March 26/15

Feast of St Gabriel the Archangel

Bible Quotation For Today/Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God!
John 01/47-51: "When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you. ’Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’"

Bible Quotation For Today/Michael and his angels fought against the dragon
Book of Revelation 12/07-12: "And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’"

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 25-26/15
Iran reportedly forming Syrian Druze militia/Now Lebanon/March 25/15
Qassem Soleimani and building Iranian character/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 25/15
Rouhani feels the pressure, too/Mehdi Khalaji/Washington Institute/March 25/15
Iran-led forces are worsted in Tikrit in Tehran’s first battlefield encounter with ISIS/DEBKAfile/March 25/15
France Declares War on Radical Islam/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/March 25/15
Saudis preparing to face Iran's allies in Yemen/Roi Kais/Ynetnews/March 25/15

Lebanese Related News published on March 25-26/15
Saniora before STL: Lebanese-Syrian Security System Meddled in Judiciary, Govt. Work
Siniora to STL: Hariri crime scene tampered with
Zahle cement factory to be relocated: Bishop 
Lebanon discuss efforts to defeat ISIS
Rai: Bishops should back citizens in tough time
BCCL to Start Functioning on Friday in Absence of President
Harb to add one million cell numbers 
Spiritual Summit in Bkirki to End Presidential Stalemate
Gemayel Slams Iran's Role, Says Aoun's 'Illogical' Presidential Stance Should Change
Lebanon's Army Hefty Catch to Aid Crackdown on Terror Networks
Saad Hariri in Ankara for Talks with Erdogan
Report: Zureiqat Left Lebanon Heading to Qalamoun
Maqdah: Palestinian Force to be Boosted in Ain el-Hilweh, to Deploy at Beirut Camps

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 25-26/15
France tells U.N. ‘insufficient’ progress in Iran nuclear talks
US Democrats say Israel's efforts on Iran are backfiring
Zarif: Iran to insist all sanctions lifted in nuclear deal

Netanyahu to Form Israel Cabinet after U.S. Spat

Obama: Dispute with Israeli PM substantive

French court sentences nine Kurds in PKK extortion case
Obama: Dim hope for end to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
230 suspected militants prevented from leaving Australia
The Israeli election and the future of the Palestinian Authority
Tunisia and the challenge of security and freedom
Ali Abdullah Saleh: the ‘wielder of power’ who never went away
Yemen FM asks for military intervention against rebels
Yemen: Houthi militia sweeps toward Aden in threat to president
Arab League to discuss military action in Yemen
EU urges quick restart to Israeli-Palestinian talks
Report: Syrian rebels seize historic town
EU pressures Israel to make effort to resume peace process in annual progress report
Turkish cartoonists sentenced for 'insulting' Erdogan
Turkish artillery retaliate to stray Syrian rocket at border
Saudi beheads drug smuggler as executions surge
Israel freezes construction in East Jerusalem

Jihad Watch Latest News
Canadian converts to Islam, plots to blow up British Columbia legislature, says “I’m going to die, which is what I want”
Islamic State recruits 400 children for “Cubs of the Caliphate”
Dearborn, Michigan: Judge orders Muslim cleric who advocates jihad to disclose where his money is coming from
Morocco: Islamic State cell operating in nine cities plotted to murder public officials
The AFDI Draw Muhammad Contest: Announcing the People’s Choice Award
Coming August 17: Robert Spencer’s The Complete Infidel’s Guide to ISIS
Dearborn, Michigan: Judge orders Muslim cleric who advocates jihad to disclose where his money is coming from
Jihad Watch #15 in Newsmax’s Top 50 Conservative Blogs of 2015
Ted Cruz, Robert Spencer to speak at Young America’s Foundation’s New England Freedom Conference
Bowe Bergdahl charged with desertion

Siniora to STL: Hariri crime scene tampered with
The Daily Star/Mar. 25, 2015 /BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora accused Lebanese and Syrian security services Wednesday of tampering with the crime scene of Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. "The [Lebanese-Syrian] security apparatus manipulated the sight of the blast on the day Prime Minister Hariri was assassinated," Siniora said during his third day of testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. He also said that the security apparatus "bullied" Lebanese politicians and the judiciary and "violated the dignities and freedoms" of Lebanese citizens. Siniora began offering testimony to the Hague-based court Monday, detailing a strained relationship between former premier Rafik Hariri and Syria. In his second day of testimony before the STL Tuesday, Siniora told the court that Hariri had confided to him that he had uncovered multiple assassination plots against him orchestrated by Hezbollah.

