March 20/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 1,16.18-21.24. Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah. Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Latest News Reports FromThe Daily Star For March 20/07
Downtown business owners less than impressed with Siniora relief proposal
Assad advises unity Cabinet for Lebanon
Berri confident negotiations will lead to consensus
Pro-government MPs plan to press speaker for session
Sabaa dismisses accusations leveled by Zahle MP, insists he follows 'the law'
Siniora denies UN asked to patrol Syrian border
Candidates chase top spot in Maronite League
Lahoud sends thank-you note to Saudi king
Sayyed lawyer accuses Mehlis of fabricating evidence
PLO distances Palestinian cause from suspects in Ain Alaq bus bombings
Legislator blows whistle on 'bad medicines'
UNIFIL marks 29th anniversary of deployment
New project invites '101 stories' about citizens helping society
Bekaa village awaits help to finish community center
New UAE demining team arrives
Salameh leans on banks to help deal with deficit
Two wounded as Palestinian militants clash in North
Opposition groups decry Minyeh attacks
Ex-AUB Professor of education Zaarour dies at 75
Collapse forces Sidon to reopen part of dump
USJ rector says universities must build 'tolerant society'
Visiting mental-health volunteers open local eyes about revolutionary treatment for post-traumatic stress

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For March 20/07
UN Inspects Lebanon's Borders with Syria-Naharnet
Syria's Assad says backs Lebanon "unity government"-Reuters

Chirac: Tribunal Will Break Infernal Circle of Assassinations-Naharnet
U.N. Chief 'Seriously' Taking Claims of Arms Smuggling-Naharnet
Political crisis threatens social peace, says
Political Bickering Behind Street Clashes in Lebanon-Naharnet
No Deal Yet on Lebanon Crisis-Naharnet
Mubarak: Lebanon Crisis to Top Arab League Agenda-Naharnet
UN probe: Lahoud among causes for Hariri
Lebanon: Gemayel calls the proposed solutions pain relievers-Ya Libnan

Syria rejects UN plan for civilian monitors on border with Lebanon-Ha'aretz
'We Must Be Vigilant': An Interview With Osama Saad-World Press Review
Lebanon Sunni cleric calls for defense pact with Iran-Ya Libnan
Minister Edrey: War in Lebanon should be called 'war,' not operation-Ha'aretz
New poll shows rocky relations between Israel's Arabs and Jews-International Herald Tribune
Is it time for war or peace in the Middle East?American Chronicle
Months after war, tension high for Israel, Hezbollah-San Francisco Chronicle
Trust and not math formulas is behind Lebanon crises-Ya Libnan
IDF: We did cooperate with UNFIL over munitions in Lebanon-Jerusalem Post
Syria's Assad says Saudi ties have been "cloudy"-Reuters

Chirac: Tribunal Will Break Infernal Circle of Assassinations
French President Jacques Chirac, during a ceremony to honor legislator Saad Hariri in Paris, has said the international tribunal will be established to "break the infernal circle of assassinations."Chirac on Sunday said the international court that will try the assassins of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes will be set up to "break the infernal circle of assassinations and that Lebanon will be able to make free decisions."
Chirac awarded the leader of al-Mustaqbal movement the "Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur" (Knight of the Legion of Honor) order. He said he wanted to "salute Hariri's role in bringing peace and democracy to Lebanon" and his struggle to bring to justice his father's murderers.
Druze leader Walid Jumblat, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and his wife MP Strida Geagea, MP Bahia Hariri and other officials accompanied Hariri to Paris Sunday. Hariri lauded the French president's role in backing Lebanon and said the Lebanese and the Arab world will always be grateful for what he has done for the country. The ceremony came a few weeks before the end of Chirac's term in office. Last week, he announced his decision to bow out of French politics. Beirut, 19 Mar 07, 07:46

U.N. Chief 'Seriously' Taking Claims of Arms Smuggling
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said in an interview published Monday that the world body would push for the Lebanese army's capacity building to better monitor the Lebanon-Syria border. Ban told al-Hayat newspaper that there wasn't any "hard evidence" of arms smuggling from Syria to Lebanon, adding that "there are claims or allegations which we are taking very seriously." "We need to focus on capacity building of the Lebanese armed forces to help them monitor the borders better," Ban said. The Lebanese army has been monitoring the Lebanese-Syrian border since the end of the 34-day Israel-Hizbullah war last August. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which brought an end to the conflict called on the Lebanese government to secure its border in order to prevent arms smuggling.
Israel alleges that Hizbullah is being supplied with arms from Syria, but Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr claims that no weapons have reached the group since the army's deployment in southern Lebanon and closure of illegal border crossings with Syria. Ban, who is expected to visit Lebanon on March 30, said he will meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad on the sidelines of the Arab League summit on March 28-29 in Riyadh. He told Al Hayat that he is planning to visit Syria "as soon as possible." Ban also stressed the necessity to establish the international tribunal that would try the suspected assassins of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes. Asked whether the U.N. could resort to Chapter 7 of the world body's charter in case the Lebanese parliament does not ratify the court, Ban said it is "too premature to discuss this now." Beirut, 19 Mar 07, 11:49

