February 27/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 25,31-46. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Free Opinions
Will a Lebanon Deal Come at Syria's Expense?By: David Schenker 27.02.07
THE REDIRECTION. The New Yorker.By: Seymour Hersh 27.02.07
When murder should simply be called murder, not 'jihad' -By Laura McAleer and Hala Ali 27.02.07
Lebanon's politicians are fooling no one but themselves Daily Star 27.02.07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For 27/02/07
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch: Lebanon Has Gone Back 20 Years-MEMRI
Hizbullah Redeploying in Southern Lebanon-The Media Line
Franjieh Accuses LF Official of Gemayel Killing-Naharnet
Sfeir Warns Against Arms Race-Naharnet
Dynamite Blast in Beirut-Naharnet
Saudi to host Arab summit on March 28, invites Syria-Reuters
Lahoud Issues Longer Mandate Warning-Naharnet

Growing Israeli Concern Over Hizbullah Military Buildup-Naharnet
Lahoud Issues Longer Mandate Warning-Naharnet
Hoss Sounds Lebanon's Alarm in Iran-Naharnet

New Yorker: US Operations in Iran, Lebanon by Saudi Consent-Naharnet
Report: Hizbullah builds defenses in UN-controlled zone in south ...Israel Insider
Olmert: Prepare for war with Syria-Jerusalem Newswire
Hezbollah regroups in a new mountain stronghold-Times Online
The Next War-Times Online
Hersh: US Funds Being Secretly Funneled To Violent Al Qaeda-Linked ..Think Progress
US Says Raid in Iraq Supports Claim on Iran-New York Times

Latest News Reports From the Daily Star For 26/02/07
Riyadh invites Assad to Arab summit with Lebanon near top of agenda
Israeli moves prompt another standoff at border
Youth group meets to tackle environmental issues
Committee blocks transfer of trash to Chouf
France denies reports that Emie will be replaced 
Palestinians 'will not tolerate' attacks on Lebanese
Sfeir bemoans domestic arms race
Lahoud threatens to stay on beyond November
Mysterious messages: Series of explosive discoveries keeps Lebanese on edge
Former hostage in Nigeria describes his ordeal
Joseph Samaha, 58: Mideast journalism loses a professional
Heavy rains, dust cause car accidents, landslides in Chouf
Jihad al-Binaa asks: 'Is it terrorism to help people rebuild their homes?'

