April 23/15

Bible Quotation For Today/No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day
John 06/41-47: "Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, "I have come down from heaven"?’Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, "And they shall all be taught by God." Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

Bible Quotation For Today/Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin.
First Letter of Peter 04/01-11: "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.
You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.
But they will have to give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 22-23/15
Border wars will determine Assad’s fate/Michael Young/The Daily/April 23/15
Obama strives to engage both Iran and Saudi Arabia/David Ignatius/The Daily Star/April 23/15

Inside the Mind of a Jihadist/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/April 22/15
Is U.S. Israel's Ally "When It Matters"?/Shoshana Bryen/Gatestone Institute/April 22/15
Operation ‘Restoring Hope’ and securing Yemen’s future/Andrew Bowen/Al Arabiya/April 22/15
Saudi Arabia's 'Inexperienced Youngster'/Simon Henderson/Washington Institute/April 22/15
Decisive Storm restores hope to Yemen’s people/Salman Aldosary/Asharq Alawsat/April 22/15
All the crazies are targeting Saudi Arabia/Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat/April 22/15

Lebanese Related News published on April 22-23/15
Presidential Elections Postponed to May 13
Bassil Warns of Plan to Keep Syrian Refugees Permanently in Lebanon
Berri Threatens to Dissolve Parliament over Upcoming Session Dilemma
New Traffic Law Takes Effect as Basbous Says it Aims to 'End Road Tragedies'
March 14 to urge LF to attend next Parliament session
Rai to seek French help in ending vacuum 
 Al-Rahi from Armenia: Lebanese United despite Political Rift
Asiri Says Saudi Arabia Safeguarding Legitimate Institutions, Stability in Lebanon
Arrest Warrants Issued against Bilal, Omar Miqati for Belonging to ISIL
Report: Change and Reform Ministers Will Not Resign over Security Appointments Dispute
Hariri Meets Kerry, Says Trying to Spare Lebanon Impact of Dispute with Hizbullah
Kerry to Hariri: Lebanon a ‘pawn’ for Hezbollah 
Hariri Kicks Off Washington Visit, to Tackle Situation in Lebanon and Region
No Al-Jadeed consensus to disclose STL witnesses 
Stormy weather returns to Lebanon 
ISIS member admits killing Lebanese soldier 
Ministers demand international aid for schools 

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 22-23/15
Arab Military Chiefs to Set Up Panel on Preparing Regional Force
Saudi Vows to Respond to Any 'Aggressive Moves' by Yemen Rebels
Talks, not demands 
Yemen ground fighting raging despite air war end
US Yemen ceasefire bid founders as Saudis resume air strikes, Iranian warships on course for Gulf of Aden
Yemen Huthis Demand Complete End to Attacks, Seek Talks amid New Raids

Yemen’s Saleh wants return to dialogue
Yemen: Decisive Storm comes to an end, Restoring Hope begins
Iran general killed in failed Deraa attack 

US: No reason to think ISIS leader wounded
French Minister Says Church Attack Foiled in Paris

Lavrov: ISIS is ‘Russia’s greatest enemy not U.S.’
Judge: Pro-Israel group can post 'Killing Jews' ads on buses

Europeans have the post Israeli-election blues 
Indian Beheaded in Saudi for Murdering Boss

Jihad Watch Latest News
NRO interviews Raymond Ibrahim on why Muslim persecution of Christians should concern Western people
A tribute by a Muslim to the “Zionist entity”
France: Muslim computer science student and his sister plotted jihad mass murder attacks against churches
Qur’an-shaped cake has Turks irked, say bakers should have shirked
Circumstantial Evidence
SC Muslim teen, Islamic State supporter, plotted to murder U.S. soldiers

Presidential Elections Postponed to May 13
Naharnet/The presidential elections were postponed once again after parliament failed for the 22nd time to meet the required quorum to hold the polls. Speaker Nabih Berri postponed the elections to May 13. MTV reported that 44 lawmakers were present at the session. Lebanon has been without a president since May when the term of Michel Suleiman ended without the election of a successor. Ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps over a compromise presidential candidate have thwarted the polls. The Loyalty to the Resistance bloc of Hizbullah and the Change and Reform bloc of Michel Aoun have been boycotting the elections.

 Berri Threatens to Dissolve Parliament over Upcoming Session Dilemma
Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri warned on Wednesday of dissolving the parliament if lawmakers abstained from attending any session that he calls for without having a valid excuse. Berri lashed out at Kataeb and Free Patriotic Movement MPs, stressing that if “a key component didn't attend the sessions, then he will postpone them.” “If they insist on paralyzing the parliament, then I will call for dissolving it, in accordance with my jurisdiction,” Berri said in comments published in local newspapers. He pointed out that as soon as a new president is elected, then he will call on the cabinet to dissolve the parliament according to the Constitution. Vacuum striking the presidential post is having a tough impact on the cabinet and the parliament as the state is threatened with further crises over ongoing rows between the rival parties. Berri is seeking to call for a session to approve urgent issues, including the wage scale for the public sector and the food safety draft-law. Parliament convenes twice a year in two ordinary sessions -- the first starts mid-March until the end of May and the second from the middle of October through the end of December. On Monday, deputy Speaker Farid Makari said that the majority of the representatives of the parliamentary blocs agreed to attend the upcoming legislative session.

Report: Change and Reform Ministers Will Not Resign over Security Appointments Dispute
Naharnet/The ministers of the Change and Reform bloc will not resign from cabinet over the dispute on the security appointments, reported As Safir newspaper on Wednesday. Sources from Rabieh explained that bloc chief MP Michel Aoun is not willing to “relinquish the positions in cabinet in favor for others.”“The response to the extension of the terms of security officials, should it happen, will take place from an unexpected place,” they added. The response will be revealed before June 5, they said. The Change and Reform bloc is represented at cabinet by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Education Minister Elias Bou Saab. Aoun is pushing the case of security appointments to be discussed at cabinet before June 5 on the basis that there is a chance to find a replacement to Internal Security Forces chief Ibrahim Basbous, said As Safir. There will also be enough time to find a replacement to Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji, whose term ends in September. Basbous is expected to retire in June. The military positions in Lebanon are suffering as a result of the months-long presidential vacuum in light of the parliament's failure to elect a successor to Michel Suleiman. Media reports had said that Aoun is seeking political consensus on the appointment of his son-in-law Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz as army chief as part of a package for the appointment of other top security officers. Roukoz's tenure ends in October 2015. Aoun has denied that he had made such a proposal.

Hariri Kicks Off Washington Visit, to Tackle Situation in Lebanon and Region
Naharnet /Al-Mustaqbal Movement leader and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri kicked off a visit to Washington to tackle the latest developments in the region and the world. The state-run National News Agency reported on Wednesday that Hariri kick-started his meetings with congressmen from Lebanese origin. California Congressman Darrell Issa, who is Lebanese-American, told the radio station that Hariri stressed after the meeting the importance of resolving the presidential stalemate, which is a priority. “It constitutes a glimmer of hope,” Issa said. MPs failed on several occasions to elect a new head of state over lack of quorum. President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May without the election of a successor. Hizbullah and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc have been boycotting electoral sessions due to a disagreement with the March 14 camp over a compromise presidential candidate. Issa pointed out that Hariri briefed the congressmen on the needs of the Lebanese security forces and the challenges that the country is facing due to the Syrian refugees crisis. Lebanon is hosting around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, an enormous strain for a country with a population of just four million. The UNHCR has regularly urged the international community to provide Lebanon with greater assistance to tackle the influx. Hariri is expected to meet senior U.S. officials during his visit to Washington, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Sources close to the Lebanese official told al-Joumhouria newspaper that Hariri's visit is to inspect the U.S. stance from the turmoils in the region and their repercussion on Lebanon. On Monday, Hariri held talks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz at the al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh ahead of his visit to Washington. During the meeting, Hariri thanked the monarch for “the kingdom's keenness on Lebanon's security and stability as well as its support for the Lebanese army in terms of boosting its preparedness and strength so that it can confront terror and defend Lebanon's borders,” the ex-PM's office said in a statement. Lebanon received earlier this week the first shipment of the $3 billion worth of French arms under a Saudi-financed deal to boost the country's defensive capabilities.

