DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 8,5-11. When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully." He said to him, "I will come and cure him." The centurion said in reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven,
Releases. Reports & Opinions
The Horses are Tied... in Lebanon-By: Zouheir Kseibati .Dar Al-Hayat. December 3/07
New Player in the Middle East. By NICHOLAS BLANFORD. Times. December 3/07
Is the U.S. now ready for talks with Syria?By Nicholas Blanford. Christian Monitor/December 3/07
Is Syria an Ally or Adversary of Radical Sunni Movements-By: Eyal Zisser- Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. December 3/07
Clear as mud-By: Sami Moubayed -Al-Ahram Weekly-December 03/07
Latest News Reports From
Miscellaneous Sources for December 03/07
Mubarak says Annapolis could lead to peace including Syria, Lebanon-Jerusalem Post
Lebanon majority plans petition to vote army chief as president-AFP
Sarkozy Telephones Assad for a Second Time over Lebanon-Naharnet
Euro MPs to Visit Beirut after Talks in Damascus-Naharnet
March 14 Alliance Clears Baabda's Way for Army Commander Suleiman-Naharnet
Hamadeh: Majority to Draft a Petition to Amend Constitution-Naharnet
One Year After Sit-In, Opposition Warns: Either Consensus and Partnership or Nonstop Action-Naharnet
Hizbullah: The Majority must Discuss New Government, Army Commander with Aoun-Naharnet
Sfeir remains concerned as support for Sleiman increases-AsiaNews.it - Italy
Iran Says Ties With Syria Rock Solid-The Associated Press
Syria reassures Iran on Mideast: official-AFP
Syria, Iraq reopen border crossing closed for over 3 years-International Herald Tribune
Lebanon leaders back army chief-BBC News
Consensus on Lebanon's presidency-BBC News
Lebanon: Al-Hariri's masterstroke-ISA - Tel Aviv,Bosnia and Herzegovina
Amal chastises Feltman for 'disgraceful interference'-Daily Star
'The truth hurts:' Sfeir stands by indictment of politicians-Daily Star
Suleiman gains support from March 14, awaits official word from opposition-Daily Star
Olmert tells Israeli daily US will not sell out Lebanon for Syria (AFP)
Thunderstorms pelt much of Lebanon with hail-Daily Star
Young leaders to learn ways of UN-Daily Star
Opposition supporters mark first anniversary of Beirut sit-in (AFP)
Beirut Stock Exchange rides hopes for political thaw-Daily Star
Italian peacekeepers tread softly in wounded land-Daily Star
'People of all ages, social status and races are equally vulnerable' to AIDS
Beirut ceremony to honor Arab world's 'Prince of Poets'-Daily Star
Syria reassures Iran over presence at Annapolis-(AFP)
Ahmadinejad: Enemies can't harm strong ties with Syria-International Herald Tribune
EU must help find Mideast peace: Syria-EUbusiness (press release)
Significant Meeting between Gemayel, Geagea, Suleiman-Naharnet
Lebanon's Unease-New York Times
Lebanese-American pleads guilty in bid to aid Hezbollah-Ya Libnan
One PA - with Hamas-Ha'aretz
Aoun - Murr parliamentary alliance is falling apart-Ya Libnan
Berri's Amal Accuses Feltman of Violating Diplomatic Rules-Naharnet
US Seems to Soften Syria Stance.Wall Street Journal
U.S. may be softening Syria policy.WebIndia123.com
A Year On, 'Tent City' Paralyzes Beirut-The Associated Press
Hezbollah Hints at Support for Suleiman-Washington Post
Syrian archeologists discover ancient remains among famous ruins-International Herald Tribune
March 14 Alliance
Cleares Baabda Way for Army Chief Suleiman
March 14 Alliance announced that it would accept army chief General Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate for the vacant presidency, clearing the way to an end to a year-old stand-off with the opposition. The coalition "announces that it is going back on its initial opposition to an amendment to the constitution and... is supporting the candidacy of General Michel Suleiman for president," said a statement read by former president Amin Gemayel, a leading Christian coalition politician.
The meeting was held at the fortified Phoenicia Hotel were 40 Majority MPs have been residing for fear of assassination. The change of policy was intended to "put an end to the vacancy in the presidency" since pro-Syrian head of state Emile Lahoud stepped down last month without a successor in place, Gemayel said in the statement broadcast by Lebanese televisions. Suleiman's candidacy requires a change to the constitution as Article 49 bars public servants from acceding to the presidency within two years of stepping down. Coalition politicians had expressed opposition to any new change to the constitution after their regional foe Syria pushed through an amendment in 2004 paving the way for a three-year extension to Lahoud's term of office.(AFP) A significant meeting took place Saturday at the Defense Ministry in Yarz between Suleiman, Gemayel and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Sources said the atmosphere of the meeting which lasted for two hours was "very satisfactory." and it paved the way for the broader gathering today. Beirut, 02 Dec 07, 08:53
Olmert tells Israeli daily US will not sell out Lebanon for Syria
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Monday, December 03, 2007
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the United States will not sell out Lebanon to Syria. In an interview with Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Olmert also revealed that he was the one who insisted on Syria's invitation to the Annapolis peace conference, despite Washington's objection.
Olmert stressed that the US was not willing to deceive Lebanon in return for normalization of relations with Syria.
"We are aware that the Syrians will not get involved in peace talks unless the Americans changed their stance toward them," Olmert told the daily.
"And for establishing normal ties with Syria, the Americans will have to betray Lebanon, and George Bush's administration is not willing to do so," he said.
Meanwhile, the US said it sees a "mixed picture" from Syria about whether it now seeks to cooperate with US aims in the Middle East.
Speaking to reporters over the weekend State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, could not offer a "definitive assessment" when asked if there was any proof that Syria is cooperating more with Washington to support free elections in Lebanon. - AFP
Lebanon leaders back army chief
BBC/The president's chair has been empty since Lahoud left office
Lebanon's parliamentary majority has backed a compromise candidate for president, raising hopes of an end to months of tense political deadlock.
The western-backed ruling bloc had initially rejected army chief Gen Michel Suleiman who has conditional support from the pro-Syrian opposition.
His election requires an amendment to the constitution to allow senior civil servants to take over the presidency.
The repeatedly postponed presidential vote is now scheduled for 7 December.
Lebanon has been without a head of state since 27 November as rival factions argued about a successor to the pro-Syrian incumbent, Emile Lahoud.
Gen Suleiman, 59, has held his post since 1998, when he was nominated by the outgoing Gen Lahoud.
Correspondents say he has remained neutral during the year-long political crisis and has repeatedly called on the army to keep out of politics.
In a televised statement, Amin Gemayel, leader of the right-wing Maronite Christian party, the Phalange, announced the governing coalition's support of Gen Suleiman's candidacy.
Gen Suleiman has remained neutral in Lebanon's recent upheavals
The former opposition candidate for the job, Michel Aoun, had earlier lent his conditional support to Gen Suleiman's candidacy.
His conditions include the appointment of a neutral prime minister - something the governing coalition has previously rejected.
He also asked that Gen Suleiman step down at the 2009 parliamentary elections rather than serving a full term until 2013.
The Shia militant group Hezbollah said it would back Gen Suleiman on condition of Mr Aoun's endorsement.
