President Assad propose a Syrian and a sovereign plan... to those who want to listen

By Pierre Khalaf

The timing chosen by President Bashar al-Assad to propose a plan to end the crisis is not trivial. It coincided, first, with successive defeats for the armed groups, which destroyed the illusions of the United States and its European and Arab auxiliaries, distorting all their calculations, and then with information about a Russian-American meeting, mid-January, to discuss the results of the last visit to Syria of the international envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi. Mr Brahimi has already heard from President Assad the headlines of the principles that he has developed Sunday at the House of Culture and Arts, in a speech, in presence of hundreds of enthusiastic supporters. These inalienable principles include the following: the sovereignty and political independence of Syria are not negotiable, therefore, Damascus will not accept any condition imposed from outside; any solution must reflects the will of the Syrians.

In his first speech since June 3, 2012, Mr. Assad was inflexible, ensuring that the conflict was not between the government and the opposition, but between "the Nation and its enemies" who want the partition of the country. Claiming not to have found so far a "partner" for this and refusing to negotiate with "gangs who take their orders from abroad", he proposed a three-stage plan. But before any dialogue, countries funding terrorists should "commit to stop", and armed men to put an end to their terrorist operations, he said, denouncing "a state of war in all sense of the word". Once these commitments achieved, the army will immediately cease its operations, "while retaining the right to respond," he added.

Only under these conditions a "national dialogue conference" will be opened, he said. This conference will prepare a "National Charter" to be submitted to referendum and a new parliament and a new government will emerge from the polls. Any transition must "be done according to the terms of the constitution," he said, referring to elections.

Mr. Assad plan therefore provides three stages, which should soon be officially presented by the government to be included in a "National Charter" to be drafted by all parties before being submitted to a referendum:

Step 1: Countries arming terrorists undertake to stop the funding; cessation of terrorists operations, will help the return of refugees, and then, the Syrian army will immediately put an end to its operations, while retaining the right to respond to threats against national security; setting up a mechanism to monitor stakeholder engagement, including with regard to border control.

Step 2: Held under the auspices of the government, a conference of national dialogue involving all forces, will draft a National Charter defending the sovereignty of Syria, unity and territorial integrity, and rejecting interference, terrorism and violence. This charter must then be submitted to a referendum; parliamentary elections followed by the formation of a government extended to all segments of society, in accordance with the Constitution, in charge of enforcing the National Charter.

Step 3: Formation of a government under the Constitution; a conference of national reconciliation and general amnesty for all persons detained as a result of events; infrastructures rebuilding.

As President Assad expected, the so-called opposition represented by the Syrian National Coalition immediately rejected the plan, saying that the President wants to choose its partners and seek to stay in power. The Coalition spokesman, Walid al-Bunni, told AFP in Beirut that the opposition wanted "a political solution, but the goal is for the Syrians to overthrow (Mr. Assad)".

President Assad said that anyway, this plan was not directed to "those who will reject it immediately, but to the true patriots who have Syria’s interests in mind". "It is useless to argue with those who take their orders from abroad, it is best to speak directly with the master rather than the slave", he said on Sunday.

The Assad initiative comes as the United States seem to have resigned to the failure of all the pressures, sanctions and military offensives for the departure of the Syrian President. On December 29, Russia said Assad intended to remain in power until the end of his term and it was impossible to dissuade him.

During his visit to Damascus late December, Lakhdar Brahimi spoke of a plan "based on the Geneva Declaration," providing for a cease-fire, the formation of a government with full powers and elections. The Geneva Declaration dated June 2012 provided for a transitional government but did not refer to the departure of Mr. Assad. Mr. Brahimi found this plan likely to be accepted by the international community. Damascus responded by saying welcome any initiative through dialogue.

After several meetings between Moscow and Washington, and several rounds of Mr. Brahimi, the diplomatic ballet intensifies in the region. Riyadh and Cairo have called for a "peaceful settlement" defined by the Syrians themselves. The head of the Iranian diplomacy goes for its part January 9 to Cairo, to meet the Egyptians and Mr. Brahimi.

All these diplomatic activities come as on the ground, the Syrian army has achieved significant successes in the areas of Daraya, Moadhamiyya, Eastern Ghouta, where hundreds of rebels, including foreign fighters, were killed. The so-called "offensive for the liberation of Damascus", launched in late November, has once again turned into a disaster for the rebels, who have lost thousands of men without being able to achieve any success in the field. In the region of Aleppo, fronts line stabilized. Slowly, the army is trying to retake control of parts of the metropolis still occupied by al-qaïdistes Front Nosra. Same in Homs, where the last rebels are completely surrounded in a little reduced.


