March 23/15

Bible Quotation For Today/Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing
Luke 10/38-42: "Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’"

Bible Quotation For Today/If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation
Second Letter to the Corinthians 01/01-07: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 22-23/15
Egypt revs-up to race in the fast lane/Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor /Al Arabiya/
March 22/15
What do opponents of an Iran nuclear deal really want/Dr. John Duke Anthony/Al Arabiya/
March 22/15
The U.S. gains from ambiguity in the Middle East/David Ignatius/ The Daily Star/March 22/15

Lebanese Related News published on March 22-23/15
Hezbollah unyielding on backing Aoun for presidency
U.S. weapons shipment set to arrive in Beirut 
Army presence reassures Christians facing ISIS 
Al-Rahi Voices Grave Concern over Ongoing Presidency Crisis
Report: Hizbullah Fighters Move into Syria ahead of Fierce Battle
Geagea Says LF Opposes Hizbullah Political Stances, Considers it Impedes Rise of State

Mashnouq: Our Political Camp Curbed Spread of Terrorist Ideology in Sunni Community
Report: Case of Hostage Servicemen to Reach Positive Results by End of March
'Missing' Child Returns Home after 'Walking from Dbayeh to Barja'
ISIL Kidnap Syrian National in Arsal
Jumblatt pessimistic about Middle East 
Army arrests Tripoli man behind ISIS media network 
Women demand right to pass on citizenship 

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 22-23/15
Muslim Strength Decides if Christian Churches Stand or Fall

Powers stiffen postures ahead of critical hour with Iran
US can prevent Iran developing nuclear bomb: CIA director
Militia Chief: Iran General in Iraq 'Whenever We Need'
Israel Launches Bid to Influence Iran Nuclear Deal
Netanyahu allies say U.S. misunderstood remarks
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz to Paris as cracks appear between France and Washington over Iran deal
Video of Tunisia attack released amid manhunt
McCain slams Obama over Israel 'temper tantrum'
Obama: We don't believe Netanyahu on Palestine
US envoy 'confused' by Netanyahu's statements
Inside the failure of the Zionist Union campaign
Lapid to Netanyahu: Don't make Deri minister
Syrian Regime Helicopter Crew Captured by Rebels, 1 Killed
Shiite rebels take control of Yemen's third largest city
Huthi Chief Calls for Anti-Jihadist Mobilization
U.N. Security Council Affirms Support for Yemen President, Unity
Hamas exhibition in Nablus glorifies terror
Video of Tunisia attack released amid manhunt
Prosecutor Accused of Ignoring Evidence in Kuwait 'Coup Plot'
Erdogan at odds with ministers over Kurdish peace

Jihad Watch Latest News
French PM: “In France, all the energy, all the necessary resources already exist for the development of Islam”
Khamenei screams “Death to America” as Kerry hails progress on nuke deal
Israel warns of jihad threats to Jewish, Israeli targets in Europe
Revised and expanded at PJ Media: Spencer’s Blogging the Quran, 2:40-221
Islamic State forces Christian hostage to call parents while being tortured
Brazil “an operational hub for Iran and Islamic Terrorism”
South African writer threatened, hit in face with brick for praising Rushdie
Turkey’s EU minister: using terms “Islamic State” & “Islamic terrorism” offends Muslims
Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul: Islamic State “dedicated to a contemporary holocaust”
Islamic State jihadi with engineering degree: “I am happy with my Jihadi work”
Afghan Muslim cleric defends lynching of woman for burning Qur’an
Nine Muslim medical students from UK working in Islamic State hospitals

This is who we are
Elias Bejjani
There are physiologically and intellectually two separate and contradicting entities within each of us. The spiritual and the instinctive entities. We can also categorize them as righteous and evil.. Dealing with others must take in consideration this basic, solid, scientific and spiritual reality. In dealing with others, relatives, friends, partners, lovers, enemies etc we have to dwell in the depth of these two contradicting entities and accept them as they are so we succeed in building relationships with those others accordingly. Meanwhile we can not change in others any of these two entities, but just tame them at times.

Al-Rahi Voices Grave Concern over Ongoing Presidency Crisis
Naharnet /Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi expressed grave concern on Sunday over the ongoing presidential vacuum and its repercussions on the constitutional state. “We lack the inner sight... and politicians need to realize the impact of their political practices on the state,” al-Rahi said during a mass at Bkirki at the end of centenary of the death of Saint Rafqa. He called on the rival parties to understand the risks compelled by vacuum, noting that the “country's economy is paralyzed.”MPs failed for the 20th time last week to elect a new head of state over lack of quorum. President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May without the election of a successor. Hizbullah and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc have been boycotting electoral sessions due to a disagreement with the March 14 camp over a compromise presidential candidate. Al-Rahi also expressed fear over the ongoing Syrian refugees crisis, calling on foreign and Arab countries to return the displaced to their homes. “They are having negative impacts on the economy, security and political situation in the country,” he noted. An estimated 1.18 million Syrians have fled their country's bloody conflict to take refuge in Lebanon, which has struggled to deal with the influx as the war enters its fifth year.

Geagea Says LF Opposes Hizbullah Political Stances, Considers it Impedes Rise of State
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea stressed on Sunday that Hizbullah is the only factor at this point obstructing the rise of the state, noting that there is no enmity with the party but mere political rivalry.  "We only oppose Hizbullah's political stance... the party has foreign ties that disagree with our own principles regarding Lebanon... our relationship is a political rift between two political projects," Geagea said in an interview on Youtube. Geagea has recently said that Hizbullah and the extremist Islamic State group are enemies but have closely related features of one idea. The presidential aspirant stressed that the only factor obstructing the rise of the state is "Hizbullah's presence as a state within a state," considering that "the situation will not continue as it is."Geagea stressed that he would exert efforts to avert the break out of any war in Lebanon, accusing Iran of impeding the election of a new head of state. "The reason behind the presidential vacuum is Iran... we either elect a head of state who aspire to its project in the region or the elections will not be staged," the Christian leader added. MPs failed for the 20th time last week to elect a new head of state over lack of quorum. President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May without the election of a successor. Hizbullah and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc have been boycotting electoral sessions due to a disagreement with the March 14 camp over a compromise presidential candidate. The rivalry between Geagea and Aoun is one of the reasons behind the ongoing vacuum in the presidency. Geagea noted that Lebanon's composition is "very complicated," expressing hope that the country would become a political power that suits its cultural and historical value. Asked if he will seek to terminate the political sectarianism if he reaches the Baabda Palace, the LF leader said that "it's still too early for that as the Lebanese should first reach a civil society which should become one of the main pillars of building a civil state." "The division of power is now considered our security valve" amid the situation in the Middle East, Geagea added.
Asked if Christians are now engaged in a battle of existence against the rising threats by jihadists, Geagea expressed belief that the "Christians in Lebanon are facing another kind of risks."

Mashnouq: Our Political Camp Curbed Spread of Terrorist Ideology in Sunni Community
Naharnet /Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq declared Sunday that his political camp has managed to curb “the spread of the terrorist ideology in the Sunni community” as he started a four-day visit to the United States.
“Our political camp has managed to curb the spread of the terrorist ideology in the Sunni community and the myth of the 'incubator environment' has ceased to exist,” Mashnouq said during a Washington meeting with experts and researchers from prominent Middle East think tanks. He said the perceived achievement was reached due to his camp's reliance on “the legitimacy resulting from the assassination of martyr premier Rafik Hariri.”“We are relying on the experience of the martyr of moderation, and ex-PM Saad Hariri – with the symbolism he represents as the son of the martyr of moderation -- can confront all these challenges,” the minister added. Separately, Mashnouq reassured that “dialogue with Hizbullah has achieved progress,” as he noted that “the election of a president is a regional issue.” “Dialogue can definitely be a gateway for a settlement, but it must be accompanied by an appropriate regional situation,” he pointed out. State-run National News Agency said Mashnouq's visit will tackle the issues of “combating terrorism, protecting Lebanon from the blazes surrounding it, and the assistance that can be offered by the U.S. to Lebanon and the Lebanese security agencies – especially in terms of boosting the technical capabilities and training.”
The minister is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, the U.S. president's Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, a number of congress members, and Anne C. Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. His visit will also involve meetings with top security officials topped by FBI director James Comey, CIA director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. The minister is accompanied by al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Bassem al-Shab and a senior security delegation.

