February 23/15

Bible Quotation For Today/‘The eye is the lamp of the body
Matthew 06/22-24/‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

First Letter to the Thessalonians 03/06-13.
"But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us just as we long to see you. For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 22-23/15
Without further US concessions to Iran, the nuclear deal may blow up in their faces/DEBKAfile/February 22/15
Fighting terrorism requires deeds not words/Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 22/15
Libya, a new terror theatre in a larger arena/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/February 22/15
Religion and politics are an explosive mixture/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 22/15
Violent extremism vs Islamist extremism/Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/February 22/15

Lebanese Related News published on February 22-23/15
Al-Rahi Slams Cabinet Performance, Says Government Doesn't Replace President
Hujeiri Says Hostage Crisis to Witness Breakthrough 'Soon'
Berri Says Meeting with Hariri 'Fruitful', Talks Focused on Presidential Stalemate
Report: Hizbullah Supervising, Funding Qaida-Linked Fighters
Netanyahu Says Iran Using Hizbullah to Make Golan '3rd Front' against Israel
Lebanese Army Thwarts Infiltration Attempt in Outskirts of Ras Baalbek
Report: Lebanese Cabinet to Resume Meetings on Thursday
Harb Says Extension of Qahwaji's Tenure 'Inevitable
Rifi Slams Nasrallah's Call to Join Fight against Terror, Seeks to Criminalize Combating Abroad
Saniora Urges against Adopting New 'Confusing' Measures that Cripple Government
U.S. Defense Chief Convenes Anti-IS War Council in Kuwait
Dahlan's Lawyer Says Abbas 'Exploited' Justice
Al-Azhar Imam Urges Religious Education Reform to Curb Extremism

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 22-23/15
Israeli PM, Netanyahu slams ongoing Iran nuclear talks after damning IAEA report
Kerry warns on viability of Palestinian Authority if Israel blocks funds
US warns it is ready to walk away from Iran nuclear talks
Axis Of Evil Taking a beating in Aleppo
ISIS seizes U.S.-made arms in Iraq’s Anbar
Iraq: Allawi, Sadr to form “non-sectarian” parliamentary bloc
Turkish military enters Syria to evacuate soldiers, relocate tomb
Syria condemns Turkey’s ‘flagrant aggression’ in north
Fight against extremist groups in Libya “holy war”: Haftar
First GCC statement over Qatar-Egypt spat unilateral: Gulf official
Mubarak-era tycoon Ahmed Ezz barred from parliamentary elections
U.N. investigates surge in Saudi MERS cases
U.S. warns on viability of Palestinian Authority if Israel blocks funds

Blair: Entire world responsible for Gaza

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
Islamic jihadists threaten Mall of America in new video
Authorities got 18 warning calls about Sydney jihadist before his attack
UK: Muslim former Cabinet member gave official posts to Islamic supremacists
Sweden: Four Muslims detained for funding Islamic State
Brigitte Bardot on trial again for insulting Muslims
Is Allah the worst communicator ever?

Netanyahu Says Iran Using Hizbullah to Make Golan '3rd Front' against Israel
Naharnet/Iran is seeking to open a "third front" against Israel using Hizbullah fighters on the Syrian Golan Heights, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday. Netanyahu said Tehran's alleged attempts to entrench itself along Israel's borders was one of the biggest emerging security threats facing Tel Aviv. "Alongside Iran's direct guidance of Hizbullah's actions in the north and Hamas' in the south, Iran is trying also to develop a third front on the Golan Heights via the thousands of Hizbullah fighters who are in southern Syria and over which Iran holds direct command," he said. Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said his ministers were to be briefed on "the security challenges developing around us, first and foremost Iran's attempt to increase its foothold on Israel's borders even as it works to arm itself with nuclear weapons." An Israeli air strike inside the Syrian-controlled sector of the Golan Heights on January 18 killed six members of Hizbullah, including a senior commander, as well as a general from Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. Hizbullah retaliated around a week later with a missile attack in the occupied Shebaa Farms that left two Israeli soldiers dead and seven others wounded. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah later declared that his group “no longer recognizes any rules of engagement” in the conflict with Israel. Netanyahu said that Tehran's ongoing "murderous terrorism" has "not prevented the international community from continuing to talk with Iran about a nuclear agreement that will allow it to build the industrial capacity to develop nuclear weapons."World powers are trying to strike a deal with Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb in return for an easing of punishing international economic sanctions. Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran's nuclear program has military objectives, a claim Tehran denies. Agence France Presse

Report: Hizbullah Supervising, Funding Qaida-Linked Fighters
Naharnet/Hizbullah has reportedly supervised and funded fighters planning to target U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab of Emirates and Jordan. Sources told the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat on Sunday that there is new evidence proving Iran's involvement with al-Qaida and Nusra Front after Tehran embraced a number of fighters scheming to attack U.S. interests in Riyadh, Dubai and Amman. The sources pointed out that the fighters have been moving through Iranian cities, including Tehran, Mashhad and Zahdan, while Hizbullah supervised their training and pledged to fund them.  Asharq al-Awsat revealed that Saudi national Saleh al-Qarawi, the former leader of the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, is running al-Qaida's operations from Iran.  Qarawi, who is also known as “Najm al-Kheir,” planned with Saudi national Abdul Mohsen al-Sharekh, one of al-Nusra's top strategists and an al-Qaida facilitator in Syria, to kidnap foreigners in Saudi Arabia but they didn't carry out their scheme. Al-Sharekh is one of Saudi Arabia's most wanted terrorists, he has previously served in al-Qaida’s Iran-based network and as a key financial facilitator for al-Qaida in Pakistan. The United States and United Nations recently imposed sanctions on him. Qarawi also planned with other accomplices to target U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia and the bombing of a U.S. base in Jordan. According to the daily, a Jordanian identified with his first name “Firas” suggested on Qarawi to target a U.S. compound and three vehicles but the operation failed after Amman security forces busted the scheme.  Qarawi also voiced support to a plan to target the U.S. embassy in Dubai by a drone or a suicide bomber flying a training jet, but the operation also failed.

Report: Lebanese Cabinet to Resume Meetings on Thursday
Naharnet/The cabinet is expected to resume its meetings on February 26 after Prime Minister Tammam Salam suspended its sessions in light of political disputes between the various factions over the government's mechanism, al-Mustaqbal newspaper reported on Sunday. The daily quoted ministerial sources as saying that the cabinet will convene on Thursday, however, the session's agenda hasn't been distributed yet. The sources pointed out that the sharp disputes over the cabinet's mechanism is “temporary as the main solution to all political crises is the election of a new president.”In line with the constitution, the cabinet began exercising the president’s prerogatives after the parliament failed to elect a successor for Michel Suleiman, whose term ended in May last year. The ministers agreed that all decisions should win a unanimous backing. But such a process hindered the government's work over the veto right that certain cabinet members began to exercise. Salam has suspended cabinet sessions over the failure of the ministers to agree on changing the current mechanism. The sources told al-Mustaqbal daily that the premier is exerting efforts to reach a breakthrough over the matter. “Ministers are in solidarity over the threats surrounding the country, but no side is willing to set plans to reach a solution,” the sources continued.

