Detailed LCCC English News Bulletin For 04 and 05/June/15

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LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
June 05/15

Bible Quotation For Today/If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.
John 15/22-27: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.” ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.
You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”

Bible Quotation For Today/ An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life
Acts of the Apostles 05/12-21a: “Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured. Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.’ When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching. When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.”

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on June 04-05/15
He who trusts Micheal Aoun, Needs to Check with a highly specialized Psychiatrist/Elias Bejjani/June 04/15
Lebanon’s PM, Salam: I fear for Lebanon and everything in it/Asharq Al-Awsat/June 04/15
Iranian Nukes, the Arab Gulf, and Obama’s Seductive Summitry/Steven J. Rosen/The Washington Times/June 04/15

Saudi-Lebanese Relations/A friend in need/Daily Star/June 04/15
Samir Kassir: a prince of our disorder/Michael Young/The Daily Star/June 04/15
America’s juggling act in Asia is proving tricky/David Ignatius/The Daily Star/June 04/15

Lebanese Related News published on June 04-05/15
Israeli Official: More than 1 Million Lebanese to be Evacuated in Future War
Mashnouq Extends Basbous’ Term for Two Years
Cabinet Gives Army Authority on Deployment and Protection of Arsal
Lebanese Cabinet offers Army support to secure Arsal region 
IDF source: We’d evacuate a million Lebanese if war breaks out with Hezbollah
Saudi king urges Lebanese to elect president 
Nusra chief says ISIS caliphate ‘illegitimate’
Hezbollah makes fresh gains in Syria border battle
Hezbollah seizes 15 positions on Arsal outskirts 
Nasrallah tries once more to mobilize base to support Assad
Chehayeb storms out of Cabinet meet 
Insurance firms urged to prep for oil, gas age 
Abou Faour Meets Berri despite Jumblat’s Denial of Initiative Progressive
Nasrallah to Deliver Speech on Latest Developments on Friday
Girault Starts Crunch Presidency Talks on Two-Day Visit
Syrian Woman Arrested on Suspicion of Belonging to Armed Group
Refrigerated Truck Owners Demand Government Action over Land Transport Crisis
Arsal Residents Vow to Defend Town Till Last Breath

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on June 04-05/15
Iran Says ‘Important Progress’ Made in Nuclear Talks
Iran’s Khamenei urges Muslim unity in face of ‘oppression’
Top Syrian official visits Homs after army setbacks
Air raid destroys huge ISIS car bomb plant in Iraq
King Salman: Even the Saudi king is not above the law
ISIS’s desperate attacks in Saudi Arabia
Houthis to attend UN-backed Yemen peace talks: official
ISIS mounts suicide attacks around Syria’s Hassakeh
Iran sends 15,000 fighters to Syria 
Will the Houthis abandon Ali Abdullah Saleh?
It is time to kill off the Quartet
Jordan’s Prince Ali would kick new life into FIFA
EU, Libya hold talks on fighting people smugglers
UN’s Ban calls on Israel, Palestinians to halt unilateral actions undermining peace
The global boycott of Israel is growing silently
Palestinian NGO threatens Israel with lawsuit, denies Hamas ties
At least two rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel
In Gaza, you can’t run from house to house, Hamas has booby trapped them’
IDF probing shelling of Gaza pharmacy last year
Israel tells France: Condemn Orange CEO’s boycott support
Real alternative to Netanyahu government
Israel slams Swiss funding for exhibit by Israeli NGO
US envoy Shapiro: Difficult to fight boycott of Israel while peace process frozen
Report: Man slain by police in Boston sought to behead Pamela Geller
Morocco arrests two men who kissed in public

Jehad Watch Latest Reports And News
2-Time World Thai Boxing Champion from Germany joins the Islamic State
Video: Robert Spencer on CNN on the jihad murder plot against Pamela Geller
William Kilpatrick — ‘Needed: A New Church Policy toward Islam, Pt. 2′
The Fall of Constantinople and Islam’s Treatment of Christians
Video: Pamela Geller schools Chris Cuomo about the freedom of speech and Islam
DABIQ: ISIS could transport nuke from Nigeria into U.S. through Mexico
Pamela Geller: “They targeted me for violating sharia blasphemy laws”
Boston jihadis originally planned to behead Pamela Geller

He who trusts Micheal Aoun, Needs to Check with a highly specialized Psychiatrist
Elias Bejjani
May 04/15
The well known Lebanese proverb says: The believer in Almighty God who with wisdom utilizes his intellectual capabilities should not be stringed more than once by the same snack din”.
Simply it means that when you see a fire and throw yourself in it you are definitely not using your judgment and stupidly committing suicide. In this context we read the perspectives of the newly signed “Paper of intentions”, between MP, Micheal Aoun and Dr. Samir Geagea.
There is no doubt that we fully trust Dr. Geagea and strongly believe he will honor his signature as he always does, but quite frankly we do not imagine or even dream that Aoun will do so, or will change and respect himself or ethically abide by this new commitment.
In our own mind, Aoun is a hungry chameleon and an actual Catholic Maronite disaster on all levels and in all domains, ethically, politically, faith wise, self respect, opportunism, numbed conscience, ill-mannered conduct, and demagoguism.
Simply he is a wild and Carnivorous creature who enjoys devouring every and each thing that is in his reach.
BUT, despite of all our logical pessimism in regards to this newly signed paper, we will be very happy to be wrong in our own personal judgment, although sadly all our modest experience with Aoun does not go into this track of hope.
In this realm we reiterate what was said in our below piece that was published on 01/06/15 under the title: “Aoun & Nasrallah Are Lebanon’s enemies”
Micheal Aoun is a real cancer that is devouring the Chastain’s presence and coexistence in Lebanon piece by piece in a bid to serve his own selfish agenda and presidential delusions. He is not going anywhere with his evil dreams and will never ever sit on the Baabda presidential chair or carry the title.
Practically the man is completely detached from reality, lives in a world of his own, hears only his voices and sees only his scaring and distorted image via his broken home mirrors. This politically and patriotically derailed Micheal Aoun has no actual conscience or any values at all. Aoun has with no shame what so ever sold himself to the terrorist Hezbollah and to its two Syrian and Iranian masters.
Meanwhile his childish and arrogant disgusting son-in-law the dwarf Jobran Bassil is a cheap trumpet and a greedy and vulgar mouthpiece for the terrorist Hezbollah. This political merchant, Jobran Bassil has nothing to do with the Lebanese Christian’s representation, hopes aspirations and fears.
In the same context, sadly the Maronite Patriarch Bchara Al Raei and his close team of clergy and politicians are totally pro the Iranian-Syrian Axis of evil. Simply they can not be trusted and those who naively do always harvest failure, disappointments and humiliation.
On the Hezbollah’s frontier, apparently the Shiite community in Lebanon is not able any more to tolerate more human loses in Syria. Nasrallah is trying to contain its anger by lies, fabrications and through playing on its fears.
At the present time, Hezbollah’s vicious and criminal scheme is evidently a bloody denominational cleansing of the Sunni Ersal Bekaa town. Its leadership wants the Lebanese army to carry this dirty job. Aoun, Bassil, Lahoud, Rahme and all the other Trojans of March 08th coalition are advocating for this massacre through threats, lies and instigations.
In conclusion Hezbollah is an occupier and an Iranian terrorist army and accordingly all those Lebanese who support him are partners in his occupation and in all the crimes that he is committing in Lebanon, Syria and all other countries where its men are fighting Iran’s battles.

