May 23/15

Bible Quotation For Today/Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Matthew 05/43-48: "‘You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy."But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Bible Quotation For Today/our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Letter to the Ephesians 06,10-20.23-24: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ."

Pope Francis's Tweet For Toda
Lord, send forth your Holy Spirit to bring consolation and strength to persecuted Christians.
Pape François
Seigneur, envoie l’Esprit Saint pour donner consolation et force aux chrétiens persécutés.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 22-23/15
Hezbollah's Victory in Qalamoun: Winning the Battle, Losing the War/David Schenker and Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai/Washington Insititute/May 22/15
Hezbollah fight ‘hand-to-hand’ in Qalamoun/Mirella Hodeib| The Daily Star/May.22/15
Who Can Attack Turkish Ships/by Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/May 22/15
Obama’s Policies to Empower ISIS Exposed/by Raymond Ibrahim /May 22/15
The US and Iraqi and Syrian armies go to pieces against ISIS drive. Israel, Jordan, Saudis alarmed/DEBKAfile/May 22/15
A diplomatic shift: Iran and the U.S. swapping offices?/Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya/May 22/15
Relying on the U.S. for security is a mistake/Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor/Al Arabia/May 22/15

Lebanese Related News published on May 22-23/15
Conflicting Reports on Fate of Lebanese Detainees as IS Seizes Palmyra Prison
Hariri to Aoun: New President Essential to Appoint Army Chief
U.S. Official Says Presidential Polls Not Ultimate Problem Solver
Kahwagi vows to work for release of 'hero' hostages
The solutions to Lebanon’s woes pose yet more problems
Stick of dynamite found near Tripoli mosque
Kahwagi vows to work for release of 'hero' hostages 
Future blasts Raad for ‘intimidating’ remarks 
Iran warns Israel of Hezbollah rockets if attacked
What's on this weekend in Beirut?
Suleiman Reiterates Insistence on Baabda Declaration, Slams Those Seeking 'Constituent Assembly'
7 Akkar residents hospitalized after eating spoiled meat 
Change and Reform Concludes Presidential Initiative Tour
STL's Roux Hails Lebanon's Role in Criminal Justice
March 14 MPs in Bkirki to Protest Yearlong Presidential Vacuum
Army Detains Two for Belonging to ISIL
No deal yet on security appointments
Assad’s, Future rests in a bunker 

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 22-23/15
Hollande calls for new push on Syria political settlement after Palmyra
ISIS seizes Syria’s last border crossing with Iraq
Kerry, Lavrov discuss Syria, Yemen in phone call
Putin: Russia, Iraq expanding military cooperation
Iraq's top Shiite cleric urges 'wise plan' after fall of Ramadi to ISIS
U.S. to deliver 2000 anti-tank weapons to Iraq
A diplomatic shift: Iran and the U.S. swapping offices?
Chechen leader urges men to ban wives from ‘Whatsapp’
How cloud technology could boost economic growth in the Mideast
Israeli Arab who joined ISIS killed in Syria gunbattle

Palestinians complain to FIFA: Israel delays our soccer players at checkpoints
Likud MK says Obama's criticism of Netanyahu has 'a bit of hypocrisy'
New messianic message for Israel diplomats

ISIS claims attack on Houthi mosque in Sanaa, 13 injured
Egypt's president: Lack of 'justice' fueling extremism

Latest Jihad Watch News
Jihadi bride: “I rejoiced when we had our first sex slave”
New Jersey Muslim gets life in prison for murder he initially blamed on “Islamophobia”
Egypt’s Salafi party bans Christmas, Easter greetings
Egypt: After ransom paid, Coptic Christian still murdered
Whoever Disbelieves, Strike Off His Head’: Muslim Persecution of Christians, February 2015
Raymond Ibrahim: Obama’s Policies to Empower ISIS Exposed
Muslim cleric: Beheadings permitted “as a means to strike terror”
Australia to strip citizenship of Australian-born jihadis with immigrant parents

Iran warns Israel of Hezbollah rockets if attacked
AFP, Tehran/Thursday, 21 May 2015
A senior Iranian military official warned on Thursday that any Israeli attack would unleash a firestorm of missiles on its cities fired by the Islamic republic’s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon. The Shiite militia has more than 80,000 rockets ready to fire at Tel Aviv and Haifa, said General Yahya Rahim Safavi, military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “Iran, with the help of Hezbollah and its friends, is capable of destroying Tel Aviv and Haifa in case of military aggression on the part of the Zionists,” he said, quoted on state television. “I don’t think the Zionists would be so unintelligent as to create a military problem with Iran,” the general said. “They know the strength of Iran and Hezbollah.” Last week, a senior Israeli military intelligence official warned of a heightened threat of conflict over the next two years as a result of “escalation” in the region. In a briefing to foreign journalists at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv, the official referred specifically to Hezbollah, with whom Israel fought a month-long war in 2006, and to Iran’s arming of the group. “The Iranian threat is a tangible threat to Israel,” said the official, whose country has not ruled out the use of military force to block any attempt by Tehran to produce a nuclear bomb. Israel has opposed the efforts of world powers to strike a deal with Iran curbing its nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions, saying that Tehran cannot be trusted. Iran has long asserted that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes, and that international concern about it seeking a nuclear bomb is misplaced.

U.S. Official Says Presidential Polls Not Ultimate Problem Solver
Naharnet /The U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs has reiterated Washington's support for Lebanon to meet the challenges it is facing and said the presidential elections would not solve all of the country's issues. Lawrence Silverman said on Thursday at a conference organized by the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce in New York that the U.S. stands by Lebanon to confront the challenges it is facing as a result of conflicts in the region. He also said Washington supports Lebanese authorities against efforts aimed at pushing the country into the region's conflicts as a result of extremism. He stressed that the election of a new president would not solve all of Lebanon's problems. But it would be an important and essential step in the right direction. Baabda Palace has been vacant since President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May 2014. Silverman told the conference that the U.S. backs the Lebanese army and security forces in their war against extremists who are reaching Lebanon from Syria. “We stand by you in confronting a common enemy,” he said. Silverman urged Lebanese state institutions to put all their potential in confronting the challenges. Such a move requires officials to put the nation's interest before other interests, he added.

March 14 MPs in Bkirki to Protest Yearlong Presidential Vacuum

Naharnet /A delegation from the March 14 alliance lawmakers will visit the Maronite church seat on Tuesday to express resentment over the lingering presidential vacuum. Al-Mustaqbal newspaper reported Friday that the delegation will meet with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi to denounce the ongoing vacuum. The lawmakers will demand the end of the presidential stalemate, stress the importance of ending the political status quo and the swift election of a new head of state. President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May last year without the election of a successor as the ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps have thwarted the polls. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform and Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance blocs have been boycotting the elections, demanding that political powers agree on a compromise presidential candidate. Twenty-three parliamentary sessions have been so far scheduled to elect a new head of state and adjourned due to the shy number of attendees.

