August 28/08

Bible Reading of the day.
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 23,27-32.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets' blood.' Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out!

Baldwin of Ford (?-c.1190), Cistercian abbot
Tractate 10 : PL 204, 515-516 (copyright Cistercian publications Inc.)
Lord, remove my heart of stone
It is for us to love Christ as he loved us. In this he left us an example so that we might follow in his steps (1Pt 2,21). This is why he says: «Set me as a seal upon your heart,» (Sg 8,6). It is as if he said: «Love me as I love you. Have me in your mind, your memory, your desire, your yearning, your sighing and your sobbing. Remember, mankind, how I made you, how I put you before all other creatures, how I ennobled you with such dignity, how I crowned you with glory and honor, how I made you only a little less than the angels, how I subjected all things under your feet (Ps 8, 6-7). Remember, too, not only the many things I made for you but what harsh and undeserved things I endured for you... If you love me, show that you love me! Love me in deed and truth, not with the word and tongue... Set me as a seal upon your heart that you may love me with all your strength»...Take from me, O Lord, my heart of stone. Take away my hardened heart. Take away my uncircumcised heart. Give me a new heart, a heart of flesh, a pure heart! (Ez 36,26). You who purify the heart, you who love the pure heart, possess my heart and dwell within it.

Interview From Naharnet with Minister Issam Abu Jamra
Abu Jamra: Saniora Offered to Rent Me Headquarters Outside Serail to Enjoy Monopoly/Naharnet/27/08

Free Opinions, Releases, letters & Special Reports
Threat to Lebanon's symbol of survival-BBC News27/08/08
Hezbollah presence in Venezuela feared-Los Angeles Times 27/08/08
Another UN Commander Caters to Terrorists.By: W. Thomas Smith Jr. 27/08/08
A Syrian-Israeli Breakthrough?By David IgnatiusWashington Post 27/08/08
Assad's Shopping List.By: Jonathan Spyer 27/08/08
Khamenei would do best to remain above Iran's political brawl- The Daily Star 27/08

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for August 27/08
Sarkozy confirms Syria visit date-BBC News
Russia plans to raise navy presence in Syria: diplomat-Reuters
Israel, Lebanon both complain of 1701 violations-Ynetnews
With Biden On Board, Can Obama Be Trusted?Jewish Press
Lebanon says world should open up to Syria-AFP
Jordan offers to sell electricity to power-starved Lebanon-AFP
Israel Will Go All-Out Next Time To Stop
Hapless Hezbollah ATGMs Revealed-Strategy Page
Stop threatening Lebanon - Egypt-Independent Online
Eying one another, Iran and Israel shore up their naval arsenals-Ha'aretz

Egypt Offers Backing: Military, Security, Gas and Electricity-Naharnet
Israeli Activity in Shebaa Following Report Hizbullah Equipped Shelters with Missiles-Naharnet
MP Zahra Ridicules Parliamentary Show by FPM Lawmakers-Naharnet
A UN report said Lebanon's eastern borders remain open to the ...Naharnet
UN Confirms: Hizbullah Importing Weapons From Syria-Arutz Sheva
Clash wounds one in eastern Lebanon-Monsters and
Egypt seeks to ease Lebanon-Israel tension-The Associated Press
Rights group decries Lebanon maid deaths-United Press International
Berri and the Frightening Situation in the North
Ban Requests One-Year Extension of UNIFIL
Security Breaches….Bombs in Beirut, Shooting in Bekaa
Ahmad Al-Assaad Vows to Penetrate Hizbullah's Hegemony in 2009 Elections
The list of Eight For Army Commander
Parliament Postpones Draft Law on Electoral Divisions till Sept. 25
Foreign Maids Die Each Week in Lebanon, Report
Belgian Defense Minister in Beirut to Inspect Troops
Quarrel Nearly Turned Violent between MPs Nicola, Andrawous
Diniyeh Residents Block Main Road to Protest Power Cuts
Reporters Without Borders Condemns Detention of Westerners by Hizbullah
Islamists Protest in Downtown Beirut
Suleiman for Qatar Next Week
Berri postpones vote on draft Lebanese electoral law until ...Daily Star - Lebanon
Sunni clerics urge agreement on national defense strategy-Daily Star
Kouchner worries about lingering 'hatred' among feuding Lebanese parties - report-Daily Star
UN team says border wide open to arms smuggling - report-Daily Star
Islamist protesters demand release of detained 'sons of Sunni faith-Daily Star
Sunni clerics urge agreement on national defense strategy-Daily Star
Clashes between Amal, Future supporters leave three wounded-Daily Star
Domestic workers risking death to flee employers-Daily Star
Sidon gathering underlines need to develop heritage sites-Daily Star
Chouf region reaps benefits of tourism boom-Daily Star
New regional body aims to combat climate change-Daily Star
Pathways to peril: Roads to Damascus, Tripoli see alarming number of accidents-Daily Star
Iran spends $15.8 million to promote religion and revolution-AFP

U.N. Committee: Lebanon Borders Open to Weapons Smuggling From Syria
Naharnet/A U.N. report said Lebanon's eastern borders remain open to the smuggling of weapons from Syria.
The daily an-Nahar, in a dispatch from New York, said the conclusion was made in a report prepared by the independent committee to assess the situation along joint Lebanese-Syrian borders to facilitate implementation of UNSCR 1701 that ended a 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel in the summer of 2006 and banned the illegal transfer of weapons into Lebanon. The report, according to an-Nahar, criticized both Lebanon and Syria for the lack of progress in security arrangements along the borders to prevent "smuggling in general, and the smuggling of weapons in particular, despite all pledges made by both countries to enforce security along the joint borders and other crossings in order to prevent the transport of weapons, or related items, to Lebanon without the approval of its government."The committee's first report, issued on June 27, 2007, resulted in a similar conclusion. The U.N. Security Council, expressed on Aug. 3 its "deep concern" over information on the persisting violation of a ban on the illegal transport of weapons into Lebanon.A spokesman for the U.N. chief told an-Nahar the committee's report would be referred to the Security Council "today or tomorrow." Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 07:54

Ban Requests One-Year Extension of UNIFIL
Naharnet/U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has asked the Security Council to extend the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon by another one year until the end of August next year. In a letter to the Council's President, Ban notes that the mission "continues to play a crucial role in ensuring peace and stability in southern Lebanon, as well as full respect for the Blue Line" along the Lebanese-Israeli border. UNIFIL is tasked with ensuring that the area between the Blue Line and the Litani River is free of unauthorized weapons, personnel and assets, and also cooperates with the Lebanese armed forces so they can fulfill their security responsibilities. "I hope that the recent formation of a new government will contribute to an improvement of the overall security environment that would permit, in the near future, the return to southern Lebanon of units of the armed forces that have been redeployed to maintain security in other parts of the country," Ban wrote in his letter. He reiterated that it is essential that the international community help the Lebanese army to "become a more effective military organization."
As of July 15, UNIFIL – whose mandate is currently due to expire on 31 August – had 12,284 military personnel from 27 troop-contributing countries. Additional units from Indonesia and Malaysia are slated to be deployed soon. Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 10:44

Abu Jamra: Saniora Offered to Rent Me Naharnet/Headquarters Outside Serail to Enjoy Monopoly
By Dalia Nehme
Deputy Prime Minister Maj. Gen. Issam Abu Jamra said Premier Fouad Saniora has offered to rent him headquarters outside the Grand Serail so he could enjoy "monopoly and exclusive possession."
Abu Jamra told Naharnet that "the most important point" in defining the powers of deputy premier was a "matter of state continuity."
Abu Jamra had earlier called for establishing his own office at the Grand Serail so he "can keep an eye" on Saniora.
He said he would suggest amending the text of the prime minister performance management system "such as it preserves the role of deputy prime minister."
"The deputy premier should have powers for continuity's sake," Abu Jamra added.
He said the draft law intended to be presented to Parliament was aimed at spelling out the definition of "absence. How and when?" Will the prime minister be considered absent by merely crossing the border, or what?" Abu Jamra asked.
"All these matters should be defined in the regime, in addition to issues that should be specified such as the powers entrusted by the prime minister," he went on.
Abu Jamra said there are 62 public administrations directly linked to the prime minister and asked: "Is it normal for him to run all this amount of institutions?"
"Surely he needs help with that," he answered.
Abu Jamra revealed that during his visit to Saniora on July 15 he turned down a proposal by the prime minister for renting property outside the Grand Serail and insisted on establishing offices at the government headquarters "so I could stay up-to-date on all issues, and not be isolated."
Asked whether Saniora's proposal was meant to keep him away from the course of events at the Grand Serail, Abu Jamra said:
"In a situation like this, we don't know whether it is for the sake of exclusive possession or monopoly, or whether there are things he (Saniora) doesn't want anyone to know how it happens." Beirut, 26 Aug 08, 18:10

Israeli Activity in Shebaa Following Report Naharnet/Hizbullah Equipped Shelters with Missiles
sraeli troops were allegedly combing the surroundings of their positions in the occupied-Shebaa Farms amid helicopter overflights following news that Hizbullah has equipped tunnel infrastructure in south Lebanon with missiles to be fired into Israel. No further information was given regarding the Israeli activity in the Shebaa Farms area. The report about Hizbullah acitivity in the south, however, was carried by the Israeli daily Haaretz.
It said that the bomb shelter of at least one house in each of the southern villages was equipped to store weapons and Hizbullah fighters to face up to long periods of isolation. Haaretz said these shelters would be used as bases to fire rockets into Israel and to carry out ambush attacks against Israeli soldiers in case they reached these villages. The shelters, according to the report, can accommodate up to 15 fighters. It said among south Lebanon's 150 villages there is at least one house of this sort. Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 13:19

Egypt Offers Backing: Military, Security, Gas and Electricity
Naharnet/Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abulghet said Wednesday his country is "ready to build the capabilities" of the Lebanese Army and the security sector.
Abulgheit, talking to reporters after meeting Premier Fouad Saniora at the Grand Serail, said such Egyptian support would help the Lebanese Army "shoulder its responsibilities."Egypt has "major capabilities in this respect," he stressed. Cairo, he pointed out, "has its relations with all regional and international parties and we hope to take part in calming down" the Lebanon situation. "The message is that you have to be careful so that the situation in Tripoli does not blow up. All sides should act along calculations that do not lead to collisions between brethren and members of the one people," Abulgheit advised. Abulgheit said he also relayed to Saniora a "message about Egypt's readiness" to support Lebanon with electric power and natural gas. The chief of Egypt's diplomacy met President Michel Suleiman at the Baabda Palace earlier in the day and told reporters after the talks "the president is always welcome in Egypt." Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 13:38

Hizbullah Accuses Bkirki of Interfering in politics
Naharnet/Hizbullah on Wednesday accused the Maronite church of "interfering in politics." Ghaleb Abu Zeinab, member of Hizbullah's political council, made the remark in a television interview. "It is obvious that Bkirki interferes in details of the political life. Whether this is its right or not, is another issue," Abu Zeinab said.
He said Parliament would adopt the election law by Sept. 25, predicting that neither March 14 nor March eight would win the two-third majority of parliamentary seats. "The opposition would win the (simple) majority" in the new parliament, Abu Zeinab predicted. Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 14:17

MP Zahra Ridicules Parliamentary Show by FPM Lawmakers
Naharnet/MP Antoine Zahra on Wednesday ridiculed a protest by lawmakers from the Free Patriotic Movement against postponing a vote on the election constituencies' law. "Why did colleagues representing the Change and Reform bloc lose their nerves when the constituencies' law was postponed (on Tuesday)?" Zahra asked in a radio interview. "It is either because their leader (Michel Aoun) had promised that the law would be adopted, which did not happen, or it is a political maneuver that they try to invest in gaining popularity," he added. "They wanted to make up for their losses … but the people are no more impressed by such shows," Zahra added. Zahra said the overnight bombing in Beirut and south Lebanon "would not achieve political gains. Only logic would convince the people."
Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 12:16

Berri and the Frightening Situation in the North
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri voiced concern over the security situation in north Lebanon and played down reports of tension between his AMAL movement and Mustaqbal partisans in Beirut. Berri, in an interview with the daily al-Akhbar, said: "I am not concerned by what has happened in Beirut because it is instantaneous … and can be contained easily. But what happens in the north if frightening." "Real treatment for the situation in Tripoli and the north is through development (projects), the role of security forces comes after that," Berri added. Berri said parliament would persist with its legislative sessions during the month of Ramadhan to adopt several laws, including the election law. Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 10:59

Assaad Vows to Penetrate Hizbullah's Hegemony in 2009 Elections
Ahmed al-Assaad, the son and political heir of traditional Shiite leader Kamel al-Assaad, pledged to compete Hizbullah and AMAL movement in the forthcoming parliamentary elections to achieve "surprising" victories. Assaad, in an interview with the daily al-Mustaqbal, said such predicted gains would "shatter the hegemony by Hizbullah and AMAL over the Shiites." "We would have candidates in all (Shiite) areas," Assaad said, indicating that he would sponsor candidates in several predominantly Shiite constituencies that have been represented by Hizbullah and AMAL MPs since 1992. Assaad said his Lebanese Belonging Movement (LBM) would sponsor candidates in the south, The Bekaa and Beirut's southern suburbs."It is not true that all of Lebanon's Shiites support Hizbullah. They are kidnapped," he stressed. Assaad pledged to form an alliance with "all the Shiites who declare their opposition to Hizbullah and AMAL with the aim of crystallizing our view that our interest, like that of all the other Lebanese (communities), is in supporting the state." Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 09:30

The list of Eight For Army Commander
Naharnet/The daily an-Nahar reported that the new army commander would be chosen from a list of eight ranking officers prepared by Defense Minister Elias Murr. The list of names is to be discussed during the cabinet's forthcoming meeting that could be re-scheduled for Friday or Saturday, an-Nahar reported.
The eight officers, according to the report, are Brig. Gens. Atef Najim, Antoine Krayyem, Ibrahim Kanaan, George Masaad, Nabil Shedid, George Khoury, Jean Qahwaji and Charles Shikhani. Qahwaji, according to the report, is the front-runner for the post of Army Commander. It said Brig. Albert Karam is to be named director of military intelligence and Khoury, the current director of military intelligence, is to be appointed director of customs. Beirut, 27 Aug 08, 08:59

Parliament Postpones Draft Law on Electoral Divisions till Sept. 25
Naharnet/ Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Tuesday adjourned an extraordinary parliamentary session to pass a new draft electoral constituencies' law till September 25. Berri referred the a draft law to the parliamentary administration and justice committee after the parliamentary majority refused to adopt the new law without further reforms.Parliament, however, adopted 17 laws out of 31 listed bills, including two community development plans for the northern city of Tripoli.
Berri said he would form a parliamentary committee to investigate into alleged bugging of telephone communication. The Hizbullah-led March 8 coalition wants Parliament to tackle a bill on electoral constituencies as outlined by the Doha Agreement. The majority March 14 alliance, while adhering to the Doha Accord, wants reforms to the election law, which are still being considered by a parliamentary committee, tackled as one parcel along with the constituencies' law so that the two items would be adopted as one comprehensive law. Beirut, 26 Aug 08, 18:01

Belgian Defense Minister in Beirut to Inspect Troops
Naharnet/Belgium's defense minister arrived in Beirut Tuesday to inspect his country's troops serving with the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
He met upon arrival with President Michel Suleiman. The two leaders discussed bilateral relations and Belgian military aid to the Lebanese army, in addition to the regional and international developments. The Belgian defense minister is expected to visit the southern Lebanese village of Tibnin to inspect his country's troops. Beirut, 26 Aug 08, 20:29

Quarrel Nearly Turned Violent between MPs Nicola, Andrawous
Naharnet/A quarrel nearly turned violent between MPs Antoine Andrawous and Nabil Nicola at an extraordinary parliamentary session on Tuesday.
The two MPs attacked each other and were close to engaging in a fist fight had fellow lawmakers did not step in to separate them.
Beirut, 26 Aug 08, 21:00

Diniyeh Residents Block Main Road to Protest Power Cuts
Naharnet/Angry demonstrators on Tuesday blocked the main road to Diniyeh in north Lebanon with burning tires to protest against continuing power cuts.
The state-run National News Agency said the protesters shouted slogans condemning the power rationing program and threatening stepped up measures until their demands are met. Beirut, 26 Aug 08, 21:35

Three People Wounded in Ras Nabaa Violence
Naharnet/The Lebanese Army contained late Monday sporadic disturbances between Amal Movement and the Baath Party, on one hand, and Mustaqbal Movement partisans, on the other in Beirut's Ras Nabaa district. The daily al-Mustaqbal said the "attacks" by AMAL and Baath members followed the lifting of "religious banners" by Mustaqbal partisans welcoming the month of Ramadan. Such banners, according to the report, were considered by AMAL and Baath "provocative," the report added. "AMAL members attacked the Zi Nourrein mosque, smashed shops and cars parked in the streets. Some youths from Ras Nabaa district were beaten up and admitted to hospital for treatment," according to the report. Hospital sources said at least three Mustaqbal Movement partisans were treated from wounds and bruises. Beirut, 26 Aug 08, 09:38

Reporters Without Borders Condemns Detention of Westerners by Hizbullah
Naharnet/Reporters Without Borders condemned measures taken by Hizbullah against Western journalists who are required to obtain special permits from Hizbullah, thus "obliterating the value of press permits issued by Lebanon's information ministry." The non-governmental organization, which is devoted to freedom of the press, said in a statement that three days after the detention of French journalist David Houri, a number of Brazilian reporters were held Aug. 15 as they sat in "one of the restaurants" in Beirut's southern suburbs to prepare a report. It said the team was moved three times during the five-hour detention period. One detained reporter said Hizbullah released them on condition they take the first plane to London. Beirut, 26 Aug 08, 19:08

Suleiman for Qatar Next Week
Naharnet/President Michel Suleiman is to make a two-day official visit to Qatar as of Sept. 1 prior to launching a tour of Arab capitals after the holy month of Ramadan. The president would also visit the United States for talks with officials in Washington and to head Lebanon's delegation to the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. The UNGA session is scheduled for mid September. Beirut, 26 Aug 08, 10:01

Another UN Commander Caters to Terrorists
By: W. Thomas Smith Jr.
26 Aug 2008
Once again, a foreign military commander leading so-called peacekeeping troops under a United Nations flag in south Lebanon makes a public comment that should surely be condemned as ill-informed, pandering to Hezbollah terrorists, or – should I say it – gutless (not willing to tangle with Hezbollah or simply passing the buck to a higher authority, whoever that may be).
Speaking to a Reuters’ correspondent, Lt. Col. Marc Ollier, commanding officer of UNIFIL’s (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) French contingent, says, “I don’t believe Hezbollah’s weapons figure in Resolution 1701.”
According to Reuters, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 “speaks of keeping armed men and illicit weapons out of the UNIFIL zone.”
Ollier says, “So we monitor that, but disarming an armed militia is not in 1701.”
Perhaps Ollier should take the time to read UNSCR 1701 and the earlier UNSCR 1559, both of which declare that all “militias” in Lebanon are to be disarmed. And 1701 specifically states, “all armed groups in Lebanon” are “required” to disarm, and “there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.”
Simply put, Hezbollah should have been disarmed two years ago according to 1701, four years ago if we look at 1559.
Ollier’s comments, this week, come on the heels of another comment by a UN commander, this month, which Lebanon’s pro-democracy majority deems was also catering to terrorists.
On Aug. 15, Italian Army Major General Claudio Graziano, senior commander of UNIFIL, told the Jerusalem Post that “excellent cooperation” existed between UNIFIL forces and Hezbollah militiamen, and “apart from UN troops, Lebanese soldiers and [local] hunters, no one is armed south of the Litani River.”
Those comments caused the Lebanese people living south of the Litani, and countless counterterrorism experts worldwide to ask what kind of Kool-Aid Gen. Graziano was drinking.
As I wrote on Aug. 16:
“Hezbollah’s refusal to disarm is officially based on its argument that it is a “resistance” force, therefore it should maintain its arms. That’s what Hezbollah, its supporters, and apologists say. Those of us who have been deeply involved in the development of analysis on Hezbollah understand the group’s “clinging to its guns” actually stems from more sinister motives.”
We must also remember, Hezbollah and it allies launched a deadly series of armed-attacks against the Lebanese government and citizenry in May after the government made decisions that didn’t please Hezbollah. In the end, Lebanon’s government caved and Hezbollah was granted all sorts of concessions; including veto power on Lebanese government decisions (meaning Iran and Syria, Hezbollah’s big-money benefactors, now have covert veto power in Lebanon). As if that wasn’t enough, Hezbollah has now “wormed its way” into Lebanon’s Defense Ministry as a sort of “official” element of the legitimate Lebanese armed forces.
In the wake of Graziano’s comments, Tom Harb, secretary general of The International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, sent a letter to the Italian mission at the UN, all UN Security Council members, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a portion of which reads:
“Graziano says, ‘Hezbollah is one of the parties that agree with 1701 and support 1701.’ This is factually untrue as evidenced by Hezbollah’s armed offensive – with impunity –against the Lebanese government and citizenry in May.
“Graziano adds, ‘UNIFIL has no commitment to the disarmament of Hezbollah … We are a peacekeeping force, not peace enforcement.’ This is contradictory to say the least, and proof that UNIFIL is a hollow force in Lebanon.”
According to sources, Lebanese Army Intelligence in the south is not only coordinating with UNIFIL, but sharing intelligence with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
“Hezbollah is also terrorizing Lebanese civilians in south Lebanon often within eyesight and earshot of UNIFIL troops, and UNIFIL never initiates any investigation whatsoever,” says Harb. “For instance, when Hezbollah attacked across the country in May 2008, the organization’s fighters ransacked the offices of the mufti of Tyre and Jabal Amel. UNIFIL did absolutely nothing to either prevent this act or investigate it after the fact.”
So are UNIFIL commanders and troops really as incompetent – perhaps impotent – as evidenced by their words and deeds (or lack thereof)? Let’s not forget the infamous photograph of UNIFIL troops saluting the remains of returning terrorists during the recent “swap” between Israel and Hezbollah.

Assad's Shopping List
By: Jonathan Spyer
26 Aug 2008
President Bashar Assad of Syria began a trip to Russia this week. Russian news agency RIA Novosti has quoted the Syrian Information Ministry as confirming that the trip will last two days.
According to the statement, the purpose of the trip is to discuss bilateral relations and the latest world and regional developments, particularly relating to the Middle East peace process and to Iraq.
Assad's trip to Moscow comes at a particularly opportune time. Russia is in the process of completing what looks like a successful, contemptuous defiance of international will over its actions in Georgia. In the Caucasus, Moscow has thrown down a direct challenge to the US-dominated post Cold-war international order.
Syria, meanwhile, is part of an Iran-led regional bloc which seeks to issue a similar challenge in the Middle East, albeit on a smaller scale. But Assad is not in Moscow purely to compare notes with the Russians. Rather, his trip has a list of clear and practical objectives.
During the Cold War, the USSR was of course Syria's main arms supplier. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Damascus was left with an outstanding debt of $13.4 billion to Moscow for weapons purchased. Throughout the 1990s, with Syria stagnant and Russia plunged into economic and political chaos, this outstanding debt cast a chill over relations between the two countries. This chill has now thawed. In 2005, Moscow agreed to write off 73 percent of the debt. This reduced Syria's foreign debt to less than 10% of its GDP, allowing Damascus once more to focus on arms procurement. Large-scale purchases of arms from Russia began that same year.
Over the following two years, according to Israeli sources, Syria purchased 50 Pantsir SE-1 and Tor-M1 air-defense systems from Moscow. Sophisticated anti-tank guided weapons systems were also acquired. There are conflicting reports as to whether the Pantsir air defense systems had been fully deployed at the time of the successful IAF raid on a suspected Syrian plutonium reactor in September, 2007. The raid, in any case, undoubtedly represented a significant failure for the Syrians.
The Syrian response has been to accelerate the pace of arms purchases from willing Russia. In May, a senior Syrian delegation headed by air force commander General Akhmad al-Ratyb visited the Russian capital. The delegation secured the purchase of Mig-29 SMT fighter aircraft.
This time around, the leading item on Assad's shopping list is thought to be the sophisticated S-300 long range anti-aircraft missile system. This state-of-the-art system has already been purchased from Russia by Iran. Iran is expected to deploy it by March, 2009. The Iranian intention, clearly, is for this system to be used in defense of Teheran's nuclear program.
Assad, in his previous visit to Moscow in December, 2006, made unsuccessful attempts to purchase the S-300. Israeli diplomats have been working to try to prevent a successful Syrian acquisition this time around. The outcome is not yet clear. The S-300 is thought to be the leading item on Assad's list of planned purchases in Moscow. A series of public statements by Russian officials over the past days stressing (and exaggerating) Israel's defense relationship with Georgia could be interpreted as a negative sign, but nothing is yet certain.
What lies behind Russia's growing interest in arms supplies to the Middle East? This is part of a larger picture - Russia's return as a player on the global diplomatic stage. The Russians would like to leverage their supply of arms to Iran and Syria into influence, forming an alternative address for diplomatic mediation - or for help in challenging enemies. Either way, Russia intends not to have its voice ignored. The days when all other countries automatically accepted US predominance on issues of Middle East statecraft have passed.
Of course, Russia is still far too weak a state to be able to provide a real challenge to the western system of alliances in the Middle East. Syria, too, for all its rhetoric, possesses armed forces which still suffer from acute structural and educational problems, as well as the problem of norms which limit their ability to successfully absorb and operate ultra-modern systems. Still, something is changing.
The regional alliance of Iran and its allies is currently acting as a 'spoiler' in many flashpoints across the region - Iraq, Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian arena, Kuwait and the Israel-Syria-Hizbullah triangle. In all these linked arenas, influence is being built through the exacerbation of conflict, and the preventing of peaceful development. Iran and Syria have had the good fortune to meet a major power - Russia - whose interests happen to currently coincide with the strengthening of anti-status-quo powers in the Middle East. The result is a relationship based on mutual benefit. President Assad will be hoping to reap tangible gains from this as he makes his way through meetings with the power elite in Moscow over the next two weeks.

Hezbollah presence in Venezuela feared
Marcelo Garcia / AFP/Getty Images
August 27, 2008
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Western anti-terrorism officials are increasingly concerned that Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim militia that Washington has labeled a terrorist group, is using Venezuela as a base for operations.
Linked to deadly attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina in the early 1990s, Hezbollah may be taking advantage of Venezuela's ties with Iran, the militia's longtime sponsor, to move "people and things" into the Americas, as one Western government terrorism expert put it. World A-Z: Hugo Chavez Hezbollah wages on-air war against U.S.Hezbollah and allies get key ministries in Lebanon's new Cabinet
Babylon & Beyond blog: More on Hezbollah
As part of his anti-American foreign policy, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has established warm diplomatic relations with Iran and has traveled there several times. The Bush administration, Israel and other governments worry that Venezuela is emerging as a base for anti-U.S. militant groups and spy services, including Hezbollah and its Iranian allies."It's becoming a strategic partnership between Iran and Venezuela," said a Western anti-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the issue's sensitivity. Several joint Venezuelan-Iranian business operations have been set up in Venezuela, including tractor, cement and auto factories. In addition, the two countries have formed a $2-billion program to fund social projects in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America.
Those deepening ties worry U.S. officials because Iranian spies around the world have been known to work with Hezbollah operatives, sometimes using Iranian embassies as cover, Western intelligence experts say.
In June, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon said Iran "has a history of terror in this hemisphere, and its linkages to the bombings in Buenos Aires are pretty well established.""One of our broader concerns is what Iran is doing elsewhere in this hemisphere and what it could do if we were to find ourselves in some kind of confrontation with Iran," Shannon said.
Fears about the threat from Hezbollah's global networks intensified after the slaying in February of Imad Mughniyah, a notorious leader of the militia, in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Hezbollah and Iran accused Israel and promised revenge, putting Western authorities on guard against attacks on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world. Although the Bush administration is embroiled in political conflict with the Chavez government, allegations that Hezbollah and Iranian spies operate in Venezuela date to the 1990s, before Chavez took office.
The most concrete allegations of a Hezbollah presence in Venezuela involve money-raising. In June, the U.S. Treasury Department designated two Venezuelan citizens as Hezbollah supporters and froze their U.S. assets.
Treasury officials formally accused Ghazi Nasr al Din, a Venezuelan diplomat of Lebanese descent, of using posts at embassies in the Middle East to support financing for Hezbollah and "discuss operational issues with senior officials" of the militia.
Nasr al Din "facilitated the travel" of Hezbollah members to and from Venezuela and to a "training course in Iran," according to Treasury officials. The president of a Shiite Muslim center in Caracas, he served as a diplomat in Damascus and later in Beirut, authorities say.
The second Venezuelan targeted by Treasury is Fawzi Kanan, a Caracas-based travel agent. He is also alleged to have facilitated travel for Hezbollah members and to have discussed "possible kidnappings and terrorist attacks" with senior Hezbollah officials in Lebanon. The Treasury allegations did not specify whether the alleged discussion involved plots for kidnappings in Venezuela or elsewhere.
In comments to a Venezuelan reporter, Kanan dismissed the charges as lies. The Venezuelan government has strenuously denied that it is harboring militants.
In March 2007, the intensified ties between Venezuela and Iran led to the start of weekly IranAir flights from Tehran to Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, that stop in Damascus.The flights were highlighted in the State Department's annual assessment of global terrorism, which noted in April of this year that Venezuelan border officials at the Caracas airport often neglected to enter the arriving passengers into their immigration database and did not stamp passports. The Venezuelans have since tightened up on their procedures, informed sources say.
Despite those improvements, the IranAir flights also feature in recent intelligence gathered by Western anti-terrorism officials. Agents of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah have allegedly set up a special force to attempt to kidnap Jewish businesspeople in Latin America and spirit them away to Lebanon, according to the Western anti-terrorism official. Iranian and Hezbollah operatives traveling in and out of Venezuela have recruited Venezuelan informants working at the Caracas airport to gather intelligence on Jewish travelers as potential targets for abduction, the Western anti-terrorism official said.
The allegations were reinforced by a statement last week by the Israeli government, issuing an alert to citizens warning that Hezbollah plans to kidnap Israelis around the world to retaliate for the Mughniyah assassination.
Hezbollah has long operated in the Lebanese communities of Latin America. In addition to receiving a multimillion-dollar infusion from Iran, the militia finances itself by soliciting or extorting money from the Lebanese diaspora and through rackets such as smuggling, fraud and the drug and diamond trade in South America and elsewhere, Matthew Levitt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Congress in 2005.
Three years ago, police in Colombia and Ecuador broke up an international cocaine-smuggling ring that functioned in Latin American countries, including Venezuela, and allegedly sent profits to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The lawless "tri-border" region connecting Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina has been a center of organized crime activities and finance linked to Hezbollah, Western anti-terrorism officials say.
Hezbollah operatives based there participated, along with Iranian spies, in the car bombings in Buenos Aires of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and a Jewish community center two years later that killed a total of 114 people, an Argentine indictment charges.
In the aftermath of that indictment, filed in 2006, Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors, chiefly the Revolutionary Guard, decided to shift from the increasingly scrutinized tri-border area to other countries, including Venezuela, Western anti-terrorism officials say.
"It preserves the capability of Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard to mount attacks inside Latin America. . . . It is very, very important to Iran and Hezbollah right now."
Kraul reported from Bogota and Rotella from Madrid.

