Across the Bay

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Al-Qaeda, Lebanon, Agendas and Irresponsible Journalists

This is a topic I've been trying to highlight on this blog, and it's grratifying to see it examined more and more as in this piece by Talal Nizameddin.

What Nizameddin describes as the Fisk agenda could be said about a whole number of writers (but then again we learned that Fisk was a source for the sinister article by Sy Hersh).

Read it and weep.

Addendum: Aside from the Fisk stuff, this part of the article is significant:

With the leadership driven out of Sudan and then severely restricted in Afghanistan, what is left is in fact a loose network of extremist cells that needed another state structure to provide it with cover, logistical support and intelligence guidance. Each cell invents a name for itself, tagging on the words Islam or Jihad for added value, and then claims allegiance to Al-Qaeda. A simple but seemingly successful formula by states that need proxy groups to fight their battles against stronger opponents.

We therefore find an emerging unholy alliance between militant Islam (both Sunni and Shiite) and the secular anti-Western forces in the region.

This is similar to what was said in a report by Abdel Karim Abul Nasr which I noted in a previous post (and I remember seeing it written or said elsewhere by another analyst, but I cannot recall who or where at the moment. It'll come to me.).

Given Syria's (and indeed Iran's) work with such cells in Iraq, this is a rather attractive explanation with much to support it. For more along similar lines, see Michael Young's recent piece in Reason Magazine. And for those who haven't yet read Bernard Rougier's book "Everyday Jihad," he lists plenty of evidence of Iranian and Hezbollah penetration of Palestinian camps in Lebanon through Sunni Islamist preachers.

Young reviewed Rougier here.

Friday, June 29, 2007

'No Benign Interpretation'

Two editorials on Lebanon in the LAT and the NYT, both pointing the finger squarely at Syria for the terrorism, assassinations, attack on UNIFIL, and violation of UNSC resolutions.

Excerpts from the LAT editorial:

One by one, three anti-Syrian members of the Lebanese parliament have been murdered, reducing the majority of independent Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to a slim six seats. President Emile Lahoud, a puppet of Syria, and the pro-Syrian speaker, Nabih Berri, refuse to allow elections to be held to replace them. But that's perhaps a moot point, as Berri hasn't allowed the parliament to meet at all since last summer. The parliament should have elected a new president in 2004, but under Syrian threat, then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — in whose subsequent murder Damascus is also implicated — extended Lahoud's term three more years. Now the parliament must elect a new president by September, and Damascus and its allies rightly fear that the current body will not anoint another Syrian lapdog. There can be no benign interpretation of the latest assassinations.
The international community ought to have been jolted out of its passivity by the car-bombing last week that killed six U.N. peacekeepers — three Spaniards and three Colombians — in southern Lebanon. Syria condemned the bombing, but it was widely interpreted as yet another warning to the United Nations not to proceed with the tribunal looking into the Hariri assassination if it does not wish to see Lebanon further destabilized. Syrian President Bashar Assad has signaled that keeping the tribunal from indicting senior Syrians is a critical, perhaps even existential, priority. Although this page has endorsed engagement with Syria, there can be no compromise on the work of the tribunal, which is as vital as any war crimes tribunal. And there can be no retreat from Lebanon's right to sovereignty.

Perhaps in light of other people's experience with engagement (not to mention its own admission that Syria ordered an attack against a European nation's army), the LAT might want to review its endorsement of the failed policy of engagement with these terrorist murderers.

Addendum: A veteran Lebanon analyst wrote the following, commenting on the editorials. I couldn't agree more with the remark about the NYT.

What a damned cheek from these two insolent newspapers, which have campaigned relentlessly in favor of Bashar al-Asad up to this moment. "We support engagement but ..... The Security Council needs to summon the will..." The great NYT has done everything possible to thwart that will. Now they climb on the train.

However, I must say "I told you so." Everyone who tries engagement with Assad will end up looking like an embarrassed fool. It's a dead end. Theorizing about "engagement" is irresponsibly easy.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

How Bashar Threatened Ban Ki-Moon

Le Monde has published an important article entitled "The Dialog of the Deaf between Bashar al-Assad and Ban Ki-Moon."

The article contains excerpts from the official minutes of the April 24 meeting the UN's secretary general held with Syria's murdering dictator, obtained by Le Monde.

Some of these minutes have been leaked in the Lebanese and pan-Arab press, and they have been highlighted on this blog. I will translate the excerpts from the Le Monde article (you'll also note how much of it is almost verbatim what a certain regime flack has been peddling). It only bolsters everything I've been writing about the lunacy, and uselessness, of "engaging" this murderer.

Furthermore, it very clearly shows (as do the writings of the regime's flacks) that Assad's number one priority and objective is not the Golan. It's the re-domination of Lebanon and the termination of the tribunal. It also sheds light on the recent attacks on UNIFIL and how Assad is responsible for them, as I noted in my last post.

Assad's response was categorical: "In Lebanon, the divisions and sectarianism are deeply anchored since more than three hundred years. Lebanese society is very fragile. It has known its most peaceful period when the Syrian armed forces were there. From 1976 to 2005, Lebanon was stable, while now, great instability reigns there.

This [instability] will worsen if the special tribunal is created. Particularly if it's established under Chapter VII
(AE: compare this statement with the one I quoted in my previous post from the regime's pitbull Wiam Wahhab. It makes a compelling case that Syria is behind the attack on UNIFIL.). This could easily unleash a conflict which would degenerate into civil war and provoke divisions between Sunnis and Shiites from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea. This will have grave consequences which will go beyond Lebanon.

Assad went on to attack the Lebanese government, the March 14 parliamentary majority (which he is killing one by one), when Ban asked him to delineate his borders with Lebanon and establish diplomatic relations with it. He also attacked the US and France calling their role "destructive." His Foreign Minister viciously attacked the US ambassador to Lebanon, asking he leave Lebanon.

Assad then went on to defend Iran's nuclear program and advised Ban Ki-Moon and the West to recognize Iran as a nuclear power. He finally told Ban, in his typically threatening thuggish mafia style: "We are in the eye of the storm. You will need to stay in contact with us." (Especially when we kill your UNIFIL soldiers, that is.)

Engagement, anyone?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Syria's Threats Fulfilled

'Regarding the Syrian stand on these forces, Moallem explained that Damascus "does not want these international forces to meet the same fate of the multinational forces in 1983".' Al-Hayat, 8/1/06 (Moallem Warns Against Turning Lebanon 'Into Another Iraq' and 'Al-Qa'ida' Infiltration.)

"The first casualty of a Chapter 7 tribunal will be UNSCR 1701 and UNIFIL." Wiam Wahhab (Syria's pitbull and agent in Lebanon), 2/8/07.

I have been writing both here and elsewhere that the Syrians have been threatening an attack on UNIFIL for a year now. It has finally happened.

The choice of the Spaniards (who were repeatedly harassed by Hezbollah, a) was equally predictable. That it came after D'Alema's attempt at appeasement is equally predictable. The hyenas smelled blood.

In fact, all these points which I have raised in the past were also made to me by a veteran Lebanon expert yesterday. Here's what they wrote:

This most definitely is in the boringly predictable category. The Syrians indicated from August last year that the 1983 story was in prospect for UNIFIL and 1701. The Italians literally asked for the prospect to be activated with their imbecilic appeasement -- so Spain knows who to thank.

I'll have more later.

Addendum: I suggest you review Michael Young's recent piece, as it seems to have it exactly right.

