April 22/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 6,16-21. When it was evening, his disciples went down to the sea,
embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum. It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. But he said to them, "It is I. Do not be afraid."They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading.

Free Opinions
Analyzing Syria's Intentions.Christian Broadcasting Network. April 22/07
The US breaks out of its Middle Eastern isolation.David Ignatius. April 22/07
British Minister Fails the War of Ideas.By Terresa Monroe-Hamilton. April 22/07

The Party of God.Washington Post.By Augustus Richard Norton. April 22/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for April 22/07
Michel: U.N. 'Will Push Through Hariri Tribunal'-Naharnet
U.S. to 'Find Other Way' to Set up Tribunal-Naharnet
Cabinet Authorizes Saniora to Send 2nd Letter on Tribunal to U.N.-Naharnet
Putin to Saniora: We Will Continue to Provide Support to Reach Settlement. Naharnet
Malaysia Considers Extending Peacekeepers' Mission. Naharnet

UN “will push through Hariri tribunal”: law officer.Khaleej Times
UN presses Lebanon on Hariri court.Gulf Times
Syria and Hariri Probe.Arab News
Malaysia wants to extend UN mission in Lebanon.Khaleej Times
Hizbullah official: We don't need arms from Syria.Jerusalem Post
US wants to dramatically boost reconstruction aid for Lebanon.Ya Libnan
Nip'n'tuck loans offer in Lebanon.BBC News

Latest News Reports From The Daily Star for April 21/07
Michel insists UN not seeking to 'impose' tribunal on Lebanon
Lebanon's Cabinet mulls sending second petition to UN on Hariri court.

Deadlock of months stems from decades-old flaws
Fadlallah: Lebanese 'addicted' to 'foreign forces
US candidate croons 'bomb, bomb, bomb' Iran
Fadlallah: Lebanese 'addicted' to 'foreign forces'
Belgian crown prince unveils memorial for peacekeepers killed in road accident
Syrian opposition calls for elections boycott
Rice may hold talks with Iran, Kuwait plans for war
Bush claims 'direction' in Iraq 'beginning to shift'

Michel insists UN not seeking to 'impose' tribunal on Lebanon
Legal adviser denies being asked to push for chapter 7 status
By Hani M. Bathish -Daily Star staff
Saturday, April 21, 2007
BEIRUT: The top legal adviser at the United Nations has signaled that the world body will not "impose" on Lebanon an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri and denied that he had declared a deadline for Lebanon to ratify the court. Nicholas Michel, who is scheduled to leave Lebanon on Saturday after a five-day visit, urged the Lebanese to solve problems related to the court's formation themselves, saying he hoped his efforts to bridge the political divide bear fruit.
At a news conference held at the Grand Serail on Friday, Michel urged all parties to continue to search for a solution to the crisis and expressed confidence that the tribunal can still be ratified by Parliament.
Prior to his conference, Michel met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain al-Tineh, accompanied by the UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Geir Pedersen. It was the second meeting between Michel and Berri since the former arrived in Lebanon.
Michel denied media reports published Friday that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had requested that he ask the UN Security Council to establish the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would eliminate the need for approval from the Lebanese legislature.
"This completely contradicts my mission, I did not discuss it nor was I asked about it," Michel said.
Michel told reporters he will likely submit a detailed report on his trip to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon next week, stressing that Ban will receive a summary of his findings before the secretary general arrives in Damascus on April 24.
Michel said establishing the tribunal is "a step to ending Lebanon's tragic history of political assassinations" without culprits being brought to justice. "Lasting peace can only be achieved if justice is done," the UN envoy said.
Michel said Hizbullah supported the tribunal but had concerns it would be biased. The UN official stressed that the tribunal would be established "in accordance with the highest judicial standards."
Asked if he was optimistic about the future of Lebanon, Michel said, "I think confidence exists and there are good intentions. I am certain on this basis dialogue can be productive. We have put forward some ideas and we hope matters move ahead arriving finally to an agreement."
Michel also met with the International Independent Investigation Commission probing the Hariri assassination and met with a representative of the families of other victims of the February 2005 bombing attack. He spoke by phone with majority leader MP Saad Hariri.
Meanwhile, Siniora accused the opposition of pushing "the world" toward establishing the tribunal under Chapter 7.
In an interview with Iranian daily Etimad Mali published on Friday, Siniora was quoted as wondering why the opposition "and its backers" were pushing the world to a "danger point."
