February 11/15

Bible Quotation For Today/Songs of Praise
Isaiah 12/01-06: "In that day you will say: “I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
He has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”".

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 10-11/15
Obama warns Netanyahu: Don't sour Iran talks with Congress speech/Yitzhak Benhorin, Gilad Morag/Ynetnews/February 10/15
We must take the fight to ISIS’ doorstep/Octavia Nasr/Al Arabiya/February 10/15

How to Judge Putin's Trip to Egypt/Anna Borshchevskaya/Washington Institute/February 10/15

Lebanese Related News published on February 10-11/15
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai seeks help of Vatican, France to end vacuum
Girault Briefs al-Rahi on Outcome of His 'Presidential' Tour
Lebanese-born Texas man,Wissam Allouche, on trial over past ‘Hezbollah links’
Salafist Sheikh Salem al-Rafei: Hands off Tripoli 'Allah' statue
Hezbollah leads fight to retake Syria’s south
Rafehi Refuses Mashnouq's Proposal to Replace Slogan in Tripoli Nour Square
Daher's Remarks on Christian Symbols Stir Controversy as Shaar Says Black Flags Represent IS
Report: Hariri to Mark10th Assassination Anniversary of his Father in Person
Mashnouq Says Bekaa's Security Plan Takes its Course this Week
Riachi Says Dialogue with FPM on Right Track
Hariri’s ties with Syrians soured post-Hafez
Lebanon comes before party: foreign minister
Minister to sue hospitals over medical waste
Salam Considering Adoption of New Mechanism to Facilitate Cabinet Work
Syria activists accuse Islamists of 'kidnapping' colleagues
Finance Ministry shakes up customs
South Lebanon police arrest accused rapist
Lebanese-American Marine begins trial

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 10-11/15
Australian police thwart said imminent ISIS-linked terror attack
UAE Resumes Air Strikes against IS Jihadists
Assad Says Syria 'Informed' about U.S.-Led Strikes on IS
Obama Sees No Reason to Extend Iran Talks
Obama warns Netanyahu: Don't sour Iran talks
Iran President: World Must 'Seize Opportunity' of Nuclear Deal
EU provides 100 million euros in loans to crisis-hit Jordan
Russia's Putin says hopes next round of Syria talks will bring resolution
Netanyahu considering changes to Congress speech after criticism
Israel and Egypt forewarned of synchronized ISIS-Sinai assaults in both countries
Putin meets Sisi as Russia seeks to boost Egypt ties
Officials say attacks outside Iraq's capital kill 8 people
Britain 'reserves right' to arm Ukraine: minister
Egypt police arrest 21 soccer fans following deadly stampede
US to establish new cyber security agency: official
'Low expectation' of Greece deal at meetings this week: EU
Swedish, Palestinian leaders to meet after row with Israel
Five blasts in Egypt's Alexandria wound 10-interior ministry

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
Raymond Ibrahim — Muslim Persecution of Christians: A 1,400 Year Saga
Obama: Iran has “no aspiration to get a nuclear weapon” because “it would be contrary to their faith”
UK: Muslims present petition with 100,000 signatures calling for restrictions on the freedom of speech
Egyptian TV host: Nobody dares admit that the Islamic State’s crimes are based on Islamic sources
Mark Steyn: “No serious person thinks Spencer and Geller are any threat to ‘public order'”
Lebanon: University students protest appointment of Christian director
Qatar published fatwa in 2006 permitting burning people — removes it after IS burns pilot
Ex-imam: Islamic State “animated entirely by Islam. The manner in which they kill – prescribed and outlined in the Koran.”
When truth becomes poisonous
Islamic State disfigures 15 women with acid for not wearing niqab

