March 09/14


Bible Quotation for today/Honor your father and your mother
Exodus 20:2/Fifth Biblical commandment: "Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" Proverbs 23:22: "
Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old".

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
Pope Francis
The challenge for Christian spouses:remaining together, knowing how to love one another always, and doing so in a way that their love grows.
Pape François
Le défi des époux chrétiens : être ensemble, savoir s’aimer pour toujours et faire en sorte que l’amour grandisse.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 09/14

Debate: Lebanon’s new government is not the result of new understandings/By: Mounir Khatib/Asharq alawsat/March 09/14

Debate: Lebanon’s new government arose from new understandings/By: Baha Abu Karroum/Asharq Alawsat/March 09/14

The U.S. is slouching from Syria to Ukraine/By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/March 09/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 09/14
Lebanese Related News

10-Year-Old Boy Released after One-Day Kidnap Ordeal

Lebanon needs rethink on privatization: Sleiman

Rahi Meets Suleiman, Says Supports President's Efforts in Preserving Unity

Rockets Hit Town in Hermel

Lebanese Activists Demand Violence Draft Law Approval on International Women's Day

Wanted Suspects Exchange Fire with ISF in Sidon

Report: Robbery, Kidnap-for-Ransom on the Rise in Baalbek

Report: Hizbullah Demands Apology from Suleiman over Remark to End Impasse

Abdullah Azzam Brigades Deny Targeting Civilians, Accuse Hizbullah of Using 'Human Shields'

Gunmen Attack Army, ISF in Brital after Raids over Abducted Child

NLP Suspends Membership in March 14 General-Secretariat

Al-Mayadeen TV Says Cameraman Killed in Syria

Weather-related fires in south, north Lebanon
Cabinet Policy statement in Lebanon: Lost in semantics

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Iran Weapons Ship' Arrives in Israel

'Iran Weapons Ship' Arrives in Israel

EU's Ashton in Iran amid Nuclear Talks Thaw

US State Department: Recognition of 'Jewish state' not a precondition to peace talks

Lavrov Says Russia Open to 'Equal' Dialogue with West on Ukraine

Cairo Tram Station Bomb Hurts One Person

Three Killed in Egypt Clashes

Malaysia Airlines Flight Carrying 239 Went Missing in Vietnamese Airspace

Syria Army Captures Town in Strategic Homs Province

Rebel Free Syrian Army Confirms New Chief

The Ukraine crisis: Russia may halt (START) strategic weapons inspections, revert to Cold War tactics

Boy kidnapped in e. Lebanon back home safe
March 08, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A 9-year-old boy who was kidnapped in east Lebanon was safely returned to his family early Saturday.
“They [the kidnappers] told me I would be back at home at 6:00 a.m. in the morning,” Michel Saqr, sitting next to his relieved father, told reporters at his home in Zahle in the early hours of Saturday. Saqr was snatched Friday at around 7:00 a.m. while on his way to the Sainte Famille School in Zahle with his two sisters. A security source said he was abducted by four masked gunmen from the car that was taking him to school along with his two sisters. In his account of the release, Saqr said the kidnappers had driven him to a house which he was instructed to enter. “[A kidnapper] took the blindfold off my eyes and led me to the house. He told me to tell the people in there what had happened,” he said. “I called my mother and then went to the Serail in Zahle before returning home,” the boy said. Saqr said he was not harmed during his captivity and that his kidnappers had routinely asked whether he wanted any food. “There was no furniture, only mattresses on the floor,” Saqr said, referring to the apartment where he had been briefly held. The release of Saqr was likely prompted by a series of raids conducted by the Lebanese Army in the northeast of the country, a security source said. The source said one of the raids in the Bekaa Valley village of Brital ended in a shootout between the Army and Maher Tleis, a suspect linked to the kidnapping who also has several warrants against him. A woman who was wounded by a stray bullet during the standoff at Tleis’ house died in hospital early Saturday, the source said.


Micheal Al Saqr, the10-Year-Old Boy Released after One-Day Kidnap Ordeal
Naharnet /The Internal Security Forces freed on Saturday 10-year-old Michel al-Saqr, the son of a reputed businessman, a day after he was kidnapped, the state-run National News Agency reported. According to NNA, Saqr was freed in the Bekaa village of Talia without the payment of a ransom. Michel was transferred at 2:45 a.m. to the Serail of Zahle to give his testimony. Heavy gunfire was heard was heard in the eastern city of Zahle after news of his release broke out. Prime Minsiter Tammam Salam hailed the efforts exerted by the army and security forces that led to the release of al-Saqr, voicing hope that “kidnapping ordeal end.”“The firmness imposed by the state's security agencies is the optimal way to deal with any violation of the law,” Salam pointed out. The Premier also contacted his deputy and Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq to praise their endeavors. Michel was abducted at gunpoint on Friday in Zahle as he was heading to school with the family's driver. Four masked gunmen in a Grand Cherokee intercepted al-Saqr's Kia vehicle, pointed a gun at the driver before driving off with Michel. The reasons behind the abduction remain unclear. Several residents blocked the Zahle highway to protest the abduction of Michel. On Thursday, Antoine Daher al-Kaadi was kidnapped by masked gunmen on the Ablah road in the Bekaa and was released later during the day in unknown circumstances. The kidnap-for-ransom phenomenon increased last year and has been strongly criticized by officials from across the political spectrum. Lebanon had also witnessed a wave of sectarian abductions caused by the war in Syria have also taken place.

