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Bible Quotation for
today/Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed
Genesis 19/01-26: "The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” But Lot said to them, “No, my lords please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” That is why the town was called Zoar. By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
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bolsters positions in country’s east
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/Jan. 26, 2015
BEIRUT: Lebanese Army troops reinforced their positions in east Lebanon Sunday to repulse new possible attacks by Syria-based jihadis as the military vowed to eradicate terrorism from Lebanon. Separately, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut issued “a security message” over the weekend warning its citizens against traveling to Lebanon. According to the embassy’s Information Officer Geraldine Gassam, the statement sent to U.S. citizens stemmed from recent reports of alleged targets by suicide bombers in Lebanon. She said the message was not to be considered a travel advisory but instead “a security message.”The Army’s pledge came two days after eight soldiers, including an officer, were killed and 22 others were wounded in fierce clashes with ISIS militants on the outskirts of the village of Ras Baalbek near Lebanon’s eastern frontier with Syria. “We are fully confident of our capability to eradicate the phenomenon of terrorism from our national map no matter how long the road is and regardless of blood and sacrifices,” officers said in speeches during memorial ceremonies held for three of the slain eight soldiers in their hometowns.
“We are the people of this land, as in the past, present and in the future. Our prime duty is to defend it and safeguard its unity, sovereignty and independence,” the officers said, representing Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi at the mourning ceremonies held for slain soldiers Ahmad Dana, 27, in the town of Saadnayel in the Bekaa; Hasan Wehbe, 24, in the town of Niha in Baalbek; and Army recruit Mujtaba Amhaz, 22, in the town of Hadath, south of Beirut. Referring to militants who have attacked Army outposts, the officers said: “As for terrorists, they are gangs of strange mercenaries who have no cause, no religion, no identity and no affiliation. We are the sons of right and truth. They are the sons of wrong, illusion and the unknown. Anyone who is armed with right is inevitably destined for victory.”More than 40 militants were discovered on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek, most of whom were killed in Army airstrikes on their vehicle convoy. The fighting erupted after ISIS militants attacked and briefly overran an Army post in Talet al-Hamra on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek. Friday’s was the most serious attack since ISIS and Nusra Front militants fought a five-day fierce battle with the Army in the northeastern town of Arsal in August. The two militant groups still hold 25 soldiers and policemen hostage on Arsal’s outskirts after capturing more than 37 during the Arsal fighting. Four have been killed, while some others have been released.
Security sources said the Army would reinforce its strategic outpost in Talet al-Hamra with the military’s airborne regiment in order to forestall any attacks by the militants. The outpost, overlooking an area 2 kilometers deep into the Ras Baalbek outskirts, will become a strategic point to monitor the movements of militants entrenched on the rugged outskirts bordering Syria, the sources said. There was a strong Army presence in the Ras Baalbek area Sunday. Soldiers, backed by the military’s airborne regiment, fanned out over the hills surrounding the outpost. As part of its crackdown on terror cells, the Army said Sunday it had arrested 17 Syrians over suspected terror activities and illegal entry into Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri praised the Army’s heroism in its battle against “terrorist extremist groups.” “I call on all the Lebanese to unite and rally behind the Lebanese Army and security forces so that they can fulfill their duties and face the attacks that Lebanon is subjected to,” Hariri said in a statement Saturday. Five soldiers, including an officer, killed in the Ras Baalbek fighting were laid to rest Saturday in their hometowns in the Bekaa, the north and the south after they were mourned by their families and Army colleagues. First Lt. Ahmad Mahmoud Tabikh, 28, in a Lebanese-draped coffin, was buried in his hometown of Douris in Baalbek. In addition to Tabikh, the Army announced the deaths of Sgt. Mohammad Niazi Nasreddine, 32; soldier Bilal Khodor Ahmad, 29; soldier Mohammad Ali Alaaeddine, 20; and soldier Hasan Ramadan Deeb, 23. Speaking at memorial ceremonies for the five soldiers, an Army officer praised the victims who died in the battle against terrorism. “The martyrdom of our hero comrades is a shining landmark in our open battle against terrorism,” he said. “This battle will have to be decided eventually in favor of the Army and Lebanon.”U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag expressed “grave concern” over Friday’s attack on the Army. “The special coordinator lauded the efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces to protect Lebanon’s borders and said the U.N. would continue to fully support Lebanon to maintain stability and security in the country,” said a statement released Sunday by Kaag’s office
Embassy Renews Lebanon Travel Warning, Citing Safety Concerns
Naharnet /The U.S. Department of State issued a new travel warning advisory to Lebanon over ongoing safety and security concerns, citing reports saying that future suicide bombing targets allegedly include Casino du Liban in Jounieh and Le Royal hotel in Dbayeh. According to a statement issued by the embassy: “The development serves as an important reminder of the ongoing security concerns in Lebanon - even in areas which are normally considered less dangerous.”The statement lauded the “important successes” accomplished by the Lebanese security forces to prevent suicide attacks. However, the embassy urged U.S. citizens in Lebanon to “exercise heightened security awareness... and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety and security.”
U.S. citizens were urged not to travel to Lebanon due to “safety and security concerns.”The embassy urged U.S. nationals in Lebanon to monitor developments through the media. “U.S. citizens living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks,” the statement said, stressing that the ability of U.S. government personnel to reach travelers to provide emergency services may be limited. It called on U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Lebanon to enroll in the Department of Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact nationals in an emergency. Media reports said on Friday that investigations with detained suspects revealed that militants were plotting to target Casino du Liban, Le Royal hotel and other major facilities. 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." 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.
Army Targets Militants on Outskirts of Arsal
Naharnet /The army targeted on Sunday militants entrenched in Madinat al-Malahi area on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal. According to the state-run National News Agency, the army targeted with heavy artillery suspicious movements by armed men in Madinat al-Malahi area in Arsal's Wadi Hmeid village. Security sources told LBCI that the military targeted a bulldozer for gunmen in the area. The mountainous area has long been a smuggling haven, with multiple routes into Syria that have been used since the conflict began in March 2011 to transport weapons and fighters. Eight Lebanese troops were killed and several others were wounded in bloody clashes that erupted between the army and gunmen in the Tallat al-Hamra clashes on Friday “when terrorists attacked a military surveillance post in Ras Baalbek.”Syria's civil war has regularly spilled into Lebanon, with jihadists briefly overrunning the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal in August after running gun battles with the army. The jihadists withdrew after a ceasefire, but took with them several dozen hostages from the Lebanese army and police, four of whom have since been executed.
Qassem Says Israeli Raid in Quneitra 'Direct' Assault against Hizbullah
Naharnet/Hizbullah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem stressed on Sunday that the Israeli airstrike in Syria's Quneitra is a direct assault against the party. “There are huge similarities between the Israelis and the takfiri groups,” Qassem said during a popular rally to mourn the party fighters who were killed the raid last week. The Hizbullah official revealed that information obtained by the party indicates “that the assault on the convoy is direct and targets Hizbullah.” “It's an Israeli attempt to establish a new formula in the conflict with the (Jewish state), which is responsible for the crisis in Syria,” he remarked. Qassem noted that Hizbullah “contributed in thwarting a project set for establishing a new Middle East.” The high-ranking official said that “the Israeli aggression led to a series of results, at the forefront the popular support for Hizbullah.”Qassem reiterated that Hizbullah General Secretary Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah will announce the party's official stance from the raid that killed a high-ranking Iranian military official, a prominent Hizbullah member and five others. 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.
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.
