May 21/15

Bible Quotation For Today/He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn and I would heal them.
John 12/37-43: "Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God."

Bible Quotation For Today/fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you
Letter to the Ephesians 05/01-07: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 20-21/15
Aoun’s presidential initiative hits dead end/Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/May 21/15
Aoun's mockery initiative/Don’t rock the boat/The Daily Star/May 20/15
Mohammad Sammak: Dialogue can fight violence/Wassim Mroueh/The Daily Star/May 21/15

Lebanon’s Michel Samaha trial and what it reveals/Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiya/May 20/15
Next challenge for US after Ramadi defeat: Iranian ship nears Yemeni shore/DEBKAfile/20/15

What Syrian Chemical Weapons Reveal about Obama/Daniel Pipes/FoxNews/May 19/15

ISIS’ capture of Ramadi: Setback or turning point/Chris Doyle/Al Arabiya/May 20/15
Tunisia's President Visits the White House/Sarah Feuer/Washington Institute/May 20/15
Retaking Ramadi: U.S. Assistance and Shiite-Sunni Cooperation/Michael Knights/Washington Institute/May 20/15
Camera-shy Lebanese can learn from Paula Yacoubian/Susan Wilson/The Daily Star/May 21/15

Lebanese Related News published on May 20-21/15
Hezbollah said Syria ‘will kill’ Hariri, STL hears 
Disaster' as Aqoura pond burst causes flooding
Dispute with Aoun limited to 'administrative' issues: Berri 
FPM lobbies Hezbollah, Future on Aoun proposal 
40 militant bases destroyed in Qalamoun offensive 
Hezbollah, Syria army advance toward Flita 

4 police officers wounded in Brital shootout 
Health Ministry issues recall of children’s Panadol syrup
Machnouk announces Roumieh Prison reforms
Qalamoun fighting eclipses Hezbollah-Future talks 
Lebanon eyes export boost via Expo Milano 
Zeaiter: Airport needs more staff, resources 
Cabinet set to clash over jihadis on border 
Talks to ship Lebanese goods by sea advance 
Lebanese village divided over Hezbollah presence 
Summer Fashion Week kicks off at St. Georges 
Shy Lebanese can learn from Paula Yacoubian 
Cabinet set to clash over jihadis on border 
Flag-planting Hezbollah fighter killed: source
Roumieh inmates case to end in 2 months: Machnouk 

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 20-21/15
Pope meant no offense with Abbas comment'
Islamic State finding it hard to gain foothold on Syria's Israel border

Christians in the Middle East rank high on Peoples Under Threat list

Khamenei says Tehran will not give access to nuclear scientists
Khamenei rules out nuclear inspections of military sites
Israel: US let Iran plane deal go ahead
Terrorist shot dead after running down 2 Border Police officers in east Jerusalem
Palestinian driver rams two Israeli police, shot dead
Netanyahu suspends W.Bank Palestinian bus ban
Netanyahu in talks with Erdan to bring him into government
Hotovely to Mogherini: The Palestinians, not Israel, walked out of negotiations
Strikes in Syria kill 170 ISIS militants in 48 hours
Kurds advance against ISIS in northeastern Syria
ISIS overruns northern part of Syria's Palmyra: activists
Yemen talks to open May 28 in Geneva: UN
Iraqi forces thwart ISIS attack near Ramadi
Pakistani Imam jailed for five years for hate speech
Algerian forces kill 22 militants in northern region
Are Russian-American ties finally thawing?
Top adviser has '2 guns, 100s of bullets' to defend Erdogan

Latest Jihad Watch News
Minneapolis airplane fueler joins Islamic State
Obama admin says “file footage of ISIL convoys operating in broad daylight” is “inaccurate” days before huge ISIL convoy in Ramadi
FBI speaks to New Jersey high school students about Islamic State recruitment
Al-Qaeda application: “Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?”
The American Conservative” submits to violent jihadist intimidation
Islamic State celebrates capture of Ramadi with orgy of bloodshed, 25,000 flee their homes

Aoun & Berri, are both Iranian-Syrian Puppets
Elias Bejjani
May 20/15
In reality and practicality, MP, Micheal Aoun is a big political and national disgrace for our credibility as Maronites, and an evil cancer destroying Lebanon, the message, identity, peace and civilization.  This derailed and Narcissistic Maronite politician is a mere Iran -Syrian puppet and trumpet. His recent presidential anti constitutional initiative was born dead and according will bear no fruits. It serves the schemes and vicious agenda of his Syria-Iranian masters. In reality all the so called disputes between Micheal Aoun and House speaker Nabeh Berri are mere comedian and vicious plays orchestrated and dictated by Hezbollah for maneuvering and waste of time purposes. In this realm of deception, all the current media and rhetoric fuss, threats, and noise that Aoun's presidential initiative is generating are transient and Aoun by the end will be helpless in doing any thing in regards to the renewal terms for some high ranking military officers. Politicians like Aoun who are replicates of the traitor Judas Iscariot are totally responsible for the current occupational status that is inflicted by Iran and Syria on Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

Don’t rock the boat
The Daily Star/ May. 20, 2015 |
While Lebanon remains in a precarious situation, any “initiatives” which seek to bide time and score political points are not just a waste of time but are potentially dangerous traps which will achieve nothing positive for the country.Amid the presidential vacuum, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun last week suggested four alternative options for electing a president, instead of the current system in which Parliament decides. Option one, which he had already mooted last year, would see two stages of voting, with Christians nominating candidates in the first round, and citizens voting for them in the second. Another proposal would see a popular referendum. Both ideas would toy with the spirit of the Taif Accord. Such suggestions are therefor not just foolish, but could have dangerous ramifications. Having criticized Taif since its 1989 inception, Aoun continues to do so. He seeks to amend it before all its articles have fully been realized. Having ended the Civil War, Taif is among the last pillars holding Lebanon together. Aoun also sought to criticize the Cabinet, and appeared to urge dissension among the Lebanese public. Why advocate further chaos when the country is already struggling to maintain a shaky security situation and protect its borders? It is politically immature to create obstacles and suggest provoking havoc when the presidential vacuum and wider political climate needs calm proposals and clear minds. And Aoun should be aware that the Lebanese public and politicians alike are savvy enough to recognize that all of his “initiatives” are little more than attempts to win the presidency for himself.