Hassan Nasrallah, general secretary of Hizbullah

«The border with Syria should not be shut and the refugees, regardless if they support or oppose the Syrian regime, should be hosted in Lebanon. Syria and the entire region is facing a threat of division along sectarian, religious, and ethnic lines. We fundamentally and ideologically reject any form of partition or division of any Arab or Islamic country and call for them to preserve their unity. From Yemen to Iraq to Syria, the region is threatened more than ever by partition, even in Egypt and Libya and Saudi Arabia. We, in Lebanon and in the region are living through one of the most important and dangerous phases, an atmosphere of strife. The Lebanese must commit to the unity of their nation, land, people and institutions. Various political powers have differences on how to tackle the issue of the Syrian crisis, but they are in agreement over avoiding the spread of the unrest to Lebanon. Other powers, however, seek to spread the unrest to Lebanon through creating sectarian tensions in order to spark violence in the country. The government prevented the spread of the instability in Syria to Lebanon. Had the March 14 camp been in power, then the country would indeed have been linked to the unrest in Syria. Hizbullah has long called for calm and against being dragged into any conflict through its commitment to mutual coexistence. The issue of refugees from Syria to Lebanon should be tackled from a purely humanitarian perspective and not be linked to political affairs. The border with Syria should not be shut for any reason. The real solution to the flow of refugees does not lie in closing the border, but in working on reaching a political solution in Syria that would help halt the bloodshed. Those responsible for the ongoing flood of refugees are the sides preventing this solution, whether from within Syria or on the regional and international scenes. Lebanon should explain to the United States, European powers, Arab League, and United Nations that it can no longer support the humanitarian and social burden of the refugees. Lebanon must also push for a political solution in Syria along with other concerned states.»

Michel Aoun, leader of the Free patriotic movement

«The regime of President Assad will not fall. We know how to analyze the international situation. The United States chose Syria as a battleground to undermine Russian influence in the region, to dismantle the "axis of evil" and separate Syria from Iran, and Lebanon from Syria, in order to weaken all stakeholders. This is why we have called for dialogue to save Syria from destruction (...) I have no objection to speak with MP Walid Jumblatt, or other personality, because we are facing a national crisis. Denying the dialogue is a crime against Lebanon and its absence will lead to chaos. To start the dialogue, the majority must agree on the themes to discuss. A dialogue, by definition is to share ideas, which are most of the times, very different from each other. This is the logic of things. A meeting between Christian leaders should be held shortly in Bkirke. Personally, I am ready to start a dialogue with everyone to achieve a solution.»

Salim Hoss, former Lebanese Prime minister

«I do not think the players will reach an agreement on an electoral law. It seems difficult to organize elections on the basis of 1960’s law, because it is seriously criticized. The Gulf countries are playing a negative role in the Arab revolutions. What is happening in Syria is very complex and goes beyond the democratic revolution. The Syrian crisis is now at the heart of international and regional policy issues. But despite what is said, the conflict did not become sectarian and religious. National feeling of the Syrians is too strong from them accept the division of their country into confessional entities or suffer a partition. If the crisis continues, no one can guarantee the safety of Lebanon.»

Jamil Sayyed, former head of the Lebanese general security

«If Samir Geagea proclaimed his innocence in the both assassination cases of Dany Chamoun and family’s and former Prime Minister Rashid Karami, and the attacks against the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in 1994 and if he considers that the charges which were brought against him during his incarceration were unfounded, then why did he not filed a lawsuit against officials, including Jamil Sayyed, who according to him wrongly convicted him? No logical or moral excuse explain the abstention of Geagea in prosecuting his case in order to uphold the truth. Ministers who were in charge of the justice portfolio since he was pardoned seven years ago were his political allies. But Geagea had no recourse to justice because he is satisfied with the political amnesty he received. In the past, it was said that accepting the amnesty is to recognize his sin.»


The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported in its edition of Friday, January 4th, that the head of the kidnappers that is holding Lebanese hostages in Syria, Omar el-Dadeikhi, better known as Abu Ibrahim, had no giving signs of life since he was wounded in a battle in the province of Aleppo. Some information say he was transported to Turkey for treatment.

