Across the Bay

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Dangerous Liaisons

A few days ago, I wrote at some length on the Hariri, Hizbullah, and Aoun dynamics.

In that post, I cautioned against an Aoun rapprochement with Hizbullah that would undermine the Seniora government and the moderate center. Today, Hisham Milhem, An-Nahar's Washington correspondent, quotes anonymous sources as saying that Washington is firmly behind Seniora and is strongly upset at Aoun's unjustified campaign against the cabinet, adding that this is to be expected from Hizbullah, but not Aoun. Read: don't even think of allying with Hizbullah against Seniora's cabinet.

Let's see how Aoun reacts. Mustapha over at Beirut Spring also noted this report and commented on it. Mustapha sees it through the prism of Syria's counter-campaign and Aoun's presidential aspirations. That may be true, but I don't think that's what's driving Aoun's decisions, despite my dsiagreements with them.

Aoun's aspirations certainly play a role in his abstaining from attacking Lahoud and the office of the President. It's also arguable that his insistence on government accountability through his role as the opposition also comes into play. But his dialogue with Hizbullah also has to do with his attempt to get them to disarm peacefully, as well as possibly with his broadening his base of support as a middleman between the Shi'a and the Sunnis. Whether Aoun actually believes he can get guarantees for a Hizbullah disarmament is not certain, although I've heard my sources tell me that he does. I have trouble believing that. Not the fact that he may believe it, but that Hizbullah will actually guarantee to disarm. I think his dialogue with them is good, as long as it's actually a real dialogue.

But is this why he went along with Hizbullah in criticizing the cabinet (although, it should be added that he stopped short of a vote of confidence)? Is it also the reason why, as noted immediately by Hariri's al-Mustaqbal, he didn't follow Seniora in attacking the Syrian role in the recent violence in Lebanon?

Mustapha failed to note what Hizbullah's MP Ali Ammar had to say in the parliamentary session, which was reported by al-Mustaqbal:

Ali Ammar approached the security question from the angle of what he called "the political identity," stressing that "we cannot talk about security without invoking the political identity." He saw this identity as "good relations with Syria and the resistance." Ammar cautioned that "those who think of pursuing Syria through the Lebanese gate are delusional," pointing out that "in recent days, the country has been lacking the language of Arabism," adding, "I haven't heard any talk about the Israeli enemy." He declared that "whoever has a problem with the Syrian regime, the problem is not solved by targeting Syria." (Emphasis mine.)

The reason why I emphasized the bit on Arabism, and its absence from the Lebanese discourse [read: Seniora's and Hariri's discourse], is because it confirms some of what I wrote in my post on Hariri, Hizbullah and Arabism. Contrast that statement with what Seniora said, as he once again rejected Hizbullah's smear campaign that accused him of selling out to the US and Israel and imperialism, etc. (For those who read Arabic, I wonder if his comment on the policy statement was also an indirect jab at Hizbullah.)

Aoun could never have said this, and it needed to be (the Sunni) Seniora backed by the Hariri block. The Aounists brought up the full implementation of the clause in UNR 1559 that deals with disarming the Palestinian camps (I think al-Mustaqbal read too much into that supposed distinction between the "camps" as opposed to the pro-Syrian Palestinian factions. I think they meant the entirety of the Palestinian weapons.)

Whether the Aounists' muzzled statements had anything to do with Aoun's attempt at building bridges with Hizbullah is not sure. But I don't see how it will help him. I don't worry about all the Syrian sycophants like Karami, Obeid or Frangieh coming to meet him and making statements afterwards. But if he starts to condition his rhetoric based on his talks with Hizbullah, it could backfire.

Hizbullah's disarmament should be an issue for the government, and Aoun should present his proposal or his backing in that framework. Seniora recently said that the mechanisms of dialogue on HA's weapons should be clarified. Aoun cannot allow Hizbullah to build a counter-consensus under the pretext of dialoguing with individual parties, regardless what his aspirations are and what he thinks he can accomplish with HA.

Update: I just found out some more of what the Aounist MPs said during the session. MP Ibrahim Kanaan called on the government to decide who is friend and who is foe: is it Syria, the Palestinian weapons, or "ghosts." He then asked why hasn't there been any contact with any Syrian official to this minute. He added by asking until when our relation with Syria will be delegated to Mehlis, and with the Palestinians to Terje Roed-Larsen?

MP Farid el-Khazen, who has serious problems with Hizbullah, asked about the security plan, when it will be issued and how long it needs to be implemented. He added, if [as Hizbullah's mantra maintains] spreading the Army along the southern border serves Israel's interests, then why not spread it along the borders with Syria? Moreover, el-Khazen said, "the Palestinian weapons, after the establishment of a Palestinian Authority, and the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, has no relation to the liberation, which did not take place across Syrian, Lebanese, or Jordanian borders, but happened in the interior, on Palestinian soil." He asserted, "Palestinian weapons will not guarantee the right of return for the Palestinians inside the camps and outside them. Why are the Palestinians willing to let themselves be used as fuel for others trying to set a fire. Why don't they raise their weapons for liberation or right of return in Syria or Jordan?"

Going back to the issue of the borders with Syria, Khazen requested that it be put under the control of the Army, "despite the allegations by some who were in charge who said that it was incapable of fulfilling its duties." Such charges were made by Karami, but also by Hasan Nasrallah. So it's clear that on the Palestinian issue, and its ties to Syria and the question of the borders, there is still lots of disagreements between the Aounists and HA. In addition, MP Ghassan Mkheiber remarked that a true dialogue with HA regarding their weapons is still missing to this minute.

As for HA's Ali Ammar, he even denied that what's being smuggled by pro-Syrian Palestinians from Syria was weapons, claiming it was diesel fuel!!

Update 2: Aoun as middleman (Jumblat must be fuming): Mustapha at Beirut Spring alerts us to the meeting that took place between Aoun's representative MP Nabil Nicholas, and MP Saad Hariri, which in Nicholas' words, "was very good and very positive. It lasted a bit more than 3 hours in which we spoke of all matters. There was a consensus around all political and security issues, and the results will start showing up on the ground soon. He (Mr. Hariri) also sends a message of appreciation and respect to general Aoun and commends his honesty and transparency".

It's a natural alliance, as I've said before. Let's hope it works. But as much as I am weary of the dangers and pitfalls of Aoun's ties to HA, you can't fault him for not burning his bridges. Because in the end, why should he put himself, like I said, facing the barrel of the gun on this issue when the people who are supposed to be doing something on this matter, the Seniora cabinet and its back-up in Parliament, are silent about HA's weapons? I strongly think that Aoun should not undermine Seniora's cabinet (and that's the dangerous possible outcome, that HA probably want), but Seniora needs to clarify his stance, and take a firm one on this issue, so that Aoun could back it. Or else, he'll (Aoun) be left out to hang in the cold. Why should he do that? That's why I mentioned that Seniora's recent assertiveness against HA was good, and his saying that the mechanism of the dialogue regarding disarmament should be clarified and established, was also good. But he needs to do more. He also should stop trying to be too easy with HA regarding the security and intelligence apparatus, because the security of the country is in jeopardy. If HA decides to take issue, let them be the ones to come out and say it and face the consequences in public opinion.