Many have overlooked that the Nahr al-Bared fighting might have been a stage in a process to render the army less effectual in South Lebanon. Several units have been pulled out of the South in the past six months - first to prevent sectarian clashes in Beirut after the opposition built its tent city in the Downtown area last December; then to engage in fighting in the North. This has given Hizbullah much more room to maneuver in the border area, while also opening space up for groups operated from Syria. Even if Hizbullah did not fire the rockets against Kiryat Shmona on Sunday - probably the work of pro-Syrian Palestinians - it almost certainly was aware of the attack, and did not oppose it.

Iran's, Syria's and Hizbullah's purpose in reopening a northern front against Israel, aside from reviving Hizbullah as a military force (which is essential for its own survival), is to empty Resolution 1701 of its content. Better still, if cross-border rocket attacks continue, it will be Israel, not Hizbullah, that will start casting doubt on the UN resolution's merits. Hizbullah's recent insistence that the Cabinet return to its 2005 policy statement as a condition to end the governmental crisis only showed the party's true intentions toward Resolution 1701. The policy statement defends the right of armed resistance, unlike the later UN resolution.

I think Michael's guess that pro-Syrian Palestinians (read PFLP-GC) are probably responsible for these recent operations -- with Hezbollah's knowledge and consent -- is probably right. What this does is further constrain UNIFIL and Lebanese Army movements in the south, which will then allow for more margin to operate and reopen the front against Israel, and as Michael notes, the plan may be to have enough attacks to force Israel to respond militarily, effectively signing the end of 1701 and UNIFIL.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

US Policy Towards Syria Vindicated

The following column by An-Nahar's Rosanna Bou Mounsef summarizes and concretely exemplifies what I have been repeatedly writing on this blog regarding the asinine one-liner about "engaging" Syria, as well as what Emanuele Ottolenghi recently wrote.

The article is about Amr Moussa's latest visit to Lebanon which was torpedoed by Syria, as made clear in the direct threat by its thuggish Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa.

I will translate the last couple of graphs, which highlight the factual message I and others have been saying.

Diplomatic sources in Beirut reckon that should the Arab League's delegation visit Damascus, it will only hear what it heard last time, or probably what Sharaa said in his press conference two days ago, specifically right after Speaker Nabih Berri gave his approval to the paper which he co-drafted and which was accept by the majority coalition.

For Damascus agreed at the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting, right before the Arab summit in Saudi Arabia at the end of March of last year, on the formation of the special tribunal for the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, then proceeded with its pressure on its allies who continued to reject ratifying the tribunal in Parliament, and it then refused to offer its remarks on the tribunal's bylaws.

It did the same thing when the Syrian Foreign Minister agreed to the decision of the Arab Ministers' meeting to send a delegation to Beirut to assist in reviving the dialog.

This was translated into an approval by Damascus of the decisions of this meeting held last Friday, followed by a different position declared by Sharaa the Thursday after -- i.e., in conjunction with the mission of the Arab delegation in Beirut -- that there would be no solution in Lebanon without a national unity government [where Hezbollah and Syria's allies would have veto power and ability to bring it down by resigning], tying instability in Lebanon to this precondition.

Therefore, it's believed that this new ceiling set by the Syrian official will make a visit by the delegation to Syria useless, despite Moussa's declaration that the delegation intends to continue its mission in the direction of Damascus.

The same sources suspect that all this parallels the French initiative, despite its very limited scope, as the French Foreign Minister's delegate, Jean-Claude Cousseran, refrained from visiting Damascus, even as he visited other influential capitals, even going to Tehran. This doesn't mean that Syria would help if it were approached, since many European Foreign Ministers tried to mediate with Damascus, but its position did not change either way. This has bolstered the American view that dialog with Syria is useless unless it fulfills the demands of the US and the international community. (Emphasis mine.)

This has been the general conclusion after haplessly trying to "engage" Syria. First you get embarrassed, since the Syrians say one thing then say and do another that undermines you. They have zero credibility. Then you see that it's useless. Then the final position is that Syria has a number of obligations it must fulfill before there is any kind of resumption of normal ties. This is essentially the message the French have sent. This is the message the Saudis and Egyptians have sent. This is the message UN officials have sent. This is the message EU officials have sent. The messages mainly revolve around Lebanon -- what I've called "Lebanon as litmus test."

In the end they all end up sounding like the Bush administration, vindicating its position: the Syrians know what to do (obligations under international law). When they do it, we'll talk. Talking before those steps are taken is not only counterproductive. It also invariably ends up in embarrassing failure.

As Bou Mounsef's column notes, Amr Moussa probably knows better than to follow D'Alema's footsteps.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Engage Syria, Get Embarrassed

The always sharp Emanuele Ottolenghi takes the hapless Massimo D'Alema to task.

If Italy's foreign policy were truly guided by its UN obligations, Italy would realize that friendship with Damascus and Beirut cannot be reconciled today. Rome must choose.

Why this choice has become imperative should be obvious: Syria's interference in Lebanon and its partnership with Iran in spoiling European and Western interests in the region dictate taking sides.
Shouldn't the international community, in particular Italy, show a little more courage in confronting those who, in all likelihood, were behind the assassinations?

Not D'Alema, apparently. Despite the recent intensification of violence in Lebanon, D'Alema not only went to Damascus but also expressed hope that Syria would cooperate against Al-Qaeda in Lebanon. How Al-Qaeda sneaked into Lebanon he failed to ask, though a quick look at Lebanon's map would show him that the country abuts neither Pakistan's tribal areas nor the Fergana Valley in Central Asia. Those Al-Qaeda fighters in Fatah al-Islam could only have come through the country that D'Alema was visiting. Fatah al-Islam's history suggests that Syria has some explaining to do when it comes to the violence in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.
What then is one to make of the Katyusha rockets fired at Israel from South Lebanon on Sunday? UNIFIL commander General Claudio Graziano, an Italian, recently denied that any weapons were being smuggled into the South, and Italy's Foreign Ministry supported his view. That's why the rocket incident was another huge embarrassment for Italy and its efforts to engage Assad - especially if reports that the incident was ordered by Syria are accurate.

The illusion that one can sway a dictatorship through engagement flies in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. Lebanon's salvation will not come through Damascus. And the West's interests, or its legal commitments and moral obligations, are diametrically opposed to Syria's. The time has come to choose sides. Both as a matter of principle and political realism, Europe should recognize that only by isolating Damascus can it ever achieve its goals in the Middle East. But D'Alema, it seems, prefers to sacrifice Lebanon to Damascus' hegemonic ambitions. (Emphasis mine.)

Read the whole thing.

Regimes and Islamists

Michael Young notes how the events in Gaza, and the Iranian-led axis (including Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas) "help dispel a pair of unshakable canards in some American academic circles and byways of punditry."

The first is that there is no way a Shiite party or clerical regime, for example Iran's, would collaborate with the Sunni Al-Qaeda, because ideologically they are mutually hostile. The second is that there is no way the secular Baathist regime in Syria, led by a minority Alawite community once scorned by Sunnis, would collaborate with Sunni Islamist groups, particularly groups belonging to Al-Qaeda.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Syria's Modus Operandi

To follow up on Michael's piece which I posted below, this report is rather telling:

Syria warned Thursday that peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be impossible within the current split between the mainstream Palestinian Fatah faction and the more militant Hamas group.

Now you'll recall what I wrote around the time of the Mecca Agreement, and why I made fun of the Syrian regime's propaganda that it was instrumental in making it succeed, after it failed in brokering a deal on its own, one that would have favored Hamas and positioned Syria as the arbiter.

Commenting on this AP report, Barry Rubin wrote the following:

Note the parallels between Syria-Iran's Palestinian and Lebanese policy.

Step 1: promote a client group with funding, weapons and training. Urge it to violence.

Step 2: provoke a split between your client group and the others.

Step 3: negotiate a deal in which your clients have about half the power.

