Monday December 2, 2013, no160
Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com
Editor in chief Wassim Raad
New Orient Center for Strategic policies
The Saudi-Israeli offensive to break the blockade of al-Ghouta failed
By Pierre Khalaf
The last desperate attempt to break the blockade imposed seven months ago by the Syrian Arab Army in the eastern Ghouta, east of Damascus, is an operation mounted from A to Z by the Saudis, Americans and Israelis.
The offensive was launched from Jordan Friday, 22 November, by some 5000 Syrian and foreign mercenaries,. Their goal was to retake the strategic town of Oteiba, located 30 kilometers southeast of the capital, which was the headquarters of armed rebels in Damascus province.
According to various sources of information, the offensive was prepared by a Saudi-Israeli-American common command center, located in Jordan, where mercenaries were trained by instructors from the CIA and funded by Saudis petrodollars. The column crossed into Syria via desert roads helped by satellite photographs. With the approach of the column of the Eastern Ghouta, the Israelis launched a vast operation of telecommunications interference against the Syrian Arab Army troops defending the region. The army units were cut off their command and contacts between them were also very disturbed. It was then that the mercenaries launched their attack, while simultaneously rebels encircled within the Ghouta tried an output.
In all, some 5,000 men attacked the positions of the Syrian Armed Arab in an attempt to break the blockade of the eastern Ghouta. Despite their number, their heavy weapons provided by Saudis and logistic brought by the Israelis, the rebels have taken only a few army checkpoints in five or six villages at a cost of more than 300 dead, a third are not Syrian nationals.
After stabilizing the front line, the Syrian regular army and the National Defence Army launched a counter-offensive to regain lost ground and prevent mercenaries consolidate their positions in regions where they entered. Despite two other offensives launched earlier this week, the rebels have failed to improve their situation.
Experts from all sides confirm the failure of the “Saudi-Israeli offensive”, which military objective was to take Oteiba. At the political level, this attack is a desperate attempt to improve the Saudis’ agents uncomfortable position who represent the so-called Syrian opposition at the Geneva 2 conference, on the 22nd of January 2014.
According to informed sources, the United States granted a period of two months for the Saudis to try again to change the balance of power on the ground. Hysterical, the Saudis do not hide anymore their direct participation in the war against Syria. Reliable sources say the Saudi extremist fighters in the rebel ranks amounted to several thousand. Many of Al-Qaeda militants who were imprisoned in Saudi Arabia were released on the condition that they would fight in Syria to “establish the Islamic caliphate.” These same sources estimate at 300 the number of Saudis killed in the rebel ranks, while dozens were captured by the Syrian Arab Army.
Many Saudis have also been killed in the past two weeks, during the fighting in the region of Qalamoun, on the border with Lebanon, where the Syrian Arab Armed took the towns of Qara and Deir Attiya, and a large part of the city of Nabak. Among the dead were the Saudi Mutlak al-Mutlak, the son of an officer of the Saudi royal guard.
Najib Mikati, Caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister
«I did not spare a way to defuse the incidents that broke our hearts, killed our sons and destroyed our properties. I did not even hesitate to resign from my post in hopes that this step would be a way to end the tragic events in Lebanon and especially in Tripoli. Every day I see our beloved city of Tripoli suffer and burn; its residents are being killed and have become desperate because the hands of evil have turned them into hostages. Yesterday, we held an expanded meeting in Tripoli, and the decision that was taken–following discussions with President Michel Suleiman was to put all the security forces under the command of the army, and that the army should take all the convenient and firm measures to control the security. The judiciary also issued arrest warrants against all those who disrupted the security in the city, and we are positive that the army will carry out its missions, including all the arrest warrants.»
Sheikh Naïm Kassem, deputy secretary general of Hezbollah
«Takfirists are responsible for the attack against the Embassy of the Islamic Republic in order to strike the head of the axis of resistance and prevent the establishment of a strong regional axis facing the Israeli-American project. The main enemy is Israel and the US-Israeli-takfirist project.»
