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Bible Quotation For Today/The Magi Visit the Messiah
Matthew 02/01-22: "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene."
Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January
ISIS’s Next Targets/Diana Moukalled /Asharq Al Awsat/January 04/15
Israel’s ICC Embarrassment/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/January 04/15
2015 – A definitive year for Turkish-Armenian relations/Sinem Cengiz /Al Arabiya/January 04/15
Lebanese Related News published on January 04-05/15
Unprecedented optimism over hostages ordeal
Hezbollah regains Qalamoun border position
Future, Hezbollah to tackle sectarian tensions
Lebanon ready for wrath of ‘Zina’
The bright side of holiday traffic
Lebanon tightens restrictions on Syrians entering the country
A side table talks politics
Cold weather worsens refugees’ living conditions
Sunnis, Shiites to join forces against Israel: Hezbollah
Labor unions that include migrant workers mulled
Wael Abu Faour: From rebel to reformist
Regulations unclear on humanitarian cases: UNHCR
Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 04-05/15
Iran’s empty promises
Rouhani: Nuclear talks a matter of heart
Syrian opposition coalition elects new leader
Israel threatens more punitive steps against Palestinians
Israel plans more than Palestinian tax freeze
Israel arrests three ISIS-inspired Palestinians
Islamist group seizes Damascus suburb from rivals: monitor
Turkey approves first new church in a century
Valencia end Madrid’s winning run
Torres wants to taste success with Atletico
Riyadh presses ahead with plans for new Baghdad embassy
Jordan halts talks on $15B Israeli gas deal
Cairo seizes assets of preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
Egypt disputes Amal Clooney arrest warning claim
Jihad Watch Site Latest Posts
Somalia: Jihad suicide bomber targets elite forces, murders four people
Tunisia: Islamic jihadists slash throat, murder police officer
Author of “Islamophobic” French novel: “Jihadists are bad Muslims”
Germany: Cologne Cathedral to go dark to protest anti-Islamization marches
Video: Robert Spencer on Sun TV on Muslim anger at counterterror drills
Sweden: Syrian “refugees” complain it’s too cold, demand metropolitan atmosphere
UK: Teachers must monitor toddlers for their risk of becoming terrorists
Pakistan: Candlelight vigil for murdered foe of blasphemy laws attacked
Nigeria: Islamic jihadists overwhelm troops, seize military base
Punjab chief: Pakistan can solve terror problem by imitating Muhammad
Maldives Tourism Minister: Music acts to promote tourism, not defy Islam
Moderate” Fatah: Netanyahu will be hanged “soon”
Dutch police paid Sharia patrols to patrol The Hague on New Year’s Eve
Unprecedented optimism over hostages ordeal
The Daily Star/Jan. 05, 2015
BEIRUT: Officials and the families of the 25 Lebanese captives expressed cautious optimism over the weekend that the five-month-long hostage ordeal may soon be taking a positive turn.
“There is progress in this case, but I will not announce it today, awaiting the final word on it,” Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk told reporters after meeting with Maronite Bishop Boulos Matar at the archdiocese in Ashrafieh Saturday.
“It is clear now that the ongoing negotiations have progressed, they will not fall back and the negotiations are no longer frozen,” Machnouk said, expressing hope that the case would be resolved at the start of this new year.
Spokesperson for the families Hussein Youssef shared the interior minister’s optimism over advancements in the case, pointing to a set of “positive signs” that indicate negotiations have taken a serious turn.
One such sign, according to Youssef, is the fact that the father of one of the kidnapped servicemen met the captives near the northeastern border with Syria last week.
He told The Daily Star Sunday that the move marked the first instance of communication with the Nusra Front after contact had been frozen for about four months.
Last week, Hamza Hommos had a 75-minute meeting with his son on the outskirts of the border town of Arsal, where the captive soldiers and policemen are being held hostage by ISIS and Nusra Front.
According to the spokesperson, the government is in contact with both ISIS and the Nusra Front. Arsal Deputy Mayor Ahmad Fliti, who was appointed as a mediator by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, is negotiating with ISIS, he said.
As for the Nusra Front, Youssef noted that the crisis cell had tasked “secret and unannounced mediators” to negotiate with the militants.
In another positive sign, Youssef cited reports relayed to the families by mediators and the crisis cell, assuring that negotiations were on the right track.
“There are tangible developments and the Lebanese will be aware of them in a matter of days,” Youssef said.
Though the spokesperson refused to disclose a detailed account of what the progress entailed, he said that “there was a possibility that one of the captives would be freed in a matter of days.”
Fliti did not confirm or deny the spokesperson’s claims when contacted by The Daily Star Sunday.
Fliti has abided by the government’s policy of keeping mum over the case.
The case of the soldiers and policemen held by the Nusra Front and ISIS since August has been shrouded in secrecy for the past week after Prime Minister Tammam Salam criticized media leaks and statements by officials that he said only harmed the negotiations.While the government has only officially tasked head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim with the case, it has remained open to other self-proclaimed mediators who are in contact with Nusra and ISIS.
