double bottom suitcase. The airport had previously thwarted several attempts to smuggle cocaine into the country.

Jabal Mohsen Man Assaulted in al-Baqqar

Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Unknown assailants on Monday beat up a young man who hails from the Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen in an apparent sectarian attack. LBCI television identified the man as Ali Jaafar al-Zahab, saying he was assaulted in the Tripoli district of al-Baqqar. The army escorted the young man and was hearing his testimony in order to unveil the circumstances of the incident and pursue the perpetrators, the TV network said. On December 26, Jabal Mohsen man Khodr Abbas was shot and wounded in Tripoli's Syria Street. More than 20 attacks have targeted Jabal Mohsen residents in several areas of Tripoli in recent months. Tensions between Jabal Mohsen and the rival district of Bab al-Tabbaneh date back to Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war but have been exacerbated by the conflict across the border in Syria, where Alawite President Bashar Assad is battling a Sunni-led uprising. The unrest worsened when twin bombings rocked two Sunni mosques in the city, leaving around 45 people dead and 500 others wounded. Several suspects from Jabal Mohsen have been accused of involvement in the bombings. Human Rights Watch has recently urged Lebanese authorities to better protect minority Alawites — members of an offshoot Shiite sect — who are increasingly coming under attack by Sunnis in Tripoli. The New York-based watchdog said Alawites in Tripoli's Jabal Mohsen have been beaten and stabbed, and the whole community has endured gunbattles and mortar attacks over the past year.

Mansour: Majed al-Majed's Death Blow to Justice
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour noted on Monday that valuable information was lost with the death of the “emir” of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Majed al-Majed. He said: “His death is a blow to justice.” Plans his organization sought to carry out in Lebanon were also lost, he lamented. Majed, who was recently arrested, died on Saturday after the deterioration of his health. He was the suspected chief of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades that claimed responsibility for the November 19 bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut. Commenting on Saudi Arabia's grant of three billion dollars to the Lebanese army, Mansour said: “This grant is not enough to completely fortify Lebanon with a comprehensive defense policy seeing as the Zionist enemy enjoys an annual budget of USD 17 billion.”“The army currently cannot become strong without the resistance by its side,” remarked the minister. “The resistance's weapons will be withdrawn only when a defense strategy agreed upon by all sides is approved,” he added. He doubted that the grant will include fighter jets or anti-aircraft weapons, saying that it will likely be limited to logistic aid. President Michel Suleiman announced on December 29 that Saudi Arabia had pledged to grant Lebanon three billion dollars with the aim of purchasing French weapons for the Lebanese army as soon as possible.

U.N. Sends Invites for Geneva 2, Iran Not on First List

Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon on Monday started sending out invitations to a Syria peace conference on January 22, but Iran was not on the first list, a U.N. spokesman said. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on January 13 in a bid to decide on whether Iran should take part, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. "Iran was not among the first invitations," Haq said. "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on January 13 and we very much hope they will reach agreement on Iran's participation," he added. It was not known if U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would be at the January 13 meeting. Russia has pressed for Iran's participation in the bid to end the 34-month-old conflict. Ban has also spoken out in favor of Iranian involvement, but the United States and other western nations have opposed a frontline place for Tehran at the meetings in Switzerland. The January 22 meeting is to help implement a June 2012 Geneva declaration by the major powers, including Russia and the United States, that a transitional government be established in Syria. The United States has said Iran should not take part in the conference because it has refused to back the Geneva declaration. Source/Agence France Presse.