Faisal Moqdad, Syrian vice-minister of Foreign Affairs
«The Syrian government delegation at Geneva will be working under Assad’s directives, and any solutions proposed will have no impact unless president Assad approves of them. In their closed meetings, Western leaders say there is no replacement for president Assad. At Geneva II, we will gather around the table and we will discuss, without foreign interference and there will be an enlarged government. We reiterate our reservations about participation in Geneva II by representatives of the armed terrorist groups. The stupid Turkish policy has compromised the Turkish people by attracting Al-Qaeda.»
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister
«The solution to the nuclear issue serves the interests of all countries in the region. It is not at the expense of any state in the region. Be assured that the nuclear deal is in favor of the stability and security of the region. We look at Saudi Arabia as an important and influential country in the region. We will implement the deal and are convinced that implementing it will build the trust.»
Fourteen people, including a woman and an off-duty soldier, have been killed in two days of sectarian clashes in northern Lebanon linked to the war in neighboring Syria, a security source said Sunday. The fighting in the northern port city of Tripoli also wounded 49 people, including 11 soldiers, the source told AFP. On Sunday four people were killed, two of whom were in a truck when they were shot dead by a sniper, while the third was the off-duty soldier and the last victim a woman who died of injuries sustained the previous day. Their deaths came after a day of fierce clashes that lasted into the night that left six dead. The fighting pits residents of the city’s Jabal Mohsen district which is home to an Alawi minority against Sunni residents of the neighboring Bab al-Tabbaneh. Attacks targeting Alawi residents because of their perceived support for the Syrian president have escalated in recent weeks leading up to the most recent battle between the two neighborhoods.
An unknown masked gunman shot on Sunday three members of the Fatah Movement in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon, the National News Agency reported. The gunfire killed one of the two victims, identified as Hammoud al-Rami, and injured the two others, Abdel Hamid al-Youssef and Mohammad Saad, who were transferred to the Labib Abu Dahr medical center for treatment. MTV television reported later that a gunfire exchange erupted following the incident between members of the Fatah Movement and the Jund al-Sham militants. Meanwhile, LBC television reported that a man identified as Ibrahim Abdel Ghani was shot dead while he was passing in his car in the camp.
Palestinian security forces have arrested 20 Salafists in a series of raids across the West Bank, a security source said on Sunday, denying any of them had ties to Al-Qaeda. “In the last few days, around 20 people were arrested in Nablus, Jenin and Qalqilya,” the senior Palestinian security source told AFB on condition of anonymity, saying those detained “embrace the Salafy ideology but are not affiliated with Al-Qaeda.”
Head of the Future bloc MP Fouad Siniora held talks with Speaker Nabih Berry Sunday as part of the dialogue the two officials launched in September. A source close to Siniora said the meeting aimed at maintaining ongoing communication between the two officials. “It is a way to ease the political stalemate in the country,” the source said. Berri and Siniora discussed various files at the local and regional levels, the source said.
More than 41,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in November, according to an inter-agency briefing, while the agency canceled the registration of 13,000 individuals. The latest round of registration brings the total number of registered refugees to 758,000, with another 73,000 awaiting registration. The agency said the total number of refugees assisted by UNHCR in Lebanon now stands at over 830,000. The Lebanese government estimates the real number of Syrians in the country to be over 1 million.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)
Imad Marmal (November 29, 2013)
The Iranian leadership has the feeling of having achieved an accomplishment and is convinced that the deal with the Great Powers pave the way for a “nuclear spring.” Would Iran, which now finds itself in a strong position, take the initiative to open a dialogue with the Gulf without running the risk of being accused of weakness or be misunderstood. About the Iranian-Saudi relations, the Speaker Nabih Berri believes that only dialogue between the two countries will be able to stem sectarian tension in Lebanon and the region, such a dialogue is a prerequisite the development of a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
An Nahar (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition)
(November 28, 2013)
Returning from Tehran, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berry said he had taken no mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, adding that no one had asked for it. “But if I am asked, I will not hesitate to do anything that might serve the relations between the two countries, taking into consideration the interests of Lebanon,” he said.