*Elias Bejjani
Canadian-Lebanese Human Rights activist, journalist and political commentator
Email phoenicia@hotmail.com
Web sites http://www.eliasbejjaninews.com & http://www.10452lccc.com & http://www.clhrf.com
Tweets on https://twitter.com/phoeniciaelias
Face Book LCCC group http://www.facebook.com/group.php?

Lebanon’s PM, Salam: I fear for Lebanon and everything in it
Tammam Salam discusses Lebanon’s ties with Saudi Arabia ahead of a high-level visit to Riyadh
Thair Abbas/ Wednesday, 4 Jun, 2015
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam has cautioned that now is not the time for political bickering among his country’s parties and that consensus is desperately needed to steer Lebanon away from crisis.
The small Mediterranean republic has been without a president for more than a year as its many factions fail to agree on a consensus figure for the position.
The Lebanese prime minister spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat ahead of an important visit to Saudi Arabia. Salam stressed the importance of relations between Beirut and Riyadh, calling for even greater cooperation between the two countries in a number of fields, particularly security and military.
The Lebanese prime minister is visiting Saudi Arabia accompanied by Interior Minister Nihad Mashnouq, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour and Youth and Sports Minister Abdul-Muttaleb Al-Hinawi.
Salam was received by Saudi officials on Tuesday in Riyadh and is expected to meet Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz on Wednesday morning.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What can you tell us about your forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia?
Tammam Salam: This is a normal visit and confirms the constant communication between Lebanon and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the historic and close relationship between our two countries. It would be correct to say that there is constant and ongoing monitoring and follow-up, particularly in light of Saudi Arabia’s care and commitment towards Lebanon and many of our ongoing issues. Therefore, the people of Lebanon are grateful for the efforts of Saudi Arabia. So the visit will not just aim to strengthen Saudi-Lebanese relations, but to explore everything that can be done to strengthen this relationship further and ensure the benefit and interest of both Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.
Q: This visit comes at a critical time in the Middle East, with conflict raging in a number of countries, not least Syria and Yemen. What is your view of the situation in the region?
There can be no doubt that the situation in the region is a subject of major concern, particularly regarding issues such as security, stability and counter-terrorism. Saudi Arabia is leading a clear and unambiguous war against terrorism and the harm it does our religion, nations and region. Therefore, we must support this process because the Arab world has its position and future and this is something that we must strengthen and support. This is something that we can do by putting forward a clear vision in coordination with all Arab states via the Arab League, as well as through bilateral relations.
The Arab people want to ensure their dignity and continuity. At the same time, they want to live in peace, stability and tranquility. Therefore, we need to see agreements between Arab states today to ensure this.
Q: Speaking of joint Arab efforts to ensure regional security and stability, the Arab League is moving forward on an initiative to launch a joint Arab military force. What is Beirut’s position on this?
This is still under discussion by Lebanon’s military leadership. The military leadership has already held two meetings to discuss this while a third meeting is scheduled to take place in the next ten days to clarify and agree on a draft formula for this force and a number of issues regarding how it will be formed and defining its role. All of this is still under discussion. This initiative was put forward at the most recent Arab League summit and we must give it the required attention to strengthen the role of joint Arab security during this unstable time.
Q: What can you tell us about some Lebanese parties, such as Hezbollah for example, seeking to cast doubt on Saudi-Lebanese ties?
Lebanon, as you know, is a democratic state and every political party is free to express its opinions and views on domestic, regional and international issues. However, let me confirm once again, and despite what you might have heard from some parties, that Lebanon enjoys a deep and close relationship with Saudi Arabia. What I would like to express to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at this point is clear: We thank King Salman Bin Abdulaziz for his support of Lebanon and the Lebanese people. The Kingdom has always been committed to providing Lebanon with unprecedented moral and material support, and we can add military support, to strengthen its legitimate bodies and our nation’s sovereignty.
Q: Regarding Saudi military support for Lebanon and its military, have you now begun to feel the effect of this on the ground?
Yes, the Saudi military assistance is coming at just the right time and the Lebanese military and security apparatus are in dire need of this, particularly in light of the ongoing situation on the ground that we are facing in terms of the presence of terrorism and terrorists. This is also helping to strengthen Lebanon’s national institutions, which is having a direct effect on domestic unity.
Q: It has been more than a year since former president Michel Suleiman left office. Although your government continues to operate, a number of state institutions have reached breaking point. Is your government under threat of implosion?
Lebanon is immune [from any such implosion] due to our commitment to the policy of consensus between all people and parties and which can be seen in the compromise agreements that political parties have taken during this difficult time. We will ensure Lebanese unity by continuing to pursue this policy and remaining committed to our institutions and legitimacy as guaranteed by the constitution. So long as we remain committed to national unity and can move beyond our differences, we will ensure that Lebanon is protected and safe.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that we are in the midst of a political crisis that is worsening the longer we are unable to elect a new president and this presidential vacuum continues. This, in turn, leads to a semi-suspended legislature which, of course, affects the executive branch of power. If this continues, this will play an increasingly negative effect that will not assist efforts to preserve Lebanon’s internal unity in the face of the threats against it.
Q: Do you fear for the future of the Lebanese government?
I fear for Lebanon and everything inside it. The awareness and understanding [of the government] is at stake. As everybody knows, there is a political conflict taking place that includes certain names and parties which, I believe, is far removed from the implementation of the policy of consensus that is needed today. There is no room today for political bickering and conflict, for one party to score points at the expense of the other . . . Instead what is required today is to hold firm to the policy of consensus which enabled the formation of a government 18 months ago, and which should enable the election of a new president. This consensus, at this difficult time, is the only way out of the political crisis that we find ourselves in.
**This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.

