March 15/14


Bible Quotation for today/Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?
Matthew 18,23-35/: "‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything." And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, "Pay what you owe." Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you." But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, "You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?" And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’"


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 15/14
The Malaysian plane, Iran and global jihad/By: Ronen Bergman/Ynetnews/March 15/14

Iran's Evolving Maritime Presence/By:Michael Eisenstadt and Alon Paz/Washington Institute/March 15/14

Why praise the terrorists who released the Maaloula nuns/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 15/14

The fallacy of Iranian-American rapprochement/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya/March 15/14

Who will fall in Syria’s fourth year/By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Awsat/March 15/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 15/14
Lebanese Related News

March 14 on 9th Anniversary of 'Independence Uprising': We'll Stay United and We'd Give Up Anything but State

Geagea Says Resistance outside State Authority Illegitimate, Urges Election of 'Strong' March 14 President

Saniora on March 14 Anniversary: Our Hand is Extended to the Other Only under State's Authority

Israel Shells Hizbullah Post after Bomb Hits Border Patrol in Attack Claimed by ISIL

Syrian Army, Hizbullah at Gates of Yabrud

Iran Makes Official Protest to Lebanon over al-Mashnouq's Statement

More than 120 Hezbollah fighters were killed in clashes around Yabroud

Sporadic Sniper Gunfire Wounds Three in Tripoli as Army Beefs Up Presence
Suleiman Says Resistance's Role in Syria Weakened it, Rejects Extension of his Term

Salam Wants Cabinet Session to be Held before March 14 Rally

Berri Hopes his Policy Statement Proposal Would Gain Ground

Jumblat Does not Expect Solution to Resistance Row before March 14 Rally
Assad Calls for Lebanese President who Supports Resistance, Shares with Hizbullah Same Fate

Geagea Starts Preparations for Presidential Bid, Threatens to Withdraw from March

Lebanon’s Tripoli tense after nightlong clashes
Lebanon’s March 14 coalition anniversary: The flame lingers

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Israeli Air Forces strikes 7 Gaza terror targets in response to evening rocket fire

Kerry: Netanyahu wrong to insist Palestinians recognize Israel as Jewish state
Syrian FM, Walid Muallem In Beirut For Medical Tests
Syrian Lawmakers Approve New Election Law

U.N.: Continuing Syria Refugee Crisis 'Unconscionable'
Gaza Truce Appears to Be Holding
U.S., Russia Launch Last-Gasp Diplomacy before Crimea Vote
Who killed Arafat? Abbas suggests it was rival Dahlan
Sources: Radar suggests missing Malaysia plane flown deliberately toward Andamans


March 14 on 9th Anniversary of 'Independence Uprising': We'll Stay United and We'd Give Up Anything but State
Naharnet/The March 14 forces commemorated on Friday the ninth anniversary of the “Independence Uprising” that saw the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005 by holding a ceremony that emphasized the importance of the Lebanese state and rejected Hizbullah's actions.
March 14 General Secretariat coordinator Fares Soaid said at the ceremony: “The March 14 forces will remain united and not one of its parties will be victorious over the other.”
“The Lebanese people have grown skeptical of our ability to be faithful to the major sacrifices they made at Martyrs Square in 2005,” he added.
“The March 14 camp will remain united. Its parties will be victorious together or they will be defeated together,” he continued.
“The goals of the camp are greater than whether they will take part in a cabinet or not,” remarked Soaid.
He also stressed the importance of standing against Hizbullah's arms, emphasizing the need for staging the presidential elections.
Phalange MP Sami Gemayel then took to the podium, where he launched an attack against Hizbullah's actions “that have driven the people outside of their country.”
“Our problem with Hizbullah is not that we differ in opinions, but that it did not adhere to democracy and the constitution,” he explained.
“The Lebanese people's lives over the past eight years have been usurped,” he declared.
“What kind of life has Hizbullah led us to that makes parents worry if their children will ever return home from school?” he wondered in reference to suicide-bomb attacks that have plagued Lebanon since Hizbullah acknowledged that it was taking part in the conflict in Syria.
“What kind of life are we leading?” Gemayel asked.
“We have had many disappointments with the March 14 movement because we are facing an uneven battle” against Hizbullah that employs its weapons to achieve its goals, he explained.
“The March 14 movement refuses to respond to violence with violence. I was disappointed with some concessions, but they were made for the sake of Lebanon,” MP continued.
They were made to avoid division and maintain coexistence, he added.
“We have a major responsibility towards our supporters to perform better than we did in the past nine years,” stated Gemayel.
“We must not surrender, but we must defend all that preserves our country. We must wage all battles that will defend Lebanon, its institutions, constitutions, and democracy,” he vowed.
Commenting on the ongoing dispute over the government policy statement, the MP said: “The media is saying that the dispute revolves around a single word.”
“Is it possible that the whole country has reached as standstill over a single word?” he wondered.
“This one word is the 'state' and we will never abandon it because it belongs to all of the Lebanese people,” Gemayel stressed.
“Hizbullah does not realize that the state is the place where partnership between powers is exercised,” he explained.
“The party has no choice but to return to Lebanon. It will return to the state and the Shiite population will no longer remain outside of it,” he added.
“The parents of the youths being killed in wars they have nothing to do with will not remain silent forever,” he warned in reference to Hizbullah's fighting in Syria.
“We believe in a strong state that enjoys modernity, culture, and a competent economy. This is the state that Hizbullah is depriving us of,” he declared.
“The unity of the March 14 camp will remain above all else. Our goal will remain the building of an independent and sovereign state,” he added.

Geagea Says Resistance outside State Authority Illegitimate, Urges Election of 'Strong' March 14 President
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea stressed during a rally marking the ninth anniversary of the March 14 “Independence Uprising” on Friday that “any resistance outside state's authority” is “illegitimate,” calling on his coalition to endorse a “strong” March 14 presidential nominee even if there are “several candidates.” “The previous and current experiences of the Lebanese with Hizbullah and its allies have proven that they do not have any consideration for the Lebanese state and the future of the Lebanese and their security, neither for their own commitments and pledges,” Geagea said via video link from Maarab, addressing the rally that was held at the BIEL exhibition center in Beirut. And as he noted that Hizbullah and its allies “closed the doors of discussions over the policy statement … from the very first moment, when they rejected any debate over their arms and declared the death of the Baabda Declaration,” Geagea underlined that “any resistance outside the state's authority, decision and arms is illegitimate.”
“Hizbullah cannot go fight the Syrians then try to convince the Lebanese that the Syrians were going to attack them anyway under the pretext of the presence of takfiris,” Geagea said.
“Does Hizbullah understand the threat this involvement poses to the existence of the Lebanese entity itself? Should what was written in Iran be carefully implemented even if that was at Lebanon's expense?” Geagea asked.
“Hizbullah did not consult the Lebanese when it got involved in Syria but its acts make them bear the consequences of this involvement. Hizbullah cannot continue its involvement and then ask the Lebanese to form 'Sahwa' armed groups to defend it,” he stressed. Commenting on the issue of the new cabinet which the LF had boycotted over the presence of Hizbullah ministers in it, Geagea added: “Yes and "one thousand Yes's" to dialogue, but No and "one thousand No's" to entrapment, anesthetization and passing time under the pretext of dialogue." “Our problem with the current cabinet is related to the presence of a fundamental contradiction between two projects: the project of the state and the project of the statelet. One is made of gold and the other is made of wood. We had rejected the formation of a 'cabinet of contradictions' from the very beginning,” he said.
Referring to the recent war of words between Hizbullah and President Michel Suleiman on whether the so-called “army-people-resistance equation” was “wooden” or “golden,” Geagea said: “We did not want the gold to mix with wood and lose its value, but rather to remain gold.” “The dispute over the policy statement is not a matter of textual maneuvering or disagreements over the wording, but rather a normal reflection of this contradiction between two projects, as the 'golden project' is seeking to return the political decision to the state and only the state, while the 'wooden project' is seeking to usurp its political and military decision,” Geagea explained.
He accused Hizbullah and its allies of seeking “a fictional state dedicated to servicing their interests,” noting that “they want to usurp its resources and monopolize its political and military decisions.”
Turning to the issue of the upcoming presidential vote, Geagea pointed out that the presence of several March 14 presidential candidates does not justify choosing someone who doesn't belong to this coalition.
He said March 14's “main mission” in the current period must be exerting efforts to secure the election of a “strong” Lebanese president from the March 14 coalition with the aim of “correcting the course of events, pulling Lebanon out of its dire situation and establishing the aspired state.”