Political crisis threatens social peace, says Sfeir
By: Youssef Hourany
Maronite patriarch demands law enforcement agencies be given the means to guarantee citizens’ peace and security. He congratulates police for capturing Aik Alak attackers. No one is injured in clashes in northern Lebanon and the Bekaa.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – In Lebanon’s current “state of chaos”, which is not only affecting political life but is also having “drastic effects” on “the social and intellectual lives of the Lebanese,” the army and the police must be put in a situation whereby they can exercise their responsibilities and guarantee citizens peace and order, this according to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir who, during Sunday mass, spoke again about the country’s situation.
“Lebanese from all social classes and religions are complaining about the uncertain situation in Lebanon, because they find that their future as well as all their aspirations and dreams are being threatened,” Sfeir said. For this reason, he made another appeal “to save the country before it is too late, taking it out of the current crisis, which is the most dramatic of the last 30 years.” Cardinal Sfeir congratulated law enforcement agencies for finding those responsible of the February 13 Ain Alak bus bombing. He added though that internal security forces and the Lebanese Army “ought to be properly funded and equipped” so that they can perform their duties and shed light on all the crimes committed on Lebanese territory. Related to the Ain Alak case, Shaker Abssi, head of Fatah Islam, the group to which the attackers allegedly belong, denied reports that his group is connected to al-Qaeda or was involved in the attack. Meanwhile two incidents confirm Cardinal Sfeir’s concerns. Yesterday in the Minieh district in northern Lebanon activists from Saad Hariri's Future Movement blocked roads preventing Lebanese President Émile Lahoud, former minister Yaacoub el-Sarraf, and lawmaker Ali Hassan Khalil (who represented Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri), from attending a rally organised by the opposition in memory of Yahia Skaff, a resistance activist freed by Israel. Scuffles broke out between the two sides who also traded gunfire. No casualties were reported in the shootout.
In a separate incident, clashes erupted in the Eastern town of Bar Elias, near the Bekaa. Angry crowds, armed with stones, besieged the Omar Bin Khattab religious centre in Bar Elias after news filtered to the area that Sheikh Abdul Naser al-Jabri, a Hezbollah supporter, was among several officials invited to a wedding ceremony. The stone-throwers broke the windows of the centre and destroyed several cars. On the political front, talks between National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri were suspended because of the latter’s trip to Paris where he received the Legion of Honour from French President Jacques Chirac.
During the ceremony, Mr Chirac renewed his country’s commitment to Lebanon’s unity, freedom and sovereignty.

Political Bickering Behind Street Clashes in Lebanon
Political bickering has stirred up tensions over the weekend between government supporters and opponents who clashed in the streets of north and east Lebanon. Security sources said activists from legislator Saad Hariri's Future Movement traded gunfire on Sunday with opposition supporters in the Minieh district in northern Lebanon. No casualties were reported in the shootout. The sources said Lebanese army troops quickly deployed in the area and dispersed the gunmen. In a separate incident, clashes as a result of the deep political divide in Lebanon have also erupted in the Eastern town of Bar Elias after sundown Sunday. Police said angry crowds, armed with stones, besieged the Omar Bin Khattab religious center in Bar Elias after news filtered to the area that Sheikh Abdul Naser al-Jabri, a Hizbullah supporter, was among several officials invited to a wedding ceremony. They said the stone-throwers broke the windows of the center and destroyed several cars, including that of Sheikh Ahmed al-Qattan. The daily An Nahar on Monday said security forces were able to contain the row two hours later.(An Nahar photo shows a destroyed car in Bar Elias) Beirut, 19 Mar 07, 08:23

No Deal Yet on Lebanon Crisis
No deal has yet emerged from the nonstop talks between Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and legislator Saad Hariri with the opposition standing determinedly by its demand for a veto power in a new cabinet, a request vehemently rejected by the pro-government camp.
The daily An Nahar on Sunday quoted government sources as saying the opposition demand based on 11 ministers in a 30-member cabinet takes the crisis back to the beginning. Whereas the 19+9+2 or the 19+10+1 formulas previously proposed by Prime Minister Fouad Saniora give concessions by the ruling majority through relinquishing its two-third power without allowing the opposition to control more than one-third of the seats that would enable it to topple the government. Legislator Walid Eido, a member in Hariri's parliamentary Future Bloc, also stressed that no settlement to the ongoing political impasse has been reached. "Things are still at the very beginning, and there is no deal on any issue," Eido said in remarks published by the daily Al Mustaqbal on Sunday. Meanwhile, Hizbullah legislator Hassan Fadlallah reiterated that there cannot be a settlement without the 19-11 formula which gives the opposition veto power.
An Nahar on Saturday quoted Berri as telling visitors after a fifth round of talks with Hariri that the Lebanese are hopefully going "to hear good things in the next couple of days.""This should be done before the Arab summit," he said. The Arab League summit is scheduled to be held in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on March 28-29. Berri and Hariri said in a joint statement issued at the end of their fifth meeting in Ain el-Tineh that dialogue was "ongoing with the best intentions and positive atmosphere to reach a solution as soon as possible." Beirut, 18 Mar 07, 08:18

