LCCC ENGLISH DAILY
Quotation for today/Blessed
are you who are poor,
Luke 6,20-26. And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources
Nasrallah breaks Hezbollah’s
back/Osman Mirghani/Asharq Alawsat/June 08/13
Hezbollah’s Vietnam/Michael Young/Now Lebanon/June 08/13
Eight dwarves but no Snow White in Iran/By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Alawsat/June 08/13
Baklava Enhances Priorities/By: Husam Itani/Al Hayat/June 08/13
The Post- Post-Qusair Phase/BY: Walid Choucair/Al Hayat/June 08/13
The Fall of Qusayr: A Scar on the Conscience of the Security Council/By: Raghida Dergham/Al Hayat/June 08/13
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for June 08/13
Suleiman Says Some Statements
on Syria Don't Reflect Lebanon Official Stance
Lebanese Armed Forces deploys in Zahleh after Hezbollah convoy passes
The Arab Gulf and Hezbollah
Rebel withdrawal from Al-Qusayr result of deal with Hezbollah
Lebanese army slams "plot" to embroil country in Syrian war
Tripoli Gunbattles Subside amid Heavy Army Deployment
Saniora Urges Hizbullah to Withdraw its 'Militia' from Syria
Army Warns against Embroiling Lebanon in Syria War
Siniora: After Al-Qusayr, Hezbollah will intervene in other regions
Muslim union urges "Day of Rage" for Syria rebels
Union Headed by al-Qaradawi Urges 'Day of Rage' for Syria Rebels
McCain: Old Sectarian Wounds Reopening in Lebanon
Hollande Calls for Release of 2 French Reporters Missing in Syria
U.N. Launches Record $5.2-Billion Syria Aid Appeal
Austria to quit U.N.'s Golan force over Syria violence
Russia's Putin, Wife Announce Divorce
Syrian Observatory: Army Hunts Down Rebels North of Qusayr
U.N. Seeks Fresh Golan Troops after Austria Pullout
The Syrian opposition in Moscow
Syrian Regime Forces Prepare to Launch Offensives in Homs, Aleppo
Pope Francis says intends to visit Israel
Philippines considering Golan pullout
UN says can't accept Russia's offer of Golan troops
Suleiman Says Some Statements on Syria Don't Reflect Lebanon
Naharnet /President Michel Suleiman on Friday warned that Lebanon can no longer cope with the burden of Syrian refugees, stressing that some statements on the Syrian crisis do not reflect the Lebanese official stance. During a meeting with the ambassadors of the U.N. Security Council member states, Suleiman rejected "any foreign military intervention in Syria and any Lebanese intervention in the Syrian crisis." "This stance was taken by the Lebanese government and the president is keen on implementing it in coordination with the prime minister," Suleiman added. "The statements voiced every now and then, whichever side they may come from, do not reflect the Lebanese official stance on the Syrian crisis," he told the envoys. The president also called on the international community to "realize the seriousness of the burden posed by the continuous influx of refugees from Syria, in a manner that the Lebanese government and people can no longer cope with.”According to the National News Agency, the ambassadors expressed their understanding of the Lebanese stance and promised to convey it to their governments. Syrian regime forces backed by Hizbullah fighters on Wednesday managed to seize control of the strategic town of Qusayr near the Lebanese border. The U.N. says it has registered around 500,000 Syrian refugees, but Lebanese officials say their number has exceeded one million.
Lebanese Armed Forces deploys in Zahleh after Hezbollah convoy passes
Now Lebanon/Lebanese Armed Forces units deployed in the Beqaa’s Zahleh on Thursday after Hezbollah convoys carrying militants killed in Al-Qusayr passed through the city. NOW correspondent Mahmoud Shoker also reported that the LAF are currently patrolling the city’s main and subsidiary streets in case any security violations occur. Earlier Thursday, gunfire was shot in the air in front of the Star Gate Movie Theater in Zahleh after the aforementioned convoys passed by the area. Hezbollah fighters have reportedly been battling alongside the Syrian army in the Al-Qusayr area for months. Recently a mounting number of Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria are being brought back for burial in Lebanon. The group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has acknowledged that members of his movement are involved in the Syria conflict which has so far left more than 94,000 people dead according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog.
Rebel withdrawal from Al-Qusayr result of deal with Hezbollah
Saleh Hodaife/Now Lebanon/A well-informed source said that the withdrawal of Syrian rebels from Al-Qusayr came as a result of an agreement between the rebels and Hezbollah brokered by Lebanese centrist political leaders Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. “The rebels withdrew from Al-Qusayr in exchange for lifting the siege off of the district and the evacuation of civilians and injured people,” the source told NOW. Another source said that Jumblatt did not communicate directly with the Syrian regime but rather with Hezbollah through the Shiite party's top top security chief Wafiq Safa.
“Jumblatt expressed the [willingness] of the Syrian opposition to withdraw its rebels from Al-Qusayr on the condition that they be [allowed] to evacuate families and wounded people without being attacked,” the source told NOW. After taking the approval of the Syrian regime, Safa informed Jumblatt that “the passages are now safe and known for those who wish to take them,” the source added. Meanwhile, a PSP source told our website that the party and its leader “do not work in order to gain media fame, and every effort deployed in this field must be kept secret in order to keep negotiation channels open in case they are needed again.”
Another source also told NOW that “Berri worked through his [connections] to complete the deal fearing fatal repercussions on Lebanon in the event that the battle of Al-Qusayr was resolved militarily.”
A source close to Berri also noted that the parliament’s speaker was “keen to avoid a massacre in Al-Qusayr, which could have a negative influence on the already tense situation in Lebanon.” Meanwhile, Alaa al-Basha of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army said that the rebels withdrew “due to lack of ammunition and weapons.”
He also told NOW that the withdrawal aimed at protecting civilians. “We have called on all humanitarian councils and on the Red Crescent to open a safe road to transfer the injured,” he said. On Wednesday, Syria's rebels conceded they had lost the battle for the strategic town of Al-Qusayr, after the army claimed it had seized total control of it and the surrounding region. At the same time, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters from the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, who had spearheaded the regime's assault, were in control of the town. Control of Al-Qusayr was vital for the rebels as it was their principal transit point for weapons and fighters from neighboring Lebanon.**This article is a translation of the original Arabic
Siniora: After Al-Qusayr, Hezbollah will intervene in other regions
Now Lebanon/Lebanon’s Future bloc leader MP Fouad Siniora said that after taking control over Al-Qusayr, Hezbollah is getting ready to intervene in other regions in Syria.
“Hezbollah’s army has control over the city of Al-Qusayr and is now preparing to intervene in other Syrian regions,” Siniora said during a graduation ceremony in Sidon on Thursday evening. He continued: “This reveals the enormity of this intervention. This implication of a Lebanese armed organization has made it part of the Iranian military system in the region and a tool in the hands of a regime that kills its people and destroys its country.”Siniora reiterated his calls for Hezbollah to “withdraw its militias from Syria before it is too late and return the youths of the Beqaa and the South to their homes, towns and families.”On Wednesday, Syria's rebels conceded they had lost the battle for the strategic town of Al-Qusayr, after the army claimed it had seized total control of it and the surrounding region. At the same time, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters from the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, who had spearheaded the regime's assault, were in control of the town. Control of Al-Qusayr was vital for the rebels as it was their principal transit point for weapons and fighters from neighboring Lebanon. The group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has acknowledged that members of his movement are involved in the Syria conflict which has so far left more than 94,000 people dead according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog.
Lebanese army slams "plot" to embroil country in Syrian war
Now Lebanon/The Lebanese army warned on Friday that a plot was afoot to embroil the country in the 26-month conflict in neighboring Syria, as deadly clashes between Damascus supporters and opponents inside Lebanon multiply. "The army command... calls on citizens to be wary of plots aimed at taking Lebanon backwards and dragging it into an absurd war," a statement said, adding that it would give an "armed response to any armed action".
