LCCC ENGLISH DAILY
Bible Quotation For Today/A Prophecy Against Moab
Isaiah 15/01-09: "Ar in Moab is ruined, destroyed in a night! Kir in Moab is ruined, destroyed in a night! Dibon goes up to its temple, to its high places to weep; Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba. Every head is shaved and every beard cut off.
In the streets they wear sackcloth; on the roofs and in the public squares they all wail, prostrate with weeping. Heshbon and Elealeh cry out, their voices are heard all the way to Jahaz. Therefore the armed men of Moab cry out, and their hearts are faint. My heart cries out over Moab; her fugitives flee as far as Zoar, as far as Eglath Shelishiyah. They go up the hill to Luhith, weeping as they go; on the road to Horonaim they lament their destruction. The waters of Nimrim are dried up and the grass is withered; the vegetation is gone and nothing green is left. So the wealth they have acquired and stored up they carry away over the Ravine of the Poplars. Their outcry echoes along the border of Moab; their wailing reaches as far as Eglaim, their lamentation as far as Beer Elim. The waters of Dimon are full of blood, but I will bring still more upon Dimon—a lion upon the fugitives of Moab and upon those who remain in the land."
Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February
Family of 'Israeli agent' captured by Islamic State deny he's a spy/Elior Levy/Reuters/Ynetnews/February 13/15
Why the (toothless) Iran sanctions bill matters/Daniel Pipes/The Washington Times/February 13/15
Should Islam Be Banned for Blasphemy/Raymond Ibrahim/February 13-14/15
Putin, a Prisoner of the Past/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/February 13-14/15
The mystery that is Hassan Al-Turabi/Osman Mirghani/Asharq Al Awsat/February 13/15
Why Bashar Assad appears so smug/Michael Young/The Daily Star/ February 13/15
Assad and Hezbollah are taking advantage of rebels' weakness/Ron Ben-Yishai/Ynetnews/February 13/15
News published on February
Kerry on Hariri Anniversary: No Justification for Retention of Arms by a Militia that Answers to Damascus, Tehran
Hariri realized dream of education for thousands
Hariri’s killing a catalyst for regional turmoil
Lebanese leaders vow to honor Hariri legacy
The STL: solving the murder of Rafik Hariri
Timeline of major events since Hariri killing
New mausoleum renders Rafik Hariri legacy eternal
Bekaa Valley security plan nets 10 outlaws
Army arrests 56 lawbreakers in Bekaa Valley raids
Film depicts milestones of Rafik Hariri’s jlife
Yohan expected to subside Friday
Cabinet in turmoil over decision-making
Shamaa grilled by STL defense
Jumblatt backs FPM-LF dialogue, Abu Faour says
Italy donates truck, helicopter parts to Army
Reforms key to reining in deficit: Audi
Lebanon struggles to reopen snow-blocked roads
Report: Abdullah Azzam Brigades Militants Plotting Attacks in Lebanese Citys
Efforts Exerted to Implement Ain el-Hilweh Security Plan
Grenade Blast in Akkar Causes Material Damage
Qahwaji Heads to Riyadh to Participate in Meeting against ISIL
Khalil Aims at Replacing Customs with Tax on Consumption
Daryan Says No to Despair, Urges Coexistence on Hariri's 10th Murder Anniversary
Attorneys Spar in Trial for U.S.-Lebanese Marine who Disappeared
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Israel warns anew of action against Iran
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UN envoy says Assad part of solution for easing Syria violence
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Libya: Islamic State of Tripoli murders 21 “humiliated followers of the Coptic church” #Christianlivesmatter
Almost half of the “Palestinian” “journalists” killed by Israel actually Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives
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Kerry on Hariri
Anniversary: No Justification for Retention of Arms by a Militia that Answers to
Naharnet/U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday stressed that there is no “justification” for the retention of arms by Hizbullah, as he urged Lebanon's leaders to elect a new president through local efforts.
“Make no mistake: there is no justification for the retention of arms by a militia or terrorist group that answers -- not to the Lebanese people -- but to foreign governments in Damascus and Tehran,” Kerry said in a message commemorating the tenth anniversary of former premier Rafik Hariri's assassination, in an apparent reference to Hizbullah.
Hizbullah has sent around 5,000 fighters into neighboring Syria to bolster its regime against an Islamist-led uprising. The party argues that its military intervention was necessary to fend off the threat that Syria-based jihadist groups pose to Lebanon.
Noting that no challenge is “more perilous” to Lebanon’s security than “the rise of violent extremism throughout the region,” Kerry noted that Washington remains committed to “helping the Lebanese Armed Forces meet this challenge, because they alone have the legitimacy to defend their country’s borders and protect their citizens.”
Turning to the presidential crisis, the top U.S. diplomat pointed out that while the election of a president will not “fully resolve” the challenges Lebanon is facing, it will be “an essential step in the right direction.”
“I urge Lebanon’s leaders not to look outside of their country for a resolution to the presidential gridlock, but instead to find a solution from within,” Kerry added.
“Rafik Hariri, known to many as 'Mr. Lebanon,' was guided by his vision of a stable, sovereign, and prosperous homeland,” the U.S. official noted.
“He spent his life working to make Lebanon more democratic, more free, more prosperous, and more secure – for all its people. Ten years ago today, he was assassinated because some feared he might succeed,” added Kerry.
While remarking that “justice for that crime has not been served,” Kerry underlined that the United States “stands with the Lebanese people and the international community in supporting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and demanding that the murderers of Rafik Hariri be held accountable.”
“We also recognize the need to focus – not only on justice for the cowardly crimes of the past – but on Lebanon’s future – on honoring the legacy that Hariri left behind,” he went on to say.
Hariri was assassinated in a massive bombing that targeted his convoy in central Beirut on February 14, 2005.
The U.N.-backed STL is trying five Hizbullah members in absentia over their alleged involvement in the murder.
Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the court as a U.S.-Israeli scheme and vowed that the accused will never be found.
On behalf of U.S. President Barack Obama, Kerry reiterated his country's support for “the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, the Baabda Declaration, and Lebanon’s dissociation policy from foreign conflicts.”
Hariri’s killing a catalyst for
Feb. 14, 2015
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will go down in the annals of history as a major event that caused an earthquake in the political landscape of Lebanon. It brought about radical changes in the turbulent Middle East region, including unleashing a wave of popular upheavals in some Arab countries and fueling Sunni-Shiite tensions, analysts said Friday.
In addition to his success as a statesman and a business tycoon, spearheading Lebanon’s postwar reconstruction, Hariri is remembered on the 10th anniversary of his assassination, which falls Saturday, as a unique symbol of Sunni moderation and a leader who fought fiercely for Lebanon’s unity and sectarian coexistence. This heavy legacy is upheld by his son, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The Hariri killing was also credited for forcing the Syrian army, under massive local and international pressure, to withdraw from Lebanon, ending nearly three decades of Syria’s domination of its smaller neighbor.
Hariri’s assassination triggered a mass anti-Syria popular uprising in Downtown Beirut in March 2005, known as the Cedar Revolution. The March 14 Alliance, a coalition of parties that takes its name from the uprising, is still struggling for Lebanon’s freedom, sovereignty and independence.
