July 20/14


Bible Quotation for today/The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few

Luke 10,1-7/After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace to this house!" And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.

Pope Francis's Twweet For Today
The Lord loves a cheerful giver. May we learn to be generous in giving, free from the love of material possessions
Pape François
Dieu aime celui qui donne avec joie. Apprenons à donner avec générosité, détachés des biens matériels


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For July 20/14

Boots on the Ground: Israel Enters Gaza/By: Jeffrey White and Neri Zilber/Asharq Alawsat/July 20/14

Iran Can Afford to Say No to a Nuclear Deal/By: Patrick Clawson/Asharq Alawsat/July 20/14

The Arabs’ long journey into the heart of darkness/By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/For July 20/14

Gaza bleeds amid a fiery intra–Islamic civil war/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/July 20/14


Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For July 20/14
Lebanese Related News

Geagea Deplores Islamic State's 'Abhorrent' Behavior in Mosul, Urges Eradicating Extremist Group, Oppressive Regimes
Salam calls for Cabinet session Thursday

Lebanese Army locates rocket launching pad

Elite security force committee surveys Ain al-Hilweh

ISF shootout near Beirut's airport road

Major terrorist attack on Lebanon thwarted

Amal-Future talks on finances renewed: Abu Faour

Adults encourage and record child on child abuse
No Lebanese aboard downed Malaysian plane

Cyprus takes control of Lebanese-owned bank

Future MPs bicker with Khalil over spending
Miscellaneous Reports And News For July 20/14

What’s next after the Iran nuclear deal extension

Gunmen kill 21 Egypt soldiers in checkpoint attack

Gaza Toll Hits 342 as Israel Announces 2 Soldiers Killed in Militant Infiltration
Palestinian Gaza death toll soars amid peace push

Russia blasts U.S. for implicating rebels in jet crash

Forensic experts gather material to ID victims

Two Israeli soldiers die in clash; Gaza toll tops 300
Five car bombs in Baghdad kill 26: police, medics
Egyptian military block activist aid convoy to Gaza
Russia: Both sides must give access to MH17 site


Gaza Toll Hits 342 as Israel Announces 2 Soldiers Killed in Militant Infiltration
Naharnet/The Gaza death toll hit 342 on Saturday as Israeli warplanes intensified their bombardment and troops pressed a ground assault on the 12th day of a major confrontation with Hamas.
The latest incident in Gaza saw one man killed in an air strike on the northern town of Jabaliya shortly after two were killed in a strike near Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
And another two people were killed in Zeitun, east of Gaza city, raising the number of Palestinians killed on Saturday to 46.
The latest deaths also included a 20-year-old man in southern Gaza's Khan Yunis, and a 16-year-old killed in Rafah, also in southern Gaza, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
Another two men were killed east of Deir al-Balah, he added.
Their deaths followed those of five members of the Zuweidi family, including two girls aged two and six years old, in Gaza's northern Beit Hanun.
Four men were also killed in two separate air strikes in northern Gaza's Beit Lahiya, Qudra added, along with one person killed in the Qarara district of southern Khan Yunis.
Another three men were killed in an air strike in central Gaza, he added.
Earlier, Qudra also reported five bodies had been pulled from a home hit by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis.Some 2,385 Palestinians have been wounded, Qudra said.
Meanwhile, Israel's army announced the deaths of two of its soldiers on Saturday in a clash with Gaza militants who had breached the Jewish state's border, hours after they had been reported wounded.
An army statement said the two, Sergeant Adar Bersano, 20, from Neharyia, and Major Amotz Greenberg, 45, from Hod Hasharon, were killed fighting a group of militants who infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from the center of the Gaza Strip.
The army had earlier said two soldiers were wounded in a clash with the militants, who had been "aiming to carry out a lethal attack in one of the nearby communities".The militants had fired machineguns and an anti-tank missile at the soldiers, who returned fire, "killing a terrorist and forcing the rest back into Gaza".Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said 12 of their men stayed "behind enemy lines" for six hours before engaging in "direct confrontation with the enemy to avenge the blood of our martyrs, particularly the children."The militants claimed they "killed six soldiers on patrol and wounded several others," but the Israeli army said there were only two deaths.
Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades said its fighters clashed with "Israeli special forces" in a house east of Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza, wounding some of them. The army denied any soldiers were wounded in this incident.The deaths raise to three the number of soldiers killed since Israel on July 8 launched a military operation to halt rocket fire by Gaza militants. In the same period two Israeli citizens have been killed by Gaza rockets, the most recent a Bedouin man near Israel's nuclear reactor in the southern town of Dimona.
Another civilian died Tuesday when a mortar round exploded in Israel and a soldier was killed by friendly fire inside Gaza on Friday.
Also on Saturday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to join truce efforts.
His peace push came as Israel was poised to intensify a ground operation inside the besieged Palestinian territory it says is necessary to stop militants tunneling into the Jewish state.
Despite the pounding, Palestinian commandos succeeded in infiltrating Israel, sparking a deadly skirmish with an army patrol, as Gaza's bloodiest conflict since 2009 showed no signs of letting up.
The United States urged its Israeli ally to do more to limit the high civilian death toll from the operation, while supporting the Jewish state's right to defend itself. President Barack Obama said Washington was "deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life".
He added that Washington was "hopeful" that Israel would operate "in a way that minimizes civilian casualties".But Israeli army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, said the army was "expanding the ground phase of the operation". "There will be moments of hardship," he warned in a briefing to the military, anticipating further Israeli casualties.
Troops killed a Palestinian militant who tunneled into southern Israel but others managed to withdraw back into Gaza, an army statement said.
"Several terrorists infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from the central Gaza Strip," it said, adding that they fired a machine gun and anti-tank missile at an army patrol. Troops "returned fire, killing a terrorist and forcing the rest back into Gaza."
Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said its fighters had carried out the raid.
"The Qassam Brigades carried out an operation behind enemy lines," it said in a statement. "Heavy fighting is ongoing with the forces of the occupation."
In a separate incident, the army said, militants had strapped explosives on to a donkey in an attempt to attack troops. "Yesterday (Friday) evening, there was at least one such attempt, in which a donkey suspiciously began to approach forces," it said.
"The forces engaged the donkey and it exploded at a safe distance." In the northern Israel Arab town of Kafr Kana about 1,500 people demonstrated against the Gaza military action in a protest called by the Israeli Islamic movement, public radio said. Israel has said the aim of the ground operation launched on Thursday night is to destroy Hamas's network of tunnels which are used for cross-border attacks on southern Israel. Military spokesman Lieutenant General Peter Lerner told journalists Saturday that during the past 24 hours the military had seized 13 tunnels into Israel. Meanwhile, the U.N. said Ban would leave for the region Saturday to help Israelis and Palestinians "end the violence and find a way forward," under-secretary-general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to be ready for "a significant broadening of the ground activity". He said the ground operation was necessary to deal with the tunnels, but admitted there was "no guarantee of 100 percent success". In Gaza, after a relative lull Friday, violence picked up again in the evening, with intensifying tank shelling and air strikes killing more than a dozen people.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has opened 44 of its schools to shelter those fleeing homes in the most heavily bombarded areas.
It said on Saturday there were more 50,000 Gazans seeking sanctuary so far.
The World Food Program said it had already distributed emergency food rations and food vouchers to more than 20,000 displaced people.
It said it was gearing up for a huge increase in the coming days and hoping to reach 85,000 people with food distributions. Gaza was also struggling with a 70 percent power outage after electricity lines from Israel were damaged, officials said. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was also in Cairo to join peace efforts, called for an urgent truce. "The absolute priority is a ceasefire, but it must guarantee a lasting truce," he said, adding that it should take into account "Israel's security" and Palestinian demands. Hamas has rejected Egyptian proposals for a truce, demanding an easing of a harsh Gaza blockade imposed by Israel in 2006 and the release of Palestinian prisoners. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Hamas drove out loyalists of Abbas two years later but, to the dismay of Israel, reconciled with the Palestinian president after U.S.-brokered Middle East peace talks collapsed earlier this year.
Source/Agence France Presse


Geagea Deplores Islamic State's 'Abhorrent' Behavior in Mosul, Urges Eradicating Extremist Group, Oppressive Regimes
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea condemned on Saturday the Islamic State's attacks against Christians and minorities in the Iraqi city of Mosul, calling for peace and for eradicating IS and other “oppressive” regimes. "I strongly deplore and condemn attacks against Christians and all minorities like Shiites, Turkmen, Mandaeists, Yazidis and others in Mosul and in regions under IS control,” Geagea said in a statement published on his official Facebook page. IS had issued a statement in Iraq's Nineveh province calling for a meeting with Christian leaders to give them the choice between converting to Islam or pay a dhimmi –- a tax imposed on non-Muslims.  If Christians rejected both options, the only choice left is “the use of the sword,” the IS statement warned. Following the IS threat, Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako announced that “for the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” adding that "Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Arbil" in Kurdistan.
The LF leader stressed that he “completely rejects these abhorrent acts that contradict with all human, nationalist and social notions.” "These also contradict with religious beliefs expressed by senior Muslim clerics and scholars of all sects and that stress that 'there is no compulsion in religion',” Geagea went on to say. He underscored “the historical presence of Christians and of other minorities in Iraq.” "They did not experience in the early days of Islam what they are blatantly going through now because of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” he said. The Christian leader then issued an “urgent call to the moderate factions in Mosul to work on stopping ISIL's acts and to promote moderation at the expense of blind extremism.” "This extremism serves these oppressive regimes that are looking for any excuse to preserve their existence,” Geagea considered. He also urged the region's nations and world powers to “draw a limit to ISIL and strive to establish peace, justice and equality” to replace Takfiris.