Aoun’s presidential initiative hits dead end
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star/May. 21, 2015
BEIRUT: MP Michel Aoun’s latest initiative to resolve the yearlong presidential crisis appeared Wednesday to have reached a dead end, with the Future Movement, backed by its March 14 allies, opposing any constitutional amendment to allow for the president to be elected directly by the people.
The development comes as MPs from Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc met Wednesday with lawmakers from Hezbollah and the Future Movement as part of an attempt to lobby parliamentary blocs on the Free Patriotic Movement leader’s presidential proposal.
“There are no chances for the achievement of ideas proposed by Gen. Michel Aoun to end the presidential vacuum. The political, security, military and constitutional circumstances are not favorable to make any constitutional amendment,” Future MP Atef Majdalani told The Daily Star shortly after an FPM delegation met with some members of the Future bloc headed by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
“We are committed to the Taif Accord and the Constitution. Gen. Aoun’s ideas calling for the election of the president by the people do not exist in the Constitution, which enables lawmakers to elect the president,” he said.
Majdalani, who was among Future MPs attending the meeting with the FPM delegation, said the election of a president by the people, as demanded by Aoun, requires an amendment of the Constitution. “This move will lead to changing the current system into a presidential system,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting with the FPM delegation, Future MP Ahmad Fatfat said: “The bloc will carefully study Gen. Aoun’s initiative on the basis of the Taif Accord and the inability to amend the Constitution at the present stage.”
MP Alain Aoun from Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said the FPM delegation had “very frank dialogue” with the Future MPs. He added that the concerns of the two sides would allow for attempts to bridge differences over “certain issues” regarding Lebanon’s presidential crisis, the appointment of military and security chiefs, and the drafting of a new election law.
Asked to comment on Tuesday’s statement by the Future bloc on the need to implement the Taif Accord, Alain Aoun said: “We are in agreement with the Future bloc on the implementation of the Taif. No one is demanding a change to the Constitution, or even abolishing the Taif. But the Christians’ problem with the Taif was in the way it had been implemented in the part that called for equal power sharing [between Muslims and Christians].”
Michel Aoun’s initiative was dismissed Tuesday by Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel after meeting Speaker Nabih Berri, who was quoted as saying that the FPM leader’s proposal requires a constitutional amendment.
Aoun proposed four options to solve the presidential crisis: In the first a president could be elected directly by the people in two rounds of voting, first by Christians, and then by all Lebanese.
The second would see a popular referendum being held to know who among the presidential candidates enjoys the most support. The winner would then be elected president by Parliament.
The third option allows Parliament to hold an election in which one or two of its most popular Maronite MPs would stand as candidates. And the fourth alternative has a new Parliament elected based on a new electoral law that is more representative of the people, and then lawmakers would in turn choose a president.
Hezbollah welcomed Aoun’s proposal. “Aoun’s initiative offered realistic solutions,” head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc Mohammad Raad told reporters after meeting with the FPM delegation. “Seriously considering the solutions [proposed by Aoun] could lead to a solution to the crisis,” he added.
The FPM delegation also met for the same purpose with former Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Speaking after the meeting, MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s bloc said: “We are not proposing a constitutional amendment or an amendment of the National Accord Document [Taif Accord]. We are only proposing four solutions to a big and intractable crisis based on a referendum, meaning a return to the people.”
Meanwhile, Berri dismissed speculation of an emerging political rift with Aoun, saying that the differences between the two were related to administrative manners.
He was quoted by lawmakers who visited him at his Ain al-Tineh residence as saying that there is no “strategic dispute” with Aoun.
The current differences between the two relate to “assessing some interests in state administration,” Berri added.
With regard to the appointment of military and security chiefs, Berri reiterated his support for the appointment of new officials, but said that he would support the extension of Army and police chiefs if political parties failed to agree on new appointments.
Aoun called on the government Tuesday to carry out security and military appointments, warning against the extension of the terms of incumbent officers.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk is scheduled to meet Aoun Thursday to discuss with him the issue of security and military appointments.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, one of three ministers representing Aoun’s bloc in the Cabinet, said the trio will not resign over the issue of security and military appointments.
“We tell them that no one can ignore the opinion of the other side. It is not a matter of resignation or not. The Cabinet has responsibilities it must shoulder,” Bou Saab told reporters before attending a Cabinet session Wednesday.
“If the Cabinet fails to shoulder its responsibilities in the issue of Arsal, the situation will not be as it was before: sidestepping a divisive issue to move to another issue. No other issue will be decided before the divisive issue is resolved,” he added.
Aoun called on the government and the Lebanese Army to oust Islamist militants holed up on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal.

Dispute with Aoun limited to 'administrative' issues: Berri
The Daily Star/May. 20, 2015 /BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri dismissed speculation of an emerging political rift with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun Wednesday, saying that the differences between the two were related to administrative manners. Berri told lawmakers who visited his Ain al-Tineh residence that there is no “strategic dispute” with Aoun. The current differences between the two relate to “assessing some interests in state administration,” he added. Berri also condemned what he described as “lost opportunities” resulting from the political deadlock in the country, noting that the impasse would lead to “large losses” in vital cases, such as Lebanon’s gas and oil reserves. With regards to the appointment of military and security chiefs, Berri reiterated his support for the appointment of new officials, but said that he would support term extensions if political forces fail to agree on new appointments.

FPM lobbies Hezbollah, Future on Aoun proposal
The Daily Star/May. 20, 2015
BEIRUT: A Free Patriotic Movement delegation met Wednesday with lawmakers from Hezbollah and the Future Movement's parliamentary blocs to promote FPM chief Michel Aoun’s latest initiative to break the yearlong presidential vacuum. Hezbollah welcomed the initiative by its Christian ally to solve the persisting crisis. “Aoun’s initiative offered realistic solutions,” head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc Mohammad Raad told reporters following a meeting at his office with an FPM delegation. “Seriously considering the solutions [proposed by Aoun] could lead to an exit to the crisis,” he added. MP Emile Rahme, from Sleiman Frangieh's United Free Lebanon Bloc, but who is also affiliated with the FPM, called after the meeting on political forces not to approach the initiative from the standpoint of political rivalry. Instead, he said, view it as an attempt to revive a balanced national partnership. “There is a need to look at Aoun’s initiative as though it is an opportunity and a means to solve the ongoing crisis,” he said. The FPM delegation later met with lawmakers from the Future Bloc. After the meeting, Change and Reform Bloc MP Alain Aoun said Wednesday’s “honest dialogue” revealed the concerns of each group which would allow for attempts to bridge these differences in a coming phase. He noted existing disagreements over “certain issues” regarding Lebanon’s presidential crisis, the appointment of military and security chiefs and the drafting of a new election law. Future MP Ahmad Fatfat said that despite these political differences, the meeting revealed several bipartisan interests that could be built upon. “And this is what we will work toward,” he said.
He said that a “careful study” of Aoun’s initiative will be approached on the basis on preserving the Taif agreement and not amending the Constitution. The FPM delegation since Monday has been visiting political leaders to promote Aoun’s initiative, announced last week.
On Tuesday, the delegation met with lawmakers from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc and Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh. On Monday, it met separately with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Kataeb chief Amine Gemayel. Aoun’s proposal, announced at a news conference Friday, provided four options to solve the presidential crisis, including the election of a president directly by the people. Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah in a speech Saturday had urged political leaders to take Aoun's initiative seriously, noting that dialogue sessions between rival political parties in Lebanon have not, and probably will not lead to the election of a president. Lebanon has been without a president since May 25, 2014, when former president Michel Sleiman's term ended. “I urge political forces to look into, consider and study [this proposal],” Nasrallah said. “The country can't wait anymore.” The FPM delegation is expected to meet with Future bloc leader Fouad Siniora later Wednesday to discuss the proposal.

Flag-planting Hezbollah fighter killed: source
The Daily StarظMay. 21, 2015/BEIRUT: A Hezbollah fighter who appeared in videos last week planting the party’s flag on the highest peak in Syria’s Qalamoun was killed Wednesday, a security source said. Speaking to The Daily Star, the source said that Abdallah Atieh, from the southern village of Jwayya, was slain during battles with Syrian rebels in Qalamoun. Atieh appeared in videos while planting Hezbollah’s flag on Tallet Moussa, the highest hill in Qalamoun.