ISF Arrests Dangerous Fugitive in Baalbek

Naharnet/ Security Forces detained one of the most dangerous fugitives in the eastern Bekaa city of Baalbek as a crackdown on outlaws continued in the area. The state-run National News Agency reported on Sunday that the Internal Security Forces arrested 49-year-old Gh. W. at Habib Street in the city of Baalbek. The fugitive, who was only identified by his initial, has more than 40 arrest warrants against him and he is wanted on various charges. The charges include theft, forgery, the purchase of stolen items and selling them, fraud... and resisting arrest. NNA said that he was referred to the competent authorities for investigation. His arrest came as part of a security crackdown by the authorities in the Bekaa. The plan seeks to clamp down on criminals in the Bekaa where certain areas, such as the town of Brital, are known to be a safe haven for car-theft gangs and drug dealers, as well as networks that kidnap people in return for ransom. The army had launched a crackdown on suspects and fugitives in the northern city of Tripoli and several other areas in an attempt to halt security chaos across the country. Agence France Presse

Harb Says Extension of Qahwaji's Tenure 'Inevitable'
Naharnet/Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb criticized on Sunday endeavors that aim at appointing a new commander for the Lebanese army amid the presidential vacuum. “We are prohibited from appointing a new army chief and impose it on any new head of state without him having a say in the decision,” Harb lamented in comments published in An Nahar newspaper. The minister said that the extension of Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji is “inevitable,” pointing out that the military chief maintained stability in the country away from politics. The tenure of Qahwaji is set to end in September. His term was extended for two years in September 2013. “The extension will be amid a Christian and Muslim consent,” Harb added. A debate rose recently over a decision to extend the term of more than 20 officers in different posts. On Tuesday, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel was at loggerheads with the Free Patriotic Movement after MP Michel Aoun decided to withdraw confidence from him over the extension of the term of the head of the Higher Defense Council, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair. The FPM described Moqbel's extension decision as “illegal,” arguing that the defense minister's jurisdiction state that he can extend the terms under the authority of a president. The tenure of Khair expires on February 22.Media reports had said that Moqbel had abstained from including the name of Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz, who is Aoun's son-in-law, in the list of extension. Roukoz's tenure ends in October 2015. However, Aoun lashed out at critics, denying that his objection is linked to his political aspirations. Moqbel defended his decision, emphasizing that he has “exclusive jurisdiction” to extend the service of army officers. The military positions in Lebanon are suffering as the result of the months-long presidential vacuum in light of the parliament's failure to elect a successor for Michel Suleiman. The vacuum also threatens the position of Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous who is set to retire in June..

Lebanese Army Thwarts Infiltration Attempt in Outskirts of Ras Baalbek
Naharnet/The Lebanese army foiled overnight Sunday an incursion by militiamen on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek in the eastern Bekaa, the state-run National News Agency reported. According to NNA, gunmen tried to infiltrate into Tallat al-Hamra area on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek but the army prevented them by shelling their positions using heavy and medium artillery. Earlier in February, the military began targeting militants taking positions along Lebanon's eastern border with heavy artillery after bloody clashes with jihadists killed eight Lebanese troops and wounded several others in the Tallat al-Hamra area “when terrorists attacked a military surveillance post.”The mountainous area has long been a smuggling haven, with multiple routes into Syria that have been used since the conflict began in March 2011 to transport weapons and fighters. Syria's civil war has regularly spilled into Lebanon, with jihadists briefly overrunning the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal in August after running gun battles with the army. The jihadists withdrew after a ceasefire, but took with them several dozen hostages from the Lebanese army and police, four of whom have since been executed.

Hujeiri Says Hostage Crisis to Witness Breakthrough 'Soon'
Naharnet/Sheikh Mustafa al-Hujeiri stressed on Sunday that the case of Lebanese hostages will witness a breakthrough “soon” as Qatari-appointed negotiator Ahmed al-Khatib visited the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal last week. Hujeiri, who is also known as Abu Taqiyeh, said in comments published in the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper that “a new course of action has been adopted to reach a breakthrough” in the negotiations between the Islamist gunmen and the Lebanese government. He pointed out that both sides offered compromises through “indirect negotiation channels.”According to Hujeiri, the Islamists militiamen agreed to decrease the number of inmates they are demanding their release. “It is obvious that all sides sincerely want this dilemma to end,” he expressed believe, adding that the release of Lebanese servicemen will occur on two or three stages. Media reports had said that Qatar's mediation to release the servicemen abducted by Islamist gunmen have intensified in recent days as General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim expressed his satisfaction with the course of the negotiations. A number of soldiers and policemen were abducted by al-Nusra Front and Islamic State group gunmen in the wake of clashes in Arsal in August. A few of them have since been released, four were executed, and the rest remain held. The captors are demanding the release of Islamists held in Lebanon as a condition for their release. Meanwhile, al-Rai daily said that the Qatari negotiator, al-Khatib, visited last week the outskirts of Arsal where he met with militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). The newspaper reported that al-Khatib received guarantees that negotiations are serious.

Berri Says Meeting with Hariri 'Fruitful', Talks Focused on Presidential Stalemate
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri lauded on Sunday a meeting held with al-Mustaqbal Movement chief Saad Hariri, describing talks as “fruitful.”“We discussed endeavors to safeguard the country and the election of a new head of state,” Berri said in comments published in al-Mustaqbal newspaper. Lebanon has been living in a presidential vacuum since May when the tenure of Michel Suleiman ended. The conflict between the March 8 and March 14 camps has thwarted all efforts to reach a quorum at parliament to hold elections and end the vacuum. He also revealed that the two officials highlighted the cabinet's mechanism in light of the ongoing vacuum in the presidency.  Political disputes between the various political factions on the government's mechanism led to the suspension of sessions in light of the vacuum at the top presidential post. Hariri had stressed in a speech on Thursday from the Center House in front of the Arab ambassadors accredited to Lebanon, that the “government will resume its activity soon in light of the contacts that I had with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.” “We agreed that any decision should be according to the constitution,” Berri pointed out. “I leave it to Hariri to reveal any further details regarding other issues... I adopt whatever he announces beforehand,” the speaker added. On Friday, Berri held a banquet in honor of Hariri in Ain al-Tineh in the presence of Mustaqbal chief's adviser Nader Hariri and the speaker's political aide Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil.

