August 3/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 13,47-53. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Do you understand all these things? They answered, "Yes."And he replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old."When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.

For Whom Will the Christians of the Metn Vote?By: Hazem Saghieh. Dar Al-Hayat- August 3/07
Is Michel Aoun walking into a trap?. By Michael Young. August 3/07
The Truth About Syria: Interview with Barry Rubin by Michael J. Totten-Global Politician. August 3/07

Don't push Assad into a corner.By Itamar Rabinovich . August 3/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for  August 3/07
Islamists rocket power station in north Lebanon-Reuters
Bush freezes assets of those tied to Lebanon violence-ABC News
By-election set to spark new Lebanon politics
Lebanon's top Shiite Muslim cleric bans honor killings-International Herald Tribune
North Lebanon: Two soldiers killed-Al-Bawaba

Sfeir to Pursue Reconciliation Efforts Between Gemayel and Aoun-Naharnet
Sfeir steps up efforts to reach compromise on Metn by-election
-Daily Star
Gemayel rebuffs proposal to nullify Metn by-election-Daily Star
Siniora honors departing French ambassador
-Daily Star
U.N. Uncovers Mediation Efforts to Bring About Hizbullah, Israel Prisoner Swap Deal
Lebanon Braced for Electoral Showdown after Bid to Postpone By ...Naharnet
Compromise on Lebanon's reconstruction can be a first step toward ...
Daily Star
Lebanese troops kill 4 militants; 2 soldiers die in fighting in ...International Herald Tribune
Berri: Presidential election to take place on time-Daily Star
Syria says ready to join in US peace conference
Syria plans war of attrition in the Golan Heights-Ynetnews
Don't push Assad into a corner-Ha'aretz
Syria ready for fall meeting-Jewish Telegraphic Agency
51% of Syrians favor peace with Israel-Jerusalem Post
Syria to attend ME peace conference-Jerusalem Post
Israel seeks two-stage prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah-Ha'aretz
Turning Point: Israeli Air Attack Flips Global Press Coverage of ...
Newswise (press release)
Compromise on Lebanon's reconstruction can be a first step toward ...Daily Star
From club nights to family days-Daily Star
Civil society organization poised to ensure transparency of by-elections
-Daily Star
Spain lauds Syrian support of efforts to end deadlock
-Daily Star
Magistrate concludes probe into Ain Alaq twin bus bombings
-Daily Star  

Sfeir to Pursue Reconciliation Efforts Between Gemayel and Aoun
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir will launch a fresh effort on Thursday to help reduce tensions and hasten reconciliation between Gen. Michel Aoun and former President Amin Gemayel in the hopes of avoiding an electoral battle. Lebanese media said Bishop Samir Mazloum, dispatched by Sfeir to conduct negotiations aimed at appeasing the warring sides, on Wednesday urged the two camps to leave the door open for a fresh bid and to play down media campaigns.
They said Mazloum will hold separate talks with Aoun and Gemayel on Thursday. Maronite Bishops on Wednesday stressed that parliamentary by-elections in Beirut and the Metn province "should be carried out with a spirit of consensus, according to constitutional rules and regulations and in line with customary traditions."
Gemayel had rebuffed a proposal that suggested all three candidates withdraw from the Metn race. The proposal included the provision that the Phalange Party, headed by Gemayel, would maintain the vacant Metn seat. Gemayel stressed that his stance remained in synchronization with the wishes of Patriarch Sfeir.
Gemayel, who stood by his announcement that he run in the disputed by-elections to replace his slain son, met Sfeir for two hours on Wednesday.
He told reporters after the meeting that preparations for the Aug. 5 by-elections to fill the two seats vacated by the murders of Pierre Gemayal and Walid Eido are "actively underway.""I made several proposals that could bolster entente among Christians," Gemayel added. Beirut, 02 Aug 07, 07:30

U.N. Uncovers Mediation Efforts to Bring About Hizbullah, Israel Prisoner Swap Deal
U.N. Special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Michael Williams uncovered that mediation efforts were still underway to bring the release of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah in return for the freeing of Lebanese prisoners. "We held about 20 meetings now with Hizbullah," at a senior level, Williams told U.N. radio. Williams, however, said that those meetings "have not been able to find a formula whereby there could be an exchange."
"It's about a year now since the (Israel-Hizbullah) summer war and there is a great deal of progress in the implementation of 1701 and the two governments of Syria and Lebanon are both still very committed to the resolution," Williams said. Nevertheless, he said that "there is a lot of areas where we haven't made a lot of progress like the case of the two abducted soldiers and the Lebanese prisoners in Israel." He said that Hizbullah was not "interested" in a two-phased swap deal where the Shiite group would provide proof of life of the soldiers in return for the Israelis to take measures regarding releasing "some prisoners" and providing information to Hizbullah on Lebanese missing in action in last summer's war.
"Now we are trying to do a deal in one phase for the repatriation of the soldiers and in return the repatriation of the Lebanese prisoners," said Williams.
Hizbullah, demanding the release of Arab prisoners held by Israel, captured Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in a cross-border raid in which eight other soldiers were killed on July 12, 2006, sparking a devastating 34-day war.
On the issue of the Lebanon-Syria border, Williams said he has reason to be concerned that the weapons are flowing over the Syrian border to militant groups in Lebanon. "We have had proof of this in the last 1701 report; the Lebanese government itself provided information about weapons that have gone to the Palestinian militant groups," Williams said. " There are a number of indications that these weapons had come from somewhere and may have crossed the Syrian border," he went on."I think there is enough circumstantial evidence that makes the (Security) Council very worried. Beirut, 02 Aug 07, 11:42