Step 4: use the deal to get stronger, then break it and take over completely.

Compare that last line with Michael Young's piece, and Syria's and Hezbollah's demand for veto power in a "national unity government."

Iran's and Syria's plan

Go read Michael Young's latest piece. It's a must read.

Hizbullah's attitude is only convincingly explained in the framework of Iran and Syria implementing a project to reclaim Lebanon, but more importantly perhaps to eliminate international, particularly Western, involvement in the Levant. After having won in Gaza, Tehran and Damascus are now pushing forward in South Lebanon. Their joint objective, regardless of their different priorities on other matters, appears to be to remove the Siniora government, undermine United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, and create a situation where the international community would have to accept a Syrian return to Lebanon, which would, by extension, scuttle the Hariri tribunal.

How would such a project be carried out? Here's one interpretation. The priority is to emasculate the Siniora government, whether by taking control of its decisions or through the creation by Syria of a parallel government. In this context, the opposition's calls for a national unity government don't favor unity at all. Opposition parties will only enter a Cabinet they can control and bring down. We know that because they rejected the 19-10-1 formula proposed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which would have given them the means to block decisions they didn't like. But the opposition's insistence on a 19-11 division is valid only for torpedoing a government through the resignation of its 11 ministers. The aim is apparent: to bring to office a president sympathetic to Syria.

If its conditions for a unity government continue to be rejected by the majority, the opposition might create a parallel government or engineer a situation allowing President Emile Lahoud to remain in Baabda. There are surely problems in a second government, not least of which that Sunni representation is bound to be anemic. This could create a troubling sense that a Sunni-dominated Siniora government is facing off against a Shiite-dominated pro-Syrian government, which could backfire regionally against Hizbullah and Iran. There is also the fact that Michel Aoun's bloc might begin cracking if the general enters such a government.

What would the purpose of this second government be, beyond wreaking havoc in the country and putting pressure on Siniora's government? Simply, to neutralize the effectiveness of the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL in the South, by making their interlocutor in the state unclear. Many have overlooked that the Nahr al-Bared fighting might have been a stage in a process to render the army less effectual in South Lebanon. Several units have been pulled out of the South in the past six months - first to prevent sectarian clashes in Beirut after the opposition built its tent city in the Downtown area last December; then to engage in fighting in the North. This has given Hizbullah much more room to maneuver in the border area, while also opening space up for groups operated from Syria. Even if Hizbullah did not fire the rockets against Kiryat Shmona on Sunday - probably the work of pro-Syrian Palestinians - it almost certainly was aware of the attack, and did not oppose it.

Iran's, Syria's and Hizbullah's purpose in reopening a northern front against Israel, aside from reviving Hizbullah as a military force (which is essential for its own survival), is to empty Resolution 1701 of its content. Better still, if cross-border rocket attacks continue, it will be Israel, not Hizbullah, that will start casting doubt on the UN resolution's merits. Hizbullah's recent insistence that the Cabinet return to its 2005 policy statement as a condition to end the governmental crisis only showed the party's true intentions toward Resolution 1701. The policy statement defends the right of armed resistance, unlike the later UN resolution.

For Syria and Iran, as well as for Hizbullah, Resolution 1701 is the door through which the international community entered Lebanon in force, after Resolution 1559 and the Hariri tribunal. That's the reason Tehran and Damascus want to render UNIFIL powerless, even though there will remain useful idiots in Europe who think they can reach an understanding with the Syrian regime to protect UN forces. Syria has no interest in this, however, because it has likely taken a strategic decision with Iran to remove any vestige of international influence in Lebanon - as it did in Gaza - with the goal of reviving its domination over the country.

In this context, even an illegitimate parallel government to that of Fouad Siniora could prove useful in the long term. Look what the Soviet Union did in Poland during World War II. It created the so-called Lublin Committee, which initially had far less clout than the London-based Polish government in exile. However, when the balance on the ground in Poland shifted, it was Moscow's puppets who were recognized as the power in Warsaw.

The Syrians and Iranians may be thinking along the same lines in Lebanon. Create a parallel government; erode UNIFIL's effectiveness while compelling the Lebanese Army to manage Syrian-created security brushfires; press your advantage against the drained Americans, the spineless Europeans, and the debilitated Arabs; and then, when the international community and Arab states are truly lost, strike using Hizbullah and drive your coup toward its logical conclusion: a new Pax-Syria in Lebanon, supported by Iran.

As we've said numerous times, the objective of the Syrian regime is very clear. Young just spelled it out once more.

The Job of an Agent of Influence

The dishonest regime flack in question decided to respond to my post. And as usual, as he did with Michael Young, he constructed a typically dishonest strawman argument, that bears no resemblance to anything I said and obviously evaded the point. But such is the job of regime apologists and flacks, or what Young more accurately dubbed "willing agent of influence."

I've decided to save the rest of the dishonesty and apology for terrorism for another time. For now, I'll just note the staggering quote below:

Both Lebanese and Syrians would be better served if the US could find the courage to nudge Israel and the other actors in the region toward the negotiating table. All the peoples of this small region have legitimate gripes that should and can be hashed out. Not to try is foolishness. Tony’s conclusion that Syrian statesmen use force because they are evil is nonsense. Those who act on such assumptions will only do greater harm. Rather than refining his skills as an insult-walla, Tony should come up with solutions that might actually work.

Once again, the apologist for terrorists comes in to bank on his pals' terrorism, asking us to reward that terrorism. I mean listen to this thuggish, gangster formulation: "you'd be better served if the US does what we want!" This precisely proves the point of my post. It wouldn't be the first time Landis put forth this mobster formulation. Remember this one? "America, I think, is going to be forced to bend to that. If it continues to resist, we're going to see more violence." Who's the thug again, Landis?

The point is not peace talks, as Landis himself has proved in the past. The issue is the re-domination of Lebanon, the termination of the tribunal, the assassination of its leaders, journalists, judges, and politicians, as well as its civilians. The issue is the terrorist war being waged against a sovereign country and its institutions by a terrorist rogue regime.

Landis wants to turn this terrorist war against Lebanon into a "legitimate grievance," as though Lebanon has control over the Golan! This is so pathetic it's almost funny, were it not used by this corrupt individual to justify a terrorist war against Lebanon. It's as funny as the old "Syria wants to get back the Golan, but it doesn't know how" idiotic line that Landis spit out in one of his radio appearances. Yeah, poor Syria. It "doesn't know" how to get back the Golan, so it just goes about murdering Lebanese people. Cut it some slack, won't you!? Terminate the tribunal, give it Lebanon, let it kill unmolested. It has "legitimate grievances" for crying out loud!

But here's the really morally repugnant heart of this apologist's propaganda: "[the] conclusion that Syrian statesmen use force because they are evil is nonsense. Those who act on such assumptions will only do greater harm." This is an astonishing statement, but so telling about the person who wrote it and his job.

Note the disingenuousness: Syrian "statesmen" use "force." If there's an example of Landis' corruption and dishonesty, this is it right here. If he sanitizes the language (as in "sphere of influence" to replace "colonization" or "Hariri died" to replace Syria obliterated him with a 1.2 to car bomb), then the foulness of what he's whitewashing should disappear too. They're not terrorist murderers who order assassinations and car bombs against civilians. They're "statesmen." You see? This is like what any Western official would do! They use "force." Force as in assassinate journalists, MPs, judges, party leaders, ministers, and civilians. Wait, I got it. Bin Laden is a "statesman"! A terrorist war is "realism"! And if we insist on condemning it, we "do greater harm"! Amazing! Now, we're the one responsible for the terrorism! Landis has transfered the evil of his pals in Damascus onto us. We can't even call it "evil" (although, naturally, this was not part of my post. This is another typical Landis distortion.) Now he can sleep better at night.

