World Council for the Cedar's Revolution
Freedom and Democracy in Lebanon- CommentaryAnalysis
Wednesday November 15, 2006
Commnet, Carnegie Arab Reform Bulletin, November 15, 2006
Hezbollah, the Shiite movement that has become Lebanon's dominant party, realizes that Lebanon's sectarian nature will not allow it to dominate the country's consensus-based politics. This sets Hezbollah apart from other Islamist organizations in the region, some of which can realistically hope to come to power if free elections were held. Hezbollah has recalibrated its ambitions accordingly. It lifted its initial opposition to the 1989 Taif Accord (which ended Lebanon's civil war and redistributed power among sects) and gradually integrated into Lebanese political and social life.
Hezbollah's pragmatism, however, should not be mistaken for genuine acceptance of Lebanon's confessional system and the constraints that come with it. Since Hezbollah cannot tear down the formal sectarian power-sharing structure and impose its preferred system of governance, the party has worked around this obstacle by formally accepting the Taif state while developing ways to remain, in effect, above the system.
Hezbollah has placed itself above the Lebanese political system, considering itself purer and more principled than other parties, which are dismissed as incompetent, corrupt, and perfidious. Furthermore, Hezbollah has always called for political and social reform in its electoral platforms, and it has been rightly praised for its good management practices, which stand in stark contrast to the corrupt and nepotistic ways of Lebanon's traditional elite. Because of this contrast, Hezbollah is able to avoid sharing the blame for Lebanon's ills, even though it is the country's pivotal party and holds considerable sway over domestic and foreign policies. It is also able to cultivate the notion that some of its policy choices, including perpetual resistance against Israel, cannot be questioned.
Hezbollah, according to conventional wisdom, exists in part to right the wrongs of political underrepresentation and economic disenfranchisement of Lebanon's large Shiite community. It would therefore make sense to expect Hezbollah to champion political reform; after all, more institutionalized Shiite power would translate into more Hezbollah power. But to believe that Hezbollah seeks to advocate Shiite rights within the state framework is to fundamentally misread its objectives. Reform would actually undermine the political strategy that has enabled Hezbollah to maintain its special status and impose its objectives on the rest of the country. Hezbollah has built parallel quasi-governmental structures that provide its followers with a sense of empowerment in lieu of advancing their interests within the framework of the Lebanese state—not because Hezbollah cannot, but because it prefers not to. In other words, Hezbollah by far prefers being a state within a state to any alternative, barring perhaps a complete (and unlikely) domination of Lebanon's political scene.
In Lebanon's consensus-based politics, monopolizing Shiite representation guarantees that no combination of political forces can compel Hezbollah to abide by rules or principles it deems contrary to its interests, unless its opponents are willing to risk civil war. By promoting the belief that its disarmament would be tantamount to turning back the clock on Shiite progress, Hezbollah has built a sectarian shield for its weapons.
Thus, Hezbollah has exploited Lebanon's openness and democratic inclinations. To be fair, the rest of Lebanon's political elite is also not serious about political reform. Yet the difference between Hezbollah and Lebanon's other politicians is fundamental; the former hijacks the system for ideological reasons and the latter abuse it to promote parochial political and economic interests.
Hezbollah cannot be a reformist force in Lebanese politics so long as it seeks to remain inside and above the system at the same time. Reform should rank high on the list of Lebanese politicians' priorities, because calling Hezbollah's bluff by pointing out that it does not seek institutional reform provides an opportunity to undermine one of Hezbollah's main levers of power and influence.
Such an emphasis on reform is unlikely, however, because after the recent conflict Lebanon has entered a new era of political paralysis and brinksmanship.
The failure of the dialogue initiative launched recently by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri shows Lebanese politicians' lack of commitment to addressing the fundamental issues plaguing the country. Such initiatives actually feed the deadlock by turning the focus of Lebanese to details such as timing, topics, participants, and format. The reverberations of the tense regional environment will only exacerbate this sad state of affairs by providing more opportunities for grandstanding and finger-pointing at the expense of a much-needed dialogue over reform.
Emile El-Hokayem is a research fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington DC.
MEMRI: Qods (Jerusalem) Day in Iran:
'The Nation of Muslims Must Prepare to Completely Wipe Out the Zionist Regime and to Remove This Cancerous Growth'
Special Dispatch Series - No. 1357 November 15, 2006 No.1357
On the occasion of Qods (Jerusalem) Day, which was observed this year in
TO VIEW THIS CLIP ON MEMRI TV, VISIT:
The articles in Resalat and Kayhan said thatthe recent Lebanon war was only
On October 19, 2006, the conservative daily Kayhan, which is close to Iran's
"On this basis [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice came to the Middle
"Hizbullah stood fast in Israel's 33-day war against Lebanon, and proved
"When the air force of the Zionist Regime, together with its warships,
"With the downing of one of the Tel Aviv regime's advanced night-flight
"The 33-day war ended without any of the goals that had been declared by the
"In the 33-day war, the Lebanese Hizbullah destroyed at least 50% of Israel
"According to this description, just as in one 33-day war more than 50% of
Resalat: "The Great War is Ahead of Us, [And Will Break Out] Perhaps
In an October 22, 2006 editorial titled "Preparations for the Great War,"
"For the first time in the 60 years of its disgraceful life, the Zionist
"The Zionist regime and its supporters are, without doubt, preparing for the
"This sense of danger on the part of the supporters of the counterfeit
"In any event, we must be alert. Sights and rumors can tell us about the
"The Muslim peoples in the region must stop this conspiracy before it
"It must not be forgotten that the great war is ahead of us, [and it will
MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may only be used with
Netanyahu: Iran like 1938 Germany [with video link]
Speaking to Army Radio on Tuesday, Netanyahu said Israel must do everything
"Iran is Germany," said Netanyahu, "that is arming itself with atomic bombs
Netanyahu listed a number of options at Israel's disposal as a means of
"We must do everything to ensure that [US President] Bush holds to his
"Israel has the capability, but if we wait years it will no longer exist,"
"Iran's goals are global," he continued, "and we are the first target. Every
In addition, Netanyahu suggested that Israel should file a complaint with
"I will give the Prime Minister full support. We must come together and
Netanyahu claimed the international community was taking Ahamdinejad's
Our World: The second-worst option
The documents in question contained Iraqi nuclear bomb designs that could be
In response to the Times story an international security Web site run by Ray
The Kuwaiti report maintains that the Syrian nuclear program relies "on
The program "was originally built on the remains of the Iraqi program after
This report echoes warnings expressed by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in
ACCORDING TO the US Senate's Prewar Intelligence Review Phase II, which
In the weeks and months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US,
In his State of the Union Address in 2002, Bush placed Iraq in the same
The post-Saddam insurgency in Iraq - an insurgency largely facilitated and
Iraq is a war zone today. But it does not have, and likely will not acquire
IN THE summer of 2003, assessing future trends on the basis of the US-led
But as the months and years have progressed it has become clear that far
The ascent of the most dangerous regimes in the world to the status of
For their part, most of the nations of the world have looked on with
Ban's apparent moral and strategic dementia is of a piece with the
Russia and China have responded to both Pyongyang and Teheran's nuclear
AS FOR the US, Iran, North Korea and al-Qaida have all been quick to
Reasonably, the world is now assessing the US through the prism of its
Last week the London's Sunday Times reported that Algeria, Egypt, Morocco,
It is not hard to see the lesson of these developments. As the Iraq campaign
Relating this wisdom to Iran earlier this year, Senator John McCain said,
The US and its allies are paying a high price for having successfully
MEMRITV: Cmdr of Iran's Revolutionary Guards: We Have Thousands of Martyrdom Seekers
*Clip # 1314- Iranian Revoulutionary Guard Corps Commander Yahya Safavi: We
Yahya Safavi: We have sea-to-sea missiles and surface-to-sea missiles, which
In these wargames, we displayed and tested only a part of these
We have managed to design all the spare parts, all the equipment, and even
Under the present circumstances, the Americans are deeply embroiled in the
We do not rely only on defense technology. The IRGC has thousands of
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MEMRI TV Project
Nassrallah : we have nothing to do with current Lebanese government
Meeting more than 7 thousands Lebanese citizens from Beirut's
"We will never forget our people . and as we said the first day
"This is our country . we sacrificed tens thousands of martyrs,
Tuesday November 14, 2006
Lebanon's Factions Edge Toward Renewed Hostilities
The tensions in Lebanon, a country only recently seen as a beacon of hope for democracy in the Middle East, also intensified as the U.N. Security Council gave its tacit approval for the United Nations to hand over the legal blueprint for the tribunal to the Lebanese government.
Adding to the tensions, Syrian allies — who could be accused of taking part in the 2005 assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, under the tribunal — resigned their posts in the Lebanese government and threatened street protests.
The shifting political landscape in Lebanon has pitted Christian Syria supporters allied with pro-Iranian Shiite parties against Sunni Arabs linked to Saudi Arabia who have joined with Maronite Christians aligned with France. The terrorist group Hezbollah, fresh from its declaration of victory over Israel following their summer war, has led the well-orchestrated pro-Syrian charge.
The current crisis started last week after Russia — under pressure from the American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton — removed most of its objections to the U.N. plan for the new tribunal, which would try suspects in the Hariri assassination and other politically motivated killings. The U.N. plan calls for a joint tribunal composed of Lebanese and international judges that would likely hold trials in neighboring Cyprus.
As U.N. representatives handed over their plan to the Lebanese government on Friday, the Shiite representatives in the country's 24-member Cabinet — two members of Hezbollah and three of its allied Shiite party, Amal — resigned their posts. On Sunday, a Christian minister allied with the pro-Syrian Christian president, Emile Lahoud, resigned as well.
The resignations were officially attributed to the unsuccessful negotiations last week to form a coalition government that would increase the representation of the pro-Syrian faction. But they were universally interpreted as a Syrian-inspired maneuver to prevent the formation of the tribunal.
"Bashar Assad has tried to create civil strife in Lebanon ever since he left" the country under Lebanese and international pressure, the Washington-based leader of the pro-democracy Reform Party of Syria, Farid Ghadry, said.
Syrian officials have grown increasingly concerned about the possibility that U.N.-appointed judges would conduct trials alongside Lebanese judges against suspects that presumably will be named soon by the U.N. investigator Serge Brammertz. In the past, U.N. investigators have linked Mr. Assad's allies and family members to the Hariri assassination.
On Sunday, Mr. Lahoud said in a statement directed at Lebanon's Sunni prime minister, Fouad Siniora, that after this weekend's resignations, his government had "lost its constitutional legitimacy and, as a result, any Cabinet meeting is anti-constitutional and worthless."
In another ominous development, Hezbollah said it will begin street protests in Beirut. The group will likely be joined by forces loyal to the Christian strongman Michel Aoun, who was ousted in 1990 as army general because of his opposition to Syria but is now a leading advocate of Syria.
On the other side are followers of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who was once pro-Syrian but is now a leader of the opposition to Syria, as well as Maronites affiliated with the so-called Christian Phalangas, led currently by a former president, Amin Gemayel, and a clan leader convicted of his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, Samir Geagea.
The Lebanese government's approval of the tribunal is "100% valid under the constitution," Mr. Gemayel told the Christian radio station Voice of Lebanon. He said Lebanon "will never retreat" on its decision to try the assassins.
Mr. Geagea said last week that if Hezbollah takes to the streets, his followers will confront it. Yesterday, he warned against "small groups that would take advantage of the situation and carry out orders from the Syrian intelligence apparatus to destabilize the situation in the country."
Does the UN need Lebanon's consent for Hariri court?
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
With some voices demanding the establishment of the tribunal even if it were against the Parliament's consent, the main question here is: Can the UN Security Council impose such a tribunal on the Lebanese without their explicit consent and on what legal bases?
The UN Security Council has twice established independent tribunals - in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda - through a binding resolution. How did the council legalize the establishment of these tribunals?
International tribunals constitute a precarious violation of the principles of nonintervention and respect for states' sovereignty, which are guaranteed by the UN Charter. For example, Article 2 of the Charter stipulates that:
"Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state ... but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII."
Accordingly, the Security Council cannot violate a states' sovereignty and impose international tribunals unless acting under Chapter VII of the Charter. Due to the potentially grave consequences of such measures, the UN stipulates strict conditions for triggering a Chapter VII resolution pursuant to Article 39 of the Charter. According to Article 39, the council must first determine that a certain situation constitutes a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or an act of aggression before taking any decision - including the formation of international tribunals- under Chapter VII.
Resolution 827 (1993), which established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was based on a new post-Cold War concept of international law - namely humanitarian intervention. Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, the council declared that widespread violations of humanitarian law such as mass killings; massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women; and the continuance of the practice of "ethnic cleansing" constitute a "threat to international peace and security."
After making an Article 39 determination, the resolution established an international tribunal for "prosecuting persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia."
Resolution 955 (1994) established an international tribunal for Rwanda, also based on the concept of humanitarian intervention. This resolution stated that widespread violations of international humanitarian law such as genocide "constitute a threat to international peace and security." Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, the council decided "to establish an international tribunal for the sole purpose of prosecuting persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda..."
In resolution 1593 (2005) the Security Council, after taking into consideration the violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Darfur, determined that "the situation in Sudan continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security." Based upon this determination, the council issued a Chapter VII resolution and referred "the situation in Darfur to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court."
Applying the same logic to the Lebanese crisis, the Security Council must first determine that the attack constitutes a threat to international peace and security pursuant to Article 39 of the Charter before establishing any international tribunal.
The first UN resolution relating the Hariri killing, UNSCR 1595 (2005), did not make any reference to Article 39. Unlike the cases above, the situation in Lebanon did not include mass violations of international humanitarian law. Accordingly, any resolution that establishes an international tribunal without the government's consent or without a reference to Article 39 would be an illegal resolution; i.e. a resolution that violates the main principles of international law.
So, how can the council establish such a tribunal without violating the principles of international law?
The answer to this question lies in a statement issued by the council on February 15, 2005, condemning "the 14 February 2005 terrorist bombing in Beirut," and also in the third paragraph of Resolution 1595 (2005), which states: "The Security Council ... reaffirming its unequivocal condemnation of the 14 February 2005 terrorist bombing in Beirut ..."
By describing the attack as a terrorist act, the council placed any subsequent resolution on relatively permissive legal terrain. Terrorism, according to previous Security Council resolutions, is considered a threat to international peace and security. The main resolutions that concentrated this new post-Cold War jurisprudence are resolutions 1373 (2001) and 1566 (2004).
UNSCR 1373, which was issued after September 11, 2001 attacks, said that international terrorism "constitutes a threat to international peace and security." And UNSCR 1566 reaffirmed that "terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to peace and security."
Accordingly, when the council described the action committed in Beirut as a terrorist attack, it has directly subjected Resolution 1595 to Resolutions 1373 and 1566. These resolutions are issued under Chapter VII of the Charter and impose upon all state members certain obligations, which when violated may pave the way for coercive actions taken by the Security Council.
Therefore, Resolution 1595 is a Chapter VI resolution with a Chapter VII consequence.
Any Security Council resolution to establish an international tribunal for the prosecution of suspects in the February 2005 attack must be based upon the notion of terrorism as a threat to international peace and security.
Such a resolution must be made under Chapter VII of the Charter if it's going to be imposed upon the Lebanese government without its consent. The Hariri case could well set a new precedent in which terrorism (rather than violations of international humanitarian law) is cited as cause for establishing an independent international or hybrid tribunal.
This analysis is supported by UNSCR 1636 (2005), in which the Security Council reaffirmed its previous Resolutions 1595 (2005), 1373 (2001) and 1566 (2004), and which explicitly determined that the attack that took place in Beirut was a "terrorist act and its implications constitute a threat to international peace and security." Based upon this logic, the council issued an explicit Chapter VII resolution and decided on measures which are binding to the states concerned.
Accordingly, this terrorist attack is subjected to three Chapter VII resolutions: 1373, 1566, and 1636. All three resolutions impose upon all states concerned certain obligations, which when violated may pave the way for coercive nonmilitary and military sanctions mentioned under Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter.
What are the obligations imposed upon the states concerned with respect to these three resolutions and to the foreseen international tribunal?
According to the UN resolutions governing the terrorist bombing taken place in Beirut, all states must cooperate fully with the investigation commission and the international tribunal and give the greatest measure of assistance, including giving information, in connection with the criminal investigation or criminal proceedings relating to the terrorist act.
In addition, all states must freeze funds and other financial resources of persons who committed or participated or facilitated the above-mentioned terrorist act and must prohibit any persons and entities within their territories from providing any funds for any person who has committed or participated or facilitated this terrorist act.
Furthermore, all states must cooperate fully in order to find, deny safe haven and bring to justice, to extradite or prosecute any person who supported, facilitated, participated in or attempted to participate in the financing, planning, preparation or commission of this terrorist act in order to ensure that this act will be punished by penalties consistent with its grave nature.
Moreover, all states must refrain from giving any assistance and deny safe haven to those who financed, planned, supported, or committed the terrorist attack and must prevent the free movement of the terrorists involved in that attack by effective border control.
Following these obligations mentioned under resolutions 1373, 1566, and 1636, it becomes apparent that any resolution establishing a tribunal of an international character must refer to the above resolutions and must be based upon a Chapter VII resolution.
Hence only a Chapter VII resolution can enforce the above-mentioned obligations not only for Lebanon but also for every state concerned. According to this logic, the Security Council will impose the international tribunal irrespective of the states' attitudes.
Whether the Lebanese government accepts the tribunal's draft or not and whether the Lebanese Parliament ratifies the draft or not, the council will issue a self-binding Chapter VII resolution to ensure the states' compliance and cooperation with the proposed tribunal. Any state which refuses to cooperate with the foreseen tribunal will risk subjecting itself to the punitive consequences mentioned under Article 41 and 42 of the UN Charter.
Monday November 13, 2006
General Michel Aoun: Fading Halos & Falling Masks
In a public gathering held on October 28/06, with mayors and dignitaries from the Lebanese regions of Keserwan and Jbeil, General Michel Aoun said: "There is another important matter, for every time someone slaps someone else, Syria is accused. Fourteen crimes took place in 2005, and Syria was accused, the truth remains similar to Rajeh's Story, (A Lebanese folk tale in which all wrongdoings, bad behavior and acts are attributed to an imaginary person named Rajeh)
The frame of mind and tunnel vision in which General Michel Aoun has imprisoned himself during the last 10 months are sad and extremely shocking. He has assumed the role of a staunch advocate and guardian angel for the Syrian regime and its Lebanese agents. He brags loudly about this mission wherever he goes and whenever he delivers a speech, gives a statement or even engages in private conversations. He has not only allied himself with Hezbollah and adopted its Iranian- Syrian schemes for Lebanon, but he has become an umbrella that gathers under its shade the rest of the pro-Syrian Lebanese officials, parties and politicians from all categories of Arabists and fundamentalists.
One wonders what has happened to this big leader's credibility and memory after his return to Lebanon in May 2005 after 16 years of exile in France.
How could he even think that the Lebanese people will buy his fishy and questionable endeavors to label the Syrian regime and its Lebanese agents as pure and innocent? How could he simply expect that they should not be automatically tagged as main suspects in any crime, assassination attempt, booby-trapped vehicles or any sort of chaos in Lebanon.
Isn't he the same man who, all through eighteen years, has been building his popularity and reputation on courageously exposing their evil and criminal terrorist roles?
No the Lebanese people are not that naive and their memory is extremely vivid; they can not forget that Syria has occupied their country for almost thirty years, destroyed its institutions, stole its fortunes, forced its youth to emigration, messed with its delicate demographic balance, enslaved, persecuted, kidnapped, imprisoned and killed thousands and thousands of innocent civilians.
How can they forget that Hezbollah, Lebanon's major threat, was and still is, nurtured, sponsored and used by Syria and Iran?
In this editorial the focus will be on the text of a lecture the General delivered at The Foundation For the Defense of Democracies-Washington DC, March 7, 2003 in the realm of his political advocacy campaign to convince the US Congress to pass the "Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003".
The main aims of this piece are:
2- A genuine and conscientious review of General Aoun's platforms, declared national convictions, promises, statements, practices and alliances in two separate eras, the first one while he was in power as PM (1988-1990) and in exile for 16 years (1991-2005), and the second one since his return to Lebanon on May/7/2005.
For 18 years he proudly and courageously carried Lebanon's cause of freedom, sovereignty, human rights, liberation and the Lebanese Christians' attachment to the Land of the Cedars. His struggle was successful and was crowned by Lebanon's liberation from the Syrian occupation in early 2005. But sadly and to the surprise of many of his supporters, especially among his own Christian community, he suddenly turned against all his declared convictions, negated all his long time documented platforms, abandoned all his previous pro-state sovereignty stances, sided with Hezbollah and with all the rest of the pro-Syrian Lebanese officials, parties and politicians. His only focus became merely the presidency post, and accordingly he resorted to manipulation, propaganda, demagogy and denominational instigation tactics. He fell under the false belief that the Lebanese people in general and the Christians in particular will blindly walk his heretic tracks and swallow his new political choices that are in sharp contrast to their 1,500-year recent history, conscience, values and nationalism. He has ignored the solid fact that the Lebanese patriotic cause makes the Leaders and not otherwise. He has selectively forgotten that the GREAT Lebanese people are not only great in love, sacrifices, sincerity, devotion, love to their country, longing for freedom and human rights, but also great in accountability, questioning, and judgment when they sense that the leaders and politicians they trusted have betrayed that trust. They adopt harsh opposition stances towards those who underestimate their intelligence, do not honor the sacrifices of their martyrs and overstep in their political practices the boundaries of safeguarding their country's independence, sovereignty, identity and freedoms.
3- Remind the General who enjoyed our full support for many years, as well as other Lebanese politicians and leaders, in particular those of the Christian community, that their national duty and obligation is to serve both their country and people and not vice-versa. To put him on notice too that the people's mandate given to him during the last parliamentary election is revocable at any time. Meanwhile only the Lebanese people are the custodians of the Lebanese cause and defendants. Leaders who drift away from the cause are exposed and not elected again. In this realm, Saint Peter has said: "If I wanted to cajole and appease the people's status and ranks, I would not have been a servant for Jesus Christ".
4-Send a bold message and a notice to all Lebanon's leaders and politicians, in particular the Christians, that their Lebanese communities honor freedom, democracy and human rights. They should know that their people are not sheep that can be led blindly to slaughterhouses, and definitely not a kind of a merchandise offered in the markets for trade and for wheeling and dealing. They should never ever forget that the Lebanese people are intelligent, political well informed and, when the need arises, they can be very harsh in accountability. They are the main power that chooses the country's legislatures as well as its political leaders. Meanwhile, the people are also the power that revokes mandates given to politicians and withdraws the trust granted to them when they derail from declared and promised platforms.
5- Desensitize our own people in regards to constructive critiques and at the same time helping them to be more tolerant and patient to peaceful and intellectual opposition. Encourage them to practice accountability in its widest boundaries with each and every politician and leader. No leader should at any time take the people for granted and confiscate their free decision making process
A) Aoun: "It is both a privilege and a pleasure for me to participate in this symposium, where we can together think out loud about some of the most important subjects of our time, namely human rights, democracy, economics, and development. The fate of these issues has become increasingly worrisome in many regions of the world that are in a state of a global and fateful confrontation with terrorism. I say "global" because terrorism, by its very nature, reaches into several aspects of public and private life and knows no limit, and I say "fateful" because the outcome of this confrontation will lead to one of two critical directions and set of consequences for human civilization: either terrorism will be defeated under the leadership of the United States, and thus a foundation for positive interaction will be built among diverse societies, or, God forbid, terrorism prevails and humanity enters into an age of darkness and decline.
B) Aoun: The right to self-determination was in most cases hijacked by many regimes that adopted or continued dictatorial or theocratic systems of governance. These regimes rejected the Human Rights Charter, marginalized their people, and crippled their ability to develop and advance by engraining in their societies antiquated customs that were inherited from primitive and backward mentalities. These regimes are today fertile ground for the sponsorship and incubation of terrorism, and the use of it as a strategic instrument of influence in their foreign policies.
C) Aoun: Lebanon, a small country by size but much larger in mission, was the first victim of terrorism. At the end of the sixties, Lebanon, a multicultural society, began to absorb the shocks of the conflict between the East and the West. In the early eighties it found itself at the frontlines of confrontation with Islamic fundamentalists.
D) Aoun: These universal values cherished in Lebanon presented a threat to the single-ideology theocracies and dictatorships that dominated the region. Lebanon became a target for these regimes which believed it imperative to kill its pioneering role in the region. At the time, some regional and international parties believed that some benefit could be drawn from the demise of Lebanon. They remained silent and refrained from helping it.
Between 1976 and 1982, the Arab Deterrence Force was under the authority of the Lebanese President, but the Syrian contingent - which was the largest - operated independently of the other contingents and of the President. The Syrians shelled the residential areas and carried out massacres; they imposed censorship on the press and began shutting down some of the media. They assassinated politicians, clergymen, reporters and diplomats. They bombed embassies and chased out virtually all diplomatic missions from Beirut. They kidnapped people, both individuals and groups, and liquidated them. They incited massacres in some areas of the country and executed military prisoners. Many Lebanese nationals remain incarcerated in Syrian jails even as we speak.
For all these reasons, the other Arab contingents of the Deterrence Force left Lebanon, and the Syrian regime managed to achieve an exclusive solid grip over the majority of Lebanon. The Syrian regime transformed Lebanon into a refuge and a breeding ground for all types of international terrorist groups operating in areas under its control. It was in this environment that a massive drug cultivation, processing, and distribution industry prospered, and the Lebanese coast became peppered with illicit harbors controlled by various militias that used them as a launching pad for terrorist activities and other illegal activities.
E) Aoun: In 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon evicted the PLO from Beirut. The Lebanese government abolished the mandate of the Arab Deterrence Force and requested Syria to withdraw its forces. However, the Syrian regime ignored the Lebanese request in violation of UN Charter, and instead of withdrawing it re-armed the Palestinian organizations and its allied militias and political parties in Lebanon. This caused a return to the situation that preceded the Israeli invasion, namely military clashes, kidnappings and killings. It was at that time that the embassies of the United States and France were bombed, twice each by the Syrian protected and supported terrorists, and that the French and American contingents of the Multi-National Force were attacked.
The Multi-National Force withdrew in the aftermath of these suicide attacks, leaving Lebanon to confront its fate alone. Syria then forced Lebanon to abrogate the May 1983 Accord that Lebanon had negotiated with Israel. Israel pulled back to the border zone, and Syria returned to its task of gnawing, destabilizing and disintegrating Lebanon. This period climaxed with the Syrian invasion of the last free bastion in Lebanon on October 13, 1990 and the resulting eviction of the constitutional government. Syria had thus completed its takeover of Lebanon.
F) Aoun: The Syrian regime has all but eliminated Lebanon from the international political map. It has halted all bilateral negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, thus bypassing the bilateral nature of peace negotiations. It rendered the prospect of peace between Lebanon and Israel contingent upon the dragging and slow process of the Syrian track with Israel. It forced the Lebanese government to submit to its will and not implement UN resolution 426 which calls for the deployment of Lebanese Army Forces alongside the United Nations Forces following Israel's implementation of resolution 425 and its withdrawal from South Lebanon. On the issue of the Shebaa Farms, the Syrian regime created a pretext not to disarm its allied militias, which it has used to maintain tensions at the Lebanese southern borders and terrorize those Lebanese citizens demanding the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanese soil.
G) Aoun: It is difficult to understand how Syria could have in the first place marketed itself to the world as a stability factor in Lebanon, when the reality is that it has subverted and destroyed that stability! We are at a loss to understand how the world allows Syria to remain in Lebanon when Syria has failed to meet any of its commitments!
H) Aoun: Syria has created restricted zones inside Lebanon where security forces are not allowed. These areas, primarily the Palestinian camps, have become shelters for terrorists and the heroes of organized crime where radical Islamic organizations thrive, and where sectarian hate-crimes against Christians and others opposed to this lawlessness continue to take place. For example, On July 31, 2002, an employee at the Teachers Mutual Insurance Fund in Beirut killed eight of his fellow employees and injured another six. He admitted to the judge that his attack was religiously motivated.
On November 25, 2002, an American missionary was assassinated in Sidon. The crime was attributed to a religious motive having to do with her missionary work.
On December 30, 2002, in one of the Lebanese Army barracks, an enlisted soldier opened fire on five of his fellow soldiers in their sleep killing one and injuring four. Subsequent investigation revealed that he was attending religious course at a Koranic madrassa inside one of the camps, where he allegedly learned that the killing of Christians and Jews would set him on the road to paradise.
I) Aoun: This brief overview of the situation in Lebanon is a reflection of the larger context of the region. Its roots are ideological, economical, and psychological. And if we are to manage the present state of affairs and avert future mistakes, we must address these roots. If we examine the origin of terrorists, it is evident that they come from states and countries with dictatorial and theocratic regimes that do not recognize or respect human rights. A second point is the religious dimension of the suicide operation considered as martyrdom that opens the gates of paradise to those committing it. The autocrats, whether theocrats or dictators will not admit any wrongdoing because theocrats consider that divine law is infallible and dictators will not admit that their ideological discourse is at fault.
In both cases, these autocrats pre-empt the people's quest for the reasons behind their failure by shifting responsibility on their political opponents whose liquidation becomes justified, or on external enemies to which the people's hostility is channeled, thus shielding the autocrats from it.
J) Aoun: If we are to effectively fight terrorism, we have to understand that it is inseparable from the regimes that harbor it. Terrorism is an internal safety valve for these regimes and a key instrument of their foreign policy applied as blackmail to others. Therefore, the eradication of terrorism must by necessity begin with the toppling of non-democratic regimes that teach people to hate and kill and that push people to acts of suicide. Only democratic regimes that respect human rights can provide individuals with the opportunity for positive self-fulfillment, free from hatred and violence. This is accomplished by guaranteeing their freedom of speech and creed, and by holding them personally responsible and accountable for their behavior, both in this world and the after-world.
K) Aoun: Indeed, democracy is not an infrastructure that one builds in few months. It is not a topography that one draws on paper. And it cannot be achieved through a simple voting exercise. It is first and foremost an education of concepts. This is why any regime change must be accompanied by a fundamental change in the system of education to facilitate the learning of new concepts and applying them to public life. Democracy cannot survive in the same environment as schools that call for the annihilation of others. It is no longer sufficient to denounce the crime and arrest the criminal. We must close the schools that are teaching the criminals.
L) Aoun: Lebanon's experiment with democracy started in 1926 when the constitution of the first Lebanese Republic was declared. That constitution was secular in its letter and spirit, and was inspired from the Third French Republic. The Lebanese immersed themselves in constitutional governance under the French Mandate until they gained their independence in 1943.
M) Aoun: I am personally convinced that the return of free democracy to Lebanon is also the return of the true image of the United Sates of America. This will pay genuine homage to the memory of the fallen Americans who gave their lives for the defense of freedom and democracy in Lebanon.
Aoun has made Hezbollah's disarmament conditional with what he and Sheik Hassan Nasrallah call the "strong, fair and resisting Lebanese state", an anti-Israel defense strategy, and tied it with the fate of the Palestinian armed militias stationed in the 13 Palestinian refuge camps in Lebanon. (The Lebanese Government does not have kind of control and authority over these camps). In contrast, in his advocacy in the US, he called for a complete separation between Lebanon and the Arab Israeli Conflict.
Aoun has adopted Hezbollah's military doctrine in regards to its "Divine Victory" in the last Israeli-Hezbollah devastating war, as well as the organization's opposing and cautious stance on the UNIFIL forces mandate, its deployment areas, and its military engagement rules. He has even adopted their rejection for the deployment of the UNIFIL on the Syrian-Lebanese borders.
At the present time, he has joined forces with Hezbollah and all the pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians and parties in a bid to topple the Saniora Government and accordingly give Syria and Iran through their Lebanese allies and militias an upper hand and control on the country's government. He is threatening, along with Hezbollah and the rest of the Syrian-Iranian sponsored Lebanese parties, to forcibly achieve this aim through ongoing demonstrations and sit-ins.
Aoun has backed off on all the kind of advocacy that he presented in his lecture at the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies as well to all that he has delivered in testimony in front of the US HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS in September 18, 2003.
He has reached a state of extreme hypocrisy when he, in a TV interview, even stated that his own party does not have any detainees in Syria, while he has in too many documented speeches and lectures claimed that his party initially was created more than 20 years ago among soldiers and officers. (His FPM party was officially licensed this year)
In his lecture he spoke about education of concepts and stated that any regime change must be accompanied by a fundamental change in the system of education to facilitate the learning of new concepts and applying them to public life. He also bragged that democracy cannot survive in the same environment as schools that call for the annihilation of others. The irony here lies in the fact that these schools in Lebanon are located in the cantons of the General's new allies and in particular in areas that are completely under Hezbollah's military control. Apparently the General has been hit with a selective kind of amnesia to forget his own words: "It is no longer sufficient to denounce the crime and arrest the criminal. We must close the schools that are teaching the criminals".
In the lecture he said: "I say `global' because terrorism, by its very nature, reaches into several aspects of public and private life and knows no limit, and I say `fateful' because the outcome of this confrontation will lead to one of two critical directions and set of consequences for human civilization: either terrorism will be defeated under the leadership of the United States, and thus a foundation for positive interaction will be built among diverse societies, or, God forbid, terrorism prevails and humanity enters into an age of darkness and decline".
One wonders if the man is the same man at all and one actually questions his motives for such a drastic change of both doctrines and tactics!!
Elias Bejjani is the Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC), Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator and spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF). E.Mail firstname.lastname@example.org, LCCC Web Site: http://www.10452lccc.com, CLHRF Website: http://www.clhrf.com
Blair will urge US to talk to Syria and Iran
Patrick Wintour and Ewan MacAskill
Tony Blair is to urge the US administration next week to open talks with its great adversaries Syria and Iran, as a way to break the impasse in Iraq and the wider middle east.
Mr Blair will not call for rapid withdrawal of coalition troops, but believes that Mr Bush is genuinely open to a change of strategy and tone following the US president's reverses in the midterm elections, a UK government official said.
Mr Blair will also press the panel to recommend that progress in Iraq depends on making a re-energised push for peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the official said. British officials also believe that the panel, and the Bush administration, are open to the principle of dialogue with Syria, but Britain is hoping that the panel will be explicit in stating what the content of such talks should be.
The new US defence secretary, Robert Gates, nominated by Mr Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld, is a member of the Baker panel and a long standing advocate of opening US contacts with Iran. Mr Baker himself "believes in talking to your enemies".
Number 10 confirmed Mr Blair would give evidence next week, but said it would not brief on the discussions until afterward. British diplomatic sources have been told by Basher Assad, the Syrian president, that he wants to be a constructive player in the Middle East.
Mr Blair's senior foreign policy advisor, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, travelled to Damascus three weeks ago. It is thought the US administration was supportive of his visit, and Downing Street awaits a fuller response from Syria.
Both Iran and Syria have an interest in preventing civil war in Iraq, since they oppose its break-up and do not want to see permanent sectarian warfare that might spread. Speaking separately to a British diplomat and a British business mission in recent weeks, Mr Assad affirmed that he wanted "to come in from the cold". But both sources formed a clear impression that, while this was what he personally would like to do, his freedom of action was limited by factions inside his government. One faction, emboldened by the success of the Lebanese-based Hizbullah militia against Israel this summer, argues this is a time to maintain pressure on Israel, not negotiate.
Mr Blair faces an uphill battle to persuade Mr Bush to include a big initiative on Palestine in any revised Iraq strategy. The resurgent Democrats are as supportive of Israel as the Republicans, and there is little support in Israel for talks with Syria, seen as Hamas puppet masters. Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert is due in Washington next week. He rejected offers by Mr Assad after Israel's invasion of Lebanon to relaunch long-suspended peace talks, saying Syria must first stop sponsoring Palestinian militants and Hizbullah, whose military force Israel attempted to destroy in Lebanon.
At the time Mr Bush did not press Israel to take up Mr Assad's offer, but may now feel negotiations with Syria would help. Among the Palestinians, talks are in progress for a national unity government led by technocrats, seen as a way for Europe, including Britain, to legitimately enter dialogue with the Palestinians.
If Mr Baker does propose talks with Syria and Iran, British diplomats could help. Britain has embassies in Damascus and Tehran, though the ambassador to Iran, Geoffrey Adams, enjoys only limited access to its government.
The US has no embassy in Tehran, and withdrew its ambassador to Damascus early last year to protest against the assassination of the Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, in which a UN inquiry has implicated Syrian senior security officers, and even interviewed Mr Assad himself. Its report is due next month.
Lebanese Cabinet Thrown Into Crisis By Hezbollah Exit
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Hezbollah, having defied efforts by Israel to eliminate it as a military force, is flexing its political muscle, jeopardizing the stability of a Lebanese government that the Bush administration presents as a democratic beacon for the Middle East.
The political crisis here, triggered by the collapse of talks to calm mounting tension, further darkens the White House's vision of a "new Middle East." It could also fortify Washington's two biggest foes in the region, Syria and Iran.
The political wrangling complicates one of Washington's principal foreign-policy goals in the region: the establishment of an international tribunal to judge Syrian officials implicated in the murder in February last year of Rafik Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon. The Lebanese cabinet was supposed to meet today to discuss tribunal proposals endorsed last week by the United Nations Security Council.
Though small, with less than four million people, Lebanon has outsize significance as a proxy for the geopolitical ambitions of more powerful nations. Hezbollah is the focus of these rivalries. The group is denounced by Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, the group is hailed by Iran, Syria and many ordinary Muslims around the world as a legitimate resistance movement.
"Whether they like it or not, there is a new Middle East in the making, but it is the antithesis of what America wanted," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Beirut-based scholar who has written a sympathetic book about Hezbollah.
Hezbollah suffered heavy losses during its summer war with Israel but nonetheless escaped obliteration by the region's most powerful military. Hassan Nasrallah, the militant group's leader, declared this a "victory from God" -- a play on his own surname, which means the same thing in Arabic.
Since then, he has been pushing for a bigger role in the generally pro-American cabinet of Fuad Siniora, a former banker. Hezbollah also seems to have been emboldened by the Republican Party's rout in U.S. midterm elections last week.
"America has failed in Iraq and Bush has now failed in America," Sheik Naim Qassem, Hezbollah's deputy leader, said in a speech Saturday. In an apparent reference to Prime Minister Siniora and other pro-American forces in Lebanon, he said: "It is important for those who follow Bush to reassess their stand."
Mr. Qassem drew titters from his audience by mocking Donald Rumsfeld, who resigned last week as U.S. defense secretary.
Wary of Hezbollah's growing clout, the Bush administration has ramped up its rhetoric. Hezbollah and Iran, said White House spokesman Tony Snow on Saturday, "remain a dangerous, global nexus of terrorism." Mr. Snow earlier accused Hezbollah, along with Iran and Syria, of "preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government."
Lebanon's cabinet, though now shorn of Shiite ministers, can in theory still endorse the establishment of a tribunal to pursue the Hariri murder case. But the norms of Lebanon's delicate sectarian politics generally require that all groups take part in major decisions. Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, yesterday sent a letter to Prime Minister Siniora, who is backed by the U.S. and its allies in Lebanon, warning that the departure of Shiite ministers had rendered the cabinet unconstitutional.
Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, who heads a Shiite group allied with Hezbollah, expressed modest hope that a compromise might still be found. Speaking in Iran, where he is attending a conference, Mr. Berri said Lebanon's rival groups were near divorce but "had not yet hit a brick wall."
Hezbollah, meanwhile, has suggested it will wait before calling its supporters into the streets.
The U.S., seeking to buttress Lebanon's fragile government, last week agreed to provide American military equipment valued at $10.5 million, the latest installment of $230 million pledged by Washington after the war this summer. American aid, however, has had far less impact on public opinion, particularly among Lebanon's Shiite population, than bundles of cash handed out by Hezbollah to help people whose homes were destroyed by Israeli bombs. Most of this cash, say U.S. officials, came from Iran. "The other side is doing an excellent job," conceded an American official.
Write to Andrew Higgins at email@example.com
Lebanon: Ongoing show of sad politics
It is already difficult for the foreign troops stationed in Lebanon to act as they wish. The U.N. Resolution is structurally difficult to enforce. To de-militarize Hizbullah the newly deployed peace troops need the approval of the weak Lebanese government. If Hizbullah and its political allies are well represented in the cabinet, they can block any unwelcome U.N. intervention. Since Hizbullah expects escalating hostilities from Israel, it wants to maintain its military readiness for the future.
An interesting development in February of this year enhanced Hizbullah's formal stature domestically. Early in the year, Michel Aoun, a popular Christian leader, forged an alliance with Hizbullah to reinforce a "reform and change movement". in the government. As a result, this Shi'a-Christian alliance has become the largest political force in the country. This alliance pledges to work on improved national defense, political reform and electoral change.
Aoun's supporters argue that he has achieved several objectives in his unexpected alliance with a militia movement. Aoun's followers, about half the Christian community, have enhanced their rapport with the Shi'a. The Aoun alliance with Hizbullah may have also softened the Christian community's obsession with Syria's political shadow over the country. Many argue that Aoun has distanced his followers from accepting the dominance of Western foreign policy. Finally, the alliance raises the chances of reforming the electoral law to allow emigrants to vote.
Aoun's critics argue that his alliance with Hizbullah is a pure act of electoral profiteering.
They interpret Aoun's move as a desperate act to advance his chances to be the next President of the Country. His opponents see his embrace of a militia party as an act that undermines the sovereignty of the state.
Hizbullah's formation and its evolution is partially a product of Lebanon's domestic confessional politics. The largest religious communities in Lebanon are the Shi'a (35 to 40 percent), the Christians (30 to 35 percent) and the Sunnis (20 to 25 percent). The current sectarian system offers Shi'a and Sunni the same number of parliament seats and it also offers Christians and Muslims 50/50 power sharing.
There are no accurate or official statistics on the size of the 17 specific confessional communities and there is no agreement on whether the Lebanese abroad qualify as citizens.
According to a national agreement, when the parliament elects a new president next September, he will have to be a Catholic, a Maronite representing the largest Christian sect. When legislators elect a Speaker of the House they will chose a Shi'i. The president of the republic will appoint a Sunni prime minister.
Sectarian power sharing breeds perpetual distrust. Each religious community feels insecure about its future, especially the Christians. Having been intensely exposed to European ways of life, the Christian community of Lebanon is the most secular minded of the three main religious communities. However, this community is glued to the sectarian political system that has guaranteed it privileged representation. But this privilege has been eroding since the Taif Accord that ended the civil war 16 years ago. This agreement reduced the power of the Christian presidency and increased the power of the Sunni Prime Minister.
The Christian community, which has lost about half of its population through emigration over the last few decades, is hesitant to embrace a quota free system. Without quotas Christians anticipate Muslim domination of the parliament. This fear is based on the theory that majority rule in a traditional society does not guarantee minority rights.
There is also Sunni fear of change. In a secular election the Sunnis are afraid of losing political leadership to the Shi'a, the largest community, and the only one that runs a militia. A pure majority-rule political system would also give the Shi'a an edge in governance.
The Shi'a of Lebanon are not immune from anxiety about their future. The population of Shi'a is increasing but their representation in the state remains constant. The Shi'a have been the community of economic under-privilege for several decades. Because of their position on the border they have been exposed to displacement and ruthless attacks from the Israeli army over the last four decades. The summer war precipitated the latest wave of destruction and displacement.
The cease-fire arrangement that ended the war this summer was a band aid solution. The intricacies of Lebanese politics and the regional rivalries were not factored in to the shallow diplomacy of the UN. Resolution 1701 which mandates the eventual demilitarization of Hizbullah, but this resistance movement is not willing to comply soon. The "resistance" does not wish to hand its arms to the state because it does not respect the current regime or trust the circumstances. Hizbullah accuses the Lebanese government of caving in to Israel, U.S. and European demands for de-militarization of armed militias. The government responds by accusing Hizbullah leaders of being agents of Syria and Iran.
The summer war made Hizbullah even more popular than before. A recent poll shows that 58 percent of the voters support Hizbullah. In this week's well-publicized parliamentary encounter Prime Minister Siniora, a pragmatist, is likely to yield to the Hizbullah-Aoun request. But he is also careful not to alienate the U.S. and the donor countries who insist that Hizbullah should be controlled militarily.
The silent majority of the Lebanese population watches politicians debate power–sharing and national defense with disdain and fear for their future. The people desire change but they are not ready for it.
This week's marathon political negotiations are likely to reach a compromise and defuse the crisis. But whatever solution emerges it is not likely to last long. Lebanon is an ongoing show of sad politics. Aoun and Hizbullah should not be ignored but their threats of taking their demands to the streets may not be easily justified, given the current post-war fragility of the country.
The author is a Lebanese Arab American commentator. His blog is aldikkani.blog spot.com. This article first appeard at the arabamericannews.com
Lebanon in crisis as Hizbollah demands more power
Lebanon's government was plunged into crisis last night after five cabinet members resigned in what appeared to be an attempt by Hizbollah, the Shia militant group, to cause its collapse.
Sheikh Naim Kassem, Hizbollah's deputy leader, said that the resignations were the first step in a campaign that would be "varied and effective".
Fears of bloody confrontations were raised as members of the ruling coalition promised counter-demonstrations.
All-party talks aimed at averting the crisis collapsed in Beirut on Saturday after Mr Siniora's allies rejected demands by Hizbollah and its allies for representation that would have given them sufficient power to veto key legislation.
The talks had been aimed at easing mounting sectarian tensions in the aftermath of the 34-day war between Hizbollah and Israel.
Hours after the talks broke down, the five cabinet ministers representing Hizbollah and its Shia ally, the Amal movement, resigned. They included Fawzi Salloukh, the foreign minister, as well as the ministers for agriculture, health, energy and labour. Under the Lebanese constitution, if eight ministers resigned, the government would have to be dissolved.
The Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, said that the resignation of all the ministers from the country's largest religious faction meant any decisions made by the cabinet were invalid.
However, as things stand, he does not have the power to dissolve the government.
Mr Siniora's supporters claimed that pro-Syrian groups wanted the talks to fail to thwart the creation of an international tribunal into the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, last year.
The killing led to mass anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon, which decided Damascus to end its 29-year military presence in the country and prompted new elections.
On Friday, Mr Siniora received a proposed framework for the Hariri tribunal from the United Nations, and he had invited the cabinet to a special meeting today to endorse it. Last night he said the meeting would go ahead as planned.
Senior Syrian security officials have been widely implicated in the killing, although Damascus denies involvement.
Condoleezza Rice, the American secretary of state, said during the weekend that Syria was a dangerous state whose territory was being used for the accelerated arming of Hizbollah.
A group identifying itself as "al-Qa'eda Lebanon" added to concerns by threatening to destroy the government, saying that it was corrupt and took orders from the American administration.
Guardian, November 13, 2006
The remaining ministers, backed by Washington, have rejected the proposal for a new government "in principle". They claim the Shia ministers left the cabinet due to objections over a UN sponsored tribunal to try those accused of assassinating the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2004. Senior Syrian security officials have been widely blamed for the killing, but Damascus denies involvement. Last month Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, demanded a third of the 24 cabinet seats, prompting some ministers to accuse Hezbollah of seeking veto rights to protect Syria from prosecution.
Amal Saad Ghorayeb of the Carnegie Middle East Centre, a Hezbollah expert, said the party's exit from the government did not hinge entirely on the tribunal. "They have already accepted the tribunal in principle, but they have yet to approve the precise formula. It's a whole basket of issues concerning foreign intervention."
Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister, has said he will not accept the resignations, possibly leaving the door open for negotiations.
Political shifts in Lebanon: Nasrallah, the street and Iran
Each one, however, affects only one of the rival parties. Saudi Arabia has influence over the majority in the cabinet, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and parliamentary majority leader Sa'ad Hariri, while Iran can sway Hezbollah and Amal. Only the countries of influence can solve the crisis now. If they do not act swiftly to bring about a compromise, the street demonstrations that Hezbollah is threatening to catalyze will begin with demands for a national unity government in which Hezbollah and Amal hold one-third of the cabinet seats and the attendant veto power. Those demands could develop into pressure for new elections, violent clashes and perhaps even the renewal of civil war.
The cabinet crisis began brewing this summer at the end of the war and expanded to its current proportions as the date approached for putting together the international tribunal for those charged with Rafik Hariri's murder. On Friday, when the United Nations submitted its final draft on the court, the political crisis had clearly reached the point of no return.
While Siniora and the anti-Syrian majority had approved the UN resolution in principle, the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, together with Hezbollah and Amal, rejected it. They want to postpone the tribunal's creation or at least set the terms of its activity. But the tribunal flap is only another pretext, that cannot hide the real reason for the crisis initiated by Hassan Nasrallah. The secretary-general of Hezbollah seeks to create a new government in Lebanon that is based on a Shi'ite coalition allied with Lebanese Christian leader Michel Aoun, to reduce the power of Hariri-supporter and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. This would also guarantee Lahoud's continued presidency.
Nasrallah is launching a conceptual revolution to vault Hezbollah into the center of power through political, rather than military, means. Whether or not Siniora and his allies accede to Nasrallah's demands, and whether or not new elections are held, Nasrallah now has the power to delay several critical measures. In addition to the suspension of the tribunal, the meeting of donor nations on Lebanon's post-war rehabilitation may be postponed in the absence of a responsible government, and in the future Nasrallah may be able to change the terms for implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
Opinion, Ynet News, November 12, 2006
By Farid Ghadry
Assad is a multi-faceted chameleon that, depending on where you stand, will show you the color you crave to see. To Syrians, he is a devout Muslim who is seen praying on Fridays in Mosques. To the US, he is a secularist who delivers some third-rate al-Qaeda operatives once in a while to fend-off criticism. To Israel, he is s man of peace. To Iraqis, he is the defender against occupation. To the Lebanese, he is the symbol of resistance. To Arabs, he is the last bastion of pan-Arabism. To Turkey, he is an accommodating neighbor having given-up on the disputed Iskanderoun region.
But in reality, Assad is a promoter of extremism, a man of violence, and a conscientious racist who maintains his grip over Syrian society by insuring that his Alawite minority instills fear and intimidation in the hearts of any Syrian that challenges his rule. Assad is the architect of an Apartheid system for Syria that is breeding discontent, thus creating suicide bombers.
To many pundits, including present-day officials in the State of Israel, Assad is the devil you know. Under that tunnel vision, one can assume that the inheritor of Syria is not breaking a sweat. He knows that his rule is secure as long as the international community, and Israel in particular, have no intention of pressuring his regime to the point of implosion. Ironically, Assad is using Israel?s lack of resolve to effectively oppress further the dissidents the world needs to usher a new Syria that promotes co-existence and peace with the Jewish State.
For Israelis hoping in prime minister?s Olmert guidance, a peace treaty with Syria might just be what Israel is in dire need of at the moment. After all, certain leadership in the Israeli government is calling for it openly because it dreads a war with Syria, which will render the Golan Heights as unstable as the South of Lebanon or the Gaza strip.
But I say Israelis deserve better.
Israelis deserve peace with a nation with which they can co-exist, not only without hostilities, but with peace of mind. It is unfair for Israelis to continually seek peace and then live for eternity under the specter of hate amply provided by Arab dictatorships. For many Israelis, the peace with Egypt was and still remains a good treaty but consider what would be had democracy taken hold in Egypt and any elected president become accountable to his people. Would Egyptians still hate Israelis? I say not. Because with freedom and democracy come open minds and education.
Preparing ground for real democracy Today, Israel has a golden opportunity not only to realize peace but also to eradicate the culture of hate so prevalent in the Arab countries because of lack of accountability of Arab dictators. Instead of supporting peace with a tyrant who, under normal political elections, would not get 5 percent of the votes, Israel should support democracy in Syria. With democracy, the culture of hate would end.
Pessimists would argue that a democracy in Syria would be tantamount to the same democracy Israel was shocked to see in the Palestinian Territories when Hamas came to power and that similar conditions exist today in Syria should the Assad regime fall. These assumptions are based on the notion that we have learned nothing from Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian elections and that the Syrian street is controlled by extremists.
Preparing the ground for real democracy in Syria requires an effort. One that would plant the seeds by taking into account the lessons learned in Iraq (e.g. mainly that we need to have a pluralistic government-in-exile ready to go BEFORE a regime falls) and the Palestinian elections that took place before preparing the foundation. The theocracy most point to in Iraq is the fabrication of Iran and Syria. If Syria goes democratic, it will also ease the pain of Iraqis and ultimately defang Iran through isolation rather than confrontation. The combination of secular, democratic leaders and the support of the international community will prevent the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood from ever gaining control of the Syrian government.