Maronite Bishops for Elections According to Democratic Competition and Traditions
Maronite Bishops stressed Wednesday that Parliamentary by-elections in Beirut and the Metn province "should be carried out with a spirit of consensus, according to constitutional rules and regulations and in line with customary traditions."
The bishops, in a statement after their monthly meeting presided over by Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, noted that "what we hear and see appears to be drifting the elections away from what they should be."General elections, the statement stressed, should be based on "refined democratic competition unblemished by the observed rhetoric which does not suit sedate people." The statement warned that "such a feverish atmosphere could reflect negatively on citizens."
The statement was issued following a visit to patriarch Sfeir at his summer seat in the northern resort of Diman by ex-President Amin Gemayel, a main candidate for the Metn seat that went vacant when his son, Pierre, was gunned down Nov. 21. Gemayel, in a statement after a meeting with Sfeir, said he is "keen on harmony" with the Patriarch's advises."I made several proposals that could bolster entente among Christians."He said preparations for the Aug. five elections are "actively underway."
Beirut, 01 Aug 07, 16:11

Is Michel Aoun walking into a trap?
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, August 02, 2007
All the signs are that the voting will go ahead in the Metn by-election this coming Sunday. However, partisans of both Michel Aoun and Amin Gemayel should be very careful. An Aoun victory would indeed be a setback for those who oppose Syrian efforts to return to Lebanon; but the election could potentially be a trap for Aoun, its practical outcome the general's political ruin and the destruction of Christian unity.
Whatever one thinks of Aoun, he has been a victim of two cutting blows coming from Damascus, and there is some question as to how we should read them. The first was the publication on a Syrian regime Web site, Champress, of alleged statements Aoun made in Berlin in which the general expressed sympathy for Syria. It turned out that Aoun did not utter the words in question, even if a compilation of his past remarks would show that he has said things not so very different.
The second blow was the announcement on Sunday by Ali Qanso, the head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, that the party would back Aoun in the election. For anyone who knows the mood in the Metn and the antipathy felt for Syria and its utensils, Qanso's expression of comradeship could only harm Aoun in the eyes of many voters.
What's going on here? One interpretation could be that Syria is trying so maladroitly to appear like it is sinking Aoun, that the general will actually benefit from a contrary reaction of public compassion. That's possible. But another theory seems more credible, namely that Syria is looking to weaken Aoun, just as its main intention is to push the Christians into a destructive internecine crisis. Why? Perhaps to advance an alternative presidential contender at the right time, and to ensure that the Christians are so divided after the Metn election that they will be unable to agree on a different consensus candidate for the presidency.
An obvious question poses itself. If you are Michel Murr and the Tashnaq Party, doesn't recent Syrian behavior send a message that neither bloc will be penalized much for failing to fully support Aoun on Sunday? If Aoun is being set up for a fall, then Murr and the Armenians, by giving the general some votes, but not enough to win, may be there to implement that fall, even as they preserve their own interests. Murr will have saved his good ties with the Gemayels; the Armenians will have avoided a confrontation with March 14 and Saad Hariri, perhaps allowing them to negotiate a return of their candidates in Beirut in the next election; and both will have given Aoun enough votes so that he cannot blame them for his defeat.
Make sense? Let's take the speculation a bit further. If Aoun is to be eliminated, who do the Syrians really have in mind for the presidency? It's difficult to say, but if we go back to 1998, we might recall that Damascus, in turning Emile Lahoud into a president, was also advancing a broader political program: the militarization of the Lebanese regime. Part of the logic was that only the army and the security forces could contain the traditional political class - people like Rafik Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, and others. It's difficult to imagine that the Syrians have given up on that reasoning.
Let's also recall that recently Michel Murr floated the idea of bringing the army commander Michel Suleiman in as interim president for two years. Why would Murr do that, given that he is purportedly an ally of Michel Aoun, who sees Suleiman as a mortal rival? Could it be that Murr sensed something and that Syria's emerging candidate for the presidency is the army commander, now regarded by many Lebanese as something of a national champion? That doesn't mean that Suleiman is Syria's man - he has lost far too many soldiers fighting a Syrian-inspired project in Nahr al-Bared. However, it is defensible to have presidential ambitions, and none of the presidential candidates today, even those of March 14, would seriously contemplate being elected against Syria. The army commander's recent threat to resign if a second government were formed by the opposition suggested he was placing himself above the fray. As for his statement to the troops on Tuesday in Nahr al-Bared that the "salvation of the country will come from you," few things could have been clearer.
So as the Christians fight it out, Syria is figuratively taking us back to 1988, when Amin Gemayel left office. They start out with an unworkable demand - at the time the election of Suleiman Franjieh as president, today Aoun's candidacy. When unhappy Christians rally to block the option, the Syrians offer two other choices just as advantageous to them: Mikhail al-Daher or chaos, to paraphrase what the American envoy Richard Murphy supposedly told the Lebanese in encouraging Daher's election. Very soon, Suleiman will look like a superlative choice amid the ambient discord - both to the Lebanese and to an international community anxious about a vacuum at the top of the state. And if the Christians hinder that project, then what will follow is chaos.
The Metn by-election has already confirmed that Christians are more divided than ever before. In that sense, Aoun made a big mistake by pushing Camille Khoury into the ring in the first place. After all, what advantage was it for the general to highlight Christian differences when he could have affirmed that most Christians supported him on the basis of the 2005 elections? Whether Aoun and Gemayel compromise at the last moment is almost irrelevant at this stage. Avoiding a battle will lessen the damage, but already the Christians are at each other's throats, and the Syrians can only welcome this with their usual sense of humor.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Israel seeks two-stage prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah
By Yossi Melmam
Israel is interested in a two-stage prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah, the United Nation's Mideast envoy Michael Williams has said in the past few days. He added the organization has so far declined the offer. According to Williams, who revealed the information in several public events over the past week, Jerusalem is willing to release a certain number of prisoners in the first stage of the deal, in exchange for information and a sign of life from Eldad Regev and Ehud Golwasser, the two Israel Defense Forces soldiers abducted by Hezbollah last year.
The second stage Israel is proposing would see the release of more Hezbollah prisoners in Israel. In exchange, Israel is demanding Hezbollah return the two IDF soldiers. However, Williams informed his listeners during talks on the subject that Hezbollah has refused the offer, insisting instead on a single exchange of all prisoners. Israel had up until this point refused going through with such a deal until it receives information on whether the soldiers are still alive.
Williams went on to reveal that UN mediators have so far met at 20 different occasions to negotiate the prisoner exchange. According to the UN envoy, the mediators are now focusing on negotiating a one-stage deal that could meet the requirements of both parties. Government sources in Jerusalem told Haaretz that Williams' mission is not restricted to the prisoner issue, and includes many other components. They said this suggests that he may not be completely well-versed in all the fine details of the negotiations. Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has previously told the German chief negotiator on the prisoner issue that any media leaks on the ongoing talks would impede and stall negotiations.

