March 01/14


Bible Quotation for today/You are like salt for the whole human race
Matthew 05/13-16: "“You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it. “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house.  In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven".

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
The Eucharist is essential for us: it is Christ who wishes to enter our lives and fill us with his grace.
Pape François
L’Eucharistie est essentielle pour nous : c’est le Christ qui veut entrer dans notre vie et la remplir de sa grâce.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Eucharist jukərst, also called Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a sacrament accepted by almost all Christians. It is reenacted in accordance with Jesus' instruction at the Last Supper, as recorded in several books of the New Testament, that his followers do in remembrance of him as when he gave his disciples bread, saying, "This is my body", and gave them wine saying, "This is my blood."[2][3]
Christians generally recognize a special presence of Christ in this rite, though they differ about exactly how, where, and when Christ is present. While all agree that there is no perceptible change in the elements, some believe that they actually become the body and blood of Christ, others believe in a "real" but merely spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and still others take the act to be only a symbolic reenactment of the Last Supper. A minority of Protestants view the Eucharist as an ordinance in which the ceremony is seen not as a specific channel of divine grace, but as an expression of faith and of obedience to Christ.
In spite of differences between Christians about various aspects of the Eucharist, there is, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "more of a consensus among Christians about the meaning of the Eucharist than would appear from the confessional debates over the sacramental presence, the effects of the Eucharist, and the proper auspices under which it may be celebrated."[2]
The word Eucharist may refer not only to the rite but also to the consecrated bread (leavened or unleavened) and wine (or grape juice) used in the rite. In this sense, communicants (that is, those who partake of the communion elements) may speak of "receiving the Eucharist", as well as "celebrating the Eucharist".

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 01/14
Popping Hezbollah’s resistance bubble/By Michael Young/The Daily Star/March 01/14

Why Are Christians the World's Most Persecuted Group/By: Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPageMagazine/March 01/14

What’s behind Iran and Iraq’s ‘boosted’ military cooperation/By: Dr.Majid Rafizadeh/AlArabiya/March 01/14

Opinion: Lebanon’s “Three Majorities/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat

Implications of a Sisi Presidency /Adel El-Adawy /Washington Institute/ March 01/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 01/14
Lebanese Related News

Suleiman Draws New 'Equation,' Balances between Baabda Declaration and National Pact

Iranian Delegation Vows Anti-Terror Support for Lebanon, Says Hizbullah Role in Syria to Protect Lebanon

Over 4 Syrian Raids Hit Arsal Outskirts as al-Nusra Executes Assad Supporters

Syrian airstrikes kill two in Lebanon border town

Judge Demands Death Penalty for Asir, Supporters

Geagea: Hezbollah statement a "clear Iranian message"

Lebanon judge indicts Sheikh Assir, requests death penalty

Roumieh Inmates Hold Strike, Demand to Meet Rifi

Rockets Land from Syria in Brital

Military Equipment Seized in Army Raid on Syrians in Baalbek

U.N. Calls for Avoiding Any Action that Adds to Regional Tension

Suleiman Meets Fneish, Says Lebanon Obliged to Commit to Baabda Declaration

Abdullah Azzam Brigades Plotting to Assassinate Parliament Speaker

Berri Holds onto Resistance, Warns Wind Could Change Directions  

Sami Gemayel Rejects 'Lebanese's Right to Resist' Formula in Policy Statement

Foreign Ministry Asks Lebanon's U.N. Ambassador to File Complaint over Israeli Raids

Sabbagh emerges as jihadist symbol

Israel warns Lebanon to curb Hezbollah reprisals

Lebanon’s trade deficit widens by 31 percent
Salameh: Stability would lower debt cost
Miscellaneous Reports And News

Kerry defends US Iran position in advance of Obama-Netanyahu meeting
No Iran report with new bomb research information: IAEA

Syria in stalemate

Yanukovych from Russia: I Was Not Overthrown but Compelled to Leave

North Yemen Clashes between Army, Rebels 'Kill 24'

Ukraine Accuses Russia of 'Armed Invasion' in Crimea

U.N. Chief Cites Syria at Rwanda Genocide Commemoration

ISIS retreats from parts of north Syria: activists

Islamist militants slice off alleged thief's hand in Syria  


Popping Hezbollah’s resistance bubble
February 27, 2014/By Michael Young/The Daily Star

How ironic that when Hezbollah insists that the new government’s policy statement include a mention of the privileged role of the resistance, that role was imperceptible when Israeli aircraft attacked earlier this week near Nabi Sheet. It’s still not clear what the Israelis bombed Monday night, though news outlets suggested Wednesday that it was a shipment of missiles from Syria. Hezbollah downplayed the incident, which Information Minister Ramzi Joreige admitted had taken place inside Lebanon. Party officials did not comment. Israel’s Channel 10 TV station reported the raid followed warnings from Israel to Hezbollah, transmitted through European governments, that the party’s deployment along the border with Syria had strategic implications, therefore Israel would attack if Hezbollah maintained its positions. Border control is still seen as the duty of the Lebanese Army, with which Hezbollah is so keen to be equivalent in the people-Army-resistance triad advocated by the party. Hezbollah has sought for years to position itself as a protector of the Lebanese state – hence its insistence on retaining its weapons. How funny, then, that the border has never been so porous, with officials telling us that the car bombs in Lebanon are being rigged in the Syrian town of Yabroud، before passing through Hezbollah areas on their way to Beirut. Not only has Hezbollah been incapable of defending the borders, it has been utterly incapable of defending its own community. The bombings directed against the party and the Shiite community have only rarely occurred in faraway places where security is patchy. It has, clearly, been the intent of the attackers to strike at the very heart of Hezbollah’s quarters, regardless of the security measures, and destroy any sense of confidence that the party can protect its own.
What was the Israeli message Monday? In recent years, before the party was drawn into the Syrian quagmire, Hezbollah and its mouthpieces voiced great ambitions. Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, the party’s secretary-general, spoke of a new weapon that would surprise the Israelis. He promised that in a future war, Hezbollah would seize territory in northern Galilee. And there were some who suggested that the time was ripe for the imposition of new rules of the game between the party and Israel, along the lines of the 1996 April Understanding. Such hubris was not surprising from those who considered the 2006 summer war a Hezbollah victory. But today such puffery is more difficult to justify. The party has imported the Syrian war into Lebanon and has become a hostage to the grinding, open-ended battle on behalf of a Syrian regime delighted to have fresh, non-Syrian bodies to feed into the battle. But the air raid this week suggested something else. That if anyone is seeking to impose new rules, it is the Israelis. If Channel 10 is correct, then we can wonder whether Israel’s intention is not to increase the cost of Hezbollah’s deployment along the border with Syria in the future. Indeed, as the Syrian regime increases its control over areas adjoining those under Hezbollah’s sway in the northern Bekaa Valley, Israeli anxieties can only rise. With the battle for Syria’s Qalamoun district in high gear, Israel is worried that a secure Lebanese-Syrian border will facilitate the transfer to Hezbollah of advanced weaponry that can hit Israeli cities.
Hezbollah, with thousands of combatants in Syria, has a very narrow latitude to respond to the Israelis if the air attacks escalate. Israel sees a golden opportunity to impose red lines of its own on the party, and Hezbollah cannot do much about it. All this was predictable months ago, when Hezbollah’s recklessness in Syria promised to bring Lebanon nothing but strife. One can only stare in disbelief as the party continues to insist on the people-Army-resistance formula, when none of its Lebanese partners view it with any conviction.
What is most flagrant is that Hezbollah, even as it seeks to impose a form of hegemony inside Lebanon, has been shown to be no better than an auxiliary force regionally for both the Iranian and Syrian regimes. The party cannot be happy to see its men in the vanguard of the Syrian regime’s actions, even as the Syrian army’s effectiveness remains suspect. And though the Iranians and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are negotiating a final nuclear deal, the party is in no position to act as a deterrent to Israel if these talks break down.
In other words, Hezbollah is struggling, at no small cost to Lebanon’s interests and its own, to defend Syria and Iran, but it simultaneously seeks to force this priority on the Lebanese through a formula that would allow it to retain its weapons. Needless to say, this cannot conceivably go together with Hezbollah’s efforts to reduce sectarian and political tensions at home. There are too many contradictions in the party’s multiple ambitions, which the Israeli attack only further damaged. For now, March 14 and the centrists should reject the people-Army-resistance formula. Hezbollah is the one that needs cover for its participation in the Syrian conflict, so let it make the concessions. The party cannot even secure its core areas against the jihadists and Israel, so it should stop trying to convince us that it merits a special role as protector of Lebanon.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

