Across the Bay

Monday, July 30, 2007

Minor Detail?

To follow up on my previous post. After Seniora's devastating response, Jumblat issued his own brutal demolition of Nasrallah's interview.

Here's one graph related to my previous post:

Is it a minor detail that he rejected the Armistice Agreement? ... Is it a minor detail that he offered this dubious, or rather conditional, recognition of the Taef Accord? Is it a minor detail that he glanced over the important segment in that Accord which talks about the Armistice Agreement [with Israel]? Is it also a minor detail when he says that the "blind international community," as he described it, was behind UNSCR 1701? Is this a first step towards completely reneging on this resolution and its content? For us, UNSCR 1701 is not a minor detail because this resolution along with the Armistice Agreement are enough to protect the country from entering into new murderous, destructive adventures.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Of Political Fools and Amateurs

I forced myself to listen to Michel Aoun's talk in Berlin in order to see whether he made the dangerous statements that Syrian propaganda claimed he did (judging from the audio file, he did not). The talk was more of an idiotic defense of his alliance with Hezbollah, a weakness ahead of the by-elections in the Metn.

As for why the Syrians made these false claims, suffice it to say for now (and I'll come back to it later), that in the Michel Aoun-Michel Suleiman feud over the presidency, the Syrians may have just put out an item to "burn" Aoun (or, more subtly, to create the impression thereof).

Listening to Aoun is an infuriating experience, since the man lacks any sense of logic, let alone politics.

But the laughable amateurishness of the FPM (and when your politburo is headed by an absolute fool and neophyte know-nothing like Gebran Bassil, it's small wonder) was on full display when he began talking about his "memorandum of understanding" with Hezbollah.

The way Aoun interpreted his "understanding" with Hezbollah doesn't even resemble what the text of this "understanding" actually says. In the speech he said that he still doesn't understand why the memorandum was criticized by everyone when all it said was that 1) Hezbollah's arms will remain until the Shebaa Farms and the prisoners are liberated, when 2) they would be integrated in the defensive strategy of the state, implying that they would no longer be independent, and would be integrated into the Army.

The problem, and this is hardly the first such incident (it happens every time an Aounist is faced with critical questions about it), is that Aoun and Hezbollah have entirely and wildly different interpretations of the incredibly and uselessly vague text of the memorandum -- which was precisely Hezbollah's intention to begin with (and again, when the person negotiating this is a geniuszz like Gebran Bassil, it's small wonder).

Here's what the text actually says:

X. Protecting Lebanon and Preserving its Independence and Sovereignty

The protection of Lebanon and preservation of its independence and sovereignty are a national responsibility, guaranteed by international charters and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly in confronting any threats or dangers that could harm them, irrespective of where these dangers might come from. Therefore, carrying arms is not an objective in itself, but a noble and sacred means that is exercised by any group whose land is occupied, in a manner identical to the methods of political resistance.

In this context, Hezbollah's arms must be addressed as part of a comprehensive approach that falls within two parameters. The first parameter is reliance on justifications that reflect national consensus and constitute the sources of strength for Lebanon and the Lebanese in terms of preserving these arms. The second parameter is to objectively define conditions that would eliminate the reasons and justifications for keeping these weapons. Since Israel occupies the Shebaa Farms, imprisons Lebanese resistance fighters, and threatens Lebanon, the Lebanese people must assume their responsibilities and share the burden of protecting Lebanon, safeguarding its existence and security, and preserving its independence and sovereignty by:

A. Liberating the Shebaa Farms from the Israeli occupation.

B. Liberating Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails.

C. Protecting Lebanon from Israeli dangers through a national dialogue leading to the formulation of a national defense strategy, which the Lebanese agree to and are involved in by assuming its burdens and benefiting from its outcomes.

What this stupid formulation says, aside from ascribing a "sacred" (and thus timeless) nature to the weapons, is that the weapons will be there, after the liberation of the Shebaa Farms and the prisoners, to "protect Lebanon from Israeli dangers" -- an incredibly opaque statement without any bounds whatsoever -- in a strategy that the "Lebanese agree to" -- i.e., it's not even defined in any way and it's conditional on Hezbollah's agreement! In fact, the rest of the statement -- "by assuming its burdens" -- suggests a partnership of sorts, a parallel institution, which is precisely how Hezbollah says it should remain!

And Aoun, incredibly, describes this idiotic, useless piece of nonsense as a "mechanism"! This is what happens when you have fools and amateurs trying to act smart. And he still wonders why people opposed it. Needless to say, Hezbollah itself treated this piece of paper as mere toilet paper last July.

In contrast, the Seniora seven-point plan actually has defined parameters, recently reiterated by Seniora in his detailed and devastating response to Nasrallah's latest venomous (and repetitive) interview on al-Jazeera. One such key is that the decision of war and peace is exclusively in the hands of the state, not Hezbollah.

In fact, this is precisely why Hezbollah (and Syria and Iran) is furiously trying to kill the seven-point plan and 1701 (which enshrined it in international law), as well as 1559. That was the purpose of the second part of Nasrallah's interview -- which specifically rejected the Armistice Agreement with Israel and the placing of Shebaa under UN control -- and this is a central purpose of Hezbollah seizing veto power in the cabinet. I'll also remind you that this is also Syria's desire, and it was indeed Syria who first tried to destroy the seven-point plan at the Arab summit in Riyadh. Hezbollah then started making noise that it "didn't really agree" to the seven-point plan last August.

The Seniora plan explicitly talks about state monopoly over arms and the decision to declare war and peace, as well as an affirmation of the need to revive the 1949 Armistice Agreement with Israel, as stated in the Taef Accord, and the placing of Shebaa, once its status has been defined, under UN control paving the way to its restoration.

Incidentally, it's no coincidence that the "memorandum of understanding" makes no explicit mention of the Taef Accord (never mind UNSCR 1559). It's also no coincidence that in his rebuttal, Seniora made sure to highlight that Nasrallah's position is in violation of the Taef Accord -- the basis of civil peace in Lebanon -- and that Nasrallah's attack against the seven-point plan is actually an attack against the Taef Accord.