Hezbollah said Syria ‘will kill’ Hariri, STL hears
Elise Knutsen/The Daily Star/May. 21, 2015
BEIRUT: Just weeks before Rafik Hariri was assassinated, two high-ranking Hezbollah officials expressed shock that the former prime minister had refused requests made by the Syrian government, Hani Hammoud told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Wednesday.
Hammoud, who served as a media adviser to Hariri, said in early January 2005 that veteran journalist Nassir al-Asaad approached him saying he wanted to discuss an unsettling meeting he had with Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, who heads Hezbollah’s political council.
Sayyed, Asaad said, had expressed indignant disbelief that Rafik Hariri had declined to accept pro-Syrian candidates on his electoral list as he had done in the past. “Mr. Ibrahim Amin Al-Sayyed told Nassir [Asaad], “Has Rafik Hariri gone crazy? Doesn’t he know those people will kill him?” Hammoud recalled.
“On that day it was clear to me that the words ... ‘they would kill him’ meant the Syrian regime,” Hammoud testified.
Hammoud arranged for Asaad to meet with Hariri to discuss the encounter. Hariri, however, brushed off the incident. “The prime minister reacted as if it was an attempt to scare him,” Hammoud recalled.
An almost identical interaction between the three men, Asaad, Hammoud and Hariri, was repeated just weeks later after Asaad met with Hussein Khalil, the political aide to Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.
“I was with Hussein Khalil two or three days ago,” Hammoud recalled Asaad telling Hariri at a meeting. “He [Khalil] told me, ‘Who does Rafik Hariri think he is saying no to the Syrians! Sayyed Nasrallah is not entitled to say no to the Syrians.’”
After Asaad described the meeting, Hariri politely bid him goodnight, Hammoud recalled.
While five Hezbollah members have been charged with plotting the blast which killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005, the prosecution has suggested that the Syrian regime was also involved in the conspiracy.
Prosecutor Graeme Cameron expressed that conviction in no uncertain terms Wednesday when he showed Hammoud a picture of Nasrallah smiling alongside Rustom Ghazaleh, the lead Syrian military intelligence officer in Lebanon. The picture, Cameron said, showed the “close relationship between Syria and Hezbollah, including Rustom Ghazaleh.”
Ghazaleh had emerged as a central figure in the prosecution’s narrative of the crime, particularly after multiple witnesses have acknowledged that Hariri was compelled to pay him exorbitant sums of money each month to stay in his good graces.
After completing his testimony in chief, defense counsel Philippe Larochelle, who represents accused Hezbollah member Hussein Oneissi, quizzed Hammoud at length about the payments to Ghazaleh. Hammoud insisted that it was only after Hariri’s assassination that he heard of the alleged payments.

Mohammad Sammak: Dialogue can fight violence
Wassim Mroueh/The Daily Star/May. 21, 2015
BEIRUT: Four of Lebanon’s top Muslim religious leaders will meet at a June 2 summit to discuss tolerance within Islam and the importance of counterterrorism efforts, said Mohammad Sammak, the secretary-general of the Islamic Summit and the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue.
Sammak explained that dialogue is needed now more than ever before in order to confront the rise of interfaith violence in the region.
During an interview at his Beirut office, Sammak told The Daily Star that Christian-Muslim dialogue in particular was vital for combating rising religious extremism in the region, a phenomenon he referred to as a “tsunami” and “implosion within Islam.”
“We are going to have a meeting of the four Islamic religious leaders, the Grand Mufti [Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian], the [Druze] Sheikh al-Akel [Sheikh Naim Hasan], Deputy President of the Higher Shiite Council [Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan] and the [head of the] Alawite Council Sheikh Assad Assi,” Sammak said.
In the Islamic calendar, the meeting will take place on the 15th of Shaaban – a Muslim holiday.
Hundreds of Sunni and Shiite scholars will take part in the meeting, according to Sammak.
“We are going to meet in Dar al-Fatwa and make a statement ... about Islamic brotherhood, counterterrorism, counter-takfir, cooperation against extremism, and promoting a culture of accepting differences within the framework of one religion.”
Sammak believes that the June 2 meeting could benefit Sunni-Shiite relations in other countries, particularly in Iraq and the Gulf.
Sunni-Shiite tensions have skyrocketed in recent years, in some places degenerating into sectarian violence, which has killed tens of thousands of people.
The situation has worsened with the rise of ISIS. The militant group took over large swaths of northern Iraq last June, displacing Christians and Yazidis who had lived there for hundreds of years.
Minority communities have also fallen victim to ISIS’ brutality in Syria, whose civil war has now entered its fifth year.
Sammak, 76, holds a PhD in political science from the University of Sheffield and a degree in Islamic Thought from Cairo University.
He has written 28 books, 14 on Christian-Muslims relations, and has been secretary-general of the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue since its formation at a 1993 summit at Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate.
“What we mean by dialogue is, as I always say ... the art of searching for the truth in the point of view of the other,” Sammak said.
He contends that religious incidents can no longer remain local in a globalized world. “We cannot avoid the repercussions of a problem in Pakistan, or in Indonesia, or in Nigeria – Boko Haram’s [violence] rings in the mountains of Lebanon when they attack Christians.”
Sammak acknowledged that Sunni-Shiite tensions are at a peak, and said their subsiding depends on how long religion continues to be misused in politics.
“The problem is not that there are different confessions and different religions, but ... in the use of these confessions and religions in politics.”
Sammak argues that a Christian-Muslim dialogue is what’s needed most, saying it could also help improve relations between Sunnis and Shiites.
“There is no other way but a dialogue with the Christians to convince them not to migrate. Christian migration [represents] a surrender to the brutality of this ISIS movement and the disintegration of the oriental tapestry of the Middle East.”
He said that he had put forth this point earlier this week in Beirut, at a meeting on Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle East organized by the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.
“We had an Iraqi scholar, a sheikh, who was speaking about Sunni and Shiite problems in Iraq and ... complaining about the relations there,” Sammak said.
“My [response] was this: I said it is impossible for Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq to come to a mutual understanding without taking into consideration ... the rights of other groups, especially the Christians of Iraq.”
“We cannot face it [except] together; I believe it is impossible for Muslims alone to face this tsunami. It’s only Christian-Muslim cooperation, understanding through dialogue, and working together [that can] stop this tsunami and overcome its negative consequences,” Sammak said.
But he conceded that dialogue in times of such crisis is not easy. Sammak admits that the Islamic reaction to the persecution of the region’s Christians has been slow in coming, but said there have been a number of positive Islamic initiatives to support Christians in the Middle East, including one at a conference at Al-Azhar in Cairo.
“Al-Azhar said two things mainly ... one, that we Muslims should reconsider and correct certain Islamic principles that are misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused – like jihad.”
“[Two], announcing in the name of Al-Azhar that any [crime] that targets a Christian for being a Christian is a [crime] that targets Islam as well, whether a person, or a church or [something else]. That’s something new.”
Al-Azhar, in Cairo, represents the highest Sunni religious authority in the world.
Sammak said that at a second conference held in Amman two months ago, Muslim scholars stressed that the existence of a civil state did not contradict Islam.
“A third conference was held in Mecca earlier this month, bringing together around 750 Muslim scholars from across the world.”
“In this conference there was ... self-criticism [among scholars] for not raising their voices at the proper time against terror. The [focus] of the conference was on how to work together – all Muslims [and] Islamic institutions – against terror, from an Islamic perspective. That was a new step forward.”
“So when we say that we have to recreate a new Middle East that respects plurality and religious freedom, based on a national civil state with equality between its citizens, we mean it. This has been proved by these Islamic declarations: Al-Azhar, Mecca, Amman,” Sammak said. In recognition of his personal and professional achievements, last month Italy decorated Sammak with the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.
“Well, actually I was surprised when I was informed,” he said.
“I wasn’t aware of it but I actually participated in many conferences in Italy besides the Vatican – maybe I am the only Muslim who had the chance to participate and to speak to two synods in the Vatican,” Sammak added.
Sammak said he had often lectured at Italian universities, and expressed his gratitude for the support of the Italian government.
He has worked to bring Muslims and Christians together since the 1980s, when then-Speaker Hussein Husseini tasked Sammak with carrying proposals between Husseini and Christian leaders, in a bid to end Lebanon’s Civil War.
“More than 80 percent of Taif had already been prepared by the Lebanese themselves,” Sammak said. “We learned that through dialogue we can solve our problems, not through conflict.”
Sammak was referring to the 1989 Taif Agreement which ended Lebanon’s civil war.
Asked whether he was optimistic that dialogue could eventually triumph across the region, he said he remained confident.
“In the end yes, for sure. This is, as I said, a tsunami – and it is a devastating tsunami, it is a horrible one we are facing – but like any other tsunami it will pass.”