Salafist Sheikh Salem al-Rafei: Hands off Tripoli 'Allah' statue
The Daily Star/Feb. 10, 2015
BEIRUT: An influential Tripoli sheikh rejected Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk’s reported proposal to replace the Islamist slogan in Tripoli’s main square with a more subtle Quranic verse. Tripoli’s Nour Square currently contains a large ornament of the world “Allah” with the slogan “Tripoli, the fortress of Muslims” under it. Salafist Sheikh Salem al-Rafei, who is a member of the Muslim Scholars Committee, urged authorities not to remove the ornament in comments Tuesday morning to Voice of Lebanon radio station (100.3-100.5).
In comments published by the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat newspaper earlier Tuesday, Machnouk said he had contacted Tripoli’s mufti as well as Rafei to suggest replacing the Quranic verse: “Enter in peace, safe [and secure].” The verse describes how righteous believers will be welcomed into heaven. Machnouk also told Al-Hayat that the black Islamist flags in the city must be removed because they had been used by “terrorist groups that executed servicemen in Arsal’s outskirts.” However, Machnouk released a statement later Tuesday accusing Al-Hayat’s report of being “inaccurate,” and saying the newspaper used an incomplete part of his comments.
The statement did not indicate which part of the report he was contesting. Police last week began removing religious and political signage in Tripoli and across other parts of the country. The removal of black flags with scripture “There is no god but Allah, Mohammad is the prophet of Allah” left Salafist-inspired MP Khaled Daher fuming. At a protest at Nour Square Sunday, he told his followers that Christians should be the first to remove their religious emblems from public spaces, kicking off a firestorm of criticism.
Daher described the measures as a campaign against Sunnis. He later apologized, saying he didn’t mean to offend Christians. Harsh reactions came in from his political allies and rivals alike. Deputy Kataeb Party leader and Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi called for the ousting of Daher from the March 14 bloc, saying the remarks were “sectarian and offensive against Christians.”Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, a member of the Future Movement, was not convinced by the MP’s apology, and said “such issues must not be addressed during this critical phase.”Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat also tried to distance his party from the Daher, saying that the lawmaker “is a member of the March 14 coalition, but not a member of the Future Movement.”Daher on Monday said he was not trying to be offensive, but believed there was a need for equality between religious groups. However, criticisms continued to pile on.On Tuesday, Free Patriotic Movement MP Alain Aoun called on him to resign. FPM activist Fuad Chehab filed a complaint against Daher, accusing him of inciting sectarian tensions, harming national unity and offending religious beliefs. The removal of religious banners and political posters in Tripoli are in line with an agreement reached during dialogue sessions between the Future Movement and Hezbollah to defuse sectarian tensions in the country.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai seeks help of Vatican, France to end vacuum
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/Feb. 11, 2015
BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai has pleaded with France and the Vatican to help in the election of a new Lebanese president, officials said Tuesday, in the latest attempt by the influential Maronite Church to end the 9-month-old vacuum in the country’s top Christian post. Rai made the plea during a two-hour meeting with French presidential envoy Jean-Francois Girault in Rome Monday. The meeting was also attended by the Vatican Foreign Minister Monsignor Paul Gallagher, reflecting the Vatican’s concern over the lingering presidential deadlock in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri said he would meet with Prime Minister Tammam Salam soon to discuss the mechanism in taking the Cabinet’s decisions, in addition to the issue of opening an extraordinary session for Parliament. “The Constitution’s provisions are clear with regard to the mechanism in taking decisions in the Cabinet in the absence or presence of the president. The solution lies in abiding by these provisions,” Berri was quoted as telling visitors to his Ain al-Tineh residence.
While the presidency seat remains vacant, the Cabinet has adopted a mechanism under which all decisions should be made unanimously and decrees signed by all 24 ministers.
Berri, according to visitors, also ruled out a new round of talks this week between the Future Movement and Hezbollah. He said the two rival parties might discuss the presidential election issue if they deemed this appropriate. During his talks with Girault, “Patriarch Rai thanked the influential countries, namely France and the Vatican, and asked them to help in facilitating the election of a new president in Lebanon,” Walid Ghayyad, a spokesman for Rai, told The Daily Star by phone from Rome.
Describing the meeting as “good and positive,” Ghayyad said Girault briefed Rai on the outcome of his talks on the presidential election during his second tour in the Middle East. In addition to Lebanon, Girault had visited Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Vatican for talks focusing mainly on ways to end the presidential vacancy. The French envoy discussed with Rai the “possible means to resolve the presidential vacuum crisis in Lebanon and the needed moves in Lebanon and the role that should be played by friendly states, at the forefront of which is the Holy See and France,” Ghayyad said. He added that it was agreed during the meeting that Girault would continue his efforts as part of a French initiative to break the presidential deadlock.
After examining the crises in the region, the French envoy and the patriarch “agreed on the importance of maintaining Lebanon’s great role, which constitutes a unique example and a main factor of stability in the Middle East through its distinctive system and Christian-Muslim coexistence based on equality, especially since Lebanon is the only country in the region whose presidency is headed by a Christian,” said a statement released by the Maronite patriarch’s media office.
A senior source close to Rai in Beirut said the Vatican was upset with the lingering vacancy in the presidency. “The Vatican demands the election of a Lebanese president as soon as possible,” the source told The Daily Star. Rai had discussed the presidential crisis and the status of Christians in the Middle East during a meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican last week. The Rai-Girault meeting came days after the French envoy visited Beirut last week, apparently without making any headway in the presidential crisis in his talks with rival Lebanese leaders as the March 8 and March 14 parties upheld their support for opposing candidates.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun is supported by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies for the presidency, against the March 14 coalition-backed candidate, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea.
Parliament has since last April failed in 18 attempts to elect a president due to a lack of quorum as the feuding parties remain at odds over a consensus candidate. A new election session is set for Feb. 18.
Rival Lebanese leaders have argued that a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement is essential to facilitate the election of a president.
A senior source close to Rai said the Maronite patriarch supported the ongoing dialogue between the FPM and LF, hoping it would help break the presidential impasse. “The patriarch considers the LF-FPM dialogue to be a main gateway to facilitate the election of a president,” the source told The Daily Star.
Although Rai had in his previous sermons blamed foreign factors, mainly the Sunni-Shiite tensions in the region and the strained Saudi-Iranian ties, for delaying the presidential vote, the source said: “The patriarch fully holds the Lebanese responsible for the failure to elect a president.”
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour warned that the presidential vacuum has been turned into a constitutional crisis. “The presidential vacuum should come to an end. It’s time for this vacuum to end and for the Lebanese political parties across the country to reach unanimity over a new president, who would be the gateway to regular constitutional and political life,” Abu Faour told reporters after meeting Salam at the Grand Serail. “We don’t know where this presidential vacuum, which has been long and turned from a political crisis into a constitutional crisis, might lead.”