And the Generalissimo doesn't understand. Of course he doesn't. That's the whole point. Now he's trying to deceive his voters just as perhaps he has deluded himself.

Addendum: A propos, from Hassan Haydar's piece in al-Hayat (English):

So it seems that twisting the truth and switching positions are part of the 'politics of ambush' embraced by Hizbullah both publicly and in secret. And anyone who buys into the idea that the national unity government demanded by Hizbullah and its allies will remove Lebanon from destructive regional axes and restore peace and stability in the country has fallen victim to the politics of perpetual ambush.

Addendum 2: Also a propos, from a piece by Bahaa Abu Karroum, editor of the PSP (Jumblat's party) website:

The memorandum of understanding between the FPM and Hezbollah does not define a specific time frame for this party to abandon its weapons or to hand them over to the Lebanese state, nor does it tie it to a specific achievement or even the end of the occupation and the liberation of prisoners. The memorandum leaves things hanging until the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

However, what has become clear from experience, combining the presence of Hezbollah's weapons and the arsenal of rockets with regional goals on the one hand and the launching of the project to build a state on the other, is one of the greatest impossibilities. ...

Moreover, there is no common ground between the memorandum and UNSCR 1701 ... and the memorandum never mentions the Taef Accord...

Addendum 3: Here's how former Ambassador Johnny Abdo interpreted what the Syrians did, by claiming Aoun made statements he didn't make:

God help General Aoun as a result of the denial that he issued. It reminds me of a statement that came out of Syria and was attributed to the late President René Moawad. In other words, the statement was issued for him, and he denied what was attributed to him, and it cost him what it cost him [he was assassinated with a car bomb in 1989]. The Syrian regime is now testing Aoun before they go with him for the presidency. First they test him. They tell him, if you want to become president we will make statements on your behalf. Even if you deny them, we will confirm them and you will have to accept it.

Update: After Seniora's devastating response, Jumblat issued his own brutal demolition of Nasrallah's interview. I will come back to translate parts of it for you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Syria Occupying 4.5% of Lebanon

This was first reported yesterday in a piece by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. Today it's published in USA Today. "Syria still occupies up to 180 square miles (4.5%) of Lebanon and smuggles arms to militants there."

A similar story was reported in Lebanon by al-Mustaqbal newspaper, regarding Syrian military incursions into Lebanese territory. According to the report, Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions "in more than one area" along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging "hundreds" of trenches and individual bunkers.

Lebanese newscasts regularly report repeated land theft, harassment, and prevention of farmers from reaching their lands. All this because Syria, which refuses to recognize the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, refuses also to demarcate its borders with its neighbor.

Syria is therefore in violation of multiple UNSC resolutions, including 1559, 1701 and 1747. This is precisely why it's seeking to bury these UNSC resolutions by killing its way into controlling the executive in Lebanon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Syrian Propaganda about Cousseran

Like I said, I love Syria's flacks. They're quite amusing.

Take for instance these two mouthpieces of the Syrian regime: one in Arabic and one in English, writing the same bull story, back to back.

The propaganda first came yesterday in Arabic. Ibrahim Hamidi, the Syrian water carrier in al-Hayat (a spot previously held by Syria's deputy prime minister Abdallah Dardari, just so you get an idea of what this operation is) wrote the only report anywhere making the claim, based on Syrian official sources (who fed it to him to disseminate), that Syria and the French delegate Cousseran agreed on first establishing a national unity government in Lebanon, and not the presidency.

Today, the regime's English-language mouthpiece, picked up and elaborated on this propaganda (without providing a link to the original Hamidi spin, providing only a second hand report that doesn't name the author of the al-Hayat report).

The problem with Syrian propaganda is that it's quite transparently ridiculous and easily belied by what European and Arab sources have intentionally been leaking to the press.

Anyone with any idea about the French initiative and priority knows that what they are seeking is to ensure that there is no vacuum in the presidency, which is obviously what Syria and Hezbollah are looking for, as evident from recent statement by Hezbollah's Mohammad Raad.

It's very clear that Cousseran encountered this intransigence in Damascus, leading the French to leak this to the press. You can read about it in my previous post. Soon, Arab sources started leaking what Cousseran told them about his visit.

Arab diplomatic sources told Asharq al-Awsat that Cousseran "returned from his visit with discouraging impressions. He told Arab officials whom he had visited after returning from Damascus, that he carried a very firm message to the Syrians, that his visit would be the last visit by a French official if Syria does not alter its behavior in Lebanon. And he assured those whom he met in the Syrian capital the rejection of his country of 'separating' the relationship with [Syria] from the relationship with Lebanon, telling them categorically that 'Lebanon is the mandatory pathway for this relationship'."

In other words, to deconstruct the Syrian propaganda, Syria did not agree with Cousseran on the national unity government, it actually presented it as a brick wall about which there can be no compromise (as evident from Hezbollah's statements). In fact, the Hamidi report did say that Syria will not go with any proposal that is "not in its allies' interests."

This report in al-Balad today pretty much confirms this reading (p. 2):

Opposition sources told al-Balad that the opposition will not agree to the package deal [which would include the presidency and the government] and that there is no backing off the national unity government.

Political sources noted that the French delegate got from the Syrian leadership that it would back dialog but won't pressure its allies. Cousseran understood that Syria won't support reaching a Lebanese agreement that includes the government and the presidency, and he got [from Syria] an affirmation on the need to change the current government.

Meanwhile, the absolute intransigence by the opposition on Cousseran's proposal for a package deal has placed the French delegate before a complex mission which makes Kouchner's visit at this time and in this circumstance without any usefulness. It is perhaps a test for the Syrian position regarding a compromise and a solution in Lebanon.

And so, the real story is this: Cousseran saw that this is a dead end, and proceeded to report that this is the case, and how the Syrians remain negative and obstructionist, and this in turn was leaked to the press by the French and the Arabs whom Cousseran briefed about his visit.