The Jordan Valley: Israel's security belt
by Efraim Inbarl/Israel Hayom
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is once again in town trying to reach a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. One of the issues of dispute is the fate of the Jordan Valley, which is indispensable for Israel's national security. The Jordan Valley is the only available defensible border on the eastern front, which is the closest border to Israel's heartland -- the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv-Haifa triangle -- which holds 70 percent of its population and 80% of its economic infrastructure.
Many pundits claim that Israel no longer needs the Jordan Valley as a shield against aggression from the east. They argue that the demise of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the weakening of civil-war-torn Syria, and the impressive stability of Jordan in light of the turmoil of the Arab world renders the threat of the eastern front and its proximity to Israel's center a thing of the past. Yet this is a very short-term perspective, motivated by the desire to convince the Israeli public opinion that the Jordan Valley is militarily dispensable. Such a view ignores the immense potential for political upheaval in the Middle East, as recently demonstrated during the Arab Spring. The destabilization of Hashemite Jordan and Saudi Arabia and a radical jihadist Syria are not far-fetched scenarios for the near future. The re-emergence of the eastern front as a security threat could soon follow.
Moreover, the U.S. decided to cut its losses and leave Iraq and Afghanistan, which constitutes a victory to all radical forces in the Middle East. A more energy-independent America might decide that it has less of a stake in the Middle East, allowing greater freedom of action to Islamist elements to take over American allies. Israel cannot count on the U.S. to always lend its weight to Arab moderates. Under President Barack Obama, Washington supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and might make the same strategic mistake in Jordan.
Advocates of turning over the Jordan Valley to the Palestinians also discount its topographical importance by referring to current military technology, which allows precision strikes from a distance. They argue that the ability to launch defensive strikes from the coast eliminates the strategic need for the Jordan Valley as a means of defense. Yet, these armchair strategists overlook the history of military technology, which shows a clear oscillation between the dominance of offensive and defensive measures over the centuries. The belief that the technology of today -- which indeed temporarily reduces the importance of topography -- will remain unchallenged constitutes a dangerous strategic fallacy.
Designing stable defensible borders in accordance with the current, but transient, technological state of the art and political circumstances is strategically foolish. Therefore, if Israel wants to maintain a defensible border along the Jordan Valley it also needs to secure the road from the coast to the Valley, via an undivided Jerusalem and via Maaleh Adumim -- 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the river. This is the only west-east axis with a Jewish majority and the only safe route via which Israel can mobilize troops from the coast to the Jordan Valley in a case of emergency.
Maaleh Adumim serves as the linchpin in establishing an effective line of defense along the Jordan Valley against aggression from the east. Building a Jewish populated corridor in the 5-kilometer-wide E1 area between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim will secure the road to the Jordan Valley and prevent the division of Jerusalem. Jerusalem's importance to the Jews is not only historical and religious, but also strategic. There is great importance in controlling the only highway from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River Valley along which Jews can travel with little interference from concentrations of the Arab population.
The Palestinians plan to populate E1 with Arabs to create demographic contiguity between Samaria and east Jerusalem, thereby facilitating the division of the city. Such a development would also isolate Maaleh Adumim and undermine Israeli claims to the Jordan Valley. Settling Jews in E1 is an imperative to keep Jerusalem united and to consolidate Israel's defensible border along the Jordan Valley.
The U.S. seems to understand Israel's strategic need for the Jordan Valley, but is opposed to linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem as a vital component of the eastern defensible border. Yet, we should remember that the U.S. has opposed Israeli settlement efforts since 1967 and only rarely did American objections have an impact on Israeli decisions on this issue. Moreover, the Americans can be persuaded to tacitly go along with linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem if a clear strategic vision based upon the principle of territorial compromise is presented.
While the wisdom of indiscriminately settling the Land of Israel is not strategically compelling and is a hard sell diplomatically, a selective settlement policy focusing on areas within the Israeli consensus, including Maaleh Adumim and the Jordan Valley, can be pursued with less foreign opposition. Willingness for a territorial compromise in Judea and Samaria is also the position of most Israelis. The government must act to reflect this preference to convince the Israeli public that it is seriously pursuing peace. Israelis need such an assurance to support the government in case of international pressure to make dangerous concessions, or to fight a war if necessary. A selective settlement policy that distinguishes between important and less important strategic areas requires a gradual freeze in building and allocations to isolated settlements, and should be complemented with the removal of illegal outposts located outside the areas of consensus. Building in E1 and the Jordan Valley will thus become easier in domestic and international terms. It is imperative to build homes for Jews there to establish a defensible line along Israel's eastern border. Hopefully Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will finally implement the announced plans.
**Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Syria Rebels Lay Siege to Qaida-Linked Jihadists in Raqa
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Rebel fighters were laying siege Monday to Al-Qaida-linked jihadists in their northern stronghold of Raqa, managing to free 50 people they had detained, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Raqa emerged as a new front Sunday in fighting among rebels battling to oust President Bashar Assad, with various groups joining forces against Al-Qaida affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
"The rebels have been laying siege to ISIL's headquarters in the city of Raqa since last night. They released 50 Syrian prisoners held by ISIL in another building," said the Observatory. Raqa is the only provincial capital to have fallen out of regime hands since the conflict erupted when regime opponents took up arms following a bloody crackdown by Assad's forces on democracy protests in March 2011. But soon afterwards it fell into the grip of ISIL, which is said to be holding hundreds of prisoners in their now besieged headquarters in the heart of Raqa. Among ISIL's abductees are scores of rival rebels, activists and journalists, including Westerners.
Monday's offensive in Raqa came three days after three powerful rebel alliances, including moderates and Islamists, launched what they called a second "revolution" against ISIS in the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib to its west. On Sunday the rebel infighting spread to the central province of Hama, as well as Raqa, and the Observatory says scores of insurgents have been killed on both sides. A key complaint against ISIL among rebels -- including the massive Islamic Front, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and nascent Mujahedeen Army -- is that its jihadists refuse to operate within the broader opposition dynamic. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "the main group laying siege to ISIL's headquarters in Raqa is Al-Nusra Front," which like ISIL is affiliated to Al-Qaida but is seen as more moderate. ISIL and Al-Nusra have fought each other in recent months, after ISIL announced it was Al-Qaida's representative in Syria. Al-Nusra had been operating in Syria for longer, and refused to work under ISIL's command. Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri then ordered ISIL's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to work with Al-Nusra -- and he refused. The two groups have since had, at best, tense relations, and at worst they have engaged in open fighting.
The 33-month conflict in Syria is estimated to have killed more than 130,000 people and forced millions more to flee their homes as refugees or internally displaced persons.
Source/Agence France Presse.