Camera-shy Lebanese can learn from Paula Yacoubian
Susan Wilson| The Daily Star/May. 21, 2015
BEIRUT: Public speaking in any form can be intimidating for the best of us, especially in staged and unfamiliar environments. Who better to help you overcome those public speaking nerves than a woman who has spent the last 23 years staring down the camera, Lebanese journalist and talk-show host Paula Yacoubian. Yacoubian will be hosting a public speaking seminar at the Agenda Beirut on May 28, aimed at teaching students the basics in how to present themselves and their message with confidence.
Yacoubian, who began her journalism career at age 17, is the CEO of her own media services company, Integrated Communications, which has been credited with improving the public speaking skills of Lebanese politicians from different camps.
Her own public speaking skills stem from a mix of experience and training. “I was trained in New York with T. J. Walker, one of the best trainers in the world, and I have a vast experience in TV myself. It’s been 23 years that I have had a prime-time show nonstop, since I was 19 years old until today,” she told The Daily Star.
The seminar will take place over four hours with a mix of theory and practice, weighted to the latter. “I don’t do lots of theory because I think people get bored, so I try to mix. I put them in a televised environment, as if they are in the studio, and then when I feel there is something to be rectified, to be fixed, I stop and I give them some tips.
“Then I put them again in front of the camera and that’s how I do it, so it’s very practical.”
With her own company Yacoubian usually tackles someone one-on-one or in groups of no more than four, over the course of two intensive training days, so adapting her course to a larger group of around 15 to be taught in far less time will pose some challenges.
“For four hours it’s going to be very little training because of the time, but I’m sure people that attend will benefit a lot when it comes to their public speaking skills,” she says.
“I think we’ll do an hour or two in front of cameras with microphones, in a televised environment ... then we’ll let them watch and all of us together we’ll try to see how they can do better.”
Yacoubian’s two-day, intensive studio training comes at the hefty price tag of $10,000. “It’s a two-day training [course], two full days 9-6 [that takes place in] a real studio with many people involved – it’s a big operation,” she says. In comparison, the Agenda’s four-hour course bills in at just $400.
Asked if she had noticed any common characteristic that aspiring Lebanese public speakers share, Yacoubian had a surprising answer.
“They are shy. They are not outgoing. Public speaking is not something we are very familiar with, not something that we do a lot. First you have to break the ice with the camera, with the journalist, with the microphone,” she says.
With a little bit of training however, everyone can improve. “I saw really huge improvements with people who come to me and tell me ‘I will never talk in public, I want to try but I will never do a presentation or a speech in front of 40 or 50 people looking at me,’ and then I see them performing well.
“Some people are talented for public speaking ... and some people are not. But everyone can improve if they do the right amount of time, if they rehearse, if they work on their message and if they listen to their trainer.”
For more information see the Agenda Beirut’s website:

Lebanon’s Michel Samaha trial and what it reveals
Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiya
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
Hezbollah has not directly commented on the light sentence, which is close to a verdict of innocence, in the Michel Samaha case. It settled with repeating that it respects the judiciary’s decision. Hezbollah acts as if it’s unconcerned with the scandal which shook Lebanon last week. What happened was a real scandal because the military judiciary sentenced Samaha to four-and-a-half years in prison. The sentence in the case, in which Samaha confessed his involvement in transferring explosives and weapons from Syria to Lebanon to carry out assassinations and explosions, ends seven months of deliberations. Yes, Hezbollah and the “resistance” forces did not feel they had to clarify their ally’s, or rather allies’, involvement in crimes in Lebanon and tried to conceal the case by resorting to propaganda campaigns touting fake victories on the Syrian front of al-Qalamoun. Media outlets affiliated with Hezbollah and the Lebanese resistance tried to downplay the military judiciary’s ruling However, there seems to be solid evidence pertaining to the crime of which Samaha is accused; leaked videos that purport to show Samaha’s involvement in planning murders and explosions in coordination with and under the supervision of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and security official Ali al-Mamlouk.
A scandal
Silence over such facts and exaggeration of events in the faraway hills of Qalamoun where Hezbollah is fighting are viewed as a scandal against Hezbollah. This time though, Hezbollah’s efforts are different. The Shiite party and its supporters have made great efforts to deviate attention from the leaked Samaha videos by exaggerating Hezbollah’s progress in Qalamoun, fabricating stories and scenarios regarding battles in the area. However, the ruckus celebrating Hezbollah’s battles in Qalamoun seemed incapable of matching Samaha’s videos and what they revealed. The videos showed him repeating several times that Assad and Mamlouk were aware of explosions and assassinations plots in Lebanon. Hezbollah, who is fighting in Syria and dragging Lebanese youths into the fight to defend itself, has overlooked these videos and did not address them. It seems these videos are not something the party wants to investigate so it resorted to creating media fabrications about Qalamoun. Media outlets affiliated with Hezbollah and the Lebanese resistance tried to downplay the military judiciary’s ruling, saying the judiciary has been lenient with verdicts against figures from the opposing political bloc.
Why do we accept the reality?
It’s really strange that there are still people who believe that the Lebanese must, despite everything that’s been revealed, accept that such leaders are in positions of power and have their crimes justified. When Samaha served as a minister in Lebanon, he represented the Syrian regime and he was even a negotiator on its behalf with European capitals. When Samaha carried explosives from Syria to Lebanon - as the court found - he did that in the name of the Syria regime. However it seems that according to Hezbollah’s rules, Samaha’s confessions grant legitimacy to what the ex-minister was about to commit.
Lebanon is completely violated, just as Syria is.
Hezbollah does not care about this violation and it’s actually a partner in it. The claims that it’s fighting in Syria to protect the Lebanese people has been debunked several times. But when considering these statements from the angle of what Samaha and the Syrian regime did, we begin to understand the allegations and realize that they are actually part of a regional and sectarian system. We have repeatedly seen how Iran’s and Syria’s influence via Hezbollah or via other parties meant killing other Lebanese people and violating our country.
Nothing is clearer than Michel Samaha’s crime and the facts which he unknowingly exposed. As for the victories in Qalamoun, they are just delusions which nobody buys into.

Vatican: Pope Francis meant no offense calling Abbas 'angel of peace'
Reuters/Published: 05.19.15/ Israel News/Ynetnews /
Holy See says Israel should not be offended by statement that was made during 'colloquial' exchange and was meant to encourage commitment to peace. Pope Francis meant no offense to Israel by referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as being "an angel of peace" and intended to encourage harmony between the two sides, the Vatican said on Tuesday. Francis met Abbas at the Vatican on Saturday and used the words as he presented the Palestinian president with a large bronze medallion representing the angel of peace, one of his customary gifts to visiting presidents. Receiving Abbas at the papal apartments, the Argentine pontiff, speaking in Italian, said the medallion was an appropriate gift because "you are a bit an angel of peace", according to a reporter representing several news agencies at the meeting. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he had not heard the remarks himself and had nothing to add to the words attributed to the pope by the pool reporter."It is clear that there was no intention to offend anyone," Lombardi told Reuters. Early reports had conflicted as to whether the pope urged Abbas to be an "angel of peace" or if he had described him as such. The pope met Abbas a few days after the Vatican formalized its recognition of the Palestinian state, a move which riled Israel's government. The Vatican said after Saturday's meeting that the two had expressed hope that talks between the two sides could resume after breaking down a year ago. Francis and Abbas, who met last year with former Israeli president Shimon Peres in an unprecedented inter-religious event at the Vatican, had a "very colloquial" exchange as they exchanged gifts, Lombardi said in a statement. "In any case, the sense of encouraging a commitment to peace was very clear and I believe that the very gift of the symbol of an angel of peace was made by the pope with this intention as well as previous presentations of the same gift to presidents, not only to Abbas." Lombardi said the pope explains the significance of the medal to heads of state who receive it, and that the word "angel" in this context means "messenger".Abbas also attended a canonization ceremony on Sunday at which Francis made saints of two Palestinian nuns.