Salam calls for Cabinet session Thursday
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam Saturday called for a Cabinet session Thursday morning, despite previously announcing his unwillingness to hold any session before agreements are reached. Salam had expressed his decision to freeze Cabinet sessions until the dispute over the Lebanese University file is resolved yet has decided to resume the sessions next starting Thursday, ministerial sources told The Daily Star. Prior, the prime minister had informed ministers that he would not call for a Cabinet session until a comprehensive agreement on the education dossier is reached that would allow the Cabinet to pass the LU decree in its first session, the sources told The Daily Star. Disagreements arose because while Progressive Socialist Party ministers insist on having the dean of the Medical College, Pierre Yared, remain in his post, the Kataeb party have upheld their demand for a share in the university council and have nominated one of their own as a commissioner. The Cabinet had initially approved giving full-time status to the LU contract professors, but several ministers refused to finalize the professors’ status without approving the appointment of new deans at the university, saying it should be a package deal. Ministerial sources said that Salam’s decision to resume sessions came after he agreed with ministers to set the LU case aside and discuss the other urgent matters, until the disputing parties reach an agreement. Parliamentary sources from the Reform and Change bloc announced Saturday the bloc's decision to attend any Cabinet session called for by the Prime Minister, and that they oppose the boycotting of sessions. They stressed that the Free Patriotic Movement would not agree on any decision in the LU case unless the file is finalized or progress is achieved before Thursday’s session. Separately, Salam discussed developments on the local and regional scenes with Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri, who visited him at the Grand Serail Saturday.


Amal-Future talks on finances renewed: Abu Faour
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Health Minister Wael Abu Faour announced Saturday that a meeting between the Amal and Future movements’ representatives to discuss the thorny issue of public finances will take place in the next few days. “We are back on the positive track and there will be a new meeting in the next couple of days joining me, the head of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office Nader Hariri and the Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil,” Abu Faour said in a TV interview. He described Thursday’s meeting between Amal and Future as “very good,” saying that the two parties explained their positions in a constructive discussion. “The media dispute that occurred yesterday between the two parties is marginal, and it was fixed,” Abu Faour said. “It will not change the positivity that the discussions have witnessed.” Future MPs accused Khalil in a news conference Friday of breaking the law, blaming him for the deadlock in paying public sector employees and arguing that the treasury had the necessary funds.
MP Jamal Jarrah accused him of having implicit intentions behind insisting that the Parliament approves the spending required to pay the public employees’ wages, especially that previous government had dealt with the matter without the need for a parliamentary legislation. Khalil has refused to authorize extra-budgetary spending for civil servants unless the draft state budget for 2014 he prepared was approved. His decision raised fears that public sector employees would not be paid at the end of the month. Due to the fact that no state budget has been approved since 2005, Cabinets are obligated by law to adhere to the financial ceiling of the last approved budget. Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government resolved the issue by approving extra-budgetary spending of LL8.9 trillion (nearly $6 billion) for 2011. The Cabinets of Fouad Siniora resorted to taking a similar measure between 2006 and 2009, spending around $11 billion more than the budget officially allowed. Advocating that the current Cabinet adopts a similar arrangement, Future MP Ghazi Youssef said that “the failure to pay salaries is solely the responsibility of the minister because the funds are supposed to be there." Khalil hit back at the Future lawmakers, saying MPs should head to Parliament to vote on a law and resolve the public sector salary issue, stressing that the news conference would not change his mind.


No Lebanese aboard downed Malaysian plane
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced Saturday, that the Rizk couple aboard the downed Malaysia Airline passenger plane held Egyptian and Australian nationalities not Lebanese. “After receiving a detailed list of the names of passengers [aboard] the downed Malaysian plane and after reviews done by our embassies and consulates in Australia, it appeared that the deceased couple from the Rizk [family] held Australian and Egyptian nationalities,” said a statement released by the ministry. The ministry pointed out that it is still working with its embassies and consulates abroad to ensure that no Lebanese citizen was amongst the victims of the plane crash. The statement also condemned all terrorist attacks irrespective of their motivation or cause, sending out condolences to the victims of the plane crash.  The couple was identified as Albert Rizk and his wife, Marie. The Australian newspaper Herald Sun said the couple were due to return home Friday after spending a month-long holiday in Europe. The Rizks have two children and have lived in Melbourne for more than 20 years, it added. The Malaysian airliner was brought down over eastern Ukraine Thursday, killing all 298 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in which Russia and the West back opposing sides. Ukraine accused "terrorists" -- militants fighting to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia -- of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with a heavy, Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Cyprus takes control of Lebanese-owned bank
Ryan Stultz/Osama Habib| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Cypriot Central Bank took over the operations of the Lebanese-owned FBME Bank in Cyprus Friday, a day after the United States Treasury Department announced it was blacklisting FBME for alleged links to Hezbollah. “The Central Bank of Cyprus announces that, under the powers conferred to it by the relevant legislation, [it] has taken over, as of today, the management of the operations of the branch of FBME Bank Ltd. in Cyprus,” the central bank said on its website. FBME Chairman Ayoub-Farid Saab told The Daily Star that the bank had requested the Cypriot action in order to clear itself of the “unfounded” allegations. “We asked the Cypriot authorities to manage our bank to see [with] their own eyes that there is nothing wrong in our branch. All these allegations against us are unfounded,” he said. The U.S. Treasury Thursday accused FBME, which though chartered in Tanzania operates primarily in Cyprus, of facilitating financial activity for transnational organized crime and Hezbollah, calling it a “primary money laundering concern.” “FBME promotes itself on the basis of its weak Anti-Money Laundering controls in order to attract illicit finance business from the darkest corners of the criminal underworld,” said Jennifer Shasky Calvery, director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a department of the U.S. Treasury, in a statement released Thursday. “Today’s action, effectively shutting FBME off from the U.S. financial system, is a necessary step to disrupt the bank’s efforts.” FBME was originally established in Cyprus in 1982 as a subsidiary of the Federal Bank of Lebanon SAL.
According to the Federal Bank of Lebanon’s website, the two firms are “part of the Saabs’ financial group.”
The Federal Bank of Lebanon, owned by brothers Ayoub-Farid Saab and Fadi Saab, is not named in the Treasury Department report. Ayoub-Farib Saab insisted that the Federal Bank of Lebanon was not involved in the FBME issue. “We have two separate boards of directors. There are no problems with the Federal Bank of Lebanon and we are cooperating with the Central Bank,” he said, adding that he had met with Central Bank officials Friday and would be issuing a statement on the bank’s website at the weekend. Saab denied that the Federal Bank of Lebanon would be affected or forced to sell over FBME’s problems. The Treasury report, dated July 15, listed a number of suspicious transactions and legal violations from FBME over the last decade, including allegations that a bank customer “received a deposit of hundreds of thousands of dollars from a financier for Lebanese Hezbollah.”
“FBME was involved in at least 4,500 suspicious wire transfers through U.S. correspondent accounts that totaled at least $875 million between November 2006 and March 2013,” the report said.
The findings open the process to institute special measures against the bank and all of its subsidiaries. The Treasury Department has proposed applying the “Fifth Special Measure” under the U.S. Patriot Act, which blocks U.S. financial institutions from carrying out any transactions with the sanctioned bank. There is a 60-day comment period from the publishing of the Treasury Department report before any final action can be taken. The U.S. has sought to increase pressure on Hezbollah, which it considers a terrorist network, by cutting it off from international financing. Several foreign currency exchange dealers in Lebanon have been targeted over informal fund transfers, and the Lebanese Canadian Bank was wound down after being designated a primary money laundering concern.