Sfeir steps up efforts to reach compromise on Metn by-election
Mudslinging intensifies as vote draws near

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff-Wednesday, August 01, 2007
BEIRUT: Fears generated in the heated by-election campaign in Metn and violent skirmishes between party supporters Sunday night prompted Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir to intensify his efforts on Tuesday to find a compromise and avoid an electoral clash. Hopes for a possible solution were rekindled from Dimane following intensive meetings there between politicians from the country's feuding camps and Sfeir. Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan met Sfeir twice on Tuesday at the patriarch's summer residence in North Lebanon, raising hopes of a possible breakthrough.
Kanaan told reporters that discussions were positive and constructive, adding that politicians needed to be up to the challenge and not just pour fuel on the fire. Sfeir also met March 14 Forces MP Samir Franjie and former MPs Mansour Ghanem al-Bon and Fares Soueid. Christian Lebanese Unions secretary general Habib Efram, who met Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun on Tuesday in Rabieh, told reporters after the meeting there was still some hope of reaching a solution in the next 48 hours to avoid an electoral showdown in Metn.
Former President Amin Gemayel, addressing supporters in Bikfaya, said the election face-off in Metn was not meant to disrespect the men and women of the FPM who took part in the struggle for sovereignty, freedom and independence during the period of Syrian tutelage. "This battle is aimed at preventing Syrian influence from returning to Lebanon," he said. In an obvious reference to Aoun, Gemayel said no one could claim to be a patriot while aligning himself with foreigners and allowing his country to become a tool for implementing external policies. "Every white paper with the name of Amin Gemayel that you cast in the ballot boxes is a flower that you send to Pierre in paradise," Gemayel said, speaking of his son, assassinated Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. Aoun showed no sign of retreating from the electoral battle on Tuesday while addressing supporters in Dbayeh.  "If they want a battle, let it be a battle," Aoun said. "We are ready." He added that the privilege of the president to sign government decrees calling for by-elections must not be violated. President Emile Lahoud did not sign the government decree calling for August 5 by-elections in the Metn and Beirut's second district.
Aoun said that playing with people's emotions by using the memory of Pierre Gemayel to win votes was not right, and he lambasted the March 14 Forces for systematically tarnishing his image and casting doubts during the past two years on his party's majority support among Lebanon's Christians.
He urged all citizens in Metn to get involved in the electoral campaign and to vote based on their convictions. "The electoral battle is over participation in government and participation in elections," Aoun said, urging his supporters to overcome "doubts and temptation" and not to be afraid to turn out to vote on Sunday.
Aoun said the election of a successor to Pierre Gemayel had already been delayed for eight months. "Why not wait a little longer? Why hold these by-elections now ahead of presidential elections? It's because [the March 14 Forces] want to create conflict within the Christian community," Aoun said.
Aoun said the army and security forces were in charge of ensuring the electoral process proceeded without a hitch. He said his opponents could hang their flags and their posters, "but we will not allow them to block the streets. We will break the hands of whoever strikes us."
Friction between Gemayel and Aoun has been increasing since Aoun announced that he and his allies the Tashnag Party and MP Michel Murr would jointly contest the Metn seat. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said that the electoral fight would be a "sporting battle" and he expressed confidence in the final outcome. In reference to Aoun, Geagea said those who still thought their popular base was 60-70 percent of the electorate had "their watches off by two years."
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra accused Aoun of covering for Syria through his alliances with Syria's allies in Lebanon. Zahra, speaking to Future TV, rejected the formation of a government that could be used as an alternative to the presidential election, adding that the presidential election had to be held as scheduled on September 25.Zahra said the party that initiated the ongoing exchange of accusations should stop first, if it were necessary to stop the exchange. He said Aoun's alliance with Syria's cohorts allowed Aoun political freedom of movement, which convinced the Syrian regime it could continue to influence Lebanese politics through local Syrian partners.Gemayel also on Tuesday met Armenian Orthodox Catholicos Aram I Keshishian at his summer residence in Bikfaya.

Lebanese troops kill 4 militants; 2 soldiers die in fighting in northern refugee camp
The Associated Press-Published: August 1, 2007
BEIRUT, Lebanon: Lebanese troops battled al-Qaida-inspired Islamic militants barricaded in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon on Wednesday, killing at least four militants, the state-run National News Agency reported. A Lebanese soldier was also killed in Wednesday's fighting with Fatah Islam militants entrenched in the Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of the northern port city of Tripoli, a senior military official said.
Another soldier had died on Tuesday, the official said. Their deaths raised to 124 the number of troops killed since fighting erupted May 20.
"The fighting will continue until this (Fatah Islam) phenomenon is eliminated," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. A lull in the fighting was shattered around noon (0900 GMT) Wednesday when the army began pounding remaining Fatah Islam positions inside the camp, NNA reported. Also Wednesday, two army helicopters flew low over the devastated camp, apparently searching for militant hideouts but made no bombing runs. Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman vowed to continue the battle against Fatah Islam, saying it was a fight against terrorism and "a battle of dignity and national sovereignty."In a speech commemorating Wednesday's Army Day, Suleiman called the military deaths in the Nahr el-Bared were "great sacrifices" for the country's unity and peace.Meanwhile, President Emile Lahoud assured wounded soldiers that the army would win the battle against the "Fatah Islam gang."
"The military martyrs have protected Lebanon's unity, sovereignty and independence," Lahoud, a former army commander, said during a tour of Beirut hospitals treating the wounded soldiers. "Victory will be on the army's side because it is a victory for Lebanon."
The army has refused to halt its military offensive before the militants fully surrender, but the gunmen have vowed to fight to the death.
A major ceremony in Beirut to mark Army Day, held every Aug. 1, was canceled because of the ongoing Nahr el-Bared fighting.
The conflict in Nahr el-Bared is Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war. An undetermined number of militants at least 60 and more than 20 civilians have died in the fighting, according to Lebanese and U.N. relief officials. Defense Minister Elias Murr has said that about 40 militants, including some with suspected al-Qaida links, have been arrested since the clashes began.