The groups, which have so far killed four of their hostages, have demanded the release of Islamist detainees in Lebanese and Syrian prisons in exchange for freeing the 25 servicemen.
The government has not yet officially announced it was accepting a swap deal, but prominent political parties in the Cabinet have supported such a solution to end the five-month crisis.
Future and Hezbollah to tackle sectarian tensions
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/ 05, 2015
BEIRUT: The Future Movement and Hezbollah will hold a second round of talks Monday focusing on ways to defuse political and sectarian tensions stoked by the war in Syria, officials said Sunday.
MP Michel Aoun, meanwhile, said a planned meeting with his Christian rival, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, was on track as the two sides worked on a joint blueprint for the talks.
Senior officials from the Future Movement and Hezbollah are scheduled to meet at Speaker Nabih Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh at 6 p.m. Monday, in the second session of a dialogue launched last month with the aim of easing Sunni-Shiite tensions and facilitating the election of a new president.
“The two sides will discuss Monday necessary measures to defuse sectarian tensions,” a member of the Future-Hezbollah dialogue told The Daily Star.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he described the first dialogue session sponsored by Berri at Ain al-Tineh on Dec. 23 as an “ice-breaking meeting” between the two rival influential parties, whose strained ties have heightened political and sectarian tensions and sometimes put the country on edge.
Defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions is the main item on the dialogue agenda which, according to officials from both sides, also includes finding a mechanism to allow the election of a president, boosting efforts to combat terrorism, promoting a new electoral law and energizing stagnant state institutions.
Berri, the architect of the Future-Hezbollah dialogue, was quoted by Ain al-Tineh visitors as saying Sunday: “This item [Sunni-Shiite tensions] will be discussed seriously and in depth. It needs joint cooperation which I had felt from both sides in the first session of dialogue.”
“This dialogue has a national objective and is not merely a Sunni-Shiite dialogue,” he said.
Berri also dismissed fears that the dialogue would lead to the formation of a new four-party alliance, grouping in addition to the Future Movement and Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party. “No, it will not lead to such an alliance,” he said, adding that the statement issued after the first dialogue session was clear in stating that any agreement reached by the two sides would take into consideration all the parties and the country.
Asked to comment on the planned dialogue between Geagea and Aoun, the Free Patriotic Movement leader, Berri said: “This dialogue, which we have encouraged, was a natural reaction to the dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement.”
Berri will not attend Monday’s session. Instead, he will be represented by his political aide, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil.
Last month’s meeting was the first face-to-face encounter between Future and Hezbollah officials in four years since the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance toppled former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s national unity government in January 2011.
Reducing sectarian tensions demands that Future and Hezbollah politicians as well as their TV outlets halt media campaigns and the war of words against each other which have been blamed for inflaming sectarian sentiments among supporters of the two sides.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam as well as Future MPs and rival politicians have voiced hopes that the Future-Hezbollah dialogue would help break the 7-month-old presidential stalemate.
In addition to gaining support from rival politicians, the Future-Hezbollah dialogue has also won backing from Egypt as well as the U.S., Saudi and Iranian ambassadors in Beirut. It has also encouraged the two rival Maronite leaders, Aoun and Geagea, to meet to bury the hatchet and try to find a solution for the presidential crisis.
FPM and LF officials have been holding talks to agree on a final agenda for a meeting between Aoun and Geagea, both of whom are vying for the presidency seat. While Aoun is backed by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, Geagea is supported by the March 14 coalition for the country’s top Christian post.
For his part, Aoun refused to withdraw from the presidency race, saying he stood a chance to be elected a president. “I have a chance [to win the presidency],” he said in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV Sunday night.
Aoun said he did not even rule out the possibility of LF lawmakers voting for him for president. “It will not be a divine miracle,” he said of the LF’s possible support for his presidential bid.
For security reasons, Aoun refused to give a final date or the venue of his upcoming meeting with Geagea, saying efforts were underway by the two sides to reach a joint working blueprint.
“The main topics of the dialogue are the Christians’ rights in the country’s political life, an electoral law, the presidential election and the president’s qualifications,” he said. “We have to defend the rights of the Christians.”
He added that he would discuss with Geagea “many thorny issues that concern the Christians and the country as a whole.”
Aoun rejected Geagea’s call to search for “a third candidate” to break the presidential deadlock. He said he would not again vote for a consensus president as he did with the election of former President Michel Sleiman under a deal reached by the rival factions in Doha, Qatar, in May 2008 following a political deadlock that left the country without a president for more than six months.
“We want a president who can represent the majority of the Lebanese people. This is an essential condition,” Aoun said. He added that the next president should be capable of tackling the country’s problems and carry out change and reforms in the state’s structure, which he said was crippled by corruption, negligence and the absence of accountability.
Iran’s empty promises
The Daily Star/Jan. 05, 2015
Having urged an end to Iran’s international isolation, President Rouhani’s courageous words Sunday must now be followed up with genuine commitment to reform and an admission of Tehran’s foreign policy failings.