Suleiman Reiterates Insistence on Baabda Declaration, Slams Those Seeking 'Constituent Assembly'
Naharnet/Former President Michel Suleiman on Thursday stressed keenness on the Baabda Declaration that he brokered in 2012, as he criticized Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun's latest presidential proposals. “The Taef Accord ended the wars of others on Lebanon's soil and the Baabda Declaration was aimed at preventing war among the Lebanese on the soil of others,” said Suleiman in a televised speech marking one year since the presidential vacuum started. The address was delivered after a meeting for the Republic Gathering, which Suleiman heads. The gathering comprises Suleiman's ministers in Tammam Salam's cabinet – Samir Moqbel, Alice Shabtini and Abdul Mutalleb Hennawi – Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, a number of ex-ministers, and several political, economic, academic, civil society and media figures. Suleiman called on all political forces to “abide by the Baabda Declaration to preserve the state's sovereignty across all Lebanese regions.”On Wednesday, Hizbullah's top lawmaker Mohammed Raad dismissed the Baabda Declaration as “merely a transcript of a (national dialogue) session.” “We don't want to exhume the dead from the graves,” Raad answered when asked about the declaration during a TV interview. In 2013, Raad, who attended the 2012 dialogue session, said the Baabda Declaration was “born dead”, accusing the rival March 14 camp of smuggling “arms and fighters” into war-torn Syria. Hizbullah has openly sent elite fighters across the border to aid the Syrian regime in the face of an Islamist-led uprising. The Baabda Declaration calls for dissociating Lebanon from the regional crises, especially the conflict in Syria. Separately, Suleiman called on the lawmakers who are boycotting voting sessions to head to parliament and elect a new president, warning that “it is unacceptable to jeopardize the fate of the country.”“The Taef Accord and the Constitution must be immunized, and this begins with the election of a new president, instead of promoting the idea of a so-called constituent assembly,” the ex-president added. He also slammed “any form of partitioning” or “constitutional heresies,” in an apparent jab at MP Michel Aoun. On Friday, Aoun blamed the current political crisis on “the limitation of the presidential powers” after the Taef Accord and “the lack of participation by all the Lebanese factions” in the country's political life. He called for choosing one of four solutions: a two-phased election of the president by the people, a popular referendum that is binding for parliament, a parliamentary vote for the “two most representative Maronite MPs”, or holding parliamentary polls based on a new and balanced electoral law before organizing the presidential vote. As for the work of Salam's cabinet, Suleiman warned against “paralyzing the government” or “any attempt to topple it.”

Hariri to Aoun: New President Essential to Appoint Army Chief
Naharnet/AL-Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri reportedly informed Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun that he rejects the appointment of a new army commander ahead of the election of a new head of state. Sources revealed in comments published in An Nahar newspaper Friday that Hariri's envoy told Aoun that he doesn't object to the appointment of Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz as army chief. However, Hariri stressed that ending the presidential vacuum is a must to appoint a new army commander as “the new head of state, whoever he was, has to have an opinion on the matter.” Conflicting reports emerged recently on whether Hariri agreed on the appointment of Roukoz as army chief. The reports had said that Hariri informed Aoun about his consent on the appointment of Roukoz as military chief in return for the appointment of head of the Internal Security Force Information Branch Imad Othman as ISF chief. Aoun has allegedly been seeking to receive political consensus on the appointment of Roukoz as army chief as part of a package for the appointment of other top security officers, but Aoun scrapped such reports. Roukoz's tenure ends in October while the term of army commander Gen. Jean Qahwaji expires at the end of September. 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 vacuum also threatens Internal Security Forces as chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous is set to retire in June.

STL's Roux Hails Lebanon's Role in Criminal Justice
Naharnet /The head of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's defense office has said that Lebanon can do a major favor for international criminal justice following the establishment of the STL. Francois Roux told An Nahar daily in remarks published on Friday that Lebanon was able through the tragedy that led to the formation of the court to achieve a major breakthrough in international criminal justice. The STL is the first court that looks into a terrorist crime and allows in absentia trials, he said. Roux told An Nahar that the tribunal is the first international court to establish a defense office as an independent body. The STL was set up in line with a 2007 U.N. Security Council resolution to look into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Five Hizbullah members have been charged with plotting Hariri's murder in a massive explosion at the Beirut seafront but have not been arrested. Their trial in absentia began in January 2014 and is ongoing. Hizbullah denies involvement in the murder and the group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has denounced the court as a conspiracy by his archenemies — the U.S. and Israel.

Change and Reform Concludes Presidential Initiative Tour
Naharnet/Change and Reform lawmakers finished Friday a tour the bloc kicked off earlier this week to garner support for Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's initiative to end the lingering presidential crisis. “The Christian voice isn't being heard... despite its importance” to end the presidential crisis, MP Simon Abi Ramia said after talks with Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan at his residence. “We met with all parties and reached a conviction on the importance of reclaiming the pioneer role of Christians,” the lawmaker told reporters. The delegation had met with Progressive Socialist Party official Taymor Jumblat, and the son of MP Walid Jumblat, Hizbullah, Mustaqbal Movement, AMAL, Marada Movement, Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, Lebanese Forces and Kataeb Party parliamentary blocs. Aoun's initiative sets four solutions to the presidential deadend, at the forefront the election of a president directly from the people in two phases, first by the Christians, who would eliminate candidates and on a second phase by the Lebanese people. Another solution would be a popular referendum and the candidate who garners most votes would be elected by the parliament as a new president. The initiative also includes the possibility of electing the Maronite candidate who has the majority of representation at the parliament, while the fourth is staging the parliamentary elections ahead of the presidential polls based on a new electoral law that provides equality between Christians and Muslims. 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.

Kahwagi vows to work for release of 'hero' hostages
The Daily Star/May. 22, 2015
BEIRUT: Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi Friday pledged to press ahead with efforts to release the 25 servicemen held hostage by Syria-based Islamist jihadis along the border with Lebanon. “Fellow soldiers, on this dear national occasion ... I salute your hero comrades kidnapped by terrorist organizations and promise them that their cause will remain [our primary responsibility] until their liberation and safe return to their families,” Kahwagi said ahead of the 15th anniversary of Liberation Day. The Nusra Front and ISIS have been holding 25 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal since last August. Kahwagi also vowed to continue to defend the country’s sovereignty. “Also on your behalf, I promise the Lebanese that we will not rest until the liberation of the last inch of our national occupied land and promise to safeguard our homeland – the land, the people and the institutions,” Kahwagi said, addressing an assembly of Lebanese officers gathered for the occasion. Liberation Day is celebrated on May 25 to mark the anniversary of the Israeli army's withdrawal from the majority of territory in south Lebanon in 2000. However, Israel still occupies some areas in south Lebanon, including the Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shouba and the northern part of the village of Ghajar. Kahwagi also called upon soldiers to continue to protect coexistence, adhere to the National Charter and maintain loyalty to Lebanon. “Thus, I urge you to continue with this national approach, which alone can protect Lebanon,” he added. Later on Friday, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim’s media office released a statement calling on media outlets to avoid spreading any unconfirmed rumors about the negotiations to free the servicemen. Ibrahim is the head negotiator representing the Lebanese state in negotiations with the Islamist militants. The General Security chief said that recent reports on the negotiations were “mere rumors and analyses that have no relevance to the truth, and affect the case negatively.” Ibrahim urged the media to only release information confirmed by the authorities, promising to reveal all news at the appropriate time. “This is to respect the feelings of the captives’ families, to protect the truth and to push this case to the desired ends,” he said.