March 14 to urge LF to attend next Parliament session
Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/Apr. 23, 2015
BEIRUT: March 14 lawmakers will intensify efforts to convince the Lebanese Forces Party to take part in a legislative session before the end of Parliament’s regular term, sources from the coalition said Wednesday. Speaker Nabih Berri has expressed his irritation with the decision of major Christian parties to boycott the upcoming legislative session. Speaking to The Daily Star, the sources said that March 14 MPs were trying to persuade the LF to rethink its decision to boycott the session by including the 2015 draft budget on the agenda.
Sources said that the attempt was aimed at securing the holding of a legislative session before the expiration of Parliament’s regular term at the end of May. Out of respect for Lebanon’s National Pact, which dictates its confessional power sharing system, Speaker Nabih Berri will not chair a Parliament session that is boycotted by all the Christian parties who have significant representation. Three powerful Christian blocs, the Kataeb Party, MP Michel Aoun’s bloc and the LF, have announced they will boycott the legislative session.
The Kataeb Party opposes any legislative session before the election of a new president, while the LF and Aoun’s bloc maintain that the draft laws on the session’s agenda do not fall under the category of ‘necessary legislation’ which is all they will support in the absence of a president. Berri expressed his frustration at Parliament’s paralysis, as a number of pressing draft laws await approval.
“Halting the legislative activity and paralyzing Parliament is unacceptable, knowing that the draft laws to be included on the agenda of the session are important and non-contentious,” Berri reportedly told lawmakers Wednesday during his weekly meeting with MPs at his Ain al-Tineh residence. In earlier remarks, Berri warned that he would ask the new president to call on the government to dissolve Parliament if lawmakers continued to boycott sessions. Parliamentary sources said that convincing the LF to participate in the session is also aimed at isolating Aoun’s bloc. LF MP George Adwan said his group would only attend a Parliament session to pass necessary draft laws, which he said should include the 2015 draft budget and a new election law. “We are ready for necessary legislating, which should start with two draft laws: the draft budget including figures from the [public sector] salary scale, and the election law,” Adwan said at a news conference in Parliament.
“Legally and financially speaking, excluding the cost of the salary scale from the draft budget is a constitutional heresy,” he added. “The fact that the budget is comprehensive requires that it should include all expenses and revenues. I am surprised how someone can talk about excluding something costing around LL2 trillion from the draft budget. How can we understand how much the deficit is, if this amount is spent outside the budget?” Adwan asked. Integrating the salary scale’s figures into the 2015 draft budget is a divisive issue – Aoun’s bloc and the Kataeb Party both oppose the move. The dispute has prevented the government from approving the draft budget twice over the past week. Teachers and public sector employees have been demanding that Parliament approve the salary scale for the last three years, and will strike Thursday to protest its repeated delay. Adwan said excluding the draft election law from the agenda of the upcoming legislative session indicated a willingness to continue to apply the current election law, known as the 1960 law. “Elections under the 1960 law will deprive a significant number of the Lebanese from appropriate representation,” he claimed. Future bloc MP Ghazi Youssef, who also spoke at the news conference, said his group backed including the salary scale figures in the budget. “The draft budget forecasts the expenses and revenues stipulated by the government. So if we want to forecast salary scale figures, we should include them in the draft budget,” Youssef said. The lawmaker voiced his surprise that some political parties are calling for the separation of the draft budget and salary scale figures when they supported their integration during parliamentary committee meetings.  Adwan’s stance on the issue appeared to soften after a meeting with Youssef, Future bloc head Fouad Siniora and MP Marwan Hamade from Walid Jumblatt’s bloc.Speaking after the meeting, Adwan said that an agreement had been reached on attending the Parliament session, provided the government referred to the legislature a budget including the salary scale figures. Siniora highlighted the need for Parliament to resume its legislating activity. “The presidency in Lebanon has been hijacked, the government is being shaken every day, and we are left with Parliament, which should give the civilized image that it is working,” Siniora said. Berri postponed Wednesday’s Parliament session to elect a president until May 13, after the legislature failed to elect a head of the state for the 22nd time for the lack of quorum.

Rai to seek French help in ending presidential vacuum
Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star/Apr. 23, 2015
BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai is expected to seek France’s help during his visit to Paris next week in accelerating the election of a Lebanese president, political sources said Wednesday, in the latest attempt by the influential Maronite Church to end the 11-month-old vacuum in the country’s top Christian post. Rai arrived in Armenia Tuesday to attend a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. He is scheduled to visit Paris on April 27 and meet French President Francois Hollande for talks centering on Parliament’s repeated failure to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25, the sources said.
During a meeting to be held at the Elysee Palace next Monday, Rai is expected to hand Hollande a memorandum highlighting Lebanon’s role as “a cultural value, an ideal formula [for sectarian coexistence] and a place for a dialogue of cultures and religions,” according to the sources. The memo stresses that Lebanon is poised to serve as “an international center for a dialogue of faiths in the region because it is the only democratic state in the Levant that has a model pluralistic system” which has been inspired by several Arab states.
The memo also seeks France’s help in speeding up the election of a president now that the vacuum in Lebanon’s highest Christian post has nearly reached a year, the sources said. The memo voices concern over the repercussions of the presidential vacuum on the country’s security and political and economic stability, especially since the vacuum is threatening the current political system, given the erosion besetting state institutions. Parliament failed Wednesday in the 22nd abortive attempt since April 2014 to elect a president over a lack of quorum, prompting Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone the session until May 13. In addition to handing him the memo, Rai will discuss with Hollande the Lebanese political crisis, with the presidential vacancy being at the core of the talks, as well as the historic relations between France and the Maronite Church and ways of expanding them, the sources said. They added that Rai and Hollande would also discuss the shipments of French weapons to the Lebanese Army and security forces funded by a $4 billion Saudi grant to help them in the battle against terrorism.
The patriarch will reiterate his stance calling on the Lebanese to stand behind the Army in the battle to reassert Lebanon’s sovereignty, stressing that the military is the only institution around which the Lebanese of various trends and affiliations rally, the sources said. During his visit to France, Rai is scheduled to deliver a speech on the role of the Christians in the Levant at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. He will also attend a ceremony honoring former deputy premier Issam Fares and confer on him a Vatican medal.
Rai Sunday will inaugurate the recently built headquarters of the Maronite Archdiocese in Paris in the presence of the bishop for France and Europe Nasser Gemayel and a large number of Lebanese expatriates in France. He will also open a Lebanese Christian diaspora office in a suburb of Paris and announce the establishment of the Maronite House in the French town of Modon. Before returning to Beirut Tuesday, Rai is expected hold a news conference in Paris to talk about the results of his visits to Armenia and France and outline his position on Lebanese and regional developments.

Al-Rahi from Armenia: Lebanese United despite Political Rift
Naharnet/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi stressed on Wednesday that the Lebanese rivals are united concerning the necessity to safeguard the country's coexistence and diversity, considering that the Christian martyrs increased the power of the Church and helped in spreading the religion. “Lebanon is passing through a delicate situation... and despite the rift, the Lebanese are united regarding the importance of protecting coexistence, diversity and the country's openness,” al-Rahi said from Armenia, where he traveled to attend the centenary commemoration of the Armenian genocide.He considered that the “world admires Lebanon and its people.”“Lebanon is a wonderful and integrated mosaic that no component in it could be sacrificed... which constituted its value,” al-Rahi said. He called on politicians to bridge the gap and defuse tension and disputes. “Muslims and Christians should rebuild a civil and democratic state based on equality, respect of human rights and freedom,” al-Rahi said. The patriarch is expected to head to France after his four-day visit to Armenia. In Paris, al-Rahi will inaugurate Europe's Maronite Diocese in the town of Meudon in the French capital's suburbs. He will reportedly meet with French President Francois Hollande with the presidential stalemate topping the agenda of the talks. Vacuum striking the presidential post since May is having a tough impact on the cabinet and the parliament as the state is threatened with further crises over ongoing rows between the rival parties. Al-Rahi hailed from Armenia the “faithfulness of Armenians to Lebanon.”“Taking part in a mass to a commemorate the Armenian genocide is an important event for us in the Middle East,” he said. Armenians in Armenia and the diaspora, including Lebanon, will on April 24 mark the 100th anniversary of the start of a campaign of genocide by Ottoman forces in World War I to wipe them out of Anatolia. Turkey on Monday sought to reach out to Armenians, saying it shared their pain and wanted to heal the wounds of the past. In his conciliatory message, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stopped well short of recognizing the killings as a genocide -- as Armenians want -- but explicitly referred to deadly deportations of "Ottoman Armenians.” Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Asiri Says Saudi Arabia Safeguarding Legitimate Institutions, Stability in Lebanon
Naharnet /Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awadh Asiri stressed on Wednesday that his country's decision to boost the capabilities of the Lebanese army is to protect the country's legitimate institutions and safeguard its independence and stability. “The grant comes in light of the enormous challenges confronting the Lebanese army,” Asiri said in an interview with the news channel France 24 , describing the decision of Saudi Arabia as “wise.” The aid reflects Riyadh's sincere emotions towards Lebanon and reaffirms the continuation of the bilateral ties between the two countries, the ambassador pointed out. He denied that the grant “targets any particular side,” stressing that it is offered to the Lebanese army, which is formed of soldiers from different sects. On Monday, Lebanon received the first shipment of $3 billion worth of French arms under a Saudi-financed deal to boost the country's defensive capabilities to combat terror threats, along its northeastern border in particular. Lebanon's allies are seeking to bolster the country's defenses against the Islamic State group and other jihadists pressing along its Syrian border. In August, the kingdom also offered another $1 billion in funds to allow the army to purchase supplies immediately. Asked about the latest verbal spat with Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah over the Saudi-led coalition offensive in Yemen, Asiri expressed regret over “the tense speech delivered” by the party chief. “The speech doesn't serve Lebanon's interests and its bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia,” the ambassador noted. He lashed out at the Islamic Republic of Iran, considering it behind sectarianism in the region. Tensions recently flared between the Mustaqbal Movement and Hizbullah over Saudi Arabia's military operation against Yemen. The former has backed the campaign, while the latter has slammed it as blatant interference in the country's affairs. A war of words soon ensued between the two sides, with movement chief MP Saad Hariri declaring Saudi Arabia's right to defend Arab interests against Iran, while Nasrallah vowed that the kingdom will suffer a defeat in its mission.