"The opposition refuses to hand in their observations on the tribunal, and they forbid us from resorting to Chapter 7, yet they tell us if we resort to Chapter 7 we are responsible for starting a civil war," the premier was quoted as saying. "I say the one responsible for a civil war is the one who hinders the possibility of meeting and starting dialogue to find a solution to the problem."
Siniora added that the tribunal was a "Lebanese cause, a just cause and a moral issue first and foremost."
The Lebanese have suffered 30 years of assassinations without knowing who carried them out, he said.
"[The opposition] say they do not want to politicize the tribunal, but when they tell me that changing the government is a prerequisite to discussing the tribunal, this means they are politicizing the issue," Siniora said.
The premier quoted the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as having once said that "he wanted to defeat America in Lebanon."
"I don't mind America being defeated; let it be," Siniora said. "But who told [Khamenei] that Lebanon is a battlefield. If his goal is to defeat America, he is welcome to do so anywhere he likes. Lebanon is not the place for it."
The prime minister added that Arabs and Iranians shared a common history and geography, as well as common interests and future, and that it was not in the interest of the Arabs to have Iran as an enemy. "No one can change geography. We can be enemies with a nation in the middle of the Pacific, as separating us are thousands of miles, but our neighbor we see in the morning and in the evening," Siniora said. The premier dismissed accusations from Hizbullah that the government was following American dictates. "All this time we sat and worked together [with Hizbullah] as brothers and fellow countrymen, and now they treat us based on what others have said and what the foreigner says," Siniora said. Separately, a UN spokesperson in New York told The Daily Star that UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larson's latest report on the implementation of Resolution 1559, which had been expected to be released on Thursday, had been postponed until after Ban returns from Syria next week.
UN Resolution 1559, issued in September 2004, calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, among other things. - With agencies

Fadlallah: Lebanese 'addicted' to 'foreign forces'
Daily Star staff
Saturday, April 21, 2007
BEIRUT: Three of the country's leading religious leaders jumped into the political fray on Friday, denouncing foreign interference and the absence of national unity in Lebanon. Senior Shiite cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said the Lebanese had given up control of their own affairs and "merely following up on foreign stands taken by regional and international forces ... planning to use the Lebanese arena to serve their strategic interests."
In his weekly Friday sermon at the Imam Hassanayn Mosque in Haret Hreik, Fadlallah accused the Lebanese of being "addicted to their commitment to foreign forces, despite their personal interests."
"The issue is that the Lebanese are doing nothing but waiting for the US-monitored international community to take a certain stand," the cleric added.
"The problem is that there is not a Constitutional Council to look into political and administrative issues in a scientific way ... because the current tense atmosphere has frozen it," he said. Fadlallah bemoaned the fact that political differences between the ruling coalition and the opposition have become "a legal and constitutional debate over the issues of presidential elections, parliamentary elections, the government's constitutionality ... analyses launched by this or that party are stirring up the current situation."
"What we fear is that Lebanese politicians will fail to reach an agreement on one nation in the face of calls to sow divisions and federalism in the country," he added. Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir stressed that presidential elections must be held "on time."
"The prelate will deploy all efforts to ensure that a new president will be elected at the end of President Emile Lahoud's mandate," former minister Wadih Khazen quoted Sfeir as saying after a meeting in Bkirki on Friday.
"Sfeir is keen on preserving the top post due to its impact on the national level, and the Christian one in particular," Khazen added.
Khazen also relayed the prelate's displeasure with the economic crisis in Lebanon. "Should the Lebanese be left struggling in such deteriorating economic conditions or should officials deploy strenuous efforts to reach political and economic solutions as soon as possible?" the former minister quoted Sfeir as asking. Sfeir met later Friday with Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan, who said that an international tribunal to try those accused of the murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri would be "passed in the United Nations ... though the opposition has tried to hamper its creation."
"Approving the court under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter will have no effect on the core of its makeup," Adwan added.
Stressing the need to replace Lahoud, Adwan stopped just short of announcing the candidacy of LF leader Samir Geagea for the post. "The LF candidate [for the presidency] is the one who has clear stands regarding Hizbullah's weapons ... who is capable of speaking honestly about the demarcation of the Lebanese border with Syria and the building of diplomatic ties with it," Adwan said. "Our candidate is the one who refuses to allow Syria and Iran to use Lebanon in order to get better negotiations with Israel," he said. "Geagea undoubtedly has all those qualifications," he added.
