January 23/15

Bible Quotation for today/The Song of the Vineyard
Isaiah05/01-30: "I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.  I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there.I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” 7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Woes and Judgments Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath[a] of wine;
a homer[b] of seed will yield only an ephah of grain.”Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger and the common people will be parched with thirst. Therefore Death expands its jaws, opening wide its mouth; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. So people will be brought low and everyone humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled. But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts.  Then sheep will graze as in their own pasture; lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich. Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes,  to those who say, “Let God hurry; let him hasten his work so we may see it. The plan of the Holy One of Israel— let it approach, let it come into view, so we may know it.”  Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.  Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent. Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.  He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily! Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal strap is broken. Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hooves seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue. In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 22-23/15
Hezbollah under pressure to act after Israeli strike/By Mariam Karouny/Reuters/
January 22/15
From the Brotherhood of Sabilla to ISIS/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/January 22/15
The death of an Iranian general on the Golan gave US Senators’ Iran sanctions bills military muscle/
DEBKAfile/ January 22/15
Will Yemen become a Houthi republic/Mshari Al-Zaydi /Asharq Al Awsat/January 22/15
Obama in the Middle East: All about ISIS and Iran/Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya/January 22/15
Lessons that Hollande failed to learn from W. Bush’s plunders/Ramzy Baroud /Al Arabiya/January 22/15

Lebanese Related News published on January 22-23/15
Nasrallah free to speak his mind: Lebanon PM
'Slow Pace' of Hostage Talks as Ibrahim Urges Palestinians to Ban Outlaws from Ain el-Hilweh
Hezbollah likely to retaliate to Israeli strike from outside Lebanon
Lebanese Food Safety Draft-Law Becomes 'Reality' after Joint Committees Approval
Hamas calls on Hezbollah to unite fight against Israel
Saniora Warns of Implementing Foreign Agendas, Jeopardizing Future of Lebanese
Lebanese Govt. Slams Quneitra Strike: Confronting Israel Lies in Respecting International Resolutions
Baalbek Detainee Confesses Being Member of Kidnapping Gang
Palestinians Receive List of Fugitives at Ain el-Hilweh as Maqdah Says Camp Not a Hideout
Nasrallah Expected to Reveal Stance on Quneitra Raid on Friday
Official Says Early to Talk about Bekaa Security Plan 'Zero Hour'
Report: Girault Suspends Initiative after Difficulty to Reach Breakthrough in Presidency
Jumblat Pessimistic on Dialogue, Says Israel Drawing Demarcation Line
Army Dismantles Explosives-Rigged Vehicle at Arsal Entrance
Hezbollah likely to retaliate from outside Lebanon
Agents from Lebanon, Denmark Recruiting Suicide Bombers to Carry Out Attacks
Tension Surges in Wadi Khaled over Individual Dispute
IS Releases Arsal Residents Kidnapped Two Days Ago
Health Ministry demands results of hospital corruption probe

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 22-23/15
King Abdullah passes away, new ruler is Salman/Walid Phares: King Abdallah left as Iran is moving in

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Yemeni president and government resign
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King Abdullah passes away, new ruler is Salman
The Daily Star/Jan. 23, 2015/BEIRUT: Saudi King Abdullah passed away, the Royal Court announced in a statement read on official Saudi TV early Friday. Prince Salman was named the new King of Saudi Arabia and Prince Muqrin as Crown Prince.
The family's Allegiance Council paid allegiance to Salman and Prince Muqrin as his crown prince and heir, the statement said.
"His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1 a.m. this morning," said the statement.
Abdullah, 90, had ruled Saudi Arabia as king since 2006, but had run the country as de facto regent for a decade before that after his predecessor King Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke.
King Salman, 79, has been crown prince and defence minister since 2012. He was governor of Riyadh province for five decades before that.
Abdullah led the nation's grudging response to Islamic extremism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, which bared Al-Qaeda's deep roots inside Saudi Arabia.
In 2002 he parented the pathbreaking Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel blanket recognition from 22 Arab states in return for an independent state for the Palestinians.

Walid Phares to BBC: "King Abdallah left as Iran is moving in.."
22.01.15/In his commentary about the passing away of King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, Dr Walid Phares said, "the King left the Kingdom as the Ayatollahs are encircling the Peninsula from Yemen to Bahrain to Iraq. The major challenge for his successor Prince Salman is to resist the contain the Iranian advances, and push back against al Qaeda and ISIS. Abdallah has initiated a very slow, gradual, and minute reform at various social levels but the real reforms are still ahead and it may take future King Salman gigantic efforts to aggrandize the reforms, contain the radical clerics and at the same time interdict Iranian influence in the region. Too early to project. But this is a challenging benchmark to the Kingdom.

Nasrallah free to speak his mind: Lebanon PM
The Daily Star/22.01.15
BEIRUT: Lebanon's political officials are free to comment on regional events as they please, but that does not mean they reflect official government positions, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said, distancing himself from the Hezbollah chief's recent remarks on Bahrain. “Whatever the secretary general of Hezbollah Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah declares is his own business,” Salam said in an interview with Qatari daily Al-Watan published Thursday. “As a government, we would announce our position openly and officially, but political forces represented in the Cabinet have their own political platforms which they use to air their views on many sensitive issues in Lebanon’s space of free speech and democracy,” Salam said. “As the prime minister of Lebanon I will never hesitate to voice official stances bluntly and openly and abide by them,” he said. “But I am not in a position to monitor and sanction what political forces in the country say or to deter them and stop them from speaking out,” he added. In a televised speech two weeks ago, Nasrallah denounced Bahrain's crackdown on its protest movement and Dec. 28 arrest of its main opposition leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the al-Wefaq Islamic Society. Nasrallah’s accusations against the island kingdom outraged Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, some of which had summoned Lebanese diplomats to lodge an official complaint. Commenting on Israel’s deadly attack on Syria’s Golan Heights town of Quneitra in which six Hezbollah fighters were killed Sunday, Salam said he hoped there will be no repercussions on Lebanon in such a difficult situation. “We will continue to seek the implementation of the policy of disassociating Lebanon from the events in Syria. This policy was endorsed in the government’s policy statement but there are still discrepancies between theory and application on the ground,” Salam said. While Hezbollah has remained tightlipped on possible response to the deadly attack, the Lebanese government is seeking to avert any negative repercussions from a Hezbollah retaliation that would impact the internal situation in Lebanon and the position of the government as a whole.