Arrest Warrants Issued against Bilal, Omar Miqati for Belonging to ISIL
Naharnet/Arrest warrants were issued on Wednesday against detainees Bilal and Omar Miqati for belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group, reported the National News Agency. It said that Military Tribunal Judge Imad al-Zein issued the warrants after interrogating them over their terrorist links. Bilal also confessed to executing serviceman Ali al-Sayyed, said NNA. Earlier in April, the detainees were charged with belonging to ISIL in order to carry out terrorist attacks. They were also charged with fighting the army in the northeastern border town of Arsal in August. The suspects were arrested by the Lebanese army on March 24 near a checkpoint in the eastern town of Hrabta. If convicted, the suspects could face the death penalty. Sayyed and a number of other serviceman were abducted from Arsal in the wake of the clashes between the army and jihadist groups. Three other hostages were also executed, while the rest are still being held. Later on Wednesday, Zein issued arrest warrants against detainees Nabil al-Siddiq and Ali Ayyoub on terrorism charges. Siddiq, a Syrian also known as Abi Sayyaf, and Ayyoub were charged on April 15 with belonging to ISIL and forming cells for the aim of carrying out terrorist attacks. These cells were also trained to carry out assassinations and combating the Lebanese army during its clashes with extremists in Arsal in August. Their case was referred to the military general prosecution.

Bassil Warns of Plan to Keep Syrian Refugees Permanently in Lebanon
Naharnet /Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil remarked on Wednesday that the case of Syrian refugees is the greatest crisis modern Lebanon is facing. He said during a conference on education held at Phoenicia Hotel: “There is a real plan to keep displaced Syrians in Lebanon, which we should confront, as they should not be turned into permanent refugees.”“The international community is responsible for the suffering of the Syrian children because it failed to resolve their country's crisis,” he noted. “The Lebanese state is also responsible because it has not differentiated between the real war refugee and an economic refugee,” added the minister. “The government's policy towards Syrian refugees has threatened civil peace and national harmony,” Bassil stated. “Why doesn't the international community eliminate Lebanon's foreign debt if it wants to help the refugees in the country?” he wondered. There are more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Well over half of them are living in insecure dwellings – up from a third last year. The country has struggled to cope with their burden since the eruption of the Syrian conflict in March 2011.

French Minister Says Church Attack Foiled in Paris
Naharnet/An IT student allegedly planning a church attack in France has been arrested, the country's interior minister said Wednesday, just over three months after Paris was hit by a jihadist killing spree. In a baffling series of events, the 24-year-old Franco-Algerian -- known to intelligence services for wanting to fight in Syria alongside jihadists -- was detained Sunday in Paris after he himself called police over a bullet injury to his leg. "Several war weapons, hand guns, ammunition, bullet-proof vests and computer and telephone hardware" were subsequently found at his home and in his car, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters. His DNA was later found in the car of a young mother from northern France who died in mysterious circumstances over the weekend near Paris. Cazeneuve told reporters that apart from the weapons, police had also discovered detailed research "clearly establishing that the person was planning to commit an imminent attack against one or two churches". "Sunday morning, this attack was foiled."The arrest comes more than three months after Islamic extremists went on a three-day killing spree in and around Paris, leaving 17 people dead. The January 7-9 attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine, a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket sent shockwaves around the world, and prompted several reforms in France including controversial new spy laws that are currently being debated in parliament. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls reiterated government warnings that the country was facing an "unprecedented terrorist threat".
"Terrorists are targeting France to divide us and our response must of course be to protect citizens but also to rally together, unite and to be hugely determined faced with this terrorist threat," he said on French television.
The attack was foiled by chance after the suspect called police on Sunday morning, saying he was injured, according to police sources, who asked to remain anonymous.
They found him with a bullet in the leg, and he described being wounded during a settling of scores.Investigators do not exclude that he may have injured himself. They followed traces of blood left by the suspect and found his car, where they discovered part of the "arsenal" described by Cazeneuve. Then they searched his home in southeast Paris and found the incriminating research on his computer. Several members of his entourage and family have since been detained, some of whom sympathize with radical Islam, the sources said.
During their investigations, police then discovered the suspect's DNA in the car of Aurelie Chatelain, an unemployed dance enthusiast, who was found dead over the weekend in Villejuif near Paris -- the town where the churches were targeted, according to a police source.
But the suspect's alleged link to the death was not clear.
Chatelain's body was discovered on Sunday morning in her car. She had been shot three times. The 32-year-old mother had just come to the area from northern France to take a pilates training course and had written of how happy she was to be there on her Facebook page on Saturday evening. Some nine hours later, her body was discovered by passers-by as smoke poured out of the car from an overheating laptop. A judicial source told AFP Sunday that investigators were open to all possibilities.
But Chatelain's distraught father, Jean-Luc, told AFP Monday that the mother of five-year-old Juliette had no enemies. "The father of the little girl... and my daughter have been separated for several years but they got along fine," he said. Cazeneuve promised Wednesday that the probe would determine why Chatelain was killed, and reiterated that the country was faced with an "unprecedented terrorist threat". Hundreds of French nationals have left France to join jihadist ranks in Iraq and Syria, where they represent almost half the number of European fighters present, according to a report released this month by the upper house Senate. Authorities are concerned that these nationals will come back and commit attacks on home turf. SourceAgence France Presse

New Traffic Law Takes Effect as Basbous Says it Aims to 'End Road Tragedies'
Naharnet /A new traffic law has taken effect on Wednesday despite concerns among the people over the high fines against violations. Internal Security Forces chief Ibrahim Basbous sought to appease fears by stressing that the law is aimed “ending the tragedies on the road and ensuring the safety of the people,” reported the daily An Nahar on Wednesday. “It is the beginning, not the end,” he declared, while explaining that it will be adopted in phases that will take around two months to be completely in effect. Awareness campaigns will be carried out during this period to shed light on the law in order to ease the people's concerns. “They should adhere to the law out of their convictions, not fear, because it protects them,” Basbous explained. “Our goal is not to issue fines, but successfully respect the law,” he stressed. “The members of the ISF are working tirelessly to implement all laws,” he added. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq hoped to al-Mustaqbal daily that the people will respect the law “out of their faith in the state.” “It was adopted to save their lives, not raise taxes,” he remarked. The controversial law, which angered Lebanese citizens due to the high fines, is set to target major traffic offenses. It was adopted by the parliament in 2012. NGOs had hoped that the implementation of the new law would reduce the soaring traffic accidents across the country. According to YASA, more than 840 people are killed in road accidents every year and more than ten thousand are injured.

