LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation For Today/Whoever
acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in
Matthew 10/26-33: "26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven."
Bible Quotation For Today/Listening and Doing
James01/19-27: "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 28-29/15
Hezbollah acquiring new tactics in Syria/Nicholas Blanford/The Daily Star/May 29/15
Salam’s warning cannot be ignored/Michael Young/The Daily Star/May 29/15
Lebanon should restore presidential power/Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor/Al Arabiya/May 28/15
Hezbollah in Syria: Plan B or a quagmire/Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya/May 28/15
How to postpone the third Lebanon war/Giora Eiland /Ynetnews/May 28/15
Filling the Vacuum in Syria, Islamic State, Al-Nusra Front, and Hezbollah/Yaakov Lappin/Gatestone Institute/May 28/15
Former US peace negotiator: Obama’s errors have distanced peace/GIL HOFFMAN/J.Post/May 28/15
Washington’s courtier culture leads to bad policy/David Ignatius/The Daily Star/May 29/15
Lebanese Related News published on May 28-29/15
Geagea: Hizbullah Presence in Syria, Samaha Verdict Encourage IS Presence in Lebanon
Lebanon may pursue accused Hezbollah men
Siniora denies close links with U.S. at STL
Kahwagi: Politics won’t hurt Army
Cyprus holds Lebanese man over possible bomb material
Hezbollah destined to fail in Qalamoun: Nusra chief
Cyprus holds Lebanese man over possible bomb plot
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia cooperate in case against Hezbollah officials
Fire ravages Downtown Beirut rooftop nightclub
Army raids Arsal refugee camp
Hezbollah acquiring new tactics in Syria
Disabled demand access to information on rights
Third phase of traffic law begins in June
Presidential vacuum affects social, economic situation
Security plan expands in Ain al-Hilweh
Estonian peacekeepers join U.N. mission in south
Youth prefer TV, Internet to traditional media
Investors pitch privately run power plants
Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
Rebels take Ariha from Assad
ISIS ‘will not destroy’ Palmyra ruins, only statues
Iran: Nuclear talks might extend past deadline
Iran, North Korea forging ballistic, nuclear ties, dissidents claim
France wants Europe to do more to fight ISIS
Rand Paul blames Republican hawks for rise of ISIS
French FM to head Israel, Egypt in June to revive peace process
French FM to visit Israel, PA in attempt to revive peace talks
Palestinians seek to suspend Israel from FIFA
Mogherini calls for renewing peace process
Blair quits as Quartet envoy to Middle East
Analysis: Forgotten facts and distorted history of the Mideast
International community must hold Hamas accountable, says Col. Kemp
Former US peace negotiator Dennis Ross: Obama’s errors have distanced peace
Global powers in the Mideast: Assessing strategies
At the Dead Sea, Jordan’s message was ‘staying alive’
Latest Jihad Watch News
Australia: 12 Melbourne Muslimas flee suburbs to join Islamic State
U.S. saw Islamic State coming, didn’t order airstrikes, let it take Ramadi
Miami: Muslim pleads guilty to aiding jihad terror groups
Islamic jihadists murder 10 with car bombs at Baghdad hotels
Islamic State destroys famous lion god statue in Palmyra
Austria: 14-year-old Muslim jailed on jihad terror charges
Assassin’s veto: Washington Transit Authority shuts down free speech, suspends all issue-related ads
US-trained Tajikistan special forces chief joins Islamic State, vows jihad inside US
Moderate Dubai court jails man for insulting Islam on Facebook
Video: Jamie Glazov on “Media’s Willful Blindness about Islam”
Hizbullah Presence in Syria, Samaha Verdict Encourage IS Presence in Lebanon
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea warned Thursday that Hizbullah's fighting alongside the regime in Syria and a judicial verdict such as the one issued against ex-minister Michel Samaha are factors that encourage the proliferation of extremist groups similar to the Islamic State in Lebanon. “Hizbullah's presence in Syria and a verdict such as Michel Samaha's verdict are factors that pave the ground for the presence of groups similar to the IS in Lebanon,” said Geagea in an interview on LBCI television. “If we want to fight terrorism, we must protect and help moderate Sunnis in Lebanon. This cannot happen through fighting in Syria or Yemen or through issuing a verdict similar to Samaha's verdict,” he added. Geagea was responding to remarks voiced Sunday by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who warned that al-Mustaqbal movement and its leaders and the March 14 forces would be “the first victims” if the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front take a foothold in Lebanon. Addressing Lebanon's Christians, Nasrallah asked: “Who will protect your women from enslavement and your churches from destruction?”
Geagea snapped back on Thursday. “We don't want anyone to protect the churches of Christians in Lebanon. Has Nasrallah defended Syria's Christians and or prevented the enslavement of women in Iraq? We have men who know how to defend,” he said. In response to a question, Geagea said he has concerns over possible “assassinations against al-Mustaqbal movement leaders to scare people and tell them 'it is the IS.'”As for the situation in the northeastern border town of Arsal, Geagea stressed that the Lebanese army “has the ability to control the situation” and that “there are no indications that the IS will enter Lebanon.”“The army is deployed in all the corners of Arsal,” he noted. On Sunday, Nasrallah hinted that his group would intervene militarily in Arsal's outskirts to oust the militants of the IS and al-Nusra if the Lebanese state failed to do so.
“Does Sayyed Hassan know about Arsal more than its residents? Who represents Arsal, al-Mustaqbal movement or Hizbullah?” Geagea asked on Thursday. “If there are terrorists in Arsal, let Sayyed Hassan give their names to the army so that it performs its duty,” he said.
“Hizbullah is sitting and talking with (Interior Minister) Nouhad al-Mashnouq, so why don't they talk with him about the issue of Arsal instead of launching this media campaign?” wondered Geagea. As for the presidential crisis, Geagea noted that he is “still a presidential candidate.” “My chances are low but not nonexistent and from the very first moment I did not insist on my nomination. I said if there is a presidential race, I'm willing to nominate myself, but noted that I would congratulate the winner,” he added.
“My nomination was not at any moment aimed at blocking (Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel) Aoun's candidacy and it was a normal thing for me to run for the presidency,” Geagea noted. Asked about the characteristics of a good president, Geagea said “a real president is one who respects the Constitution and the laws, who has courage and who has a vision to overcome the current crisis.”“I agreed with Aoun on coordinating our stances regarding the characteristics that the next president must enjoy and we didn't agree on the principle of picking a third candidate,” he revealed. Geagea also insisted that “the (parliamentary) quorum for the election of a president during the first (voting) session is 64+1,” noting that “this debate has been running for 50 years in Lebanon.” “Boycotting sessions is not the right approach and any constitutional article not confined to a certain quorum should follow the half+1 rule,” said Geagea. He also lamented that “Hizbullah will not endorse any president that it does not want.” “But we will maintain our stance that calls for a strong republic,” Geagea pledged.
