Across the Bay

Monday, November 26, 2007

Score This Round for March 14

To follow up on my latest post, here's Michael Young's take on the situation today:

So Lahoud is gone, Siniora is still in, and the opposition has few serious options to alter the stalemate without risking war. Is that so a bad result for the majority coalition? Not if the time gained can be put to good use, because the victory is only tactical.


One thing is certain: The dynamics of the Lebanese presidential election have changed. The status quo is now to the disadvantage of the opposition. Very soon opposition groups will be the ones demanding a presidential election to be rid of Siniora. Once they do so they will be in a position of vulnerability, since March 14 still controls the parliamentary majority and will be inviting the opposition blocs to come down to Parliament for an open vote. At the least, March 14 has greater latitude today to agree to a compromise candidate it feels more comfortable with.

But there is a problem in the argument: The Syrians will not allow such a scenario to be played out if their pre-Annapolis flexibility leads them nowhere. Iranian intentions are also unclear, and quite worrisome. How long can Siniora remain in office before Hizbullah and the Aounists begin raising the heat? Violence, whether assassinations or demonstrations, can intervene to alter the calculations on all sides.

There is also the fact that an indefinite period without a president will rile up the Christians. Whether it is Michel Aoun or Michel Suleiman who takes advantage of this anger is irrelevant: Hariri and Jumblatt have to be careful not to discredit the Christians in their own coalition by leaving the presidency vacant for too long.

Whatever the outcome, March 14 had the last laugh last week, when French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and the other French emissaries offered Syria normalization in exchange for facilitating the Lebanese presidential election. It all came to naught and French diplomacy got burned, so that President Nicolas Sarkozy will now think twice before trusting Assad. The fact is that Syria, until now, has not been able to impose its man as president. Hizbullah's followers may have to spend another chilly winter in their tents under the gaze of the detested Siniora. Score this round for March 14, then brace for a reaction.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Seniora Government Stays

Last night I was going to write about the spectacular French incompetence and foul-up, the details of what happened in the negotiations between Berri and Hariri (especially over Edde and Ghanem), as well as Aoun's pathetic "initiative," but too much turkey and wine dictated otherwise. In any case, I'll likely come back to discuss the French failure because it is an absolutely perfect example of what "engaging" Syria is like and what it leads to: embarrassment, failure, and nothing in return. Moreover, the situation is so fluid that today's events have already moved on.

Let's start with a recap of where we are right now, followed by a brief commentary.

1- Lahoud is leaving Baabda right this minute. Contrary to the fears of many, he went out with a fizzle. He did nothing, and he couldn't do anything. As Mustapha correctly noted, he did not declare emergency law, and the military is not taking over.

2- The Seniora government stays and assumes, as per article 62 of the constitution, all presidential powers.

3- The opposition is unlikely to take any drastic measures on the ground. According to al-Hayat, Berri is said to have given assurances that the opposition would not take street action against the Seniora government continuing in office.

So where does this leave us?

First, none of the scenarios Lahoud threatened materialized. The best he could do is say that the Army takes over all security responsibilities, which is completely meaningless. Lahoud's intention is to unconstitutionally deny the cabinet control over the military and the defense council. But he doesn't even have the authority to do this. Moreover, Minister Qabbani told al-Arabiya that the Army commander Michel Suleiman relayed to Prime Minister Seniora that the Army will abide by the government's decisions.

In other words, as many of us thought, Suleiman was not going to burn himself for an outgoing president. Suleiman wants to keep his credentials in the hope of becoming president. He wants to play it smart, try to ingratiate himself to March 14 and keep his options open.

It's also thought that Hezbollah urged Lahoud to take some action, but the threat of international retaliation deterred Lahoud. Or, after Suleiman refused to participate in any such scenario, Lahoud's options were essentially nil. Furthermore, it appeared that March 14 was waiting for Lahoud to make a move in order to proceed with the simple majority election.

Secondly, while the threat of security breaches exists (both the Iranians and the Syrians have threatened it in statements to the media and editorials in state-run papers, in order to jack up their blackmail price), it is not very probable for the opposition to take such action against the Seniora government, once again triggering Sunni-Shiite clashes. It's unlikely that the parties concerned would find it worthwhile to do so over the Presidency. Walid Jumblat seems worried that as a result, there might be some trouble in the Shouf instead, and so he is urging discipline among his followers so as not to be provoked into a trap.