Saniora on March 14 Anniversary: Our Hand is Extended to the Other Only under State's Authority

Naharnet/Head of the Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora stressed on Friday that the March 14 forces will remain committed to the authority of the state throughout all of its endeavors, while highlighting the values of democracy and dialogue. He said: “Our hand is extended to the other camp only under the authority of the state.” He made his remarks in a speech during the March 14 camp's commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the “Independence Uprising” at the BIEL exhibition center in Beirut. “Nine years ago, the Lebanese people did not hesitate in resisting oppression,” he said. “Lebanon will remain and tyrants will be defeated,” he added. "Lebanon will remain through its civil peace and mutual coexistence, while the criminals' days are numbered," said the former premier. “On this day, we remember our martyrs, starting with former Premier Rafik Hariri and ending with Minister Mohammed Chatah,” Saniora continued. “We all share the same fate and we are bound by the same system of rule,” he said, while denouncing Sunni and Shiite fundamentalism. Commenting on claims of division among the March 14 ranks, the MP stated: “We may have different approaches, but our ranks will not be divided. Coexistence and democracy bind us.”Moreover, he explained: “Despite the hardships, we never wielded weapons against the other.” “We reject violence and will remain committed to dialogue. Our hand will remain extended to the other,” he stressed in reference to the rival March 8 camp, led by Hizbullah.
Addressing Hizbullah's involvement in the conflict in Syria, Saniora urged the party to withdraw its fighters to spare the Lebanese people further misery. “Those who liberated the South should not get embroiled in battles that they have nothing to do with,” he declared, while emphasizing the need to respect the Baabda Declaration.
"We will resist Israel through all legitimate means," he stated.

Syrian Army, Hizbullah at Gates of Yabrud

Naharnet/Syrian forces backed by fighters from Hizbullah were at the gates of the rebel bastion of Yabrud near the Lebanese border Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. State television confirmed the news, reporting: "Syrian army units have advanced in the Yabrud area and now control its eastern approaches and northeastern boundary." The broadcaster said the offensive had caused a "breakdown in the ranks of terrorist groups," the government term for rebels battling President Bashar Assad. Hizbullah, spearheading the fight to dislodge insurgents from Yabrud, and Syrian forces "drove the rebels off the hill of Aqaba" outside the town, said the Observatory, which relies on civilian, medical and military sources for its information. "This is the closest point ever reached by Hizbullah and the army" to Yabrud, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse. "Fierce fighting is also taking place on the northern edge, between the town of Sahel and Yabrud," he added. "They want to completely encircle the Yabrud rebels to dislodge them." The al-Qaida-linked jihadist group al-Nusra Front admitted "one position at Aqaba has fallen... causing brother fighters to fall back to rear bases." But it denied rebels were retreating, insisting reinforcements were on the way. An activist in the region confirmed to AFP the army and Hizbullah had taken a position at Aqaba some five kilometers from Yabrud. The battle for the town is vital for Hizbullah, which first admitted its fighters were fighting alongside Assad's forces in spring 2013.Hizbullah wants to sever a key rebel supply line to the Bekaa town of Arsal across the border in eastern Lebanon. It says car bombs that have been used to attack the party's strongholds inside Lebanon were loaded with explosives in Yabrud and then driven via Arsal to their targets.Source/Agence France Presse

Israel Shells Hizbullah Post after Bomb Hits Border Patrol in Attack Claimed by ISIL
Naharnet/The Israeli army said it shelled a Hizbullah position in southern Lebanon on Friday after an explosion targeted an Israeli patrol on the border, as the Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant reportedly claimed responsibility for the bomb attack. Agence France Presse quoted a Lebanese security source as saying that Israel shelled southern Lebanon after an explosion on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
The Israeli army confirmed that report, saying that it had acted after a border patrol was attacked with explosives. The Lebanese source said "10 Israeli rockets hit an uninhabited border area" and that "there were no casualties."
"In response to the explosive device activated against IDF (Israeli army) soldiers, the IDF fired towards a Hizbullah terror infrastructure in southern Lebanon. A hit was confirmed," the Israeli army said in statement.
Earlier, the Israeli army radio said "artillery fired at southern Lebanon in retaliation for the explosion of a concealed device targeting a patrol." "The device exploded near soldiers on the border in the Har Dov area," the statement added, using Israel's term for the occupied Shebaa Farms. Meanwhile, Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said “a 107 mm rocket struck an Israeli army post on the al-Ramta Hill inside the occupied Shebaa Farms.” It did not elaborate and it was not immediately clear if it was referring to the same attack on Israeli forces. Media reports later said that the Qaida-inspired ISIL claimed responsibility for the bomb attack on the Israeli patrol.

Iran Makes Official Protest to Lebanon over al-Mashnouq's Statement
Naharnet/Iran's ambassador, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, said Friday that he delivered a letter to Lebanese authorities protesting a recent statement made by Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq against Tehran.
The diplomat told reporters after meeting Premier Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail that the official letter of protest was made over al-Mashnouq's remarks against Tehran's regime at the meeting of Arab Interior Ministers in Morocco. “PM Salam confirmed to me that his (al-Mashnouq's) stance against the Islamic Republic does not express the position of the Lebanese government,” Roknabadi said.
Salam stressed that he is keen on “the best of ties” with Iran, he added. A Baabda Palace statement said that Roknabadi also briefed President Michel Suleiman on the content of the letter that he delivered to the foreign ministry.
The statement quoted Suleiman as telling the diplomat that Lebanon stressed mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of countries. In his speech at the 31st Arab Interior Ministers conference held in Marrakesh on Wednesday, al-Mashnouq blamed Iran for the rise of terrorist activities in Lebanon. “Despite the strong capabilities of the army and security forces, we have failed to” confront terrorism militarily, he said.
“The phenomenon of violence has its political and strategic reasons, resulting from the interference of Iran and Syria in Lebanon's internal affairs in the past three decades and more,” he said. “The bloodshed in Syria and Lebanon rose because the Syrian regime is confronting a rebellion and Iran is facing major fateful challenges,” the minister added. He also blamed Iran for the violence in Arab countries. “The major part of this violence in several Arab states, including Lebanon, is the result of the unstable ties with Iran,” he said. “This should compel politicians, foreign ministers, leaders of major parties and heads of state … to confront the challenge,” al-Mashnouq added.

Lebanon’s March 14 coalition anniversary: The flame lingers
The Daily Star /Lebanon’s March 14 coalition will commemorate the anniversary of its launch Friday at a critical juncture in its nine-year history, as it faces challenges on both the internal and external fronts. Internally, the alliance continues to struggle to establish a fully fledged institutional framework, while its various members have different views on various issues. However, these problems can be addressed fairly easily, if there is a will to make March 14 more of a cohesive political force. In the end, the divisions that do exist are relatively minor ones, compared to the agreement on the alliance’s guiding principles.
On the external front, though, March 14 politicians should realize that for the foreseeable future, a large number of Lebanese do not share their beliefs and demands. Therefore, they should extend their hands to other groups, because no side in Lebanon can cancel out others, no matter how much they are at odds. The search for common ground and the task of building on this common ground in order to move the country forward aren’t easy ones, but they represent a strategy based on strength, not weakness. Politicians should be secure enough in their beliefs and demands to realize when compromises can be made without harming core principles.
Some people might make unflattering comparisons between the March 14 of today and of yesteryear, but the reasons the movement emerged – the need for sovereignty, justice and coexistence – are still there. The sooner that March 14 figures rely on these fundamental needs of the Lebanese people and create a more dynamic, forward-thinking movement, the better.

