January 31/14

Bible Quotation for today/Teaching about the Law
Matthew 05/17-20: "Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with—not until the end of all things. then, whoever disobeys even the least important of the commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be least in the Kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, whoever obeys the Law and teaches others to do the same, will be great in the Kingdom of heaven. I tell you, then, that you will be able to enter the Kingdom of heaven only if you are more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires."

Pope Francis
I cannot imagine a Christian who does not know how to smile. May we joyfully witness to our faith.

Pape François
Je ne peux imaginer un chrétien qui ne sache pas sourire. Cherchons à donner un témoignage joyeux de notre foi.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For For January 31/14
What is Brahimi’s logic on Syria/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/January 31/14
The U.S. raises the volume on Syria/By:
Joyce Karam/January 31/14
Israel's Growing Role in Southern Syria/By: Ehud Yaari/Washington Institute/January 31/14
Syria Cheats/By: David Schenker/Washington Institute/January 31/14

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 31/14
Lebanese Related News
Israel Threatens to Attack Civilians, Accuses Hizbullah of Using them as 'Human Shields'
Hoping to deter Hezbollah, Israel threatens Lebanese
Israel ready to kill civilians in Hezbollah war
Hezbollah expanding drone use to Syria
Geagea Accuses March 8 of Hindering Cabinet Formation Process to Appease Aoun
Suleiman Considers Israeli Threats 'Clear' Violation to U.N. Resolution 1701
Lebanese sheikh charged with role in spate of attacks
Army Command: Atrash Confesses to Transporting Explosives-Laden Cars to Beirut
Army Thwarts Arms Smuggling from Syria, Arrests 2 Lebanese
1 Dead, Another Injured in Syrian Gunfire in Wadi Khaled
Girl Lured Julien Antoun to Faraya to Demand Ransom
Three al-Nusra Front Suspects Detained in Bekaa
Jumblat Proposes Giving Foreign Ministry to Aoun but Bassil Throws Ball in Salam's Court
March 14 Calls for National Reconciliation that Does Not Rule Justice Out
Qortbawi Refers Civil Marriage Draft Law to Cabinet
Sidon Urgent Security Meeting Devises Plan to Combat 'Bomb-Laden Cars Rumors'
Army in Arsal intercepts car, seizes ammunition
Man robs jewelry store at iconic Beirut hotel
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Pope Francis reaches out to L'Isle-Verte in wake of devastating seniors' home fire
Iran sanctions-buster falls from grace
U.S. Concerned over Syria Chemical Weapons Delay
Crime in Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, Syria
UN mediator: 'Ice is breaking' in Syria talks
Syria's Sides Both Talk 'Terrorism' but Spar over Blame
Shared moment of silence but little headway at Syria talks
Popular Wave Could Lift Egypt Army Chief to Office
Ex-Canadian Top General in Afghanistan Detained

Pope Francis reaches out to L'Isle-Verte in wake of devastating seniors' home fire
By The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press .VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis offered his spiritual support Thursday to a Quebec community devastated by a fire at a seniors' home that has left 19 people confirmed dead.
Thirteen people were still missing following the early morning blaze at Residence du Havre in L'Isle-Verte on Jan. 23. The Pope's sympathies follow those of the Queen, who offered her condolences in a message released a day after the fire. Vatican Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin wrote that Pope Francis was immediately touched by the tragedy upon learning of it. The Pope "united himself in prayer in the grief of the bereaved families and entrusted the victims to the mercy of God, that they might be accepted into his light," the archbishop said. Pope Francis imparted a special apostolic blessing "to all those affected by this tragedy" as a "sign of comfort," he added.
The pontiff also "expressed his spiritual closeness to the injured and their families, as well as the firefighters and rescue workers who have performed a great work of solidarity." Emergency crews have worked in sub-zero temperatures to recover bodies and evidence from the rubble of the seniors' home. Special machines to melt thick sheets of ice coating the structure have been used to help them gain access. The residence had 52 units and many of its occupants had limited mobility, needing wheelchairs or walkers to get around.