Islamic State finding it hard to gain foothold on Syria's Israel border
Alex Fishman/Ynetnews
Published: 05.20.15/Israel News
The extremist group has twice been repelled by Syrian rebels in recent weeks, while Israel has tempered response to errant shells entering its territory. Two attempts by Islamic State in Syria to take up positions along the Golan Heights border with Israel have been thwarted in the past two weeks. The two groups of IS-affiliated militants were threatening to expand the radical organization's sphere of influence close to the border with Israel. The first Islamist infrastructure was taken out some two weeks ago south of Quneitra, where Syrian rebels managed to overcome an armed group from the IS-affiliated Jaysh al-Jihad organization.
The second group was taken out two days ago in the southern Golan Heights, where members of the Free Syrian Army, in cooperation with radical Islamic group Jabhat al-Nusra, overpowered IS-loyalists from the Shuhada al Yarmouk Brigades.
During the course of these recent battles against the IS-affiliated groups in the Golan, a number of mortar shells inadvertently landed in Israeli territory. In the past, when the so-called "spillovers" were the result of shells fired by the Syrian Army, Israel responded in an effort to signal to the regime in Damascus that it will not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty. Over the past two weeks, however, Israel has chosen not to respond to the incidents – presumably so as not to interfere and undermine the rebels' achievements against Islamic State.
Most of the fighting to prevent IS-affiliated groups from taking up positions on the Golan Heights and turning the area into a base for operations against Israel is being carried out by two rebel groups – the Free Syrian Army, which is deployed along the border fence with Israel and reportedly receives Israeli humanitarian aid; and Jabhat al-Nusra, a radical Islamic group viewed as hostile towards Israel.
That said, Israeli security officials claim that the Jabhat al-Nusra fighters operating in the Golan are simply local residents who joined the organization to benefit from the logistical and financial support it offers them. And in the past, Syrian regime officials accused Israel of aiding Jabhat al-Nusra when the organization ousted President Bashar Assad's forces from most of the areas adjacent to the Israeli border. It's important to keep in mind, meanwhile, that the cooperation between the two rebel groups in the Golan is localized and focused only on areas in which Assad's army or Islamic State are trying to take control of parts of the Golan. For now, this cooperation is ensuring relative calm along the border with Israel.

Christians in the Middle East rank high on Peoples Under Threat list
By REUTERS/05/20/2015
Countries in the Middle East have shot up an annual list of places where vulnerable minorities are most at risk of genocide, political killing and systematic repression, a human rights group said on Wednesday. Syria tops the 2015 Peoples Under Threat list, compiled by Minority Rights Group International (MRG). The civil conflict there, now in its fifth year, has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions. MRG said Christians, Shi'ites, Alawites, Kurds, Palestinians and political targets are particularly threatened.
"Extreme sectarianism...has now infected much of the country," it said in a report released with the list. "Only in the Kurdish-held regions of the north...has there been a serious attempt at establishing an inclusive democracy."
Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon and Afghanistan, countries where attacks attributed to the Sunni militant group Islamic State have taken place in recent months, all rank high on the list. "The threat to the Middle East from ISIS should not be underestimated, but most people have more to fear from their own governments," said Mark Lattimer, MRG's Executive Director, using another name for Islamic State. "Supporting anything or anyone who opposes ISIS could be a big mistake," he said. Although the Middle East dominates the list, "of equal concern is the rise in risk in two of the world's major powers: Russia and China," Lattimer said. In China, which has risen 15 places, simmering tension with the Muslim Uighur community has led to mass arrests, dozens of executions and more than 200 deaths in terrorist attacks, with little done to address the root causes of the unrest, said MRG. Russia, 16th on the list, owes its high ranking to rising xenophobia against migrants and regular clashes in the North Caucasus between government forces and Islamist separatists. Ukraine jumped a huge 39 places because of the suppression of human rights and mass displacement in eastern regions. Other major risers were South Sudan and the Central African Republic, while Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo were also high on the list.

Khamenei says Tehran will not give access to nuclear scientists
By REUTERS/ 05/20/2015
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Tehran would not accept "unreasonable demands" by world powers during negotiations over its disputed nuclear program, and ruled out letting inspectors interview its atomic scientists.
The comments, broadcast live on state TV, were the latest in a series of forthright statements on inspections in the countdown to a June 30 deadline to resolve a decade-old standoff over Iran's nuclear work.
"We will never yield to pressure ... We will not accept unreasonable demands ... Iran will not give access to its (nuclear) scientists," Khamenei said.
"We will not allow the privacy of our nuclear scientists or any other important issue to be violated."
Khamenei, who has the final say for Iran on any deal, last month ruled out any "extraordinary supervision measures" over nuclear activities and said military sites could not be inspected.
The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been trying to investigate Western allegations that Iran has worked on designing a nuclear warhead. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that it is working with the IAEA to clear up any suspicions.
UN inspectors regularly monitor Iran's declared nuclear facilities, but the IAEA has complained for years of a lack of access to sites, equipment, documents and people relevant to its probe.
Western officials say Iran must step up cooperation with the IAEA if it wants to reach a broader diplomatic deal with world powers that would gradually end crippling financial and other sanctions on the oil producer.
"They say we should let them interview our nuclear scientists. This means interrogation," Khamenei said.
"I will not let foreigners talk to our scientists and to interrogate our dear children ... who brought us this extensive (nuclear)knowledge."
Iran has yet to answer questions about two areas of the investigation into alleged research activities that could be applicable to any attempt to make nuclear bombs - explosives testing and neutron calculations.
Iran reached a tentative deal with the powers on April 2 to allow UN inspectors to carry out more intrusive, short-notice inspections under an "Additional Protocol" to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But there have been sharply differing interpretations from both sides on the details of that access.
Negotiators from Iran and the powers will meet in Vienna on Wednesday to try to iron out remaining differences, including the timing of sanctions relief and the future of Iran's atomic research and development program.
Talks between EU political director Helga Schmid and Iranian negotiators Abbas Araqchi and Majid Takht-Ravanchi will run until Friday, with experts meeting in parallel to discuss technical annexes, the EU said in a statement.

