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Iranian General Confirms that South Lebanon Is Under Iran's Influence (Daily Star-Lebanon)
The head of Iran's Al-Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards Corp, Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, said Wednesday in Tehran:
"In reality, in south Lebanon and Iraq, the people are under the effect of the Islamic Republic's way of practice and thinking."
Mustafa Alloush, a former Lebanese MP, said Suleimani's remarks have "confirmed what we have been saying over the past years, that Hizbullah is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard."
Hizbullah Guarded Assad During Rally Appearance - Yousef Diab (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
Lebanese Future movement Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri said in an interview that "when Bashar al-Assad appeared in the midst of supporters in Umayyad Square [in Damascus]... he was being guarded by members of the Hizbullah security apparatus."
"More than 200 cars, in addition to a bus full of passengers, traveled from Lebanon to Syria, to secure the pro-Assad demonstration during Bashar al-Assad's appearance."
Hariri also stressed that "large regions of Syria are outside of the control of the regime."
See also Hizbullah, Iran Preparing for "Day after" Assad - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
Hizbullah and Iran are preparing for the "day after" in the event that President Bashar Assad's regime is toppled.
"The assessment that Hizbullah will be severely impacted by Syria's downfall is unlikely since it will be able to fill the vacuum with assistance directly from Iran," a senior Israeli defense official explained.
According to IDF Military Intelligence, Hizbullah is currently providing assistance to Assad in the form of weapons, instructors and actual fighters who are assisting the Syrian military in its efforts to quell the resistance.
On Sunday, Al-Arabiya reported Hizbullah forces were deployed in Syria to protect a military base where Iranian soldiers were deployed after it was attacked by anti-government protesters.
Saudi Capacity Seen Sufficient to Cover Oil Sanctions on Iran (Bloomberg-Gulf Times-Qatar)
Saudi Arabia has the capacity to make up for Iranian oil exports to Europe should the region's leaders go ahead with an embargo, according to the International Energy Agency and the Centre for Global Energy Studies.
The kingdom has unused daily production of 2.2-2.5 million barrels. The EU bought 450,000 bpd from Iran in the first half of 2011, U.S. Energy Department data show.
Bedouins Holding Hostages in Sinai Resort - Roi Kais (Ynet News)
Egyptian media outlets reported Sunday that on Saturday 70 Bedouin tribe members from Ras Sudar in Sinai laid siege to a resort village between Taba and Nuweiba, holding the employees hostage.
The kidnappers are demanding four million Egyptian liras in exchange for the release of the employees and for refraining from destroying the resort facilities.
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- U.S. General Urges Closer Ties with Israel - Isabel Kershner
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Friday for closer engagement between the U.S. and Israel during a visit to the country.
After meeting with Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief of staff, Col. Dave Lapan, the Special Assistant for Public Affairs in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement that the top generals "discussed military-to-military relations, the new U.S. defense strategy, budget and economic issues and regional security challenges." (New York Times)
- Arab League Calls for Syria Regime Shift - Borzou Daragahi
The Arab League said Sunday it will seek UN Security Council endorsement for a plan to peacefully end the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and pave the way for a democratically elected government within six months. (Financial Times-UK)
See also Syria Rejects Arab League Power Transfer Plan - Richard Spencer and Ruth Sherlock (Telegraph-UK)
See also Ambush of Police Truck Carrying Prisoners in Northern Syria Kills 14
A string of explosions struck a police truck transporting prisoners in northwestern Syria on Saturday, killing at least 14 people.
Troops fought intense battles against defectors elsewhere in northern Syria, activists said, leaving "dozens" of people wounded.
- In Egypt, Signs of Accord Between Military Council and Islamists - David D. Kirkpatrick
The Egyptian military council that took power after Mubarak's downfall and the Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood who dominated the parliamentary elections appear to have settled on the broad outlines of Egypt's next charter. A Western diplomat said the Brotherhood and the ruling military council appeared to be negotiating effectively behind the scenes.
(New York Times)
See also Egypt Islamists on Eve of Power Ease Talk of Islam - Hadeel al-Shalchi
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has eased off talk of Islamic-style legislation, saying it will focus on fixing Egypt's ailing economy, and it has backed off introducing further explicit Islamic references in the new constitution it will have a major hand in writing.
"We can't talk about implementing Islamic Shariah law when the country is experiencing such devastating economic problems," said Mohammed Gouda, a Brotherhood policymaker and member of the party's economic committee.
The Brotherhood feels little need to push through legislation enforcing an Islamic vision, he and other members say, especially since Egyptian society is already deeply religious and conservative.
In the newly elected parliament which opens Monday, 47% of the 498 lawmakers will belong to the Brotherhood. Another quarter will be Salafis, a more radical Islamic group.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Report: Turkey Intercepts Material for Chemical Weapons on Iranian Trucks
Four Syria-bound Iranian trucks that were intercepted by Turkish authorities two weeks ago were carrying material for manufacturing missiles and chemical weapons, the Turkish Taraf newspaper reported Saturday. One of the trucks was carrying four six-meter-long cylindrical tanks and heat-resistant materials, while the other three were carrying 66 tons of sodium sulfate, all of which were possibly to be used in the making of chemical missiles.
- Azerbaijan Thwarts Terror Attack Against Israeli Habad Emissaries - Eli Shvidler
Three men were detained last week after planning to attack two Israeli Habad emissaries employed by a Jewish school in Baku, the Azerbaijan Ministry of National Security has revealed. The men received smuggled arms and equipment from Iranian agents.
