September 16/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 19,25-27. Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

Israeli Strike Aimed to Break the Syrian-Iranian Alliance.Raghida Dergham. September 15/07
Will Lebanon's politicians at least perform damage control?.The Daily Star.September 15/07
King Berri and the stinky onion.Agoravox - Paris,France.September 15/07
The Middle East as a graveyard for grand ambition.By Michael Young. September 15/07

Be afraid of a game of US-Iranian chicken in the Gulf.By David Ignatius. September 15/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for September 15/07
Rice-Kouchner to Discuss Lebanon Presidential Elections-Naharnet
Fatah al-Islam's Media Officer Rounded Up-Naharnet
US Official Says Syria May Have Nuclear Ties.New York Times
Lebanese pound to remain stable.Khaleej Times
Mystery deepens over Israeli strike on Syria.Independent

US says aid will flow as long as Lebanon implements reforms.Daily Star
US: Syria on Nuclear Watch List.Washington Post
Getting down to business.International Herald Tribune
March 14 Forces defend their 'counter-initiative'. Daily Star
Germany to try suspect in bomb plot  (AFP)
Sfeir returns from Vatican, urges Lebanese to give Berri's initiative a chance. Star Staff
Feltman: US will not recognize renegade head of state  (AFP)
Germany kicks off joint pilot project to monitor border with Syria.Daily Star
Securing Lebanon - time to act . (AFP)
After 25 years, Israel still shrugs off blame in Sabra, Shatila massacre.
Crises fail to dampen Ramadan spirit.Daily Star  
Nahr Ibrahim: Another paradise lost under piles of litter.Daily Star  
Army continues clearing operations at Nahr al-Bared.Daily Star  
White House paints dismal picture of Iraqi leadership.Daily Star
Fatah takes battle with Hamas to West Bank mosques. (AFP)

Sfeir returns from Vatican, urges Lebanese to give Berri's initiative a chance
Daily Star/Saturday, September 15, 2007
BEIRUT: Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir returned to Lebanon on Friday from the Vatican, where he met with a wide range of regional and international officials to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon. Upon his arrival on Friday afternoon, Sfeir listed the officials he met while accompanying Pope Benedict XVI, from the UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen to Syrian, Lebanese and Saudi officials. "The pope expressed his great concern over what is happening in Lebanon," Sfeir told reporters on Friday. Sfeir also mentioned that the pope met with Israeli officials, while the Patriarch was there.
"The officials we met in Italy expressed their support to Lebanon," he said. Throughout his visit to the Vatican, Sfeir reiterated the importance of electing a president who embodies the characteristics "acceptable" by all political sides in Lebanon. Speaker Nabih Berri said in an interview on Thursday with Kalam al-Nass that he is planning to met with Sfeir and narrow down the list of candidates for the presidency. "Berri's initiative might hold positive points so let the Lebanese give it a chance," Sfeir said on Friday. Prior to his arrival, Sfeir voiced disappointment over foreign meddling in Lebanon and said he hoped the warring sides would agree over presidential elections and a consensus candidate. "Foreign interference in Lebanon's internal issues is the worst thing happening to Lebanon," Sfeir told the Italian news agency on Thursday. Sfeir stressed the importance on agreeing on a president who "unites" the country. "The candidate should win the majority of the deputies' votes so as to be elected as president and in order to be a true representative of the Lebanese," the patriarch said. "We all hope that warring Lebanese groups will start considering their country's interests rather than their own interests and reach an agreement about the identity of Lebanon's next president," he added.
Sfeir said "we must resort to elections" if Lebanese leaders did not agree on a consensus presidential candidate.

