May 14/15

Bible Quotation For Today/Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation
 Mark 16/15-20: "‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
Bible Quotation For Today/John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
 Acts of the Apostles 01/01-14: "In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 13-14/15
Angry backlash as Samaha sentenced to four-and-a-half years/Daily Star/May 14/15
Some 250 Hizballah dead in Qalamoun battle. Nasrallah pushes Lebanese army to enter Syrian war/
DEBKAfile/May 13/15
Michel Samaha's Crime/Mockery of justice/The Daily Star/May 14/15

Camp David should be about more than ‘words and weapons’/
Faisal J. Abbas/Al Arabiya/May 13/15
President Obama, don’t miss opportunities at Camp David/Andrew Bowen/Al Arabiya/May 13/15
The nuclear deal will empower Iran’s hardliners/
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/May 13/15
One soldier’s boot in Damascus, another in Hollywood/Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiya/May 13/15
Bashar Assad’s perilous dance with Iran/Michael Young| The Daily Star/May. 14/15

Lebanese Related News published on May 13-14/15
Vatican officially recognizes the “State of Palestine”
Angry backlash as Samaha gets lenient sentence 
Presidential Polls In Lebanon Adjourned again, Geagea Blames Hizbullah
Report: Hezbollah leader being treated for heart attack
Hezbollah seizes highest Qalamoun peak 
Hariri: Russia backs filling presidency
Israel looks to justify south Lebanon attacks 
Al Jadeed had no criminal intent: media official 
No movement on president, security posts
Future slams Hezbollah over Qalamoun
Al Jadeed had no criminal intent: media official 
Refugees most dangerous crisis in Lebanon: Derbas 
Berri denounces Bassil’s ‘dangerous’ remarks 
Hezbollah, Syrian army see advances in Qalamoun 
Israel Warns of Harsh Strike against Hizbullah, Accuses it of Using Civilians as Human Shields
Samaha's Trial Ends, Verdict Expected Wednesday
Prisoners Swap Deal with Nusra Front Reaches Final Stages
Presidential Polls Adjourned again, Geagea Blames Hizbullah
Officials: Dahieh Security Plan Enters Second Stage
Hariri Discusses Developments with Lavrov in Moscow
Army Arrests more than 150 People in Raids across Lebanon
11 Injured as Bus Slams into Five Cars near Masnaa Crossing
Violent Battles on Outskirts of Arsal between Nusra Front, ISIL
Khalil Says Civil Servants' Salaries under Threat
Aoun Dispatches Envoys to Discuss with Rivals Extension Crisis
Berri Slams FPM, Bassil over Boycott and 'Dangerous' Remarks
U.S. Charges Four after Intercepting Gun Shipments to Lebanon

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 13-14/15
Fragile five-day ceasefire begins in Yemen
Netanyahu: Nuclear talks continue even as official says Iran has God's approval to destroy Israel
Netanyahu Government Says Wants Peace with Palestinians
Knesset passes 'unlimited ministers' bill in 61-59 vote
IDF tests new rocket system in exercise
Obama: Palestinians deserve an end to occupation
MK urges recognition of Armenian Genocide

op Khamenei Advisor: We Have Divine Permission to Destroy Israel
Obama sees 'difficult path' in renewing Israel-Palestinian talks
'EU must reassess Mideast policy, hold Israel to account for settlements'
New UN envoy to Yemen arrives in Sana’a as truce begins
ISIS attacks army-held areas in central Syria
Egypt’s Bassem Youssef to host International Emmy Awards

Jihad Watch Latest News
Islamic State in Nigeria targets Catholics: 100,000 homeless
Pakistan: Islamic State jihadis murder 45 Ismaili Shias in jihad attack on bus
Jeffrey Tayler in Salon: “The left has Islam all wrong”
NSA chief: Islamic State’s ideology “increasingly resonating” with Muslims in US

Report: Hezbollah leader being treated for heart attack
According to reports, Nasrallah was admitted several days ago to Beirut hospital after suffering medical complications.
Roi Kais/Ynetnews /May 13/15/Rumors about the health of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah are again circulating on social networks and Internet news sites in the Persian Gulf.
According to the claims, Nasrallah was admitted a few days ago to a hospital in one of Beirut’s southern neighborhoods after suffering medical complications in the form of a stroke or heart attack.
One questionably reliable media outlet in the Gulf quoted Lebanese sources who said that Nasrallah was undergoing treatment in hospital and that his condition was being monitored. As is his custom every year, Nasrallah is expected to deliver an address on May 24 to mark the anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. The fate of the address is likely to offer an indication of whether there is any truth to the current rumors. A similar wave of rumors about Nasrallah’s health appeared in February 2013, when it was claimed that the Hezbollah leader was suffering from cancer and had even received treatment in Iran. Back then, Hezbollah denied the reports and Nasrallah was forced to appear on television to refute the rumors. He told Hezbollah’s television station Al-Manar that the reports were psychological warfare that the group had encountered in the past. Health issues aside, Nasrallah has a sea of problems to contend with, primarily the ongoing civil war inside Syria, Hezbollah’s key ally. Nasrallah said recently that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime cannot fall, as it would also mean the fall of Hezbollah and the so-called “axis of resistance”.

Michel Samaha's Crime/Mockery of justice
The Daily Star/May. 14, 2015/The sentencing of former Information Minister Michel Samaha Wednesday would be laughable if it were not so tragic, and it raises serious questions about both the neutrality and the effectiveness of the judiciary. Found guilty of attempting to take part in terrorist activities – Samaha himself admitted to transporting explosives from Syria – the erstwhile adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad was sentenced to only four-and-a-half years. Having been arrested in the summer of 2012, and with the judicial year lasting nine months, Samaha is set to be released this December. While his defense attorneys sought to portray him as merely the delivery boy – an insult to both the Lebanese public and Samaha’s own intelligence – Samaha has been found guilty of attempting to aid terrorists in setting off bombs on behalf of the Syrian government which could possibly have sparked a new civil war in Lebanon itself. And yet his trial and sentencing concluded quickly, with many prisoners charged for the most trivial of offenses – such as possession of marijuana – awaiting trial for years. As the justice minister himself said after the sentencing, this shameful event should prompt an investigation into the procedures behind sentencing, and perhaps the judge responsible as well. It should also trigger a reflection on the extent to which the Syrian regime still retains an influence over certain sectors of certain institutions in Lebanon, 10 years after their formal withdrawal from the country. Otherwise, the Lebanese judiciary will become an embarrassment, not just at home, but in the eyes of the region’s leaders and the international community.

Some 250 Hizballah dead in Qalamoun battle. Nasrallah pushes Lebanese army to enter Syrian war
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 13, 2015/Amid Hizballah’s rising war losses, its leader Hassan Nasrallah strongly urged the Lebanese chief of staff Gen. Jean Kahwagi to send his troops into battle over the strategic Qalamoun Mountain, alongside Hizballah and the Syrian army, debkafile’s military sources disclose. Nasrallah argued that the time had come for the Lebanese army to take a hand in the fighting, since the Syrian rebels led by Al Qaeda’s Syrian arm, the Nusra Front, were shelling the eastern Beqaa Valley of Lebanon from their Syrian strongholds on the mountain that sits athwart the Syrian-Lebanese border. Thousands of jihadis, he said, were seizing land around the northeastern Lebanese villages of Arsal and Nahleh. Another of Nasrallah’s demands was for Gen. Kahwagi to bring out the Lebanese army’s heavy artillery to shell rebel Qalamoun concentrations, positions and moving vehicles, because they endangered Lebanese national security. The Lebanese general gave the Hizballsah chief a flat no. He declared the Lebanese army would not “slip” into any war inside the Syrian area of Qalamoun where Hizballah and the Syrian army are currently fighting jihadis, but added: “The army is ready to confront any assault on Lebanese sovereignty and push back any infiltration by militants.”Tuesday, May 12, in Beirut, US Ambassador David Hale interceded in the argument: “I would say that ISIS posed no threat to Lebanon until Hizballah went into the war in Syria and that provided the magnet that drew these terrorists here.” Listing the American weapons reaching Beirut of late, as Hellfire missiles fired from helicopters against ground targets, precision guided missiles and howitzers, the ambassador said firmly: “This is exactly what they (the Lebanese army) need to target this particular terrorism phenomenon.”debkafile’s military and counter-terrorism sources don’t believe that the Lebanese army chief will be able to hold out for long against the gradual ISIS and Nusra slide into his country. At the moment, the intruders are mostly fleeing Islamists, driven by the Syrian army and Hizballah from their mountain positions and out of the eastern Lebanese border districts close to the battle front. But although the Syrian army and Hizballah are claiming to have taken strategic hills in the volatile border region last week, the battle is far from over and does not appear to be anywhere near a clear resolution. Even when Syria and Hizballah do achieve a local gain here or there, fresh ISIS and Nusra forces keep on pouring back - mostly from the north – to constantly open up new battlefronts on the Qalamoun mountains. Their commanders have already grasped that no one will stop them slipping back and forth between Syria and Lebaon - both to escape Syrian and Hizballah fire and meanwhile to hit Hizballah’s rear strongholds in the Lebanese Beqaa. Hizballah’s death toll in battle is soaring disastrously – at least 250 reported in the last few days, including 9 senior commanders.Most military and intelligence experts agree that, as time goes by, however hard they try, the United States and Lebanese army will not be able to stem the jihadists’ spillover into the Beqaa Valley.

