LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation for today/Jesus
John 01/01-13: "This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God It began as the prophet Isaiah had written: “God said, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you
to open the way for you.’ Someone is shouting in the desert, ‘Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel!’” So John appeared in the desert, baptizing and preaching. “Turn away from your sins and be baptized,” he told the people, “and God will forgive your sins.” Many people from the province of Judea and the city of Jerusalem went out to hear John. They confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan River. John wore clothes made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. He announced to the people, “The man who will come after me is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to bend down and untie his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus. Not long afterward Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” At once the Spirit made him go into the desert, where he stayed forty days, being tempted by Satan. Wild animals were there also, but angels came and helped him.
Corrupted Leaders Represent our distorted image
Elias Bejjani/07.01.14/We, the Lebanese are fully responsible for the miseries that Lebanon is facing. Why? Because we allow corrupted and shameless leaders, politicians and clergymen to control our national decision making process and evilly run our country. Our well know proverb says: "your leaders are an image of you". Yes currently they are! And because we are opportunists, chameleons, selfish, puppets, subservient, stupid and ignorant we leave in position and power, leaders like Aoun, clergymen like Al Raei and terrorist parties like Hezbollah. Our fate is in our hands and unless we change, our leaders will remain as we are.
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 08/14
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 08/14
Lebanese Related News
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Questioned for Threatening ISF
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/First Military Examining Magistrate Judge Riyad Abu Ghida questioned on Tuesday Arab Democratic Party politburo chief Rifaat Eid for threatening the Internal Security Forces. “I have proved that I respect the Lebanese judiciary and abide by the law,” Eid told several TV stations after news broke about the questioning. Abu Ghida issued last month the summons for Eid to interrogate him over allegations that he threatened the ISF Intelligence Branch. Earlier in December, Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr charged him after Eid said during a press conference a month earlier that the Information Branch has made the shedding of the blood of the Alawites permissible, therefore it is also allowed to shed their blood. Lebanese authorities have arrested several members of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party on suspicion they were involved in the August twin car bombings of Sunni mosques in the northern city of Tripoli. They have summoned Ali Eid, who is the group's leader and Rifaat's father, for questioning. But he has refused to go to the Intelligence Branch, saying he did not trust it to be impartial. Lebanese members of the Alawite sect of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who mainly reside in the Jabal Mohsen district of Tripoli, often clash with the residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh that is mainly Sunni and support the uprising in Syria. Source/Agence France Presse.
Hammoud Receives Repatriation Request as Iran to Participate in al-Majed's Autopsy
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/Acting General Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud received on Tuesday a request from the Saudi Embassy, saying the brother of a dead al-Qaida-linked group leader wants to repatriate his body. Saudi national Majed al-Majed died in Lebanon on Saturday while undergoing treatment at the central military hospital after his health deteriorated, the army said. But sources have said that al-Majed died after suffering kidney failure. Later on Tuesday, sources informed LBCI television that Hammoud has appointed a committee of forensic doctors to examine the body of al-Majed. "Forensic doctors started examining his body and will soon issue a report detailing the conditions that surrounded his death," LBCI added. Al-Majed was detained in December and had been held at a secret location. He was the purported commander of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades — a militant group with al-Qaida links — and one of the 85 most-wanted individuals in Saudi Arabia. Iran's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that a delegation is expected to arrive in Lebanon soon to participate in al-Majed's autopsy. "Over the coming days a delegation would be dispatched to Beirut to participate in the autopsy and investigate the circumstances of al-Majed's death," Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian said. He pointed out that the delegation will be comprised of judicial and Foreign Ministry officials. The brigades have claimed responsibility for attacks throughout the region, including the 2010 bombing of a Japanese oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and several rocket strikes from Lebanon into Israel. The most recent attack claimed by the group was the deadly twin suicide bombing in November that targeted the Iranian embassy in Beirut's southern suburbs.
Suleiman against March 8 'Assaults' and 'Insults'
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra defended on Tuesday President Michel Suleiman against a campaign launched by the March 8 alliance, accusing it of assaulting his authorities. “The campaign against Suleiman is an assault on his powers,” Zahra said in a press conference. “Talks that he (Suleiman) had heard an advice or was implementing the agenda of another country is an insult to the president and an assault on his dignity and role,” he said. Zahra also accused the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp of preventing Suleiman from exercising his authorities by blocking his attempts to form a nonpartisan government along with Premier-designate Tammam Salam. The lawmaker slammed Speaker Nabih Berri without naming him, saying creating a connection between the new cabinet and the presidency is a “heresy.” Berri has warned that the formation of a so-called neutral government would prevent consensus in the presidential elections. He along with the rest of the March 8 alliance's factions are calling for an all-embracing cabinet, which they refer to as a fait accompli government. But the March 14 camp is holding onto its demand for a neutral government. It accuses its rivals of seeking a vacuum in the government and the presidency. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May.
Jumblat Questions Attempts to Tarnish Tripoli's Image: Its Residents are Proud of its Diversity
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat slammed on Tuesday attempts to target the image of the northern city of Tripoli, saying that it embraces coexistence among its people. He said in his weekly editorial in the PSP-affiliated al-Anbaa website: “The residents of Tripoli have long been proud of their city's diversity.”“Statements of condemnation are no longer sufficient in saving Tripoli from the bloody clashes and political, social, and economic problems it is facing,” he added. “Tripoli and Lebanon's interests require that this city preserves its diversity,” he stressed, while noting that the recent torching of the al-Saeh Library was aimed at targeting this image. “We condemn this act, which will not alter Tripoli's social structure that has long been based on coexistence among various sects and political affiliations,” said Jumblat. Why is Tripoli being portrayed as a hub for extremist thought? wondered the MP. “This city can only live through the coexistence of its minorities and through the protection of its diversity,” he stated. Unknown assailants torched on Friday Father Ibrahim Sarrouj's historical al-Saeh library after reports claimed that he had published an article deemed insulting to Islam. Bashir Hazzouri, an employee at the library, was shot and wounded on Thursday in the old souks of Tripoli. Al-Saeh Library is considered one of the most renowned libraries in Tripoli and the second largest in Lebanon. Sarrouj says the library contains more than 80,000 books. Political and religious figures from Tripoli were quick to condemn the incident, saying that it contradicts Islam and that the city will remain that of coexistence.