Suleiman Considers Israeli Threats 'Clear' Violation to U.N. Resolution 1701
Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/Comment 50 President Michel Suleiman dismissed on Thursday Israeli threats to target residential buildings in Lebanon and civilians as a clear violation to U.N. Security Council resolution 1701. “The Israeli threats clearly violate resolution 1701 on both political and international levels, in addition to the human rights principles,” Suleiman said in a statement. He considered that the Israeli remarks create instability among the Lebanese, urging the international community and the United Nations to deal with the matter. On Wednesday, Israeli air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel accused Hizbullah of establishing bases in residential areas and using civilians as “human shields,” vowing to destroy them in any conflict in the future. "We will have to deal aggressively with thousands of Hizbullah bases which threaten the State of Israel and mainly our interior," Eshel said in a speech at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, a think-tank near Tel Aviv. The Israeli official pointed out that Beirut, the Bekaa valley and the South are among the targets. Eshel said that the Israeli forces are more powerful than Hizbullah with more capabilities than in 2006. Resolution 1701, which ended the Hizbullah-Israel war in 2006, expanded the mandate of U.N. troops in the South, which was originally formed in 1978 after the outbreak of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. It imposed a strict embargo on weapons destined for Lebanese or foreign militias in Lebanon, and pressed Israel to end violations of Lebanon's airspace and to withdraw from northern Ghajar.Israel's border with Lebanon has been largely quiet since the 2006 war with Hizbullah. However, tension has spiked on the border between the two countries since Lebanese troops shot dead an Israeli soldier driving near the frontier on December 16. It was the most serious incident along the border since 2010, when one Israeli soldier and two Lebanese soldiers, and a journalist were killed.

Army Command: Atrash Confesses to Transporting Explosives-Laden Cars to Beirut
Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/The Army Command announced on Thursday that detained cleric Sheikh Omar al-Atrash had confessed during investigations to taking part in plans to carry out car bomb attacks in Lebanon. It said in a statement that he confessed to transporting explosives-laden cars to Beirut. State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr later charged Atrash and 12 Lebanese and Syrian suspects with belonging to al-Qaida and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and of committing terrorist acts. Atrash confessed that he was transporting the booby-trapped vehicles to a Syrian national called Abou Khaled who in turn was planning to hand them to a terrorist called Naim Abbas in cooperation with a man identified as Omar Saleh. The cleric also transported explosive belts, hand grenades, and different ammunition. In addition, he transported in one of the vehicles two suicide bombers equipped with explosive belts. The bombers were killed at the Ouwwali and Majdelyoun army checkpoints on undisclosed dates. Atrash confessed that he had transported suicide bombers from different Arab nationalities to Syria. They were handed over to the Nusra Front group in Syria, said the Army Command statement. Moreover, the cleric transported from Syria four rockets that were fired from al-Hosh region towards Israel on August 22, 2013. He had received four new rockets, from a man called Ahmed Taha, a few days before his arrest. The Army Intelligence added that further investigations will be held with Atrash in order to uncover all other operations that the group he belongs to had carried out. The cleric was arrested last week. Media reports had linked him to car bombings that had taken place in recent months in Dahieh, Hizbullah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs. Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon -- believed to be the local branch of Syria's Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist rebel movement – had recently warned that attacks on Hizbullah-controlled areas will continue until Lebanon releases Sunni Islamist prisoners and the party withdraws from Syria. Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon warned Sunnis against "approaching or residing in or near (Hizbullah's) bases, and (to) avoid gathering around its meeting points."The war in Syria has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon, with Hizbullah backing President Bashar Assad's regime and many Sunnis supporting the rebellion against him.

Army Thwarts Arms Smuggling from Syria, Arrests 2 Lebanese

Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/The Lebanese Army on Thursday intercepted a car loaded with arms and ammunition, which was trying to enter the Bekaa border town of Arsal.
OTV said two Lebanese men were inside the car, identifying them as “Ahmed al-Fahel from al-Qubayyat and Hasan Mohammed from Akroum” in Akkar. Army troops seized the car in the Wadi Hmayyed area on Arsal's outskirts. Al-Mayadeen television said the vehicle came from the Syrian town of Yabrud, a stronghold for rebel and jihadist groups. Earlier media reports had claimed that the two detainees were Syrian.

Israel Threatens to Attack Civilians, Accuses Hizbullah of Using them as 'Human Shields'

Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/Israel accused Hizbullah of establishing bases in residential areas and using civilians as “human shields,” vowing to destroy them in any conflict in the future. Israeli air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel issued his threats in an attempt to prepare the world for high civilian casualties in case a new confrontation with Hizbullah erupted. "We will have to deal aggressively with thousands of Hizbullah bases which threaten the State of Israel and mainly our interior," Eshel said in a speech at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, a think-tank near Tel Aviv. The Israeli official pointed out that Beirut, the Bekaa valley and the South are among the targets. Eshel said Hizbullah uses at times the entire storeys of a residential facility to be used in battles. He accused the party of using civilians as “human shield.” Eshel said that the Israeli forces are more powerful than Hizbullah with more capabilities than in 2006. "Our ability today to attack targets on a large scale and with high precision is about 15 times greater than what we did in the (2006) war," he stressed.
According to estimates Hizbullah is in possession of some 5,000 long-range rockets that can hit greater Tel Aviv, carrying warheads of between 750 kilograms to a ton. Israel fought a devastating war against Hizbullah in 2006 that cost the lives of 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Tension has spiked on the border between the two countries since Lebanese troops shot dead an Israeli soldier driving near the frontier on December 16. It was the most serious incident along the border since 2010, when one Israeli soldier and two Lebanese soldiers, and a journalist were killed. Israel's border with Lebanon has been largely quiet since the 2006 war with Hizbullah.

Geagea Accuses March 8 of Hindering Cabinet Formation Process to Appease Aoun

Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has accused the March 8 alliance of obstructing the formation of the new cabinet to stand by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. In an interview with An Nahar daily published on Thursday, Geagea said: The March 8 team is obstructing the all-embracing government whether intentionally or not or based on Hizbullah's willingness to stand by Aoun.”
Aoun has rejected the rotation of portfolios in the cabinet, sticking to the energy and telecommunications ministries that are part of the share of his Change and Reform bloc in the resigned government of caretaker Premier Najib Miqati. President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam “should immediately announce a neutral cabinet,” said Geagea, who has rejected to participate in an all-embracing government. The LF chief has been sticking to his demand for a non partisan cabinet, saying it is the only one capable of creating stability in the country and distancing itself from the logic of division of shares. Geagea told An Nahar that only a neutral government can facilitate the presidential elections process. “If it was an all-embracing government, then it could stay in power for long and would not speed up the election of a president,” he said. Suleiman's six-year term ends in May. The constitution states that the parliament should start meeting on March 25 to elect a new head of state. Suleiman and Salam have now the excuse to form the neutral cabinet, Geagea said, after the negotiations on the formation of the all-embracing government led to no result. “They can ask Hizbullah if it was capable of convincing its allies” on the agreement reached between the rival parties to have a cabinet based on the 8-8-8 formula and the rotation of portfolios, he said. “If Hizbullah answered them that I was not capable to do so, then the neutral cabinet should be announced,” Geagea added.

Jumblat Proposes Giving Foreign Ministry to Aoun but Bassil Throws Ball in Salam's Court
Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/A new proposal has been made to grant the foreign ministry portfolio to the Change and Reform bloc in the all-embracing government although caretaker Energy Minister Jebran Bassil said his party hasn't been officially informed about it. Media reports said Thursday that Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat, who has been mediating the negotiation process, made the proposal to make the foreign ministry, which is a so-called sovereign portfolio, as part of the share of MP Michel Aoun's bloc.But the reports said that such a suggestion collides with the rest of the “sovereign” shares of Maronites in the all-embracing 24-member government. Aoun, who is the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, has rejected a deal struck between the country's rival parties on the formation of a cabinet based on the 8-8-8 formula and the rotation of portfolios.
He has been sticking to his demand to keep the energy and telecommunications portfolios as part of his share in the new government despite a mediation by its ally Hizbullah to resolve the deadlock. This last obstacle, which is hindering the agreement on the line-up, has pushed Hizbullah to ask for an additional 48 hours to resolve it. But Bassil, who is Aoun's son-in-law, has stressed that no official proposal has been made to the FPM in the past ten days or months. Premier-designate Tammam Salam hasn't made a clear stance on the portfolios “so that we give a negative or positive opinion about it,” Bassil told As Safir newspaper.
The suggestion to give the FPM the foreign ministry portfolio is part of several proposals made by mediators and friends, he said. “As if the PM-designate is not the person who should be discussing the cabinet formation with us and the rest of the parties,” Bassil added. “Salam is mistaken if he thinks that he awaits a certain answer from us because he is asked to provide clear answers to us and not the other way around,” he told As Safir. “So the problem is with him and not us,” Bassil stressed.

1 Dead, Another Injured in Syrian Gunfire in Wadi Khaled
Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/One person was killed and another injured on Thursday when they came under Syrian gunfire while they were on the Lebanese side of al-Kabir river in the northern area of Wadi Khaled.
The state-run National News Agency said the two Syrians came under attack by automatic rifles. It identified them as Khaled Qowaisem and Mohammed Hussein. A Lebanese army unit transported them to a hospital in the region. But Qowaisem succumbed to his injuries, the agency added. Similar attacks have taken place in the area since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011 and turned into a violent war between his troops and rebels seeking to topple him. They have either targeted Lebanese or Syrians trying to infiltrate Lebanon through al-Kabir river.