Lebanon’s Tripoli tense after nightlong clashes
March 14, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT/TRIPOLI: A tense calm descended on the northern city of Tripoli Friday after a night of gunbattles between fighters from rival neighborhoods. Two people were killed and 34 wounded in the violence that erupted Thursday and continued through the night following the fatal shooting of a Jabal Mohsen resident, security sources told The Daily Star. Among the fatalities were a 10-year-old girl. A woman, Asma Arrouq, died of her injuries Friday. Schools closed in affected areas of Tripoli Friday and classes were cancelled at the Lebanese University in Qibbeh. The clashes, which intensified after sundown, were triggered by the killing of Walid Barhoum, who hails fom the mainly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. Barhoum was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on motorcycles shortly before midday Thursday. Fighting quickly ensued between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad entrenched in Jabal Mohsen and rival gunmen in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh. The warring neighborhoods have often engaged in fighting linked to the three-year-old crisis in next-door Syria.

Assad Calls for Lebanese President who Supports Resistance, Shares with Hizbullah Same Fate

Naharnet Newsdesk 14 March 2014/Syrian President Bashar Assad voiced hope on Friday that the next Lebanese president would support the resistance axis, considering that his country and Hizbullah are united and share the same fate. “We are interested in the opinions of the upcoming Lebanese president and to what he could offer the axis of the resistance, which is the basic criterion for us,” Assad was quoted as saying by his visitors.The visitors told As Safir newspaper that Assad considers the Lebanese presidential elections as a local affair, whoever who the candidates were. President Michel 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. Suleiman on Wednesday said he hoped the adoption of a national defense strategy under which the resistance would assist the Lebanese Army. Asked about Prime Minister Tammam Salam, the Syrian president considered him as a “man of morals,” urging the political arch-foes to aid him in his endeavors. Assad also called on the Lebanese to unite “in order to confront the challenges facing their country, warning that “the sharp rift would allow the takfiris to spread in their country.” He stressed that Lebanon and Syria share the same security. His visitors quoted him as saying that “there are men in Lebanon that held onto their stances and choices unlike those who are never persistent.” Assad described Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as “loyal,” pointing out that they “are in the same boat.”
Hizbullah has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian regime against rebels seeking the overthrow of President Assad. The conflict, pitting a Sunni-dominated rebel movement against Assad, has raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon and Lebanese Sunni fighters have also been killed while fighting alongside Syrian rebels. Suleiman had continuously urged Hizbullah to withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately to disassociate Lebanon from the regional conflicts and to maintain Lebanon's best interest. The embattled Syrian president expressed resentment over the stance of some Arab countries towards his country, warning that “all those who did Syria wrong and conspired against it will pay the price.” He revealed that several Gulf countries have “secret contacts with Damascus,” noting that “European countries are extending aid to coordinate security and intelligence cooperation to confront the takfiri terrorism.”

Berri Hopes his Policy Statement Proposal Would Gain Ground

Naharnet Newsdesk 14 March 2014/Speaker Nabih Berri has said a proposal made by him could salvage the government, hoping that Premier Tammam Salam would not resign before Monday. In remarks to As Safir daily published on Friday, Berri said: “If there were good intentions and readiness to reach a settlement, then this proposal should be accepted by the March 14” camp. The Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance wants to legitimize Hizbullah's arms but March 14 is demanding that the resistance be put under the state's authority. The speaker, who is also the head of the Amal movement allied with Hizbullah, hoped that Salam would allow more time for consultations on the resistance clause of the policy statement. A seven-member ministerial committee tasked with drafting the blueprint has until Monday to complete its work or else the cabinet would be considered resigned and President Michel Suleiman would have to call for binding parliamentary consultations to name a new premier. According to As Safir, Berri's proposal that was backed by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat, a centrist, calls for adopting the following statement: “Out of the state's responsibility to preserve Lebanon's sovereignty, independence, unity and safety, the government stresses its duty to seek to liberate the rest of the occupied territories with all legitimate and possible means.” The proposal “stresses that the resistance is an honest expression of the right of the Lebanese people in liberating their land and defending their dignity to confront Israeli aggression and greed.”The statement adds the right of “holding onto their (Lebanese people's) waters and oil.”Salam has threatened to resign before Monday to protest the failure of the rival March 8 and 14 alliances to resolve the deadlock on the resistance clause. The 24-member cabinet met on Thursday but failed to reach a solution on the row. Another session is scheduled to take place on Friday.

Suleiman Says Resistance's Role in Syria Weakened it, Rejects Extension of his Term
Naharnet Newsdesk 14 March 2014/President Michel Suleiman said on Friday that Hizbullah's involvement in battles in Syria weakened it, stressing that any endeavors to extend his tenure don't serve the national interest.
“The March 8 and 14 alliances have erred against me and they have both played with the nerves of the Lebanese people,” Suleiman said in an interview with the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa newspaper to be published tomorrow.
He reiterated that the presidential elections should be carried out on time, saying that the national interest compel us to stage it. The president'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. Suleiman pointed out that the political arch-foes should abide by the Baabda Declaration to avoid the repercussions of the Syrian crisis. Under the Baabda Declaration, which was adopted in June 2012 during a national dialogue session headed by Suleiman, the rival March 8 and 14 camps agreed to keep Lebanon away from the policy of regional and international conflicts. “The resistance was weakened after it engaged in battles in Syria,” Suleiman told the newspaper. Hizbullah has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian regime against rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar Assad. The conflict, pitting a Sunni-dominated rebel movement against Assad, has raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon and Lebanese Sunni fighters have also been killed while fighting alongside Syrian rebels. Suleiman had continuously urged Hizbullah to withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately to disassociate Lebanon from the regional conflicts and to maintain Lebanon's best interest.

Geagea Starts Preparations for Presidential Bid, Threatens to Withdraw from March 14
Naharnet Newsdesk 14 March 2014/The Lebanese Forces formed a 12-member committee to draft a detailed presidential election program to prepare the candidacy of its leader Samir Geagea as he is threatening to withdraw from the March 14 alliance over the policy statement row. Al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Friday that the 12-member committee comprises experts in various fields. The newspaper said that the LF's executive commission is holding intensified meetings to develop a comprehensive presidential program that meets the aspirations of the Lebanese people. President Michel 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 daily said that Geagea informed March 14 leaders that he will withdraw from the coalition if they agreed on the March 8 alliance's proposal regarding the ministerial policy statement. The March 8 coalition wants to legitimize Hizbullah's arms in the resistance clause but March 14 is demanding that the resistance be put under the state's authority. The row has led to the failure of a seven-member ministerial committee tasked with drafting the blueprint to complete its work. The constitutional deadline for the cabinet to draft it's policy statement to refer it to the parliament for confidence vote ends on March 17 as Prime Minister Tammam Salam is warning that the row over the resistance article is threatening to topple the cabinet.

Jumblat Does not Expect Solution to Resistance Row before March 14 Rally
Naharnet Newsdesk 14 March 2014/The cabinet is not likely to reach a deal on the controversial resistance clause of the policy statement before a rally organized by the March 14 alliance on Friday afternoon, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat said. In remarks carried by al-Akhbar daily, Jumblat did not expect a deal on the clause although Prime Minister Tammam Salam was eager for the cabinet to meet before the rally to avoid a further deterioration in the row between the March 8 and 14 alliances. Speaker Nabih Berri says the government has until Monday to agree on the political blueprint or else it would be considered resigned. But Jumblat hinted that the Constitution does not directly specify that. “The deadline is not conclusive and we can overcome it,” he said. Article 64 of the Constitution states the following: “The cabinet must present its general statement of policy to the Chamber and gain its confidence within thirty days of the day of issuance of the decree in which the cabinet was formed.” But it does not state that the government would be considered resigned after the deadline expires. Jumblat also told al-Akhbar that the March 8 and 14 alliances were disagreeing on who would resist occupation. “Who will resist? Lebanon or the Lebanese? It is natural for the people” to do so, he said.
The March 8 camp wants to legitimize Hizbullah's arms in the resistance clause but March 14 is demanding that the resistance be put under the state's authority. Their dispute brought the cabinet on the brink of collapse after Salam threatened that he would resign to express his dismay at the failure to reach a deal on the policy statement. But a last-minute deal could avoid a crisis.