Saniora before STL: Lebanese-Syrian Security System Meddled in Judiciary, Govt. Work
Naharnet/25.03.15/Head of the Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora resumed on Wednesday his testimony at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon by being cross-examined by the Defense that focused on the role the Syrian and Lebanese security systems played in Lebanon during the 1990s and up until the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri in 2005. Saniora said: “The security system meddled in the judiciary and hindered the work of the Lebanese government institutions.” He explained that Syrian forces first entered Lebanon to restore order in the country during the 1975-90 civil war. The violations committed by Syria in Lebanon soon followed, he added.
“Ties between two neighboring countries should be based on respecting the independence, freedom, and sovereignty of each side,” stressed Saniora. “The Lebanese-Syrian security system was comprised of a number of individuals and tools that enjoyed close ties with the Syrian security apparatus,” he continued. “Security agencies are essential for any country,” he added, but the Lebanese-Syrian system abused its power and “hindered the path of justice by failing to tackle past assassinations in Lebanon,” he remarked. It also tampered with the Hariri crime scene, which was confirmed by various investigation teams, noted head of the Mustaqbal bloc. The Lebanese-Syrian security system also began to target those close to Hariri, Saniora recalled. It even went so far as to fabricate accusations against individuals in order to imprison them, which it did, he explained. “Later, the judiciary ordered their release because they were innocent all along,” Saniora said, while adding that there are dozens of examples of the violations committed by the security system at the time.
Furthermore, the Defense touched on the issue of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 and whether Hariri played a role in it. Saniora declared: “Neither Hariri nor his team were part of devising the resolution.”
Issued in September 2004, resolution 1559 calls upon all foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon and for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. On Tuesday, the MP revealed that Hariri had confided to him that he had discovered several assassination attempts by Hizbullah against him. He told prosecutors that Hariri had spoken to him of his concerns about his personal security around the end of 2003 or the beginning of 2004. Five Hizbullah members have been charged with plotting Hariri's February 14, 2005 assassination in a massive explosion at the Beirut seafront, but have not been arrested. Their trial in absentia began in January 2014 and is ongoing. Hizbullah denies involvement in the murder and the group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has denounced the court as a conspiracy by his archenemies — the U.S. and Israel.

Rai: Bishops should back citizens in tough times
The Daily Star/Mar. 25, 2015 /BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called Wednesday on Maronite bishops to assume their responsibilities towards Lebanese citizens in light of the difficult situation in Lebanon. In a sermon delivered on the occasion of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the patriarch said that it was the “mission” of Maronite bishops to help Lebanese citizens “surpass the challenges facing Lebanon.”The church will announce principles, that are based on human dignity, unity, cooperation, justice and peace, to govern the country's social, political and economic processes, he added. Rai expressed his disappointment over the ten month-long presidential vacuum, saying that he had expected a president to be elected one year ago. Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Sleiman left office last May. Lawmakers have botched several attempts to elect a successor. The March 8 coalition has boycotted election sessions due to disagreements with March 14 over a consensus candidate.

Hariri in Ankara for Talks with Erdogan
Naharnet/Al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri was in Ankara on Wednesday for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his press office said. The terse statement said Hariri arrived in Ankara on Wednesday morning along with his adviser Nader Hariri. During the visit, the former premier will meet with Erdogan, the statement added without giving further details. But their talks are likely to focus on the crises gripping the region, mainly the war in neighboring Syria and its repercussions on Lebanon. Both Turkey and the March 14 coalition, the grouping led by Hariri, are staunch critics of Syrian President Bashar Assad and have called on him to step down. Hariri, who resides in Riyadh and Paris, last visited Beirut in February.

Amin Gemayel Slams Iran's Role, Says Aoun's 'Illogical' Presidential Stance Should Change
Naharnet/Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel blamed Iran on the spread of crises in the region and criticized Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun over his “illogical” stance from the presidential deadlock. “The (region's) crises began since Iran started to spread its influence in Iraq, Syria and in Lebanon through Hizbullah,” Gemayel told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat in an interview published on Wednesday. “But for sure the Islamic State group is not an innocent phenomenon,” said the former president. Gemayel described the repercussions of Syria's civil war on Lebanon as “destructive.”“Lebanon does not embrace takfiri extremist movements … so the effect (of the Syrian war) has not been huge on the Lebanese social fabric,” he said.In the interview, Gemayel praised Saudi Arabia as a “loyal friend” of Lebanon. He said Riyadh's support has helped the country confront its ordeals. Saudi Arabia and France signed an agreement in November last year for Paris to provide the Lebanese military with $3 billion worth of weapons paid for by Riyadh.
The first shipment of French weapons is expected to arrive next month. In August 2014, Saudi Arabia pledged a further $1 billion to help the Lebanese army confront the escalating violence linked to the Syrian conflict. Gemayel said Riyadh's assistance would help the army make a “leap forward.”Asked about the presidential crisis, Gemayel denied that inter-Maronite differences have weakened the country's top Christian post. “I don't agree with some politicians who blame Christians” for the deadlock, he said.
“Since Lebanon's independence there has been a conflict among Maronites,” Gemayel said. “Today, we are facing the same situation with the March 8 and 14 alliances.” “Hadn't Hizbullah backed Aoun, he wouldn't have been able to cause lack of quorum,” he added.
Baabda Palace has been vacant since President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May last year. Aoun's Change and Reform bloc, Hizbullah and other MPs from the March 8 coalition have been boycotting the parliamentary sessions aimed at electing a new president.
“Aoun and Hizbullah have mutual interests,” he said. “So the paralysis of the presidential polls is not a Christian responsibility. It is a political situation that was caused by all confesssions.” Asked how the deadlock should be resolved, Gemayel told the newspaper that “Aoun should be persuaded that his stance is illogical.”He advised the FPM chief to place the interest of the nation and its constitutional institutions before any other interest.