Rouhani also called for increased transparency and an end to corruption, and admitted that the government’s monopoly over the economy – coupled with the sanctions program – was crippling the country.
But while Rouhani may very well believe what he says, his will alone will not be enough to change the reality on the ground. There are clearly divisions within the country’s leadership, and it is likely Sunday’s speech – ahead of a new round of nuclear talks – was not welcomed by Supreme Leader Khamenei, or indeed the Revolutionary Guard Corps, who are far less enthusiastic about cooperation with the West.
And though Rouhani seemed to be speaking to an international audience in affirming his commitment to opening up Iran, and a desire to end the sanctions program, there was a conspicuous omission on why the sanctions were implemented in the first place.
Iran’s regional role – its increasingly rigid and militant policies – must be confronted for any tangible reform to take place at home. Until Rouhani can admit that under his watch the country has only stepped up involvement across the region – from Lebanon to Yemen, by way of Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – then any relaxing of sanctions or opening up of the economy will be impossible, and his promises of reform are merely an exercise in semantics.
As it is, Iran is merely encouraging and supporting violence throughout the Mideast, and until this stops, even the most humble rapprochement with the West – and first the Gulf – is merely a fantasy.
regains Syrian Qalamoun border position
The Daily Star/Jan. 05, 2015
BEIRUT: The Syrian army backed by Hezbollah regained control over the weekend of a key position in Qalamoun near the border with Lebanon in the fiercest bout of fighting since the Syrian military and its allies took over villages and towns in the area, security sources told The Daily Star. The sources expected similar rebel attacks to increase with worsening weather conditions. “Militants will become even more hostile as it gets colder because they look for supply lines,” one source said.
Four Hezbollah fighters and five Syrian army soldiers were killed in the clashes Saturday, while more than 30 jihadis were killed, the sources said. Media reports said Ali Bakri and Fadel Abbas of Hezbollah were killed during the fighting.
The sources said militants initially overran a strategic Hezbollah position in the Syrian village of Flita located 5 km away from the border with Lebanon, leading to violent clashes.
However, Hezbollah soon regained the post.
“Hezbollah and the Syrian army are now in control of all the key posts in the Qalamoun region,” one source said.
After clashes with rebels last year, the Syrian army backed by Hezbollah took Flita. Strategically located, the village is seen as a conduit for rebel supplies from Lebanon.
The sources said both the Syrian army and Hezbollah were “ready and vigilant” in anticipation of new attacks.
In comments published over the weekend, the head of Lebanon’s General Security said ISIS militants holed up in the Qalamoun mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border are seeking to gain control of nearby Lebanese villages to support their fighting positions.
Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim told Reuters that Lebanese forces were on high alert to prevent ISIS from seizing any Lebanese territory near the Qalamoun Mountains, which demarcate Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria.
“Islamic State does not want to dominate Qalamoun ... but they want to use it to secure their backs in the region through controlling [Lebanese] villages on the front lines with the Qalamoun area,” he said.
“The [Lebanese] military and security forces are on full alert,” Ibrahim added.
Such cross-border incursions would add to concerns that Lebanon, which suffered its own civil war in 1975-90, could be drawn further into the conflict in neighboring Syria.
Fighting from Syria has regularly spilled into Lebanon since the war erupted nearly four years ago.
Last August, ISIS and the Nusra Front attacked the border town of Arsal and took Lebanese servicemen captive. Gunmen, including militants linked to ISIS, also clashed with the army in the coastal city of Tripoli.
Lebanese residents near the border have said they are ready to take up arms to defend their homes.
Ibrahim said the security services had arrested many militants in broad sweeps across the country and dismantled networks of fighters in operations, although it did not always publicize its efforts.
Could Obama Swing the Israeli
by Steven J. Rosen/The Gatestone Institute
January 3, 2015
President Obama sees Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as obstructing his pursuit of legacy-defining foreign policy achievements in the Middle East.
This is the first time since 2009 that the Obama Administration may think it has a credible opportunity to replace Benjamin Netanyahu with an Israeli government prepared to make more concessions to the Palestinians. The idea that Obama could have a more compliant partner in Jerusalem for the final eighteen months of his presidency has to excite his closest aides as they reach for achievements to crown the President's legacy.
This new perception, that Netanyahu can be toppled, has emerged suddenly as the subject of audible whispers in Europe as well as Washington.
From 2009 through 2013, innumerable polls of Israeli opinion failed to identify anyone in a position to compete with Netanyahu for the role of Prime Minister. Even in 2014, every poll taken until this month found the left in a distant second position to the coalition headed by the Likud. But since the Knesset was dissolved on December 8, and especially since Labor leader Isaac Herzog merged his center-left party with Tzipi Livni's Hatnua, the polls have shifted significantly. In thirteen of the nineteen Israeli polls taken since December 8, Herzog's Labor surpasses Netanyahu's Likud in projected Knesset seats, and in another four polls Labor and Likud are tied.
The perception that Netanyahu can be toppled has emerged suddenly as the subject of audible whispers in Europe as well as Washington.
