March 01/15

Bible Quotation For Today/The Healing Miracle of the Bleeding Woman
Saint Luke 08/40-56/"When Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him.Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying. As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her haemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’
When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened."
Bible Quotation For Today/ Your grief led to repentance
Second Letter to the Corinthians 07/04-11: "I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction. For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way disputes without and fears within. But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.
For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly). Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 28-March 01/15
How Syria's Assyrians Stopped Turning the Other Cheek/Richard Spencer/The Telegraph/March 01/15
Foreign Affairs: Obama’s Faustian bargain with Iran/By AMOTZ ASA-EL/J.Post/February 28/15

Ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan: 'Netanyahu has caused Israel the most strategic damage on Iran'/Ynetnews/ February 28/15
Iran's Zarif criticizes Netanyahu's 'scaremongering'/Ynetnews/February 28/15
The twilight of Middle Eastern Christianity/Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/February 28/15
It is Time for an Arab Strategy/Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/February 28/15

Lebanese Related News published on February 28-March 01/15
U.N. Chief on 1701: Hizbullah, Israel Violated Security Council Resolution
Geagea: To Unite Arab and International Efforts to Combat Terrorism

Hundreds of Assyrians in Beirut protest ISIS kidnappings
Lebanon Parties Decry ISIS Crimes Against Minorities
Negotiations for the Release of Assyrians Captured By ISIS Still Ongoing
Report: Nusra Front Hands Over Demands to Mediator in Hostages Case
Report: Two Bishops Kidnapped in Syria in 2013 'Safe'
Conflicting Reports on Thursday's Cabinet Session as Sharp Differences Loom
Mashnouq Says Operation in Bekaa Valley Ongoing, Considers Security Situation 'Good'
Cautious Calm on Outskirts of Ras Baalbek as Army Fortifies Posts
Two Syrians Detained in Nabatiyeh for Joining ISIL Ranks
Two suspected ISIS fighters arrested in south Lebanon
Central Bank to crack down on shadow banking
Support for a vital force
Lebanon gears up for ISIS retaliation
Army preps for possible jihadi offensive
Ban hints Israel deliberately killed peacekeeper

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 28-March 01/15
Iraq PM Vows to Hunt Down ISIS Vandals Who Destroyed Statues
Conflicting Reports on Release of Some of the Assyrian Captives Held By ISIS

US Official says no deal expected with Iran next week
Iran shrugs off Netanyahu bid to block nuclear deal
Former Mossad chief calls for Netanyahu’s ouster in next elections
Argentine judge says no evidence government tried to derail probe over 1994 bombing
Hamas bars Palestinian novelist from book fair
Italy votes to recognize Palestinian state
For $25, wannabe ISIS militants cross from Turkey into Syria
Who was 'Jihadi John?
Nusra takes base from US-backed Syria rebels
Turkey, US to begin training Syria rebels Sunday
UN envoy in Damascus to seek quick Aleppo truce
ISIS fighters attack Samarra ahead of army offensive
U.S. sets out 'bottom lines' for Iran nuclear deal
Kurdish fighters rout ISIS militants from town near Iraq
The benefits of a stronger Saudi-Turkish relationship
Egyptians oppose return of Muslim Brotherhood: Sisi

Egypt court sentences top Muslim Brotherhood figures to life in prison
Egypt goes to war on ISIS, masses troops against Islamist Libyan stronghold at Darnah
Teacher denies radicalizing Canadian teens headed to Syria
Copenhagen gunman’s third accomplice charged
World leaders condemn murder of Russia’s Boris Nemtsov
Yemen dialogue stalls over dispute on location for talks
U.S. drone attack in Yemen kills al-Qaeda suspects

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
UK: “Jihadi John” linked to 2005 London jihad bomb plot

To Hell With Silence
UK’s first anti-Islamization rally dwarfed by counter-demo.
Ohio: Million-dollar bond set for Muslim charged with aiding jihad terror group.
Hundreds of jihadists have been able to slip out of UK to join the Islamic State because they “weren’t properly monitored”
Muslim group after murder of Islamocritical writer: “Target Down here in Bangladesh.”
Nigeria: Islamic jihadists murder 35 people in wave of jihad-martyrdom suicide attacks.
Iran: Muslim cleric vows to “raise flag of Islam on White House”.
Islamic State throws another gay man off a building, crowd stones him.
Former Pakistan Army Chief: America is “a superpower that has made the world a dangerous land”.
Video: Devout Muslims of the Islamic State destroy priceless artifacts with sledgehammers at Mosul museum.

Faith & Hop Cured The Bleeding Women
Elias Bejjani
March 01/15
(John 6:68): “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life”
Whenever we are in real trouble encountering devastating and harsh conditions either physically or materially, we unconsciously react with sadness, anger, confusion, helplessness and feel abandoned. When in a big mess, we expect our family members and friends to automatically run to our rescue. But in the majority of such difficult situations, we discover with great disappointment that in reality our heartfelt expectations do not unfold as we wish.
What is frustrating and shocking is that very few of our family members and friends would stand beside us during hardships and endeavour to genuinely offer the needed help. Those who have already walked through these rocky life paths and adversities definitely know very well the bitter taste of disappointment. They know exactly the real meaning of the well-know saying, “a friend in need is a friend indeed”.
Sadly our weak human nature is driven by inborn instincts that often make us side with the rich, powerful, healthy and strong over the poor, weak, needy and sick. Those who have no faith in Almighty God find it very difficult to cope in a real mess. Meanwhile, those whose faith is solid stand up with courage, refuse to give up hope, and call on their Almighty Father for help through praying and worshiping. They know for sure that our Great Father is loving and passionate. He will not abandon any one of us when calling on Him for mercy and help because He said and promised so. Matthew 11/28-30: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
One might ask, ‘Why should I pray?’ And, ‘Do I have to ask God for help, can’t He help me without praying to Him?’ The answer is ‘no’. We need to pray and when we do so with faith and confidence God listens and responds (Mark 11/:24): “Therefore I tell you, all things whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received them, and you shall have them” Yes, we have to make the effort and be adamant and persistent. We have to ask and knock in a bid to show our mere submission to Him and He with no doubt shall provide. (Matthew 7/7 & 8): “Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened”.
On this second Sunday of Lent in our Catholic Church’s Eastern Maronite rite, we cite and recall the miraculous cure of the bleeding woman in Matthew 9/20-22, Mark 5/25-34, and Luke 8/43-48. As we learn from the Holy Gospel, the bleeding woman’s great faith made her believe without a shred of doubt that her twelve years of chronic bleeding would stop immediately if she touched Jesus’ garment. She knew deeply in her heart that Jesus would cure her even without asking him. Her faith cured the bleeding and made her well. Her prayers were heard and responded to.
Luke 8/:43-49: “A woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her living on physicians, and could not be healed by any, came behind him (Jesus), and touched the fringe of his cloak, and immediately the flow of her blood stopped. Jesus said, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes press and jostle you, and you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 8:46 But Jesus said, “Someone did touch me, for I perceived that power has gone out of me.” When the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared to him in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately. He said to her, “Daughter, cheer up. Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
The woman’s faith cured her chronic bleeding and put her back in the society as a normal and acceptable citizen. During that era women with uterus bleeding were looked upon as sinners, defiled and totally banned from entering synagogues for praying. Meanwhile, because of her sickness she was physically unable to be a mother and bear children. Sadly she was socially and religiously abandoned, humiliated and alienated. But her faith and hope empowered her with the needed strength and perseverance and enabled her to cope successfully against all odds.
Hallelujah! Faith can do miracles. Yes indeed. (Luke17/5 & 6): ” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you”. How badly do we today need to have a faith like that of this women?
Let us all on this second Lent Sunday pray with solid faith.
Let us ask Almighty God who cured the bleeding women, and who was crucified on the cross to absolve our original sin, that He would endow His Holy graces of peace, tranquility, and love all over the world. And that He would strengthen the faith, patience and hope of all those persecuted, imprisoned, and deprived for courageously witnessing the Gospel’s message and truth.

Conflicting Reports on Release of Some of the Assyrian Captives Held By ISIS
Posted 2015-03-01 /A protest against ISIS, organized by the Eastern Churches of the Bay Area, was held on Saturday in San Francisco.Hasaka, Syria (AINA) -- Assyrian activists are reporting that 18 to 21 Assyrians that were captured by ISIS from the village of Tel Goran have been released. AINA has not been able to verify these reports. According to AINA's sources in Syria, Arab tribal leaders who are negotiating with ISIS for the release of the Assyrians have stated that ISIS has agreed in principle to release some Assyrians, especially those who did not fight. CNN reported today that an ISIS court in Syria has ordered the release of 29 Assyrian hostages. According to Assyrian leaders in Hasaka, none of the Assyrian civilians have been killed. However, there are reports claiming that ISIS has executed 12 Assyrian fighters it captured in the initial attacks on the 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river in northeast Syria, in the Hasaka province. There are also reports claiming that ISIS will demand jizya (Christian poll tax) from the Assyrians, and will treat them as Dhimmis -- people recognized by the Koran. As Dhimmis, Assyrians are entitled to "protection" under Islamic law.Assyrian leaders in Hasaka have also asked for arms and ammunition so that they may continue the fight against ISIS. On Tuesday ISIS attacked the Assyrian villages of Tel Goran, Tel Hurmiz, Tel Tamar, Tel Baloaa Tel Shamiran, Tel Riman, Tel Nasra, Tel Khareta, Tel Jazira, Tel Fweidat, Qaber Shamiyeh and Abu Tena. The majority of the Assyrians were captured from Tel Shamiran, Tel Hurmiz, Tel Goran and Tel Jazira (AINA 2015-02-26). Nearly 3000 Assyrians have fled from the 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river to Hasaka and Qamishli. There is a critical need for shelter for the refugees.