Hamidi then came out, a couple of days after the leaks appeared in the media, to put the transparent Syrian spin on this whole story. The purpose of Hamidi's report is to make sure that Cousseran's (and subsequently Kouchner's) mission in Beirut is torpedoed (as evident from Hezbollah's intransigence). Moreover, Hamidi's report was basically a confirmation (of the other leaks) that basically the Cousseran mission and French attempt with Syria is finished.

This not only vindicates the US and Saudi position, but now, as Michael Young put it last week, "Kouchner and the EU should not fear blaming the guilty for this and going back to the Security Council, evidence in hand."

Update: Walid Moallem declares that Syria supports the Swiss initiative to resolve the Lebanese crisis. This is what this means: France, kiss our backside.

Moreover, this is because the Swiss have come up with a particularly idiotic initiative that would have Iranian and Syrian representatives hovering behind the table to keep an eye on things. This is something the French went out of their way to reject.

Who Needs Syria!?

Syria's flacks are incredibly amusing.

They're now flaunting a recent report in Reuters about Syria canceling a meeting it had organized bringing together a number of Iraqi tribal leaders and Baathists living in Europe, the neighborhood and Syria itself. The Iraqis' plan was to form a political front to negotiate with the Americans.

You'll recall how the Syrians had tried this pathetic ploy before in January, to no avail, by organizing a conference to elect a new, splinter leadership for the Iraqi Baath Party. The whole thing went nowhere as the Izzat al-Duri faction lambasted the Syrians as "the natural ally of the Safavid regime in Tehran" and expelled the splinter Baathists who claimed the new leadership. I.e., the whole thing was a joke, and a pathetic attempt by Syria to try to sell that it can "deliver" the Iraqi Sunnis!

At the time, I quoted this former division general of Saddam's Republican Guard, who dismissed the assumption that Syria can claim any leverage through tribal links to the Sunni insurgency.

The myth of Syria's "control" over Iraqi tribes (and anyone who says this understands nothing about tribes) has become even more ridiculous in light of news in recent weeks and months about the US armed forces and the Iraqi government working directly with the tribes.

Here's one such report today: "U.S. forces have brokered an agreement between Sunni and Shi'ite tribal leaders to join forces against al Qaeda and other extremists, extending a policy that has transformed the security situation in western Anbar province to this area north of the capital."

It was the Marines who were responsible for the situation in Anbar. One Marine wrote the following to me: "The jarheads have been talking to a lot of people there, and they ain't Syrians!"

The Marine's point is obvious and it was highlighted in an analysis piece by Stratfor on the canceled conference in Syria: "it is not clear that these insurgent leaders actually need to hold Syria's hand to talk to the Americans, meaning al Assad likely will have to make a stronger case if he wants to be taken seriously in Washington."

This is not to mention the tribal leaders, and not to mention why the US needs to talk to Syria when it has direct contact with the tribes with whom it is cooperating to fight jihadis whom Syria is dispatching across its border!

But a flack's job is to keep trying to sell snake oil. Never despair, flacks!

Update: From O'Hanlon and Pollack's op-ed in the NYT:

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship.

Like I said, who needs Syria?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Inevitable: Cousseran Hits the Syrian Brick Wall

This report in al-Balad (page 2) about Cousseran's visit to Syria dovetails very well with the Naharnet report the other day, which a reliable French source with contacts in the Elysee informed me is true. It restates what I have said numerous times on this blog: for the international community, Lebanon is the litmus test for Syria; nothing else.

Al-Balad writes:

Very knowledgeable western diplomatic sources in Beirut said: "the Syrian leadership told the French delegate Jean-Claude Cousseran: 'we hope that France would deal with Syria separately from its relations with Lebanon.' Cousseran answered: 'there will be no normal relations between France and Syria separate from dealing with the Lebanese crisis and [Syria's] attitude towards Lebanon.'

The paper adds: widely knowledgeable sources indicate that Cousseran came out after meeting the Syrians with the impression that the Syrian position is negative, and that the talk about Lebanon being the way forward for Syria's relationship with France did not reach Syrian ears. The sources added that the talk of French officials downplaying the importance of Cousseran's visit reflects Kouchner's disappointment. The sources emphasized that "Syria and Iran are playing the game of buying time while holding on to rigid positions."

Facing this negative impression, the French Foreign Ministry, on the eve of Kouchner's visit to Beirut, is leaning to declare a position that would put Syria before its responsibilities. The Syrian reaction to that anticipated position will determine, according to the sources, the results and outlook of Kouchner's visit amidst French fears that Syria is not at all willing to change its policy in Lebanon. This comes amidst increased talk about the American position which holds that Syria's performance will not change in Lebanon and the region. And amidst the French attempts at testing the Syrian position, Washington is moving strongly to form the international tribunal which will be met by strong French support.

First, the last graph seems to bolster Michael Young's recent argument:

What can Kouchner do to avoid being hoodwinked? Playing on Syrian and Iranian differences won't work. The two countries have perfected a good cop-bad cop routine. But France can perhaps position itself in such a way where it has the final word among the Europe countries on Syrian and Iranian intentions in Lebanon. In other words, it can agree to stand or fall by its efforts to determine the seriousness of Damascus and Tehran when it comes to finding a solution acceptable to all the Lebanese parties; with clear recognition in Brussels, particularly from the European Union's chief foreign policy official, Javier Solana, that France's judgment will be authoritative. For this to work, Kouchner should set benchmarks for success and a specific timeframe to try achieving a more detailed common agreement over principles. If nothing gives, then he should publicly declare who prevented a resolution to the crisis.
Lebanon is heading for a perilous vacuum on the presidency, and Kouchner and the EU should not fear blaming the guilty for this and going back to the Security Council, evidence in hand.

