October 11/14

Bible Quotation For Today/Listening and Doing
James 05/19-26:  "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on October 10, 11/14
On the road/By: Michael Young/October 11/14
Sooner or later, Hezbollah will push Lebanon over the edge/By: Tony Badran/Now Lebanon/October 11/14
As Nusra battles Hezbollah, some Lebanese quietly cheer/By: Alex Rowell/October 11/14
4 ISIS Terrorists Arrested in Texas in Last 36 Hours/ BY: JUDICIAL WATCH/October 11/14
Hisham, Hope and Despair /By: Hussein Ibish/Now Lebanon/October 11/14
Why more and more Lebanese are joining extremist groups/By: Samya Kullab/The Daily Star/October 11/14
Does Obama Need ‘Time’ to Defeat or Forget ISIS/By: Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/October 11/14
Mideast states and their Islamic State monster/Dr. Yaron Friedman/Ynetnews/October 11/14
The International Day Against the Death Penalty – an opportunity for Lebanon/By: Angelina Eichhorst/The Daily Star/October 11/14
Turkey and the Battle for Kobane/By: Soner Cagaptay /Washington Institute/October 11/14
Three years on and the Copts' plight continues/By: Mina Fayek /Open Democracy/October 11/14

Lebanese Related News published on October 10, 11/14 Rockets hit Lebanon in latest Syrian spillover Lebanese Army under fire as Cabinet grapples with hostage crisis
Politicians spar over Hezbollah Shebaa attack Why more and more Lebanese are joining ISIS
Report: IDF used cluster bombs in Lebanon
Lebanese Army comes under fire Govt to declare Air Algerie deaths without bodies
Maid, not vaccine killed Lebanon girl: police
Time for Lebanon to reflect on the death penalty
Lebanese students can advance space research
Ain al-Hilweh on edge after assassination
MENA’s GDP to reach 4.2 percent in 2015
Electricity may be hit by fuel contracts spat

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on October 10, 11/14
Israeli official: PA must choose between peace and terrorism

Battle for Kobani heats up: IS continues advance
Coalition steps up strikes on Ain al-Arab Hamas: Fatah will have no authority in any prisoner exchange talks
Iranian woman in Tehran prison for attending volleyball game starts hunger strike
Shiite rebels among 67 killed in Yemen blasts
Rudderless U.S. policy

Lebanese Army under fire as Cabinet grapples with hostage crisis
Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/Oct. 10, 2014
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army came under fire in northern Lebanon once again Thursday as the government struggled to reach a comprehensive plan to secure the release of soldiers held by jihadists near the outskirts of the embattled town of Arsal. Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said the release of the soldiers was a top priority for the Cabinet after a six-hour session in which ministers endorsed “all means of negotiations” to free the men held by the Nusra Front and ISIS, but offered scant details on the progress of the effort.
Joreige spoke shortly after the military said in a statement that two Army vehicles came under fire from the Misyada Syrian refugee camp in Arsal, prompting the soldiers to respond to fire. A third vehicle was targeted in the Akkar village of Qashlaq by gunfire from the Syrian side of the border, it said. An Army post in Arsal came under attack by gunfire earlier from a Syrian refugee camp as troops repelled an infiltration attempt by jihadists in nearby Wadi Hmeid, the military said in another statement.
The statement said troops deployed at the northeastern border foiled a midnight attempt by “an armed terrorist group” to infiltrate an Army base in the rugged region on the outermost edge of Arsal.
It said the Army engaged in a brief armed clash with the infiltrators, forcing the “terrorists to withdraw and flee toward the highlands.”In a separate incident, a soldier was shot dead and another wounded in an attack by gunmen in Akkar, the Army said. Milad Mohammad Issa was instantly killed in the northern town of Rihaniyeh and a second soldier, Mohammad Haidar, was taken to a local hospital in critical condition. The Army said it arrested 16 Syrians in raids in Akkar after the attack.
An Army source said that the attacks in the north and Arsal were part of attempts to target the military, fueled by incitement against the Army carried out by terrorist groups. “We are up to the challenge,” the source stressed. The Army fought a deadly five-day battle with ISIS and Nusra Front extremists in early August. The jihadists are holding 21 security personnel captive. With little progress in the negotiations, Lebanon’s new Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian appealed to the captors to return the servicemen to their families unharmed. “I tell the parties holding the servicemen: You are entrusted with their lives and you should safeguard them,” Derian said, speaking after his first official meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam since taking his post last month.
“I expect from you the great gesture of releasing them and letting them return to their families and their country.” Health Minister Wael Abu Faour endorsed a prisoner swap with the militants, saying it was the only solution to the crisis.
“The Lebanese state wants to hold serious negotiations in that regard,” he said as he met the captives’ relatives, who shifted their protest campsite to Riad al-Solh, in front of the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut. Families of the hostages said the captors had warned them in phone calls that they would execute captives within 24 to 72 hours if there is no progress in the negotiations. Family members will meet General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim Friday. Abu Faour cautioned that executing the hostages would “lead to a total destruction of negotiations and all efforts to resolve the issue.” Meanwhile MPs botched a 13th attempt to elect a new president for Lebanon due to lack of quorum. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri postponed the voting session to Oct. 29. Visitors of Berri quoted him as saying that the election of a president has an internal as well as an international component that depends on a rapprochement between the United States and Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Ain al-Hilweh on edge after assassination
Mohammed Zaatar/The Daily Star
SIDON, Lebanon: “We’re waiting for my brother to come to Lebanon so that we can bury Walid,” Hayel Yassin said, referring to his brother, 41-year-old Fatah Movement official Walid Yassin, who died after sustaining serious injuries following a shootout in Ain al-Hilweh Wednesday night. “He was killed unfairly next to his bird shop, his source of living,” Yassin said. The shooting on Fawqani Street marks yet another deadly security breach in the southern Palestinian refugee camp – Lebanon’s largest – and put residents and Palestinian security forces deployed in the camp to tackle the ongoing deterioration on high alert for acts of revenge. With the crowded camp’s population swollen by 10,000 mostly Palestinian refugees from Syria, putting the total number of residents at around 90,000, the security situation in the camp has been fragile for several months. After assassinations – particularly of officials and members of the Fatah party – and gunfights became more and more frequent, a 150-member elite force composed of members of the camp’s various factions was deployed in July, leading to an easing of tensions.
But Wednesday’s incident has put the camp on edge again, and parents refrained from sending their children to the camp’s schools Thursday out of fear of retaliatory acts. “I refused to send my children [to school],” said Ibrahim Khattab. “If they die, who’s going to bring them back? Who’s to be blamed? It’s better for them to sit at home.” From evidence collected at the scene, eyewitness accounts and footage from surveillance cameras in the camp, the elite security force has been able to build up a picture of what happened.
According to Palestinian sources close to the investigations, the crime was carried out by two masked armed men who have been identified but whose names will not be released until the investigation is finished. The armed groups the perpetrators are believed to be close to have said they will not protect them. One of the men shot Yassin at close range, while the other opened fire from a distance, sources said.
Four others were wounded in the attack: Mohammed Yousef al-Yousef, 32; Suheir Said Salameh, 43; Mohammed Musa Haleel, 18 and Hasan Mohammed Radi Abu Daoud al-Shaheer, also 18. As news of the incident and allegations of responsibility spread on social media, all eyes were on the camp’s Islamist factions, who many believe to be behind the attack. Al-Shabab al-Muslim, which includes members of Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam, promptly issued a statement directly denouncing the attack, adding that the murder had been conducted by “sinful hired hands” who wanted to create tensions in the camp. According to Palestinian sources, the camp’s Islamist factions – particularly Osbat al-Ansar and the Islamic Jihad Movement – are fully collaborating with the ongoing investigations into the crime.
Security forces officials have insisted that the camp’s security and stability is the top priority. “The situation in the camp is stable, and all the factions present inside the camp have agreed to remain calm,” said Maj. Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab, Fatah’s head of national security.
He told The Daily Star that the attack against Yassin had been conducted by infiltrators who wanted to sabotage the camp, and vowed that they would be punished.
He met Thursday with Samir Shehadeh, the head of the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch in the south, in order to strengthen cooperation between the Lebanese government and Palestinian factions and emphasize their keenness to keep the Palestinian refugee camps out of domestic conflicts. “We know that the residents of the camp don’t want another Nahr al-Bared,” he said, referring to the northern camp that was flattened during clashes between Fatah al-Islam militants and the Army in 2007.
“They want security and everyone wants the security forces.” Abu Arab’s comments were echoed by the head of the new elite force, Gen. Khaled Shayeb, a senior Fatah official. “We are working on collecting evidence and information against the two armed men who opened fire on Yassin,” Shayeb said, revealing that Yassin had already survived a previous assassination attempt. “There’s no place for failure and we are deploying patrols in the camp. Calm has been restored.”The elite security force’s deployment in the camp, which was delayed for several months, has proven to be a vital step for the camp, because now when incidents such as Yassin’s murder occur, there is a single force that can step in. A Fatah official revealed that the success of the force meant that there were plans to expand it and replicate it in other Palestinian camps in collaboration with the Lebanese authorities in the upcoming weeks. The official explained that the first deployment of the elite security forces outside of Ain al-Hilweh were to take place in the Rashidieh refugee camp near Tyre, and would involve 175 members from various factions in the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Some of these new recruits will be added to the Ain al-Hilweh group, while the others will go toward two new forces in the Burj al-Barajneh and Shatila camps in Beirut. Another force is also due to be established in the Mieh Mieh camp near Sidon.