Lebanese Cabinet Gives Army Authority on Deployment and Protection of Arsal
Naharnet/04.06.15/The government tasked the Lebanese army on Thursday with taking necessary measures to deploy inside the northeastern border town of Arsal to protect it against militant attacks, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij said.“After long discussions on the catastrophic situation in Arsal and the presence of militants on its outskirts, the cabinet expressed full confidence in the army,” Jreij said in his briefing to reporters following a government session that was chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail. The cabinet tasked the military “with taking all necessary measures to deploy inside Arsal and protect it from attacks and the dangers of armed men,” he said. The ministers agreed to continue discussions on all other issues during a session next Thursday, the minister stated, without further elaboration. But local TV reports said that Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq informed the cabinet that he was mulling to extend the term of Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous after the ministers failed again to agree on the controversial issue of security and military appointments. Basbous’ term ends at midnight Thursday. According to the reports, al-Mashnouq also told the cabinet that he would issue a decree appointing Joseph Helou as police chief. In his briefing, Jreij said Salam reiterated the necessity to elect a president, saying the more than one-year vacuum at Baabda Palace has reflected negatively on the role of state institutions. Salam also informed the cabinet of the result of his visit to Saudi Arabia, he added.

Mashnouq Extends Basbous’ Term for Two Years
Naharnet /04.06.15/Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouq postponed on Thursday the retirement of Internal Security Forces chief Ibrahim Basbous, effectively extending his term in office, an issue that has been stirring debate at cabinet for months. Mashnouq signed a decree that would keep the ISF chief in his post for two more years. A cabinet session was held earlier in the day, but media reports said that the controversial security appointments issue was not discussed.Basbous’ term was supposed to end on Thursday. Head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun has been staunchly opposed to the extension of Basbous’ term. 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. Aoun had previously bluntly rejected any attempts to extend the terms of high-ranking security and military officials, threatening to resign from cabinet. Media reports had said that the MP’s main objective is to receive political consensus on the appointment of Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz as army chief as part of a package for the appointment of other top security officers. Aoun however denied that he had made such a proposal. Earlier, Basbous had urged politicians not to involve the institution in their disputes and to appoint new ISF personnel based on their efficiency. He called on politicians not to submerge the ISF with their sectarian or political disputes. “The selection of officers should be according to objective principles and based on efficiency and integrity,” he said in a speech addressing a seminar entitled “The Concept of National Security and its Foundations in Lebanon.”He pointed out that he has been able to “dissociate ISF from politics since his appointment,” stressing that the institution isn’t affiliated to any political party. “We have been also keen to cooperate and coordinate on all levels with security agencies, in particular the army,” Basbous remarked. The ISF chief also expressed grave concern over the developments in the region, warning that it will have repercussions on Lebanon. “Reality demands all officials to wisely assume their responsibilities to overcome the stage with minimum damage.”

Arsal Residents Vow to Defend Town Till Last Breath
Naharnet/04/06/15/Municipal chief of Arsal Ali al-Hujeiri stressed Thursday that the residents of the northeastern border town will defend it until the last day. “The residents of Arsal will defend it from any harm by Hizbullah or the gunmen,” Hujeiri told As Safir newspaper. He pointed out that the residents are not supporting any side and observing the battles. “Entering Arsal is forbidden,” Hujeiri stressed. His comments come in light of a statement issued by al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front overnight Thursday. The group announced in a statement the formation of a new brigade “al-Farouq Omar Brigade in Arsal.” The statement accused Hizbullah of “sectarian mobilization and arming Shiite tribes,” revealing that the aim of the newly formed brigade is to fend off the party’s fighters. However, Hujeiri downplayed the announcement, describing it as “propaganda.” On Wednesday, Hizbullah, fighting in Syria to support the ruling regime, said it was tightening the noose around the last remaining jihadist pockets along the Lebanese-Syrian border. Hujeiri also expressed concern in remarks to the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat over the clashes on the outskirts of the town. He pointed out that Arsal cannot be separated from its outskirts. Hizbullah’s official media reported “violent clashes” with al-Nusra near Arsal. Al-Nusra and the Islamic State group briefly overran Arsal last August, and are still holding 25 soldiers and policemen hostage. Last week, the army intensified its patrols in Arsal “to prevent any attack on the area.” Hizbullah, which has said it wants to protect Lebanon “from the jihadist menace”, has been fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad’s regime for more than two years.