While Iran looks like the most dangerous of the two countries because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons coupled with its direct call for the destruction of Israel, Assad is no less dangerous because behind this veneer of peace lies a much more sinister regime capable of carrying out Ahmadinajead?s message. Israel does not need to react to Assad?s wishful thinking as it awoke to Hizbullah?s military prowess.
Preemption requires from the Jewish State to bring the Assad regime down before it is too late. Can Israel risk giving away the Golan to find out that Assad has been preparing, the way Hizbullah was, for war all along? How can Israel ever trust Assad after his own rockets rained down on Israeli cities? His fate should be that of Saddam and no less.
The Syrian opposition leadership is ready to meet around a roundtable conference to map Syria?s future with the international community. Even the Muslim Brotherhood will acquiesce to pluralism and a small share in the new and democratic Syrian parliament as many in their leadership have voiced directly to me out of frustration of remaining on the sidelines for 50 years waiting to share power. They understand that sharing power is the best they can hope for and we have ways to hold their feet to the fire.
So while Israeli politicians ponder the question of peace with Assad, the destroyer of Israeli cities and the promoter of the culture of hate against Jews, we Syrian democratic leaders believe that Israelis deserve better. All we are asking from the Israeli leadership is for some imagination, courage, and support in bringing sweeping change to Syria.
Farid Ghadry is the founder of the Syrian Reform Party and the President of the Syrian Democratic Coalition
Sunday November 12, 2006
Regional Impact of the July 2006 War on Lebanon - Walid Jumblatt
This cause was also taken up in the streets of Lebanon on March 14, 2005 (commonly known as the Cedar Revolution), whereby a majority of the Lebanese population protested Syrian intervention. Jumblatt stated that many events have precipitated from that day onwards, including several assassination attempts of prominent Lebanese journalists and politicians, further complicating his aim of a unified Lebanon.
Jumblatt went on to discuss the need for the United Nations to create an international tribunal to judge the Syrian regime. Such a tribunal would be a “precedent in the history of the United Nations,” Jumblatt stated. It would differ from the genocide tribunals of Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and others in that this tribunal would be instated in order to judge a “state murderer.” Furthermore, Jumblatt believed that it would deter the Syrian regime from committing further crimes, and consequently, the tribunal “might enhance a free Lebanon.”
Jumblatt explained that at present, dialogue has been underway at the United Nations in order to address three agenda items, in addition to the international tribunal. First is the establishment of diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria, thereby compelling the Syrian regime to acknowledge the sovereignty of Lebanon. The second item is the demarcation of the Sheba Farms, which the Syrians have stated need to be liberated. However, no official document by the Syrian government has been issued and thus, under international law, the Sheba Farms do not fall under Lebanese control. The final item is the removal of Palestinian weapons outside of the camps, which will prevent the supply of such weapons to various extremist groups.
Jumblatt continued by discussing the role of Hizbullah within the Lebanese political realm, particularly after the recent war. Hizbullah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah was quoted as saying, “I wasn’t expecting such a reaction,” referring to the Israeli reaction to the two kidnapped soldiers. Jumblatt denounced Hizbullah’s statement as a “big blunder” and one that ignores the reality on the ground. When members of the Lebanese government suggested to Hizbullah the incorporation of southerners into the Lebanese army, Nasrallah rejected such an idea, stating “I have my own apparatus.” This lack of cooperation, Jumblatt stated, infringes upon the sovereignty of Lebanon as a single, viable state, and has allowed Hizbullah to continue to exist as “a state within a state.”
Jumblatt concluded by asserting that the free flow of weapons between the Lebanese-Syrian border will prove to be an obstacle, so long as the border is not being handled properly. However, this is not to say that the intervention of UNIFIL forces is necessary, since the occupation of land is not a factor, as is the case in the Golan Heights. Furthermore, the establishment of the international tribunal “is a must” and could possibly change the behavior of the Syrian regime. Lastly, speaking to the Security Council resolutions concerning Lebanon, Jumblatt emphasized that there has been one focal and overriding issue: how the Lebanese government will be provided with the necessary means to maintain law and order over all of Lebanon, a political goal that is in dire need of implementation.
Middle East Program
Prospect of renewed chaos looms over Lebanon
The resignations of all five Shiite ministers -- two from Hezbollah, two from the Amal movement and one independent -- from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora were announced hours after the collapse of high-stakes talks aimed at soothing rising sectarian tensions in the wake of last summer's devastating war with Israel
It also coincided with the finalization of a draft UN resolution that will establish an international tribunal to investigate those responsible for the death of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, whose February 2005 assassination was widely blamed on Syria. Lebanon's Cabinet is due to meet Monday to approve the draft.
Siniora later said he would not accept the resignations, leaving unclear the fate of the U.S.-backed government elected to office in the wake of the popular anti-Syrian uprising that followed Hariri's assassination. According to the Cabinet's rules, eight ministers would need to resign to topple the government.
But the withdrawal of the Shiite ministers effectively ended Shiite representation in the coalition governing the country, threatening Lebanon with a period of renewed political uncertainty and potential civil strife at a time when it is still struggling to recover from the ruin inflicted during the summer war.
In a joint statement read on Hezbollah's television station Al Manar, Hezbollah and Amal said their ministers had resigned "to pave the way for the majority to practice what it wants freely."
In a toughly worded warning late last month, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said he would order his followers to take to the streets to force change unless negotiations delivered progress by Monday on his demand that Hezbollah and its allies should be given a third of the seats in the 24-member Cabinet, enough to empower them with veto rights over government decisions.
The threat drew a swift response from the White House, which accused Hezbollah allies Syria and Iran of "preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government" and warned them to keep their "hands off" Lebanon.
The anti-Syrian alliance that dominates the government, comprising representatives of the Sunni, Christian and Druze communities, rejected Hezbollah's demand. Instead, they offered a compromise formula under which the Cabinet would be expanded to give more seats to Hezbollah's allies but not enough to give the pro-Syrian bloc veto rights.
But Hezbollah, flush from the successes of its guerrilla army against Israel last summer, insisted on a third of the Cabinet seats, saying it now enjoys the support of a majority of Lebanese.
"Today a group is ruling against the will of the majority of the Lebanese people," Nasrallah said in the televised interview. "Look at the opinion polls. If they want to challenge us, we will accept the challenge."
His threat to stage street demonstrations propelled Lebanon's top leaders to the negotiating table, and starting last Monday they gathered almost daily in downtown Beirut to discuss Hezbollah's demand. Nasrallah was the only top leader not to attend, citing threats to his life from Israel.
After the talks ended Saturday without agreement, Hezbollah did not indicate whether it would carry out its threat Monday. Hezbollah's deputy leader, Naim Qassem, told a Hezbollah gathering held to honor the "martyrs" of Lebanon's conflicts with Israel that Hezbollah would "consult with its allies before deciding its next move."
Further complicating an already complex political equation is the timing of the UN draft resolution on the establishment of an international tribunal to bring to justice those responsible for killing Hariri. Several members of the ruling government coalition have accused Hezbollah and its Syrian-backed allies of seeking veto rights to block the creation of the court, which could implicate top Syrian officials. The draft must be approved by more than two-thirds of the ministers in the Cabinet and by a simple majority in parliament.
"We have major concerns about bringing a blocking minority into the reshaped government, especially if it will work to hinder the establishment of the court," Druze Minister Marwan Hamadeh told the Voice of Lebanon radio as the talks began to flounder late last week.
Veto powers in the Cabinet would also give Hezbollah the opportunity to block other important government decisions in the wake of the war with Israel. They include future moves to order the disarmament of Hezbollah's guerrilla army, something Israel demanded as a condition for ending hostilities against Lebanon but which has slipped off the list of Lebanon's priorities amid the rising domestic political tensions.
Interview, Newsweek, November 12, 2006
By Lally Weymouth
WEYMOUTH: Last year you told President Bush you had a vision—your convergence plan—which was to withdraw unilaterally from large parts of the West Bank. Do you have a new vision today?
OLMERT: The “convergence” plan was a vehicle to accomplish a vision shared by President Bush and myself—this is a two-state solution.
After the war in Lebanon, you said the "convergence" plan was on hold.
How do you feel about President Abu Mazen as a partner?
How would you feel if Abu Mazen entered into a unity government with Hamas?
Has the United States asked you to release Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti from
You brought the ultra right-wing Avigdor Lieberman into your coalition. Will that affect your negotiating position with the Palestinians?
How do you see the threat posed by Iran?
Will you talk with Bush about Iran?
If the international community does not act, would Israel consider taking military action?
Do you feel the war against Hizullah decreased the group’s military strength but built them up politically?
So looking back, you feel the war was worthwhile?
Syrian President Bashar Assad has said that he would like to talk to Israel. Would you consider this?
Former Secretary of State James Baker said, “You don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies”. What’s to lose by exploring whether there’s anything there?
But you negotiated with Arafat when he was in Tunisia, and he was certainly a terrorist.
Wouldn’t it be worth trying to separate Syria and Iran?
If the United States gets out of Iraq, how would this affect the region?
Do your low poll numbers drive you crazy?
A CONVERSATION WITH EHUD OLMERT
Sunday, November 12, 2006; B03
After this past summer's controversial war in Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has lower poll numbers than President Bush. Olmert, who will meet with Bush in Washington this week, spoke with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth about the Middle East, Iran and the prospect of a U.S. pullout from Iraq.
What are you going to say to President Bush? Last year you told him you had a vision -- your convergence plan, which was to withdraw from large parts of the West Bank. Do you have a vision today?
The convergence plan was a vehicle to accomplish a vision shared by both President Bush and myself. This is a two-state solution. Before the war, I told the Israeli public that the first step I would take is to try to establish a credible process of negotiations, on the basis of the road map, with the legitimate Palestinian leadership. If that didn't work, then we would try [unilateral] realignment.
But after the war in Lebanon, you said the convergence plan was on hold.
After the fighting in Lebanon, and also the failure of the Palestinians to cope with continued terrorist actions, I have second thoughts about the ability to accomplish the two-state solution through realignment. It is definitely not dead but it has to be reexamined. One thing I can promise: Under no circumstances am I going to withdraw from the need to engage in a serious dialogue with the Palestinians, toward the implementation of the vision which I share with President Bush. The Palestinian issue is on the agenda. There is no way we can ignore it or that we would want to ignore it. We have to find the best partner to do it. A lot depends on the Palestinian leadership.
How do you feel about Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] as a partner?
He personally has shown consistently his opposition to terror and his discomfort with Hamas techniques. But it is incumbent upon him to do more than just say how uncomfortable he is with Hamas. He hasn't yet shown enough determination and inner strength to put down this government of terrorists and to reduce the influence of [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashal, who controls the officials of the Palestinian government from Damascus.
Such a government can be measured by one criterion: Do they accept actively -- not just in theory -- the principles of the Quartet? If Hamas will formally accept these principles -- which are to recognize Israel's right to exist, to end all terror and hostile activities against Israel and to recognize and implement all the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority -- then I'll be ready to sit down with such a government even if it includes Hamas representatives.
So you don't have much hope that there's a partner you can engage with and you're not sure about the unilateral realignment plan you proposed last year. Do you have another idea?
I'm very encouraged by some developments that have taken place lately. The fighting in Lebanon made it much clearer that there are some shared interests between Israel and some of the more moderate Arab countries. We have very friendly relations with Jordan and with Egypt. As of late, I'm very impressed with the performance and policies carried out by the King of Saudi Arabia. And the leaders of the [United Arab] Emirates. One can feel that there is a broader examination of the region and also maybe a better understanding of some of the constraints Israel has to deal with. And also a realization that at the end of the day, Iran and the axis of evil made by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas is of greater danger not only to Israel but to some moderate Arab countries.
The position they took over the fighting in Lebanon, which was very courageous. In the past, the Saudis have expressed some ideas about a possible solution in the Middle East.
You're hinting that this might be another route for working with the Palestinians -- via Jordan and other moderate Arab countries?
We have to change the balance in the Middle East and the position of the radical elements of Palestinian society. I hope that with the joint efforts of Israel and America on the one side and the moderate Arab countries on the other side, something can be worked out that will help the more moderate elements within Palestinian society, led by Abu Mazen, to take over and establish the necessary conditions for a fruitful dialogue with us.
Has the United States asked you to release Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti from prison, and would you consider doing that?
I am ready to release many, many prisoners. I made it clear long ago that I am anxious to open up a new dialogue with Abu Mazen, and for that purpose, I'm ready to release many prisoners. Hamas's extreme inflexible attitude prevents the prisoners from being released because they refuse to let us have our soldier [kidnapped Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit]. . . . Hamas is not really interested in the well-being of its prisoners. They want to topple Abu Mazen at any cost.
You brought [Avigdor] Lieberman into your coalition. But people on the left perceive him as an extreme right-winger opposed to any kind of concessions with the Palestinians. Does he affect your position?
The policies of this government are not going to be changed and you can read my lips: I'm ready for territorial compromises, and I haven't changed my mind.
How do you see the threat posed by Iran?
This is the first time in many years that the official leader of a major nation with more than 70 million citizens has talked publicly and officially of the liquidation of another nation that is a member of the United Nations. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is a man who is ready to commit crimes against humanity, and he has to be stopped.
When Hitler began to talk about the liquidation of the Jewish race, people heard it. But they hardly did anything to stop it. And then for generations, nations and leaders had to explain why they didn't speak up. So we have to have a world campaign to emphasize the moral commitment that no one will be able to ignore what he says and what the possible ramifications may be.
There is also the process of negotiations. My position is clear: If there can be a compromise that will stop Iran short of crossing the technological threshold that will lead them into nuclear capabilities, we will be for such a compromise. But I don't believe that Iran will accept such compromise unless they have a very good reason to fear the consequences of not reaching it. In other words: Iran must start to fear.
Will you talk with Bush about Iran?
Bush is the last person on Earth who needs to be reminded of what should be done to stop Iran. If there is one person I can trust, it's him. I trust his moral integrity, I trust his moral commitment and I trust his determination.
Do you think regime change is the only way to stop this?
I can think of many different measures. The guideline has to be that this government and the people of Iran must understand that if they do not accept the request of the international community, they're going to pay dearly.
So you wouldn't rule out the military option?
I think my words were clear enough.
If the international community does not act, would Israel consider taking military action?
It is absolutely intolerable for Israel to accept the threat of a nuclear Iran. I prefer not to discuss the Israeli options. Israel has many options.
When you look back at the war last summer, do you feel it reduced Hezbollah's military strength but built them up politically?
I think Israel had a strategic, military and political success. Unfortunately, before the war, we lacked what we thought we had -- deterrence. They were not afraid of starting a fight with us because they thought our reaction would be entirely different. Now if you ask [Hezbollah leader Hasan] Nasrallah if he would want to repeat it, I'm sure his answer would be definitely not.
I know for sure through different sources that Hezbollah was close to total surrender. Now the presence of the Lebanese army in the entire southern region, together with a robust international force, is very significant. It creates a reality entirely different to anything that existed before July 12.
[Syrian] President [Bashar al-] Assad is sending out suggestions that he would like to talk to Israel. Why wouldn't it be a good idea to explore those hints?
If Assad was serious, he would have stopped his total support of Khaled Mashal, the man directly responsible for daily terrorist actions against Israel. I would be happy to negotiate with Bashar Assad, but on the basis of a certain environment, where you stop your support of terror and of Hezbollah. Assad doesn't show any sign that he's ready to do this.
But you negotiated with [Yasser] Arafat when he was in Tunisia , and he was certainly a terrorist.
I think we learned something about negotiations of this kind from this experience. I don't expect my enemies to be wonderful guys. But I want them to come with clean hands when they come to negotiate. Bashar Assad doesn't come with clean hands. When he comes with clean hands, I will talk to him.
If the United States gets out of Iraq, how does that affect the security of your country?
If there is a premature pullout before Iraq has a robust government with a strong authority that can keep the country from collapsing into an internal civil war, America will have to think about the possible ramifications on neighboring Arab countries with moderate governments. How will it affect the stability of these countries against the radical forces that might flourish as a result of a premature pullout of America?
Olmert: Ahmadinejad must be stopped
Ahead of flight to Washington, prime minister tells Newsweek: Iran will pay dearly if it fails to cooperate with international demands. Olmert calls Lebanon war ‘“strategic, military and political success’, says ‘anxious to open dialogue with Abbas
WASHINGTON – Iran must understand that if it fails to cooperate with the international community, it will “pay dearly”, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview with the US weekly Newsweek on the eve of his Washington visit. Olmert addressed the Iranian threat, emphasized his will to renew dialogue with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and warned the Americans against a hasty exit from Iraq.
“This is the first time in many years that the official leader of a major nation with more than 70 million citizens has talked publicly and officially of the liquidation of another nation that is a member of the United Nations,” Olmert told Newsweek.
“(Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad is a man who is ready to commit crimes against humanity, and he has to be stopped.
When Hitler began to talk about the liquidation of the Jewish race, people heard it. But they hardly did anything to stop it. And then for generations, nations and leaders had to explain why they didn't speak up. So we have to have a world campaign to emphasize the moral commitment that no one will be able to ignore what he says and what the possible ramifications may be.
The prime minister explained his support for a compromise that will strop Iran short from the technological threshold of developing nuclear capabilities, but added, “I don't believe that Iran will accept such compromise unless they have a very good reason to fear the consequences of not reaching it. In other words: Iran must start to fear.” Iran must understand that if it spurns international demands, it will end up “paying dearly.”
When questioned on plans to opt for a military solution, Olmert said: “think my words were clear enough. It is absolutely intolerable for Israel to accept the threat of a nuclear Iran. I prefer not to discuss the Israeli options. Israel has many options.”
Regarding the possibility of renewing dialogue with the Palestinians, Olmert noted, “The Palestinian issue is on the agenda. There is no way we can ignore it or that we would want to ignore it. We have to find the best partner to do it. A lot depends on the Palestinian leadership.”
As for Abbas, “He personally has shown consistently his opposition to terror and his discomfort with Hamas techniques. But it is incumbent upon him to do more than just say how uncomfortable he is with Hamas. He hasn't yet shown enough determination and inner strength to put down this government of terrorists and to reduce the influence of (Hamas leader) Khaled Mashal, who controls the officials of the Palestinian government from Damascus.”
Olmert added that test of the suggested unity government “can be measured by one criterion: Do they accept actively - not just in theory - the principles of the Quartet? If Hamas will formally accept these principles - which are to recognize Israel's right to exist, to end all terror and hostile activities against Israel and to recognize and implement all the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority - then I'll be ready to sit down with such a government even if it includes Hamas representatives.”
In this regard Olmert reiterate his intention to free “many, many” Palestinian prisoners. “I made it clear long ago that I am anxious to open up a new dialogue with Abu Mazen (Abbas), and for that purpose, I'm ready to release many prisoners. Hamas's extreme inflexible attitude prevents the prisoners from being released because they refuse to let us have our soldier (kidnapped Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit)… Hamas is not really interested in the well-being of its prisoners. They want to topple Abu Mazen at any cost.”
Hizbullah? ‘Close to surrender’
Olmert defined the war in Lebanon as a “strategic, military and political success” and explained that it brought a renewal of Israel’s deterrent power against Hizbullah. “Unfortunately, before the war, we lacked what we thought we had - deterrence. They were not afraid of starting a fight with us because they thought our reaction would be entirely different. Now if you ask (Hizbullah leader Hassan) Nasrallah if he would want to repeat it, I'm sure his answer would be definitely not.
“I know for sure through different sources that Hezbollah was close to total surrender. Now the presence of the Lebanese army in the entire southern region, together with a robust international force, is very significant. It creates a reality entirely different to anything that existed before July 12.”
Olmert ruled out the possibility of dialogue with Syria under the current circumstances. “If Assad was serious, he would have stopped his total support of Khaled Mashaal, the man directly responsible for daily terrorist actions against Israel. I would be happy to negotiate with Bashar Assad, but on the basis of a certain environment, where you stop your support of terror and of Hizbullah. Assad doesn't show any sign that he's ready to do this.”
During the interview, the prime minister also addressed the situation in Iraq, and the voices sounding in Washington hinting that an American withdrawal is near. A hasty pullout from Iraq, Olmert warns, could destabilize the moderate administrations in the Middle East.
Olmert is slated to land in Washington Sunday, where he will be hosted in the Blair House, the official presidential guest quarters opposite the White House. He will meet with US President George W. Bush Monday evening as well as with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, democratic and republican congressmen and Jewish elected officials.
Olmert warned that “If there is a premature pullout before Iraq has a robust government with a strong authority that can keep the country from collapsing into an internal civil war, America will have to think about the possible ramifications on neighboring Arab countries with moderate governments. How will it affect the stability of these countries against the radical forces that might flourish as a result of a premature pullout of America?”
It is not yet clear how Olmert’s statements will be received in the US, coming a few days after the congressional overhaul due to Americans’ dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in Iraq.
The Sunday Times November 12, 2006
Islamists infiltrate four universities
Admani, a Muslim chaplain at London Metropolitan University, runs a charity that helps to rehabilitate young men who have fallen prey to extremism. He is also an adviser on Muslim affairs to Bill Rammell, the higher education minister.
“We are dealing with people filled with hatred,” said Admani. “It’s hatred for the white man and the West in particular, because they have read the works of Qutb and Maududi (Islamist ideologues followed by Al-Qaeda) who set Muslims apart from everyone else.”
Admani’s claims come in the wake of a warning by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, about the extent of the threat faced from home-grown Islamic extremists. She said the domestic security service has identified 200 terrorist networks involving at least 1,600 people, and 30 “Priority 1” plots to kill are being investigated.
“Radicalising elements within communities are trying to exploit grievances for terrorist purposes; it is the youth who are being actively targeted, groomed, radicalised and set on a path that frighteningly quickly could end in their involvement in mass murder of their fellow UK citizens, or their early death in a suicide attack or on a foreign battlefield,” said Manningham-Buller.
Yesterday Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, called for new measures to combat the growing terrorist threat. One of the “truly shocking” things about the recent alleged transatlantic airliner bomb plot, he said, was “the apparent speed with which young, reasonably affluent, some reasonably well educated British-born people” were radicalised to the point where they were prepared to murder thousands in alleged suicide attacks.
Admani’s charity, the Luqman Institute of Education and Development, has been tackling the effects of this indoctrination by sending volunteers to campuses to challenge “the warped view of Islam” spread by extremists.
The charity has received reports from students about fundamentalists operating in at least four UK institutions: Brunel University, west London, Bedfordshire University, Luton, Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University.
Up to 10 students at Brunel are being “deradicalised” by a caseworker from the institute. Jawad Syed, who nearly succumbed to extremism himself when he was a Brunel student, said: “Some of the students are watching jihadi videos and might be listening to different sheikhs encouraging jihad.”
Earlier this year the Islamic society at Sheffield Hallam University hosted a lecture by Sheikh Khalid Yasin, an American preacher who favours the death penalty for homosexuals.
Shakeel Begg, another radical cleric, recently urged students at Kingston University, southwest London, to wage jihad in Palestine. In a tape-recorded speech obtained by The Sunday Times, Begg, who is a Muslim chaplain at Goldsmiths College, part of London University, said: “You want to make jihad? Very good . . . Take some money and go to Palestine and fight, fight the terrorists, fight the Zionists.”
British-born Asif Hanif, who killed three people in a suicide attack on a bar in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2003, had attended Kingston.
Admani said some extremists win their peers’ trust in university prayer rooms before inviting them to off-campus lectures.
In other cases, groups banned by the National Union of Students, such as Hizb-ut Tahrir, are thought to be operating under alternative names.
Last month students at Staffordshire University were invited to attend a discussion entitled “The true word of God: the Koran or the Bible”. The event was addressed by a former member of Al-Muhajiroun, a proscribed organisation.
A further twist on extremism and campus life emerged in court last week when it was revealed that Dhiren Barot, the most senior Al-Qaeda plotter to be captured in Britain, had used a forged pass to carry out research at Brunel.
Barot, 34, a Hindu convert to Islam, was sentenced to at least 40 years in jail after he admitted planning terrorist attacks that could have caused “carnage, bloodshed and butchery” in Britain and America.
Brunel University said: “The safety of our students and staff is paramount, as is the security of our campus. We will look into the [Luqman] institute’s claims and respond accordingly.”
Referring to Begg’s lecture at Kingston, Professor Peter Scott, the university’s vice-chancellor, said: “Should the university be made aware of any concerns about the views expressed at such events, it has the protocols in place to investigate.”
Staffordshire University said it was investigating last month’s lecture. “No extremists of any kind will be welcome at our campus,” said a spokesman.
Manchester Metropolitan University said: “If any evidence of extremism comes to light, we will immediately act upon it.”
Bedfordshire University and Sheffield Hallam University denied that extremists were operating on their campuses.
Additional reporting: Shiv Malik
In More Fluid Mideast, What Now for the U.S.? Baker/Hamilton/Gates?
To which the simplest retort is that the American people understood well enough to hand control of Congress to the Democrats and force President George W. Bush to respond to the political "thumping" by dispensing with Rumsfeld.
But Iraq is indeed complicated, not least because the administration has so often shifted its grounds for the war. So it's worth trying to walk back the cat, grasp how we got from there to here, at a moment when America's Iraq policy is up for grabs.
Whatever else it was, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was an attempt to break a dysfunctional Middle Eastern status quo. It blew away a Stalinist dictatorship garbed in fin-de-régime Islamist velleities, removed a monstrous ruler and sent tremors through authoritarian regimes from Damascus to Cairo.
That was a big undertaking to embark on without notes. A lot has been made of Rumsfeld's grave tactical blunders. But they pale beside the strategic failure to grapple with the implications of the social revolution an invasion would ignite: the replacement of a heavily armed ruling Sunni minority convinced of its right to govern by a seething, oppressed Shiite majority.
Freedom! It sounds wonderful. But, when dictatorships end in countries of fragile multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition, freedom is seldom understood as an invitation to liberal democracy. It's understood by each constituent group as an opportunity to be free of others, to go it alone at last.
A glance at what happened to Yugoslavia in the 1990s would have been sufficient to grasp that. Some consideration of the end of the Soviet Union would also have been instructive. As modern Iraq is a British creation, and an unhappy one, a moment's reflection on the ethnic and religious upheavals that followed another British withdrawal - from India in 1947 - might have been helpful, too.
But this was a gut-driven American war undertaken in a hermetic chamber of ideological certitude. Therein lies its astonishing boldness. Therein also lie its lamentable failings.
And here we are, more than three years on, in the midst of a conflict at once religious, tribal, sectarian, anti- colonial, existential and revolutionary. That's a handful.
It was a British general, Rupert Smith, then wearing the blue helmet of the United Nations, who, on a particularly grim day in Sarajevo in 1995, commented to me that, "There's just no point hanging around in the midst of somebody else's war." That was three years into the Bosnian conflict, about the same stage Iraq is at.
Smith had a point - and acted on it. As Bush has clearly understood in installing Robert Gates as the new defense secretary, it is also time to act in Iraq. With more than 240 dead American troops in the past three months, hanging around in the midst of someone else's war is unacceptable.
But what to do? Equally unacceptable are two possible results of an American withdrawal: the transformation of Anbar Province into Al Qaeda central, and a fracture of Iraq to the point that a Kurdish push for independence draws Turkey into the conflict. Iraq cannot split neatly: A quarter of the population is in the mixed city of Baghdad.
A strong enough American presence is needed to avoid this denouement. At the same time, the American presence has to become weak enough to place Iraqis before their responsibilities. On the nobody-ever-washed- a-rented-car principle, Iraq's Shia, Sunnis and Kurds are not going to clean up Iraq until they are convinced it's theirs.
This "cleanup" is almost certainly going to involve a lot more bloodshed. Shiites are going to fight Sunnis - the militias are already in place - and Kurds, who have their own more disciplined forces, are going to maneuver for advantage.
But one day the militias will exhaust themselves and, in any event, there's little Americans can do now to stop them. So, for the most part, they should get out of the way until Iraqis find their own compromise between freedom understood as liberal democracy and freedom understood as living among your own.
The coming months are certain to see much discussion about a timetable for withdrawal. The remaining two years of the Bush presidency seems a reasonable period to go from occupation to a discreet garrison large enough to prevent the worst but not so big as to give Iraqis a continuing excuse for carnage without end.
The Iraq war is inseparable from its region. Gates argued in 2004 that America's refusal to engage Iran was self-defeating. He's been working with former Secretary of State James Baker 3rd on a bipartisan report on Iraq. Baker, when in government, was well known for his engagement of Syria. There's no question that a Gates-Baker push to talk to Iran and Syria would alter the dynamic in Iraq.
Leaders in Damascus and Tehran have been united in desire to see America suffer in a weak Iraq. But the Syrians favor a Sunni Baathist revival, the Iranians Shiite domination. Clever U.S. diplomacy could drive a wedge.
Not least because the Middle East is more fluid than in decades. From Lebanon's now compromised Cedar Revolution, to the repressed democratic stirrings here in Egypt, to Libya's Westward lurch, and, yes, Iraq's agonized quest for democracy, the signs of change are real. They are contested, but they exist. This knife to a mummified Arab-Muslim body politic amounts to an enduring achievement of the invasion.
It has become fashionable to say of Iraq that it's "lost." A certain fight has been lost, as Rumsfeld's exit makes clear. But the execution of Saddam Hussein would be a powerful symbol of the death of an old order. And Bush's latest scaled-down definition of victory - an Iraq that can "govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself" - is not beyond what intelligence and new thinking can fashion.
Judge: Arrest Ex-President Of Iran
A special prosecutor sought the order, alleging that the worst terrorist attack on Argentine soil was orchestrated by leaders of the Iranian government and entrusted to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.
Iran's leading diplomatic envoy in Buenos Aires, Mohsen Baharvand, told the Associated Press that his government would oppose any efforts to detain Mr. Rafsanjani or other Iranian nationals. Iran's charge d'affaires, Mr. Baharvand said the case was politically motivated.
An official in the office of Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, who spoke with the AP on condition of not being identified, said the judge was seeking the detention of Mr. Rafsanjani and eight others. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with traditional court practice here in such cases.
The July 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center here killed 85 people and injured more than 200 others. Investigators say an explosives-packed van was driven up to the building and detonated.
Iran's government has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack following repeated accusations by the Jewish community and other leaders here.
Diplomats Say Russia Is Trying To Delay Decision on Lebanese Tribunal
The delay in setting up the tribunal — which would try suspects for the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and other Lebanese victims of political assassinations — comes as Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian factions in Lebanon are moving to dominate the country's politics and shield powerful Syrian figures from prosecution.
The United Nations is pushing for the tribunal to be organized as quickly as possible, even before the completion of the U.N. investigation into the February 2005 Hariri assassination, a U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told The New York Sun yesterday.
The head of the probe, Belgian investigator Serge Brammertz, met with Secretary-General Annan yesterday for what was described as a "routine" working session. His next report is due in mid-December and the investigation is reportedly near completion.
In conjunction with Lebanese jurists, the chief of the U.N. legal department, Nicolas Michel, prepared a proposal for a "statute of the special tribunal for Lebanon." The 14-page draft proposal was shared with the five permanent members of the council over the weekend, with everyone but Russia in agreement that the tribunal must be set up quickly.
Beirut politicians, meanwhile, fell short yesterday of a deal on a unity government that could tip the balance of power in the country. Earlier, the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, threatened that unless the pro-Syrian factions gain veto power in the 24-member Cabinet by holding at least a third of the seats for his party and its allies, his supporters would stage mass street protests. Christian leader Samir Geagea said he would lead counter-protests.
Diplomats at the United Nations said yesterday that they suspected Russia, which considers Damascus an ally, of waiting for the pro-Syrian forces to gain political power. Those forces could reject the tribunal, which could prosecute major Syrian figures, including members of President Assad's family and his inner circle of advisers who have been implicated by the U.N. investigation.
According to the latest U.N. draft proposal, the tribunal and the Lebanese courts would have "concurrent jurisdiction," but the tribunal would "have primacy" over the national courts.
The draft suggests that the tribunal be composed of one international pretrial judge; three trial judges (one Lebanese and two international); an appeal chamber of two Lebanese and three international judges; and two alternate judges. All international judges, according to the proposal, are to be appointed by the U.N. secretary-general.
Several diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Sun that Russia objected to several points in the proposal and demanded that the Security Council, rather than the secretary-general, name the international judges. Such a change could delay the process significantly, as council members could struggle to agree on a list of judges.
"We've got a number of changes we want, but we're very concerned to move quickly to set up the tribunal," the American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said yesterday. "We think that's very important to do as a political signal."
The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, acknowledged that he had raised several "legal concerns" about the draft proposal. However, he denied delaying the process. "The tribunal will have to be credible," he said. "It must be based in international law" and "the political forces in Lebanon must be as comfortable with the statute as they can."
The council has been "engaged in that" for "just a few days," Mr. Churkin told reporters when asked whether he was trying to slow the process of setting up the tribunal. "It's something which is going to be in the law textbooks for decades, so we have to be thorough about it."
But Mr. Bolton singled out Russia as disagreeing with the rest of the council on "a lot of things." "I think it's significant, for example, that China has no difficulty with the statute as it's now proposed," he said.
The tribunal would try suspects for the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
Lebanon needs the International Tribunal. Indeed, the whole world needs it.
Syria has too often used violence to rid herself of any opponent in Lebanon. Syria not only strikes at whomever she pleases in Lebanon but uses murder to encourage distrust, strife and even civil war among the competing Lebanese communities.
Thanks to widespread communication and information made readily and instantly available to anyone these tactics no longer work in The Lebanon. Syria has failed to take notice and wants to carry on as she did in decades past.
Only an International Tribunal can give a fair trial to those who killed Mr. Hariri. How can anyone think that Lebanon can put the accused on trial when any judge or witness can be easily intimidated by Syria and its Lebanese militia known as Hezbolah?
The International Tribunal will not only help punish those that carried the infamous Hariri murder but at the same time it will send a strong and clear message to all those in power who seek to influence politics through terrorism. The International Tribunal will make them understand that this is a new world and not even a head of state is above the law.
Thursday November 9, 2006
Foreign Policy Accociation, November 9, 2006
By Marco Vicenzino
Since the UN-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, Lebanon has witnessed a growing public display of post-conflict polarization as demonstrated by recent clashes between rival factions and the largest public rallies representing diametrically opposing views of the conflict and the nation's future.
Although opposing views were expressed by some during the 34-day conflict, Geagea's speech was by far the most comprehensive, outspoken and defiant speech against Hezbollah since the cease-fire from any major figure across the political spectrum. In essence, Geagea's speech may have marked the throwing down of the gauntlet in the intensifying war of words.
Many former enemies of the 1975-90 civil war, such as Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt, have found a common home in the March 14 th Movement. Some of the underlying factors uniting the parties include opposition to Syrian influence in Lebanon and agreement on a common vision of a secular Lebanon rooted in democratic institutions. However, there is no single charismatic individual able to coalesce these often disparate forces and the movement's structural foundations remain fairly weak. This allows Hezbollah, under Nasrallah's firm and unchallenged leadership in the Shiite community, to easily exploit the differences of other sects to its advantage.
United under the guidance of the wily Walid Jumblatt, the Druze represent a dwindling minority whose numbers most likely constitute far less than 10% of the population. Although losing supremacy in the Shiite community to Hezbollah, Nabih Berri has skillfully re-invented himself over the years to emerge as the indispensable mediator between Hezbollah and all its internal and external opposition.
The Sunni community largely looks to the Hariri faction for leadership, which is currently affiliated with the central government of Prime Minister Sinoura, which survived the conflict but is currently being challenged by enormous post-conflict pressures. Although the Prime Minister has demonstrated a level of resilience defying the expectations of many skeptics, it remains uncertain for how long his government will survive.
Sinioura came into office lacking the international stature, standing, charisma and force of personality of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri's success was largely based on his interpersonal skills, particularly an acute understanding of the needs of others and a remarkable ability to deliver which created an aura of indispensability about him. This facilitated the creation of an international network of contacts and friendships accumulated over a lifetime in the private sector which played an enormous role in political dealings internationally as Prime Minister.
Since its creation, the Sinioura government has struggled to achieve a broad consensus often on the lowest common political denominator to advance the national agenda, which clearly reflects the divisive and fractious state of affairs of current Lebanese politics.
The Christian community, once Lebanon 's largest and most influential power-brokers, remains the country's most divided sect with no single prominent leader. Its pre-1975 status of privilege and pre-eminence is long gone. Its dwindling numbers are largely attributable to lower birth rates and massive immigration over the past century with more Lebanese Christians (including their offspring) residing overseas than in Lebanon.
The Catholic Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir arguably remains the only figure who can speak with any moral authority on behalf of Lebanon's Catholic Maronites, but perhaps not the Greek Orthodox Christian community. The Patriarch's opinion and counsel is widely sought in the international arena, as evidenced by regular meetings with high-ranking international figures, particularly U.S. Secretary of State Rice. Although politically influential, the Patriarch remains a religious figure which ultimately provides no substitute for a prominent secular leader needed to represent the community at the national level, particularly in the current state of polarization and when a new Maronite president will be chosen in 2007. The Patriarch's blessing and approval remains an important custom.
The only two secular Christian figures who continue to exert influence remain the civil war-time leaders, Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea. In the last stage of the 75-90 civil war, they led an intra-sectarian, fratricidal conflict between Christians which ultimately culminated in a final defeat for the entire Christian community and the loss of its influence. The Taif Accords ending Lebanon's civil war ultimately consolidated this defeat. Aoun fled to exile in France and Geagea was eventually imprisoned for 11 years in solitary confinement on charges stemming from the civil war. In the autumn of 2005, Geagea was pardoned by the Lebanese Parliament but Hezbollah's MPs abstained from the vote.
Since his release, Geagea has been recovering and re-organizing his political base, which remained fiercely loyal during his absence. Although Geagea has made several public appearances over the past year, his September 24th speech may mark a more prominent, full-scale return to the political scene and a growing presence within the March 14 th Movement. Geagea's arguably controls 15-20% support within the Christian community, but it remains a well-organized and staunchly devoted minority, particularly in the traditional Maronite Christian strongholds in the mountains of northern Lebanon.
GENERAL MICHEL AOUN
Michel Aoun is the only other major figure with significant support in the Christian community and of the few figures who can claim some support from across the sectarian spectrum. This is mostly due to his strong military and nationalist credentials and reputation amongst his supporters for incorruptibility. However, his base of support is ultimately dependent and rooted in the Christian community for which numbers range from 25 to 40% (although the numbers are not fully clear).
General Aoun returned to Lebanon in May 2005 after nearly 15 years of exile in France. Within a month of his return, he led an impressive electoral performance in the June 2005 parliamentary elections, despite the obstacles of Syrian-gerrymandered voting districts designed to prevent significant Christian electoral gains.
However, the high expectations and hopes that accompanied the return of General Aoun have yet to materialize over a year later. The General has yet to capture the wider public imagination beyond his core constituency. The reasons are the subject of fierce debate littered by charges and counter-charges, particularly concerning his relationship with the March 14 th Movement and specifically with the Hariri faction.
Aoun's supporters claim that the March 14th leaders attempted to sideline him from the very beginning, that is, immediately after the Syrian departure by insisting he not return to Lebanon until after the elections. The bickering that ensued in the following months ultimately led to Aoun's memorandum-of-understanding with Hezbollah in late 2005, which from some quarters drew charges of treason and having "sold out" to the Syrians. Aoun's relationship with Hezbollah may represent a long-term strategic calculation and tactical move based on the reality that Lebanon's Shiites will inevitably become the majority and the Christians will diminish in numbers. Consequently, it would be best to build a relationship now and lock them into the current institutions of secular democracy, from which it would be more difficult to disengage from in the future.
Aoun's supporters charge that a government-controlled media has further complicated his situation. Furthermore, Aoun's insistence on a public audit of all government officials has further complicated relations with the central government.
Aoun's critics note that his authoritarian style and tendencies make collaboration and cooperation nearly impossible. He never intended to become part of the March 14th Movement and sought pretexts for a rift to emerge. He ultimately remains a military man in civilian clothing whose only obsession is becoming President of Lebanon, which must be chosen in 2007. Aoun's critics maintain that Aounism is about Aoun himself and that eventually with his death there will be no credible successor to his movement. His current age and health serve as liabilities to his political aspirations.
Aoun's political organization, the Free Patriotic Movement, officially became a political party in the autumn of 2005. The party's vision and political platform calls for a secular, democratic Lebanon and the fight against corruption remains a core theme. The organization has significant support from many young committed idealists, many of whom protested regularly and were subject to repression by the Syrian and Lebanese security apparatus from 1990 to 2005.
The higher level of the party hierarchy is composed of long-time, senior Aoun loyalists and the grass-roots machinery is staffed largely by supporters in their 20's and 30's. However, the party lacks a group of seasoned mid-career professionals and senior technocrats (in their 40's and 50's) that can bridge the gap and convert the party into a fully effective political entity.
Ultimately, Aoun's main challenges are internally-driven. His sporadic public outbursts and sensationalist statements contribute to an image of instability (particularly when statements are interpreted literally), diminish his credibility and a loss of important political capital. There is also the lack of a formidable strategic communications team able to deliver a coherent message. Despite the party's tech-savvy website, the oral message from the leader and principal spokesman is not connecting effectively. All this combined has facilitated the task of Aoun's opponents, particularly those in the media.
Marco Vicenzino is the founder and Executive Director of the Global Strategy Project. He served as Deputy Executive Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-US (IISS-US) in Washington, DC, and is an international attorney. He is a graduate of Oxford University and Georgetown University Law Center and has taught International Law at the School of International Service of American University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinion, Countercurrents.org, November 9, 2006
In mid 1970s the American Power Elite drew a “Grand Plan” to control and to monopolize global oil and nuclear energy resources, for he who controls energy resources determines the fate of nations. The base of this “Grand Plan” is the invasion of energy rich countries to directly control their resources, and to create subservient governments that would exploit their own people as cheap labor to harvest energy for the United States.
The collapse of the Soviet Union had created a window of opportunity for the United States to ensure and to affirm its global superiority through expansion and controlling energy resources without any real opposition. The attacks of 911 were necessary requirements for the Bush administration to wage a “global war against terror” that would serve as a cover up for American hegemony. President Bush borrowed Mussolini’s fascist motto of “If you are not with me, you are against me” and turned it into “You are either with us or with the terrorist” to terrorize weaker nations into accepting American expansions.
Part of the “Grand Plan”, which deals with the Arab World (Middle East) and South East Asia, was handed down to the Bush/Cheney administration for execution. The invasions and destructions of Afghanistan and Iraq are just the beginning. Iran, Syria, and Lebanon are next. Controlling Iran is very important to the American administration. Iran sits on a lake of oil and has large deposits of uranium that, when mined and refined, could make Iran a super global power. Controlling Iran leads to the containment of China (America’s greatest competitor), who depends heavily on Iranian oil to satisfy its growing hunger for energy. Geographically Iran makes the shortest and the most economical route for Kazakhstan’s oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea ,north, to the Persian Gulf south with all the oil-tankers traffic. Iran also fits perfectly within the line of American hegemony in South East Asia. Listening to Bush’s speeches – especially his speech to the United Nation last September 2006- one can detect his “enthusiasm” for “spreading democracy and freedom” into the “despotic Middle East” with Iraq as an example.
The Bush/Cheney administration started its overt aggression against Iran immediately after 911 attacks. Bush described Iran as one of the “axis of evil” sponsoring “terrorist” groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, who are in reality defending themselves against Israeli aggression. After the American invasion of Iraq the American administration accused Iran of instigating a civil war in Iraq by supporting Shiites against Sunnis, and of opening its borders wide for terrorists to enter Iraq. The administration is accusing Iran of building a nuclear bomb, and is continuously threatening its government to abandon its nuclear “ambitions” or else face dire consequences including nuclear strikes (a paradox of using nuclear weapon to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons). Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State described Iran as a “central bank for world terrorism” that is threatening the stability of the Middle East.
American media had joined the administration into demonizing Iran and its government. Iran is described as a fundamentalist theocracy, who seeks to revive the glory of ancient Persian Empire by establishing an Islamic “Caliphate” in the Middle East. Iran’s leaders are portrayed as extremists, who hate Americans for their freedom, and want to build nuclear bomb to attack the US. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is described as an irrational, violent, mad Hitler-like anti-Semite, who hates Jews, denies the Holocaust, and wants to wipe Israel off the map. Ahmadinejad’s visit to the US last September (2006) to give a speech at the UN was received with a cold shoulder by the US. American officials in the UN and the American media boycotted his speech, while NBC’s Brian Williams and Newsweek’s Lally Weymouth interviewed him only to corner him about the Holocaust and wiping Israel off the map.
Bush/Cheney administration had rebuffed all Iranian attempts to negotiate, and refused to give Iran any guarantees that the US will not attack Iran if it stops its uranium enrichment. President Bush totally ignored President Ahmadinejad’s personal letter, and his call for a debate. The Washington Post, in June 18th 2006, reported Richard Hass, head of policy planning at the State Department at the time, as saying that at the wake of the US invasion of Iraq Iranian leaders offered the administration a proposal for a broad dialogue that included full cooperation on its nuclear programs, acceptance of the state of Israel, and halting support to Palestinian militants. The administration rejected this proposal since they already have plans for a regime change in Iran.
The administration’s attack plan started immediately after the invasion of Iraq. Spy stations were erected at the Iraqi/Iranian borders. The Congress had authorized the expenditure of $75 million to support Iranian opposition and to finance an anti-Iranian political campaign. Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector, reported in June 2005 and in his book “Target Iran” that the US has been using terrorist organizations (Mujahedeen el-Khalq, MEK), under the supervision of the CIA, to conduct covert terrorist operations in Iran. MEK has been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the US. Yet in 2004 Bush/Cheney administration pardoned the MEK making it the first terrorist organization to receive a “protected” status. The MEK terrorists were trained by the CIA in an American compound northeast of Baghdad, and then moved to Basra and established their base in Camp Habib, from which they launch their terrorists raids against the southern region of Iran.
Israel, on the other hand, criticized Iran’s nuclear program refusing to “live under the threat” of nuclear Iran. Israeli officials point to Ahmadinejad’s alleged threat to wipe Israel off the map as threat to their own existence, and a possible justification for a pre-emptive strike as a measure of self-defense. They continually threaten to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities the same way Israel did to Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Israel warned that Iran’s uranium enrichment is the red line that Israel will react to. Israel had sent its military operatives into the Kurdish region north of Iraq to establish training camps for the Kurds. The Kurds want to establish their free Kurdistan that extends from north Iran to east Turkey. Considering it their patriotic duty, and encouraged, financed and armed by the Israelis, the Kurds send their militants to conduct military operations into northern Iran.
Bush/Cheney administration is adamant on invading Iran. Invasion was originally planned to take place sometime during the end of April 2006 immediately after the end of the grace period UN gave to Iran to stop its nuclear program. The plan consisted of 5 days continuous aerial bombardment by joint air planes of Israel, UK, and US that might include tactical nuclear bunker buster bombs. Land invasion would follow from west (Iraq), from east (Afghanistan) and from sea (Persian Gulf from west and Gulf of Oman from south). The plan was to heavily bombard the Iranians into overthrowing their government.
In an attempt to stop this attack Iran flexed its military muscles in war games conducted in April 2006. Iran effectively demonstrated its capability of waging war on land, sea, and air with sophisticated weapons. Iran also conducted other war games in August 2006 in coordination with China and Russia on all of Iran’s geo-strategic borders giving a warning signal that any possible invasion of its territory would be very costly. The American administration discovered that it had underestimated Iran’s military power, and that Iran is a larger and a stronger country than the embargo-weakened Iraq. Therefore the administration decided to adjust its war plans and to bring in more allies such as EU and some Arab states.
Contrary to the misleading American propaganda about the threat of irrational extremist Iranian government Iranian leaders have been very pragmatic politicians, who seek peace, stability, and nuclear-free Middle East. There is no doubt that Iran has supported Palestinian families (victims of Israeli terror), Shiite Lebanese south of Lebanon, and Shiite Iraqis in an attempt to protect its own interests and to counter balance warring Israel, UK, and US. Israel had invaded all its neighboring countries while the UK and US had sent their troops across the globe to invade Afghanistan and Iraq to protect its own interests in the region. For many generations Iran was never involved in a colonial war and had never threatened other countries. Iran was defending itself during the eight years Iraq/Iran war of attrition that had been instigated by the US. Unlike the Israeli and American military threatening rhetoric Iranian leaders had always declared that they do not pose any threat to any other country, and that Iran is only seeking peace and prosperity for its own citizens. Iranian officials recognized that war is knocking on their doors when American troops invaded Iraq. They attempted to approach Bush/Cheney administration with dialogue and cooperation, but they were rebuffed violently.
The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not conform “..to the picture of a madman” the American administration and media portray him to be, wrote Fareed Zakaria in his Newsweek (10/2/2006) article “What Iranians Least Expect”. “He was smug, even arrogant, sometimes offensive, but always calm and intelligent” continued Zakaria. Ahmadinejad is not the Jew-hater, Holocaust denier, intent on wiping Israel off the map as Bush keeps describing him. Ahmadinejad pointed to the Iranian Jewish community, who are living peacefully within Iran as any other Iranian citizens. Iran is the home for the largest Jewish community (25 thousands) in the Middle East outside Israel, who lived there for the last 3 thousand years since the rule of Cyrus the Great. Iranian government recognizes the Jews as a religious minority to be protected and represented by a PM, Maurice Mohtamed, in Iranian parliament. Iranians make a distinction between Jews and Zionists.
When Newsweek’s Lally Weymouth (October 2nd 2006) asked Ahmadinejad about the Holocaust he acknowledged it as a historical event by stating “We know this was a historical event that happened. But why is it that people who question it are persecuted and attacked?” He also questions the reasons why the Palestinians have to pay their country and their lives for what the Europeans had done. He questions the exploitation of the Holocaust to justify the usurpation of Palestinian land, their evacuation from their homeland and the destruction of their civilian homes, the targeted assassination of their freedom fighters, and the abduction and jailing of their democratically elected officials. “The Palestinian people, their lives are being destroyed today under the pretext of the Holocaust. Their lands have been occupied, usurped. What is their fault? What are they to be blamed for? Are they not human beings? Do they have no rights? What role did they play in the Holocaust?” Ahmadinejad answered NBC’s Brian Williams, who asked him about the Holocaust during an interview in September 20th, 2006. His acceptance of the Holocaust as a reality could not be any clearer than in his statement reported by the Washington Post December 9th 2005 “Is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler, the reason for their (the Europeans’) support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?”
Ahmadinejad’s plans to build a nuclear bomb and use it to incinerate and “to wipe Israel off the map” as Tzipi Linvi – the Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister and Vice Prime Minister- likes to keep reminding the world of, is totally baseless. It is an intentional misinterpretation and distortion of Ahmadinejad’s speech. In the New York Times of June 11th, 2006 Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan, stated that “Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map, because no such idiom exists in Persian. He did say he hoped its regime i.e. a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse.” Ahmadinejad was not threatening Israel; rather he was calling for the end of Zionist occupation of the city of Jerusalem. He – and the Iranian government- are intelligent politicians, who understand that striking Israel with one atomic bomb would lead Israel to shower Iran with its 200, or more, nuclear bombs, some of which are ready to be launched from submarines.
To avoid the seemingly inevitable war Iran had followed the diplomatic path with no avail. It opened all its nuclear facilities to the strictest and most detailed inspections by the IAEA, who stated that there was no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. Iran proposed to halt its nuclear program if the US halts its threatening postures and gives guarantees that it would not attack Iran. The Bush/Cheney administration refused to give Iran any guarantees insisting that all options, including nuclear, are on the table. Ahmadinejad also called for peaceful negotiations and a nuclear-free Middle East in his speech to the UN in his September visit. Yet his speech was boycotted by the American officials and ignored by the American media. Lately Iran proposed to have an international consortium to supervise uranium enrichment in Iran to guarantee that its nuclear program is really for peaceful purposes only. This proposal was rejected by the EU for they all are aware of the American plans to invade Iran.
Iran had also turned to the international community – mainly anti-American countries- for political support through economical trade and common political interests. In 2004 Iran struck an oil deal with China Petrochemical Corp. (SINOPEC Group) to sell it 51% stake in Iran’s Yadavaran oil field near the border of Iraq. Iran also became Russia’s most important weapons customer. Iran had also gained the political support of at least 118 countries during the summit of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) in Cuba in mid September 2006.