Lebanon needs rethink on privatization: Sleiman
March 08, 2014 /The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Sleiman highlighted Saturday the need to privatize some sectors of the Lebanese economy to improve productivity and reduce the burden on citizens by minimizing the costs of services.“We need to think seriously about re-studying subsidies policies in addition to adopting the right privatization methods in some sectors to improve productivity and reduce the burden for citizens,” he said. “Moreover, we need to hasten the adoption of the partnership law between the private and the public sectors while setting the adequate framework for directing foreign and local investments toward services sectors instead of focusing only on bank deposits and the construction sector,” he added. Sleiman’s remarks came during the Lebanon Economic Forum which was organized by Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal Group at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beirut. Ministers of key sectors, government officials, business and investment leaders, and experts from Lebanon, Arab and neighboring countries gathered to discuss the existing and upcoming challenges and prospects facing the economy and measures that needed to be adopted in the coming period.
Sleiman emphasized the need to adopt sound and bold economic policies with the introduction of comprehensive reforms that aim at increasing revenues and rationalizing expenditures. “We should not stick to old economic models which have caused a waste of our natural and human resources in the past,” he said. Sleiman believes the main tool to tackle the economy’s weakness is in preparing solid visionary budgets that would lead to several sectors-based policies complementary to the fiscal system and the expenditure structure.“Such a budget, if implemented, would be the main platform for establishing macroeconomic policies,” he said.
“This is why it is highly important to adopt the legal text that would require an annual revision of the economic situation with the support of the private sector in order to establish a sound foundation for the budget and the management of the public debt.”In his speech Sleiman placed a great importance on the oil and gas exploration saying it would open new horizons that could strengthen and consolidate the Lebanese economy and secure citizens’ welfare. “The economic growth must be coupled with the implementation of social development policies that we have previously adopted in addition to following up on the development of educational systems and the introduction of administrative reforms that go hand in hand with these steps,” he added. For his part, Mohamed Choucair, president of the Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry, urged Sleiman to exert further efforts to ensure the finalization of the government’s ministerial statement and the required vote of confidence in Parliament which would enable the state to start working seriously on the challenges facing business owners.
“The Lebanese economy is in dire need of special attention and we are no longer able to carry the burden and the crises of the region,” he said. “Today we are in dire need of an economic Baabda [Palace] declaration that recovers trust in our economy, just like you have recovered the trust of the world and the Lebanese in Lebanon following the Baabda Declaration.”
Meanwhile, Nabil Itani, chairman of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), said that the political and security crisis in the region weighted negatively on the Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in this area.
“ Lebanon is part of the region and it has been affected by the crisis but to a lesser extent,” he said. “It is true that there were some negative indicators but what is also true is that Lebanon was able to achieve many positive results on which we can build such as the increase in FDIs by 8 percent in 2012 and the surge in exports by 2.6 percent in 2013 in addition to a hike in bank deposits by 5 percent and 11 percent in Lebanese pound and US dollars respectively.” For his part, Francois Bassil, president of the Association of Banks, highlighted the critical economic situation prevailing in Lebanon saying that the difficulties facing the country were rooted in three main issues.
“One main issue is the weakness of growth that needs local and foreign investments which are currently absent and downsized,” he said.He noted that another very serious issue was the chaos created by the flow of the huge number of Syrian refugees to Lebanon and their employment in the Lebanese market. He also stressed the need to fill the vacant posts in the public sector according to a specific set of mechanisms.
“This should only take place according to a proper set of mechanisms contrary to what some people want us to get back to which is the despicable quotas and recruitment based on favoritism,” he said.
On the other hand, Bassil praised the resilience of the Lebanese banking sector saying that bank loans had increased by 9 percent in the past year.
Adnan Kassar, president of the General Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab Countries, said that Lebanon was suffering as a result of the Syrian crisis and had paid a major price in terms of stability.“According to the World Bank’s study, Lebanon has lost $7.5 billion, not to mention the great waves of Syrian refugees whose numbers have reached one-third of Lebanon’s population,” he said.
“The internal Lebanese crisis has aggravated the situation and made us suffer further, especially that investors are no longer attracted to Lebanon,” he added.
Raouf Abou Zaki, CEO of AL-Iktissad Wal-aamal Group, highlighted the importance of holding the forum in the current circumstances saying that Arab countries need to follow up on developments in the region and discuss ways to face challenges emerging from the difficult situation prevailing in the area.

Suleiman Says State Sole Guarantee, Calls for Consensus on Policy Statement
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/President Michel Suleiman stressed on Saturday that the Baabda declaration reflects the aspirations of the Lebanese, calling on the arch-foes to ink the cabinet's policy statement based on the consensus of its formation.“The state is the only guarantee for national unity and history has proved that we are strong when we have agreement on the broad national issues,” Suleiman said in a speech during the opening of Lebanese Economic Forum at the Four Seasons Hotel in Biel. He pointed out that the Lebanese rival parties abandoned their high demands and formed a balanced, national unity government, which should be the foundation of all upcoming political challenges.A seven-member panel drafting the ministerial policy statement, chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, adjourned its discussions to Tuesday after failing during a ninth meeting to agree on the clause related to resistance against Israel. The president called on all parties to respect the upcoming constitutional deadlines and to carry them within their timeframe, in particular the presidential elections.
Suleiman’s tenure ends in May 2014, but the constitutional period to elect a new head of state begins on March 25, two months prior to the expiration of Suleiman’s mandate. The rival ministers pointed out after Friday's session that the gap between the March 14 and 8 alliances is still wide. Suleiman and the March 14 alliance on one side and the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp on the other are locked in a dispute on the resistance clause of the policy statement. Suleiman and March 14 are upholding the Baabda Declaration. But March 8, which includes Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal movement, is insisting on including in the blueprint Lebanon’s right to armed resistance against Israeli occupation. Concerning the economic challenges confronting Lebanon, Suleiman said that the Baabda Palace will reveal an administrative decentralization approach to resolve the country's economic woes.
“It is time to implement courageous and rational economic policies,” Suleiman told participants. He noted that “hopeless economic models shouldn't be adopted anymore as reforms must be carried out,” adding that “a law concerning the partnership between the public and private sectors should be adopted.”The country's economy has suffered from years of domestic political turmoil, Syria-related clashes in several areas across Lebanon, a wave of kidnappings and plummeting tourism revenues.

Rahi Meets Suleiman, Says Supports President's Efforts in Preserving Unity

Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/Maronite Patriarch Bashara al-Rahi on Saturday voiced his support to President Michel Suleiman's effort “in preserving unity and stability in the country.”"We support everything the president is doing to preserve unity and stability in Lebanon and we praise what he achieved in Paris during the international conference on Lebanon,” al-Rahi said after meeting with Suleiman at Baabda Palace. The patriarch continued: “The presidency is like a cedar tree that the more it is faced with storms, the tighter it holds onto its roots and the stronger it defends Lebanon's freedom and sovereignty.” The talks between al-Rahi and Suleiman tackled the latest developments in the country, including “the importance of reaching an accord on a ministerial policy statement and the cabinet's role is dealing with upcoming constitutional deadlines and citizens' affairs,” the state-run National News Agency said. Al-Rahi's support to Suleiman comes after tension between soared lately between the president and Hizbullah when the former said Lebanese parties should not hold onto inflexible equations that hinder the adoption of the new government's policy statement. His remark drew a sharp retort from Hizbullah, which said the president needed “specialized care.”

Cabinet Policy statement in Lebanon: Lost in semantics
March 08, 2014/The Daily Star/As Friday’s ninth policy statement meeting drew to a close, without conclusion, the Lebanese were left wondering what difference the drafting of such a document will make either way. Having taken 10 months to form a government, a task that realistically could have been completed within 10 days, those in power are now stalling once again, playing with words and semantics in attempt to win the most ground for whichever party or side they represent. But everyone knows that sooner or later the policy statement will be drawn up, a task required by the Constitution, and it will then be passed to the Parliament for a vote of support. And similarly, everyone is sure this document will represent a compromise: It is not possible for each side to achieve all their wishes. As inevitable as this outcome may be, this current procrastination is dangerous, and the government cannot afford to stall any longer. Just as the tardy formation of a government brought the country to the brink – in terms of security, the economy and international relations – this current stalling threatens to do the same.
The country cannot afford to tread water and wait for the government to do its job. All ministries need urgent attention. The policy statement itself is virtually meaningless. To look at all the statements over the years is to see a list of almost fantastical hopes and dreams; aims and designs rarely carried out, if even genuinely set in the first place. So let a policy statement, no matter what it says, be drafted soon, so that at least some of the mountain of everyday problems facing Lebanon can finally be addressed.