Kahwagi: Politics won’t hurt Army
Wassim Mroueh/Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/May. 29, 2015
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi assured the public Thursday that political bickering over security appointments would not affect the military’s will to confront terrorists, as the government emerged intact after talks on his successor and the security situation in the northeastern town of Arsal.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam set another session for Monday to continue discussion of the topics, either of which could paralyze the government if no agreement is reached.
“The exceptional circumstances that the country is experiencing and the internal bickering over upcoming events and [sensitive] topics will have no effect on the will of the Army to preserve the path of civil peace, protect coexistence between the Lebanese, and confront terrorist organizations on the eastern border,” Kahwagi said during a tour of the headquarters of the First Artillery Regiment in the Beirut’s Karantina quarter. “Every day the Army confronts terrorist groups which attempt to infiltrate the border, and faces these organizations with utmost determination and strength, regardless of the sacrifices required.”
The Army has clashed with jihadi militants in the mountainous outskirts of Arsal on an almost daily basis. Arsal has been back in the headlines in recent weeks, with Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warning that his party will take matters into its own hands if the Army does not drive militants from the outskirts of the town.
The March 14 coalition has since accused Hezbollah of trying to drag the Lebanese Army into a battle with jihadi groups.
Arsal was briefly overrun by militants from the Nusra Front and ISIS last August; the groups are still holding around 25 soldiers and policemen captured during the battles as hostages.
Echoing Nasrallah, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun called on the Army to force jihadis from Arsal’s outskirts, complaining in an interview earlier this week that the military had yet to properly address a number of mistakes made in the August fighting.
The security appointments also remain a major source of tension between Lebanon’s rival factions.
Aoun has warned that the government could be paralyzed if the terms of Kahwagi and Internal Security Forces Chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahi Basbous are extended.
Basbous’s term expires next Thursday, while Kahwagi is scheduled to retire on Sept. 23.
But the Future Movement, Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt back extensions of their terms if the Cabinet cannot reach an agreement on their successors.
“We will not allow any [...] confusion or distortion of the huge sacrifices that the Army has made in fierce confrontations [with] takfiri terrorism since last August,” Kahwagi said.
“The Army has done what the strongest armies in the world have failed to do in the face of such organizations,” he said, adding that the military would emerge victorious.
The Army intensified patrols between its checkpoints in and around Arsal Thursday, as locals showered the military vehicles with rice.
The government managed to calmly discuss the security appointments and the situation in Arsal during its weekly session, but no final decisions were made on the issues.
Several ministers said that talks between Berri, Jumblatt, and Aoun, which intensified Wednesday evening, contributed to the calm atmosphere that prevailed during the session.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, was the first to bring up the divisive topics, and stressed the need to appoint new security officials.
His position was supported by Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, from Hezbollah.
Defense Minister Samir Moqbel said that the situation in Arsal was “under control” and that the Army was ready to repel any attack by jihadis.
But he added that an Army operation inside the town to drive away militants believed to be hiding in its Syrian refugee camps could be costly, and would require a Cabinet decision.
Moqbel said even with the Qalamoun offensive launched by Hezbollah and the Syrian Army against Syrian rebels, no more than 150 jihadis had withdrawn from Qalamoun into Arsal, and that this number did not constitute a large threat.
For his part, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk explained the situation in Arsal in detail, blaming Hezbollah for the town’s current problems.
Machnouk said he was the first official to admit that Arsal was an “occupied town,” but stressed that the state would not abandon its duty to liberate occupied land.
Hajj Hasan detailed what was happening in Arsal and the surrounding hills, and explained the factors that pushed Hezbollah to launch the Qalamoun offensive. He too urged the state to liberate Arsal’s outskirts.
Salam said that protecting the country was the responsibility of all political factions in Lebanon.
The premier added that the people of Arsal support the state, and that Lebanon must protect itself from the repercussions of the Syrian war.
Ministerial sources expect Monday’s session to be calm as well, and said that while the topic of Arsal could be overcome, the dispute over the appointment of a new ISF chief could jeopardize the Cabinet.
Machnouk said that he still had till next Thursday to decide on the matter, and provided no details as to what he would do.
FPM ministers and others from Hezbollah said it was highly possible they would boycott Cabinet sessions if Basbous’ term is extended on June 5.
Although no firm decision was made on either of these issues, the government did appoint four members to the Higher Judicial Council: Judges Michel Tarazi, Tannous Meshleb, Mohammad al-Mortada and Marwan Karkabi.
The Cabinet also approved an advance payment of LL10 billion to the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, currently in the midst of a financial crisis, and LL2 billion to Baabda’s Public Hospital.
But not everyone shared the relative calm of the Cabinet talks. Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc slammed the Future Movement in a statement, accusing it of “embracing” jihadi groups in Arsal’s outskirts.
“The voices by some Future Movement MPs and officials come in the context of creating trouble, confusion and distorting truth, which they are used to,” the bloc said in a statement issued following its weekly meeting. “[They] will not succeed in providing cover to their party’s involvement in embracing [...] takfiri terrorist gangs in Lebanon, or in covering [up] its political and moral responsibility for violations and crimes which targeted the Lebanese,” the statement read. Berri was quoted by visitors Thursday evening as saying that rising tensions between Hezbollah and Future would not bring a halt to the dialogue sessions the groups have held since last December. “No one can stop the dialogue. This dialogue kicked off only after I got Iranian and Saudi approval, and it will continue,” said Berri, who claimed that the stability Lebanon is currently enjoying comes was a direct result of the talks.
acquiring new tactics in Syria
Nicholas Blanford/The Daily Star/May. 29, 2015
BEIRUT: The ongoing Hezbollah offensive in Qalamoun has produced a rare abundance of online combat footage showing the party’s fighters battling militants of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and allied factions in the rugged mountain peaks of the strategically located region. Viewing the raw footage leaves an indelible impression of a professional, motivated, well-kitted and disciplined army using an array of weaponry and logistical equipment to prosecute the offensive in the most efficient manner possible.
Israeli military officials have long voiced concern at the valuable lessons Hezbollah’s cadres are learning in the Syria war and how they can be applied to a future conflict between the two enemies.
“We understand that Hezbollah is thinking offensively. It is gaining experience in Syria where it is initiating assaults in built-up areas and attacking cities,” an Israeli army officer told Israeli media last September.
“They are learning about controlling hundreds of fighters, coordinating intelligence, firepower and command and control. This is a serious development that requires us to prepare accordingly.”
The combat footage of the Qalamoun campaign uploaded to the Internet will do little to dispel the concerns of the Israeli army as to Hezbollah’s improving fighting skills.
Hezbollah’s commanders carefully planned the offensive in advance, gathering intelligence on the militants’ deployment using fighters on the ground and pilotless reconnaissance drones, marking the region into operational sectors and amassing the fighters and logistical support necessary for a campaign in remote and largely unpopulated mountainous terrain.
