LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation For Today/Baptizing them in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Matthew 28/16-20: "The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’"
Bible Quotation For Today/Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins
Letter to the Romans 11/25-36: "So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, ‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen."
Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on
May 30- 31/15
Hizballah Deepens Its Involvement in Syria/Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post/May 30/15
Paying Tehran’s Bills/Sanctions relief will only empower Iran/LEE SMITH/The Weekly Standard./May 30/15
Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces are Terrorists/Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat/May 30/15
Hezbollah-inspired film imagines the 'liberation of the Galilee/Roi Kais/Ynetnews/May 30/15
Iraqi Shiite Foreign Fighters on the Rise Again in Syria/Phillip Smyth/Washington Institute/May 30/15
Lebanese Related News published on May 30- 31/15
U.S. Renews Travel Warning to Lebanon despite Relatively Calm Situation
Rifi Names as 'Traitor' Anyone Who Fails to Attend Election Sessions
Cyprus arrest of Hezbollah man 'uncovered large-scale Iranian terror plot across Europe'
Families of Captive Servicemen Briefly Close Riad Solh Again, Fear Fate of Hostages
One year on, Lebanon is still without a president
Aoun Issues Another Warning on Extension, Says Cabinet Violating Laws
12 Wounded in Zgharta Balcony Collapse
State Security Detains Two ISIL Members in Bekaa
Report: Jumblat Seeking to Settle Differences between Hariri, Aoun
Appointments Hit Brick Wall as Mashnouq Reserves Right to Name ISF Chief
Vatican Fears Presidential Vacuum to Impact Christians in Region
Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
May 30- 31/15
An ethnic war in Iran is only a matter of time
Iran, US eye 'intense' month to seal deal
Kerry, Zarif Fail to Make Breakthrough in Nuclear Talks
Assad regime kills dozens with barrel bombs, rights group says
Syrian air raids kill dozens of civilians in north: monitoring group
Car bomb kills 12 militants in south Yemen
Yemen's Saleh Says Saudi Offered Him 'Millions' to Fight Huthis
Truck bombs: ISIS' alternative 'air force'
Saudi Arabia mourns Dammam mosque attack victims
U.S., allies conduct 22 air strikes against ISIS militants
ISIS launches assault on key northeast Syria city
Myanmar lands seized migrant boat on island
Strong earthquake shakes buildings in Tokyo
Gunmen kill 22 bus passengers in Pakistan attack
The persistence of collective memories
How Saudi Arabia can combat the sectarian divide
Refugees run from hell, others worry about their holidays
Race for US presidency set to expand exponentially
Israel gives approval for construction projects in Gaza, says Qatari official
Israel's next battle will be over Olympics'
Italian navy rescues Europe-bound migrants
If Catholic Ireland said yes – could Israel ever do the same?
Saudi cleric's fatwa: Women only watch soccer to look at men's thighs
Anti-Islam demonstration outside Phoenix mosque
Cyprus arrest of Hezbollah man 'uncovered large-scale
Iranian terror plot across Europe'
By YAAKOV LAPPIN, REUTERS/J.Post/05/30/2015
Israeli security sources are closely monitoring the arrest and investigation of a Lebanese citizen in Larnaca, Cyprus, who is suspected of being a Hezbollah operative caught in possession of a massive quantity of explosive material. Cypriot police suspect a man arrested on Wednesday was planning an attack on Israeli interests on the island after they found almost two tons of ammonium nitrate in his basement, newspapers on the island reported on Friday. The 26-year-old man is Lebanese-born and has a Canadian passport. He was detained by police after authorities discovered the stockpile. Security sources in Israel assess that the apartment in which the suspect was captured was a Cyprus-based explosive material storeroom that belonged to Hezbollah, and which was supposed to constitute an outlet for carrying out a large-scale series of terror attacks across Europe against Jewish, Israeli, and Western targets. Israel has been updated on the details of the arrest and the investigation.
Israeli security sources said on Saturday that the arrest is "further evidence of deep Iranian involvement in international terrorism. This is an international mechanism that the Iranians activate, with the intention of building and utilizing a terrorism infrastructure in Europe. Hezbollah, the contractor, is funded by Iran and its operatives are trained by Iranian experts. In this case, like in other cases, the head is in Tehran, the orchestration is Iranian, the funding is Iranian, and the one that carries it out is Hezbollah." Cyprus is a popular holiday destination for Israelis and the island hosts an Israeli embassy in Nicosia. Authorities are investigating possible links to Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, three Cypriot newspapers said on Friday. Police suspect Israeli interests were the target, the Simerini, Politis and Phileleftheros newspapers said. The unnamed individual may have a close link with the group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nazrallah, two newspapers said. "There is some information that he could possibly be connected with them (Hezbollah), and this is something that is under investigation," a security source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. The suspect arrived in Cyprus in the third week of May and stayed in the coastal town of Larnaca. The ammonium nitrate -- a fertilizer that can create a powerful explosive if large quantities are mixed with other substances -- was found in its basement. Police declined to comment beyond saying they are investigating all possibilities.
Cyprus has little militant-related activity despite its proximity to the Middle East. The island, which is in the EU, hosts two British military bases and receives intelligence from Western agencies. Its last major security incident was a botched attack on the Israeli embassy in 1988, which killed three people. In 2013 a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent was jailed in Cyprus on charges of plotting to attack Israeli tourists. In that year, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, one of the suspects in a thwarted terrorist attack against Israelis in Cyprus in July, admitted on Wednesday in a Cypriot court that he is a member of Hezbollah. Yaacoub, a 24-year old Lebanese-Swedish citizen, faced eight charges in the criminal court in the city of Limassol. The Cypriot authorities charged him with membership in a criminal organization whose aim is “carrying out missions in any part of the world, including the Cyprus Republic, against Israeli citizens,” among seven other crimes – reduced from an original 17 terrorism-related charges. **Benjamin Weinthal and Reuters contributed to this report
Hizballah Deepens Its Involvement in
Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post/May 29, 2015
Originally published under the title, "Born in Lebanon, Dying in Syria?"
Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared in a May 24 speech that his Lebanese Shia movement's fighters will deploy to "all the places in Syria that this battle requires."The latest reports from the Qalamoun mountain range in western Syria suggest that Hizballah is pushing back the jihadis of Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The movement claims to have taken 300 square kilometers from the Sunni rebels. The broader picture for the Shia Islamists that dominate Lebanon, however, is less rosy.
The Iran-led alliance of which Hizballah is a part is better organized and more effectively commanded than its Sunni rivals. Its ability to marshal its resources in a centralized and effective way is what has enabled it to preserve the Assad regime in Syria until now.
