Across the Bay

Friday, September 29, 2006

Syria, Iran, Hezbollah: The Destruction of Lebanon

Hazem Saghieh pens a short, dark piece on the choice that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah have imposed on Lebanon:

Either Lebanon becomes a mini-Iran garrison state/battlefront ruled by Hezbollah with a bunch of minor satellites like Aoun et al., or it becomes a mini-Iraq with al-Qaeda roaming around blowing things up, as Assad and his thugs have been saying explicitly for months now. Syria, after all, as Barry Rubin recently put it, is today (with Iran) a state sponsor of al-Qaeda.

The choice is: death by [Hezbollah's] rockets or death by [al-Qaeda's] car bombs.

But as Saghieh notes, it's likely that many Lebanese won't stand idly by and watch this happen. Hence the rally by the Lebanese Forces, the responses of Jumblat and Hariri. This is Lebanon: there's a compact of minorities. Once one party decides to break the compact, the rest will challenge it.

As Gebran Tueni, who was murdered by Assad's thugs, wrote almost 20 years ago, as Hezbollah was killing fellow Lebanese Shiites from Amal (yes, learn your history, Hezbollah killed other Lebanese, unlike what their propaganda says), the Lebanese will not allow Hezbollah to "Iranify" Lebanon. The late Tueni is today being echoed by Walid Jumblat. It's not coincidental that Jumblat says that his break with Hezbollah came after their jubilant reaction to Tueni's murder by their Syrian allies. Hezbollah, being the private army of another state, is bound to Iran, and has made its strategic choice with Syria. As such, as Jumblat said, Hezbollah has chosen to break the (national) agreement, in alliance with Syria and Iran.

That's what Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah have to offer: death.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

William Harris on the Third Brammertz Report

Once again, William Harris offers a highly insightful and intelligent reading of the latest Brammertz report. Unlike the usual nonsense of the regime flaks, Harris rightly sees that the finger is not only squarely and exclusively aimed at the Assad regime and its underlings in Lebanon, but that Brammertz is very deliberately eliminating any such ridiculous theories as "free-lance Islamists" (like the incredibly transparent statement made the thug Assad himsef in an interview full of threats which he gave to Der Spiegel. He said the same people who attacked the embassy in Damascus are the ones that killed Hariri! But in a way, if you think Assad was behind the attack against the embassy, the statement is very true!). Brammertz is also emphasizing the "political environment" in Lebanon much more explicitly, and has linked the other attacks much more closely. Brammertz is looking ahead to the trial.

I'm reproducing the piece in full, as the Daily Star now restricts access after a few days. I will be addressing this issue shortly with my own analysis, which is very close to Harris.

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A cautious report, but lots between the lines

By William Harris
Commentary
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In his brilliant book "April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici," the Renaissance historian Lauro Martines dissects the April 1478 murder plot against Lorenzo de Medici and his brother [Giuliano], which involved the rival Florentine Pazzi family and implicated Pope Sixtus IV and the King of Naples.

In contrast to the fate of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lorenzo survived the assassination attempt. However, events later forced him to make a humiliating visit and obeisance to the pope who had encouraged his would-be killers. In today's Lebanon, only the determination of the international community expressed in the continuing progress of the United Nations inquiry into Hariri's murder stands between Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and similar humiliation, if he is forced to reconcile himself with Hariri's assassins.

The third interim report of the UN commission's chief investigator, Serge Brammertz, released on Monday, continues the cautious, highly professional approach characteristic of his two earlier reports. He has already indicated reluctance to identify prime suspects or provide other information that might prejudice inquiry activities before finalization of the prosecution case for an international tribunal. Nonetheless, the latest interim report demonstrates significant further consolidation of evidence since the report of last June, despite the recent fighting in Lebanon.

First, the inquiry firms up the scenario of an elaborate bombing team, including multiple sub-contractors. It refers to "a complex network of telecommunications traffic between a large number of relevant individuals," as well as "direct and indirect linkages between significant individuals in disparate groups." The example of the suspension of contacts among members of the "alleged bombing team" while Hariri made an impromptu cafe stop en route to his rendezvous with death gives a telling glimpse of the thoroughness of the investigation. Similarly, "knowledge of the activities of the 6 SIM card holders ... alleged to have been part of the bombing team ... has become clearer and more detailed." Obviously, this is not a depiction of a small Islamist cell, operating alone.

Second, the UN commission has gathered more data on individuals who apparently had "substantive information in varying degrees of detail about the attack prior to its execution." Together with the reference to a number of people who "were informed of some aspect of the attack," this gives a clear impression of a significant group of plotters that can hardly have been independent of the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus. Certainly the commission's concern with "the political environment" of the Hariri assassination, including UN Security Council Resolution 1559, the 2005 Lebanese parliamentary elections, and the Al-Madina bank scandal, suggests that investigators are principally thinking in such terms.

