LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation for today/ Salvation/1-16
Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians 06/01-16: "6:1 Working together, we entreat also that you not receive the grace of God in vain, for he says, “At an acceptable time I listened to you, in a day of salvation I helped you.”Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation. We give no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our service may not be blamed, but in everything commending ourselves, as servants of God, in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; in pureness, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians. Our heart is enlarged. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return, I speak as to my children, you also be open wide. Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? What agreement has a temple of God with idols? For you are a temple of the living God. Even as God said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on September 11 and 12/14
Face up to ISIS but Don’t Ignore Iran/By; Eyad Abu Shakra /Asharq AlAwsat/September 12/14
Israel concerned ISIS threat may distract Obama from Iran/Attila Somfalvi/Ynetnews/September 12/14
Might ISIS bring a resolution in Syria/By: Michael Young/The Daily Star/September 12/14
Obama takes America back to a pitiless battlefield/David Ignatius| The Daily Star/September 11 and 12/14
Iraq’s new cabinet is a club of egos/Amir Taheri /Asharq AlAwsat/September 11 and 12/14
Lebanese Related News published on September 11 and 12/14
Rai: Obama promised to protect Lebanon
Al-Rahi Discusses Presidency, Army Support with Obama
U.S. Senator Disrupts Summit in Washington, Saying Christians are Israel's Ally
'US Senator Cruz booed off stage for pro-Israel statements'
Lebanese Army foils car bomb attack in Arsal
Trial refugee camps agreed in principle
Four Hezbollah fighters killed near Ras Baalbek
We must eliminate, not contain, ISIS: Bassil
Van at center of Hariri blast: investigator
Discontent and anger in Sunni north
Hezbollah: Joint plan to trap border militants
6 Syrians Arrested in Koura as Army Raids Sidon Refugee Compounds
Salam to Qatar on Sunday, Captive Soldiers and Syrian Refugees Crowning Talks
Report: Islamist Inmates Reject to be Swapped with Arsal Hostages
Nasrallah and Aoun Want 'Strong' President as Paris Seeks Approval of Consensus Candidate
Qassem Says Obama Seeking to Contain IS Expansion in Region, Not End it
Miscellaneous Reports And News published on September 11 and 12/14
Israeli firefighters and US marines mark 9/11 in Jerusalem
Arab allies commit to US fight against Islamic State
Obama’s ISIS war plan sparks warning from Syrian axis
Obama orders U.S. air strikes in Syria against Islamic State
Canada Condemns Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria
Top trends at Europe's biggest gadget fair
Syria, Iran, Russia slam U.S. strategy
U.S. wins support for anti-ISIS campaign
Arab banks under pressure from U.S
Syrian rebels: We 'will fight Islamic State so it cannot reach Golan'
10 Arab states agree to join US-led military campaign
against Islamic State
Exclusive: Hamas threatened UNRWA personnel at gun-point during Gaza war
Iran questions ‘sincerity’ of anti-ISIS coalition
Iran: Radical group gears up to begin morality patrols
Iraq: No agreement on interior and defense ministers
US, Gulf and Arab allies meet to discuss ISIS
Four Hezbollah fighters killed near border village
Nidal Solh| The Daily Star/HERMEL, Lebanon: At least four Hezbollah fighters were killed overnight Wednesday during clashes with jihadists on the outskirts of a Lebanese border village in the Bekaa Valley, security sources told The Daily Star Thursday. Fierce clashes erupted between Hezbollah fighters and rebel groups a few kilometers away from the village of Ras Baalbek, near a Hezbollah position in the region. A total of 17 people were either killed or wounded but only four men were identified as Lebanese resistance fighters, the source said. The incident would have remained under wraps if the two ambulances had not broken down on their way to a Bekaa Valley hospital, a source said on condition of anonymity. Syrian troops, backed by Hezbollah, have been battling rebel and jihadist groups along the border with Lebanon to root out opposition fighters who have infiltrated the eastern frontier. Last month, the Lebanese Army engaged in fierce clashes with militants from Syria for five days in which dozens of Islamist fighters and at least 19 soldiers were killed in the border town of Arsal, a few kilometers from Ras Baalbek. The militants captured at least 30 soldiers and policemen during the fighting. Nusra Front has so far released seven while ISIS has beheaded two Army troops.
ISIS has created ‘more than 40 cells’ in Lebanon
Antoine Ghattas Saab| The Daily Star/BEIRUT: ISIS has established more than 40 undercover cells in Lebanon, according to top secret information obtained by a security body, heightening fears that new terror attacks may be on the horizon. Each cell is believed to comprise three or four people of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian or Iraqi nationality who have been highly trained with guns, explosive belts, land mines and other weapons, a security source said. The cell members, according to the information, have been trained in batches in Syria’s Aleppo and Deir al-Zor and in Lebanon’s West Bekaa, Iqlim al-Kharroub, Akkar and Naameh, reportedly by defected soldiers from the Syrian Army, and Lebanese and Palestinian nationals. The ISIS cells have also apparently been provided with encrypted digital communication devices and pistols with silencers, the information revealed. Most of the members are believed to have been instructed to act normally and fly under the radar of security and intelligence bodies by wearing ordinary clothes and frequenting nightclubs and cafes. Some of the cell members are thought to be carrying fake university IDs. There are particular concerns that the cells might be planning an assassination, likely of a Sunni leadership figure, that will be blamed on another party. With the situation in Lebanon still tense in the wake of five-day clashes in Arsal between Islamist groups – ISIS and the Nusra Front – and the Army that led to the kidnap of more than 30 security personnel, any suicide attack or car bomb would risk a major deterioration in security. At least 22 soldiers and policemen remain in captivity. Two soldiers have been beheaded by ISIS, and the Nusra Front has released seven men. Arsal looks to remain a hotspot for future violence after the Army Thursday detonated a car rigged with 100 kilograms of explosives on the outskirts of the border town.
The car, a white Kia with a Syrian license plate, was discovered near an Army checkpoint on the road leading into Arsal, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV. The Lebanese security body has also been informed by an eastern European country, which the source would not name, of a specific threat from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The Brigades, whose Lebanese branch has been responsible for several deadly suicide attacks over the past year, is believed to be planning to bomb the country’s Beirut embassy with two suicide bombers on motorcycles. It is thought that the plan is to carry out two similar attacks simultaneously against the Lebanese Army Intelligence center in Corniche al-Mazraa and the Al-Helo barracks, both of which face the eastern European country’s embassy.
The intelligence apparatus of the eastern European country was apparently warned a while ago about possible attacks against its embassies and other related institutions located in the Arab world. They were told that the attacks could even target its airports, train and metro stations. The country was notified by the Iranian security apparatus, as part of an ongoing collaboration between the two, of a significant Brigades meeting in the restive Caucasus region, according to the security source.
The meeting was reportedly between Turkmen Bashir Kh., the Brigades’ leader in the Caucasus region – a heavily disputed territory which borders Europe and Asia – and leaders from Chechnya headed by Abdul Rahman A. Talks apparently focused on setting a plan to attack the eastern European country’s institutions.
The Caucasus region is separated into a northern and southern part. The former is under Russian control and the latter consists of independent sovereign states, including Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Iranian intelligence bodies have also unearthed fundamentalist cell activity believed to be preparing to target the eastern European country’s embassy in Syria. The information, which was also given to Beirut, urges pre-emptive and fast action to put an end to the integration of ISIS in specific Lebanese areas. The source also revealed that some Lebanese government institutions were in the process of signing security collaboration protocols with numerous Western and Arab countries, which will involve coordinating over any information acquired relating to ISIS and its plans in Lebanon and the wider Arab region. Although the source described the ongoing collaboration as fruitful, they added that it was not yet strong enough to elevate Lebanon to the needed level in the emerging regional-international alliance against the extremist group. The potential to strengthen the collaboration will largely depend on the results of a regional conference addressing ways to fight the infrastructure of extremist groups such as ISIS, the source said. The conference was held in Jeddah, where Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil arrived Thursday.