Second, the al-Balad story pretty much confirms the Naharnet report, especially the parts about the coordination between Syria and Iran, which Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus was designed to bolster more publicly (and these very public visits serve, and have served in the past, the purpose -- among several others -- of dispelling any notion of a potential break in the alliance. For more on the history of this, read Goodarzi's Syria and Iran as well as Hinnebusch and Ehteshami's Syria and Iran: Middle Powers in a Penetrated Regional System).

It doesn't take a genius to realize that Syria's and Iran's strategic interests in Lebanon converge over Hezbollah and its role, and therefore against the UNSC resolutions and the Lebanese government that adopts them. Michael Young put it well: "there are no signs that the two countries have anything but common objectives today: to defend Hizbullah and its weapons; to put the international community on the defensive by eroding UN Security Council resolutions, particularly Resolutions 1559 and 1701; and to guarantee that the next Lebanese president is someone they can trust and who will help them achieve the first two objectives."

As such, this part from the Naharnet report hardly comes as a surprise: "The sources said the Iranian leadership has expressed solidarity with the Syrian regime regarding rejecting the formation of any Lebanon government that opposes Syria."

It was also rather clear from recent statements by Hezbollah officials (esp. Muhammad Fneish) to French and French-language Lebanese outlets, that Hezbollah is intent on torpedoing the tribunal (and the seven-point plan) by asking for the revoking of all decisions taken by the Seniora cabinet after the resignation of the Shiite ministers.

And in a statement that confirms the quote above from Naharnet, Fneish ominously said: "It is evident that if Damascus considers that the Lebanese political system allied with its enemies constitutes a danger to its security and interests, it will not sit by without reacting."

Aside from confirming Syria's responsibility for the terrorism in Lebanon, Fneish also confirmed that in order for Syria not to view the Lebanese political system as "allied with its enemies" (see Mashnouq's remarks in my post below), then the current government, its decisions ("allied with its enemies") and the resolutions it adopted, most prominently the tribunal, have to be eliminated. In other words, as the Naharnet report put it, "the Iranian leadership has expressed solidarity with the Syrian regime regarding rejecting the formation of any Lebanon government that opposes Syria." The whole idiotic (and diplomatically dangerous) notion of "prying Syria away from Iran" has to be put to rest.

However, this part from the Naharnet report was the most ominous: "Cousseran said Iran neither desires a political vacuum in Lebanon nor the crisis to continue, but at the same time Tehran would not consider the two issues as redline."

This may be a carefully formulated position, designed as a very dangerous bluff. Let me explain:

We had all heard in recent weeks how the Syrians were pushing Lahoud to form a second parallel government to split the country politically and administratively, but also to prevent parliament from electing a president and to prevent Seniora's government from assuming all executive powers in case of a presidential vacuum. That idea is now dead, as it was always destined to be, signaling once again Syria's utter political bankruptcy in Lebanon.

It was dead because none of the serious political players (Aoun, Berri, and reportedly Nasrallah), who have an independent base of their own and are not totally reliant on Bashar (like Wahhab, Arslan, and the counter-elite that Bashar cultivated since assuming control over Lebanon in 1998) have all rejected it. In fact, even Sunni figures like Salim Hoss and Najib Miqati (people Syria may have banked would lead this government) rejected it outright. Hell, even Sunni pitbulls like the Islamist Fathi Yakan rejected it (especially after the Fateh al-Islam plot he supported in the north, and which may have been a crucial, Sunni, preamble, was totally decimated).

The US blacklist also played a role in putting it to rest. One Sunni figure who may have contemplated leading such a government, Fouad Makhzoumi, had to think twice given his financial interests in the US (the same applied to Berri).

But it was the Iranian ambassador to Paris (wink, wink) who officially buried the idea when he declared that Iran was against it.

If so, then what does that quote above mean that Tehran doesn't consider the vacuum and the continuation of the crisis as a redline? One analyst told me Iran "will escalate until the last minute, and then brake hard." This was perhaps echoed by Walid Jumblat who recently said that while the Iranians don't give a damn about Lebanon, they do still care for Nasrallah's image, and a Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon would kill it, assuming anything of it still remains. For a second, parallel government to see the light, it would need Hezbollah's muscle, turning it effectively into a Shiite-government. It's little surprise Berri was opposed to it (and this is perhaps one reason he may have been summoned to Damascus for some harsh words).

But is that enough? It seems unlikely that Hezbollah, let alone the murderous madmen in Syria, will simply sit tight and let the Seniora government assume all executive powers in the case of a presidential vacuum, or, worse still, allow the election of a president by the current parliamentary majority.

This is why we're hearing about multiple new potential scenarios, all of them ridiculous and dead-ends (which is not to say that a desperate and bankrupt Syria won't push for anyway). One has it that Lahoud will form a "transitional government" that would dissolve parliament and call for early parliamentary elections (with the hope that March 14 would lose its majority). There was even talk of Lahoud delegating all powers to an emergency military cabinet. Then there's Hezbollah's supposed proposal (via Michel Murr apparently) to have a transitional, two-year president (allegedly Michel Suleiman) after which new parliamentary elections would be held, and then a new president would ostensibly be elected.

This pathetic option was shot down not just by all the Christian forces, but even by Aoun himself, who is loath to seeing Suleiman come to office.

There are other concoctions (by Berri of course) of engineering a supposed "centrist" bloc in parliament, which effectively would be a pro-March 8 bloc made up of March 8 MPs and would-be defectors from March 14, to elect a "centrist" consensual president (which would actually mean a pro-March 8 president).

All of this is maneuvering in the bottleneck. Nevertheless, the danger of a presidential vacuum is real, and unless Hezbollah and Aoun agree to meet March 14 half way and agree to a consensual candidate to the presidency in return for a national unity government, the stalemate will persist, and may even degenerate into dangerous confrontation. Hopefully, Aoun and Hezbollah will realize that their putschist attempt in January failed, and almost led to war. Neither they nor the country can afford another such failed adventure. Only Syria can, as Cousseran found out.

Addendum: A telling statement that also fits well with the al-Balad report: "[French Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Pascale] Andreani also said that Cousseran stressed to MP Saad Hariri during talks in the Saudi capital Riyadh Thursday 'Paris' full support to the government of Premier Fouad Saniora.'"