Most of the weapons systems used by Hezbollah, as seen in the combat videos, are standard fare which have stood the test of time from the days of the resistance campaign against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. They include mortars of varying calibers, recoilless rifles, “Dushka” 12.7mm heavy machine guns and anti-tank missiles ranging from the relatively antiquated wire-guided Sagger to more modern systems such as the laser beam-guided Kornet. The Sagger, a 1960s-era missile, has little effect against modern armored vehicles. But the Nusra Front and other militant factions are not operating armored vehicles in the lofty Qalamoun heights which grants the Sagger continued utility when used to target cars or batter the external defenses of outposts. In the 2006 war, a single Sagger missile killed nine Israeli soldiers and wounded 11 when Hezbollah fighters fired it into a house of cinder block walls on the outskirts of Dibil village, where the soldiers were sheltering.
Among other weapons previously used in south Lebanon that have emerged in Qalamoun are 130mm artillery guns (Hezbollah had two in the late 1990s) and 57mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back of trucks and used in a ground role.
Hezbollah is also using some weapons that have been in their possession from before the Syria conflict but were rarely employed. They include sniper rifles such as the 7.62mm Dragunov and what appears to be, in one video at least, one of the variants of the U.S.-made Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle.
Systems that have been acquired by Hezbollah during the Syria war include the GP30 grenade launcher slung beneath the barrel of the standard AK-47 rifle. Since the GP30 emerged onto the arms black market in Lebanon 18 months ago, it has become a prestige acquisition for the discerning rifle owner, fetching around $7,000, more than three times the price of a good quality AK-47, according to arms dealers.Some videos have shown Hezbollah fighters driving T-55 tanks and BMP armored fighting vehicles on loan from the Syrian army. They also have been making use of rocket-assisted mortar rounds that have a relatively short range but pack a powerful punch.
One of the most interesting developments is the tactical use of small short-range micro drones. Several videos feature footage shot by these tiny drones showing Nusra’s positions, moving vehicles or personnel.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station Wednesday broadcast footage of an attack on a building apparently containing Nusra militants. Some of the video appears to have been shot by the small commercially available Phantom series “quadcopter” drones produced by the Chinese company DJI. Its four propellers make a sound like a swarm of angry bees and its range is limited to around 500 meters depending on the model. Nevertheless, in rugged terrain such as Qalamoun’s mountains, these inexpensive (around $900) micro drones grant Hezbollah fighters an over-the-hill or around-the-corner view of their immediate environment. One video shot by a Phantom quadcopter shows explosions on the ground below, suggesting it is being used to direct mortar fire onto positions held by the militants.
Footage of the Hezbollah fighters themselves show them wearing desert camouflage uniforms with military helmets and backpacks carrying all they need to fight in the field, an appearance far-removed from the more rag-tag demeanor of their opponents. They seem to use their weapons efficiently, generally firing machine guns in short bursts and their rifles with single aimed shots while holding the weapon by the magazine rather than the fore grip (a technique typical of Hezbollah fighters on the basis that it makes it easier to maneuver the weapon).Some of the skills Hezbollah is employing in Qalamoun will be irrelevant in the context of a future war with Israel, such as driving tanks and armored vehicles. But other capabilities, such as using the micro drones and rocket-assisted mortars, could find a place in a war against Israel. Most importantly, however, the Hezbollah cadres will have benefitted from combat experience in a wide range of environments, which should give them an edge in close encounters with Israeli troops in south Lebanon or, perhaps, in northern Israel
destined to fail in Qalamoun: Nusra chief
The Daily Star/May. 28, 2015 /BEIRUT: Hezbollah is doomed to fail in Qalamoun and throughout Syria, the leader of the Nusra Front has said, predicting that the Lebanese group would be defeated after the "approaching" downfall of the Syrian government. “The Qalamoun battle is decisive for Hezbollah,” Abu Mohammad al-Golani said in a late-Wednesday interview with Al-Jazeera. He said Hezbollah was intimidating Lebanese and exaggerating the border threat. The Nusra Front is leading a coalition of jihadi groups fighting Hezbollah and the Syrian army in the Qalamoun region on Syria's western border with Lebanon. Golani described Qalamoun as a key region for its entry into Damascus. Golani called on “all political forces in Lebanon to overthrow Hezbollah, which will dissolve after the demise of [Syrian President] Bashar Assad, not a long time from now, [since] the battle is approaching its end.”The Syrian army and Hezbollah launched the battle for Qalamoun earlier this month, capturing dozens of Nusra Front and ISIS bases and driving the jihadis north. Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah vowed in a recent speech that the Qalamoun offensive would push on until Lebanon's eastern border with Syria is secure. Golani, who appeared in a black scarf covering his head, accused ISIS of “stabbing us [Nusra] in the back.”
“They attacked us while we were fighting Hezbollah and Assad’s regime in Qalamoun,” he said. He denied that Nusra was receiving any financial assistance, insisting that his group relies on money coming from businesses in areas under its control. Golani claimed to have documents that prove the U.S. was coordinating airstrikes with the Syrian government against jihadi fighters. He denied that his group would harm religious minorities including Christians, living under their Islamist system once it is established. “Currently, we are fighting those who fight us,” he said. “We will not impose anything on the Christians at present [because] we are not at war with them.” Golani said Druze villages under control of the Nusra Front areas were not harmed.
warning cannot be ignored
Michael Young| The Daily Star/ May. 28, 2015
On Tuesday evening, in an address marking the one-year anniversary since Lebanon has been without a president, Prime Minister Tammam Salam made a perceptive comment.
He warned that the absence of a president had caused damage to the country’s formula of sectarian coexistence, and perhaps even threatened Lebanon’s very existence.
Salam may have missed the point that those blocking an election, or perpetuating that blockage, are uninterested in preserving the system as it is. While Michel Aoun is the official culprit by refusing to authorize his parliamentarians to go to Parliament and elect someone other than him as president, Hezbollah has supported him. It has done so very likely because it wants to see Taif collapse to ensure that Shiites will gain more political power.
With Bashar Assad’s regime looking more vulnerable by the day, Hezbollah’s need to protect its political stakes in Lebanon are rising. For this to happen the party needs to change Taif in such a way as to allow Shiites, and with them Hezbollah, to control a larger share of power in Lebanon’s parliament and government. For many, Hezbollah’s unwillingness to help break the deadlock over the presidency is really aimed at eroding Taif.
Such behavior is driven by a logic of power and sectarian one-upmanship very different from the notions of confessional coexistence and compromise at the heart of Lebanon’s National Pact. Any effort to overhaul the political system to reshape the confessional equilibrium in the interests of one particular sect challenges the principles upon which Lebanon was built.
Lebanon embodies what the author Philip Mansel has called “Levantinism.” He wrote a very uneven book on the subject in 2010, but his introduction provided a valuable rundown of the characteristics of historical Levantine cities (and by extension Levantine countries), particularly the three on which he focused: Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut.
To Mansel, Levantine cities are cities that developed in the eastern Mediterranean on the borderline between the Ottoman Empire and Europe, between East and West. Because such cities were characterized by a mixing of cultures and religions, their essence was cosmopolitanism and flexibility. “They could be escapes from the prisons of nationality and religion. In those cities between worlds, people switched identities as easily as they switched languages,” Mansel wrote. The Levant “put deals before ideals” and stood “for a world of ‘shifts and compromises.’”
