March 3/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 5,20-26. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.'But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna.Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

Free Opinions
Promises Kept. By Ken Boyette. © American Thinker March 3/07
Lebanon on the verge of a coup? By Claude Salhani March 3/07

Hezbollah regroups in a new mountain stronghold. By:
Nicholas Blanford March 3/07

Foreign Intervention & 'Toppling' The Security Council.By: Walid Choucair - March 3/07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For March 3/07
Solana for Chapter 7 if Obstacles Linger-Naharnet
'Person' Involved in Hariri Murder Pinned Down, Syria Unmasked-Naharnet
Saudi-Iranian Summit to Stress on 'Made in Lebanon' Solution-Naharnet
Lebanese Man Detained by Israeli Army-Naharnet
Iranian-Saudi Hatching of Lebanon Settlement-Naharnet
Kidnapped Lebanese in Nigeria 'Safe'-Naharnet
White House: No Policy Change Toward Iran-Syria-Naharnet

Lebanon on the verge of a coup?Monsters and
Barricades at the Serail-National Review Online
Standing His Ground-TIME - USA
Russia should not supply Syria with arms - Israeli deputy PM-RIA Novosti
South Lebanon villagers slam French troops, policy
Iraq s UN ambassador criticizes Syria-Houston Chronicle

Peres calls for pushing Moscow to stop supplying arms to Syria-Ha'aretz
Irish peacekeepers happy with progress in south Lebanon-Belfast Telegraph
Promises Kept-American Thinker

New Signs of U.S.-Syria Thaw-Naharnet
Lebanon and the Middle East Crisis-ZNet

Latest News Reports From the Daily Star For March 2/07
Berri set for talks on 'next move' with fellow opposition members
Hariri accuses Damascus of blocking political deal
Mouawad follows up on case of hostage in Nigeria
French presidential hopeful says Lebanon 'surrounded by enemies'
Jumblatt voices outrage over killing of Frenchmen
Government to start compensating war victims
Hizbullah denies CIA claims on training Iraqis
UNIFIL-mediated talks 'will resume'
Franjieh case moved to new court
FPM MP sounds note of optimism after talks with patriarch
Geagea points finger at Syria for string of assassinations
Non-political coalition plans regular gatherings to pressure politicians
NDU pays tribute to poet-writer Amin Rihani
World Vision project helps Southerners cope with damage wrought by Israel
Chouf Cedars Reserve teams up with goats and their masters to protect greenery
Critics deny ministry claims that Jiyyeh spill has been cleaned up
Recruitment firms in Lebanon report surge in brain drain
The Central Bank should devalue the pound in stages
Downtown Beirut businesses threaten to sue government
All of Bush's talk about helping Lebanon is just that - talk
Europe has a vital role to play in bringing Iran around-
By Joschka Fischer

Hezbollah regroups in a new mountain stronghold
Nicholas Blanford in Rihan
From The Times-
February 26, 2007
Hezbollah, the militant Shia organisation, is building a new line of defences just north of the United Nations-patrolled zone in south Lebanon ahead of a potential resumption of war with Israel.
The military build-up, only six months after the last Lebanon-Israel conflict, is being conducted in valleys and hillsides guarded by uniformed Hezbollah fighters in the rugged mountains north of the Litani river — the limit of the 12,000 strong UN Interim Force In Lebanon (Unifil).
Christian and Druze-owned land is being bought for cash by a Shia businessman. Hezbollah’s opponents believe the goal is to create a Shia-populated belt spanning the northern bank of the Litani, allowing the Lebanese group to operate away from prying eyes.
“The state of Hezbollah is already in existence in south Lebanon,” the Druze leader and arch Hezbollah critic Walid Jumblatt told The Times.
Since the end of the month-long clash last summer, Unifil’s strength has increased sixfold, with reinforcements from European countries such as France, Italy and Spain. An additional 20,000 Lebanese troops have flooded the area, making it impossible for Hezbollah to resurrect its military presence along the border with Israel.
“There have been no instances of attempts to smuggle weapons into the area,” said Milos Strugar, Unifil’s senior adviser, adding that no armed fighters had been seen since September. Instead, Hezbollah’s fighters are preparing a new system of fortifications and expanding old positions in the mountains on the northern bank of the Litani. Residents say that the activity has increased lately, and peacekeepers confirm this. “We can see them building new positions. There’s a lot of trucks coming into the area as well,” a Unifil officer said.
When I visited the area two Hezbollah fighters wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying automatic rifles and walkie-talkies emerged from bushes beside a stone track on a hillside overlooking the river. They politely but firmly asked The Times for identification, saying that the area was off limits.
Less than a mile to the west, a shiny chain suspended between two concrete blocks along a dirt track marked the entrance to another Hezbollah “security pocket”. A sign hanging from the chain read: “Warning. Access to this area is forbidden. Hezbollah.” Beside the entrance stood a small sentry box housing another Hezbollah fighter who worked a landline telephone at the approach of strangers. More fighters could be seen on a pine-tree-studded hill overlooking the check-point.
A veteran Hezbollah fighter told The Times that long-range rockets were fired at Israel during the last clash from underground platforms in the surrounding hills. A Western diplomat said: “We have evidence to support their presence there. It seems to be an expansion of what was there before the war.”
Hezbollah readily admits that it is rearming. Three weeks ago a lorry loaded with rockets and mortars was stopped by Lebanese customs police on the edge of Beirut. Hezbollah said that the weapons were intended for its military wing and asked for their return. The Lebanese minister of defence said they would be handed to the Lebanese army. This month Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, said that weapons were being transported to “the front” in south Lebanon. “We have weapons of all kinds and quantities, as many as you want. We don’t fight our enemy with swords made of wood,” he said.
The area in which Hezbollah is consolidating lies at the confluence of several Shia, Christian and Druze villages, hamlets and farms.
For the past year, Ali Tajiddine, a Shia businessman who traded in diamonds in West Africa before expanding into property development, has been buying swaths of land from Christians and Druze. Two thirds of Sraireh, a Druze village, has been bought along with more than 2 million square yards of land in the near-by Christian hamlet of Qotrani, where 30 houses under construction have been sold to Shia owners, according to residents.
A new community of houses and shops called Ahmadiyeh is being built on a barren hillside beside a quarry owned by Mr Tajiddine. His interest in the remote mountainous corner of Lebanon has puzzled residents and raised the suspicions of Mr Jumblatt, whose Druze fiefdom cuts into the area. He suspects that Iranian funds are being used to buy the land, which will be turned into a Hezbollah military zone.
Mr Tajiddine’s connections to Hezbollah are well known in south Lebanon. In May 2003, one of his relatives was arrested in Antwerp on charges of laundering money for Hezbollah, using West African diamonds.
Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, told The Times that Mr Jumblatt’s allegations were unfounded. He said that the Druze leader “likes to stir calm waters”. Mr Tajiddine also denied the claims. He said that he was buying land in the area because it was rich in quarrying opportunities.
Some Lebanese officials view Hezbollah’s rearming as part of the looming showdown between the United States and Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
2006 conflict
— 34 days of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict last summer
— 116 Israeli Defence Force personnel killed
— 43 Israeli civilians killed
— 15,000 Lebanese houses destroyed
— 1,100+ Lebanese civilians killed
— 3,970 Hezbollah rockets landed in Israel
— 6,000 Israeli homes damaged
— 309 Hezbollah rocket launchers destroyed by the IDF
— 33 Hezbollah tunnels destroyed by the IDF
Sources: Times archives; Amnesty International; The Israel Project; Lebanese Government

New Signs of U.S.-Syria Thaw
Washington pressed its new policy of diplomatic opening, saying Thursday it will send a high-ranking official to Syria for the first time in two years.
Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey will travel to Damascus "in coming weeks" as part of a regional tour dealing with "humanitarian issues related to Iraqi refugees," said Stat Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Playing down the diplomatic significance of the trip, McCormack said Sauerbrey would be "paired" on the tour with a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "It's not a bilateral mission," he said.
But he said Sauerbrey, who handles refugee and migration affairs at the State Department, would be authorized to meet with her Syrian counterparts to discuss the refugee issue.
She will also visit Jordan and possibly other countries in the region, he said.
Sauerbrey will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria since early 2005, when then-deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage traveled to Damascus.
The U.S. withdrew its ambassador from Damascus after Syrian authorities were implicated in the February 2005 assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Under President George Bush, the U.S. has since refused high-level contacts with Syria, which it accuses of backing anti-U.S. insurgents in neighboring Iraq and supporting efforts by Hizbullah to topple the government of Lebanon.
But in a sudden policy shift, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced this week that she and other U.S. officials would join their Syrian and Iranian counterparts in coming weeks at conferences on Iraq's future.
McCormack has refused to rule out bilateral contacts with Syrian and Iranian officials on the sidelines of those meetings, leaving the door ajar for what would amount to a major switch in Bush's policy of shunning what he considers rogue regimes, such as North Korea.
U.S. government bilateral meetings helped produce a breakthrough six-nation deal with Pyongyang's nuclear program.
McCormack and other government spokesmen insisted that Washington is not ready for such a rapprochement with either Syria or Iran, saying any bilateral contacts in coming weeks would deal only with Iraq-related issues.
He said Sauerbrey's talks would focus solely on the crisis created by some two million Iraqis who have fled the sectarian bloodshed in their country, 600,000 of them to Syria and another 600,000 to Jordan. U.N. figures say about a million Iraqis are in Syria.(AFP)
Beirut, 02 Mar 07, 08:09