Report: Case of Hostage Servicemen to Reach Positive Results by End of March
Naharnet/An important breakthrough in the case of captive servicemen is expected to be reached at the end of March, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported on Sunday. Informed sources told the newspaper that the resumption of the Qatari endeavors had a positive impact on the case, in particular the negotiation with al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front group. The sources said that the case could witness an important development by the end of the March. A number of soldiers and policemen were abducted by al-Nusra Front and Islamic State group gunmen in the wake of clashes in the northeastern border town of Arsal in August.A few of them have since been released, four were executed, and the rest remain held. The captors have been demanding the release of Islamists held in Lebanon as a condition to set them free. On Saturday, General Security chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim stressed after talks with Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji that the state is exerting efforts to ensure the safe release of the abducted soldiers and policemen. For his part, Qahwaji pointed out in a speech on the occasion of Mother's Day that he “vows not to engage in any settlement on the blood of martyrs,” stressing that “all hostages will be released no matter the sacrifices were.” Media reports said recently that al-Nusra Front handed over a list that include 40 inmates and remains open to negotiations. The list also includes the names of three women - Iraqi national Saja al-Dulaimi, Lebanese Joumana Hmeid and Alaa al-Oqaili - who are all detained on terror charges. However, the Lebanese authorities rejected to include in the swap agreement ten inmates from Arab nationalities due to the preexistence of accords between the country and Arab states that prevent the engagement in any similar deals. The list also includes the names of several “dangerous prisoners.”

'Missing' Child Returns Home after 'Walking from Dbayeh to Barja'
Naharnet/After triggering a major search operation and making news headlines, a child who was reported missing on Sunday morning surfaced at his house in the evening – after walking from Dbayeh to Barja.TV networks had reported that Rafiq Ahmed Jomaa, a 10-year-old boy, went missing during a school marathon in the seaside La Marina Dbayeh area. “The Civil Defense and security forces are searching for the child Rafik Ahmed Jomaa, 10, after he went missing around 10:30 am during his participation with his classmates in a mini marathon in the La Marina Dbayeh area,” MTV said. “CCTV footage shows the toddler leaving the race at 11:32 am and heading right, towards the sea,” MTV added. The Internal Security Forces later circulated Rafiq's picture and asked for the public's help in locating the child. But in the evening, several TV networks reported that the boy returned home safely after crossing around 44 kilometers on foot. The unusual trip took him around six hours, according to media reports. In a live phone interview with MTV, the child insisted that he walked home. His parents also confirmed that he had arrived at a neighbor's house. Sources had told MTV that authorities looked into several scenarios during the boy's disappearance.“He was either kidnapped during his participation in the marathon or he took another bus without calling his parents, although he knows the address of his residence and his father's phone number,” the sources said. “Another scenario is that he might have managed to reach the rocks or the sea, which is only 15 meters away from the corniche,” the sources added.
Rescue crews and security forces had intensified search efforts in a bid to find the boy before nightfall, according to MTV.

Jumblatt pessimistic about Middle East after Hollande meet
The Daily Star/Mar. 23, 2015 /BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt expressed pessimism about the future of the Middle East, while praising France’s support for Syria’s uprising after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande over the weekend. “It’s a long fratricidal war between Arabs,” Jumblatt said, referring to the Syrian civil war, after his meeting with Hollande in Paris Saturday. “The Fertile Crescent is being destroyed and I see no end in the near future but terrible suffering for Arab people.”
The PSP chief lauded the “brave position” adopted by Paris with regard to the Syria crisis and the violence in the Middle East. “[France’s] position against the Syrian regime is very clear, and it stands with the Syrian people.”Jumblatt compared the destruction of the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane by the Nazis in World War II and the destruction inflicted on Syria. “Today, the [number of] Syrian cities and villages destroyed surpass the destruction of Oradour by 10, even 100 times,” he said. The Druze leader is an outspoken critic of the Syrian regime and a staunch supporter of the uprising. Last week, Jumblatt strongly criticized comments made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when he announced his country was exploring ways to pressure the Syrian president into agreeing to talks. The war in neighboring Syria has led to a huge influx of refugees to Lebanon. Their numbers now exceed 1.2 million. “Helping refugees is a moral duty,” Jumblatt said. “France and other countries are supporting them financially, and it is our duty too, since they don’t have any means to return to their homes. The regime destroyed everything they have and this is why we should take care of them.”The Chouf lawmaker also expressed his opposition to the establishment of camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon on the Syrian side of the border. French sources told the Al-Mustaqbal newspaper that the meeting came at the request of Hollande. The latter wanted to inquire about Jumblatt’s opinion on Lebanon’s 10-month presidential vacuum and other developments unfolding in the region. “We looked into France’s support for Lebanon’s security and the Lebanese Army,” Jumblatt said. “We hope that the Lebanese problems won’t be solved in France. We should, as Lebanese, solve our problems by ourselves.”

Hezbollah unyielding on backing Aoun for presidency
Daily Star/Mar. 23, 2015
BEIRUT: Hezbollah Sunday stood firm on its support for MP Michel Aoun for the presidency, defying local and foreign calls for the election of a consensus candidate to end the deadlock that has left Lebanon without a head of state for nearly 10 months.
In sharp contrast, the Future Movement warned that Aoun’s insistence on his presidential bid was blocking efforts to reach an agreement between the rival political factions over the presidency. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Future’s dialogue with Hezbollah was making progress, but the presidential election is “a regional issue.” “The dialogue must constitute a gateway for the logic of compromise. But it should be accompanied by a [favorable] regional situation,” Machnouk said during a meeting with Middle East experts and researchers at leading think tank centers in Washington. Machnouk, currently on a four-day visit to Washington for talks with U.S. officials on fighting terrorism, said: “Our political party [Future Movement] has been able to put an end to the proliferation of terrorist ideology within the Sunni society. The talk – myth – about an environment accommodating [jihadis] no longer exists.”
MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, said his party was confident that the presidential vacuum would eventually be filled with a candidate who would safeguard the resistance. “We are now in a phase in which the country is oscillating between a presidential vacancy, obstruction of constitutional institutions and the threat of takfiri terrorism,” Raad said in a memorial ceremony in the southern town of Kafra, referring to Syria-based jihadis threatening to destabilize Lebanon. “But eventually, we will fill the presidential vacancy with [a president] who can safeguard the recovery path and the resistance.”
He added that Hezbollah has chosen Aoun as its sole candidate for the presidency and that the March 14 coalition, which is backing Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea for the country’s top Christian post, must ponder this option and decide.
“There is an equation in the country that requires national understanding in order to fill the [presidential] vacancy. We have presented our viewpoint on this understanding and named our candidate whom we assume will serve the national path of the resistance, recovery, internal security and stability,” Raad said, in a clear allusion to Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement which is linked in a political alliance with Hezbollah. “The other [March 14] side will have to contemplate, think and decide.”
The March 14 coalition, led by the Future Movement, has rejected Aoun’s candidacy, arguing that he cannot be viewed as a consensus candidate for the presidency because of his alliance with Hezbollah. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, head of the Future Movement, has called for the election of a consensus candidate as the only way to end the presidential vacuum. But a defiant Aoun has vowed not to withdraw from the presidential race, contending that because he headed the largest Christian bloc in Parliament, he was the most qualified candidate for the presidency. Future MP Mohammad Qabbani warned that Aoun’s insistence on seeking the presidency was blocking an agreement between the March 8 and March 14 parties to elect a president. “So far, Gen. Michel Aoun is still upholding his candidacy [for the presidency] on the basis that ‘either I will be elected president or no one else will.’ This is what is obstructing any presidential agreement,” Qabbani told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
He blamed Iran for blocking the election of a president. “The red light in the presidential election issue is coming from Iran,” Qabbani said. He added that electing a successor to former President Michel Sleiman should be done “without any foreign intervention or influence.”
Geagea also accused Iran of obstructing the presidential vote. “The reason for the [presidential] vacuum is a very clear Iranian decision: Either the election of a president fully supportive [of Iran] or no presidential election will be held. This is what happened,” Geagea said in a YouTube interview. He charged that Hezbollah was preventing the building of the Lebanese state. “What is blocking the rise of the state in Lebanon is the presence of Hezbollah as a statelet within a state,” he said.
Separately, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Arab solidarity is “a very pressing issue “in light of dangers threatening the region’s states and their peoples. Speaking to visitors at his Mseitbeh residence, he said Lebanon would raise the issue of solidarity during the Arab summit to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on March 28. – with additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis

Report: Hizbullah Fighters Move into Syria ahead of Fierce Battle
Naharnet /Hizbullah mobilized hundreds of fighters in Syria during the past few days, al-Mustaqbal newspaper reported on Sunday. The daily said that “hundreds of Hizbullah fighters were transported into Syria in small vehicles.” The development prompted observers to express fear from the eruption of fierce battles along the border with Syria as the weather improves. Media reports said recently that fighters linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Syrian al-Qalamoun are mobilizing and moving closer to the border with Lebanon ahead of a battle along the country's eastern border. ISIL fighters are reportedly moving “from eastern al-Qalamoun to its west” in preparation for a battle in the area in the spring after the snow melts. The Lebanese army frequently clashes with the militants in their hideouts near the Syria border. When the Syrian revolt erupted in March 2011, the Lebanese eastern border town of Arsal served as a key conduit for refugees, rebels and wounded people fleeing strife-torn Syria, but the Lebanese army stepped up it's security measures in the village to stop infiltrations. It was overran in August by gunmen belonging to the two al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who withdrew from the town by taking several soldiers and policemen hostage. Four have been so far executed. The IS, which controls several areas in Syria and Iraq, aims to spread to Lebanon as its fighters position in the outskirts of Bekaa towns bordering Syria and the Lebanese army is in adamant efforts to stop their efforts to infiltrate the country. ISIL and al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front are battling in Qalamoun the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizbullah forces alongside each other, with support from some smaller Islamist rebel groups.

Muslim Strength Decides if Christian Churches Stand or Fall

By Raymond Ibrahim/March 21, 2015/A video recording made on December 14, 2013 of Dr. Yusuf al-Burhami, a leading cleric in Egypt’s Salafi movement, was recently publicized on Arabic media due to its controversial nature. In the video, Burhami says that “Destroying churches is permissible—as long as the destruction does not bring harm to Muslims, such as false claims that Muslims are persecuting Christians leading to [foreign] occupations.” He further added that “the reason we agree to their being built, via the article in the constitution dealing with worship, and the reason we do not collect the jizya [tribute] from the Christians, is because the condition of Muslims in the current era is well known to the nations of the world—they are weak and deteriorating among the people.” Burhami went on to explain that, when the Arab Muslims first conquered Egypt in the 7th century, the ancient nation was Christian and because the Muslims were few in number, Coptic Christian churches were allowed to remain—“just as the prophet allowed the Jews to remain in Khaibar after it he opened [conquered] it, but once Muslims grew in strength and number, [second caliph] Omar al-Khattab drove them out according to the prophet’s command, ‘Drive out the Jews and Christians from the Peninsula.’”

U.N. Security Council Affirms Support for Yemen President, Unity
Naharnet/The U.N. Security Council on Sunday voiced unanimous support for Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and the unity of the country, amid warnings it is sliding towards civil war. "The Security Council reaffirms its strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen, and its commitment to stand by the people of Yemen," the 15 members said in a statement during an emergency meeting in New York. Talking to the Security Council by video link from Qatar, U.N. Special Adviser Jamal Benomar, who has tried to mediate the conflict for several months, warned that recent events "seem to be leading Yemen to the edge of a civil war. "The country will slide further into further violence and dislocation. "In conclusion, I urge all sides in spite of rising tensions to appreciate the gravity of the situation and to deescalate by ceasing all hostilities and refraining from provocations and using violence... peaceful dialogue is the only way forward." The council "supports the legitimacy" of Hadi, it added in its statement, and also made a vague threat of sanctions against the Shiite militia, known as Huthis, who seized a key central Yemeni city's airport Sunday. Impoverished but strategic Yemen has descended into chaos in recent months, with the Huthis seizing control of Sanaa and forcing Hadi to flee to the main southern city of Aden. The emergency meeting came against the backdrop of a deteriorating security crisis that prompted Washington to evacuate personnel. The Security Council "condemns the ongoing unilateral actions taken by the Huthis, which undermine the political transition process in Yemen, and jeopardize the security, stability, sovereignty and unity of Yemen..." it said. Agence France Presse
ISIL Kidnap Syrian National in Arsal
Naharnet/The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) reportedly abducted overnight at gunpoint Syrian national Ahmed Ta'an Assi in the northeastern border town of Arsal. Hussam Trad, who is is also known as Abi Bakr, kidnapped at the head of an armed group Assi near his house Arsal and transported him to an unknown location in a maroon Jeep Grand Chrokee that didn't carry any license plates, the state-run National News Agency reported. The reasons behind the abduction remain unclear. Arsal, a predominantly Sunni area, backs the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad. The town lies 12 kilometers from the border with Syria and served as a key conduit for refugees, rebels and wounded people fleeing strife-torn Syria, but the Lebanese army stepped up it's security measures in the village to stop infiltration. It was overran in August by gunmen belonging to the two al-Nusra Front and ISIL, who withdrew from the town by taking several soldiers and policemen hostage. Four have been so far executed.
The jihadists remain entrenched on the outskirts of Arsal on the porous Syrian-Lebanese border.