Angry backlash as Samaha sentenced to four-and-a-half years
Youssef Diab| The Daily Star/May. 14, 2015
BEIRUT: The Military Tribunal Wednesday sentenced former Information Minister Michel Samaha, who was being tried on terror charges, to a lenient four-and-a-half years in prison. Samaha, who has been under arrest since 2012, will be set for release in December, since he has already served the majority of his sentence – the judicial year lasting only nine months. The benign sentence sparked a backlash from Future Movement officials, who lashed out at the Military Tribunal calling for its closure. This prompted State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud to call on military prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr to challenge the verdict issued against Samaha, judicial sources said. The former minister was sentenced after being found guilty of forming an armed gang, smuggling explosives from Syria into Lebanon and attempting to assassinate political and religious figures. The court also revoked Samaha’s civilian rights, the sources added. Throughout the hearing Wednesday, Samaha argued that he was personally targeted by the Information Branch – the intelligence services of the Internal Security Forces. “What happened with me is tangible proof that the law is being violated,” Samaha told the court. “The Information Branch has personally targeted me ... and I have fallen into their trap.” Last month, Samaha confessed that he had transported explosives into Lebanon with the aim of targeting Lebanese politicians and religious figures, claiming that he was lured to do so by a police intelligence agent.
Both Samaha and his defense team Wednesday presented the argument that ISF informant Milad Kfoury was as guilty as Samaha and should stand trial. “Milad Kfoury is not an informant but he is the real culprit and he is the tool used by an intelligence agency to target me,” Samaha said. “I am a political prisoner of war and I demand acquittal.” Prosecutor Hani Hajjar dismissed Samaha’s claims that he was a victim of an intelligence trap set up by Kfoury, saying that the ISF is an official security agency that does not manipulate or entrap people.“If there was a real trap then it is the trap that Samaha planted for the nation,” Hajjar added. Two Future Movement officials slammed the Military Tribunal following Wednesday’s verdict. Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, a Future Movement member, said that he “mourned the death of the Military Tribunal,” after it sentenced Samaha to “only” four and a half years in .prison“What happened in the case of Samaha is shameful and I will work through all means to amend the law of military verdicts,” Rifi told reporters on the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting in the Grand Serail. “We will not be false witnesses to the violation of Lebanese security,” he added. In a later statement Rifi said former Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed in a telephone conversation his support for his position regarding the Military Tribunal’s verdict. Hariri also condemned the verdict and inquired about means to confront what he called “a moral and national scandal.” Hariri also discussed means to address the issue with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk.
Rifi added he was considering referring Samaha’s case to the country’s top court, the Judicial Council. Rifi referred Judge Leila Raaydi, civil consultant at the Military Tribunal, to the judiciary over the verdict.
Future Movement Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri denounced Wednesday’s decision, saying on his Twitter page that the Military Tribunal should be shut down after issuing a “farcical” verdict against Samaha.
During Wednesday’s hearing Samaha said that he had informed the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, and the director of his office, Lt. Col. Adnan of a plot orchestrated by Kfoury to smuggle explosives into Lebanon.
“Mamlouk and Adnan don’t know Milad Kfoury,” Samaha said. “I was the one who told them that I have someone who wants to carry out explosions in Lebanon and I asked for their help.”
Samaha claimed that he did not discuss with Mamlouk and Adnan the details of the security operations, saying he deliberated potential targets with Kfoury exclusively.
A former minister who maintained close ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the 66-year-old Samaha was arrested in 2012 and indicted the following year for smuggling explosives into Lebanon to target iftar banquets and gatherings in the northern district of Akkar, with the aim of killing politicians and religious figures. Mamlouk, and the director of his office, Lt. Col. Adnan, were also indicted for their part in the conspiracy.
The court also asked Samaha whether he ever suspected that Kfoury was trapping him. The former minister said he was too busy making international contacts over the situation in Syria to realize that the informant tricked him, although he believed that the list of targets Kfoury had set was too ambitious. “I was too busy conducting calls with six European countries, including the Vatican and Catholic churches in Europe, about the situation in Syria,” Samaha told the court. “But I did question his ability to hit all the targets he fixed for himself including the bombing of iftar banquets, assassinating religious figures and lawmakers, and carrying out bombings on border crossings in north Lebanon.” Samaha added that Kfoury’s history as a former member of the Lebanese Forces did not raise his suspicions either.
Meanwhile, Samaha’s defense council, Sakhr Hashem, argued that the suspect did not have the criminal intent to carry out terrorist plots in Lebanon. He also claimed that Samaha was merely “a delivery boy” whose mission was to transport explosives from Mamlouk’s office and handing them over to Kfoury. “My client had no criminal intent,” Hashem told the court. “He [Samaha] was mulling the crime that did not take place and is thus not punishable by the law because he did not execute the plan.”
The court Wednesday also heard the testimony of Samaha’s driver and bodyguard, Fares Mubarak, who said that Kfoury, the ISF informant who revealed the plot to Lebanese authorities, would visit Samaha’s residence on a weekly basis.
The witness, who accompanied Samaha on his trip from Damascus to Beirut during which the explosives were smuggled into Lebanon, denied having any knowledge of the plot.
He also confessed to handing Kfoury a black bag which contained $170,000 which would be spent on the terrorist operations, though he claimed that he had no knowledge of the bag’s contents at the time.
In a startling confession in April, Samaha detailed a plot that could have pushed Lebanon into a cycle of sectarian violence. Samaha appeared confused at times, faltering and contradicting himself, but claimed he was being watched by domestic and foreign intelligence services who convinced him to carry out the act, “satisfying my ambitions,” and that they used people close to him to persuade him to cooperate.

Future slams Hezbollah over Qalamoun
The Daily Star/May. 13, 2015
BEIRUT: The Future bloc Tuesday slammed Hezbollah over its offensive against rebel groups in Syria’s western Qalamoun region, insisting the Lebanese Army alone is responsible for protecting the country’s borders. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale voiced his confidence in the Lebanese Army’s capability to defend Lebanon’s border from terrorist threats, adding that the U.S. was providing the military with all that it wanted in its war against jihadis. “We respond to what the Army asks from us and we’ve never said no. We’re giving them exactly what they want, hellfire missiles, precision guided missiles, howitzers ... and this is exactly what they need to target this particular terrorism phenomenon,” Hale told LBCI television station. The U.S. official said that his country supported Lebanon’s dissociation policy from the conflict in Syria.
“We think those who are breaking that policy of dissociation are responsible for a lot of the instability that Lebanon is facing today,” he said. “I would say that Daesh [ISIS] posed no threat to Lebanon until Hezbollah went into the war in Syria and that provided the magnet that drew these terrorists here,” Hale said. The Future bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting that “the mission of protecting Lebanon’s eastern and northern borders with Syria against militants, and the entire Lebanese border, is the duty of the Lebanese Army and not any other group.”“The ultimate decision in this regard is among the powers of the Cabinet and not any other, whether a party or regional power,” the statement added. Hezbollah’s departure from Lebanese national consensus through its engagement in the Qalamoun battles, contrary to the decision of the Cabinet, has produced internal complications and tarnished the image and the prestige of the state, the statement said.
At the same time, battles continued Tuesday in Qalamoun between Hezbollah and the Syrian army on one side and the Nusra Front and allied Syrian rebels on the other. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV aired scenes Tuesday of party fighters and Syrian troops on two hilltops seized from Islamist fighters, in the latest in a series of gains following more than a week of clashes in the border area. The television station said the hills were located west of the outskirts of the Syrian village of Ras al-Maara and east of the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Nahleh.The report identified one of the hilltops as the Qornet Mashrouh Haql Zeaiter, and said the forces also captured the area of Jiwar Beit Abdel-Haq. The most recent positions captured by the Syrian army and its Lebanese allies in the Qalamoun region will prevent militants from launching attacks at the Bekaa Valley, Al-Manar said. Bekaa Valley villages to the East have been hit with hundreds of rockets over the past few years launched by Syrian rebel groups. Some groups, including ISIS and the Nusra Front, have also infiltrated Lebanese territory to wage attacks on Hezbollah and Lebanese Army positions. Intermittent clashes persisted on the outskirts of Ras al-Maara and around the Al-Barouh hill, one day after fierce fighting in the area left several rebel fighters dead.Tuesday saw lighter clashes due to intermittent rainfall and fog.
Al-Manar said that militants who withdrew from hills and villages captured by Hezbollah and the Syrian army in Qalamoun are now positioned in Tallit Moussa, the highest hilltop in the Qalamoun mountains. Fighting could move to that spot.
The high altitude would allow the Syrian army to monitor militant movements in the vast expanse of Qalamoun and the outskirts of the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal.
Rebels also receded toward the outskirts of Arsal and “portions” of the outskirts of Flita, Al-Manar said. Al-Manar showed militants being targeted by drones in Qalamoun and aired photos of cars, weapons, ammunition, food and equipment abandoned by Syrian rebels in the battlefield. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one fighter from Islamist factions fighting alongside the Nusra Front in Qalamoun was killed in the fierce clashes with the Syrian army and Hezbollah Tuesday. It added that there were reports that both warring groups suffered additional human losses.
Syrian opposition websites quoted rebels as saying that they have not begun their actual battle with Hezbollah in Qalamoun yet and that they were currently engaged in a war of attrition against the party. They dismissed Hezbollah’s claims of advances on ground as “baseless” and a mere media war, adding that battles persisted on the outskirts of Ras al-Maara and al-Juba. ISIS and a Nusra-led coalition of militants are also reportedly battling each other in Qalamoun. In a statement, the Nusra Front and its allies in the Qalamoun region vowed to “eradicate” ISIS after a series of provocations by the notorious Al-Qaeda splinter group sparked a round of inter-jihadi clashes.

Top Khamenei Advisor: We Have Divine Permission to Destroy Israel
May 12, 2015/ /Khamenei's Representative to the IRGC said that Iran has "Divine Permission" to destroy Israel. PHOTO: Al-Arabiya
An official close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei asserted that his government has a godly ordained right to annihilate Israel, Al Arabiya reported on Tuesday. The “government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has divine permission to destroy Israel,” said Mojtaba Zolnour, a Khamenei representative in the elite Revolutionary Guards. According to semi-official state news agency Fars, Zolnour said that, “the Noble Koran permits the Islamic Republic of Iran to destroy Israel.” He added that, “Even if Iran gives up its nuclear program, it will not weaken this country’s determination to destroy Israel.” This is by no means the first time that Iranian political or military officials have threatened Israel with destruction. Iran has raised the specter of “wiping Israel out of existence,” since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the country in 1979. Khomeini’s animosity towards Israel was based on an ideological and religious opposition to Zionism, amplified by the challenge Israel’s military and economic strength posed to Iranian regional expansionism. Perhaps most famously, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” in a 2005 speech that he gave. More recently, in late March 2015, General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of Iran’s Basij militia – a volunteer paramilitary organization under the command of the IRGC – said that, “wiping Israel off the map is not up for negotiation.”Iran also actively finances and militarily backs proxy terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah that are ideologically opposed to Israel’s existence.