Iranian government, like any other prudent government in its place, has no alternative but to seriously consider the Israeli and American continuous military threats to its security and to prepare for the inevitable coming war. In a deterrent attempt Iran had conducted war games in April and August 2006 hoping that the American administration would reconsider its plans. It also positioned its weapons strategically on its borders and sea. Iranian arsenals include Iranian and Russian made submarines carrying their own mini submarines and submarine-to-ship missiles. Iranian naval forces had been updated with the latest military equipment and weaponry with its naval airborne forces including helicopters, minesweepers and the sophisticated fast Chinese “Silkworm” and “Sunburn” anti-ship missiles with the speed of 225 miles per hour. Iranian Patrol Torpedo Boats (PT) – such as the “Jashan PT”- are small boats designed to attack larger warships and are equipped with latest electronic systems and missiles with a range of 100km. Iran’s navy also has the largest hovercraft fleet in the world. On the land Iran has long range missiles (Shehab) and land-to-sea missiles (Kowsar) that can evade electronic jamming systems. Some of Iranian missiles are reported to be invisible to radar and can have multiple warheads with multiple payloads to hit multiple targets simultaneously.
Iran has also recently modified its air defense shield in order to shoot down incoming missiles and invading warplanes. Iran has about 20 Russian “Tor” and “S300” antiaircraft systems. Besides Russian warplanes Iran has manufactured its own warplanes with laser-guided missiles and whose capabilities are still unknown and could surprise any invading enemy. Iran also has its own fleet of unmanned militarized drones.
The eight-year Iraq/Iran desert war had given Iranian army the longest experience in ground and desert warfare far exceeding any other army. The Iranians learned to manufacture their own weapons such as tanks, missiles, torpedoes, helicopters, submarines and warplanes. This gave them independence and strength.
Attacking Iran will disrupt oil traffic in the Persian Gulf. In an obvious and expected move Iran will close the Straits of Hermuz blocking all military and supply in-traffic and all oil out-traffic. American military bases in the Gulf States will be targeted, and there is the possibility of also targeting oil wells. To exacerbate the ensuing oil crises Syria and Iran may also target the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline carrying oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe through Turkey. Venezuela, an Iranian ally, would stop the flow of its oil to the US. The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has warned that Venezuela would not sit idle if Iran and Syria were attacked. An energy crisis might devastate Western countries. China might also enter the conflict to protect its own oil assets in Khuzestan province that the Iranian had armed heavily to protect its oil resources and to assure the supply of crude oil to its own allies.
Recognizing that Iran, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, is a big country with a military power including strong aerial defense that is well ready for the anticipated heavy Western aerial strike, and that it has a military outreach towards the whole region that might disrupt the flow of oil, the American administration decided to postpone its attacks until it creates a “war oil reserve”, forms a large alliance of “willing countries”, and sends a military armada to the region to guarantee victory.
The American administration influence on the UN and NATO can be seen clearly by the types of resolutions the UN adopts, and by the NATO troops becoming an American proxy occupier of Afghanistan. To avoid internal political crisis the administration needs to spare the lives of the American troops as much as possible by convincing more countries that it is in their own economic interest to send their own troops to the Middle East to “keep” the oil flow to their countries. UN resolution 1701 was the best cover to send military personnel and equipment to the region. 15 thousand armed UNIFEL troops are stationed on the Lebanese southern borders to protect Israel from any Hezbollah’s attacks. An armada of NATO battleships is crowding the eastern shores of the Mediterranean allegedly to stop arm shipments to Hezbollah. The real purpose of this armada is to protect the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Terminal during the war against Iran and Syrian, and to guarantee the flow of oil to Europe.
The cooperation of Gulf Arabian States was also needed. Condoleezza Rice traveled to Egypt early October and met with foreign ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Rice followed the usual American tactics of dandling the resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli issue in order to gain cooperation from these Arab leaders. To put more pressure on these leaders President Bush divided them into “moderate vs extremists”. Israel had also courted these “moderate” Arab leaders during September United Nations meeting in New York, where Israeli officials held some private meetings with officials from Persian Gulf Countries (The Wall Street Journal, October 3rd). There was also a rumor about an Israeli/Saudi secret private meeting in Jordan’s King Abdullah’s palace at the end of September. The talks aimed to form some kind of secret intelligence and military alliance between Israel and the US on one side and the “moderate” Arabic regimes on the other hand against the Iranian nuclear threat and the so called “Shiite Crescent” –Iran, Syria and Lebanon- in the north. After all, these Sunni Gulf rulers had supported and financed Iraqi Saddam Hussein during his eight years war against Iran. They had sent Moslem fighters as an American proxy army to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. They had, for fifty eight years, stood silent about the Israeli terror against Palestinians, and finally had criticized Hamas and Hezbollah resistance as foolish and uncalculated useless adventures. Some of these Gulf States had joined actively into the American war games off the Iranian coastline in October 31st while others joined as observers only.
The US and NATO countries had amassed the largest military armada in the Middle East. The US armada consists of Carrier Strike Group 12 led by nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, Eisenhower Strike Group – another nuclear powered aircraft carrier with accompanied military vessels and submarines, Expeditionary Strike Group 5 with multiple attack vessels led by aircraft carrier USS Boxer, the Iowa Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, and the US Coast Guard. Canada has sent its anti-submarine HMCS Ottawa frigate to join the American Armada in the Persian Gulf. On October 1st the USS Enterprise Striking Group had crossed the Suez Canal to Join NATO armada at the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
The NATO force is composed of troops and naval vessels from several countries and is lead by Germany. It includes Garman command naval forces, Italian navy, 2 Spanish warships, 3 Danish warships, 10 Greek Warships, 2 Netherlands warships, and French, Belgium, Turkish and Bulgarian troops in South Lebanon.
This is the largest amass ever of military power in the region, and it is gathering for a reason.
The US had started its military provocation on October 30th with its “Leading Edge” war game across the Iranian shores. Iran responded with a 10 days military maneuvers “Great Prophet” taking place in Gulf, Sea of Oman, and several provinces of the country test-firing dozens of its long-range missiles capable of reaching Israel and American military bases in Gulf States. The powder keg is ready and all it needs is a match to ignite it. This could come in the form of an “arranged” terrorist act in Lebanon – e.g. another political assassination or toppling of government- to be blamed against Syria and Iran. American warnings of such an act are already in the media.
The present American administration is an extremist theocratic apocalyptic neoconservative Christian-Zionist war mongering law-breaking power hungry administration with a bragging “war president” adopting the doctrines of “pre-emptive” strikes and perpetual war against “global terror”. This war will take place far away from the American home-land, and will generate large profits for the American military corporations. The war against Iran will engulf the whole Middle East and may overflow to its neighboring countries. Controlling Iran is a very important strategic move to assure American global hegemony. This war is scheduled to start between February and April of 2007, and it seems that there is nothing to stop it.
Tuesday November 7, 2006
Will Bush Lose Lebanon, Too!
November 7, 2006; WSJ, Page A13
President Bush learns tonight whether Republicans will lose control of the House, the Senate, or both. But what's a mere midterm when his administration is on the verge of losing an entire country?
That country is Lebanon. Twenty months ago, when Syrian troops were abruptly forced out in the so-called Cedar Revolution after a 29-year occupation, the Levantine state was a byword for the ascendancy of the Bush Doctrine. "It's strange for me to say this," the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told columnist David Ignatius in February 2005, "but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world."
Fast-forward to the present and then watch as the Cedar Revolution gets played in reverse. The White House issued a remarkable statement last Wednesday warning of "mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah and their Lebanese allies are preparing to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government." That evidence includes recent threats on the lives of leading anti-Syrian figures, about a dozen of whom were assassinated last year. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also promised massive demonstrations if his demand for a "national unity" government -- in which he and his allies would gain enough seats in the cabinet to exercise a veto -- is not met by the end of this week.
This could be scene-setting for another civil war, if the Lebanese have the appetite for it. Mr. Nasrallah's opponents, including the notorious Christian militiaman Samir Geagea, have put it about that if Hezbollah goes ahead with its demonstrations they will stage massive counterprotests and perhaps barricade the roads into Beirut.
What would Mr. Nasrallah do then? "He's going to push the troops of others to bring about an incident," speculates Lebanese commentator Walid Phares of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "He'll start a massive demonstration in front of [Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's] office and demand his resignation. He'll portray himself as the opposition. What he would love most of all is to have the media broadcast the downfall of the Bush-allied government."
That's one scenario, though it probably won't come to that: Mr. Nasrallah would prefer maximum autonomy within the country than actual responsibility over it. Instead, Lebanon's political classes are likely to settle on a compromise that would sacrifice at least one of the three most cherished goals of the Cedar Revolution. The first is disarming Hezbollah, as required by the 1989 Taif Accords and demanded by U.N. Resolutions 1559 and 1701. But that latter resolution, part of the cease-fire agreement arranged by Condoleezza Rice last summer, does more to shield Hezbollah from Israel than the other way around.
Second is a successful conclusion to the U.N. investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The investigation, led by low-key Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, is said to be within weeks of wrapping up, and informed U.S. diplomatic sources expect that it will indict senior figures in the Syrian regime, including relatives of President Bashar Assad. But the indictments must be followed by a trial in Lebanon, which Mr. Assad is desperate to quash. Hence the Hezbollah power play: If Mr. Nasrallah and his allies can gain a third of the cabinet's seats, they can prevent the Hariri case from ever going to trial.
Finally, the Cedar Revolution was supposed to put an end to Syria's meddling in Lebanon. But that won't happen if at the end of this week's political negotiations the Lebanese government allows President Emile Lahoud, still and forever a Syrian puppet, to remain in office even as the country moves to early elections. Nor does it help that Mr. Assad continues to prove his worth to Mr. Nasrallah by serving as his main conduit of arms.
In all this, Hezbollah has been helped by the weakness of its domestic opponents. The Cedar Revolution demonstrated that Lebanon's anti-Syrian forces were a majority in the country. But those forces are fractious and unsure of themselves, and Mr. Nasrallah was able to draw down their support by striking a deal with the opportunistic Maronite leader Michel Aoun. Israel's incompetent military campaign last summer was another boon for Mr. Nasrallah, since anything less than his complete defeat in war was bound to embolden him politically.
Then there is the forthcoming report of former Secretary of State James Baker's Iraq Study Group, which is rumored to urge the Bush administration to re-engage Damascus diplomatically. In recent days Mr. Assad has been talking a blue streak about his willingness to make peace with Israel, a signal that he might be willing to play ball on that front and maybe in Iraq if only the administration lets him have his way in Lebanon.
The term for Mr. Baker's advice is "sell-out," and it is entirely characteristic of his past Mideast diplomacy. As an alternative, Mr. Phares argues that Ms. Rice should convene a conference of Lebanese NGOs in Washington as a way of bracing them for what he calls a "second Cedar Revolution." Also noteworthy is the internal Shiite opposition to Hezbollah: "The Shiite community never gave anyone the right to wage war in its name," Sayed Ali al-Amin, the Shiite mufti of Tyre, recently told Beirut's An-Nahar newspaper. With winter approaching and Hezbollah reportedly sharply cutting back on its reconstruction funds to homeless Shiites, there's an opportunity here to discredit Mr. Nasrallah and separate his organization from its religious base.
Saving Lebanon will require focus, nerve and imagination, qualities hitherto absent from Ms. Rice's tenure at State. Maybe if her boss loses his majority in Congress, he'll be less inclined to let the remainder of his legacy go down the drain with it.
Shiites against Hezbollah
Hezbollah rockets stopped raining on Israel nearly two months ago, but the Shiite organization’s onslaught continues. Today, instead of directly attacking Israel, the Party of God is targeting Lebanese intellectuals and politicians who have the temerity to question Hezbollah’s hegemony over local Shiite politics.
But not all Shiites support Hezbollah. Some have been voicing their opposition to the “resistance” agenda, and not surprisingly, Hezbollah is attempting to strong-arm these dissidents into line. The intimidation has not yet degenerated into violence, but, given Hezbollah’s track record (the terrorist organization is, with Syria, a leading suspect in several political assassinations in Lebanon since 2005), it is certainly wont to.
Hezbollah’s quest for hegemony—and its efforts to enforce party-line discipline over all the Shiites in Lebanon—predates the summer war with Israel. Eleven months ago, in December 2005, Hezbollah and Amal ministers bolted from the government cabinet to protest consideration of an international tribunal to prosecute the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Closely allied with Syria, the lead murder suspect, Hezbollah opposed the notion of an impartial tribunal.
The ministers’ departure brought government business to a standstill, but set in motion even more Hezbollah mischief. Worried that the government might appoint non-Hezbollahis to the apportioned Shiite cabinet seats, cleric Afif Nabulsi issued a fatwa “forbidding any Shia to enter into the cabinet.” This ominous “warning” set off a tempest among the Lebanese intelligentsia. Adonis, aka Ali Ahmed Said, Lebanon’s most prominent man of letters (who happens to be a Sunni), described the fatwa as an “act of aggression.” The most aggrieved party, however, were clearly the Shiites themselves. So incensed was one Shiite lawyer, Mohammed Mattar, that he brought a class action lawsuit against Sheikh Nabulsi.
Mattar’s lawsuit, filed in January 2006, was joined by five prominent Shiites—some of whom had the legitimacy of being direct descendants of the prophet Muhammad—and three Christians. Over fifty intellectuals, including Sunnis, joined a follow-up case. For the plaintiffs, the action was a clear case of church-state separation: Hezbollah, via Sheikh Nabulsi’s threatening fatwa, had deprived Shiite Lebanese of their constitutional right to participate in public life. Mattar et al were not looking for damages or jail time, but rather, for a well-reasoned and widely promulgated court ruling preventing further Hezbollah encroachment on Shiite political expression.
It is open to question whether the judge—a young Sunni hailing from the Hezbollah stronghold of Bekaa—can be counted on for an impartial ruling. Reaction to the case, which has been well covered in the media, has been fierce. Hezbollah has launched a countersuit. Meanwhile, pro-Hezbollah weblogs in Lebanon have savaged Mattar, alternately describing him as a CIA agent, a Mossad agent, and an employee of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.
More recently, in the aftermath of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, perhaps the highest profile Shiite refusenik in Hezbollah’s sights is Mona Fayyad, a professor of philosophy at The Lebanese University. On August 8, Fayyad penned an acerbic op-ed in Lebanon’s paper of record, An-Nahar, assailing Hezbollah’s political and intellectual dominance over her confession. In her widely translated article, “To Be a Shiite Now,” Fayyad questioned the imposition of Hezbollah’s ideology—and the consequences of Hezbollah’s authority—over Shiites and Lebanon.
For Fayyad, to be a Shiite means that “you do not question the meaning of resistance.” Instead, you defer to the leader of the resistance, General Hassan Nasrallah, in “his role as a loyal hero to the cause of the Arab nation.” As a Shiite, “you can only thank Hezbollah for its heroism and sacrifice—it is not your role to contribute to ’weakening’ it. . . . That means never to question whether pride takes precedence over the lives of others.” You are simply obligated, she quips, to “incapacitate your mind and leave it to [Iranian Supreme Leader] Sayyid Khamenei to guide you.” Finally, “if you are a Shiite and you dare write such writings and think such thinking, then you must be a foreign agent and a traitor. . . . You must be with the Zionist and Israeli projects.”
Following her controversial op-ed, Fayyad gave a lengthy and courageous interview in September to the Kuwaiti political daily As Siyasah, where she criticized Hezbollah’s alliance and allegiance to Syria and Iran. She was also critical of Hezbollah’s continued possession of weapons, saying “Hezbollah’s arms provide it with a type of hegemony . . . inspiring fear for security among all the Lebanese.” Fayyad was also one of the signatories to the lawsuit against Sheikh Nabulsi.
While they do not represent majority sentiment in Lebanon’s Shiite community, Mohammed Mattar and Mona Fayyad do represent an important and apparently growing segment of the population—Shiites who have no use for Hezbollah, Amal, or Iranian or Syrian suzerainty over Lebanon.
Lokman Slim, a Shiite who runs a Beirut-based, European-funded NGO focused on diversifying political representation of the Shiite community, is another outspoken critic of Hezbollah. Slim, who speaks critically about the “monopoly on representation,” claims Hezbollah has “undermined” the level playing field among Shiites by preventing moderates from emerging. Slim’s point, of course, is that such moderates could play a role in Lebanese politics if the intimidation stopped.
This raises an interesting point: Hezbollah was indeed elected to the Lebanese parliament, but the organization is not constrained by the precepts of democratic government. Rather, it demonstrates nothing but contempt for democracy, operating instead within a theocratic-autocratic context. Nasrallah himself feels no compunction to abide by even the bylaws of his own party. He is now serving his fifth three-year term, exceeding Hezbollah’s two-term limit on secretary generals. And if Hezbollah’s leader won’t even respect his own party’s rules, how is the party going to be persuaded to observe all the niceties of multiparty democratic government?
Achieving pluralism within Lebanese Shiite politics is a long way off. In addition to being the leader of the “resistance,” Hezbollah represents the culmination of years of Shiite effort to have a significant role in Lebanon’s political system. Convincing the long-suffering Shiites in Lebanon that they can remain influential without Hezbollah is going to be a tough sell.
Lebanon’s Shiite community is not monolithic: There are alternative voices, articulating moderate agendas. And if Hezbollah is ever going to be stripped of its dominant power over the Shiites in Lebanon, these voices will have to be promoted and encouraged. But in the current environment of intimidation, the hope that moderates like Mona Fayyad, Mohammed Mattar, and Lokman Slim will emerge to seriously challenge Hezbollah dictates sadly remains a distant dream.
David Schenker is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 2002 to 2006, he was the Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestinian affairs adviser in the office of the secretary of defense.
Lebanon II: The Wider Picture
Excerpts from a political report submitted to the Organization for Democratic Action, September 2006
The ramifications of Israel's second Lebanon War should be gauged against the background of the dramatic events that the region has undergone in the last three years: the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Hamas electoral victory, and changes in Israel's political economy. These events, in turn, should be viewed against the political vacuum created by the fall of the Soviet Union. The vacuum has been filled in two very different ways: 1) by the neo-liberal conceptions of the global capitalist regime, and 2) by Islamic fundamentalism.
The Organization for Democratic Action (ODA-Da'am) opposed the war in Lebanon. We held the Israeli government responsible for it, despite the rash provocation by Hezbollah. We were guided, as always, by the interests of the working class, which was victimized on both sides of the border. Our position stood in contrast to the jingoism that prevailed in both Arab and Israeli societies.
ODA also has a firm position with regard to Islamic extremism. Historically, this brand of Islam established itself by fighting Communism in Afghanistan and Bosnia. Its later attacks on America confirmed how reckless it can be. The success it has had among the Muslim masses has been due to their abysmal poverty, as well as their subjection to regimes that have no regard for human rights.
Why the war broke out
In his first interview after the firing stopped, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that if he had known that Israel would respond with full-scale war on Lebanon, he wouldn't have captured the soldiers. How could he have been so mistaken in his estimate of the international mood as well as internal Israeli politics?
One factor was Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. Different sides explain this in different ways. Hezbollah presents the event as a historical victory over Israel, unprecedented in Arab history. Our own view is different. We hold that Israel decided to pull out of Lebanon because it wanted to deprive Syria of any pretext for remaining there. A tacit agreement, dating from 1976, had enabled Israel and Syria both to wield power on Lebanese soil. Israel's withdrawal would remove all justification for the Syrian presence. Moreover,Hezbollah had come into being for the purpose of driving Israel out; success would deprive it of its reason for being. Hezbollah's disappearance, in turn, would deprive Damascus of its major goad for pressuring Israel into negotiations over the Golan Heights.
Hezbollah's self-proclaimed victory of May 2000 did not pan out politically. A bourgeois capitalist leadership came to power in Lebanon. Composed of Christians and Sunni Muslims, it was headed by Rafik Hariri. This group understood the opportunities offered by Israel's withdrawal, namely, the chance to get rid of the Syrians and Hezbollah too. In September 2004, urged on by Washington and Paris (with Israel in the wings), the UN Security Council did its part: it passed Resolution 1559, which called for the withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, the disbanding of all militias, the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south, and a free electoral process. The next month, Hariri resigned from government, creating a new party that would seek independence from Syria. In February 2005 he was assassinated.
The murder of Hariri backfired, provoking demonstrations and external pressures that forced Syria's withdrawal in April. The Rafik Hariri Martyr List won 72 of the 128 available seats in the spring parliamentary elections.
If we take a longer view, we see that Israel's withdrawal of May 2000 allowed the real debate in Lebanon to emerge. It broke the consensus within which Hezbollah had thrived. On one side, the bourgeoisie wanted to return to normality after decades of civil war and occupation. On the other stood Hezbollah, representing the south and the poor, determined to keep fighting Israel. The differences were of class (rich Beirut versus the poverty-stricken south), of ethnicity (Shiites versus Sunnis) and culture (the liberal style of the West versus the religious style of Iran).
Six years after the Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah still lived in the flush of victory. Its attack of July 12, 2006, which resulted in the deaths of eight soldiers and the capture of two, was a typical example ofoverreaching, Middle East style. We have seen this kind of thing before. Recall Iraq in 1990. Its war with Iran had cost it dearly in lives, while draining it economically. After eking out his narrow, expensive victory, Saddam discovered that the other Arab states, especially those of the Gulf, had turned their backs on him. Yet hadn't he fought for them too against Shiite fundamentalism? In frustration he invaded Kuwait, providing a pretext for the first Gulf War. Like Nasrallah in 2006, he failed to read the political map.
The region is replete with examples of overreaching. In Afghanistan the mujahidin beat the Soviets, which led to the mistake of attacking America more than a decade later. They were defeated there by a vengeful US President, who overreached, in turn, by invading Iraq. He toppled Saddam, but where is he now? Sinking, together with American influence, in the black Middle Eastern mud.
Or Hamas: by doing too well at the polls it lost the means to govern, and now there is threat of civil war. With victories like these, one wonders, who needs defeats? And so we return to Hezbollah, its putative victory over Israel in May 2000 and the consequent blindness in July 2006. It claims to have won the recent war, but there is something pathetic in the celebrations. This much is certain: no matter how well it fared on the battlefield, it lost in the halls of diplomacy. Despite Israel's feeling of defeat at not having stopped the Katyushas or achieved a decisive victory, the fact is that before July 12, Hezbollah was firmly ensconced in south Lebanon, and today the Lebanese army has taken over there with a beefed-up UN force behind it.
Saddam's fall and the Lebanon War
The American war on Iraq contributed to the outbreak of war in Lebanon, for the following reason. The ousting of Saddam Hussein crippled Iraq, which had been the only strong Arab regime and the sole bulwark against Iran. As a result, Iran became a regional power. Indeed, the Iranians had seen the opportunity coming. Despite their anti-American banter, they had taken care not to interfere with Bush's invasion.
Iran aims to extend its influence over the Iraqi areas on its border, such as Najaf and Karbala, which have great religious importance to the Shiites. In addition, the Shiite parties have won control of Iraq's parliament, reversing the situation under Saddam. This parliamentary inroad has added to Iran's influence at the expense of the Arab countries that remain beneath Sunni domination.
In 2005, just after Lebanon's anti-Syrian wing won power, an extremely dangerous turn occurred in Iran with the presidential victory of conservative hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The reasons were largely internal, having to do with a failing economy. Ahmadinejad made extremist speeches, channelling mass anger toward Israel and the US (despite the tacit cooperation with the latter in Iraq).
These changes in Iran are causing much discomfort among Arab regimes. Ever since the Khomeini revolution of 1979, Iran has been claiming a monopoly over political Islam. It pushed Nasrallah into confrontation not only with Israel but also with other Lebanese factions. Syria, for its part, is always ready to fire up the Lebanese situation and dangle Hezbollah as a bargaining chip before Israel's face. There was no one, in short, to keep Hezbollah from making the mistake that has cost Lebanon so dear.
What does Israel want?
Israel too suffered from short-sightedness. In leaving Lebanon six years ago, it left the Syrian issue open. A treaty with Syria would have included, as part of the price for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a clause eliminating Syrian support for Hezbollah. Instead Israel chose to keep the Golan and to focus on the West Bank and Gaza. As a result, Hezbollah was able to build its position in the south, amassing rockets and influence.
Israel was not in the least prepared for the recent war. Lebanon was not on its agenda. Its government, only two months old, was wrestling against a new consensus, which viewed the unilateral disengagement from Gaza as a mistake that had complicated the conflict.
That disengagement should be viewed within the broader context of America's Iraq war. In 2003, at the height of the second Intifada, Israel adopted Washington's view that Saddam's fall would lead to a new Middle East. These hopes faded as US forces got mired in Iraq. Democratization proved unrealistic. The then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, decided on a change of course. He would disengage unilaterally, spiting his former right-wing allies.
Soon after the pullout from Gaza, however, it became clear that the new approach had failed. In thePalestinian parliamentary elections, which took place five months later, Hamas won a clear victory. Israel refused to cooperate with the new government. Supported by the international community, it imposed an economic blockade on the Palestinian Authority (as if Palestinians were not miserable enough). The PA, torn between the moderate approach of President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the hard-line approach of the Hamas government, lost control of the street. Suicide bombings were replaced by the firing of rockets on Israeli cities.
Throughout the summer, bloody street confrontations between Hamas and Fatah boded civil war. Seeking to avoid this, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh joined President Abbas in signing the so-called Prisoners' Document, which calls for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, reform of the PLO, creation of a national unity government, negotiations with Israel, and an end to attacks within Israel (but none to attacks within the Territories). The document was meant to make co-existence possible between the President, who wants negotiations with Israel, and the Hamas government, which wants to keep the right of resistance.
Hamas's attack into Israel on June 25, 2006, which resulted in the deaths of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of a third, Gilad Shalit, delivered a mortal blow to the effort toward negotiations. The attack was ordered by Khaled Mashal, who heads the Hamas Political Section and is based in Damascus. Mashal opposes the moderate current represented by PM Haniyeh. He refuses all cooperation with Abbas and rejects concessions designed to remove the international economic blockade.
In the eyes of Israelis, the Hamas action crossed all red lines. After the withdrawal from Gaza, they thought, the Palestinians had no justification for attack. The Hamas action strengthened the shift in Israeli public opinion away from support for unilateral withdrawal.
It was against this background that Hezbollah attacked on July 12. Nasrallah wanted prisoners in order to gain the liberation of Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese guerilla jailed since 1979. Beyond that, he wanted to raise the prestige and the popularity of Hezbollah as a force for the liberation of Palestine. Coming on top of Hamas's attack, the Hezbollah action was more than the Israeli regime could bear. Now that war had been thrust upon it, it set out to accomplish two basic objectives. One was to enhance deterrence; it displayed its air power before the Arab regimes, and they, we may assume, were deterred (as though they needed the demonstration!). The second objective was to improve the results of the withdrawal carried out in May 2000 by pushing Hezbollah northward, enabling the Lebanese army to deploy its forces in the south. In this too, we have seen, it succeeded.
Israel did not seek to conquer Lebanon. It sees Hezbollah as an internal Lebanese problem to be treated by the UN, and especially by the US and France. Where Iran is concerned, moreover, Israel understands its limits. It has concluded that this danger can only by met by Washington and the West.
An opening toward European involvement
Israel conducted the war by air attacks and diplomacy. Nasrallah, in his fervor, liked to boast that he needed no backing from the Arab states or the international community. By taking this position, he allowed Israel a free hand to exploit the international arena.
In its previous wars, Israel had looked with suspicion on all international involvement except America's. This time, however, it saw other nations, and especially the European Union, as potential allies. It even received veiled support against the Shiite militia from major Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from the Lebanese government under Fouad Siniora and from PA President Abbas.
One of the key tasks of the war, as Israel saw it, was to preserve this international support. The immediate goal was to push Hezbollah away from the border, but the longer-range one was to get a Security Council resolution that would strengthen the Lebanese government and enable it to take control of the south. Accordingly, Israel conducted the war in frequent consultation with Beirut, using Washington and Paris as go-betweens.
Israel and the Lebanese government were of one mind concerning the arrangement to be passed. The general lines were already established by the end of the war's first week. However, neither Israel nor Hezbollahwas willing then to stop fighting. Hezbollah wanted to lure the Israeli infantry into the south, where it could give it a taste of hand-to-hand fighting on the home court. Israel, for its part, wanted to force Hezbollah out by air power alone. A cease-fire was also delayed because of pressure from Washington, which wanted to give Israel time for military achievements. The outcome was the lethal bombing of south Lebanon, whose inhabitants fled north, while Hezbollah rockets poured down on northern Israel, whose wealthier inhabitants fled south.
The delay brought only destruction and death. There was no change in the general lines of the earlier agreement. Hezbollah distorts the truth when it claims that diplomacy did not force it into concessions. UN Security Resolution 1701 is an intermediate solution that leaves Hezbollah armed but distances it from Israel.
Why did Israel change its position concerning European involvement? One factor is the weakening of America as a global and regional power. Overextended in Iraq, Washington today needs the Security Council in order to deal with the Iranian question. It is forced to cooperate with France in Lebanon. Secondly, Israel found itself fighting on two fronts simultaneously, the Palestinian and the Lebanese. This compelled it to moderate its position, allowing Europe a role.
The new opening toward Europe will carry a political price. Israel will have to give up unilateralism. ThePalestinian issue, as well as the Golan, will again appear on the negotiating table. Europe will push Israel toward concessions, although, at the moment, the government fears internal opposition.
A post-Zionist society
Zionist ideology has given way to post-Zionism, that is, the striving for a life of middle-class ease and security.
One sees this, above all, in the military. Israel's Chief of Staff has always been selected with an eye to the front where the government expected its next confrontation. As long as Egypt was the main threat, it chose a commander from the southern front, an expert in tank warfare. In 1982, when the expected front shifted to Lebanon, it always chose a northern commander from the paratroopers.
The recent selection of Dan Halutz, commander of the air force, expressed a new vision of the future battlefield. Israel figured that its northern front would stay calm, thanks to its withdrawal from Lebanon and to Syria's outdated army. The forecast was that we stand before a period of cold wars. All Israel needed, its leaders believed, was a powerful deterrent, to be supplied entirely by the air force.
The military budget reflected this position. The scope of neglect toward the ground troops became clear when newly mobilized reservists discovered that vital equipment was missing. A major part of the army's budget had gone instead to the purchase of defensive systems based on new technologies, especially for the air force.
Another large chunk of the budget goes to pay the salaries of senior officers, especially those in administration or technology. At a time when the free market winks seductively at them, the state sees no choice but to compete by offering improved conditions for retirement, scholarship grants and hefty salaries. The cult of Mammon has replaced that of Zion.
The war exposed the reserves, the army's backbone, in all their weakness. Erstwhile reserve officers are today the heroes of the new economics. They manage high-tech companies, restaurant chains and banks. They find it difficult to stop for war.
In the past, when labor was organized, the ordinary reservist had no difficulty in leaving his job to serve the state, which would compensate both him and his factory. Today the public companies are gone, replaced by multinationals. The wage earner can't afford to miss a day, lest a replacement be found from another country. Israeli society is no longer suited to maintain a reserve army encompassing the whole population. We are far from the vision of its first leader, David Ben Gurion: a welfare state, founded on values of mutual cooperation, with a people's army and a Jewish economy to guarantee Jewish independence.
The 1993 Oslo Agreement signaled a growing realization in Israel that the direct Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza impedes economic development. It isolates Israel from the world, while making it unsafe to live in. Israel's existence cannot be secured by territorial conquests and military spending, but rather by economic and technological supremacy.
We may trace the beginning of this attitudinal shift to the economic restructuring that began in 1985, when the public sector (in the form of the government and the Histadrut) was supplanted by the free market. A few wealthy Israeli families became major factors in the economic and the political arenas. The new economics led to an ideological turnabout, reflected in the establishment of Kadima, the first political party to win election as a neonate.
Zionism had weathered all sorts of difficulties, thanks to a basic solidarity among Jewish Israelis. The economic restructuring put an end to this solidarity. It also put an end to the notion of equality among Jews, whose tangible expression had been military service. Equality had amounted to a social contract, guaranteeing every Jewish citizen the right to employment, health insurance, housing, education and a pension in old age. The notion fell victim to the free market. The Jewish citizen became, on average, poorer, with less education for her children, dwindling health services and no clear rights. In a word, Israeli society has split into classes. Post-Zionist Israel no longer serves its Jewish population as a whole, rather only its well-to-do.
The Israeli middle class has merged into the free market. This class is centered in Tel Aviv, remote from the poor of the Negev or Galilee, who have become as invisible as Arabs. It is reluctant to send its children to war. Increasing numbers avoid the army. There is no longer a stigma in not having served. They will go on to college and cushy jobs, joining their parents in the upper crust. This change of commitment is apparent when we look at battlefield losses. In the first Lebanon War (1982), half the fatalities were secular Ashkenazis (Jews of European descent). In the war of 2006, their proportion dwindled to a quarter, while that of Mizrahis (Jews of Middle Eastern and African descent), Soviet immigrants and Ethiopian immigrants rose. (Haaretz August 27.)
The bourgeoisie do not feel obligated to invest in Israel. Generous tax breaks on their behalf have led to a drastic reduction in service and welfare budgets. Large public companies have been sold to foreign capitalists with no connection to Zionism. The moment profits lag, they won't hesitate to go elsewhere.
The ruling families take part in the leakage of capital. Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and especially the US have become major venues for their investments. Israel is home to these families still, but their financial home is the global market.
The social division was exposed in all its brutality during the recent war, when the poor of Galilee were abandoned to their fate.
Israel suffers not only from socio-economic gaps but also from a deep political rift. There is the extreme right wing represented by the settlers. There are poor Mizrahi Jews who accept the fundamentalist line of Shas. There are Soviet immigrants who take a right-wing secular line, represented by Avigdor Lieberman. Over against these stand the Arabs, isolated and marginalized, most of whom rooted for Hezbollah in the war. The Israeli middle class, whose vote decides elections, shifts its support between Likud and Labor, though sometimes veering toward a new offshoot like Shinui or lately Kadima.
Given such division, it is hard for any government to survive full term. If the Knesset has not been dissolved and new elections called, this is only because there is no real alternative to the present coalition. In the wake of the war, indeed, a movement has arisen demanding the government's resignation. It draws its members from the Right and the Left, but for this very reason it can offer no alternative. The movement accepts the consensus that the war was justified but protests against the way it was conducted. Nothing is said about the government's neglect of the home front. Rather, this is a movement of the Disappointed, who wanted to see Israel destroy Hezbollah.
The middle class, on whom the government depends, suffered no real damage from the war. The Israeli economy continued to grind on as before, and the Tel Aviv stock market continued to rise. In the war's first days, even while rockets rained down on Galilee, Israeli projects were sold to foreign investors for hundreds of millions.
The distinctive thing about Israel is its place between the developed West and the poor Islamic countries. Holland and France include contentious Muslim minorities, but a sea separates them from the Arab world. Israel, on the contrary, is in that world. It thrust itself in. It is the minority. Hence we find a great contradiction: here is a capitalist country, post-Zionist, adopting the American way of life with American values, but in the same breath it must support a huge army to defend itself from the poor among whom it lives. Intended as a safe haven, Israel has made itself the most dangerous place on earth for Jews. By the structural change in its economy, it has forfeited the social solidarity that once formed the basis of its security.
The chronic political crisis in Israel is created and fueled by two big gaps, and the current leadership has no idea how to span them. One is the internal gap between poor unorganized workers and the upper classes. The other is the external gap between Israel as a wealthy regional power and the impoverished, underdeveloped Arab world.
ODA condemned the Israeli aggression in the recent war, although we were not swept up in the general Arab admiration for Hezbollah. Our position has its source in a Marxist outlook. We ask, first of all, what relation does the war have to the worker? We judged that Israel's unilateral policy, which seeks to preserve an upper hand both here and in Lebanon, enflames the region time and again. On the other hand, we understand that resistance movements like Hezbollah or Hamas will not change the balance of forces. By their extremism, they only bring destruction on their peoples.
We stand before a long campaign, which depends largely on the progress of the working class and its unions throughout the world. We are part of this class. We build our power by learning from its experience, but we are also affected by its weakness. The problems of unemployment and poverty, and the lack of minimal labor rights, are not just Israeli or Arab phenomena. They are international. That is why the political and social solutions to present problems must take shape on a global scale.
Our program is a socialist one. It depends on the power of the unions and the workers' parties. It calls for a radical change in priorities as a precondition for building a progressive and democratic society, free from oppression.
CHALLENGE is a bi-monthly leftist magazine focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a global context. Published in Jaffa by Arabs and Jews, it features political analysis, investigative reporting, interviews, eye-witness reports, gender studies, arts, and more. This article first appeared in Challenge #100
A change of direction on Assad
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush will meet at the White House in Washington on Monday. Their meeting will be a good opportunity for Olmert to announce that he is calling on Syrian President Bashar Assad to begin immediate negotiations for peace with Israel. Since the cease-fire in Lebanon went into effect three months ago, Assad has repeatedly declared his intention to renew peace talks with Israel in order to return the Golan Heights to Syria. His offers were accompanied by threats from Damascus that the Golan would be liberated with violence if a deal is not reached.
Olmert outrightly rejected Assad's calls, and made the following arguments to defend his position: the Golan Heights should remain in Israel's control; Syria will not expel from its territory the Palestinian terrorist headquarters or cease arming Hezbollah, even after it gets back the Golan; talks with Assad will result in international pressure on Israel to hold talks with Hamas; if negotiations fail, and it is fair to assume that they will, the likelihood of war will increase.
Olmert is not alone in this view: a Haaretz-Dialog poll published Friday showed that only 16 percent of the public support talks with Syria. The American administration, which in the past showed great interest in a Syrian-Israeli agreement, is now boycotting Assad.
Accompanying these arguments is the Israel Defense Forces assessment that Syria will begin a war against Israel in the coming summer. Under such circumstances, the supreme obligation of the national leadership is to exhaust the diplomatic options and prevent war, which will have no benefit to Israel. The war will only claim lives and unnecessary destruction on both sides, and at its conclusion, deliberations on "removing the cause for war" and returning the Golan to the Syrians will be resumed.
Since coming to power, Olmert has expressed his hesitation in negotiating with Syria and the Palestinians. But his justifications regarding the Palestinians that "there is no partner" and no responsible government do not apply to Syria. The regime in Damascus is not friendly to Israel, and maintains close ties with some of its bitter enemies, but there is no doubt that it holds power in Syria and maintains with diligence the agreement over the disengagement of forces on the Golan Heights. Despite his strategic alliance with Iran, Assad is not party to calls of Israel's destruction by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but is calling for dialogue and an agreement.
The outright rejection of peace offers from Syria without seeking clarifications and holding an in-depth discussion is irresponsible and an invitation for the next war. The price of an agreement with the Syrians, a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, is known and difficult for Israelis to accept. But Olmert has not even carried out minimal diplomatic clarifications or presentation of Israel's legitimate demands over water arrangements, security and normalization, as was done by the five prime ministers preceding him, who negotiated with Assad's father. The prime minister's upcoming visit to the United States is a good opportunity to change his approach and take the initiative, of course, based on prior coordination with leaders of the American administration.
How Iran became Syria's master
WHILE there is much talk of continued Syrian machinations in Lebanon, little attention is paid to an Iranian plan to remodel Syria into a Khomeinist state.
Yet the Syrians knew that, if Saddam won, he'd become the unrivalled Arab supremo, marginalizing and eventually toppling theirregime. The mullahs knew that only Syria could prevent a unified Arab bloc to back Saddam.
All along, however, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad was careful not to be totally hooked to Iran. He met every U.S. president and maintained close contact with Washington. He was also ruthless when it came to Islamist tendencies, even if that meant massacring thousands of people. When the two joined in sponsoring the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah in 1982, Assad insisted on having his own Lebanonese Shiite outlet in the form of Nabih Berri's Amal Movement.
Significantly, the Syrians also refused Iranian demands that women be kept out of official ceremonies attended by visiting Khomeinist dignitaries, or that no alcohol be served on such occasions.
Yet today there are signs that the Islamic Republic is determined to export its ideology to Syria. Tehran believes that only an Islamicized Syria would be a dependable ally in driving America out of the Middle East, wiping Israel off the map and creating a new Islamic "superpower" with Iran as its core.
Phase one was last year's campaign to cast suspicion on elements in the Syrian Ba'ath known for opposing Khomeinism. Hundreds of Ba'athist cadres, including senior figures, were retired or driven into exile.
Cadres with "better Islamic sensibilities" have taken their place. Many served in Iran in diplomatic, military and intelligence capacities on behalf of their government. In Syria today, having an "Iranian flavor" is as useful for your career as a Soviet one once was.
Yet President Bashar al-Assad's purge has increased his vulnerability to conspiracies by the excluded cadres. Some of these have allied with the regime's opponents - increasing Assad's reliance on Iranian security. Sources in Damascus claim that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah have assigned special units to protect Assad against any domestic enemies.
Tehran has also succeeded in killing "the American temptation" in Damascus. That "temptation" came to the fore in 2003, when Assad surrounded himself with Western-educated technocrats and diplomats who wanted him to switch to the U.S. side in the wake of regime change in Baghdad.
Since then, however, such Syrian officials have been silenced or forced to change tune. Tehran has successfully peddled the fear that Syria may be a target for American "regime change."
Also forcing Syria closer to Iran was the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri - widely thought Syria's work. This destroyed bridges between Damascus and moderate Arab capitals. Hardly a single Arab regime is prepared to maintain friendly ties with Syria, let alone prop up the Assad regime.
The more isolated Syria becomes, the more its leaders are forced to depend on Iran. Last June, Syria did what it had not done even during its Soviet alliance, and signed a defence pact with the Islamic Republic. Among much else, this gives Iran direct access to Syria's military at middle and senior levels. One result pact has been a fourfold increase in the number of Iranian military and security personnel in Syria.
"Iran is trying to play the role that the Soviet Union played in Syria during the Cold War," says a former member of Assad's Cabinet. "It is the regional big power and behaving like one." Several developments confirm that view:
* Iran has increased scholarships for Syrians, including for military training, from 200 in 2001 to 3,000-plus this year.
* The ban on Iranian cultural centers outside Damascus has been lifted. By last September a total of 17,000 Syrians had enrolled in classes to learn Persian and study the "philosophy of Imam Khomeini."
* Hundreds of Iranian companies, from banks to building contractors, are active in Syria, employing tens of thousands of people in a country hit by mass unemployment. This year the Islamic Republic is expected to become Syria's No. 2 trading partner, after the European Union.
* Syria has agreed to raise the number of Iranian pilgrims visiting the Zeynabiah Shiite holy shrine near Damascus from 150 to 1,000 a day. Critics claim that the pilgrimage is used as cover for the presence in Damascus of hundreds of Islamic Revolutionary Guard fighters at any given time.
* Iranian TV and radio networks, broadcasting in Arabic, are now available in every Syrian home. Other non-Syrian Arabic media are banned.
* Assad has granted 41 Iran-based charities to operate in Syria. These use the models of Hezballah and Hamas by providing services, such as clinics, schools, interest-free loan agencies.
* Women who agree to wear Khomeinist-style hijabs and men who grow Khomeinist-style beards receive cash gifts and preferential treatment in getting jobs with hundreds of Iranian companies operating in Syria. Visitors would be struck by the massive rise in the number of young Syrians trying to confirm to the Khomeinist "look."
* Syria has also lifted the ban on Shiite proselytization, allowing hundreds of Iranian mullahs to convert Syrian Sunnis to Shi'ism. There are also reports of mass conversions of members of Assad's own Alawite sect to Iranian duodecimain Shi'ism.
The Assad regime is a typical Arab set-up, unable to survive without the backing of an outside power. For a brief moment in 2003-04, it looked as if Americfa could provide that backing. Since then, Assad has been left with no option but putting himself under Iranian protection. That, in turn, makes a showdown between America and the Islamic Republic that much more possible.
Amir Taheri was born in Iran and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. Between 1980 and 1984 he was Middle East editor for the London Sunday Times. Taheri has been a contributor to the International Herald Tribune since 1980. He has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Taheri has published nine books some of which have been translated into 20 languages, and In 1988 Publishers'' Weekly in New York chose his study of Islamist terrorism, "Holy Terror", as one of The Best Books of The Year. He has been a columnist Asharq Alawsat since 1987
If Hezbollah pulls it off, forget about the prospects of a democratic, Western-leaning Lebanese government. Instead, Iran and Syria will be calling the shots in Beirut.
The White House sounded the alarm last week, warning of "mounting evidence" that Syria, Iran and Hezbollah "are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically-elected government."
Syria's Washington embassy said the accusations were "ludicrous" and "unfounded," claiming Syria doesn't interfere in Lebanon's internal affairs. (Guess Syria's 30-year occupation of the country doesn't count . . . )
Since the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah ended on Aug. 14, political tensions have skyrocketed between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, leading to negotiations about political power-sharing.
On the one side is the March 14th group - a pro-Western coalition of Sunni and Druze Muslims and some Christian groups. This group, led by Siniora, controls the government with the largest bloc in parliament. It takes its name from the date of the demonstrations after the assassination of Lebanese ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - protests that led to the departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon that spring.
The March 14th group wants Hezbollah disarmed and dismantled as a state within a state. It also seeks to replace Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. (Back in 2004, Damascus extended Lahoud's term to 2007.)
On the other side of the struggle is Hassan Nasrallah's Hezbollah and its allies, including ex-Gen. Michel Aoun's (Christian) Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal party, pro-Syrian Shiites led by Nabih Berri, the parliament's speaker.
Hezbollah has been clamoring for a "national unity" government since the end of this summer's war to replace the current Cabinet, a move sure to increase the influence of pro-Syrian lackeys - and turbo-charge the clout of pro-Iran Shia Lebanese.
With some polls showing Hezbollah with 70 percent backing, Nasrallah promises million-man street protests if Hezbollah doesn't get its "unity" Cabinet by next Monday.
Hezbollah now holds just 14 seats in the 128-seat parliament and two posts in the 24- member Cabinet. It can count on the support of three more ministers, but eight votes are needed to veto key decisions.
If Hezbollah gets added seats, it also wants to amend the election law, calling for early elections for parliament in expectation of gaining a majority there.
The pro-Syrian/Iranian and pro-Western camps are scheduled to meet today to discuss the crisis. If Nasrallah doesn't get his way, expect more violence like the five grenade attacks of recent weeks, increasing fear and intimidation among his opponents.
But if Hezbollah does get what it wants, forget about ever seeing it disarm, as required under numerous U.N. resolutions. Instead, we'll see more trouble along the Lebanese-Israeli border as soon as peacekeepers disappear.
Syria will turn this summer's military "victory" over Israel into a political one, avenging its 2005 retreat from Lebanon, gaining leverage over Israel - and helping keep its man, Lahoud, in place.
Lahoud would likely try to prevent Lebanese cooperation with the international tribunal investigating Hariri's assassination. Syrian intelligence officers, including some close to the ruling Bashar Assad regime, have been fingered in the hit.
If Hezbollah brings down Lebanon's government or blackmails its way into a reshuffling of power, Iran will gain a larger-than-ever say in Lebanon's affairs. Indeed, we'll confront an emerging arc of Iranian influence across the Middle East. From Damascus to Beirut and into the Palestinian territories - Iran will be better able to spread fundamentalism, stifle democracy, nourish Hamas/Hezbollah, diminish U.S. influence, isolate Israel and squeeze Iraq.
Peter Brookes, a Senior Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, served 20 years on active duty and in the reserves with the U.S. Navy. This article first appeared at FamilySecurityMatters.org
The assassination of Rafik Hariri: Lebanon's Shakespearean tragedy
By Rayyan Al-Shawaf
On Valentine's Day, 2005, business tycoon and former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri met a fiery death when his motorcade was engulfed in flames as it drove along the picturesque Beirut seafront. In Killing Mr. Lebanon, Nicholas Blanford, Lebanon correspondent for The Times (of London) and this newspaper, investigates the fatal blast and its political ramifications.
The affable Mr. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim politician and successful entrepreneur, was a beloved figure whose death galvanized Lebanese opposition to Syria's occupation of Lebanon. Because "Syria's rulers never accepted the notion of an independent Lebanon," and the Syrian regime suspected Hariri of colluding with its Lebanese opponents, Syria came to figure prominently in virtually all theories about Hariri's assassination.
"Killing Mr. Lebanon" does not resolve that mystery. Though Mr. Blanford airs the suspicions of many that the Syrian regime was responsible, he does not theorize as to the culprits' identity. And in many respects, it is still too early for any definitive account of Hariri's assassination, as the fallout of the killing continues to jolt the region.
Blanford had to end his account somewhere, and he chose the first anniversary of Hariri's murder. Of course, the assassination itself receives its share of attention; the play-by-play account of the explosion brims with luridly cinematic detail. But of far greater import (given that Blanford doesn't offer anything significant about the assassination not contained in the UN investigative reports) is the discussion of the behind-the-scenes machinations preceding Feb. 14 in both Syria and Lebanon.
Blanford's insights into the secretive, mercurial Syrian regime are intriguing. Contrary to expectation, Bashar al-Assad's rise to power created a more sectarian atmosphere among the ruling clique than had been the case under his father, Hafez.
The Syrian Baath Party has always been based on a nucleus of loyal Alawites, a heterodox Muslim sect accounting for 11 to 15 percent of Syria's population and historically oppressed by the Sunni Muslim majority. Under Mr. Assad, the Baath regime has apparently further cemented its Alawite character. Hariri, a Sunni, was seen by the paranoid Assad and his acolytes as a threat not only to their control of Lebanon, but to Syria itself, where a Sunni majority chafes under minority Alawite rule.
Yet Blanford resists the temptation to depict Hariri as a saint, pointing out that "the trademark of the Hariri [prime ministerial] era was the domineering manner in which he ran the country as if it was an extension of his personal business empire." Overall, the self-made billionaire emerges as a clumsy arriviste with an obdurate yet sincere belief in the redemptive power of money. Hariri honestly thought that he could mollify even his most implacable foes with his checkbook, failing to grasp that some who benefitted from his largess would also sabotage his plans.
According to Blanford, Hariri worked hard to accommodate Syria's demands, and never openly confronted his powerful neighbor. The author gently reveals the irony of Hariri's posthumous role as the father of Lebanon's newfound independence, pointing out that "Hariri had always wanted to be Syria's friend and ally, and was even willing to accept a limited Syrian troop presence in eastern Lebanon. Yet his murder had transformed him into the figurehead of the anti-Syrian struggle and the catalyst that had led to [Syria's] withdrawal."
Try as he might to allay Syrian fears, Hariri was rebuffed at every turn. A severely blinkered Assad became convinced that the former Lebanese premier had enlisted the aid of the Americans and the French to eject Syria from Lebanon.
The situation had all the makings of "a Shakespearean tragedy of misunderstanding." In this Lebanese variation on one of the Bard's favorite themes, there are countless roles for players both major and minor. Blanford used his web of contacts to conduct more than 70 interviews, in the process crafting a complex and variegated story.
One of Hariri's great accomplishments was "to restore Beirut as the financial and services entrepôt of the Middle East." Sadly, today, with the Lebanese divided over Hizbullah's weapons, relations with Syria, and their country's very identity, it is uncertain that Lebanon can retain this much-coveted role.
• Rayyan Al-Shawaf is a writer and freelance reviewer based in Beirut, Lebanon.
Killing Mr. Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and its Impact on the Middle East
Monday November 5, 2006
Fear rises in Lebanon as the tables turn
Not long before the 34-day war with Israel, political groups in Lebanon aligned with the United States sat at a table with Hezbollah and tried to get it to give up its weapons and to help remove the pro-Syrian president from office.
On Monday, most of those same political leaders will sit down again, but this time the issues of Hezbollah's weapons and the president's tenure are not even on the agenda.
Instead, having proclaimed itself the victor in the summer war with Israel, the tables have turned. Hezbollah is pressing its case for effective control of the government and a new election law - warning that if it does not have its way, it will move to bring down the government and force a new parliamentary election.
On one level, this is a parochial fight over who runs a Mediterranean nation of four million people. But Lebanon has long been a proxy chessboard in the great global game of geopolitics, its people often finding their own interests subjugated to the interests of more powerful foreign nations.
Hezbollah, an ally of Iran and Syria, has been emboldened. The U.S.-backed coalition in control of the government is on the defensive. The outcome of the tug- of-war could have lasting impact on the international order - boosting or slowing Iran's ascent in the region, buttressing or undermining Syria's leadership.
"We are now calling for unity and accord, not for score-settling and vengefulness," Hezbollah's general secretary, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a recent appearance on his party's Al Manar television. "We are suggesting a national unity government in a positive spirit."
But his call has not been received that way. It has been described by the governing coalition as a "coup d'état" and has raised fears of possible violence.
"They are making a profit from the strength of their guerrilla force to come into the capital and to pressure the political apparatus, to impose their will on the government," said Amine Gemayel, a former president and leader of the small Christian Phalange party, part of the governing coalition. "I am quite anxious about this meeting."