Hezbollah leads fight to retake Syria’s south
The Daily Star/Feb. 11, 2015 |
BEIRUT: Syria’s army gained ground from rebels in the south Tuesday in what a monitoring group described as a large-scale offensive in the region backed by Hezbollah fighters against insurgents including Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing. The south is one of the last remaining areas where mainstream, non-jihadi rebels fighting President Bashar Assad have a foothold. Just a short drive to Damascus, the area remains a risk to the Syrian leader, who has otherwise consolidated control over much of the west. “The operation started two days ago and is very big,” Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, said Tuesday. Abdel-Rahman said the offensive aims to take a triangle of rebel-held territory from rural areas southwest of Damascus to Deraa to Qunaitra. Syrian media and rebel sources said Tuesday that battles raged in several areas of southern Syria. Unlike the Observatory, a Syrian military source said the army was leading the offensive.
“The Syrian army and its allies, including Hezbollah, are fighting battles against armed groups in Qunaitra and Deraa provinces,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He added that the goal of the campaign was to “put a stop to the armed men’s attacks, [as they inch] toward the capital.”Iran has acknowledged sending military advisers and high-ranking officers from the elite Revolutionary Guard to help its ally Assad. In January, an Israeli airstrike killed six Hezbollah members, including the son of slain top commander Imad Mughniyeh, and an Iranian general in Qunaitra, near the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights. Syrian troops had been on the defensive in the south, losing control of large areas of countryside near Jordan as well as parts of the border along with Israel near the Golan Heights, according to regional military analysts and diplomats. The southern rebels, often described as the best organized of the mainstream armed opposition, see themselves as the last hope for a 4-year-old uprising and war hijacked by Islamist militants, and are seeking a higher profile and more help. But the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing, also has a presence in the region. Islamist insurgents also control wide expanses of Syria’s north and east.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar news channel said government forces had captured the town of Deir al-Adas and Syrian state television quoted a military source saying the town of Denaji between Damascus and the far southern boundary town of Qunaitra was taken “a number of terrorists were eliminated.”The leader of a mainstream rebel group in the area said the situation in Deir al-Adas was “dangerous” and that the nearby town of Deir Maker had fallen to government forces. Syria’s state news agency SANA said the army had also killed insurgents near the town of Sheikh Maskeen, close to the main north-south highway between Damascus and the Jordanian border. A mainstream rebel group in southern Syria calling itself “The First Army” said in a statement that it had started a battle to take control of Namer and Qarfa in Deraa province and would attack six other locations. A reporter for the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news channel, which has embedded its journalists with the Syrian army, said from Qunaitra that the large-scale army operation had cut off an important supply route for rebels from Jordan to rebel-controlled areas west of Damascus.