Lebanon's Army Hefty Catch to Aid Crackdown on Terror Networks
Naharnet /Omar and Bilal Miqati, two top fugitives who were detained on Tuesday at an army checkpoint in the northeastern border town of Arsal, reportedly could reveal important information during investigations that would lead to the arrest of their accomplices.
According to As Safir newspaper published on Wednesday, the two men are expected to reveal crucial data that would lead to busting terror networks and dormant cells in Lebanon and the arrest their members, who were described as highly dangerous.
The newspaper said that Omar, 24, and his cousin Bilal, 23, were detained while moving from Arsal to to the Bekaa town of al-Labweh near an army checkpoint in the town of Hrabta.
The army intelligence reportedly spotted the movement of the two men between the Syrian al-Qalamoun area and Arsal. They were allegedly visiting prominent figures in Arsal, including a well-known religious figure.
Two fake Syrian identities were seized in the possession of the two, who were directly moved to the intelligence branch headquarters in Yarze.
As Safir said that a Syrian national was immediately arrested after the two Miqatis began testifying to investigators.
The newspaper said that the two militants, in cooperation with Fayez Othman, who has been detained recently, and others had formed an armed group and were charged with several dangerous offenses.
In October, State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr charged Ahmed Salim Miqati, the father of Omar, the two cousins, Othman and 14 others with "belonging to a terrorist group with the aim of carrying out terror acts."
The charges also included "the formation of armed groups, recruiting individuals, training on the use of arms and explosives, and plotting to occupy the Dinniyeh region villages of Asoun, Bakhoun, Bqaa Safrine and Sir al-Dinniyeh with the aim of creating an IS emirate."
Security sources told As Safir that Omar and Bilal have been moving in Arsal, the northern city of Tripoli and took part in battles in Syria along fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
According to al-Joumhouria newspaper the two men pledged allegiance to the IS a year ago.
A high-ranking military official, who refused to be identified, said in comments to al-Joumhouria newspaper that the “unique operation carried out by the army (on Tuesday) confirms its readiness,” stressing that the hefty catch will lead to clamping down on terror cells.
The official said that the army intelligence carried out the arrest with utmost accuracy to avoid the spilling of any blood
Omar and Bilal had confessed to slaughtering three people, including the beheading of army sergeant Ali al-Sayyed, who was taken captive after Islamist gunmen overran Arsal.
Al-Akhbar reported that Bilal, who is also known as the Lebanese Abou Omar and Abou Omar al-Trabulsi, was the one who beheaded al-Sayyed, adding that he sent pictures via WhatsApp to his friend in the north to boast about it.
Jihadi sources confirmed to the daily the matter, pointing out that the two men decided to leave al-Qalamoun and head back to Lebanon, fearing an assassination bid against them after division provoked liquidation among the members of IS in the area.
The family of sergeant al-Sayyed expressed relief in comments to As Safir newspaper over the arrest of the two Miqatis, demanding their public execution.
The daily said that the operation compelled the army to boost its measures to avert any possible retaliation by ISIL on the arrest of the two men.

Qassem Soleimani and building Iranian character
Wednesday, 25 March 2015
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
It is unusual for the Iranian regime to publicize its military and security leaders despite the many wars it has been involved in during the last three decades. This is what makes General Qassim Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian revolutionary Guards, an interesting case. He has received unusual media exposure beyond what’s allowed in the Iranian state-run media and in the Arab media outlets affiliated with Tehran.
It’s obvious that the importance of the general stretches beyond his military command position as he leads Iran’s foreign political and military wars.
Soleimani’s publicity may be a natural result of Iran’s increasing dependency on its own military power after it had mainly depended on its local proxies, like Hezbollah, the Hamas movement and Iraqi Shiite militias. Soleimani was tasked with a prominent role in Syria and the statement that “if it hadn’t been for Iranian help, the Syrian regime would have collapsed” is no exaggeration.
The Americans say that it’s “he (Soleimani) who’s leading the war in Syria.” As a matter of fact, the regime of Bashar al-Assad tottered for two years and Syrian regime forces were besieged everywhere until they were revived when the Iranians assumed many leadership tasks and brought in, funded and managed tens of thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, Iraqi Asaa’ib Ahl Al-Haq militants and Shiite Afghans.
The Syrian scenario, which Soleimani is leading, is being repeated in Iraq. Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iraqi Badr organization, was quoted as saying that “if it hadn’t been for Iran’s help and for Soleimani’s presence in Iraq, the government of Haidar al-Abadi would have been outside Iraq now.” There is news that General Soleimani is present with his forces, in a lesser number, in Yemen alongside the Houthi rebels.
Fierce offensive policy
Speaking about Soleimani, David Petraeus, former commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, recently said that in the spring of 2008, Suleimani made it clear to him that he was in charge of Iran’s policy regarding Iraq.
It’s obvious that the importance of the general stretches beyond his military command position
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
This explains Iran’s policy and that it depends on General Soleimani managing conflict zones, like Iraq, Syria and Yemen. And it depends also on him managing political activities, like supporting certain parties over others and achieving results and political decisions which serve the interests of Iran and of those allied with it.
During the past year, it has become clear that the Iranian leadership adopts a fierce offensive policy which could extend beyond its current borders. It’s publicizing its military and security leaderships and presenting them as heroes to the Iranian people and to those allied with Iran. It’s doing so by embellishing a military commander like Soleimani.
This style is often used in big wars. Among the stars of World War II are generals whose importance was equal to political leaders. Some examples were British general Montgomery, German general Rommel and American general Patton. General Soleimani has certainly become the most famous Iranian figure in the arena of regional wars.
Two years ago, the New Yorker published a report on him as the figure managing Iran’s foreign wars. Sanctions against Soleimani by the U.S. Department of Treasury did not prevent his media appearances, confirming that the Iranian policy has become clearer than before when prominent figures were not allowed to be part of foreign political and military battles.
Our region has become full of war generals who decide the region’s fate more than politicians do especially as fronts multiply and circumstances complicate. The frequent question is: how will the war end?
I’ll quote what General Petraeus said: “Yes, ‘Hajji Qassem,’ our old friend. I have several thoughts when I see the pictures of him… What I will say is that he is very capable and resourceful individual, a worthy adversary. He has played his hand well. But this is a long game, so let’s see how events transpire.”