Three al-Nusra Front Suspects Detained in Bekaa
Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/Three Syrian nationals, who are allegedly affiliated in al-Nusra Front, have been arrested in the north of the Bekaa. According to the state-run National News Agency, the three men entered Lebanon illegally to the Bekaa border town of Arsal via Qalamoun. The cellphones in possession of the three men contained pictures showing them holding flags of al-Nusra Front, confirming their affiliation with the group. The three suspects were identified as Moustapha Mohammed Sfarji, 34, Ziad Kheirallah Melhem, 26, and Bassam Ahmed Hamsho, 22. Sfarji had also in his possession two cellphone, four international SIM cards and five memory cards. The Military prosecutor ordered their referral to the military police in Ablah. Al-Nusra Front warned that all areas where Hizbullah operates are "legitimate targets", telling Sunnis to avoid them. It claimed a recent car bomb attack in Beirut's southern suburbs that killed four people. It was the sixth in a string of attacks targeting areas dominated by Hizbullah since the group acknowledged sending fighters into Syria to support Assad's forces. Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon -- believed to be the local franchise of Syria's al-Nusra Front, a jihadist rebel movement -- had previously claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Hermel in eastern Lebanon, which killed three people.They warned that attacks on Hizbullah-controlled areas will continue until Lebanon releases Sunni Islamist prisoners and it withdraws its fighters from Syria.

Ex-Canadian Top General in Afghanistan Detained
Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2014/A former Canadian brigadier-general and head of Canadian forces in Afghanistan is being detained in Afghanistan for alleged gun smuggling, media said Thursday. Daniel Menard resigned from the military after pleading guilty in 2011 to having an affair with a female corporal under his command on active duty. He now works for security firm Garda World, whose spokesman Joe Gavaghan told the Toronto Star newspaper Menard was picked up by Afghan authorities on or about January 12 after a meeting with Afghan officials. "He was leaving a meeting at the ministry office and a couple of officials approached him. They said, 'We've got a problem with something and we'd like you to come with us to clear it up.' Off he went and the next thing he knew he was going to be detained until they cleared it up," said Gavaghan. Gavaghan said his detention relates to an "administrative misunderstanding" over the private security firm's licensing to operate in the country. "It's been cleared up and we believe that the individual is going to be released very shortly," he added.
The daily Globe and Mail cited Kabul police chief General Zaher Zaher saying Menard was being held for "gun smuggling." The Canadian government told Agence France Presse, "Consular services are being provided to a Canadian citizen who has been detained in Afghanistan." However it would not confirm the person's identity nor the circumstances surrounding his detention. Menard was relieved of his command of Canadian troops responsible for Kandahar region in May 2010 due to the affair with the female master corporal. The Canadian Forces forbid intimate relationships during deployments. Canada ended its combat mission in Afghanistan a year later in 2011, closing the curtain after nine years and the deaths of 157 soldiers. Menard has managed Garda's operations in Afghanistan since November 2011, according to the company's website. Source/Agence France Presse.

Crime in Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, Syria
January 30, 2014/The Daily Star
The appalling blockade on the Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus continues to generate words of outrage, cries of despair and statements of condemnation, but no action.
The horrific stories of malnutrition and death coming out of the camp are being relayed on a daily basis as politicians and diplomats gather in Switzerland for Syria’s peace talks. But the international community and all of the self-styled defenders of Palestine around the world have been unable to lift a finger to alleviate the siege, now more than six months old.
In Geneva, politicians and diplomats are struggling to agree in discussions of key issues, such as Syria’s political future, and getting much-needed humanitarian assistance to the city of Homs. Yarmouk might have a specific political entity (the Palestinian Authority) and a specific U.N. agency (UNRWA) responsible for conditions there, but these haven’t done the thousands of people who remain in the camp any good.
Some people talk about the need to arrive at solutions to humanitarian problems, as if they are separate from the realm of politics. Perhaps they have forgotten that the Damascus regime’s chief skill is to turn any discussion of human suffering into questions of “terrorism” and “security.” Perhaps they have forgotten earlier government-supervised “evacuations” of besieged areas, and the wave of detentions and disappearances that followed.
The tragedy of Yarmouk is a potent symbol of the international community’s resounding failure to deal with the humanitarian aspect of the Syria crisis, but more importantly, people should remember that the failure to solve the political aspect is responsible for all of the horrific suffering we see today.