The coalition, led by Hariri’s Future Movement, stands in opposition to the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, which draws its name from a counterprotest on March 8, 2005, in Downtown Beirut to thank Syria for its military and political role in Lebanon. Lebanon remains sharply divided politically between the rival pro- and anti-Syrian camps.
“Hariri’s assassination was the beginning of the cyclone that is currently sweeping across the entire region,” Sami Nader, a professor of economics and international relations at the Universite St. Joseph, told The Daily Star. “Hariri’s assassination dealt a major blow to Sunni moderation, disrupted the equilibrium that prevailed in the region between Saudi Arabia and Iran, triggered Sunni-Shiite tensions and set the stage for the rise of Sunni extremism.”
“The absence of moderation has led to the rise of extremism on both sides: on the Iranian side and the Sunni extremist side that has swept the entire region,” said Nader, also the director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, a Beirut-based think tank.
Nader explained that the “cyclone” referred to the popular upheavals that jolted Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, caused mainly by the “policy of isolation and marginalization” exercised by the governments in those countries.
“This is in addition to the emergence of militant organizations that do not recognize any of the governments in the Arab region,” he said.
A similar view was echoed by Imad Salamey, political science professor at the Lebanese American University.
“Hariri’s assassination represented the first shot in the growing wedge between two different components of Lebanese and Arab societies over the political direction of the region,” Salamey told The Daily Star.
“On the one hand, we have a camp that is represented by Harirism which is pushing for greater liberalization and openness, both economically and politically, expecting development accordingly,” he said. “On the other hand, we have a more conservative camp, represented by the so-called resistance axis – Syria, Iran and Hezbollah – that is rejecting liberalization and pushing for more conservative sectarianism in the region.”
“Hariri represented the liberalization movement. His death dealt a major blow to this liberalization and moderation in the Arab region in favor of Sunni and Shiite extremism,” Salamey added.
Analyst Qassem Qassir said the death of Hariri, killed along with 21 others in a massive car bomb explosion in Downtown Beirut Feb. 14, 2005, was at the root of the radical changes roiling the volatile region.
“The assassination of Rafik Hariri came at a crucial time that pushed the region toward radical changes serving both Israel and America. The assassination was in line with a calculated plan to change the shape of the region,” Qassir said.
“The assassination has led to Syria’s retreat from Lebanon, caused an earthquake in Syria, pushed Hezbollah into internal conflicts, implicated Syria and Hezbollah in Hariri’s killing, sparked a fierce political war against Hezbollah’s weapons and triggered an Israeli war on the party in 2006,” said Qassir, an expert on Islamic fundamentalist movements.
“The assassination has inflamed Sunni-Shiite tensions in Lebanon and the region,” he added.
Qassir argued that the killing of moderate Hariri was aimed at pushing Lebanon’s Sunnis toward extremism. “A section of the Sunnis in Lebanon and the region no longer considers Israel to be a priority, but Iran and Hezbollah are,” he said.
Nader, the USJ professor, said Hariri’s assassination and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq are two important milestones that led to the emergence of Sunni militant movements, most of them linked to Al-Qaeda.
“In addition to Hariri’s assassination and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the logic of isolation exercised by [former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki against the Sunnis in Iraq had created a fertile ground for the rise of militant Sunni movements in the region,” Nader said.
Despite the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005, Nader said, “Hezbollah has emerged as a major political player, whose role and policy were not inclusive, but sought to exclude the Sunnis from running the affairs of the state.”
He cited the toppling of Saad Hariri’s national unity government in January 2011 by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and the resistance party’s brief takeover of West Beirut in May 2008 as “a key moment of Sunni frustration and marginalization that fueled Sunni-Shiite tensions.”
“The Sunni marginalization and the logic of isolation exercised in Lebanon by Hezbollah was also practiced by Maliki in Iraq by the same architect,” Nader said, in a clear reference to Iran.
He added that the emergence of extremist Islamist organizations, namely ISIS and the Nusra Front, are posing “a big challenge” to the Hariri movement of Sunni moderation. “These organizations are presenting themselves as an alternative for Sunni moderation.”
“The strength of Rafik Hariri stemmed from the moderation movement he represented. Being the voice of moderation, the man had a broad popular base,” Nader added.
Salamey, the LAU professor, acknowledged that Hariri’s movement of Sunni moderation and liberalization is facing a tough challenge from militant Islamist movements that have flourished with the wave of the “Arab Spring” uprisings that have shaken the region in the past few years, toppling regimes and changing governments in countries, such as in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Iraq.
“Of course, the moderate and liberal movement represented by Harirism posed a challenge to sectarian extremism, including Sunni, Shiite and Christian,” he said. “All Islamist affiliated movements, both Sunni and Shiite, are at odds with what Harirism represents.”
“Moderates in the Middle East are on the defensive, especially the entire question of nationalism and state and nation is in jeopardy, in favor of a new conceptualization of Islamic state and Umma,” Salamey added.
Qassir also said the extremist Sunni groups are putting “a heavy burden” on the Future Movement. “But the ongoing dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah is aimed at facing the wave of religious extremism,” he said. He added that the Future Movement stands to benefit from confronting extremist organizations.
Qassir said the extremist Sunni organizations are doomed. “Sunni extremism is a circumstantial case with no future in the region because most of the Sunni regimes and governments support moderation and oppose religious extremism.”
Lebanese leaders vow to honor Hariri legacy
The Daily Star/Feb. 14, 2015
BEIRUT: Lebanese leaders expressed grief and nostalgia Friday on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, vowing to uphold his legacy by working for an independent and prosperous Lebanon.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the late premier’s vision and legacy, voicing his country’s support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
The Future Movement will mark the assassination by holding a ceremony at BIEL Saturday afternoon, during which former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son, will deliver a speech.
“Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, known to many as ‘Mr. Lebanon,’ was guided by his vision of a stable, sovereign and prosperous homeland,” Kerry said in a letter on behalf of U.S. President Barack Obama.
“He spent his life working to make Lebanon more democratic, more free, more prosperous and more secure – for all its people.”
“Still today, justice for that crime has not been served, and the United States stands with the Lebanese people and the international community in supporting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and demanding that the murderers of Rafik Hariri be held accountable,” Kerry added.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam said that with Hariri’s assassination, “Lebanon lost an exceptional leader, who helped it regain its distinctive place at the heart of the Arab world after years of [civil] war.”
In a statement, Salam described Hariri’s death as a “sad moment” in Lebanese history, adding that he hoped his killers would soon be brought to justice.
He also called for honoring Hariri’s legacy by supporting state institutions and urging moderation and dialogue, which he said the slain premier “adopted [as necessary] for a country as religiously and culturally diverse as Lebanon.”
Nazek Audi Hariri, Rafik’s widow, highlighted the need for the Lebanese to follow her late husband’s path.
“Given the painful events that Lebanon, the Arab region and the entire world are witnessing, we have a major reason to follow the path of martyr Rafik Hariri through shielding the internal front, boosting our unity and solidarity, engaging in dialogue and refraining from bickering and polarization which jeopardizes our security and civil peace,” she said. “We miss you ... we are living through hard times after your loss and we need you now more than ever before: the man of challenges in times of great challenges.”Hariri and 21 others were killed in a massive explosion which hit downtown Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005, an event which generated earth-shaking developments on Lebanon’s political scene.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said Saad Hariri would affirm the principles of the Future Movement in his Saturday speech. “He will explain that dialogue [with Hezbollah] aims at protecting the country ... and help in electing a president in order to energize state institutions,” Fatfat said.
