Across the Bay

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Patrick Haenni on Hezbollah

Patrick Haenni, who authored the recent ICG report on Hezbollah, which I posted on here, recently spoke to NOW Lebanon. The interview is quite interesting and is recommended reading, as it debunks many of the myths about Hezbollah currently in vogue. Although I should state that there are a few places where I strongly disagree with Haenni, especially in his recommendations, some of which I think are paradoxical, inapplicable and ultimately disastrous.

At one point, Haenni raises an issue near and dear to my heart, that of the infamous "Toilet Paper" agreement with Aoun. Haenni notices the obvious, that the worthless MoU is interpreted in two diametrically opposed ways by Aoun and Hezbollah! In fact, the text of the MoU is quite clearly more advantageous to Hezbollah, and this is precisely how they're selling it. Haenni remarks:

Hezbollah can no longer recruit the Sunnis at the same level as its main-stream competitors. Basically they lost influence.

What is left is the Christians and Michael Aoun. The relationship works and it is pretty strong. Very strangely, it works very well for Hezbollah because… Aoun is showing the agreement [they made] to the foreigners and saying this is the political process that is going to realize UN Resolution 1559. Hezbollah, at the same time, is saying to their people, “look we have these Christians that are ready to give legitimacy to our weapons because [the agreement] states that the Lebanese have the right to defend themselves.” For Aoun, this is a very weak statement. He was very supportive during the war last year at the political and social level, and he got nothing in return. Where is the political process [that will] develop UN Resolution 1559? Basically, there is none. So you still have this pending relation with the Christians, but it is very tricky for Hezbollah now because it puts them in a contradiction. They have to be supportive of Aoun; they desperately need him because if they lost him they would be a purely Shia force, and they cannot accept that. At the same time, they say they want a consensual president because they think in terms of consensus... The argument for consensus can always give to the minority the possibility to block the majority, which is crucial for Hezbollah now that they have lost their foreign cover since the withdrawal of the Syrians.

This brings us to [internal] politics. In [2005], Hezbollah realized that they had [to be internally involved to a greater extent], but the issue was still to secure their weapons. However, with things going on on the ground -- especially the military situation -- it is more than that. Hezbollah has a real interest in making the state part of its global project. (Emphasis mine.)

The last bit is of great importance. As Haenni states later (for those who still think, to quote one especially ludicrous ME Studies professor, that Hezbollah is a "democratic force"), Hezbollah "need[s] the state, and [it] cannot wait until the elections, so [it] will go through street politics." I.e., mob thuggery. Hezbollah has clearly failed the democratic test (in fact, they've done everything to deface it in Lebanon), if there were ever any doubt.

This raises another issue I've talked about often, and that is that all these so-called non-state actors actually need state structures to leach off of. (But in Hezbollah's case, it's important to prevent the state from being strong and effective. That's why, contrary to the idiotic myths, Hezbollah is against any reform. Instead it seeks to be able to sabotage the state so as to be able to guide it to suit its agenda. As such, Hezbollah, as we know it, and a normal Lebanese state are two mutually exclusive projects).

This is also precisely why Hezbollah is actively seeking to reinstate the Syrian-controlled status quo, as it cannot impose its writ without it. As such, foreign policy luminaries should once and for all realize that contrary to the idiotic common wisdom (and the propaganda of the Syrian regime and its agents of influence), giving Syria a free hand in Lebanon will not be a limiting factor on Hezbollah. It's the exact opposite. That theory, stupidly endorsed by the Israelis in the 90s, has long been finished (since the mid-80s in fact), if it ever were a reality (in fact, the entire premise was wrong).

It is the Syria-free Lebanon that is proving problematic for Hezbollah to coexist with. As Ghassan Tueni wrote in his editorial on Monday, "it is impossible for the black turbans, who abide by the fatwas of the rule of the jurisprudent (تستفتي الفقيه ولاية), to rule Lebanon." They cannot tip the balance, and that's why they domestically use Aoun, but regionally, need to reinstate the Syrian order and eliminate all international resolutions including the international tribunal.

Of course, this means increased tensions with the rest of the country, who will not stand by and let that happen. And so Hezbollah's options are narrowing fast. The raison d'être of the "resistance" is finished, and it's clear that the rest of the country thinks so. The problem of course is that they continue to push towards the abyss, overestimating their power, not understanding their limits, and continuing to ignore and underestimate, to use Haenni's term, the other local forces, and not realizing that the culture of intimidation that the Syrians helped them establish is gone.

In the end, as Tueni put it, Hezbollah must understand that "any civil war it would embark on, would be impossible to win."

Syria's Useful Idiots... in Israel

To follow up on David Schenker's recent post on the issue, here's another post by Michael Totten on the irresponsible dissemination of Syrian disinformation by certain media outlets in Israel:

Jumblatt traveled to Washington this past weekend to give a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which you can read here. After Cham Press published its fabricated story, his office phoned the institute to make sure the Israeli Defense Minister would not be attending. He needed to be sure the two could not even run into each other by accident and make Syria’s bogus assertion look true.

Israeli journalists who “reported” this non-story should have noticed that they published a claim that Jumblatt and Barak will meet in the United States after the meeting was supposed to have already happened. Cham Press said the meeting would take place on Sunday, and Israeli media placed the alleged meeting in the future tense the following Monday.

Re-reporting Syrian lies in the Israeli press makes Cham Press look almost legitimate, its lies almost plausible. This should be obvious, but apparently it isn’t. The Damascus regime knows what it is doing and has been using gullible foreign journalists to its advantage for a while now.
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Syria is at war with both Israel and Lebanon. Journalists who wish to write about a conspiracy between Israel and Lebanon to destroy the regime in Syria need a better source for that story than the manipulative and murderous Syrian state.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Never Say Never Again

Lying in politics is supposed to be somewhat subtle. The Syrian regime, however, as with everything they do, give even lying a bad name with their pitifully crude transparency.

Witness their pathetic little ambassador in a recent interview (with which I'll deal more fully later):

Let me be clear about it: Syria has never, ever contemplated acquiring nuclear technology. We are not contemplating it today. We are not contemplating doing this in the future – neither for military nor for civilian purposes.

Oh, really!? Never, not even a contemplation, not even for civilian purposes, eh?

Well, let's check the record.

Here's a story from July 1998:

Russia, Syria Agree on Peaceful Uses Of Nuclear Energy

By Oleg Lebedev

Moscow, July 6, 1998 (RIA Novosti) -- The text of a Russian-Syrian inter-governmental draft agreement on peaceful uses of atomic energy has been agreed on. RIA Novosti was told at the information department of the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) that during the visit to Moscow by a delegation of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission (SAEC) agreement was reached on signing the document "within the shortest time possible."

Between June 27 and July 4, the delegation led by Ibrahim Osman, SAEC general director, conducted negotiations with the Ministry of Atomic Energy, AO Atomstroiexport and the Research Institute of Power Equipment (NIKIET).

During the meetings the sides agreed on the time of the realization of a nuclear research centre project in Syria with the participation of Atomstroiexport and NIKIET. The centre will be built on the basis of a 25 Megawatt light-water basin-type reactor.