Adults encourage and record child on child abuse: Video
Hashem Osseiran| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Crouching in a corner and flinching at every wave of the stick, a young boy’s abuse at the hands of an even younger Lebanese child was taped, and widely shared online Saturday,spreading waves of controversy across social media platforms. State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud assigned the case to the Bekaa Valley prosecutor, in an effort to determine the source of the video, a judicial source told the Daily Star on Saturday. While it became certain that the video was filmed in one of the Bekaa Valley villages, unconfirmed information made available to the judiciary suggested that the abused boy was Syrian, the source said.  "The prosecutor in the Bekaa Valley is working to identify the names and nationalities of the perpetrators and the victim," the source added.
The Internal Security Forces had announced on its Twitter account on Saturday that it took note of the video and was working on tracking it down.
“Hit him Abbas, hit him on the head with the stick,” were the orders shouted by Abbas’ relatives, who were responsible for the footage taken on a mobile phone.
Not more than three to four years old, Abbas’ tied up pony tail waved as he swiped a thick stick back and forth toward a passive seven year old boy dressed in ragged pants, a shabby shirt and flapping sandals. The victim crumpled to the floor, kneeling before Abbas who then continued beating him with the heavy rod. The victim, who is most likely not Lebanese, guarded his face with his hands saying “please not the face” after one of Abbas’ relatives ordered the child to strike in that direction.  The abused child tried to fend off the attacks with his hands, grabbing hold of the thick wooden rod.
“If you don’t let go of the stick, it’s going to be me who beats you up. It would be better if you let Abbas do it,” yelled one of Abbas’ relatives with a heavy Lebanese accent.
At one moment the victim's bent over body shuddered inn absolute fear when another boy, identified in the video as Hussam, threatened to grab the stick from the younger boy and beat the victim himself.
“Not you! Not you!” he yelled back at Hussam. Behind the camera an orchestra of voices yelled out orders to the little boy, some of them from a man some from an unknown female observer.
“Slap him in the face. Ok now kick him on the stomach,” they yelled out, “punch him on the head, come on punch him.” At this point, the abused child began crying out in pain, wailing at every new strike. Meanwhile the observers behind the camera laughed and giggled as Abbas double punched the child with both fists before going back for the stick. The video concludes with a heavy cry from the victim as Hussam slaps the back of the child’s neck and Abbas throws one last blow at the kneeling body. The video was first released on news website and then quickly circulated around various social network platforms. Owner of the yassour domain Haitham Shaaban told the Daily Star that he initially received the video through WhatsApp from a source who requested to remain anonymous. “The person who sent us the video has nothing to do with it, and he has asked that we keep his identity private. We don’t have much information on who the perpetrators are,” he said.  The website described the victim as “most likely not Lebanese,” which in turn stirred waves of controversy throughout social networks. Those who subscribed to the notion that the child was either Syrian or Palestinian saw the attack as a blatant hate crime. Others who thought the child was Lebanese perceived the video as a documented model of rampant child abuse in the country. Many websites started taking the video down and blocking the link due to users reporting the video, and requesting the YouTube server to restrict access.


Future MPs bicker with Khalil over spending
Dana Khraiche| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The salaries of public sector employees are hanging in the balance as Future Movement lawmakers and Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil bicker over extra-budgetary spending with no end in sight.
Future MPs accused Khalil of breaking the law, blaming him for the deadlock in paying public sector employees and arguing that the treasury had the necessary funds.
“The minister says there are not enough funds in the treasury to pay civil servants their salaries. The end of the Ramadan month is nearing and people want to celebrate Eid Fitr. This is a calamity,” MP Ghazi Youssef told reporters during a news conference in Parliament. “The minister is saying that some 200,000 employees will not get their salaries at the end of the month.”
Khalil has refused to authorize extra-budgetary spending for civil servants unless the draft state budget for 2014 he prepared was approved. His decision raised fears that public sector employees would not be paid by the end of the month. He has argued that he could only finance ministries in need of loans within a legal framework, arguing that the only means to resolve the issue is if Parliament passes a special law or if the Cabinet approves the 2014 draft state budget. Due to the fact that no state budget has been approved since 2005, Cabinets are obligated by law to adhere to the financial ceiling of the last approved budget. Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government resolved the issue by approving extra-budgetary spending of LL8.9 trillion (nearly $6 billion) for 2011.
The Cabinets of Fouad Siniora resorted to taking a similar measure between 2006 and 2009, spending around $11 billion more than the budget officially allowed.
During the news conference, Youssef said the funds allocated for the salaries of civil servants – based on the 2005 state budget in addition to a wage hike approved in 2011 – were an estimated LL2.66 trillion, which he said was available. The government has paid civil servants their salaries for the past seven months, Youssef said. “The remaining balance should then be LL623 billion, which should be enough for an additional two months. Therefore, no one should threaten us and say there is not enough money.”“Failure to pay salaries is solely the responsibility of the minister because the funds are supposed to be there,” he added. Youssef also claimed that Khalil had used some of the funds earmarked for salaries to finance the wage hike for 2014. “Khalil broke the law and spent from a pool of money he wasn’t supposed to instead of asking for a loan,” he said. The March 14 alliance – particularly the Future Movement – expressed its willingness to attend a session to legalize extra-budgetary spending on the condition that the spending conducted under Siniora’s term was retroactively legalized. Talks between the Future Movement and Speaker Nabih Berri were fruitless, scuttling a legislative session that would have seen lawmakers approve a law to resolve the dispute. Khalil, from Berri’s bloc, hit back at the Future lawmakers, saying MPs should head to Parliament to vote on a law and resolve the public sector salary issue, saying the news conference would not change his mind. “They are talking about a lot of issues but what is needed is to legalize previous violations. The only road to do so is in line with the Constitution and not via a news conference,” Khalil said in a statement. “Instead of telling the public about some numbers in an attempt to overshadow the truth, they should head to Parliament to approve a law that would allow extra-budgetary spending.”
During the conference Friday afternoon, Future MP Jamal Jarrah questioned the motivation behind Khalil’s “awakening,” saying over-spending has been illegal since 2005.
“Over-spending has been done since 2005 given the lack of an approved state budget. So how come he is now committing to working in line with the Constitution? Extra-budgetary spending has been approved in previous Cabinets which the minister himself was part of.”Jarrah said that his party was willing to work “day and night with all rival groups to resolve the financial situation.”
“We affirm the need to approve a state budget for 2014 ... so we can end this dispute once and for all.”

Gunmen kill 21 Egypt soldiers in checkpoint attack
Staff writer, Al Arabiya News/Saturday, 19 July 2014
Gunmen killed at least 20 soldiers at a checkpoint in western Egypt on Saturday, security officials and the health ministry said, in one of their biggest assaults since president Mohammed Mursi’s ouster last year, Agence France-Presse reported. The attack took place in al-Farara region located 627 kilometers from Cairo, near Libya. Libyan officials have long said that they know about security problems along the border, and that they cooperate with Egyptian authorities. A few days before he was elected as Egypt’s president in May, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi discreetly visited tribesmen living along the border with Libya.