McCain slams Obama over Israel 'temper tantrum'
Latest Update: 03.22.15
'The least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election campaign,' Republican senator tells US president amid reports the US is 'reevaluating' its Israel policy following PM's rejection of Palestinian state.
WASHINGTON - US Senator John McCain accused President Barack Obama of throwing a "temper tantrum" over comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who denounced his support for a Palestinian state, adding to the conflict between the White House and the Republican-dominated Congress over Israel.
McCain, asked on CNN's "State of the Union" show if US-Israel relations were at a dangerous point, said, "I think that's up to the president of the United States."
Obama's sensitive relationship with Netanyahu was strained further by comments Netanyahu made in the closing moments of his successful campaign for re-election last week, saying a Palestinian state would not be established as long as he was prime minister.
The remarks were widely interpreted as a rejection of the "two-state solution" that has been the basis of decades of talks to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, brokered by successive US Republican and Democratic administrations alike.
But the day after the elections, after his party secured 30 seats in the 20th Knesset, Netanyahu was quick to backtrack on his statement, arguing that he was not rejecting Palestinian statehood in principle, but responding to a reality in which the Palestinian Authority has a political pact with the Islamist group Hamas, under which statehood would be unacceptable.
"I haven't changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state," he said.
In his first public comments about the issue following the Israeli elections, Obama told the Huffington Post over the weekend that he was taking Netanyahu at his word that the Israeli prime minister was not interested in the formation of a Palestinian state.
Obama said on Friday that Netanyahu's comments had made it "hard to find a path" back to serious peace negotiations. He told Netanyahu on Thursday that Washington would have to "reassess" its policies in the Middle East.
Media reports said the United States was reviewing its position on a UN Security Council resolution on Palestinian state. In the past Israel has relied on US veto power on the Security Council to support its interests.
"The president should get over it," McCain said on CNN. "Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President.
"The least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election campaign. If every politician were held to everything they say in a political campaign, obviously that would be a topic of long discussion."
McCain, a leading voice in Congress on foreign relations, urged Obama to focus on the growing Islamic State threat in the Middle East and curbing Iran's nuclear program.
A misunderstanding
In Israel, Netanyahu's allies blamed Obama's unprecedented criticism against Netanyahu on a misunderstanding.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz acknowledged the problem but pointed the finger at Washington for failing to understand the prime minister's position.
"If the Americans are finding it difficult to understand or accept our clarifications (on Palestinian statehood), this is certainly worrying and requires tending to," he told Israel Radio. "He (Netanyahu) didn't say this (statehood) is 'unacceptable'. He said reality has changed."
Netanyahu publicly embraced an independent state for Palestinians in a speech in 2009, but Palestinians have long questioned his sincerity, noting his expansion of Israeli settlements on disputed land. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Netanyahu's latest comments "very worrying".
With no peace talks under way, the Palestinians have taken steps to seek international recognition of their independence unilaterally. So far most Western countries have held back from diplomatic recognition, arguing that a Palestinian state should emerge from negotiations with Israel.
Washington has long used its veto in the UN Security Council to prevent the United Nations from taking steps to recognize Palestinian independence. Some in Israel are concerned that Obama's "reassessment" could jeopardise that stance.
Silvan Shalom, a Likud cabinet minister, said Israel would have little incentive to seek a peace deal if the United States and other countries "lend a hand" to unilateral Palestinian moves. If that happens, he told Army Radio, "then what is the point of signing another (peace) accord?"
Netanyahu has become an issue in Democrat Obama's rocky relationship with Congress, where Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate.
Netanyahu told the US Congress earlier this month that the United States should do more to stop Iran's nuclear program, speaking at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, who did not consult the White House in advance.
A group of 47 senators also bypassed Obama this month by sending a letter to Iran that the White House said undermined negotiations with Tehran on nuclear weapons.
Ynetnews contributed to this report.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz to Paris as cracks appear between France and Washington over Iran deal
By HERB KEINON/03/22/2015
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz headed to Paris Sunday afternoon, as differences emerged over the weekend between France and the US over the negotiating strategy with Iran. "This is an effort to prevent a (nuclear) deal that is bad and full of loopholes, or at least ... to succeed in closing or amending some of these loopholes," Steinitz told Israel radio. He is being accompanied by National Security Council head Yossi Cohen, and several other intelligence officials. Steinitz said he may go to other European capitals as well.
At one point during the latest negotiations, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius phoned his team to ensure that it made no more concessions, officials at the talks said last week. And on Saturday Fabius said France wants an agreement that would guarantee that Iran could not produce a nuclear weapon. Israel's ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday that a bad Iran deal is one with a “short breakout time.”“Right now they're talking about a year breakout time,” he said. “ That leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure in place. That breakout time has to be much longer.”And a “very bad” deal, he said, “would automatically remove restrictions on Iran's nuclear program after only about a decade.” In that case, Dermer said, Iran would be able to become a nuclear weapons state when the deal expired. This, he said, “would lead to mass nuclear proliferation in the region and would be very dangerous for the Middle East and the world.”Reuters contributed to this report.

Powers stiffen postures ahead of critical hour with Iran
By MICHAEL WILNER/J.Post/03/22/2015
MONTREUX, Switzerland -- Diplomats from the United States, Europe and Iran have begun positioning themselves ahead of a critical deadline on historic negotiations over nuclear power, stiffening their rhetoric and returning to their respective capitals to regroup on Sunday.
Congregating in London earlier in the weekend, the foreign ministers of the US, France, United Kingdom, Germany and the EU presented themselves as a united front, despite public disagreement from the French earlier in the week concerning the wisdom of America's strategic approach in the talks.
After two years of negotiations, France worries that a rush to complete a framework by the end of the month is a "bad tactic" undermining the West's negotiating leverage, Gerard Araud, France's envoy to Washington, said over the weekend.
Western powers, alongside Russia and China, seek to cap, restrict, monitor and partially roll back Iran's vast nuclear program for a finite period. Negotiators hope for a political framework agreement by March 31, which will outline a comprehensive joint plan of action completed by June 30.
"We are all equally committed to finding a solution that ensures that Iran's nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful," the powers wrote in a joint statement. "Any solution must be comprehensive, durable and verifiable. None of our countries can subscribe to a deal that does not meet these terms."
US officials have privately bristled at France’s outspoken criticism of the negotiating process and its demands for more stringent restrictions on the Iranians. Officials have expressed concerns that the French might block a deal at the United Nations, while also noting that the position of the French, within private negotiating rooms, has been far less critical.
Departing Lausanne with plans to return on March 26, US Secretary of State John Kerry recommitted to the March 31 deadline, arguing that the critical choices facing Iran and the West would not get any easier in the weeks and months ahead.
But France's concerns are not merely strategic, according to its diplomats: Paris wants a deal to last far longer than the decade-long period under discussion, and will not agree to lifting sanctions at the UN Security Council before Iran has delivered on key, "irreversible" aspects of the deal.
Such actions would include the transformation of Iran's plutonium facility at Arak, the shipment of much of its uranium stockpile out of the country and the introduction of inspectors to all of Iran's known uranium mines and yellowcake-producing mills.
Western powers argue that a deal is better than not for one reason above all: Visibility. The US seeks access for the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency to the entire chain of custody on Iran's enrichment program. US officials say this access is the world's best chance to detect the siphoning of raw material to covert facilities— of far greater concern to Washington than Iran's facilities publicly declared.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether the US government is confident that it has identified all of Iran's uranium mines, a US official at the talks said they are not.
The two mines known to the US are at Gachin and Saghand, where a nearby mill, at Ardakan, is near completion and is scheduled to begin production shortly. The point of a deal, the official said, is to keep track of the product of those mines and mills.
An entire chain of custody would have to be covert, from the extraction of ore to its conversion to yellowcake, to its conversion to fuel and ultimately its weaponization, for Iran to circumvent this deal and build a weapon, the official continued. Even then, the US seeks access for the IAEA to additional facilities suspected of aiding in covert processes.
France also wants Tehran to own up to its past research and experimentation on nuclear weapons technology. Western governments have determined with a high degree of confidence that Iran has conducted such research in its military facilities, including at Parchin, though Iran has denied this and insists that it cannot prove a negative.
Tehran wants all UN-mandated sanctions lifted immediately upon the declaration of an accord, arguing that anything less maintains Iran as a pariah state.
To accommodate this demand, Washington's experts are seeking to craft a mechanism at the UN Security Council allowing for sanctions to "snap back" in place should Iran violate any aspect of a deal, without a fully new vote in the UN Security Council, where Russia and China wield veto power.
Still, France is concerned that the breadth of concessions offered to Iran may prompt its Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, to seek nuclear technology. Paris is also concerned with the position of the Israeli government, which, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adamantly opposes the deal in its current form.
In Lausanne, a Chinese diplomat told the Post that ​the "matters at hand, per se" were under intensive scrutiny inside the Beau Rivage Palace, when asked whether Israel's concerns with a deal were reflected in his discussions.
The technical nature of the talks, focused not on one particular concern but on a host of interconnected, detail-oriented matters, presents negotiators with a difficult task as they enter the eleventh hour of their effort. As progress is made on one issue, US officials say, challenges appear on others.
"Frankly, they have not yet made the kind of concessions that are I think going to be needed for a final deal to get done," US President Barack Obama told The Huffington Post in an interview over the weekend. "But they have moved, and so there's the possibility."

Muslim Strength Decides if Christian Churches Stand or Fall
By Raymond Ibrahim on /March 21, 2015
A video recording made on December 14, 2013 of Dr. Yusuf al-Burhami, a leading cleric in Egypt’s Salafi movement, was recently publicized on Arabic media due to its controversial nature.
In the video, Burhami says that “Destroying churches is permissible—as long as the destruction does not bring harm to Muslims, such as false claims that Muslims are persecuting Christians leading to [foreign] occupations.” He further added that “the reason we agree to their being built, via the article in the constitution dealing with worship, and the reason we do not collect the jizya [tribute] from the Christians, is because the condition of Muslims in the current era is well known to the nations of the world—they are weak and deteriorating among the people.”Burhami went on to explain that, when the Arab Muslims first conquered Egypt in the 7th century, the ancient nation was Christian and because the Muslims were few in number, Coptic Christian churches were allowed to remain—“just as the prophet allowed the Jews to remain in Khaibar after it he opened [conquered] it, but once Muslims grew in strength and number, [second caliph] Omar al-Khattab drove them out according to the prophet’s command, ‘Drive out the Jews and Christians from the Peninsula.’”