“At the same time, former premier Hariri will reiterate the Future Movement’s opposition to Hezbollah’s arsenal and to its involvement in Syria’s war.”
Kerry said “that America’s commitment to Lebanon remains as strong as ever.” He expressed his country’s support for the Baabda Declaration, and Lebanon’s disassociation policy, repeating U.S. promises to continue helping the Lebanese Army as it confronted the rising threat of terrorism.
Kerry said the election of a president was necessary for Lebanon to fully confront security and economic challenges posed by the Syrian conflict.
“I urge Lebanon’s leaders not to look outside of their country for a resolution to the presidential gridlock, but instead to find a solution from within. Unless and until a president is chosen, the erosion of Lebanon’s political institutions will only become more pronounced,” he said.
Kerry’s words also indirectly slammed Hezbollah, classified by the U.S. as a terrorist group. “Make no mistake: there is no justification for the retention of arms by a militia or terrorist group that answers – not to the Lebanese people – but to foreign governments in Damascus and Tehran,” he said.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi vowed to continue the late Hariri’s legacy until “all the objectives he lived and died for” are achieved. “There is a long road ahead before we can restore the state’s authority, disband illegal arms and achieve full sovereignty in this country, for which Rafik Hariri was a martyr.”
Information Minister Ramzi Joreige praised Hariri for his support of public freedoms, especially the freedom of the press and public expression.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian expressed nostalgia for the stability and prosperity that he said prevailed under Hariri’s governance.
“The 10th annual commemoration of Rafik Hariri’s [death] comes at a gloomy time for Lebanon, as Parliament’s mandate has been extended twice, presidential elections have failed, institutions are rusting, security is volatile and war is next door,” Derian said, after visiting Hariri’s tomb.
Recalling the slain premier’s efforts to reconstruct the country after 15 years of civil war, Derian added: “Hariri has become a symbol of Lebanon’s stability, security and prosperity.”
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale visited Hariri’s grave as well to pay respects for the assassinated leader.
Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Naim Hasan highlighted Hariri’s leading role in Lebanese history. “He carried Lebanon in his heart and mind, and worked for its development at every level.”
During his Friday sermon, deputy head of the Higher Islamic Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan expressed his condolences to all Lebanese for Hariri and the other victims of the attack. “Hariri offered a lot to the country and its people, and was a martyr to all Lebanon.”
Assad and Hezbollah are
taking advantage of rebels' weakness
Published: 02.13.15/Israel Opinion
Analysis: While Assad and Iran-backed Hezbollah forces are indeed advancing towards the Israeli-Syrian border, their inability to defeat the rebels is preventing them from reaching their next goal – opening a front against Israel from Syria.
The onslaught being led by Syrian President Bashar Assad together with Hezbollah and Iranian forces south of Damascus, in the direction of Israel's border, is intended to relieve some of the rebel pressure on his embattled capital city. For years, Assad has tried to uproot rebel strongholds and prevent the different Islamist rebel factions from uniting, especially the Nusra Front, which has planted itself firmly in the city of Daraa near the border between Jordan and the Syrian Golan Heights.
As of now, Assad's army has failed at every one of its objectives: uprooting rebels from the suburbs of Damascus, cutting rebel supply lines and hitting the rebel strongholds in the Golan Heights hard. The Syrian army has tried – unsuccessfully – to take over the main road connecting Damascus and Daraa as well as the Syrian side of the Golan Heights no less than three times.
In one such attack, the regime forces were aided by professional Russian consultants who liaised with Iranians, but to no avail. Daraa remains a Nusra Front stronghold and different groups of Islamist rebels have taken over the Syrian Golan Heights across the border with Israel, and in the meantime are just expanding their control of the area.
This situation poses a real and immediate threat not only to the Assad regime that is already in control of one third of Syrian territory, but also endangers the positions of senior government officials and members of the Assad family. It is for this reason that Assad is taking advantage of the relative weakness of the rebels throughout Syria, in order to distance the Islamist rebels from Damascus and force them south and eastwards, and mainly in order to cut off the supply lines of equipment and food running through the Jordanian border to Daraa for the rebels in Damascus.
The rebels in Syria are now in a weak position as they are forced to dedicate most of their efforts to the welfare of the civilian population in villages of which they seized control, and whose residents are currently suffering from harsh winter conditions. Additionally, the Islamic State group is on the defensive due to the US-led coalition's air campaign against them and because of the successes claimed by Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground. In such a situation, Assad can coordinate efforts in the area south of Damascus and even send Hezbollah fighters and Iranian advisers to other important fronts, and move them to the offensive line concentrated south of the capital.
The Israeli angle in this story derives from the story the Syrians, Hezbollah and Iran are telling themselves. In their view, Israel established a “security zone” in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights through a compromise with Islamist rebels who took over the strip adjacent to the border with Israel. Hezbollah has claimed in its media outlets that Israel has essentially created a type of security strip, similar to the one it had in southern Lebanon. A number of Syrian commanders appeared on Syrian television channels and made similar statements.
This argument is far from the reality, but there is an ounce of truth to it. Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon recently said in an interview with Haaretz that Israel is maintaining good relations with the more moderate organizations east of the security fence in the Golan Heights and even gives them humanitarian aid. It must be made clear that the same organizations considered moderate are not the South Lebanon Army (SLA), and the aid they receive from Israel is mostly humanitarian.
However, such claims serve the interests of Syrian propaganda and Iran and Hezbollah’s joint strategic plans, considering that Hezbollah is now interested in opening a front against Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights. Hezbollah also knows that if it works directly from the Lebanese border, it is risking a war with Israel, and neither the movement nor its Iranian patrons are interested in that now.
The strategic objectives, namely blocking the rebels' supply routes from Daraa to Damascus and occupying the Syrian Golan or dividing the rebels in the area, dictate the direction of attack for the regime and its collaborators. Syrian army troops and armored corps mainly operate on both sides of the road connecting between Daraa and Damascus, and they are pushing southwards towards Daraa and the border with Jordan.
Another effort is being made west of the Daraa-Damascus road, towards the direction of the border with Israel – mainly to seize control of surrounding area, from which it will be possible to bomb the rebel strongholds in the villages below and develop further attacks.
At present, the regime is not gaining substantial successes. Syrian fighters and Syrian armored corps have succeeded in overtaking parts of the Daraa-Damascus road and rebel strongholds on both sides and have also taken control of several villages in the Golan Heights. However, despite the direct involvement of Iranian consultants in the fighting, Daraa is still controlled by the Nusra Front and as such so are the border crossings and smuggling routes through which the Islamist insurgents are getting supplies from Jordan – all operating fully despite the limitations of the weather.
If the Syrian regime and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces succeed in taking over the entire Syrian Golan Heights from Nusra Front's grasp, the next strategic objective would be to build an infrastructure for another front against Israel. Right now we are not there yet.