Palestinian Gaza death toll soars amid peace push

Gaza, on July 19, 2014. (AFP)
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News
The Palestinian death toll from Israel’s devastating assault on the Gaza strip reached climbed past 320 as international efforts to broker a truce between the Jewish state and Hamas militants continued.
Israel also suffered its biggest loss since hostilities between the two sides erupted more than two weeks ago, announcing that two of its’ soldiers had been killed by militants who breached the country’s border. An army statement said the two were killed during a clash with a number of militants who infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from Gaza. Earlier in the day, Hamas said its fighters used one a tunnel to slip into Israel, inflicting casualties. Saturday was the second day of Israel’s ground offensive into the Gaza strip, which included efforts at destroying rocket launch pads as well as tunnels used by Hamas after the last big flare-up of violence in 2012, Reuters news agency reported. Reuters quoted military spokesman Lieut. Col. Peter Lerner as saying that 13 tunnels, at least one of them 30 meters deep, and 95 rocket launchers were found and destroyed in the Gaza sweep. Searches were continuing for what he described as an open-ended mission that had "severely impeded Hamas capabilities.”
Israel sent in ground forces on Thursday after 10 days of air and naval barrages failed to stop rocket fire from Gaza. Reuters quoted Gaza officials as saying that at least 325 Palestinians, including 70 children, have been killed in the 12-day conflict. Saturday’s death toll of 33 was composed mainly of civilians. Palestinians also launched at least 18 rockets into Israel on Saturday, killing a man and wounding four people, including two children, in a southern Bedouin Arab village, police said. At least four Israelis have been killed since the violence began.
No Ceasefire
Egypt has no plans to revise its ceasefire proposal, which Hamas has rejected, Cairo's foreign minister said on Saturday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories this weekend. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also looking to secure a ceasefire and was due to travel to regional power Qatar later in the day to see the emir of the Gulf state.
It was not clear whether he would also see Hamas's leader, Khaled Meshaal, who lives in exile in Qatar.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted on Saturday that his country's "absolute priority" is to secure a truce in Gaza, saying Egypt’s initiative for a cease-fire enjoys international support.
At a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, Fabius said his regional tour seeks to help "break the spiral of violence and to protect the civilian population as much as possible" in Gaza, where the Israeli bombardment has killed more than 330 Palestinians.
"The human toll is already heavy... and I repeat here in Amman, our absolute priority must be the ceasefire," he told reporters.
"The Egyptian initiative remains on the table and the objective is ceasefire. Jordan, France and other countries support the initiative."
The truce plan, which Egypt had proposed take effect last Tuesday, calls for a ceasefire followed by indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.
But Hamas rejected the plan, insisting on negotiating key demands such as a guarantee to lift the blockade on Gaza's border crossings before it halts its rocket fire.
"This initiative has been widely supported by the international community and Arab countries," Fabius said. "So now we need to ensure that the party that has rejected it accepts the plan to avoid losing more human lives," he added, describing the toll in Gaza as "extremely tragic". Fabius arrived in Amman from Cairo, where here made an "urgent" call for the truce, following talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is rallying international support for Cairo's ceasefire proposal while isolating Hamas.
The foreign minister said he would meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, following the stopover in Amman.
"All countries involved in efforts to stop the bloodshed in Gaza support the cease-fire initiative, which seeks to end the violence and protect civilians," said Judeh, whose country has a 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Judeh on Friday condemned Israel's "brutal and barbaric aggression on Gaza as well as the targeting of civilians that led to the death or more martyrs", state-run Petra news agency quoted him as telling Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini at a meeting. (The Associated Press, Reuters and AFP)

Russia blasts U.S. for implicating rebels in jet crash
Staff writer, Al Arabiya News
Saturday, 19 July 2014
Russia heavily criticized Washington on Saturday after U.S. President Barack Obama said that a missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed rebels downed the Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the U.S. administration sought to pin the blame on separatists and Russia without waiting for the results of an investigation.
“The statements of representatives of the U.S. administration are evidence of a deep political aberration of Washington’s perception of what is going on in Ukraine,” Agence France-Presse reported Ryabkov as telling Russian news agencies. “At least, that is how the relevant statements can be interpreted,” the foreign ministry quoted him as saying.
He added: “Despite an obvious and indisputable nature of the arguments provided by rebels and Moscow, the U.S. administration is pushing its own agenda.”
Ryabkov reiterated accusations that Washington had triggered tensions in the ex-Soviet country by meddling in its domestic affairs and provoking an uprising that ousted Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in February.
“In the geopolitical frenzy and attempts to apply methods of social and political engineering everywhere, the United States acts like a bad surgeon: to cut deeper at first, and then stitch up sloppily so that it would hurt for a long time.”
Deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin added: “The White House clearly established who’s guilty even before the investigation of the Boeing catastrophe,” he said on Twitter.
While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed on Saturday that both countries will use their influence on the two sides of the Ukraine conflict to end hostilities, Moscow said it would retaliate against Washington’s most recent sanctions over Ukraine by denying entry to several U.S. citizens.
“Retaliatory measures definitely will be taken. First of all, a similar number of Americans will be prohibited from entering (Russia),” the ministry’s spokesman Alexander Lukashevich was quoted in a statement as saying.
Ukraine’s accusations
Meanwhile, Ukraine accused Russia on Saturday of helping the rebels to destroy evidence at the crash site, a charge the rebels denied.
The government in Kiev said the rebels have removed 38 bodies from the crash site and have taken them to the rebel-held city of Donetsk, the Associated Press reported on Saturday. It said the bodies were transported with the assistance of specialists with distinct Russian accents.
The rebels are also “seeking large transports to carry away plane fragments to Russia,” the Ukrainian government said in a statement Saturday.
However, a separatist leader Alexander Borodai In Donetsk denied that any bodies had been transferred or that the rebels had in any way interfered with the work of observers.
He said he encouraged the involvement of the international community in assisting with the cleanup before the conditions of the bodies worsens significantly.
‘Under barrel of a gun’
Meanwhile, Spokesman for the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council Information Center Andriy Lysenko said on Saturday that 170 Ukrainian experts are working “under barrel of a gun” at the crash site.
Lysenko said “the search operation is complicated because of the presence of armed terrorists in the area.”
He added: “They continue to impede the work of the Ukrainian rescue personnel by keeping them under the barrel of a gun. “
Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels have agreed to set up a security zone around the crash site.
Britain criticizes Russia
Britain also criticized Russia for not exerting enough influence over pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“We’re not getting enough support from the Russians, we’re not seeing Russia using their influence effectively enough to get the separatists, who are in control of the site, to allow the access that we need,” Reuters quoted Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond Hammond as telling reporters.
“This is not about Russia and the West -- this is about the whole community demanding that the proper access is made available to this site, the victims are properly recovered and evidence is secured.
“The world's eyes will be on Russia to see if she delivers on her obligations in the next couple of hours.
“We are demanding that the Russians use their influence to ensure that access is granted. That’s the only way we can get to the truth and bring those accountable to justice.”
He said it was clear that monitors at the crash site had not been given full access by the separatists, and some areas were not possible to reach at all.
Hammond said Russia’s ambassador to London would be called into the Foreign Office so Britain's views can be expressed in no uncertain terms.
Merkel, Putin agree on probe
In the same time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed for an international investigation into the downing of the Malaysian plane, and for rapid access to the crash site, Berlin said on Saturday.
The two leaders, who spoke on the telephone, “agreed that an international, independent commission under the direction of ICAO (United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization) should quickly have access to the site of the accident... to shed light on the circumstances of the crash and move the victims,” said a German government statement.
A Kremlin statement on the same phone call said that “both sides stressed the importance of a thorough and objective investigation of all circumstances relating to what has happened.”
(With AFP and Associated Press)

What’s next after the Iran nuclear deal extension?

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh | Special to Al Arabiya News
Saturday, 19 July 2014
After failing to meet the July 20 deadline to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal, and after 16 days of intense diplomatic negotiations in Vienna, the six world powers (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China) and Iran agreed to extend the interim nuclear deal for an additional four months until November 24, 2014. Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has proposed another plan that indicates that the Islamic Republic would put a cap on Iran’s nuclear enrichment between three to seven years; however, Iran would be permitted to enrich uranium as much as they desire after this period. Who is the winner? With regard to the Islamic Republic, Iran is going to receive an additional $2.8 billion in oil export revenues. These revenues are frozen in other countries due to the sanction imposed by the United States. Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out the P5+1 “will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA [Joint Plan of Action] commitment.” Financially speaking, in the first six months of the interim nuclear deal, Iran won by receiving approximately $7 billion. Part of these amounts came after sanctions relief on some Iranian industries including the automobile industry, gold, and petrochemicals. The rest of the $7 billion came from the release of the frozen assets in oil-export revenues.
With regards to the United States, President Barack Obama has successfully avoided dealing with the other option (which he is totally reluctant to cope with): The military option in case nuclear negations and diplomacy with the Iranian leaders failed.
Critical dealings
The two critical and major players in these nuclear talks are the United States and the Islamic Republic. With regard to the nuclear settlement, the gap between the Islamic Republic and United States is still too deep to bridge. Considering the intricacies and examining Iran’s nuclear file and Tehran's defiance, it becomes evident that the four month extension of diplomatic negotiations is barely enough to resolve these major hurdles. The major barriers between the P5+1 (mainly the Western members: France, United Kingdom, Germany and the United States) and the Islamic Republic come down to the restriction of Iran’s production of plutonium, the dismantlement of crucial segments of the uranium enrichment program, the limiting of stockpiling and production, the question of Fordow, its underground nuclear facility center, the extent as to how the Islamic Republic should provide data with regards to its development, what type of nuclear research can be carried out, and how many centrifuges Iran can retain.
As illustrated above, the gaps between the six world powers and Iran would more likely require more than four months of extensions as well as a significant shift in Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s stance on his government's nuclear program, or a remarkable change in the six world power’s stance.
It appears that the aim of the United States, Germany, France and United Kingdom is to make sure that Iran’s nuclear program is restricted enough that the Islamic Republic would require a much longer amount of time to spin its centrifuges and highly enriched uranium into nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the hardliners appear to be aiming at elevating the Islamic Republic to a nuclear threshold (such as Japan), if not turning Iran into nuclear state and obtaining nuclear weapons.
Oppositions and domestic politics
Most likely, the domestic pressure on the Obama administration, from both Republican and Democrats, is going to ratchet up in Washington. Several lawmakers in Washington believe that the Iranian leaders have been playing around and tricking the United States, while Tehran is getting sanction relief without agreeing to dismantle any part of its nuclear program.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated, “With a disappointing beginning negotiating position that included a built-in extension, we all knew this was coming... In spite of that, every diplomatic effort should be pursued vigorously to reach an acceptable conclusion and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. I urge the administration to make it clear there will be no more extensions, which would only further diminish our leverage. Just as he did in the case of Syria last year, the president should come to Congress for approval so we can weigh in on the entirety of any final deal and strictly enforce Iranian compliance.” 300 members of Congress recently signed a letter to President Obama, urging that the Islamic Republic should stop supporting terrorists’ parties and limit its missile development in order to obtain sanctions relief. Nevertheless, President Obama did not include these conditions in the four month extension and sanctions relief.
In addition, all the efforts the U.S. congress, such as passing a sanction bill, will likely be vetoed by President Obama to not scuttle the diplomatic negotiations and to avoid the military option if nuclear talks failed. On the other hand, hardliners, fundamentalists, and conservative elements in Iran will ratchet up their criticism of President Hassan Rowhani and Foreign Minister Zarif. Nevertheless, as long as Rowhani has the blessing of the Supreme Leader, the nuclear negotiations will not cease. In the meanwhile, Khamenei will continue playing the double game of supporting both Rowhani’s technocrat team and the hardliners in order to preserve his power.