Lebanese Activists Demand Violence Draft Law Approval on International Women's Day

Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/..On International Women's Day, a demonstration organized by the NGO KAFA–Enough Violence and Exploitation kicked off on Saturday calling for the endorsement of a draft bill that protects women from domestic violence. Activists took part in the rally that kicked off from the al-Mathaf area and plans to march to the Justice palace. Participants are calling for a just treatment of women.
In July 2013, the joint parliamentary committees approved a law to protect women from family violence, but with some amendments. KAFA and the "National Coalition for Legislating the Protection of Women from Family Violence" welcomed this step, but expressed their concerns about the amendments made to the law by a special parliamentary sub-committee, asserting their perseverance in lobbying efforts to reach the sought-after results in the general assembly. According to the version that was approved at the committees, and despite the re-introduction of the crime of marital rape in the latest version of the law, it is still not explicitly criminalized as an assault by itself; rather it is the harm that accompanies it that is penalized. Moreover, and as indicated by the new version, minors do not profit from the protection order, unless they are still under the age of custody as set by the different religious laws, an article which will make women more reluctant to report abuse because they may not be able to protect their children when they file for a protection order. Recently, Lebanon has witnessed a number of criminal cases where husbands allegedly beat their wives to death, mainly the recent cases of Manal al-Assi and Roula Taacoub. In the absence of a legal guarantee, women and girls are constantly reluctant to report abuses and to claim their right to a decent human life, which in return favors all forms of violence.

Wanted Suspects Exchange Fire with ISF in Sidon
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/An Internal Security Forces Unit exchanged fir on Tuesday with suspects during a raid in the Taamir Ain el-Hilweh area in the southern city of Sidon.
The state-run National News Agency reported that the raided the area in search for wanted suspects. Future television reported that a unit comprised of ISF members and the Intelligence Bureau came under fire while carrying out a raid in Sidon to apprehend suspects affiliated in the Hizbullah Resistance Brigades. Media reports had said that Hizbullah decided to dissolve its affiliated Resistance Brigades to lift the cover off any member that breaches security. Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir accused in June 2013 Hizbullah of using several apartments in Abra in Sidon to stockpile weapons and house fighters. Al-Asir supporters clashed several times with the members of the Hizbullah's Resistance Brigades in Abra. The Salafist cleric, a 45-year-old cleric who supports the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, is no where to be found after his supporters clashed in June with the army. Officials in Sidon have been demanding Hizbullah, after al-Asir's battle with the army, to withdraw its resistance brigades members from the city.

Report: Robbery, Kidnap-for-Ransom on the Rise in Baalbek

Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/The Bekaa town of Baalbek has witnessed a series of kidnappings for ransom and car robbery over the past year, mainly on the Riyaq-Baallbek and Baalbek-Homs highways, targeting Lebanese nationals and foreigners as well, An Nahar newspaper reported on Saturday. Kidnappings have been recorded on an almost daily basis in the said area and the perpetrators are said to be gangs roving the highways waiting for their next hunt. In mid February, unknown assailants tried to rob a taxi driver on the al-Teebeh crossroad, they shot at his vehicle when he tried to flee their grip. He was slightly wounded and the assailants went empty handed. Two young men were also victims to similar acts last Thursday when armed men tried to rob their car on the Labweh highway. On the same day, two Omani nationals were kidnapped for ransom while they were on their way from the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut to the al-Kayyal area in Baablbek. Five gunmen intercepted their way, took them to western Baalbek but released them afterwards for unknown reasons. Although the assailants are outlaws and wanted, the security forces were unable to arrest them. The newspaper said that most of the stolen cars are used to execute different crimes or are sold to specialized groups that use them later for similar criminal acts. The series of assaults threaten Baalbek's security and reflect on its economic and social position, which compelled its municipality to install surveillance cameras in the market and deploy police patrols around the clock. Despite the precautions taken, the risk remains high on the public roads and by-streets of the area, which is the responsibility of the security forces in charge of maintaining safety.


Weather-related fires in south, north Lebanon
March 08, 2014/By Mohammed Zaatari/The Daily Star
SIDON, Lebanon: Hot, dry, and sand-filled winds contributed to a number of fires in several parts of Lebanon Saturday, including in the southern city of Sidon and the northern Akkar region. In Sidon, there were at least two cases of weather related fires. The hot climate caused one plot of dry land in the southern part of the city to catch fire, threatening a nearby manufacturer of paper and nylon. The fire brigade worked for almost two hours to douse the flames and prevent the fire from spreading. In central Sidon, a Syrian refugee family made it to safety after their makeshift shelter caught fire. Nearby shops were also set ablaze. The National News Agency said a fire also broke out in the Kesrouan area. The Civil Defense was able to extinguish the forest fire between the village of Kfour and Nahr Ibrahim, the state-run agency said. In Akkar, north Lebanon, high winds threatened to exacerbate a fire near the village of Rihaniyeh as Civil Defense struggled to reach the area, the agency said. The NNA said the fire damaged a number of almond fields.

Rockets Hit Town in Hermel
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/Rockets hit on Saturday a town in the Bekaa a day after the Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed an attack on nearby areas.The state-run National News Agency reported that two rockets fired the eastern mountain range landed near Hermel public hospital. Later the NNA reported that three rockets landed in al-Qaa village from Syrian territories. No casualties were reported. ISIL claimed on Friday responsibility for a rocket attack on the outskirts of the towns of al-Labweh and al-Nabi Othman.  The army said in a communique that three rockets landed in the area, saying that it deployed patrols in the areas. Bekaa towns, with a majority of Shiite population, have repeatedly come under rocket attacks by either rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime or armed men supporting them. The Syrian troops loyal to Assad also continue to carry out air raids on Arsal, a majority Sunni town, which is an escape route for rebels and smugglers. In recent months, fighting has raged in and around several towns and villages inhabited by a community of some 15,000 Lebanese Shiites who have lived for decades on the Syrian side of a frontier that is not clearly demarcated in places and not fully controlled by border authorities. They are mostly Lebanese citizens, though some have dual citizenship or are Syrian. Before Syria's uprising erupted two years ago, tens of thousands of Lebanese lived in Syria. The Lebanese Shiite enclave on the Syrian side of the border is near the central city of Homs and across from Hermel, a predominantly Shiite region of northeastern Lebanon.

NLP Suspends Membership in March 14 General-Secretariat
Naharnet Newsdesk 07 March 2014/National Liberal Party leader MP Dory Chamoun announced on Friday suspending his party's membership in the March 14 General-Secretariat."We did not withdraw our membership in the General-Secretariat but we are taking a long break,” Chamoun said in a statement to MTV. "We are suspending our participation in the meetings and in several activities, including the upcoming celebration commemorating March 14, 2005. He explained that the decision was taken because of “miscoordination” with the NLP, stressing that the party is not "useless." 

Abdullah Azzam Brigades Deny Targeting Civilians, Accuse Hizbullah of Using 'Human Shields'
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/The Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades stressed that its operations in Lebanon don't target innocent civilians, accusing Hizbullah of using "human shields."The brigades said via twitter on Satruday that a flaw occurred during the attack on the Iranian cultural center in Beirut's southern suburbs, causing a high number of casualties. "The double suicide car bombing, which was carried out by two young men, killed innocent passersby due to a flaw in the second explosion.”It stressed the “sanctity of the blood of Muslims and non-combatants,” adding that it is keen to avoid inflicting damage in areas other than the target.
“The twin blasts were planned to take place in an area away from the road to safeguard passersby.”The Brigades pointed out that it's engaged in a war with “the Iranian party,” saying that its “interests, military, security and political bases inside Lebanon and abroad will be targeted.”“Hizbullah established its centers in populated areas to use them as human shields,” the group noted, warning civilians from approaching Hizbullah centers in all areas across the country.At least four people were killed in the attack at the Iranian cultural center in Bir al-Hassan neighborhood that also wounded at least 100 others. “Our operations don't target Shiites or other sects," the Brigades tweeted. It pointed out that the Brigades “stress to Jihadists to be careful and to cancel the operation if it was going to harm other the main target.”The group had previously claimed an attack against Iran's embassy in Beirut, located in a southern stronghold of the Tehran-backed Hizbullah. Hizbullah is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops against Sunni-led rebels.

