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August 23, 2014

South China Sea

Navy P-8 Poseidon

U.S. Assesses Military Options for Islamic State: War Powers Resolution, Authority for Emergency Action — “We’re not going to be restricted by borders.”

August 23, 2014

By Karen DeYoung
The Washington Post
August 22 at 8:09 PM

The Obama administration is considering seeking congressional authorization for military action against the Islamic State under a revamped counter­terrorism strategy President Obama announced last year.

A mandate from Congress could provide domestic legal justification for the unlimited use of force against the Sunni Muslim group across Iraq and Syria, a senior administration official said. Congress last formally authorized such action in 2001, against al-Qaeda and its associates, and 2002, against Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The new authorization is one of several alternatives under active internal discussion as the administration grapples with whether and how to try to militarily defeat the Islamic State, which controls a wide swath of territory between Damascus and Baghdad.

The “range of options” for direct use of the U.S. military includes temporary authority under the War Powers Resolution, constitutional authority for emergency action to protect U.S. citizens, and “having that discussion with Congress” about a more open-ended authorization to combat the Islamic State, the official said.

Obama has ordered airstrikes in Iraq under the first option, good for 60 days until early October. The second option was used this summer to launch a failed rescue attempt of American hostages held by the Islamic State in Syria. The third would entail a debate with an uncertain outcome among lawmakers with widely divergent views on presidential powers and overseas military action.

View Graphic

The official did not rule out the immediate use of airstrikes or other action in Syria if necessary to protect U.S. citizens. The recent military raid, which was unsuccessful in locating four hostages, was followed by this week’s videotaped beheading of one of the captives, journalist James Foley.

“If you come after Americans, we are going to come after you,” deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes told reporters Friday. “We’re not going to be restricted by borders.”

Foley’s execution “represents a terrorist attack against our country,” Rhodes said. The administration believes that it provides international legal justification for military action under self-defense doctrines.

Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Obama, ramped up threats Friday that the U.S. would 'take direct action' against terrorists in Syria after the brutal beheading of an American journalist.

Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Obama, ramped up threats Friday that the U.S. would ‘take direct action’ against terrorists in Syria after the brutal beheading of an American journalist. Darren McCollester/Getty Images

While contingency plans for broader airstrikes in Syria have been prepared for presidential review should Obama ask for them, so far he has not. Nor has the intelligence community drawn up a list of high-value targets among individual Islamic State leaders, as it did with al-Qaeda, the senior official said.

“We’re obviously trying to find them,” the official said. But “we haven’t made a decision” on whether to target individuals. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door policymaking and intelligence matters.

While it formulates a more comprehensive, long-term policy, the official said, the administration is focused on driving the extremists out of Iraq and containing them in Syria. The Iraq policy is “a convergence of U.S. airstrikes, more arms and training” for Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and persuading Sunni communities to reject the militants, the official said.

“There are going to be gaps to fill” in that strategy, “and that’s what we are looking at now,” the official said.

Islamic State forces­ advanced into Iraq from Syria in the spring, quickly capturing the northern city of Mosul and rapidly moving south to within 60 miles of Baghdad. While the administration sent additional assistance to the Iraqi military, it used the promise of still more aid as leverage to force a change in Iraq’s government.

But while the government formation process was still underway, the extremists switched their focus toward Iraq’s Kurdish region, threatening to overrun one of the most peaceful areas of the country, where hundreds of American diplomats and civilians were present.

On Aug. 7, Obama authorized airstrikes against Islamic State fighters who were moving toward Irbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq, and who had encircled and threatened to kill tens of thousands of members of the minority Yazidi sect.

The success of those ongoing strikes — now numbering nearly 100 over the past two weeks — and progress in forming a new, more inclusive version of Iraq’s Shiite-led government, have encouraged policymakers. The belief is that neighboring Sunni-led states, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, will help persuade Iraq’s Sunnis to turn away from the extremists and join their government’s fight against them.

For its part, the administration expects to continue airstrikes in Iraq for the foreseeable future, although it is “mindful” that it will soon have to address the 60-day war powers restriction, the senior official said. “We always know that as we evaluate how long we may need to take military action, there are limits on what can be done under war powers.”

“Separately,” the official said, “we have to make a similar judgment about any action in Syria.”

The situation in Syria is far more complicated. In Iraq, where the administration believes local forces­ can push the Islamic State back with some American assistance, airstrike objectives are limited to protection of U.S. personnel and facilities and humanitarian missions. U.S. action was requested by the Iraqi government.

In Syria, where a full-scale civil war is raging, the United States supports a weak rebel force that is fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad as well as the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Obama, who has ruled out U.S. ground forces­ in Syria or Iraq, has resisted any direct U.S. military action in Syria and has limited the aid he is prepared to provide rebel forces­ out of concern that it would fall into the hands of extremists. Although the CIA is training and equipping a number of rebel fighters, a larger program that would allow the U.S. military to assist is held up in congressional consideration of the defense budget.

An expanded covert program that would allow Islamic State forces­ to be targeted by drones, such as the CIA effort against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, is deemed risky. Not only do the extremists have surface-to-air missiles, but Assad’s forces control the air over Syria.

Authority for any military action, should it be seen as feasible and desirable, could theoretically be found under the existing 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, against al-Qaeda.

“Three years ago, they would have clearly fit,” the senior administration official said of the Islamic State. But al-Qaeda’s Pakistan-based core announced last year that it had split with the group, objecting to its brutality against Muslims and declaration of an Islamic caliphate across Syria and Iraq. Now, officials are not certain whether that is a case worth making.

The administration has said it favors repeal of the Iraq AUMF, and some lawmakers have said the same about the al-Qaeda measure. Obama, in a May 2013 speech outlining a new, long-term counter­terrorism strategy, called it “outdated” with the dwindling power of al-Qaeda.