Iran President: World Must 'Seize Opportunity' of Nuclear Deal
Naharnet/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that world powers must "seize the opportunity" of a landmark nuclear deal, saying Tehran had taken the "necessary steps" for an accord. Rouhani's remarks appeared to be a response to U.S. President Barack Obama, who on Monday said: "The issues now are -- does Iran have the political will and the desire to get a deal done?" "Right now good progress has been made although we are some distance away from the final agreement," the Iranian president said, during a meeting in Tehran with India's national security adviser Ajit Doval. "Iran has taken necessary steps and now it’s the other side's turn to seize the opportunity." Two deadlines for a permanent agreement on Iran's controversial nuclear program have already been missed, requiring the talks to be extended. Negotiators are now working toward the political outline of a deal by March 31, with the cut-off point for the technical details of a comprehensive accord by June 30. Rouhani said that although gaps remain between Iran and the P5+1 powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany -- it was up to them to close a deal. Disagreements center on the extent of nuclear activities Iran will be allowed to continue and the timetable for the lifting of sanctions.Agence France Presse

Salam Considering Adoption of New Mechanism to Facilitate Cabinet Work
Naharnet/Environment Minister Mohammed al-Mashnouq revealed on Tuesday that Prime Minister Tammam Salam is seeking to reach a new mechanism that organizes the work of his cabinet. “Salam aims at giving ministers the right to veto decrees that are exceptional and non-controversial,” Mashnouq said in comments published in the Kuwaiti al-Seyassah newspaper. He described the talks as positive as the rival ministers have no objection on reaching a mechanism that facilitates their meetings. The government, which assumed the president’s prerogatives, has been stuck in a limbo after President Michel Suleiman's tenure ended in May as any decree requires the agreement of the 23 rival ministers to be approved. Such a process is hindering the government's work over the veto right that certain cabinet members are exercising. Ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps have thwarted the elections. Mashnouq told the daily that the presidential crisis reached a dead end, expressing hope that “the regional countries would remove obstacles impeding the election of a new head of state soon.”

Riachi Says Dialogue with FPM on Right Track

Naharnet/Lebanese Forces official Melhem Riachi stressed on Tuesday that dialogue with the Free Patriotic Movement is on the right track, pointing out that negotiations are based on fixed principles. “The meetings will not be folkloric,” Riachi said in comments published in the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat. The LF official stressed that the two parties are “seeking to open a new page away from the past differences.”“We are almost done with the first stage of talks that is paving the way for a meeting between the LF chief (Samir Geagea) and FPM leader (Michel Aoun),” Riachi added. The official considered the presidential election as “part of the understanding” between the two parties. The rivalry between Aoun and Geagea has left the Baabda Palace vacant. Lebanon has been without a head of state since President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May. An Nahar newspaper reported that the draft paper of the understanding between the two parties is awaiting for Geagea to review the comments of Aoun. The LF chief traveled on February 2 on a private visit to Europe

Report: Hariri to Mark10th Assassination Anniversary of his Father in Person
Naharnet/Head of al-Mustaqbal Movement and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri might reportedly attend the anniversary of his father's assassination at the BIEL exhibition center in downtown Beirut on February 14. According to An Nahar newspaper published on Tuesday, Hariri is mulling to give his speech in person instead of appearing via video link. Al-Mustaqbal sources told the newspaper that Hizbullah is not invited to the event, which will include 6,000 guests, despite the ongoing dialogue between the two parties. Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal kicked off on December 23 a dialogue at Ain el-Tineh under the sponsorship of Speaker Nabih Berri to defuse tension between Shiites and Sunnis. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is tackling the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri and 22 others during a major bombing in Beirut. The tribunal is currently listening to the testimonies of a number of witnesses who were close to Hariri in the months preceding the assassination. It has so far indicted five Hizbullah members of being involved in the crime. Hizbullah has denounced the tribunal as an American-Zionist entity aimed at destroying it. The party's chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has vowed that the suspects, who are still at large, will never be found.

Mashnouq Says Bekaa's Security Plan Takes its Course this Week
Naharnet/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq has said that a much-anticipated security plan for the eastern Bekaa Valley will be implemented in the coming days. The plan for Bekaa's North will most likely be implemented over the weekend, al-Mashnouq told pan-Arab daily al-Hayat published on Tuesday. Around 1,000 Lebanese troops and 1,000 officers from the Internal Security Forces and General Security are expected to clamp down on criminal activity in the Baalbek-Hermel region. The area is known to be a safe haven for car-theft gangs and drug dealers, as well as suspects involved in kidnapping people in return for ransom. Al-Mashnouq revealed that he has also plans to resolve the current situation in the southern refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh that lies near the coastal city of Sidon. “It is no longer acceptable for it to become a refuge for outlaws particularly those belonging to armed terrorist organizations,” said the minister. He told al-Hayat that he has held several meetings with the representatives of Palestinian factions in the camp for that purpose.
On the recent campaign to remove party banners and flags from Beirut and several cities, al-Mashnouq said there is no going back on the decision now. He stressed that security forces are tasked with removing the black banners from the northern city of Tripoli. He was referring to the slogans of extremists who have pledged allegiance to Syria-based militant groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front.