Equally important, there are now for the first time several credible scenarios in which the "Peace Camp" led by Labor could assemble a winning coalition. Unlike 2009, when Kadima's Livni won the most seats but was unable to form a government, Labor/Hatnua and its natural allies -- Meretz, Lapid's Yesh Atid, and the Arab parties (the latter probably supporting from outside the government) -- could achieve a majority by winning support from two or three potential "swing" parties whose leaders -- Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Lieberman, and Aryeh Deri -- have each signaled openness to the idea.
Netanyahu is newly vulnerable; many Israelis express fatigue with him after six years, as Americans do with Obama. There is a craving for new leaders, a demand for a new economic agenda, and a majority wanting greater fairness on social issues. Israelis seem to be looking around to see if someone else could do a better job.
However, the left has its own vulnerability, especially on the issue of the Palestinians. Most Israelis do not think the rise of Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS makes this a great time to sign an agreement requiring the IDF to leave the West Bank. They followed Ariel Sharon when he pulled every soldier and every settler out of Gaza in 2005, but what happened after that withdrawal was the opposite of "land for peace." Disengagement in 2005 brought, not peace, but the election of Hamas in 2006; a coup in Gaza in 2007; three wars in Gaza in 2008-9, 2012, and 2013; 10,000 rockets and missiles where before there were none; tunnels to infiltrate Israeli communities; and lots more.
Moreover, what Israelis see today when they look out the window is violent upheavals all over the Middle East. It does not inspire confidence that just signing a piece of paper will bring real peace. So criticizing Netanyahu for being tough on the Palestinian question could be counterproductive.
But where, some argue, Netanyahu may be more vulnerable, is by feeding the belief that he has strained relations with Israel's traditional allies in the United States and Europe. Advocates of American pressure on Israel often cite the example of how sharp words expressed against Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, contributed to Rabin's great victory over Shamir's Likud in Israeli elections the following year, leading to the Oslo negotiations and the questionable Clinton peace process.
The theory that friction will weaken Netanyahu is unproven.
If Obama decides to pick a fight with Netanyahu to influence the Israeli election, it could be focused on their personal relations. Even if the occasion is Iran sanctions legislation, pending in the Senate, or some housing units in Jewish areas of Jerusalem, the tactic may be aimed at personality rather than policy.
Kerry told European diplomats that Livni had warned him against using the Palestinian UN resolution as a point of pressure, as it could backfire and strengthen Netanyahu. We will see whether this advice ended the temptation for Obama to intervene. Or did it merely redirect the tactic to another place where Obama sees an opportunity?
Obama could pay a price for provoking another confrontation with Bibi. His own credibility is tarnished, particularly in foreign policy. He faces a Republican Congress that is unlikely to go along. The theory that friction will weaken Netanyahu is unproven; the reverse could happen. And Netanyahu may well win the Israeli election on March17, so Obama needs to think about the morning after.
Still, for those in the President's circle who believe that a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would fall into place if only Bibi did not stand in the way, there has to be an enormous temptation to seize the opportunity. There are, no doubt, some in the Israeli peace camp who will encourage this line of thinking about American pressure.
**Steven J. Rosen is a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Forum
Erdogan's Egyptian Nightmare
Burak Bekdil/The Gatestone Institute
Erdogan giving Egypt the fingers - specifically, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's four-fingered "Rabia" sign
Back in 2011, everything ostensibly was coming up roses between Turkey and Egypt. In an interview that year, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu mentioned "an axis of democracy of the two biggest nations in our region [Turkey and Egypt], from the north to the south, from the Black Sea down to the Nile Valley."
In September 2011, then-Prime Minister [now President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan found an emotional hero's welcome at Cairo's Tahrir Square. Tens of thousands of Egyptians had flocked to the Cairo airport to welcome him. Streets were decorated with posters of Erdogan. A 2011 survey by TESEV, a Turkish think-tank, found that Turkey was the most popular country for the residents of seven Arab countries, including Egypt.
But against that glittering backdrop, this author wrote in June 2011: "For Ankara, Cairo can be the new Damascus until another capital becomes the new Cairo. At that time, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan's one-time best regional ally, had already become his worst regional nemesis.
Erdogan, shedding a tear for Asmaa
The Turkish-Egyptian love affair would, in fact, be quite short-lived.
In August 2013, about a month after General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt toppled the Muslim Brotherhood rule of President Mohammed Morsi, Erdogan appeared on TV and visibly cried while listening to a letter written to Beltagy's daughter Asmaa, a 17-year-old girl who had been killed in Cairo when security forces stormed two protest camps occupied by supporters of the deposed president. Poor Asmaa had been shot in the chest and back. "I believe you have been loyal to your commitment to God, and He has been to you," her father wrote in the letter. "Otherwise, He would not have called you to His presence before me."
Later, Asmaa became another symbol for Turkish Islamists; Erdogan cheered party fans with the four-finger "Rabia" sign, in reference to his solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood, and as a sign of his endearment for the unfortunate girl. Even on the playing field, a few footballers made the same sign after scoring.