'Person' Involved in Hariri Murder Pinned Down, Syria Unmasked
Naharnet: Lebanese security authorities have pinned down the identity of a person involved in the assassinations of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, journalist Samir Kassir and politician George Hawi, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan has said. Adwan said on Kalam el Nas' political forum on LBC television late Thursday that the security apparatus has also identified "those standing behind that person." He said the dossier had been referred to the international investigating commission of the 2005 Hariri murder and related crimes."Fingers are pointed at Syria," Adwan told Marcel Ghanem, the forum's presenter.Adwan also revealed that the U.N. probe commission has now got "clear-cut clues" in the assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. He said security authorities have also identified the person "who was in charge of surveillance" in the Feb. 13 bus bombings of Ain Alaq. Beirut, 02 Mar 07, 08:18

Lebanese Man Detained by Israeli Army
Naharnet:  Israeli troops detained Friday a man at the border with Lebanon, a spokesman of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said. "The Israeli Defense Forces (army) confirmed to UNIFIL that they are holding in custody a man they detained Friday in the immediate vicinity of the technical fence, east of (the southern Lebanese village of) Hula," Liam Mcdowall told Agence France Presse. "We are closely following this matter in order to obtain the facts," he said. "We are operating on the assumption that he is Lebanese," he added. He could not confirm whether the man was detained on the Lebanese or Israeli side of the border. Lebanese security sources said the man was gathering scrap metal in an area near the border with Israel when he was detained. They identified him as Mahmud Hussein Hajj, a resident of Hula. Local residents have been collecting and selling scrap metal since last summer's war between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hizbullah.(AFP) Beirut, 02 Mar 07, 17:33

Iranian-Saudi Hatching of Lebanon Settlement
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday could lead to agreements between the two regional heavyweights that would ease the conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq, experts say. "Saudi Arabia and Iran concur that a civil war pitting Sunnis against Shiites in Lebanon cannot be allowed to happen," Anwar Eshki, chairman of a private Jeddah-based think tank, told AFP.
"They are undoubtedly striving to find a solution in Lebanon ... and Ahmadinejad's visit might yield a joint initiative" to break the deadlock between the government of Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and the opposition led by the Iranian-backed Shiite movement Hizbullah, he said. Ahmadinejad's talks with Saudi King Abdullah "will also lead to an understanding that will ease the conflict in Iraq," Eshki said.
The talks come ahead of a meeting of Iraq's neighbors and world powers in Baghdad on March 10 and an Arab summit in Riyadh on March 28-29 and are therefore aimed at coordinating stands, he added. Bandar al-Aiban, who heads the foreign affairs committee of the appointed Shura (consultative) Council, said Ahmadinejad's visit "suggests that Iran has reached the conclusion that it must talk and agree with the (Saudi) kingdom in order to try to find a way out of the crises" in Iraq and Lebanon. "At the end of the day, Iran must rethink its policies ... and understand that the absence of agreement to resolve the crises in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as over its nuclear program, will increase its international isolation," he told AFP.
Ahmadinejad is due to arrive on Saturday and hold talks with King Abdullah on Sunday.
The trip follows a series of high-level contacts between predominantly Shiite Iran and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.
The hardline Iranian president met with Abdullah on the sidelines of an Islamic summit in Mecca in December 2005, but relations have since been strained over non-Arab Iran's growing influence in Iraq and its perceived backing for Shiite militias at war with the once-ruling Sunni minority.
Saudi Arabia, a main bankroller of Lebanon, has close ties with the Western-backed government in Beirut, which has been facing an ongoing protest spearheaded by Hezbollah. "Iran must understand that Iraq and Lebanon are Arab countries, and that (other) Arab states feel that Iranian meddling in the affairs of these two countries through their allies there has soured ties between Iran and those states and led to the internationalization of the two crises," said Aiban.
Aiban said Ahmadinejad's visit indicates that Iran is looking to Saudi Arabia for help in ending its standoff with the West over Tehran's "ambiguous" nuclear program, which Washington sees as a cover for the pursuit of nuclear weapons despite Iranian denials.
Saudi Arabia wants to avert a military showdown over Iran's nuclear ambitions, but like the rest of the international community, it does not want to see Iran become a nuclear power, he said. Eshki agreed that Saudi Arabia "does not want an escalation" which could trigger U.S. military action against Iran and threaten vital oil shipping routes in the Gulf region. While Riyadh does not have a solution to the nuclear row, it can help prevent an escalation by promoting a dialogue between Washington and Tehran, he said. Ahmadinejad's moderate predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, paid a landmark visit to Saudi Arabia in 1999 and another in 2002, mending relations between the two oil powerhouses which nosedived after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.(AFP) Beirut, 02 Mar 07, 17:14

Kidnapped Lebanese in Nigeria 'Safe'
Lebanese citizen Raymond Doumit al-Tiris has been kidnapped in southern Nigeria, the state-run National News Agency reported Thursday.
It said Tiris, 42, of north Lebanon's Zghorta county, has been working in Nigeria for 15 years along with his brother. Tiris' brother, whose name was not disclosed, is in contact with the kidnappers who are asking for a ransom, the report added. It added that Tiris' brother "talked to him this morning (Thursday) and said the hostage is fine and has not been tortured." The terse report did not disclose further details. Nigerian police said Wednesday he was kidnapped in the restive southern oil region. Tiris was working on a project for Alren Construction Co. Nigeria Ltd. when he was seized by four gunmen, Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu told Agence France Presse. "We don't know which group the kidnappers belong to," he said. The incident took place in Mbiama, some 30 kilometers outside Port Harcourt, the state capital. More than 60 foreigners have been kidnapped this year in the oil-rich delta region — nearly equaling the 2006 total. Hostages are generally released unharmed after a ransom is paid.Tiris is the second Lebanese kidnap victim in Nigeria. Imad Saliba has been released unharmed after ransom was paid to the abductors and he has returned to Lebanon. Militants behind a year of attacks say they're trying to force the federal government to give the Niger Delta more control over oil revenues and release two leaders imprisoned on corruption or treason charges. However, criminals seeking only ransom appear to be behind much of the recent upsurge in violence. Production in Africa's largest oil exporter has been cut by nearly a quarter over the past year as militants target foreign workers and oil infrastructure. (Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 02 Mar 07, 10:05

Solana for Chapter 7 if Obstacles Linger
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana has warned that the United Nations might resort to Chapter 7 of the world body's charter if the formation of an international tribunal into Hariri's probe was not approved by the Lebanese parliament. Solana, at a joint press conference with parliament's majority leader Saad Hariri in Brussels on Wednesday, said: "All members of the Security Council are ready to exert efforts to establish the international tribunal by any means."
But he warned that as long as the formation of the tribunal still faced "obstacles," then it would be necessary to resort to Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter.
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's cabinet has reaffirmed its approval of a U.N. plan for the tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and related crimes. The cabinet's ratification was a challenge to the Hizbullah-led Opposition seeking to oust Saniora. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a close Hizbullah ally, has been resisting convening a session to endorse the tribunal draft. Chapter 7 spares the government the need to approve the international tribunal in parliament. Solana, however, said the U.N. was willing to assist Lebanon by "talking to Syria and exerting more pressure on it to make it behave constructively." Many in Lebanon accuse Syria of involvement in Hariri's murder, a charge vehemently denied by Damascus.
But Saad Hariri expressed hope that the court would be formed without having to resort to Chapter 7. Beirut, 01 Mar 07, 12:52

Rice Assures Jumblat of No Compromises on Lebanon
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has assured Druze leader Walid Jumblat that there won't be any compromises on Lebanon, An Nahar daily reported Thursday. "The message was clear from U.S. officials - from President Bush to Dr. Rice-: No compromise on Lebanon," An Nahar quoted Jumblat as saying.
He said that senior U.S. officials have also assured him that "we will not touch on Lebanon at the Baghdad meeting."
"Deserting Lebanon or bargaining over it in Baghdad is out of the question," Jumblat quoted the U.S. officials as telling him.
The anti-Damascus legislator was referring to a security conference that will be held in the Iraqi capital next month and that could pave the way for high-level talks between the U.S. and its arch-foes Iran and Syria. Jumblat, along with Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh and former legislator Ghattas Khoury, have held series of talks with top Bush administration officials on Wednesday. Hamadeh also quoted Rice as telling the Lebanese delegation that the U.S. will make "no compromises with anyone over Lebanon, not at the Baghdad meeting nor at any other occasion."
Sources that took part in the meetings told An Nahar that the discussions revolved around "the international tribunal, strengthening Lebanon politically, helping the Lebanese army and finding ways to confront external interferences."
They met on Monday with Bush who reiterated his government's support for the creation of a Special International Tribunal for Lebanon to prosecute suspects in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's murder and related crimes. Jumblat told reporters after Wednesday's talks at the State Department that the aim of his visit was to receive support for Lebanon's independence."The Americans and westerners have given a lot to Lebanon, in particular the successful Paris III aid conference," he said.
He also urged them to continue backing Lebanon "to resist states within states: the state of Hizbullah," he said. Beirut, 01 Mar 07, 08:07