Syrian FM, Walid Muallem In Beirut For Medical Tests

Naharnet Newsdesk 14 March 2014/Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was admitted to the American University of Beirut Medical Center at midnight for urgent tests related to cardiac problems, reports said on Friday.
Under tight security measures, Muallem was rushed to the hospital Thursday night after suffering breathing problems and high blood pressure, the Free Lebanon radio said. Muallem was on his feet when he entered the hospital but was seen walking in a slow pace, it added. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali, and Speaker Nabih Berri's adviser Minister Ali Hassan Khalil visited Muallem at the hospital, according to media reports.

Syrian Lawmakers Approve New Election Law
Naharnet Newsdesk 14 March 2014/Syria's parliament on Thursday approved a new election law which for the first time in decades allows multiple candidates to run for president, just months before the war-torn nation heads to the polls. However the new law prevents exiled opposition leaders from running against President Bashar Assad, as it stipulates candidates must have lived in Syria for 10 consecutive years.
Damascus has not officially announced a presidential election but Assad is expected to seek a new seven-year term in the middle of this year despite a raging conflict that has killed more than 140,000 people and displaced millions in three years. The election must be held between 60 and 90 days before the end of Assad's term on July 17. Both Syria's opposition and international mediators have rejected plans to hold a presidential election in the middle of efforts to negotiate an end to the war. "If there is an election, my suspicion is the opposition, all the oppositions will probably not be interested in talking to the government," said U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in a briefing to the Security Council. Previous elections in Syria under the powerful Assad clan, have been a referendum to confirm the candidate chosen by the ruling Baath party, whose power was entrenched in a 1973 constitution. Hafez Assad came to power in 1970, and when he died in 2000 his son Bashar took over. In 2012 a new constitution was approved in a referendum which brought in "political pluralism" in a bid to defuse the unrest in the country. However the opposition slammed the referendum as a "joke.” The new clauses approved Thursday say presidential candidates must "be older than 40, must be Syrian, of Syrian parents... must not have been convicted for a crime... must not be married to a non-Syrian.” The candidate "must have lived in the Syrian Arab Republic for 10 consecutive years up until presenting his candidacy and must not hold a nationality other than Syrian," reads the text. Parliament still has to approve other parts of the new law relating to legislative and municipal elections.Source/Agence France Presse.

U.S., Russia Launch Last-Gasp Diplomacy before Crimea Vote
Naharnet Newsdesk 14 March 2014/a round of last-gasp diplomacy, two days before Crimea votes to secede from Ukraine in a referendum that has sparked the biggest East-West showdown since the Cold War.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was to sit down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London as bloodshed returned to the streets of Ukraine, where a man was stabbed to death in clashes between pro-Moscow and pro-Kiev supporters in the eastern city of Donetsk. The atmosphere around Ukraine remains a tinderbox, with more than 8,000 Russian troops staging drills near its border in the east, while NATO and U.S. reconnaissance craft and fighters patrol the skies of the ex-Soviet state's EU neighbors to the west. Kerry has warned Moscow that Washington and Europe could announce a "very serious" response as early as Monday if Moscow does not pull back its troops who seized control of Crimea days after a pro-Kremlin regime fell in Kiev. Russia however has shown little willingness to negotiate and refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Western-leaning team that has taken power in Kiev, a move that threatens to shatter President Vladimir Putin's dream of rebuilding vestiges of the Soviet empire. The diplomatic drama played out before a global audience at the United Nations on Thursday when Ukraine's new prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk turned to Moscow's U.N. representative Vitaly Churkin and asked him directly: "Do the Russians want war?"
Churkin repled that Russia did not. But he also repeated Putin's argument that Yatsenyuk and his allies had conducted the "forceful overthrow" of Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych that created a "government of victors" and not of the democratic majority of Ukraine. On the ground, deadly violence returned to Ukraine for the first time since nearly 90 were killed in a week of carnage before the fall of the pro-Kremlin regime, when a pro-Kiev protester was stabbed to death in the mostly Russian-speaking city of Donetsk.
The local health service said one 22-year-old man was killed and 16 others wounded in clashes that erupted when pro-Kiev demonstrators were attacked by pro-Moscow protesters.
Footage on Ukrainian television showed mass fistfights breaking out and clubs wielded as a much smaller presence of helmeted riot police stood in the middle of the melee and seemed incapable of separating the crowds.
Sunday's vote gives residents of Crimea -- a Russian-speaking region that has housed tsarist and Kremlin navies since the 18th century -- only two choices: joining Russia or "the significant strengthening of their autonomy within Ukraine". The region's self-declared pro-Kremlin leader has already predicted an easy victory and the region is largely expected to vote in favor of joining Russia despite discontent from the Muslim Tatar minority that makes up 12 percent of Crimea's total population of two million.
Tatar community leader Mustafa Dzhemilev told AFP on Thursday that NATO should intervene in Crimea to avert a "massacre" of his people by the Russians.
"If other measures do not work, then NATO should intervene like in Kosovo," he said while arranging meetings in Brussels with NATO officials.
But Washington and its European allies are instead far more likely to come down with more severe sanctions against top Russians should the Kremlin fail to scale down its military involvement in Crimea and open direct dialogue with Kiev. "If there is no sign of any capacity to be able to move forward and resolve this issue, there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday in Europe and here with respect to the options that are available to us," Kerry told lawmakers in Washington. The European Union will debate travel bans and asset freezes on Monday against Russian officials held responsible for threatening Ukraine's territorial integrity.
The White House has been moving toward punitive measures faster than its European allies -- their financial and energy sectors intertwined tightly with Russia -- and has already approved visa restrictions and financial penalties on Moscow officials. But U.S. President Barack Obama told Yatsenyuk after talks in the Oval Office that Washington was willing to move much further still if Putin failed to soften his stance immediately.
Ukraine on Thursday created a new National Guard of 60,000 volunteers who could supplement a conventional army of 130,000 soldiers that is dwarfed by a 845,000-strong Russian force that is backed by nuclear arms.
Russia's tanks and artillery units were training on Thursday across three regions neighboring Ukraine while 4,000 paratroopers began performing drills in the central region of Rostov.
The Russian defense ministry said it was "increasing the intensity of field training exercises" that involve more than 8,000 artillerymen an undisclosed number of other soldiers.
Moscow also confirmed sending six fighters and three transport jets to Belarus in response to NATO's decision to start flying reconnaissance aircraft over Poland and Romania as part of the Western military alliance's attempts to monitor the movement of Russian troops. The tangible danger of war breaking out on the EU's eastern frontier prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to tell Putin his country faced long-term political and economic damage unless he showed an immediate willingness to compromise.
Source/Agence France Presse.

Israeli Air Forces strikes 7 Gaza terror targets in response to evening rocket fire
Ynetnews/03.14.14/Despite Islamic Jihad's announcement of a ceasefire, 'Code Red' sirens were heard in the south, and rockets continue to rain down. The Israel Air Force attacked seven Gaza terror targets on Thursday night - three targets in the north of the Strip and four in its south - after 17 rockets were fired by Gaza terror groups towards southern Israel following Islamic Jihad's announcement on a truce with Israel.
The Iron Dome missiles-defense system was deployed in Beersheba and near Ashdod on Thursday evening to stop grad rockets from reaching the populated cities.
'Code Red' sirens were heard shortly before 7:50 pm Thursday in the Shaar HaNegev and Sdot Negev Regional Councils and in Sderot, followed by three rocket falls. Two of the rockets fell in open areas in the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council and another fell in Sderot.
Another barrage of rockets was fired at around 8:30 pm, two of them intercepted by the Iron Dome missile-defense system. The rest fell in open areas. At around 9:05 pm, 'Code Red' sirens were heard for the third time in Sderot and Shaar HaNegev. Around 10:45 pm, another rocket fell in an open field in the Eshkol Regional Council. There was no 'Code Red' siren beforehand.
Earlier in the day, a rocket fell in an open area in the Ashkelon region, shortly after Islamic Jihad's announcement of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel. The organization denied that it was behind the attack.
After over 60 rockets were fired at southern Israel on Wednesday evening, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip resumed Thursday morning, with sirens sounding in the towns of Yavne, Rehovot, Ashdod and Ashkelon. In light of the wake in rocket fire, Kerem Shalom Crossing has been closed, as well as Erez Crossing, which will only remain open for humanitarian emergencies.
At least one rocket fired at Ashkelon was neutralized by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the IDF confirmed. Two rockets landed in open fields between Ashkelon and Ashdod.
The Israel Air Force struck targets in southern Gaza Strip in response to the morning rocket fire. Palestinian sources in Gaza reported that the IAF struck two targets in Rafah: A smuggling tunnel and a cached launching pad.