Hezbollah likely to retaliate to Israeli strike from outside Lebanon
Reuters/Jan. 22, 2015/BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement warned in a recent interview that allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad would strike back if Israeli attacks inside Syria continued.
Few expected Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah's comments to be put to the test so quickly. Three days later, an Israeli airstrike inside Syria killed six Hezbollah fighters, including a son of the group's late military chief, Imad Mughniyeh. But with political and sectarian divisions at home, it may be difficult to win backing for any attacks from Lebanon which could trigger war with Israel. "The rules of the game are to respond outside Lebanon unless the Israelis bring war to Lebanon," a source close to Hezbollah told Reuters, explaining that it wants to avoid all-out war. Lebanon has not recovered from its 2006 war with Israel and sending fighters to Syria has stretched Hezbollah's capabilities. In addition, the Israeli strike came at a sensitive time for the group. Hezbollah is trying to contain the damage caused by one of its operatives who confessed to spying for Israel in a case that shattered the group's aura of impenetrability. The suspected spy is believed to have leaked Hezbollah's plans to avenge the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh, whose son was killed by Israel last week, was implicated in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. and French barracks in Beirut, and attacks on Israeli targets. Hezbollah accuses Israel of killing him, which Israel denies. "The group tried to retaliate but was not successful for several reasons. Some of the operations were leaked to the Israelis and others were not possible for technical reasons," a security source told Reuters. Despite that, the group has little choice but to respond. Lebanese analyst Nabil Boumonsef said Hezbollah could not start a war with Israel. Instead, the response would be a targeted attack that stopped short of full confrontation

IS Releases Arsal Residents Kidnapped Two Days Ago
Naharnet//22.01.15Islamic State militants released on Thursday two men they had kidnapped in the northeastern border town of Arsal two days ago, the state-run National News Agency reported. Ali Riyad Ezzeddine and Mustafa Hassan Zaarour were kidnapped in Arsal's outskirts on Tuesday, NNA said without giving further details. Reports had said that the two Arsal residents were abducted over a money-related dispute with a Syrian merchant. A day earlier, assailants from the IS abducted Younes al-Hujeiri, another Arsal resident who owns a stone quarry, in the area of Wadi Hmeid. His fate is still unknown. IS and al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front militants are hiding in the mountains on the porous border area between Lebanon and Syria. In August, they overran Arsal and engaged in bloody gunbattles with the Lebanese army. The fighters took with them hostages from the military and police and later executed four of them.

Lebanon Cabinet condemns Qunaitra strike
Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/Jan. 22, 2015
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government condemned Thursday the Israeli strike on Syria’s Golan Heights which left six Hezbollah fighters dead, with ministers describing talks over the matter as calm and civilized. The government blasted the Israeli aggression on the Syrian town of Qunaitra which killed six Lebanese, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said after the session, which was chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail. Speaking at the outset of the session, Salam said that the government had to “contain the repercussions of developments in the region,” in reference to Qunaitra’s attack, “and go ahead with addressing people’s needs and implementing security plans in the country.” The March 14 coalition called on Hezbollah to avoid dragging Lebanon into a new war with Israel through its possible retaliation to the Sunday strike. Tourism Minister Michel Pharoun, from the Future bloc, said after the Cabinet session that the atmosphere during the meeting was “consensual.”He said that his colleague in the March 14 coalition, Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb, raised the issue of the Qunaitra strike during the session. Commenting on the matter, Hezbollah Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish said that while his party cared about the country’s interests, it won’t allow Israel to persist in its aggression. Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi said that discussions over the Qunaitra strike were “patriotic and civilized.” “There are no two stances from the Israeli aggression, we are against any aggression targeting Lebanon or any Arab state,” Rifi said. Lebanese Forces Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi said the best way to respond to the Israeli strike would be through “respecting U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, bolstering government work, electing a new president and going ahead with the implementation of the security plan.” Fneish described the stances of ministers during the session as “excellent.”The government said that any statement made by any political party in Lebanon reflected the group’s stance only, adding that positions taken by the government were the only ones reflecting those of the state. This stance comes after remarks made by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah two weeks ago criticizing Bahrain over its Dec. 28 arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman, a leading figure in the Bahraini opposition. Hezbollah's opponents feared that Nasrallah’s remarks threatened to spark a diplomatic crisis between Lebanon and Bahrain and negatively affect the Lebanese community living in the small island kingdom. The government made several decisions including the approval of a loan of $30 million to the Council of Development and Reconstruction to build prisons, and another loan to the Higher Relief Committee to compensate for damages inflicted on Arsal during the August clashes between the Army and jihadi groups. The Cabinet also approved funds for the construction of a highway linking the southern city of Tyre to the border village of Naqoura. Pharaon and ministers allied to the Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun expressed their reservations over the decision to construct the highway.

Hezbollah under pressure to act after Israeli strike
By Mariam Karouny | Reuters, Beirut
Friday, 23 January 2015
With a confident smile, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement warned in a recent interview that allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would strike back if Israeli attacks inside Syria continued. Few expected Hassan Nasrallah’s comments to be put to the test so quickly. Three days later, an Israeli raid inside Syria killed several prominent Hezbollah figures, including a son of the group’s late military chief, Imad Moughniyah. The attack could have repercussions. It has put Hezbollah under pressure to respond, sources close to the group said, and also put a ceasefire between Israel and Syria at risk. The group’s leadership has yet to comment. “This attack shows that Israel has crossed the red line in the security war with Hezbollah, which means the rules have changed,” said a senior security source close to the group. Hezbollah issued a statement saying “what is stated in the Reuters report did not come” from the group.
Hezbollah considers Israel its main enemy. But its fighters in the Syrian province of Quneitra, where the Israeli attack took place, have turned a blind eye to the presence of Israeli soldiers across the border there. Israel has struck Syria several times during the present conflict, hitting weapons deliveries to Hezbollah, but the group has never acknowledged those attacks. This time the importance of those killed, in addition to Nasrallah’s warning, make the latest raid difficult to ignore.“It was like an unannounced agreement: ‘You ignore us and we ignore you’. Attacks should not rise to full provocation. This attack is a full provocation of Hezbollah,” said a security source contacted by Reuters. “If the group does not respond it means it is stuck in Syria’s mud and has lost its deterrent ability.”
A Lebanese official close to Hezbollah said: “We should expect retaliation from Hezbollah, but it will be done coldly.”Its options are limited. It could strike from its stronghold in Lebanon, triggering all-out war with Israel. It could attack targets in Israel, but risk a wider war between Israel and Syria, or hit Israeli interests abroad. But all come at a price. An Israeli defense official told Reuters that a response from Hezbollah was expected, but in the form of limited attacks unlikely to lead to all-out war.
Israeli strike
The Hezbollah members were killed in an Israeli strike near the border with Israel, where a ceasefire is in effect between the Jewish state and Syria. The frontier between Israel and Syria has been administered by the United Nations since 1974, a year after the last war between them. The area has remained quiet, with both sides avoiding provocation. Hezbollah’s commitment to the truce was never made public because it was an agreement between two countries, but that has now changed.
“It has collapsed now,” a security source said. Hezbollah was set up by Iran in the 1980s to fight Israel in Lebanon. It controls large parts of Lebanon, mainly near the southern border with Israel, but its influence has grown beyond Lebanon.
While the Lebanese government distanced itself from the war in Syria, Hezbollah sent fighters to help Assad. Hezbollah officials privately say that while they have lost fighters in Syria, the impact of the war has been positive, allowing the group to expand its arsenal and train thousands of fighters to operate in unfamiliar territory. “Our mujahideen are fighting in a foreign country, in lands and geography that we never fought in before that are completely different from the conditions of south Lebanon,” a senior Hezbollah official said.
“We are fighting as an army and with allies. We are used to fighting in small groups, so these are major developments in our fighting skills.”
Political divisions
But with political and sectarian divisions at home, it will be difficult to win backing for any attacks from Lebanon which could trigger war with Israel. “The rules of the game are to respond outside Lebanon unless the Israelis bring war to Lebanon,” a source close to Hezbollah told Reuters, explaining that it wants to avoid all-out war. Lebanon has not recovered from its 2006 war with Israel and sending fighters to Syria has stretched Hezbollah’s capabilities. In addition, the Israeli strike came at a sensitive time for the group.
Hezbollah is trying to contain the damage caused by one of its operatives who confessed to spying for Israel in a case that shattered the group’s aura of impenetrability. The suspected spy is believed to have leaked Hezbollah’s plans to avenge the assassination of Imad Moughniyah. Moughniyah, whose son was killed by Israel last week, was implicated in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. and French barracks in Beirut, and attacks on Israeli targets.  Hezbollah accuses Israel of killing him, which Israel denies.
“The group tried to retaliate but was not successful for several reasons. Some of the operations were leaked to the Israelis and others were not possible for technical reasons,” said one of the security sources. Despite that, the group has little choice but to respond.
Lebanese analyst Nabil Boumonsef said Hezbollah could not start a war with Israel. Instead, the response would be a targeted attack that stopped short of full confrontation.