Addendum 2: The Syrians apparently threatened Cousseran (original report in as-Safir here), as they did with Ban Ki-Moon:

According to As Safir, French sources revealed that the Syrians had informed Cousseran that what is threatening Lebanon and its stability at this time was the spread of al-Qaida across Lebanese territories.

I.e., they directly threatened the French, as they do with all their interlocutors. That's what they are. They will never change, as the French learned... yet again.

How pathetically transparent. They still don't realize that this jig is up. They have nothing else. That's what the regime is. Syria's foreign policy assets are limited and well-known. It's a matter of bending the entire international community to its will through intransigence and terrorism. They tried it with UNSCR 1559 and with Hariri's murder. The Syrian "demand" for a "clear recognition of Syria's influence and interests in Lebanon" and the "natural and distinguished relations linking Lebanon with Syria" is nothing short of a "demand" to terminate UNSCR 1559 and 1701, as Michael Young noted above.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why Saudi Arabia Doesn't Talk to Syria

Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of the Saudi al-Watan, was just on the political talk show Kalam al-Nass on LBCI.

He was asked why Saudi Arabia is no longer talking to the Syrians (despite all the idiotic propaganda by the regime's flacks about how the Riyadh summit set things back on course between them).

He said the crisis in Lebanon is all about the tribunal and nothing else. So the Saudis cannot talk unless there's something to be achieved, but in the case of Syria (as opposed to working with France or even talking to Iran), it is implicated in the murder. And when the issue is only about the tribunal, then basically there's nothing to talk about.

It's quite simple, yet people somehow still don't get it. To once again quote George Schultz, as I did in a recent piece, "you need to have something to talk about!" It's impossible when our interests and those of the other party are diametrically opposed. There's absolutely no common ground, and therefore, nothing to talk about. That's precisely why the Saudis have not talked to the Syrians in months, since Bashar, once again (who's counting?), showed that he has zero credibility and flexibility.

Addendum: The other guest on the show, analyst and former Hariri advisor Nihad Mashnouq, also hit the nail right on the head and said: "Syria is not willing to make a compromise (taswiye) not in Lebanon nor in Palestine nor in Iraq. Syria designates the government of Lebanon as an enemy government and is seeking to topple it by any means necessary, from the inside and the outside. That's what they've been trying to do."

Precisely. Fools and sinister flacks will talk about incentives and renewed negotiations for the Golan and what have you, but the reality is this: all this was offered and rejected. Numerous times too, and by a number of different delegates. The Syrians believe they can take Lebanon and kill the tribunal by force, thereby forcing the hand of the international community, and then still demand the rewards of the incentives afterwards, regardless!

In other words, as I have said numerous times before, there's nothing to talk about.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Charles Hill on Lebanon

Charles Hill, the Chief Foreign Policy Advisor for the Rudy Giuliani campaign (which also features Martin Kramer as Senior Middle East Advisor), dicussed what the Giuliani foreign policy would look like in an audio interview with Ed Morrissey. It's excellent overall, and I was particularly gratified hearing Hill on Lebanon (right after talking about Iraq towards min 25). Here's what he said, in the context of talking about Iraq and US policy in the ME as a whole:

Lebanon is now in dire straits. This is something that is in our national security interest. In the first... it's a top drawer interest. Because if we don't see this through and win this, that whole region can come into the hands of terror using jihadis and turn the entire Middle East against the rest of the world order.

The whole interview is recommended listening. (Hat tip: Martin Kramer).

Ackerman Introduces Resolution to Back the Lebanese Government

Heartening news about the enduring, bipartisan support in the US for Lebanon and the Lebanese government against the terrorist onslaught by Syria and its allies, regardless of the change of leadership in Congress.

Rep. Ackerman's statements are absolutely on the mark (compare to Bill Harris' piece). Kudos to him. Note who co-sponsored the resolution: Tom Lantos and Darrel Issa, both of whom had visited Damascus.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, today introduced a bipartisan resolution expressing the support of the House of Representatives for Lebanon's government, and affirming continued U.S. readiness to provide material and economic assistance in order to help protect Lebanese sovereignty and independence. Condemning Syria and Iran for their ongoing roles in providing arms to Lebanese militias, particularly Hezbollah, and Palestinian factions, the resolution calls for "prompt action" by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon established by the UN Security Council to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

"What's been happening in Lebanon is aggression in the classic sense of the word" said Ackerman. "What we have been seeing is not an ordinary political stand-off, but rather a concerted effort by Syria, Iran and their Lebanese proxies to prevent the creation of a genuinely sovereign, democratically governed and non-confrontational Lebanon."

"The current Lebanese government is both legitimate and representative of the majority of Lebanese” Ackerman added. “The attempts to undermine it through a campaign of assassinations, rioting and demonstrations, bombings in public places, threats to establish an alternative extra-constitutional government, and the instigation of a jihadi insurgency are not responses to anything the Lebanese government has done. Lebanon's government is being systematically attacked only because it is unwilling to subordinate its authority and sovereignty to external and extra-legal demands."

"Quite simply, Lebanon is being bullied” said Ackerman. “And in light of this, I think the United States and the entire international community are obliged to come to its aid. The resolution I've introduced today is intended to show support for Lebanon and for all those fighting to preserve its sovereignty and the independence of its government."

The resolution is co-sponsored by Representatives Mike Pence (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee, Tom Lantos (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Darrel Issa (R-CA) and Charles Boustany (R-LA).

Noting the growing prospects for a political crisis, or even the return of civil war, Ackerman has scheduled a hearing in two weeks to bring more attention to events in Lebanon.