The Malaysian plane, Iran and global jihad
By: Ronen Bergman/Ynetnews/03.14.14,,7340,L-4498819,00.html
Analysis: It would be surprising if it turns out that Iran got directly involved in a mass terror attack, especially these days. Yet like in 9/11 attacks, Iranians do cooperate with radical Islamic groups.
HONG KONG – In July 2004, several days before they were set to conclude their work, members of the national commission of inquiry into the 9/11 attacks discovered an intelligence time bomb.
They found out that in a special vault at the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, the American intelligence kept extremely classified information about the connection between the Iranian intelligence and al-Qaeda, starting from the 1990s to the eve of the 9/11 attacks.Within these piles of materials were 75 intelligence documents defined as "critical" for understanding the connection between Tehran and bin Laden, including proof that Iran was responsible for planning the journeys of at least eight of the 10 Saudi terrorists in the months before 9/11.
The commission members didn't know what to do: On the one hand, they discovered a completely new lead; on the other hand, there was no way that anyone could process all this material within several days. On the background, the Bush administration was breathing down their necks. The US Army had been deep inside Iraq for more than a year, as a response to the terror offensive. If the commission were to discover that it was the wrong target – Iran was to blame, rather than Iraq – what would the president tell his voters, the bereaved families, the coalition countries, the Iraqi people? Oops, sorry, we made a mistake?
In the end they reached a compromise: They squeezed part of the information into three pages (p. 240-242 of the report), which were written in extreme haste, raising serious suspicions that Iran was responsible for planning the journeys of at least eight of the 10 Saudi terrorists in the months before the terror attacks, and called for a further thorough investigation by the administration.
Such an investigation was likely never conducted, because the American administration, as all administration, was afraid of trapping itself by determining Iran's involvement in one of the most significant events in the history of the United States, which would have required an immediate military response against the ayatollah regime.
Later on, the families of the World Trade Center attack's victims succeeded in presenting the New York court with sufficient evidence, some of it from Israeli intelligence sources, that Iran had been involved in helping to form and create al-Qaeda and in providing the abilities which led the organization to carry out the dreadful attack.
Iranian regime is not of one piece
The Malaysian plane's disappearance, and most likely crash, has been casting a heavy shadow in recent days on the headlines of Asia's economic newspapers, and not just on them. The economic boom in this part of the planet is conditioned and depends on air traffic. Some 50 million people pass through Hong Kong's airport, the financial gate to China, every year, mostly businesspeople. Damaging the freedom or safety of their passage may lead to serious economic outcomes.
What caused this aviation disaster? Obviously, it's much too early to say. It will take many months, maybe years, before the circumstances of the incident are figured out, if they ever are. Nonetheless, the fact that the plane disappeared at once, without sending distress signals or reporting a malfunction, raises the fear that it was a terror attack. On Tuesday, Malaysian sources reported that an Iranian businessman had purchased the plane tickets for the passengers who got on the flight, which ended in the depth of the ocean, with fake passports.
It would be surprising if it turns out that Iran, especially these days, took the risk and got directly involved in such an operation. Yet the Iranian regime is not of one piece, including the state's intelligence and security organizations, and there is a possibility that a certain militia would see it fit to cooperate with radical Islamic groups.
Iran maintains relations of affinity-hatred with global jihad groups. On the one hand, the jihad members are Sunnis (mostly Salafis) with a religious worldview which rejects the Shia. On the other hand, both sides are demonstrating pragmatism and cooperating in certain arenas in different circumstances. Like with the preparations for the 9/11 attacks, the Iranians or an Iranian group may not necessarily be aware of full plans, but are providing the jihad groups with general aid, both logistic and financial, which helps them execute their plans.
Iran's direct or indirect involvement in numerous attacks has either not been investigated like in the 9/11 case or has been investigated – but the countries holding the evidence for this involvement, including the US, are avoiding presenting it. Those in favor of continuing this policy in Tehran can go on uninterrupted.

Iranian-inspired rocket fire from Gaza
Ron Ben-Yishai/Ynetnews/03.13.14,7340,L-4498543,00.html
Analysis: Islamic Jihad avenged killing of its activists, but massive rocket fire may have also been response to seizure of Iranian arms ship. Use of short-range rockets implies organization is not interested in further escalation.
The residents of the western Negev are in for a few tense days. The State of Israel and the IDF will not ignore the barrage of rockets fired from the Strip, and since the response will likely be serious – mostly, bit solely, from the air – it's safe to assume that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and maybe even Hamas will keep on firing. The Gaza envelope communities will, for two or three days, return to the all-too-familiar routine of staying near secure spaces. Since Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, we have not seen such a simultaneous barrage of dozens of rockets. It was a move initiated by Islamic Jihad, likely in coordination with Hamas, which did not even try to prevent the fire. It's impossible that Hamas was unaware of the preparations for the launch of dozens of rockets by the second-largest organization in the Strip – which usually coordinates its move with them – giving us to undersand that Hamas gave its silent approval, even if it did not participate firing the rockets.
If exchanges of fire escalate, it's very possible that Hamas will join in, in particular if there is a high number of casualties in the Strip. It may even use longer range rockets than the short-range Qassams fired by Islamic Jihad.
The question is, why did the organization decide to initiate such a major move, and even rush to take responsibility for it, although it knew very well that Israel would respond firmly and extensively? It seems that there is an accumulation of combination of reasons.
Firstly, the killing of three of Jihad activists on Tuesday, as they were firing mortar shells at an IDF force operating west of the border fence (within the security zone). This military activity was conducted in accordance with the understandings in the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but Islamic Jihad saw firing on IDF troops – who, as far the group was concerned, had infiltrated Gaza – as a legitimate act of defense. The killing of its activists was probably more than the organization was willing to accept.
The second reason is likely the capture of the shipment of heavy rockets on the Klos-C weapons ship from Iran. Islamic Jihad is currently known as the primary Palestinian organization with direct ties to Iran, and it receives not only aid from Tehran through the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, but also operational orders.
The seizure of the arms ship by Israel demanded an Iranian response, and Islamic Jihad was probably either asked to execute it or understood that it was supposed to do so. Simultaneous rocket launches are unusual, and the organization would probably not have taken such a risk simply because of Tuesday's border incident.
The third reason is the organization's need to prove to its Iranian operators that it is worthy of the financial support, arms shipments and training it receives.
In addition, it is also possible that this week's killing of a Jordanian judge of Palestinian descent by IDF troops at the Allenby crossng earlier this week helped motivate the group to unleash the major barrage.
Fear of Egypt
It should be stressed that this is not the first time since Pillar of Defense that Islamic Jihad has fired rockets at communities in the Gaza vicinity, but it's usually a drizzle of a few rockets mostly carried out by a rebellious faction within the organization – a faction trying to settle scores with the central leadership as well as challenge it. There have been several such cases this year, but Jihad generally honors its agreement with Hamas and avoids firing rockets.
The policy of restraint agreed with Hamas began in the wake of Pillar of Defense, when Hamas asked for and received Islamic Jihad approval to reach Egyptian-brokered understandings with Israel. According to these understandings, Hamas will prevent rockets being fired from the Strip in exchange for Israeli concessions, such as easing the siege and opening the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian side.
We should remember that the Pillar of Defense understandings were reached during the term of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was not interested in a conflict with Israel. After Morsi was ousted, the Egyptian army toughened its attitude towards Hamas, and apart from destroying the smuggling tunnels between the Strip and Sinai, it is also threatening to close the Rafah crossing, which will cause serious economic and psychological distress among the Strip's residents.
The Islamic Jihad understands that, and is therefore not challenging Hamas and trying to impose restraint on its people. The organization needed a motive – or a number of very strong motives – to do what it did Wednesday afternoon.
Like Hamas, the Islamic Jihad fears responses as well – both Israeli and Egyptian. On the other hand, it is in Cairo's interest to maintain calm in the Strip so that the Egyptian street would not be ignited and challenge the government to act against Israel.
Jihad signals to Israel: One-time incident
It should be noted that Wednesday's rocket fire was massive quantity-wise, but that the quality of the rockets was poor. They only fired short-range rockets, dozens of which probably didn't even reach Israel but landed within the Strip. By only firing Qassam rockets at the Gaza vicinity – rather than Grads at Ashkelon or at more distant cities – the Islamic Jihad signaled to Israel that this was a one-time incident, and that after the organization avenged the killing of its activists and the ship's capture, it was not interested in further escalation. The Israeli intelligence had no early warning about the Islamic Jihad's simultaneous rocket fire. The rockets may have been fired from underground launchers, but the fact that there was no warning raises concerns. One of the possible reasons for the absence of such warning is the stormy weather. Nonetheless, the active defense system coped well with the situation. Iron Dome batteries intercepted several rockets, the residents received a Color Red warning and took shelter, and as a result there were no injuries or damage. Now we must wait and see how the Palestinians will respond to the Israeli response. The IDF rushed to use tanks against Hamas and Jihad observation posts in the area near the fence, but it's safe to assume that that is not even the appetizer of what the IDF is preparing in response to the blatant violation of the Pillar of Defense understandings. Most chances are that the IDF is working to coordinate its activity with the Egyptians, so that they won't be surprised and will be able to prevent an escalation in the activities of the Gazan terror organizations. If there is an escalation, it's reasonable to assume that the Popular Resistance Committees will join the exchanges of fire, as will the Salafi organization.
The Jihad is known to have strong ties with the organizations operating in Sinai, and so we must at least prepare for the option of rocket fire from Sinai as well. The IDF has taken that possibility into account too.