U.S. Charges Four after Intercepting Gun Shipments to Lebanon
Naharnet/13.05.15/Four U.S. relatives with ties to Lebanon were charged Tuesday with conspiring to illegally ship a large number of guns and ammunition to Lebanon, hidden in supplies for refugees. Federal agents intercepted cargo containers in March and again last week that were bound for Beirut carrying a total of 152 firearms and 16,000 rounds of ammunition, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday. The suspects were identified as brothers Ali Herz, 50, and Bassem Herz, 29; Adam Herz, who is Ali Herz's 22-year-old son; and Sarah Zeaiter, who is Bassem Herz's 24-year-old wife. All four were arrested and expected to make court appearances Tuesday in Cedar Rapids, where the investigation centered. They didn't yet have attorneys who could comment on the allegations.
The four came under suspicion as they stockpiled guns and ammunition legally purchased from dealers in Iowa over the last several months. A gun store owner in February expressed concerns to authorities after the group twice purchased all of his store's 5.7 millimeter ammunition and the parts to assemble 15 assault rifles. One of the men also requested accessories for military-style rifles after reviewing a text message written in a foreign language, the owner reported. The firearms found in March were hidden inside of a container that had three skid loaders that were being exported and Midamar boxes marked "Syria" that were filled with clothing, shoes, honey and household supplies. After the container arrived by train at a seaport in Norfolk, Virginia, investigators found 53 guns and 6,800 rounds of ammunition during a March 26 inspection. Last week, agents searched a container the suspects had brought to Midamar for shipment that had 99 firearms, over 9,500 rounds of ammunition and firearms parts and accessories that were hidden in skid loaders and inside suitcases and boxes that contained clothing. The four suspects, who are in the United States legally, are not licensed to sell or export firearms, the complaint says. Ali Herz and Zeaiter were born in Lebanon; Bassam Herz was born in Kuwait, and Adam Herz was born in the United States. The Herzes previously caught attention for their ties abroad. Ali Herz had $61,400 in cash on him when he returned to the United States from overseas in December and has sent and received $160,000 in wire transfers over the last two years, the complaint says. Adam Herz was questioned after returning to the United States in 2012 and 2014 from what he said was a monthslong visit to Lebanon. Bassem Herz has made many trips abroad and previously exported other equipment to Lebanon. Cedar Rapids is home to a large Muslim community, with immigrants from Lebanon first arriving in the early 1900s. The Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids, built in 1934, is widely recognized the oldest mosque in North America. Associated Press

Israel Warns of Harsh Strike against Hizbullah, Accuses it of Using Civilians as Human Shields

Naharnet/Israel warned of a new conflict with Hizbullah, vowing to strike the party's strongholds which could result in a large number of civilian casualties. “The civilians are living in a military compound,” The New York Times quoted a senior Israeli military official as saying. The official, who spoke at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on the condition of anonymity, stressed that the Jewish State “will hit Hizbullah hard, while making every effort to limit civilian casualties as much as we can.”The official stressed that Israel doesn't “intend to stand by helplessly in the face of rocket attacks.”The newspaper reported that Hizbullah is allegedly building up its firepower since 2006, revealing that maps and aerial photography obtained from Israeli military officials indicate that the party has moved most of its military infrastructure into the Shiite villages of southern Lebanon and around their perimeters. Israeli officials continuously accused Hizbullah of using the civilians as a human shield. “Israelis are blunt about the implications: They will not hesitate to strike at those targets, so southern Lebanon will most likely be the scene of widespread destruction,” the NY Times said. The Lebanese civilians casualties “should not be considered Israel’s fault,” officials told the newspaper. The Israeli military had recently identified about 400 military sites and facilities belonging to Hizbullah.“We already made it clear in 2006 that people in the villages do not have immunity if we have intelligence that they intend to fire at Israel,” Amos Yadlin, who was Israel’s chief of military intelligence from 2006 to 2010 and is now the director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said. The daily quoted an Israeli military expert as saying that the attack will be in three phases. “First, it would strike without warning at targets that pose the greatest threat, then it would call for civilians to evacuate southern Lebanon to facilitate ground troops to move in.”Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned on Tuesday that his country will not engage in any militarily confrontation with any state in the region unless the red lines were crossed, in particular in the Golan Heights, which is partly occupied by Israel, or if certain arms were transferred to Lebanon. Israel fought a devastating 33-day war against Hizbullah in 2006 that cost the lives of 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Hariri: Russia backs filling presidency
The Daily Star/May. 14, 2015/BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday, a day after discussing Lebanon’s presidential crisis with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Hariri said Wednesday that Moscow was committed to helping Lebanon end the year-long impasse over the vacant presidency, adding that Lebanon should distance itself from regional conflict and that the Lebanese people object to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. “There is no doubt that the presidential election is essential for Lebanon and the Lebanese. We sense major Russian interest in this subject, because the president in our country is the only Christian president in the region, and Russia cares for the issues of Christians across the whole region,” Hariri told reporters after meeting Lavrov at the Russian Foreign Ministry. “There will be [efforts from] Russian officials in an attempt to end this deplorable vacancy,” he added. Hariri said that the “fruitful” meeting addressed the situation in Lebanon and the challenges the country was facing, including the presidential interregnum, developments on the Lebanese border and attempts to implicate the country in the Syrian war. “We support the neutrality of Lebanon, and want the Lebanese government to be solely responsible for the protection of the Lebanese ... our opinions converged on several issues. We also discussed the situation in Syria and in the region,” Hariri added. He explained that Hezbollah had “single-handedly” made the decision to fight alongside the Syrian regime. “The responsibility cannot be carried by Lebanon, and the Lebanese are against what Hezbollah is doing, because it is taking Lebanon into a very dangerous stage,” said the Future Movement leader. Hariri’s visit to Russia is the latest in a series of regional and international trips aimed at shielding Lebanon from the repercussions of regional conflicts. Last week, Hariri met with French President Francois Hollande in Saudi Arabia, and the Moscow trip comes less than a month after Hariri spent several days in Washington where he met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and members of Congress. At the end of his U.S. visit, Hariri warned that Lebanon would be threatened with renewed civil war if rival Lebanese factions do not move to elect a president and fight religious extremism. Over the past few weeks, he has visited Qatar, Turkey and Egypt for talks on regional conflicts, particularly the Saudi-led military intervention against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Hariri’s meeting with Lavrov was attended by the former premier’s chief of staff, Nader Hariri; his adviser for Russian Affairs, Georges Chaaban; and former MPs Ghattas Khoury and Bassem Sabaa. Also on hand were Putin’s Special Representative for the Middle East and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, director of the Department of Middle East and North Africa at the Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Vershinin, and chief of the ministry’s Lebanon and Syria section Andrey Panov.Hariri, who said he aspired to a greater Russian role in the region, said his talks with Lavrov also touched on the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the threat of terrorism. “We are all united in the fight against terrorism, and at the same time we are working to find a solution to the Syrian crisis that is in the interests of Lebanon and the region,” Hariri said. “We agreed on many issues and I hope we can continue to discuss them and reach the necessary solutions.”At the start of the meeting, Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s commitment to Lebanon’s stability and security. “Russia continues to stand firmly [for] Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; we are interested in assuring stability and security in your country, as well as preserving peace and the work of state institutions,” the Russian official told Hariri.

Presidential Polls In Lebanon Adjourned again, Geagea Blames Hizbullah
Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri postponed on Wednesday the 23rd presidential electoral session after MPs boycotted it, causing lack of quorum. The session was adjourned to June 3. Lebanon has been without a president since May last year when the six-year term of Michel Suleiman ended without the election of a successor. Ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps over a compromise presidential candidate have thwarted the polls. The Loyalty to the Resistance bloc of Hizbullah and the Change and Reform bloc of MP Michel Aoun in addition to other blocs in the March 8 alliance have been boycotting the elections. Following the postponement of the session, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said during a press conference he held in Maarab that “the one-year battle on the presidency proves it is one of the strongest posts in the republic.” The rivalry between Geagea and Aoun, two presidential candidates, is partly to be blamed for the vacuum at Baabda Palace. Though their parties are holding talks, they have not yet agreed on a solution for the presidential deadlock. The LF chief blamed Hizbullah for the vacuum at the country's top Christian post, saying the party has been insisting on backing a single candidate, in reference to Aoun, and not making compromises. “Hizbullah's top priority is the region's crisis and not Lebanon,” he said. “The failure of the Christians to agree on a candidate does not provide an excuse for Hizbullah to continue its boycott of sessions,” said Geagea. He expressed pride in the achievements made by the dialogue between the LF and Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, hoping that their document of intentions would be released soon. “The dialogue will not fail,” Geagea stressed. But he expressed regret that the two parties have not yet been able to reach a common understanding on the presidential polls.

Samaha's Trial Ends, Verdict Expected Wednesday
Naharnet /The Military Court on Wednesday wrapped up the trial of former minister Michel Samaha and a verdict is expected to be issued in the evening, according to media reports. During the session, the court heard the testimony of the witness Fares Barakat, who was Samaha's personal driver when the plot was coordinated. “Samaha has pleaded innocent,” his lawyer Sakhr al-Hashem announced after the session, noting that Lebanese security services informer “Milad Kfouri dragged him into the issue and convinced him that the arms (explosives) would be used on the border” between Lebanon and Syria. He fell into Kfouri's “trap,” the lawyer added. Hashem also pointed out that Samaha did not have any contact with Syrian security services chief Ali Mamluk and that he coordinated the plot with a Syrian officer identified only by his first name, Adnan. “Samaha only transported the explosives as a 'delivery driver',” the lawyer went on to say.
On April 20, Samaha had pleaded guilty to all charges against him, admitting in court that he had transported explosives from Syria for use in attacks in Lebanon. MTV channel said that Samaha confessed to all charges against him including plots to assassinate Lebanese officials. But the former information minister said he had been the victim of entrapment because he was not aware that his co-conspirator was a Lebanese security services informer. Samaha, who was also once an adviser to Syria's President Bashar Assad, made the surprise admission during the first session of his long-delayed trial before the Military Court. "I received from the Syrians $170,000 inside a bag... and put it in the boot of my car with the explosives," he said.
He said he drove the money and explosives to Beirut in August 2012 and handed them over to a man named Milad Kfouri, who he was unaware was working with Lebanese intelligence. "I fell into the trap laid by Milad Kfouri, who was tied to the intelligence services," Samaha said. "True, I made a mistake, but I wanted to avoid sectarian strife."
Samaha's lawyer Rana Azoury said Samaha explained during the April 20 session that he had been "harassed" for four months by Kfouri to transport the explosives to be used in blasts on the Lebanese border. The explosions were intended to force the closure of the border and stop the passage of Lebanese fighters who wanted to join rebels fighting against the Syrian regime, he said. "Under Lebanese law, if you acted because of the encouragement of an agent provocateur, that is exculpatory and a legitimate self-defense," Azoury said in explaining Samaha's testimony. Samaha has been under arrest since August 2012 over allegations that he and Syrian security services chief Ali Mamluk transported explosives and planned attacks and assassinations of political and religious figures in Lebanon.
His trial had been postponed multiple times because of the absence of Mamluk, who remains in Syria, but after a judge separated the cases against the two men, a first session in Samaha's trial began on April 20. Syria maintained a nearly 30-year presence in Lebanon, withdrawing its troops in 2005 after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. But a series of assassinations of prominent anti-Syrian regime figures in Lebanon followed the withdrawal. Samaha faces the death penalty if convicted in the trial.
The Lebanese judiciary has issued an arrest warrant for Mamluk and sent Syria a formal notification of the warrant and charges, but received no response. Agence France Presse