The Truth About Syria: Interview with Barry Rubin
by Michael J. Totten
Michael Totten has conducted an interview with Barry Rubin regarding his new book, The Truth About Syria, which is a detailed examination of that extremely important country in the news, including being America's main Arab state opponent in the Middle East.
Question 1: Your new book is called The Truth About Syria. For those who haven't yet read your book, tell us, what's the truth about Syria? Give us the short version.
To begin with, to understand Syria--like other regional forces--one must first examine the nature of the regime and its real interests. The way to do this is not to cite the latest interview or op-eds by Syrian leaders or propagandists in the Western media or what one of them told some naive Western "useful idiot" who traveled to Damascus but rather to look at what the Syrian rulers say among themselves, what they do, how they structure the regime and perceive of their interests.
Syria is not a radical regime because it has been mistreated by the West or Israel but because the regime needs radicalism to survive. It is a minority dictatorship of a small non-Muslim minority and it offers neither freedoms nor material benefit. It needs demagoguery, the scapegoats of America and Israel, massive loot taken from Lebanon, an Iraq which is either destabilized or a satellite, and so on.
Take the simple issue of the Golan Heights. It is commonplace to say that Syria wants back the Golan Heights. But one need merely ask the simple question: what happens if Syria gets it back? If Syria's regime made peace with Israel it has no excuse for having a big military, a dictatorship, and a terrible economy. The day after the deal the Syrian people will start demanding change. The regime knows that.
Or economic reform. Again, many in the West take it for granted that the regime wants to take steps to improve the economy. But it would prefer to keep a tight hold on the economy rather than open it up and face enriched Sunni Muslim Arabs who hate the regime both due to their class status and their religious community.
The list goes on. Yet few of these points figure into the debate over Syria where statements like "engagement," "a common interest in Iraq," "getting Syria away from Iran," "the benefits of peace with Israel," and the reasonableness of Bashar al-Asad get repeated like mantras.
While the Syrian regime poses as being desirous of peace and engagement with the West, in fact its institutions, ideology, propaganda, and activities go in the exact opposite direction. To survive, the minority-dominated, dictatorial, and economically incompetent government needs radicalism, control over Lebanon, regional instability, anti-Americanism, and using Israel as a scapegoat.
Syria is sponsoring a terror war against Iraqi civilians and American forces in Iraq; it is subverting Lebanon, not even stopping at killing the most popular political leaders there; playing the leading role in being the patron of radical Palestinian forces against Israel; promoting anti-Americanism; formulating the new "resistance" strategy which combines radical Arab nationalism and Islamism; being Iran's main Arab ally; and even being the main Arab state sponsor of revolutionary Islamism.
Question 2: The Assad regime, first under Hafez Assad and now under his son Bashar, has been using these tactics for literally decades. The Lebanese are the only people who seem to understand this in full. Why do you suppose the American and Israeli governments are having such a hard time? Is Assad smarter and craftier? Or do you suppose the US and Israel are a bit soft on Syria for public relations' reasons, having no doubt about its hostility?
I think it depends on who you are looking at specifically. Those with little experience of Syria--naive journalists and politicians rather new to the issue, especially in the United States--simply don't understand what is happening. What is most disturbing are the statements of former secretaries of state James Baker and Colin Powell, who have been stung by Syria but now seem to forget all the bad interactions and talk as if they had great success in managing Damascus. To hear both of them talk, they persuaded the Syrian regime to close terrorist offices during their tenure but those offices have always remained open. The next U.S. president might try to engage Syria and spend a year or so finding out that it doesn't work.
Others are acting more from a sense of what I call public relations' considerations. The Bush administration has made a lot of real mistakes, has also been unfairly criticized, and is under tremendous pressure. So now it wants to show how reasonable it is in giving diplomacy a chance. Perhaps they can succeed in getting Syria to ease up the pressure on Iraq stemming from its sponsorship of the insurgency. Of course, if the Syrians do so they will be acting to get unilateral concessions and to push the United States out faster in order to suit their own interests.
At the same time, though, it should be pointed out that the U.S. policy remains mostly tough, especially in terms of advancing the tribunal to investigate the Hariri killing. Generally speaking, the sanctions and the effort to isolate Syria remain in force.
But many academic experts, journalists, government officials, and intellectuals are being fooled by Syria's propaganda. One can read several such articles or statements every day. And, of course, this has a feedback in Damascus, persuading the regime that the pressure against it will collapse, that it is in effect winning and does not need to change its policy. When I asked a very serious, non-American and non-partisan, student of Syria what he thought that country's strategy is, he replied, "Waiting for the Democrats."
Israel's policy considerations are even more complex. The basic analysis is that Syria wants to negotiate, to take the heat off on other fronts, but not to reach an agreement. So there is a possibility that engaging Syria will achieve some goals even if it does not bring serious progress toward peace. These include a reduced possibility of Syria or Hizballah starting a war. In addition, Israel would be shown to be pursuing peace. And the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which is desperate for some sign of success as it is holding on with its fingernails, could claim an achievement.
Question 3: Do you think the Syrians are behind the war of the camps raging in Lebanon now, or does this conflict match the timing of the UN tribunal coincidentally?
I definitely think the Syrians are behind it. Let's look at the facts:
Step 1: Syria wants to sponsor violence and terrorism in Lebanon to bring that country back under its control and intimidate the Lebanese from supporting an international tribunal to investigate and punish those responsible for murdering Lebanon's most popular politician, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 bystanders on February 14, 2005. Since all the evidence points at Syria's leaders as the murderers, killing the investigation is their highest priority. The timing of this uprising came at the very moment that the UN Security Council was voting to hold the tribunal.
Step 2: Organize and order a shadowy group of terrorists, called Fatah al-Islam, to disrupt Lebanon.
Step 3: And this is the scheme's most clever part, blame the terrorism on your victim, Lebanon's own government, and your enemy, the United States. Get some gullible or ideologically inclined journalists to talk to Syrian officials, be fed this line, and then spread it throughout the world.
So how do we know that the uprising in the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared in northern Lebanon, which killed well over 100 people and led the Lebanese army to shell the camp, was a Syrian operation?
Well, first, the group itself Fatah al-Islam, is merely part of an older group, Fatah al-Intifada which has been a Syrian front group for almost 25 years. That is a rather strong hint of whose these people are and from where their pay and arms come. But there is much more.
The leader of this group is a man by the name of Colonel Abu Khaled al-Amleh. And he lives and operates out of Damascus, Syria. The Syrians do not let terrorist groups function in the country unless the regime likes them and finds them useful. That is also a major piece of evidence. But we are just getting started.
The field commander of the group is a man named Shaker al-Absi. He has been working as a Syrian agent since 1983. In 2003, Absi joined the insurgency in Iraq against the Western forces there. Of course, Syria is the insurgency's main sponsor. Hundreds of fighters cross the Syria-Iraq border, reportedly there is a special government bus that takes them to a good jumping-off point. This record reinforces the idea that Absi is working for Syria.
In Iraq, Absi worked with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaida--Usama bin Ladin's group--there. There is no inconsistency here. After all, when Syria helps the insurgency, most of the forces they assist are led by al-Qaida. While al-Qaida is by no means controlled by Syria, the radical duo has some common interests.
Mr. Absi was involved in the murder of a U.S. diplomat, Lawrence Foley, in Jordan on October 28, 2003. Naturally, the Jordanians wanted Syria to extradite him so he could be questioned and punished. Syria refused, clearly because its regime would not benefit from having Absi tell what he knew, especially about Syria's own role in his activities. In 2004, Jordan sentenced Absi to death in absentia.