Bassil will be expected to find a balance between honoring the conference’s decisions and respecting Lebanon’s sovereignty.
Hezbollah: Joint plan to trap border militants
Misbah al-Ali| The Daily Star/Hezbollah is coordinating with the Lebanese and Syrian armies concerning the situation on the ground along Lebanon’s eastern border with its biggest neighbor. Speaking to The Daily Star, a senior Hezbollah official cited a plan to trap the militants in a certain spot in the isolated and mountainous border region, praising the Lebanese Army for military gains made in the past few days that included gaining control of areas formerly occupied by ISIS and the Nusra Front.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted the irony that ISIS and the Nusra Front were battling each other for control of territory in Syria, but working together against Hezbollah and the Syrian army in Qalamoun.
He emphasized the party’s full support for the Lebanese Army. He added that according to Army Intelligence and other security bodies, the hostage soldiers and policemen are being held on Lebanese soil, which is causing the Army to proceed cautiously given the soldiers’ vulnerable position. The official said the party saw no point in negotiating with the captors, because they have “no control or restrictions and do not adhere to agreements.” He recalled that these are the same groups that sent car bombs into Lebanon, killing and wounding scores of innocent people. “They are requesting the exchange of soldiers for convicted criminals that the government should not release under any circumstances,” he said. The official was careful to highlight the need to take into consideration and reserve the utmost respect for the families of the victims of suicide attacks that were carried out by terrorist groups currently holding Lebanese troops hostage. He went on to say that the Army has several options for exerting pressure on the militants, including cutting Arsal off from its outskirts and putting ISIS under international and European pressure. “Lebanon is by no means in a weak position,” the official said. “We have plenty of winning cards.” The official maintained that signs of warming between Iran and Saudi Arabic could lead to the resolution of several outstanding internal Lebanon issues. The party is awaiting the results of Iranian deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian’s expected visit to Beirut this week, especially given Riyadh’s decision to keep Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri in his post in Lebanon.
A Saudi-Iranian understanding could set the stage for a breakthrough on the presidential election, which appears to weigh increasingly on the party especially in light of increasing diplomatic pressure and the deteriorating security situation in the Bekaa Valley. The party is keen to contain the sectarian strife that erupted following the beheading of two Lebanese soldiers by militants from ISIS. The official reiterated his party’s support for unofficial candidate Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who is waging what is likely the last battle of his political career to become president.
“We and General Aoun have shared one trench since the signing of the memorandum of understanding in the Mar Mikhael Church. We now see that the issue of the presidential election, as far as we are concerned, is in Aoun’s hand exclusively, and we have said repeatedly, both in private and in public, that we have no alternative to General Aoun as a candidate for the presidential elections, and it is up to March 14 to deal with these facts seriously.” The official admitted that the vacuum in the presidency was affecting the rest of the state institutions, but held March 14 responsible for failing to offer a clear position. “We encourage the strengthening of institutions by debating Parliament’s status,” he said, pointing out that it was Hezbollah ally Speaker Nabih Berri who took the initiative to register his candidacy for the parliamentary elections, “in order to push the political factions in Lebanon toward the seriousness required to discuss this critical matter, while several parties are trying to resolve the issue of the mandate extension for their own electoral interests only.”
Separately, the official said that the party does not have high hopes for John Kerry’s efforts to counter the ISIS threat given Washington’s continued support for the “so-called moderate rebels” to confront the Syrian army, which has been fighting ISIS and terrorism since the beginning of the conflict. “Washington does not have a comprehensive vision for fighting terrorism,” he said. “Most Arab countries are fully aware that the ISIS threat is not confined to Syria and Iraq, but also threatens the fate of other Arab countries, particularly Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia,” he said. “This calls for coordinated Arab efforts to combat this phenomenon, which is detrimental to the image of Islam as a religion first and foremost.”
Discontent and anger in Sunni north
Edy Semaan Justin SalhaniSamya Kullab| The Daily Star
FNAYDEQ, Lebanon: A woman hangs three pairs of olive-green combat trousers on a clothes line, publicizing that hers is one among an estimated 3,000 homes in the northern Akkari town of Fnaydeq to boast an Army member. In this area, it is considered prestigious to be a member of the Army, more so as unemployment is all too common here.To the woman’s left, a worn Free Syrian Army flag flutters, its signature three stars now in tatters. In 2011, the predominantly Sunni region of Akkar was vociferous in its support for the Syrian opposition. But among other things, the clashes in Arsal, which on Aug. 2 pitted the Army against Syrian rebels affiliated with ISIS and the Nusra Front, have obliged reticence. “Most people in Akkar had sympathy for the Syrian revolution, from a humanitarian point of view, but the clashes in Arsal changed things,” said Sheikh Abdel Rahman Akkari, who resides in Wadi Jammous, north of Fnaydeq. “Many changed their perspective [about the uprising], maybe 40-50 percent of people, and the others who still support [the opposition] don’t announce it publicly.”A longtime champion of the opposition, Akkari says he still supports the moderate rebels, despite the fact that even some FSA battalions in Qalamoun are reportedly absconding to ISIS for lack of resources, but admits that after Arsal “it’s difficult to tell who is right from who is wrong.”The aftermath of the Arsal clashes has shed light on two distinct viewpoints within the broader network of Sunnis in north Lebanon, both of which are united in their condemnation of perceived government dithering over the 22 policemen and soldiers still being held captive by militants, but for vastly different reasons.
On one side, there is the majority of northern Sunnis who remain devoted to the Army but are growing ever more frustrated over the government’s apparent complacency toward the hostages. On the other are the hard-line Sunnis, who sympathize with the detainees in Roumieh prison who are there on suspicion of terrorism, and hope that a swap deal materializes so that they will be freed. A taxi driver steering up the winding roads of northern Akkar said the majority in the region were staunch supporters of the Army, and that a small number still supported extremists fighting in Syria.An off-duty soldier in the backseat disclosed why the military has such backing in the area. “There are two or three soldiers or state servants in every family,” he said.
“I am one of five.”
Toward the end of the road, a banner of Ali al-Sayyed, one of two captured soldiers who were beheaded by ISIS, is tautly hung. “We are proud of our son,” reads the banner. “Now we call him Ali Lubnan, not Ali Sayyed,” said the murdered soldier’s uncle, Hossam. “Here we are all with the Army.”He said the beheading had come as a great surprise to the family, and to the town, which has around 40,000 residents. Another local, policeman Khaled Hasan al-Mouri, is among the servicemen held captive.
“The people want a strong state,” said Sheikh Walid Ismail, the imam of the Khatib Mosque of Fnaydeq. “All the town is united with the Army.”In Beirut, Mouri’s wife, Wafa, took part in a sit-in around Martyrs’ Square to pressure the government to act and free the remaining 22 policemen and soldiers still being held by the militants. “We don’t know how, but we will definitely escalate our protests if the government doesn’t listen,” she said. Abdallah Zakaria, head of the Union of Akkar Municipalities, concurred, telling The Daily Star that matters would quickly degenerate if politicians did not make an effort to prove they had the best interests of the captives at heart.