Al-Rahi Slams Cabinet Performance, Says Government Doesn't Replace President
Naharnet /Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi criticized on Sunday the performance of the cabinet, stressing that the government should not carry its tasks presuming that the presidential vacuum is a “normal” crisis. “The cabinet has no authority to carry out the jurisdiction of the head of state unless it was exercised according to consensus and without the creation of mechanism that violates the constitution,” al-Rahi said during a sermon at Bkirki. In line with the constitution, the cabinet began exercising the president’s prerogatives after the parliament failed to elect a successor for Michel Suleiman, whose term ended in May last year. The ministers agreed that all decisions should win a unanimous backing. But such a process hindered the government's work over the veto right that certain cabinet members began to exercise, prompting Prime Minister Tammam Salam to suspended cabinet sessions over the failure of the ministers to agree on changing the current mechanism. The patriarch also slammed the violation of the constitution, the National Pact, and coexistence, pointing out that the offenses culminated with the failure to agree on a new presidential candidate.

US warns it is ready to walk away from Iran nuclear talks
AP, Ynetnews /Published: 02.21.15/Israel News
Arab states in the region reportedly voice fears deal that will retain Iran's nuclear technology will destabilize region and create a nuclear-arms race.
With only weeks left to the deadline to reach a first-stage nuclear deal with Iran, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that "significant gaps" remained and warned that America was ready to walk away from the talks if Tehran doesn't agree to terms demonstrating that it doesn't want atomic arms. Kerry spoke after the Iranian Atomic Energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz added their muscle to the talks for the first time to help resolve technical disputes standing in the way of an agreement meant to curb Iran's nuclear programs in exchange for sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic.  But Kerry warned against undue optimism. Salehi's and Moniz's presence is no "indication whatsoever that something is about to be decided," he said. "There are still significant gaps.
World powers and Iran have set an end of March deadline for a framework agreement, with four further months for the technical work to be ironed out. The talks have missed two previous deadlines, and President Barack Obama has said a further extension would make little sense without a basis for continuing discussions. Kerry, who flies to Geneva Sunday from London, said there was no doubt Obama was serious. The president, he said, "is fully prepared to stop these talks if he feels that they're not being met with the kind of productive decision-making necessary to prove that a program is in fact peaceful."If the talks fail, Obama may be unable to continue holding off Congress from passing new sanctions against Iran. That, in turn, could scuttle any further diplomatic solution to US-led attempts to increase the time Tehran would need to be able to make nuclear arms. Iran denies any interest in such weapons. Skepticism about the negotiations already is strong among congressional hardliners, Washington's closest Arab allies and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to strongly criticize them in an address the US Congress early next month. Western officials say the US decided to send Moniz only after Iran announced that Salehi was coming. They were expected to discuss the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium; how much enriched material it can stockpile; what research and development it may pursue related to enrichment, and the future of a planned heavy water reactor that could produce substantial amounts of plutonium - which like enriched uranium is a potential pathway to nuclear arms. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also at the talks, and Kerry is to meet him Sunday and Monday. For months, the negotiations have been primarily between Washington and Tehran. But Kerry insisted "there is absolutely no divergence" between the US and the five other powers - Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - over what Iran needed to agree to, "to prove that its nuclear program is going to be peaceful in the future."
Arab states voice concerns
Arab governments have been voicing fears to the White House regarding details of the deal with Iran over its nuclear program, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Iran, that has a Shiite majority, vies for regional dominance with Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. The latter has argued that an agreement could leave Iran with the technologies required to build nuclear weapons while removing many sanctions currently used as leverage. The report said that the rumored deal, which has been extended twice during 18 months of negotiations, has raised concerns that a regional nuclear-arms race could develop in the region, and has even renewed calls for a US nuclear umbrella to be extended to allies in the area. Arab officials said a deal would probably lead to a race by Saudi Arabia in particular to match Iran's nuclear technology. “At this stage, we prefer a collapse of the diplomatic process to a bad deal,” an Arab official, who has discussed Iran with the Obama administration and Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, told the newspaper.
Former US officials have raised the possibility that the White House may need to provide new security guarantees, said the report – especially the option of placing Arab states in the Persian Gulf under the US nuclear umbrella.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed last week that his country would resist global sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear program, saying that Iran might respond to international pressure by cutting back gas exports.

Kerry warns on viability of Palestinian Authority if Israel blocks funds

By REUTERS /02/22/2015/LONDON - US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday expressed concern about the viability of the Palestinian Authority if it does not soon receive tax revenue which has been withheld by Israel. The funds have been held back from the Authority since last month in retaliation for Palestinian moves to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). The move would pave the way for the ICC to take jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed in Palestinian lands and to investigate the conduct of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. While the United States opposed steps by the Palestinians to join the ICC, it has raised concerns with the Israelis about its decision to freeze the transfer of more than $100 million in tax revenue, warning it could further raise tensions.
The tax revenue is critical to running the Authority, which exercises limited self-rule, and for paying public sector salaries. Israel took a similar step in December 2012, freezing revenue transfers for three months in response to the Palestinians' launch of a campaign for recognition of statehood at the United Nations. The issue of funding for the aid-dependent Palestinians was raised in talks between Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London. Kerry warned of another crisis in the region if the Palestinians did not receive funding.
"If the Palestinian Authority ceases, or were to cease security cooperation, or even decide to disband as a result of their economic predicament, and that could happen in the future if they don't receive additional revenues, then we would be faced by yet another crisis," Kerry told a news conference. "We are working hard to prevent that from happening and that is why we have been reaching out to key stakeholders to express these concerns and also to try to work together to find a solution to this challenge," he said, without elaborating.
The World Bank warned last year that war in Gaza would contribute to a reversal of seven years of growth in the Palestinian economy.

Religion and politics are an explosive mixture
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat
Sunday, 22 Feb, 2015
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh recently advised a group of preachers he met at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to keep away from politics and dedicate their time to religious preaching. It is perhaps one of the few times in which a prominent religious figure has frankly told young activists that he is against the approach of politicizing religion. Political activism by Islamists is a common phenomenon today. If politics was as clear and simple as those preachers and zealots like to think, political science would be a branch of religious sciences. However, this is not the case. Those who are most enthusiastic to change the world around them and to engage in major public issues actually view events thorough the prism of their own sentiments. Salman Al-Omari, a researcher in Islamic affairs, has said that good intentions are no substitute for the science of the study of Shari’a law. The same applies to politics, as sentiment cannot act as a guide when it comes to international relations. The kingdom’s mufti, who is also the head of the Council of Senior Scholars, is known for being humble, highly educated, and for his tendency to keep away from political controversy. He represents the old generation of Salafist scholars, the purest ones, before some tried to exploit Salafism for political ends and “renew” it with their own ideas and plans. Although most criticism and blame today is directed towards traditional Salafism, the truth is actually different—this branch of Islamic thought has reigned over the modern Islamic school.
Much like the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Salafism was born during the era of secret activities—similar to Communism—and it later became led by political aspirations, like Qutbism and Suroorism. What we see today is nothing more than the premature newborn of a confused society in which there’s social Salafist extremism and political Brotherhood extremism. Both are being exploited by political regimes in the region.
The large number of crimes being committed in the name of Islam in different parts of the world—and which have no precedent—has led us to one of the worst periods in Muslim history.
With this chaos, the worry that entire societies may be hijacked is justified, and even if its slogans and intentions are innocent, the trend they represent is sweeping. It’s normal to wonder when a women’s forum in the Saudi city of Khobar says it “seeks to attract 200,000 girls.”
The number is, of course, exaggerated, but the idea itself is worrying. Who is to be blamed tomorrow when some of those who attend get out of control? The program of this forum is a normal one, with topics such as humanitarian and social affairs on the table, but the idea of changing the concept of school and neighborhoods to operate within the concept of camps and collective consciousness is worrisome.
In Pakistan and India, the religious movement Tablighi Jamaat, which says it is dedicated to asceticism, is an active group that many—including Saudi scholars—have criticized. Although it does not call on youths to fight, it does intellectually prepare them to, and it thus makes them an easy target for recruiters of extremist groups.