Mubarak: Lebanon Crisis to Top Arab League Agenda
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said the upcoming Arab summit was going to be held at a "sensitive time," adding that Arab countries are making efforts to help Lebanon come out of its crisis. Mubarak, in an interview with the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper Sunday, said the Arab league summit that will be held on March 28-29 in Riyadh comes at a "sensitive time…because there are threats to Arab and regional security." "The political crisis in Lebanon … will be strongly presented at the upcoming Arab summit," he added. He said Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Arab League were making efforts "to prevent Lebanon from sliding into a confrontation" amongst the Lebanese themselves.
Mubarak told the newspaper that the nearly four-month-old crisis should come to an end on the basis of "no victor no vanquished."
The Hizbullah-led opposition has been staging an open-ended sit-in outside Premier Fouad Saniora's offices in downtown Beirut since December 1 in a bid to topple the government and form a new one that would give it veto power. When asked about the possibility of eruption of a new war in Lebanon or neighboring countries, Mubarak said "the region needs peace, not new wars." "Hatred takes the entire region to the point of no return and destroys hopes of achieving peace in the Middle East," he stressed. Beirut, 19 Mar 07, 10:53

UN probe: Lahoud among causes for Hariri murder
by Paul Dakiki
UN Commission report suggests that the extension of the presidential term was a factor that led to the assassination. It also confirms progress in the investigation, acknowledges Syrian cooperation and says its mandate should be extended. Beirut (AsiaNews) – The extension of President Emile Lahoud's term in 2004 was one of the motives behind the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, this according to a report by a UN commission investigating the assassination. The commission, headed by Belgian judge Serge Brammertz, has been investigating the February 2005 killing of Hariri and 22 others in a massive bomb blast in Beirut as well as 16 other political crimes and their possible connection. Its 20-page document was released yesterday in New York and now goes to the Security Council for approval.
The commission reported “progress in collecting new evidence and in expanding the forms of evidence collected” and described Syria’s cooperation in the investigation as “satisfactory.”In his previous report, it had criticised the slow response of 10 unidentified countries in responding to his requests but as a result of meetings with the ambassadors from the countries concerned it said “almost all outstanding matters were resolved to the commission's satisfaction.”The Commission is now getting ready to interview 50 people from its list of 250 witnesses and is working on setting up the international tribunal that is expected to sit in judgment of those who will be called to account. For this reason it wants its mandate extended beyond the June deadline.
Unlike previous reports when top Syrian officials were said to be involved, this one does not name anyone.
Understanding of the facts relating to Hariri assassination has progressed. In fact, the report indicates that there were several motives to kill Hariri: the inception of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 (which calls for the respect of Lebanon’s sovereignty, withdrawal of foreign troops, disarmament of local militias and free and fair presidential elections) and the political implications of its implementation; the extension of the term of President Émile Lahoud; the personal and political dynamics which existed between Hariri and other political parties and leaders in Lebanon, Syria, and other countries; the preparation and manoeuvring ahead of the parliamentary elections due to be held in may 2005, as well as other business matters in which he was involved. For Brammertz, it is “likely that a combination of these factors may have created the environment in which the motive and intent to kill him arose.”
The Commission is focusing its investigation on the truck used in the blast, i.e. its place of provenance, the path it took and how it was wired. It is also looking into six SIM cellphone cards that were found. It does not however give much credence to the video-taped claim of responsibility by a man, Ahmad Abu Adass, who has since disappeared. The Commission, which is also looking into 16 violent episodes that occurred between October 2004 (attempt against Marwan Hamade’s life) and February 13, 2007 (Ain Alak bus bombing), acknowledged that Lebanese authorities have provided their full cooperation, including in determining whether they various attacks are linked.

Lebanon: Gemayel calls the proposed solutions pain relievers
Monday, 19 March, 2007
Beirut- Former president Amin Gemayel told a delegation from the Shadow Youth Government that the solutions being proposed are like pain relievers or temporary truce, meaning these are not final and permanent solutions . Gemayel said “the crises in Lebanon is not only about the unity government and the international tribunal . There are so many other vital issues that need to be addressed such as the election law, the presidency in addition to many economic, social and other vital issues”. Gemayel said the solution lies in finding the democratic process that produces a national authority that will earn the confidence of the Lebanese people and that will be able to make strategic decisions and will be able to guarantee proper representation and properly govern the country. If we can agree on the democratic process, then our problems will be solved.Sources: LBC ( Arabic)