At the time, administration officials said the goal was to eliminate the broadly worded measure — which has been used to justify U.S. military action against groups labeled al-Qaeda “associates” in Yemen and Somalia — as a way of narrowing presidential power.

Authority to deal with new, more specific threats could be sought from Congress on a case-by-case basis, the officials said.

“If you look back on the president’s speech, he kind of foreshadows going to have additional” AUMFs, the official said. “It may be that this is the first case.”


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U.S. Weighs Direct Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is debating a more robust intervention in Syria, including possible American airstrikes, in a significant escalation of its weeks-long military assault on the Islamic extremist group that has destabilized neighboring Iraq and killed an American journalist, officials said Friday.

While President Obama has long resisted being drawn into Syria’s bloody civil war, officials said recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had made clear that it represents a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies. The beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, has contributed to what officials called a “new context” for a challenge that has long divided the president’s team.

Officials said the options include speeding up and intensifying limited American efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian rebel forces that have been fighting both ISIS as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Another option would be to bolster other partners on the ground to take on ISIS, including the Syrian Kurds.

Read the rest:

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, fielded questions about events in the Middle East and Ukraine on Friday. Credit Win Mcnamee/Getty Images   

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Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe: ISIS rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city

August 22, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

‘They’re crazy out there and they’re rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city and people just can’t believe that’s happening,’ Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe told the Fox-25 television in Oklahoma City.

Inhofe, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned that leaders of ISIS ‘are really bad terrorists. They’re so bad even al-Qaeda is afraid of them.’

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a fellow Oklahoma Republican and a committee member, told the Tulsa World that ISIS Islamists are ‘cutting children’s bodies in half. They’re shooting them. I’ve never seen anything like it.’

The Oklahoma senator warned that the US faces a novel and potentially catastrophic threat from ISIS, and said President Barack Obama isn’t up to the task of defeating the terror group


Inhofe: ISIS wants to attack ‘major US city’

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe warned that the Islamic State is looking to attack a “major U.S. city,” as he urged President Obama to adopt a more aggressive policy.

Inhofe spoke to Fox 25 in Oklahoma City about his concerns with the growing terror organization in Iraq and Syria.

“We’re in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation,” Inhofe reportedly said.

He spoke after militants posted a video this week showing them executing American journalist James Foley.

“ISIS, they are really bad terrorists, they’re so bad even Al Qaeda is afraid of them,” Inhofe told Fox 25. “They’re crazy out there and they’re rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city and people just can’t believe that’s happening.”

Islamic State implied threat to a Chicago landmark

August 22, 2014


There is another chilling Chicago connection in the battle between the US. and extreme Islamic militants isil (ISIS).

First there’s the beheading of the journalist who was the Northwestern graduate.

Now WGN Investigates has found an online war of words and disturbing images that includes an implied threat to a Chicago landmark building.

It’s a nasty, sometimes horrible back and forth coming on the heels of U.S. bombing of ISIS forces in Iraq involving Facebook and Twitter pages with titles like, #AMessageFromISIStoUS and vice versa.

Near the top of this tit for tat is the gruesome video and pictures of journalist James Foley’s beheading.

Some Americans posted on the site disgusting photoshopped images Islamic religious leaders having sex with animals and images of U.S. firepower.

They’re reacting to one of the tweets which shows the ISIS flag in front of the White House.

But scroll down a little farther and you see a picture that might look familiar. Not the writing, which appears to be in Arabic, but the building in the background. That’s on Michigan Ave.

307 N. Michigan Ave to be precise. It’s at the corner of Michigan and South Water Street and it’s called the Old Republic Building.

What we found online was stunning. So we brought it to the attention of the building security team. The apparent message in this photo dated June 20th of this summer, is “soldiers of the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria will pass from here soon.”

Other tweets show the same two pictures saying “we are in your state/ we are in your cities / we are in your streets.  You are our goals anywhere.”

More tweets say “we are here #america near our #target :) sooooooooooooon.”

No one in security at the Old Republic Building would comment, nor did the secret service, the FBI, or Chicago police.

So we don’t yet know who posted the picture in Chicago or why they chose that location.

View image on Twitter

Includes video;

Pentagon says Chinese Jet Carried Out ‘Aggressive’ and ‘Dangerous’ Intercept of Navy Intelligence Jet

August 22, 2014


Chinese SU-27 fighter plane / AP

Chinese SU-27 fighter plane / AP file photo

Su-27 flew within 20 feet of P-8 anti-submarine warfare jet in South China Sea

By Bill Gertz

The Pentagon on Friday called a Chinese jet’s encounter with a U.S. anti-submarine warfare aircraft an “aggressive” and “dangerous” act and said it has protested the action with Beijing.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters that the incident took place Tuesday in international airspace.

“We have registered our strong concerns to the Chinese about the unsafe and unprofessional intercept, which posed a risk to the safety and the well-being of the air crew and was inconsistent with customary international law,” Kirby said, adding that the incident was “very, very close, very dangerous.”

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft takes off from Perth International Airport during the search for Malaysia Airlines MH370. The same general type of aircraft was involved in a "dangerous intercept" by a Chinese fighter jet earlier this week off Hainan island.ii

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft takes off from Perth International Airport during the search for Malaysia Airlines MH370. The same general type of aircraft was involved in a “dangerous intercept” by a Chinese fighter jet earlier this week off Hainan island. Reuters/Landov

“Also—and we’ve made this clear—that it undermines efforts to continue developing military-to-military relations with the Chinese military.”