This means most political groupings have now expressed support for him, but the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut says there is no guarantee he will get the job.
Under the current constitution senior civil servants are barred from becoming president within two years of stepping down.
Analysts say the hope is now that the amendment can be passed without further another crisis breaking out.
The deadlock has paralysed Lebanon politically and economically since the devastating 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.
The constitution has been amended twice since 1998, first to allow Mr Lahoud to become president and again in 2004 to extend his term by three years.
That move sharply divided Lebanon into pro- and anti-Syrian camps, and months later Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon amid huge protests after the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri, who had recently joined the anti-Syrian side.
An amendment to Article 49 must now be approved by cabinet, which has been dominated by pro-westerners since six pro-Syrian ministers quit in November 2006.
Under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, the country's president must be from the Maronite Christian minority.
The post of prime minister is always reserved for a Sunni Muslim, while that of parliament speaker goes to a Shia.
Aridi: Lebanon opposition failed in its 1 year protest
Sunday, 2 December, 2007 @ 8:24 PM
Beirut - Lebanon's Minister of Information Ghazi Aridi declared the Hezbollah -led opposition has failed in its one year old sit-in protest
" They failed in toppling the government which was the primary objective of the opposition." He said
Aridi revealed that the Government has operated as usual and issued several resolutions which bind the opposition too. One of these resolutions was the by-Elections in Beirut and the Metn region and the opposition participated in these elections. Aridi said all the resigned ministers have returned to their posts at various times to take care of pending business and have even signed some of the resolutions that the government issued. The Iranian and Syrian backed Hezbollah along with its ally former General Michel Aoun have been leading a sit-in protest in downtown Beirut since last December to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. They insisted on having a new government in which they will hold a veto power , but they failed since the government of Siniora enjoys the support of the majority of the Lebanese and the International community. The Hezbollah-led opposition built a tent city in Downtown Beirut which transformed the plushiest section of Lebanon into a shanty town and forced over 200 businesses to close down
Lebanon army trying to rearm and modernize itself
Monday, 3 December, 2007 @ 2:31 AM
By : Riad Kahwaji
Beirut - The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is working to modernize and rearm itself amid political turmoil in the country and the region, according to officials and experts here. On Nov. 23, parliament failed to elect a new president, leaving the seat vacant for the first time. The Lebanese government has assumed the duties of the president until parliament elects a new leader. “Despite the political turmoil, almost all Lebanese regard the LAF as the best guarantee for the country’s future and stability,” a senior Lebanese military official said.
In September, Lebanon ordered 40 Leopard-1 tanks and 32 YPR armored infantry fighting vehicles with 25mm guns and spare parts that were “offered by Belgium at a bargain price” The money will come from what remains of the $100 million donated by Saudi Arabia in June to help the military crush an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group called Fatah Al-Islam in northern Lebanon. The official said Beirut is now waiting for Brussels to clear its own crisis — Flemish and Francophone parties failed to agree on a coalition government following general elections earlier this year — and officially endorse the transfer. Belgium will replace the Army-surplus vehicles with variants of the Mowag Piranha-III. The LAF is still looking for fighter jets — perhaps Jordanian or Saudi F-5E/Fs — to replace five old Hawker Hunters that have been grounded for years by a lack of spare parts.
“There are a number of old but fairly good jet fighters available in the market that the LAF could get for either free or very low prices, but the problem is that the best offers are American-built, which means Washington would need to give its approval for the transfer to Lebanon, and that is a problem now,” one Lebanese Air Force officer said. A U.S. Embassy official here said giving Lebanon fighters & offensive weapons would require a policy review. The US embassy is concerned that these weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah, which is considered stronger than the Lebanese army .
Meanwhile, Lebanon will save money on advanced pilot training by sending five to 10 Air Force pilots to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has offered to provide training free of charge on its Hawk jets, the Air Force officer said. Such training would cost thousands an hour at European countries, as initially planned, the official said. “The UAE has been very generous to the LAF. First, it gave nine U.S. Gazelle helicopters, and now the training,” the official said.
Discussions are under way with companies to overhaul and maintain five Bell-212 and three Puma helicopters. Sources: defensenews.com
A New Player in the Middle East
Sunday, Dec. 02, 2007 By NICHOLAS BLANFORD/BEIRUT
For more than two years, Lebanon's so-called Cedar Revolutionaries — the country's anti-Syrian politicians — have helped lead the Bush Administration's charge to promote democracy and curb anti-Western extremism in the Middle East. Since the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, which sparked the anti-Syrian protests in Beirut — dubbed by Washington as the Cedar Revolution — and ended three decades of Syrian domination, the U.S. has backed the pro-Western government in Lebanon in hopes of denying Syria (and Iran) influence in the country.
But now, the White House has begun signaling a new approach to Syrian relations — for starters, it invited Syria to last week's Annapolis peace conference to revive Israeli–Palestinian peacemaking. And Washington's overtures to Damascus, which the U.S. has repeatedly slammed for sponsoring terrorism and meddling in Lebanon and Iraq, have left pro-Western Lebanese leaders worried about being "sold out" as part of a broader U.S.-Syrian deal to stabilize the region.
"The message the Americans are sending to the region is that what succeeds is terror, bombings and a total disregard for democracy," a senior member of the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition in Lebanon tells TIME. "No one is going to remove the feeling from March 14 that we have been dumped by the Americans."
The first sign of this discontent came a day after the Annapolis conference when the March 14 block, which forms a slim majority in the Lebanese parliament, revealed that it would back the presidential nomination of General Michel Suleiman, the commander of the Lebanese army — a candidacy that it had previously opposed. The Lebanese presidency has been vacant since November 23 when parliament failed to elect a successor to Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian head of state whose term ended the same day. The recent decision by March 14 to opt for Suleiman — who is seen as having close ties to the militant Shiite Hizballah, which spearheads the pro-Syrian opposition to the Western-backed government in Beirut — apparently caught the opposition by surprise, not having expected the general's candidacy to be promoted by its political foes.
"The Syrians are very happy," says Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst. "I think this is what the Syrians always wanted — Suleiman." Parliament is scheduled to reconvene on December 7 when Suleiman is expected to be elected president.
With the announcement of Suleiman's candidacy immediately following Annapolis, it was widely assumed that Syria and the U.S. had brokered a deal to fill the Lebanese presidency as a way to help ease months of tension between their respective allies in Lebanon. However, senior March 14 politicians tell TIME that the proposal to nominate Suleiman had arisen more than a week before Annapolis, several days before Syria even announced it would attend the peace conference. The anti-Syrian block had determined it was better to choose a president acceptable to the opposition than risk a prolonged constitutional vacuum and the threat of violence erupting in Lebanon between rival factions. "We're sure that Suleiman is better than the void," says an adviser to Saad Hariri, whose Future Movement is the largest component of March 14.
Another reason Suleiman got the nod was, perhaps, simply the lack of a better option: March 14 had determined that it had few chips left to play, given that the Bush Administration had apparently withdrawn support. "With America's realignment and engagement with Syria, obviously [the U.S.] cannot exert pressure on Syria anymore. We understood the message and acted appropriately," says Ghattas Khoury, a member of March 14.