The training of Syrian specialists at the Moscow Engineering Physical Institute (MIFI) was also discussed during the delegation's stay in Russia. It was agreed that before August 1 the institute will send to the Syrian side its proposals on the training of a group "under a two-year master-course" program, with a view to further training part of the specialists at post-graduate courses.

Apart from that the Syrian delegation told its partners about Syria's requirement in radioactive sources, charged particle accelerators and the production of liquefied gases for industrial and medical uses. The Ministry of Atomic Energy notes that "Russian enterprises are ready to render assistance" in settling these problems. It was also agreed that in settling these problems AO Tekhsnabexport will act as the executive agent from the Russian Ministry.

In 2003, the MEIB had another report detailing some of the "contemplation" and attempts by Syria to sign nuclear agreements with Russia.

More can be found in Ellen Laipson's 2004 study, "Syria: Can the Myth Be Maintained Without Nukes?" in The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider their Nuclear Choices (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), pp. 92-96:

In 1976 Syria established the Atomic Energy Commission in Damascus, which conducted studies relating to possible acquisition of nuclear power reactors. It also was the institution that led negotiations with France over the possible transfer of nuclear technology.16 According to current information, there is an organic link between the Atomic Energy Commission and a larger organization, called the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), an ostensibly civilian agency that is widely assumed to be linked to the military establishment and to be the locus of most new research and development on nonconventional weaponry and of missile-related technology exchanges and imports.
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According to press accounts, Syria in the 1980s attempted to engage a wide range of countries in deals to acquire nuclear power reactors, presumably for energy purposes, but there is little discussion of Syria’s end goals. One report refers to a 1988 attempt to create a $3.6 billion reactor program with technical help from the Soviet Union, Belgium, and Switzerland.18Other reports refer to unrealized plans involving France, the Soviet Union, Argentina, and India. In each case, plans went awry, due to subtle political pressures exerted on prospective sellers and to Syria’s inability to provide necessary financing. Syrian officials would complain about unfair treatment as compared to Israel, which enjoyed various kinds of technical cooperation despite mounting evidence of its nuclear status. But Syrian officials were unable to offer clear explanations of the purposes of proposed reactor programs that would assuage international concerns.
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Syria’s first success in acquiring a nuclear reactor was the 1991 purchase of a thirty-kilowatt neutron source minireactor from China. This class of reactor is understood to have no military application; both China and Syria went through the proper international procedures, and Syria signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The IAEA has conducted inspections at the site in Dayr al Jajar and does not appear to consider this reactor a cause for concern.19 Syria’s efforts to purchase a nuclear reactor from Argentina continued through the first half of the 1990s. Syria negotiated the purchase of a ten-megawatt reactor, which Argentina did not deliver, reportedly under pressure from the United States. By 1994 Syria was threatening to file suit against Argentina, and a year later, Argentina announced it was pulling out of the deal.

Since 1997 Syria’s most active and publicly acknowledged nuclear relationship has been with Russia, which has prompted new questions about whether Syria might have a military purpose in mind in pursuing nuclear technology. In early 1998, the two states signed an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and the next year, Russia publicly announced the decision to provide one light-water reactor to Syria, subject to IAEA safeguards. After Syrian vice president Abd al-Halim ibn Said Khaddam’s visit to Moscow in January 2003, both sides reported that military technology cooperation was a central part of the bilateral relationship.
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It is important to consider that the Russian relationship may not be the sole or most important element in the nuclear equation for Syria if the regime is in the early stages of hedging its bets on a nuclear weapons program. Syria has a steady relationship with North Korea for missile technology ... Thus there are risks to focusing too much on a scenario based primarily on the Russian connection, which is relatively transparent and under IAEA guidelines, while a more clandestine relationship might more directly help Syria develop weapons options.

This leads us to this pathetic line by Mustapha:

Nothing whatsoever that Syria is doing has to do with nuclear technology for reasons that are simple for anyone to analyze: We are realists. We understand that if Syria even contemplated nuclear technology, then the gates of hell would open on us.

Actually, no need for "gates of hell," as it turned out. In fact, that's the whole point. It took a masterful surgical strike. The lesson of the strike, as Dennis Ross explained, was that Israel managed to achieve its goal without triggering a wider conflict (which obviously has other implications with regards to Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas).

Furthermore, this is the point of preemption. In the past, despite the talks with Russia over nuclear cooperation, there was no Israeli preemptive action. That's precisely why the Israeli strike this time speaks volumes. Apparently, Syria did more than "contemplate" the nuclear option, and that's why the Israelis destroyed the nascent facility. They nipped the project in the bud, embarrassed the Syrians, who were completely exposed with zero international and/or Arab sympathy (save from North Korea, who had probably supplied the technology), had no response whatsoever, neither military (even through proxies) nor diplomatic, have put out a million different and contradictory stories (including a possible mishap by their UN amb. who may have inadvertently admitted that the site was a nuclear facility), have quietly sought to disassemble the ruins of the targeted facility, and are now frantically trying to launch a laughable PR campaign of sorts through their cartoonish ambassador.

No need for the gates of hell. It was actually far less costly. The facility was destroyed and the message was very clearly sent. One thing for sure, however, is that Imad Mustapha and similar pathetic regime apparatchiks never, ever stop being entertaining.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Schenker: Relying on Syrian Disinformation

David Schenker excoriates the Israeli press for their irresponsibly uncritical dissemination of Syrian info ops.

On October 21, the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post ran a story that Lebanese MP and Druze Community leader Walid Jumblatt would meet secretly in New York with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak to discuss regime change in Damascus. That night, the story was reported by Israel’s InfoLive TV, and Haaretz carried the same tale a day later. With the exception of the Jerusalem Post, these Israeli sources all attributed the story to an article that appeared on October 21 the Syrian Government’s online propaganda outlet Champress.

Today, in what appears to be the last chapter of this circular reporting, Champress is now citing an Israeli website (omedia.org) as confirmation of Jumblatt meetings with Israelis.

Amazingly, none of the Israeli media outlets mentioned that the Syrian press is government-controlled and operated, often unreliable, and typically used to discredit enemies of the Asad regime. Indeed, the Jerusalem Post merely described Champress as “a Syrian internet site.”

In giving the Champress story so much credibility, it appears that the Israeli press was somehow unaware that Jumblatt—a key leader in the Cedar Revolution that expelled Syria from Lebanon and advocates for an end to Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon—is public enemy number one in Syria. No doubt, the Israeli press missed the article earlier this year in Champress titled “Walid Jumblatt: Donkey of Mukhtara and Dog of [US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey] Feltman.”

The reliance on Champress as a credible source for a story that could carry important implications—in the case of Walid Jumblatt life or death—suggests a total lack of understanding of how the authoritarian state of Syria works. In Syria, media is a tool of state power. In this context, the Champress article was a Syrian-government attack on Jumblatt, who was visiting Washington, and making tough statements about Syrian assassinations of Lebanese parliamentary leaders. Israeli media outlets that recklessly carried this story only lent credibility to the Syrian attack.