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeff Pool said the aerial incident took place 135 miles east of Hainan Island when a Chinese J-11, a version of the Russian Su-27, came within 20 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

“The intercept was aggressive and demonstrated a lack of due regard for the safety and well-being of the U.S. and Chinese aircrews and aircraft,” Pool said in a statement, noting it was one of the most dangerous aerial encounters with the Chinese since the April 2001 EP-3 mid-air collision with a Chinese J-8.

Pool called the encounter with the armed Chinese fighter “a dangerous intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon that was on a routine mission.”

This is the Chinese J-11 plane accused of “dangerous” operations.  — Photographed by the crew of a U.S. P-8A Poseidon. U.S. Navy

“On three different occasions, the Chinese J-11 crossed directly under the U.S. aircraft with one pass having only 50 to 100 feet separation between the two aircraft,” the spokesman said.

“The Chinese jet also passed the nose of the P-8 at 90 degrees with its belly toward the P-8 to show its weapons loadout,” he added.

“In doing so, the pilot was unable to see the P-8, further increasing the potential for a collision,” Pool said. “The Chinese pilot then flew directly under and alongside the P-8 bringing their wingtips within 20 feet and then before he stabilized his fighter he conducted a roll over the P-8 passing within 45 feet.”

According to the Pentagon, the latest encounter is part of a rising trend of “nonstandard, unprofessional and unsafe intercepts of US aircraft” that began in late 2013.

The Chinese jet originated from the same PLA air force unit in Hainan that was responsible for other close intercepts in March, April and May, Pool said.

“We are concerned that the intercepting crews from that unit are acting aggressively and demonstrating a lack of regard for the regard for the safety of our aircrews,” he said. “We have raised our concerns over this unsafe behavior to the PRC.”

At Martha’s Vineyard, where President Obama is vacationing, Deputy White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes also criticized the Chinese for the incident that he described as a “provocation.”

“It’s obviously a deeply concerning provocation, and we have communicated directly to the Chinese government our objection to this type of action,” Rhodes said.

The incident could further complicate efforts to develop closer military relations. “What we’ve encouraged is constructive military-to-military ties with China, and this type of action clearly violates the spirit of that engagement, and we’ve made our concerns known directly to Beijing,” Rhodes said.

Defense officials said the latest encounter highlights China’s continued aggressiveness in the region.

The P-8, a new, militarized Boeing-737 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, was conducting routine surveillance of the Chinese coast over the South China Sea, not the East China Sea as initially reported by the Free Beacon.

Other defense officials said the Chinese Su-27 interceptor carried out a barrel roll over the top of the aircraft—a move described by officials as dangerous and meant to threaten the surveillance aircraft.

It was the second threatening encounter of a U.S. surveillance aircraft this year. In April, a Russian Su-27 flew within 100 feet of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft during another dangerous intercept over waters north of Japan.

One defense official said the Pentagon’s failure to produce a tough response to the April event likely spurred the Chinese to conduct the similar threatening intercept on Monday.

Chinese military officials have said they oppose all U.S. electronic surveillance flights and described ship-based monitoring of their facilities and territory an encroachment of sovereignty. U.S. military officials have said the monitoring is carried within international airspace and thus does not violate international or Chinese law.

The Chinese attempt at aerial intimidation comes amid unprecedented Chinese military exercises held recently and currently underway in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea.

On Monday, Chinese air force and navy jets conducted combat simulation drills in the East China Sea—a possible target of the P-8’s monitoring.

China also is holding international military exercises in Inner Mongolia with Russia and several Central Asia states that are part of the Beijing-led anti-U.S. alliance known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The P-8 that was intercepted by the Su-27 is part of the Navy’s first squadron of new sub hunters deployed to Asia. Six P-8s, that can fire both missiles and torpedoes, are under the command Navy’s Seventh Fleet and are based at Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base. They support the fleet’s maritime surveillance operations as part of the U.S. pivot to Asia.

The P-8s were deployed in December—a month after China declared an air defense identification zone over the East China that encroaches on both Japanese and South Korean maritime zones. The U.S. government said it does not recognize the Chinese defense zone. China has threatened to use force to maintain its control over the area covering most of the East China Sea.

The Navy has described the P-8 as “the most advanced long range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft in the world.” The jet also conducts maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

The U.S.-China close encounter also is a setback for Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, who has been leading Obama administration efforts to develop closer relations with the Chinese military.

Locklear has sought to play down the growing military threat from China as part of efforts to develop closer cooperation with the Chinese military.

The commander’s dovish policies are being opposed by some in the Pentagon and Air Force who are concerned that the conciliatory approach will appease the Chinese at a time when Beijing has made aggressive territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Seas.

Rick Fisher, a China military affairs analyst, said increased U.S. surveillance flights near China are part of the United States’ strategy of responding to China’s aggressive imposition of controls in disputed maritime regions.

“In response, China is applying the same aggressive flying intimidation tactics to U.S. surveillance aircraft that it is using on Japanese surveillance aircraft,” said Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

Chinese warplanes conducted similar close intercepts to Japanese P-3 aircraft in May and June, flying within 50 feet of the aircraft, Fisher said.

“The U.S. needs to consider a stronger response and make clear to China that unprovoked deadly aggression will result in an allied military response,” Fisher said.

The latest Chinese aerial assertiveness should prompt the United States to conduct mount joint fighter escorts with Japan’s military for surveillance aircraft, he said. Additionally, the Pentagon should increase the number of U.S. fighters deployed to Okinawa, and to request that the Philippines permit the stationing of a wing of fighters at Philippine air bases, as well as boost U.S. military assistance to the Manila government.

Fisher said the Chinese objective with the aggressive aerial encounters is to “make U.S. political leaders fear another ‘April 1’ incident.”

In April 2001, a Chinese F-8 interceptor crashed into a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft off the southern China coast, causing the J-8 to crash and nearly causing the crash of the EP-3.