Syria rejects UN plan for civilian monitors on border with Lebanon
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
Syria has told the United Nations that it opposes a UN plan to deploy civilian monitors along its border with Lebanon in an effort to prevent weapons from being smuggled from Syria to Hezbollah. In talks over the last few weeks, Syrian authorities threatened to completely close the border if such forces are deployed on the Lebanese side. The UN plan is aimed at providing a way out of stalled talks on enforcing an embargo on weapons going into Lebanon, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was passed after Israel's war with Hezbollah last summer. Several weeks ago, UN officials raised the issue with Israeli officials in the Foreign and Defense Ministries. Israel sees the proposal as positive, but the government has so far refrained from taking a public position on it - at least in part because it does not want to sabotage efforts to convince Syria and the Lebanese government to agree on it. Sources knowledgeable about the talks have said the chances of implementing the proposal are not high, primarily due to Syrian opposition.
A senior Israeli security official told Haaretz yesterday that the lack of enforcement of the arms embargo is one of the most problematic issues that have surfaced since the war ended. The official said Syria, Iran and Hezbollah were making a great effort to expedite weapons smuggling in an effort to restore Hezbollah's arsenal to its pre-war levels. Some 8,000 Lebanese soldiers are currently deployed on the border with Syria, but their presence appears to have little effect on halting the smuggling. There are many dirt paths along the border that make it relatively easy to smuggle weapons from Syria into Lebanon

'We Must Be Vigilant': An Interview With Osama Saad
Alasdair Soussi-Sidon, Lebanon
March 18, 2007
The air is thick with tension as I arrive to meet Osama Saad at his Sidon office. An outspoken member of the Lebanese Parliament, Saad is one of the main driving forces behind the campaign to unseat the government, and as I approach, I'm eyed suspiciously by a group of minders who stride toward me, immediately blocking my path. They ask who I am and what I want. I tell them my business, and after a few uncertain moments of hushed voices and nervous stares, I'm finally led toward a waiting room.
Over 30 minutes later, Saad appears. Slim and with a cheerful appearance, he looks nothing like his famous father, Maarouf Saad, the former leftist mayor of Sidon whose violent death helped spark the 1975-90 Lebanese Civil War.
Though he may not resemble his father in the physical sense, there is no denying that he is carrying on his father's strong political convictions, principles that made him a champion of the people. Indeed, a committed Socialist of the Nasserite persuasion, Saad is currently on a mission to bring about change in modern Lebanon, and has happily aligned himself with the Hezbollah-led opposition.
Saad talks to me about the current political standoff, his hopes for a better Lebanon, and the legacy of his father.
Q: You are standing shoulder to shoulder with the opposition. Why?
I am quite open about my reasons for being in the opposition, because from the very beginning I did not give this government my backing or confidence when it was formed. To tell you the truth, over the last few months, this government has shown its true colors. It's pro-American and it's adopting American views, views which do not fit with the aspirations and the expectations of the Lebanese people. It's a dangerous policy, because, as far as we [the opposition] are concerned, America is only striving for one thing: to fragment the Middle East on ethnic grounds. This is a Zionist vision, working only for the interests of Israel. The United States has always worked for the interests of Israel, and, of course, it wants to see Israel as the biggest power in the Middle East.
One of the main disputes between the government and the opposition is centered around the United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. What are your concerns?
We all want the investigation, we all want to know who killed Hariri, but it's quite obvious that it's not only an investigation to find out who killed Hariri, but it's also a tool which the Americans want to use to humiliate Syria. The Americans want to bring different personalities from the Syrian regime and try them (judicially) in their own way in countries outside their territory. We are completely against that (kind of justice), and against the government's collusion in it.
Your father, Maarouf Saad, was a very popular figure in south Lebanon. How has his opinions and beliefs shaped your own views, especially in light of the current political situation?
My father campaigned from three perspectives: that of a fighter, a politician, and a social reformer. As a fighter, you can trace his early political activities back to 1936 in Palestine when he fought the British and the Zionists. Politically speaking, his struggle really began in 1958 when President Camille Chamoun wanted to take Lebanon into the Baghdad Pact (a British-backed treaty which attempted to include the Middle East in a worldwide chain of anti-Soviet alliances). He fought hard against that, believing that Lebanon was an Arab country in the heart of the Arab world. He was also of the view that Lebanon's problems stemmed directly from the sectarian nature of the country—he believed strongly that it should be free of religion. Only then, he believed, could it prosper. Lastly, it was through his Socialist principles that he came to support the rights of the working people. The best example of this was in 1975, when he was shot and killed leading a fisherman's demonstration in Sidon.
Today, I am just continuing his struggle. Lebanon is an Arab country and it will always be an Arab country—that is where its strength lies. It's part of the wider Arab world and it cannot detach itself from that because it would die and fall into civil war as it has done in the past. A relationship between Lebanon and the West exists, of course, because of the multicultural and multi-religious aspect of Lebanon, but that doesn't mean that it has to detach itself from the Arab world. I believe that it [the Arab world] should have one political cause and speak with one political voice.
So personally speaking, do you wholly agree with your father's beliefs about the sectarian nature of Lebanon—that it should be abolished, and that it's the main cause of Lebanon's ills?
Yes, completely. This sectarian system has weakened the country and has made it easier for foreign interference. Everybody should be able to be part of Lebanon irrespective of their religion. There are, however, people who want to keep this sectarian system because they are profiting from it, such as those warlords and landowners who have been created by the system and whose very existence relies on the present (sectarian) situation continuing as it is. A secular regime must be implemented in Lebanon, and I'm sure that, one day, we'll see that happening. Because in spite of what you see in Lebanon, there are intelligent people who see the disease of sectarianism and want to cut it out. So in today's Lebanon, what you see on the outside is democracy and freedom, but that's just window dressing. It's when you look inside (the Lebanese system) that you see what the country is really like: a land which is rotten and self-destructive. This must change.
Do you look at Lebanon's future, then, with optimism or pessimism?
I'm optimistic about Lebanon's future, but I am wary about America's plans in the Middle East, especially when it comes to Iran and Syria. We must be vigilant and must make sure that we're not used as a pawn in the middle of any (conflict) as we're a small country and very vulnerable.