When Syria used to "matter"
By Elie Khawand
February 23, 2007
The calls to engage Syria veiled with pragmatism and emanating from sheer ignorance of the politics of the Middle East are as lethal and dangerous as the calls to leave Iraq. In a recent article by NYU professor Alon Ben-Meir ( he tried to prove that Syria does “matter” and that we should engage Syria in order to get anywhere in the Middle East..Syria, as the entire “Syria matters” crowd knows, has been always considered a major player in the region, and an active one, especially since the start of Assad’s regime in 1970. To previous US administrations Syria did “matter”. Despite the fact that it is one of the most tyrannical regimes in the world it was seen as a promoter of democracy in neighboring Lebanon and a seeker of peace with Israel. This is some of what happened in the region when Syria was appeased instead of confronted, when Syria “mattered”. Syria indirectly interfered in Lebanon with arms and men in the early seventies to enter Lebanon later in 1976 under the guise of peace keeping forces. The Syrian army shelled mercilessly and butchered Lebanese civilians under the watching eyes of the then believer that “ Syria matters” in the West and the US. In 1983, Syria sent suicide bombers to the US embassy then to the Marines’ barracks in Beirut and killed Americans while our diplomats were still fully engaging Syria. Syria armed, trained and supported the most virulent Palestinian terrorist factions then allowed the Iranians to fund and train Hezbollah in Lebanon. Americans were kidnapped and killed by the Syrian proxies in Lebanon. Still our officials did not miss a beat to thank Syria for its cooperation in saving American hostages! Syria was able to cunningly manipulate the West and the US while continuing its policy of oppression of its people and of perversion of the region. When Syria “mattered”, the Assad regime was able to participate in the peace process, not to sign a peace agreement, but to buy time and force the world to turn the other way while it allowed its army to complete its hegemony over Lebanon. Syria turned Lebanon into a lawless land with a dangerously armed Hezbollah in order to torpedo any attempts of stabilization in the region by deflagrating the Lebanese Israeli border. To tame the Lebanese, Syria was able to massacre its political opponents and to intimidate any opposition. While Syria still “mattered” its regime aligned itself since 1980 with Iran, a self proclaimed enemy of the US, the “Great Satan”. Today, Syria provides a safe haven to those who are butchering the Iraqi people and killing our brave soldiers.
Syria is the bully of the region. The United States has a clear vision today, like no time before, of who is a friend and who is a foe in the Middle East. Syria is isolated amongst the Arab nations and also by the free World. The only talk the US should have with Syria is to restate the request for its regime to cease immediately its support for terrorists in Iraq, in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon. Syria only “matters” because its oppressive regime’s survival evolves in its ability to create havoc and instability for its neighbors. After decades of misguided appeasement of Syria , it is now time for the US to force it to behave. Any reversal of the current US policy towards Syria will be a lifeline for the weakened Assad’s regime and, more dangerously, will be interpreted as a victory of extremism with disastrous repercussions on all the forces of liberation and moderation in the region.
Although the Iraqi involvement is tending to be a long and costly one, it has created positive and irreversible changes in the region. The vast majority of the Iraqis and of the Arabs are still counting on our determination and resolve. Syria and Iran are the enemies and any negotiations with either nation will be misconstrued as an American defeat with intimidating repercussions over all our allies in the Middle East. The only way to end the Iraqi conflict is to support the war with a minimum amount of demoralizing discourses that willingly or unwillingly emboldens our enemies.
Syria only “matters” like cancer does. **Elie Khawand is Director of Policy and Public Relations/Lebanese Information Center, Washington D.C.

Sfeir Warns Against 'Arms Race'
As terror spread throughout Lebanon amidst the nonstop discovery of unexploded bombs, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir warned the various Lebanese sides against "arms race." Labeling it a "serious" issue, Sfeir disclosed: "All parties and groups in the Lebanese arena are arms racing."
"It looks as if we went more than twenty years back and learned nothing from all the ordeals and tragedies that we went through," Sfeir said in his weekly sermon at Bkirki on Sunday. "It looks like we can do without the Lebanese army which is the safety valve for all the Lebanese," the patriarch said.
Sfeir reiterated his criticism over the round-the-clock Opposition protest in downtown Beirut which is spearheaded by Hizbullah. The Opposition has been camping outside Grand Serail in the city center since Dec. 1 in a bid to bring down Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government. The daily An Nahar on Monday said the patriarch's remarks raised concern amongst the political circles who believe Sfeir would not have issued such a warning had he not received data from "trustworthy" sources. Beirut, 26 Feb 07, 08:14