"The army command has been trying for several months to work firmly, determinedly and patiently to prevent Lebanon being turned into a battlefield for regional conflicts and to prevent any spillover of the events in Syria," it said. "But in recent days, some groups have seemed determined to stoke security tensions... against the backdrop of the political divisions in Lebanon over military developments in Syria." It was the strongest statement from the Lebanese army since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule erupted in March 2011. It came after the public intervention of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement alongside Assad's troops in the battle for the border town of Qusayr which culminated in its recapture on Wednesday and deepened political divisions. Sunni communities in Lebanon have been sending arms and fighters to the mainly Sunni rebels inside Syria. One person was killed and seven wounded in a clash in the heart of Lebanon's second-largest city Tripoli on Thursday in the latest in a spate of deadly violence between Lebanese supporters and opponents of the Damascus regime.
Michael Young/Now Lebanon
The only thing odd about Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian conflict is that it took over two years for the party and its backers in Tehran to make the decision. That’s because whatever one thinks of Hezbollah, the triumph of Syria’s rebels always posed an existential threat to the party and its agenda.
The victory in Qusayr was undeniably an important one for Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, knocking the rebels out of a swath of strategic territory in the province of Homs, linking Damascus to the coast. It now allows the Assad regime to turn its attentions to other areas from where the regime was forced to withdraw.
Attention is now focused on Aleppo, where Hezbollah combatants have been amassing recently. However, we can’t forget that the rebels have already been pushed out of neighborhoods around Damascus. And the recent deployment of Patriot missiles and F-16 aircrafts to Jordan suggests there are expectations of a regime offensive in the southern province of Deraa, considered the most likely location from where rebels could mount an attack against the Syrian capital.
Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in the Syrian war is a high-risk venture. Many see this as a mistake by the party, and it may well be. Qusayr will be small change compared to Aleppo, where the rebels are well entrenched and benefit from supply lines leading to Turkey. In the larger regional rivalry between Iran and Turkey, the Turkish army and intelligence services have an interest in helping make things very difficult for Hezbollah and the Syrian army in northern Syria, particularly after the car-bomb attack in Reyhanli in May.
Many will be watching closely to see how the current crisis in Turkey affects Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to react to the Syrian situation, particularly if the epicenter of the fighting shifts to Aleppo. Erdogan has faced the displeasure among many in Turkey’s southern border areas with their government’s policy in Syria. At the same time, a defeat of the Syrian rebels in and around Aleppo is not something that Turkey can easily swallow so near to its borders, particularly if Hezbollah is instrumental in the fighting.
Hezbollah is willing to take heavy casualties in Syria, if this allows it to rescue the Assad regime. The real question is what time frame we are talking about, and how this affects the party’s vital interests elsewhere. For now, Hezbollah has entered Syria with no exit strategy. The way in which Hassan Nasrallah framed the intervention indicates that it is open-ended. This will prompt other parties to take actions and decisions they might otherwise have avoided for as long as the Syrian conflict was primarily one between Syrians. Hezbollah is already a magnet for individuals and groups in Syria keen to take the air out of the region’s leading Shiite political-military organization - or simply to protect their towns and villages. As Qusayr showed, the presence of Hezbollah only induces its enemies to fight twice as hard against the party. As a proxy of Iran, Hezbollah will prompt governments to do the same, and they will see an opportunity to wear down the party and trap it in a grinding, no-win situation.
Playing in the favor of Hezbollah’s enemies is that the party has little latitude to alter its strategy in Syria. It must go all the way, predisposing it to sink ever-deeper into the Syrian quagmire, or until the point where the Syrian regime and pro-regime militias can capture and control territory on their own. That is not easy in a guerrilla war in which rebels have often out-matched the army.
Hezbollah, by contrast, benefits from coordination between the Syrian regime and Russia and Iran. Hezbollah’s entry into the conflict in Syria was, clearly, one facet of a broad counter-attack agreed by the Russians and Iranians, who have slowly but effectively reinforced and reorganized Syria’s army and intelligence services in the past two years. Their behavior has been disgraceful and pitiless, but from the start their objective was clear – to save Assad rule – while the Obama administration offered no strategy at all, and compensated for its incompetence in addressing the Syrian crisis with empty rhetoric.
Many have commented on the fact that Hezbollah’s reputation is in tatters. The so-called champion of the deprived is now at the vanguard of Bashar al-Assad’s repression of his own people; the embodiment of resistance has shifted forces away from the border with Israel to help in crushing an uprising against a brutal dictator.
That’s perhaps true, but Hezbollah is not particularly concerned with its reputation, except when it affects its political power. The party’s behavior is shaped by stark power calculations, and it has often read this into political situations with some accuracy. Hezbollah feels that, ultimately, if Assad stays in office and the uprising against him is overwhelmed, this will impose a new reality that will allow the party to resist all counter-reactions. In the end, Hezbollah knows, power tends to define reputation in the Middle East much more than allegiance to what is regarded as the morally acceptable position.
But that interpretation will apply only if Hezbollah avoids being drawn into a long and debilitating campaign in Syria. The party’s tolerance threshold is high, as is its ability to maintain Lebanese Shiite loyalty. But in Syria, as in Lebanon previously, the outsider is at a disadvantage. Hezbollah should learn the lessons from its own experience. The party cannot allow Syria to become its Vietnam.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon. He tweets @BeirutCalling.
Tripoli Gunbattles Subside amid Heavy Army Deployment
Naharnet/Fighting between rival communities in the northern city of Tripoli seemed to have subsided on Friday after the army continued its deployment in the troublespots.
The state-run National News Agency said that there was cautious calm after the military took control of bases from al-Nashar family in the area of al-Rifai in central Tripoli a day after heavy gunbattles with members from Hajar family. The clashes came after a security plan by the army managed to relatively contain the violence in the flashpoint districts of mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, whose majority of residents are Alawites.
Troops set up checkpoints in all neighborhoods and deployed heavily in Syria street that separates the warring districts. Soldiers opened fire on snipers in Bab al-Tabbaneh overnight and carried out raids in most Tripoli neighborhoods to chase the gunmen, NNA said. The international highway linking Tripoli with Akkar district in the area of al-Tabbaneh was also reopened, the agency added. The fighting in Tripoli is linked to the war in Syria where a mostly Sunni-led uprising is seeking to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad, who is an Alawite.
Army Warns against Embroiling Lebanon in Syria War
Naharnet/The Army Command pointed on Friday to a series of strict security measures carried out in all Lebanese regions, and urged the Lebanese to be vigilant against any schemes that aim to drag the country into another civil war, or embroil it in the Syria conflict. The army's leadership said in a communique that it strongly sought in the last past months to deter the transformation of Lebanon into an arena for regional conflicts and prevent the spillover of the Syrian crisis to its territories,” It “kicked off a series of pivotal and deterring measures in Tripoli, Sidon, Beirut, Beqaa and Mount Lebanon.” “The army is determined, and at all costs, to implement its plan not only in Tripoli but also in any spot intended to be a focus for fighting between sons of the same city. Armed action will be fought with armed response," it said. “We urge the Lebanese to be vigilant against any scheme that plans to drag Lebanon into an illogical war. They must be aware of fabrications made by some political and religious figures,” it said, urging them to express their stances with peaceful democratic means away from provocations. The statement concluded by calling on the Lebanese to cooperate with the army to reach the peaceful goals for the interest of the nation and the Lebanese. Fierce clashes have been lingering in Tripoli since May between Bab al-Tabbaneh, which supports the Syrian uprising, and Jabal Mohsen, which supports the Syrian regime. But reports said the fighting seemed to subside on Friday after army deployment and patrols in the inflamed spots. The fighting has flared sporadically in the city since the beginning of the Syria conflict in March 2011, recording scores of casualties including Lebanese soldiers. The state-run National News Agency said on Friday that there was cautious calm after the military took control of some bases.