Future blasts Hezbollah’s Raad for ‘intimidating’ remarks
The Daily Star/May. 22, 2015
BEIRUT: Saad Hariri’s Future Movement Friday hit back at Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad for recent "intimidating" comments directed at the justice minister and the party’s secretary-general. In the statement, the Future Movement lambasted Raad's comments and his “rhetorical superiority” directed at Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi and the party’s Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri. “This threat, which constitutes an assault on civil peace, is the other face of the extremist and terrorist movements that are expanding in the region because of Iran’s behavior and how it dictates its actions in Yemen and Lebanon,” the statement said. The statement also described Raad’s remarks as “disgraceful.” “Mohammad Raad’s comments are disgraceful and a sign of tension and unsteadiness; and they will not scare the Lebanese or the Future Movement,” the statement added. Raad's comments earlier this week came in response to calls by Rifi and Hariri for the Lebanese state to act and abolish Hezbollah's "mini-state." “Ashraf Rifi wants to end [Hezbollah’s] mini-state within the state while at the time he has established his [own independent] statelet in Tripoli,” Raad told pan-Arab satellite TV channel Al-Mayadeen. In response to a question concerning Ahmad Hariri, Raad said: “We’ll deal with him later because he’s a higher level than Ashraf Rifi.”
The Future Movement's statement said Raad and Hezbollah would be held responsible if any harm came to Rifi or Ahmad Hariri, adding that the Lebanese people "will deal with Hezbollah later."

Hezbollah fight ‘hand-to-hand’ in Qalamoun
Mirella Hodeib| The Daily Star/May. 22, 2015
QALAMOUN, Syria: The stench emanating deep from the hill cave is nauseating. In the vicinity, clothes, dirty blankets and canned food littered the ground. “Come on, go up there, see for yourself,” Hezbollah fighters encourage The Daily Star reporter to battle thistles and rocks to inspect what used to be a bunker occupied by one of the many Nusra Front- affiliated factions in the border area of Qalamoun. “You have to see and smell for yourself,” one field commander, Rassoul, adds. “Go and check out for yourself how they live and how gross they are.”
Following battles that raged earlier in May, Hezbollah and the Syrian Army have been able to regain up until this week 310 square kilometers out of 780 square kilometers of Lebanese and Syrian lands seized by militants in the Qalamoun hills area, which straddles the border between the neighboring countries.
The battlefield is indeed infinite. The landscape mainly consists of vast thistle valleys, some juniper trees scattered here and there and imposing cliffs and hills enclosing natural caves – the ideal hideouts for the militants that Hezbollah is battling. Temperatures can reach up to minus 27 degrees Celsius during the winter season.
The weather was particularly harsh at night last week when Hezbollah guerrillas and their allies, the Syrian Army, took over Qalamoun’s highest peak; the strategic Tallet Moussa. “Temperatures reached zero degrees [Celsius] that night,” field commander Hajj Osama recalls during a rare press trip to the area organized by Hezbollah’s media unit. “It rained on us; it hailed on us but al-Hamdulillah [thank God] we triumphed.”
Denoting the fierceness of the fighting, bullet casings of all sizes and ammunition tins line the terrain in Ras Wadi al-Hawa, a hill in Qalamoun that has been recently recovered by Hezbollah. Dressed in impeccable desert fatigues and hiding their eyes behind opaque shades, the party’s field commanders strongly rebuff questions about new missiles being used on the battlefield.
“Here in Qalamoun, we are mainly relying on hand-to-hand combat,” a field commander who identified himself as Hajj Nader explains. “It’s an infantry battle par excellence. Sometimes only 5 to 10 meters separate us from the enemy.”
Another commander, who refused to be identified, said the qualitative weapons used in Qalamoun that are mentioned in media reports are in reality “Hezbollah’s manpower.”
In Qalamoun, Hezbollah is fighting ISIS militants in the northern Qalamoun area but mainly the Nusra Front in all the other parts including Khirbet Younin from the Lebanese side of the hills.
The Nusra Front, the strongest faction in Qalamoun, encompasses within its ranks internationally recognized terrorist groups such as Liwaa al-Ghorabaa and the Abdallah Azzam Brigades as well as some regiments from the Free Syrian Army.
During the battles, Hezbollah fighters say they have encountered Islamist combatants from Yemen and Eastern Europe. It is in the Nusra Front-controlled zone in Qalamoun, where rigged cars – to be dispatched to Lebanon and Syria – are prepared, according to Hezbollah.
The use of booby traps is a warfare technique widely utilized by militant groups, according to Hezbollah – the Nusra Front and its affiliates do not hesitate to rig vehicles, bunkers or even rocks with explosives.
In Qalamoun areas taken over by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, demining teams work around the clock to dismantle booby traps.

“The infrastructure militants have in place is bewildering,” the commander said. “It’s like they are envisaging staying here forever.”
The commander explains that the reason behind what he called the “easy surrender” of the Nusra Front and affiliated factions in Qalamoun is that Hezbollah has stripped militants from the two main warfare techniques they rely on: the excessive use of antitank missiles and booby-trapping.
“‘Let your men emerge’ they [Nusra Front] once challenged us,” the commander says. “We are showing them that it’s the will, high spirits and determination of our men that is leading to accomplishments in Qalamoun.”
The commander says that although Hezbollah has the upper hand when it comes to artillery weapons, the Nusra Front might have more machine guns than the Lebanese guerrilla group.
Other weaponry found in the possession of the Nusra Front include Syrian army spoils such as M13 tanks as well as T72 and T62 tanks. The militants also have guided anti-armor missiles and guided missiles of the types MILAN, Concord and Kornet as well as sniper rifles and long-range sniper rifles.
But their so-called easy surrender in no way implies that the jihadis are feeble, their counterparts in Hezbollah admit. “There are some really excellent ones I must say,” the anonymous commander notes.
Hajj Osama describes his opponents as “ruthless.” “They fight as if they’ve got nothing to lose,” he says.
More accustomed to the geography of south Lebanon in light of the long years fighting Israel, since they joined the conflict in Syria some three years ago Hezbollah guerrillas have become more familiar with new combat terrains.
Field commander Hajj Osama says his party is known for its ability “to adapt to geography.”
“After cities, mountains are the second most difficult terrain of combat,” Hajj Nader likes to reiterate at almost every stop. “What we are doing is no piece of cake,” the stout middle-aged fighter frequently adds.
While the Hezbollah war machine is currently focused on driving militants away from the Lebanese border by targeting their bases and acquiring more hilltops “for their strategic significance,” it is warily eyeing the movement of ousted jihadis up north toward the outskirts of the border town of Arsal.
But are the outskirts of Arsal the next target?
It is early to tell at this point in light of the party’s tight-lipped policy and the sectarian dimension that would be given to any action the Shiite group could undertake against militants holed up on the outskirts of the majority Sunni town.
Away from political considerations, for Hezbollah’s military commanders, Arsal is currently an occupied town.
Hajj Nader highlights that the flow of militants into Arsal’s outskirts significantly endangers the neighboring towns of Al-Qaa, Ras Baalbek, Fakiha and Al-Ain.
The commander who did not give his name argues that with the Lebanese Army stationed on the western edge of the town, unable to access its center and outskirts, and refugee camps on the outskirts being used as a resting ground and replenishment base for jihadi militias, Hezbollah has every reason to believe that Arsal is being held hostage.
“I am speaking from a strictly military perspective now,” he adds. “As fighters we have got nothing to do with politics.”