So instead of turning him over to Jordan, the Syrian authorities announced that they were going to punish Absi themselves. Accordingly, they claimed Absi was sentenced to three years imprisonment for his violent actions in their own country. Three years is a joke. Those terrorists who attack the Syrian regime are given a death sentence or very long sentences, though often they happen to die conveniently in a manner that used to be described as "trying to escape."
And of course there is no evidence that Absi was ever in prison and certainly not for three years since only two years later he is back in business as a terrorist. For all we know during this period in between he was living very nicely and engaged in training himself and others.
On being "released," in November 2005, Absi comes back to Syria and goes to Lebanon. Again, if the Syrian government thought he would do anything against their interests there he would not have been allowed to go so easily and conveniently. Immediately, Absi "split" his old group and began Fatah al-Islam. The ideology of the group, merging Arab nationalism and Islamism, is very much in line with Syria's current political doctrine.
Within Lebanon today, independent and pro-government newspapers have run detailed articles about Absi, his Syrian credentials, and the motives of Damascus for bashing Lebanon. Since Hariri's murder three years ago, there have been 15 major terrorist attacks, mostly aimed at assassinating critics of Syrian attempts to dominate Lebanon. There is a pattern here.
Meanwhile, Syrian officials have been briefing some Western journalists, who know no Arabic and have no serious background in studying the Middle East. They tell these people that Fatah al-Islam is a front for Lebanon's government and even the United States. There is no evidence that this is true. What is telling is that the articles published use precisely the same phrases employed by Syrian officials about 48 hours earlier.
The situation in Lebanon is complicated. But the majority of Lebanese want their country to be independent. They suffered under 20 years of Syrian occupation which looted the country and repressed its people systematically. The moderate, democratic leadership needs and deserves Western support against a terrorist offensive directed by the neighboring dictatorship. It would be a pity to be fooled, by such transparent schemes as the Fatah al-Islam affair, into supporting the oppressors.
Question 4: It looks like Fatah Al Islam is also connected with Al Qaida in some ways and, if not, that they are similar enough in ideology and method that it may not make any difference if they are formally aligned or not. What long or even medium term effects do you think this will have on Syria's Lebanese allies? Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement can't be happy about this and I doubt Hezbollah is either.
An important point is that having links with both al-Qaida and Syria is by no means impossible. We know that there is a clear link between them. In my view, though, Fatah al-Islam is in reality a Syrian client with links to al-Qaida rather than the other way around.
You are right. Hizballah is not happy with this but remember the Syrians need to strengthen their links to Lebanese Sunni, which are very weak at present, and this does not impinge directly on Hizballah's turf. Moreover, this is a small group and it is likely to prove of relatively temporary importance. I don't think other Syrian allies will desert because of this.
Mr. Aoun seems to have cast his lot with the Syrians due to his ambition to be president and he has swallowed so much already I don't think this is going to bother him. If anything will make him break with Syria it would be knowing that most of his past supporters have deserted him in disgust.
Question 5: Assad is terrified of the UN tribunal. On the one hand it makes sense: a Chapter 7 resolution that abrogates Syrian sovereignty theoretically threatens his regime. Yet there is no appetite for any military action against Syria in either the US or Israel. If Assad refuses to cooperate with the tribunal and the UN, which he has promised to do, no one is likely to do anything to him. Rogue states defy the UN all the time without suffering consequences. Is he paranoid and over-reacting, or am I missing something here?
What you say is partly true but does not seem to be the way they think in Damascus. Moreover, having your regime and some of its highest leaders--not to mention possibly even Bashar's relatives--indicted for murder is a pretty serious matter, isn't it? Syria could become a real pariah, and note that the Europeans seem to be on board for this so far. It would be a major humiliation. And they might well think that the United States would use this as a "pretext" for some very tough actions. They also cannot forget about France's hostility toward them. And in such a hostile posture, they could forget about their ambitions toward Lebanon. He is right to be worried though the regime could find some consolation in the points you raise.
Question 6: What do you suggest the US and France do at this point? The tribunal is important, but clearly not enough by itself. Syrian terrorism in Lebanon is only escalating -- and severely at that -- and it will take years before the tribunal renders its verdict. Syria may have Iraqified Lebanon by then and no one will care anymore about a single assassination from years ago. I don't see anything short of at least threatening Assad with force as being effective, but I would love to be wrong. I don't have any appetite for war with Syria either, and a post-Assad Syria really does look like a nightmare.
It certainly is a tough situation, isn't it? I believe that the West must give the strongest possible support to the Lebanese government, including diplomatic, material and if appropriate military aid supplies. I think it is extremely important that both the Lebanese government and Syria understand that the West backs Lebanon's sovereignty and will put in sanctions and isolation in response to Syria's subversion there. Obviously, these are very delicate and complex matters. But unless you have the basic confidence on the part of Lebanon's government and fear or whatever you want to call it on the part of Syria's nothing can be accomplished.
Obviously, military action by the West or United States against Syria is out of the question but Damascus must know that its behavior will cost it dearly. And that means no unilateral concessions, no negotiations' process unless there is a change in Syria's behavior regarding Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel, as well as its sponsorship of terrorism.
If Syria were to again order or inspire an attack on Israel, direct military retaliation would be a definite possibility. One might well argue that this is what should have happened in the summer of 2006 though this is a debate which should be carried out fully.
But I call the approach I favour tough diplomacy and it is the true form of Realism in international affairs. It is also called deterrence. There are lots of options between war and appeasement. This requires patience and steadfastness.
Yet it is surprising--and it would be amusing if it were not so tragic--that many cannot see any option other than engagement--which the regime views as a surrender and thus a reason to be more aggressive--and armed attack. This problem is part of the current intellectual poverty when discussing international affairs.
It would be nice if the Assad regime were to collapse and be replaced by a more moderate regime. We know, however, that first the regime is not about to collapse and second a replacement might well be Islamist or, at best, another Ba'thist regime with a simple change in the names of its leaders.
But this difficult situation must be the starting point of any discussion of policy toward Syria. What is worst is what often happens: the regime gets away with everything it does, teaching it contempt for a West which can be either frightened or fooled so easily.
Question 7: Some foreign policy hands hope they can "flip" Syria from its alliance with Iran. Do you think this is possible in the long term if not in the short term?
This is absurd and I discuss it at length in my new book, The Truth About Syria. Briefly, Iran supplies Syria with a strategic ally and protector, a lot of money, an Islamist and Islamic cover, and much more. The two countries may not have identical interests but they are close: making Iraq into a member of their alliance; dominating Lebanon; driving out U.S. and Western influence; destroying Israel; backing Hizballah and Hamas; and so on. What can the West possibly offer Syria to replace that? High-tech military weapons? Lebanon and Iraq as satellites? To discuss the issues is to show how ridiculous the idea of splitting the alliance is in practice.
Question 8: Anything else to add?
Lots! That's what happens when you write a book on a subject. There are lots of surrealistic elements to this story. In a sense, Syria's strategy--and those who fall for it--has a lot of humor. The basic line is: Do what we want or we will kill you. Yet at the same time they hold out the bait of great progress if only their demands are met. They play the West at times like a master fisherman reeling in his victim. Yet at other times the regime is incredibly inept and mafia-like. It is such a fascinating story.
How does a basically atheistic regime run by non-Muslims reinvent itself as Islamist? How does a government which has failed so badly for almost forty years maintain support through demagoguery and a structure copied from the USSR? And then there are the amazing parallels to the "Godfather" films. No fictional writer would dare make up the story of the Assads and their regime

