January 24/15

Bible Quotation for today/Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.
Isaiah06/01-13: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people:“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged,  until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

Question: "Why is church attendance / going to church important?"
Answer: The Bible tells us we need to attend church so we can worship God with other believers and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We should follow that example of devotion—and to the same things. Back then, they had no designated church building, but “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). Wherever the meeting takes place, believers thrive on fellowship with other believers and the teaching of God’s Word.
Church attendance is not just a “good suggestion”; it is God’s will for believers. Hebrews 10:25 says we should “not [be] giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Even in the early church, some were falling into the bad habit of not meeting with other believers. The author of Hebrews says that’s not the way to go. We need the encouragement that church attendance affords. And the approach of the end times should prompt us to be even more devoted to going to church.
Church is the place where believers can love one another (1 John 4:12), encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13), “spur” one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), honor one another (Romans 12:10), and be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32).
When a person trusts Jesus Christ for salvation, he or she is made a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). For a church body to function properly, all of its “body parts” need to be present and working (1 Corinthians 12:14–20). It’s not enough to just attend a church; we should be involved in some type of ministry to others, using the spiritual gifts God has given us (Ephesians 4:11–13). A believer will never reach full spiritual maturity without having that outlet for his gifts, and we all need the assistance and encouragement of other believers (1 Corinthians 12:21–26).
For these reasons and more, church attendance, participation, and fellowship should be regular aspects of a believer's life. Weekly church attendance is in no sense “required” for believers, but someone who belongs to Christ should have a desire to worship God, receive His Word, and fellowship with other believers.
Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Church (1 Peter 2:6), and we are “like living stones . . . being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). As the building materials of God’s “spiritual house,” we naturally have a connection with one another, and that connection is evident every time the Church “goes to church.”

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 23-24/15
Nasrallah back to the language of threats/Nayla Tueni /Al Arabiya/January 23/15
Conflict escalation: Israel and the Shiite coalition/Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya/January 23/15
Say It Like It Is, The problem is Islamism/Thomas L. Friedman/January 23/15
The Four Players in the Syrian Arena/Amir Taheri /Asharq Al Awsat/January 23/15

Lebanese Related News published on January 23-24/15
Israel Warns Lebanon, Syria against Any Reprisal from their Soil
Hizbullah Denies Report on Changes in Rules of Engagement with Israel
Report: Army Launches Search Operation for Seven Booby-Trapped Vehicles
Several Lebanese Troops Killed' as Army Takes back Tallat al-Hamra Position, Repels Militant Attack
Kaag Meets Salam, Reiterates Ban's Call to Avoid Escalation in South
Army chief warns jihadis amid deadly east Lebanon border battle
Lebanon announces 3 days of mourning for Saudi king
Hariri Calls on Lebanese to Mourn King Abdullah, Describes him as Remarkable Leader

Israel ready for Hezbollah retaliation: minister
Lebanese troops killed in clashes with gunmen on Syria border: army
Police return $70,000 worth of jewelry to owner Army boosts security measures near Ain al-Hilweh
'Reports: Terrorists Plotted to Target Casino du Liban Al-Ahmed Claims No Evidence on Infiltration of Suspects to Ain el-Hilweh
Pharaon: Miss Lebanon Will Not Be Stripped of Title over 'Selfie' with Miss Israel
Al-Rahi Undergoes 'Successful' Surgery after 'Small' Brain Hemorrhage

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 23-24/15
HRW Urges Saudi's new King to Respect Rights
Saudi King Abdullah Laid to Rest, New Monarch Pledges to Maintain Predecessors' Steady Course
King Salman calls for national unity, appoints new Crown and Deputy Crown Prince
Saudi Arabia mourns death of King Abdullah
World pays tribute to late Saudi King Abdullah
King Salman: Our nation needs its unity, solidarity 
Prince Muqrin named Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince
Prince Mohammad bin Nayef named second-in-line to Saudi throne
Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman named defense minister
U.S.-led coalition hits ISIS with 25 more air strikes
'Massacre' near Damascus as strikes kill 32

Egyptian student killed in clashes Yemen: Houthis press advance after Hadi resignation
Yemen drifts into political limbo Leader of Libyan Islamists Ansar al-Shariah, dies UK-Gadhafi intelligence ties revealed
No delay needed for Nigerian election One dead, 48 injured in Philippines blast DRC Senate votes down census law Baghdad erupts in joy after win over Iran
China blocks VPN services Signs emerge of major Ukraine rebel offensive

Jehad Watch Site Latest Posts
Colorado Muslima gets four years for plot to join Islamic State
Robert Spencer in FP: The King Is Dead, Long Live the King
Kerry warns against “Islamophobia”
Dearborn Muslima sues police department for forced hijab removal
Video: Robert Spencer at AFDI Free Speech Rally, Garland, Texas, January 17, 2015
Australia: 1,000 Muslims rally against Charlie Hebdo and the freedom of speech
Iran: Tens of thousands protest against Charlie Hebdo and the freedom of speech
Cruz files bill to ban U.S.-based Islamic State jihadis from returning to the U.S.
BBC: “Virtually all Muslims see violent Jihadism as a perversion of Islam”
Hours after stabbings, “moderate” Fatah calls for more jihad

Where Do We Stand as Lebanese, Politically & Faith Wise?
Elias Bejjani
January 23/15

Our motherland Lebanon is going through an actual existential crisis in regards to its,
Distinguishable identity,
Leadership in both civil and religious domains,
Deeply rooted and rich history,
Civilized model for common living,
Peace, freedom and democracy,
Coexistence and tolerance,
Openness, Self Respect, Honesty, Courage and faith.
And most importantly in its peoples defiance in No fearing God and Day Of Judgment
This crisis is not unique in the context of history, whereas many peoples, like ours, in hundreds of great and mighty nations had faced and suffered such crisis when they lost faith in God, followed their evil instincts and fell into Satan’s temptations.
Sodom and Gomorrah cities with their surrounding neighborhood evil peoples, Prophet Noah’s unrighteous era, and the Town of Babel and its king Nimrod, Noah’s Great Grandson who defied God and built its tower, are few, but shocking and actual examples of dire derailment from God's paths.
Sadly Lebanon nowadays is almost at the brink of such an ungodly era because the majority of its leaders, politicians clergymen and intellectuals are selfish, worshiping money, slaves to their lusts and not fearing God in the execution of their religious, national and human duties and obligations.
Accordingly the Land of the Holy Cedars is in turmoil on all levels and in all fields; foreigners run, dominate and control its decision making process, as well as its governing powers, social, political and economical fate.
Besides blaming and pointing to all these high ranking religious and civil authorities, we are ought at the same time to look thoroughly on our own selves and see where do we stand, and examine the roles are we are assuming.
Are we courageous enough to say things as they are to each and every civil and religious figure in position of responsibility?
Are we able to tell our politicians what is righteous and which is unrighteous?
Are we actually combining faith with actions and measuring all matters without selfishness and personal gains?
Do we know that faith without actions is a dead faith?
Are we ready to pay the price for witnessing for the truth, no matter what?
Are we able to respect ourselves, honor our dignity and keep our Conscience alive?
Is our self esteem strong enough to immunize us against all social, spiritual, money, hardships and ethical challenges?
In Summary: Let us all honestly contemplate in our roles as Lebanese citizens back home and in Diaspora and see where and how we can give both our people and country a hand.
To do that it would be very wise to compare our roles and the roles of all Lebanese figures in power with what Saint Peter (Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 06/09) says in the below verses.
"Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortioners, will inherit the Kingdom of God."
To make our contemplations more real and more practical it is very helpful to compare between what he recommends and where we really stand in life.

Israel Warns Lebanon, Syria against Any Reprisal from their Soil
Naharnet/Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned on Friday Hizbullah and Damascus not to launch any attack on the Jewish state, stressing that Lebanon and Syria will be held responsible for any retaliatory attack. “Israel will consider governments, regimes and organizations beyond its northern border responsible for any attack from their territories,” Yaalon said in a statement. He expressed hope that the region avoids reprisals for the Israeli airstrike that killed a high-ranking Iranian commander and six Hizbullah fighters, including Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh — a top 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. Yaalon vowed that his country will avenge any “harm inflicted on Israeli sovereignty, civilians and soldiers.”Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is expected to make a speech on January 30 during a popular rally to mourn the party fighters who were killed in the Israeli airstrike in Syria's Quneitra on Sunday, and reveal his party's stance and response. Israel and Hizbullah are bitter enemies and fought a bloody month-long war in the summer of 2006. 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.

Hizbullah Denies Report on Changes in Rules of Engagement with Israel
Naharnet/Hizbullah denied on Thursday media reports about “changes in the rules of engagement with Israel” after last Sunday’s Quneitra raid which killed six members of the group, while also denying that its response will happen outside Lebanese territory.
“We deny the claims that were attributed to a so-called source who is close to the party about the situation in the region,” the party said in statement, dismissing a report by the Reuters news agency. The agency had earlier quoted an alleged “security source close to Hizbullah” as saying that “the enemy has approached the red lines regarding the security conflict with Hizbullah, and the rules of the game have changed.” The same source noted that “if Hizbullah does not respond to the raid, it will appear as if it’s drowning in the quagmire of Syria's conflict and has lost its ability to respond, which is not true.”"Until now, the rule of the game has been responding from outside Lebanon, unless the Israelis pushed the war into Lebanon,” he added. He also stressed that “Hizbullah wants to avoid an all-out war.” In light of the report, Hizbullah reminded in its statement of its “firm media policy which does not rely on 'sources' to announce stances.” "The report does not concern us at all,” the statement added.

Pharaon: Miss Lebanon Will Not Be Stripped of Title over 'Selfie' with Miss Israel

Naharnet /Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon rejected on Friday the criticism directed against Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, in the wake of her “selfie” with Miss Israel that has created uproar in the country and over social media. He said during a press conference: “Greige will not be punished for her actions and she will not be stripped of her title.” He instead slammed the “racist and baseless” campaign she has been subject to over social media. “She should be supported instead of being condemned,” he declared. Furthermore, the minister defended Greige saying that she sought to avoid taking a photograph with Miss Israel out of respect of the Lebanese people and to avoid provoking them. He also backed her claims that Miss Israel had “photobombed” the picture taken at the Miss Universe pageant that is being held in Miami, Florida in the United States. Pharaon said that this issue will remain open until Greige returns to Lebanon from the pageant. Greige alleged that Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, had “photobombed” a photograph she was taking with Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan. Matalon posted the photograph on her instagram account on January 11 and it soon circulated over the media, creating a furore in Lebanon. "Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel (that tried several times to have a photo with me)," Greige wrote in English on her page. "I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media." Matalon responded to the controversy herself on Sunday, saying it made her "sad."Israel occupied parts of Lebanon for 22 years until 2000, but the two countries are still technically at war and both armies occasionally skirmish along the U.N.-designated withdrawal line. Israel fought a bloody war against Hizbullah in 2006, which killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and some 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Kaag Meets Salam, Reiterates Ban's Call to Avoid Escalation in South
Naharnet /United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag held talks on Friday with Prime Minister Tammam Salam on the latest developments in Lebanon, most notably Israel's strike against a Syria's Quneitra region. She said: “I reiterated the statement of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging all parties to refrain from any actions that could directly or indirectly lead to an escalation of the current situation.” She therefore stressed the importance of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 “and the tremendous role and collaboration that U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon provides in the country.”Kaag also voiced the U.N.'s readiness to continue to assist the government of Lebanon and its partners in addressing all the wider range of needs be they on the political and security fronts and ensuring progress towards implementation of resolution 1701.This support also extends to helping Lebanon meet the needs of Syrian refugees, she added. “We concluded on the need for continued, very strong and intense cooperation,” Kaag remarked, while emphasizing the need to look at all the opportunities “to stabilize, to build and to enhance Lebanon's resilience at a time of continued challenges and possible crisis.” Six Hizbullah members, including prominent member Jihad Mughniyeh, and an Iranian general were killed during an Israeli airstrike on Syria's Quneitra region on Sunday. The government condemned the attack, saying that “confronting Israel lies in adhering to international resolutions.”Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is scheduled to make a speech on January 30 to address the development.

Report: Army Launches Search Operation for Seven Booby-Trapped Vehicles
Naharnet /The army is reportedly searching for seven booby-trapped vehicles after recently locating two explosive-rigged cars in the northeastern border town of Arsal. According to An Nahar newspaper published on Friday, the army is on high-alert to locate the remaining seven vehicles. On Thursday, the army dismantled a black Kia rigged with 25 kilograms of explosives. It was parked near a military post in the Ain al-Saab region. The military seized on January 15 a booby-trapped car containing around 120 kilograms of explosives in Arsal. The army also dismantled in September another 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 military. They also took hostage several soldiers and policemen and so far executed four of them.

HRW Urges Saudi's new King to Respect Rights

Naharnet/Human Rights Watch urged new Saudi King Salman Friday to end the "persecution of dissidents and minorities" and to protect the rights of women and migrant workers. King Salman was announced as the highly conservative kingdom's new ruler overnight, after the death of King Abdullah, his half-brother. New York-based HRW urged him to make real reforms in the kingdom, which is frequently criticized by rights groups and the international community. "King Abdullah came to power promising reforms, but his agenda fell far short of achieving lasting institutional gains for Saudi citizens," said deputy Middle East director Joe Stork. "King Salman... should move the country forward by ending intolerance for free expression, rooting out gender and sectarian discrimination and fostering a fair and impartial judicial system." HRW acknowledged that King Abdullah, generally considered a modest reformer by the kingdom’s standards, had pushed for changes early in his rule. But it said that, after 2011, "authorities subordinated the king's reform agenda to a campaign to silence peaceful dissidents." In particular, HRW urged King Salman to "prohibit discrimination against women and religious minorities and institute protections for free speech." Agence France Presse.

Several Lebanese Troops Killed' as Army Takes back Tallat al-Hamra Position, Repels Militant Attack
Naharnet/Several soldiers were killed and others wounded on Friday as the army repelled an attack by terrorists on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek in the eastern Bekaa and regained control of Tallat al-Hamra post, reported Agence France Presse.The army command issued a communique saying: “A group of terrorists assaulted an army post on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek but soldiers repelled the attack.”“Army units are bombing the positions of gunmen and the road they are using to infiltrate the area with the adequate weaponry.”
The army command also called on media outlets not to publish any details regarding the operation, in particular inaccurate information. The state-run National News Agency reported that the military targeted with heavy artillery positions controlled by gunmen in Tallat al-Hamra on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek after they assaulted military posts. The army fortified its position on the field and brought reinforcements to the area. The news agency reported that two soldiers were wounded while the army carried out a counter attack against the militants.
Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) also said that contact was lost with an army unit, comprised of six soldiers, participating in the battles. Media reports said that three gunmen were killed in the gunbattles. MTV reported later that more than 10 gunmen were killed and 20 others were wounded in Ras Baalbek gunbattles and the bodies are still scattered on the field. Tallat al-Hamra is a strategic point that oversees the outskirts of Arsal. Members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State group have launched several such attacks in recent months.Reports have raised fears lately that Syrian armed gunmen were planning to open a front in Lebanon by invading the northeastern border town of Arsal and advancing into al-Qaa, Ras Baalbek and other nearby villages.

Lebanon announces 3 days of mourning for Saudi king
The Daily Star/Jan. 23, 2015/BEIRUT: Lebanon announced Friday three days of mourning for the death of Saudi King Abdullah, who was described by Lebanese officials and religious leaders as Lebanon’s greatest friend and biggest supporter.
The Saudi embassy in Lebanon announced that it will open its doors for condolences over three days on Jan. 24, 25 and 26, as Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s office said he would travel to Riyadh Saturday to offer Lebanon's condolences to Saudi King Salman, Abdullah's successor. “It is with great sorrow and grief that we announce to the Lebanese the [death] of the wisest of Arabs and Lebanon’s greatest friend, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, his Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, after a long life of service to his country and (Arab) nation,” PM Salam said in a statement. He said with the death of King Abdullah: “Lebanon lost [a figure of] support and backing who always stood on his side in times of crisis, and never hesitated to extend a helping hand.”
Salam praised him for what he said were his numerous initiatives that were aimed at boosting Lebanon’s national unity, peace and security. Lebanon and other Arab and Muslim countries “lost a unique, courageous leader who had always upheld their causes and concerns.”
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on fellow Lebanese to mourn King Abdullah “who has continually offered support for Lebanon.”“The Arab and Muslim nations have lost in the absence of King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz a brilliant leader and an exceptional figure that printed the history of the Saudi Arabia Kingdom and the region with great achievements and initiatives, which will remain the benchmarks for political interaction and economic and social growth to the Kingdom and its Arab environs,” Hariri said in a statement.
Hariri called on the Lebanese people “who had a special place in the heart of Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz at the level of father-son relationship” to declare a day of mourning in all areas “in an expression of popular loyalty to the man who never failed to support Lebanon and to stand by its side in the toughest conditions.”
MP Walid Jumblatt tweeted: “The great Arab knight departed...”In a second tweet Jumblatt praised King Abdullah whom he described as the biggest friend of his slain father Kamal Jumblatt who was assassinated in 1977 during the early years of Lebanon’s civil war.
Samir Geagea, the head of the Christian Lebanese Forces party, held a special press conference to pay tribute to the late king. He lauded Abdullah for “boosting dialogue between religions and civilizations” through a landmark visit to the Pope at the Holy See and the establishment of a center for civilizations in Vienna. For his part, Grand Mufti Abdel Latif Derian announced three days of mourning in all the institutions affiliated with Dar al-Fatwa in addition to holding a special “prayer for the dead” in all of Lebanon’s Sunni mosques following the Friday sermon. “The whole world suffered a big loss with the [death] of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, a pioneer in moderation and openness in the Muslim world,” Derian said in a statement Friday.
Salam and Derian wished Abdullah’s successor, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and his Crown Prince Moqrin, “success and accomplishment” in their future deeds and carrying on Abdullah's legacy.

Hariri Calls on Lebanese to Mourn King Abdullah, Describes him as Remarkable Leader
Naharnet/Head of al-Mustaqbal Movement leader and Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed condolences on Friday to Saudi Arabia over the death of King Abdullah, calling on the Lebanese to mourn the monarch in all regions to express loyalty.
“I share my deep condolences with the Saudi people and call on the Lebanese people to mourn him in all regions to express loyalty to a man who never hesitated to support Lebanon,” Hariri said in a statement issued by his press office. He described the late king as a “brilliant leader with a remarkable personality,” stressing that King Abdullah always stood by Lebanon in the hardest stages. “He gave us two generous grants in support of the army and the security agencies to enable them to defend Lebanon, its unity and sovereignty... considering himself directly responsible,” Hariri added. Hariri pointed out that King Abdullah “played an extraordinary role in leading Saudi Arabia at the international community and in averting crises in the region.” The Sunni leader, who is a close ally to the late king, expressed certainty that King Salman will lead Saudi Arabia to glory “on the footsteps of King Abdullah.”Hariri holds dual citizenship, Lebanese and Saudi Arabian The ailing Abdullah died early Friday aged about 90, after almost a decade on the throne. Abdullah is succeeded by his half-brother Salman, 79, who has been defense minister and previously governor of the capital Riyadh. Another of the late monarch's half-brothers, Moqren, was named the new crown prince. Abdullah will be buried later Friday following afternoon prayers, and citizens would be invited to pledge allegiance to the new monarch and the crown prince at the royal palace.

Army chief warns jihadis amid deadly east Lebanon border battle
Nidal Solh/The Daily Star/Jan. 23, 2015/BAALBEK, Lebanon: Lebanon's Army commander Friday warned jihadis against tampering with the country's stability as deadly clashes continued between troops and Islamist militants near the northern Bekaa Valley border town of Ras Baalbek. A well-placed security source told The Daily Star that two Lebanese soldiers and nine militants have so far been killed in the battle, which erupted around 8:15 a.m near Talet al-Hamra. Several others were wounded on both sides, the source said.
"The Army is carrying out its duties to the fullest, and it is able to repel any attempt to infiltrate peaceful villages in the eastern Bekaa Valley or [those] tampering with the internal stability on all Lebanese territory,” Gen. Jean Kahwagi said in remarks to reporters from his office at the Defense Ministry in the Beirut suburb of Yarze. The source said the battle had been largely contained and that he expected it to be over in the next few hours. A separate security source had earlier told The Daily Star that two soldiers were killed and seven wounded during an Army attempt to repel jihadis who tried to overrun a military post in Talet al-Hamra, on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek. The sound of intense rocket and artillery fire reverberated across the Baalbek region. The fighting had eased by midday with troops firing mortar shells toward the militants. The sources said the Lebanese Army sent reinforcements, including helicopters, to support troops on the frontline. The Army confirmed in a statement that a military post on the far side of the outskirts of Ras Baalbek “came under an attack by a terrorist group.” The statement said the Army repelled the attack, using various types of weapons. It said the Army was shelling militants’ concentration centers and infiltration routes “with the appropriate weapons.”Separately, a brief clash erupted overnight between militant groups themselves on the outskirts of the northern eastern border town of Arsal on the Syria border. Local media reported the fight pitted ISIS militants against Liwaa al-Tawhid, an armed rebel Syrian group that was originally formed to coordinate the battle for Aleppo.
The Lebanese Army dismissed media reports that military outposts in Wadi Hmeid and Wadi Hosn on Arsal's outskirts came under militant attacks.

'Reports: Terrorists Plotted to Target Casino du Liban
Naharnet /Militants were plotting to target Casino du Liban in Jounieh on New Year's Eve, Le Royal hotel and other major facilities, investigations with detained suspects revealed. Local dailies said on Friday that al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front was plotting to attack the casino with a car bomb loaded with explosives and driven by Elie Warraq, who has been recently arrested. Warraq, a Christian who has converted to Islam, was plotting to enter the Casino with his ID and carry out the bombing but he failed to do so over logistic difficulties.
On his ID, Warraq remained a Christian hailing from northern Lebanon. The army said last week that it had thwarted a plan to implement a series of suicide attacks and arrested three people including Warraq, who was going by the name "Abu Ali." Warraq's arrest came less than a week after two suicide bombers who hail from the northern city of Tripoli killed nine people at a packed cafe in the city's mainly Alawite Jabal Mohsen district. The newspapers said the detained suspects revealed to investigators that fugitive terrorists Shadi al-Mawlawi and Osama Mansour were coordinating the plot against the casino, in addition to other attacks on Le Royal Hotel in Dbayeh, the military intelligence base in Tripoli's al-Metran street and in Beirut's southern suburbs. Al-Mawlawi and Mansour disappeared from Tripoli in October during deadly gunbattles between their followers and the army in and around the city. The reports said that the army has so far arrested several would-be suicide bombers and instigators, and is pursuing a gang of four men suspected of plotting attacks.
Most of the booby-trapped vehicles that the militants are planning to use in the bombings are coming from the Syrian Qalamoun region that lies near Lebanon's eastern border with Syria, they said.
The militants are also receiving training on explosives-making in Qalamoun, the reports added.

Al-Rahi Undergoes 'Successful' Surgery after 'Small' Brain Hemorrhage
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi underwent a “successful” surgery on Friday to remove a blood clot in the head, Bkirki announced. The seat of the patriarchate said in a statement that al-Rahi was admitted to the Eye & Ear Hospital in Naccache on Thursday after feeling ill. “He was later transferred to the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Notre Dame de Secours in Jbeil where he underwent surgery on Friday morning to treat a small brain hemorrhage,” it said. The operation was “successful,” and the patriarch is now “recovering,” said the statement. Al-Rahi “thanks all those who prayed with him, contacted him and visited him to inquire about his health,” it added. Several top officials and religious figures visited the patriarch at the hospital.

Nasrallah back to the language of threats
Nayla Tueni /Al Arabiya
Friday, 23 January 2015
Lebanon’s best efforts to reassure people over its push for national unity, call for talks to decrease Sunni-Shiite tension and calm down the domestic situation appear to have been contradicted by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s recent statements, which seem to be pushing in the opposite direction. The stance on Bahrain does not harm the brotherly country alone but the entire Gulf Cooperation Council. This is especially the case with Saudi Arabia, which has always supported Lebanon as an official state and not as parties or groups – and which recently granted the Lebanese Army $3 billion to arm, increase its emergency readiness and move forward in solidifying the state’s control over all Lebanese territories. This $3 billion is in addition to the $1 billion placed under the disposal of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to help security forces.
Lebanese expats exposed
Exposing the regime in Bahrain and those who stand behind it among Gulf countries has repercussions that impact Lebanese citizens in GCC countries. These people are a source of income for many Lebanese people, particularly fresh graduates who seek job opportunities in Arab countries. A ban on Lebanese citizens or the placing of restrictions on them would not be limited to Hezbollah’s supporters but would extend to include all the Lebanese people. This is an additional catastrophe for our country, which is suffering from a severe economic crisis and where no one appears to be seeking solutions. Not to mention that we’ve never heard of Lebanese youths heading to Iran seeking available opportunities or jobs.The increased act of threatening Israel in these circumstances may intimidate the Jewish state and cause it to worry about an increase in arms that Hezbollah may have attained or developed itself.
Risk of aggression
However, making these threats may lead to wars and pre-emptive strikes and attacks on infrastructure in an attempt to pressure Hezbollah. Lebanon does not currently have the energy to tolerate this. “Making these threats may lead to wars and pre-emptive strikes and attacks on infrastructure in an attempt to pressure Hezbollah. ”Possessing arms represents power for Hezbollah and not Lebanon. And bragging about these weapons harms Lebanon in all international arenas. As for the stance regarding the presidency, it’s based on an absolute superiority that tends to impose the fait accompli authority by naming Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun as a candidate to whom there’s no alternative.
Election delay risks
This means that the other party’s rejection of Aoun will postpone the election of a president for a long time – until the other party accepts Hezbollah’s and Nasrallah's candidate. Such a stance does not encourage the dialogue needed to tackle all national concerns.
Dialogue must not aim to specify a ceiling or call for negotiating to reach this ceiling as this will not be a real dialogue. In an analysis to Sayyed Nasrallah’s recent stances, it seems he’s begun to destroy what he himself has called for. His stances may have contradicted with some Iranian interests, and Syrians ones, and he is thus back to square one and to the stances made before the National Dialogue sessions were held and he is once again adopting the language of threats – even if softly.

King Salman calls for national unity, appoints new Crown and Deputy Crown Prince
Friday, 23 Jan, 2015
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—New Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz has called for national unity and solidarity following the death of King Abdullah, moving quickly to appoint a new Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince. He pledged no change in the Kingdom’s direction, stressing that he will follow the “true approach” of his predecessors. In his first speech as King, the new Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques said: “I am, God-willing, to carry out this great trust. We will continue, with God’s grace and strength, committed to the true approach which was followed by this state since its inception at the hands of the founder, King Abdulaziz, God’s mercy upon him, and at the hands of his sons after him, God’s mercy upon them.”“The Arab and Islamic nation is in dire need today of unity and the maintenance of solidarity. We will continue in this country, that God has honored by choosing it as a platform for His message and as the direction Muslims must pray. Our march is to undertake everything possible to keep the unity of our ranks and the unity of word and in defense of our nation’s issues, guided by the teachings of our true Islamic religion which was favored by the Lord to us, the religion of peace, mercy and moderation,” he added. “I ask God to assist me to serve our dear people and realize their hopes, and to preserve our country and our nation’s security and stability, and to protect them from all evils, for He is the master and able to do that. There’s no strength except with God,” King Salman’s first statement as Saudi monarch concluded. The new Saudi monarch moved quickly on Friday, issuing a royal decree appointing Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz as the new Crown Prince and heir to the throne. King Salman also appointed Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Naif Bin Abdulaziz as the new Deputy Crown Prince and Second Deputy Prime Minister. Prince Mohammed Bin Naif is the son of former Crown Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz and the first grandson of the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz, to be officially placed in the Saudi line of succession. King Salman appointed his son, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as the country’s new Defense Minister and head of the Royal Court, the SPA reported. King Salman had been Saudi Arabia’s defense minister since 2011. In the same royal decree, the new Saudi monarch announced that all other cabinet members would remain in their ministerial positions for the time being. Saudi Arabia’s Allegiance Council have been called to pledge allegiance to the new King, Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince at Governance Palace in Riyadh following Isha (night) prayers on Friday, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Conflict escalation: Israel and the Shiite coalition
Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya
Friday, 23 January 2015
According to the official news agency of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Sepah News, Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed in an Israeli air strike in Syria. The Iranian commander was killed alongside another six fighters from the powerful Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah in the Golan Heights. The incident highlights several crucial developments. First of all, although Iranian leaders continue to deny that there are any Iranian troops operating on the ground in Syria, or reject that Tehran is taking sides in the Syrian civil war, the presence of Allahdadi adds more evidence to Iran’s deep involvement in the Syrian civil war.  In other words, Iran’s government is not only boosting President Bashar al Assad’s power through financial, advisory, and intelligence assistance, but also through military manpower that fights alongside the Syrian government against the oppositional and rebel groups.
Escalation of tensions
In addition, this evidence and incidence of the Israeli airstrike, which led to the revelations of the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the Syrian soil, is not the first one to surface. In February 2013, the Islamic Republic accused Israel of killing of General Hassan Shateri in Syria. On the other hand, the Israeli airstrike illustrated the heightened tensions between the Shiite coalition, Iran-Hezbollah and the Israeli government. Third, the Israeli airstrike reveals that the wide range of actors who are currently involved in the Syrian civil war through military force. This includes the U.S., through the bombing campaign against ISIS, Iranian forces, Israel, and Hezbollah fighters, to name a few. Nevertheless, the significant issue is whether Iran’s government and Hezbollah will react robustly and retaliate against Israel.
Will Iran and Hezbollah react forcefully?
Iran’s response will differ from Hezbollah for several strategic, tactical, and geopolitical reasons. As a powerful regional state actor, Iran attempts to deviate attention from the direct involvement of the IRGC in Syria. Although a lot of evidence points to the direct military involvement of Iranian forces as well as to Iranian government’s financial, advisory, and intelligence assistance to the Syrian government. The Rouhani administration’s attempt not to further raise the concerns of other regional countries with respect to Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, and intervention in another Arab country’s soil; Syria. As a result, President Rouhani will utilize a softer diplomatic tone in this respect. “Any robust reaction from the Iranian government towards Israel might lead to a regional war ”
It is crucial to point out that although Iran’s presidential office is closely connected to other state institutions, it does not possess robust leverage against the IRGC’s militaristic strategy, regional hegemonic ambitions and the Supreme Leader’s agenda in the region.
However, Rouhani’s administration plays a crucial role in alleviating the concerns of other countries, with respect to IRGC interventionist role. In addition, the Iranian government steers away from revealing that it is publicly engaged in any developments that might scuttle the ongoing nuclear negotiations. The decline in oil prices has significantly wreaked havoc upon Iran’s economy. A final nuclear deal will ensure the easing of economic sanctions and boosting of Iran’s economic power. As a result, any robust reaction from the Iranian government towards Israel might lead to a regional war which would complicate the ongoing nuclear talks primarily between the U.S. and Iranian officials. Moreover, Iran’s government is currently involved in several countries militarily and financially. Israeli leaders are aware of the fact that Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Syria would indicate that Tehran cannot afford to respond robustly to the Israeli airstrike, and risk another military war.
Hezbollah’s Reaction
When it comes to Hezbollah, its response to Israel is normally reliant upon the commands that it receives from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and senior officials of the IRGC.  Iranian leaders are more likely to utilize Hezbollah for rhetorical purposes in order to respond to the Israeli airstrikes. In this case, Tehran permits Hezbollah to utilize tougher language towards Israeli leaders. As the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, pointed out that Hezbollah possess the right to respond and retaliate against the Israeli airstrike, which martyred its fighter. Finally, since any military retaliation from Hezbollah, leading to a wider conflict with Israel, will pull Iran in as well, Iranian leaders are more likely to caution Hezbollah about using any tactics or strategy that might bring about a war. Iran has much more to lose than Hezbollah if the escalation of conflict leads to a war.

Say It Like It Is
Thomas L. Friedman: The problem is Islamism

The New York Times/Thomas L. Friedman site
January 23, 2015
I’ve never been a fan of global conferences to solve problems, but when I read that the Obama administration is organizing a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism for Feb. 18, in response to the Paris killings, I had a visceral reaction: Is there a box on my tax returns that I can check so my tax dollars won’t go to pay for this?
When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. And this administration, so fearful of being accused of Islamophobia, is refusing to make any link to radical Islam from the recent explosions of violence against civilians (most of them Muslims) by Boko Haram in Nigeria, by the Taliban in Pakistan, by Al Qaeda in Paris and by jihadists in Yemen and Iraq. We’ve entered the theater of the absurd
Last week the conservative columnist Rich Lowry wrote an essay in Politico Magazine that contained quotes from White House spokesman Josh Earnest that I could not believe. I was sure they were made up. But I checked the transcript: 100 percent correct. I can’t say it better than Lowry did:
The administration has lapsed into unselfconscious ridiculousness. Asked why the administration won’t say [after the Paris attacks] we are at war with radical Islam, Earnest on Tuesday explained the administration’s first concern ‘is accuracy. We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism, and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it.’
This makes it sound as if the Charlie Hebdo terrorists set out to commit a random act of violent extremism and only subsequently, when they realized that they needed some justification, did they reach for Islam.
The day before, Earnest had conceded that there are lists of recent ‘examples of individuals who have cited Islam as they’ve carried out acts of violence.’ Cited Islam? According to the Earnest theory ... purposeless violent extremists rummage through the scriptures of great faiths, looking for some verses to cite to support their mayhem and often happen to settle on the holy texts of Islam.”
President Obama knows better. I am all for restraint on the issue, and would never hold every Muslim accountable for the acts of a few. But it is not good for us or the Muslim world to pretend that this spreading jihadist violence isn’t coming out of their faith community. It is coming mostly, but not exclusively, from angry young men and preachers on the fringe of the Sunni Arab and Pakistani communities in the Middle East and Europe.
If Western interventions help foster violent Islamic reactions, we should reduce them. To the extent that Muslim immigrants in European countries feel marginalized, they and their hosts should worker harder on absorption. But both efforts will only take you so far.
Something else is also at work, and it needs to be discussed. It is the struggle within Arab and Pakistani Sunni Islam over whether and how to embrace modernity, pluralism and women’s rights. That struggle drives, and is driven by, the dysfunctionality of so many Arab states and Pakistan. It has left these societies with too many young men who have never held a job or a girl’s hand, who then seek to overcome their humiliation at being left behind, and to find identity, by “purifying” their worlds of other Muslims who are not sufficiently pious and of Westerners whom they perceive to be putting Muslims down. But you don’t see this in the two giant Muslim communities in Indonesia or India.
Only Sunni Arabs and Pakistanis can get inside their narrative and remediate it. But reformers can only do that if they have a free, secure political space. If we’re not going to help create space for that internal dialogue, let’s just be quiet. Don’t say stupid stuff. And don’t hold airy fairy conferences that dodge the real issues, which many mainstream Muslims know and are actually starved to discuss, especially women.
The Arab journalist Diana Moukalled, writing in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat last week, asked: “Don’t all these events now going on around us and committed in our name require us to break the fear barrier and begin to question our region and our societies, especially the ideas being trafficked there that have led us to this awful stage where we are tearing at one another’s throats — to mention nothing of what as a result also happens beyond our region?”
And a remarkable piece in The Washington Post Sunday by Asra Q. Nomani, an American Muslim born in India, called out the “honor corps” — a loose, well-funded coalition of governments and private individuals “that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam.” It “throws the label of ‘Islamophobe’ on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion. ... The official and unofficial channels work in tandem, harassing, threatening and battling introspective Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere. ... The bullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism. ... They cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells.”
I know one in particular.

The Four Players in the Syrian Arena
Amir Taheri /Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 23 Jan, 2015
As some have long feared, the Obama administration is working to change the mood music on Syria. Leaks to the media in Washington now harp on the theme of “maybe Bashar Al-Assad is part of the solution.”
The New York Times, a staunch Obama supporter, suggests that Assad’s removal, a condition set by the president years ago, is no longer valid because no one wants to experience “another Libya.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to transform himself from a determined adversary of Assad to a well-wishing adviser to the tyrant. Here is what he said last week: “It is time for President Assad, the Assad regime, to put their people first and to think about the consequences of their actions, which are attracting more and more terrorists to Syria, basically because of their efforts to remove Assad.”
Until a year ago, Obama’s chief excuse for not helping anti-Assad rebels was that they were “divided.” Now a new excuse is added: the presence of terror groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which controls a quarter of Syrian territory.
At the same time, sources within the administration are promoting another reason for scripting the US out of the Syrian imbroglio. “Syria is going to be a mess for years, maybe decades,” they say. “So why not let Russia and Iran, Assad’s principal backers, carry the burden?”
Call it cynical, but the suggestion that Russia and Iran, cash-starved as a result of falling oil prices, are best left alone to pay the bills may hold a certain appeal in some quarters.
Yet another excuse promoted by Obama is that the “diplomatic route” proposed by Moscow may, by some miracle, produce a solution. “We can’t just tell the Russians to go to hell,” says one Obama official. “Working with Russians on this issue may help with other issues, notably the Iranian nuclear dossier.”
The clinching argument for the cynical pirouette is that a deal with Russia might give some of Assad’s opponents a share of power in Damascus. One formula would be to organize parliamentary elections to give the “moderate” opposition a presence in a putative legislature.
There are several problems with the Obama analysis. To start with, it is not at all certain that Russia has enough real influence with the Assad clan. Unlike Iran, which has built networks at all levels of the Assad regime, including the army and security services, Russia has been on the margins since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Iran has a direct military presence in the shape of some 10,000 fighters furnished by the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, and led by officers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In contrast, Russia’s military presence is limited to 230 technicians instructing Assad’s forces on how the use the weapons Moscow has supplied them with.
One guess is that Iran’s medium or, perhaps, long-term plan is to ditch Assad at the first opportunity, replacing him with someone, or some group, more directly beholden to the Islamic Republic.
Kerry and Obama are equally wrong in thinking, or pretending to think, that helping Assad hang on in Damascus might contribute to the weakening of ISIS and kindred groups. Assad and ISIS are tacit allies.
It is no accident that Assad’s air force bombs civilian targets in areas controlled by ISIS, including Raqqa, but spares localities where ISIS fighters and arsenals are based. ISIS spends more time and energy fighting anti-Assad groups and making mayhem in Iraq than striking at the tyrant’s forces.
Obama and Kerry are trying to explain, if not justify, their moral and diplomatic abdication in the name of Realpolitik. However, thanks to their cowardice, the US may end up a loser in any configuration while Syrians are doomed to paying an ever higher cost in human suffering.
Since, as the Arab proverb has it, there is some good in whatever happens, the Kerry–Obama abdication may not be totally negative. To start with, it ends the illusion that Obama may have any concern about what happens to the Syrian people.
With the US removing itself from the equation, we are left with four key players in the Syrian drama, already labeled “the greatest tragedy of the new century.”
The quartet, as already noted, includes Russia and Iran, both individually and acting together. Syria’s democratic opposition would have an interest in opening direct channels to both without abandoning the ultimate goal of toppling Assad. Russia and Iran will continue backing Assad as long as the cost does not transcend certain limits. As opportunist powers, neither would want to close other options.
The third player is Turkey which is more interested in preventing the emergence of a Kurdish mini-state on its border with the help of Assad, Russia and Iran. Here we have an interesting situation in which Turkey and the US, both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), may find themselves on opposite sides in the Syrian theater.
The fourth player comes in the form of European and Arab states concerned about the spread of murderous jihadism beyond Syria’s borders. Despite recent feelers put out by a couple of those states to Assad, almost all know that the tyrant’s future is far from bright. If Syria is to regain a modicum of stability, or even survive as a nation-state, Assad must go. More importantly, perhaps, public opinion in both Europe and the “Arab world” remains decidedly anti-Assad.
Last but not least there is a fourth player: the Syrian people. Though bloodied and broken, the Syrian people are not easily cut out of the equation. Directly or indirectly, we all know of people, even within what is left of the regime, who realize that government by mass murder is not the best option for Syria.
Regardless of the rumors Kerry is spreading, Assad has not won and the struggle for a free Syria is far from over

Saudi King Abdullah Laid to Rest, New Monarch Pledges to Maintain Predecessors' Steady Course
Naharnet /Saudi Arabia buried King Abdullah Friday as foreign leaders gathered in the capital for the funeral of the ruler of the world's top oil exporter and the spiritual home of Islam.
Abdullah, a cautious reformer who led his kingdom through a turbulent decade in a region shaken by the Arab Spring uprisings and Islamic extremism, died early Friday aged about 90.
He was replaced by his half-brother Salman, who moved quickly to consolidate his hold on power and vowed to maintain a steady course for the conservative kingdom.
Salman joined Gulf rulers and leaders including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for a funeral service at Riyadh's Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque.
Abdullah's shrouded body was borne on a simple litter by members of the royal family wearing traditional red-and-white checked shemagh head gear. The body was quickly moved to nearby al-Od public cemetery where it was buried. Citizens were invited to pledge allegiance to Salman at the royal palace.
Another of the late monarch's half-brothers, Moqren, was named crown prince. In his first public statement as the new ruler, 79-year-old King Salman vowed to "remain, with God's strength, attached to the straight path that this state has walked since its establishment".He called in televised remarks for "unity and solidarity" among Muslims and vowed to work in "the defense of the causes of our nation".
Moving quickly to clear uncertainty over the transition to the next generation, Salman named the interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as second in line to the throne. He also appointed and one of his own sons, Prince Mohammed, as defense minister.
Officials did not disclose the cause of Abdullah's death, but the late king had been hospitalized in December suffering from pneumonia and had been breathing with the aid of a tube.
Under Abdullah, who took the throne in 2005, Saudi Arabia has been a key ally of Washington in the Arab world, most recently joining the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. President Barac Obama was quick to pay tribute to Abdullah as a "valued" ally.
"The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah's legacy," Obama said in a statement shortly after the monarch's death. Vice President Joe Biden said on Twitter he would lead a delegation to Saudi Arabia "to pay respect and offer condolences".
Other tributes came in from foreign leaders, with French President Francois Hollande hailing Abdullah as "a statesman whose work profoundly marked the history of his country". British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "deeply saddened" and that Abdullah would be remembered for "his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths."
As the top producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Saudi Arabia has been the driving force behind the cartel's refusal to slash output to support oil prices, which have fallen by more than 50 percent since June.
But prices surged Friday, amid uncertainty over whether the new king would maintain that policy. The International Energy Agency's chief economist said he did not foresee major policy shifts.
"I do not expect any significant change in the oil policy of Saudi Arabia and I expect and hope that they will continue to be a stabilization factor in the oil markets," Fatih Birol told AFP in Davos, Switzerland.
Saudi Arabia is home to Islam's holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and its role as a spiritual leader for Sunni Muslims has seen it vying for influence with Shiite-dominated Iran.
Tehran nonetheless offered its condolences, saying Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would travel to Riyadh to take part in official ceremonies on Saturday.
Behind his thick, jet-black mustache and goatee, Abdullah had a shrewd grasp of regional politics.
Wary of the rising influence of Islamist movements, Saudi Arabia has been a generous supporter of Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since the army's ouster of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt declared seven days of official mourning for Abdullah. Saudi Arabia has also played a key role in supporting opposition to Iran-backed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, allowing U.S. troops to use its territory to train rebel fighters.
Salman is widely expected to follow closely in Abdullah's footsteps, in foreign and energy policy as well as in making moderate reforms to the deeply conservative kingdom.
Abdullah pushed through cautious changes while in power, challenging conservatives with moves such as including women in the Shura Council, an advisory body.
He promoted the kingdom's economic development and oversaw its accession to the World Trade Organization, tapping into the country's massive oil wealth to build new cities, universities and high-speed railways.
But Saudi Arabia is still strongly criticized for a dismal human rights record, including the imprisonment of dissidents. It is also the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.
"The Saudi regime seems insensitive to human rights and human dignity and unfortunately they are also protected by many Western countries because they have oil and because they are seen as allies in the fight against terrorism," Amnesty International head Salil Shetty told AFP in Davos.
Salman is a stalwart of the royal family credited with transforming Riyadh from a backwater to a thriving capital during his half-century as governor. Since the death in 1952 of the kingdom's founder, King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the throne has passed systematically from one of his sons to another. Abdul Aziz had 45 recorded sons. Abdullah, Salman and Moqren were all born to different mothers.
Saudi Arabia has managed to avoid the social upheaval that has shaken many of its neighbors in recent years, thanks in large part to massive public spending. But the new king will face some major challenges, especially as falling oil prices cut into state revenues.
Agence France Presse