The Parliament Speaker added that he will continue to do everything in its power “to get out of our internal crisis.” “I am fully prepared to undertake all that is likely to serve my country and, of course, opening channels of communication and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iran has a positive impact on Lebanon and facilitates the solution problems of our country,” said Mr Berry. The Speaker expressed his satisfaction with the results of his visit to Tehran, which he described as “successful”. “The policy of the Iranian leadership is characterized by wisdom and knows what he wants and what serves the interests of its people and States of the region,” he concluded.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
(November 29, 2013)
Ten days ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with a delegation of party leaders and politicians from Arab countries. He said unequivocally: The battle will continue as long as Saudi Arabia continues to “back terrorism,” and the flow of extremist fighters, money, and arms into Syria continues. – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has proclaimed that Saudi and other countries’ support for terrorist groups will delay any solution to the crisis. He also said that the Syrian government was advancing on more than one front against terror and the war against Syria, stressing that the government would not go to Geneva if it is expected to hand over power.
Assad’s remarks on the situation in Syria came during a meeting on the sidelines of the Arab Parties Conference held in Syria 10 days ago. Al-Akhbar interviewed a party leader from the Maghreb who took part in the meeting.
In response to a question on what is happening in Syria, Assad said, “We have been subjected to a major war. In the first phase, we had to focus on standing our ground, which is what we did in the first year. Then we moved into the stage of triumphing over the enemies. There are experiences in recent history, including what happened with the Resistance in Lebanon, which stood its ground for many long years, and then achieved major victories in 2000 and 2006. We have known from the outset that the battle targeted our independent decision, but this independent decision was a major factor in our steadfastness and our victory, although we appreciate the support Syria has received from its allies, and some allies have had a pivotal role, such as Russia, which stands on our side because its interests, too, are threatened. I heard directly from the Russian leadership that they stand alongside Syria to defend Moscow and not just Damascus.”
Assad continued, “The time required to end the crisis in Syria depends to a large extent on the ongoing support and funding to armed groups provided by the actors in the region.”
He added, “Saudi Arabia and other countries are strong backers of terrorism. They have dispatched tens of thousands of takfiris to the country, and Saudi Arabia is paying up to $2,000 as a monthly salary to all those who take up arms on their side.”
Assad said, “There is another problem, related to al-Qaeda’s infiltration through the border with Iraq. This is something that the authorities in Baghdad are cracking down on but not entirely with success. Consequently, stopping Saudi support would have a decisive impact, especially since the militants and those behind them have been caught by surprise by our army’s capacity to confront them. Now, we know, and the whole world knows that al-Qaeda does not pose a threat to Syria alone. We hope for rational solutions in the coming months, but the issue is also contingent upon our ability to confront those, and we are determined to fight them until the end.”
The Syrian president then told his audience, “In light of the situation on the ground, we do not believe that it is possible to reach a settlement soon. As long as fighters, weapons, and funds continue to be sent across the border into Syria, we will not stop pursuing them. No one in the world can stop us exercising our right to defend our country. Moreover, today, we find little that can be agreed upon in Geneva, especially since some wrongly believe that we are going there to hand over power to them.”
“If this is what they want, then let them come to Syria so we can hand over power to them,” Assad sarcastically added. “If they decide to appoint [leader of the opposition National Coalition Ahmad] al-Jarba as president, do they think he would be able to come to Syria?”
Assad explained that Saudi Arabia “is leading the most extensive operation of direct sabotage against all the Arab world,” adding, “Saudi Arabia led the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the battle against all nations and parties that stand in the face of Israel. The [Saudis] gave cover to the Camp David agreement, supported the war on Lebanon in 1982, and today, they are engaged in an open-ended war against Syria. We are now openly saying that we are at war with them. True, we accommodated them previously, but they want everything to be according to their vision and interests.”
Regarding the position of the Western countries that back the armed Syrian opposition, Assad said, “The colonial West still acts in a vain mentality. They act like the past 20 years did not happen. They ignore the US defeat in Iraq, and they act as though the Soviet Union collapsed only yesterday.”