Syrian Regime Helicopter Crew Captured by Rebels, 1 Killed
Naharnet /Islamist rebels captured four crew members of a regime helicopter which crashed in Idlib province of northwest Syria on Sunday, while a fifth serviceman was killed, a monitor said. "A regime helicopter was forced to land in the region of Jabal al-Zawiya in the northwest, which is a bastion of (al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate) al-Nusra Front," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Agence France-Presse. "Four of the crew were captured and a fifth man was killed by armed men in a neighboring village," he said. Pictures provided by the Observatory showed groups of men gathering around a damaged helicopter lying on its side on a rocky hilltop. Syrian state television confirmed a military helicopter had crashed in Idlib, saying it was due to a technical failure and that search efforts were underway to locate the crew. Abdel Rahman said two of the servicemen were being held by al-Nusra Front, while the other two were captured by an unknown Islamist group. At least one more crew member was believed to be on the run, he said.
Regime helicopters are often used to drop crudely constructed barrel bombs on rebel-held areas. In the southern province of Daraa, opposition fighters and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad clashed in the ancient town of Busra al-Sham, the Observatory said.
At least nine opposition fighters were killed, but the casualty toll on the regime side was not immediately known. The town has both Sunni and Shiite Muslim residents, with control divided between regime and rebel forces. Abdel Rahman said opposition groups shelled the Shiite neighborhoods heavily on Sunday, a day after regime forces had shelled rebel-held areas. A regime helicopter also dropped at least one barrel bomb on the town Sunday, but Abdel Rahman had no immediate report on civilian casualties.Agence France Presse
US can prevent Iran developing nuclear bomb: CIA director

Agence France Presse/Mar. 22, 2015
WASHINGTON: The United States is confident it can prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if the Islamic republic pulls out of talks, CIA Director John Brennan said in remarks broadcast Sunday. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Brennan said America has multiple measures at its disposal to ensure Iran doesn't become a nuclear power. "There are a number of things that the United States has available to it to prevent Iran from getting a bomb," the director of the Central Intelligence Agency said. Iran and six world powers are in negotiations to clinch a landmark deal that would have the country scale back its disputed nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions. "President Obama has made it very clear that we are going to prevent Iran from having that type of nuclear weapon that they were ... going on the track to obtain," Brennan added. "So, if they decide to go down that route, they know that they will do so at their peril."In response to a question about America's track record in monitoring Iran's nuclear program, Brennan acknowledged that U.S. intelligence had historically been less than ideal on the issue. "I think we've gone to school on some of those developments over the last decade or so," he said.  "We can now have a better plan and opportunity to verify some of the things that they are saying they are going to do and not do."
Asked about reports of an underground nuclear site near Tehran, Brennan said: "I am confident that we have a good understanding of what the Iranian nuclear program entails." When asked if he was concerned about the possibility of a regional arms race, Brennan said partners in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, are confident the United States can act as a regional security guarantor. "We are going to keep close communication, I'm confident the Saudis will be a responsible partner and player in the region," Brennan said.

The U.S. gains from ambiguity in the Middle East

David Ignatius| The Daily Star/Mar. 21, 2015
It’s March Madness in the Middle East: The United States and Israel are trading private barbs and public reassurances after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defiant re-election victory, just as the U.S. is nearing a nuclear deal with Israel’s chief adversary, Iran.
It’s a volatile situation, with the Obama administration signaling its opposition to Netanyahu’s campaign statements rejecting a Palestinian state. This will be a political collision as well as a diplomatic one, after the Republicans’ raucous cheers that greeted Netanyahu’s speech to Congress March 3 blasting President Barack Obama’s Iran policy. An early signal of Obama’s displeasure came Wednesday, when White House press secretary Josh Earnest criticized Netanyahu’s election-day warning to Israeli voters about high Arab turnout. “Rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive,” Earnest volunteered, unbidden by any reporter’s question. Netanyahu backed off his election rhetoric, telling NBC’s Andrea Mitchell Thursday he wanted “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution” if “circumstances ... change.” As he spoke, Israelis were aware that the White House was considering a range of possible actions to demonstrate its anger. After the conciliatory interview was broadcast, the White House disclosed that Obama had called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory. The soothing public words came on a day when the White House was privately weighing a roster of pressure tactics, including:
(1) Drafting a new U.N. Security Council resolution outlining the framework for a Palestinian state. Such a resolution might summarize the parameters that emerged during Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations with Israelis and Palestinians that collapsed last year.
(2) Deterring Netanyahu’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, perhaps through warnings in a planned report to Congress on loan guarantees to Israel. President George H. W. Bush briefly cut off loan guarantees in 1991 to protest settlements, creating a political uproar but no lasting success in halting settlements.
(3) Altering current U.S. policy that opposes Palestinian efforts to take complaints against Israel to the International Criminal Court. Similarly, the U.S. might relax its pressure against European allies that are advocating sanctions against
(4) Weighing future vetoes of U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli settlements or other activity. In the past, U.S. use of the veto to support Israeli positions has been all but automatic.
Adoption of any of these measures would open a wide and potentially destabilizing breach between the two allies, and the administration’s consideration of them now is probably partly tactical. Officials want to nudge Netanyahu toward more moderate positions as he seeks to form a new governing coalition – and get him to continue backing away from the hardline statements he made during the fervor of the campaign.
Netanyahu’s comments to Mitchell tried to defuse the post-election tension. But it’s not clear this is as explicit a repudiation as the White House wants.
The Iran negotiations nearing a climax in Switzerland could spike the fever in U.S.-Israeli relations even higher. But here, the Israelis have recently hinted privately that they could live with a deal, even one that allows Iran to enrich some uranium, so long as it has tough provisions to cap Iran’s nuclear program and verify compliance. Netanyahu has also floated the idea that Iran’s nuclear capability should be constrained until it halts terrorism, stops regional subversion and accepts Israel’s existence.
U.S. officials are preparing a post-Iran-agreement agenda for calming Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia. But the priority should be strengthening the Sunni nations to counter Iranian meddling, rather than sweet-talking them. The Saudis and others are understandably frightened by a rising Iran, because of Tehran’s aggressive actions in in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
If there’s ever to be a security balance in the region, the Sunni nations must become strong enough to offset Iranian power. A stable and more confident Egypt would help stiffen the Sunni backbone.
In a post-deal world, we can also expect Iranian hardliners to show that their power in the region is unaffected. We can see harbingers in Iraq, as Gen. Qasem Soleimani from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard leads Shiite militias into battle to retake the Sunni city of Tikrit. Soleimani is pushing hard; the U.S. will need to curb his hegemony if it hopes to maintain Sunni support.
Looking at the policy challenges that converge for Obama this month, he might consider a strategy of ambiguity mastered over the years by Iran – engaging nations even as it challenges them. Conflict is not an on-off switch in the Middle East. It’s often in both positions at once.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