The US and Iraqi and Syrian armies go to pieces against ISIS drive. Israel, Jordan, Saudis alarmed
DEBKAfile Special Report May 22, 2015\
The fall of Damascus and Baghdad, or large slices thereof, into the rapacious hands of the Islamic State, is no longer a debatable subject of strategic forecasts. Today, the capital cities of Syria and Iraq are within the Islamists’ grasp. The Middle East is about to pay the price for President Barack Obama’s single-minded obsession with a US détente with Tehran and a nuclear accord. It is the end product of Washington’s insistence on playing down ISIS as a formidable opponent and contention that the meager US-led coalition air campaign destroyed much of its operational capabilities, which proved to be an illusion. Equally fallacious was Obama’s trust in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its terrorist arm, the Al Qods Brigades, to curtail the Islamist momentum.
Washington's trust has since faded. Tehran too has cooled to the idea.
In March, a group of Iraqi Shiite militias commanded by Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, managed to snatch parts of the Sunni Iraqi town of Tikrit from Islamist grasp. That was Iran’s first and last engagement against ISIS in Iraq. After that, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei decided to pull back from engaging Sunni Muslims in an overt sectarian showdown. It was clear to him, that the battlefield was not Iran’s forte, but rather subversion, clandestine warfare and limited support for local Shiite surrogates.
As the Islamists advanced, therefore, Tehran cut back on further military intervention in Syria and Iraq and turned instead to Yemen and the Houthi rebellion as its vehicle. This is a smaller arena, which is no less strategically valuable than Iraq and Syria, thanks to its command of the globally important Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb to world shipping.
Khamenei also saw the US president had little appetite for fighting the Islamic State. He concluded that Tehran would be better off saving the Iranian army and Revolutionary Guards forces for defending its borders against potential ISIS assault from neighboring Iraq, instead of wearing them down in Iraq and Syria.
The Iranian leader also decided that if the United States could only afford a very minor-key air campaign against the Islamist terrorists, Iran’s air force should not be called on for a greater effort.
All these circumstances combined to tip America over into the heart of the fiercely burning Middle sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. Washington’s latest plan to send arms to Iraqis of both sects who are ready to defend Baghdad looks like a certain recipe for stoking the sectarian fire, or even pushing ISIS into an offensive to seize the city.
The Islamists have until now held back from an all-out offensive to capture Baghdad for a variety of tactical considerations. A city of this size is a bit too large for the Islamists to swallow, hold and administer. It suits the jihadists better to hold the town to siege and under constant terrorist harassment.
The most knowledgeable sources in the region can’t explain what part the US Central Command is playing as a military factor in any of these conflicts – in particular, Gen. John Allen, whom Obama last year named Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS. Some account for their low-to-vanishing profile by their having been preoccupied in preparing a grand campaign for the recovery of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which is under ISIS rule.
Today, this plan looks like a pipe dream. ISIS has caused a Middle East earthquake after another by capturing Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria in a matter of days. Their alarmed neighbors in Jerusalem, Amman and Riyadh have been forced to conclude that their borders are in danger - not just from Iran, but also from ISIS, and they will have to confront these perils on their own.