Concerning the current state of the Arab world and the Arab League, Assad said, “If the league shall remain under the influence and tutelage of backwards regimes like those of the Arab Gulf countries, it will have no role and no value. However, not all the Arab countries have had their independence taken from them.” He then added, “Today, there is a brave man making a stand in Iraq who is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has important stances, even though his country is torn and many seek to destroy it. Even Algeria, one could consider its stance ahead of others. But most importantly, we must take heed of what is taking place in Egypt today. We see as the rest of the Arabs do that there is in Cairo today someone telling America frankly and sharply, ‘You have no business in Egypt’s internal affairs,’ and this is an important position that must be supported.”
The Syrian leader then spoke about the state of political parties in Syria and the Arab world, and said, “Vacuum is one of the reasons why extremist groups have spread. But another reason has to do with the fact that these parties did not rejuvenate themselves, and they are still weak. We as a state are keen on boosting their work, not as a party. We have also been observing the reflection of Syria’s steadfastness on Arab reality in general, and especially in the Maghreb, which we fear could be subjected to the rule of NATO.”
Assad then warned against the spread of Wahhabi ideology in the Arab world, and said, “This requires a new approach to religious institutions, but first and foremost, it requires supporting a civil state based on co-citizenship.”
Assad added, “Today’s generation has been subjected to a large-scale process of spreading ignorance. The generation that preceded us had more awareness, and this process of spreading ignorance is aimed at keeping the Arab world in a state of backwardness. I want to remind you that the West does not want us to ever evolve. I remember when the US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited us in 2003 and conveyed his country’s demands from Syria after the occupation of Iraq, he especially wanted us not to host any Iraqi scientists. We rejected his demand, so the US and Israeli intelligence liquidated quite a few of those scientists. Today, they want to eliminate scientists in Iran.”
But Assad noted that, by contrast, awareness among Arab peoples is reemerging, saying that raising the picture of the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser in many Arab demonstrations is a sign of this.
He said, “We are not against religion, but we are against invoking religion in all aspects of people’s daily lives. Even us, who are secular, gave religion a role in our constitution, which states explicitly that Sharia is a source of legislation. However, we refuse any politicization of religion in the sense that leads to negative results. As an example that our stance is not against religion, consider Hezbollah’s case in Lebanon. This is an ideological party that derives its ideas from religion. But we do not disagree with Hezbollah politically. This is proof that we don’t have an absolute stance against religions, but we refuse any religious force that operates in accordance with takfiri or Wahhabi ideology.
“For this reason, we say that we do not deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in this way. I believe that Syria cannot tolerate this faction. They did not give us a positive model in all stages. They operate on the basis of a sectarian position; otherwise, how can one explain their stance opposed to Hezbollah? They accept politicization in all issues, and use sectarian discourse to inflame Sunni-Shia strife.”
He then said, “Syria, like Iran and Hezbollah, tolerate many things to prevent sedition. Even the approach in dealing with the situation in Bahrain is very cautious for this reason.”
Al Akhbar (November 29, 2013)
In a closed Lebanese parliamentary session hosted by the telecommunications and foreign affairs subcommittees, 27 representatives of foreign diplomatic missions were presented with evidence that Israel has been eavesdropping on their communications, monitoring citizens and state institutions alike.
Not surprisingly, US Ambassador David Hale failed to attend the meeting, possibly due to the likelihood that his government is keenly aware of Israel’s intensive espionage program in Lebanon and may even receive reports from the Zionist state, according to Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah, who heads up the media and telecommunications committee in parliament.
The diplomats were informed of how Israel has recently intensified its illegal spying activity, particularly along the border with Lebanon, where it has erected dozens of listening posts with the latest eavesdropping technology. Israel’s appetite for information has now gone beyond spying on Lebanese to include the country’s diplomatic missions and the communications of the UNIFIL force stationed in the South.
The session did not take more than half an hour, as it was limited to a presentation, without any discussion scheduled to follow. Although none of the ambassadors issued any statements to the press after the briefing, they appeared unsettled as they exited the hall. According to a parliamentary source, it is unlikely that many of those present were aware of the scale of Israeli monitoring.