New Yorker: U.S. Operations in Iran, Lebanon by Saudi Consent
The United States is stepping up covert operations in Iran in a new strategy that risks sparking an "open confrontation" and benefits Sunni radicals, The New Yorker reported in its latest issue. In the magazine, Seymour Hersh reports that U.S. military and special-operations teams have increased their activities inside Iran, entering from Iraq to gather intelligence and to pursue Iranians who operate inside Iraq. Hersh also reports in the March 4 issue, citing unnamed sources, that the U.S. Defense Department recently formed a special planning group to plan possible attacks on Iran "that can be implemented, upon orders from the president, within 24 hours."The planning group, though, has in the past month turned its focus from targeting Iran's nuclear sites and attempting to oust the current Tehran leadership to hitting targets "involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq."
The investigative reporter said U.S. clandestine operations in Iran, Lebanon and Syria aim at strengthening Saudi-supported Sunni Islam groups and weakening Iran-backed Shiites. He said that since last August U.S.-led forces in Iraq have been rounding up Iranians there to be interrogated, and were at one point holding 500 -- though some were just humanitarian and aid workers.
The operations under the new tack have been guided by Vice President Dick Cheney and rely heavily on Saudi Arabia's national security advisor Prince Bandar bin Sultan, according to the report. However, Hersh said, "a by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al-Qaida.""The 'redirection,' as some inside the White House call the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims."Some U.S. aid distributed to Sunni groups in Lebanon falls into the hands of radical groups, U.S., European and Arab officials told Hersh, who named Fatah al-Islam, based in a refugee camp in northern Lebanon, and Osbat al-Ansar in a Palestinian refugee camp in the country as beneficiaries.
The article also suggested the U.S. policy was benefiting the radical Sunni Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and that Druze leader Walid Jumblat had encouraged U.S. support for the group in a meeting late last year with Cheney. But unnamed officials told Hersh that the approach was dangerous, enhancing radical groups which also consider the United States an enemy. "We're spreading the money around as much as we can," a former senior intelligence official said. "In this process, we're financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. ... It's a very high-risk venture." In some cases, the clandestine operations rely on Saudi Arabia and Bandar, who was the ambassador to Washington for two decades, to provide the funding so that operations remain secret.
Hersh wrote that, according to one source, a government consultant, Bandar and the Saudi government have assured Washington that they will keep any dangerous Sunni groups potentially strengthened by the new policy under control. Hersh wrote, however, that one of the key Shiite targets of U.S. policy in the Middle East, Hizbullah -- which Washington says is directed by Tehran -- said it opposed a sectarian Islamic conflict and was willing to talk with the United States. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah reportedly told Hersh in an interview conducted in December that he believed the U.S., together with Israel, was trying to split Islam, and to partition Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
However, he said: "If the United States says that discussions with the likes of us can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region, we have no objection to talks or meetings."(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows U.S. military helicopters waiting on a landing pad and another flying overhead at Fort Tarik, located in Wasit province along the Iran-Iraq border) Beirut, 26 Feb 07, 08:02

Hoss Sounds Lebanon's Alarm in Iran
Former Premier Salim Hoss warned Monday against the destructive effect of confessional divisions in Lebanon as Iran denied reports of a joint plan with Saudi Arabia to contain the mushrooming tension. The remarks were made in a joint news conference in Tehran grouping Hoss and Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucheher Mottaki. Mottaki said "there is no set Saudi-Iranian plan" to contain the tension in Lebanon. "But we are having negotiations with the different Lebanese sides and there have even been suggestions to bring the sides closer," Mottaki added. Iran's top national security official Ali Larijani has held talks with Saudi officials in Riyadh twice this year, while his Saudi counterpart Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited Tehran late in January.
"The talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia were to shed light on the different angles of the situation in Lebanon and on how we can bring the different points of view closer," said Mottaki. Hoss, however, said Lebanon "is now suffering from confessional divisions. We have experienced sectarian divisions and these were destructive but confessional divisions are even more destructive.""Lebanese leaders have been working day and night to ensure that the situation does not explode. Thank God, the situation has not exploded," he added. Iran vehemently rejects U.S. charges that it is meddling in Lebanon's internal politics as well as allegations that it provides more than moral support to Hizbullah which claims the majority government of Premier Fouad Saniora is under U.S. influence.(AFP-Naharnet)
Beirut, 26 Feb 07, 14:14

Dynamite Blast in Beirut
Naharnet: A dynamite stick concealed in a car exploded in Beirut's Mossaitbeh neighborhood at daybreak Monday, Future TV said.
Citing security sources, FTV said no one was hurt in the 4: 30 a.m. blast which caused slight damage to the car that was parked near the Cooperative in Mossaitbeh. A series of unexploded bombs and dynamites have been found in Beirut, mount, north and south Lebanon over the past week, raising fears of renewed violence in trouble- ridden Lebanon. Beirut, 26 Feb 07, 11:54 