Wafa Guluzade, a political commentator considered close to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, warned Iran that "planning the murder of prominent foreign citizens in Azerbaijan by a band of terrorists, one of whom resides in Iran, amounts to 'hostile activity' against our country....Iran and its primitive ayatollahs sense their end is near and are trying to terrorize their neighbors." (Ha'aretz)
- Axe-Throwing Palestinian Shot at West Bank Checkpoint - Yaakov Lappin
An axe-wielding Palestinian man was shot in the leg and lightly injured after attempting to attack Israeli security personnel with an axe at the Kalandia checkpoint in the West Bank on Sunday. Border Police on the scene also recovered a long commando knife in the man's bag. (Jerusalem Post)
See also Palestinian Stabs Israeli Border Guard in Jerusalem - Yair Altman (Ynet News)
- Iran Will Be Worse Off If It Triggers Mideast Nuclear Arms Race - Dennis Ross interviewed by Benjamin Pauker
"If the Iranians get a nuclear weapon, they can cast a shadow of power where they couldn't before, and they can engage in greater leverage and coercion. There will be an impulse by their neighbors to counter that, and if they end up producing a Middle East with a number of countries that have nuclear weapons, they're certainly not going to be better off. In fact they're probably worse off."
"The Iranians have to be put in a position where they have to understand that they cannot continue on the path they're on without paying a price....If they continue on this path, then the pressure is going to be ratcheted up and will be continued to be ratcheted up until we see them make a change in their behavior."
"Look at the degree of Iranian isolation now, internationally or regionally, and the scope of what's happening in terms of sanctions on them right now, where they can't do business with a reputable bank internationally, they can't do business in dollars and euros, they can't get insurance for their ships. You have the Iranian president declaring a year ago when sanctions were being posed that the Iranians sneezed at the sanctions, completely belittling them, but now he describes them as the most severe economic onslaught that any country has experienced."
On Palestinian policy: "The more [the Palestinians] pursue the UN route, the more they raise questions in the minds of mainstream Israel about their purposes....It alienates the mainstream in Israel; it convinces them that it's about delegitimizing Israel, not trying to coexist with it, so it ends up being self-defeating." (Foreign Policy)
- Iran Gets the Message from Washington - David Ignatius
The Iran nuclear crisis is far from over, but Tehran appears to have made a subtle blink - backing away from its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to escalating U.S. sanctions. "Iran has never in its history tried to prevent, to put any obstacles in the way of this important maritime route," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi insisted.
Explaining Iranian behavior is always a puzzle. But it's possible that their recent statements are responses to economic sanctions that are beginning to have a serious impact. What the Obama administration wants are verifiable safeguards that prevent any breakout to weaponization.
- How the U.S. Should Handle the Islamist Rise in Egypt - Robert Satloff and Eric Trager
From an American perspective, the situation in Egypt is a nightmare, with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the even more fundamentalist Nour Party winning about two-thirds of the seats in Egypt's next parliament. While both parties have paid lip service to respecting Egypt's international obligations, American leaders cannot ignore the fact that the security partnership Washington had with Cairo for more than 30 years is in serious jeopardy.
Some have sugar-coated the Islamists' ascendance by arguing that the responsibility of governance will moderate them. Experience suggests otherwise.
Washington has assets to preserve its equities in Egypt. At $1.2 billion, U.S. military assistance is essentially the procurement budget for the Egyptian armed forces. Direct U.S. economic support is $250 million and America has a substantial voice in international financial institutions to which Egypt almost surely will turn for help. In the coming period, when Egypt's Islamist politicians will test just how far the U.S. will bend to accommodate a new political reality, the U.S. should be willing to use all these tools to advance its interests.
Washington's message should be that U.S. support is conditional on Egyptian cooperation in maintaining peace with Israel and preserving political pluralism and religious and minority rights. Mr. Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Mr. Trager is a fellow.
(Wall Street Journal)
Middle East Miscalculation - Mortimer B. Zuckerman (U.S. News)
The euphoria of the "Arab Spring," the instant transition from dictatorship to democracy, is seen for what it is: an illusion. In mid-December, violent Islamic Salafist extremists burned down Cairo's famous scientific Institute d'Egypte, which housed 200,000 original and rare books, maps, archaeological objects, and nature studies from Egypt and the Middle East, the result of generations of work by researchers.
- We had long shared with the Egyptian military understandings on national security, ours with an eye to maintaining peace in the region. That relationship is now pretty much lost.
- Americans, in their perennial innocence, have demanded that the generals turn over power to the civilians whomever they may be, just as they did to the Persian shah, just as they did after Israel's pullout from Gaza when they hadn't a clue about the danger posed by Hamas. Our ingenuous attitude has been tantamount to handing over Egypt on a silver platter to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.
- Their new foreign policy will include opening the blockaded border with Gaza, ending normal relations with Israel, and opening them with Hamas and Iran in such a way as to alter the balance of power in the region against U.S. interests. Indeed, one of the few things that unites the political parties in Egypt is an anti-Western foreign policy.
- As Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has put it, "The Brotherhood is not, as some suggest, simply an Egyptian version of the March of Dimes - that is, a social welfare organization whose goals are fundamentally humanitarian." It is a "profoundly political organization" that seeks to reorder Egyptian society along Islamist lines and "transform Egypt into a very different place."
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