The source says that the parliamentary committees, which is in charge of following up on Israel’s eavesdropping activity, left little doubt in the mind of their foreign guests, as they were presented with “a detailed explanation of the ways by which they are being monitored.”
The intent of the meeting, Fadlallah explained in a press conference, “is to provide these countries with the information necessary to help us limit this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,” with the hope that they put some pressure on Tel Aviv to stop its intensive spying campaign.
There is also talk about raising the matter before the UN and possibly making a bid to expel Israel from the International Telecommunications Union. As for what role the Resistance can play in limiting Israel’s eavesdropping, Fadlallah repeated the words of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who recently said that the matter is in the hands of the state, which is more than capable of dealing with the issue.
Al Akhbar (November 29, 2013)
After playing a central role in freeing the Lebanese hostages who were held in northern Syria, Qatar is using the same channels to mend its ties with Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.
When negotiations over the nine Lebanese hostages involving Turkey, Qatar, Syria, and Lebanon hit a snag – after Damascus refused to free dozens of Syrian women prisoners as part of the deal – Doha resorted to contacting Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to guarantee their eventual release.
Unlike Ankara, the Qatari authorities want more out of the deal than simply washing their hand of the whole affair. Doha is looking to regain its “strong presence” in the region’s affairs after a decision was taken regionally and internationally to remove the country from the Syria file, in favor of a stronger Saudi role, assisted locally by the UAE, Kuwait, and Jordan.
A Qatari official points out that since the former emir, Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, overthrew his father in a palace coup in the mid-1990s, there have been widespread concerns in the emirate that Saudi Arabia does not want its Gulf neighbor to be in any way independent of kingdom’s influence.
After the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Doha was almost completely marginalized from the events taking place in the region. This was intolerable to the small but ambitious Gulf emirate, which sought to return to its former position as a mediator of regional conflicts.
After the old leadership, including the emir and the prime minister, was replaced with a new one, Doha began to implement a transitional strategy of mending fences and re-establishing old ties. In this vein, they sought to build on the Lebanese hostage deal by being part of ongoing efforts to release others, such as the two Orthodox bishops abducted by the opposition in Syria.
The country’s new emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani moved quickly to reopen channels with both Iran and Iraq, leaving behind their differences on Syria. Doha also came to an understanding with Turkey and Hamas to develop measures to deflect the Saudi Arabia campaign to wipe out the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence from the region.
Qatar also asked Lebanese security officials who were involved in freeing the Lebanese hostages to relay positive messages to both Hezbollah and Damascus, requesting that Doha play a role in the release of the Syrian women prisoners, which was negotiated separately and eventually led to the release of 40.
At this point, after expressions of goodwill sent through various channels between Doha and Beirut’s Dahiyeh, Hezbollah agreed to re-establish some ties with the Qataris, thus allowing for the resumption of direct communications between the two parties.
Damascus, however, was not eager to end its enmity toward the Gulf emirate, particularly given the destructive role Doha played in the Syrian crisis. Yet President Bashar al-Assad relented to communicating indirectly through the offices of Nasrallah.
It was not long before a Qatari official arrived in Lebanon bearing a letter from the emir to the Hezbollah leader, who agreed to meet with Doha’s envoy. After agreeing on improving ties, Qatar urged Resistance officials to help them break the ice with Damascus. Hezbollah, in turn, encouraged the Qataris to make an effort to contact Syrian officials directly to discuss the matter.
This was quickly agreed upon back in Doha, and before long, a Qatari official contacted Damascus. Although the conversation was deemed positive by both sides, the Syrian official told his Qatari caller that more time is needed before Assad can receive official visitors from the emirate in the presidential palace.
Al Akhbar (November 26, 2013)
It seems that the Future Party is seriously considering extending Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s term in office, particularly if efforts to turn the tables on the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria fail.
But this is not a view shared by their Christian March 14 allies, who prefer to float candidates from among them as a possible alternative, although their chances of success remain slim.
Future leader Fouad Siniora, for example, would like to see March 14 nominate a weak Christian personality that cannot stand up to the Sunni prime minister, while at the same time provoking March 8’s number one contender Michel Aoun.