When Assad was in trouble in late 2012, an increased Hizballah mobilization into Syria, and the creation by Iran of new, paramilitary formations for the regime recruited from minority communities, was enough to turn the tide of war back against the rebels by mid-2013.
Now, however, the numerical advantage of the Sunnis in Syria is once more reversing the direction of the war. With the minority communities that formed the core of Assad's support no longer willing or able to supply him with the required manpower, the burden looks set to fall yet further on the shoulders of Assad's Lebanese friends.
The Iran-led alliance is better organized and more effectively commanded than its Sunni rivals.
What this is likely to mean for Hizballah is that it will be called on to deploy further and deeper into Syria than has previously been the case. In the past, its involvement was largely confined to areas of particular importance to the movement itself. Hizballah fought to keep the rebels away from the Lebanese border, and to secure the highways between the western coastal areas and Damascus. The movement's conquest of the border town of Qusayr in June 2013, for example, formed a pivotal moment in the recovery of the regime's fortunes at that time. But now, Hizballah cannot assume that other pro-regime elements will hold back the rebels in areas beyond the Syria-Lebanese frontier. This means that the limited achievement in Qalamoun will prove Pyrrhic unless the regime's interest can be protected further afield. Hizballah looks set to be drawn further and deeper into the Syrian quagmire.
Movement Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged this prospect in his speech last Sunday, marking 15 years since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon. In the speech, Nasrallah broadened the definition of Hizballah's engagement in Syria. Once, the involvement was expressed in limited sectarian terms (e.g. the need to protect the tomb of Sayida Zeinab in Damascus from desecration.) This justification then gave way to the claimed need to cross the border so as to seal war-torn Syria off from Lebanon and keep the Sunni "takfiris" at bay.
Nasrallah broadened the mandate of Hizballah's engagement in Syria in a May 24 speech.
On Sunday, Nasrallah struck an altogether more ambitious tone. Hizballah, he said, was fighting alongside its 'Syrian brothers, alongside the army and the people and the popular resistance in Damascus and Aleppo and Deir Ezzor and Qusayr and Hasakeh and Idlib. We are present today in many places and we will be present in all the places in Syria that this battle requires."The list of locations includes areas in Syria's remote north and east, many hundreds of kilometers from Lebanon (Hasakeh, Deir Ezzor), alongside regions previously seen as locations for the group's involvement. Nasrallah painted the threat of the Islamic State in apocalyptic terms. He described the danger represented by the group as one 'unprecedented in history, which targets humanity itself."
This language sounds fairly clearly like a preparing of the ground for a larger and deeper deployment of Hizballah fighters into Syria. Such a deployment will inevitably come at a cost to the movement. Only the starkest and most urgent threats of the kind Nasrallah is now invoking could be used to justify it to Hizballah's own public. The problem from Hizballah's point of view is that it too does not have inexhaustible sources of manpower. The movement has lost, according to regional media reports, around 1,000 fighters in Syria since the beginning of its deployment there. At any given time, around 5,000 Hizballah men are inside the country, with a fairly rapid rotation of manpower.
Around 1,000 Hizballah fighters have died in Syria. Around 5,000 are inside the country at any given time.
Hizballah's entire force is thought to number around 20,000 fighters.
Faced with a task of strategic magnitude and ever growing dimensions in Syria, there are indications that the movement is being forced to cast its net wider in its search for manpower.
A recent report by Myra Abdallah on the Now Lebanon website (associated with anti-Hizballah elements in Lebanon) depicted the party offering financial inducements to youths from impoverished areas in the Lebanese Bekaa, in return for their signing up to fight for Hizballah in Syria. Now Lebanon quoted sums ranging from $500 to $2000 as being offered to these young men in return for their enlistment.
Earlier this month, Hizballah media eulogized a 15 year old boy, Mashhur Shams al-Din, who was reported as having died while performing his 'jihadi duties' (the term usually used when the movement's men are killed in Syria).
15-year-old Mashhur Shams al-Din was recently eulogized by Hizballah media for having died while performing his "jihadi duties" in Syria.
All this suggests that Hizballah understands that a formidable task lies before it, and that it is preparing its resources and its public opinion for the performance of this task.
As this takes place, Hizballah seems keen to remind its supporters and the Lebanese public of the laurels it once wore in the days when it fought Israel.
The pro-Hizballah newspaper Al-Safir recently gained exclusive access to elements of the extensive infrastructure Hizballah has constructed south of the Litani River since 2006. The movement's al-Manar TV station ran an (apparently doctored) piece of footage this week purporting to show Hizballah supporters filming a Merkava tank at Har Dov. Nasrallah in his speech also sought to invoke the Israeli enemy, declaring that ISIS was 'as evil' as Israel. The Israeli assessment is that with its hands full in Syria, Hizballah will be unlikely to seek renewed confrontation with Israel. It is worth noting, nevertheless, that a series of public statements in recent weeks from former and serving Israeli security officials have delivered a similar message regarding the scope and depth of the Israeli response should a new war between Hizballah and Israel erupt. IAF commander Amir Eshel, former IAF and Military Intelligence Head Amos Yadlin, Major-General Giora Eiland and other officials speaking off the record expressed themselves similarly in this regard. Hizballah, clearly, has little choice regarding its deepening involvement in Syria, Nasrallah's exhortations notwithstanding. The organization is part of a formidable, if now somewhat overstretched regional alliance, led by the Islamic Republic of Iran. This alliance regards the preservation of the Assad regime's rule over at least part of Syria as a matter of primary strategic importance. Hizballah and the Shia it is now recruiting are tools in this task. It would be quite mistaken to underestimate the efficacy of the movement. It is gearing up for a mighty task that it intends to achieve. Certainly, many more Hizballah men will lose their lives before the fighting in Syria ends, however it eventually does end. Given the stated ambitions of that movement regarding Israel and the Jews, it is fair to say that this fact will be causing few cries of anguish south of the border. **Jonathan Spyer is Director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).