Opinion: Lebanon’s “Three Majorities”
By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
When listening to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and UN representative Bashar Al-Jaafari, one can only feel surprise at their extensive use of the term “sovereignty” in their speeches. In fact, they consider “respecting” this “sovereignty” the sole basis for any international dealing with Syria.
These figures, as well as others within the Syrian regime, could believe their own discourse. They may even believe that their audience is buying their rhetoric about “sovereignty.” However, it is the Syrian regime, which is killing its own people and disrupting the national, social and institutional fabric of the country, that has stripped the word “sovereignty” of its meaning.
The Lebanese—politicians, media and general public—are more humble. They realize two things: that Lebanon is no longer an independent country, and that nobody will believe them if they copy Bashar Al-Assad’s self-delusion. Without beating around the bush, it is enough to note that the Lebanese military, supposedly a national fortress and a melting pot of loyalties, is not the most powerful armed force on the ground. In fact, there is a more powerful and influential power in Lebanon. What’s more, in a country such as Lebanon, where national allegiance is on the decline, we can sense divisions running along sectarian and religious lines within state institutions. Even the government security forces are divided along a tacitly recognized sectarian quota. Over the past few years, the Lebanese military establishment has gone through several trying experiences and has tried to demonstrate its impartiality to the Lebanese people. However, the eruption of the Syrian revolution further divided the already disunited Lebanese people into pro- and anti-Assad camps. After that, Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and the failure of the Lebanese military to find definitions for controversial terms—including “extremism,” “fundamentalism,” “terrorism” and “Takfirism”—have served to weaken the Lebanese people’s trust in the military’s impartiality.
While it is true that such a task is the prerogative of the political, rather than the military, establishment. The army—whether it likes or not—has become the last resort for the Lebanese people, who expect it to provide consensual figures moderate and disarming enough to assume the presidency.
In fact, the military has produced one of Lebanon’s finest presidents, Fuad Chehab, who sincerely worked to ease tensions, fight extremism, restore national unity and transform Lebanon into a state of institutions.
With no aspirations for power and wealth, Chehab, a descendent of a Muslim-turned-Christian family of noble ancestry, succeeded in rebuilding the state following 1958 crisis. A lot of the Lebanese still have good memories of the man despite the growing influence of the security forces towards the end of his term.
At odds with Émile Lahoud, the former Lebanese president who gave up his role as an arbitrator among the Lebanese, preferring instead to operate under the influence of the Syrian security apparatus, is current President Michel Suleiman. Suleiman, also a former army chief, preferred to follow Chehab’s course, remaining keen to adopt a consensual approach based on a reciprocal compromise signed in the Qatari capital of Doha around the time he was elected in 2008.
Today there are a number of prospective presidents, including Maronite leaders from across the political spectrum. Although some of these names are outside the stated map of alliances, those observing the scene expect that some of the names could be serious contenders, particularly if the political actors reach a consensus and the international sponsors express a desire to ensure that Lebanon avoids another shakeup. Such a shakeup is the last thing the country needs, given the escalating Syrian crisis and its security, political, economic and humanitarian repercussions for Lebanon.
Some of Lebanon’s political and religious Christian figures—whose good intentions are in question—are calling for the election of a “strong, Christian president.” These are good words but with dubious intentions. The next Lebanese President must be an icon of national unity and provide a safety net for citizens, ensuring that state institutions remain at the service of all the Lebanese people.
Those calling for the election of a “strong, Christian president” ignore the fact that the head of the state is exactly what the title suggests—namely, someone in charge of the entire state. This is quite different from the positions of the Sunni Prime Minister, who heads a Cabinet divided equally between Christians and Muslims, and the Shi’ite Speaker of the parliament, which is also equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
Electing a “strong Christian President” in this implicitly sectarian sense will constitute a provocative step that is fated to either fail or push the country into the abyss. Moreover, the Lebanese Army’s impartiality towards the Sunni–Shi’ite tensions is now in question, particularly following the deeply felt misgivings within the Sunni community after the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid and the operation against Sheikh Ahmad Al-Assir, and its failure to block the movement of Sunni and Shi’ite fighters across the Syria–Lebanon border. In light of this, the Lebanese military establishment perhaps can no longer offer presidential candidates who are equidistant from all political sides.
After ten months and ten days of stalemate, the surprising announcement of the formation of Tammam Salam’s government has encouraged the optimists among the Lebanese to believe in the presence of a secret “watchword” that helped facilitate things and ease tensions.
However, the battle for the presidency will be tougher and riskier than reaching an understanding aimed at forming a short-lived government. Even if Lebanon is able to coexist with a “shadow government”—in the presence of a de facto Hezbollah government—for a few months before presidential elections, a “shadow presidency” would mean the elimination of the country.
In the late 1950s, when the political conflict in Lebanon was raging between the “Pan-Arabist Muslims” and the “Lebanonist Christians,” famous Lebanese journalist and politician Ghassan Tueni said that “Lebanon can only be ruled by two majorities: Muslim and Christian.”
Although we now live in a “tripartite” conflict, Tueni’s principle has not changed much. No president can succeed, no internal peace can remain, nor can the state stand without a president that is accepted by each of the Sunni, Shi’ite and Christian majorities. Any option other than the “three majorities” will be a leap into the unknown. If the next president is not a consensual pick, it could weaken his factional—national cover, and thus threaten more than his representational legitimacy.