In this regard, Siniora believes that former minister John Obeid is eligible for the spot, particularly given that some elements of March 8 and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt have no objections to putting his name forward.
However, given the complicated and delicate situation in Syria, it may not be wise to go with an independent such as Obeid, and therefore March 14 is trying to float the idea of extension for Suleiman, hoping to convince him to take more hard-line positions toward Hezbollah.
No doubt the Lebanese president’s delayed visit to Saudi Arabia was part of this effort. Not only was Future leader Saad Hariri invited to Suleiman’s meeting with the Saudi king without his knowledge, but his royal host is said to have barely paid any attention to what Suleiman had to say, with some sources reporting that the monarch spoke little more than six words to the Lebanese president throughout the meeting.
So when Suleiman tried to talk about Lebanon’s policy of disassociation toward the crisis in Syria, hoping to convince the Saudi king of curtailing some of his country’s activities in Lebanon, the monarch simply said, “God willing.” When Suleiman explained the importance of the army in maintaining stability, the response was, “not necessarily.” Finally, when the president raised the need to form a new government, “not now” was the king’s stern retort.
When his earlier trip to the kingdom was canceled, Suleiman knew that he was being punished for not carrying out his responsibilities as Riyadh would have liked. The president was not doing enough to quickly form a government that would exclude Hezbollah, not to mention his reluctance to call out the Resistance on its involvement in the fighting in Syria.
When Suleiman returned from Saudi Arabia, many in March 14 felt uneasy, prompting them to try to shore up the president with talk about the Baabda
Declaration, which he considers one of his highest achievements in office. The Christians among them, however, did not want an early end to the presidential race, hoping they get a chance to prove their mettle by putting forward their own candidates.
But at the end of the day, they do not have any such privilege and are obligated to sit quietly until Riyadh makes its decision. The only role they can play now is to be part of an orchestra to demonize Hezbollah, thus justifying the terrorist attacks against it.
While everyone is waiting for some sort of breakthrough in the political deadlock, either due to developments in Syria or as a result of the recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, Suleiman prefers the status quo because it is what will allow him to stay in the presidential palace for several more years … God help us!
Al Joumhouria (Lebanese daily, close to March-14 coalition)
(November 30, 2013)
Speaker Nabih Berri said that he has requested that the United Nations draw a maritime demarcation line to protect Lebanon’s oil resources.
“I am waiting for the Americans’ response concerning my request for the UN to draw a maritime white line demarcating the maritime border, similar to the blue line drawn along Lebanon’s land border,” Berri said.
The speaker also said that the government, despite its caretaker status, should convene to study the oil resources issue. “I still support the government meeting over the oil issue, due to the threats that are affecting it.” He added that the limited scope of the work of a caretaker government should be expanded “when the issue that is being dealt with relates to the fundamental political or economic security of the country.”
Berri’s comments came as reports have emerged concerning a United States proposal for establishing a “maritime blue line” near Lebanon’s shore.
In April, a group of 46 firms qualified to bid on a first round of licenses to explore Lebanese offshore gas fields, with 12 qualified to bid as operators.
AFP (France-Press Agency, December 1st, 2013)
Three Lebanese nationals suspected of being Hezbollah members were cleared of terrorism charges in Nigeria on Friday but one of the accused was convicted of a weapons offence and jailed for life.
Mustapha Fawaz, Abdallah Thahini and Talal Ahmad Roda were arrested in May after the discovery of an arms cache in a residence in the northern Nigerian city of Kano.
They were accused of plotting attacks against Western and Israeli targets in Nigeria but denied the accusations.
Federal High Court Judge Adeniyi Adetokunbo Ademola said Hezbollah “is not an international terrorist organization in Nigeria” and therefore membership is not criminal.
He said there was “no evidence” that the group was planning an attack or had received “terrorism training” as the prosecution alleged.
All three men were also acquitted of money laundering charges.
But Roda was found guilty of conspiracy to import weapons into the country and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Defense lawyer for all three men Ahmed Raji told reporters after the hearing: “We are happy and slightly not comfortable with respect to the third accused [Roda].