Iran Quds Force
commander,Gen.Qassem Soleimani, says ISIS’ days are numbered
Agencies/Feb. 13, 2015
TEHRAN / BAGHDAD: An influential Iranian general was quoted Thursday as saying that ISIS militants were “nearing the end of their lives,” as the jihadi group seized a town in western Iraq and attacked a nearby air base where U.S. Marines are training Iraqi forces.
Gen.Qassem Soleimani, the once rarely seen commander of the powerful Quds Force, has become the public face of Iran’s support for the Iraqi and Syrian governments against jihadis.
He has frequently been pictured on social media in Iraq with pro-government forces, including Kurdish fighters and Shiite militia units in battle areas.
“Considering the heavy defeats suffered by ISIS and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, we are certain these groups are nearing the end of their lives,” Soleimani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.
His extremely rare published remarks came in a speech made Wednesday in his home province Kerman to mark the 36th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
Soleimani also said Tehran’s regional influence was growing.
“Today we see signs of the Islamic Revolution being exported throughout the region, from Bahrain to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen and North Africa,” he said.
“The arrogants and the Zionists have admitted, more than before, to their own weakness and to the Islamic Republic’s power, following their successive defeats,” he said.
Iranian officials often use the term “arrogants” to refer to the United States and other Western powers, while Zionists is used in Tehran to refer to Israel without acknowledging its existence as a state.
Soleimani reportedly landed in Baghdad hours after ISIS overran Mosul in June and led the anti-jihadi counterattack at the head of Iran’s deep military involvement in Iraq.
The Quds Force – the foreign wing of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard – conducts sensitive security functions abroad, including intelligence, special operations and political action deemed necessary to protect the Islamic Republic.
Meanwhile, ISIS insurgents took control of most of the western Iraqi town of Al-Baghdadi, and launched a failed attack against the Al-Asad air base.
Al-Baghdadi, about 85 km northwest of Ramadi in Anbar province, had been besieged for months by the radical militants who captured vast swaths of Iraq’s north and west last year.
“Ninety percent of Al-Baghdadi district has fallen under the control of the insurgents,” district manager Naji Arak told Reuters by phone.
Militants attacked Al-Baghdadi from two directions earlier in the day and then advanced on the town, intelligence sources and officials in the Jazeera and Badiya operations commands said.
The officials added that another group of insurgents then attacked the heavily guarded Ain al-Asad air base 5 km southwest of the town, but were unable to break into it.
About 320 U.S. Marines are training members of the Iraqi 7th Division at the base, which has been struck by mortar fire on at least one previous occasion since December.
A Defense Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the situation in Anbar, while Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Comm. Elissa Smith confirmed the fighting in Al-Baghdadi. She said there had been no direct attack on the air base, adding: “There were reports of ineffective indirect fire in the vicinity of the base.”
Most of the surrounding towns in Anbar fell under ISIS control after the group’s rapid advance across the Syrian border last summer.
Baghdad has not requested foreign ground forces to battle the militants, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari reiterated, after U.S. President Barack Obama called for military operations that stop short of a full-scale invasion.
Speaking in Sydney, the Iraqi minister said ground forces were not part of his government’s plan.
“We have never asked for a ground forces contribution,” he said through an interpreter after meetings with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
“We have established a set of guidelines,” for the international coalition, Jafaari told a news conference. This was to provide air support for Iraqi forces, training and intelligence, he stressed.
Also, Jordanian air force jets bombed ISIS hideouts in Syria, state television said, resuming the intensified raids that ended at the weekend.
“The air force has bombed and destroyed select targets of the criminal gang ISIS this afternoon,” it said.
UAE air force jets that arrived in Amman this week started raids against reinforcements – a squadron of F-16 fighters – carried out a second mission Thursday, an army source said.
Jordan’s King Abdullah has vowed to avenge the killing of pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh, who was burned to death by ISIS militants.
New battle brewing on the Hill over Iran deal
By MICHAEL WILNER /J.Post/02/13/2015 04:04
WASHINGTON – A new Senate bill might cause additional problems for the White House, as it seeks to clinch a deal with Iran over its nuclear program by the end of March. While new legislation triggering sanctions on Iran has been put aside at least until March 24, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) is looking to introduce a bill of his own before the end of the month that would require congressional approval of any final nuclear agreement. Sources on Capitol Hill told The Jerusalem Post that Corker seeks to introduce the legislation before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3. The legislation does not currently have a Democratic co-author.
Withheld sanctions legislation, formally titled the Nuclear Weapon-Free Iran Act of 2015, was written by senators Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois). Ten Democratic senators, including Menendez himself, said they would wait to support a vote on the bill until after March 24, granting US President Barack Obama time to negotiate a political framework agreement by then. Obama threatened to veto that legislation if it reaches his desk before the nuclear talks take their natural course. He has not spoken about the tenets of Corker’s bill, other than to say, alongside his aides, that Congress will continue to play a crucial role in shaping Iran policy.
Corker’s plan, originally proposed last year in a different form, would require the administration to submit any final agreement to Congress, which would then hold hearings and, if necessary, an up-or-down vote of approval or disapproval of the deal.
Whether such a resolution could be binding is a matter of debate on the Hill, given the president’s prerogatives on foreign policy matters. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) sees an alternative, should a deal come to pass that his caucus disapproves of: defund its execution and refuse to lift sanctions as prescribed. Netanyahu says he is coming to address the legislature “because Congress might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran.”
Obama will not host Netanyahu during the visit. The deadline for a political framework among the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany is March 31.
Dr. Ashton Carter, is confirmed as US secretary of defense
By MICHAEL WILNER /J.Post/13.02.15
93 senators voted in favor of Carter and five voted against. Carter will serve as the US President Barack Obama's fourth defense secretary.
WASHINGTON -- Dr. Ashton Carter, a physicist, academic and a veteran of the Pentagon brass, has been confirmed as secretary of defense. 93 senators voted in favor of Carter and five voted against. Carter will serve as the US President Barack Obama's fourth defense secretary. The academic writings of Carter reveal an alignment on Iran policy with the president, who has said publicly over the years that diplomacy is the most "durable" course of action with Iran.
"Military action must be viewed as a component of a comprehensive strategy rather than a stand-alone option for dealing with Iran's nuclear program. But it is an element of any true option," Carter wrote in a June 2008 paper for Harvard University's Belfer Center. "Military action by itself will not finish the problem." In his confirmation hearing, Carter said he would likely support the transfer of lethal defensive arms to Ukraine, before Thursday's announcement of a new ceasefire agreement between Kiev and Moscow. Carter also expressed support for Obama's strategy against Islamic State, heavily reliant on air power in the initial face of degrading the terrorist network. "You don’t want the population to settle into having ISIS rule them," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. The chairman of that committee, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), voted in Carter's favor despite staunch and vocal opposition to the president's foreign policy on virtually all fronts.
"Dr. Carter is a worthy choice for secretary of defense. He has the experience, knowledge, and skill to succeed," McCain said on the Senate floor, announcing his vote. "I do so with sincere hope and sadly little confidence that the president who nominated Dr. Carter will empower him to lead and contribute to the fullest extent of his abilities. Because at a time of global upheaval and multiplying threats to our security, the American people need and deserve nothing less.”
Obama called Carter a "a key leader of our national security team in the first years of my presidency," in a congratulatory statement on his confirmation. "We have the strongest military in history of the world," Obama said, "and with Secretary Carter at the Pentagon and our troops serving bravely around the world, we’re going to keep it that way."
Putin, a Prisoner of the Past
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 13 Feb, 2015
While learning from history is the first duty of any statesman worth his salt, he should also be on guard against learning the wrong lessons.
One example is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt at building a national strategy around certain moments in history that are long gone, never to return.
In this context Putin ordered a big celebration for the 70th anniversary of the Yalta Conference of February 1945 in which US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin carved post-war Europe into zones of influence. New bronze statues of the “Big Three” were unveiled in the Crimean resort, offering Russia another occasion to reaffirm its annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.
By coincidence, the 70th anniversary of Yalta also coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Accords of 1975, an attempt at providing the so-called détente strategy with a legal backbone. While Putin beats the drums about Yalta as a means of promoting Russia’s special status in its “near neighborhood,” European Union leaders, especially Germany’s Angela Merkel, dwell on the importance of the Helsinki Accords.
The trouble is that neither Yalta nor Helsinki reflect the new realities of a Europe caught between a desire for re-unification and a thirst for national self-assertion as demonstrated by secessionist movements in Scotland and Catalonia among other regions of the European Union. Under Yalta the ceasefire lines produced by Nazi Germany’s defeat transformed into permanent borders guaranteed by the powers that controlled them. In many cases these were artificial borders and in some instances, such as the division of Germany into two states, nothing but the victor’s diktat. Nevertheless, the Helsinki Accords insisted on full respect for those artificial frontiers.
In the past four decades, however, those frontiers have changed again.
The Soviet Union has been broken into 15 independent republics while the two Germanys have been reunited. Three of the USSR’s former republics have joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union. Yugoslavia has been broken into six separate republics with Kosovo as a seventh mini-state. Czechoslovakia has divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The Helsinki Final Act represented a frame for an historic snapshot that no longer exists. Thus Merkel’s hopes of reviving it represent a waste of time at best and the taking of high risks with European security at worst.
Putin’s Yalta illusion is an even more dangerous gambit.
To start with, the idea of a Russian “zone of influence” enjoys little support among the peoples directly concerned. According to several polls, even in Russia itself, a majority are at best doubtful about what many regard as a high-risk strategy. To be sure, most Russians want their nation to re-emerge as a major power with great influence in the international arena. However, when asked if they are prepared to go to war in pursuit of that goal, a majority of Russians adopt an ambivalent posture.
Support for a revival of Yalta zones of influence is even less in the areas directly targeted by Putin. In Ukraine only 16 percent are favorable to a customs union with Russia, compared to 57 percent who want to join the European Union. More importantly, perhaps, a slim majority want Ukraine to join NATO. Even in Byelorussia, regarded by some as the most pro-Russian of the former Soviet republics, support for NATO and the European Union is twice as high as for closer ties with Moscow. In Transcaucasia, support for NATO and the EU is between 70 and 80 percent in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Even in Armenia, the most pro-Russian of the former USSR republics, there is a two-third majority for closer ties with the European Union rather than Moscow.
Putin has often hinted that his next move would be against Moldova where the self-styled Transdniester republic is dominated by pro-Russian elements. However, there, too, a majority seek integration with the EU. The Russian cyber-attack against Estonia two years ago produced nothing but greater anti-Russian sentiments in that Baltic republic.
How could Putin hope to re-impose Yalta-style “zones of influence” when none of the former Soviet republics has been ready to endorse the Russian annexation of Crimea let alone the 2008 Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Stalin was successful in carving out a zone of influence under Yalta because of a number of factors that no longer exist.
In 1945, many in nations in eastern and central Europe saw the USSR as a liberator that, regardless of its obnoxious aspects, had helped defeat the Nazi monster. At the same time, the USSR was regarded by a good segment of the European left as the heartland of Socialism in the uncertain post-war world. There were Communist parties in all eastern and central European countries, some with genuine popular bases of their own. In Western Europe, Italian and French Communist parties were major political forces dedicated to supporting Soviet influence against “American Imperialism.”
Putin’s empire-building project, however, has no such grassroots support anywhere in his coveted zones of influence. This is partly because Putin’s strategy is based on 19th century-style nationalism. Why should a Moldovan, to cite just an example, wish to lose his newly won independence solely to help Putin to build an empire?
We now know that the annexation of Crimea came as a result of a thinly masked Russian military operation, not a popular uprising by Russian-speaking natives. Russians call that type of operation “Maskirovka,” or “Warfare through deception.” This is why Russia is treating Crimea as occupied territory with checkpoints all over the place and restrictions on basic liberties of the inhabitants.
While Putin’s strategy in “near neighborhood” is based on the Yalta illusion, his forays into the Middle East are prompted by another illusion: the Soviet alliance with military-based Arab regimes during the Cold War. Putin imagines that Gamal Abdel Nasser is still in charge in Cairo while Hafez Al-Assad sets the tune in Damascus and Saddam Hussein leads the dance in Baghdad and Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli.
Putin is seizing the opportunity provided by President Barack Obama’s policy of undermining the United States’ traditional post-Yalta leadership position. The effect of the American retreat was felt in Minsk last week when Putin managed to fudge the Ukraine issue in a marathon exercise in deception with Merkel, French President François Hollande, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. However, Putin has no guarantee that the US will always remain on its current rudderless course.
Having read history the wrong way, tovarish Putin is a prisoner of the past. And that is bad news for Russia, indeed for the whole world.
Should Islam Be Banned
February 12, 2015
Originally published under the title, "Islam: Banned for Blasphemy?"
Soon after Muslim gunmen killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo offices, which published satirical caricatures of Muslim prophet Muhammad, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—the "collective voice of the Muslim world" and second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations—is again renewing calls for the United Nations to criminalize "blasphemy" against Islam, or what it more ecumenically calls, the "defamation of religions."
Yet the OIC seems to miss one grand irony: if international laws would ban cartoons, books, and films on the basis that they defame Islam, they would also, by logical extension, have to ban the entire religion of Islam itself—the only religion whose core texts actively and unequivocally defame other religions, including by name.
To understand this, consider what "defamation" means. Typical dictionary-definitions include "to blacken another's reputation" and "false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another, as by slander or libel." In Muslim usage, defamation simply means anything that insults or offends Islamic sensibilities.
Islam is the only religion whose core texts actively and unequivocally defame other religions.
However, to gain traction among the international community, the OIC cynically maintains that such laws should protect all religions from defamation, not just Islam (even as Muslim governments ban churches, destroy crucifixes, and burn Bibles). Disingenuous or not, the OIC's wording suggests that any expression that "slanders" the religious sentiments of others should be banned.
What, then, do we do with Islam's core religious texts—beginning with the Koran itself— which slanders, denigrates and blackens the reputation of other religions? Consider Christianity alone: Koran 5:73 declares that "Infidels are they who say God is one of three," a reference to the Christian Trinity; Koran 5:72 says "Infidels are they who say God is the Christ, [Jesus] son of Mary"; and Koran 9:30 complains that "the Christians say the Christ is the son of God … may God's curse be upon them!"