Under such circumstances, and in light of the apparent willingness of the Army to interfere, it seems that such provocations would be undercut and quickly contained should they happen.

Finally, the Seniora government gets to stay, with international backing. Already Egypt's Hosni Mubarak has declared to Seniora his support for "the democratic system and constitutional norms." In other words, he supports the constitutional delegation of presidential authority to the Seniora cabinet, and is opposed to any push against the government. In other words, it's the same position the Sunni Arab states took last winter at the time of the Hezbollah putsch attempt.

Similarly, the US and Europe have declared support for the Seniora government constitutionally continuing in office.

As such, March 8 and Lahoud are essentially neutralized for now, and the Seniora government continues until further notice. It's unclear what the fate of the Patriarch's list is now that the candidates on it have been compromised, and if we're going to now see a new set of names.

The next session is scheduled for next Friday. While a lot could happen before then (and thankfully, the Annapolis fiasco would be over), something tells me that the Seniora government will still be governing the country.

Addendum: A good editorial on the situation over at NOW Lebanon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Stalemate is the name of the game.

The net result of events up to this point is that the Syrians and Hezbollah are just as stuck as everyone else.

The Syrians put forth the following equation: Michel Edde (possibly for two years to keep Aoun on board) or Army commander Michel Suleiman (or possibly, a military takeover).

This indicates Syria's inability to impose things as it could in the past.

Michel Edde has been compromised, if not ruled out, and it's unlikely that March 14 would accept a constitutional amendment to get Suleiman in. But it's not just March 14, it's also Michel Aoun.

The reality is that Aoun is as much a problem for Hezbollah as he is for the rest. Hezbollah needs to keep Michel Aoun on board because they need him to make a push for a veto third in the next cabinet. But the problem for them is that Aoun will not agree to a Suleiman presidency. So both Hezbollah and the Syrians are stuck on this point. Michel Murr actually is still pushing to get Suleiman. Today he said that once this initiative fails, then other solutions, like Suleiman, become possible. Like I said in my previous post, I think this is what the Syrians are angling for, or perhaps creating chaos then maybe push for a military takeover (what some have called the "Edde or chaos" scenario). But I have doubts it will work. There has never been a military coup in Lebanon, so it's not that easy to pull off. Besides, Suleiman, at least for now, seems unwilling to play risky games.

Syria's men who are in Aoun's bloc, Michel Murr and Elie Skaff, have both signaled that they will vote in favor of a "consensus" candidate. But of course this candidate is either Michel Edde or Michel Suleiman. Murr doesn't seem to be too enthusiastic about a two-year Edde term, probably because he knows it won't fly. He wants Suleiman. But like I said, Syria doesn't have the pull to impose this. Furthermore, it seems they don't really trust any civilian candidate who's actually viable. The rejection of Robert Ghanem was actually telling. Because the theory was that Syria would agree to a weak president and push for veto in the cabinet, which is more important. But Ghanem was rejected as soon as it was hinted that Hariri was ok with him. Remember, these are the same people who when colonizing and occupying Lebanon opted to unconstitutionally renew Lahoud's mandate than pick any other figure they could've imposed at will.

Hezbollah and Aoun on the other hand have been throwing the ball back and forth into each other's court. Hezbollah says you have to get Aoun's approval, knowing full well he won't give it, and Aoun says he'll withdraw his candidacy, if Hezbollah approves the alternative. He then used Hezbollah's weapons to threaten that if Hezbollah doesn't approve the next president, there will be armed conflict! In the process, Aoun managed also to piss off Nabih Berri, and Berri's camp today shot back at Aoun!

That last statement about armed conflict if Hezbollah's approval isn't obtained is an indication of Aoun's own bankruptcy and his awareness that he doesn't have the muscle to pull anything on the streets, and so he has to threaten with Hezbollah's muscle. Meanwhile, Hezbollah cannot itself start a war, as it would be suicide.

And so we're left with the possibility of Syria's tools -- Lahoud or other terrorists -- trying to do something. However, I have serious doubts that that would be enough to force anyone into capitulation especially after everything we've endure. Besides, the Army has declared its intent on countering any such breaches, and stated that any weapon used internally would be considered a weapon of treason. Even should inter-Christians clashes break out, I doubt that would be enough. In fact, that's probably the easiest to deal with. There was a rumor that Aoun and Frangieh might launch a civil disobedience campaign, which will lead nowhere except to further political losses for Aoun, painting him as even more of a clown, if that's possible.

If there's no elections, then the Seniora government will assume presidential authorities and continue governing. That's much better than having Michel Edde, that much is certain.

There's always the possibility of Syria doing something against UNIFIL, but that would probably backfire at this stage. The Syrians are trying to keep the French on a leash, in the hope of extracting concessions on the real issue: the future cabinet and premiership, but reality is that they can't give the French anything. That much was clear from the choice they put forth on the presidency: Michel Edde or Michel Suleiman. They don't have anything and they can't give anything. The Iranians are also not too pleased they're not being consulted, and have made this clear to the French. After all, Iran is the senior partner, not Syria.

The question is, now that the French attempt has failed miserably, what are they prepared to do?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Election Debacle

Just to quickly keep you abreast of the latest on Lebanon's presidential dilemma.

The two camps seem to have hit a wall due to the so-called opposition's intransigence. Some of us had expected this after Nasrallah's and Aoun's escalation, the attack against the French initiative in the official Syrian media, as well as after the cancellation of Amr Moussa's trip to Beirut after meeting with Assad. It suggested that Syria, Iran and their allies were still blocking things, hoping to raise their price and bring the candidate they prefer, which is likely Army commander Michel Suleiman.

This development has led to an emergency return of French FM Kouchner, in an attempt to salvage the French initiative.

As we stand right now, the opposition has reportedly rejected the following names from the Patriarch's secret list: Butros Harb, Nassib Lahoud, Robert Ghanem, and Michel Khoury.

Harb and Lahoud are March 14th official candidates. Ghanem was apparently acceptable to March 14 but not to the opposition. The latter also rejected Michel Khoury. Khoury is an old former minister, former central bank governor and son of Lebanon's first independence president Beshara al-Khoury. He was part of the Qornet Shehwan gathering -- the pro-independence Christian gathering that was formed before the Syrian withdrawal.

Instead, the so-called opposition reportedly had no problem with Michel Edde. Edde is another weak octogenarian who should be nowhere near the presidential palace.

The opposition could be interested in Edde especially if they have already cut a deal with him that 1- he would be supportive of Hezbollah's weapons, and 2- he would resign after two years after the next parliamentary elections. Such a scenario has been floating in the Syrian-allied camp for a while. It possibly would have Aoun's acquiescence as it would keep him safe in Hezbollah's pocket nursing his fantasy that in two-years he could try once again to become president once, as per his ridiculous fantasy, he and his allies seize a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

A report in the Kuwaiti al-Rai claimed that Edde was spotted traveling tonight to Damascus in the company of Sy Hersh's handler Michel Samaha, as well as Narallah's aide Hussein Khalil and Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil. According to the report, Samaha is an aide to Edde, which would give the Syrians a direct line to him, since Samaha is an agent of the Syrians through and through, and is in the pocket of Raja Sidawi, a Syrian businessman who, as I noted before, is allegedly funding the anti-Lebanon, pro-Syria disinformation network in the US (the Michel Samaha-Rola Talj enterprise) and who is close to Bashar. Samaha is barred from entering the US. The administration should make sure to ban Rola Talj as well. She was just recently here and she's trying to revive her network. The recent Executive Order is basically tailor made for her and Sidawi's ilk.

However, it's also possible that Edde is just a smoke screen (and this report is most certain to "burn" him as a "consensus" candidate if he ever were eligible). This reading is bolstered by the fact that the name of central bank governor Riad Salameh has resurfaced in opposition circles. Salameh is reportedly not on the Patriarch's list, as the Patriarch did not include figures who would require a constitutional amendment since he's a first grade civil servant.

Salameh's entry here was first sold as not requiring such an amendment, and they pulled some obscure study to justify it. Of course it won't fly.

While Salameh might be amenable to the Syrian-allied camp -- he's weak and they might possibly have dirt on him -- my sense is that he too is a smoke screen; a stage setter for the real candidate: Michel Suleiman.

This suspicion was bolstered by an opposition position that developed tonight. After the introduction of Salameh's name (mind you, not by the Patriarch!), sources close to the opposition leaked that the opposition requested that since one name that requires a constitutional amendment was introduced, then another one has to be introduced: Army commander Michel Suleiman.

Of course, the pro-Hezbollah rag al-Akhbar had already prefigured this a couple of days ago when it asserted that the Patriarch's list included Suleiman! That of course wasn't the case, but as these people's propaganda works, they float these supposed "leaks," which they themselves generate, in order to push the message from their political patrons.

As I've noted before, Michel Murr has been pushing for Suleiman all along, and Nasrallah made a nod to Suleiman in his latest rabid speech. Aoun himself has agreed to Suleiman, only not as president (Aoun, after all, sees the presidency as his exclusive patrimony and views Suleiman as a direct threat to that), but as head of a transitional government to be appointed by the outgoing Lahoud in case no consensus is reached (and of course, Aoun and Hezbollah would make sure such a consensus is not reached). That transitional government, in Aoun's fantasy, would then work to materialize that fantasy by preparing for early parliamentary elections so that Aoun's fairy tale scenario maybe could be reached!

So it could be that the Syrians and Hezbollah will continue to block things, pushing things to the edge, in order to see whether they can induce capitulation out of fear of chaos (that they themselves would instigate) and an acquiescence that the only "savior" is Suleiman. Of course, the element of deniability for the Syrians and Hezbollah is the criminal useful idiot Aoun, as always. Meanwhile, their primary objective is to make sure that 1- they prevent anyone acceptable to March 14, and 2- push after the election for veto power in the future cabinet. The latter especially is the number one objective.

It is perhaps for these expected hurdles that Kouchner declared tonight that he is "less confident" now that a solution can be reached.

Stick around, this is just beginning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Republic of Paranoia

Congrats to Dave at Harry's Place for writing some of the most interesting and honest material on Syria this side of Karfan. (Hat tip: BM).

It's hands down the best stuff by a traveler to Syria. Finally, a sober traveler that can look and write beyond the shallow accounts of "quaint cafes," or "the majesty of the souqs," as Dave put it, and all the nauseating cliches that permeate such asinine accounts.

Dave's accounts have countless of brilliant lines and truths. Here's a sample:

Kanan Makayia famously described Iraq under Saddam as The Republic of Fear.

Syria under Bashar Al-Assad is slightly more subtle; it’s best described as The Republic of Paranoia.

The paranoia is everywhere. You feel it, you can practically taste it. Everyone feels as if they’re being watched. At all times and at all places.

See those pictures of Bashar everywhere? On the streets, on people’s cars, in the restaurants, outside the Barada sports club, above the Tishreen Stadium swimming pool, etc. They’re saying, “We’re watching you mate”.

Syria’s a strange place. Nothing is as it seems. Nothing. On the surface everything’s fine, people are friendly and very hospitable, everything looks pretty much Western: clothes, food, music.

But as soon as you go under the surface, especially when you punch a hole through the language barrier, you enter a Bizarro-Land where the rules have changed but nobody will tell you. Where reality and logic cease to exist and it seems as if everyone turns into Muhammad As-Sahaf (Saddam’s information minister), denying what’s in front of them.

Even the most mundane things take on a bizarre surreal quality.
One of the hallmarks of a successful dictatorship is that it gets people to internalise its values and self-censor. It gets them to do the work of the observers and security apparatus for them. It gets the secret policeman to enter their heads. And that’s the most immediate difference between a dictatorship and a democracy. In a dictatorship there is no private space. There is no downtime. It’s suffocating.
You want to understand Arabic? Observe people’s unconscious body language when you’re speaking to them. That’ll teach you more than years of learning classroom Arabic (which NOBODY actually speaks) at SOAS back in London. You pick up on it quite quickly once you know where to look. These signals are instantaneous. But look for them when you’re speaking to people. The eyes never lie.

First their eyes dart looking around you to see who is watching them. Ask them something about Syria, something you think is neutral— it doesn’t have to be anything political or connected to Assad.

Their eyes look up, as if they are trying to remember the rehearsed party-line answers to any questions you ask them.

And some more, which my readers will find familiar:

I have no idea how the West views Syria.

I guess the general view is that it’s a secular state that’s acting to stem the tide of Islamic fundamentalism in the area. The reality is way more complicated than that. The longer you stay there, the more you notice that radical Islam is actually being used as both a domestic and foreign policy tool by the Ba’athists.

Of course if radical Islam attempts to overthrow the government then it is ruthlessly crushed, as anybody over the age of 30 from Hama can attest. On the other hand if you can mobilize radical Islam to serve your interests and keep you in power then this can work to your advantage on many levels.

It’s understood that attacking Israel using conventional military methods is suicide-- so use a proxy. Get Hezbollah to do it from another country, so when Israel retaliates it doesn’t retaliate against you.

You keep the Islamic fundamentalists busy by giving them the opportunity to vent their grievances by fighting in Iraq against the common enemy, America, which as everybody knows from reading the opinion pieces in the newspapers Tishreen, Ath-Thawra and Al-Ba’ath is in fact run by the Jews.

As long as Israel exists and America has a presence in Iraq you can mobilize radical Islamic discontent in that direction, thus letting you off the hook. But you keep a tight reign on the radicals by specifically recruiting them via the Abu Qa’qa mosque in Allepo. Anybody who attempts to enter Iraq independently in order to fight is arrested and punished.
Most important, the government uses the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism to isolate any secular, liberal opposition, warning that any movement towards democratisation will open power to the fundamentalists who represent a greater threat to the liberals than the Ba’athists do.

This is also very effective on the foreign policy level. The same claim used to check domestic liberal opposition can be used on the West-- that is Syria isn’t a threat, unlike radical Islam which is a threat to both parts of the world.

Therefore in order to defeat Islamic terrorists in Iraq the West needs to engage and work alongside Syria.

What they don’t tell you is that they’re sending the very same Islamic terrorists into Iraq to kill Iraqis and Americans. No, they tell you that they are a secular force acting as a restraint against religious extremists. Hopefully the West isn’t naïve enough to be taken in by this.
For a country that claims to be anti-imperialist it certainly seems to have plenty of imperialist ambitions on the countries around it-– Lebanon, Palestine and now Iraq. (Emphasis mine)

Read the whole thing.

In one of his typically hilarious postings, the apologist-in-chief of the Syrian regime said that this sad, decrepit state of affairs was "something the Syrians could be proud of" because Syria "gets an A for security"!

How did Dave put it? Ah yes, "One of the hallmarks of a successful dictatorship is that it gets people [TB: including academics] to internalise its values." And then the flack's job is to rationalize and whitewash them. "You’re expected to approve, legitimize and reinforce the values held here."

PS: I've been terribly busy with a number of pressing deadlines as well as a nasty cold. Once things clear up I'll be back with regular postings including on the Lebanese situation.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Aoun Reaps the Fruit of his Deal with the Devil

I think this line in NOW Lebanon's most recent editorial nails what's going on with Aoun:

Aoun has clearly realized that the Memorandum of Understanding was a grave mistake. However, it appears that the threat of assassination will be able to keep him from jumping ship and making a deal with March 14.

It was clear that Aoun was being directly threatened by Hezbollah and Syria. This is why he had to escape to Paris for the unannounced meeting with Hariri. He had had to cancel previous announced meetings in Lebanon with Jumblat and Hariri, and made a bit of a fiasco of the meeting with the Patriarch, when the Syrians made sure to send Suleiman Frangieh with him as his minder.

A few days ago, Michel Murr very publicly made that threat on LBC, when he signaled to Aoun that he should not think about going down with his bloc to Parliament, as per the Patriarch's urging. He was soon followed by that Syrian pitbull Wi'am Wahhab when Aoun went to meet with Hariri. Wahhab told Aoun that he "does not have the right to withdraw his candidacy on his own"! That marginal pitbull and tool of the Syrians warned Aoun about what he "had the right" to do or not!

But the case of Michel Murr is rather indicative of the slide of Michel Aoun after he made that deal with the devil. In 2005, he basically hid under Aoun's coat, who was then riding high, until the 2007 Metn by-election, after which Murr finally kicked the hapless General aside, once his weakness was exposed along with his indebtedness to Murr's votes for him to win that seat by a slim 418 votes. Murr has been actively trying to get Michel Suleiman, not Michel Aoun, to the presidency.

Overall, this is the old Syrian modus operandi of never allowing the Sunni and Maronite leaderships to come to agreements -- which is why March 14 was a historic moment. Figures like Mufti Hassan Khaled were killed by the Syrians for that reason. Aoun is now a prisoner of it -- a result of his breathtaking political idiocy.

This, dear readers, is the Assad way, which is why I always say that the Syrian regime's "policy" is nothing more than terrorism. This should serve as a note to the brilliant "engagers."

So Hezbollah Does Finance and Train Jihadists!

To follow up on my previous post, and a notion that I've long written about, this interesting piece in NOW Lebanon interviews a leader of the Ansar Allah group who has the following to say:

The group’s military leader, Maher Oweid, said that Ansar Allah is a Jihadist movement "and openly deals with every other Jihadist movements in Lebanon or abroad."
"All our financing, in addition to the security and political cover, publicly comes from Hezbollah, and we are not ashamed of this fact." He declared that the group does not take any money directly from Iran, but rather only from Hezbollah, and he denied that the latter intended to use the group for any purpose other than fighting against the enemy.

So -- shockingly! -- it turns out that the Shiite Hezbollah has no problem financing, training and giving political cover (like Nasrallah tried to do and failed with Fatah al-Islam) to a self-proclaimed Jihadist group that "openly deals with every other Jihadist movement"! So much for Sy Hersh's brilliant scoop!

By the way, Oweid is full of it when he says they don't get money from Iran. As I noted in my previous post, quoting Bernard Rougier, who has studied and documented Iran's patronage of Sunni jihadist groups in Palestinian camps in Lebanon, Ansar Allah, among others, was and remains part of an Iranian-established network. That Oweid tries to distance Iran from this and hide behind the Iranian creation Hezbollah is rather amusing, and telling.

So the next time you hear this pathetically laughable canard that Shiite Iran and Hezbollah or the Alawite regime in Syria simply "cannot" sponsor Jihadists, remember to snicker and sneer in contempt.

Addendum: And just to take it from the horse's mouth, the Syrian regime's apologist wrote on his blog on Sept. 13, 2006:
On a separate note, as I mentioned also in my previous post, Hezbollah's movement in camps like Burj Barajneh is now being monitored with concern and reports of their arming of marginal pro-Syrian Lebanese Sunni elements in northern Lebanon and the Bekaa, as well as the SSNP and Wi'am Wahhab, is also being watched with great caution.

The fear is that Syria, Iran and Hezbollah will use these tools, as well as possibly the PFLP-GC, to start subversive operations in Lebanon, in line with the threat that Farouq Sharaa gave to French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran a few days ago, that unless Syria gets to pick the president of Lebanon, that country would be sunk into "[war of] trenches." But the idea for Hezbollah and Iran is to avoid a Sunni-Shiite confrontation involving Hezbollah, and substituting it with intra-sectarian clashes in Sunni, Druze and Christian areas using these tools as proxies.

My sense at this point is that, should they opt for that, it would likely backfire as it did in January. I think this graph from a NOW Lebanon editorial puts it well: "the Free Patriotic Movement simply does not have sufficient militants on the ground to carry [a coup] out, as demonstrated on January 23, when Aoun was forced to enlist the help of Marada and Hezbollah members to keep the roads blocked in Mount Lebanon and Batroun during the opposition general strike. Any major civil disobedience or conflict would inevitably have to be first and foremost a Hezbollah operation."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dilettante Journalism

It seems that every other day we undergo the same exercise of trashing some dilettante journalist in Lebanon who knows nothing about that which s/he writes. The latest case is Hugh Macleod, in a remarkably bad and ignorant article on Hezbollah in the SF Chronicle.

What's the latest? Hezbollah's "expanding its military power by recruiting Sunnis, Christians and Druze in preparation for another conflict with Israel."

Mmmm, yes. Aside from the fact that this was fed to Macleod by "sources close to Hezbollah," what's the evidence supporting this? Well, your guess is as good as mine, or Macleod's for that matter. Not a single example of a Christian or Druze recruitment is given. What is given is Christian and Druze support in the rallies against the Seniora government last January, which have fizzled out and failed completely in achieving their objective.

I mean, Macleod could've at least talked about a certain marginal Druze who was created by the Syrians and who has zero constituency, the Syrian pitbull thug Wi'am Wahhab, who has claimed that the arms he's been smuggling and receiving from Syria were under the aegis of the "resistance." But that hardly constitutes an "expansion" of Hezbollah's power, given how Wahhab is a minor tool of the Syrians, so he hardly counts.

And what is the Christian example? Ummm... nothing.

OK, so what about the Sunnis? After all, this is the most important target for Hezbollah. They had tried hard to get the Jama'a Islamiyya on their side, but failed. Patrick Haenni and the latest ICG report mention this. In a recent interview, Haenni told NOW Lebanon, "Hezbollah can no longer recruit the Sunnis at the same level as its main-stream competitors. Basically they lost influence." (Emphasis mine). So they didn't "expand" their power, they lost power.

So who is the Sunni example offered by Macleod? Ansar Allah!

This is when you know that the journalist is an amateur with no serious knowledge whatsoever, and that he has not done any background work on the story.

Serious observers would know that "Ansar Allah" (whatever its latter day re-inventions) was an Iranian asset in the mid-80s. So, like Thanassis Cambanis in the NYT before him, Macleod is about 20 years behind the times on this "scoop."

The fact that this is the only example the "sources close to Hezbollah" are able to point to Macleod, for him to carry their propaganda for them, is itself a screaming indication of the loss, not expansion, of influence, and highlights, as Haenni said, the desperation of Hezbollah in trying, unsuccessfully, to stave off a Shiite sectarian label.

People interested in background on this, one which Macleod never bothered to do, can read Bernard Rougier's Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam Among Palestinians in Lebanon. Rougier writes (p. 47):

Today, the members of Usbat al-Ansar trace the founding of their group to 1985, and Shaykh Sharaydi's initiative. At that time the militia did not yet bear its current name, and in fact was called "God's Partisans" (Ansar Allah). The difference was not only one of semantics: originally the group belonged to an Iranian network and carried out its military operations in cooperation with the Lebanese Shi'ite groups that went on to form the nucleus of Hezbollah.

Rougier talks also about the Iranian use of Sunni Palestinian and Lebanese preachers in the camps, who preached the Iranian Khomeinist message, to try to create a shared Islamic identity, under Iran's guidance:

In the region of Saida, Iran's influence among Sunnis was manifest in the early 1980s in the creation of a network of preachers responsible for spreading a revolutionary vision of Islam in line with Khomeini's message. These religious figures of Lebanese and Palesitnian origin were co-opted in a pro-Iranian organization known as the Congregation of Muslim Ulema (Tajammu' al-Ulama al-Muslimin). The congregation had been set up in 1982 by the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, Shaykh Ruhani and had two objectives: to weaken the role of Lebanon's traditional notables (zu'ama) so as to give the religious elites authority over the country's political affairs, and to unify the Muslim religious communities in order to reduce sectarian antagonism between Sunnis and Shi'ites. (pp. 31-32).

The fact that Hezbollah is falling back on all this only highlights how they are an organic extension of Iran, a fact that has become a common daily feature of political commentary in Lebanon, especially since last year. But it also highlights the extent of their internal isolation, the loss of their raison d'être and the loss of all support for their continued autonomous armed presence. They are now finally exposed as the thing they always were: a sectarian militia.

This is why, there might be more to this story, beyond the Hezbollah propaganda, that Macleod missed, even as he acted as a carrier disseminating it. We were told that the recruitment of these supposed Sunni, Druze and Christian elements (although, not a single example of the latter two was given) was to prepare for "another conflict with Israel." Right.

Well, it could just as easily be something else, not the Macleod-disseminated propaganda, that Hezbollah doesn't want to talk about. Maybe attempting to recruit these elements is aimed at domestic targets.

In fact, even the propaganda reported in the piece itself is for domestic purposes. Hezbollah is now building infrastructure in Christian, Druze and Sunni areas, which is being faced with mounting concern and angry displeasure from these communities. Hezbollah is now in their backyard. Similar to what Haenni said (or the flip side of it), should Hezbollah start another war, which extends to north of the Litani, the likelihood of communal tensions exploding becomes rather high.

Even if they don't start another war anytime soon, and Macleod stresses that Hezbollah is "unlikely to provoke another war," tensions are already quite high, and Hezbollah knows that despite its threats of taking to the streets (which, I remind you, they did last year and failed) to try to prevent (or in reaction to) the election of a March 14 president, or even if no president is elected and the presidential powers are constitutionally transferred to the Seniora cabinet, such a move could degenerate (as it did briefly in January) to sectarian, namely Sunni-Shiite, clashes. And so, Hezbollah (and, in particular, Syria) could very well (as many reports have claimed) be training and arming marginal factions in other sects, like that pitbull Wi'am Wahhab and other Syrian tools like Zaher Khatib or Abdel Rahim Mrad, etc., perhaps to have them take to the street, with clandestine Hezbollah support, so that clashes would be intra-Druze, intra-Christian, or intra-Sunni.

But Macleod is too busy uncritically regurgitating Hezbollah propaganda to notice. Aside from Haenni, all the other sources for this story are Hezbollah members, agents, or official flacks.

Witness for instance the Hezbollah propagandist-in-chief at the Carnegie Endowment's Beirut Center, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. Leaving aside all the nitty-gritty of what this flack said, her statement that Hezbollah views March 14 as the executive tool of a US policy to disarm Hezbollah, and weaken Iran and Syria, rather says it all doesn't it?

The main target therefore, is not "preparation for conflict with Israel." Rather, it's March 14 (and there have been growing reports and speculation about Hezbollah's possible complicity in the assassination of March 14 figures), on the one hand, and the protection of Iran and Syria on the other, highlighting once again the non-Lebanese, regional extensions of Hezbollah.

But the propaganda Macleod is willingly disseminating doesn't stop there. Incredibly, we are treated to the following jaw-dropping bit:

[I]n an earlier interview, the group's foreign affairs spokesman, Nawaf Mousawi, blamed the rise of Sunni extremism in Lebanon on Washington and the government coalition, which sees such groups as a bulwark against Hezbollah. Washington and Beirut adamantly deny the allegation.

In a March article in the New Yorker magazine, reporter Seymour Hersh quoted a former British intelligence officer saying the Sunni extremist group Fatah Islam was "offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government's interests - presumably to take on Hezbollah."

It's astonishing, and incredibly irresponsible, that Macleod is repeating this disinformation, which, as I noted before, is pure info ops against the Lebanese state.

The choice of Nawaf Musawi is quite apt actually. Recently, after Hezbollah and the Syrian regime launched yet another info ops campaign, claiming that the US is working with March 14 to build military bases in Lebanon (a "story" that actually first appeared before the Nahr al-Bared fighting in the pro-Syrian rag, al-Diyar, in April, and then was picked up, as is the MO, after the fighting began as "proof" that the "real" reason behind the Nahr al-Bared episode was to empty and flatten the camp to build the base!).

Musawi himself, in what NOW Lebanon's editorial perfectly dubbed a "line dripping with mafia machismo," threatened the US that should they build such a base they would be attacked. As with this article, the real message is beneath the propaganda and the mafia machismo.

Last week, after Musawi's statement, al-Hayat's Walid Choucair spoke with sources close to the Iranians about it. When he asked about this affair the sources told him, "with a telling smile, 'maybe the [rhetorical and media] campaign [against the alleged US base] was a response to the request of the leader of the Future Movement, MP Saad Hariri, during his visit to Washington, for protection from the Americans [against Syrian assassinations]."

Once again, therefore, it's actually warfare against March 14, adding to the suspicions and reports of Hezbollah's complicity in the assassinations of March 14 figures.

And now, Macleod essentially revalidated Musawi's attack against the parliamentary majority accusing it and the US of being behind Fateh al-Islam.

The propaganda in Macleod's piece still doesn't stop there. Aside from rehashing the (Syrian- and Hezbollah-fed) Hersh nonsense, it adds the umm, "authoritative" testimony of the Iranian and Hezbollah asset, Ansar Allah, to Musawi's claims that Hezbollah is really interested in preventing the rise of al-Qaeda and groups like Fateh al-Islam, who supposedly were funded and equipped by the government and the US to "take on Hezbollah"!

But I'm confused. Why then was it only Hezbollah and Syria's tools (both Lebanese and Palestinian) who tried to prevent the government and the Army from taking out Fateh al-Islam? Why did Nasrallah seek to impose a so-called "red line" against military action to eradicate Fateh al-Islam? Why did Syrian tool and Hezbollah ally, and by the way, self-professed Zawahiri and al-Qaeda follower (you know, because Hezbollah is against al-Qaeda in Lebanon), Fathi Yakan, seek to find a deal to get Fateh al-Islam and its leadership out from the country safely? This is Fathi Yakan and his Islamic Action Front (which includes other Islamist Syrian agents Bilal Shaaban and Hashem Minqara, which is allied with Hezbollah, whose offices were raided by the state and found to be stocked with weapons. Of course, that too was "in preparation for the conflict with Israel"... at the opposite border up north!

Aside from Haenni's remarks, Macleod has produced a fine piece of Hezbollah propaganda and participated in their and Syria's info ops. This is the danger of irresponsible and dilettante journalism.