Abou Faour Meets Berri despite Jumblat’s Denial of Initiative

Naharnet/04.06.15/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat denied Thursday that he is seeking to conduct an initiative to resolve the lingering political crisis despite a meeting between his aide Health Minister Wael Abou Faour and Speaker Nabih Berri.
“In the capital Beirut I announce that I will not carry out any initiative,” Jumblat said on his Twitter account. He expressed pessimism, saying: “Fire is surrounding us… and there is no breakthrough on the horizon to elect a new head of state.”Jumblat criticized the decision taken by political rivals to inflict semi or complete paralysis at state institutions to achieve narrow interests. “I have already proposed an initiative to avert paralysis but it was rejected by prominent leaders.”Al-Akhbar newspaper reported earlier Thursday that the Druze leader is seeking to mend the gap between the political rivals over the appointment of high-ranking security and military officials at state posts.According to the daily, Jumblat will kickstart an initiative to resolve the dispute, in particular after Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun’s continuous threats to topple the cabinet of Prime Minister Tammam Salam. “It is clear that we have entered a cabinet paralysis, even if it wasn’t directly announced,” Abou Faour said after meeting with Berri Thursday. He pointed out that the political discussions aren’t “mature.” Abou Faour reiterated his trust in the speaker’s management. Media reports said on Wednesday that Jumblat kicked off contacts with Hizbullah to tackle the possible scenarios if the cabinet was paralyzed due to the sharp rift between ministers over the controversy of appointments. The PSP reportedly suggested that Salam should continue to hold daily ministerial meetings to run the affairs of the state. The Higher Defense Council will also have to hold periodic meetings to follow up on the security developments and maintain stability, and ministers should cooperate with the premier and ink decrees that don’t need the approval of the cabinet. The proposals suggested by the PSP surfaced as Aoun threatened Tuesday after his Change and Reform bloc meeting that his ministers will boycott cabinet sessions until the appointments dilemma is resolved. He slammed the cabinet, saying that the government should go on vacation until September if it will not appoint new security and military chiefs. Aoun has repeatedly warned the government against extending the terms of the army and Internal Security Forces chiefs, deeming it illegal. He allegedly backs the appointment of his son-in-law, Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz, as army commander. Military chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji is set to retire on September 23, while ISF chief Major General Ibrahim Basbous is set to retire on June 4.

Director of the Department of the Middle East and North Africa at the French Foreign Ministry, Jean-François Girault, Starts Crunch Presidency Talks on Two-Day Visit

Naharnet /04.06.15/The Director of the Department of the Middle East and North Africa at the French Foreign Ministry, Jean-François Girault, began Thursday touring senior Lebanese officials to tackle the latest developments, in particularly the presidential vacuum. Girault discussed with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil at the Bustros Palace the general situation in the region and Lebanon.He left without making any statement. The French diplomat arrived Wednesday night on a two-day visit. He will meet with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam and political leaders. Girault’s visit coincides with that of Papal envoy to Lebanon former Foreign Minister Monsignor Dominique Mamberti, who left Lebanon on Thursday morning. Mamberti pressed the importance of ending the presidential vacuum during his meeting with Lebanese officials. Media reports had said that France, the Vatican and Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi are synchronizing their efforts to end the presidential vacuum. Girault expressed pessimism over the protracting presidential vacuum during his last visit in February, considering an imminent breakthrough is not possible. Lebanon has been without a president since May last year when the term of Michel Suleiman ended without the election of his successor. Ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps have thwarted the elections. The French diplomat had been in shuttle diplomacy where he held talks in Riyadh, Tehran, Washington and the Vatican over the presidential crisis.

Iran Says ‘Important Progress’ Made in Nuclear Talks
Naharnet/04.06.15/Iran and world powers have made “important progress” towards a final deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for eased economic sanctions, a senior Iranian negotiator said Thursday. “We have made important progress on the final text, but less so on the annexes, so work continues,” deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi was quoted as saying by state media as he arrived in Vienna for the latest round of nuclear talks. Six global powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — are trying to nail down a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions by reducing its stockpiles of enriched uranium and mothballing some of its sites before a June 30 deadline. Negotiations last weekend in Geneva, Switzerland, failed to bridge differences between Washington and Tehran, especially over the crucial issue of inspections of military sites. Other sticking points remain, including the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program and the demands by the world powers for U.N. inspections of Iranian military bases.
Araghchi said before last week’s talks that it would be “out of the question” for U.N. inspectors to question Iranian scientists and inspect military sites as part of a final deal. The diplomat said Thursday that reaching a lasting accord would be a “difficult and complicated job”.”The rules are being defined within the framework of the final agreement,” he added. Agence France Presse

Saudi-Lebanese Relations/A friend in need
The Daily Star/Jun. 04, 2015 /Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has reiterated his country’s decades-long policy of supporting Lebanon, as it experiences the critical test of surviving a turbulent phase of the region’s history. During his meeting in Riyadh Wednesday with Prime Minister Tammam Salam and a visiting delegation, King Salman stressed this policy of support was aimed at the entire country, and not a particular group or faction. King Salman, who ascended to the throne just over four months ago, is part of a leadership that helped Lebanon survive its Civil War in the 1970s and 1980s – and is keen to see it escape the repercussions of a regional situation in which several wars are now raging. The monarch’s stance was also relayed by Ali Awad Asiri, the former Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, who attended the talks. Asiri stressed that the kingdom would continue to support Lebanon even though one of its political parties is engaged in sharp verbal attacks every day on Riyadh. The Saudis have absorbed such blows, without retaliating against the tens of thousands of Lebanese in the kingdom who have used their stay there to become prosperous, while respecting the laws of their host country. Asiri said the Saudi leadership was also interested in strengthening the institutional basis of Lebanese-Saudi ties; this aspect is critically important due to gestures such as Riyadh’s recent move to provide $1 billion in material support for the Lebanese Army. Lebanese should assign a high level of importance to the king’s words, because they come from a friend who has supported this country in both words and deeds.