That encounter set off an international crisis after the propeller-driven U.S. aircraft made an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island and the 24 crew members were imprisoned for 10 days.

“This kind of intimidation is intended to make White House officials fear a larger incident with China and to ‘stand down’ American surveillance flights,” Fisher said. “Beijing is hoping to take advantage of the distraction of these U.S. officials by multiple crises in Iraq and the Ukraine to push the Americans out of maritime regions in Asia that China is seeking to dominate.”

Until Monday’s encounter, China had been operating its intercepts in a more careful manner, defense officials said, describing most past encounters as “professional.”

The U.S. military has sought to engage China in talks on maritime rules of engagement and a code of conduct aimed at preventing such close encounters with limited success.

In the RC-135 encounter, the U.S. electronic surveillance aircraft was flying near the Russian Far East coast north of Japan on April 23 when an the Russian Su-27 intercepted the jet.

During that encounter, the Russian warplane rolled sideways to reveal its air-to-air missiles and then flew within 100 feet of the RC-135 cockpit. The incident was video recorded by the crew but the Pentagon declined to release the video.

The Pentagon protested the Russian encounter with officials in Moscow. However, no additional steps were taken to warn the Russians about further dangerous intercepts.

Fisher said U.S. P-8s have flown surveillance missions over the South China Sea, where China has been engaged in aggressive naval and coast guard tactics against Vietnam and Philippines over competing maritime claims.

“If such patrols are over shallower waters near to China, another ‘controlled crash’ into the P-8 could also be part of a Chinese intelligence operation to capture the latest U.S. Navy anti-submarine and patrol aircraft,” he said.

“China is just now testing its first long range anti-submarine aircraft based on the turboprop powered Y-9 transport,” he added. “Gaining insights into the twin-turbofan powered P-8 may accelerate a likely Chinese program to make an ASW/maritime patrol version of its twin-turbofan C-919 regional airliner.”

Update: This story and headlines have been updated with a statement from the Pentagon. 


A U.S. Navy plane P-8 Poseidon takes off from Perth Airport in Perth, Australia, Sunday, April 6, 2014.  (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

WH Advisor Ben Rhodes: ISIS Killing Foley ‘Absolutely’ a ‘Terrorist Attack’ on U.S.

August 22, 2014


During a press briefing from Martha’s Vineyard Friday afternoon, White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes confirmed that the Obama administration considers the beheading of American journalist James Foley to be ISIS’ first “terrorist attack” against the United States.

NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker asked Rhodes to respond to comments made by former deputy director of the CIA Mike Morell, who said earlier this week, “We should mark the date down, because this is ISIS’ first terrorist attack against the United States.” She asked, “Do you agree with that?”

“Absolutely,” Rhodes answered. “When you see somebody killed in such a horrific way, that represents a terrorist attack. That represents a terrorist attack against our country and against an American citizen.”

After explaining that the increased from ISIS on American personnel in the region is part of what prompted President Barack Obama to take military action against them this month, Rhodes added, “Clearly the brutal execution of Jim Foley represented an affront, an attack not just on him, but he’s an American. And we see that as an attack on our country when one of our own is killed like that.”

Watch video below, via C-SPAN:

Israeli Foreign Minister: “We Will Pound Hamas Until We See The White Flag Waving”

August 22, 2014


The Israeli foreign minister told Channel 2 today that the government needs to spell out “a strategic goal” that encompasses “defeating Hamas, bringing it to submission.”

Avigdor Liberman

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem. Photo: REUTERS

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israeli television on Friday that military operations in Gaza must continue “until Hamas waves the white flag.”

In an interview with Channel 2 that aired just a few hours after it was learned that a four-year-old boy succumbed to his wounds which he sustained as a result of a mortar strike on a kibbutz near the Gaza frontier, Liberman said that the government needs to spell out “a strategic goal” that encompasses “defeating Hamas, bringing it to submission.”

“That means Hamas waves the white flag,” the foreign minister said. “That is a realistic scenaio, and it must be a goal.”

Liberman told Channel 2 that Israel must aim for a complete demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. “That means Hamas would have no capability to fire missiles at Israel, no capability to manufacture missiles, and no capability to build tunnels,” Liberman said.

The foreign minister did not go into detail regarding which specific course of action is needed, though he did say that he has presented his views to the cabinet. Liberman raised eyebrows during the course of this operation among observers who felt his implicit criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was inappropriate politicking at a time when soldiers were in combat.

“I have a responsibility to the voter to express my opinion,” Liberman told Channel 2. “I respect the prime minister, and we have a proper working relationship. We also have legitimate disagreements.”

The foreign minister said that the government “has no unified, cogent diplomatic policy,” and that he differs from the approach advocated by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, whom he said are content to “exchange blows with Hamas and wage a war of attrition until a cease-fire is reached.”

“The only alternative is to defeat Hamas, and make that the strategic goal,” Liberman said.

Liberman said “it shouldn’t take more than a week-and-a-half” for Israel to “bring Hamas to submission.”

When asked if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was a reliable partner, Liberman dismissed the idea.

“Abu Mazen failed,” Liberman said. “We gave him the keys to Gaza, and he failed there. He lost power to Hamas. He held talks with [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert and [his foreign minister at the time, Tzipi] Livni, and nothing came of this. He can’t deliver the goods.”

The foreign minister said that Abbas was waging a diplomatic campaign against Israel in international institutions.

When asked about his remarks to The Jerusalem Post‘s Herb Keinon regarding the need for a regional diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, Liberman said that “the region was ripe” for “an overall arrangement” which would include Arab states with whom Israel presently does not have diplomatic relations.

“The overall regional solution would be a one-package deal that would encompass Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arabs of Israel,” Liberman said. “As the situation stands now, we do not control Gaza, and half of the West Bank is controlled by the PLO. We are ripe to reach an overall regional solution with the Arab world.”