U.S. officials insist, however, that March 14's fears are unfounded. "There was no deal with the Syrians at Annapolis about Lebanon," Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. ambassador in Beirut, tells TIME. "There will be no U.S. deal with the Syrians regarding Lebanon's presidency. This is an issue for the Lebanese alone to work out."
But it will be a tough sell convincing the anti-Syrian coalition in Beirut that the Bush Administration's support is unstinting. After all, they still remember that it was Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, who green-lighted Syrian hegemony over Lebanon in 1990, in exchange for Syria's help in ousting Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Indeed, Lebanon has a long and unhappy tradition of being the battleground for competing foreign powers. Lebanese political bosses accept the support of foreign patrons to gain extra leverage against domestic rivals, while regional powers use their proxies in Lebanon to fight their own battles. It is a symbiotic relationship that seems to benefit everyone but the host; over the past two centuries, it has repeatedly plunged this tiny Mediterranean country into violence, and threatens to do so again today.
Once again, instability may come at the hands of Washington. Since 2005, the U.S. has lent the pro-Western government support, as Lebanon teetered on the edge of chaos, wracked by a war between Hizballah and Israel, battles with Al-Qaeda-style militants, further assassinations of anti-Syrian politicians, economic stagnation and political gridlock. But now the Administration seems to be having a change of heart on Syria — recognizing that, like it or not, Damascus remains integral to almost every challenge in the Middle East: Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Israel-Palestine. "The Administration was only using a policy of sticks [against Syria] and now it is going to use some limited carrots as well as sticks and see if it yields results," says Andrew Tabler, editor of the Damascus-based monthly magazine, Syria Today.
Small comfort, perhaps, to the anti-Syrian legislators in Lebanon who fear — rightly or wrongly — that history is repeating itself, with Washington once more sacrificing their interests on the altar of political expediency.
Is the U.S. now ready for talks with Syria?
Washington appears to be backing the Lebanese presidential contender favored by Damascus.
By Nicholas Blanford – Correspondent and Howard LaFranchi – Staff Writer
from the December 3, 2007 edition
Reporter Nicholas Blanford describes a recent breakthrough in the Lebanese presidential selection process.Beirut, Lebanon; and Washington - It's too early to gauge the impact of last week's Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, Md., on its intended goal: Israeli-Palestinian peace. But after the gathering, an emerging American approach to the region may end a crisis in Lebanon and weaken Iran's influence.
Over the weekend, Syria's favored candidate for the unfilled Lebanese presidency, Gen. Michel Suleiman, all but sealed the title. Lebanon's anti-Syrian, US-backed factions dropped their opposition to the general a day after Annapolis. Now, parliament is expected to vote for him on Friday.
Analysts say that the U-turn in Beirut can be traced to signals from the US that it wants to reengage with Syria. They say Washington wants to deal with the country it has maligned as an agent for Iranian designs in the region, including the trafficking of weapons to anti-US/Israel militias in Lebanon and Iraq.
"There is a new spirit in the Middle East, a real chance for peace. Will Syria be left on the sidelines or give up its support for terror, leave Lebanon alone, support the Iraqi government and make a decision in favor of peace?" Stephen Hadley, the National Security Advisor, told students at Johns Hopkins international studies school in Washington last week.
Many Beirut politicians say the proposal to elect Suleiman, an army commander who took his post in 1998 when Syria controlled Lebanon, as president is the first reaction to a changing American stance toward Syria.
While this may be easing the political deadlock in Lebanon, which has not had a president since Emile Lahoud left office on Nov. 23 and parliamentarians failed to elect a successor, American allies and anti-Syrian politicians here are saying they look to be losing Washington's support.
"We are not saying they dropped us, but there has been a rearrangement of US priorities after Annapolis," says Ghattas Khoury, a member of the anti-Syrian March 14 bloc, which holds a slim majority in the Lebanese parliament.
"The Americans want a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians and that means talking to the Syrians," he says.
The March 14 bloc, named for the massive rally that helped drive Syria from the country, declared last week that it had reversed its earlier objection to Suleiman, who is also seen as close to Hizbullah, the militant Shiite group that heads the Lebanese opposition. The announcement, which came a day after Annapolis triggered instant speculation that a deal had been cooked up in Maryland between the US and Syria to end the crisis over the Lebanese presidency and ease months of tension among their the feuding allies in Lebanon.
But the Suleiman proposal was launched more than a week earlier, according to March 14 sources, before Syria even said it would attend Annapolis. But they say it was made in recognition that Washington's tough policy toward Syria was softening, entailing, they say, reduced US backing for March 14.
"It seems that the March 14 leaders looked hard at the options available to them, in light of public opinion and the need to get the presidential vacuum filled as quickly as possible," says a Western diplomat in Beirut.
But the diplomat added that the anti-Syrian block's fears of being "sold out" by the Bush administration in favor of rapprochement with Syria are misplaced. "The Lebanese are persuading themselves and frightening themselves of a monster that does not exist."
Certainly, despite Syria's attendance at Annapolis, US officials are playing down the prospects of renewed dialogue with Damascus, insisting that Syria still needs to change its behavior first. Still, speculation of a deal was perhaps inevitable, given that Syria, scorned by the US under the Bush administration as a state sponsor of terror, was invited to and chose to attend a conference hosted by President Bush.
Beyond that, Moscow began hinting that it hopes to hold a follow-up to Annapolis early next year that would focus on a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement.
Some US officials and experts now say that the change in tone could mean that Syria and Israel end up reaching an agreement on the Golan Heights – Syrian territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Mideast war – and a bilateral peace accord before one is reached in the more complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Syria is being brought back in, including by Washington, and Syria is trying to dress itself up and get on Israel's dance card" to get the Golan Heights back, says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and author of the widely read "Syria Comment" blog.
Some analysts say adding a peace accord with Syria to the ones Israel already has with Egypt and Jordan would provide an important impetus to the ultimate prize of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But they say that will require more proactive and positive encouragement from the US than what has been evident so far.
"It's a good idea to encourage and facilitate Israel and Syria going forward rather quickly to secure a deal," says Patrick Lang, a former Middle East specialist with the Defense Intelligence Agency. "That would set the stage for the real deal between the Israelis and Palestinians." But he adds that it will take an "active role" by the US on the Israel-Syria front. "If we don't do that after the opening provided by [Annapolis], then we have lost an opportunity."
But an Israeli-Syrian deal on the Golan Heights is not Washington's chief interest in pursuing a dialogue with Damascus, analysts say. Instead, Washington's principle motives are to seek Damascus's cooperation on the Israeli-Palestinian track as well as attempting to loosen Syria's close relationship with Iran.
Syria and Iran have been allies since 1980, but their ties strengthened significantly in the past two years as a result of both countries facing increased international pressure and isolation.
"It's very unlikely for the US to break Syria from Iran, maybe perhaps ever, because Syria maintains a balance of power relations with its neighbors and powers in the region and I don't think it would like to put all its eggs in one basket," says Andrew Tabler, editor of the Damascus-based Syria Today monthly.
Tabler says the weak link in the Syria-Iran relationship, which could be exploited by the US, is to provide assistance to promote Syria's moribund economic reform program.
"The Syrians are in a fiscal crunch due to declining oil revenues, and one of the biggest problems they face is corruption and low productivity," he says. "The US has a lot of expertise that it could extend Syria's way. That's a special sweetener that I just don't think the Iranians could ever offer."