Canada Plunges into a Deep Freeze

Naharnet Newsdesk 06 January 2014/Extreme cold in Canada Monday disrupted flights and school classes, caused widespread power outages and created havoc on roads. Temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit) with a wind chill -- colder than the surface of Mars -- plunged the western Prairies region into a deep freeze, heightening risks of frostbite and hypothermia. Toronto, Montreal and the capital Ottawa braced for a flash freeze with temperatures forecast to drop as much as 40 degrees in less than 24 hours, after locals awoke to unusually warm temperatures (above freezing) and rain. Environment Canada warned of "treacherous" traveling conditions. "Extreme caution is advised for people heading outdoors," the government agency said. "Exposed skin may freeze in less than five minutes." One in ten flights from Toronto's international airport were canceled. And hundreds of car accidents in central Ontario and Quebec provinces were blamed on slick roads and fierce winds. This comes after Toronto area residents continue to recover from an ice storm that left 300,000 hydro customers in the dark over the Christmas holidays. More than 30,000 residents of the Atlantic island province of Newfoundland meanwhile were still without power after a blizzard knocked out electricity last week. At its peak, the blackout covered the entire island, affecting nearly 200,000 residents.

Handle with care

January 06, 2014/The Daily Star /Developments on the ground in Syria have taken a dramatic new turn in recent days and represent an important opportunity for some self-proclaimed friends of the Syrian people.
Rebels of various persuasions, from the mainstream Free Syrian Army to the conservative Islamists of the Islamic Front, have found common cause in trying to stem the influence of Al-Qaeda.
Countries in the West and elsewhere have been warning against the rising influence of these militants in Syria for months, perhaps using this as an excuse to avoid getting involved in the crisis. Now is their chance to support the rebels who openly declared that their goals have nothing to do with those of religious extremists trying to hijack the uprising against the regime. Support doesn’t mean intervention – Syrians have been clear that they do not want outside parties to interfere. However, they have been disappointed by an international community that issues warnings and condemnations against the regime but fails to follow through. They have also seen how the government’s allies offer support to Damascus, which has no qualms over using every possible type of violence to achieve its objective of remaining in power. The situation is complex, but this shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction. There are many shades of gray when it comes to the opposition, but some aspects are crystal-clear: The situation on the ground is fluid, and the long-awaited Geneva II is on the horizon. Countries that have taken an interest in Syria’s future must approach with care. They must ensure that current developments won’t end up being just another “missed opportunity.”