Libya, a new terror theatre in a larger arena
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat
Saturday, 21 Feb, 2015
The horrifying seaside slaughter of 20 innocent Egyptian Copts and one Ghanaian opens a new chapter in the war against wanton terrorist violence, whose perpetrators are hell-bent on pushing Islam—as a whole—on a collision course with world civilizations. This crime, the worst I have ever seen, also opens a war front with Libya, which, along with Yemen, is the least cohesive and most vulnerable political entity in the Arab world.
Taking a short stroll down memory lane to the days of my youth in pre-war Lebanon, I vividly remember a time when it was possible for any young man or woman—free of the shackles of a sectarian and bigoted upbringing—to have the opportunity to test a wide spectrum of ideologies that were competing in the political arena. High schools and universities used to be the favorite places for political debate and party recruitment. Their coffee shops and bars used to host heated political arguments between committed partisans, as well as curious skeptics, and a non-committed youth using politics as an excuse to mingle with members of the opposite sex. In those days most Lebanese political parties had their own “student organizations” and key recruiters would register at universities that did not adopt the American credit-hour system just to carry out their party tasks, without bothering with any study.
In those days, I remember well how I learnt more about the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which was one of the leading secular, nationalist, and liberation-driven political organizations in the Arab Mashreq.
The SSNP was particularly attractive to and popular with religious and sectarian minorities, as well as secular elites, who rejected traditional politics but shunned both Marxism and capitalist Western liberalism. Founded by the “leader” Antoun Saadeh, the SSNP was successful in making a breakthrough in several parts of “Greater Syria”, namely, present day Lebanon, Syria, Palestine-Israel, and Jordan (then Trans-Jordan).
During that period I was unsure about where the SSNP stood on the issue of Arabism or Arab Nationalism, especially as it professed the notion of “Syrian Nationalism”, but whenever I insisted on a convincing answer the SSNP party member would come back with the same ready-made response: The “Arab World” is made up of four “nations,” which are: the “Syrian Nation” (extending from Kuwait along the Fertile Crescent to Palestine & Jordan), the “Arabia and Gulf Nation” (i.e. the GCC states plus Yemen), the “Nile Valley Nation” (Egypt and the Sudan), and the “Maghreb Nation” covering most of North Africa.
However, I had a problem identifying the dividing line between the latter two, the Nile Valley and Maghreb nations, concerning where Libya stood. To which of the two socially and environmentally-designated “nations” did it belong?
Libya’s historical province of Cyrenaica (or Barqa in Arabic) in the east, including its southern desert and oases such as Al-Jaghbub and Kufra, is a natural extension of Egypt’s Western Desert. There is barely any significant environmental or demographic difference between Libya’s Al-Jaghbub oasis and its close neighbor to the east Egypt’s Siwa oasis. Furthermore, the major tribes of Egypt’s Matrouh Province— including the Awlad Ali— also inhabit eastern Cyrenaica across the current borders. On the other hand, the province of Tripolitania, which includes the present capital Tripoli, is considered by many as an environmental and demographic extension of Tunisia and Algeria.
In ancient times the Greeks and Romans established great settlements in both Cyrenaica and Tripolitania in eastern and western Libya, respectively. Tripoli is in fact a Greek word denoting a large district comprising “Three cities” which were Oea (present day Tripoli), Laptis Magna (Labdah, in Arabic near Al-Khoms) and Sabratha. The name differs somewhat to the same name given to Lebanon’s Tripoli, which in this case denotes a “three-part city” or a district of a smaller size.
As time passed by, the two aforementioned coastal provinces became linked with the desert province of Fezzan, and later the three provinces witnessed various kinds of interaction, especially, after the Islamic-Arab conquests. Subsequently, during the twentieth century the three provinces were united under the Senussi religious leadership and the present day Libya was born; and despite the fact that the new state continued to have two capitals, Tripoli and Benghazi, for sometime, one national identity was eventually established. It was further cemented thanks to oil riches, urbanization and internal migrations, as single-tribe dominated towns decreased while larger, more mixed cities emerged. Today branches of the same tribe may inhabit various cities and towns across the vast Libyan territories. Major cities like Tripoli and Benghazi are truly diverse, as are smaller towns like Derna and Misrata; but other towns are less diverse such as Tobruk and Al-Bayda in the east, Bani Walid, Zintan and the Jabal Nafousa in the west.
The Gaddafi regime, like other Arab clan-supported “Supreme Leader”-led dictatorships, always lied when preaching “Arabism”, “Secularism” and “Socialism”, while meddling in the nation’s social fabric. Like other dictatorships it played on and exploited tribal, sectarian, ethnic and regional differences and sensitivities; thus fomenting widespread suspicion, fear and even hatred, which surfaced in a long subdued and maltreated population the moment the yoke of suppression was lifted.
As a result, it was not really surprising to see extremist organizations with dubious origins and intentions, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
(ISIS), finding their way into the countries where the winds of change shook or brought down dictators. What we see today in Libya isn’t much different to what we see in Yemen and Syria.
What we see is an “arena” created, first, by the huge void left by the collapse of autocratic cliques that have controlled and abused their countries and countrymen for more than four decades, destroying in the process most of the pillars of a civil society; and second, by inept handling by an international community whose short term interests have taken precedence over a strategic vision for a region that has several common denominators in spite of its vast geographic area.
The common ailments of Libya, Syria, Yemen and Iraq amount to more than the international community is willing to admit. However, if the West is now worried about the danger approaching southern Europe from a Libyan coast infested by extremist self-proclaimed “Islamist” groups, it must take a more ethical and strategic stance than it is currently doing.
Of course, Libya poses an imminent danger to Europe. Iran’s as yet hidden “collaboration” has not yet reached this far, (and may not do so), but Washington’s undeclared “partnership” with Tehran in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq will most likely increase the geographic, sectarian and social “incubator” of terrorism and extremism in Libya. Once again, the world would be better off if it stopped pouring kerosene on a raging fire.