Who Can Attack Turkish Ships?
by Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute
May 22, 2015 at 4:00 am
This time, there was no request for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council; no talks with the EU, NATO, Obama or Merkel. Instead, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a weak protest note.
President Erdogan's reaction to an attack on a civilian Turkish vessel by a foreign army was revealing: "Things would have been different had the ship carried a Turkish flag."
By the way, what flag did the Mavi Marmara carry? Comoros.
For Turkey's Islamists, "what was done" does not matter much. "Who did it" does.
"This is the first time in history that a foreign army has killed civilian Turks in peacetime!"
This is how government-friendly media justified Turkey's reaction to Israel when, in May 2010, the Israel Defense Forces raided the "Mavi Marmara," a ship in a Turkish-led flotilla off the Gazan coast, and killed nine pro-Palestine activists aboard.
Any reader could be tempted to believe that Turkey was preparing to go to war with Israel.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, then foreign minister, insisted that "This is Turkey's own 9/11."
Turkey asked the United Nations Security Council to summon an emergency meeting. It knocked on other doors too: NATO, the European Union (EU), the Arab League and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Then Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan called to discuss the Mavi Marmara crisis with U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Erdogan's portrayal of the incident contained words such as "state terrorism," "an attack on world peace," "piracy," "thuggish state," and "massacre." He said that:
Israel must definitely be punished,
Israel will pay a very heavy price for this,
Israel murdered innocent people at sea, and
[Addressing and threatening Israeli citizens:] Israel is openly exposing your security to great risk.
The Turkish-owned ship Mavi Marmara, which took part in the 2010 "Gaza flotilla" that attempted to break Israel's navel blockade of Gaza. (Image source: "Free Gaza movement"/Flickr)
Since the incident, Turkey's relations with Israel never normalized. Neither country has an ambassador in the other's capital. Turkey has vowed to isolate Israel internationally until Israel has apologized, paid compensation to the families of the victims, and removed the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip (which a UN commission probing the Mavi Marmara incident later declared to be legal).
One might, initially, understand the Turkish ire. After all, a foreign country's military had targeted a civilian ship and killed people aboard, with or without good legal reason. After all, again, the vessel that was attacked was not a Turkish frigate intending to shell the Israeli coast. So, Turkey's justified anger presumably had nothing to do with the inherent anti-Semitism of its Islamist rulers. Really?
For Erdogan, Israel is a terrorist state. But apparently, he has had a confused mind about another Mediterranean-basin country: Libya. In 2010, Erdogan, with a happy and smiling face, received Libya's "distinguished" Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. He returned the favor by eventually joining an allied force that overthrew the Libyan dictator and led to his lynching. However, shortly before Erdogan decided that Turkey should join the allied forces, he had publicly said -- in criticism of the planned NATO operation against Gaddafi -- "What business does NATO have in Libya?"
As Turkey did in the Palestinian territories, or elsewhere where such groups exist, it apparently has an obsession about supporting the Islamists in Libya, too.
In response, Abdullah al-Thinni, the Prime Minister of the Libyan interim government, has repeatedly accused Turkey of interfering in the domestic affairs of Libya and earlier this year warned that Libya's government could put an end to investments by Turkish companies in the country.
On May 10, almost five years after "Turkey's own 9/11," a Turkish cargo ship's third officer was killed and several other crew members were wounded after the ship was shelled off the Libyan coast and attacked from the air by Libyan forces.
The vessel, the Tuna-1, was approaching Tobruk, a coastal city in Libya where the country's internationally-recognized government is headquartered, to deliver sheetrock cargo loaded in Spain, when it was shelled in international waters, 13 miles away from the Libyan port city. The Tuna-1 was then attacked twice from the air as it tried to leave the area. A Libyan military spokesman told Reuters that the Turkish vessel was bombed "after it was warned not to approach the Libyan city of Derna."
But this time there was no request for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council; no talks with the EU, NATO, Arab League, OIC, Obama or Merkel. No words flying in the air such as "terrorist state," "piracy," "massacre," "an attack on world peace." No "murderers." No threats to Libyans that "your security is being exposed to great risks." And, naturally, this is not "Turkey's own 9/11."
Instead, the Turkish Foreign Ministry on May 11 issued a weak protest note. It condemned the attack and demanded legal action. It called the attack a violation of international law. All Turkey's Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, could say was that Ankara had sent a frigate off the Libyan coast to escort the Tuna-1 back to Turkish waters.
President Erdogan's reaction to the attack on a civilian Turkish vessel by a foreign army was revealing. He said: "Things would have been different had the Turkish ship carried a Turkish flag." That would be Turkey's wrath on Libya, he simply meant, were the Tuna-1, owned by a Turkish company, not registered in the Cook Islands.
By the way, what flag did the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara carry? Comoros.
Still wondering why Turkey's voice was so loud after the Mavi Marmara incident? For Turkey's Islamists, "what was done" does not matter much. "Who did it" does.
**Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Obama’s Policies to Empower ISIS Exposed
by Raymond Ibrahim /May 22, 2015
For months, many Western observers have been closely following the minute-by-minute developments concerning the battle between Islamic State and coalition forces in the hopes that such data will help them discern what the future may hold.
Yet knowledge of the end game has been available for anyone viewing the Obama administration with the eyes of a hedgehog, not a fox.
In an article published over seven months ago, I anticipated the main developments to have taken place since U.S. President Obama declared war (i.e., “airstrikes”) on the Islamic State in September, 2014. Titled “Does Obama Need ‘Time to Defeat or Forget ISIS?” I made the following predictions, all of which have come true, and in the same sequence:
Obama’s “it will take time” [to defeat IS] assertion prompts the following prediction: U.S. airstrikes on IS targets will continue to be just enough to pacify those calling for action against the caliphate (“we’re doing what we can”). The official [U.S. government’s] narrative will be that the Islamic State is gradually being weakened, that victory is a matter of time (remember, “It will take time”)….
[W]e will hear about the occasional victory against IS—this or that leader killed or captured…
Then, just as they “suddenly” appeared in Iraq, we will “suddenly” again hear—probably first from IS itself—that the Islamic State has made some major comeback, winning over some new piece of territory, as the caliphate continues to grow and get stronger.
Now consider how the Obama administration’s actions have fulfilled these predictions, and often in the same sequence.
The official [U.S. government’s] narrative will be that the Islamic State is gradually being weakened, that victory is a matter of time…
Last February, key Obama administration figures—including Secretary of State John Kerry and retired General John Allen, the president’s special coordinator for the coalition against the Islamic State—triumphantly asserted that, thanks to U.S. airstrikes, “half the group’s [IS] leaders in Iraq had been killed.”
Not long thereafter, an investigative report demonstrated that such claims were utterly false and hardly representative of reality.
[W]e will hear about the occasional victory against IS…
In April, the Pentagon announced that, thanks to U.S. airstrikes and the Iraqi army, “ISIL [Islamic State] is no longer the dominant force in roughly 25 to 30% of the populated areas of Iraqi territory where it once had complete freedom of movement.” The Pentagon even released a map showing which territories the Islamic State had lost.
Soon, however, it became evident that the Pentagon’s claim and map were misleading and incomplete. Among other irregularities, the map, while showing territories that IS once held and territories it had since lost, failed to indicate the new territories IS had gained since the coalition effort began—making the 25%-30% claim totally misleading.
[W]e will hear about … this or that leader killed or captured…
Nor was Obama administration grandstanding concerning the killing of “key” IS figures wanting. Most recently, on May 16, U.S. special forces managed to kill Abu Sayyaf. Although only a mid-ranking leader, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said his killing “represents another significant blow to Isis.” (Read here for an idea of how many times U.S. officials have made the “significant blow” assertion whenever this or that jihadi dies, only for the jihad to spread and conquer more lands.)
Even the New York Times observed that “Abu Sayyaf is a midlevel leader in the organization — one terrorism analyst compared him to Al Capone’s accountant — and likely is replaceable in fairly short order.”
Then, just as they “suddenly” appeared in Iraq, we will “suddenly” again hear—probably first from IS itself—that the Islamic State has made some major comeback, winning over some new piece of territory, as the caliphate continues to grow and get stronger.
Finally, after the Obama administration had claimed that it had killed half of IS leadership, that it had pushed IS out of 25%-30% previously held territory, that its killing of an IS midlevel leader was a “significant blow”—right on cue, the Islamic State just announced its takeover of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, one of Iraq’s most strategic provinces. According to a May 17 Reuters report:
Islamic State militants said they had taken full control of the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on Sunday in the biggest defeat for the Baghdad government since last summer.
It was the biggest victory for Islamic State in Iraq since security forces and Shi’ite paramilitary groups began pushing the militants back last year, aided by air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition.
The U.S. Defense Department, while not confirming the fall of Ramadi, sought to play down the impact on the broader Iraq military campaign of an Islamic State seizure of the city.
To fully appreciate the significance of this latest conquest by the Islamic State, consider the words of Anbar governor Ahmed al-Dulaimi spoken back in November 2014: “If we lose Anbar, that means we will lose Iraq.”
Of course, none of these developments are surprising for those among us who were able to take a step back—to transcend the distracting noise and nonsense daily grinded out by mainstream media—and look at the big picture.
For those able to read the plain writing on the wall, the end game between Obama and the Islamic State was always easy to discern.