Syrian airstrikes kill two in Lebanon border town
February 28, 2014/By Rakan al-Fakih/The Daily Star
HERMEL: Syrian government air raids on the outskirts of Arsal killed a child and a teenager and wounded five others Friday, while seven rockets were fired from within Syria at the Lebanese border town of Brital.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a radical Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group, claimed responsibility for three of the rockets that hit Brital and the surrounding area, saying the group had targeted "the party of the devil's stronghold," a reference to Hezbollah. It is unclear who was behind the other four. Brital is strongly associated with Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside regime forces in Syria, while Arsal is known for supporting the Syrian opposition. It was unclear whether the rockets were intended as a retaliation for the airstrike near Arsal. Security sources said five missiles fired by Syrian government jets hit a rugged and remote area in Khirbit Youneen and Wadi Hmayyed on the edge of the northeastern town of Arsal at 9:15 a.m., causing no casualties. Another missile hit the outskirts of the northeastern town close to the Syrian border around 3 p.m., Deputy Mayor Ahmad al-Fliti told The Daily Star. "I think this will continue because it seems they [the Syrian regime] are preparing for something bigger," Fliti said. The afternoon attack killed an 11-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, a security source said. The wounded were transferred to Al-Maydan Hospital in Lebanon. Less than three hours after the morning air raid, seven rockets fired from Syria landed in Brital.
A little girl, whose name and age were not immediately disclosed, was lightly wounded by two rockets of the rockets that slammed into the Brital neighborhood of Wadi Shalah. The attack also caused damage to several homes.
Another five rockets landed on the outskirts of Brital, according to the sources. Border towns in north and east Lebanon have often come under aerial and artillery bombardment from both regime forces and the armed opposition since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March 2011. Separately, two Syrian brothers were attacked over what appeared to be a financial dispute, the security sources said.
Unidentified assailants opened fire on a motorcycle in Wadi Hmayyed, killing Ali Hussin Al-Kouz, known as Ali al-Natsha, 50, and wounding his brother.
Kouz's body was taken to a field hospital in Arsal, while his brother was taken captive by the attackers who reportedly took him over the border into Syria, the sources said.

Baabda Declaration a fundamental policy: Sleiman

February 28, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman insisted Friday that the new Cabinet's policy statement include the Baabda Declaration, which seeks to maintain Lebanon's neutrality regarding regional conflicts, especially the Syrian crisis. “The Baabda Declaration has become an invariable principle of [Lebanon’s] National Charter, which, consequently, must top ministerial statements of [successive] governments,” Sleiman told a conference on land issues in Kaslik, north of Beirut. "Everyone needs this Declaration and will demand that it be enforced.”Sleiman hinted that “the land, the people and common values” should replace the controversial tripartite equation “The Army, the people and the resistance.” "The land, the people and common values is the permanent tripartite," Sleiman maintained. The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition has insisted that the tripartite formula enshrining the resistance be adopted by this government as it has been by previous governments. The March 14 coalition and Sleiman want the policy statement to include the Baabda Declaration. Sleiman also said that political and military decisions are the exclusive domain of Constitutional institutions. The president called for a solution to return the nearly 1 million Syrian refugees home “because they pose a substantial threat to the land, the wealth and the demographic balance, as well as to national integration and resources.”


Lebanon’s trade deficit widens by 31 percent
February 28, 2014 /The Daily Star/
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s trade deficit in January widened by 31.23 percent compared to the same month in 2013, as exports fell to their lowest levels since the 2006 war, the Customs Department said Thursday. According to the figures released by the department, total exports in January 2014 stood at $244 million compared to $405 million in the same month of 2013, a drop of 39.753 percent. Total imports also rose by 13.79 percent to $1.873 billion from $1.646 billion in January 2013. New Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said he would do his best to increase exports and reduce the balance of trade deficit. He also promised to review some of the “unfair” trade agreements with some countries. He claimed that some countries were imposing strict requirements on the entry of Lebanese-made goods into their markets. But observers doubt Hajj Hasan can do anything to improve exports in less than three months, the expected tenure of the current Cabinet. Industrialists and farmers cite the security situation and the frequent closure of the Lebanese-Syrian border crossings as the main reasons behind the drop in total exports. And although the government managed to open sea routes for exporters, industrialists and farmers have complained that the cost of shipping goods by sea was much higher than land transportation.
In 2013, Lebanon’s exports reached $3.936 billion while imports stood at $21.228 billion. Lebanon imports most of its needs from Europe, the United States and Asia despite relentless efforts by all the successive industry and agriculture ministers to rein in the balance of trade deficit. The figures also indicated that 74 percent of the total imports passed through Beirut Port, followed by 16 percent for airports and 6 percent for Tripoli Port. The main countries exporting to Lebanon in the month of January 2014 were the United States, followed by China, Italy, France, Germany and Turkey. Switzerland remained the largest recipient of Lebanese-made goods, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq. A breakdown of Customs and VAT collection showed that Beirut Port generated some $200 million, followed by Rafik Hariri InternationalAirport with $17 million. es in the month of January fell by 5 percent to reach LL179 billion while VAT proceeds in the same month fell by 2 percent to reach LL174 billion. In 2013, Customs revenues reached LL2.259 trillion while VAT stood at LL2.120 trillion. Customs and VAT revenues are the biggest generators of money for the Finance Ministry, followed by telecoms revenues and income tax.