Next challenge for US after Ramadi defeat: Iranian ship nears Yemeni shore
DEBKAfile Special Report May 20, 2015
uesday, May 19, two days after Ramadi’s fall to the Islamic State landed a major blow to Baghdad and US strategy in the region, 10,000 troops – more than half American - ended a large US-led military exercise in Jordan that was designed to practice tactics for countering ISIS. Taking part surprisingly in the two-week exercise was a heavy US nuclear-capable B-52H bomber, which flew in from the United States, crossing through Israeli air space and returning to home base when it was over. This was the first time in the 12 years since the US invasion of Iraq that a B-52H, which can deliver nuclear weapons and bunker buster bombers, has appeared in Middle East skies for any military mission. East of Jordan, as some 25,000 refugees from Ramadi slept in the open, the Islamist conquerors began moving on their next target, the Habbaniyah air base some 70 km west of Baghdad. Its fall would cut Baghdad off from northern and eastern Iraq and place it under siege from three directions - north, east and west. Most Arab members have dropped out of the US-led coalition committed to fighting the Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria. This has left the US Air Force to bear the brunt of the aerial campaign. Its average of 19 air strikes a day is far too few to have any real effect on ISIS’s battle momentum. It certainly did not stop the long columns of black-clad Islamist fighters swarming on Ramadi from all directions in hundreds of tanks, APCs and minivans armed with heavy machine guns, and taking control of the capital of Iraq’s largest province, Anbar. Western intelligence from the Ramadi region offered disturbing accounts of thousands of fully-armed ISIS fighters springing up apparently from nowhere to descend on the city, with no one able to see where they came from and no air action to scatter them before they entered the city.
After the Ramadi defeat, the Obama administration’s next major test in the region comes from an Iranian cargo vessel heading, accompanied by two warships, for the Yemeni Red Sea port of Hodeida and scheduled to dock Thursday, May 21. According to Tehran, the ship will unload 2,500 tons of humanitarian aid for Yemen, and the hundreds of passengers who disembark are Red Crescent medical relief workers. The Saudi, US and Egyptian fleets have imposed a sea and air blockade on Yemen to prevent Iran provding the Yemeni Houthi rebels with fresh arms. Saudi and other regional intelligence agencies are convinced that the “paramedics” are in fact Revolutionary Guards officers and instructors in disguise, sent to strengthen the Houthi revolt.
Washington, Riyadh and Cairo have all vowed to stop the Iranian flotilla from putting into port in Yemen and said that its vessels will be forced to submit to inspections to make sure no illicit weapons are aboard and to confirm the passengers’ identities.
Tehran, for its part has threatened to treat any such inspections as an act of war. Deputy Revolutionary Guards Commander Gen. Masoud Jazayeri put it plainly when he said: “I am distinctly stating that the patience of Iran has limits. If the Iranian aid ship is prevented from reaching Yemen then they, Saudi Arabians and United States, should expect action from us.”debkafile’s analysts strongly doubt that the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier and strike force, which have been monitoring the Iranian flotilla’s movements, will be ordered to intervene against the Iranian ships reaching the Yemeni port. It is not a good moment for President Barack Obama to upset Tehran when he is in dire need of the Iraqi Shiite militias controlled by Iran to stand up to ISIS before its columns reach Baghdad.
Without the US, it is hard to see Saudi and Egyptian warships directly engaging an Iranian naval force and risking a major military conflagration.
Therefore, just as the B-52H came and went without action to impede ISIS’s creep closer to Baghdad, the Roosevelt is not likely to halt Iranian warships before they reach Yemen.

What Syrian Chemical Weapons Reveal about Obama
Daniel Pipes/ 19, 2015
N.B. Fox title: "As Syria's chemical weapons return, Obama is MIA"
The famed "red line" warning that Barack Obama issued in August 2013 to Bashar al-Assad of Syria was arguably the defining foreign policy moment of his presidency: an unequivocal warning to a rogue leader to desist from war crimes or pay the price.
When the incident ended in a blur, with Russian-backed promises that the Assad regime would hand over its chemical agents, responses were bifurcated. The president and his allies hailed this as a monument of diplomacy, whereby a plausible threat led bloodlessly to a major improvement in behavior. In contrast, critics presented Obama as a paper tiger who raged with threats that collapsed when offered meaningless assurances by a well-established liar.
Bodies of Syrians killed by Syria regime nerve gas in August 2013.
For two years, there was no verdict; the two sides kept making their points without closure. But now, closure is at hand.
That's because there are now multiple reports of the Assad regime using chlorine in barrel bombs, plus the discovery of traces of ricin, sarin and VX. In response, the U.S. government not done nothing about these hideous developments other than issued mild rebukes, turn to the feckless United Nations, and hope against hope that the Russians and even the Iranians would dispose of the problem. No mention of red lines this time, just a wish no one would remember 2013.
But we do remember and we do draw conclusions. It's now indisputably clear that Obama is no more than a paper tiger. His threats against the Syrian dictatorship meant nothing but vanished into thin air, replaced by squirming and prattle.
Not only is this response important in itself, but it has implications for other hostile states, notably Russia, China, and especially Iran. If Obama dares not handle the weakling in Damascus, how might he venture to do so with the more formidable foes in Moscow, Peking, and Tehran? For this reason, the issue of Assad's chemical weapons is crucial to American foreign policy. Like many observers, I count the months (still another 20 of them) until this president is gone and the United States of America has an opportunity for a fresh start to stand by its word, live up to its historic reputation, and protect itself. *Mr. Pipes (, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2015 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

ISIS’ capture of Ramadi: Setback or turning point?
Chris Doyle/Al Arabiya
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
Argue all day about ISIS but two thing stands out - the extremist group has majored in the art of how to grab a headline and how to confound its opponents.
Front pages of newspapers across the globe as well as social media feeds are easy prey to its telling combination of theatrical violence, threats and mayhem allied to a cyber-media network of ultra-modern sophistication.
But nothing attracts attention like success, not least when powerful adversaries step forward incessantly to proclaim your decline. President Obama, using a different acronym for the group, himself declared on February 11 “ISIL is on the defensive and ISIL is going to lose.” Such sentiments were echoed on May 15 by the General Weidley, the chief-of-staff of Operation Inherent Resolve, when he said: “We believe across Iraq and Syria that Daesh (ISIS) is losing and remains on the defensive.”
Yet ISIS’s capture of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province, on May 17 somewhat puts these outbursts of wishful thinking in perspective. Despite losing Tikrit and Kobane, the capture of yet another major urban center demonstrated ISIS’s continued ability to press forward in expanding its’ self-declared Caliphate. One report suggests that it only required 150 ISIS fighters against 6,000 Iraqi security forces. American protestations that Ramadi is not central to the future of Iraq may work for Fox News but Iraqis know the truth.
ISIS's currency is fear and panic. It trades off an Iraqi Sunni Arab population who believes that they are the only force capable of protecting them.
So what does this all mean? The U.S. authorities are describing it as a nothing more than a “setback.” Others see it as a “turning point,” a dramatic moment when Iraq fractures into various parts, that Iraqi Sunni and Shiite no longer maintain the pretense of being able to share the same polity – in other words the death of modern Iraq.
Forecasts of turning points in the Middle East are so frequent they send most people into a tornado-like spin. The argument here envisages a shameful round of further tit-for-tat sectarian blood letting in Anbar province that will follow the deployment of the Hashid Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Units) to Ramadi. These Shiite militia are already charged with numerous sectarian crimes not least in the recapture of Tikrit. A repetition could scupper any chances of Haider al-Abadi heading a genuinely national Iraqi government.
Fear and panic
ISIS will be counting on the militias doing just that. Its currency is fear and panic. It trades off an Iraqi Sunni Arab population who believes that they are the only force capable of protecting them. Its brutality is designed to polarize and divide. Any Shiite militia crimes will likewise serve their immediate ambitions of securing permanent control over Anbar.
The setback argument has merits too. Since last summer’s surge through the north, including the capture of Mosul, ISIS has been confronted with a more formidable foe, a coalition of 60 countries no less. The U.S. leads a coalition against it and its airforce has conducted almost 4,000 airstrikes. Iran has upped its support for the Abadi government and the Shiite militias. This has seen ISIS lose both Kobane and Tikrit. Reports suggest that its impressive income is also declining.
There is a strong likelihood that ISIS may practice its established tactic of hijra (flight) from Ramadi. The self-styled “Caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has cannily demonstrated time and time again that his forces will pull back from a battle they are unlikely to win.
ISIS has succeeded in dragging large parts of Iraqi armed forces into hostile territory no doubt leaving other areas vulnerable. A withdrawal would also be aided by the seemingly impressive array of military equipment including tanks and H ummers purloined from the 8th brigade base in Ramadi. Then ISIS will watch as Shiite militias try to hold Ramadi in the face of an unwelcoming population. Recapturing Ramadi may be far easier than holding it.
But could this setback lead to a rather different turning point? Hitherto, the coalition was placing its bets on local Iraqi ground forces, both Iraqi government and Kurdish, to be boots on the ground that would mop up what its overwhelming airpower could not. Yet the evidence since last August is that this half-baked strategy is flawed. ISIS is a battle-hardened opponent using an array of strategies and tactics that make it hard to knock out.
Rethinking strategy
Might the Ramadi saga trigger a complete rethink of coalition strategy? The signs are that little may change even though Obama had just authorized a seemingly successful U.S. boots-on-the-ground operation inside Syria in the killing of Abu Sayyaf.
What is as clear as the night skies over the western Iraqi desert is that air power alone will not achieve Obama’s stated aim to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. The Iraqi government may have moved away from Maliki’s sectarian dictatorship but Abadi has yet to convince he can unify his country not least in the face of powers including Iran, determined to prevent this. His dependence on the extremist Shiite militias to fight the extremist Sunni militias of ISIS only highlighted his pitiful lack of options not least a failure to engage successfully with tribes in Anbar, those most likely to push ISIS back. The hundreds of billions of dollars showered on the Iraqi army has yielded little and the sight of them fleeing another major Iraqi city will only diminish its stature.
Any rethink cannot envisage just more military muscle to be thrown at ISIS. It has to confront these extremists at every level, match it for determination and be prepared equally to think long-term not just for the next six months. Any plan must include an effective and workable political and communications strategy as well. The anti-ISIS coalition has to reach out to all sectors of Iraqi society and demonstrate with real conviction that the future of Iraq can include all sects and communities.