Sadly, for those in Lebanon who advocate freedom and close relations with Washington, this latest episode will only confirm suspicions that Israel is backing the wrong side in the ongoing struggle for Lebanon’s independence.



I have written about Cham Press here and numerous times on this blog I have described the Syrian regime's information warfare tactics, and how their plants in the media often are related to ops. and assassinations.

As David notes, what they would do is plant the fabricated story, then when it gets picked up, they would quote it back to claim credibility. This is done potentially to set the stage for a certain operation or assassination.

The most egregious example of this info ops has been Sy Hersh, as I've explained here and here. There are others of course. And now Haaretz can claim that dubious honor.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New Resolution Condemning Syria and Iran's Interference in Lebanon

Another Resolution on Lebanon, introduced by Gary Ackerman (D-NY), was passed by the House. This is the second Resolution introduced by Rep. Ackerman dealing with Lebanon, and showing the strong bipartisan support for Lebanon in the US:

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) today led debate in the House of Representatives on his resolution condemning Iran and Syria for the campaign of murder, terror and intimidation they have instigated against the government and people of Lebanon. Ackerman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, introduced the resolution, his second regarding Lebanon, following the recent visit of Sa'ad Hariri, the son of murdered former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and the leader of Lebanon's parliamentary majority. Ackerman’s resolution passed this evening by a vote of 375 to 5.

Coming up for consideration amid a wave of violence that has targeted members of Lebanon's ruling parliamentary majority, and has overshadowed Lebanese efforts to choose a new president, the resolution condemns Syria and Iran for their gross interference in Lebanon’s internal political affairs and likewise pillories Lebanese political parties who have allied themselves with Damascus and Tehran.

“Syria and Iran are responsible for the crisis in Lebanon” said Ackerman. "They have trampled on Lebanon’s sovereignty and in doing so, have clearly violated numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions protective of Lebanon. They are the puppet masters pulling on the strings of Hezbollah, Amal and Aoun.”

Pointing to Syria and Iran, Ackerman said "The assassinations of Lebanese members of parliament are their work. The bombings are their work. The threats to establish an extra-legal second government are their work."

"Syria and Iran are attacking Lebanon’s sovereignty no less than if they sent a fleet of bombers, or a wave of tanks, or a swarm of infantry" Ackerman added. "That this aggression, this naked aggression, is being done by proxies, and by terrorists, by car-bombs and by telephone threats does not make it any less aggression, or any less a crime."

The resolution, which was cosponsored by two Lebanese-American Members of Congress, Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Charles Boustany (R-LA), as well as House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA), also declared Lebanon's sovereignty and independence in the national security interests of the United States, and called on the President to use "all peaceful means at the disposal of the United States" to help safeguard Lebanon’s future.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Schenker: Lebanon's Government by Murder

David Schenker has a nice piece in the LAT today, where he lays out what's at stake in Lebanon:

The Bashar Assad regime in Syria is widely assumed to be behind the campaign of assassination. Its goal is to weaken, supplant or intimidate the democratically elected government in Beirut and thus end the international tribunal that will almost certainly implicate Damascus in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
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The Hezbollah-led, Syrian-backed opposition says it will not recognize a non-consensus president. For its part, Damascus has stipulated that the next Lebanese president should be moqawam, i.e., a supporter of Hezbollah, and "of Arab belonging," i.e., pro-Syrian. Should the Syrians and the opposition succeed in either toppling the government by attrition or installing a crony like outgoing President Emile Lahoud, the tribunal could be delayed if not derailed.

The tribunal, convened at the behest of the U.N. Security Council, appears to be a train that has left the station. But election of a "compromise" president -- someone more sympathetic to Damascus -- could weaken Beirut's commitment to and undermine international support for the tribunal. Syria could also scuttle the tribunal by ending March 14th's control of the government.
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Clearly, Lebanon cannot protect itself. Likewise, to date, the U.N. resolutions censuring Syria for its role in Lebanon have not proved an effective deterrent to Syrian misdeeds. Given the stakes -- a revitalized Syrian and Iranian presence in Lebanon and the potential reorientation of Beirut away from the West -- the preservation of the current Lebanese government is a must.

For Washington, the key will be to craft a policy to prevent Syria and its Lebanese allies from subverting the government in Beirut. One possibility is to deploy, at Lebanon's request, international forces -- under the auspices of already-in-force U.N. Security Council resolutions -- to protect targeted politicians. A more effective but politically difficult option would be to hold Syria accountable for all future political murders in Lebanon.

Regardless of how Washington proceeds, immediate action is required. The ongoing thinning of the majority raises the very real specter that the results of the 2005 parliamentary elections in Lebanon will be reversed by terrorism.

The latter of Schenker's proposals echoes what Barry Rubin recently told Lee Smith in a piece for NOW Lebanon: “First of all, the US should say that if any more Lebanese politicians get killed, we will blame you and you will pay a price for it.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Golan Lie

The Syrian regime's tool in Oklahoma once again confirms the reading that Syria's primary goal is control over Lebanon, not the Golan.

In an interview on NPR, the regime's propagandist has a rare moment of candor:

If you [the US] bring Syria into negotiations and you try to settle a peace with Israel, it means normalizing relations with Syria. Which is what Hamilton and the others are calling for. It means pushing Lebanon to, not the back burner, but it means you bring Lebanon into a larger deal.

What's the key missing word here, one that never once gets mentioned? The Golan. The chronically and compulsively mendacious flack, despite himself, manages to unconsciously slip the real deal in this statement about what the real goal behind the Syrian regime's desire to restart talks with Israel really is. It has nothing to do with the Golan or with Israel. It has to do with, 1- getting the US to normalize relations with Syria, which would mean dropping the multiple UNSC resolutions, sanctions, the international investigation and tribunal into the assassinations perpetrated by the murderous regime in Syria, ending Syria's political isolation, undermining Saudi Arabia, and so on. And 2- it means handing Lebanon back to Syria in a "larger deal."

The funnier thing is that this regime hand completely misread the Baker-Hamilton report (assuming he even read it at all, which I doubt), and merely reflected the way the Syrian regime sees and understands it. The report, for all its awful faults, has the following to say about Syria's interference in Lebanon:

RECOMMENDATION 15:

• Syria’s full adherence to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 2006, which provides the framework for Lebanon to regain sovereign control over its territory.

• Syria’s full cooperation with all investigations into political assassinations in Lebanon, especially those of Rafik Hariri and Pierre Gemayel.

• A verifiable cessation of Syrian aid to Hezbollah and the use of Syrian territory for transshipment of Iranian weapons and aid to Hezbollah. (This step would do much to solve Israel’s problem with Hezbollah.)

• A verifiable cessation of Syrian efforts to undermine the democratically elected government of Lebanon.

In other words, even in the ill-conceived Baker-Hamilton report there is no "larger deal" about Lebanon. Lebanon is off the table (and these recommendations sound awfully similar to the mainstream policy. It's not the "neocon" policy as this pathetic tool tried to sell it. It's the recommendation of the Democrat-led House.). It's not on the back burner (the Syrian regime wishes). It's very much at the heart of the conditions and demands. As I've noted in the past, the Europeans have made the same proposal: restarting peace talks with Israel requires Syria leaving Lebanon be for good. Assad, naturally and expectedly, refused. The real goal is Lebanon. The regime's apologist only betrays regime think on this, showing (and advocating) its interpretation of things, which completely goes against the report he's relying on to sell this repugnant policy of "dealing" Lebanon to the murderous hands of the Syrian regime.