Hariri Discusses Developments with Lavrov in Moscow
Naharnet/Head of al-Mustaqbal Movement and Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri kicked off his two-day official visit to Moscow on Wednesday by meeting with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov. Talks underlined the latest developments in Lebanon and the region, a statement issued by Hariri's press office read. He expressed fear over the instability in the region, the security challenges and the interference in the affairs of the Arab countries. “We are facing terrorism in Lebanon and the region... we are only concerned with safeguarding stability in Lebanon and dissociating it from any conflict,” Hariri told Lavrov. He called for the election of a new head of state. For his part, the Russian FM stressed Moscow's unwavering support to Lebanon, saying: “We are concerned with maintaining your country's stability, security, peace and the activity of state institutions.” He expressed regret over the extremist threats challenging Lebanon. “We will exchange opinions regarding the necessary measures to combat terrorism and achieve stability in Lebanon... as we take into consideration the developments in the region... we are interested in activating the bilateral ties,” Lavrov added. The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Russian Foreign Ministry in presence of Hariri's adviser Nader Hariri, his Adviser for Russian Affairs Georges Chaaban, and former MPs Ghattas Khoury and Bassem al-Sabeh. President Vladimir Putin's Special Representative for the Middle East and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, the director of the Department of Middle East and North Africa at the foreign ministry Sergey Vershinin and the chief of the Lebanon and Syria section at the ministry of foreign Affairs Andrey Panov also attended the talks. Hariri arrived Tuesday evening Moscow. He is expected to meet with Putin and a number of officials during his stay. The ex-PM is also accompanied by Deputy Speaker Farid Makari. The Lebanese leader will reportedly tackle with Putin the latest developments in the region and ways to safeguard Lebanon from their repercussions, in addition to the possible means of supporting the country's military capabilities.
The two officials will also highlight Hariri's recent visits to Washington, Ankara, Doha and his meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Riyadh. Hariri's shuttle diplomacy aims at safeguarding Lebanon from the repercussions of the turmoil in the region. Vacuum striking the presidential post since May last year is having a tough impact on the cabinet and the parliament as the state is threatened with further crises over ongoing rows between the rival parties.

Violent Battles on Outskirts of Arsal between Nusra Front, ISIL
Naharnet/Fierce battles erupted on Wednesday on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal between al-Nusra Front-affiliate Jaish al-Fatah and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).The state-run National News Agency reported that clashes reached the outskirts of Arsal and Wadi Hmeid crossing, four kilometers from a Lebanese army checkpoint. The army prevented owners and employees of stone crusher plants in the area from heading to the region. The Lebanese army recently said that its role is limited to defending Lebanon's land and border, refusing to interfere in the Qalamoun battle. Meanwhile, unknown gunmen stole 1,500 liters of fuel from a petrol station in Arsal's Wadi al-Rayaan area after they tied a worker. Unknown knife-wielding attackers also stabbed Fatmeh Nabil al-Hujairi several times and robbed an amount of a money from her. Despite ideological similarities, the Nusra Front and ISIL are opposed and in conflict with each other in other parts of Syria, particularly in the north. Hizbullah backed by Syrian forces controlled strategic heights of Assal al-Wared in the Syrian region of Qalamoun that abuts Lebanon's eastern border. Some 3,000 militants are in the Qalamoun region, a Hizbullah commander recently said. He said Hizbullah and Syrian troops surround the Qalamoun from the north, the east and the south, as well as part of the west, squeezing the Islamic militants who remain. The total area of the Qalamoun being contested is about 1,000 square kilometers — of which 340 square kilometers (131 square miles) lie in Lebanon and are under militants' control.
Hizbullah cites that fear of militants sweeping through Shiite and Christian villages in diverse Lebanon as one of the main reasons for their involvement in Syria. Some observers however fear the Qalamoun offensive could prompt Islamist militants to launch attacks in Shiite areas of Lebanon itself, including Beirut's southern suburbs. A wave of bombings targeting Hizbullah strongholds in 2013 and 2014 left scores of people dead and wounded. Already, residents in a southern Beirut stronghold of Hizbullah say security has been tightened in the area, with officials searching cars and checking identification papers.

Officials: Dahieh Security Plan Enters Second Stage
Naharnet/The security plan, which has so far led to the arrest of several fugitives in Beirut's southern suburbs since it was implemented late last month, has entered a new stage, informed security officials said. The officials, who were not named, told al-Joumhouria newspaper on Wednesday that the joint security force, comprised of the army, the Internal Security Forces and General Security, has completed its final deployment in the area and took positions in several strategic locations. In the second stage of the plan, the force decreased the number of personnel in the suburbs and limited its checkpoints except for those lying in sensitive areas such as the airport and the entrances of Dahieh, said the officials. The force is now tasked with monitoring the movements of suspicious individuals and networks by exchanging intelligence information between the army, police and General Security, the sources stated. Their operation has received strong backing from Hizbullah, which enjoys wide support in the area. The army and security forces first deployed in Beirut's southern suburbs in September 2013 to replace Hizbullah checkpoints after a series of bombings carried out by extremists targeted the area. Dahieh's security plan last month came after several such plans were implemented in different areas across Lebanon to clamp down on drug traffickers, kidnapping gangs and armed militias.

11 Injured as Bus Slams into Five Cars near Masnaa Crossing
Naharnet/At least 11 people were injured, including Lebanese and Syrian women and children, when a bus rammed into several cars near the Bekaa border crossing of al-Masnaa on Wednesday. Three Lebanese Red Cross units rushed to the scene as medics tried to aid those who were wounded. The state-run National News Agency reported that two people sustained serious injuries. The wounded were admitted to nearby hospitals. The Traffic Management Center said that the bus crashed into four cars.

Army Arrests more than 150 People in Raids across Lebanon
Naharnet/The Lebanese army said on Wednesday it has arrested more than 150 fugitives and suspects during raids it carried out in Beirut, the eastern Bekaa Valley and the northern district of Akkar.
In a communique, the army said a unit raided the houses of several individuals in the areas of Haret Hreik and the airport road in Beirut's southern suburbs, arresting two people wanted for using firearms and driving a stolen vehicle. In Beirut's central district, Ashrafiyeh and Karantina, the military apprehended 86 people from several nationalities for committing different crimes, said the communique. Another 77 Syrians were arrested during raids in the central Bekaa and Akkar for illegal entry and driving vehicles and motorcycles without permits, it added. The detainees were referred to the involved authorities to take the appropriate measures against them.

Hizbullah, Syrian Army Seize Control of Strategic Tallet Moussa Hill
Naharnet/Hizbullah and the Syrian army seized control Wednesday of the strategic Tallet Moussa hill in Syria's Qalamoun, as they pressed on with a major offensive against militant groups in the border region. “The Syrian army and the fighters of the resistance (Hizbullah) have taken the strategic Tallet Moussa hill in Qalamoun,” Hizbullah's al-Manar television reported. It said the allies have also made “major advances in their pursuit of takfiri groups in the mountains of Qalamoun, east of the Lebanese border.”Syrian forces and Hizbullah fighters are now in control of “more than 50 percent of the outskirts of Ras al-Maara,” al-Manar added. It said the advancing forces continued their onslaught Wednesday on the heights of the strategic Mount al-Barouh, where “tents belonging to the militants were torched and two military vehicles were destroyed, which left several of them dead or wounded.”Hizbullah and the Syrian army also seized control of “strategic” Southern Aqabat al-Faskh hill west of Ras al-Maara, the Tallet al-Harf and Dahr al-Hawa hills, and “the entire al-Khashaat heights which lie in Lebanese territory on the border with Syria,” al-Manar added. It noted that the al-Khashaat area lies east of the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Nahle and “overlooks several border crossings and a large chunk of Arsal's outskirts.”Sky News television meanwhile said five Hizbullah fighters were killed in Wednesday's clashes in Qalamoun.According to LBCI TV, Hizbullah is now in control of “40 square kilometers of Lebanese territory east of Nahle's outskirts, from Aqabet al-Bayda in the south to Qornet Abdul Haq in the north.”Last week, Hizbullah and Syrian forces controlled the strategic heights of Assal al-Ward in Qalamoun. Some 3,000 Islamist-led militants are in the Qalamoun region, a Hizbullah commander recently said. He said Hizbullah and Syrian troops surround the Qalamoun from the north, the east and the south, as well as part of the west, squeezing the militants who remain there. Hizbullah cites fear of militants sweeping through Shiite and Christian villages in Lebanon's Bekaa as one of the main reasons for its involvement in Syria.The group's critics, however, argue that the group's intervention has acted as a magnet for the extremist groups that have launched deadly bomb attacks inside Lebanon.