Lebanon on the verge of a coup?
By Claude Salhani Mar 1, 2007, 18:06 GMT
WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- Lebanon`s charismatic Druze leader Walid Jumblatt was in Washington this week seeking support from the Bush administration for the pro-democracy March 14 Movement and for the beleaguered Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
The leader of the Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party who in the past tended to gravitate more towards the Soviet Union -- at least from a philosophical perspective -- thanked President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac for their help and support in getting the Syrians out of Lebanon.
At the same time, Jumblatt raised a worrying alarm, saying that Lebanon was on the verge of a coup d`etat.
Almost two years after the departure of Syrian troops, the crisis playing itself out on the streets of the Lebanese capital Beirut has started to intensify. On one side of this political tug-of-war is Iran and its Syrian ally, while on the other is the pro-Western, pro-free market economy, pro-democracy forces. The first prize of this contest is nothing short of the domination of Lebanon.
Jumblatt, much like former President Amine Gemayel before him, came to seek assistance from the United States at a time when Lebanon is starting to feel pressure from Damascus once again.
One of the immediate problems facing pro-democratic forces in Lebanon is to insure the smooth transition of power. But for that to happen, the parliamentarians must be able to convene and to cast their votes for a new president.
However, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and leader of the Amal movement is a Shiite and an ally to Hezbollah. There is worry on the side of the March 14 leaders that upon directives from Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Berri could padlock the Parliament and prevent the election from going ahead. Should Parliament fail to elect a new president the country would find itself in a constitutional crisis.
Siniora`s government, meanwhile, has been under siege -- literally -- for the last several weeks as supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement are camping day and night in a makeshift tent city erected around the prime minister`s office in the renovated city center of Beirut. Ironically, it was thanks to slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri that the city center, completely devastated by 19 years of a bloody fratricidal civil war, was rebuilt.
While the civil war officially ended in 1990, the country has to date failed to establish a national dialogue or reconciliation committee or to even erect a single plaque to the memory of the 150,000 people killed. If anything, the situation only seems to grow more worrisome.
'We are on the verge of a coup d`etat,' Jumblatt told members of the Lebanese community in Washington Tuesday night, after meeting with President Bush and other senior members of the administration.
Jumblatt said he feared the pro-Iranian and Syrian militia was pushing Lebanon towards the brink of civil war. The ultimate aim of Hezbollah, he said, was to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic based on the Iranian model.
Jumblatt asked the Lebanese to place the country`s interests above of those of a particular sect, religion or community, because Lebanon`s future was at stake.
'Stay united, stay united beyond all confessional rivalries,' said Jumblatt. 'We are Lebanese first.'
The Druze leader said he feared the current showdown between Siniora`s government and the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shiite Hezbollah militia was scaring away many Lebanese, particularly Christians.
'Lebanon without the Christians would not be Lebanon,' said Jumblatt. 'We are Lebanese first and we are for Lebanon`s independence and we`re Lebanese first.'
Jumblatt lamented that the country lost many prestigious people in its fight for independence; politicians, journalists and intellectuals. Since the assassination of Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005, a number of prominent politicians, journalists, and members of parliament and other personalities have also been assassinated.
To date no one has either claimed responsibility or been charged for any of the crimes, but many Lebanese believe the orders have emanated from Damascus.
Jumblatt, accompanied by fellow Druze politician and Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, had met earlier with Bush for a private session at the White House. 'What I heard yesterday from President Bush was very encouraging,' Jumblatt said. Hamadeh later reiterated in a private conversation with United Press International that Bush had promised support for Lebanon and its democratically elected government.
Still, Jumblatt was not over optimistic in his outlook for the immediate future. 'I`m afraid that the price (for independence) is not over,' he said. 'The Syrians are officially out. But unofficially are in; we have to face their allies in Lebanon.'
Jumblatt predicts it`s going to be a very long, long bloody fight. 'Don`t expect to see miracles in the near future,' said the Druze leader.
'It`s between preserving the Cedar Revolution, preserving Lebanon as a multi-confessional country, preserving Lebanon as a free country; with a free press, free economy, free enterprise, all to be subjected to the totalitarian approach of Hezbollah. And when you say Hezbollah it means Iran, Persia, and the totalitarian approach of the Syrian regime,' he said.
'The battle is going to be a long, long one,' added Jumblatt.
(Comments to Copyright 2007 by United Press International

Barricades at the Serail
Beirut rests peacefully in the eye of a hurricane.

By Mario Loyola
Beirut, Lebanon — The Serail is one of the most beautiful buildings in Beirut. Its stately arches and imposing mass convey both authority and permanence — the Serail was built centuries ago to serve as the seat of Ottoman rule here. It was once the anchor of a stable and peaceful state — and maybe one day will be that again. But today, the Serail hangs in the balance of a political struggle that has paralyzed Lebanon. At night, which is when I saw it, a menacing spotlight illuminates the windows of Prime Minister Siniora’s offices. It is coming from outside the barricades that ring the government compound. Just feet from the outer band of razor-wire is the Hezbollah tent camp. Shiite music can be heard blaring from amplifiers inside the camp (it has the redeeming quality of being melodious and soothing), alternating with the steady voice of Lord Hassan Nasrallah. Hundreds of tents strong, filling up the parking lots and highway underpasses in the neighborhood, the Hezbollah camp has some of the silliness of an ANSWER protest or even a Pfish concert. Posters of Ché Guevara are as common as those of Nasrallah — even though pretty much the only things those two might ever agree on is their disdain for homosexuals.
What’s not silly is that all these people are armed — and heavily armed.
The barricades are themselves a menacing defense-in-depth: One or two bands of razor-wire are braced by concrete road barriers. Behind this, at intervals of 20 yards, are several bands of new tires laid methodically across the roadway, backed by trucks full of gasoline canisters, ready to set the rubber ablaze in case the outer perimeter is breached. Armored personnel carriers of the Lebanese army are placed at strategic positions well within the government compound. Atop each sits a soldier in firing position behind a heavy machine gun, more often then not peacefully asleep.
The remarkable thing about this entire spectacle is how deeply peaceful it all seems. It has the air of a theme park after dark — all lit up and largely empty. But when you consider that the people around you could at least in theory be killing each other in minutes with any provocation, and that their numbers would swell quickly if there were any firing, you have the impression that you are in a room full of tigers each of which is pretending to be asleep so as not to wake the others.
Maybe “peaceful” is not the right word. Maybe “balanced” — as on a tightrope — is better. Lebanon is by now well accustomed to the twisted contortions acrobats often have to assume to maintain momentary balance. The current crisis in Lebanon — a profound crisis of sovereignty for the state — really started in 1969 when the Lebanese government ceded partial sovereignty to the Palestinian Liberation Organization so the latter could conduct autonomous military operations against Israel from south Lebanon. This fateful compromise soon led to the tragedy of civil war — or rather several of them. After the 1982 Israeli invasion, the PLO finally left Lebanon, but Lebanon never got its sovereignty back.
Unlike an acrobat, Lebanon does not manage to make its contortions look easy. Especially to an American — accustomed as we are to the most stable political institutions on the planet — Lebanon’s contortions seem excruciating and unnatural. Backed by Syria, Hezbollah and its allies (who include the Maronite Christian General Michel Aoun, former leader of the anti-Syrian resistance) have shut down the government of Lebanon for weeks now stretching into months. After pulling their six ministers out of Siniora’s cabinet, they are demanding a minority veto as the price of their participation in government. Hezbollah sees this as another step forward in its great plans. For the Christians who support Aoun, the veto represents protection against a the acts of a future Sunni-majority government.
Arranged against Syria on the Muslim side are two powerful clans — the Hariris and the Jumblatts — who now share with a majority of Christians the standard of the Cedars Revolution, a majority of parliamentary seats, and what remains of the cabinet. Thus the two competing sides of Lebanon’s terrible civil war — who just thirty years ago were guilty of massive civilian massacres against each other — now hold hands in an uneasy embrace against new coreligionist enemies.
President Émile Lahoud, a pro-Syrian Christian, declares that the anti-Syrian government of Prime Minister Siniora is illegitimate without the Shiite ministers — a dubious constitutional claim which unfortunately cannot be resolved except by popular opinion. Just days ago, he announced that he would not hand over power at the end of his term to an illegitimate cabinet — thus threatening to extend his term illegally once again. (It was extended once before by the then-Syrian controlled parliament). On the Hezbollah side calls for a campaign of civil disobedience to bring matters to a head remain a focus of deliberation among the leadership. Hezbollah is fearful of causing a fight it cannot win except with a great deal of bloodshed. And it’s had one too many pyrrhic victories lately. Christians here will tell you that Hezbollah learned an important lesson in last summer’s war against Israel: Don’t wake sleeping tigers — they always wake up angry.
Hezbollah’s many civic activities are taken in the West as evidence of Hezbollah’s humanitarian side. But the recent stoning of a French medical team reveals Hezbollah’s civic side for what it is: the erection of an alternative state — one that wants to create exclusive dependence among its supporters, and whose supreme political leader is not Lebanese but rather the Iranian religious leader Ali Khamenei.
In the Middle East, borders are often meaningless concepts — as is, for many Muslims, the difference between religious and political leadership. And if confessional and ethnic loyalties trump both territorial sovereignty and the rule of law, personal political ambitions just as easily trump those loyalties. Add into that mix the foreign sponsors backing — and manipulating — nearly every group in Lebanon, and what you have is one of the most politically turbulent situations in the world.
That was the storm around us that calm Sunday night inside the barricades at the Serail.
— Mario Loyola is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is currently in Lebanon.