Vatican Fears Presidential Vacuum to Impact Christians in Region
Naharnet/The Vatican is gravely concerned over the yearlong presidential vacuum, deeming it a hazard that threatens the existence of Christians in the Middle East. Maronite bishop Samir Mazloum stressed in remarks published in al-Joumhouria newspaper Saturday that the Vatican dispatched former Foreign Minister Monsignor Dominique Mamberti to Lebanon to highlight the importance of electing a new head of state to safeguard Maronites and Christians. “The presidential stalemate is getting more complicated,” Mazloum said, revealing that Papal Ambassador to Lebanon Gabriel Caccia has been seeking during meetings with party leaders to reach a breakthrough in the crisis.“The weakness of the Maronites in Lebanon is negatively impacting the Christians,” Mazloum warned, describing Maronites as “the backbone of Christians in the region.” He pointed out that the Vatican directly intervened to resolve the presidential deadlock to support the Christians in the Middle East amid their exodus from Iraq and Syria. Mazloum told the daily that Mamberti will hold several meetings in Bkirki to discuss the presidential crisis and to push forward the election of a new head of state. Mamberti arrived on Friday in Lebanon on a 7-day official visit as the Vatican is seeking to press forward the election of a new head of state amid the sharp rift among the political arch-foes over a consensual candidate. “I will meet several officials and political leaders to tackle local affairs, in particular the presidential vacuum,” Mamberti told reporters upon his arrival in Lebanon. Vatican’s dispatched envoy comes in light of Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi's visit to Paris in May, where he met with French President Francois Hollande. Lebanon has been without a president since May last year when the term of Michel Suleiman ended without the election of a successor.Ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps over a compromise candidate have thwarted the election. Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance and MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform blocs have been boycotting the polls over the dispute.
Rifi Names as 'Traitor' Anyone Who Fails to Attend Election Sessions
Naharnet/Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi considered as “traitor” anyone who fails to attend the parliamentary sessions aiming at electing a new head of state and fill-out the one year long vacuum. “Anyone who does not take part in the sessions to elect a president is a traitor. The vacuum has created a huge gap in the political security umbrella,” said Rifi in a press interview on Saturday. “We will not let the Iranian project link itself to electing a president.”Lebanon has been living since May 2014, when the term of president Michel Suleiman ended, a vacuum at the top state post due to the failure of rival parties to agree on a consensual president. Furthermore, Rifi stressed that “the northeastern town of Arsal is a red line,” in reference to fears that the town might be used as a conduit for militants fighting in neighboring Syria to cross into Lebanon. The latest clashes in Syria's al-Qalamoun, between Hizbullah and militants from the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, take place close to the border of Arsal. Rifi called on Hizbullah to “stop betting on the expanding Persian project and to return from Syria to preserve Lebanon.”Hizbullah has been fighting along the ranks of the Syrian regime against the IS and al-Nusra Front, a situation that inflicted severe damage on Lebanon and bordering towns. “Delusional are those who believe that we accept any sacrilege against Arsal. The town is a red line,” stressed the minister, assuring that each part of Lebanon will be preserved and protected. He hailed the families of Arsal saying: “Arsal families are just like the families of Tripoli, they have both shown that their priority is the state and Arsal is not isolated from the nation.”
Families of Captive Servicemen Briefly Close Riad Solh Again, Fear Fate of Hostages
Naharnet/The families of the so-called Arsal captives briefly closed anew on Saturday Beirut's Riad al-Solh area, voicing fear over the fate of their children. Nizam Mogheit, the brother of soldier Ibrahim who was taken hostage by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), said the decision comes amid the increasing “mystery” surrounding the case of the captive servicemen. “We are compelled to return to the streets,” the families told reporters. The enraged relatives wondered if the case is forgotten. “We are concerned more than ever as our children are obliged to face an unknown fate.”Mogheit questioned the intentions of some political sides “who aim at sacrificing the blood of the soldiers to build their glory.”The families did not close the road for long and was reopened shortly. On Friday, General Security chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim expressed optimism over the case of servicemen held hostage by al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front. “The negotiations are ongoing in a good manner,” Ibrahim said, voicing hope that mediation with al-Nusra Front will wrap up soon positively. Al-Nusra Front has in its captivity 16 soldiers and policemen, while nine remain held by ISIL. The soldiers and policemen were abducted by gunmen in the wake of clashes in the northeastern border town of Arsal in August. A few of them have since been released and four were executed. Negotiations with IS jihadists have stalled over their crippling demands.
U.S. Renews Travel Warning to Lebanon despite Relatively Calm Situation
Naharnet/The U.S. Department of State renewed its travel warning advisory to Lebanon over safety and security concerns, citing fears over the increasing tension along Lebanon's northeastern border town of Arsal and the rise of terror groups in the country.
U.S. Embassy sources informed Naharnet on Saturday that “the travel warning, which is renewed every six months, is issued to provide U.S. citizens in Lebanon with more concrete context on the risks” of traveling or residing in Beirut.
“The risks are covered in this regular semi annual update, which reflects the objective changes in the security situation” in Lebanon, the sources added. They lauded the efforts exerted by Lebanese security agencies to prevent bombings, stressing that “the last wave of bombings in Beirut began in June 2013 and ended in mid-2014 with hundreds of dead and injured, including at least two U.S. citizens killed.” They also emphasized that security concerns “shifted from bombing threats to the (dangerous) situation in Arsal and recent tension in the Shabaa Farms.”The Department of State urged U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon and to carefully consider the risks of remaining in the country, citing the death of two U.S. citizens in bombings and the abduction of two others after a similar warning was issued in November 2014.The statement, which was issued on Friday, expressed concern over the August 2014 battles between extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front with the Lebanese army in the Bekaa border town of Arsal. It called on U.S. citizens in Lebanon to monitor political and security developments in both Lebanon and Syria for their safety.
The statement mentioned several incidents that have occurred in the area including: Cross-border shelling and air strikes of Lebanese villages from Syria, the abduction of Lebanese by armed groups from Syria, clashes between Lebanese authorities and criminal elements in areas of the Bekaa Valley and border regions. “Similar incidents could occur again without warning... U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the Lebanese-Syrian border region.” The statement also underlined border tension with Israel, in particular after hostilities between the Jewish State and Hizbullah in the Golan Heights and the (occupied) Shebaa Farms area.“The potential for wider conflict remains,” the warning said.
The State Department said that Hizbullah “stockpiled large amounts of munitions South of the Litani River in anticipation of a future conflict with Israel.”The statement added that “sudden outbreaks of violence can occur at any time in Lebanon,” warning that the Lebanese government cannot guarantee protection for U.S. citizens if any conflict emerges. U.S. designated terror groups, including Hizbullah, ISIL, Nusra Front and the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades operate in Lebanon, the statement said.
It warned that ISIL and Nusra Front are active in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and in border areas with Syria.
“Hizbullah also maintains a strong presence in parts of south Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, and areas in southern Lebanon and has been the target of attacks by other extremist groups for their support of the (Bashar) Assad regime in Syria,” the statement remarked.
It warned that “the potential for violence between Hizbullah and other extremist groups throughout the country remains a strong possibility.”Hizbullah backed by Syrian forces has recently controlled strategic areas in Qalamoun that abuts Lebanon's eastern border, amid continuing clashes in the region.