Hollande Calls for Release of 2 French Reporters Missing in Syria
Naharnet/French President Francois Hollande called on Friday for the immediate release of two French journalists who have gone missing in war-torn Syria. "I demand that these journalists be freed immediately," Hollande told reporters in Japan, where he is currently on a tour, without mentioning the names or affiliation of those missing. The reporters "are not representatives of any state, they are men who work so that the world can receive information," Hollande said. "The press must circulate in Syria in order to provide news awaited by the entire world" on what is happening in the country, he said. The employer of the journalists, Europe 1, confirmed that there was no word from them in 24 hours. The pair were named as Didier Francois, a seasoned reporter in troublespots, and photographer Edouard Elias, the radio station said in a statement to Agence France Presse, adding that it was working with the French authorities to obtain more information. Since the start of uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in March 2011, at least 24 journalists, including several foreigners, have been killed in the strife, according to Reporters Without Borders watchdog group.Source/Agence France Presse.
U.N. Launches Record $5.2-Billion Syria Aid Appeal
Naharnet/The United Nations on Friday launched a record $5.2-billion aid appeal to fund operations in Syria and neighboring nations, saying the number of people affected by the country's brutal conflict was set to spiral.
The sum by far overshadows the $2.2 billion (1.7 billion euros) the U.N. sought in 2003 to help cope with the crisis sparked by the war in Iraq. The world body said that a total of $3.8 billion was needed to help Syrian refugees who have spilled across the country's borders to escape fighting in their homeland. The figure for operations inside Syria meanwhile was $1.4 billion. More than 94,000 people have been killed and some 1.6 million Syrians have fled the country since the civil war began in March 2011 after a crackdown on protests against the regime of President Bashar Assad. The number of refugees is expected to reach at least 3.45 million by the end of this year, according to the U.N. appeal. Within the country, a total of 6.8 million people are forecast to need aid this year, the majority of them people who have been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting. "By the end of the year, half of the population of Syria will be in need of aid," said Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the U.N.'s refugee agency. Syria's pre-war population was 20.8 million."The figure for the new appeal is both an expression of the alarm about the situation facing Syrians and an absence of a political solution," Edwards said.Source/Agence France Presse.
Union Headed by al-Qaradawi Urges 'Day of Rage' for Syria Rebels
Naharnet/A Sunni Muslim union headed by influential cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi on Friday called for a "Day of Rage and Support" for rebels fighting Syrian regime troops backed by a Shiite axis. The Association of Muslim Scholars urged its millions of supporters to demonstrate, stage peaceful sit-ins, make speeches and pray for the Syrian rebels on Friday, June 14. The Qatar-based group strongly condemned "the horrific crimes... committed by the Syrian regime, with support from Iran and its tails in Lebanon, in Qusayr," the town rebels were ousted from on Wednesday. Syria's 26-month civil war erupted after forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, who belongs to the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam, waged a bloody crackdown on democracy protests. The conflict pitting regime forces backed by Hizbullah, including jihadists linked to al-Qaida, has killed at least 94,000 people. On Thursday, the grand mufti of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia urged governments and fellow clerics to punish Hizbullah for its intervention in the war.Source/Agence France Presse.
McCain: Old Sectarian Wounds Reopening in Lebanon
Naharnet /U.S. Republican senator John McCain warned on Thursday that the more than two-year-old war in Syria was reopening confessional wounds in Lebanon and said thousands of Hizbullah fighters were operating in the country. “Old sectarian wounds are being reopened in Lebanon,” McCain said. Syrian President Bashar Assad's “foreign allies have all doubled down on him. Iran is all in. Russia is all in. Shiite militants are flowing into the fight from Iraq,” he said, speaking after visiting Syria last week to meet with rebel leaders.“Hizbullah fighters have invaded Syria by the thousands. They were decisive in retaking the critical city of Qusayr, and now they are leading the attacks on Homs and Aleppo,” McCain told the Brookings Institution think-tank. “Syrian groups are firing rockets into Shiite areas of Lebanon in retaliation for Hizbullah’s intervention in Syria,” he said. McCain said the U.S. must deepen its engagement in Syria by equipping the rebels or setting up a safe zone to protect the opposition. Failure to show U.S. leadership risks seeing the Middle East descend into "extremism, and war, and despair," he said."The Syrian state is disintegrating in much of the country, leaving vast ungoverned spaces that are being filled by extremists, many aligned with al-Qaida,” he said. "They are the best armed, best funded, and most experienced fighters. And every day this conflict grinds on, these extremists are marginalizing moderate leaders like the commanders I met last week." The Free Syrian Army and its commanders seeking to oust Assad were in desperate need of "ammunition and weapons to counter Assad's tanks, artillery, and air power," he said. “The space for moderate politics is collapsing as the Middle East descends deeper into extremism and conflict," he said, warning the conflict in which 94,000 have been killed was spilling across Syria's borders. "In short, if the Middle East descends into extremism, and war, and despair, no one should think America would be able to pivot away from those threats. Our national security interests will suffer. That is an inescapable reality." McCain argued that a deeper engagement by the administration of President Barack Obama did not imply thousands of American boots on the ground. "We could use our stand-off weapons, such as cruise missiles, to target Assad's aircraft and ballistic missile launchers on the ground," McCain said. “In Lebanon, this would mean making the strategic defeat of Hizbullah in Syria the centerpiece of a wider campaign to target its finances, cut its supply lines, delegitimize its leaders, and support internal opposition to its role as an armed force in Lebanese politics,” he added.
Source/Agence France PresseNaharnet.
The Syrian opposition in Moscow
Ana Maria Luca/Now Lebanon
Talking to Dr. Mahmoud al-Hamza, head of the Syrian National Council in Russia
Dr. Mahmoud al-Hamza is the head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) in Moscow. He was born in Hasaka, Syria, but moved to Moscow to obtain his PhD in Mathematics. Al-Hamza worked as the Chief Researcher in the Department of Mathematics at the Institute of Science and Technology, a division of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. However, he was fired soon after becoming an active member of the Syrian opposition, where al-Hamza helped to organize a series of meetings between SNC members and officials from the Russian foreign ministry.
NOW talked to al-Hamza about his meetings with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in addition to how SNC representatives tried to persuade the Kremlin that its interests in Syria would not be harmed.
NOW: How many meetings were held between Syrian opposition members and the Russian government?
al-Hamza: I was part of all four committees that came to Moscow to meet with the Russian Foreign Ministry. I also coordinated all the visits. The first one was led by Radwan Ziadeh, Director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. The second one was led by Dr. Ammar Qurabi, President of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The last two meetings were between the Syrian National Council (led by Burhan Ghalioun) and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
NOW: What happened during these meetings?
al-Hamza: The first two meetings were informal, and we spoke to a representative of President Vladimir Putin. The last two meetings were with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. All of the meetings were about the situation in Syria. We requested the meetings in order to clarify to the Russians that what was occuring in Syria is a revolution - that the people are against the regime. We explained the brutality of the regime, and what our goals are. We presented our demands and told the Russians that we want democracy and freedom. We stressed that we are neither against other minorities in Syria, nor against Russia itself - in fact we consider Russia a friendly country. We told Russian officials that they should stand by the people, not the regime.
NOW: What did the Syrian opposition delegation offer in terms of Russia’s interests in the region?
al-Hamza: The Russians know everything that’s happening in Syria - to the smallest of details. We were there to guarantee that Russia's interests in Syria would not be harmed.
We offered guarantees that we would cooperate with Russia to build a new army and economy. But the officials responded that they are against any international interference, including multinational armies and fighters. We asked them to help us topple Bashar al-Assad, but they countered by asking us to pursue negotiations because they don’t want to interfere. When we asked them to stop supporting the regime with weapons, the Russians replied that there were existing treaties between the two governments that they were forced to abide by.
I found them to be extremely rude. Lavrov was trying to convince us that we should negotiate. He asked the SNC delegation: “Are you with negotiations or with the revolution?” When a representative replied that “we are with the revolution,” Lavrov said “then expect a sea of blood.”