One Year After Sit-In, Opposition Warns: Either Consensus and Partnership or Nonstop Action
Hundreds of opposition supporters rallied in downtown Beirut on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the Hizbullah-led sit-in that has sent 2,700 people unemployed and forced closure of 75 restaurants and coffee shops.
The protestors gathered in Riad Solh Square where the opposition, supported by Syria and Iran, has maintained a tent city outside the offices of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora. They vowed to maintain their tent city for years if need be to force the resignation of Saniora's majority government.
The demonstrators waved Lebanese flags as well as the banners of Hizbullah, Amal, the Free Patriotic Movement of Gen. Michel Aoun and a number of pro-Syrian parties. "One year on the sit-in for national unity," said one placard. "One year on, against monopoly," read another.
The opposition wants a government of national unity installed in place of Saniora's administration which has been dominated by foes of Damascus since six pro-Syrian ministers quit in November last year. Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan warned that the Opposition is ready to keep up its sit-in protest if the ruling March 14 coalition "went too far." "The Lebanese nationalist opposition is ready for a settlement through a consensual president and a government of partnership," Hajj Hassan told the rally. "But the opposition is also ready today to pursue its (sit-in) action, if the other party led a different track, away from consensus and partnership," he said.
"We will continue to stay in the downtown area until the government falls," said Zaynab, a 37-year-old woman from Beirut's southern suburbs, or Dahiyeh.
"We are here to support the opposition. This government is illegitimate and guided by remote control by foreigners," the chador-clad Hizbullah supporter told AFP.
Sarah Bazzi, a 40-year-old Hizbullah supporter also wearing the head-to-toe black chador, said: "We don't feel like we are represented in this government, so it should go away. "The opposition is at least two million people if not more, so when they say that they represent the majority, they are telling a lie," she said.
March 14, which holds a majority of the seats in parliament, accuses the opposition of seeking to block ratification of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, widely blamed on Syria.
The continued sit-in comes as the country grapples with a dangerous political vacuum that has left the presidency vacant because of a standoff between pro- and anti-Syrian factions. The year-long sit-in has transformed a large swathe of Beirut's usually bustling downtown into a ghost town and led to the shutdown of some 200 businesses and thousands of job losses. And although the sprawling tent city pitched by the protestors on streets leading to Saniora's offices is now empty for the most part, it is a sore reminder for passers-by of the crisis pitting the government against the opposition led by Hizbullah. Groups of young men mill outside the tents at night, some smoking water pipes and others chit-chatting about politics, reading a newspaper or watching television.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 01 Dec 07, 19:16
Is Syria an Ally or Adversary of Radical Sunni Movements?
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Bashar al-Assad is clearly not his father. He is not respected or feared as was his father. People accept him in Syria not because of his character or his charisma - which is nonexistent - but because the average Syrian citizen sees no alternative.
Syria displays a bunker mentality. It sees itself as a small country, constantly under attack by foreigners and by neighboring countries, always the target of a conspiracy, like Cuba or North Korea, which have a similar bunker mentality.
American-Syrian relations were destroyed because of mistakes made by Bashar al-Assad. He destroyed Syria's close relations with the European Union, especially with France. He also destroyed the delicate relations his father built with the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Saudis. His father was smart enough to create this web of alliances that balanced each other. This doesn't exist anymore.
There is a debate in America about whether the U.S. should engage in a dialogue with Syria, but what Bashar wants from America is full capitulation, a total American withdrawal from Iraq. Bashar is not happy about the prospects for the emergence of a pro-Western regime in Iraq. There is also nothing to discuss with Bashar about Lebanon unless the Americans are ready to give Lebanon back to the Syrians.
We should be very realistic about what we can get from Syria. Syria is not about to become a close ally of the United States and part of what we call the moderate camp in the region. Syria is not Egypt, which is a big country with a long history and tradition, and which feels secure and sure of itself. This is why in the long run we can only get something very limited from Syria.
Bashar al-Assad's Syria
What more can be done in order to remove Syria from its alliance with North Korea and Iran? What more can be done to engage Syria in a more positive dialogue with Israel, the international community, and the United States? Unfortunately, there is very little we can do.
When we speak about Syria nowadays, we speak about Bashar al-Assad. When Bashar became president of Syria in June 2000, it wasn't clear if the generals, the bureaucracy, and the party members would ever accept him. Bashar has now survived for seven years and I see no real threat to the stability of his regime.
Bashar is the one who makes the decisions. When he became president we used to speak about the Old Guard, people who were left from the period of his father, Hafez al-Assad, like Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam and Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlass. They are all gone. Khaddam is now in exile, Tlass retired, and all around Bashar are people who were appointed by him and not people left from his father's era.
However, he is clearly not his father. He is not respected or feared as was his father. People accept him in Syria not because of his character or his charisma, which is nonexistent. The main reason for Bashar's support is the lack of any alternative seen by the average Syrian citizen. The democratic option, which probably will bring radical Islamists to power, is not popular in Syria. There is no liberal, pro-Western democratic camp as there was in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union collapsed.
The Syrians have Lebanon on one side, which is approaching a new civil war, and on the other side they have Iraq, where the war actually reaches Syria in the form of almost two million Iraqi refugees. When the man in the street in Damascus sees the disintegration and chaos of Iraq, he concludes that it is better to stay with what he has right now that provides him with limited stability and security - the regime of Bashar al-Assad. That is the main reason why this regime is popular. In addition, Bashar's anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric is well accepted among the Syrian population and that is also a source of support for this regime.
Syria's Bunker Mentality
In order to understand Syria we have to take into consideration not only Bashar but also the mentality of the Syrian regime. Since it became an independent state in the 1940s, Syria has displayed a bunker mentality. It sees itself as a small country, constantly under attack by foreigners and by neighboring countries, always the target of a conspiracy. We usually compare Syria to Egypt or other Arab countries, but the more correct comparison is to states like Cuba or North Korea, which have a similar bunker mentality.
The Syrians really believe that there is an American conspiracy to take over the Middle East. Seeing this immediate threat, they became closer with radical Muslim movements and with Iran, even though Syria's natural place is with Saudi Arabia, with its Arab brothers, and not with Iran.
The Syrians were surprised to discover that their readiness to cooperate with radical Islamic groups helped them in unexpected ways. For example, for some time the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood supported Syria.
Hafez al-Assad never came out with any creative ideas to promote and achieve progress in Syrian-Israeli or Syrian-American relations. It was always the Israelis or Americans presenting their proposals to be rejected or discussed by the Syrians. We should not expect the Syrians to follow Anwar Sadat - to have a vision about how to get their country out of the bunker and to achieve economic progress. That is not Syria. This was not Hafez al-Assad, and it is not Bashar either.
In the early 1990s, a year or so after George Bush senior was defeated in the 1992 elections, he came to visit his friends in the Middle East. Bush didn't visit Israel, but he did visit Hafez al-Assad, back when American-Syrian relations were considered to be an asset for the Syrians. American-Syrian relations were destroyed because of mistakes made by Bashar al-Assad. He destroyed Syria's close relations with the European Union, especially with France. He also destroyed the delicate relations his father built with the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Saudis. His father was smart enough to create this web of alliances that balanced each other. This doesn't exist anymore.