Nasrallah tries once more to mobilize base to support Assad
ARIEL BEN SOLOMON/J.Post/06/04/2015
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave yet another speech on Wednesday in an effort to motivate Shi’ite supporters in Lebanon to help keep Syrian President Bashar Assad in power. “The party that has fought and experienced wars can lead to victory,” Nasrallah said, according to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International website. In a speech honoring the memory of a Shi’ite cleric, Nasrallah said “new milestones were opened” for Muslims following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Nasrallah sees Shi’ite Iran and its leading cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the spiritual authority, and perceives the struggle against Sunni powers in the sectarian regional war as a continuation and spreading of the revolutionary ideology of the Iranian regime. The joint struggle to maintain Assad in power is Hezbollah’s primary mission at the moment and, through a string of recent speeches, the group’s leader is trying to rally his forces in the face of high casualties and the need for new recruits.“It is true that I said the day may come when we will have to declare general mobilization.But I did not declare it,” Nasrallah said in last speech in May, according to MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) “To all those people, I say: Even if I do not call for general mobilization, if the Hezbollah leadership decides to take to the streets, you will find tens of thousands of men there,” he said. Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut- based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Nasrallah’s last speech was more significant in terms of his calling Shi’ites to fall into line and the broader context of the Iranian effort to mobilize Shi’ite fighters to protect Assad. The Hezbollah leader has successfully “framed the Syrian war as existential for the Shia of Lebanon,” Badran said.
This has included drawing in Christians by insinuating that if Hezbollah fails and Assad falls, they, too, would be slaughtered by jihadists. The battle current battle in the Syrian-Lebanese border region of Qalamoun is key for ensuring Assad’s survival and for securing an Iranian protectorate in western Syria contiguous with Lebanon, he added. Consolidating this enclave has been Iran’s strategy since late 2012.
Hezbollah’s support has been crucial to Assad in the four-year-long Syrian conflict. Its operation in Qalamoun is part of Assad’s effort to shore up his control over western Syria. Meanwhile, Hezbollah said Wednesday it seized ground from jihadists near the Lebanon- Syria border, widening its joint offensive with the Syrian army to try to clear the area of militant groups including al-Qaida’s Syrian wing. The Iran-backed Lebanese group said in a statement that its fighters had seized three hilltops in the mountainous area east of the Lebanese town of Arsal, the target of an incursion last August by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and Islamic State. Reuters contributed to this report

IDF source: We’d evacuate a million Lebanese if war breaks out with Hezbollah
YAAKOV LAPPIN/J.Post/06/04/2015
In the event of a new conflict with Hezbollah, the IDF would seek to evacuate more than a million civilians in south Lebanon within 24 hours before proceeding to strike thousands of Hezbollah targets in some 240 villages and built-up regions, a senior military source said on Wednesday. Large-scale Hezbollah rocket and missile fire would be met with civilian evacuations, massive Israeli aerial strikes, followed by a ground offensive, he said. Discussing a new strategy for dealing with Hezbollah’s battle doctrine of using civilian built-up areas as military bases to rain death and destruction upon Israel, the source spoke as the IDF approached the conclusion of a weeklong drill simulating conflict on multiple fronts, including the Israel Air Force practicing striking of large numbers of targets and simulating conflict in northern combat arenas. Although the Home Front Command’s role in that drill, which focused on civilian defenses, dominated media coverage of the exercise, the source stressed that the IDF had spent recent days quietly rehearsing large-scale offensive capabilities.
The IDF is training for the eventuality of war even though Hezbollah is unlikely to open a front against Israel at this time given the Shi’ite terrorist organization’s entanglement in Syria where 5,000 to 7,000 of its fighters currently are engaging Sunni rebel groups.
“If we have no choice, we have to evacuate 1 million, 1.5 million residents in Lebanon, and act,” the source said. “Hezbollah should not plan to fire on us and try to kill our civilians, and expect that we would respond by acting according to standards it seems to think only exist here.”Failure to evacuate the civilian population would result in many thousands of non-combatant deaths, according to IDF assessments. Air force readiness is a central priority for the IDF, the source said, and its ability to up offensive strike capabilities is a central theme of recent force-building activities. Hezbollah is “in distress” in Syria and is in strategic trouble despite attempts by its leader Hassan Nasrallah to deliver morale-boosting speeches recently, the source continued. An initial Hezbollah offensive in the Qalamoun-Arsal regions of western Syria has stalled, and it is trying to hide its losses and boost the confidence of Lebanese Shi’ites with a media blitz. In recent days, the IAF held a series of drills, the aim of which was to improve its ability to fire large numbers of precision-guided munitions at targets hidden in built up areas in a short period of time. The exercise also tested the IAF’s ability to maintain operations despite its bases being targeted by guided Hezbollah missile attacks. A new operational air force control center set up in August also was tested in the series of exercises. “We strengthened our readiness for the northern arena,” an IAF senior officer said. Among the drills carried out, the source said, was one designed to improve cooperation with ground forces and a second to improve combat integration with the navy. Separately, the IAF held its own drill to test attack capabilities in response to northern threats, including in the Syrian arena where advanced air defenses, like the SA-17 surface-to-air missile system, are in place.

Israeli warplanes strike Hamas targets after Gaza rockets land in Israel
REUTERS/06/04/2015/J.Post/Israel retaliated on Thursday for rockets fired at it from Gaza with bombing raids against three militant training camps, and a radical Islamist group sympathetic with Islamic state claimed responsibility for the attacks on Israel. Witnesses and medics said the predawn attacks on two camps belonging to Hamas Islamists who dominate in Gaza and the Islamic Jihad group caused some damage but no casualties. The Israeli military confirmed the strikes saying that in response to rocket fire it “struck three terror infrastructures in the Gaza Strip,” and added that “hits were confirmed.”The rockets aimed at the Israeli city of Ashkelon and town of Netivot were the second such launchings at Israel in the past week, marking an escalation since a hiatus in cross-border fire since a 50-day Israeli war with Hamas ended with an Egyptian-brokered truce in August. A radical Islamist Salafist group posted a statement on Twitter claiming responsibility for firing the rockets. Calling itself the Omar Brigades the group said the rocket fire on Wednesday was in retaliation for Hamas’s killing of an Islamic state supporter in a shootout a day earlier in Gaza. “We are continuing with our jihad against the Jews, the enemies of God and no one will be able to deter us,” the statement said, using the term in Arabic for holy war. In last week’s rocket fire, Gaza militants had launched their deepest strike at Israel since a 50-day war of last summer, hitting near the port city of Ashdod. Israel blamed Islamic Jihad militants for that rocket assault and launched retaliatory air strikes them as well.

