Across the Bay

Monday, May 28, 2007

You Can't Play Nice with Syria

Barry Rubin has yet another excellent piece piece out on Syria (emphasis mine):

In the Middle East, violence is not the result of poor communication but a tool for political gain. Nothing proves that point better than Syria's successful use of violence and terrorism to promote its interests. No amount of dialogue is going to change that reality.
The Syrian government's message is simple: Lebanon will know no peace until it again becomes our satellite.
Since the tribunal is in co-operation with Lebanon, Syria must ensure that country's parliament vetoes the plan. Suddenly, bombs start exploding in Beirut and a Syrian-backed Islamist group stages an uprising against the government.
What is less understood is how the regime's radical strategy is used at home and why this makes it impossible to gain anything from engaging with Syria. Like other Middle Eastern dictatorships, Syria's rulers face a paradox. How to stay in power after failing so completely? The economy is a mess, there is little freedom, and the regime is dominated by a small Alawite minority which is historically secular.

Since taking power in 2000 on his father's death, Bashar has met this challenge. He sends terrorists against Iraq, Israel, Lebanon and even the U.S. military, but nobody retaliates in kind against him. At home, the regime sounds increasingly Islamist; abroad it is the biggest sponsor of radical Islamist groups in the region.
Bashar has even declared a new doctrine he calls "Resistance," which combines Arab nationalism and Islamism. The West's goal, he claims, is to enslave the Arabs. The mistake made by other Arabs was to abandon war. "The world will not be concerned with us and our interests, feelings, and rights unless we are powerful," and victory requires "adventure and recklessness." Any who disagree are mere "political mercenaries" and "parasites."

This mandatory radicalism ensures that Syria interprets western concessions and confidence-building measures as acts of surrender, proving its strategy is working. Years of dialogue and numerous visits by secretaries of state could not even get Syria to close the terrorist offices in Damascus, much less make any policy changes.
Being nice to Syria will lead nowhere because the regime thrives on conflict and its demands -- including a recolonized Lebanon -- are too contrary to western interests to meet. U.S. and Canadian policy should treat Syria's regime as a determined adversary whose interests are diametrically opposed to their own because that regime leaves them no real choice.

This kind of analysis is unfortunately all too scarce. If you are looking for a broader analysis of this kind, then make sure you get Rubin's new book on Syria which just came out.

It explains why the Assad regime will always continue to be a chronic exporter of instability and supporter of terrorism. It provides the conceptional framework for this argument backed by numerous accounts and examples.

I highly recommend you buy it and read it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Schenker: Tribunal is a Must

David Schenker has a piece out in USA Today on the situation in Lebanon and Syria's war against it and the international tribunal:

Washington has closely coordinated its Lebanon/Syria policy with the Europeans, and France in particular.
The key to constraining counterproductive Syrian behavior and ensuring Lebanese sovereignty is seeing through the international tribunal, letting the chips fall where they may. Justice for Hariri is really justice for the Lebanese people and should not be traded as a card either to jump-start still hypothetical Israeli-Syrian peace talks or to rent Syrian assistance on Iraq.
To consolidate the gains of 2005, the international tribunal is a must. Until there is a real cost for supporting terrorism and destabilizing Lebanon, Syria will continue to control its smaller, weaker neighbor and, through Lebanon, undermine U.S. interests in the region.

The Sham al-Qaeda

This is so transparent, it's like the Syrian regime is not even trying anymore.

Don't even bother with the religious paraphernalia (as al-Hayat noted). Just go straight to the point in threatening the end of the tourist season, spewing venom against the Patriarch, and a warning for Aoun (who went against Hezbollah on entering the camp and finishing off Fateh Islam), as well as a warning to the Army Commander Michel Suleiman (who in many was is the man in the spotlight, and Syria is monitoring his behavior carefully, and it and Hezbollah are said to be very upset with him for refusing the proposal to head a second government to rival Seniora's and to be established by Syria's puppet Lahoud when his term expires. For more on this see my earlier post.).

You know, when I think of al-Qaeda's global aims, I always think of the above, which only coincidentally happen to be precisely those of the Syrian regime.

Friday, May 25, 2007

France Sticks to its Guns

When Bernard Kouchner made Lebanon his first trip abroad as Foreign Minister, I couldn't help but recall a typically slimy post by one of the Syrian regime's flacks:

there is little chance that even Sarkozy, should he be elected, will want to begin his presidency by placing his money on the March 14th government in Lebanon. Nor will he want to make the possibility of reopening dialogue with Syria more complicated, which the establishment of an international tribunal would certainly do. He has said that "Lebanon is important, but is not everything." Such ambiguous statements give him plenty of latitude.

The sinister, depraved (and in many ways, laughably delusional) projection is paradigmatic from someone who has consistently been advocating the abandonment of Lebanon and the return of brutal Syrian suzerainty, the scuttling of the tribunal and with it the complete discrediting of the Security Council, as well as advocating the defeat of the US in the ME. But it's ultimately funny, as these sick puppies of the regime all are.

For one, Kouchner said, "France and the international community are determined to establish the tribunal to try the assassins. ... The international community will never accept threats and terrorism, and we are determined to vote at the (UN) Security Council a resolution to establish the international tribunal."

Indeed, it's been reported that the draft resolution on the tribunal is being discussed today and may be submitted to a vote as early as later today.

And then, for all the enthusiastic Syria engagers out there, Kouchner added the following, "We are ready to talk with all personalities and representatives of groups who are in favor of Lebanon's unity, its autonomy and its territorial integrity. This clearly means we don't have to talk to Syrian leaders," he said, adding that France might be ready to resume contact as soon as the Syrian position on Lebanon changed.

In other words, as I've said before, the litmus test is Lebanon, not Iraq or the Palestinians. This is what Solana has told Assad and this is what the Saudis have told him. And since they got nothing -- predictably -- on that end, they stopped talking.

It's very simple: there is no basis for talks. No ground on which to build. The interests and goals, as I said before, are diametrically opposed. That's why in the end, Kouchner, the iconic Leftist, ends up sounding very much like the much-berated Bush administration -- oh and six United Nations Security Council resolutions. That's because it's not a "unilateral" Bush administration policy, as the Syrian regime and its flacks are trying to portray it. It's a broad, multilateral policy, involving transatlantic and regional allies as well as the UNSC.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Syrian Blackmail

The Times' editorial puts it well:

Yet the violence that has claimed at least seventy lives in two days is part of a larger power struggle whose outlines are clear: by destabilising its neighbour, Syria is seeking to force the international community to drop its efforts to hold Damascus to account for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, two years ago. This is state-sponsored blackmail. It must not prevail.
But the strategic response, from Beirut and the wider world, must be clear and resolute. Damascus has signalled that in direct talks on regional security it would offer to stanch the flow of would-be suicide bombers into Iraq and the Palestinian territories on condition that it retain a free hand in Lebanon. Talks, in principle, are welcome – but not with blackmailers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Syrian Intelligence and Fateh Islam

I recently pointed out the article by Muhammad Choucair in al-Hayat, which quoted Palestinian sources as saying that the leadership of Fateh al-Islam comprised of three Syrians, one of whom, Abu Midian (alias), was a Syrian intelligence officer. The sources said that the terrorist Shaker al-Absi (indicted in Jordan for killing an American official, and released by the Syrians and sent to Lebanon) received directives from Abu Midian.