Hapless Hezbollah ATGMs Revealed

Haaretz/August 27, 2008: Israel has published the analysis of armored vehicle losses during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Of the 23 members of the armored corps killed in action, 15 were killed by ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles), and seven by mines. The cause of death for the other 1 is not recorded specifically. Most probably gunfire hitting a vehicle commander with his head out of a hatch to get a better view of the situation. Over half of the armor casualties are attributable to just 3-4 incidents. The ATGM Merkava tank deaths are all accounted for by just 6-7 hits.
There were 14 APCs (armored personnel carriers) hit by ATGMs. In two of these incidents, seven troops in the vehicles were killed. APCs got perforated 11 times. The APCs involved were Achzarits (rebuilt, turretless, T-55 tanks) and Pumas (rebuilt, turretless, Centurion tanks). Three APCs hit mines, killing 5 infantrymen in two incidents (4 in one vehicle). Some 90 percent of these APC casualties all occurred in one night. In comparison, 14 infantrymen were killed by ATGMs fired at buildings. The vast majority of the infantry casualties were still caused by bullets, grenades, and shell fire (including PRGs).
Despite the many hundreds of engagements, there are only 8-9 recorded incidents where Hezbollah ATGM fire was able to cause deaths inside armored vehicles, and four times where AT fire killed troops in buildings.
The experience in Lebanon again proves that ATGMs tend to be overrated. Israel first encountered ATGMs during the 1973 war, and quickly adapted. ATGMs were much less effective in the 1982 war, and didn't do all that well in 2006 either. Hezbollah quickly learned that the Merkava frontal armor was impervious to their Russian Kornet ATGMs. Getting side and rear shots was more difficult, and not a lot more successful. While the ATGM warhead often penetrated, the Merkava was designed to take these kind of hits and survive, and survive it did. In addition to fire extinguisher systems, the ammo and fuel are stored in such a way that secondary explosions are rare. Thus the crew normally survives these hits, as does the tank.
Hezbollah has received several thousand ATGMs over the years. Many of them are elderly, like the Russian Sagger. This is a 1960s design. It's a 24 pound missile, with a range of 3,000 meters, that must be carefully "driven" to its target via a joy stick controller. Requires a lot of practice to do right. The warhead is not very effective against tanks, but can do a lot of damage to buildings. Iran also sent some elderly TOW missiles, dating from the 1970s. These are too heavy to haul around, and most are unstable because of age. Lighter ATGM systems have proved more useful.
The French made MILAN ATGM, a 1970s design, has a 35 pound launch unit, firing a 16 pound, wire guided missile, with a maximum range of 2,000 meters. The Syrians got MILAN from France, and passed them on to Hezbollah. A similar Russian system, the 9M111 Fagot, has a 25 pound missile fired from a 24 pound launch unit. An even more modern Russian system, the Kornet E, is a laser guided missile with a range of 5,000 meters. The launcher has a thermal sight for use at night or in fog. The missile's warhead can penetrate 1200 mm of armor, which means that the side armor of the Israeli Merkava tank would be vulnerable. The missile weighs 18 pounds and the launcher 42 pounds. The system was introduced in 1994 and has been sold to Syria (who apparently passed them on to Hezbollah). -- William F. Owen Last update - 13:18 27/08/2008

Iran-Israel arms race heats up, both boost naval capabilities

By Haaretz Staff and Channel 10 10 daily feature for August 26, 2008. The arms race between Israel and Iran is moving to the sea.
In Iran, the production of domestically-made submarines recently began. The Iranian defense minister, who visited the production line Monday, said the purpose of the submarines would be to defend the oil pipelines in the Strait of Hormuz, through which up to 40 percent of the world's oil supply passes.
But of particular interest to Israel is the fact that the submarines will have the capability to launch what the Iranian state media called "various kinds of missiles." No further details were provided. Meanwhile, the Israel Navy has its own plans. Two years after Hezbollah almost sank one of Israel's top warships in the Second Lebanon War, naval supremacy has moved up on the military's list of priorities.