Aoun: Threatening to Form Neutral Government Makes it Unconstitutional
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun rejected on Tuesday President Michel Suleiman's suggestion to form a neutral government, saying that nonpartisan ministers “have no opinions.”He said after the Change and Reform bloc's weekly meeting: “Threats to form a neutral cabinet make it unconstitutional.” “Nonpartisan officials can act as advisers, but not as men of politics,” he stressed. “I did not understand the several messages that were made during Suleiman's recent speech, especially his remarks that some countries are hindering the formation of a government,” he added. “Why doesn't he name who is obstructing the process?” asked the MP. “What standards are he and the prime minister-designate adopting in forming a cabinet?” wondered Aoun. “Are they being whimsical in their approach or are they following certain rules?” he continued.
Moreover, he remarked that the March 8 camp is represented by 58 lawmakers at parliament, which grants it the greatest power in deciding the form of the new government. Commenting on March 14 camp demands to keep Hizbullah out of a new cabinet, Aoun said: “The attempts in the 1970s to isolate the Phalange Party led to a civil war.” The March 14 camp has been demanding the formation of a nonpartisan government, while the Lebanese Forces has urged that Hizbullah not be represented in the new cabinet. Suleiman on Monday wondered: “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?” “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. Since his appointment in April, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has failed to form a new government due to the conditions and counter-conditions set by the March 8 and 14 camps.
Report: March 14 Committee Setting Strategy Ahead of 'Constitutional Disobedience'
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/A committee made up of March 14 officials has been holding discussions to unify the proposals on the coalition's new strategy, the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa newspaper reported Tuesday. The daily quoted informed sources as saying that the committee's initial talks are focusing on merging the proposals of the alliance’s different parties on the strategy pending an agreement over their joint vision on the situation in the country, including Hizbullah's assistance to keep its fighters in Syria. The strategy will deal with the required quorum for the presidential elections because March 14 does not have the two-thirds majority of the 128-member parliament and rejects a simple-majority, the sources said. The alliance also holds onto the option of a nonpartisan government, they told al-Anbaa. March 14 will carry out a political and diplomatic campaign under the slogan of Lebanon's neutrality, the abidance to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 and the support to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the sources said. The campaign will be followed by a “Constitutional Disobedience,” which some of the coalition's parties have said would involve the continued boycott of parliamentary sessions and stopping all sorts of contact with Hizbullah. The move would also lead to a freeze in talks between Speaker Nabih Berri, who is the head of the Amal movement allied with Hizbullah, and al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc chief MP Fouad Saniora, the sources added.
Diplomats in Beirut Avoid Activity, Cancel Scheduled Invitations
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/Western and Arab ambassadors to Lebanon have been avoiding since last week any movement across Lebanon, the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa newspaper reported on Tuesday. According to the daily, ambassadors of world powers, including the Arab and European diplomats, have been avoiding any activity and apologized for not attending invitations they had agreed on. In November, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awadh Asiri left Lebanon “to discuss with his country's authorities the latest developments in Lebanon,” however, media reports said that he isn't expected to return soon to Beirut. The move came two days after a twin suicide bombings killed 25 people, including an Iranian diplomat, near the Beirut embassy of Saudi's regional rival Iran, which is located in the stronghold of Tehran ally Hizbullah. 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.
Lebanese Asylum-Seekers Detained in Pacific Likely to Return Home
by Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/A majority of Lebanese asylum-seekers detained in the Pacific will choose to return home, a Lebanese member of the council advising the Australian government on asylum-seekers said. Australian media reports said on Tuesday that Dr. Jamal Rifi, a prominent member of Sydney's Lebanese community, visited the detention centers in the islands of Papua New Guinea and Nauru last week. More than 60 Lebanese are held there, many from northern Lebanon. "They were quite happy to receive us, and our mission, let's say, was to give them the options available to them, based on their situation and given the facts as we saw it, the political mindset in Canberra, and the changes in the Department of Immigration," Rifi said. As part of the policy, Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government has promised to turn back asylum-seeker boats when it is safe to do so. Describing the mood on the islands as "tense and desperate,” Rifi said he now thought the majority of the Lebanese asylum-seekers detained offshore would seek to go home rather than spend years in detention or in the developing Pacific nations. Rifi said he was now in talks with Lebanon's counsel-general to Australia about ways to fast-track the return of those who did not believe they had a genuine refugee claim to pursue.
The media quoted him as saying that most of the Lebanese detained offshore had economic reasons for seeking asylum, and they've been duped by people smugglers. Hundreds of people have died in fatal sinkings in recent years, often after boarding rickety, wooden boats in Indonesia to try and make the treacherous sea crossing to Australia. Australian authorities were warned that people in Melbourne and Lebanon were helping to organize boatloads of Lebanese asylum seekers to travel to Australia, weeks before a boat sank off the coast of West Java, killing dozens of people including many women and children from one Lebanese village. Up to 120 people, mostly from the Middle East, were on board the ill-fated boat that sank on September 27. Scores have died.