Salameh: Stability would lower debt cost
February 28, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said that interest rates and premiums on government bonds would fall once the political and security situation in Lebanon become more stable. “Of course, if we have a better environment, I think that interest rates and the premium we pay will decrease,” Salameh told CNBC TV earlier this week in London. The governor said the interest rates the Lebanese government was paying on bonds were not too high given the country’s international rating. “It is a normal and acceptable premium. Lebanon is rated B-. We are still borrowing at BB+ or BBB levels,” he added. Lebanon continues to tap the local market to borrow and roll over maturing Eurobonds at reasonable interest rates. Salameh insisted that the monetary situation in the country remained strong and sound despite the fact that the IMF projected Lebanon’s GDP growth in 2013 at 1.5 percent. “Despite this macro weakness, the monetary fundamentals remain pretty strong if we look at the deposits and at the reserves.”Bank deposit growth in 2013 ranged between 6 and 7 percent while the foreign currency reserves of the Central Bank stand at more than $36 billion. “I think that Lebanon, because of its banking sector, is retaining the potential for growth, so, as soon as we can get a better political environment, a better security environment, the liquidity is there to fuel investment and encourage consumption in Lebanon,” he said. Salameh also commented on the formation of the new Cabinet. “The government is a message to the markets that the Lebanese want a united country that abides by democratic behavior.”Salameh said the international community had not acted swiftly to help Lebanon cope with the Syrian refugee crisis.
“The international community is not acting fast enough in terms of intervening to stop the conflict in Syria. The matter is complicated,” he said. “ Lebanon itself has a burden from that. We have 900,000 refugees. The World Bank has estimated to $1 billion per year the cost of these refugees on Lebanon, and we are still hoping for the backing of the international community.”The governor said the Central Bank was exerting effort to stimulate the economy, but government efforts were needed to restore the Lebanese economy. “The Central Bank has launched stimulus packages. We still have one for 2014 in order to allow the private sector to borrow at low cost,” Salameh said. “The government cannot really act this year in a convincing matter because there are two elections running in Lebanon, the first for the Presidency and the second for the Parliament.
“One should hope for the government to be active by the last quarter of 2014.”

Iran's support for resistance nonnegotiable: official
February 28, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Alaeddine Boroujerdi said Friday his country's support for the resistance was nonnegotiable in the context of ongoing talks over Tehran’s nuclear activities with the West.  “The nuclear negotiations are purely over the nuclear issue and do not include any other item,” Boroujerdi told reporters after meeting Salam at the Grand Serail.  “We cannot trade our defense and embrace of the resistance for anything else and this is a solid political policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added, referring to Hezbollah.  Boroujerdi, who arrived in Beirut Thursday following a trip to Damascus, also said that he briefed Salam on the latest developments in talks between Iran and the P5 1. "Every success achieved by the Islamic Republic of Iran on the international level reflects positively on strengthening security and stability in the region in general,” he said.  He described his meeting with Salam as “very good,” and handed the prime minister a congratulatory letter from the first deputy of the Iranian president on the formation of a new government. Boroujerdi also said he expressed Tehran’s condemnations of the Israeli raid in the Bekaa earlier this week, emphasizing Iran's “solid stance in supporting sisterly Lebanon, its unity, sovereignty, security and independence, as well as our support for the resistance whether in Syria or Lebanon.” "We also exchanged views on several issues concerning security developments in Lebanon, and we think such discussion contributes positively to strengthening security here, which is of interest to the Lebanese and the Iranians as well.” Boroujerdi also said he asked Salam to have his government pay special attention to two cases: the 1982 abduction of Iranian diplomats on Lebanese soil and the disappearance of Imam Musa Sadr.

Israel warns Lebanon to curb Hezbollah reprisals
February 28, 2014/The Daily Star/JERUSALEM: Israel warned Lebanon on Friday to prevent threatened Hezbollah retaliation for an alleged Israeli air strike on a site used by the guerrillas on the Syrian border. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out Monday's strike, in keeping with its silence on at least three such attacks over the past year targeting suspected Hezbollah-bound convoys of advanced weapons from civil war-torn Syria. In an unusually forthright public statement about the incident, Hezbollah said Wednesday it would "choose the time and place and the proper way to respond" against Israel, with which it fought a war in south Lebanon in 2006. Israel has frequently promised to target Lebanon at large in any new conflict, noting that Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group, had politicians in the Beirut government. "It is self-evident that we see Lebanon as responsible for any attack on Israel from the territory of Lebanon," Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Friday. "It is the duty of the Lebanese government to prevent any terrorist attack - whether a terrorist or missile attack, or any other kind - on the State of Israel," he told Israel Radio. Israel is technically at war with Lebanon and Syria. Israeli analysts have been mostly dismissive of Hezbollah's threat this week, arguing that its fighters were too busy helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battle a three-year-old rebellion to open up a new front with Israel.

Islamist militants slice off alleged thief's hand in Syria

Daily Star/BEIRUT: Islamist militants trying to enforce their religious strict code in rebel-held areas of Syria have cut off the hand of an alleged thief in Aleppo province, jihadist social media said on Friday.
tos of the public event were posted on Twitter by several jihadi accounts, including "Jehad News", which said the thief in the northern town of Maskanah had admitted his crimes "and also asked that his hand be cut off to cleanse his sins". It was not immediately possible to verify the accounts. One photo showed a blindfolded man with his hand being held on a table while several militants watched, one with a large knife.A later photo showed the man with his hand severed. The punishment was inflicted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), mainly composed of foreign fighters, an al Qaeda splinter group that is widely considered the most radical of the groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad. It is also engaged in a violent struggle with rival Islamist rebels. ISIS controls much of rebel-held Syria in the north. In the city of Raqqa, it has demanded that Christians pay a levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.  It has also banned Christians from owning weapons and from selling pork or wine to Muslims or drinking wine in public.

Geagea: Hezbollah statement a "clear Iranian message"

February 27, 2014/The Daily Star /BERIUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea slammed Thursday Hezbollah's response to an Israeli air strike on one of the party's positions, characterizing it as an Iranian message to Israel. “The response of Hezbollah to the Israeli airstrike is actually the response of Iran; Hezbollah waited 48 hours to issue a statement in response to the strike because they were expecting something to come out from the Geneva II," Geagea said, referring to the recent failed peace negotiations between the Syrian regime and opposition.  “The conflict intensified between the Western axis and the second axis and that is why the Israeli airstrike took place,” he said. “Ultimately, the response of Hezbollah is obviously a clear Iranian message for Israel warning it not to interfere in the Syrian crisis.” An Israeli airstrike on Monday targeted a Hezbollah position near the Syrian-Lebanese border. The party confirmed two days later that Israeli warplanes bombarded a Hezbollah target near the Janta region and vowed to retaliate at the right time and place. “Once again, and because of Hezbollah’s involvement in the regional turmoil, the party is implicating Lebanon in a conflict that the country has nothing to do with. The solution would be in the party's withdrawal from Syria and the army taking control of the border,” Geagea said. Geagea also discussed the new Cabinet’s policy statement, expressing pessimism. “What we have heard so far about the policy statement is not promising,” he said. “A policy statement that insists on respecting all parties' stances is useless because our problem is with one of these parties and its decisions.” He also called for the implementation of the Baabda Declaration, an agreement to distance Lebanon from regional turmoil, particularly the Syria crisis, but said Hezbollah “does not have the intention to commit to the declaration.” “If the Baabda Declaration is not implemented, the security situation will remain the same and this means the social situation will continue to deteriorate," said Geagea. The LF leader also called for exerting more effort to discover the fate of Joseph Sader, a 57-old IT manager at Middle East Airlines and father of three who was abducted on Feb. 12, 2009, while walking to work at Rafik Hariri International Airport. “It is very, very, very shameful that four years have passed since the kidnapping of Joseph Sader and the former Cabinet did not open a probe into this matter,” he said. “Information revealed by security officials in the meetings of the parliamentary committee on human rights was ignored,” Geagea said. “I second Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi's call to refer the meeting's reports to the prosecution to follow-up on this case.”