Yemen Huthis Demand Complete End to Attacks, Seek Talks amid New Raids
Naharnet/Shiite rebels in Yemen on Wednesday demanded a complete end to attacks by a Saudi-led coalition as a condition for U.N.-sponsored talks, a day after the alliance declared an end to the first phase of its operations. "We demand, after a complete end to the aggression against Yemen and the lifting of the blockade, to resume political dialogue... under the sponsorship of the United Nations," Mohammed Abdulsalam, the spokesman for the Huthi rebels, said in a statement. Saudi-led warplanes launched new strikes Wednesday on rebel positions in Yemen's third city Taez after the coalition had warned it stood ready to counter any advance by the rebels and their allies.  The Huthi rebels' spokesman praised the United Nations' "positive efforts and its declared support for national dialogue."
His remarks came despite the U.N. Security Council's adoption last week of a resolution that slapped sanctions on the rebels and demanded they immediately withdraw from territory seized. The U.N. had sponsored a Gulf-brokered peace deal that eased former president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in February 2012, ending a year of nationwide bloody protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule. But the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, resigned last week after he lost Gulf countries' support, according to diplomats.
Meanwhile, ground fighting between the rebels and forces loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi raged on in a string of battleground towns, including the second city of Aden as well as Taez, in a blow to U.S.-led calls for renewed peace talks.
In Taez, the rebels took advantage of the lull in air strikes to overrun the headquarters of the 35th Armoured Brigade, loyal to Hadi, which they had besieged for nearly a week, an army officer said. The Saudi-led coalition hit back with air strikes against rebel positions inside the captured camp and elsewhere in the city. The fighting left "dozens dead and wounded", the officer told AFP.
The World Health Organization says at least 944 people have been killed in Yemen since March 19 and there were calls from all sides for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid. Riyadh said the strikes, which it launched on March 26 as the rebels closed in on Hadi's last refuge in Aden, had succeeded in eliminating the threat posed to Saudi Arabia and its neighbours by the rebels' air and missile capabilities. But rebel forces remain in control of the capital Sanaa and swathes of the country and Hadi is still in exile in Riyadh, where he fled when the raids began. The coalition said its operations would now enter a political phase with the focus on the resumption of talks, aid deliveries and "fighting terrorism".
- Qaida threat -
Al-Qaida's Yemen branch, regarded by Washington as its most dangerous, has taken advantage of the air war and ground fighting between the rebels and Hadi loyalists to consolidate its grip on Hadramawt province in the southeast. Seven suspected al-Qaida militants were killed in an apparent U.S. drone strike on the provincial capital Mukalla, which the jihadists overran earlier this month, witnesses and a local official said. U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter has acknowledged that al-Qaida is gaining ground but has vowed that the longstanding U.S. drone war will go on. Washington welcomed the end of the Saudi-led air campaign to which it had given intelligence and logistical support. "The United States welcomes today's announcement by the government of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners of the conclusion of Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen," National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey told AFP. "We continue to support the resumption of a UN-facilitated political process and the facilitation of humanitarian assistance."
- Talks calls -
U.N.-brokered talks between the warring parties broke down in February when Hadi fled to Aden after the Huthis seized power in the capital. Hadi's ousted predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has provided key support to the Shiite rebels, said he hoped the halt to the air war would lead to a return to dialogue. "We hope that everyone will cooperate to return to dialogue, to find solutions other than placing losing bets that are wrong and costly," he said. Army units which remained loyal to Saleh after his ouster in 2012 following a bloody year-long uprising have provided crucial support to the rebels in their advance across much of the country. In an apparent goodwill gesture, the rebels freed three top commanders -- including the defense minister and a brother of Hadi -- whom it had captured during the fighting over the past month, mediators said.  Iran offered its help in bringing the sides back to the negotiating table. "Positive developments in Yemen should be followed by urgent humanitarian assistance, intra-Yemeni dialogue and broad-based govt. Ready to help," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted from New York. In a televised speech from his refuge in Riyadh, Hadi thanked the coalition for its support and refused to give up hope of returning from exile. "We will soon return to our homeland, to Aden and Sanaa," he said.
He called on all sides to work to implement a resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council last week which imposed an arms embargo on the rebels but "which paves the way for positive and effective dialogue."
Agence France Presse

US Yemen ceasefire bid founders as Saudis resume air strikes, Iranian warships on course for Gulf of Aden

DEBKAfile Special Report April 22, 2015
Just hours after halting military operations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia Wednesday, April 22 resumed its air strikes, bombing pro-Iranian Houthi rebel positions southwest of Taiz, after they seized a brigade base from forces loyal to fugitive President Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. debkafile’s military sources report that the Saudi-led coalition went back on a promise published Tuesday to shift its focus from military action to peace talks after Houthi rebels opted out of the ceasefire the Obama administration was trying to broker between Riyadh and Tehran. Tehran further refrained from ordering its warships to turn around and told them to stay on course for the Gulf of Aden opposite Yemen.
debkafile reported earlier Wednesday:
Wide overnight predictions of a Yemen ceasefire coming out of US mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia were unfulfilled by Wednesday, April 22. All that happened was Saudi Arabia’s termination of its air strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels – but not its sea and air blockade of the country. The rebels made it clear that for them, the war goes on. From Washington, US President Barack Obama warned Tehran against delivering weapons to Yemen that could be used to threaten shipping traffic in the region. Speaking in a televised interview on MSNBC's "Hardball,” the president said: "What we've said to them is that 'if there are weapons delivered to factions within Yemen that could threaten navigation, that's a problem.'”
He was referring to the Iranian buildup of nine vessels, some carrying weapons, and warning that US warships were deploying to defend international navigation in the Gulf of Aden and the strategic Strait of Bab el-Mandeb off the shores of Yemen.
debkafile reported earlier::
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdolllahian said Tuesday night, April 21, that Tehran is optimistic that ‘in the coming hours we shall see a halt to military attacks in Yemen.”
He did not say whether the Saudi Arabia had accepted a ceasefire after three weeks of air strikes, or its targets, the Houthi rebels and their Yemeni army allies – or both. Their acceptance would terminate the Yemen civil war.
Earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest tried to play down the danger of a collision between a US naval strike force led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier and an Iranian naval convoy believed to be carrying arms for the Houthis. Both were due to arrive in the Gulf of Aden opposite the Yemeni shore. Earnest said the US fleet’s mission was “to ensure the free flow of commerce” i.e. the freedom of navigation through the Gulf of Aden and Strait of Bab El-Mandeb.
He did not repeat an earlier statement by US defense officials that The Roosevelt carrier, the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy and other accompanying warships had been sent to pre-empt any attempt by the Iranian vessels to unload weapons for the Houthis - in violation of a UN Security Council resolution.
Pentagon officials said an Iranian convoy of nine cargo ships had reached international waters in the Gulf of Aden, but that to their knowledge, the US and Iranian ships had not yet seen each other or made any contact.
The tone coming from the White House towards the end of the day was that the US naval buildup opposite Yemen was intended to give diplomacy a military boost, rather than confront the Iranian fleet.
Reports from Riyadh likewise pointed to active diplomacy afoot for ending the violence in Yemen.
A statement read out on Saudi-owned Arabiya TV announced the end of the kingdom’s military operation against the Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen. “The alliance had achieved its goals in Yemen through the “Storm of Resolve” campaign and would now begin a new operation called “Restoring Hope.”
This operation, the statement said, would focus on security at home and counter-terrorism, aid and a political solution in Yemen. At the same time, debkafile’s Gulf sources report the same TV channel carried the opposite message from Riyadh:
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Abdulaziz has ordered the Kingdom’s National Guard to join the military campaign in Yemen, said another communique. Minister of the Saudi National Guard Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah said his forces are on high alert and are ready to take part in Operation Storm of Resolve, a Saudi-led coalition of 10 states battling the advance of the Iran-backed rebels. The Saudi National Guard is a strong armed force, superior to and better equipped than the Saudi national army. It would provide a solid increment for the Saudi air strikes in Yemen. Behind this cloud of apparent contradictions hovering over the Yemen conflict Tuesday, is an Obama administration bid to broker the contest between Saudi Arabia and Yemen and bring about a ceasefire. The various parties are meanwhile jockeying for advantageous positions without surrendering their options. If the bid is successful, a truce may be announced in the Yemen war in the coming hours, but it is still hanging fire.

Saudi-led campaign against Yemen rebels enters new phase
Ynetnews /Associated Press, Reuters/April 22/15/Spokesman says airstrikes by coalition of Sunni Arab Gulf nations have achieved objectives of current campaign and focus will now turn to rebuilding. A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition targeting rebels in Yemen said Tuesday that the so-called "Decisive Storm" campaign is over, but that allies will launch a new phase aimed at preventing the rebels from operating. Speaking at a news conference in Riyadh on Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said the objectives of the campaign have been met and that it would cease at midnight. He said the rebels no longer pose a danger to civilians and that the new phase, called "Renewal of Hope" would focus on rebuilding the country while interdicting the rebels. "The coalition will continue to prevent the movement of Houthi militias from moving or undertaking any operations inside Yemen," Asiri told reporters. "To implement this we will continue to have our operation," he said. "Inside a city like Aden we will continue to protect civilians to prevent these militias from sustaining their operations," he said, referring to the southern port city which has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks. The announcement suggests military action by the Sunni Muslim states against the Iran-allied rebels may continue despite the announcement earlier of an end to the almost month-long military campaign. Asiri did not rule out future airstrikes against the Houthi rebels. In remarks Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the airstrikes in Yemen were prompted by the Sunni kingdom's failures elsewhere, causing what he called a "mental imbalance."Speaking to reporters before heading to Indonesia, Rouhani mocked Saudi Arabia by calling it a country with dashed dreams in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. "All the failures have accumulated and caused mental and emotional imbalance for that country," Rouhani said. The remarks came a day after the US Navy said aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was steaming toward the waters off Yemen to beef up security and join other American ships that are prepared to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthis.
The deployment comes after a UN Security Council resolution last week imposed an arms embargo on Houthi leaders.