Scenarios of Change and Possibilities of Reform in Lebanon
By Paul Salem | Vice President for Policy and Research | Jan 06, 2014
The recent spate of bombings in Beirut underline the degree to which Lebanon has become entangled in the wider regional conflict being fought in and around Syria, but the paralysis of Lebanon’s political institutions indicate an equally deep domestic dysfunction. There is no doubt that part of Lebanon’s problems derive from its difficult geostrategic environment and require external developments and changes, and part of them come from the weaknesses of its domestic political and socioeconomic system and require internal reform. Of course, the two are also interconnected: external pressures exploit and exacerbate internal weaknesses, and internal weaknesses invite external influence and intervention.
During the 1960s and 1970s Lebanon suffered the external pressure of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the militarization of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon; internally it suffered the double consequences of sectarian imbalances over Muslim and Christian power-sharing and tensions over socioeconomic policy. Today, the challenges are different. Lebanon’s external pressures derive from two conflicts: Iran’s conflict with Israel and the United States, and the sectarian Sunni-Shi`i conflict that runs through Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
Internally, there are three challenges. First, the Taif formula that ended the Christian-Muslim dispute over power-sharing created a weak political system in which executive authority is not sufficiently concentrated in any one place to enable efficient taking and implementation of government decisions. Second, the Christian-Muslim disagreement over power-sharing has been supplanted by a Sunni-Shi`i contest. Third, the state has lost the basic element of statehood, that is, sovereignty or a monopoly on the use of force. Hezbollah is effectively an independent state with its own military and foreign policy.
Major political changes and reforms require special historical moments. The birth of “Greater Lebanon” in its current borders in 1920 came about after World War I, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the establishment of European mandates. Independence, and the “National Pact” between Maronite and Sunni leaders in 1943, came in the context of World War II and the collapse of French power. The Taif agreement of 1989 came after a long civil war and coincided with the end of the Cold War.
A future reconfiguration of the Lebanese political system might also require a significant historical moment. The war in Syria and its future scenarios, as well as the beginning of rapprochement between Iran and the west, might provide the context for such change. The Assad regime inherited the management of the Taif system after 1990; it benefited from the system’s weaknesses—the excessive distribution of decision-making power and the absence of a clear and empowered executive authority—to maintain its influence in Lebanon, but it also prevented the system from complete paralysis because it had enough power to impose decisions on the system. The weakness and paralysis of the Taif system became more fully exposed following the Syrian withdrawal in 2005. We are left today with a system that is almost completely paralyzed, in which sovereignty is compromised and in which deadlines for parliamentary elections, government formation—and soon, presidential elections—come and go.
The war in Syria will take many years to wind down. It is likely that, as in the Lebanese civil war, no side will win. After fighting to exhaustion, the parties will have no alternative but to negotiate a power-sharing agreement in which the country’s major components and communities are represented. If and when this takes place, the conditions of negotiation and deal making in Syria might spark a similar revival of negotiation and deal making in Lebanon.
The regional and international context of this moment will be important. The Taif agreement took place at a moment when Soviet power was collapsing and the United States had overwhelming international dominance, and when regionally Iranian power was in remission as Iran recovered from nine years of war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As a result, Saudi Arabia had fairly unimpeded dominance in the Arab world.
In the coming years, the conditions will be different. Russia has returned as a significant international player in the Middle East—particularly in Syria and the Levant—and Iranian power is now deeply entrenched. Unless there is a modicum of international and regional rapprochement, neither Syrian war-ending agreements nor Lebanese constitutional reform negotiations will move forward.
So far the trends have been negative, as the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran have been waging proxy wars in Syria and the Levant. However, the United States and Russia have moved from conflict to some cooperation with the chemical weapons deal in Syria and with their collaboration to hold a Geneva II meeting to try to end the war in Syria. The rise of al-Qa`ida in Syria has changed the calculus in Washington, and now both the United States and Russia see al-Qa`ida as the principal threat in the events in Syria. As the United States continues to reduce its presence in the Middle East, it will rely increasingly on international and regional agreements to manage Middle East affairs.
The recent nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran also indicates the possibility of a rapprochement between Iran and the west. The west, including the United States, is eager to defuse the nuclear issue and has common interests with Iran in containing al-Qa`ida, managing the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal, finding a resolution to the war in Syria, and keeping a cap on Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries fear Iranian influence. They were comfortable with the Bush administration’s aggressive policy toward Iran and were enthusiastic when Obama promised that he would bomb the Assad regime in Syria. But if the west continues its rapprochement with Iran and considers al-Qa`ida—not the Assad regime—the main problem in Syria, then Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries will have to rethink their policy. Gulf leaders in the UAE, Kuwait, and Oman have already reached out to Iran, and we might be entering a period in which Iran-GCC relations will have to improve.
The context of U.S.-Russian, U.S.-Iranian, and Iranian-GCC accommodation might create the conditions for a negotiated agreement to end the Syrian conflict. It might also create the context for real national dialogue in Lebanon in which reforms to the political system are seriously considered. A U.S.-Iranian rapprochement might particularly foster this context, as deeper cooperation between the two countries would put the issue of Hezbollah very much on the table. Iran would have to propose a way forward for Hezbollah in which it is no longer a state within a state in Lebanon, but folds its military capacities into the state and accepts the status of a more normal political party within the context of real Lebanese state sovereignty and politically agreed-upon rules of the game.