Pentagon Reports ‘Dangerous’ Intercept By Chinese Jet

August 22, 2014


A U.S. Navy plane P-8 Poseidon takes off from Perth Airport in Perth, Australia, Sunday, April 6, 2014.  (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon on Friday accused a Chinese fighter jet of conducting a “dangerous intercept” of a U.S. Navy aircraft off the coast of China in international airspace.

The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Washington protested to the Chinese military through diplomatic channels, calling the fighter pilot’s actions “unsafe and unprofessional.”

Kirby said it happened Aug. 19.

He said the maneuvering by the Chinese jet posed a risk to the safety of the U.S. air crew, was “inconsistent with customary international law,” and complicates efforts to improve military-to-military relations, which are often strained.

Kirby said the Chinese jet made several close passes by the Navy P-8 Poseidon plane, coming within 30 feet of it at one point. He said the Chinese jet did a “barrel roll” maneuver over the top of the Poseidon at one point and also passed across the nose of the Navy plane, exposing the belly of the fighter in a way apparently designed to show that it was armed.

Kirby said it happened about 135 miles east of China’s Hainan Island. In 2001 a Chinese jet collided with a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft off Hainan Island, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the Navy plane to make an emergency landing on the island.

The Navy’s P-8 Poseidon aircraft are designed for long-range missions including intelligence collection and reconnaissance.

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, August 23, 2014 — “Do not follow the example of the scribes and Pharisees” — “You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers”

August 22, 2014

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 424

Reading 1 ez 43:1-7ab


The angel led me to the gate which faces the east,
and there I saw the glory of the God of Israel
coming from the east.
I heard a sound like the roaring of many waters,
and the earth shone with his glory.
The vision was like that which I had seen
when he came to destroy the city,
and like that which I had seen by the river Chebar.
I fell prone as the glory of the LORD entered the temple
by way of the gate which faces the east,
but spirit lifted me up and brought me to the inner court.
And I saw that the temple was filled with the glory of the LORD.
Then I heard someone speaking to me from the temple,
while the man stood beside me.
The voice said to me:
Son of man, this is where my throne shall be,
this is where I will set the soles of my feet;
here I will dwell among the children of Israel forever.

Responsorial Psalm ps 85:9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14


R. (see 10b) The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD –for he proclaims peace.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.

Gospel mt 23:1-12


Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
From Encyclopedia Britannica:
In the 1st century, scribes and Pharisees were two largely distinct groups, though presumably some scribes were Pharisees. Scribes had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents (contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, the sale of land, and the like). Every village had at least one scribe. Pharisees were members of a party that believed in resurrection and in following legal traditions that were ascribed not to the Bible but to “the traditions of the fathers.” Like the scribes, they were also well-known legal experts: hence the partial overlap of membership of the two groups. It appears from subsequent rabbinic traditions, however, that most Pharisees were small landowners and traders, not professional scribes.
Jesus and the doctors of the Faith, a painting by a follower of Giuseppe Ribera.
On Matthew  23: 1-12
By Phyllis Booth
In Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus telling the crowd and his disciples to observe the Scribes and Pharisees but do not follow their example. The Scribes and Pharisees preach but do not practice. They put heavy burdens on their followers but do nothing to help lift the burdens. They seek places of honor.

Jesus encourages the crowd to focus on the spiritual teachings of God’s words. To live a life of service. Serve others from your heart, not for honors or status. Families are to be compassionate to one another. Married partners are to live lives that are pleasing to each other. WE are to feed the hungry, visit the sick and clothe the naked. We are to do all these things and more with humility because “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt 23:12)

Homily on Matthew 23: 1-12
By William Loader, Murdoch University, Australia
This is the chapter of woes. It represents a massive expansion of what Mark brings in 12:37-40. Mark 12 then ends with the account of the widow and her generous meager offering to the temple. She stands in contrast to the scribes and Pharisees against whom the woes have been spoken and who rip off widows and the vulnerable. Matthew omits the story of the widow. The result is that the woes against the scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23 lead directly to the prediction of God’s judgment on the temple and Jerusalem in chapter 24. In the chapter of woes Matthew has expanded Mark with a large block of material drawn from Q (found also in Luke 11:39-52). Matthew’s rule of exposition is that there is no room for smugness. Each of these charges may be just as applicable to the Christian community at some stage and history supports him.

It begins with an extraordinary statement about the scribes and Pharisees. They ‘sit on Moses’ seat’ (23:2). That means they exercise authority for the administration of the Law in the broader social context where Matthew and his communities live, somewhere probably in the area of Galilee or southern Syria. There were not many places where this would have been the case, but it was so here in the late first century and the dominant group in Judaism by that time were the Pharisees. Galilee became their power base not long after the destruction of the temple and from there their influence spread. So Matthew’s own situation is being reflected in this opening verse. A few other things are worth noting. The authority of Moses is not doubted; the Law, enshrined in Scripture, abides. Matthew and his community believe that, really, they should be the ones sitting there, but, until that is the case, the Law and its interpreters is to be respected.

A distinction then emerges in relation to the authority of those sitting on Moses’ seat. Do what they say, not what they do (23:3) . People may need to say this of us at times, but here more blatant hypocrisy is envisaged. There is then another distinction which emerges. These interpreters of scripture also impose unrealistic burdens on people and offer no help to them to fulfil them (23:4). This appears to contradict the exhortation that one should do whatever they say, but the distinction being made is probably in relation to finer points. It is the difference between: here is the Law and this is what it should mean for you in detail. Matthew disputes the latter.