A diplomatic shift: Iran and the U.S. swapping offices?
Friday, 22 May 2015
Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya
As the chances of a nuclear deal between the six world powers (known as P5+1: the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China) and the Islamic Republic become higher, the potential normalization of the relationship between the two long-standing enemies- the U.S. and Iran- has attracted international spotlight. Recently, the Iranian and American leaders have agreed on opening new diplomatic offices in Tehran and Washington in order to preserve the national interests of both countries.
Opening diplomatic offices can be viewed as a significant move, and can be a crucial pillar for advancement of Iran’s foreign policy in the region. After the hostage crisis in 1979, high American officials and diplomats have not set foot on Iranian soil. Washington and Tehran broke diplomatic ties in 1979. As a result, opening new diplomatic offices in Tehran and Washington, after 36 years of tension, is absolutely a crucial reflection of the thawing of ties between the U.S. and Iran.
The hardliners and the office of the supreme leader will likely view a rapprochement with the U.S. as a risk for their hold on power. However, these developments beg the questions as to whether a final nuclear deal can lead to the full normalization of ties and complete cooperation between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic. If so, on what geopolitical, strategic, or economic levels might the two countries might go hand in hand with each other?
The historic diplomatic moves
Several historic moves have been conducted which might suggest a reversal in the animosity between the Iranian and American governments. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set foot on Iranian property, or rather a residence. He met with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the residence of the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo, in New York. Although it was once considered a taboo, currently Iranian and American leaders meet frequently at the highest levels, sitting on the same table and negotiating, with some of their interactions publicly televised. Breaking another taboo, the American President Barack Obama, spoke on the phone with his Iranian counterpart, President Hassan Rowhani. In addition, U.S. and Iranian flags are repeatedly shown next to each other in these high level meetings.
Although these moves might appear to be a notion of symbolism, they are crucial in diplomatic arenas for restoring ties. The underlying reason behind the possible normalization between Washington and Tehran and the current diplomatic encounters between the two government officials is indeed Iran’s nuclear file. Iran’s nuclear defiance, which was once a significant factor behind Iran-U.S. tensions, has led to a shift in which the nuclear file has become a source for the further normalization of ties and cooperation between the U.S. and Iran.
Potential hurdles can be overcome
The crucial barriers in rapprochement between U.S. and the Islamic Republic originated mainly from the principalists, hardliners in Tehran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the office of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Although, there is some domestic resistance (from the public or Senate) in the U.S. when it comes to the improvement of ties between Tehran and Washington, these platforms do not possess executive power over the president’s decision to open an embassy in Iran or further ratchet up diplomatic headway with the Iranian leaders. Although the American public might still remember the hostage-taking of American diplomats in 1979 in Tehran, the U.S. president can also persuade the public that an improvement of ties is in the national, geopolitical and economic interest of the United States. On the other hand, since Iran’s political establishments and policies are driven not solely by national and geopolitical interests, but also ideological principles, the hardliners and the office of the supreme leader will likely view a rapprochement with the U.S. as a risk for their hold on power. Restoring full diplomatic ties can also be analyzed as betraying the revolutionary principles of the Islamic Republic which were founded based on anti-Americanism, its interference in the region, as well as opposition to Western models of socio-political and socio-economic landscapes. From the perspective of Khamenei - who has the final say in foreign policy decisions - diplomatic ties with the U.S. might also lead to the empowerment of Iranian civil society and secular factions. From the prism of the senior cadre of the IRGC, relationships with the capitalist American government might lead to the opening of Iranian markets which will endanger the economic monopoly of IRGC institutions.
Notwithstanding these issues, these boundaries and hurdles can be resolved. A political faction which can address the concerns of the supreme leader and IRGC leaders, is Rowhani’s camp.
Although Rowhani and his technocrat team share commonalities with the hardliners that they attempt to preserve the interests of the Islamic Republic, they differ in that they put national and geopolitical interests ahead of ideological ones. They are more diplomats and statesmen than ideologues. In closing, similar to the ongoing nuclear negotiations, Rowhani and the moderate camp can persuade Ayatollah Khamenei that diplomatic ties with the U.S. will, in fact, empower the Islamic Republic, further its hegemonic ambitions, and raise Tehran’s economic status without the need for the Iranian leaders to give up that much of their revolutionary principles. In other words, the Islamic Republic can cooperate with the U.S. on strategic, geopolitical and national levels covertly or overtly while maintaining the foundations and revolutionary principles of the Islamic Republic as well as advancing its ambitions.