Entire world is responsible for Gaza's fate, says Blair
Nahum Barnea/Ynetnews
Published: 02.21.15 / Israel News
The former British leader turned Mideast peace envoy talks to Nahum Barnea about his revolutionary three-pronged plan for the troubled Gaza Strip, even as the countdown to the next conflict has started.
On Sunday, Tony Blair was in the Gaza Strip, his first visit there since 2009. It was a surprise visit - his guards deliberated up until the last moment whether to allow him to join the convoy.
He started his visit at a checkpoint in the Hamas-run territory. He avoided meeting the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, but met three members of the Government of National Consensus established last year in an attempt to end years of infighting between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority – the ministers for Labor, Justice and Welfare.
The convoy took the western road, through Beit Lahia and the Shata refugee camp. They took him to Saja'iyya to see the destruction from Operation Protective Edge last summer; they took him to an UNRWA school to see how Gazans who lost their homes are now living.
The highlight of the visit was a meeting with 90 businesspeople - old and young. They received him extremely warmly, and he flashed them his million-dollar smile. And at the end, they all stood in line for a selfie with him.
Blair, now 62, was a Labor Party man who led the British government for 10 years. His historic achievement was the agreement that ended the decades-old conflict in Northern Ireland. Immediately after he stepped down in 2007, he was appointed the Quartet Representative to the Middle East. He represents the combined will of the US, Russian, the EU and the UN - if such a will even exists.
He is the region every three to four weeks, when he meets heads of state, urges them to reconcile, to cooperate and promote peace. They listen politely, and afterwards do the exact opposite. Like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, only the smile remains after him.
I met him in Jerusalem on Monday. What did you see in Gaza, I asked.
"The reality is very difficult," Blair says. "This is bad for them, and it's bad for all of us. The problem goes beyond the physical destruction of the war; Gaza has been abandoned for years.
"The responsibility for the situation lies on all of us - the international community, Hamas, the PA, Egypt and Israel. Terror comes out of Gaza, and the question is what can be done to stop it: Do you open Gaza up or shut it down? Israel has faced this dilemma for a long time, and now Egypt is going through the same process. I say - let's change the reality completely."
You're a practical man, I say, what do you suggest be done?
"Right," he replies, "that's why I say the situation cannot be left the way it is. It's important for you, for Israel. You cannot live with rockets from Gaza. On the other hand, you do not want to reoccupy. This means that the next military conflict is not far off.
"I suggest acting on three fronts: First, rehabilitate the water and energy infrastructure, let in construction materials in a way that will not harm security, (and) support the economy.
"Second, bring about a change in Palestinian politics - pose difficult questions to Hamas: Will they accept an arrangement with Israel based on the 1967 lines, are they prepared to end terrorism, are they prepared to end their ties with outside terror forces?
"Third, Egypt. The Egyptian demands on security from Hamas must be met - and then that will change its approach towards Gaza."
What makes you think this is possible, I ask.
"The regional picture," he states. "I hear from Arab leaders of state the same things I hear from Israel: ISIS is dangerous, Iran is dangerous. Israel doesn't understand how much the regional reality has changed. The entire region is in a state of upheaval, and we continue to look at the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict as if nothing has changed.
"I believe that Israel can create a partnership with countries in the region - Saudi Arabia, for example, and the Gulf states. The blockage is the Palestinian problem. This is a highly charged issue, emotional, even for moderate forces. The change is, of course, also dependent upon the Palestinians. I say to the Israelis that peace doesn't only depend on you, but you must strive for peace. If you don't, your situation in the world will worsen."
You talk of strategic change, I say, but even the money pledged to reconstruct Gaza has not arrived.
"The money isn't coming in because at the moment there's no united Palestinian government," says Blair. "The PA and Hamas both need to change their position. I have always said that the Palestinian unity government must be based on the peace process.
"Time after time, the two sides to the conflict (Israel and the Palestinians) were put into a room, on the assumption that if they sit together, they'll reach an agreement. I say, first of all, let's change the conditions (on the ground). Let's start with the steps that Israel can take in order to improve (Palestinian) daily lives. It's not hard to do that."
What do you think about the clash between Netanyahu and the Obama government, I ask. Can Netanyahu's trip to Washington prevent the coming agreement with Iran?
 the table," says Blair. "At the end of the day, the Israeli and American interests are identical. I have no doubt about that."
As we're talking, senior Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzouk announces that his organization has rejected the demands presented by Blair in Gaza. Blair doesn't give up. On Monday, he went to Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah. He came here from Cairo, where he pushed his regional vision. Don't you miss Ireland, I ask. The war there was so simple, so innocent compared to our wars.
He laughs, a broad, deep laugh. The laugh of a man who has seen it all and done it all. Kito de Boer, the new head of the Quartet office who joined our conversation, also laughs. We laughed and laughed, until it hurt.

Fighting terrorism requires deeds not words
Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat
Sunday, 22 Feb, 2015
In a recent speech, US President Barack Obama spoke about the need to confront extremism and terrorism, while defending Islam and calling for the need to correct misconceptions about it. For all its truth and nobility, what Obama said amounts to nothing more than a theoretical argument. Obama’s defense of Islam and Muslims, and his argument that extremists do not represent a billion Muslims are worthy of praise. But this line of argument was only acceptable early in George W. Bush’s presidential term, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, not now. The world has changed drastically since then, particularly our region which has shown that it has great influence on international security. This requires practical steps rather than lectures, theories, or the “strategic patience” Obama has proposed as his second presidential term draws to a close. What is required today are deeds not words. The fight against terrorism cannot be achieved through a theoretical approach as is followed today, particularly since there are certain facts on the ground, blood being spilled and nations destroyed.
President Obama, for example, has spoken about the need to provide jobs to eliminate terrorism. This is true, but it is only one aspect of an issue that is far more complex. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), for example, is not looking for jobs; neither are Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah is more concerned about shedding blood, destruction, and gaining control than about employment or education. The solution to Lebanon’s problem, for example, does not lie in providing jobs to the unemployed youth, but rather in filling the most important job vacancy of all, that of the president. In Syria, people are not after jobs but are seeking to stop Assad’s killing machine that has murdered and displaced millions of their people and continues, with the backing of Iran, to destroy Syria.
As long as we are talking about Iran, I must comment on an issue Obama touched upon. According to the US president, oppressing the opposition leads to extremism and terrorism. However, the oppression of the Green Revolution by the Iranian regime that continues to place its leaders under house arrest until this moment has not led to the emergence of extremism or terrorism in Iran. Nor have there been suicide operations or bombings there. This raises several serious questions: Why is the entire region, except Iran, being targeted by terrorism? Why are some of Al-Qaeda’s leaders in Iran in the first place? Moreover, the Obama administration is opening up to the Iranian regime despite all it has done and continues to do to Iranians and the whole region.
Therefore, the issue is not about having good intentions or making efforts to defend Islam, particularly since there are groups in the region exploiting the religion. The Obama administration has failed to realize this and instead has chosen to deal with Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, the root cause of national fragmentation, as rife examples testify to this fact from Sudan to Egypt. What we need now is to curb extremist propaganda on social media, not just counter it, and to stop the bloodletting, killing, and the destruction of nations in the region, rather than theoretically defending Islam. Islam already has those capable of defending it.