Third, the report notes tangible progress in exploring six other "targeted attacks" in 2004-2005, seen by many as integrally linked to the Hariri case, from the attempted murder of Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh to the killing of An-Nahar publisher Gebran Tueni. "One individual using multiple [telephone] numbers has been preliminarily linked ... to a number of the attacks," and "four other people have been linked to this person in some of those attacks." The commission is now becoming confident that these attacks "were not commissioned and executed by ... unconnected persons." Again, coordinated assaults point to a substantial group likely to involve the apparatus of a state, most likely, given Lebanon's context, Syrian-commanded security elements.

Fourth, as in the June 2006 report, the commission does not name any state or organization apart from Syria, but takes care not to accuse the latter. Brammertz still wants more evidence from the Syrians, and does not wish to give Damascus excuses not to comply. The chief investigator describes "generally satisfactory" cooperation in the latest reporting period, but indicates that senior Syrians only behave appropriately when their feet are put to the fire. He reiterates verbatim his steely remarks in the June report: "The Syrian Arab Republic is required to cooperate fully" under the coercive provisions of "Chapter VII of the UN Charter."

The commission also plainly suspects Syrian officials of evasion: "In terms of the qualitative cooperation of Syrian officials being interviewed, the Commission ... finds it necessary to undertake corroborative interviews ... the Commission has found the level of cooperation to be variable."

Otherwise, the report makes several tantalizingly cryptic observations. Perhaps significantly, it refers to "the properties and impacts of various controlled explosions," presumably conducted under commission auspices, for which there was a need for Syrian "documentation." It is difficult to interpret the phrasing as other than a requirement for data on Syrian explosives and associated equipment. This could have damning implications, given the nature of the crime.

As regards the person who "most likely" detonated the presumed truck bomb, the report mentions a tooth with "a feature rarely seen among people from Lebanon." Brammertz avoids referring to a suicide bomber, implying that the truck driver may not have died voluntarily. He even inserts "a new hypothesis" about "an aerial delivery means as a method of causing the explosion." The estimated quantity of explosives is revised upwards toward 1,800 kilograms, though the final assessment of the explosives capacity awaits a determination of the height at which the detonation took place. Whatever the amount of explosives, it is obvious from the report that Hariri was killed in a large, sophisticated conspiracy.

Once again, the main track of the Hariri inquiry in the UN commission's fifth interim report is the same as in preceding reports issued since June 2005 - two by former chief investigator Detlev Mehlis and two by Brammertz. Once again, there is no suggestion that the four senior Lebanese security officials arrested in August 2005 for involvement in the assassination should not continue to languish in prison, and the old Syrian-Lebanese security machine remains the chief object of interest.

The procession of unanimous Security Council resolutions associated with the Hariri inquiry means the credibility of the international community is committed to the uncovering and punishment of the murderers. Events are still headed toward the "tribunal of an international character" and a probable political earthquake in the Levant. Fouad Siniora, hopefully, will need not bow like Lorenzo de Medici.

William Harris, a professor of politics at the University of Otago, New Zealand, is author of "The Levant: A Fractured Mosaic" (Markus Wiener, 2005), which won a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title award, and "The New Face of Lebanon: History's Revenge" (Markus Wiener, 2005). He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bashar Arafat, Again!

This is a follow-up to a post over at From Beirut to the Beltway.

Everybody in the media, especially the regime flaks, were hopping up and down about how Kofi Annan got "promises" from Bashar Assad to cooperate in the implementation of UNR 1701. Nonsense. First of all, Bashar said nothing. There was no official Syrian statement at all on this matter. It was Annan who did the talking. What Bashar did, was exactly what he did with his gullible Spanish friend, Miguel Angel Moratinos: he belied all the statements made by his guest about any commitments by Syria!

Right after Annan left Syria, Bashar's pitbulls, FM Walid Moallem and Information Minister Mohsen Bilal, made public statements that made Annan, and anyone else stupid enough to believe Assad, look like a fool. The Lebanese press knew it all along, as they've become quite accustomed to Assad's tactics.

In these statements, the Syrian ministers revealed what Assad really had in mind. It revealed that Assad still believes he does not have to give anything and he can expect everything in return. It also revealed that Assad's primary goal (forget the silliness about the Golan) -- what he is dead set on reclaiming -- is reestablishing domination over Lebanon.

The ministers first repeated cliches we'd been hearing for months on all the issues of contention: 1- border demarcation. Syria offered nothing new. "No demarcation in Shebaa." 2- Exchanging diplomatic representation. "It's a matter to be settled between the two countries when the atmosphere is better." And so on and so forth.

Not only that, the two pitbulls made even more revealing statements. For instance, Moallem talked about willingness to help patrol the Syrian-Lebanese border, but only after the establishment of "joint security committees." Now for those new to the Syrian lexicon, let me remind you of what the Syrians tried to do back in January, when the misguided Saudis and Egyptians were trying to "patch things up" with Syria (only to fail miserably, and predictably). Back then, the Syrians slipped a condition into an initiative by the Saudis that demanded (you guessed it) "joint security coordination" between Lebanon and Syria. Back then, Walid Jumblat called this charade for what it is: an attempt to reestablish Syrian domination of the security apparatus of the Lebanese government. Needless to say, such "coordination" would virtually ensure that Hezbollah get their rockets delivered, with cherry on top. But more than that, it reveals Syria's undying intent to redominate Lebanon. That, not the Golan, is Assad's real goal.