The daily Al-Akhbar reported in its edition of Thursday, January 3th, that security forces seized two days ago, in the car of a MP of North Lebanon BKS machine guns a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun. The driver of the MP was released and the car returned to its owner. The arms shipment was seized.

The families of the nine Lebanese pilgrims held in Syria observed a sit-in outside the offices of Turkish Airlines, in downtown Beirut, and prevented employees to access their offices. Relatives of the nine hostages had already observed on December 23rd, a sit-in in front of the Turkish Embassy in Rabieh, north of Beirut. At the rally, the protesters issued a communiqué in which they considered Turkey responsible for the kidnapping of their relatives. The families said that the Turkey did not its best to help their cause. "If we must kidnap Turks to guarantee the liberation of our sons we will not hesitate to do it", they said. The families have decided to launch a campaign to boycott Turkish products to put additional pressure, they also threatened to paralyze Turkish interests in Lebanon starting January 1st.

The AFP reported that the Lebanese Army has seized a shipment of weapons on the northern borders before it was introduced into Syria. The operation took place in the region of Wadi Khaled, north of the country. Weapons, hidden in a car and a van, included mortars, machine guns and ammunition. Vehicle drivers, two Lebanese from Wadi Khaled, were arrested by the Army. The Hizbollah TV, Al-Manar, said that the cargo was seized in the village of Mejdel.

Press review

As Safir (Lebanese daily, close to the majority, January 3rd)

Kassem Kassir

Mushir al-Masri, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that his visit to Lebanon was to participate in the meeting of "victory and martyrdom", organized by the Jamaa Islamiya in Saida and to meet with the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berry, in order to discuss the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon, including those who have fled the fighting in Syria. The Palestinian lawmaker said he had thanked Mr Berry for his support to the Palestinian people, especially during the last battle of Gaza, and giving him an invitation to visit the band at the head of a parliamentary delegation.

Asked about the controversy caused by the visit to Gaza of a delegation from March-14 movement including the Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra, Masri said: "Gaza has become a place of pilgrimage for all free men and we are ready to accommodate all who wish to come to break the blockade that is imposed on us. We do not enter into the details of the composition of delegations to come". About reports that Hamas could join the regional axis hostile to resistance, Masri said: "We believe that the future is for the resistance and we are not obliged to defend or clarify our plans. Before the last battle of Gaza, much has been said, but in the meanwhile, we were secretly preparing for the confrontation. And the Gaza war proved it. The strategic choice of Hamas and the whole Palestinian people, including those who bet on negotiations and compromise, is the resistance."

About the relationship between Hamas and Iran, Mr. Masri said: "We are open to all parties, especially the Arab and Muslim countries. We haven’t cut our ties with anyone. We want to continue our relationship with Iran because of its support for the Palestinian resistance. We have a common enemy, the Zionist entity."

An Nahar (Lebanese Daily, close to march 14 coalition)

Sarkis Naoum (January 3th)

Far from passion, US Syria experts try to know the possible outcomes. They reached four scenarios: the victory of the regime, the victory of the opposition, the prosecution of the war due to the inability of one of the two camps to dominate, and, finally, a political solution.

Is the victory of the Assad regime still possible, although it has lost control of two-thirds of the geography of Syria? The report prepared by one of the American experts said that the victory of Assad is a real and realistic likelihood, despite the fact that the Arab Spring has been able to overturn many regimes in the region. The consequences of such a victory would maintain Syria for years under international sanctions, which will make Syria a country isolated and poor. It is clear that China, Russia, Iran and some other countries will ignore the sanctions and continue to provide Syria with all that is needed to sustain life. The victory of the regime will cause other rounds of civil wars, especially that the structural problems have not been resolved. The government will not allow the majority of the people to rule through elections. In addition, his victory will cause a wave of migration of people capable of rebuilding the country. In this scenario, only a quarter of the Syrians will be victorious: the supporters of the regime and the Kurds. This means that an independent Kurdistan will emerge, which will cause serious problems for Turkey. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah then will savor an important regional strategic victory. For their part, the allies of the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, will suffer defeat.

The second scenario imagined by the American analysts is that of a rebel victory. It is highly probable that in this case the Islamists will seize power in Damascus. If this scenario materializes, there will be acts of revenge against Alawites in Syria, and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Christians.

The third scenario involves a civil war of long duration, punctuated by violence. The panorama ensuing will recall the case of Lebanon, faced with such a war between 1975 and 1990. The risk of a regional destabilization is not excluded. Strategically, however, such Lebanonization of Syria could be for the United States, better than the victory of one or the other of the two camps.

Al Akhbar (Lebanese daily, close to the majority, January 5th)

Nasser Sharara

A Damascus-based Salafi military leader, who was an ordinary civilian at beginning of the uprising, says that the crisis would not have reached this point “if only President Bashar al-Assad had carried out what he promised me on the 21st November 2011.”

Back then, the opposition movement was still largely peaceful, with only a small minority carrying weapons, mostly as a reaction to the security forces killing protesters or their relatives.

The commander remembers the first person to carry a weapon in the movement. He was the father of Moataz al-Shaar, a university student killed in one of the early peaceful demonstrations in Damascus. During his funeral, his father swore that he would get his revenge.

In the demonstration that ensued, Shaar took a pistol and, from amidst the crowd, fired the first bullet of the armed opposition movement, which now counts nearly 300,000 well-armed fighters in its ranks. “Abu Moataz” became an example for many more in the coming months.

In November 2011, the commander met with Assad. It was the first initiative taken by the internal opposition to try to reach some sort of agreement with the regime about how to proceed. At the time, the commander says, his father – a Salafi-leaning imam in Damascus – was in prison.

As he tells it, Assad greeted him at the door of his office and paid close attention to what the commander had to say. “Frankly speaking,” he told the president, “the opposition movement remains relatively peaceful. The solution is for a new mixed government, led by the opposition, to be set up, because the current one represents the regime only and cannot solve the problem.”

Assad’s response was to propose that the opposition organize itself into popularly-based political parties or currents, promising to clear the way for such formations to enter parliament and government by amending the constitution and conducting free elections.

The commander says that the turn to a military solution on the part of the regime came during a visit to Damascus by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, accompanied by the chief of intelligence, who handed Assad an “alternative plan.” This was followed by the government assault on the Baba Amro district in Homs at the beginning of 2012.

It was also around this time that 70 sheikhs from the Syrian Council of Clerics issued a fatwa, or religious edict, that declared jihad in Syria the duty of all Muslims. The Salafi sheikhs understood that the call for jihad had to be introduced in phases in order for many Syrians to accept it.

They had noticed that the early protests were limited to social and economic demands, and when Islamist activists would raise slogans calling for the downfall of the regime, many participants would quickly leave. But soon this began to change and the Islamists were able to call for the execution of the president without alienating the protesters.

Two sheikhs in particular helped lay the groundwork for the rapid growth of Salafism in Syria: Sheikh Mohammed Srour and Sheikh Adnan al-Arour. Both men were once members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood who fled to Saudi Arabia, where they were embraced by the ruling family and the Wahhabi clerical establishment.

Srour is credited with creating the juridical framework for the establishment of al-Qaeda by merging Wahhabi Salafism with notions of jihad as espoused by Sayyid Qutb, one of the most influential thinkers of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood executed by Gamal Abdul-Nasser in the mid-1960s.

Arour gained notoriety in the early days of the uprising, directing his many followers through Saudi-based satellite television channels. He became the preferred point of reference among Salafi sheikhs in Syria, where he played a key role in popularizing Islamist slogans and practice among opposition protesters.

Islamist insiders today insist that the key group in the movement today is the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades and not the Nusra Front, which receives the most attention. They argue that the leadership of the Ahrar Brigades, after its merger with a number of other Islamists factions over the summer, are the ones who are guiding the movement, particularly on the ideological level.

To this end, the movement has produced a 40-page internal manifesto to organize and direct its members. The document emulates the experience of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan Islamist rebel leader, borrowing the following four points:

1) The call for jihad must be waged under the banner of Islam.

2) Islamic law is to be enforced by setting up specialized councils in the various locales, whose duty it is to apply the law on civilians and combatants alike. News has been circulating recently that a supreme council has also been formed to appoint and oversee the work of local ones.

3) The goal is to establish a state in Syria that is not necessarily religious, with the proviso that it is not based on the military and that it implements Islamic law based on the idea that it is the will of the majority.

4) With the toppling of the regime, the military brigades must dissolve themselves and surrender their weapons to the newly established armed forces, integrating competent fighters into the new Syrian army.

Al Akhbar (January 4th)

Radwan Mortada

Who is Khaled Mahmoud? The once imprisoned leader from Fatah al-Islam is now the “emir” of an armed group in Syria. Al-Akhbar looks into the murky comings and goings of the man rumored to be behind dispatching groups of young Lebanese to fight in Syria.

The Fatah al-Islam leader Khaled Mahmoud did not remain absent from the scene for long. Shortly after his release from Lebanon’s Roumieh Central Prison in June 2012, he joined the armed opposition in Syria. Six months later, Mahmoud appeared in a video, wearing a black turban and surrounded by militants, and declared the establishment of an armed group named “Jund al-Sham,” or Soldiers of the Levant.

Mahmoud bestowed upon himself the title “Emir Abu Suleiman al-Muhajir,” and called for “jihad to establish God’s rule on Earth.” Thus, a former prisoner in Lebanon somehow managed to become a military commander in Syria.

Mahmoud is widely believed to be responsible for dispatching Lebanese youths to Syria for “jihad.” In this regard, security reports indicate that Yahya J., a close associate of Mahmoud, is in charge of recruiting and then deploying Salafi groups to Syria, including the group that was ambushed by the Syrian Army in Tal Kalakh last November.

These reports confirm that Yahya, who is based in the Bab al-Tabbaneh district of Tripoli, along with Nader H. and Bashir M., are actively involved in the recruitment of Salafi cells, bearing in mind that the two latter individuals had been previously detained on charges of belonging to Fatah al-Islam. They spent one and three years in prison respectively.

Mahmoud, the emir, had reportedly entered the Syrian territory through the Mashari al-Qaa region of eastern Lebanon. From there, he went to the Krak des Chevaliers in Syria where he became the commander of the armed groups stationed at this historic crusader castle.

Shortly afterward, a number of Lebanese Salafis joined him there from Tripoli, and swore allegiance to him. Of those, the following individuals were identified: Samer R.; Wi’am Sh.; Abu Hamza O.; and Saad A., in addition to 15 others from Bab al-Tabbaneh.

In the meantime, according to Islamist reports, there has been tension between Mahmoud and a number of Salafi clerics, as a result of the clerics’ reservations about Mahmoud’s religious commitment. These reports suggest that the emir of Jund al-Sham is overzealous – even by Salafi standards – and some clerics see him as more of a gun-for-hire than a true jihadi.

The security reports link Mahmoud to Sheikh Hussam al-Sabbagh, and allude to the latter’s role in recruiting youths to fight in Syria. Other reliable sources familiar with the issue deny that Sabbagh has any links to the Tal Kalakh group. They maintain that Sabbagh is in principle against Lebanese individuals fighting in Syria, since “they would be a burden on the ‘mujahideen’ there, who have great numbers and only lack weapons.”

Further Information obtained by security services suggests that a Lebanese man from Tripoli was implicated in dispatching the group of youth from Tripoli who would later be killed in Tal Kalakh.

In the same vein, a Salafi sheikh told Al-Akhbar that the majority of young Lebanese men who go to Syria fight for three groups: al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham Brigades, and al-Fajr Brigades. The sheikh said that the three groups had no ties to al-Qaeda, but they nonetheless adopt methods similar to those pursued by the global fundamentalist movement.

The Salafi sheikh, who is close to al-Qaeda, said that in the past, the fighters who came through Turkey would exclusively join al-Nusra Front, while those who came from Lebanon went on to fight in the ranks of Ahrar al-Sham or al-Fajr Brigades.The sheikh pointed out that things have changed today, with al-Nusra Front enjoying a strong presence in Homs and al-Qasir.

This, he said, “began six months ago when al-Nusra Front was endorsed by many who have had a long history of jihad in Afghanistan and Iraq.” It should be noted here that the three fundamentalist militant groups are closer in ideology to the Islamic State of Iraq, which is an organization led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, than al-Qaeda, which is led by Ayman al-Zawahiri.

According to security reports, large quantities of assault rifles were sent from an Arab country into Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh shortly after clashes with the neighboring Jabal Mohsen. Furthermore, large stocks of ammunition, particularly RPGs and mortar rounds, have also made their way to the area. According to the same reports, these weapons are stored deep in the area’s slums, even inside several mosques.

It is believed that a retired Lebanese army colonel is involved in funding such operations, and personally oversees the distribution of weapons to young fighters.

Al Akhbar (January 4th)

According to security sources, the last battle of Tripoli has just ended that huge quantities of arms and ammunition of various calibres, from an Arab country, came to Bab Tebbané. The arms shipment included RGP7 rockets, mortars caliber 82 mm and M4. This arsenal has been stored at the heart of popular neighborhoods and several mosques in the city.

The same sources added that the amount of weapons introduced Bab Tebbané is sufficient to open a front for months. Funding for these shipments is supported by a retired colonel of the Lebanese Army, who also oversees the distribution of weapons to young people. Part of the ammunition came from the region of Ersal in the Bekaa, aboard trucks vegetable.

Al Akhbar (January 4th)

Nahed Heter, Jordan

Will 2013 be the year of salvation for Syria, on which depend the salvation of the entire Arab Orient? The tenacity of Bashar al-Assad, put under pressure from all sides, is remarkable. Assad is no longer the simple heir of Hafez al-Assad, but he became a leader inhabited by the spirit of Syria, that has two main features: Arabism and secularism. Assad is no more concerned with the hostile campaign aimed at undermining her moral nor advice from friends and allies to consider a compromise that does not guarantee the principles of the Syrian state and does not preserve his spirit. Bashar al-Assad delivers a fierce war to defend the regime, but like it or not, by insisting to fight without respite, Assad arises as a leader driven by the will to win. And we know that when one has such a desire, half the way to victory is gained.

Al Hayat (Pro-saudi panarab daily, December 31st, 2012)

Walid Chucair

Circles close to the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt ensure that 14-March attempts to reduce the size of electoral districts Chouf and Aley intend to deprive him of the means to establish a parliamentary bloc consisting of non-Druze members. The insistence of General Michel Aoun and Hezbollah to adopt proportional voting system also aims to reduce the weight of his power under the pretext of "electoral reform". This is what prompted Jumblatt recently to reiterate his claim that "14 and 8-March are seeking to adopt electoral law serving their interests, and he will not accept to be attached to anyone either, and his allusions to "electoral bulldozers" (lists led by Hezbollah and the Future Movement). From there, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party insists on the need to find a "third way".

These sources add that Jumblatt believes that if those proposing electoral laws fail to wrest the parliamentary seats by reducing the size of electoral districts or adopting proportional, they will try to negotiate with him seats and candidates. A review of the electoral map shows that it is mostly 14-March putting pressure in this direction, because non-Druze MP’s in the Chouf and Aley are members of the opposition, and they are elected by the electorate Druze. There are indications that the 8-March will be more inclined to take into account Jumblatt’s concerns, at the condition that he will not ally with the 14-Mars. Because the main concern of Hezbollah is that the opposition does not get the majority, at all costs.

Observers following positions do not exclude that Jumblatt plans to run in elections through independent complete lists in the Chouf and Aley without allying with 14-March. This means that he will not include in his list members of the opposition, in order to form an independent parliamentary bloc he called "third way". Some politicians suggest that Jumblatt could abandon Lebanese Forces MPs Georges Adwan, the National Liberal Party Dory Chamoun, and the Future Movement Mohammad Al-Hajjar. These sources are even wondering if will not replace his friend Marwan Hamadeh by another candidate.

Maariv (Israeli daily, January 3rd)

Recent efforts by the Israelis to urge European countries to place Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations have failed. This failure can be explained by the position of France, which opposes the initiative. The French objection has been added to the decision of the Bulgarian government to postpone the publication of the results for the explosion which targeted an Israeli tourism bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, last July. The report was motivated by the fact that the investigation has failed to bring evidence that could incriminate Hezbollah in this operation. Informed sources stressed that Israel has made ​​special efforts in recent weeks to encourage Europeans to place Hezbollah on the blacklist, relying on the deteriorating situation in Syria and the purpose of weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon.

While the United States, Canada and Britain support the Israel efforts, France is firmly opposed. Without unanimity, the European Union cannot reach a decision in this regard.

Paris fear that "any decision against Hezbollah threatens to destabilize a country already weakened, and most importantly, to undermine the interests of the moderates actors" on the Lebanese scene, added the sources. France goes even further by advocating a dialogue with Hezbollah, "an important political movement that continues to have a major influence in many state institutions."

Ria Novosty (Russian News Agency, January 3rd)

Military exercises involving all-Russian fleet in the Black Sea, North Pacific and Baltic - will be held in late January in the basin of the Mediterranean and Black Sea, RIA Novosti learned from service release of the Ministry of Defence of the country.

Provided by the training program of the Armed Forces in 2013, the exercises will aim to "improve cooperation between the troops outside the Russian Federation," the source said. "At present, operational groups of ships are en route to the designated areas for maneuvering," said the press service. The scenario provides military exercises simulating tactical episodes boarding numbers of marines and airborne troops landing on ships not equipped from the coast of the North Caucasus, said the speaker of the agency.

France-Press Agency (French news Agency, January 2nd)

An Australian citizen fighting with Syrian rebels in their battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been killed in the northwest of the country, activists said on Wednesday.

"Abu al-Walid al-Australi was killed December 30th, in a rebel assault on the Wadi Deif base," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP by telephone.

Rebel fighters launched an assault on the Wadi Deif base, one of the regime’s last strongholds in the northwest of Syria, on December 28th in a fresh bid to wrest control of the strategic post.

The jihadist group the Al-Nusra Front led the offensive, according to rebels on the ground.

Insurgents captured the nearby town of Maaret al-Numan, located on the important Damascus-Aleppo highway, in October.

Syria’s insurgents comprise army deserters, civilians who have taken up arms and foreign fighters, including several Islamist groups.

The Australian government has condemned Assad’s regime for its violence against its own people, expelled Syrian diplomats and demanded the president’s departure.

The Syrian conflict, which started as a peaceful uprising against Assad in March 2011 but descended into civil war when it was violently suppressed, has killed more than 46,000 people, many of them civilians, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

The Independent (British Daily, December 31st, 2012)

Robert Fisk

The Iranians understand the West much better than we understand the Iranians – a lot of them, remember, were educated in the United States. And they’ve an intriguing way of coming out on top whatever they do. George Bush (and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara) invaded Afghanistan and rid the Shia Iranians of their Sunni enemy, whom they always called the “Black Taliban”. Then Bush-Blair invaded Iraq and got rid of the Islamic Republic’s most loathsome enemy, Saddam Hussein. Thus did Iran win both the Afghan and the Iraqi war – without firing a shot.

There’s no doubt that Iran would fire a shot or two if Israel/America – the two are interchangeable in Iran as in many other Middle East countries – were to attack its nuclear facilities. But Israel has no stomach for an all-out war against Iran – it would lose – and the US, having lost two Middle East wars, has no enthusiasm for losing a third. Sanctions – and here is Iran’s real potential nemesis – are causing far more misery than Israel’s F-18s. And why is America threatening Iran in the first place? It didn’t threaten India when it went nuclear. And when that most unstable and extremist state called Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons, no US threat was made to bomb its facilities. True, we’ve heard that more recently – in case the nukes “fell into the wrong hands”, as in gas which might “fall into the wrong hands” in Syria; or in Gaza, for that matter, where democracy “fell into the wrong hands” the moment Hamas won elections there in 2006.

Now that Obama has entered his drone-happy second presidency, we’re going to hear more about those wonderful unpiloted bombers which have been ripping up bad guys and civilians for more than four years. One day, one of these machines – though they fly in packs of seven or eight – will hit too many civilians or, even worse, will contrive to kill westerners or NGOs. Then Obama will be apologizing – though without the tears he expended over Newtown, Connecticut. And here’s a thought for this year. The gun lobby in the States tells us that “it’s not guns that kill – it’s people”. But apply that to drone attacks on Pakistan or Israeli bombardments of Gaza and the rubric changes. It’s the guns/bombs/rockets that kill because the Americans don’t mean to kill civilians and the Israelis don’t wish to kill civilians. It’s just “collateral damage” again, though that’s not an excuse you can provide for Hamas rockets.

So what’s left for 2013? Assad, of course. He’s already trying to win back some rebel forces to his own ruthless side – an intelligent though dangerous tactic – and the West is getting up to its knees in rebel cruelty. Yes, Assad will go. One day. He says as much. But don’t expect it to happen in the immediate future. Or Gaddafi-style. The old mantra still applies. Egypt was not Tunisia and Yemen was not Egypt and Libya was not Yemen and Syria is not Libya.

Iraq? Its own latent civil war will go on grinding up the bones of civil society while we largely ignore its agony; there are days now when more Iraqis are killed than Syrians, though you wouldn’t know it from the nightly news.

And the Gulf? Arabia, where the first Arab awakening began? Where, indeed, the first Arab revolution – the advent of Islam – burst forth upon the world. There are those who say that the Gulf kingdoms will remain secure for years to come. Don’t count on it. Watch Saudi Arabia. Remember what that British diplomat wrote 130 years ago. “Even in Mecca...

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