Hezbollah's demands, including veto power over cabinet decisions, are the latest development in a constant jockeying for power between political groups organized along religious lines. While over the generations, power has essentially shifted from Sunni Muslims, to Christians, and now, perhaps to the long-neglected Shiite Muslims - often with political alliances between the different factions - the conflict has underscored the combustible nature of a system that demands allegiance to sects and promises each of Lebanon's 18 sects an equal say in decision-making.
"In many ways it is a system of coexistence, of compromise," said Walid Sharara, an opinion writer with the newspaper Al Akhbar. "But it is also, in a way, a cold civil war. In order for sectarian elites to maintain their power, they have to incite sectarianism."
The political fight has complicated efforts at rebuilding, a task already complicated by its balkanized population. There are effectively no true political parties in Lebanon. Sunni Muslims belong to a Sunni Muslim party. Shiites to a Shiite party. Druse to a Druse party. Christians to a Christian party.
Lebanon is a state built on a promise that all sects will share power, that Muslims and Christians will each control half the Parliament. The president must be a Christian. The prime minister a Sunni. The speaker of the parliament a Shiite. Public loyalty is to sect leaders - and not the state.
Khaled Arab, 53, a Sunni Muslim, lives in the largely Druse and Christian village of Choueifat, about 45 minutes outside of Beirut. The village square and shops sport pictures of Druse leaders, such as Walid Jumblatt. But when Arab's father had a heart attack, he turned for help to Saad Hariri, the leader of the largest party representing Sunni Muslims. "The leader of my sect looks after my interests," he said. "This applies to all other sects, too. This is how the country is and there is nothing we can do about it."
There is fear now that the latest fight will spill into the streets, that Hezbollah will hold true to its threat and call its supporters to demonstrate if it does not get its way. Many fear that could spark violence.
"The reality is the country is not changeable," said Timur Goeksel, the former long-time spokesman for UN forces in Lebanon. "If you push too hard, it will collapse. Let's keep what we have and not shoot at each other."
Hezbollah says it wants a national unity government that would drain power from the so-called March 14th coalition, which is backed by the United States. Nasrallah has been forceful and threatening in making his demands.
"We can instigate civil disobedience, topple the government, and bring about early elections," he said in his television appearance. "But we are not threatening to do this, so don't scare us with talk of civil strife or civil war, since neither of these is a possibility."
In concrete terms, it is impossible to say if Hezbollah has emerged stronger or weaker from the war with Israel. Polls show it has the most public support, but even political analysts here acknowledge it is impossible to truly trust any assessment in a country where it appears no one is a neutral observer.
Hezbollah has gained strength from its alliance with General Michel Aoun, leader of a large Christian party. But it is impossible to know if General Aoun has maintained or lost support of his followers for having forged an alliance with Hezbollah.
"Hezbollah is now drawing support from Christians," said Abdo Saad, director of the Beirut Center for Research and Information. "That was not thinkable before the war."
But Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at American University in Beirut said, "Hezbollah thinks if there is an election now, they will win a majority. Absolutely not."
Nada Bakri contributed reporting.
Is Lebanon the hub of a new Cold War?
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivered an ultimatum to Lebanon's U.S.-friendly government on Tuesday: Either include more of Hezbollah's allies in the formation of a unity government by mid-November, or prepare for street demonstrations demanding new elections.
Immediately, the U.S. State Department criticized Syria and Iran — both longtime Hezbollah supporters — of trying to overthrow Lebanon's democratically elected government. Both countries denied that claim.
Beyond the diplomatic back and forth, one thing was clear: Two and a half months after its war of attrition with Israel, Nasrallah's move was a clear consolidation of domestic political gains and loyalty earned during the 34-day conflict.
Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of Beirut's “Daily Star” newspaper — widely regarded as the region's most important English-language daily — discussed the implications of Nasrallah’s move, as well as its potential impact on the the fragile state of Lebanon’s democracy, with MSNBC's Seth Colter Walls.
What have been the practical consequences of last summer's war with Israel? How does Hezbollah find itself in a position to be making the moves it's making?
What we're seeing now is the continuation of the battles that took place this summer between Israel and its allies — the U.S. and Britain among them — and Hezbollah and its allies.
In one sense, this summer's war was a surrogate war between the U.S. and Iran. And now that's deepened into a regional cold war between Israel, the U.S., Britain, some elements of the Lebanese government— all versus Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, Iran, as well as some nationalist and progressive forces that are opposed to U.S. influence.
Is the fact that Hezbollah has defined itself first and foremost as an anti-American force responsible for its success in attracting such a diverse following?
Yes. Nasrallah has actually been very clear about this for many months, going back before the war with Israel, even. Hezbollah sees itself — and explains itself — explicitly as working for all Arabs and Muslims to fight a political, predatory plan by the U.S. The "new Middle East project" is what they call it. And that has resonance for a lot of people.
Two months ago the target was Israel. Today the Lebanese government is the immediate target, since they see it as a Trojan Horse for the American project.
Basically, Hezbollah has come to represent a series of very different forces, all focused on resisting the Americans and the Israelis. So they've attracted some nationalist forces, democratic forces, as well as Islamist currents, all of whom are working together, loosely, because they basically support the idea of resisting the U.S., and resisting the Israeli occupation [of Shebaa Farms, a small tract of land that Hezbollah claims is Lebanese, and that the U.N says is part of occupied Syria].
A lot of different situations have been combined — Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Iran. These have all kind of meshed together into one conglomeration of issues, and they're all very much linked to the point where it's much more difficult to address any one of them on its own.
You raise the issue of addressing this mesh of conflicts. What, in your opinion, should be "job one" for the U.S. going forward?
I think "job one" is to understand why movements like Hezbollah have become so popular and legitimate.
The answer is that they play four or five functions at once. They represent their local communities; they represent a Shiite empowerment movement that has been going on since the 1970s; they represent a strong voice of support for Palestinians; they represent a movement that is pushing very hard for efficient government. Finally, they represent that sentiment of anti-American-ism that is widely held inside the region, and must be addressed.
The U.S. State Department has expressed worry that the threat of protests will lead to violence in the streets of Beirut. What do you see happening if demonstrations do take place?
My gut feeling is that, first of all, this is, for now, probably a good sign, in the sense that Hezbollah is moving more into the political mold. They are engaging politically, even if they're using tools like threats, ultimatums, cajoling, pressuring, enticing and all kinds of other sticks and carrots. We see that coercive, bullying trend in the U.S., too, during election season. So it's common to all politics.
At this point, I'm not particularly worried about the idea of demonstrations. Street demonstrations can be used to make a point, and it's better to demonstrate than fire missiles. And up until now, Hezbollah's domestic political program has been extremely disciplined — extremely well-managed and orderly.
Obviously what's new is that they're always going to get an American response, which shows that we're now in the regional cold war, a new cold war in the Middle East.
Nasrallah said on Tuesday: "The ruling majority [of Lebanon] ... has lost all credibility in the street." From where you sit, does this ring true? If so, do you expect Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to accept Hezbollah's demand for a new Cabinet?
You know, I think it's maybe all about political statements this week — in Lebanon and the U.S. It's a bit exaggerated, you know? Some people may doubt Siniora's legitimacy, but it's not fully true. Some people have less faith in his ability to mediate the interests of the Americans, the French, and others — but most people recognize the government as legitimate.
He [Siniora] did a lot of things during the war [with Israel] that were quite impressive. And so his credibility has been pretty good. This is just Hezbollah using him as a punching bag for the political battles that its allies like Syria need to have fought.
One motive the U.S. is putting forward regarding Syria’s alleged interest in overthrowing Lebanon's government is that they'd like to derail an international tribunal over the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a massive explosion in downtown Beirut in 2005. A lot of fingers have been pointed at Syria over that killing. Are the latest moves by Hezbollah motivated by an effort to thwart the creation of an international tribunal?
As for the issue of an international tribunal to finish this whole investigation [of Hariri's assassination]: The Syrians are going to use every option to stall or minimize it. It's too early to tell how effective they're going to be.
I don't know exactly why Hezbollah appears to be so close to the Syrians, unless Hezbollah itself thinks it will be targeted by the tribunal. Or perhaps they're just being loyal to the Syrians, since the Iran-Syrian-Hezbollah front proved so effective on the battlefield with Israel this summer.
But the international tribunal is going to happen, no doubt about it. Internationally consensus has mandated investigation into the effort. There's been a ton of money and effort spent on this. It's unprecedented historically, to have the UN investigate and demand that one state [Syria] explicitly provide information. So the Syrians are worried, no doubt about it. And Syria and Hezbollah are pretty clear — they don't mince words. They think it's a set-up job by the U.S.-aligned powers.
But I don't think they can succeed in stopping the tribunal. A majority of Lebanese, as well as the majority of the world, want an international tribunal. There's a clear consensus that this should happen, that we should find the killers and hold them accountable. But, of course, there should also be a presumption of innocence until then.
MSNBC TV's Seth Colter Walls worked for Rami Khouri at Beirut's Daily Star newspaper during 2004. Prior to joining MSNBC, he was editor of Mideastwire.com, a Web-based service that translates key Arabic- and Persian-language stories from print, radio and television media in the Middle East.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
Saturday November 4, 2006
Another Middle East War Is on the Horizon
BY JOHN KEEGAN - The Daily Telegraph
Hezbollah has now reconstructed the fortified zone and is replenishing its stocks of missiles there. It is also creating a fortified zone in the Gaza Strip and building up its stocks of missiles there. Israel, therefore, faces missile attack on two fronts. When the Israel general staff decides the threat has become intolerable, it will strike.
What happened in South Lebanon earlier this year has been widely misunderstood, largely because the anti-Israel bias in the international press led to the situation being misreported as an Israeli defeat.
It was no such thing. It was certainly an Israeli setback, but the idea that the IDF had suddenly lost its historic superiority over its Arab enemies and that they had acquired military qualities that had hitherto eluded them was quite false. Hezbollah suffered heavy losses in the fighting, perhaps as many as 1,000 killed out of its strength of up to 5,000, and it is only just now recovering.
What allowed Hezbollah to appear successful was its occupation of the bunker-and-tunnel system that it had constructed since June 2000, when the IDF gave up its presence in South Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1967. Although the IDF had got into South Lebanon, the casualties it had suffered in entering the fortified zone had alarmed the government and high command, since Israel's tiny population is acutely vulnerable to losses in battle. Israel's plan was to destroy Hezbollah's tunnels and bunkers, but the sending of a U.N. intervention force did not allow the destruction to be completed before the IDF was forced to withdraw.
Tunnel systems have played a crucial part in many modern campaigns without attracting much attention. That is a serious oversight. The success of the Viet Cong in sustaining its war effort in Vietnam in 1968–72 depended heavily on its use of the so-called War Zone B, a complex of deep tunnels and underground bases north of Saigon, which had been begun during the war against the French in 1946–55.
War Zone B provided the Viet Cong with a permanent base of refuge and resupply that proved effectively invulnerable even against a determined American effort to destroy it. War Zone B has now become a major tourist attraction to Western visitors to Vietnam.
In its time, however, War Zone B was very far from being a holiday facility: it assured the survival of the Viet Cong close to Saigon and their ability to mount operations against the government forces and the Americans. Hezbollah, either by mimicry or on its own account, has now begun to employ a tunnel and underground base strategy against Israel. It was for that reason that it was able to confront Israeli armored forces in South Lebanon earlier this year.
The adoption of a tunnel strategy has allowed Hezbollah to wage asymmetric warfare against Israel's previously all-conquering armored forces. The tunnel system is also impervious to attack by the Israeli Air Force.
Since Israel's reason for existence is to provide a secure base for the Jewish people and that of the IDF is to act as their shield and safeguard — functions that have been carried out with high success since 1948 — it is obvious that neither can tolerate a zone of invulnerability occupied by a sworn enemy located directly on Israel's northern border.
It is therefore an easy prediction to foresee that the IDF will — at some time in the near future — reopen its offensive against Hezbollah in South Lebanon and will not cease until it has destroyed the underground system, even if, in the process, it inflicts heavy damage on the towns and villages of the region.
It is likely that it will also move against the underground system being constructed in the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah resupplies itself with arms and munitions brought from Egypt through those channels. Gaza is a softer target than South Lebanon, since it is an enclave that Israel easily dominates.
Indeed, the IDF may attack Hezbollah bases in Gaza as a distraction from South Lebanon in an effort to make Hezbollah divide its forces and efforts.
Destroying the underground military facilities may be straightforward, but it is likely to create diplomatic complexities, particularly with the United Nations. Entering South Lebanon risks provoking a clash with UNIFIL, the major part of whose strength is provided by France. It is unlikely that such a risk will deter Israel. When national survival is at risk, Israel behaves with extreme ruthlessness. After all, it attacked a American communications ship during the Six-Day War because it objected to America listening in to its most secret signals.
What is certain is that — probably before the year is out — Israel will have struck at Hezbollah in South Lebanon. And the strike will come even sooner if Hezbollah reopens its missile bombardment of northern Israel from its underground systems.
Saudi Initiative Can Be Basis
TEL AVIV, Israel -- Israel's defense minister said Tuesday that a dormant Saudi initiative for Mideast peace could be a "basis for negotiation," indicating a new possibility for talks with the Palestinians after years of stalemate.
The Saudi plan calls for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world, based on a complete Israeli withdrawal from lands it captured in the 1967 Mideast war -- the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said he was not endorsing the plan. But he was the most senior Israeli official even to publicly consider it.
"We could see the Saudi initiative as the basis for negotiation. This does not mean that we are adopting the Saudi initiative, but it can serve as a basis," Mr. Peretz said at an academic conference at Tel Aviv University.
Fighting broke out early Wednesday in the Gaza Strip as Israeli helicopter fire killed three Palestinian militants and at least 20 people were wounded in firefights as troops moved on a northern Gaza town, Palestinian security officials said.
No Israeli casualties were reported as the troops moved into the town of Beit Hanoun, the latest phase in a four-month-old offensive in the area.
On Tuesday, Israeli troops shot and killed three Hamas militants during operations in Gaza.
The Saudi initiative was adopted at an Arab League summit in Beirut, Lebanon, in March 2002. For the first time, it offered Israel normal relations with the entire Arab world in exchange for a complete withdrawal from captured territory.
Israel reacted skeptically at the time, rejecting an addition by Saudi Arabia requiring Israel to recognize the demand to take back Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 war that followed creation of the Jewish state, as well as their descendants -- an estimated 4 million people.
Israel has offered compensation instead, maintaining that demanding a "right of return" is a way of undermining the Jewish character of the state and destroying it from within.
Israel also questioned the meaning of "normal relations" and rejected a total withdrawal from all the territories.
In various unsuccessful rounds of peace talks, Israel has offered an almost complete pullout from the West Bank and Golan Heights, and last year it withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. However, it maintains that the pre-1967 cease-fire lines are not a border, and it wants to adjust the line to include main West Bank Jewish settlement blocks in Israel.
At the time, Israel asked Saudi Arabia to send an envoy to clarify the proposal, but that did not happen.
In 2003, the Saudi initiative was overtaken by the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which called for establishment of a Palestinian state in a three-stage process and mentioned the Saudi initiative as part of the basis for the solution.
However, the plan was frozen from the outset when neither side implemented its initial steps. Israel failed to dismantle dozens of unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts, and the Palestinians declined to disarm violent groups.
Peace moves have been stalled since 2000, when the outbreak of Palestinian violence followed a failed summit meeting of Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the U.S.
Talks Over Captured Soldiers
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Tuesday that "serious negotiations" were under way over the fate of two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture by his militant group sparked a month of brutal fighting in Lebanon.
In a three-hour taped television interview, Mr. Nasrallah said a negotiator appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been meeting with Hezbollah and Israeli officials.
He would not provide details about the negotiations, but told Hezbollah's TV station, "We have reached a stage of exchanging ideas, proposals or conditions."
Officials from the Israeli Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry were not available for immediate comment.
Mr. Nasrallah has offered to exchange the two Israeli soldiers for Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, but Israel has repeatedly refused.
"They are serious negotiations ... It's better to keep it away from the media .. this issue is on track. We are moving ahead. How long does it take? It's up to the nature of the negotiations," Mr. Nasrallah said.
In the same interview, Mr. Nasrallah warned that any attempts by an international force to disarm Hezbollah would transform Lebanon into another Iraq or Afghanistan.
Copyright © 2006 Associated Press
Filed at 4:04 p.m. ET
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States wants to head the large U.N. peacekeeping operation, now led by France, when South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon becomes U.N. secretary-general next year, a senior U.S. official said.
``We're trying,'' the American official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The U.S. interest in the U.N. undersecretary-general job in peacekeeping has confirmed by two Security Council ambassadors.
With the United States instrumental in Ban's election, the Bush administration believes it has a chance to head the peacekeeping department of more than 90,000 troops, police and civilians, now headed by Frenchman Jean-Marie Guehenno.
Ban is now in France as he tours the five council members.
All undersecretaries-general are asked to resign when a new U.N. chief takes over. Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, however, played down the U.S. quest for a seat.
``There is no opening, If there were an opening , we would consider nominating someone,'' Grenell said.
Some key ambassadors said privately they were dismayed by the U.S. move, fearing it would discourage some states from volunteering peacekeepers because of objections to the Bush administration's intervention in Iraq.
The United States currently leads the U.N. management department, which includes financing, but Edward Luck, a Columbia University professor and U.N. expert, said management had not been a ``good choice'' for the United States because ``we get typecast as only caring about the finances and money.''
``I am very pleased that they are looking at other possibilities,'' said Luck who has advised governments and U.N. officials. ``I have been urging them to look for the top political posts.''
U.S. officials say that Washington pays for about 27 percent of the peacekeeping bill, now estimated at close to $5 billion a year.
The United States has some 239 U.N. civilian police officers in Kosovo and 48 police in Haiti plus a scattering of civilians in various operations but there are no American troops on the ground in U.N. missions.
In contrast, France has some 1,500 soldiers in Lebanon and has 4,000 troops in the Ivory Coast as a separate unit working with U.N. peacekeepers.
Lee Feinstein, a senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations, said the small American contribution to peacekeeping would make the United State an unpopular choice to head the department. But he said the post would be helpful to cement American support for the United Nations.
``The United States is often critical of U.N. peacekeeping operations,'' Feinstein said. ``If putting an American in charge would lead to improvements as well as a better understanding of the challenges peacekeeping faces, it would be a good thing.''
Noting that the U.S. in the past had focused on budget and reform issues, ``it is significant that the administration is attaching so much to peacekeeping, which is experiencing an unprecedented surge and operating in places of concern to Washington,'' Feinstein said.
Britain, diplomats said, was lobbying to regain the U.N. political affairs department, which it had to give up to Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria when two other Britons were appointed to senior U.N. posts in the past few years.
U.S. Web Archive Is Said to Reveal a Nuclear Primer
Last March, the federal government set up a Web site to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war. The Bush administration did so under pressure from Congressional Republicans who had said they hoped to “leverage the Internet” to find new evidence of the prewar dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.
But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.
Last night, the government shut down the Web site after The New York Times asked about complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials. A spokesman for the director of national intelligence said access to the site had been suspended “pending a review to ensure its content is appropriate for public viewing.”
Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, fearing that the information could help states like Iran develop nuclear arms, had privately protested last week to the American ambassador to the agency, according to European diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. One diplomat said the agency’s technical experts “were shocked” at the public disclosures.
Early this morning, a spokesman for Gregory L. Schulte, the American ambassador, denied that anyone from the agency had approached Mr. Schulte about the Web site.
The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available elsewhere on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.
“For the U.S. to toss a match into this flammable area is very irresponsible,” said A. Bryan Siebert, a former director of classification at the federal Department of Energy, which runs the nation’s nuclear arms program. “There’s a lot of things about nuclear weapons that are secret and should remain so.”
The government had received earlier warnings about the contents of the Web site. Last spring, after the site began posting old Iraqi documents about chemical weapons, United Nations arms-control officials in New York won the withdrawal of a report that gave information on how to make tabun and sarin, nerve agents that kill by causing respiratory failure.
The campaign for the online archive was mounted by conservative publications and politicians, who said that the nation’s spy agencies had failed adequately to analyze the 48,000 boxes of documents seized since the March 2003 invasion. With the public increasingly skeptical about the rationale and conduct of the war, the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees argued that wide analysis and translation of the documents — most of them in Arabic — would reinvigorate the search for clues that Mr. Hussein had resumed his unconventional arms programs in the years before the invasion. American search teams never found such evidence.
The director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, had resisted setting up the Web site, which some intelligence officials felt implicitly raised questions about the competence and judgment of government analysts. But President Bush approved the site’s creation after Congressional Republicans proposed legislation to force the documents’ release.
In his statement last night, Mr. Negroponte’s spokesman, Chad Kolton, said, “While strict criteria had already been established to govern posted documents, the material currently on the Web site, as well as the procedures used to post new documents, will be carefully reviewed before the site becomes available again.”
A spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon D. Johndroe, said, “We’re confident the D.N.I. is taking the appropriate steps to maintain the balance between public information and national security.”
The Web site, “Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal,” was a constantly expanding portrait of prewar Iraq. Its many thousands of documents included everything from a collection of religious and nationalistic poetry to instructions for the repair of parachutes to handwritten notes from Mr. Hussein’s intelligence service. It became a popular quarry for a legion of bloggers, translators and amateur historians.
Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.
European diplomats said this week that some of those nuclear documents on the Web site were identical to the ones presented to the United Nations Security Council in late 2002, as America got ready to invade Iraq. But unlike those on the Web site, the papers given to the Security Council had been extensively edited, to remove sensitive information on unconventional arms.
The deletions, the diplomats said, had been done in consultation with the United States and other nuclear-weapons nations. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which ran the nuclear part of the inspections, told the Security Council in late 2002 that the deletions were “consistent with the principle that proliferation-sensitive information should not be released.”
In Europe, a senior diplomat said atomic experts there had studied the nuclear documents on the Web site and judged their public release as potentially dangerous. “It’s a cookbook,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his agency’s rules. “If you had this, it would short-circuit a lot of things.”
The New York Times had examined dozens of the documents and asked a half dozen nuclear experts to evaluate some of them.
Peter D. Zimmerman, a physicist and former United States government arms scientist now at the war studies department of King’s College, London, called the posted material “very sensitive, much of it undoubtedly secret restricted data.”
Ray E. Kidder, a senior nuclear physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, an arms design center, said “some things in these documents would be helpful” to nations aspiring to develop nuclear weapons and should have remained secret.
A senior American intelligence official who deals routinely with atomic issues said the documents showed “where the Iraqis failed and how to get around the failures.” The documents, he added, could perhaps help Iran or other nations making a serious effort to develop nuclear arms, but probably not terrorists or poorly equipped states. The official, who requested anonymity because of his agency’s rules against public comment, called the papers “a road map that helps you get from point A to point B, but only if you already have a car.”
Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a private group at George Washington University that tracks federal secrecy decisions, said the impetus for the Web site’s creation came from an array of sources — private conservative groups, Congressional Republicans and some figures in the Bush administration — who clung to the belief that close examination of the captured documents would show that Mr. Hussein’s government had clandestinely reconstituted an unconventional arms programs.
“There were hundreds of people who said, ‘There’s got to be gold in them thar hills,’ ” Mr. Blanton said.
The campaign for the Web site was led by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan. Last November, he and his Senate counterpart, Pat Roberts of Kansas, wrote to Mr. Negroponte, asking him to post the Iraqi material. The sheer volume of the documents, they argued, had overwhelmed the intelligence community.
Some intelligence officials feared that individual documents, translated and interpreted by amateurs, would be used out of context to second-guess the intelligence agencies’ view that Mr. Hussein did not have unconventional weapons or substantive ties to Al Qaeda. Reviewing the documents for release would add an unnecessary burden on busy intelligence analysts, they argued.
On March 16, after the documents’ release was approved, Mr. Negroponte’s office issued a terse public announcement including a disclaimer that remained on the Web site: “The U.S. government has made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, validity or factual accuracy of the information contained therein, or the quality of any translations, when available.”
On April 18, about a month after the first documents were made public, Mr. Hoekstra issued a news release acknowledging “minimal risks,” but saying the site “will enable us to better understand information such as Saddam’s links to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and violence against the Iraqi people.” He added: “It will allow us to leverage the Internet to enable a mass examination as opposed to limiting it to a few exclusive elites.”
Yesterday, before the site was shut down, Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Mr. Hoekstra, said the government had “developed a sound process to review the documents to ensure sensitive or dangerous information is not posted.” Later, he said the complaints about the site “didn’t sound like a big deal,” adding, “We were a little surprised when they pulled the plug.”
The precise review process that led to the posting of the nuclear and chemical-weapons documents is unclear. But in testimony before Congress last spring, a senior official from Mr. Negroponte’s office, Daniel Butler, described a “triage” system used to sort out material that should remain classified. Even so, he said, the policy was to “be biased towards release if at all possible.” Government officials say all the documents in Arabic have received at least a quick review by Arabic linguists.
Some of the first posted documents dealt with Iraq’s program to make germ weapons, followed by a wave of papers on chemical arms.
At the United Nations in New York, the chemical papers raised alarms at the Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, which had been in charge of searching Iraq for all unconventional arms, save the nuclear ones.
In April, diplomats said, the commission’s acting chief weapons inspector, Demetrius Perricos, lodged an objection with the United States mission to the United Nations over the document that dealt with the nerve agents tabun and sarin.
Soon, the document vanished from the Web site. On June 8, diplomats said, Mr. Perricos told the Security Council of how risky arms information had shown up on a public Web site and how his agency appreciated the American cooperation in resolving the matter.
In September, the Web site began posting the nuclear documents, and some soon raised concerns. On Sept. 12, it posted a document it called “Progress of Iraqi nuclear program circa 1995.” That description is potentially misleading since the research occurred years earlier.
The Iraqi document is marked “Draft FFCD Version 3 (20.12.95),” meaning it was preparatory for the “Full, Final, Complete Disclosure” that Iraq made to United Nations inspectors in March 1996. The document carries three diagrams showing cross sections of bomb cores, and their diameters.
On Sept. 20, the site posted a much larger document, “Summary of technical achievements of Iraq’s former nuclear program.” It runs to 51 pages, 18 focusing on the development of Iraq’s bomb design. Topics included physical theory, the atomic core and high-explosive experiments. By early October, diplomats and officials said, United Nations arms inspectors in New York and their counterparts in Vienna were alarmed and discussing what to do.
Last week in Vienna, Olli J. Heinonen, head of safeguards at the international atomic agency, expressed concern about the documents to Mr. Schulte, diplomats said.
Scott Shane contributed reporting.
U.S. Shutters Site With Saddam - Era Files
Filed at 8:46 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration's decision to shutter a Web site that contains documents from Saddam Hussein's covert nuclear program has renewed debate over the threat posed by Iraq and the question of which political party can best guard U.S. secrets.
On Friday, Republicans said the documents, which predated the 1991 Gulf war, provided a reminder that Saddam was a major risk. Democrats said release of the information in the first place had been nothing more than a dangerous political ploy.
Established in March, the government Web site -- called the ''Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal'' -- was intended to be a repository for millions of pages of documents seized in Iraq over the past 15 years.
It's not clear how many documents might contain potentially dangerous material. But National Intelligence Director John Negroponte's office suspended public access to the site on Thursday, after The New York Times questioned whether some materials provided too much information about making atomic bombs.
Negroponte's office is also conducting a review. White House spokesman Tony Fratto said it includes a forensic examination -- to determine who accessed the documents -- and a fresh look at procedures to make sure sensitive information is withheld from the public.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States obviously wants to protect anything ''that might give an upper hand to people trying to build weapons of mass destruction.''
Yet in an interview on the ''Laura Ingraham Show,'' she also cited the documents in arguing that Saddam was a threat. ''The interesting thing is that there clearly were an awful lot of nuclear documents floating around Iraq, which suggest that this is someone who'd not given up on his ambitions,'' Rice said.
In a conference call arranged by the National Security Network, three Democratic security experts said the posting of the material showed the dangers of politicizing national security issues. None of the three had seen the documents or the federal Web site.
''There was no national security benefit gained from this exercise. There was only damage done,'' said Joe Cirincione, nonproliferation expert and a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress.
Rand Beers, who served as national security adviser to John Kerry's 2004 Democratic presidential campaign, said an independent investigation by the congressional intelligence committees or another similar entity was necessary to hold people accountable.
Pressed by Republican members of Congress, Negroponte's office last March ordered the unprecedented release of millions of pages of Iraqi documents, most of them in Arabic, collected by the U.S. government over more than a decade. Detractors have said the Republicans were holding out hope for evidence of the never-found Iraqi WMD.
Until this week, the information had been posted gradually on public Internet servers. Negroponte's office has said the government had made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, their factual accuracy or the quality of any translations, when available.
In a statement, House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said his staff's preliminary review of the documents in question suggests that some may be from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
''There is a serious question of why and how the Iraqis obtained these documents in the first place,'' said Hoekstra, one of the chief advocates for the documents' release. ''We need to explore that carefully. I certainly hope there will be no evidence that the IAEA had been penetrated by Saddam's regime.''
U.S. Shuts Web Site Said to Reveal Nuclear Guide
Filed at 5:11 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON ( Reuters) - The Bush administration closed a government Web site set up to publicly display pre-war Iraqi documents on weapons of mass destruction after experts said its content included details for building a nuclear bomb, officials said on Friday.
The unclassified site was established by U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte in March under pressure from Republicans, who believed the captured documents would illustrate the dangers of Saddam Hussein during an election year marked by increasing voter disaffection over the Iraq war.
``Something unfortunate occurred,'' White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters aboard Air Force One as President George W. Bush traveled to Iowa to campaign for Republicans.
Negroponte's office shut down the site, known as the ''Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal,'' after The New York Times informed the Bush administration about expert concerns over posted accounts of Iraq's nuclear research before the 1991 Gulf War.
The New York Times, which broke the story late on Thursday, reported that the site's contents in recent weeks had begun to ''constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.''
Negroponte's office said in a statement on Friday it had suspended access to the site ``pending a review to ensure its content is appropriate for public viewing.''
``The material currently on the Web site, as well as the procedures used to post new documents, will be carefully reviewed before the site becomes available again,'' it said.
Intelligence officials also conducted forensic tests to try to determine who might have accessed the documents.
But with the November 7 election showdown for control of Congress only days away, Republicans jumped onto the political offensive by suggesting the documents reinforced Bush's rationale for invading Iraq.
``The interesting thing is that there clearly were an awful lot of nuclear documents floating around Iraq which suggest that this is someone who'd not given up on his ambitions,'' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a radio interview.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and a leading proponent of the Iraq documents' release, also said he welcomed the discovery. ``This only reinforces the value of these documents,'' he said in a statement.
However, independent experts and diplomats expressed shock at the appearance of the material on a U.S. Web site.
A diplomat affiliated with the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency told Reuters IAEA inspectors were ``shocked by the explicitness of the content'' on the Web page and that a senior agency official conveyed the concerns to U.S. diplomats in Vienna.
U.S. officials denied that U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte had received any protest or expression of concern from the IAEA.
Allegations about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network helped justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. No arsenals of such weapons have been found in Iraq.
U.S. Analysts Had Flagged Atomic Data on Web Site
Two weeks before the government shut down a Web site holding an archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war, scientists at an American weapons laboratory complained that papers on the site contained sensitive nuclear information, federal officials said yesterday. Two documents were quickly removed.
The Bush administration set up the Web site last March at the urging of Congressional Republicans, who said giving public access to materials from the 48,000 boxes of documents found in Iraq could increase the understanding of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein.
But among the documents posted were roughly a dozen that nuclear weapons experts said constituted a basic guide to building an atom bomb. They were accounts of Mr. Hussein’s nuclear program, which United Nations inspectors dismantled after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
The site was shut down on Thursday night after The New York Times asked questions about the disclosure of nuclear information and complaints that experts had raised. Yesterday, federal officials said they were conducting a review to understand better how and when the warnings had originated and how the bureaucracy had responded.
The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, called the posting of the weapons information “a serious security breach,” and other Democrats called for an investigation. The Republican congressman who had led the campaign for the creation of the Web site, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, questioned whether the government had received any serious warnings about the site, and said he had always stressed the need to “take whatever steps necessary to withhold sensitive documents.”
The complaints two weeks ago by the American weapons scientists, as outlined by federal officials yesterday, indicated for the first time that warnings about the site had come from the government’s arms experts, as well as from international weapons inspectors.
A senior federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California last month had protested some of the weapons papers on the site to the National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of the Department of Energy that runs the nation’s nuclear arms laboratories. The objections “never perked up to senior management,” the official said. “They stayed at the midlevels.”
Managers at the security administration passed the warning to their counterparts at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversaw the Web site, the official said. As a result, a nuclear weapons expert said, the government pulled two nuclear papers from the Web site last month. He said the dangers of the documents had been recognized at Livermore and in the wider community of government arms experts. “Those two documents were on everybody’s list,” he said.
The first known protest about the site came last April, when United Nations weapons inspectors lodged an objection with the United States mission to the United Nations over a chemical weapons document, diplomats said. It was removed. After the site started posting nuclear documents in September, concern arose among United Nations weapons inspectors in Vienna and New York.
Earlier this week, two European diplomats said that weapons experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that they should warn the United States government of the dangers of posting the documents. They said that Olli J. Heinonen, head of safeguards at the agency, conveyed those concerns last week to the American ambassador to the agency, Gregory L. Schulte.
But Matthew Boland, Mr. Schulte’s spokesman, said yesterday that the ambassador had received no warnings. Asked about that, one of the two European diplomats raised questions about whether Mr. Heinonen had followed through. Even so, intelligence officials in Washington said they were exploring whether the government had received warnings from United Nations inspectors.
An official of National Nuclear Security Administration said his agency would review the documents. To the best of his knowledge, he added, none of them had been reviewed by his agency, which is the government’s expert on nuclear secrets.
Scientists Protested Web Site Nuclear Data: Report
Filed at 2:01 a.m. ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Scientists at a U.S. weapons lab complained more than two weeks ago that captured Iraqi documents containing sensitive nuclear information were available on the Web site that the government shut down on Thursday, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
A senior federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Times that scientists at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory protested some of the weapons papers on the site to the National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of the Department of Energy, in October. But the objections ``never perked up to senior management,'' the Times quoted the official as saying. ``They stayed at the mid-levels.''
Managers at the security administration passed the warning to their counterparts at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversaw the Web site, the Times said, citing the official. And as a result, according to a nuclear weapons expert, the government pulled two nuclear papers from the Web site last month. The dangers of the documents, which were captured during the war, had been recognized at Livermore and in the wider community of government arms experts, he said.
``Those two documents were on everybody's list,'' the newspaper quoted him as saying.
The Times said federal officials were conducting a review to better understand how and when the warnings had originated and how the bureaucracy had responded.
The Bush administration set up the Web site in March at the urging of Republicans in Congress who said that public access to such materials from Iraq could increase the understanding of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein. It was shut down after the Times inquired about the disclosure of nuclear information and the experts' complaints. Among documents posted were roughly a dozen that nuclear weapons experts said constituted a basic guide to building an atom bomb.
While Democrats have called for an investigation, the scientists' two-week-old complaints, as outlined by federal officials on Friday, indicated for the first time that warnings about the site had come from the government's own arms experts as well as from international weapons inspectors, the report said.
Friday November 3, 2006
Lebanon needs compromise to preserve fragile stability
By International Crisis Group (ICG)
Friday, November 03, 2006
Resolution 1701 achieved a surprising degree of consensus. All relevant parties - Israel, Hizbullah and the Lebanese government, as well as key regional and other international actors - accepted the Security Council as the arbiter of the conflict while agreeing to the extensive deployment of Lebanon's army (LAF) south of the Litani River, the expansion of UNIFIL with a strengthened mandate in the same area and the need to build up Lebanese sovereignty over its own territory. Core stumbling blocks (e.g., releasing the abducted Israeli soldiers; ending Hizbullah's armed presence in the South) were mentioned in the resolution, but as strong aspirations, not immediate prerequisites. All in all, this is not negligible, nor was it pre-ordained. 1701 came about at a time of high tension, after a fierce diplomatic battle, and was accepted only because all sides needed a face-saving solution. Collective exhaustion produced an ambiguous outcome that nobody whole-heartedly endorsed but all reluctantly accepted.
After more than a month of violent conflict, Israel and Hizbullah were chastened, conscious of the limits of their military power and reluctant to continue hostilities. Israel had insisted both that it would not stop fighting until its soldiers were returned and Hizbullah was disarmed; 1701's ambiguity notwithstanding, it achieved neither. Israel had limited appetite for continued confrontation and now, in the wake of a war that reawakened and reinforced anxiety about a Lebanese quagmire, has little stomach for resuming it. Rather, Israelis chose to invest cautious hope in the presence of international and Lebanese forces in the South to rein in Hizbullah and in UN mediation to free the abducted soldiers.
Hizbullah's perceived victory may have emboldened the organization but it too labors under heavy constraints. With over 1,000 civilian deaths, the destruction of thousands of homes and the damage done to basic economic infrastructure, initiating another round of violence would be deeply unpopular with its own constituency, not to mention the country as a whole. The LAF's deployment to the South - for the first time in over three decades - and UNIFIL's strengthening in what heretofore had been a Hizbullah sanctuary was not the movement's preference. But it was deemed a price worth paying to end the fighting, avoid exacerbating domestic tensions and preserve as much as possible of the status quo, including its presence in the South.
The international community, and the US in particular, were left with little choice. By allowing the war to rage on for weeks, they had lost much of their credibility and faced increasingly hostile Arab and Muslim publics. Washington claimed from the outset that only a solution that dealt with the roots of the conflict - in its view, Hizbullah's armed presence - was worth pursuing. In the end, it settled for far less, namely a denser UN and Lebanese Army presence in the South and reiteration of the longer-term goal of disarming armed groups. Evincing signs of pragmatism, US officials for now are not pressing UNIFIL or the LAF to disarm Hizbullah, hoping instead to strengthen the central government and extend its territorial reach.
Such shared modesty must be preserved lest the fragile stability unravel. 1701 is not the proper framework for the necessary resolution of underlying issues in the Israeli-Lebanese relationship, and it must not be construed as such. It is inherently ambiguous, allowing for different interpretations, offering vague timelines, and covering conflicting long-term goals behind similar wording: strengthening Lebanese sovereignty means neutralizing Hizbullah for some and defending against Israel for others. It does not address Lebanon's domestic political situation. It places disproportionate emphasis on the question of Hizbullah and offers nothing to parties (Syria and Iran) with considerable interest and means of obstruction. Like its predecessor, Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004), it unwisely seeks to internationalize a particular aspect of the problem (Hizbullah's armament) without regionalizing its solution (addressing the broader Arab-Israeli conflict or the growing US-Iranian differences).
In sum, 1701 all at once elevates Hizbullah's armed status to the rank of core international concern; entrusts its resolution to a process (Lebanon's internal dialogue) that is structurally incapable of dealing with it; and defers the key political step (progress toward a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace) that is a precondition for settling it.
In carrying out 1701, therefore, the international community should keep its eye on the risks. With its deterrent power severely damaged by a military draw most interpreted as a defeat, Israel will not tolerate brazen attempts by Hizbullah to resupply. Conversely, Hizbullah will not accept efforts by Israel, UNIFIL or its Lebanese opponents to try to achieve politically what could not be done militarily. Implementation should focus on several interrelated goals:
l Containing Hizbullah, not by aggressively seeking to disarm it, but through the presence of thousands of Lebanese and UN troops in the South who can constrain its freedom of action, ability to display weapons and, especially, capacity to resupply. Hizbullah will test UNIFIL's resolve; UN forces must be ready to respond in a measured way that does not trigger escalation. Indeed, the establishment of checkpoints throughout the area already is confronting Hizbullah with a far different environment than the one it faced between 2000 and 2006;
l Containing Israel, by taking a clear stance against any violation of Lebanese sovereignty, in particular through overflights. Neither UNIFIL nor the LAF can risk being perceived as securing Israel without securing Lebanon or as being more preoccupied with one goal than with the other;
l Strengthening the Lebanese state by empowering the LAF to become a guardian of national borders and a protector of its lands, and forcing it to cede the place it has long held as the arbiter of internal disputes to other security organs and the police; and
l Drying up the immediate potential triggers of renewed conflict through a prisoner exchange and setting in motion a process to resolve the Shebaa Farms issue.
While these measures can help stabilize the situation, they are not sustainable in the longer term. Once again, regional and international actors are using Lebanese players as proxies to promote their interests, exploiting and exacerbating both pre-existing domestic tensions and the political system's dysfunctionalities. Solving the question of Hizbullah and achieving real stability on the Israeli-Lebanese border will require steps both by the Lebanese state to reform the political system and, crucially, by the "Quartet" and the wider international community to engage Syria and Iran and work toward a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute.
1. Promote effective implementation of Resolution 1701 on Lebanon by passing a follow-up resolution calling for:
(a) comprehensive Lebanese security reform, with the assistance of outside parties, based on the need to effectively assert the state's sovereignty and defend its territorial integrity;
(b) sustained and substantial international financial assistance;
(c) intensive efforts to address outstanding Israeli-Lebanese issues, including a prisoner exchange, a halt to Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty and onset of a process to resolve the status of the contested Shebaa Farms by transferring custody to the UN under UNIFIL supervision pending Israel-Syria and Israel-Lebanon peace agreements; and
(d) intensive and sustained efforts to reach a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.
2. Accept that its task is essentially to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces, refraining from proactive searches for Hizbullah arms caches.
3. Investigate, publicly condemn and take appropriate action against flagrant violations of Resolution 1701, particularly attempts to resupply Hizbullah and Israeli overflights or other violations of Lebanese sovereignty.
4. Quickly provide financial and technical support for the clearance of unexploded munitions (UXOs) and other lethal war debris, including cluster sub-munitions that are sinking below the surface due to the onset of winter.
5. Avoid assuming an assertive armed posture in patrolling Southern Lebanon so as to minimize anti-UN sentiment among the local population.
6. Complete UN demarcation of the Shebaa Farms area and propose to Israel, Lebanon and Syria, placing it under temporary UN custody pending final peace agreements between them.
7. Halt hostile operations in Lebanon, including the capture or assassination of militants and civilians, as well as violations of Lebanese waters and air space.
8. Cooperate with UN efforts to address remaining Israeli-Lebanese issues, including a prisoner exchange, provision of digital records of cluster-rocket launching sequences and logbooks with target coordinates, and resolution of the status of Shebaa Farms and Ghajar village.
9. Engage in an open dialogue with Lebanon aimed at clarifying and addressing both sides' legitimate interests, in particular by normalizing bilateral relations on the basis of mutual respect and exchanging embassies.
10. Cooperate with UN efforts to demarcate the Shebaa Farms area and reach agreement with Lebanon on its final status.
11. End all visible armed presence South of the Litani River and avoid provocative actions vis-a-vis Israel or UNIFIL.
12. Work within the context of the national dialogue on a mutually acceptable process that would lead to the end of its status as an autonomous force, notably through enhancement of the LAF's defense capabilities, reform of the political system and progress toward Arab-Israeli peace.
13. Limit territorial claims to those officially endorsed by the Lebanese government.
14. Undertake, in cooperation with international partners, a thorough security reform aimed at re-establishing and defending the state's sovereignty over its territory, emphasizing defensive capabilities and reinforcing the army as an instrument of national defense.
15. Ensure that such security reform is not used to further any international or partisan domestic agenda.
16. Encourage Hizbullah's gradual demilitarization by addressing outstanding Israeli-Lebanese issues (prisoner exchange, violations of Lebanese sovereignty and Shebaa Farms); and reforming and democratizing Lebanon's political system.
17. Tighten controls along its border with Syria, using international technical assistance.
18. Confiscate visible weapons south of the Litani River and seek to prevent arms transfers.
19. Provide technical and material assistance to Lebanon's security reform process, domestic security organs and the Lebanese Armed Forces.
20. Support the building and equipping of the LAF.
21. Provide additional financial assistance to assist in reconstruction and reduce government indebtedness.
22. Cast off sectarian bias in dealing with Lebanon, ensuring relations are established with the central government rather than particular communities.
23. Conduct parallel discussions with Israel, Syria and Lebanon to re-launch Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese peace talks, making clear the goal is a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.
Hizbollah has now reconstructed the fortified zone and is replenishing its stocks of missiles there. Hamas is also creating a fortified zone in the Gaza Strip and building up its stocks of missiles. Israel, therefore, faces missile attack on two fronts. When the Israel general staff decides the threat has become intolerable, it will strike.
What happened in south Lebanon earlier this year has been widely misunderstood, largely because the anti-Israel bias in the international media led to the situation being misreported as an Israeli defeat.
advertisementIt was no such thing. It was certainly an Israeli setback, but the idea that the IDF had suddenly lost its historic superiority over its Arab enemies and that they had acquired military qualities that had hitherto eluded them was quite false. Hizbollah suffered heavy losses in the fighting, perhaps as many as 1,000 killed out of its strength of up to 5,000 and it is only just now recovering.
What allowed Hizbollah to appear successful was its occupation of the bunker-and-tunnel system that it had constructed since June 2000, when the IDF gave up its presence in south Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982.
Although the IDF had got into south Lebanon, the casualties it had suffered in entering the fortified zone had alarmed the government and high command, since Israel's tiny population is acutely vulnerable to losses in battle. Israel's plan was to destroy Hizbollah's tunnels and bunkers, but the sending of a United Nations intervention force did not allow the destruction to be completed before the IDF was forced to withdraw.
Tunnel systems have played a crucial part in many modern campaigns, without attracting much attention. That is a serious oversight. The success of the Viet Cong in sustaining its war effort in Vietnam in 1968-72 depended heavily on its use of the so-called War Zone B, a complex of deep tunnels and underground bases north of Saigon, which had been begun during the war against the French in 1946-55.
War Zone B provided the Viet Cong with a permanent base of refuge and resupply that proved effectively invulnerable even against a determined American effort to destroy it. War Zone B has now become a major tourist attraction to Western visitors to Vietnam.
In its time, however, War Zone B was very far from being a holiday facility: it assured the survival of the Viet Cong close to Saigon and their ability to mount operations against the government forces and the Americans. Hizbollah, either by mimicry or on its own account, has now begun to employ a tunnel and underground base strategy against Israel. It was for that reason it was able to confront Israeli armoured forces in south Lebanon earlier this year.
The adoption of a tunnel strategy has allowed Hizbollah to wage asymmetric warfare against Israel's previously all-conquering armoured forces. The tunnel system is also impervious to attack by the Israeli Air Force.
Since Israel's reason for existence is to provide a secure base for the Jewish people, and that of the IDF is to act as their shield and safeguard – functions that have been carried out with high success since 1948 – it is obvious that neither can tolerate a zone of invulnerability occupied by a sworn enemy located directly on Israel's northern border.
It is therefore an easy prediction to foresee that the IDF will – at some time in the near future – reopen its offensive against Hizbollah in south Lebanon and will not cease until it has destroyed the underground system, even if, in the process, it inflicts heavy damage on the towns and villages of the region.
It is likely that it will also move against the underground system being constructed in the Gaza Strip. Hamas resupplies itself with arms and munitions brought from Egypt through those channels. Gaza is a softer target than south Lebanon, since it is an enclave that Israel easily dominates.
Indeed, the IDF may attack Gaza as a distraction from south Lebanon in an effort to make Hizbollah divide its forces and efforts.
Destroying the underground military facilities may be straightforward, but it is likely to create diplomatic complexities, particularly with the UN. Entering south Lebanon risks provoking a clash with Unifil, the major part of whose strength is provided by France. It is unlikely that such a risk will deter Israel. When national survival is at risk, Israel behaves with extreme ruthlessness. It attacked an American communications ship during the Six-Day War because it objected to America listening in to its most secret signals.
The big question hanging over an Israeli return to south Lebanon is whether that would provoke a war with Syria, Lebanon's Arab protector. The answer is quite possibly yes, but that such an extension of hostilities might prove welcome both to Israel and to the United States, which regards Syria as Iran's advanced post on the Mediterranean shore.
What is certain is that – probably before the year is out – Israel will have struck at Hizbollah in south Lebanon. And the strike will come even sooner if Hizbollah reopens its missile bombardment of northern Israel from its underground systems
After a ruinous war, a troublesome peace
By Megan K. Stack
If this summer's war between Hezbollah militants and Israel drew Lebanese together in crisis, the fragile peace that came after has forced them to confront the depths of their divisions and dysfunctions, and has pitched the country back into severe turmoil.
The government is bogging down just as Lebanon faces tough choices on war reconstruction, the prosecution of suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and calls to disarm Hezbollah.
Many Lebanese fear that the militant group's growing power will provoke another war with Israel, or that increasingly bitter political disputes could slowly steer their nation back toward the communal bloodshed that racked the country during the 15 years of civil war that ended in 1990.
Two Lebanons have long fought to exist within the same, compact borders. They are instinctively opposed, mutually distrustful and struggling for supremacy. And their divisions are on constant display.
The Lebanese economy has been shattered by war, but you'd never guess it from spending a few hours in the trendy heart of the Achrafieh neighborhood of East Beirut. Lebanese sit in bistros sipping Bordeaux, trading bons mots in French and cutting into $30 steaks. Dance music and half-dressed women spill out of smoky bars. Hummers and Porsches idle bumper to bumper in standstill traffic.
You don't have to drive far to find another Lebanon: It's rural and mostly Shiite Muslim, poverty-soaked, anxious and ardently supportive of Hezbollah. Southern Lebanon is rife with grim faces, cluster bomblets and shops abandoned to rubble by people still hoping that somebody will come along and compensate them. Little boys at the sides of roads pocked with bomb craters wave plastic guns at passing cars. Women in veils shuffle past, their formless robes brushing over the dust.
Lionized throughout the Arab world for a perceived victory against Israel, Hezbollah has seized the moment to demand a greater stake in the government, setting off alarms in other factions.
"They attack us and say we are Iranian and Syrian," Nawar Sahili, a Hezbollah lawmaker from the Bekaa Valley, said of his group's domestic critics. "Maybe 20% of our speech is similar to Iran or Syria, but 100% of their speech is similar to the Americans."
It's not just a question of appearances. The stark differences in dress, wealth and neighborhoods overlie a fierce political battle. On one side a coalition of Sunni Muslims, Druze and some Christians controls a majority stake in the government after pitching themselves to voters as the "anti-Syria" bloc.
On the other side are Hezbollah, representing the bulk of the majority Shiite population, and Christian followers of popular Gen. Michele Aoun, who has struck a political alliance with the Islamist group.
"These two groups are parallel," Sahili said. "They will never meet."
The war seems to have made each side more intransigent than ever. Fresh from what it has dubbed a "divine victory," Hezbollah is more certain that Lebanon should continue to be a front in an Arab struggle with the Jewish state.
But Lebanon's more secular, Europeanized citizenry is keen to see Lebanon extricate itself from regional politics and focus on business.
Perhaps more than any other issue, the recent war hardened the two prevailing attitudes toward Hezbollah's weaponry. The heavy civilian death toll and major economic damage stand either as proof that the group's guns dragged Lebanon into carnage, or that Lebanon needs Hezbollah's fighters to defend the country against Israel.
"For many, the war showed that having an independent military force — a separate army — did not protect the country," said Mohammed Shattah, an advisor to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
This is the often silent question driving all current political maneuvering, as both Hezbollah's backers and its enemies fortify themselves for an inevitable crisis over disarmament.
"People are more at odds than previously. I don't see clearly how this is going to work out," said Judith Palmer Harik, a scholar from the U.S. who has spent decades in Lebanon, studying and writing about Hezbollah. "It looks to me that this is a replay of the hardening up of sides that we saw during the civil war."
Lebanon, she argued, is a country that has been repeatedly dragged into political and military clashes by a long-standing identity crisis, stemming from independence six decades ago, when Lebanese fought over whether the country should be a part of neighboring Syria.
"I'm not sure that original problem has ever been settled," Harik said. "It just keeps coming up. It's amazing to look at it."
These days, each side claims to represent the Lebanese majority. Each also accuses the other of fronting for foreign interests. And each seems determined to get and keep the lion's share of political power.
"We remain the only front open in the war against Israel. Why should it be Lebanon, a country so fragile, a country so potentially open?" said Marwan Hamadeh, the telecommunications minister and the survivor of an assassination attempt that many ascribe to Syria. "Should we be put in the front because of Syria and Iran? … We don't believe the majority of Lebanese want the army to be a satellite of Syria and Iran."
Hezbollah and its Shiite followers accuse the anti-Syria bloc of discreetly rooting for Israel to crush the troublesome militia. The group that controls the government, they say, has sold Lebanon out to U.S. interests.
Meanwhile, this fractious government is grappling with the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in Hariri's assassination in February 2005. Such a tribunal is widely expected to blame Syria, which has consistently denied any role in the car bombing. At every turn, Hezbollah has remained loyal to Syria, its longtime patron, dutifully obstructing the creation of such a court.