UAE Resumes Air Strikes against IS Jihadists
Naharnet /The United Arab Emirates resumed air strikes on Tuesday against the Islamic State group which it had suspended after the jihadists captured a Jordanian pilot in December, the military said. "Aircraft of the F-16 squadron based in Jordan launched raids this morning against positions of the Daesh (IS) terrorist organisation, hitting their targets and returning safely to base," the UAE armed forces command said. Jordan and the UAE are part of the U.S.-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes against IS since last year.
Monday's statement did not say how many aircraft from the UAE squadron were in action, or where or what their targets were. The squadron deployed to Jordan on Sunday to boost the kingdom's fight against IS after the jihadists brutally murdered the captured pilot.
C-17 transporters and refuelling planes were also sent on the orders of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan as a show of solidarity. "The initiative... reaffirms the UAE's unwavering and constant solidarity with Jordan and its leading role and immense sacrifices for the security and stability of the region as embodied by martyr and hero Maaz al-Kassasbeh," the UAE state news agency WAM said on Sunday. Kassasbeh is the Jordanian pilot captured by IS when his plane crashed over northern Syria in December. The jihadists later burned him alive. Following Kassasbeh's murder, the UAE withdrew from the coalition's strike missions over fears for the safety of its pilots. The New York Times reported that the UAE wanted more to be done in terms of search and rescue of downed pilots in the conflict zones. On Thursday, the U.S. military said it had deployed aircraft and troops to northern Iraq to boost its ability to rescue downed coalition pilots. A U.S. official said on Friday, after Secretary of State John Kerry met Gulf ministers in Munich, that UAE flights were likely to resume "in a couple of days". Agence France Presse

Lebanese-born Texas man,Wissam Allouche, on trial over past ‘Hezbollah links’
The Daily Star/Feb. 10, 2015/BEIRUT: A Lebanese-born U.S. citizen is being tried on charges that he kept secret his alleged prior affiliations with Hezbollah and Amal to remain in the United States and possibly gain access to sensitive information, a local Texas newspaper reported. San Antonio Express newspaper said that Wissam Allouche, 45, began his trial Monday in a federal court. The allegations stem from his ex-wife’s relatives who reported him to the FBI. When a Joint Terrorism Task Force opened an investigation into the allegations in 2009, he was automatically put on a terror watch list. The United States considers Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization. Allouche denies the allegations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Roomberg told jurors in opening statements that Allouche admitted to an undercover agent to previously being a commander in the Amal Movement’s armed wing, which is currently allied with Hezbollah. But the two groups were rivals during the 1980s – the period during which Allouche is alleged to have been an Amal fighter. Roomberg also said that he told his ex-wife’s family that he served time in an Israeli jail and pummeled to death an Israeli pilot. Those stories and others prompted counter-terrorism agents to launch a probe into the allegations, the San Antonio Express said. The report said that Allouche worked as a linguist for the U.S. Army in Iraq during the latter years of the occupation. He reportedly got the gig after marrying an Army officer in Germany before moving to the United States in 2002.

Israel and Egypt forewarned of synchronized ISIS-Sinai assaults in both countries
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 9, 2015/Intelligence gathered by Egypt and Israel attest to the former Ansar Bait al-Maqdis - now reborn as the Islamic State’s operational arm in Sinai – being well into advanced preparations for a large-scale terrorist offensive targeting Israel forces manning the Egyptian frontier, along with a string of Egyptian targets across Sinai up to and including the Suez Canal and Cairo. According to debkafile’s counter-terrorism sources, the Islamist group was so elated by the outcome of its multiple attacks on Jan. 29, which left at least 40 Egyptian soldiers dead and more than 100 injured in Sinai and Suez towns, that it is determined to keep going. Using different types of rockets, including Grads, as well as mortars and car bombs, terrorist squads then broke into military bases in four cities in Sinai and two on the Suez Canal and set them on fire. Others killed all the personnel aboard military and police convoys before putting them to the torch. The ISIS Sinai arm is planning to target Israeli forces with a similar type of multiple offensive. Appropriate precautions for fending off this attack are in place. Cairo banned Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, as a terrorist organization in the wake of the support the Palestinian extremists extended to ISIS for this wholesale assault, supplying the terrorists with rockets and intelligence. In addition to Hamas, DEBKA’s sources report that Ansar Bait al-Maqdis has entered into operational collaboration with a newly-established Egyptian Islamist group, which calls itself “Agnad Misr” – Soldiers of Egypt. This group first broke surface on Jan. 24 with a communiqué bearing the motto “Retribution is Life.” It turns out to be made up of Salafi extremists mixed with former members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, one of the forerunners of the original Al Qaeda. Its terror agenda focuses on Cairo and its environs.