Lebanon judge indicts Sheikh Assir, requests death penalty February 28, 2014/ The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda issued indictments Friday against 57 individuals, including Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir and former pop singer Fadl Shaker. He requested the death penalty for all 57. Abu Ghayda charged the suspects with the murder and attempted murder of dozens of military personnel, including officers, and civilians, as well as with inflicting damage to private and public property during the Abra clashes east of Sidon in July 2013. At least 18 soldiers and 28 gunmen were killed in gunbattles between Assir’s fighters and the Army in Abra. Assir and his followers were also charged with provoking the killing of Army officers and with stirring sectarian strife. Abu Ghayda referred the case and the suspects to the military tribunal.

Married Lebanese Man Becomes Maronite Catholic Priest in U.S.
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 February 2014/The Maronite Catholic Church in the United States has ordained a married Lebanese priest for the first time in nearly a century, after Pope Francis gave his permission. A ceremony at the ornate St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis ordained Deacon Wissam Akiki on Thursday night. Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. However, the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners. But Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions. And over the years, popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in the U.S. "Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it's not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite Church, though in the United States it is," Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St. Raymond's, said Thursday. Peters said the pope's action does not lift the ban on married priests in the U.S. It is simply an exception. Whether the decision would open the door for more married priests wasn't clear. Experts cautioned against reading too much into it. "This is certainly not an automatic indication that the mandate of celibacy within Roman rite will be overturned," said Randy Rosenberg, a theological studies professor at Saint Louis University. Akiki, 41, completed seminary studies at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary in Washington, D.C., and the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. He has been a deacon at St. Raymond's since 2009 and worked as the assistant to the bishop. He and his wife, Manal Kassab, have one daughter, Perla, 8. Peters said that in the most recent Maronite Patriarchal Synod, the church reaffirmed its position in support of allowing married priests, a tradition that, worldwide, dates back centuries. Peters said having married priests "does not in any way detract from the value that the church finds in the vocation to celibacy. The celibate priesthood continues to be highly esteemed."Source/Associated Press.


Why Are Christians the World's Most Persecuted Group?
by Raymond Ibrahim/
Why are Christians, as a new Pew report documents, the most persecuted religious group in the world? And why is their persecution occurring primarily throughout the Islamic world? (In the category on "Countries with Very High Government Restrictions on Religion," Pew lists 24 countries—20 of which are Islamic and precisely where the overwhelming majority of "the world's" Christians are actually being persecuted.)
The reason for this ubiquitous phenomenon of Muslim persecution of Christians is threefold:
Christianity is the largest religion in the world. There are Christians practically everywhere around the globe, including in much of the Muslim world. Moreover, because much of the land that Islam seized was originally Christian—including the Middle East and North Africa, the region that is today known as the "Arab world"—Muslims everywhere are still confronted with vestiges of Christianity, for example, in Syria, where many ancient churches and monasteries are currently being destroyed by al-Qaeda linked, U.S. supported "freedom fighters." Similarly, in Egypt, where Alexandria was a major center of ancient Christianity before the 7th century Islamic invasions, there still remain at least 10 million Coptic Christians (though some put the number at much higher). Due to sheer numbers alone, then, indigenous Christians are much more visible and exposed to attack by Muslims than other religious groups throughout the Arab world. Yet as CNS News puts it, "President Obama expressed hope that the 'Arab Spring' would give rise to greater religious freedom in North Africa and the Middle East, which has had the world's highest level of hostility towards religion in every year since 2007, when Pew first began measuring it. However, the study finds that these regions actually experienced the largest increase in religious hostilities in 2012."
Christianity is a proselytizing faith that seeks to win over converts. No other major religion—including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism—except Islam itself has this missionary aspect (these faiths tend to be coterminous with their respective ethnicities: Buddhists, Asians; Judaism, Jews; Hinduism, Hindus). Thus because Christianity is the only religion that is actively confronting Muslims with the truths of its own message, not only is it the primary religion to be accused of proselytizing but, by publicly uttering teachings that contradict Muhammad's, Christians are accused of blaspheming as well. Similarly, this proselytizing element is behind the fact that most Muslims who apostatize to other religions overwhelmingly convert to Christianity. Finally, if indigenous Christians are many in the Middle East, because that is the cradle of Christianity, in other regions with large Muslim populations, such as sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, Christian missionaries have won over millions of converts to the faith—many of whom are now targeted and persecuted according to Islam's anti-apostasy law, which often calls for the death penalty.
Christianity is the quintessential religion of martyrdom. From its inception—beginning with Jesus followed by his disciples and the early Church—many Christians have accepted martyrdom rather than recant their faith, in ancient times at the hands of Romans, in Medieval and modern times at the hands of pious Muslims and others. Few other religions encourage their adherents to embrace death rather than recant, as captured by Christ's own words: "But whoever denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in heaven" (Matt 10:33; see also Luke 14:33)." Conversely, Islam teaches Muslims to openly renounce their faith (taqiyya)—not just when their lives are threatened, but even as a stratagem of war—as long as they remain Muslim in their hearts. Other religions and sects also approve of dissimulation to preserve their adherents' lives. Back in the 1800s, for instance, Samuel M. Zwemer, a Christian missionary, observed that in Iran "Bahaism enjoys taqiyya (concealment of faith) as a duty, but Christianity demands public profession; and hence in Persia it is far easier to become a Bahai than to become a Christian."
To summarize, because of their sheer numbers around the globe, including the Muslim world, Christians are the most likely targets of Islamic intolerance; because sharing the Gospel, or "witnessing," is a dominant element of Christianity, Christians are most likely to fall afoul of Islam's blasphemy and proselytism laws, as even the barest pro-Christian talk is by necessity a challenge to the legitimacy of Islam; because most Muslims who apostatize to other religions convert to Christianity, it is as Christians that they suffer persecution; and because boldness in face of certain death—martyrdom, dying for the faith—is as old as Christianity itself, Christians are especially prone to defy Islam's anti-freedom laws, whether by openly proclaiming Christianity or by refusing to recant it, and so they die for it.
**Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (Regnery, April, 2013) is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Syria in stalemate

February 28, 2014/The Daily Star/ The Geneva II peace talks, which generated a huge amount of media coverage this year, have experienced a steady drop off the radar ever since the last session, when U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi frankly labeled them a failure. Since then, the concerned officials and politicians have made various statements about the situation in Syria, in effect offering the public the following formula: There is no ability to settle the conflict militarily, and there is no agreement on how to settle the conflict politically. Geneva’s abject failure was in fact a case of no side being willing or able to convince the Syrian regime’s enablers, Russia and Iran, to help move the situation toward a resolution. Recently, media reports have trumpeted one supposedly “major” development on the ground or another, promising some type of breakthrough offensive by either side. However, the information available thus far indicates that the Syrian war remains mired in stalemate, and also appears set for even bloodier weeks and months to come.
If the Western world and other members of the international community are armed only with a policy of begging Moscow and Tehran to change their stance and pressure their ally, then Syria and its neighbors are in for horrific, destabilizing violence for the foreseeable future, naturally with negative repercussions for all sides. If they believe that Russia is going to show flexibility, given the political turmoil in Ukraine, the location of its other warm-water naval presence, then they are in for a rude surprise. And as the prospect of a new Geneva round is discussed over the next few weeks, every day will only add 100 to 200 Syrian lives to the death toll.