Report: Hizbullah Demands Apology from Suleiman over Remark to End Impasse
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/Ties between President Michel Suleiman and Hizbullah reached a standstill as efforts exerted by officials to end the ongoing dispute didn't make any breakthrough. A source close to Hizbullah told al-Liwaa newspaper, published on Saturday, that “the resistance will not accept anything less than an apology in order to reconsider rectifying the ties with Suleiman.” “Endeavors by some sides to ease Suleiman's remarks will not resolve the matter,” the sources said. According to al-Joumhouria newspaper, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Motleb al-Hennawi was tasked by Suleiman to end the dispute but the minister failed to avert Hizbullah's stance. Despite the President's efforts to rectify the ties with Hizbullah, informed sources told al-Liwaa newspaper that the relations reached a “deadlock.”The tension between Suleiman and Hizbullah reached unprecedented levels recently after the president said during a speech that Lebanese parties should not hold onto inflexible equations that hinder the adoption of the new government's policy statement.
Suleiman had stated that the panel should steer away from “wooden equations” to which Hizbullah responded that the president “does not distinguish between gold and wood.”
His remark drew a sharp retort from Hizbullah, which said the president needed “specialized care.”

Lavrov Says Russia Open to 'Equal' Dialogue with West on Ukraine
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/Russia is open to having an "honest, equal" dialogue with foreign states on the crisis in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday. "We are open to an honest, equal and objective dialogue with our foreign partners to find a way to help all of Ukraine come out of the crisis," Lavrov said at a televised news conference in Moscow with his Tajik counterpart, in a clear reference to the West. "We are ready to continue dialogue on the understanding that this dialogue should be honest and partner-like, without attempts to portray us as one of the sides in the conflict." Lavrov added: "This crisis was not created by us (Russia). All the more, it was created in defiance of our repeated and longstanding warnings."Tensions between Moscow and the West have surged in recent days as pro-Moscow forces took over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which then announced plans to hold a referendum on becoming part of Russia. Lavrov has held talks with Western officials including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, but without reaching any breakthrough.The Russian foreign minister launched a new attack on the Ukrainian government that took power after the overthrow of president Viktor Yanukovych and said terror and chaos were reigning in the country."The so-called temporary government is not independent and depends very unfortunately on radical nationalists who carried out an armed seizure of power," Lavrov said. "There is no kind of de facto state control for law and order," he said.
Lavrov said far-right radicals of the Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) group were "playing the tune" and accused them of using methods of "terror and intimidation". Also on Saturday, Ukraine's envoy to Moscow met Russia's deputy foreign minister for talks held in an "open atmosphere", the Russian foreign ministry said, as pro-Russian gunmen tightened their grip on Crimea. "On the 8th of March, a meeting took place between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Ukraine's Ambassador to Russia Volodymyr Yelchenko during which, in an open atmosphere, questions of Russia-Ukranian relations were discussed," a brief statement said.
Source/Agence France

Cairo Tram Station Bomb Hurts One Person
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/The explosion of a suspected homemade bomb targeting a tram station in eastern Cairo wounded at least one person on Saturday, Egyptian security officials said.
Since the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July, militants have stepped up attacks against the security forces in Egypt, killing many soldiers and policemen. However, attacks on civilian targets have been rare. Another homemade bomb was defused at the same station, the security officials said. In February, a bomb that struck a bus carrying tourists near the Taba border crossing in South Sinai killed three people, including three South Koreans. The Al-Qaeda-inspired Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed the attack. It has also claimed responsibility for high-profile attacks including a car bombing at a police headquarters in Cairo and the shooting down of a military helicopter in the Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai-based group said the attacks were in revenge for a deadly crackdown by the security forces on Morsi supporters. More than 1,4000 people have been killed in the crackdown, according to Amnesty International. Thousands have also been jailed. SourceAgence France Presse.

'Iran Weapons Ship' Arrives in Israel
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/A ship allegedly carrying advanced rockets from Iran to Gaza that was intercepted by the Israeli navy arrived Saturday in the Red Sea port of Eilat, an Agence France Presse photographer said. Israeli naval commandos seized the vessel on Wednesday in the Red Sea between Eritrea and Sudan, with the military saying it was carrying an Iranian shipment of M-302 rockets destined for the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The Panamanian-flagged Klos-C was escorted into Eilat port by two Israeli warships. Thousands of Israelis gathered on a hill overlooking the port broke into applause when the ship came into view. "We will dismantle all the containers to verify if they contain other weapons," an army spokesman said, adding that a news conference will be held at the end of operations late on Monday. Israeli radio said that ambassadors and military attaches posted to Israel as well as "prominent Israeli figures" would be invited to view the weapons seized by the army. This, the radio said, "will prove to the world that Iran is providing weapons to terrorists active in the Gaza Strip".
Iran has flatly denied any involvement with the shipment, which the Israeli army said was carrying missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel. At the time of the vessel's capture on Wednesday, military spokesman Brigadier General Motti Almoz told army radio that dozens of the M-302 long-range missiles were on board. "From what we understand, it was carrying dozens of M-302 long-range missiles which can reach 150 to 200 kilometers (90-125 miles). It may be carrying other weapons as well, but we can only know this when it reaches Eilat. "There is clear and unequivocal information that this (shipment) came from Iran," Almoz said, without elaborating.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Israel of lying and noted that the announcement of its capture coincided with a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the AIPAC pro-Israeli lobby in the United States. "An Iranian ship carrying arms for Gaza. Captured just in time for annual AIPAC anti Iran campaign. Amazing Coincidence! Or same failed lies," Zarif wrote on Twitter on Thursday. Netanyahu has been pressing the international community to maintain crippling economic sanctions on Iran over its nuclear drive, and used last week's visit to the U.S. to push his case. World powers have eased the sanctions as part of a landmark deal struck in November, under which Iran undertook to curb its nuclear activities for six month. The United States, other Western powers and Israel have long suspected Iran of using its nuclear energy program as a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge denied by Tehran.Source/Agence France Presse.


Iranian arms vessel captured by IDF docks in Eilat
Klos-C anchors at port in Red Sea city following IDF seizure on Wednesday near Port Sudan; security forces to begin inspection of onboard weapons cache. The Gaza-bound Iranian arms vessel Klos-C docked in Eilat on Saturday evening after a three-day voyage from its point of interception by the IDF near Port Sudan. Following the ship's arrival, the military was slated to carry out further inspections of the weapons on board.Earlier Saturday afternoon, the two Navy boats that seized the Klos-C docked at the military port in Eilat. Early Wednesday morning, the Navy intercepted the cargo hauler, which the IDF said was carrying Syrian-manufactured, long-range missiles destined to be smuggled to terrorists in the Gaza Strip.The ship was found in the Red Sea 1,500 kilometers away from Israel and some 160 kilometers from Port Sudan.The Klos-C's 17-member crew was in Israeli custody and was set to undergo further questioning prior to their release within the coming days."They are on the ship. They will remain with the ship. Given that they have no hand in the arms smuggling, they will continue on their way," Israeli Admiral Oded Gur-Lavi told Reuters. The weapons found in the ship's hull, including missiles with a range of 90 kilometers, will be inspected in the coming days and were expected to be displayed to the media on Monday.  Missile ships and Navy commandos from the Flotilla 13 unit, backed by the air force, raided the cargo ship sailing under a Panamanian flag, which was carrying Syrian-manufactured M-302 rockets.
The rockets originated in Syria, according to Military Intelligence assessments. Iran reportedly flew the rockets from Syria to an Iranian airfield, trucked them to the seaport of Bander Abbas, and shipped them to Iraq, where they were hidden in cement sacks. The ship then set sail for Port Sudan, near the Sudanese-Eritrean border, on a journey that was expected to last some 10 days. Iran has accused Israel of fabricating claims that Tehran was transporting a weapons shipment to Gaza. Reuters contributed to this report.