In the context of such a demobilization of Hezbollah, Iran or some Shi`i leaders might propose a recalibration of the power-sharing formula in Lebanon. This might include demands for muthalatha, a three-way balance of representation in parliament and government among Christians, Sunnis, and Shi`a, which has been occasionally raised by Shi`i and Iranian leaders to replace the current 50/50 representation between Christians and Muslims that was agreed in Taif. Or it might include simply lifting confessional quotas from parliament and letting elections take their course in terms of how many candidates from which parties and communities get elected. The 50/50 Christian-Muslim ratio would still be preserved in the upper house, the Senate, which was proposed in the Taif agreement but not established. On current voter rolls, which list all Lebanese citizens above the age of 21 residing in Lebanon or abroad, the balance is about 60-40 in favor of Muslims, with equal numbers between Sunnis and Shi`a. But as there has been no national census for many decades, there is no way to accurately measure what the current numbers are of different communities actually residing in Lebanon. Demands might also include the establishment of a National Guard or similar military institution to integrate Hezbollah’s armed wing. They could also include negotiation over the authorities of the prime minister and the distribution of key ministerial portfolios, including the ministry of finance.
A recalibration of sectarian power-sharing ratios, however, will not address the systemic weaknesses and dysfunctions of the Lebanese state. The reforms that the Lebanese state needs are: more concentrated executive power in the central state; the establishment of a bicameral parliament; genuine reform of election and political party laws; more decentralization in regional and local administration; a truly independent and empowered judiciary; a unified national security and defense policy; and agreement over “positive neutrality” in foreign policy.
In the Taif state, no one has the power to govern in the central state; hence very little can get done, and no one can be realistically held accountable for state failures. The president does not govern, nor does the prime minister, and the council of ministers is not a cohesive body that can effectively make decisions. What is needed is a radical reform of the executive branch to re-concentrate executive power in one body that can effectively govern and then be held directly accountable by the populace for its failures or successes.
There are several methods to strengthen executive authority. One method could be to re-concentrate executive authority in the presidency, but a presidency that would consist of a presidential council of seven individuals, somewhat along the Swiss model. The seven would run together on one slate against other slates of seven in open and direct presidential elections for a one-time renewable four-year term. The presidency would thus fully lead the executive branch for four years, and would then be rewarded for its successes or punished for its failures at the ballot box.
Creating a capable executive is important to get the state to function again; it is also important to empower the people on a national level to make choices about governance issues and to hold the country’s rulers directly responsible. Lebanese citizens today participate in no truly national elections; they don’t choose their president or prime minister, but only vote in local elections or parliamentary elections in which they choose deputies to represent their district and community in the national parliament. Further, Lebanon’s current democracy is one in which the citizenry effectively selects an oligarchy, and that oligarchy—represented in parliament—proceeds to protect and reinforce its own oligarchic interests through state institutions. This oligarchic system was devised in the 1920s when the vast majority of Lebanon’s citizens lived in disconnected rural communities; everything has changed since then. It’s time to get Lebanese citizens directly involved in their democracy through choosing their executive and holding them accountable.
A radical reform of the executive branch cannot be undertaken without simultaneously undertaking other reforms that would ensure more self-government at the local and regional level; give communal reassurances through the establishment of a strong senate; and provide more individual security and protection through enhancing the rule of law. No one wants to create an empowered presidency that would then proceed to oppress citizens or sectors of society.
Administration decentralization is long overdue and should include the establishment of elected regional authorities that can take the lead in local development. The establishment of a senate with authority over major issues that might be of concern to the various communities of Lebanon, and fixing the communal representation in that body on a 50/50 Christian-Muslim basis, will reassure fearful communities and will free up the rest of the political system for more direct representation and governance mechanisms.
These reforms would have to be accompanied by serious empowerment of the judicial authority as the third and truly independent branch of government. The judiciary needs to have an independent budget, independent internal governance mechanisms, the authority to defend and interpret the constitution, and the ability to ensure people’s rights swiftly and fairly. There can be no progress on strengthening executive authority, widening legislative representation, and deepening local governance without establishing this strong and independent third branch of government.
Finally, defense and foreign policy have to be part of any new national pact. We cannot continue to have two armies in one state, and we cannot continue with multiple and often violently conflicting foreign policies. There are many proposals as to how to merge Hezbollah’s army into the national army—whether as part of a National Guard or as part of a civil defense force—but all stipulate that it would be under the command of a national and accountable Lebanese state authority. Defense and security doctrine will also have to be agreed upon, with the only common ground being the defense of national borders and the maintenance of internal security.
Defense policy would have to be closely connected to foreign policy. While Lebanon will continue to side with the Arab world until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved and Israel accepts the Arab peace plan, on other foreign policy matters, including other regional or international axes or alignments, the necessary consensus would need to be non-alignment—a policy of “positive neutrality.”
I am not naively optimistic that these reforms will be accepted or adopted in the near future—Lebanon does not appear to currently have the leaders or political parties that are capable of envisioning and leading such major reform. Nor am I rosily expectant that the regional environment will push in such progressive directions. But it is important to present ideas that could be part of a national discussion and could generate movement toward positive change. The lifetime of nations is measured in centuries, not years, and one must always seek, even in the darkest of times, to shine a light on the way forward in creating a more functional republic.
Syria rebels kill
34 foreign fighters in northwest: monitor
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels have killed 34 foreign fighters from al Qaeda-linked groups in the northwest of the country over the last three days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
The killings in the Jabal al-Zawiya region appeared to be part of the wider confrontation by an alliance of rebels against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), across rebel-held territories of northern and eastern Syria.
Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said most of the 34 dead were ISIL fighters, along with some others from an allied group called Jund al-Aqsa. They were captured, separated from Syrian fighters, and killed, he said.