High Stakes

The always-sharp Bill Harris explains what exactly is at stake in Lebanon:

In the contemporary world it is fashionable to represent conflicts as involving various shades of gray among contending parties, with clear moral choices being problematic. In the current Lebanese crisis, however, the choice is clear – it is between day and night, between light and darkness.
Beyond the worthiness of Lebanese democracy, the Lebanese crisis poses the fundamental issue of stamping out political murder. The Syrian regime’s apologists whine that the Hariri assassination – in fact the mass murder of more than twenty people and one event in a continuing chain of murders – is not a suitable matter for international intervention. But, even setting aside international security in the Levant and foreign – Syrian – interference in Lebanon, who else except the international community could pursue the criminals given that the Lebanese legal system has been terrorized and corrupted into impotence? No democracy and no pluralism can coexist with impunity for political murder. This is an international matter. Exemplary punishment for Hariri’s assassins and their masters and accomplices at the hands of the international community will send a powerful global message. It would be an international disaster for the UN’s first ever murder inquiry and court to become a fiasco.

Indeed, what's at stake is quite clear, and it goes beyond balance of power issues: either rule of law (and international law) -- which is the basis of the international system and of sound governance everywhere -- prevails, or the rule of thuggery, terrorism and violence prevails.

Either the international community stands up for its values, its laws, and its very system, or it legitimizes terrorism as the principle rule and tool to achieve objectives (which also means legitimizing Bin Ladenism more generally).

It's as simple as that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Syrian Proxies and Fateh al-Islam

I've reported before how the extensions of the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, the Palestinian proxies like Fateh al-Intifada (which midwifed the so-called Fateh al-Islam) and the PFLP-GC, have been giving direct support to Fateh al-Islam.

The latest news from Lebanon reads that two fighters from the PFLP-GC, who were fighting alongside Fateh al-Islam in Nahr al-Bared, surrendered to the Army on Monday.

So you see, Syria is certainly not supporting Fateh al-Islam! Just ask Sy Hersh.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Total Sham

Remember this? When Damascus tried to present itself as a player and broker a deal between Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, only to have it explode in its face, and then proceed to spread pathetically hilarious lies left and right (including through its flacks) that it was instrumental in paving the way for the Mecca Agreement (which it then proceeded to sabotage with Iran, as it tried to do with the Saudi initiative, and at the Riyadh summit)?!

Well, Mahmoud Abbas recalled that episode recently, as reported by al-Quds al-Arabi:

Prior to the Mecca Accord [Abbas] was personally hesitant about meeting Khaled Meshaal and knew in advance that it would not be a useful or beneficial meeting. He also said that President Bashar Assad and his Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa as well as [FM] Walid al-Moallem forced him to meet Meshaal and insisted on that because Syria cannot afford to have meetings held on its soil fail. They said violently to Abbas that this meeting had to be held even if for protocol and for the cameras.

Abbas then proceeded to say that at least three states were aware of the plot to assassinate him: Syria, Iran, and Qatar. The three states, said Abbas, also knew beforehand about the Gaza coup and that one of these states, which he did not name, blessed the plot and wished it well.

Once again the obvious point emerges: The Syrian regime has only one foreign policy instrument. That instrument is its foreign policy: terrorism. It has no capacity to do anything else; only terror, murder, violence, and sabotage.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Some Levantine Clarity

Pierre Habshi wrote an interesting article in response to a laughably horrific and pisspoor piece on Lebanon by Anthony Sullivan that, incredibly, was published in The National Interest in May:

At a time when the need for solid analysis of developments in the Middle East has become crucial, it has paradoxically become easier to publish far-fetched and puzzling reports masqueraded as thoughtful insights generously shared with the American public by the "experts." Antony Sullivan’s "Levantine Labyrinths" is a prime example of such a trend.
Sullivan’s other gaffes are too many to fully examine, but I will address the following:

First, according to Sullivan, Hizballah and the Maronites are both "distressed" by the growing presence of Sunni fundamentalist groups in Lebanon. Sullivan sees in this "a possibility for Maronite-Hizballah cooperation and a potential opening for the United States." Recent events in Lebanon have shown otherwise: In response to attacks by the fundamentalist Fatah al-Islam, the United States chose to support the Sunni prime minister, who is backed by the Maronite-led, but multi-sectarian, Lebanese military. Hizballah, meanwhile, has been sidelined and left to utter unheeded warnings to the Lebanese government not to enter Palestinian camps to root out Fatah al-Islam. Hizballah’s principal Maronite ally, Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, the largest Christian party in the Lebanese parliament, has fully supported the Lebanese army.

Second, Sullivan claims that Syria has become "emboldened, having returned as a Lebanese kingmaker." He adds that for this and other reasons, "it is surely in the U.S. national interest to open a direct dialogue with Syria, as recommended in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report." But if Syria is kingmaker in Lebanon, what evidence does he have to prove it? The anti-Syrian Lebanese prime minister is still in office and has proven more tenacious than many believed. The pro-Syrian Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, even according to Sullivan’s implausible sources, "is currently under intense pressure from his children to quit office and retire in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia." Regardless, Lahoud’s term ends in September. Finally, the last major pro-Syrian politician holding office is Nabih Berry, the speaker of parliament. But he has been reduced to refusing to call parliament to session for fear that its anti-Syrian majority would ratify the UN tribunal on Hariri’s assassination. So much for Syrian kingmakers.

And finally, while Sullivan advises direct dialogue with Syria, he fails to provide tangible policy recommendations to the U.S. government. Syria’s influence in the region is chiefly reflected in its ability to create or fuel conflict, not resolve it. Syria has been unable or unwilling to seal its borders with Iraq, cease its weapons shipments to Hizballah in Lebanon, cooperate with the UN investigation into Hariri’s murder, prevent the infiltration of groups like Fatah al-Islam from its territory into Lebanon, or influence Hamas to make a meaningful gesture to the Arab-Israeli peace process. The only time Syria had a role in bringing peace was when it imposed Pax Syriana on Lebanon, ending a conflict that raged from 1975 to 1990. What "experts" rarely mention, however, was that Syria had a major hand in fueling the conflict for so long, assassinating Lebanese leaders of all sects (too many to list here), and even scuttling conflict resolution efforts that did not suit its interests. Its takeover of Lebanon in 1990 was the result of the senior President Bush’s perceived need for Syria as an Arab ally in the Gulf War—James Baker was then his secretary of state; the collapse of the Soviet Union, Syria’s main benefactor, which pushed the latter temporarily closer to America’s orbit; and Lebanese exhaustion and fear of further Syrian ruthlessness. But the result of Pax Syriana in Lebanon ultimately culminated in 2005 in an unprecedented Lebanese show of unity, following Hariri’s brutal murder, supported by international demands for Syria’s withdrawal. Predictably, Syria is destabilizing Lebanon through continued assassinations and the use of fundamentalist groups that it manipulates at will. But the vast majority of Lebanese who continue to oppose Syrian influence in their country, at the risk of their lives, have decided that such brutal tactics should not be rewarded and that a newly revived Lebanese democracy must be preserved. What would Sullivan, and those who hold his views in the United States, say to them? Negotiations with Syria must not come at the expense of democratic—though weak—Lebanon.