Don't push Assad into a corner
By Itamar Rabinovich

The current relationship between Israel and Syria is reminiscent of the relationship between Israel and Egypt in 1971-1973 - and is cause for concern. At that time, Anwar Sadat, the new president of Egypt who suffered from low esteem, expressed his willingness to establish peaceful relations with Israel (a startling move for those days), but all the while he prepared for war and even warned, more than once, that the coming year would be "the decision year." The next installment in the developments is something we all remember well.
Bashar Assad is also offering to talk peace while threatening war. He expressed his desire to renew negotiations with Israel even before the Second Lebanon War, whereas his threats to begin a war and his preparations for it have been reinforced and have accelerated in the past year.
Up until a few months ago, Israel turned down Assad's initiatives. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected them several times, sometimes on his own cognizance and sometimes with the explanation (not necessarily spelled out and not necessarily out of his own mouth) that the United States is opposed to Israeli-Syrian negotiations.
The fact is that senior spokesmen in President George Bush's administration have not concealed their negative attitude toward renewing the talks, but they were careful not to speak openly and officially, in order not to be portrayed as dictating Israel's position to it on such a matter. The Bush administration has been harboring hostility toward Assad and his regime for several years; as far as the U.S. is concerned, even beginning public negotiations between Syria and Israel will reward the Syrian ruler with a prize he does not deserve.