It was not possible to verify the report independently due to reporting restrictions in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's forces have been battling rebels in a nearly three-year conflict which has killed more than 100,000 people. The latest infighting between Assad's foes erupted four days ago in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, fuelled by resentment against ISIL's radical Islamist agenda and a turf war near the Turkish border for strongholds which control supply routes into northern Syria. The fighting has also spread to the eastern city of Raqqa, the only Syrian city under full rebel control. The Syrian Network for Human Rights, another opposition monitoring group, said on Monday 71 ISIL fighters, 20 rival rebels and 26 civilians had been killed in the fighting to oust ISIL in Raqqa and other parts of Syria since Friday. The fighting took place as ISIL fighters seized Sunni Muslim towns hundreds of miles away on the Euphrates in neighboring Iraq, challenging a Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad which they see as allied, like Assad, to Shi'ite Iran.(Editing by Angus MacSwan)
FBI Bulletin: Iran's Latest Provocations While Washington Was On Holiday
By Robert Zarate, Patrick Christy |
January 6, 2014
While official Washington paused to celebrate the holiday season, the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued work to upgrade its nuclear program, destabilize the Middle East, and empower its proxies throughout the region. These provocations are a hard reminder of the need for continued vigilance by the United States to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. An important first step will be for Congress to act on legislation to enforce any nuclear deal with Tehran and warn the Islamic Republic that its dangerous provocations will be met with firm response.
Iran Improves Its Uranium Enrichment Capability
As Iran and world powers negotiate arrangements to implement the Joint Plan of Action, a six-month interim nuclear deal announced in Geneva on November 24, 2013, Iran has pushed ahead with efforts to enhance its technical capability to enrich uranium.
Iran continues not only to research and build second-generation centrifuges that can enrich uranium more efficiently, but also is testing what appear to be even more advanced third-generation centrifuges. According to the Associated Press, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told Iranian state television, “We have two types of second-generation centrifuges,” and added, “We also have future generations [of centrifuges] which are going through their tests.”
The Geneva Joint Plan of Action, if implemented, would prohibit Iran from installing additional centrifuges in its enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow for a six-month period. Based on data in the August 2013 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimated in October 2013 that “as of August 2013, Iran had 10,190 enriching IR-1 [first-generation] centrifuges,” adding:
“In total, Iran had [installed] a total of 18,454 IR-1 centrifuges in roughly 110 cascades. As of August 2013, Iran had also installed 1,008 IR-2m [second-generation] centrifuges and was making preparations to install an additional 2,088 machines. So, Iran has an installed centrifuge capacity that exceeds 19,000 centrifuges (emphasis added).”
When the IAEA releases its next report on Iran in February 2014, we will know more precisely the extent to which Iran has grown its enrichment program since agreeing to the Joint Plan of Action in November. What is already clear is that Tehran has not yet relented in its effort to expand its nuclear program’s technical capabilities since the Geneva announcement.
Iranian-Backed Terrorists Linked to Lebanese Politician’s Assassination
On December 27, 2013, a powerful car bomb killed former Lebanese finance minister Mohamad Chatah and six others in downtown Beirut. Chatah was a staunch critic of Hezbollah, the Iranian-proxy terrorist group based in Lebanon, as well as the Iranian-backed regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Saad Hariri, a Member of the Lebanese Parliament and son of slain former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, accused Hezbollah of killing Chatah. “The ones who assassinated Chatah are the same ones who assassinated [former Prime Minister] Rafiq Hariri and the ones who want to assassinate Lebanon,” Hariri said. “For us, the ones accused of this, and until further notice, are the same people who are evading international justice and refusing to appear before Special Tribunal for Lebanon.” Hezbollah rejects the authority of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is set to begin the trial against four Hezbollah members accused of Rafiq Hariri’s February 2005 assassination in mid-January 2014.
Iran and Terrorist Proxies Smuggle Missiles into Lebanon
U.S. officials believe that members of Iranian-backed Hezbollah are smuggling, piece by piece, advanced anti-ship missiles from Syria into Lebanon, the Wall Street Journal reported on January 2, 2014.
Hezbollah, working with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Qods Force, is using this piecemeal approach to smuggle the missile systems into Lebanon while evading Israel’s repeated airstrikes over the past year. The Wall Street Journal added that Hezbollah’s efforts to smuggle advanced missiles into Lebanon “appear to serve two purposes”: “Iran wants to upgrade Hezbollah’s arsenal to deter future Israeli strikes—either on Lebanon or on Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. and Israeli officials say. In addition, these officials said they believe the transfers were meant to induce Hezbollah to commit to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as supply lines used by both his regime and Hezbollah.”
Iran-Backed Assad Regime Escalates Attacks in Syria
On December 15, 2013, the Iranian-backed Assad regime launched a two-week offensive using warplanes, helicopters and “barrel bombs” against opposition-controlled areas in Syria's northern Aleppo province.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the Assad regime’s campaign “has been remarkable for the number and size of the home-made ‘barrel bombs’—crude devices made from metal tubes and containers filled with TNT—that have been deployed, mostly dropped from helicopters.” The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimates that the Assad regime’s aerial assault killed over 500 people, the Associated Press reported on December 29, 2013.
The SOHR also conservatively estimates that more than 130,000 Syrians have died in the conflict, Reuters reported on December 31, 2013. While Syrian peace talks in Geneva are scheduled to begin on January 22, 2014, it remains unclear whether they will be delayed once again.
Bahrain Interdicts Iranian-Made Weapons
Officials in Bahrain interdicted a boat smuggling Iranian-made explosives and other weapons on December 30, 2013. As the Associated Press reported, “Included in the cache discovered onboard the boat, which was first detected in international waters off Bahrain's northeastern coast, were ‘50 Iranian made hand bombs’ and nearly 300 commercial detonators marked ‘Made in Syria,’ according to a government statement.”
Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, is a small island kingdom near Saudi Arabia’s coastline. As the Associated Press notes, “More than 65 people have been killed in violence since protests led by the country's Shiite majority began in February 2011 calling for a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled nation.”
The Associated Press added, “Bahrain accuses Shiite powerhouse Iran of aiding the uprising. Tehran denies the accusations.”
The Geneva interim nuclear deal’s announcement has fueled hopes among some in the United States and Europe for Iranian rapprochement. Secretary of State John Kerry, during a stopover in Jerusalem on Sunday, told reporters that he believed Iran could play a role, at least on the sidelines, in planned Syrian peace talks in Geneva in late January 2014. Moreover, the Obama administration continues to resist efforts by congressional lawmakers to advance legislation that would create explicit enforcement mechanisms if Iran violates the interim nuclear deal or eventually fails to conclude a comprehensive nuclear agreement with world powers.
However, the Obama administration’s hopes for Iranian rapprochement are alarming not only Israel, but also Saudi Arabia, and other U.S. allies and partners in the Middle East. “It is striking that at the very moment when the Obama administration is pleading with Congress to be very careful in its behavior, the Iranian regime has no fears and no hesitation to engage in this subversion,” wrote Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations. “This helps explain why the Arabs are so nervous: they see the United States hell-bent on a nuclear deal and willing to ignore everything else the Iranian regime is doing.”
If the United States is to advance a Middle East policy that reassures its allies and partners and deters its adversaries, then it cannot continue to ignore Iran’s provocations.
- See more at: http://www.foreignpolicyi.org/content/fpi-bulletin-iran%E2%80%99s-latest-provocations-while-washington-was-holiday#sthash.BIlpf3Uv.dpuf
Conservatives in Iran are enjoying their first major return to the spotlight since the surprise victory of Hassan Rouhani in the June presidential election, highlighting lingering divisions within the Islamic republic’s political establishment. – Washington Post
Two members of Iran’s hard-line-dominated Parliament were added to a supervisory council responsible for monitoring the country’s nuclear negotiating team, Iranian news media reported Wednesday. The additions appeared to strengthen the influence of critics of the talks between Iran and world powers. – New York Times
One of Iran’s most prominent former diplomats, an ally of President Hassan Rouhani, has returned to the country, ending his unofficial exile in the United States, state news media reported on Tuesday. – New York Times
Iranian and European officials said Tuesday that technical talks required to implement a preliminary nuclear deal have made progress, and they suggested that an agreement may be close. – LA Times’ World Now
More than a third of Iran’s parliament has signed on to a bill ordering an acceleration of the country’s nuclear program if Congress follows through with new sanctions, lawmakers said. – LA Times’ World Now
The chief foreign policy advisor to Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for direct talks with the United States on nuclear issues, a possible sign from the supreme leader that he is amenable to ending the animosity that has defined relations with Washington for 34 years – LA Times’ World Now
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced Friday his intention to seek a bipartisan resolution on what a final nuclear deal should look like after Democrats bailed on him last year. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
Vice President Biden’s national security adviser met with Iranian officials as far back as the summer of 2012, a new report reveals. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
An Iranian politician known for his role in planning and approving the deadly 1994 terrorist bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina has officially been appointed to helm Iran’s top foreign policy shop, a posting formerly held by current President Hassan Rouhani. – Washington Free Beacon
Colin Kahl writes: In 2005, the last time Iran and the West had an opportunity for a nuclear breakthrough, Iran walked away from negotiations on a comprehensive accord because moderates were discredited. Hardliners came to dominate the Iranian political scene and the nuclear threat grew. History is not doomed to repeat itself, but it easily could if Congress inadvertently helps the forces of confrontation regain lost ground. – The National Interest
Peter Feaver writes: President Obama would be more persuasive in making the case for the dovish no-more-sanctions option right now if he could be more forthright about the relative merits of the hawkish critique. And failure to do so reinforces concerns that his rhetoric about having a policy of "prevention" and not "containment" is just rhetoric, and not a red line he actually would defend. Those concerns, in turn, make it harder to give him the diplomatic leeway he says he needs to test the Iranians. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Sunday that Iran might play a role at the peace talks on Syria that are scheduled to take place this month. – New York Times
Infighting among Islamist antigovernment groups in northern Syria continued for a third day Sunday, as more moderate rebel factions engaged in a large-scale rout of an extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda. – Los Angeles Times
Spiraling violence and advances by al Qaeda-linked fighters in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are underscoring the cost of Syria's civil war as it increasingly spills over the country's borders. – Wall Street Journal
A new analysis of rockets linked to the nerve-agent attack on Damascus, Syria, in August has concluded that the rockets were most likely fired by multiple launchers and had a range of about three kilometers, according to the two authors of the analysis. – New York Times
The Syrian government has signed a joint development agreement with a Russian energy company to explore for oil in the Middle Eastern country's territorial waters off the Mediterranean coast, according to SANA, the Syrian state news agency. – LA Times’ World Now
Ahmad al-Jarba was re-elected as the Western-backed Syrian opposition's leader for a second six-month term on Sunday, coalition members said, defeating former Syrian prime minister Riyad Hijab. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: The Obama administration’s outreach to the Islamic Front in Syria earlier this month failed due to a flawed plan and unrealistic goals, insiders say—and now American influence on the ground with the armed Syrian opposition is at a new low. – The Daily Beast
Editorial: The administration has supplied some arms and intelligence to Iraqi government forces fighting al-Qaeda, but that is little more than a palliative. Sooner or later the United States will have to face the threat to its vital interests emerging across the Levant. – Washington Post
Editorial: President Obama and the Rand Paul Republicans want Americans to believe we can avoid the world's conflicts with good intentions and strategic retreat. The costs and consequences of that retreat are now becoming clear in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and beyond. Those costs may end up being far greater than if we had stayed engaged in Iraq and attempted to help the moderate opposition in Syria. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Elliott Abrams writes: [Obama] is presiding over a humanitarian disaster where war crimes and atrocities occur each day and he responds with speeches…And over the next three years, he is likely to reap what he has sowed. The problem is, so will we. – The Weekly Standard
Michael Weiss writes: For months now, U.S. officials have mouthed a mindless catechism: “There is no military solution to the conflict.” To this can now be added that Assad is here to stay and that the real challenge ahead is getting everyone to work together to defeat al Qaeda. Yet Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Front have plainly got other plans as Robert Ford and John Kerry prepare for their long-awaited waste of time in the Alps. - Politico
On Tour of Mideast, Kerry Says Iran
Might Play Role in Syria Peace Talks
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Iran might play a role at coming peace talks on Syria. Later he met with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, in Riyadh.