We told him not to give up on Syria, that we wanted Russia by the opposition’s side. We asked, “We are not enemies, why you are pushing the Syrians to burn the Russian flag?”
NOW: What were your thoughts on Russia’s political stance?
al-Hamza: They refused to recognize any massacre caused by the regime. But I was always hopeful, I believed in the need to cooperate with the Russians.
NOW: Do you think the Russian government is really pushing for a negotiated settlement?
al-Hamza: I am convinced that the Russian government is trying to buy more time for the regime - they do not believe in a political settlement to the conflict. They want to destroy the revolution and the people, and they are doing nothing other than supporting the regime.
NOW: What is the situation like for Syrian opposition members in Russia?
al-Hamza: I stopped all contact with the Russian government. After these meetings, I felt unsafe in Moscow. A year and a half ago, I was also fired at the request of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Syrian opposition supporters in Moscow are under threat - they are being followed and investigated. Plus, the Syrian embassy is allowed to do whatever it pleases to its nationals in Russia.
NOW: Most European countries have restricted visas for Syrians, fearing that they may seek asylum within the European Union. Does Russia have the same policy?
al-Hamza: The Russian authorities are selling visas, each for hundreds of dollars. The refugees who are coming here are regular people. We have around 1,500 registered refugees in Russia. However, Syrian regime supporters do not register as refugees. They live in big houses where everything is provided for them. Over 50 Alawite students recently came to universities in Moscow, all of them holding Russian passports.
**Yara Chehayed and Vivianne el Khawly contributed with translation.
UN says can't accept Russia's offer of
By REUTERS 06/07/2013/
UNITED NATIONS/MOSCOW - The United Nations on Friday thanked Russia for offering to replace peacekeepers from Austria in the Golan Heights but said an agreement between Israel and Syria bars all permanent members of the Security Council from the UN observer mission there. President Vladimir Putin made the offer in Russia on Friday after Vienna said it would recall its troops from a UN monitoring force due to worsening fighting in Syria. Austria, whose peacekeepers account for about 380 of the 1,000-member UN force observing a 4-decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel, said it would pull out after intense clashes between Syrian government forces and rebels on the border. But UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said it was impossible for the United Nations to accept the offer from Russia, which along with the United States, Britain, France and China, is a permanent veto-wielding member of the 15-nation Security Council. "We appreciate the consideration that the Russian Federation has given to provide troops to the Golan," he told reporters. "However, the Disengagement Agreement and its protocol, which is between Syria and Israel, do not allow for the participation of permanent members of the Security Council in UNDOF."
Muslim union urges "Day of Rage" for Syria rebels
Now Lebanon/A Sunni Muslim union headed by influential cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi on Friday called for a "Day of Rage and Support" for rebels fighting Syrian regime troops backed by a Shiite axis.
The Association of Muslim Scholars urged its millions of supporters to demonstrate, stage peaceful sit-ins, make speeches and pray for the Syrian rebels on Friday, June 14.
The Qatar-based group strongly condemned "the horrific crimes... committed by the Syrian regime, with support from Iran and its tails in Lebanon, in Qusayr," the town rebels were ousted from on Wednesday.
Syria's 26-month civil war erupted after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam, waged a bloody crackdown on democracy protests.The conflict pitting regime forces backed by Shiite-ruled Iran and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah against Sunni insurgents, including jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda, has killed at least 94,000 people. On Thursday, the grand mufti of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia urged governments and fellow clerics to punish Hezbollah for its intervention in the war.
Nasrallah breaks Hezbollah’s back
Osman Mirghani/Asharq Alawsat
Following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saddam Hussein attempted to justify himself in his speeches by alluding to the Palestinian struggle, saying that he would pray in Jerusalem once he fought the conspiracy against Iraq. Many thought that Saddam had gone astray, because the liberation of Palestine obviously would not be achieved by means of invading Kuwait, another Arab country. A few days ago, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated his reasons for involving his fighters in the Syrian war. He also spoke about a conspiracy being organized against Hezbollah and about defending the resistance. Nasrallah also seems to have veered off his target, given his former claims that Hezbollah’s weapons were pointed at Israel, not Qusayr or Damascus. It does not matter that Saddam Hussein was Sunni and that Hassan Nasrallah is Shi’ite. Both leaders have used words such as “resistance,” “conspiracy,” and “Palestine” to win favor and to cover up their reasons for sending soldiers to fight in an Arab country. Those adventures were costly for both Saddam and Nasrallah, the latter of whom, I think, will also pay a dear price.Despite his mastery of oratory, Nasrallah could not hide that the war in Syria was becoming sectarian or conceal the truth by using defense of “the resistance” as a slogan.
Remarkably, Nasrallah’s speech came just days after Assad claimed that he will open the door to resistance against Israel and transform Syria into a bastion of “the resistance,”; as if resistance was a new idea that suddenly occurred to him despite all of his former speeches about the “axis of resistance” and “steadfast countries.”Attempting to justify his militants’ embroilment in the Syrian war, Nasrallah said that Syria (by which he means the Assad regime) is the backbone of resistance and the fighting taking place there is a life-or-death issue for Hezbollah. By applying the same logic, one can assume that Hezbollah’s back will be broken if it loses its gamble in Syria. The Shi’ite militia has been brought into a sectarian confrontation with Sunnis in Syria and this will have regional and international consequences. The fight in Syria has seeped into Lebanon, threatening a wider war.
This is not the only mistake that Nasrallah made by sending his troops to Syria. It is no secret that several groups, both in Lebanon and abroad, have been calling for Hezbollah to lay down their weapons. The party has always responded that it keeps its weapons as part of “resistance” to Israel. There have been increased calls for Hezbollah to disarm, particularly following the assassination of Hariri in 2005, and again after the 2006 Lebanon war [with Israel] when Hezbollah began to point its weapons towards the Lebanese interior. By becoming embroiled in the Syrian war, Hezbollah has fallen into the most dangerous of traps, leaving the party vulnerable to potential attackers. Moreover, the Lebanese party has put itself in a no-win situation politically and militarily, as well as by getting involved in the sectarian struggle. Many influential Shi’ite figures criticize Nasrallah and refuse to fight against the Syrian opposition, warning the fallout in Lebanon, which is still fragile. As it enters its third year, there are many indications that the Syrian war will continue, particularly because there are parties that benefit from the ongoing struggle. This is further exhausting the already fragmented and embattled Arab countries. Logically speaking, the Assad regime will undoubtedly fall due to the bloodshed and destruction of the Syrian societal fabric, not to mention the wide support the opposition has. It is true that the Assad regime enjoys support, but he does not have the upper hand on the ground. Had it not been for the opposition’s weakness and infighting and the parties that benefit from prolonging the war, Assad’s regime would have fallen long ago. As the war continues, Syria will be exhausted, joining the countries in the region that have been debilitated by internal wars or revolutions.
Even if the impossible happens and the Assad regime survives, Hezbollah’s situation will be increasingly complicated. If Hezbollah gets more powerful it will complicate things in Lebanon further, as the militia will be regarded as a greater threat, leading more parties to call for its disarmament and disbandment. Nasrallah himself has said that if Hezbollah’s Syrian ally falls, its “back will be broken.” Hezbollah will then have lost a large number of its soldiers, depleted its arsenal (which cannot be easily restocked), and lost the Arab world’s sympathy—which it might have gained, at a time when it still could play the resistance card. That chance ended when it joined the sectarian war in Syria.
Eight dwarves but no Snow White in Iran
By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Alawsat
In Tehran, they call them the eight dwarves. The sobriquet may be unfair. Though unknown to many Iranians, the eight men standing for election as president of the Islamic Republic are prominent figures in the narrow elite that have dominated Iran’s politics for three decades. Who are these men? And would it make any difference which one enters the presidential palace on Pasteur Avenue next month?
Cut from the same cloth, the eight have much in common.
They are all men, even though women account for a majority of the population. The average age of the eight is 25 years above the average for the Iranian population.