Hizbullah cites fear of militants from the IS group and al-Nusra Front sweeping through Shiite and Christian border villages as one of the main reasons for its involvement in Syria. Some observers however fear the Qalamoun offensive could prompt Islamist militants to launch attacks in Shiite areas of Lebanon itself, including Beirut's southern suburbs. The IS and Nusra Front have infiltrated Lebanon in the past, and last August briefly overran Arsal, taking with them several soldiers and policemen hostage, four of whom have been executed.
The Department State hailed the efforts exerted by Lebanese security agencies to quell the violence across Lebanon. “The security services have made great progress in improving their capacity to detect and intercept terrorist attacks, resulting in a marked decline in suicide and car bombs, but many extremist groups remain actively engaged in planning attacks.” It warned that kidnappings “remain a problem in Lebanon,” noting that U.S. citizens have been victims of such acts in recent years.
“The U.S. government’s ability to help U.S. citizens kidnapped or taken hostage is very limited. It is the U.S. policy to not make concessions to hostage takers.” It also warned U.S. citizens of traveling on airlines that fly over Syria. It called on U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Lebanon to enroll in the Department of Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact nationals in an emergency. The conflict in Syria has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon in the shape of deadly clashes and bombings. The statement urged U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning to “keep a low profile, assess their personal security, and vary times and routes for all required travel.”
For further information please check: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/lebanon-travel-warning.html
Report: Jumblat Seeking to Settle Differences between Hariri, Aoun
Naharnet/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat is reportedly seeking to convince Mustaqbal Movement chief Saad Hariri to agree on demands by head of Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun concerning the appointment of Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz as army chief. Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that Jumblat contacted several parties, including Hizbulah, expressing his readiness to try to convince Hariri with accepting Aoun's demands. “It's better to advice Hariri not to anger Aoun,” sources close to Jumblat told the daily. The PSP chief reportedly told Hariri that “the appointment of Roukoz shouldn't be considered as a victory for Hizbullah as even the party's foes, including the United States, consider him qualified to assume such a post.” Jumblat asked Hariri to reconsider his position. However, sources close to Hariri told the newspaper that Jumblat's endeavors are useless as “Aoun cannot impose an army commander on us,” prompting FPM sources to stress that “Hariri cannot ensure the endurance.” 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
State Security Detains Two ISIL Members in Bekaa
Naharne/The General Directorate of State Security raided two towns of the Bekaa Valley, detaining two suspects for allegedly belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The state-run National News agency reported, that a state security unit raided the town of Tamnin near Niha and the village of Bednayel, arresting two Syrian nationals, who have links to ISIL. A third suspect was able to flee. The two detainees were handed over to the competent authorities. The jihadists remain entrenched on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal on the porous Syrian-Lebanese border. The mountainous area along the Lebanese-Syrian border has long been a smuggling haven, with multiple routes into Syria that have been used to transport weapons and fighters.
Aoun Issues Another Warning on Extension, Says Cabinet Violating Laws
Naharnet/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun reiterated on Saturday his rejection to extend the terms of top security officials, accusing some parties of carrying out a “plot” against the country. “The ministers think they can do what they want,” Aoun told delegations that visited him at his residence in Rabieh. “The state will not be submissive to a certain minister as if we are in the middle ages.” “Each minister is bound by laws that set his duties,” he stressed. Defense Minister Samir Moqbel “knows very well that he is mistaken in the appointment of the army chief,” Aoun said. The FPM leader, who also heads the Change and Reform bloc, has repeatedly announced his rejection to extend the terms of security officials. Despite his campaign against the extension, several cabinet ministers, including Moqbel, are prone to extend the terms of the officials rather than appoint new ones in the absence of a president. Aoun hoped that “his warnings would be taken seriously or else every wrongdoer would receive his punishment.”“The cabinet is breaking some rules through the behavior of some of its ministers,” he said.
12 Wounded in Zgharta Balcony Collapse
Naharnet/Twelve people were injured on Saturday when the balcony of a house in the northern Zgharta district collapsed, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said that around 30 people had gathered on the four-meter-square balcony in the town of al-Fuwwar to cheer a bride when it gave way under their weight. Twelve of them, mostly women and children, were wounded, said the agency.They were taken to two separate hospitals in the region, NNA added.
Regime Barrel Bombs Kill 71 Civilians as Syria Army in Retreat
Naharnet/Barrel bombs dropped from regime helicopters killed at least 71 civilians in Syria's Aleppo province Saturday, after forces loyal to President Bashar Assad retreated from the neighboring northwestern region of Idlib. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "at least 71 civilians were killed, and dozens were wounded, when regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the city of Al-Bab and in Al-Shaar in east Aleppo city". Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Britain-based monitoring group, said 12 people were killed in rebel-held Al-Shaar, including eight members of a single family. The bodies of those slain were laid out on the streets of the neighborhood, with the limp blood-covered hand of one of them protruding from under a blanket, said an AFP correspondent at the scene. Bulldozers were used to clear away the rubble by civil defense volunteers.One of them, Shahud Hussein, said the blasts were so powerful that buildings in the neighborhood were "likely to collapse".The other 59 civilians, all male, were killed at a market in Al-Bab, Abdel Rahman told AFP. Al-Bab lies about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Aleppo city and is controlled by the extremist Islamic State group. "People often gather on Saturday mornings at the Al-Hail market in Al-Bab, which is why the number of dead was so high," said Abdel Rahman. Those killed were all male because women have much less freedom of movement in IS-controlled areas, he added.
'Rapid retreat' -
Barrel bombs are crude weapons made of oil drums, gas cylinders or water tanks packed with explosives and scrap metal usually dropped from helicopters. These weapons, which rights groups have criticized as indiscriminate, have struck schools, hospitals, and markets. But Saturday's death toll was particularly high. "This is one of the biggest massacres that regime planes have committed since the beginning of 2015," said the Syrian Revolution General Commission activist group. The Observatory said regime forces also dropped barrel bombs Friday in Idlib province, now under the de facto control of rebels after the Army of Conquest alliance captured the city of Ariha and surrounding villages. The brutal tactic of carrying out air attacks on built-up areas after battleground losses has become common for Syria's regime, and it has ceded swathes of territory lately. Following defeats in Idlib's provincial capital and at a massive military base nearby, government forces also lost the ancient city of Palmyra to IS jihadists on May 21. Abdel Rahman said the rebels' "lightning offensive" in Ariha saw a swift withdrawal of Syria's army and its allies from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement. "We can't even say there were real clashes with the government in Ariha," he said. In Idlib, the government still controls the Abu Duhur military airport and a sprinkling of villages and army posts. "For the regime, the vital territory to be protected is Damascus, Homs, Hama and the coast. Idlib is no longer (vital), which explains the rapid retreat from Ariha," a security source told Agence France Presse.