“If the government doesn’t act now, the streets will become more violent,” he said. “Those related to the kidnapped will question the aims of their leaders.”
Local government and religious figures from Fnaydeq argued that the reputation of the Army itself would be at stake if the government did not take an effective stance toward the hostages.
“The Lebanese government should take the case of the captured soldiers more seriously to protect the institution itself,” said Fnaydeq’s mayor, Khaldoun Taleb. “Because it makes soldiers weaker if they observe how poorly their comrades were treated and the state didn’t step in to help them.”
Local Sheikh Samih Abou Haye agreed. “We don’t like that negotiations are stalled, because in almost every house, in Fnaydeq particularly and Akkar generally, there are men enlisted with the Army,” he said. “For the people to know that they are not acting to protect them is very disheartening.”
In the long run, Abou Haye said, families might be disinclined to view the Army as a sound career choice. “People are afraid,” he said. “They don’t want to send their sons [to the Army], especially after seeing how they are being treated.”
Nearby the banner paying tribute to Sayyed is the family home of Alaa Kanaan. The terror suspect was detained in June, along with another Fnaydeq local, Mahmoud Khaled. Confessions from the men led Army Intelligence to discover a cave on the outskirts of the town, brimming with explosives, according to security sources. His brother Ayman was arrested a few months later but has not been charged. Those who knew the two brothers still proclaim their innocence, and see a potential swap deal, a key demand of the militants, as an opportunity to for them to be freed. They are a hard-line and peripheral voice calling out what they perceive to be double standards practiced by Army Intelligence toward members of their community and toward Hezbollah, which operates in Syria openly. The family home is a two-story building of gray cement. Plants potted in recycled palm oil containers are the only aesthetically redeeming feature here. When The Daily Star arrived, a willowy woman shrouded in a black abaya came to the door to say that Alaa’s mother was not at home. She was in Rihanieh prison, another relative said, visiting her sons. “Their father died some time ago,” said Ahmad Kanaan, an uncle. Alaa, who found part-time employment in a mobile shop, had been arrested three times before, in 2011, 2012 and 2013. “He was a good guy,” Kanaan said. Ayman was arrested the first week of Ramadan. “We hope the government solves the problem of the prisoners, and frees those who are innocent,” Kanaan said. “We are completely with the security forces, but we’d like our sons to be free if they are found to be innocent.”In an effort to negotiate with militants, the government has voiced its readiness to speed up the trials of Islamist prisoners. Towns like Fnaydeq gave both moral and practical support to the Syrian uprising, by making sympathetic pronouncements and by sending their own young men to fight. However, the town’s mayor said that choosing to go to Syria was always an individual enterprise. The militant groups are believed to have the support of a small number of Sunnis returning from Syria, such as Mahmoud Khaled, but the mayor said the issue of rampant unemployment in the town would drive more to join their ranks if deep-rooted social issues in the town were not addressed. Joblessness is especially dire in north Lebanon, where over 60 percent of the population live below the poverty line.
This, together with widespread ignorance of true Islamic teachings and perceived injustice vis-a-vis Hezbollah would make fertile ground for militant recruitment, Sheikh Abou Haye said. Even those with a bachelor’s degree don’t have job opportunities, Taleb said. “They can either go and join the Army, or go and fight with Nusra or ISIS,” he said. Some fight for these groups despite their treatment of local hostages and kin because “they really don’t have a choice.”Further north, where nearly 80 percent of the population are unemployed, the problem is more acute. “Those who went did not have religious intentions,” said Bassam Khalifeh, the mayor of Amayer, a municipality in the northern region. “They went to make a living.”“Only a few have done it, but if the government doesn’t do something to stimulate job growth, it will become a trend,” he added. “Young men make the wrong decisions when they feel an injustice has been done and are desperate.”
Lebanese Army foils car bomb attack in Arsal
Hasan LakkisHussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Thursday defused a car rigged with 100 kilograms of explosives on the outskirts of the Bekaa town of Arsal, which a senior military official said was meant to target a military post in the area. The incident revived bitter memories of the spate of car bombings that struck Lebanon last year and early this year and which was linked to the war in Syria. “Most probably, the car bomb was intended to target the Army post in Ain Shaab in Arsal,” a senior military official told The Daily Star. The military said in a statement that soldiers had grown suspicious of a white Kia vehicle with a Syrian license plate parked on a side road in the Ain Shaab neighborhood in Arsal. An Army unit cordoned off the area and inspected the vehicle, which contained 100 kilograms of explosive materials packed in a metal box and tied to wires and electric detonators, ready for detonation. An Army bomb expert arrived at the scene and defused the bomb. An investigation has been launched into the incident. The precarious security situation in Arsal and the case of the soldiers and policemen still held hostage by militants dominated a Cabinet session Thursday night, with March 8 and March 14 ministers sparring over the verbal attacks on the Army. Prime Minister Tammam Salam told the ministers that he was continuing negotiations with Qatar and Turkey in an attempt to secure the release of the kidnapped soldiers, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said after the six-hour session. “There is some progress in this respect, but nothing can guarantee reaching a satisfactory result soon,” Salam said.
Recalling a meeting of a ministerial committee tasked with winning the freedom of the captured soldiers, Salam said the Army was ready “to confront any aggression on Arsal or any other area.” March 8 ministers brought up Future MP Khaled Daher’s statement, in which he said that the Army was being used as a tool against the Sunnis and Christians in Lebanon, sources told The Daily Star. Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk dismissed Daher’s statement. “We do not adopt his [Daher’s] statement and he does not represent the Future Movement’s viewpoint,” said Machnouk, who is also a Future MP. Arsal was the scene last month of five days of fierce clashes between the Army and militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front, who overran the town. It was the most serious spillover so far of the war in Syria into Lebanese territory. The militants are still holding at least 22 of the soldiers and policemen who were taken hostage during the battles in Arsal. ISIS has beheaded two soldiers, while the Nusra Front has released seven of the captured men.
Salam will head a ministerial delegation to Doha Sunday for talks with Qatar’s emir and premier on the hostage crisis. Qatar became involved in the hostage crisis last week when it announced it would be carrying out negotiations between the Lebanese state and the militant groups. The Qatari delegation has met with ISIS and the Nusra Front commanders and prepared a list of demands to submit to the Lebanese government. ISIS and the Nusra Front have been demanding the release of Islamist militants held in Roumieh prison in exchange for the captured soldiers and policemen. The government has refused to engage in any kind of swap. Meanwhile, two men kidnapped by gunmen last week from Arsal have been released in a Hezbollah-mediated operation, security sources said. The sources told The Daily Star that Abdullah al-Breidy and Hasan al-Fliti were handed over to Rida al-Masri in the village of Hourtaala in Baalbek Thursday morning. Masri, in turn, handed the pair over to General Security personnel. Gunmen belonging to the Masri family last Sunday abducted Breidy and Fliti, demanding the release of one of their relatives, who is among the at least 22 Lebanese soldiers and policemen being held captive by ISIS and Nusra Front militants. However, the fate of Marwan Hujeiri, a third Arsal resident who was also kidnapped last week, remained unknown.
'US Senator Cruz booed off stage for pro-Israel statements'
J.Post/September 12/14/According to The Daily Caller, Cruz was jeered as he stood at the podium to deliver the keynote address before an organization known as “In Defense of Christians.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a rising star in the Republican Party who is widely believed to be mulling a race for the GOP nomination for president, was jeered off the stage at a gala in Washington on Wednesday after expressing support for Israel. According to The Daily Caller, Cruz stood at the podium to deliver the keynote address before an organization known as “In Defense of Christians,” which describes itself as a “non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to heighten awareness among policymakers and the general public of the existence of ancient and often persecuted minority communities in the Middle East, particularly Christians.” “Tonight, we are all united in defense of Christians,” Cruz began his speech by saying. “Tonight, we are all united in defense of Jews.” “ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East,” the Texas senator said. It was when Cruz began to reference Israel in his speech that the audience grew restless and hostile.
“Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” he said, prompting boos. “Those who hate Israel hate America.” Cruz then sought to shout over the catcallers, saying: “Those who hate Jews hate Christians. If those in this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason.”
The head of In Defense of Christians released a statement condemning Cruz’s hecklers. “A few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will,” said the group’s president, Toufic Baaklini. “Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles. They were made no longer welcome.”
U.S. Senator Disrupts Summit in Washington, Saying
Christians are Israel's Ally
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz was booed offstage at a conference for Middle Eastern Christians, causing a disruption at the gala dinner of the In Defense of Christians summit in the U.S. capital Washington. ted in defense of Christians... Tonight, we are all united in defense of Jews. Tonight, we are all united in defense of people of good faith, who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who dare disagree with their religious teachings,” Cruz said on Wednesday eve. He enraged audience when he pointed out that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” slamming religious extremism as “cancer.”Cruz noted that Islamic groups like Palestinian Hamas movement, Hizbullah and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are carrying out “genocidal campaigns,” saying that the three groups are one. The statement infuriated Lebanese Ambassador to the United States Antoine Chedid and Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham. Laham was determined to withdraw from the gala dinner until Cruz left the room.
“Who kicked off Jews from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq?” Laham wondered, refusing to hear such words. The audience started disagreeing with Cruz and booing him, calling on him to get off stage, which prompted him to say: “Those who hate Israel hate America. Those who hate Jews hate Christians. If those in this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps.” “If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason,” Cruz continued. He criticized the audience, saying: “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi called on conferees not to “reply to the Senator as the work of the conference is far more important than individual statements.” For his part, the President of In Defense of Christians, Toufic Baaklini, lauded al-Rahi, quoting him as saying: “At every wedding, there are a few wedding crashers.” “In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of other all other faiths and all people of good will,” he said in a statement. The three-day conference aims at discussing the situation in the Middle East and the conditions of Christians. It gathered Orthodox Christians, evangelicals, Roman Catholics and others. The Middle East is the home for about 12 million Christians, which constitute around 5 percent of the region's population.
Al-Rahi Discusses Presidency, Army Support with Obama
Naharnet /Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Thursday said he discussed with U.S. President Barack Obama the issues of the presidency and supporting the Lebanese army, as the American leader stressed the importance of deterring the terrorist threat against Lebanon. In remarks to LBCI television after he met Obama along with the patriarchs of the Orient, al-Rahi said the U.S. president promised him to “protect Lebanon from the repercussions of everything that is happening in the region,” revealing that talks tackled the stalled presidential vote and military support for the Lebanese army. The patriarch said he sensed that Obama has Lebanon among his concerns and that he realizes how much the ruthless Islamic State group is a threat to the region. Meanwhile, Lebanon's National News Agency said the meeting with Obama lasted 35 minutes. It said the American leader underlined to the delegation the importance of supporting the army so that it can “rein in terrorism and prevent it from infiltrating Lebanon.” Obama also called on the Lebanese to reach an agreement over a new president, according to NNA. Earlier on Thursday, the patriarchs of the Orient discussed with U.S. congressmen the condition of Middle East Christians and their displacement at the hands of terrorist organizations.“The persecution of Christians is a reality,” al-Rahi said during the meeting. He pointed out that “the painful situation is mired by the silence of the world.”Al-Rahi, who is currently in the U.S. capital Washington to attend a three-day conference organized by the In Defense of Christians organization, called on the international community to facilitate the return of those who were displaced to their hometowns. The Patriarch stressed the importance of taking swift measures to end the threats imposed by terrorist groups. On Wednesday, al-Rahi called on the U.S. to take a more prominent stance and further steps to safeguard Christians, who are being assaulted and displaced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other terrorist organizations. Al-Rahi stressed that the “orient is the land of Christians, who are being threatened with extinction.” “No one has the right to leave humans suffer as if we're back to the stone age,” the Patriarch said. “Can no one stop this crawling monster that is intimidating people?” al-Rahi wondered.
He pointed out that the “Arab and Muslim communities and the international community should understand that Christians are not minorities.”“The world is responsible for preventing terrorist organizations and returning those who were displaced to their regions and protecting them,” al-Rahi said. The conference aims at discussing the situation in the Middle East and the conditions of Christians. It gathered Orthodox Christians, evangelicals, Roman Catholics and others. The Middle East is home for about 12 million Christians, which constitute around 5 percent of the region's population. Andrew Doran, executive director of In Defense of Christians, said: “If Christian voices are able to ring out as one from Egypt to Syria to Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, then we really do believe it will be possible for Middle Eastern Christians to survive.”
Rai: Obama promised to protect Lebanon
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: U.S. President Barack Obama will work on protecting Lebanon from regional turmoil, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Thursday after meeting the U.S. president in Washington. “Obama promised us to work on protecting Lebanon from all the repercussions of what is happening in the region,” Rai told the LBCI television station. “We felt that Obama is concerned about the region and the danger posed by ISIS and wants to support the region and minorities through an action plan he is working on.”
Rai and a delegation of Eastern church patriarchs met Obama after attending a three-day conference in Washington on protecting the Christian presence in the Levant in the face of mounting threats posed to the community by ISIS and other takfiri groups in Syria and Iraq.
Rai said he had raised important issues with the U.S. president, including the presidential
Lebanon’s interest rates to rise in 2015
Elias Sakr| The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Interest rates on Lebanese-currency denominated debt could increase between 25 and 50 basis points next year, a senior economist told The Daily Star. The rise would be in line with an expected gradual increase in global interest rates in the second half of 2015, and to a lesser extent owing to Lebanon’s widening budget deficit. The U.S. Federal Reserve will most likely in June 2015 gradually increase borrowing costs from a record low, with analysts forecasting rates at 1 percent at the end of 2015 and 2.25 percent at the end of 2016. The Fed has held the overnight federal funds rate near zero since December 2008. “Interest rates on Lebanese currency denominated debt could increase slightly in 2015 at most by half a percentage point, due to the expected 0.25 percentage point increase in U.S. interest rates by mid-2015,” Garbis Iradian, International Institute of Finance (IIF) deputy director for the MENA region told The Daily Star. “The expected increase in Lebanese interest rates is more related to the evolution of global interest rates than to the borrowing need of the Finance Ministry,” Iradian added. Lebanon will post a deficit of $5.1 billion, or 10.71 percent of GDP and 34.9 percent of spending, in 2014, according to figures in the draft budget released in June by the Finance Ministry based on a projected 2 percent growth in GDP. The Finance Ministry projected current expenditures of $13.1 billion in 2014, a 4 percent increase compared to an estimated $12.7 billion in current expenditures in the 2013 draft budget. Revenues were projected at $9.5 billion compared to a collected $9.4 billion in revenues in 2013. The Finance Ministry’s figures are in line with the IIF’s revised fiscal deficit for 2014 at 10.5 percent of GDP based on a real growth rate of 1.5 percent. The IIF expects fiscal deficit of 10.8 percent of GDP in 2015 based on 4 percent growth rate. Iradian said the forecasted modest rebound in the Lebanese economy in 2015 – mainly owing to an expected improvement in the country’s political and security outlook as a result of the rapprochement between regional power brokers Iran and Saudi Arabia – should boost tax revenues. One the other hand, the increase in government spending shouldn’t exceed 8 percent in 2015, according to Iradian, who said a projected drop in global oil prices would reduce treasury transfers to Lebanon’s state-owned power company Electricite du Liban. A large chunk of the government expenditure goes to Electricite du Liban, which posted a deficit of $2.2 billion in 2013 that the treasury financed to ensure the state-run company could buy the necessary fuel oil. The IIF’s estimate of a deficit to GDP ratio of 10.8 percent in Lebanon in 2015 assumes a Brent oil price of $100 per barrel in 2015 as compared to $104 per barrel in 2014 and $108 per barrel in 2013. Iradian added that the Lebanese government is also likely to pay an expected 2015 hike in the salaries of public servants and teachers in installments over several years, limiting its impact on the state finances, provided that the hike is coupled with anti-tax evasion measures and an increase in the VAT by 1 percent.