They are all government employees, most of them from the start of their careers. All but two have been members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) at different times. Two of the candidates are retired IRGC generals. Three are related to one another and, through marriage, to the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Four others are related to various mullahs through blood links or marriage.
All but two of the eight come from middle-class backgrounds, which enabled them to obtain higher educations, including in the West during the era of the Shah.
All but one boast of being PhD recipients and “doctors” of something or other. Even the single mullah among the candidates likes to be described as Aghay Doctor rather than use a religious title such as Hojjat Al-Islam or Ayatollah. The military men among the candidates also prefer the title “Doctor” to that of “General.” The reason is that in the eyes of many Iranians, religious and military titles have been somewhat discredited. Three candidates make a meal of the fact that they did part of their higher education in the United States or Britain.
Though employed by the government, all eight are also engaged in business activities on the side. These range from ownership of hotels and construction firms to news websites. Two of the eight are subject to international arrest warrants for involvement in the assassination of Iranian political exiles in Berlin and Paris. If elected, they might find it hard to travel abroad. Needless to say, all eight hail from the same ideological niche. This is a hodgepodge of old-style leftist clichés, Third-worldist complexes, and messianic misunderstandings; this dish is then served with a pseudo-religious sauce. The father of this peculiar ideology, Ruhallah Khomeini, was a rabble-rouser with little understanding of the complexities of Islamic theology and philosophy. A man of limited vocabulary who never managed to master either Persian or Arabic, he had a genius for oversimplification. This helped him develop a Manichaean discourse that continues to appeal to those who seek simple answers to difficult questions.
Nevertheless, the eight do represent different trends within the same ideological niche. Saeed Jalili, the youngest candidates and the man generally regarded as Khamenei’s favorite—although I do not personally ascribe to this view—appears to be the most earnest when he professes “pure Khomeinism.” That, however, may be due to a lack of political experience, if not outright naiveté. The most sophisticated version is offered by Mohammad Reza Aref, who pretends that Khomeinism could be reinterpreted as an Islamic version of Christian Democracy.
A man of the seraglio, Ali-Akbar Velayati has steered clear of ideological entanglement. Instead, he is trying to cast himself as a safe pair of hands to negotiate Iran’s way out of the foreign policy impasse it has created for itself. Lacking in charisma, he would be an ideal factotum for Khamenei. None of the eight have offered any economic program, although all claim that fixing the broken economy as a top priority. There may be two reasons for the lack of an economic program. First, no one believes the data published by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, and, second, no one dares offer reforms without a green light from the supreme leader.
All eight insist that there will be no change in Iran’s nuclear policy. That is neither here nor there, because it is the supreme leader, not the president, who has the final say.
None of the eight have demonstrated oratory skills. The most boring orator among them is Jalili, whose long-winded speeches could only be recommended for its soporific virtues. The average mullah is known for masterful oratory—but Rouhani, the only mullah among the eight, is, perhaps, the worst orator of the lot after Jalili. The reason may be Rouhani’s attempts at imitating political speeches he heard during his stint in England and Scotland. The result is a crisis of identity, with a mullah trying to sound like Mrs. Thatcher. For his part, Muhammad-Baqer Qalibaf is an effective speaker in small circles, but becomes hopeless as soon as he faces a larger public. Muhammad-Gharazi, a former IRGC apparatchik, is the only candidate who injects a dose of humor in his speeches and television appearances. This may be due to the fact that he is the only one of the eight to have been away from the centers of power for almost 20 years, hovering on the margins of the establishment. Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel is the only “philosopher” among the eight, but he has still proved totally incapable of developing a coherent discourse. The only surprise so far has come from Mohsen Rezai, who has become a fixture of Iranian presidential contests after having stood on three previous occasions, when his presence went largely unnoticed. Rezai was made a general aged 27 and appointed Commander of the IRGC during the Iran–Iraq War. He has caused some surprise this time by raising the issue of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities and highlighting his humble social backgrounds. However, he is unlikely to do any better this time, if only because Khamenei has always been wary of figures with a military background. The only interest in this election relates to the voter turnout and the performance of candidates believed to be closest to the leader, who is no Snow White.
Austria to quit U.N.'s Golan force over Syria violence
By Crispian Balmer
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Austria said on Thursday it would pull out of a U.N. force on the Golan Heights after battles between Syrian troops and rebels there, in a blow to a mission that has kept the Israeli-Syrian war front quiet for 40 years. Israel, anxious for the international mission to remain in place, worried that the Golan could become a springboard for attacks on Israelis by Islamist militants fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"While appreciating Austria's longtime contribution and commitment to peacekeeping in the Middle East, we nevertheless regret this decision and hope that it will not be conducive to further escalation in the region," the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.㠀 But the departure of the Austrians, who make up about 380 of the 1,000-member United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), threatens the whole operation.
"Austria has been a backbone of the mission, and their withdrawal will impact the mission's operational capacity," said U.N. spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero.
"The members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern at the risk that all military activities in the area of separation conducted by any actor pose to the long-held ceasefire and the local population," the U.N. council said in a statement. The Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss the Austrian withdrawal. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the council president this month, said peacekeeping officials were meeting with contributing countries to see whether any states would be willing to offer troops to replace the Austrians.
"We consider UNDOF to be an extremely important mission," Lyall Grant said. "We support it and we want it to continue."Anti-Assad rebels briefly seized the crossing between Israel and Syria, sending U.N. staff scurrying to their shelters before Syrian soldiers managed to push them back and reassert their control of Quneitra. The rebel attack appeared to be an attempt to regain some momentum after Assad's forces, backed by well-trained Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, on Wednesday seized control of Qusair, a town on a vital supply route close to Lebanon. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Paski said: "We've been very clear about our concerns over regional instability caused by the crisis in Syria. This is of course another example of that, and we continue to call upon all parties to avoid any action that would jeopardize the long-held ceasefire between Israel and Syria." Meanwhile, Russia announced it has deployed a naval unit to the Mediterranean Sea in a move President Vladimir Putin said was to defend Russian security, as Moscow faces off with the West over its support for Assad's government. "This is a strategically important region and we have tasks to carry out there to provide for the national security of the Russian Federation," Putin said.
Syrian government troops and their allies have won a string of successes in recent weeks, boosting Assad at a time when the United States and Russia are struggling to organize a peace conference aimed at ending the civil war that has killed more than 80,000 people.
Looking to ram home their victory, Assad's troops have turned their fire on villages northeast of Qusair, where hundreds of rebels and civilians were holed up, prompting one group of activists to issue a desperate plea for rebel support. "God has given us the strength to persevere, but until when only God knows. We beg you to move as quickly as possible to rescue us," said a message posted on social networking sites.
Shortly afterwards, Syrian television announced that the army had "restored security and stability" to one of the villages in its sights - Debaa.
France, which earlier this week accused Assad of deploying nerve gas in the civil war, said on Wednesday the situation on the ground needed to be "rebalanced" after the fall of Qusair, but did not say how that could be achieved. Russia said it was concerned that allegations of gas attacks might be used as a pretext for foreign intervention. "I do not rule out that somebody wants to use it to state that a red line has been crossed and a foreign intervention is necessary," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow with his German and Finnish counterparts.
Western countries have shown little appetite for getting sucked into the Syrian conflict, but there is also a clear aversion to letting Assad, heavily backed by Shi'ite Iran and their Hezbollah associates, emerge victorious.
France and Britain last month pushed the European Union to drop its ban on arming the rebels, who are mainly Sunni Muslims. London and Paris have not yet said if they plan to arm the fighters. They wanted the ban lifted to apply pressure on Assad. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was negotiating with Syria to reach areas surrounding Qusair to deliver medical assistance to the wounded. Humanitarian groups have estimated that up to 1,500 people might need help. "Today the conflict is extremely fragmented, and this is one of the biggest operational challenges for the ICRC," said Robert Mardini, the head of Red Cross operations in the Middle East. Qusair lies along a corridor through the central province of Homs, linking the capital Damascus to the coastal heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
Many rebels and civilians fled the town early on Wednesday, heading to the villages of Debaa, 5 kilometers (3 miles) northeast, and Buwayda, another 7 km in the same direction.