Gaza bleeds amid a fiery intra–Islamic civil war

Saturday, 19 July 2014
By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya
The Palestinians have faced many tough situations over the years, but in most cases they have succeeded in winning the sympathy of their Arab brothers and most of the international community. They have a just cause, and the injustice done to them since 1948 is unquestionable. Only skeptics with their own personal agenda would ever seek to deny that injustice.
The same thing must also be said about the injustice done to the Jewish people over the centuries. Unfortunately, today we see two wronged peoples, the Palestinians and the Israelis, locked in an existential conflict. This has happened because the moderate and reasonable voices have died down, and the two sides have become obsessed with victory over the other, if not each other’s complete annihilation.
I dare say that the many setbacks that have befallen the Palestinians are a partial excuse for the way they have lost faith in the international community, which the Palestinian people have found to be firmly biased in favor of their adversary. The people of this troubled land have also been let down by a fractured “Arab nation” that is now threatened with total fragmentation.
From ‘democracy’ to ‘militarization’
I do wonder about the excuses the Israelis have to justify their descent from “democracy” to “militarization.” Since the June 1967 war set their de facto borders, they have had a number of military victories that have enabled them to occupy lands far larger than the entity demarcated in 1967.
The people of this troubled land have also been let down by a fractured “Arab nation” that is now threatened with total fragmentation
The Palestinians have long failed to fully grasp the nature of the Zionist movement. This failure has multiplied since the founding of the Jewish state, but this has not been the fault of the Palestinians alone. The entire Arab world was swept away by the euphoria of “Arabism”—though they never quite succeeded in defining it—and so they were chasing after mere illusions and dreams. In their quest for “one Arab nation with an eternal message” stretching “from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf,” the Arabs were willing to sacrifice principal human values: freedom and dignity.
Thus Arabism, particularly in its revolutionary form, has become associated with two negative traits: demagoguery and political opportunism. The revolutionary tyrants in our part of the world successfully used this to put a glossy veneer on their backwardness, tribalism and sectarianism.
As the Palestinians are part of the Arab world, the Palestinian resistance was directly influenced by Arab interests. In spite of the pledge to support the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, in the wake of the 1967 defeat, several Arab regimes established their own client organizations under the PLO umbrella. The Palestinians, like many Arabs, were also an active part of the “international liberation movement” against “colonialism” and “imperialism,” towing the line of the Soviet Union and China in the face of the capitalist, imperialist West.
The ‘Arabist’ mantle Two influential moments in the Palestinian struggle were the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s second president, and Anwar Sadat’s decision to draw Egypt closer to the U.S. Other related factors were the competition between the Baathists in Baghdad and Damascus, as well as the positions of Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya and Gaafar Nimeiry’s Sudan, about who was the rightful heir to Nasser’s “Arabist” mantle. The Palestinian movement was further affected when Sadat, calling himself the “pious president,” began to exploit the forces of political Islam, using them as a weapon in his battle against the remnants of Nasserism and dimming the light of Arabism. The Camp David Accords struck another blow to the Arabist dream, enabling Hamas to rise at the expense of Fatah and the weakened Leftist organizations.
At the time, Israel was not particularly troubled by political Islam. It was fomenting internal battles in the Arab world between Islamists on one side and Arabists and Leftists on the other. The U.S. was also happy to support political Islam—even its jihadist element, as we saw in the Afghanistan war in the 1980s. That is to say, the emergence of Hamas was once seen as a rather positive development by Israeli and American strategic planners, who at that point were in a hurry to settle the Cold War in favor of the West.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact would later become a game changer. The influence of the Left in the Muslim and Arab worlds shrank as a result of the Cold War’s end, and the Arab national identity fell apart in the face of the growing power of political Islam supported by the West. The awakening only came after the Afghan jihadists discovered they had been used as tools in the West’s war of attrition against Soviet communism: as soon as the jihadists were no longer useful, the West’s strategic goal became to put that genie back in its bottle.
Eye of the storm
In the aftermath of the Cold War, the jihadist response would be worldwide suicide operations, reaching U.S. soil with the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. From that point onwards, the game took a drastic turn. In the Middle East, Israel found itself in the eye of the storm. At one stage, Israel had faced the threat of the Khomeinist revolution in Iran alongside its Western allies. But, seeing itself as part of the conflict between the U.S. and Iran, Israel started gradually to rethink its regional strategy. Rejecting the “land for peace” principle on which the international Arab–Israeli peace process is based, the Israeli right wing is today implicitly encouraging an intra-Islamic civil war between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the region. The Iranian leadership, which is enviably pragmatic, discovered some time ago that there is an important intersection of interests between it and Israel. The Iran–Contra scandal was an early indication of Tehran’s pragmatism, based on the idea that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Today, the intersection of Israeli and Iranian interests manifests itself in the war on “terrorists,” in Tel Aviv’s discourse, and against “takfirists” in the parlance of Iran. The price Israel is demanding is, quite simply, enough to end any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. This can only be achieved by weakening an already imperiled moderate power in favor of an unacceptable armed Islamist movement. Regionally it requires, if only on a temporary basis, that Iran use its affiliates in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq for the protection of Israel’s borders. In return, I believe Iran is seeking full control of the Arab Mashreq, from the Gulf to the Mediterranean; it is also claiming leadership of the Muslim world on the principle of “the unity of the Umma.” For the time being, Israel does not seem to be opposed to Iran’s aspirations and actions because it benefits if Tehran succeeds in protecting its borders, and benefits even more if Tehran’s failure intensifies the intra–Islamic civil war. The Gaza tragedy can only be understood from this angle.