These qualities, for qualities they are, were largely abandoned in Smyrna and Alexandria, as both succumbed to the pull of intolerant forms of sectarianism and nationalism. Beirut, despite a 15-year conflict in which the durability of sectarian coexistence was repeatedly put in doubt, nevertheless emerged with it power-sharing system still standing. Lebanon’s war ended with a new sectarian compromise formula, represented by Taif, and, despite the displeasure of some, it has survived. But until when?
Perhaps the better question is why do some societies readily give up on coexistence in favor of ideals of homogeneity that are so much less enriching and interesting? Diversity brings prosperity and the delights of variability. What is particularly desirable in living perpetually with one’s own; with those who think, act, eat and play like us? Familiarity is doubtless less threatening, but it is also devoid of challenges, of anything that is enthralling.
While much of the globe has embraced cultural diversity, the Arab world is a pioneer in the opposite direction. The post-World War I Middle East is being broken apart by societies aspiring to sectarian or ethno-sectarian ministates that stifle all dissimilarity. When, or if, such states are formed and the region is crisscrossed by such dreary entities, then what? Will their ambition be to live in autarky? Surely not. They will be obliged to cooperate with their neighbors, engage in trade, promote cultural interchange, all those things that societies require to develop. In other words these ministates will readily recognize the benefits of interaction with states or societies different than theirs. Why, then, is such diversity acceptable, even desirable, when it occurs outside national borders, but not inside those borders? There are simply no convincing answers.
Which brings us back to Hezbollah and the potential threat it poses to the Taif system. The party is not seeking to create a Shiite ministate in Lebanon, so, publicly, it has not given up on coexistence. But what it is doing may be more pernicious. If it seeks to enhance Shiite power (and defend the interests of its regional sponsor, Iran) Hezbollah risks sawing off the branch of coexistence on which all Lebanese religious communities sit. Once sectarian balance is fiddled with, everyone will want in on the game. Maronites, Sunnis and Druze will also insist that amendments be introduced to the power-sharing system in ways that give them a greater slice of the pie. Such disputes will never bring about a new equilibrium, since no equilibrium exists that can satisfy the contending appetites of all the sects, but they may well destroy the foundations of our political system. There is some resilience left in Lebanese confessional coexistence. One reason the country has been able to avoid the sectarian problems of other Arab states in the past four years is that long ago it recognized the reality of sectarian divisions and built a system to address it. The reflexes of compromise are ingrained in us, regardless of the polarization all around us. Will this spare Lebanon the worst? No one can say. But one thing we must worry about are those parties or sects who, in trying to strengthen themselves unilaterally, bring the edifice of coexistence down on the heads of all Lebanese. Salam is right to be concerned.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.
Presidential vacuum affects social, economic situation
The Daily Star/May. 29, 2015/BEIRUT: The vacuum in the presidency has had numerous socio-economic implications, experts agreed Thursday in a meeting organized by the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform. The vacuum and the extension of Parliament’s mandated term have aggravated the social and economic situation and affected development and economic growth, said Abdo Khatter, the head of the Public High School Teacher’s League, citing the level of unemployment among youth at 34 percent. The vacuum has also impacted foreign and local investment, and discouraged investor confidence, said Fouad Zmokhol, president of the Lebanese Businessmen Association.
denies close links with U.S. at STL
Elise Knutsen/The Daily Star/May. 29, 2015
BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denied suggestions made at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday that his government had collaborated closely with the Americans. Throughout a day and a half of cross-examination, defense counsel Antoine Korkmaz referenced media reports, WikiLeaks documents and Siniora’s own statements to raise questions about the former prime minister’s political allegiances. Korkmaz’s queries focused on the reportedly close partnership between Siniora and U.S. officials in Beirut in the wake of the summer 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. Siniora rebuffed Korkmaz’s claims, however, and described the Americans as “a major power ... but they are not our allies as a political faction or party,” referring to the Future Movement which he leads.
Korkmaz spent a significant amount of time discussing with Siniora the exact words that Hariri had used to describe a fateful meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Over the past few months, a number of Hariri’s political allies have testified that Hariri was threatened by Assad in August 2004 and many have said that meeting marked a steep descent in the relationship between him and the Syrian regime.
But precisely what Assad told Hariri that day remains contested: Those who met with Hariri in the days and hours after his fateful trip to Damascus have offered slightly different descriptions of what Hariri said about the encounter.
Some witnesses testified that Hariri was told that “Assad will break Lebanon on the head of Rafik Hariri,” while others said that Assad threatened to “break Lebanon on the head of [then-French President Jacques] Chirac” who was a close friend and political ally of Hariri.
In court Thursday, Siniora explained that Hariri had recounted the incident in several different ways, all of which he had reported to the investigators.
“Prime Minister Hariri used all of these expressions when he told me what happened,” Siniora testified. The lengthy dissection of this particular exchange between Hariri and Assad echoes the entire tenor of the prosecution’s argument, which has moved ever-closer toward suggesting the Syrian regime’s involvement in Hariri’s assassination. While five Hezbollah members stand accused of plotting the blast that killed Hariri, along with 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005, no Syrians have been charged in relation to the crime.
At the end of his testimony, Siniora was asked about the different facets of Hezbollah. He stated that even during his time as prime minister he had no official estimate as to the number of Hezbollah fighters in the country. Still, he said, “the military wing is very important, if not, the most prominent wing in the whole party.”Next week two individuals who were traveling in Hariri’s convoy at the time of the blast will testify before the U.N.-backed tribunal. Their identities will not be made public.
Outperform the past, don't wait for it
to come back...
Dr. Walid Phares/Facee Book/28.05.15
Often frustrated citizens in Lebanon watch emotional videos from the past and mourn leaders who left this world after they've served the cause they pursued, and died for it. These frustrated citizens then call on these leaders to "come back" and save the country. There need to be a spiritual and mental change in attitude in Lebanon's society. First, these leaders, like all those who left us, aren't coming back. Second if these past leaders can get a message to the frustrated citizens of today, they would ask them to move forward, to learn from the past, to venerate the men and women who sacrificed, but to outperform the departed in the struggle for freedom. Each generation wants the next to do better, not to call on the previous one to come back and finish the job. Those on the other side wants their people to outperform the past not to wait for it to come back...But frustration seems to be a sign of desperation...
Cyprus holds Lebanese man over possible bomb material
Nicosia (AFP) - A Lebanese man holding a Canadian passport was remanded in Cypriot police custody on Thursday after two tonnes of potential bomb-making material was found in his home, police said. They said the man, 26, whose name was not disclosed, appeared in court in the southern resort town of Larnaca for a hearing held behind closed doors "in the interests of national security". The suspect, remanded in custody for eight days, faces possible charges of conspiracy to commit a crime, membership of a terrorist organisation and illegal possession and transfer of explosive materials, police sources said. They said Cypriot police believe this to be one of the biggest seizures of illegal ammonium nitrate anywhere in the world. The man was arrested on Wednesday following a period of surveillance and more than 400 boxes of ammonium nitrate -- a fertiliser that when mixed with other substances can be used to make explosives -- was discovered at his home in Larnaca. The suspect reportedly told police he knew the material was in his basement but claimed it was not his. Police also found 10,000 euros ($10,900) in cash at the house.
Hezbollah in Syria: Plan B or a quagmire?
Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya
Thursday, 28 May 2015
“We will be everywhere in Syria” pledged Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to supporters who had gathered on Sunday to commemorate Lebanon’s 15th “anniversary of liberation” from Israel. But as the war takes a heavier toll on his party, Hezbollah is reaching its limitations in Syria and is risking getting dragged into a quagmire pending a change in calculus and direction.
This month, Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has entered its fourth year while it is still focused on two objectives: the first to protect the Assad regime and maintain the “strategic depth” that it has provided the party since 1982; the second is military in nature - to preserve the supply routes for the party’s weapons shipments from Iran and to prevent the Syrian rebels from infiltrating the border. But these same goals have only been diminished in year four, as the Assad regime loses more territory, Hezbollah’s weapon supplies and fighters becoming increasingly more vulnerable to Israel and Syrian rebels taking the Lebanese border town of Arsal.
The early stages of Hezbollah’s intervention were, by Western intelligence assessments, a game changer for the Assad regime. The party’s skilled and disciplined fighters secured the Qalamoun-Homs-Damascus corridor for Assad, preventing a military collapse of his forces and enabling regime control over the major cities. Politically, Hezbollah, by entering the Syrian war as a juggernaut Shiite militia, also fueled the sectarian strife in the conflict, diminishing the more moderate opposition and giving rise to the extremist Sunni groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and later on, ISIS.
Changing the goals and scope of its mission in Syria is a strategic necessity for Hezbollah if it wants to spare itself from turning this into a quagmire
In marketing the intervention, Hezbollah’s early messages to its allies were a bet on an eventual victory for the regime by regaining full control over its territory and securing the party’s core strength in Lebanon. But as the war of attrition dragged on, and Hezbollah’s own goals of protecting its territory in Lebanon took a hit with car bombs in Bekaa and Dahiye in mid-2013 and early 2014, the party’s logic is being questioned by its supporters. Hezbollah’s rising death toll in Syria beyond the 1,280 fighters it lost in battling the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, is raising questions within its own base on the value of fighting in Syria.
Murmurs of discontent within the Shiite community are also growing from mothers who refuse to send their sons to die in a conflict that has little to do with Hezbollah’s foundational cause of fighting Israel. The funerals of young Hezbollah men who died in Syria echo a sense of anxiety over the war that after three years there is no end in sight. Hezbollah is aware of this discontentment and is trying to overcome it by rallying the base, through labeling voices of dissent as “Shiite of the U.S. embassy,” and threatening mobilization.
As the Assad regime loses territory, and the rebels get a military boost regionally and on the ground, a continued Hezbollah push in Syria along the lines of saving the regime promises the party will become entrenched in a quagmire. It is unrealistic, mathematically and politically, for Hezbollah to win in a war of attrition against the local population, and that on behalf of a minority regime.
To prevent a quagmire, Hezbollah would have to move to Plan B in Syria by scaling down its mission and limiting its goals to defending its home front in Lebanon. Plan B, Faisal Itani of the Atlantic Council tells me, “would be to retreat to the minimum extent of defensible borders and lines of communication that would allow Hezbollah to meet its goals” of preserving the supply routes and “preventing the emergence of a hostile stable government in Syria.”
While Itani sees the current trajectory of Hezbollah’s actions in Syria as somewhere between Plan A and B, there are slim indications that the party might be changing the narrative and the game plan of its mission. In his last meeting with key Lebanese Christian ally Michel Aoun, Nasrallah reportedly emphasized that “it would be impossible to regain back all of Syria.” The goal is still to save the regime, Nasrallah said, although less involvement is seen by Hezbollah in areas such as Idlib and Jisr Shoughour and the now ISIS-held Palmyra. Even in the South, Hezbollah’s offensive has stalled and key border crossings have been relinquished by the regime.
Shifting focus to “the coastal region and the anti-Lebanon mountain chain” says Itani is what Plan B would look like, while ceding territory in the north and the south to the rebels. A senior U.S. official told Al-Hayat newspaper this week that “regional coordination has seen significant improvement on Syria and in terms of training and equipping the rebels.” Such coordination is expected to play out more vigorously in the next months to come especially in southern Syria.
Hezbollah, meanwhile, is focused on securing the border area of Qalamoun. For the third time since the Syrian war started, the party is trying to win its fight in the Qalamoun area which connects Damascus and Homs and gives the rebels border access to Lebanon.
Changing the goals and scope of its mission in Syria is a strategic necessity for Hezbollah if it wants to spare itself from turning this into a quagmire, and further weakening its defenses against Israel. Failing to do so will result in Syria becoming Hezbollah’s muddle, with unpredictable repercussions on the party’s future and the security of Lebanon.
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia cooperate in
case against Hezbollah officials
By JPOST.COM STAFF/05/28/2015 13:22
Lebanon may pursue legal action against two Hezbollah affiliated men blacklisted in Saudi Arabia.
According to Lebanon's Daily Star, on Thursday the Lebanese Interior Minister, Nouhad Machnouk, said that his government "will ask Saudi authorities to provide it with the files of the two Hezbollah officials – Khalil Harb and Mohammad Qabalan – in order to take the local necessary measures.” Beirut and Riyadh are engaged in "full cooperation", he added, after the state-run Saudi Press Agency [SPA] released statements accusing the two men of attempting to recruit fighters on behalf of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and causing "chaos and instability in the Middle East."The SPA specified that Harb was Hezbollah's commander in charge of operations in the Middle East, adding that he is also charged with orchestrating the Iranian backed militia group's operations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia's southern neighbor, where it is currently battling the Houthis, another Iranian proxy. The SPA further identified Qabalan as having been the subject of a 2010 conviction in an Egyptian court, where he was tried in absentia for leading a terrorist cell's targeting of tourist destinations. Riyadh followed up their allegations by freezing the two men's monetary assets and imposing financial sanctions on them. The apparent cooperation between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia roused condemnation from at least one Hezbollah MK in Lebanon's government, who rebuked Riyadh's accusations, saying "the source of terrorism has no right to accuse others of terrorism."
How to postpone the third Lebanon war
Giora Eiland /Ynetnews/Published: 05.26.15/ Israel Opinion
Op-ed: Israel must declare in advance against who it will wage its next war in the north: Not just Hezbollah, but mainly the Lebanese state, its institutions, infrastructures and army.
This week 15 years ago, the IDF pulled out of Lebanon unilaterally. The decision was a correct and brave move by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak. But the policy adopted after the pullout was wrong, and its ramifications in the future are dangerous.
The decision to withdraw was right because there was no reason to stay there at a cost of some 25 dead soldiers a year. Many mistakes were made during the pullout, but they don’t change the fact that, strategically, it was the right move.
Barak's perception was based on receiving international legitimacy, which was indeed received when the IDF withdrew to the line dictated by the United Nations. This is also the point in which the missed opportunity began.
Even before the pullout, the IDF had the legitimacy to fight Hezbollah, a terror organization supported by Syria and Iran. It didn't have to leave Lebanon in order to gain the legitimacy to continue fighting Hezbollah, if the organization continued to target us. The legitimacy gained after we pulled out of Lebanese soil to the very last centimeter was to act against the Lebanese state, if any terror were to be launched against us from within that country. We were wrong not to make that perfectly clear in advance, and were very wrong in the way we managed the Second Lebanon War. We tried to defeat Hezbollah, and we let the Lebanese state, which fully protects Hezbollah, evade any responsibility.
What if the "Third Lebanon War" breaks out tomorrow? If we manage the war the way we managed to previous one, we will bring about a huge disaster. The IDF has allegedly improved since the Second Lebanon War, but on a tactical balance Hezbollah has improved even more. The result of such a war, which may go on for 33 or 50 days, will be much more difficult than the Second Lebanon War. We should acknowledge the fact that the IDF is incapable of beating Hezbollah unless the Israeli home front is willing to pay an intolerable price. The conclusion is clear. If we are fired on from Lebanese territory, and Israel decides to wage a battle, it must declare war on Lebanon and focus its efforts also against Hezbollah but mainly against the Lebanese army, the Lebanese infrastructures and the Lebanese state institutions.
As there is no player in the arena – neither Syria and Iran on the one hand, nor Saudi Arabia and the Western countries on the other hand, nor Hezbollah itself – which is willing to deal with the destruction of the Lebanese state – the result of an Israeli attack on Lebanon will likely be an urgent call by everyone for a ceasefire. A ceasefire after three days rather than after 33 days is both the way to win the next war and to recreate effective deterrence.
Some say that "the world won't let us do it." That's an incorrect statement. The international community won't tell us to stop firing on the one hand, and tell Hezbollah that it may continue on the other hand. The international community will call on all sides to hold fire at the same time, and the sooner it happens, the more the balance will be in favor of Israel. Moreover, the most efficient way to postpone the third Lebanon war is to state in advance how and against who it will be waged. The moment fire is opened, it is no longer possible to start explaining the new policy. That's the main lesson from the past 15 years. Israel should always favor war (or an agreement) with a state player rather than with a terror organization. This statement applies to Lebanon, and it applies just as much to Gaza.
**Major-General (res.) Giora Eiland is a former head of Israel's National Security Council.
Filling the Vacuum in Syria, Islamic
State, Al-Nusra Front, and Hezbollah
Yaakov Lappin/Gatestone Institute
May 28, 2015
The idea that, because Sunni and Shi'ite elements are locked in battle with one another today, they will not pose a threat to international security tomorrow, is little more than wishful thinking.
The increased Iranian-Hezbollah presence needs to be closely watched.
A policy of turning a blind eye to the Iran-led axis, including Syria's Assad regime, appears to be doing more harm than good.
As the regime of Bashar Assad continues steadily to lose ground in Syria; and as Assad's allies, Iran and Hezbollah, deploy in growing numbers to Syrian battlegrounds to try to stop the Assad regime's collapse, the future of this war-torn, chaotic land looks set to be dominated by radical Sunni and Shi'ite forces.
The presence of fundamentalist Shi'ite and Sunni forces fighting a sectarian-religious war to the death is a sign of things to come for the region: when states break down, militant entities enter to seize control. The idea that, because Sunni and Shi'ite elements are locked in battle with one another today, they will not pose a threat to international security tomorrow, is little more than wishful thinking.
The increased presence of the radicals in Syria will have a direct impact on international security, even though the West seems more fixated on looking only at threats posed by the Islamic State (ISIS), and disregards the possibly greater threat posed by the Iranian-led axis. It is Iran that is at the center of the same axis, so prominent in entangling Syria.
The threat from ISIS in Syria and Iraq to the West is obvious: Its successful campaigns and expanding transnational territory is set to become an enormous base of jihadist international terrorist activity, a launching pad for overseas attacks, and the basis for a propaganda recruitment campaign.
It has already become a magnet for European Muslim volunteers. Their return to their homes as battle-hardened jihadists poses a clear danger to those states' national security.
Yet the threat from the Iranian-led axis, highly active in Syria, is more severe. With Iran, a threshold nuclear regional power, as its sponsor, this axis plans to subvert and topple stable Sunni governments in the Middle East and attack Israel. Iran's axis also has its sights set on eventually sabotaging the international order, to promote Iran's "Islamic revolution."
This is the axis upon which the Assad regime has become utterly dependent for its continued survival.
Today, the radical, caliphate-seeking Sunni organization, ISIS, controls half of Syria, while hardline Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah units can be found everywhere in Syria, together with their sponsors, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) personnel, fighting together with the Assad regime's beleaguered and worn-out military forces.
The increased Iranian-Hezbollah presence needs to be closely watched. According to international media reports, an IRGC-Hezbollah convoy in southern Syria, made up of senior operatives involved in the setting up of a base designed to launch attacks on the Golan Heights, was struck and destroyed by Israel earlier this year. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan too has reason to be concerned.
Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah fighters are deeply involved in Syria's civil war. (Image source: Hezbollah propaganda video)
Syria has become a region into which weapons, some highly advanced, flow in ever greater numbers, allowing Hezbollah to acquire guided missiles, and allowing ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front to add to their growing stockpile of weaponry.
Iran, North Korea forging ballistic,
nuclear ties, dissidents claim
An exiled Iranian opposition group said on Thursday a delegation of North Korean experts in nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles visited a military site near Tehran in April amid talks between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program.
The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) exposed Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak in 2002. But analysts say it has a mixed track record and a clear political agenda. Iran says allegations of nuclear bomb research are baseless and forged by its enemies.
Iran and six world powers are trying to meet a self-imposed June 30 deadline to reach a comprehensive deal, but issues remain including the monitoring and verification measures to ensure Iran could not pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Citing information from sources inside Iran, including within Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Paris-based NCRI said the seven person North Korean Defense Ministry team were in Iran for the last week of April. It was the third time in 2015 that North Koreans had been to Iran and a nine person delegation was due to return in June, it said.
"The delegates included nuclear experts, nuclear warhead experts and experts in various elements of ballistic missiles including guidance systems," NCRI said.
There have previously been unconfirmed reports of ties between the two countries on ballistic missile cooperation, although nothing specific in the nuclear field.
The UN Panel of Experts that monitors compliance with sanctions on North Korea has reported in the past that Pyongyang and Tehran were regularly exchanging ballistic missile technology in violation of UN sanctions.
The NCRI said the North Korean delegation was taken secretly to the Imam Khomenei complex, a site controlled by the Defense Ministry, east of Tehran. It gave detailed accounts of locations and who the officials met.
It said the delegation dealt with the Center for Research and Design of New Aerospace Technology, a unit of nuclear weaponisation research and planning center called the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), which is under United States sanctions. NCRI said the unit researches and manufactures interior parts of nuclear warheads.
Reuters could not independently verify the allegations.
"Tehran has shown no interest in giving up its drive to nuclear weapons. The weaponisation program is continuing and they have not slowed down the process," NCRI spokesman Shahin Gobadi said.
UN watchdog the IAEA, which for years has been investigating alleged nuclear arms research by Tehran, declined to comment. Iranian officials declined to comment. North Korean officials were not available for comment.
Several Western officials said they were not aware of a North Korean delegation traveling to Iran recently.
North Korean and Iranian officials meet regularly in general diplomatic activity, although on April 23, Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held a rare meeting on the sidelines of the Asian-African summit in Jakarta.
Former US peace negotiator: Obama’s
errors have distanced peace
By GIL HOFFMAN/J.Post/05/28/2015
US President Barack Obama has made errors in his efforts to advance a diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians that have prevented an agreement from being reached, Clinton administration peace negotiator Dennis Ross said Tuesday.
Speaking to the Jerusalem-based English talk radio network VoiceofIsrael.com, Ross gave Obama credit for advancing Israel’s security but said Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would be more sensitive to both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He echoed Clinton’s criticism of Obama’s approach on settlements.
“Insisting on a complete freeze, including natural growth, established an objective that no Israeli government had carried out,” Ross said. “Creating a standard that couldn’t be achieved gave the Palestinians an excuse to sit back and do nothing and say, Until you deliver that, there is nothing for us to do. That put us on the wrong path. I think it was a mistake, and it made it very difficult to do very much on the peace process.”
Ross also had criticism for Obama’s attempt at outreach to Israelis last week via a speech at a Washington synagogue and an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. He explained how the outreach could have been more effective.
“Obama would become more convincing if his questions on how to pursue peace wouldn’t focus so much on Israel,” Ross said. “If one is going to raise questions on why we don’t have peace at this point, the criticism has to be directed toward both sides. It can’t be directed only toward the Israelis. There can’t be questions only about Israeli responsibilities when there’s no reference to Palestinian responsibilities. Had the president reflected more on that in his comments, it would have resonated more here. If you look at the comments, they tend to be focused only on what Israel can do, not what the Palestinians can do or haven’t done.”
Ross said Obama could have noted that Israel had made three significant efforts to pursue peace since 2000, and in each case the Palestinians rejected or didn’t respond to them.
On the Iranian issue, Ross, who was an envoy for Obama on Iran, suggested that the Iran deal being worked on should have provided more of a stick if it was violated.
“If we saw Iran moving to a nuclear weapon, it could trigger the use of force, or Israel could receive capabilities that would allow it to use force,” he suggested.
Ross is co-chairman of the board of the Jewish People’s Policy Institute.
He helped lead a discussion at JPPI’s conference in Glen Cove, New York, last week on the future of the relationship of Israel, the US government and American Jewry.
The JPPI recommended being inclusive of all streams in the US Jewish community, especially at a time when there is an effort to delegitimize Israel.
Ross advised including those who have an attachment to Israel but are critical.
Ross said building only in settlement blocs could help persuade the international community that Israel’s policies are consistent with a two-state solution.
He said it could also harm the efforts to boycott, divest from, or place sanctions on, Israel.
“The problem at this point is the perception internationally that Israel is building everywhere in a way that suggests they are not committed to a twostate outcome,” Ross said. “The BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement tries to hide their real purpose, which is that there be no Israel. They use settlements as a mask to hide that goal. If you take away their mask, it gets harder to sustain the movement.”
Lebanon should restore presidential power
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor/Al Arabiya
Thursday, 28 May 2015
Too many cooks spoil the broth and that is exactly why Lebanon is in a state of paralysis. It has been more than a year since President Michel Suleiman left office and because there is no agreement on a successor, politicians engage in endless horse-trading. This is not the way a country should be run. This is not democracy or a system benefitting the people; it is a grand power souk permitting politicians to hold on to their chairs in what has become a virtual old boys’ club; a place where fresh ideas are not welcome because they are all terrified of rocking a boat so rickety it is a miracle it has not sunk. Moreover, while most are aware that the confessional system inherited from the French is antiquated and failing to deliver the best man for the job, there is no will to change it out of fear they will lose their own jobs.
There is no comparison between Lebanon today and its golden era when President Fouad Chehab, a man with principles and integrity, held a tight rein on his country. He is remembered with fondness to this day as working to bring harmony between different sects and security for all. He not only steered Lebanon’s transformation into a modern state that was the envy of the region, he improved the economy, forged close relationships with Arab states and he strengthened the country’s security apparatus to keep foreign interference at bay. In recent decades, career politicians and relics from the military have consistently let down the Lebanese people
Chehab never played the sectarian game; he was truly a president for Muslims and Christians. Unlike those clinging on to their chairs like leeches, President Chehab declined to run for re-election in 1964. His inclusive policies were continued by his successor, Charles Helou, until 1970 when he lost the election to Suleiman Franjieh.
In the early 1970s, Lebanon was a heaven on earth in every respect. Visitors flocked there from all over the world, awed by its atmosphere of prosperity, culture and sophistication. Hotels and restaurants were full. Businesses expanded. In short, the Lebanese people were united, proud and happy in “The Paris of the Middle East” infused with a spirit of gaiety and entrepreneurship.
In 1970, Lebanon’s literacy rate was the highest of all Arab countries. Today it has fallen below that of Jordan, Libya, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar. The Lebanese pound exchange rate then hovered around LBP 2 to the dollar as opposed to the current average of LBP 1,500. Then its GDP ranked 73rd in the world; in 2014 it had descended to 138th.
Those were the days
Those were the days when Lebanon boasted the region’s most dynamic economy fuelled by a strong banking system and a balance of payment surpluses, low inflation and stability enticing foreign corporations, international businesses and banks. In 1975, public debt was a mere three per cent of GDP but by 1990 that percentage had soared to 99.8 percent. Last year, the government recorded a public debt accounting for 146 percent of GDP.
Lebanon flowered when Christian presidents and leaders who were not afraid to administer tough love, had absolute control, as evidenced by the above statistics. But no statistic can reflect those glory days as effectively as anecdotes from those old enough to remember just how wonderful it was.
The civil war, sparked when violent clashes broke out between Maronite Christian and Palestinian groups in 1975, thrust the country into bloodshed and a downward spiral from which it still has not fully recovered. Franjieh’s greatest mistake was to allow Syrian troops to bring calm. The forces sent to save Lebanon soon morphed into occupiers.
Scratch the surface and you will see an impotent government that is little more than an elaborate show hiding a maelstrom of competing sectarian interests. Not a single politician is courageous enough to put his country first. No one speaks the truth, except behind closed doors. And almost all make obeisance to the hand that rocks the Lebanese cradle – Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, whose marching orders come directly from Qom. Lebanon’s politicians, out of cowardice and selfishness have collaborated with Hezbollah in turning their homeland over to Iran.
The restructuring of Lebanon’s political system subsequent to ‘the National Reconciliation Accord’ negotiated in the city of Taif, Saudi Arabia and signed in October 1989 brought with it devastating unintended consequences. Authority was partially stripped from the president so as to empower the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament. Instead of answering to the president, the prime minister came under the direction of squabbling lawmakers, which is why the country is gridlocked. Taif did not bring about national reconciliation, other than on paper. It heralded rule by committee, whose members hold wildly divergent world views. Each bloc drags the country in different directions and neither the president nor the prime minister has any real authority.
Unfortunately, the only part of the Taif Accord that was implemented was political restructuring. One of its most important components, the disarmament of militias, was ignored by Hezbollah that falsely branded itself as ‘the Lebanese resistance’. If that were so, then what is it doing defending the Assad regime in Syria and fighting alongside Shiite militias in Iraq and reportedly backing the Houthis in Yemen?
Lebanon’s future whether politically, economically and socially, looks bleak without a strongman, a charismatic figure able to take needed tough decisions; someone with the ability to coalesce the nation behind him. Lebanon must be taken in hand by a patriotic leader able to unite all citizens under the Cedar flag rather than religious standards or the flags of other nations.
As we age, we like to talk nostalgically about ‘the good old days’ when in most cases, we enjoy superior lifestyles. For instance, when I compare the conditions of my home country, the UAE during my youth and now, there is no contest. But it is a different story for the Lebanese. Life really was genuinely much better in the 50s, 60s and early 70s than today when the presidency was not as restricted as it is today.
Chehab, Helou and Franjieh were empowered to respond to all contingencies. They could think on their feet and act fast, without having to plead for parliament’s permission to do the right thing in any given circumstance. I was one of the lucky ones who knew Lebanon in its heyday. I know first-hand how amazing it was and, therefore, what it could become again, provided there was sufficient political will to reform the system.
Because I know what could be, my wonderful memories are now tainted by annoyance at the status quo in the same way a parent feels when he sees his beloved child going down a wrong path. I have no words to evoke ‘my Lebanon’ which exists only in poetry, song and old movies. As long as there is nobody in charge, the country will remain in a state of flux without direction, jogging along on a wing and a prayer. The antidote is the return of power to a president untainted by corruption scandals and with a reputation of operating in accordance with his personal ethics, not a man willing to switch sides for a handful of carrots.
Most importantly, he should be someone with proven patriotic credentials; a person whose love of his country’s soil is beyond dispute. He should be chosen to lead because of his character attributes, not just because he happens to be a Maronite from a well-known family or he served in the army or his father once held a prominent position in government. The Lebanese thirst for a leader with a successful track record, capable of satisfying their craving for security, stability and economic health; someone they can trust.
In recent decades, career politicians and relics from the military have consistently let down the Lebanese people, so I would argue that now is the time to look over their shoulders for candidates at the top of their respective fields be they captains of industry, business moguls or technocrats either resident in the country or drawn from the diaspora. Beirut may have undergone a glitzy transformation clawing back some of its fabled glamour, but without firm political foundations, a solid economy, and leadership that is not reliant upon consensus, the country is a house of cards vulnerable to being collapsed by a gust of wind in a region fraught with tornadoes of threats. Rescuing Lebanon is bigger than a mere figurehead president or a prime minister engaged with currying parliament’s favor. It needs a man with muscle and the wisdom to know when to flex it.
Washington’s courtier culture leads to
David Ignatius| The Daily Star/ May. 28, 2015
Secretaries of state have had private contacts since the job was created, so it’s a mistake to get too indignant about Hillary Clinton’s email exchanges about Libya with her longtime friend, Sidney Blumenthal. Still, these messages offer some useful insights about the court politics of Washington, and the way policymaking can be overwhelmed by trivia and personal puffery.
Try reading these messages not as a catalog of scandal (which doesn’t appear to be there) but as fragments of an epistolary novel of Imperial Washington, written in the modern genre of email. There’s a faint echo of Anthony Trollope in the revelations of petty plots, coy flattery and bids for influence. The fact that Libya, the nominal subject of most of the messages, is going down the drain is almost an afterthought.
The central characters in this palace intrigue are Clinton and Blumenthal, her Svengali-like confidant since the 1990s who is referred to in these documents as “HRC friend,” “HRC Contact” and “Friend of S [for Secretary].” He had been shut out of a State Department job by the White House in 2009 but continued his friendship with Clinton and saw her occasionally. “Post-election, we’d like to have you over for dinner. Bill can come, too ...,” reads one message.
Blumenthal didn’t offer policy prescriptions so much as a running chronicle of the political machinations in Libya and the deteriorating security situation there. This gossip is dressed up with attributions to “an extremely sensitive source,” “a particularly sensitive source,” and the like.Blumenthal’s missives on Libya appear to be mostly repackaged information from a former CIA officer named Tyler Drumheller, who is now part of Alphom Group, one of the many consulting firms in Washington that employ former spooks to harvest their old contacts for salable information. A principal of Alphom told me that Blumenthal had approached Drumheller and said his friend Clinton was “looking for information” about Libya.
That prompts the first observation about these emails: There is something heady about proximity to power. You can almost hear Blumenthal and the others confiding: “I was just talking to the secretary and she said ...”
The suggestion of high-level connections is conveyed by the email moniker Blumenthal used: “sbwhoeop.” The “sb” part is obvious, but non-Washingtonians may not realize that “who” and “eop” are included in official email addresses for White House staffers in the Executive Office of the President.
A top adviser to another former Obama administration Cabinet secretary said his boss received many similar transmissions from old friends – mostly harmless, a few real nuisances, a few gems of real information. Cabinet secretaries arrive with “a lifetime of well-wishers and hangers-on,” this former official notes. The old friends dispense advice, unbidden; staffers check out the tips and usually toss them in the trash.
Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA and author of “The Great War of Our Time,” says that Blumenthal’s missives never came to the attention of senior agency personnel, and never got into the paper flow of the National Security Council. That’s good, given that it was the CIA’s job to report on Libya, for real.
But the Blumenthal papers were taken seriously at State. Clinton sent them on to her overworked aide, Jake Sullivan, with such notations as “Useful insight, pls circulate,” or “very interesting,” or in one instance, “We should get this around asap.”
Sullivan duly read the missives. What’s mildly troubling is that in several instances he asked senior State Department officers to respond, at a time when they were super-busy with real events in Libya.
But helping and flattering the secretary were part of the job. When she gave a speech or an interview, aides chimed in with compliments such as “pitch perfect,” or “powerful presence,” or “wonderful.” Praise came even from a top aide to Sen. John McCain, who wrote of a “wonderful, strong and moving statement” on Benghazi in an email slugged: “Wow.”
These memos recall other dubious back channels involving oil-rich Middle East nations. Libya snared President Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy as an emissary in the late-1970s. The Iran-contra scandal began in 1985 with an Iranian information peddler named Manucher Ghorbanifar, whom the CIA dubbed a “fabricator” but the White House embraced, anyway.
The danger of Washington’s courtier ethos is that it can lead to bad policy, or no policy. You can’t escape the feeling that Clinton and her aides were passing around Blumenthal’s emails when they should have been framing a better plan to deal with Libya’s disintegration.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.