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The White House: Print E-mail
Iran Sends a Signal to Obama through Beirut - Shimon Shapira: The Hizbullah leadership is seeking to pre-empt the publication of the decision of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is expected to charge that senior Hizbullah members were involved in the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the current prime minister's father. The STL was established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolutions 1664 and 1757; the latter resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is generally reserved for acts of aggression. There is a tendency in the West to underestimate the Iranian role in Hizbullah decision-making. Iran is signaling to the Obama administration that the main political developments in Le! banon are being decided today in Tehran and not in Washington. Iran is testing U.S. power and determination, and the states of the Middle East are closely following what will be the outcome. Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Obama and the Syrian Trap - Matthew R.J. Brodsky: With the Palestinian-Israeli peace process returning to a deep freeze, the Obama administration is eyeing an opportunity to make headway with Syria. To that end, President Obama confirmed the new U.S. ambassador to Syria and reports have surfaced of a recent back channel opened between the White House and Syrian officials in Damascus. Yet the reality is that Syria will simply pocket concessions, while preserving the very status quo that Washington seeks to alter. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon tasked with investigating the string of assassinations in 2005, including that of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, is set to hand down indictments in a matter of weeks. Hizbullah will likely be held responsible, with the support and orders coming from Syrian President Assad's inner circle. By engaging with Syria now, the U.S. not! only ensures that Damascus will not be held to account, but it rewards their rogue behavior and emboldens America's enemies. The writer is Director of Policy at the Jewish Policy Center in Washington. (Ynet News)

A White House Clueless on Syria - Michael Young: A WikiLeaks cable, dated Feb. 2009, recounted a meeting with the French diplomatic troubleshooter and former ambassador to Syria Jean-Claude Cousseran, who "urged that Washington should 'get something tangible' from the Syrian regime. He cautioned that the Syrians were masters of avoiding any real concessions and were adept at showering visitors with wonderful atmospherics and delightful conversations before sending them away empty handed." This was very sound counsel, which Obama has basically ignored by dispatching Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford to Damascus for nothing tangible. Cousseran also cautioned Washington against over-reaching: "If the U.S. were to aim for something too difficult, such as urging Syria to sever its ties to Hamas or Hizbullah, than it would get nowhere." Washington wants to engage Syria so tha! t it will give up on alliances that the Syrians will never willingly surrender. Obama should have sent Ford to Syria in exchange for a solid concession from Assad - perhaps Syrian acceptance of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, which Damascus has refused to sanction; or maybe Syrian consent to the return of direct negotiations with Israel. It made no sense for Obama to throw away a card he should have made Syria pay for. The writer is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut. (NOW Lebanon)

President Obama's First Two Years in the Middle East - David Schenker: Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking has been the most obvious of the Administration's regional setbacks. Regardless of how one regards Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that President Obama's approach has been counterproductive, resulting in the first cessation of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in more than 15 years. In addition, the decision to renew diplomatic dialogue with Iran and Syria has proven a predictable, though real, disappointment, despite unprecedented goodwill gestures. The Administration has persisted with its efforts to entice Syria out of the Iranian orbit, a tack that has confirmed the Assad regime's longstanding conceit that "no problems can be solved in the Middle East without Syria." This in turn has emboldened the anti-Western alliance of Damascus! , Tehran, and Hizbullah, undermining other U.S. interests and allies in the region.

What WikiLeaks Reveal about Obama's Middle East Policy - Shlomo Avineri: President Barack Obama's policy in the Middle East has had two focuses: first, the belief that solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the key to bringing the Arab world closer to the U.S., and second, that the solution to the Iranian nuclear threat will lie in diplomacy and repeated attempts to negotiate. After nearly two years, not only has the Palestinian-Israeli conflict not been resolved, the sides haven't even made it to the negotiating table. Moreover, the generous openness toward Iran has not yielded results, nor have the sanctions - which have been far milder than their supporters suggest. What the WikiLeaks documents reveal is the fact that this policy was based on a serious mistake in assessing the Arab countries' stances. Statements by the king of Saudi Arabia and ! the president of Egypt, as well as from leaders from the Gulf emirates, indicate that what really is scaring the heads of the pro-Western Arab countries is not the conflict with Israel (which of course they want to resolve in a way acceptable to the Palestinians) - but rather Iran. Sometimes they see this strategic threat as a continuation of the long-standing Arab-Persian conflict. The Obama administration is completely impervious to these strategic, religious, cultural and historical dimensions, and uncritically bought the Arab propaganda without being sufficiently attuned to the Arabs' strategic considerations. The writer, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, served as director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry. (Ha'aretz)