"We have a large number of civilians and wounded in Buwayda," said activist Mohammed al-Qusair.
Russia, which has thrown its weight firmly behind Assad West, cautioned Damascus that the conflict could only be resolved through diplomacy. "The undoubted military success of the government forces should not in our opinion be used by anyone to create the illusion about the possibility of solving all the problems faced by Syria by force," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. With sectarian divisions widening in the region, the leader of Sunni Islamist group Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, urged Syrians to unite against Assad and thwart what he called U.S. plans to set up a client state to safeguard Israel's security.
The longer the civil war has continued, the more neighboring countries have felt the spillover. Two men died after a gunfight with Lebanese soldiers near the Syrian border early Thursday, while the Turkish military said one Turkish soldier was wounded in a clash with gunmen who were part of a group of about 500 people trying to reach Turkey. Israel, which has kept a wary eye on the Golan Heights, exchanging sporadic fire with assailants and warning of swift retaliation should its forces come under attack, said it expected the United Nations to maintain the monitoring mission. Austria defended its decision to leave, saying it could no longer justify its troop presence.
"Freedom of movement in the area de facto no longer exists. The uncontrolled and immediate danger to Austrian soldiers has risen to an unacceptable level," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and his deputy Michael Spindelegger said in a statement. Japanese and Croatian troops also have left the UNDOF in recent months, while the Philippines has said it might leave after Syrian rebels held its peacekeepers captive.
(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow, Michael Shields in Vienna and Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations.; Writing by Christopher Wilson; Editing by Jim Loney)
Syrian Regime Forces Prepare to Launch Offensives in Homs, Aleppo
Naharnet/..Syrian regime forces sought Friday to follow up on their victory in the key town of Qusayr near the Lebanon border by sending reinforcements to battle rebels in Homs and the northern province of Aleppo.
Government forces were also trying to mop up final pockets of rebel resistance north of Qusayr, the town which it retook Wednesday bolstered by Hizbullah fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said President Bashar al-Assad's forces were also sending reinforcements to Aleppo province, where large swathes of territory have been in rebel hands for months. "Clashes broke out at dawn between the army and rebels on the outskirts of Dabaa village" north of Qusayr, said the Britain-based group, adding Hizbullah forces were involved. Official Syrian media had earlier reported that Dabaa fell on Thursday when there was, in fact, still a large rebel presence there. A second rebel bastion north of Qusayr, Eastern Bweida where rebels and many wounded civilians fled after the fall of Qusayr, was still being bombarded by the regime. "The army is seeking to impose its complete control of Qusayr and the surrounding area," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse. "It is leaving no way out for the rebels, and also not for the wounded or for civilians. It wants to annihilate the rebels or take them prisoner." The Observatory said government forces were also massing "in their thousands" in Aleppo province, aiming primarily to take territory along the border with Turkey.
"They want to cut rebel supply lines from Turkey." The army's preparations for a new offensive came a day after a brief rebel seizure of the Quneitra crossing on the armistice line separating Israeli and Syrian troops on the Golan prompted Austria to announce to it was withdrawing from the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force. The Observatory said “fierce fighting” continued on Friday in Quneitra, “including bombardment by regime forces."
Source/Agence France Presse.Middle
The Post- Post-Qusair Phase
Walid Choucair/Al Hayat
Predictions have been flowing with abundance about what will follow the control by the Syrian regular army and Hezbollah over the Syrian city of Qusair, and on the post- post-Qusair phase. The Syrian regime and Hezbollah managed to retake the small city, lying on a crossroads between Damascus and its rural areas and Homs, and the eastern Bekaa Valley of Lebanon and Homs and its rural areas; it is the supply route for the regular army, as well as the Free Syrian Army and the rebels and their wounded, who are taken from Syrian territory to Lebanon. But Qusair is just one part in the ongoing struggle.
If the military people on both sides are talking about the coming phase, the friends of the regime in Damascus never cease to offer scenarios about the coming military phase. Hezbollah's media is doing the same thing, and all of these scenarios merely reiterate that the party will continue to participate in the war on Syrian territory more intensively, bogging Hezbollah down even more in the long Syrian crisis. The Syrian opposition, which has loudly called on the international community for help to no avail, helped make the Qusair battle a momentous one, the importance attached by the regime and Hezbollah to recovering Qusair from the rebels, and the general mobilization that preceded the battle, made it into a Stalingrad-type episode. But the comparison quickly fades as the other battles that the regime turns to, supported by Iran and Hezbollah. This tripartite alliance, supported by Russia, expects that it will benefit from controlling Qusair, to finish up with the remaining villages surrounding the city. Then, it will begin a battle to recover Aleppo, as the party's media predicts that this will be settled soon. This is despite the fact that the Qusair battle required more than three weeks to overcome the opposition fighters.
The narrow circle of people around President Bashar Assad hint that the post-Qusair phase will not be limited to controlling Aleppo, but that a large military operation campaign to re-take all of the southern Deraa region will precede this, or come in parallel, after the fall of rebel positions in the rest of rural Damascus. Then, an attack on Deraa will be made from all sides, including the governorate of Suwaida. All of this means that Qusair is only one part of the chain of the new phase in the Syrian war, which will continue relentlessly after the formation of a (67,000-man strong) pro-regime Popular Army, trained by Iran for three months in urban warfare. To this can be added Hezbollah fighters, after the discovery of the absence of Syrian army military tactics during the first two years of the crisis.
But it is not reasonable for the goal of seeing artillery, massacres, occupying areas and using Sarin gas to be limited to using the military "achievements" in negotiations over holding the Geneva 2 conference for a political solution, which was launched by the United States and Russia more than a month ago. Perhaps the failure of the initial negotiations on the representation of Syrians and regional players at Geneva 2 is a clear sign that the objective is not to arrive at a "transitional executive authority with full powers,' as stipulated by Geneva 1. The phrase, while it is impossible to agree upon whether it means Assad's departure before the beginning of the political process, or at the end of it, is subject to the interpretation of Russia and Iran, which means – thanks to the military developments – acknowledgment that Assad will remain in power. This has made the accord on Geneva 2 a mere Russian maneuver and a game to buy time by the Americans, without ending the crisis, but rather seeing it remain under control as much as possible, without its spreading regionally.
Even if Geneva 2 takes place, it will be a continuation of the charade that covers the efforts by Moscow and Tehran and those with them to see the opposition surrender. It will be impossible for the opposition to sign off on this, while the US will continue to try and see the war of attrition between local and regional warring parties continue on Syrian territory, provided that it does not harm Israel's security and not hit at US interests in the region.
The post-Qusair phase is a long-term one, as long as the two parties to the crisis are kept distant from settling the struggle. The minimum will be a halt in the momentum of the opposition, which was looking forward to waging the battle of Damascus. This would have reduced the areas controlled by the opposition in order to set up a zone protecting the regime, with areas of influence divided up between the parties and front lines created, similar to those of the Lebanese civil war. This is as long as there is an inability to arrive at the maximum, namely the surrender or total defeat of the opposition.
Just as the Syrian opposition cannot make concessions, it would be a fatal blow to Hezbollah if its military momentum is stopped in Syria, after the sacrifices it has made and the casualties it has lost and will lose, in favor of a settlement with American-Israeli-takfiri alliance, as it terms it. The party can no longer retreat from the mobilization it undertook to wage the war. It might be obliged to turn to the domestic arena in this war, if it feels that a settlement might result, or that its rivals might benefit from the dissipation of its power outside Lebanon.