Electricity may be hit by fuel contracts spat
Oct. 10, 2014 /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The row between the Finance Ministry and Energy Ministry intensified Thursday over alleged violations in contracts between oil companies and the Lebanese government. Energy and Water Minister Arthur Nazarian has accused the Finance Ministry of withholding money that is supposed to be used to pay for the fuel oil that operates the country’s aging power plants, and has warned that the oil companies could apply penalties on the state for deferred payments. But Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said Thursday that funds had been withheld because oil contracts between the companies and the Energy Ministry and Electricite du Liban did not meet the required criteria. Nazarian said he had requested several times for Khalil to release the funds to purchase the fuel oil from the companies, but Khalil had withheld payments under the pretext that there were flaws in the contracts and these loopholes should be fixed. Khalil says the contracts with the Kuwaiti Petroleum Company and Algerian-based company Sonatrach should expire at the end of 2014. The three-year contracts originally covered the period from the beginning of 2006 to the end of 2008. They have been automatically renewed every three years, and are due to be renewed again at the end of this year, according to Khalil. The minister said Cabinet had made it clear that the Energy Ministry should hold new tenders to receive the best offers to buy the fuel oil, but this step had never been taken. He accused both companies of violating the terms of the contracts. According to Khalil, the companies are deliberately billing the state two months after the shipment of fuel oil has arrived, adding that these firms start charging interest on late payments even though they send the bills two months late. The contracts stipulate that the importing country has a 30-day grace period, and when this period ends, firms start charging interest.Some experts say the state is losing hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of corruption, which is rampant in the oil sector. However, none of the successive governments has taken the bold step of looking into the oil sector or investigating the alleged corruption.
In one incident, an oil company charged the state $275,000 because one of its fuel ships had waited 11 days off the coast of Zouk power plant to offload its cargo. If the oil is unloaded after the date stipulated in the contract, the state has to pay $25,000 for every day that the unloading is late. Nazarian also said that the Finance Ministry had not released the funds for EDL to carry out maintenance and repair work on the power plants. “These ... actions adopted by the Finance Ministry could lead to the cancellation of the contracts with the oil companies,” Nazarian warned.He added that the delay in paying the dues to the companies could also affect negatively the electricity production and maintenance work.
Some sources say the row between Khalil and Nazarian is politically motivated and reflects the distrust between the Amal movement, of which Khalil is a member, and the Free Patriotic Movement, to which Nazarian belongs.

Israeli official: PA must choose between peace and terrorism
Israel has consistently opposed a Palestinian unity government based on backing from Hamas, and on Thursday night one government official reiterated Jerusalem’s oft-stated policy that “the Palestinian leadership has to choose between the path of peace and the path of terror and extremism. If they move toward Hamas, they are not moving toward peace.”Israel would like to see the PA assert more authority inside the Gaza Strip, and wants to ensure that money pumped into Gaza for its rehabilitation will go through the PA, not Hamas.
“Israel has no problem with the PA expanding its presence in Gaza,” the official said. “We do have a problem with Hamas expanding its presence in the West Bank.”One of Jerusalem’s many concerns about a united Palestinian government is that rather than paving the way for the PA to regain control of the Gaza Strip, it will make it possible for Hamas to eventually take over the West Bank, just as it did in Gaza. Hamdallah last week appeared to have resolved a core sticking point between the two Palestinian movements when he announced that Qatar would pay a large part of the wages owed to Hamas-hired employees in Gaza with United Nations help. The mechanism of payment, however, remained unclear. “We have put years of division behind us and we have begun to consolidate reconciliation as a core step to lobby the international community and its influential powers to bear their responsibility towards rebuilding Gaza, which requires lifting the unjust [Israeli] blockade,” Hamdallah said. Israel has clamped a naval blockade on Gaza to prevent the smuggling of arms and building materials used to burrow attack tunnels into Israel, as well as build a homegrown rocket-manufacturing industry. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrived in the Gaza Strip on Thursday and convened the first meeting of a Palestinian Authority government there since Hamas overthrew Fatah and the PA and took control of the region in 2007. Dozens of Fatah security personnel loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and policemen from the Hamasled Interior Ministry in Gaza were out in force to protect Hamdallah, who did a walkpast inspection of a police guard of honor. “I come to you representing President Mahmoud Abbas and, as head of the government of national consensus, to assume our responsibilities, see your needs and launch a comprehensive workshop to salvage Gaza and bring relief to our people here,” he said. Hamdallah’s presence in Gaza may encourage donor countries to pledge funds to rebuild Gaza, which he has estimated will cost $4 billion over the next three years. “I have wept in Beit Hanun when I saw how people are living and where they are sleeping,” Hamdallah said. “I hope the donor conference will be a success and that money donated will be enough so we can immediately begin the rebuilding.”Palestinian parties agreed last month that the unity government would assume immediate authority over Gaza before an international aid conference set for October 12 in Cairo. The two sides agreed to form a joint cabinet in May. Donors have for years been wary of giving aid to Gaza as long as Hamas rules there.

Mideast states and their Islamic State monster
Dr. Yaron Friedman/Ynetnews/Published 10.09.14,/ Israel Opinion
Analysis: Turkey, Iran and the now-stricken Syrian regime were all happy to see IS gaining in strength, while Saudi Arabia can be considered its spiritual mother.
The United Arab Emirates on Sunday said it wanted clarification of US Vice President Joe Biden’s recent comments that US allies in the anti-Islamic State coalition support terrorism, with UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash branding Biden's statements as "far from the truth." Biden has already apologized for his comments.
The fight against the radical Islamist group is treading water. The Americans have declared that a war against a few thousand hot-headed bearded men with trucks, jeeps and Kalashnikovs will last a lot longer than the war they waged a decade or so ago against an entire standing army in Iraq, in the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. The slow pace of the war is most certainly related to the US economic crisis and Washington's fear of yet another entanglement in Iraq.
But the principal reason for the slow pace is the reluctance that is being shown by the Arab and Muslim states in the war against the Islamic State militants. The war against the radical organization is exposing the darkest sides of Middle Eastern politics. Most of the countries in the region, including those that have joined the coalition, have also been deeply involved in the creation and strengthening of the organization. And how so?
"Qatar supports Jabhat al-Nusra and Turkey supports IS!" This charged statement was put out there by the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri. And while the veteran Shiite Muslim leader of the Amal movement is indeed far from being an objective source when it comes to the war underway in Syria, there is nevertheless a great deal of truth in the statement he gave about a week ago to the Syrian news agency, SANA. And Shiite elements aren't the only ones who are daring to say so; many Sunni commentators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are joining in too. In recent years, Qatar and Turkey have removed themselves from the Sunni axis and are currently viewed by the moderate Arab states as "supporters of terrorism."
The kingdom v the principality
Last March, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar following accusations that the principality supports various terror elements that are a threat to the stability of the entire Gulf region. According to numerous reports, the principality of Qatar is drunk with the power it wields over the world by means of its oil money, and has no qualms therefore about supporting the most murderous terror organizations. The Gulf States have harshly slammed Qatar's support for organizations that threaten the Saudi kingdom, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Yemen's Shiite Houti rebels, who have recently taken over the capital, Sana'a. The Saudis themselves have even criticized Qatar's support for Hamas – not out of love for Israel of course, but out of hatred instead for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The battle of the egos between the Saudi kingdom and the principality of Qatar has swept across the entire Arab world. Wherever the Saudis support an army, the Qataris support terror: In Egypt, Saudi Arabia support President Abdel Fateh al-Sisi, while Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood; in Yemen, the kingdom supports the army and the principality backs the Houti rebels; in Lebanon, the Saudis sent money to the army, while the Qataris financed the jihadists; and in Syria, the Saudis provided assistance to the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, whereas the Qataris aided the jihadists, including Jabhat al-Nusra.
The al-Qaeda link revealed
If there was anyone who doubted Turkey and Qatar's ties with al-Qaeda, recent events have exposed these countries' for what they truly are. I'm talking about the release in September of two groups of hostages that were being held by al-Qaeda affiliates – the release of 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers who were being held captive by Jabhat al-Nusra forces in southern Syria, "mediated" by Qatar; and the release of 49 Turkish hostages who were being held captive by IS in Iraq in "a covert rescue operation" carried out by Turkey.
According to reports published on Tuesday evening, the release of the Turkish hostages was secured in return for the release of 180 Islamic State fighters in the hands of the authorities in Ankara. For some reason, when Turkey and Qatar were involved, no one was beheaded on camera and hostages weren't murdered or raped. Naturally, both states denied charges that they paid ransoms for the release of the hostages.
The Turkish involvement
No Western leader (aside from Biden, who was quick to apologize) has dared to declare in public that the Islamic State has Turkey to thank for the power the organization now wields. A declaration of this kind could, God forbid, undermine the West's diplomatic-economic ties with the country that inexpensively produces numerous goods relatively close by, in the Mediterranean Basin.
If we take a look at a map of the Middle East, it's plain to see that most of the IS volunteers who are not Iraqis or Syrians cannot get to the organization through the countries that surround it: Jordan and Israel have sealed their borders; the Syrian regime and Hezbollah are fighting the group from the west; the Iraqi regime is fighting the organization from the east; and the Saudi army is on constant high alert along the kingdom's border. In other words, the main loophole is Turkey from the north. Turkey allows thousands of jihadist volunteers from all around the world to cross its borders into the virtual Islamic Caliphate.
The unwritten agreement between the Islamic State group and Turkey includes a struggle to eradicate common enemies, like the Shiite regime in Iraq, the Alawite regime in Syria – and above all, the Kurds in these two countries. Moreover, it was revealed recently that a significant number of Turks have joined the group, including activists from IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation who participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza in 2010.
The radical Islamist group was undoubtedly born out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a semi-covert Islamic organization that took control of Turkey in the first decade of the 21st century, and of Egypt and Tunisia some two years ago by means of elections and in the wake of the chaos of the Arab Spring. The Turkish-Ottoman vision of reviving the empire via a wave of Islamic revolutions faded with the military coup led by General al-Sisi in Egypt in the summer of 2013.
Turkey's support for the Muslim Brotherhood has given rise to much tension between Ankara and the new Egyptian regime. In November 2013, Egypt went as far as expelling the Turkish ambassador, with Ankara responding in kind. Egypt under al-Sisi recently publicly accused Turkey of supporting terrorism in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia – the spiritual mother of ISIS
Turkey wasn't the only one who was happy to see the Islamic State group gaining in strength. Iran and Bashar Assad's regime refrained from attacking IS as long as the organization busied itself only with wiping out the Sunni rebels in Syria. Iraq's Shiite regime, too, was happy to sit back and watch the group run wild in the country's Sunni regions in the east – and thus former Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki's regime justified financial aid from the West for its army.
Saudi Arabia, who now leads the support for the war on the Islamic State group, is the organization's spiritual mother. Saudi Arabia was founded on fanatical Wahhabist ideology, which offered a radical interpretation to the Hanbali school of Islam and viewed all other Muslims as heretics.
Al Arabiya political pundit Khaled al-Dakheel tried a week ago in his column to deny that Wahhabist ideology is the root of the Islamist group's violence: "IS's violence did not fall from the skies. Where does it stem from?" he wrote. "What is the difference between it and (Israel's) occupation in Palestine and the crimes committed by the United States in Iraq? Were the regimes of Saddam and Assad any less violent? The state of violence that has existed in Iraq and Syria for half a century is the backdrop for the crimes of the Islamic State group."
Most countries in the region have a hand in the creation of "the IS monster" – whether through fanatical education (Tunisia, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia), or for the purpose of battering political rivals (Turkey, Qatar), or due to hatred for the Shia (the opposition in Lebanon and Sunni tribes in Iraq), or for the purpose of taking out other Sunni opposition groups (the Syrian regime, the Iraqi regime). Those involved, however, never imagined that the organization would achieve the strength and size it has, take over oil fields and eventually pose a threat to their very security too. These countries never imagined that their hypocritical policies and ongoing support for terror would be so harshly exposed in the process too. Now, most of the countries in the region are being dragged into the struggle against the Islamic State not due to ideology but rather out of fear and no choice.
The wave of Kurdish refugees who have fled for their lives to southern Turkey and the grou's unexpected advancement to the Turkish border are what prompted the Turkish parliament to vote last week to join the coalition against the Islamic organization. The decision to join the coalition or not is now in the hands of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Will the coalition aircraft and special forces be allowed to launch strikes from Turkey? A shift in Turkish policy would certainly have significant bearing on the pace of the war.
**Dr. Yaron Friedman, Ynet's commentator on the Arab world, is a graduate of the Sorbonne. He teaches Arabic and lectures about Islam at the Technion, at Beit Hagefen and at the Galilee Academic College. His book, "The Nusayri Alawis: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria," was published in 2010 by Brill-Leiden.