Iran looking beyond the nuclear issue
By: Shahir Shahid Saless/Asharq Alawsat
The dust had barely settled on the Iranian revolution when on 4 November 1979, less than a year after the Shah departed the country, a radical group of students fiercely loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the American embassy in Tehran. Thus began the stormy relationship between the newly-formed Islamic Republic and the United States.
In the final years of Ayatollah Khomeini’s life, Hashemi Rafsanjani—at the time the second most powerful man in Iran after Khomeini himself—wrote the Supreme Leader a letter. In an interview in 2012, Rafsanjani said: “I didn’t even type it. As I preferred no one read my letter, I gave it to the Imam [Khomeini] personally.”
He added: “I discussed seven issues in the letter and I told him it was better to resolve these issues while he was still alive, otherwise they might become a barrier against the country’s development in the future . . . [I said]: ‘If you don’t help us remove these issues, it will be difficult to remove them after you . . . [die].’ One of those issues was our relations with America. I wrote [that] the style that we had adopted—not to talk or have any relations with America—was not sustainable.”
Rafsanjani’s prophetic words rang true. Following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran and America became trapped in a vicious and unending circle of enmity. Even during Barack Obama’s first term as president, and despite advocating for engagement with Iran during his presidential campaign, the unprecedented sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic elevated tensions between the two governments until they reached a peak.
One year ago, few analysts would have predicted the Geneva Accord (officially titled, the Joint Plan of Action) between Iran and the P5+1, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Nor would they have envisioned the developments leading up to it, including the telephone conversation between the two presidents and the face-to-face meetings between the foreign ministers of the two countries. Many politicians and observers in the US maintain that it was the imposition of sanctions that drove Iran to the negotiating table, forcing its government to accept the Geneva Accord.
The economic pressures resulting from the sanctions undoubtedly played an important role in shaping Tehran’s flexibility. However, it should also be noted that the inclusion of the issue of uranium enrichment was fundamental. As stated in the agreement’s preamble, the parties have committed to “[reaching] a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution” that “would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.” Would such a monumental agreement have been possible without the inclusion of the issue of enrichment? President Obama’s recent statements on the issue may help shed some light.
At the annual Saban Forum on December 7, 2013, Obama remarked, “You’ll hear arguments . . . that say we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil. Period. Full stop. End of conversation . . . One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said: ‘We’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone.’” Then the US president sarcastically quipped, “I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful.” These statements show that the US administration has concluded that a ‘no enrichment in Iran’ policy precludes any agreement with the Iranians. So the Geneva Accord is not only the product of sanctions on Iran; the re-positioning of American policies has also played a prominent role.
Despite some disagreement between the administration and a faction in Congress, this new US approach to relations with Iran may well have an impact beyond the nuclear issue, on a much wider strategic level.
Amir Mohebbian, considered a prominent strategist and theorist of the Principlists, or conservatives, in Iran, wrote a paper two years ago entitled: ‘Scenarios of possible threats against Iran.’ The article garnered little attention. However, it was significant enough to be published on the website of Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Such placement indicated endorsement of the research by Iran’s leadership. Mohebbian wrote: “The Iranian leadership . . . has demonstrated that it is not seeking to pursue the ‘hostility for hostility’ thesis. If there is a change in the behavior of the United States, Iran will consider it.”
Now following the perceived drastic change in the US position toward Iran’s nuclear program, there are indications that Tehran may be prepared to take the next step in crossing its decades-old ‘red line’ of no relations with the US. In an article in December, The Christian Science Monitor’s Middle East correspondent Scott Peterson quoted Mohebbian’s unprecedented view: “This is the last opportunity of shifting from the first generation to the second generation of leaders . . . and the [Supreme] Leader wants to solve the issue of the US under his leadership.”
Notably, a translation of Peterson’s article was published in Iran, even on government websites. Its content was not denied, nor was it subject to the usual attacks by the country’s radical wing. In other words, it seems that Ayatollah Khamenei has placed on his agenda something that his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, had been called on by Rafsanjani to resolve.
The question remains as to whether or not normal relations are possible between the US and Iran. Extreme and long-standing distrust between the two countries, and internal political forces opposing reconciliation within both, are among factors which project a rocky road. But there are indications that Iran is looking at the current process of engagement with America beyond the existing nuclear issue. Perhaps the US departure from its decades-old policy toward Iran’s nuclear program also points to a similar goal.
Only time will tell.
**Shahir Shahid Saless is a political analyst and freelance journalist, writing primarily about Iran's domestic and foreign affairs. He lives in Canada. Email him at