No Iran report with new bomb research information: IAEA

February 28, 2014/By Dan Williams, Fredrik Dahl/Reuters
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/VIENNA: The U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday it had not prepared a report with new information about suspected atomic bomb research in Iran, after Israel urged it to go public with all information it has regarding such suspicions. Israel's statement followed a Reuters report on Thursday that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had planned a major report on Iran last year that might have revealed more of its alleged activities that could be used for designing a nuclear warhead, but had held off as Tehran's relations with the outside world thawed.
Sources familiar with the matter said the IAEA apparently had not gone ahead with writing the report and that there was no way of knowing what extra information might have been included in such a document, although one source said it could have added to worries about Iran.
According to the sources, the IAEA was believed to have dropped the idea of a new report, at least for the time being.
In 2011, the IAEA issued a landmark report with a trove of intelligence indicating past activity in Iran which could be relevant for developing nuclear weapons, some of which it said might still be continuing. Iran rejected the allegations as fabricated and baseless.
Since then, the U.N. watchdog has said it has obtained more information that "has further corroborated" its analysis in the 2011 document, but has not given details.
"The IAEA has not prepared any report containing new information relating to possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme," spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in an email on Friday, in response to a question.
"The agency's reports on Iran to its Board of Governors are factual and impartial. Their content is not influenced by political considerations," Tudor said, giving no other details.
Israel disapproves of the Western rapprochement with its arch-foe over the last six months, arguing that Iran has won sanctions relief while retaining the infrastructure to pursue nuclear weapons. Iran says its atomic aspirations are peaceful.
"The role of the IAEA is to expose to the international community all information regarding military aspects of the Iranian nuclear project, and not to withhold it for reasons of diplomatic sensitivity," Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a statement.
"Because the matter of the PMD (possible military dimensions) is so important to a final deal with Iran, I call on the IAEA to complete and publish the report at the earliest opportunity," he said.
Israel is widely assumed to have the region's only nuclear arsenal. It has representatives in the IAEA but, unlike Iran, has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The sources said the planned IAEA report would probably have amounted to a wider review of the Iranian nuclear file, including PMD and other outstanding issues. They said the idea was raised internally when the IAEA's long-running efforts to get Iran to cooperate with its investigation appeared completely deadlocked in mid-2013.
But with a new leadership in Tehran trying to end its international isolation, Iran and the IAEA agreed a step-by-step transparency pact in November to help allay concerns about its atomic activities.
This was sealed shortly before a breakthrough November deal between Tehran and the six powers - the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Britain and China - which is meant to be capped by a final accord in July.
In follow-up talks on Feb. 8-9, Iran agreed for the first time to address one of many PMD issues in the 2011 report, regarding so-called exploding bridge wire detonators, which can have both civilian and military applications.

What’s behind Iran and Iraq’s ‘boosted’ military cooperation?
By: Dr.Majid Rafizadeh?AlArabiya
Friday, 28 February 2014
Based on a recent report by Reuters news agency, Tehran has signed a $195 million arms deal with the central Iraqi government. Accordingly, Iranian and Iraqi defense officials have signed eight agreements through which Iran will sell Baghdad arms, military communications equipment, ammunition for tanks artillery, mortars, and ammunition for U.S.-made M-12 assault rifles, among other weaponry.
This deal came after the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to have failed in his attempts to procure additional arms from the United States for fighting, what he calls extremist Sunnis in the western territories of Iraq.
Firstly, this arms deal has raised significant concerns, not only for the United States but also for other regional countries. Jen Psaki, U.S. State Department spokeswoman, pointed out in a news briefing, “Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UNSCR [United Nations Security Council resolution] 1747. We are seeking clarification on the matter from the government of Iraq and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran.”
The significance of this arms deal is that this is considered to be the first official arms deal between the Shi'ite Iranian government and Iraq's Shi'ite-led government under Maliki. In addition, this signifies the increasing military, geopolitical, strategic and economic relationship between Iran and Iraq since American troops withdrew from Iraq in Dec. 2011. Moreover, this arms deal is in violation of the United Nations embargo on weapons sales by Iran.
Iran: the most influential foreign force
After the withdrawal of US troop from Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran was viewed as the most influential foreign force in Iraq politically, economically, and militarily. Based on recent developments, Iran’s socio-political and socio-economic leverage and influence in post-Baathist Iraq appears to be at its peak.
Iran is not only geopolitically considered to be a dominant foreign force in Iraq, but it is also an influential force, economically and socially
Iran’s influence in Iraq and its political leverage over Baghdad includes, but is not limited to, Tehran’s close security, political, military, and intelligence relationship with other powerful and influential Shiite groups, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) along with the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr’s group. In addition, most of Prime Minister Maliki’s political aides are closely tied with the Iranian government.
After the uprising in Syria, Iran’s machinations in Baghdad have also increased. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been utilizing Iraqi territories as a gateway to transfer arms and ammunition to Damascus. Reportedly, groups and individuals such as the ISCI’s leaders and the current Iraqi Minister of Transportation Hadi al-Amiri have been significant actors in assisting the arms shipments to Syria.
On the other hand, there are two critical reasons that both the Iraqi and Iranian governments are attempting to keep their military, security and intelligence cooperation confidential.
Iranian leaders aim to project an image that they are not interfering in the domestic affairs of other Arab countries. This policy works to ease the concerns of other regional powers, as well as to remove any obstacles that may risk the sanctions reliefs over Tehran.
From the perspective of the Iraqi government, it is crucial not to raise American concerns about Iraq-Iran arms ties in order to allow the Maliki government to obtain more advanced military capabilities, such as such surveillance systems and drones to enhance his government’s intelligence, tactical, and military capabilities against the opposition and insurgents.
Iraqi insurgents oppose Iran’s occupation
The less recognized fact is that one of the crucial reasons behind the fighting against the Shiite-led government of Maliki is that they view the Mailiki government (as well as his Dawa Party) as political puppets of Tehran. In other words, these oppositional groups, such as the Military Council of the Anbar Tribes have made clear their opposition to the increasing influence of Iran in Iraq’s domestic and foreign politics, calling it “Iran’s occupation” of Iraq.
Iran is not only geopolitically considered to be a dominant foreign force in Iraq, but it is also an influential force, economically and socially.
The Trade Promotion Organization of Iran (TPOI) pointed out that 72% of Iran’s exports in 2013 went to Iraq. The report also revealed Iraq's imported goods from Tehran have increased by approximately 15% last year. Considering non-oil goods, Iraq is now Iran’s second largest trade partner—only after China. Iraqi leaders have also recently announced that they are closely cooperating with the Iranian government to boost Iraq’s oil production and exports to 9 million bpd by 2020.
Socially and religiously speaking, it is worth noting that many religious scholars that Tehran sends to Karbala and Najaf have significant influence in the voting of the public in Iraq. Several crucial religious and political leaders in Iraq were previously trained in the Islamic Republic as well.
Although the Iranian government attempts to show that its foreign policies and arms deals with the Iraqi central and Shiite-led government of Maliki is not sectarian, the close examinations of Tehran’s policies indicate the Iran’s agenda is indeed sectarian. In addition, the Islamic Republic is more likely to retain its position as the most influential foreign force in Iraq militarily, intelligence, economically, and politically as long as Baghdad is governed by a Shiite government and as long as Iraq is unstable, divided, and inflicted with domestic conflict.