In other comments, Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said Lebanon is witnessing "political extremism, which is worse than religious extremism."
"The current political extremism may have negative repercussions on religious and sectarian feelings ... which is unacceptable," he told Kuwaiti daily Al-Anbaa in an article to be published Saturday. "If political strife ignites today, it will only take a few months to burn the whole country, not 16 years," Qabbani added, in reference to the Civil War. - The Daily Star

Belgian crown prince unveils memorial for peacekeepers killed in road accident
By Mohammed Zaatari -Daily Star staff
Saturday, April 21, 2007
SOUTH LEBANON: Belgian Crown Prince Philippe met with his country's contingent of UN peacekeepers in Southern Lebanon on Friday. Philippe met early Friday with Italian Major General Claudio Graziano, the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), at the organization's headquarters in Naqoura. He then flew by helicopter to the headquarters of the Belgian contingent of 375 peacekeepers serving with UNIFIL in the town of Tibnin, where he observed mine-clearance operations.
He was accompanied by Belgian Defense Minister Andre Flahaut and a number of officials from the Belgian Embassy.
"There are 869 mine fields between the villages of Tibnin and Baraasheet," a Belgian officer charged with monitoring clearing operations told the visiting prince. "We have de-mined 400 fields where several types of shells and cluster bombs have been left by the Israeli soldiers," the officer said.
The crown prince unveiled a memorial stone in Tibnin to honor three Belgian peacekeepers killed in March in a car accident in the village of Kfar Shouba, in the presence of Lebanese Army Commander General Michel Suleiman.
The names of three soldiers were engraved on the stone, along with the words "for the sake of peace." The families of the three soldiers also attended the ceremony. Suleiman decorated the family members with honorary Lebanese medals, while Graziano presented them with memorial shields.
Phillipe met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Thursday. He left Lebanon later Friday. Flahaut and the families of the three Belgian soldiers unveiled another memorial stone in Kfar Shouba on Thursday to honor the fallen peacekeepers. Four Belgian peacekeepers have been wounded clearing mines in Southern Lebanon since the summer 2006 war with Israel. - With Agencies

Karami tells Geagea not to 'set foot in Tripoli'
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Former Premier Omar Karami lashed out at Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, vowing not to allow him to "set foot in Tripoli." Speaking during a ceremony held in Tripoli on Thursday evening to mark the opening of the Karami Center for Social Services, Karami said he refused to allow anyone to call Geagea "a spokesperson for the Sunnis." "Let everyone shut up if Samir Geagea is to speak in the name of Sunnis," he said.

Road-safety groups call for new national direction
By Nour Samaha -Daily Star staff
Saturday, April 21, 2007
BEIRUT: The Youth Association for Social Awareness (YASA) hosted a conference on Friday to kick off a national summit on road safety. Held in conjunction with the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the United Nations, the conference at UNESCO headquarters urged the government to make road safety a priority for Lebanon. The conference was attended by Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa, deputies Pierre Dakkash and Mohammad Qabbani, the head of the Council of Development and Reconstruction, Nabil Jisr, and ISF chief Ashraf Rifi.
The head of YASA International, Mona Akl, said her organization would soon open three new branches in Lebanon, in Zouk Mousbeh, Alma Chaab and Hamra. The organization is also planning to revamp its Web site.
"We are also launching a book, YASA en mouvement," she said, which will highlight the reforms necessary to ensure road safety.
In addition to the safety awareness campaign, which was timed to coincide with the UN Global Road Safety Week, YASA is launching a national campaign to promote children's rights in conjunction with the Social Affairs Ministry and the European Union.
"We are hoping that this campaign will be included within the Lebanese educational system," Akl said.
YASA, again in coordination with the ISF and road safety advocacy group Kunhadi, will soon introduce television commercials aimed at encouraging motorists to drive more carefully.
Leaflets, brochures and posters have also been printed by each group to promote safe driving and alert the public to chilling statistics, such as the fact that 1.2 million people are killed every year around the world in traffic accidents, with over 20 million seriously injured.
YASA has produced its own guide to driving, "The Driver Guide: An Empowering Tool for Drivers," which aims at putting the reader in the driver's seat to learn how to handle various driving situations. The organization hopes the safety guidelines will be included in driving lessons.
Jisr told participants in the conference on Friday that he was planning to implement an "urban transport development project" in late April, in coordination with YASA International and the ISF. The project hopes to reduce traffic congestion on main arteries across the country, "as well as introducing parking meters on roadsides and setting up traffic lights at another 220 crossroads," Jisr said.