False Reports of Assault on Brital amid Clashes in al-Zabadani
Naharnet/Reports circulated Sunday in the Bekaa about a militant assault on Hizbullah's posts in Brital's outskirts turned out to be untrue, following two days of deadly clashes between the Lebanese army and extremist groups in the nearby area of Ras Baalbek. “The takfiris have waged an armed attack on Hizbullah's posts in Ain Saa in the mountainous outskirts of Brital and Baalbek,” state-run National News Agency reported, adding that the area was witnessing “fierce clashes with rocket-propelled grenades and artillery shells.” However, Hizbullah's media department issued a statement denying that the group's posts in Brital had come under attack. “The situation in the area is normal,” the statement said. Several TV networks also denied the reports, noting that “the sounds of shelling that are being heard in central Bekaa are coming from the outskirts of Syria's al-Zabadani.”The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had reported “barrel bomb raids by (Syrian) helicopters against areas in the city of al-Zabadani, amid shelling by the regime forces on several districts of the city.”Eight Lebanese army troops were killed Friday and Saturday in fierce clashes with jihadist militants in the outskirts of the Bekaa border town of Ras Baalbek. Dozens of gunmen were killed and wounded in the fighting. The army has since reinforced its positions and measures in the area. The Ain Saa post mentioned by NNA had been briefly seized by extremist militants on October 5, following fierce clashes with Hizbullah, which eventually managed to repel the unprecedented militant assault. The Syria-based militant groups are comprised of elements from the extremist al-Nusra Front and Islamic State groups and the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Army Detains 12 Syrians in Bekaa for Forming Terrorist Group
Naharnet/The army detained on Sunday 17 Syrians in raids carried out in the town of al-Marj in the west Bekaa for the suspected formation of a terror group and for illegally entering the country. The military command said in communique that the “12 Syrian national are suspected of establishing a terror group.” The statement said that another five Syrians were detained in the Bekaa town of al-Marj for “illegally entering Lebanon.” The army seized cell phones and laptops in the possession of the suspects in addition to an illegal motorbike and another two other violating cars. They were handed over to the competed authority along with the seized items. Eight Lebanese troops were killed and several others were wounded in bloody clashes that erupted between the army and gunmen in the Tallat al-Hamra clashes on Friday “when terrorists attacked a military surveillance post in Ras Baalbek.”
Taxi Driver Vanishes after Leaving House on Friday
Naharnet/A taxi driver, who works between the northern city of Tripoli and al-Abdeh town in the northern district of Akkar along the border with Syria, went missing after he left his house on Friday. According to the state-run National News Agency, B.Kh Taleb, who hails from the town of Ain Zahab, left his hous on Friday and never returned. The wife of Taleb filed a missing report at al-Abdeh police station. Taleb drives a white Mercedes. His cell phone has been switched off since Friday, NNA added.
Daryan Rejects Use of Any Arms Domestically 'Other than Those of Lebanese Army'
Naharnet /Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan called on Lebanon's Sunni Muslims on Sunday to stand by the Lebanese army, rejecting the use of any arms domestically other than those of the military institution. “We are the people of centrism and moderation and we must confront the attacks through standing by the army and the security institutions,” said Daryan during the first visit to the Bekaa province since he assumed his post. The visit comes in the wake of deadly clashes between the army and extremist Islamist groups in the outskirts of the Bekaa border town of Ras Baalbek. Eight troops were killed and more than 20 wounded in the fighting. “We don't want any arms other than those of the army and the legitimate security institutions, and any weapons used domestically – other than the army's – are weapons of sedition,” the mufti added. “We as a Sunni community have no private project outside the frame of the Lebanese state. We are rather part of this state and we contributed to its rise and building,” Daryan stressed. Commenting on the ongoing dialogue between Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal movement, the mufti added: “This is what we want – agreements and dialogue – because we are the people of dialogue and understanding. That's why we have extended both our hands to everybody for the sake of rapprochement and reconciliation.”Hizbullah and Mustaqbal have so far held three dialogue sessions in Ain al-Tineh with the proclaimed aim of “defusing sectarian tensions,” amid an ongoing presidential vacuum in the country that had started on May 25, 2014. In this regard, Daryan called on Lebanese politicians to “show a high level of responsibility and courage” in order to “launch a new phase through the election of a new president.” “It is shameful to keep Lebanon without a president,” the mufti added, urging MPs to elect a “made in Lebanon president.”
Parties Defeat Hanna Gharib in Teachers Elections
Naharnet/The parties of the rival March 8 and March 14 camps closed ranks on Sunday to defeat independents led by Hanna Gharib in the elections of the league of public secondary school teachers. However, the incumbent chief Gharib and another member managed to grab two seats. “The list backed by March 8, March 14, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party won 16 seats as the list headed by Hanna Gharib won two seats,” LBCI television reported. Gharib's victorious ally was identified as Faisal Zayyoud. Efforts had been exerted to avoid an electoral battle through forming a so-called consensual list, but disputes prompted Gharib to withdraw from the negotiations. The incumbent chief had warned that a victory by political parties would “paralyze” the league and prevent it from achieving its social demands. Gharib is also the head of the Syndicate Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees that has in recent years spearheaded protests aimed at approving a new wage scale. After postponing several sessions on the controversial issue, the parliament on October 1 returned a draft scale to the joint parliamentary committees for further discussions. However, the new wage scale has not been approved until the moment due to political differences while the SCC has suspended its protests in light of several security incidents that have rocked the country in recent months.
LF, FPM Stress Importance of 'Secrecy' to Reach Breakthrough
Naharnet/The Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement stressed on Sunday that the away from media spotlight negotiations are serious in an attempt to reach a break through between the two Christian rivals. Change and Reform bloc lawmaker Ibrahim Kanaan, who is loyal to FPM chief MP Michel Aoun, pointed out in comments published in the Kuwaiti Annahar newspaper that the two parties are “keen to preserve pluralism among Christians, however, we are trying to end a long page of disputes and start a new one based on mutual respect.”The MP stressed that the LF and FPM are reevaluating their stances to reach common grounds, expressing fear that “the people are given high hopes, in particular Christians who are staunch supporters of any agreement” between the two parties. Kanaan revealed to Annahar that talks reach an advanced level, stressing that the FPM and LF “have strong wills to continue dialogue.”“We aim at launching a road map to organize the Christian presence at state institutions.”The rivalry between Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea has left the Baabda Palace vacant. Lebanon has been without a head of state since President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May. For his part, LF official Melhem Riachi told the newspaper that the two parties agreed on a “work methodology,” which is formed of several stages. Riachi refused to announce the “phases of negotiations,” stressing the importance of “secrecy.”The official considered that the dialogue could lead to fruitful results, saying: “Any talks between Christians will have a positive impact on the nation.”Asked if the LF is coordinating with its allies, in particular al-Mustaqbal movement, its stances, Riachi said: “We are completely coordinating and the alliance between (al-Mustaqbal leader Saad Hariri and Geagea) are unbreakable.”So far, several meetings have been held between Kanaan Riachi to prepare for a wide meeting between Aoun and Geagea.
8 soldiers dead, 22 wounded as Lebanon border battle ends
The Daily Star/Jan. 24, 2015 /BEIRUT: The Army discovered three more bodies Saturday of soldiers killed during intense fighting with jihadi militants the day before, bringing its death toll to eight, a security source said. Another 22 soldiers were wounded in the day-long clashes with ISIS militants. More than 40 militants were also discovered in the rugged outskirts of Ras Baalbek, most of whom were killed in Army airstrikes on a vehicle convoy. The Army fought for more than 16 hours Friday, using heavy artillery and helicopter gunships to ward off a surprise attack by militants who briefly overran the Tallet al-Hamra military post in an early-morning ambush. The military announced later in the day that it had taken control of the area as it pounded militant gatherings and roads they were using to retreat further into the outskirts. In a late-Friday statement, the Army announced the deaths of five soldiers. Three more were discovered overnight after the clashes ended. The Army confirmed the death of the soldiers discovered Saturday in an afternoon statement. The Army was continuing to comb the area Saturday. Friday's clashes were the Army's deadliest since a four-day battle with militants in Tripoli and other parts of the north in October, which killed 11 soldiers, eight civilians and 23 gunmen. The Army also clashed with militants near the site of Friday's attack early last month after militants ambushed a military convoy, killing six soldiers and wounding one.