Iraq PM Vows to Hunt Down ISIS Vandals Who Destroyed Statues
Posted 2015-03-01
An ISIS members destroys an Assyrian Winged Bull dating from the 7th century BC, in Mosul, Iraq.(AP) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed to track down and punish the Islamist militants who smashed rare relics in the northern city of Mosul and are attempting to sell others. Al-Abadi issued his promise while reopening Iraq's national museum in Baghdad, which was looted and finally closed 12 years ago following the U.S. invasion. "All the artifacts of Mosul are marked and recorded," the prime minister said. "We will track down all the pieces smuggled by Daesh [ISIS] and the terrorist groups. We will chase them with the world on our side. "This is a serious call to the Security Council and the United Nations and all peace-loving states and all the advocates of human civilization and the Islamic civilization of Mesopotamia to chase them all." On Thursday, ISIS released a video purportedly showing militants using sledgehammers to smash statues, which they described as idols. The extremists have also destroyed a number of shrines, and believed to have sold ancient artifacts on the black market to finance their bloody campaign. "Those barbaric, criminal terrorists are trying to destroy the heritage of the mankind and Iraq's civilization," al-Abadi said. "We will chase them in order to make them pay for every drop of blood shed in Iraq and for the destruction of Iraq's civilization."In Tehran, Iran offered to safeguard potentially at-risk Iraqi artifacts.
Iran wants to protect artifacts
Mohammad Hassan Talebian, a senior official at Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization, said Iran has written to Irina Bokova, the head of the UN cultural agency, and Iraqi officials to say that Iran is ready to host Iraqi ancient artifacts as long as they are at risk.
Talebian was quoted Saturday by the semiofficial ISNA news agency as saying Iran feels obligated to protect the historical relics of Iraq, a neighbour with which it shares a common history. He denounced the Islamic State group's destruction of the ancient statues.
The bloody campaign by ISIS and its Sunni allies in Iraq continued unabated across the country on Saturday:
•A series of attacks targeting public places and Shia militia checkpoints in and north of Iraq's capital killed 37 people Saturday, authorities said. The first bombs exploded near the market in the town of Balad Ruz, 70 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, killing 11 people and wounding 50.
•Two suicide car bombers later attacked checkpoints manned by Shia militiamen near the city of Samarra, killing 16 Shia fighters and wounding 31, authorities said.
•A bomb killed four people in western Baghdad, while another in Baghdad's neighbourhood of Abu Dashir killed three people and wounding eight.
•Four mortar shells also hit homes in Sabaa al-Bour, just north of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding six, police said.
Samarra and surrounding areas have been under constant attacks by ISIS, which holds about a third of Iraq and neighbouring Syria in its self-declared caliphate. Clashes between Iraqi security forces and ISIS militants followed the attack around Samarra, 95 kilometres north of Baghdad.

How Syria's Assyrians Stopped Turning the Other Cheek
By Richard Spencer/The Telegraph
Posted 2015-02
Assyrian fighters in Syria.Like many of Syria's warriors, Kino Gabriel was a student four years ago, training to be a dentist.
Like many other Syrians, he resisted the call to war, until he saw the threat to the towns and villages where he grew up and worshipped.
Like countless thousands, he soon found himself, gun in hand, snow falling in the bitter Syrian winter, fighting for his life, claiming his first kills.
Mr Gabriel, though, is a rarity in this remorseless conflict. He is a Christian, a member of a minority that in both Syrian and Iraqi wars has tried desperately to stay on the sidelines.
No longer. Christian militias have existed for a number of years, sometimes patrolling neighbourhoods, sometimes venturing further afield. But now they are engaged in their first major battle.
For the last week, they have been fighting the jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant across a major front in north-west Syria, in alliance with the YPG, the Kurdish defence forces. They have had mixed fortunes, but the battle has energised Middle East Christians worldwide - many of them exiles who fled the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq.
"We saw what happened in Iraq in 2003," Mr Gabriel said, speaking by Skype from Qamishli, near the front line. "Our people were left alone, with no autonomy, no army that could defend them.
"Most of our people have emigrated, thanks to attacks from Al-Qaeda and other groups. They couldn't defend themselves. We learned that lesson and have prepared ourselves."
In 2003, the Christian population of Iraq was well over one million. Now it is less than half that. In June last year, more than 600,000 were driven out of their homes when Isil swept across the Nineveh plain, traditional homeland of Assyrian Christians, in northern Iraq last summer.
In Syria, when the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, the church was split, with many bishops supporting the regime but individuals joining forces with liberal activists in protest against him.
Few actually felt compelled to fight, though, until the onslaught against Christian villages and churches, first by Jabhat al-Nusra, and later by Isil.
Christians have seen churches blown up, crosses torn down, and those living under jihadist rule have been forced to pay the "jizya", a special tax.
In a particular irony, Armenian Christians who came to Syria in flight from pogroms in their native Turkey 100 years ago have now been forced to flee in the opposite direction.
Syria, even more than Iraq, is a patchwork of sects and languages: many of these Christians speak and conduct services in Aramaic, the language of Christ.
Mr Gabriel's chance at the front came at Christmas 2013, when he joined a militia known as the Syriac Military Council, which was fighting alongside Kurds in a battle for the town of Tel Hamis, south of Qamishli, his home city. Tel Hamis was in the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian Al-Qaeda branch from which Isil then split off.
"I think I was prepared," Mr Gabriel, a former lay servant in the church, said. "I was a little bit afraid - it was my first battle."
He and his fellow fighters managed to drive the Jabhat al-Nusra fighters back, but the attack stalled in the December snow. The area has been fought over ever since, with the YPG and their Syriac Military Council allies claiming on Friday to have finally retaken Tel Hamis, this time from Isil, which took over Jabhat al-Nusra positions last year.
The local Arab population is split, with some supporting the Kurds, others the Islamists.
The effect on the wider community of the expanded fighting front, though, has been disastrous. Many of the Christians have fled - more than 1,000 families in the last week alone, according to George Merza, head of the local Assyrian council.
On Monday, more than 300 of those Christians that remained were taken hostage in a lightning Isil counter-offensive in villages around Tel Tamer, in north-west Syria's semi-desert.
"They are innocent people, children, women and elders," Mr Merza said. "We demand an immediate intervention to save our people, who have lived on this land for thousands of years in peace. Today they are driven to death and destruction. This is inhuman."
The Syriac Military Council is hoping to offer Isil a prisoner swap, returning eight jihadis captured in the battle for Tel Hamis for the civilian captives, but no negotiations have yet begun.
The resistance put up by the Christian fighters from these ancient communities, heirs to Senacherib and Ashurnasirpal, the great Assyrian emperors of the Biblical era, has heartened an international diaspora which has up to now watched events unfold with glum, helpless horror.
Assyrians and Syriacs as far afield as London, New York and Sweden have posted patriotic appeals online. For many, it is their cousins who have been captured, and who are dying in battle.
Some have also taken it upon themselves to return home to join up, and have been joined by a number of other Western volunteers. Ashley Johnston, a former Australian soldier, became the first Westerner to die fighting alongside the Kurds and Christians in the battle for Tel Hamis on Monday.
"Ashley was a good man who never complained and was always positive," Jordan Matson, the unofficial leader of the Kurds' foreign legion, said in a Facebook tribute. "I consider it an honour to have known and served with him."Mr Matson pointed out that Mr Johnston was considered a criminal in Australia, which has made it an offence to fight in the war on either side.
The question of whether to fight or not remains, though, a major big question for the Christian exiles. They ask themselves whether it is right or even worthwhile to risk their lives for a diminished, violent homeland.
The Christians of the region have long held that they should "turn the other cheek" in the face of assault and discrimination.
Father Tony Malham, an Assyrian priest who has left Iraq and now serves the community in London, says that this is the only pragmatic response, given that Christians are overwhelmingly outnumbered.
"On the one hand, this is our homeland; on the other, it's not true to say it's our homeland any more," he said. "If we want to have a home for ourselves we have to fight for it, but as Christians we can't fight, we can't kill.
"We have to talk, we have to talk in a civilised way. But these people who are against us can't talk, they can only fight and kill.
Mr Gabriel acknowledges that at just 1,000 strong, his militia is a small force compared to those ranged against it. But he says he can no longer stand by and watch his people driven from their homes like sheep.
"Over the past century, our people six times have suffered displacement, massacres, other forms of aggression," he said.
"This has targeted the Syriacs and the Christian presence in the Middle East. We are acting based on the facts before us - to protect ourselves on our historical land. This is our right and duty."
U.N. Chief on 1701: Hizbullah, Israel Violated Security Council Resolution
Naharnet/United Nations General Secretary chief Ban Ki-moon condemned in his latest report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 Hizbullah's attack against an Israeli military vehicle in the occupied Shebaa Farms.
Ban considered it a “serious breach for the cease fire,” warning that it could lead to a new war that the sides of the conflict cannot endure, An Nahar newspaper reported on Saturday. The U.N. chief also denounced in his report the killing of a Spanish U.N. peacekeeper during Israels retaliation to Hizbullah's attack. The January incident left a U.N. soldier and two Israeli troops dead. The 36-year-old corporal, Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, was part of the 10,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, which includes 600 Spanish soldiers.  Ban also stressed in his report “that Hizbullah hostile activity in the area of operations of UNIFIL directly violates the resolution” 1701, slamming Israel's retaliation. United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag, who recently succeeded Derek Plumbly in the position, is expected to brief the members of the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1701. The U.N. Special Coordinator post was established in 2000 due to a request by the Secretary-General in a report to the Security Council that revealed the intention to appoint U.N. diplomat to be based in Beirut to help coordinate U.N. activities with regard to southern Lebanon. Resolution 1701, which ended the Hizbullah-Israel war in 2006, expanded the mandate of U.N. troops in the South, which was originally formed in 1978 after the outbreak of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. It imposed a strict embargo on weapons destined for Lebanese or foreign militias in Lebanon, and pressed Israel to end violations of Lebanon's airspace and to withdraw from northern Ghajar.