Standing His Ground
Thursday, Mar. 01, 2007
The grand sérail, seat of the Lebanese government, is a magnificent 19th century Oriental palace. The stone façade, geometrical courtyard and ornate chambers were originally built as an Ottoman military barracks. Though beautifully restored, the structure was gutted at the start of the 15-year civil war — a wound on Lebanese history that is never far from the mind of the Grand Sérail's occupant since 2005's Cedar Revolution: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Recently, that wound threatened to rip open. One evening in December, thousands of protesters from the Shi'ite Muslim group Hizballah and other factions threatened to storm the gates of the Sérail, calling the Western-backed Siniora a traitor for allegedly undermining Hizballah during its war with Israel four months earlier. Only a week before, masked gunmen had assassinated one of Siniora's Cabinet colleagues, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. For hours, nobody knew if the mob would overwhelm the guards, enter the building, drag Siniora and his ministers from office — and perhaps ignite a new civil war.
Hizballah and its allies thought Siniora could be intimidated; instead, they got the measure of a man undaunted. Siniora phoned various Lebanese leaders and declared he was standing his ground. "They wanted us to evacuate," recalls Marwan Hamadeh, Siniora's Telecommunications Minister. "He said, 'I will only go out of here dead.'" As Siniora remembered the standoff during three hours of interviews with Time in his office and over lunch in the Sérail: "I have never had that degree of serenity in my life. Despite the risks, which I am aware of, don't think at all that I am troubled."
The protesters backed off; Siniora had saved the gains of the Cedar Revolution, when, after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, a million Lebanese in Martyrs' Square demanded the withdrawal of Syrian military forces that had dominated the country for three decades. Lebanon remains deeply divided, however, a fact made plain in January on what some are calling Black Thursday, when a cafeteria shoving match between Sunni and Shi'ite students at a Beirut university set off a day of clashes that tore across the capital.
It is crucial for Lebanon, the Middle East and the U.S. that Siniora succeeds in safeguarding Lebanon's independence and guiding its political and economic reconstruction. In a struggle between a rare Arab democratic movement supported by the West and parties backed by authoritarian regimes in Syria and Iran, his defeat would shatter a model for other Arab states to follow and dash the Bush Administration's only realistic hope for a Middle East success story. Victory for Iran, Syria and its allies, on the other hand, would probably doom the country to future conflicts with Israel and trigger a new exodus of educated Lebanese.
Siniora's December defense of the Sérail may well have been a turning point in that struggle. There are signs that the crisis has cooled, at least temporarily. Hizballah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has retreated from his militant rhetoric and called his people from the streets. His main political ally, ambitious former Lebanese army commander Michel Aoun, who is popular with a significant bloc of Christians, has become publicly worried about future opposition protests out of apparent concern they could trigger Christian-on-Christian fighting.
Arab commentators who praise Nasrallah as a hero for fighting Israel have been slow, not surprisingly, to commend Siniora's stand for freedom. But he has won the hearts of many Lebanese and enjoys broad support among Sunnis, Druze, Christians and some Shi'ites. When he sneaks from the Sérail for a rare meal outside, surprised restaurant patrons drown his arrival in applause. "He is a source of pride," says Elie Khoury, a leading pro-democracy activist who created the "I Love Life" advertising campaign to perk up Lebanese spirits. "We have a Prime Minister who is not performing like a politician." Adds Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a staunch Siniora ally: "He has proved to be a statesman. The coup d'état would have meant that the Lebanese dream of an independent Lebanon, a prosperous Lebanon, would be over."
Siniora's statesmanship seems to work even beyond Lebanon's fragile borders. In January, he scored a political coup by persuading 41 countries at a donor conference in Paris to pledge $7.6 billion for Lebanon's reconstruction. He is also pushing for an international tribunal that will put on trial anyone accused by an ongoing U.N. investigation of political assassinations in Lebanon. The killings of Siniora's boyhood chum Hariri, and of journalists Gebran Tueni, Samir Kassir and a dozen others since October 2004, have been widely blamed on the Syrian regime. The point of the investigation, he explains, "is not only to get to know who committed these crimes, but to protect democracy. It is not a vendetta. It is a duty to the Lebanese people."
Siniora's opponents can hardly be blamed for initially underestimating him, since little in his background prepared him for becoming the guardian of Lebanese democracy. He is an accountant and banker by profession, and he holds the position of Prime Minister as a Sunni Muslim, as the country's constitution requires. But he is not a sectarian warlord or family patriarch of the sort that usually ascends to the dangerous business of being a top Lebanese politician. He grew up in Sidon, an enthusiastic Arab nationalist like Hariri, who tapped him to be Finance Minister during Hariri's remarkable reconstruction of war-battered Beirut in the 1990s. As Hariri's son and political heir Saad was inexperienced in politics, Siniora agreed to accept the appointment as Prime Minister after Hariri's Future Movement triumphed in elections two years ago.
Although the mild-mannered Siniora seemed destined for finance, Hariri's assassination, the Cedar Revolution it triggered and the exit of Syrian troops inevitably drew him into the regional struggles that have long made Lebanon a political battleground. Hizballah resigned from Siniora's government in November, accusing it of becoming a U.S. pawn that had reneged on promises to rule with Hizballah's agreement. The tipping point was the government's vote to proceed with the international tribunal over Hizballah's objections. "Our fear is that politicians will take advantage of the tribunal to get at us and others in Lebanon," Hizballah deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem told Time. The group is also wary of eventually being pressured by the government to disarm. It argues that as the guerrilla group that ended Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, it needs to stay armed to defend against future Israeli attacks. Clearly, Hizballah is also worried about losing influence if it becomes solely a political party.
Today, as in the past, Lebanon is also a keystone in the broader struggle for power and influence across the Middle East. While President Bush hailed the Cedar Revolution, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei recently declared that Iran would defeat America in Lebanon. Besides vying for sway in the country, Washington is jousting with Tehran and Damascus over everything from Iran's nuclear program and Iraq's future to Arab-Israeli peace. "You have the desire of the Iranians to establish, I wouldn't say a satellite state, but something of that sort," Siniora says. "And you've got the Syrians. They are not shy about [opposing] the international tribunal. What is happening in Lebanon is because of turbulence coming from the outside, using Lebanese. We don't want to be a battlefield."
Although Siniora welcomes U.S. support, he bristles at opposition taunts that he is America's agent, in part because his relationship with Washington is not always an easy one. Apart from criticizing what he terms Washington's "one-sided" support for Israel, Siniora became angry during the Israel-Hizballah war last summer when the Bush Administration rebuffed Siniora's expectation that the U.S. would support an immediate cease-fire. He calls Israel "a killing machine" that used Hizballah's capture of two Israeli soldiers as a "pretext" to re-occupy Lebanon. Though opponents mocked Siniora for kissing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's cheek during her shuttle to Beirut, behind closed doors the two sparred over how to end the war. At one point, Siniora says, he retorted to a Rice aide: "This is my position. Even if they are going to shell the Sérail, I am not moving." Siniora says he welcomes American support, like Washington's pledge of $1 billion in aid, so long as it doesn't compromise his country's rights. "I'm a pragmatic man," he says. "I want to deal with the Americans. I know there can't be a real solution if we don't engage with the Americans. But not at the expense of my principles, my country and our pride."
In the end, the U.S. relented on Siniora's refusal to allow U.N. peacekeeping troops to use force, and on his demand that a U.N. resolution call for Israel's withdrawal from the disputed Shebaa Farms territory, which he insists "is Lebanese land and they should withdraw from it. I cannot go and ask Hizballah to surrender their arms while my country is still occupied." He wants the U.S. to do more to pressure Israel to pull out, but so far Washington prefers not to add to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's burdens.
Siniora did help persuade Hizballah to accept a cease-fire that required the Lebanese army to take control of southern Lebanon, Hizballah's main base of operations, for the first time in 30 years. Soon afterward, however, Hizballah plunged Lebanon into its December crisis by sending its supporters into the streets to demand more power. Though Siniora refuses to step down, he has shown flexibility. He has offered to expand the Cabinet to include more opposition figures, and to discuss limiting the scope of the U.N. investigation in light of Hizballah's fears that the tribunal might judge past acts of terrorism blamed on the group, like the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Thus far, however, negotiations with Hizballah remain unscheduled.
Despite the obstacles, Siniora is optimistic about Lebanon's future as he stands on a balcony of the Sérail, with nary a protester in sight, looking out over Beirut below, the Mediterranean Sea to the west and Lebanon's snow-capped mountains to the east. "We have the benefit of past experience, which was a deadly experience," he says. "There is no other option for Lebanese but to understand that they have to live together." Perhaps his own combination of steely will and flexibility will show the way to that elusive goal.
With reporting by Nicholas Blanford / Beirut