US State Department: Recognition of 'Jewish state' not a precondition to peace talks

By JPOST.COM STAFF/03/08/2014 /The US State Department affirmed on Friday that the US recognizes Israel as a "Jewish state" but that this is not a precondition in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The statement was in response to questions regarding the department's position on comments made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the Palestinian Authority must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, something that its chairman, President Mahmoud Abbas, said that he was unwilling to do. Netanyahu made his position clear at AIPAC's annual convention on Tuesday where he publicly posed the demand to Abbas saying, “Abbas must recognize the Jewish state,” and “in doing so, you’d be telling the Palestinians that, while we have a territorial dispute, the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own is beyond dispute."
The reporters pointed out that while US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the King of Jordan personally in Aqaba this weekend to discuss the peace process and Jordan's role, the Palestinian news agency WAFA quoted Abbas as saying that there was "no way" he would recognize Israel as a "Jewish state." Abbas made the statement on Friday while he met with students in Ramallah.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated that though the US position is that it recognizes Israel as a state for the Jewish people, both the Israelis and Palestinians are free to decide what they will finally agree to.
Asked if the gulf between Israel's demand on such recognition and Abbas's open refusal is too wide to bridge and made a compromise less feasible, the spokesperson said that the talks are ongoing and that the US is not surprised or deterred by either side's comments. "The Secretary [of State John Kerry] fully expected that as we reached a point where there was a discussion about highly contested issues, about issues that have decades if not longer years of history, that there would be statements made, there would be concerning comments made by both sides," she said. "And we have seen that over the past couple of weeks. It’s not unexpected. We still firmly believe that both sides are committed to pursuing this process."


Malaysia Airlines Flight Carrying 239 Went Missing in Vietnamese Airspace
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 March 2014/..Malaysia and Vietnam on Saturday led a search for a Malaysia Airlines jet that has gone missing over Southeast Asia, as fears mounted over the fate of the 239 people aboard.
Vietnam authorities said contact with Flight MH370 was lost near its airspace, but its exact location and what happened to it remained a mystery 12 hours after it slipped off air-traffic control screens.Malaysia Airlines said the plane, on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, relayed no distress signal, indications of rough weather, or other signs of trouble. "The plane lost contact near Ca Mau province airspace as it was preparing to transfer to Ho Chi Minh City air traffic control," a statement on the official Vietnamese government website said. Its signal never appeared to Ho Chi Minh City controllers, it said. Ca Mau province is in southernmost Vietnam, next to the Cambodian border. Vietnam's defense ministry has launched a search for the plane, the statement added. It was later announced that Vietnam said rescue planes spotted two large oil slicks in the sea and it is sending boats to the area. "Two of our aircraft sighted two oil slicks around 15 to 20 kilometers (10-12 miles) long, running parallel, around 500 meters apart from each other," the army's deputy chief-of-staff, Vo Van Tuan, told state-run VTV.
The sighting of the oil slicks is the first possible sign that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, could have gone down in the waters between southern Vietnam and northern Malaysia.
"We are not certain where these two oil slicks may have come from so we have sent Vietnamese ships to the area," said Tuan, speaking live on Vietnamese television. Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities also dispatched a plane, two helicopters and four vessels to search seas off its east coast in the South China Sea, said Faridah Shuib, a spokeswoman for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
The Philippines said it was sending three navy patrol boats and a surveillance plane to help efforts. Contact was lost at 2:40 am Malaysian time (1840 GMT Friday), about two hours after take-off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the carrier's CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said. "Our focus now is to work with emergency responders and authorities, and mobilize full support," he told a press conference in Malaysia.
"And our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew, and their family members."Screens at Beijing's airport indicated at first that the flight was "delayed", but later updated its status to "cancelled".
Whatever happened to the flight, Indonesia-based independent aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman said the clock was ticking on a "24-hour golden window" for search and rescue efforts.
"You can't assume that there are no survivors, and if there are any, it is absolutely crucial that they are picked up within a day, or the chances of survival drops significantly," he said.
The Boeing 777-200 carried 227 passengers and 12 crew members, from 14 nationalities Ahmad Jauhari said. They included 153 Chinese nationals including an infant, 38 Malaysians, and 12 Indonesians, he said.Six Australians also were aboard, along with three French nationals, and four Americans including an infant. But a U.S. State Department official said that three Americans were aboard the jet.
"At this time, we can confirm that three U.S. citizens were on board," the official said in a statement. "Officials from the U.S. embassies in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing are in contact with the individuals' families," the official said, adding that Washington is "working to assess whether additional U.S. citizens may have been on board the flight". "We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370," the official continued, adding that the U.S. government is not providing additional information about the Americans on the missing flight "out of respect for them".
Malaysia Airlines has a good safety record. Its worst-ever crash occurred in 1977, when 93 passengers and seven crew perished in a hijacking and subsequent crash in southern Malaysia.The pilot of the missing flight MH370 is Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who has flown for the airline since 1981, the carrier said. Its first officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, joined the airline in 2007. The plane is more than 11 years old.
The flight path of the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing route passes over the South China Sea and the Indochinese peninsula before entering southern Chinese airspace.
"This news has made us all very worried," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Beijing. "We hope every one of the passengers is safe. We are doing all we can to get more details."
Chinese and Thai authorities have said the plane did not enter their airspace. The information vacuum regarding the flight touched off a frenzy on social media, which saw an outpouring of concern for passengers.
At Beijing airport where authorities have gathered the passengers' families at a nearby hotel, an Agence France Presse journalist saw one woman enter the arrivals zone and break down in tears. She was led away by police.
At Kuala Lumpur International Airport, family members looking somber and distraught trickled in to a designated waiting area for loved ones, escorted by authorities.
"They gave us no information so far," complained one man, who said his niece and her husband were on the flight for a one-week holiday in China. Reporters were barred from entering the area.
The Boeing 777 also has a solid safety record, with only a handful of incidents since its introduction in the mid-1990s.
In July 2013, three people died when a Boeing 777-200 operated by South Korea's Asiana Airlines skidded off the runway upon landing at San Francisco's international airport after it clipped a seawall before touching down.
"We're closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370. Our thoughts are with everyone on board," U.S.-based Boeing said in a statement on its Twitter feed.
An accident would be a huge blow for the carrier, which has bled money for years as its struggles to fend off competition from rivals such as fast-growing AirAsia.
The flag carrier recorded its fourth straight quarterly loss during the final three months of 2013, and warned of a "challenging" year ahead due to intense competition.
It admitted in 2012 it was in "crisis", forcing it to implement a cost-cutting campaign centered on slashing routes and other measures. Analysts have said poor management, government interference, and union resistance to reform of the 66-year-old airline have hampered its ability to respond to intensifying competition in the industry.
Source/Agence France Presse.