Lebanon Sunni cleric calls for defense pact with Iran
Sunday, 18 March, 2007
Tehran-The leader of the Lebanese Islamic Front Fathi Yakan, here Friday called for formation of a joint defense pact among Iran and Arab as well as Islamic states to defend the Islamic world. Yakan, paid a visit to Iran last week at the head of a delegation to attend a conference on Islamic unity.
He said that in his talks with senior Iranian officials, they discussed the ongoing crisis in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq as well as moves of intelligence and security organizations of the US, Britain and Israel to foment strife among the various sects of Islam. Muslims of the world are united in efforts to strengthen unity among the Ummah and to counter the US and Zionist regime's threats, aggressions and plots, he added. The Lebanese official said that the sides also exchanged views on the need to hold conferences to encourage proximity among the various Islamic sects, establish an international Islamic resistance front composed mainly of Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims and strengthen support for the Islamic resistance in Iraq as well as bridge ethnic divisions encouraged by certain Iraqi leaders and groups. Yakan was also the General Secretary of the Lebanese Al-Jamaa Al-Islamia or the Islamic Association until he won his seat in the Lebanese parliament. He subsequently lost the parliament seat in 2005 elections. Iran funds Hezbollah group in Lebanon, which is trying to unseat the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. But Siniora , who is supported by the parliament majority is standing his ground and refuses to step down.Sources: IRNA, Ya Libnan

Edrey: Lebanon conflict should be called 'war,' not operation
By Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondent
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ya'akov Edrey will convene the Ministerial Committee on Symbols and Ceremonies Monday in order to choose an official name for the second war in Lebanon. Edrey, who chairs the panel, said Sunday that he plans to ask the committee to name the conflict a "war" and not an operation, campaign or fighting, as it is currently designated. Last week, Edrey explained that he was prevented from using the specific term "war" due to the government's original decision to consider the conflict an operation, something which raised the ire of many bereaved parents who lost their sons in battle. Some 20 bereaved parents met last week at Moshav Mei Ami and decided to change the inscription on their sons' tombstones from "fell in battle" to "fell in war in southern Lebanon."In addition to the ministerial committee headed by Edrey, a public committee was appointed last week by Defense Minister Amir Peretz to find a name for the war. The panel, headed by attorney David Libai, was created in parallel to Edrey's committee, which is subordinate to the decisions of the cabinet.

Is it time for war or peace in the Middle East?
Abbas Bakhtiar
Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar lives in Norway. He is a management consultant and a contributing writer for many online journals.
March 18, 2007
“Approach each new problem not with a view of finding what you hope will be there, but to get the truth, the realities that must be grappled with. You may not like what you find. In that case you are entitled to try to change it. But do not deceive yourself as to what you do find to be the facts of the situation.” Bernard M. Baruch (1870 - 1965) I believe that in every war, truth is the first casualty; and as such is usually reported long after the war is finished, and even then only as a foot note. Churchill once said that “men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Although others and I have repeatedly written about the reasons behind the Iraq invasion, people tend to forget. And people who forget tend to repeat the same mistake over and over again. The invasion of Iraq was not because of WMDs. It was about oil and Israel. Today the US is on the verge of starting another war again, this time with Iran, for exactly the same reasons.
But is it necessary? Can US have access to oil without dominating the region? Can Israel accept the fact that others also feel insecure and need guarantees for their security? US by trying to exert total control over the region has lost control and paradoxically made Israel less secure. Should US engage in a new war to reverse its setbacks and address Israel’s insecurity or should it try to accept the facts on the ground and work towards a new arrangement, where other countries interests are also taken into account. This is not easy, especially for the US who sees the Middle East through the Israeli eyes. Let us not forget how we ended-up in Iraq in the first place. It is a sin to say this, but at times, it appears that indeed the tail wags the dog. For example look at the Israel’s stated strategy for the 2000 and beyond with the events that have taken place.
Israel’s Strategy