After the coup in Egypt, when el-Sisi ran for president and won the elections, Turkey's Erdogan declared them "null and void." And not just that. Erdogan also said that he did not view el-Sisi as "president of Egypt." At another time, he said, "Turkey would not recognize the coup regime in Egypt." Last July, he called el-Sisi "an illegitimate tyrant" and a "coup-maker."
Meanwhile, neither was Erdogan a "rock star" in Cairo nor was Turkey "the most popular country." Egyptian non-governmental organizations [NGOs] called on Egyptians and Arabs to boycott Turkish goods and soap operas. Egypt's intellectuals, writers and businessmen were recommending a break in Egypt's relations with Turkey because "they were disappointed." Egypt unilaterally cancelled both visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and a transit agreement for Turkish trucks.
In the anti-el-Sisi campaign, Turkey was not alone. Its only regional ally, Qatar, fully supported Turkey against Egypt's elected "coup leader." Erdogan was happy. At least until a few days ago....
In Ankara, Erdogan was all smiles when he offered a red-carpet ceremony to the visiting Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Happy to have his best ally as a guest, Erdogan probably did not know the Emir's next move on the Middle Eastern chessboard.
In the unlikely event of a reconciliation, Erdogan's previous big words on el-Sisi the coup-maker will make him look like a leader shaking hands with an "illegitimate tyrant."
A few days after al-Thani's merry visit to Ankara, Qatar announced its determination to thaw ties with Egypt, ending its alliance with Turkey over "Egypt's illegitimate tyrant."
"The security of Egypt is important for the security of Qatar ... the two countries are linked by deep and fraternal ties," ran a statement from the office of al-Thani on Dec. 21. It was a real cold shower on Ankara -- and Erdogan. The statement had come one day after el-Sisi met in Cairo with a Qatari envoy, suggesting a possible thaw in relations. After the meeting, el-Sisi's office issued a statement saying, "Egypt looks forward to a new era that ends past disagreements." Apparently, the Egyptian-Qatari reconciliation had been brokered by Saudi Arabia and, once again, Turkey was the odd one out.
In its immediate vicinity, Turkey does not have diplomatic relations with three countries -- Armenia, Cyprus and Syria -- and has deeply problematic diplomatic relations with two countries: Israel and Egypt. This situation is not sustainable.
Even Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has said that Turkey should repair its relations with Egypt. But this is not an easy task. In the unlikely event of a reconciliation, Erdogan's previous big words on el-Sisi the coup-maker will make him look like a leader shaking hands with an "illegitimate tyrant." On Dec. 24, Turkey's foreign ministry spokesman said that bilateral ties with Egypt could "normalize if the country properly returns to democracy, if the Egyptian people's free will is reflected in politics and social life." Meaning, no normalization. The spokesman would not comment on Qatar's policy change on Egypt. Turkey aspires to be a regional leader with no, little or problematic dialogue with about a dozen countries in its region. Erdogan's top advisors have found a nice euphemism for this situation: "precious loneliness." In reality, it is rather a blend of miscalculation and over self-confidence.
*Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Turkey is no American Ally
Efraim Inbar/BESA Center Perspectives
January 5, 2015
Originally published under the title, "America's Unacknowledged Problem."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone increasingly rogue since the AKP's rise to power.
Turkey is officially a NATO ally, and President Barrack Obama has called the current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a friend. But Erdogan-led Turkey does not behave as an ally or a friend of the US. This is not a new development.
Erdogan and his Islamist party, the AKP, have ruled Turkey since 2002. Erdogan's Turkey has gradually distanced itself from the West, adopting domestic and foreign policies fueled by Ottoman and Islamist impulses.
Turkey has been on the road to an authoritarian regime for several years. Infringements on human rights have gradually increased. In truth, Turkey has never had a political system with checks and balances able to constrain attempts to consolidate power around one politician. In recent years, Erdogan has weakened further the few constitutional constraints against the 'Putinization' of the Turkish political system.
Foci of power, such as the bureaucracy, the banking system, industrial associations and trade unions have been mostly coopted by the AKP.
The longer Erdogan rules, the more power hungry he seems. His authoritarian personality becomes clearer every day. The press is hardly free. Erdogan arrests even Islamist journalists that are critical of his policies. His party has infiltrated the judicial system and the police. Foci of power, such as the bureaucracy, the banking system, industrial associations and trade unions have been mostly coopted by the AKP. Opposition political parties are largely discredited. The military, once active in politics as the defender of the Kemalist secular tradition, has been successfully sidelined.
From a realpolitik perspective, the domestic political developments, deplorable as they may be in Turkey, could be ignored by the democratic West as long as Ankara continues to be a useful ally. Unfortunately, Turkey no longer qualifies as a trusted ally.
The most recent examples of nefarious Turkish behavior are its support of ISIS and Hamas. Turkey is playing a double game on the issue of the Islamic State. It pretends to cooperate with the US policy in the attempt to contain radical Islam, but actually Turkey supports ISIS. It allows volunteers passage through Turkish territory to join ISIS in Iraq. ISIS receives logistical support via Turkey, and sends its wounded militants for treatment there. Turkish military forces stood idly by the besieged city of Kobani, just across the Turkish border, while the Islamists killed Kurdish fighters. Finally, Turkey denies the American air force access to Turkish bases; forcing the US to use far away bases when attacking ISIS targets.