This reminded me of a line by Landis' idol. His senior colleague and dynasty scribe, Patrick Seale: "Some would say that Chirac’s personal obsession with Hariri and his anger at Syria have affected his judgement. He seems to have refused to recognize that, so long as the Arab-Israeli conflict remains unresolved, Syria has vital security interests in Lebanon, where it cannot tolerate a hostile government, or the influence of a hostile external power."

And presto, terrorism is justified. Chirac -- indeed all of us -- we are told, should have "the better judgment" than to actually try and fight terrorism. We should "recognize" that Syria has the right to use terrorism against a sovereign state and its people, because it "cannot tolerate a hostile government" and because it has, to use Landis' term, "legitimate grievances."

A clearer apology for terrorism, there is not. And Syria, according to these "smart" individuals, should also have the right to determine what politician is "hostile" or not, and whether the government supported by more than half of the Lebanese people is to be toppled, by assassination if necessary.

In other words, all Syria has to do to get a carte blanche to murder people is to continue to have the grievance of the Golan! That sounds like a deal to me. This is precisely why a ten-year "process" led nowhere. With this kind of props, who wants the Golan back?!

I mean if there were to be a single line to describe this evil pathology, this would be it. The moral repugnance is astounding. The dishonesty is staggering. The thuggishness is overwhelming.

I'm sorry, I don't know what a "walla" is, but you bet I will continue name and attack this kind of intellectual thuggery and apology for terrorism and support for murderers. As for your "solutions": abandoning Lebanon to the Assad terrorists, accepting and justifying and whitewashing murder, trashing international law, and waging war against a sovereign state, well, you can keep those to yourself.

Update: But if you're looking for a solution, how about the one proposed by the Lebanese themselves, as well as the Arabs, the Europeans and the Americans: that the Lebanese be left alone to run their own affairs, that they not be murdered and subverted, that their neighbor should not maintain a client group in the country and use it to wage war on another neighbor.

And in exchange, Lebanon will not let its territory be used to subvert or attack Syria.

It sounds reasonable enough, yet it's funny that the terrorists aren't interested in this "diplomatic" solution which European, Arab, and US diplomacy has offered them.

In fact, wasn't this what Hariri offered them? What was the result? Oh yeah, Hariri "died."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Syrian Gangsters

Just as the Arab League's committee arrived in Lebanon after the government lodged a complaint against Syria's violation of UNSCR 1701 through its continued smuggling of arms and terrorists across the border, the gangster, terrorist regime of Bashar Assad closed a border entry with Lebanon. I'm also told that they will shut down another one tonight.

Assad's internet propaganda outlet, Champress, had called yesterday (in anticipation of this move, of course) for "choking" Lebanon by closing the borders in response to Lebanon's complaint about Syria's smuggling of arms and terrorists across its borders.

In other words, along with using violent terrorism against Lebanon, through bombs, assassinations, and dispatch of terrorist proxies, the murderous Syrian thugs are now applying economic terrorism.

There should be an unequivocal response to the all-out terrorist war being launched by that deranged mobster in Damascus. A clear threat in the only language he understands.

Lebanon should lobby Jordan and Iraq to shut down their borders with Syria so long as Lebanon's passageway to the Arab states is blocked, and should lobby for sanctions against Syria unless it abides by the UN Security Council resolutions demanding it cease its undermining of Lebanon's stability and sovereignty.

Politically, Syria is bankrupt in Lebanon. It possesses only terrorism. These are the last remaining cards in their possession after everything has failed. As the tribunal that will hold this terrorist accountable begins to takes shape (and as the Army, contrary to Syrian calculation, subdues one of its terrorist export), Assad will escalate his terrorism (look next for attacks on UNIFIL, as Assad threatened) in order to solicit an ever-elusive "deal" (one which would allow him to continue with his terrorism unmolested). He will not get that deal.

These are pure, unadulterated terrorists, killers, and gangsters. They should be treated as such.

Addendum: The US-based flack of the Syrian regime always likes to use the phrase: "starve the Syrians into compliance through economic sanctions" when describing US policy towards Syria.

Like most everything this dishonest individual says, this is of course a twisted distortion and a lie.

Furthermore, this same flack had the nerve to say this in the past about Syria:

It has to be remembered also that the Lebanese trade with inland countries has to go though Syria, so Syria stands over Lebanon with a formidable economic hammer. What is more, Syria has the ability to funnel arms to Hezbollah and Palestinian groups as well as radical Sunni groups which allows it to destabilize Lebanon if its interests are ignored. (Emphasis mine, a propos Fateh al-Islam, which now this flack denies Syria is supporting, as per the official line in Damascus.)

As always, this apologist not only acknowledges Syria's terrorism and extortion, but also approves and justifies it, despite its screaming violation of international law. Then, this flack turns around and waxes indignant about actions to punish Syrian terrorism. And now when Lebanon takes action to counter Syrian terrorism and violation of international law, the Syrians resort to more terrorism, the kind approved by said flack in the quote above.

Whenever I quote the apologists, flacks and mouthpieces of the Syrian regime (Landis or Champress, the only difference is one is English the other is in Arabic) I cannot help but recall Michael Young's terrific line: "even the tedious functionaries of despotisms end up sounding like the thugs they represent."

Update: The head of the Lebanese Committee of Industrialists Fadi Abboud addressed the closure of the border crossings. Among the things he said was: "Damages are not confined to Lebanon alone. They touch all trade partners with Lebanon, be it on the side of imports or exports, and first on the list are Jordan and the Gulf Arab states, and the entire Arab world. Everyone should refrain from using this weapon because it's a double-edged sword that could lead the other parties to use the same weapon, meaning closing the borders between Jordan and Syria, etc. This would benefit no one."

Thus are Reports Generated

Emmanuel Sivan figures out that Sy Hersh is a fraud:

Hersh said he heard the story from Robert Fisk, the bureau chief of The Independent's Beirut office. But Hersh did not check out the story himself. For his part, Fisk said he heard the unconfirmed report from Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence agent and the founding director and Middle East representative of the Conflicts Forum, a non-profit organization that aims to build a new relationship between the West and the Muslim world. Crooke, who gained his reputation through his involvement in the conflict in northern Ireland, does not know Arabic. When Lebanese journalists spoke to Crooke about the report, they said he told them only that he had heard it "from all kinds of people."

Thus are reports about the Middle East generated, I thought to myself.

Of course, one can also say that Hersh's a tool.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Road to Surrender

I simply had to share this, if only for the Pelosi and Baker-Hamilton bits!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Schenker: Syria's Export of Terrorism to Lebanon

David Schenker has a new Policy Watch out dealing with Syria's multifront campaign to undermine stability in Lebanon:

[I]t is increasingly clear that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's pro-Western, anti-Syrian government in Beirut faces yet another challenge to its survival: terrorism, almost certainly sponsored by Damascus.
To help the Lebanese government weather what is sure to be a long war with Syria, Washington should be clear in its uncompromising support for the Hariri tribunal. It should also follow up on UN Security Council Resolution 1701 by pursuing a second resolution to secure Lebanon's border with Syria. In this regard, now that Beirut has overcome the questions of sovereignty associated with the tribunal, it may be time for Lebanon to request, with U.S. support, deployment of UN forces on this border. Indeed, defending Lebanon's stability sooner rather than later is key -- as the past month has shown, as long as the tribunal proceeds, Syria will not be deterred.

The March 14 coalition yesterday called on the Seniora government to request international monitors on the borders with Syria. It's likely the Seniora government will follow up on that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Assad's Terrorist War Continues

No sooner had I finished my post below that I heard the breaking news from Lebanon. A new car bomb in Beirut has so far claimed 5 lives and a number of injured.