Prisoners Swap Deal with Nusra Front Reaches Final Stages
Naharnet/Negotiations regarding a prisoners swap deal between the Lebanese state and al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front reached the final stages as discussions are currently focusing on the timing and the place of the release. Al-Mustaqbal newspaper quoted a concerned source as saying that the exchange of captives and prisoners could be either carried out in Turkey or on the outskirts of Lebanon's Eastern Mountain range. The source said that Lebanon would have to release three convicted inmates in exchange for each serviceman taken hostage by al-Nusra. Al-Nusra Front has in its captivity 16 soldiers and policemen, while nine remain held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “The mechanism of the deal should be based on legal and judicial measures that allow the release of the prisoners.”The source stressed that the “timing of the deal will be soon set after the two sides agree on the place.” Last week, the captive servicemen taken hostage by al-Nusra Front warned via a video tape released by the group that they will be executed if Syria's Qalamoun front was waged. “If the Lebanese army and Hizbullah were dragged into a battle in Qalamoun, we will be the ones to pay the price,” one of the soldiers said, accusing General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim of “lying to the families of the servicemen.”
However, Ibrahim slammed the accusations, noting that mediators are “racing time” to secure a swap deal to free the Lebanese servicemen, amid concerns that military developments in Syria's Qalamoun region might affect their fate.
A number of soldiers and policemen were abducted by al-Nusra Front and ISIL gunmen in the wake of clashes in the northeastern border town of Arsal. A few of them have since been released and four were executed.

Khalil Says Civil Servants' Salaries under Threat
Naharnet/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil warned on Wednesday that more than 200,000 civil servants would not receive their salaries if the government failed to approve this year's state budget. In remarks to As Safir daily, Khalil said: “The wages of around 225,000 civilian and military employees in the public sector are under threat starting next September if the 2015 state budget was not approved.” There is a need for an additional extra-budgetary spending of more than 500 million Lebanese Liras based on a law passed by parliament, he added. Khalil stressed that the budget has no technical obstacles unless “political obstacles” prevent its adoption. The government has so far approved several provisions in the draft state budget. The country has been without a budget for the past ten years and the cabinet has approved spending without approval from parliament.

Berri Slams FPM, Bassil over Boycott and 'Dangerous' Remarks
Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri strongly criticized the Free Patriotic Movement for boycotting parliamentary sessions aimed at electing a new head of state and slammed Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil over his “dangerous” remarks. “The key to all crises lies in speeding up the election of a president instead of attacking constitutional institutions and their leaders, and not attending attending parliamentary sessions,” Berri told his visitors on Tuesday. “My bloc and I headed to parliament 22 times while them (the Change and Reform bloc) went only once to Nejmeh Square,” the speaker, whose remarks were published in local dailies on Wednesday, said. The Change and Reform bloc of FPM chief MP Michel Aoun and the majority of the March 8 alliance's lawmakers have been boycotting the sessions aimed at electing a president. The boycott has left the country without a leader since President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May 2014.“Let the Maronites agree on the name of a candidate and we will back them,” said Berri. “I would call for a session within two hours if they (the Maronites) told me that they had reached an agreement,” the speaker stated in response to criticism by Bkirki that he hasn't been calling for a session every single day. Berri also snapped back at Bassil, who, over the weekend, stressed “there would be no nation, republic and state without us.”Bassil is a senior FPM official and Aoun's son-in-law. “These are very dangerous remarks,” said Berri. “I haven't heard of such things since the (civil) war.”The speaker urged all parties “to come to their senses rather than witnessing the collapse of the country.”

Aoun Dispatches Envoys to Discuss with Rivals Extension Crisis
Naharnet/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun is expected to dispatch delegations to meet with rival political parties to end the political stalemate in the country.According to An Nahar newspaper published on Wednesday, the delegations will discuss with the party leaders Aoun's point of view regarding the crises gripping the country and his suggested solutions. After the delegations returns to Aoun with the summary of the meetings, the FPM chief will decide either to boycott cabinet sessions with its Shiite ally Hizbullah or suggest holding a constituent assembly that would reshape the Lebanese political system. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was first to call for the establishment of a national conference in Lebanon or rather a constituent assembly in June last year.
The daily said Aoun fears that Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq would resort to extending the term of Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, who is set to retire in June, under the pretext of necessity and in the absence of the government. Aoun is expected to hold a press conference on Friday to announce his stance regarding various local developments, in particular the controversial appointment of high-ranking security officials. The military posts in Lebanon are suffering as the result of the months-long presidential vacuum in light of the parliament's failure to elect a successor for Michel Suleiman whose tenure ended in May last year. The FPM chief has previously rejected any attempts to extend the terms of high-ranking security officials. Media reports had said that Aoun's main objective is to receive political consensus on the appointment of Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz, who is Aoun's son-in-law, as army chief as part of a package for the appointment of other top security officers. Roukoz's tenure ends in October while the term of Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji expires at the end of September. Despite the reports about his insistence to have his son-in-law as army chief, Aoun denied that he had made such a proposal. An Nahar newspaper also reported on Wednesday that contacts will kick off between Christian leaderships to ease the tension and reach a breakthrough over the extension dilemma. Information obtained by the daily revealed that the four Maronite leaders, Aoun, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel and Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh, in addition to the Maronite Patriarchate, will discuss the names of three qualified candidates and if no agreement was reached the cabinet would resort to extending the term of Qahwaji.

Netanyahu: Nuclear talks continue even as official says Iran has God's approval to destroy Israel
By JPOST.COM STAFF/05/13/2015/The historical lesson from World War Two is not to back down from an extremist regime whose platform includes genocide and conquering other states, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, referring to the Iranian regime. Netanyahu was speaking at a special Victory Day ceremony in the Knesset on Wednesday marking 70 years since the capitulation of the Nazis to the Soviet Union."Against the enemies of freedom, enlightenment and progress we need to stand firm and in a timely manner, in order to prevent them from using weapons of mass destruction in order to realize their murderous agendas," the prime minister said. Netanyahu quoted a senior Iranian official who he said was quoted in Arab media sources on Wednesday as saying that Iran has God's permission to liquidate Israel. "These statements are being heard by the representatives taking part in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and the talks continue as normal," Netanyahu said.  "We need to stand firm to prevent the Iranians from using weapons of mass destruction to carry out their will against Israel," Netanyahu added.

Obama sees 'difficult path' in renewing Israel-Palestinian talks
By REUTERS/05/13/2015
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that he has not given up hope for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict but said tensions in the region and "serious questions about overall commitment" have made progress difficult.
"It's no secret that we now have a very difficult path forward. As a result, the United States is taking a hard look at our approach to the conflict," Obama said in an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, an Arabic international newspaper based in London.
"We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate - through policies and actions - a genuine commitment to a two-state solution," Obama said.
Obama said that he empathized with the concerns expressed by regional allies apprehensive over the possibility that Iran will be permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon.
“Iran clearly engages in dangerous and destabilizing behavior in different countries across the region,” the president told the Saudi-owned daily. “Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. It helps prop up the Assad regime in Syria. It supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It aids the Houthi rebels in Yemen. So countries in the region are right to be deeply concerned about Iran’s activities, especially its support for violent proxies inside the borders of other nations.”
Obama said that he summoned the leaders of Gulf nations to Camp David in order to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to their security.
The US seeks to “further strengthen our close partnerships, including our security cooperation, and to discuss how we can meet common challenges together,” Obama said. “That includes working to resolve the conflicts across the Middle East that have taken so many innocent lives and caused so much suffering for the people of the region.”
“There should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to the security of the region and to our GCC partners,” the president said.

'EU must reassess Mideast policy, hold Israel to account for settlements'
By JPOST.COM STAFF/05/13/2015
A prominent group of former European diplomats and heads of state say that US policy with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has failed and that a new EU led approach is needed.
According to a Wednesday report in the British newspaper The Guardian, the European Eminent Persons Group sent a letter to Brussels’ top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, demanding a “reassessment” that supports among other things a UN Security Council resolution that is expected to call for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2017.
The letter is also critical of current EU policy, specifically its use of financial assistance. It urges that tougher steps be taken to hold Israel accountable for West Bank settlement building, such as product labeling.
"We maintain our view that the current financial and political assistance given by Europe and America to the Palestinian Authority achieves little more than the preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza,” the letter reads.
“The Palestinian Authority's tenuous grip on the West Bank population's allegiance has required strong security and other dependence on Israel, funded primarily by Europe and the US. Gaza has shamefully been left to one side."
The letter urges the European Union to pursue a tougher line on Israel in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election and the anticipated formation of his new rightist coalition.
Among the signatories of the letter are Hubert Védrine and Roland Dumas, who served as foreign ministers of France; the former Dutch premier Andreas van Agt; John Bruton, a former prime minister of Ireland; Michel Rocard, former prime minister of France; Javier Solana, former secretary-general of NATO; and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK ambassador to the UN.
The former officials say that Europe must end its policy of yielding to American leadership on the peace process, which as produced “virtually nothing” in addressing Palestinian grievances.
“The EU and its member states have been held back from a more proactive stance on Israel- Palestine by three major considerations: their lack of consensus on the issue, their focus on newer and apparently more urgent Middle East crises, and their reluctance to get out in front of the United States in an area where Washington has always insisted on prime ownership,” the letter reads.
“These three drawbacks now need to be addressed directly. The absence of any credible negotiation process, combined with the desperate condition of the occupied territories, the eroding international legitimacy of the Israeli approach and the instability of the wider region, requires a fresh examination of EU policy.”
“The fact that American efforts over more than two decades have achieved virtually nothing by way of justice for the Palestinians or long-term security for Israel means that European interests have also suffered,” the letter reads. “This needs to be recognized in a new formulation of EU policy that puts those interests first and that reflects the expectation of European public opinion increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo. The Arab Peace Initiative, proposed in 2002 but largely ignored since then, could form one pillar of a new EU approach.”
According to The Guardian, European officials are deeply divided over what steps to take in order to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, which is all the more pressing given the Israeli government’s continued policy of settlement expansion in the West Bank.
“Europe has yet to find an effective way of holding Israel to account for the way it maintains the occupation,” the letter reads. “It is time now to demonstrate to both parties how seriously European public opinion takes contraventions of international law, the perpetration of atrocities and the denial of established rights.”
Brussels is being urged to support an upcoming French draft resolution in the UN Security Council calling for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2017.
“If this means recognition of a Palestine government-in-waiting for the territories within the pre-1967 borders, or the setting of a deadline for the negotiation of a two-state solution, the EU should be united in support,” the letter reads.
The former dignitaries are also advocating for "tougher measures to contain [Israeli] settlement expansion and steps to operationalize the EU’s policy of non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty beyond the 1967 borders across the full range of EU-Israeli relations."
The issue has taken on a greater sense of urgency, they say, due to Netanyahu’s comments during the election campaign and the expected swearing-in of a coalition whose members have in the past expressed hostility to the idea of Palestinian statehood.
“The re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister and the construction of a new Israeli coalition government now requires urgent action by the EU to construct a coherent and effective policy on the question of Palestine,” the letter reads.
“Mr. Netanyahu expressed various views on Palestine in and around the recent election campaign, most of them cold to the concept of an independent Palestinian state. We are convinced in our own minds that he has little intention of negotiating seriously for a two-state solution within the term of this incoming Israeli government. We also have low confidence that the US government will be in a position to take a lead on fresh negotiations with the vigour and the impartiality that a two-state outcome demands.”