Russia should not supply Syria with arms - Israeli deputy PM
 02/ 03/ 2007
TEL AVIV, March 2 (RIA Novosti) - Israel's deputy prime minister said Friday that Moscow should be pressured to stop supplying Russian weapons to Syria.
Israeli mass media recently reported that a large consignment of Russian weapons, including modern anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, will soon be delivered to Syria. "The UN knows that arms are still being smuggled from Syria to [Lebanese Islamist movement] Hezbollah. Israel should pressure Moscow to stop delivering weapons to Syria," a national Israeli radio quoted Shimon Peres as saying. Israel is sensitive about Russian-Syrian military and technical cooperation, fearing not only a reinforcement of Syria's Armed Forces, but also the possibility that modern weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah fighters, in violation of the existing international embargo. During last year's Lebanon military campaign, Israeli authorities accused Syria of supplying Hezbollah with anti-tank systems bought from Russia. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said earlier in an interview with Syria's SANA news agency that Russian-Syrian military and technical cooperation is conducted in accordance with international laws. "Military and technical cooperation has dominated our interaction for many years, and, despite repeated speculation in some media, it has been conducted by both sides in strict observance of all relevant international obligations," Lavrov said.
Syria, a long-time client of Russia's defense industry, accounts for up to 4% of Russia's annual arms sales, which totaled a record $6.1 billion last year.
Valery Kashin, head of the Kolomna-based Engineering Design Bureau, which designed the Strelets anti-aircraft system, said earlier that Russia met all of its commitments in 2006 under a contract to supply Syria with the Strelets system, confirming the delivery of equipment under the 2005 contract.
Russia agreed in 2005 to sell Syria short-range anti-aircraft missile systems to bolster its capability to protect strategically important facilities from "potential air strikes." Israel and the United States spoke out against the 2005 deal, claiming that Syria would pass on the system, which fires Igla ground-to-air missiles, to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Russia has consistently defended the deal, saying that "international agreements place no restrictions" on the sale of such missiles.

South Lebanon villagers slam French troops, policy
02 Mar 2007 10:26:28 GMT
Source: Reuters
More By Tom Perry
MAROUN AL-RAS, Lebanon, March 2 (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeeper patrols by French troops have irritated residents of this south Lebanon village who are suspicious of the Paris government and would like to see the back of its soldiers.
"You hear the sound of a tank and think Israel has come back," said Mariam Faris. Like other Maroun al-Ras residents, she fled the village when it became a battleground in the July-August war between Hezbollah and Israel.
Much of Maroun al-Ras is still in ruins from the war, ended by a U.N. Security Council resolution that brought thousands of new international peacekeepers to Lebanon. French troops patrol the village near the border with Israel.
But villagers say their patience is wearing thin with the troops. Armoured patrols have terrified children, they say, and they are also suspicious of Paris because of its support for Hezbollah's political rivals in Lebanon.
"People are fed up with the French troops because of this point," deputy mayor Hussein Ali said, referring to French support for Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government in its political struggle with Hezbollah and its allies.
"The French stance isn't right, it's like the American position," Ali said.
A UNIFIL spokesman said the force was using light vehicles on patrol where possible.
"We do everything we can to minimise disruption," he said. "UNIFIL has traditionally enjoyed extremely close relations with the community. We are confident that this will continue."
Maroun al-Ras, like most of south Lebanon, stands firmly behind Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah in the group's conflict with Israel and its political fight at home. Hezbollah signs line the roadsides and its flag flies at the border.
"Most of the people think that they (peacekeepers) are here to protect the Israelis, not us," Zeinab Faris, a shopkeeper in the hilltop village, said.
Lebanese soldiers man a nearby army position which commands a sweeping view into northern Israel. Under the Security Council resolution, the army deployed south to areas previously controlled mainly by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah's weapons have been out of sight since the war, as they were before the conflict, which was triggered when the group launched a raid into Israel and captured two soldiers.
Hezbollah leaders have underlined the need for good ties with UNIFIL and praised the international force for dealing positively with complaints.
But Hezbollah has also repeatedly warned against any UNIFIL attempts at spying -- a remark which some analysts say has added to local suspicions.
Timur Goksel, a former UNIFIL spokesman, said the warnings were creating a dangerous false impression. "If Hezbollah feels they don't want UNIFIL or a certain country, it would be very easy to provoke the people into action," he said.
Villagers in Maroun al-Ras said they had rejected medical assistance from the French military last month because of bad feeling towards the troops. The medics were asked to leave.
But elsewhere in the south, locals have welcomed medical care and other free help from UNIFIL, including language and yoga classes. A Belgian military field hospital in Tibnine has treated some 2,300 civilians since October.
Ali Kashakish, who had been treated for a scorpion bite, praised the troops: "If you have any problem, they help."

Irish peacekeepers happy with progress in south Lebanon
Friday, March 02, 2007
Irish peacekeepers stationed in south Lebanon say they are very happy with the progress of their mission in the area.
The 158-strong contingent is providing protection for Finnish soldiers clearing unexploded cluster bombs following last July's attack by Israel.
They say the clearance operation has been a good success so far, but civilians still face a massive threat from the thousands of unexploded bombs left behind by the Israelis.Meanwhile, the head of the Irish contingent, Lieutenant Colonel John Molloy, who liaises between the Israelis and the Lebanese, says he is confident that peace will hold in the region.
"Both parties are very anxious to maintain this peace that we have had for the past six months and, based on that, I would have to be confident that both parties will retain the same attitude that they have done so far," he says.

Promises Kept
By Ken Boyette
© American Thinker 2007
March 02, 2007
More than two decades ago I witnessed a chilling vow. One that appears to have been kept. Therein lies a story.
It was a beautiful spring morning in 1985. The cloudless sky above the mountains brought clear air in off the Mediterranean Sea. The morning sun had burned off the early fog that usually covered the blacktop streets in the strategic mountain village of Marjayoun, South Lebanon perched 1200 feet above the Litani River gorge. From my office I looked directly across the gorge to the ruins of Beaufort Castle atop the mountain that was exclusively Shiite Muslim territory. I had no idea of what was about to happen.
This morning my cameraman and I were heading into that territory and further south to the large Shiite town of Bent Jbeil. I was nearing the end of the first year of my contract as producer for Middle East Television. From our offices in Beirut, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Marjayoun, Lebanon and Metulla, Israel, we produced television news programs broadcasting in both English and Arabic across five countries of the Middle East. I was part of the English department and worked as a correspondent in both Lebanon and Israel.
South Lebanon was the bottom third of the country and almost exclusively Shiite Muslim in population. I was an American working on a two-year contract occupying an office in a Christian village in the heart of Shiite dominated territory. To say I was kidnap bait was an understatement.
The Israeli army patrolled this sector, but it was a war zone and every week their soldiers were wounded or killed. I crossed the border from Israel into Lebanon through a sector held by the South Lebanese Army. Since I had a pass from each side I traveled at will by myself 24/7. Some called me crazy, but I was the only correspondent in the world who was doing it at that time. As a result, I was about be thrown into a story years ahead of it's time.
My cameraman, Mark, and I drove down the mountain ridgeline from Marjayoun through the towns of Qlaya, DyrMimas and Kifar Kila and continued along the Israeli frontier past Aytun where we curved east and then south into Bent Jbeil that was surrounded on all sides by high hills. We were going after "evergreen" video footage that we could use in all manner of stories. The town itself was very colorful with traffic, mosques, shops and a big open-air market called the souk. Traditionally, the market was a place of truce where sides in conflict could meet for commerce.
My bet proved good. We got plenty of attention, some smiles and also some of the most vicious glares I've ever seen. We were recognized yet the tradition of truce held strong. We got great video but as we were preparing to leave two young men that tailed us for some time finally approached. One spoke English well and said he had something to say. I offered to put him on camera but he refused. Suddenly, he launched into a diatribe and made a blood chilling promise.
"We are holy warriors chosen of God. We are coming to America to kill Americans. You cannot stop us. You'll see."
"Are you Hezbollah?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied. "Some day we will make you pay for all the evil you have done. We'll come to America. You'll see!" With that he and his companion congratulated each other and walked quickly away.
Mark and I were quiet for the first few minutes as we drove away to Marjayoun.
"They really hate us," Mark said.
"Yea, I guess," I replied. "But don't you wonder what drives it?"
"No," Mark answered. "It's not complicated. They hate Israel and they hate Americans."
"You think they'll ever make it to America?" I asked.
"Why you asking me, Ken? How should I know?" Mark answered.
That way his way of telling me to do the writing and researching and let him make the pictures. Mark and I parted company a year later in 1986 when my contract ended.
Did the two Hezbollah recruits in Bent Jbeil keep their promise? You bet. Last I checked they mayor of Bent Jbeil, Lebanon is from Dearborn, Michigan. And the Hezbollah stronghold has sent thousands of its residents to the US. I'm no genius, but with where I've been and what I've seen, I can connect the dots. They're here, waiting.
But what drove them to our shores is another matter. In Islam there are four enemies, two of which qualify for a holy war. Those two are the unbelievers and the apostate. Of the four enemies of Islam the apostate is the worst. In the case of the apostate all those who leave the faith and those who persuaded them are to be put to death. By their very existence apostates betray all Muslims.
According to the Iranian Shiite Revolution, the modern state of Israel is an apostate government in the heart of Islam, and America is viewed as the supporting resource, the persuader of the apostasy. So the Ayatollahs call America the Great Satan and Israel the Little Satan and Hezbollah chants; "Death to America. Death to Israel".
What made the two teenage recruits holy warriors? The answer is simpler than you think, and it's not based on pure hate. It's based on the premise that Israel is actually Islam in the worst of all conditions, apostasy. So there can never be a lasting peace, only a temporary cease-fire until a better opportunity of conquest arises. And since America is the sponsor of the apostasy, all those who struggle for Islam in Israel or America are automatically holy. They are fighting against the apostasy, the betrayers of all Islam, the greatest enemies of Allah, His Prophet and the only true faith.
In our wide-open western mentality this Death to America chant is merely free speech, a dissenting opinion. Instead, we must understand that as persuaders of the apostate we are now locked in an unrelenting conflict for our very civilization. By the terms of this struggle there will be only one victor. Recent Articles
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Foreign Intervention & 'Toppling' The Security Council
Walid Choucair Al-Hayat - 02/03/07//
The remarks made by some Lebanese leaders and their accusations to one another of succumbing to foreign influence calls on one to smile. Some of these accusations have been made in the media, while others are expressed in a way that reminds one of quarrels taking place in village quarters.
One group describing another as belonging to this axis or that is no longer an accusation, given the current complex political situation in Lebanon, which has reached a peak and may lead to a prolonged explosion at a time when all the foreign powers are testing the possibilities to reach a settlement, or at least a truce that will bring calm to Lebanon, or give the Lebanese a chance to catch their breath. They are exhausted by this international-regional conflict that has made their territory open to all kinds of foreign interventions and policies for decades.
What draws the ire of some opposition leaders, however, is that the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora did not fall in front of the three month long opposition sit-in, withstanding the massive demonstrations organized by Hezbollah and its allies. Siniora did not submit a resignation, or concede to the request to give the opposition the 'obstructing third' in an enlarged government, because never has a government received this much international and Arab support as the Siniora government did. While this logic denies the other team any internal, Lebanese, political and sectarian and ethnic base for its steadfastness, it expresses it implicitly sometimes and explicitly at other times that its attack on the government was carried out in a way that far exceeds the actual strength of the opposition at facing an internal group that is standing in its face but nonetheless will not fall.
Deploring the fact that the Siniora government did not fall becomes logical if that internal team is counting on external forces for support. But this denunciation becomes illogical, if the opposition is surprised at the Arab and international support to the government. Not to mention if it calculates the weight of the internal support to be that of a feather.
The opposition forces brag openly about their alliance with Damascus and Tehran, and some of their leaders frequently talk about a new reading of the adjustment in the balance of international powers and the return of what looks like the Cold War. This is in the context of betting on a change in the international conditions in favor of the lines represented by the opposition. Meanwhile, the forces of the majority no longer hide their own wagering on the stability of the international and Arab situations. They are betting on the unanimous international position which began to emerge since the extension of the current President Emile Lahoud's term in the summer of 2004, with the adoption of resolution 1559, calling for the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon and the election of the President without outside interference, as well as for disarming Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias fighters. At the time, the international community decided, after ignoring Syria's influence in Lebanon for years, that the Syrian regime ends its direct rule of Lebanon without ending its influence. The ensuing international conflict with Syria over Lebanon, in the context of the US and Europe seeking to stop Lebanon being used as trump card and theatre of operations, led to the subsequent resolutions: Resolution No. 1595 following the assassination of martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This created a second track for the international position on Lebanon facing the policy of assassinations as a means to change the internal balance of forces. The situation created a broader Lebanese base for European intervention than that resolution 1559 had secured.
Then successive resolutions came out following the elections that produced the Siniora government, the Security Council's presidential statements, and 6 reports issued by the international commission of inquiry into the assassination of Hariri. In the first track, three presidential statements were unanimously issued and followed by resolution 1680, which was based on the decisions of the National Dialogue Conference that Syria was invited to comply with. In the second track - the international inquiry - resolutions 1636, 1644, 1664 and 1686 and six reports on the investigation and a presidential statement were issued. Last summer, resolution 1701 was issued about the south. All of these decisions, in addition to the other resolutions issued to extend the mission of the UNIFIL forces, were based on the cooperation with the Lebanese government.
Is it conceivable that the international community stands idle as attempts are made to overthrow the government in Lebanon, or witness efforts aimed at preventing the government from implementing the resolution established by international consensus over Lebanon, which proceeded from the overlapping of the regional situation with the Lebanese situation? The objective of toppling or disrupting the Siniora government, as announced by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his famous speech on August 15 following the end of the Israeli war on Lebanon, has now become the process of overthrowing the Security Council's policies on the Lebanese situation. Do these plotters expect that the Security Council members stand by with their hands tied behind their backs? Considering internal dialogue to address the internal crisis as a 'waste of time' is itself an invitation for further international intervention in the face of the interference from the opposite direction

Lebanon and the Middle East Crisis
Gilbert Achcar interviewed by
Paul D'Amato
March 01, 2007
International Socialist Review Printer Friendly Version

THE PRESS here is portraying the opposition movement headed by Hezbollah in Lebanon, that is attempting to challenge the Siniora government, as a movement that is provoking sectarian conflict. What is your take on that? What is the character of the opposition, and what is it trying to achieve?

IT IS already a fact that the whole conflict is increasingly taking on a sectarian character. But it is not the sectarian or religious divide that we were accustomed to in Lebanon's past -- I'm referring to the fifteen-year civil war of 1975–90, which mainly pitted a predominantly Christian camp against a predominantly Muslim one -- although things were never as pure or as simple as that. The sectarian division this time is taking a form that is unprecedented in Lebanon: it looks more like an extension to Lebanon of the division that prevails in Iraq, opposing the two major branches of Islam, Sunni and Shiite. The tension between the two communities is indeed quite sharp at present in Lebanon itself. True, neither the opposition nor the so-called majority -- they have the parliamentary majority, but they cannot claim to represent the majority of the population -- is religiously homogenous. Both involve various groups belonging to different sects and religions. The overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shiites stand in the opposition: they are organized by Hezbollah on the one hand, and Amal on the other hand. They are allied with one of the two major forces among the Christian Maronites, led by former General Michel Aoun. You can add to that a motley collection of various other groups -- Christian forces, a minor force among the Druze community and some small Sunni forces, which have mainly in common the fact that they are linked to the Syrian regime.

Facing that in the "majority" camp, there is the Hariri clan, which enjoys a clear majority among Sunni Muslims, plus the majority leadership among the Druze sect, represented by Walid Jumblatt, and a section of the Christians, composed of various groups, among whom the most prominent are the Lebanese Forces, far Right forces that were very vicious during the fifteen-year civil war. Basically, in sectarian terms, the Christians are the only community that is really split in almost two halves. As for the other communities, it is clear that on the one hand, the overwhelming majority of the Shiites stand in the opposition, while the majority of Sunnis and Druze stand in the "majority" camp. The opposition is demanding a larger representation in the government with blocking power (that means one-third of seats according to the constitution), as well as a new electoral law and early elections.

THIS SEEMS like a shift since the Israeli invasion last year. After Hezbollah repulsed the aggression, Hezbollah were the heroes of the hour in Lebanon, and throughout the Middle East. It sounds like what you are saying is that things have shifted back again toward greater division. What accounts for it?

YES, THERE has definitely been a shift, but there were also over optimistic expectations or readings into the situation at that time. During the war, the brutality and the terrible fury of the Israeli onslaught had the effect of more or less unifying the Lebanese people in their condemnation of Israel. But, if one had followed things more closely, it would have been clear that there was no radical shift in the political situation. Quickly after the war, due to the internal political dynamics and the attitude of the various leaderships, the divisions that existed before the Israeli onslaught prevailed again -- with even more intensity due to the situation created by the war itself. The political struggle after the war became much more sensitive and much more crucial for everyone.

For Hezbollah, the present political confrontation is absolutely vital. The party has been the target of Israel's attempt to destroy it. The attempt failed, but the project has not been discarded. Washington took over from Israel and is trying to continue the war by other means. It pressed for UN security council resolution 1701, through which it got NATO forces to deploy in southern Lebanon as standby forces to be used in case of domestic confrontation in the country; that is, in order to give a helping hand to Washington's partners. Since then, Washington has been constantly and actively pushing toward civil war in Lebanon. Actually, if one had to summarize Washington's policy toward Lebanon as well as toward Palestine, it could be accurately described as "incitement to civil war": civil war between Palestinians and civil war between Lebanese, not to mention the unfolding civil war in Iraq. In both Lebanon and Palestine, there is a force that Washington sees as a major enemy -- Hamas among Palestinians, Hezbollah in Lebanon. Behind these two forces, Washington targets Iran (Syria, too, but Iran is Washington's main concern). And in both countries there are partners of Washington: the "majority" and the Siniora government in Lebanon, Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine.

THAT'S WHY the U.S. and Israel are releasing money to Fatah in Palestine.

EXACTLY. THEY are even sending them weapons. So these are twin situations, and at the same time they are symmetrical, like a reflection in a mirror. In Lebanon, the opposition is fighting against the government (the council of ministers), which is dominated by Washington's partners holding the parliamentary majority, whereas the president (General Emile Lahoud) is in the opposition. In Palestine it is exactly the reverse: The government and parliamentary majority are dominated by Hamas, and the president (Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas) is Washington's partner. In both countries, Washington is pushing for civil war. In the case of Lebanon, it is resorting to the only ideological weapon that the United States and its Arab partners have found to counter Iran's influence in the area -- which is sectarianism.

In its effort to shield itself from the U.S. war drive and threats against it, Iran has used pan-Islamic rhetoric; it has been outbidding all Arab regimes in anti-Israeli rhetoric -- including provocative stances on the Holocaust. Tehran is also building up a protective shield in the form of a network of alliances going beyond Shiite forces. The Iranian-led alliance is not a "Shiite axis," as it is presented to Sunnis by Washington and its Arab allies. It involves forces that are not Shiite. Hamas is definitely not Shiite -- even the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the largest organization of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, came out politically in support of Iran. Nor is the Syrian regime a "Shiite regime" -- it is actually quite far from Iranian Khomeinist ideology, as it shares the secular ideology of Tehran's previous bitter foe, the Iraqi Baathist regime.

ARE WASHINGTON and its allies using the whole idea of a "Shiite crescent" as an ideological weapon?

IT IS absolutey that. The only tool they have to counter Tehran is to use sectarianism, and denounce Iran and its arc of influence as a "Shiite crescent" -- to the point that there were even demonstrations in the Palestinian territories recently, where Fatah demonstrators against Hamas were chanting slogans denouncing Hamas as Shiites, using "Shiites" pejoratively as anti-Semites use "Jews."

WHY IS this having any success?

UNFORTUNATELY, IN the absence of a Left, of class forces, of progressive consciousness -- when the dominant forces on both sides are religious forces -- it is quite easy to stir up such feelings. If they were facing a class party that crossed sectarian lines, it wouldn't be so easy to counter it with sectarian arguments. But they are facing religious forces, of which the main organization have a sectarian character: Iran and Hezbollah are religious Shiite forces. In such conditions, even though Hamas is part of the alliance, it becomes credible to use the sectarian argument. And this has been very much fueled by the unfolding civil war in Iraq, which is pitting Sunnis against Shiites.

HAS SECTARIAN tension gone up in the wake of the execution of Saddam Hussein?

WASHINGTON'S ARAB partners used it as a further opportunity to whip up the sectarian Sunni versus Shiite division. The execution was conducted very clumsily by the Iraqi government. One gets the impression that Washington actually wanted it to happen that way, knowing that this would be used by its allies in the area to isolate Iran and denounce its influence and its allies. I wouldn't be surprised at all if some U.S. hand was behind the video of Saddam Hussein's hanging -- it circulated so quickly and was exploited in such a blatant manner. Suddenly, all kinds of people, many of whom used to hate Saddam Hussein when he was in power, turned him into a martyr of Sunnism. That was quite grotesque!

TO WHAT extent has Hezbollah attempted to act against, or overcome sectarian divisions -- or at least project itself as part of a broad opposition? It seems like Hezbollah at least in some respects tries to present itself as part of a broader political opposition. Would you say that there's an element of that, but that it isn't going to succeed because the sectarian logic is too deep?

YES, DEFINITELY. There is an element of that. Hezbollah is keen on not appearing as a purely sectarian force, and trying to enlarge its alliances. That's why they are quite happy to have the alliance with Aoun, who is a major force among Christians; and they try to cozy up to some Sunni forces, including Lebanese Sunni Islamic fundamentalists, and to whatever kind of allies they can find in communities other than the Shiite community. But basically, they are a Shiite organization. In order to be a member of Hezbollah, you have to be a Shiite. It is by nature not only a religious organization, but a sectarian one. It has built itself in the Shiite community and never bothered in any serious manner to build itself outside it. Its set of priorities is, first, unity among the Shiites -- hence, their alliance with Amal, the other major Shiite organization. Then they are keen on avoiding clashes with other Muslims -- the Sunnis -- because it is neither in their interest, nor in Iran's interest. Hence their conciliatory stances. Inciting sectarianism, actually, is only in the interests of the Saudi, Egyptian, and Jordanian regimes, and of Washington behind them, because that's the only effective ideological tool they've got. And for the reasons mentioned, Hezbollah -- although it tries to prevent the situation from deteriorating into sectarianism -- is, by its very nature, an easy target for those wanting to whip up sectarianism.

IS THAT why Hezbollah called off the demonstrations in January -- for fear of sectarian violence spiraling out of control?

HEZBOLLAH UNDERSTANDS that some of Washington's partners, Jumblatt and the Lebanese Forces in particular, are tools of a strategy that aims at provoking civil war. There is a difference here within the "majority" between the forces just mentioned and the Hariri clan, that is, the Saudi-linked forces: The latter are more "moderate" in the sense that they are more cautious. It's somewhat like the difference you have in Washington between the Bush administration and the Baker-Hamilton "realist" camp. The Saudi rulers are certainly much more in tune with Baker-Hamilton generally than with the present Bush administration. They were very happy with the Bush Sr. administration, but Bush Jr. is a problem for them because his administration is way too adventuristic. They can see how disastrous the Bush administration's balance sheet is for them already.

WHAT IS the role of Syria in all this?

SYRIA IS still very much involved in Lebanon, of course. This is also one of the problems with Hezbollah's strategy: its links with Syria. Most of the forces in the opposition are pro-Syrian forces -- all of them actually, except Aoun who used to be Syria's fiercest enemy in Lebanon. Hezbollah is an ally of Syria, there's no mystery about that. Amal is even more closely linked to the Syrian regime. And the other opposition forces too are closely linked to the Syrian regime. One of the purposes of the movement now is to block the international tribunal on Rafik Hariri's assassination (Hariri was killed on February 14, 2005, by a car bomb, and Syrian services are accused of being behind the assassination), which Washington is pushing through the UN in order to use it as a tool to exert blackmail on Damascus. This is one of the obvious purposes of what is going on, and because of that, the Hariri clan is able to tell its social constituency, its sectarian constituency, "Look, these people want to protect the Syrian regime, the murderers of Rafik Hariri. They want to protect the murderers of the great leader of the Sunni community," and so on.

AND DO they want to make Lebanon a protectorate of Syria?

YES, OF course. They use this kind of rhetoric. And unfortunately it is credible because of the fact that major chunks of the opposition are made up of completely rotten pro-Syrian forces. That's a huge problem, quite far from the way some people on the left worldwide have romanticized Hezbollah during the war. Of course, Hezbollah waged a truly heroic resistance. It had fighters really defending their land, their homes, their families, admirably: no discussion about that! But to go beyond and believe that Hezbollah is in a way a left-wing force is not warranted at all in reality.

IN THE press there's been talk of union protests against neoliberal policies and a new agreement in Paris, which is about imposing neoliberal policies in Lebanon. Has Hezbollah attempted to organize resistance around it?

HERE WE come to the issue of the January 25 Paris III meeting. It was a meeting of donors, rich donors, both Western and oil countries, gathered to supposedly help Lebanon. It was called by French president Jacques Chirac, who has been working in very close alliance with Washington on the Lebanese issue since 2004. Chirac is one of the strongest backers of Siniora's government and of the Hariri clan -- he used to have very close links with Rafik Hariri. The conference was organized around an economic and social program that is a classical "Washington consensus" program. I'm referring here to the IMF-World Bank standard neoliberal measures that were forced on so many countries during the 1980s and 1990s and are still enforced. The program of the Siniora government for the Paris III conference is a crude version of that. You name it you get it: privatization, and value added taxes instead of progressive income tax. The plan contains all the classical recipes through which the poorest layers of society are made to bear the brunt of measures that are supposed to lead to a healthier financial equilibrium and enable the government to pay back its debt. Lebanon has accumulated a huge debt over the years (currently over $40 billion). So this is on the one hand a classic IMF-World Bank kind of program. On the other hand, this conference was a political tool. It was meant by Chirac, and with him Bush, as a way of giving strong support to the Siniora government and the "majority" in Lebanon.

The way the opposition dealt with this development is very telling. Various forces of the opposition -- Hezbollah, Aoun -- criticized the program of the Paris III conference, but quite moderately in fact. They criticized the government's program, as any parliamentary opposition would do, but without rejecting its core logic. And then you had the leadership of the unions' confederation calling for a mobilization against the governmental program. This leadership is actually closely linked to the opposition and to Syria: it is a product of the period of Syrian domination over the country. The demonstration called by the confederation on January 9 against the Paris III agenda proved completely ridiculous -- 2,000 people, in a country now used to demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people. That's because the opposition did not mobilize in any serious manner. Although they proclaimed their support, they did not actually mobilize, for the obvious reason that fighting neoliberalism is definitely not their real concern. They actually explained that they did not want to jeopardize the Paris conference!

IT SEEMS that one way you could cut across the sectarian divide would be through political and union organizations that posed a non-sectarian alternative based on resisting these neoliberal policies.