Rouhani feels the pressure, too
By Mehdi Khalaji/Washington Institute
President Obama is not the only leader who feels he must deliver as the March 31 deadline nears to reach a framework for a nuclear agreement. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has staked his political present and future on his ability to conclude a deal.
So far, the great majority of the Iranian people are staying with him, beckoned by the promise of lifted sanctions and better economic times—not to mention immunity from potential U.S. or Israeli military strikes.
Yet in Iran, daily living conditions have hardly been ameliorated by the partial relief in sanctions that accompanied the November 2013 interim agreement known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). Businesses still have strictly limited access to the international banking system; unemployment, especially among university graduates, remains a national problem; the housing market is stagnant; and the government is struggling to pay its customary cash subsidies to citizens.
The patience demonstrated by Iranians with the nuclear talks has a different dimension: the relegating of human rights issues and democracy-related priorities to the backburner. According to Ahmad Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, “The human rights situation in the country has deteriorated since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013.” Number of executions has been significantly increased in last two years. Zahra Rahnavard, Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karrobi, leaders of Green Movement are still under house arrest.
In acknowledging such unsettling trends, Rouhani and his fellow reformists have argued that if a nuclear deal comes first, other reforms will follow, paving the way for a more open and prosperous Iran. Those supportive of Rouhani think likewise that a nuclear deal, aided by lifted sanctions, could sideline the country’s hardliners and effectively safeguard Rouhani’s political survival for perhaps the next six years. The Rouhani camp’s eagerness to promise “full” sanctions relief, however, an impossible outcome, may ultimately haunt him.
Just as Obama is facing strong resistance from certain domestic blocs, Rouhani and his fellow negotiators are contending with powerful conservative opponents. On March 14, Hossein Shariatmadari, an appointee of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who edits the hardline newspaper Kayhan, penned an op-ed titled “A Nuclear Agreement Is Impossible” in which he argues that expecting sanctions relief is unrealistic given that sanctions are the “most effective weapon in U.S. hands, which it would not put down.” He continues that the “realistic view shows that the nuclear challenge does not have an end, and reaching a deal in which Iran’s right is recognized is impossible.” In place of the current high-level talks, he calls for lower-level Iranian directors and experts to negotiate with the P5+1—as the five members of the UN Security Council and Germany are known—and for Iran to work harder internally to devise alternative solutions to ease the effect of sanctions.
Such statements from a Khamenei acolyte—indeed someone who often voices the Supreme Leader’s direct views to lend him personal immunity—beg some sort of explanation. Is the Supreme Leader, who has overtly if tepidly supported the talks, walking back his initial commitment? Or does the rhetoric indicate an early attempt to deflect blame should the talks falter?
Shariatmadari, it must be noted, does not call for the talks to end, implicitly recognizing that an unsuccessful result could damage hardliners as well as reformists. “Continuing negotiations is necessary,” he writes, “because first it would prove that the U.S. is not trustworthy and, second, Iranian nuclear negotiators have the upper hand in terms of legal and technical arguments which are the basis for the negotiations.” No Iranian involved in the talks wants to be blamed for their failure, which is why allowing them to continue indefinitely, if fruitlessly, is not always seen as the worst alternative.
Assuming the Supreme Leader and his allies aren’t prepared to actually block a nuclear deal, most Iranian people would be profoundly relieved by this outcome.
But even for Rouhani, challenges would remain. Whatever the specific terms, hardliners would continue to pound the president over the deal’s unfavorable components. They would overstate the concessions required of the Islamic Republic and downplay the benefits.
Rouhani’s political fate would, of course, be far grimmer in the event no deal is reached. Such an end would be seen as vindicating hardliner doubts over the point of the nuclear talks, and would give fodder for use against reformists entering the 2016 vote for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that reports to the Supreme Leader.
For the Iranian people, failed negotiations would be a great disappointment, and some would certainly look beyond Rouhani when casting blame. There would be the usual suspects, such as the Israelis and the Americans. The Supreme Leader has already assailed the West for its lack of seriousness and sincerity. But persistent sanctions would inevitably stir anger toward the clerical establishment, including Khamenei. A situation characterized by economic stricture and military insecurity would make Iran a chronically unpleasant place to live.
This is why Khamenei also wants a deal within the existing framework and timetable; albeit a deal with terms the P5+1 may be unable to offer. And while Rouhani may shoulder the more immediate political consequences of a failure, Khamenei and his cadres would eventually feel rising dissent in the longer term from an increasingly desperate polity.
For Obama, the imperative to achieve an agreement may be pressing, but the talks are safely ensconced in the U.S. foreign policy sleeve. For Rouhani as well as his adversaries, the talks aren’t only about foreign policy, but about their political survival, their relationship to their constituents, and the basic health of their country.
**Khalaji is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and scholar on Islam.

Iran-led forces are worsted in Tikrit in Tehran’s first battlefield encounter with ISIS
DEBKAfile Special Report March 25, 2015
The offensive launched by a mixed force of the Iraqi army (10,000 troops) and Iranian-led Shiite militias (20,000) to capture Tikrit from the Islamic State has been thrown back, upsetting rosy US-led coalition predictions.
The fighting for this important Sunni city died down – not because the Iraqi troops and their assorted Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistan Shiite allies had thrown in the sponge, but because the casualties inflicted on them by the Islamic State had become too heavy to bear and carry on fighting. This momentous debacle was first revealed in DEBKA Weekly 656 of March 20.
Official figures have still not been released by Baghdad or the Iranian command staff headed by Al Qods Brigades chief, the legendary Gen. Qassem Soleimani. But the losses were crippling – some sources estimating them at roughly one tenth of the mixed force. Entire units were disabled and scattered. Some Iraqi army contingents fled the battlefield in disarray without a word to their officers – repeating their earlier performance last June when ISIS launched its first offensive to seize territory in Iraq.
Iraqi and Iranian officers have since fallen to quarrelling over responsibility for the shambles, especially targeting the most prominent figure, Gen. Hadi Al-Amiri, commander of the Shiite Badr Brigade.
The upshot of the much-heralded battle of Tikrit is acutely embarrassing for the Obama administration, whose plan of campaign against the Islamic State hinged on a swift victory in Tikrit as the prelude to larger operations for turning the tide of war against the jihadis. The setback occurred shortly after Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff assured a Senate hearing in Washington, after visiting Iraq: “There is no doubt that Iraqi forces will drive Islamic State militants out of Tikrit.”
In reality ISIS had by then driven the Iraqis and pro-Iranian forces out of the city and fighting had not resumed.
This episode holds important lessons for the future of the war on ISIS:
1. The Islamic State proved in Tikrit to be not just powerful and tenacious, but also a lot more sophisticated than believed and proficient in the use of electronic and cyber tools of war.
2. Its command and control functioned efficiently and proved able to respond rapidly to constantly changing situations on the battlefield. When the forces needed to withdraw, they did so in orderly and tactically correct fashion.
3. Equally orderly and well-organized were their logistics, which kept vehicles, ammo and food moving as needed and the dead and injured removed. Attempts in the West to present the organization as cracking up internally proved unfounded. ISIS detached fighting strength from northern and western Iraq and moved it to Tikrit, while also keeping its supply lines from Syria to Iraq open under US air strikes.
4. And while holding the line in Tikrit, the ISIS command, consisting mainly of ex-officers of Saddam Hussein’s army and young Westerners - including Americans, Brits, Australians and Canadians with military backgrounds - managed to open up new battlefronts in central and northern Iraq.
5. The Iraqi army’s showing was poor in contrast. Iraqi battalions trained by US instructors were reported in Western media to be treating the battle to retake Tikrit from ISIS as a testing ground, in preparation for the campaign to recover Iraq’s second large city, Mosul. These battalions proved far from ready - even for their initial ordeal - and hardly likely to come up to scratch soon for any major mission.
6. Tikrit was a major humiliation for the much-acclaimed Iranian Gen. Soleimani, who took personal command of the offensive.
7. Iran’s military inadequacies in battle stood out starkly against the Islamic State’s capabilities. To make headway in the Iraq war arena, Tehran would need to field professional soldiers or regular Revolutionary Guards units – not just irregular Shiite militias.
8. This unforeseen dilemma prompted intense discussions among top policy-makers and military chiefs in Tehran to determine whether or not to throw the Iranian air force into Iraq for a serious attempt to dislodge Islamic State forces from Tikrit.
9. Nothing less than direct intervention by Iranian fighter-bomber jets and assault helicopter cover for the Iraqi troops and pro-Iranian militiamen can be expected to have much effect – especially since the jihadis have barricaded themselves inside Saddam Hussein’s massive palace compound of Maqar el-Tharthar on the lake of that name. This is one of the most heavily fortified sites in the Middle East, containing a warren of atomic-bomb-proof bunkers and wide subterranean tunnels and passages. To breach it would call for heavy aerial bombardment, a task which the Iranians are mostly likely to leave to the US Air Force.
10. In the battle of Tikrit, the bottom fell out of the Obama administration’s strategy of limiting to intelligence-gathering and air strikes the US and coalition contribution to the war on ISIS, and leaving ground combat to local forces reinforced by Shiite militias under Iranian command.
The rooting out of the Islamic State from the one-third of Iraq and Syria which the caliphate has grabbed would call for around 100,000 well-trained Western ground troops to be injected into the war.

France Declares War on Radical Islam
by Soeren Kern/Gatestone
March 25, 2015
The moves are part of a raft of new anti-terrorism measures aimed at preventing French citizens or residents from joining jihadist groups abroad. The new powers are controversial because they can be implemented without judicial approval.
"These are legal tools, but not tools of exception, nor of generalized surveillance of citizens. There cannot be a lawless zone in the digital space. Often we cannot predict the threat, the services must have the power to react quickly." — Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France.
"When you do a projection for the months to come, there could be 5,000 [Europeans waging jihad in Iraq and Syria] before summer and 10,000 before the end of the year. Do you realize the threat that this represents?" — Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France.
The French government has cut the social welfare benefits of nearly 300 jihadists who have left France to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Amid a rapidly expanding jihadist threat, it has also started confiscating passports, imposing travel bans and blocking access to jihadist websites.
The moves are part of a raft of new anti-terrorism measures aimed at preventing French citizens or residents from joining jihadist groups abroad, and at slowing the spread of radical Islam at home. Muslim groups are criticizing the flurry of activity as "Islamophobia."
On March 17, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve revealed that the government has stopped paying welfare benefits to 290 French jihadists fighting with the Islamic State. He said that the agencies responsible for distributing welfare payments were being notified as soon as it was confirmed that a French citizen had left the country to fight abroad.
At least 1,200 French nationals or residents are believed to have joined the Islamic State, but Cazeneuve did not say whether any of those were receiving benefits. "We should not make a controversy out of this subject or allow people to think that no action has been taken," he said. "We are taking this seriously and will continue to do so."
The debate over benefits payments to jihadists erupted in November 2014, when Eric Ciotti, the president of Alpes-Maritimes, a department in southeastern France, suspended the payment of a welfare benefit known as the RSA to a French jihadist fighting in Syria. "I cannot conceive that public money goes into the pockets of someone who harbors terrorist designs against our nation, against its vital interests and against democracy, and that money is being used to fund jihad," Ciotti said at the time.
Meanwhile, for the first time ever, French authorities on February 23 confiscated the passports and identity cards of six French citizens who were allegedly planning to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State. The government said it might seize the passports of at least 40 other French citizens.
On March 16, the Interior Ministry also blocked five Islamist websites that, it said, were promoting terrorism. The sites included one belonging to al-Hayat Media Center, the propaganda wing of the Islamic State.
The actions were carried out in accordance with new rules that grant French authorities the power to block websites that "glorify terrorism," and to impose entry and exit bans on individuals "whenever there are serious reasons to believe that they are planning to travel abroad... to take part in terrorist activities, war crimes or crimes against humanity." The new powers have been controversial because they can be implemented without judicial approval.
Cazeneuve said that the websites were blocked to prevent people from "taking up arms" on the Internet. "I make a distinction between freedom of expression and the spread of messages that serve to glorify terrorism," he said. "These hate messages are a crime," he added. Cazeneuve said his ministry was targeting "dozens" of other jihadist websites.
But the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, criticized the move because it was carried out without judicial oversight. "Limiting human rights to fight against terrorism is a serious mistake and an inefficient measure that can even help the terrorists' cause," he said.
Muižnieks added that he was "worried" about the "exclusively security-driven approach" shaping French counter-terrorism legislation, and warned that if adopted, "this legislation could have the effect of killing freedom and creating a dangerous social climate in which all individuals are considered potential suspects."
Muižnieks was referring to a new bill that was unveiled by Prime Minister Manuel Valls on March 19, which would allow intelligence services to monitor and collect the email and telephone communications of anyone suspected of being a terrorist. The bill will be debated in the French parliament in April and is expected to be approved in July.
Among other features, the new law would force Internet service providers and telephone companies to allow intelligence services to record metadata, which could be stored for up to five years and would be analyzed for potentially suspicious behavior. If intelligence agents detect anything suspicious, they could ask an independent nine-person panel for permission to conduct more intense surveillance.
Amnesty International said the law would pave the way for intrusive surveillance practices with no judicial pre-authorization. In a statement, the group said:
"The surveillance practices envisaged in the draft legislation would give the French authorities extremely broad surveillance powers running against fundamental principles of proportionality and legality, which ought to govern all restrictions on the right to privacy and free speech."
Valls defended the bill. "These are legal tools, but not tools of exception, nor of generalized surveillance of citizens," he said at a press conference. "There will not be a French Patriot Act," he said, referring to American legislation bearing the same name. "There cannot be a lawless zone in the digital space. Often we cannot predict the threat, the services must have the power to react quickly."
The majority of French citizens seem to agree. An Ipsos survey for Radio Europe 1 and the French daily Le Monde on January 28 showed that 71% of people were in favor of general surveillance without the need to get a warrant from a judge.
Other counter-terrorism initiatives include:
On March 3, Valls announced that the state would double the number of university courses on Islam in an effort to stop foreign governments from financing and influencing the training of French imams. Valls said that he wanted more imams and prison chaplains who have been trained abroad to "undergo more training in France, to speak French fluently and to understand the concept of secularism." There are currently six universities in France offering courses in Islamic studies and theology. Valls said he wanted to double that number to 12 and that the courses would be free.
On February 25, Cazeneuve unveiled a plan to "reform" the Muslim faith in order to bring it into line with the "values of the French Republic." This would be done by means of a new "Islamic Foundation" devoted to conducting "revitalizing research" into a form of Islam that "carries the message of peace, tolerance and respect." Among other measures, the government would create a new forum to: promote dialogue with the Muslim community; improve the training of Muslim preachers; combat radicalization in French prisons; and regulate Muslim schools.
On January 21, Valls announced a 736 million euro ($835 million) program to augment its anti-terrorism defenses. He said the government would hire and train 2,680 new anti-terrorist judges, security agents, police officers, electronic eavesdroppers and analysts over the next three years. The government will also spend 480 million euros on new weapons and protective gear for police. The initiative includes an enhanced online presence based on a new government website called "Stop Djihadisme."
"They tell you: Sacrifice yourself with us, you will defend a just cause." The French government's anti-jihadist website, called "Stop Djihadisme," features videos debunking jihadist recruitment propaganda.
Valls recently warned that as many as 10,000 Europeans could be waging jihad in Iraq and Syria by the end of 2015. "There are 3,000 Europeans in Iraq and Syria today," he said. "When you do a projection for the months to come, there could be 5,000 before summer and 10,000 before the end of the year. Do you realize the threat that this represents?"
**Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

