October 02/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 9,46-50. An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest." Then John said in reply, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow in our company." Jesus said to him, Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.

The Syrian Tragedy and the Lebanese Comedy.By: Hussein Shobokshi . Asharq Alawsat.October 1/07
A Middle Eastern microcosm.By Elie Podeh. Haaretz.September 1/07
France in the Middle East: fresh ideas and new risks.By Claire Spencer. October 1/07
Iraq's chance to reconfigure itself may touch raw nerves elsewhere.
The Daily Star. October 1/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for October 1/07
Hizbullah Won't Attack Israel to Defend Iran-Syria-Naharnet
Moussa: Arab-International Force to Protect Lebanon's MPs Considered.Naharnet
11 FPM Supporters Arrested for Possession of Arms, FPM Denies-Naharnet
Fatah al-Islam's Military Commander Arrested-Naharnet
Syria wants Golan Heights on Middle East agenda.Reuters
Syrian president tells BBC Israeli warplanes struck "unused military building ...International Herald Tribune
US wants Syria out of peace talks.PRESS TV
Common Ground: Iraqi Refugees ... The Road to Damascus.Dar Al-Hayat
Syria imposes visa restrictions on Iraqis.Monsters and
Wanted Islamist captured in Lebanon: Palestinians.AFP
Jumblatt To Heads Of State: Syrian Regime A Direct Threat To Lebanon.MEMRI
Tueni Speaks of 'Reservations" By Aoudeh-Naharnet
Jumblat Urges World to Secure Presidential Election-Naharnet
Feltman: US Never Involved in Naming Presidential Candidates
Sfeir calls for president who can 'unite the Lebanese
-Daily Star
Jumblatt cries out for world leaders to 'protect us
-Daily Star
Lahoud meets expatriates in New York to outline stances adopted at UN-Daily Star
Fadlallah hits out at US 'terror' label for Iran's Revolutionary Guards-Daily Star
Local Sunni militants keep their heads down after Fatah al-Islam debacle.AFP
Lebanese presidential deadlock proves puzzling to investors-Daily Star

Azour repeats call for badly needed reforms at EDL
-Daily Star
ISF 'detains 11 opposition members training with guns-Daily Star
Racing against time: Beirut Marathon chases political goals in trying times-Daily Star
Conference urges second chance for drop-outs, end to corporal punishment-Daily Star
Iran moves to designate CIA, US Army 'terrorists.Daily Star
Erdogan vows retaliation after gunmen slaughter 13 in assault on mini-bus.AFP
Sharaa condemns 'lying' about mystery Israeli raid.

Sfeir calls for president who can 'unite the Lebanese'
Patriarch urges deal to help country 'reclaim its position'

By Maroun Khoury
Daily Star correspondent
Monday, October 01, 2007
BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said on Sunday that he hoped Lebanese leaders would soon reach a deal over the next president, who could then unite the deeply divided country. Despite his crucial role in the search for a consensus candidate, Lebanon's most influential Christian religious leader reserved only a few minutes in his Sunday sermon to comment on the political situation. In his political remarks, Sfeir urged politicians to cooperate in order to work for the best interests of Lebanon.
"We hope a deal can be reached over a president who can unite the Lebanese in spite of their religious, sectarian and political backgrounds," Sfeir said. This is important, he added, in order for the country "to reclaim its past glow and its dignity, without which it loses a great deal of respect among other countries."
"I hope the Lebanese people realize how critical the situation facing their country is and unite in an effort to salvage the country and reclaim its position in the world," the patriarch said.
Sfeir's comments come as time winds down for Lebanon to elect a successor to President Emile Lahoud, who must step down on November 24. Lahoud served one six-year term as stipulated by the Constitution, but his mandate was extended for more three years under pressure from Syria in late 2004.
Parliament met last Tuesday but failed to vote on a candidate when MPs from the Hizbullah-led opposition made good on a promise to boycott the proceedings if a consensus candidate could not be agreed first. Their absence prevented the legislature from having the two-thirds quorum necessary for the first round of voting; in a second round a simply majority suffices, and opposition legislators' absence last Tuesday snuffed out the ruling majority's bid to push through its favorite in a second ballot.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri adjourned the chamber's electoral session until October 23 and announced the resumption of talks with the majority in a push to agree on a candidate. Berri, leader of the opposition Amal Movement, and parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri are leading the talks for the feuding camps.
Hariri, who had met with several leading politicians during the previous few days, said in a meeting on Saturday that the outcome of the talks had so far been positive.