Geagea: To Unite Arab and International Efforts to Combat Terrorism
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea stressed the necessity to unite Arab and International efforts to strictly combat extremism and terrorism and all its organizations. Geagea also underlined, in a statement issued by his press office on Saturday, the necessity to refine the prevailing image of Islam and reveal its true noble nature. He emphasized the need to find peaceful solutions for the crises raging in Libya, Iraq and Syria in order to preserve the safety of their people, their countries' unity and integrity. Geagea added that “terrorism affects Muslims and Christians alike and it bears upon all the Arab components without any discrimination.” “Fighting terrorism is not solely a military or security issue, that's why we have to wage it at the intellectual, cultural and religious levels,” he concluded calling on all Arab countries to firmly deal with the “scourge” of terrorism.

Conflicting Reports on Thursday's Cabinet Session as Sharp Differences Loom

Naharnet/The cabinet could possibly resume its meetings next Thursday without modifying its decision-making mechanism, but more likely with a change in the performance, after Prime Minister Tammam Salam received assurances that political parties have no intention to obstruct the government’s work, ministerial sources told al-Joumhouriya daily. However, contacts between Salam and the ministers continue away from media spotlight, sources close to the PM told the daily on Saturday, but they reiterated that the final outcome on a cabinet session could be taking shape. There are potentials that the Kataeb party chief Amin Gemayel and former president Michel Suleiman could visit the premier to discuss a date for holding a session, the sources added. Kataeb sources have revealed earlier that Gemayel is ready for any initiative that facilitates the restoration of the cabinet activity within the standards set during the Yarze and Sin-el-fil meetings. A grouping between Suleiman and seven cabinet ministers met twice, once in Yarze and another at Gemayel's residence in Sin el-Fil, where they stressed that the government must continue to run the affairs of the people and the state until a new president is elected. The grouping fears that giving the cabinet more authorities in the absence of a head of state would erode the country's top Christian post.
In an earlier statement, Salam had accused some members of the cabinet, in reference to the grouping, of paralyzing the government for linking its work with the presidential elections despite their insistence that their aim is to back the PM. Al-Liwaa daily also reported that any development regarding consensus on the government's mechanism have not been reached so far, but noted that the prospects of a Thursday government meeting are likely but that Salam has not taken a final decision in that regard yet, the daily quoted sources to the PM. The differences between cabinet ministers on the amendment of the mechanism prompted Salam to suspend sessions in the past two weeks until the ministers reach an agreement on the formula, which he wants it to be based on article 65 of the constitution.
The article's clause five says: “The legal quorum for a council meeting shall be a two-thirds majority of its members. It shall make its decisions by consensus. If that is not possible, it makes its decisions by vote of the majority of attending members. Basic issues shall require the approval of two thirds of the members of the government named in the decree of its formation.” The current mechanism, which was adopted after the cabinet assumed the responsibilities of the president in accordance with the constitution, states that ministers should give unanimous support to the government's decisions. Meanwhile, Salam is expected to take part in an Economic summit to be held 13-15 March in Egypt's Sharm El-Sheikh, and he will join another Arab summit on the 28th of the same month.
He will also head to Kuwait on March 30 to participate in the donors conference to raise funds for U.N. humanitarian operations in war-torn Syria.

Cautious Calm on Outskirts of Ras Baalbek as Army Fortifies Posts
Naharnet /Relative calm prevailed on Saturday across the outskirts of the northeastern border village of Ras Baalbek in the Bekaa after the army fortified its posts in the area. Sources said in comments published in As Safir newspaper that the “pre-emptive strike by the Lebanese army against the armed groups, which were preparing to attack weak posts in the area, had a harsh impact on them.” “The militants were confused by the military's attack on its positions (on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek,” sources said basing its statement on the wiretapping that the army and security forces, which are heavily deployed in the area, are carrying out. The source estimated that the militants are preparing for a swift retaliation to reclaim the land that the army controlled. The army continued to target on Friday militant posts on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek, a day after it seized two hilltop positions. Army Commander Gen. Jean Qahwaji and Defense Minister Samir Moqbel toured the area of operation to inspect the progress of military. The army command said in a communique that the operation was in line with efforts to secure villages near the eastern border with neighboring Syria. The statement did not name the militants, but most are believed to be from the Islamic State group, who together with the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been holding around 20 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage since August. The army frequently clashed with the militants in their hideouts near the Syria border.

Hundreds of Assyrians in Beirut protest ISIS kidnappings
The Daily Star/Feb. 28, 2015/BEIRUT: Hundreds of Assyrians marched in Downtown Beirut Saturday in solidarity with their brethren abducted by ISIS in Syria earlier this week. The marchers chanted slogans in their native language and carried signs that read: "Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia," "We demand action from the United Nations," and "Save the Christians in the Middle East." The protesters began their afternoon march at Martyr's Square and headed towards the U.N.'s nearby ESCWA building. An activists group earlier this week reported that no less than 220 Assyrian Christians were abducted from their homes by ISIS in northeastern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they were kidnapped from 11 villages in the Hassakeh province, and that thousands more have fled their homes to avoid capture. But on Saturday, the Observatory said that 29 of the kidnap victims were ordered released by an ISIS Sharia cout in the countryside of Tal Tamer. An Assyrian commander "confirmed to SOHR that they communicated with [ISIS] through mediation with [ISIS] jurists who informed us that the kidnapped Assyrians of the other villages will be brought in front of the Sharia courts to decide on their verdict," the group wrote in a statement posted to its website.

Negotiations for the Release of Assyrians Captured By ISIS Still Ongoing
Posted 2015-02-28 /Danya Seno, killed in the initial attacks on Assyrian villages in Syria by ISIS. (AINA) -- Prominent Arab sheiks met with Assyrian leaders and clergy in Hasaka today to discuss the plight of the Assyrians captured by ISIS, whose number is between 262 and 373. The sheiks are mediating negotiations between ISIS and Assyrian leaders for the release of the captives. According to Assyrian leaders, no Assyrians have been killed, but there are reports that ISIS has executed at least 12 Assyrian fighters who were captured, two of them women. Nine Assyrian fighters died defending their villages in the initial attacks. On Tuesday ISIS attacked the Assyrian villages of Tel Goran, Tel Hurmiz, Tel Tamar, Tel Baloaa Tel Shamiran, Tel Riman, Tel Nasra, Tel Khareta, Tel Jazira, Tel Fweidat, Qaber Shamiyeh and Abu Tena.The majority of the Assyrians were captured from Tel Shamiran, Tel Hurmiz, Tel Goran and Tel Jazira (AINA 2015-02-26). Nearly 3000 Assyrians have fled from the 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river to Hasaka and Qamishli. There is a critical need for shelter for the refugees. An Assyrian women interviewed by ARA News said ISIS has burned the village of Tel Jazira.

Lebanon Parties Decry ISIS Crimes Against Minoritie
World Bulletin/Syndicated News/Posted 2015-02-28
A handful of Lebanese Christian political parties on Friday rang the alarm over threats facing people of Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac descent in the Middle East region. Political parties lashed out at what they described as the international community's "shameful silence" regarding violations committed against those of Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac origin. "Recent developments in Syria show the enormity of the challenges facing the Syrian people in general and the Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac people in particular," the parties said in a joint statement.
Following a meeting organized by Lebanon's Syriac Union Party, they asserted that Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac people in the region were subject to "ethnic cleansing" by "terrorist organizations." They specifically referred to recent violations committed by the Daesh militant group in the Khabour area of northeastern Syria's Al-Hasakah province. "Daesh" is the Arabic acronym for the ISIL militant group, which last year overran vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. The parties asserted that humanitarian disaster had befallen civilians in the area due to recent crimes committed by Daesh. They added that between 350 and 400 people had recently been kidnapped in the area, while some 6,000 people -- including women and children -- had been displaced. They went on to note that Daesh's crimes against Christians in Syria were only the latest episode in a long series of crimes committed against Syrian Christians in recent years. They said these crimes included the forced repatriation of Christians by Daesh in Iraq's northern Mosul province and the central province of Nineveh. Last year, Daesh militants kidnapped several Christians and Assyrians who had joined Kurdish fighters in resisting the group's advance into northern Iraq. On Friday, Daesh militants were shown in a video destroying ancient Assyrian artifacts and statues inside Mosul's main museum.

The twilight of Middle Eastern Christianity
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
Saturday, 28 February 2015
They destroy museums, they burn libraries, and yes they hunt vulnerable minorities like the Christians and Yazidis to kill, starve, rape or subjugate. In Iraq and Syria, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) while killing the present and denying the future, is waging war on history. In the span of few days we witnessed an orgy of destruction at the Mosul museum where exquisite artifacts and magnificent winged bulls from the era of the Assyrian empire were obliterated; all the while the hordes of ISIS were raiding Assyrian villages in Eastern Syria to plunder and capture human spoils of war. On one continuum spectrum of agony, splendid treasures were destroyed forever, and the descendants of those who created them were being hunted like pray. ISIS kidnapped hundreds of Assyrians including women and children.
For ISIS, eradicating the cultural legacy of the Assyrians is the natural outcome of erasing the Assyrians themselves whose only fault is that they are the Christian descendants of an ancient culture that is one of many that made Mesopotamia the repository of great civilizations. Watching the brutes of ISIS drilling holes into an Assyrian winged bull from the 7th century B.C. was like watching someone drilling a hole into our collective human heart. Many conquerors have swept through the Fertile Crescent in the last three millennia, and many of them left behind scorched earth and trails of blood and tears, but none have waged the kind of total nihilistic war on everything that preceded them or is different from them, the way ISIS does. ISIS is not only waging war on the pre-Islamic history of the Fertile Crescent, or only engaging in the ethnic cleansing of ancient peoples, and religious and ethnic minorities that preceded the advent of Arabs and Islam, ISIS is also waging war on humanity’s heritage and on the modern world, since all of us are the inheritors of the splendor of the Fertile Crescent.
Dire straits
The plight of the Christian communities in the Middle East is a dire warning, that unless the written and unwritten policies and practices of intimidation, discrimination against the Christians and their exclusion from Political life is confronted and ended, the fate of these indigenous and ancient groups will be similar to the fate of the old Jewish communities who lived in the major cities of the region; immigration, exodus and /or expulsion. A similar fate befell the Greek, Italian and Armenian communities that made Egypt and the Levant their homes. This rich human mosaic was at the heart of the cosmopolitanism that made Alexandria and Beirut such vibrant cultural and economic centers, and Damascus and Baghdad modern Arab capitals celebrating religious and ethnic diversity and pluralism, but that was mostly before WWII, before formal Independence, the rise of xenophobic nationalism, the military coups and the first Arab-Israeli war.
The plight of the Christian communities in the Middle East is a dire warning
I came of age in this cultural/social milieu in Beirut; I lived close to an Armenian neighborhood and managed to hold my own in conversations with elder Armenians who could not master Arabic. One of my closest boyhood friends was a Greek Cypriote. I was 12 years old, when I heard from two brothers tales of Kurdish sorrows in Iraq. We would watch not only the best and the trash of Hollywood and the Avant Guard European cinema, and even the depressingly sentimental movies of India. We also watched Egyptian slapstick comedy films, along with the works of Egypt’s best known director, the talented Youssef Chahine ( born in Alexandria to a Christian family, his father was of Lebanese descent and his mother of Greek origin, but he was decidedly Egyptian) . Lebanese Radio stations played blues and Rock and roll along with French, Greek and Turkish popular songs, and Egypt had more than its share of great divas and gifted musicians. In West Beirut, in one square mile area you could attend sophisticated productions of the works of Shakespeare, or Albert Camus and the works of many Arab Playwrights. Beirut was the publishing house of the Arab world, and the home of its exiled of the best and the brightest. That world is no more.
The second fall of Nineveh
The city of Nineveh, the ancient capital of the powerful Assyrian Empire, was destroyed by a Babylonian army in 612 B.C. never to rise again. In the Christian era, the plains of Nineveh and the city of Mosul became a major center of Eastern Christianity. The sudden fall of Nineveh last summer in the hands of ISIS created appalling scenes of thousands of Christians, and other minorities like Yezidis, Shabbak (a tiny Shiite offshoot sect) and Turkmen that made Mosul and the plains their homes for centuries, fleeing on their feet leaving behind ancestral homes, and shattered lives.
It is true that most of ISIS victims have been Muslims who resisted them or are opposed to their fanatical ways and their interpretations of Muslim history and traditions, but the fact remains that when a war is waged on small minorities because of who they are and not only because of their actions, the threat becomes truly existential. The tragedy that befell the native Christians of the Fertile Crescent, Arabs and non-Arabs, since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the rise of ISIS and other Jihadists and Takfiri groups in Syria as a reaction to the Assad regime’s use of brutal force and exploitation of sectarianism, have raised for the first time the Spector of the possible end of Christianity in the Fertile Crescent since the faith established its first Church in Antioch, a Syrian city for most of its history, at the dawn of the Christian era. The American occupation of Iraq led Islamist radicals to declare open season on Iraq’s ancient Christian communities; Bishops were assassinated, congregants were killed during Mass, and of the 65 Churches in Baghdad which served many sects 40 have been bombed or torched. (This was one of the most jarring failures of the U.S. in Iraq). A generation ago, Iraq’s Christians numbered more than a million strong; some figures were as high as 1.5 million. Church leaders and others estimated (before the depredations of ISIS) that more than 50 percent have been driven out by violence and intimidation or for economic reasons. Some believe that the actual number of Christians left in Iraq today is around 150,000. In Syria the Christians were victimized by the brutal machinations of a sectarian (Alawite) regime, and by the fanaticism of ISIS and the Sunni sectarianism of other opposition groups. The impact of the Sunni- Shiite bloodletting in Syria and Iraq which is unprecedented in the Muslim history of the region, on the Christian communities has been very profound and has contributed to a deep sense of foreboding about the future.
Invisible Christians
At the turn of the twentieth century the Christians accounted for 20 to 25 percent of the population of the Middle East. Today they are barely 2 percent. Their numbers have been declining steadily because of low birth rates, and emigration for economic reasons; but many have been forced to leave because of violence and wars, and as a result of overt discrimination, and persecution. The Christians of the Fertile Crescent are rapidly disappearing, while the largest community of Christians in the region, Egypt’s Copts continue to struggle against difficult political and economic odds in a deeply polarized society. Following the violent dispersal of organized sit-ins by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Cairo on August 14, 2013 mobs of MB supporters staged an Egyptian version of Kristallnacht, where scores of churches and Coptic owned institutions were attacked and torched. The days of violence that followed resulted in the killing and wounding of dozens of Copts. The extent of the repression was seen as the worst against Copts since the 14th century.
The Christian Arabs were very instrumental in the success of the first dynasty of Islam, (the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750 AD) which was based in Damascus, Syria where powerful Christian Arab tribes have lived before the beginning of the Muslim era. In Modern times the Christian Arabs have played a crucial role in the revival of the Arab language and letters, and were very pivotal in the great cultural and political debates in the 19th century in Cairo, Damascus and Beirut that preceded the formation of the states of the modern Middle East. Yet, for the most part, and with the exception of the Maronites of Lebanon they remained politically invisible. Their modern history was marked with occasional mass killings. In 1860, following Maronite-Druse sectarian violence in Lebanon, the Christian quarter in Damascus was totally destroyed by a rampaging mob resulting in the death and exodus of thousands. The memory of that orgy of violence lingered on for decades. Late in the 19th century Thousands of Assyrians were killed or uprooted by Ottoman Turks, then came the mass killings and forced deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the First World War.
The persistence of memory
During the Great War a partially human induced famine devastated parts of Lebanon and Syria. Able-bodied Christian men, mostly from Lebanon were conscripted by the Turkish army in the infamous Seferberlik (roughly preparation or mobilization for war) to do slave labor in Anatolia. One of them, a young man named Elias Melhem, was my paternal grandfather. When he was abducted my grandmother was pregnant with my father. By the time Elias Melhem was able to escape and manages to cross Syria to his mountainous village in Northern Lebanon he was thoroughly diseased as a result of disposing corpses, and quickly succumbed to death. My father never had the chance to know his father. My father, Yousef passed away when I was 11 years old. My grandmother Martha Sassine almost lost her mind. She would take me with her on her endless and aimless walks in her Bustan, pointing at the apple trees that my father planted while she was talking to him about her solitude in a trance, with me tagging along and crying hysterically. I would never tire of looking at my grandmother’s beguiling sad eyes, and I was always thrilled when she would tell me that of all my brothers I was the one who looked very much like my father when he was young. She would sit next to me, and while combing my long hair, she would repeat the tragic tale of the abduction and forced exile of my grandfather by those “Turkish monsters.”
In those moments the tender voice would be charged with rage and the gentle sad eyes would flicker with hatred. I worshiped Martha Sassine, and her emotions became mine. I grew up holding an indescribable loathing of Turks. Those feelings were re-enforced by my Armenian friends who have heard similar or worse tales from their beloved elders. I brought Martha’s memories with me when I came to study in America. It took me a long time before I was capable of looking at the agony of my grandparents somewhat dispassionately. Later on, with the passage of time, meeting and befriending Turks and most importantly visiting the great city of Istanbul, I finally was able to recount the story of Elias Melhem without tears in my eyes; well not always. But making peace with the Turks never lessened the persistence of the memory of Martha’s agony and Elias’ tragedy.
In my lifetime I have seen tremendous pain and violence in Arab lands. Long before the gore of everyday life in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, we have seen the mass killings of Kurds in Iraq, (Saddam’s diabolical mind gave the campaign of genocide the name Al-Anfal, a Surah from the Qur’an) and the Sudanese state’s war on the people of Darfur, and the long night of Algeria’s brutal civil war in the early 1990’s, just to name a few. Just as I carried with me the memories of Martha and Elias, the descendants of the victims of violence will carry with them equally painful memories. And collective memories are the hardest to erase.
One of the salient and most disturbing aspects of the modern Middle East (this is true of Arabs, Turks, Israelis and Iranians) is the extent of atomization that we have allowed ourselves to succumb to. We only feel the pain of our own tribe, or sect or ethnicity. There was no Arab outcry when the Kurds were being gassed and Kurdistan was being ‘cleansed’ of Kurds. No outrage over the horrors being visited on the Darfuris. I did not see Muslim outrage from Arabs, Turks and Iranians, when the Christians of Iraq were being killed in their churches. No Shiite tears for Sunni Mosques being bombed and vice versa. No Israeli outcry, when the Israeli air force brings death and destructions to civilian Palestinian and Lebanese, just as no Arab sympathy when Israeli civilians are killed by Hamas or Hezbollah rockets while in busses or restaurants. We all have collective memories of pain and victimhood.
I write as a secularist who grew up in a Christian family, but with decidedly deep affection for the Arabic language and a fascination with Muslim history and the stormy yet intimate relations between the Middle East and the West. When I Watch the plight and the exodus of the Christians of the Middle East, I think of the communities that preceded them into flight; the Jews, the Greeks, and other religious and ethnic groups and how their disappearance made the Arab world more arid culturally and less hospitable politically. Egypt never recovered the loss of its Copts, Jews, Greeks, Lebanese, Syrians and Armenians. Yes, we may be witnessing the twilight of Christianity in the Levant and Mesopotamia. It is conceivable that in few years there will be no more a living Christian community in Jerusalem or Bethlehem for the first time in 2000 years, only monks and priests tending to the stones of monasteries and churches being visited by the tourists. An Arab world without its Christian communities will be more insular, more rigid, less hospitable and more desolate.

Egyptians oppose return of Muslim Brotherhood: Sisi
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Saturday, 28 February 2015
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday that Egyptians themselves opposed the return of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and said that the Arab country’s stability was linked to that of the Gulf region. In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya News Channel, Sisi also criticized Turkey, saying it needed to halt its interference in Egypt. The president, who will visit Saudi Arabia on Sunday on an official visit, said the situation of the Arab world required coordination between Cairo and Riyadh. He also praised the stance of new Saudi King Salman, describing it as a “historic” one between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Sisi also reiterated the need for a joint Arab force in order to ensure stability in the region.On Syria, Sisi said the conflict in the war-ridden country should come to end via a political process and not military means.

Teacher denies radicalizing Canadian teens headed to Syria
By Andrea Hopkins | Reuters, Montreal
Saturday, 28 February 2015
A Muslim teacher once jailed by Canada as a security threat denied on Friday he had radicalized Canadian teens believed to have headed to Syria to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), saying his school had had only brief contact with one of the six students.
The students, four men and two women aged 18 and 19, left Montreal in January and February for Turkey and then on to Syria, according to media reports, the latest in a string of young Westerners who have become radicalized and have headed to the Middle East hoping to fight with ISIS.The teacher, Adil Charkaoui, told a news conference in Montreal that anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec is to blame for alienating Muslim students, not his classes, where he said only Arabic, the Koran and “basic notions” are taught.
He said only one of the departed students took a course at his school, which rented classroom space from two colleges in the Montreal area. Both colleges have canceled rental contracts with Charkaoui, accusing him of radicalizing students.
“Having checked the facts, I can tell you that individual was registered with the school but only attended two classes, not two months as reported ... after that he left the class,” Charkaoui told a news conference in Montreal.
“I’m stunned by the twisted logic of the spokespersons of the two (colleges) and the pseudo-experts that are blaming radicalization of young people for what has happened,” he added, noting that his school does not support ISIS.
Classes proceeded as usual on Friday at the College de Maisonneuve, a 5,000-student pre-university and technical college in Montreal where three of the teenagers studied.
“I didn’t see anything strange with them. They prayed like everyone else,” said student Marwa Durouoch, 18, who said she knew the three teenagers. But Durouoch, who wears a head scarf, also expressed deep feelings of frustration with what she perceives as a lack of religious freedom for Muslims in Quebec. “We’re in a prison here. We’re not allowed to practice our religion ... They’re in the process of copying France,” she said, noting that she and many fellow students want to leave the French-speaking province.
Her frustration echoed that of one of the departed students, Shayma Senouci, who in 2013 called on Facebook friends to sign a petition against Quebec’s “Charter of Values”, proposed legislation that had sought to prohibit public-sector employees from wearing or displaying conspicuous religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves. The legislation died when the nationalist Parti Quebecois, which spearheaded the Charter, lost power in last year’s provincial election, but tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims in Quebec remain.
Senouci’s Facebook account included a video of a Muslim woman being harassed on a Montreal bus with a one-word comment: “disgusting”, and was punctuated with posts last year in support of Gaza, calling the Israeli action there a “genocide”, and several referencing the Koran. Montreal Police declined to comment on the case of the six students. Officials at College de Maisonneuve also declined comment. Canada had tried to deport Charkaoui, an outspoken Moroccan-born advocate against Islamophobia, arresting him in 2003 and keeping him imprisoned or under surveillance for six years under a security certificate, based on classified information from Canada’s spy agency. Ottawa claimed Charkaoui had trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. The government eventually withdrew its case against Charkaoui rather than endanger the spy agency’s sources. He was granted Canadian citizenship in July 2014.

Egypt court brands Hamas a ‘terrorist’ group
Agence France Presse, Cairo
Saturday, 28 February 2015
An Egyptian court on Saturday branded the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas a “terrorist” organization, a judicial source said, after it was alleged to have links with jihadists behind deadly Sinai attacks. From Gaza City, Hamas reacted by condemning what it called “a great disgrace which soils the reputation of Egypt.” Since Egypt’s military ousted Islamist president Mohammad Mursi in 2013, the authorities have accused Hamas of aiding jihadists who have waged a string of deadly attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt blames Hamas, which is close to Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, of supporting the blacklisted Egyptian movement. An Egyptian court on Jan. 31 banned the armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, declaring it a “terrorist” group. In March last year, Egypt banned Hamas from carrying out any activities on its soil and froze the assets of the Islamist movement which controls the neighboring Gaza Strip. The court of first instance issued its verdict on Saturday after two complaints were filed against Hamas implicating it in deadly attacks against the police force and army in the Sinai, said the judicial source. Jihadists on the peninsula have killed scores of policemen and soldiers since Mursi’s overthrow, vowing revenge for a crackdown on his supporters that has left more than 1,400 people dead. Saturday’s ruling comes just days after Egypt adopted a new anti-terrorism law allowing the authorities to close the premises of any declared “terrorist” organization, and to freeze its assets as well as those of its members. The court ruling was “a desperate attempt to export Egypt’s crises,” charged Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza City. It amounted to “a dangerous escalation against the Palestinian people and the forces of Palestinian resistance” against Israel. But it would have “no impact on Hamas which treats with respect all the sons and leaders of the Arab world, except for some influential persons in Egypt,” said Abu Zuhri.

It is Time for an Arab Strategy
Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya
Saturday, 28 Feb, 2015
Several facts these days give the impression that the Arab world has no clear vision as to where it stands in the unfolding Middle East developments. Most Arab countries seem as if they are unable to respond rationally to these developments which now endanger their national unity, if not their very existence.
To give some examples: Yemen has over the last couple of months undergone a number of pretty dangerous changes, including the fall of its capital to Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the flight of the legitimate “leadership” to Aden—the former capital of South Yemen—followed by several Arab embassies. This has been taking place against the background of major Iranian military and naval manoeuvres in the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
There is also some talk of Arab attempts to scale down the current tension with Turkey, while some Arab players continue to escalate their war of words with Ankara, accusing it of aiding and abetting extremist “Islamist” groups in Libya. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is maintaining its carnage and destruction in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Lebanon remains tense, worried and unable to elect a new president as its acute political impasse enters its tenth month. Then, the Israeli–Iranian competition to win America’s preferential position in the region is also hotting up.
All this is happening in a climate of acute confessional and sectarian agitation across the Arab lands, sometimes even taking bizarre forms devoid of any logical, moral or humane deterrence.
However, in spite of these painful realities, and the catastrophes that may result from them, one sees no Arab strategic approach. This surely cannot be said about Israel, Iran and Turkey, each of which has its own clear regional strategy.
The Israeli strategy, especially under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, needs no introduction. Netanyahu, his Likud “hawks” as well as other extreme right-wingers have never believed in the “Land for Peace” principle, even when they were confronting a moderate secular Palestinian side ready to negotiate and accept the “Two States Solution”. Today, however, the Israeli extreme right is facing Palestinian groups that include “Islamist” organizations who are not only opposed to the “Two States Solution” but are also directly connected to Iran. Washington under Barack Obama is also committed to normalization leading to de facto alliance with Tehran, which has pushed Netanyahu and his allies, as the Israeli elections loom, to engage in an unprecedented battle of wills and blackmail with the American arena.
Here, it is important to remember that at the same time that Israel and Iran compete for a place closer to Washington’s ears and interests, the Arabs are in a lose–lose situation. If Obama wins this battle then the real victor will be Iran. While if the pro-Netanyahu Republicans in the US Congress emerge victorious their victory will be nothing more than a victory for the hard-line Israeli right-wing.
As far as Iran’s strategy is concerned, it has never been clearer than it is today. It is now obvious who has been preventing the emergence of a truly sovereign and united post-Saddam Iraq, particularly during the long term of former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki. Iran’s hegemony over Iraq can now be seen not only in the methodical sectarian cleansing in several areas of Iraq, but also in the active combat role that has been entrusted to the Tehran-led Iraqi sectarian militias inside Syria. What is ironic is that these militias, as well as the Iraqi regular armed forces—built by Tehran and Washington—are mostly sitting out the continuing battles against ISIS, leaving this task to the Sunni Arab tribes of western Iraq. All the while, Iran is presenting itself to the West as being its main ally in the fight against extremist terrorism.
The reality is that Iran through Hezbollah—its Lebanese military and political wing—is preventing the election of any new Lebanese president that does not agree to carry out the Lebanese side of its regional strategy. Hezbollah is effectively an occupying force in Lebanon but what Iran is seeking is rather an occupation made “constitutional” through a “puppet” president. Almost the same thing can be said about Yemen where the pro-Iran Shi’ite Houthi rebels are expanding their occupation of the country southwards, threatening the provinces of Ma’rib, oil-rich Shabwah, and Abyan. The escape of the current president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi from the occupied capital Sana’a to his southern stronghold of Aden has been the only Houthi setback since they began their onslaught, and since the dubious role of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh became apparent.
In both the Lebanese and Yemeni cases Iran is justifying its direct intervention by claiming it is fighting against “takfirist” jihadists and “Al-Qaeda” respectively. However, Lebanon does not look like it will be able to keep its independence as long as it is dominated by an armed confessional force that is much stronger than the Lebanese state. As for Yemen, it is unlikely to be able to maintain its national unity without containing the Houthi threat before it hands Iran control of the strait of Bab El-Mandeb.
Now, what about Turkey?
I dare say that Turkey’s knee jerk reaction against the July 2013 change in Egypt, which ended the short reign of the Muslim Brotherhood, was both immature and unwise. Still, the necessary regional balance in the Middle East should make it increasingly clear that Turkey can provide the counterweight to Iran’s creeping hegemony. In fact, whatever some may say about the Erdoğan regime’s sponsorship of the forces of “Sunni Political Islam” in the Arab world, the alternatives for Arab countries worried about Iran’s threat are diminishing by the day.
There is no doubt that the Middle East needs Egypt to play an active role, which thanks to its demographic, strategic and cultural weight, can and should provide the much needed balance. However, Egypt’s priorities at this moment in time are mainly domestic, not regional.
Thus, despite the welter of accusations leveled against Ankara, including even its “support” for ISIS and other extremist groups extending from Iraq to Libya, it is now a must that some sort of deep understanding with Ankara is reached without reservations. Indeed, what brings Turkey and many Arab countries together is much more important than temporary sensitivities and misunderstandings. It is vital that Turkey should now actively help to save what can still be saved of both Syria and Iraq, where tentative partition maps are all but ready.
It is now the right time to adopt a realistic and rational Arab approach that evolves into a true political “strategy” without delusions and ill-advised gambles.

Iran's Zarif criticizes Netanyahu's 'scaremongering'
News Agencies/Ynetnews
Published: 02.28.15/Israel News
Iranian FM claims Netanyahu employing 'falsificiation, propoganda' in attempt to prevent peace, says PM is using planned US speech to 'cover up realities in our region'.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Saturday that "scaremongering" by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won't stop the Islamic Republic and world powers from reaching a final nuclear deal.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the world should not allow the hard-line Israeli leader to undermine peace. He was referring to Netanyahu's planned speech at the US Congress next week on the emerging nuclear deal that he considers dangerous.
"Through scaremongering, falsification, propaganda and creating a false atmosphere even inside other countries, (Israel) is attempting to prevent peace," Zarif told reporters during a joint news conference Saturday with his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni. "I believe that these attempts are in vain and should not impede reaching a (nuclear) agreement."
In his sharpest criticism yet, Netanyahu said earlier this week that world powers "have given up" on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in ongoing negotiations. Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as threatening its very existence.
Netanyahu's planned address has further strained his relationship with the Obama administration, as America is a key ally to Israel. Netanyahu's speech in the US also comes ahead of March elections in Israel.
"Netanyahu is opposed to any solution and (his planned speech in US Congress) signifies his attempts to use an untrue issue and a fabricated crisis to cover up realities in our region, including the occupation (and) suppression of the Palestinian people, violation of rights of Palestinians and continuation of invasive policies," Zarif said.
The West fears Iran could build an atomic bomb with its nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes such as energy production and medical research.
Iran and the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany reached an interim accord in November 2013. Now, negotiators hope to reach a rough draft of a deal on Iran's disputed nuclear program by the end of March and a final agreement by June 30.
Staking out the broad outlines of a deal – without going into specifics – a US official spelled out for AFP where Washington was standing firm:
•Iran should not be allowed to develop weapons-grade plutonium at its Arak reactor. "We're discussing how Iran can convert that Arak reactor to serve a different purpose," the official said.
•Iran should not use its Fordo nuclear plant to enrich uranium.
•That would leave only Iran's Natanz plant capable of enriching uranium, which at high grades can be used in nuclear weapons.
•Any deal must ensure that it would take Iran a year to gather enough fissile material to make a bomb.
•Iran would "reduce significantly" its current number of operating centrifuges and its domestic stockpile.
•Iran must agree to unprecedented inspections of both nuclear and production facilities as well as uranium mines and mills, and suspect sites.
•The US is pursuing a deal in which relief from international sanctions demanded by Iran "is phased in over a period of time. We are insisting on the principle that sanctions can snap back into place if Iran were to violate the agreement," the US official said.
The Associated Press and AFP contributed to this report

Ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan: 'Netanyahu has caused Israel the most strategic damage on Iran'

Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer/Ynetnews
Published: 02.27.15, 23:47 / Israel News
In exclusive interview, ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan says he agrees with prime minister on threat posed by nuclear Iran, but warns Netanyahu 'is single-handedly motivating the Americans into rushing to reach an agreement.'
Meir Dagan feels a debt of gratitude towards Benjamin Netanyahu. "When I got sick," Dagan told us on Wednesday, "I needed a liver for a transplant. Netanyahu stepped in to help me. I have no personal grudge against him; to the contrary."
Nevertheless, Dagan did have some harsh things to say on the eve of Netanyahu's trip to Washington. A man of vast experience and much influence, Dagan, who served as head of the Mossad under Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu, is a concerned Israeli. "I turned 70 last week," he said to us. "All my children live in Israel. My grandchildren live in Israel. I want the dynasty to continue."
Dagan isn't exactly a leftist; anyone familiar with his biography will testify to this. When it comes to Iran, he shares Netanyahu's concerns. "A nuclear Iran is a reality that Israel won't be able to come to terms with," he said.
But Dagan believes that Netanyahu, because of the way he is handling the issue, is only bringing us closer to this harsh reality. "The person that has caused Israel the most strategic damage when it comes to the Iranian issue is the prime minister," he told us.
Iran's nuclear program, we said, started before Netanyahu's terms in office.
"We saw the first signs of Iran's aspirations to obtain nuclear weapons in 1988," Dagan said. "But we began to grasp the enormity of the challenge only in 2002-2003, during Sharon's term in office. Discussions were held. The professional bodies in the defense establishment told Sharon that the problem wasn't only an Israeli one, but a global one. They told Sharon that Israel should keep a low profile, and Sharon accepted that advice. A similar discussion was held with Olmert, and the policy was reaffirmed.
"Some 65 percent of the world's oil reserves are in Iran and the countries surrounding it. So, it's a global problem. As for Israel, it enters the fray from a tricky place. Until now, Israel has never signed any international convention concerning nuclear weapons. Israel refuses to lay itself open to international supervision. It would best, therefore, for Israel not to place itself at the forefront. We'll support any effort, intelligence or political, but we will always be on the sidelines."
"We didn't sit around and do nothing. The initial sanctions were imposed on Iran in 2003, thanks to our influence."There were also clandestine operations, we said.
"There were," he said. "We always said that the Iranian nuclear program could be delayed but that it was impossible to destroy it by means of clandestine operations. When I came to the end of my tenure as Mossad chief, in 2011, I said that Iran would not have nuclear weapons before 2015. I don't like to say so, but I was right.
"We had time: Some of it was used wisely, some of it wasn't. We managed to secure the cooperation of numerous countries in the campaign against Iran's nuclear program. We had some significant successes, beginning with Belgium and Germany and through to countries in the Far East. We persuaded states to stop selling items that the Iranians needed for the project – items that have a dual purpose. I'm talking about a huge number – something like 20,000 items. We managed to push through United Nations resolutions against Iran; we promoted intensification of the sanctions; we held very close talks with the Americans.
"We achieved an environment in which the international community was afraid to do business with Iran. Corporations stayed away from Iran because they were afraid of ramifications elsewhere – in other words, of losing money. The legal status wasn't the only determining factor; facts on the ground played a part as well. Corporations realized that they would pay a heavy price for violating the sanctions.
"But Netanyahu wanted to go one step further. He turned the Iranian problem into Israel's problem. Countries that had taken measures against Iran responded to his speeches by absolving themselves of responsibility. If Iran reaches the moment of truth, Israel will deal with it."
Why did Netanyahu forgo the military option, we asked.
"All the professional bodies were opposed to it," Dagan said. "Netanyahu would have had to take full responsibility for such a decision. He didn't want to take that responsibility."
"We were opposed to the military option, but it never occurred to us to rebel against him. None of us doubted that the prime minister had the authority to take such a decision. We voiced our professional opinions, and that's it. He didn't want to take such a dramatic decision without the backing of the heads of the defense establishment because he knew he would bear the responsibility in the end. I have never seen him take responsibility for anything.
"I've seen other leaders make decision and admit subsequently that they were wrong. No one is immune from making mistakes. The difference between him and others lies in the willingness to take responsibility. He's great when it comes to words, but not so when it comes to taking action."
Intolerable risks
According to Dagan, "A nuclear-armed Iran poses an existential threat to the State of Israel. I agree more or less with Netanyahu in this regard. Two issues in particular concern me with respect to the talks between the world powers and Iran: What happens if and when the Iranians violate the agreement, and what happens when the period of the agreement comes to an end and they decide to pursue nuclear weapons?
"Israel could have ensured American assurances of action if and when the deal is broken. Given the current state of relations, however, I doubt that's achievable now.
"Netanyahu is focusing all his efforts on the Americans. He's not reaching out to the other countries. He should have gone to see (Angela) Merkel, (David) Cameron, (Francois) Hollande and (Vladimir) Putin, who he claims to be friends with, and the Chinese. By behaving in the way he is towards the US administration, he is single-handedly motivating the Americans into rushing to reach an agreement. How would Obama explain his failure to reach a deal? That he gave in to Netanyahu? Or the Republicans?"
So what do you suggest, we asked. Doing nothing?
"If I were to respond cynically, I could say: Let's declare war on the United States, lose and then ask for aid. What we could have done was buy time – clandestine operations; support for opposition forces and minorities within Iran; there are numerous options. I wouldn't have got involved in an internal American conflict, against the president. Congress will applaud Netanyahu, but the power is in the hands of the president. What will Netanyahu gain from this trip? I just don't get it. What's his objective – applause? This trip is a failure waiting to happen.
"An Israeli prime minister who enters into a confrontation with the US administration needs to consider the risks. When it comes to the settlements, there is no difference between the two parties. Nonetheless, we are protected by the American veto power. If we are at odds with the White House, we could lose that protection and, within a short space of time, find ourselves facing international sanctions.
"The risks involved in such a confrontation are intolerable. We are already paying prices today. Some I know about but cannot elaborate on."
The White House, we said, has announced that it will stop sharing with Israel classified information pertaining to the negotiations with Iran. In your experience, does such a decision trickle down to our relations with the US administration on all levels?
"Yes," Dagan said, "and it happens very quickly. The head of the CIA is a political appointee; the national security adviser is a political appointee; the secretary of state is a political appointee. They all, the lower-level officials too, work in keeping with the spirit of their commander. We've witnessed this phenomenon during confrontations in the past, with the (Jonathan) Pollard case, for example. We depend on the Americans for strategic weapons. When senior administration officials say that Israel is acting against the national interests of the United States, it represents a grave long-term danger for us.
"What message does it send when our prime minister says that we don't need information from the talks and that we have our own sources? Is he implying that we are spying on the United States?
"Our standing in the world isn't that great right now. The question of Israel's legitimacy is on the agenda. We shouldn't be gnawing away at our relations with our most important ally – certainly not in public and certainly not by getting involved in American domestic politics. This is not the kind of behaviour one expects from a prime minister."
But, we said, Netanyahu sees the deal with Iran as akin to the Munich Agreement. One can certainly understand why he is acting this way.
"So he says," Dagan replied. "I'm not convinced that he really believes that. The prime minister needs to act according to a more sober assessment. You need to think about the objective. He didn't discuss his Congress address with professional advisers (from the defense and intelligence communities). Perhaps he spoke to political advisers.
"The Iranians are watching it all unfold and they are rubbing their hands in glee. They feel like they've managed to drive a wedge between Israel and its main ally, between the little Satan and the big Satan."
The United States held talks with Iran behind Israel's back too, we said. They had discussions with the Iranians in Oman.
"I'm not happy about that at all," Dagan said. "It's a reflection of the deterioration in our relations. But the Americans aren't fools. They knew that if they are holding talks Oman, the Saudis, Jordanians and Israelis know exactly what's going on."
To defeat, not to occupy
Most Israelis breathed a sigh of relief following Operation Protective Edge in the summer; and then came the sense of disappointment – after 51 days of fighting, one could have expected a little more than a stalemate when up against an organization like Hamas. Dagan reached a different and much harsher conclusion. The operation was a "resounding failure," in his view. "What did we achieve?" he continued. "Nothing, except a ceasefire that Hamas will violate whenever it chooses.
"There have been three operations in Gaza in recent years – Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge. Hamas learned its lessons well. First, we, Hamas, aren't able to go over the fence, so we'll go under it; second, Israel controls the skies, so we'll bring in and manufacture rockets; and third, Israel bombs us from the air, so we'll build bunkers.
"We didn't learn any lessons. Was there an Israeli tunnel going into Gaza? No. Did we define our strategic objectives? No. We worked towards achieving a ceasefire that simply begins the countdown to the next confrontation."
Netanyahu, we said, didn't seek to eliminate Hamas because he feared Islamic State would step into the void.
"That's nonsense," Dagan responded. "Netanyahu doesn’t understand what Islamic State is all about. Islamic State's occupation of territory was born out of circumstances related to the reality on the ground in Syria and Iraq. Islamic State has no interest in occupying territory in Gaza. Hamas' survival in Gaza served Netanyahu's interests not insofar as Islamic State is concerned, but with respect to Mahmoud Abbas.
"Netanyahu mishandled the whole thing. The only thing that interested him was to be photographed on the backdrop of maps. People say Netanyahu acted responsibly. Responsibly? It was a cover for inaction. No thought was given to what we want to achieve from this operation. Everyone knew about the tunnels. To say they didn't know isn't true. When the tunnels became a problem, they bombed the shafts from the air; and then, during the ground operation, they weren't able to locate them."
What, in your opinion, should have been done, we asked.
"We needed to go for a decisive outcome against Hamas," he said. "There are three components to the war against Hamas, in the following order of importance – the leadership, the infrastructure and the soldiers. The soldiers are the least important. In a place that is home to 1,750,000 people, the soldiers are the most readily available component. The military dealt very little with the infrastructure and didn't touch the leadership. Every time they killed a Hamas member, they named him a brigade commander. I was personally offended: I was a brigade commander.
"We embarked on the operation under the most convenient circumstances, and we ended it 51 days later sorely low on munitions. We wasted strategic arms. And what did we achieve? A temporary ceasefire."
So what would you have done, we asked - occupy Gaza?
"There's no need to occupy every square meter, considering all the costs that such a move would involve. We could have won without occupying. I think Netanyahu wanted another operation like Pillar of Defense, brief and without a decisive outcome; but it didn't work out for him like that this time. He's the man who released more than 1,000 murderers, yet he flexed his muscles in his dealings with Abbas. He refused to release third-rate terrorists. We turned Abbas into a terrorist because of his negotiations with Hamas, and there was no one to talk to during the operation."
What did you expect from Netanyahu, we asked.
"We should have defeated Hamas and brought Abbas to Gaza, under the patronage of the Arab League. We are dealing for the first time with a supportive Arab League. We and the Saudis and the Gulf States and Egypt are in agreement, both with respect to Iran and when it comes to the matter of radical Islam. We are like-minded even with regards to Turkey; look at what the Egyptians think of the Turks.
"We'll always have a problem with the Palestinians. For as long as we refuse to grant the right of return – and I oppose the right of return – there will always be Palestinian elements that will seek Israel's destruction. Jordan's King Abdullah is the one defending our eastern border. He's preventing the smuggling of arms and terror into the West Bank. Without him, the West Bank would become Hamastan. That's why we need to work in close coordination with him."
As far as we know, we said, Netanyahu invests a great deal in coordination with Jordan.
"I won't tell you what I believe King Abdullah thinks of him," Dagan said. "Today, due to the war on Islamic State, he is getting the full backing of the Americans. He needs Israel less so than he did in the past.
"And what does Netanyahu do? He allows people with all kinds of wacky ideas to visit the Temple Mount, the sanctity of which is entrusted to the Jordanian king."
Dagan is convinced that the current status quo poses a danger to Israel. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, he said. "Netanyahu's actions are leading us towards a bi-national state, and I don't want a bi-national state. I don't want Abbas as the prime minister of my country. Continuing to establish facts on the ground in the territories will inevitably lead us to an apartheid state."

Egypt goes to war on ISIS, masses troops against Islamist Libyan stronghold at Darnah
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 28, 2015
Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi has deployed his troops for all-out war on ISIS strongholds in Libya, the first Arab ruler to challenge the Islamists in a fellow Arab country, debkafile’s military sources report.
His intiative dramatizes the spillover of the Islamist State’s threat across the Middle East, and the fading impetus of the US-led coalition effort to reverse Islamic State gains in Iraq and Syria.
Our Washington sources report that the Obama administration’s planned spring campaign to free Iraqi Mosul from the Islamic State’s occupation is stuck in the sand. Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike accuse the president of having no clear war strategy and of holding back from the US-led coalition the fighting manpower necessary for a successful operation.
Answering questions in the Senate WEdnesday, Feb. 25, the coalition commander, retired Gen. John Allen, said he had no hard-and-fast timeline for the war. The influential Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California responded angrily: Your answers show one thing about the timeline defined by the White House as an enduring ground operation: “There is none.”
Jihadi John, who was filmed beheading ISIS victims, was revealed Thursday, Feb. 26, as a northwest Londoner of Kuwaiti descent called Mohammed Emwaz, who had been known to British intelligence. This was leaked by US sources to signal Washington’s aggravation over the relatively passive British role in the war on the Islamic State.
Also released was a video showing Islamic barbarians smashing priceless Assyrian artifacts in a Mosul museum – following which Friday, four ISIS members were burned alive for refusing to join the savage spree to vandalize the relics of an ancient world civilization.
Even so, US-led air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq remain sporadic, no better than pinpricks.
The Egyptian president was stirred into action by the barbaric beheading on Feb. 15 of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who had found work in Libya.
El-Sisi first launched a series of air strikes against ISIS and allied Islamist militias in one of their Libyan strongholds in Darnah, following which he has now ordered Egyptian commando and marine forces to prepare for sea landings to seize the town and destroy the terrorist elements there, another landmark operation in the war on Islamist terror. .
Part of the Libyan terrorist movement and one of ISIS’s closest allies is the Ansar al-Sharia militia, which in September 2012 burned down the US consulate in Benghazi and murdered the US ambassador and three other American officials.
Cairo’s Darnah operation is believed to be days away. It is scheduled to take place at the same time as another anti-terrorist operation, which El-Sisi is planning to launch on Egypt’s longest-running front against the Islamist threat in Sinai, 2,000 kilometers east of Darnah. There, Egyptian and ground forces will go into action against the ISIS affiliate’s hideouts.
He is also considering aerial bombardments of the Gaza Strip to target Hamas’ military arm whose active collaboration with the jihadis has been confirmed by intelligence.
Some of the militias which have divided Darnah, a town of app. 50,000, among themselves, have declared their territories provinces of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s Islamic Caliphate.
According to our military sources, Egyptian forces will be assigned to attack the town from the north after a beach landing. They plan to link up with allied Libyan militias commanded by the former Qaddafi regime general Khalifa Hifter, who will come from Benghazi to strike the town from the south. Khalif and his armed men have been pursuing a relentless war on the inroads made by al Qaeda in Libya, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, with quiet backing from Cairo.
The London-based Arabic Alquds Alarabi, which is known for its solid sources in the Middle East, reported this week that Gen. Hafter had recently paid at least two secret visits to Cairo to collect the weapons he needs for his part in the Darnah offensive and coordination.
After one of those trips, the paper reports, Hafter set out for Jordan where he had meetings with Israeli military and intelligence officials.

Foreign Affairs: Obama’s Faustian bargain with Iran
Washington’s attitude toward Iran’s nuclear quest increasingly resembles its attitude toward Soviet disarmament since 1969, but lacks those years’ moral conviction.
Having admonished young Russians to fight corruption and demand freedom, Joe Biden stared at a packed Moscow University auditorium and said: “Don’t compromise on the basic elements of democracy. You need not make that Faustian bargain.”
Four years on, the US vice president’s boss is the one brewing a pact with the devil, ceding moral values for mortal gains. That, at least, is how both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog see the evolving deal between Iran and the P5+1 world powers.
The deal has yet to be formally presented, but its reported contours are clear: a supervision regime that would force the Iranians to slow down and expose their industrial progress toward the ability to build a nuclear bomb, keeping the capability at least a year away at any point during the agreement’s duration.
The Iranian capability to weaponize would be curtailed by three restrictions concerning Tehran’s high-grade uranium: its quantity would be cut; its grade would be capped; and its processing would be shrunk.
The cutting would be done the way it already was last year, when Tehran diluted a portion of its high-grade uranium; the capping would be to 5 percent, which is sufficient for civilian purposes but insufficient for producing a bomb; and production would be squeezed by limiting the amount of centrifuges, the tools of uranium’s enrichment.
This formula’s rationale is that the sanctions, which would be lifted gradually in return for transparency and slowdown, could be restored at any point. If by the time the deal’s duration expires the powers agree that Iran has fulfilled its commitments, Tehran would be allowed to use nuclear power for civilian purposes without international supervision.
The time frame for this structure is, reportedly, 10 years – during which Iran’s production of nuclear fuel would be drastically cut, followed by five years during which it would be incrementally restored. The deadlines for the framework and final agreements are, respectively, March 24 and June 30.
The Islamic Republic’s interlocutors are not made of one skin. Russia and China don’t feel threatened by Iran’s quest, as opposed to the Western powers.
Moscow, at the same time, has an economic interest that Iran’s oil remain in its wells, lest it further flood an already glutted energy market – where Russia wins most of its bread.
Beijing’s interest is the opposite of Russia’s, as it lacks the latter’s oil and gas, and at the same time has a sprawling industrial sector the size of which Russia will not have even a generation from now. China therefore has an interest in oil prices’ further fall and in Iran’s oil returning to the markets, and in fact sees in Tehran a strategic business partner. Then again, Beijing also sees an unruly and provocative Iran as bad for business.
Despite these variations, the talks’ tone is set by the Western powers, and within them by the US – whose negotiators reject the comparison between their dialogue with Tehran’s mullahs and that of Neville Chamberlain’s with Hitler.
The way US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are conducting this negotiation, its analogy is to them not the Munich Pact with Nazi Germany but the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which produced limited disarmament agreements between the US and USSR.
The American-Soviet arms limitation talks began in 1969 in Helsinki, and resulted three years later in an agreement signed festively in Moscow by president Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The two superpowers agreed to limit their anti-ballistic missiles operations to one site each.
The American rationale was twofold: military and diplomatic. Militarily, the deal left most of the sides’ vast lands exposed to each other’s potential attack, thereby upholding each others’ nuclear deterrence.
Diplomatically, it triggered and cultivated a culture of dialogue that the Americans hoped would, in due course, help sensitize the formidable Soviets.
The analogy to the Iranian situation lies in the staunchly anti-Communist Nixon’s conclusion that dealing with America’s arch-rival was worthwhile – even though it clung to its Communist faith, human rights abuses and global interventions.
That is how the two superpowers continuously conducted dialogue and bargained, even while their proxies clashed worldwide, ultimately producing further deals about limiting the number of strategic launchers.
Unlike Hitler’s deals, which he violated one by one, the Soviets abided by theirs. In fact, the spirit of those talks was so positive that even after US president Jimmy Carter halted the SALT II agreement’s ratification process following Afghanistan’s invasion, Moscow and Washington still fulfilled its terms, voluntarily.
The Iranian situation is obviously different. Iran is not a superpower, its interlocutors don’t perceive it as threatening them directly and it is no match for any of them on any possible parameter – militarily, industrially or economically. Moreover, by the time SALT was negotiated, the Soviet nuclear arsenal had long been intact and growing – whereas the Iranians have yet to hold their first bomb.
Even so, the unfurling American attitude is inspired by the same mentality with which Washington treated the unconventional arms of the USSR in its last decades.
It is a dramatic shift. As former secretary of state Henry Kissinger put it in a congressional hearing last month, what began as an effort to deny Iran’s nuclear military capability has since become a negotiation over that capability’s scope.
This unfolding nuclear acquiescence comes coupled with a political free ride that Washington never gave the USSR.
WHILE NIXON’S diplomats negotiated disarmament with the Soviets, American politicians pressured the USSR on its human rights record.
This effort’s main weapon was the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the US Trade Act, which tied US foreign trade to its partner’s human rights record. By withholding the USSR’s “most favored nation” status, the US waged on this front the war it avoided on the disarmament front: the war of ideas.
The war of ideas is for now a non-factor in the dialogue between Washington and Tehran. Obama’s tone for such tolerance was already set in his Cairo Speech of June 2009, where after faintly mentioning that “Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against US troops and civilians,” he affirmed that the US is “prepared to move forward” and that “the question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.”
That is how the sanctions against Iran remain confined to the nuclear situation, while for instance, Iran’s serial executions – 664 in 2013 and 721 last year, according to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center – and the ayatollahs’ jailing of thousands of dissidents, are treated as the Islamic Republic’s “internal affairs” and left diplomatically unopposed.
So is Iran’s regional meddling. With its recent snatching of Yemen, Tehran’s already decisive sway in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut is now well on its way to its next strategic milestone, the Bab el-Mandeb strait – where Asia and Africa are but 28 kilometers apart, and where 4% of the world’s oil passes annually en route to the Suez Canal.
Iran’s expansionism is apparently under-appreciated by Obama.
A Yemen that orbits Iran is intolerable to nearby Egypt, which already has responded to the Iranian nuclear quest by two weeks ago signing a deal with Russia to build its own reactor. Similarly, Egyptian and Saudi messages of concern to Washington over the evolving deal with Iran have thus far fallen on deaf ears.
These aspects of Iran’s conduct are no factor in the negotiations, not to mention its role in the Syrian people’s butchery. As such, if sanctions are lifted without any Western demand concerning Iran’s domestic and regional conduct, the deal would be interpreted in Tehran as approval of its oppression and imperialism, not to mention its Islamism.
It follows, that all those displeased with the Obama administration’s Iranian policy will likely respond to his overtures by seeking a parallel sanctions effort that will aim not at Iran’s nuclear program, but at its treatment of its citizens and neighbors.
Responding to Israeli statements concerning the current negotiations, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said they were “a smoke screen” intended to divert attention from the Jewish state’s “atrocities against the Palestinians.”
It was the kind of broadside Soviet officials used to habitually make while talking arms control with the US, obviously unaware that their polity’s years were numbered. Then again, at no time since backing its establishment in 1948 did the Soviet Union deny the Jewish state’s right to exist.
In this regard, the current talks’ analogy is to Munich 1938 – and the bargain that Biden’s boss seems eager to strike is with the devil.