"Public awareness requires the development of traffic laws and the insurance of infrastructure," he added. "It also requires a determination by people to implement those morals and cooperate with the relevant official and civil sectors."
Jisr said that teaching youths how to drive should be part of the national curriculum. Qabbani, the chairman of the parliamentary committee for public works and transport, said that without the necessary tools and education, the roads and their users are driving "with a license to kill."

The US breaks out of its Middle Eastern isolation
By David Ignatius - Daily Star staff
Saturday, April 21, 2007
For the past few years, the United States has been in a self-imposed diplomatic isolation in the Middle East. But two paths out of that wilderness are becoming visible, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is moving cautiously down each one. The first path leads toward a regional solution to the nightmare problem of Iraq. Rice will take a crucial step next month when she meets with foreign ministers of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria. This regional conference, which will take place May 3-4 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, follows a preliminary meeting last month in Baghdad that ended the US diplomatic quarantine of Iran and Syria.
As she prepares for this "Iraq neighbors" meeting, Rice has been gathering advice from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, among others. Kissinger advised her to go in a "listening mode," rather than with a detailed American proposal for how the neighbors should cooperate. "Just let it happen," Kissinger is said to have urged. "Let it evolve."
Kissinger argued that at the regional gathering, Rice should seek bilateral meetings with her Iranian and Syrian counterparts, and she isn't ruling out such contacts. The agenda would probably focus on three issues that were highlighted at the preliminary meeting: borders, refugees and internal security. Her aim will be to test the proposition that none of Iraq's neighbors has an interest in seeing that nation destroyed by its present internal strife.
Rice also hopes to make a diplomatic effort to defuse growing tensions between Turkey and Iraq's Kurdish region. She appears concerned that recent threats by Turkish and Kurdish officials could bring a wider crisis in northern Iraq if the situation isn't checked.
Kissinger sees a broader, three-level process of negotiations emerging on Iraq: The first level is the political dialogue taking place inside Iraq, even as the car bombs continue to explode; the second is the regional process embodied by the May meeting in Egypt; the third is gathering a wider group of interested Third World nations - perhaps including India, Indonesia and Pakistan - that could help stabilize Iraq as US military forces are gradually withdrawn.
A second diplomatic path for Rice involves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the festering wound that has afflicted the Middle East for 40 years. Here, as with Iraq, she is embracing a strategy of diplomatic engagement that the Bush administration long resisted. Indeed, in her effort to regain an honest-broker role, she has been willing to meet with Palestinian officials despite Israeli objections.
Rice took a small step this week by meeting with Salam Fayyad, the finance minister of the Palestinian "unity government" that is dominated by the militant group Hamas. She appears hopeful that ways can be found to resume US financial aid to the Palestinians through Fayyad, in his role as a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, despite a formal ban on assistance to the Hamas-led government.
Israel had argued strenuously against such contacts. But Rice decided she would meet with Palestinian ministers if their past statements accepted Israel's right to exist in peace. Rice may expand her contacts to other Palestinian officials who meet that criterion, including Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr and Tourism Minister Khulud Dueibess. This outreach reflects Rice's decision that it's more important for the US to have influence within the Hamas-led government and the Palestinian community than to avoid any hint of indirect contact with the militant Islamic group.
Meanwhile, Rice continues a dual-track diplomatic negotiation she describes with the somewhat nebulous phrase of "the political horizon." In practice, that has meant pushing Israelis and Palestinians to discuss details for administering the Palestinian state everyone says they want in principle. The first negotiating session last week discussed such practical issues as how Palestinians would get permits to work in Israel, if there were two states; more such technical talks are planned on security, border controls and other issues.
A promising new Arab initiative is broadening this path out of the Israeli-Palestinian wilderness. With Rice's encouragement, Arab countries this week agreed to establish a working group to present details of Saudi King Abdullah's 2002 peace plan to the Israelis. So far, the group includes only Jordan and Egypt, two countries that already have diplomatic relations with Israel. But there's hope the group will expand if negotiations over the Palestinian "horizon" gather momentum. Such an Arab mission could have a powerful effect on Israeli public opinion.
Rice's past diplomatic efforts have been limited by the Bush administration's tendency to moralize foreign policy issues, and to refuse the very process of dialogue with adversaries that might resolve problems. Isolation hasn't worked, and Rice is now charting the pathways out.
**Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.

Analyzing Syria's Intentions
By Tzippe Barrow
CBN News - Jerusalem Bureau
April 20, 2007 - JERUSALEM, Israel - Analyzing the intentions of Syria these days requires interpreting mixed signals and mixed messages.
For example, the Bush administration has refrained from open dialogue with Syria, citing its close relationship with Iran and its support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria (West Bank). But the administration's stance on Syria didn't deter Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her congressional delegation from meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus during her tour of the Middle East earlier this month, which led some to accuse the Speaker of developing a "shadow presidency."
But when the delegation delivered a "peace" message to Syria's president, purportedly from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the prime minister's office quickly stated there had been no change in Israel's policy toward Syria.
Around the same time, OC Military Intelligence Major-General Amos Yadlin told the Israeli Cabinet that Syria's arms buildup was defensive, rather than offensive, in anticipation of a possible strike by the U.S. this summer. And during a visit to Israel last week, Syrian businessman Abe Suleiman, who lives in Maryland, was invited to address the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. It marked the first time that a representative from an enemy state spoke to the committee.
Between 2004 and 2006, Suleiman represented Syria in "secret," unofficial peace negotiations with an Israeli delegation led by Alon Liel, former director general of the Foreign Ministry. While neither the Israeli nor Syrian government acknowledged the talks, which ended last summer, the group drew up a proposal for "normalized" relations with Syria in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Israel took possession of the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War, freeing Israeli communities in the Hula Valley below from daily attacks by Syrian snipers positioned above them.
But in her Friday column, Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Glick says Syria has been preparing for war with Israel since last summer, noting that this past week, Syria announced their intention to attack Israel. Glick also noted that this week, CBN News broadcast satellite footage of three hardened Syrian missile facilities outside of Homs and Hama.
Glick contends that the present Israeli administration, headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, have chosen the path of least resistance by opting "to ignore the threat." She pointed to Olmert's address to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week, when he agreed with the position of Major-General Yadlin's assessment, restating that Syria's arms buildup is defensive rather than offensive in nature.
"The assessment of all of Israel's assessment bodies is that Syria is deploying defensively in line with a scenario of an attack against them," he said, adding that Israel is "also preparing for a situation in which we're surprised."
However, a look back at Syrian aggression in past wars with Israel, coupled with Assad's close relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iranian arms smuggling to Hezbollah terrorists across the Syrian border would seem ample evidence that Syria's war preparations are far more than simply defensive.
Source: The Jerusalem Post

The Party of God
Hezbollah's dramatic rise from ragtag band to regional powerhouse.
Reviewed by Jonathan Finer
Sunday, April 22, 2007; Page BW04
By Augustus Richard Norton
Princeton Univ. 187 pp. $16.95
Twenty-five years ago, Hezbollah was a ragtag religious militia, founded under the thumb of Israel's long occupation of southern Lebanon and struggling against stronger rival groups for the hearts and minds of Lebanon's Shiite underclass. Today, Hezbollah is a political party, a social-service organization and a military power that emerged from a hard-fought standoff with the Israeli army last summer as the dominant player in Lebanon's politics and perhaps the most formidable nonstate actor in the Middle East.
Augustus Richard Norton's timely Hezbollah chronicles that dramatic evolution and its sweeping implications for the region and beyond. His lucid primer is the first serious reappraisal of the radical Shiite group since last summer's war shattered six years of relative calm on one of the world's most volatile frontiers.
Like many tales told in the Arab world, Norton's thin volume (at fewer than 170 pages of main text, it is CliffsNotes-esque, down to its black-and-yellow cover) begins and ends at the dinner table. The opening aperitif is a sumptuously described feast in a Lebanese farming town soon after Israel pulled out of its self-declared security zone in south Lebanon in 2000; the dessert course is a ritual iftar spread to break the daily Ramadan fast in Cairo at the close of the 2006 war. In between, Norton traces Hezbollah's establishment with the help of its Iranian and Syrian patrons; its triumph over its rival, the Shiite movement Amal; its gradual embrace of electoral politics; and the ascension of a charismatic cleric, Hasan Nasrallah, as its leader.
A former U.N. military observer in Lebanon who now teaches at Boston University, Norton has written a book rich in reportage, particularly for a work by an academic. He concludes with an overview of the 33-day conflict that began on July 12, 2006, after Hezbollah fighters stormed across the Israel-Lebanon border, ambushed an Israeli patrol and captured two Israeli soldiers. Days later, Israel launched an assault that leveled much of southern Lebanon even as Hezbollah rained Katyusha rockets on northern Israeli towns.