Implications of a Sisi Presidency
Adel El-Adawy /Washington Institute
February 28, 2014
The military chief has some strong assets and likely staying power, but he will still face great pressure if he is elected as anticipated, since the benchmark for success will be his ability to satisfy an Egyptian polity filled with unrealistically high socioeconomic expectations.
The February 24 resignation of Egypt's cabinet has fed expectations that Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi will soon announce his bid to run in this year's presidential election. For now, he remains defense minister in the reshuffled cabinet formed by new prime minister Ibrahim Mahlab, but army chief of staff Gen. Sedki Sobhi is expected to replace Sisi once he resigns to seek the presidency.
Egypt's serious socioeconomic problems and security threats will make the next president's job exceedingly difficult. The new leader's ability to sustain the current institutional power configuration will be crucial in a tough domestic and international political environment. In this regard, Sisi's professional background -- as a strongman with close ties to Egypt's military leadership and various Persian Gulf governments -- gives him an advantage over other potential candidates. But he has yet to clearly articulate his views on governance, the economy, and international political issues. His success will therefore require the assembly of a technocratic presidential team ready to make bold decisions and deliver to a people hungry for a better life.
In 2011 and 2013, the military and other powerful institutions had reasonable incentives to move against the government. In 2011, Egypt's power centers were divided -- few approved of Hosni Mubarak's son Gamal running for president, and many were frustrated with the ruling family's increasingly overbearing role in the decisionmaking process. In 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood's incompetent and destructive leadership galvanized the state apparatus to support the protestors. In short, the institutional configurations in both situations did not favor those in power at the time.
The reality on the ground is different today, however, as revealed by numerous interviews conducted over the past few months with officials from various Egyptian security agencies. There is clear alignment and consensus among state institutions, especially the security apparatus behind Sisi, who enjoys considerable support from many power centers.
At the same time, the past three years show how quickly public opinion can shift, especially if a government is believed to be ineffective at addressing the country's socioeconomic, security, and political problems. Sisi himself has acknowledged these challenges, and if he becomes president, he will need to deal with a complex bureaucracy in order to resolve the most pressing problems.
The country's crushing socioeconomic burden is the foremost concern, but another factor that could trigger popular discontent with a Sisi-led government is anger at repressive measures against political opponents, especially against nonviolent, non-Islamist critics. At the moment, most Egyptians appear willing to give the government wide berth on this issue, content to accept the collateral damage endured by democracy and civil-society advocates in the fight against the Brotherhood and its fellow travelers. Yet there is an undefined threshold that, if crossed, may tip the balance against popular deference on this issue. Given Sisi's efforts thus far to align the operations of the Interior Ministry and the army, he would likely bear the brunt of such criticism.
In August 2012, Egypt witnessed a major generational transition among its highest military ranks when Sisi and Sobhi rose to the top leadership positions. Many analysts prematurely concluded that the removal of Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan was not a significant change, arguing that Sisi represented a continuation of the Tantawi era. Yet while Sisi did enjoy a close relationship with his predecessor, some of his methods for leading the Defense Ministry are profoundly different. In fact, Sisi and Sobhi's ascendance has marked a new era within the military establishment.
Part of this shift is due to the manner in which both men benefited directly from close U.S.-Egyptian military cooperation. Sisi and Sobhi each had the opportunity to study at the U.S. Army War College, familiarizing them with modern American military doctrine and leadership style while fostering strong friendships with U.S. military officers. Yet Tantawi and Anan were mainly exposed to Soviet military doctrine in their formative years, as reflected in their leadership styles.
In addition, military education and training during the Tantawi era were based on traditional warfare, which made the top brass less adaptive to modern transnational threats and rapid technological developments. The rise of nonstate actors, advances in intelligence gathering, and broader transformations in global security dynamics were difficult for the older generation of officers to fully embrace. Today, a younger generation of leaders is taking a much more proactive approach to unconventional security challenges.
In particular, Sisi and Sobhi both understand that the Sinai security threat requires an active military response. The military has undertaken a major, unprecedented, and increasingly effective campaign against terrorist cells in the peninsula and the Gaza smuggling tunnels on which they rely. Over 1,000 tunnels have been destroyed in the past few months, and a buffer zone has been established to limit the activities of jihadists and smugglers at the border. Ahmed Wasfi, the army general in charge of the campaign, is another member of a rising young military leadership that is eager to take on the important Sinai portfolio and much more receptive to focusing on border security and counterterrorism.
Sisi has also established himself as the main interlocutor with regard to U.S.-Egyptian security cooperation. This is different from the Tantawi era, when an older generation of army officers was reluctant to embrace the broader and more flexible security cooperation paradigm Washington sought following the September 11 attacks. Their reluctance tilted the pillar of U.S. cooperation with Cairo toward former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who established himself as the main link in the relationship.
As defense minister, Sisi has shown a much more outgoing leadership style than his predecessors. For example, one of his first decisions was to appoint a young spokesman, Ahmed Ali, to represent the armed forces. At the time, the military was badly shaken by its difficult eighteen-month rule post-Mubarak. Appointing a young officer as the military's public face would have been difficult to imagine during the Tantawi era, but Sisi saw a need to improve relations with the street. According to several senior officers, Sisi also became much more involved than his predecessors in going to the field and surrounding himself with younger officers to boost institutional morale.
In addition, he has moved away from the strictly hierarchical leadership style that gradually disconnected Tantawi from his peers and fostered discontent within the military. Sisi showed more of a team-player approach from the outset, especially given his younger age and his need to gain the respect of more senior peers. For example, his deputy Sobhi is even younger but technically outranks him. Sisi also made drastic changes to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, assembling a trusted team of handpicked officers.
Sisi's approach quickly earned him popularity and helped him maintain cohesiveness. This was put to the test in the lead-up to last June's mass uprising, when the Brotherhood government attempted to replace him with General Wasfi, his close colleague. That gambit failed, and during a July 4 phone interview broadcast on MBC Masr, Wasfi declared that the military's cohesiveness was unbreakable.
Sisi also appears to have been effective at building coalitions among previously competing institutions. During the Mubarak era, the Interior Ministry and police were used as a counterbalance to the military establishment. As a result, the police grew exponentially, and their relations with the military worsened, hitting an all-time low in 2011.
Since Sisi took over as defense minister, however, the relationship has gradually improved. In the past few weeks, police and military officials have exchanged high-profile visits and offered positive remarks about each other. On January 21, Sisi and a senior military delegation met with senior Interior Ministry officials to mark the upcoming police holiday. At the gathering, he emphasized the importance of their relationship: "The police and military are the real guarantors of Egypt's security and stability...The existing challenges are no doubt immense...and we [military] are right next to you [police] to protect our country...Together, we are capable of delivering even though there are many threats."
Sisi has also demonstrated awareness of the need to show broad political support for major decisions. For example, during the July 3 televised announcement of Morsi's removal, a wide spectrum of public figures and politicians were visible in the background. Sisi even asked for a popular mandate on July 24 to aggressively fight terrorism, making sure that the people would accept the intense crackdown against the Brotherhood leadership.
What is less clear is how vigorously Sisi will tackle Egypt's deep structural socioeconomic problems as president. He has not worked on these issues in the past, nor has he articulated his vision for addressing them in the future. Rather, he has kept a low profile on structural-reform subjects such as subsidies, which are critical for economic progress but very delicate politically. If he tackles these problems head on -- or if he does little and the economy stumbles along -- his popularity may well drop.
Field Marshal Sisi is part of a new generation of U.S.-educated Egyptian military leaders who tend to be more adaptive to the fast-changing security threats across the region. His close relationship with various power centers -- especially his same-generation military colleagues -- enhances his prospects of enduring if he becomes president. Given his extremely good chances of winning the election, it would be shortsighted for Washington to jeopardize its three-decade investment in close relations with Egypt's armed forces by prolonging its military aid suspension. Moreover, Sisi's greater focus on counterterrorism compared to his military predecessors creates an opportunity to better advance mutual strategic security interests.
**Adel El-Adawy is a Next Generation Fellow at The Washington Institute.