“The most important thing is that the grave aspect of the charges, that is terrorism, was knocked out. We are happy about that.”
The trial featured several unexpected twists, including a testimony from Roda that an extremist cell in Nigeria had plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.
In August, Fawaz testified that he had been harshly interrogated by Israeli security agents after his arrest.
He said the grilling was carried out by “six Israeli Mossad agents and one masked white man” who were primarily concerned with his contacts in Lebanon and demanded details of where weapons were stored in his home country.
Thahini testified that he collapsed after being denied sleep for five days in a similar interrogation by purported Israeli agents.
Fawaz owns a popular amusement park in the capital Abuja called Wonderland, which the court ordered should be re-opened after the ruling. He and Thahini were immediately released while Fawaz was escorted away in handcuffs, an AFP reporter in the court said.
The Guardian (British daily, November 27, 2013)
Jeremy Shaoira and Samuel Charap
On the heels of a successful Geneva agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, the announcement that the peace conference for Syria’s civil war –the Geneva II conference– will be held on 22 January is welcome news. But even if all sides actually show up to the meeting, there is considerable doubt as to whether a political settlement between the warring Syrian parties is possible at this stage. To increase the chances of success, the US and Russia should pursue a ceasefire among the regional supporters of the war as a precursor to Geneva II. Let’s call it “Geneva 1.5″.
The conflict in Syria is no longer a domestic struggle. It has become a regional proxy war, principally between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but with important roles played by Qatar, Turkey and Iraq. These external actors are fanning the flames of conflict and actively dissuading their Syrian allies from committing to Geneva II.
Thus far, no effort has explicitly addressed the role of regional actors in Syria and the conflicts between them. The Syrian factions would not be present as in Geneva II. Geneva I, which took place in July 2012, also did not include the Syrians but it focused on the principles of civil war resolution and excluded some of the key regional actors – particularly Iran and Saudi Arabia. The purpose of a Geneva 1.5 conference would be to facilitate eventual political resolution within Syria (executed in Geneva II) by first cutting off the activity of regional actors that fuels the conflict. The goal would be a ceasefire agreement.
The US and Russia could begin by bringing the key regional actors together to work on the question of humanitarian assistance in Syria and use that effort to move into discussions about the conflict and Syria’s future. The very act of getting the Saudis and the Iranians around the same table to discuss Syria would be a major breakthrough, but once they’re there, Washington and Moscow should push for genuine de-escalation. The key will be convincing all parties that they have little hope of realizing their maximalist goals and then finding a formula that can accommodate all sides’ interests in a future Syrian settlement.
Despite the myriad difficulties associated with this approach, there are reasons to think that such a deal might be possible. In Syria, Iran is wasting precious resources on a struggle that it cannot win and in the process validating the Saudi narrative of the Sunni-Shi’a split, destroying its standing in the Arab world. Iran may accept a settlement that protects its core interests of ensuring its connection with Hezbollah and Lebanon and preventing Damascus from being controlled by a puppet government of another power. The success of the nuclear talks might also have made Tehran more likely to engage.
Meanwhile, the Saudis are facing the growing threat that Syria is becoming an incubator of a brand of al-Qaida-linked extremism that might eventually threaten their own rule. Their path to victory in Syria looks increasingly unclear as the Assad regime continues to demonstrate its resilience. Simply put, the Saudis do not have the capacity to win a long proxy war with Iran. Therefore, they might see the benefits of a power-sharing arrangement in Damascus that would give them some influence with a Syrian transitional government. Despite these incentives, Turkey and Qatar, which maintain somewhat better relations with Iran, would have to be enlisted to pressure Saudi Arabia to attend and negotiate.
The United States and Russia are not neutral parties in the Syrian war, but they are nonetheless best positioned to lead a Geneva 1.5. They share an interest in ensuring that Islamist extremists do not gain control of Syria. The US has closer relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey and Russia has better ties with Iran. If Washington can demonstrate that it is serious about reining in its regional allies, Moscow might make a similar attempt to bring Iran to the table. Russia traditionally relishes the role of “guarantor” of the settlements to others’ wars.