The problem with articles like Sullivan’s is not the views they present, but their lack of credibility. American foreign policy practitioners need serious analysis, not a regurgitation of coffee-house gossip from Beirut.

Alas, much too much of the writing on Lebanon is just absolutely dreadful. Some is uncritical and shallow, but much is also malicious, intentional misinformation.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

From the Archives

To follow up on a recent post of mine, this is from an old piece in the MEIB:

What is unique about bin Laden's influence in Lebanon is that it has appeared to evolve with the tacit approval of Syria and its satellite regime in Beirut.

Put simply, Syria has demonstrated a remarkable ability to infiltrate, uncover, and eliminate underground dissident movements in Lebanon, much as it has in Syria itself. To the extent that the above groups and persons have been able to operate freely in Lebanon, it is because Syria has permitted them to do so. The massive amounts of weaponry accumulated by the Tafkir wa al-Hijra rebels and their training camps in the mountains east of Tripoli, for example, could not have escaped the attention of Syrian intelligence. That Abu Mohjen and other suspected terrorists in Ain al-Hilweh have not been arrested despite outstanding warrants for their arrest is a conspicuous case of Syrian interference.
In discussions with Western diplomats, Syrian officials frequently claim that the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon will result in an outburst of civil war (the implication being that, just as the civil war during 1980s provided a safe haven for anti-American terror groups, future civil unrest in Lebanon will provide an outlet for extremists to organize attacks against the US). But this claim is only credible so long as bona fide terrorist groups continue to operate in what the Lebanese call "pockets of insecurity." Usbat al-Ansar and other extremist groups will seize upon the withdrawal of Syrian forces, the reasoning goes, and create chaos throughout the country.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The 60,000 strong Lebanese army is more than capable of maintaining security throughout the country after a Syrian withdrawal (unless, as many Lebanese expect, Damascus covertly arms these groups so as to provide a pretext for the return of Syrian military forces). At the very least, the Lebanese army is capable of moving into these "pockets of insecurity." But Syria will not allow it. (Emphasis added in bold.)

I'd say much of this proved prescient, to a large degree (and I would note how Syria's allies, including Hezbollah, attempted to play the old Syrian role and tried to prevent the Army from going after Fateh al-Islam). I would also add, as I have before, Syrian proxies who are also open al-Qaeda supporters, like Fathi Yakan, who I am convinced had a significant role in the foiled plot in the north. Note also how Hezbollah's operational mastermind, Imad Mughniyeh, is correctly listed in the piece as having ties with al-Qaeda. This is yet another item to add to what was mentioned in my earlier post.

Addendum: A propos, I spotted this graph in an otherwise typical piece in the pro-Hezbollah, pro-Syrian al-Akhbar:

أكّدت مصادر مطلعة على سير التحقيقات القضائية لـ«الأخبار» أن مرعي، الذي كان مطلوباً للقضاء اللبناني، كان قبل عام 2005 يتمتّع بتغطية سورية سمحت له بالبقاء حراً، بسبب علاقته ووالده بالمخابرات السورية في الشمال

Sources with knowledge of the ongoing investigation confirmed to al-Akhbar that Mer'i, who was wanted by the Lebanese judiciary, enjoyed before 2005 a Syrian cover that allowed him to remain free, because of his father's ties to Syrian intelligence in the north.

I had posted about the Mer'i brothers, Syrian intelligence, Fateh Islam and al-Qaeda here.

No Doubt

Here's an excerpt from today's Washington Post editorial:

There's not much doubt about who is behind the military buildup, not to mention the growing violence in Lebanon itself. According to the secretary general's report, "it is widely believed in Lebanon, including by the government, that the strengthening of [Palestinian] outposts could not have taken place without the tacit knowledge and support of the Syrian government." It notes Israel's claim that "the transfer of sophisticated weaponry by Syria and Iran across the Lebanese-Syrian border, including long-range rockets (with a range of 250 miles) . . . [and] anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, occurs on a weekly basis." And it says, "Hezbollah armed elements are alleged to be constructing new facilities in the Bekaa valley, including command and control centers, rocket launching capabilities and conducting military training exercises."

When Resolution 1701 was adopted, Israel urged the Security Council to deploy international forces or monitors along the Lebanese-Syrian border to prevent such weapons deliveries. Intimidated by threats of attacks on U.N. troops, the council refused. The result is that Syria and Hezbollah once again are positioned to rain missiles on Israeli cities, to wage war on the Lebanese government or to assault the foreign troops deployed in southern Lebanon. The Security Council has been fully informed; will it do anything to prevent another war?

The sad thing is that even when the UN balked, it didn't prevent the Syrians from killing UN soldiers anyway. This is what happens with appeasement.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The International Community's Test

Michael Young comments on Javier Solana's statements and the leaked minutes of Ban Ki-Moon's meeting with the thugs Assad and Moallem, both of which I had posted earlier.

Michael writes:

The minutes were intentionally leaked by the UN, and the timing was no coincidence. An educated guess would suggest the leak took place after the rocket attack against northern Israel in June, and the subsequent killing of the peacekeepers. The point was, evidently, to affirm what Solana did in his statement on Monday: that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon and the region in order to negotiate with the UN and the international community from a position of strength.