The bomb is said to have targeted Future Movement MP Walid Eido of the March 14 movement. It seems he was murdered. (Update: Indeed, Eido, his son and two bodyguards were all killed.)

This is a continuing pattern by the terrorist Assad of targeting the majority's MPs.

There were warnings about the resumption of assassinations by the terrorist Syrian regime. They were apparently right.

Update: Here's Assad's assassination math:

When the Syrian regime killed Pierre Gemayyel and tried to kill minister Michel Pharaon on the same day (and failed), their calculation was to kill enough ministers to automatically topple the government for lack of quorum. When that failed, they sought to get veto power within the cabinet.

There seems to be a similar calculation to strip March 14 of its parliamentary majority.

After the murder of Gemayyel, who was also an MP, Lahoud refused to sign the decree to hold new elections to fill his seat. Expect the same now. Gemayyel's seat is still vacant to this day. Prior to Gemayyel's assassination, a March 14 MP in Aleyh died of natural causes and was replaced by an independent MP. Now Eido was killed. Prior to his murder, the Syrians directly threatened an Alawite MP in Akkar who was aligned with March 14. He preferred not to be killed, and announced he was leaving the coalition.

So, where does that leave us? March 14 started with 72 MPs out of 128. They have now technically lost four, bringing their number to 68. If they lose 4 more, they will lose the simple (50+1) majority and thus the ability to elect a President (a top priority for Syria) or pass anything in parliament for that matter as long as Emile Lahoud remains in office.

This is not to mention that this assassination comes three days after the tribunal went into effect and one day after the UNSC condemned Syria's violation of UNSCR 1559. The message they wish to project? Syria will continue killing and terrorizing until it gets what it wants: full control over Lebanon and the termination of the tribunal. This is a war against the international community, not just Lebanon.

Expect four more attempts, at least, against March 14 MPs prior to Lahoud's departure.

In a related development, Syria's Islamist tool and al-Qaeda sympathizer Fathi Yakan threatened to take arms against the state. Given that Yakan is a tool of the Syrians (albeit politically insignificant), this is basically all but yet another open declaration of an all-out war by the Assad regime against Lebanon. In fact, as I hope to post later, I am now convinced that Yakan was and is an integral part of the plan the Syrians sought to achieve in the north through Fateh al-Islam. They were taken aback by the reaction of the state, but Yakan may just have tipped their hand.

The fact that the Syrians have to rely on nobodies like Yakan shows that they no longer have the ability to determine political outcome in Lebanon. They only possess terrorist violence that is still failing to affect political reality in Lebanon, and it's not going to make the Chapter VII tribunal or the investigation go away. It shows how weak, anxious and bankrupt this regime is in Lebanon.

Addendum: To add to my last graph, as well as recall a recent post of mine which makes many of the same points, read the following by Michael Young:

Tough times lie ahead, and Lebanon's crises are nowhere near their end. The Syrians are reinforcing the military positions of their Palestinian clients in the Bekaa Valley, inside Lebanese territory. However, the structures of Syrian power in the country have never been so brittle, with violence the only weapon Syria can deploy. And for once the Lebanese and their military and security forces are as one against such violence.

Update 2: President Bush issued a statement on today's assassination:

I strongly condemn today's assassination of Lebanese Member of Parliament Walid Eido, who was murdered along with his son, two bodyguards, and a number of others.

There has been a clear pattern of assassinations and attempted assassinations in Lebanon since October 2004. Those working for a sovereign and democratic Lebanon have always been the ones targeted. The victims have always been those who sought an end to Syrian President Asad's interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.

The United States will continue to stand up for Lebanon, its people, and its legitimate government as they face these attacks. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon must be allowed to do its work, so that those behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri and related crimes can be brought to justice. The assault on Lebanese state institutions by terrorists and armed extremists, cross-border arms trafficking, and efforts by the regimes in Damascus and Tehran to foment instability in Lebanon must stop now.

We ask for the international community to support the Lebanese government as it investigates this latest assault on its democracy. The perpetrators of these political assassinations must be brought to justice, and we all have an obligation to help the Government of Lebanon identify, investigate, and prosecute these killers.

Earlier today, An-Nahar reported that Asst. Sec. Nicholas Burns held Damascus responsible for supporting Fateh al-Islam and of standing behind all attempts to destabilize Lebanon.

Massimum Engagement

Caution: what you're about to read will shock you.

As you know, Italy's Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema recently joined the distinguished club of diplomats who went to "talk" to Syria, got nothing, got humiliated, got their words twisted, were told one thing in the meeting only to hear something else at the press conference, said they heard encouraging signs on border control only to be met with increased smuggling of arms and fighters, and so on. In other words, he was treated to the typical, quintessential experience of what it is like to engage Syria. He got the full monty.

So, it's fair to say, as a European source told the Italian news agency AKI, D'Alema's visit "was not very encouraging." Noooo! You don't say! But the previous attempts were so much more encouraging, no!?

Let's see: The British Nigel Scheinwald went and got nothing, then the German FM Frank Walter Steinmeier went and got nothing. They were then followed by Sen. Bill Nelson who got absolutely nothing. Actually check that: he got, in his words, "the usual dog-and-pony show" and "the standard party line." Then the EU's Javier Solana was sent on behalf of the EU, and guess what? He got nothing. The Saudis got nothing and since the Riyadh summit (where they told Bashar what was expected of him in no uncertain terms) they have not had any contact with the Syrians. The Egyptians got nothing. The Arab League's Amr Moussa got nothing. And so on and so forth.

As such, I must say, I was truly shocked to hear that after being publicly humiliated by the Syrians, à la Colin Powell, D'Alema's visit was "not very encouraging." That came out of the blue.

But what is telling about all these failed "engagements" (there is no other kind with Damascus) is that they reveal Syria's real priorities and goals. Here's the hint about those priorities: they have nothing to do with the Golan. It's all about re-dominating Lebanon.

What was the universal message of all these envoys that was met with Syria's rejection (coupled with terrorism in Lebanon)? Lebanon is off limits.

For instance, when Solana carried the unified message of the European Union in his very brief stop in Damascus a couple of months ago, he reportedly gave Bashar the following option: cooperate on all the UNSC resolutions on Lebanon (including the obligations to stop smuggling weapons and fighters, demarcate the borders, exchange embassies, cooperate with the tribunal) and in return you'll get restored ties with the EU, the EU Association Agreement (i.e. economic incentives), and renewed peace process with Israel over the Golan. But, Assad was told, Lebanon is the litmus test.

As is obvious, Bashar blew Solana off.

D'Alema's message was reportedly almost exactly the same as Solana's. He is said to have told the Syrians that 1- the tribunal is a fact that's not going away and the Syrians best cooperate (or, as D'Alema reportedly told them, "face the consequences on your own"). 2- Lebanon's independence is under the protection of the international community (i.e., Lebanon is off limits). 3- cooperate with UNSCR 1701 on smuggling weapons and fighters across the borders, and with the other resolutions (1680 on border demarcation and diplomatic exchange, 1757 on the tribunal, and 1559 on ceasing Syrian meddling in Lebanese affairs).

In return, he reportedly told the Syrians, the EU will help end Syria's political isolation and sign the Association Agreement as well as restart talks on the Golan.

In response, the Syrians sent more arms and fighters across the border, humiliated D'Alema at the press conference by making very different statements from what they had told him in private (according to D'Alema's aides), and twisted his words, leading the Italian Foreign Ministry to issue a clarification of what was actually said.

What is the lesson from all this? Talking to Syria is useless. There's nothing to talk about. Our interests and theirs are diametrically opposed. This is precisely why France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said: "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."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Deliberate Falsehoods

David Kenner links to an interview with a former bodyguard of Usama Bin Laden describing al-Qaeda's coordination with Iran.