Relying on the U.S. for security is a mistake
Thursday, 22 May 2015
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor/Al Arabia
At a passing glance, President Barack Obama’s meetings with the leaders of the Arab Gulf States have borne fruit in terms of furthering mutual respect and as a building block to closer cooperation. But when one digs beneath the flimflam and the verbal pledges - with the exception of a joint missile defense system and a promise that deliveries of U.S. weapons would be fast-tracked - the recent Camp David Summit delivered few tangible benefits.
Indeed, more than a few commentators have described the meeting as a U.S.-hosted arms bazaar, one that will fill the coffers of American weapons manufacturers with billions of dollars. Plus the P5+1 - Iranian nuclear deal is set to enrich and empower Tehran once economic sanctions are lifted.
Obama says Iran’s newfound wealth will be used to improve lives rather than end up in the treasure chests of Hezbollah, the Shiite Yemeni Houthis, or other troublemakers under the Iranian wing. Sorry, but to me that smacks of naivety at best, snake oil at worst.
According to a Daily Telegraph investigation, Iran’s Supreme Leader controls “a financial empire” estimated to be worth $95 billion, more than even the grandiose Shah had managed to accumulate. That alone should tell Mr Obama that Iran has no intention of prioritising the needs of its people over its regional mischief makers.
Eradicating terrorism
The question is whether the leaders of the GCC countries should rightly feel secure from Iranian aggression now that the U.S. President has promised to come to their defense, militarily if deemed necessary. Naturally, that assessment would be made by the White House, not by te threatened states.
Without a signed and sealed security pact and in light of Obama’s track record of hesitancy in ending regional conflicts or eradicating terrorism, I don’t think so. Are we seriously to believe that the U.S. would declare war on Iran were we to be menaced?
In my opinion, trusting the Obama administration to rein in Iran would be a huge mistake
Obama’s rhetoric speaks otherwise when he told the New York Times that internal threats to Gulf States are “bigger than Iran” and, at Camp David, he warned his guests not to “marginalise” Tehran. And even if Obama’s undertaking was rock solid, his term expires in just over 18 months. What happens then?
In any case, while there is nothing wrong with cementing better relations with the U.S., we must not on any account rely on its protection or that of any other world power. Yemen proves that we are able and willing to protect ourselves and our allies and when the proposed Joint Arab Force comes into play, our capabilities will be strengthened. We have no need of guardians or bosses in foreign capitals. We have strong, well equipped armies and air forces. We are not helpless, underage youths pleading to be defended, as characterised by sectors of the media.
Merely a public relations exercise
I would urge GCC heads of state to put Camp David under a microscope to ascertain whether it was a genuine attempt on Obama’s behalf to induce closer ties or merely a public relations exercise to bring Gulf States on board a bad deal rewarding Iran for its hostility, regional interference and its backing of terrorists.
In my opinion, trusting the Obama administration to rein in Iran would be a huge mistake. U.S. engagement with Iran was exactly the legacy Obama was after even before he moved into the Oval Office. And to that end he surrounded himself with pro-Iranian officials, such as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Deputy Secretary-of-State Bill Burns, who have all been championing détente with Iran for many years.
Obama’s personal adviser and family friend, Valerie Jarrett grew up in Iran, speaks Farsi, and was a main player along with Bill Burns in U.S.-Iranian secret talks to pave the way for official negotiations. The President’s National Security Council Director for Iran, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh is a former employee of the National-Iranian American Council, a pro-Iranian lobbying organisation.
The President’s own behaviour with regards to America’s long-time sworn enemy was suspect since the beginning. He has been sending the Iranians video Nawrus (New Year) messages and letters to Iran’s Supreme Leader. This year, Obama actually celebrated the Persian New Year at home with his wife and daughters.
Just as strange was Obama’s silence concerning Iran’s crackdown on street protests following elections. And if he condemns Tehran for its human rights abuses and lack of civil liberties, he must be whispering. Because all we hear from him is condemnation of predominately Sunni Arab states on those issues.
“The greatest supporter and plotter of terrorism”
Stranger still, while Obama comes across as the ayatollahs’ new best friend, just days ago, the Ayatollah Khamenei attacked the U.S. as “the greatest supporter and plotter of terrorism” and accuses Washington of pursuing its own interests making the region insecure, while branding America as the enemy of both Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Far from committing to stay out of Arab affairs, Khamenei stressed that his country would continue supporting “the oppressed people of Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine in every way possible.”
Are we really going to place our trust in America’s Commander-in-Chief when he claims backing the Free Syrian Army against the Syrian regime partnered with Iran and Hezbollah, even as his Air Force provides air cover to Iran’s Quds Force and pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq’s Anbar province? This rabble with blood-stained hands - officially known as Popular Mobilisation Forces (Al-Shaabi) - has been deployed by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and is directed by the commander of Iran’s Quds Force Qassem Soleimani. What is worse is that Iran is poised to send in ground troops as soon as it receives the go ahead from the government.
I fear that Camp David was a well-timed bluff and its weapons bounty no more than candies to sweeten the pill
And what does Mr Obama say about the shocking news revealed by the Times and other papers to the effect that the government in Baghdad is turning away tens of thousands of desperate Sunni refugees fleeing the city of Ramadi, recaptured by ISIS? Nothing much as far as I can tell! Iraq families with nowhere to go are being treated worse than foreign foes, barred entrance into their own capital city unless they happen to have a local “guarantor.” This is a plan to reduce the Sunni population by sending them into the fray to die; there is no other explanation.
In reality, Saudi Arabia’s towns bordering northern Yemen are under direct threat from Houthis, while Iran, close to being literally under the Iranian boot, constitutes a grave threat to Gulf States. Does the Obama administration plan to wait until the horse has bolted before acting? The Iranian plot to dominate the region is taking shape before our eyes. We are being surrounded. Yet the U.S. president asks us to play nice with the plotters.
Qualitative military edge
The bottom line is we did not get what we asked for. Obama’s commitment to intervene in Syria to stop the regime’s killing spree was off the table along with a joint defense pact on the lines of those the U.S. has with Israel, Japan and South Korea. Moreover, he has turned down the Saudi request to purchase state-of-the-art F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.
And we certainly did not get what we need. Most importantly, any final agreement with Iran should be negotiated with the participation of Gulf states and co-signed by our leaders. Such agreement should not be limited to nuclear issues, but should be conditional upon Tehran’s commitment to quit meddling in the affairs of Arab countries, notably Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain whether directly (in the case of Iraq and Syria) or via its armed proxies (Lebanon and Yemen).
We should not trust any other countries but our own. We must not await instructions from the White House on how to pursue our own interests, as it is well-known that U.S. friendship is not proffered without strings. We must proceed with our mission to free Yemen of Houthi rabble, continue with our efforts to destroy ISIS and lend every support to that sector of the Syrian opposition fighting for a democratic, inclusive state - as opposed to terrorist groups that seek to drag Syria back to the Middle Ages.
Lastly, we should insist upon the stringent terms outlined above. And if those terms are not put in writing, the GCC should work to weaken the Iranian regime once and for all, beginning with material support for the oppressed Ahwazi Arab citizens of Iranian-occupied Arabistan - a region Iran now calls Khuzestan, which supplies the country with most of its oil and gas. I fear that Camp David was a well-timed bluff and its weapons bounty no more than candies to sweeten the pill. I trust and believe that our leaders understand the score and will maintain independent strategies to counteract threats to our very existence. We cannot gamble with tomorrow on the words of one man, even if that man is the U.S. president. Our region has been burned many times before. If the past is a good predictor of the future, we should recognise that ultimately we must become the masters of our own destiny, which is far too precious to be handed to the safekeeping of fair-weather friends.