Without further US concessions to Iran, the nuclear deal may blow up in their faces
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis February 22, 2015
US and Iranian officials have plunged into a last-ditch effort to rescue their nuclear negotiations from falling into deep crisis. Some Western observers have told debkafile’s Washington and Tehran sources that the talks are beyond saving.
The top-level negotiators rushed post-haste to Geneva over the weekend are: US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to join US Secretary of State John Kerry; and on the Iranian side, Nuclear Energy Commission Chief Ali Akbar Salehi and the president’s brother Hossein Fereydoon. They will flank Foreign Minister Mohamed Javaz Zarif.
The Obama administration appears to have reached the limit of its concession to Tehran – for now. As for the Iranians, they too are holding out against US demands to cut down on the number of centrifuges actively enriching uranium and impose a cap on their enriched stocks. Tehran also rejects the US proposal to lift sanctions in stages spaced over several years and wants fast relief.
Kerry was referring to these differences in the gloomy remarks he made to reporters Saturday, Feb. 21.
“There are still significant gaps, there is still a distance to travel,” he said, and went on to warn that “President Obama has no inclination whatsoever to extend these talks beyond the period that has been set out.”
The US Secretary went on to say that there is “absolutely no divergence whatsoever in what we believe is necessary for Iran to prove that its nuclear program is going to be peaceful.”
debkafile’s analysts offer four comments on the approaching impasse:
1. It is not clear whether the Obama administration is attempting a spot of muscle-flexing to force supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to blink first and sign the draft which Kerry and Zarif completed last month. There is little chance of the tough Iranian leader buckling under.
2. The Obama administration looks as though it has come to the outer limit of its indulgence in the bargaining with Tehran. If anything more is to be offered, it will be mere minor adjustments.
3. President Obama may have come to terms with the possible breakdown of the long and painful nuclear diplomacy with Iran.
4. Whether or not the negotiations continue, Tehran will be required to finally face up to questions put by the International Atomic Energy Agency about the suspected military dimensions of its nuclear program – which Tehran denies - and the secret testing of nuclear bomb components. However, the Iranians will almost certainly continue to stonewall the IAEA. And if anyone gives way on this, it is likely to be Washington - if that is what it takes to save the nuclear deal with Tehran.
debkafile’s Iranian sources disclose that President Hassan Rouhani sent his brother to Geneva with a special message. He was to warn the Obama administration that the failure of nuclear negotiations would put his brother’s presidency, which the West regards as “moderate,” in danger of being ousted.
Another message Hossein Fereydoon carried to Geneva was that Tehran rejects the two-phase timeline proposed by the Americans for an accord – March 24 for an agreement in principle and the end of June for the final, comprehensive document – and insists on one deadline in June.
The strong head of steam building up ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to both houses of Congress on March 3 has become another complicating factor.
Netanyahu argues that the provisions already endorsed by the White House and Rouhani would confirm Iran as a pre-nuclear power and let it retain the capacity for the future production of dozens of nuclear bombs.
The Obama administration’s reply to this accusation addresses the future, and rests on the proposition that the only obstacle to a nuclear accord at present is Ayatollah Khamenei. Since he has reached the age of 75, he won’t be around when the nuclear accord – which may or may not take effect – runs out.
This argument goes on to maintain that, by the time Khamenei gives up the ghost, a new, enlightened Iranian generation will have taken over at the helm of the regime, and they will be smart enough not gamble with the economic prosperity which Iran is destined to enjoy as a result of its profitable and friendly relations with the US and Europe.
The new generation of Iranian leaders, as envisaged by Washington, will turn its back on the Khamenei formulation that the Islamic Republic needs nuclear power to guarantee its regional status and national security.
In Israel’s view, this rosy prediction has no legs. No one in Washington can tell who will be in power in Tehran at the end of a decade. For all anyone knows, Khamenei could be replaced by still more rabid extremists. In the meantime, while the various prognoses are debated, Tehran will move forward and arm itself with a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu maintains.
All these moves have placed the US, Iran and Israel in a three-way race. The trouble is that each of the runners is aiming for a different finishing line. The Obama administration wants a nuclear deal in the bag by March 31, with only a few minutiae left over for June; Tehran wants to skip March and work on getting more concessions for an advantageous deal to be concluded in June; while Israel’s Netanyahu is fighting to pre-empt the accord - such as it is, based on the draft the US and Iran have already concluded between them.