Abu Midian was killed in the fighting in Nahr al-Bared, according to reports. Another member of the Syrian trio in the leadership, Abu Yazan [or Mizian, unclear] (alias), was also reportedly killed, and he was the military commander, and was suspected of being the mastermind of the Ain Alaq bombing in February. Shaker al-Absi is also said to be seriously wounded inside the camp.

More is emerging about the coordination between Fateh al-Islam and the Syrians. I recently mentioned how the Syrian regime's proxy Islamist (an open Zawahiri supporter, for all the geniuszzzez who think the Syrians don't deal with Islamists) Fathi Yakan was in Damascus on the day the clashes erupted, and that he was in Damascus before then on May 8th. Reports (which first came out on LBC News) are saying that he met with al-Absi upon his return from Damascus.

Yakan is on the record acknowledging his connection to fighters in Iraq, who transited through Syria with the tacit support of the Syrian regime. As such, that he would play a role as yet another coordinator between the Syrian regime, jihadists (including Lebanese ones), and Fateh al-Islam is hardly far fetched.

I had traced a timeline leading to the clashes, which strongly suggests that this was a planned and timed attack. Yakan's movement is part of that timeline.

Other reports are also emerging, and awaiting confirmation. The Kuwaiti al-Siyassah claims that the Syrians were giving logistical support to Fateh al-Islam. The first claim is uncertain, and holds that Syrian intelligence were trying to send ammunition and weaponry to the Nahr al-Bared camp by boat (which is how arms were smuggled in the past, either from Ain al-Hilweh or elsewhere) using camouflaged boats.

The other claim is that the Lebanese Army arrested 12 fighters trying to cross from Syria, and that their movement was facilitated by Syrian intelligence. This was the second group to be arrested in recent hours, as the Army had arrested five fighters trying to cross at the same location the day before yesterday.

Arab Ambassador: Syria Ready to Burn Lebanon

The Ambassador of an "influential" Arab state (read Saudi Arabia or Egypt) is reported to have said, according to Elaph, that he had told Lebanese officials on Monday morning that he expected the explosion in Ashrafieh to be repeated in a Muslim district of Beirut, which is what happened in Verdun hours later.

The Ambassador's reasoning, according to the report, was that Syria does not want the tribunal to be established either by the UNSC or by the Lebanese parliament. As such, the Syrians, according to information the Ambassador is said to have, are ready to explode the situation in Lebanon in order for the international community to feel that Lebanon would be put to the fire because of the tribunal, and as such, the worth of establishing it does not exceed the worth of Lebanon's stability.

The Ambassador reportedly added that he has been following closely Damascus's efforts, in cooperation with its puppet Emile Lahoud and Hezbollah, as well as Aoun, to form a second government that would rival the Seniora government.

The Ambassador added that the first candidate to come to Syria's mind was Salim Hoss, however, according to the Ambassador, the Syrians didn't propose it to Hoss because Hoss's statements had warned against the idea of two governments. Here I should add that perhaps Hoss's recent trip to Syria was basically a summoning by the Syrians to see if he would be willing to do it.

The report goes on to say that the Syrians floated the proposal to Karami (who was the one who hinted that Lahoud would resort to this before leaving office), and supposedly he's "studying" it silently, especially in light of what's going on in his hometown of Tripoli. In other words, I should explain as I have mentioned before, the Syrians' Sunnis are all burned, spent options, and Karami in particular is completely finished. But the Ambassador reportedly said that he might yet agree to being a Trojan horse.

However, the Ambassador added, that there's always the last option of Syrian pitbull Abdel Rahim Mrad. He too, I should add, was tellingly summoned to Damascus the other day, on the same day the clashes started with Fateh Islam.

The fact that the Syrians have to actually resort to Mrad shows just how completely bankrupt they are in Lebanon, politically. This is precisely the reason why they imposed Lahoud back in 2004. They couldn't even find a single "reliable" alternative. They are that weak and incompetent politically. This is the Bashar Assad legacy. In essence, they are now completely dependent on Hezbollah to have any political foothold in Lebanon.

In fact, the Ambassador notes, not even Nabih Berri agrees to the idea of a dual government, and he sees it as a danger that must be avoided at all cost. However, the Ambassador concludes, "Berri is Syria's No. 1 captive in Lebanon."

Of course, the gist of the Ambassador's argument on the explosions and Assad's maniacal drive to destabilize Lebanon is what people like me and Bill Harris have been saying, and this is essentially the argument of the March 14 coalition in Lebanon. And, as I said, it's very transparent and exposed, and the entire world sees it for what it is.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out, and indeed, the Syrian officials have not bothered to be subtle about it. Walid al-Moallem's threat was crystal clear, and it was made even more bluntly today by the vicious maniacal hoodlum Farouq al-Sharaa:

"Those responsible for the situation in Lebanon are those who are sabotaging the establishment of a national unity government [AE: one that would give Syria's ally Hezbollah veto power, and thus control over political decision making] and seeking the help of the foreigners."

In other words, Syria's terrorist policy is clear. Lebanon will be terrorized until Syria gets its way, which is: 1- the termination of the tribunal. 2- The toppling of the Seniora government. 3- Controlling political decision making in Lebanon and appointing puppet officials (both President and Prime Minister). 4- Reestablishing Syria as Lebanon's suzerain, with international recognition of that.

The bottom line is this: everyone knows that this is a rabid terrorist campaign by a psychopathic murderous thug in Damascus, who will stop at nothing. The tribunal must be established without delay, and Assad must be made to pay a tangible painful price for his murderous policy. It's as simple as that. "Engagement" (I.e. appeasement) will only be seen by Assad as a sign of surrender and encouragement to commit more terrorism. It's telling that the only time the thuggish Assad Sr. was persuaded to back off his terrorism against one of his neighbors (and Syria is guilty of exporting terrorism to all its neighbors) was when Turkey threatened to invade Syria in 1998.

Assad's War on Lebanon's Economy

Naharnet reports: "A powerful explosion rocked the commercial district of the mountain resort of Aley Wednesday night. LBCI TV station said five people were injured in the blast which also caused extensive damage to homes and shops." (Update: More here.)

So far, the pattern of the explosions has been, Ashrafieh (Christian), Verdun (Sunni Muslim), and now Aleyh (Druze).

All three are favorite destinations for tourists in the Summer tourism season. In fact, I was told that two terrorists were arrested in Mansourieh (Matn region) with a bomb that they presumably were seeking to plant somewhere. My guess that the target was not Mansourieh itself but rather the mountain resort town of Brummana, which is a favorite Summer destination especially for Gulf tourists.