The halls of government have been fraught with anxiety and suspicion ever since the war ended in August.
"We shake hands and discuss, but politically there is a big tension now because there are two ways of seeing the future of Lebanon," Sahili said. "And they are totally antagonistic."
Faced with the hardened views of compatriots, Hezbollah has mounted a fresh political push. The Shiite party linked with the militant group is maneuvering to reshape the Cabinet to include more of its allies; its demand for a "national unity government" is a bid to secure veto power and stake out a greater say in government decisions.
The play for a greater role in government marks a departure for Hezbollah, which has long thrived as an opposition group. Presenting itself as immune to the corruption of government, Hezbollah shunned parliament until 1992 and didn't join the Cabinet until last year.
It's no mystery why Hezbollah is seeking to beef up its political stake. Having controlled southern Lebanon for years, its leaders were noticeably nervous about the arrival of new international peacekeeping forces, warning the United Nations against interfering with the "resistance." And it is staking out a strong position ahead of political negotiations over its disarmament as part of the U.N. cease-fire accord.
"They are trying to topple the government or at least get control of it so that when the time comes to give up their weapons, they give them up to themselves," Telecommunications Minister Hamadeh said.
This article first appeared at the Los Angeles Times
Thursday November 2, 2006
Another day, another bombing: The Lebanese deserve better
The most frustrating aspect of the conditions in Lebanon is the negligence of Lebanese leaders, who, like their counterparts in Iraq, can't even hold a Parliament session without hurling insults and expletives at one another. Instead of working together to lift the country out of its present dire state, Lebanon's highest representatives - its president, party leaders and MPs - are further poisoning the country's political atmosphere with acrimony, ultimatums and threats of civil unrest.
Among the few responsible politicians that the Lebanese can count on are their two most visible leaders, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Premier Fouad Siniora, who are fighting to preserve stability and civil peace under the most trying domestic and international circumstances. It remains unclear whether politicians will heed Berri's call for consultations, but even if they do, it would hardly constitute cause for optimism for the Lebanese, who have already been disappointed by the fruitless sessions of the national dialogue.
In the absence of anything to look forward to, it is no wonder that so many Lebanese have chosen to leave their homeland. Already as many as 12 million Lebanese live abroad - or three times as many citizens who still reside in the country. An estimated 800,000 people fled during the war, and although a few have returned since then, many others are still applying for passports and searching abroad for the opportunities that are unavailable at home. The most skilled and qualified graduates and professionals have gone to Europe, America or the Gulf in search of work, and the best and brightest students are enrolling in universities overseas. What choice do they have, when their leaders consistently put their personal and partisan agendas above the interests of the country and its citizens?
If only those leaders would notice them, the people whom they are supposed to serve. They are the millions of Lebanese citizens who merely want to work and survive, to make ends meet and to enjoy ordinary and peaceful lives. They are trying to raise their children in an environment which continually robs them of their childhood and are struggling to imagine a future in a country where the horizon is empty in all directions. So long as these citizens are treated like abused and disregarded subjects by their leaders, no one can blame them for wanting to leave.
Eye of the Storm: The 'Iranization' of Syria
The Teheran-Damascus axis that challenges the United States in the Middle East was first formed in 1980 when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in the hope of destroying the newly created Islamic Republic.
At first, the Khomeinist regime in Iran and the Ba'athist dictatorship in Syria seemed unlikely allies. The Khomeinists followed a radical Shi'ite ideology aimed at global jihad in the name of their brand of Islam. The Syrian Ba'athists, on the other hand, were secularists inspired by an Arabized version of National Socialism aimed at uniting Arab countries under one flag and one party.
The Iran-Iraq war brought the two together for a simple reason: the Syrians knew that if Saddam won he would become the unrivaled Arab supremo, marginalizing the Syrian Ba'ath and eventually toppling the regime of President Hafez Assad. The mullahs knew that only Syria could prevent a unified Arab bloc to back Saddam.
The mullahs had to pay for Syrian support in the form of cut-price oil and an annual cash handout of $150 million. In 1982 the two furthered their alliance by sponsoring the Lebanese branch of Hizbullah.
All along, however, the Syrians were careful not to be totally hooked to the Iranian strategy. Hafez Assad insisted on meeting every American president and maintained close contact with Washington. He was also ruthless when it came to Islamist tendencies, even if that meant massacring thousands of people. Even in Lebanon, Assad did not put all his eggs in the Iranian basket and insisted on having his own Shi'ite outlet in the form of Nabih Berri's Amal movement.
To underline their difference, the Syrians also made a number of small but significant gestures. For example, they refused Iranian demands that women be kept out of official ceremonies attended by visiting Khomeinist dignitaries, or that no alcohol be served on such occasions.
"Syria is Syria and Iran is Iran," Syria's then defense minister Mustafa Tlas told a reporter in 1986. "We cannot live like them and they cannot live like us. But we can work together."
Today, Tlas may well have much to worry about. For there are signs that the Islamic Republic is determined to export its ideology to Syria. Teheran believes that only an Islamicized Syria would be a dependable ally in driving the US out of the Middle East, wiping Israel off the map, and creating a new Islamic "superpower" with Iran as its "core component."
According to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secular anti-imperialism, including Ba'athism, has failed to halt the advance of the American "Great Satan." Today, only militant Islamism can fill the gap left by the disintegration of the USSR and Communism as global challengers to "imperialist hegemony."
TEHERAN STRATEGISTS, working on the assumption that Israel and the Islamic Republic will clash at some point, regard Lebanon and Syria as part of the Iranian glacis. It was to secure Lebanon and Syria as strategic assets that Teheran launched its plan for the "Fertile Crescent."
The first phase of the plan consisted of an Iranian-sponsored campaign last year to cast suspicion on elements in the Syrian Ba'ath known for their opposition to Khomeinism. Hundreds of Ba'athist cadres, including senior figures, were retired or driven into exile. Cadres with what is euphemistically called "better Islamic sensibilities" have taken their place. Many of the new rising stars have some experience of Iran, having served there in diplomatic, military and intelligence capacities on behalf of their government. In Syria today, having an "Iranian flavor" is as useful for an individual's career as a Soviet one was in the old days.
President Bashar Assad's purge of the party, the army and security services of secular elements has, in turn, increased his vulnerability to conspiracies by the excluded cadres. Some of those cadres have formed alliances with the regime's Sunni fundamentalist and democratic opponents. That, in turn, has increased Assad's reliance on Iranian security and the Lebanese branch of Hizbullah. Sources in Damascus claim that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Hizbullah have assigned special units to protect Assad, if and when he is threatened by domestic enemies.
Teheran has also succeeded in killing what Dr. Hassan Abbasi, Ahmadinejad's strategic guru, has called "the American temptation" in Damascus. That "temptation" came to the fore in 2003 when Assad surrounded himself with Western-educated technocrats and diplomats who wanted him to switch to the American side in the wake of regime change in Baghdad.
Since then, however, the Syrian officials branded by Abbasi as "Emrikazadeh" (struck by America) have been silenced or force to change tune. Teheran has successfully peddled the fear that Syria may be a target for American "regime change."
ONE OTHER development has forced Syria closer to Iran: The murder of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005 destroyed bridges between Damascus and moderate Arab capitals. Today, hardly a single Arab regime is prepared to maintain friendly ties with Syria, let alone prop up the Assad regime. At one stroke Syria lost the annual stipend of $250 million that it had received from Saudi Arabia since 1991. The more isolated Syria becomes the more its leaders are forced to depend on Iranian power.
To protect himself against alleged US plans for "regime change," Assad is leaning on the mullahs who also want to change his regime.
Last June Syria did what it had not done even during its alliance with the USSR, and signed a defense pact with the Islamic Republic.
The pact gives Iran direct access to the Syrian military at middle and senior levels, provides for joint staff conversations, harmonization of weapons systems and training, and military exercises. Under it, any attack on either partner would be regarded as an aggression against the other. One result of the pact has been a fourfold increase in the number of Iranian military and security personnel in Syria.
"Iran is trying to play the role that the Soviet Union played in Syria during the Cold War," says a former member of Assad's cabinet. "It is the regional big power and behaving like one."
Several developments confirm that view:
• Iran has increased scholarships offered to Syrians, including for military training, from a mere 200 in 2001 to over 3,000 this year.
• Assad has lifted the ban on Syrians attending Islamic seminaries in Iran, allowing over 170 Syrians to attend seminaries in the Iranian holy city of Qom.
• The ban on Iranian cultural centers outside Damascus has been lifted. Iran has now set up 11 centers for Khomeinist indoctrination in Syrian cities including Aleppo and Latakiyah. By last September a total of 17,000 Syrians had enrolled in classes to learn Farsi and study the "philosophy of Imam Khomeini."
• Iran is clearly flexing is economic muscle in Syria. Hundreds of Iranian companies, from banks to building contractors, are active in Syria, employing tens of thousands of people in a country hit by mass unemployment. This year the Islamic Republic is expected to become Syria's second major trading partner, after the European Union.
• Syria has agreed to raise the number of Iranian pilgrims visiting the Zeynabiah Shi'ite holy shrine near Damascus from 150 to 1,000 a day. Critics claim that the pilgrimage is used as cover for the presence in Damascus of hundreds of Islamic Revolutionary Guard fighters at any given time.
• Iranian television and radio networks, broadcasting in Arabic, are now available in every Syrian home while other non-Syrian Arabic-language media are banned.
• Assad has granted 41 Iran-based charities permission to operate in Syria. These use the models of Hizbullah and Hamas by providing services such as clinics, schools, interest-free loan agencies and grants for weddings.
• Women who agree to wear Khomeinist-style hijabs and men who grow Khomeinist-style beards receive cash gifts and preferential treatment in getting jobs with hundreds of Iranian companies operating in Syria. Visitors to Syria would be struck by the massive rise in the number of young women and men trying to confirm to the Khomeinist "look."
• Syria has also lifted the ban on Shi'ite proselytization, allowing hundreds of Iranian mullahs to convert Syrian Sunnis to Shi'ism. There are also reports of mass conversions of members of Assad's own Alawite sect to Iranian duodecimain Shi'ism. Traditionally, Iranian Shi'ism considered the Alawites as heterodox because of esoteric elements in their theology. Last year, however, two ayatollahs of Qom with ties to the Khomeinist regime declared he Alawites part of the Muslim ummah, and authorized "theological exchanges" with them, opening the path for attempts at conversion.
• In Lebanon, Iran is trying to undermine Syria's role by marginalizing Amal and establishing direct contact with the Christian bloc led by ex-general Michel Aoun. Teheran wants Berri and Aoun to put themselves under the banner of a front led by Hizbullah.
Last summer's war in Lebanon that ended with Israel's "greatest defeat," according to Iran, has strengthened the supporters of a Damascus-Teheran axis within the Syrian leadership.
The Assad regime is the typical Arab set-up that cannot survive without the backing of an outside power. For a brief moment in 2003 and 2004 it looked as if the US could provide that backing. Since then, Assad has been left with no option but putting himself under Iranian protection. And that, in turn, makes a showdown between the US and the Islamic Republic that much more possible.
Amir Taheri was born in Iran and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. Between 1980 and 1984 he was Middle East editor for the London Sunday Times. Taheri has been a contributor to the International Herald Tribune since 1980. He has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Taheri has published nine books some of which have been translated into 20 languages, and In 1988 Publishers'' Weekly in New York chose his study of Islamist terrorism, "Holy Terror", as one of The Best Books of The Year. He has been a columnist Asharq Alawsat since 1987 This article first appeard at the Jerusalem Post.
Monday October 30, 2006
‘To forestall recourse to the street’ Mixed reactions to the Berri initiative
Hezballah, with two ministers in the cabinet of the ruling parliamentary majority, wants the inclusion of other political groups in government, particularly that of its ally General Michel Aoun.
But parliamentary majority chief Saad Hariri, son of the slain former Premier Rafik Hariri, has rejected any change in the makeup of the current cabinet led by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
Nasrallah issued a statement on October 20 again calling for a national unity government in what was seen as a bid to turn the popular acclaim his fighters won in their war with Israel into greater national political power.
On October 15, Aoun accused Saniora’s government of “corruption” and said it was “squandering the money of the state and the people”, adding that “it lacks representativeness”.
Round-table talks arranged by Berri in March were abandoned in June without achieving any concrete results after failing to reach agreement on what to do about the Presidency and the weapons of the Resistance.
Reactions to Berri’s press conference ranged from surprise to scepticism. It was immediately noted that the speaker had avoided two key issues: the Presidency of the Republic and the arms of the Resistance. The opening session of the “national consultation” was to be October 30, and it would close two weeks later. In the view of its promoter, the purpose of the consultation was to prevent any side from resorting to the street. Any decision taken would be implemented, even with delay.
Saniora: In favor of any responsible dialogue
Former President Amin Gemayel, expressing his appreciation of Berri initiative, observed that the Presidency was not to be on the agenda of the “national consultation”, while there was a crisis of power that had to be settled to fill the vacuum on the level of the “supreme executive”. And he added, “If the issue of the Presidency is not resolved, many questions will remain in suspense”.
Without explicitly rejecting Berri’s initiative, Saniora said the talks’ agenda should include discussing Israel’s devastating offensive and its “consequences, impact and lessons to be learned”.
Geagea perturbed and surprised
But Geagea indicated that he would be taking the opinions of the allies of the Forces, especially the “forces of March 14” and the Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, before defining the LF position.
Jumblatt: Two points remain unresolved
The Free Patriotic Movement (Aounist) expressed an initial reaction through one of its members, Ibrahim Kanaan: “It’s a positive initiative”, he said, “which we take seriously. In principle, we can’t be against consultation, especially if it is aimed at resolving the present crisis”.
Hezballah said it would join talks on a national unity government proposed by Berri, adding that it hoped the initiative would break the impasse in Lebanon.
“Hezballah welcomes the initiative launched by Speaker Berri and announces its intention to take part in the envisaged meeting”, the movement said in a statement.
In its statement, Hezballah expressed the hope the meeting would lead to a “truly patriotic solution capable of moving Lebanon from its political impasse and putting it on the road to the construction of a just and viable state”.
The weaponry of the Resistance was the subject of a statement by the Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, who suggested that the UN peacekeepers deployed in Lebanon were unlikely to be able to disarm Hezballah, as required under UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
“Under the UN mandate, one of the main functions of the peacekeepers is to disarm Hezballah”, Ivanov was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency. “I very much doubt that the UN will fulfill this task”.
Ivanov noted that concern over this aspect of the peacekeepers’ mission was one of the reasons Moscow decided to send a peacekeeping contingent to Lebanon under an accord reached separately with the Lebanese government, instead of under the UN mandate, RIA-Novosti reported.
Ivanov said the 308 troops, who have been assigned to repairing eight bridges bombed by the Israelis, would return in about six weeks.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701 requires Hezballah to disarm. The UNIFIL peacekeepers are instructed to ensure the South Lebanon border area with Israel is “free of any armed personnel and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed forces and UNIFIL”.
Hezballah guerrillas have kept a low profile since the resolution, but refused to disarm.
Speaking at the latter’s official residence, Hollande recalled the commitment of the French in general and the French Socialists in particular, “to democracy in Lebanon, where the Parliament plays an essential role; as well as to dialogue and all that strengthens it”.
“This is just avoiding the problem; this initiative has no substance and falls well short of expectations and needs” to resolve the political crisis, argued Antoine Basbous, director of the Paris-based Arab Countries’ Observatory.
“It doesn’t answer the urgency of the situation, it’s like giving an aspirin to someone who’s very ill.
Sources close to Hezballah and the Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun were quoted by the Al-Akhbar daily as saying Berri’s proposal was “a new and last chance to resolve the crisis”.
Berri himself warned that “the current tension will lead to street confrontations” if the crisis, exacerbated by Israel’s July-August rampage, is not resolved.
Hezballah, with two ministers in the cabinet of the ruling parliamentary majority, wants the inclusion of other political groups in government, particularly from Aoun’s party.
“This is a way of gaining time to prevent the crisis erupting”, MP Antoine Andraos, part of the majority, said of Berri’s initiative.
“The problems of the unity government and of the Presidency are not ready to be resolved; the chasm between the different parties is vast”.
The majority has condemned Hezballah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12, which sparked the war, and also wants to see Hezballah disarmed.
“The majority wants to resume the dialogue from where it left off without excluding subjects that upset Hezballah” Basbous said.
Lahoud in favor of national reconciliation
For his part, President Emile Lahoud reiterated his hope “of seeing all the Lebanese parties benefiting from the relaxed atmosphere of the Fitr feast and the conciliatory sermons preached by the spiritual leaders of the communities and putting aside their resentments and working to put the country on the path of national reconciliation and therefore of security and stability, essential conditions for Lebanon’s prosperity”.
The president drew attention to “the fact that the idea of national unity must not be interpreted as a challenge or a provocation by those who oppose the formation of a government of national unity, but as a means of ending a political crisis, which is all the more urgent since the recent hostilities require all Lebanese to close ranks and join their efforts to rebuild the regions devastated by the war. The recovery of the country and its productive sectors can only be the result of a national consensus”.
The president also denounced Israeli violations of Lebanese air space as clear contraventions of UN Resolution 1701. “Lebanon”, he declared, “which is committed to respecting Resolution 1701, cannot close its eyes to Israeli actions that violate its sovereignty and territorial integrity… Israel would not be able to defy the international community without the unlimited support given to it by the United States, which stresses its commitment to Lebanon’s sovereignty. But instead of the verbal support we receive from the United States, we would prefer that it should translate this support into acts by putting pressure on Israel to halt these hostile practices”.
‘Administrative issues’ delay Israel pull-out from Ghajar
The village, on the Lebanese frontier with the Golan Heights which were annexed by Israel in 1981, is the last position occupied by Israeli forces since their October 1 pull-out after two and a half months of occupation.
A statement from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said the deputy UNIFIL commander met with senior Lebanese and Israeli officers to discuss the withdrawal.
“The situation around Ghajar was discussed with a view to ensuring a speedy withdrawal of IDF [Israel Defense Forces] from the area”, the statement said.
“The meeting was productive and the main focus was to finalize arrangements for Ghajar after the IDF withdrawal”, it quoted Brigadier General Jai Prakash Nehra as saying.
It said that “minor administrative issues with relation to Ghajar residents are still pending, and UNIFIL hopes they will be solved at the next meeting early next week”. It did not elaborate.
One third of the village is in Lebanese territory and two-thirds in the zone annexed by Israel. Ghajar is dissected by the Blue Line designating the Lebanon-Israel border that was drawn by the United Nations in 2000.
All of Ghajar was occupied by the Israeli military during its 34-day offensive in July and August.
The withdrawal of Israeli forces from Ghajar, and also from the disputed Shebaa Farms where the Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli borders meet, is one of the demands of the government in Beirut.
On Thursday a meeting took place of notables of the Sidon region, including MP Bahia Hariri, Sidon Mayor Abdelrahman Bizri, and representatives of Fateh, the PLO and other Palestinian groups, as well as representatives of the Army and religious communities. The objective of the gathering was to discuss how to pave the way for the Army to enter Hay el-Taamir, which has, like the Ain el-Helwé camp, hitherto been a no-go area for the Army and the Internal Security Forces.
Meanwhile, Hezballah MP Mohammad Raad, leader of the parliamentary Bloc of Loyalty to the Resistance, warned against any compromise made at the expense of the “Party of God” and its local allies. “Lebanon cannot be built on illusions or suspect options, and above all, not in the context of a government whose strategy does not reassure the citizens”.
And Transport Minister Trad Hamadé, a Hezballah representative in the cabinet, rejected as unacceptable any solution that ruled out in advance the formation of a government of national unity. But he expressed hope that the national dialogue could be resumed and that the forces of March 14 would facilitate this.
Berlin wants ‘smooth cooperation’ with Israel after incident
“The [defense] ministers have spoken to each other several times and discussed the incident”, Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told reporters in Berlin. “We hope that in the future everything will be smooth, that there will be good cooperation”.
The German military has said two Israeli F-16 fighters flew low over a German ship off the Lebanese coast on Tuesday and fired shots and anti-missile defense flares. “Shots were fired by Israeli planes. It is under investigation”, a spokesman said.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has denied that the planes had fired at the German forces.
France and the United Nations have accused Israel of endangering the multinational mission by sending its fighter planes into Lebanese territory.
But Peretz has said Israel would continue the overflights because, he said, the Lebanese government had failed to block the flow of arms to Hezballah in Lebanon.
Germany has refused to send ground troops to the region in a bid to avoid confrontation with Jewish soldiers because of lingering sensitivities about the Holocaust.
The German government also denied reports that its ships heading a UN mission off the Lebanese coast were hampered in their efforts to prevent arms being smuggled to Hezballah.
“This mission is proceeding properly. We have excellent cooperation from the Lebanese authorities”, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told Parliament. The German press reported that the naval force’s mandate does not allow ships to come within 10 kilometers of the Lebanese coast without permission from Beirut.
Defense Ministry spokesman Raabe said however that German ships were entering all zones of the country’s waters. “The rules of engagement are the same in the six-mile and 12-mile zones”, he told reporters.
Raabe said there was a “Lebanese officer stationed on the flagship” to facilitate communication with Beirut.
In September, when she called on Parliament to approve Germany’s naval deployment, Merkel said that Berlin had won a robust mandate for its forces, saying that it would be able to approach the Lebanese coast and to use force to stop and search suspect ships.
According to German military sources, the navy has not needed to confront any vessels since it took over command of the operation from Italian forces on October 18.
UN hands ‘final’ Hariri tribunal plan to Lebanon
Nicolas Michel, United Nations undersecretary-general for legal affairs, handed over the document on October 21, the source said.
The text would then need to be approved by the UN Security Council and by the Lebanese government before its adoption in Parliament. No official comment was immediately available on the contents of the document.
Press reports quoted Saniora as saying the new text was “the final one” and no longer mentioned “crimes against humanity ... a judicial obstacle feared by certain parties”.
Beirut said in September that a tribunal proposal submitted at the time needed clarification before a final version was adopted, without saying what issues were outstanding.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan first suggested setting up the tribunal, made up of foreign and Lebanese judges, in March.
In a related development, a prominent Malaysian lawyer said Friday that the Syrian government had gathered a team of lawyers to assess UN reports on the assassination.
Shafee Abdullah said he was asked by Syria to head the legal team to make an independent assessment on United Nations reports into the murder.
“I was hired about a year ago. I am heading a team of lawyers. My work is to do analysis and give opinion on the UN reports”, Shafee told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
The Syrian government has strongly denied any connection with the slaying of Hariri. Shafee said he had already submitted his first report to Damascus and was working on a second.
He declined to elaborate on his investigations except to say “for now, there is no evidence against Syria as a country or a government” in Hariri’s murder.
The New Straits Times of Singapore cited diplomatic sources as saying Shafee’s team had visited Damascus and Lebanon on several occasions and had met top Syrian officials.
Shafee would not name the other lawyers, but the newspaper said the team also comprised a Queen’s Counsel, a prominent London solicitor, a senior lawyer from India and a former senior Scotland Yard police officer. from mmorning.com
Patriarchs Blame Political Turmoil for Christian Exodus from Middle East
By The Universe: Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East have said political instability across the region must be tackled if the current Christian exodus is to be stemmed.
The negative impact of this instability on local economies and services, as well as on the psychology within communities, are key factors driving Christians away from the region, said the council of Catholic patriarchs.
The council's 16th assembly closed last week in Bzommar, near Beirut, with a statement focusing on the dwindling presence of Christians in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Iraq and the wider region.
The statement said that Eastern Christian churches acted as a bridge between Western Christianity and Islam, creating an avenue for dialogue between the faiths. The Christian leaders were adamant that this link should not be broken.
Despite this summer's 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon, the patriarchs said Lebanon "remains a source of hope" that "must play an effective role" in solidifying the coexistence of religions in the Middle East.
Reinforcing this message during his homily at a Mass outside Beirut, Cardinal Nasrallah P Sfeir, Maronite patriarch, criticised Lebanon's political infrastructure for failing to pay sufficient attention to the role of the Lebanese family, which he said was a crucial factor in maintaining a unified society.
"Especially in these difficult days, the Lebanese family needs the help of the state to be able to take on its economic, educational, cultural and social responsibilities, since many families have lost one or more members, have been forced to emigrate or have lost their homes and source of livelihood," he said.
Emphasising the need to promote dialogue among religions across the region, the patriarchs expressed their "solidarity with the Islamic world in its efforts to consolidate peace and eradicate violence."
Calling on Muslim organisations to "vigorously condemn terrorist actions committed, at times, in the name of the Muslim faith," the patriarchs added: "We know that the true Islam and the Quran are innocent of any violence. These actions do not only harm Islam, but they also destroy (the) coexistence that has been there for so many generations, especially in Iraq."
Fears of Inquiry Dampen Giving by U.S. Muslims
This year, Mrs. Bazzy formalized the good works she had been doing for a decade among the tens of thousands of Muslims who live in the Dearborn area by establishing a charity, Zaman International.
But by the end of the holiday, charitable contributions were meager. She said cash donations amounted to less than $4,000, and for the first time since she began her charity work she bought food to feed about 85 needy families instead of counting on gifts.
There are similar stories in Muslim communities across the country. Fearful that donations to an Islamic charity could bring unwanted attention from federal agents looking into potential ties to terrorism, many Muslim Americans have become reluctant to donate to Islamic causes, including charities.
“We can’t stop giving because it’s a pillar of Islam — it’s a must,” said Mrs. Bazzy, an animated 46-year-old nurse who veils her hair with a headscarf in keeping with Muslim traditions of modest dress. “It’s a real moral dilemma. Do you forget about the rest of the world out of fear? My family has been here for 101 years, and as an American I’m offended.”
The holy month of Ramadan is supposed to be a time of giving, particularly for the Muslim faithful, for whom charity, or zakat, is one of the five main tenets of their religion. The meaning of “zakat” is rooted in the Arabic word for purification, and sacred texts even define the amount — at least 2.5 percent of net annual earnings.
But recently, fear has often trumped faith.
When Mrs. Bazzy calls people to solicit contributions, they quickly beg off and hang up, telling her later in the grocery store or the bank not to ask them for money on the phone because the government is probably eavesdropping.
Nobody wants to write a check for any amount, and they look at her in horror when she offers a receipt — some of the largest donations she still receives have been anonymous wads of $100 bills stuffed into envelopes.
The developer of the new building that had volunteered office space for her charity begged off, saying that even the potential for a raid might drive away other tenants and bring down rents. The irony, she points out, is that she deliberately avoided any connection with a religious institution, even taking out a loan on her house to finance her longstanding dream of starting the charity. But given her headscarf, many people assume it is a faith-based organization.
Seemingly no individual or organization trying to collect funds is immune.
The imam at the Islamic Center of America, Sayyid Hassan Qazwini, is a favorite of the American government for publicly standing behind President Bush, both literally and figuratively, over the invasion of Iraq.
Imam Qazwini, by his own account, has been invited to the White House four or five times, with the president even photographed kissing the turbaned cleric on the cheek. Imam Qazwini delivered the opening benediction in Congress on Oct. 1, 2003, the first Muslim religious figure accorded that honor after Sept. 11.
Yet, his gleaming new $15 million mosque here, a handsome white structure with a gold dome and soaring twin minarets that is billed as the largest in America, remains $6 million in debt. Contributions dropped sharply this summer after the war in Lebanon, the imam said, when the Bush administration expressed its unreserved support for Israel. Other mosques report similar difficulties. The general sentiment is that the American government’s tilt toward Israel extends to hounding anyone supporting Arab causes.
Much of the fear comes from federal actions that many Muslim Americans view as unnecessarily invasive.
The Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department has shuttered five major Muslim charities in the United States since 2001, seizing millions of dollars in assets, yet not a single officer or organization has been convicted of anything connected to terrorism. Muslim charities operating overseas have been directly linked to terrorist operations, but if such evidence exists in the United States it has remained secret.
“The sad fact is that there are some Islamic charities involved in terrorist financing,” said Daniel L. Glaser, the deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes. “We can’t close our eyes to that. We have to find ways to deal with that.”
Imam Qazwini, the descendant of a long line of prominent Iraqi Shiite Muslim clerics, points out that many Muslim Americans, particularly those from the Arab world, fled the region to escape repressive regimes, expecting the United States to provide both freedom and opportunity. Instead they find themselves facing similar problems.
“Many people who came from the Middle East still live with the psyche of being chased by the intelligence forces,” he said in an interview. “Having these same forces acting here intensifies the sense of fear in these communities.”
Ahmad Chebbani, 46, served as the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce for eight years until this June. His accounting firm, Omnex Accounting and Tax Service, occupies a neat two-story building on Warren Avenue, the heart of the community, where most of the shop signs are in both English and Arabic.
Arab-Americans make up more than a third of Dearborn’s population of 100,000, and Michigan has one of the country’s largest concentrations of Muslim Americans. The sentiments expressed here are echoed in Muslim communities across the United States.
Between himself and his company, Mr. Chebbani says he used to contribute some $50,000 annually to charity, the bulk of it to religious organizations. He still gives, but directly either to needy families, business groups or secular institutions like the Arab American National Museum.
As one of the community’s most successful accountants — in his office is a picture of him with former Vice President Al Gore — he also sees the tax returns of some of the most affluent families in Dearborn. Some have stopped giving entirely, and some give but decline to claim any deductions. His rough estimate indicates that community giving is down by about half.
“Contributions across the board have been drastically reduced because of the fear; people associate contributions with risk and they don’t want that,” he said. “There’s a lack of trust in the U.S. judicial system, with just an accusation you could end up in jail with secret evidence used as a means of prosecution.”
Religious scholars say that compromises made over who gets charity might conflict with Islam’s precepts. Verse 60 in Chapter 9 of the Koran, the Sura of Repentance, specifies eight religiously sanctified beneficiaries of zakat. All eight dictate giving to the poor or those who help them. Other charity is considered a blessing but does not fulfill the religious obligation in the same way, they argue.
“There are eight categories; you cannot invent a ninth,” said Khalil Jassemm, a professor and lay prayer leader who helped found Life for Relief and Development, a charity based in Michigan started to help Iraqis living under sanctions that now works across the Muslim world. “You can’t give money to the animal shelter and call this your zakat.”
The offices of Life for Relief and Development were raided in September on the basis of a sealed affidavit. The government has said that the raid was not terrorism-related, although agents of the Joint Terrorism Task Force were along on the raid. The hanging questions put a damper on fund-raising.
Events like that have left some Muslim organizations across the country pondering whether to sue the federal government for denying them their First Amendment rights to practice their religion freely.
Like most Muslims interviewed for this article, Imam Qazwini emphasized that he fully supported a crackdown on any real terrorist financing, but that he thought the government was blindly casting far too wide a net. In a speech by Mr Bush immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, the imam noted, the president said terrorists might be able to destroy a few buildings in this country but could not harm its foundations.
“I hope he’s right, but I’m afraid he’s not,” the imam said after being the host of a Ramadan banquet for a cross-section of Michigan’s political and religious leaders. “It seems like the terrorists have been able to touch our foundations — our civil liberties are being compromised, our religious freedoms are being compromised.”
Saturday October 28, 2006
INTERVIEW-Christian leader foresees turbulence in Lebanon
THE CEDARS, Lebanon, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Former Christian militia chief Samir Geagea expects turmoil in Lebanon that may spill into the streets as Hezbollah and its allies campaign against the anti-Syrian government, but no slide into civil war.
Geagea's Lebanese Forces, now a political party, has one minister in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Western-backed cabinet, which is resisting demands from Hezbollah and its main Christian ally Michel Aoun for a national unity government.
"I see some turbulence, but it will not be destructive or fatal," Geagea told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has asked politicians to start talks on Monday on a unity cabinet and new electoral law.
Speaking at his well-guarded home at the Cedars ski resort in the snow-powdered peaks of north Lebanon, Geagea said he favoured dialogue, but criticised Berri's agenda as too narrow.
He said it was more important to discuss what had led to Israel's devastating 34-day war with Hezbollah and how to apply the U.N. resolution that halted the conflict on Aug. 14.
Resolution 1701 demands a weapons-free border zone in the south policed by the newly deployed Lebanese army and U.N. peacekeepers, and indirectly calls for Hezbollah's disarmament.
Geagea said the best way to achieve this would be to recover the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area, which is claimed by Lebanon and which Hezbollah cites as a reason to keep its arms.
Geagea rejected calls for a cabinet giving Hezbollah and its allies more than the five ministries they now hold.
Siniora's government, formed after last year's elections, was at least functioning, he said, whereas the presidency held by Syrian-backed Emile Lahoud was a legacy of the era of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon and was "completely paralysed".
Geagea said he would not run for the presidency, reserved for Maronite Christians in Lebanon's power-sharing system, next year because "you have to compromise your attitude and beliefs".
He would focus instead on rebuilding the Lebanese Forces as a political party after what he said was 15 years of repression that ended when Syrian troops left Lebanon in April 2005.
He said rearming the party was out of the question "because we would be betraying our own beliefs in the state". His goal was a pluralistic, sovereign, democratic, independent Lebanon.
Geagea, 54, the only Lebanese militia chief to be jailed after the 1975-90 war, spent 11 years in solitary confinement, serving four life terms for political murders.
Amnestied by parliament 15 months ago, the former medical student has always said he was a political prisoner victimised for opposing Syria's grip on Lebanon, which was loosened only after last year's assassination of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri.
Syria denies involvement in Hariri's killing and subsequent assassinations of anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon.
Geagea said he had received death threats this year -- "two or three letters ... written in a very Alfred Hitchcock way".
LESSONS OF CAPTIVITY
He said his prison experience had deeply affected his personal outlook, without shifting his political convictions.
"I see things from a much wider angle. I can easily understand others, even though I am in contradiction with them politically," Geagea said quietly. "I can even love them."
He remains a hero to many Maronites. Even his old foes mostly backed his release, setting aside past animosity for a man they once feared for his military adventures and readiness to ally with Israel against Syria and Palestinian guerrillas.
Of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, one of his bitterest wartime foes, he said with a smile: "Now he is my bitterest friend."
Jumblatt, once a Syrian ally, now denounces Damascus.
"It was war unfortunately, but now things have taken a completely different turn and here we are, all together, with a clear political agenda," Geagea said of his new-found Druze and Sunni Muslim allies.
Geagea said he had learned in captivity that anger was "a real poison" falsifying reality. He said he had never despaired.
"In jail I reflected a lot on everything that occurred in my life," he said. "Of course there were many, many things that I will not do again. So in this meaning it was very enriching."
AlertNet news is provided by Reuters
D'Ancona: Media Got It Wrong in Lebanon
The Spectator editor, Matthew d'Ancona, is to attack western media reporting of the Lebanon war, saying reporters 'floundered like an English tourist abroad'. By Stephen Brook.
The editor of the Spectator is to attack western media reporting of the war in Lebanon, saying reporters collectively "floundered like an English tourist abroad with a badly-written phrase-book".
Matthew d'Ancona, appointed editor earlier this year, will say tonight in a speech at Oxford University that western media groups were not biased against Israel - but failed in their responsibilities to report the geopolitical nature of the conflict and the size and strength of Hizbullah.
"The underlying problem is not, in my view, something as simple as media bias, but rather a category mistake," Mr d'Ancona will say tonight in the Philip Geddes Memorial Lecture at Oxford University, named after the journalist who died aged 24 in an IRA explosion.
"The media has yet to learn the new language of a new conflict. It flounders like an English tourist abroad with a badly-written phrase-book."
Mr d'Ancona believes that the media failed in its responsibility to capture the true geopolitical nature of this conflict.
"Because Hizbollah maintained such a low profile until the war had ended, there was little sense that it was running a full-blown state within a state, armed with state-of-the-art weaponry, or that what we were witnessing in northern Israel and southern Lebanon was the first battle in a new war waged by theocratic Iran - vigorously pursuing its nuclear ambitions and supporting Islamist terror around the world."
Mr d'Ancona believes that Hizbollah better understood how to manipulate global opinion.
"Hizbollah's cunning in the conflict was to nurture the impression in the West that it was somehow a romantic maquis, a ragtag force of noble freedom fighters and pimpernels defending the people of Lebanon against murderous colonialists. It was almost completely absent from our screens, always nimbly one step ahead of the cameras.
"And for that reason, whatever one's audit of the military conflict, they certainly won the media war."
By Guardian Unlimited © Copyright Guardian Newspapers 2006
Friday October 27, 2006
Analysts Say Berri's Appeal for Lebanon Unity Talks Going Nowhere
The two issues are key demands of Hizbullah and its Christian and pro-Syrian allies.
"This is just avoiding the problem, this initiative has no substance and falls well short of expectations and needs" to resolve the political crisis, said Antoine Basbous, director of the Paris-based Arab Countries' Observatory.
"It doesn't answer the urgency of the situation, it's like giving an aspirin to someone who's very ill.
"Berri wants to show the Arab leaders he's visited, including Saudi King Abdullah, that he's doing something to ease the country's tension," said Basbous, adding that Berri has little room to maneuver "because of the internal and regional situation."
Sources close to Hizbullah and Gen. Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement were quoted by the Al-Akhbar daily as saying Berri's proposal was "a new and last chance to resolve the crisis."
Hizbullah, with two ministers in the cabinet of the ruling anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, wants the inclusion of other political groups in government, particularly from Aoun's party.
But the anti-Syrian majority demands the departure of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud whose mandate was controversially extended for another three years in 2004, in accordance with Damascus's wishes.
"This is a way of gaining time to prevent the crisis erupting," MP Antoine Andraos, part of the anti-Syrian majority, said of Berri's initiative.
"The problems of the unity government and of the presidency are not ready to be resolved, the chasm between the different parties is vast."
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora said the talks' agenda should include discussing Israel's devastating offensive and its "consequences, impact and lessons to be learned."
"The majority wants to resume the dialogue from where it left off without excluding subjects that upset Hizbullah," Basbous said, accusing the Shiite movement of "dictating the agenda of the next round of talks."(AFP)
Beirut, 27 Oct 06, 08:58
Friday, October 27, 2006; A22
TWO MONTHS after the end of the Middle East's summer war the good news is that the Israeli-Lebanese border is quiet and looks as if it may remain so for some time. The bad news is that neither the small nor the large factors that triggered the fighting -- the abduction of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah, and Iran's new drive for power in the region -- have been alleviated. Though the European-led peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon may give that shattered region a respite, the danger is growing of a new eruption of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians -- and maybe even between Israel and Syria.
Judging from what Israeli raids have been uncovering in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants are eager to imitate what they perceive as Hezbollah's success in standing up to the Israeli army in the villages of southern Lebanon -- and Iran's agents are just as eager to help them. Entering the border zone between Gaza and Egypt last week for the first time in months, Israeli forces found some 15 tunnels that they say were being used to smuggle sophisticated weapons, such as Russian-made Concourse anti-tank missiles, 122-millimeter Grad rockets and more than 15 tons of TNT. Firings of crude Qassam rockets from Gaza at nearby Israeli towns have continued, along with Israeli raids to capture or kill the militants behind them.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who considered himself a winner of the war, is still sounding belligerent, warning publicly of the possibility of war between Israel and Syria. Israel responded this week by carrying out military maneuvers on the Golan Heights. Mr. Assad continues to harbor one of the architects of the war, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. Mr. Meshal ordered the June raid inside Israel that began the fighting; now, from his perch in Damascus, he torpedoes attempts by Egypt and other Arab governments to broker accords to release the Israeli captive in Gaza and create a more moderate Palestinian government.
The Bush administration's policy for defusing this dangerous situation has amounted mostly to encouraging Egyptian mediation as well as a deal between Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ease the flow of goods between Gaza and Israel. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resists acting before the Israeli soldier is released; meanwhile, he has bolstered his government by allying with a hard-line nationalist party that opposes most concessions to the Palestinians. Feelers by Syria about peace talks with Israel have been shunned.
It's not hard to predict where this is heading: toward events that will serve to further advance Iran's goal of radicalizing the Middle East. Those who stand to lose the most from that development -- Israel, Egypt and the United States -- are running out of time for their agenda of negotiations and confidence-building.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
Russia restores two bridges in Lebanon
“Our military restored the second bridge in Abu Zibli in the area of the Lebanese-Israeli border. We have to build a total of six bridges in Lebanon according to the bilateral agreement,” Isakov said.
He added he is negotiating the restoration of two additional bridges in the country. “The issue can get a positive solution if the Lebanese leadership requests the Russian side and in case of a positive decision by the political leadership of our country,” Isakov said.
Russian military to build 8 bridges in Lebanon by Dec 10
"The issue of building two more brides was discussed on Thursday with representatives of the Lebanese government. We agreed that in addition to the six bridges we agreed upon earlier, another two will be rebuilt. The Lebanese side expressed an interest in training their bridge construction specialists," Isakov said.
"The /Russian bridge-construction/ battalion will certainly fulfill the task by December 10," he added.
The announcement about the updated number of bridges to be rebuilt by Russian engineers in Lebanon came from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov earlier on Friday.
"When we were sending the 100th bridge building battalion to Lebanon, it brought along everything necessary for restoring eight bridges. Initially, it was planned to build six bridges. After the Lebanese military saw the quality of our bridges and their reliability, they asked us to help them rebuild another two," Ivanov said after a meeting with senators at the Federation Council upper house of the Russian parliament.
"Today, the two longest bridges are being handed over to Lebanon. Another six will be handed over within the next four or six week, after which the Russian battalion will return," the defense minister said.
Marines mourn, remember service members killed in Beirut
For the Beirut veterans present, many were overcome with emotion as the ceremony unearthed forgotten memories.
“One Marine that was killed was a very good friend of mine,” said Mike Murphy, a lance corporal who was attached to Marine Service Support Group 24 and 21 years old at the time of the attack. “Up until recently, I hadn’t talked about what had happened for more than 20 years.”
For the 21 Beirut service members who are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, their place of valor resides in section 59. Near their marble headstones, the words “Let Peace Take Root” are inscribed on a granite stone beneath the Cedar of Lebanon tree as an eternal reminder of their sacrifice and as a symbol of hope and remembrance.
“I think it’s important for Americans to reflect upon the fact that the current war on terror did not start on Sept. 11, but rather back on, and even before, Oct. 23, 1983,” said Bill Kibler, who was a 20-year-old lance corporal attached to Marine Service Support Group 24 at the time of the attack.
For more information on the service members who lost their lives that day, visit www.beirut-memorial.org.
Wednesday October 25, 2006
Israel Accuses Syria of Smuggling Arms into Lebanon
Syrian President Bashar Assad describes efforts to stop arms shipments through Syria to Lebanon as "a waste of time," stating in an interview that "neither UN resolutions nor military deployment" will stop the flow of contraband arms (El Pais, October 1). Assad does not admit Syrian government involvement in the arms shipments, although Israeli intelligence has informed their government of official Syrian involvement (Gulf Daily News, October 16). The Israeli government of Ehud Olmert is resolute in rejecting the possibility of negotiations with Assad, whom they accuse of harboring terrorists, particularly the Damascus-based leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has warned that Israel will take "independent action" if necessary to combat arms smuggling into Lebanon, but the commander of the French contingent of the UNIFIL forces has alerted Israel that new rules of engagement being considered by the UNIFIL command might allow French troops to use their anti-aircraft missiles to fire on Israeli warplanes that continue to fly over Lebanon in violation of Resolution 1701 (Haaretz, October 17).
When meeting in Moscow last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is believed to have discussed the problem of Russian arms exports to Syria finding their way into Hezbollah's arsenal (RIA Novosti, October 19). Israel discovered numerous examples of sophisticated Russian-made weapons in captured Hezbollah bunkers, with the missiles and other weaponry still bearing Russian serial numbers and bills of lading.
Hezbollah continues to agitate for a "government of national unity" to replace the present Fouad Siniora-led cabinet, dominated by members of the anti-Syrian March 14 movement. The Shiite movement has some curious partners in their call for a new government, including Maronite Christian General Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement. Once a violent opponent of Hezbollah and Syrian influence in Lebanon, Aoun is now a close ally of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and a leading member of the pro-Syrian camp (Ya Libnan, October 8).
Hezbollah's commander in South Lebanon, Sheikh Nabil Qawuq, describes attempts to disarm Hezbollah's armed wing as "a thing of the past," adding that "we are living with a [Lebanese] government that enjoys the trust of America, but does not enjoy the trust of the [Islamic] resistance" (al-Manar, October 18). Syrian President Assad is intent on renewing Syrian dominance in Lebanese politics, stating that the only solution to the disarmament question is "if all the interested parties have confidence in Syria" (El Pais, October 1). The Syrian state does not recognize Lebanon's independence.
The massive destruction caused by Israeli bombing has opened some rifts in Shiite solidarity. 'Ali al-Amin, the Shiite mufti of Tyre, is very vocal in his criticism of Hezbollah, claiming that the national unity government issue is designed to distract attention from the ruination of much of the country. The mufti has reservations about the Hezbollah "victory." He asked, "What good is it to have a rocket that reaches 100 kilometers inside Israel when Israel can reach every meter of our country?" (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, October 15).
Nabih Berri, parliamentary speaker and leader of the Shiite party Amal, has embarked on a tour of Riyadh, Damascus and Tehran as the unofficial spokesman for the Hezbollah movement (Ya Libnan, October 8). Berri has lately put some distance between himself and Hezbollah's aggressive approach to government reform, warning of a political vacuum that could arise if there is no consensus on the composition of a new cabinet before overthrowing Siniora's government (al-Nahar, October 19).
The political and military fallout from the short summer war in Lebanon continues. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) believe that Hamas is receiving Katyusha rockets and preparing defensive positions in emulation of Hezbollah (Haaretz, October 16). IDF sources maintain that more than 20 tons of explosives, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles have been smuggled into Gaza from Iran and other sources since the beginning of the year. In light of the lethal effectiveness with which Hezbollah guerrillas used anti-tank missiles in the Lebanon war, their arrival in Gaza is particularly alarming to Israeli authorities. According to Defense Minister Peretz, "If terror elements have succeeded in smuggling dozens of anti-tank missiles in the Strip, we will not wait for them to smuggle hundreds or thousands more" (Ynet News, October 18). For now, the Israeli Air Force has been forced to reevaluate the safety of its air missions over the territory.
The provocative statements by President Assad reflect a belief in Damascus that the IDF has been critically weakened, for the moment at least, by its incursion into Lebanon. Assad's description of his fellow Arab leaders as "half-men" for their failure to support Hezbollah has not endeared him to his counterparts in the Arab world, despite his recent adoption of pan-Arab rhetoric. Thus far, the threat of guerrilla activities in the Golan Heights remains a remote threat, despite various threats from previously unknown groups such as the Front for the Liberation of the Golan, which claims to be ready to use "Hezbollah-style tactics" to "liberate" the Israeli-held territory. In a sign of the continuing tension between Jerusalem and Damascus, Syrian troops have not stood down from the defensive positions that they adopted while on alert in this summer's Lebanon war.
Source: Jamestown Foundation
Iran, Syria rapidly rearming Hezbollah
Iran and Syria are rapidly rearming Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon as an international peacekeeping force has failed to carry out a U.N. mandate to disarm the Shi'ite militia group, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said yesterday.
"We know the policy of the Iranian regime is to buy time by talking" while it pursues a nuclear bomb, Mr. Mofaz said in an interview in his suite at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington. "So far they have been very successful."
The hawkish Mr. Mofaz is the transportation minister under the unity government headed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but he remains a major voice on defense and security issues in Israel.
He met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, among others, on a visit to Washington this week in advance of U.S.-Israel security talks set for December.
Mr. Mofaz said Israel's 34-day war with Hezbollah fighters this summer had dealt the Shi'ite militia a major setback in its southern Lebanese base. But he expressed frustration that the Lebanese army and an enhanced U.N. peacekeeping force had not disarmed Hezbollah or sealed the border to prevent Syria and Iran from rearming their "proxy."
"Arms smuggling across the border from Syria has continued after the war," he said. "We know of the activity but we don't know what types of weapons are involved."
He acknowledged that Israel's armed forces "did not achieve all our goals" in the Lebanon campaign, failing to crush Hezbollah as a fighting force and to win the release of Israeli soldiers held by the Shi'ite group.
But he said the "main issue of discussion" with U.S. officials was Iran.
"Iran poses the biggest threat not only to the state of Israel but to the countries of the West as well," he said. "Under the umbrella provided by a nuclear capability, Iran might be more involved in harboring, supporting and financing terror."
Mr. Olmert told reporters last week that Iran would have a "price to pay" if it rejected international offers to stop its suspect nuclear programs. But Mr. Mofaz yesterday put greater stress on multilateral efforts to pressure Iran, calling for strong sanctions against Tehran if it refuses to cooperate.
"The time has come for effective sanctions after three years of dialogue without any achievements," he said.
The North Korea nuclear test earlier this month has heightened the need for a tough stand against Iran, Mr. Mofaz said. North Korea has sold Iran missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads, and Mr. Mofaz said Pyongyang's test of a nuclear device means it could now transfer "nuclear assets" to Iran as well.
On Syria, Mr. Mofaz dismissed as a "ploy" recent offers by President Bashar Assad for direct peace talks with Israel, saying Damascus continues to support Hezbollah and militant Palestinian groups battling Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
"We believe it is not [Syria's] intention to have a real negotiation," he said. "When we see real intentions for peace in Syria, then we can have a different approach."
Mr. Olmert is expected to travel to Washington next month for talks, and the Bush administration is pressing for new movement on peace talks with the Palestinians.
But Mr. Mofaz said the bloody internal standoff in the Palestinian territories between the Hamas government, which refuses to recognize Israel, and the Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas leaves Israel with no effective negotiating partner.
'Assad regime is on brink of collapse'
BEIRUT, Lebanon - An exiled former Syrian vice president said Sunday that President Bashar Assad's regime is on the brink of collapse and called on Syrians to prepare for the day when he will be overthrown.
His address was on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and was broadcast on Lebanon's Future TV, an anti-Syrian station owned by the family of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
"Ask yourselves, my brothers, after six years of his taking over the administration of the country, what has Bashar Assad done except spread corruption, increase suffering and (take) wrong decisions that have led to weakening national unity and subjecting Syria to Arab and international isolation," Khaddam said.
"I assure you that the corrupt and tyrannical regime is on the brink of collapse and in the near future, the ruler will see the opportunists and hypocrites that rallied around him fleeing. He and his corrupt family and entourage will find themselves in the hands of justice," he added.
Khaddam's address was aired several days after Arab newspapers reported that the former vice president met with Saudi officials, including King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan.
An Arab diplomat said the meetings took place in Saudi Arabia last week and were significant because they send a message to Syria that the kingdom is upset at Syria's policies and may be exploring other options to deal with the Damascus regime.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Saudi-Syrian relations soured after Assad, in a speech following this summer's Israel-Hizbullah war, described leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as "half men" because they did not rally to Lebanon's defense.
The Saudis feel that Assad has broken away from these Arab countries to align himself with Iran.
A top member of Syria's ruling elite for nearly 30 years, Khaddam has lived with his family in France since he retired as vice president last summer.
He provoked an outcry last December when he told a pan-Arab satellite channel that Assad had threatened Hariri months before he was assassinated last year. Assad has denied the allegation. (AP)
Berri urges fresh to drag Lebanon out of Political stalmate
"I call for a meeting of all parties taking part in the national dialogue to come back to roundtable talks ... in order to examine the contentious question of forming a government of national unity," Berri told a news conference.
He suggested the talks, which would resume roundtable discussions held earlier this year, begin on Monday and last for a maximum of 15 days, in the hope of agreeing a new government and reforming the country's electoral law.
Those two issues are key demands of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement that fought a summer war with Israel, and its Christian and pro-Syrian allies.
Hezbollah, with two ministers in the cabinet of the ruling anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, wants the inclusion of other political groups in government, particularly that of its Christian ally General Michel Aoun.
But parliamentary majority chief Saad Hariri, son of slain former premier Rafiq, has rejected any change in the makeup of the current cabinet led by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.
Nasrallah issued a statement on Friday again calling for a national unity government in what was seen as a bid to turn the popular acclaim his fighters won in their war with Israel into greater national political power.
On October 15, Aoun said that Siniora's government was "corrupted and is squandering the money of the state and the people. It lacks representativeness".
Roundtable talks arranged by Berri in March were abandoned in June without achieving any concrete results after failing to reach agreement on what to do about pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.
Berri said that Nasrallah would be represented at the talks but would not himself attend given Israeli threats to assassinate the man who prevented the Jewish state achieving its stated objectives during its assault on Lebanon.
Germany takes command of naval force in Lebanon
At this point the force is comprised of five frigates and seven speed boats from seven different countries. The German frigates include the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and the Karlsruhe, and four speed boats. The German force currently includes about 1,000 troops, both men and women, and they are led by Admiral Andreas Krause who commands the fleet.