Liberman: Netanyahu’s ‘hesitation’, ‘lack of will’, making Israel terrorist’s ‘hostages’
By JPOST.COM STAFF /06/04/2015/Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman responded to fresh rocket attacks from Gaza on Thursday, suggesting that the approach of Prime Minister Benjamin Neyantahu towards the security situation in Gaza is one that will only make things worse. “Lack of action leads to bankruptcy,” Liberman said, adding that Prime Minister’s “hesitation”, “restrain” and “lack of will” will create a situation where “the residents of the south and then all of Israel, will become hostages of terrorists in Gaza.” “Israel must respond with an attack and not just rhetoric and hot air.”On Wednesday Palestinian militants fired two rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory, hitting open fields near Sdot Gev, close to the Negev town of Netivot. Wednesday’s attack marked the latest attack since a rocket landed in Gan Yavne, east of Ashdod, setting off sirens and ending four weeks of calm. Opposition leader Chaim Herzog also issued a response Gaza-borne rocket attacks, expressing that he stands in solidarity with all of the south’s residents and he believed that regarding the security of Israel’s citizens, there is “no Israeli leader that will be detterred from employing the neccessary force.”He also echoed the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman, urging that the “sources of the rocket launches and Israel’s enemies be attacked with extreme prejudice” and adding that he holds Hamas fully responsible for any rocket attacks emanating from the coastal Palestinian enclave. An official Army statement reflected Herzog’s charge, saying that the IDF “views Hamas as being responsible for everything that occurs in the territory of Gaza.” There was no immediate indication about which terrorist group fired the rocket. On April 24, terrorists in Gaza fired a rocket at the Sderot area, ending four months of quiet and triggering air raid sirens in the area. The projectile exploded in an open, uninhabited area, the IDF said.

Iranian Nukes, the Arab Gulf, and Obama’s Seductive Summitry
by Steven J. Rosen/The Washington Times/June 4, 2015
http://www.meforum.org/5289/obama-iran-gcc-summit
Originally published under the title “Obama’s Seductive Gulf Summit.”
In an effort to quiet their objections to international recognition of Iran’s nuclear threshold status, President Obama offered the Gulf Arab states impressive-sounding, but substantively meaningless, new security guarantees.
President Obama convened the May 13-14 Camp David summit with the Sunni Arab leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in pursuit of a grand bargain. If the Gulfies would mute their objections to his coveted nuclear agreement with Iran, he would compensate them with the American security guarantees against Iranian aggression in the region they sought.
From Mr. Obama’s point of view, the summit was a success, in spite of the snub by Saudi King Salman and the other key Gulf leaders who declined to attend. Putting aside their doubts, the GCC leaders in the end signed a joint statement endorsing “a comprehensive, verifiable [Iran nuclear] deal that fully addresses the regional and international concerns, ” saying it would serve “the security interests of GCC member states.”
At least some of the council leaders thought their side did well at the summit too. GCC Assistant Secretary-General Abdel Aziz Abu Hamad Aluwaisheg told a press conference May 15 that the Camp David summit “exceeded the expectations of most of us” by reassuring GCC states of an “unequivocal” commitment to their security. They were impressed when Mr. Obama described his commitment to their security in expansive language: “First, I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners.”
Obama’s security guarantee to GCC states is limited to “external” threats “inconsistent with the U.N. Charter.”
Perhaps they did not look too closely at what the president actually promised, because the specific terms of the commitment he made, in fact, fell far short of the security guarantee the GCC partners were seeking and may have thought they received. The joint communique limits Mr. Obama’s security guarantee to “an external threat to any GCC state’s territorial integrity that is inconsistent with the U.N. Charter.”
These carefully chosen words limit the U.S. commitment to a scenario in which the Iranian armed forces invade the sovereign territory of a GCC member. This formulation is actually a retreat from the more inclusive commitment Mr. Obama made two years earlier in his 2013 address to the U.N. General Assembly, in which he pledged to “confront external aggression against our allies and partners.”
Marching armies across borders is not the typical pattern of Iranian aggression in the region.
Marching its armies across borders is not the typical pattern of Iran’s aggression in the region, nor is it the main threat worrying Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners. The more common pattern of Iranian aggression against the Sunni Arab heartlands is to foment militancy and extremism among Shia minorities within the Arab states (and among the Shia majority in Bahrain), financing the opposition, and sometimes supplying military training and weapons to oppose the Sunni regimes. It is a model that does not match up neatly with the U.N. Charter, even though it has been a common paradigm for aggression against neighbors worldwide since 1945.
As Philip Gordon, who until last month served as senior Middle East director at the National Security Council, observed, there is always “the question of what’s an ‘external threat.’ Nobody can say exactly what it means. That’s the problem with it.”
Mr. Gordon’s predecessor at the National Security Council, Dennis Ross, who negotiated extensively with the Gulf Arabs while serving as Obama’s senior adviser on the region, said,
The Saudis see Iran trying to encircle them with its Quds Force killing Sunni Muslims in Syria, mobilizing Shia Muslim militias in Iraq, providing arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen or fomenting unrest among Saudi Shia . Fundamentally, the Saudis believe that America’s friends and interests are under threat, and the U.S. response has ranged from indifference to accommodation.
At the summit, the GCC leaders were pleased by the commitment the president made that the United States and the GCC “will work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.” And in Yemen in 2015, the president is putting the focus on cooperation with the GCC against Iranian subversion, rather than supporting Houthi grievances in the name of human rights, which might be his normal inclination.
It is an open question whether the president will maintain his new posture of solidarity with the GCC.
In Bahrain four years earlier, he did the opposite, expressing sympathy for a Shia uprising against the Sunni government that hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet even while admitting Iran’s role in subversion and arms supply against it, suspending deliveries of weapons to the government of Bahrain, and calling intervention by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to defend Bahrain “alarming.”
After Mr. Obama’s Iran agreement is signed and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, and he no longer needs the Gulf leaders to be quiescent, it is an open question whether the president will maintain his new posture of solidarity with the GCC as in Yemen, or return to the more typical Bahraini example of supporting uprisings even when they are under Iranian patronage. The more lasting words may be something else he said at the summit — that he does not want “to perpetuate any long-term confrontation with Iran,” reaffirming his grand illusion that Iran can “play a responsible role in the region” if only the Sunni leaders will bring it into a dialogue.*Steven J. Rosen is director of the Middle East Forum’s Washington Project.