Kerry: Netanyahu wrong to insist Palestinians recognize Israel as Jewish state

03/14/2014 00:05
te tells lawmakers in Washington that international law already recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, says trust between Israel and Palestinians at a nadir.
WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry told members of Congress on Thursday that international law already declares Israel a Jewish state, and called Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's insistence on a public declaration of Israel's Jewish character from the Palestinians "a mistake" in the diplomatic process. "I think its a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state, and peace, and we've obviously made that clear," Kerry told the House Foreign Relations Committee, in a hearing on budget matters. Yesterday, Kerry told a Senate panel that Israel and the Palestinians had less trust in one another than at any point in over nine months of negotiations. "'Jewish state' was resolved in 1947 in Resolution 181 where there are more than 40-- 30 mentions of 'Jewish state,'" Kerry continued. "In addition, chairman Arafat in 1988 and again in 2004 confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state. And there are any other number of mentions." Netanyahu has said that the PLO's public recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a "minimal requirement for peace," and considers the issue fundamental to the conflict: Arab refusal to accept a permanent Jewish presence in the region. Palestinian negotiators say that no other Arab nation that has made peace with Israel has had to declare it the Jewish homeland. Kerry dampened expectations surrounding a visit by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington next week, warning that trust between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had hit a low point. Abbas is to meet with President Barack Obama in the White House on Monday, along with Kerry, who has moderated negotiations between Israel and the PLO for nine months. A key juncture for those talks is fast approaching: an April deadline that will mark either the end of talks over a two-state solution, or the continuation of those talks under a formal framework agreement.
But at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Kerry expressed skepticism that Israel and the Palestinians would even be able to agree on a framework to continue negotiations.
“The level of mistrust is as large as any level of mistrust I’ve ever seen, on both sides,” Kerry said. “Neither believes the other is really serious. Neither believes that the other is prepared to make some of the big choices that have to be made here.” Kerry said he was hopeful, nevertheless, that the two sides would manage to settle on “some kind of understanding of the road forward,” even if “big-ticket items” – such as the status of Israel as the Jewish homeland, or the future capital of a Palestinian state – were not directly addressed. Obama has been largely hands-off on the peace talks up until recently, when he personally pressed Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, during his own visit to the White House last week, to close the framework with Abbas. During that Oval Office meeting, Netanyahu aired his own critiques of the talks in front of the president and his press corps.
“Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t,” Netanyahu said. “What we want is peace, not a piece of paper.”
US State Department officials told The Jerusalem Post that Israel’s decision on whether to follow through with its final release of prisoners next week, a condition of the original agreement that jump-started direct negotiations, would be a harbinger for whether or not talks continue