Does Obama Need ‘Time’ to Defeat or Forget ISIS?
By Raymond Ibrahim on October 9, 2014 in Other Matters
FrontPage Magazine
During U.S. President Obama’s televised speech on his strategies to defeat the Islamic State, he said, “Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL” (a reference to the Islamic State, “ISIS” or “IS”).
Now, why is that?
First, we know by “cancer” he is not referring to Islamic ideology—since he does not acknowledge that Islam has anything to do with violence and even banned knowledge of Islamic ideology from being studied by law enforcement and national security communities.
Were he referring to Islamic ideology, the need for “time” would of course be legitimate, to say the least.
No, the cancer he is referring to is the very real, tangible, and temporal Islamic State, which exists in time and space.
But this prompts the following question: Why did it take the United States military three weeks to overthrow the very real and tangible regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003 whereas “it will take time”—years, according to most military analysts—for the U.S. to defeat the Islamic State?
This question becomes more pressing when one considers that the Iraq conquered by the U.S. in less than a month had an actual government and longstanding military and was better organized and consolidated—certainly in comparison to the Islamic State, often described as a “ragtag team of terrorists” that seems to have appeared out of nowhere.
The reason it will take years is because Obama refuses to strike the Islamic State decisively and effectively, specifically by sending in U.S. ground forces—the very forces that were responsible for keeping the Islamic jihadis at bay; the forces he withdrew leading to the rise of the Islamic State; and the forces that he refuses to utilize again, even though they are necessary to decisively crush the “caliphate.”
Obama’s “it will take time” assertion prompts the following prediction: U.S. airstrikes on IS targets will continue to be just enough to pacify those calling for action against the caliphate (“we’re doing what we can”). The official narrative will be that the Islamic State is gradually being weakened, that victory is a matter of time (remember, “It will take time”).
In the meantime, IS will slowly begin to fade away from the headlines. After all and unreported in any Western media, soon after pictures and videos of the decapitations of Americans went viral prompting much media attention followed by international shock and outrage, the “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called for an immediate stop to the videotaping and internet dissemination of such beheadings and other Sharia punishments.
He called on both official channels affiliated with IS as well as unofficial sympathizers and allies on social media to cease posting such pictures and/or video-clips, adding that the Islamic State “would follow any violation of this resolution seriously.”
It is these images of utter savagery that first catapulted the Islamic State into the spotlight, eventually causing Americans to call on U.S. leadership to respond, and it is these images that forced Obama to react to the “caliphate.”
Had IS members not posted those many images of cruelty which went viral, the world would likely know little about them—Western mainstream media would certainly not have been the ones to expose them—and Obama would not now be required to condemn and engage them.
But apparently that was the price the Islamic State had to pay to inspire and mobilize many more Islamic terrorists—to prompt them to raise their heads up high and to “heal their hearts.” Time will tell if the majority will heed their new caliph’s resolution or not.
If the jihadis do comply, things will quiet down; the mainstream media will return to more familiar, more Kardashian headlines; we will hear about the occasional victory against IS—this or that leader killed or captured—even as the administration continues to exploit the conflict in a way to attack neighboring Syrian leader Bashar Assad (with the inevitable result that more jihadis will once again fill the vacuum created by his departure, as they did in post-Arab-Spring Libya).
Then, just as they “suddenly” appeared in Iraq, we will “suddenly” again hear—probably first from IS itself—that the Islamic State has made some major comeback, winning over some new piece of territory, as the caliphate continues to grow and get stronger.
In this context, Obama’s call for “time” appears to be less about a true need and more about getting Americans to forget about the Islamic State, at least until he is out of office.

Why more and more Lebanese are joining extremist groups?
Oct. 10, 2014/
Samya Kullab/The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: It was early August when the two brazen young men set sail from Tripoli’s port for Turkey, leaving behind their homes in rural Fnaydeq, heading for the Islamic State.
Of the two, the youngest, 16-year-old Mahmoud, was hesitant about the decision they had made when their boat arrived in the Turkish city of Mersin, 400 kilometers from the crossing into Ain al-Arab in Syria. It was this uncertainty that allowed Fnaydeq’s Sheikh Samih Abou Haye to later convince the impressionable youth, over the phone, to forgo the mission and return to Lebanon.
“I told him, ‘You don’t have to do this,’” Abou Haye, a school principal who had once taught the boy, told The Daily Star.
His 22-year-old companion, Abed al-Rahman al-Sayyed, wasn’t moved. He crossed into Syria alone, where he died two months later in Raqqa, a soldier of ISIS under fire from U.S.-led airstrikes.
The number of Lebanese flocking to join the ranks of the extremist group is on the rise, according to accounts from local authorities, experts and residents in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. Of those known to be fighting under the banner of ISIS, most hail from Sunni areas with endemic unemployment, where anti-Assad sentiment has historically run high.
Abou Haye, too, blames disorganization within Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority, for allowing misinformation about Islamic teaching to proliferate.
“There have been Lebanese recruits to ISIS, and the Nusra Front, well before the Arsal clashes,” said Basel Idriss, an FSA commander in Arsal acquainted with militants belonging to both groups. But according to the Carnegie Middle East Center’s Mario Abou Zeid, the number of recruits increased “massively,” after the clashes.
“This is part of [ISIS’] military strategy, to open up several fronts and expand,” Abou Zeid said, adding that about 100 men had been recruited since August, from Arsal, Tripoli and southern Sunni districts.
“It’s a huge operation,” he said, with new recruits instructed to form sleeper cells in Lebanon. “They are getting paid; without money they would not be able to mobilize and ensure loyalty.”
Family members of Lebanese who died fighting told The Daily Star that they had simply disappeared one day.
Many parents only learned about the fate of their sons after receiving a phone call informing them that they had been martyred.
Those who knew Sayyed, including the town’s mayor, described him as intelligent and austerely religious. He died two credits short of earning an engineering degree. “The last time I saw him, he was praying at the mosque,” said Khaldoun Taleb, the town’s mayor.
Sayyed came from an Army family. His father is still a serviceman. The soldier Ali al-Sayyed, who was beheaded by his ISIS captors in Arsal, was his cousin. But the mayor brushed off contrarieties. “If the government doesn’t do something [to create opportunities for youth] then more will be lining up to fight for ISIS,” he said.
The Fnaydeq boys were primed by online recruiters, who engaged them in forums, according to the sheikh. In the northeastern border town of Arsal, by contrast, with militants positioned on the outskirts, youths are approached directly. Ghaith Ahmad Nouh, 18, an Arsal native, was recruited some months ago and killed in a mosque Sept. 30 in Syria’s Hassakeh governorate during airstrikes in the region.
“He is a victim, of course, of terrible economic conditions and the government’s foot-dragging,” a relative of Nouh’s said. “The people here are very poor, and young men need money, which ISIS is willing to give.”
According to the relative, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from the militants, Nouh made several trips to Syria, crossing from established supply routes in Arsal, before his death last month. “ISIS has people in the town, and they recruit people,” he said. “They obviously tricked him into going there.
“They are trying to change our mentality and our identity. And if I don’t dare say these things publicly, because they would threaten me or kidnap me the very next day.”
He estimates that nearly 100 men had joined the group in recent months, ensnared by certain sheikhs in the town, who expound on the group’s exalted purpose, and lured with the promise of a $500 starting monthly salary, in an area where spillover from Syria has cut off access to industry, namely fruit farming and stone-quarrying. Local authorities said unemployment stood at an overwhelming 85 percent.
Nouh’s father worked in a sawmill and struggled to make ends meet, but the boy found respite with a local sheikh, whom the relative claimed spouts radical sermons to embolden potential recruits. “His parents thought that their kid was going to the mosque to pray, but instead he was being taught how everyone is an infidel.”
According to local accounts, the group has a handful of recruiters in Arsal, young men between the ages of 16 and 30, who promote ISIS membership as a religious cause, and offer promises of financial stability and, as Nouh once told a relative, women.
At one point, he convinced his teen cousin to go to the mosque with him. “I noticed a change in my son, and when he told me about the sheikh’s teachings I forbade him to go,” the boy’s father said.
Hardly anyone came to the young man’s memorial, after his parents, distraught by the news of his death Tuesday, announced that they were accepting condolences.
In Tripoli’s Qibbeh neighborhood, by contrast, spirits were high at the memorial for Khaled Ahmad Ahdab, a Lebanese ISIS fighter who died in Iraq this week. Two ISIS flags fluttered by the Hamza Mosque roundabout, as dozens of men streamed inside to pay their respects, laughing and hugging one another by the entrance. Women held a private reception at the family home.
“He used to call me his big brother,” Abu Khaled said, standing by the mosque door. “No one except his father knew where he went. He didn’t like to publicize himself.”
A call to “congratulate” the Ahdab family was plastered at every corner of the neighborhood. Typed in a bold black-and-white, it began with a verse from the Koran: “Do not consider those who died in the name of God as dead,” with a picture of the deceased jihadist, also known by his nom du guerre Abu Hamza, wearing a skullcap and pointing to the heavens with a raised index finger.
“The Islamic State is here to stay,” cried a young man, leaving the mosque.
Ahdab’s death was extolled, a reaction deemed “normal” by a prominent local sheikh, who is also a relative of the young man.
“The community has welcomed the news because the man [Ahdab] did his lawful duty,” Sheikh Zakaria Abed Razzak al-Masri, an uncle of the young man, said. “He was able to carry out this duty, while other people cannot. So they consider him a martyr.”
According to the sheikh, Ahdab’s body will be buried in Iraq where he died. “Before he left, he spoke about how everyone needs to go, then one day he did,” he said.
Despite widespread poverty in Qibbeh, where some 30 percent live on less than $4 a day, Masri ruled out a financial motive spurring Ahdab’s decision to go to Iraq.
The sheikh recalled how often Ahdab would criticize the complacency of other Arab countries toward the Syria crisis, and the plight of Sunnis in northern Iraq. “Religion demands us to stand with the oppressed against the oppressor. His commitment to faith, morality and humanity pushed him to go.”
Ahdab’s memorial in Tripoli took place on the same day as Sayyed’s memorial in Fnaydeq.
“Men excited to leave, who hear that someone like them has died in Syria, are not affected by the news. They go well aware that death is highly likely,” the mayor of Fnaydeq said.
“Sayyed’s death, for instance, will not stop others from going.” – With additional reporting by Edy Semaan, Hashem Osseiran