 Hezbollah's Victory in Qalamoun: Winning the Battle, Losing the War
David Schenker and Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai/Washington Insititute
May 22, 2015
The group will no doubt continue helping the Assad regime hang on, but the war's heavy attrition, Syria's demographic realities, and rebel gains elsewhere in the country all point to a seemingly inevitable fall.
This weekend, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech about the Lebanese Shiite militia's impending victory in the Syrian border district of Qalamoun. The two-week campaign has seen Hezbollah forces aligned with Bashar al-Assad's regime roll back a coalition of Sunni Islamists from key positions in the strategic region. Yet while Nasrallah waxed triumphant during his speech, the victory is pyrrhic and likely temporary -- Hezbollah and Assad may have won the battle, but they are losing the war for Syria.
In recent years, rebel forces have been using Qalamoun as a base for operations around Damascus, and the region also serves as a critical line of communication with their Sunni backers in eastern Lebanon. At the same time, Assad regime forces backed by Hezbollah and Iranian militias depend on the north-south highway that runs through Qalamoun and connects Damascus with other provinces, including Homs. Equally important, the region links Damascus to the regime's core supporters, the nominally Shiite Alawites who reside on the coast (for more on these Alawite enclaves, see Policy Focus 132, The Potential for an Assad Statelet in Syria).
Last summer, forces from the "Islamic State"/ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) occupied the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in the process snatching dozens of soldiers and security officers. Arsal is also home to an estimated 40,000 Syrian Sunni refugees. In late August, ISIS beheaded two of its captives, one Sunni and one Shiite, and has since killed two others while continuing to hold some twenty-five hostages. Two months later, JN forces overran a Hezbollah outpost in Brital -- about thirty miles southwest of Arsal, in Lebanon's Beqa Valley adjacent to Qalamoun -- killing eight Shiite militiamen and wounding twenty others.
While Arsal remained on ongoing but perhaps tolerable irritant for Hezbollah, overall rebel activity in the area increased the urgency of an effective Shiite response along the border. Prior to the Hezbollah-led offensive in Qalamoun, an estimated 3,000-5,000 ISIS, JN, and affiliated fighters were deployed along the frontier. In March, rebel forces launched a series of attacks against Shiite militia positions in the area, later followed by significant advances further north in Idlib and Hama -- gains made possible by a new degree of cooperation among Sunni militias under the banner of Jaish al-Fatah (the Army of Conquest). Rebel advances in the southern regions of Quneitra and Deraa only added to Hezbollah's concerns.
Since November 2013, the Syrian army has been actively targeting major towns in Qalamoun with airstrikes while fighting rebels on the ground alongside Hezbollah forces. The current Hezbollah-led offensive -- joined on May 5 in al-Nabak and Yabroud districts in the Qalamoun Mountains -- is a more intensive effort to clear and hold territory. Reports in the Arab press have mentioned battles for strategic hilltops in the area, but there is little reliable coverage of individual clashes. Not surprisingly, Hezbollah's al-Manar satellite television network has been consistently reporting high rebel casualties and tactical setbacks. At the same time, the group has provided press junkets in Qalamoun for Lebanon-based Western journalists. On May 16, the New York Times featured a story about one of these press tours, complete with a description of a staged Hezbollah patrol.
Propaganda aside, rebel forces in Qalamoun do appear to be losing ground. According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah and the Assad regime have regained control of 300 square kilometers in the region, and reports that the group is now closing on the Syrian town of Flita would seemingly confirm this claim.
Less clear, however, are the costs for Hezbollah. Nasrallah admitted that thirteen of his fighters had been killed in the previous two weeks, but this low figure strains credulity given the high number of purported fatalities on the rebel side. Indeed, earlier today, the Lebanese daily an-Nahar published a list of twenty-three Hezbollah militiamen known to have been killed in the battle. More broadly, Lebanese skeptics have begun to suspect that the group is keeping the bodies of some of its dead fighters on ice, rationing funerals as the war drags on in order to propitiate Shiite public opinion.
According to Nasrallah, the Qalamoun offensive is aimed at driving the rebels out of the area entirely or, at minimum, pushing them back into Arsal, where they would become the responsibility of the Lebanese Armed Forces. While the LAF has a mixed record against ISIS and JN, this tack would alleviate some of the more immediate pressures on Hezbollah. The LAF is already shelling rebel targets on the outskirts of Arsal along the Syrian border. Hezbollah and the LAF may also benefit from the fact that JN and ISIS forces in Arsal are fighting each other even as Islamist elements elsewhere are unifying to attack the Assad regime.
Ultimately, however, the wider battle for Syria is a numbers game. Before the war, 80 percent of the country was Sunni. The nominally Shiite Alawite community -- from which Assad and the backbone of his forces hail -- comprises just 10 percent of the population, is largely urbanized, and has low birthrates. While attrition has taken a severe toll on both sides, the rebels have been able to replenish their numbers through internal and foreign recruitment. With the Alawite community depleted, Assad has had to rely increasingly on Iran's Qods Forces and Hezbollah.
Iran remains a robust ally but is increasingly taxed by its military adventures in Iraq and Yemen. Likewise, Hezbollah is showing signs of being stretched thin after four years of war. The militia currently has an estimated 5,000 troops stationed in Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, nearly 700 Hezbollah fighters had been killed there prior to the battle for Qalamoun, and some sources indicate the number has now climbed to more than a thousand.
The losses are having a noticeable impact on the group's operations. For one thing, Hezbollah is drafting ever younger conscripts -- in an unprecedented development, the group buried a fifteen-year-old fighter earlier this month after he was killed performing his "jihadist duty" in Syria. Equally telling, 400 troops from Amal, a rival Lebanese Shiite militia, were reportedly mobilized to fight alongside Hezbollah in Qalamoun. (Amal leader Nabih Berri subsequently denied these stories.) Unverified reports also indicate that Hezbollah asked the LAF to engage in operations across the border in Qalamoun. If this request was in fact made, it was denied -- given the LAF's concerns about unit cohesion, it could not even contemplate such a mission.
While Hezbollah's deployment in Syria and attendant casualties have caused some grumbling within Lebanon's Shiite community, the opposition voices are manageable for the time being. Of far more concern to the group is the prospect that the united rebel forces of Jaish al-Fatah will score further successes against Assad. Hezbollah's thinly spread forces may continue capturing territory from the rebels, but it is unclear whether they can maintain their lines of communication from Lebanon, even in nearby Qalamoun.
To be sure, fighting in Syria has hardened a new generation of Hezbollah militiamen, but it has also depleted the group's ranks and eroded its carefully cultivated image as an organization devoted to "resisting" Israel. Moreover, the group's involvement in a war that has killed tens of thousands of Sunnis has spurred ISIS and JN to target Shiites, Alawites, and Hezbollah members back home in Lebanon.
Given what is at stake in Syria -- the fall of Assad would dramatically complicate Hezbollah's supply lines from its Iranian patrons -- the militia is all in. If the past four years are any indication, the group will continue to hold its own against Sunni rebels along the border and serve as Assad's crack force in strategically important areas. As the war drags on, however, Hezbollah's operational stresses and limitations will become ever more apparent. Bolstered by Tehran and Nasrallah, Assad could hang on for some time, but even his most reliable Shiite allies may not be able to sustain him as the war's attrition increasingly highlights his demographic disadvantage. For better or worse, the only factor that may forestall his seemingly inevitable fall is the estimated $60 billion in sanctions relief that Iran stands to gain after a nuclear deal is inked.
**David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute. Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai is a research assistant at the Institute.

Future rests in a bunker
The Daily Star/May. 22, 2015
The leaders of dictatorial regimes are always in danger of falling deep into the “bunker mentality,” where their isolation is a prelude to a dramatic demise. In this region a few of the most notorious recent examples of this have been Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, who were unable to cope with the fact that they had lost control over their respective countries, before finally coming to their much-publicized, ignominious ends.
Bashar Assad is the latest example of such behavior, as the Syrian president is increasingly detached from reality. Assad appears to be unconcerned with the staggering high level of casualties that his armed forces are suffering; senior regime figures have also been disappearing from the scene of late, but none of this has changed the way the regime does business.
Damascus claims that a global conspiracy is targeting the regime, but fails to recognize that by relying on foreign mercenaries or forced conscription, much of the population isn’t convinced that fighting this war is in their interests.
The last few months have brought even more problems on the economic front, as the regime desperately tries to avoid seeing the Syrian pound enter a state of free fall. And the only military victories it can boast of are largely thanks to the efforts of allies. But the behavior of these allies should come in for special scrutiny. Their public statements of support for Assad continue to flow, and if anything harsher is being said behind the scenes, it’s not having the desired effect.
By continuing this type of backing for the regime, Assad’s friends and allies are only hurting his cause and proving that the only vision they have for Syria is more death and destruction, day after day.