Iran's Evolving Maritime Presence
Michael Eisenstadt and Alon Paz/Washington Institute
March 13, 2014
The growing capabilities of Iran's navy will enhance the country's soft power and its peacetime reach, while providing an alternative means of supplying the "axis of resistance" if traditional means of civilian transport become untenable. On March 6, Israeli naval forces in the Red Sea seized a Panamanian-flagged vessel, the Klos C, carrying arms -- including long-range Syrian-made M-302 rockets -- destined for Palestinian militants in Gaza. The month before, a two-ship Iranian naval flotilla set out on a much-advertised three-month, 25,000-mile cruise that would, it is claimed, for the first time take Iranian ships around Africa and into the Atlantic Ocean. These two events illustrate the role maritime activities play in Iran's growing ability to project influence far from its shores, and how the Iranian navy has emerged, in the words of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as a "strategic force" on the high seas.
Iran's naval forces -- like the rest of its armed forces -- are divided into two organizations: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN). The IRGCN's combat fleet consists of hundreds of small boats, several dozen torpedo boats and fast-attack craft armed with antiship missiles, and a number of midget submarines. These forces are trained and organized for naval unconventional warfare and access-denial missions in the Persian Gulf. The IRIN's combat fleet consists of a half dozen obsolete frigates, a dozen missile-equipped patrol boats, a number of midget submarines, and three large diesel submarines that operate outside the Gulf in support of Iran's maritime access-denial strategy. Both forces also possess air assets for reconnaissance and strike missions.
Iran's large fleet of almost 200 merchant vessels -- 115 owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (and its subsidiaries) and 74 by the National Iranian Tanker Company -- sometimes functions as an auxiliary arm of the navy. These vessels may be used for sensitive covert missions, such as the smuggling of restricted materials and technologies needed for Iran's missile and nuclear programs, and the export of oil in violation of international sanctions. And Iran will sometimes use foreign merchant vessels to transfer arms to foreign proxies and allies, often unbeknownst to the ships' owners and crews. Such merchant vessels, effectively serving as an "outsourced" arm of Iran's naval forces, have included the Karine-A (2002), Monchegorsk (2009), Francop (2009), Victoria (2011), and most recently the Klos C.
In recent years, the IRIN has taken the first steps toward becoming a small seagoing navy capable of "out of area" operations, such as: (1) showing the flag far from Iran's shores; (2) establishing a maritime forward line of defense and bases of operation well beyond the Strait of Hormuz; (3) patrolling Iran's sea lines of communication; and (4) providing an additional layer of connectivity in an emerging, dispersed global network of strategic "partners" and "places" (i.e., staging areas) that enable Iran to project influence and power. While the IRIN remains a small force with a limited ability to operate on the high seas, these missions will increasingly shape Iran's maritime future.
Naval diplomacy. The majority of exercises conducted by the IRGCN and IRIN showcase the two organizations' claimed ability to control the Persian Gulf and to close the Strait of Hormuz -- the latter being a core pillar of Iran's deterrent. But in recent years, Iran has sent elements of the IRIN to "show the flag" and engage in naval diplomacy through a series of port calls overseas, to enhance its soft power, and to demonstrate its capacity for "out of area" operations from the Bab al-Mandab Strait in the west to the Strait of Hormuz in the north to the Strait of Malacca in the east.
Thus, Iranian naval vessels have made port calls (in some cases, on multiple occasions) in the Persian Gulf (Qatar and Oman), the Indian Ocean (Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka), the Horn of Africa and Red Sea (Sudan, Djibouti, and Saudi Arabia), the eastern Mediterranean (Syria), Russia -- by elements of Iran's Caspian fleet -- and China.. These visits support Iran's efforts to portray itself as a rising power and emerging actor on the world stage.
Forward defense, forward operations. For Iran, the principal threat of attack comes from the sea -- in the form of U.S. carrier strike groups operating in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman and U.S. bombers staging out of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Consistent with Iran's efforts to create a layered defense as part of its access-denial strategy in the Persian Gulf, the Islamic Republic has been working to enhance its ability to detect and interdict naval threats as far away as possible from the Strait of Hormuz and to counter possible U.S. "outside in" approaches using the Gulf of Oman as a springboard for operations inside the Persian Gulf. To this end, its naval forces have been increasingly active in recent years in the Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean.
Likewise, Iran and Syria have been working together to threaten U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean by transferring advanced arms (such as C-802 and Yakhont antiship missiles) to Hezbollah -- which is developing a rudimentary maritime strike capability that may someday threaten the U.S. Aegis destroyers that constitute the seaborne leg of NATO's missile defense architecture there. And Iran has been strengthening naval cooperation with Russia, which it sees as a potential partner in efforts to limit and constrain U.S. influence. Russian warships have made at least two port calls at Bandar Abbas since December 2012. The refueling and logistical services available there could facilitate Russian operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, and the transit of ships between the Pacific fleet and the eastern Mediterranean.
Sea lines of communication. Nearly all of Iran's oil and gas exports pass through the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean on their way to market. Likewise, nearly all of Iran's imports pass around the Horn of Africa or through the Indian Ocean en route to the Persian Gulf. The security of these sea-lanes is essential to Iran's economic well-being. This is why IRIN commander Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari has asserted that Iran has "strategic interests at sea" and "need[s] to be capable of providing… security not only in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, but also throughout the high seas around the globe."
Thus, elements of the IRIN have been operating in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008, when it first sent warships to conduct counterpiracy patrols in response to the seizure of an Iranian cargo ship by Somali pirates, and have been increasingly active in the Indian Ocean. Iran's navy currently lacks sufficient numbers to secure Iran's sea lines of communication, and its presence in the Indian Ocean is largely symbolic, but these activities provide it with valuable experience and familiarity with the operating environment that it can build on in the future.
Connecting "partners" and "places." Since its inception, the Islamic Republic of Iran has sought to expand its influence throughout the Middle East and beyond by forming a web of alliances with like-minded states, nonstate actors, and sympathizers in Shiite communities around the world. Its alliance with Hezbollah and Syria formed the backbone of this "axis of resistance," which has subsequently come to include Palestinian groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas and Iraqi special groups. Iran has been the main source of arms for these groups and has led the logistical effort required to supply them. It has developed sea, air, and overland supply routes for this purpose, and has used Syria and Sudan as regional supply hubs. The relatively recent development of a rudimentary IRIN "out of area" operational capability provides an additional layer of redundancy and resilience to this network, if interdiction efforts by Israel and other countries render alternative means of transport untenable.
Iran's evolving maritime capabilities necessitate a multifaceted response from the United States and its allies:
Information activities. Tehran hopes that naval diplomacy will bolster the country's image as a rising power. Accordingly, the United States and its allies should note the rather modest nature of Iran's recent maritime achievements -- after all, Phoenician ships plied the Atlantic three millennia ago -- and that patrolling one's lines of communication is not the same as securing them. They should also underscore the fact that recent Iranian arms transfers violate UN Security Council Resolutions 1747, 1803, and 1929.
Intelligence sharing and capacity building. The United States should enhance intelligence-sharing and capacity-building efforts with coast guards, port authorities, and customs services around the world, in order to prevent states like Iran (and North Korea) from using civilian ports to transfer arms and explosives. Ports and cargo carriers that do not exercise due diligence in this regard should be shunned and penalized.
Legal authorities. The United States and its allies should fully use existing authorities under UN Security Council Resolutions 1747, 1803, and 1929 to prevent Iran from violating these resolutions by transferring arms and explosives by sea, air, and land. Washington should work with its allies to seek additional legal authorities where existing authorities are inadequate.
Finally, the United States and its allies must not allow ongoing nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran to hinder efforts to halt Iranian violations of UN Security Council resolutions and to arm violent extremist groups. If Iran is not willing to halt such proscribed, destabilizing activities, neither should the United States and its allies halt their efforts to disrupt them. The latter have a compelling interest to do so, and they have a raft of UN Security Council resolutions and international law on their side.
**Michael Eisenstadt directs the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute. Lt. Col. Alon Paz, Israel Defense Forces, is a Visiting Military Fellow at the Institute.


Why praise the terrorists who released the Maaloula nuns?
Friday, 14 March 2014
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
We understand that when those who are kidnapped praise their kidnappers, and when victims thank criminals, it is possibly out of fear or simply the price of freedom. But it is impossible to understand those who showered the al-Nusra Front with gratitude because it released the Maaloula nuns who had been kidnapped in Syria. This is a crime. The women were held for four months and they are not a belligerent party in the war. This is a cowardly act by a terrorist group and there is no honor in belonging to the group. Nevertheless, some people in the Arab media praised the group, citing the women”s account of their time in captivity; they spoke of good treatment and hospitality. What sort of nonsense is this? Since when is the kidnapping of women an honorable action worthy of thanking the kidnapper for their good treatment of the victims?
The story of the nuns was a crime and, from the beginning, was a series of lies. When the fighters of the al-Nusra Front entered the Christian village of Maaloula, 55 kilometers from Damascus, they claimed that they would not target the monastery or anyone inside it. They then broke into the building at night and kidnapped the head nun and a number of nuns who were working at the monastery and an associated orphanage. After several Syrian factions denounced the crime, the al-Nusra Front and pro-Nusra media outlets claimed that the fighters took the women in order to protect them. But from whom? No one answered and the news of the nuns disappeared as many went on wondering. In recent days, it became clear that it was a blackmail for money operation that has nothing to do with the regime or with the revolution. The al-Nusra Front sold the abducted nuns, and several other people said to be from Gulf countries, for a major ransom.
Al-Nusra’s lies
The al-Nusra Front lied to justify its actions, as did those who worked to support the group. That is in itself a sandal. Al-Nusra”s spokesman Abdullah Azzam al-Shami denied releasing the nuns in exchange for a ransom, and this is a clear lie of course. He dares to say: “It is impossible that we agreed on a ransom because the nuns were not kidnapped and we have nothing to do with the offer presented.” Then why did the nuns disappear for four months? The al-Nusra affiliated man said: “The delay was due to routine procedures related to security [and ensuring] an armed force to protect their convoy!” Of course he forgot they took the women on one dark night and transferred them forcibly from Maaloula to Yabroud, where they lived for months while the bargaining went on.
The al-Nusra Front should have been criticized instead of it being thanked because it has committed crimes like the Assad regime
We are not able to say much about the regime of Bashar al-Assad because the man who kills 150,000 does not deserve to be blamed for other crimes in the country. The blame is on those who praised and thanked a criminal group such as the al-Nusra Front simply because it is fighting against the Syrian regime. They forgot that it is only a terrorist organization - like the other al-Qaeda branch known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - that respects neither the humanism of others, their beliefs nor basic Islamic morals. The Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, stood up when the funeral procession of a Jew passed in front of him. Omar, the second Muslim caliph, refused to pray in a church in fear that later Muslims would use it as an excuse to convert the church into a mosque.
The al-Nusra Front should have been criticized instead of it being thanked because it has committed crimes like the Assad regime. It has shown that it has not even the most minimal of war ethics after kidnapping women and blackmailing them. It has none of the Arab ethics of chivalry and the protection of women’s honor. All that al-Nusra succeeded in doing was improving the image of Assad and frightening the world of the Syrian Revolution.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 14, 2014.