Considering that the word "infidel" (kafir) is one of Islam's most derogatory terms, what if a Christian book or Western cartoon appeared declaring that "Infidels are they who say Muhammad is the prophet of God—may God's curse be upon them"? If Muslims would consider that a great defamation against Islam—and they would, with the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that the Koran defames Christians and Christianity.
Indeed, it is precisely because of this that some Russian districts are banning key Islamic scriptures—including Sahih Bukhari, which is seen as second in authority after the Koran itself. According to Apastovsk district RT prosecutors, Sahih Bukhari has been targeted because it promotes "exclusivity of one of the world's religions," namely Islam, or, in the words of Ruslan Galliev, senior assistant to the prosecutor of Tatarstan, it promotes "a militant Islam" which "arouses ethnic, religious enmity."
Similarly, consider how the Christian Cross, venerated among millions, is depicted—is defamed—in Islam: according to canonical hadiths, when he returns, Jesus ("Prophet Isa") will destroy all crosses; and Muhammad, who never allowed the cross in his presence, once ordered someone wearing a cross to "throw away this piece of idol from yourself." Unsurprisingly, the cross is banned and often destroyed whenever visible in many Muslim countries.
What if Christian books or Western movies declared that the sacred things of Islam—say the Black Stone in Mecca's Ka'ba—are "idolatry" and that Muhammad himself will return and destroy them? If Muslims would consider that defamation against Islam—and they would, with all the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that Islamic teaching defames the Christian Cross.
Here is a particularly odious form of defamation against Christian sentiment, especially to the millions of Catholic and Orthodox Christians. According to Islam's most authoritative Koranic exegetes, including the revered Ibn Kathir, Muhammad is in paradise married to and copulating with the Virgin Mary.
Modern day Muslim scholars and sheikhs agree that it is permissible to defame and mock Christianity.
What if a Christian book or Western movie portrayed, say, Muhammad's "favorite" wife, Aisha—the "Mother of Believers"—as being married to and having sex with a false prophet in heaven? If Muslims would consider that a great defamation against Islam—and they would, with all the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that Islam's most authoritative Koranic exegetes defame the Virgin Mary.
Nor is such defamation of Christianity limited to Islam's core scriptures; modern day Muslim scholars and sheikhs agree that it is permissible to defame and mock Christianity. "Islam Web," which is owned by the government of Qatar, even issued a fatwa that legitimizes insulting Christianity. (The Qatari website also issued a fatwa in 2006 permitting burning people alive—only to take it down after the Islamic State used the fatwa's same arguments to legitimize burning a Jordanian captive pilot.)
The grandest irony of all is that the "defamation" that Muslims complain about—and that prompts great violence and bloodshed around the world—revolves around things like cartoons and movies, which are made by individuals who represent only themselves; on the other hand, Islam itself, through its holiest and most authoritative texts, denigrates and condemns—in a word, defames—all other religions, not to mention calls for violence against them (e.g., Koran 9:29).
It is this issue, Islam's perceived "divine" right to defame and destroy, that the international community should be addressing—not silly cartoons and films.
**Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a CBN News contributor. He is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007).
Why the (toothless) Iran sanctions
Daniel Pipes/The Washington Times
February 13, 2015
Nearly all the 54 Republican U.S. senators will vote in favor of the Kirk-Menendez bill requiring sanctions on Iran if the P5+1 negotiations fail. President Obama has promised to veto it. Now, the senate is gearing up for a high-drama vote; will Democrats provide the 13 to 15 votes needed for a veto-proof majority?
Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) co-authored the current Iran sanctions bill.
Lost in the shuffle is a little-noticed section of the bill that, if passed, guts it. The "Draft of Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015," posted on the website of Sen. Mark Kirk (Republican of Illinois) contains a "Waiver of Sanctions." Designed to win the support of skittish Democrats, it also undermines the bill's goal of forcing Obama's hand in the negotiations. Section 208 bears quotation in full:
The President may waive the application of any sanction pursuant to a provision of or amendment made by this title for a 30-day period, and may renew the waiver for additional 30-day periods, if the President, before the waiver or renewal, as the case may be –
(1) certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that – (A) the waiver or renewal, as the case may be, is in the national security interest of the United States; (B) the waiver or renewal, as the case may be, is necessary to and likely to result in achieving a long-term comprehensive solution with Iran; and (C) Iran is not making further progress on its nuclear weapons program and is in compliance with all interim agreements with respect to that program; and
(2) submits to the appropriate congressional committees a comprehensive report on the status of the negotiations toward a long-term comprehensive solution that includes an assessment of the likelihood of reaching that solution and the time frame anticipated for achieving that solution.
What's the point, one might ask, of the pro-sanctions side struggling so hard to attain a veto-proof majority when Obama can negate its provisions at will? Indeed, he has already made statements along the very lines the bill requires, notably in his State of the Union (SOTU) address in January, when he (falsely) claimed that "for the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material." On the other side, why does the White House expend so much political capital stopping this bill when it could let it pass and then kill it by invoking the waiver?
Why the major combat over what amounts to a symbolic resolution?
In part, it increasingly embarrasses Obama by making him unceasingly justify the waver every 30 days. But also, as he glancingly explained in the SOTU, he passionately wants Kirk-Menendez defeated because "new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails … [by] ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again."
In other words, the Iranian pseudo-parliament (the Majlis) is warning that the bill's passage – even if its sanctions are subsequently waived – in itself cancels the existing interim accord and ends the negotiating process. Iran's foreign minister also declared that the Majlis would retaliate against any new U.S. sanctions legislation by ramping up the nuclear program; and that new sanctions would damage the West's favorite Iranian politician, President Hassan Rouhani.
The Iranian Majlis sure looks like a real parliament.
With this clever tactic, the Iranians have provoked a grand test of wills in Washington, turning Obama into their enforcer obliged to tame Congress; Majlis speaker Ali Larijani has warned that "If Obama can't solve his problems [with Congress], he himself will be responsible for the disruption of the negotiations." Rather than tell Tehran to take a hike, the administration (in keeping with its larger strategy) fell for this ruse, resulting in a forthcoming Senate battle royal.
Of course, cajoling Tehran to the negotiating table ignores how the much Iranians benefited from the last accord, signed in November 2013, and how they expect to do as well in the next one. It also ignores that, to provide diplomatic cover as their approximately 10,000 centrifuges busily whirl away, they seek ad nauseam negotiations.
The cheerful Geneva negotiators on Nov. 23, 2013. The Iranian foreign minister (the man without a tie) enjoys the ceremonial center.
Is this not reminiscent of the bazaar, where the wily merchant charmingly cheats the naïve tourist? The stake, however, is not the price of a Persian carpet but an apocalyptic rogue regime acquiring and perhaps deploying nuclear weapons.
And so, the toothless Kirk-Menendez bill actually does have real importance. It needs those 67 votes.
**Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2015 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.
The mystery that is Hassan Al-Turabi
Osman Mirghani/Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 13 Feb, 2015
There are people who live their whole lives in the spotlight, arousing controversies over their roles and ideas. While some find themselves forced into the limelight against their will, others seem to be ecstatic about the atmosphere of controversy and confusion they create. Sudan has its share of both types of people. Many figures have, sometimes deliberately, created controversy in different periods and for different reasons. However, I believe no one has raised as much controversy as Hassan Al-Turabi with his views, stances, fluctuations and maneuvers. This is not to mention his well-known role in the 1989 coup that toppled the democratic government of Sadiq Al-Mahdi, replacing it with the National Islamic Front (NIF) and “General” Omar Al-Bashir, who has now been in power for more than four decades and continues to struggle fiercely to remain in power.