 

 
U.S Policy: Print E-mail
U.S. Condemns Hizbullah "Intimidation" in Lebanon: The U.S. accused Hizbullah on Tuesday of using intimidation to gain government control in Lebanon and vowed that the work of the UN-backed Hariri tribunal would continue regardless. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier that the fact that Lebanon's government was now Hizbullah-controlled would "clearly have an impact" on ties with the U.S.  State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said, "The work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is of vital importance to stability, security and justice in Lebanon: Its work will continue." Asked whether Washington would continue to offer financial aid to the Lebanese government if Hizbullah had a prominent role, Crowley said on Monday, "that would be difficult for the United States to do."  (! AFP)

U.S. Grasps for a Solution in Lebanon - Mark Landler and Robert F. Worth: As Lebanon's government collapsed on Wednesday after a walkout by Hizbullah ministers, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton both threw their support behind Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, as well as reaffirming the work of the international tribunal that is investigating the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But critics say the administration's engagement in Lebanon has been episodic, in part because it is preoccupied with bigger problems in the region - not only Iran, but also the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the terrorist threat in Yemen. The U.S. also has little leverage over pivotal players in the drama, most notably the Islamist militant group Hizbullah. (New York Times)

 
U.S Think Tanks/Experts Opinions: Print E-mail

Iran Changes the Balance of Power in Lebanon - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall: Iran no longer hesitates to state publicly that its forward defense line now passes through "Lebanon and Palestine." In practice, the Lebanese-Israeli border is in fact Israel's border with Iran. Hizbullah is nourished by the growing strength and power of Iran and draws upon its successes. Both parties recognize that the fall of one also signifies the demise of the other. The writer is a former Head of the Iran and Persian Gulf States desk in IDF Military Intelligence. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs 

Break the Silence on Syria's Nuclear Program - Graham Allison and Olli Heinonen: The U.S. has joined other major powers in a dangerous conspiracy of silence on Syria's nuclear program. Syria foreswore nuclear weapons when it ratified the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1969 and signed a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic! Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1992. Yet Syria was able to secretly buy a nuclear reactor from North Korea. If Israel had not bombed the Al-Kibar reactor site in September 2007, it would be producing plutonium by now for Syria's first nuclear bomb. It is by no means certain that Damascus has given up its nuclear ambitions. Since November 2008, nine IAEA reports (the latest released last month) have documented Syria's noncompliance with its requests for more details about its nuclear program. While Syria stalls, the authority of the whole nonproliferation regime is eroding. This sets another unwelcome precedent for future proliferators. Mr. Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School. Mr. Heinonen is a former deputy director of the IAEA and now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center. (Wall Street Journal)

 
Media/Policy Makers Opinions: Print E-mail
Israel Eyes a Hizbullah-Run LebanonIsabel Kershner: The previous Beirut government, led by Saad Hariri, "never did anything against Hizbullah," said Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon at Tel Aviv University. "So from Israel's perspective, it [a Hizbullah-backed government] is a semantic change." An Israeli official said, "We are concerned about Iranian domination of Lebanon through its proxy, Hizbullah." The idea of a Hizbullah-backed government raised all sorts of questions, he added, including that of Lebanon's commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended Israel's 2006 war against Hizbullah and underpins the four-year-old cease-fire. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser and now a senior research fellow at! the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, has long argued that to win the next war, Israel has to fight not only against Hizbullah, but also against the infrastructure of its host, Lebanon. "If Hizbullah is behind the government, it will be much easier to explain to the international community why we must fight against the State of Lebanon."  (New York Times)

Possible Syrian Nuke Facility Identified by Satellite - Yaakov Katz: A compound in western Syria with buildings and hundreds of missile-shaped items has been identified as functionally related to a nuclear reactor Israel destroyed northeast of Damascus in 2007. Satellite footage of the site in Masyaf was obtained by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. Several years ago, a military base near Masyaf was mentioned as a possible hiding place for weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein might have sent to Syria before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. ISIS head David Albright told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the site could be a military storage facility. "We have identified one site and learned the approximate locations of three other sites as well," Albright said. (Jerusalem Post)

Lebanon's Problems Are Made in Tehran - Lee Smith (Weekly Standard): With Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tour of Lebanon two months ago, the Islamic Republic of Iran effectively declared that the tiny country of 4.1 million is nothing more than an Iranian victory garden, to be chewed up in the next round of war between Israel and Iran's Lebanese surrogate, Hizbullah. By his recent trip to Tehran, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has shown that if you want to contest the fate of Lebanon, as with so much else in the Middle East these days, the doors to knock on are in Tehran. The Islamic Republic of Iran can only be encouraged when it looks at Lebanon. Its investment in Hizbullah is paying handsome dividends, and the Khomeinist revolution goes from strength to strength.