The Arabs’ long journey into the heart of darkness
Saturday, 19 July 2014/By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
When they came out of their poor peninsula, the early Muslim Arabs when compared with the more sophisticated and advanced Byzantines of Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean, or the Persians to the East, looked like haggard upstarts. But the tribes of Arabia, who were catapulted to a stagnant region by a new dynamic religion, and led by brilliant political and military leaders, had in addition to their memories of endless sands and unfulfilled dreams, the boundless exuberance and abundance of self-confidence that only people who are convinced that their moment has arrived and that they are at a rendezvous with destiny could possess. Though the question of political legitimacy has haunted the Arabs ever since the dawn of Islam, and it is still one of the most fundamental problems vexing modern governance, the early generations of Muslims built magnificent centers of learning, creativity, trade, diversity and openness to other cultures in Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba.
They were so secure, that they realized immediately their limitations, and that they have to learn and borrow a lot from the advanced cultures that preceded them; the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Persians. Their embrace of these cultures led them to produce a significant body of knowledge in the areas of science, medicine, arts and philosophy that helped them dominate most of the Middle Ages. The Arabs and early Muslims were the first since the Romans to engage in their own version of globalized trade in the known world beyond the Mediterranean and deep into Asia and Africa. All of this was driven by an ethos of self-confidence and empowerment.
Yes to life
Centuries later, German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, recognized this tremendous energy and talent particularly as it manifested itself in the high culture of Muslim Spain, in the Kingdoms the Arabs, Berbers and other Muslim converts built in Al-Andalus. “The wonderful culture of the Moors in Spain, which was fundamentally nearer to us and appealed more to our senses and tastes than that of Rome and Greece, was trampled down (—I do not say by what sort of feet—) Why? Because it had to thank noble and manly instincts for its origin—because it said yes to life, even to the rare and refined luxuriousness of Moorish life!…”. The core of Nietzsche’s observation is that at its height Islam said “yes to life,” embraced it and celebrated it.
The Arabo-Islamic high culture that evolved in the great urban centers from Baghdad in the East to Seville in the West, eschewed asceticism, conservatism and xenophobia and embraced the kind of diversity, multiculturalism that only open trade and the free flow of peoples, ideas and goods in major vibrant cities can provide. The “Muslim” Medieval city was much more than the designation would imply; for it was the place where Muslims of diverse backgrounds; Arabs, Turks, Berbers, Africans, Persians, local converts, and local non-Muslim Communities; Christians and Jews, and Christians from Europe who flocked these cities to trade and learn. It is this rich tapestry of peoples, cultures and ideas that evolved under the overarching Muslim civilization that was lost later on, and has yet to be fully recovered. It is extremely instructive to note here, that this vibrant Muslim city was always threatened, by austere, atavistic, self-appointed custodians of what they see as puritanical Islam. One of these groups sacked Cordoba when it was the most cultured city in Europe and drove out two of the greatest philosophers of Medieval times, The Arab Ibn Rushd (1126-1198) and the Jew Musa Ibn Maymun (1135-1204), more commonly known in the West as Averroes and Maimonides. These groups may have different names, from the Al-Mourabitoun of North Africa in Medieval times, to the Taliban, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) today, but they are driven by the same reactionary and nihilistic impulses, the very antithesis of the spirit of Cordoba at its cultural apogee.
Wrestling with modernity
Bad times have visited the Arabs before; and ever since the waves of Mongol invasions beginning with the sack of Baghdad in 1258, and the subsequent campaigns by Tamerlane, the heartland of the Arab East went into a slow decline, first under the Mamluk dynasties and later through the long Ottoman centuries until the First world War.
For the last 150 years Arabs have been wrestling with modernity, trying to reconcile their fractured traditional societies with the modern institutions that built the nation-states of the West; accountable governments, vibrant parliamentary life based on political parties, a free press and voluntary civil associations. Long before modern independence, The Arabs of the Middle East and the Maghreb began searching for ways to join the modern world while retaining the essence of Islam, asking questions such as; where does true sovereignty lies? With God or with the people, can we compete with the West without adopting its constitutions or acquiring its sciences and rationality? What is the proper relation between the individual and the state? Can we synthesize European constitutions with aspects of the Shariah? How should we deal with the much more advanced West? These vibrant debates among Arab intellectuals, Muslims and Christians, those schooled in Ottoman schools or in monasteries were captured in a number of books, mainly Albert Hourani’s classic study titled ; Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1798-1939. It is astonishing, upon re-reading the book how little has changed in the last 150 years. Arabs and Muslims are still struggling with the same questions, most of which have yet to be answered.
Since the Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, scores of books and thousands of articles have been written by Arab and Western scholars to explain the malaise, backwardness and the brutish life in many Arab states, and most of the analysis fell short. Is it the degradation of colonialism and its artificial state boundaries? Is it patriarchy? Is it tyranny? Is it the atavistic interpretation of Islam, or is it Islam itself? If it is colonialism then there must be a statute of limitation. Both India and Egypt were colonized by the Britain and became independent roughly at the same time.
Why is it that India, with all its linguistic and religious complexities, remained a democracy and Egypt remained under military rule for most of its independent years? Many Asian societies are Patriarchal, but they have developed more vibrant political and economic systems than most Arabs. Military rule in South Korea, Chile and Argentina gave way to elected governments, but not in the Arab dictatorships. Certainly, it is not Islam, if by that we mean the religious text. The sacred text has been the same for more than 14 centuries. It was the same text when Baghdad, Damascus and Cordoba were the envy of the world. The difference of course is in the social, political and economic context that the sacred text is interpreted and who is doing the interpretation? The enlightened men who graced the houses of wisdom and the universities of the great Muslim cities? Or the austere, backward men of Al-Mourabitoun, the Taliban or ISIS? It is easy to say that the solution is in representative governments, in building open and politically diverse societies, in adopting universal suffrage, and modern educational systems, in fostering a free press and an independent judiciary. The problem is how we get from our present purgatory, to the bright future. How do we break out of the tyranny of the state and the religious dogma?
A brief interlude
The brittle state system that emerged after the First World War, and remained for a short period after formal independence was a brief interlude during which, relatively weak central authorities allowed for a semblance of political life in countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. Yes these states were ruled by monarchs such as Farouq in Egypt, Faisal II in Iraq and autocratic ‘heroes’ of independence, such as Bourguiba of Tunisia, but they did not rule as absolute dictators and did not leave behind them a trail of blood as did in subsequent decades the likes of Saddam Hussein, the Assads, father and son and Qaddafi.
When that system was overrun by a wave of military dictators and an assortment of strong men, who imposed the one party rule, particularly the Baath party in Syria and Iraq (which was a façade for minority rule; the Sunnis in Iraq and the Alawites in Syria) which were joined by the ‘revolutionaries’ who controlled Algeria, Libya and Yemen, the die was cast, and the praetorian state was born, and the region began another long journey into the heart of darkness. Under these regimes, prisons became national monuments of unspeakable repression. These regimes controlled their countries physically, politically and economically in ways that the colonial powers could not dream of. The Iraqis and Syrians who were killed in the struggle for independence are a tiny fraction of those killed in recent years by Saddam Hussein or the Assads.
A new age of the Taifas?
Watching the slow fracturing of Iraq and Syria, the devolution of the civil wars in both countries into a series of lesser civil wars and internecine fighting among warlords controlling small fiefdoms, is reminiscent of the era of “Muluk al-Tawa’if ” or Taifas (the Party Kings) in Al-Andalus after it was split into almost 30 little squabbling Taifas run by Arab, and Berber military chieftains, princes and claimants with some of them relying on support from their erstwhile enemies the Christian rulers of Castile and Barcelona. Iran today, is the main arbiter of disputes and the most influential regional power in the internal affairs of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where it finds itself being checked sometimes by other regional powers from Saudi Arabia to Turkey.
The civil wars in Syria and Iraq, with their destructive impact on Lebanon are the greatest disasters to have hit the Levant or the old Fertile Crescent since the formations of these states almost a century ago. It will be extremely difficult if not impossible to restore Syria and Iraq as unitary states. A de facto partition of Syria into a regime dominated area comprising Damascus and its environs with a sliver of territory along the Lebanese border up to the western coastal area (where most of the Alawite community, to which Assad belongs, lives) and a number of Kurdish enclaves, with the northern part of the country divided between ISIS and its Islamist and non-Islamist rivals. This partition could remain in effect with shifting borders for years to come, since it does not appear that one party or even a coalition of forces can bring most of Syria under its control in the absence of a massive foreign intervention, something that is not likely to happen any time soon.
Iraq is breaking at the seams. The train of Kurdish independence has left the station, and formal independence is a question of time. A Shiite rump state will likely to emerge from Baghdad to Basra. This new entity will find itself in a constant struggle with the poorer Sunni region in the center of the country. Moreover, inside both the Sunni and Shiite areas, the struggle for power will continue, and it will be at times violent, and we will see from Basra to Beirut shifting alliances and very strange bedfellows, in a repeat of what happened during the age of the Taifas in Al-Andalus.
The heart of darkness
The great cities of Baghdad, Jerusalem and Córdoba, just to name few have been sacked by Mongols, Crusaders and Al-Mourabitoun, but today the great cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad and Mosul are being sacked by their own peoples. Architectural treasures in these cities have been pillaged by the warring parties who act like marauders.
Magnificent Castles, forts, museums, old graceful Mosques, Churches and synagogues have been destroyed or heavily damaged. Saddam Hussein’s despotism and lust for invasions wasted a whole Iraqi generation. Today, another Iraqi generation, and a new Syrian generation are being annihilated. The so-called “secular” regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Assads, have been very effective in the way they used sectarianism to maintain, with their own narrow social base, their economic and political dominion. Culturally, these two countries that produced some of the best Poets and artists in the last century are today a huge wasteland. When you add to that tragedy, the cultural and political decline of Egypt and Lebanon the desolation becomes overwhelming.
The Sunni-Shiite divide
The legacy of tyranny in Iraq and Syria, combined with the wars Iraq initiated or was subjected to since 1980, and the Iranian Revolution have deepened the Sunni-Shiite divide in ways that were unimaginable few decades ago. The Muslim world is entering a terra incognita we did explore since the dawn of Islam. At its core, we are witnessing a struggle for power and influence that is framed in sectarian terms and symbols between an assertive Shiite Iran and the traditional Sunni powerhouse in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and to a lesser extent Egypt. Throughout Muslim History, social and political revolutions have always been framed in an Islamic language and terminology, even when their core was economics.
The modern day Janissaries
From Basra to Beirut, the fracturing of the states, has led to the emergence of a number of religiously led non-state actors; Hezbollah, ISIS, Hamas, Jabhat al-Nusra among others. Some of these players, control large areas in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and are engaged in the various activities of governance. The fighters of these groups are used by various states as auxiliaries, proxies or the modern day equivalent of the famed Ottoman Janissaries. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry at the sight of the self-proclaimed Caliph Ibrahim addressing the Muslim Umma as its new righteous ruler. This is the man who is straddling a large swath of Iraq and Syria, and imposing a primitive form of an absolute intolerant religious rule that intimidate Muslims and terrifies Christians. For years to come, we will be asking: how did we reach such a nadir? How did it happen? How did we engulf ourselves in this endless darkness? This internal struggle in the Muslim world will likely continue for some time. This is not a struggle that lends itself to quick or clear resolution. This is a struggle the outside world, does not fully comprehend and has practically no power to influence it decisively.
Unhappy Muslims
The Sunni-Shiite divide, will deepen the alienation of large swaths of the Muslim world from the rest of the world, and will make life more brutish and more tragic than it already is in most Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia. It is sad being an Arab in these trying times, but looking at the larger Muslim world one sees more tragedies, suffering, poverty, and injustice than in other geographic regions. Most Muslims are happier in non-Muslim majority countries, than in Muslim majority countries. Muslims should ponder this reality and reflect on its meaning.
Many of the self-appointed custodians of true Islam have reduced a rich civilization to strict rules, rituals, xenophobia and superficial considerations. They are obsessed with how to “protect” their women, how to wear a beard or a thawb. When the anti- Muslim lunatic fringe in the West does something insulting to Muslims or Islam, violent demonstrations are organized, and radicals are empowered. Many of today’s Muslims don’t feel empowered, and certainly don’t have the self confidence that propelled the Muslims of yesteryear to build a great civilization. It is as if many Arabs and Muslims are stuck in a rut where they see the modern world like a caravan laden with riches passing them by and leaving them behind in the desert. Instead of living in fear of a supposedly hostile world, the Muslims of today should take a fresh, open look at their history, discover the dynamism and richness of a great civilization and without any hesitation shout “yes to life.”