Saudi to host Arab summit on March 28, invites Syria
26 Feb 2007 -Source: Reuters
RIYADH, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, which has recently stepped up a diplomatic drive to counter non-Arab regional power Iran, will host an annual Arab summit on March 28 and 29, Saudi media reported on Monday. Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally preferred to play a behind-the-scenes role in regional conflicts, said in 2006 it did not want to host an Arab summit this year, but the Arab League said in January Riyadh had changed its mind.
The gatherings of Arab leaders are convened annually and it was Saudi Arabia's turn to host the summit this year. Saudi Arabia did not give a reason for not wishing to hold the summit and its subsequent change of heart.  Al-Riyadh daily said King Abdullah had sent an invitation to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran whose relations with Saudi Arabia have cooled over the last year.
The leaders of all 22 members of the Arab League normally receive invitations, but often many do not attend, instead sending foreign ministers.
Saudi concern that Shi'ite Muslim Iran is extending its influence into Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories has been a key factor behind a high-profile Saudi diplomatic drive in recent months. Saudi Arabia and other key allies of Washington, including Egypt and Jordan, want the United States to make serious efforts to mediate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which they see as central to radicalisation that Iran is able to exploit.
Diplomats in Riyadh speculate that Saudi Arabia may wish to revive an Arab peace initiative adopted by the Arab summit in 2002. U.S. and Israeli officials have recently spoken positively of the initiative. The initiative envisages Israel returning land occupied in 1967, allowing a Palestinian state to come into existence, in return for diplomatic ties with all Arab states.

Franjieh Accuses LF Official of Gemayel Killing
Naharnet: Former MP Suleiman Franjieh has accused an official of Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces of being behind the November killing of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. In an interview with NBN television Sunday evening, Franjieh said he had received information that former LF deputy security chief Tony Obeid "has a hand in Gemayel's assassination." Franjieh, who is also leader of the Marada movement, said that he asked for verification of the data since Obeid is an Australian resident "but may have traveled between Australia and Lebanon." He also accused the ruling team of "unwilling to reveal the truth about Gemayel's killers.""Had they want to, they would have found out who killed him (Gemayel) because he was assassinated in broad daylight," Franjieh said. Excerpts from the interview were published by the daily An Nahar on Monday. LF was quick to respond to Franjieh, saying his statement was baseless. A senior LF official accused Franjieh of violating the "Code of Honor" Declaration. Franjieh earlier in February signed the Code of Honor which was proposed by Maronite Partriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir to avoid violence and inter-Christian discord. "He does not respect his signature. All he honors are instructions from Rustom Ghazaleh and (other) senior Syrian officers," one LF official was quoted by An Nahar as saying on Monday. Brig. Gen. Ghazaleh was Syria's former military intelligence chief in Lebanon during the three decades of Syrian tutelage of its neighboring country which ended in April 2005. Beirut, 26 Feb 07, 10:57

Lahoud Issues Longer Mandate Warning
Naharnet: President Emile Lahoud has warned that he will not turn in power to an "unconstitutional" government if agreement was not reached to form a national unity cabinet before his term expires in November. "How am I supposed to hand in the country to a non-existent government?" Lahoud asked in an interview with Algerian television broadcast Sunday evening. The Opposition spearheaded by Hizbullah has been staging a round-the-clock sit-in near government offices in downtown Beirut since Dec. 1 in a bid to topple Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government. Lahoud's term was controversially extended for three years in 2004 under pressure from Syria, which had been the main power broker in Lebanon until domestic and international protests forced it to end its 29-year military presence. Lahoud said he does not allow a recurrence of what happened in 1988 when a constitutional crisis resulted in the emergence of two governments at the end of President Amin Gemayel's term. "Others gave no warning and waited till the last minute," he said. "We all witnessed what happened, chaos prevailed and two governments emerged."  He reiterated that a national unity government was needed "for normalcy to return." Beirut, 26 Feb 07, 14:34