Matthew’s whole approach to scripture is to interpret it on the basis of the love commands. Compassion and love dictate the way Scripture should apply, not a kind of legalistic bureaucracy which assumes God is a control freak. When God is our big ego writ large, then people will be abused in the name of purity or holiness or obedience. In every generation we can find examples of destructiveness done in the name of Scripture or even by means of Scripture. The challenges of chapter 23 have a way of coming home to roost.

Verses 5-7 take up the charges found in Mark 12:37-39. People bent on power surround themselves with the trappings of power, which are often designed to reinforce their claim. What we wear, where we sit, how we are greeted – these are elements of the persona we want people to see and respect. Behind it is often a frail yearning for love which has been met by such compensatory strategies. Abuse of others is frequently the result of exploiting others to meet our own stifled needs. The abuse may be as apparently harmless as captivating congregations with our preaching, framing our communities so that we are constantly affirmed, developing dependency on us among other needy people. Sometimes our garments (and what we do and where we sit) may serve the opposite: to remind ourselves and others that we are here to fulfill a task and are not pretending that we are doing it because we have arrived. If so, we will need to be straight about that. We are beggars telling other beggars where to find bread and occasionally it will help other beggars find the way if we wear a red cross, so to speak.

Matthew follows his principle of no elitism by directing similar warnings in 8-12 to the disciples. There is no place for either sitting back in smug judgement of others nor for imagining that being a follower of Jesus automatically protects us from falling into the very patterns we abhor in them. Matthew is very grounded. He hears the word of Jesus for his generation and it has abiding worth. So we, too, are to avoid playing games with titles. It appears that ‘rabbi’ first became a title of honour in the period when Matthew was writing, so the mention of ‘rabbi’ is particularly apt. ‘Father’ and ‘teacher’ are some of the options; we have plenty more.

If you are in ministry primarily to compensate for a low sense of your own importance, think again. Don’t dive into depression and use the thought to put yourself down even further. Believe the importance God affirms in you. Consume it in the eucharist so it becomes part of your being. The more you do so and remain conscious of what you are doing and not doing, the less you will be fussed by the titles and all they symbolise and the less you will stand in succession to the kind of behaviour attacked here. The badges you might have to wear and titles you might have to carry will, like the vestments, be able to serve their true purpose: aids, if needed, to recognising roles and functions.

It is simply not so that Matthew is kidding the disciples that there is no self interest involved in leadership and so fostering the big lie that goes for piety according to which there is no self interest in what we do – a lie which often has disastrous consequences, especially when we are left with our real self interest ignored which is therefore likely to make itself felt subversively. Matthew’s Jesus invites the disciples to think about greatness and what it mean to be lifted up. That is the clear motivation in 23:11-12. We want to be great; we want to do well. We want to be what God made us to be. We want to do what God wants us to do. We want to be so connected with God that what we want and what God wants become one. God wants us to be great. God wants us to rise up.

When we move towards seeing God’s interests and our best interests and the best interests of others, when we get in touch with God’s being as love, when we see that this is not a distraction from life but being truly in touch with life and the life giver, then we will take a big breath and dive. Let us be great in love. The magic is that here true self interest, God’s interests, the world’s best interests come together as one. It also means that we can stop playing games to conjure up alternative systems of worth where others are made to serve our distorted notion of self interest and where God and spirituality become a powerful weapon in our arsenal. Perhaps seeing all this first in a setting of ministry – the way Matthew leads us – will help us see that the same kinds of issues confront our hearers as much as ourselves as preachers.





Lectio Divina from the Carmelites


• Today’s Gospel is part of a long criticism of Jesus against the Scribes and the Pharisees (Mt 23, 1-39). Luke and Mark mention only a few lines of this criticism against the religious heads of the time. It is only the Gospel of Matthew which has a longer presentation of this. This very severe text makes us foresee the polemics which existed in the communities of Matthew with the communities of the Jews of Galilee and Syria of that time.

• In reading this text, which is strongly contrary to the one of the Pharisees, we have to be very attentive so as not to be unjust against the Jewish People. We Christians, for centuries, have had attitudes against the Jews and, for this reason, against the Christians. What is important in meditating these texts is to discover their objective. Jesus condemns the lack of coherence and of sincerity in the relationship with God and with the neighbour. He is speaking about hypocrisy, that of yesterday as well as that of today, of our hypocrisy!

• Matthew 23, 1-3: The basic error: they say, but they do not do. Jesus addresses himself to the multitude and to the disciples and criticizes the Scribes and the Pharisees. The reason for attacking them is the incoherence between their words and their acts. They speak but they do not do. Jesus recognizes the authority and the knowledge of the Scribes “The Scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses! You must, therefore, do and observe what they tell you, but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach”.

• Matthew 23, 4-7: The fundamental error is manifested in diverse ways. The fundamental error is incoherence: “They say, but they do not do”. Jesus enumerates the diverse points which reveal this incoherence. Some Scribes and Pharisees imposed heavy laws upon the people. They knew the Laws well, but they did not practise them; neither did they use their knowledge to lessen the weight imposed upon the people. They did everything possible to be seen and praised, they wore special tunics for prayer and they liked the first places and to be greeted in the public squares. They wanted to be called “Teacher”. They represented a type of community which maintained, legitimized and nourished the difference of social classes. It legitimized the privileges of the great and the inferior position of the little ones. Now, if there is something which displeases Jesus, it is appearances which deceive.

• Matthew 23, 8-12: How to overcome the fundamental error. How should a Christian community be? All the community functions should be assumed as a service: “The greatest among you must be your servant!” You should call nobody Teacher (Rabbi), nor Father, nor Guide; because the community of Jesus has to maintain, legitimize and nourish not the differences, but rather the fraternal spirit. This is the fundamental Law: “You are all brothers and sisters!” The fraternal spirit comes from the experience that Jesus is Father, and makes of all of us brothers and sisters. “Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.”