Bashar survived, but he has left Syria standing in place, an undeveloped country with increasing economic problems and no chance of any improvement. At the same time, Syria has created an intimate alliance with Iran and with Hizbullah.
Hizbullah is the friendliest element in Lebanon toward Syria, but they don't want Syria to come back into Lebanon. They have their own project of gaining control over Lebanon and they are doing well, but it will take them time. If the Syrians come back, they will just divide and rule, and this will be the end of Hizbullah's dream.
A U.S. Dialogue with Syria?
There is a debate in America right now about whether the U.S. should engage in a dialogue with Syria. A dialogue about what? What Bashar wants from America is full capitulation, a total American withdrawal from Iraq. There is nothing to discuss. Bashar is not happy about the prospects for the emergence of a pro-Western regime in Iraq. There is nothing to discuss with Bashar about Lebanon unless the Americans are ready to give Lebanon back to the Syrians, like they did in the 1980s.
Can the Syrians do more to prevent people from going to Iraq and fighting the Americans or the Shi'ites there? Can the Syrian regime do more to destroy the training camps in Syria and block the transfer of money to these people? Yes, it can do more. But this is part of the Syrian mentality and the Syrian way of thinking, that it is all to be bargained over with the Americans.
Bashar only has a theoretical interest in having peace with Israel. He doesn't have the eagerness, decisiveness, or courage that we saw when Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem. Bashar has no clear vision of where he wants to see Syria in five or ten years. Bashar is not heading anywhere and there is very little we can do to change his behavior and engage him in a more positive dialogue with the West. He's still in the bunker and isn't ready to get out.
Radical Islamists and Syria
In 2004, for the first time in twenty years, radical Islamic groups began operating in Syria against Syrian targets. Every few weeks we hear of another group discovered by the government or another incident. Some are people who went to Iraq to fight the Americans and then came back to Syria to continue with their jihad, this time against local enemies - the secular Alawite regime in Syria. The Alawites are still very secular, but the Sunni majority is becoming more and more religious and this will become a challenge to the regime.
The Syrian regime had defeated the Muslim Brotherhood after its revolt in the years 1976-82. But today there are much more radical groups, inspired by and connected to al-Qaeda. The Syrian regime preferred to ignore these groups and allowed them to operate against the Americans. They are very small groups and most of the Syrian population doesn't support them yet, but clearly, in the long run, Syria will have a problem because Bashar al-Assad and his regime are totally secular, and Syrian society is much more secular than others in the Arab world.
The Syrian-Israeli Balance of Power
During the years 2000-2007, Israel twice attacked Syrian positions in Lebanon in April and July 2001 in retaliation for attacks on IDF positions by Hizbullah, killing almost 20 Syrian soldiers. In October 2003, Israeli aircraft bombed a Palestinian training camp seven kilometers north of Damascus. In 2002 and 2006, Israeli aircraft flew over Bashar's palace.
In all these cases there was no Syrian response. The Syrians were fully aware of the balance of power between them and the Israelis, and they were not interested in engaging in total war with Israel. The Syrians are fully aware that Israel is much stronger and there is no expectation among the Syrian public or in the Syrian army for immediate retaliation. The Syrians prefer to try to take revenge in indirect ways by using Hizbullah or the Palestinians.
Following the war in Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad made his famous speech in August 2006, telling the Israelis that after what happened in Lebanon, the status quo was not going to continue. But Bashar was bluffing and Israel called his bluff in the mysterious air attack in September 2007.
Prospects for the Future
When Israelis speak about normalization and peace, what they have in mind is a marriage agreement - something warm with hugs and kisses. What Syrians have in mind is a decent divorce agreement. There will be a settlement, but it doesn't mean that we are going to be friends. The Syrians argue that they will have the same kind of relations they have with Ukraine, with no need for an embassy, but everyone knows the two countries are at peace.
We should be very realistic about what we can get from Syria. Syria is not about to become a close ally of the United States and part of what we call the moderate camp in the region. Syria is not Egypt, which is a big country with a long history and tradition, and which feels secure and sure of itself. This is why in the long run we can only get something very limited from Syria.
* * *
Prof. Eyal Zisser is the Head of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History and the Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. Prof. Zisser is a leading expert on Syria and has written extensively on the history and politics of modern Syria, Lebanon, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among his books are In the Name of the Father: Bashar al-Assad's First Years in Power; Lebanon: The Challenge of Independence; and Assad's Syria at a Crossroads. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his appearance at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on October 25, 2007.
Hezbollah Hints at Support
Sunday December 2, 2007 12:46 AM
By BASSEM MROUE
Associated Press Writer
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) - A senior Hezbollah official said Saturday that the militant group holds army commander Michel Suleiman in high regard, further improving his chances of becoming Lebanon's next president and averting a political crisis. Hezbollah deputy leader Sheik Naim Kassem's comments came two days after the group's ally, Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, said he will back Suleiman as a compromise candidate for president. The parliamentary majority also expressed its support for Suleiman this week, setting up a potential resolution to months of conflict with the Hezbollah-led opposition over choosing President Emile Lahoud's successor ``We, in Hezbollah, ... have a positive view of Gen. Michel Suleiman in addition to our appreciation of Gen. Michel Aoun's stance and consider this alternative as a serious one,'' the white-turbaned cleric said on Hezbollah's al-Manar TV. ``There is a major opportunity for discussion in order to reach an accord on presidential elections,'' Kassem added. Hezbollah officials have in recent days linked their support for any presidential candidate to Aoun's stance. Now that Aoun has publicly supported Suleiman, Kassem's comments were viewed as implicit support for the army commander.
Parliament is scheduled to meet Friday to vote for a new president. For Suleiman to be elected, the Parliament will have to amend the constitution, which prevents senior state employees, including army commanders, from running for the post while in office.
The army chief is seen as a neutral figure who can appeal to both the Western-supported majority and the pro-Syrian opposition, which is backed by Damascus.
The nation's top post has been vacant since pro-Syrian Lahoud left office without a successor on Nov. 23 because the feuding groups could not agree on a compromise candidate.
Failure to elect a president left Lebanon with a leadership vacuum not seen since the civil war, when rival governments ran the country in 1988-89.
The United States, which backs the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, has in the past pressed to end Syria's influence in Lebanon. Syria's allies in Lebanon, in turn, have accused Saniora of selling out the country to the Americans. Meanwhile, some 5,000 opposition supporters held a rally in downtown Beirut to mark the first anniversary of a sit-in near Saniora's headquarters. The demonstration aimed to unseat Saniora's Western-backed government but has so far failed to do so.