By MICHAEL R. GORDON/The New York Times
Pool photo by Brendan Smialowski
Secretary of State John Kerry with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Sunday. The king “supported our efforts,” Mr. Kerry said.
It was the first time that a senior American official has indicated that Iran might be involved in the session, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 22, even if it was not a formal participant.
Mr. Kerry said there would be limits on Iran’s involvement unless it accepted that the purpose of the conference should be to work out transitional arrangements for governing Syria if opponents of President Bashar al-Assad could persuade him to relinquish power. Iran has provided military and political support to Mr. Assad.
“Now, could they contribute from the sidelines?” Mr. Kerry said, referring to a situation in which Iran sticks by the Assad government and does not accept that goal. “Are there ways for them conceivably to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva be there in order to help the process?”
“It may be that there are ways that could happen,” Mr. Kerry added, but he said the question would have to be decided by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, “and it has to be determined by Iranian intentions themselves.”
Mr. Kerry made the remarks at a news conference in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, before he flew to Jordan and then Saudi Arabia to confer on his efforts to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and other regional issues. Capping a day of whirlwind travel, Mr. Kerry returned to Israel in the evening.
The debate over what role Iran might play at a peace conference on Syria has been one of the major impediments for convening the meeting. Russia, which has backed the Assad government politically and by sending arms, has insisted for some time that Iran be included in the session. Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy on the Syria crisis, has also favored Iran’s participation, on the ground that Tehran is a major power in the region that has been involved in the Syria conflict.
But France and the United States, which have backed the moderate Syrian opposition, have insisted that Iran should not participate unless it first makes clear that it would accept an outcome in which Mr. Assad hands over power to a transitional body. With the planned Syria conference less than three weeks away, Mr. Kerry appeared to signal that the United States might accept a compromise on the terms of Iran’s role so that the conference could proceed.
But the issue raises broader questions about how to best manage the West’s relations with Tehran. So far, the thaw in relations between the United States and Iran has been mainly limited to the November interim agreement to suspend much of Iran’s nuclear program for six months. Technical talks on how to put that interim agreement into effect are still continuing, and it is unclear whether the agreement will be the basis for a more comprehensive accord to roll back Iran’s nuclear efforts.
Though American and Iranian officials have conferred at length on the nuclear question, however, they appear to have engaged in only very limited discussions of other regional issues.
With Western nations and Iran backing different sides in Syria, there have been no signs of the kind of political cooperation that was seen after the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan were deposed in 2001.
The Obama administration has insisted that Mr. Assad must give up power and has provided limited support for moderate elements among the rebels who are trying to unseat him. By contrast, Iran has flown shipments of arms and members of its paramilitary Quds force to help Mr. Assad’s forces in Syria. Iran has also encouraged Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia, to intervene on Mr. Assad’s side.
At the same time, the Syria conflict has become a source of friction between the United States and its traditional Arab partners, especially Saudi Arabia, which is worried about Iran’s influence in the region. Those tensions became more pronounced after the Assad government used chemical weapons last year, and the White House shelved plans to mount a military strike in response. Instead, the United States worked with Russia to conclude an agreement to eliminate Syria’s arsenal of poison gas. That agreement was hailed by arms control experts as a breakthrough, but it appears to have left Mr. Assad firmly entrenched in power.
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who visited the Saudi capital last month, said in an interview that Saudi officials were still bitter about the Obama administration’s handling of the Syria crisis. “They were going to support whomever they thought could defeat Bashar al-Assad,” and not just groups that the United States favored, Mr. McCain recalled of the Saudis.
During his Sunday swing through the region, Mr. Kerry met for more than two hours with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at his desert palace at Rawdat Khuraim, a 30-minute helicopter flight from the capital, Riyadh. Mr. Kerry said afterward that the king backed his efforts to negotiate a peace accord between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “His majesty was not just encouraging, but supported our efforts,” Mr. Kerry said.
The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, also said Mr. Kerry and the king had an “excellent meeting.” But neither side offered any details about their discussions concerning three timely and delicate issues: the situation in Syria, the coming peace conference and Iran.
Syria's Nusra Front Chief Urges End to Jihadist-Rebel Clashes
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 January 2014/The chief of Syria's Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate, called Tuesday for an end to fighting between rebel groups and the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The message came as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said at least 274 people had been killed in the clashes that erupted last Friday.
In an audio recording posted on Twitter, Abu Mohamed al-Jolani announced an initiative to end the fighting, including a "ceasefire" and the establishment of an independent Islamic committee to serve as mediator.
"This unfortunate situation pushed us to launch an initiative to solve the situation," Jolani said.
"It consists of forming a committee based on Islamic law and composed of the key brigades (and)... the establishment of a ceasefire," he said. The initiative also calls for an exchange of prisoners and urges all fighters "to give priority to the fight against the regime." In recent days, widespread fighting has broken out pitting coalitions of Islamist and moderate rebel forces against ISIL.
The Observatory NGO said 129 fighters from moderate and Islamist rebel groups had been killed in the clashes, along with 99 ISIL members and 46 civilians.
The Nusra Front, which is al-Qaida's official affiliate in Syria, was established in mid-2011 when ISIL's Iraqi precursor dispatched members to the conflict.
In April 2013, ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced his Iraqi group and Al-Nusra would merge, but Jolani rejected the merger and pledged allegiance directly to al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri also rejected the merger, urging ISIL to contain its operations to Iraq and naming Nusra al-Qaida's official affiliate in Syria. Jolani's message on Tuesday blamed ISIL for the outbreak of rebel-jihadist fighting.
"The flawed policy of the Islamic State in the field had a key role in fueling the conflict," he said. He said the fighting "risks costing us dearly on the ground if it continues, particularly on the Aleppo front, for those under siege in Homs, and for the residents of Damascus and Ghouta (in Damascus province)."
"If the fighting is not resolved, the jihad formed by the muhajireen (foreign fighters) and the ansar (local fighters) risks losing lots of ground," he warned.
"The regime will gain new life when it was close to collapse and the West and the rafidain (Shiites and Alawites) will find a great space," he added.
SourceAgence France Presse.
Heavily armed militias wrest control of West Bank Palestinian refugee camps from Palestinian Authority
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 7, 2014/
Militias hold sway in Jenin Palestinian refugee camp
The rising level of Palestinian terrorism in recent months must be attributed largely to the 19 West Bank refugee sites veering out of the control of the Palestinian Authority, its head Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and its security services, debkafile’s military and counter-terror sources report after a thorough investigation on the ground. The close to quarter of-a-million Palestinians living in those camps have fallen into the hands of local armed militias run by terrorist organizations, crime mobs and arms racketeers.
The situation today is such that the Palestinian security forces don’t dare set foot in those areas, especially the big refugee camps of Nablus (Balata), Tulkarm, Dehaisha - between the Jewish Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Hebron - Askar - east of Nablus, and Jenin. Another no-go area is the Shoafat camp in the municipal area of Jerusalem.
Palestinian security units are afraid of being greeted in the same way as the Israeli military forces, which have cut down on entry to those camps after coming under a hail of automatic fire, firebombs and grenades wielded by gangs of armed thugs. There were also attempts to seize soldiers as hostages.
At the Jenin Palestinian camp on Dec. 17, an Israeli unit arrived to pick up a terrorist suspect; and on Dec. 19, an elite paratroop unit drove into the Qalqilia camp. Both IDF forces withdrew under heavy fire and did not return to deal with the violent assailants.
Control of the big West Bank cities and their outlying refugee camps passed to Palestinian authority under previous accords with Israel. Since then, no one has stopped the Palestinian camps stocking big dumps of illegal weapons, including anti-tank and anti-air rockets, with the local militias vying amongst each other for the biggest and most advanced weaponry.
Our intelligence sources report that, from the third week of December, those arms began spilling over into the Palestinian villages around the camps and are now reaching the towns in trucks of farm produce delivered to city shops. In this way, the local militias are extending their sway from the camps to the West Bank towns under PA rule, such as Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and even its own seat, Ramallah, and the Palestinian neighborhoods of E. Jerusalem.
Abu Mazen has not so far lifted a finger to assert his authority for cutting down the armed militias’ rule over a large section of his populace. He recently tried to use the veteran Palestinian general Hadj Ismail, in his capacity as coordinator of relations between the PA and the Palestinian provincial governors, to persuade them to take action and put a stop to the mayhem.
This was not much good, because the governors are no longer taking orders from any PA official, especially Abu Mazen.
debkafile points to the strange paradox of the United States and Israel conducting negotiations with the head of a Palestinian ruling body, whose authority slides further day by day and whose signature on any accord would have little practical value.
The parties concerned pretend not to notice this situation for three reasons:
1. US Secretary of State John Kerry, though aware of the true state of affairs in Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank, realizes that acknowledging it would render irrelevant his painstaking attention to developing agreed security arrangements in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank itself.
After Kerry keft Israel after another bid to close the gaps between the Palestinians and Israel, a senior Israeli security source told debkafile Monday, Jan. 6 that before tackling the borders question, the Secretary needs to urgently address with the breakdown of security in Palestinian-controlled areas on more than 90 percent of the West Bank before it explodes.
2. The Netanyahu government and its security arms prefer to turn a blind eye to the chaos spreading out from the refugee camps and fast spilling over into the rest of the West Bank, lest they be exposed embarrassingly to be negotiating peace with a leader who can’t maintain order in his own house – least of all in an independent Palestinian state.
The unruly state of Palestinian security allows Israeli security authorities to rate the rising violence as random rather than the work of a terrorist organization. This may be true technically, but should not let them off the hook.
3. Abbas can’t afford to admit to his loss of control in the refugee camps because this would entail exposing his constantly eroding authority in the population he hopes to rule in a future Palestinian state – and not only on the security front. He has also lost the bulk of his support in the main Palestinian ruling bodies: the central committee of his Fatah party and the central council of the PLO.