Sfeir on Friday voiced optimism that the renewed talks between the Western-backed March 14 majority and the Syrian-backed March 8 opposition would soon yield a positive result and determine the country's next president. When asked if he saw any progress in the talks, Sfeir said: "We see things differently than what is being said [in the media]. I was told there is optimism."Sfeir's Sunday homily also focused on divisions within the Lebanese Christian community. Lebanese Christians are divided between supporters of opposition leader MP Michel Aoun, who has allied his Free Patriotic Movement with Hizbullah, and the March 14 Forces of Christian leaders such as Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea and former President and Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel.
Sfeir also talked about marriage between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, saying that the success of such marriages could only be ensured if there were national consensus among followers of the faiths. "We are in dire need of national consensus between Muslims and Christians, because it reflects positively on the country and helps build on strong bases," he said.

Syrian president tells BBC Israeli warplanes struck "unused military building" last month
The Associated PressPublished: October 1, 2007
BEIRUT, Lebanon: Syrian President Bashar Assad told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday that Israeli warplanes attacked an "unused military building" in his country last month and said Damascus reserves the right to retaliate. But Assad said his country was not about to attack Israel in response, suggesting he did not want to hurt chances at peace talks with the Jewish state. Assad also made it clear that Syria would not attend a U.S.-sponsored international peace conference on the Middle East if it did not address Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Assad said Israel's air raid on northern Syria last month showed Israel's "visceral antipathy towards peace," according to excerpts posted on the BBC's Website.
The comments were the first by the Syrian leader about a mysterious Sept. 6 Israeli air incursion over Syria that raised speculation that warplanes had hit weapons headed for Hezbollah or even a nascent nuclear installation, reports Damascus has repeatedly denied. Assad's comments were the first Syrian acknowledgement that an air raid took place and not just an aerial incursion.
Today in Africa & Middle East Aid officials fear Darfur raid may affect peacekeepingIraq civilian deaths fell sharply in September, U.S. military reportsMoney to rebuild is finding ways to flow in provinces of Iraq "Retaliate doesn't mean missile for missile and bomb for bomb," Assad told the BBC in an interview in Damascus. "We have our means to retaliate, maybe politically, maybe in other ways. But we have the right to retaliate in different means."
"But if we wanted to retaliate militarily, this means we're going to work according to the Israeli agenda, something we don't look for. That doesn't mean we squander any opportunity for peace in the near future," he added in the interview, which was monitored in neighboring Lebanon.
But Assad said Syria was not about to attack Israel. "It's possible, but we don't say this is the option that we're going to adopt now. We say that we have many different means," he said. Previously, Syrian officials had said only that the Israeli warplanes entered the country's airspace, came under fire from anti-aircraft defenses, and dropped munitions and fuel tanks over northeastern Syria to lighten their loads while they fled.
The BBC quoted Assad in the interview as saying the attack was on an "unused military building." The BBC did not air that part of the interview.
Israel has clamped a news blackout on the incident. U.S. officials have said Israeli warplanes struck a target, wiht some saying it was a cache of missiles headed for Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas allied to Syria and Iran. But at the same time, a senior American nonproliferation official said that North Korean personnel were in Syria helping its nuclear program, resulting in speculation nuclear installations had been targeted.
Syria and North Korea both denied the reports and accused U.S. officials of spreading the allegations for political reasons.
Asked in the BBC interview whether Syria was rearming and strengthening its missile capabilities, Assad said: "This is very normal and self-evident that we're going to prepare ourselves for that." Assad also said Syria needs to know details of an international peace conference on the Middle East planned in the United States later this year before it decides whether to participate."This conference or any conference is going to be an opportunity but it should be purposeful. It should be substantive," he said. "I don't see where is the purpose and what is the substance of this conference. What are they going to talk about?"
"It needs more clarifications for Syria to take a decision," he said. But he made it clear Syria's concerns need to be addressed — primarily the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. "So far we didn't have the invitation and we didn't have any clarification about anything," he said in comments carried on the BBC Website. "If they don't talk about the Syrian occupied territory, no, there's no way for Syria to go there. It should be about comprehensive peace, and Syria is part of this comprehensive peace. Without that, we shouldn't go, we wouldn't go."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that key Arab nations, including Syria, would be invited to a peace conference expected to be held in the United States in November to provide the foundation for peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Fatah al-Islam's Military Commander Arrested
The military commander of Fatah al-Islam, which led a 15-week uprising against the Lebanese army this summer, has been captured in a northern Palestinian refugee camp, a camp official said Monday. "Nasser Ismail was captured by a (Palestinian) security force in the camp of Beddawi," Abu Ali Fares, a spokesman for Palestinian factions in the refugee camp told Agence France Presse. "The force raided the house of a relative of Nasser Ismail and found him hiding in the attic with another person," Fares said. "He was taken aboard a Red Crescent ambulance during the night of Sunday-Monday. He was handed over to the (Lebanese) army intelligence services," Fares added. Beddawi camp is where many of the civilians driven from their homes in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp further north by the fighting between Fatah al-Islam and the army were given emergency shelter.