The Syrian Coalition and the challenges ahead

By: Fayez Sara/Asharq Alawsat
As the Syrian National Coalition readies itself for a new round of meetings in Istanbul, there will be a number of key issues on the agenda.
The first, a political one, poses a challenge not only for the coalition but for the entire Syrian opposition, and for all Syrians as a whole: The Coalition’s General Authority must take a clear and specific position on whether or not it will participate in the upcoming Geneva II meetings.
The second, an organizational issue, regards outlining the Coalition’s main features, determining the nature of its institutions and internal relations, as well as the political circles it operates within.
The third, and the most important, is the election of the Coalition’s leaders. The Coalition is due to elect its president, three deputies and an undersecretary who will form its presidential body. Other members will also be elected to this body. But many other significant issues will also be discussed by the members of the Coalition.
These will include the current political and military developments within Syria, particularly when it comes to the fighting between the various groups and factions involved, most notably between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Also to be discussed will be the initial performance of the new Syrian interim government headed by Ahmad Toumeh, the relationships among the Syrian opposition forces in light of the prospects for convening Geneva II, and the feasibility of the opposition’s participation. Attendants will also discuss the Coalition’s legal committee and media bureau, which have not seen any changes, nor are they yet to be assessed by the Coalition, since their inception a year ago—a discussion which has become necessary in light of the changes within the Coalition itself.
What is new this year is the consensus among Coalition members given the growing collective awareness of how serious things have become—not only regarding the Coalition but the entire opposition. The most important of these factors is the escalating policy of murder, destruction and displacement adopted by the Assad regime, as well as the involvement of its stooges and allies like Russia, Iran, and the Shi’ite militias of Hezbollah and the Abu Fadl Al-Abbas Brigade, among others. These forces have effectively become foreign occupying powers in Syria, politically, militarily and economically supporting the Syrian government and thereby complicit in the killing and displacement of thousands of people and the destruction of their country. Add to this the growing influence of religious and ethnic extremist groups such as ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) led by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), as well as the negative changes in the international community’s stance towards the Syrian revolution, and we can see how serious things have become.
Based on the atmosphere within the Coalition, the discussions this time should run smoothly, something which has never happened before. During the last meeting, three highly problematic issues were submitted: the formation of an interim Syrian government, the inclusion of the National Kurdish Council (KNC) into the Coalition, and the prospect of the Coalition’s participation in Geneva II.
However, this is not to suggest that the expected positive atmosphere and consensus will rule out the possibility of heated debates during the meetings. These issues are normal in any political body or coalition. However, differences this time should be within reasonable limits. If this is the case—and I think it will be—the Coalition will in the future be much more capable of organizing its internal affairs and its external relationships. It will therefore be able to go one step further by practising its duties and administrating the conflict with Assad much more effectively than before. This is not to suggest that it will live up to the level required to address the Syrian crisis, which indeed has taken alarming regional and international dimensions.
While it should be otherwise, Syrians have become the least influential force within the Syrian crisis. This is something which Syrians, particularly the Coalition, have to address in the future.
***Fayez Sara is a Syrian writer, journalist and member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