Restrictions on fleeing IS -
The Syrian conflict erupted in 2011 with a popular uprising that descended into a complex civil war that has killed at least 220,000 people. Syria's neighbors have been affected by the rising instability and refugee influx. In Iraq, government authorities are blocking thousands of families from escaping clashes between IS and anti-jihadist forces in the country's west, Human Rights Watch said Saturday. "Since April 2015, the government has imposed restrictions on entry into Baghdad and Babylon provinces affecting just under 200,000 people fleeing fighting" in Ramadi, the group said in a statement. It said the restrictions effectively discriminated against Sunni Arabs, which make up a majority of Ramadi's Anbar province. "Prime Minister Abadi should immediately order these restrictions lifted so that all Iraqis can seek refuge in Baghdad, regardless of origin or religious affiliation," said HRW deputy Middle East director Joe Stork. And in Turkey, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described as an election ploy the release of images allegedly showing Turkish intelligence trucks delivering weapons into Syria last year. "I said at the time it was made up of logistical aid directed for the Turkmen community in desperate need of help," Davutoglu told AFP. "The release of (the video footage) right now is an effort aimed at affecting the elections," he added.
In January 2014, security forces searched trucks near the Turkish-Syrian border on suspicion they were smuggling arms into Syria, and found Turkish national intelligence personnel on board. Agence France Presse
Paying Tehran’s Bills
Sanctions relief will only empower Iran.
Jun 8, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 37 • By LEE SMITH/The Weekly Standard.
Even the Obama administration acknowledges that Iran is up to a lot of mischief in the Middle East. Tehran is engaged in a sectarian conflict from Lebanon to Syria and Iraq that has recently come to include Yemen as another active front. However, the White House continues to insist, against all evidence, that the clerical regime’s aggression won’t increase when it gets a huge cash infusion from sanctions relief and an immediate $30 to $50 billion bonus, when (or if) it signs the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the nuclear deal.
According to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Iran will almost surely use that money to improve its domestic economy. And besides, as Obama argued last month, “most of the destabilizing activity that Iran engages in is low-tech, low-cost activity.”
The numbers say otherwise. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.’s Syria envoy, recently estimated that the war to prop up its Syrian ally is costing Iran $35 billion a year. That assessment is likely too high, but certainly of all Iran’s regional projects, keeping Bashar al-Assad’s regime afloat is the costliest. And that’s because it’s an occupation, says Fouad Hamdan, campaign director of Naame Shaam, an organization that keeps tabs on Iran’s war in Syria.
It’s a foreign occupation that affects Iran directly, because without control of territory in Syria, Iran loses its supply lines to Lebanon and Hezbollah, the Iranian regime’s most powerful deterrent against an Israeli strike on its nuclear program. Thus, says Hamdan, “the battle for Syria is a battle for the survival of the Iranian regime.”
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There was a time when the White House found it convenient to argue that the Syrian conflict was costly to Iran. When the war started there, rather than arm rebels to help topple Assad, the administration told its media surrogates that it was wisest to stand by as the war would bleed Iran. They were right about its potential to be a quagmire for Tehran. Now, sanctions relief, including the signing bonus, will enable Iran to bolster its support for Assad.
“Imagine Syria as a kind of Iranian province or governorate,” says Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Military defeats are boxing the Assad regime into an increasingly small region, basically now an enclave in western Syria along the Damascus-Homs corridor leading up to the Alawite homeland on the Mediterranean coast. Assad’s ability to survive is becoming almost entirely an Iranian responsibility. Facing a continuing war of attrition, the regime in Damascus has lost most of its ability for overland trade, with its only secure border being Lebanon. The Iranian responsibility is only increasing, as the Assad regime’s resources, and thereby its ability to maintain its patronage networks, pay salaries, and so on, shrinks or vanishes.”
Fouad Hamdan argues that the Assad regime is already well past that point. “Syria is broke,” he tells me. The various Syrian state institutions that the Obama White House says it wants to preserve even if Assad does fall are now almost entirely dependent on Iran. “Iran is pumping $500 million a month to the Syrian central bank that takes care of things like salaries and many of the internally displaced as well as Damascus and the coastal areas,” says Hamdan. “Iran spends maybe another half-billion a month for things like food and fuel, weapons and armaments, as well as the various militias now fighting in Syria, from the newly recruited Afghan Shiite militias, known as the Fatimeyun division, to Hezbollah.”
Naame Shaam (Persian for “Letter from Syria”) estimates that Iran’s Syria expenditures are $10 to $15 billion annually, roughly $1 to $1.2 billion a month. Hamdan, a 55-year-old Lebanese-German national, explains that his organization, which is made up of four Shiites (himself, a Syrian, and two Iranians) and was founded in 2014, gets most of its information from open source materials, especially the Iranian media. “The Iranian regime will boast about its activities openly,” he tells me. “Then maybe someone comes along and tells them it’s not a good idea to make that information public, so they remove it from the Internet.”
What Tehran is most keen to obscure, says Hamdan, is the fact that its war in Syria is an occupation. Syrian rebel fighters acknowledge that the Syrian army still exists in places, but, according to Hamdan, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is calling the shots. This was made plain in January when a high-level convoy targeted by Israel on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights included IRGC officers and Hezbollah fighters but no Syrian officials.
“In the chain of command,” says Hamdan, “Qassem Suleimani is on top, and the IRGC-Quds Force commander takes his orders directly from the supreme leader. Under him is Hossein Hamedani, who oversees IRGC operations in Syria. Then there’s the Iranian ambassador, various IRGC commanders, and Hezbollah commanders. Hezbollah does most of the training and takes on the most dangerous missions. Then there are other militias, like Iraqi and Afghan fighters, at the bottom.”
The Syrian regime’s most significant contributions to the war effort, says Hamdan, are its air force and the so-called National Defense Forces. These Iranian-trained civilian fighters have been combined with the paramilitary gangs known as the shabiha to replicate a Syrian version of the Basij, the paramilitary group created by the founder of the Islamic Republic, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Accordingly, almost nothing happens on the ground without the Iranians knowing about it or giving the direct orders, which includes war crimes and chemical weapons attacks. If the White House once boasted that it had rid Assad of his unconventional arsenal, the reality is that Iran has also crossed Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons.
“Iran doesn’t want to show it’s in control of Syria,” says Hamdan. “It needs Assad as a political cushion, especially now with charges that the Syrians are committing war crimes. Without the Assad regime, Iran would legally be seen as an occupying power, which would thereby have responsibilities to the people under occupation.”