Turabi, who turned 83 in early February, continues to raise controversy and confusion over his stances and views, particularly since he remains at the center of the political arena and the NIF—an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the past few days, media outlets and online forums in Sudan have been abuzz with statements attributed to Turabi in which he said he said that he wants to be assured regarding the future of the country before he leaves this life. Among the issues he said would achieve tranquility in Sudan are dialogue, unity, and the renunciation of infighting. He claimed the events in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Egypt are the result of God’s anger with the Islamic Ummah (community). In a speech he gave, with Bashir in attendance, Turabi seemed to resuscitate a mentality that prevailed back in the days when Sudan was a mecca and safe haven for Islamists from around the world. “One day we will get together as Europe did; we want to expand eastward and westward overseas,” he said.
The speech marks one of Turabi’s surprising U-turns. He is returning to dialogue with the regime after he fell out with it in the wake of the infamous 1999 bargain which saw some of his disciples, most prominently the NIF’s “emir” and former vice-president, Ali Osman Taha, enter into an alliance with Bahsir to push out their guide. More than 15 years into the fallout, Turabi returns today to meet with the ruling party and its leader Bashir and even shake hands and exchange smiles with his former disciple Taha. He left opposition ranks, becoming extremely supportive not only of dialogue with the government he had previously called for toppling, but also of participation in the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for April.
Some see in Turabi’s about-face a new conspiracy and maneuver on the part of Sudan’s Islamists who conspired against and deceived political factions on several occasions since their coup against the democratic Mahdi regime. That power reversal saw Bashir enter the presidential palace while Turabi, along with other political leaders, were put behind bars. As for Taha, he disappeared and started directing the putchist elements from behind the scenes. The trick at the time was to cover up the identity of those who had mounted the coup so the world and the people of Sudan would not know it was the Islamists who were in fact responsible. The aim was also to protect the NIF’s leaders from prosecution in case the coup failed. Putting Turabi in prison meant the NIF would be acquainted with the plans and aims of the detained political leaders. The aim today seems to be to confuse opponents and give the regime more time in power, especially now that people have grown tired with the government as living conditions continue to deteriorate and wars expand—and corruption among those in power becomes the main topic of discussion among the public.
There is some speculation currently circulating about pressures and mediation efforts coming from other Islamist movements and their supporters to push Sudan’s Islamists to wrap up their differences and unite, particularly following the setbacks suffered by the Muslim Brotherhood shortly after they ecstatically rode the tide of the Arab Spring.
Many of the region’s Islamists found in the Brotherhood-affiliated regime in Khartoum a safe haven and base of support since the early 1990s. The role played by the Sudanese regime in supporting Islamist militias and movements is no secret. Bashir boasted about it in public when he said that the fall of Muammar Gaddafi was achieved through Sudanese weapons. Today the Brotherhood and their backers in the region may feel the need for the Islamist regime in Khartoum to be coherent for fear that widening divisions will eventually lead to their collapse.
Regardless of the incentives and motives, the Islamist movement is clearly raising the banner of dialogue and seeking to convince others of this option after 10 years of disputes over tactics, power and orientations. The aim is to disperse opponents and buy time in order to get the regime to the elections that would renew Bashir’s term for another five years. In the midst of this arena, and with all the maneuvers and ploys, stands Turabi, once again confounding expectations and raising eyebrows.
Why Bashar Assad appears so smug
Michael Young/The Daily Star
Feb. 12, 2015
Bashar Assad’s smugness in a series of recent interviews may be justified. As the Syrian president looks around him, he sees that several regional developments are going his way. Whether this means his regime is saved is another question, but for the first time in four years his barbaric policies appear to be paying off.
Assad’s efforts in 2011 to depict the uprising against his rule as no more than the work of armed terrorist gangs has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Syrian regime helped assure that extremists would gain control of the revolt and turn it into a sectarian conflict. Today, even Arab countries opposed to Assad have made the campaign against ISIS a priority, undermining the primacy of the struggle against a brutal Syrian regime.
Terrorism is the new catchword and has fragmented those opposed to Assad. Egypt, though it has close ties with Saudi Arabia, has taken a different tack from Riyadh. When President Mohammad Morsi was overthrown in 2013, Egypt’s new military regime re-established diplomatic relations with Damascus, which Morsi had suspended. President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has his own terrorism problem in Sinai, and this week he hosted one of Assad’s main backers, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seeks to benefit from tensions between Cairo and Washington and is pushing his own peace plan for Syria.
Assad must also be delighted with the very visible shift in American attitudes. While U.S. officials continue to mouth the line that “Assad must go,” the reality is that the Obama administration prefers Assad to the unknown. Moreover, even if it will not admit it, the U.S. knows that ground forces are necessary as it tries to “defeat” ISIS, and for better or worse that means Assad’s forces in certain areas of Syria.
Beyond that Washington has increasingly adopted a position favorable to Iran in the Middle East, reassuring it that the United States does not intend to weaken Iranian allies in Iraq and Syria. To put it bluntly, the Americans prefer Qasem Soleimani and Hasan Nasrallah to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Even in Yemen the administration’s reaction to the Houthi takeover has been subdued, with the U.S. focused on pursuing its anti-terrorism operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
As for Lebanon, the U.S. has just dispatched new weaponry, including heavy artillery, to the Lebanese Army, to better fight jihadi groups along the border with Syria. Beyond this, the “anti-terrorism” rubric means that Lebanon is now effectively a player in the Syrian conflict in Qalamoun. That is precisely the situation into which both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah had sought to push the Army, as they put the squeeze on rebel supply lines between Lebanon and Qalamoun.
Assad has also benefited from the errors of his enemies. The more moderate Syrian opposition early on failed to grasp how the growing power of the Nusra Front and ISIS would radically transform perceptions of the uprising in Syria. While it warned of how the Syrian regime would exploit the “anti-terrorism” argument, it failed to adequately prepare for this.
This week, the decision of Zahran Alloush, head of the opposition Islam Army, to bomb Damascus only further played into the regime’s hands, as his forces targeted civilian areas. Most media outlets focused on the bonbing, ignoring the vicious regime retaliation against civilians in eastern Ghouta.
Perhaps the greatest loser has been Turkey, accused today of collaborating with ISIS. In his zeal to oust Assad, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned his country into a passage for jihadis entering Syria. The repercussions were dramatic during the siege of Ain al-Arab and, especially, after the wife of French jihadi Amedy Coulibaly fled to Syria via Turkey. As a result the Turkish authorities have been forced to tighten border controls, while Erdogan’s reputation has suffered greatly.