Ismail's wife remains in Beddawi, where, as in Lebanon's other camps, security is left to the Palestinian factions by longstanding convention, Fares said.
Khalil Dib, an official of the Palestinian faction Fatah al-Intifada, told AFP that Ismail told him while in the custody of the Palestinian forces that he had been in Nahr al-Bared until Saturday before heading to Beddawi. Since Nahr al-Bared fell on September 2, the Lebanese army has been combing the whole area for fugitive militants, including Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abssi. Dib said that according to Ismail, "Shaker al-Abssi left Nahr al-Bared one month before the end of the battle" on September 2. More than 400 people died in the fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, including at least 222 Islamists. One more soldier died last Friday, raising the army's losses to 168.(AFP) Beirut, 01 Oct 07, 13:56

Tueni Speaks of "Reservations" By Aoudeh
MP Ghassan Tueni disclosed Monday that Greek Orthodox Bishop Elias Aoudeh has "important reservations" pertaining to efforts aimed at achieving consensus on a presidential candidate. Tueni did not disclose either the nature or details of Aoudeh's reservations which he expressed during a 10-minute meeting with three MPs assigned by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to clarify his initiative aimed at achieving consensus on a presidential candidate. "Our message was (relayed in) just 10 minutes, but the Bishop's approach was important and his reservations were important," Tueni told reporters. "God willing, this initiative would continue and succeed," he added. When asked whether the reaction to the Berri initiative was good, Tueni said: "we hope so." Asked to be more specific on the reaction, Tueni added: "there are a lot of (good) indications, and there are indications of difficulties also.""What we are interested in is to stress that this initiative is a demonstration of national feeling, we want to settle our crisis by ourselves and we will settle it," he added. Asked whether consensus on a presidential candidate could be achieved, Tueni said: "God willing." Beirut, 01 Oct 07, 16:52

Moussa: Arab-International Force to Protect Lebanon's MPs Considered
Arab League chief Amr Moussa uncovered that the idea of a joint Arab-International force to protect anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarians is being discussed.
In an interview with the London-based Al Hayat newspaper published Monday, Moussa said contacts have been established between U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-moon and Arab sides in this regard. "An Arab-International umbrella is needed," Moussa said.
Asked whether the Arabs would play a role in preventing further assassinations of Lebanese MPs, Moussa said that it was up to Lebanon to specify what kind of security it wants. "No official request has been received and the security provided by the Lebanese army around the elections site seems sufficient," Moussa said.
He stressed that there is an Arab consensus that the assassinations "should stop, and if they don't stop, it (the matter) would be taken up with the Arab League."
Moussa warned against a political vacuum, saying this would "be of major concern and would affect the whole region." Beirut, 01 Oct 07, 09:40

Jumblat Urges World to Secure Presidential Election
Druze leader Walid Jumblat called for the international community's help to counter what he said were Syrian attempts to prevent the election of a new president in Lebanon. Jumblat made the appeal in a letter addressed to leaders of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France, China, Egypt, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, the European Union, United Nations and Arab League. "More than ever before, the Lebanese people are in dire need for the protection of the international community, governments and parties," said the letter. "We are certain that you will continue to back our efforts to reach freedom by guaranteeing the election of a new president," Jumblat said. He again accused Syria of carrying out the September 12 bomb attack that killed anti-Syrian deputy Antoine Ghanem. Ghanem was the eighth anti-Syrian politician to be assassinated since the February 2005 murder former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has denied involvement in any of the attacks. "This is another aggression to obstruct Lebanon's road to independence and sovereignty and a failed attempt by the Syrian regime to prevent the election of a new president," Jumblat said. On Thursday the 15-member U.N. Security Council called for a free and fair presidential election in Lebanon without foreign interference. But House Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading figure in the opposition which is supported by Syria and Iran, slammed the U.N. as "meddling", adding that the election was "the business of the Lebanese people." The opposition accuses the parliamentary majority of attempting to internationalize the Lebanese question. Last Tuesday, parliament adjourned until October 23 a session to elect a new president for lack of a quorum, amid deadlock between the Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and the opposition. But fears are running high that the impasse over the presidency could lead to two rival governments, a grim reminder of the final years of the 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled it out for control.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 30 Sep 07, 12:25

In Al Siyassa and Al Mustaqbal 
Kuwait City, Washington, September 29, 2007
In a statement published by Al Syassa and Al Mustaqbal  Professor Walid Phares, said " If a new Lebanese President, pro-Syrian or neutral regarding the Syrian regime is elected there will be direct consequences regarding the issues of sovereignty in general but also regarding the issue of the Hariri and other war crimes tribunal." Phares, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies argued that:
1. If a President is elected outside the March 14 movement, and unwilling to implement the Cedars revolution goals, including the relevant UNSC resolutions, this would move Lebanon from being supported by the US , Europe and the international community back to the Syrian and Iranian influence.