The Ukraine crisis: Russia may halt (START) strategic weapons inspections, revert to Cold War tactics
DEBKAfile Special Report March 8, 2014/Russia ratcheted up international tensions over Ukraine by a big notch Saturday, March 8, the day after mobilizing air and coastal defenses for a large-scale month-long drill to prevent the disruption of the May 16 Crimean referendum. The defense ministry in Moscow announced: “Russia is considering halting foreign inspections of its strategic weapons arsenal, including nuclear-capable missiles, in response to "threats" from the United States and NATO over the Ukraine crisis.
Lines of tanks were seen Saturday heading from Russian bases towards Crimea.
A high-ranking defense ministry official in Moscow, who was not named, released this statement to all Russian news agencies: "The unfounded threats towards Russia from the United States and NATO over its policy on Ukraine are seen by us as an unfriendly gesture that allows the declaration of force majeure circumstances."
By this statement, Moscow announces that due to "force majeure circunstances" it no longer feels bound by its commitment to international inspections under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with the United States and the Vienna Document between Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) member states.
START, which was signed between the United States and Russia in 1991, mandated the mutual reduction by the two powers of nuclear warheads, missiles and nuclear missiles carried by submarines, under international inspection..
The signing of the first START treaty in 1991 marked the historic end of the Cold War and the Soviet empire's breakup.
Two years ago, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev renewed the treaty. The incumbent Russian president Vladimir Putin is now threatening to abdicate from the 23-year pact, i.e., warning the United States and the West that Moscow is prepared to revert to the belligerent posture maintained by the Soviet Union in the years of the Cold War unless they back off on punitive measures over the Ukraine dispute.
In a phone conversation to US Secretary of State John Kerry, Friday night, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned against “hasty and reckless steps capable of causing harm to Russian-American relations – particularly… sanctions, which,” he said, “would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang.”
DEBKAfile Friday tracked the military escalation centering on Crimea.
Amid spiraling tensions between Moscow and the West over the fate of Crimea, Russia has mobilized its air and coastal defenses and more than 1,000 missile and tank units for a month-long drill in Kapustin Yar, around 450 km from the Ukraine border in the Astrakhan district. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that this facility is home to one of Russia’s biggest missile bases. The exercise covers the whole of March and early April, including the March 16 Crimean referendum on secession and its aftermath.
It will conclude with live-firing drills and the deployment of air defense systems in early April, when Moscow calculates they may be needed to thwart any Ukrainian or Western attempt to disrupt Crimea’s expected application to join the Russian Federation.
The referendum, put forward by two weeks to March 16, will ask roughly three million Crimean citizens for a straight “yes” or “no” on whether to remain part of Ukraine or secede to Russia. Since around 65 percent of the voters are ethnic Russians, the region’s future is not hard to predict.
The Russian parliament announced voting on a bill enabling annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation at the request of a majority would take place on March 21.
President Barack Obama, in an hour-long phone call to President Vladimir Putin early Friday, March 7, declared the referendum was a violation of international law, echoing European Union leaders.
After imposing sanctions on individuals abetting Crimea’s breakaway from Ukraine, Obama urged the Russian leader to cancel the referendum and return his forces to the bases Russia holds on lease in Crimea.
Putin replied that the regime in Kiev and its decisions were “absolutely illegitimate.” He said he appreciated the importance of the Russian-American relationship to global security, and maintained that bilateral ties “should not be sacrificed for individual – albeit rather important – international issues.”
Col. Oleg Kochetkov of the Kapustin Yar district command described the new Russian deployment as “the largest-ever exercise held by air defense units of the Western Military District.” He added: “It is for the first time that all air defense units from the district, including coastal defenses of the Northern Fleet, have gathered in one place.”
Taking part in the exercise are S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles, Buk-M1 medium-range missiles and Strela-10 short-range missiles.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Kapustin Yar is home to one of Russia’s biggest missile bases. From there, the army tested on March 3 its new anti-air missile system S-500, followed the next day by the test-launch of an RT-2PM Topol (NATO codenamed SS-25 Sickle) IBCM.
This flurry of Russian military momentum is partly in response to the military steps announced by the Pentagon in the last 48 hours:
Friday, March 7, the USS Truxtun guided-missile destroyer crossed the Bosporus into the Black Sea to join the fleets of NATO allies Rumania and Bulgaria in a naval exercise, the day after the Pentagon unveiled plans to put another six US F-15 fighters on an air patrol mission over the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Twelve US F-16 fighter bombers and 300 military personnel are to be transferred to Poland over the weekend and more US military exercises are planned in areas around the Russia starting Sunday.