Inside the Mind of a Jihadist
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute
April 22, 2015
"There is global unanimity that jihad is an obligation." — Mohamed Hamdouch.
"My convictions emanate from what Allah said: You must kill the non-believers, regardless of whether they are Muslims or atheists." — Mohamed Hamdouch.
"Beheading is permitted in Islam. I recommend you read the Suras [chapters] of Al-Anfal (8), At-Tawbah (9) and Mohammed (47)." — Mohamed Hamdouch.
"I swear by the name of Allah, this is not violence. We are defending our religion." — Mohamed Hamdouch.
A Spanish woman married to a Moroccan jihadist has given birth to the first Spanish citizen born in the Islamic State.
The child's father, 28-year-old Mohamed Hamdouch, is notorious for his exceptional brutality and cruelty both on and off the battlefield. He is known in Spain as the "Beheader of Castillejas," in recognition of his penchant for posting photographs of himself smiling while holding the decapitated heads of Syrian soldiers.
The child's mother is Asia Ahmed Mohamed, a native of the North African Spanish exclave of Ceuta. She married Hamdouch after he gave her a suicide vest as a dowry.
Spanish nationality law stipulates that individuals born of a Spanish parent are Spaniards by birth, including those born in the Islamic State. At last count, more than 100 Spanish citizens have joined the Islamic State, including at least three women, which suggests that more Spanish "jihadi babies" may be on the way.
A new report by Spanish investigative journalist José María Gil Garre, who conducted a series of exclusive interviews with Hamdouch over the past year, offers a disturbing glimpse into the religious and ideological mindset of Hamdouch and his wife, whose commitment to jihad appear to be complete and total.
The report conveys a sense of the challenge ahead for Spain and other Western countries when faced with a generation of Western passport-holding jihadi parents who are — presumably — inculcating their "Western" children with fundamentally anti-Western values.
The report also shows how Western jihadists are justifying their brutality based on clear instructions found in the Koran and other Islamic writings. As such, the report effectively demolishes claims by U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam.
Garre describes Hamdouch as one of the "most dark and contemptible" jihadists alive today who "consistently posts photographs of himself waving decapitated heads, crucifying men and later decapitating them, and videos showing tortures and murders of the utmost cruelty."
Spanish investigative journalist José María Gil Garre (left) conducted a series of exclusive interviews with the jihadist Mohamed Hamdouch (right) over the past year, offering a disturbing glimpse into the religious and ideological mindset of Hamdouch and his wife.
Hamdouch — whose aliases are Abu Tasnim Al Magribi, Kokito Castillejas and Kokito Yu — hails from a poverty-stricken town in northern Morocco called Fnideq (Castillejas in Spanish) that is situated just two kilometers from Ceuta (which is Spanish territory).
Hamdouch is believed to have been recruited by Mustafá Maya Amaya, a Spanish convert to Islam who was born in Belgium but eventually settled in Melilla, another Spanish exclave in North Africa. Amaya was arrested in March 2014.
According to his parents, Hamdouch, who arrived in Syria in 2013, was radicalized through the Internet, where he discovered Takfirism, an offshoot of Salafism which is committed to an unwaveringly literal interpretation of the Koran and which condones acts of extreme violence to re-create the Islamic Caliphate.
In his report, Garre records the contents an interview in which he asked Hamdouch about the decapitations. Hamdouch replied:
"We have not come to kill civilians or Muslims. On the contrary, we have come to help Syrian Muslims and to ensure that our religion and our brothers triumph. We have come to implement Sharia law — it is our constitution — adopting a model of the Caliphate as according to the Prophet Mohammed. These decapitated heads belong to traitors and agents of the United States and Al Salul [a derogatory term for Saudi royalists], who receive help from the United States and countries in Europe and the Persian Gulf to ensure that the Islamic State does not extend in Iraq, Sham [greater Syria] and soon in Rome. We are fighting in Syria, but our eyes are fixed on Palestine."
In another interview, Hamdouch elaborated:
"I am a Muslim. The first thing you need to do is learn. Islam is the best of all religions. Beheading is permitted in Islam. I recommend you read the Suras [chapters] of Al-Anfal (8), At-Tawbah (9) and Mohammed (47). If you read these Suras, you will see that Allah has authorized us to behead a certain category of individuals such as apostates and traitors, such as the ones we have executed."
Hamdouch added:
"My convictions emanate from what Allah said: You must kill the non-believers, regardless of whether they are Muslims or atheists. We fight against all unbelievers, except for those who revert to Islam. These we will pardon because Allah is forgiving and merciful. Nevertheless, we will fight against anyone who opposes us, we will not pardon them. We will kill them immediately."
Garre asked Hamdouch to comment on the notion that Islam does not condone the violence being perpetrated in Syria. Hamdouch replied:
"I swear by the name of Allah, this is not violence. We are defending our religion. The news media is against us. I swear by Allah, we are the most gentle and forgiving. We decided to fight so that there would be no more injustice. I am not sure if you know this, but the Islamic State has liberated thousands of prisoners, among them women, children and the elderly. Moreover, many women were raped in the prisons by Shiites and as a result they gave birth in the prisons."
In another interview, Hamdouch cited Sura 9:24 of the Koran, which calls on all Muslims, men and women, to join the jihad. He said:
"There is global unanimity that jihad is an obligation, there is no need to obtain permission from parents. Wives are also obligated to offer themselves for jihad, without authorization from her spouse."
When Garre asked Hamdouch about the Islamic State's future goals, Hamdouch again stressed the primacy of "liberating" Palestine. "We are now focused on Palestine, later Europe and then the whole world, if Allah wills it."
When asked if he planned to return to Morocco, Hamdouch said:
"Yes! I want to return. Not to live there, but to conquer. And not just Morocco, but the entire world. These are not my words, but the words of the prophet. Listen! This is my religion and I am very conscious of it. This is our Koran, which we consider to be our constitution. The fourth verse of the Sura of Mohammed states: 'So when you meet those who disbelieve, strike their necks until you have subdued them. Therefore, slay them with all your strength.'"
After photographs emerged of Hamdouch waving the decapitated heads of five Syrian soldiers, Garre emailed Hamdouch.
Garre: "Kokito, don't you want to talk to me? I've seen a photo of you with the decapitated heads of several men. You are a criminal. Your destiny will be in hell. Are you afraid to talk, or what?
Hamdouch: "I fear no one except for Allah! By means of terrorism we are going to reach you in Spain. We will also reach the United States."
Hamdouch: "You have two options. Convert to Islam, and in this case you will be honored, or pay the tax of the humiliated [jizya]. If you refuse to accept one of these two options, our future relations will be bloody. It will be a relation that ends in your beheading."
Garre: "You are a terrorist. You are a criminal. You are an apostate."
Hamdouch: "And Israel is not terrorist? You will see that in the future Israel will be erased from the map of the world! First we will destroy all of those who protect Israel, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These countries are protecting Israel. They are Israeli dogs and have sold out Palestine."
According to Garre, Hamdouch met his wife Asia through social media while she was trying to obtain information about her 19-year-old brother, Younes Ahmed Mohamed, who was killed on the battlefield, apparently sometime in early 2014. Hamdouch told her that her brother had died as a suicide bomber.
Asia and Hamdouch eventually were married by means of a religious ceremony in which she was physically present in Ceuta and he was in Syria. The marriage was apparently validated in Spain by means of a power of attorney. According to Garre, Asia arrived in Syria in June 2014 and the two settled down in al-Atareb, a strategic town in northern Syria. She gave birth to a son on March 15, 2015. He is the first Spanish citizen born in the Islamic State.
Garre asked Hamdouch if it is true that he gave his wife a suicide vest. Hamdouch replied: "Yes, it is true. The dowry was a suicide vest. It is what my wife requested."
When asked if his wife was prepared to use the vest, Hamdouch said: "I hope that Allah helps her. In any event, we are prepared for an operation because we find ourselves in a land of war and treason. I hope Allah helps us to keep our footsteps firm."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

Is U.S. Israel's Ally "When It Matters"?