He had made the same slip back in February, again completely contradicting the Baker-Hamilton report on which he relies, in an interview with the Kuwaiti al-Siyassah:

Q: Does a détente in US-Syria relations signal a new era of bilateral relations, or just an agreement over common issues?

A: I don't think we are witnessing a détente in the relations between the two countries. After the failure of the Israelis in Lebanon and the Democrats' victory in the congressional midterm elections, many European countries and many US members of congress concluded that the US must change its policy in the Middle East. Many came to Damascus to see if they could create an opening for this change and determine its direction.

However, Washington still insists on separating the Iraqi case from the Lebanese case. In the end, the US is still the only superpower which could direct the West's foreign policy as long as Bush insists on continuing with his policy. Europe and the US congress have to follow him in that case. (Emphasis mine.)
...

Q: Did Syria get American guarantees in return for its participation in Iraq, as in 1990?

A: Syria is as far as it could be from getting American guarantees or rewards for coordinating and cooperating on Iraq, since Bush is still repeating the idea that "Syria knows what to do in Iraq" and he will not abandon the Seniora government. (Emphasis mine.)

Perhaps one should remind this agent of influence of the recent Executive Order by the President about anyone involved in the undermining of the democratic government of Lebanon and of Lebanon's stability, independence, and democracy.

Anyway, it's clear from these uncharacteristically candid slips, that both on Iraq and Israel, the real issue for Assad is Lebanon, and it always was. The termination of the tribunal, the termination of all the UN Security Council resolutions, and the termination of Lebanon's independence and its renewed enslavement.

I suppose we should thank this otherwise perennially disingenuous apologist for unwittingly divulging the truth: i.e., that he is advocating the renewed colonization of an independent state and destroying its democratic system, the scuttling of international resolutions, international law, letting terrorist murderers get away with assassinating lawmakers, ministers, judges and journalists, repressing the sovereign will of a free people and handing it over to a terrorist Islamist militia.

This is what passes as "analysis" and "academic" work: advocacy on behalf of terrorists.

Addendum: Note how that tool misrepresented all the facts on that show. He was trying to make it seem that there was a debate about the validity of the intelligence regarding the Israeli strike, and this is why he attacked Bolton's credibility, in order to pooh-pooh the intelligence as not credible.

But listen to what the NYT's Mark Mazzetti says, right after Bolton's segment ends. He says, "we don't think there was an intense debate over the intelligence itself," whether the site was a nuclear site or not. The debate was "what to do about the intelligence," and how to respond to that. Once again, you can count on that agent of influence for complete distortion.

It's Not About Shiite Representation After All!

The ICG has a new report out on Hezbollah. At one point (though not always!) the report goes against quite a few cliches and myths that we often heard from pundits, clueless western journalists, and, naturally, the dishonest sinister flacks of the Syrian regime (who tried to sell their repugnant agit prop and criminal apologetics as a defense of the Lebanese Shiites' rights!), regarding Hezbollah, especially when they mounted the offensive against the Seniora government. The report reads:

The presumed dichotomy between politics and resistance is misconceived. Far from being a substitute for armed resistance, Hizbollah’s political involvement has become its necessary corollary. Given rapidly shifting internal and external landscapes, the Shiite movement calculates that deeper political engagement is the best way to safeguard its armed status.127

As the vice president of Hizbollah’s research centre put it, “paradoxically, some want us to get involved in the political process in order to neutralise us. In fact, we intend to get involved – but precisely in order to protect the strategic choice of resistance and political participation”.128 Resistance is and remains Hizbollah’s priority, its raison d’être...

Unlike Amal, Hizbollah does not view politics as an end in itself and has not made Shiite representation its priority. For an expert on the movement, “Hizbollah has only two priorities: the Palestinian question and resistance against U.S. regional projects. All other objectives, including Shiite empowerment, are ancillary”.130 Likewise, a sheikh sympathetic to Hizbollah said, “What matters to Hizbollah is its culture of resistance. Hizbollah never advocated a strong presence on the local political scene other than in order to allocate services at the municipal level. That’s why Hizbollah parliamentary members rarely are the people the movement truly values”.131

It follows that the movement’s relation to the central state has always been assessed in terms of its impact on the resistance. ... Through various steps, it adjusted to Lebanon’s shifting political situation with an eye toward safeguarding its weapons and special status. Thus, in the wake of the 1989 Taef Accords, which among other items called for the disbanding of armed militias, Hizbollah participated in the 1992 legislative elections in order to protect its weapons,132 calling its ensuing parliamentary group the “bloc of loyalty to the Resistance” – the name it continues to carry to this day. (Emphasis mine.)

Of course, the ICG didn't just discover sliced bread. All the myths in vogue about Hezbollah, about its arms, about its culture, about Shiite representation, and countless other asinine assertions, are all ridiculous baloney. You could've read Michael Young, Emile el-Hokayem and myself. For instance, here's what I wrote in a piece on Hezbollah as the Pasdaran of Lebanon:

Hezbollah strives for one thing and one thing only: maintaining its armed status and parallel existence both within and above the system. Think Iran's Pasdaran. In other words, Hezbollah has not joined the political process in order to integrate in it, but rather, to use it to protect its anomalous existence outside it. Under the Syrian occupation, Hezbollah was able to solidify this status, and it used its weapons as a means of intimidation.

Or, far more simple, just read and listen to what Hezbollah itself says and has been saying and, more importantly, doing all along.

Addendum: See this statement from Hezbollah flack-in-chief, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, back in August:

Ms. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Hezbollah's call for a national unity government is not, in any way, driven by a demand for a larger share of the political pie for the Shiite community. The constitution does not grant the Shiites any more power than they currently enjoy, which is far less than their proportion in the population, actually.

What Hezbollah is calling for is a veto-wielding third, which means they would like a national unity government in which one-third of government seats would be allocated to the opposition. The opposition could then veto strategic decisions made by the government. And, of course, by strategic, what Hezbollah is really concerned about is its armed status, and, at the same time, any plans that the government might make to curtail its activities. Those are the types of decisions which Hezbollah is very keen on having a say in.

I rest my case.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Making the Case for Lebanon

Lee Smith has a nice piece on Saad Hariri's visit to Washington:

Hariri’s message was simple: Syria is killing our people –is Washington going to do anything to help?
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“We came to explain where we are,” Hariri told the reporters, “And we came to protect Lebanon from some of the destructive forces in the region.” As if there was any doubt which particular force he was referring to, he spelled it out: “We told them: There is a killing machine in Syria.”
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American officials are quick to dismiss these worries [of a "deal" with Syria], explaining that it is in part Lebanon’s posture toward Syria that has earned the Siniora government so much credit.