Several economists and international agencies have forecasted an increase in government spending in 2015 well beyond the IIF’s estimate of 8 percent. The International Monetary Fund projects an increase in expenditures of 12.7 percent in 2015 compared to 2014 and a deficit-to-GDP ratio of 11.9 percent compared to 11.1 percent in 2014. This is after taking into account the cost of enacting the wage hike in addition to increased spending due to the cost of hosting some 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Iradian said the cost of hosting the Syrian refugees in Lebanon is likely to be financed by foreign countries and international financial institutions. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim during a visit to Beirut in June pledged to redouble efforts to attract financial donations for a World Bank-supervised multidonor trust fund for Lebanon. But only two countries, Norway and Finland have donated funds so far. According to World Bank estimates, the conflict in Syria has cost Lebanon $7.5 billion as GDP dropped 2.9 percent annually between 2012 and 2014 while 170,000 Lebanese fell into poverty and the unemployment rate doubled to more than 20 percent.
Israeli firefighters and US marines mark 9/11 in Jerusalem Hills,
Anav Silverman, Tazpit /Ynetnews
Published: 09.11.14, 23:14 / Israel News
The emotional ceremony was attended by US Ambassador Dan Shapiro who said: 'Every year we come together to honor those who fell and those who served, the members of our larger American family whose destinies were touched by these acts of evil'. Jerusalem district firefighters and rescue volunteers, alongside US Marines and families of 9/11 victims, marked the 13th anniversary to the September 11 terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead in a special ceremony held in the Jerusalem Hills. “It’s a very sad day – as firefighters, we can fully empathize with the families of the 343 New York City firemen who were killed on September 11,” Kobi Erez, the spokesman for the Jerusalem Fire and Rescue Services told Tazpit News Agency. “We are here to show solidarity with the firemen and everyone else impacted by this terrible event – those who entered into danger and fire to save lives and were killed doing so.” Organized by the Keren Kayemeth L’Yisrael-Jewish National Fund, the memorial ceremony was held at the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza in the Arazim Valley of the Ramot neighborhood in Jerusalem. The memorial plaza, which was inaugurated back in 2009 by the JNF, features the only monument outside of the United States that lists the names of the 2,977 victims of the 9/11 attacks including five Israelis who were killed. US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who attended the ceremony, stated of the JNF 9/11 memorial that it was a “moving” monument, “where we gathered with friends today to remember those taken from us 13 years ago.” He also noted that, “Every year we come together to honor those who fell and those who served, the members of our larger American family whose destinies were touched by these acts of evil.” Among the firefighters who laid wreaths on the memorial monument, was a new immigrant from the United States, Jacob, who made aliyah during the recent war and joined the Israel Fire and Rescue Services. “It was a very respectable ceremony,” noted Erez. “It was coming full circle to have Jacob with us as an Israeli firefighter laying down a wreath for the American firemen,” he told Tazpit.
“Firefighters share a common language and we are all like extended family,” concluded Erez of the US firemen who lost their lives.
Arab allies commit to US fight against Islamic State
Published: 09.11.14/Israel News
Kerry meets with regional counterparts in Saudi Arabia, receives assurance Arab states will act to stop spread of ISIS.
Key Arab allies of the US agreed Thursday to "do their share" to fight against the Islamic State group, promising to take action to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the militants and possibly to join military action. The announcement came after US Secretary of State John Kerry met with regional counterparts in the Saudi Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah in an effort to pin down Middle Eastern allies on what support they are willing to give to the US plan to beat back the Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
After their talks, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon issued a joint statement saying they were committed to stand against terrorism. They promised steps including stopping fighters and funding and "as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign" against the militants. They also agreed to boost support for the new Iraqi government as it tries to unite its citizens in the fight against the militants, and discussed strategies to "destroy" the group "wherever it is, including in both Iraq and Syria." NATO ally Turkey also attended the meeting but did not sign the final communiqué. Greater regional support is seen as key to combating the spread of the militant group, which has proved so ruthless that even al-Qaeda severed ties with it earlier this year. Nearly 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry predicted will be a worldwide fight to defeat the group. President Barack Obama on Wednesday laid out a long-term US strategy against the group that would include expanding airstrikes against its fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants. Some Gulf states could in theory take an active role in helping with airstrikes, as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar did in the US-led aerial campaign over Libya in 2011 that helped lead to the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. Gulf nations could also assist with arms, training, intelligence and logistics.Saudi Arabia's willingness to host the meeting is significant given the OPEC kingpin's role as a political and economic heavyweight and the site of Islam's holiest sites. A senior US State Department official, who was not authorized to be named while briefing reporters and spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters ahead of the Saudi meeting that Kerry would ask Mideast countries to encourage government-controlled media and members of the religious establishment to speak out against extremism. The coalition-building efforts could be hampered, however, by squabbling among Washington's allies in the region.
For example, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt are at odds with Qatar and Turkey because of the latter two countries' support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the region.
American officials have voiced concerns too about Kuwait's and Qatar's willingness to crack down on private fundraising for extremist groups. While they have made some progress, the State Department official said much more needs to be done.
The US already has launched more than 150 airstrikes against militants in Iraq over the past month, and has sent military advisers and millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including an additional $48 million announced Wednesday.
The Mideast diplomatic push comes ahead of a conference set for Monday in Paris on how to stabilize Iraq. That meeting will include officials from the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, and could also include other nations – possibly even Iran.
Israel concerned ISIS threat may distract Obama from Iran
Published: 09.12.14 /Israel News
Senior source tells Ynet that US may moderate its pressure on Tehran in nuclear talks because Obama will be focused on combating Islamic State. The coalition created by US President Barack Obama to combat the threat posed by the Islamic State has brought rare cooperation to a divided and conflicted Middle East. Rivals like Egypt and Qatar will line up side-by-side, as Sunnis and Shiites volunteer their help, but voices within the US have pointed a finger on Thursday on missing member of the coalition: Iran. The New York Times dedicated its top slot on Thursday to the concern within Israel that Obama will focus less and less on Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons, at a critical moment in the diplomatic effort to curb such a result. Iran remains a short distance from achieving the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons, and only suspended its progress because of an interim agreement the Islamic republic signed with Western powers last year in Geneva. That accord, in which Iran and six world powers were supposed to reach a comprehensive agreement by July, failed to live up to its potential, and the new deadline posed – November 24 – is not far in the future. If a permanent agreement is not signed by that date, the military option which the US often raised as a threat will need to make a fresh appearance; the question remains whether Obama, deeply invested in the fight against ISIS, will have the ability to pose a credible threat to the Iranians
A senior political source told Ynet on Thursday night there was concern over the possibility that the US will moderate its pressure on Iran in the talks. A senior minister familiar with the issue said that "we are actually concerned about that possibility."