Saudis preparing to face Iran's allies in Yemen
Roi Kais/Ynetnews
Published: 03.25.15/Israel Opinion
Analysis: After Iranian-backed rebels take over Saudi Arabia's backyard, Riyadh is considering sending military forces to Yemen to indirectly confront its great Shiite rival.
Signs of a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen are growing. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in a clear voice during a press conference with his British counterpart on Monday that if the anarchy in Yemen is not solved peacefully, the Gulf states will take the "necessary measures" to protect the region from the "aggression" of the Houthis and their allies – the Iranian-backed forces of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
On Tuesday night it was reported that the Saudis were increasing their threat and moving forces to the border with Yemen.
Al-Faisal harshly attacked Iran over its policy in the entire region and on the nuclear issue. His comments were perceived as a real threat of a Saudi military intervention in Yemen.
He spoke a day after learning that the foreign minister of Yemen's ousted president, Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the Houthis after they had taken over the capital of Sana'a and is governing from the city of Aden, had asked the Gulf Cooperation Council to intervene in the Yemeni crisis through a joint force of the Arabian Peninsula states.
"We are prepared to accept all of President Hadi's requests for the sake of the Yemini people and their stability," the kingdom's No. 1 diplomat clarified during the press conference.
Hadi's foreign minister, Riad Yassin, told al-Jazeera that the Gulf states had accepted Yemeni's request. He said that "arrangements are taking place," but failed to mention what kind of procedures were being implemented and if and when the forces begin would operating on the ground.
Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khalid Al-Jarallah, however, sounded skeptical about a Gulf military intervention in Yemen.
The Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper reported Tuesday that the Saudi leadership was working in the highest ranks and consulting other Gulf states on ways to intervene in Yemen in order to help President Hadi maintain his constitutional legitimacy, which is decreasing from day to day, as the Tehran-backed Shiite rebels advance.
In the meantime, Saudi Arabia is settling for a moderate "muscle flexing": In recent days, the Saudi defense minister, Prince Mohammad bin Salman (the king's son), toured the Jizan region in the southern part of the kingdom, near the border with Yemen, escorted by senior Saudi military officials.
Sources in the international community are trying to form a dialogue between the Houthis and the ousted Yemeni president's supporters in a bid to prevent an Arab military intervention, but so far it seems that the Shiites are not interested in such a dialogue. Moreover, a senior Shiite rebel even threatened that if Saudi Arabia were to intervene in Yemen militarily, it would be the end of the Saudi royal family.
Saudi Arabia will likely weigh its options very carefully before deciding to militarily intervene in Yemen. While Yemen is Saudi Arabia's backyard, and it definitely doesn’t want to see its major Shiite rival – Iran – settling down there, Riyadh hasn't forgotten the lesson Egypt learned in Yemen. In the 1960s, in the Gamal Abdel Nasser era, Egypt intervened in the civil war in Yemen and emerged beaten and injured. Confronting Iran's allies is also something which should be considered very carefully before taking action.
In any event, the talks about a possible military intervention may breathe some life into the Peninsula Shield Force – a joint military force created by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman in 1984 in a bid to defend themselves against external enemies.
The force was last used in March 2011, when Sunni royal family of Bahrain tried to oppress a revolt of the Shiite majority living in the country, a revolt which was ignited by the opposition and encouraged and supported by Iran.
The Shield Force is a well-trained force which includes more than 30,000 officers and soldiers – 21,000 of whom are real fighters. In Bahrain they helped the local forces secure strategic facilities during the 2011 riots. In 2003, the Gulf states agreed to deploy the force in Kuwait for fear of an Iraqi response to the invasion of Iraq.
After Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled, there were talks about dismantling the force, but it continued to exist and may now be called back into action. The question is what will happen if the Gulf states take the serious step of sending the Shield Force to Yemen, and especially how Tehran will respond.
The ousted Yemeni president is expected to attend the Arab League summit, which begins in Cairo this Saturday. Tehran, we can be sure, will be very attentive to what is said there.

EU pressures Israel to make effort to resume peace process in annual progress report
REUTERS /03/25/2015
BRUSSELS - The European Union urged Israelis and Palestinians on Wednesday to quickly restart peace talks that collapsed last year, as the bloc's new foreign policy chief seeks to reinvigorate European involvement in the negotiations.
Israel should make "every effort to ensure an early resumption of the Middle East peace process," the EU said in a series of annual reports assessing progress on democracy and human rights in countries close to the 28-nation bloc.
A separate report urged the Palestinian Authority to pursue "positive steps" to restart peace talks.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, who took on her position in November, wants to more closely involve Arab states in the work of the Middle East Quartet, which comprises the United States, United Nations, the EU and Russia.
Rather than expanding the Quartet, it would hold more frequent top-level meetings with at least Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, senior diplomats have said.
Last week, the bloc chose veteran Italian negotiator Fernando Gentilini as its special representative to the Middle East.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused deep alarm in Brussels and Washington last week when, a day before winning a national election, he declared the Palestinians would never have a state on his watch. He later tried to row back on his comments.
In its reports, the EU called on Israel to ensure respect for international law and human rights in the "occupied" territories.
U recognized Israel had the right to defend itself, the "devastating effect" of last year's Gaza conflict on civilians "underlined the significant challenges attached to Israel's responsibilities in the occupied territories," it said.
Hamas and other Gaza militant groups fought a 50-day war with Israel last July and August in which more than 2,100 Palestinians, were killed. On the Israeli side 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed.
The EU also urged the Palestinian Authority to resume full governmental responsibility in Gaza and to organize free and fair presidential and legislative elections.

Iran reportedly forming Syrian Druze militia
Published: 25/03/2015/Now Lebanon
BEIRUT – Reports have emerged that Iran has been forming a Syrian Druze militia, while rebels fighting Iranian and Hezbollah-led forces in southern Syria have sought to calm tension with the residents of Druze-populated Suweida.
Al-Arabiya cited the opposition Syrian Media Council as revealing that “Iran has formed a new military faction in [the Druze-populated] Jabal al-Arab, under the name ‘Lebayk Ya Salman’ [For you o Salman], in a reference to the companion of the prophet Mohammad, Salman al-Farsi, an important figure for the Druze.”
“Pictures have circulated on social media outlets of militants wearing insignia with the words ‘for you o salman’ written on it,” the pan-Arab station added in its Tuesday report.
“This has been interpreted as a new attempt by Iran to take advantage of Druze sentiment and thrust the [sect] in to battles against rebel battalions.”
Prominent Druze journalist and political commentator Eyad Abu Shakra wrote Sunday that the Iranians were attempting to form the Druze fighting group.
“After the Iranian conspiracy pushed the Shiites of Iraq and Lebanon as well as the Alawites of Syria into sedition under the Ya Hussein slogan, now they are trying to destroy the Druze under the Ya Salman slogan,” the journalist said Sunday on Twitter.
Hezbollah training
Abu Shakra’s Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Monday that “Hezbollah and Iran have a clear presence in Suweida” where they have come “to train these Druze militias just as Shiite militias were formed previously under the principle of resistance against extremists.”
“Hezbollah has been supporting and funding this formation as well as supervising the training of dozens of the members of these militias,” the Saudi daily cited opposition sources as saying.
The sources said that work on forming the group began in earnest last week when clashes erupted in the Suweida governorate between the Al-Nusra Front and the National Defense Forces, while ISIS was also present in Bir al-Qasab, to the northeast of Suweida.
“In turn, pro-Hezbollah and regime [social] media pages have said this faction’s mission is to liberate east Houran and the Daraa-Damascus highway,” Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reported.
The alleged training comes amid the Hezbollah and Iranian-led regime offensive in southern Syria aiming to seize a triangle of territory stretching from the southern outskirts of Damascus down to Quneitra in the southwest and Daraa in the southeast.
“The road to Damascus does not run through Suweida”
The coalition of rebels fighting in southern Syria reached out to residents of Suweida in light of the insurgent campaign to seize Bosra al-Sham, a town 20 kilometers south of the Druze enclave.
“We will not go back on the promise we made to ourselves first before you: the revolution’s path goes towards Damascus, but it does not pass through Suweida,” the Southern Front’s military press room said in a Monday statement.
The rebel group, which has been fighting against the Iranian and Hezbollah-led military campaign in southern Syria, further explained that recent fighting outside Bosra al-Sham did not threaten regime-controlled Suweida.
“Rebel forces have not and will not seek to enter areas of Suweida [governorate] but the supply lines from the villages of Beka and Dibin [to Bosra al-Sham] had to be cut,” the group said about the clashes aiming to close the regime line into Bosra, which fell to rebels on Wednesday.
Deadly fighting erupted over the weekend between rebels and pro-regime forces near the Druze-populate towns of Dibin, Beka and Barad, which are located southeast of the rebel target of Bosra al-Sham.
Alaraby Aljadeed reported Wednesday that at the beginning of their Bosra campaign, rebels attacked “a regime checkpoint [...] at a three-way junction leading to the three Druze-majority villages.”
The London-based daily added that regime forces and NDF militia members hailing from the Suweida governorate were killed in the fighting.
“After the attack […] the regime began spreading rumors through its supporters in the area, [claiming] that Daraa residents wanted to storm Suweida. It also instructed them to inform on supporters of the revolution in the area and voices calling for armament were raised.”
The Southern Front echoed the report, saying in its statement that “the clashes that ensued were no more than a reaction to some people who tried to stir up trouble.”
Daraa-Suweida reassurances
Amid the heightened tension in southern Syria, residents of the neighboring Daraa and Suweida governorates issued statements pledging to avoid sectarianism.
Dozens of personalities from Daraa called for “the renunciation of sedition and awareness of the attempts by the regime to thrust Suweida residents into a confrontation with Daraa residents, after the fighting that has broken out between [rebels] and regime forces supported by sectarian militias in the city of Bosra al-Sham.”
“The people of Daraa wish to deliver a message to their neighbors, the residents of Jabal al-Arab [the Druze], alerting them to the danger posed by the regime using Suweida youth as fuel for Iran’s project.”
Suweida residents responded with their own statement in which they accused the regime and its allies of “thrusting the sons of Suweida residents into a confrontation with their brothers in Daraa—something which wise Suweida [residents] and their free sons and daughters do not accept whatsoever.”
“While there may be some deluded residents in the governorate who the regime has tricked into joining it in the NDF, outside the borders of Suweida, they most certainly do not represent the orientation of the governorate’s residents.”
Meanwhile, Alaraby Aljadeed reported that a leading Suweida Druze elder sheikh also warned against sectarian strife between the two governorates.
An activist from Suweida governorate, who chose not to reveal her name, told the newspaper that Sheikh Waheed Balaous had called for caution.
“The Suweida residents who die in a battle against Daraa resident will die unlamented. Likewise, Daraa residents who die in a battle against Suweida residents will die unlamented.”
Balaous has been known for his neutral stance between the Bashar al-Assad regime and Syrian rebels, however in recent weeks he has taken a more critical tone against the Damascus government.