The German participation in the UNIFIL force was not an easily decided issue.
The decision to send troops, including ground troops, was decided in the Bundestag only last month after intense debates within Germany whether or not to participate. The Germans were apprehensive initially due to the historical connotations of having to possibly point a weapon at Israeli soldiers. German officials indicated at the time that the decision to participate in the force was a crucial decision which will transform Germany’s foreign policy forever.
In addition to the 1,000 troops already deployed to the area, the Bundestag decision calls for a total participation of about 2,400 German troops.
Germany has also deployed a group of 10 police officers and customs agents to Beirut International Airport to help the Lebanese control and monitor incoming cargo to ensure no weapons are being smuggled in.
Germany will also supply Lebanon with x-ray containers to be deployed on the Lebanon-Syria border, capable of screening trucks.
Source: Israel Today
Monday Oct 16, 2006
Creation of international tribunal will ‘protect’ Lebanon
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Head of the Future Bloc in Parliament MP Saad Hariri said an international tribunal to put on trial the suspects of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s assassination should be created to achieve justice, and “protect” Lebanon and some politicians from a campaign of terrorism and daily media attacks. He also reiterated that there is a golden opportunity to convene the Beirut I international economic conference, which reflects backing for Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government and the political forces that it represents.
Report: Authorities investigate existence of Hezbollah cell in Mexico
MEXICO CITY Mexican federal agents reportedly are investigating a tip that a group of businessmen in Mexico is raising funds for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
The Mexico City newspaper El Universal cites what it calls a leaked report from the organized-crime division of the federal Attorney General's office. The daily reports the probe began three months ago after the United States asked Mexico to investigate the alleged cell.
The newspaper reports the U-S State Department and F-B-I are cooperating with Mexican agents in the probe.
Mexican President Vicente Fox's spokesman told reporters today that he was aware of the newspaper report. But spokesman Ruben Aguilar says he had no knowledge of the investigation.
Officials at the U-S Embassy in Mexico City declined to comment on the issue until they had further information.
Thursday Oct 12, 2006
James Baker prepares the exits in Iraq
By Michael Young
The group includes establishment stalwarts, including former CIA Director Robert Gates, Bill Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan, Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former Senator and Virginian Governor Charles Robb, and former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson. While the conclusions of these insiders, well-lubed in the etiquette of American power, are not binding, President George W. Bush will have to take them seriously, because the next Congress is bound to be hostile to "staying the course" in Iraq and might oblige him to do so.
It's still unclear what the group will recommend. Baker, in an interview on ABC television last weekend, played his cards close to his chest, but did throw out hints: "I think it's fair to say our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of 'stay the course' and 'cut and run.'" He dismissed as unworkable a plan by Senator Joseph Biden to decentralize Iraq and give Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own regions, distributing oil revenue to all. Baker argued "there's no way to draw lines" between the three groups in Iraq's major cities, where the communities are mixed.
However, an article in The Times of London suggested a different plan. The group would recommend breaking Iraq up into "three highly autonomous regions." According to "informed sources" cited by the paper, the Iraq group "has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq ... His group will not advise 'partition,' but is believed to favor a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue. The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution. Iran and Syria will be urged to back a regional settlement that could be brokered at an international conference."
It's not clear how the conclusions of The Times square with Baker's own dismissal of the Biden plan. However, the likelihood is that the differences are in the details, not in the overall principle of distributing power away from the center, a process explicit in the federal structure mandated by the Iraqi Constitution. In addition, Baghdad's control over Iraq has all but disintegrated, so that any practical plan must take this into consideration. But just how much is unclear. The proposal outlined by The Times, if it is proven true, would suggest substantial dissemination of power. This would create a confederal structure in form, but the partition of Iraq in fact, regardless of claims that the Iraq Study Group has no such agenda.
What of Baker's admission that the mixed nature of urban areas makes the Biden plan unworkable? His focus on Iraqi cities, as opposed to surrounding rural areas, might mean his group will propose some sort of mechanism to leave Iraqi cities "open" to all communities, under separate administrations. If that's the case, however, the scheme would have little practical meaning in places like Kirkuk, where Kurds have the means, and the wherewithal, to pressure their adversaries. As for Baghdad, the challenge would be to isolate the city from the ambient ethnic and sectarian fighting. Like Sarajevo, the Iraqi capital is likely to end up being a mere extension of the wars around it, with the battle lines already drawn between "pure" sectarian neighborhoods.
In reality, the Baker-Hamilton group is less there to engineer a stable future for Iraq than to create conditions for American forces to leave the country. Baker doesn't want to "cut and run," but there is an awful lot of cutting, and not a little hurried walking, in his thinking. The idea is that once Kurds and Shiites fully take security into their own hands in their autonomous areas, the US will be able to substantially reduce its troop levels and withdraw the remainder to safe areas, probably to Kurdistan.
However, partition is a dangerous proposition. A favored course of action of uninspired diplomats, the partitioning of territories has usually visited little more than trauma on countries, accompanied by war. That's what happened in India, Palestine, Korea, Vietnam, Cyprus and Bosnia, and nothing suggests that Iraq will be any different. Iraqis may today have fallen back on their ethnic or sectarian identities, but that doesn't mean they will accept a foreign plan for effective partition. If anything, this may provoke their hostility and that of many Arabs who will certainly interpret the proposal as an effort to fragment Iraq to Israel's benefit. You will hear the familiar tropes that this is all part of a vast neoconservative project to weaken the Arab world, though members of the Baker-Hamilton team - particularly Baker, a sleek facilitator between big oil and Arab custodians of stalemate - would shudder at such an association.
Finally, asking Iran and Syria to guarantee this process means asking the two states most responsible for destabilizing Iraq since 2003 to oversee its stabilization. That's a typical realist habit, and Baker has long enjoyed transacting with American foes. Syrian President Hafez Assad allowed Shiite Islamists to kill American soldiers and civilians in Lebanon in the 1980s, but was nonetheless rewarded by Baker and President George H.W. Bush with a blank check for total hegemony over Lebanon in 1990. What Baker can't understand, or won't, is that the Syrian regime survives thanks to the instability of its neighbors. A peaceful Iraq threatens to make Syria, its intelligence services, and the artificial state of insecurity the regime has created to sustain itself, superfluous. Bashar Assad won't feel any compulsion to do the US favors as it prepares to exit from Iraq.
But don't expect Baker to care by then. His brief is to find an "honorable" way for American soldiers to pull out; what comes afterward is no longer in his hands. It's best to wait before judging the final Iraq Study Group report, and Baker is too much of a calculator to cross Bush. But what he ends up writing will be an American document for Americans. Pity the Iraqis if they are once again secondary in deciding their own fate.
Syria nixes Assad visit to Jerusalem
A Syrian official reportedly rejected the suggestion Wednesday, made earlier in the day by Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
"If Assad said, 'I'm coming to the Knesset,' would he be stopped?" Peres asked rhetorically when interviewed on the subject. "He needs to say that he wants to speak to Israel about peace."
The Prime Minister's Office distanced itself from the invitation, saying Peres's words were his own and didn't reflect government policy.
But anyway, said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Asi Shariv, Israel doesn't view Assad's talk of peace as genuine, since it hasn't been backed up by action.
"If you want peace, you can show us that you really want peace," he said. Instead of proposing a visit, Shariv offered: "You can send [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal out of Damascas. You can stop [shipping] weapons to Hizbullah in Lebanon."
Assad has made several recent comments in the Western media alluding to the possibility of peace with Israel. He told the German magazine Der Spiegel that "we want to make peace - peace with Israel," and on Monday he told the BBC that it would be possible for the two countries to live side by side and accept each other's existence.
At the same time, however,Assad has warned in interviews with Arab media about the country's preparations for an Israeli attack and indicated the Golan Heights could be retaken by force.
Shariv suggested that Assad's more conciliatory comments were a bid at deflecting international criticism of his regime, long labelled by the US as a nation that abets terror.
"It's coming in the weeks before the decision on [Rafik] Hariri," Shariv said, referring to the international inquiry on the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister, a harsh critic of the Syrian presence in Lebanon.
Peres: Assad Sr. missed chance on Golan
Vice premier says if Bashar Assad's father, former Syrian president Hafez Assad, came to Camp David, ‘I can promise you the Golan Heights would have been in Syrian hands for years now’
Hagit Klaiman Published: 09.27.06, 23:13
“The Syrians are refusers of peace,” Peres said. According to Peres, the current Syrian president is hosting in his home a known terrorist – Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal. He added that Mashaal was preventing diplomatic advances between Israel and the Palestinians and was blocking the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit – which even the Hamas government had agreed to.
Peres said that Sadat had called Assad, Sr., to join him in Camp David, and it is too bad he did not acquiesce to the invitation, because “I can promise you he would have gotten all of the Golan Heights.”
“A number of other prime ministers in Israel were willing to give back a good deal of the Golan Heights. That includes Yitzhak Rabin, Binyamin Netanyahu – who sent an envoy with the message that he was willing to give up most of the Golan, and even I, after Rabin’s murder when I was appointed prime minister, sent a message through the United State, that I would respect what Rabin promised,” Peres said.
“But since I was right before elections (March 1996 – ed.), I clarified that I needed an answer right away. The answer I got was that Assad was willing to meet with me, but he couldn’t name a date,” he explained.
Peres further noted, “What Syria is asking for now is that we return the Golan Heights and solve the Palestinian problem – and only then will they agree to talk with us. This is unacceptable. You don’t make demands before sitting at the negotiating table, but rather during the negotiations.”
'One government - one army'
As for the recent conflict with Hizbullah, Peres said, “There are a lot of Arab nations that wanted Hizbullah to lose the war, but they don’t have the power or ability to say these things out loud.”
“Israel expressed its readiness for peace with four countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinians. We succeeded in two countries – Egypt and Jordan – and the reason is that in those countries there is one army and one government. In Lebanon there is
Peres expressed his frustration over the peace process with the Palestinians, especially in light of the fact that Israel is still subject to Qassam rocket attacks and terrorism despite its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He expressed hope that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could meet soon to advance processes.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------Oct 9, 2006
Lebanon economy to shrink 3.2 pct this year: IMF
DUBAI - Lebanon's economy is expected to contract 3.2 percent this year after the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas and the country's public finances are in need of urgent reform, the IMF said.
The IMF estimates that Lebanon suffered about $3.5 billion in damage in an Israel bombardment that began after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in July. Nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed during the conflict.
International donors pledged more than $940 million in August for Lebanon's immediate relief efforts and the IMF was still assessing what assistance it should provide, IMF Regional Director for the Middle East and Central Asia Mohsin Khan said.
He said it was premature to give an estimate of how much money the IMF would willing to commit to Lebanon.
"We have just been involved in a needs assessment on what is the state of the financial system and public finances," Khan told Reuters.
"We found that the financial system has stood up remarkably well," he said.
Nearly 4 percent of deposits left the Lebanese banking system soon after hostilities broke out, the IMF said in a report published on Sunday. But the withdrawals quickly slowed, which Khan said was a sign of confidence in the financial system.
About 60 percent of Lebanon's total bank deposits are made up of accounts of $150,000 or more, Khan said.
"These are large investors. Not people who had no choice but bank in Lebanon. Yet they chose to stay," he said.
The central bank succeeded in maintaining confidence in the financial system, especially among investors in the Gulf Arab region and the Lebanese diaspora, Khan said.
Confidence also got a boost from pledges of $1.5 billion in aid from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the conflict.
"While such confidence remains there is no reason to speak of a financial crisis," Khan said. "But while the financial system is good shape, public finances are in very bad shape,"
The IMF report estimates Lebanon's 2006 budget deficit to rise to 13.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2006 from 8 percent last year. Next year the IMF projects a deficit of more than 15 percent of GDP.
"From our standpoint the key reforms have to be in the public finances," he said.
The report also forecast that GDP will shrink 3.2 percent this year, even though the economy was on track to grow 5 percent at the end of the first half. Lebanon's economy grew 1 percent in 2005. (Reuters)
Gulf Arab cash to bolster Lebanese army
Strengthening the 50,000-strong but poorly equipped Lebanese army is crucial to efforts to stabilise the country and eventually convince Hizbollah to disarm.
The Shia group argues its military wing is needed to defend Lebanon in the absence of a strong army and that it would only discuss disarmament as part of a broader defence strategy for the country.
According to Gulf officials, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have promised to finance the army's needs. Officials in Beirut say the shopping list includes helicopters, tanks and missiles, all designed for defensive purposes.
Lebanon has yet to cost its needs but some politicians say urgent requirements could amount to $800m (€615m, £425m).
As part of the ceasefire agreement that ended the war, the Lebanese army has deployed in southern Lebanon and in border areas, along with UN peacekeepers. But the military reached an understanding with Hizbollah that the group would conceal its weapons in the buffer zone.
No one expects the army to turn against Hizbollah and disarm it by force. Officials say a confrontation could well split the armed forces, composed of Sunni and Shia Muslims and Christians, and provoke a civil war. But strengthening the army's decades-old equipment would bolster the government's hand.
Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi security analyst and government adviser, said Saudi Arabia would probably be willing to spend several hundred millions of dollars in military aid to Lebanon, above the $1.7bn it has pledged for reconstruction.
A Gulf official said the UAE was committed to providing equipment but it would either be purchased by Abu Dhabi itself and transferred to Lebanon or the UAE would upgrade existing Lebanese equipment.
The US had until recently discouraged efforts to strengthen the army, which was under the control of Syria. Last year, however, Syrian troops were forced to leave Lebanon after the killing of Rafiq Hariri, the former premier.
"No one would sell us equipment in the past but over the past year there were some discussions with the US and Arab states about funding," says a Lebanese politician close to the government. "The US wasn't quite convinced that the army had been freed of Syrian infiltration. But now it seems the US does see the need for the army to be rehabilitated to enforce the UN ceasefire resolution."
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said last week she had discussed with Saudi officials the need to support the "rearming and reform" of Lebanon's armed forces. The US has earmarked $42m for military assistance, out of a $240m aid package, compared with its usual yearly contributions of $1.9m.
Additional reporting by Ferry Biedermann in Beirut
Analysis: Watch the Syrians, very carefully
The Axis of Evil is functioning and fomenting further rounds of violence, as the Arab culture code instinctively perceives weakness and reacts to it with battle-ready arrogance.
Damascus's emerging autumn 2006 war scenario with Israel is evolving according to the pre-Six Day War model: Border tension increases, charges are made of an imminent Israeli attack, Russian support for Syria is demonstrated and all the while Israel appears sluggish, with a weak prime minister and unimpressive government.
As if to coax Arab aggression as in 1967, Israel's political leadership seems not to truly suspect the dangers lurking east of Kuneitra. Jerusalem dismissed as a "political maneuver" Assad's declaration in early October that "Syria is ready for war against Israel." Instead of strengthening army units on the Golan Heights, the IDF chose to be alert to developments, while the military intelligence apparatus tried to figure out what was going on in Assad's head.
Assad, known for his admiration of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, has been successful in supporting the Muslim insurgency against American and allied forces in Iraq without suffering any US punishment. He has also pursued with impunity a policy of political assassinations against key Lebanese personalities, while suffering only ineffective diplomatic denunciation here and there. Thus, upping the political ante against Israel is a tempting card to play.
Syria does not have to definitively win a war against Israel to acquire major political gains. In October 1973, boldly initiating war and undermining Israel's military self-confidence were sufficient benefits for Syria. In July-August 2006, Hizbullah did not win the war, but it definitely caused great physical, human and political damage to Israel.
Syrian aggression designed to "recover" the Golan Heights from Israeli "occupation," even without conclusive military victory for Damascus, could nonetheless politically unfreeze the standoff between Syria and Israel, prompting Israeli territorial concessions.
Israel's strategic environment is problematic and threatening, but without menacing its existence. Egypt, Jordan and Iraq are not considered potential participants in any evolving Arab/Muslim war coalition. Even Hizbullah is to some degree blocked from any aggressive action for now, as domestic Lebanese political considerations and the new military parameters in south Lebanon could well assure quiet on Israel's northern front. Yet, Syrian or Iranian warfare could elicit Hizbullah's active involvement.
It follows that Israel, though very much preoccupied with Palestinian warfare in Gaza and the escalating flow of events in Iran, should concentrate its military attention on Syria across the Golan Heights. Assad's threat to open an insurgent guerrilla front on the Golan, along with Syria's conventional military preparedness, cannot be dismissed as haughty bravado alone.
It is essential for Israel to both manifest its own impressive military readiness facing Syria, while warning of the immense damage that Syria will suffer if a military confrontation erupts. A credible Israeli threat to heavily bomb Damascus may help cool the escalating war-like atmosphere created by the young Ba'athist president, and thereby deter a spree of violence. This despite the fact that Israel's strategic profile coming out of the Lebanese war would be bolstered by a sweeping and conclusive military victory in the immediate future against any one of its enemies.
The writer lectures on the Middle East at Hebrew University.
The Golan heresy - better than peace
But just beneath the surface, the Golan is everything but normal. It's not just the barbed wire fences and the yellow signs warning of minefields, or even the rusting Yom Kippur tank-hulks and newer Merkava battle tanks lurking over the horizon. The recent spate of interviews and speeches by the president of the mysterious country just over the border has managed to cast an ever-so-light shadow on the festivities.
There is very little respect in any of the regional capitals, or anywhere else for that matter, for Syrian President Bashar Assad. His father might have been a cruel despot, but at least you knew where you stood with him. Assad Junior is forever changing his amateurish tune. One week he's a man of peace promoting stability in the region, the next he's threatening war with Israel and acting as the benefactor of Hizbullah. On the ground, the Syrian army is reinforcing its forces on the Golan, while constantly remaining in defensive positions.
During the war in Lebanon and its immediate aftermath, the IDF took these threats seriously and stepped up its own opposing forces accordingly. Slowly the forces were stepped down, but the military continues to cast a wary eye eastward. Assad's strategy, if he has one, is still murky, but the situation basically boils down to one unavoidable fact: Assad realizes what side his bread is buttered on - his only chance for international acceptance and foreign aid for Syria's tottering economy is getting into a serious peace process with Israel.
But the only way he can do that and save face is to receive a realistic assurance that at the end of that process, Syria will regain the Heights that it lost in 1967. If Egypt got back every last grain of Sinai sand, then Syria can't settle for anything less than arriving back on the eastern shore of the Kinneret. And by extension, neither will the rest of the Arab countries settle for less in return for total normalcy with the Zionist entity.
But while the majority of Israeli public opinion has gradually come to terms with some kind of land-for-peace formula, the Golan is a different matter.
Over the years, mainstream attitude toward the Golan became totally different from that of the other "occupied territories." There are a number of real and perceived reasons for this. While Gaza, Judea and Samaria embodied the riots of two intifadas, a month of frustrating reserve service each year for many men, difficult pictures every night on TV and bearded religious settlers, the Golan symbolized something else.
The Heights, which in 1981 were recognized by the Knesset as being an official part of the State, are the only ski resort you don't have to fly to, the advent of good local wine and a favorite vacation destination in faux Swiss chalets. Instead of hostile Palestinians, the only indigenous population is in the three Druse villages, great places to stop for humous or labane while the border has been quiet since 1973. Instead of messianic settlers, the Golan is filled with attractive, secular farmers.
The reality is quite different. Half the moshavim in the Golan are religious (while a majority of Israelis living in the West Bank are not national-religious), the Druse maintain their allegiance to Damascus religiously and despite being relatively low-key, the IDF presence on the Heights is massive.
But image is everything. West Bank settlers are called in the media and by most Israelis mitnahlim, a rather derogatory, marginalizing term, while the settlers of the Golan are much more positive mityashvim.
The closest Israel ever got to considering a hand over was during the premiership of Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s, though unbeknownst to most Israelis, Binyamin Netanyahu was a close second. At the time a slick media campaign entitled "The nation is with the Golan" mobilized huge public support, mainly by stressing the consensual and hedonistic aspects. The campaign, which was fronted by spokesmen unidentified with the right-wing, like war-hero Avigdor Kahalani and Labor stalwart and kibbutznik Yehuda Harel, succeeded where so many other settlement PR efforts failed. While many Israelis on a certain level had accepted a shrinking Israel in return for some kind of accord with the Arabs, they still couldn't imagine giving up the Golan.
And it's still unthinkable. It's not due to the strategic factors, like the Heights' importance for the defense of the northern approaches and its dominance of crucial water supplies - the West Bank's strategic value is if anything greater. Rather, it's because the Golan has become an inseparable part of our comfort zone.
For over two decades, the great majority of Israelis haven't ventured across the Green Line into Judea and Samaria save for military service, and biblical homelands such as Hebron and Nablus are regarded by most as alien territory. But on the Golan the water is sparkling, the Cabernet luscious and the climate pleasant. Even the most peace seeking Israelis are prone to the heretical thoughts that perhaps there are some things preferable to a peace treaty.
Oct 8, 2006
By MICHAEL YOUNG Special to the WSJ
October 7, 2006; Page A6
BEIRUT -- There was a time, not so long ago, when Fuad al-Siniora was the most vilified man in Lebanon. As the person in charge of the nation's finances under the late prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, he was regarded by the Lebanese as the abominable taxman. On the evening of Hariri's assassination on Feb. 14, 2005, it was another Mr. Siniora I recall seeing among a gathering of anti-Syrian opposition figures at the Hariri mansion -- a proper technocrat, seemingly misplaced amid the promenading politicians. Yet when the opposition elected a majority to parliament later in the year, Mr. Siniora emerged, almost naturally, as the successor to his onetime boss. For now, despite efforts by an array of forces to bring his government down, Mr. Siniora remains firmly in place.
There is an urban Sunni merchant's litheness in that metamorphosis from staid number-cruncher to persuasive prime minister. A native of the southern port city of Sidon who started his career as a Citibank executive, Mr. Siniora is velvety and unflappable, as befits a maven of the Levantine marketplace. He avoids hard angles in favor of nods, winks and baroque compromises -- qualities essential for herding the fat cats that make up Lebanese government.
Mr. Siniora receives me in his cavernous office in the Grand Sérail, an Ottoman barracks that after World War I housed the French Mandatory authorities. The vast structure, built in 1853, was destroyed during Lebanon's civil war, before Hariri rebuilt it as a headquarters for the prime minister. Mr. Siniora now works as well as lives there, with his family. These days, like most of Syria's Lebanese foes, he spends much time indoors, to avoid assassination.
During the summer war between Hezbollah and Israel, Mr. Siniora walked a tightrope. A seven-point plan he devised was instrumental in creating a framework for an exit from the conflict and the extension of Lebanese state authority to the southern border. But this little endeared him to Hezbollah, which controlled an autonomous area in the south from which the Lebanese Army had been excluded. As Israel began bombing after the abduction of two of its soldiers on July 12, the prime minister had to balance conflicting interests: to use the violence as leverage to loosen Hezbollah's hold over the south, but without appearing to betray the party, which controls two ministers in his cabinet.
The highwire act is continuing. That's why Mr. Siniora will admit that "it's definitely difficult now for Hezbollah to conduct any military operation south of the Litani River" -- but he won't gloat. On the contrary, he insists, "We managed to stop Israel from winning, for the second time since the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. This is important in the conscience of the Arabs." When I point out he is being disingenuous, that he and his allies in the parliamentary majority were never keen to see Hezbollah make gains, let alone endorse its claim of having scored a "victory" against Israel, Mr. Siniora says: "There were heroic efforts by [Hezbollah] combatants and by Lebanese who received the displaced. But I don't claim we won a victory. We could have sent the army south without this war, and we've now done so for the first time in 35 years. But here were the negatives: My country was reoccupied; it was destroyed; Israel took us back 10 years [economically]; and we must comply with international resolutions that affect Lebanese sovereignty."
I bring up a prickly moment two weeks ago when Hezbollah's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, speaking at a rally in Beirut's southern suburbs, mocked Mr. Siniora. Last August, during an Arab League foreign ministers' summit in Beirut at the height of the fighting, the prime minister dissolved into tears in the midst of a speech defending Lebanon's Arab bona fides. In his address, Mr. Nasrallah affirmed: "Tears don't liberate [land]." What did Mr. Siniora think of the statement? "I don't react to every word I hear. I take it easy. I have a high degree of serenity. . . . Yet the impact of those tears on all the Arab world was greater than a thousand rockets [Hezbollah] fired on Israel."
There was a less obvious subtext to the exchange. The Arab summit was very much an effort by the predominantly Sunni Arab states to contain Shiite Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their way of doing so was to support the Siniora plan, which sought to remove excuses for new wars in the south. This succeeded: Aspects of the seven-point plan, including Lebanon's declaring a desire to return to the 1949 Armistice Agreement with Israel, were integrated into the U.N. resolution that ended the fighting, and Hezbollah agreed to them, albeit reluctantly. Mr. Nasrallah, in ridiculing Mr. Siniora, was expressing antipathy for his attachment to a Sunni Arab order that Hezbollah loathes.
As for a return to the armistice, I suggest to Mr. Siniora that this is easier said than done. Some experts argue the agreement is no longer valid, given its repeated violations; others say it needs to be updated. More importantly, Hezbollah and Iran don't like it. Mr. Siniora is dismissive: "It doesn't have to be updated or renegotiated. It was approved by the government, and will be implemented de facto." But going back to an armistice first requires a resolution of the disputed Shebaa Farms issue. The U.N. says the farms area, occupied by Israel, is Syrian; the Lebanese say it is part of Lebanon. Mr. Siniora wants to place it under U.N. auspices until this is decided, in effect forcing the Israelis out. His aim is to deny Hezbollah a reason to pursue armed resistance there. But the U.N. is not enthusiastic. Won't this only encourage Hezbollah to say Mr. Siniora's methods have failed, justifying the guns again? "What can armed resistance bring?" he retorts. "Israel recently reoccupied Lebanon. Only diplomacy made them withdraw."
Would Hezbollah play along, given its Iranian agenda? "I must assume that, and act as if Hezbollah has a Lebanese agenda," he answers. However, his government is not taking chances: "There are no restrictions on the Lebanese army's movements in the south. It has clear instructions to prohibit the appearance of weapons or uniforms, and to confiscate them." More worrying is that the U.N. force helping the Lebanese might be attacked by al Qaeda, or by Islamists supported by Syria. Does Mr. Siniora consider this likely? "I don't think so," he answers, adding, far less reassuringly, "but we should take our precautions."
The prime minister tells me once again that he has "a high level of serenity," but he does seem unsettled by the increasing pressure from Hezbollah, Christian leader Michel Aoun, Syria and Iran for him and the parliamentary majority to accept a new "national unity" government. He even sounds mildly irritated: "Change is unwarranted. Our performance this summer was outstanding. We passed the seven-point plan, reworked the U.N. resolution on Lebanon in our favor, ended the hostilities, sent the army south, forced Israel out, and gained international support, including financial support. What more could be done?"
Some discern more sinister designs in the effort to bring the government down. A few days ago, on Wednesday, the influential Christian Maronite bishops issued a statement implying that the call for a broader cabinet was a furtive way of blocking progress in the Hariri investigation. In the coming weeks the government must consent to guidelines for a mixed tribunal to try those accused of involvement in the late prime minister's murder. Syria is the leading suspect, and Mr. Siniora's allies fear the push to change the government is meant to ensure there are enough pro-Syrian ministers to block any cabinet vote on the tribunal -- or impose a limper court.
The prime minister is sanguine. "This is a tempest in a teapot. My experience in this cabinet is that in a very limited number of cases did we resort to voting. The tribunal was agreed upon [in a national dialogue between Lebanese leaders], and it's in no one's interest to make an issue of it." But his last phase is plainly a warning to Hezbollah, one Mr. Siniora repeats: "If someone tries to stop the legal process, then we must make sure we don't go back on what was agreed." When I ask whether Syria is the Svengali behind the new government plan, he sidesteps only slightly: "The effort is being made by people who are pro-Syrian."
But Mr. Siniora's strongest argument against a cabinet change comes in an anodyne phrase: "Nabih Birri says it might be difficult to form a new government, and could take Lebanon into a crisis to no one's advantage." Mr. Birri is the parliament speaker, and a Shiite. By invoking him, Mr. Siniora is using one powerful Shiite to offset the demands of another, Mr. Nasrallah, in warning that a political vacuum might ensue.
Politics are not the only thing the prime minister has to worry about. With a $40 billion debt, a GDP estimated at only $18 to $20 billion, and losses from the July-August conflict estimated by some U.N. agencies at over $10 billion, Lebanon is in dire financial straits. Mr. Siniora says the situation was already "unsustainable" before the "catastrophe," making reform imperative. What he outlines, however, is a dilemma.
Lebanon's credit rating is set to go down in the near future, and the government urgently needs revenue. However, Mr. Siniora is first to admit that, given the country's dark mood, "we cannot raise taxes, this would lead to a recession. We need alternative sources." He means privatization, particularly of the lucrative fixed and mobile telecommunications network.
Fair enough, except that unless the government shows tangible progress on financial reform soon, particularly on privatization, a long-anticipated international donor conference to help Lebanon out of its debt noose will not materialize. And like so much else, privatization remains vulnerable to political discord. So, when Mr. Siniora says the conference might happen "I hope before the end of the year," I have my doubts.
A government priority is compensating those whose homes were destroyed in the recent fighting. Hezbollah garnered publicity by handing money to victims out of suitcases, an approach it sought to contrast with the slowness of the state's reaction. Does Mr. Siniora see himself in competition with the party? "No. We have an obligation toward the people. It was not their mistake that they suffered." He accepts that "Hezbollah might politicize the relief effort against the government," and when I ask whether the party's distribution of funds had provoked problems in certain villages, Mr. Siniora probably sees an opportunity to get one back: "I've heard there are problems. Giving more aid to certain people and less to others creates a great deal of sensitivity."
As we wrap up, the inevitable question provokes an inevitable answer. I ask Mr. Siniora what it feels like being a marked man. "I'm a believer. I know that if anything must happen, it will happen. But I take my precautions. I'm afraid of God. My mother once said: 'Don't be afraid of whoever is afraid of God.'" Many of Mr. Siniora's enemies will readily admit, of course, to a fear of God. What he must worry about is that they will increasingly fear Fuad al-Siniora, the accidental prime minister who may have turned out to be more than they bargained for.
Mr. Young, a Lebanese national, is opinion editor at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.
Inside Hezbollah, Big Miscalculations
By Anthony Shadid
BEIRUT -- The meeting on July 12 was tense, tinged with desperation. A few hours earlier, in a brazen raid, Hezbollah guerrillas had infiltrated across the heavily fortified border and captured two Israeli soldiers. Lebanon's prime minister summoned Hussein Khalil, an aide to Hezbollah's leader, to his office at the Serail, the palatial four-story government headquarters of red tile and colonnades in Beirut's downtown.
"What have you done?" Prime Minister Fouad Siniora asked him.
Khalil reassured him, according to an account by two officials briefed by Siniora, one of whom later confirmed it with the prime minister. "It will calm down in 24 to 48 hours."
More technocrat than politician, Siniora was skeptical. He pointed to the Gaza Strip, which Israeli forces had stormed after Palestinian militants abducted a soldier less than three weeks earlier. Israeli warplanes had blasted bridges and Gaza's main power station.
Calmly, Khalil looked at him. "Lebanon is not Gaza," he answered.
What followed was a 33-day war, the most devastating chapter in Lebanon's history since the civil war ended in 1990, as Hezbollah unleashed hundreds of missiles on Israel and the Israeli military shattered Lebanon's infrastructure and invaded its south. Nearly three months later, parts of the country remain a shambles and tens of thousands are still homeless as winter approaches.
In speeches and iconography, Hezbollah has cast the war as a "divine victory." But a reconstruction of the period before and soon after the seizure of the soldiers reveals a series of miscalculations on the part of the 24-year-old movement that defies its carefully cultivated reputation for planning and caution. Hezbollah's leadership sometimes waited days to evacuate the poor, densely populated neighborhood in southern Beirut that is its stronghold. Only as Israeli warplanes began reducing the headquarters to rubble did they realize the scope of what the Israeli military intended. Hezbollah fighters were still planning to train in Iran the very month that the soldiers were seized; Hezbollah leaders in Beirut had assured Lebanese officials of a relatively uneventful summer.
"They were prisoners of their assumptions," said Nizar Abdel-Kader, a retired Lebanese general.
The outcome of the war, still a matter of perceptions, reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of Hezbollah, perhaps the world's best-organized guerrilla group. The movement, even by the admission of its leaders, misjudged the Israeli response. But by virtue of its complex infrastructure and preparations -- years spent digging tunnels, positioning weapons, upgrading its arsenal and carrying out surveillance along the border -- Hezbollah survived.
"We were always prepared because we always knew that the day would come when we have to fight this war," said Hussein Hajj Hassan, a Hezbollah member of parliament. "We also knew that God was with us. He was with us."
Timur Goksel, a former spokesman and adviser to the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, put it more bluntly: "Hezbollah did not expect this response, but they were ready for it."
The Militia as Deterrent
On March 2, to great fanfare, leaders from across Lebanon's fractured political landscape began what was hailed as a National Dialogue. It drew together implacable foes: Walid Jumblatt, the chieftain of the Druze sect, sat across from Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader; the two regularly traded thinly veiled insults. Michel Aoun, the most popular Christian leader, sat with Saad Hariri, a political novice who derives clout as the son of a former prime minister slain in a car bombing in 2005. For months, they tackled issues that threatened to tear the country apart: relations with Syria, the presence of armed Palestinians and the future of the isolated, pro-Syrian president.
Last on the agenda were Hezbollah's weapons.
Backed by France and the United States, U.N. Resolution 1559 was passed in September 2004. Under it, all militias in Lebanon -- diplomatic phrasing for Hezbollah -- were supposed to disarm. Five months later, Hariri's father, Rafiq, was assassinated, setting in motion events that forced Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon after a 29-year military presence. Deprived of the cover of one of its two main allies -- Iran is the other --Hezbollah was left relatively isolated, and its weapons became an even more pressing issue in a country whose sectarian tension was as pronounced as at any time since the civil war began.
Virtually no one expected the Lebanese army and its meager, outdated arsenal to disarm Hezbollah, which has cultivated broad support among Shiite Muslims through a variety of social services, political representation and a language of empowerment that resonates with the community's long sense of disenfranchisement. Only consensus could reach a solution short of strife.
On June 8, at the parliament building on place de l'Etoile, amid a security blanket that shut downtown, Nasrallah offered his defense at the National Dialogue. Dressed in clerical robes and a black turban, he spoke for more than an hour, participants recalled. Lebanese often remark on Nasrallah's highly organized speaking style; this speech was no different. Point by point, confident and determined but not arrogant, he explained why the militia -- what Hezbollah calls the Islamic resistance -- should retain its arms, from guns to thousands of missiles.
First, Nasrallah said, it provided a cover to the Lebanese state; in any battle with Israel, Hezbollah would suffer the consequences of Israeli reprisals, not the rest of the country. Second, Hezbollah had created a deterrent -- in the words of one participant, "a balance of fear and terror." Third, he said, the Lebanese army alone was not enough to protect a border that Israeli routinely violates by air and sometimes by sea.
In that session and the next on June 29, Hezbollah's critics at the dialogue questioned, sometimes sharply, the supposed balance of terror.
"I can reach Haifa and beyond Haifa," Nasrallah was quoted as answering them, according to Marwan Hamadeh, the telecommunications minister and a critic of Hezbollah who took part in the dialogue. Israel would not risk a Hezbollah missile attack, Nasrallah added, which could strike its petrochemical industry and the northern third of the country, including some of its most populated regions.
"He considered his potential threat as his deterrent," Hamadeh said, "that Israel would not escalate."
At the time, much of the talk was hypothetical. Participants were put at ease by what they took as Nasrallah's reassurance that nothing would disrupt the crucial tourist season, one of the Mediterranean country's lone patches of economic vitality. "He said this summer would be a quiet summer," Hamadeh recalled. "He said all the actions they would do would be reminders of their presence."
But almost as a footnote in Nasrallah's speech was a reiteration of a promise he had made many times before: the need to capture Israeli soldiers as leverage to win the release of three Lebanese prisoners. Hezbollah had tried before, in November 2005.
"He didn't say it to take approval," said Boutros Harb, a member of parliament, who sat three seats away from Nasrallah. Harb flicked his wrist in a flippant gesture. "He mentioned it like you'd write in the margins of a text."
"It didn't draw the attention of anyone at all."
Preparing for Ground War
Goksel, the former spokesman for the U.N. force, has watched Hezbollah's evolution since its incarnation in the wake of Israel's devastating 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He recalled an incident in 2001-02, more than a year after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. In two locales near the border, Khiam in the east and on the road to Naqoura on the coast, Hezbollah brought out excavation equipment and trucks, hauling away dirt. Men hung around, looking suspicious. And over as many as six months, in plain sight, tunnels were dug into the limestone of rugged southern Lebanon.
"We were meant to see these things," he said. "They were not making any effort to stop us looking."
At the time, he said he now believes, Hezbollah, farther from view, was digging other tunnels around Labouna, Aita al-Shaab and Maroun al-Ras, all along the Israeli border, that they employed for ambush and cover in combat to sometimes devastating effect during this summer's war.
"Looking back, they really fooled us on that one," Goksel added.
While Hezbollah's missiles were supposed to deter an all-out Israeli assault, the movement, by its own admission, also began preparing for a ground war almost from the day Israeli forces left in May 2000. Most of the militiamen were drawn from their villages and kept their weapons at home. Abdel-Kader said the town or village became the unit of defense, where other arms were stashed. The towns, in turn, were organized into three or four sectors, with a regional command.
"All the weapons were in the right place," he said. "They didn't need to mobilize."
Elias Hanna, another retired general, said the arsenal was updated over the past two years. In addition to rockets, anti-tank weapons were ferried through Syria; their use required at least some degree of training and their sophistication surprised Israeli forces.
As important to Hezbollah was surveillance. Goksel recalled fighters sometimes sitting for three months on the border "and they would write about everything that moves." He added, "They are the most patient watchers in the world."
On July 11, Goksel and seven students from a university class he was teaching stood on the Qasmiya Bridge, which spans the Litani River, the natural border of southern Lebanon. "I said, 'Look at this bridge. If anything happens, this is the first target.' " He wasn't worried, though. It was summer, and towns were filled with vacationing Shiite expatriates, many of them Hezbollah supporters. "I've never been so wrong in my life," he said.
The cross-border raid was carried out at 9:05 a.m. the next day. Soon after, Israeli warplanes struck the Qasmiya Bridge.
Three months later, Hezbollah's timing remains puzzling.
"They don't attempt adventures. They're not adventurous types," Goksel said. In every operation, they would project "what it means for Shiites, what it means for the party, what it means for Lebanon, what it means for Syria."
He paused. "One wonders if that process collapsed somehow," he said.
Hezbollah officials have hewed to the line Nasrallah delivered that night: They had long telegraphed such an operation, and the opportunity arose. Nasrallah has acknowledged that they did not anticipate the Israeli response, though Hezbollah's officials say they believe the Israelis were planning to carry out such a campaign by this October. In statement after statement, Nasrallah has dismissed charges by critics that Iran and Syria, both under international pressure, encouraged or even ordered the ambush.
Others offer a domestic rationale. The last session of the National Dialogue was set for July 25, nearly two weeks after the war began. Hamadeh suggested that Hezbollah could return to the table "with the proof that the deterrence philosophy would work." But even he admits, "The precipitation has something of a mystery around it."
Underrating a Threat
Two hours after the raid, Hassan, a reticent chemistry professor and one of the longest-serving members of parliament from Hezbollah, was sitting in a meeting for the committee on public works. His cellphone rang. "I smiled, hung up the phone and told the members of parliament in the room, 'Congratulations, our hostages will be coming home soon.' " Some smiled with him; others sat expressionless.
In another room, Nawwar Sahli, a Hezbollah representative who sends his children to an American-affiliated high school, sat in a parliamentary meeting on computerizing Lebanon's ministries. He, too, broke the news to colleagues.
"God help us," he recalled one of them responding.
Sahli went on with his day, getting an MRI exam at 3 p.m. for a pain in his neck. (He picked up the results after the war.) He listened to Nasrallah's speech, then went to his office at night to deal with paperwork in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs known as the Dahiya. He ignored warnings by Hezbollah security not to stay late. From Khalifah, a local fast-food restaurant that was later bombed, he ordered a chicken fajita sandwich and Philly steak sandwich, then went for an interview on a Lebanese television station.
"I said that we shouldn't exaggerate, that Israel will just retaliate a bit, bomb a couple of targets and that would be the end of it," he recalled. "When I stayed in the office, I wasn't trying to be a hero. I seriously didn't think there was a threat."
Near the airport, Amin Sherri, another Hezbollah representative, sat with his wife, four children and three grandchildren.
"My family asked me if we should evacuate the house," he remembered. "I told them, 'Absolutely not.' " On that first day and early into the war, Hezbollah's political arm was relatively lax about security. Officials said they at times slept in other homes and changed their cars, but little else. Sherri kept his cellphone on throughout; Sahli said he was only occasionally advised to shut it off and remove its SIM card. Only by the third day, after Israeli forces had struck the airport road, Nasrallah's offices, Hezbollah's television and radio stations and several bridges, was the Dahiya fully evacuated, military officials said.
It was on that day, Sahli said, that he began getting worried.
But, he added, "I kept telling myself that no war lasts forever."
A Fighter's Call to Duty
Along the rolling hills of southern Lebanon that face the Israeli border, Shadi Hani Saad was getting ready for breakfast in the village of Aita al-Shaab on July 12. He was the oldest son of Zeinab Hammoud and her favorite. But when he was as young as 8, with southern Lebanon still occupied, she remembered him asking her, "Will Hezbollah still be there when I grow up?"
Tall and broad-shouldered, Saad joined the Hezbollah youth movement in 2000 after the Israeli withdrawal. As a 14-year-old, he bypassed the lower grades of the Mahdi Scouts -- the Blossoms, the Cubs and the Sailors -- and had become Infantry. Within two years, he had achieved the highest rank, a Rover, and then carried out his first operation as a militiaman.
"They didn't tell us where," she said.
He trained once or twice a week. This summer, he was groomed for even more responsibility; his mother said Hezbollah was about to send him for six months of military training in Iran.
The trip never happened. A little after 9 a.m. on July 12, after Saad had gotten out of the shower, another fighter showed up at her door and whispered something to him. Saad grabbed his M-16 rifle, along with ammunition he kept at the house, and walked away in a T-shirt and jeans. "He told me, 'I might return, I might not return,' " his mother recalled.
Years of surveillance had given Hezbollah an idea of where the Israeli forces might cross the border, Goksel said. Of 24 gates, they entered four, and at each, Hezbollah had guessed right with its fortifications and defenses, he said.
Aita al-Shaab was one. "They were waiting for them," he said.
In addition, Lebanese analysts say Israeli hesitation in the early part of the war allowed Hezbollah, caught off guard, time to prepare its defenses. By the time Israeli troops entered in force, more than a week later, Hezbollah's men were in place in villages like Aita al-Shaab. Saad's mother said he called her the first day, then the second, using a land line they deemed more secure. On the third day, he planned to come home to visit and asked her to cook dinner.
That was the last time they spoke. Israeli raids escalated that day, and the Israeli military warned residents of border towns to flee. In a blue 1986 Mercedes, she left with her four other children for Tyre, then north to the Chouf Mountains. After they fled, Saad called an uncle. "Where's my family?" he asked. Nearly three weeks later, on a Thursday night, he was killed in an airstrike.
"What God wants to leave me, he'll leave," his mother said. "What he wants to take, he'll take."
She sat at her home, with a picture of Nasrallah on the wall. A school picture of Saad hung nearby in a black frame. A sprawling poster, with a purple tint, pictured Saad in military uniform and declared him a martyred crusader. Another picture showed all nine of the Hezbollah fighters who died in the village, among the 30 or so who stayed -- by local legend, against Nasrallah's wishes -- to face Israeli troops.
Her blue eyes glimmered with tears, and she recalled a conversation before the war. As they sat at home, Saad had asked that when he died he be buried among martyrs. "What do you mean martyrs?" she shot back, half-joking. "Why do you tell me this kind of stuff?"
She shook her head. "Who knew there would be a war?"
Special correspondent Alia Ibrahim contributed to this report.
Rice's Tour of Mideast Yields Little Progress on Key Issues
By Robin Wright
LONDON, Oct. 7 -- It was a tough week for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Middle East. On four issues pivotal to the future of the world's most volatile region, U.S. diplomatic efforts made no visible progress or came up against unexpected resistance during her five-day tour, according to Arab and Israeli officials and analysts.
On Iraq, Arab-Israeli peace, democracy promotion and fostering a so-called moderate bloc of Arab states to stand together against militancy, Rice pressed at each of six stops for new energy or more decisive action. Many of the Arab leaders she met share U.S. fears about the region's future, but there is a growing divide even with Washington's closest allies over what needs to be done, at what pace, in what order and by whom, according to Arab officials interviewed at each stop.
Several Arab officials and analysts privately dismissed Rice's tour as a cheerleading trip without substance. Others questioned the viability of the Bush administration's Middle East policy.
"It is obvious to anyone that U.S. policy built after 9/11 -- including Iraq and the 'you're with us or against us' attitude -- has now come to a dead end," said Paul Salem, the U.S.-educated director of the new Beirut center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and son of Lebanon's former pro-American foreign minister.
The United States and the Arab world are now engaged in a chicken-and-egg argument over what happens next. Arab governments -- including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and five oil-rich Persian Gulf sheikdoms -- all appealed to Rice to revive U.S. leadership to break deadlocks on several fronts because they have so far been unable to do it alone, Arab officials said. But Rice basically told governments at each stop that they must first take difficult steps to create conditions more conducive to greater U.S. involvement, U.S. officials said.
Rice did make some progress on a fifth issue, Iran, on her last stop in London, where six major powers agreed Friday to pursue sanctions for Tehran's failure to suspend nuclear enrichment, a process that can be used to develop a nuclear weapon. But on that question, too, the road ahead remains rocky for winning agreement at the U.N. Security Council on what punitive measures to take, U.S. officials conceded.
Rice insisted Friday that her exploratory trip to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and two Iraqi cities was beneficial as the Bush administration moves toward "intensive" discussions about next steps after the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel.
"I'm very glad I came out at this time," she told reporters traveling with her. "I've really enjoyed this trip to the Middle East, because I wanted to come out in the post-Lebanon period and get a real sense of what people were thinking. . . . I have a much better sense of how the Lebanese events and this period are affecting people's calculations on what needs to be done."
Rice acknowledged that the Arabs and Israel appealed for new momentum to break the escalating cycle of violence and political division in several strategic countries.
"This is an absolutely crucial time in the Middle East, and I heard in every single place that this isn't a time to stand still," Rice said. "Everyone understands that a lot is changing in the Middle East and that we need to have a positive agenda."
U.S. officials say their goal is to find ways to fill the political vacuum that has developed in the region -- before militants or Islamic radicals fill even more of it. Over the past year, Hamas won parliamentary elections and formed a government in the Palestinian territories, the Muslim Brotherhood became the largest legal opposition force in Egypt, and Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah emerged as a hero in the Muslim world for challenging Israel and surviving. Also, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has taken some of the most defiant positions adopted by his country's leadership since the early days after the 1979 revolution.
Rice's trip, U.S. officials said, was partly intended to signal that the Bush administration is still fully engaged and interested, despite the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war at home and election season questions about its broader Middle East policy. But Rice's talks with nine Arab governments and Israel contrasted starkly with her earlier visits in the lack of specific initiatives. A senior Egyptian official called U.S. policy "increasingly unrealistic."
A wide range of senior Arab officials, who all spoke on background because of sensitive diplomacy with Washington, asserted that the administration's brick-by-brick approach to transforming the Middle East is so minimalist that it is unlikely to make significant progress during President Bush's remaining time in office. They also complained that Bush's personal role in the Middle East is nonexistent when compared with his early hands-on involvement in bringing Arabs and Israelis together or his public promises to ensure an end to more than six decades of war through a two-state solution.
The greatest pressure put on Rice at every stop was to do something to jump-start the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process, which Arab leaders almost unanimously described as the key to addressing other flash points as well. Yet Rice found herself negotiating some of the same issues she was engaged in last November, such as movement of people and trade in and out of the Gaza Strip. And Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, which had been promised by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is even further away after the Lebanon war undermined his leverage and popularity.
After Rice met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad, some privately expressed concern about new tensions with Washington over the pace and sequence of handling the major challenges facing the government there, such as reconciliation and disarming militias. They complained that the Bush administration was working on its own schedule and not taking into account the potential for backlash among Iraqis if their leaders took controversial steps precipitously.
Senior Arab officials and analysts also said U.S. efforts to promote democracy and foster an anti-militant bloc were contradictory, because the moderates the United States is trying to rally against radical Islamic groups are some of region's most autocratic governments.
In Arab countries, said Salem, "the United States now looks more afraid of elections than some of the governments themselves."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
Diplomats Disappointed with Iranian Refusal to Halt Uranium Enrichment
Tehran had two choices when the United Nations demanded that it suspend enrichment, and "we regret that Iran has not yet taken the positive one," Ms. Beckett said.
The representatives from America, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China did not appear to have reached any clear decision on what to do next during more than two hours of talks.
Secretary Rice arrived late at the meeting after her flight from Iraq was delayed by mechanical difficulties, meaning the diplomats had little time to reach a consensus. She did not appear afterward with Ms. Beckett, who reported on the outcome of the session.
A statement Ms. Beckett read stopped short of declaring that negotiations with Iran by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana's had failed, but said the diplomats were "deeply disappointed that he has had to report that Iran is not prepared to suspend its enrichment-related reprocessing activities."
Ms. Beckett said the six countries "will now consult on measures under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter."
Article 41 authorizes the Security Council to impose nonmilitary sanctions such as completely or partially severing diplomatic and economic relations, transportation and communications links.
America and Britain are leading the push for sanctions against Tehran. To avoid alienating the Russians and the Chinese - both major commercial partners of Iran - any measures are likely to be relatively mild, including embargoes on missile and nuclear technology, and possible travel bans and other penalties on Iranian officials involved in their country's nuclear program.
Britain's U.N. ambassador said Thursday that he expected "the Iran dossier" to return to the Security Council in the next week, but Ms. Beckett set no time frame for action.
Even before the logistical problems that delayed Ms. Rice arose, it was clear there were significant differences among the participants, with Russia voicing reluctance to move toward sanctions and Ms. Rice suggesting it was "getting pretty close to ... time" to take Iran to the Security Council.
"There is an issue of the credibility of the Security Council and the international system and you simply can't just keep talking with no outcome," she told reporters on her way to London.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said Thursday that sanctions would be "extreme" at this point, hinted Friday that Moscow might accept some action.
"We do not rule out additional measures" the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying in London. He was also quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying there was still room for diplomacy.
His deputy, Alexander Alexeyev, warned that it would be "counterproductive" to speak to Iran "in the language of threats and ultimatums."
Mr. Solana conceded this week that "endless hours" of talks with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, had made little progress and suggested the dispute could wind up at the U.N. soon.
Those negotiations had been seen as a final attempt to avoid a full-blown confrontation between Tehran and the Security Council after it ignored an Aug. 31 deadline to suspend uranium enrichment - a key step toward making nuclear weapons - or face punishment.
Mr. Solana said again Friday that talks with Iran could not be open-ended, but stressed his belief that diplomacy is the only possible solution.
"I'm convinced that `the Iran dossier' can only be solved, and will be solved, through negotiations," he said.
Ms. Beckett said the package of technological and political incentives which the six countries offered Iran in June was still on the table if it commits to freezing enrichment, which it has refused to do.
President Ahmadinejad was defiant Thursday, saying his country would not be intimidated.
Iran insists that its enrichment of uranium is purely for peaceful purposes to be used for nuclear energy. But America and many European nations believe Iran wants to enrich uranium to produce nuclear weapons.
Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman traveling with Ms. Rice, said officials from the six countries would hold a telephone conference Monday or Tuesday to continue talking.
Oct 7, 2006
The Iranian nuclear stand-off casts an ominous shadow over Beirut
By Talal Nizaneddin
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's remarks in a television interview in late August that if he had known Israel would have reacted in this way to the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers he would not have sanctioned the operation perplexed many people in Lebanon and abroad. Did the Hizbullah leader not observe Israel's destruction and isolation of the Gaza Strip after an Israeli soldier was abducted there? Had the Hizbullah leadership not taken note of the piling UN resolutions and more robust international language over the last two years seeking to isolate and disarm the Lebanese group? Did the Hizbullah leader, whose intelligence and charisma is recognized even by some respected Israeli commentators, not have an inkling that Israel and the United States were itching for a fight?