We must take the fight to ISIS’ doorstep
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Octavia Nasr/Al Arabiya
ISIS and other extremist groups continue to capture the world media headlines pushing horrific mass murders out of sight and out of mind. ISIS’ cruelty and barbaric acts are desperate attempts to attract attention and spread fear. They mask the terror group’s substantive expansion and drive us to ignore real crimes committed by sitting tyrants. World-class murderers and mobs are engaged in mass killings, uprooting and intimidation while those who can act and make a difference are too busy reacting aimlessly to ISIS’ drama.
The result is a knee-jerk reaction, a show of force that appeases emotions and distracts from the real problems at hand. It allows criminals to get away with their murders, or worse, plan and execute new ones. The timing of the air raids on ISIS positions and execution of al-Qaeda prisoners do not show signs of a planned operation with a clear aim and objectives The Jordanian reaction to the burning alive to its pilot was predictable and in many ways welcome. But the timing of the air raids on ISIS positions and execution of al-Qaeda prisoners do not show signs of a planned operation with a clear aim and objectives.
Shuttle diplomacy
The renewed shuttle diplomacy that ensued could potentially lead somewhere if genuine and not simply another emotional reaction. From Europe, we heard about efforts to strengthen Iraq’s sovereignty while emphasizing the Kurdish role for a possible lasting solution to usher in stability for Iraq and the region. This would have been a positive sign if we did not have the failing examples of western inaction or badly timed actions to take into account such as in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Egypt. On the Syrian front, where the ISIS threat is most urgent, the recent U.S. rhetoric is disappointing as it dropped the original demand that “Assad must go,” to suggest a more inclusive scenario of power-sharing between Assad and Syrian opposition. There does not seem to be a plan for the millions of refugees scattered around the region, nor a clear plan to defeat ISIS. Reading between the shadows of busy bodies hopping on planes and serving diplomatic jargon to a media corps still in a deep coma, it seems that the west is desperately looking for a temporary solution. Maybe even a simple mending of its battered image. While ISIS distracts us with theatrics, tyrants run amok to keep their clout, and the majority oblivious individuals among us think they are removed and safe. If the fight is not taken to ISIS directly, fierce, door-to-door, and costly, the nightmare of the so-called Islamic Caliphate will soon be a reality on the ground and it will threaten everyone without exception.

Obama warns Netanyahu: Don't sour Iran talks with Congress speech
Yitzhak Benhorin, Gilad Morag/Ynetnews
Published: 02.09.15/ Israel News
US president says difference in stance on Tehran is separate from the decision not to meet with PM during his Washington visit; Netanyahu says he's determined to speak to Congress to 'prevent dangerous agreement' with Iran.
US President Barack Obama on Monday warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against souring nuclear negotiations with Iran with his planned Congress address.
"It does not make sense to sour the negotiations a month or two before they're about to be completed and we should play that out. If, in fact, we can get a deal, then we should embrace that," the president said in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "If we can't get a deal, then we'll have to make a set of decisions and, as I've said to Congress, I'll be the first one to work with them to apply even stronger measures against Iran," he said. "But what's the rush? Unless your view is that it's not possible to get a deal with Iran and it shouldn't even be tested. And that, I cannot agree with, because as the president of the United States, I'm looking at what the options are if we don't get a diplomatic resolution. And those options are narrow, and they're not attractive," the president added.
However, despite the "real differences" between the American administration's position and that of Israel on Iran, "that's separate and apart from Mr. Netanyahu coming to Washington," Obama said. When asked about the decision not to meet with Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits Washington next month to address Congress on the Iranian threat, Obama reiterated that the decision was made due to the proximity to the elections in Israel.
Her added that "as much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White House, and I suspect she wouldn't have asked for one." He went on to say that the decision also "has to do with how we do business, and I think it's important for us to maintain these protocols because the US-Israeli relationship is not about a particular party."
Netanyahu is due to address a joint session of Congress about Iran's nuclear program on March 3, just two weeks before Israeli elections, following an invitation from John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House.
Boehner's invitation has caused consternation in both Israel and the United States, largely because it is seen as Netanyahu, a hawk on Iran, working with the Republicans to thumb their noses at Obama's policy on Iran. As a result, Israeli officials told Reuters they are considering whether Netanyahu should speak to a closed-door session of Congress, rather than in a prime-time TV address, so as to drain some of the intensity from the event, a source said.
Another option is for the prime minister to make his speech at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington the same week, rather than in Congress. Officials in Netanyahu's office said that for now his schedule had not changed. "In the past days the prime minister has been approached several times about his trip to the United States," one official said. "At the moment there is no change in the plans."
The American president warned the prime minister not to let the relationship between the United States and Israel be "clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics." "This isn't a relationship founded on affinity between the Labor Party and the Democratic Party or the Likud and the Republican Party. This is the US-Israeli relationship that extends beyond parties and has to do with that unbreakable bond that we feel and - and our commitment to Israel's security and the shared values that we have," Obama said.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, was not concerned about what his visit may do to US-Israel ties. "From the state's establishment to this day, there have been significant disagreements between Israel and the US and relations remained strong. This will be the case this time as well," he said during a launch event for the Likud's Russian-language elections campaign.
On nuclear negotiations with Iran, the US president said issues and gaps in negotiations have been "sufficiently narrowed and sufficiently clarified" and that the so-called P5+1 group has now offered Iran a deal that "allows them to have peaceful nuclear power but gives us the absolute assurance that is verifiable that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon."
The issues, he said, were no longer technical but rather political. "The issue now is whether Iran has the political will and desire to get a deal done," Obama said.
The US president also said he does not believe an extension would be "useful" unless Iran can agree to the basic outlines of a deal.
"If Iran has no aspiration to get nuclear weapon, there should be a possibility to get a deal," Obama said. "They have to make a decision."Netanyahu, meanwhile, said he was determined to go to Washington and address Congress.
"While there are those who are focusing on protocol or politics, "A bad deal with Iran is forming in Munich that will endanger Israel's existence. According to reports, the agreement will allow them to produce dozens of nuclear bombs. As prime minister, it is my duty to do everything to prevent this dangerous agreement and that's why I'm determined to go to Washington and present Israel's position before the members of Congress and the American people," he said.
Meanwhile, Sen Bernie Sanders, an independent, is the first senator to announce he won't attend Netanyahu's speech. Democratic Reps. John Lewis and Jim Clyburn are among a handful in their party who have pledged to boycott Netanyahu's speech. "The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy and the idea that the president wasn't even consulted - that is wrong," Sanders said. "I am not going. I may watch it on TV, but I'm not going."
**The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