“The irony is that Saad, or at least this government, is much more popular than his father’s government was,” said one congressional staffer experienced in Middle East issues. “He is exceedingly popular. His father did some good things for Lebanon, but he was tethered at the hip to Syria. Privately I doubt he ever was, but publicly he had no choice. But this Lebanese government has a great deal of stature, and as long as it is anti-Hezbollah and anti-Syria, the support will remain very high.”
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So what can the US do to protect Lebanon, and what can the Lebanese do to make their case?

“First of all,” said Barry Rubin, author of the recent The Truth about Syria, “the US should say that if any more Lebanese politicians get killed, we will blame you and you will pay a price for it.”
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Rubin, like many friends of Lebanon around Washington, thinks it’s not enough to have visiting officials come to town from time to time to make their case, speak to officials and get the attention of a few prominent columnists. “If I were Lebanese, or Lebanese-American, I sure know what I would do. I’d write a manifesto on why the US should support Lebanon, put together a blue-ribbon panel to endorse it and launch a massive media campaign.”

Lebanon is under siege with, to quote Hariri, “a killing machine” at the controls. One way to start breaking the siege is to go to Washington with a steady, tireless campaign.

This time around, Hariri's trip was very different than his previous ones. It was clear from his statements to the media.

As far as I am concerned two statements he made deserve to be highlighted. The first was quoted in a piece by Nora Boustany in the WaPo:

"At the end of the day, what the Syrians want is terrorism, and what we want is democracy," he said. "If we do not succeed as a moderate democracy in the region, there will only be terrorism and extremist regimes like Syria will flourish."

The second, corollary statement, was made in an interview with Newsweek, in response to a question about voices calling for engagement with Syria:

Then why don’t you engage with Al Qae­da? How can you accept a regime [that] is killing members of parliament in Lebanon and has opened its border with Iraq and is sending hundreds of extremists and Al Qaeda followers there to kill Iraqis and American soldiers—a regime that hosts terrorist organizations? The message that is being sent today to our part of the world is you can do all that and get away with it.

These two statements are part of the reason why Lebanon matters, and why it should not be allowed to fall back into the terrorist Syrian-Iranian orbit.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The NYT, Western Journalism, and Lebanon

Here are two articles dealing with Thanassis Cambanis' atrocious report in the NYT, which I had dealt with here.

First is an excellent article by Michael Young. Michael focuses on the chronic cliches that have plagued Western reporting about Lebanese Christians. This is an issue that old readers of my blog will recognize as something that I had covered at length.

Anyway, Michael's piece is superb, and I strongly recommend you read it. Here's a slice:

To the anti-globalization left Hizbullah is a heroic vanguard against the United States and Israel; to many Western liberals it is a social service serving a deprived community. The thing is, the Muslim Hizbullah is regarded in Western consciousness as a "truer" product of Arab society than Christian parties, who have had to fight against a sense (sometimes self-inflicted, but mostly not) that they are interlopers. This has earned the party a reprieve from the "fascism" label.

On a slightly different, but related note, regarding the issue of Hezbollah, there's more from Michael in this recent review of a book on Nasrallah's speeches edited by a Hezbollah groupie:

THE EMBRACING OF Hezbollah by many on the international Left has been perverse. But it is no mystery why an autocratic, religious party with close ties to Iran’s theocracy and Syria’s dictatorship appeals to secularists supposedly defending humanism against neocolonial oppression. Both share intense antipathy for the US and Israel, because of the Palestinian conflict.
...
Nasrallah’s totemisation of resistance accompanied his disdain not only for state authority but also for Lebanon’s sectarian order which, for all its flaws, has made the country democratic. Will Nasrallah accept that he is in a dilemma? If Hezbollah doesn’t disarm, tensions may lead to a civil war that destroys the party. If he agrees to disarm and integrate Hezbollah into the system, a party that thrives off permanent conflict will lose its reason for existing. Noe’s book shows a superior and systematic mind at work, but also that of a man leading his flock into a labyrinth without exits.

Make sure to read the review, including the telling statements by Nasrallah that Michael selects and comments on.

The second piece is by the dogged chronicler of the NYT's putrid Lebanon reporting, David Kenner:

Furthermore, the March 8 Christian parties have not allied themselves with the Shia community per se, but with Hezbollah and Amal – factions which support policies that ensure sectarianism and endanger Lebanese sovereignty. Their dependency on the Syrian regime risks turning the clock back to the days of Syrian occupation. Hezbollah’s refusal to give up its arms has prevented the central government from extending its authority across all of Lebanon. Aoun and Sleiman Franjieh’s only accomplishment is supporting a deeply illiberal force in Lebanese politics.

Speaking of Hezbollah, see this excellent and aptly entitled editorial in NOW Lebanon today commenting on the pathetic speech by the bankrupt Hassan Nasrallah the other day:

And this from the man who declared, not long ago, "bring us a state and we shall join." (Which, come to think of it, is pretty rich coming from a politician whose party has done all it can to obstruct national progress.) In fact, Nasrallah is a man who has wholly rejected the traditional idea of being in opposition – a rejection of democracy if ever there was one. He has given us no indication that he wants anything to do with a Lebanese state unless it's run according to his rules.

But now it appears that the Hezbollah secretary general has turned the presidential elections into a battle to banish the specter of Israeli dominion over Lebanon, allowing him to throw out his favorite chaff: An Israeli/US conspiracy. The warning is this: Any president that is not selected according to a consensus will automatically be labeled an Israeli agent. Why? Because such a president will want to see both the establishment of the Hariri tribunal, something Israel (not Lebanon, mind you) wants and UN resolutions implemented, again, an Israeli not a Lebanese aim. Nasrallah has also accused Israel of being responsible for the slew of political killings that started with Hariri in 2005 and last month took the life of MP Antoine Ghanem. "The Zionists," he said, "are killing the March 14 leaders."
...
He is clutching at straws. His war is over and the Shebaa Farms is not worth another. If he truly wants to join the Lebanese state, Nasrallah will have to abandon his selective reasoning and accept that Israel has for all intents and purposes withdrawn; his weapons, his rhetoric and his behavior are the only reason it will come back.

I'll have more on this and related news later.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

NYT: All the Absurdity Fit to Print

It's now old news that the NYT's coverage of Lebanon is beyond piss poor. I've already covered the example of Hassan Fattah, but this piece today by Thanassis Cambanis, which came to my attention via David Kenner, hits new lows in the annals of stupidity regularly published by the NYT.

Such is Mr. Cambanis' achievement that one really must struggle to find a single accurate statement in the whole piece.

Consider the lead graph: "the country’s once-dominant Christian community feels under siege and has begun re-establishing militias, training in the hills and stockpiling weapons."

Nowhere in the entire piece is a single shred of evidence provided to support this dangerous allegation. In fact, so poor is the reporting that Cambanis mentions the cabinet session that discussed the issue of armament but does not mention its substance. For instance, the reports of the various security and intelligence officers proclaimed that the Lebanese Forces were not rearming or training. It did not mention the Phalange in any such capacity either. So it wasn't "Christian factions" who "had opened militia training camps in the mountains." It was that Hezbollah was providing training and weapons to its allies, the Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun and other pro-Syrian groups. The other group, which has a number of Christian members (but is not "Christian" per se), whose stockpiles the security services has uncovered in recent months is the Syrian proxy, the SSNP.

Cambanis unsubtly hints that the Phalange and the LF are the ones arming, or at the very least, "everyone is arming." And he frames the Hariri quote about trainings in that context, but it's a dishonest framing, as Hariri is referring to the reports about the Aounists and Hezbollah allies.

The same misleading is reflected in this graph, which gives the impression of military mobilization, which is completely misleading and unsubstantiated:

In the Christian suburbs of Beirut, activists from the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces have opened recruitment offices, organized marches to protest the killings of Christian politicians, and are preparing for a hotly contested campaign in university student council elections this month, which are taken seriously as a proxy for popular support.

There's no correlation whatsoever between "recruitment" (whatever the hell that's intended to imply) offices and the talk of military training and rearmament.

These observations have a direct bearing on the rest of this pathetically bad and ignorant piece. Prior to blurting out this nonsense, Cambanis introduced it as follows, in what can easily be described as one of the dumbest lines written on Lebanon in recent years:

But the larger question — one that is prompting rival Christian factions to threaten war — is whether Lebanese Christians must accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority (the choice of the popular Gen. Michel Aoun) or whether Christians should insist on special privileges no matter what their share of the population (the position of veteran civil war factions like the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces).

Again, not a single statement in this graph is accurate.

First of all, the only Christian threatening a war is Hezbollah's ally Michel Aoun, who sees his maniacal fantasy of becoming president disappear as a result of his political idiocy. His only response is to issue threats. This is echoed by the pro-Syrian pitbulls, who issue regular threats on behalf of the Syrian regime.

Second, the "big question" that Mr. Cambanis supposedly brilliantly identified -- whether Lebanese Christians "must accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority (the choice of the popular Gen. Michel Aoun) or whether Christians should insist on special privileges no matter what their share of the population (the position of veteran civil war factions like the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces)" -- may be the most confused, stupid, clueless, irrelevant and laughably ignorant statement made about Lebanon in recent memory. Quite an achievement for the NYT and for Mr. Cambanis personally I must say.

Let's inform the NYT and their reporter of some obvious basics about Lebanon, as they apparently didn't bother educating themselves before publishing this embarrassingly asinine garbage.

The basis of the post-civil war republic of Lebanon is the settlement reached in the Taef Accord. That settlement, agreed to by both Christians and Muslims, stipulated a power-sharing formula based on the principle of shared existence in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims. As such, Cambanis and the NYT are, oh, about 18 years late when it comes to the developments in Lebanon. The "question" of whether the Lebanese Christians and Muslims must "get along" was already settled in 1989. It's not the choice of the "popular" Michel Aoun, who in '89 rejected the Taef Accord. It's the choice of all the mainstream Christian parties as well as the main Druze and Sunni parties allied with them. I don't know if the NYT and Mr. Cambanis have heard of the March 14 alliance, but I'm sure that constitutes a decent example of Christians "getting along" with Muslims (this is not to mention the March 14 Christians' praise of the Sunni PM Seniora as someone who is fully in sync with their political outlook).

Now on to the next idiocy in that statement: that the "veteran civil war factions" -- the Lebanese Forces and the Phalange -- "insist on special privileges no matter what their share of the population."

Again, the NYT is about 20-30 years behind. This discourse, in case the NYT didn't notice, was folded with the Taef Accord. The only factions reviving it today are not the Phalange and the LF. It's precisely the two factions that Cambanis embraces in his ridiculous report: Michel Aoun's FPM and pro-Syrian pitbull Suleiman Frangieh's Marada.

The entire basis of the FPM's battle cry is the sectarian demagoguery of "restoring Christian rights" and unsubtle hints at a desire to reinstate presidential powers stripped in the Taef Accord. The Phalange and the LF on the other hand are operating within the contours of the Taef Accord and are not seeking to alter the constitutional powers of the presidency. Furthermore, Aoun's electoral campaign was that the March 14 Christian MPs were "elected by Muslim votes" and so were not "authentic Christians." This sectarian populism personally attacked able and decent people including the late Gebran Tueni, who was murdered by the Syrian regime and whose murder was celebrated in Hezbollah-dominated areas.

Therefore, so far Mr. Cambanis has it exactly backwards on all counts.

But it continues throughout with ridiculous and baseless assertions, such as the ubiquitous throwing around of faulty numbers and insinuations about communal sizes, which only reveals bad preparation and laziness.

However, the most pernicious aspect of the piece is its peddling of political propaganda. It reveals the true meaning of the earlier statement about "the position of the popular Gen. Michel Aoun" on the need to "accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority." What is really meant here is the need to accept protection status from and ally with the Khomeinist Islamist Hezbollah militia, which has its own barrack state within the state. Otherwise, as I showed, the statement doesn't make any sense at all.

That's actually spelled out explicitly in the accompanying slide show: "Once a majority of the population in the country, Lebanese Christians are divided over whether they should continue to demand special privileges or whether they must accept their status as a minority and make alliances with the Shiite population." (Emphasis mine.)

It is also very obvious in the piece itself from the set of selective, unchallenged quotes picked by Cambanis from a representative of the parochial pro-Syrian pitbull Frangieh faction: "only an alliance with the dominant Shiite Muslims can protect the Christian community."

This pathetic, deceitful insanity is somehow presented as an enlightened, wise decision for a minority (in a country of minorities, mind you): "The Christians allied with Hezbollah have had to overcome their own deeply entrenched prejudice against Muslims, Mr. Franjieh said: 'We were always taught that we were superior to the Muslims. Now we must realize they are our brothers, and we must help each other.'"

Yes, heartwarming. Only of course this is not just absolutely ridiculous, it's also deceitfully misleading. The basis of Aounist and Frangieh sectarian demagoguery is a blistering anti-Sunnism. This was covered recently by Hazem Saghieh, and I've commented on it briefly as well.

The pseudo-liberal discourse might snake-charm the proclivities of the NYT into a comatosed snooze, but it's otherwise laughable. This is not a humanistic, universalist statement about brotherly love: this is deeply problematic sectarian agit prop that aims to drag Lebanon into the orbit of the militant Iran-led axis. This is about Frangieh's (and now Aoun's) delusional and suicidal "vision" of a Maronite-Shiite-Alawite alliance that completely destroys the very idea of Lebanon as a state.

Furthermore, the entire notion of seeking "protection" from "the Shiites" (against whom!?), which specifically means, the Khomeinist Islamist arm of the IRGC allied with the regime that's butchering Lebanese figures, being presented as somehow a good thing is nauseating. The concept of "protection" has no place in Lebanon. That's the whole point of Lebanon, not that the NYT or Cambanis have the slightest clue what that even means.

This is not the first time this deeply offensive and problematic sewage was published. It was spewed earlier in a truly remarkable profile in the LAT that really shows the extent of Aoun's ruinous delusional insanity. Aoun repeated the same nonsense to the LAT's Megan Stack back in December 2006:

The general brushed off criticism, insisting that Christians could not be secure in the Middle East unless they dealt pragmatically with the Muslim majority.

'They can’t be different, like they’re imported from another area,' he said.

Of course, the term "Muslim majority" here is misleading. As evident from the Cambanis piece, that's not what's really being peddled here. What's being sold is that the Maronites need to ally with Hezbollah against the Sunnis and the Druze (with the false conflation of "Shiites" and "majority" -- one that has no bearing to reality). Needless to say, the generalissimo's repugnant vision for Lebanon -- one where difference is held in disdain -- is precisely the antithesis of what Lebanon was and should always be.

What's at stake here, as noted by Saghieh, is not a domestic sectarian alliance. It has deep implications about the nature of Lebanon itself, and the finality of the Lebanese state. This is why the March 14 Christians subscribe to that vision, whose destruction and undermining is systematically and relentlessly sought by Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. Aoun is the mere mindless battering ram.

Maybe the NYT, in its feverish kneejerkism, hasn't heard.

Update: More on this from David Kenner:

Gee, isn't it strange that the Aounists -- the Christians, according to the Times, who want to "accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority" -- are also the ones training for the next war? A better editor could have pointed this out to Cambanis, in the process of sending him back to the drawing board.

Finally, as Mustapha pointed out earlier, it's impossible to write about the reason that there is pressure on any Lebanese party to rearm without mentioning the one faction that never disarmed in the first place: Hezbollah. The Christian factions are not only eyeing each other nervously, they are worried about the militia that has a fifteen-year head start, foreign support, and actual battle-hardened troops. This is yet another point that would be too much to ask the New York Times to point out.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Abu Qa'qa' and the Syrian Regime

The Syrian regime's very own Islamist and Jihadist recruiter Abu Qa'qa' was shot dead a couple of days ago in Syria.

In response to a line in a Naharnet report, the Syrian regime's resident apologist at the University of Oklahoma decided to wax indignant with this hysterical statement:

The claim is a last ditch means to bolster the half-baked contention that Absi and his gang of al-Qaida Sunni fundamentalists were taking orders from a secular, Alawite President who had helped America round up or kill al-Qaida jihadists in the past and who had give the order to kill Absi's son-in-law as he snuck across the Iraqi-Syrian border. Not convincing.

Unfortunately this sort of nonsense is convincing to some members of the U.S. House, which Backs Lebanon against "Boot Licking" Proxies of Syria and Iran

Read Sami Moubayed's portrait of al-Qaqa
to get the best sense of the man. He explains how Qaqa was an indigenous product of Syrian malaise and why the government allowed him to operate openly. The key was that he was as anti-al-Qaida as he was anti-American.

Let's unpack this pile of garbage.

Let's start with the first dishonesty; the attack on the new House Resolution.

It's understandable that the Syrian regime and its flacks are upset that their fantasies about how Congress would hug the terrorist Assad now that the Democrats took the majority didn't materialize.

The resolution he mentions was introduced by a Democrat, Rep. Gary Ackerman, and it was co-sponsored by a ranking Democrat, Tom Lantos, who had visited Syria. Apparently he wasn't too impressed, just as Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson wasn't. The resolution was also co-sponsored by Republican Darrell Issa, who also visited Damascus. Instead, they saw Assad for what he is, came back and called for a tougher policy towards the terrorist-sponsoring regime in Damascus. This is a consensual, mainstream policy adopted by the Europeans and the Arabs. Diplomats aren't even being "diplomatic" anymore when it comes to Syrian terrorism. Most recently French FM Kouchner came as close as you can to naming Syria as the one responsible for the terrorist murders in Lebanon when he responded to Emile Lahoud's rant at the UN. Egypt's Mubarak also came just as close to fingering the Syrians for the assassinations. Some Saudi officials (and Saudi papers) have already come out publicly blaming the Syrians for the assassinations in Lebanon.

Of course, Landis tries to conflate the resolution with the Abu Qa'qa' incident, but that's just another routine bit of dishonesty which we have grown accustomed to when dealing with Landis. The resolution has nothing to do with Qa'qa'. I know "the sinister Lebanese lobby" managed to brainwash Congress about Syria's support for terrorism and all (I'm sure it was they who booked an enduring spot for Syria on the US state sponsors of terror list where it's been since 1979), but I'm afraid they can't take credit for this one, especially when, you know, Qa'qa's killing came after the resolution was adopted.

Now let's move to the other couple of claims. I'm very glad that Landis quotes Sami Moubayed. I've kept track of what Moubayed has written about Abu Qa'qa'. We'll get to that in a second.

I was particularly amused to see Landis stick to his line about how Fateh al-Islam was a "gang of al-Qaida Sunni fundamentalists." Strange, cause it was none other than Moubayed who dispelled this notion in a recent piece. Of course, we didn't need Moubayed to know this, but since Landis holds him in such high esteem, I figure we'd quote him on this issue: "Fatah al-Islam tried - and failed - to affiliate itself with al-Qaeda." (Emphasis mine.)

So much for that. But what has Sami written about Abu Qa'qa'? Let's see:

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)

Hmmm, so Abu Qa'qa' worked, with the regime, to recruit and transfer jihadists into Iraq to kill American soldiers and Iraqis. Hmmm, yes, so much for the "Alawite President who had helped America round up or kill al-Qaida jihadists." How "convincing."

So what did Sami say about that this time around?

The Western media have accused him of being the main sponsor of jihadis illegally crossing the Syrian border to fight in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003.

Haa! The "Western media," eh? Does that include Moubayed himself, as per the quote above?!

Moving on, and following up on Landis' theme of the "Alawite President who helped the Americans" round up Jihadists:

Abu al-Qaqa is shown speaking to worshipers under the banner of a then-unknown group, Guraba al-Sham (Strangers of Greater Syria). This became the umbrella under which he operated, and whose name was imprinted on all of his CDs. On camera, he tells his followers, who are assembled before him at a mosque: "We will teach our enemies a lesson they will never forget." He then asks: "Are you ready?" Thundering chants respond affirmatively from his audience, who get worked up into tears as they listen, and he carries on: "Speak louder so [US President George W Bush] can hear you!" Their tears make him weep as well, as he gets impassioned with anti-Americanism and adds: "Guests have come to our land ... slaughter them like cattle. Burn them! Yes, they are the Americans!"
...
His speeches began to sell like hot cakes in Aleppo, recorded on cassettes and CDs. One thing that made him popular was his anti-Americanism.
...
This is why Abu al-Qaqa was so important [to the Syrian regime] during the critical period of 2003-2007.

Yes, this of course was part of the "Alawite President's" help of the Americans: openly sponsoring a Jihadist recruiter and preacher. Do these people even hear themselves!?

Speaking of which, I found this part in Moubayed's most recent piece incredibly funny. After describing the discourse and the actions of this jihadist recruiter-cum regime agent, he drops this priceless line: "Despite what his critics say, he projected moderate Islam and was loyal to the Syrian government. Had he been any less charismatic or popular, he would have been no use to the Syrian government." (Emphasis mine.)

But it gets funnier. Moubayed now tells us that Abu Qa'qa' was "anti-al-Qaeda." Yet I seem to remember Moubayed writing in al-Ahram that Abu Qa'qa' "co-established, with Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq after the US invasion." Oh, and back then, Moubayed contradicted what he's saying now when he wrote that "Abu Qaqa facilitated the sending of jihadists to Iraq, without informing Syrian authorities, since 2003." (Emphasis mine.) Oh yeah, for sure!

This is why I've dubbed Moubayed the undisputed king of comedy.

Of course, Moubayed is right about Abu Qa'qa' being a regime asset (not that we needed his testimony). Landis apparently didn't realize how that makes his earlier indignation about how the "Alawite secular" Assad is not possibly capable of supporting militant Sunni fundamentalists sound all the more pathetic and hilarious.

Apparently Assad had no problem whatsoever working with Sunni militant Islamists in Iraq, as evident from the Abu Qa'qa' example.

But let's leave Moubayed aside for one second. What has Landis himself written about this in the past? Let's find out. Here's one gem from July 2006:

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.)

Hmmm, so it seems, incredibly, that the "Alawite secular President" can indeed aid Sunni militants in Lebanon; you know, like Fateh al-Islam perhaps!

So what's the catch? Moubayed says it perfectly: "As long as he did not instigate violence against the government, the Syrians were fine with Abu al-Qaqa."

Ahhhh... finally the other shoe drops. So Syria has no problem sponsoring militant Islamists, as long as they focus their operations abroad and in conjunction with the regime's own interests. This seems to fit perfectly with what Eyal Zisser wrote about Syria's relationship with radical Islamists:

Damascus started to see the Islamists as perhaps the only possible means by which to enhance its regional standing, gain influence in neighboring countries and bring domestic tranquility to Syria itself.

I urge you to read Zisser's article in full. See also how Le Figaro put it, paraphrasing unnamed Jordanian sources: "For the Jordanians ... their neighbors [the Syrians] are buying their security by tolerating jihadists on their soil."

But if you prefer Landis, he himself has said as much in a June 15, 2007 post, where he adopted and justified Syria's attack on UNIFIL and Lebanese figures: "Syria seems willing to play this game of chicken. It believes it can survive it. The fact that there have been no successful acts of terrorism in Syria for 20 years has produced a sense of invulnerability."

This game of chicken is the support of Islamist terrorism in the neighborhood without the slightest worry of a "blowback." Syria supports Islamists abroad, and either coopts them or represses them at home. If they play along, like Abu Qa'qa', Fathi Yakan, Hashem Minqara, Bilal Shaaban, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc., then they're welcome.

So please, spare me the very old canard that the "secular Alawite" Syrian regime "cannot" work with Islamists. They do it better than anyone, and they've been doing it for years and years.

Now, back to the Naharnet story around which Landis is trying to build his dishonest strawman "argument." First of all, the piece does not specify who the source is and never once specifies his nationality. So I know Landis is frustrated with the evil "Lebanese lobby" (though not with a capital L), but there's nothing in the story to indicate he's Lebanese. In fact, I've seen this claim made by Syrians in the opposition, including on Khaddam's website, which noted that Abu Qa'qa's assassination came after the Lebanese government made public some of the results of the investigation into Fateh al-Islam and their ties to Syrian military intelligence. It added that there were rumors in Aleppo that the decision to liquidate Abu Qa'qa' was taken by Asef Shawkat to cover the liaison relationship that he maintained between terrorist organizations and the Syrian military intelligence apparatus. Also, dissident Ma'moun Homsi touched on the regime's use of terrorist Islamists in a recent statement. He accused the regime of terminating Abu Qa'qa' after his role in "forming and exporting terrorist cells" was finished.

Furthermore, the Saudi al-Watan published a report along those lines, also noting "various media outlets" positing ties between Abu Qa'qa's organization and Fateh al-Islam and Jund al-Sham.

The al-Watan report concludes: "Reports add that the services of the fighters who were supposed to be sent to Iraq through Abu Qa'qa' were used and channeled outside Syria, and they were categorized into groups according to priorities of jihad based on the reports of their sheikhs who recruited and trained them, and who are, according to the reports, all from Syrian intelligence."

Of course, the rumors from Khaddam's site and about the regime's responsibility for Abu Qa'qa's assassination are speculative, but the point is that Syria has set up networks of "assets" like Abu Qa'qa' (whose case was no secret, and there are possibly many more like him) to recruit and use foreign Jihadists. They could be channeled to Iraq, or, they could be channeled to Lebanon, or, as Le Figaro recently reported, to Jordan; Wherever the Syrian regime needed their services, as per Zisser's description.

Whether Abu Qa'qa' was involved with Absi is immaterial. It's beside the point. Absi's ties to the regime lie elsewhere. The link, if one exists, would be in the recruitment and channeling of foreign Jihadists from Syria, which Le Figaro accurately described as "the rear base" for Jihadists. Whether the Fateh al-Islam fighters came from Abu Qa'qa's network or some other network in Syria is also immaterial (speaking of networks, see the latest reports from Germany about the plot to attack US facilities in Germany. The network and the detonators were traced back to Syria). They clearly came from Syria, as did Absi (who was based in pro-Syrian proxy Fateh Intifada camps), and Abu Salim Taha, who came from the Yarmouk camp, i.e., the bosom of Syrian intelligence.

Abu Qa'qa' was hardly the regime's only Islamist "asset." Aside from the likes of Fathi Yakan, I noted the case of Ahmad Mer'i, who, according to the pro-Syrian/Hezbollah/Iran rag al-Akhbar, was known, along with his father, to have ties with and a cover from Syrian intelligence. He was reported to have been a liaison between Syrian intelligence and Fateh al-Islam. Given the reports about his ties to them, it hardly seems far fetched.

"Not convincing"?! Puh-lease.

Update: Here's Asharq al-Awsat's Abdel Rahman al-Rashed on Abu Qa'qa' and the Syrian intelligence services.

Update 2:
Muhammad Abu Rumman echoes al-Rashed and writes in the Jordanian al-Ghad: "The Abu Qa'qa' model raises several issues such as the great penetration from which many al-Qaeda-linked groups suffer. This penetration does not stop at internal spying on these groups, but extends to their employment by regional parties to serve their goals and interests." Abu Rumman specifies Syria and Iran.

This argument was touched on in a piece by Talal Nizameddin, when he spoke of the dynamic of "a loose network of extremist cells that needed another state structure to provide it with cover, logistical support and intelligence guidance" and "states that need proxy groups to fight their battles." It was also discussed by Abdel Karim Abul Nasr. See also the Zisser article linked above and the Michael Young pieces linked here.

In a recent post I also noted that "[i]n the ongoing discussion about non-state actors in the Middle East, it's crucial not to ignore the role of states. In this case, to quote Barry Rubin again, Syria along with Iran are essentially functioning as, or are basically the closest thing to, state sponsors of al-Qaeda jihadism."

Update 3: Nicholas Blanford, who interviewed Abu Qa'qa' in 2003, writes in a piece for NOW Lebanon: "For the Syrian authorities, Qaqa represented a useful - and safe - medium to channel rising Islamic sentiment away from violence against the state and to direct it against the US instead. Qaqa apparently accepted the arrangement, which allowed him to preach once-dangerous views on Islam in Syria, while maintaining strong support for the state."