What is Brahimi’s logic on Syria?
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabyia
Thursday, 30 January 2014
United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi did not only fail to meet the Geneva I Conference’s demand that a transitional government without Bashar al-Assad be established in Syria, he also failed to evacuate 400 women and children besieged in the old town of Homs. We know that Assad’s negotiating delegation went to Switzerland to sabotage the conference, and it succeeded. Brahimi, who said he has been preparing to hold the conference since last May, did not succeed in anything. Therefore, I don’t know what Brahimi wants to achieve when trying to unite the rival parties in one room. He knows well that he who is outside the room - that is Assad - will never make any concessions even if they are opening the way for a Red Cross team to rescue those besieged in Homs for 10 months now. So, how can we expect the Assad regime to allow its employees in Geneva to negotiate the idea of him exiting power by forming a coalition government without him? The Syrian opposition delegation embarrassed the U.N. more than it succeeded in besieging the Assad delegation. The U.N. appeared weak and Brahimi, its representative, appeared incapable of achieving anything. He settled with requesting that people pray for him. If praying is what it takes, we wouldn’t have needed to go to Geneva since the Arab world’s mosques have been praying for three years now.
A lesson
The Geneva meet was a lesson for the U.N. and superpowers to work towards stopping the Syrian tragedy. They failed the test. The repercussions of this failure will lead to the further deterioration of Syria’s, and the region’s, security. The Syrian regime is publicly besieging cities and international organizations, including those linked to the U.N., it has overseen murder by starving people and besieging them. All they do is beg the regime to allow aid to enter these cities. The U.N. has a list of 4,000 people in need of savior from inevitable death in Homs, and all that Brahimi does is seek to convince the regime and the opposition to sit in one room! It seems the aim is to feed the media with rare photos of the envoy’s success. “We are not demanding the impossible from Brahimi, like ending the fighting and making the Assad regime exit power”
We didn’t hope for much. Even before anyone traveled to Switzerland, we knew the conference would fail. But the Geneva conference serves as a witness, not to Assad because the extermination war he’s practicing is enough of a witness, but to Brahimi, the U.N. and the international team involved in the political process regarding the Syrian cause.
We are not demanding the impossible
Brahimi will say that he cannot impose anything on the belligerent parties in Syria. We are not demanding the impossible from him, like ending the fighting and making the Assad regime exit power, but we blame him for his failure on the humanitarian issue and for his failure to mobilize a political stance that helps save the besieged people and raise awareness of their fate so that a zero tolerance policy is taken up.
The Syrian regime humiliated Brahimi and not the opposition. Assad’s information minister, Omran Zoabi, told him the request to evacuate 500 besieged families is part of a political game. Barahimi said nothing worth reminding you of regarding these innocent people! He wants to make Assad leave power when he cannot even evacuate starving children! What kind of logic and priorities are these?
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 30, 2014.

The U.S. raises the volume on Syria
Joyce Karam/Al Arabyia/Thursday, 30 January 2014
For close Syria watchers, it was hard not to notice a louder and more pointed criticism from the U.S. administration towards the Assad regime in the last few weeks. The statements lambasting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while resuming non-lethal and “covert” aid to some rebel groups, could be only tactical and centered around the Geneva II conference, according to experts. Or, it could signify “a bigger shift” on part of the administration in dealing with what has become a regional security problem.
“Definitely, there is a change of tone in the U.S. rhetoric, at least form the Secretary of State’s side ” says Joseph Bahout, a Professor of Middle East Studies at the Institute of Politics in Paris. Bahout points to the systematic “harsh language” coming from Kerry at his opening speech for the Geneva II conference, followed by his interview with Al Arabiya’s Rima Maktabi and all the way to his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Kerry’s Assurances
The recurring theme was that there is no place for Assad in any political transition. Kerry held Assad responsible “for the disintegration of Syria” and branded him as a “one-man super-magnet for terrorism.” When asked about the military threat, Kerry even spoke about “keeping all options on the table” and spoke about “parallel efforts being made, even while the talks are going on in order to try to find different pressure points” on the Assad regime.
“The Syrian crisis has become more of a security threat for regional countries and the West due to the rise of al-Qaeda affiliated elements”
The U.S. Secretary of State was “taking full advantage of the media focus on Geneva II to drive home some central points” says Frederick Hof a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Hof tells Al Arabiya News that Kerry was reassuring the Opposition and “realizes that Syria-related diplomacy unaccompanied by the military threat is a leverage-free exercise..and he is right.” The sticking point, however, according to Hof, is in “President Obama quietly and tacitly removing the [military] threat in return for the chemical weapons agreement.” Until the agreement is implemented, the “administration really has no alternatives.”
Parallel arming track?
While Kerry was making headlines, officials in Washington announced the resumption of non-lethal aid to civilian opposition groups in the north of the country, as Reuters leaked an unusual report quoting U.S. and European officials that Congress secretly approved U.S. weapons flow to “moderate” Syrian rebels in the south of the country. The arms, delivered via Jordan, include “some powerful weapons such as anti-tank rockets.”
Bahout, who is also a policy consultant to the French government, sees in the weapon deliveries one more “signal of a repositioned U.S. approach in the aftermath of the Geneva II” conference. The conference, in the words of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, has not reached a “substantive result.”
Bahout tells Al Arabiya News that the arming, even if limited in nature, cannot be seen apart from the ground developments. The fighting between the more moderate rebels and al-Qaeda affiliates in the north is helping draw distinction in Washington between the good and the bad rebels.
Increasing security threat
The Syrian crisis has become more of a security threat for regional countries and the West due to the rise of al-Qaeda affiliated elements. There is a “convergent reading” between “different actors regionally and in Europe” says Bahout on the need to address this threat. U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time on Tuesday highlighted differences between factions of the Syrian opposition, saying at his State of the Union address that the U.S. “will support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks.”
For Hof, who was special adviser on Syria for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, “unless and until a mission of arming, equipping, and training selected elements of the Free Syrian Army is assigned to the U.S. Department of Defense, it will be literally impossible for any U.S.-provided lethal assistance to make a noticeable difference on the ground in Syria.” According to Hof, the objective of the current arming effort seems to be aimed at “[giving] armed Syrian nationalists the means to survive without prevailing.”
While the diplomatic initiatives and the talks with Russia remain central to the U.S. effort, there is a recognition inside the Obama administration regarding their limits and an underlying distrust of Russia’s intentions. Washington is also aware of the importance of the military component and watching closely the developments inside Syria and the fighting against al-Qaeda, before deciding if it will heavily weigh in with serious support to the non-radicalized opposition.
In the Post-Geneva II phase, the U.S. appears to be cautiously testing different policy cards in Syria, before a future reassessment of its approach to push for a faster end to the conflict.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Israel's Growing Role in Southern Syria
Ehud Yaari/Washington Institute
Concerned about the possible drift of al-Qaeda affiliates to areas adjacent to the Golan Heights border, Israel finds itself obliged to increase its assistance to local rebel militias in southern Syria.
As the fighting in Syria rages, Israel has been moving cautiously and often reluctantly toward assuming a modest role in the civil war, restricted to areas along the Golan Heights frontier line. What began as a purely humanitarian step -- extending emergency medical aid to injured and sick Syrians from neighboring villages -- has by now reportedly expanded into a well-developed mechanism for providing a whole range of items, from medications to food, fuel, clothes, heaters, and more. One should assume that the same understandings which allowed over 600 wounded Syrians to be evacuated for treatment in Israeli hospitals -- including a special military field hospital on the Golan -- are facilitating other forms of assistance as well. A significant operation of this type indicates that a system of communications and frequent contacts have been established with the local rebel militias, since the evacuation of the injured and their return to Syria seem to function flawlessly.
