Across the Bay

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hooked on Lebanon

The always interesting Gary Gambill has an excellent, and devastating, article in MEQ, that is truly required reading in order to understand the depth of the Syrian colonization of Lebanon, and the corruption of its clientele in the country.

It explains why so many of Syria's clients object to World Bank demands, or to domestic calls for reform. It also clarifies why so many of them wanted specific portfolios in the cabinet. I should also remind readers of another excellent piece of reporting I had linked to in the Spring, Hazem al-Amin's report on Hizbullah's role in the drug industry in the Bekaa.

The section of Gambill's article that deals with the infamous debacle over the mobile phone industry is quite telling (though, it may not come as a surprise to many). Gambill leaves out Lahoud's role (through his sidekick, Jean-Louis Qordahi) in that fiasco. But his role sheds more light on the link to internal Syrian power struggles that Gambill explores:

Until recently, for example, Lebanon's cell phone market was dominated by two companies: LibanCell and Cellis. On paper, Ali and Nizar Dalloul, two sons of a former Lebanese defense minister, owned 86 percent of LibanCell, but both were widely rumored to be fronting for Syrian vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam and former Syrian chief of staff Hikmat Shihabi.
Hariri, however, was no Syrian puppet. In making senior Syrian officials such as Khaddam and Shihabi rich, Hariri bought himself a bloc of support within the Syrian regime whose interests were not fully in line with those of the Assad family. Lebanon may have been in Syria's pocket, but factions of the Syrian regime were effectively in Hariri's pocket.

After assuming control of the "Lebanon file" as part of his political apprenticeship, however, Bashar al-Assad ousted Hariri in 1998 and shifted power to Lebanon's military-intelligence elite, led by President Emile Lahoud. Bashar quickly found that Hariri was more dangerous out of office. Although Hariri returned to power after a two-year hiatus, his increasingly confrontational relationship with the Syrians was largely a reaction to this demotion.

Readers are aware that the first people to be dumped after Bashar ordered Hariri's assassination were Khaddam and Shihabi. If you also remember what I had written after Hariri's murder about how Khaddam rushed to Lebanon after the attempt on MP Hamade to ensure that he had nothing to do with the hit. This once again confirms what I repeatedly emphasized regarding the "Old Guard" vs. "New Guard" nonsense. It also confirms the testimony of former Hariri aide Nouhad Mashnouq regarding the horrible relationship between Bashar and Hariri from the very beginning. The cell phone fight between Lahoud and Hariri was as much a fight between Bashar and Hariri as it was between Bashar and Khaddam and Shihabi.

You really need to read the whole thing. But this adds another element to Bashar's direct role in Hariri's murder. He's in it up to his nose.

Also, don't miss Ghassan Tueni's editorial in An-Nahar. It's got a devastating critique of Syrian regional strategies that dovetails well with Gambill's article. Once you read both you'll get a sense why I am so skeptical of Josh Landis' proposals and why I think they're both credulous and inherently paradoxical. In essence, they turn a blind eye to the reality of Bashar's regime.