Turkey is also openly supporting another radical Islamist organization – Hamas. Despite the fact that the West regards Hamas a terrorist organization, Ankara regularly hosts Hamas representatives that meet the highest Turkish dignitaries. Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has a rabid anti-American position. Moreover, Salah al-Aruri, a senior Hamas operative, operates out of Istanbul. Recently, the Turkish branch of Hamas was involved in a series of attempts to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel, and in orchestrating a coup against the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority.
Such behavior should not surprise policy makers in Washington. In 2003, Ankara denied the request from Washington to open its territory so that the US military could attack Saddam Hussein's forces from two separate fronts.
AKP-ruled Ankara also defied American preferences on Syria, a country allied with radical Iran and on the American list of states supporting terrorism. In January 2004, Bashar Assad became the first Syrian president ever to visit Turkey. In April 2009, the two states conducted their first ever joint military exercise. No other NATO member had such close relations with the authoritarian regime in Damascus, which has been closely allied with Iran for several decades.
Turkey further deviated from the Western consensus in 2008 by hosting Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir twice. Bashir, who was charged with war crimes and genocide in Darfur, presided over an Islamist regime.
Turkey has consistently defied advice from Washington to tone down its anti-Israel statements and mend relations with an important American ally.
Turkey even welcomed the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for a visit in August 2008. No Western country has issued such an invitation to the Iranian leader. Additionally, Erdogan congratulated Ahmadinejad immediately after his re-election in June 2009. When it comes to Iran's nuclear threat, Ankara, unlike its NATO allies, has refused to adopt the U.S. stance on harsher sanctions, fearing in part the economic consequences of such steps. In June 2010, Turkey voted at the UN Security Council against a US-sponsored resolution meant to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran.
Turkey also has consistently defied advice from Washington to tone down its anti-Israel statements and mend relations with an important American ally. All American efforts in this direction have failed.
There is also a clear divergence between the US and Turkey on important global issues such as Russia and China. For example, the US. wanted to send ships into the Black Sea via the Bosphorus Straits during the Georgia war in August 2008. Turkey flatly denied several such requests on the pretext that the military vessels were too large. Moreover, Turkey proposed the creation of a regional security framework involving Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, that left out a NATO role. More blatantly, Turkey has failed to participate in the Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia during the recent Ukraine crisis. Dissonance exists also with regards to China. While the US fears the rise of China, Turkey sees this country as a potential economic partner and not as a problem. It held military exercises with China. Ankara even considered purchasing anti-aircraft systems from Beijing, an incredibly brazen position for a NATO member! It is not clear why Washington puts up with such Turkish behavior. The Obama administration seems to be unable to call a spade a spade. It refuses to acknowledge that Turkey is a Trojan horse in NATO, and that Ankara undermines American interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.
**Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, and a Shillman/Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum.
ISIS’s Next Targets
Diana Moukalled /Asharq Al Awsat
Monday, 5 Jan, 2015
Dabiq magazine, which is published by supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), recently ran an interview with the captive Jordanian pilot Muadh Al-Kassasbeh. Perhaps the most striking feature of the whole thing was ISIS’s keenness to publish a picture of this young pilot with a stricken look on his face and wearing an orange jumpsuit—a garment commonly worn by convicts in the US. The interview ended with a question about his fate, and Kassasbeh answered that he expects to be killed.
The interview struck an emotional chord with the Jordanian people, and the case of the captured pilot has now become a national issue. More than this, the Jordanian government has opened secret lines of communication in order to try and resolve the case.
The interview with Kassasbeh came hot on the heels of unverified reports of a major split between ISIS leaders on how to deal with the pilot. Some, like the Chechens, favor executing him, while others, like the Iraqis, would prefer to use him as a bargaining chip. While this information cannot be confirmed, ISIS has never carried out an interview such as this with those that it intends to execute. It does not let its victims express themselves, with the exception of a few phrases at their execution. In contrast, we’ve seen a completely different story with the Jordanian pilot.
The interview with the captive Jordanian pilot was published alongside articles describing some of the most prominent Salafist–Jihadist sheikhs in Jordan (such as Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi) as “misleading imams.” In the same issue of Dabiq, there is also an article by someone called Abu Jarir Al-Shamali, which offers a first-person narrative of a portion of his life including a period in which he was a member of in Al-Qaeda under Osama Bin Laden, and then his decision to join ISIS. This story makes reference to places and people in Jordan, including Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.
So why is Dabiq, by which we mean ISIS, focusing so much on Jordan? It seems that ISIS, despite its ambitions and its ability to attract supporters from across the world, has a complex about Jordan. The Kingdom of Jordan, of course, is officially participating in the international military coalition against ISIS, and has maintained its opposition to groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Jordan is also the country where Abu Qatada and Al-Maqdisi hail from, and the same goes for the butcher Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. In fact, if we think about it, we can see that the first symbols of Al-Qaeda had strong ties to Jordan, including Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. We should also pay attention to the origin of ISIS from among the followers of Zarqawi, particularly as this is something that Dabiq itself highlighted in its previous issue, placing Zarqawi ahead of other Salafist–jihadist figures. So it is clear that the fatwas issued by Abu Qatada and Maqdisi criticizing ISIS have also angered the group.