Sfeir Warns against slicing Parliament
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir was quoted Saturday as warning that if a new president was not elected on time, Lebanon could face the slicing of authorities into two Presidents, two parliaments and two cabinets. Sfeir told the daily an-Nahar after meeting Pope Benedict XVI on Friday the holy pontiff "promised to exert every possible effort to help Lebanon regain normalcy."If a head of state was not elected along with the constitutional time line that might lead to slicing authorities, Sfeir warned. "Things usually start with two presidents and two cabinets. Later on, if they insist on maintaining their delusion, that could lead to two parliaments and two states. That would ruin Lebanon," Sfeir warned. Sfeir returned home Friday from a visit to the Vatican during which he held a series of meetings with spiritual and political officials. Sfeir had voiced disappointment over foreign meddling in Lebanon and said he hoped the warring sides would agree over presidential elections and a consensus candidate. "Foreign interference in Lebanon's internal issues is the worst thing happening to Lebanon," Sfeir told the Italian news agency. "Lebanon's neighbors are constantly meddling in our domestic issues and this is an unhealthy sign," he declared, adding that Lebanon's neighbors "constitute a threat to the country's stability.""We all hope that warring Lebanese groups will start considering their country's interests rather than their own interests and reach an agreement about the identity of Lebanon's next president," Sfeir said from the Vatican.Sfeir said "we must resort to elections" if Lebanese leaders did not agree on a consensus presidential candidate. He said any Presidential runner "should win the majority of the deputies' votes so as to be elected as president and in order to be a true representative of the Lebanese." On the future of the Christians in Lebanon, Sfeir said he was not worried since "both Muslims and Christians in Lebanon are emigrating to seek better opportunities, not only Lebanese Christians." Beirut, 14 Sep 07, 11:13

Fatah al-Islam's Media Officer Rounded Up
Lebanese troops captured Saturday four militants of the Fatah al-Islam terrorist network, including the group's shadowy media officer who goes by the code name of Abu Salim Taha. A reliable source told Naharnet the arrests were made in a dawn bust at the Turbul Mount of north Lebanon's Akkar Province.
The source said the terrorists rounded up with Taha in Turbul are a Syrian, a Tunisian and a Saudi. He said Palestinian clergymen who had mediated with Fatah al-Islam before the final showdown at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp had been called to identify the suspects. An Army Command Coomunique confirmed the arrest report and said Taha is a Palestinian whose real name is Mohammed Saleh Zawawi. It did not dislose names of the three other suspects. Palestinian sources said Zawawi is a Palestinian-Jordanian from the West Bank town of Nablus. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Fatah aI-Islam's terrorist mastermind Shaker Abssi remain unknown after DNA tests conducted on a corpse at the state hospital's morgue in the northern city of Tripoli turned out negative. Some Fatah al-Islam terrorists burst out of the besieged Nahr al-Bared refugee Camp on Sept. 2 during the final army assault on the group. At least 222 militants were killed and 202 arrested in the 106-day battle between the army and Fatah al-Islam at Nahr al-Bared and its environs. Beirut, 15 Sep 07, 08:16

Rice-Kouchner to Discuss Lebanon Presidential Elections
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her French Counterpart Bernard Kouchner will discuss Lebanon's forthcoming Presidential elections in a Washington meeting later this month, the Daily an-Nahar reported Saturday. The Washington-datelined report quoted unnamed "informed U.S. sources" as saying Lebanon, especially its presidential elections, will top topics of discussion on the agenda of the Rice-Kouchner meeting scheduled for Sept. 20 in the U.S. capital.
The terse report, published after Kouchner's visit to Lebanon, did not disclose further details. The Kouchner-Rice meeting in Washington would be held just five days before the date set by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for legislators to meet and elect a new head of state to succeed President Emile Lahoud whose extended term in office expires on Nov. 24. Beirut, 15 Sep 07, 10:34