Norton's stated purpose here is to counter the "simplistic stereotypes" about Hezbollah with "a more balanced, nuanced account of this complex organization." It is a worthy but daunting goal. Analysts have long (and vainly) agonized over even how to describe the group dispassionately. Calling it a political party (Hezbollah is Arabic for "party of God") ignores Hezbollah's pioneering use of terrorist tactics such as the suicide bomb. Dubbing it a mere militia discounts the fact that it holds about a quarter of the seats in Lebanon's parliament. Both versions are rooted in truth.
For the most part, Norton's account is careful and judicious. Hezbollah's opponents will chafe at the dearth of Israeli and American voices and at occasional passages that sound sympathetic to the group (Norton notes, for example, the "stunning success" of the "daring raid" that triggered the recent war). Hezbollah's followers, meanwhile, may object to Norton's portrayal of that conflict as, at best, a Pyrrhic victory since it uprooted a quarter of Lebanon's population and inflicted $4 billion worth of damage to its infrastructure.
For the American reader, Hezbollah is a topic particularly worthy of attention. As of Sept. 10, 2001, Hezbollah had killed more U.S. citizens than any comparable group (most notably more than 240 Marines in a 1983 suicide bombing in Beirut). Its influence now resounds throughout the Iraq war. Insurgents there employ ever more lethal versions of the roadside bombs that once targeted Israeli convoys in southern Lebanon. And followers of the firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a relative of one of Hezbollah's founders, have used the Hezbollah blueprint, with its Iranian-backed militia and loyalty-inspiring social services.
But the most remarkable aspect of Hezbollah's rise, in Norton's view, is that it transcends the region-wide sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites that the Iraq conflict has sparked. Sunni demonstrators in Egypt and Saudi Arabia now sport Nasrallah T-shirts. When I left Israel for Amman at the close of last summer's war, my driver, a Lebanese Arab Christian, said he had hated Hezbollah all his life, but no longer. By standing up to Israel, he explained, the group had "given all Arabs back their dignity."
But toward what end? The main shortcoming of Norton's book is that it begs weighty questions and leaves them largely unanswered -- a function, perhaps, of its limited breadth and scope. A more critical account might ask, as Hezbollah's Lebanese rivals have, if its emergence has enhanced or enfeebled the Lebanese state. After the war, Norton writes, one veteran local analyst concluded, "Any hope for a true national unity in Lebanon has again become a dream." If so, the reader is left wondering, how should Hezbollah's 25-year project be judged? ·
**Jonathan Finer, a Washington Post foreign correspondent currently on leave, covered the Israel-Hezbollah war last summer.

Israeli, Syrian representatives reach secret understandings
February 28, 2007
Akiva Eldar, Haaretz
In a series of secret meetings in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006, Syrians and Israelis formulated understandings for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria.
The main points of the understandings are as follows:
• An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.
• As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.
• At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.
• Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.
• The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel's favor.
• According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran.
The document is described as a "non-paper," a document of understandings that is not signed and lacks legal standing - its nature is political. It was prepared in August 2005 and has been updated during a number of meetings in Europe.
The meetings were carried out with the knowledge of senior officials in the government of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. The last meeting took place during last summer's war in Lebanon.
Government officials received updates on the meetings via the European mediator and also through Dr. Alon Liel, a former director general at the Foreign Ministry, who took part in all the meetings.
The European mediator and the Syrian representative in the discussions held eight separate meetings with senior Syrian officials, including Vice President Farouk Shara, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, and a Syrian intelligence officer with the rank of "general."
The contacts ended after the Syrians demanded an end to meetings on an unofficial level and called for a secret meeting at the level of deputy minister, on the Syrian side, with an Israeli official at the rank of a ministry's director general, including the participation of a senior American official. Israel did not agree to this Syrian request.
The Syrian representative in the talks, Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman, an American citizen, had visited Jerusalem and delivered a message to senior officials at the Foreign Ministry regarding the Syrian wish for an agreement with Israel. The Syrians also asked for help in improving their relations with the United States, and particularly in lifting the American embargo on Syria.
For his part, the European mediator stressed that the Syrian leadership is concerned that the loss of petroleum revenues will lead to an economic crash in the country and could consequently undermine the stability of the Assad regime.
According to Geoffrey Aronson, an American from the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, who was involved in the talks, an agreement under American auspices would call for Syria to ensure that Hezbollah would limit itself to being solely a political party.
He also told Haaretz that Khaled Meshal, Hamas' political bureau chief, based in Damascus, would have to leave the Syrian capital.
Syria would also exercise its influence for a solution to the conflict in Iraq, through an agreement between Shi'a leader Muqtada Sadr and the Sunni leadership, and in addition, it would contribute to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the refugee problem.
Aronson said the idea of a park on the Golan Heights allows for the Syrian demand that Israel pull back to the June 4 border, on the one hand, while on the other hand, the park eliminates Israeli concerns that Syrians will have access to the water sources of Lake Kinneret.
"This was a serious and honest effort to find creative solutions to practical problems that prevented an agreement from being reached during Barak's [tenure as prime minister] and to create an atmosphere of building confidence between the two sides," he said.
It also emerged that one of the Syrian messages to Israel had to do with the ties between Damascus and Tehran. In the message, the Alawi regime - the Assad family being members of the Alawi minority - asserts that it considers itself to be an integral part of the Sunni world and that it objects to the Shi'a theocratic regime, and is particularly opposed to Iran's policy in Iraq. A senior Syrian official stressed that a peace agreement with Israel will enable Syria to distance itself from Iran.
Liel refused to divulge details about the meetings but confirmed that they had taken place. He added that meetings on an unofficial level have been a fairly common phenomenon during the past decade.
"We insisted on making the existence of meetings known to the relevant parties," Liel said. "Nonetheless, there was no official Israeli connection to the content of the talks and to the ideas that were raised during the meetings."
Prior to these meetings, Liel was involved in an effort to further secret talks between Syria and Israel with the aid of Turkish mediation - following a request for assistance President Assad had made to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
That attempt failed following Israel's refusal to hold talks on an official level - and a Syrian refusal to restrict the talks to an "academic level," similar to the framework of the talks that had preceded the Oslo accords.
There was no initial formal response from the Prime Minister's Office after the story broke early on Tuesday. But the Israel Radio quoted unnamed senior Israeli officials as stating that Israel is not holding contacts with Syria.
Timeline of talks
January 2004:
Syrian President Bashar Assad goes to Turkey for important visit. Former Foreign Ministry director-general Dr. Alon Liel was in the same hotel.
A few days later:
The Turkish ambassador to Israel tells Liel that Assad asked Turkey to use its good relations with Israel to renew negotiations.
Liel brings Geoffrey Aronson from the Foundation for Middle East Peace into the picture. Aronson suggests bringing in Ibrahim (Ayeb) Suleiman.
September 2004:
Liel, Aronson and Suleiman meet in a European capital that agreed to provide assistance and funding for a cover Israeli-Syrian channel.
There have been seven meetings since fall 2004. After each one, Liel gave a full report to a senior official in Israel's Foreign Ministry. The Prime Minister's Bureau was also updated.
The European mediator in the talks tells official Israeli sources in Israel: "I was convinced that the Syrians want a peace agreement with you."
August 2005:
The final document is formulated. The final meeting took place a year later, in the midst of the second Lebanon war.
BACKGROUND: How the covert contacts transpired
It began exactly three years ago. In January 2004, Syrian President Bashar Assad came to Turkey for an important visit, some say a historic one. By complete coincidence, Dr. Alon Liel, a former Foreign Ministry director general and former Israeli ambassador to Ankara, was in Istanbul and staying at the same hotel as the Syrian delegation. His friends in the Turkish Foreign Ministry hinted to Liel that Israel had a respectable spot in the conversations between Assad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A few days after Liel's return to Israel, he was invited to a meeting with the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Feridun Sinirlioglu. The Turkish ambassador told Liel that Assad had asked Erdogan to use Turkey's good relations with Israel to remove the rust from the negotiation channel with Syria. Liel was asked to put out discreet feelers in the bureau of then prime minister Ariel Sharon to find out if there were an Israeli partner for covert talks with Syria, to be mediated by Turkey.
Liel brought Geoffrey Aronson from the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace into the picture. Aronson, who is Jewish, had wandered among the capitals of the Middle East, including Damascus, Beirut and Amman, and suggested bringing in Ibrahim (Ayeb) Suleiman, a Syrian-Alawite businessman who had been living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. for many years. Suleiman's family is from the same village as the Assad family, and senior American officials had used his good mediation skills many times to make contact with Damascus. Suleiman had also been involved in opening the gates of Syria to the Jews remaining there who wanted to move to Israel.
Suleiman left for Damascus. He arrived at the home of the Turkish ambassador to Syria in a vehicle from the president's bureau to report that the Syrians were prepared to begin negotiations with Israel immediately: formal negotiations, certainly not "academic talks." The Prime Minister's Bureau in Jerusalem didn't care whether Liel and his friends sat down with the Syrians to hear what they had to say − but no negotiations. The Israeli reason (or excuse): The Americans are not prepared to hear about contact with Syria.
Covert meetings in a European capital
At the end of the summer of 2004, Sinirlioglu told Liel, with great regret, that the Turkish channel had reached a dead end. But the trio of Liel, Aronson and Suleiman didn't give up. In September, they met in a European capital that agreed to provide cover and funding for a covert Israeli-Syrian channel via a senior official in that country's foreign ministry. Since autumn 2004, seven more meetings have been held. (Haaretz was provided the details about the conversations, on condition that the identities of the mediator and two other Israelis who participated in some of the meetings not be published.)
Following each meeting, as soon as he returned to Israel, Liel gave a full report to a senior official Foreign Ministry official. Sharon's bureau also received a full situation report. Suleiman joined Liel on one of his visits to the Foreign Ministry and personally described Syria's position to the officials in attendance. The European mediator also shared his impressions with the professional staff in Jerusalem.
To allow the European mediator to form his own impressions regarding the Syrians' attitude toward the covert channel, Suleiman invited him to join him on his trips to Damascus. Each time they landed there, an official car awaited them near their plane. They were taken to the office of Syrian Vice President Farouk Shara, and occasionally met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and a senior official in Syrian intelligence.
The European mediator had the impression that the Syrian leadership was treating the matter very seriously and was not wasting his time or the taxpayer's money on "futile academic talks." He recalled that the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians began with talks among academics, with the assistance of a European country.
"I was convinced that the Syrians want a peace agreement with you," the European mediator reported directly to official Israeli sources even before the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 and the investigation that began afterward. His impression was that the Syrian motive for the murder went far deeper than fear of revenge from the United States or France, which points to Assad as the one responsible for Hariri's death.
"Farouk Shara told me radical Islam constitutes a threat to Syria and that peace is the only way to halt it," the mediator said. He said the Syrians told him that in a few years, they would lose their oil sources and need significant amounts of foreign currency to purchase energy from external sources. The Alawite regime realizes, the European mediator said, that in order to survive, it has to bring foreign currency into Syria, and that no sane businessman would invest his fortune in a country that is not at peace with its neighbors.
While in Damascus, the European mediator heard about Syria's readiness to include its ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas in its agenda for peace negotiations with Israel. He even reported identical comments he heard from the the Syrian Foreign Ministry's legal adviser, Riad Daoudi, at the 'Madrid+15 Conference' on Friday.
Daoudi's refusal to befriend the Israeli delegation at the Madrid conference is in line with the Syrians' approach in the European channel regarding proposals for Syrian gestures toward Israel, such as the digging up the bones of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, information on missing Israeli soldiers or a visit to the grave of Rabbi Haim Vital.
"Israel has held onto our land for 40 years now and rejects are request to open negotiations, and after all that, they expect confidence-building steps from us," the Syrians argue.
Wartime meetings
The discussions dealt with all the matters that occupied the official negotiation teams: borders, water, security and normalization. Suleiman, representing the Syrian position, made it clear from the first moment that it would be a shame to waste time on futile attempts to move Syria from its position regarding the June 4, 1967 borders. Feelers regarding the possibility of territorial exchange were dismissed out of hand.
Nonetheless, the Syrians showed surprising flexibility regarding everything connected to a timetable for evacuating Israeli communities in the Golan Heights, water use and primarily the concept of building a "peace park" in the buffer zone that would be open to Israeli visitors.
The final document was formulated in August 2005, and has since been changed slightly. The final meeting took place a year later, in the midst of the second Lebanon war, on a day in which eight Israelis were killed by Hezbollah-fired Katyusha rockets in the Galilee. Suleiman announced that the Syrians had done all they could with the covert channel and were suggesting a meeting between a Syrian representative at the rank of deputy minister and an Israeli official at the rank of director general. They asked that C. David Welch, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, also participate in the meeting.
That was the end of the story