Baklava Enhances Priorities
Husam Itani/Al Hayat
In the wake of the ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel in August 2006, a friend went to a neighborhood in the Southern Suburb to check on the store he had opened a few days before war erupted on July 12. The young man found his store reduced to a pile of rubble, buried underneath the ruins of a building destroyed by the Israeli air bombings. As he stood and contemplated his loss in utter bewilderment, a man approached him with a tray of sweets, inviting my friend to take some in celebration of “divine victory.” The devastated young man had nothing to say, as he was in complete shock. How could he celebrate victory while smoke was still rising from what was left of his lifetime savings? Today, the coffins of dozens of young men are carried into the villages of the South and the Bekaa and are pelted by the rice and flowers that people toss at them. At the same time, Hezbollah’s supporters are setting up roadblocks in the Suburb and a number of towns to distribute Baklava and other sweets to passersby, as an expression of joy on the occasion of the new victory achieved by the party after taking over the Syrian town of Al-Qusseir.
The party and its audience are aware of the hefty price they are paying to expand their vital space within the Shiite sect and throughout Lebanon. Still, they insist on proceeding down that path and on celebrating (the distribution of sweets being one of its facets) every development which they depict as being a step forward in the project to immunize the denomination and sect, and deter any offense or attack carried out by their enemies both on the domestic arena and abroad. Saying that Hezbollah is a mere Iranian tool implementing the policies of the Wali-e Faqih does not explain the strong cohesion of the party’s supporters and their genuine joy over the martyrdom of dozens of their sons in Syria. Hezbollah’s involvement in the fight can be viewed as the implementation of orders coming from a foreign side that trained, funded, and armed the party throughout decades. However, for the opposition against this deep implication in the Syrian killing machine to remain limited to a few voices and names, reveals that the issue goes beyond and is more complicated than meeting Iranian needs.
It would be needless to say that attributing the current mobilization among the majority of the Lebanese Shiites to ancient history is useless. Indeed, Zaynab, Al-Husayn, and Bani-Umayyah are mere symbols and covers used by political powers whose interests reside in the present times, not the past. As for the talk about the American-Israeli-Takfiri project and the necessity of crushing it, it is no less dubious and fake than the talk about the defense of and retaliation for the Family of the Prophet and its shrines.
All the theories about collective and false consciousness cannot explain palpable reality, unless they act as a prelude for the activity of a group enjoying a strong structure and a clear ideology that allow it to prevail at the expense of its members. Hence, Hezbollah is placing the interest of the group, which it says it represents, and whose dignity it is claiming to defend – i.e. its political, social and economic position – ahead of all remaining considerations. Consequently, the slogans addressed to the leader of the group, such as “we are at your order” and if “you fight the sea, we would fight it with you,” acquire their true meaning, and submission to the orders to fight in Syria becomes completely understandable, just as it was the case during the fight against Israel or Beirut’s invasion in May 2008.
The roadblocks to distribute sweets enhance this mechanism, by presenting the developments as new victories for the group and its leader and by downplaying the importance of the cost paid on the altar of the sect’s and denomination’s honor. In other words, the Baklava is setting the political priorities and drawing the course that will be followed by the group and its vanguard forces.
As a result, the families of those who have fallen in Syria will find nothing to say in response to a stringent speech such as the party’s, just like that young man became speechless in the face of his destroyed shop.
The Fall of Qusayr: A Scar on the Conscience of the Security Council
Raghida Dergham/Al Hayat
The international community can receive congratulations, like those received by Hezbollah from the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the occasion of the fall of the Syrian city of Qusayr, a city of strategic importance for Iran’s goals, and for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If only Russia had alone been qualified for congratulations on the fall of Qusayr at the hands of its allies, Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese, as represented by the leadership of the Shiite party that has made use of its “resistance” in the service of maintaining the regime in Damascus…For the United States too deserves to be congratulated, as do all the members of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) and of the European Union.
The Security Council in its entirety can be congratulated, in turn, and with it the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. They all failed to do their duties, and sufficed themselves with taking pro forma measures and only too late. This happened as they watched a battle in which they knew full well the meaning of a victory for the axis of Iran, Russia, China, the Assad regime and Hezbollah. Indeed, the international community decided to watch the massacres take place and the victims of airstrikes fall, children, women and men, refusing to raise its voice in anything that could be heard or would be worth mentioning. Even when evidence became available of chemical weapons having been used, the international community preferred not to lay the blame on any side of the conflict in Syria, the regime and its allies in the axis of defiance, or the opposition and its allies in their fragmented axis, which includes Western and Arab countries in addition to Turkey.
All of them deserve the most heartfelt congratulations on the fall of Qusayr, because they truly contributed to its fall, with or without pangs of conscience. What happened in Qusayr is the responsibility of the international community, because everyone fled forward, pretending that they had no choice. It is a scar on the conscience of the UN Security Council, the latter having become the willing witness of the massacres in Syria, under the pretense of waiting for a peaceful solution – that elusive solution being cooked up by the skillful trio of the United States, Russia and Joint United Nations and Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to find a mechanism for an agreement and a sequence of execution for what had previously been met with consensus from the five permanent members of the Security Council a year ago in the Geneva agreement.
Perhaps worse than the Security Council are those members of the “Arab community”, including the League of Arab States, who speak of powerlessness and of resorting to the Security Council in order to hide in the shadow of the latter’s powerlessness. And the worst among this “community” are those who encouraged the extremists and weakened the moderates in the Syrian opposition, and then abandoned both at once, out of fear of being in effect held to account by the West for supporting the Al-Nusra Front and similar Al-Qaeda affiliates. So, what now? And is the milestone of Qusayr really so fateful and final?
Hezbollah has achieved two victories that are under threat of failure:
The first is Qusayr, the victory in which is drenched in resentment, as well as in strife, in which Hezbollah has gotten itself implicated and has implicated the Shiite community in Lebanon.
The second is the cancellation of the Lebanese legislative elections, an “achievement” that comes amid the collapse of the standing of both the state and Hezbollah, accompanied by the “laying bare” of the resistance, with it being put to use for ends unconnected to Israel and its occupation.
At the Lebanese level, it was clear mathematically and in the numbers that, had the legislative elections been held as scheduled this month, Hezbollah would have suffered a dire loss, which means it would also have lost the power to form the new cabinet, as well as its iron grip on the country. In the language of numbers, upon calculation, Hezbollah would not have been able to win the elections, not just because thousands of its men were fighting in Syria with the goal of achieving victory specifically in the battle of Qusayr, and those men (between 10 and 15 thousand) would not have voted in the elections, but also because the votes which Hezbollah would have brought from among the Shiites in Syria aboard voting “buses” will not have been available due to the situation in Syria.
In the numbers and mathematically, Hezbollah would not have been able to win the elections, and that is why it resolved to cancel them through fear-mongering and threatening to undermine the country’s stability.
The geniuses of the Lebanese opposition, as represented by the March 14 Alliance, were quick to offer up the gift of this abominable extension of the parliament’s term for a year and a half, without thinking of anything in return. They bought stability by paying in advance, in order to evade intimidation. Thus the geniuses of March 14 offered Hezbollah and its partners in the March 8 Alliance the gift of sparing them defeat in the elections, and denied themselves the opportunity to win and to regain the initiative as well as the government.
Now the picture is perfectly clear: Hezbollah has achieved victory in the elections without running in them, when its defeat in the elections had been clear as day. It has bought the time that it needs and is moving in tune with the Syrian military schedule, because it is confident that its ally the regime in Damascus will achieve military victory, and that this regime’s President, Bashar al-Assad, will remain in power without a process of political transition until after the presidential elections in Syria a year from now.
Hezbollah has maintained a caretaker government that suits it, and has weakened the Prime Minister-designate charged with forming a new cabinet, Tammam Salam, who has failed to make use of the momentum that had accompanied his appointment and has fallen into a vicious circle that has voided him of the capabilities necessary to seize the reins of the current phase and of the country. Hezbollah has created a climate in parliament, in the government, and in the political classes that would allow it perhaps later to bring down the President of the Republic, Michel Suleiman, when the time comes to extend his term.