Violent extremism vs Islamist extremism
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
Sunday, 22 February 2015
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”
Ludwig Wittgenstein
President Obama is a wordsmith. His relatively short political life has been chiseled and shaped by the possibilities and the limits of his language. He bursts on the national stage when he delivered a memorable keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In fact, he defined his campaigns and his presidency by few pivotal speeches that tried to explain his vision of America, domestic decisions, and how he sees the world. Obama the wordsmith struggled with his language the way Obama the president struggled with his decisions. And just as his leadership style and some of his decisions were characterized by tentativeness, excessive caution and deliberation, his language can also oscillate between that which is inspirational and that which is deliberately ambiguous, deceptive and downright Orwellian. His framing of the Syrian conflict and his claims that his options were the extremes of doing nothing or invade Syria are a case in point.
Of terrorists and sophists
President Obama inherited from his predecessor many burdens; a debilitating economic crisis and America’s two longest wars, in addition to an illegitimate ugly child named the “War on terror.” If former President George W. Bush was known for not doing nuance, for tripping over his tongue and for his absolute “us vs them” formulations, including the “War on terror” and “Islamo-fascism”, President Obama is the President who lives in a parallel territory where words and their meanings are at best implied and much more elastic and nuanced to a fault. Towards the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, some of his senior officials dropped the much maligned term War on terror when it lost its original meaning (the war against Al Qaeda) and after it became in many Arab and Muslim eyes synonymous with a war on Islam.
“President Obama’s obsession with leaving the burdens of Iraq, Afghanistan and the wars on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups behind him has muddled his political approach to these challenges and muddied his dictio”
President Obama did the right thing when he dropped this term (after all terror is a tactic) and tried to frame the conflict as one against a specific enemy with a known name; Al Qaeda. But Obama and his aides wanted so much to be the antithesis of Bush, to the point where they wanted to drop the word terror and to deny any connection, even if very fuzzy between the terrorists they were meeting on the battlefields and their professed Muslim religion, even where it was clear that the faith has been distorted or highjacked. Thus, the “War on terror” evolved in Obama’s world into the “overseas contingency operations, a term reminiscent of the way the Pentagon designated the war in Vietnam as an international armed conflict. Other verbal gems followed. When Major Nidal Hasan attacked his supposed comrades in arms at Fort Hood, the professional sophists in the Obama administration, bent on denying the politically motivated crime, neutered the word terror from the deed and gave us the term workplace violence.
Leaving the burdens
President Obama’s obsession with leaving the burdens of Iraq, Afghanistan and the wars on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups behind him has muddled his political approach to these challenges and muddied his diction. Obama told the nation at the beginning of last year that America must move off a permanent war footing while almost simultaneously denying the mounting threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) describing it in an interview with the New Yorker as a junior varsity basketball team.
The verbal obfuscation and intentional ambiguity of the President and his aides regarding the terror employed by groups that wrap themselves with a perverted Islamist cloak like ISIS and those inspired by it, is disingenuous and downright insulting. When a man claiming allegiance to ISIS attacked a kosher deli in Paris killing four Jews, because of who they were, President Obama suggested that “a bunch of folks” were “randomly shot.” And when ISIS in another ritualistic act of savagery slaughtered 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, because of who they were, the White House statement condemning the killing deliberately omitted their faith. In his recent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles times, the president had to restore their faith. This is the same president who told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in January “I don’t quibble with labels. I think we all recognize that this is a particular problem that has roots in Muslim communities.”
Countering violent extremism
This week the White House held a three day seminar, strangely dubbed as “a summit,” to empower local communities, and protect youth against the seductive and sleek online propaganda of ISIS and other terrorist groups. Community and religious leaders, including American Muslims, civil society organizations and government officials deliberated and highlighted their experiments in three “pilot” programs in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Boston. The last day included a session in which the President and foreign representatives in the international coalition against ISIS, including foreign ministers from some Arab countries spoke briefly.
The semantic presidency
It was time for the semantic presidency to employ its considerable evasive lexicon for a final framing of the issue at hand. The president had to address the criticism of his administration’s refusal to concede that groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan are “extremist Islamists” because they are animated by a body of literature of fanatical interpretations of the sacred texts of Islam, intolerant religious rulings and fatwas and selective use of religious dogma to justify their horrific ritualistic violence and their warped eschatology. Understanding the “theoretical” underpinnings of these groups, particularly ISIS, will go a long way in developing an equally powerful counter-narrative that admittedly Arabs and Muslims should wage.
The president first stated the obvious “We are not at war with Islam; we are at war with those who have perverted Islam.” Then came the counterattack. “Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge, so I want to be very clear about how I see it,” the President said to the conferees. He added “Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam.” But President Obama said that “we must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.” These pretenders “are not religious leaders- they are terrorists.”
In his Op-Ed, the president wanted to say that violence and terror is not and should not be identified with a single group, by mentioning the “tragic killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012 and at a Jewish community center in Kansas last year.” Obama talked also about the three young Muslim Americans who were brutally killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, while acknowledging that we still don’t know why they were murdered, but “we know that many Muslim Americans across our country are worried and afraid.” But surely, while these acts of violence are abominable, they are or maybe hate crimes carried out by individuals driven by religious and/or ethnic hatred. They cannot and should not be equated with the terror campaigns waged by the likes of ISIS, Al Qaeda and others capable of paralyzing states and whole geographic regions.
The September 2001 attacks exacted a tremendous economic and political cost and led the U.S. to the two longest wars in its history. ISIS’s brutality and challenge have forced President Obama to deploy a small contingent of American advisors and Intelligence operatives.
What’s in a name?
By not acknowledging the “theological” underpinnings of ISIS, perverted as they may be, President Obama’s academic approach and evasive vocabulary muddies the intellectual and religious counter-narrative that should accompany the military assault on ISIS. Political and intellectual clarity in identifying the enemy and the way it frames its ideology and how it sees the world, is an imperative. To deny that ISIS and Al Qaeda have nothing to do with that long history of “Muslim grievances” real or manufactured, or their identification with marginal and extreme historic “scholars” behind some of the most perverted interpretations of Muslim teachings and sacred texts, is to deny that the Crusades or the Inquisition have nothing to do with extreme interpretations of Christianity.
The Israeli settlement drive in the occupied Palestinian territories, notwithstanding its grounding in economics and politics, cannot be fully understood without its Jewish underpinnings.
Marxian purists claim, somewhat correctly, that Leninism distorted Marxism; but there is no denying that Leninism could not have been the powerful movement that it was in the early 20th century, had it not been the illegitimate child of Marxism. A similar relation exists between the theoreticians and ideologues of some Islamist movements such as Sayyid Qutb, the radical, intolerant and powerful theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and his atavistic and warped interpretation of the Islamic corpus. Osama Bin Laden’s rants echoed loudly and clearly with Qutb’s fanatical views.
President Obama urged the nations represented in the conference (mostly the Muslim ones, although he did not say so explicitly) to address the economic and political grievances in their societies and expand the space for human rights and empowerment. These are intrinsically positive demands, although poverty, as he himself admitted does not explain why some people are drawn to terror and violence, or why most terrorist leaders and ideologues happen to be educated and well to do, and operate in advanced and democratic societies, as the history of terrorism in the West since the French Revolution shows. But the President did touch on an important issue that is at the core of the propaganda of Al Qaeda and ISIS against the West.
The victimhood narrative
The President said that Muslim scholars and clerics have a “responsibility to push back not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations; that America and the West are somehow at war with Islam or seek to suppress Muslims, or that we are the cause of every ill in the Middle East.” There is no denying that the “West” bears some responsibility for the sorry state of affairs in the Arab world (The legacy of colonialism, military interventions, support for autocratic regimes, and not enough opposition to Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights) there is also no denying that a “victimhood” narrative has been developed over the years and it has been peddled by many Arab scholars, public figures and commentators, be they Islamists or Arab nationalists, claiming that outsiders are in the main, responsible for the miserable conditions in most Arab states and not the Arabs themselves.
At times Arab autocrats, who were supported by the U.S. - such as former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak - encouraged their media to demonize the West, particularly America and Israel (sometimes in ugly anti-Semitic tones) and blame them for almost all the ills that the rulers are responsible for. Wild conspiracy theories are employed to interpret complex and not so complex issues and developments such as the U.S or Israel are behind ISIS, or the 9/11 terror attacks, America wants to divide Iraq or even Egypt, or the West exploits Arab oil.
In recent years the Islamists have waged this propaganda campaign with renewed vigor using the incredible proliferation of the Arabic speaking satellite television channels (owned by Arabs and non-Arabs) and the social media. Yes, it is true that the terrorists are small numerically, but let’s remember that great events and revolutions, political movements AND terrorist groups were led by numerically small minorities, highly motivated and determined “vanguards,” and yes they have changed history, and not necessarily for the better. There is a minority of radical fanatical Islamist Jihadists, aided by many “useful idiots” in the academic world and media, that enjoys the “soft support” of a significant number of people in a number of Arab and Muslim countries for the Islamists dark views of their own societies, and their animus against the West, particularly the United States.