David is right to point out the absurdity of those who use a half-baked argument resorting to Islamic sectarianism as a determinant, which, they claim, categorically prevents Sunni Islamists from working with Shiite Iran or "secular" Syria.

The argument is of course ridiculous, and in many ways, this is old news. You can read Eli Lake's dispatches on this.

One of David's readers said that people who use it are "narrow-minded." But it's not just narrow-mindedness, it's also deliberate falsehood.

Here's one of the Syrian regime's analysts, Sami Moubayed, on Fateh Islam:

Yet it makes no sense for Syria to support a radical political and military Islamic group in Lebanon. Abssi's record in Syrian jails is enough proof of how illogical it would be to accuse him of being on the payroll of the Syrians. Radical political Islam has been a threat to Syria ever since the republic was created in 1932. It always has been a secular regime in Damascus - at times without the Syrians even knowing it.

Mmmm yes... Now how do we know that ol' Sami is, umm, full of it? Well, let's read what he had written in the past.

Here's ol' Sami writing almost a year ago in the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Focus on Syrian jihadist recruiter Abu Qa'qa' (whom I had mentioned in my recent piece):

He insists that anger of the religious youth should never be unleashed on their fellow Syrians or their government. This explains why the Syrian government has tolerated him since 2003. Many speculated that he was an agent of the Syrian regime, being used by the government to appease the rising Islamic street that was boiling with anti-Americanism. As long as he was not preaching against the state, it was believed, Abu al-Qaqa could be free to say what he wished in Aleppo. In conversations with friends and supporters, Abu al-Qaqa stresses that he is not against the state, emphasizing: "The state and I are against what is wrong" (author interview with Syrian source, June 22). He always calls for "Unification of the security and religious apparatus in Syria." He explains this bizarre argument: "Every believer must see that security is a positive action. The objective of a believer's religion is to prevent harm to human beings. This is done by the security services" (al-Rai al-Aam, June 14).
Since he was supported—although not necessarily created—by the security services to appease rising discontent in the Syrian street, it is likely that certain followers deviated from his path, seeing that he was too closely tied to the government.
What kind of a jihadist dabbles with a secular regime like the Baathists? What kind of a jihadist drives around in broad daylight in a Mercedes Benz? Abu al-Qaqa is one of two things. He might be a regime creation, whose supporters strayed from his loyalty to become terrorists working against the Syrian regime and against Abu al-Qaqa himself. These men might have carried out the failed Ummayad Square operation. Or it might have been executed by his opponents, who purposely planted his CDs, to place him in bad standing with the government. Or he might be a double-agent, working for the Syrians and international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, wanting to play both sides against each other. (Emphasis mine)

Mmmkay... Anything else Sami!?

Here's ol' Sami in an article in the Sept-Oct 2006 issue of the Mideast Monitor entitled "The Islamic Revival in Syria" where he again addressed the issue of Abu Qa'qa':

After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Abu al-Qaqa helped organize the infiltration of militant jihadists from Syria into Iraq. He publicly boasted about his role, which has been confirmed by jihadists captured in Iraq, including Muayed al-Nasseri, former commander of "the Army of Muhammad."[11] Abu al-Qaqa's high public profile led many observers to assume that he was operating under the protection of the authorities. In an October 2003 interview with the Christian Science Monitor, he flatly declared, "I would like to see an Islamic state in Syria,"[12] a statement that would normally be unthinkable in Syria.

After the Syrian government began to crack down on terrorist infiltration into Iraq, Abu al-Qaqa's role became murkier. At least two jihadists interviewed by Western and Arab media voiced suspicions that he was helping the Syrian authorities hunt infiltrators.[13] In January 2004, an al-Qaeda-linked bulletin board called Abu al-Qaqa a "spy."[14] Around this time, Abu al-Qaqa disappeared from public life and it was rumored that he had traveled to Chechnya. He reappeared in Syria shortly after the Umayyad Square attack and gave a press interview denying all links to the terrorist attack, showering the government with praise, and calling for the Muslim street to work hand-in-hand with the Syrian government against US and Israeli interests in the Middle East.[15] (Emphasis mine)

Abu Qa'qa' is said to be currently living openly in Syria, and reportedly was even appointed by the regime to run a religious school in Aleppo. He was even interviewed recently by a government-run newspaper in Syria, which described his discourse as "enlightened."

I will come back with a post with other specific examples of Islamists working with the Syrian regime as soon as I get the time.

So yeah... next time you hear ol' Sami talking, make sure you have a healthy serving of salt on you, cause ol' Sami is fast and loose with the truth. Let's just call him "truth-challenged."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Annals of the Absurd

Here's an example of how even good journalists fall in the trap of swallowing the Syrian regime's sinister and twisted line.

Exhibit A, Jay Solomon in the WSJ today.

I won't go into the asinine quote by Daniel Levy, as Solomon is not responsible for its depravity. Nor will I actually discuss the issue of "peace talks" with Israel, which Solomon completely misreads and misunderstands.

However, the following formulation has earned Jay this entry into the annals of the absurd: "The increasingly confrontational stance taken by President Bush and Lebanon toward Syria could have repercussions on Israel."

So, wait. Let's review the lead-up to this astonishingly foolish (and, at the risk of tautology, Moustapha-esque and Landis-esque) statement.

First, Solomon recounts how Syria is implicated in the terrorist assassinations in Lebanon that are being investigated by a UN investigation, which culminated last month in the creation of an international tribunal under Chapter VII that will try the culprits (it went into effect just yesterday).

Second, Solomon notes the serious charges of Syria's involvement in the current clashes in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese Army and a terrorist group deeply penetrated by Syrian intelligence, which had allegedly "splintered" from a Syrian-created proxy, which is little more than an extension of Syrian intelligence. The leader of this group, who had spent most of his life in Syria as part of that proxy, is accused by Jordan of training fighters headed for Iraq (to kill Iraqis and US soldiers) at a training camp in Syria. Other elements of the group were reportedly liaisons between Syrian intelligence and al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Third, Solomon mentions Syria's violation of multiple UNSC resolutions. For example, it's in violation of UNSCR 1701 through its continued smuggling of arms and fighters through its borders with Lebanon. (Not to mention the weapons it smuggled last summer -- and continues to smuggle today -- to Hezbollah.)

Not only is it in violation of a UNSC resolution, but, as Solomon notes, it has threatened that any attempt by the international community to help in the monitoring of that border will be -- get this -- "viewed as a hostile act"! Talk about chutzpah.

Yet it is at precisely this moment in the article that Solomon drops his beauty. After all the above, which amount to an open declaration of war against the US, the international community and Lebanon, Solomon musters his mental faculties to produce the most pathetic of lines, fully swallowing the thuggish regime's propaganda: it is not Syria that is waging a terrorist war. Oh no. It's President Bush and Lebanon who are "increasingly confrontational"!

Naturally! How dare they call for the implementation of UNSC resolutions, demanding that Syria stop killing people in Lebanon, supporting and dispatching terrorists to its neighbors, and for it to be held accountable for its actions!?

This is what happens when you drink from the "stupid tap" of the Syrian regime's sinister propaganda. You come out sounding repugnantly absurd.

Addendum: Just so as not to sound unfair, I must point out that Solomon's last graph is good and should be highlighted, given how much nonsense has been written on this issue:

Many regional analysts express skepticism that any Israeli-Syrian peace talks would bear long-term dividends. For one, Syria is seen as having significantly less influence over Hezbollah and other militant groups fighting Israel than it did before its 2005 withdrawal from Lebanon, when Damascus in essence ran Beirut. Analysts argue also that Mr. Assad is unlikely to jeopardize his military alliance with Iran in a bid to achieve peace with Israel.