Moallem went further, again repeating the threats of using al-Qaeda and the regime concoction, "Jund al-Sham."

Not to be outdone, his comrade Mohsen Bilal made another interesting statement about disarming Hezbollah. He wondered how Syria could be asked to help disarming Hezbollah "when we're now out of Lebanon." A commentary on the website of Abdel Halim Khaddam picked up on the statements of Moallem and Bilal, and noted in particular that last one by Bilal. The commentators understood that as a floater by the Syrians to try and get a deal to reenter Lebanon.

In other words, there's nothing new here. Bashar, as always, lies through his teeth. Makes a zillion promises, and immediately recants, embarrassing whomever he made the promises to. Just ask Colin Powell, Richard Armitage (who can't get enough apparently!), Jacques Chirac, Martin Indyk, Hosni Mubarak, etc. etc. etc. In the Arab press, a line has already circulated about Bashar, contrasting him with his father. It's based on what an Arab diplomat allegedly told Bashar. Hafez made very few promises, the line goes, but kept them. Bashar on the other hand, makes many promises, and never delivers. That's why I dubbed him Bashar Arafat. The track record -- unlike the cheerleaders, the flaks, and the propagandists -- never lies. This is a thug, after all, not a statesman.

Bashar is a maximalist hardliner, as evident from his speeches (read the excellent piece by David Schenker on his latest speech and his interview in al-Osboua', which I hope to return to later) and his thuggish behavior. He is dead set on redominating Lebanon, and he is firm in his belief that he will be given everything he wants without having to give up anything (and here remember, the so-called "cards" of the regime are never up for trade. They are the policy). This was confirmed by Khaddam back in December when he defected. In his interview on al-Arabiya, he revealed that Bashar was getting advice, including from US advisors, that he shouldn't worry or give anything on Lebanon and Iraq. Eventually, he was told, the Americans will come crawling back. Everything so far shows that this is precisely what Bashar has in mind. He has such contempt for the West that he believes, to paraphrase Daniel Pipes, that they will pay him to help himself.

As such, the US and the French approach to Bashar is the absolute right one.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ali Hamade Column (9/2/06)

Ali Hamade, columnist for the leading Lebanese daily An-Nahar, has been consistently telling it like it is on Hezbollah and Syria. His column today is no exception.

I'm producing a quick English translation for those who don't read Arabic.

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What is demanded of the proprietors of the "disaster-victory"

By Ali Hamade

An-Nahar, 9/2/06

There are two faces to the attempt to topple the government: the first is public and exposed, and appears violent in tone and position. The other lays low and feeds the "appetite" of the first and its "instincts," which are not new on the local political scene.

The second face is the more dangerous one because it possesses the tools to threaten the government, which today represents the best possible concoction to overcome the disaster that has befallen the country as a result of [a party] singularly seizing the decision of war and peace, and the sparking of the war on Lebanon as we have seen. It is a war that has led to a "disaster-victory." Some victories are so bitter that their proprietors wish they never had them.

Those who represent the second face are trying to escape not just accountability from others, but also the deafening silence of their own constituents; the hundreds of thousands who will follow them with questioning eyes saying: what have you done to us? What have you done to Lebanon?

We don't doubt for one minute that the propaganda machine, which is infested everywhere, will not hesitate one bit to suppress all opposing voices and to stifle dissent within that constituency, which has paid the highest price only to hear words like: "Had I known that the Israeli response would be this big, we wouldn't have kidnapped the two soldiers." Dissenting views that they tried at first to stifle by pumping money from outside the banking system, and then by demanding the state provide a reconstruction plan, even criticizing it three days into the cease-fire, as if it were the state which had brought on the heads of a million Lebanese this historic catastrophe -- not a historic victory as they claim. They forget that millions of other Lebanese, whose citizenship was demeaned on 12 July 2006, have paid and are still paying dearly in their livelihoods, the future of their children, their confidence in Lebanon, and, more dangerously, their confidence in those who tried fooling them into believing they were partners in the homeland, and confidence in their choices which have brought death and destruction.

A victory? Over whom? This was a victory over Lebanon before anything else. It was a victory over the idea of the single homeland. It was a victory over all the Lebanese who wanted nothing more for themselves and their children than a calm life; a civic life, looking ahead towards the future, praising life, not death. In this sense, it is the right of millions of Lebanese, inside and outside Lebanon, to wonder whether the victory which was declared was in fact a defeat for the meaning of Lebanon as a homeland for all the Lebanese. It is their right, in light of the fact that some continue to possess an armed force (and they have declared that they were and still are capable of mounting a coup against the government), to tell them: quit toying with Lebanon and with the decision of the Lebanese. Enough slogans that bring nothing but death, and that please the ears only of those who follow the war on the satellite channels.

It is demanded of those who brought this disaster upon Lebanon to humble themselves a little. To look around and see the size of the "disaster-victory." It is demanded of them to learn a historic lesson and to choose "Lebanon first and last." It is demanded of them to become regular citizens like everybody else, so that the others stop viewing them as a threat to their security and their future.

As for the alternatives, we don't even want to begin contemplating them.