Tunisia's President Visits the White House
Sarah Feuer/Washington Institute
May 20, 2015
The Obama administration should use the occasion to expand the strategic partnership with Tunis, in part by expediting economic and security assistance that would bolster the country's hard-fought gains in democratization.
On May 21, Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi will meet with President Obama in Washington, marking his first trip to the United States since his election to a five-year term in December. The formation of a new government in Tunis has ostensibly capped the political transition sparked by the 2011 ouster of longtime autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. To ensure that Tunisia remains a success story, however, Washington should use the occasion of Essebsi's visit to more vigorously demonstrate its stated commitment to an expanded strategic partnership with the struggling state.
While most countries caught up in the "Arab Spring" have devolved into chaos and violence or reverted to authoritarianism, Tunisia has emerged from its Jasmine Revolution on relatively solid democratic footing. Since 2011, it has adopted a constitution enshrining civil liberties, gender equality, and the separation of powers; peacefully conducted two election cycles, a key benchmark for nascent democracies; and begun to build an inclusive political system in which Islamists and non-Islamists are participating. For example, the parliament elected in October 2014 includes representatives from Essebsi's secularist party Nidaa Tounes ("Tunisian Call"), the Islamist Ennahda ("Renaissance"), the anti-Islamist al-Ittihad al-Watani al-Hurr (Free Patriotic Union), a coalition of leftist parties known as the Popular Front, the neo-liberal Afek Tounes (Tunisian Horizons), and a host of independents. The government of Prime Minister Habib Essid, formed in February, likewise includes Islamist and non-Islamist ministers. While there is no shortage of polarization in Tunisia, consensus-minded political leaders in the Islamist and non-Islamist camps and a flourishing, vigilant civil society have kept the transition on track.
Despite these achievements, however, Essebsi will return from his White House visit to a country facing enormous economic and security-related threats to its experiment in democratization. Unemployment remains stubbornly high at around 15 percent -- down from 18 percent after the uprising but still above pre-revolution levels. Tourism, traditionally a key source of jobs and foreign currency, plummeted after 2011 and had only moderately rebounded when a brazen terrorist attack this March killed twenty-one foreigners and one citizen at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. The phosphate industry -- traditionally the other leading source of foreign currencies -- has lost roughly $2 billion since the uprising, partly due to strikes by the nearly 30,000 Tunisian employees of the state-run mining company. Recent months have also witnessed a growing number of protests, hunger strikes, and sit-ins on the part of marginalized communities and unemployed university graduates frustrated by the lack of government investment and access to jobs. In some cases, protesters have clashed with police, raising the prospect of more widespread unrest. For many Tunisians, democracy has yet to improve the basic standard of living.
The security situation is equally worrisome. A Salafi jihadist movement emerged in the first year following the uprising, reflected in the dawa (evangelism) and violence carried out by groups such as Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, Katibat Uqba ibn Nafi, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. In 2013, two prominent leftist politicians were gunned down by jihadists (with the so-called "Islamic State"/ISIS recently, if dubiously, claiming responsibility), and members of Katibat Uqba ibn Nafi killed eight soldiers in the Jebel Chaambi region near the western border with Algeria. A subsequent government crackdown led to the arrest of several jihadist leaders and reduced the visible presence of their groups in the cities, but such gains have been offset by the deteriorating situation along the borders.
On the Algerian frontier, jihadist groups have killed dozens of Tunisian soldiers since 2013, often in collusion with organized crime cartels running smuggling routes. Meanwhile, hundreds of Tunisian jihadists have crossed into Libya, where many are believed to have spent time in terrorist training camps and joined Islamist militias. The lawlessness in Libya has also accelerated the flow of weapons and other contraband into Tunisia, and provided passage for the nearly 3,000 Tunisians who have reportedly traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other jihadist groups.
Some in Washington have concluded that Tunisia holds little geostrategic importance for the United States beyond the symbolic value of a successful Arab democracy. But substantial American assistance to the fledgling democracy is warranted for at least three strategic reasons.
First, a failed Tunisian state would only embolden religious extremists across the region. Policymakers should not underestimate the implications of such a development, especially given the dangerous tumult that extremist actors are already causing throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Second, Tunisia's political situation belies the prevailing narrative of the past four years that the region must choose between secular autocrats who deride democratic politics and Islamist democrats who promote deeply illiberal policies. This binary framework has long obscured the complexities in a country like Tunisia, where autocrats could be found walking around in religious or secular garb, and liberal democrats could be heard criticizing Ben Ali-era secular elites and Islamists in the same breath. Contrary to conventional explanations or predictions, a space has opened up in Tunisia for liberal Arab democrats to emerge and potentially thrive. This is a remarkable development that Washington should support.
Third, Tunisians take an increasingly positive view of the United States, a rare trend in the Arab world. A 2014 Gallup poll listed Tunisia among only seven countries in the world where approval ratings for U.S. leaders increased by at least ten percentage points over the previous year. For an American administration facing heavy criticism over its perceived lack of attention (or worse) to friends and allies, Tunisia offers a possible example to the contrary.
The Obama administration has rightly, if belatedly, recognized that Tunisia's situation demands greater U.S. engagement. This February, the State Department announced plans to nearly double economic assistance and triple security-related assistance to Tunisia for fiscal year 2016. And following the Bardo attack, U.S. officials announced additional increases in security aid. Given that bilateral assistance to Tunisia has steadily declined over the past three years, the administration's ostensible aim to reverse that trend is encouraging. President Essebsi's visit is an opportune moment to build on recent commitments and further strengthen the strategic partnership.
On the economic front, U.S. policymakers should think creatively about ways to help Tunisia implement the structural reforms needed to reduce unemployment and grow the economy, particularly in neglected regions where crime is on the rise and the prospect of jihadist incursions more immediate. While there are no quick fixes to this predicament, U.S. assistance can make a difference if properly targeted. Even providing aid that is not directly tied to the economy could have important economic ramifications. For example, funding that enables Tunisian parliamentarians to rent office space and hire staff -- essentials that too few currently enjoy -- could expedite the legislature's day-to-day operations and adoption of proposed economic reforms.
On the security front, Tunisia offers an exception to the regional rule that has so often found Washington cooperating with Arab regimes that share its strategic interests but remain decidedly undemocratic. If Tunis continues along its current trajectory -- and the pressures being exerted on the government to avoid returning to a heavy-handed police state do not let up -- then U.S. policymakers can provide security assistance without facing a heavy moral dilemma. Expediting the delivery of much-needed military equipment, training the armed forces in counterinsurgency methods, and helping security decisionmakers streamline intelligence gathering and devise a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy would all go a long way toward ensuring stability. Ideally, the security component of a strengthened strategic partnership with Tunisia would focus on helping the country secure its borders, root out the insurgency in the western mountains, keep close track of Tunisians fighting for jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, and reform the security sector. If conducted properly, such reform could strengthen the state's capacity to protect citizens and tourists alike without undermining the country's hard-fought gains in political freedom.
**Sarah Feuer is a Soref Fellow at The Washington Institute.