Shoshana Bryen/Gatestone Institute.
April 22, 2015
When, exactly, does it matter? Who decides? Apparently not Israel.
Ambassador Samantha Power's testimony may have completed the transition of the United States from Israel's ally... to an arbiter between Israel and those who seek to erase it.
The "peace process," first codified in the Oslo accords, commits Israel and the Palestinians to resolve differences bilaterally, not through the dictates of a third party or organization.
Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, says the U.S. will no longer automatically exercise its veto in the UN Security Council to protect Israel.
In testimony before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Power specifically declined to rule out support for resolutions on Palestinian statehood or the "peace process." "We will look to see what will advance Israel's security and what will advance peace in the region... Our objective as an administration is what can we do to defuse tensions, what will it take to get those negotiations back on track."
When Committee members expressed skepticism, she replied, "We will continue to work extremely closely with Israel in New York. As you know well we have a record of standing when it matters with Israel."
When, exactly, does it matter? Who decides? Apparently not Israel.
Amb. Power's testimony may have completed the transition of the U.S. from Israel's ally in its quest for legitimacy and security in the historic homeland of the Jewish people, to an arbiter between Israel and those who seek to erase it. Amb. Power appears also to have completed the transition of Israel -- in the eyes of the U.S. government -- from the party whose legitimacy and permanence in the Middle East remains challenged by all but Egypt and Jordan, to the country that bears an obligation to "fix" the problems that animate its enemies.
Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, recently stated that the U.S. will no longer automatically exercise its veto in the UN Security Council to protect Israel. (Image source: Center for Strategic & International Studies)
The "peace process," first codified in the Oslo Accords, commits Israel and the Palestinians to resolve differences bilaterally, not through the dictates of a third party or organization. No one thought it would be easy, but successive U.S. administrations ensured that the UN -- which Israel finds hopelessly biased against its interests -- would not have veto power or enforcement power. Now it may. Power and the U.S. have thrown in the towel on an issue that "matters" to Israel.
In 2014, the Palestinians stepped out of Oslo and joined a number of UN bodies and commissions, including several for which the PA would immediately be deemed ineligible if the UN were a serious institution -- particularly as the Palestinian Authority (PA) is in, at least on paper, a "unity government" with Hamas.
Conventions "on the involvement of children in armed conflict," "against torture," "on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women," "against corruption," and "on the international covenant on civil and political rights" have been signed by representatives of a corrupt, dictatorial regime that violates all of them.
In a more consequential move, at the end of 2014, the Palestinians filed to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), and are set to become a member this month. The Obama Administration opposed both sets of actions and a large bipartisan majority of the Senate supports a cutoff of U.S. funding to the PA if it supports an ICC war crimes investigation of Israel. But assured of overwhelming votes in the General Assembly, and fairly certain of Security Council support if the U.S. does not exercise its veto, PA officials claim the Palestinians have a right to international representation regardless of U.S. disapproval or the language of Oslo.
Amb. Power, now, appears to agree. But Israel can no longer be assured that the U.S. will support either a key provision of Oslo, or its own position: that internationalization of the conflict by the Palestinians is a mistake, and an affront to American diplomacy. She is, in this, a faithful representative of the current administration.
The President has expressed his belief that Israel is a secure party to whom, perhaps, this should not matter. While Hamas was firing rockets into civilian communities across the Jewish State last summer, the President said:
"I don't worry about Israel's survival. ... I think the question really is how does Israel survive? And how can you create a State of Israel that maintains its democratic and civic traditions? How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel? And, in order to do that, it has consistently been my belief that you have to find a way to live side by side in peace with Palestinians... You [Israel] have to recognize that they have legitimate claims, and this is their land and neighborhood as well."
And this, in turn, reflects Secretary of State Kerry's apparent belief that Israel's prosperity is an impediment to "peace." On a visit to Israel in May 2013, he said, "I think there is an opportunity [for peace], but for many reasons it's not on the tips of everyone's tongue. People in Israel aren't waking up every day and wondering if tomorrow if there will be peace because there is a sense of security and a sense of accomplishment and of prosperity."
Kerry appears not to think peace "mattered" to Israel.
A year ago, Secretary Kerry told an audience at the White House, "One of the lynchpins of the peace process is the separation of Israel's security assurances from the general negotiations." Security for Israel would be guaranteed in a "separate agreement" with the U.S., he said. This, of course, would spell the end of the promise to Israel of UN Resolution 242, in which the Arab states were handed the obligation to provide Israel with "secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force," and "termination of all claims or states of belligerency."
UN Resolution 242, apparently, is another one of those things that doesn't "matter."
Amb. Power's comments appear to be a full and faithful rendering of the policies of her boss at the State Department and his boss in the White House: when they find something that "matters" to them, they will do what they think is appropriate. What matters to Israel, however, seems to be a different issue altogether.

Operation ‘Restoring Hope’ and securing Yemen’s future
Andrew Bowen/Al Arabiya
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
While the Saudi-led Operation “Decisive Storm” achieved its objectives, this new phase of this campaign to restore the sovereignty of Yemen’s government will require concerted diplomatic, economic, humanitarian, and military investment.
After a month of sustained military operations, “Operation Decisive Storm” successfully concluded yesterday after achieving its two principal objectives: preventing the Iranian sponsored Houthi insurgency from establishing an illegitimate government in Yemen at the expense of the country’s legitimately recognized government and preventing Yemen from becoming a point from which the Houthis could threaten the security and stability of Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors.
Under the leadership of King Salman, this multi-national coalition demonstrated the Arab League’s ability to come together and collectively respond against regional security threats. Its air campaign successfully eliminated the Houthi militia’s ability to seriously threaten the security and stability of the Arabian Peninsula through the elimination of advanced weaponry and securing Yemen’s airspace. King Salman ordered yesterday as well the deployment of The National Guard to help further secure the long Saudi border with Yemen from further attempts by Houthi militants to threaten the Kingdom’s security. Also, Egypt’s navy, along with assistance from the U.S. Navy, has blockaded Yemen’s territorial waters to both ensure that outside states such as Iran don’t interfere in Yemen’s sovereignty and to prevent the Houthis from disrupting commerce through the Suez Canal.
Operation “Decisive Storm” laid the foundation for the most challenging phase of this multi-national effort to support Yemen’s future
After a much-concerted diplomatic effort, this broad coalition persuaded the U.N. Security Council to unanimously support with an abstention from Russia an arms embargo on Yemen’s non-governmental militias. The Operation also put pressure on Iran to support a peace process that would bring the Houthis to the table to meaningfully negotiate. At the time of writing, reports indicate that an agreement between Yemen’s political parties is much closer than it was before this Operation began. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose military units are aligned with the Houthis, has shown signs as well that he would prefer a political settlement.
While some commentators have been quick to criticize this military operation on the basis that the campaign hasn’t led to the re-establishment of the Yemeni government in Sanaa, it would be mistake to confuse the limited objectives of Operation “Decisive Storm”- which focused on eliminating the Houthis’ ability to monopolize Yemen’s political future and their ability threaten the security mainly of Saudi Arabia and the GCC- with the broader goal of supporting the restoration of Yemen’s sovereignty.
Three critical areas
Operation “Decisive Storm” laid the foundation importantly for the most challenging phase of this multi-national effort to support Yemen’s future. Announced yesterday, Operation “Restoring Hope” focuses on three critical areas: supporting a U.N. political process to restore a legitimate government and ensure its long-term sovereignty, providing humanitarian assistance to Yemeni citizens who have faced the severe hardship of months of violence and conflict, and providing assistance in combatting terrorism.
While the first phase of the Coalition’s efforts weighted heavily on the use of military operations, this new phase focuses on employing military, diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian tools to secure Yemen’s long-term stability. In all of these areas, the Arab League and its global partners including the U.S. will need to come together to robustly support Yemen’s transition. It will be the most challenging phase of the Coalition’s efforts because the political differences remain deep on the ground, the humanitarian situation is grave, terrorism remains a substantial challenge, and the country’s economy is broken.
Political settlement
While there are signs that the different political and armed parties are moving closer to seeking a political settlement, deep differences still remain between President Hadi, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Houthi insurgency (to name only a few of the contesting parties) which may lead to further spikes of violence. In addition to their differences, this violence has benefited al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who has deepened their position in the South and will become increasingly harder to dislodge. Until a political solution is reached, the humanitarian situation will remain severe, the country’s economy will continue to flounder, and terrorism will still be a challenge.
Supporting Operation “Restoring Hope” will require a sustained, concerted effort for the foreseeable future. A political settlement is only the first step towards securing Yemen’s long-term stability and sovereignty. In order to address Yemen’s deepening humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by a failing economy and violence, which will threaten the longevity of any future political settlement, these states will need to make a long-term commitment to rebuilding the state which offers the Yemeni people a future. Failing to do so will only lead to further violence and instability, which will continue to threaten the stability of the region. This new ambitious operation, though, is an important collective step to support Yemen’s future and its people.