What do opponents of an Iran nuclear deal really want?
Sunday, 22 March 2015
Dr. John Duke Anthony/Al Arabiya
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is once again in Switzerland with his British, Chinese, French, German, and Russian counterparts to continue negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear program.
Whether the respective diplomatic and national security negotiators will succeed remains to be seen. To be sure, a mutually acceptable agreement with Iran by six among the world's most powerful and influential nations, on one hand, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the other, is no small matter. In substance as well as in procedure and desired outcome, the goals – ensuring that Iran does not produce a nuclear bomb and, to that end, agreeing on as intrusive a nature and range of inspections as any in history – are as laudable as they are in many ways timely, urgent, and necessary.
Rising Arab-Iranian Tensions
The negotiators are keenly aware that the talks have been occurring alongside a rise in regional tensions. Simultaneous to the discussions, the negotiators have been especially mindful of Arab governments' ongoing objections to the destabilizing influence of Iran's ongoing interference in the domestic affairs of their countries, e.g., members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a six-state grouping comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, plus Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. In this regard, they are cognizant of the GCC leaders' resentment that the issue of Iran's continuing intrusions in Arabia and the Gulf – destabilizing interventions as yet unreciprocated – was not allowed to be part of the talks.
“In the run-up to America and Iran's day of reckoning there is much to consider”
The negotiators acknowledge these leaders' irritation at the reasons for the omission: namely, that Tehran was opposed to its inclusion. Indeed, in retrospect, in their eagerness to pursue an agreement of some kind – however partial and limited in its scope and potential impact – the negotiators were inadequately empathetic to the legitimate concerns of neighboring countries and too quick to accommodate Iran's objections. Even so, the negotiators argue in their defense that their efforts should not be defeated in advance by anyone with a sincere interest in advancing the legitimate goals of regional and global peace, security, stability, and the possible accompanying prospects for prosperity.
Opponents Outside of the Arab World
Possessing separate motivations and desires from those noted above, it is useful to assess the true intentions of others opposed to a potentially acceptable agreement: a group largely comprised of American neoconservatives, their Israeli allies, and other likeminded individuals and institutions. These groups have loudly proclaimed that they would have the P5+1 negotiators – representing the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, i.e., China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany – avoid reaching an agreement that may contain provisions not to their liking, which they believe may be imminently near to being concluded with the Islamic Republic.
Make no mistake, these groups seeks a profoundly different set of accomplishments vis-à-vis Iran than the ones under consideration in the nuclear talks. The intentions of these opponents of a potentially acceptable agreement are, rather, to see America directly confront Iran.
The Old Iraq Syndrome
Those driving the issue in this antagonistic and provocative direction are hardly new to the American and Israeli political scenes. One need only reference, as this author did in an address to The Voltaire Institute in Brussels in 2005, their influence and collective political and media clout in successfully moving Washington's decision making regarding confronting Iraq militarily from a concept to policy recommendation to an actual American-led invasion and occupation.
The outcomes that these groups seek this time around, like those they sought before, have been heavily obscured. They remain deliberately veiled in fear, myth, rumor, innuendo, and warmongering. What those opposed to a mutually acceptable accord with Tehran have in mind bears a strong resemblance to the bill of goods sold to the American people with the U.S. effort to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The results of the damage they wrought in Iraq – a country that had not attacked the United States or posed any credible threat to American interests – have yet to run their course. Already, with no end in sight, the consequences are certain to cost more than a trillion dollars. Already, the human price is inestimable. In addition to the thousands of American killed and tens of thousands wounded are the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, rendered homeless, made refugees, and maimed for life.
Even with the cessation of U.S. military operations in Iraq at the end of 2011, the suicide rate of U.S. soldiers returning from the cauldron forged by the collective weight of the American neoconservatives, elements among their Israeli allies, and others in a post-September 11, 2001 revenge mode against Arabs and Muslims continues at a disturbing rate. Beginning in 2004, the year after America's war against Iraq commenced, the rate of U.S. veterans committing suicide climbed to record highs.
The result, moreover, toppled the regime, decimated the country's security and defense forces, sowed many of the seeds that made it possible for the Islamic State group to emerge, spread, and wreak the havoc it has wrought, and paved the way for Iran to become the single largest and most influential foreign factor in Iraq – without its having to fire a single shot or shed a drop of blood. It also allowed Israelis and Israeli agents to enter northern Iraq to assist in the training of Kurdish security forces, thereby further advancing decades-old Israeli-Kurdish collaboration and their joint goal of ensuring a weaker government in Baghdad than existed before in addition to practically guaranteeing that Iraq would be deprived of the means and ability to pose a threat to Israel at anytime in the foreseeable future.
Unspoken Goals
The dominant U.S. role in launching the war and in administering the occupation also succeeded in the placement of American advisers in most Iraqi government ministries. Such positioning enhanced American proximity to Iraqis authorized to plan and administer the successor government's multi-billion dollar contracts. This alone ensured that Americans would have privileged access to invaluable intelligence ahead of others. And it practically guaranteed U.S. companies a preferential position not only vis-à-vis future exploration and development of the country's energy and other economic resources. It also enabled American firms to be in a better position than might otherwise have been the case to bid successfully on Iraq's major lucrative aviation, engineering, infrastructure, reconstruction, and construction projects.
As with Iraq, what those against practically any mutually acceptable governmental accord with Iran regarding its nuclear program seek to achieve is as devious as it is damaging. By no stretch of the imagination is it in accord with America's legitimate interests. Instead, what they diligently seek might be seen as a single issue and interest: serving the perceived needs of Israel under the guise of doing what is best for America when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
As sure as actions have consequences, these U.S. and Israeli groups would abide a forceful American confrontation with the undeniable potential for yet another costly war. Indeed, an article titled "Time to Attack Iran," appearing in the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs – the most widely read journal among American policymakers, U.S. policy analysts, and foreign affairs practitioners – implied that, as the prospects are considerable that the United States will have to use armed force against Iran's nuclear program eventually, it might as well proceed to do so now, when the likely costs would arguably be less than later.
The U.S. Secretary of State's and his negotiator counterparts' efforts to do what is in American and global interests notwithstanding, many among the American and Israeli neoconservatives and other self-centric interest groups wish him to fail. While the true interests of the lead pressure groups seeking to trip him up are hardly unknown to many specialists, the danger lies elsewhere – in the fact that they have largely and purposely been obscured from important segments of a more generalized public.
Rather than the achievement of an accord that could usher in a more mutually beneficial U.S.-Iran relationship than any that has existed since 1979, the neoconservatives, their Israeli bedfellows – and not just, many believe, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reelected to a fourth term as premier, together with others, including an indeterminate number of American Republican Members of Congress – prefer a continued standoff between Washington and Tehran, and would not rule out a forceful American confrontation with the undeniable potential for yet another costly war.
Returning to the Iraq War Playbook
The language is similar to the run-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq that commenced in March 2003. To wit: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on one of the most widely viewed Sunday talk shows on March 15 calling Iran's government, "one of the worst regimes in the world."
Much the same was said by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a March 3 address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, echoing his 2002 testimony to the U.S. Congress advocating for attacking Iraq.
As was the case prior to their urging that the United States go to war with Iraq, opponents of an agreement with Iran have tended to couch their argumentation in the deliberately seductive terms of providing serious and favorable consideration to using force to protect America's alleged national security and related interests. Over a decade ago, such rationales were transparently bogus to area studies specialists and scholars long exposed to Iraqi culture, and its system of governance and political dynamics.
The result, to be sure, has hardly been cost-free. As reason is that the strength and weakness of any system of democratic governance turns on the consent of the governed. Of course, the most informed consent is that which typically follows adequate and responsible consultation. In the best of circumstances, consent and consultation are linked to the likelihood of citizens being able to make societally relevant judgments that are just, fair, and prudent. In this case, however, the dynamics of both processes fell far short of what was required.
Twelve years after the invasion and occupation of Iraq commenced, notwithstanding the fact that commercially speaking some American interest groups made out "like bandits," the American misadventure in Iraq overall, and practically from its onset, severely damaged American interests that have yet to recover.
Viewed in this light, the clamor of some to attack Iran reads like a sad sequel for those who all along preferred that the United States invade Iran first and not Iraq. Indeed, long before September 11, 2001, it was well known among specialists that, dating back to the mid-1990s, America's neoconservatives, their kindred citizen allies, and innumerable Israelis alike wished for the United States to wage war against Iran – not eventually but before any other country. As for any and all others to be attacked and their regimes toppled or brought to their knees – the neocon list included not only Iran and Iraq, but also Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia – these could wait to have America change their governments later.
The Ultimate Neoconservative Wish List
Many perceive that this is a rather embarrassingly sordid and sorry juncture of American history where the diplomats negotiating with one another in Switzerland find themselves. Bearing this history in mind, it is therefore worth pondering what those who would have the United States, with Israel's strong support, confront Iran and not enter into any mutually binding agreement with it would arguably like to achieve. It includes:
(1) Deflecting Attention Away from Israel
One of the most important neoconservative and Israeli objectives in having the United States attack Iran is to do whatever is necessary to shift the U.S. focus and notions of Israel's culpability of wrongdoing away from the eastern Mediterranean towards lands east, e.g., Arabia and the Gulf.
This would arguably absorb precious U.S. foreign policy energies, attention, and other resources on matters other than Israel for far into the future. It would likely squelch efforts to move as expeditiously as before to establish an independent State of Palestine. In the proponents' view, it would almost as surely deflect Washington from pressuring Israel into an early withdrawal from its illegal settlements in the Palestinian and Syrian territories.
By maintaining Iran's pariah status, neoconservatives and other groups are also thereby able to preserve what they have conjured and built up in the mainstream American and other Western media as a recognizable "existential threat" to Israel. The imagery of such a threat in many circles helps sustain the narrative of Israel as a besieged beacon of victimhood rather than a militarily powerful scofflaw inflicting brutal punishment on Palestinian Christian and Muslim Arab civilians in Gaza, and not only expropriating their land but also exploiting their orchards, olive and citrus groves, water, and other valuable natural resources in the Occupied Territories.