THAT'S EXACTLY the point. You've got people trying to do that, fortunately. That's what the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) is trying to do. The LCP did not participate in the sit-in of the opposition since it started in downtown Beirut last December. They stood out of it, stating that they don't share the opposition's views, which are aimed at cutting a deal with the majority. The communists said, "That's not our program, we don't think the way out in Lebanon will come through a deal between sectarian leaderships. What we are ready to fight for together with the opposition are democratic demands -- a new electoral law, new elections. But we don't want to be involved in a fight for a deal between sectarian forces that would end up forming a joint government." And then, when it came to opposition to Paris III, the LCP refused to participate in the day of demonstration called by the union confederation and supported by the opposition because, they said, it was not credible. They decided to organize their own demonstration, but the deterioration of the situation obliged them to cancel it.

THE SECTARIAN clashes in Beirut?

YES, INDEED. So the Lebanese Communist Party is trying to stand outside the two camps and constitute a third force on the basis of a left-wing program. They've been doing so from the beginning of the period that started after the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, when you had the two demonstrations in March, one by Hezbollah and the other by what is now called the "majority," or the "March 14 coalition." The LCP did not take part in either of the two demonstrations, and called for a third one on another day -- with a few thousand marchers. It was not much compared to the huge half-million demonstrations that you had from the two major camps. But, still, it was not completely negligible to have a few thousand people demonstrating with red flags and slogans devoid of any sectarian character -- progressive slogans. In the recent war, the Lebanese CP did not stay neutral, of course. It took part in the mobilization and fighting against the Israeli aggression, in alliance with Hezbollah -- an alliance without subordination, as the CP's general secretary put it. It was an alliance from an independent position against Israel, but not an alliance around the goal of forming a joint venture of sectarian forces for a new government; the latter is not the CP's program.

BECAUSE OF the sectarian set-up of the Lebanese political system, can one say that it's not possible to negotiate deals that don't involve an acceptance of that set-up?

WHAT IS possible is to wage a campaign that is based on democratic slogans, such as a new electoral law and new elections. The existing electoral law was designed by the Syrian authorities, it distorts the representation of various forces. Originally, it was mainly meant to under-represent the force of Aoun's supporters, when the latter was the fiercest enemy of the Syrian presence in Lebanon. That's why the first thing Aoun demanded -- after he came back from exile when Syrian troops went out -- was a change in the electoral law. But Washington's partners refused to grant him that, and went to the elections in a coalition with Hezbollah and Amal. One shouldn't forget that it is Hezbollah that brought this majority to power. Aoun got completely ostracized in the 2005 elections by Washington's partners, although his role had been very active against the Syrian forces. So he moved into the opposition and, a few months later, he went into an alliance with Hezbollah. His ambition is very clearly to become president. (By the electoral rules in Lebanon, the president is a Maronite Christian, and Aoun is a Maronite.) Aoun thought that the best way to fulfill his ambition was to cut a deal with Hezbollah, given the huge electoral force they represent as the largest force within the largest community in Lebanon.

OF THE CP or any other secular Left forces, are there any that put forward demands to completely rejig the system so it's no longer based on sectarian identification and parties?

IN FACT, the idea that the institutions should be transformed so as to get rid of the sectarian distribution of seats and power was agreed upon by the consensus of the Lebanese establishment when the civil war ended in the years 1989–90. A conference of Lebanese representatives was held in Saudi Arabia, and they agreed on an agenda for political reform, the Taif Agreement. Officially, everybody in Lebanon stands for that, but that's purely formal.

Some people however are more serious about changing the political system, like Aoun for instance. Hezbollah are officially for it, but given that they are very much a sectarian force, they are torn between their sectarian character, which fits into the sectarian system, and the fact that since the Shiites are the largest minority, they therefore stand to gain from a system in which you don't have a predefined sectarian distribution of seats and power -- where the distribution is settled instead through elections and parliamentary deals. So, you see the situation is ambiguous. As a matter of fact, it is the Left, the communists who are most energetically dedicated to a secularization of the country, beyond the mere abolition of "political sectarianism."

WHAT ARE the origins of sectarian-based politics in Lebanon? Can it be traced back to the French Occupation?

IT WOULD be too reductive to say that. Sectarian conflict has its origins in Ottoman Empire-ruled Mount Lebanon in the nineteenth century. Before you had Lebanon in its present borders, you had a sectarian division between the two major communities in Mount Lebanon, which were the Maronites and the Druze. These were two minorities in a region under Sunni Muslim domination. They coexisted in peace for a very long time. But it was in the nineteenth century that the first sectarian war broke out in Lebanon, coming in the wake -- and this is interesting -- of a peasant uprising against feudal landlords that took place in 1858. The peasant uprising, which started among Maronite peasants and threatened to spread to the whole peasantry, was channeled into a religious conflict between Maronites and Druze. The horizontal division between sects replaced the vertical one between peasants and landlords. This led to the French landing in Lebanon, as Napoleon III sent his fleet in 1860 to "protect" the Maronite Catholics. Thus, a historical pattern emerged in the nineteenth century whereby sectarian divisions were used to prevent other political and social dynamics, and exploited by foreign powers in order to control the country.

DIDN'T THE French aid in the establishment of the political system based on sectarian divisions?

THE FRENCH came back only after the First World War, with a colonial mandate from the League of Nations. When the French settled in Lebanon as a colonial power, they defined Lebanon's present borders, enlarging them so that they had a larger and more precarious mixture of sectarian communities, and they designed institutions based on a sectarian distribution of power according to the classical recipe of "divide and rule." And that was indeed the origin of the present Lebanese institutions.

YOU'VE TALKED about a strategy by Washington and its allies in the region to foment civil wars. You also talk about the U.S. trying to isolate Iran. Combine this with the fact that the U.S. is sending more naval forces to the Gulf and with the "surge" in Iraq, which seems to be connected with a plan to go after the Mahdi Army, or sections of it -- is this part of a coordinated strategy? Is there any possibility, in your view, that this might be some kind of a prelude to a limited military action against Iran? How would you fit all these things together in terms of U.S. policy?

IF YOU try to think of U.S. imperial interests in any kind of rational manner, you would exclude it. But the problem is that you've got an administration in Washington that doesn't respond to any rational standards. It's one of the most irrational teams ever found at the head of the U.S. Empire in its history. These people are crazy enough to really consider attacking Iran, all the more that they are in dire straights, stuck in a quagmire in Iraq. Like a wounded beast getting nastier, they are in such a bad political position, losing ground so rapidly, that they might very well be tempted into some kind of poker-like gamble -- double or nothing.

IT DOES seem almost to be a plan of rule or ruin. Iraq is going badly -- just blow the whole thing up.

THAT'S WHAT they call the "surge," isn't it? I guess that, for the time being, the countervailing forces within the establishment -- all the old "realists," the likes of Baker-Hamilton who represent a bipartisan, more rational imperialist consensus -- are holding that back. But the Bush administration -- and the remnants of the neoconservative circles around the administration -- are obviously tempted to try what is actually the equivalent of accelerating a car into a massive roadblock.

IT'S NOT a perfect analogy, but remember how after the Tet Offensive, when a majority turned against the war and it was clear that it was unwinnable, the U.S. actually spread the war into Laos and Cambodia.

YES, OF course. And then, after that, Nixon-Kissinger drew the lessons of the situation and basically thought, "We're losing ground, we're stuck in a quagmire. Let's talk to the sponsors of the Vietnamese resistance, the Soviets and the Chinese." That's indeed what they did, and they then disentangled from Vietnam. And that's what the Baker-Hamilton proposal is about, actually -- "Let's talk to Syria and Iran." But the Bush administration doesn't want to hear about it, because that would contradict every bit of doctrinal views they've been putting forward at least since 9/11, not to mention the views expressed by the neocons long before Bush came to power.

THE ELECTIONS here were a clear message. Even though the only other choice was to vote for Democrats who are supporters of American imperialism -- it was clearly a vote against the U.S. in Iraq. And here it looks like it may lead to a revival of the antiwar movement, which has been pretty dormant. Is there any sense where you are, in Europe, for example, of the developments here reigniting organized opposition to the war?

THE ELECTORAL defeat of the Bushies has emboldened the opposition to their policies, of course. The important thing, as you say, is not who won the election, but who lost it. The fact that this administration is reacting as if no election had been held, and as if it had not been defeated, just being stubborn and sticking to its own line and rejecting the majority bipartisan consensus of the U.S. imperialist establishment -- this way of behaving is isolating this administration even among the U.S. ruling class itself. Thus, there is now definitely a new space opening up for the antiwar movement, which is probably the largest political space you've had since Vietnam. Not since Vietnam have you had such a sharp division within the ruling class, with the executive so isolated, and such a mounting opposition to the escalation. So, yes, this is a great moment for the antiwar movement to put all its forces into the balance.

GILBERT ACHCAR, a Lebanese-French academic, writer, and socialist activist, is the author of Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror (2004), Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder (2d ed., 2006), and more recently, with Noam Chomsky, Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007). His latest book, with Michel Warschawski, is 33-day War: Israel's War on Hezbollah in Lebanon and its Consequences (2007). He recently returned from a trip to Lebanon. He was interviewed on January 25, 2007, by International Socialist Review managing editor Paul D'Amato. The interview appears in the March­–April edition of the ISR.