If Assad were to survive politically, it would rewrite international rules of behavior. Until recently many Western governments pompously declared that “there is no room” for leaders who engage in the mass murder of populations. However, who can believe such nonsense when Assad has been engaging in widespread slaughter for almost four years, with no concerted reaction from the international community. If ISIS cruelty merits a military response – and it does – then the infinitely more numerous crimes of the Assad regime do as well. Rare are the atrocities that the regime has not committed, from slaughtering women and children to firing chemical weapons and ballistic missiles into civilian areas to using starvation tactics. But Assad has gotten away with all this, even as Obama has reassured Iran that the Syrian leader is safe. The injustice of this attitude will have repercussions. ISIS and the Nusra Front have perpetrated terrible atrocities, but the global indifference to Syrian suffering, alongside a prevailing sense in the region that a sectarian regime has been given free rein to crush Syria’s Sunnis, has proven a valuable recruitment tool for them. Only a blind man would fail to see the intrinsic link between Assad’s terror methods and the appeal of the jihadis.
This means that even if Assad remains in office, the jihadis will retain significant mobilizing power. But the United States seems oblivious to this, so determined is Obama to avoid taking any position on Assad’s future. The U.S. war against ISIS has only one component, a military dimension, while neglecting a broader approach to avert the rise of new jihadi groups. So, while Assad can be satisfied with the alignment of factors in his favor, Syria will remain unstable for a long time to come.
Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.
Family of 'Israeli agent' captured by
Islamic State deny he's a spy
Published: 02.12.15/ Israel News
Family of 'Israeli agent' captured by Islamic State deny he's a spy
In interview with Ynet, Muhammad Musallam's brother says his brother told the family he was going to a firefighting course, but failed to return or make contact; when he finally made contact, he was in Syria.
Family members of Muhammad Said Ismail Musallam were surprised on Thursday to learn he was captured by the Islamic State in Syria and has been accused of being an agent of the Israeli Mossad spy agency.
Musallam's father, Said, denied his son was a spy, saying he went missing after traveling as a tourist to Turkey. Muhammad then phoned home, saying he had been abducted to neighboring Syria but could buy his way out, his father said.
"He said, 'Dad, I need $200 or $300 so they will let me go,'" Said Musallam told Reuters. Before he could send the money, he said, another man phoned to inform him Muhammad had escaped his captors but had been seized by the Islamic State group.
In an interview published by Islamic State's online English-language magazine Dabiq, Musallam said he had joined the insurgent group in Syria in order to report to the Israelis on its weapons caches, bases and Palestinian recruits.
After his conduct aroused the suspicion of Islamic State commanders, Musallam was quoted as saying he broke cover by phoning his father in East Jerusalem - leading to his capture.
"When I saw his picture today I was shocked," Ahmad, Muhammad's brother, told Ynet. "I saw how he looks with a beard and hair, if you had seen him before you'd understand he looks completely different."
According to Ahmad, his brother was an average 20-year-old that had no ties to Islam.
"He served in the fire department in East Jerusalem and three months ago he told us he had a firefighting course and that's why he'll be gone from home for a few days," Ahmad said. "After many days in which he did not make contact with us and we were searching for him, we turned to the police and it was then we learned there was no course organized by the fire department and that he actually went to Turkey without telling us."
The family didn't think much of Muhammad's trip to Turkey, thinking that he went on holiday, as he spent a week in Jordan recently, visiting with family there.
"After we found out he went to Turkey, he contacted us and said he was in Syria. He said people took him on a trip from Turkey and that he didn't know where in Syria he was," Ahmad said.
The last time Muhammad contacted the family was a month ago. "He contacted me through Facebook and told me he was in Syria, traveling, feeling good and that everything was okay," Ahmad said.
Ahmad said that the police were the first to offer the possibility that his brother had joined the Islamic State.
"My father and brother were questioned, but at first we didn't accept that theory. I know Muhammad, he would always post cartoons against Daesh," Ahmad said, using the Arab name for the radical Islamist group.
A friend of his who spoke to Reuters, however, said Musallam had posted pro-Islamic State messages on social media, but no social media accounts could be found under Musallam's name.
Eventually, the family realized Muhammad did indeed join the Islamic State, which caused his mother's health situation to deteriorate considerably, Ahmad said. n one of the last conversations we had, he said his passports were taken and he has no way to come back. My father tried to transfer money to him so he could return but he hasn't spoken to us since," he said.
The family, however, refuses to accept the claim Muhammad went to Syria as a spy and says he was kidnapped. "It can't be. He's a man that has no connections to these things," Ahmad said, but could not explain why his brother failed to inform the family he was going to Turkey and from there to Syria.
An Israeli security official said Musallam traveled to Turkey on October 24 in order to fight for the Islamic State in Syria.
"He went on his own initiative, without his family's knowledge," the official told Reuters. Asked whether his statement constituted a denial that Musallam was an Israeli spy, the official said: "You can understand it that way, yes."
"Now that we've seen the images of horror with the Jordanian pilot, we don't know what to do. I don't think he'll return to us," Ahmad said.
In recent weeks, the family tried to contact international organizations so they could help Muhammad in Syria. "They showed willingness to help and asked him to go to certain areas. We told him to do that but I guess he failed."
Worried that members of its 20-percent Arab minority might travel to Syria or Iraq to join Islamist insurgent groups and then return radicalized and battle-ready, Israel has stepped up monitoring and prosecution of suspected would-be volunteers.
Turkey draws many Israeli Arab holidaymakers. It is also a major conduit for foreigners who slip across the border to help insurgents trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In the first conviction of its kind, Israel in November jailed Ahmed Shurbaji, an Arab citizen who returned voluntarily after spending three months with the Islamic State in Syria.
He received a relatively light term of 22 months in return for cooperation with security services that would likely "help the State of Israel defend itself against this organization in various ways," the court said, in a possible allusion to information he provided about Islamic State.
A source in the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, said Israeli Arabs returning from Syria were routinely questioned for intelligence on jihadi groups. Shurbaji had phoned an Israeli security official from Syria to broker a deal. The Shin Bet source said such communications with Israeli Arabs who wanted to return from Syria had sometimes been handled by Ayoob Kara, an Israeli Druze politician and former army officer close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Contacted by Reuters, Kara said he was aware of Musallam's case and did not believe he was a Mossad spy.
While declining to discuss Musallam in detail, Kara said he knew of several young Israeli Arabs who had gone to Syria to aid refugees or for the thrill of available women or booty, only to be kidnapped and exploited by insurgents like the Islamic State group.
Argentine President Formally Accused of Jewish Bombing Cover-up
Naharnet /Agence France Presse/.Argentine President Cristina Kirchner was formally accused Friday of shielding Iranian officials from prosecution over a 1994 bombing at a Buenos Aires Jewish center, prosecutors said. The prosecution move advances the case against Kirchner that was being pursued by late prosecutor Alberto Nisman before he died mysteriously on the eve of congressional hearings on his accusations. The accusation now goes to the judge in the case, Daniel Rafecas, to decide whether to call Kirchner to make a statement. Kirchner has been under fire since Nisman turned up dead after accusing her of covering up the involvement of high-ranking Iranian officials in the deadly bombing in exchange for oil. The new prosecutor in the case, Gerardo Pollicita, accepted Nisman's conclusions and accused Kirchner, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and other government officials of mounting a cover-up and violating their duties, according to a prosecution statement. Nisman, 51, was found in his Buenos Aires apartment with a gunshot wound to the head on January 18. His death was initially labeled a suicide, but suspicion has fallen on Kirchner's government. The president has suggested Nisman was manipulated by disgruntled former intelligence agents who then killed him to smear her.