Report: Man slain by police in Boston sought to behead Pamela Geller
By JPOST.COM STAFF/06/04/2015/26-year-old Usaamah Abdullah Rahim was impatient, chose to pursue the police, an “easier target.”Conservative blogger and political activist Pamela Geller was the target of a beheading plot, CNN quoted law enforcement officials as saying on Wednesday.A Massachusetts man, who police officers shot to death on Tuesday after he allegedly confronted them with a large knife, had planned to attack Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). 26-year-old Usaamah Abdullah Rahim had no time to spare, according to court documents, so he chose an “easier target” instead, namely the police. An FBI affidavit filed in a Boston federal court said Rahim couldn’t “wait that long” (to go after Geller, his original target), opting for an attack on “those boys in blue” instead. Rahim had ordered three knives, with blades ranging in length from 8 inches (20 cm) to 9.75 inches (25 cm), from online retailers, the affidavit revealed. He also planned to travel out of state with an unnamed partner for his attack, but early on Tuesday changed his mind and decided to attack police officers in Massachusetts. He had been under 24-hour surveillance by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, officials said. Boston Police Commissioner William Evans told reporters that when police officers and FBI agents approached Rahim in a parking lot near his job on Tuesday morning to question him, Rahim pulled out a large knife and advanced on them. When officers told him to drop the weapon, Rahim replied, “you drop yours.” “This is a showdown for American freedom,” Geller told CNN as news broke of the alleged plot. “Will we stand against this savagery or bow down to them and silence ourselves?” The blogger said she was chosen as a target “for violating Sharia blasphemy laws.” Geller has had beefed up security since she launched a Texas art exhibit depicting illustrations of the prophet Muhammad, which was shut down after two extremists showed up at the event with guns and opened fire at the opening. The men were soon after shot to death by security forces on site.
Reuters contributed to this report.

Samir Kassir: a prince of our disorder

Michael Young| The Daily Star/Jun. 04, 2015
Ten years ago this week, our friend and colleague Samir Kassir was murdered outside his home, likely at the instigation of individuals who are alive and well in our republic of lies. Since then many of us have felt his absence often. His presence would have been valuable in helping to guide us through the tremors of the Middle East, with his keen eye and audacious pen.
But what would Kassir’s mood have been? Here was a man whose last book was a hopeful essay titled “Considerations sur le Malheur Arabe,” translated roughly as “Considerations on the Arab Misfortune.” Its title notwithstanding, the essay was a call for an Arab revival, drawing on what was best in the Arab past. The ambient doubts about the region, Kassir wrote, meant “neglecting … a more recent time that appeared to bring with it promise. The reason is that 40 years ago not only was the overall picture of the Arab world largely optimistic, but also the Arabs appeared to represent a world in movement, an integral part of, and sometimes a leader in, Third-World revolution.”
Kassir would have identified the uprisings of 2011 as confirmations of his belief that the Arabs had in themselves what was required for their own revitalization. He would have been particularly pleased to see his Syrian brethren rising up against the vampirical regime of Bashar Assad, even if he would not have been in any way surprised by its barbarous reaction.
But then what? One wonders how Kassir would have explained where we now find ourselves. In Egypt, a thuggish military regime is back in power after having pushed aside a bigoted, overreaching Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government. In Libya tribal chaos rules, while jihadis make headway thanks to the vacuum. In Syria, once the beating heart of the Arab nationalism Kassir took so seriously, there is only mass slaughter, a Hobbesian world of all against all in which Muslim extremists have made worrisome gains. With the exception of Tunisia, the region has not resurrected thanks to what was best in the Arabs’ heritage; it has been overcome by their worst pathologies, infinitely multiplying Arab misfortunes.
Kassir was a premier chronicler of that period of modern Arab history defined by the “great issues”: Arab nationalism, the Palestinian struggle, anti-colonialism, Western intervention in the Middle East. But also such things as the Lebanese Civil War and the history of Beirut, from its development as a small outpost of the Ottoman Empire into the “laboratory of modernity” that Kassir once described to me in an interview.
The historian in him would have carefully surveyed the wreckage of the region today to offer fresh insights into what is taking place. But in his mid-50s by now, the age when one tends to become more subversive, more skeptical about everything, Kassir would have been tested in his supreme confidence. But he was not into self-delusion, which is why one suspects that his most recent books would have read very differently than “Considerations sur le Malheur Arabe.”
Then there was the man. What images remain a decade on? For me the most enduring is watching Samir in the offices of L’Orient-Express as the magazine neared deadline one late afternoon. At the center of the bedlam, there he was, writing his editorial, eating a sandwich, smoking, ruminating on a topic someone had brought to his attention, joking, a smirk hiding an expression of bliss on his face amid the whirlwind. This was journalism at its most stimulating, and Samir did it very well.
Kassir’s impudence made his newspaper articles that much more interesting to read. The tone of his journalism was very different than that of his books, where he leaned toward academic language that could sometimes be anesthetizing. For someone so consistently alive and agile, for whom provocation and irreverence were second nature, the books, all of them stimulating, revealed a very different persona that did not always correspond to the Kassir one met over a coffee.
After Kassir was killed, I wrote in this newspaper, “Old age is a shipwreck, but so too is the death of a young man. However, good shipwrecks have a way of swallowing the guilty alongside the innocent. Samir will surely take some of the guilty down with him. That was his way.”The sentence was too credulous by half. Those behind Samir’s killing are still circulating, still showing their faces on television, still telling us how we should think and behave. The United Nations investigation tasked with uncovering those behind the killings of 2005 never made a serious effort to look into Samir’s assassination, let alone the shameful disappearance of evidence.
The illusions released by the Independence Intifada were quickly swallowed up in the domestic discord that ensued. All this matters little 10 years later. What remains is only a sense of foolishness that we were so easily taken in by the possibilities of the moment. Despite his enthusiasms, Samir would have been more lucid. He had great hopes for the Arabs, but he had spent too long a time looking at the flip side of their history not to know that darkness was always one step away.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