 2. A Pro Syrian President along with the Speaker of the House can form a new cabinet, also pro-Syrian.
3. The Tribunal being a mix court, with international and Lebanese arms can be paralyzed by freezing the Lebanese court system on procedural grounds. This would not cancel the UN resolution, but stop the process on procedural grounds. The UN won't be able to move forward if two, if not three of the branches of Government in Lebanon are under Syrian control.
 4. A new pro Syrian President can, along with the Speaker and a "unity Government" works on early legislative elections, which would bring a new favorable assembly. The latter, most likely under the new influence of the President and the other powers, would vote for amnesty laws covering all crimes since 2005 as an act of "national reconciliation." These laws can obstruct the international mix tribunal and crumble it.
 5. If crimes committed during 15 years of war were erased by an amnesty law, crimes committed since 2005 can be also put under this category.
 6. Obviously, one can still go in front of other tribunals, in other countries, but the UN resolution won't apply.
 In conclusion, the only path for the International Tribunal to try the criminals is to help the process by electing a new President who would commit to implement the UN resolutions including UNSCR 1595 and 1757. The President has to be committed to all UN resolutions and cannot nor should he be in between the resolutions and the criminals.  
The Syrian Tragedy and the Lebanese Comedy
By: Hussein Shobokshi
As the Syria-Israel front intensifies and the ambiguous events continue, which have so far remained under the seal of secrecy with the exception of some remarkable analyses by reporters in more than one Western publication, this military and intelligence activity, which is the first of its kind for a very long time, has appeared amidst continuous talk about the forthcoming peace conference to be held in November that will be sponsored by the US.
Amidst these events, the depressing Lebanese comedy has appeared as the only Arab democracy collapses and falls under the control of gangs, intelligence agencies, and the threats and bullets of those who claim love [for the country]. The scene of the parliament speaker as he “reduced” and postponed the session without dealing with any useful and important details is not the most uncommon and ridiculous one; there was also the opposition's condition to reach an agreement regarding a candidate “before” voting, in a brazen and mocking defiance to the concept of election and democracy.
The Syrian and Lebanese scenes, with their contradictions, reflect everything that is bad in the Arab world and the region. But the country is collapsing and is being assassinated by the internal efforts of its own people, while a considerable number of parties that are benefiting from this miserable situation are ready to celebrate on the ruins and remains. In Lebanon today, state institutions have totally lost their independence and objectivity; consequently, they have been directed and politicized to serve the interests of specific parties.
Therefore, is Lebanon destined to be subjected to a whirlpool of nearby violence so that the battle would be settled in favor of one particular party over the other? This is a reasonable question and can be raised in the light of “intentional exclusion” of the parliamentary institution and closing it (effectively) with a key! Such discussion comes amidst the return of the threat of a coup d'état and taking to the streets, as stated by General Michel Aoun, who is most infatuated with presidency. The current Lebanese situation with the presidential race in mind is expected to be a dramatic and perhaps a violent one, as all elements of foolishness and malice are available on the ground and are being practiced. Its only victim is the Cedar tree.
***Hussein Shobokshi
A Businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al Takreer on Al Arabiya, and in 1995, he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his B.A. in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

Feltman: U.S. Never Involved in Naming Presidential Candidates
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman stressed that Washington "has never been involved in naming presidential candidates, and will never be."
He said the U.S. welcomes "what appears to be consensus" among Lebanon's warring political parties over presidential elections.