Deportation feared

Bev MacKenzie, The Windsor Star
Mother was accepted as refugee, dad wasn't
Sarah Sacheli, Windsor Star
Published: Friday, September 14, 2007
A Lebanese man awaiting deportation fears he may never see his wife and three Windsor-born children again if Canada kicks him out of the country.
Bassam Ayoub, 37, and his wife Nariman El Zein, 32, both applied for refugee status after arriving in Windsor in 1999. El Zein's claim was accepted. Ayoub's was denied.
"I don't understand," said Ayoub. "I have my heart here."
Mariam Ayoub, 4-yrs-old holds onto her dad Bassam Ayoub who is awaiting a deportation order.
His three children, son Hassan, 7 and daughters Marian, 4, and Zeinab, 1 1/2, were born here, the eldest two attending John McWilliam school. Ayoub has been steadily employed as a construction worker since he arrived in Windsor. He's a member of a union and has never collected a dime in social assistance.
His younger brother lives in the city. His refugee claim was accepted. If Ayoub gets deported leaving his wife and children remain, his family will certainly end up on welfare, said Wes Blake, a friend and co-worker. "It's crazy. Something is messed up," said Blake. "He's a good guy."
Blake has collected letters attesting to Ayoub's good character in the hope the federal government will change its decision on humanitarian grounds. But he suspects his friend could be deported before those humanitarian issues are ever considered.
Citizenship and Immigration has said it intends to send Ayoub to his native Lebanon. Ayoub said he is certain to be imprisoned for up to a decade there.
For five years, Ayoub, 37, was a member of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) which helped Israel occupy the southern strip of the country. Living in the south, he had no choice but to join the army and fight with the occupying forces, he said.
His past affiliation with the SLA is at the crux of Ayoub's exclusion from Canada, explained immigration lawyer John Rokakis. The Immigration and Refugee Board says since the SLA killed civilians in its attacks it committed crimes against humanity.  But Rokakis says he knows plenty of SLA members who were not excluded from Canada. The SLA fought guerrilla forces led by Hezbollah. "Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. That's the argument to be made on his behalf. He was fighting terrorists." Ayoub appealed the refugee board decision and lost. But there are other avenues available.
Ayoub could ask the federal immigration minister to intervene, Rokakis said. Rokakis said Ayoub could appeal the Citizenship and Immigration's decision that it's safe to send the man back to Lebanon. The government has acknowledged that Ayoub could be detained and questioned upon his arrival in Lebanon, Rokakis said. "When you go to the Middle East and you go to prison or you are questioned, they don't do things the way we do here. They use torture."
Ayoub could also go to federal court to ask for a stay of his deportation.
Ayoub said appeals will cost him $8,000. Having spent thousands already, he said he will be deported before he can earn enough to pay the fees.
Late Friday, Windsor West MP Brian Masse's office was working on Ayoub's case. Constituency workers declined to comment saying to do so would be detrimental to him. An Immigration and Refugee Board spokesman said information about Ayoub's case is not public. Similarly, a Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman refused comment. In the living room of their semi-attached home, Ayoub's wife buried her head in her hands as she listened to her husband explain their plight. Their young daughters leaned on their father's back and wrapped their arms around his neck, giggling as he sorted through a pile of government letters documenting the family's plight. Ayoub said the immigration workers he has dealt with have seemed sympathetic. But they've begun to cancel his government-issued identification nonetheless. "They send me back. I know they send me back."© The Windsor Star 2007

Feltman: US will not recognize renegade head of state
Ambassador hopeful berri initiative will lead to breakthrough