One soldier’s boot in Damascus, another in Hollywood
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiya
Let us compare two scenes. The first is from Hollywood blockbuster "American Sniper," which was based on real-life soldier Chris Kyle. The scene is of Kyle aiming his rifle at an Iraqi child and his mother in Baghdad because they were carrying explosives. Kyle pulls the trigger, in a scene that shows the mother and child as innately evil, and that killing them was necessary to protect the American homeland. The second scene is divided in two, with an actor kneeling and kissing the boots of a Syrian soldier, and an anchorwoman kneeling and kissing the boots of another Syrian soldier live on air. This scene is supposed to convey that kissing soldiers’ boots has a patriotic symbolism toward an army that in broad daylight kills its citizens under the guise of deterring enemies and protecting the country from a huge conspiracy. The commonalities between the American and Syrian cases are blind infatuation with the army, and the belief that soldiers have a sacred mission, are invincible, and have the right to eliminate whomever they choose.
Hollywood invests to deliver an attractive image of the American military, and to present murder as a virtue. There is a malicious American aspect with regard to marketing and promoting the patriotism of the power of arms, as footage of soldiers in movies, ads and songs are conveyed as an attractive force. I have written many articles and studies on the role of the American defense industry in supporting Hollywood movies, and how this role falls within the context of a relation from which both producers and the Pentagon benefit. Movie-makers who agree to the Pentagon’s amendments to the script and storyline are guaranteed access to millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, soldiers and shooting locations.
From hero to zero. This relation guarantees that American soldiers are portrayed as heroes. "American Sniper," which was released earlier this year, was a huge success at the box office. It epitomized Hollywood showing off American soldiers’ character, glorifying the most lethal sniper in the U.S. army’s history. Kyle bragged in his diary about killing more than 250 people. Controversial American Republican politician Sarah Palin said critics of the movie were not worthy of polishing Kyle’s boots. Reactions to this movie showed huge divisions regarding the army. "American Sniper" glorifies the military and state violence. This is what drew sharp criticism from liberals and leftists. During World War II, more than 12 percent of Americans were involved in the army, but this rate has decreased to half, so an embellished image of the American soldier has become essential. The American right is passionate about the army, and there is heated debate about this blind patriotism and justification of violence.
In the Arab case, the footage of the anchorwoman and the actor kissing military boots is the peak of clichés and vulgarity. It only made us laugh in mockery, as it is difficult for this scene to impress even those who have similar convictions to the anchorwoman and actor.
Hollywood invests to deliver an attractive image of the American military, and to present murder as a virtue. For Arabs, however, it is enough for someone to just kiss a military boot to allege a fragile patriotism.

Camp David should be about more than ‘words and weapons’
Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Faisal J. Abbas/Al Arabiya
Recent comments made by the UAE Ambassador to the U.S. can be regarded as indicative of the sentiment most Gulf states have towards the current U.S. administration and its imminent, controversial nuclear deal with Iran. "We are looking for (some form of) security guarantee given the behavior of Iran in the region," Ambassador Youssef Al Otaiba said at a Washington think tank last Thursday. "In the past, we have survived with a gentleman’s agreement with the United States about security ... I think today we need something in writing. We need something institutionalized."Indeed, trust levels between the U.S. and its allies in the Gulf have probably never been this low; this is certainly not good. Needless to say, a positive GCC-American relationship is extremely important, strategic and beneficial - not just for countries concerned, but also regionally and internationally. But when the U.S. administration ignores legitimate concerns by its own allies and goes ahead with a nuclear deal which will unleash an unshackled Iran to do more harm to its neighbors and finance more proxy wars through groups the U.S. itself labels as terrorists, then Gulf countries simply can’t be blamed for voicing concerns.
Not understanding the realities of the region
What makes matters worse is a genuine doubt among GCC politicians and observers whether or not the American administration understands the realities of the region. For instance, the U.S. president infamously described Iran in an interview with Jeffery Goldberg last year as “strategic” and a country that “responds to costs and benefits.”How could this be true when all we have seen from Iran, since the start of the nuclear negotiations, are even more acts of aggression and intimidation? Did President Obama not hear about how officials in Tehran have recently boasted about occupying four Arab capitals and that there is a new Persian empire with Baghdad as its capital? A positive GCC-American relationship is extremely important, strategic and beneficial, not just for countries concerned, but also regionally and internationally. I would like to remind Mr. Obama what he told Jeffery Goldberg in that same interview when he was asked to justify the U.S.’s focus on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The U.S. president explained at the time that ridding Iran of its nuclear ambitions would make it less able to bully others and prevent Tehran from using these weapons in the future. However, he then added that “other misbehavior they (the Iranians) are engaging in is manageable.” Mr. President, if Iranian misbehavior is indeed “manageable,” then why isn’t your administration managing it?To be clear, I don’t think anyone disagrees that ridding Iran of the capability of developing nuclear weapons is a good idea; however, the concern among most GCC states is that this might turn into a situation similar to the way the White House dealt with the Syrian regime. While President Obama was forcing Assad to destroy his chemical weapons arsenal in 2013, he seemed to turn a blind eye to the other weapon stockpiles being used by the regime to kill Syrian civilians.
Seeing eye-to-eye with Gulf states
As such, I believe a recently published AP analysis got it right when it stated that Arab countries will be expecting ‘more than words and weapons’ at Camp David. Of course, the White House could argue that it showed its commitment to the Gulf in Yemen, as American intelligence, logistical support and a U.S. navy presence were vital for the Saudi-led coalition in the fight against Houthi militias.
However, what guarantees will the U.S. offer to ensure that the lifting of sanctions does not mean Tehran will channel even more money and resources to the likes of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, who have been firing mortars across the southern border of Saudi Arabia and targeting schools and innocent civilians there? Did President Obama not hear about how officials in Tehran have recently boasted about occupying four Arab capitals and that there is a new Persian empire with Baghdad as its capital?
Furthermore, does the nuclear deal mean that the U.S. will need to limit its presence in the region? What guarantees can Washington offer that this will not simply give Iran a green-light to undergo more acts of aggression?
In all cases, it’s now too late to discuss this – the deal with Iran is almost sealed. What is really needed from the U.S. administration is to genuinely see eye-to-eye with Gulf states, as close and historic allies, and to agree on truly legitimate concerns that have arisen as a result of a series of questionable foreign policy decisions. With that in mind, having some guarantees in writing – as Ambassador Al Otaiba suggested – doesn’t sound unreasonable at all; however, what is more important is for the U.S. to understand that the GCC issue isn't with Washington's intentions, but with Tehran's!

The nuclear deal will empower Iran’s hardliners
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
There is an illusion that the promised agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program will push it toward moderation, as well as economic and political openness. What will probably happen is the complete opposite. The agreement will empower Tehran’s hawks, who are currently being marketed in Iran and who are bragging that most of the nuclear program has been accomplished and that the West has finally submitted and abandoned sanctions.
During the past few months of international negotiations, Iran’s security fist tightened against state rivals, voicing the regime’s self-confidence. The Kurdish rebellion a week ago in the city of Mahabad, northwest Iran, was to protest security forces’ practices. A girl whom a military officer tried to rape jumped off a balcony, and the Kurdish minority - whose population is 8 million - revolted.
Cruelty is behind growing anger in the outskirts of this multiethnic state. In addition to the armed Iranian opposition (People's Mojahedin of Iran), the number of anti-regime armed groups has increased.
Military adventures
The civil opposition in Tehran fears that signing the nuclear agreement with the West will, unlike what is being promoted in Washington, serve the interests of regime hardliners. The struggle between moderates and hardliners within the state is no secret. The only case when Iran was led by a moderate was under popular leader Mohammed Khatami, who was president from 1997 until 2005.
By signing the nuclear agreement, the hardliners will feel more confident, aware that foreign threats will have been neutralized and that no one will be able to confront them
Khatami was met with clerics’ expanded war against the entire moderate movement. He was replaced by extremist Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who led Iran to its current situation of more extremism and militarism, and thus engaging in wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are also active domestically trying to suppress sedition, as they have done in Mahabad and Balochistan province in the southwest. They have also increased their presence in Khuzestan province, where there is a restive Arab population. The government has previously faced considerable difficulties in taming its Azeri citizens.
Tehran still remembers the huge uprising that erupted after the rigged elections in 2009, which lasted until Feb. 2010. That revolt was led by reformists from within the regime, and they all ended up in jail.
By signing the nuclear agreement, the hardliners will feel more confident, aware that foreign threats will have been neutralized and that no one will be able to confront them. If Washington had linked the deal to conditions obliging Tehran to halt its military adventures in exchange for ending international sanctions and a pledge that the West will not militarily target Iran, the situation of the moderates within the theocratic regime may have been enhanced.
The agreement will grant hardliners two gifts. The first is that lifting economic sanctions will fill their treasury with funds to manage their battles. The second is that they will have a stronger status within the regime and against moderate clerics and politicians.