Hezbollah legislator Hussein Hajj Hassan said at the rally that the opposition was ready for an agreement on a compromise president but would continue the sit-in if no agreement was reached. ``The Lebanese national opposition is ready for a political settlement through a compromise president and a partnership government,'' said Hajj Hassan. ``It is also ready, as this rally shows, today to continue with its (current) move.''
between Gemayel, Geagea, Suleiman
A significant meeting took place between Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Gen. Michel Suleiman, former President Amin Gemayel and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in a bid to embrace the army chief. Sources said the atmosphere of the meeting which took place Saturday at the Defense Ministry in Yarze was "very satisfactory." The daily An Nahar said Sunday the meeting which lasted nearly two hours also aimed at paving the way for a broader gathering of the ruling March 14 coalition in order to take a unified stance toward Suleiman's candidacy. Beirut, 02 Dec 07, 08:53
Lebanon - Overview
The current president of Lebanon is Emile Lahoud who was recently granted another term by the Lebanese parliment in September 2004 under great pressure from Syria. Though Lahoud is President and exercises considerable influence due to the backing of Syria, he is not the official commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Lebanon has a unique system of government that shares power among the country's religious sects. The constitution of the country was amended in 1991, under a plan for national reconciliation called the Ta'if Accord. The accord established a new political order in which Muslims and Christians share legislative power through a unicameral National Assembly. Hizbollah, once a ragtag militia, is currently one of the most powerful parties in the National Assembly, occupying 12 of the National Assembly's 128 seats. It is a Shiite Muslim organization led by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah with 20,000 active members. Founded in 1982, Hezbollah has twin objectives -- the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon. The party runs hospitals, television stations and newspapers and is widely supported by the Lebanese. The Lebanese government regards Hizballah's mission as a legal resistance against Israel and allows it to operate freely within the country so long as the organization adheres to the law.
General Michel Sleiman is the current commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. He has been in the Army since 1976 and slowly climbed up the chain of command finally being appointed as commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces in 1998. The Lebanese Armed Forces underwent their last transformation in 1991 and currently maintains a standing army of approximately 60,000 men. However, the miltary branches are not a balanced for joint military operations. The Navy and Air Force are vastly underfunded compared to the Ground Forces and lack the resources and equipment of a capable modern military. The Navy relies on small tracker boats and the Air Force mainstay are helicopters from the United States. In practice, both the Navy and Air Force are components of the internal security forces because their missions and operations are focused on domestic concerns.
The earlier incarnations of the Lebanese Armed Forces were marred by infighting, internal upheaval and general ineffectiveness as a national army. After the 1982 Israeli invasion, President Amin Jumayyil was convinced that a strong and unified army was necessary to rebuild the nation. He announced plans to create a 12-brigade 60,000-man army which would be equipped with French and American arms and trained by French and American advisers. He also planned to increase The Internal Security Forces to 20,000 men. Unfortunately weak recruiting could muster only about 22,000 men and the government decided on November 24, 1982, to impose a conscription law called the Law of Service to the Flag. The conscription law mandated one year of military service for eligible males. Additionally, other changes saw hundreds of new appointments were made on a nonsectarian basis.
The United States was instrumental in helping the Lebanese government rebuild the armed forces. In 1982 the United States proposed a Lebanese Army Modernization Program to be implemented in four phases. The first three phases entailed organization of seven full-strength, multiconfessional army brigades, to be created from existing battalions. The fourth phase focused on rebuilding the Navy and Air Force. The total cost of the first three phases was estimated at US$500 million but the United States pledged to pay US$235 million of this sum, with the Lebanese government paying the balance.
Initial progress was rapid. A new tank battalion equipped with M-48 tanks donated by Jordan was established and a new supply depot was built at Kafr Shima. About 1,000 vehicles, including hundreds of M-113 armored personnel carriers, were also transferred from the United States to Lebanon.
Still, there was a lack of effective military leadership which remained the Achilles heel. United States experts were aware of this problem and devoted considerable resources to solving it. A cadre of Lebanese lieutenants was given infantry officer basic training in the United States. Then a team of eighty United States military advisers, including fifty-three Green Berets, provided officer training in Lebanon. Lebanese officers were also attached to the United States MNF contingent for training in military unit operations.
Despite all these changes, new training and new equipment the Lebanese Army was routed in the 1983-84 battles in the Shuf Mountains and all suffered defeats by militia forces in West Beirut. In 1988, General Aoun who was Interim Prime Minister, declared a “War of Liberation” against the Syrians. Several months of fierce fighting followed but General Aoun has temporarily defeated Syria and its militia allies. The General's next campaign to absorb some of the remaining Lebanese militias met with disaster and months of fighting brought enormous losses and the destruction of Lebanese air and navla bases. Syria capitalized on Aoun's weak position and launched an air strike at the Presidential palace and the Ministry of Defence, followed by heavy artillery shelling. After he realized he could not win, Aoun surrendered and went to exile in France.
Following Aoun's departure a new pro-Syrian government rebuilt the army again into its current form.
The Lebanese Armed Forces are not the only military force in Lebanon which at its height during the civil war was the battleground for 40 different armies. Syria maintained approximately 20,000 troops in the country a visible reminder of the power they have with the government. The Syrians originally had upwards of 30,000 troops in Lebanon but lowered its troop numbers after Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000. Hizballah also has their own militia force of approximately 3,000 mostly located near the southern border in the Bekaa valley.
The autonomy of Lebanese Armed Forces' officials was limited due to widespread Syrian influence with government officials. Syria played a key role in Lebanese affairs and makes sure that high-ranking government officials are sypathetic to Damascus and Syrian interests. Consequently, international pressure on the Lebanese government and military officials to take action against groups like Hizballah that are operating in the country had little effect.
As of 2003 approximately 20,000 Syrian troops occupied the north of Lebanon above Tripoli, the Beqaa Valley north of the town of Rashayah, and the Beirut-Damascus highway. These numbers compare to 35,000 troops at the beginning of Syria's occupation. Between May 1988 and June 2001, Syrian forces occupied most of west Beirut. In October 1989, as part of the Taif agreements, Syria agreed to begin discussions on possible Syrian troop withdrawals from Beirut to the Beqaa Valley, two years after political reforms were implemented (then-Lebanese President Hirawi signed the reforms in September 1990), and to withdraw entirely from Lebanon after an Israeli withdrawal. While Israel has, according to the United Nations, complied with its obligations, the Syrian withdrawal discussions, which should have started in September 1992, had not begun as of early 2004.
A September 2004 vote by the Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution to extend President Lahoud's term in office by 3 years amplified the question of Lebanese sovereignty and the continuing Syrian presence. The vote was clearly taken under Syrian pressure, exercised in part through Syria's military intelligence service, whose chief in Lebanon had acted as a virtual proconsul for many years. The UN Security Council expressed its concern over the situation by passing Resolution 1559, also in September 2004, which called for withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces throughout the country, and a free and fair electoral process in the presidential election.
Former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 19 others were assassinated in Beirut by a car bomb on February 14, 2005. The assassination spurred massive protests in Beirut and international pressure that led to the withdrawal of the remaining Syrian military troops from Lebanon on April 26. In the months that followed Hariri’s assassination, journalist Samir Qassir and Lebanese politician George Hawi were both murdered by car bombs, and most recently, Defense Minister Elias Murr narrowly avoided a similar fate when a car bomb exploded near his convoy. The UN International Independent Investigative Commission (UNIIIC) headed by Detlev Mehlis iinvestigated Hariri’s assassination and reported its findings to the Security Council.
Parliamentary elections were held May 29-June 19, 2005 and the anti-Syrian opposition led by Sa’ad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri’s son, won a majority of 72 seats (out of 128). Hariri ally and former Finance Minister Fouad Siniora was named Prime Minister and Nabih Berri was reelected as Speaker of Parliament. Parliament approved the first “made-in-Lebanon” cabinet in almost 30 years on July 30. The new cabinet’s ministerial statement, a summary of the new government’s agenda and priorities, focuses on political and economic reform.