"I took into consideration the call made a few weeks ago by Speaker Nabih Berri for dialogue, also the call by March 14 Forces and the call made by Gen. Michel Aoun this week for dialogue," Feltman said after meeting MP Saad Hariri on Saturday.
He said the United States was confident that Lebanese would agree on a president. Beirut, 30 Sep 07, 10:11

Police Arrests 11 Aounists on 'Shooting Excursion'
Police have arrested 11 members of Gen. Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement for using unlicensed rifles and firearms to practice target shooting, security sources said.
They said the men were seized on Sunday after a tip-off that shooting from "war guns" was heard on the outskirts of the town of Jaj near Jbeil north of Beirut.
A police patrol dispatched to the scene found a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, two guns and a shotgun in possession of the group, the sources added.
They said empty bullet shells littered what looked to be a "picnic site."
One of the detainees from the Abi Aad family told police he was shooting "for the sake of entertainment." Beirut, 01 Oct 07, 07:43

A Middle Eastern microcosm
By Elie Podeh
Harretz - September 1/07
Lebanon, like Israel, prefers to put off the really important questions until "after the holidays." The Lebanese Parliament, which convened - though not at its full strength - on September 25, has decided to postpone the question of electing a president until its October 23 session, after the month of Ramadan and the Id al-Fitr holiday. This affords more time to strike a deal on a candidate.
The Lebanese presidential elections are ostensibly an internal matter, but in fact, 20th- and 21st-century Lebanese history has been tied to the history of the world, particularly the Arab world. The domestic political crises in Lebanon have, at least in part, stemmed from outside involvement, and therefore Lebanon has been and remains a microcosm of the region's problems.
The civil war that erupted in 1958 was a result of an internal struggle over extending the Maronite Christian president Camille Chamoun's term, but also stemmed from Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser's pan-Arabist influence. The Sunnis, who were ideologically and politically close to Nasser, supported joining a Syrian-Egyptian union, while the Christians opposed the move, which was liable to harm their dominance in Lebanon. The West supported the Christians, and United States marines were sent in to protect Lebanon in the wake of the July 1958 revolution in Iraq, which was perceived in the West as Pro-Soviet.
Both the Cold War and the struggle between the two Lebanese factions were manifested in the Civil War. Although Chamoun's term was not extended and Fouad Shihab was elected as his successor, the danger of Communism and "assimilation" into the Sunni Arab world were pushed off.
Another example of this microcosm is the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war. This war stemmed from a political expression of the Muslims' growing proportion of the population, as this group demanded a change to the National Pact of 1943 that would grant them more political clout. However, beyond this internal issue, the civil war also reflected a number of major Arab issues. The first was Syria's regard for Lebanon as an arena of influence within the inter-Arab struggle, manifested by the Syrian force that entered Lebanon and remained there through April 2005. The second was the struggle between Egypt and Saudi Arabia for regional hegemony, as seen in their diplomatic intervention to end the war. The third was the strengthening of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon, after its defeat in Jordan during the events of Black September in 1970. This focused the Israeli-Arab conflict on the Palestinian issue and led to the first Lebanon war in 1982. Finally, there was the beginning of Iranian involvement to help the oppressed Shi'ites.
The Arab involvement led to the end of the civil war with the 1989 signing of the Taif agreement. This agreement introduced several changes to the National Pact, but did not solve the Syrian problem or the question of dismantling militias fighting Israel, such as Hezbollah.
War, take two
During the Second Lebanon War last summer, Lebanon again became a microcosm of regional conflicts. Although the war was conducted as a bilateral fight between Israel and Hezbollah (and not the Lebanese government), it actually reflected several broader conflicts. First on the list was the conflict between the West and Iran. This conflict is being conducted around the nuclear issue, but Iran's influence on Shi'ite communities plays a large role. Hezbollah is perceived as an Iranian proxy in the struggle for control of Lebanon and the Shi'ite world and as part of an "axis of evil" that includes al-Qaida, Hamas and Syria.
A second issue was the ideological Shi'ite-Sunni struggle within the Muslim and Arab world. The U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shi'ites' rise to power there adversely affected the intra-religious balance in the Arab world. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Sunni Arab countries saw the war through the prism of the Shi'ite-Sunni struggle, and therefore it is not surprising that they secretly sided with Israel. Within Lebanon, too, the anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance - the civic alliance, also known as the Cedar Revolution, that arose in the wake of former prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination in 2005 - consists mostly of Sunnis and Druze, who fear the strengthening of the country's Shi'ites. The fact that the war did not end with a clear outcome means these parties are preparing for the next round in the fight over the presidency.