The U.S. is slouching from Syria to Ukraine
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
Russian President Vladimir Putin is the product of the harsh geopolitical reality of Russia in the post-Soviet era, a country in political and strategic retreat in the vast Eurasian theatre. He is also the faithful son of Russia’s tormented history and its Slavic Orthodox Christian civilization which Putin believes it endows it with a unique role.
This is Putin’s version of Russian exceptionalism. For Putin, the demise of the Soviet Union did not alter the old fundamental realities of international relations, where raw power still matters, and where geography can sometimes be destiny. In the Second World War it was Russian Nationalism that blunted Hitler’s invasion, not communism. In times of crisis, Russian leaders, be they Tsars, Comrades or Presidents, always appeal to Mother Russia and her eternal endurance.
In that sense Putin’s feet are deeply planted in the 19th and 20th century. The way he framed his takeover of Crimea -- that is the protection of fellow Russian speaking citizens and preventing Ukraine’s gradual departure from Russia’s orbit -- reflect these convictions.
When Davos collided with Crimea
Putin’s view of history and geopolitics is in sharp contrast with those of President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry. It was revealing and astonishing at the same time to hear Secretary Kerry’s description of Putin’s stealthy invasion of Crimea: “It’s a 19th-century act in the 21st century.”
President Obama’s indignation led him to a similar conclusion: “In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany felt that Putin’s irredentism meant that he was not in touch with reality. She reportedly told President Obama after she spoke with Putin that he is “in another world.”
The reaction of President Obama, Secretary Kerry and Chancellor Merkel assumes the inviolability of international law and that the major states, particularly members of the elite G-8 exclusive club will behave responsibly in the post-Cold War era of Globalization. After all, the demise of the Soviet Union supposedly signaled the “end of history” and with it the end of the great ideological clashes that dominated the 20th century, and brings the final triumph of liberal democracy.
For Obama, Kerry and Merkel, the problems of the world should be addressed by the G-8 and the G-20 fora, by the United Nations, the European Union, and the major International Non-Governmental Organizations. In this new brave world, Davos is the arena for intellectual, political and economic debates among an elite of “internationalist” stars, be they policy makers, opinion makers or dream makers.
In early March circa 2014, the sophisticated, even genteel world of Davos violently collided with the rough and crude world of Crimea according to Vladimir Putin. In this arena, we have president Obama, the former constitutional law professor versus President Putin, the former KGB operator.
President Obama invokes international law, the sanctity of sovereignty and appeals to the supposedly democratic universalism of 2014, while President Putin invokes the right to protect what he sees as national security interests and appeals to a deeply rooted Russian nationalism and Slavic exceptionalism.
The West and the rest
If nationalism as a dominant political force has been tamed in Western Europe since the end of WWII (Americans have been animated traditionally by a strong sense of patriotism, which is not identical with nationalism) it is still animating large swaths of the rest of the world, including major countries that have prospered from a globalized economy that was supposed to blur or weaken exclusive nationalism.
This is not only true of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), but also Japan, South Korea, Egypt and in the countries born after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In many parts of the world, particularly the Middle East and Africa, primordial identities, including those predating nationalism such as sectarianism, tribalism and regionalism are competing with nationalism.
The collapse of the Soviet empire and the breakup of artificial political constructs like Yugoslavia and the overthrow of autocratic regimes in the Arab world, have unleashed many hitherto pent up forces including nationalism and various primordial divisions (ethnic, religious, and sectarian identities) that are still roiling these societies.
President Putin was challenged by these new forces in Georgia and in the Caucuses region and he dealt with it harshly, particularly in Chechnya. At one time the destruction of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, was so thorough it resembled those European cities pulverized and burned during WWII. The Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has borrowed a page from Putin’s book of revenge with similar destruction on the famed Syrian cities of Aleppo and Homs. Putin is facing another challenge today in Ukraine.
However, the Russian president is more familiar with the complexities of nationalism and the other primordial divisions than President Obama, for he is still living in the pre-history of liberal democracy.
Taking the lead for a new order of things?
The new sanctions and visa restrictions that are being contemplated or have been applied by the U.S. and its European allies will not extract a painful “cost” from President Putin unless they become broader, aggressive and universal.
That is, having the major European economic powerhouses, particularly Germany, on board. Some Europeans live in uncomfortable proximity to Russia and depend on Russian energy supplies via Ukraine are not, nor likely to be in the immediate future, in the mood for a serious brawl with Russia’s Putin.
If the United States is truly determined to make Russia pay for its transgression in Ukraine it must start by asserting its leadership of the West and its allies in the rest of the world, including those in the Middle East. It has been said repeatedly that the Ukraine crisis represents by far President Obama’s most difficult and potentially lethal test.
If the United States is truly determined to make Russia pay for its transgression in Ukraine it must start by asserting its leadership of the West and its allies in the rest of the world, including those in the Middle East. It has been said repeatedly that the Ukraine crisis represents by far President Obama’s most difficult and potentially lethal test.
Asserting leadership in the Crimean context requires dumping the naïve notion of providing Putin with an “off ramp,” to defuse the crisis, which assumes erroneously, that Putin blundered his way into Crimea and he may be looking for a way out. Putin is not trying to resurrect the Soviet Union, but rather to draw a red line in Ukraine, the only former Soviet republic he believes and knows that he cannot afford to lose or to see slipping from his hand gradually and drift towards the West.
And yes, he is daring the U.S. and Europe to cross that line. He is not necessarily trying to revive the Cold War, but at the same time he does not shy away from using Cold War tactics to reassert Russia’s role as a major player on the European theatre. His control of Crimea and his influence in the rest of Ukraine will allow him to play that role.
It is useful to remember, that people like Putin, still remember fondly, that during the Cold War, Russia was perceived by the West as a superpower, and was treated with respect and in fact, feared.
Machiavelli’s advice
Yet, whether fair or unfair, president Obama has a serious leadership problem. There is a perception at home and abroad that he is not tough or decisive enough in dealing with America’s adversaries; that he dithers and does not deliver on his own threats, as was the case in his humiliating retreat from his commitment to punish the Assad regime in Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people.
The fact that President Obama is allergic to the use of force, except against al-Qaeda (from the beginning he knew that one successful terror attack, will end his political career, hence his extensive use of drone attacks).
His almost obsession with disengaging from the wars that former President Bush began in Afghanistan and Iraq, his willingness to avoid potentially costly political fights with the likes of Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, as well as his failure to provide strong leadership to rally European and Middle Eastern countries to contains the fires in Iraq and Syria, have deepened Obama’s leadership problem.
The challenge facing President Obama today was succinctly summarized by a brilliant Florentine sage named Niccolo Machiavelli : “He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.”
Slouching from Syria to Ukraine
President Obama’s critics claim that President Putin was emboldened to take his brazen actions in Ukraine by the perception of Obama’s “leadership problem” and his alleged weakness in dealing with the Syrian tragedy last summer. We may never know for sure if Putin’s decisions in Ukraine were encouraged by Obama’s passivity in Syria. What we know for sure, is that the Russian president was not deterred because of anything the American President did in Syria.
Those less charitable to President Obama would say that if he did not scare Assad - who since the chemical weapon standoff last summer has savagely escalated his aerial bombardment of civilians in Aleppo, Homs and the suburbs of Damascus - how could he scare Vladimir Putin?
For more than a year, U.S. diplomacy was focused on convening the Geneva 2 convention in conjunction with Russia to seek a peaceful resolution to the war in Syria. A naïve assumption was at the core of these American moves. U.S. officials believed that when Russia realized that Assad’s insistence on remaining in power would derail the conference, it will distance itself from Assad and seek an accommodation that will lead to a transition to a post-Assad Syria while maintaining the overall structure of the Syrian state.
After two disastrous sessions during which Russia stood firmly with its Syrian ally, even when Assad’s brutality was being escalated, it seems that American officials, including Secretary Kerry, have given up on Russia playing a positive role in Syria. The collapse of the Geneva process on Syria is a serious defeat for U.S. diplomacy that will not go unnoticed in the region and beyond.
The Ukraine crisis will eliminate any chances of U.S.-Russian collaboration on Syria. The crisis could even endanger one of Washington’s “achievements” in Syria, that is the agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapon arsenal. The tension between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine, which will not be solved any time soon, means that Assad will not feel any meaningful American or Western pressure to desist from continuing his objective of achieving a military victory, even if not decisive.
In the first year of the conflict, U.S. officials from Obama on down kept saying that Assad’s days as president of Syria are numbered. Three years into one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent years, it is in the realm of the possible that the most brutal Arab despot since Saddam Hussein could be “elected’ to a third seven year term in a country that he has transformed into a huge pyramid of rubble.