In other words, aside from the sectarian element in the target selection, it seems that the Syrian regime is systematically seeking to destroy Lebanon's economy in its terrorist extortionist bid to scuttle the tribunal by making it seem that its cost will be exorbitant. It has already cost Lebanon its Summer tourism income.

Addendum: More from Mustapha at the Beirut Spring.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Consequences of "Talking"

The Beirut-based David Kenner writes on his blog:

Obviously, the only people who are responsible for the violence in Tripoli and the murders in Beirut are those who were involved in planning and carrying out the attacks. But it is also important to look at the people whose actions allowed the violence to occur. And at the top of that list has to be Nancy Pelosi and her trip to Damascus. When Bashar al-Assad saw her sitting there, veiled and smiling, all that he thought was: "the Americans need me now. I can run wild throughout the region, and they are powerless to respond."

Pelosi met with Assad, she said, "with no illusions, but great hope." Some reporter needs to ask her what has happened to that hope. He could also ask her if she regrets going to Damascus. However, I think I already know how she would answer. Lebanese lives are less important than sticking a finger in Bush's eye.

I made a similar comment the other day, as did Allahpundit, who wrote, "So now you see how 'productive' Pelosi’s — and Rice’s — outreach to Damascus has been."

Today, Ralph Peters also went down a similar road in his piece in the NYPost: "As for the mess in Lebanon, Syria's inability to refrain from deadly mischief is a blessing in at least one respect: It makes it harder for the advocates of phony Realpolitik (such as former Secretary of State Jim "Have you hugged your dictator today?" Baker) to push us back into yesteryear's cozy relationships with genocidal Arab despots."

And I remind you of Bill Harris' interview, which I linked yesterday: "Rice's meeting with Moallem only encouraged the Syrians in the view that they are the strategic center of the local universe and people will keep coming to them. That sort of thing makes absolutely no impact on them. The only thing that will make an impact is to get the court up and going. The Syrians are dead scared of us getting to this point."

As I said numerous times before, talking is not consequence-free, contrary to the prevailing punditry.

Mother Russia

In an earlier post, I wrote that the unfolding events in Lebanon were Syria's message, "specifically to the Russians (whom Hezbollah has also been lobbying for the same purpose) -- to scuttle the formation of the international tribunal under Chapter 7."

Then came the Verdun bombing yesterday. Commenting on it, fellow blogger Mustapha of the Beirut Spring followed up on that and offered a very interesting insight of his own as to why Verdun was specifically targeted: "the only way to stop the tribunal is a veto from a veto-wielding security council member. Which brings us to the last significance of the Verdun bombing: The target was the Russian cultural center in Beirut."

I think he's probably right.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Trying to Beat a Murder Rap

One of the finest Lebanon experts, William Harris, comments on the attacks in Lebanon on New Zealand radio. (Updated link: 2.7 MB.)

Harris nails it on the head, as always: "It's no coincidence that we see this explosion at exactly the moment this draft resolution [to establish the tribunal] is hitting the Security Council in New York."

He added that Rice's meeting with Moallem only encouraged the Syrians in the view that they are the strategic center of the local universe and people will keep coming to them. That sort of thing makes absolutely no impact on them. The only thing that will make an impact is to get the court up and going. The Syrians are dead scared of us getting to this point."

The article in al-Hayat by Muhammad Choucair to which Harris refers can be read here. It describes, citing Palestinian sources, how the Fateh al-Islam "show," in Harris' words, "is run by effectively three Syrians headed by a Syrian intelligence officer under the nom de guerre Abu Midian."

They are not al-Qaeda, Harris notes. Rather, "the Syrians here are using religious extremists."

The show, Harris adds, "is a bid by [the Syrians], and there is a lot more solid reason to follow this line of interpretation than all the rather fuzzy al-Qaeda stuff." The Syrians, Harris says, want to impress the flakier members of the Security Council that this court is more trouble than it's worth, and at the same time to show that they're the strategic center of the area."

Make sure to listen to the whole thing. It's the most solid commentary out there.

And Here It Is

The Syrian regime is not even bothering to be subtle, as it feels the fire at its feet. The Syrian Foreign Minister has come out and basically confirmed my reading yesterday, that Syria is behind the attacks in Lebanon in order to send a message -- specifically to the Russians (whom Hezbollah has also been lobbying for the same purpose) -- to scuttle the formation of the international tribunal under Chapter 7. The message is: if you pass the tribunal, we will burn Lebanon.

Moallem said: "This tribunal is one of the tools of American policy to get not just Syria but the entire region, this is why we said openly that we won't cooperate with such a tribunal." He added: "Will rushing to establish this tribunal, despite the division in Lebanon, really bring security and peace, or will it threaten the security and safety of Lebanon?" (Emphasis mine.)

He also added, precisely like a certain American academic and apologist for these murderous thugs did, "the disagreement on the protocol of the tribunal is in Lebanon because the opposition found that this protocol has articles that would turn the clock back with a vengence to what happened in the Lebanese civil war." (Emphasis mine.)

Now you understand how spot on that LBCI clip that I mentioned really is.

This is open terrorist extortion by a bunch of mobsters, thugs and murderers who actively support all kinds of terrorist groups and have been chronic exporters of instability in the region. This is precisely why the tribunal should and will be established.

Update: More of the same from the Syrian regime's puppy in al-Hayat: Official Syrian sources said, "the rush to pass the protocol of the tribunal ... without waiting for Lebanese consensus will cause internal Lebanese tensions. ... What does Washington want through the imposition of a tribunal when it knows what will happen in Lebanon as a result." (Emphasis mine.)

The report added that Syria's "geniuszzz" ambassador to the UN was busy lobbying the Russian and Chinese delegates against the draft resolution.

This same "geniuszzz" added another gem to the regime's rhetorical hits with the following beauty, explaining why there is currently violence in Lebanon, "Some people are trying to influence the Security Council and to make pressure on the Council so they can go ahead with the adoption of the draft resolution on the tribunal."

It didn't occur to the "geniuszzz" that he undercut the statement of his regime's FM who made essentially the opposite argument! But then again, who could keep up with all these geniuszzzez?

What a bunch of thugs.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Why Syria, Why Now?

Jonathan Spyer comments on today's events in Lebanon in a piece in the JPost:

The Assad regime has a long history of utilizing terrorist and paramilitary groups for such a purpose. Fatah-intifada itself was used by Hafez Assad in a power struggle with Yassir Arafat in the Lebanon refugee camps between 1985-88. The regime is known also to have engaged operatives of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party to carry out assassinations in Lebanon during the civil war period.