(2) Territorial Expansionism
This similarly happened when Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982. That act shifted Washington's attention away from rigorously continuing to pursue the goal of a just, enduring, and comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and towards Lebanon instead.
By the time that Lebanon regained the lands that Israel had invaded and occupied directly and by proxy 19 years later, the extent of Palestinian territory brought under Israeli control had expanded massively and the Israeli settler movement had quintupled its number of settlers. Israel thereby achieved, on one hand, its illegitimate interests while blocking the legitimate interests of the Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon, the United States, and the rest of the world in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
(3) Regime Change
Many believe American and Israeli goals are not to change the behavior of the regime in Tehran but, again as with Iraq, to change the regime itself. Those of this view seek an Iran that would be more moderate in its approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, one less supportive of Hezbollah in Lebanon and of the Assad regime in Syria, one ending its intrusions into the domestic affairs of the GCC countries and Yemen, one curbing if not reversing the degree to which it has eroded de facto the national sovereignty and political independence of neighboring Iraq, and one terminating the nature and extent of its forceful aid to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine. These were among the exact same kinds of goals of the largely unstated American neoconservative and Israeli geostrategic, geopolitical, and related Israeli objectives vis-à-vis Iraq prior to its invasion in 2003.
(4) Protecting Privileged Status
Israel cannot take its relationship with America for granted and expect to compete effectively in the long run for America's favor. This is why many Israelis believe they have no choice but to be strategically opposed to the strongest and most expanded American-Arab and U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship, and the day when, possibly, the United States may find itself in a reciprocally rewarding relationship with the six GCC countries as a single bloc to an even great extent than in the series of bilateral ties with these entities it has enjoyed for quite some time with the six countries all totaled already – there are 22 Arab countries and only one Israel.
Tehran finds itself with a similar strategic predicament. Indeed, for nearly half as long as Israel has existed, Iran geopolitically has viewed its situation similarly and has reasoned likewise. That Washington might be on the verge of turning a new page with Tehran that in time could lead to Iran being added to Israel among America's most valued strategic partners – and bringing nearer the day when there might also be a rapprochement between Iran and Israel, as in days of old prior to the onset of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 – is a pan-GCC nightmare.
These dynamics periodically draw Israel and Iran together despite their denials. One of the most powerful illustrations of their two capitals dancing in each other's strategic shadows and scratching each other's back was their military and geopolitical collaboration during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. The Israel-Iran-Contra affair revealed in November 1986 that Israel and Washington, under the Reagan administration, were providing arms to Iran despite Iranian agents and supporters holding American citizens in Lebanon hostage. That collusion with Iran, which made the war last longer and occasioned the killing of many more thousands of Iraqis vis-à-vis Iranians than would otherwise have been the case, dealt a devastating blow to overall U.S. foreign policy needs. In keeping with Iranian and Israeli interests, it soured U.S.-Arab relations, miring them to a greater extent than previously in suspicion, doubt, and distrust for an extended period.
(5) Financial Opportunity
Some see a different Iranian leadership environment providing opportunities to construct what could be a golden gateway to the country's economy. The rationales undergirding this kind of long-term strategic thinking are, once more, in many ways similar to those that preceded the attack against the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Not only could such an opportunity potentially help achieve numerous objectives of an economic, political, commercial, and military nature, as proved to be the case in Iraq. More particularly, it could help determine the uses to which Iran's prodigious energy reserves would be put fiscally, developmentally, and internationally.
Indeed, the financial, infrastructure, building, and material needs of Iran are immense, diverse, and a potential business bonanza for whomever will cash in after the international sanctions are lifted. Iran, should it so choose and to a greater extent than it has had for a very long time, be able to grant American and other multinational companies' access to its investment markets, banking system, and raw materials.
Tehran will also be in a much better position to decide the terms of foreign entry into the country's national energy sectors, harbors, mega-infrastructure, reconstruction, and advanced exploration and production contracts worth billions of dollars of ultra-lucrative opportunities to do business in Iran once the government's quasi-pariah status comes to an end.
For investors and strategic development planners, two other features of Iran, in an eventually and differently configured future, have the potential to function more as economic constants than variables. One, nowhere else along the entire far eastern side of the Gulf – on the western side only Saudi Arabia approximates the same – does one country, as in the case of Iran, border landward or seaward as many as more than a dozen other nations. The resulting possibilities for forging lucrative multiple transportation corridors and connecting aviation routes from Iran to destinations as yet unreached or presently linked less directly and beneficially than could become the case once sanctions come to an end have the potential for generating profits as yet undreamed of during the course of the past three and a half decades of relative economic isolation.
The second constant is demography. At a population around eighty million and counting, Iran's citizenry is more than twice that of Iraq. It is also substantially greater than the population of the entire number of inhabitants of the six GCC countries – citizens and non-citizens combined. What these numbers could sooner rather than later come to represent – from the perspectives of consumer goods and services, production, marketing, and distribution activities as yet unrealized among business opportunities yet to come in Iran – are likely increasingly limited in the eyes of many outsiders and insider venture capitalists alike only by the imagination.
There is certainly strategic value and a heightened prospect for achieving economic and commercial advantage in being near or at the head of the line for such mega-business as to be had.
(6) Energy
While some might view the recent onset of the international petroleum glut in petroleum supplies and exports as ruling out any energy-centric goal among the would-be forcible interveners in Iran – regardless of whether or not what they have in mind is regime change – there is merit in considering such matters from a longer-term perspective. Certainly, American and other major international oil and gas companies not engaged in Iran's energy industries take that view.
In addition to being renowned for being second only to Russia in proven gas deposits, few countries possess anywhere near the prodigious hydrocarbon reserves held in the Islamic Republic beneath its waters and sands in three separate and distinct areas: the Iranian mainland and two bodies of water – on one hand, the Gulf, with its accompanying coastline of more than 550 miles, longer than any six of the waterway's seven other countries combined, and, on the other, the Caspian Sea.
The United States and Israel, moreover, are past beneficiaries from the energy resources in Iranian hands. Both before and since the onset of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iranians, Israelis, and Americans were petroleum industry partners. Israel obtained ninety per cent of its oil imports from Iran through 1998. The United States stood to renew its benefits in 1995 had the American Israeli lobby not quashed a lucrative Iranian concession granted a major U.S. company to develop an offshore Iranian gas field abutting one administered by Qatar.
(7) The Naval Dimension
The Russian government and its predecessors for centuries have long sought direct access to a warm water harbor far to the south of the Russian mainland, and Iran has always been deemed ideal. In a future nearer than one might imagine Iran will determine who will have preferential access to its ports and who will not.
The Gulf's ongoing relevance to global maritime interests, the home-porting and basing of the United States Fifth Fleet in GCC member-state Bahrain, America's self-assumed responsibilities for operating out of Bahrain to ensure freedom of navigation throughout the length the Gulf, and U.S. continuous surveillance of and vigilance towards the ever-present potential threats to those tasks as represented in part by Iran being situated directly across from GCC member-state Oman's seaborne artery, through which passes a fifth of the amount of world oil traded daily and near which units of Iran's military recently held mock maritime maneuvers where units of its naval forces practiced attacking a replica U.S. vessel, are as of a piece within a seamless web of challenges that, in nature and extent, are all self-evident challenges that the United States has not left untended.
(8) Diaspora Dynamics
A quite different Israeli goal more than an American one vis-à-vis Iran stems from Iran being home to the last remaining significant Jewish population in the eastern Islamic world. With a view to how best to continue ingathering as many Jews as possible, some Israelis muse about what an attack against Iran and/or regime change in Tehran could accomplish.
Some believe it could inspire Iranian Jews to want to relocate to Israel, or emigrate somewhere else first and then Israel. If so, the result could help eventually enable the current Jewish ethnic and religious majority in Israel to be better able to cope with the demographic challenge facing the country.
The increasingly high cost of living in the Jewish State and/or a wish of its citizens not to live with fears about the long-run prospects for survival could continue to spur the ongoing outflow of citizens from the country. Alternately, a more draconian scenario could enable the Jewish majority in Israel to remain in its numerically superior status.
Israeli security forces could respond to protests against an attack on Iran by expelling significant numbers of Palestinians. The result would fulfill Israeli declarations in support of population transfer, a phrase that masks the intent to ethnically cleanse the country of its Palestinian inhabitants.
Electoral Dynamics
A perennial component in U.S. and Israeli domestic politics provides still further insight into how war with Iran – or even the fear, threat, or otherwise emotionally-charged aspects associated with it, as just seen in the reelection of Israeli Premier Netanyahu – might benefit Israel. The point is hardly academic. For example, American and Israeli special interest groups, as just occurred in Israel, often seek to ascertain the extent to which candidates for public office are more likely to keep Israel secure from radical Arabs, Iranians, and Muslims.
Election-related dynamics in either Israel or the United States are therefore not to be taken lightly. They can yet determine not only whether but, if so, when Iran might be attacked. A precedent is rooted in 1981. In that year's national elections, the Israeli attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor was widely credited with enabling Menahem Begin, previously behind in the polls, to win re-election.
Day of Reckoning Approaching
From a historical point of view, one can conclude that there is nothing strange about these kinds of motivations for preventing the P5+1 from reaching an agreement with Iran. Since recorded human history the propensity of mortals to covet their neighbors' assets and to engage in duplicitous and manipulative behavior in pursuit of strategic advantage and material gain is hardly new.
In the run-up to America and Iran's day of reckoning there is much to consider. At this time it is important to be clear about relevant matters that are not being discussed, let alone debated, in terms of America's needs, concerns, and interests.
Therefore, ponder the implications of what is enumerated herein and reconcile them with logic, history, and precedent. Indeed, there is no reason for anyone to be hoodwinked regarding the true nature of various American interest groups' largely unstated and unacknowledged goals and objectives in wanting to bring down the Iranian regime, if necessary by force.