I might come back to discuss this specific issue in a later post.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Asef Shawkat and Fateh al-Islam

I have noted in previous posts, and in my recent piece, the reports about the ties between Syrian intelligence and Fateh al-Islam. More reports are emerging.

One individual who was arrested recently was said to be the liaison between Fateh al-Islam and al-Qaeda on the one hand, and the Syrian intelligence services on the other.

More details have come out on that end. The Kuwaiti al-Ra'i al-'Aam quotes security sources in Lebanon as saying that a Lebanese member of Fateh al-Islam, Muhammad Mer'i, who was arrested, has provided information that his brother Ahmad, the "liaison" who was arrested, was "in direct contact with Gen. Asef Shawkat," Bashar's brother-in-law and head of military intelligence in Syria. He was also in close contact with Shaker al-Absi. Moreover, Ahmad was the main coordinator in charge of transferring fighters through Syria.

Ahmad's role as liaison entailed carrying Shawkat's instructions to Absi and the latter's requests from Shawkat. Ahmad Mer'i himself reportedly confessed to receiving orders from Syrian intelligence, according to An-Nahar.

According to Ahmad's brother, "an important boost was achieved when Ahmad managed, in cooperation with Shawkat's men, to smuggle to northern Lebanon an important explosives expert belonging to al-Qaeda named Abu Ahmad al-Iraqi, who is renowned for his expertise in preparing explosives and training the brothers in using them."

Al-Iraqi, he added, had lived in Jordan, Afghanistan and Iraq, then moved to Syria, and is wanted by the Americans. He is currently in Syria after Ahmad Mer'i managed to smuggle him out of Tripoli. He might have been joined there by a Saudi al-Qaeda member, who is a major financier of the group. (Although, Mer'i adds that there are rumors that the two may have since moved to Iran.)

This seems to dovetail with a report that appeared a few days ago in Asharq al-Awsat (English report here), which said that the mastermind of Fateh al-Islam's bombings has fled to Syria. The report had said the man was Lebanese, but apparently, if al-Ra'i al-'Aam's report is accurate, he is Iraqi. His liaison was Lebanese.

I repeat what I wrote in my piece:

Jihadist groups are not "using" Syria as a transit route, as he writes. Rather, Syria is inviting them to pass through in pursuit of its own interests in Lebanon and Iraq. Those interests include defeating the US in Iraq and re-dominating Lebanon, where Syria could sell itself as the only guarantor of stability. The Syrians will dangle jihadists as bait for the US, even as they will use them to hurt America and its allies. This calls for a serious reevaluation of the kind of counterterrorism cooperation that Issa envisions, especially after the Security Council last week formed an international tribunal to look into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

It's time to dispense with the myth that it's not in Syria's interests to support jihadists in Iraq or Lebanon. In fact, Syria's sole foreign policy asset - the only reason why people want to talk to Syria - is its ability to destabilize countries around it, hence inviting bargaining. It's a strategy designed and perfected precisely to induce the kind of proposal put forth by Issa. Engagement most often does not dissuade the Syrians; it encourages them. You'd think we would have learned the lesson by now.

I also recall Michael Young's recent comment on the same subject: "When Syria is systematically exporting instability throughout the region, you have to wonder whether its regime can be a credible partner to the U.S."

That, of course, is an understatement. Syria is an enemy of the US and a state sponsor of terrorism, including al-Qaeda types. Period.

Addendum: Arabic readers might want to read this dispatch by Abdel Karim Abul Nasr in An-Nahar today. It's on Syria's ties to Jihadists. I'll try to translate interesting excerpts for non-Arabic readers later.

Update: Abu Kais has more on this story. I think the following graph merits highlighting:

The above report reveals the alliance of interests struck between the Assad regime and al-Qaeda. The regime might not have full control over the Islamists once they're engaged in their jihad, but it provides them with logistical support and creates battlegrounds for them.

Compare this graph to the Abul Nasr report linked above.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

PSP Responds to Issa

It seems I'm not the only one to take apart Rep. Issa's op-ed.

Bahaa Abu Karroum, editor of the Progressive Socialist Party's website, penned a response of his own in An-Nahar entitled: "Why Everyone Must Not Talk to the Syrian Regime."

Here are some translated excerpts (emphasis mine):

In fact, there seems to be a clear misunderstanding of the position of the Syrian regime towards fundamentalist movements in general.
To say that the regime in Syria is secular and in opposition to the ideology of al-Qaeda and [Islamic] fundamentalism has no practical justification even if this explanation sounds logical to a large extent and is held by many officials in the West.

After the rise of political Islam in the region and its taking the lead in the camp of resistance and rejectionism, and since the regime in Syria belongs to a paradigm left over from the Cold War era, the regime has sought to present any alternative to its rule as unacceptable to the neighboring Arab states and the international community alike. And it therefore supports and harnesses this unacceptable alternative and actively seeks to keep it and develop it as the regime aborts all the other liberal and democratic alternatives. Moreover, this regime does not fear fundamentalism because it has the example of Hama, should anything emerge to threaten the regime.
What are the results of talking to the Syrian regime?
The Arab summit did not succeed in dissuading the Syrians from pursuing their policies despite all the criticism, wishes, and even tough talk that the Syrians heard. And instead of heeding the Arab will, the Syrian leadership considered the summit an Arab "rapprochement" towards Syria in order to break its isolation.

As for Lebanon, what was before the summit remains the same after it. Rather, the regime breathed easier and openly rejected the tribunal and escalated its plans in Lebanon. International delegates, including the UN Secretary General, also failed to dissuade the Syrians from opposing the international tribunal.

So, one must ask: if talking to Syria doesn't change anything, and if it reflects negatively on Lebanon, and pressures the dissidents and imprisoned intellectuals in Syria, and either way Syria never responds positively to any of the international community's demands, then why talk to Syria?

I'll Give You Nothing to Talk About

Let me start by saying that this was purely coincidental. But it seems that the stars were aligned to prove me right and bolster my argument.

Emile el-Hokayem and I both have back to back pieces on the ever-idiotic topic of "engaging" Syria.

Emile's well-written piece appeared in al-Hayat (English), mine in The Daily Star (a slightly longer version appeared in NOW).

Here's quote from Emile's piece that will ring a bell for readers of this blog (I emphasized the key terms):

[T]he logic of unconditional reengagement (as opposed to dialogue on discrete topics such as Iraq) is deeply flawed, and carries risks and costs that its proponents dismiss too easily. Unconditional engagement would send all the wrong signals to Lebanon and Syria. Damascus is already attempting to reassert its influence in Lebanon. While it will not send back its troops, it seeks indirect domination of Lebanese politics by reinserting itself in the Lebanese game through its intelligence assets and friends in Lebanon and, thanks to international fatigue with the Lebanese crisis and the US need to stabilize Iraq, even hoping to gain foreign acquiescence as it did throughout the 1990s.

Syrian-Israeli negotiations are not cost-free for Lebanon. In the 1990s, the United States, concerned that Syria would leave the table, barely challenged its occupation and use of Lebanon as a card during the negotiations. Today, the delighted Syrian reaction to American and European visitors clearly shows that Syria derives supreme confidence from the mere fact of being talked to.

If you were wondering where else you heard this, check some of my older posts where I note that contrary to the prevailing punditry, talking to the Syrians is in itself a reward and the Syrians themselves, as Emile notes, perceive it that way. The other key issue, highlighted by Emile, is one I've been harping on for a long time, also against the prevailing wisdom of the pseudo-realists, and that is that "you lose nothing by talking," that somehow, a super power engaging in diplomacy is consequence- and cost-free.