Hezbollah's Ideological Crisis
Matthew Levitt/Times of Israel

There are few takers for Hezbollah's contorted logic that the Syrian rebellion is an American or Israeli scheme, so the group may eventually feel the need to rejuvenate its "resistance" credentials by confronting Israel directly.
Since the end of the July 2006 war, Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah has given nearly all his public speeches from the safety of a secure bunker (with this exception). But in early August 2013, Nasrallah made a rare appearance on al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day to rally supporters in the face of some of the most severe challenges Hezbollah has ever encountered. He had his work cut out for him on the day of the speech, and he still does today.
Hezbollah operatives have been indicted for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri at the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in The Hague, arrested on charges of plotting attacks in Nigeria, and convicted on similar charges in Thailand and Cyprus. The European Union has blacklisted the military wing of Hezbollah, and the Gulf Cooperation Council similarly banned any support for the group from GCC countries and started deporting suspected supporters.
But all this pales in comparison to the existential challenges Hezbollah faces over its active participation in the war in Syria. By siding with the Assad regime, the regime's Alawite supporters, and Iran, and taking up arms against Sunni rebels, Hezbollah has placed itself at the epicenter of a sectarian conflict that has nothing to do with the group's purported raison d'être: "resistance" to Israeli occupation. As one Shiite Lebanese satirist put it the day after Nasrallah's speech, "Either the fighters have lost Palestine on the map and think it is in Syria [or] they were informed that the road to Jerusalem runs through Qusayr and Homs," locations in Syria where Hezbollah has fought with Assad loyalists against Sunni rebels.
The implication is clear: Lebanon's Party of God is no longer a pure "Islamic resistance" fighting Israel but a sectarian militia and Iranian proxy doing Bashar al-Assad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran's bidding at the expense of fellow Muslims. And it therefore does not surprise that the pokes come from extremist circles too. In June, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanon-based al-Qaeda-affiliated group, released a statement challenging Nasrallah and his Hezbollah fighters "to fire one bullet at occupied Palestine and claim responsibility" for it. They could fire at Israel from either Lebanon or Syria, the statement continued, seeing as Hezbollah "fired thousands of shells and bullets upon unarmed Sunnis and their women, elderly, and children, and destroyed their homes on top of them."
But while taunts might be expected from Sunni extremist groups, Hezbollah now faces challenges it never would have anticipated just a few years ago. For example, the day before Nasrallah's August speech Lebanese president Michel Suleiman called, for the first time ever, for the state to curtail Hezbollah's ability to operate as an independent militia outside the control of the government. By sending fighters to Syria, many Lebanese believe Hezbollah has put its interests as a group ahead of those of Lebanon as a state, something that blatantly contradicts Hezbollah's longtime efforts to portray itself as a group that is first and foremost Lebanese. Now the group that describes itself as the vanguard standing up for the dispossessed in the face of injustice, and that has always tried to downplay its sectarian and pro-Iranian identities, finds those assertions challenged over its refusal to abide by the Lebanese government's official position of noninterference in Syria. To the contrary, its proactive support of a brutal Alawite regime against the predominantly Sunni Syrian opposition undermines its long-cultivated image as a distinctly Lebanese "resistance" movement.
At one point, Nasrallah tried to paper over the fact that Lebanese Shiites and Lebanese Sunnis were now openly battling one another in Syria, and threatening to drag that sectarian fighting across the border into Lebanon, by proposing that Lebanese Shiites and Sunnis agree to disagree over Syria. Addressing Lebanese Sunnis, Nasrallah said in a speech this past May: "We disagree over Syria. You fight in Syria; we fight in Syria; then let's fight there. Do you want me to be more frank? Keep Lebanon aside. Why should we fight in Lebanon?" But that pitch did not go over so well with Nasrallah's fellow Lebanese, who wanted an end to Lebanese interference in the war in Syria, not a gentleman's agreement that Lebanese citizens would only slaughter one another across the border.
In that same speech, Nasrallah addressed the "two grave dangers" facing Lebanon. The first, he argued, is "Israel and its intentions, greed, and schemes." The second danger, Nasrallah added, is "the changes taking place in Syria." As for Israel, Nasrallah warned that it threatens Lebanon every day. And as for Syria, the regime there faces an "axis led by the United States which is for sure the decision maker." The British, French, Italians, Germans, Arabs, and Turks are involved too, but "all of them work for the American [sic]." And the true force behind the "changes taking place in Syria"? "We also know that this axis is implicitly supported by Israel because the U.S. project in the region is Israeli cum laude." Hezbollah is not fighting in Syria as part of a sectarian conflict, Nasrallah insisted, but combating a radical Sunni, Takfiri project with ties to al-Qaeda that "is funded and backed by America" out of an American interest to destroy the region. In other words, the war in Syria is no longer a popular revolution against a political regime, but a place where America is seeking to impose its own political project on the region. Nasrallah concluded: "Well, we all know that the U.S. project in the region is an absolutely Israeli project." And so, by fighting in Syria, "today we consider ourselves defending Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria."