Some of us living and working in Beirut up to the outbreak of violence knew for months in advance that a major conflict with Hizbullah was inevitable. The discussions were more about when and whether or not Washington would become directly involved in the fighting. But the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora refused to acknowledge such predictions and assured the Lebanese people that the ongoing talks with Hizbullah to discuss their disarmament had created a working relationship with the Lebanese Shiite group based on trust. Saad Hariri, the leader of the parliamentary majority bloc, son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Siniora's political patron, said only days before the outbreak of the fighting that he had been assured by the Hizbullah leader that the summer tourist season that is so vital for the Lebanese economy would pass without incident. The rest, as they say, is history.
It would be futile to blame Nasrallah for ordering the operation, or the Hariri-Siniora government for their lack of leadership, commitment and courage in implementing UN Resolution 1559 that dates back to the autumn of 2004 and calls for the Lebanese Army to take control of all its territories, which might have made this recent outbreak unnecessary. Even the Lebanese opposition, a hapless mishmash of political nonentities that had been made significant in the 1990s by the Syrian presence for their unbending loyalty to Damascus and currently led by former Lebanese Army General Michel Aoun, can be excused from criticism. Aoun ditched his previously popular anti-Syrian rhetoric by forming a political partnership with Hizbullah in the hope that Shiite support would carry the Christian Maronite figure to the presidency.
Such magnanimity is possible when consideration is given to the evolving violence in the Middle East that is stealthily turning into a feature of a new global cold war. Much has been made of Iran's nuclear program. The Bush administration is certain that Iran's real aim is to turn the Islamic Republic into a regional superpower, which would be able to intimidate and bully not only Israel, but also Washington's Gulf Arab allies. Tehran's alliance with Damascus has further allowed the Iranian reach to extend to Lebanon, through Hizbullah and to extend tentacles of influence among a section of the Hamas leadership and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Add Iran's obvious influence within the Iraqi government and support from large sections of the Shiite population there, where the Lebanese Hizbullah is allegedly coordinating with Iranian security officers to establish a similar movement in Iraq, and a picture evolves of a frightening new menace in the Middle East.
Tehran has vehemently rejected such accusations and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, portrayed as a wild radical in the Western media, was keen to stress as recently as August 27 that Iran's nuclear program was peaceful and did not threaten even his most loathed enemy, Israel. Time will clarify the sincerity of these remarks but there can be little doubt that an Iran with a nuclear arsenal is nothing short of a moral, national and religious duty for Ahmadinejad and the rest of the Iranian leadership.
The rationale is simple yet forceful: The West and the Christian world are armed with nuclear weapons; Russia, China and India, as great powers in history today, also possess privileged membership in the nuclear club. Closer to Iran, both Israel and Pakistan currently hold exclusive rights to the Jewish and Muslim A-bombs respectively. But assumptions that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal would be welcomed by all Muslims were flawed as Sunni-Shiite violence intensified in Iraq, following previous low-level outbreaks in other parts of Asia including Pakistan where Sunnis and Shiites live side-by-side. With apparent support for the Shiite-hating Osama bin Laden growing among the Saudi and other Gulf populations, Tehran has become more convinced than ever of the necessity of a Shiite nuclear deterrent.
This must also be seen in light of the immense pride Iranians take in their glorious history as a great military empire and center for art, literature, science and philosophy. A nuclear arsenal would confirm Iran's place as a great power that would undoubtedly provide the regime, whose economic performance has been poor since the revolution of 1979, some legitimacy and support among its young but proud population and as importantly turn Iran into the guardian and torch-carrier of the Shiite people from southern Asia to the Mediterranean. The Iranian clerics led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the secular nationalist Ahmadinejad may well be intoxicated by the thought of being associated with the restoration of a Persian-led Shiite empire with a reach that stretches beyond the Middle East.
The cold-water bucket of reality will remind us that Iran faces many limits toward achieving such lofty goals, even if accusations that it aspires to them are true. But many factors in recent years have gone Iran's way. The US war on Iraq was an unexpected but pleasant gift that helped open opportunities for extending Tehran's influence. High oil prices also increased Tehran's spending power and allowed it to bankroll an expensive project. But the real turning point has been the shift in Russian foreign policy, particularly since 1996, that has allowed Iran, and for that matter Syria, to restate their pugnacious policies as forcefully as ever.
The cornerstone of Russian foreign policy was largely established by the highly influential former Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov. The Primakov Doctrine is a clever ploy that took an ostensibly middle line between pro-Westerners led by former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and the uncompromising anti-Westerners in the Communist Party and right-wing extremists. It stated that it was not inevitable for Russia to be in conflict with the US but that Moscow needed to create alliances with other poles of power to form a Eurasian balance to American hegemony. Consequently, particularly under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has moved to create closer military strategic bonds with India, China and Iran, with the latter a vital component in the strategy.
The US occupation of Iraq enabled Russia to hone this approach as Moscow, considering that Washington's key Islamic allies - Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey - were major Sunni strongholds, could counterbalance by establishing a Shiite bloc led by Iran but also included Syria and potentially Iraq and Lebanon through Hizbullah. These last two effectively have become front-line states in this new struggle and prime targets for a major civil war revolving around a Sunni-Shiite divide.
It was noteworthy how much President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bent over backward to protect Sunni Prime Minister Siniora during the recent conflict even at the expense of Washington's stalwart ally Israel and risking the wrath of the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US media and Congress. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's acceptance of such a humiliating truce may be partly explained by his realization that Lebanon was at a knife-edge where the consequences of defeat would have a far wider impact that would have handed Iran and its concealed partner Russia another opportunity to roll back Western influence from the Middle East.
Despite Syria's military withdrawal from Lebanon, Damascus still holds the key to the fate of its small neighbor. Many European observers and some in Israel believe that if Syria could be prised away from Iran by offering concessions and reviving negotiations then the balance of power in the region would shift back in the West's favor. But these observers fail to see that President Bashar Assad cannot and will not change track. The actions of the Alawite Syrian leadership in the last three years reveal that it has taken a long-term strategic decision to go all the way with its Shiite partners, encouraged by the revival of Russia under Putin and Iran's rapidly developing nuclear program, capped by the icing of US disarray in Iraq and a deep reluctance by Europe to enter into another military adventure.
In the midst of all this Lebanon is becoming once more a passenger on the road to more violence and conflict on a worse scale than we witnessed in the summer of 2006. Any hope lies only in the Lebanese overcoming their petty sectarian and parochial conflicts, that in part requires a strong government that is not afraid to take decisive action against the local saboteurs, camouflaged as political figures, whose constant incitement of sectarian hatred aims to restore Syrian hegemony and for Lebanon's Shiite community, led by Hizbullah, to unambiguously show that their loyalty is to Lebanon and not Iran and Syria. But here, even those eternal re-builders, the Lebanese, have little hope and so surrender their fate once more to the great power games of others. It is just as well that the Lebanese are accustomed to rebuilding.
Rebuilding Lebanon: the human dimension
By Hashim Sarkis
However, what the satellites did not capture were the fate of the many tens of thousands of people who had lived there. In the coming months, acknowledging that innocent people were in the picture will be the subject of several human rights commissions. This human dimension should also preoccupy the Lebanese government in the reconstruction process.
During the July war, the government diligently attended to the refugees, housed them in public schools, and mobilized a nationwide relief effort. After the fighting stopped, the government approved emergency funds for damaged housing and infrastructure. Expediency would dictate rebuilding according to the blueprints for post-1990 reconstruction, after the Civil War ended. However, expediency notwithstanding, the government should focus on directing reconstruction toward the needs and aspirations of those people not seen in the satellite photographs and left out of the post-1990 reconstruction: the historically marginalized, primarily Shiite, groups excluded from the globalizing tier of Lebanon's economy. Today's government is well-equipped to handle this social dimension of reconstruction. What distinguishes 2006 from 1990 is that the state's institutions are intact and well-poised to start rebuilding. They have also accumulated extensive experience in relief and reconstruction. Since the "Cedar Revolution," opinion polls have shown a growing trust in the state's institutions. Government agencies like the Higher Relief Council and the Council for Development and Reconstruction have proven their mettle.
Still, this is not the moment to impose unrealistic expectations on the state. Its meager resources are dwindling. Staffs are relatively under-skilled; sectarianism still motivates most senior appointments and the subsequent performance of appointees. Government action is further complicated by an image of weakness and helplessness ingrained in the Lebanese mentality and institutions. The state's absence has created a void that religious groups and non-governmental organizations compete to fill. Local and international NGOs have played an effective role in post-1990 relief and development, particularly in rural areas, their humanitarian goals often overshadowing political motivations. However, NGOs are supposed to complement the state, not replace it. When they do, problems like those between the government and Hizbullah arise.
Despite these drawbacks, the state remains the sole guarantor that private interests and sectarianism will not distract reconstruction from its social objectives. The summer war tragically proved that the trickle-down approach to reconstruction has failed. A social safety net for those with less income is needed to stabilize the country and improve its economy and environment, and it should be integrated in the plans for every bridge, house, and village being rebuilt. Otherwise, Lebanon's endemic social inequalities will fuel future wars.
Another major difference between 2006 and 1990 is that infrastructure is already in place. Despite serious flaws, particularly in the electricity network, Lebanon's infrastructure surpasses that in many developing countries. Nonetheless, to reuse blueprints drawn up 15 years ago would mean missing out on updating infrastructure and redressing mistakes.
For example, many destroyed bridges are being rebuilt as they were. If creatively reconceived, however, they could provide better ecological passages for the streams underneath and vibrant public spaces and transportation nodes above, improving natural and built-up environments. Similarly, reconstruction plans for the Beirut-Tyre highway should include public transportation passages, whether for articulated buses or rail. Additional spending on public transport yields long-term economic and environmental returns. Once human benefits are added into the equation, the supplementary costs become negligible.
The more urgent questions concern devastated areas like Beirut's southern suburbs, Tyre, and Bint Jbeil. Recent surveys estimate that about 15,000 households were completely destroyed, with even more requiring serious rehabilitation.
The high-density southern suburbs have become a vital part of Beirut and its work force, despite the fact that most of its residents are migrants from South Lebanon, that many neighborhoods stand on illegally appropriated land, or that construction took place without permits. Post-1990 governments have introduced better infrastructure, but mostly as a way of driving through the area quickly. Projects like Elissar were less invested in building neighborhoods than in clearing beaches for luxury development. Thankfully, they have not been implemented.
The numerous studies conducted about the social cohesion and vibrancy of the southern suburbs should be consulted to understand its conditions and enhance its vitality. For one, the area is not one entity. It consists of many neighborhoods with different social groups and degrees of integration. As such, a community-oriented planning process should be introduced. The scale of destruction requires central planning and coordination, though execution and management would be more effective and empowering if handled locally. While respecting community coherence, aspirations for social mobility should not be ignored.
Temporary housing is being provided to those whose residences were destroyed, through subsidies for renting apartments elsewhere in Beirut. Some families may settle permanently in their new neighborhoods, especially when this might be perceived as a step up the social ladder. This will also encourage integration with other sects. The number of vacant apartments in Lebanon is quite high and the resettlement program will spread rent income throughout Beirut. It will also decrease pressure on the southern suburbs and decelerate the chaotic rush for rebuilding.
The gained time should be used to resolve land tenure problems and to plan carefully. Building fewer units than have been destroyed would de-densify the southern suburbs and allow for much-needed open space. Legally, transferring development rights among parcels within each neighborhood could help increase open spaces without affecting the value of private property. Finally, reconstruction should not only focus on buildings but should create job opportunities in the area by providing incentives for businesses and small industries to move there. Compensating families financially without building their capabilities would only add to their losses.
The lower densities, agricultural lands, and rural character of South Lebanon demand a different approach. A case in point is the Tyre region. In the 1980s, Tyre was given UNESCO's World Heritage Site status. The continuing war and Israeli occupation did not allow the city to benefit from this. If anything, stringent preservation conditions arrested most development. The situation did not improve after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, because heritage and tourism did not stimulate the city's economy. A new master plan replaced surrounding agricultural fields with roads and tall buildings, forcing continuous urbanization on a city that needed to connect, not extend, to its hinterland. The plan ignored agricultural fields as an economically viable resource and as an important backdrop to archaeology. Imagine a Florence without Tuscany.
A recent World Bank program to revitalize historic cities does link the heritage dimension to Tyre's economy. Even if implemented, however, limited funds will probably generate a Solidere-like gentrified core detached from the city's socioeconomic needs. Planning regionally, while integrating the social and physical, allows each region to enhance its economic role, social identity, and physical attractiveness instead of making all regions look like Beirut. After all, physical beauty and distinctness may be the only assets left for rural Lebanon.
In "War Fever," a story written in 1989, J.G. Ballard imagined a futuristic Beirut being ravaged by a new war that destroys all post-war reconstruction. A worn-out militiaman negotiates a ceasefire, but UN observers pull him out and reveal that Beirut now serves as a laboratory for releasing and studying violent impulses in a world that has otherwise found perpetual peace. As Lebanon rebuilds, it must destroy the myth that this ironically prophetic story conveys by making reconstruction irreversible. Putting people in the picture provides the best guarantee.
Lebanon's 'dialogue' is devoid of any meaningful content
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Virtually no Lebanese party is without blame for this state of affairs. The list of topics that any useful dialogue must include is a long one, and yet the country's leading politicians have shied away from producing detailed suggestions on how to handle key issues. The resulting "conversation" is devoid of real content on such pressing matters as the enhancement and (full) implementation of the Taif Accord, the crafting of a fair electoral law, and far-reaching reform at all levels of government. Absent, too, is any mention of how the state will deal with its sky-high debt load if responses to its requests for international assistance fall short. Together, these and other failures of leadership are also helping to keep both foreign investors and Lebanon's own banking sector from putting their badly needed capital to work.
A genuine dialogue would concentrate on carving out a new role for government that would inspire confidence in private citizens that the state is good for something other than soaking up their tax money, that it can and will work to improve education, healthcare and other essential services. An effective process would also more clearly define Lebanon's goals in its interactions with Syria and the rest of the Arab countries, and vigorously pursue a set of parameters to deal with the current and future implications of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
The March 14 Forces have been particularly errant. As the core party of the government and a grouping that claims to want change, one would expect its members to be at the fore of efforts to suggest how Lebanon might be transformed to the benefit of all its people. Failing that, one would expect at least some of its fabulously wealthy members to reach into their own deep pockets and commission consulting work on some of the challenges blocking the advent of effective statecraft in this country. It is admirable that some March 14 figures have been among those pledging to rebuild bridges destroyed during the war with Israel, but it would be far more helpful in the long term if they - and their counterparts in other parties - would also invest in the future of their shared country.
Lebanon needs its leaders to understand that political maneuvering is no substitute for the careful thought, thorough preparation and hard work of fashioning a country worth keeping together.
Oct 6, 2006
Lebanon's combustible mix
Washington Times, October 6, 2006
As Israel has withdrawn the last of its troops, the man who plunged Lebanon into war this summer, Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah, has started to flex his muscles again. Sheikh Nasrallah, targeted for assassination by Israel, came out of hiding to address 350,000 people at a Sept. 22 rally in South Beirut, where he declared that the terrorist group possessed 20,000 rockets after the war with Israel. But the main focus of the Hezbollah leader's threats wasn't Israel; for now, his top priorities seem to be putting the Lebanese government in its place and intimidating the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon -- peacekeepers charged with preventing renewed conflict with Israel. In addition, there are reports that Hezbollah is stockpiling arms in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon (locations where the Lebanese army does not patrol) and that Iran and Syria continue poring arms in to Hezbollah forces.
The Hezbollah leader called for creation of a "serious" Lebanese national unity government -- in essence, a government in which groups sympathetic to Syria and hostile to the United States gain power. This would probably result in the ouster of the current Lebanese government headed by Fuad Siniora, a relatively moderate Sunni Muslim who has on occasion stood up to Damascus and its Lebanese mouthpiece, President Emile Lahoud, a Maronite Christian. Mr. Nasrallah said the Siniora government was not up to the task of reconstruction, and suggested that Hezbollah was prepared to assume the responsibility of "protecting" the country if Beirut is not up to the task. And, lest the U.N. peacekeepers get any ideas about trying to disarm Hezbollah, Mr. Nasrallah issued this threat: "Your clear mission [is to] support the Lebanese army ... not to spy on Hezbollah or disarm the Resistance." To avoid a "collision" with Hezbollah, he added, UNIFIL must refrain from getting involved in "internal" affairs such as Hezbollah's military buildup.
It would be a mistake to dismiss Mr. Nasrallah's comments as idle bluster. Last month, for example, Lebanese officials complained to reporters that Hezbollah was rebuilding its war bunkers inside Palestinian refugee camps with Iranian help. Olivier Guitta, a researcher who closely follows Hezbollah and Lebanese politics, says that the security situation in Lebanon is rapidly deteriorating. UNIFIL's blockade of Lebanon is proving to be a "joke," he told us yesterday. "Weapons come in from Syria without any problems."
He also said no one should be surprised if six months from now, Hezbollah and its backers in Iran trigger a war with Israel much larger than the one fought this summer. And Hezbollah finds itself being challenged by al Qaeda, which has in the past demonstrated the ability to fire missiles into Israel from Lebanon, and is strengthening its own forces in the Palestinian refugee camps.
In short, the jihadist forces with a vested interest in preventing Lebanon from governing itself and living in peace with its neighbors remain a clear and present danger.
What Assad needs to do
"As long as I am prime minister, the Golan Heights will remain in our hands eternally," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The statement drew justified criticism, and not only because it contains an inbuilt fallacy, as writer Meir Shalev noted in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth ("eternally" contradicts "as long as"). Since for Syria, the return of the Golan is a condition for making peace, the meaning of the statement is: "As long as I am prime minister, there will not be peace with Syria."
Syrian President Bashar Assad has repeatedly called for starting peace negotiations "from the point at which they stopped four years ago," and promises that it will be possible to conclude the talks in half a year. One need not be a rejector of peace to understand why Olmert did not respond to this call. The condition of opening the negotiations from the point at which they broke off means, in Syria's view, Israel's prior agreement to leaving the entire Golan Heights and returning to the June 1967 line.
This not only means leaving the Golan; it also means Syrian control over the northeastern shore of Lake Kinneret, and in practice, over part of the lake itself, at Hamat Gader, in a strip of about 300 meters from east of the Jordan River, including the river's entire descent through the mountains and the slopes of the Banias - areas that Syria seized after the signing of the armistice agreements. Even Professor Moshe Maoz, who supports negotiations and peace with Syria, once described this Syrian demand as "illegitimate and fraught with problems." The practical significance of this would be a serious blow to Israel's water sources in the North, with no certainty that this could be prevented in negotiations.
A peace agreement with Syria entails risks. There is cause for concern that even in a situation of peace with Israel, Syria would not reduce its ties with Iran and Hezbollah, and when push came to shove, would join them in a campaign against Israel, in the hope of realizing its longtime pan-Arab vision. Israel's evacuation of the Golan Heights would bring in its wake a tidal wave of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and new residents who would inundate the Golan and be able to create a "Lebanese situation" on Israel's border.
To overcome all these concerns and doubts - as well as its wish to avoid a confrontation with the United States, which, for global reasons, is seeking to isolate Syria - Israel must be persuaded not only that Assad wants peace, as he says, but that such a peace would justify the loss of the strategic advantage inherent in control of the Golan Heights (even in the age of missiles, the fact that Israel can threaten a ground-based attack on Damascus is meaningful as part of its deterrence against Syria), the evacuation of tens of thousand of residents at a cost of tens of billions of shekels, and the abandonment of the economic assets that have been created since 1967.
Has Israeli public opinion been prepared for the concessions entailed in negotiations with Syria? There is no chance of finding 61 Knesset members in the present Knesset who would vote to annul the Golan Heights Law, and it is doubtful that a majority of the public favors talks that would lead to a withdrawal from the Golan under any circumstances, but particularly not on Syria's terms.
Assad says that if peace talks are not held, only one other possibility remains. He is thereby hinting at hostilities, whether along the lines of Hezbollah since 2000 or along the lines of Anwar Sadat in 1973. However, there is another option, which Assad is ignoring: taking a public step that would persuade Olmert - by means of the public pressure that it would generate - to change his stance and declare that under the new circumstances that have been created, he is willing to examine the possibility of embarking on negotiations. Here is what Assad could do, in whole or in part, to affirm his declared aspiration to make peace:
1-Shut down the offices of the Palestinian organizations in Damascus and ban their members' activity.
2- Announce that he agrees to meet with the prime minister of Israel in one of the two capitals or in a neutral place, as a first step toward peace negotiations.
3- State that Syria, recognizing that no territorial gains should accrue from war, will respect in negotiations the international boundary between Syria and Palestine as it existed in May 1948.
4- And, at the very least, announce that the peace negotiations will begin without mediators and without preconditions (i.e. not from the point at which they stopped four years ago, and without the "guarantee" that Yitzhak Rabin gave the Americans in 1994, which ostensibly contained a commitment to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights to the 1967 boundary), and that each side will be able to put forward its territorial, political and security demands.
Such moves would probably foment a change in Israeli public opinion, which, beyond general declarations, has seen no evidence that Syria is truly interested in peace. On the contrary, Syria's support for Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations shows that it is interested in continuing the struggle with Israel.
A conciliatory move of this kind would require a great mental effort by Assad, who does not like to make efforts. But if he really and truly wants negotiations, he will have to do more than keep repeating rigid formulas that four prime ministers before Olmert were unable to swallow.
Charting a path in the Mideast
SECRETARY OF STATE Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East "to engage moderate leaders across the region."
Based on a recent discussion convened by the Israel Policy Forum, which included former US ambassadors to the Middle East, senior advisers to four US presidents, former State Department officials, and academic researchers, there are five steps the United States should take that would have significant, positive impact in the region and on US foreign policy.
Mediate a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire that would include the release of captured Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit from Gaza and a cessation of all attacks on Israeli civilian and military targets. In return, and assuming that the Palestinians keep their side of the bargain, Israel would need to halt its incursions into Palestinian territory and its targeted killings.
Focus on what the Palestinian government does and not what it says. Restoring economic aid and engaging with the new government should depend on the absence of violence and terrorism, for instance, rather than the contents of the Hamas charter. The United States cannot abandon the three conditions set for restoring aid to the Palestinians: Hamas's renouncing terrorism, recognizing Israel, and accepting previous agreements. However, these conditions should not prevent our testing whether a unity government could be effective in implementing a comprehensive cease-fire.
Work with the Saudi initiative. The United States should consult with the Saudis, Egyptians, and other backers of this initiative so that it would be revised in ways that would meet US objections. This initiative, as currently constituted, would almost certainly have to be vetoed by the United States if it were brought to the United Nations, which would constitute a setback for Washington.
Engage Syria. The United States should reengage with Syria and test the intentions of the Assad regime. Syria's president, Bashar al- Assad, seems almost desperate to get back in the diplomatic game. Even though it would be difficult to wean his regime away from its alliance with Hezbollah and Iran, conditions are ripe for making an effort. The transformation of Libyan behavior should be the model for American dealings with Damascus.
Strengthen Lebanon's government. Hezbollah's rearmament could re-ignite the conflict with Israel and jeopardize UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Therefore, it is essential for the United States to engage Syria specifically on this issue, and also take steps to strengthen the central government in Lebanon, loosen restrictions and increase support for nongovernmental organizations, and assist the expanded UN peacekeeping force in the south.
Two specific ways to strengthen the Lebanese government vis-à-vis Hezbollah would be: an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms in favor of a temporary UN trust, if the Lebanese government were given direct credit for Israel's action; an exchange of prisoners by Israel directly with the Lebanese government, with no appearance of a Hezbollah role.
Implementation of these five points would help America take the lead in ending the violence in the Middle East.
Samuel Lewis, senior policy adviser to the Israel Policy Forum, was the US ambassador to Israel under Presidents Carter and Reagan and the director of policy planning at the State Department in the first Clinton administration. Edward S. Walker Jr. served as US ambassador to Israel (1997-1999), the Arab Republic of Egypt (1994-1997), and the United Arab Emirates (1989-1992) and as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs in the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations.
UNHCR reaches out to worried families in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley
BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon (UNHCR) - Local and international attention has focused on rebuilding southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut since the end of Israel's military incursion, but this area in the north was also badly hit during the summer conflict.
Israeli air strikes caused substantial damage to houses, farmland, industrial plants and infrastructure, while thousands of traumatised and scared civilians fled from the Bekaa Valley to neighbouring Syria. They started flooding back across the border right after the August 14 ceasefire was announced, but many returned to scenes of devastation in their home areas.
"We are poor. In our villages we never had much. But now nothing is left," said one Lebanese woman, who had fled to Syria from her village near the main Bekaa Valley city of Baalbek. She and others in the fertile valley fear they will be forgotten as reconstruction efforts concentrate on the south of the country and damaged suburbs in the capital, Beirut.
"People visited us over the past weeks, some NGOs [non governmental-organisations] came. They made assessments and left," Khaled, the local relief coordinator in the town of Ali El Nahri, told a visiting UNHCR team. "We don't know when, or if, we will get some assistance," he added.
"All aid is going to the south now," Khaled claimed. "They have more damage than we have, but people here also do suffer." A quick tour of the town, located south of Baalbek, is enough to take in the destruction: some 90 buildings were damaged, 15 heavily, and nine people were killed out of a population of 20,000. The water distribution system was also badly damaged and the precious liquid spills into the streets.
But help is on the way to an area that is considered deprived compared to some other parts of the country such as Beirut and the popular coastal resorts that suffered heavy material and financial losses during the five-week conflict. Many locals have scarce income resources and so are heavily dependent on outside aid.
UNHCR is working with a local NGO, the Sawa Group Association, to help people in the Bekaa Valley still displaced because their homes were destroyed or are too badly damaged for habitation. Sawa provided UNHCR with a list of needy families in the countryside and Baalbek.
The refugee agency has been providing items such as blankets, mattresses, tents, kitchen sets and hygiene items. This assistance has helped more than 200 families in Baalbek and more than 40 in the nearby town of Britel, while UNHCR is also helping families in villages and seeking out other vulnerable people in the countryside.
"Over the coming weeks we want to reach out increasingly to the Bekaa Valley, since most of the agencies and NGOs do concentrate their efforts on the south and villages in the Bekaa risk being forgotten", said UNHCR community services officer, Lisbeth Jensen.
The aid is much appreciated. Officials in Baalbek said UNHCR was one of the few organisations to come to the city and deliver on promises to help.
The agency is putting a priority on helping the most vulnerable families. UNHCR is also facilitating contacts between municipalities and other UN agencies and NGOs, who are in a position to provide assistance in the areas of food, education and water and sanitation.
After showing the UNHCR team around Ali El Nahri, Khaled was in a much more upbeat mood. "Maybe now people are starting to think about us in the Bekaa again," he said.
Left in Lebanon: A million bomblets
UN officials estimate that southern Lebanon is littered with 1 million unexploded bomblets, far outnumbering the 650,000 people living in the region. They are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble, littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools.
As of Sept. 28, the last date available, officials here said that cluster bombs had severely injured 109 people and killed 18 others.
Muhammad Hassan Sultan, a slender brown-haired 12-year-old became a post-war casualty last week when the shrapnel from a cluster bomb cut into his head and neck.
He was from Sawane, a hillside village with a panoramic view of terraced olive farms and rolling hills. Muhammad was sitting on a hip-high wall, watching a bulldozer clear rubble, when the machine bumped into a tree.
A flash of a second later, Muhammad was fatally wounded when a cluster bomblet dropped from the branches.
"I took Muhammad to the hospital in my car, but he was already dead," said Yousef Ftouni, a resident of the village.
The entire village was littered with these bomblets, and as Ftouni recounted Muhammad's death, the Lebanese Army worked its way through an olive grove, blowing up unexploded munitions in a painfully slow process of clearance.
Officials calculated that if they are lucky, and funding from international donors does not run out, it would take 15 months to clear the area.
There are now about 300 Lebanese Army troops and 30 other clearance teams, each of up to 30 experts, working on the problem of unexploded bomblets.
The United Nations' mine action coordination center in southern Lebanon recorded 745 locations across the south where unexploded bombs were found. Of the million estimated to be scattered around, so far 4,500 have been disposed of, according to the center.
"Our priority at the moment is to clean houses, main roads and gardens so that the displaced people can return to their villages," said Colonel Mohammad Fahmy, head of the national de-mining office. "The next stage will be cleaning agricultural lands."
Cluster bombs are legal if aimed at military targets and very effective, military experts say.
Nonetheless, Israel has been heavily criticized, by UN officials, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for using cluster bombs because they are difficult to drop and scatter exclusively on military targets.
Israel was also criticized because it fired most of its cluster bombs in the last days of the war, when the Security Council was negotiating a resolution to end the conflict.
In Lebanon, there are two explanations of why Israel unleashed cluster bombs at that late date: Because the war was ending and the military wanted to inflict as much damage as possible on Hezbollah, or to litter the south with unexploded cluster bombs as a strategy to keep people from returning right away.
The United States says it is investigating whether Israel's use of cluster bombs violated a secret agreement which restricted when they could be used.
In Israel, the view is different.
The final days of the war - a conflict that began when Hezbollah lobbed rockets into northern Israel and sent fighters across the border to capture Israeli soldiers - witnessed a huge Israeli offensive. Israel hoped its final push would, in part, help force the Security Council to adopt a tougher resolution on Hezbollah than appeared to be taking shape.
Israel has also said that it scattered areas with leaflets before bombing, and that it provided Lebanon with maps of potential cluster bomb locations to help with the clearing process.
UN officials in Lebanon say the maps are useless and they charge that Israel refuses to turn over more precise information.
An Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published an article last month anonymously quoting the head of a rocket unit who was critical of the decision to use cluster bombs.
"What we did was insane and monstrous; we covered entire towns in cluster bombs," Haaretz reported a head of a military rocket unit in Lebanon as saying in its Sept. 12 edition.
Repeated efforts by The Times to get Israeli officials to explain the rationale behind the use of the bombs have proved fruitless, with spokesmen referring all queries to short official statements arguing that everything done conformed with international law.
In Lebanon, the problem of the unexploded munitions is magnified by the desire to return to villages and lives in a region that is effectively booby-trapped. People want to begin rebuilding and harvest their crops. In some cases, they have tried to clear the bomblets themselves, and some people have begun charging a small fee to clear away bombs, a practice which officials have discouraged as dangerous.
But the people are desperate.
"If I lost the season for olives and the wheat, I have no money for the winter," said Rida Noureddine, 54, who farms a small patch of land on the main road in the village of Kherbit Salem.
There was a small black object at the entrance to his farm, and he thought it was a cluster bomb.
"I feel as if someone has tied my arms, or is holding me by my neck, suffocating me because this land is my soul," he said after waving down a car flying a UN flag to ask for help.
Cluster bombs, or the bomblets about the size of a D-battery, can be packed into bombs, missiles or artillery shells. When the delivery system detonates, the bomblets are spread like buckshot across a large area, making them difficult to aim with precision.
According to a fact sheet issued by the UN mine action coordination center in southern Lebanon, cluster bombs have an official failure rate of 15 percent.
That means that 15 percent of the bomblets - a name that speaks only to size and not maiming power - remain as hazards across the targeted area.
According to the fact sheet, the failure rate in this war is estimated to be around 40 percent.
"We estimate there are one million," said Dalya Farran, the community liaison officer of the mine action center.
Farran has worked at the center for nearly three years. It was set up in 2000 to help deal with the mines and unexploded ordinances left behind after the Israeli occupation of the south, and from other wars.
Farran dispenses details about bombs and mines as though she were reading a grocery list.
After this war, she said, there are two types of cluster bombs across the south. The most commonly found bomblets are known as M42, a device deceptively small, resembling a light socket.
She said a large percentage of the unexploded bomblets are American made, while some were produced in Israel. Each one has a white tail dangling off the back, like the tail of a kite. As they fall to the ground, the tail spins and unscrews the firing pin.
When the device hits, the front end fires a huge slug - while the casing blasts apart into a spray of deadly metal fragments.
When they don't detonate, they cling to the ground, and with their white tails look deceptively like toys, and so children are often most often injured.
"This is what they are living with everyday," said Simon Lovell, a supervisor with one of the clearance teams as he looked at five unexploded bomblets poking out of the soft, rocky soil of the Hussein's family farm.
Across the street, Hussein Muhammad, 48, at home with his wife and four children, waited for the clearance team. His olive trees were heavy with fruit but he could not tend to the harvest.
"I feel that the land has become my enemy," he said. "It represents a danger to my life and my kids' lives."
In Syria, Converting For Sake of Politics
By Ellen Knickmeyer
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Last Sunday, Munir al-Sayed, a middle-aged Sunni Arab from the northern city of Aleppo, quietly did something he had done only once before in his life, without telling his wife or his friends.
Slipping into a Shiite shrine on a business trip to Damascus, Sayed removed his shoes in respect, padded across the tiled floor in his stocking feet and bowed his head in prayer -- not as a Sunni, but as a Shiite. Surrounded by Shiites, the 42-year-old Sunni lawyer prayed with hands pressed to his sides as Shiites do, rather than with hands crossed in front of him, as Sayed's family and other Sunnis have done for generations.
Sayed's new step across the dividing line between the two main sects of Islam had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the polarizing state of political affairs in the Middle East and the world, he said: The white-collar worker from Aleppo was seized with a heartfelt desire to pay homage to Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, whose Shiite militia has been seen by many Muslims around the world as having humiliated both the Israeli military and its U.S. ally in Lebanon this summer.
"I'm Sunni, but I belong to Hasan Nasrallah," the gray-haired Sayed, smiling slightly, said that evening over tea as he and older Sunni and Shiite men, wearing a mix of Western clothes and Arab robes and headdresses, lounged on cushions in a Damascus meeting hall. Damascus, like the rest of the Islamic world, was in the second week of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The city's people were gripped in the insomniac rhythm of fasting by day and gathering by night for languid hours of meals, water pipes and conversation.
"I've converted politically," explained Sayed, who said he first prayed as a Shiite during this summer's fighting between Hezbollah guerrillas and the Israeli military. "I'm belonging to the politics of Hasan Nasrallah."
Sayed is far from alone, Shiite clerics here say. Emotions in the Middle East after the war in Lebanon, and at a time of unrelenting carnage in the U.S.-led war in Iraq, illustrate a number of crucial trends in the Islamic world.
Not least, Sunnis and Shiites say, pride in what is perceived as Hezbollah's triumph has fostered respect and a small but escalating number of politically sensitive conversions for the Shiite faith in Syria. Syria is about 70 percent Sunni, and many in the majority have long regarded the tiny Shiite minority as little more than heretics who strayed from the larger, Sunni branch of Islam.
The burgeoning of Shiism is worrisome to some Sunnis. Sunni leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt all have warned of the increasingly influential "Shiite crescent." The crescent stretches from Afghanistan through Shiite-ruled Iran to Iraq, where a newly empowered Shiite majority holds power, across Syria to Lebanon, where Hezbollah makes its base and Shiites are estimated to be the largest religious group.
On a broader scale, however, some Shiites and Sunnis say the Israel-Hezbollah war brought Shiites and Sunnis closer. Many Shiites and Sunnis outside Lebanon share a common pride in Nasrallah even as they share a common worry over the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, clerics and political analysts in Damascus said.
"George Bush has done us a favor. He has united the Arabs," joked Mustafa al-Sada, a cheerful, broad-nosed young Shiite cleric who works with many of the Sunnis who come to Shiite religious institutions here with questions about conversion.
Sada said he knows of about 75 Sunnis in Damascus who have converted since fighting in Lebanon started in mid-July. The war escalated what he said was a growing trend toward conversion to the Shiite faith in recent years.
"We can touch it, sense it," he said. "We get contacts from other countries, asking us to open mosques, send clerics."
A secular analyst close to many officials in Syria's authoritarian government marveled at the sect-crossing allegiances brought on by this summer's war. Al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood vied with statements of varying degrees of support for the fight by Hezbollah, whose Shiite faith normally would make it a target, not an ally, of Sunni groups.
"The Wahhabis and the Shiites getting together!" exclaimed the analyst, in a Western suit and tie, using a term for Sunni fundamentalists. He spoke on condition he not be identified. "Such a phenomenon. Who would have thought we would see it?"
The flux of relations between Sunnis and Shiites often can have less to do with old enmities and ideology than with where any one group in any one country lines up in relation to the world's growing rifts between East and West.
For Waed Khalil, 21, a student in international law in Damascus who watched on TV this summer as Hezbollah guerrillas held back Israeli ground troops, it was just that simple.
"For the first time in my lifetime, I saw a war that the Arabs were winning," Khalil said.
A Sunni, Khalil began adopting Shiite customs and prayers during the war and is planning on converting fully, he said. His Sunni friends stayed Sunni but taped posters of Nasrallah on their car windshields and bedroom walls.
The focal point of Syria's conversions is the shrine of Sayedah Zeinab, named for the sister of one of the founding figures of the Shiite faith. It was at the Zeinab shrine where Sayed, the lawyer, paid his respects to Nasrallah last Sunday.
Yellow flags with the green Hezbollah emblem dangle in the shrine's courtyard. Inside the shrine, slogans on collection boxes and posters urge Shiite pilgrims from Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere to give generously to the Lebanese people in their fight against Israel.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite religious leader, and Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's militant Shiite cleric and militia and political leader, all maintain offices around the Damascus shrine.
Syria's ruling Assad family belongs to the Alawite sect, a small offshoot of mainstream Shiism. President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited power from his father, like him enforces secularism in government to help tamp down Syria's Sunni majority.
The government -- a patron of Hezbollah -- since this summer has promoted the cult of Nasrallah as a way of boosting Assad's popularity. Posters and billboards have sprung up around Damascus showing the younger Assad in photo montages alongside the smiling, bearded Hezbollah leader. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also appears in some of the composites.
But some Syrians say the government is uncomfortable with the expansion of the Shiite minority, seeing it as a sign of the growing regional influence of Iran. "The government is so worried -- there's a big wave of Iranians encouraging conversions," a Syrian filmmaker said on condition of anonymity.
Sada denied the impetus for conversions was coming out of Tehran, as a point of Arab pride. "Iran is not the center of the Shiites," the Saudi-born cleric said, stressing that Persian Iran was a relative latecomer to Shiism.
A five-hour drive east of Damascus, the tiny farm town of Hatla has become one of a handful of communities around Syria to convert almost entirely from Sunni to Shiite. Less than 100 miles from the Iraqi province of Anbar, where Sunni guerrillas strive to kill any Shiites who dare pass through, villagers gathered in well-tended gardens and arbors where butterflies fluttered in the afternoon heat to talk proudly of living and working peacefully with their Sunni neighbors.
The path of the converts has not been smooth, Hatla's elders said. It took the advent of satellite TV to educate Syria's Sunnis that their Shiite neighbors were not infidels, the men said. "Four or five years before, we were scared of even mentioning the Shiite faith," said Salim Mohammed, an Arabic teacher.
Then, what satellite dishes advanced, the war in Iraq set back when Syria's Sunnis perceived the Shiite majority in Iraq to be cooperating with American forces.
"We had some kind of movement against the conversions here then; they drowned the conversions,'' said Ali Mousa, a principal in Hatla.
The ascendancy of Nasrallah this summer set things right for Syria's Shiites, Mousa said. Now, he said, Sunnis "see Shiites are not collaborating with the enemy. They see we are the only ones fighting the enemy."
Special correspondent Naseer Mehdawi contributed to this report.
Syria Says U.S. Embassy Attack Planned in S.Arabia
Filed at 9:18 p.m. ET, 5 Oct 2006
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Last month's attack on the U.S. embassy in Damascus was planned in Saudi Arabia and the four Syrians who carried it out had no links to al Qaeda, a government investigation said on Thursday.
Three of the four assailants, 31-year-old Abdel Raouf Saleh, Bilal Saleh, 25, and Samir Saleh, also 25, were close relatives who followed the teachings of a preacher in Saudi Arabia where they had worked, the Interior Ministry report said.
They started preparing for the operation in 2004, according to the report.
``An investigation into the attack has been concluded. The group planned to blow an embassy door, storm the compound and kill whoever was inside. It had no links with extremist organisations outside Syria,'' the report said.
``They attended lessons by a Saudi man of religion. Their extremism deepened due to the political situation shaking the region and U.S. bias toward Israel.''
The report said the group ``had planned to broadcast a video statement after the operation in the name of Abu Musab Zarqawi Brigade, although they had no link to al Qaeda.''
It said they were inspired by Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who was killed in a U.S. air strike in June.
Syrian security forces killed the four men who attacked the embassy on September 12, in a gun battle that lasted about 30 minutes.
A Syrian guard and a Syrian bystander were also killed. Twelve people were wounded. No Americans were hurt.
The report, published by the government's news agency, said Syrian security forces later made several arrest in connection with the attack.
They included two members of the Saleh family who bought weapons and explosives for the attack in Lebanon and paid Lebanese smugglers to transport them across the border, it said.
Relations between Riyadh and Damascus have been tense over Syria's support for the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hizbollah in its war with Israel.
The report said three militants drove up to the main entrance of the U.S. embassy and tried to storm the complex using automatic rifles and grenades, but were killed.
Another man drove in a van filled with explosives to a side door but was killed before he managed to detonate it.
Although the United States praised the Syrian response, relations between Damascus and Washington plummeted after the attack.
The Syrian government kept Washington in the dark about the investigation and officials said U.S. policies in the region and support for Israel were to blame by provoking the attackers.
A Syrian official said Damascus had no reason to cooperate with Washington because the attack was ``a purely Syrian affair.''
Diplomats in Damascus said Syria might have squandered an opportunity to improve relations with Washington, which have been deteriorating for years, especially since the U.S. administration imposed sanctions against Syria in 2004, accusing it of supporting terrorism.
Syria's secular government, which crushed an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, says it is fighting what it describes as terrorists.
In June four young Syrian men were killed as they tried to storm the headquarters of Syrian television. The government said the attempt was the work of a group of youths who had embraced a militant ideology similar to that of al Qaeda.
A choice Christians can't afford to make
By Michael Young
Take Geagea's Harissa speech. The Lebanese Forces leader reaffirmed the centrality of the Taif Accord as a way out of Lebanon's divisions, which was to his credit. He well knows that the document of national reconciliation was built on a redistribution of power away from the Christians, and that its abuse by the postwar Syrian-led apparat only made it more antipathetic to his own electorate, as well as to Aoun's. So it took, and will continue to take, audacity on his part to back Taif. The proof, however, will be in whether Geagea can help persuade Christians to move toward political deconfessionalism, at least in Parliament - with compensation coming elsewhere, perhaps through the creation of a confessional Senate.
But did Geagea really need to mention that, before Hizbullah's resistance in the South, the Lebanese resistance started in Ain al-Remmaneh? He was referring to how the Christian militias fought the Palestinians and their local allies there at the beginning of the Civil War in 1975. For the Lebanese Forces, or more accurately its predecessor militias, that moment was a seminal one. But Ain al-Remmaneh has a different meaning today than it did three decades ago. Today the quarter is a front line against the Shiite community, a place where Christians and Shiites stand across from each other with barely concealed distaste. In conjuring up that image, Geagea, intentionally or not, substituted the Shiites for the Palestinians.
This harshening of the ideological dividing line is to be expected from a leader who still evokes misgiving among many Christians. Geagea's war record, like that of the other former militia leaders, is one he will not easily break away from, so he has had to recast his past in light of present realities. In this, Geagea has benefited from the fact that he has been able to recruit among mostly young followers, with no memory of the war; that Aoun has lost support thanks to what many see as his unnatural alliance with Hizbullah; and that Lebanon's Christians are facing an existential crisis of historical proportions, with no clear sense of where they are heading.
Geagea's problem, however, is that those very same realities that feed Christian angst threaten to undermine the best means the Lebanese Forces have for alleviating them. Geagea's approach has been based on an alliance with the March 14 movement, but more specifically with the Hariri camp. In the sectarian political context, this has effectively translated into an alliance with the Sunnis; and, with Geagea so keen to mark off his territory and ways from Hizbullah, a de facto alliance against the Shiites.
Aoun has behaved in much the same single-minded way, though leaning in the other direction. His followers will applaud when the general describes himself as the custodian of a national project, however the sectarian rhetoric among Aounist supporters is as hardened as among other groups and communities. And it just so happens that it has been directed mainly against the Sunnis - or more specifically against what was deemed to be Sunni haughtiness under the late Rafik Hariri, helping prop up a Syrian order that marginalized both Aoun and the Christians. One can debate the accuracy of this interpretation, but it certainly did no good for Saad Hariri to back an election law last summer that confirmed the worst Christian fears in this regard - fears that Aoun later exploited to justify shifting his movement away from Hariri and closer to Hizbullah.
So, what we effectively have today is the two largest Christian parties disagreeing over many things, but most importantly over their relationship with the Sunni and Shiite communities. This is a recipe not only for ensuring that Christians are sidelined further, it shows an utter absence of clarity about where the community stands in Lebanon's future.
The irony is that when he returned to Lebanon, Aoun had a different view. It took months for him to heave himself into the "Shiite camp," and among his entourage he had at first made the sensible argument that Christians should not take sides when it came to the Sunni-Shiite divide. But like so much else the general has said in the past, this was forgotten when he concluded that his presidential aspirations required taking sides: Hizbullah suddenly seemed a necessary patron in the face of strong resistance to an Aoun presidency from the March 14 coalition and the Maronite patriarch.
But can the Christians remain neutral? Being neither here nor there, neither in March 8 nor March 14, is hardly feasible. Neutrality can often be an anteroom to irrelevance. There is also the fact that, for now, March 14 is the only serious domestic force denying a return of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, while Hizbullah's agenda is too tied in with those of Iran and Syria to provide any real reassurance of Lebanese independence.
That's why any redefinition of a Christian role requires two steps: for all the parties, including the Lebanese Forces, to open systematic contacts with all political and religious groups, to the exclusion of none, even if the ride is a bumpy one. That includes Hizbullah. But also for the Aounists to terminate their Pollyannaish repetition that Syria has left Lebanon for good. Nothing in the behavior of Bashar Assad's regime in the past year suggests this is true. Lebanon as a sovereign entity from Syria remains in danger, thanks partly to the consent of Assad's local allies, notably Hizbullah. The aim of a Christian-Shiite dialogue should be, in part, to anchor Hizbullah in the national consensus on relations with Syria.
A second step requires defining where Christians expect to be in the coming decades. In seeking to remain equidistant from the Sunnis and Shiites, Christians need, first, to shape a philosophical underpinning guiding this. It must be defined by the community as a whole, through an exchange of ideas, a national Christian round-table, and probably some founding document that all can refer to. The high points of such a document must include a flexible interpretation of Taif, leaving the door open to consensual moves toward partial or total deconfessionalization; a statement of principle that Christians will be a bridge between Lebanon's other communities; and a broader vision for how Lebanese and other Middle Eastern Christians see their future in a region where religious intolerance is on the rise.
Such a multifaceted approach is far more advisable than what we have today: Christian mobilization through polarization, of which both Geagea and Aoun are guilty. But most important, Lebanon cannot long last as it is if the Christians feel they have to choose between Muslim partners. For them all Muslims are partners, and must continue to be.
Sept 27, 2006
Offer reform for Hizbullah's weapons
By Michael Young
This, somehow, was never in doubt. Nor does it require transcendent familiarity with Lebanon to know that because of the way the society is structured, one party's remaining armed to the exception of all the others can only increase the insecurities of those others. And now Nasrallah has made formal his warning. As Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh bitingly observed last weekend, this is what Hizbullah effectively offered: Our weapons in exchange for transforming Lebanon into a virtual garrison state, where we wouldn't need our weapons anyway, since by then the state would be largely in our hands.
There were two jarring moments in Nasrallah's speech. His statement, directed against Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora, that "tears don't liberate," was especially disingenuous. Siniora's tears began a process of ridding the South of Israeli soldiers whom Hizbullah's actions on July 12 had brought back into Lebanon. More disturbing, Nasrallah's twice-repeated support for the Syrian leadership could, he knew, only be interpreted in one way by followers of Rafik Hariri: as an endorsement of the late prime minister's assassins. How paradoxical was this behavior in light of Nasrallah's rebuke of Siniora and the government majority for their "heartlessness" in recently receiving British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It was Samir Geagea's moment last Sunday, when the Lebanese Forces held a rally in Harissa. Maronite nationalism can be as difficult to stomach as Shiite nationalism, and Geagea could have been more appeasing in his wartime recollections, given that his old enemies are today his staunch allies. The Lebanese Forces leader played a dual game of unity and polarization - unity with other forces in the Christian camp from which he had been alienated, such as Amin Gemayel's Kataeb Party and smaller shreds of the Lebanese Forces; and polarization, in an effort to use tougher rhetoric as a means of picking up ambivalent Christians increasingly displeased with Michel Aoun's ties with Hizbullah.
Yet for all his parochial calculations, Geagea laudably placed his response to Nasrallah in the context of the one document that retains legitimacy as a guide out of Lebanon's impasse: the Taif agreement. Few could argue with his logic in responding to Nasrallah's demand for a strong state: How could a strong state come about, Geagea asked, when one side undermined this through its creation of an armed state within a state?
Shoring up Taif was also the aim of Saad Hariri's response to Nasrallah on Tuesday, in the third of a triptych of responses from the March 14 coalition. Where Geagea, Hariri, and March 14 in general have shown considerably less imagination, however, is in their definition of Taif. As viewed today by the parliamentary majority, the agreement is mainly a device to disarm Hizbullah. Fair enough. But there is another aspect of Taif that must also be put on the table by the majority: political reform.
Nothing prevents March 14 from making the following proposal, as a backhand to Nasrallah's weapons bid: The Lebanese communities must open a new phase of national dialogue on the basis of Taif, involving Hizbullah's disarmament and political reform - reform that would aim to give the Shiite community, and whoever else deserves it, a greater share of political representation. The condition for initiating this grand bargain would be Hizbullah's first surrendering its weapons. Why? Because after what Nasrallah said last Friday, many non-Shiites have little confidence he will not use his weapons to impose Hizbullah's agenda on them.
There are complications involved. Taif outlines the creation of a deconfessionalized Parliament, which would alarm Christians. However, sooner or later the issue will resurface anyway, and just as Geagea insists that Shiites must accept the implacable logic of Taif, others will readily turn this around and remind Christians what Taif means for them. That's why it's preferable to start the ball rolling now, building on the goodwill inside the majority, through a parallel process of discussion among the March 14 forces, to reassure Christians. This reform process must include, as compensation to the community, promises of a new, confessional Senate, as Taif outlines, where Christians and Muslims are represented in a 50-50 ratio, and administrative decentralization. Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir would be an essential participant in the effort.
Where would the Aounists fit into this? Nasrallah, Geagea and Hariri had their moment, now it's Michel Aoun's turn. October 13 fast approaches, and the general, in a spirit of conciliation, might use the anniversary of his removal from Baabda in 1990 to finally embrace Taif. What better way to do so than to invite his new comrades, those who had lustily applauded his ouster in Taif's name, to a ceremony attended by Emile Lahoud, who, in the name of Taif, too, led the Lebanese force against Aoun that day?
Taif has fallen victim to multiple coups, to borrow from former minister Albert Mansour. Nasrallah has no interest in an agreement that will disarm him, even if it means delaying expanding Shiite representation in the state. Better to increase Shiite power by leveraging his weapons, he thinks, than through a compromise that would damage the Iranian priorities defended by Hizbullah. Aoun cannot bear Taif because it reminds him of his past defeats. Nor will he accept a text that gives presidents less than the ample power Aoun would seek were he to return to Baabda.
That's why March 14 alone is in a position to breathe new life into Taif. Political reform in exchange for Hizbullah's guns. That's the deal. It would remind Shiites that they can only gain from the party's disarming, but also lose if it refuses to do so. The Shiite community and Hizbullah are two different things. Taif can prove just how much.
Sept 26, 2006
Analysts: US Image Slipped in Lebanon After Israel-Hezbollah War
The 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon ended last month with a United Nations-brokered ceasefire and deployment of U.N. troops. Before the guns were silenced, more than 1,000 Lebanese and 43 Israeli civilians died. Another casualty, regional analysts say, is the U.S. image in Lebanon, already tarnished by the war in Iraq.
Although the United States was not involved in the war, its close alliance with Israel and its reluctance to call for an immediate ceasefire left many people in Lebanon and the region feeling that Washington tacitly approved Israel's military campaign.
Karim Makdisi is a professor of international relations at the American University in Beirut.
"There is no question that this war was seen very, very clearly, in the way that no other war has been seen, really, as a joint Israeli-American war against Lebanon," he said.
"That played very badly among people here, because people were dying, and there was a feeling of why is America letting us down?" he said.
Rice explained the United States did not want to see a return to the "status quo ante," but wanted a "sustainable" ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.
Alberto Fernandez, a spokesman in the U.S. State Department's Near East bureau, says the U.S. was working hard to end the war.