Retaking Ramadi: U.S. Assistance and Shiite-Sunni Cooperation
Michael Knights/Washington Institute
May 20, 2015
Washington can help by providing additional airpower and advisory assistance, but Iraqis must take the lead in combining various Sunni and Shiite forces into an effective Anbar counteroffensive.
The May 17 retreat of Iraqi government forces from Ramadi represents the most severe setback for the fight against the "Islamic State"/ISIS since Mosul fell nearly a year ago. Ramadi is the provincial capital of Anbar -- the huge desert governorate linking Baghdad to Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia -- and was the cockpit of the U.S.-backed Sunni tribal "awakening" that defeated al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2006-2007. But one lost battle does not mean the loss of a war. The Iraqi government needs to launch an immediate counteroffensive before ISIS can consolidate its power, both for symbolic reasons and because of Ramadi's proximity to Baghdad.
The ISIS campaign to control major cities began in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah in late December 2013. While Fallujah fell and remains under the group's control, the Iraqi security forces (ISF) maintained the upper hand in Ramadi until recently. The city's overstretched collection of Iraqi army, police, and Sunni tribal militia forces have fought a brutal, nonstop battle with little reinforcement. In the eleven months since Mosul fell, only a tiny number of new local forces have been raised in Ramadi -- a weak brigade of 2,000 Federal Police and a new 1,000-strong unit of tribal paramilitaries. The army forces dotted around the city are among the most heavily damaged and exhausted units in Iraq.
The government will also have to contend with Ramadi's geography. As with Bayji refinery, another area where ISIS is surging, Ramadi is adjacent to uncontrolled rural and suburban belts that have enabled the group to gather attack forces close to embattled locations. Under these circumstances, it is unsurprising that the ISF in Ramadi finally cracked when struck with a hammer blow -- namely, twenty-eight suicide car bombs in three days, including at least six massive fifteen-ton armored truck bombs in a single attack.
Historically, Ramadi and Anbar have long been neglected by successive Iraqi governments. The province was always a stronghold for powerful Sunni tribes, and Baghdad struggled to control it even under Saddam Hussein. Over the past decade, Iraq's Shiite-led government has stacked the western defenses of Baghdad and Karbala specifically to guard against the perceived threat of attack from Anbar. At the same time, the almost complete absence of Shiite citizens in the province has given the federal government little direct stake in securing it or protecting its citizens. As a result, Baghdad has tinkered with Anbar politics like a neighboring state, sometimes providing economic and military aid but more often manipulating security appointments and meddling in local power struggles. It was American forces rather than the Iraqi government that ensured Anbar received the attention it deserved in 2006-2007.
If there is a silver lining to Ramadi's fall, it is that Anbar's security has emerged as the clear priority for Baghdad and its international allies. This was not the case for much of the past year, when opinions differed over whether Anbar or Mosul should be the focus. Mosul won out for a while: last October, for example, Moslawi candidate Khalid al-Obeidi was chosen over an Anbari alternative as Iraq's new defense minister. And as recently as February, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was describing the ISIS threat in Anbar as "contained."
Since then, however, Abadi has gradually moved away from that position and begun emphasizing Anbar over Mosul as the focus of the government's next major offensive. The fall of Ramadi is the nail in the coffin for the rush to retake Mosul and marks the ascendance of the "Anbar first" model. This may ultimately be a positive development. As long as counteroffensive operations are mounted rapidly and surefootedly, ISIS will not be able to consolidate control of Ramadi as it did when left unchecked in Fallujah, Tikrit, and Mosul. Government forces still hold nearby bases such as Habbaniya (twenty miles east of Ramadi), and larger units are only eighty miles away in Baghdad.
Shocks to the system are often required to bring about positive change in Iraq. If Ramadi's fall opens up room for fresh options and intensified international support, it may ultimately shorten the war against ISIS. The U.S.-led coalition and Baghdad now have an opportunity to adjust the campaign in important ways:
Commit resources to Anbar. The Iraqi government needs to put ISIS on the defensive in eastern Anbar before Ramadan begins in mid-June, when the terrorist movement will no doubt try to surge attacks against Shiite religious and civilian targets in Baghdad and the shrine city of Karbala. Federal Police forces from the capital area have already been committed -- a welcome step after many months of Baghdad husbanding its units and refusing to reinforce the main combat theatres to the north and west. Seventeen relatively intact army brigades and brigade-size Federal Police units (or roughly one-fifth of Iraq's total combat brigades) remain in Baghdad city. If the government draws carefully on some of these experienced units and new forces being raised, it will have the manpower required to retake Ramadi while continuing its active battles in northern Salah a-Din province (Bayji and Hamrin).
Partner Sunni paramilitaries with ISF. New al-Hashd al-Shabi (Popular Mobilization Units) should be quickly raised among Anbar's Sunni tribes, provided with small arms and body armor, and closely partnered with existing ISF and Shiite Hashd units in combined formations -- much as Emergency Police battalions were often embedded with Iraqi army brigades in the past. Sunni tribal groups simply will not be able to operate independently against armored ISIS suicide truck bombs without antitank capabilities, and the quickest and least controversial way to protect them is by embedding them in existing units. This is more achievable than it may sound: the lesson of the past two years is that Shiite-dominated forces can work successfully in Anbar when they behave sensitively toward the local population. Southern army units made the mistake of excessively displaying Shiite flags on their vehicles when they first arrived in western Anbar in winter 2013, but they learned to stop this practice. Moreover, Shiite SWAT teams have been successfully operating in Ramadi since January 2014, while Shiite Hashd units have been serving in various Sunni Arab areas of Anbar at the request of desperate local tribes.
Intensify U.S. combat advising. To match Iraq's added commitment to Anbar and signal that the coalition recognizes the gravity of the moment, the United States and its partners will need to devote more airpower to the battle. Selective lower-level embedding of U.S. Special Forces in battalions and brigades may also be necessary to provide coordination and intelligence at key points in Anbar. This may require careful Iraqi deconfliction to maintain separation between U.S. forces and anti-Western, Iranian-backed elements of the Hashd.
Focus on the rural belts, not just the city. A key lesson from the past year is that regaining firm control of towns from ISIS requires securing the rural belts surrounding them. Accordingly, U.S. advisors should ensure that Baghdad is allocating sufficient forces to Ramadi's northern, southern, and eastern suburbs; otherwise, a cosmetic retaking of the city center may leave open the possibility of another ISIS return.
If Iraq and its international partners can grasp the nettle in Ramadi, the battle could provide valuable experience in complex, cross-sectarian coalition warfare. Forging disparate forces -- army, police, tribal, Hashd, and international -- into one team will challenge the commitment of the Iraqi government, local allies, the United States, and Iran. A successful coalition effort at Ramadi would prepare the anti-ISIS alliance for recapturing Mosul in 2016, restoring confidence and interest in that prospect. Perhaps most important, Iraqi leadership will be key -- the U.S.-led coalition cannot want a victory in Ramadi more than the various Iraqi constituencies want it themselves.
**Michael Knights is a Lafer Fellow with The Washington Institute and has worked extensively with local military and security agencies throughout Iraq.