While the Levant seems to be increasingly falling under the sway of ISIS and its followers, Jordan ‘s domestic scene is relatively balanced. ISIS ideology is present among Jordan’s Salafist–Jihadist circles, and many Al-Qaeda leaders and members have been Jordanian nationals. Despite this, it seems that Jordan has found it easy to deal with these groups, perhaps explaining the recent fixation on Jordan in ISIS media platforms such as Dabiq.
ISIS’s focus on Jordan could also be influenced by the country’s willingness to negotiate over the fate of its captured pilot. It will not be easy for Jordan to secure the release of their pilot by agreeing to release figures such as Iraqi national Sajidah Al-Rishawi, who tried to blow up a hotel in Amman 10 years ago. At the same time, it will not be easy for ISIS to execute the pilot, particularly as it will not want to throw away the negotiating channel that has been opened for it.
Dabiq has said that ISIS’s eye is on Jordan—but clearly not just on the Jordanian authorities, also its Salafist–Jihadist sheikhs.
Israel’s ICC Embarrassment
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat
Sunday, 4 Jan, 2015
Rejection of the Palestinian statehood bid went so smoothly that the US didn’t even have to resort to its UN Security Council veto. The draft resolution failed to garner the 9 votes required after Nigeria, which had initially backed the Palestinian plan, abstained from the vote. The eight states who voted in favor of the draft resolution were Russia, China, Jordan, Chad, Argentina, France, Luxembourg and Chile. The US and Australia voted against the motion while Britain, Lithuania, Rwanda, South Korea and Nigeria abstained. Nigeria, in particular dashed Arab hopes by changing its position only a short time before the vote. After the Palestinians’ defeat at the UN, we must wonder what measures Tel Aviv will take against President Mahmoud Abbas for even daring to push the issue to a vote. Israel may seek to besiege Abbas at home, preventing him from travelling abroad to lobby for the Palestinian Cause.
Of course, nobody expected that the UN Security Council would approve and recognize a Palestinian state. If that had happened it would have been the most important event in almost 70 years, marking the beginning of a new era for the region and the Palestinian people. While nobody can doubt that the establishment of a Palestinian state is essential, it seems that achieving this aim exceeds our capabilities and requires political influence, a change in the balance of regional powers and long and complicated diplomatic efforts.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s team surely must have been expecting this result, the rejection of its draft bill, even before it submitted the resolution to the UN Security Council. The Palestinian team certainly didn’t act while under the illusion of a possible victory. In fact, Abbas likely made this decision as part of political maneuvering to embarrass Israel and the US or in the hopes of negotiating other Palestinian demands, like ending illegal settlement building, resuming the peace negotiations or restraining Israeli security forces’ violence in the West Bank.
Failure at the UN Security Council was expected, although we must express surprise at the Arabs’ incapability to gather even nine votes in support of the motion. Surely the aim was to force the US to use its veto, thus demonstrating to the entire world that it’s only through the US’s veto power that the Palestinians’ rights are being denied.
The Israelis never stop issuing threats to the Palestinian Authority for trying to seek a solution via the UN Security Council, or trying to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). Simply put, this means that Abbas can keep going. The Israelis have warned Abbas that his actions may be a violation of the security provisions in the Oslo Accords, but this is an empty accusation, in the same way as Abbas’s threats to end security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank.
However, we must also acknowledge that it is not only Jewish extremists who represent a threat to West Bank stability, the authorities have previously arrested Hamas cells for planning operations that fall within the context of the struggle between the group and Fatah. Israel’s very presence, ensuring the status quo, is also “protecting” Hamas in Gaza from Fatah’s security apparatus which seeks to alter the political situation in the Strip.
US President Barack Obama has been insulted, on a number of occasions, by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu; however his stance remained weak and he has not done anything to curb six years of Israeli violations of agreements signed under the sponsorship of Washington. Given this state of affairs, nobody expects anything new from Obama during his remaining presidential term. In fact, what we can expect, and fear, is Israel exploiting Obama’s weak stance to push the Ramallah government to collapse by continuing to commit violations such as increasing settlement building, allowing extremist Jews to attack worshipers in Al-Aqsa Mosque and sparking confrontations aimed at embarrassing and weakening Abbas
2015 – A definitive year for Turkish-Armenian relations
Sunday, 4 January 2015
Sinem Cengiz /Al Arabiya
The year of 2014 tested both Turkey’s foreign and domestic politics. The security threat originating from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at its doorsteps and the domestic political turmoil challenged Turkish politics throughout the year. The foreign and the domestic issues that emerged during the year of 2014 are likely to continue during 2015.