But there are few takers outside Hezbollah's staunchest Shiite supporters for the contorted logic that the Syrian rebellion is an American or Israeli scheme. Only when Israeli airstrikes have targeted weapons stockpiles -- either weapons being transferred from the Assad regime to Syria or stockpiles of strategic weapons such as Russian Yakhont antiship cruise missiles -- have the Assad regime and Hezbollah been able to credibly point a finger at Israel.
For example, in July 2013 an Israeli airstrike targeted a warehouse near Latakia housing sophisticated antiship missiles. Two months earlier, Israeli fighters targeted a shipment of mobile surface-to-surface Fateh-110 missiles, among other military equipment, which Israel feared were intended for Hezbollah. And in January 2013, Israel targeted a convoy transporting Russian SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, which Israel believed were being transferred to Hezbollah. But even when such strikes have occurred, Israeli officials have publicly and explicitly made clear that Israel has no interest in becoming a party to the war in Syria. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated in June that "Israel is not getting involved in the civil war in Syria, as long as the fire is not directed at us."
Unfortunately for Hezbollah, Netanyahu's statement is no mere propaganda. The Israelis have a longstanding policy of trying to prevent the delivery of weapons to terrorist groups like Hezbollah -- from boarding the Karine-A on the high seas in 2002, to sending warplanes to destroy a reported Iranian weapons factory operating in Sudan in October 2012, and more -- and have not interfered in the Syrian war in any way other than through these few isolated strikes targeting weapons caches. Which is why, contrary to conventional wisdom, Hezbollah may try to draw Israel into the war.
In early August, such an incident occurred when four Israeli soldiers were wounded by two explosions while patrolling the border with Lebanon. According to al-Akhbar, a Lebanese daily considered to be a Hezbollah mouthpiece, these explosions were part of an organized "ambush" aimed at highlighting Hezbollah's "intelligence structure" capabilities. Hezbollah may also seek a pretext for launching a limited number of rockets at Israel, perhaps as a response to an Israeli counterstrike after a cross-border raid. Hezbollah has already called for Palestinian groups to organize and carry out attacks on Israel from the Golan Heights, and Nasrallah has offered to aid any group that does so.
Hezbollah took a similar posture later that month, when in the aftermath of the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus, the United States (at first) seemed poised to issue a punitive strike on Syria for violating President Obama's redline on the use of chemical weapons. Immediately, pro-Hezbollah sheikh Afif Nabulsi warned that "any [U.S.] strike against Syria would be met by harsh responses against U.S. interests in the region and against Israel directly." A senior source close to Hezbollah clarified, telling the Daily Star that "if the Western attack is limited to certain targets in Syria, then Hezbollah will not intervene." But, he continued, "in the event of a qualitative strike that aims to change the balance of power in Syria, Hezbollah will fight on various fronts," including through "the inferno of a war with Israel." The reference here was clearly to the possibility of Hezbollah firing rockets into Israel. U.S. strikes may have provided Hezbollah with the alternative opportunity it is seeking to hit Israel -- but, again, not so hard as to elicit a pounding in return.
Without an Israeli straw man to justify the maintenance of its arms as "legitimate resistance," Hezbollah is left with precious little justification for its existence as an independent militia outside the control of the Lebanese government. Worse still, so long as Hezbollah continues to fight alongside Iran and the Assad regime against Sunni rebels, it will increasingly be seen as a sectarian fighting force undermining the security and political interests of the Lebanese state. Hezbollah continues to hone its military capabilities along the border with Israel and, according to Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, head of Israel's Northern Command, in comparison to seven years ago, when the group last battled Israel, "Hezbollah is better armed, better trained and more cautious." At some point, Hezbollah may feel the need to rejuvenate its "resistance" credentials. And when it does, Israel will be in the crosshairs of Lebanon's Party of God once more.
**Matthew Levitt directs The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and is author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God. This essay original appeared in the recent Institute study No Good Outcome: How Israel Could Be Drawn into the Syrian Conflict.