Lebanon's transformation into a focal point for regional rivalries has several historical reasons. First off, Lebanese society is composed of a mosaic of ethnic groups and religions. The traditional split between Christians (Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Armenians and more) and Muslims (Shi'ites and Sunnis) - for a total of 18 official communities - does not always help in understanding the politics, which rests on alliances that cross community and religious lines. In this struggle, various groups have found allies outside of Lebanon - including France, the United States, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia. With the rise of the Shi'ites in Lebanon since the 1980s, Iran has become a major factor in the Lebanese political and military arena.
As a result of the Lebanese state's weakness, various external elements have found themselves compelled to intervene in internal matters in order to maintain the balance among the communities. The PLO, Syria and Israel have become the major players in the Lebanese arena, because of their geographical proximity and their national interests. However, more distant factors, such as Iran and the Western powers, also have found allies that serve their interests. The weakness of the state stems from the weakness of its institutions - especially the army, which has also been split among the various communities, leading to the establishment of sectarian militias. It is no wonder, then, that the strengthening of the army in recent years also presages a strengthening of the state.
The current struggle for the Lebanese presidency is being conducted between the players in the Second Lebanon War, minus Israel. To a large extent, this is a more intensive and impassioned fight than the one over President Emile Lahoud's term - which finally was extended in the wake of Syrian pressure and a 2004 constitutional amendment. There is no doubt that the next president - if one is indeed elected and a political vacuum is not created - will be a Maronite Christian, in accordance with the recognized rules of the game. However, Syria and Iran are interested in seeing former army commander Michel Aoun elected. Aoun, who returned about a year ago from a long exile in Paris, surprisingly has linked up with Hezbollah. Through Aoun and his allies, Syria is hoping to continue to influence the decision-making process in Beirut, after having been compelled to retreat shamefacedly in the wake of the anti-Syrian Cedar Revolution in May 2005.
The Shi'ite challenge
The influence of Syria in Lebanon could serve the former by canceling or postponing the work of the international commission investigating Hariri's assassination. In parallel, Hezbollah - supported by Iran - is interested in strengthening its political hold in order to reap dividends from the Shi'ite population growth and the Second Lebanon War. This camp rests on a Lebanese political coalition that links Christians and Muslims (mostly Shi'ite Hezbollah supporters), who are expecting to benefit from the unholy alliance between Iran and Syria.
On the other side is a large camp that includes the U.S., Europe (mainly France and Italy) and Sunni Arab countries, mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and is concerned about the strengthening of Iran and Syria. Members of this camp fear the growth of Shi'ite strength in Lebanon and, as a result, throughout the Arab world, which would bolster Iran's status in the Middle East. This camp also is interested in isolating Syria and in weakening its influence in Beirut, which would return Lebanon to the path of rehabilitation it left after Hariri's assassination.
This approach relies on Lebanese forces that have come quite a way since the Beirut spring, including the March 14 Alliance and other Christian, Sunni and Druze elements. The most important change in this group has been its partnership with Sunnis, mainly in the wake of Hariri's assassination, which led many to forgo the delusion of the Sunni Arab solution (Syria) in favor of full Lebanese independence. The latest assassinations in Lebanon, which apparently were carried out by Syria or its emissaries, targeted individuals associated with this camp, and were aimed at weakening the bloc that seeking an independent president, in order to prevent the completion of the process of regaining independence.
Given that Lebanon constitutes a microcosm of regional processes, it is tempting to see the presidential elections as a struggle for the future of the Middle East. This conclusion may be too strong, because walking on the threshhold and compromises are the name of the game in Lebanese politics. The elections undoubtedly constitute an important juncture that will determine whether Lebanon is headed for rehabilitation and whether patriotism will be strengthened, at the expense of sectarianism. The Lebanese press also sees the elections as a crossroad, and is emphasizing that this is the time to prove the country is capable of determining its own fate. By November 24, the last date by which the Parliament can elect the president - we will know the answer.
Israel, naturally, is following what is happening in Lebanon with concern. Its interests place it, of course, with the Western and Sunni Arab countries. However, unlike them, Israel does not need to intervene in what is happening in Lebanon. It appears that the era of Syrian influence must end with the election of an independent Lebanese president; however, the strengthening of the Lebanese Shi'ites due to regional processes (Iraq) and the demographic increase indicate that this era has not yet ended. Given that the number of Christians is constantly decreasing - due to both emigration and a low birthrate - it appears that over the long term, Israel will have to deal with the Shi'ite challenge, with all the problems this entails.