Debate: Lebanon’s new government is not the result of new understandings
Mounir Khatib/Asharq alawsat
It was as though a magic wand passed over the leaders of Lebanon, softening their stances allowing the new government to be formed. This national government of contradictions drowned for nearly 11 months, indicating to some that it would never even see the light of day. But, contrary to expectations, the impossible occurred and a government was formed. It could only have been magic, wielded on more than one level and by more than one party.  With the Syrian crisis entering its fourth year—and even before the crisis broke—Lebanon is and has been and will continue to be a regional and international hitching post. It was difficult to make any political achievements without appealing abroad. With this new government, the landscape became more complex, the number of parties grew and opinions on the issues diverged wildly.
At the local level, the main Lebanese political groups set down crippling conditions for their participation in government—the March 8 Alliance would not give up veto power, the March 14 Alliance would not accept Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian war and the Future Movement insisted on keeping its members at the helm of the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Communications with their “it’s us or nobody” mentality.
Regarding the second column, including independent politicians, it was impossible to smooth out MP Boutros Harb’s rough edges. He accuses Hezbollah of protecting the person suspected of booby-trapping his office’s elevator in an attempted assassination. He and his fellow party leaders still use that same elevator today. The Phalange Party wants ministerial portfolios and to wield the resultant power, but it also wants to stay part of the opposition. Participating in the government would increase the party’s size, and participating in the opposition would allow the group to compete with the Lebanese Armed Forces on what remains of the Christian street.
Here, political forces have taken a step backwards. The Future Movement agreed to submit the conflict to the Cabinet, instead of leaving it a nervous hostage to street thugs; the Free Patriotic Movement contingent led by Michel Aoun agreed to take half of the two ministries as a consolation prize. Politicians—who missed the chance to release some of the pressure built up by the Syrian crisis through delayed parliamentary elections—could not bear to postpone yet more elections.
This magic was so potent because of fear and desire. The Aounists fear the presidential vacuum that threatens the position of the president itself, in the current sense of the word; they also fear that the Future Movement could transform former Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s one-color government into a presidential council. Hezbollah hopes to subdue the country politically to the extent that it decreases the constituency of resistance within its own audience, obfuscates its opposition, and contains its losses in Syria.
On the security front, sectarian mobilization and transnational terrorism is a threat the government cannot sufficiently confront. It has become crucial to create a political environment where preventing an uptick in suicide bombings and absorbing the popular reaction is possible. In this regard, a concession from the March 8 Alliance regarding the ministries that handle security—the Ministries of the Interior, Justice, Defense and Communications—would perhaps prove useful. Passing on responsibility for the security failure to someone else is better than keeping the job and its attendant blame, even if that job is advantageous.
The deteriorating security situation, coupled with the economic decline signified by the falling Lebanese pound and decreased output across a number of sectors, became evident in recent days. This came very close to precipitating a descent into complete chaos—sinking the ship with all souls lost—unless a strong and sufficiently legitimate government were able to step in.
At the regional level—and this is a prominent factor—the failure of Geneva II has become complete, as the Syrian crisis extends into the future without any radical change expected on the ground. The crisis’s persistence has threatened to move the war into Lebanese territory, transforming the conflict into a regional tug-of-war with the participation of Israel and other countries. This would mean the war was permanently out of control, and it is apparent that nobody is in favor of a confrontation of this type. The international community is pleased with the tentative mutual understanding between Iran and the US and with the Iran–Turkey rapprochement. The Gulf is reorienting itself towards the administration of US President Barack Obama, reinforcing the total war on terrorism that has become “Global Public Enemy Number One.” Thus the regional and international inclination is to resolve resolvable issues in order to stymie additional tension and facilitate solutions.
With the oil sector, it has become clear that Lebanon delayed securing the requirements for entry into the oil market, and these requirements cannot be satisfied by the one-color government. Nothing save a universal national government can manage national wealth. Otherwise, “management” will be a polite term for “seizure,” especially as the potential amount of oil investments in Lebanon is astronomical: some estimates give a value of 1.5 trillion US dollars or more. Thus Lebanon’s oil could become a local, regional and even international issue before we even consider the fact that the country is placed along transnational power transmission lines. Oil is a coward, however, unable to bring profit save in stable political environments able to guarantee continuous long-term production and protection of investments.
It is true that Prime Minister Tamman Salam’s new government will not last longer than three months, at which point it will become a caretaker government—if presidential elections run smoothly. But it was formed in extremely complicated circumstances, and both regional and local considerations certainly intervened. It is impossible to say that the reasons behind its formation were a hundred percent of Lebanese creation, although it is true to say that the deal could not have been reached without Lebanese participation and enthusiasm, at minimum for saving the country from the flames of explosive rhetoric. But since the individual actors in the government’s formation are diverse and varied, the government remains vulnerable to all possibilities.
The counterpoint to this article can be read here.

Debate: Lebanon’s new government arose from new understandings

By:  Baha Abu Karroum/Asharq Alawsat
What was impossible for a period of 11 months has become reality: the Lebanese government has been formed, on a political foundation and through the participation of most political parties in Lebanon. This is evidence of the transformations that have taken place and the new balances that have been struck in Lebanon and the wider region. But, ultimately, it is evidence of the various understandings reached between the various Lebanese parties that allowed it all to happen.
The question at issue here is the extent and seriousness of those understandings between the political forces in Lebanon. I believe they are temporary and do not amount to mutual understandings on all contentious matters& #8212;those may have to be shelved for discussion at the national dialogue later on.
It is important to recall that the initiative, launched through an accord reached between the President of the National Struggle Front parliamentary bloc, Walid Jumblatt, and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri was a result of the political crisis having reached a point that threatened internal stability and plunged the country into a great constitutional crisis. Issues that had for a long time impeded the formation of a government were conceded: Hezbollah relinquished its demand for veto power, and the Future Movement abandoned its refusal to serve with Hezbollah in the government. Paralleling this, a political debate touched on various issues, such as rotation among ministries, the ministerial policy statement, and the government gaining the confidence of the Parliament.
Throughout these discussions we have always felt a sense of gravitas among the parties. We were sure everyone was daunted by the challenge, fearing they would spark a constitutional crisis or political standoff that would threaten the unity of the country and harm relations between Lebanon’s various sects, especially given the current security climate. Moreover, suicide attacks have recently become more common, although they have subsequently been rejected by all sects and religious authorities.
Over the past few years, the situation has been characterized by a complete breakdown in communication and objectives between the parties. There is now direct communication between the parties and a keenness to preserve domestic stability. Meetings have taken place and understandings have been reached between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement, which overcame many obstacles to forming the government. There is also the Bkerké document, issued in early February, which forms the keystone of the efforts to consolidate the government and hold presidential elections. It emphasized the role of the state and its authority in various matters, defined the terms of Lebanon’s sovereignty and neutrality toward Syria, secured constitutional provisions in a timely manner, and protected the agreement made at Taif.
It is no exaggeration to say that the platforms of the various parties and political forces have evolved, and this prompted Hezbollah to continue its domestic partnership. The recent bombings cannot be addressed with the internal security forces Hezbollah attempted to use in some areas, without any results. Security cannot be ensured by confronting any one party, whether in Lebanon or beyond; neither can it be protected through the prosecutions carried out by any one party’s security services. Ensuring security must necessarily involve a comprehensive and national effort, where all parties unite under the political umbrella of the main leaders in the country. This is what prompted former Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri to make the decision to engage politically with Hezbollah and separate the issue of the international trial of its members in connection with his father’s assassination from the issue of forming the government. That decision to cooperate was followed by his announcements rejecting extremism and insisting on the moderate approach, including supporting the government security forces in their work to combat the bombings.
But all of that failed to overshadow the ability of the Lebanese people to seize the regional and international moment and achieve a domestic settlement that led to the formation of a government. The settlement they have recently reached may be a temporary or interim one, but it is, of course, necessary in that it serves to pull the country away from the brink of civil war. It has proven Lebanon’s ability to manage its internal affairs by itself, without guardians or external intervention. In contrast to the failure of Geneva II and the continued escalation in Syria, the Lebanese settlement is striking. Lebanon has succeeded in extracting itself from the downward spiral of polarization.
The efforts launched by Walid Jumblatt have been embraced regionally and internationally. Jumblatt was keen on creating a regional safety net, and so he spoke to a number of Arab and Iranian officials in addition to international officials. He contacted these individuals discreetly and diplomatically, hoping to protect the stability of Lebanon and to ensure that the country was not dragged into internal strife.
Many understandings emerged as a result of what recently happened in Lebanon. Simply monopolizing power does not automatically ensure an ability to run the country; neither does surpassing the understandings already reached. The Lebanese people cannot achieve their interests by appealing abroad. If they seek assistance from without, they will find themselves in a standoff they cannot fight on their own.
The counterpoint to this article can be read here.
**Dr. Baha Abu Karroum is a researcher and member of the Progressive Socialist Party Leadership Council.

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