Israel Will Go All-Out Next Time To Stop Hizbullah
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, 20 Aug 2008
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Lebanon's new government on Tuesday that Israel would not hold back if Beirut allowed Hizbullah to launch another attack on Israel. Even though Olmert is battling budget cuts in defense spending and is on his way out of office, he was quick to warn Lebanon against renewed warfare during a visit to the IDF Home Front Command offices in Ramle. "In the Second Lebanon War we had much greater means and capabilities, which we avoided using since we fought against a terror organization and not a country," Olmert said. "In this context, if Lebanon turns into a Hizbullah state, we won't restrain our response." The prime minister’s comments follow the Lebanese parliament’s approval on August 12 of a national unity cabinet that includes Hizbullah and grants the Shi'ite milita the right to keep their arms and continue their "resistance" against Israel.
The new government in Beirut passed policy guidlines that endorse "the right of Lebanon, its people, its army and the resistance [Hizbullah] to liberate its land." The agreement also grants Hizbullah veto power over key decisions made by the unity government. Olmert responded to these developments by stressing that the IDF does not want to capture and control territory and that Israel would concentrate on conducting a swift war with minimum casualties and on stopping infiltrations. If there is a war, the Home Front Command will act as "a more vital role than it ever has in the past," said Olmert. "There will no longer be a situation in which the war is waged in distant battlefields, while in big cities, life continues as normal. The war will also reach cities and the homes of Israeli citizens, and the aim of our enemies will be to hit the home front," he said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Copyright © 2006 International Christian embassy

Threat to Lebanon's symbol of survival
By Bethany Bell

BBC News, Lebanon
The cedar adorns Lebanon's flag, as well as money, stamps and other places
Environmentalists are concerned that climate change could affect Lebanon's emblematic cedar trees.
Cedar forests once covered the mountains of Lebanon. But cedar wood and resin have been prized since the days of the Ancient Egyptians and over the centuries the trees have been cut down by everyone from the Phoenicians to the Ottomans to the modern Lebanese themselves.
The highest point on this mountain is 2000 metres above sea level, so the cedar forests in Lebanon could disappear
Nazi Hani, Chouf Cedar Nature Reserve
These days most of Lebanon's cedars are protected, but now there is concern that the trees face a new threat.
A quarter of Lebanon's cedars are found in the Chouf Cedar Nature Reserve, in the mountains southeast of Beirut.
Its scientific coordinator, Nizar Hani, says global warming could affect the growth of new trees:
"The impact of climate change on the cedar forests of Lebanon will be on natural regeneration because we will have a lack of snow.
"Secondly there could be an increase of diseases and insect infections, because of warmer temperatures."
Rising temperature
Lebanese cedar trees can live for centuries, and even millennia
The cedar's natural range is now 1,200-1,800 metres (4,000-6,000 feet) above sea level. Mr Hani says a warmer climate would mean the trees could only survive higher up. "Things could be difficult because the highest point on this mountain is 2000 metres above sea level, so the cedar forests in Lebanon could disappear," Mr Hani says.
But he stresses these are just predictions:
"Till now we have healthy cedar forests, especially here in the Chouf Cedar Nature Reserve."
And the reserve is taking action to limit the impact of rising temperatures.
Nizar Hani says isolated populations of trees will be more affected by climate change, so increasing the area of the cedar forests could help.
"We are trying to plant new cedar forests - we have a project to plant 100,000 seedlings. "
Natural wonder
For many Lebanese, the cedar, which can live for hundreds of years, is more than just a tree.
Efforts to preserve the cedars in the Shouf mountains have been led by the Druze political leader Walid Jumblatt, who has his stronghold there. His wife, Nora, says the trees are part of Lebanon's cultural heritage.
"Some of these trees are 3,000 years old," she said.
Nora Jumblatt, wife of Druze leader Walid, pioneers cedar conservation
"You can find the cedar on stamps, on money, on our national flag. So it is very important culturally and it's our heritage."
The cedar tree has inspired poets and artists in Lebanon for centuries - including the writer Kahlil Gibran, who is buried close to the Bcharre cedar reserve in northern Lebanon.
Wahib Kayrouz, the curator of the Gibran museum, says the cedar is an important metaphor in Gibran's work.
"The cedar is always the symbol for strength, power, fertility, continuity and the feeling that the human being is eternal," he said.
The much loved cedars of Lebanon have been nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
A symbol of survival in a fractured land, it is hoped the trees won't become just a memory on the flag.