Boots on the Ground: Israel Enters Gaza
Jeffrey White and Neri Zilber/Asharq Alawsat
July 18, 2014
Israel's ground operations and objectives are limited for now, but the IDF is ready to expand the mission if Hamas chooses to prolong the faceoff and continue firing rockets.
After ten days of air, naval, and standoff fire, Israel has now begun a ground operation against Hamas and other Gaza-based militant groups, signaling the second phase of Operation Protective Edge. There are clear military objectives for this limited ground maneuver, namely eliminating Hamas's vast network of underground tunnels into Israel and degrading the group's ability to launch longer-range rockets from northern Gaza. Yet the larger purpose of this second phase is political -- to show Hamas that Israel is not deterred by the prospect of a ground war inside Gaza, and that the level of pain inflicted on the group will increase exponentially so long as it refuses to come to terms on a ceasefire agreement.
Beginning in late June, Hamas joined with other militant groups in ratcheting up rocket fire from Gaza against population centers in southern Israel. The Israeli government responded with restraint, signaling its willingness to return to the "quiet for quiet" understanding that had largely remained in effect since the previous major escalation in November 2012.
Even as late as July 11, three days into Operation Protective Edge, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described the objective of the military action as "return[ing] quiet to the citizens of Israel." He made no commitment to embark on a more expansive campaign to destroy Hamas military capabilities in Gaza, as called for by certain right-wing cabinet ministers. Yet Hamas responded by increasing its rocket fire, despite appeals for restraint from its political wing.
On July 14, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced a proposal entailing an immediate cessation of hostilities and a vague commitment to reopen border crossings into Gaza. Hamas and Israel were then to send delegations to Cairo for continued talks "on other issues, including security issues." Israel accepted the proposal, then held its fire for several hours the following day.
Yet Hamas appeared divided on the proposal from the outset. Senior official Ismail Haniyeh gave a harried speech from his Gaza bunker indicating his interest in accepting the terms, stating that he was not against "calming the situation down or returning to [past] ceasefire agreements." A few hours later, however, the Hamas military wing officially rejected the plan, calling the terms "a surrender."
Mediation efforts have continued this week, including a UN-brokered five-hour "humanitarian truce" on July 17 that both Israel and Hamas accepted, but which was violated on a number of instances by rocket fire from Gaza. Egypt remains the main mediator, though its patience with Hamas is wearing thin. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry even took the unprecedented step of blaming the Palestinians for the continued fighting, stating, "Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least forty Palestinians."

Hamas is now attempting to bring in Qatar and Turkey as additional mediators, in the belief that they are less hostile to the group's agenda. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Cairo, where he met with a senior Hamas official, and to Istanbul, where he was expected to meet with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to press reports, Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and unnamed Israeli officials support some kind of role for the PA in Gaza as a means to end the fighting and secure the border crossings.
At this point it is unclear what Hamas's actual demands are, since the group has yet to issue an official statement regarding its conditions for ending the conflict. The various sporadic demands floated in the press over the past week have vacillated widely, and most are unlikely to be met by Israel or Egypt. The only seemingly consistent demand is for easing the blockade around Gaza, yet the question remains how far-reaching such concessions by Egypt and Israel would be, and what Hamas is willing to give up in return. Having started this round of fighting, the group is now desperate to show some tangible gain, and so it continues negotiating via the rocket.
The operation begun on the night of July 17 is the largest Israeli ground action since Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Although at this point it remains a limited incursion with limited objectives, Israel is clearly prepared in a military sense to expand it as necessary. The current objectives are to eliminate the tunnel infrastructure around the border, destroy rocket launching forces/infrastructure in the area of operations, and inflict losses on hostile ground combat elements.
Israeli ground forces appear to be operating on three main axes: southern, central, and northern. The incursions are unlikely to extend into the major population centers, instead focusing on border areas a kilometer or two into the coastal territory. Air and naval forces, for their part, will continue their operations against military infrastructure throughout Gaza and in support of ground incursions. In short, the coastal territory is very much being squeezed from all directions.
The Israeli task force involved in the operation appears to be approximately division size at this stage, with perhaps 15,000-20,000 men comprising one regular armored brigade, three regular infantry brigades, combat engineers (probably including specialist counter-tunnel units), combat intelligence corps units, and field artillery units providing support from inside Israel. Other armor and infantry units are likely being held in reserve to respond to contingencies or expand the operation if ordered.
Hamas and the other Palestinian groups with ground forces have promised strong resistance, but they will be cautious and probably try to avoid large-scale direct engagements with the Israel Defense Forces, as they did during Cast Lead. Early reports indicate only limited resistance. At the same time, they will attempt to keep firing rockets into Israel to demonstrate their own sustainability and the "futility" of the Israeli operation. They will also likely engage the IDF inside Gaza with long-range fire from antitank missiles and mortars. And they will almost certainly seek a high-profile success, such as the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier or an action involving significant IDF casualties. All of this will, of course, be accompanied by the usual propagandistic claims of military victories and heavy Israeli losses.
In light of these factors, most of the direct combat is likely to be small-scale actions involving small numbers of forces on both sides and long-range exchanges of fire. The IDF will employ heavy firepower against identified targets, albeit with awareness regarding the risks of collateral damage. Israel will also likely escalate its standoff fire -- from tanks, artillery, and aircraft -- with the aim of suppressing and destroying long-range rockets in northern Gaza, in and around Beit Lahiyah.
The current operation is the first, but not necessarily the last, phase of Israeli ground operations. The prime minister and defense minister have ordered the IDF to prepare for "a major expansion of the ground operation," and adequate forces for a much larger campaign have been readied.
Israel will develop more intelligence and targets as the operation continues, and this may lead to some expansion in its own right. Furthermore, targets of opportunity will develop as hostile groups expose their forces and command structures while countering Israeli forces. Casualties will increase for both sides, but probably disproportionately for the Palestinians because of IDF operational and tactical advantages. During the ground phase of Cast Lead, the IDF suffered only ten killed in action, and four of those were by friendly fire. At this point, according to Israeli sources, nineteen Palestinian combatants and one IDF soldier have been killed. Few civilian casualties have been reported in connection with the operation.
Palestinian militants will likely keep fighting during the initial onslaught, attempting to achieve a signal success but without exposing their forces to large-scale destruction. During Cast Lead, Hamas fighters under heavy Israeli pressure pulled back from the border and into heavily populated urban areas, engaging IDF ground forces only to give the appearance of a defense.
From a technical military sense, Israel is likely to achieve at least some success in meetings its objectives. Damage will be done to the tunnel and rocket infrastructure, and casualties will be inflicted on militant forces. As mentioned previously, however, the main objective is political. On the psychological level, the operation aims to show Hamas that Israel is not deterred from a potentially messy ground operation inside Gaza, despite the risk of casualties to its own forces. It also signals that the pain inflicted on Hamas will increase so long as the fighting continues and the group fails to come to terms.
Although the operation may in fact compel Hamas to enter more serious negotiations, the group might also see ground incursions as an opportunity to entangle the IDF in prolonged, indecisive fighting -- that is, a conflict in which Israeli military and Palestinian civilian casualties increase while rocket fire continues to target Israeli population centers. Such a scenario would set the stage for a critical Israeli decision on whether to expand the operation. As it has been from the beginning, the end to this latest round of fighting -- and the welfare of the Gazan people -- is in Hamas's hands.
**Jeffrey White is a defense fellow with The Washington Institute and a former senior defense intelligence officer. Neri Zilber, a visiting scholar at the Institute, is a journalist and researcher on Middle East politics and culture.