 

 
Syria’s Foreign Policy: Print E-mail

Report: Syria among Worst for Rights Abuses (Reuters) Syria's authorities were among the worst violators of human rights last year, jailing lawyers, torturing opponents and using violence to repress ethnic Kurds, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. The report said Human Rights Watch received "credible reports that security agencies arbitrarily detained dissidents and criminal suspects, held them incommunicado...and subjected them to ill-treatment and torture. At least five detainees died in custody in 2010." Syria's Kurds, who number about 1 million out of a population of 21 million, were subjected to "systematic discrimination," including refusal to give citizenship to an estimated 300,000 Kurds born in Syria.

Can Syria Accept a Hizbullah-Dominated Lebanon? - Michael Young: Syria cannot any more accept formal Hizbullah hegemony over Lebanon than it could a Lebanon ruled by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1976, when it intervened militarily to prevent such an outcome. A Hizbullah-led government would substantially heighten the prospect of war between Lebanon and Israel, leading to an Israeli intervention that could drag Syria into a conflict not of its choosing. Ceding to Hizbullah the power of governance in Lebanon would mean effectively surrendering the country to Iran. Instead, Assad wants Lebanon to be surrendered to Syria. Assad sees opportunities ahead. When the Special Tribunal's indictment is confirmed, Assad will contrive to step in and broker a settlement allowing him to seize a large share of the Lebanese pie. Hizbullah may escalate its actions, but making Lebanon ungovernable will not sway the Special Tribunal. (Daily Star-Lebanon)

WikiLeaks: Syria Helped Orchestrate 2006 Mohammed Cartoon Riots  Ha'aretz: The government of Syria was active in organizing the 2006 riots that erupted across the Arab world following the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, the Oslo daily Aftenposten reported Monday, quoting U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. Embassies targeted included those of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. A diplomatic cable said the Syrian premier had, "several days before the demonstrations, instructed the Grand Mufti Sheikh Hassoun to issue a strongly worded directive to the imams delivering Friday sermons in the mosques of Damascus." The riots ended when Syria "felt that ! 'the message had been delivered'." The incident resulted in the evacuation of Norwegian diplomats and demands for compensation.

Everyone Scared of Syria - Alex Fishman (Ynet News): Since the early 1980s, the Syrian regime murdered, methodically, more than 30 Lebanese leaders and public figures. Anyone who threatened Syria's position in Lebanon was removed. Leading figures in prominent families were assassinated, as were religious leaders, security officials, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hizbullah members murdered Hariri, yet they served as mercenaries on behalf of the Syrian regime. The Americans know this; European spy agencies know this.

 

 
Lebanon’s Key issues: Print E-mail
New Lebanese Prime Minister a Friend of Syria Zvi Bar'el: The incoming Lebanese prime minister is Najib Mikati, 55, a Sunni native of Tripoli and a close personal friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad. France also proposed Mikati for the premiership, after it became clear that the compromise prime minister suggested by Saudi Arabia and Syria had been rejected. But he knows why he was tapped for the job: to halt Lebanon's funding of and the return of Lebanese judges to the tribunal investigating Rafik Hariri's assassination. Hizbullah doesn't need Mikati to demonst! rate its control over Lebanese politics. Any prime minister that meets its demands - including Saad Hariri - is good from its perspective. Lebanon will not suddenly become more Iranian or more "Hizbullian" than it was two days ago. It will primarily be more Syrian, as Syria does not want Iran to seize control in its traditional sphere of influence. (Ha'aretz)