However, among several foreign policy issues, Armenia seems to be the most significant issue that would dominate Turkish politics in the first half of 2015. Given the importance of 2015, the centennial of the tragic events of 1915 that led to the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Turkish-Armenian relations is expected to go through a hard test.
The tragic events of 1915 are a greatly controversial matter in Turkey and Armenia as Armenians describe the events as “genocide” while Turkey says the events do not amount to genocide and that both Turks and Armenians were killed. April 2015, for this reason, will be very significant for both Turkey and Armenia. Armenians, who will be commemorating the centennial of the 1915 events, are engaged into several efforts for the international recognition of this tragedy as a “genocide”. On Turkish side, in response to the Armenians' efforts for 2015, Turkish government plans to commemorate the centennial of the Çanakkale (Dardanelles) campaign on April 24-25 in order to counter the adverse effects of Armenian efforts.
Weathering the storm
According to Richard Giragosian, the director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center (RSC), there are both challenges and limits in 2015; however, he believes that the Turkish government would seek to “weather the storm” of 2015, and only after the commemoration passes, would consider returning to the process of diplomatic engagement with Armenia.
Giragosian, in an interview last May in Yerevan, stated that Turkish side was exaggerating the importance of the year 2015 to be greater than it actually need be. “This is a psychological burden created by Turkey in terms of making the year 2015 a big issue. Turkey overreacting to the anniversary will only make the issue a bigger one," he said. Agreeing with Giragosian, I believe that rather than considering 2015 as a panic year, Turkey should consider it as a year for opportunity to resume efforts at normalizing relations with Armenia. Turkey can take some significant steps, like it did in 2014, for the normalization of relations with its neighbor in 2015.
“Armenia seems to be the most significant foreign policy issue that would dominate Turkish politics in the first half of 2015”
Last year witnessed unprecedented, significant and historic developments in Turkish-Armenian relations. However, the most important step from the Turkish side came by then- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current president of Turkey, who issued a historic and a timing message of condolences about killings of Armenians in 1915. Erdogan’s statement came on 23 April, a day before of 99th anniversary of the tragic events.
For the first time in the history of Turkey, a Turkish leader offered condolences to the descendants of Ottoman Armenians. Such a message would have been unthinkable a decade ago. It was a very momentous indication of how the taboos regarding the Armenian question were breaking in Turkey although the official stance regarding the issue remains unchanged. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, with exception to many other issues, has taken important steps regarding the lifting of the taboos on freely discussing 1915 when compared to the previous Turkish governments. As Giragosian puts: “That statement not only offered a “safer space” within which to discuss the genocide issue, it also broadened the constituency for dialogue by sending a message not only to Armenians but also to Erdogan’s own base of supporters. And it established an important new precedent, whereby every Turkish prime minister will be expected to make a similar statement timed with each April 24th commemoration of the Armenian genocide.”
Also in 2014, Yerevan positively responded to Turkish invitation to take part in the Erdogan’s presidential inauguration ceremony. Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan, who attended the ceremony, also invited Erdogan to visit Armenia on April, 24 2015. It is difficult to make a prediction whether Erdogan will visit Armenia or not but there are some steps that Turkish government can take in Armenia-Turkey rapprochement. Firstly, acknowledging the fact that Turkish-Armenian relations are multifaceted, Ankara can pursue a multidimensional policy in relations with Armenia. The Turkish-Armenian border, which has been closed since 1994, could be open as a gesture of good will. The long-awaited opening of the border between two neighbors would serve significantly in opening the mental borders between two societies. Secondly, the restoration of the diplomatic relations between two countries and the ratification of the frozen protocols signed between two countries in 2009 is a must for the improvement of the bilateral ties.
In the last days of 2014, Etyen Mahçupyan, the top adviser for theTurkish prime minister, stated that a priority for the future should be establishing relations with Armenia as well as the millions-strong diaspora rather than expecting to resolve a long-running dispute within this year. Mahçupyan, who considers 2015 as a “tough year” because of the anniversary, said “I don’t think we need to hurry 100 years on. What happens later on should proceed more healthily.”
The improvement of the relations between two countries is not easy to be achieved within a year, as it requires further time for the both sides to make their societies ready and to take confidence building measures. The both sides should not consider 2015 as an end, rather it should be considered as a start or the efforts to normalize the ties between two countries in the post-2015.
For both Ankara and Yerevan, there may be hard limitations in moving toward normalization; however, dragging out the process is not in interest of neither side. The normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia will be best for the interests of the two sides as the peace and the stability at their doorsteps and in Caucasia is of great importance to both Yerevan and Ankara.
Allow me to conclude with a quote from former Turkish Ambassador to UK, Ünal Çeviköz, who believes that Turkey should bring out a new initiative to overcome the deadlock in Turkish-Armenian relations. “When I think of Turkish-Armenian relations, I am inclined to characterize it as “history of missed opportunities” that has done injustice not only to the two nations, the two peoples, the two countries, but also to the whole Caucasus region. Unless there is normalization in Turkish-Armenian relations we will have serious difficulty in talking about an environment of sustainable peace and stability in the Caucasus.”