There are several reasons why Bush and his people are angry at Assad, primarily his logistical assistance to the Sunni rebellion against the U.S. and its forces in Iraq, and Syrian policy in Lebanon: the desire to maintain Syrian hegemony, the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the attempt to bring down the government of Fouad Siniora, which for the Bush administration was its primary success in exporting democracy to the Middle East.
The Syrian-Iranian alliance, the relations with Hezbollah and the hosting and nurturing of Palestinian terror organizations in Damascus have also been chalked up against Syria. In 2005 it looked as though Bush was trying to bring down Assad, but at the last moment he avoided crossing the line. Apparently he was afraid that if Assad was deposed he would be succeeded by a regime connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. And thus the attempt to bring down Assad was replaced by the attempt to isolate him. In this connection, Bush considered Israeli-Syrian negotiations a step that would help Assad to extract himself from isolation and to acquire international legitimacy. Moreover, many people in Washington (and in Jerusalem) believe Assad does not intend to reach a peace agreement with Israel, and he is interested only in conducting "negotiations for the sake of negotiations."
Olmert's reservations about Assad's initiatives stemmed from different considerations. He undoubtedly took into account the stance of the Bush administration and shared its doubts, but his main considerations were different. Olmert, we should recall, was elected as the heir and successor to Ariel Sharon, and Sharon favored the promotion of the Palestinian issue and objected to withdrawal from the Golan, which is part of any arrangement with Syria. It is true that Olmert's "convergence plan" was shelved shortly after his election, and it's true that since the Second Lebanon War, he has been largely preoccupied with political survival, which was also the reason for his reservations about even beginning negotiations with Syria. In addition, it was clear to Olmert that he lacked the political power to implement an arrangement with Syria, and the very opening of negotiations would arouse the aggressive Golan lobby against him as well.
The Second Lebanon War had a mixed effect on these considerations. It increased the anger at Syria, but also the fear of deterioration into another war in the North, whether due to developments in Lebanon or a Syrian initiative.
Syria has in fact recently been investing substantial efforts in improving its military capability. During the 1990s, the Syrian army deteriorated for two main reasons: the collapse of the Soviet Union, Syria's patron and arms supplier in the previous decades, and the cessation of financial aid by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which in the past had participated in funding Syria's major weapons transactions. Syria recognized its military inferiority to Israel, and tried to build a deterrence capability based on two weapons systems: Scud missiles, some of them with chemical warheads, which are dug in and protected in its territory, and missiles supplied to Hezbollah.
This situation changed because of Russia's willingness to provide Syria with modern weapons systems and Iran's willingness to fund the acquisition deals. When this process is completed we can expect to confront both new Syrian capabilities and renewed self-confidence. There is great interest in the change that has taken place in recent weeks in the declared positions of Washington and Jerusalem, as well as Assad's statements regarding negotiations with Israel, during his swearing-in for a second term.
Washington has recently made it clear, first in quiet talks with Israel and afterward in statements by Bush during Olmert's visit to the U.S., that it is not opposed to talks between Israel and Syria, although it does not want to be a party or a partner to such a step. On the one hand, the Bush administration is continuing to demonstrate reservations about such negotiations, albeit more delicately, and is sending Assad a message: If you see that as a route leading to a renewal of talks with Washington, you are mistaken. On the other hand, the U.S. administration is not exposed to criticism for undermining the possibility of an improvement in relations between Israel and Syria.
Olmert for his part is no longer rejecting the idea of negotiations with Syria out of hand - on the contrary: He spoke publicly about his attempts to establish a direct and clandestine channel via a third party. The change in his position is also easy to explain. In light of the danger of a deterioration into war with Syria in the coming years, why should he be portrayed as the one who is rejecting Syrian proposals for rapprochement? It is better to propose clandestine talks and to try to find out if there is anything to talk about, and whether it is possible to combine an Israeli-Syrian agreement into a more comprehensive package that will also include Damascus' relationship with Tehran and Hezbollah.
But while Washington and Jerusalem are softening their position (at least their public one), Assad has toughened his own. In a speech he delivered at his swearing-in ceremony, he spoke of the attempt to renew negotiations by means of a third party (perhaps Turkey), but presented tough opening conditions:
1. Public and indirect talks ("closeness talks" through a mediator).
2. A guarantee of Israeli withdrawal as a pre-condition to beginning negotiations (Assad mentioned the "pledge" of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin as an example, without explaining that this "pledge" and similar ones given by his successors did not include an element of "guarantee").
This stance means a step back. During the 1990s and in 2000, Syria and Israel held direct and clandestine talks (although almost always with an American representative); the demand for a preliminary guarantee of full withdrawal as a condition to entering negotiations was the main reason for the failure of earlier attempts at a Syrian-Israeli agreement.
There are several reasons for this toughening of Syria's position: One is the desire to demonstrate defiance. Since the crisis of 2005, after the assassination of Hariri, Assad's self-confidence has grown. He sees himself as operating from a position of strength (Iranian support, his influence in Lebanon, the influence over Hamas and Islamic Jihad), and if the Bush Administration and the Olmert government are having reservations about negotiations with Syria or are presenting conditions, his natural reaction is to present conditions of his own.
No less important is the desire to react to what Damascus sees as disregard of Syria. Bush's first speech about reviving the Israeli-Arab peace process dealt exclusively with the Palestinian issue. Tony Blair's mission is also focused on the Palestinian issue. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have several times explained their desire to leave a positive "legacy" or "impression" (in contrast to Iraq) in the form of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
This goal is not acceptable to Assad and his regime, and their initial and characteristic reaction is a toughening of positions. Afterward, they will consider additional steps, such as activating their Palestinian clients in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, and their Lebanese partners, in order to "heat up" the arena and make it clear that Syria cannot be left out of the picture. And later on, as the process of empowerment progresses, they may consider more radical options.
What do these things mean for Israel?
The natural tendency of the Olmert government is to prefer the Palestinian track. On this track there is already a format for action, and it is the track preferred by the U.S. and, in truth, by most of the Arab world. The "Arab initiative" and other messages reflect the position of the conservative Sunni Arab states, which want Israel to bring about visible progress vis-a-vis the Palestinians, so that they will be able to cooperate, or at least to coordinate positions, against what they consider the main threat: Iran.
It would be wise and proper for Israel to advance on this track, but it is not in Israel's interest to push Syria into a corner. We must not respond to the toughening of Syria's position by shrugging our shoulders and slamming the door. The answer should be a rejection of the opening condition presented by Assad, and an ongoing indication of our desire to talk directly and clandestinely to find out whether there is a real option for an agreement that will meet Israel's needs and demands.
At the same time, it is essential for Israel to rehabilitate its deterrent capability against Syria, both in substance and image, in order to grant validity to the diplomatic positions it decides to adopt.