Lebanon buries soldiers killed in jihadi border battle
Nidal al-Solh/Mohammed Zaatari/The Daily Star/Jan. 24, 2015
BAALBEK/MAJDEL SELEM/BEIRUT, Lebanon: Hundreds of relatives, friends and sympathizers of five of the eight Lebanese soldiers killed in Friday's battle with ISIS militants on the border with Syria mourned their deaths in funerals across the country Saturday.
The body of 1st Lt. Ahmad Mahmoud Tabikh, 28, was carried out of Dar al-Amal University Hospital in the eastern Bekaa Valley town of Baalbek, where fellow soldiers waited to begin the ceremony to honor their fallen comrade. Some soldiers played snare drums as others carried the Lebanese-draped coffin to a vehicle that departed to the soldier's nearby hometown of Douris. The soldier’s mother, dressed in black from head to toe, wept over a man carrying a large portrait of her son, who was killed in a jihadi attack on an Army outpost on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek Friday. The attack sparked 16 hours of fighting between the military and ISIS. Seven other soldiers and more than 40 militants were killed in the battle. In addition to Tabikh, the Army announced the deaths of Sgt. Mohammad Niazi Nasreddine, 32, soldier Bilal Khodor Ahmad, 29, soldier Mohammad Ali Alaaeddine, 20, and soldier Hasan Ramadan Deeb, 23, in a statement Friday night. Nasreddine’s body was carried in an Army parade from the Batoul Hospital in Hermel before being moved to his hometown of al-Mansoura, also in east Lebanon. Alaaeddine and Deeb were honored in a ceremony outside the Military Hospital in Badaro, Beirut. Each of the soldiers’ bodies was then moved to their hometowns of the southern village of Majdel Selem and northern town of Takrit, respectively, for burying ceremonies. A similar but separate ceremony was also held for Ahmad in Badaro before his body was moved to his hometown village of Shan in the northern Akkar district. Unable to understand that her brother was gone, the 5-month-old Fatima, Alaaeddine’s sister, held a picture of her brother with an innocent smile as she was carried by her sister among the crowd of mourners in the southern village. “My nephew fell a martyr to defend Lebanon with all its sects, and to defend the Lebanese Army,” Alaaeddine’s aunt said while kissing the Lebanese flag that wrapped his coffin. “I sacrifice my son to this country, and I feel proud that the martyrs of yesterday were from all of Lebanon’s sects,” the soldier’s father said. “O, takfiris and terrorists, as long as we have women to bare and give birth to children, we will always fight you,” he said. Alaaeddine’s mother stood shocked and devastated next to the coffin, as friends of the 20-year-old fired their guns in the air. In the northern village of Takrit, the puffy-eyed sister of Deeb remained defiant vowed to exact revenge. “We hope the terrorists get crushed under the feet of the Lebanese Army,” she told television reporters while waiting for her brother’s body to arrive from Beirut to the Akkar village. The Army also revealed the names of the three soldiers whose bodies were found Saturday morning in the battlefield. They were identified as Ahmad Dana, 27, Hasan Wehbe, 24, and Mujtaba Amhaz, 22.
VIDEO: Hezbollah operating near Syrian Golan
Roi Kais/Ynetnews/Published:01.24.15Israel News
Lebanese media outlets release rare video showing Hezbollah, Syrian army cooperate to ambush Jabhat al-Nusra fighters. Less than a week after a strike attributed to Israel killed senior Hezbollah officers, a Lebanese television channel published on Saturday an unusual video allegedly showing cooperation between the Syrian military and the Lebanese terror group. The combined forces are seen setting an ambush for Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. According to media reports, some 30 rebel fighters were killed and dozens wounded in the incident. According to the Al Jadeed report, the ambush was set on Friday afternoon. The video was also released on Al-Manar, Hezbollah's official channel. The Lebanese channels claimed the ambush occurred on the road between Damascus and Sweida in southwestern Syria. Al-Manar initially quoted Al Jadeed, but eventually featured the same pictures and claimed the ambush was initiated by the Syrian military – not mentioning Hezbollah's involvement or the word "Golan" as mentioned by the unaffiliated Lebanese channel. The footage was exceptional as Hezbollah has made significant efforts that its activities in southern Syria were not reported and documented by Lebanese media outlets, likely as it has attempted to play down its involvement in the hotspots on the southern front, near Israel. In line with that policy, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said – a mere three days before the strike in Quneitra –his activists do not operate directly in the Golan Heights. Now, however, after the assassination of the Hezbollah officers near the border, the policy of denial will likely change.
Last Sunday an aerial vehicle fired two missiles which hit vehicles driving near the Israeli border on the Syrian Golan. Six Hezbollah members were killed in the strike, including Jihad Mughniyeh, as well as an Iranian general. Arab media outlets attributed the strike to the Israeli Air Force, but no official response has been issued by Jerusalem.
'Hezbollah promised not to avenge Israeli attack from Lebanese soil
By JPOST.COM STAFF/01/24/2015
Hezbollah has promised senior government officials in Beirut that it will refrain from retaliating against Israel, which it blames for last week’s attack on a convoy on the Golan Heights, from Lebanese soil. According to a report in Saturday editions of the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anbaa’, Lebanese government sources said that the Shi’ite group was keenly aware of domestic public opinion and the rising apprehension over the prospect of Israeli reprisals similar to the devastation that was wrought during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. “Hezbollah doesn’t just have courage [in standing up to Israel] but it also has a high degree of wisdom,” a Lebanese government minister and Hezbollah member, Muhammad Fneish, is quoted as saying by Al-Anbaa’. “Whenever the response will come, Lebanon’s interest will be taken into account before anything,” the minister said. The contents of the Al-Anbaa’ article were translated by Channel 2’s Hebrew-language news website, Mako. The tensions in the North that have been heightened following this week’s alleged Israeli airstrike that killed senior Hezbollah officials in the Golan Heights are also being felt in Lebanon, where apprehension is growing over the specter of another cross-border war. A Lebanese parliamentarian with the secular-Sunni Future Movement told the Elnashra news agency earlier this week that his country’s interests have been subjugated to the whims of Iran. “Fears of war between Hezbollah and Israel exist after [Hezbollah] showed no concern [to safeguard] the Lebanese interests as it implements an Iranian agenda,” MP Ahmad Fatfat said. The lawmaker cited remarks made by Iranian leaders vowing revenge against Israel for killing a general with the Revolutionary Guards who was riding in the convoy with Hezbollah officials. In a show of strength, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon visited the headquarters of the IDF's Northern Command on Friday. Ya'alon vowed that Israel will not tolerate attempts to harm it, and would respond "with force against any such attempt."Ya'alon visited the Northern Command's headquarters in Safed and heard a security evaluation. He was joined by the Northern Command chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi (who was until recently commander of Military Intelligence), the head of the Operations Branch Maj.-Gen. Yoav Har Even, and other senior officers from the command. The defense minister heard about the latest IDF preparations in the north designed to ensure maximum readiness, after an air strike on Sunday killed 12 senior Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) operatives near Quneitra, Syria. Israeli warplanes flew a number of sorties in the skies over southern Lebanon on Saturday, according to weekend media reports north of the border. Lebanese press reported that Israeli air force jets were also visible in the Beka’a valley.
*Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.
Nasrallah, a secretary-general in
Ronen Bergman/ Ynetnews/Published:01.26.15/ Israel Opinion
Analysis: Golan strike caught Hezbollah's leader at a really bad time. If it were up to him, he would rather not face the dilemma of whether to retaliate against Israel or keep quiet.
The Israeli public's state of mind on security issues changes at once: From a sort of joy and satisfaction, maybe pride, over the strike against Hezbollah's command group in the Golan, to deep anxiety about a war that is about to take place with Hezbollah, and perhaps even a wider conflict, with Iran too, after a Revolutionary Guards general was killed in the assassination.
But on the other side, if we look at things from the eyes of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, the situation isn't great, and the strike caught him at a really bad time. If it were up to him, he would rather not face the dilemma of whether to retaliate against Israel or to keep quiet. This is the most difficult period for the talented secretary-general since being appointed to lead Hezbollah after his predecessor, Abbas Musawi, was killed in an Israeli assassination.
First of all, because of Israel. Since February 2008, when Imad Mughniyeh was killed, Hezbollah has suffered a series of repeated blows which have all been attributed to Israel: The assassination of several other activists, led by Hassan Lakkis, the head of the organization's weapons development wing; mysterious explosions in Hezbollah's arms and ammunition depots, including those located south of the Litani River, which proved that the organization was violating the United Nations' resolutions; the bombings of arms convoys from Syria to Lebanon; and now, the killing of Jihad Mughniyeh, who Nasrallah wanted to turn into a symbol in order to prove that the Mughniyeh legend is alive and kicking the Zionist enemy.
Second, because of Israel. Nearly all of the dozens of operations planned by Hezbollah to avenge the actions detailed in the previous paragraph were thwarted by the Mossad. They succeeded in carrying out a terror attack in Burgas and wounding the wife of an Israeli diplomat in India, but these actions are nothing compared to what Hezbollah had tried to do, and are not seen by the organization as something which even comes close to revenge.
Moreover, in the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992 following Musawi's assassination, the goal of the revenge was to reformulate the rules of the game against Israel. But this time, Israel is persisting and not stopping.
Third, because of Israel. Hezbollah recently uncovered, according to its spokespeople, an Israeli spy in the organization's top ranks, who helped thwart the aforementioned operations and kill Mughniyeh Sr. Then came the assassination of Mughniyeh Jr. and proved that the organization can still be infiltrated.
The existence of an Israeli spy, if the story is indeed true, disproves something which Hezbollah was certain of – that its people are so loyal and filled with religious and national and Shiite faith, that they would never agree to work for "the Zionist enemy." This exposure contains serious damage to the organization's morale. Fourth, because of Syria. In the past three years, Hezbollah has sent hundreds, maybe even thousands of fighters to help Syrian President Bashar Assad with the civil war. In fact, if there is one main reason Assad has yet to be defeated, it's because of Hezbollah and Iran's support.
But this support carries a heavy price tag: The battle in Syria has yet to be decided, far from that, and in the meantime Hezbollah has failed to prove that it can win it despite its great effort. Hezbollah has suffered many casualties in the battles in Syria, and by joining a regular army it has exposed its forces, which are used to secret activities, to the infiltration of hostile intelligence forces. We must not rule out the possibility that whoever hit Jihad Mughniyeh took advantage of this exposure.
Fifth, because of Lebanon. Hezbollah's participation in the war in Syria has been met with very strong criticism in Lebanon. Why – the Sunnis, the Druze and the Christians are asking – does Hezbollah claim to be a militia whose goal is to fight Israel, but is in fact helping massacre Syria's citizens?
The support for Assad has also led to attacks by the Sunni Syrian organizations, some of which are affiliated with global jihad, against Hezbollah and Iran's representatives. Nasrallah, therefore, has opened another front against him.
Sixth, because of The Hague. Nasrallah also has a serious problem with the International Criminal Court. A special tribunal has been dealing since early 2014 with an unusual procedure in which five activists, one of whom belongs to the Mughniyeh family, are on trial for the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. If they are convicted, Nasrallah's claims that he is a politician who cares for all Lebanese citizens will look like a rude lie.
Seventh, because of the money. Hezbollah is first and foremost a social, religious and political organization for the Shiites in Lebanon. In order to sustain this mechanism, it needs money. Hezbollah has been hit by a series of corruption affairs in recent years, only some of which have been exposed to the public. That is one of the reasons why Iran has reduced its funding to the organization, which is suffering from serious budget problems today.
All this is only the essence of Nasrallah's troubles, which will likely stop him from rushing into a general state of war against Israel or taking the risk of a limited response which could lead to such a war.
14 Killed as Clashes Mar Egypt Revolt
Naharnet /Clashes between protesters and security forces left at least 14 people dead on Sunday, the anniversary of Egypt's 2011 revolt that toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak. Authorities had tightened security in Cairo and other cities after Islamists called for protests against the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Demonstrators, mostly Islamist backers of Morsi, clashed with police, leaving 12 protesters dead in Cairo and another in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, a health ministry official told Agence France-Presse. Officials said the protester in Alexandria was shot dead by police after he opened fire on them. Hundreds of other protesters who denounced both Islamists and the government also clashed with police in central Cairo. The interior ministry said protesters shot dead a police conscript in the clashes in two north Cairo neighborhoods that are strongholds of Islamist protests. Three other officers were wounded. At least 150 people were arrested across the country as police dispersed protests which saw many leftwing demonstrators also participating, security officials said. In downtown Cairo, police fired shotguns and tear gas against hundreds of protesters who tried to march on the central Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the early 2011 revolt that ousted Mubarak. Armored vehicles were stationed around Tahrir, but despite extra security in the capital jihadists managed to set off a bomb in Cairo that wounded two policemen. The interior ministry said the bomb exploded in eastern Cairo's Alf Maskan neighborhood, where a similar blast on Friday wounded four policemen and a civilian.
Jihadist group Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) claimed both blasts.
Two suspected militants were also killed when they mistakenly blew themselves up in an attempt to sabotage an electricity tower in the Nile Delta province of Baheira, the interior ministry said. Tensions had surged ahead of the anniversary, and a female demonstrator was killed in clashes with police during a rare leftwing protest in Cairo on Saturday. Shaima al-Sabbagh, who friends said was 34 and the mother of a five-year-old boy, died of birdshot wounds, a health ministry spokesman said. Fellow protesters said she was hit by birdshot when police fired to disperse the march. Prosecutors have launched a probe into her death. An 18-year-old female protester was also killed on Friday in clashes in Alexandria. Egypt has been gripped by political turmoil since Mubarak's ouster, and by violent unrest since his successor Morsi was overthrown by then army chief Sisi. Sisi toppled Morsi in July 2013 and has since led a crackdown on his supporters that has left hundreds dead. Jihadist militants have in turn regularly targeted security forces, killing scores of policemen and soldiers.
- 'Funeral of the revolution' -
Ahead of the anniversary, police had warned they would "decisively" confront protests. Morsi's supporters often hold small rallies that police quickly disperse. Cairo's streets were largely deserted, although a few Sisi supporters gathered outside Tahrir waving Egyptian flags and chanting "Long Live Egypt!" Plainclothes police checked identity cards and stopped people from heading to the square. Security was beefed up elsewhere in the capital, with machinegun-wielding police deployed on key streets. "This is the funeral of the (2011) revolution," Mamdouh Hamza, a prominent figure from the anti-Mubarak uprising, told an AFP correspondent in central Cairo. "The murderer kills, and then joins the funeral procession. Nothing has improved or changed since Sisi took over."
Activists, including those who spearheaded the anti-Mubarak revolt, have accused Sisi of reviving much of Mubarak's autocratic rule. Sisi and his supporters deny such allegations, pointing to his widespread popularity and support in Egypt for a firm hand in dealing with protests, which are seen as threatening economic recovery. The revolt against Mubarak erupted on January 25, 2011, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets across Egypt for 18 days until he stepped down. The anti-Mubarak revolt was fueled by police abuses and the corruption of the strongman's three-decade rule, but the police have since regained popularity amid widespread yearning for stability. Agence France Presse
7 Dead, Dozens Hurt as Rebel Rockets Rain Down on Syrian Capital
Naharnet /Five civilians and two soldiers were killed and dozens of people wounded when rebels fired a barrage of rockets and mortar rounds Sunday at central Damascus, a monitoring group said. The rebel attack came two days after they threatened to retaliate for deadly air raids by the Syrian regime against an opposition-held area on the edge of the capital."Five civilians and two soldiers have been killed and dozens more wounded, as rebels in the Eastern Ghouta area fired more than 43 locally made rockets and mortar rounds at several areas of central Damascus," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Among the areas hit were the al-Maliki and Mazzeh neighborhoods, as well as Arnus and Sabaa Bahrat squares, said the Britain-based group. Agence France-Presse journalists near Sabaa Bahrat square heard the blasts, while ambulances and fire trucks were seen rushing to the area. State news agency SANA said the army fired back at the source of the incoming fire in Eastern Ghouta, without providing any details of casualties or naming the areas hit. The attack came two days after Zahran Alloush, the head of the rebel Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) group, warned on Twitter that his forces would launch a "rocket campaign against the capital" from Sunday. He wrote that rockets would "rain down every day... in retaliation for the regime's savage air raids" against residents in Eastern Ghouta. Government aircraft on Friday carried out a series of deadly raids against rebel-held Hammuriyeh in the besieged Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus. The Observatory said 56 people were killed, among them six children. Only five of the dead were fighters, said the group, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground. Alloush's Jaysh al-Islam is the most powerful rebel group in Eastern Ghouta. Tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the area suffer extreme shortages of food and medicine, activists say. Syria's conflict began as a peaceful revolt demanding democratic change, but evolved into a brutal civil war after President Bashar Assad's regime unleashed a massive crackdown against dissent.
More than 200,000 people have been killed since March 2011 and half the population has been forced to flee their homes. Agence France Presse
Kerry Arrives in Nigeria as Boko Haram Wages New Attacks
Naharnet /Boko Haram fighters on Sunday overran a strategic town in northeastern Nigeria and seized a military base, as Secretary of State John Kerry pledged further U.S. support for the counter-insurgency.The Islamists captured the town of Monguno in Borno State, which lies about 125 kilometers (80 miles) north of the state capital Maiduguri, which was targeted in a simultaneous dawn raid. "Monguno has fallen, Monguno has fallen," said a senior military officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. "We fought them all night long but they took over the town, including the military barracks there."Another source, who also requested anonymity, said Nigerian troops were overwhelmed and forced to retreat from Monguno, which has been targeted twice before in September last year and March 2013.There was no immediate response from the military high command in Abuja when contacted by Agence France-Presse but militant fighters were forced out of Maiduguri and Konduga, 40 kilometers away, local residents said.
But Monguno's fall is potentially significant. Not only does it remove the last military base to Maiduguri from the northeast but also gives Boko Haram a free run into the key city."On the other hand, it may be more of Boko Haram overrunning the base with the intention of seizing as much weaponry as possible, amid concerns of a possible regional counter-insurgency operation," said Ryan Cummings of risk consultants Red 24.
- Elections and violence -
Kerry's whistlestop visit to Lagos came after fears about election-related violence, with concern about a repeat of post-poll unrest in 2011, which left some 1,000 people dead. Security has dominated the build-up to the February 14 presidential and parliamentary vote, as Boko Haram has intensified its attacks. Nigeria is currently scrambling for a solution to the problem of how to allow hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the violence to vote, which has led to calls for a delay. There have also been sporadic attacks by supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) main opposition. That came despite Jonathan and the APC candidate, former military general, Muhammadu Buhari, signing a non-violence pact in the presence of former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan. Kerry suggested there was a link between the peaceful conclusion of free, fair and timely elections and further U.S. support for Nigeria against Boko Haram. "It is absolute critical that this election can be conducted peacefully. The international community is paying very close attention to this election," he said. It was "imperative that elections happen on time," he added. On Boko Haram, Kerry said Washington was "prepared to do more" to help Nigeria, which has west Africa's largest military but has been criticized for failing to protect lives and property. More than 13,000 people have been killed and more than one million made homeless by the violence since 2009. The United States has been sharing intelligence with the Nigerians and was involved in the multi-national effort to find 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April last year. "Bottom line, we want to do more and that was part of the message to both President Jonathan and General Buhari today," Kerry added."We are prepared to do more but our ability to do more will depend to some degree on the full measure of credibility and accountability and transparency and peacefulness of these elections."
- Wider threat -
The renewed violence underscored the extent of the difficulties facing Nigeria as the election approaches and also the increasing threat it poses for the country's neighbors. Last week, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon met to discuss the creation of a new multi-national force while troops from Chad deployed to Cameroon to help repel attacks there. The group's leader Abubakar Shekau last week dismissed the initiative, saying: "Kings of Africa, you are late. I challenge you to attack me even now. I'm ready." Boko Haram, which the United States has proscribed as an international terrorist organization, has until recently been seen as a largely localized group. The militants want to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria and have been capturing towns and villages for the last six months, declaring some part of a caliphate. But Kerry warned that action needed to be taken, with so-called Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq trying to extend their reach into parts of north Africa. "It is obviously a concern that they try more aggressively to try to spread to countries of... other parts of Africa," he said. Agence France Presse
Reassuring the People of Saudi Arabia
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat
Saturday, 24 Jan, 2015
The decrees issued by the Saudi Royal Court on Friday are among the most significant decisions to be witnessed by the people of Saudi Arabia since the start of the century. The announcements came at a turbulent time for the region and in an era when it is important for the Saudi royal family to clearly define its future course and line of succession before the people. Previously, two crown princes died before ever reaching the throne, after which a new system was created in 2014 to appoint a second-in-line to the throne, the Deputy Crown Prince.
Late King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz was great and popular. He is now succeeded by Salman Bin Abdulaziz, who was the former King’s shadow and partner. King Salman has a long history of high-level governance and has been one of the main pillars of the state for almost half a century. Between announcing King Abdullah’s passing and declaring the new King, Saudi Arabia did not witness a minute of power vacuum—the people were not made to wait for answers to important questions. The announcement of King Salman’s ascension to the throne came immediately after the announcement of King Abdullah’s death. The Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince were promptly appointed on Friday morning. In doing so, the Kingdom was secured with a clear rule established for years to come. King Salman resolved all the outstanding questions about the future of the royal family and the Kingdom, safely transitioning Saudi Arabia to a new era. It is not true what some think that being a monarch is a job that comes through inheritance. In fact, it is about competence, personality and capabilities. This was the secret of King Abdullah’s popularity, may he rest in peace, and this is the reason why Salman was chosen to be the seventh king of Saudi Arabia and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. We have known him for decades; Salman, of all the princes, had the most engagement with people, scholars, tribes, regional figures and civil society. He constantly visited those who were ill and shared in people’s joys and sorrows. He has undertaken these commitments for decades. The King has continually maintained close relations with Saudi society, while performing his daily responsibilities in managing state affairs.
People knew King Abdullah as a great, honest and firm person. The late monarch took difficult decisions; lobbying for the departure of US troops from Saudi Arabia at a time when people thought that their presence was necessary for the stability of the country. Then he looked east and opened political and trade relations with, China, India, and Russia. Domestically, he launched popular campaigns against Al-Qaeda and defeated it after persuading his citizens that fighting the terror group was the responsibility of both the people and the state. He led this campaign peacefully, while the rest of the region was falling into turmoil.
King Salman Bin Abdulaziz received pledges of allegiance from citizens yesterday, but he is already well-known on Arab and international stages. You can find him in images dating back to the sixties with late King Faisal. He was a former envoy and mediator, and was always at the side of King Khalid. He was King Fahd’s right-hand man, may God bless them all. King Salman is the most experienced Saudi King on both the domestic and international fronts.
And what matters to the average citizen is perhaps not international relations, but rather their present living conditions and the future of their children. With the new King’s call to pledge allegiance to Prince Muqrin as Crown Prince and the appointment of Prince Mohammed Bin Naif as Deputy Crown Prince, King Salman has sent a message that comforts Saudis and the younger generation. Nearly a century has passed since the Kingdom’s unification and Saudi Arabia today is standing strong, at a time when many neighboring kingdoms and countries are collapsing. Stability has become an important word in the life of the people in the region; people want to see a robust, stable and continuous rule that is capable of development and progress. In our troubled region, the whole world needs to see stable countries with continues ruling systems that can assume their social responsibilities. Unfortunately, we no longer have many of these examples of governance in our region. May God bless the soul of the great father of the Saudi people, King Abdullah, and may God support King Salman in the great responsibility of leading Saudi Arabia.
Israeli strike in Syria: A move in an unfinished game
By JONATHAN SPYER/Jerusalem Post/01/25/2015
The strike against Hezbollah on the Syrian Golan was a warning to the Iranian proxy not to prepare another front against Israel. In analyzing the significance and likely fallout from what foreign reports called the Israeli killing of a number of senior Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel close to the Golan border this week in the Quneitra region, a number of points should be considered. Firstly, the killings were a response to a clear attempt by the Iranians/Hezbollah to violate the very fragile status quo that pertains between these elements and Israel in Lebanon and Syria. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, in his interview with the Al-Mayadeen network three days before the attack, explicitly claimed that his organization was not engaged in “resistance work” on the Golan.
The alleged Israeli strike showed that this statement was a lie. Some analysis of the strike has suggested that the mission of the men killed in the attack involved preparation for placing sophisticated Iranian missile systems on the Syrian part of the Golan. Other accounts suggested that the mission was part of readying this area for the launch of ground attacks across the border against Israeli targets, perhaps using proxies.
In either case, the mission was a clear attempt to change the arrangement of forces in the north, in such a way that could be expected to ensure an Israeli response. Secondly, in the past, Hezbollah has reacted differently to Israeli strikes on it within Syria, or its allies there, compared to strikes on Lebanese soil. The difference again relates to the unstated but clear “rules of the game” between the organization and the Jewish state. Israeli strikes on materials making their way to Hezbollah from Syrian soil have elicited no response from the movement. By contrast, an Israeli attack on a weapons convoy just across the border on Lebanese soil near the village of Janta on February 24, 2014, provoked a Hezbollah response. On March 18, an improvised explosive device was exploded just south of the security barrier in the Majdal Shams area on the Golan Heights, wounding four IDF soldiers. The rules of the game in question do not indicate a lessening of warlike intentions or a growing affection on the part of Hezbollah toward Israel. Rather, they reflect the acute need on the part of the organization and its Iranian masters to avoid being drawn into conflict with Israel unless it becomes unavoidable.
Hezbollah is overstretched at the moment. It has between 5,000 to 10,000 men engaged in Syria; it is engaged in a determined and fraying attempt to prevent Sunni jihadist incursions across the border into Lebanon from Syria, and bomb attacks by the Sunni groups further into Lebanon. Hezbollah is also an integral part of the Iranian outreach effort in Iraq, where members are training Shi’ite fighters.
Even as far afield as Yemen, where the Iran-backed Houthi militia is involved in a push for power, the movement’s fingerprints have been found. All this reflects Hezbollah’s role as Iran’s primary agent in the Arab world. Given all this activity, the last thing the IRGC and Hezbollah need is to be drawn into a premature conflagration with Israel. The urgency of averting a collision with the Jewish state is compounded by a shortage of Iranian cash, resulting from the collapse of oil prices. The Iran/Hezbollah/Assad side has long threatened to develop the Golan as a front for possible “jihad duties” against Israel. Both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Nasrallah, in the course of 2014, made unambiguous public statements threatening the opening of military activity against Israel in this area. Israel in turn has been very keen to make clear that such a move would constitute a violation of the status quo. The strike on Sunday constituted a very kinetic further Israeli message intended to drive home this point.
What this means is that despite the death of a senior IRGC commander in the Israeli strike, the action by Israel should not be seen as a general casting aside of the rules of engagement by Jerusalem on the northern border – but rather an insistence on maintaining these rules, and a warning of the consequences to the other side of continued violation of them. The thing which might be pointed to in differentiating this action from previous events is, of course, the death of IRGC Gen. Muhammad Ali Allahdadi. Allahdadi may not be the first senior IRGC figure to lose his life in Syria at Israeli hands in the last three years of war there. That distinction arguably belongs to Brig.-Gen. Hassan Shateri, assassinated on February 13, 2013, either by the Syrian rebels or persons working for Israel, depending on which version one chooses to believe. But certainly the high visibility of Allahdadi’s demise, taking place unambiguously at Israeli hands, represents something new. From this point of view, the quoting by Reuters of an Israeli “security source” to the effect that Jerusalem did not know who was in the car at the time it was destroyed, may be seen as an attempt to recast the action within the realms of the recognized rules of engagement – whether or not one chooses to accept the veracity of the statement by this unnamed source. (The writer of this article does not.) Responses by Lebanese political leaders and media to the event have been characterized by a sort of nervous, veiled request to Hezbollah not to bring down Israel’s wrath on Lebanon. Beirut’s Daily Star captured this tone in an editorial titled “Don’t take the bait.”
After a series of unflattering remarks about Israel, the paper’s editors noted, “While some naturally feel a desire for retaliation against Israel, Hezbollah must be vigilant against designs for it to be drawn into a larger confrontation.
Lebanon has enough concerns of its own without falling prey to a plot against it.” Of course, Iran and Hezbollah are strong enough to ignore such voices. But given the tense internal situation in Lebanon at present, it is likely that the lack of enthusiasm of non-Shi’ite Lebanese for Hezbollah’s war in Syria and in particular, their lack of willingness to pay any price accruing from it, will factor into the decision-making of the Shi’ite Islamist movement and its masters. Hezbollah needs a quiet and quiescent Lebanese political scene, so it may conduct its war against Sunni jihadists coming in from Syria under the guise of unified Lebanese action, rather than sectarian account-settling. Lastly, as has been noted in previous analyses, Tehran has armed and trained Hezbollah so that it may be used to deter an Israeli response against Iranian nuclear facilities, or be activated as part of a response to such a strike. It is unlikely to wish to place this investment prematurely at risk. Thus, the strike on Sunday was a restating by Israel of previously clarified ground rules relating to what will be permitted in Syria, and what will not. A response of some kind in the weeks, months or years ahead is likely. But the Israeli action was not a disregarding by Israel of previously existing rules of engagement in the north.
It is therefore unlikely to result in a similar upturning of the tables by Iran and Hezbollah at this time.
The Other Side of Autocracy: State Collapse in Yemen
Jonathan Spyer/PJ Media
January 22, 2015
Originally published under the title, "Yemen Joins List of Collapsed Mideast States."
This week in Yemen, an Iran-backed Shia militia captured the presidential palace. The president has since resigned. It was the latest stage in the slow advance of the Houthis, who entered the capital Sana'a in September of last year. The latest Houthi victories do not bring the Shia rebels undisputed control of the country. They do, however, ensure the undisputed presence of the Iranian clients in the central government. The situation in Yemen exemplifies in acute form most of the phenomena which are currently tearing much of the Middle East apart: the fragmentation and weakness of central governments; growing sectarian divisions; the presence and power of a strong, Iranian backed political-military force; the importance of local and tribal power structures; Saudi support for the Sunnis; and the existence of a powerful Sunni Jihadi organization, committed both to local struggle and to terrorism against the West.
The latest Houthi victories ensure the undisputed presence of Iranian clients in the central government of Yemen. The uprising of the Houthis was launched in 2004. The movement derived its popular support from the 30% or so of Yemenis who belong to the Zaidi Shia community, concentrated in the north of the country. While protesting undoubted discrimination against the Shia, the evidence of Iranian backing for the Houthi militia — officially known as "Ansarullah" (fighters of God) — was apparent from the outset. The stance of the Houthis is reflected in the group's unambiguous slogan: "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, a Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam." The physical proof of Iranian aid is also apparent. On January 23, 2013, the Yemeni coast guard apprehended an Iranian ship — the Jihan 1 — which was carrying weapons, explosives, and other military equipment from the Revolutionary Guards Corps intended for delivery to the Houthis. As of this week, the Houthis have an accepted role in the government of Yemen. After fighters of the militia surrounded the presidential palace, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi confirmed the terms of an agreement signed after the Houthis entered the capital last September. The disputed terms relate to a new constitution, to which the Houthis are demanding amendments. This is less important, however, than the now demonstrated fact that the Shia, Iran-backed militia is the real force in the capital, able to bend the president to its will after killing a number of his guards and threatening his palace. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains the most formidable local franchise of the global al-Qaeda network.
The Houthis are not, of course, the only militia force active in Yemen. Further south, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remains the most formidable local franchise of the global al-Qaeda network. It claimed responsibility for the recent terror attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. Strong in southern and central Yemen, al-Qaeda has launched a campaign of violence against the Houthis. It also strikes at government and military officials. Operating under the name of Ansar al-Sharia, AQAP now effectively controls a number of provinces in the south and east of the country.
The presence of the Houthis in the capital and the Sunni jihadis in the lawless territories to its south is compounded by the weakness and corruption of the central government, which barely exists outside of Sana'a, and now only exists within it by the grace of a pro-Iranian Shia militia. The central government barely exists outside of Sana'a, and now only exists within it by the grace of a pro-Iranian Shia militia. There are no easy solutions in Yemen. As of now, the U.S. is continuing with pinpointed strikes against AQAP, while largely preferring to ignore the no-less-potent threat of the Houthis. This relates, presumably, to the Obama administration's larger policy of outreach to Iran. But in practice, there is probably little the U.S. or any other outside force can do.The issues at stake in Yemen are the product of the profound failure of the Arab state which underlies all that is taking place in the Middle East today. The U.S. experience in the 2003-11 period in Iraq shows that nation-building from the outside is not going to succeed. Fascinatingly, it is the Arab state, not the Middle Eastern state, which is in a process of eclipse. Israel, Turkey, and Iran, in their different ways, are functioning sovereign entities. Kurdish Northern Iraq is also increasingly coming to resemble a successful semi-sovereign concern. The Kurdish enclaves in the northeast are the most peaceful and best administered parts of the former Syria. But from the Mediterranean coast, via Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and now down to Yemen, there is a single line of non-functioning (or in the Lebanese case, barely functioning) territories, in which the state has given way to wars between rival successor entities, usually organized on a sectarian basis. The Houthis and AQAP are the local Yemeni variant of this. The Arab states which have not collapsed are ones which are homogenous in sectarian terms and/or possessed of a powerful, dictatorial central government. There are two states — Egypt and Jordan — where a real chance existed of jihadis gaining a foothold in the way that they have in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, but where this has not yet taken place. In both cases, an authoritarian central government at the head of a strong state apparatus has prevented the jihadis from establishing their mini-emirates (though in Sinai, the battle is surely still on). Can these authoritarian regimes be a model for the future of the region, or are they simply a guarantee of its further stagnation? Perhaps the latter. But for the moment and for the foreseeable future, the choice is between leaders like Sisi, or situations like that of Yemen. Authoritarian clients, or the Houthis and al-Qaeda. No third way has yet made itself apparent.
**Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).
The king is dead,The Middle East after Abdullah
Jan 25/2015 /The Economist
IT COULD hardly have come at a more challenging time for Saudi Arabia. On January 23rd Saudi state television announced that the 90-year-old ruler King Abdullah had died, nearly a month after being hospitalised for pneumonia. De facto ruler for two decades, Abdullah had nominated his successor, his half-brother Salman (see picture below), who was quickly elevated to king. King Salman's rule may not be long: he is 79 and, some say, suffering from dementia.
Ruling the kingdom is no small job. King Salman has inherited a realm that is the world’s top oil exporter at a time when prices have plunged; is home to Islam’s holiest sites of Mecca and Medina at a time when jihadist violence is at a peak; and has been dragged into turmoil in the region. At home, things are scarcely better: the country of 30m is the only one in which women cannot drive thanks to the struggle between reformists and conservatives. And the public accounts no longer balance without dipping into the country's, admittedly huge, reserves.
Few reckon the new monarch will rock the boat. A former governor of Riyadh, he is thought to be similarly minded to Abdullah, albeit a little more conservative, and will be advised by the same people.
But challenges abound. Abroad, Saudi has taken a more activist stance of late, and not always with much success. The attempt to build a rebel army to oust President Bashar al-Assad of Syria failed; and Saudi Arabia is now involved in a war against the jihadists of Islamic State. Officials are particularly alarmed by America’s attempts to strike a deal with Iran, with which it vies for power, over its nuclear programme. Iran, champion of the Shia minority, has been expanding its influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The new king will have instant decisions to make after Yemen’s government fell to Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, overnight. Saudi Arabia had led attempts for a peaceful transition in the country after the toppling of Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011.
Saudi citizens are worried about blowback at home from Yemen, Islamic State and Iran. The Shia regime in Tehran has been critical of Saudi Arabia for guarding its market share of the oil trade by refusing to cut production to stop the price fall. This is starting to cause a pinch at home. In December Saudi Arabia said its budget deficit would rise to $39 billion in 2015, almost 5% of GDP. Thousands of graduates need work, and most seek jobs in the bloated public sector rather than in the fledgling private one. Decades-old talk of diversifying the economy has risen again.
Indeed domestically the obstacles are greater. By Saudi standards, Abdullah was a moderniser, appointing the first female government minister and in 2013 appointing 30 women to the Shura Council. These moves drew protests from the puritanical Wahhabi clerics and parts of the devout population, as well as reformers who point out that women are still unable to drive or fraternise with men who are not relatives. Free speech is curbed. A number of Saudis are pushing for religion to have less of a grip on the public sphere, the results of which are strict laws on blasphemy and a ban on cinemas.
After the Arab protests, Abdullah sent armoured vehicles to help crush Bahrain’s uprising by the island's mainly-Shia population against the Sunni ruling family. He kept his own population, especially the Shia in the east, quiescent by spending millions on government wages and housing, and setting up a Facebook page for citizens to air their grievances. How long Saudi Arabia's ageing rulers can continue such tactics is in question, and not just because of the cost. One of Abdullah’s great legacies has been funding scholarships that have sent thousands of young Saudis to study in Western universities where, some at least, have picked up democratic ideals.
By appointing Salman as his crown prince, Abdullah also avoided the looming difficulty of passing the crown down a generation in a system where power has been handed down between the sons of Abdel Aziz bin Saud, the founder of the modern state of Saudi Arabia in 1932. On taking the throne King Salman affirmed that his crown prince will be the youngest brother of the generation, Muqrin, a 69-year-old former pilot, intelligence chief and governor of Medina, who was last year appointed deputy crown prince by Abdullah.
Perhaps to avoid the next generation jostling for power, Salman quickly moved to appoint a nephew (descended of the his own Sudairi line) as deputy crown prince: Muhammad bin Naif, the interior minister, who has shown an iron fist when dealing with terrorism. To deal with the inevitable struggle for the crown, Abdullah in 2006 set up an allegiance committee composed of representatives of each of the sons of the founder. Unlike the current generation, who recall their Bedouin roots, many see many of the next generation as profligate, flashy and irresponsible, having grown up in times of great wealth. During his rule Abdullah cut the allowances to the thousands of princes and princesses, much to their chagrin.
For both Saudis and foreign allies such as America, perhaps the toughest issue facing Saudi Arabia is the puritanical Wahhabi form of Islam that it has fostered; the Al Sauds rule in a pact with the Wahhabi clerics. Abdullah removed the most extreme teachings in school textbooks after the September 11th 2001 attacks on Americam in which 15 of the 19 hijackers turned out to be Saudis. But recently voices near and far have been pointing out the contradiction between Saudi joining the coalition against Islamic State while implementing harsh punishments at home for transgressions of its devout religious strictures. The most striking example is the 1,000 lashes handed down— to Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger who called for more freedom of thought (the flogging has been suspended after the first 50 lashes, on the grounds of health). The question for the outside world is whether the Saudi ruling family is part of the problem, or the best defence against the extremists.
Kerry Arrives in Nigeria as Boko Haram Wages New Attacks
Naharnet /Boko Haram fighters on Sunday overran a strategic town in northeastern Nigeria and seized a military base, as Secretary of State John Kerry pledged further U.S. support for the counter-insurgency. The Islamists captured the town of Monguno in Borno State, which lies about 125 kilometers (80 miles) north of the state capital Maiduguri, which was targeted in a simultaneous dawn raid. "Monguno has fallen, Monguno has fallen," said a senior military officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. "We fought them all night long but they took over the town, including the military barracks there."Another source, who also requested anonymity, said Nigerian troops were overwhelmed and forced to retreat from Monguno, which has been targeted twice before in September last year and March 2013. There was no immediate response from the military high command in Abuja when contacted by Agence France-Presse but militant fighters were forced out of Maiduguri and Konduga, 40 kilometers away, local residents said.
But Monguno's fall is potentially significant. Not only does it remove the last military base to Maiduguri from the northeast but also gives Boko Haram a free run into the key city. "On the other hand, it may be more of Boko Haram overrunning the base with the intention of seizing as much weaponry as possible, amid concerns of a possible regional counter-insurgency operation," said Ryan Cummings of risk consultants Red 24.
- Elections and violence -
Kerry's whistlestop visit to Lagos came after fears about election-related violence, with concern about a repeat of post-poll unrest in 2011, which left some 1,000 people dead. Security has dominated the build-up to the February 14 presidential and parliamentary vote, as Boko Haram has intensified its attacks. Nigeria is currently scrambling for a solution to the problem of how to allow hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the violence to vote, which has led to calls for a delay. There have also been sporadic attacks by supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) main opposition. That came despite Jonathan and the APC candidate, former military general, Muhammadu Buhari, signing a non-violence pact in the presence of former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan. Kerry suggested there was a link between the peaceful conclusion of free, fair and timely elections and further U.S. support for Nigeria against Boko Haram. "It is absolute critical that this election can be conducted peacefully. The international community is paying very close attention to this election," he said. It was "imperative that elections happen on time," he added. On Boko Haram, Kerry said Washington was "prepared to do more" to help Nigeria, which has west Africa's largest military but has been criticized for failing to protect lives and property. More than 13,000 people have been killed and more than one million made homeless by the violence since 2009.
The United States has been sharing intelligence with the Nigerians and was involved in the multi-national effort to find 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April last year. "Bottom line, we want to do more and that was part of the message to both President Jonathan and General Buhari today," Kerry added."We are prepared to do more but our ability to do more will depend to some degree on the full measure of credibility and accountability and transparency and peacefulness of these elections."
- Wider threat -
The renewed violence underscored the extent of the difficulties facing Nigeria as the election approaches and also the increasing threat it poses for the country's neighbors. Last week, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon met to discuss the creation of a new multi-national force while troops from Chad deployed to Cameroon to help repel attacks there. The group's leader Abubakar Shekau last week dismissed the initiative, saying: "Kings of Africa, you are late. I challenge you to attack me even now. I'm ready." Boko Haram, which the United States has proscribed as an international terrorist organization, has until recently been seen as a largely localized group. The militants want to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria and have been capturing towns and villages for the last six months, declaring some part of a caliphate. But Kerry warned that action needed to be taken, with so-called Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq trying to extend their reach into parts of north Africa. "It is obviously a concern that they try more
Saudi king is dead, but his peace plan still lives
Smadar Perry/Ynetnews/Published: 01.26.15/ Israel Opinion
Analysis: For 13 years, Israeli politicians have been avoiding the comprehensive Arab peace initiative proposed by then-crown prince Abdullah; Riyadh is still waiting for our phone call. The Arab peace initiative, which offers "a full peace agreement with the Arab world in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal," came into the world 13 years ago under odd circumstances.
Now, with the changing of the guard in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the upcoming elections in Israel, it is advisable to check whether something can be done with the move which was never started. For 13 years, politicians have been making great efforts to avoid the Arab peace initiative with the excuse that "we were never consulted about it."
Here's a surprise: Upon the passing of the initiative's advocate, two Israeli presidents, Reuven Rivlin and his predecessor Shimon Peres, saw it fit to praise Saudi King Abdullah. Rivlin described "an example of grounded, considered and responsible leadership" in our region, while Peres stressed that "we lost a wise and experienced leader" and mentioned the "loss for peace" in the same breath.
In February 2002, American columnist Thomas Friedman received the royal treatment when he was invited to dine with Abdullah, the crown prince and de facto king, in Riyadh. The conversation, Friedman wrote, reached the topic of the chances of peace in the Middle East. Friedman suggested putting Israel to the test.
It's as if you have gone through my drawers, Abdullah surprised him. I have formulated a revolutionary peace plan which I will present at the Arab League summit in Lebanon.
Friedman listened to the details and got all excited. The next day he negotiated with the crown prince's bureau for approval to reveal what he had heard off the record, and dropped a bomb: Saudi Arabia is leading a move unlike no other, based on a binding equation – Israel will commit to a withdrawal, and 57 Arab and Muslim states will promise peace and full normalization.
Israeli officials read it and panicked. Peace moves which come from the Arab side, like in the cases of Egypt, Jordan and the Oslo Agreements, are perceived as an evil scheme here.
A month later, when the Arab world's leaders convened, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon scheduled a response interview on the Al-Jazeera channel. The crew settled in his office, and the advisors updated Sharon on what had happened before and behind the scenes in Beirut: The plan was published, the rulers voted unanimously, but the Saudi foreign ministers added troubling details: It's a package which Israel has no right to appeal. Either they accept it, or we put the plan back in the drawers.
The meaning: A right of return for refugees (without noting whether they would only return to the territories or also to Israel), a divided Jerusalem and a full withdrawal from the West Bank, Golan Heights and controversial areas in Lebanon.
Sharon fumed and cancelled the interview. The Saudi initiative, which was reaffirmed in the Arab summit in Riyadh in 2007, was kicked aside. It was hard to get a response – yes or no – from Israeli politicians to a move which could get Israel out of the neighborhood and regional isolation, open markets and bring foreign investors and tourists in return for removing settlements.
The Geneva Initiative organization formulated "amendments" and "improvements" with the Palestinians, dozens of retired generals signed petitions in support of the move – and Jerusalem kept quiet.
On the other side, Jordan and Egypt tried to convince the decision makers and public opinion in Israel that "there is a basis for discussion." The Israeli Peace Initiative movement was established in 2011 to push the Saudi move. This is not how you make peace, they were rebuked.
With complete honesty, how many people here have even bothered to read the full version (it's not a long text and there is an abstract) of the Saudi peace initiative? It's important to stress that the amended text explicitly states that every move will be carried out "as agreed upon by the parties."
In other words, that the relevant parties – mainly the Palestinians and their patrons, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – will sit around the table until they reach an acceptable formula.
To this very day, we have not put them to the test. The decision makers are still running away. Only few have thought about the potential.
The Saudi king is dead, but his initiative still lives. Whoever knows what is happening behind the scenes knows that the partner is waiting for a phone call.