"This is certainly not a war that we sought, that we encouraged," Mr. Fernandez noted. "It is a war that was forced upon the Lebanese people, the Lebanese government and the region. We worked very hard to find a solution. The Secretary of State [Condoleezza Rice] tried very hard; she went to the region, she co-hosted the Rome Conference along with the Italians. I find it disingenuous that Hezbollah starts a war, and the United States is blamed for not stopping it soon enough. Well, maybe Hezbollah should never have started the war in the first place."
Jawad Boulos is a Christian member of the Lebanese parliament. He says, before the conflict, many Lebanese looked up to the United States as the defender of freedom and the protector of human rights. But, he says, Washington's decision to deliver an existing order of sophisticated bombs to Israel during the war tarnished that image.
"At a time when it was patently obvious that these bombs were going to be used against Lebanese, and at a time when the Israeli army was using these very dangerous weapons, such as cluster bombs, and smart bombs, and bunker-busting bombs that were being used against civilian areas. I think this was not productive," he explained.
But Michael Young, the opinion editor of Lebanon's English-language Daily Star newspaper, says America's declining popularity in the region is not its most serious problem.
State Department spokesman Fernandez says the administration is concerned with its image in the Middle East. He says the reality in the region is difficult, because there is a lot of suffering and violence, and people's anger is understandable.
"We have to explain our policy well, and we have do everything we can to help the people of Lebanon and Iraq, but especially the people of Lebanon, in this recent, unnecessary and needless war that Hezbollah launched," added Mr. Fernandez.
He says the United States is looking at both short-term and long-term ways to strengthen Lebanon and its democratically elected government. He says Washington's recent $230 million pledge toward Lebanon's reconstruction is just the beginning
Sept 18, 2006
Hezbollah opens fresh front – inside Lebanon
Published: Monday, 18 September, 2006, 11:46 AM Doha Time
BEIRUT: Political squabbling this week between the Lebanese government and its critics, led by Hezbollah, threatens to complicate the work of UN peacekeepers, whose top general is complaining of a power vacuum.
"This government should go," shouted Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar to a crowd of several thousand sympathisers at a rally on Monday in the capital’s predominantly Shia suburbs, setting off a round of political attacks on Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah quickly picked up the chase. Over the next two days, he denounced Siniora and his allies in televised interviews for their "inhumane and immoral" stance during the 34-day war Israel waged against the Shia group.
Nasrallah, whose party ironically holds two posts in the 24-member cabinet, has called for the creation of a government of national unity that would include a paradoxical ally, the Free Patriotic Current. The FPC is headed by Christian and former general Michel Aoun, who has made common cause with pro-Syrian forces that the current government’s supporters outnumber in parliament.
Hezbollah has an enormous and virtually uncontested power base in the capital’s southern suburbs and in villages of south Lebanon, both areas that were devastated by Israeli bombing and shelling, as well as in the Bekaa Valley.
The Party of God showed its military prowess during the war with Israel and has been quick to step in to begin rebuilding Shia areas, trumping a central government that has been slow on the uptake. It is now pushing for an equally influential political role.
Siniora, backed politically and financially by Western and Arab governments, is not budging. Speaking in Cairo on Thursday, he said the "current government will remain as long as it receives the trust of parliament. Criticisms are normal. Our country is a democratic country." But his tenacity in holding on to his job is not accompanied by the necessary boldness in taking decisions and acting.
Since humanitarian aid began pouring into the country as war still raged, Siniora was criticised, not entirely fairly given Israeli bombing, for not doing enough to distribute it. There were also widespread claims of corruption, something not uncommon in Lebanon.
And now, the French general in command of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon, Alain Pellegrini, has levelled a potentially more worrisome accusation. In an interview published on Thursday in the French daily La Croix, he criticised the government for not doing enough to facilitate his mission.
Complaining that he was having trouble billeting the international troops that have already arrived in the country, he said: "I remind the Lebanese authorities that they need to offer us the (necessary) land, which so far they have not done.
"We are here at their request, and the least they could do is help us." The problem was underscored Friday, when Indonesia announced the deployment of some 1,000 peacekeepers it was offering had been delayed until the end of October at the request of UNIFIL.
But the true test will be that of disarming Hezbollah, which is implicitly called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which led to an August 14 ceasefire.
The central question will be the extent to which there is collaboration, or hostility, among the three principal actors on the Lebanese side of the border – the government, Hezbollah and UNIFIL.
Resolution 1701 stipulates that it is the Lebanese government that should take the lead in this, aided at its request by UNIFIL. And Siniora has said: "When the army sees arms, it should interdict and confiscate all those arms".
But Hezbollah does not think the government has the will to do what Israel failed to do - disarm the group. As Nasrallah has said, the "Lebanese army is not an army of mercenaries ... to carry out orders from abroad." The apparent lack of progress in this area appears to be frustrating Pellegrini, who said in the La Croix interview that UNIFIL would act on its own if necessary.
"If the (Lebanese army) fails to act, we must assume our responsibilities as a UN force," he said. "Someone will have to intervene, with all the consequences that this might have for the Lebanese authorities."
This leads to concerns that, in the event of a standoff between the government and Hezbollah, UNIFIL might be faced with an even more perilous mission that originally envisioned.
A cartoon published on Thursday in the Saudi-owned pan-Arabic daily Al Hayat sketched out what the new situation might look like.
It depicted Lebanon as divided between two camps – Hezbollah and the March 14 Forces (the coalition to which Siniora belongs). Right smack in the middle is a UN watchtower. – AFP
Sept 18, 2006
The Last Word: Walid Jumblatt
Enduring a 'Dark Period'
Sept. 25, 2006 issue - As leader of Lebanon's Druze community, Walid Jumblatt has long been a key man to see in the nation's political circles. But these days he is a virtual prisoner in his family's castle in Lebanon's Shouf mountains. After a 34-day war with Israel, some Lebanese were writing epitaphs for Jumblatt and his allies in the country's anti-Syrian "March 14" coalition. Jumblatt himself isn't ready to give up just yet, but he fears further assassinations are more likely than ever. Last week he spoke with NEWSWEEK's Kevin Peraino at his home in Mokhtara. Excerpts:
Peraino: What are you reading to stay occupied?
Jumblatt: Jack London, "The Wolf of the Sea." Excellent book. Written in 1904. And I finished "The Heart of Darkness" of Conrad.
So you're into modern fiction.
You must feel stabbed in the back by the Americans.
But you don't feel betrayed personally?
You must be more concerned about your personal safety.
Why do you think [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah started this war?
I was walking around [Beirut's mainly Shiite southern suburb of] Dahiya yesterday, and people there were talking about their renewed "honor" and "dignity."
Will Nasrallah and [Maronite Christian General Michel] Aoun be able to translate their popularity on the ground to political power now?
Maybe in a way that makes him president?
Is Lebanon becoming a Hizbullahstan?
You really think the young moderates are going to leave and Hizbullah is going to take over?
But aren't these nightmare scenarios?
You say you cringe when Bush talks about "Islamofascism," but you also use some of the same terminology, comparing Nasrallah with Hitler.
© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.
End is near for Hezbollah
TALK about Hezbollah confirms the presence and desire of Iran to control the Middle East. Tehran doesn’t mind the existence of Israel and will even strike an alliance with the enemy as long as their interests match. Accordingly, Hezbollah has been playing the role of aggravator to perfection to give Israel the green light to launch attacks on Lebanon.
There has been no need for resistance since the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. However, the resistance has stayed claiming the Shebaa Farms are still under Israeli occupation. This is nothing but an excuse to retain foreign control over southern Lebanon. The role of Hezbollah was obvious when it gave a valid excuse to Israeli forces to destroy Lebanon. At the same time the Israeli strike has given the resistance a wonderful excuse to stay on.
Immediately after its end, both the involved parties started debating who won the war. Hezbollah has claimed victory based on reports carried by the democratic mass media of Israel. The real loser is Lebanon, which has been devastated and lost hundreds of innocent lives.
After claiming victory in the war and with its confidence in the Lebanese democracy, Hezbollah is trying to play another role in Lebanon by demanding the replacement of the existing government with a new one in which it wants to have one third of the seats. Hassan Nasrallah, who wants to bring back Syria’s voice to the Lebanese parliament, is underestimating Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and doubting the Lebanese government’s ability to handle its responsibilities.
Such confrontations, which have nothing to do with politics, are aimed at finding excuses for the existence of Hezbollah, especially after its failure to achieve its objectives and promises. After realizing it is being neglected by its foreign ally, Hezbollah is facing difficulties in trying to fit inside Lebanon.
Hezbollah is passing through a tough time and crisis after losing popularity in its homeland. People are not afraid of Hezbollah’s intellectual terrorism any longer and Nasrallah’s loud voice doesn’t necessarily mean his power and influence remain undiminished.
With Hezbollah about to exit from the equation in Lebanon, we are reminded of the old saying “What goes up must come down.”
TWO misconceptions dominate public discussion on the crisis in Lebanon. The first is that Hezbollah is a traditional terrorist organisation operating covertly outside the law. The second is that the ceasefire marks an end to the war in Lebanon. Neither of these views is valid.
Hezbollah is, in fact, a metastasisation of the Al Qaeda pattern. It acts as an overt state within a state. It commands an army much stronger and far better equipped than Lebanon’s on Lebanese soil, in defiance of two UN resolutions. Financed and trained by Iran, it fights wars with organised units against a major adversary. As a Shia party, it has ministers in the government of Lebanon who do not consider themselves bound by its decisions. A non-state entity on the soil of a state with all the attributes of a state and backed by the major regional power is a new phenomenon in international relations.
Since its creation, Hezbollah has been almost permanently at war. The first of three Hezbollah wars occurred when, in 1983, its attack on US barracks killed 241 Marines and convinced America to withdraw its peacekeeping forces from Beirut. The second was a campaign of harassment that induced Israeli forces to withdraw from southern Lebanon in 2000. The third was inaugurated this year with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers inside Israel that led to the Israeli retaliatory attack.
We are witnessing a carefully conceived assault, not isolated terrorist attacks, on the international system of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. The creation of organisations like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda symbolises that transnational loyalties are replacing national ones. The driving force behind this challenge is the jihadist conviction that it is the existing order that is illegitimate, not the Hezbollah and jihad method of fighting it. For the jihad’s adherents, the battlefield cannot be defined by frontiers based on principles of world order they reject; what we call terror is, to the jihadists, an act of war to undermine illegitimate regimes.
A ceasefire does not end this war; it inaugurates a new phase in it. This twin assault on the global order, by the combination of radical states with transnational non-state groups sometimes organised as militias, is a particular challenge in the Middle East, where frontiers denote few national traditions and are not yet a century old. But it could spread to wherever militant, radical Islamic groups exist. Leaders therefore are torn between following the principles of the existing international order on which their economy may depend, or yielding (if not joining) the transnational movement on which their political survival may depend.
The crisis in Lebanon is a classic case of that pattern. By the rules of the old international order, the war technically took place between two states — Lebanon and Israel — which, in fact, have very few conflicting interests. Their sole territorial dispute concerns a small strip of territory, Shebaa Farms, occupied by Israel from Syria in 1967 and indirectly certified as not being part of Lebanon by the UN in 2000. The UN ceasefire resolution affirms that the crisis was provoked by Hezbollah, which had kept the Lebanese armed forces out of the southern part of Lebanon facing Israel for thirty years. Yet by the existing international rules, the secretary of state was obliged to negotiate on the ceasefire with the Lebanese government, which controlled no forces in a position to implement it while the only forces capable of doing so have never formally accepted it.
The real goals of the Lebanese war were transnational and not Lebanese: to overcome the millennia-old split between Sunnis and Shia on the basis of hatred for Israel and America; to relieve diplomatic pressure on Iran’s nuclear program; to demonstrate that Israel would be held hostage if pressure became too acute; to establish Iran as a major factor in any negotiation; to scuttle the Palestinian peace process; to show that Syria — the second major sponsor of Hezbollah — remained in a position to pursue its ambitions in Lebanon.
This is why the balance sheet of the war in Lebanon must be assessed in large part in psychological and political terms. No doubt the war inflicted heavy casualties on Hezbollah. The overriding psychological reality, however, is that Hezbollah remained intact and that Israel proved unable (or unwilling) either to suppress the rocket attacks on its territory or to gear its military power to political objectives capable of providing bargaining positions after the cessation of hostilities.
Much of the discussion over observance of the ceasefire applies traditional verities to an unprecedented situation. One of the principals in the war is not a party to the ceasefire and has refused either to disarm or to release the two Israeli prisoners it kidnapped, as called for in the UN resolution. The countries needed to enforce the agreement have been ambivalent because of the importance they attach to relations with Iran, their fear of terrorist attacks on their own territory, and, to a lesser extent, their interest in improving relations with Syria.
The mandate for the UN force in southern Lebanon reflects these hesitations. The secretary-general of the UN, Kofi Annan, has declared that the mission of the UN force is not to disarm Hezbollah but to encourage a political process that, in his words, "must be achieved through an internal Lebanese consensus, a political process for which the new UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) is not and cannot be a substitute". Syria has declared that it would consider the deployment of UNIFIL forces along its borders as a hostile act, and the UN has acquiesced. How is the political process going to work when the UN force is precluded from dealing with the most probable challenges? The Lebanese army — composed largely of Shia and armed with obsolescent weapons — is in no position to disarm Hezbollah or to control the Syrian border.
To compound these complexities, Hezbollah, as a political party, participates in the Lebanese parliament and, on the ministerial level, in the central government. Both institutions generally make decisions by consensus. Hezbollah thus has at least a blocking veto on those issues on which the cooperation of the Beirut government is needed for enforcement.
Hezbollah’s likely next move will be an attempt to dominate the Beirut government by intimidation and using the prestige gained in the war, manipulating democratic procedures. In such a situation, Iran and Syria will be in a stronger position to shape the rules of the ceasefire than the UN forces, which — as experience shows — are likely to be withdrawn when terrorist attacks inflict casualties. The challenge for American policy and all concerned with world order is to recognise that the ceasefire requires purposeful management. A principal objective must be to prevent the rearmament of Hezbollah or its domination of the Lebanese political process. Otherwise, the UN force will provide a shield for creating the conditions for another even more dangerous explosion.
The war in Lebanon has transformed the position of Israel dramatically. Heretofore the Palestinian issue has for all its intensity been about the traditional principles of the state system: the legitimacy of Israel; the creation of a Palestinian state; the drawing of borders between these entities; the security arrangement and rules for peaceful coexistence. From Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s ‘land for peace’ formula, to Saudi Arabia’s offer of peace and mutual recognition, to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s concept of unilateral withdrawal from occupied territories, the so-called peace process was conceived as culminating in an internationally accepted peace between internationally recognised states.
Hezbollah and other rejectionist groups are determined to prevent precisely this evolution. Hezbollah, which took over southern Lebanon, and Hamas and various jihadist groups, which marginalised the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, disdain the schemes of moderate Arab and Israeli leaders. They reject the very existence of Israel, not any particular set of borders.
One of the consequences is that the traditional peace process is now in shambles. After being attacked with missiles from both Gaza and Lebanon launched by non-state jihadists, Israel will find it difficult to view unilateral withdrawal as a road to peace, nor will it be able under current conditions to find a partner to guarantee security. Finally, in the aftermath of Lebanon, the current Israeli government lacks the authority or public support to withdraw even the 80,000 settlers from the West Bank envisaged in the Sharon plan.
At the same time, an indefinite continuation of the status quo is not sustainable. Some new road map must emerge to underpin the comprehensive Mideast policy that must follow the Lebanon war. To deal with the crisis produced by the combination of non-state fanaticism and state power politics, a joint project among America, Europe, and the moderate Arab states is needed to work out a common approach. Only in this manner can a leadership accepting peaceful coexistence emerge in the occupied territories.
Everything returns to the challenge of Iran. It trains, finances, and equips Hezbollah, the state within a state in Lebanon. It finances and supports the Sadr militia, the state within a state in Iraq. It works on a nuclear weapons program, which would drive nuclear proliferation out of control and provide a safety net for the systematic destruction of at least the regional order. The challenge is now about world order more than about adjustments within an accepted framework.
A common Atlantic policy backed by moderate Arab states must become a top priority, no matter how pessimistic previous experience with such projects leaves one. The debate sparked by the Iraq war over American rashness versus European escapism is dwarfed by what the world now faces. Both sides of the Atlantic should put their best minds together on how to deal with the common danger of a wider war merging into a war of civilisations against the background of a nuclear armed Middle East. This cannot be done through ad hoc bargaining over Security Council resolutions; rather, the Security Council resolutions should emerge from an agreed strategy.
Many of the countries in such a grouping have a more optimistic view about the prospects of diplomacy than the American administration. We should be open to these concerns and be prepared to join a serious exploration of prospects for turning away from confrontation. But the European allies need to accept that this process should not be driven by domestic politics or media pressure. It has to include a bottom line beyond which diplomatic flexibility cannot go and a time limit to prevent negotiations from turning into a shield for developing new assaults.
In the Lebanon crisis, one can detect the beginning of such a process. Europe shared enough of the American perception, and America paid enough attention to European concerns, to produce a coordinated diplomacy in the Security Council and to supply a significant peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon.
It remains to be seen whether this cooperation can be sustained in the next phase, specifically, whether the UN effort in Lebanon can become a means to deal with the dangers outlined here or become a way to avoid the necessary decisions. This is even more true of the impending Iran negotiations. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, thoughtful observers have wondered whether the Atlantic ties can be maintained in the absence of a commonly perceived danger. We now know that we face the imperative of building a new world order or potential global catastrophe. It cannot be done alone by either side of the Atlantic. Is that realisation sufficient to regenerate a sense of common purpose?
Henry A Kissinger, a former US Secretary of State, played a key role in formulating US foreign policy during the Cold War
The Tehran Calculus
In his televised Sept. 11 address, President Bush said that we must not "leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons." There's only one such current candidate: Iran.
The next day, he responded thus (as reported by Rich Lowry and Kate O'Beirne of National Review) to a question on Iran: "It's very important for the American people to see the president try to solve problems diplomatically before resorting to military force."
"Before" implies that the one follows the other. The signal is unmistakable. An aerial attack on Iran's nuclear facilities lies just beyond the horizon of diplomacy. With the crisis advancing and the moment of truth approaching, it is important to begin looking now with unflinching honesty at the military option.
The costs will be terrible:
· Economic . An attack on Iran is likely to send oil prices overnight to $100 or even to $150 a barrel. That will cause a worldwide recession perhaps as deep as the one triggered by the Iranian revolution of 1979.
Iran might suspend its own 2.5 million barrels a day of oil exports and might even be joined by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, asserting primacy as the world's leading anti-imperialist. But even more effectively, Iran will shock the oil markets by closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's exports flow every day.
Iran could do this by attacking ships in the Strait, scuttling its own ships, laying mines or just threatening to launch Silkworm anti-ship missiles at any passing tanker.
The U.S. Navy will be forced to break the blockade. We will succeed, but at considerable cost. And it will take time -- during which the world economy will be in a deep spiral.
· Military . Iran will activate its proxies in Iraq, most notably, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Sadr is already wreaking havoc with sectarian attacks on Sunni civilians. Iran could order the Mahdi Army and its other agents within the police and armed forces to take up arms against the institutions of the central government itself, threatening the very anchor of the new Iraq. Many Mahdi will die, but they live to die. Many Iraqis and coalition soldiers are likely to die as well.
Among the lesser military dangers, Iran might activate terrorist cells around the world, although without nuclear capability that threat is hardly strategic. It will also be very difficult to unleash its proxy Hezbollah, now chastened by the destruction it brought upon Lebanon in the latest round with Israel and deterred by the presence of Europeans in the south Lebanon buffer zone.
· Diplomatic. There will be massive criticism of America from around the world. Much of it is to be discounted. The Muslim street will come out again for a few days, having replenished its supply of flammable American flags, most recently exhausted during the cartoon riots. Their governments will express solidarity with a fellow Muslim state, but this will be entirely hypocritical. The Arabs are terrified about the rise of a nuclear Iran and would privately rejoice in its defanging.
The Europeans will be less hypocritical because their visceral anti-Americanism trumps rational calculation. We will have done them an enormous favor by sparing them the threat of Iranian nukes, but they will vilify us nonetheless.
These are the costs. There is no denying them. However, equally undeniable is the cost of doing nothing.
In the region, Persian Iran will immediately become the hegemonic power in the Arab Middle East. Today it is deterred from overt aggression against its neighbors by the threat of conventional retaliation. Against a nuclear Iran, such deterrence becomes far less credible. As its weak, nonnuclear Persian Gulf neighbors accommodate to it, jihadist Iran will gain control of the most strategic region on the globe.
Then there is the larger danger of permitting nuclear weapons to be acquired by religious fanatics seized with an eschatological belief in the imminent apocalypse and in their own divine duty to hasten the End of Days. The mullahs are infinitely more likely to use these weapons than anyone in the history of the nuclear age. Every city in the civilized world will live under the specter of instant annihilation delivered either by missile or by terrorist. This from a country that has an official Death to America Day and has declared since Ayatollah Khomeini's ascension that Israel must be wiped off the map.
Against millenarian fanaticism glorying in a cult of death, deterrence is a mere wish. Is the West prepared to wager its cities with their millions of inhabitants on that feeble gamble?
These are the questions. These are the calculations. The decision is no more than a year away.
Open to interpretation: what 1701 means for Lebanon's security
Analysis by George Jallad
As The Daily Star went to press, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was preparing to release his report on the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. This article by George Jallad illustrates the uncertainties about how the resolution will be interpreted and how these might affect its contribution to stability.
As soon as the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 1701, the Lebanese government publicly declared that it had achieved a diplomatic victory by amending the draft resolution presented by the US and France from Chapter VII to Chapter VI of the UN Charter. What are the reasons behind the government's initiation of a fierce diplomatic war to change the draft resolution to Chapter VI, and was it successful in doing so?
Before answering the above questions, it is essential to shed some light upon the difference between the Council's decisions under Chapter VI and VII of the UN Charter. Chapter VI comes under the title "Pacific Settlement of Disputes." Accordingly, a decision issued by the Council under this Chapter cannot be implemented without the clear consent of the conflicting parties. Such a decision usually includes peaceful ways of settling disputes such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration, in addition to other means mentioned under Article 33 of the Charter.
Chapter VII, on the other hand, comes under the title "Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression." According to this Chapter, the Security Council can impose its decisions upon the conflicting parties despite their will and thus limit the sovereignty of states by threatening and using nonmilitary and military coercive actions. Because of the serious consequences that result from such a resolution, the Charter imposes upon the Council to determine that a certain situation constitutes a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or an act of aggression before enforcing its decisions on the conflicting parties pursuant to Article 39 of the Charter. If the conflicting parties do not comply with the Council's provisional measures under Chapter VII, the Council can intervene in the domestic affairs of the states by imposing economic and military sanctions against the violator. This may explain the Lebanese government's reservations on the Chapter VII draft resolution submitted by the US and France. A Chapter VII resolution might intervene in the domestic affairs of Lebanon through obliging the government of Lebanon to use all means to disarm Hizbullah, which will further deteriorate the situation in Lebanon.
It is important to mention that no Chapter VII resolution can be issued without the Council's determination that a certain situation constitutes a threat to the Peace, Breach of the Peace, or an act of aggression pursuant to Article 39 of the Charter. Do we find such a determination in the resolution under study? Resolution 1701 stipulates in its premises that the Council, "Determining that the situation in Lebanon constitutes a threat to international peace and security..." In this paragraph, the Council clearly triggered a Chapter VII resolution by making an Article 39 determination. Not only did the Council apply Article 39 which falls under Chapter VII, but it also adopted Article 40 which states: "In order to prevent an aggravation of the situation, the Security Council may, before ... deciding upon the measures provided for in Article 39, call upon the parties concerned to comply with such provisional measures as it deems necessary or desirable."
First, with respect to Israel, the resolution "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon... the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." It further calls upon the Government of Israel, as the Lebanese government deploys its forces throughout the South, "to withdraw all its forces from southern Lebanon in parallel." The resolution also "calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution" based upon several principles and elements mentioned in the same resolution.
Second, with respect to Hizbullah, the resolution calls for an "immediate cessation by Hizbullah of all attacks."
Third, with respect to Lebanon, the resolution "calls upon the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL... to deploy their forces together throughout the South" upon the full cessation of hostilities. In addition, it calls for Lebanon to support a permanent cease-fire with Israel based upon the principles mentioned in the resolution. It further "Calls upon the Government of Lebanon to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materials..."
Fourth, the Security Council in its resolution 1701 "Calls the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, including through facilitating the safe return of displaced persons... reopening airports and harbors..." It is important to mention that the Security Council in calling upon all states to take the above measures obliges Israel as a part of the international community to take immediate steps to facilitate the return of refugees and to cease its embargo upon the Lebanese airports and harbors.
These provisional measures must be respected by all parties concerned in this dispute because as explained earlier, this resolution is issued under Chapter VII and is thus considered binding for the states concerned. But what if one of these parties violates the provisions of the resolution? Article 41 of the Charter explicitly states that "The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations..." Furthermore, if these measures proved to be ineffective, the Council may take military action by air, sea, or land forces pursuant to Article 42 of the Charter. The UNSCR 1707 in its Paragraph 15 invokes the spirit of Article 41 when its calls upon all States to take the necessary measures to prevent the sale or supply of arms and related material to any entity or individual in Lebanon in addition to any technical training relating to the manufacture, maintenance, and use of arms. Accordingly, the Council cannot take such a measure unless acting under a Chapter VII resolution.
UNSCR 1701 is a very important and dangerous resolution because any infringement to its provisions may pave the way for coercive sanctions imposed by the Security Council against the violator. This explains the fear of the Lebanese government of a Chapter VII resolution which may impose upon the government certain difficult obligations such as disarming Hizbullah - a highly equipped military resistance according to the Lebanese government and an illegal militant militia according to the international community. Such a resolution may have enormous repercussions upon the Lebanese solidarity if Hizbullah fails to accept disarmament through negotiation, especially since Hizbullah is supported by a large proportion of the Lebanese society. This scenario may force Lebanon into a new version of a civil war.
Not only did the Lebanese government misinterpret the resolution, the Israeli government also fell into some misconception when it considered that the resolution fulfilled its goals in Lebanon. This resolution is precarious for Israel since it is the only Chapter VII resolution related to the Israeli-Lebanese conflict since the creation of Israel. Under this resolution, Israel becomes obliged to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon and thus must cease its frequent violations of the Lebanese borders under the penalty of the Council's activation of its Chapter VII coercive measures. It is important to mention that many Security Council resolutions were issued that demanded Israel to respect the sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon such as UNSCR 425 (1978) and 520 (1982). However, none of these resolutions had the power of the present resolution 1701 since they were all issued under Chapter VI of the Charter and were thus not self-binding to Israel. If Israel violates its obligations under UNSCR 1701, it risks subjecting itself to Chapter VII sanctions of the UN Charter. Whether Israel or Lebanon implements this resolution or not, both must take into consideration the grave repercussions that may result from the violation of the first Chapter VII resolution presiding over the Israeli-Lebanese conflict.
George Jallad is an expert on international affairs and international law and is a professor at the Lebanese American University.
Pride in Hezbollah Fades as Lebanese Query War's Toll (Update1)
By Daniel Williams
Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Pride among Lebanese in surviving the war with Israel has given way to questioning why it all happened, with measures of blame heaped on Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militia that triggered the conflict.
During most of the 33 days of combat, national unity overshadowed unease among many Lebanese about Hezbollah's autonomous armed force. Concern has resurfaced as Lebanon faces the reality of damage to houses, roads and its economy.
``Do I have to pay for someone else's adventure?'' said Abdel Rahman Soubri, 52, a construction worker in Haret Hreik, a heavily bombed, mostly Shiite district of Beirut. Soubri, a Sunni Muslim, said he wasn't protesting from a sectarian point of view. He complained that other militias from Lebanon's turbulent past had given up arms, and Hezbollah should, too. ``Doesn't Hezbollah ever get tired of shooting?'' he asked.
Such views among the Lebanese public -- and among other political groupings in the country -- are calling into question Hezbollah's future place in Lebanon's fractured political landscape, and as a model for other Islamic movements in the Middle East.
Shiite criticism of the movement is harder to come by; many continue to laud Hezbollah for its military prowess. ``The results are simple for us,'' said Samaar Sayeed, 28, a mother of a young boy. ``Israel will not be in Lebanon anymore.''
Even so, Shiites too face a long process of rebuilding their homes and livelihoods. ``Our leader got us into this,'' said a woman who identified herself only as Umm Ali, which means Ali's mother. ``Let's see them fix it.''
Deaths and Damage
Hezbollah ignited the conflict when it abducted two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid. During the war, Hezbollah guerrillas foiled Israel's expressed goals of disarming and dismantling the militia. The count of Lebanese fatalities topped 1,000, and about 130,000 houses and buildings were damaged. Government officials estimate the cost of reconstruction at $3.5 billion.
Lebanon had been debating Hezbollah's military role since Israel ended its 17-year occupation of south Lebanon in 2000. Hezbollah, a political party whose militia dates from the 1980s, waged a war of attrition against the Israeli forces. The party and its militia are supported by Syria and Iran, and accused by the United States and Israel of masterminding terrorist operations.
While two United Nations Security Council Resolutions -- in 2004 and this year -- call for Hezbollah to be disarmed, the group's leaders argue that its weapons are needed to protect the border region. Rival parties in Lebanon counter that only the central government can take responsibility for the nation's defense, and that Hezbollah is an Iranian tool.
Danger for Lebanon
The danger for Lebanon, which was split by civil war from 1975 to 1990, lies in the possible repercussions of these competing views, according to Joseph Bahout, a professor at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris.
``Lebanese have a very costly and painful experience with opposing narratives, with stories of one party's triumph turning out to be another's debacle,'' Bahout wrote in the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper. ``When an entire sector of society is depicted as having a deeply different sense of belonging, identity and collective goals and when that sector is moreover accused of being a hostile foreigner's proxy, then the `enemy within' has arrived and strife is not very far away.''
Lebanese analysts say that Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah indirectly acknowledged evolving opinions of the war within the country in a Lebanese television interview Aug. 27. Referring to the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers, he said, ``Had I known that capturing the soldiers would lead to this result, I never would have done it.''
His comments unleashed criticism from rival Lebanese politicians, and he modified them in an interview with the as- Safir newspaper published Sept. 5. ``I say we did not make a mistake in judgment,'' Nasrallah said. ``Our calculations were correct, and we do not regret it.''
Nasrallah warned against efforts ``to tarnish the image of victory gradually by means of provocation until it is permanently destroyed.''
That left supporters in the unaccustomed position of offering up spin: Was Nasrallah repentant or not? ``He was just reminding that Israel was responsible for the damage,'' said Naim Bilal, a member of Hezbollah's Islamic Institution for Education and Teaching.
`Didn't Want All This'
``No, Nasrallah's first comment was an admission,'' said Gebran Bassil, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party that is allied politically with Hezbollah, ``He didn't want all this to happen.''
In any case, political rivals took Nasrallah to task. Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon's Druze minority criticized Hezbollah's raid into Israel and argued that Hezbollah is too beholden to Iran to give up its weapons and take a purely political role in Lebanon.
``Do they really want a Lebanese state or do they want an open battlefield that would serve Iran's interests?'' Jumblatt asked in an Aug. 31 interview on al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based television news network.
Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat, while steering clear of criticizing Hezbollah, acknowledged that the glow is fading from its military achievements. ``Hezbollah could become less influential,'' he said in an interview. ``In a few weeks, even Shiites might be asking where all this warfare got them.''
Ministers from Hezbollah's political wing weren't attending a meeting Lebanese politicians were scheduled to have with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Beirut today. Lebanese television showed pictures of crowds in central Beirut protesting against the visit by Blair, who refused to condemn the Israeli bombardment.
Censure of Hezbollah in Lebanon has jump-started negative media commentary in other Arab countries. Even as Hezbollah's military prowess electrified large parts of the Arab population, it horrified governments that feared being drawn into war. Monarchies and secular dictatorships in the Middle East are also contending with Islamic political movements that challenge their right to govern.
``As much as we salute the leader of the resistance for his courage and honesty, we must blame those who sought to falsify facts and considered the recent conflict a heroic act, strategic choice and a war for freedom and liberation,'' Abdul Rahman Al- Rashed, general manager of al-Arabiya, wrote in a-Sharq al- Awsat, a newspaper funded by Saudi Arabia.
``It is important that Arab citizens become aware of the difference between political fraud and facts on the ground,'' he said. ``Those who cheered the war and attacked those who sought to discuss it are leading the nation to more destruction.''
Timor Goksel, who for 20 years served as spokesman for United Nations peacekeepers in south Lebanon and now teaches at the American University of Beirut, said he considers what Lebanese think to be a better gauge of Hezbollah's future than outside Arab opinion.
``Winning the Arab street won't mean anything to Hezbollah if it loses its appeal in Lebanon,'' said Goksel, who retired in 2003. ``Hezbollah doesn't have an easy road here.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Beirut at email@example.com .
Last Updated: September 11, 2006 06:35 EDT
FBI keeps its eyes fixed on Hezbollah
When Hamas and Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers this summer and the Israeli military lashed back in Gaza and Lebanon, the FBI quietly stepped up its scrutiny of the two groups, particularly Hezbollah, which law-enforcement authorities say raises money selling bootleg tobacco and counterfeit goods in California.
The anniversary of the Sept. 11 hijackings has Americans thinking about al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. But the pressure on al-Qaidas top leadership and increasing U.S. confrontation with Iran has many counterterrorism experts looking at the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah as an equal, if not greater, threat.
Hezbollahs access to Iranian money, arms and military training has created the kind of guerrilla force that can fight the Israeli military to a stalemate and it has more of a presence inside the United States than al-Qaida, though neither Hezbollah nor Hamas ever has attacked within the country.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has called Hezbollah the A-team ofterrorists. Pat DAmuro, former executive assistant FBI director for counterterrorism and intelligence, said in a phone interview Friday that Hezbollah is very well-funded, very well-trained. They have tremendous capacity.
If they started getting involved attacking the U.S., in my opinion it would make al-Qaida look like the B team, DAmuro said.
Beyond identifying Hezbollah operatives, the questions for the FBI are whether they have military skills, are recruiting Americans to their cause, or are preparing for strikes inside the United States or abroad.
Obviously, everyone had to look hard at that issue, said David Ego, assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism for the FBIs San Francisco Division. It was a concern that U.S. citizens and interests might be targeted domestically and overseas as a result of those incidents at the Israel-Lebanon border. We took a hard look, and we continue to take a hard look.
Hezbollah was born out of scattered Shiite resistance to Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 1982. The revolutionary government in Iran united the movement and supplied it with arms, training and financial support to fight Israel and partly to capitalize on the successful taking of U.S. hostages in Tehran.
They felt it was effective to form this organization to bring the United States to its knees, said DAmuro, now chairman and CEO of Giuliani Security and Safety.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Hezbollah was the worlds most lethal terrorist group, credited with 200 attacks and 800 deaths. Its spectacular truck bombings killed 241 Marines in Beirut in 1982 and 19 Americans in the Khobar Towers in 1996, as well as destruction in the early 1990s of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The group took multiple Americans hostage in Lebanon, including CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley, who was tortured for a year before being killed.
The Reagan administration started covertly trading arms to Iran as ransom for Buckley first, then other American hostages in what became the Iran-Contra affair. By the time the first shipment of TOW missiles arrived in Iran, Buckley already was dead.
One book claims former CIA director William Casey agonized over a Hezbollah-delivered tape of Buckley having a pipe forced down his throat and being pumped full of water.
The United States and several allies have declared Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and sought to freeze its assets worldwide. But Europe has resisted in part because Hezbollah provides food, education, housing and the closest thing in southern Lebanon to an effective government.
Hezbollah never has attacked within the United States but, according to former FBI counterterrorism analyst Matthew Levitt, a 2002 FBI analysis concluded that 50 to 100 Hamas and Hezbollah operatives had entered the country.
For the better part, they are fundraisers, blended into sizable Lebanese American communities in Detroit and Dearborn, Mich., New York City and Charlotte, N.C.
In testimony to Congress last year, Levitt said the best U.S. intelligence estimates suggest Hezbollah receives $20 million to $30million a year from criminal fundraising activities, such as stealing and reselling baby formula, welfare and food stamp fraud, grocery coupon scams and credit card fraud.
In California, the group has been tied to sales of knockoff Gucci handbags, Louis Vuitton watches and Prada shoes, as well as pirated CDs and DVDs and bootleg tobacco. Some money sustains operatives here, and the rest goes to southern Lebanon.
Theyre very proficient, said Dennis Lormel, former head of the FBIs financial crimes division. Its like an organized crime family.
One Lebanese woman who owned a chain of cigarette stores was stopped trying to fly out of Los Angeles International Airport and found to have $230,000 strapped to her body. Customs officers later seized more than 1,000 cartons of bootleg cigarettes and $70,000 in cash.
Anytime you see somebody that raises money for the bad guys, whether Hamas or al-Qaida or Hezbollah, those same guys are quite likely going to be involved in military activities, said Chris Hamilton, the FBIs former chief of Palestinian terrorist investigations.
The boosted attention to Hezbollah and other Iranian-sponsored terror activities in the United States follows three times in recent years when Iranian diplomats were ejected from the country after being observed photographing subways, power plants and other potential targets.
Theres no doubt in my mind that Hezbollah has conducted intelligence domestically that would allow them to conduct attacks here, said DAmuro.
Some experts consider Hezbollah the equivalent of a loaded gun pointed at U.S. civilians, an instrument of deterrence by Tehran. A U.S. military assault on Iran could trigger Hezbollah attacks inside the United States.
But the group is thought unlikely to mount domestic U.S. attacks for fear of military reprisal against Tehran. There are no signs so far that the recent conflict in Lebanon or the U.S. supply of bombs to Israel has triggered preparations for domestic attacks.
We havent seen any type of operational activity here in the Bay Area, said Ego (pronounced Egg-o) of the FBIs San Francisco office.
I think it would require direct action against them (Iran), said Hamilton, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. But it can get more complicated. Say if Israel targeted (Hezbollah leader Hassan) Nasrallah and got him, it could be that Hezbollah would target Jewish or Israeli targets all over the world, though probably not here.
The bigger complication comes if Iran, whose president has said Israel must be wiped off the map, enriches enough uranium for nuclear bombs.
Just as Israeli jets bombed a nuclear reactor intended to produce weapons plutonium for Iraq, Israel could launch a preemptive strike against Irans nuclear facilities. That scenario could plunge the region into all-out war and, experts say, trigger attacks inside the United States.
Contact Ian Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lebanon Left to Face Most Basic of Issues
By Edward Cody
BIKFAYA, Lebanon -- From the terrace of former president Amin al-Gemayel's ancestral mansion, Lebanon appeared so beautiful that it seemed it should go on forever. Traditional houses of ocher stone huddled far below in close-knit villages, and churches with tiny domes stood sentinel along the twisting roads. In the distance, the Mediterranean gleamed under a warm Middle Eastern sun.
But the recent 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah has raised fundamental questions about Lebanon's future and its identity, straining the political institutions on which the country was built, perhaps to the breaking point. In Bikfaya, Gemayel's tranquil little town in the hills behind Beirut, and across the rest of Lebanon, people have begun to think that their country and its historic melding of Christians with Muslims may not prevail after all.
"Lebanon is at a crossroads," said Gemayel, who was president during wars from 1982 to 1988. "Either we draw the lessons from the war and build a Lebanon that is genuinely democratic and liberal, and an example of intercommunal coexistence, or we are headed for the disintegration of Lebanon."
In their own ways, Israel and the Bush administration have grappled with the same problem in Lebanon. In parallel policies, they have insisted that Hezbollah disarm and fully join in the Lebanese political process. But because Lebanon's political institutions do not reflect Hezbollah's wider support in the population, the militant Shiite Muslim movement has made it clear that greater changes will be needed before it lays down its arms.
The Gemayel family, Maronite Christians, had a lot to do with the creation of Lebanon's old landscape, a place where Christians and Muslims coexisted and business flourished while the tax man looked the other way. Amin al-Gemayel's father, Pierre, was a pharmacist who became a leader of the independence movement. His elder brother, Bashir, was president briefly in 1982 before being assassinated at the behest of the Syrian government.
The Lebanon most foreigners think of -- tolerant, easy-living, Western-oriented -- bore the imprint of Maronite families such as the Gemayels, and not by accident. France, the mandate power here until just after World War II, originally carved Lebanon off from Syria to provide a place for the Maronites in the predominantly Muslim Middle East. They made it into a "hinge country," linking East and West.
To rule the new country and preserve its unusual personality, France left behind a system under which the president and the army commander must be Maronites, giving decisive power to what was then the major community. The prime minister was to be Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.
Lebanon's demography has changed drastically since then. No official census has been taken, a reflection of how delicate the issue is here. But academics said that over the past two decades, Shiites have become a plurality -- estimates range from 32 percent to 45 percent of the population -- and Maronites a minority of less than a quarter. With Sunni Muslims and other sects counted, the overall balance has changed to more than 60 percent Muslim.
Hezbollah's emergence as a political party and armed militia was in large measure a response to that shift. In effect, the organization stepped in to represent Shiites because many of them felt the government did not, particularly in the southern hills along the border with Israel.
"We are not a replacement for the state," Hasan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, said in a recent televised interview. "But where the state is absent, we have to take up the slack."
The war with Israel further dramatized the gap between Lebanon's institutions and its new political demography. Communal strains had been swept under the rug for years under the leadership of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005. But in the crucible of a destructive, bloody war, those strains suddenly seemed glaring.
Lebanon's official, Maronite-led army sat out the conflict, for instance, while Hezbollah's militia, which was better armed, did the fighting and dying. President Emile Lahoud, the other Maronite pillar of power, was also on the sidelines because of his association with Syria, an ally of Hezbollah.
As a result, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni economist, spoke in the name of Lebanon and received foreign visitors such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for negotiations about the war. But he had to check with Nasrallah regarding important decisions, because Hezbollah was the seat of Lebanon's real power of war or peace.
"What institutions do we have?" asked Social Affairs Minister Nayla Moawad, a Maronite and the widow of assassinated president René Moawad. "We have inherited a non-administration. The Lebanese government is like this box," she said, holding up a silver coffee-table decoration. "There is nothing in it. It is empty."
Moawad and other Christians, along with Sunni Muslims, have stressed that the right response is strengthening the Lebanese government. Hezbollah must recognize that only the state can have the power of arms, they said, and it must turn away from Iranian-style theocracy to become part of the relaxed mix that has made Lebanon so attractive over the years to investors and Arab vacationers.
"It is up to Hezbollah to make this decision," Gemayel said. "Unfortunately, Lebanon is hanging on the choice."
Although the country's Sunni establishment fought the Maronites in the 1950s and again in the 1970s in the heyday of Arab nationalism, it has recoiled at Hezbollah's politically charged brand of Islam and its ties with Iran. In the debate over Lebanon's identity, conducted before the war in a round of meetings called the National Dialogue, most Sunnis opted for alliance with the Maronites and endorsed their demand for Hezbollah's disarmament.
"Nasrallah has been lying to us all along," sneered a Sunni minister in describing Hezbollah's participation in the National Dialogue.
Nasrallah has gone out of his way to reassure fellow Lebanese that Hezbollah has no intention of remaking Lebanon to look like Iran. In his recent interview, he pledged loyalty to the Lebanese tradition of religious and social tolerance.
"Lebanon is a pluralistic country," he declared. "It is not an Islamic country. It is not a Maronite country. It is not an Orthodox country. It is not a Shiite country. It is a country of consensus. You have nothing to fear from anybody from Hezbollah."
But Nasrallah's pledge was not well received by many Sunnis and Maronites. Hezbollah only weeks ago went to war without consulting the government, they noted, and moved as soon as the cease-fire took effect to help refugees without reference to government agencies charged with the same task.
Perhaps more important, they noted, was Nasrallah's postwar assertion that Hezbollah must be taken into account in government deliberations from here on out. The party ran for office in the last elections, gaining seats in parliament and two ministers in Siniora's cabinet. But Nasrallah seemed to be saying his group will be seeking more power now that, in his words, it has fought a war on Lebanon's behalf.
A share of power that reflects the Shiites' true place in the population would probably change Lebanon's orientation significantly, the Sunni and Maronite observers predicted. But a refusal to acknowledge the demographic change and Hezbollah's enhanced status after the war, they said, would be a recipe for more intercommunal conflict. As a result, the timeless view from Gemayel's terrace may be in for a change.
"I don't see Lebanon surviving as it is today," said Dori Chamoun, leader of the Maronite-based National Liberal party and son of a former president and longtime political figure, the late Camille Chamoun. "It is inevitable that the Christians will have a smaller share of the country. I only see one solution, cantonization. Everybody wants it. Nobody says it out loud."
In a recent book, Gemayel proposed abandoning Lebanon's current system and replacing it with election of the president by popular vote and decentralization along the geographical lines that largely define where Muslims and Christians live in any case. "The institutions of Lebanon are tired," he said. "They are drained of their blood."
The losers in such a change would largely be Sunni Muslims, Chamoun pointed out, because by and large they have not carved out sections of the country as theirs. Public Works Minister Mohamad Safadi, a Sunni who lives in Beirut, said he was discussing the problem with his wife recently and reassured her that, if worse comes to worst, they could always live in their weekend house -- in the quintessentially Christian port of Byblos.
The Illusionary Gains of the Syrian Strategy
There are three important events that await Lebanon that may shake region: the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and on the same day the submission of Secretary General Kofi Annan’s report on the implementation of international Resolution 1701 and lastly, the report by international investigator Serge Brammertz into the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
The two states that are directly involved in the armament of Hezbollah had “promised” the UN Secretary-General that they would cooperate in the implementation of Resolution 1701. On the other hand, Annan had agreed with the Syrian president Bashar al Assad that the time has come for the revival of peace efforts in the region in order to establish comprehensive peace according to international resolutions. Annan stressed to the Syrian president that the revival of the peace process through Syria is on the UN’s agenda and that several world leaders have realized that the only way to achieve peace is by the initiation of the peace process.
The two states that Kofi Annan then visited were Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are also considered competitive key players in the Lebanese arena following the Hezbollah-Israel war. However, this war, as one western politician described it, would not be confined to the Middle East and will extend to west Asia because of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the crisis in Afghanistan and the Israel-Lebanon war, which are all linked together and promote for one another. Professor Fred Halliday, an expert on the Middle East further asserted that “The Gulf connection with the Arab-Israeli conflict, the events that are unfolding in Afghanistan and the policies of Iran, the Arab countries as well as Pakistan and the Middle East as a whole, have become a reality in recent years. The western politician said that linking Pakistan with the Middle East as a whole, or what the former Pakistani president Zia al Haq had talked about in the seventies, had become a reality and one of the most important of consequences may be the recent war in Lebanon. He added, “The importance of Iran has been highlighted in the geopolitical scene of the region from the Arab Middle East to the Gulf, thanks to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon.”
It is well known that Iran fully funds Hezbollah. The large sum that was given by Tehran to Hezbollah of “$600-700 million” after the cease-fire to compensate those who had lost their homes, was a clear sign of Iran and Syria’s readiness to have the greatest influence in south Lebanon. This step was taken to counter the Saudi hope to lead the reconstruction efforts in Lebanon. The Lebanese government has announced that it is ready to donate $33,000 to each family that lost its home as a result of Israeli aggression, however the government stated that it would demand proof before handing over this sum of money and this portrayed Hezbollah in a better light as it relied upon on its own committees to check the afflicted areas and swiftly provide the necessary funds to homeless families.
Following the government’s announcement that it would compensate citizens for their losses, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, stated that in case the government faltered in any way regarding payments, Hezbollah, or rather Iran would be prepared to cover the costs. It would not be in the interest of Saudi Arabia or any of the other donating countries to spread rumors about the inefficiency of the relief efforts and this defect should be eliminated.
Another challenge that Saudi Arabia faces in Lebanon is presented by Qatar. This small emirate, which is working hard to counter Saudi influence, hoped to expand its political and economic influence beyond the GCC countries and looked for a way outside of the Gulf region to weaken Saudi influence. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, exerted much effort to improve Syria’s image in the eyes of the United States and strengthen its role in the Lebanese political system once again. It is known that Qatar has taken on the role of mediator between Syria on one hand and the United States and Israel on the other hand. Through such contact, as one Lebanese official had stated, Qatar is trying to distance Syria from Iran and to clear the Syrian government of involvement in the assassination of the slain Lebanese former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. He adds, “Qatar offered financial support to Syria’s allies in Lebanon to prepare themselves for victory in the next elections.”
Sheikh Hamad, the first head of state to visit Beirut after the cease-fire, visited the Lebanese capital on August 21, the same day that he met the Syrian President, Bashar al Assad in Damascus. Sheikh Hamad pledged to rebuild the damaged areas of Bint Jbeil and al Khiam. As for Saudi Arabia, it had promised to donate one and a half billion dollars to rebuild ten villages and to support the Lebanese Central Bank. This highlights the fact that the economic situation in Lebanon after the war had attracted a regional competition. Lebanon expressed its gratitude for Saudi support, however the competition that is clearly against Saudi Arabia, not only by Iran but also Qatar, can no longer be denied.
The flexibility shown by the Syrian president during his meeting with the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had differed greatly to his escalatory and menacing standpoint after the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah. Previously, Bashar al Assad had scoffed at the notion of the new Middle East and considered moderate Arab leaders incompetent. He also criticized politicians who opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon for their demands that Hezbollah hand over its weapons to the army, calling them agents of Israel.
Despite the regional and international isolation from which Syria is suffering, Assad has derived his strength from the recent victory of Syria’s ally, Hezbollah over Israel regardless of the destruction that it caused to Lebanon. What is more important than this verbal attack was Syria’s immediate resort to Iran. The western politician attributed this to Washington’s attempts to isolate Damascus and the deterioration of Saudi-Syrian relations after the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
It is for these reasons that Assad wages on his country’s alliance with Iran as he knows that Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which are two conventional pathways for Syrian contact with Washington, would not stand by Syria if the investigation into the Hariri assassination disclosed Syrian involvement. Based on this it seems Assad had agreed on Hezbollah’s operation that begun 12 July. A Lebanese official said, “The Syrian President may not know the full details of the operation, however, this does not rule out Hezbollah consulting Tehran and Damascus. The two states had agreed but the green light was given by Tehran. The Hezbollah operation worked in the interest of the Syrian president as it caused unrest in South Lebanon and could help him eliminate some risks that threaten his regime even if limited and temporary.
On the international level, as the Lebanese official said, “The confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah is the only way that the Syrian president can improve relations with Washington. Assad implicitly sought to convey that the Syrian presence in Lebanon had its advantages, the most prominent of which was controlling Hezbollah. Assad’s objective revolved and still revolves around Washington’s varying position towards Syria, as he feels that despite all efforts to control the Iraqi-Syrian borders and prevent the flow of Islamic militants, Washington’s real goal is to completely change the Syrian regime rather than just its behavior. Then came Hezbollah’s operation and Syria’s belief that Washington would ask Damascus to stop Hezbollah, and in that case, Syria would have asked for the Hariri investigation to be closed. What added to Syria’s hopes was the explicit American discourse that highlighted the importance of communication with Syria, as well as calls from Israeli officials to resume peace talks over the Golan Heights. However, as credible reports have shown, these requests have not materialized and the Syrian president has failed to achieve his strategic gains because American administration had rejected opening the channels of communication with Damascus.
What had angered Assad was that Washington and Paris had succeeded in achieving a cease-fire and issuing an international resolution without consulting Syria. Syria made its complaints about Arab states, with the exception of Qatar, for presenting initiatives without Syria knowing. Furthermore, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had rejected the recommencement of negotiations with Syria so that it would not feel as if this was a result of the recent war, even though such attempts and channels would have further preserved the Syrian regime.
The incremental goals that Syria has achieved because of the war in Lebanon are simply illusory gains, as after the war, American administration was more determined to topple the current Syrian administration. Moreover, Olmert effused to resume peace talks. What adds to this dilemma was Assad’s dauntless destruction of Syrian relations with other Arab countries that could have supported the Syrian president through his imminent ordeal.
Finally and despite the weakness and fragmentation of the Syrian opposition, the isolation of the Syrian regime on both regional and international levels will undoubtedly have an affect. Despite promises made to the UN Secretary General, it is likely that Syria will continue to send Iranian and Syrian weapons to Hezbollah. Its attempts to provoke regional instability is what we could call digging a hole for itself internally, regionally and internationally, especially that the Lebanese arena has become a playground for regional and international players. The repercussions of the recent war have begun to emerge through Iraqi Kurdistan or even through the upcoming meeting between the American president and Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf that will be held this month.
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