In 1996 the newly elected prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu commissioned a study group called ”Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000" to craft a strategy for Israel in the coming decades. The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies’ which included Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser, created the Israel’s strategy paper titled: “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” . The paper contains six pages of recommendations for Benjamin Netanyahu and some of the more relevant suggestions were:[1]
* We have for four years pursued peace based on a New Middle East. We in Israel cannot play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent. Peace depends on the character and behaviour of our foes. We live in a dangerous neighbourhood, with fragile states and bitter rivalries. Displaying moral ambivalence between the effort to build a Jewish state and the desire to annihilate it by trading "land for peace" will not secure "peace now." Our claim to the land —to which we have clung for hope for 2000 years--is legitimate and noble. It is not within our own power, no matter how much we concede, to make peace unilaterally. Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, "peace for peace," is a solid basis for the future.
* Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon, including by:
* striking Syria’s drug-money and counterfeiting infrastructure in Lebanon, all of which focuses on Razi Qanan.
* paralleling Syria’s behaviour by establishing the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces.
* striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.
* Work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats. This implies clean break from the slogan, "comprehensive peace" to a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power.
* Change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas and nurturing alternatives to Arafat’s exclusive grip on Palestinian society.
* Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan "comprehensive peace" and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program, and rejecting "land for peace" deals on the Golan Heights.
* Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq. This has triggered a Jordanian-Syrian rivalry to which Assad has responded by stepping up efforts to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom, including using infiltrations. Syria recently signaled that it and Iran might prefer a weak, but barely surviving Saddam, if only to undermine and humiliate Jordan in its efforts to remove Saddam.
When the Neocons and their fellow travelers came to power, having drafted Israel’s strategy for the new century, were more than happy to include it as part of their new US doctrine. What was that doctrine? The new US doctrine was about pre-emption and keeping US, by force (if necessary), as the world’s sole superpower for ever.
“The Bush Doctrine proclaimed "the duty of the US to pursue unilateral military action when acceptable multilateral solutions cannot be found". It went further and declared it US policy that the "United States has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge". The US would take whatever actions necessary to continue its status as the world's sole military superpower. This resembled British Empire policy before World War I, namely that the Royal Navy must be larger than the world's next two largest navies put together.”[2]
The rest is history. As soon as Neocons came to power, Israel scrapped the Oslo “land for Peace” agreement, declaring that it no longer had a peace partner. US invaded Iraq and occupied the country. Syria was exceedingly isolated and pushed out of Lebanon. The whole world protested United States’ naked aggression against a weak country without any results. It seemed that the hidden and subtle form of neo-colonialism that was exercised in the Middle East was about to become an overt and transparent one.
By 2003, everything was going according to the Neocons’ plan. Having occupied and destroyed Iraq, it was time to focus on the next target: Iran. The propaganda machine that was used to convince the people about the righteousness of the Iraq war, was now employed to prepare people for invasion of Iran. (I have explained this in “The Great Deception: The propaganda that we pay for”)[3].
But things started to go wrong. Iraqi insurgents started to mount an increasingly effective challenge to US occupation. Russia and China began an ever closer military cooperation. Iranians having seen the US actions in Iraq kept their military on constant alert and increased their military training and rearmament programs. Syria and Iran feeling the heat from Israel and US signed several defence pacts and increased their aid to Hezbollah of Lebanon.
Russia especially saw itself as a target and therefore increased its military aid to both Syria and Iran. Russia saw the expansion of NATO as a clear sign of US aggression and began to re-arm itself. The other player China also felt threatened. According to the Bush doctrine and the pre-emption philosophy, US would never allow China to become a true superpower. The easiest way for the US to do this was to control the Chinese access to oil. China therefore backed the only power in the region that was willing to check the US hegemony in the region, Iran.
The Arabs
Meanwhile the Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan were caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. Although they assisted the US in its invasion of Iraq, they never approved of it. They correctly foresaw the chaos that would follow. Never-the-less, having supported US invasion they had no choice but to continue their support, hoping that their support will be rewarded by some movement on the Palestinian issue. The Palestinian cause has been and is an open sore for the Arab and Muslim world and over-time it has become a major source of instability for the governments of the “moderate” Arab states. So any possibility of a resolution to this conflict is always welcomed by all Muslim states, especially the US allies in the region.
Of course, as usual they had miscalculated. Not only the US was not going to pressure Israel to change its policies, it was going to help Israel to weaken the Palestinians even further. The Israeli concept of “Peace for Peace” meant a unilateral acceptance by Arabs of the Israeli demands and conditions and nothing else. One must remember that the Israeli strategy document states clearly that “only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, "peace for peace," is a solid basis for the future”.
When Hamas won the Palestinian elections, the EU, US and Israel boycotted the Palestinian government. Hamas was not going to play according to the Israeli rules and as such was seen as an enemy. US had declared Hamas a terrorist organization and was not going to deal with it. So from the very beginning Hamas government, although democratically elected, was shunned by all. For years Israel had said that it had no negotiating partner. Even Mahmoud Abbas was not accepted as a suitable partner. But suddenly, US and Israel demanded that Hamas be removed so that Israel could start negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas. No-one ever gave Hamas a chance to prove itself as a responsible government. From the very first day, Hamas was boycotted by Israel, US and EU.
Once again, the “moderate” Arab countries were told that if they helped in removing Hamas, Israel would be willing to negotiate. So these countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan) obliged. They joined Israel and US to remove Hamas from power. They started financially strangulating the Palestinian population to force them to change their mind about Hamas, while at the same time helping Fatah to rearm and prepare it to seize power by force. I have explained this in details in two articles “Palestine: Civil War or Coup d’etat” [4] and “The coup attempt that started a war”[5].
This of course did not succeed. Palestinian people, despite tremendous suffering, refused to bow to the pressure and stuck by their elected government. Israel realised that it needed to militarily go into Gaza and unseat Hamas by force. It started a campaign of terror to goad Hamas into giving Israel an excuse for an invasion in support of a coup by Fattah. Israel started shelling villages, arresting/kidnapping civilians, assassinating Hamas members etc. Hamas finally obliged by kidnapping an Israeli soldier. As soon as Israel started its incursion into Gaza, Hezbollah stepped in to help Hamas.
Hamas kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in order to exchange them for prisoners, some of which were assumed to be Hamas members in Israeli jails. Israel which had already plans for invading Lebanon, saw this as an opportunity that it could not miss. According to the recent reports Israel had planned to invade Lebanon 3 months before the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers.
“Ehud Olmert's decision to go to war in response to abductions of soldiers was taken as early as March 2006, according to a leak of his evidence to the Commission investigating the war.
The report, which Israeli officials said was broadly in line with what the Prime Minister has already told the Cabinet, means that the military strategy was decided more than three months before it was triggered by Hizbollah's abductions of two soldiers on the northern border in July.”[6]
So Israel invaded Lebanon with the aim of destroying Hezbollah. It assumed that once this was accomplished it could finish-off Hamas. But this also failed. Not only Israel did not manage to destroy Hezbollah, it made Hezbollah one of the most popular resistance groups in the Muslim world. It also shamed Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan; three Arab countries that were supporting Israel in its wars against fellow Arabs in both Palestine and Lebanon.
Arabs in every country poured into streets in support of Hezbollah and Hamas. There were large demonstrations in nearly all Muslim countries including Jordan, and Egypt (demonstrations in Saudi Arabia were forbidden by the government). In Egypt, the popular and respected Muslim Brotherhood announced that it had 10000 volunteers ready to go to Lebanon.
“Muhammad Mahdi Akif, the general guide of the outlawed "Muslim Brotherhood" (MB) in Egypt, has launched a violent attack on Arab leaders saying: "Had they not made the declaration of the faith, we would have fought them because they are more oppressive to us than the Zionists and Americans."
Akif reignited the argument that has not stopped since his announcement that there were 10,000 MB members ready to go to Lebanon to fight there "with Hezbollah." Speaking at a mass rally attended by around 2,000 MB members at the Egyptian Lawyers Association headquarters in central Cairo the night before yesterday to mark the night of Prophet Muhammad's ascension to the seven heavens: "The latest war in Lebanon exposed the falsity of the lies of the impossibility of confronting Israel and war with it." He added: "The resistance negated all these false claims forever." [7]
The Arabs have sat helplessly and witnessed invasion of Iraq, the constant suffering and humiliation of the Palestinians, the death and destruction in Lebanon; while their leaders not only have not done anything to stop this, but also have at times approved of the actions. These events have only increased the anger of these people. The Arab people’s frustration has reached to such a level that it is now threatening the survival of these regimes. The popularity of Hezbollah and Iran as Islamic bulwark against the US and Israel is creating a situation where various groups are starting to exert pressure on their governments to follow suite and at the very least severe their ties to the West.
To redirect the pressure, Both US and the “moderate” Arab governments have tried to portray Iran as a Shi’ite country bent on dominating the Sunni states. In other words, they have tried to redirect the people’s attention from Israel and US to Iran as the main threat. This has not worked, simply because people know that sectarian division may lead to civil-wars in many countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, UAE, Pakistan and Lebanon.
Now the leader of the “moderate” Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, is trying to arrest the march towards chaos in the Middle East by trying to once again persuade the US to pressure Israel into accepting its peace plan. This plan is not a new one and is basically the same old “land for Peace” agreement that Israel had rejected before. But this time, the Saudis think that they have a stronger hand to play.
Cards on the table
The invasion of Iraq by US and unsuccessful invasion of Lebanon by Israel has changed the Middle East. The old players are dealt a new hand and everyone is trying to bluff as best is it can. However, by now all the cards are laid face-up on the table. It is now the time for action, win or lose. The players are US, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China.
The US cards are the following: its armada in Persian Gulf, 140000 troops in Iraq, its forces in Afghanistan and its enormous economic muscle. US has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran if Iran does not suspend its uranium enrichment activities. However, the halt to Uranium enrichment is just a first step in a long list of demands by the US. Stopping Uranium enrichment is just the start. Once Iranians agree to this, others will follow: such as the demand for a halt to all nuclear R&D, long-range missiles development, space activities, support for Hezbollah and then considerable concessions in Iraq. In other words, if Iran succumbs to the pressure, they are not sure where it will end. Iraq is a good example of this. UN was allowed to inspect even Saddam Hussein’s palaces, yet it did not satisfy the US. Anyway, as far as the Iranians are concerned the US has made-up its mind in destroying Iran and has already started the war. I have described the US economic warfare against Iran in “The Plan for Economic Strangulation of Iran” [8].

Trust and not math formulas is behind Lebanon crises
Sunday, 18 March, 2007
Beirut- Many math formulas are circulating in Lebanon about the form of the unity government , but the real problem in Lebanon is not the math formulas, it is the lack of trust between the opposition and the parliament majority .
This is why no deal has of yet emerged from the five rounds of meetings between Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and parliament majority leader Saad Hariri . The opposition remains determined in its demand for a veto power in a new cabinet, a request completely rejected by the pro-government camp due primarily to lack of trust . Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah reiterated that there cannot be a settlement without the 19+11 formula which gives the opposition veto power. The daily newspaper An Nahar on Sunday quoted government sources as saying the opposition demand based on 11 ministers in a 30-member cabinet takes the crisis back to square one.
The 19+10+1 formula previously proposed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora gives concessions by the ruling majority through relinquishing its two-third power without allowing the opposition to control more than one-third of the seats that would enable it to topple the government. This formula means 19 ministers for the parliament majority 10 for the opposition and 1 neutral . Another formula was also proposed by the prime minister 19+9+2 , which essentially allocates 2 neutral . The opposition is demanding the formula of 19 +11.
The main problem for Lebanon’s ruling majority is the allegiance of the opposition to Iran and Syria .
Syria was blamed for the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and Iran reportedly funds the Hezbollah group.
Right before the war between Hezbollah and Israel there was a dialogue going on between the opposition and the pro government majority and the war issue never came up .The war therefore was a complete surprise for prime minister Siniora and his cabinet ministers .
Many attributed the war in Lebanon to the US , Iranian proxy war and to the isolation of Syria .
They accused Hezbollah of initiating the war to show the US that Iran is not alone and that it has allies that can cause problems for the US and Israel.
But the Lebanese live on hope.
An Nahar daily said that Berri told his visitors after Friday's two-hour meeting in his mansion that the Lebanese are hopefully going "to hear good things in the next couple of days."
"This should be done before the Arab summit," he said.
The Arab League summit is scheduled to be held in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on March 28-29.
Berri and Hariri said in a joint statement issued at the end of their fifth meeting in Ain el-Tineh that dialogue was "ongoing with the best intentions and positive atmosphere to reach a solution as soon as possible."
No meetings expected this weekend , since Saad Hariri left to Paris , where he will be awarded the highest French medal of honor by president Jacque Chirac according to March 14 sources.
Picture: Saad Hariri, Lebanon's parliament majority leader (R) is in Paris , where he is expected will be awarded the highest French medal of honor by president Jacque Chirac.By: Ali Hussein , Ya Libnan Volunteer

Syria's Assad says Saudi ties have been "cloudy"
19 Mar 2007
RIYADH, March 19 (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview published on Monday that relations with Saudi Arabia had passed through a "cloudy" patch, but he hoped this month's Arab summit will help patch up differences. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, once close to Syria's Baathist leaders, was enraged by the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Saudi ally. A U.N. investigation has implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials for the killing, a charge denied by Damascus. "This relationship, like any Arab relationship, goes through cloudy patches, let's call it that, and recently there were clouds," Assad told the Saudi daily al-Jazirah. "We hope the Arab summit will be a new departure between Syria and Saudi Arabia and between the Arabs in general," he said, adding he had good personal relations with King Abdullah stretching back over a decade. Saudi Arabia's media last month made great play of the invitation to Assad to attend the Arab summit in Riyadh on March 28.
Senior Syrian officials have not visited Saudi Arabia since Assad met Saudi leaders in Jeddah a year ago.
A political standoff between Lebanon's pro-Syrian Hezbollah and the Western-backed Lebanese government following last year's Israeli war against the Shi'ite Muslim guerrilla group has further soured relations, diplomats and analysts say. Assad accused Arab leaders of being "half-men", in what was taken as a swipe at countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which blamed Hezbollah for starting the war with Israel.
Riyadh is also concerned about the influence of Syria's ally, Iran, in the Arab world, including in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

IDF: We did cooperate with UNFIL over munitions in Lebanon
The IDF on Sunday rejected claims made by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon over the weekend that Israel had refused to provide UNIFIL with information regarding the location of munitions it fired into Lebanon during the war this past summer. Last week, Ban issued a report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 and claimed that Israel has repeatedly refused to transfer data related to the use of cluster bombs by the IDF during the Lebanon war. The report also claimed that Israel had dropped cluster bombs on 854 targets during the war. In response, the IDF Spokesperson's Office released a statement claiming that the military had cooperated with UNFIL and even relayed maps of areas that it suspected contained unexploded ordinance. The IDF claimed that UNIFIL sources have informed their Israeli counterparts that the information provided by Israel was assisting them in clearing the areas. "UNIFIL's requests for information and clarifications have been answered by the IDF," the statement read, adding that parts of southern Lebanon were also hit by Hizbullah munitions that did not explode.