Kerry defends US Iran position in advance of Obama-Netanyahu meeting
US Secretary of State John Kerry made a rare invocation of war with Iran in advance of Monday's meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu where Tehran's nuclear program is expected top the agenda.
Netanyahu and top Israeli officials have been publicly at odds with the US over terms for a diplomatic deal with Iran and their tone has not softened in the lead-up to the Washington meeting.While the US has seemingly resigned itself to Iran retaining some limited uranium enrichment capabilities under a final agreement, Netanyahu has said that the Islamic Republic must be stripped of all capability – including all enrichment capacity – to build nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu believes that the final agreement must address Iran’s weaponization and intercontinental ballistic missile program, something not on the agenda in the world power’s talks with the Iranians. Those missiles, he has argued, are necessary only to deliver a nuclear payload.
Kerry this week defended the US, stating that before going to war with Iran over its nuclear program, Obama has an obligation “as a matter of leadership” to pursue a peaceful solution to the crisis.
“We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if, before we go to war, there actually might be a peaceful solution,” Kerry told reporters in Washington, referring to an aggressive US effort last fall to freeze the crisis with an interim deal,” Kerry said on Wednesday.
That deal, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) and agreed upon by Iran and the P5+1 – the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – grants the parties six months to negotiate a final settlement to the nuclear impasse. “I happen to believe as a matter of leadership – and I learnt this pretty hard from Vietnam – [that] before you send young people to war, you ought to find out if there is a better alternative,” said Kerry, who served in the Vietnam War as a US naval officer.
“That is an obligation we have as leaders to exhaust all the remedies available to you before you ask people to give up their lives, and that is what we are doing.”
Kerry’s comments made just five days before the Obama Netanyahu meeting were a rare invocation of war with Iran, a scenario most senior administration officials avoid discussing openly. The prospect of open conflict has come up in recent months, however, in an effort by the White House to raise the stakes of the negotiations.
Pushing Congress to stall a vote on a bill that would trigger new sanctions tools against Iran should talks fail, Kerry warned his former Senate colleagues that such a tactic might undermine the diplomatic process and lead to avoidable conflict. That bill has since lost key Democratic support, not on its contents but on its timing. Obama said he would veto the bill if passed during the negotiations period, but promised to be the first to pursue new sanctions should the JPOA expire without a comprehensive accord. Meanwhile, on the eve of Netanyahu’s trip to Washington, where in addition to meeting Obama he is scheduled to address the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday, government officials said that Netanyahu wanted to move ahead as quickly as possible on the diplomatic track.
These comments were made in response to a New York Times report Thursday quoting advisers to Obama as saying that he was poised to plunge back into the Middle East diplomatic process, after months of letting Kerry do the heavy lifting. According to the report, Obama will press Netanyahu to agree to the long-awaited framework document that Kerry is expected to present in the near future to form a basis for continued talks. Obama will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on March 17, the White House said on Thursday, and the US president will no doubt urge him as well to accept the framework. The Obama administration had originally hoped to help broker a deal by April 29. But on Wednesday, Kerry said he hopes at best to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a “framework” for an agreement by that time.
A final deal may take another nine months or more, Kerry said. The framework would guide further talks, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “The parties are talking about the core issues, including borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual recognition, an end of conflict and an end of claims,” he said.
believe that the framework will be a significant breakthrough, as it would represent a common picture on the outlines of the final status agreement,” he said.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has urged European leaders with whom he has spoken over the last few weeks to have the same type of “tough and critical” conversations with the Palestinians that they routinely have with Israel regarding the need to show flexibility and accept the framework.
On Thursday, timed just prior to Netanyahu’s departure, 10 heads of municipal and regional councils in Judea and Samaria, and seven prominent religious-Zionist rabbis – including Rabbi Haim Druckman and Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu – wrote letters to Netanyahu urging him to stand firm in the face of US pressure. The two separate letters called on him to remain firm on the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and urged him to oppose any division of the land.
“The entire land belongs only to the Jewish people,” the letters read. “There is no place for another state on this holy land.”
Reuters contributed to this report.