On July 12, 2006 members of Hizballah infiltrated the Lebanese-Israeli border near Shtula, an Israeli farming village, and claimed responsibility for an ambush conducted on two Israeli Army Hummvees. The attack resulted in the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the deaths of three others. Five more Israeli soldiers were killed in the ensuing pursuit of Hizballah members into Lebanese territory. The combined capture of two soldiers and the deaths of 8 others; was considered the worst loss for Israeli military forces in more than four years. Hizballah also claimed responsibility for two separate Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli towns resulting in the death of 1 civilian and the injury of 25 others.
The 12 July 2006 attack resulted in immediate retaliation by the Israeli military, which responded to the hostilities against their troops and citizens by bombing roads, bridges, and power plants inside Lebanon. The specific targeting of al-Manar, the Hizballah controlled television station, and the Lebanese international airport as well as the blockading of Lebanon’s sea ports was an attempt to force the return of the captured Israeli troops and place greater pressure on Hizballah. These retaliatory actions by Israel resulted in the deaths of dozens of Lebanese civilians and threats of further rocket attacks by Hizballah. Additionally, on July 18, 2006 Israeli strikes killed 11 Lebanese soldiers, while Hezbollah rockets killed an Israeli in Nahariya. The 11 Lebanese soldiers were killed at a barracks east of Beirut.
Where Living in Fear Starts at the Top
By JOHN KIFNER
Published: December 2, 2007
For more than a year, fearing assassination, the prime minister has lived in his office in the ornate government building, surrounded by concentric circles of barbed wire, soldiers and armored vehicles that separate him from antigovernment demonstrators. Some 40 members of Parliament from the razor-thin majority are holed up in the luxurious, gaudy Phoenicia Hotel a few blocks away, behind three tiers of metal detectors, internal security police and drawn curtains. The two majority leaders are in fortress-like family palaces, one high in the mountains, the other with surrounding city streets sealed off for blocks.
Answer: Lebanon, where one good barometer of whether it is moving toward a peaceful future is how safe — or threatened — the nominal leaders feel, living in the shadow of Syria.
Assassination is, so to speak, a way of life in Lebanon; by one count there have been at least 36 assassinations of major political figures in the country’s 64 years of independence. It is particularly dangerous to be president or prime minister. And the last two years have been as dangerous a time as any.
It was the assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005 that set off demonstrations and international condemnation that forced the end of nearly 30 years of domination by Syria. A United Nations investigation has implicated Gen. Asef Shawket, the head of Syrian military intelligence and brother-in-law of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Four top Lebanese security officers have been arrested.
But even with its troops withdrawn, Syria retains allies and agents in Lebanon. And Lebanese politics have been deadlocked between the Western-backed March 14 Coalition of Sunni Muslims, Druse and Christians on one side, against the Syrian-backed Shiite Muslims of Hezbollah and some Christians.
France, once Lebanon’s ruler, left a system that favors the Christians: The president is a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni; Parliament’s speaker is a Shiite and seats are allocated by sect. To keep the balance, there has been no census since 1932.
Last week, the country seemed to be easing an impasse over finding a new president whom all sides might trust. A consensus was reached on a constitutional amendment that would allow a serving general, Michel Suleiman, to be elected by Parliament.
But even if the deal holds, the lawmakers may stay barricaded — haunted by the list of anti-Syrian figures assassinated since Mr. Hariri was: Antoine Ghanem, Walid Eido and Pierre Gemayel, Parliament members; Samir Kassir and Gibran Tueni, journalists; and George Hawi, the Communist Party leader.
By: Sami Moubayed
Last Christmas, the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir told Lebanese Christians, "Do not be afraid." At first glance, the Lebanese did not seem afraid, not a bit. Despite all the turmoil they were going through, they still managed to put up their Christmas trees, go to nightclubs, dine at fancy restaurants and attend Fayruz. At second glance, however, the Lebanese had every reason to be afraid back then, and even more so today, one year later. Lebanon continues to suffer from the Israeli war in 2006, and the continued assassinations that have badly hit Lebanon's economy -- and tourism -- since 2005. Then came the massive sit-in launched by the Hizbullah-led opposition starting 2 December 2006 which at the time of writing, continues, with the aim of bringing down the cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora. Now comes vacancy at the Presidential Palace.
On 23-24 November 2007, Beirut seemed divided between those rejoicing at the exodus of President Emile Lahoud and those paying homage to a man whom they considered a great struggler, due to his nine-year alliance with Hizbullah and the Syrians. Lahoud left a vacant post at Baabda Palace. After weeks of negotiations, the Lebanese were unable to agree on a replacement. Neighbourhoods loyal to parliamentary majority leader Saad Al-Hariri celebrated with fireworks and young people dancing in the street. Those occupied by Hizbullah and the Amal movement of Nabih Berri were quiet, filled with glowing images of the ex-president. In nearby Damascus, the mood was strongly pro-Lahoud. Syrian television aired a special documentary about him, saying that he was the man who helped unite Lebanon, in his capacity as army commander, in the 1990s. He helped liberate South Lebanon in 2000, and prevented Lebanon from becoming a satellite state of the United States and Israel.
Very few in Lebanon remained as loyal to the Syrians as Lahoud. Other strong examples are Maronite chief Suleiman Franjiyeh, former prime ministers Omar Karameh and Najib Mikati, parliament speaker Berri, and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. All of them upheld Lahoud as a constitutional president, after the Syrians departed in April 2005. Shortly before that, Nasrallah gave a memorable speech, which was much appreciated in Damascus, saying, "Beirut was destroyed by Sharon, rebuilt by Rafik Al-Hariri, and protected by Hafez Al-Assad!" Ever since entering Lebanon in 1976 and unceremoniously leaving in 2005, Syria has had few loyal friends. Former allies like Fouad Al-Siniora and Walid Jumblatt immediately turned against Damascus when it became clear that the Syrians were not staying long in Lebanon. They had actually been the ones, headed by Rafik Al-Hariri, to support and legitimise the Syrian presence in Lebanon during the 1990s. All of them had supported the election of Lahoud in 1998, handpicked by Hafez Al-Assad. Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV aired footage this weekend of Lahoud's 1998 inauguration speech, showing Nayla Mouawad, one of the figures of 14 March who at the time was pro-Syrian, clapping with pleasure at the new pro-Syrian president coming to power in Beirut. Mouawad and 14 March are now the strongest anti-Syrian voices in Beirut, described by the world as "historically" anti-Syrian statesmen who "struggled" for the liberation of their country from Syrian "occupation." The Syrians know better, however, and so does Lahoud. Lahoud was not like that and that is why the Syrians are sad to see him go, remembering, too well, that they had brought him to power in 1998 and renewed his mandate in 2004, at the expense of their friendship with Rafik Al-Hariri. The former prime minister, however, had eventually said yes to renewing Lahoud's mandate at Baabda Palace. Lahoud's friendship with the Syrians led to numerous accusations against him, with 14 March claiming that he was responsible for the murder of Al-Hariri in 2005, as reported in the first UN commission enquiry, known as the Melhis report. At the time of his exodus from Baabda in 2005, his top generals remain behind bars in connection to the Melhis report.