President Obama, don’t miss opportunities at Camp David
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Andrew Bowen/Al Arabiya
When President Obama first announced the Gulf Summit in the beginning of April, high hopes were raised that this invitation for all the GCC leaders to visit Washington at Camp David would be an opportunity to re-invest in the U.S.-GCC strategic partnership. Opting more for a photo shoot than a summit, Obama has shown no interest in meeting these expectations and will likely miss then this opportunity to seriously build trust and rapport with his Gulf partners before a nuclear agreement is reached.
The summit’s agenda and Washington’s limited offer
The Summit’s agenda is far ranging in terms of critical issues to be discussed including Yemen, ISIS, Syria’s deepening civil war, Iraq’s future, Iran’s wider aggressive behavior in the region, and the pending nuclear agreement, but deeply lacking in terms of U.S. commitments to address these inter-related crises.
The President though fundamentally underestimates the challenge Iran poses to the security of the region and the GCC
On the central issue of Syria, the White House will not offer a new fly zone nor is willing to fully endorse Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia’s coalition on the ground. On the intervention to stabilize Yemen, Obama, who has expressed doubts about the intervention from the beginning, will push for a political settlement and a continued de-escalation of the GCC response. On Iran’s wider behavior, the administration shares these states’ sympathies, but will push back on any criticism that Washington has become too dependent on Iran in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Not surprisingly, a large focus of the President’s remarks to his GCC counterparts will likely be on selling the Iran deal with the hope of grudgingly obtaining buy-in for the U.S.’s nuclear entente. This message will reinforce their doubts about the U.S.’s commitment to their states’ future and the President’s own personal disinterest in a deep partnership with the Gulf as he moves closer to Iran. U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry informed the GCC foreign ministers last week that the White House wasn’t prepared to offer a formal defense treaty. It’s not surprising then that Gulf leaders have been reluctant to attend.
Collective defense over American leadership in the Gulf
I believe President Obama will instead use these meetings as an opportunity to push his counterparts in the Gulf to take more independent, collective action to address their challenges (ie. a NATO in essence without the U.S.’s direct participation). He will stress that Washington supports the Gulf’s collective defense initiatives even though he ironically hasn’t fully embraced their operations currently in Yemen and Syria. Obama will make the case that creating their own missile defense shield (which the U.S. will offer a degree of assistance to) is a better solution to addressing their concerns about Iran and its nuclear program than any formal U.S. defense commitment or the option of obtaining their own nuclear deterrent. Leaving them a vague “presidential statement” of U.S. support and the offer for more arms sales, President Obama will hope that this assuages Gulf leaders’ concerns about engaging Iran. The President though fundamentally underestimates the challenge Iran poses to the security of the region and the GCC. Empowering Iran, through engagement and sanction relief without enhancing cooperation with the Gulf States, is unlikely to achieve the “equilibrium” in the region he seeks or secure the long-term interests of the U.S. or his allies in the region.
A way forward
While this Camp David summit is largely a photo shoot, President Obama, optimistically, could use this summit as a tenuous starting point to seriously engage these states in the future. President Obama could invite King Salman for a state visit to Washington where he could use it as an opportunity to improve this strained bilateral relationship. Obama could importantly propose a substantive defense agreement with the GCC and enhanced support for these states’ operations in Yemen and Syria. These initiatives require time, leadership, and political capital, which the President has been reluctant in expending in his engagement with the GCC.

Obama: We are prepared to use all elements of our power to secure our interests in the Middle East
Mina Al-Oraibi/Wednesday, 13 May, 2015
In his first interview with an Arabic-language newspaper, US President Barack Obama speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat ahead of a key summit with Gulf leaders
Washington, DC, Asharq Al-Awsat—When he receives leaders and officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at the White House on Wednesday and at Camp David on Thursday, US President Barack Obama will be keen to solidify his country’s historic alliance with the Gulf while pressing for a nuclear deal with Iran. Having issued the invitation for the summit in the immediate aftermath of the framework agreement with Iran last April, Obama must now deal with concerns from the Arab world that Tehran’s leaders will take advantage of any nuclear deal to further extend Iran’s reach in the region.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, his first with an Arabic-language newspaper, President Obama concurred that “the countries in the region are right to be deeply concerned about Iran’s activities, especially its support for violent proxies inside the borders of other nations.”
He also outlined his main priorities for the summit—and the region. He explains his reasoning for extending an invitation to the leaders of the GCC, saying it is part of an effort to “further strengthen our close partnerships, including our security cooperation, and to discuss how we can meet common challenges together. That includes working to resolve the conflicts across the Middle East that have taken so many innocent lives and caused so much suffering for the people of the region.”
Obama is expected to reassure Gulf allies of his country’s commitment to their security. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to the security of the region and to our GCC partners.”
Asharq Al-Awsat: You will be meeting leaders and officials from the GCC in Washington tonight and tomorrow at Camp David. Beyond words of support that you have given them in previous meetings, what actions and guarantees will the United States be committing to—and will they include guarantees for the Hormuz and Bab El-Mandeb straits?
Barack Obama: I have invited senior officials of the GCC states to Washington to further strengthen our close partnerships, including our security cooperation, and to discuss how we can meet common challenges together. That includes working to resolve the conflicts across the Middle East that have taken so many innocent lives and caused so much suffering for the people of the region. I’m grateful that all the GCC countries will be represented, and I look forward to our discussions at both the White House and Camp David.
Our meeting is rooted in our shared interest in a Gulf region that is peaceful, prosperous, and secure. As I said at the United Nations two years ago, the United States has core interests in the Middle East, including confronting external aggression; ensuring the free flow of energy and commerce, and freedom of navigation of international waters—and this includes the Strait of Hormuz and Bab El-Mandeb; dismantling terrorist networks that threaten our people; and preventing the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. I’ve made it clear that the United States is prepared to use all elements of our power to secure these interests.
These are not just words; they are backed by a strong record of real action. Across six decades, the United States has worked with GCC countries to advance our mutual interests. Americans have served in the region, and given their lives, for our mutual security. Thousands of US personnel serve in the Gulf region today to reinforce regional stability. Our armed forces train together in numerous major military exercises every year. So there should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to the security of the region and to our GCC partners.
My hope is that this week’s meeting will deepen our cooperation across a range of areas. Together, we have the opportunity to improve our security coordination and help our GCC partners strengthen and further integrate their defense capabilities in a range of areas including missile defense, maritime security, cyber security, and border security. We can intensify our counterterrorism efforts with a focus on stemming the flow of foreign fighters and terrorist financing to conflict zones, as well as countering the evil ideology of ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS]. We can work together to resolve ongoing conflicts—in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya—and address underlying sectarian tensions which hold the region back.
I will have the opportunity to update the senior GCC officials on our negotiations toward a comprehensive deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which I strongly believe is the best way to ensure the security of the region, including our GCC partners. At the same time, this week’s meetings will be an opportunity to ensure that our countries are working closely to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East, including Iran’s support for terrorist groups.
Q: There are many concerns about the role of Iran in countries like Syria and Yemen, stemming from the Iranian regime’s belief in “exporting the revolution.” How do you see Iran’s role in the region today, and how convinced are you that Iran’s rulers can be “constructive actors” if the nuclear deal is reached?
Iran clearly engages in dangerous and destabilizing behavior in different countries across the region. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. It helps prop up the Assad regime in Syria. It supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It aids the Houthi rebels in Yemen. So countries in the region are right to be deeply concerned about Iran’s activities, especially its support for violent proxies inside the borders of other nations.
It’s important to remember that Iran already engages in these activities without a nuclear arsenal. We can only imagine how Iran might become even more provocative if it were armed with a nuclear weapon. Moreover, it would become even harder for the international community to counter and deter Iran’s destabilizing behavior. That’s one of the reasons why the comprehensive deal we’re pursuing with Iran is so important—by preventing a nuclear-armed Iran it would remove one of the greatest threats to regional security.
Even as we’ve pursued a nuclear deal with Iran, the United States has remained vigilant against Iran’s other reckless behavior. We’ve maintained our robust military presence in the region and continued to help the GCC states build their capacity to deter and defend against all forms of external aggression. We’ve continued to fully enforce sanctions against Iran for its support of terrorism and its ballistic missile program—and we will enforce these sanctions going forward, even if we reach a nuclear deal with Iran.
When it comes to Iran’s future, I cannot predict Iran’s internal dynamics. Within Iran, there are leaders and groups that for decades have defined themselves in opposition to both the United States and our regional partners. I’m not counting on any nuclear deal to change that. That said, it’s also possible that if we can successfully address the nuclear question and Iran begins to receive relief from some nuclear sanctions, it could lead to more investments in the Iranian economy and more opportunity for the Iranian people, which could strengthen the hands of more moderate leaders in Iran. More Iranians could see that constructive engagement—not confrontation—with the international community is the better path. There are two paths available to Iran. One is continued confrontation; the better one is a more constructive approach to the region that would allow Iran to become more integrated with the global community. But even if the political dynamics in Iran do not change, a nuclear deal becomes even more necessary because it prevents a regime that is hostile to us from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q: In May 2011 you spoke of “self-determination” in the Arab world amid the changes of governments there. How do you see those changes today, especially in Syria where ISIS has been able to defeat much of the nationalist opposition?
What I said four years ago remains true today. It was a lack of self-determination—the inability of citizens to peacefully decide the future of their countries—that helped fuel the frustrations, resentments and lack of economic opportunity that gave rise to the Arab Spring. In some countries, such as Tunisia, there has been real progress as citizens embrace the spirit of compromise and inclusion that nations need to succeed. In contrast, the Assad regime launched a war on the Syrian people, and early hopes for progress there have been eclipsed by violence and extremism.
What hasn’t changed during these difficult years is the commitment of the United States to the people of the region. As I said in my speech four years ago, “There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.” That is why we continue to support the right of citizens to decide their own destiny, to live with dignity, to choose governments that are inclusive, to have economic opportunities, and to control their own future. And the United States will continue to support universal rights in the Middle East, just as we do all over the world.
Syria, of course, poses a unique challenge. The tyrannical Assad regime continues to massacre its own people, and extremists such as ISIL and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front are perpetrating atrocities, plotting terrorist acts, and trying to impose their bankrupt ideology on the people of Syria. The policy of the United States is clear. Assad long ago lost all legitimacy and—since there is no military solution to Syria’s challenges—there must ultimately be a political transition toward a Syria where universal rights, including women’s rights, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, are protected. Toward that end, the United States continues to support the moderate Syrian opposition, we remain the largest provider of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and with our coalition partners, including Arab nations, we will remain relentless in our campaign to degrade ISIL’s safe haven within Syria as part of our broader campaign to destroy ISIL.
Q: You came to office with a pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq and you kept your promise. However, the situation in Iraq today is much worse than when you came to power, with ISIS and armed militias threatening Iraq’s security. What will it take to stabilize Iraq and how much criticism will you accept to how it has turned out 12 years after the war you opposed?
One of the reasons that I opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was because I felt we hadn’t considered the long-term consequences. In fact, the years of instability inside Iraq that followed the US invasion helped give rise to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later morphed into ISIL and then established its base in Syria. Over many years, the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars—and thousands of Americans gave their lives—to help Iraqis establish a new government and security forces. Tragically, the failure of the previous Iraqi government to govern in an inclusive manner contributed to a situation where certain Iraqis felt alienated and Iraqi security forces were unable or unwilling to defend much of Iraq against ISIL’s advance last year. So this isn’t just a military problem. It’s also a political problem as well.
It’s important for all of us to learn the lessons of the last 12 years. Those lessons lead me to believe that a military solution cannot be imposed on Iraq—certainly not by the United States. That’s why, along with our coalition partners, we’re pursuing a comprehensive approach to Iraq, in partnership with the Iraqi people. Our military campaign, including Arab partners, has halted ISIL’s advance and in some places pushed them back. Iraqi forces defeated ISIL at Tikrit, and ISIL has lost control of about a quarter of the populated territory it had in Iraq. We’re helping to train and strengthen local forces in Iraq so they can grow stronger. We’re providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq. As I’ve said many times, the campaign to destroy ISIL will take time, but I’m confident we’re going to succeed.
Ultimately, though, Iraq will only succeed if its leaders govern in an inclusive way where Iraqis from all backgrounds see that they have a future in Iraq. I’ve been encouraged by Prime Minister [Haider] Al-Abadi’s work to empower local forces by integrating Sunni tribes and working to develop a National Guard. He has also outlined a new, decentralized vision of governance. He’s reached out to Iraq’s neighbors, and he’s been welcomed in regional capitals. My meetings this week with our GCC partners will be an opportunity to reaffirm that we very much support stronger ties between Iraq and its neighbors, which must respect Iraq’s sovereignty.
Q: There was much appreciation for your initial efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and have a two-state solution. And yet those efforts have been met by obstruction from various sides. Have you given up on reaching the two-state solution before the end of your presidency, and if not, how can you change the dynamic?
I will never give up on the hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the United States will never stop working to realize that goal. As I said when I visited Ramallah two years ago, Palestinians deserve an end to the occupation and the daily indignities that come with it; they deserve to live in an independent, sovereign state, where they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity. And as I said in my speech to the Israeli people on that same trip, peace between Israelis and Palestinians is necessary, it is just, and it is possible. It is also in the national security interest of the United States. That’s why we’ve worked so hard over the years for a two-state solution and to develop innovative ways to address Israel’s security and Palestinian sovereignty needs.
With the breakdown of talks, simmering tension in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, last summer’s conflict in Gaza, and serious questions about overall commitment to a two-state outcome, it’s no secret that we now have a very difficult path forward. As a result, the United States is taking a hard look at our approach to the conflict.
We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate—through policies and actions—a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Only then can trust be rebuilt and a cycle of escalation avoided. Addressing the lasting impact in Gaza of last summer’s conflict should also be central to any effort. Ultimately, the parties will need to address not just Gaza’s immediate humanitarian and reconstruction needs, but also core challenges to Gaza’s future within a two-state context, including reinvigorating Gaza’s connection with the West Bank and reestablishing strong commercial links with Israel and the global economy.
Q: You reached out to the Arab world soon after coming to the White House with the Cairo speech; much has changed since then. In your recent New York Times interview you spoke of “Sunni youth,” and this caused quite an outcry in Arab cities where young people don’t want to be seen through their religious or sectarian identities. Do you regret that the US may have helped fuel some of this sectarianism? Do you have a message to those youth, including those who risk everything to get to “the West” via the Mediterranean sea where we have seen thousands perish?
I’ve spent my presidency—indeed much of my life—working to bridge perceived divisions of race, ethnicity and religion that too often prevent people from working together, in the United States and around the world. With respect to the Middle East, I have repeatedly urged governments to govern in an inclusive way so that all their people—be they Sunni, Shi’a, Christian, or other religious minorities—know that their rights will be upheld and that they will have an opportunity to succeed. So when young people refuse to see themselves through a sectarian lens, it gives me hope.
What is undeniable, however, is that sectarianism unfortunately does exist in the region. I said at the United Nations last year that “the proxy wars and terror campaigns between Sunni and Shi’a across the Middle East” are “a fight no one is winning.” Syria has been ripped apart by civil war. ISIL managed to take over large swaths of Iraq. ISIL peddles a distorted and false version of Islam and most of its victims are other Muslims—innocent men, women, and children. That’s why one of the issues we’ll focus on this week in Washington will be how our nations can work together to help resolve some of the region’s most pressing conflicts which have allowed these extremists to thrive.
It’s an utter tragedy that so many young people feel that the lack of opportunity at home drives them to risk their lives—and often lose their lives—trying to cross the Mediterranean for Europe. So my message to young people across the region is that the United States sees you for what you are—enormously talented young men and women who have so much to give your communities, your countries, and the world. And America wants to be your partner as you work to succeed. That was a core message of my speech in Cairo, and it remains our goal today. It’s why we’re working to support entrepreneurship and educational partnerships—so young people can turn their ideas into new ventures and businesses that create jobs and opportunity. And it’s why America will continue to stand up for democracy and human rights around the world—because we believe that every man and woman, boy and girl, deserves the chance to pursue their dreams, in freedom and dignity.