How to Judge Putin's Trip to Egypt
Anna Borshchevskaya/Washington Institute
February 09, 2015
The visit will give the Kremlin a chance to increase its reach in Egypt while signaling to the West that Putin remains an influential world leader.
On February 9-10, Russian president Vladimir Putin will travel to Egypt for a bilateral meeting at President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's invitation. "The full range of bilateral relations will be discussed at the upcoming summit, including political, trade and economic, and humanitarian relations," according to a Kremlin-issued statement; "The two leaders will also exchange views on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process." In addition, Moscow reportedly seeks to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt, and Russian companies are looking to enter the country's oil and gas sector, so these issues may be broached as well.
As U.S.-Egyptian relations declined sharply after the military ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, Russian-Egyptian relations began improving. Cairo grew increasingly mistrustful of what it perceived as U.S. engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood. For his part, President Obama was somewhat critical of the coup, but perhaps more important, Washington delayed weapons deliveries to Egypt, withheld military aid, and later halted the nascent bilateral strategic dialogue.
In contrast, the Kremlin expressed support for the new Egyptian leadership after the coup, and senior officials have exchanged a number of visits since then. In November 2013, an Egyptian delegation visited Moscow and thanked Russia for its support of the "June 30 Revolution." The following February, Putin enthusiastically endorsed Sisi's presidential bid during a meeting with the field marshal outside Moscow, telling him, "This is a very responsible decision, to take upon yourself responsibility for the fate of the Egyptian people. I wish you luck on my own behalf and that of the Russian people."
As U.S.-Egyptian relations continued to worsen, Cairo increasingly turned away from the West and toward Russia. Last year, the two countries initialed arms contracts worth $3.5 billion -- their largest deal in many years, to be funded by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The contract reportedly stipulates that Russia will supply the Egyptian military with MiG-29 fighter jets, Mi-35 attack helicopters, air-defense missile complexes, ammunition, and other equipment. Obtaining more helicopters is especially critical to Egypt's campaign against Islamist insurgents. The military already owns several Russian helicopters; according to firsthand pilot accounts, they are a very good fit for Egypt's needs. Thus far, however, there is no evidence that the sale has happened yet, most likely because Saudi Arabia has not come through with the payment.
Meanwhile, during a press conference in Moscow late last month, Egyptian ambassador to Russia Mohammed al-Badri reportedly described bilateral relations as "on the rise," describing how trade between the two countries had increased to $3 billion in 2014. According to Russia's Federal Customs Service, the figure is even higher -- $4.6 billion between January and December 2014, $4.1 billion of which was Russian exports. Russia is the world's fourth-largest wheat producer, and Egypt is its second-largest buyer; for example, it purchased approximately 20 percent of Russia's wheat exports from 2013 to March 2014, according to the Financial Times. Georgy Petrov, a vice president with the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, noted recently that Russian businessmen are eager to enter Egyptian markets. Moreover, of the 10 million Russian tourists who traveled abroad in 2014, more than 3 million visited Egypt -- mainly Sharm al-Sheikh, effectively keeping the beleaguered Sinai resort city afloat.
Moscow's position on the Brotherhood converges with Sisi's. In February 2003, the Russian Supreme Court banned the group from operating in the federation and officially labeled it a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood had long been problematic for Russia, with Moscow often claiming that it helped arm radical Islamists in the North Caucasus who continue to destabilize the region today.