Hamas calls on Hezbollah to unite fight against Israel
By Mariam Karouny, Reuters | Gaza /Thursday, 22 January 2015
A letter purported to be from Mohammed Deif, the leader of Hamas's armed wing, on Thursday appealed to the Lebanese Hezbollah group to unite with Hamas in battling Israel. The letter, posted on the website of Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV, suggests the Palestinian Hamas and Hezbollah were patching up a rift over the Syrian war. Hamas has been hostile toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has been fighting against the rebels trying to topple him. “The true enemy of the nation is the Zionist enemy and all rifles must be directed against it,” said the letter, which carried Deif's signature. “All forces of resistance must direct their coming battle as one.”Deif was targeted in an Israeli bombing in last summer's Gaza war. The letter offered Hamas's condolences to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah over the killing of six of its fighters in an Israeli air strike on Sunday in Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israel says Deif was behind the deaths of dozens of people in suicide bombings in its cities and has tried to assissnate him several times, including one attempt in August during the 50-day Gaza war. The shadowy leader, whose health condition is unknown, has been in hiding for years. Hamas, in political and financial isolation, has been anxious to revitalise old alliances and restore its battered funding. In December, it said it had restored its ties with Iran, which had been angered by Hamas' stance against Assad. Teheran has long been a major supplier of military and financial aid to the group.

Lebanese Army Dismantles Explosives-Rigged Vehicle at Arsal Entrance
Naharnet//22.01.15/A vehicle rigged with explosives was discovered at the entrance of the northeastern border town of Arsal, announced the army on Thursday. A military expert soon arrived at the scene and defused the bomb. The statement said that the Army Intelligence discovered the black Kia vehicle, which was parked near a military post in the Ain al-Shaab region. It said that around 25 kilograms of explosives were found in the car that did not have license plates. On January 15, the army seized a booby-trapped car containing around 120 kilograms of explosives in Arsal. On September 11, the army dismantled a booby-trapped car containing 100 kilograms of explosives in the same region. In recent months, the outskirts of Arsal have been witnessing near-daily clashes between the army and Syria-based jihadist groups, which had stormed the town in early August and engaged in deadly battles with the army. They also took hostage around 35 troops and policemen.

Nasrallah Expected to Reveal Stance on Quneitra Raid on Friday 30
Naharnet//22.01.15Hizbullah General Secretary Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is expected to make a speech on Friday 30 during a popular rally to mourn the party fighters who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria's Quneitra. Nasrallah will reveal Hizbullah's stance from the raid that killed a high-ranking Iranian military official, a prominent Hizbullah member and five others. Media reports had said that Hizbullah's chief was expected to give the speech on Sunday at "Sayyed al-Shuhada” compound in Beirut's southern suburbs. Israel and Hizbullah are bitter enemies and fought a bloody month-long war in the summer of 2006. Among the dead in the airstrike was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh — a top Hizbullah operative who was assassinated in 2008 in Damascus in a bombing that the party blamed on Israel. Thousands of mourners attended his funeral Monday in Beirut. In south Lebanon, thousands of Hizbullah supporters on Tuesday swarmed around the yellow-draped coffin of Mohammad Issa, a Hizbullah commander who also died in the airstrike. Issa was the highest-ranking among the group, and was among the senior cadres who headed the group's operations in Syria. Around 10,000 supporters took part in his funeral in the southern Lebanese village of Arab Salim. Mourners fired their guns in the air and shouted anti-Israel slogans.
Since Syria's civil war began in March 2011, Israel has reportedly carried out several airstrikes in Syria that have targeted sophisticated weapons systems, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, believed to be destined for Hizbullah. Nasrallah recently said Hizbullah reserves the right to retaliate for those attacks. He also reiterated that the party may retaliate at any time for the assassination of the elder Mughniyeh.

Lebanese Food Safety Draft-Law Becomes 'Reality' after Joint Committees Approval
Naharnet//22.01.15MP Atef Majdalani and Health Minister Wael Abou Faour hailed on Thursday the approval of the joint parliamentary committees of a draft-law on food safety, hoping for its swift approval by the legislature. “The draft-law has become a reality and we would soon have a modern law that protects food,” said Majdalani during a joint press conference with Abou Faour following the approval of the draft-law. Majdalani heads parliament's public health and social affairs committee. Abou Faour thanked Speaker Nabih Berri and all political parties who backed his campaign against food violators. He hoped that Berri would call for a swift session to approve it. He also hailed ex-Minister Bassel Fleihan, who was killed in the Feb. 2005 bombing that targeted former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's convoy.
Fleihan was the first official in Lebanon to shed light on the matter of food safety. “The guarantee to our food safety campaign comes through legislation. We made a step forward today,” said Abou Faour, who in October launched a nation-wide drive against violators. Around three businessmen were arrested over several violations, the judiciary is taking its course and the campaign is expanding to areas across Lebanon, he told reporters. “The content of the draft-law is balanced but could have been better,” he said. But Abou Faour expressed hope that the approval of the draft-law “would give hope to the citizens that the state is serious.” “Food will be safer through its implementation,” he told reporters. Abou Faour also said his ministry will carry out raids in restaurants to guarantee the implementation of the anti-smoking law, which entered into force in 2012. Law 174 prohibits smoking in all enclosed bars, restaurants and cafes in Lebanon.

Saniora Warns of Implementing Foreign Agendas, Jeopardizing Future of Lebanese
Naharnet//22.01.15Head of al-Mustaqbal Movement MP Fouad al-Saniora warned on Thursday that Israel will not skip a chance to attack Lebanon, stressing that it is no longer acceptable to risk the lives of the Lebanese. “It is no longer acceptable to risk the lives of the people to implement foreign agendas that don't meet the demands of the Lebanese and achieve their interests,” Saniora said in a statement. He criticized the Israeli airstrike on a Hizbullah convoy, which killed six fighters, saying: “There's no need to prove that Israel benefits from all chances to attack Lebanon....”“We should be aware that Israel has enough excuses to carry out an aggression against Lebanon... and will not miss the chance.”The March 14 official urged politicians to safeguard the Lebanese, their interests and the future of their children.
“Israel is capable of creating excuses for any aggression and the Lebanese shouldn't grant it any chance to carry out such an attack as Lebanon has paid a lot for its reconstruction and restoration of stability,” Saniora added. He underlined the importance of preserving and committing to U.N. Security Council resolution 1701, considering it “the wisest option during this critical stage that Lebanon is passing through.”Hizbullah said Israel carried out Sunday's strike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which killed Jihad Mughniyeh, a prominent Hizbullah fighter, a senior Iranian general, and five other party members. Israel has gone on high alert for possible attacks by Hizbullah. It has beefed up its air defenses and increased surveillance along its northern frontier following the airstrike. The Jewish state and Hizbullah are bitter enemies and fought a bloody month-long war in the summer of 2006.

Baalbek Detainee Confesses Being Member of Kidnapping Gang
Naharnet //22.01.15Rabih Assem Awada who was arrested by the army confessed on Thursday that he contributed in many kidnapping operations, said the military in a statement. “One of them was the kidnapping Kuwaiti citizen Issam al-Houti,” its said while adding that Awada was previously engaged in clashes with the army and the Internal Security Forces. The army statement said that “after the investigations held by the army intelligence, we found that Awada, who was arrested on Monday in Baalbek's Sheikh Habib neighborhood, was charged with being a member of a kidnapping gang.” "Awada also contributed in the gang's kidnapping operations such as kidnapping al-Houti, Ibrahim al-Atat, Khaled Ezzeddine and others,” it added. It also stated that “he was also engaged in clashes with army and ISF patrols, and he was promoting, selling and possessing drugs.” The state-owned National News Agency on Monday reported that “the army raided a gang consisted of four fugitives who were hiding at a house for the al-Aouta family in one of northern Baalbek's neighborhoods.” "After clashes with the fugitives that left one soldier wounded in the leg, the army arrested them,” it added. The fugitives are “R. Awada, two others from the Awada family and a fourth from al-Jammal family,” the NNA announced.

'Slow Pace' of Hostage Talks as Ibrahim Urges Palestinians to Ban Outlaws from Ain el-Hilweh
Naharnet /22.01.15/General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim lamented that the negotiations on the release of the Lebanese hostages was going in a slow pace and stressed the necessity to stop terrorists from hiding in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh. “The problem of the captives does not require consensus, which we already have. It requires agreement on several issues and many of them are on the right track,” Ibrahim told al-Akhbar daily in an interview published on Thursday. But he expressed regret that the negotiations aimed at releasing the captive soldiers and policemen are “slow.”The weather and the difficult terrain are hindering mediators from heading to the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal to talk to the militants who kidnapped them, Ibrahim said. Fighters from the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group took the soldiers and police hostage when they overran Arsal in August last year and engaged in heavy battles with the military. “The negotiations can't be carried out by telephone. They are done through envoys,” Ibrahim told al-Akhbar. The General Security chief stressed that Prime Minister Tammam Salam and the government have tasked him with negotiating the release of the captives. But said: “There are a lot of envoys … We talk with some of them.”
He added that there is a serious envoy “who is so far able to carry out his mission.” However, the results of his task “depend on the development in the negotiation process.”Asked whether he had fears on the lives of the captives, Ibrahim said: “They are definitely in danger” after some of the previous threats of the hostage-takers were implemented. “There are no guarantees” that they would not kill more hostages after four of them were executed, said Ibrahim. He stressed, however, that the Lebanese authorities are willing to engage in a legal prisoner exchange. The militants have made many demands, including the release of Islamists from Roumieh prison. Although Ibrahim refused to give more details on the negotiation process, by only saying there are “positive signs,” al-Mustaqbal daily quoted official sources as saying that there has been a “tangible progress.”Several envoys are informing Ibrahim about the demands of the militants and he is in his turn transferring the information to the so-called crisis cell made up of cabinet ministers and security officials, said the sources. Turning to the rising threat of terrorism, Ibrahim accused the residents of Ain el-Hilweh that lies near the southern city of Sidon of turning the shantytown into a safe haven for outlaws. If the Palestinians “can't hand them over to the (Lebanese) authorities … then at least they could stop them from seeking refuge in the the camp and turning it into their hiding place,” said Ibrahim “I know that they have the ability to prevent them (the outlaws) from entering” Ain el-Hilweh, he added. Several terrorists wanted for involvement in confrontations with the Lebanese army are hiding in the camp.

Palestinians Receive List of Fugitives at Ain el-Hilweh as Maqdah Says Camp Not a Hideout
Naharnet//22.01.15Lebanese officials reportedly handed over to Azzam al-Ahmad, aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a list of wanted fugitives who had taken refuge at the southern Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh. Palestinian sources said in comments published in al-Joumhouria newspaper that once the security committee at the camp receives the list it will kick off an operation to preserve stability at the camp and avert any attempt to involve the refugee camps in the situation in Lebanon. Al-Ahmad arrived in Lebanon on Monday and met with senior Lebanese officials including Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam and General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim. Fatah Movement Commander in Lebanon Maj. Gen. Munir al-Maqdah revealed that there is a good chance that Islamist fugitive Shadi al-Mawlawi is hiding at Ain el-Hilweh, pointing out that his accomplice Osama Mansour is nowhere to be found. “There is a 90 percent chance that Mawlawi is at the camp, but information on Mansour is still unconfirmed,” Maqdah said in comments to al-Joumhouria. The Palestinian official stressed that Fatah “has a duty inside Ain el-Hilweh to prevent any attempts to turn it into a safe haven for fugitives or assailants who are posing threat on security.” “We have no knowledge about the role of some sides at the camp regarding aiding the suicide bombers of (Tripoli's) Jabal Mohsen neighborhood,” Maqdah stressed. He ruled out reports saying that the situation at Ain el-Hilweh will explode, saying: “The situation is currently under control, but no one can guarantee it 100 percent.”On Tuesday, the military prosecutor charged 28 people over the Jabal Mohsen attack, including top Islamist fugitives Mansour and Mawlawi -- who are both still on the run. Media reports said that several fugitives, including Salafist cleric Ahmed al-Asir, salafist-turned singer Fadel Shaker, Mawlawi and Mansour, have fled to Ain el-Hilweh and are running cells that are planning attacks against Lebanese interests. Located near the southern city of Sidon, Ain el-Hilweh is the largest Palestinian camp in the country and is home to about 50,000 refugees. It is known to harbor extremists and fugitives.Tension frequently surges in the camp as a result of armed disputes between the different Palestinian factions. By long-standing convention, the Lebanese army does not enter the country's 12 refugee camps, leaving security inside to the Palestinians themselves.

Agents from Lebanon, Denmark Recruiting Suicide Bombers to Carry Out Attacks
Naharnet//22.01.15Several agents are recruiting jihadists to carry out suicide bombings in Lebanon and Syria as the latest report says that a man, who resides in Denmark, is suspected of brainwashing youth to join extremist organizations. Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Thursday that security forces are suspecting that M.A., who is residing in Denmark, is playing an important role in recruiting youth to join terrorist organizations with the aim of carrying out suicide attacks in Lebanon and Syria.  The nationality of the man wasn't revealed in the report.
Security sources also informed the newspaper that Zakaria H., a suspected suicide bomber, has been released by Turkish authorities in a prisoners swap deal with the Islamist State organization. Zakaria is also known as Abou Abdul Rahman al-Ansari and nicknamed as Abou Yehya. He hails from the northern district of Akkar. Al-Akhbar continues it report with mentioning several other suspected suicide bombers, pointing out that the followers of Khaled Hoblos, whose group was involved in clashes with the army in the town of Bhannine in Akkar in October, are recruiting jihadists.  Concerned sources told the newspaper that the main role at this stage is carried out by both the al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front and the IS group. The newspaper also revealed that several members linked to the IS group are currently taking the southern Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh as their hideout. Sources told the daily that so far 11 people have been arrested since the double suicide bombing that targeted Tripoli's Jabal Mohsen neighborhood earlier this month. Explosive belts were seized in their possession. The sources continued that sermons at some mosques and incitement campaigns are helping jihadists in recruiting more youth under the pretext that “the Sunnis are oppressed.”On Tuesday, the military prosecutor charged 28 people over the Jabal Mohsen attack, including top Islamist fugitives Osama Mansour and Shadi al-Mawlawi -- who are both still on the run. Al-Nusra Front claimed the attack on a crowded cafe in the Alawite region of Jabal Mohsen that killed nine people and wounded 37 others.

Lebanese Govt. Slams Quneitra Strike: Confronting Israel Lies in Respecting International Resolutions
Naharnet //22.01.15The government condemned on Thursday Israel's strike against Syria's Quneitra region, accusing the Jewish state of repeatedly violating international resolutions. Information Minister Ramzi Jreij declared: “Confronting the strike must take place through respecting international resolutions.” He made his remarks after a cabinet session, chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, at the Grand Serail. “Israel constantly violates international resolutions, especially resolution 1701, through its repeated violations of Lebanon's land and army,” continued the minister. “Confronting the attacks lies in respecting the resolutions and maintaining Lebanese unity,” said Jreij. Moreover, he said of Sunday's strike: “Any statement issued by a political official only reflects the opinion of that person, not the cabinet.” Six Hizbullah members, including prominent official Jihad Mughniyeh, and an Iranian general were killed in Israel's attack. Since Syria's civil war began in March 2011, Israel has reportedly carried out several airstrikes in Syria that have targeted sophisticated weapons systems, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, believed to be destined for Hizbullah. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah recently said the party reserves the right to retaliate to those attacks.

U.S., Cuba Seek to Reopen Embassies in Historic Talks
Naharnet//22.01.15Cuban officials sat down Thursday with the highest-level U.S. delegation to visit Havana in 35 years for landmark talks on reopening embassies and thawing long frozen ties. U.S. assistant secretary of state Roberta Jacobson, the most senior U.S. official on the communist-ruled island since 1980, led the American delegation as the Cold War-era rivals opened a second day of meetings. Cuba was represented by the director of the foreign ministry's U.S. affairs department, Josefina Vidal, at the capital's Convention Center. The two sides claimed a good first day on Wednesday despite persistent disagreements over U.S. migration policies, which Havana says encourages Cubans to flee to nearby Florida. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro surprised the world in December when they simultaneously announced plans to normalize relations following months of secret negotiations. The raising of the U.S. and Cuban flags in each other's capitals would send powerful signals of the new era the two nations want to enter, though no timeline has been given for the reopening of embassies. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Wednesday that the two sides still have much to negotiate before they can normalize ties frozen since 1961. "When it is timely, when it is appropriate, I'll look forward to traveling to Cuba in order to formally open an embassy and begin to move forward," Kerry said in Washington. Cuban officials have also downplayed expectations of major breakthroughs this week, stressing that normalizing ties will be a long and complex process.
After Jacobson had a working dinner with Cuban counterparts on Wednesday night, the two sides will negotiate how to turn their "interests sections" into fully functioning embassies with ambassadors in Washington and Havana. The U.S. mission to Cuba, a concrete and glass building along the capital's picturesque seawall, has been a symbol of the countries' animosity since it opened in 1977.
Across the main entrance, the Cuban government built a vast esplanade to hold anti-U.S. rallies. In 2006, then president Fidel Castro ordered 138 flagpoles erected to block a giant display screen the mission was using to convey political messages.
Now, Washington wants Havana to reaccredit its diplomats; end travel restrictions for them within the island; ease shipments to the U.S. mission; and lift a cap on U.S. personnel.
"I don't know if these things are going to be resolved in one meeting," a U.S. official told AFP. The Cuban delegation has voiced "deep concerns" over the situation of the interests section in Washington, saying the U.S. embargo has left its consulate without banking services for almost a year. Between February and May last year, the Cuban consulate was unable to issue passports because it could not find a bank to handle transactions. Cuban diplomats also face travel restrictions in Washington. Arturo Lopez-Levy, an international affairs professor at New York University, said the talks are important to build trust as they seek new relations in the coming years. "Although Havana and Washington differ in the objective that they seek in the long term, today they are in the same bed. It doesn't matter that they have different dreams," he said. Lingering differences were on display on Wednesday, as Cuban and U.S. officials remained at odds over U.S. policies that give Cubans who reach U.S. soil quick access to permanent residency.
But the two sides came out positive after the first day of talks, welcoming the meeting as productive while vowing to meet again. On Tuesday, Obama urged Congress to end the decades-long embargo against Cuba, which the Castro regime has blamed for the country's economic woes. The dissident community on the island of 11 million has had a mixed reaction, praising Obama while voicing concern that too much was conceded to the regime. In Washington, some Cuban-American lawmakers have criticized Obama, saying the administration had given up too much without securing human rights commitments. "As the administration pursues further engagement with Cuba, I urge you to link the pace of changes in U.S. policy to reciprocal action from the Castro regime," Senator Bob Menendez, a fellow Democrat, said in a letter to Kerry. Agence France Presse

The new Taateer: “March 14 and8″ backs Hezbollah?
Dr. Walid Phares
Observers are puzzled in Washington on how so many politicians affiliated with the March 14 coalition in Lebanon hurdled to support Hezbollah and the Iranian Pasdaran after the Israeli strike on the Golan, Syria.
Had it been “March 8″ it would have been normal to see their politicians, open allies with the axis, rushing to declare their allegiance to the Ayatollahs and the leaders of Hezbollah, whatever is the enemy, Israel or the Salafists, or even the liberals.That was the digested.
But to hear the pitiful screams of “labbaik ya Hezbollah” coming from March 14 politicians, and see these politicians embracing the Terror leaders after the strikes in Syria is baffling. Some of these politicians not so long ago, were here in Washington begging -literally begging- US officials and lobbies to strike at Hezbollah with “all what they got,” and were whispering right and left to have “any capable country” in the Middle East “remove Hezbollah” from Lebanon.
These same politicians from March 14 are now merging with their former adversary from March 8 to celebrate the Vilayet-e-Faqih.
We now wonder why would anyone in the diaspora, and in Washington back any politician in Lebanon after March 8 and March 14 became “March 148.”
Such a brilliant civil society to be represented by these hordes of irresponsible politicians, what a shame, what a loss. Only Lebanese colloquial language has the right words for this: “Taateer”

The death of an Iranian general on the Golan gave US Senators’ Iran sanctions bills military muscle
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis January 22, 2015,
It is hard to believe that the White House was caught by surprise over House leader John Boehner’s unusual invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address Congress on Feb. 11. After all, prior arrangements must have kept the Israeli embassy in Washington busy for weeks in a city, whose life blood is kept flowing by the mining and trading of information and secrets about friends and rivals alike.
All the same, it suited the four parties involved in this extraordinary event – Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the White House and Netanyahu - to pretend they were taken aback on Wednesday, Jan. 21 by the Speaker’s announcement of the prime minister’s coming address on "the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life.”
He accused President Barack Obama of "papering over" these threats over in his State of the Union speech a few hours earlier.
The White House said the invitation breached "typical protocol" but the administration would reserve judgment until they heard from Netanyahu about his plans.
The assumed air of astonishment greeting the invitation added an element of drama to the event. It also had the effect of further polarizing the camps for and against the Obama administration’s insistence on banking solely on diplomacy for containing Iran’s nuclear program.
Inevitable showdown
Obama and Netanyahu, who could never stand each other, have been at loggerheads for most of the six years of the former’s presidency over what is widely seen as the dead-end US Middle East policies he pursued in most major arenas such as Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the futile US air strikes against marching Islamist State soldiers, the unending Syrian conflict and the Palestinian issue.
The showdown building up for years between them may now be at hand. It will catch Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry fully engaged in a desperate pursuit of a comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the Six-World-Powers group. This deal could then be presented as an unquestioned success of Obama’s Middle East policies – indeed the only one.
Together with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohamed Zarif, US officials have roughed out a draft accord. But most American nuclear experts and Israel’s top political and military leaders view this paper as a bad agreement, because it would leave Tehran with the freedom and resources to jump back from low-grade enrichment to full-dress production of a nuclear bomb and missiles when international and economic circumstances were more convenient.
But Obama and Kerry are counting on the ayatollahs holding their horses until the end of 2016, when the US administration changes hands. The Iranian nuclear deal’s inevitable breakdown would then land squarely on the shoulders of the next president and secretary of state taking over in Washington, while Obama would have formally honored his commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
Khamenei between two compulsions
But this plan faces an outsize impediment: Rouhani and Zarif are holding back from putting pen to paper because of the strong objections posed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards military chiefs.
Earlier this month, the issue reached boiling point in Tehran, debkafile’s Iranian sources report: The Guards threatened to unseat Khamenei by a military coup if he let Rouhani and Zarif sign the draft into a comprehensive, binding nuclear accord.
Khamenei, never lost for a devious maneuver, began weaving between the two compulsions – American demands for more concessions to finalize the deal and demands by hardliners at home not to give way. The move he made was to throw a bone in the form of an offer to cut down on the number of centrifuges used in uranium enrichment.
Obama and Kerry hailed this as a breakthrough toward a deal, although the experts dismissed it as meaningless.
Obama propositions Netanyahu
On this basis, Obama phoned Netanyahu Monday night, Jan. 13, to ask him for Israel’s support for the evolving comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran.
In return, he offered closer US cooperation in various areas of interest to Israel, such as the Palestinian issue, if the prime minister would withhold or cool his support for US Senate sanctions legislation:
The Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez seek to enact new sanctions on Iran if nuclear negotiations fail to meet their June 30 deadline for an accord.
Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- supported by Republican Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain -- is pushing for legislation which does not contain sanctions but would require a Senate vote on any pact that is agreed upon in Geneva.
Netanyahu rejected Obama’s proposition.
The US President was therefore adamant in his State of the Union references to the Iranian nuclear issue: “New sanctions on Iran would all but guarantee that diplomacy fails, heightening the prospects of war.” He said.: “Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies – including Israel – while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”
Obama did not elaborate on the parties who would take part in this hypothetical conflict, or explain why he limited himself to only two extreme scenarios – either a deal with Iran or tighter sanctions that would precipitate war.
Israel takes direct aim at Iran
It was no accident that two days before this speech, Obama had his answer from Israel. Sunday, Jan. 19, Israeli Air Force drones struck an Iranian-Hizballah military convoy near the Syrian Golan town of Quneitra. Six Iranian officers were killed, led by Gen. Mohamad Ali Allah Dadi, as well as the same number of high-ranking Hizballah operatives.
This was a dual threat: Israel would not stand by if Iranian and Hizballah forces moved into the Syrian Golan right up against its frontier. But in the wider context, Binyamin Netanyahu was signaling Obama in Washington and Khamenei in Tehran, that he no longer had any qualms about striking Iranian military targets if the two rulers failed to forge a workable, credible accord for keeping nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands.
The Israeli action added military muscle to the US Senate legislation on Iran - in the face of Obama’s reluctance to embrace tactics he believes would be disincentives for Khamenei to play ball on the ongoing multilateral nuclear diplomatic track in Geneva.
It also explains why John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress on Feb. 11.
However, until then, Iran, Hizballah, Syria and even Israel may not stand idle. And the Obama administration may also decide to round up its assets in a bid to spoil the prime minister’s run for re-election on March 17.

Amnesty: Saudi to again Postpone Flogging of Blogger
Naharnet/Rights group Amnesty International said Thursday that Saudi Arabia would postpone the flogging of blogger Raef Badawi, whose case has sparked international criticism, for a second week on medical grounds.
"The planned flogging of Raef Badawi will be suspended this Friday after a medical committee assessed that he should not undergo a second round of lashes on health grounds," the London-based watchdog said in a statement.
He has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam and is serving a 10-year jail term. His wife Ensaf Haidar, who has sought asylum with her children in Canada, told AFP by telephone that Amnesty had notified her of the latest delay but she had no other details.
Badawi, 30, received the first 50 lashes of his sentence outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on January 9. He was expected to undergo 20 flogging sessions to complete the punishment but last Friday Haidar said the second round had been delayed on medical grounds. She also said her husband's case has been referred to the supreme court, possibly paving the way for an appeal. A committee of several doctors carried out a series of tests at a Jeddah hospital on Wednesday and recommended against a new session of caning, Amnesty said. But "there is no way of knowing whether the Saudi Arabian authorities will disregard the medical advice and allow the flogging to go ahead," Said Boumedouha, Amnesty's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said in the statement.
Amnesty called for the blogger's immediate and unconditional release, "instead of continuing to torment Raef Badawi by dragging out his ordeal". Badawi co-founded the now-banned Saudi Liberal Network along with women's rights campaigner Suad al-Shammari, who was also accused of insulting Islam and arrested last October. The charges against Badawi were brought after his group criticized clerics and the kingdom's notorious religious police, who have been accused of a heavy-handed enforcement of sharia Islamic law.
On Thursday the European Union said it was closely following developments in the case. "The EU calls on the Saudi Authorities to suspend further corporal punishments," said Catherine Ray, spokeswoman for European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.
"This type of act is not in keeping with international conventions on human rights, notably the convention against torture, which Saudi Arabia ratified," Ray said, in comments made before reports of the latest postponement. The United States, Sweden, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have denounced the flogging as a horrific form of punishment, saying Badawi was exercising his right to freedom of expression. Canada has also condemned the sentence and called for a pardon. U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has urged ailing Saudi King Abdullah to pardon Badawi, saying flogging is "cruel and inhuman" and prohibited under international human rights law. Global reaction to the sentence even spread into the world of professional football this week, when German politicians criticized Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich for playing a friendly match in Saudi Arabia while criticism of the kingdom's rights record swirls. On Tuesday, Austria's chancellor threatened to withdraw support for a Saudi-financed religious dialogue centre unless it condemns Badawi's public flogging.
The same day, in an open letter published by British newspaper the Independent, 18 Nobel prize winners called on Saudi academics to condemn Badawi's punishment. Agence France Presse

Will Yemen become a Houthi republic?
Mshari Al-Zaydi /Asharq Al Awsat
Thursday, 22 Jan, 2015
What the Houthi militia—or Ansar Allah as they like to call themselves—has done in Yemen amounts to a fully-fledged coup d’état. It is a coup against Yemen’s constitution and people; above all, it is a coup against the historical and cultural identity of Yemen.
After a string of attacks in Sana’a, Houthi militants stormed the Yemeni presidential compound while President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi continued to issue statements and calls for dialogue. Meanwhile, former Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi calmly and rationally responded on Twitter: “When the sound of gunfire rises, the sound of reason must silence it.” With the rise of the Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the [Houthi] Imam of Sana’a and the so-called Caliph in Constantinople [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan], one does not know where this obsession with reviving our political Islamic heritage is coming from. Will Yemenis accept being ruled by a Shi’ite Zaydi Imam almost half a century after the end of the rule of Yemen’s Imams? Badreddin Al-Houthi, Abdul Malik’s father, tried to put himself forward as an Imam during the era of Yemen’s Imams. Beyond that, will the Houthi movement even be able to administer the affairs of Yemen, which has a population of approximately 24 million?
It is no easy task for any figure or group to rule a country that is as impoverished as Yemen. Yemen is an Arab state constantly under threat of division and disintegration, thanks to Al-Qaeda’s terrorism, the corruption of warlords and the Houthis’ obsession with seizing power.
The Houthis undermined the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative which Saudi Arabia sponsored in 2011, and which later served as a launchpad for international efforts to resolve the political crisis in the country. It is little wonder that President Hadi has called, repeatedly, on all Yemeni parties to participate in national dialogue.
Rumors of conspiracies abound. Some say that Hadi himself is implicitly backing the Houthis in the hope that they will support him against his political opponents. Others believe former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is backing and facilitating the Houthis in order to use them against his enemies. In reality, the Houthi movement has its own political and ideological agenda that supersedes both Hadi and Saleh. This combines elements and dimensions of Iran’s Islamic revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Yemen’s Zaydi legacy.
Anyone familiar with the writings of Hussein Al-Houthi, the founder of the group and Abdul Malik’s elder brother (killed in 2004) would find the Houthis overreaching agenda obvious. Hussein Al-Houthi’s Malazim Al-Qu’ran (Essays on the Qu’ran), includes provocative sectarian discourse, including claims that the defeats that Sunnis have suffered throughout history are due to their failure to back Ali Ibn Abi Talib as Islam’s first caliph. “It would be folly to associate ourselves with them [Sunnis],” he writes in his commentary on Surat Al-Ma’ida (the fifth chapter of the Qu’ran). In the same essay he reverently describes Ruhollah Khomeini as “possessing divine qualities” and being the right person to build the Ummah [international Muslim community].
The only silver lining regarding Yemen’s current tragedy is that this has completely altered the status quo, and everything now is out in the open. The Houthi dream is unlikely to come true. What would be worse, however, is if this dream becomes a nightmare for Yemen and its Arab neighbors. The Houthis have knocked on the door of the Gulf. We must wait for the answer.

From the Brotherhood of Sabilla to ISIS
Thursday, 22 January 2015
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and similar groups are not really states the sense we understand. They are an idea of extremism that unites those who subscribe to it and those who support it in different forms, either with bullets, dollars, words or emotions. There are extremists who may be against taking up weapons, but they agree with violent groups on the ultimate idea and goal, even if they differ on the means to use.
Unlike what's common in political analysis, extremism and extremists have always represented a threat to the Saudi Arabia. But this truth gets lost in a sea of accusations and the whole image is blurred even to the most well-informed people on the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular. This false historical understanding of the friend and the foe is no longer limited to foreigners and Arab propagandists. This false understanding has entered Saudi Arabia itself where some believe it and other extremists promote it. I think extremism is the biggest enemy and is the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia. This is why it's in our interest to systematically, institutionally and continuously fight it.
Historically speaking, the battles which Saudi Arabia had to fight domestically were all against religious extremists and the only exception was the threat of the Nasserite movement, which didn't exactly pose a threat. The first confrontation with religious extremists began 17 years after Saudi Arabia was established. They were known as the "Brotherhood" and they resembled the ISIS in their extremism and cruelty. They rejected the concept of the modern state and international relations and decided to disobey the authority of King Abdulaziz and attacked Iraq. They clashed with Iraqi tribes and British forces and managed to spread terror in some areas and downed a military British plane, according to Glubb Pasha. After their failure, extremists began attacking Saudi areas and cut trade routes. After King Abdulaziz failed to convince them to change course, he fought them until he eliminated them.
“There are extremists who may be against taking up weapons, but they agree with violent groups on the ultimate idea and goal”This was followed by separate protest waves which defied the state every time a modernizing measure was taken, from adopting the telegram to the advent of televisions to sending girls to school. In the 1970s, they surprised everyone at dawn one day when they occupied the grand mosque in Makkah and announced their revolution. The crisis lasted for two weeks and ended with their defeat and the death of hundreds. Colleague Mshari al-Zaydi presented a great analysis in Asharq al-Awsat through a series of articles titled "a quarter of a century on Juhayman's movement." Confrontations with extremists remerged in the 1990s and involved politics, the media and security measures as they carried out a number of explosions. But the biggest and most serious confrontation in the history of the kingdom occurred in 2003 with al-Qaeda. That war lasted for about six years and involved the entire country. Government facilities, foreign embassies, oil installations and civilians were targeted in general. Extremists are now once again returning under a new name which is ISIS. They have carried out few operations, thus inaugurating a new bloody era.
This is a quick historical review of the course of terrorist extremism in Saudi Arabia to show how it has been a continuous threat on the state. Extremism is not - as some say and believe - an ideological and popular pillar. Those who think otherwise don't realize that extremism, as an idea and means, represents a real existential threat and don't comprehend that extremism is now spreading, not necessarily in the name of the ISIS, and that some people become followers of this violent doctrine under just, humanitarian or religious slogans, like Syria, Palestine, Paris and Burma. Such slogans exploit these causes to spread ideas of extremists and their authority over societies and amplify their influence. Terrorists will also always find enough causes that are easy to exploit to serve their own ends.
The threat of extremism on Saudi Arabia is 90 years old. But today it is more serious than it has ever been. It has become a global and a Saudi problem that requires more than security solutions. The problem has now become dual and double-edged involving extremists and those angry at extremists.

Obama in the Middle East: All about ISIS and Iran
Thursday, 22 January 2015
Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya
In his sixth and perhaps most eloquent State of the Union address to Congress, U.S. President Barack Obama left no doubt about his unwillingness to be drawn to wars and conflicts in the Middle East. Fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) defines Washington’s strategy in Syria and Iraq while making one last push with Iran for a nuclear deal will determine Obama’s legacy in the region.
The speech was uplifting and ambitious in the eyes of U.S media when it came to domestic policies, but on the foreign agenda, it was evident that Obama is sidestepping conflicts and eying containment over long-term solutions. The once lofty talk about changing the world, achieving historic peace between Palestinians and Israelis, or removing Assad from power, disappeared completely from the speech on Tuesday. Instead the message from Obama was clear: the United States will do its part to contain raging fires in the Middle East but will not pledge more military commitments to achieve breakthroughs.
No change in Syria
The speech had many references to Obama’s own reluctance and personal averseness to getting involved in the Middle East. After all, and if it were not for the rise of ISIS, there would be no air campaign in Iraq or Syria, and Obama would have seized his moment in declaring a real end for the Iraq war. In the speech, Obama made the case against “getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East” and focused the strategy in Syria on “stopping ISIL (ISIS) advances” and “supporting a moderate opposition that can help in this effort.” The process will also “take time.”
Obama’s words on Syria should end any illusion that the United States will get more involved militarily in the conflict or is betting on an imminent political solution. Neither option is realistic for Obama. He is unlikely to set up a no-fly zone or even a buffer zone in Syria as Turkey demands. Instead the administration is laying the ground for a long war in Syria, unabated by a Russian or a ceasefire proposal.
“Obama’s words on Syria should end any illusion that the United States will get more involved militarily in the conflict or is betting on an imminent political solution”
Joyce Karam
Even on Assad, the United States is not targeting his troops during the air campaign, and has abandoned any talk about him leaving office or stepping down. It is unclear as well if the 5,000 rebel contingent that the Pentagon has started training and equipping will target Assad. The official line is that it will be fighting ISIS, but contingency plans could be for a possible scenario where the trained rebel forces come fire from the Assad’s regime.
ISIS is the centerpiece of the Obama containment strategy in both Iraq and Syria, the same way countering al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the overarching goal in Yemen. Washington is trying to contain the current Sanaa crisis between the Houthis and the Government but without getting dragged into a military involvement.
Critical weeks for Iran
The war against ISIS and the political stagnations in Iraq and Syria will likely continue after Obama leaves office in 2016. Meanwhile, the Palestinian-Israel talks are in shambles, hence leaving the talks with Iran as Obama’s only hope for a legacy in the Middle East.
Time is of the essence in the Iranian nuclear talks. Most of the political chatter in Washington is centered around Spring as a deadline to reach a framework deal with Iran and that Obama can market to Congress and/or regional allies. In his speech, the U.S. president told the highly skeptical lawmakers that “between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran.” Following him, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer told CNN that discussions between the White House and Congress over new sanctions involve waiting till March before passing a new bill.
With Congress’ patience running out, and Obama’s own clock ticking to be able to get a comprehensive deal implementable before leaving office, the next few weeks prove critical for the Iranian nuclear talks. If the administration can keep ranking Democrats behind the President and delay new congressional sanctions, and if Iranian President Hassan Rowhani gets the green light from the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, then a deal is foreseeable. But if one of these elements don’t materialize and either Congress passes sanctions by overriding the veto, or if Khamenei rejects again the West’s proposals, then a deal is forgone during Obama’s presidency.
Obama’s State of the Union address reasserted a scaled-down and more modest approach for the Middle East. Setting the policy in the White House stems from strategic objectives to counter terrorism and prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. “Reacting to headlines” even if they involve humanitarian crisis does not change the calculus of a President who views ending wars a critical part of his legacy.

Lessons that Hollande failed to learn from W. Bush’s plunders
Thursday, 22 January 2015
Ramzy Baroud /Al Arabiya
Francois Hollande is not a popular president. No matter how hard the ‘socialist’ leader tries to impress, there never seems to be a no solid constituency that backs him. He attempted to mask his initial lack of experience in foreign affairs with a war in Mali, after his country enthusiastically took on Libya. While he succeeded at launching wars, he failed at managing their consequences as the latest attacks in Paris have demonstrated.
Following the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, he is now attempting to ride a wave of popularity among his countrymen. On Jan. 11, an estimated 3.5 million people took to the streets of France in support of free speech – as if that were truly the crux of the problem. Nearly forty world leaders and top officials, many of whom are themselves unrelenting violators of human rights and free speech, walked arm in arm throughout the streets of Paris. It was a photo-op to show that the world was ‘united against terrorism.’
In the midst of it all, the embattled Hollande was at center stage, ready to act as a statesman, decisive leader, and father of a nation. And as his nation tried to come to terms with the tragedy, Hollande made his annual new year’s address, promising to escalate the exact same policies that engendered violence and what many western pundits readily refer to as ‘Islamic terrorism.’
The Iraq Connection
“If we can combat terrorism in Iraq, just as we did in Africa, we are ensuring our own security,” he said. His plan sounded as pathetic as all familiar: “If necessary we will be able to act in Iraq with more intensity and more efficacy; the aircraft carrier will be working in very narrow communication with the other forces and will be able to attack in any point in the event of supplementary tensions,” he said.
As if nothing has been learnt until now, Hollande seems to be borrowing the same costly policies that were implemented by former U.S. President George W. Bush after the deadly attacks of Sept. 11. He too struck violently and thoughtlessly and at the urging of powerful neoconservative groups; he carried out pre-conceived policies to assure America’s dominance in the name of fighting ‘terror’. These policies backfired, none of the U.S. strategic objectives were achieved, and the ‘New Middle East’ which the U.S. administration so desperately coveted, became a breeding ground for the same ‘terrorism’ that the Americans allegedly fought.
Prior to Bush’s misadventures in the Middle East, al-Qaeda seemed to have been a distant reality that had been heard of, but unseen. A decade after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, al-Qaeda penetrated the Middle East and North Africa, hatching into numerous groups, sub-groups and al-Qaeda-inspired groups. In fact, al-Qaeda-turned-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now redefining borders, carving a ‘state’ of its own that occupies massive swathes of land in Syria and Iraq.
“Hollande’s economic woes continued at home, and war alone could hardly help his tarnished image”
But why is Hollande repeating the failed policies of the discredited Bush administration, and reversing the principled and sound choices of former French presidents, like Jacques Chirac? Foreseeing its potential disasters, Chirac stood defiantly against Bush’s war in Iraq; and he is still right. But since then, France itself has changed, and failed leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy, and now Hollande are responsible for that change.
The Savior Needs Saving
When Hollande was elected in May 2012, some saw hope in him during times of economic crises, high unemployment, political disunity, and a collective feeling of loss and confusion; yet he failed to deliver. The economy stalled despite his promises to kickstart it. Unemployment lingered and even the proposed higher taxes on the country’s millionaires were not delivered.
However, this is not just a question of economic recession. The rise of racism, ensured by the rise of rightwing and fascist parties, is devouring France’s sense of national identity. Naturally, Hollande’s failures translated into bad numbers. His approval rating quickly dropped, so in order to save the day, he decided to do the exact opposite of what he had been elected to do: Go to war.
His decision on Jan. 11, 2013 to bomb 'Islamic militants' scantly won him a reputation of being a 'decisive president.' But wars are easy to start and difficult to finish. Hollande’s wars are no exception.
The war in Mali had little to do with religious militancy and everything to do with the existing chasm in the country itself, and the region as a whole. By adding western wars and intervention to the mix, calamity is assured.
With the U.S. expanding its military presence in Africa, China its economic reach and regional powers jockeying for influence, it was Hollande’s perfect movement to appear as if a great French leader was redeeming his country’s old colonial ‘glory’ in Africa. Mali was the ideal place for Hollande to distract the world from his failures at home. The West African country, once a promising democracy, had become a failed state, with a host of problems, ethnic and racial divides and a countless stream of weapons coming in from Libya – itself destroyed by western powers, starting with France.
Hollande’s moment of glory arrived on Sept. 13, 2013, when he declared that the war on ‘Islamic extremists’ had been won. But he was as hasty as the U.S.’s military 'mission accomplished' declaration in Bush's 'victory' speech soon after the invasion of Iraq.
Yet Hollande’s economic woes continued at home, and war alone could hardly help his tarnished image. In November 2014, he received the “worst score for a president in modern-day polling: a 12 percent approval and ratings.”
The more such bad news arrived at home, the more France’s tentacles of interventions found their way to near and faraway places – Libya, Mali, Syria, Iraq and so on. War became Hollande’s only savior.
Ecstasy of War
Frivolous wars are like drugs. They may start with the intention of achieving a fleeting sense of ecstasy, but with time they become a lethal escape from reality. Like drugs, a warlord is dependent on war and can only be sustained and validated by it. Hollande is a warlord in the Western sense, what Americans refer to as ‘a war president.’
But as Bush’s notorious legacy has proven, while war-induced fear and vain patriotism may keep a leader in office long enough, the terrible consequences of unchecked violence shall be felt for many years to come.
- Ramzy Baroud – - is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).