Israeli PM, Netanyahu slams ongoing Iran nuclear talks after damning IAEA report
Ynet, Reuters/Published: 02.22.15/Israel News
UN report says Tehran was continuing to withhold full cooperation regarding allegations of explosives tests and other activity that could be used to develop nuclear bombs. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he found it "astonishing" that Iran nuclear negotiations were continuing even after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found that Tehran was hiding military components of its atom program.
A confidential document by the IAEA, distributed among its member states on Thursday and obtained by Reuters, said Tehran was continuing to withhold full cooperation in two areas of a long-running IAEA investigation that it had committed to giving by August last year.
"Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures," the IAEA said, referring to allegations of explosives tests and other activity that could be used to develop nuclear bombs. "Not only are they continuing (the talks), there is an increased effort to reach a nuclear agreement in the coming days and weeks," Netanyahu said.
"Therefore, the coming month is critical for the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers because a framework agreement is liable to be signed that will allow Iran to develop the nuclear capabilities that threaten our existence," he added.
Netanyahu reiterated that the deal being formulated between Iran and world powers was "dangerous" for Israel. "Therefore I will go to the US next week in order to explain to the American Congress, which could influence the fate of the agreement, why this agreement is dangerous for Israel, the region and the entire world," he said.
In Geneva, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif will try to narrow gaps in another round of nuclear talks on Sunday as they press to meet a March 31 deadline for a political framework agreement.
The talks will be joined for the first time by US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who agreed to attend after Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said he would take part. A close aide and the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hossein Fereydoon, will also be part of the meetings, Iranian media reported.
Kerry was due to arrive in Geneva in the early afternoon, then immediately meet with the US delegation, which has been in Geneva since Friday. After that he planned to meet Zarif and the Iranian delegation.
The Secretary of State said on Saturday the presence of Moniz reflected the highly technical nature of the current talks and in no way meant "that something is about to be decided."
However, Kerry said the sides were working with urgency to meet the March 31 target for a political agreement, which would give impetus for further talks. "There is still a distance to travel," Kerry said in London where he met British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
The negotiations between Iran and "P5+1" powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - have reached a sensitive stage with gaps remaining, mainly over Iranian uranium enrichment and the pace of removing sanctions. Kerry said US President Barack Obama was not inclined to extend the talks again. The parties already missed a November 2014 target date.
Obama believed it was "imperative to be able to come to a fundamental political outline and agreement within the time space that we have left," Kerry said.
"If that can't be done, it would be an indication that fundamental choices are not being made that are essential to doing that," Kerry added, also emphasizing that Obama was prepared to halt the talks if he thought they were not being productive.
The recent UN report also said that Iran had refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a machine used to refine uranium under a nuclear agreement with the six world powers. Development of advanced centrifuges is feared to lead to material potentially suitable for manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Taking a beating in Aleppo
Roi Kais/Ynetnews
Published: 02.22.15/Israel News
The Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah were quick to gloat at their military victory against the rebels in Syria's northern capital, but they were somewhat premature. While all eyes - and Israeli eyes in particular - were looking to southern Syria following a joint operation by the Syrian army, Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guards against the Syrian opposition in the Golan Heights, Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces this week made a similar push against the rebels in the strategic northern city of Aleppo, close to the Turkish border - with dismal results. Initially, the regime was able to achieve an impressive feat when it took over the northern suburbs of Aleppo, which were controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra and other factions - areas that the Syrian army had been unable to reach in a long time. The purpose of the takeover was to cut off supply lines for the rebels in Aleppo and end the siege imposed on the northern Shiite villages of Nubul and Zahra.
But the joy expressed in the Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah media at the military achievement was premature. The rebels and members of Jabhat al-Nusra, a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, were quickly able to regain control of these areas and to capture dozens of members of Assad's army and its allies, among them Hezbollah, Iranian fighters and Shiite militia fighters. At the moment, the two sides are talking in an attempt to reach a prisoner exchange involving Assad's troops in return for inmates in Assad's jails.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 129 Assad soldiers or fighters loyal to him, including five members of Hezbollah, were killed Saturday in fierce battles. Another 116 opposition activists were also killed, and it seems that the battle is far from over.
But caught between the warring sides are, once again, the people of Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that a massacre had been carried out in recent days in the village of Raitan, north of Aleppo. Fighters from Assad's army and from Hezbollah killed 48 people, including ten children, the Observatory said. Eye witnesses reported soldiers entering homes in the area and mercilessly slaughtering the residents.
Assad's army is now centering most of its forces in the northern suburb of Aleppo, which is closer to the Turkish border, and less inside the city itself – which has been divided since summer 2012 into rebel-controlled and regime-held areas. It is now de facto two cities.
One of the chief propagandists of the "resistance" against Israel, the editor of Hezbollah's Al-Akhbar newspaper, Ibrahim al-Amin, was asked during a conversation with Facebook users why the Syrian regime and its allies had decided to open fronts on the Golan and in Aleppo at this stage. Al-Amin explained that this was another step toward reclaiming control over Syria's borders.
"Thus will the main objective be achieved - reducing the flow of armed fighters and curtailing the flow of aid to them," he said. "I also anticipate that another front will be opened near the border with Iraq."
In light of the losses by Hezbollah and Assad's forces in Aleppo in recent days, Syrian opposition sources found time to mock Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who has been uncharacteristically loquacious in recent days, using the now-popular hashtag #HassanthePiper.

 Al-Azhar Imam Urges Religious Education Reform to Curb Extremism
Naharnet /The head of al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious seat of learning, called on Sunday for education reform in Muslim countries in an effort to contain the spread of religious extremism. Speaking at counter-terrorism forum in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, al-Azhar grand imam Ahmed al-Tayib linked extremism to "bad interpretations of the Koran and the sunna," the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. "There has been a historical accumulation of excessive trends" that have led some people to embrace a misguided form of Islam, he told the gathering. "The only hope for the Muslim nation to recover unity is to tackle in our schools and universities this tendency to accuse Muslims of being unbelievers," he said. Tayib's comments come days after he expressed outrage at the Islamic State group for burning to death a captured Jordanian pilot who took part in U.S.-led air strikes against the jihadists in Syria. On February 4, after IS released a video showing Maaz al-Kassasbeh dying in a cage engulfed in flames, Tayib said the jihadists deserved to be killed or crucified.
On Sunday in Mecca, home to Islam's holiest sites, he made no mention of IS but denounced "terrorist groups... who have opted for savage and barbaric practices." He blamed unrest in the region on a conspiracy by what he called "new global colonialism allied to world Zionism." Tayib said that this plot has exploited "confessional tension" in conflict-hit Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. The opening day of the conference also heard a speech from Saudi King Salman who called for "an efficient strategy to combat terrorism."
"Terrorism is a scourge which is the product of extremist ideology," the monarch's speech, read by the governor of Mecca, said. "It is a threat to our Muslim nation and to the entire world." The three-day conference, organized by the Muslim World League group of non-government organizations, is being attended by senior clerics from across the Muslim world to discuss how Islam can combat extremism. SourceAgence France Presse