The fallacy of Iranian-American rapprochement
Friday, 14 March 2014
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya
While listening to U.S. Secretary of the State John Kerry’s speech at AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, DC this year, several issues and comments reflected the White House’s underlying, fundamental, policy position regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran. Usually, President Obama would deliver the speech at this conference, as he did in previous years, however the administration decided to send Kerry instead of the president or Vice President Joe Biden. This decision reflects the recent clashes between the U.S. administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly on the prospects of Iranian-American rapprochement and reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal that would force the international community and United Nations Security Council members to revert all sanctions imposed over the last decade. The bulk of Kerry and Netanyahu’s speeches concentrated on Iran, pushing for a comprehensive and final nuclear deal, recent negotiations between the P5+1 (a group of six powers constituting the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) and prospects of Tehran’s nuclear program.
Kerry’s comments reflect a policy position from the White House that an endgame to the Iranian nuclear crisis might involve an Iran that retains its nuclear infrastructure and continues enriching uranium.
Is diplomacy the sole avenue? Kerry voiced support for diplomacy in Iranian nuclear negotiations and appealed for patience and trust in Iran. He emphasized that a diplomatic path is the only available avenue to reach a permanent nuclear deal and to remove the nuclear threat posed by the Islamic Republic. He pointed out that the diplomatic initiatives have been working and have yielded positive results until now, with no need to alter the ongoing negotiation and diplomatic process. The United States believes that the Islamic Republic under Rowhani’s administration is making a strategic shift in their policies
The White House has even clashed with Congress due to the bipartisan sanctions bill advocated by both Republicans and Democrats. The Obama administration has repeatedly pointed out that the sanctions bill against Iran would undermine the nuclear talks with Iranian leaders, and President Obama has threatened to veto it. There is not doubt that reaching a permanent and comprehensive nuclear deal aimed to remove all security concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is totally legitimate and desirable for all parties involved including the regional powers. Yet there is still a real security risk: if the comprehensive nuclear deal leaves Iranian leaders with some sort of path to become a nuclear armed state and if it simultaneously relieves Iran from all economic and political sanctions, then the regional security risk of reaching a final deal is much higher than the status quo.
Reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal will require the United Nations Security Council members to revert all the accumulated economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. If the final deal is flimsy and weak and if it permits Iranian leaders to continue enriching uranium, keeping the plutonium reactors of Arak and Fordow, retaining the nuclear infrastructure, spinning centrifuges and adding to the numbers of centrifuges, the final comprehensive nuclear deal will pose more threats and make more concerns for the region.
The underlying U.S. fallacy
Kerry’s recent speech and U.S. foreign policy moves towards Tehran indicate that Washington views the current status of American-Iranian rapprochement as similar to the American-Chinese rapprochement in the early 1970s with President Nixon’s trip to Beijing. The United States believes that the Islamic Republic under Rowhani’s administration, like Zedong’s China, is making a strategic shift in their policies with Iranian leaders searching for a fundamental policy change and a fresh era of geopolitical and strategic relationships with Washington, the West, and other regional powers. However, the fallacy in this inaccurate analogy arises from the notion that Iranian leaders’ recent foreign policies, particularly with regards to its nuclear program, are not strategic changes as depicted by the White House. The policies enacted by Rowhani’s government are tactical.
Rowhani’s government, in addition to all the technocrats that he brought to his administration, can be characterized as the most competent Iranian administration since 1979. Rowhani’s team is made up of individuals that made incredible mistakes in the late 1980s and 1990s. They have learned from their mistakes though, and are applying new tactical policies to survive, remove sanctions, and regain their economic and geopolitical power. Tactical policies are reversible at anytime.
In one of his speeches, Khamenei gave an example of such tactical moves in recent nuclear talks by referring to wrestling (a popular sport in Iran), where sometimes, when the wrestler faces a strong rival, he must show some “heroic flexibility” in order to win the match or survive.
President Rowhani clearly wrote in his memoir that the negotiations he led during the Khatami era, and the agreement to suspend Iran’s nuclear enrichment for two years, not only did not halt the advancement of the nuclear program, but actually moved the program forward, expanding the centrifuges and nuclear infrastructure in those years. This is a prominent example of tactical policies. He added that through his policies he was capable of buying time and progressing the nuclear program to 20 percent enriched uranium with higher number of centrifuges.
The crucial issue is that the tactical policies implemented by Rowhani’s government are temporary and when the political and economic objectives of Tehran are achieved, all the agreements on the nuclear issues can be reversed, as Iranian authorities, including Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, have repeatedly pointed towards.
***Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar as Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC, Harvard scholar, and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at

 Who will fall in Syria’s fourth year?
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Awsat
Friday, 14 Mar, 2014
As the Syrian revolution enters its fourth year, the question remains as to whether President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime will exit power or whether it will finally be able to eliminate the opposition and subjugate the majority revolting against it. The enormous number of daily battles across Syria certainly shows that three years of suppressing the Syrian people has not yielded results, despite the support the regime used to enjoy.
Two years ago, Assad was trying to buy a few weeks to control some areas rebelling against him. At the beginning of last year, he agreed in principle to negotiate over a new government in order to buy more time.
Then, when the deadly gas attack happened in the Ghouta area of Damascus, he rushed—relying on Russian and Iranian guarantees—to make a proposal to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal.
The proposal was also a way for Assad to stave off US intervention and buy more time to finalize the battle in his favor. Despite all the time, weapons and experts he has bought, and despite having deprived the armed opposition of advanced weapons, Assad has still failed to tighten his grip on Syria. All he has succeeded in doing has been to destroy the country in a manner conveying hatred and rancor. We now enter the fourth year of the most ferocious war to topple a regime the region has ever known.
Half of the Syrian population is now displaced, while the number of those killed has reached the hundreds of thousands. At the same time, the battles are ongoing around Damascus. The regime has consumed the time it bought to get rid of its chemical arsenal. It will either wither, exposed without its chemical arsenal, or it will continue to stall in order to gain more time and thus embarrass the United States and probably place itself under the threat of NATO firepower. So what about the international supporters of the opposition? Do they have the enthusiasm, capability and tolerance to arm the Free Syrian Army (FSA), aid millions of refugees on a daily basis, and engage in political battles against Assad and Iran in international arenas? Those parties that believe in the opposition and support the Syrian people—particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar—are still committed to their stance. These countries realize the threats posed if the opposition were to be abandoned.
They do understand that if they were to do that it would mean the victory of the Iranian regime in the region as a whole. They are also aware that the tragedy will expand if they abandon their role in aiding the regional struggle, which needs to be brought to end. As the opposition enters another year of suffering and indecisiveness, the burden increases on the FSA, the opposition Syrian National Council and other parties raising the revolution’s flag.
Unfortunately, these are the weakest parties in the Syrian crisis. They are still weak, divided and incapable of controlling their own structure, and continue to engage in their own internal power struggles. The opposition’s struggles have also stirred clashes among the sponsoring countries. The opposition also bears some responsibility when it comes to having weak global political support, after stirring fears and worries regarding its abilities to manage the liberated lands, people and resources. Criminal parties such as the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), infiltrated the opposition as a result of its rivalry. These criminal groups have served the interests of the regime, threatening minorities and terrorizing most people who revolted against Assad’s authoritarian regime only to find a group that was no less evil.
In all cases, Syria today is not as it was yesterday, and it will not be like a future Syria. The country’s situation has changed forever.
Assad and his regime are part of a history that has been decided no matter how hard he, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia try. We hope for less pain and for a quick transition. Unfortunately, the world insists on prolonging the bloodshed, pain and brutality.