***The writer is a professor and head of the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Antoine Ghanem and the Syrian Terror
By Guy Senbel
Guysen International News
Octobre 1/ 2007
This week, we would like to draw our readers’ attention to the killing of Lebanese MP Antoine Ghanem in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut on September 19. His assassination brings to six the number of “anti-Syrian” ublic figures killed since the murder of Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Ghanem was murdered days ahead of a Parliament vote to name a replacement for President Emile Lahoud. The Lebanese Parliament is down another anti-Syrian member… How convenient for those who have an interest in destabilizing Lebanon and harming its sovereignty through terror and violence.
The political murder, unanimously condemned by western nations, hit a man who was aware of the threat to his life and killed five other people. Ghanem could not afford an armored car. Courageous, he did not hesitate to vote against the extension of Emile Lahoud’s mandate in September 2004 – Lahoud who never concealed his devotion to his “Syrian brothers.”
“Syrian brothers.” The expression was recently used by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora himself. He hardly dares express the need for Syria to cease being the Middle East’s terror hub. While Syria’s support to Hezbollah remains a means to continue the fight against Israel, the fight against the “American demon” in Iraq is also done via Damascus. There, al Qaida’s survival depends on the support of foreign networks. The road to Baghdad or Basra for those suicide bombers who kill hundreds of peoples goes through Syria.
Yet there is worse. Washington recently suggested that North Korea was helping Syria develop a nuclear program in order to emulate Iran, which sees in Damascus its first and foremost ally, and even a political model.
Emulating Iran. Today, Bashar Assad has to convert a regime inspired by secular baathist ideology to a sort of political Islamism which appeals to a population close to the ideas of a radical and violent Islam. The Muslim Brothers, slain by the thousand on Hafez Assad’s orders in 1982 still have a revenge to take… Assad cannot but offer them pledges.
Antoine Ghanem was murdered on the eve of a UN Security Council resolution designed to establish new sanctions against Teheran. The resolution is being drafted by France and relates to the risk of war formulated by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Finally, someone has put an end to the French Foreign Ministry’s traditional doublespeak. It was in fact French President Nicolas Sarkozy who set the tone on August 27 when he stated : “the Iranian nuclear bomb, or the bombing of Iran.”
The murder of Antoine Ghanem, like any political crime, is an act of cowardice. As a Syrian response to western pressure, it is also absurd. This assassination is the latest in a string of terror crimes that will continue to harden western stances with respect to a chain of terror whose threats go beyond Washington or Jerusalem.
Even though political terrorism threatens freedom, it keeps our “hearts undefeated…” Whether it be Daniel Pearl, Commander Massoud, Pierre Gemayel or the young IDF soldier Ben Tzion Henman (Z’L) killed by terrorists in Nablus on September 18, the memory of terror victims is a weapon far more formidable than hatred.
Tonight, once again, our thoughts go out to Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser. They are also victims of terror and have been held hostage for over 450 days.

Waiting by the sea as Lebanon drifts from crisis to crisis
Oct 01, 2007
Oakland Ross
BEIRUT–At least they have an ocean view. Apart from that, some 40 members of Lebanon's ruling coalition have little to cheer about, and plenty to fear, as they hole up in a luxury seafront hotel, protected by military guards, armoured personnel carriers, bomb-sniffing dogs, and formidable concrete barriers – all that now stands between them and the risk of assassination. Meanwhile, this star-crossed Middle Eastern land is lurching through its latest and potentially gravest political crisis – a trial that is not over yet. The grim prospects now facing Lebanon – up to and including a possible descent into civil war – are also being faced by more than 120 feuding legislators arrayed on both sides of the country's jagged political divide, as well as by its 4 million long-suffering people. "The country has become paralyzed," a European diplomat lamented last week. "This crisis has gone on for months." Ten months, to be exact – ever since the ruling coalition's parliamentary opponents launched a strike against the government, refusing to attend legislative sessions unless the coalition led by Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora agreed to their demands for a greater share of power, despite legislative elections in 2005 that gave a clear victory to Siniora's side.