Saudi Arabia's 'Inexperienced Youngster'
Simon Henderson/Washington Institute
April 21, 2015
As Prince Muhammad bin Salman's proactive approach to regional affairs becomes clearer, the novice defense minister could lead the kingdom to overreach in Yemen.
Earlier today, Saudi Arabia announced that it has ended its airstrikes in Yemen because the heavy weapons and ballistic missiles threatening the kingdom have been destroyed. The fighting had appeared to be stalemated for at least the past two weeks. Although the announced outcome is being depicted as a military success, it is unclear how it fits into a Saudi strategy to reinstate the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, currently in exile in Riyadh, though the statement spoke of a political solution.
A key Saudi decisionmaker on the matter is one of King Salman's younger sons, Prince Muhammad, who was appointed defense minister in January. The outcome of the crisis, which saw the deployment of Saudi naval and army units, could make or break his career and perhaps even define his father's legacy.
When Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called Saudi Arabia's new leaders "inexperienced youngsters" in an April 9 speech, there was little doubt he was referring at least in part to Muhammad. The prince has shot to prominence since his father succeeded the late King Abdullah in January. Previously the head of his father's court when Salman was crown prince, MbS (as he is widely known) now runs the Defense Ministry, the royal court, and the newly formed Economic and Development Affairs Council, in addition to being a member of the Political and Security Affairs Council, another key decisionmaking body.
In many respects MbS is the face of Saudi Arabia's month-long operation in Yemen, even outshining his elder cousin, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef (a.k.a. MbN), the interior minister and chair of the Political and Security Affairs Council. Over the past week alone, he has visited Bahrain to invite King Hamad to Riyadh, and Cairo for talks with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Meanwhile, Saudi media has shown photographs of him in separate meetings with CENTCOM commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III, U.S. ambassador Joseph Westphal, and former British prime minister Tony Blair.
Although MbS is clearly acquiring a great deal of on-the-job experience, much speculation continues about his age. King Salman, seventy-nine this year, has fathered at least twelve sons by three wives. MbS is the oldest son from the third wife. Reports of his birthdate vary from 1980 to 1985, with an outlier of 1988, making him possibly as young as twenty-seven. A more definitive number is elusive: the website of the Saudi embassy in Washington gives no birth year for him in its listing of the Saudi Council of Ministers.
Whatever his age, MbS has already developed a reputation as a ruthless political operator. When his father became defense minister in late 2011, MbS used his position as head of Salman's court to undermine a series of deputy defense ministers. The post was held by four different princes between April 2013 and June 2014, since when it has been vacant. Similarly, as chair of the Economic and Development Affairs Council, he is seen as being responsible for the firing of the housing and health ministers in the past two months, apparently for administrative incompetence.
The prince's meteoric rise is attributed to his close relationship with his father, who appears to dote on him. The king seems to have devised a special career path for Muhammad. Although some of Salman's older sons went to universities in the United States or Britain, Muhammad went to King Saud University in Riyadh, where he studied law. His older half-brothers include Sultan (age 58), the former astronaut who is in charge of tourism, and Abdulaziz (55), who has spent his career at the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and was promoted to deputy minister in January. Both now find themselves subordinate to their younger brother by virtue of his council chairmanship. Staying close to his father has allowed Muhammad to become a key aide over the years, particularly as Salman's health has deteriorated -- today, the king uses a walking stick and can look puzzled during his often hectic schedule of meetings with visiting dignitaries.
Ayatollah Khamenei's barbed comments earlier this month included a tweet asserting that Saudi foreign policy has changed from "composure" to "barbarism," an apparent reference to the kingdom's more proactive approach under Salman compared to the caution seen under previous kings. However it is characterized, the shift would appear to reflect MbS's regional view. Last month he told a visiting U.S. congressional delegation that "Iran can't be trusted," and he asked why Washington was negotiating with the Iranians on the nuclear issue when they are responsible for growing tensions in the Middle East. And earlier this month, he met with Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the latter's visit to Riyadh -- a trip that also included meetings with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who has held the post for forty years, and MbN, who has been the point man for bilateral counterterrorism discussions for at least ten years. When the author asked Blinken at an April 15 forum what he made of MbS in view of Khamenei's insults, he described the prince as "extremely knowledgeable, focused, and engaged," saying "we had a very good exchange." None of these comments suggest, in the cautious vocabulary of diplomacy, that there was much agreement with the young defense minister's positions.
Despite almost daily Saudi communiques depicting successes in the Yemen conflict and widespread public support, the reality suggests little movement on the ground: the Iran-linked Houthis are unable to gain full control of the southern port city of Aden, and supporters of President Hadi are too weak to overcome Houthi domination of the capital and other major towns. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has freedom of operation in a sizable swath of the country to the east of the Sana-to-Aden axis. Washington and the international community are trying to reestablish a diplomatic process, but the task may have been set back last week when the UN mediator resigned. U.S. operational support is so far limited to intelligence transfers, targeting information, inflight refueling, and a naval presence that is about to be boosted by the arrival of a carrier task force.
It is unclear whether MbS views the situation as ripe for a diplomatic outcome now that airstrikes have been halted. Instead, he may hope that he can double down and use army and perhaps naval units to defeat the Houthis militarily. Despite another new announcement regarding further National Guard involvement, a full-scale land invasion has seemed increasingly unlikely, especially given Pakistan's decision not to commit military forces to the operation and Egypt's evident reluctance to transform its diplomatic support into overt military assistance. His youth aside, MbS may have a crucial voice in determining Riyadh's next steps because of his status as defense minister and de facto commander of the army, navy, and air force. MbN may have less influence on the matter; although his Interior Ministry forces are numerous, they are lightly armed, and he is not a son of the king. Prince Mitab bin Abdullah, son to the late king, heads the Saudi Arabian National Guard; perhaps significantly, he sat next to MbN at today's meeting of the Political and Security Affairs Council.
Many observers were surprised when MbS rocketed to prominence in January rather than his half-brother Prince Faisal bin Salman (44), who instead was appointed governor of Medina province. Faisal's 2003 book, based on his Oxford doctoral dissertation about Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf, was an obvious credential for taking on a foreign policy role in his father's court. Instead, while the Yemen intervention remains popular at home, the outside world watches as a young novice struggles to win respect in a conflict whose previous episodes have seldom produced a clear result, and which is increasingly seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The U.S. interest is for Riyadh to avoid the embarrassment of overreaching itself. Discreet diplomacy, combined with the pressure of less-than-timely replacement of expended munitions or spare parts, may have prompted the decision to halt airstrikes, which were causing mounting civilian casualties. There remains the risk of direct confrontation with Iran, at least at sea. In most other countries, a military leader or defense minister who does not achieve a clear outcome would be a political casualty. If that does not happen in Saudi Arabia, then King Salman may find himself under pressure from senior princes seeking more fundamental change.
**Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.

Decisive Storm restores hope to Yemen’s people
Salman Aldosary/Asharq Alawsat
Wednesday, 22 Apr, 2015
It took Operation Decisive Storm, launched on March 26, a total of 28 days to achieve its declared goals. The coalition member states said from day one and throughout the war, up until Tuesday when the end of the operation was announced, that the war in Yemen is not an end in itself but a means to protect Yemen’s legitimate and internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and deter the Houthi militias and remove their threat to neighboring countries. In fact, the coalition members have not merely concluded the military operation now that its goals have been achieved, but have also demonstrated commitment to the Yemeni people by maintaining support through an economic and humanitarian project they declared on Tuesday and dubbed Operation Restoring Hope. Indeed, no one likes wars or even to support them, but tell me of another coalition that has deterred with its left hand and built with its right.
It was obvious throughout Operation Decisive Storm how the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states were following a diplomatic strategy that went in line with the military strikes, so that once the airstrikes achieved their projected goals the circumstances would be suitable for Yemeni political factions to return to the negotiating table. This was achieved thanks to the GCC’s colossal efforts that led to the issuance of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, despite the many obstacles that almost impeded it on several occasions. This time, the dialogue of course will not be overseen by the Houthi putschists whose military coup is now a thing of the past; rather, talks will be conducted in accordance with the GCC initiative and its executive mechanism as well as the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, points which serve as the only foundation for any political dialogue in Yemen.
The ball is now in the court of the different political factions in Yemen, who had left the entire scene open for the Houthi militia to dominate both politically and militarily. Those very same powers who toppled Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years in power stood by while the Houthis kept taking one bite after another out of the Yemeni apple. Unfortunately, the majority of them seem to have been playing a waiting game, in order to see in whose favor the scales would tilt before they formulated their own positions, without any consideration for the dark tunnel that awaited Yemen once the Houthis seized control of the country. If only Yemen’s political parties could have forseen the catastrophe that would be caused by the Houthi insurgents. The fact is, only a handful of loyal Yemenis stood up to the Houthi coup and the insurgency.
Militarily speaking, and bearing in mind that Operation Decisive Storm has come to an end, coalition forces will continue to impose aerial and naval control to enable the legitimate authority to resume power. Up until now, and despite leading their country into war, the Houthis have not been excluded from the political process, since they are regarded as one of the main political factions in Yemen. However, if the Houthis were to resume their insurgency and insist on using force against the rest of the country’s political factions as well as civilians, Operation Decisive Storm would do more than just deter them. They also must realize that this opportunity will not last forever. They can either refrain from seeking help from foreign powers and using military force, or they will be excluded from the political process and treated as an illegal group. This is especially so since their current political and military status is no longer the same as it was prior to Operation Decisive Storm, which has succeeded in destroying their military arsenal and cutting their links with Iran.
Iran will not stop harming the Yemeni people even if 100 Operation Decisive Storms were to be launched. The Iranian regime will not be deterred unless its supplies to the Houthis are cut and its interference in Yemen stopped once and for all.