It will be very hard for Iran to end its occupation of Syria. The Syrian border with Lebanon is Iran’s supply line to Hezbollah. If Iran loses that channel, an asset it has built up over 30 years with billions of dollars is isolated. The Iranians lose their ability to project power on the Israeli border as well as their most effective deterrent to protect their nuclear facilities against Jerusalem. Were Hezbollah to be deprived of its Iranian lifeline, it would be vulnerable not just to Israel—which has made clear over the last few weeks how dearly the party of God and all of Lebanon will pay in the next round of hostilities—but also to Lebanese (and Syrian) Sunnis looking to repay the blood debt Hezbollah has earned with its war in Syria.
Without Iranian assistance, Hezbollah will find itself drowning in a sea of Sunnis—from villagers in the Bekaa Valley to Islamist militants in the Palestinian refugee camps. Add to those numbers the 1.2 to 2 million Syrian refugees, the vast majority Sunni, now in Lebanon thanks to Iran and Hezbollah’s occupation of their homeland. There are also the battle-hardened Islamist groups that have been at war with Hezbollah for several years now, like Jabhat al-Nusra. As Nusra commander Abu Mohammed al-Jolani told an Arab news network last week, Hezbollah’s fate is tied to Assad’s. “The departure of the latter means the end of Hezbollah,” said Jolani. “The party has many enemies in Lebanon, and with the departure of Assad, their voice will rise against [Hezbollah].”
Iran’s regional position is built on sand. If it loses Syria, it may lose Hezbollah and leave its nuclear program vulnerable. What’s helping sustain Tehran’s strategy is the Obama administration. As the Iranians have kept Assad afloat, the White House has covered Iran’s flank in all four Arab capitals controlled by Tehran: Baghdad, where U.S. airstrikes supported an IRGC-led offensive on Tikrit; Beirut, where the administration shares intelligence with Hezbollah-controlled units of the Lebanese Armed Forces; Damascus, where the White House promised Iran that Assad was safe from U.S. strikes on Islamic State positions; and Sanaa, where American diplomats urge Saudi Arabia to seek a political solution rather than a military victory over the Iran-backed militias.
Sanctions relief will abet Iran’s regional goals. The signing bonus alone will cover the costs of Iran’s continued occupation of Syria for at least another year and tens of thousands more dead Syrian civilians.
**Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.
Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces are
Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat
Saturday, 30 May, 2015
Since the emergence of the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we have heard one refrain of politspeak be repeated at any and every meeting between Arab and Western officials, particularly US officials: “The two sides agreed on the need for coordination in the fight against ISIS,” or something along these lines. This, of course, is all well and good, but what about other terrorist organizations?
It is puzzling that there are some terrorist groups that must be fought, and others that are simply being ignored. Every joint statement issued by Arab and Western officials calling for “cooperation” in the fight against terrorism should be clear and comprehensive and, most importantly, call a thing by its proper name. So the statement that was issued from Camp David following US President Barack Obama’s meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders should also have explicitly named Shi’ite terrorist groups, in the same manner that it named ISIS and others. There should be Arab and international cooperation against all terrorist groups in the region, whether they are Sunni or Shi’ite. Otherwise, we are allowing terrorism in all its forms to prosper and this is something that harms the very concept of the state and national sovereignty.
What is happening in Iraq and Syria is the clearest example of this, as well as the ongoing situation in Yemen. Why don’t Arabs and the West label the Shi’ite armed militias in Iraq and Syria as what they really are? In Iraq we have the so-called Popular Mobilization forces, which are made up of armed Shi’ite groups and militias like the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, the Peace Brigades and Saraya Tala’a Al-Khorasani, among others. How can we, in principle, accept hardline Shi’ite armed militias usurping the role of the state to liberate Sunni-majority Ramadi from ISIS? What about the official name of this “Labaik Ya Hussein” (We obey you, Hussein) military operation and the clear sectarian overtones contained therein?
Following Sunni, Iraqi, Arab and international outrage, the name of this operation was changed to “Labaik Ya Iraq” (We obey you, Iraq), but the point still stands. How can we accept Shi’ite Iraqi militias being armed to fight ISIS in Sunni-majority territory, while the calls of local Sunni tribes for arms and military assistance to combat ISIS are being ignored?
The silence over the Popular Mobilization forces, and other Shi’ite militias in the region, has emboldened Hezbollah in Lebanon and encouraged it to interfere elsewhere in the region, including in Syria and Yemen. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah recently called for forces similar to that of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization to be replicated in Syria, Lebanon and across the region.
So, there are many questions that must be asked, and answered, regarding just where we are heading. Isn’t it the role of the state to deal with threats like the one posed by ISIS in Ramadi, rather than sectarian militias being allowed to take charge? How can we defuse the ugly sectarian conflict that is brewing in the region?
So yes, ISIS is a terrorist group and the Al-Nusra Front is a terrorist group; The Iraqi Popular Mobilization forces and its militias are also terrorists, as are the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Our duty is to confront terrorism in the region, regardless of sectarian differences. We must confront terrorism across the board and make sure that we name things as they are. This is the first step to resolving the deteriorating situation across the region which is striking a blow against the prestige of our states and creating division between citizens.
This is something that is particularly urgent in Iraq, as well as in Syria where moderate rebel forces need greater support. It will be a long journey, but we must take steps in the right direction to defuse the threat of sectarian terrorism. However if we fail to take this first step—dealing with terrorism and terrorist groups on an equal footing—then we are facing a long and difficult road that will have a prohibitive cost for the region and its people.
Saudi cleric's fatwa: Women only watch
soccer to look at men's thighs
A Saudi cleric has issued a fatwa (religious edict) stating that women only watched soccer to stare at men’s thighs, Al Arabiya reported on Saturday. The imam said it should be forbidden for women to watch football games and they “do not care who wins the match, all they care about is watching the player’s thighs.”He added that a “woman seeing a foreign man is sinful, so what about seeing his thighs and tight kit?”The fatwa garnered criticism on social media, including a trending hashtag on twitter in Arabic translating to: #women_love_football_because_of_players'_thighs, the news outlet reported. Columnist Ruqaya Al-Huwairni was quoted by Al-Arabiya as writing in Saudi daily Al-Jazirah: "I cannot describe how embarrassed and annoyed I was after listening to a fatwa issued by a local mosque imam.”“To be frank, I do not know why women are looked down upon more than men. This is common among scholars and extremists. How is it possible for anyone to say that women only watch football to enjoy looking at players’ thighs?" she queried.
Last summer, salafi clerics in Saudi Arabia and Egypt issued fatwas and statements against viewing the World Cup soccer tournament before the games began. At the time, Saudi Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan opined: “Muslims must set aside games and frivolity and take up God’s work. They must not waste their time following games and frivolity, especially not during the blessed month of Ramadan. This is true for Muslims in general, and the younger generation in particular... These games have no use, and they are harmful and a waste of time.”
**Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report.
Hezbollah-inspired film imagines the
'liberation of the Galilee'
Roi Kais/Ynetnews/Published: 05.30.15 Israel News
A group of Lebanese academics are creating a 'Hollywood-style' film which imagines Hezbollah taking over the Galilee in 2019.
Hezbollah continues to bleed in Syria, especially in the Qalamoun mountains on the Syria-Lebanon border, but the Hezbollay-affiliated media has found time in recent days to once again raise the issue of the "liberation of the Galilee."
On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the IDF's withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese channel Al-Mayadeen and Hezbollah-mouthpiece Al-Manar chose to reveal this week that a group of young academics is diligently working on a new film called "Today", which imagines how its fighters will occupy the Galilee in 2019.
Teaser for Lebanese film "2019" about Hezbollah's capture of the Galilee
It is not clear when and where the film will be screened, but a short promo was uploaded to pro-Hezbollah channels in Lebanon. "This is a movie that imagines the collapse of the Zionist entity starting from the Galilee," an Al-Manar report says, followed by a speech made by Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in which he asks his men to be ready for the possibility that in the next war they will have to take over the Galilee.
"That speech had a big impact on us as an idea. We tried using a scenario to show the world how it will look when Israel is obliterated and how the takeover of the Galilee will look and how it will affect the enemy militarily, politically, economically and what the reactions here in Lebanon will be like," explains Lebanese screenwriter Mohammed Fachs to Hezbollah's channel.
"The film talks about 2019, but it is possible that at that time we will already be in the Galilee, sitting in a cinema for example" said Mahdi Kalas, the film's assistant director, who is also in charge of the film's score.
In the short promo, a short segment supposedly shows the "invasion" of Hezbollah and then the "revenge". From the broadcast, it is unclear whether the film has been completed or is still being made.
Al-Mayadeen's report on the film mentioned Nasrallah's remarks in an in-depth interview he gave to the station and its director Ghassan bin Jiddo, in which he said that in the event war breaks out, there is a possibility of his soldiers not only entering the Galilee but also going beyond the Galilee.
"Entering the Galilee is possible as long as there is a clear strategy and a will reinforced with belief and victory", said commentator Edmond Saab to Al Madayeen's website, which claimed that those making the film aren't prepared to answer the question as to why they chose 2019.
"We'll leave the answer to the movie itself," said Kazem Fayyad, the film's chief director. The channel claims that the films creators are anxious for the Galilee to be "liberated" before 2019.
The report noted that the film's creators are even preparing to send invitations to watch the film in cinemas in the "liberated Galilee".
The Al-Mayadeen report also remarks that "the creators need to work harder on the film to provide everyone with a Lebanese movie on a Hollywood level that imagines an expected event that will be seared into the public's imagination before it becomes reality. Perhaps in 2019, or sooner, or later. There is no difference."
Earlier this week, during Nasrallah's speech on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the IDF's withdrawal from southern Lebanon, a sign in Hebrew was hung up that read: "The entry to the Galilee – a promise will not be broken."
Iraqi Shiite Foreign Fighters on the
Rise Again in Syria
Phillip Smyth/Washington Institute
May 30, 2015
As regime and Hezbollah forces experience manpower and projection problems in Syria, Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias may be reassuming a greater combat role.
Over the past few months, Iraqi Shiite fighters have once again expanded their role in defending the Assad regime in Syria. Beginning in late 2012, these fighters -- some of them experienced, others newly recruited -- formed some of the most dynamic foreign units in the war. By spring 2014, many of them had been pulled from the Syrian front to handle increasing pressure from the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. Today, however, despite continued fighting in Iraqi hotspots such as Tikrit and Ramadi, these Shiite militias are increasingly adopting new responsibilities and reassuming older ones on many fronts in Syria.
Meanwhile, certain newer Iraq-based Iranian proxy groups have expanded their recruitment activities to bring fighters to Syria. This represents another ongoing shift: recruitment and deployment for Iraqi Shiite fighters is being handed over to more recently created Iraqi fronts within the expanding Iranian-controlled network of "Islamic Resistance" organizations. These efforts, which have been in process for months, demonstrate both positive and negative developments for Iraqi Shiite fighters in the recruitment and deployment arenas.
LAFA'S THINLY SPREAD FORCES
Groups that emerged from Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) -- the first foreign-fighter-manned Shiite militia to set up camp in Syria, composed primarily of Iraqis -- have been very active over increasingly larger stretches of Syrian territory. For the most part, their wider employment indicates further stress within the pro-Assad ranks.
From February to early March 2015, one of the LAFA network's most active militias, Liwa Dhulfiqar, was deployed to the Latakia area in northern Syria. The group had primarily fought battles in and south of the Damascus area since 2013, so the northern shift indicated the regime's stretched manpower and its need to use experienced fighters against renewed rebel and Sunni jihadist offensives.
In mid-April, some Liwa Dhulfiqar forces were moved south into a mountainous zone near the Lebanon-Syria border, despite the fact that Lebanese Hezbollah was already heavily deployed in the area. Conducting operations in Yabous and then Zabadani, Liwa Dhulfiqar claimed to have killed hundreds of rebel forces. This was not the first time the group had helped Hezbollah in one of the latter's primary areas of operation -- in December 2013, during the first combined Hezbollah/Assad regime offensive in Qalamoun, it was involved in battles near al-Nabak.
More recently, Liwa Dhulfiqar fighters claimed on May 24 that the militia had moved north to Idlib in order to help free regime troops besieged at the Jisr al-Shughour hospital. The group's leader, Abu Shahid al-Jabbouri, was shown ordering rocket salvos and infantry operations in the field. Despite these efforts, the remnants of Assad's forces had fled the area by May 27 as the hospital was overrun.
Liwa Dhulfiqar's sister organization, Liwa Assad Allah al-Ghalib (LAAG), has also been active in the Alawite heartland. In January, photos were posted on social media claiming that sections of the group and its commander, Abu Fatima al-Musawi, were present in the Banias area. As this foray to the north ended, LAAG reportedly returned to more rural sections of Rif Damascus. Between April 21 and 25, the group publicly claimed to have lost six members during internecine battles in the area.
Around the same period, Liwa al-Imam al-Hussein, another LAFA-affiliated group, claimed to have sent fifty fighters to support operations in rural Latakia. This coincided with a visit by the militia's leader, Sheikh Abu Karrar al-Bahladi, to the Assad family hometown of Qardaha. Joining Bahladi on the trip was Ahmed Hajji Sadi, commander of the so-called Rapid Reaction Forces (RRF or Afwaj al-Kafil), who had previously been setting up and commanding branches of his militia in Iraq.