To be sure, the Kremlin sought to improve ties with Morsi once he became president, in part to regain some of the influence it had lost in the Arab world. For example, Putin publicly supported his attempts at "normalizing the situation" in Gaza in 2012, while Morsi sought to restore economic cooperation between the two countries in an April 2013 visit to Russia, in the context of Egypt's financial difficulties. Yet the latter talks did not lead to action. Ultimately, Moscow prefers a secular government in Egypt due to its own domestic concerns about radical Islamists. For Putin, relations with Sisi simply create fewer strains than with Morsi.
By contrast, Egypt believed that the United States had abandoned it in the fight against terrorists. "You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that," Sisi said in an August 2013 interview with the Washington Post, shortly after President Obama froze the scheduled delivery of F-16s and canceled joint military exercises. To some Egyptians, Washington even appeared to side with Morsi. In July 2013, Husam Hindi, a leader in the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement that spearheaded the campaign to oust Morsi, claimed that the Obama administration was collaborating with the Brotherhood. Reports that President Obama and the U.S. State Department hosted a number of Brotherhood members only added fuel to such conspiracy theories.
In this context, Russia's position on the Brotherhood bolsters Moscow's credibility in Cairo's eyes while diminishing that of the United States. The Kremlin will not criticize Cairo on its authoritarian bent, making relations with Russia a lot easier from Egypt's perspective and giving Cairo options should Washington become too critical.
Putin continues to take advantage of ambiguity and contradictions in Western policies toward the Middle East, and his visit to Cairo should be interpreted through this lens. Moreover, the Russian and Egyptian economies are stagnating. Russia has entered a deep recession due to both plunging oil prices and Western sanctions sparked by the March 2014 annexation of Crimea. In Egypt, poverty and unemployment are high amid threats from terrorism and violent domestic opposition. It is therefore unclear whether Putin's visit will amount to concrete steps or just talk.
Nevertheless, the trip may give Putin opportunities on several fronts. Politically, the visit is a statement to the West that he is not isolated internationally in light of his Ukraine aggression, despite Western statements to the contrary. Indeed, he may increase his official visits to non-Western countries in the months ahead to demonstrate that he is a strong global leader. Should he reach any concrete deals in Cairo, it would certainly bolster his claim. In this regard, any progress on the $3.5 billion weapons deal is something to watch.
The Obama administration is correct to criticize Egypt's democratic backslide. But when Washington cut off military aid, it also signaled withdrawal of support from an ally. As long as this policy remains in place, it keeps open the door for Putin and other anti-Western players to gain influence in Egypt at the expense of U.S. interests.
**Anna Borshchevskaya is an adjunct fellow with The Washington Institute and a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy.

Australian police thwart said imminent ISIS-linked terror attack
By REUTERS/02/11/2015
SYDNEY - Australian counterterrorism police said on Wednesday they had thwarted an imminent attack linked to the Islamic State group after arresting two men in Sydney on Tuesday. "When we did the search of the premises, a number of items were located, including a machete, a hunting knife, a home-made flag representing the prescribed terrorist organization IS, and also a video which depicted a man talking about carrying out an attack," New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn told reporters.
"We will allege that both of these men were preparing to do this act yesterday." In December, two hostages died as police stormed a cafe in central Sydney, ending a 17-hour siege. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, a self-styled sheik who harboured deep grievances against the Australian government and sought to align himself with the Islamic State militant group, was also killed. A number of raids have taken place in Sydney and Melbourne since Australia raised its national terror threat level to "high" for the first time in September, citing the likelihood of attacks by Australians radicalised in Iraq or Syria. Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its action against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, believes at least 70 citizens were fighting in the region, backed by about 100 Australia-based "facilitators".