US President Acts in Defense of Lebanon's Sovereignty
August 1, 2007
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.)(IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.)(NEA), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,
I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, determine that the actions of certain persons to undermine Lebanon's legitimate and democratically elected government or democratic institutions, to contribute to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through politically motivated violence and intimidation, to reassert Syrian control or contribute to Syrian interference in Lebanon, or to infringe upon or undermine Lebanese sovereignty contribute to political and economic instability in that country and the region and constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.
I hereby order:
Section 1. (a) Except to the extent provided in section 203(b)(1), (3), and (4) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(1), (3), and (4)), or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the date of this order, all property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the
United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person, including any overseas branch, of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in:
i) any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State:
(A) to have taken, or to pose a significant risk of taking, actions, including acts of violence, that have the purpose or effect of undermining Lebanon's democratic processes or institutions, contributing to the breakdown of the rule of law in Lebanon, supporting the reassertion of Syrian control or otherwise contributing to Syrian interference in Lebanon, or infringing upon or undermining Lebanese sovereignty;
(B) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, such actions, including acts of violence, or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order;
(C) to be a spouse or dependent child of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or
(D) to be owned or controlled by, or acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.
(b) I hereby determine that the making of donations of the type of articles specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in this order, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by paragraph (a) of this section.
(c) The prohibitions in paragraph (a) of this section include but are not limited to (i) the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order, and (ii) the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.
Sec. 2. (a) Any transaction by a United States person or within the United States that evades or avoids, has the purpose of evading or avoiding, or attempts to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.
(b) Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.
Sec. 3. For the purposes of this order:
(a) the term "person" means an individual or entity;
(b) the term "entity" means a partnership, association, trust, joint venture, corporation, group, subgroup, or other organization; and
(c) the term "United States person" means any United States citizen, permanent resident alien, entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (including foreign branches), or any person in the United States.
Sec. 4. For those persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order who might have a constitutional presence in the United States, I find that, because of the ability to transfer funds or other assets instantaneously, prior notice to such persons of measures to be taken pursuant to this order would render these measures ineffectual. I therefore determine that, for these measures to be effective in addressing the national emergency declared in this order, there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to section 1 of this order.
Sec. 5. The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA, as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this order. The Secretary of the Treasury may redelegate any of these functions to other officers and agencies of the United States Government, consistent with applicable law. All agencies of the United States Government are hereby directed to take all appropriate measures within their authority to carry out the provisions of this order and, where appropriate, to advise the Secretary of the Treasury in a timely manner of the measures taken. The Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure compliance with those provisions of section 401 of the NEA (50 U.S.C. 1641) applicable to the Department of the Treasury in relation to this order.
Sec. 6. The Secretary of the Treasury, after consultation with the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to submit the recurring and final reports to the Congress on the national emergency declared in this order, consistent with section 401(c) of the NEA (50 U.S.C. 1641(c)) and section 204(c) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1703(c)
Sec. 7. This order is not intended to create, nor does it create, any right, benefit, or privilege, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities, or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.
August 1, 2007.

For Whom Will the Christians of the Metn Vote?
Hazem Saghieh Al-Hayat - 02/08/07//
There might be dozens of reservations about Amin Gemayel on the part of many people from the Metn, and even more Lebanese. Certainly, the language of "this parliamentary seat belongs to our family" is pretty poor stuff; it is also the kind of village-based attitude that makes others nauseous.
Nonetheless, Sunday's by-election in Metn is a special affair; its impact transcends the district's geographical borders. The election is taking place after the assassination of MP Pierre Gemayel, Amin's son, to fill this vacant seat. This means that voting for a candidate who follows Gemayel's path, whether or not it is the father, represents a rejection of the assassination and the "policy" of murder. Logically, it follows that a defeat for this political path means accepting murder and trying to control Lebanon through car bombs and guns.
However, do the majority of Christian voters in Metn support this "option"?
This is a key election, not just because it's taking place due to a political assassination, but also because the Metn has a special social, political and educational standing (the president of the Republic is also from this region). Thus, voting in this district does not represent the wishes of marginal Christians, but expresses the feeling in one of their decision-making centers, and this center is divided at a time in which Lebanon is facing truly frightening scenarios.
Voting that provides absolution for murder is dangerous, in this sense, as it will come from the majority of Christians, among whom many are influential and active. They will be saying that their priority is something other than responding to murder and "the policy" of murder. What is this other thing that they would be voting for?
Answering this question are the speeches and statements of Michel Aoun, linking his opponents to Qoraitem, i.e. Saad al-Hariri, after a connected campaign against Lebanese Sunnis and their striving for the "Islamicization" of Lebanon.
The Aounist line is not content with changing priorities in a suspicious way, but chooses hatred as an entry-point to "politics" and antagonism as the best form of expressing this. First of all, this springs from the victory of communitarian and sectarian awareness among pro-Aoun Christians, over any possibility of a uniting patriotism. When no consideration is given to the "political Lebanization" that has affected the Sunni community, the most recent sign of which being the sect's stance on the Lebanese Army, Christians prefer to "remain alone, even if wrong," to "standing with others and being right." Instead of welcoming a change such as this, one that brings the Sunnis close to the traditional Christian position, we end up seeing an affirmation of the Christian monopolization of this position, while others are prevented from exercising it. This behavior leads to seeing Lebanese patriotism-nationalism either remaining a sectarian good, with exclusive ownership, or not existing at all.
This stance passes over the fact that what unites the Future Movement goes beyond accepting a sole Lebanese state apparatus and the state's monopoly on force; it includes a wide vision of regional and strategic matters with which Lebanon is concerned, through its links, in terms of the economy, services and job opportunities, with the Arab world, and particularly the Gulf. Moreover, the Christian and Sunni elites share an acceptance of a degree of modernity in the public and private realms, which might not be sufficient, but are necessary to guarantee a separation between public and private life, on the one hand, and the resorting to religion and fatwas, on the other.
One might disagree by saying salafist and jihadist Sunni movements are a danger to Christians, and that some of these elements occupy the rear lines of the Future Movement. While this might be relatively true, it does not do away with the fact that these groups have no leading role in their community. Cornering them will only be achieved by opening up to the majority Sunni current, which is not salafist or jihadist. In fact, laying siege to the Sunnis will only lead to weakening moderate Sunnis and strengthening the other elements; these elements will rule over their sect in the way that Hizbullah does among the Shiites.
This, in turn, means that the memorandum of understanding between Aoun and Hizbullah serves as evidence of Aoun's non-sectarianism only in
as much as it serves as evidence of the non-sectarianism of Hizbullah. Here, we confront two radical and antagonistic visions, which cancel each other out. The only thing that unites them is delusion on the part of Aoun, and the above-mentioned strategy of Hizbullah: is it reasonable that a group whose horizons are restricted to a few villages in Mount Lebanon can dominate the "understanding" of a force that is part of a project stretching from Gaza to Tehran, with Damascus, as usual, serving as its "beating heart"?
If Christians go to the polls on Sunday in Metn, they will be voting on their image of themselves, their awareness, and their future in this region, before anything else