Growing Israeli Concern Over Hizbullah Military Buildup
The head of the Mossad spy agency has told the Israeli government that there would be no war between Israel and its neighbors this year, but said Hizbullah was expanding its military might. "There is no chance of war in the Middle East in 2007," spy chief Meir Dagan told the Israeli cabinet Sunday during an annual intelligence briefing, according to a senior government official present. Dagan was referring primarily to the likelihood of conflicts with either Syria or Lebanon, the official said. His counterpart, the chief of military intelligence, was not quite so upbeat about the year ahead.
"The strategic environment surrounding Israel is less stable than it used to be," the official quoted Amos Yadlen and his staff as telling ministers.
Growing instability in Iraq and Iran's nuclear program posed "bigger dangers than in previous years," they continued.
"The chances of a full-scale war initiated by Syria are low, but the chances of Syria reacting militarily against Israeli military moves are high," the official quoted Yadlen and staff saying. "Syria is continuing to build up its army and to prepare for war." Syria and Iran, Yadlen warned, both "fundamentally believe that they do not have to make any compromises," and "that terrorism is the right strategy against Israel." Both Dagan and Yadlen agreed that Hizbullah was doggedly expanding its military might in the wake of the 34-day war with Israel last summer. "Hizbullah was dealt a strong blow and is currently occupied with strengthening its military power," Dagan said. The Israeli cabinet heard a series of annual reports by its intelligence agencies on regional issues including the Palestinian conflict, Iran and Syria.(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency Meir Dagan)
Beirut, 26 Feb 07, 08:16

Lebanese Maronite Patriarch: Lebanon Has Gone Back 20 Years
In a February 25 sermon, Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon Nasrallah Boutrous Safir warned of the dangers of the arms race underway between the parties and groups in Lebanon, saying it was "as if Lebanon had gone 20 years back in time and we had learned nothing from all the tragedies that we have undergone." Safir also criticized the strikes organized by the Lebanese opposition that were causing great damage and losses to merchants and shop owners in the country. Source: Al-Mustaqbal, Lebanon, February 26, 2007

Saudi-Iranian Mediation on Hizballah: Will a Lebanon Deal Come at Syria's Expense?
By David Schenker
February 26, 2007
On February 20, the Lebanese cabinet—with a Hizballah-led opposition boycott—extended the term of the UN commission investigating the February 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. While the commission’s work can now continue for as long as one more year, any future decision about organizing an international tribunal to try those indicted for the murder remains hostage to a vote—requiring the opposition’s assent—in the paralyzed Lebanese parliament. Meanwhile, Hizballah continues to press its demand for increased political power within a “national unity” government, threatening civil disobedience should its demands not be met.
Amid such rising tensions, many are focusing on the latest mediation efforts of Saudi Arabia and Iran. A recent flurry of diplomatic activity has heightened speculation that a crisis-ending deal may be in the works. The general framework of the potential bargain—more political power for Hizballah in exchange for the opposition’s parliamentary approval of the international tribunal—has been under discussion for weeks, but the details remain contentious. Should a deal eventually be reached along these lines—and it is far from certain that this will occur—the big loser would be Iran’s strategic ally, Syria, the leading suspect in the Hariri assassination.
The Hizballah-led opposition left the Lebanese government in November 2006, protesting a lack of power sharing. Specifically, the faction demanded a “blocking third”—one-third plus one of all cabinet seats—that would give it the ability to veto government initiatives. The opposition also articulated reservations about the establishment of an international tribunal to try Hariri’s killers. For the Lebanese government, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the anti-Syrian “March 14” forces, the tribunal is a top priority. However, Siniora is equally adamant that he will not provide Hizballah with a blocking third.
The resulting standoff culminated in a January strike in which the opposition closed key roads in Lebanon, temporarily crippling the state. Despite such pressures, the opposition has not yet been able to force Siniora to meet its demands. Indeed, during the January strike, Siniora traveled to Paris and won unprecedented international aid commitments for Lebanon. Hizballah is now deciding whether to press ahead with a new round of so-called civil disobedience actions, once again placing Lebanon on the verge of civil war.
Saudi-Iranian Mediation
Since last year, Arab League secretary-general Amr Mousa has been trying to mediate a solution to the impasse. More recently, Saudi Arabia and Iran have begun to mediate on behalf of their Lebanese allies (the March 14 forces and Hizballah, respectively) out of concern for the country’s rising Sunni-Shiite tensions. From late January through mid-February, Saudi National Security Council chief Prince Bandar met several times with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Larijani, to discuss the crisis. Top Hizballah officials—including Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem—as well as March 14 leader Saad Hariri and Amal Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri also traveled to Saudi Arabia for meetings with senior officials.
The basic deal seems to be more power for Hizballah in return for ending the possibility of a renewed Syrian role in Lebanon through a tribunal exposing Syria’s involvement in the Hariri assassination. Still, based on press accounts, an agreement remains uncertain. According to the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, as of February 21, Riyadh and Tehran had crafted a proposal that was being vetted with Damascus. Meanwhile, Nabih Berri had delivered the opposition’s notes on required modifications to international tribunal law for Saudi review. Cabinet composition is still under discussion, according to al-Hayat, with the opposition sticking to its demand for a blocking third.
Just how far apart the sides remain was highlighted by Naim Qassem’s glib remarks of February 20, when he stated, “There is no tribunal without a government of national unity.” In other words, the Hizballah position essentially remains that the opposition must first be granted veto power, and only then can a discussion of an international tribunal proceed. Of course, once in power, Hizballah would be able to scuttle any tribunal.
Even so, the remote possibility that a compromise deal may yet emerge between Tehran and Riyadh has Syria concerned. At present, the key obstacle to achieving a deal involves the tribunal, an issue of primary if not existential import to the Syrian government. Should tensions increase—and the February 23 discovery of nineteen sticks of dynamite in the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh suggests they are rising—many fear that Tehran will decide to prioritize a de-escalation in civil strife and an increase in Hizballah’s political influence over Syrian concerns about a tribunal.
Syrian Concerns Allayed?
Ubiquitous reports on the Saudi-Iranian mediation efforts in the Lebanese and pan-Arab press have been a source of concern to Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. On February 17, Asad traveled to Tehran for two days of meetings with Supreme Leader Ali Hossein Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. Although official press announcements do not provide much insight into what actually transpired at the meeting, the timing suggests that Asad was looking for reassurance that Tehran would protect Syrian interests.
Aside from routine public attestations of the bilateral relationship’s strength, the only substantive development during the trip was the report (published in the Arabic electronic daily Elaph) of a Russian arms deal with Syria, to be financed by Iran. Then, a day after Asad returned to Syria, Iranian foreign minister Manusheir Mutaki told the Lebanese daily al-Nahar that “there are no differences of opinion between Tehran and Damascus” on Lebanon.
Can Saudi Arabia Sweeten the Deal?
It is not clear that the Saudis will be able to convince Iran or Hizballah to back down from demands for a blocking third or opposition to the tribunal. Unlike the Fatah-Hamas national unity government deal brokered by Riyadh earlier this month, $1 billion in funding may not do the trick. Moreover, it seems implausible that Iran and Hizballah will be lured into a deal merely by the carrot of avoiding civil war. If money and fears of Sunni-Shiite violence are not enough to convince Iran to allow the tribunal to proceed, this round will likely fail, just as the Arab League mediation did.
It is also worth considering whether Riyadh’s interests coincide with those of Washington on this issue—particularly in light of the Saudi role in mediating the Palestinian national unity government. While that accord was in Saudi (and Palestinian) interests, it undermined U.S. policy because the resulting national unity government legitimized Hamas and did not meet the Quartet requirements that it abandon violence and recognize Israel.
For the time being, it appears that Iran and Hizballah will not sacrifice Syria for a Lebanon deal. Ultimately, however, if a deal is to be reached and Lebanon is to avoid civil war, Hizballah will have to consent—even if only temporarily—to approve the tribunal in parliament. The framework of the deal, as currently structured, essentially forces Hizballah to choose between securing its local interests (more political power in Lebanon) and protecting its Syrian ally (by opposing the tribunal). While Hizballah and Iran would like both, it seems likely that, at the end of the day, they will choose to prioritize political power. And this is what troubles Damascus.
**David Schenker is a senior fellow in Arab politics at The Washington Institute.