Hizbullah Chooses Lebanon's Next Prime Minister Anthony Shadid: Najib Miqati, a candidate for prime minister backed by Hizbullah and its allies, won enough support on Monday to form Lebanon's government, unleashing angry protests, realigning politics and culminating the generation-long ascent of the Shiite Muslim movement to become the country's pre-eminent political and military force. To form a new government that would denounce the UN tribunal's expected indictments in the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Hizbullah needed at least 65 of the 128 Parliament members. Diplomats and politicians say they now have that number. (New York Times)

How Justice for Rafiq Hariri's Killers Could Help the Middle East Editorial. The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon may be the strongest card held by the U.S. and its allies in a crucial power struggle with Syria and Iran. On Monday, the tribunal's prosecutor delivered a sealed indictment against suspects in the February 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. The indictment is widely believed to name senior officials of the Hizbullah movement. Convincing evidence that the massive car bomb that killed Hariri and 22 others was planted with the help of Hizbullah could badly damage a group that claims its militancy and massive arsenal is directed entirely at Israel. That evidence could be laid out at a trial in the Netherlands this year or next. That is why! Hizbullah has been seeking for months to force the Lebanese government headed by the slain man's son, Saad Hariri, to renounce the tribunal. The Obama administration has rightly encouraged Hariri to stand his ground, though neither Hariri nor the U.S. has the capacity to disarm Hizbullah or to end the threat it poses to Lebanon, Israel and the broader Middle East. By insisting that the tribunal proceed, however, the U.S. and its allies have the opportunity to expose the movement's homicidal terrorism, directed at fellow Arabs and Muslims, and its dependence on the Syrian and Iranian dictatorships. (Washington Post)

Lebanon Shows Shift of Influence in Mideast - Anthony Shadid: The confrontation in Lebanon is the latest sign of a shifting map of the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia and Egypt have further receded in influence, and emerging powers like Turkey, Iran and Qatar have decisively emerged. It is yet another episode in which the U.S. has watched - seemingly helplessly - as events unfold unexpectedly and beyond its ability to control. "There is a sense that the regional players have gone up as the United States has gone down in terms of its presence, its viability, its role," said a high-ranking Lebanese official allied with the American-backed side in the crisis.

Hariri Told UN Investigator Syria Killed Father Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was convinced that Syria was behind the killing of his father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, according to a leaked recording of a 2007 meeting between Hariri and a UN investigator aired Sunday on Lebanese television and authenticated by Hariri's office. (AFP)

Hizbullah's Strategic Skill - Ron Ben-Yishai: Hizbullah quit the Lebanese government because it wants Lebanese public opinion to be preoccupied with the task of forming a new government, thereby diverting its attention from the conclusions of the special UN tribunal in respect to Hizbullah's responsibility for Prime Minister Hariri's assassination in 2005. The U.S. supports the effort to bring Hariri's killers to justice, but shares the concern over the prospect of an ethnic war that may break out in Lebanon as result of such move. At this time it appears that the domestic Lebanese crisis has no direct or immediate bearing on Israel. (Ynet News)

Hizbullah's Latest Suicide Mission - Thanassis Cambanis: Hizbullah cannot afford the blow to its popular legitimacy that would occur if it is pinned with the Hariri killing. The group's power depends on the unconditional backing of its roughly 1 million supporters. Its constituents are the only audience that matters to Hizbullah, which styles itself as sole protector of Arab dignity from humiliation by Israel and the U.S. These supporters will be hard-pressed to understand, much less forgive, their party if it is proved to have killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a leader who was loved by the nation's Sunni Muslims and also respected by Christians, Druze and even many Shiites, who form Hizbullah's core support. That is why Hizbullah denies any role in the assassination. Leaked evidence based on cellphone records has placed a Hizbullah team at the scen! e of the assassination. If it is proved to have taken part in the Hariri hit and assassination campaigns against other moderate Lebanese figures, Hizbullah will look to many like just another power-drunk militant movement. (New York Times)

WikiLeaks: Hizbullah Can Fire 400-600 Rockets a Day in Next War - Yaakov Katz and Lahav Harkov (Jerusalem Post): Hizbullah would likely shoot between 400 and 600 missiles a day into Israel during a future war, a senior Mossad official told a U.S. Congressional delegation to Israel in 2009, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable published on Sunday. According to the Mossad official, 100 of the missiles will hit Tel Aviv.

Iran Said to Have Cut Hizbullah Aid by 40 Percent - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post): Iran has cut the annual funding it provides Hizbullah by over 40%, stirring an unprecedented crisis within the Lebanese Shi'ite organization, according to recent Israeli intelligence assessments. Iran has in recent years provided Hizbullah with close to $1 billion in direct military aid, but due to international sanctions it has been forced to cut back on funding. The cuts have stirred tension between Hizbullah and its Iranian patrons.

WikiLeaks: Iran Built Secret Communications Network in Lebanon: Lebanon's Western-backed government warned that "Iran telecom" was taking over the country when it uncovered a secret fiber optics communications network financed by Iran and used by Hizbullah, according to a U.S. State Department cable in April 2008. Marwan Hamadeh, the Lebanese minister of communications, highlighted the system as "a strategic victory for Iran since it creates an important Iranian outpost in Lebanon." "Hizbullah now has an army and weapons; a television station; an education system; hospitals; social services; a financial system; and a telecommunications system."  (Guardian-UK)
 
U.N Security Council: Print E-mail
UN Prosecutor Submits Indictment in Hariri Assassination Probe - Colum Lynch and Leila Fadel: UN prosecutor Daniel Bellemare on Monday submitted a sealed indictment against suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, concluding an investigation that has cast suspicion on top Syrian leaders and Hizbullah militants and contributed to the collapse this month of Lebanon's pro-Western government. It could be several weeks before the identities of the suspects are known and about a year before a trial is held. President Obama welcomed the filing of the indictment as "an important step toward ending the era of impunity for murder in Lebanon....The Special Tribunal for Lebanon must be allowed to continue its work, free from interference and! coercion."  (Washington Post)

Obama's Moment of Truth at the UN - Steven J. Rosen: Abbas is taking his campaign to the UN Security Council, where the Palestinians are circulating a draft resolution that would declare Israeli "settlements" in Jerusalem to be "illegal." The draft demands a halt to all construction in the eastern half of Israel's capital city. Successive administrations have deplored settlement activity as an obstacle to peace, but no American president since Jimmy Carter has taken the view that building Jewish homes in the West Bank or in east Jerusalem is "illegal." President Ronald Reagan rejected Carter's position and said the settlements were "ill-advised" and "unnecessarily provocative" but "not illegal." All American presidents since Reagan have taken this view. No president since Carter has permitted anti-Israel UN Security Council Resolutions on settlements to pass. Ronald Reagan vetoed two and Bill Clinton vetoed three draft resolutions condemning Israeli settlements. In all, seven American presidents have recorded 41 vetoes in Israel's defense at the UN Security Council. The Obama administration has declined up to now to say whether it would veto a draft resolution declaring Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be illegal. The writer, former foreign policy director of AIPAC, is director of the Washington Project at the Middle East Forum. (Commentary)

 

Diplomats: UN Nuclear Watchdog Should Inspect Iran's Nuclear Sites – Justyna Pawlak and Louis Charbonneau (Reuters) The EU, Russia and China should reject Iran's invitation to visit its atomic sites since that is a job for the UN nuclear watchdog, Western diplomats said on Wednesday. "We would be disappointed if Russia, or China or the European Union were to go," said a senior Western diplomat in New York. "We would be discouraging people from going." The EU said inspections should be carried out by specialists from the IAEA, not by national ambassadors to the agency who were invited by Tehran. A European Commission spokesman said Wednesday: "What we want to underline is that there is a process going on and it is for the IAEA to inspect the Iranian n! nuclear facilities." Diplomats in New York said it was highly unlikely that the EU would agree to go on the trip.

 
The Issues
Image Iran Reaching Critical Milestone in Nuclear Quest                                                                                  Iran is reaching a critical milestone in its quest for a nuclear weapons capability.In the view of some experts, Iran has now enriched a su... Read more...
 
Image Syria Must Be Pressed on Illicit Nuclear Program  An investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provides strong evidence that a Syrian site bombed by Israel last year was a nuclear facility.  The IAEA concluded-based on hard evidence-that there is strong reason to believe Syria was nearing completion of a nuclear reactor.  The international community must press Syria to fully cooperate with IAEA inspectors and come clean on its illicit nuclear activity. Read more...
 
Image The Iranian, Syrian, Hezbollah “Axis of Evil” should be dealt with immediately As President Obama is coming to the reins of power, Lebanon's survival as a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational state is more than ever at stake.It is s fact that Iran and Syria are quickly changing the balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean, while the West and moderate Arab states appear almost paralyzed and the Lebanese State is nowhere to behave like a sovereign country but a province of Syria and Iran. Read more...