The exchange also proved that Assad, though he has denied Syrian involvement in Rafik Hariri's assassination, was very worried about the tribunal. And if there were any doubts about whether the Syrian leader wants to send his forces back in to Lebanon, his reference to Lebanese stability during the years of Syrian rule (even if the country was actually a mess between 1976 and 1990) surely dissipated them. Assad was blunt: If you want stability to return to the country then Syria must return to the country.

Repeated enough times, this kind of language will lose Assad even his most gullible friends in Europe. The cult of "engagement" of Syria is being battered by the fact that most European powers are realizing, to their dismay, that Damascus will not accept any of the quid pro quos that engagement requires. Instead, what they are all hearing, from Brussels to Berlin, is the Syrian language of the gun. Not even the most boneless of European officials could long sustain a discussion with Assad that is based on sundry warnings and intimidation, the practical impact of which is to terminate Lebanon's independence. And that a foreign minister should have exposed himself so recklessly in the presence of a UN delegation by assailing an ambassador in Beirut showed how dangerously belligerent and insular the mood in Damascus is becoming.

The implications of Solana's statements are clear. We are caught in a process of perhaps irresolvable confrontation - with Iran, Syria, and their allies in Hizbullah and Hamas on the one side; and the UN, the United States, Europe, the Arab states, and their allies on the other. Few Europeans relish being in so monolithic a standoff, and they are right. But unless something gives, unless Iran redefines its relationship with the West and the Arabs on the nuclear issue and its policies in the Middle East, stalemate will persist. Then we will see who has stronger knees: an international community that cannot afford to be browbeaten, or a Syria and Iran that must sooner or later prove they can build better than they can destroy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Solana suggests Iran behind Gaza, Lebanon attacks

Some interesting statements by the EU's foreign policy chief:

The European Union foreign policy chief suggested on Monday that Iran could be linked to the Hamas military takeover of Gaza, recent attacks on the Lebanese army, and on European peacekeepers in Lebanon.

Javier Solana, who has led efforts to bring Iran back to the negotiating table over its nuclear programme, stopped short of blaming Tehran outright, but said the incidents could not be treated separately.

"What happened in Gaza cannot be seen separately from what happened in Lebanon," he told a conference on the Middle East hosted by the Socialist group of the European Parliament.

"There are new groups in the Palestinian camps," Solana said. "And the fact that UNIFIL has been attacked for the first time cannot be taken separately."

Solana said that while the car bomb attack that killed six Spanish members of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on June 24 was carried out by "forces we don't know", he added: "It would be naive not to see this as part of a global approach."

"Somebody I know well -- Ali Larijani -- has said 'we are supporting Hamas'," he said, referring to the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, who made the statement in an interview with Newsweek published last month.

"All this is connected," Solana said. "It didn't happen by accident or miracle, it was probably planned."

"It would be difficult to understand without seeing other important regional players behind it," he added, referring to "other forces" in Iran and Syria.

Islamists, Stalinism, and the War Against Liberalism

Michael Totten has published a lengthy sharp piece by Lee Smith, dissecting a recent article by Ian Buruma.

Read it all.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Zero Credibility

To follow up on my previous post, here's an interesting piece that reiterates the now-open secret about who exactly were Sy Hersh's sources, namely Michel Samaha and Farid Abboud. Samaha was included in the recently-released presidential proclamation barring entry into the United States of Syrians and Lebanese deemed to be undermining Lebanon's sovereignty and democratic institutions:

the American move is, more importantly, a first step that can be extended to other Lebanese figures who do have stakes in the U.S., and who, thorough their alliances or actions, have perpetuated the Lebanese crisis.

The case of Michel Samaha is the most interesting. In the gallery of Syrian operatives, he is echelons above the rest. It was he who used his friendship with the American journalist Seymour Hersh to help get out Hersh’s controversial story in The New Yorker last March that the Hariri camp was financing Sunni Islamist groups in Lebanon. It was Samaha who, along with the Lebanese ambassador in Washington, Farid Abboud, and others with ties to the old regime, helped organize several of Hersh’s Lebanese interviews for that article. According to one reliable source, Abboud called some of Hersh’s interviewees ahead to ensure that everyone was on the same page when meeting with the journalist. And it was Samaha who reportedly handed Hersh the plum of his visit: a meeting with the secretary general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah.
Sources play journalists for saps, and Hersh has gotten great stories by channeling the leaks of those playing him. However, if a source is being targeted by the US government for, in this case, advancing Syria’s agenda, then it makes sense for Hersh’s employer to explore if Samaha unduly shaped the journalist’s copy, and if Hersh went too far in allowing this. That Samaha and Hersh are close, that Hersh relies heavily on anonymous sourcing and that specific accusations in his Lebanon piece about alleged Lebanese government aid to two Sunni Islamist groups went virtually unsourced, that Hersh relied on Samaha for a major interview with Nasrallah, and that Hersh arrived in a divided Lebanon plainly in the embrace of one side in the dispute, all suggest that a second look at his final article might be advisable, for accuracy’s sake.

The rumor is that Hersh is preparing a new piece on Lebanon. We look forward to reading it. But we hope The New Yorker reads it too, at least carefully enough to ensure that its prize journalist has not been – we are confident, unwittingly – turned into an agent of influence.

The Hersh piece, which effectively foreshadowed Syria's plan to destabilize Lebanon through Fateh al-Islam months before the fighting broke out (quintessential Syrian modus operandi, by the way), was used profusely by Syria's and Hezbollah's propaganda outlets in every single piece they put out during the first week of the fighting (including a piece by the regime's second English-language flack, Sami Moubayed) as an integral part of a media campaign covering the terror campaign.

In other words, Hersh was part and parcel of a Syrian terror campaign against a sovereign state; an irresponsible tool at the disposal of terrorist gangsters.

As for the last graph quoted above, see again my post on this.