Sources in Israel said that the US has attempted to alleviate Jerusalem's concerns in recent months, promising that their policy towards Iran will not change. But Jerusalem is not convinced, especially given that only this week Obama cited the Islamic State as the biggest threat to the Middle East – and not Iran. The negotiations between Western powers and Iran have shown no signs of clearing any significant hurdles, even as time runs out on the already-extended talks. Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said Thursday after another round of deliberations in Vienna with European representatives that there was still "a difficult road" to reach an accord. He added: "We are always optimistic… but we have a tough road to cross." According to diplomats, the most divisive issue standing in the way of an accord was the quantity of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to keep. Tehran rejects any call to significantly reduce its capacity of centrifuges – which stands at 19,000 installed, with half operational.
Iran and the six world powers – US, Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany – reached an agreement with Tehran by which Iran would suspend the majority of its sensitive nuclear work in return for sanction relief.
Yet the two parties to the negotiations failed to reach an agreement by a self-imposed deadline – July 20 – and decided to extend for a few months – to November 24.
A diplomat in Vienna rejected the possibility of another extension to the negotiations if an accord is not signed.
**Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Canada Condemns Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria
September 11, 2014 - Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement in response to the release of the second report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ fact-finding mission in Syria:
“This report contains compelling evidence which leaves Canada with no doubt that the Assad regime is responsible for using chlorine as a chemical weapon in numerous attacks over the last few months. We condemn the horrific use of chlorine gas against civilians: it is a clear war crime and a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. “Canada is also appalled by the use of barrel bombs filled with toxic chemicals that have been dropped from helicopters, which is also confirmed in the report. The fact that the Assad regime continued these brutal attacks against its own people during efforts to eliminate Syria’s declared arsenal of chemical weapons shows once again its complete disregard for the international community.”
Obama orders U.S. air strikes in Syria against Islamic
By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told Americans on Wednesday he had authorized U.S. air strikes for the first time in Syria and more attacks in Iraq in a broad escalation of a campaign against the Islamic State militant group.Obama's decision to launch attacks inside Syria, which is embroiled in a three-year civil war, showed the seriousness of the threat American officials see from Islamic State. A year ago, the president shied away from air strikes against Syria's government for its use of chemical weapons against Syrians. Obama laid out his emerging plan for tackling the group in a widely anticipated White House speech, two weeks after coming under fire for saying: "We don't have a strategy yet" for the group in Syria and six months after declaring that groups like Islamic State were minor players. "Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy," Obama said, using an acronym for Islamic State. He said he would hunt down Islamic State militants "wherever they are."
"That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," he said. He said he would expand the list of targets inside Iraq beyond several isolated areas. He will send 475 more American advisers to help Iraqi forces, joining more than 1,000 already there. They will not engage in combat.
TRAINING CAMPS IN SAUDI ARABIA
In a significant move that could help rally Gulf Arab states behind the U.S.-led coalition, key ally Saudi Arabia will host inside its territory a U.S. training effort for Syrian rebels, senior U.S. officials said. The effort is dependent on the U.S. Congress approving $500 million to train and arm the rebels. The Saudi decision emerged after Obama spoke by phone earlier in the day with Saudi King Abdullah, who has pressed the American government to do more resolve the Syrian conflict. Obama has staked much of his foreign policy record on having extracted U.S. forces from Iraq after running for president in 2008 on a pledge to end what he felt was an unnecessary conflict begun by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama's move to deepen U.S. involvement in Iraq in its fight against Islamic State follows opinion polls that show Americans feel the president has been too cautious in tackling the group. Obama has struggled with a host of foreign policy crises this year, bringing his overall public approval record down to near record lows of about 40 percent.
Obama vowed he would not send large numbers of U.S. combat forces to the region but would rely instead on assistance from a broad coalition involving Sunni-led governments in the region and Western allies. U.S. officials want allies to join in attacks on the group as well as in training and equipping Iraqi forces and Syrian rebels, providing humanitarian relief and intelligence.
BUILDING AN ALLIED COALITION
What specifically each nation will do in the coalition remains to be hammered out. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Gulf allies in the region and Obama is to host a leaders' security conference at the U.N. General Assembly in two weeks with the aim of fleshing out duties of the coalition. Before the focus on Islamic State, Obama for months had been cool to the notion of arming the poorly organized Syrian rebels, fearing weapons provided them could end up in the wrong hands. But he now needs the rebels to become strong enough to hold ground cleared by U.S. air strikes, just as Iraqi forces are doing in Iraq. U.S. officials pushed back hard against the notion that striking Islamic State strongholds in Syria would unintentionally help President Bashar al-Assad. They said the Sunni-majority areas in the eastern part of the country the militants hold are not places where Assad loyalists would be able to take advantage to regain control. Islamic State has carved out what it calls a "caliphate" from broad areas in Iraq and Syria and uses savage methods that have included the beheading of many prisoners, including two Americans. "This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground," Obama said.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by David Storey and Peter Cooney
Might ISIS bring a resolution in
Michael Young| The Daily Star
12/09/14/At the time this was written, it was expected that
President Barack Obama, in explaining to Americans his military strategy against
ISIS, would announce that he intended to extend airstrikes into Syria.
That may be true, but it leads us to other questions. What is the future of Bashar Assad’s regime? Would such attacks help his forces, or on the contrary might foreign warplanes over Syrian territory somehow precipitate his departure? Most important, how will the implicit alliance in Iraq between the United States and Iran fare in Syria, where, clearly, the two countries have different interests despite their shared hostility toward ISIS?
Assad’s ability to survive a three-and-a-half-year uprising has been largely due to the assistance of Iran and Russia, which have supplied his forces with weapons, manpower and intelligence, as well as helping devise a military strategy on the ground. Yet none of this has been enough to turn the tide in Syria. The war has become a black hole for Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah ally, while Russia is preoccupied elsewhere, with the Ukraine crisis pitting it against NATO and the West.
As Assad watches developments around him, he cannot be reassured. His reliance on minorities, including his Alawite coreligionists, to stay in power will fail. Alawites, Christians and Shiites cannot indefinitely guarantee Assad’s political survival, with the communities already taking very heavy losses.
As for the regime’s outside backers, the future looks uncertain. Iran has already paid billions of dollars to prop up Assad rule, money it desperately needs elsewhere, and recently it lost a vital land connection with Syria when ISIS took over western Iraq. That explains the Iranians’ willingness to tolerate American military action in Iraq, and, one would assume, in Syria’s ISIS-controlled eastern and northeastern provinces as well.
Closer to Damascus the picture has been equally unsettling to them. The regime recently lost Qunaitra to rebels allied with the Nusra Front. These groups have allegedly opened a passage to the Ghouta west of Damascus. If confirmed, this could tighten the noose on the capital, affecting the Beirut- Damascus highway.
And in Qalamoun, northwest of Damascus along the Lebanese-Syrian border, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime are caught in a quagmire of sorts, unable to dislodge thousands of gunmen. The gunmen aren’t gaining, but neither is the regime, while the grinding conflict there is bleeding both sides. That is one reason why the Lebanese Army’s efforts to control the border in the Arsal area has provoked a violent reaction from armed Syrian groups, who see it as part of a plan to cut off their supply lines.
Neither Iran nor Russia has a magical solution for Assad. American airstrikes may buy the regime some breathing space by hitting ISIS in eastern Syria. However, they are unlikely to affect rebels in the west of the country, or target the Nusra Front. Moreover, there are few indications of who will control the ground in areas where the Americans hit ISIS. The Syrian regime may benefit in some places, but rebel groups will do so elsewhere, which may be to the regime’s disadvantage.