Thus, with a master stroke, and with valuable contribution from March 14, Hezbollah has been able to take hold of the entire country. Part of this is thanks to the instability and the fear of the forces of the March 14 Alliance. They deserve to be congratulated for Hezbollah’s “achievement”, and they have now become as one who has severed his own legs and threatened to run a footrace.
In spite of all of this, Hezbollah’s victory in this battle is not to its advantage, because it will be controlling a country of which at least half the people do not trust it and do not want it in this forceful form. This is in the best of cases. In the worst, Hezbollah taking Lebanon hostage and placing it in the service of Iran is not necessarily a fixed or permanent matter, and its wager against at least half of the Lebanese people, or rather more accurately against three-quarters of them, will therefore only be a prelude to resentment and strife. Indeed, Hezbollah has become a belligerent in the war in Syria, in a confessional war in fact, and is no longer representative of resistance against Israel as it claimed in the past. Moreover, the worst of what Hezbollah has to offer in its new form is what it has to offer the Shiite community, which it is implicating in Syria and in Lebanon equally. At the moment, Hezbollah is celebrating its two victories in Lebanon and in Syria’s Qusayr. It feels that it has entered a war and won a battle, leaving it arrogant and self-confident, especially as the international community encouraged it to achieve victory in what they both have portrayed as a war against Al-Qaeda, the Al-Nusra Front and similar Takfiri groups. Yet to slip into the quagmire of Syria will remain a goal sought and a trap set by the West – and most prominently the United States and Israel – for Hezbollah. They are both part of this international community that encouraged and allowed its victory in Qusayr. Thus Hezbollah’s victory in Qusayr becomes threatened with failure. Regarding Iran within the equation of Qusayr and what comes after, on the other hand, there are two schools of thought:
One claims that US President Barack Obama sees in Syria “Iran’s Vietnam”, and is not opposed to seeing it exhausted there, even at the hands of Al-Qaeda and similar groups.
The other school insists on the fact that the United States and Israel want to achieve the “Shiite Crescent” that would connect Iran to Israel through Hezbollah in Lebanon and strengthen the historical relationship of truce between the two of them, as well as serve their common goal: dwarfing the Arabs in the regional balance of power in the Middle East. Perhaps what is required is both goals together – the quagmire and “strife”, as well as the crescent of truce – and it was thus imperative to allow Qusayr to fall into the hands of the axis of defiance.
There are also some who are of the opinion that the American plan behind giving Russia the position of leadership in the Syrian predicament dictates drawing it towards the Syrian quagmire after having “Afghanized” it. Thus, just as the Soviet Union fell in Afghanistan, Russia will perhaps fall in Syria, despite its excessive self-confidence today in having been victorious and having seized the reins of leadership with America’s blessing.
This is politics! This is the strategy of withdrawal and misdirection.
Washington perhaps considers it in its interest to suggest to Moscow that Russia is winning the political battle in the war in Syria, inside the Security Council and outside. This is why American diplomacy is submitting to Russia’s dictates and not raising a finger at the Security Council, and why the US administration is backing down before Russia’s demands, ceasing to demand that Bashar al-Assad step down and working on the Geneva 2 conference.It is clear that the race between the military track and the political track in the war in Syria is ongoing and is heating up. Soon we will hear that the West has decided to enable the moderate armed opposition to be supplied with weapons in order to reverse the military balance of power, just as Russia and Iran rushed to enable the regime’s forces and Hezbollah to reverse the military balance of power in Qusayr. This is how Syria is being torn apart with the contribution of all players, at different levels.
The coming phase will witness more of this “balance” or of restoring it, while the Security Council will remain neutralized and lying in the shadow of having been voided of its power and standing. The United States, Russia, the United Nations and the Arab League will continue to rattle on about an international conference that will be of no use. Fierce battles will continue to spread in order to seize important locations to connect Iran to Lebanon through Syria after the fall of Qusayr, with the goal of connecting the two allies that are Iran and Israel.
The most dangerous thing the armed Syrian opposition could get implicated in is moving its battles in Syria to Lebanon, regardless of its pretexts based on the necessity of fighting Hezbollah on its home soil after it came to Syria to fight the opposition on its own home soil. Indeed, it would thereby be creating a quagmire and a predicament for itself that will divert it from its main fundamental goals inside of Syria.
The statements of Free Syrian Army (FSA) Chief of Staff Brigadier General Salim Idris about fighting Hezbollah inside Lebanon, because “Hezbollah fighters are invading Syrian territory (…) and the Lebanese authorities don’t take any action to stop them”, represent a stance similar to one shooting oneself in the foot. Indeed, the Free Syrian Army has no need for the enmity and anger of all the Lebanese for carrying out operations inside Lebanon, regardless of its justifications about Hezbollah having started in its own country. Indeed, such talk will be rejected, and it will wipe away any sympathy and solidarity between a segment of the Lebanese and the Syrian opposition. Let revenge then take place inside of Syria, as long as Hezbollah is present there, and let the focus remain on the inter-Syrian battle for the sake of Syria.
The Arab Gulf and Hezbollah
Abdullah Iskandar/Al Hayat
Once again, Hezbollah committed a public mistake by linking the Gulf position towards it to the relationship between the Gulf Cooperation Council states and the United States. The mistake does not reside in deducing the existence of special ties between the GCC states and America, considering that these ties are old at the level of politics and the two parties’ vital interests. The mistake – which may be intentional – resides at the core of the problem between a party proclaiming its representation of the Shiites, its organic connection with Iran and its strategic relationship with the Syrian regime, and these states that are mostly Sunnis, clashing with Iran and hostile towards the Syrian regime.
By neglecting this main facet of its current image among the Arab public in general and the Gulf one in particular, Hezbollah is jeopardizing the already deteriorating Sunni-Shiite relations and leading them to the point of no-return, knowing that the mutual Takfiri tendencies do not require further sectarian instigation to witness the great explosion.
There is no need to recall the founding of the party, its jurisprudent reference or opinions in regard to political and governance affairs, in order to establish its responsibility for the Gulf position towards it. Indeed, the party is announcing by all available means that it is a Shiite Party - with all that is featured in the Shiite subconscious - in parallel to the image generated by the negative relationship with the Sunni institution throughout history. Khomeini’s revolution tried to lead the Shiites out of their countries and states, and Hezbollah constituted a successful archetype of that exit for reasons related to the geographic area in which it evolved and the Syrian role in protecting it. But other failed models were seen in the Gulf, where officials do not hesitate to connect these failed models to Iranian networks. This prompted the depiction of the Shiites as being outside their countries and states and linked to a non-Arab country trying to undermine Gulf stability to serve its interests.
Regardless of its intentions, Hezbollah should have tried to change this image that is ruining the citizens’ relationship, especially since it has been reiterating that it is above sectarian cleavages and seeking inter-sectarian dialogue. But more importantly, this party evolved in a multi-religious and multi-sectarian Lebanese environment, which should have made it especially sensitive to its image among others.
But the party, especially since 2005, seemed to no longer care about its image as a group fighting the Israeli occupation of a Lebanese land. It rather tended to the enhancement of its image as a Shiite group linked to Iran, especially when it wanted to respond to those criticizing its political affiliation. No one is opposing the selection of whichever religious reference, as long as it remains in the context of loyalty to the country and its state. The problem is when this reference turns into a political loyalty outside the context of the state and the country. At this level, one can recall the experience of the late Lebanese Imam Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shamseddin in the Arab Gulf states, as he advised the followers of the Shiite sect to hold on to their loyalty to their countries, undertaking more than one mediation to deter the threat of importing the Iranian revolution.
On the opposite side, Hezbollah is instigating the Shiite citizens in the Gulf countries to go against their countries and states, and is suspected of militarily training elements among them. Its participation in the Syrian war and the motives with which it is justifying this participation, give it the image of a purely transnational sectarian militia. In that sense, the measures which the GCC threatened to adopt against the party’s interests might affect the Shiites in the Gulf states. And what is even more dangerous is the talk about the fact that the party revealed its true face, which confirms the image it wanted for itself and the Shiites during this critical stage in the region.