By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Jocelyne Zablit
Agence France Press
BEIRUT: The US ambassador to Beirut said Friday that his country would not meddle in Lebanon's upcoming presidential poll but made clear that Washington will not recognize anyone it viewed as a renegade head of state. "We continue to recognize the government that has the vote of confidence in Parliament," Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said, referring to the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora which enjoys wide US backing. "The new president will trigger the formation of a new government but until that time we will recognize the government that has the vote of confidence of Parliament," he added. Lebanon's Parliament is responsible for electing the head of state who is traditionally a Maronite Christian. Feltman said that if the pro-Syrian head of state Emile Lahoud ignores Parliament and appoints, as he has suggested, someone to provisionally replace Siniora, the US would not condone such a move.
Washington accuses Damascus of continuing to interfere in the small neighboring country where it was the powerbroker for nearly three decades until April 2005.
"We hope that President Lahoud would end his extended term quietly without resorting to ... measures that do not appear to be constitutional and that appear to be designed to complicate rather than resolve the situation," Feltman said.
Lebanon has been mired in a political stalemate since last November, when pro-Syrian opposition forces, led by the Shiite movement Hizbullah, withdrew their six ministers from Siniora's Cabinet. The president has refused to recognize the government's continuing legitimacy, and Speaker Nabih Berri has blocked all legislative initiatives put forward by Siniora's administration.
Lahoud was elected president in 1998 and had been due to step down in 2004, but the country's then powerbroker Syria pushed through Parliament a controversial constitutional amendment extending his term for three more years. This year's presidential election must take place between September 25, when Parliament is due to reconvene, and the November 24 expiry of Lahoud's term. Feltman said he was hopeful that a compromise deal put forward by Berri would lead to a breakthrough between the ruling coalition and the opposition, thus sparing the country further instability.
"Berri is reaching out across a deep political divide that has plagued the country for nearly a year," he said. "I think the response by March 14 [the ruling coalition] has also been positive." Berri said last month the opposition was ready to drop its demands for a national unity government if all parties agree to choose a new president by consensus when Parliament convenes on September 25. The ruling majority said on Wednesday that it was not opposed to such a move as long as no conditions were attached. Feltman said Washington was keen on the elections taking place without foreign interference and without outside backing to a specific candidate.
"A lot of people are pushing us to give names ... but we aren't playing the name game," he said. "We would like to see Lebanon's members of Parliament be able to freely elect Lebanon's next president."
Away from the issue of the looming presidential poll, the US ambassador said there was clear evidence that Hizbullah was still smuggling weapons across the Syrian border, in violation of UN resolutions. "We find the evidence to be strong that arms-smuggling is continuing across the Syrian-Lebanese border," Feltman said, without giving any specific details. "We are concerned by the reports and by the public statements by Hizbullah that [the movement] has actively rearmed."
"In our view this poses one of the biggest dangers to Lebanon and it is a violation of the spirit and the letter of a number of Security Council resolutions," Feltman added. Saying that the international community would respond favorably to any Lebanese government request to help in border security, Feltman said "there are several initiatives under discussion with the government about how best to prevent smuggling, most importantly arms smuggling." Feltman also rejected arguments that controlling Lebanon's border with Syria would amount to interfering in the country's sovereignty."Controlling borders is an assertion of sovereignty," the ambassador maintained.

Germany kicks off joint pilot project to monitor border with Syria
Daily Star staff
Saturday, September 15, 2007
BEIRUT: The launch of the pilot-project for the German-led Common Border Force (CBF) took place during an event on Friday at the new office of the force's Technical Support Unit in Downtown Beirut. "The drafting and implementation of the pilot project indicates major progress toward securing the Syrian-Lebanese border," said German Charge d'Affaires Hansjoerg Haber . CBF personnel will soon start operating on the Northern frontier between Syria and Lebanon, the German Embassy said last week. The CBF, consisting of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) the Lebanese Army, General Security, and Customs, was established by government decree on July and is designed to monitor illegal border crossings. Haber said the project was designed to foster "inter-agency collaboration, communication, cooperation and coordination among Lebanese security authorities." "This is a substantial step into Integrated Border Management on Lebanon's Northern Border," Haber added. The German Advisory Team will be supported by the new Technical Support Unit (TSU) contracted by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). The European Union funds of around 2 million euros were released to create a proper technical support for the team in Lebanon and to "procure necessary equipment, refurbish training facilities and establish a common operations center in the North for the new CBF which is going to operate soon," a statement released by the German Embassy said on Friday. Late last month the German Cabinet approved a one-year extension to the country's role in the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, where it has led naval patrols off the coast since the end of last year's war with Israel. Eight German warships joined the UNIFIL mission last year in Germany's largest naval deployment since World War II. It currently has some 960 sailors with the mission, designed to prevent the smuggling of arms into Lebanon by sea. - The Daily Star

