May 08/15

Bible Quotation For Today/The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed meto bring good news to the poor.
Luke 04/14-21: "Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed meto bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Bible Quotation For Today/f the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah.

Letter to the Romans 09/26-33: "‘And in the very place where it was said to them, "You are not my people", there they shall be called children of the living God.’And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.’ And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah.’ What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling-stone,as it is written, ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’" 

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 07-08/15
Israel must beware of the Syrian Druze trap/Alex Fishman/Ynetnews/May 08/15
US Senate approves bill giving Congress review of Iran nuke deal/Ynetnews/Associated Press/May 07/15
Obama to back Palestinian state at Security Council – payback for Israel’s right-wing cabinet/DEBKAfile/May 07/15
Pope to recognize saints from Ottoman-era Palestine/Agencies/May 07/15

 Lebanese Related News published on May 07-08/15
Jumblatt wraps up political balancing act testimony at STL
Syrian Observatory: Hizbullah Takes Control of Strategic Heights in Qalamoun

Syrian army captures area near Lebanon: Hezbollah
Syrian army, Hezbollah seize eastern part of Qalamoun: Manar TV
Hezbollah fighters attack Syrian al Qaeda gathering along border

Army search for possible terrorist infiltrators from Syria
Fire at Syrian refugee center in Sidon doused 
Hezbollah helps seize key Qalamoun hills
March 14 Says only Army Protects Border, Confident Troops won't be Dragged to Battle outside Lebanon
Jumblat Dismisses Corruption, Rising Saudi Influence Linked to Hariri Murder
LF, Change and Reform Blocs Hold onto Legislative Session Stance
Shell Hits W. Bekaa as Syrian Army Clashes with Militants on Border
Body of missing man found in well 
Lebanese Cabinet agrees on first chapter of budget bill
Indictments Issued against Suspects on Terror Charges
Army Arrests Murder Suspect, 3 Others in Beirut Southern Suburbs
Hajj Hasan: consequence if industry not protected 
Higher Islamic Council polls to be held Sunday 
Fear of military vacuum will spur intervention 
Fire tears through Sidon complex housing refugees 

 Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 07-08/15
Netanyahu completes formation of government
Saudi beheads 79th convict this year

Netanyahu faces dissent from within Likud
How did major election victory turn into farce?

Houthi shelling kills 5 in Saudi border city
Iran says Maersk ship released, has left its territorial waters: ISNA
HRW: Yemen rebels committed ‘possible war crimes’
Gunship in emergency landing near Yemen border: Saudi source
Saudis mulling land operations in Yemen
Ship operator confirms Maersk Tigris ship released by Iran, crew safe
Yemen’s GCC membership is rightly back on the agenda
The rise of the separatist Scottish National Party in UK politics
Is Israel’s call for a Middle East nuke-free zone a dream?
Egypt court to decide on June 4 on Mubarak trial appeal
Israel approves 900 east Jerusalem settler homes: NGO
Voters flock to polls in knife-edge British election

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Syrian army captures area near Lebanon: Hezbollah
Reuters, Beirut/Thursday, 7 May 2015/The Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters captured a mountainous area on Syria’s border with Lebanon on Thursday and killed dozens of insurgents including from al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front wing, a Hezbollah official told Reuters. The area, Assal al-Ward, is a strategic position that overlooks Lebanese border towns where Hezbollah has heavy presence. Fighters from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon have fought alongside Syrian army forces in Syria’s civil war.

Syrian army, Hezbollah seize eastern part of Qalamoun: Manar TV
The Daily Star/May. 07, 2015
BEIRUT/BAALBEK: The Syrian army and Hezbollah Thursday seized control over a rugged area in the eastern part of Syria's Qalamoun on the border with Lebanon after clashes that killed dozens of jihadis, Al-Manar TV said. According to Al-Manar, the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters regained the “entire area” of Assal al-Ward and Jibba in eastern Qalamoun after they lost them to the militants in previous battles. Al-Manar also said dozens of Islamist militants were killed and wounded in the attack launched Thursday morning.
According to the station, the Syrian army targeted “armed groups” in the villages of Assal al-Ward and Jibba in the eastern part of Syria's Qalamoun region, some 35 kilometers from the northeastern border town of Arsal. Sources following up on the Qalamoun hostilities, told The Daily Star that militants overnight clashed with Hezbollah-backed Syrian troops along several combat zones, including the Assal Al-Ward-Jibba front. According to the sources, Syrian warplanes carried out a series of air raids on militant positions in Qalamoun, killing and wounding dozens of jihadi fighters. A Hezbollah attack in the Syrian Qalamoun border region killed three Islamist commanders Wednesday, also according to the Hezbollah channel. Al-Manar wrote on its Twitter account that the Nusra Front commander in the town of al-Juba, the leader of as-Suqur al-Muhammadiyya Brigade and the commander of the Ras al-Maarra Operation were all killed in a mortar attack. The report said Hezbollah targeted "a gathering of militant commanders and military vehicles."
Wednesday's attack comes one day after a Hezbollah ambush on a Nusra convoy which killed at least 15 fighters on the outskirts of the Lebanese border enclave of Tfail, a security source told The Daily Star.

Syrian Observatory: Hizbullah Takes Control of Strategic Heights in Qalamoun
Naharnet 0705.15//Hizbullah backed by Syrian forces controlled on Thursday strategic heights in the Syrian region of Qalamoun that abuts Lebanon's eastern border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The control of the area on the outskirts of Assal al-Wared came following heavy clashes with al-Qaida linked al-Nusra Front, it said in a statement. The battles were accompanied by heavy shelling by Syrian warplanes. The Britain-based Observatory stressed that there were casualties from both sides. Hizbullah's Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech late Tuesday that his group will attack militants in Qalamoun, stressing that "time will tell" when the battle will become full blown. He added that there will be no formal announcement before the widely anticipated battle begins. Nasrallah vowed that his group will continue fighting in Syria along with President Bashar Assad's forces.

Lebanese Cabinet agrees on first chapter of budget bill
The Daily Star/May. 07, 2015/BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Cabinet agreed on the first chapter of the 2015 budget bill Thursday, in a quick session that will be followed by two more sessions to discuss the rest of the bill in the coming week. Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil explained the draft budget to the Cabinet “article by article,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said after the session. The ministers then agreed on the first chapter of the bill, and two sessions were scheduled for May 11 and 13 to allow for further discussions. The Cabinet will also hold its regular session Thursday the 14th, he added. Lebanon has not had a public budget bill since 2005, and instead the Cabinet has annually approved spending without approval from Parliament.

Jumblatt wraps up political balancing act testimony at STL
Elise Knutsen| The Daily Star/May. 08, 2015
BEIRUT: With a flurry of accusations against the Syrian regime, Walid Jumblatt completed his highly anticipated testimony at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday. During his four days on the stand, the Progressive Socialist Party leader repeatedly claimed that Bashar Assad was responsible for Hariri’s assassination while simultaneously deflecting blame away from Hezbollah.As ever, Jumblatt executed an intricate and moderately successful political balancing act throughout his testimony. Like other political witnesses who have appeared before the tribunal, Jumblatt made repeated reference to the Syrian “stranglehold” in Lebanon at the time of the former premier’s assassination. He went beyond what other politicians have dared to say aloud, accusing Syria outright of bearing responsibility for Hariri’s assassination. Defense counsel Yasser Hassan, who represents one of the Hezbollah members accused of plotting to kill Hariri, neatly summed up Jumblatt’s testimony during his cross-examination Thursday afternoon.
“Mr. Walid, for three days of your testimony ... you have accused the Syrian regime of being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri,” Hassan said. “That is correct,” Jumblatt responded dryly. “I insist on accusing the Syrian regime.” “Rafik Hariri asked for the Syrian withdrawal [from Lebanon] and they assassinated him.”When pressed, however, Jumblatt admitted that he had no evidence that regime had a dark hand in the conspiracy. “At no point did I pretend or claim that I have any pieces of evidence, any proof, regarding the assassination of Rafik Hariri,” he said. “I’m giving a political testimony,” Jumblatt told the court. “Hariri was murdered for political reasons.”
But unlike other Hariri allies who have testified before the court, Jumblatt made no suggestion that Hezbollah had motive to kill Hariri, and endeavored to show that the former prime minister had adopted a pro-Hezbollah stance in the months leading up to his accusation.
Five Hezbollah members have been charged with planning the blast which killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005. In recent years, Jumblatt has warmed considerably to Hezbollah, saying in public statements that he would “organize” his differences with the resistance party over its intervention in Syria. He insisted that both he and Hariri were supportive of Hezbollah’s right to bear arms in 2005. Hariri was opposed to Resolution 1559, Jumblatt said, because it included an article that called for the disbanding of all militias in Lebanon, including Hezbollah. “He looked at this article ... and he considered it to be unacceptable and impossible. We needed another partner with us in Lebanon, and that is Hezbollah,” the Druze leader told the court earlier this week.
Jumblatt said he had no evidence tying the five Hezbollah suspects to the crime, and questioned Fouad Siniora’s claim that Hariri had uncovered assassination attempts designed by Hezbollah in the past. “Perhaps he told the prime minister [Siniora] about these attempts, but he never told me. I say perhaps,” Jumblatt said. Thursday’s defense was eager to throw into relief the history of Walid Jumblatt’s shifting political alliances and brassy public speeches. A clip of a 2007 speech in which Jumblatt called Assad “a whale vomited out of the ocean,” was played before the court, along with a 2010 interview in which he appears to apologize for the remark following a trip to Damascus. Jumblatt shrugged (and sometimes chuckled) off the criticism, agreeing with a judge who suggested that “realpolitik” had dictated his decision-making over the years.

March 14 Says only Army Protects Border, Confident Troops won't be Dragged to Battle outside Lebanon
Naharnet/Officials in the March 14 coalition have stressed that only the Lebanese army should defend Lebanon after Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his party will attack militants in Syria's Qalamoun region that lies on the border with Lebanon.
“Only the legitimate armed forces led by the army and its troops should defend Lebanon from the fire that could erupt on Lebanon's border,” the March 14 leaders told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat published Thursday. Nasrallah said in a televised speech late Tuesday that his group will attack al-Nusra Front and Islamic State fighters in Qalamoun, adding that "time will tell" when the battle will become full blown. He stressed there will be no formal announcement before the widely anticipated battle begins. March 14 sources also expressed confidence that the Lebanese army will not be dragged into a battle outside Lebanese territories. The unidentified sources made their remarks to An Nahar newspaper. Al-Mustaqbal MP Ahmed Fatfat, who is a member of the March 14 alliance, expressed similar viewpoints. He told the Kuwaiti al-Seyassah daily that “the protection of the Lebanese border is the mission of the Lebanese army and not that of Hizbullah.” Fatfat said that Nasrallah's warning on preparations for the Qalamoun battle aims at upping the morale of the Syrian-Iranian axis, whose plans are being implemented by the Shiite party in Lebanon and Syria. The Qalamoun region was a stronghold of rebel forces until a major operation by Syrian regime troops backed by Hizbullah fighters last year. While most of the region was recaptured, opposition militants and jihadists remain entrenched in the mountainous area that runs directly along the border, which is porous and ill-defined.

LF, Change and Reform Blocs Hold onto Legislative Session Stance
Naharnet/The Lebanese Forces reiterated on Thursday that the LF parliamentary bloc and the Change and Reform bloc would not attend a legislative session if their demands are not met. LF MP George Adwan told An Nahar newspaper that his bloc insists on putting the draft-law on giving Lebanese expats the nationality and the electoral draft-law on the agenda of the session that Speaker Nabih Berri is planning to call for. Both LF and Change and Reform MPs will not attend the session if those demands are not met, said Adwan. The two blocs have been calling on adding the two-draft laws on the agenda despite Berri's rejection. The Kataeb, another Christian bloc, has also said it would boycott the session because it believes the parliament should only meet to elect a new president. Baabda Palace has been vacant since President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended a year ago. An Nahar asked Adwan about a document of intentions that the LF and the Free Patriotic Movement seek to announce. The document is almost ready. “There are some details that need to be dealt with,” he said. The two parties have been holding talks, which are expected to lead to a meeting between rivals LF chief Samir Geagea and FPM leader MP Michel Aoun, who heads the Change and Reform bloc. The two officials are presidential candidates and their rivalry is partly to be blamed for the vacuum at Baabda.

Shell Hits W. Bekaa as Syrian Army Clashes with Militants on Border

Naharnet/A shell fired from the Syrian side of the border landed between the western Bekaa towns of al-Manara and al-Suwairi on Wednesday, amid a border clash between the Syrian army and militants. Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said the shell hit a cement plant between the two towns, causing material damage. It also reported that a clash erupted when the Syrian army detected an armed group that tried to infiltrate Syrian territory from the “al-Masnaa-al-Suwairi-Jdeidet Yabous area.” “It fell into a Syrian army ambush and a clash ensued during which flares were fired,” NNA said. LBCI television meanwhile said Syrian forces clashed with an armed group “in the Eastern Mountain Range on the Lebanese-Syrian border after the group tried to sneak into Syria.”

Lebanese Army Arrests Murder Suspect, 3 Others in Beirut Southern Suburbs
Naharnet/The army said on Thursday it arrested a fugitive wanted for murder and three other people for the possession of drugs in several areas of Beirut's southern suburbs. Hassan Hussein Zoaiter, who is wanted for the death of a Lebanese man, was apprehended, said a communique issued by the army command. Three other suspects were arrested for the possession of drugs, stated the communique. The military seized light ammunition during the raids, it added. The army units made the arrests in the areas in Borj al-Barajneh, Haret Hreik, al-Mraijeh and al-Kafaat.

Exclusive: Obama to back Palestinian state at Security Council – payback for Israel’s right-wing cabinet
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 6, 2015
debkafile reports exclusively from Washington: US President Barack Obama did not wait for Binyamin Netanyahu to finish building his new government coalition by its deadline at midnight Wednesday, May 6, before going into action to pay him back for forming a right-wing cabinet minus any moderate figure for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians. Banking on Netanyahu’s assertion while campaigning for re-election that there would be no Palestinian state during his term in office, Obama is reported exclusively by our sources to have given the hitherto withheld green light to European governments to file a UN Security Council motion proclaiming an independent Palestinian state. Although Netanyahu left the foreign affairs portfolio in his charge and available to be filled by a suitably moderate figure as per the White House’s expectations did not satisfy the US President.  The White House is confident that, with the US voting in favor, the motion will be passed by an overwhelming majority and therefore be binding on the Israeli government.
To show the administration was in earnest, senior US officials sat down with their French counterparts in Paris last week to sketch out the general outline of this motion. According to our sources, they began addressing such questions as the area of the Palestinian state, its borders, security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians and whether or not to set a hard-and-fast timeline for implementation, or phrase the resolution as a general declaration of intent. Incorporating a target date in the language would expose Israel to Security Council sanctions for non-compliance. It was indicated by the American side in Paris that the Obama administration would prefer to give Netanyahu a lengthy though predetermined time scale to reconsider his Palestinian policy or even possibly to broaden and diversify his coalition by introducing non-aligned factions or figures into such key posts as foreign affairs. At the same time, both American and French diplomats are already using the club they propose to hang over the Netanyahu government’s head for gains in other spheres.
French President Francois Hollande, for instance, the first foreign leader ever to attend a Gulf Council of Cooperation summit, which opened in Riyadh Tuesday to discuss Iran and the Yemen war, used the opportunity to brief Gulf Arab rulers on Washington’s turnaround on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And US Secretary of State John Kerry plans to present the Obama administration’s new plans for Palestinian statehood to Saudi leaders during his visit to Riyadh Wednesday and Thursday, May 6-7. Kerry will use Washington’s willingness to meet Palestinian aspirations as currency for procuring Saudi and Gulf support for a Yemen ceasefire and their acceptance of the nuclear deal shaping up with Iran.

Pope to recognize saints from Ottoman-era Palestine
Ynetnews/AFP/Published: 05.06.15/Israel News
Nuns Marie Alphonsine Ghattas of Jerusalem and Mariam Bawardy of Galilee will be canonized at the Vatican later this month.
Jerusalem's Latin Patriarchate on Wednesday hailed the upcoming canonization by Pope Francis of two nuns who will become the first modern-day saints from Ottoman-ruled Palestine.
Marie Alphonsine Ghattas of Jerusalem and Mariam Bawardy of Galilee, both of whom lived in Ottoman Palestine during the 19th century, will be canonized at the Vatican in Rome later this month.
"In Rome, Pope Francis will declare on May 17 two Palestinian nuns as saints, and we are in full preparation," Bishop William Shomali told journalists.
The pair's canonization "means that holiness is still possible, that... spiritual perfection is still possible," he said. "Our Holy Land continues to be holy, not only because of the holy places it hosts, but also because good people live here." Pope Francis announced in February that the two nuns would be canonized - the first Arabs from Ottoman-ruled Palestine to gain sainthood.
Mary-Alphonsine Ghattas was born in Jerusalem in 1847, and died there in 1927. She was an educator and spent time working as a nurse. The nun, who was born in Jerusalem in 1847, opened schools in Jordan and in Palestine, and was described as an active promoter of women’s education. She was beatified - the final step before canonization - in 2009.
Mariam Bawardy was born in the village of Ibilin in Galilee in 1843 and became associated with the Carmelite Order, founding convents in India and in Bethlehem. She became a nun in France and died in Bethlehem in 1878. Described as a mystic who taught others how to pray and to feel close to God, Bawrdy was also almost entirely illiterate. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1983.
Although there are several saints who lived in the region during Christianity's early days, Bawardy and Ghattas are the first to be canonized from Ottoman-era Palestine.
The process of canonization is long and as such the woman are only just now moving towards sainthood, despite Bawardy starting the process as far back as 1927. In order to become a saint an individual must have lived an exemplary holy and ethical life; be proven by history scholars to have inspired other Christians who worshiped with them; and to have two miracles attributed to them since their death.
"The Catholic Church has its own parameters to honor the best and outstanding among its faithful," Shomali said.
Bawardy, who lived a troubled life – being orphaned at the age of two and dying herself aged only 33 - was reported to have been visited by miracles throughout her short lifetime, in the form of religious ecstasies and stigmata.
Ghattas was believed to perform a miracle in 2009, when a group of young girls fell into a septic tank and survived after being submerged for several minutes. One of the girls' mothers said she had prayed to Ghattas to save her daughter. "Our Holy Land has given hundreds of saints during its long history. Our greatest saint is Holy Mary, mother of Jesus. "But we have three only from the modern period, whose language was not Greek, or Latin, nor Aramaic, but Arabic."The canonization of a third Palestinian - a Salesian monk - is still under review by the Church.
There are believed to be over 10,000 catholic saints. The Church is careful as to who is canonized and limits the number of individuals. During his 27 years as pope John Paul II canonized 110 saints, a figure that was considered higher than usual. The purpose of canonization is to officially recognize the veneration of an individual and to confirm that God is working through them.
The veneration of these saints will be an important moment for Catholic Palestinians, Iness Al-Yacoub, Superior General of the Rosary Sisters of Jerusalem told The Media Line. She explained that it showed that religion went beyond individuality or nationality, “This is good for the Palestinian people, for Arabs and for all of the world. It means that we have to love and accept others. We have to forgive and to be peace makers.”
Just over two percent of people living in Israel are Christian, around 160,000 people, of whom many are Catholics.
The Media Line's Robert Swift contributed to this report.

The axes of Yemen’s war
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
Thursday, 7 May 2015
The Yemeni crisis involves several parties, but the major axes are the forces of isolated former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis on one hand, and the Yemeni government - which now resides outside the country - and the Saudi-led alliance on the other. There is also Al-Qaeda. Given these axes, the war may go on for months, perhaps years, unless the capabilities of Saleh and the Houthis are diminished. This must not only be done via military confrontation, but also by attracting most of the military and tribal powers, which Saleh dominated, to the government’s side. The most important aspect of the war is not its intensity, but the disintegration of Yemeni domestic partisan and tribal alliances. The war is no longer limited to the capitals Sanaa and Aden, as there is now fighting in 10 of Yemen’s 21 governorates - half the country. In addition, the Houthis have opened a front against Saudi Arabia by shelling the latter’s border cities. This was expected from the start, as it is a tool of social and propaganda pressure against the kingdom.
Escalating the situation
Meanwhile, the Iranians and their allies are trying to escalate the situation via the media by intensifying coverage of events to the extent that the war has become the most covered affair. They think Yemen will be the swamp that will keep Saudi Arabia busy in relation to other hotspots in the Middle East. There are also unremitting attempts to support the “Saleh-Houthi” camp by sending weapons and experienced fighters. These attempts, however, have so far failed due to the naval and aerial embargo.
The dispute can end either via a clear victory, which is almost impossible due to the presence of several parties, or by achieving enough victories to convince the opposing forces to negotiate. The latter is actually the major aim of the battle. The other scenario is for the war to last until all parties are exhausted but still maintain their gains, similar to Afghanistan. The Houthi attack on border posts and their shelling of neighboring cities will not achieve the expanded invasion that they threaten. Geography is a major obstacle throughout the long border between the two countries, and the Houthis do not have the capability to fight and march for long northward toward southern Saudi Arabia.
Igniting fires
However, they can continue to ignite fires by shelling across the border and obstructing civilian life in neighboring Saudi areas. This, however, will not alter the political path of the battle.
The most important aspect of the war is not its intensity, but the disintegration of Yemeni domestic partisan and tribal alliances. There are efforts to convince the various tribes to break their alliance with Saleh and the Houthis and join the legitimate government, which is the guarantee to Yemen’s unity and independence.

A Syria for Iran bargain at the U.S.-GCC summit?
Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya
Thursday, 7 May 2015
With all eyes on Washington ahead of next week’s summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and America’s traditional allies at the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC), it is the Syrian crisis that could shape its outcome without being officially on the agenda.
The Gulf leaders, who have been disappointed time and again with the Obama administration’s reluctant approach to Syria, see, according to diplomatic sources in Washington, an opportune strategic moment for requesting U.S. support on Syria in return for theirs on an Iran nuclear deal.
Syria, the linchpin
For the White House, the two-day-summit is meant to assure the Gulf states on U.S. commitment to their security, and that any Iran nuclear deal is neither a realignment nor an abandonment of the Middle East. But for the GCC states who will ultimately offer tepid support for a potential internationally backed nuclear deal, it is Iran’s regional behavior, and not just its number of centrifuges, that worries them most.
Supporting a plan to establish Safe Zones in Syria is what key GCC players, Turkey, and the Syrian opposition are trying to sell to Washington
Nowhere more than Syria is this concern about Iran’s role as explicit and magnified in a conflict that is tearing apart the center of gravity of near east. It is the Syrian crisis that sunk Obama’s credibility with the GCC in 2013 when he backtracked from the infamous chemical weapons redline. It is also Damascus (not Baghdad) that is seen as Iran’s linchpin to the Arab world and to its juggernaut proxy Hezbollah. Politically, Syria and the Assad regime embraced and co-sponsored Hezbollah’s rise since 1979, and militarily the Syrian corridor is critical for the party to maintain the buildup of its missile stockpile (estimated by U.S. at 70,000).
More broadly, the Syrian war and the failure of the international community to stop the bloodletting for the last four years has left a sense of bitterness and disappointment in the Arab and Sunni streets. The GCC is no longer willing to stand by as the death toll climbs to 250, 000, and the number of displaced skyrocketed over 10 million. While the rise of ISIS and jihadists is alarming for the West, the expansion of Hezbollah into the Syrian-Israeli border is starting to change the narrative in Israel as well.
Safe zones vs. day after
Finding some common ground on an action plan in Syria is something that the GCC leaders are hoping to achieve as they convene with Obama at the White House and Camp David. The U.S. administration is cognizant of this and has requested according to diplomatic sources a “clear plan on the way forward and the day after Assad in Syria”. In a timely announcement one week before the summit, the GCC invited the Syrian opposition for a conference in Riyadh “to map out” the post-Assad period.
Washington, according to same sources, wants the GCC leaders to present a clear vision on the military and political planning in Syria after Assad, which addresses the status of minorities, counterterrorism, and preserving an already diminished state infrastructure. The White House is “open” to an action plan if it is presented one, but is insisting on a political framework to avert another Iraq scenario following U.S. invasion in 2003. Toward that end, Syrian opposition figures insist that these plans exist and a post-Assad roadmap is in place. For them, however, getting to an orderly transition starts by planning the “day before ahead of the day after.”
Supporting a plan to establish Safe Zones in Syria is what key GCC players, Turkey, and the Syrian opposition are trying to sell to Washington. Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu, in his meetings with the Obama administration two weeks ago, raised the potential of an “air cover” that the U.S. would provide to its trained and equipped rebels once they are deployed in Syria. SNC President Khaled Khoja told Al-Hayat during his visit this week to Washington that “there are positive U.S. indications to allow anti-aircraft weapons to reach the rebels”. The Obama administration has vetoed such deliveries in the last four years.
A bargain?
Establishing safe zones that would protect recent opposition gains in northern and southern Syria and have the potential to absorb the refugee influx is a plan that key regional powers would like to see materialize. They see such action as a stepping stool for a real turning point in the war of attrition between the rebels and Assad. On the one hand it could offer the space to build the rebels’ capability and local governance, while protecting civilians by ideally shielding the regime’s air force and barrel bombs.
Khoja told Al-Hayat that such plan would be managed by regional countries intercepting and jamming Assad air force, and establishing a “de facto” safe zone. It would not involve destroying Assad’s defenses. Providing anti-aircraft weapons is a key component to protect those areas, by more than 3000 military defectors with relevant experience said Khoja. While U.S. logistical support is not a priority for funding and operating the safe zones, Washington’s consent is.
For its part the Obama administration could use an already changing dynamic in Syria with rebel advances, as a tradeoff for garnering Arab support behind a potential Iran nuclear deal. It wouldn’t be the first time that such political bargains were struck. The Madrid peace conference in 1991 was in response to Arab support for the Gulf war, and the George W. Bush roadmap for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians followed the Iraq war.
If Obama approves such regional action in Syria, next week’s summit could be a game changer for his administration’s relations with the Gulf states. If, however, the U.S. policy of “kicking the can down the road” continues on Syria, the alternative is 19 months of strained relations between a more withdrawn Obama and a more defiant GCC.

Netanyahu completes formation of government
May. 07, 2015 /Associated Press
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu completed the formation of a new coalition late Wednesday, putting him at the helm of a hard-line government that appears to be set on a collision course with the U.S. and other key allies.
Netanyahu reached a deal with the nationalist Jewish Home party shortly before a midnight deadline, clinching a slim parliamentary majority and averting an embarrassing scenario that would have forced him from office. But with a government dominated by hard-liners that support increased West Bank settlement construction and oppose peace moves with the Palestinians, he could have a hard time rallying international support. Controlling just 61 of 120 parliamentary seats, the narrow coalition could also struggle to press forward with a domestic agenda.
After Netanyahu's Likud Party won March 17 elections with 30 seats, it seemed he would have a relatively easy time forming a coalition and serving a fourth term as prime minister. But the six-week negotiating process, which expired at midnight, turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated as rival coalition partners and members of the Likud jockeyed for influential Cabinet ministries.
"I am sure that nobody is surprised that the negotiations continued with all the factions and nobody is surprised it ended at the time it did," Netanyahu said late Wednesday.
He vowed to install "a strong and stable government for the people of Israel" by next week, yet also hinted he would court additional partners in the near future.
"Sixty-one is a good number, and 61-plus is an even better number," he said. "But it starts at 61 and we will begin. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
The coalition talks stalled this week when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a longtime partner of Netanyahu's, unexpectedly stepped down and announced his secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party was joining the opposition.
That left Netanyahu dependent on Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, a former aide who has a rocky relationship with Netanyahu. With Bennett driving a hard bargain, the talks stretched throughout the day and well into the night before Netanyahu called President Reuven Rivlin, as required by law, to announce the deal.
"I congratulate you on completing the formation of the government. I have received your letter of confirmation, and look forward to the convening of the Knesset as soon as possible, to approve the government," Rivlin said.
Netanyahu had until midnight to speak to Rivlin. Otherwise, the president would have been required to ask another politician to try to form a government.
Analysts do not expect the new government to last long or accomplish much.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the centrist Zionist Union, called the coalition "a national failure government." He said it was "an embarrassing farce" and "the narrowest in Israel's history."
During the campaign, Netanyahu angered the White House when he said that he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch.
Although he has tried to backtrack, the White House has reacted with skepticism. Netanyahu's Likud Party is dominated by hard-liners opposed to Palestinian independence, a position that is shared by the Jewish Home. The odds of peace talks restarting - much less making any progress - appear slim.
The Jewish Home's close ties with the settler movement mean that there will likely be great pressure on the new government to expand construction on occupied lands.
The international community overwhelmingly opposes settlement construction, and the Palestinians are trying to push forward with a war crimes case against the settlements at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. U.S. officials have said they could have a hard time defending Israeli policies if the government isn't committed to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
The new government could also struggle at home. Under the coalition deal, the Jewish Home gained control of the influential Education and Justice Ministries. The incoming justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, is an outspoken critic of the country's judiciary and is expected to seek a greater voice in the appointment of judges.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's ultra-Orthodox partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are bent on reversing reforms passed by the last government.
Those reforms sought to end an unpopular system that granted the ultra-Orthodox exemptions from compulsory military service, welfare subsidies to study full-time instead of entering the work force and generous budgets for a religious school system that largely ignores key subjects like math, English and computer studies.
These longstanding benefits have bred widespread resentment among the secular majority. Wiping out the reforms is likely to generate renewed public anger.
Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party spearheaded the outgoing government's reforms, said there was little to celebrate Wednesday night.
"A narrow, suspicious and sectoral government is on its way," he said, vowing to "do everything" to stop "the clearance sale of the country" to parties with narrow interests.
Netanyahu's last partner, Kulanu, is a centrist party focused on bringing relief to Israel's struggling middle class. Although in control of the Finance Ministry, the party could struggle passing reforms due to the slim parliamentary majority.

Israel must beware of the Syrian Druze trap
Alex FishmanظYnetnews
Published: 05.08.15/Israel Opinion
Op-ed: Limited humanitarian aid to ethnic groups in enemy states must not drag Israel again into imperial adventures and dreams about changing regimes and crowing kings.
A team of the IDF's top Druze officers, in the past and in the present, arrives secretly at the prime minister's bureau with a request that Israel will defend the Druze in Jabal al-Druze in Syria against the radical Sunni Islamist movements, which wish to settle the score with the Druze who support the Assad regime.
A groundless scenario? Not at all. They may not only be Druze officers, but also politicians and the community's dignitaries. There is a chance that such a request will reach the prime minister in a month, in half a year, and maybe even earlier.
The reports in the Arab press about the situation in Syria present a picture of a collapse of the Assad regime. Some of them are biased and exaggerated, but as the regime grows weaker – the picture of Syria disintegrating into ethnic cantons and areas of influence of armed bodies like the Islamic State becomes clearer.
Israel has already faced requests from the Druze community to help the Druze in neighboring countries. In the first Lebanon War, for example, Israel stood as a barrier at a certain stage between the Druze and the Maronites. What will happen this time?
The Lebanese media reported many months ago that Israel was providing protection to the five Druze villages in the northern Syrian Golan Heights following an appeal from the Druze community dignitaries in Israel. These villages are located on the border, but how will Israel provide protection to the villages in Jabal al-Druze, which is located at a distance of tens of kilometers inside Syria.
The Israeli dream to team up with the Druze in Syria is not new. In a recently published book, senior Mossad official Yossi Alpher reveals Israel's tireless search for allies in the region, from South Sudan to Tehran – a search which generated few successes and a lot of frustration and disappointment.
Among other things, Alpher reviews the attempts to team up with the Druze in Syria, which reached their peak in the plan formed in 1967 on the backdrop of the euphoria following the occupation of the Golan Height. But Yigal Alon's dream of renewing the free Jabal al-Druze state on the Jordan-Syria border faded after the Druze in the Golan leaked the plan.
Alongside the known ties with Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Iran and the Kurds in Iraq, the book also reveals forbidden affairs – like the short affair Israel had with the radical regime in Somalia in the 1980s. In this case, Israel was wise enough not to get drawn into the anarchy of that dangerous country.
The Druze's distress in Syria today, which will grow worse as the Alawite regime is pushed aside, will place Israel in a dilemma. Providing protection to the Druze in the heart of Syria guarantees that Israel will slowly be drawn into the Syrian chaos, and since the fiasco with the Druze in Lebanon, Israel has been cautious about alliances with ethnic groups.
But time passes and the memory is short – not to mention the fact that the desire to look for alliances with ethnic groups which are in a distress vis-à-vis an Arab country that is hostile to Israel still burns within the Israeli security policy's DNA.
Today Israel gives humanitarian aid to groups and citizens near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights – something in the style of the "flea in the Good Fence" which opened in Lebanon in 1976, expanded to the establishment of the Lebanon Division, South Lebanon Army and the security belts, claimed hundreds of victims over the years and ended with a mass escape from Lebanon in 2000 and huge damage to Israel's long-term interests and power of deterrence.
We should hope that even in the current situation – with a faltering government and no long-term decisions – someone will know how to set boundaries to the military and make sure that we don't fall into the same trap. Limited humanitarian aid must not drag Israel again into imperial adventures and dreams about changing regimes and crowing kings.

US Senate approves bill giving Congress review of Iran nuke deal
Alex Fishman/Ynetnews/Associated Press
Published: 05.07.15/Israel News
Vote shows overwhelming support for legislation that would let Congress review, and maybe even reject, any final deal the US would reach with Iran.
The US Senate muscled its way into President Barack Obama's talks to curb Iran's nuclear program, overwhelmingly backing legislation Thursday that would let Congress review and possibly reject any final deal with Tehran.
The vote was 98-1 for the bipartisan bill that would give Congress a say on what could be a historic accord that the United States and five other nations are trying to finalize with Iran, which would get relief from crippling economy penalties.
The lone no vote came from freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican who wants the administration to submit any agreement to the Senate as a treaty. Under the Constitution, that would require approval of two-thirds of the Senate.
The House is expected to vote next week on the measure.
The Republican leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement moments after the vote that the "goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, set off a regional nuclear arms race, and strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran."
The US and other nations negotiating with Tehran have long suspected that Iran's nuclear program is secretly aimed at atomic weapons capability. Tehran insists the program is entirely devoted to civilian purposes.
The talks resume next week in Vienna, with a target date of June 30 for a final agreement.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill "offers the best chance for our constituents through the Congress they elect to weigh in on the White House negotiations with Iran."
Added Sen. Bob Corker, Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee: "No bill. No review."
The legislation would bar Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers examine any final deal. The bill would stipulate that if senators disapprove of the deal, Obama would lose his current power to waive certain economic penalties Congress has imposed on Iran.
The bill would require Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval to reject the deal, an action that Obama almost certainly would veto. Congress then would have to muster votes from two-thirds of each chamber to override the veto.
The bill took a roller coaster ride to passage.
Obama first threatened to veto it. Then he said he would sign it if the measure was free of amendments the White House believed would make continued negotiations with Tehran virtually impossible.
It survived a blow from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood before Congress in March and warned the US that an emerging nuclear agreement would pave Iran's path to atomic weapons.
"It is a very bad deal. We are better off without it," he said in a speech arranged by Republicans. His address aggravated strained relations with Obama and gambled with the long-standing bipartisan congressional support for Israel.
A few days later, Cotton and 46 of his Republican colleagues wrote a letter warning Iranian leaders that any deal with Obama could expire when he leaves office in January 2017.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada accused the GOP of trying to undermine the commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs who lead Iran.
In April, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a compromise bill on a 19-0 vote. Obama withdrew his veto threat.
But Republicans were not done trying to change the bill, drawing up more than 60 amendments.
McConnell did not want to see the bill end in tatters, so he acted to end the amendment process and have votes on the legislation.