Rudderless U.S. policy
Oct. 10, 2014 /The Daily Star
The vastly contradictory statements coming from the U.S. government over the last few days are emblematic of a wider problem: that the Obama administration apparently has no coherent strategy when it comes to Syria, and now Iraq, and is playing the whole thing by ear. But this absence of any tangible policy will have ramifications far wider than simply the countries directly involved. Despite a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS, backed by a coalition of some 60 countries, the U.S. is confused and confusing. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. was looking closely at the idea of a buffer zone along the border with Turkey, inside Syria. Hours later the Pentagon and the White House said option was absolutely not on the table.This flip-flopping really makes one wonder where decisions are being made, and by whom. Certain people – including the president’s chief foreign policy representative – seem to have no idea what the plan is. How is the rest of the world supposed to know? The Syrians and Iraqis who this terrible war is affecting the most deeply? Where once the U.S. appeared as a beacon of strength, of stature, of leadership – and concern for humanitarian suffering – it is now struggling to maintain this image. And while this mask has been slipping for years now, the mistakes of Obama’s administration have done untold and likely irreparable damage. And the vacuum that has been left appears to have given oxygen to the most extreme and most dangerous groups around the world. The destruction and loss of life happening now across the Middle East is only the beginning. The aftershocks of current political indecisiveness will be felt for generations.

The International Day Against the Death Penalty – an opportunity for Lebanon
By: Angelina Eichhorst/European Union ambassador to Lebanon
The Daily Star/Oct. 10, 2014
On the European and World Day against the Death Penalty, there is a need to reflect on the great achievements and future priorities for the European Union and for Lebanon. It has been a decade since Lebanon carried out its last death sentence. In 2011, the Lebanese Parliament approved a bill amending the law on the implementation of sentences, creating a formal status for those “sentenced to death without being executed.”  These are clear signs that within the society and the political leadership there is an increasing determination to allow for dignity and justice to develop. But there are also justified concerns that policymakers in Lebanon are too slow, and even resisting the abolition of the death penalty. The EU’s firm position on the abolition of the death penalty is often taken for granted, both in Lebanon and worldwide. In reality, it took European states time to reach this point. While the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms proclaimed the Right to Life, it was not until 1983 that the European states enshrined this right in international law through the Protocol No. 6 on the abolition of the death penalty to the Convention. A vision and a true willingness to make progress were required. At the level of each national constituency, heated debates took place; the political leadership had to take courageous decisions and even political risks to abolish the death penalty. At EU level, the states endeavored to find the best formula to express their attachment to the abolition of the death penalty. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU states in 2007 in its second article that “no one shall be condemned to the death penalty or executed.” It took more work for all states to decide whether the abolition of the death penalty should be on the foreign policy agenda. Once that was agreed, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton made it her personal goal to ensure that the abolition of the death penalty in partner countries is a top priority.
Concrete actions were soon to follow. In 2012, the EU led an intensive campaign for the U.N. General Assembly resolution on a “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty.” The U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 21, 2012, adopted the resolution with an unprecedented 111 votes in favor, and the number of co-sponsors rose to a record number of 91. To date, the EU is the only international actor that actively pursues the abolition of the death penalty as a clear foreign policy goal.
How has such strong consensus come about? What has driven this steady advance in the past 60 years? The answer lies in a value that we all share – Europeans and Lebanese alike: a strong belief in the inherent dignity of all members of the human family.
Human dignity depends on many factors and it cannot be bestowed on anyone by any treaty, protocol or ruling. But a wrongful execution of an innocent person can never be rectified.
So the EU agreed on the abolition of the death penalty and we decided to promote this objective at international level, but we do not ignore the gravity of actions committed. On the contrary, the EU acts out of a deep concern for finding solutions to problems that have riven societies across the world. Moreover, these solutions are highly reliable, since EU action is driven by values, rather than national interest, and strategies – such as the human rights strategy that we have developed in most of our partner countries, including Lebanon, based on factual knowledge, rather than emotional considerations. The death penalty does not deter crime more effectively than do other forms of punishment. Nor does its abolition lead to an increase in crime. Let’s say it again: It is an irreversible punishment that cannot be revoked in cases of miscarriages of justice, inevitable in any legal system. Maintaining the death penalty can create a circle of crime and injustice. Victor Hugo cannot be quoted enough: “Look, examine, reflect. You hold capital punishment up as an example. Why – because of what it teaches? And what is it that you want to teach by means of such an example? That you should not kill. And how do you teach that? By killing?”
Today, on the European and World Day against the Death Penalty, it is high time for Lebanon to take stock of its de facto position and deeply consider taking the next steps to formalize it. At a time of instability and deep suffering across the Middle East, Lebanon can seize this great opportunity. It is a much better option than that of joining the flow of re-emerging extreme voices calling for the application of the death penalty.
Lebanon can be a door opener for the region in showing that the concern for the basic human right to life cannot be overshadowed by any display of violence and extremism.
**Angelina Eichhorst is European Union ambassador to Lebanon.

Turkey and the Battle for Kobane
Soner Cagaptay /Washington Institute
October 10, 2014
Turkey's primary objective in Syria is to oust the Assad regime, so it is unlikely to materially help the besieged enclave without U.S. and Kurdish commitments toward that goal.
In the past week, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) launched another major offensive against the Kurdish-declared canton of Kobane (a.k.a. Ain al-Arab) in northern Syria. The group is now threatening to overrun this area, which is controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish faction affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant Turkish group. In response, the United States has launched airstrikes against ISIS military assets around Kobane. Yet Turkey, which nominally joined the U.S.-led coalition against the group on September 5, has been watching the battle from the sidelines. Ankara is also refusing to allow PKK members to cross into Syria to prevent Kobane's fall.
In July 2012, the PKK and PYD assumed joint control of the Kurdish regions of northern Syria -- Afrin, Kobane, and Jazirah -- declaring them as cantons. Flanked by ISIS on three sides and bordering Turkey to the north, Kobane is the most vulnerable of these regions, and forces from the self-styled "Islamic State" have been pressing to capture it for over a year. ISIS has bolstered its efforts in recent days, hoping to offset its recent losses in Iraq with a potential victory in northern Syria.
Yet Turkey has been conspicuously absent from the battle for Kobane and is shying away from confronting ISIS at the moment. This is because Turkey's Syria policy has one key objective that takes priority over others: ousting the Assad regime. To this end, Ankara wants to use the battle for Kobane to make the PKK/PYD recognize that they need Turkey to survive in Syria, thus folding the Kurds under its strategic vision for Syria's future.
Prior to entering peace talks with Ankara this year, the PKK fought Turkey for decades. And during the Syrian war, the PKK/PYD have noticeably avoided fighting Assad, choosing to wrest control of Kurdish areas and stay out of the war until ISIS targeted Kobane. Ankara now appears bent on making the Kurds request Turkish security assistance on its terms -- namely, it wants the PKK/PYD to forgo autonomy plans in Syria and join the anti-Assad coalition. Additionally, it wants to see the PYD weakened in Syria so that the PKK comes to the ongoing peace talks with Turkey in a position of desperation. In short, Ankara seeks to reshape the PKK/PYD into a client of Turkish security interests in Syria.
Yet this strategy may have adverse implications for Kobane. To be sure, a Turkish deal with the PKK/PYD would alleviate some pressure on the canton, since Ankara would presumably allow PKK sympathizers to cross the border and enter the fight. Yet in order to fully defeat ISIS, the PKK/PYD would need heavy weapons currently missing from their arsenal. Short of a comprehensive, final settlement with the PKK at home, Ankara is unlikely to allow such weapons to pass into the PKK/PYD's hands, even if the Kurds agree to act as Turkey's proxy in Syria.
In other words, Ankara is fast approaching a choice between deploying heavy weapons to defend Kobane or accepting an ISIS takeover of the enclave. The latter eventuality would increase Turkey's exposure to ISIS, which already controls nearly half of the 510-mile border with Syria. At the same time, Kobane's fall would send around 300,000 additional Kurdish refugees into Turkey, bringing the total number of displaced Syrians there to nearly 2 million, over a quarter of them Kurdish. Pro-PKK Kurds in Turkey would then likely agitate against Ankara, which they would hold responsible for Kobane's fall. Demonstrations have already taken place in several Turkish cities to protest the government's inaction; if the enclave does in fact fall, it could create significant unrest among pro-PKK Kurds in southeastern Turkey and threaten the country's stability.
Turkey has signaled repeatedly that it is more strongly committed to ousting Assad than to defeating ISIS. Hence, before it will take concrete steps to roll back ISIS or help defend PKK/PYD-controlled areas, Ankara will expect a plan from Washington to weaken the Assad regime -- namely, one that involves boosting support to the non-ISIS elements of the Syrian opposition. It will also expect the PKK/PYD to commit to fighting the regime. As described above, Turkey's primary objective in Syria is to oust Bashar al-Assad, so it is unlikely to fully embrace a U.S. policy that degrades ISIS without targeting the regime as well. Ankara's hope is to work with Washington on implementing policies to degrade both actors concurrently, so that the non-ISIS Syrian opposition and a Turkey-compliant PKK/PYD can fill the void left by ISIS and Assad.
**Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, and author of The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty First-Century's First Muslim Power (Potomac Books).

Three years on and the Copts' plight continues

Mina Fayek /Open Democracy
9 October 2014
Three years after the Maspero massacre, no justice has been served. This was a state crime, and more worryingly, the Egyptian state seems to be increasingly engaging in hostile acts towards Copts.
On 9 October, 2011 a group of Egyptians organized a protest from Shubra district to Maspero, the headquarters of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, to protest an attack that had taken place on a church in the Upper Egyptian city of Aswan. The goal was to also demand the resignation of the Governor, the end of discrimination against Copts and the enactment of a unified law for building houses of worship.
Shortly after the march reached its destination, the military forces violently attacked it with live ammunition and by running over protesters, leaving more than 25 dead and hundreds injured, most of whom were Copts. Tens of civilian protesters were arrested while only three soldiers were convicted, receiving light sentences of two or three years in jail, on charges of “involuntary slaughter”. One and a half years later, two Coptic protesters were sentenced to two years in jail for allegedly stealing a machine gun from security forces during the clashes.
The Egyptian state has a history of discrimination against Copts and a reluctance to protect them from extremist attacks. Back in the summer of 2013, in the wake of ousting former President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt witnessed one of the largest waves of attacks against Coptic churches, institutions and properties by Islamists. The security forces were largely inactive despite the calls by Egypt’s largest minority. Soon after the attacks, the state promised it would reconstruct the damaged churches, which it failed to deliver. However, this inaction comes as no surprise as it’s one if the commonalities between the consecutive regimes that have ruled Egypt for decades.
Yet the significance of the Maspero massacre among the Coptic community comes from the fact that the state was the direct perpetrater of this crime. Copts have become used to state discrimination and its failure to protect them, but to viciously assault them was appalling and surprising for many.
To add insult to injury, state media played a very instigative role during the clashes. Rasha Magdy, a TV anchor appeared on Channel 1 on national television claiming that protesters were armed and that they had killed three army soldiers. She also urged Egyptians to defend the soldiers from what she described as “violent protesters” which further escalated the clashes.
Last month, Ahmed Moussa, another TV anchor and a staunch regime supporter, hosted a guest on his show who claimed that protesters conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood in order to “embarrass” the military and spread chaos.
Surprisingly, when Egypt celebrated the forty-first anniversary of the October war on 1 October 2014, out of all the Egyptian TV anchors, Magdy and Moussa were chosen to host the celebrations on state TV, which sparked anger among Copts on social media. The state’s choice seemed like an award to these two anchors after they sided with the state against the Copts. This also came less than ten days before the massacre’s third anniversary. Thus, it seems to be a part of a broad strategy by the new regime to wipe the history of the past three and a half years from the memory of Egyptians.
Even during Morsi’s rule, in April 2013, police forces attacked the Coptic Cathedral in the Abbaseya district with tear gas after rumours spread that Copts had attacked passing cars. Clashes between locals and mourning Copts broke out during a funeral of four Copts, who were killed in sectarian violence the day before, and while the police were supposed to separate them and protect both the cars and the cathedral, they sided with the locals and attacked the Copts. The president’s aid at the time blamed the Coptic mourners for starting the clashes.
Recently, the pattern of discrimination by the state against Copts has increased alarmingly. Two incidents took place recently that were very similar to the Maspero massacre.
The first happened one month ago when the police brutally assaulted hundreds of Copts in Jabal el-Tair village in Minya. According to the testimonies of the villagers, they were beaten, arrested, and called ‘infidels’ after they had organized a protest to demand an investigation into the disappearance of a Coptic housewife. Ironically, this came just a few days before President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s speech at UNGA where he said that Egypt is a “country that respects the law” and people’s “rights and freedoms”.
The other incident took place three days before the anniversary of the Maspero massacre. A group of policemen physically assaulted and insulted a Coptic family in Cairo’s Imbaba district and kicked its 63 members out of their seven-storey home. The police also confiscated many of their properties as well as their savings. The reasons behind such assaults are still unknown, although there’s no legal framework or justification whatsoever for what these policemen did. No investigation has been launched into either incident and the silence from El Sisi’s administration and government officials, who claim to be establishing a “state of law”, is almost deafening. Three years after the Maspero massacre, which has set a new precedent for direct state violence against Copts, no justice has been served. More worryingly, the Egyptian state seems to be increasingly engaging in hostile acts towards Copts. And while the new administration was once seen as a refuge from Islamists, easing the suffering of Copts, it appears to be yet another contributor to their ongoing plight.

On the road
Michael Young
Published: 10/10/2014
The spectacle of families of the soldiers abducted in Arsal closing roads in recent weeks has been both poignant and disturbing. It has been disturbing because those behind the abductions have been manipulating the families, calling them to warn that their sons will be killed, then asking that they close the roads to raise the pressure on the Lebanese government. From the start of the hostage saga in August, the families have behaved in a rather odd way, reserving their strongest words for the Lebanese government and political class. Even when television stations interviewed the inhabitants of Fnaydeq, in the Akkar region, after the decapitation of Sgt. Ali al-Sayyed, who is from the town, virtually no one condemned the Islamic State that had killed him. Instead, it was the “politicians” who were to blame.
Many negative things can be said about the state and its politicians, but they were not responsible for taking the soldiers and policemen hostage. Nor were the Lebanese in general guilty of such a thing. Yet the escalating reactions of the families and their sympathizers, with their daily cutoff of roads, has only harmed the population at large, while showing the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra that they are capable of creating dissension in Lebanon to achieve their political aims.
At no time was this more evident than when the Islamic State murdered a second soldier, a Shiite by the name of Abbas Medlej. In retaliation, Shiites from the Bekaa Valley began abducting Sunnis, who responded by doing the same. This carried many Lebanese back to the start of the Civil War in 1975. The situation was brought under control, but the jihadists had shown they could heighten sectarian instability in Lebanon. In most countries, the fact that two soldiers, regardless of their sect, were killed by the same knife would unify a population. But such are Sunni-Shiite relations in Lebanon today that precisely the opposite occurred. That is not only dramatic in its implications; it shows how the families and coreligionists of the abducted soldiers are not pausing to think of their actions.
But they might answer that their behavior has forced the government to act. The families believe, probably rightly, that the government is not at all keen to engage in a prisoner swap with the jihadists, who have demanded that Salafists detained at the Roumieh prison be released. The government understandably fears that if it were to concede on this, it would become open season for jihadists to abduct more military and security personnel to secure the release of more prisoners.
Remarks this week by the social affairs minister, Wael Abu Faour, did little to clarify matters. Speaking to the families of the abducted soldiers, Abu Faour stated, “The Lebanese government asserts that it is serious to the utmost about the negotiations in order to bring back the soldiers. We call for a clear and frank swap immediately.”
But then Abu Faour admitted there had been procrastination in the negotiations, though he added that it had not been caused by the government. But he did not clarify to whom he was referring. For the families, who distrust the government, this was likely interpreted as a roundabout confirmation of their suspicions that the government was behind the delay. Abu Faour and his political patron Walid Jumblatt are particularly worried by the fact that several of the soldiers are Druze. They seek a swap, fearing that if the soldiers are killed this may lead to retaliatory actions by Druze in the mountains against Syrian refugees, but also, and most alarmingly, against Sunnis, who make up a third of the population of the Shouf. Further complicating the negotiations is the fact that Hezbollah is keen to secure the release of its prisoners held by the jihadists in any overall deal reached by the Lebanese government. Some have speculated that one political figure in particular has sought to indirectly send messages to Jabhat al-Nusra, warning of the negative consequences if they enter into a wider conflict with the army. While this may be untrue, it was interesting that on Sunday, when jihadists attacked Hezbollah near Britel, the army failed to intervene and itself was not attacked.
As winter nears and the weather in Qalamoun becomes colder, we can probably expect more attacks similar to the one that occurred on Sunday. However, with the battle for Damascus heating up and the Assad regime losing vitally important territory in the south of Syria, it is unlikely that the rebels will want to open a new front in Lebanon. Most of the combatants in Qalamoun are from that area and their focus remains on Syria. Meanwhile, the families of the abducted soldiers and policemen have moved their protest to Riad al-Solh Square. If that means they close fewer roads, all the better. As much as the Lebanese sympathize with their predicament, they don’t see why they have to suffer for the actions of fighters in Syria. Nor do they understand why the families are so willing to be toyed with by the abductors, who are the only ones tormenting them.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper. He tweets @BeirutCalling

As Nusra battles Hezbollah, some Lebanese quietly cheer
Alex Rowell/Published: 10/10/2014
A new war front along the eastern border may offer Al-Qaeda a wider foothold in Lebanon
TARIQ AL-JADIDEH, Lebanon: The streets of Beirut’s lower-income Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood are tapestried with political and ideological contradictions, today more so than perhaps any time in the past decade. The bright blue-and-white flags of the moderate, US-allied Future Movement that dominate its balconies and lampposts are now routinely paired with the austere black-and-white banner of militant Sunni Islamism. Numerous posters laud Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “the voice of righteousness in the face of the sultans” – an odd choice of word for the man frequently accused of sympathizing with the Ottoman emperors who formerly occupied Lebanon.
And while a large memorial near the Maqasid Hospital honors and mourns the death of Lebanese Armed Forces Lt. Col. Nour al-Din Jamal, a Tariq al-Jadideh native killed in battle with foreign jihadists in the border town of Arsal in August, many residents interviewed by NOW Wednesday expressed support for the same jihadists fighting, with some success, against Hezbollah militants further south along the same border.
“Between Jabhat al-Nusra and Hezbollah, I definitely side with Nusra,” said Ahmad Hoss, a clean-shaven man who described himself as an activist and community organizer, referring to the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate that on Sunday briefly overran Hezbollah positions in the mountainous outskirts of Britel, killing what it said were 11 Hezbollah fighters and seizing their arms and equipment before withdrawing (the raid was filmed and broadcast from the group’s Twitter account).
“Nusra are not terrorists; they fight with principles,” said Hoss, echoing a view NOW heard from several other residents, many of whom drew a distinction between Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS], the latter generally deemed unpalatably extreme. “We’re against all militias, but Nusra and ISIS are ultimately just responses to the militia of Hezbollah.”
“If Hezbollah hadn’t intervened in Syria in the first place, there wouldn’t be Nusra or ISIS today,” added a friend of Hoss’s, who declined to be named.
“Hezbollah’s intervention was the biggest mistake,” agreed a saleswoman in a textile shop, who also asked not to be named. “I won’t side with Hezbollah against anyone. I prefer the Future Movement to Nusra, but I prefer Nusra to Hezbollah.”
Others were less enthusiastic about Nusra, even if all but one were firmly against Hezbollah. “Between Nusra and Hezbollah, I’m with the army,” said a third acquaintance of Hoss’s, who also declined to be named.
“I’m a businessman,” said the keeper of one clothes shop. “I blame Hezbollah for intervening in Syria, but I’m against everything that’s happening now. All of this fighting is bad for business.”
A potentially dangerous new front
Since its successful hit-and-run attack on Hezbollah outside Britel, Nusra has clashed with Hezbollah and its Syrian regime ally in the nearby Syrian town of Assal al-Ward, from whence the group said it launched its Sunday raid. On Twitter, Nusra claimed to have destroyed a tank in the area Tuesday, and to have killed “a number” of Hezbollah and Syrian regime fighters in Rankous, some 15km to the south.
The clashes represent a renewed front in the wider battle for Syria’s strategic Qalamoun mountain range, adjacent to Lebanon’s eastern border, in which Nusra, along with other rebel forces, are believed to be trying to carve out a safe corridor between the Arsal outskirts in the north and Al-Zabadani, a rebel stronghold west of Damascus, in the south. In an interview Tuesday, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem identified Assal al-Ward, Al-Jibbeh, and the outskirts of Younin, Britel and Arsal as likely areas of impending fighting between Hezbollah and the rebels.
As well as ensuring safe passage for fighters, materiel and the wounded, Nusra’s renewed attacks may be an attempt to strike at Hezbollah psychologically as much as militarily, according to Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.
“Opposition forces have been saying for several weeks now that they're picking up indications that Hezbollah is feeling the pinch and struggling to sustain the operational intensity in Syria that it has previously managed,” Lister told NOW.
“Perhaps this is a result of conflict in Iraq, but it's likely also fatigue within Hezbollah's leadership circles, who've watched significant resources drain away in what is an intractable conflict. The Qalamoun will always be an existential issue for Hezbollah, so pressing it into deploying more resources is the best way of further depleting your enemy,” he added.
An Al-Qaeda foot in Lebanon’s door?
As Sunday’s raid showed, this new front has the potential to extend into Lebanon. (It seems likely the roadside bomb attack on a Hezbollah position in the Lebanese town of Al-Khareibeh, 10km south of Britel, claimed by Nusra on 20 September, was not unrelated.) Should that occur to any significant extent, analysts told NOW the Al-Qaeda affiliate may find support, whether active or tacit, from a portion of the Sunni community, even where its hardline ideology was not shared by the local populace.
“Even among the most moderate Sunni authorities, [Hezbollah’s intervention has caused] outrage,” said Hussam Itani, columnist at the Al-Hayat newspaper.
“Nusra might [find] safe haven among the Sunnis, simply because they are against Hezbollah.”
Alex Rowell tweets @disgraceofgod
Myra Abdallah contributed reporting.

Sooner or later, Hezbollah will push Lebanon over the edge
By: Tony Badran/Now Lebanon
Published: 10/10/2014
Hezbollah is aggressively putting out the message that it is willing to heat things up on the border
On Tuesday, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for planting explosive devices that injured two Israeli soldiers on patrol in the Shebaa Farms area. The incident followed an attempted infiltration into Israel on Sunday by an unidentified squad, which resulted in the death of one Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldier. Tuesday’s operation and Hezbollah’s quick claim of responsibility has left observers puzzling over the group’s calculation. Initial reactions tended to focus on issues of deterrence and the rules of retaliation between the two sides. However, there is more to the story. The attack appears to be part of a broader conversation that the Iranians and Hezbollah are having with the US. Even as the operation targeted Israel, its message was as much aimed at Washington.
Most of the commentary on the attack approached it from familiar angles, such as Hezbollah’s need to shore up its deterrence against Israel. The group has an interest in dispelling misconceptions regarding its capabilities and readiness to confront Israel due to its taxing commitment in Syria. The party also needed to retaliate for a series of blows by Israel. This includes, most recently, the death of a Hezbollah sapper as he was dismantling an alleged Israeli listening device in Adloun last month. Indeed, Hezbollah pointedly named the unit that carried out the attack after this fallen member.
These points all have merit. Following the operation, the party’s second in command, Naim Qassem, affirmed that the operation intended to signal that, “although we are busy in Syria,” the group remained vigilant. Qassem also noted the operation’s specific association with the dead sapper, Hassan Ali Haidar. Whether retaliation for Haidar was the main reason behind the attack is debatable. But tying the operation to Haidar’s death allowed Hezbollah to keep the attack within an accepted framework of limited retaliation, in the hope that the Israelis would in turn restrain their response. However, Hezbollah’s statements on the operation emphasized another angle entirely; namely rebel movement in southern Syria, particularly in the Golan. In brief, Hezbollah is aggressively putting out the message that it is willing to heat things up on the border should Israel, and the US, allow Syrian rebels to advance from the Golan toward southeastern Lebanon.
When an official source in the party first claimed responsibility for the attack through the pro-Hezbollah Al-Mayadeen TV, he twice underscored that the operation was a response to the supposed cooperation between the Syrian rebels and Israel. Another unnamed official elaborated further: “The operation carries a very clear message to the Israelis and their allies — old and new. They are facilitating the transport of weapons and fighters from the hills of Quneitra towards Kfarshouba [in Lebanon],” the official told AFP.
On Wednesday, the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper reiterated the point, and led its front page with the headline: “A double message: the Shebaa explosive is a warning to Israel and the takfiris against changing the rules of the game.” Indeed, this theme of the Syrian rebels moving in toward southeast Lebanon, with Israeli facilitation, has been at the heart of a systematic Hezbollah information campaign several days ahead of Tuesday’s attack.
Hezbollah, according to its media campaign, considers that any Syrian rebel movement in the Golan area implicitly has Israeli acquiescence, if not active support. What’s more, Hezbollah says it’s worried about the prospect of Israel using the rebels as proxies to open another front against the Shiite party — specifically in the area of Shebaa (northeast of the Farms), Hasbayya and Rashayya.
Hezbollah’s contention that Israel might use Syrian rebels as a proxy force should not be dismissed as mere propaganda that the group doesn’t really believe. Hezbollah very likely sees it as a de facto reality. The group is aware that Israel works closely with Jordan and that it sees opportunities to build a cooperative relationship with Gulf Arab states that back the rebels; hence the Hezbollah official’s reference to Israel’s “old and new" allies. Moreover, Hezbollah is in a tough spot, as evident from the beating it is taking in the Qalamoun hills in Syria. Earlier this week, Jabhat al-Nusra reached the outskirts of the Hezbollah stronghold of Britel in the Bekaa. The party is suffering significant casualties and had one of its fighters abducted in the latest battles. It is fully aware of its vulnerability, and deeply concerned about being embroiled in another front with the rebels in the south — regardless of whether or not such a prospect is realistic at this stage. The warning Hezbollah is sending out is that it would hold Israel responsible for any rebel drive toward southeast Lebanon. Such a scenario, Hezbollah is saying, would nullify the existing rules of engagement in place since 2006.
The intended audience for Hezbollah’s threat is not just the Israelis. For even as Israel was the target of Tuesday’s attack, Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons are actually also communicating with the US. Washington has effectively signed off on an Iranian order in Beirut, using the fight against Sunni jihadists and the preservation of Lebanon’s stability as justification. Iran and Hezbollah want to exploit the US position. They wager that the White House would not wish to see another major conflagration between Israel and Lebanon. Also, the Iranians may calculate that the White House still seeks a broader rapprochement with them. The US and Iran are already partners in Iraq. Now, through its Hezbollah arm, Iran is positioning itself as an interlocutor with the US regarding security on the border with Israel. If Washington wants to keep that border quiet, it needs to talk to Tehran. And, the way the Iranians see it, insofar as the Israelis (and the Jordanians) are US allies, the White House needs to lean on them to make sure that Syrian rebels don’t approach southern Lebanon.
Of course, the reality is that the Party of God remains in a terrible quandary, with no end in sight to its entanglement in the Syrian war. Hezbollah purported to signal that its involvement in Syria has not diminished its readiness to confront Israel. Paradoxically however, Hezbollah’s warnings about Israel’s supposed collusion with the Syrian rebels only underscored how much the Shiite group is consumed by its war with the Syrians. So much so that even its conflict with Israel is increasingly defined by Syria’s dynamics.
Hezbollah is playing a dangerous game. It has already brought Lebanon to the edge. Sooner or later, it’s bound to push it over.
**Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.

4 ISIS Terrorists Arrested in Texas in Last 36 Hours
by JUDICIAL WATCH October 9, 2014
Family Security Matters
Islamic terrorists have entered the United States through the Mexican border and Homeland Security sources tell Judicial Watch that four have been apprehended in the last 36 hours by federal authorities and the Texas Department of Public Safety in McAllen and Pharr.
JW confirmed this after California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a former Marine Corp Major and member of the House Armed Services Committee, disclosed on national television that at least ten Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) fighters have been caught crossing the Mexican border in Texas. The veteran lawmaker got the astounding intel straight from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Homeland Security agency responsible for guarding the 1,933-mile southern border.
"If you really want to protect Americans from ISIS, you secure the southern border," Hunter proclaimed on a national cable news show this week. "It's that simple. ISIS doesn't have a navy, they don't have an air force, they don't have nuclear weapons. The only way that ISIS is going to harm Americans is by coming in through the southern border - which they already have." The three-term congressmen went on: "They aren't flying B-1 bombers, bombing American cities, but they are going to be bombing American cities coming across from Mexico."
In late August JW reported that Islamic terrorist groups are operating in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and planning to attack the United States with car bombs or other vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED). High-level federal law enforcement, intelligence and other sources confirmed to JW that a warning bulletin for an imminent terrorist attack on the border has been issued. Agents across a number of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense agencies have all been placed on alert and instructed to aggressively work all possible leads and sources concerning this imminent terrorist threat.
Back then intelligence officials said they had picked up radio talk and chatter indicating that the terrorist groups are going to "carry out an attack on the border," according JW's sources. "It's coming very soon," confirmed a high-level government official who clearly identified the groups planning the plots as "ISIS and Al Qaeda." Two days after JW's report ran, Ft. Bliss, the U.S. Army post in El Paso, implemented increased security measures. The Department of Defense (DOD) attributed the move to vague "security assessments" and the constant concern for the safety of military members, families, employees and civilians.
However, military experts told JW that the increase in security indicates that Ft. Bliss is a target. Military installations in the U.S. only make changes to security measures when there are clear and present threats, according to retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, former commander of the Army's elite Delta Force who also served four years as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. "That means they're getting a threat stream. Ft. Bliss had to have a clear and present threat," Boykin said. Following that news, federal law enforcement sources in El Paso revealed that U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke telephoned the area offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) in an effort to identify-and evidently intimidate-sources that may have been used by JW to break the ISIS in Juarez story.
Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.

Hisham, Hope and Despair
Hussein Ibish/Now Lebanon
Published: 9/10/2014
Hisham Melhem is correct about the collapse of "Arab civilization," but hope remains
On 18 September, Hisham Melhem – the distinguished Arab journalist and de facto "dean" of the Arabic-language press corps in Washington – published a brilliant, ringing and profoundly significant cri de coeur in the American news magazine Politico. Its impact has reverberated powerfully throughout the Middle East-related commentariat, particularly in the United States. Surveying the wreckage of Arab culture and civilization as normatively understood over most of the past 100 years or so – in other words, what most Arabs thought we knew about ourselves, and which now lies largely in ruins – he conducts an unflinching, overdue and merciless autopsy of what he declares to be, at least for the rest of his own lifetime, a social, economic and political corpse.
All serious observers who care about the Arabs and the Arab world must either immediately acknowledge an instinctive and heartbroken identification with Melhem's anguish, or continue kidding themselves. Denial is not only pointless; it's no longer possible without becoming downright delusional. The profound crisis in the contemporary Arab social order and political culture is simply a fact. It can, and must, be analyzed and interrogated. But it cannot be dismissed or even downplayed.
Details aside, it's just impossible for any serious or honest person to take issue with the essence of Melhem's grim analysis. Many once-promising Arab societies have been hollowed out during the postcolonial era by grotesquely irresponsible ruling elites. These rulers often appeared, at a manifest level, to be very different from, and sometimes found themselves at odds with, each other. But on closer inspection it should have always been obvious that they actually engaged in similar forms of misrule with analogous consequences.
The typical, although not universal, outcome across the region has been the development of profoundly dysfunctional societies, economic malaise, sectarian mistrust, political extremism and religious fanaticism. The Arab world in general, Melhem concludes, is caught between "the Scylla of the national security state and the Charybdis of political Islam." At least in the immediate here and now, that's just undeniable.
Western colonialism, too, played its role by saddling the region with bizarre and artificial borders for jerry-rigged states that never developed sufficient national cohesion and consciousness to survive serious challenges. The West also bequeathed to the Arabs various, and often highly-insidious and cynical strategies of divide and rule, many of which continue to bedevil the Middle East.
The result of this convergence of internal and external poisons is a set of ailing bodies politic, in many cases bereft of social or political legitimacy, and, increasingly and at their worst, attempting to function without order or even structure.
Only parts of the Arab world have thus far totally imploded, but they are hardly irrelevant backwaters: Syria, Iraq, Libya, and to some extent Yemen and Lebanon. It's far easier to imagine this chaos continuing to expand rather than retreating. Hence, his readers join Melhem on the edge of a precipice, staring into an abyss – producing a kind of highly-unsettling socio-political vertigo.
Melhem correctly notes that the Islamic State (ISIS) did not emerge in a vacuum, but rather lumbered into being out of the detritus of Arab societies shorn of their traditional normative values and in the grip of sub-national identitarian rage and/or existential terror. In Syria, at least 100,000 people were killed by the Assad dictatorship before ISIS really started getting a foothold in its hinterlands. The barbarism and savagery of ISIS is a Hobbesian response to a Hobbesian reality. Much of the contemporary Arab world increasingly looks like a war of all against all.
The grimmest truth about ISIS and other ultra-radical extremist groups is that, in addition to their extreme brutality, they have coherent, albeit despicable, narratives, ideologies and agendas. They appeal to those angry young men of every era who are instinctively drawn to the international extremism du jour. But ISIS is also drawing in a rather different group: a cohort of bored, hopeless, lost Arabs seeking adventure and a kind of twisted purpose to their lives.
ISIS's fighters could certainly tell you what, exactly, they think they are fighting for and why. ISIS and other violent extremist groups, Sunni and Shiite alike, are actually offering a warped and grotesque caricature of what mainstream Arab societies ought to be able to, but, apparently in some cases, cannot foster: a supposedly "higher purpose" to life through serving the interests of a ferociously puritanical group and mission, together with a coherent worldview and sense of identity and agency. Do these evil people actually believe they are repairing the world, and preparing for the end of days, through blood and fire? It seems likely that, at the very least, that is precisely what they tell themselves and each other.
Worse still, the social vision articulated by ISIS is essentially an extreme – and even absurd, but alas logical – conclusion of certain strands of fundamentalist Sunni Islam that have been promoted over many decades by some wealthy states and individuals. Of course, no one other than the state was ever supposed to act on such ideas. Ordinary people were just supposed to imbibe this religious dogmatism, or at least acknowledge the authority of their tenets, and do nothing.
But now these religious, social and political ideas have been hijacked, stretched to their ideological limits (and, indeed, well beyond), and put into violent practice by gangsters who combine sophisticated criminality with hard-core doctrinal zealotry. With God, all things are possible. And permissible.
And it's not just ISIS and their repulsive ilk: Shiite and other sectarian fanatics are simultaneously deploying their own version of the dark arts of pseudo-metaphysical propaganda manipulation. They, too, harvest the credulous and desperate, the rudderless, adrift, disoriented and lost, all to feed the insatiable machine of homicide and suicide. It is a ghastly concoction of the most extreme political and spiritual fanaticism, pecuniary profit, sadism and masochism.
Mainstream Arab societies look on in horror but have few compelling narratives to counter ISIS's propaganda. As Melhem notes, ISIS's "roots run deep in the badlands of a tormented Arab world that seems to be slouching aimlessly through the darkness."
It's not true that there are no other social, political or religious visions in the Arab world. Indeed, predictions that post-dictatorship Arab societies would inevitably produce elected Islamist governments proved wrong, because even though most Arabs are devout Muslims, they are not Islamists. They might well be willing to accept Islamists in government if they are responsible, effective and accountable. But those Islamists who got the chance in government to show what they are truly made of – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – proved nothing of the kind.
The alternative Arab visions, however, to atrophied, stale and failed state authority on the one hand and Islamism of varying degrees of radicalism and violence on the other, remain largely repressed, scattered, unorganized, marginal and hence ineffective. Under such circumstances, Melhem reaches the following, entirely understandable but despairing, conclusion: "It took the Arabs decades and generations to reach this nadir. It will take us a long time to recover – it certainly won’t happen in my lifetime."
Here it's important to stop and take stock. I, for one, have found the past six months or so to have been particularly trying, and I know I'm hardly alone. The rise of ISIS, the virtual collapse of the Libyan state, the awful war in Gaza, and so many additional horrors seemed to pile up such that, for the first time in over 15 years of professionally working on and writing about Arab affairs, I could suddenly regard an insurance salesman with some envy. But one cannot give in to such impulses.
At a certain level, there's no question that Melhem is basically right. A real Arab "recovery" won't happen in his lifetime, or in mine. Some of the issues are so deep-rooted and structural that they really will take "decades and generations" to completely transform. But hope need not, indeed cannot, be vested only in such a thoroughgoing transformation. Much can, and must, develop quickly to begin to calm the maelstrom Melhem and the rest of us can scarcely believe we are actually living through.
The first thing to bear in mind is how radically different things looked, even for what amounts to a fleeting political moment, at the beginning of the so-called "Arab Spring." It was not a mirage. Millions of Arabs in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere really did take to the streets demanding reform, accountability and good governance. It was a genuine and spontaneous expression of "people power" and revealed a real appetite for greater openness and at least some version of democracy.The reasons why the moment passed without realizing its most important goals, and indeed now seems to have ushered in this present period of chaos and unprecedented instability, are less important than the fact that it existed in the first place. There is, we can say with absolute confidence, indeed a mass Arab constituency for pluralism, tolerance, good governance and accountability. It may be inchoate, inconsistent, unorganized and haphazard, but that it exists is undeniable if one simply remembers Tahrir Square.
Second, let us recall that when societies transform, they frequently do so with stunning rapidity. Particularly in the modern era, change can be, and often is, sudden, dramatic and swift. If three-and-a-half years ago was a period of brief but irrational exuberance about the rise of an empowered Arab citizenry demanding its rights and asserting its responsibilities, we should be open to the possibility that the present impulse towards despair might also prove to be exaggerated.
It's not possible that Arab societies a mere three years ago were on the brink of unprecedented maturation, but then suddenly slumped back into a greater level of immaturity and dysfunctionality than ever. At least one of these impressions is certainly incorrect, as they are mutually exclusive. But it's also entirely possible that both are false impressions, produced by competing but equally exaggerated utopian and dystopian impulses.If developments have really taken a dramatically negative turn in much of the Arab world over the past year or two – and they certainly have – it is, surely, equally possible for a sudden and dramatically positive set of developments to emerge (by definition unexpectedly) in the coming months and years.
But, it will be asked, on what would such sudden improvements be based, given the analysis outlined by Melhem and others, and repeated and endorsed above? Well, that it was these same Arab societies and contemporary political culture that gave rise to the "Arab Spring" moment in the first place. And since that was a real and entirely positive, albeit unsuccessful, mass movement, it clearly constitutes a solid basis for genuine hope in a progressive and forward-thinking Arab constituency, and social and political impulse, that now appears dormant but could not have simply evaporated.
In the eyes of their disillusioned and jaded (usually elite and alienated) constituents, struggling postcolonial societies have a particular way of inducing such grim "decades and generations" prognoses. Countless leading Latin American intellectuals, from both the left and right and among the apolitical, as late as the 1980s, expressed very serious doubts that their societies could ever find their way out of war and dictatorship "in their lifetimes." Even now, many of these societies' reform efforts remain works in progress. But the end of decades of wars and civil conflicts, brutal dictatorships and social decay and malaise in Latin America over the past 25 years or so demonstrates what can quickly happen once a corner is turned.
Under such circumstances, it is an intellectual and political moral duty to look for (but not invent) real evidence that allows one to retain a sense of decency and openness to a better future. And such evidence genuinely does exist in the Arab world today, despite a "big picture" that is, or at least currently seems, so unremittingly appalling.
Since I have focused on ISIS as a key indicator of how negative current Arab trends have been, it's only fitting that we look there for evidence of the positive. Let's not change the subject; let's look at it more closely. The backlash against ISIS does indeed provide some rays of hope. They range from something as simple, personal and in many ways marginal as the fact that the UAE's woman fighter pilot Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri led one of the first major Arab allied airstrikes against ISIS. In itself, this is a mere detail and historical footnote. But in a region plagued with unconscionable patriarchy and sexism – and with women not even allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, or do just about anything without the permission of their legal male "guardian" – this tidbit ought to afford all reasonable people at least a fleeting smile of satisfaction.
On the more substantive register, ISIS has become such a terrifying and destabilizing phenomenon that it is undermining the severe sectarian divide that gave rise to it in the first place, and that began defining the Middle Eastern strategic landscape in recent years. Sunni-majority Arab states have openly recognized, in word and deed, the centrality of the Shiite-led Iraqi government in combating the terrorists.
Last week, militiamen from the central Iraqi town of Dhuluiyah – which is sometimes seen as a bellwether of Iraqi Sunni Arab sentiments – came to the aid of their Shiite neighbors in Al Saud village, which was under attack by ISIS. How significant this is, and whether it proves to be a harbinger of things to come remains to be seen. This Sunni Arab pushback again ISIS might be basically tribal and self-protective. The Jubur tribe predominant in Dhuluiyah was a key player in the "Awakening" against ISIS's progenitor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and hence they have every reason to fear retribution, even after so many years. But the motivation is secondary at best. The fact is, this is a rare instance in recent months in which ISIS has met with stiff Iraqi Sunni Arab resistance, and perhaps the first place where Iraqi Arab Sunnis and Shiites have fought together against ISIS in its current incarnation.
Meanwhile, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia declared such organizations, and he specifically singled out ISIS, the "number one enemy" of Islam. The UAE and others have repeatedly made the crucial point that the problem is not simply ISIS, but a whole host of extremist organizations driven by the same kind of fanaticism. The makings of a broad regional coalition of states trying to contain precisely that threat appears to be coming together, albeit in fits and starts, formally and informally. It remains shaky, but it's happening. It's about time, and it's a good thing.
It is one thing for powerful Middle Eastern states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia to harass each other via proxies. But it is quite another to find themselves at risk of a more direct confrontation, and, ironically in the case of ISIS, threatened by the self-same gang of fanatics. Either way, the choice facing numerous countries in the region is between finding a more constructive approach to dealing with their differences or risk consuming each other, and themselves, like ravenous fish in the murky deeps. Some cynics claim that Arab governments they characterize as "counterrevolutionary" because they are staunch defenders of the status quo are seizing on the threat of extreme terrorist organizations like ISIS in order to legitimate themselves and create a gigantic distraction from "revolution" to counterterrorism.
Not only does this argument fail to acknowledge that the threat from ISIS and similar groups is so severe that other considerations that have nothing to do with "counterrevolution" – such as the crossing of sectarian divides – are starting to characterize the response (which strongly suggests it is bonafide and genuine), it also doesn't acknowledge that the analyses and prescriptions being offered by officials and representatives of these states, or in some cases by some of their leading citizens, increasingly recognizes that social, educational and even political changes will be required to defeat the threat of fanaticism in the long run. So even if the "counterrevolution" narrative had some merit (although it doesn't square with these governments' support for the uprising in Syria, among numerous other obvious anomalies), it would still actually do little to explain the increasingly unified response to ISIS or the likely long-term implications of that response.
Therefore, even looking at the most disturbing contemporary Arab phenomenon – the Islamic State – it's possible to identify many different bases for a more hopeful attitude without being dreadfully naïve or inventing an alternate reality.
All across the region, from courageous individuals to small groups that are doing good in their own small spheres of activity and influence, to strategic realignments at the state and regional level (such as the important new international coalition to combat ISIS), the basis for hope for a better Arab future can indeed be identified if you start looking for it. Indeed, in various different guises, positive signs are everywhere, even though negativity is by far the dominant trend at present.
Unfortunately, there's no real basis for suggesting that social and political realities in the Arab world are going to start dramatically improving in the immediate future. They may well continue to get worse, as they have been of late. We just don't know what is going to happen.
The crucial point is that the one thing that is certain is that the choices that we make individually and collectively will have a direct and profound impact on the short, medium and long-term outcomes. And, therefore, our choices must be carefully considered, deliberate and purposive, while apathy and inaction are not options.
The first step in coming to grips with where we Arabs find ourselves today is precisely the sort of unflinching, resolutely principled and searingly honest evaluation provided last month by Hisham Melhem in Politico. But the second step has to be a serious investigation of what, exactly, there is to work with to make our ever-changing reality better rather than worse (or more of the same), and to consciously and proactively look for positive trends that buck the general recent pattern of alarming deterioration.
Retaining agency requires retaining hope. Not pie in the sky, Pollyanna hope; but real hope based on existing realities and plausible outcomes. As bad as things are in the Arab world today, the grounds for such hope are genuine. The task is to first identify the bases for improvement, and then to act on them.
***Hussein Ibish is a columnist at NOW and The National (UAE). He is also a senior fellow