Bashar Assad’s perilous dance with Iran
Michael Young| The Daily Star/May. 14, 2015
The latest story from Syria this week, published by The Daily Telegraph, was that Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s National Security Bureau, had been placed under house arrest for having had contact with Turkish intelligence and Rifaat Assad, the exiled uncle of Bashar Assad. Almost immediately the story was debunked, and Wednesday Mamlouk was shown sitting next to President Bashar Assad in a meeting with Iranian officials.The context of Mamlouk’s reappearance was designed to dispel rumors that he was unhappy with the growing influence of Iran in Syria. An unidentified source had told The Telegraph: “Most of the advisers at the presidential palace are now Iranian. Mamlouk hated that Syria was giving her sovereignty up to Iran. He thought there needed to be a change.”
Much the same rationale was used to explain what happened to Rustom Ghazaleh, Syria’s former intelligence chief in Lebanon. He, too, was said to be chafing because of the expanded role of Iran and its militia ally Hezbollah in Syria, leading to his fatal beating by the men of another intelligence chief. The story could have been untrue, but the implications were very real. Ghazaleh and Mamlouk were, or are, Sunni. For a majority of Syrians, the appearance of an Alawite-led regime now controlled by Shiite Iran can be quite damaging.
Or can it? Assad gave up any pretense of heading an Arab nationalist regime when, in 2011, he took the conflict in Syria in a sectarian direction. He always knew that by ordering his men to fire on unarmed protesters and labeling them Muslim extremists, he would provoke rising secterian tensions between Alawites and Sunnis. This was convenient, in his mind, because it would rally the Alawites and other minorities, who, benefiting from superior military firepower, would unite in crushing the uprising.
The calculations were off by a mile, however, and now Assad is discovering what motivated his father even as he initiated Syria’s strategic relationship with Iran in the 1980s. Hafez Assad had no qualms about going against the Arab consensus in those years, knowing it would expose his regime to accusations that it was working against the Sunni majority in the region. But he was also very careful in ensuring that Iran’s influence in Syria and its backyard of Lebanon remained limited, in that way retaining credibility in the Arab world and allowing him to maintain his ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
In other words Assad never became dependent on Iran. Rather, he ensured that Tehran would continue to depend on Syria to project power on Israel’s border, through Hezbollah in south Lebanon. The Golan Heights was off limits to Iran, and Assad employed Hezbollah as a convenient instrument to strengthen Syria’s own leverage with Israel. It was a delicate balancing act that the late Syrian president carefully maintained, one that allowed him to compensate for Syria’s own military deficiencies.
Bashar Assad has overturned all this. He never grasped what his father understood, namely that once the sectarian doors were opened wide in Syria Alawites risked being swallowed up by the consequences. That is why Hafez Assad always ensured that an Arab nationalist film was there to cover his otherwise deeply sectarian regime. It was important both domestically and regionally that Syria represent itself as very much a part of the Arab world – indeed be seen as a vanguard of Arab aspirations.
Bashar is learning the importance of political illusion. After Hafez Assad crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982, he followed this with a program to build mosques and religious schools to strengthen his Muslim legitimacy (it was also a way of keeping tabs on those who worshipped in the mosques or enrolled in the schools). Yet Bashar has done nothing to revive his credibility. Even supporters of the Assad regime today don’t view him and those around him as representing anything more than mechanisms for their own survival.
In this regard Iran’s assistance has only contributed to an ambient sense that Assad has given everything away; it embodies his bankruptcy. Syria, for decades regarded as an indispensable Arab actor, has become a cipher. How Assad hopes to revive his leadership on such an unsteady foundation is incomprehensible, another facet of his self-delusion.
That the Syrian president has not thought beyond his own political survival reveals the hollowness of Assad rule. He has shown no concern for reinforcing his power by anchoring it in a diversity of domains that can balance, and neutralize, each other. That may sound absurd given how his regime has engaged in mass murder. But Syria’s war has also led to great fatigue, and Assad has not bothered to exploit this to his advantage. He is as recklessly inflexible today as he was in 2011.
Assad must be careful. At some stage his allies in Tehran and Moscow, realizing they can build nothing solid on the back of this Syrian president, may search for alternatives. That won’t be easy, but unless Assad’s backers feel he has a good chance of resurrecting his authority they will begin hesitating before pouring more money and lives into a lost cause. There are Alawites reportedly willing to take on the president’s role.
Hafez Assad spent much of his career perfecting mechanisms to consolidate his power. In the space of 11 years Bashar has destroyed his father’s sinister, if solid, edifice. There is nothing to regret there, except that in wanting to defend this legacy, Bashar has killed over 200,000 people. Good health, in the sense of crime, means not having to engage in slaughter; a threat alone should be sufficient to maintain order. But Assad is not in good health, nor is his regime. Iran is investing in spoiled goods, and woe to Assad when it finally admits this.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.