These developments bring to mind the establishment of "The Good Fence" along the Israel-Lebanon border when civil war erupted there in the mid-1970s. Yet unlike in Lebanon, the Israeli forces involved in the current Golan-based assistance effort have been very careful not to operate inside Syrian territory or assume responsibility for the villages in question, most of which are populated by a mixture of Sunnis, Druze, and Circassians, along with various armed factions.
Israel initially opted to remove itself from the bloody quagmire in Syria. It even accepted without protest its exclusion from the latest Geneva II peace conference, despite Israel's major stake in how the conflict is settled and its longstanding bilateral accord with Syria -- the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, which is still in effect. Yet Israeli concerns about the war's consequences have been aggravated by the emergence of al-Qaeda affiliates and other radical Islamist militias, which have gained preeminence among rebel units in many parts of central and northern Syria. Israel apparently may feel obliged to take unpublicized measures aimed at preventing or at least slowing the movement of such fighters to territory south of Damascus, particularly those representing the al-Qaeda affiliates Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
The area in question stretches from the Golan frontier up to Mount Druze in the east, and between the southern suburbs of Damascus and the city of Deraa, where the Syrian uprising was first ignited in 2011. The local militias formed in this region's villages are recognized as a potentially effective barrier to a takeover by al-Qaeda disciples. Although Jabhat al-Nusra has established a presence in the vicinity of Deraa and close to the meeting point of the Rukkad and Yarmouk Rivers, the overall situation in the south does not follow the pattern witnessed in other parts of Syria, where radicals have asserted themselves at the forefront of the rebellion.
For example, military commanders have the last word in other parts of the country, but southern militias are often directed by civilian elders. Many of them have come to view Israel as a temporary ally under the present circumstances. Emboldened by their belief that the Israel Defense Forces will indirectly protect their back, these militias have battled troops from the Assad regime's 90th and 61st Brigades, which are based in the area. When regime artillery units fire on rebel formations along the Golan frontier and an occasional stray shell lands on the Israeli side of the border fence, the IDF is indeed quick to retaliate with a single Tammuz missile directed at the position from where the shells were fired. Otherwise, however, the IDF refrains from any intervention, even when clashes occur very close to Israeli positions, sometimes with regime tanks driving within meters of the border.
President Bashar al-Assad's main interest in the south is to ensure the safety of the main highway between Damascus and Deraa and maintain a hold over parts of the latter city. He has also ordered his generals to retain Quneitra, the capital of the district bordering Israel, as well as the stretch of Druze villages to the north along the eastern slopes of Mount Hermon. So far, the regime has managed to achieve these goals and does not seem worried about losing its grip on the rest of the region, which has little strategic significance for the outcome of the current struggle.
The regime is also keen on keeping the southern Druze community out of the fight. Based mainly on Mount Druze east of Deraa, this community could play a major role in shaping realities on the ground in the south. For now, it prefers to sit on the fence until Assad's prospects of survival are clarified. Traditionally, though, Syrian Druze have special ties to the Hashemite court in Jordan and were once considered by Israeli strategist Gen. Yigal Allon as natural future allies of the Jewish state.
For their part, Israel and Jordan share similar interests in southern Syria. King Abdullah II is no less worried about the possible appearance of numerous al-Qaeda militants along his border. Accordingly, Amman is cultivating an array of local militias close to the long frontier with Syria, taking advantage of the fact that many inhabitants of southern Syria and northern Jordan belong to the same tribes. There are also many reports -- repeatedly dismissed by Jordanian authorities -- of a clandestine "operations room" in Amman where Jordanian military and intelligence officers coordinate military assistance to local rebel groups alongside Saudi and Western advisors. If such reports are correct, the Israeli part of the effort should be viewed as complementing but not necessarily coordinated with the Jordanian endeavor.
In all likelihood, the inability of al-Qaeda affiliates to seize the leading role in the south is due not only to alleged Israeli or Jordanian involvement, but also to the jihadists' preoccupation with the war in the north, where ISIS has been battling with the Islamic Front and rival group Jabhat al-Nusra (backed by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri) in recent weeks in addition to fighting the regime. Yet ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra have dramatically increased their strength -- according to Israeli intelligence estimates, they now total 40,000 men. If they launched a concerted effort to extend their foothold to the south, they would pose a major test to local militias that have yet to be seriously challenged. In that scenario, Israel and Jordan would have to decide whether to sit idly while al-Qaeda becomes entrenched along their borders.
In light of these concerns, preventing the southward expansion of extremist Islamist groups is becoming a larger priority in tackling the overall Syrian problem. If al-Qaeda affiliates take charge of the regions bordering Israel and Jordan, new terrorist threats would arise, potentially exporting Syria's bloodshed to its neighbors. Such a development would give al-Qaeda freedom of action over a vast area stretching from west of Baghdad to southern Syria. Put another way, the organization would have achieved its long-sought objective: a front with Israel.
**Ehud Yaari is a Lafer International Fellow with The Washington Institute and a Middle East commentator for Israel's Channel Two television.

Syria Cheats
By: David Schenker/Washington Institute
The regime's long history of reneging on promises and legal obligations does not bode well for full implementation of the chemical weapons deal.
Tuesday, during the State of the Union Address, President Obama boasted that "American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated." The assertion was premature. In early January, Syria's Bashar Assad regime indeed started the process of transferring its chemical weapons arsenal abroad. To date it's destroyed only 5 percent of its unconventional arsenal and it's unlikely Damascus will finish the job. Despite international commitments to the contrary, precedent suggests that Assad will retain a residual supply for future contingencies.
Like North Korea and Libya -- which famously violated international obligations on weapons of mass destruction -- there is good reason to believe that Syria will cheat on its own agreement with the United Nations to fully dispose of its chemical weapons arsenal.
Three years into a popular uprising that has left 130,000 dead, in August Assad gassed nearly 1,500 men, women, and children with Sarin. Facing international pressure, in September Damascus signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and allowed the U.N. to start a process of cataloguing, removing, and destroying CW facilities, weapons, and precursor chemicals.
A month later, Secretary Kerry praised Syrian "compliance" and called the disarmament a "credit to the Assad regime." But the honeymoon won't last. In just 13 years in power, Syria under Bashar Assad has established a prodigious track record of reneging on promises and violating international agreements.
Assad's subterfuge started three years after coming to power, when in February 2003 then Secretary of State Colin Powell travelled to Damascus and secured a commitment from Assad to stop smuggling some 150,000 barrels of oil per day from Saddam's Iraq. Syria never halted the imports, a violation of trust that later prompted Secretary Powell to say, "I will always have that lying in my background software and on my hard drive."Undeterred, months later Secretary Powell returned to Syria and cajoled Assad to shutter the offices and restrict the communications of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Powell reportedly called President Bush, awakening him in the middle of the night to inform him of his diplomatic achievement. Alas, as with the earlier oil pipeline promise, this Assad undertaking also proved insincere and the terrorist headquarters remained open for business. Later that year following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Assad regime moved thousands of al Qaeda insurgents bent on killing American soldiers and Iraqi civilians across the border. During bilateral security talks with the U.S., Damascus vowed to secure the frontier but the jihadi pipeline never dried up.
To be sure, these deceptions complicated Washington's Middle East policy. But while Syria's misdeeds and Assad's lies were annoying, they didn't rise to the level of strategic concern -- until 2007. That year, Israel launched an airstrike against a target in northwestern Syria that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) later confirmed was a nuclear weapons facility.
The facility at Al Kibar had been built in contravention not only of Syria's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, but also in violation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Safeguards Agreement to which Damascus is a signatory. Syria's egregious breach of its nuclear commitments and the regime's subsequent obstruction of the IAEA investigation do not bode well for the international effort to denude Syria of its chemical weapons capabilities.
Not surprisingly, the accuracy of Syria's inventory declaration to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is already in question. According to the OPCW, for example, the Assad regime declared "approximately 1,000 metric tons" of binary chemical weapons precursors, a number that seems too oddly coincident with Secretary Kerry's earlier formulation that that Syria "has "about a thousand metric tons" of these agents. (Is it possible that U.S. intelligence assessments are so precise?) Likewise, according to non-proliferation experts, given the size and scope of the CW program, the fact that the Assad regime declared absolutely no filled chemical munitions is a glaring red flag. At present, it is too soon to tell whether the Assad regime is violating its chemical weapons commitments. After having killed so many Syrians with conventional armaments, it's difficult to see why the Assad regime would see a need to retain a residual chemical arsenal. Perhaps over the past 13 years, Bashar has come to understand that there is no cost associated with cheating.
Indeed, objectively speaking, the use of chemical weapons has changed the dynamic on the ground in Syria and in the international community, effectively strengthening the Assad regime. Not only did the regime avoid a promised U.S. military strike, as UN Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi noted in October, the chemical weapons deal transformed Assad from a "pariah" into a "partner."
In the coming months -- even as Damascus continues its genocidal war against its political opponents -- more blandishments are sure to be lavished on Assad. The regime will be praised for fulfilling its commitments, and the rebels may even be condemned for undermining security and delaying the disarmament process. And eventually, the U.N. -- and the Obama administration -- will pronounce Syria free of chemical weapons.
Shortly after the agreement was reached to steal Assad's chemical arsenal out of Syria, Secretary of State Kerry sought to preempt critics of the deal. "We're not just going to trust and verify," he assured, "We're going to verify, and verify, and verify." Alas, because the Chemical Weapons Convention provides signatories the right to manage access to facilities and does not mandate intrusive inspections, verification is at best a relative term. And then, of course, there is the matter of Assad's penchant for lying.
At the kickoff of the Geneva II peace conference on January 22, Syrian foreign minister Walid Moualem told U.N. secretary general Ban Ki Moon, "Syria always keeps its promises." Western governments should know better. When it comes to keeping international obligations, Syria's Bashar Assad regime seldom keeps its promises. Given the absence of consequences for pursuing nuclear and deploying chemical weapons, the inescapable takeaway for Assad is that when it comes to dictators and WMD, the old aphorism that "winners never cheat and cheaters never win" doesn't apply.
*David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute.