March 12/15

Bible Quotation For Today/The mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing
Matthew 15/29-39: "After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.’The disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?’Jesus asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ They said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’ Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan."

Bible Quotation For Today/ My joy would be the joy of all of you.
Second Letter to the Corinthians 01/23-24/02/01-05/""But I call on God as witness against me: it was to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth. I do not mean to imply that we lord it over your faith; rather, we are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in the faith. So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. For I wrote to you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent not to exaggerate it to all of you."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 11-12/15
Iran’s project will reshape Lebanon/Michael Young| The Daily Star/March 12/15
Tolerating the intolerable: Syria, four years on/Tom Fletcher/Al Arabiya/March 11/15
The Middle East and Its Grim Near-Future Development/Markus Tozman/AINA/March 11/15
Iran's Next Supreme Leader and the Nuclear Deal/Mehdi Khalaji/Politico/March 11/15

Lebanese Related News published on March 11-12/15
Geagea Says 'Major Progress' in Dialogue with FPM, Rejects President Who 'Contradicts' with His Choices

STL Unveils Audio Recording of 2005 Hariri-Ghazali Meeting
Berri Postpones Presidential Election Session to April, Pessimistic over Near End of Crisis
Iranian Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari: ,Hizbullah's Resistance against Israeli Army among Islamic Revolution's Miracles
Upcoming Cabinet Session to Tackle Appointments of BCCL and Security Officials
Aoun Denies Pushing to Appoint Son-in-Law as Army Chief
Berri Meets Bou Saab, SCC, Calls for Joint Parliamentary Committees Session on Wage Scale
North Governor Warns Meat Shops, Orders Arrest of Vehicle Inspection 'Brokers'
NGOs: Lebanon Should Recognize and Add Labor Law Protections for Domestic Workers
Financial General Prosecution Rejects Request to Release Former HRC Chief
Suriname President's Son Jailed in U.S. for Hizbullah 'Plot'
Health Ministry Inspectors Clamp Down on Institutions in Sidon
Report: Nusra Front Warns Shaker of Returning to Singing Career
Report: U.S. to Pledge Huge Financial Aid for Lebanon during Donor Conference
Bou Saab Says Education Ministry Working on Cleanliness of Water at Schools
Report: General Security Arrests Female Suicide Bomber Heading to Saudi Arabia
Obama Reappoints David Hale as Ambassador to Pakistan
Saudi Beheads 3 for Drug Trafficking
Residents want new Jal al-Dib bridge plan
Iran’s project will reshape Lebanon
AUB student’s death shrouded in mystery

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 11-12/15
Canada says foils plot by ISIS supporter to bomb Toronto financial district, US consulate
Canadian imams issue fatwa against ISIS
Release of 52 Assyrian Families Captured By ISIS Delayed
Kerry: Congress cannot modify any Iran-US nuclear deal
Obama extends two decades-long national emergency with Iran, despite nuclear talks
France keeps 10,000 troops on streets after militant attacks
Dempsey says Iran-backed Iraqi militias could turn against U.S.
Syria regime blamed for killing more than 600 doctors: rights group
ISIS attacks Iraq’s Ramadi with seven car bombs: police
ISIS kills own fighters who tried to flee
Iraqi forces beat ISIS in Tikrit, reach city center
IS in Major Assault on Syria Border Town Ras al-Ain
ISIS battling Kurdish forces in northeast Syria
Kerry: Congress cannot modify Iran nuclear deal
Saudi King: committed to defend Palestine
Activists: Saudi Jails Rights Group founder for 10 Years
Kingdom ready to face challenges ahead: Saudi King
Jordan Muslim Brotherhood meet to discuss divisions
Yemen ruling party rejects Riyadh talks: senior member
Opinion: The Yemen Talks in Riyadh
ISIS video shows killing of teen accused as Israeli spy
Solar Impulse 2 Sets Distance Record
As Israel Vote Looms, Center-Left Pulls ahead of PM's Likud
Egyptian officer killed in attack near Gaza

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
Pakistan: Muslim cleric laments that no Islamic scholar is confronting Islamic State

Feds urge limits on phone access of Ohio would-be jihad murderer
Canada: Muslim arrested after plotting to bomb U.S. consulate in Toronto
Muslim at Miami synagogue screams: “Allahu akbar! I’m gonna cut your heads off!”
Kuwaiti Muslim preacher, Islamic State call for demolition of Sphinx, pyramids
Nigeria: Some politicians think opposing child marriage “would be synonymous with taking a stand against the Muslim faith”
UK Muslims decry “the continued public targeting of Muslims through endless ‘anti-terror’ laws”
Islamic State kidnaps Catholics, threatens to decapitate adults, burn children alive
New Islamic State video shows child murdering alleged Mossad spy
Just-released video: Boston Marathon jihad murderers at the Marathon

Geagea Says 'Major Progress' in Dialogue with FPM, Rejects President Who 'Contradicts' with His Choices
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea revealed Wednesday that “major progress” has been made regarding the so-called declaration of intent paper that would pave the way for full-throttle dialogue with the Free Patriotic Movement, without setting a date for its release.“The person who can resolve the presidential deadlock is (FPM chief) General (Michel) Aoun. He is the only one who can change the picture and he must take a decision and end the obstruction of elections,” said Geagea in an interview on MTV.
“The starting point for dialogue with Aoun must be the decision to stop obstruction,” he added. “Claims that I'm obstructing and taking part in impeding the elections are unjust accusations and the only solution is to head to parliament and elect a president,” he went on to say. The LF leader declared that “major progress was made today regarding the declaration of intent paper,” describing the sought document as “an agreement on the big picture,” not on details. However, he criticized remarks voiced by Aoun in an interview with al-Akhbar newspaper. “I cannot accept Aoun's remarks that (U.N. Security Council) Resolution 1559 is suspicious and that a strong party is one that fights outside its society. Dialogue is needed because we come from different backgrounds,” he said.
As for the draft paper of agreement, Geagea noted that he has introduced amendments to “16 out of 17 points in the paper.” “The General's feedback was acceptable. He will submit some remarks before resending the paper to me,” he said.
“We totally intend to move forward in dialogue and the General is also contributing to the positivity and we must not forget all the changes that are happening in the region.”Asked about the much-anticipated meeting between him and Aoun, Geagea pointed out that “the issue needs some time.”“We're still in the phase of exchanging views and I discussed with the General the idea of a finding a third candidate but he was against such a move,” he revealed. He also noted that a so-called “strong president” does not necessarily have to enjoy “strong popular representation.” On the possibility that he might alter his political principles to reach an agreement with Aoun, Geagea said: “I'm not free to make a choice that contradicts with everything I did throughout 30 years and that would be a major scandal.”
“I cannot accept a president who would contradict with everything that I have fought for,” he underlined. Geagea lamented that “there is a clear Iranian decision to obstruct the presidential vote.”  “It will change it in one case -- if it can secure the election of a president who can reassure it,” the LF leader added, referring to Tehran. “Iran believes that there is a single battle, from Sanaa to Beirut, and this Iranian escalation in the region has started to affect us and they're saying that they're leaning towards General Aoun,” he noted.
Turning to the political situation in Lebanon, Geagea said “some independents are somehow blocking March 8's project but this project is ruling the country today.”  “Hizbullah is fighting in Syria while March 14's project is fighting for the state,” he noted.
Asked about situation in the March 14 coalition, Geagea emphasized that Lebanon “can only find salvation through March 14's project.”Commenting on criticism of March 14's performance in recent years, the LF leader said “all March 14 parties exerted their utmost efforts for the sake of the state. “But some are forgetting that we witnessed 20 assassinations and the May 7, 2008 incidents, which cannot be justified,” he pointed out. He also stressed that March 14's project is “still clearly present more than ever.”

STL Unveils Audio Recording of 2005 Hariri-Ghazali Meeting
Naharnet /The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon disclosed Wednesday during a televised session an audio recording for a 2005 meeting that took place at the Qureitem Palace between ex-PM Rafik Hariri and then-chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon Rustom Ghazali. The meeting -- which was also attended by Ad Diyar newspaper editor-in-chief Charles Ayoub -- focused on the electoral law that was being debated for the 2005 parliamentary vote. The recording, which was put forward by the Prosecution, was played during the testimony of al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Ghazi Youssef, who was close to Hariri prior to his February 14, 2005 assassination. The meeting took place on January 9, 2015. The Prosecution said the STL had obtained the recording from slain Internal Security Forces Intelligence Branch chief Wissam al-Hassan, who was murdered in a 2012 car bomb attack. The talks start with mutual compliments between Hariri and Ghazali. “There are some issues that can be resolved through goodwill and honest brotherly dialogue and nothing is worthy of dispute,” the latter tells Hariri. “Syria is the supporter and the cornerstone and I cannot tolerate any harm against it, even if – rightfully or mistakenly – we feel that it has erred against us … We do not accept to see it being attacked or insulted,” Hariri replies.
“I'm not saying this to return to the premiership nor to take part in the government, but this does not at all mean that I'm unwilling to participate or to take part in political action,” the ex-PM added. As for the electoral law, Hariri asked Ghazali to pass on a message to the Syrian leadership. “Tell your leadership that I have said this: if those who are in Baabda and the Grand Serail (then-president Emile Lahoud and Omar Karami's government) draft a hybrid (electoral) law, you will be the ones to pay the price. Hariri added: “Why do we need to breach the Taef Accord?” “The only thing that would harm you is an (electoral) law based on districts and other formulas cannot harm you,” he went on to say. Hariri also mentions the 2004 assassination attempt against MP Marwan Hamadeh, who was close to both Hariri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat. Again he asks Ghazali to deliver a message to the Syrian leadership. “Why wasn't Marwan's file referred to the Judicial Council? Before you leave this place, call (then-justice minister) Adnan (Addoum) and tell him to raise the issue,” Hariri says. Hariri was assassinated in a massive bombing that targeted his convoy in central Beirut on February 14, 2005. The STL is trying five Hizbullah members in absentia over their alleged involvement in the murder. The trial opened in The Hague in January 2014. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the court as a U.S.-Israeli scheme and vowed that the accused will never be found.

Berri Postpones Presidential Election Session to April, Pessimistic over Near End of Crisis
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri postponed anew a parliamentary session set to elect a new head of state after he expressed pessimism over the near end of the crisis. The 20th session was adjourned to April 2 over lack of quorum. Earlier the speaker expressed despair in comments published in local newspapers over the ongoing differences between the political arch-foes, saying: “Hopes (to elect a president) became a delusion.”“It's a shame that the number of sessions reached 20,” the speaker pointed out.
President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May without the election of a successor. Ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps have thwarted the polls. An electoral session, the 19th, was held in February, but it was postponed to March 11 over a lack of quorum at parliament. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc and Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance blocs have been boycotting the elections, demanding that political powers agree on a compromise presidential candidate.
Berri denied in comments published in al-Joumhouria newspaper that his recent meeting with al-Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri tackled the reappointment of the former premier as the head of the cabinet. “How can we discuss the premiership before the election of a president?” the head of AMAL movement wondered. The two officials met in February during a short visit by Hariri to Lebanon where he met with several political figures. “We should carry out the presidential election first before tackling any other matter... those who are saying such statements aim at toppling the dialogue (with Hizbullah) and the general situation in the country,” Berri stressed. The dialogue between al-Mustaqbal and Hizbullah kicked off in December under the auspices of Berri in Ain el-Tineh.
Berri considered in comments published in As Safir newspaper that “the thing which distinguishes the current dialogue from other talks is its seriousness.”“Ain el-Tineh's talks are based on short statements but actions are taken into effect immediately,” he noted.
“The positive atmosphere made the return of Hariri to the premiership possible.”Asked about his recent meeting with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, the speaker said that he briefed him on the dialogue between the Sunni and Shiite parties as the FPM chief in return informed him about the party's talks with the Lebanese Forces.“I stressed to Aoun that the Christian parties should have engaged in dialogue earlier to tackle the presidential election and to swiftly end the stalemate,” Berri said. During his weekly meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, the speaker revealed that he will invite the parliament's bureau after March 17 to convene to prepare for a session that he will call for soon under the slogan “the urgent draft legislation.” Parliament convenes twice a year in two ordinary sessions -- the first starts mid-march until the end of May and the second from the middle of October through the end of December.Article 33 of the Constitution confirms that extraordinary sessions can be held at the request of "an absolute majority" of the parliament.

Iranian Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari: ,Hizbullah's Resistance against Israeli Army among Islamic Revolution's Miracles
Naharnet/Iran's top general said Wednesday his country has reached "a new chapter" towards its declared aim of exporting revolution, in reference to Tehran's growing regional influence, while hailing the role of Hizbullah in resisting Israel. Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the nation's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, said: “Hizbullah and its resistance against one of the armies in the world -- that is to say the army of the Zionist regime.. is one of the Islamic revolution's miracles," he said. "It is (part of) the powerful influence of the Islamic system as the helmsman in the region."“Supporting Lebanon and the Gaza Strip are among the Islamic Republic's fundamental principles,” he added. His comments come amid concern among some of Shiite Iran's neighbors about Tehran's role. "The Islamic revolution is advancing with good speed, its example being the ever-increasing export of the revolution," he said, according to the ISNA news agency. "Today, not only Palestine and Lebanon acknowledge the influential role of the Islamic republic but so do the people of Iraq and Syria. They appreciate the nation of Iran,” Jafari said in a speech before the Assembly of Experts, Iran's top clerical body. He made references to military action against Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Iraq and Syria, where the Guards have deployed advisers in support of Baghdad and Damascus. "The phase of the export of the revolution has entered a new chapter," he added, referring to an aim of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.Jafari's remarks echoed those of another Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani, head of the Quds Force, the Guards' foreign wing, who has reportedly been posted in Iraq near the front line against IS. "Today we see signs of the Islamic revolution being exported throughout the region, from Bahrain to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen and North Africa," he said on February 11.Iran's role, however, has aroused concern in Saudi Arabia, the region's major Sunni Muslim power, and also in the United States. Former CIA chief Michael Hayden said Tuesday he was "uncomfortable" with Iran's growing influence in Iraq, especially in an offensive in Tikrit, north of Baghdad. The city, which was the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein, is the target of an assault led by Iraqi troops and Shiite militias backed by Tehran. "I am made uncomfortable by the fact that it looked like a Shia advance against a Sunni town," said Hayden, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency between 2006 and 2009. "And the proof would be what happens if and when they retake Tikrit... how the militias act toward the local population. "It's clear to me that the Iranian policy is based upon Shia dominance of the new Iraqi state, and that effort in itself feeds the Sunni opposition."Agence France Presse

Obama extends two decades-long national emergency with Iran, despite nuclear talks
By MICHAEL WILNER/03/11/2015/J.Post
WASHINGTON -- US President Barack Obama extended the country's national emergency with respect to Iran on Wednesday, noting that the crisis in relations "has not been resolved" despite high-stakes negotiations between the countries under way over Tehran's nuclear program. The official state of relations has been in crisis for two decades, since March 15, 1995, when President Bill Clinton signed executive executive order 12957 pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Technically, there are two executive orders on Iran declaring states of emergency: order 12957 and order 12170, signed by President Jimmy Carter. Together, they have frozen Iranian assets held in the United States and have prohibited certain transactions with respect to Iran's petroleum products. Progress has been made in the relationship, Obama noted a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): The interim Joint Plan of Action, which laid the groundwork for nuclear talks, "marks the first time in a decade that Iran has agreed to take, and has taken specific actions that stop the advance and roll back key elements of its nuclear program." "Nevertheless," he continued, "certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.""For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared with respect to Iran and to maintain in force comprehensive sanctions against Iran to deal with this threat."

Kerry: Congress cannot modify any Iran-US nuclear deal
By REUTERS/03/11/2015 /WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State John Kerry told US lawmakers on Wednesday they would not be able to modify any nuclear agreement struck between the United States and Iran despite threats by Republican senators.
In congressional testimony, Kerry said he responded with "utter disbelief" to an open letter signed by 47 Republican senators that warned that any nuclear agreement would only last as long as US President Barack Obama remains in office.
"When it says that Congress could actually modify the terms of an agreement at any time is flat wrong. You don't have the right to modify an agreement reached executive to executive between leaders of a country," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which does not include Senator Tom Cotton, the Republican from Arkansas who wrote the letter. The White House slammed the letter as "reckless" and "irresponsible," warning that it interfered with efforts to negotiate with the Iranians.
The negotiations, which resume in Lausanne, Switzerland, next week led by Kerry, are at a critical juncture as the sides try to meet an end of March target for an interim deal, with a final deal in June that would ease crippling sanctions against Iran's economy.
The letter was an unusual intervention by lawmakers into US foreign policy. The US Constitution divides foreign policy between the president and Congress. "During my 29 years in the Senate I never heard of, or even heard of it being proposed, anything comparable to this," Kerry said. "This letter ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of American foreign policy."Kerry said the letter undermined and added uncertainty to the "thousands of agreements" the United States signs with foreign governments across the globe.

Upcoming Cabinet Session to Tackle Appointments of BCCL and Security Officials
Naharnet/The cabinet is set to convene on Thursday with several issues listed on its agenda mainly the appointment of new members of the Banking Control Commission whose term ends on March 17 and the extension of the term of prominent security officials. Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil has listed the names of candidates for the BCCL which will be presented to the cabinet as follows: Samir Hammoud (Sunni) a candidate of al-Mustaqbal as president of the committee, Joseph Sarkis (Maronite) a Free Patriotic Movement candidate, Ahmed Safa (Shiite) an AMAL Movement and Hizbullah candidate, and Munir Elyan (Catholic) a candidate of March 14, An Nahar daily reported on Wednesday. The daily said that debate continues to name an Orthodox nominee mainly that FPM chief Michel Aoun prefers him to be part of his share while the Finance Minister is inclined to suggest Toni Shwairi for the post. The demands to appoint new members at the committee is expected to create a fuss in light of the vacuum at the top state position, as the 5-member commission would have to take an oath before the president, added the daily. The government will most probably have to renew the terms of the current BCCL members to avert any confusion, it stated. On the other hand, sources confirmed that extending the term of security officials who completed their extension period or those who are set to retire is inevitable as its impossible to conduct appointments in security positions in light of the presidential vacuum.

Aoun Denies Pushing to Appoint Son-in-Law as Army Chief
Naharnet/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun has denied that he proposed his son-in-law Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz to be appointed army chief. “I am always criticized over my alleged intentions and thoughts,” Aoun told al-Akhbar newspaper in the second part of an interview published on Wednesday. “I never said I wanted him (Roukoz) army commander. Journalists said so.” Aoun stressed that he had suggested five names and called for studying the file of each one of them to see who is the most competent to become army commander. The FPM chief reiterated last month that a decision to extend the term of more than 20 officers in different posts violates the adopted norms. His stance reportedly came as a result of a decision by Defense Minister Samir Moqbel not to include the name of Roukoz on the list of extension. Roukoz's tenure ends in October 2015 while the term of army commander Gen. Jean Qahwaji expires at the end of September. Asked how close he thought he is to Baabda Palace, Aoun said: “As close as an agreement among the Lebanese.”The FPM chief said in the first part of the interview that was published on Tuesday that reaching the country's top Christian post has never become his ultimate objective. “It is the means to achieve what we aspire for … The country is moving like a lost ship that needs a compass,” he said. In Wednesday's interview, he expressed optimism on the FPM dialogue with the Lebanese Forces. “There are difficulties of course and things need time,” Aoun said. FPM and LF officials are holding talks to set the stage for a meeting between Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea, who are both presidential candidates and whose rivalry is partly to be blamed for the vacuum at Baabda Palace. Their meeting will be preceded by the announcement of a document that the two parties are drafting.
“Ninety percent of Christians want dialogue,” Aoun told al-Akhbar. Asked about his ties with al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri, Aoun said relations improved after their last meeting in Beirut. He also said that Hariri has changed. “Fighting terrorism brought together antagonists,” Aoun added.

IS in Major Assault on Syria Border Town Ras al-Ain
Naharnet/The Islamic State jihadist group launched a major offensive Wednesday to try to capture a strategic town on the Syrian-Turkish border, leaving dozens dead in clashes, a monitor said. "Fighters from the Islamic State group started a huge assault towards Ras al-Ain and were able to take over a village nearby," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The offensive is a preemptive strike against Kurdish militia who were planning an attack on the IS-held town of Tal Abyad farther west along the border, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. Tal Abyad is an Arab and Kurdish town in the Syrian province of Raqa used by IS jihadists as a gateway from Turkey.At least 12 fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which control Ras al-Ain and the surrounding villages, were killed in the IS onslaught, according to Abdel Rahman. "This is a big hit to the morale of Kurdish fighters," he said. He was unable to give an exact death toll for the jihadists but said that including IS casualties scores had been killed. A spokesman for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG's political arm, confirmed an intense battle was raging around the town. Ras al-Ain, in Hasakeh province, was the scene of major fighting in 2013 before Kurdish forces ousted rebels and Al-Qaida-linked jihadists from the town, which has a border crossing with Ceylanpinar in Turkey. Kurdish fighters are also locked in clashes with IS around the strategic town of Tal Tamr, just southeast of Ras al-Ain, which lies near a key road that links to their Iraqi bastion of Mosul to the east. The IS offensives come just weeks after Kurdish militia backed by Iraqi peshmerga fighters and Syrian rebels drove the extremists out of Kobane farther west along the Turkish border.The town, which was devastated by months of fighting and U.S.-led coalition air strikes, became a prominent symbol of resistance against the jihadists. Kurdish and allied forces have since taken much of the surrounding countryside in northern Aleppo province and have begun pushing east into neighboring Raqa province, home to IS's self-proclaimed "capital." IS has seized large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq and imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Foreign jihadists have flocked to Syria, often crossing over from Turkey, since the country's conflict began in March 2011 as a popular revolt which later escalated into a full-blown civil war.Agence France Presse

Iran's Next Supreme Leader and the Nuclear Deal
Mehdi Khalaji/Politico
March 10, 2015
In all likelihood, Khamenei's potentially imminent successor will be even more of a hardliner, and he could renege on a deal just as easily as the next U.S. president.
In their controversial letter to "the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and 46 other Republican senators suggested that even if Washington comes to a nuclear deal with President Obama, the next American president could decide to reject it, presumably if he (or she) were more of a hard-liner than Obama is.
But the next ayatollah who becomes supreme leader of Iran could do exactly the same thing -- and many signs indicate that he is going to be more of a hard-liner. Ironically, opponents of a nuclear deal in Washington could well be contributing to this outcome by creating an atmosphere of mistrust in Tehran that only consolidates the power of the conservatives there.
Moreover, whoever the next supreme leader of Iran is, there's every chance we could be meeting him sooner rather than later. In recent weeks fresh reports have surfaced about the deteriorating health of the current occupant of that office, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, raising questions about Iran's future at a critical moment in the nuclear negotiations with the West. True, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate fact from rumor. Even though Tehran, in an unprecedented decision, recently publicized Khamenei's "prostate removal operations," the government considers the facts of his illness to be a matter of national security; both the Shah and Khamenei's predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were extremely ill during their rule, yet knowledge of their true health was limited to a handful of people and family members. And some Iranian politicians have a vested interest in spreading stories about -- or at least exaggerating -- Khamenei's declining health for their own political purposes as they look to sway the views of the Assembly of Experts, the council of more than 80 members that is charged by the constitution with the succession issue.
Nevertheless, when it does come, Khamenei's death will transform the Islamic Republic as fundamentally as the death of Ayatollah Khomeini and the ascendance of Khamenei himself did in 1989. And if current indications are any guide, when that happens Iran could become even tougher to deal with than it already is. Even the current standoff over Iran's nuclear program could affect the final decision about succession, since the outspokenness of hardliners in the U.S. Senate, and Cotton's reportedly unprecedented action, will likely only stiffen the views of the hardliners in Tehran.
In any case, the next supreme leader will be able to determine to what extent any possible nuclear deal is sustainable in the long term. Even more than the U.S. Senate, the next supreme leader would be in a position to renege on any pact with the West and easily justify it politically or technically. According to the official philosophy of the Islamic Republic elaborated by its founding father, Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader is religiously authorized to unilaterally terminate any government contract or agreement, even with Iranian citizens, if he sees it necessary for "expediency of the regime" -- which trumps both constitution and Islamic law (Sharia). Officially, the only legal source for recognizing the "expediency of the regime" is the ruling ayatollah.
Granted, there is much we don't know about the plans for succession in Iran. First of all, such a choice has been made only once in the entire 36-year history of the Islamic Republic. If we were to assume that the Assembly of Experts, whose members are all ayatollahs and represent each province, had the ultimate power to appoint the new leader, given its current makeup it would certainly choose a hardliner who might be even be more aggressive on foreign and domestic policy than Khamenei himself. The assembly's preference for hardliners was evident in its March 10 election for chairman, in which Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi beat Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, securing 47 votes against Rafsanjani's 26. Rafsanjani, who is known in the West as a pragmatist and for supporting a free-market economy, has lost his power base within the political structure of the Islamic Republic since the end of his presidency. He has lost two major elections, parliamentary and presidential in 2000 and 2005, but in recent years he became popular among supporters of defeated presidential candidates in 2009, because of his long history of animosity with Ahmadinejad and his open criticism of the government's suppressive policy toward the Green Movement.
However, such popularity does not necessarily translate into political power. Former President Mohammad Khatami is one of the most popular politicians in Iran, but the government launched a fierce campaign to marginalize him and neutralize his power. Official Iranian media was banned from mentioning his name or showing his picture, and he is forbidden from leaving the country. This is true more generally for the majority of the Iranian population who support moderation and openness to the world, yet are deprived from political organizations, civil institutions and leadership. The hardcore conservatives who make up the Islamic Republic and its cadres, on the other hand, have access to a powerful religious network, governmental organizations, and social institutions, and by using all these tools and mechanisms they are able to mobilize the minority and secure an acceptable participation rate in both elections and ritual demonstrations and portray it as a clear sign of the regime's legitimacy. In other words, this majority does not pose a serious threat to the minority that monopolizes the media, and holds prison keys in one hand and a gun in the other.
But in truth the Assembly of Experts has never been significant in the power structure, with the exception of its first term during which it was in charge of writing the Iranian constitution. In the last 26 years under Khamenei, the assembly has been relegated to a predominantly ceremonial role with no real leverage to supervise or monitor the leader, let alone hold him accountable. This is reflected in voter turnout for the assembly, which compared to country, municipal, presidential, and parliamentary elections, has consistently had the lowest participation. Common wisdom in Iran is that the assembly simply provides legitimacy to the institution of the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent (velayat-e faqih), but is not taken seriously by either the supreme leader or major political institutions and elite circles.
Only since the death of Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, the former head of the assembly, a few months ago and the government's decision to publicize Khamenei's operation have people begun to focus their attention on the assembly. Despite the multiple factors and actors who will unquestionably influence decisions concerning succession, ultimately the Assembly of Experts is the sole body that can legitimize and legalize it. Elections for both the Assembly of Experts and parliament are slated for February 26, 2016, and while MPs are elected for a four-year term, Assembly of Experts member are elected for a seven-year term. This means that the next assembly -- if not the current one -- will likely decide who Khamenei's successor will be.
In 1989, Khamenei came to power as a weak leader, and many expected him to submit to the will of the president's executive power and serve primarily as a nonpartisan spiritual leader who would lend Islamic legitimacy to the regime. But this was not to be. Khamenei cleverly invested in his relations with the military, especially the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's intelligence apparatus, the judiciary, and the media. This helped him create a real power base that enabled him to micromanage these institutions and extend his power beyond the constitutional mandates. Over the past 26 years, he has slowly consolidated control over both the president and the parliament, and he now has the final say on matters of military doctrine and foreign and nuclear policy. On the religious front, he has revolutionized the Shiite clerical establishment and religious network by modernizing its traditional structure into a highly bureaucratized and digitalized system that serves only the regime. He has similarly transformed the office of the supreme leader from a traditional and simple bureaucracy with limited staff, all of whom were clerics, into a large and sophisticated office with more than 4,000 employees -- many of whom, including clerics, have a background in military and intelligence.
The process of appointing the supreme leader has always been much more complicated than it appears. But the current climate presents far more challenges than 26 years ago. At the time of Khamenei's election, the IRGC, the intelligence apparatus and the judiciary were not monopolized by the hardliners, nor did they have much sway in the country's economic and political dimensions, as they do today. But with an increasing number of actors involved in questions of leadership and succession, there has also been a proliferation of disagreements among different hardliner factions, and sometimes they have diverging political and economic interests. These hardliners will have to reach a consensus about Khamenei's successor; otherwise there will be an unmanageable crisis. Without such consensus or something close to it, moderates in Iran might find an opportunity to exploit these fissures and find a way into the inner circle of power. However, the most likely scenario is one in which competition does not extend beyond the hardliners, and thus the next supreme leader would be the outcome of their agreements.
Whoever succeeds Khamenei as Iran's next supreme leader also will likely have far less independence. Over the last 26 years Iranian hardliners have successfully insulated the system against both internally and externally driven reforms. The next leader will represent the interests of the hardliners who now wield tremendous political power and can undermine his decisions. If and when Khamenei dies, it is unlikely that the Iranian regime will accede to the demands of the international community or empower local democratic forces. Rather, the Islamic Republic will emerge more ambitious in its regional anti-west agenda and domestic authoritarian policies.
**Mehdi Khalaji, a Shiite theologian by training, is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.

Iran’s project will reshape Lebanon
Michael Young| The Daily Star/Mar. 12, 2015
Recently, the former minister Wiam Wahab, in an interview on television, said something to the effect that he was saddened by the vacuum in the Lebanese presidency. He was saddened because Lebanon might never have a Maronite president again.
This could have been hyperbole, but there were those who saw a more sinister underpinning to Wahab’s remarks. Pointing to his close ties with Hezbollah and Iran, they read in his remarks the first hints of a broader Iranian vision for a new reality in Lebanon. Not surprisingly, the greatest potential victims of an Iranian-inspired overhaul of Lebanon’s political system could be Christians in general and the Maronites in particular.
As Iran expands its power throughout the Middle East, it is seeking to reshape the political landscape in ways designed to enhance its leverage and that of its allies. Nor is anybody successfully hindering this. On the contrary, it has become increasingly apparent that the United States has no intention of challenging Iran’s sway in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Gone are the days when the American priority was containment of Iran in the region. Under Barack Obama, the U.S. appears to favor a new regional order in which Iran will be granted a choice role.
That is why Tehran has been so adamant about defending Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. His downfall would have crippled Iran’s efforts. Today, Iranian combatants are fighting in Syria, compensating for the losses in the Alawite community, while Iran has spent billions of dollars to prop up Assad’s regime.
In Lebanon, it seems highly probable that Iran will pursue a similar logic by seeking to modify the political system to the advantage of the Shiite community, led by Hezbollah. That is easier said than done, however, which is why Hezbollah is using the clashing ambitions of the Maronites themselves to help discredit the current post-Taif political arrangement.
Taif is widely viewed in Lebanon as having favored the Sunni community because it turned the Cabinet into Lebanon’s executive authority, taking most powers away from the Maronite presidency. As the prime minister is a Sunni, he plays a pivotal political role by virtue of his position, even if constitutionally the Cabinet holds executive power as a collective body. That is one reason why, since 2011, Hezbollah has sought to push aside Saad Hariri and bring in prime ministers not regarded as leading representatives of their community, no matter what their individual merits.
Hezbollah has also pursued its undermining of the post-Taif Constitution by emasculating the presidency. The party isolated and threatened President Michel Sleiman and exploited Aounist resentment of him, before allowing a vacuum to take hold once the president’s term ended. Michel Aoun is blamed for this, and has sought to perpetuate a void in order to blackmail the political parties into electing him as Sleiman’s successor. However, the reality is that Aoun is Hezbollah’s dupe. The party has itself done nothing to fill the presidency, preferring to highlight just how irrelevant the post has become as the state continues to function more or less normally without a president in place.
How the party intends to push its advantage further and increase Shiite power remains to be seen. On several occasions Aoun raised the issue of a new division of power in Lebanon according to thirds – in other words roughly a 33-33-33 division between Sunnis, Shiites and Maronites – to replace the 50-50 division between Christians and Muslims in Taif. This approach was motivated by Aoun’s belief that it would bring him Hezbollah’s support for the presidency, as well as, beyond that, granting the Maronites balancing power between Sunnis and Shiites.
For Hezbollah, however, anything that can increase Shiite representation in parliament and the government is desirable, all the more so as the community’s current share does not reflect Shiite demographics. Even a system of thirds can be turned to the party’s advantage at a time when Christians in Lebanon feel, not always justifiably, that the greatest threat to the Christian presence in the Middle East is Sunni extremism.
Lebanon has particular importance for Iran. Though small, it lies on the border of its principal regional rival, Israel. As Iran puts in place a broad strategy for the expansion of its power in the Arab world, Lebanon and the Golan Heights take on exceptional value. That is why the Lebanese power-sharing agreement needs to be adapted to ensure that Iranian stakes are not threatened.
Yet the debate over Lebanon’s presidential vacuum has been pathetically parochial. The focus of discussion continues to be on the rivalry between Aoun and Samir Geagea. Yet the issue is much bigger than the two. If they have any interest in the future of their Maronite community, they must use their impending dialogue to agree common principles in light of Iran’s ambitions.
That may be too much to ask from the two men who contributed most to the devastation of Maronite fortunes in 1990. Aoun in particular must be mindful of his foolish denunciations of the Taif Accord. If Taif is ever changed it will not be to return power to the Maronite president, as he ludicrously hopes. It will be to take more power away from Christians, and redistribute this in ways that reflect Lebanon’s sectarian realities.
Lebanon is entering an Iranian era. This may very well lead to further convulsions, with Sunnis seeking to oppose such a project. As for the Maronites, they must grasp that if Sunnis and Shiites struggle over Lebanon, it is they who are the dispensable ones – those at whose expense compromises can be reached.
Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

Release of 52 Assyrian Families Captured By ISIS Delayed
Posted 2015-03-10/(AINA) -- According to the Vatican ambassador in Damascus, Mario Zinari, 52 Assyrian families who were captured by ISIS and who were supposed to be freed yesterday have not been released because Kurdish forces bombed the caravan containing the families. After the bombing ISIS decided to delay their release. There is now information on whether ISIS intends to go through with their release. It is not clear why Kurdish forces bombed the Assyrian hostages caravan. Yesterday AsiaNews reported that 52 Assyrian families had been freed. On February 23 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. Nine Assyrian fighters died defending their villages in the initial attacks and there are reports that ISIS has executed at least 12 Assyrian fighters who were captured, two of them women. The majority of the Assyrians were captured from Tel Shamiran, Tel Hurmiz, Tel Goran and Tel Jazira (AINA 2015-02-26). S
Ashur Giwargis contributed reporting from Beirut.

Canadian imams issue fatwa against ISIS
By AFP | Ottawa/Thursday, 12 March 2015/A group of Canadian imams and religious scholars issued a religious edict against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group Wednesday, denouncing its threats against and recruitment in Canada. In a fatwa posted online, also endorsed by a U.S. imam from Texas, the 38 scholars argue that “any attack on Canada will be an attack on the freedom of Canadian Muslims.”They also forbid Muslims from joining or encouraging others to join ISIS, saying anyone who helps Muslim youths in particular “to travel secretly or without the consent of parents to join IS... will face the wrath of Allah in this world and in the next world.”The fatwa was penned by Imam Syed Soharwardy, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada in Calgary, and signed by others from across Canada. In it, Soharwardy condemns Canadian, U.S. and other Western nations’ policies in the Middle East as “unjust” and “based upon Islamophobia, bias and intolerance towards Muslims.” But he also urges young Muslims not to be taken in by ISIS, which he says has fostered anti-Western sentiments for its own gain, and has violated Islamic tenets “in the most horrific and inhumane way.” “The behavior and the actions of ISIS/ISIL has consistently proven that they are NOT Muslims and they cannot be trusted by the Muslims,” he said.
“Their struggle cannot be an Islamic struggle and their war cannot be called 'Jihad'. Rather, it is pure terrorism and HARAAM (forbidden).”

Canada says foils plot by ISIS supporter to bomb Toronto financial district, US consulate
By REUTERS/03/11/2015
TORONTO - Canada said on Wednesday it had foiled a plot by a self-proclaimed Islamic State supporter to bomb the US consulate and other buildings in Toronto's financial district.
The alleged plot came to light after the Pakistani man, who has lived in Canada since 2004, tried to recruit an undercover Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, officials said.
Jahanzeb Malik, 33, was arrested on Monday by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and appeared at a deportation hearing on Wednesday on grounds of being a danger to security. He has not been charged with any criminal offenses.
"I would like to confirm that CBSA has arrested an individual, a supporter of the Islamic State, who was allegedly planning a terrorist attack here in Canada," Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told reporters in Ottawa.
Asked what stage the plot was at, Blaney said he could not comment: "The RCMP has clearly indicated that this individual was willing to commit a terrorist attack on Canadian soil."
Malik was befriended by the undercover RCMP officer during a long investigation into the activities of the former student, who has a record of travel to Pakistan and allegedly underwent combat training in Libya, CBSA said. The accusations have not been proven in court.
"He told the undercover officer about his plan to build remote-controlled bombs to blow up the US consulate and other buildings in the financial district in Toronto," the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada said in an email.
Canada has been on heightened alert since a gunman attacked the Parliament building in Ottawa in October after fatally shooting a soldier at a nearby war memorial. The attack by a so-called "lone wolf" Canadian convert to Islam came two days after another convert rammed two soldiers in Quebec with his car, killing one.
Malik, who came to Canada as a student and became a permanent resident in 2009, told the undercover officer of his plans to make a video of the bombings to encourage others to do the same, the CBSA said. He also claimed to be a personal friend of US cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was killed in a 2011 US drone strike on Yemen.
"Mr. Malik attempted to radicalize the undercover officer by showing him videos, apparently of ISIL beheadings," the agency said, referring to killings by Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
Canada's Conservative government, which is heading into an autumn election in which security issues are likely to be a dominant theme, said the arrest is proof that its plan to give intelligence services sweeping new powers to disrupt terror plots is needed. The legislation has been criticized as too intrusive and unnecessary by legal experts and opposition politicians.
The Canadian government is seeking to deport Malik as a security threat and the hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board on Wednesday was held to determine whether he should be detained during the deportation process, which can take months.
Another Pakistani man suspected of militant links, Muhammad Aqeeq Ansari, is being held awaiting possible deportation.

Tolerating the intolerable: Syria, four years on
Wednesday, 11 March 2015
Tom Fletcher/Al Arabiya
**Tom Fletcher was appointed the British ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011.
On the first anniversary of the Syria conflict, I wrote about the staggering impact it had already had - those numbers seem small now. On the second anniversary, I wrote about the generosity of Syria’s neighbours and parts of the international community, the frustrations of diplomacy, and the need to maintain a sense of rage. On the third anniversary, I wrote about the prospects for Lebanon’s millionth refugee.
As the song goes, wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.
As we somehow find ourselves at the fourth anniversary, what emotions are there left to feel? Over 210,000 dead, over three million displaced, over 85,000 imprisoned or tortured. Assad jokes about pots and pans while the barrel bombs he denies fall on the people he claims to lead. His Frankenstein’s Monster, an ISIS death cult that is neither Islamic nor a state, look to outdo themselves in box office barbarity and vandalism. Disillusioned European individuals are drawn to the power buzz of a knife and a cause. The neighbours struggle to sustain millions of refugees.
‘What ifs’
We are left with many ‘what ifs’. As even Assad’s allies now recognise, what if he had chosen to engage the peaceful protects of 2011 with dialogue rather than bullets? It never had to be this way.
What if the international community had carried out strikes in August 2013? Who knows. What if regional powers had spent as much time and money on ending the conflict as arming it? Perhaps only one thing is certain - if events had taken a different course, there would be a different set of conspiracy theories about the West’s responsibility for whatever followed.
It is too soon to draw conclusions, and those of us who have been working on this crisis are far too close to it to do so. With hindsight, we underestimated the brutal lengths the Syria regime and its regional allies were prepared to go to in order to remain in power. We overestimated the coherence of our allies, of Syria’s moderate leaders, and of Western influence, stomach and patience.
We have also learnt something about the democratisation of foreign policy. In the Digital Age, it will become easier for citizens to influence the diplomacy of their government. That is clearly a good thing - we will become more peaceful and more representative. But it also limits the ability of democratic governments to project force, to win the arm wrestles that need to be won, to hold the red lines that need to be held, to play diplomatic poker. In the short term, that leads to more caution from those who value freedom, and more confidence from those that don’t.
Limits of the world’s compassion
I fear that we also discovered in the last four years that too often we can tolerate the intolerable. We have found the limits of the world’s compassion, and attention. Many responded with immense generosity. But a picture of a weasel riding a hummingbird will be shared more times this month than all the photos from Syria. It is too soon to say RIP R2P, but the concept is bruised and battered beneath the rubble of Syria. After Rwanda, we said ‘never again’. We can’t say that now.
To those working on the conflict, we must not let ourselves be ground down, anaesthetised, or resigned to the status quo. We can’t just pump out meaningless platitudes. We must double down on audacious and courageous diplomacy. We must speak truth unto power. We must continue to get help to the conflict’s victims.
I won’t be in Lebanon to write ‘Five Years On’. But, if the conflict continues on this trajectory, others will be writing it. And we outside the carnage will read, sigh, despair, and carry on with our lives. Yet this filthy, pointless, soul destroying, child slaughtering, toxic war leaves us all more deeply scarred than we can comprehend.
For Lebanon, this period ahead requires yet more wisdom, caution and neutrality, to keep Syria’s war away. Lebanon may have faced some grave threats and taken some deep wounds. But we back the resilience of the Lebanese people.

Americans Battle the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Daniel Pipes/Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2015
When, in the midst of the 2014 Hamas-Israel war, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration briefly banned American carriers from flying to Israel, Sen. Ted Cruz (Republican of Texas) accused Barack Obama of using a federal regulatory agency "to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands." In so doing, Cruz made an accusation no Israeli leader would dare express.
Senator Ted Cruz (Left, Republican of Texas) met with Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu right after taking office in January 2013.
This is hardly unique. Over the years, other American political figures both Republican (Dan Burton, Jesse Helms, Condoleezza Rice, Arlen Specter) and Democrat (Charles Schumer), have adopted tougher, and sometimes more Zionist stances than the Israeli government. This pattern in turn points to a larger phenomenon: The Arab-Israeli conflict tends to generate more intense partisanship among Americans than among Middle Easterners. The latter may die from the conflict but the former experience it with greater passion.
I shall document and explain this counterintuitive pattern, then draw a conclusion from it.
More Anti-Israel than the Arabs
Americans who hate Israel can be more volubly anti-Zionist than Arabs. At a memorable Washington dinner party in November 1984, hosted by the Iraqi embassy for the visiting foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, two tipsy American press grandees admonished and even insulted this emissary of Saddam Hussein for being insufficiently anti-Israel. Helen Thomas of United Press International complained that Iraq had not retaliated against Israel after the destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. When Aziz tried brushing off her criticism, she scornfully accused the Iraqi regime of cowardice: "Just yellow, I guess." Later the same evening, Rowland Evans of the syndicated Evans & Novak column, interrupted Aziz when he called the Iran-Iraq war the most important issue in the Middle East, shouting, "You must tell Secretary of State Shultz that the Arab-Israeli conflict is your main concern!" The late Barry Rubin, who was present, subsequently commented: "Unaccustomed to being attacked for excessive softness on Israel, Aziz looked astonished."
Helen Thomas was long a fixture at presidential press conferences.
Similarly, in 1981, James E. Akins, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia described as "more pro-Arab than the Arab officials," chided Sheik Zaki Yamani, the Saudi oil minister, for rejecting the idea of linking Saudi oil production to U.S. policy toward Israel. In 1993, Edward Said of Columbia University castigated Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat for entering into the Oslo negotiating process. Meanwhile, Anthony B. Tirado Chase, an analyst of Said's writings, found that "Said's rejectionism speaks for few in the West Bank or Gaza." In 2003, George Galloway, the British parliamentarian, incited Palestinians against Israel:
The Arabs are a great people. Islam is a great religion. But it has to, and they have to, stand up. … I asked somebody once, when [Ariel] Sharon was massacring the Palestinians in Jenin, why the huge demonstrations in the Arab countries didn't continue? Why did they go away? They answered because a student was killed in Alexandria. I am very sorry for the student and his family, but the Palestinians are losing their children every day, yet it doesn't stop them from coming out the next day. So it can be done. Hizbullah drove the enemy running from their country. Fares Uday, a 14-year-old boy, stood in front of an Israeli tank and attacked it with his hands. And when they killed him, his brother and his neighbors came in his place.
In 2009, after a lecture tour of American universities, the Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh observed that
there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah. … Listening to some students and professors on these campuses, for a moment I thought I was sitting opposite a Hamas spokesman or a would-be-suicide bomber. … What struck me more than anything else was the fact that many of the people I met on the campuses supported Hamas and believed that it had the right to "resist the occupation" even if that meant blowing up children and women on a bus in downtown Jerusalem.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab-Israeli journalist, was taken aback by the anti-Zionist passion on U.S. campuses.
Even more ironically, Abu Toameh found that many of the Arabs and Muslims on American campuses "were much more understanding and even welcomed my 'even-handed analysis' of the Israeli-Arab conflict." Along the same lines, the historian Bernard Lewis notes that "Israelis traveling in the West often find it easier to establish a rapport with Arabs than with Arabophiles."
Conversely, Lewis notes the viciousness of some Westerners residing in the Middle East:
Time and time again, European and American Jews traveling in Arab countries have observed that, despite the torrent of broadcast and published anti-Semitism, the only face-to-face experience of anti-Semitic hostility that they suffered during their travels was from compatriots, many of whom feel free, in what they imagine to be the more congenial atmosphere of the Arab world, to make anti-Semitic … remarks that they would not make at home.
One symptom of this: The recent Hamas-Israel war prompted anti-Israel hate demonstrations, some violent, on the streets of many Western cities, while – with the exception of territories under Israeli control – the Arab street remained largely calm.
More Zionist than the Israelis
Similarly, American supporters of Israel tend to stake out more ardently Zionist positions than do Israelis. In 1978, Richard Nixon complained that "the problem with the Israelis in Israel was not nearly as difficult as the Jewish community here." In 1990, Israeli journalist Yossi Melman was surprised to find a Jewish audience in Texas taking a harder line against the Palestinians than he did himself; he responded with alarm when one young man asserted, referring to a fracas with the Israeli police that left nineteen Palestinians dead, "I do not feel sorry for those Palestinians who were killed. The Israeli police should have shot a thousand of them," and no one in the audience took issue with him.
In 2000, Said complained that Zionist groups in the United States have views "in some way more extreme than even those of the Israeli Likud." Also in 2000, when Israel's prime minister offered unprecedented concessions on Jerusalem, Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, criticized his efforts "to take away or compromise Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount and turn it over to the jurisdiction of the United Nations or the Palestinian Authority." Later, he warned, "all of us will have to answer to our children and grandchildren when they ask us why we did not do more to stop the giving away of Har haBayit [the Temple Mount]."
Polling by the American Jewish Committee regularly finds American Jews more skeptical than their Israeli counterparts on the question of the efficacy of diplomacy with the Arabs. At the same time, for an American to be pro-Israel means liking all Israelis; starting with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Christians United for Israel, pro-Israel organizations offer unconditional support to Israel. Many American Jews go further. With neither their own lives nor those of their children at risk in the Israel Defense Forces, they do not publicly disagree with Israeli government decisions. By contrast, ranking Israelis repeatedly demand that Washington pressure their own government into taking steps against its wishes. Most famously, in 2007 David Landau, editor of Ha'aretz newspaper, told then U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that Israel was a "failed state" and implored her to intervene on the grounds that Israel needs "to be raped."
Three reasons account for American partisans adopting stronger positions than their Middle Eastern counterparts:
Pure passion: Abu Toameh notes: "Many of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas officials … sound much more pragmatic than most of the anti-Israel, 'pro-Palestinian' folks on the campuses." That is because they have real-life decisions to make, with which they must live. Israelis and Arabs maintain a patchwork of relationships and daily life that softens the harshness of rhetoric. In contrast, pure passion tends to reign in the West. Most Israelis have contact with Arabs, something few American Zionists do. Similarly, a fair number of Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, and other Arabs come into contact with Israelis. For Middle Easterners, the enemy is human; for Americans, the opponent consists of two-dimensional political adversaries.
American anti-Zionists astonished Saddam Hussein's henchman Tariq Aziz.
This even applies to so monstrous a dictatorship as Saddam Hussein's. As Barry Rubin commented about the experience of Tariq Aziz at dinner: "Perhaps it was easier to deal with the inner circles of Saddam's regime, where fear bred discipline, than with these wild, unpredictable Americans." Two examples: Pro-Israel and anti-Israel Americans never need to cooperate on joint water supplies. Ismail Haniya, the head of the Hamas terrorist organization dedicated to Israel's elimination, has three sisters who emigrated from Gaza to Israel, live as citizens there, and have children who served in the Israel Defense Forces.
Solidarity: Israelis argue mostly with other Israelis and Arabs with Arabs; but in the United States, pro-Israelis argue with anti-Israelis. Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East feel free to disagree with their own side more than do their U.S. partisans. When a left-wing Israeli criticizes the Netanyahu government's policy, he disagrees with the Likud Party; when a left-wing American Jewish figure does the same, he attacks Israel. The former debates are within the framework of Israeli policymaking, the latter in the arena of American public opinion. Melman noted that "we Israelis have the luxury of expressing ourselves more frankly than many American Jews" and explained this by noting how "American Jews fear that their public criticism [of Israel] might be exploited by professional critics of Israel. Hence, most American Jews prefer to conceal their disagreements about Israel." Mattityahu Peled, a left-wing Israeli gadfly, similarly observed that the pressure on Jews who hold dissenting views in the United States "is far greater than the pressure on us in Israel. … probably we in Israel enjoy a larger degree of tolerance than you here in the Jewish community."
Best-known policy issue: In the Middle East itself, other issues – civil wars in Syria and Iraq, the Saudi vs. Qatar vs. Iran rivalries, water problems – compete with the Arab-Israeli conflict for attention. But in the United States, the Arab-Israeli conflict is far better known than any other issue and thus dominates the discussion. As a result, the lines of debate are far more clearly etched: When the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) conquered Mosul in June 2014, no one knew what to do; but when Hamas launched rockets against Israel a month later, the facts and arguments were reassuringly familiar.
Arab-Israeli partisanship fits a broader pattern, in which distance turns greys into blacks and whites, increasing political passions. In the case of the Contra war in Nicaragua, the journalist Stephen Schwartz writes that, on the one side, "Sandinistas often commented to me that they were put off to realize that their Democrat supporters in Washington employed a bloodthirsty rhetoric that would never have been heard in the towns of Central America." When asked about this, a Sandinista explained: "We have to face death, and it makes us less willing to speak idly about it; but they enjoy talking about a death they will never risk or inflict on others ."
During the Spanish Civil War, Leon Trotsky found the rhetoric in London more extreme than the reality in Barcelona.
The same reluctance applied on the other side, Schwartz found. A Contra supporter explained: "Our families are split by this conflict, and we do not feel the aggravated sense of rage displayed by foreigners about the war here. In fighting we may have to kill, or be killed by, a relative with whom we grew up. It is not something that fills us with enthusiasm."
In other wars where combatants live in close proximity to each other but their supporters do not, a similar pattern has emerged: Civil wars in Vietnam, Ireland, and Bosnia come immediately to mind. Commenting on the Spanish civil war, Trotsky observed that the rhetoric in London was far more extreme than the reality in Barcelona.
In conclusion, this pattern runs contrary to the general assumption that the frenzied combatants in a war need cool-headed outsiders to help guide them to resolution and peace – an assumption that sometimes leads to the unfortunate decision to put ignoramuses in charge of diplomacy and policy. In fact, the locals may see the problem more lucidly and realistically than their foreign friends. It is time for foreigners to stop assuming they know how to achieve the region's salvation and instead to listen more to those directly involved.
Mr. Pipes (, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2014 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

The Middle East and Its Grim Near-Future Development
By Markus Tozman
Posted 2015-03-10
(AINA) -- O my dear, they are making such a horrible muddle of the Near East, I confidently anticipate that it will be much worse than it was before the war … It's like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can't stretch out your hand to prevent them. -- Gertrude Bell, 19191
Gertrude Bell certainly had brilliant foresight and a very realistic assessment of post-WWI developments for the Middle East. Yet, even she might not have anticipated the current havoc that is reigning across the whole region. The complete disintegration of Iraq, the civil war in Syria, the internal tension and violence that is striking Lebanon and Jordan to the point where these states fear for their very survival—current developments are changing the dynamics, the face and the future of the whole Middle East. Turkey's transition into an autocracy is worrying its Western allies and its foreign policy ambitions is alienating its neighbors, exacerbating the instability of an already volatile region. The dualism between Saudi Arabia and Iran fuels the sectarian violence between Sunni Muslims and Shiites as well as other minority groups.
The year 2014 has seen an escalation in violence in the Middle East, epitomized in IS' genocidal campaigns against Christians, Yazidis and other non-Sunni groups after the fall of Mosul in June 2014. Events on the ground do not give much reason for optimism about the region's short-term development. This analysis seeks to explain how this highly complex and conflict-ridden region is likely to develop during 2015, focusing on Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, while also taking into account the influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
"There is probably a mastermind behind this scheme [politics in the Middle East], you have to figure that out." -- Turkish President Erdogan to a selected group of journalists, October 2014.
If Turkey was at a crossroads in 2014, it will have parted ways with the West by the end of 2015. No one would doubt that the image of "secular" Turkey has changed tremendously under the 13-year rule of the AKP. Turkey has become repressive towards differing views and opinions; it has alienated its political friends in the West and the regimes in the Middle East; and it will likely feel a domestic backlash from its Islamist policies. These policies have not only manifested themselves in the government's support of Syrian Islamists but also in its out-of-touch domestic policies, including meddling in all sorts of private matters, ranging from single-shaming23, to the position of women,4 or education5 in order to raise a "pious"6, pro-AKP, Sunni youth.
In September 2014, the word spread among Syrian Orthodox Christians in South-Eastern Turkey, a region known as Tur Abdin in Aramaic, to avoid travelling to the village of Hah to celebrate the Assumption of Mary—an important pilgrimage that has hundreds of followers every year. Islamists had gathered in large numbers in the villages surrounding Hah and the vulnerable Syriac community feared attacks. The incident was reminiscent of the 1990s, when Islamists from Turkish Hezbollah had targeted the group, considering them infidels. From 1990 to 1994 alone, at least 34 Christians, including mayors and other influential figures in the provinces Siirt, Sirnak and Mardin, were killed and members of the clergy kidnapped.7
Recent events suggest that Turkish policy is returning to its dark 1990s. The Kurdish resistance against IS in Kobani that began in September 2014 and Turkey's unwillingness to act sparked massive Kurdish riots in which dozens of Turkish citizens, mainly Kurds, were killed. Kurdish youth close to PKK on the one hand and to Hüda-Par, a Turkish-Hezbollah offshoot, on the other, attacked one another in Kurdish cities.8 Consequently, PKK leaders halted the peace process. If the Turkish government does not change course, a continuation of the Kurdish civil war is likely.9 In 1999, the Turkish government dismantled Hezbollah because it was threatening the State,10 and as a result, the Islamists disappeared. Their recent re-emergence in Turkey's southeast bodes ill for the Kurds and other non-Islamist groups.
Erdogan's policies have radicalized the Turkish people. A MetroPOLL opinion poll from October 2014 found that 4 percent or 3 million Turks were sympathetic towards IS. IS supporters have gathered publicly11 and attacked students in Istanbul12 without any intervention by authorities suggesting government support for the group. The Turkish leadership has tried to brush of criticism against its policies by claiming that foreign "masterminds" have conspired against the country.13
The Syrian conflict has been a public relations disaster for the Turkish government and its leaders will feel the consequences domestically. Sources in Ankara fear attacks by Islamists and major unrest if Turkey acts against IS. However, if Turkey fails to act against IS, or fails to support the Kurds (who are actively fighting the group), Turkish Kurds are likely to radicalize and turn against the State. Turkey has sunk into a self-created quagmire, and seems to be unable or unwilling to pull itself out of it. Because of the general elections in June 2015, however, the Turkish government is not likely to take any measures. The stakes are too high to openly offend any of the two groups, who are both part of the AKP's electorate.
Turkey's Syria policy has also dealt a final blow to Turkish-US relations that have been strained since the ouster of the Brotherhood in Egypt in 2013. Turkey is likely to remain abandoned in the international arena and slide further into isolation. The next blow, however, is likely to come from the US rather than from the Turkish government itself. It is increasingly likely that the US may take a major political step towards recognizing the Armenian Genocide during the event's centennial in 2015. US Vice President Biden's anti-Turkey remarks14 and subtle signs of support for the Armenian cause15 point to that development. Turkey has become unreliable and the West, particularly the US, has put its hope in the Iraqi Kurds, its last staunch ally in a region where the US has lost major influence and even more sympathies.

The Turkish general elections in June 2015 will be a watershed event. If the AKP wins the elections and gains a 3/5 majority, Erdogan is highly likely to change the Turkish constitution and further concentrate power in his role as de-facto head of the legislative and executive. Because the Turkish opposition remains conflict-ridden and ill organized, chances are high that Erdogan will achieve his aim. The AKP has already assumed tight control of the executive and legislative branch, and moves are underway to take control of the judiciary16 and further erode rule of law.17 The upcoming year will be of historic significance for Turkey. The outcome of the elections will likely change the country for decades and might shatter any hopes for democratization, increased personal rights, rapprochement with the West, or any improvement of the Syrian people's misery.
Iraq and Syria
"Since 1500 years we did not stop celebrating … in this church … although Moghuls, Tatars and Hulaghu have invaded the region[.] [D]espite all those many wars that have wretched Iraq, we did not stop praying in our churches, neither in Mosul nor outside of it. Since 1500 years, this is the first year.. [bishop starts weeping]. This is the first year that we pray outside of our church. … Nothing that resembles humanity has remained in this world. … There is no more dignity in this world, no more honor, no more solicity. All those who talk about human rights are liars, all of them. Those who stand up for human rights have been watching what happened to this people and no one helped us. … [W]e have been calling onto the world, telling them this people is without shelter on the streets; help us before the winter comes, before the rain comes. Have you seen the miserable conditions they live in? Why, … Why is this happening to us?"18 -- Syrian Orthodox bishop of Mosul in November 2014.
It would be naive to talk at this stage about a country called Iraq. The nation-state Iraq has effectively become a failed state. Inexperienced British War Office member Mark Sykes and French diplomat George-Picot certainly did not create stability and peace for the inhabitants of the Middle East when they drew the country's imperialistic borders in 1916. The Sykes-Picot Agreement—that created the Iraq that we know today—is dead and the country will never return to its status quo pre-June 2014, when ISIS captured Mosul.
Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon all have a major issue in common: they are proxies in a war between two heavyweights who are ready to spill a lot of blood to achieve supremacy in the whole region: Saudi Arabia and Iran. Neither the central government in Baghdad, nor President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Hezbollah in Iran, the Houthis in Yemen on the one hand, or the different factions of Salafis, Jihadis and Takfiris, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra on the other, would still be in power or have gained further ground if it was not for those two states. Turkey is powerful enough to set its own agenda; the smaller Arab states are definitely not. Iraq and Syria will not return to their former status quo—their central governments have lost too much power, and their enemies—in particular IS and Jabhat al-Nusra—are too strong to be defeated.
The US invasion of 2003 was the beginning of the end of a once vibrant multi-ethnic and multicultural Iraq. There are different estimates on the numbers of Christians in Iraq before 2003, ranging from 800,000 to 1.5 million.19 Until 10 years ago, Baghdad had the largest Christian population of any city in the Middle East;20 today, some 30 families remain. Some 90 percent of Iraq's Christians have been displaced.21 The numbers of Christians have become too insignificant to leave any mark on present-day Baghdad. The Sunnis and the Shias have their patrons; Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans, Turkmen and Shabak, do not.
The US did not intervene when Mosul fell and all of its Christians fled, nor when the Yazidis were trapped on Mount Sinjar; they also failed to act when the Ninevah plains were emptied of all of its religious groups except the Sunnis.22 It was not until IS moved toward Erbil, the Kurdish autonomous region's capital, that the US—fearing the loss of its last steadfast ally in the Middle East—sent in its air force. The West is throwing all of its hope behind the Kurds, providing them with weapons, training and money. Indeed, the Kurds are the only force that could stop the advance of IS. Domestic and international pressure forced Former Prime Minister Maliki—whose sectarian agenda had angered and alienated the non-Shia in Iraq—to step down. His involuntary resignation will likely result in a decrease in Baghdad's sectarian politicking and improve the latter's ties with the Kurds. A December 2014 deal between Erbil and Baghdad about oil exports from the Kurdish region and the distribution of oil revenues23, a long-standing bone of contention between them,24 indicates that their relationship will improve further. The West's massive military and financial support for Iraqi Kurdistan will help consolidate the Kurdish region, further undermining the Iraqi nation state.
The Iraqi Kurds have promised the West to protect Assyrians, Yazidis and other minorities in their sphere of influence. However, these minorities are wary of depending upon the mercy of the Kurds for their survival. Both the Yazidis and the Christians distrust Kurdish intentions.25 Their distrust is fueled by regular sectarian violence by Kurdish Islamists26 and Kurdish soldiers (Peshmerga) against Christians27, and the feeling that the Peshmerga abandoned the Yazidis when IS attacked.28 Complicating the situation for Christians in Iraq is the fact that they are not part of the tribal structure; nor do they have militias like the Sunnis and Shiites. They remain an exposed group—and thus an easy target.29
The Assyrians, the region's indigenous population for over 6000 years, as well as Turkmen and Yazidis demand weapons and training from the international community.30 These groups yearn to be in charge of their own destiny and demand a safe haven in the Ninevah plains, a region squeezed between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan, whose population used to be 90 percent Assyrian or Yazidi.31 If the international community does not support them and enforce autonomy for minorities in Iraq's Ninevah plains, the remnants of these proud cultures will disappear for good. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi's promise to protect Iraqi Christians32 will not change their perspective, given his predecessor's failure to follow up on the same promises.
Iraq will not return to normalcy in 2015. IS has a strong grip on the Sunni regions and has forestalled any attempts by the central government to encourage a Sunni uprising similar to the 2007 Anbar Awakening33, a campaign in which Sunni tribes and the US fought together against al Qaeda.34 It will take more than simple gestures from the central government or the Kurdish Peshmerga to win over Iraq's Sunnis. In order for Iraq to survive as a nation-state, it will need to be organized along sectarian and ethnic lines, with fully autonomous regions. To fight IS effectively, particularly the Sunnis will need to feel that they can govern themselves, rather than be governed by Iran through a Shia central government in Baghdad. Making matters more difficult, Iran is taking a more overt and active involvement against IS in form of military advice35 and air strikes.36 This will feed into IS rhetoric and keep Sunni support for IS high.
Iraq's current state will not change in the short term: The central government is too weak and does not possess a functioning army37 to change the status quo. Iraq's Kurdish government will also continue to strengthen its autonomy and international standing, undermining Iraq as a nation-state. Iraq's most vulnerable minorities remain without prospect for a future in the country and will therefore continue to flee. Without a viable and unified Sunni representation in Iraq, IS will keep its grip on the Sunni regions.
The situation in Syria is little more promising. Although the protagonists on the ground are different to those in Iraq, the actors in the background – Iran and Saudi Arabia – remain the same. Edward Dark, a Syrian correspondent who lives in Aleppo bemoans how foreign powers have strangled his country and people, yet the Syrians, he says, want nothing more than an end to fighting.38 Without further scrutinizing the vast array of opposition groups fighting in Syria who want to install Shariah law and purge the country of everyone but Salafi Sunnis, one has to understand the aims of the actors supporting these groups. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia support radicals either because they believe that the "infidel" Assad is suppressing Sunnis (Turkey); because they want to broaden their influence in the region through those groups (Qatar)39; or because they want to deal a major blow to growing Shia influence in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia).
The key to ending the conflict in Syria is to stop arming Assad and the Jihadists who have completely taken over the Syrian opposition.40 Another crucial element is to give Syria's minorities convincing guarantees for autonomy and self-protection. The Alawites, the Christians and the Kurds, understandably fear for their lives if the Islamists topple Assad. The purge of Mosul in Iraq and the direct targeting of Christians and Yezidis in that same country has sparked fears amongst the Syrian minority communities, emblematic in the struggle for the Syrian Kurdish enclave Kobani. The ongoing fighting for this strategically insignificant town that began in September 2014 has already resulted in several hundred – possibly more than 2000 – casualties and is not likely to end soon. Although IS simply does not want to lose face in Kobani, the Kurds depict the fight as existential, for their defeat would mean extinction at the hands of IS.
Attempts to reach a deal with Iran on its nuclear program will determine developments in Syria. The ongoing "P5+1" talks are promising. Iran is eager to break out of its international isolation and to see the removal of sanctions against it. The Syrian conflict is a useful bargaining chip for Iran, Assad's main sponsor. Europe in particular dreads the potential political and security implications of European Jihadists who fought in Syria or Iraq returning,41 increasing Europe's incentive to make the Iran-talks succeed.
For Iran, removing Assad from office would not be a red line.42 For Saudi Arabia, however, lifting Iranian sanctions would be unacceptable. The Saudis have no desire to see Iran become an accepted member of the international community and an economically powerful player in the Middle East. Syria is pivotal in the Shia-Sunni competition.43 Saudi Arabia thinks that if Syria were to fall into the hands of Sunni Jihadists, Lebanon's Shiite Hizbollah might fall too, which would strongly undermine the position of Shiism in the Middle East as a whole.
Although the Syrian war will likely drag on for years, a further rapprochement between the West and Iran on the one hand, and declining support from the Sunni patrons for the Syrian Jihadists (for fear of domestic reprisal)44 on the other, will likely tilt the balance in favor of Assad's dictatorship. US president Obama has bluntly said that the US is not actively discussing ways to remove Assad in plans for Syria's political transition.45 Saudi Arabia, too, had to change its policies regarding IS. After IS attacked Shiites on Saudi soil and publicly threatened to topple Saudi rulers, the Saudi regime was forced to stop its support for the group.
If the West could reach peace with Iran and reach a consensus on a Sunni leader in a decentralized multi-ethnic and multi-denominational Syria, many of the current sponsors and fighters of the Syrian war would lose their legitimacy. For 2015, however, such a scenario does not seem very feasible.
The fate of Syria's Christians and other minorities will depend on the further gains of the regime or the Islamists. The kidnapping of the Greek and Syrian Orthodox Bishops from Aleppo in April 2013 – who remain without a sign of life – was symbolic to the Christian community; an event indicative of the larger collapse of interfaith communal relations in Syria. It marked the end of a long era of relative peace and safety for this vulnerable group. As Edward Dark described: "Fear of a new kind permeates this ancient and deeply rooted community. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are very real threats that haunt the collective conscience of Syria's Christians. The terrible fate that befell their co-religionists across the border in Mosul has driven these points home in a rather blunt and frightening way."46 The US Committee on International Religious Freedom is equally gloomy stating that "in the city of Homs the number of Christians dwindled to as few as 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict. … After three years of civil war, hundreds of thousands fled the country desperate to escape the ongoing violence perpetrated by the government and extremist groups alike."47 While Christians in Syria made up 10 to 15 percent of the population before the war, the group has become a shadow of its former self. Without its own power base or effective militia, it will continue to leave the country with little incentive to return. Hence, the remaining Christians can only rely on the regime – which the majority despises – or on the Kurds.
In northern Syria, the Kurds will likely improve their standing in their fight against IS. Unlike Iraq's Peshmerga, the YPG, PKK's paramilitary wing, cooperates with Syria's Christians.48 Reportedly, YPG fighters also saved thousands of Yezidis on mount Sinjar from IS while the Peshmerga abandoned them.49 In Qamishli, different Syriac Christian paramilitary organizations have formed to defend themselves against the regime and IS.50 Yet, they are internally divided and militarily inexperienced. Their survival is likely dependent upon the success of the Kurdish YPG.
Syria is much more volatile and fractured than Iraq but it suffers from similar issues of sectarian and ethnic strife and more importantly from the meddling of foreign actors. Syria has become Iran and Saudi Arabia's bloodiest proxy war and 2015 will not bring an end to the conflict. The steady flow of fighters and weapons into the country will inevitably prolong the fighting; this includes Western arms shipments to allegedly "moderate" factions, too.51
Lebanon and Jordan
Although the war in neighboring Syria has largely spared Lebanon, the country is inherently at risk of being more deeply drawn into the conflict, which would tear the whole country apart. The memories and marks of the longstanding Lebanese civil war, fought ferociously along sectarian lines, are still visible everywhere in Lebanon. Although Lebanon's army is predominantly Sunni, it has done well so far in keeping the country together without following a sectarian agenda52 and will likely further fulfil this role in 2015. IS' attempts to draw the country through its Sunni population into the war, have so far been spoiled by the Lebanese army which won important battles against IS and its allies in the Sunni hotspots Arsal53 and Tripoli.54
Shiite Hezbollah, too, plays an important role for Lebanon's unity. Although the organization has actively been fighting in Syria as ally of Assad to stem the rise of a Sunni regime, Hezbollah has become wary of a Sunni resurgence in Lebanon. Knowing that Shiite resources are limited and that their numbers eventually are smaller than those of their Sunni opponents in the region, already in 2012, Hezbollah started reaching out to Christians. Their media outlets were strikingly warm to Lebanese Christians, praising Jesus Christ's birth and even playing Christian religious songs during Christmas.55 Although Christian sympathies towards Hezbollah are not necessarily widespread, inter-denominational divisions and the fear for the Jihadist's advance from Syria has pushed many Christians to join ranks with Hezbollah. Adroitly promoting Hezbollah's domestic arm – the Lebanese Resistance Brigades – as an interreligious group, Christians have followed Hezbollah's call and started joining these brigades.56 If IS further advances in Syria or Lebanon, it is likely that more Lebanese Christians will join Hezbollah's fight. As a Lebanese Christian put it: "What has happened in Mosul has been a message to all Christians of the East that the world will not protect them and that they need to rely on themselves to defend their existence."57 If Christians are committed to stay in the Levant, they do not seem to have a choice either as there is no other country left to turn to. Emblematically, the Syrian Orthodox, Chaldean and Assyrian church have all moved their headquarters from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.58
Domestically, political issues have paralyzed the country and its democratic system. Particularly, the presidential vacuum since 25 May 2014 and the failure to conduct parliamentary elections since the term of the current parliament expired in 2013, have not been conducive to the country's stability.59 When in November 2014 the Lebanese parliament voted to extend its term for the second time for an additional 3 years without calling general elections,60 the legislative branch has de facto voted to further undermine its constitution and democracy. This will likely not change in 2015, reducing Lebanon to a state ruled by the army, Hezbollah and differing militias. The porous borders will likely see increased fighting between Lebanese forces or Hezbollah on the one side and Sunni Islamists in the other.
The situation in Jordan is complicated, yet arguably stable. Although the country struggles to cope with the influx of immigrants from Syria and Iraq, the rise of homegrown Salafism poses a much bigger challenge. In April 2014, in Maan, the country's largest governorate in South-Jordan, violent clashes broke out after security forces killed a 19-year-old fundamentalist while trying to arrest him. The situation escalated and an armed confrontation between locals and the security forces ensued that lasted for several days.61
Maan is just an example of Jordan's growing extremist presence that threatens its internal stability. The borders to Syria are porous and as early as August 2013, Jordan asked the US for support through intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance to better control its border crossings,62 resulting in airstrikes against weapons transports and supplies of Islamists in southern Syria.63 More than 2,200 Jordanians fight for Jabhat al Nusra and their numbers are growing daily. Yet, the situation is not likely to escalate in 2015. The US has more than 1,000 troops stationed within the country and has announced a USD 5 billion counterterrorism partnership fund to shore up partner countries in their fight against terrorism.64 Even Israel has suggested it could come to Jordan's defense if IS or al-Nusra were to breach Jordan's borders in the North.65 In short, Jordan is strategically too important for Israel, the US or Saudi Arabia66 to fall into Islamist hands. Those countries would do everything possible to keep the integrity and stability of the small monarchy intact, because the consequence of a failure would inflict massive damage to their own interests.
Hisham Melhem, former head of news media platform Al-Arabiya, described the near future of the Arab world in very gloomy words: "The Islamic State, like al Qaeda, is the tumorous creation of an ailing Arab body politic. Its roots run deep in the badlands of a tormented Arab world that seems to be slouching aimlessly through the darkness. It took the Arabs decades and generations to reach this nadir. It will take us a long time to recover—it certainly won't happen in my lifetime."67
Irrespective of the views one may have on developments in the Middle East, there can be no doubt that the Middle East is changing tremendously and irreversibly. The occurrence of IS, the collapse of Iraq and Syria, the Arab uprisings which were turned from pro-democracy aspirations to totalitarian Sharia-implementation wars, have changed the Middle East in ways no one could have imagined at the beginning of 2011. The analysis of the status quo in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and all its devastating consequences for the rest of the Middle East, do not leave much room for optimism. It is not likely that the Levant and Iraq will stabilize. To the contrary, all signs point to continuous destabilization and further escalation in 2015. There is no organized, legitimate counterforce in the Middle East that could change the tide of events. Many Arab states "oscillate between despair and disintegration".68 In 2015, the likelihood for improvement of these countries' status quo resembles their present reality; it is grim.
1 Quoted in Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers. The Paris Conference of 1919 and its Attempt to End War, London 2001, 411.
2 Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet, In Turkey, a late crackdown on Islamist fighters, Washington Post, 12.08.2014:
3 Tulay Cetengulec, Turkey's Family Ministry shames singles in new ad, Al-Monitor,19.09.2014:
4 Hurriyet Daily News, Turkish PM Erdogan reiterates his call for three children, 03.01.2013: or Elahe Izadi, Turkey's president says women are not equal to men, Washington Post, 24.11.2014:
5 Tulin Daloglu, Turkey allows headscarves for young students., Al-Monitor, 24.09.2014:
6 Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Erdogan's reforms meant to educate 'pious generation', Al-Monitor, 26.06.2014:
7 Compare Abrohom Mirza, Dokumentation über die Ermordung und Verfolgungen der assyrischen Christen in der Türkei 1976-2007, Gütersloh 2007; Naures Atto, Hostages in the Homeland, Orphans in the Diaspora: Identity Discourses Among the Assyrian/Syriac Elites in the European Diaspora, Leiden 2011.
8 Hussein Gemmo, Battle for Syrian town could have wide regional repercussions, Al-Monitor, 13.10.2014:
9 John T. Nugent, The Defeat of Turkish Hizballah as a Model for Counter-Terrorism Strategy, in: Middle East Review of International Affairs, 8.1 (2004), 69-76; Human Rights Watch, What is Turkey's Hizbullah? A Human Rights Watch backgrounder, 16 February 2000; Bulent Aras and Gokhan Bacik, The Mystery of Turkish Hizballah, in: Middle East Policy, 9.2 (2002), 147-160; Metin Gurcan, Kurd vs. Kurd: internal clashes continue in Turkey,; Compare to Markus Tozman, Turkey's Hezbollah: Transformation from a pawn to leviathan?, Johns Hopkins University, 2013.
10 John Gorvet, Discovery of 50 murdered bodies spotlights links between Turkish government, Kurdish Islamist group, in: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Apr2000, 19.3, 30-32.
11 Talin Daloglu, Group with alleged links to Islamic State gathers in Istanbul, Al-Monitor, 30.07.2014:[English]&utm_campaign=f3d4626827-July_31_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-f3d4626827-93111661
12 Raphael Satter and Isil Sariyuce, Turkey's Largest City Is Rattled By Growing Signs Of ISIS Support, Al-Monitor, 14.10.2014:
13 Mustafa Akyol, The Middle East 'mastermind' who worries Erdogan, Al-Monitor, 31.10.2014:
14 Gopal Ratnam, Joe Biden Is the Only Honest Man in Washington, Foreign Policy, 07.10.2014:
15 Gonul Tol, 'Armenian Orphan Rug' displayed by White House, Al-Monitor, 19.11.2014:
16 Mustafa Akyol, Turkish judiciary battle: AKP 1, Gulenists 0, Al-Monitor, 14.10.2014:
17 Pinar Tremblay, AKP proposes 'German model' for Turkish police, Al-Monitor, 24.10.2014:
18 Ephrem Ishac, Bishop of Mosul is Weeping,
19 Markus Tozman, A short overview of the status quo of Christian minorities in Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, 2013 Open Doors International.
20 In Pieter Omtzigt, Markus Tozman & Andrea Tyndall, The Slow Disappearance of the Syriacs from Turkey, Münster 2013
21 Ghassan Rifi, Bishop: 90% of Orthodox Christians in Iraq displaced, Al-Monitor, 21.10.2014:
22 Jihad al Zein, Regional collapse puts Christians in peril, Al-Monitor, 28.09.2014:
23 Mushreq Abbas, Oil deal a sign of hope between Baghdad, Erbil, Al-Monitor, 05.12.2014:
24 Denise Natali, Turkey's Kurdish oil gamble, Al-Monitor, 29.05.2014:
25 Patrick Franke, Richten sich westliche Waffen gegen Minderheiten?, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 29.08.2014:
26 Otmar Oehring, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung: Zur Gegenwärtigen Situation der Christen im Nahen Osten, Berlin 2001
27 Assyrian Homes Being Looted By Kurdish Forces, AINA News, 15.11.2014:
28 Christine van den Toren, the Daily Beast, 17.08.2014:
29 Mina al Droubi, Iraq's Vanishing Minority. Kurdistan region no longer a safe haven for Iraqi Christians as many flee abroad, The Majalla, 24.09.2013:
30 Ali Mamouri, Iraq's minorities demand weapons, training, Al-Monitor, 19.09.2014:
31 Konstantin Sabo, Further Arming the Kurds could prove Dangerous, AINA News, 01.09.2014:
32 Nidal al Laythi, Abadi promises to protect Iraqi Christians, Al-Monitor, 06.11.2014:
33 Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey A. Friedman and Jacob N. Shapiro, Testing the Surge. Why did Violence decline in Iraq in 2007, in: International Security, 37.1 (2012), 7-40.
34 Ali Mamouri, IS uses intelligence to purge opponents, Al-Monitor, 28.10.2014:[English]&utm_campaign=9ec9fb2cac-Week_in_review_November_2_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-9ec9fb2cac-93085265
35 Ali Mamouri, To promote wins against IS, Iran's Soleimani emerges, Al-Monitor, 28.11.2014:
36 Kerry calls Iran airstrikes on Islamic State 'positive', Al-Monitor, 07.12.2014:
37 Shukur Khilkhal, Iraqi army crippled by flaws, Al-Monitor, 10.11.2014:
38 Edward Dark, Why arming rebels will fuel Syria's inferno, Al-Monitor, 06.11.2014:
39 David Blair and Richard Spencer, How Qatar is funding the rise of Islamist extremists, The Telegraph, 20.09.2014:
40 Alessandria Masi, Syria's New Super-Opposition Coalition Unites Moderates, Islamists -- And Leaves US With Limited Allies, International Business Times, 10.12.2014:
41 Martin Robinson, The homegrown jihadists fighting for ISIS, The Daily Mail, 21.08.2014:
42 Iran nuclear deal could be key to resolving region's conflicts, Al-Monitor, 16.11.2014:[English]&utm_campaign=9bc98279f1-Week_in_review_November_17_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-9bc98279f1-93085265
43 Frederic Wehrey and Karim Sadjadpour, Elusive Equilibrium: America, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in a Changing Middle East, Carnegie Endowment, 22.05.2014:
44 Madawi Al Rasheed, Saudi Arabia forced to rethink ideology in fight against IS, Al-Monitor, 03.12.2014:
45 Obama says no plans to remove Assad, Al-Monitor, 22.11.2014:
46 Edward Dark, Aleppo's forgotten Christians, Al-Monitor, 11.08.2014:
47 USCIRF, 2013 International Religious Freedom Report, Executive Summary.
48 Andrea Glioti, Syriac Christians, Kurds Boost Cooperation in Syria, Al-Monitor, 20.06.2014:
49 John Beck, Meet the PKK 'Terrorists' Battling the Islamic State on the Frontlines of Iraq, Vice News, 22.08.2014:
50 Carl Drot, A Christian Militia Splits in Qamishli, Carnegie Endowment, 06.03.2014:
51 Edward Dark, Why arming rebels will fuel Syria's inferno, Al-Monitor, 06.11.2014:
52 Esperance Ghanem, Long-awaited Bekaa Valley security plan implemented, Al-Monitor, 26.11.2014:
53 Jean Aziz, Arsal clashes a threat to Lebanon's future, Al-Monitor, 03.08.2014:
54 Sami Nader, Lebanese army makes strides in Tripoli, Al-Monitor, 28.11.2014:
55 Nasser Chararah Hezbollah Media Outlets Warm to Christians in Lebanon, Al-Monitor,30.12.2012:
56 Ali Hashem, Hezbollah prepares to fight IS in Lebanon, Al-Monitor, 07.09.2014:
57 Hezbollah calls for resistance against IS, Al-Monitor, 27.08.2014:
58 Jean Aziz, Lebanon a safe haven but Middle Eastern Christians still at risk, Al-Monitor, 13.08.2014:
59 Jean Aziz, Recent events a good sign for Lebanon, Al-Monitor, 19.11.2014:
60 Jean Aziz, Lebanon's MPs extend own terms, Al-Monitor, 10.11.2014; Jean Aziz, Lebanon may lose either judiciary or legislative branch, Al-Monitor, 26.11.2014:
61 Alice Su, Fade to black: Jordanian city Ma'an copes with Islamic State threat, Al Jazeera, 02.09.2014:
62 David Schenker, Salafi Jihadists on the Rise in Jordan, Washington Institute, 05.05.2014:
63 Ed Adamczyk, Jordanian warplanes hit convoy entering from Syria, UPI, 17.04.2014:
64 Obama Announces New Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund US Department of Defense, 28.05.2014:
65 Nikita Malik, As the Islamic State's threat grows, Israel and Jordan seek security ties, The National, 06.07.2014:
66 Jordanzat, 21.07.2014:
67 Hisham Melhem, The Barbarians within our gates, Politico Magazine, 18.09.2014:
68 Hisham Melhem, The Time of the Assassins, Politico Magazine, 09.01.2015:
Markus Tozman graduated from Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Relations in 2014 and concentrated on Middle East Studies. He has professionally been working on minority rights in the Middle East since 2010, both in the public sector and for NGOs, which included extensive fieldwork in Turkey and Egypt. He published a book on the Syriacs in Turkey in 2012 and regularly writes analyses on the Middle East for Open Doors International.
Views and opinions expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AINA.
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