• The group of the Pharisees!
The group of the Pharisees was born in the II century before Christ, with the proposal of a more perfect observance of the Law of God, especially regarding the prescriptions on purity. They were more open to novelty than the Sadducees. For example, they accepted faith in the Resurrection and faith in the angels, something which the Sadducees did not accept. The life of the Pharisees was an exemplary witness: they prayed and studied the Law during eight hours a day; they worked eight hours in order to be able to survive; they dedicated eight hours to rest. This is the reason why people respected them very much. And in this way, they helped people to keep their own identity and not to lose it, in the course of centuries.

The so-called Pharisaic mentality. With time, the Pharisees took hold of power and no longer listened to the appeals of the people, nor did they allow them to speak. The word “Pharisee” means “separated”. Their observance was so strict and rigorous that they separated themselves from the rest of the people. This is why they were called “separated”. From this comes the expression “pharisaic mentality”. It is typical of the persons who think to obtain justice through the rigid and rigorous observance of the Law. Generally, they are persons who are afraid, who do not have the courage to assume the risk of liberty and of the responsibility. They hide themselves behind the Law and the authority. When these persons obtain an important function, they become harsh and insensitive and indifferent to hide their own imperfection.

Rabbi, Guide, Teacher, Father. These are four titles that Jesus prohibits people to use. Today, in Church, the priests are called “Father”. Many study in the University of the Church and obtain the title of “Doctor” (Teacher). Many persons receive spiritual direction and take advice from persons who are called “Spiritual directors” (Guides). What is important is to take into account the reason which impelled Jesus to prohibit the use of these titles. If these were used by persons in order to affirm their position of authority and their power, these persons would be in error and would be criticized by Jesus. If these titles were used to nourish and deepen the fraternal spirit and service, they would not be criticized by Jesus.


Personal questions


• Which is my reason for living and working in community?
• How does the community help me to correct and to improve my motivations?


Concluding Prayer


I am listening.
What is God’s message?
Yahweh’s message is peace for his people,
for his faithful, if only they renounce their folly. (Ps 85,8)

Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore


SCRIPTURE READINGS:  EZ 43:1-7; PS: 84: 9-14; MT 23:1-12

Ezekiel was a prophet before and during exile.  He saw the disastrous destruction of the temple by the Babylonians.  But he was asked to give hope to the Israelites in exile.  He prophesied the return to Jerusalem and the restoration of the Temple of Jerusalem.  He had a vision of the Temple of Jerusalem filled with the glory of God where God lived.

However, the restored temple could not be compared to Solomon’s glorious temple.  This brought them great sadness.  Hence, the prophet spoke of a greater temple which is in the hearts of man.  God wants to dwell in our land.  That is the prayer of the responsorial psalm, “The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.”  The message is that God lives in all. He will give us a new heart and pour His Spirit in us.  But before God can live in us, we need to repent, like the Israelites in exile.  God can only live in hearts that are ready to accept Him.  Only when God is worshipped can God also dwell in our land.

Today, the Church as the Body of Christ is the New Temple of God.  And as individuals, because His Spirit lives in us, we are also the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  It is from this perspective that we are called to be the sign and sacrament of God’s presence in the world, a world that is becoming fragmented and divisive, godless and valueless, because of secularism. In such a secularized climate, all the more, priests and Church leaders, lay or religious, are called to communicate the presence of God to the world.

However, if the Church lacks power in the work of evangelization today, it is because many of us priests, religious and lay leaders are lacking in holiness and apostolic zeal.  Indeed, Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders of His day could well apply to us all in different ways.  Like them, consciously or unconsciously, we are not living examples of holiness.  We might be doing “church work”, but more as an activity or a duty, rather than consciously doing it for the love and glory of God.  Quite often, instead of glorifying God together, we scandalize the world with our inner division and power play to control and dominate.

We live lives of contradiction because what we say is not what we do.  We teach forgiveness but we do not want to forgive.  We talk about unity and communion, but we cannot live in communion with each other.  We speak of humility but we want honour, recognition and acknowledgement.  We speak of vulnerability, but we are easily hurt by the remarks of others. We talk about service, but we are concerned with controlling others and being served.

Indeed, the words of Jesus to His disciples could well apply to us. “You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them?  Not they!”  Isn’t this reprimand of Jesus applicable to all of us, regardless whether we are priests or lay?  We all are leaders in our own fields.  We are hard on those under our care who fail in their duties.  We give them the dos and don’ts.  Yet we do just the opposite ourselves. We cannot live up to what we tell others.  How sad indeed when we are reduced to this state, for words without actions lack power!  Yes, Pope Paul VI reminds us that what the world needs is not teachers but witnesses!  If our teaching has not changed lives, it is because we lack credibility.  In a word, the glory of God is not radiating from our very beings.

For this reason, we all need a renewal in holiness of life.  This is what the Holy Father, the late John Paul II in his apostolic letter Millennio Ineunute, asks of us all.  He wrote that if we are to be ready for the work of evangelization, then the starting point is to train ourselves in holiness. Holiness is intrinsic to the ministry and presupposes the ministry. Without holiness, all that we say will sound hollow and hypocritical.  Unless others see that what we say is working and transforming our lives, why should they even bother to try?

If we are lacking in holiness, perhaps the root cause can be traced to formation.  Our Catholics are not taking their formation in spiritual life seriously.  How many of our Catholics, after completing their RCIA, are making time for spiritual formation by attending talks or enrolling in courses?  Can one grow in spiritual life without ongoing formation or spending time to do a personal retreat?  Worse still, many of us do not even make time for prayer and meditation on the Word of God.  Yet we are serving the Church in different ministries, often holding important and critical positions in the Church.  How can our clerical and lay leaders be discerning and be exemplary in Christian life if they are not filled with the glory of God?