Suspicions regarding Fatah al-Islam center on the fact that Shakir al-Abssi was sentenced in 2003 to three years in prison in Syria after being convicted of plotting attacks inside the country. This was an unusually lenient sentence. By comparison, for example, Syrians suspected of involvement in the Muslim Brotherhood are routinely given 12-year terms. Al-Abssi, after his release, turned up among pro-Syrian Fatah-intifada circles in Nahr al-Bared and shortly afterward emerged as the leader of the new group, Fatah al-Islam.
why might the Syrians wish to sow chaos in Lebanon, and why now?

A draft resolution for the unilateral establishment of an international tribunal on the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was circulated in the UN Security Council by the US, France and Britain last week. It is known that the Syrian regime is determined to prevent this tribunal at all costs, since it is believed that senior Syrian officials may be found to have been involved in the Hariri killing. Could it be that the regime in Damascus might see an escalation of tension in Lebanon as currently helpful - as a tacit reminder to the international community of what Damascus is capable of when put in a corner? This is the view of senior officials in Lebanese government, and is in keeping with earlier practices of the Damascus regime.

For a similar comment by me in an earlier post, see here.

But I should make another comment here, just to clarify things. I mean, we shouldn't really be shocked at the Syrian regime's behavior. Here, let Bashar Assad's apologist in American academia explain things to us simpletons: "America, I think, is going to be forced to bend to [Syria's extortionist demands]. If it continues to resist [giving Lebanon back to Damascus], we're going to see more violence."

It's quite simple really. I mean, Washington is refusing to "abandon the Seniora government." So what do you expect!? I mean, come on! After all, the problem is simple. You see, Syria "makes American allies pay a high price!" And as long as we pursue a tribunal to stop Assad from killing people, he will continue to kill people until we say he can continue killing people unmolested! I mean, as that academic recently said, "This Hariri court stands in the way"! I know, what a drag...

And to visually explain that American apologist's statements, LBCI (Lebanese station) has a clip that will help you by visually spelling out what that academic is selling (in all seriousness) as "analysis."

The two boxes read "justice" and "security." Then a shadowy "security" type individual walks over to the Lebanese citizen and tells him, as that American academic did, "here, choose."

The Lebanese citizen says, "I want both." But the agent says, again, almost channeling that academic, and his friends, like the Syrian ambassador to the US, "No, no! Either justice, or security. You know what, don't bother, we'll choose for you. Why do you want justice? It's a headache."

He goes on to say, "if you're with us, you can relax. If you're against us, we'll bust a cap in your head!" It's almost verbatim what that academic said, "And what happened to Lebanon during that period [of Syrian occupation]? It repaired itself in the Civil War. It grew. [Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri ... rebuilt Lebanon. It was pro-Western. Because of Syrian influence ... in Lebanon [it] does not mean that the country turns into ... a small Iran on the Mediterranean. It means that Syrian interests are taken into concern, and it doesn't mean the end." But then again, if not, and if America "continues to resist," well then I guess "we'll see more violence" naturally!

The agent goes on, "we decide for you [the Lebanese citizen]" (just like the academic did). "If security is under control, why do you want justice? Do you like the situation in the county today?"

The Lebanese citizen says, "justice is a principle above all. Security on the other hand has its own logic; you kill this guy, you spare that guy..."

Yeah, but you don't understand, as Assad's court scribe Patrick Seale put it, "Syria cannot tolerate a hostile government in Lebanon"! So it must kill all politicians that it doesn't like! But hey, "it doesn't mean the end!"

Don't you just love thugs and their fellow travelers?

Assad Launches War on Lebanon

Three days ago, Muhammad Choucair wrote in al-Hayat that there were fears that the (Syrian allied) Fateh al-Islam and Jund al-Sham would be used by "regional sides" (i.e. Syria) at the right time against UNIFIL, but also as part of the attack against the tribunal, especially when all of Syria's tools in Lebanon -- not to mention Assad himself -- have threatened that if the tribunal is passed by the Security Council, war would be unleashed on Lebanon.

In fact, Syria had set the stage for using Fateh al-Islam 5 days before the Choucair article appeared. On Friday, 5/11, An-Nahar reported that Fateh al-Islam had issued a statement that some of its members had clashed with Syrian forces as they tried to sneak into Iraq.

It was a classic Syrian set-up, with a double message. On the one hand, it was meant to preemptively provide deniability for what's about to take place in Lebanon, while simultaneously resending the standard message that Syria is "ready to cooperate" on Iraq in return, however, for Lebanon, where it wants to present itself as the only power capable of controlling the Islamists.

Readers will recall how last year, even before the July war, I began collecting statements by Syrian officials, from Bashar down to Amr Salem and Mohsen Bilal, making this very point, and threatening to unleash "al-Qaeda" in Lebanon and against the revamped UNIFIL to be deployed in the south (technical references were used, such as 1983, and the term "multinational forces"). Syria also threatened that it would shut its borders with Lebanon.

And so, days after these developments, and as the draft to establish the tribunal under Chapter 7 is being discussed in the Security Council, Fateh al-Islam attacks the Lebanese Army in Northern Lebanon, and Syria shuts its borders with Northern Lebanon. And not a peep has been heard so far from Syria's stooges in the North, be they Omar Karami or others. In fact, Syria's Islamist tool Fathi Yakan was in Syria today, and to be frank, I wouldn't be surprised if he's involved in the clashes (he had met with Shaker al-Absi a couple of weeks ago after a May 8 visit to Damascus, according to some reports). Actually, the statement reportedly made by Yakan, could be construed as a direct threat against UNIFIL, consistent with Syria's threat, and also indicates that the issue here is Syria's attack on the tribunal.

So far, about 19 Fateh al-Islam members have been killed, and at least one has been arrested. The Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces are mobilized and moving in. They busted an apartment being used by Fateh al-Islam, which was stocked with weapons, probably intended for other terrorist activities in Lebanon. Indeed, Walid Jumblat said in a statement that he fears that this development may be the prelude for more acts of destabilization in Lebanon [by Syria], and urged the Palestinians to lift all cover for these groups.

Here's where we might, and should, see a historic decision in Lebanon. Unlike the late 60s and 70s, there seems to be a political cover as well as a Palestinian cover from the original Fateh, expressed just now by Saad Hariri in a press conference, for the Army to battle this movement, which he described as "terrorist."

Assad is reading from his father's book, but circumstances have changed, and so these plays are no longer working like they used to. Bashar had gone after the Christian areas, then the Druze (and failed both times), and now he might be trying the Palestinian-Islamist card, esp. since it has broader regional significance.

Put briefly, Syria now has no more credible Sunnis in Lebanon (not to mention Druze and Christians). As such, its ability to maneuver and determine outcome has diminished significantly. It still possesses tools of violence, which it's using left and right, but even there, their political value is not paying off the way it used to for Assad Sr. It will fail, and one more card will be lost, highlighting just how much weaker Syria has become in Lebanon. Bit by bit, its cards in Lebanon will lose their value. No one will "invite" Syria to put out the fire it has started in Lebanon the way they did in the past. Everyone knows that Syria is the source of instability. Well, almost everyone.

The tribunal is coming, regardless.

Update: An explosion from a car bomb in the Christian town of Ashrafieh just moments ago injured a few people and reportedly killed one. This on the same day as the clashes in the North. Explosions in Ashrafieh had been the modus operandi since 2005.

I'm somehow reminded of the person who said they were going to Damascus in "friendship and hope" and "determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace."

And somehow, Allahpundit is also reminded of the same: "So now you see how “productive” Pelosi’s — and Rice’s — outreach to Damascus has been."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Syria Selling Snake Oil

Whenever self-proclaimed "realists" start pontificating about the "centrality" of engaging Syria on Iraq, I always like to pull this quote from the doyen of Realism, Henry Kissinger:

The contemporary debate over ending the Iraq war has ascribed an almost mythic quality to the desirability of bilateral negotiations with Syria and Iran as the key to an Iraqi settlement. ... But only a few of the objectives of the United States, Syria and Iran can be fulfilled via bilateral negotiations. Syria's role in Iraq, for better or worse, is limited.

Indeed. Now what are the Syrians saying about this? By that I don't mean the ridiculous hilarities like Bashar Assad's "we're the main player in Iraq" or Imad Moustapha's "everyone trusts us in Iraq" and other wonderful comic fairy tales.

No I mean what are the Syrians really saying. Let's start with Bashar's latest rabid speech (which he delivered as he sentenced the Syrian dissident who came to the US to the harshest sentence any dissident has yet received):

Based on [our rejection of the invasion of Iraq], we did everything in our power to confront the attempts to liquidate the strongholds of resistance and to confront the projects of compromise which insult our people and which go against their interests.
In confronting this, our position was constant and our policy clear... We have rejected the occupation, declared the need for a timetable for withdrawal, and we have asserted the right of the Iraqi people to pursue resistance all while supporting the political process in Iraq on the basis of not excluding any component of the Iraqi people. And we have expressed our readiness to play our role in launching a national Iraqi dialogue.
Here we must be clear to understand what the essence is of Syrian cooperation. In short, we are working to help the Iraqi people to end their crisis, and not to help the occupation forces in getting out of trouble. All the political theatrics we see today are in truth working essentially to serve the occupiers for their domestic or international reasons.
The truth is that we have said in the past that the process is political and not military. (Emphasis mine.)

You'll note of course that there is no mention of border control or of Syria's role in facilitating the passage of jihadists across the border, or serving as a safe haven for al-Qaeda-type terrorists.

So what is the much-coveted Syrian "cooperation" in return for which engagers want to sell the house? The continuous support to the resistance! Oh, I see, it's help launch the Iraqi
national conciliation dialogue, because, you know, "Syria has credibility with everyone in Iraq." Right.

Reality is that Syria has zero assets inside Iraq. It has no influence over any Iraqi political group (here's a test, to contrast with Iran: name a single Iraqi politician that can be said to be "Syria's guy." Exactly.). This is why they tried to create a seat for themselves at the table by hosting a sham Baath party conference in Syria, where certain marginal Iraqi Baathi figures were co-opted. The result was that the Iraqi Baath party disowned them and attacked the Syrians for trying to create a splinter leadership. Also, in an interview with a Chronicle correspondent in Iraq, a former division general of the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein's most elite military corps, dismissed the widespread assumption that Syria's tribal links to the Sunni-led insurgents would give it leverage.

"We still remember how Syria sided with Iran during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, when they closed the Iraqi oil pipeline passing through its territory and provided Iran with ground-to-ground missiles to attack Baghdad," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Besides, the tribes are now fighting the very jihadists Syria is supporting and hosting.

But it was a former Syrian official talking to the pro-Syrian al-Diyar about the Rice-Moallem meeting that really best articulated Syria's tactics. Engagers, heed and take note:

Syria will be cautious in approaching dialogue with the US. It will express its desire for a continuation and expansion of dialogue, so that Syria is not accused of caving in to Iranian pressure. But it will be cautious so as not to give away everything for nothing, especially on issues relating to Syria's regional role and the security of the regime. Specifically to ease international pressure on Syria including from the tribunal, which remains an issue of anxiety for Damascus.

Syria's capabilities to help in the Iraqi security issue, which was the topic of discussion between Rice and Moallem, are very limited. The results of Syrian cooperation in this regard will be very weak, basically intercepting and preventing SOME infiltrators across the border. These results cannot be invested to achieve a real breakthrough in the crisis of Syrian-American relations, and there is a fear that the negative positions adopted by Syria and its allies in Lebanon and on the Palestinian side will overshadow whatever positive comes out of the Syrian plan to police the border with Iraq, in a way that would push for a new American toughness. There are pressing Lebanese and Palestinian issues and it's unlikely that Syria will go with the American agenda in Lebanon and Palestine. The most prominent such issue that is of vital concern for Syria's regional role is the Lebanese presidency, and the security plans supported by the US in the Palestinian territories which will limit the options of the resistance to pressure Israel.

What is there to say? This is precisely what we've been saying is the Syrian intention all along. Syria is an enemy state sponsor of terror, whose only foreign policy asset is terrorism, and whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the US. (I'll return to the Israeli angle in a later post.)

When Bill Nelson visited Damascus, he declared that he did so only because he (I think misguidedly) saw Syrian border control as a "slight crack in the door" to achieve "limited cooperation" in an otherwise blocked prospect of cooperation. On Lebanon he had a heated disagreement with Assad, who, in Nelson's words, gave him "the usual dog-and-pony show." On Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad (the "resistance" that the Syrian official refers to), Nelson said that he got nothing but the "standard party line." In other words, there were no prospects for any common ground whatsoever (this has been the result that every European and Arab -- including Iraqi -- delegate has got. And by the way, have you heard from Nelson lately on this?). It also fits well with another Kissinger reading: "Syria is primarily concerned with Lebanon and Palestine. The Syrian contribution in Iraq, one way or the other, is essentially marginal."

If there is no possible common ground (because, as I said, the policy objectives and interests are diametrically opposed), then diplomacy will, as it has repeatedly, reach nothing but a dead end, or worse.

Update: Eli Lake has the story on Iraq's tribal leaders cooperation in the fight against al-Qaeda.

Selling the Myth of Division

Here's an editorial from a sharp new Lebanese website called NOW Lebanon. The site has published excellent material and interviews with leading experts, such as Bill Harris, who commented on the Brammertz report and the international tribunal.

After reading the editorial, you might want to revisit this post of mine, where I also addressed this propaganda line which was hawked by a regime apologist and flack.

Selling the Myth of Division
NOW Lebanon Staff, 11 May 2007

There is a freely-hawked notion that Lebanon is a "divided" country. This is a myth. Lebanon is not any more or less divided than other nations over key issues: the difference is in the way these divisions are treated. America and Britain are "divided" over their involvement in Iraq, but political life carries on.

It would have been most irregular if, after Bush vetoed legislation to set a timetable for troop withdrawals last week, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had put congress on hold and instructed democrats to camp outside the Capitol until the troops came home. Democratic institutions are founded on dialogue, not the abandonment of the very forum upon which a nation's political dynamic was founded. Yet this is what happened in Lebanon, where it has been blamed on "division" and political life hijacked as a result. One could even argue that democratic, multi-party systems are only made necessary by such divisions: an imaginary division-less society, where everyone embraced a common position on issues, would have no need for democracy.

The political impasse in Lebanon today did not emerge from an intractable political divide; rather, it is the result of a lack of respect for democratic institutions from some Lebanese actors, a weak state incapable of enforcing the rule of law, and most significantly, outside interference in the country’s affairs.

The concept of division, of a so-called national split, has a long tradition in Lebanon's modern history as an instrument of foreign intervention. In another age, Muslim opposition to Syria was answered with a bullet (we remember, among others, the murders of Tripoli Mufti Sheikh Sobhi Saleh, Grand Mufti Sheikh Hassan Khaled, Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt and most recently ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri) while Christian resistance – a more united movement – was met by and large with containment and isolation. Both tactics were employed to encourage the idea of a split and the need for a steady rule from our stronger neighbour.

In the two years since the 2005 Cedar Revolution drove the Syrians out of the country, those assassinated in a bid to destabilize and ultimately “divide” Lebanon were exclusively Christian; terrorist bombs only exploded in predominantly Christian neighborhoods. No one wanted to risk upsetting the Sunni community (in either Lebanon or Syria), while Tehran, currently exporting its own brand of pan-Islamic resistance to the Sunni Palestinians, could not afford a Sunni-Shiite schism.

Attempts to stir sectarian strife, however, failed: all Lebanon mourned the victims of terror together, and Christians were not fooled into lashing out at their countrymen.

Nonetheless, today, a similar idea of a national split is being sold to the international community as it ponders the establishment of an international tribunal to try those accused of killing Hariri and others. Those peddling the notion of division argue that Lebanon is not a country at odds over the establishment of the court, but a nation irretrievably divided politically along a sectarian fault line. This time, the battle lines are being presented as not Muslim-Christian, nor even Sunni-Shiite, but as a multi-faith coalition – Michel Aoun, Suleiman Frangieh, Omar Karami and Hizbullah – that is facing off against an obstructionist and allegedly illegitimate government – March 14.

Meanwhile, a sideshow to all this was the recent peace overture to Israel delivered to the Knesset by Syrian-American Ibrahim Suleiman, a stunt seized upon by Damascus to suggest that Syria is worthy of a “reward” in a region where it has only been a spoiler. But this apparent new willingness to enter into dialogue (and the hint of compliance) must be recognized for what it is.

Syria’s attempts to sow – and sell – “divisions” in Lebanon and low-level diplomatic gestures are nothing more than a smokescreen to create doubts over the wisdom of any tribunal at this time and further Damascus's ultimate cause – to wield influence anew in Lebanon.

NOW Lebanon is an independent, non-sectarian organization based in Beirut, Lebanon. Its goal is an independent, democratic, liberal and prosperous Lebanon, with equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens. For more information, please visit

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Kamal Labwani Sentenced to 12 Years

A recent editorial in The Washington Post read:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was particularly unstinting in her goodwill, declaring that she had come to see Mr. Assad "in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace." In a statement, her delegation reported that it had talked to Mr. Assad about stopping the flow of foreign terrorists to Iraq and about obtaining the release of kidnapped Israeli soldiers. It also said it had "conveyed our strong interest in the cases of [Syrian] democracy activists," such as imprisoned human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni.

Three weeks have passed, so it's fair to ask: Has there been any positive change in Syrian behavior -- any return gesture of goodwill, however slight?

Mr. al-Bunni might offer the best answer -- if he could. On Tuesday, one of Mr. Assad's judges sentenced him to five years in prison. His "crimes" were to speak out about the torture and persecution of regime opponents, to found the Syrian Human Rights Association and to sign the "Damascus Declaration," a pro-democracy manifesto.

Similarly, in his recent piece, Lee Smith wrote the following:

Another source explains that Syrian activists believe Pelosi's trip gave the Asad regime much needed breathing room. "Whether there is a real connection or not, political dissidents note that Anwar al-Bunni was sentenced to five years in prison in the wake of Pelosi's visit."

Another opposition figure, Muhammad Ma'moun Homsi, a former Syrian MP who was imprisoned for five years beginning in 2001, and who has now fled Syria, revealed that he had sent a letter to Pelosi asking her not to come to Damascus. In an interview on an Arabic-language website, Homsi added that the idea of engaging such regimes is "a very dangerous proposition cause next will be a call to engage terrorist organizations."

Since that article came out, the regime seized Homsi's assets, stripping his family of its home ownership, in order to pressure him and his family. That happened the same day Rice met with Syria's FM at the Iraq conference in Egypt.

The latest news came today, when dissident Kamal Labwani, who was arrested in 2005 for meeting with State Department and White House officials to call for democratic and human rights reforms in Syria, was sentenced to life in prison, commuted to 12 years with labor. (And the NYT never questioned the Syrians' bull when they said they sentenced a suspected al-Qaeda member for 3 years!)

This is what you get when you engage Syria: intransigence in foreign policy (a euphemism for the regime's policy of sponsoring terror and destabilizing its neighbors), and wanton brutality domestically, against brave civic and human rights activists.

I'll end with the words of the Post's editorial: "The danger of offering 'friendship' and 'hope' to a ruler such as Mr. Assad is that it will be interpreted as acquiescence by the United States to the policies of dictatorship."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hezbollah's Southern Base

Hezbollah has a stronghold in the south; South America that is.

A new report surfaces on this story, following the two-part series by Jeff Goldberg in The New Yorker in 2002, which detailed Hezbollah's racket in the tri-border area, the no-man's land on the border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Full Circle: Hezbollah Returns to the 80s

Hezbollah has abandoned its agenda from the 80s like I have abandoned breathing. In my recent post, I discussed certain aspects of this issue, focusing on the mutilation and subversion of the Lebanese system and its institutions.

Now Nasrallah has come out, on Iranian TV no less, to add more, calling for electing a president directly from the people and to conduct a popular referendum.

"The idea of electing a president [directly] from the people even if only for one time, or many times, is a civilized, democratic, civic and developed idea worthy of attention," said Nasrallah. (Emphasis mine).

Nasrallah also added his support for a popular referendum as the only way out of the current crisis if early parliamentary elections won't be held (which he knows they won't).

Now, where have I heard this before? It's somehow 1989 all over again, and somehow, the destructive Michel Aoun is in the middle of it. The difference this time is that Hezbollah is using Aoun as a Christian battering ram with which to destroy the Lebanese system and replace it with Hezbollah law.

Back in 1989, Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah was calling repeatedly for a popular referendum. And so, according to Fadlallah's scheme, no decision taken by Parliament should pass unless it were put to a referendum. In effect, Fadlallah was eliminating the function of Parliament in Lebanese political life. Step one in introducing Hezbollah law, one that is being repeated today.

This was also the call of Sheikh Naim Qasim. And just for added delicious irony, it was declared at a memorial for victims of Aoun's bombardment of Haret Hreik in 1989. He declared: "the people represent themselves, and are not represented by MPs. Let them choose by themselves the solution that they desire through a popular referendum, and then we would know that the mustad'afin were the ones who chose the system and that nothing would be forced on them." (al-'Ahd, 10/6/89)

This logic was again approved by Fadlallah (An-Nahar, 10/7/89). Commenting on the Taef meetings, he said, "the Lebanese people is the one who can run its affairs with sincerity, not those who represent it." He added, "any document will be worthless unless the entire people approves it. It's not enough for the MPs or the Arab Committee to approve it."

Fadlallah was also calling for a president to be directly elected by the people, not through parliament. (An-Nahar, 10/20/1989). In fact, he added that the only characteristic the candidate should have is to be a "Lebanese citizen" (i.e., no longer Maronite. This is the flip-side of a referendum, of course).

And just so that we don't think Fadlallah is "sectarian" in any way (this is the kind of things you still hear idiotic Aounists repeating today), he added, "if you had a general referendum in Lebanon between Muslims and Maronite Christians, you'll find that the voice that rejects Maronite authority exists among Christians exactly as it does among Muslims."

Speaking of Taef, at the time, Hezbollah's Muhammad Yazbeck called Taef "a conspiracy against the resistance the brotherly Syrian presence." (An-Nahar, 10/17/89).

Now, once again, Hezbollah is rejecting the government's seven-point plan, which it had agreed to while its ministers were still in cabinet. The plan, which served as the basis of UNR 1701, called among other things, for full state authority over Lebanese territory, and the reactivation of the armistice agreement between Lebanon and Israel, in order to end any possible military activity on the southern border.

Hezbollah has been launching a campaign to destroy this plan. You'll remember what I had noted regarding what Emile Lahoud tried to do in Riyadh (he, at Syria's behest, tried to remove any reference to the plan from the final Arab League statement on Lebanon, and failed).

Now Syria's agents are running wild again. Pitbull Wiam Wahhab came out, (in tandem with Lahoud), and declared that the 7-point plan is as good as dead as far as the Syrian-Hezbollah camp is concerned. And to follow up on what I said regarding the "Hezbollah as Pasdaran" model, Wahhab spelled out Hezbollah's and Syria's vision: Hezbollah is Lebanon's defense strategy, and the Lebanese Army is what complements it.

This came as Hezbollah's cadres were all reneging on their commitment to the 7-point plan. First, was Nawaf Musawi (who said Rice handed the plan to Seniora), then Muhammad Fneish and then Hussein Hajj Hassan.

Some in Seniora's circles are saying the reason for this campaign is because of developments on the Shebaa front, perhaps leading to its transfer to UN authority, stripping Hezbollah of one of their pretexts to maintain their weapons. This is in tandem with Lahoud already preemptively providing a new pretext saying that even if Israel withdrew from Shebaa, it would not be "the real" Shebaa, in that Israel would still control the water! I.e., this is a never-ending lie.

This gives a hint as to why Hezbollah was not given veto power and was not trusted with the tribunal. Hajj Hassan, for instance, echoing the Syrian line, called it a project for American hegemony over the region. Then came Nasrallah, on Iranian TV, and openly rejected the tribunal under Chap. 7.

This is how easily they turn on agreements. Veto power, as I said, is intended only to safeguard their weapons and anomalous existence, and thwart everything that stands in their way. The purpose is to enshrine their anomalous existence in any future cabinet and its policy statement. This is why the March 14 coalition is saying, any new policy statement will have to reflect what was agreed to, including demarcating the border with Syria, exchanging embassies with Syria, disarming the Palestinians outside the camps, the tribunal and the 7-point plan.

Hezbollah has openly declared its rejection of the above. Hezbollah wants its own state. Hezbollah has come full circle back to the 80s. In fact, it never stated otherwise. Only western cheerleaders did.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Syrian Endgame

Michael Young writes in the Wall Street Journal about how "three conditions must govern any contact with the Assad regime." These conditions, which, by the way, were, according to several reports, the exact same conditions that the EU's Javier Solana handed Assad when he briefly met him in recent weeks, where even European support for renewed talks on the Golan, not to mention the Association Agreement, was reportedly conditioned on Syrian behavior in Lebanon (which is why I have said that the consensus in Saudi and EU is that Lebanon is the litmus test for Syria):

First, Syria must prove it accepts the Hariri tribunal by discontinuing efforts to thwart its endorsement in Lebanon. This also means eventually allowing Syrian officials to stand before the tribunal if they are implicated. Until now, Mr. Assad and his lieutenants have said Syrian suspects would only appear before Syrian courts. Second, Syria must respect U.N. resolutions on Lebanon, including Resolutions 1559 and 1701. This means, among other things, ending Syrian destabilization efforts and the arming of Hezbollah and other groups. And third, Damascus must formally accept Lebanese sovereignty and agree to the opening of embassies and a delineation of the border with Lebanon.

Another important part of the piece is Young's accurate description of the Syrian regime's interests and priorities (hint, they have nothing to do with the Golan, peace, etc.):

Syria has two priorities, both of which have contributed to increasing its censure internationally and in the Arab world. The first is regime survival. The Syrians feel threatened by the approaching formation of a tribunal to deal with the February 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Syria is considered the main suspect in the crime, and in their most recent report, United Nations investigators preparing the legal case lent substantial credence to that assertion.


A second Syrian aim is to reimpose its hegemony over Lebanon. After the Lebanon war ended last summer, Syria encouraged its ally Hezbollah to mount an effective coup against the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. This failed after it led to growing Sunni-Shiite hostility, prompting Iranian and Saudi intervention to prevent an escalation that would have harmed their own interests.

Syria also appears to be trying to abort Lebanon's presidential election later this year, setting the stage for the creation of two rival governments in Beirut. Last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal warned against this eventuality. Syria is continuing to supply weapons to Hezbollah, in breach of Security Council Resolution 1701, as well as to other groups, and it still refuses to recognize Lebanese sovereignty, establish an embassy in Beirut, or delineate borders with its neighbor.

Mr. Assad understands that if relations between the U.S. and Iran improve in the coming months, Syria might be left dangling. That's one reason why he is so keen to reassert himself in Lebanon, which gives Syria regional relevance.

In other words, renewed Syrian colonization of Lebanon is the regime's objective. Never mind the nonsense about its supposed "real interests."

PS: for more on Syria's attempts to control the presidential elections through terror, see my old piece in the Daily Star.

The Dems' Dirty Game in the Middle East

Lee Smith picks up on his post for Across the Bay and the WaPo's editorial, with a critical piece in The Weekly Standard, arguing that the Dems are playing a dirty game in the Middle East.

The Democrats are playing a dirty game in the Middle East, where, just like Arab regimes, they are using proxies to wage war--except their war is against the Bush administration.
It's hardly surprising that the Asad regime is trying to wait out a highly unfriendly White House and see what fate throws them next. But what has the Democrats so excited about a government that is helping to kill U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians, targeting American allies and interests in Israel, the PA, and Jordan, all while trying to reassert its presence in Lebanon?
Is there any real hope of a comprehensive deal with Syria? Of course not. If a stable Iraq and Lebanon were in Damascus's "best interests," then the regime wouldn't have been working so hard to destabilize its two neighbors for the last several years. What control does Asad have over Hamas? None, except that the group's leader, Khaled Meshaal, lives in the Syrian capital. Has the regime's mentality changed since 2000, when Bashar's father Hafez balked at a deal to regain the Golan? No. Quite the contrary, as Asad's obsession with Hezbollah suggests that the ruling Alawi family has become yet more ideological.

Read it all.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Islamic Revolution in Lebanon

One of the many problematic assumptions about Hezbollah that we often hear is that they have given up on their project to create a Khomeinist state in Lebanon. The "proof" we're offered is their supposed "tolerance" of skimpily dressed women and of Lebanon's open social life, and thus they do not seek to impose their own ideology on the rest of Lebanon.

Others will add that Hezbollah recognizes that the project of a Khomeinist state is not easily achieved in Lebanon due to its pluralist nature, and so it must be a "long-term" one (leaving aside the fact that this only confirms the endurance of the project!). Needless to say, proponents of this view completely ignore the velayat e-faqih (rule of the jurisprudent) and its consequences.

The problem with this view is that it reduces the project to a matter of strict Islamic mores. This view, therefore, completely misses the point. What if establishing the Khomeinist state is not to be primarily defined by strict Islamist ethics (at least, as they say, "at this stage")? What if what's actually being sought after is a cloning of the structures of the Islamic Revolution regime in Iran (namely the Pasdaran and the supreme guide), and the complete destruction or mutilation of the structures of the Lebanese system?

We are often told that Hezbollah seeks to "reform" the Lebanese system to improve the share of the Lebanese Shiites. Emile Hokayem of the Stimson Center has argued persuasively that this is a myth (as has Michael Young in various op-eds in The Daily Star). Pluralism in the Shiite community and the extension of state authority into (Shiite) Hezbollah-controlled areas are hardly in Hezbollah's interests. In fact, the prevention of that development in the Shiite community is precisely Hezbollah's tool to promote its project.

Hezbollah strives for one thing and one thing only: maintaining its armed status and parallel existence both within and above the system. Think Iran's Pasdaran. In other words, Hezbollah has not joined the political process in order to integrate in it, but rather, to use it to protect its anomalous existence outside it. Under the Syrian occupation, Hezbollah was able to solidify this status, and it used its weapons as a means of intimidation. They and the Syrians then imposed an entire socio-political culture (based on intimidation) to support it. This is now no more.

Here's where we started seeing glimpses of what the project aims to achieve. Tactically, Hezbollah might set minimum goals, all of which however are part of the strategic vision. Existing in a normal political process is not in Hezbollah's interests, and Syria's no longer there to forcibly bend the system to Hezbollah's needs. Therefore, it has sought to completely mutilate the system. If the parliamentary configuration is not to its liking, then Hezbollah will shut down parliamentary life altogether. There goes the major Lebanese institution. What do we have in its place? A "Shura" council of sorts, where Hasan Nasrallah enjoys the status of the "supreme guide" who will have the final say on all decisions.

If that doesn't work, start a war, as Hezbollah also controls (and seeks to maintain and enshrine) the exclusivity to decide war and peace (a collective decision).

What about the executive? Hezbollah seeks to gain veto power in the cabinet, in order to transfer that same order to the executive branch. It will also seek to enshrine its right to continue a parallel armed existence in the ministerial statement of such a cabinet. Even when Hezbollah, under duress, agreed to a government plan that called for a state monopoly over arms and state control over all Lebanese territory, it now seeks to eliminate that agreement (as Emile Lahoud tried to do at the last Arab summit in Riyadh), which was enshrined in international law in UNSC Resolution 1701 (which recalls the earlier UNSCR 1559).

But then, what is the reference for political life in Lebanon? Surely the constitution. Wrong. The reference, as Hezbollah's Mohammad Raad declared yesterday, is the document that Hezbollah drafted with Gen. Michel Aoun. Hezbollah only abides by its own laws. Or, if you prefer, as Hasan Nasrallah put it, it abides by "religious laws" (which, as his deputy Naim Qasim explains, means the velayat e-faqih). But hey, remember, they don't really want to implement that in Lebanon!

Raad declared that only a president who abides by Hezbollah's constitution would be deemed legitimate (by Hezbollah, not parliament!). But it is parliament that elects presidents in Lebanon. Not anymore, Hezbollah and Aoun have declared. If Hezbollah doesn't control all three institutions, then it will make sure to destroy the country until it does. There's no such thing as an electoral cycle or peaceful rotation of power. And meanwhile, they will propose every possible alternative to Lebanese institutions that would set the precedent for the latter's demise and the introduction of Hezbollah law. But hey, they're "integrating" into the political process!

Recently, people jumped up and down that Jumblat "made an opening" to Hezbollah. Apparently they didn't read what Jumblat actually said. Jumblat said that only the state will protect Lebanon, and the state alone will protect Hezbollah, once it's agreed that they would integrate their militia into the Army, thereby abandoning their parallel existence and autonomous decision making. He added that that would happen once we agree to where we left off in the national dialog sessions. And where did we leave off? When we were discussing the status of Hezbollah's arms. It was at that time that Hezbollah decided to launch a coup by initiating a war with Israel, then turning its tactics inwards.

Very clearly, Hezbollah and Syria's orphans in Lebanon were not pleased with that statement. The pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian rag al-Diyar put it best, decrying precisely this part in Jumblatt's statement and saying that instead he should have said that the state and Hezbollah would both, in parallel, protect Lebanon (not the "state"). This is verbatim Hezbollah's vision, as evidenced by one of Nasrallah's rabid speeches where he said: "The Resistance will always stand by the Lebanese army, with our weapons, men and blood ... to defend Lebanon." (Emphasis mine.)

The word "by" here is of essence. In Arabic it's "ila janib", which literally means "next to." I.e., Hezbollah will always be "next to," or, "parallel to" the state.

Where does this come from? The Islamic Revolution in Iran. More precisely, from Hezbollah's midwife, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or the Pasdaran.

The status of the Pasdaran in Iran is pretty much what Hezbollah aspires to achieve in Lebanon, with Nasrallah assuming the role of the supreme guide (see also this old post by Abu Kais). Mind you, that Iran too has a parliament, a presidency, and a cabinet. This is the system Hezbollah is after, and it is very much the Khomeinist state. It would also be the end of the Lebanese state. Perhaps, we'll become like Cyprus.