Iran Can Afford to Say No to a Nuclear Deal
By: Patrick Clawson/Asharq Alawsat
July 17, 2014
The Islamic Republic has taken tough measures to adjust to the new sanctions, and its economy is now positioned to grow modestly even if the sanctions remain in place.
The firm stance Tehran has taken in the nuclear negotiations seems out of step with the image of a country desperate to achieve sanctions relief. That raises the question of just how crippling the sanctions imposed on Iran have been. The answer? No longer so much.
The intensified U.S. and European sanctions in the Iranian year 2012/13 hit the Islamic Republic's economy hard, to the considerable surprise of the country's elite. As an April 2014 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report details, oil export proceeds fell the equivalent of 15% of gross domestic product during that period. A comparable shock to the U.S. economy would be a $2.5 trillion annual loss. Similarly, real GDP fell by 8.5% over 2012/13 and 2013/14, or about twice as much as the 4.3% drop in U.S. output during the 2007-2009 recession. Meanwhile, inflation rose to 45% in 2012/13, and the rial lost 60% of its value on the parallel market. Against this backdrop, the spring 2013 presidential election focused on the economy. Hassan Rouhani's candidacy took off in no small part because he hammered home the theme that improving the economy required a nuclear deal with the West -- that being the only way to obtain sanctions relief, attract foreign investment, and secure trade openings for Iran. Yet even without a comprehensive deal and major relief, the government has been able to establish a modus vivendi under sanctions.
Iran's economy contracted sharply in part because authorities were putting in place the kind of adjustment measures the IMF often recommends when a country faces an external shock. Those measures had the impact the IMF typically predicts: pain followed by gain. Iran has already experienced the pain; now it is beginning to see the gain.
Spending cuts. The government has slashed spending since the shock hit, with 2014/15 budgeted expenditures down 37% in real terms from those in 2011/12. Looked at another way, government spending fell from 19.5% of GDP in 2011/12 to a projected 14.9% in 2014/15. A similar reduction in U.S. spending would be $800 billion per year -- meaning actual reduction, not $800 billion below the past trend line. Those cuts meant that Iran's government debt did not rise much -- currently, its debt relative to GDP is much less than in the United States or Germany, let alone in Italy or Japan. Admittedly, Iranian government debt is difficult to evaluate. The Ahmadinejad team left public finances in a mess by ordering banks to make loans that cannot possibly be repaid, running large deficits in the "Targeted Subsidy Organization," and raiding the accounts of the two development funds that supposedly receive a considerable portion of oil revenue (the Oil Stabilization Fund and the National Development Fund of Iran). According to IMF data, government arrears in 2013/14 were equal 10% of GDP, which presumably is a rough estimate of what will be needed to clean up the past mess. If one adds in those arrears and assumes that the two development funds are effectively broke, Iran's government debt would be 21% of GDP, which is vastly below the 60-100% typical of industrialized countries. The IMF also forecasts that by 2018, this figure will have increased by only a further 8% of GDP.
Exchange rate adjustment. In another impressive move, Tehran permitted the rial to depreciate in effect by about 60% within a few months. Coupled with the restraint in spending, this depreciation caused imports to fall by $22 billion and exports to increase by $11 billion, making up for half the loss in oil export earnings caused by sanctions. Iran started out with a $60 billion annual current account surplus -- the new sanctions wiped that surplus out, but the adjustment measures restored $30 billion of it.
Today, Iran's foreign trade position is strong despite sanctions. The April 2014 IMF report showed that in 2013/14, the country imported $73 billion in goods and services and exported $46 billion in non-oil goods and services, meaning it would have needed only $27 billion in oil and gas exports to balance its current account -- the equivalent of 740,000 barrels of oil per day (b/d) at $100 a barrel. In fact, Iran exported more crude than that in 2103/14; adding in sales of other petroleum products, it totaled $56 billion in oil and gas exports, giving it a $29 billion current account surplus. Looking at future years, the IMF forecasts that Iran would need only $28 billion in oil and gas exports to balance its account in 2019/20, which it could earn even if such exports fall considerably from their current level.
It is instructive to compare these figures with the sanctions relief provided earlier this year by the interim nuclear deal known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). Even if one assumes that there is no leakage in the sanctions regime, the agreement allows Iran to export 1 million b/d of crude oil worth about $35 billion a year -- an amount more than sufficient to meet its foreign exchange needs for the foreseeable future. Of course, this assumes that Tehran has access to the proceeds from these sales. Because of U.S. banking restrictions, most such proceeds are tied up in the countries to which the oil was exported, meaning Iran can use the funds only to import from those countries. While that is a problem, Iran's situation under the JPOA is actually better than the 1 million b/d target cited by the State Department. This is largely due to its substantial exports of non-crude oil -- especially the $10 billion it receives annually from 300,000 b/d of condensates exports that the department insists are not counted in the 1 million b/d target. Tighter monetary policy under Rouhani has also brought inflation down sharply, from a rate of over 40% in spring 2013 to around 17% today. This trend will help restore confidence and encourage investment. In short, Iran has brought its economy into line with the resources available under the new sanctions regime. And it has done so without running up the kind of huge government debt seen in many developed economies.
Having taken the tough measures to adjust to the sanctions shock, Iran is relatively well positioned to resume growth even if the current sanctions remain in place. The IMF forecasts that growth in 2014/15 will be 1.5%, rising to 2.3% per year afterward if oil sales do not pick up and sanctions persist. And that is absent any substantial reform in the government's various growth-inhibiting policies, which are at least as much a burden on the economy as are sanctions. Put another way, Iran's economy under sanctions is poised to grow at about the same pace as the U.S. economy.
Of course, the country remains much poorer than it would be without sanctions, and the position of many Iranian families is precarious. One political problem for the regime is that real household incomes have been squeezed enormously in the past three years, and unrecorded unemployment appears to have risen significantly. The forecasted growth would do little to address this problem. On one hand, although the country is well positioned to leap forward if it receives substantial sanctions relief, it may be difficult to get the people excited about what could be. On the other hand, if public opinion concentrates on the government's clear improvement from an admittedly bad starting point, then the solid if unspectacular economic growth looks pretty good, especially compared to the mess next door in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another concern for Tehran is that the country remains vulnerable to additional sanctions. Having already implemented substantial adjustment measures, the regime has less room for maneuver in the event of a new shock. Yet Iranian officials may believe that the United States would face great difficulty securing broad international cooperation with expanded sanctions. They may also calculate -- wrongly, in all likelihood -- that sanctions targeting more Iranian oil exports would drive up global prices to a degree unacceptable to oil-consuming countries.
In short, sanctions brought Iran to the table, but the regime may be willing to pay the price rather than agreeing to the steps the P5+1 are demanding. Sanctions hobbled the country, but Iran is still walking, and that may be good enough for its leaders.
**Patrick Clawson is director of research at The Washington Institute.