The Russians opposed American military action last year, after Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. This time, however, there is nothing they can really do. While the Obama administration is not out to undermine Assad, its military actions may ultimately lead to such an outcome as Washington exploits the situation to impose a political solution leading to Assad’s removal.
Applying the same logic as in Iraq, a political solution in Syria would help consolidate the gains made against ISIS. In the same way that Washington ousted Nouri al-Maliki as a first step to bringing the Sunnis into a more inclusive political arrangement in Iraq, Assad’s removal from power in Syria could emerge as the most efficient way to damage ISIS, which benefits from sectarian animosity and sense of Sunni victimization.
Iran would not be happy with this, nor Hezbollah, but both are hardly in an ideal position to prevent it, given their setbacks in Syria. Nor will it be easily for them to control the dynamics once an air campaign starts. If the opposition times an offensive against the regime with such action, it could greatly complicate their efforts to reinforce Assad’s position.
It is very difficult to see how Assad can last in the long run. Though regime figures, such as Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, have indicated that an anti- ISIS offensive would be a way for the Assad regime to regain international credibility and recognition, one shouldn’t bet on it. Rather, once the U.S. enters the Syrian conflict, it will want to bolster its military actions with a sustainable political project. And since Assad is an obstacle to any such project, the Obama administration may begin looking for an alternative without Assad.
Given the deadlock in Syria, and the fact that the regime’s chances of prevailing are diminishing by the day, Assad’s allies, displeased as they are, might reconsider their options if their interests are preserved. Syria has been a heavy burden on Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, one that can last indefinitely unless political solutions are tabled. Other Arab states, above all the Saudis appear increasingly willing to explore a package deal. That’s why it’s not beyond reason that an anti- ISIS campaign may help accelerate a resolution of the Syrian conflict.
Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.
Obama takes America back to a pitiless battlefield
David Ignatius| The Daily Star
For President Barack Obama, this is gut-check time on Iraq. He is moving the nation back onto a pitiless battlefield, with a war plan that is long on good intentions and short on clarity about the ultimate mission.
It’s a wrenching moment: A president who for several years seemed allergic to American involvement in the Iraqi and Syrian wars is being drawn into this conflict by circumstances that even the skeptics agree require American action. Obama kept his distance despite the deaths of 200,000 Syrians, but apparently can’t do so any longer after the beheading of two Americans.
“We have to do it,” says Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser and the dean of a group of strategists who met with Obama on Monday night. But he cautions that “because the conflict is likely to spread to other countries, and to last longer than we expect, we have to avoid the mistakes we made after Sept. 11, 2001,” of seeming to launch a global war on terror. This time, Brzezinski argues, the U.S. needs to rely on its Muslim allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, rather than making it America’s fight.
Obama has come gradually and reluctantly to his conclusion that U.S. military action is necessary against ISIS, which has taken root in Iraq and Syria. But there are some obstacles and potential dangers that are hidden in the fog of policy. These aren’t arguments against strong policy so much as warnings of possible unintended consequences:
First, what’s the exit strategy? As Obama begins his effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, his aides told The New York Times the campaign could take three years. How will the U.S. and its allies know when they have “won”? Or will this be more like the Cold War, a decades-long ideological battle punctuated by periods of intense local combat? If so, are the American people ready for such a long and patient struggle?
Second, if Obama is serious about using U.S. military power against ISIS, why has he initially been so tentative? Militarily, a sudden, sharp attack makes more sense than a drizzle of airstrikes. There may be sound political reasons for the cautious U.S. approach, to force countries in the region to step up and make commitments themselves, but this goes against military logic.
Third, the U.S. may begin with the limited goal of helping allies fight ISIS, but what if the campaign goes badly, or it spreads more widely to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or the U.S. homeland is hit in retaliation? We may plan a restrained campaign, but the enemy gets a vote. Won’t the U.S. inevitably have to escalate if it seems to be losing?
Fourth, what about the jihadists’ safe haven in Syria? The U.S. learned in Vietnam and Afghanistan that it’s almost impossible to stop an insurgency that maintains a strong logistical base across a protected border. If the U.S. intends to strike targets in Syria eventually, how does it avoid becoming the air force of Syrian President Bashar Assad?
Fifth, isn’t America implicitly allying with Iran, no matter what the two countries may say publicly? I think the answer is yes, and that this implicit cooperation is actually one of the potentially beneficial features of the campaign. But at a time when Iranian-backed extremists in Hezbollah also threaten regional stability, this is a strange brew, indeed. What needs to be de-conflicted aren’t just the two nations’ drones, but their regional policies.
And sixth, who is going to take this fight door-to-door in the densely populated Iraqi cities of Mosul, Ramadi and Fallujah – to say nothing of Raqqa and Aleppo in Syria? The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command perfected a new kind of killing machine against Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Who will be JSOC’s successors in the battle against ISIS? I suspect that U.S. special forces will have to join this fight, too, as “advisers,” or wearing different hats as CIA covert operators.
And, finally, the hardest question: Is America walking into a trap that has been constructed by ISIS – launching attacks that will rally jihadists around the world? From everything the jihadists proclaim in their propaganda, we can sense that they have been dreaming of this showdown. This is why America needs to make sure that, with every step it takes, it is surrounded by Muslim friends and allies.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.
Face up to ISIS but Don’t Ignore Iran
Eyad Abu Shakra /Asharq AlAwsat
Friday, 12 Sep, 2014
It would be naive to think that the priorities of the current US administration are congruent with the worries of the people of the Middle East. However, realism dictates that regional states must accept that left to their own devices they are unable to change the mindset of an administration that seems to have already decided what its regional priorities are.
During the good old days we used to be innocent. We believed Washington’s slogans about freedom, and Moscow and Beijing’s slogans about the peoples’ right to self-determination. We also used to believe that when senior officials from the great powers visited the Middle East, this was part of “fact-finding” missions, as we were frequently told, in order to hope for and expect the best. However, after we matured we realized that minute details of our history as well as our present actions, even in the inner sanctuary of our homes, are kept in national archives in Western capitals.
During the Cold War period we were also led to believe the famous expression, “maintaining the strategic balance” between Israel and the Arab states. But this expression evaporated as soon as the Cold War ended and the US assumed the position of the sole “global superpower” following the collapse of the USSR, being replaced by the more truthful “maintaining Israel’s strategic supremacy.”
Today we are passing through an extremely sensitive period in Arab–Western relations, centering on the “fight against terrorism.” Incidentally, the political meaning of the term “terrorism” was first adopted by major western powers, namely the US, which was the first country to differentiate between “terrorism” meaning violence used by its enemies against it and “fighting for freedom” when similar violence is used by its allies against its enemies. Based on this premise, the US State Department made a habit of publishing an annual list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” usually including unfriendly countries like Iran.
The September 11 attacks on the US gave this premise an added dimension during the presidency of George W Bush; as Washington decided to launch its pre-emptive war on terrorism, globally targeting its sponsors and potential supporters. Dividing the world between those “with us” and those “against us,” Bush declared war on Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and pursued Al-Qaeda all over the world.
Barack Obama, who succeeded Bush in the White House, made “change” the battle cry of his election campaign. He made a commitment to his voters to end Bush’s belligerent strategy, concentrate on handling the acute economic crisis, return American troops back home, and seek peaceful settlements for international conflicts.