Today, we are called to turn to Christ who is our true teacher and master.  We are not the teacher but only the servant of Christ.  We cannot call ourselves “Father” unless we show the face of our Heavenly Father in our lives.  All that we do must lead people to Jesus, and through Him, to the Heavenly Father.  Without enrolling in the school of our Lord, learning from Him our sole Teacher, we cannot be teachers to others, whether at Church, in the offices or to our children.

We are called to look towards Him as our exemplar in humility in service.  Jesus said, “The greatest among you must be your servant.  Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”  This is the only acceptable reason for leadership.  We seek to be a humble servant for Christ and His people by being the servant of the Gospel both in word and deed, as the Prophet Ezekiel was in his prophetic words and actions.  Thus, it is necessarily to be purified of our motives.  Let us ask for the gift of humility today so that, aware of our own inadequacies, we will come to the Lord for inspiration and guidance.  We must turn to Christ our teacher and master in prayer, asking for that grace to grow in holiness, zeal and most of all, in humility and charity.

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Current U.S. “Strategy” for Islamic State “Is Only To Contain It, Not Destroy It” — Obama calls It “Cancer”

August 22, 2014


The Islamic State has no place in this century, is ideologically bankrupt, and is a cancer infecting the entire world that must be stopped, US President Barack Obama said sternly on Wednesday, in his sharpest words yet on the group after one of its fighters beheaded an American journalist on camera.

“The entire world is appalled,” Obama said in a statement to the press at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

“ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings,” he continued. “Their ideology is bankrupt,” Obama said.

But at the Pentagon Thursday, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff highlighted the difference between the obvious threat and the Obama administrations plan of action.

'We're looking at all the options': U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey speak to the media during a press briefing at the Pentagon

‘We’re looking at all the options': U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey speak to the media during a press briefing at the Pentagon

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Extend campaign against the Islamic State into Syria, say U.S. officials as Assad turns from enemy into ally of the West

  • Islamic State cannot be defeated while it has safe havens in Syria, says U.S.
  • Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP says West needs to work with Bashar Assad of Syria
  • ‘Islamic State are beyond anything we have seen,’ says Chuck Hagel

By Associated Press and Reuters and Damien Gayle for MailOnline

America and its allies must extend the campaign against the Islamic State into Syria, say U.S. military officials.

The U.S. has so far restricted its military action to Iraq, but there are concerns the action against the terror group will not be effective while it still has safe havens across the border.

U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon last night that the current strategy can only contain Islamic State, not defeat it.

‘This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated,’ he said.

‘Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border.’



In the UK senior Tory MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Secretary of State for Defence, went even further, saying the West must be prepared to work with Syria’s pariah president, Bashar al-Assad, to fight Islamic State.

Tory MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Sir Malcolm Rifkind

‘Sometimes you have to develop relationships with people who are extremely nasty in order to get rid of people who are even nastier,’ Sir Malcolm told the Financial Times.

The comments came after U.S. air strikes helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces regain their footing in Iraq, including the recapture of the strategically vital Mosul dam which had been seized by militants.

But U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, who spoke alongside Gen. Dempsey at the Pentagon, warned that the Well-resourced militants from Islamic State can be expected to regroup and counter-attack.

‘We’re looking at all options,’ said Mr Hagel, who said the group, which has capitalised on the disenfranchisement of millions of Iraqi and Syrian Sunni Muslims, was the biggest terror threat the world has ever seen.

‘They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else,’ said Mr Hagel.

Asked if Islamic State posed a threat to the United States comparable to that of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hagel said the group was ‘as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen.

‘They are beyond just a terrorist group,’ he said. ‘They marry ideology, a sophistication of … military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we’ve seen.’

The stepping up of rhetoric against the Islamic State – which is alternatively known as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), or ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) – came after the group apparently released a video showing the gruesome murder of an American photojournalist, James Foley.

Militants from the group, which is so extreme in its tactics and ideology it has even been disowned by Al-Qaeda, has seized territory across northern Iraq, but its power base is in regions of Syria rendered lawless by the three-year-old civil war against President Assad’s Ba’ath Party regime – a secular socialist dictatorship.

In Iraq, the anger of Sunni Muslims sidelined by the Shia-led government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was said to have helped engender public support for the advances of Islamic State militants.

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The Islamic State insurgency in northern Iraq and Syria is, it seems, leading to a significant redrawing of political allegiances across the Middle East – at least temporarily.

Calls for political engagement with the Ba’athist regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as the theocrats of Iran have made them unlikely potential bedfellows of the U.S. and its European allies.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Just 12 months ago, Western lawmakers were seriously debating launching air strikes against Syrian Army positions in an effort to halt its resistance to rebels who sought to overthrow the dictatorship.

Now those very rebels’ Syrian strongholds are all but in the sights of the U.S. Air Force’s drones and bombers, while a senior UK parliamentarian has identified Assad as the enemy’s enemy who is now our friend.

Iran too was facing the threat of military action to halt the nuclear programme which Israel, in particular, feared was working towards an atomic weapons programme.

But with the U.S. saying it may deploy limited ‘boots on the ground’ to defend American interests in Baghdad there is the bizarre prospect of GIs standing shoulder to shoulder with Iranian Revolutionary Guards already stationed in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Israel’s recent air and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, ostensibly against Hamas militants but effectively hitting thousands of Palestinian civilians, has seen the Jewish state’s international standing plummet.

And there are questions about how far Islamic State’s power and influence is down to the help of wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich U.S. ally.

The kingdom is well-known for espousing a fanatic form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, whose adherents, like the Islamic State’s militants, are violently opposed to the beliefs of Shia Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere.

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