Tensions have been mounting ever since, and the country is poised for a decisive act, in the form of presidential elections that were supposed to begin last month, but did not, and that must be held before Nov. 24 at the latest. That is when the current president, Emile Lahoud, is due to step down, after nine years in office, or three more than the constitutionally mandated six. The outcome of the unfolding dispute is important, not only for Lebanon itself, but also for the stability of the entire Middle Eastern region, all of whose roiling conflicts seem to be waged in microcosm in this former French protectorate, a land that won independence from Paris in 1946 only to fall under the military and political sway of neighbouring Syria.
The Syrians are gone now, or at least their troops are. But the shadow cast by Damascus continues to blot Lebanon's conflict-ridden landscape, a modest tract of Middle Eastern real estate where most people pray in vain for the forging of a national consensus, while Shiite and Sunni Arabs vie for power, Christians battle Muslims, pro-Western modernizers tangle with Islamic jihadists, Palestinian refugees foment war against Israel, and Arabs of different stripes square off against the agents of Iran.
Foreign and local observers are agreed on one score – this country's future depends on its ability to select a new head of state, to do so quickly and, most of all, to manage the feat without also precipitating an internal free-for-all, the kind of bloodbath that has erupted in Lebanon before.
"Is Lebanon slipping toward civil war?" a politically prominent Beirut lawyer mused last week.
After pondering a few moments, he concluded that a lethal tide of events dating back to February 2005 seems to be pushing the country that way. It was in February 2005 that widely respected prime minister Rafik Hariri – anti-Syrian and a Lebanese nationalist – was killed in a car-bombing that triggered political shock waves that are reverberating still. Hariri's murder outraged Lebanon's people, or most of them, and they automatically looked to Syria or its agents as the likeliest culprits for the still unsolved crime. A humiliated Syria was obliged to withdraw thousands of troops from Lebanon, ending three decades of occupation. But Damascus has not lost interest in its smaller neighbour, whose territory it still claims as part of a greater Syria.
Since the Syrian withdrawal, Lebanon's domestic political conflicts – generally represented as a contest between pro- and anti-Syrian forces – have continued to sharpen, culminating last month in the car-bombing murder of Antoine Ghanem, the eighth anti-Syrian politician to have been assassinated here in a little more than two years. Stunned by the latest killing, several dozen members of Lebanon's anti-Syrian ruling coalition have now taken shelter in the Phoenicia Hotel overlooking the Corniche – Beirut's broad seaside promenade – and just a block from the site of Hariri's slaying.
They are close enough to the house of parliament to be shuttled there in armoured vehicles under military guard should a quorum be raised, permitting the chamber to convene, something that hasn't happened in 10 months. "It is surreal," said a Western diplomat. "Just the fact that they are in a hotel. It's the sense of threat."
But, as events here during the past two years have demonstrated, the threat is all too real.
Under Lebanon's constitution, the country's president is to be selected every six years by a secret vote in the house of parliament. These days, however, every syllable of the constitution's wording on the subject is being parsed by the two sides – what constitutes a quorum? What constitutes a majority? – in a dispute that seems arcane but that really reflects a desperate struggle for power, a tangle over words that could as easily descend into a battle waged with arms. Last week, local press reports charged that both the ruling coalition and the opposition – known respectively as the March 14 and March 8 movements, after separate rallies that were held following the Hariri assassination, one against Syria, the other in favour – are now actively training paramilitary forces in anticipation of the worst.
Each side denies the allegations on its own behalf while speculating darkly about what its adversary might be up to. Lahoud, the outgoing Lebanese president, is a pro-Syrian politician whose term in office was extended by three years in 2004, a controversial move taken in response to pressure from Damascus. Far more than a figurehead, the Lebanese president wields genuine power, including the ability to negotiate international agreements and to block administrative and judicial decrees.
"If the president does not sign a decree, there is no decree," said Beirut lawyer Kady Nazmi Rached. He and others hope that Lebanese legislators will manage to settle upon a consensus candidate for president – someone tolerable to both sides – who would then be elected in a rubber-stamp vote.
But that will require compromise, and so far there has been little sign of that from either side.
All that is clear now is that the new president, if there is one, will be a Maronite Christian, a tradition going back to 1943, in which top political posts are divvied up among the country's main religious groups. Meanwhile, outside players ranging from Washington to Damascus, all vastly more powerful than Beirut, continue to lurk in the wings, eager to influence events. If civil war remains the worst possible outcome of Beirut's current contest of wills, then the best result is likely to be a president chosen more to offset outside pressures than for the benefit of Lebanon. "I want a president 100 per cent Lebanese, who represents all Lebanon," said Talal Salhad, a businessmen in the Raouche district of Beirut. "But that never happens. There are always foreign interests."