Most likely Obama’s intentions were honorable when he regarded Bush and his neocons’ “aggressive” policies as being harmful to America’s international standing. He may have had his heart in the right place when he embarked on world tours intended to help him understand better local and regional intricacies that his predecessor dealt with from a hawkish conservative ideological standpoint that is totally rejected by Obama, American liberals and progressives. But Obama, taking over the presidency while espousing utopian broad stances, soon found himself confronting unsavory realities.
To begin with, he discovered he was unable to prevent Israel’s right-wing from continuing its policy of settlements expansion, which not only undermined the credibility of moderate Palestinian leadership but also weakened moderation and strengthened extremism in Arab and Muslim countries.
Later on, Washington’s “academic” understanding of democracy let down its handling of the “Arab Spring,” especially with regards to the advances made by “political Islam.” Washington also failed to see the relationship between the creeping influence of sectarian-imbued Shi’ite Iran in the Arab world and the sectarian counter-reaction in the Sunni-dominated Arab and Muslim countries.
Following Obama’s inaction despite the atrocities committed by Bashar Al-Assad against the Syrian popular uprising over a period of three years, and using Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UN Security Council as an excuse for doing nothing even following Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Moscow realized it was dealing with a US administration keen to avoid becoming embroiled in any conflict whatsoever. This was all that Vladimir Putin needed to carry a big stick, as the proverb goes, in the Ukraine and annex Crimea.
Today we are witnessing an unprecedented US action promised by Obama as reaction to atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq. Washington is now busy building a broad coalition to confront ISIS, and expects Arab and Muslim governments to take an active part in fighting this extremist takfirist group.
Such a policy is correct in light of what ISIS is perpetrating, and what its foreign fighters may do if and when they return to their countries of origin from Iraq and Syria. I expect Washington to succeed in its endeavors, particularly as it is viewed as a real global superpower. I also expect Washington to be able to win the support of both Moscow and Tehran—both of whom raised the alarm about the takfirist threat while they were simultaneously attempting to cover up Assad’s brutal crimes against his own people. The Russians and Iranians have had their respective problems with Sunni “political Islam” in their own territories: Russia fighting its followers in Chechnya, and Iran regarding it as an enemy of its velayat-e faqih-inspired expansionist policies.
In his approach to the war against ISIS, President Obama has been keen that this is not depicted as a defense of the pro-Tehran regimes of Iraq and Syria. Indeed, he openly declared that “Assad is not and cannot be a partner” in the proposed war. Following this, Washington put pressure to bear on new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi not to give hawkish Shi’ite militia leader Hadi Al-Ameri any security portfolio in his cabinet. This came after Washington accused Abadi’s predecessor, Nuri Al-Maliki, of putting forward sectarian policies that alienated the Sunnis and created a suitable atmosphere for ISIS and other extremist Sunni groups to gain ground and sympathizers.
However, what is needed most today is for Washington to underline its negative stances towards Assad, Maliki and Ameri by adopting a practical and responsible strategy against the regional power that supports, controls and commands these figures, not forgetting its tentacles in Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region.
Confronting ISIS must be built on removing the cause of, or the excuse for, its existence. This means confronting Iran’s hegemonic regional strategy that has been playing the “alliance of minorities” card. Tehran is claiming to want to protect these minorities out of some kind of sense of altruism, rather than for Tehran to secure its place as Washington’s new regional ally.
Iraq’s new cabinet is a club of egos
Amir Taheri /Asharq AlAwsat
Friday, 12 Sep, 2014
The good news is that Iraqis have succeeded in forming a new government in a much shorter time than they have been used to since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The bad news is that the new government, headed by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, looks more like a club of egos than an action group designed to deal with Iraq’s many problems.
While one may be prepared to give the new government the benefit of the doubt, it would be unwise to ignore its fundamental weaknesses.
The cabinet’s biggest weakness centers around its very design.
Abadi’s cabinet is primarily designed to do two things: to make rival Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions happy, and to give the big elephants of post-Saddam Iraqi politics seats at the high table. As a result of this second consideration Iraq now has a world record number of vice-presidents and deputy premiers, not to mention the dozen or so other unemployed politicians who are lining up to secure positions as “assistants” to the prime minister.
What Iraq needed, and still needs, is a government of national unity cutting across partisan divisions and focusing on two urgent problems: defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and rebuilding the nation’s shattered law and order infrastructure.
However, it is precisely those two key goals that remain unfulfilled because Abadi has failed to name either a defense or interior minister. He has ministers for everything else, including culture, the environment, and even planning, but cannot find anybody to reorganize the armed forces and restore the authority of the state across the nation’s 19 governorates.
The cabinet’s second weakness is that it was conceived on the basis of tactical considerations, not to say callous horse-trading, rather than the strategic needs of the war-torn nation. Abadi has built a machine, promising that he will tell us, and the Iraqi parliament, what that machine is supposed to do later.
The third weakness is that at the very best, of the 30 people who form the new administration—including the vice-presidents—at least half have been spending more time outside Iraq than at home. Several of them have homes in Amman, Tehran, Istanbul and London, among other places, commuting to Baghdad just once or twice a year.
Even of those who spend time in Iraq, many keep their families abroad. However, once a politician has two homes, one of the two is bound to fade away. An Iraqi politician must live in Baghdad, Mosul, Erbil, Basra or anywhere else inside Iraq. In other words, Iraq must be directly relevant to his life, and the life of his family.
The fourth weakness of the new cabinet is that it provides little scope for a new generation of post-liberation homegrown Iraqi politicians to claim a share of power. There are too many former exiles in this cabinet, not enough local men and women with organic links to their neighborhoods.
The fifth weakness is the importance that has been given to satisfying foreign powers rather than devising a new foreign policy aimed at the restoration of Iraq’s position as a contributor to regional peace and stability. As a result, the cabinet includes individuals who might make Americans, Arab powers and Iranians happy but might not always have Iraq’s best interests in mind.
The result is that we have a coalition of foreign powers within a coalition of domestic factions. Worse still, there are even factions within domestic factions, as the Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds are not even able to agree on common strategies for their respective communities. Threads from too many spools have come together to create an unholy tangle.
There are, of course, some good men and genuine patriots in the new administration. However there is no point in naming them as we have not named those about whom one might have serious reservations.
Though a disappointment, the new cabinet deserves to be given a chance.
It should identify its priorities, win support for them in parliament, and across the country at large, and focus on achieving them.
The top priority should be flushing ISIS out of the two or three provinces where it has set up shop. This requires Iraq to be in the driving seat rather than acting as sidekick to US or other foreign powers. To claim such a position, Iraqis must find ways of getting their act together beyond the Arab–Kurdish dichotomy, largely irrelevant under the circumstances. Iraq’s disintegration would put an end to whatever independence dreams some Kurdish leaders might entertain.
At the same time pan-Arabists must realize that the time when Kurds could be treated as second-class citizens is over. Post-Saddam Iraq can rebuild its unity only through diversity rather than uniformity imposed by terror.
However, it is still possible to be optimistic about Iraq for two reasons.
The first is that, despite years of effort by some, the machinery of repression, broken with Saddam’s fall, has not been revived. In Iraq today, power is not concentrated in a few hands. The weakness of governmental authorities, in Baghdad and at provincial levels, means a corresponding increase in the strength of civil society.
Though successive administrations tried to bribe or brow-beat their critics, Iraq’s new media remain diverse enough to prevent the imposition of a single narrative.
Another reason for hope is the diversity of the new Iraqi parliament, which includes some younger politicians who wish to see their nation move away from a system of terror and corruption as fast as possible.
Finally, one may also hope that the new president, a non-factitious figure, will use his position as a bully pulpit to speak in the name of Iraq as a whole.