 All the crazies are targeting Saudi Arabia
Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat
Wednesday, 22 Apr, 2015
The statements issued from Tehran recently, by senior and junior officials, regarding Saudi Arabia can only be described as “panicked,” while the same goes for the speeches and statements issued by Iran’s agents in the region, such as Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. However, a well-informed Lebanese source has told me recently that there might be more behind Nasrallah’s latest speech.
The source told me that what has caused Nasrallah to lose his patience in this manner and issue such unprecedented comments against Saudi Arabia following Operation Decisive Storm is the rumor, that is rife throughout Beirut’s Southern Suburbs, that Hezbollah is not just involved in the war in Syria and Yemen, but is even on Saudi Arabia’s own borders. The claim is that Iran and its followers are now in the ascendancy in the region, from Yemen to Iraq, and that Saudi Arabia has its back against the wall. Operation Decisive Storm, according to this false narrative, was nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to demonstrate strength and repel the Iranian-led advance. This belief has led Iran, and Nasrallah, to completely lose their minds, amid the belief that the Houthis’ control of Yemen is an important sign amid the retreat of Iran’s interests in Syria.
This false reading of the situation demonstrates one thing clearly: every maniac in the region is targeting Saudi Arabia, one way or another. Otherwise, what is the difference between Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah? What is the difference between Iran and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? The answer is simple: they are all trying to find a launchpad from which to target Saudi Arabia, after the failure of all their efforts to infiltrate the Kingdom from within. This is something that Iran, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS and other extremist group have tried in the past, but all such attempts have met with resounding failure. For all the region’s maniacs, Saudi Arabia represents a source of unparalleled legitimacy.
Iran believes that targeting and overtaking Saudi Arabia will represent a victory for Tehran’s project to “export the Khomeinist revolution” that is being served by Hezbollah in Beirut’s Southern Suburbs. As for Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and before them the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia represents a source of religious legitimacy that would grant them the capability to practically take over the region and the entire Islamic world. This is why Al-Qaeda has fought so hard to secure its presence in Yemen—and the same goes for the Iranian regime through its Houthi allies. The same even applies to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who believed that he could extort Riyadh’s rationality to remain in power. However, ultimately Saleh’s reading of the situation was wrong, and the same goes for Iran.
In reality, the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm struck a decisive blow against Iran and its regional followers, and even Al-Qaeda. Without a doubt, Decisive Storm struck a blow against all the maniacs of the region, militarily, politically, and even in the media. These maniacs have now been exposed for the world to see, and we have seen the political scene in Yemen and the region change drastically as a result, because Saudi Arabia’s voice of reason is strong enough to drown out all of the region’s crazies.

Border wars will determine Assad’s fate
Michael Young/The Daily/Apr. 23, 2015
In recent months there has been much talk of a Hezbollah offensive in the Qalamoun district of Syria. The expectation was that it would take place some time in spring. However, there have been so signs of when, or if, this will actually happen.
Last February Iran organized a pair of offensives in Syria – one in the north around Aleppo, the other in the south. This signaled a strategy of neutralizing Syria’s border areas and cutting off rebel supply lines from Turkey and Jordan. A Qalamoun operation was viewed as applying the same logic.
The problem is that Iran’s plans went haywire. In the north the hostilities west of Aleppo turned to the Iranians’ disadvantage, with heavy losses among those fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, particularly Afghan Shiites. Within a matter of weeks Bashar Assad’s enemies had counterattacked and captured Idlib, a significant reversal for the Syrian regime and Tehran.
In the south a similar pattern soon developed. An Iranian-led offensive also stalled. This was followed in subsequent weeks by the regime’s loss of Busra al-Sham, and after that the last regime-controlled border crossing with Jordan at Nassib.
In light of this, one wonders if Hezbollah’s calculations have not changed. While the failures in Syria’s north and south make urgent a successful campaign against the rebels, they also make it necessary for Hezbollah to avoid any setbacks. For Iran an indecisive campaign in Qalamoun, after the other recent losses, would be disastrous. It would create an impression that Iran and Hezbollah can be beaten, at a time when the Syrian regime is vulnerable and cannot readily mobilize military manpower.
This would be a valuable victory for Turkey and Jordan. By helping undermine Iran, Assad and their allies along the border, both have protected their stakes in Syria. They are unwilling to allow an expansion of Iranian influence up to their borders with Syria – an attitude shared by Israel, which has imposed a red line against Hezbollah and Iran operating on the Golan Heights. However, Lebanon is a different matter. In recent months Hezbollah has carefully laid the groundwork for an attack in Qalamoun by pushing the Lebanese Army into a border interdiction effort. The Army, under the heading of “fighting terrorism,” has obliged, with the help of Western countries that have sent arms and participated in surveillance operations. That jihadi groups inside Qalamoun still hold Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage has facilitated Hezbollah’s task of portraying the battles there as an effort to combat extremist groups. Yet there appear to be limits to what the Army is prepared to do. The Syrians and Hezbollah have pushed for tighter coordination but the military command is not eager to be drawn into the Syrian conflict, and does want to be perceived as taking part in the Qalamoun campaign. It will try to limit its role to defensive duties: seizing the high ground, blocking access across the border and maintaining security among Syrian refugees, many of whom are related to the Qalamoun combatants. Hezbollah and Iran, not to mention the Syrian armed forces, have their work cut out for them in Qalamoun. The area is large and very difficult to control. There is also much corruption among the Syrian forces. The possibility that rebel groups and their jihadi allies will be able to send reinforcements through Syrian lines cannot be ruled out. Hezbollah is reportedly optimistic about its chances of defeating the rebels. Qalamoun is vital as it straddles communication lines between Damascus and the Syrian coast, and if the Assad regime is to reinforce itself that passage must be secured. But we’ve often heard party officials sound upbeat about the direction of the Syrian conflict, only to be blindsided by reality. Worse, Hezbollah must know better than most the profound degradation of the Syrian Army and security forces, with which relations are particularly tense. There can be no illusions within the party about the ease of military action in Qalamoun. Control of Syria’s borders is essential to preserving Bashar Assad’s regime. Until now that struggle is being lost by the regime and Iran. Only the Lebanese border provides some hope for them. And even then the rebels in Qalamoun are relatively isolated and surrounded, unlike those in the south and north, who have the space to expand their territorial control. What happens in Qalamoun, or fails to happen, will give us an insight into what lies ahead in Syria. But one thing is evident: Assad’s future will be determined by developments along Syria’s frontiers. The regime has been unable to reverse the tide of losses along its boundaries. Iran is discovering that its regional foes can bleed it with a thousand pin pricks. It wants to be sure that a Qalamoun offensive will not add to the flow.In my column of last week I mistakenly wrote that Al-Jadeed had revealed the personal details of witnesses in the trial before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Only Al-Akhbar did so. While one may question Al-Jadeed’s motives in highlighting the leaks surrounding the trial, my statement was incorrect.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

Obama strives to engage both Iran and Saudi Arabia
David Ignatius/The Daily Star/Apr. 23, 2015
President Barack Obama has been trying since his September 2013 address to the United Nations to convince Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies that the United States is truly committed to their security.
So far, he hasn’t been very successful, but he’ll try again next month at a Camp David summit meeting.
Obama’s approach is part of a big strategic idea for the Middle East that could be described as “dual engagement.” On the one hand, the U.S. is seeking an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear weapons. On the other, the U.S. wants to bolster the Saudis and their neighbors through new U.S. military commitments. The goal is an eventual balance between a less-threatening Iran and a more confident, forward-leaning Saudi Arabia.
“We need to shape this so that Gulf countries have the ability to engage Iran from a position of greater equality and parity,” a senior administration official explained. U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is part of that attempt to rebalance a region where Iran and its proxies have been on a roll.
The U.S. initiative is a complicated two-step that brings to mind the admonition of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather Part II,” to “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” Watching the U.S. cozy up with Iran, the Saudis and their neighbors must sometimes wonder which they are, friends or enemies. The Camp David meeting is meant to ease that anxiety.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the military leader of the United Arab Emirates, met with Obama Monday to explore the agenda for the Camp David meeting, scheduled for May 13-14. The UAE initially wanted a formal treaty to defend members of the Gulf Cooperation Council against external aggression. The White House countered that such a legal pact is “not realistic,” given the problems of Senate ratification, and “not necessary,” according to the official.
“We can provide ... an expansion of our security assurances to our allies that would give them confidence we will be there if needed,” the official explained. He said the White House is now discussing with GCC representatives the specifics of greater military cooperation, including equipment, training, advanced weapons systems and joint military exercises.
Yemen has been a test case of the chaotic dynamic in the Gulf. Despite misgivings, Obama has supported the 3-week-old air war by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to check the Houthis (who are allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh) and push them toward a political solution. The White House will be relieved by the Saudi announcement Tuesday that the initial military phase is ending.
“At some point, an air campaign has diminishing and marginal returns,” the administration official argues. “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Yemen conflict will have to be solved politically.” The Saudis and Emiratis have been trying to move in that direction, by peeling the Yemeni tribes away from allying with the Houthis or the equally menacing Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Gulf officials reckon that seven formerly rebellious brigades of the Yemeni army are now cooperating with the government, and that 20 more brigades may join them soon.
The White House has publicly backed the Yemen operation, but officials worry that the country has been a graveyard for such optimistic scenarios, and that Iran’s real aim may be to draw Saudi Arabia into a quagmire.
The White House has a final goal for the Camp David gathering, which is to galvanize action against internal threats to Gulf security from extremist groups such as ISIS, rather than just focus on the external threat from Iran. The administration sees an Arab world in disarray because of failing states and sectarian proxy wars with Iran that have ravaged Iraq, Syria and now Yemen.
In a radically unstable Middle East, it’s worth remembering two positive developments: First, the U.S. and Iran are talking productively after 36 years of enmity. And second, the U.S. is engaging honestly and creatively with its often prickly Gulf allies. Good policy would make these two trends converge in a way that, over the next decade, gradually stabilizes the region.
Gulf Arab leaders get offended when they hear Obama say, as he did to Tom Friedman of the New York Times, that “the biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading ... [but from] inside their own countries.” They shouldn’t worry. Such straight talk is part of a real friendship, and a real alliance.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.