The only other place aside from Emile's piece where this was articulated was in an LAT piece by Lee Casey and David Rivkin which I had highlighted in the past.

My own conclusion read:

It's time to dispense with the myth that it's not in Syria's interests to support jihadists in Iraq or Lebanon. In fact, Syria's sole foreign policy asset - the only reason why people want to talk to Syria - is its ability to destabilize countries around it, hence inviting bargaining. It's a strategy designed and perfected precisely to induce the kind of proposal put forth by Issa. Engagement most often does not dissuade the Syrians; it encourages them. You'd think we would have learned the lesson by now.

And like I said, the stars were aligned to prove me right. Enter Italy's FM, Massimo D'Alema.

D'Alema goes to Damascus to practice appeasement. Now that the tribunal passed under Chap VII, D'Alema wanted to beg the Syrians not to kill his country's soldiers in UNIFIL as they have been threatening to do, and to stop sending arms and fighters to Lebanon.

So naturally, as they always do, the Syrians say, oh yeah, sure! And then, on the very same day, the Syrians smuggle arms and fighters through the Bekaa!

It gets better. Aside from the smuggling to the Syrian proxies (which I note in my NOW piece) the PFLP-GC and Fateh al-Intifada, the Army intercepted a truckload of arms coming from Syria (which makes you rethink this story from a few days ago: "Turkish Authorities Confiscate Weapons Sent by Iran to Syria").

Numerous reports in al-Hayat, an-Nahar, al-Watan, and al-Qabas have indicated increased movement in the Qusaya region in the Bekaa, in the camps of Syria's closest, and in many ways last remaining, proxies: the PFLP-GC and Fateh al-Intifada. As I noted in my piece (the NOW version), the PFLP-GC, which in essence is an extension of the Syrian mukhabarat, has been giving Fateh al-Islam political cover, and reportedly military succor.

Jordan added the cherry on top: Jordan is holding a trial for Shaker al-Absi and members of an organization for running a military training camp in Syria to host and prepare suiciders and elements tied to al-Qaeda in preparation to sending them to Iraq.

The 17 members of the organization that were arrested had confessed to trying to join al-Qaeda in Iraq after having received training in Syria under the supervision of... Shaker al-Absi.

In other words, this bolsters my point (in the NOW piece) about what I dubbed "double agents," for lack of a better term. (Another interesting bit of information appeared in Asharq al-Awsat today saying that Ahmad Mer'i, who was recently arrested in Beirut, is another such middleman. He was responsible for smuggling fighters from Syria.) I'll have more on this issue in an upcoming post. Syria has a long history with this, all the idiotic assertions and lies by flacks about Syria not working with Islamists notwithstanding.

So once again, a Western diplomat is made to look like an absolute fool for trying to "engage" Syria! D'Alema pulled a Colin Powell: make ridiculous statements about "encouraging signs" and be slapped in the face by the Syrians on the very same day! This why I and others (including the WaPo's editorial page) have said that there are no results in Damascus, and that it is a dead end.

The thing is, this is not something new. This is chronic behavior. This is how the Syrians always behave. Which is what makes this story one of the most pathetic ever: D'Alema, according to al-Hayat, actually revived the hysterical proposal to give the Syrians equipment and training for better border control! This story is one of the most comical, and telling, in the annals of the absurd realm of ME diplomacy.

Barry Rubin, who covers and analyzes this particular tale in his new book, had mentioned it before in one of his columns:

Consider the tale of the night-vision goggles.
US forces in Iraq discovered that Syria had given the terrorist insurgents there night-vision goggles. Israeli forces in Lebanon found that Syria had given Hizbullah night-vision goggles. European governments are now considering Syrian requests for even more night-vision goggles, supposedly to be used to block arms-smuggling to its own clients - smuggling which the Syrian government itself is doing.

I guess being embarrassed by the Syrians is not enough for Mr. D'Alema. He insists on doing it himself as well. Thankfully all this nonsense means nothing and won't change anything. Syria remains isolated and the international and Arab consensus over Lebanon remains intact (again, contrary to the noise of flackdom), as evident from the passing of the Chap VII tribunal. The Syrians won't change their behavior -- they can't -- and they have already said they won't cooperate with the Chap VII tribunal, and so they will suffer the consequences and the appeasement track will hopefully die on its own.

In many ways, even D'Alema said so himself. Reportedly he told the Syrians that they have two choices: cooperate by fulfilling all the international obligations enshrined in the multiple UNSC resolutions on Lebanon (1559, 1680, 1701, 1757), or face impending tough measures all alone. The Syrians have already given their answer: dispatch terrorists to Lebanon. It's the same answer they've been giving every "engager" that was foolish enough to go their way.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Willful Tool

Just to follow up on the brain-numbing topic of Sy Hersh. I had argued that one of Hersh's sources may have been Syrian ambassador Imad Moustapha. My argument has since been bolstered, unveiling a larger network of Syrian tools feeding Hersh his material.

Indeed, some of Hersh's sources have been exposed in Lebanese papers and media and they include a Syrian businessman by the name of Raja Sidawi. But the main minder, it seems, is an old reliable Syrian tool by the name of Michel Samaha, a Lebanese former minister and Syrian agent extraordinaire. It seems that he has been the major source feeding Hersh all this venomous nonsense (including, by the way, that stupid -- and as always, false -- story about Israelis and Kurds that Hersh made up in another piece). Another source is reportedly Farid Abboud, who is Imad Moustapha's personal poodle, and who, despite being relieved from his duty as ambassador to the US, still loiters around, at the behest of his boss Emile Lahoud (Syria's primo pitbull), only to sabotage the Lebanese government any chance he gets. This includes feeding lies to ignorant journalists.

There are others as well, including people close to Jamil al-Sayyed, the former Syrian-handpicked security chief in Lebanon who is now in jail awaiting trial for his role in helping the Syrians in the murder of Rafik Hariri. Sayyed's entourage and lawyer have also been busy putting garbage out in asinine sympathetic publications like Le Monde Diplomatique. That garbage is basically repeating the Syrian regime's orchestrated slander against the former UN investigator Detlev Mehlis as well as against the tribunal (too bad it was all for naught as the tribunal was passed under Chapter VII at the UNSC).

This same slanderous attack against Mehlis and the UNIIIC was irresponsibly picked up in one of the reports by the International Crisis Group, whose luminaries Peter Harling and Gareth Evans also regurgitated the regime's line regarding the tribunal on separate occasions in al-Hayat.

But never fear. The buzz from Hersh's pathetic cheerleading squad is that the intrepid journalist's next article will pick up where they left off and attack Mehlis and others whom Syria considers its enemies in Lebanon by virtue of what they do (looking for the perpetrators of the Hariri assassination, in Mehlis's case, or advocating Lebanese sovereignty, in the case of the March 14 coalition). Always ahead of the times that Hersh! He'll be very useful for the regime who will feed him garbage on the tribunal and the investigation, then quote him afterwards as they did with the Fateh al-Islam story.

Hersh's aspiration now, it seems, is to be a willing tool for murderous thugs. Just as long as they hate Bush as much as he does. He has found his comfortable niche.

Syria's Useful Idiots

Here's a terrific article by Michael Young in today's WSJ. Michael takes on Seymour Hersh and his two regular sources, the "formers" Robert Baer and Flynt Leverett (more on that can be read in another recent piece by Young in Reason Magazine.)

Young and I have previously slapped Hersh around some, taking apart his silly and unchecked New Yorker article in March. You could revisit that here and here.

A key concluding quote from the WSJ piece: "When Syria is systematically exporting instability throughout the region, you have to wonder whether its regime can be a credible partner to the U.S."