Egypt revs-up to race in the fast lane
Sunday, 22 March 2015
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor /Al Arabiya
As someone who is seriously looking at investment possibilities in Egypt, I took a close interest in the country’s three-day-long Economic Development Conference, recently held in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Such events tend to be dull, dry, and flavourless, but this one was anything but on so many different levels. In fact, it kept me riveted to the edge of my seat. “With 22 heads of state and 3,500 delegates, it’s the largest summit of CEOs and world leaders I’ve ever seen, said the summit’s organizer, Richard Attias, whose company has organized tens of major conferences worldwide. I’ve never come across anything like it before, either; it was more results-oriented than most United Nations or G8 summits, which are all-talk and little action – and vastly more good-natured.
Permeated with positivity, often from unexpected quarters, and punctuated with genuine emotion, standing ovations and hearty laughter, it was a phenomenal triumph, resulting in US$ 32.6 billion contracts signed, US$ 90 billion in MOUs as well as US$ 12.5 billion in grants and investments from Gulf States.
I’m so proud that our leaders have once again joined hands to support the Arab World’s backbone, Egypt, now under the leadership of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi - a true Arab patriot who has not only gained the respect of his people during some of the most challenging times the nation has ever endured, but also their love. The young ushers, he invited to join him on stage at the start of his inspirational closing speech, could hardly contain their exuberance at being up-close and personal with their hero, a spontaneous and somewhat boisterous display of affection for the president, delighting all in attendance. Just as iconic was an emotive address delivered by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, who was so overflowing with happiness and gratitude, particularly towards the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman, that he fought back tears throughout and was later mobbed with hugs from his own cabinet ministers. Both he and President El-Sisi expressed their gratitude to the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for coming-up with the idea of a summit in the first place. Another factor that made the conference exceptional in our part of the world was that there was no attempt on the part of the organisers to kowtow to western powers. Indeed, the order of speakers exemplified the Egyptian government’s independent outlook with priority given to heads of state and representatives of countries that Cairo considers to be true friends and partners in the Middle East and Africa. And nobody was left in any doubt as to the strength of not only their economic support but also their political backing, beginning with Saudi’s Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, who called upon the world to recognise Egypt’s historical and cultural importance, while urging the international community to abandon its double standards vis-à-vis the Egyptian government.
Likewise, the speech of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, emphasised the ironclad relationship between the Emirates and Egypt. “Egypt is the home of peace, the heart of Arabism,” adding that the UAE’s stand with Egypt “is simply out of our affection towards the people of Egypt…Our stand is not a favour to anyone but a duty in its own right and not for a quick return, it is an investment in the future of our nation. What we are doing in Egypt today is an investment towards stability of the region that we shall see in the near future, God willing.”
Kuwait’s Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah praised Egypt’s new economic reforms and investment legislation as being positive. Passed just one day before the start of the conference on the President’s executive authority, the overhauled investment laws cut burdensome red tape, grants rights to non-Egyptians to own land and buildings, allows for foreign labour, offers taxation incentives – and most of all provides security to foreign investors. The cutting of fuel subsidies and increased taxation was applauded by the IMF and galvanised ratings agencies to upgrade their outlooks for Egypt to stable.
Firm eye on the future
Following years of upheaval, Egypt is not only open for business the government has its eye firmly on the future. Its new Suez Canal project and associated industrial zones furthers ambitions to turn the waterway into a major logistical, commercial and industrial hub between Europe and the Arab region attracting revenues anticipated to make-up a third of the economy.
“A strong, stable and secure Egypt capable of reassuming its traditional leadership role in partnership with GCC States will quicken the pulse of the entire Arab world”
Even more ambitious is a mega project unveiled at the conference – a new administrative and financial capital city, approximately the size of Singapore, to be sited 45 kilometres east of Cairo on over 7,000 square kilometres, with the first phase slated to emerge from the desert sands within five-seven years. It will have an airport bigger than London’s Heathrow and a theme park four times larger than Disneyland.
Also on offer to investors are various projects in the fields of oil, gas, petrochemical and mineral wealth. There are great opportunities in the IT and telecommunications sectors. Moreover, the Tourism Ministry has announced projects, including hotels and entertainment venues, in areas on the Red Sea. Tourism is expected to be boosted with Chinese, Russian and Algerian tourists; around 1.5 million Algerians are expected to visit Egypt annually beginning this year.
With growth expected to reach or surpass 4 per cent by the end of the fiscal year ending in June, a bourse recording record highs and a stable currency, kudos must to the government. But I would also salute our GCC heads of state, notably the UAE’s President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad as well as Oman’s Sultan Qaboos. I am proud of you for standing strongly with Egypt and President El-Sisi and for energising the GCC’s investment and business communities in Egypt’s direction.
Egypt’s Economic Development Conference is now scheduled to be an annual event. I can’t wait to see the country’s progress and what the government has in store for investors this time next year!
A strong, stable and secure Egypt capable of reassuming its traditional leadership role in partnership with GCC States will quicken the pulse of the entire Arab world, whose heart has been in intensive care for many years. Now, at last, there is real hope that we can come together to overcome those who threaten us. Welcome back, Egypt! You’ve been truly missed.