America’s juggling act in Asia is proving tricky
David Ignatius/The Daily Star/Jun. 04, 2015
When South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited Washington two years ago, she spoke of “Asia’s paradox” – a disconnect between the region’s growing economic cooperation and its deep political and security tensions.
This dissonance is still evident as Park prepares for another visit to Washington on June 16, especially in the standoff between South Korea and Japan over historical issues. Seoul argues that Tokyo hasn’t taken sufficient responsibility for what Koreans say was the “sexual slavery” of their so-called “comfort women.” The dispute poisons relations between two countries that otherwise share similar strategic, economic and cultural interests.
Welcome to the balancing act that is at the center of U.S. leadership in Asia. The definition of good policy is maintaining strong relations simultaneously with Japan, South Korea and China – and encouraging those countries to cooperate with each other, too. It’s a tricky quadrilateral process that depends on strong U.S. alliance management and ability to project military power.
A sign of this complex interdependence came this week, as South Korea signed a free-trade agreement with China, on the eve of Park’s visit when she will discuss Seoul’s simultaneous desire to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “The fulcrum issue in Asia is the role of South Korea,” contends Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for Asia. He says the United States should welcome friendly relations between Seoul and Beijing, even as it strengthens its own trade and defense cooperation with South Korea.
Park’s trip will be the second installment of this “season of Asia” in Washington. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a successful visit in April, and Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in September. The visits illustrate the “huge demand signal for U.S. leadership in the region,” says Tom Donilon, who as national security adviser for President Barack Obama helped frame the famous (if still unfulfilled) “pivot to Asia” in 2011.
Even the Chinese seem to accept the primacy of U.S. power, so long as China can help set the rules. Explains a senior Chinese diplomat: “China can’t play the U.S. role. The key is in your hands.”
Intensive back-channel negotiations have been taking place to reduce friction between Tokyo and Seoul. The goal is a Japanese statement and Korean response to clear the air before Park’s arrival in Washington, or at least by June 22, which is the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-South Korea postwar relations.
What would it take to make the past less toxic? U.S. and South Korean officials envision a similar process. Japan would offer a new statement of contrition about the comfort women, going beyond Abe’s expression of remorse for “human trafficking,” which he made in an interview with me in Tokyo in March and repeated in America. U.S. officials thought the phrase avoided the issue of who did the “trafficking.” Officials speculate that Abe might make a personal gesture, such as writing a letter to comfort women. In return, Japan would get assurance that this issue won’t be “relitigated” endlessly.
“I believe efforts have been made to make progress, but [they have] not yet produced the final result,” said a senior Japanese official. A South Korean official agrees that “progress is being made, but we are not there yet.” He explains: “History issues are a serious challenge for now, but that doesn’t stop us from developing relationships [with Japan] at other levels.”
The most urgent security worry for all the major northeast Asian players is the unstable political situation in North Korea under its mercurial leader, Kim Jong Un. The latest sign of turmoil there was the execution reported last month of Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol, who some U.S. experts believe was suspected of being part of a potential coup. But he was just the most visible target: South Korea estimates that during the first quarter of this year, 70 North Korean officials were executed for suspected disloyalty.
The North Korean situation is described the same way – as “unsustainable” – by U.S., Chinese, Japanese and South Korean experts. China may have special worries about the volatile Kim. Two years ago, the young leader executed his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was said to have been a favorite of Beijing. China now shelters Kim Jong Nam, the ruler’s calmer older brother, who lives in Macau under increased Chinese security protection.
As Obama prepares to welcome Park, you can think of U.S. Asia policy as a juggler’s trick of keeping three spinning plates aloft. The U.S. succeeds if it can sustain the momentum to keep all three whirling together.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

Nusra chief says ISIS caliphate ‘illegitimate
Agence France Presse/Jun. 04, 2015
BEIRUT: The chief of Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate described rival ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate as “illegitimate,” in a wide-ranging television interview aired Wednesday. In the second part of his appearance on the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera news channel, Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani criticised ISIS at length and said he did not foresee a reconciliation between the two jihadis groups soon. “They announced a caliphate, but the scholars rejected it as illegitimate. It is not based on Islamic law,” Jolani said, his face hidden from view by a black scarf. The rivalry between the two groups deepened after ISIS declared a caliphate spanning across Syria and Iraq in June 2014. This conflict, Jolani said, had seen ISIS kill more than 700 members of Nusra Front in a single battle, as well as women and children.
“There is no indication of a solution between us and them at this time. We hope that they repent and return to the Sunni people,” Jolani said, adding that the rivalry had allowed the Syrian regime “to flourish.”
He refused to call ISIS fighters “infidels” – a term usually referring to non-Muslims – but instead said they had strayed from the path of Islam.
“They did not commit to the orders we had … including not blowing up markets or killing people in mosques,” he said. Jolani also criticised ISIS for not “being serious in fighting the regime” of Syrian President Bashar Assad. When asked by Al-Jazeera interviewer Ahmad Mansur about Nusra’s ties to Al-Qaeda and whether a split was possible, the jihadi leader refrained from answering directly. “The issue is not about leaving Al-Qaeda. It is about who rises up against hegemony,” said Jolani, who said he had fought in Iraq against American forces. As with the first installment of the interview aired last week, an “Al-Qaeda in the Levant” flag featured prominently on the table in front of Jolani. He said as many as 30 percent of Nusra’s members were foreigners, including “a small number of Americans.”
His television interview comes on the heels of several major victories for Nusra against regime forces in Syria’s northwest Idlib province. In recent months, a Nusra-led alliance has seized several major government posts there, including the provincial capital.
Mansur hinted that the interview had taken place in the province, saying the pair were currently in “liberated lands in northern Syria.” As in the first interview, Jolani again rejected political solutions to Syria’s four-year war, saying an end to the crisis could only come through “jihad,” or holy war.He also spoke about regional developments in Iraq and Yemen, accusing Iran of seeking to expand its “empire” in the Middle East. “We will cut off the hands of Iran in the region,” he threatened.
Last week, the jihadi chief had said his group would be willing to protect Syria’s minorities if they renounced Assad and “came into the bosom of Islam.”He also said he had received orders from Al-Qaeda’s central command not to attack the West.
“Our mission in Syria is the downfall of the regime, its symbols, and its allies, like Hezbollah,” Jolani said, referring to the powerful Shiite movement fighting alongside the Bashar Assad regime.