But as far as the world is concerned, all of that is now history. What matters is the new president of Lebanon. Despite all the bickering, and French heavy-handed diplomacy, the Lebanese have indeed created a power vacuum for themselves. Saad Al-Hariri is frantic. For one reason, if chaos returns to Lebanon his investments in Beirut will suffer. Setting politics aside and speaking purely in business terms, he cannot sit back and watch civil war erupt in Lebanon. Currently, the Maronite seat is vacant and the Shias, formerly represented in government, are also now in opposition to Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora. This leaves Saad Al-Hariri's Sunnis in temporary control of Lebanon. That is alarming for the Syrians. Saad Al-Hariri has ambitions to become prime minister of Lebanon after a Christian president is elected. Constitutionally he can do that, although advisors are telling him that this would be political suicide. Saad Al-Hariri cannot tolerate a strong Christian president who would overshadow his Sunni prime minister. That is why he preferred keeping Lahoud (although he detested the former General and accused him of conspiracy in the killing of his father in 2005), rather than bringing somebody like Aoun to Baabda.
Many wrongly believed that due to his alliance with Hizbullah, the Syrians wanted Aoun for president. That was trumpeted by the 14 March coalition in an attempt at tarnishing Aoun's image in the Christian streets. The truth is the Syrians would be very uncomfortable with somebody like Aoun. They do not forget his war of liberation against the Syrian army during the final stages of the civil war, and that he had led the Lebanese opposition in exile in the 1990s, calling for withdrawal of Syrian troops. Aoun also played a pivotal role in getting the US to pass the Syria accountability law of 2003. He is only allied to Hizbullah because he realises that he cannot rule Lebanon without the support of the 40 per cent of its population who are Shias. True that would end his reputation as a Christian leader -- something Aoun never strove to become -- and establish him as a cross-confessional Lebanese leader. The Syrians have no idea how he would act as president. He would certainly be better however, than either of the 14 March candidates Boutros Harb or Robert Ghanem.
But if the Syrians are able to get their way, they would opt for Michel Suleiman, the current army commander. Washington DC is not too enthusiastic about him because he is politically independent; too independent for Washington's taste. He is committed to combating Israel, supporting Hizbullah, and friendship with Syria. His one slogan has been "Israel is the enemy", something that greatly pleases Damascus but is frowned upon by 14 March. If elected, he would certainly work for a greater role for Hizbullah in the government, and might even turn a blind eye to their activities in south Lebanon, as did Elias Hrawi in the early 1990s, and Lahoud in 1998-2006. Also to the displeasure of 14 March was a recent remark by the army commander, "Fatah Al-Islam is linked to Al-Qaeda not Syria."
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Horses are Tied… in Lebanon
Al-Hayat - 03/12/07//
It is ironic that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "reassured" the Lebanese that US President George Bush "won't betray" their country for the sake of normalization with Syria; normalization here involves Washington and Damascus, not Damascus and Beirut. In any case, no Lebanese wants to buy Olmert's goods, however great the campaigns of mutual doubt among their country's political forces, which have sent political rhetoric to its lowest levels.
It's bitterly ironic that a fraternal state needs to normalize with the foreigner; it insists on this and doesn't translate its understanding of the needs of normalization with the smaller fraternal state, even if the price to be paid shall be paid in installments. The revelation by the American press that the Bush administration's strategic transformation covers "a readiness to reach a settlement with Syria" is no surprise, except for those who thrust aside the principle of the rule of interests in drafting state policies.
If this American transformation doesn't necessarily mean a readiness to "sell out" the Lebanese once again and if we can say that Syria has agreed to buy, or that its insistence on buying constitutes the protection of its interests or against the damage to these interests, it is nonetheless the case that the Lebanese, and all their groups, parties, sects and communities, still face a huge predicament. A minister from the European troika commented on this in Beirut, when he said by way of a challenge, "prove to us, at least once, that you can decide your future by yourselves."
Part of the disappointing answer turns up in the fact that some of them have returned to debating the gender of angels and are trying to be "too smart" in addressing people with many questions, of the "which kind of Lebanon do we want?" type, and discussing whether there is a consensus about the identity of the country. Part of the answer is disappointing also, after we saw a window of hope emerge regarding the possibility of salvation from the presidential vacuum; the language of bickering and accusations has spread to the relationship among the country's religious authorities. We assume they would rise above the calculations of politics and politicians, to reduce the weight of the crisis, when political leaders fall prey to the trap of issuing challenges to one another.
If it is natural that any comments by any religious authority will not find willing ears unless there is a commitment to the priority of citizenship over sect and the superiority of the sect's "rights" over the rights of its individual members, it is also natural that seeing these religious authorities stoop to the level of political bickering will not cease the series of defeats for Lebanon.
Perhaps the Higher Shiite Council discovered sufficient justification to become totally biased toward Speaker Nabih Berri, who was criticized (not by name) by a statement issue by Lebanon's Maronite Bishops, for "closing the doors of Parliament." The statement also criticized MPs from his bloc and that of Hizbullah for standing in the corridors of the legislature without electing a president of the Republic, a process that is also stuck in some very difficult corridors, regionally and internationally.
It is the Higher Shiite Council's duty to defend the role and status of the sect. However, responding to the Maronite Patriarchate or any other religious authority by defending the Shiite ministers gives the sect priority over any policy. In fact, it renders the sect the leading policy in organizing coexistence among the Lebanese, whether the rulers or the ruled.
In this same context, we find that any religious or sectarian authority is subject to the binary classification: either pro-government or opposition, which adds another black mark to the narrowness of Lebanon's political horizon these days. The Higher Shiite Council blames Patriarch Sfeir; accusing him of bias does not help erase the gulfs caused by doubt and suspicion, and doesn't help with finding a solution. If the vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, can ask for God's forgiveness of Sfeir, after sending an implicit message to the Maronites, when he refers at the Shiites being "the people of Lebanon, before anyone came from Aleppo or Istanbul" appears closer to a slip of the tongue, or a mistake by Sheikh Qabalan, recalling similar mistakes committed by the leaders of other sects in the past. The proof that Qabalan adopted the patriarch's call to save Lebanon "before it is too late" and rebuild trust among all political and religious authorities, using one tool, namely "unifying national political discourse."
It was a summer cloud between Patriarch Sfeir and Sheikh Qabalan, but one that did not hide the aspects of the emergency conditions that are being experienced by Lebanon: after the 180-degree turn by Walid Jumblatt, the head of the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, dropping his insistence on electing the president of the Republic with a simple majority in Parliament, and after Hizbullah saw no embarrassment in the Shiite ministers going back on their resignations, to rejoin the "illegitimate government." It's not just a passing matter that the party was unconcerned with gathering the masses in downtown Beirut and did not have Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah address them to define the course of the coming phase, on the first anniversary of the downtown sit-in protest… and for Amal to not organize its rally.
Of course, this is insufficient to justify the absence of Amal and the speech by saying that Amal and Hizbullah need to prepare in order to strike the tents, as long as General Michel Suleiman is elected president, or by saying that the time hasn't come to complete an inventory of what the opposition has achieved, a full year after going down to the Riad Solh area of downtown Beirut. As for predicting changes in alliances and surprises, and the absence of Berri from this picture, after the bitterness he reaped in the patriarch's declaration, this remains an exercise in predictions: until we uncloak the "mystery" of the sudden transformations that turned something that was rejected into a place to tie the horses of every "positive"' person who will help save the country