CROSSPOLLINATION BETWEEN THE FRONT GROUPS
Another development within the LAFA network has been the increasing traffic inside Syria of fighters and commanders belonging to the Iraq-based Qaeda Quwet Abu Fadl al-Abbas (QQAFA). Led by Sheikh Auws al-Khafaji (a Sadrist splinter figure) and Sheikh Abu Kamil al-Lami (affiliated with the group Asaib Ahl al-Haq), QQAFA was formed in Iraq following the June 2014 IS advance. The militia, which is part of Iraq's so-called Popular Mobilization Units/Committees (PMUs/PMCs), also includes leading fighters and commanders belonging to Liwa Dhulfiqar, the RRF, and Liwa al-Imam al-Hussein. Leadership elements from Liwa Dhulfiqar have even donned the group's uniforms in Iraq and Syria, demonstrating their close links. In a December 2014 interview with the Lebanese daily an-Nahar, Khafaji claimed that QQAFA was a "natural extension" of LAFA, and he maintains links with major leaders of the network today.
According to Shiite militia social media feeds, Khafaji has been visiting Shiite foreign fighters in Syria since mid-2013, a period of time that witnessed growing publicity for Iraqi Shiite militias in that country. His visits increased in 2014, and he has made the trip this year as well. When an-Nahar asked him why Iraqi Shiite fighters were continuing to arrive in Syria, he declared that the "failure" to fight in Syria "was the cause of [the Islamic State's] entry into Iraq."
Earlier this month, during the lead-up to the three-night mourning period commemorating the Shiite martyr Zainab, uniformed QQAFA fighters were shown disembarking aircraft in Damascus. They were ostensibly in Syria to take part in the commemorations, but considering the regime's need for manpower and the publicly developing links between Syria-based LAFA- groups and QQAFA, at least some of these fighters are highly likely to stay longer for combat tours.
QQAFA also appears to have deep links to Kataib al-Imam Ali, another newer and increasingly powerful Iranian-controlled Sadrist splinter militia. These links potentially reveal a more formalized means of tapping Sadrist splinter sources for manpower. Although recent QQAFA recruitment has not been exclusively aimed at Syria, the group may develop into a new recruitment leader given its leadership's early, direct LAFA links and its history of enlisting fighters for Syria. And with the battlefield experience Shiite fighters have gained in Iraq, they could present a stronger combat element on the Assad regime's side going forward.
NEW SPECIAL GROUPS AND RENEWED SYRIA FOCUS
While armed engagements involving LAFA network organizations have continued, other Iraq-based Iranian proxies appear to have taken a lesser role in the Syrian conflict. Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Organization, and Kataib Hezbollah all claimed to have sent their fighters back to Iraq and ended many Syria-focused recruitment programs by May 2014. Yet two other Iraqi Shiite groups -- Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN) -- appear to be taking on leading functions in Syria and continue to funnel fighters there.
The creation of KSS was first announced in spring 2013, as funerals for Iraqi Shiite fighters killed in Syria were receiving increased publicity. Initially, the Iranian proxy group was crafted as a front with links to Kataib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization, and it has been sending fighters to Syria ever since. HHN, a group led by Asaib Ahl al-Haq cofounder Akram Kaabi, was also part of the spring 2013 series of announcements revealing new Iraqi Shiite militias operating in Syria. In addition, HHN was the first such militia to announce operations in the Aleppo area.
Beginning less than a month after the IS takeover of Mosul and lasting until December 2014, KSS initiated timed recruitment programs online and on the ground, all coinciding with offensive actions involving the group in Syria. Many of these programs targeted males in Shiite-majority sections of Baghdad and especially the southern city of Basra.
HHN issued its own recruitment calls for Syria more recently, beginning in late March and mid-April 2015. These efforts centered on Iraq's Maysan province, a hotbed of Shiite militia sentiment that provided the group with many of its initial recruits for Syria. The province has been home to numerous Iranian-backed Shiite militias since the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and many fighters consider it to be a martial hub, particularly the provincial capital of Amara.
Beginning in September 2014, KSS fighters were introduced into Syria's developing southern front and have been involved there ever since. The section of the front tasked to the group included areas north of Deraa, with a focus on strategically relevant rural towns on the highway from Deraa to Damascus. As rebel forces advanced toward Damascus beginning in November, KSS countered them near the highly strategic town of Sheikh Maskin and the neighboring town of Namer. Even with these efforts, by January 2015 the rebels had seized large swaths of territory where KSS was operating. According to the group, Deraa-related operations have continued ever since. Although KSS has remained mum on the exact villages in which it is operating, it heavily promoted its Syrian activities in March-April through online posting of photos and videos.
As for HHN, the group has been playing a combat role in its traditional operational zones in the Aleppo area. On February 19, a flurry of Shiite militia social media posts claimed that eighteen HHN fighters had been killed while defending the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra in Aleppo province. And in early May, the group announced that it was fighting in East Ghouta.
One of the fighters killed in February, Hasnain Abu Kafil al-Sadi, exemplified the back-and-forth deployment shuffle between Iraq and Syria. According to Shiite militants who served with him, Sadi began operating in Syria in 2013, joining HHN and fighting alongside LAFA network organizations and Lebanese Hezbollah. Sometime in 2014 he went back to Iraq and fought in Samarra, Bayji, and Tikrit, only to return to the Syrian front this year.
Iraqi Shiite fighters never really left Syria, and they will continue to play a major role there. Their ability to be used as shock soldiers, infantry support elements, and reservists has helped establish their importance -- in the span of just two years, these foreign fighters have moved from being auxiliaries to quintessential elements on the battlefield.
The LAFA network's widening deployment area, particularly within Assad's geographic powerbase, demonstrates the problems that regime forces are experiencing with manpower and armed projection. Similarly, Iraqi Shiite deployments in Qalamoun have highlighted the difficulties faced by Lebanese Hezbollah, while also showcasing how multinational Shiite militias often work in concert. At the same time, however, these deployments signal an important shift in Iran's approach to reinforcing Assad: namely, the specific tasking of certain Iraqi Shiite organizations with finding recruits for Syria, representing a continued (if slightly modified) commitment to the Assad regime.
The creation of a multitude of Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias has been ongoing, with most emerging around the time that Lebanese Hezbollah formally announced its presence in Syria in May 2013, then again following the IS conquest of Mosul in June 2014. While these newer organizations highlight a broader "Hezbollahzation" of the security field in Iraq and Syria, they also show how Iran can pick and choose from various groups to carry out specific missions. As elements of the LAFA network develop and formalize ties with established Iraqi organizations, and as KSS and HHN continue their recruitment efforts, the flow of Shiite fighters into Syria may become even more streamlined, and their combat roles in defense of Assad could become more pivotal over time.
**Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland, writes the "Hizballah Cavalcade" blog on Jihadology.net and is the author of the recent Washington Institute study The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects.