Across the Bay

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

'Death to the Rahbar': Iran, Hezbollah, Velayat-e Faqih, and Lebanon

Here's my commentary on Hezbollah's recent statements about the Velayat-e Faqih concept, in light of what's going on in Iran.

Hassan Mneimneh's essay, "The Arab Reception of Vilayat-e-Faqih: The Counter-Model of Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din," that I reference in the article, appeared in Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Vol. 8, along with a related essay by Hussain Abdul-Hussain, as well as my own essay on Hezbollah's Agenda in Lebanon.

As for the Ibrahim Mussawi episode with David Samuels, you can revisit that here.

Finally, for the record, and for those who read French, I'm also copying the L'Orient-Le Jour interview with Saoud al-Mawla referenced in the article.

Saoud el-Mawla : La wilayet el-faqih n’est pas une notion théologique

20/06/2009

INTERVIEW
M. Saoud el-Mawla a contesté les récents propos tenus par le leader du Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, au sujet de la wilayet el-faqih, soulignant notamment que la wilayet el-faqih est une théorie de jurisprudence et n'est nullement une notion théologique liée au dogme de la foi chiite, comme l'a affirmé Hassan Nasrallah dans son discours de mercredi dernier. Saoud el-Mawla, note-t-on, est un écrivain et professeur d'université chiite qui était conseiller de l'ancien vice-président du Conseil supérieur chiite, feu l'imam Mohammad Mehdi Chamseddine. En sa qualité d'intellectuel chiite, il a été l'un des fondateurs du congrès permanent du dialogue libanais et du groupe arabe pour le dialogue islamo-chrétien.

Dans une interview express accordée à L'Orient-Le Jour, Saoud el-Mawla a commenté la déclaration du leader du Hezbollah qui avait invité les journalistes, les responsables politiques et les forces du 14 Mars à s'abstenir désormais de soulever le problème de la wilayet el-faqih, sous prétexte que cette question relève du dogme chiite « que vous devez respecter », avait-il affirmé. M. Mawla a commencé par dénoncer sur ce plan « le mutisme des ulémas chiites et des hauts dignitaires religieux, et à leur tête Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, cheikh Abdel Amir Kabalan et tous les juges chériés et les muftis ». « Dans son dernier discours, sayyed Hassan Nasrallah a déclaré que la wilayet el-faqih fait partie du dogme chiite, affirmant que toute atteinte à cette notion ou toute discussion à ce sujet est une atteinte au dogme et à la religion. Hassan Nasrallah sait plus que tout autre personne que la notion de wilayet el-faqih générale est une théorie de jurisprudence et non pas une notion théologique ou dogmatique. Cela signifie que la wilayet el-faqih représente des dispositions et des mesures de détail en rapport avec l'organisation (de la vie de la communauté). Les musulmans chiites divergent au sujet de ces dispositions depuis l'occultation de l'imam Mehdi. D'où le fait que l'on a ouvert la voie au ijtihad (l'interprétation personnelle). »

Et Saoud el-Mawla d'ajouter : « Faire de la question de la wilayet el-faqih une affaire de dogme, c'est-à-dire prétendre qu'elle est au cœur de la croyance du musulman chiite et des fondements de la religion, constitue une atteinte à la Constitution libanaise ainsi qu'aux fondements de la coexistence, de la citoyenneté, de la démocratie et de la liberté au Liban, car adopter une telle attitude revient à brandir le spectre du terrorisme et de l'apostasie face à tous ceux qui rejettent la wilayet el-faqih (général, c'est-à-dire ayant une dimension politique globale). Or ceux qui rejettent la wilayet el-faqih (générale) représentent la grande majorité des ulémas et des dignitaires chiites en Iran, au Liban, en Irak et dans d'autres pays. Et cette position se retrouve à travers le siècles. »

L'attaque contre le patriarche maronite
« Les ulémas chiites, a ajouté Saoud el-Mawla, ont rejeté le principe de la wilayet el-faqih générale (englobant un pouvoir politique absolu) en lieu et place de l'imam Mehdi. Ils ont choisi d'accorder au wali (autorité religieuse) un pouvoir limité, c'est-à-dire celui d'un médiateur social, d'un conseiller, d'un juge, d'un cheikh. Les ulémas chiites n'étaient même pas d'accord sur les limites de tels pouvoirs. Certains d'entre eux ont englobé dans le pouvoir du wali le khoms (le cinquième des bénéfices du croyant payé aux imams), la zakate (taxe religieuse obligatoire), la prière du vendredi, ainsi que le fait de commander le bien et d'interdire le mal. D'autres ont donné à la wilayet el-faqih un pouvoir très restrictif n'incluant pas une autorité sur les individus, ce qui implique le rejet du recours à la force et de l'effusion de sang. »

Après avoir souligné que « la mise en place du gouvernement de la justice divine est du seul ressort de l'imam infaillible » (l'imam Mehdi), Saoud el-Mawla a relevé qu'« à travers l'histoire, aucun faqih chiite (savant de la foi) n'a prôné la wilayet el-faqih générale, à l'exception de cheikh Ahmad ben Mohammad Mehdi el-Nouraki (1245 de l'Hégire) dont l'imam Khomeyni s'est inspiré ».

Qualifiant d'« attitude répressive étrange » le fait de considérer la wilayet el-faqih comme un dogme, Saoud el-Mawla a relevé que « le peuple d'Iran ainsi que les hautes personnalités de la révolution de l'imam Khomeyni, ceux qui croyaient dans la wilayat el-faqih révolutionnaire font face aujourd'hui aux décisions du wali el-faqih » (l'imam Khamenei). « Sont-ils donc des mécréants ? » s'est-il interrogé. M. Mawla a appelé sur ce plan à la conciliation et au dialogue, à l'acceptation de l'autre et du droit à la différence, ainsi qu'au respect de la liberté d'opinion et d'expression. « Ce qui se passe aujourd'hui en Iran est la preuve la plus éclatante du fait que la wilayet el-faqih n'est pas agréée, même dans le pays d'origine, et donc à plus forte raison au Liban, en Irak et dans d'autres pays. »

Sur un tout autre plan, Saoud el-Mawla a souligné que les attaques de Hassan Nasrallah contre le patriarche maronite constituent « une calomnie et une injustice injustifiée ». « Ces attaques ne peuvent s'expliquer que par la volonté de justifier la défaite aux élections du fait que leur base populaire s'attendait à la victoire », a-t-il déclaré. Et de conclure que les accusations de traîtrise et les attaques personnelles lancées par les responsables du Hezbollah sont aujourd'hui déplacées car même l'Iran de Khamenei et d'Ahmadinejad pratique une politique d'ouverture en direction des pays arabes et de l'Occident.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lebanon May Have Missed Going Iran's Way

Michael Young in the Daily Star:

...

With the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acting with great brutality to impose a doubtful election victory, we can legitimately ask, caveats notwithstanding, whether Hizbullah would not have used a win of its own to place a similar headlock on the Lebanese political system in the future. In that way, the party could have used its authority to predetermine the outcomes in next year's municipal elections and the 2013 parliamentary elections to guarantee a lasting majority for itself and its allies.

...

Ultimately, Hizbullah did not put so much money and effort into the elections merely to recreate the situation that existed before June 7. For Nasrallah, like for Ahmadinejad, if we recall the Iranian president's recent statements on Lebanon, the elections were supposed to bring about precisely what Hizbullah's secretary general spent weeks saying they would: a state structured around a paramount concept of "resistance," which would sanction Hizbullah's weapons in the context of an official national "defense strategy." There was in the party's actions a definite will to power - no less decisive than is Khamenei's and Ahmadinejad's defense of their power in the security-dominated, post-revolutionary Iranian order.

Once in office, Hizbullah would have regarded its victory as a mandate to turn state institutions around to implement its aims. Given its behavior in May of last year, and now that we know that Nasrallah, even in defeat, believes he represents a Lebanese majority, Hizbullah would likely have accelerated its takeover of the state. Aoun, given his limited means to counter such actions, would have ended up being a fig leaf.

In many respects Hizbullah is a Leninist organization, a vanguard party focused on implementing a revolutionary ideology. The revolutionary impulse has always been an essential part of Hizbullah's mindset, with the idea of "resistance" at its center. That's not to say the party is today seeking to introduce an Islamic Republic in Lebanon, as that would only undermine its broader objectives; for a revolutionary party to survive, it sometimes needs to make momentary compromises. But for the past decade and more, Hizbullah has pursued, with great clarity and steadfastness, the objective of making the principle of armed resistance against Israel, but also against the United States, the cornerstone of national policy both in Lebanon and the Middle East, whether through its own actions or those of likeminded groups. While this has served Iranian interests above all, it has also reflected an ideological worldview that can only truly see its finality in the context of a state - the institution best able to protect and develop the revolutionary impulse. Therefore, to assume that the party would not have taken advantage of an election victory to help fulfill that ideological commitment in Lebanon seems almost counter-intuitive.

Two things reinforce this conclusion. The first is that Nasrallah has never hidden his contempt for the Lebanese political system, nor his hubristic belief that he and his party can define a "better" Lebanon than the one we have today. That is one reason why he has been able so readily to exploit Michel Aoun, who, no less hubristically, if far less persuasively, also feels that he can change Lebanon to satisfy his preferences.

The second is that Nasrallah needs to alter the foundations of the Lebanese state in order for Hizbullah to survive. The secretary general knows very well that since the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, his party's future has rested on shaky foundations. A majority of Lebanese, and that includes Shiites, remains uneasy about the prospect of perpetual war against Israel. Yet without conflict Hizbullah could not survive, nor could it justify retaining its weapons; so the party needs to maintain the threat of conflict alive, just as it needs to more strongly anchor itself in the Lebanese state to ensure that such conflict, when it does come, will not unseat it from power. In this respect, Hizbullah sees things much in the same way as do its sponsors in Iran, particularly the Pasdaran, who have established a parallel authority in the Iranian state to guard against any possible counter-revolutionary urges from within the society.

Then again Lebanon is not Iran. What Hizbullah would have liked to achieve is not necessarily what it could have achieved. Had it tried to take over the state, the party would have met resistance, provoking civil unrest, if not outright civil war, because that is how Lebanese society reacts when its sectarian rules are broken. But as the events of May 2008 showed, Hizbullah can be recklessly indifferent to these rules. So, when the Lebanese voted against the opposition on June 7, they voted not only against the possibility of being ruled by Hizbullah; they also voted against an equally unpleasant alternative: sectarian conflict.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why the Western Press Corps Botched Lebanon's Elections

Here's my piece for NOW Lebanon critiquing the Western press corps' coverage of the Lebanese elections.

There are several reasons that explain the overall mediocrity. I highlight laziness and tendentiousness -- enthrallment with a romanticized idea of Hezbollah and Aoun. This sentiment was best expressed in a post-election blog post by the Charlottesville siren, who, after trashing the March 14 majority as "anti-democratic," expressed her disappointment at the election result -– something very palpably shared by those writers who were enthusiastically heralding a Hezbollah victory –- and managed to verbalize what was undoubtedly a common premise among many Western reporters in Beirut.

“Aoun,” she wrote, “offered a clear alternative to [Lebanon’s] system.” Similarly, she added, “Hizbullah … also supports a ‘de-confessionalized,’ one-person-one-vote system in Lebanon.” And, for those reasons, she concluded, “I wanted their alliance to win.”

One could find numerous incidents to support this, some of which are noted in the article. Or, just read any random posting by the crown jewel of the foreign press corps in Beirut, the incomparable Andrew Lee Butters.

Another factor in the overall mediocrity is ignorance. For example, and I'm not sure whether to classify the reliance and uncritical reproduction of partisan polls as an instance of ignorance or a conscious participation in disinformation, there were numerous other polls, none of which were cited. One poll, by Ijma' on May 25, came very close to accurately calling what ended up being the official result. It gave March 14 a 68-60 win. Of course, March 8 performed even poorer, winning only 57 seats.

Not only were such polls not cited, but to add insult to injury, the other, blatantly partisan polls by pro-Hezbollah types like Abdo Saad, were accompanied by reinforcing commentary from pro-Hezbollah "academics," like Saad's daughter, Hezbollah groupie Amal Saad-Ghorayeb! It was really a freak show.

A perfect example of pure ignorance, however, can only come from said Butters. Having decided to embark on the adventure of trying to understand the electoral billboard campaigns, Butters fell upon a challenge: a billboard that read, "Achrafiyeh is Not for Pussies."

After scratching his head real hard, Time's Wunderkind squeezes out the essence of his penetrating insight and understanding of all things Lebanese: "I thought this was amusing because chi-chi Frenchified Achrafiyeh, which happens to be home to Time Magazine's Beirut bureau and many a lady who lunches, is definitely for p#%%$*s."

That's the best this guy could come up with: Taking an oh-so-original swipe at the residents of Ashrafiyeh, without having the slightest clue what the reference in the billboard was all about (and he's been living in Beirut, presumably covering the country's political life). What this anecdote reveals is that Butters had no idea that an Aoun-supported candidate running for a Maronite seat in Ashrafiyeh is named Massoud "Poussy" Ashqar. And so, Ashrafiyeh is not for "Poussies," just as reporting is not for clueless buffoons -- at least in principle.

This is but one example. One could go on and on. And, I should note, this kind of subpar quality of reporting was not restricted to Western journalists, but extended to clownish hired pens of the Syrian regime, like the King of Comedy, Sami Moubayed. Witness this genius comment, e.g.:

The Hezbollah-led opposition, which had been expected to take the majority, emerged with only 50 seats, although eight seats are still to be announced in the Metn region. Early results show that of these eight seats, only two were taken by March 14 coalition candidates - Michel al-Murr and Sami Gemayel - while the remaining six went to Hezbollah.

Mmmm, yeeess. Apparently Hezbollah was fielding candidates in the Metn and none of us heard about it! The lazy, idiotic ignorance doesn't stop there. The King of Comedy proceeds: "There were no surprises in this regard on Sunday. Hezbollah and Amal candidates captured all 27 seats allocated to the Shi'ites." Right. I guess Okab Sakr, Ghazy Yousef and Amin Wehbe really are not Shiites. And so on and so forth.

Now that March 14 won, many Western analysts, "experts" and reporters are putting out a truly sinister line in relation to the upcoming cabinet formation, preemptively placing the onus of any Hezbollah or Syrian terrorist violence on the shoulders of March 14. Taking the lead from Muhammad Raad's threat, the tone was set by none other than Hezbollah's "academic," Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, in a piece by Massoud Derhally about how March 14 "must" give Hezbollah veto power... or else:

“If the pro-Western coalition is intransigent about not giving veto power to Hezbollah and its allies then we will witness a renewed political crisis, and a return to the period before the Qatar agreement,” Saad-Ghorayeb said.

This repulsive, not even veiled threat of violence (by an "academic," mind you; not to be confused with "Hezbollah flack") was shamefully repeated by Mona Yacoubian:

Should the March 14th coalition remain steadfast in its refusal to allow a blocking veto, Lebanon will once again find itself in the throes of a dangerous political stalemate that could easily spiral into violence.

Marvel at the modality in both quotes. The only active subject and verb are March 14 remaining "steadfast" and "intransigent" in refusing to hand over an unconstitutional device to those who have lost the elections. The rest of the sentence is completely in the passive voice, with the perpetrators of the potential violence not even named! And yet, Hezbollah is still dubbed a "political" (nay, reformist!) party that has "evolved" over the years -- but which of course reserves the right to use terrorist violence whenever it sees fit! Needless to say, the responsibility is laid at the feet of the recipients of the violence.

In other words, these people have totally internalized the Assad regime's and Hezbollah's thuggish style of issuing threats and blaming it on those who will be subjected to it (who were "stubborn" and thus, got their comeuppance). The Syrians are the masters of this type of thuggery. Recall Walid Moallem and Farouq Sharaa. The perfect wording for it came from that quintessential embodiment of all the ugliness of the Syrian system, Imad Shoueibi (emphasis mine):

If some attempt to hold on to their opinion in the framework of forming a government with a majority and minority, in the democratic representative sense, then they would be heading towards a major crisis in Lebanon.

فإن حاول البعض التمسك برأيه في إطار تشكيل حكومة بالأكثرية والأقلية بالمعنى الديمقراطي التمثيلي فإنه يذهب باتجاه أزمة كبيرة في لبنان


The Orwellian nature of this comment needs no elaboration.

In the end, it speaks volumes about the moral center of the people propagating this insidious line, or those who present a violent Islamist militia, who only last year stormed civilian neighborhoods by force of arms, as a democratic force of reform. As if that weren’t enough, some went on to explain the “unexpected” March 14 victory as being in part a result of campaign “scare tactics” – as though the violence wrought on the Lebanese by Hezbollah and Syria is a product of sinister March 14 propaganda.

I cannot think of a better example of depravity than what was and continues to be on display in the journalistic and policy analysis literature on Lebanon. And all this with Hezbollah having lost. Just imagine the nauseous nonsense that would have been written had they won.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More Lebanon Election Analysis

Here's my latest piece on the election and post-election situation. See also Michael Young's column yesterday, as well as Emile Hokayem's editorial.

Arabic readers might want to check out the following op-ed by Elie Fawaz. Ziad Majed also draws some conclusions from the election result. Also, see this very sharp piece by Hazem Saghieh on the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance.

Finally, I'll be coming back to address the latest brazen nonsense being peddled by the March 8 crowd and their Syrian chums, about them winning the "popular majority." Stay tuned.

Update: A quick follow-up to something I wrote in my piece. I noted that "Already, the Syrians are voicing their opposition to majority leader Saad Hariri becoming prime minister, unless he sanctions the 'resistance,' and thereby hands Syria and Hezbollah unilateral domination of the country's security and foreign policy."

On cue, here's Syria's Faysal Miqdad: "Syria’s relations with the next Lebanese government will be based on two key issues, he said, 'The first is the way this government deals with Syria and its view of Lebanese- Syrian relations. The second is the way it deals with Hezbollah’s arms, which Syria sees as a necessity to Lebanon in the face of the Israeli occupation.'"

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Mapping Out the Election Results

Let's run through what seems to be the final result of the election. It seems, with the preliminary results, that the March 14 coalition and its independent allies have won 71 seats, adding one seat to their current total, despite what March 8 thought would be an electoral law advantageous to them (the 1960 law adopted in the now-defunct Doha Accord). This puts to rest the myth that in 2005, M14 won because of its alliance with Hezbollah and the gerrymandering of the electoral law of 2000. M14's victory is clear. It ran unified lists and wherever M14 won, the lists won in total without any breaches.

Who are the winners and losers?

Obviously, M14 as a coalition emerges victorious. The independents add a couple to the total number but M14 still maintains a majority on its own. It's a decisive majority trashing once and for all Bashar Assad's "imaginary majority" and "transient few" snide remarks.

Hariri reemerges with the biggest bloc and thus keeps his position as head of the parliamentary majority. The Future Movement sailed through in the north, Beirut, the Western Bekaa and Zahle, and swept two seats in Sidon. The Lebanese Forces performed very strongly in Koura and Batroun, with M14 sweeping both, and eliminating Aoun's son-in-law Gebran Bassil in what is a major symbolic victory.

Walid Jumblat sacrificed from his share for the sake of the M14 alliance, and he emerges with a slightly diminished bloc as a result.

On the other side, Michel Aoun took a hit with the loss of his son-in-law, and saw his huge margin in Keserwen dwindle down drastically to about 2,000 votes, with Mansour al-Bone and his list performing ably.

Furthermore, this was done with Aoun's preferred electoral law, which he had been bragging about since the Doha Accord saying that he "forced" it on the other parties, and that it would "liberate" the Christian vote, especially in places like Ashrafiyeh, and that he would expand his bloc to over 30 MPs. Well, his list was demolished in Beirut 1 (Ashrafiyeh), where M14 swept all five seats.

Also, his allies in Zahle (Elie Skaff and the "Popular Bloc") got smashed, with M14 performing very strongly there.

Nevertheless, Aoun scored big in districts with large Hezbollah votes, namely Baabda and Jbeil. While a victory in Jbeil was expected, the sweep in Baabda is a net win. Aoun also maintained his sweep in Keserwen, despite a dramatically narrower edge. He also did well in the Metn, winning 6 (in alliance with the Armenian Tashnag party) out of 8, with Michel Murr and Sami Gemayel getting the other two. As such, Aoun will still claim he is the strongest in the Maronite heartland. Nevertheless, the win is very obviously a lot shakier than the "tsunami" of 2005, and nothing made it clearer than his son-in-law's big loss in Batroun. Batroun, whose citizens lost an Army pilot, shot down in his helicopter by Aoun's Hezbollah's allies, threw out the Aounists completely.

In effect, the Christian vote, as always, is still split. Aoun and his allies (Frangieh, Tashnag) will still have the largest Christian bloc (the seats in Jezzine will not be counted because they were never in play for M14, and they were gifts from Hezbollah -- and, incidentally, a setback for Berri).

The Tashnag Party, which huffed and puffed (and was puffed up by Western journos) mightily before the elections, ends up with a dud, getting only two seats (keeping the seat in Metn, and gaining a seat in Beirut 2). The other Armenian seats (Zahle, Beirut 1) went to M14.

Similarly, Michel Murr didn't pull off the kind of performance many thought he would, keeping only his seat in the Metn. He fielded a candidate in Baabda (Gharios) who lost. His companion in the Metn, Sarkis Sarkis, also lost.

Similarly, the so-called centrist bloc that was touted before the elections, comes out decidedly smaller than even initially thought. The bloc was supposed to be affiliated with the President, Suleiman, with candidates close to him, or effectively putting themselves in his corner, not breaking through: Nazim Khoury in Jbeil, al-Bone and Farid Haykal Khazen in Keserwen, Edmond Gharios (and even perhaps Pierre Daccache) in Baabda, and even Murr himself. Although there are others who did make it (people like Robert Ghanem, etc. can still support the President), the bloc as initially conceived did not quite materialize.

This balance of power will now be transferred to the battle over the cabinet formation. M14 has a clear victory, and so will pick the Prime Minister. The battle, however, will be over the heresy of the "veto third" -- which has no existence in the constitution or the Taef Accord. Hariri has been consistently rejecting its continuation in the future cabinet, and he got support today from Jumblat as well, who called it a "fallacy." M14 will agree to a national unity government, though its principled position now is that it rejects the "veto third" formula. They are making plenty of noise about giving a boost to Suleiman, and how that will materialize remains to be seen. M8 is almost certainly going to reject it and will cite the relatively weak performance of the so-called independents/centrists as support for their position. This is a potential looming crisis on the horizon, as I argued in my pre-election briefing, especially since Hezbollah and the March 8 groups have shown themselves to be anti-democratic and violent forces who wouldn't hesitate to paralyze the country and ultimately attack people in their homes to get what they want.

Let's see how this plays out.

Major Victory for March 14

March 14 is headed for an impressive victory in the elections. Michel Aoun's Wunderkind son-in-law in Batroun has lost, and there's a slight possibility that Aoun himself will not be reelected in Keserwen, though that remains to be seen.

Results so far (some final, some preliminary) have March 14 winning big in basically all the battle districts: all seven seats in Zahle, all three in Koura, both seats in Batroun, all five in Beirut 1, and it's looking very good in Metn, with only Baabda not looking good.

The big news so far is a very strong showing for the independent-M14 alliance in Keserwen, where Aoun has his seat, but the final results have yet to come out.

So much for Bashar's "imaginary majority" and "transient condition" (as he famously referred to M14), in spite of all his terrorism, bombing, murder, violence, intimidation, coup attempts and information warfare over the last four years. And cheers to Andrew Lee Butters, Mitchell Prothero, Hugh Mcleod, Robert Worth, et al. Good call there, gentlemen.

Hezbollah, showing its high democratic spirit, has spent the day assaulting rival Shiite candidates and clashing with the majority's supporters in some districts.

And now, as I noted in my pre-election briefing, for the real, post-election battle. Jumblat gives us a preview: He rejected the idea of having an obstructing third, calling it a “fallacy.”

UPDATE: Al-Arabiya is quoting sources "close to Hezbollah" as conceding that M14 has won circa 70 seats. In other words, they have kept the numbers they won in 2005, despite everything.

UPDATE 2: Alas, Keserwen was swept by the Aounists, despite a really strong showing for the independent-M14 list. Mansour al-Bone and his list put up a strong fight in Keserwen, losing by less than two thousand votes out of 30 thousand. Gone are the days of Aoun's "tsunami."

Friday, June 05, 2009

Hezbollah, the Elections, and Beyond

Here are my two cents, amidst the plethora of unvaryingly crappy analysis and reporting as we draw close to Lebanon's elections on Sunday.

David Schenker also weighed in a couple of days ago. For more on this subject, see Jonathan Spyer's piece and Michael Young's interview as well as his latest column in the Daily Star yesterday.

Make sure you check them out as well.

More Undeclared Uranium Discovered in Syria

Must be those Israelis throwing uranium-laced bombs to frame poor innocent, yet utterly genius, Bashar. After all, everyone knows that, as that flame of caricature brilliance, Imad Mustapha told us, "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." I mean, duh!

Reuters:

More undeclared uranium discovered in Syria

International Atomic Energy Agency finds traces of processed uranium at second site in Syria, leading to fears of covert nuclear activity

The UN nuclear watchdog has discovered traces of processed uranium at a second site in Syria, the agency said on Friday, heightening concern about possible undeclared atomic activity in the Arab state.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been examining U.S. intelligence reports that Syria almost built a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor meant to yield weapons-grade plutonium before Israel bombed it to rubble in 2007.

Inspectors who found uranium particles at the remote desert site a year ago also found similar traces at a small research reactor in the capital Damascus which the IAEA knew about and checks once a year, a IAEA report said. These traces were different from Syria's declared nuclear material inventory.

The IAEA said in February that inspectors had found enough traces of uranium in soil samples taken from the bombed site a year ago to constitute a significant find.

Friday's report said "anthropogenic natural uranium particles" had also turned up in environmental swipe samples taken from hot cells of the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) facility in Damascus.

Syria, told of the IAEA's discovery last month, sent a written response to the IAEA on Monday. But this did not not address the presence and origin of the particles and the UN watchdog was investigating a possible connection with the uranium particles found at the bombed site, the report said.

The IAEA said previously satellite pictures taken before the Israeli bombing revealed a building resembling a reactor.

Syria still withholding evidence
But the new report said Syria, citing national security, was still ignoring IAEA requests for wider access and documentation to back up its assertion that Israel's target at Dair Alzour was a conventional military building.

The IAEA again urged Syria to provide additional data and trips to Dair Alzour and other, allegedly related locations to allow test-sampling of destroyed or salvaged equipment and debris removed before investigators were let into the country.

"It is clearly in Syria's interest to render to the agency the necessary cooperation and transparency if it wishes the agency to be able to corroborate its assertion about the nature of the Dair Alzour site," the report said.

Syria's only declared nuclear site is the old research reactor and it has no known nuclear energy-generating capacity.

The report said Syria was also refusing to discuss satellite pictures the IAEA had offer to share with it. Syria had provided information regarding procurement of certain equipment and materials including a large quantity of graphite and large quantities of barium sulphate", a compound sometimes used as a radiation shield in nuclear structures.

Syria had indicated the procurement efforts were civilian and non-nuclear, relating to water purification, the steel industry and shielding material for radiation therapy centers. It has claimed that the uranium particles retrieved from samples taken at Dair Alzour came from depleted uranium used in Israeli munitions, an assertion dismissed by the IAEA.

Syria has also suggested IAEA analyses were faulty and that satellite imagery Washington gave to the IAEA was fabricated.

Vienna diplomats said in March that Syria had told the IAEA it had built a missile facility on the desert tract hit by Israel, a disclosure apparently meant to reinforce the Syrian refusal to grant more IAEA access on national security grounds.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Recent Items on Hezbollah

Here are a few recent items on Hezbollah: First, a discussion between Gary Gambill and myself on the subject of Hezbollah, its arsenal and its participation in politics.

Second, a sharp piece by Jonathan Spyer on what it would mean if the Hezbollah-led coalition won the elections.

This question is discussed in further detail in this CFR interview with Michael Young.

Lastly, add this item to the illustrious annals of Hezbollah's "Lebanonization" and its very clearly non-existent "global reach."