Lebanon: Foreign Office amends travel advice
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office today revised its travel advice for Lebanon. Following the end of hostilities at Nahr El Bared Refugee Camp we are no longer advising against all travel to Tripoli. However we continue to advise against all travel to all Palestinian refugee camps in the country and all but essential travel to Lebanon, north of the Litani river.
( - The Foreign and Commonwealth Office today revised its travel advice for Lebanon. Following the end of hostilities at Nahr El Bared Refugee Camp we are no longer advising against all travel to Tripoli. However we continue to advise against all travel to all Palestinian refugee camps in the country and all but essential travel to Lebanon, north of the Litani river.
The relevant summary point now reads:
"We advise against all travel to all Palestinian refugee camps, which remain in a state of tension. From 20 May until early September 2007 there was heavy fighting between the Lebanese Army and militants, which largely destroyed the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, Northern Lebanon. The Lebanese Army announced on 2 September 2007 that it had taken control of the camp and that hostilities had ended. However, some limited operations are continuing to ensure that the camp is fully secure and clear of unexploded munitions. See the Political Situation section of this advice below for more details."
Notes for Editors
The advice previously read:
* "We advise against all travel to Tripoli and to all Palestinian refugee camps, which remain in a high state of tension. There has been heavy fighting between the Lebanese Army and militants in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp outside Tripoli, Northern Lebanon since 20 May 2007. The Lebanese Army announced on 2 September 2007 that it had taken control of the camp and that hostilities had ended. However, some limited operations are continuing to ensure that the camp is fully secure and clear of unexploded munitions. See the Political Situation section of this advice below for more details."
Full details of the revised travel advice for Lebanon are available on the Foreign Office website ( ).
FCO Travel Advice can also be obtained on the following telephone number: 0845 850 2829.
FCOTravel Advice is kept under constant review. This advice is based on our latest assessment of the situation in Lebanon.
Press Office, Downing Street ( West ), London SW1A 2AL

Securing Lebanon - time to act
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Saturday, September 15, 2007
FIRST PERSON Alistair Harris
The conclusion of the fighting between the Lebanese Army and the Fatah al-Islam militants is unfortunately just the latest painful reminder of Lebanon's seemingly inherent lack of security. While self-evidently it is not possible for a country to prosper economically without adequate security, the latter is unachievable without first identifying and articulating threats to national security and agreeing appropriate responses. The best tribute to those Lebanese soldiers who died at Nahr al-Bared would now be a renewed effort to debate the critical security issues that lie at the heart of Lebanon's quest for stability.
There have been accusations that despite acute sacrifices, the Lebanese Army was poorly trained and equipped for the task of defeating the militants. Lack of experience in urban warfare, a desire to spare civilians, equipment shortfalls, a shortage of aviation assets and the surprising level of experience of the militants were all factors in prolonging the hostilities. The inability of the Lebanese state to gain access to the self-administering Palestinian camps was also compounded by a weak border regime that allowed foreign militants, weapons and know-how to enter the country in the first place.
The most comprehensive assessment of Lebanon's border security to date has been that of the United Nation's Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team (LIBAT). The report of June 26, 2007, states that in Lebanon border security is "insufficient to prevent smuggling, in particular the smuggling of arms, to any significant extent. The assessment was further strengthened by the fact that not a single on-border or near-border seizure of smuggled arms was documented to the Team." LIBAT stated that the level of cooperation and coordination between the four Lebanese security agencies with border management responsibilities, particularly in terms in inter-agency information sharing and joint planning, was low. This explains how the sophisticated sniper rifles that were used with such devastating effect by the militants in Nahr al-Bared were able to enter the country.
Did the Lebanese Army therefore pay the price for the shortcomings of the wider security structure in Lebanon? A holistic overview of Lebanon's security raises important questions. Who is mandated to defend Lebanon? Against what internal and external threats must the country defend itself? Hizbullah's arms are frequently described as defensive weapons to be used against the external threat of Israeli attack until such time as the Lebanese Army is strong enough to defend the state. It is ironic therefore that the same ineffective border management regime that facilitates the passage of weapons to Hizbullah also enables groups like Fatah al-Islam to flourish and in turn attack and debilitate the Lebanese Army.
As Lebanon acknowledges the sacrifice of dozens of military personnel, it is critical there now be a considered debate within Lebanon about what security means for Lebanon. While the views of external actors need to be heard, not least those of the US whose military support to Lebanon has increased from $800,000 in 2004 to over $200 million this year, this is quintessentially a Lebanese process. The end of the hostilities offers a 'golden hour' when seemingly the sole point of consensus in Lebanon, the sacrifice of the Army, needs to be built on. With the Presidency currently held by a former General, serious consideration given to his replacement by another military officer and Israeli planes striking what they suspect were weapons destined for Lebanon in Syria, there has never been a better time for an inclusive discussion about the role of the security forces, threats to Lebanon's security and the appropriate responses to them.
This inclusive process should form an umbrella encompassing all activities relating to the security of Lebanon. Within this are the inter-related topics of Hizbullah's weapons, the transformation and development of the Internal Security Forces to effectively police the country, the role of the UN force in Lebanon, the need to clarify missions and mandates amongst the Lebanese security agencies and augment the fledgling efforts to create a common border force, better coordination of donor support for the security forces, the fate of Palestinian weapons and training camps, the socioeconomic root causes of radicalisation and many other issues.
Short-term pragmatic responses to threats to internal security must not undermine longer term steps to improve the effectiveness, accountability and governance of the security sector. But if a repeat of Nahr al-Bared is to be avoided, a Lebanese debate about the nature of the true threats to Lebanon's security must start now.
***Alistair Harris is a specialist in post-conflict stabilisation initiatives. He is based in Beirut.

March 14 Forces defend their 'counter-initiative'

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Saturday, September 15, 2007
BEIRUT: Lebanon's governing coalition, the March 14 Forces, repeated on Friday their demand that Speaker Nabih Berri not set any conditions for dialogue over the fate of the presidency, insisting that their statement on Wednesday represented a positive counter-initiative focused on resolving the political crisis.
Meanwhile, foreign envoys continued their meetings with local officials urging dialogue and accord among the Lebanese.
A road map for inter-Lebanese dialogue is being prepared, said Sudanese presidential envoy Mohammad Othman Ismail, who is in Lebanon on a fact-finding trip. "A lack of trust still exists [between opposing parties]. We are trying to build that trust to resume dialogue once again," he said Friday after meeting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
Geagea urged the opposition to embrace the "March 14 initiative," referring to the Bikfaya statement, to reach an understanding over the presidential elections and rescue Lebanon from crisis. During an interview on Thursday, Berri had criticized the March 14 statement, calling it a "cable of condolence."
Responding to the criticism, Geagea said "if they do not want to agree with us over the presidency, they are free to do so, let them say so instead of misreading positions and what is said." Geagea renewed a call for the March 8 alliance to sit down on the negotiating table to come to an agreement over presidential elections. He said that if Berri is ready to move forward the doors are open and his coalition is ready to meet him whenever he wishes.
"Speaker Berri calls for agreement over the presidency but with pre-conditions, while we call upon him to agree without pre-conditions," Geagea said, adding that neither side can set conditions to dialogue. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, who arrived in Beirut late Thursday met Berri, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and President Emile Lahoud Friday. He voiced his government's support for a solution to the current crisis that is "worked out by the Lebanese themselves" without any foreign intervention. "We believe any solution should not be imposed on the Lebanese and we support inter-Lebanese dialogue to restore a united, democratic, independent and sovereign Lebanon," Saltanov told reporters after meeting Lahoud in Baabda.
"We consider that it is now time to return to dialogue among the Lebanese because there is no other way to guarantee the future of Lebanon," Saltanov told reporters after meeting resigned Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.
US Ambassador Jeffery Feltman, speaking to AFP Friday, said his country would not meddle in the presidential elections but that the US will not recognize a president it viewed as a renegade head of state.
Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri Friday denied that he or the March 14 forces had at any time considered delegating Berri and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir to nominate candidates for the presidency, as the speaker had claimed in his interview on Thursday.
Sfeir, who returned to Beirut Friday, told reporters that after his meeting Terje Roed Larsen, he was not convinced that an electoral session could be convened with half plus one of MPs if two thirds are not available. Presidential candidate MP Robert Ghanem, who met Hariri Friday, stressed the need to arrive at presidential elections via consensus and cooperation among all national partners. "I feel we must take the positive elements from the March 14 statement," Ghanem said. He said March 14 forces want elections to proceed with a consensus candidate if possible, or at least with a majority of MPs.
Democratic Gathering MP Fouad al-Saad, speaking to Voice of Lebanon radio Friday said Berri was not responsive to the March 14 Forces and had interpreted their counter-initiative negatively. "This means the speaker has shut the door on his own initiative or considered the other side as having shut the door on it," Saad said.
He said the March 14 Forces had drafted their response to Berri with good intentions. "Speaker Berri considered the two-thirds quorum issue a basic right not open for debate, in this case we are stuck in place as the disagreement remains over interpreting Article 49 of the Constitution," Saad said.
Saad said Berri's position was negative adding that "new ways have to be found to restart dialogue if we are to reach an agreement or an understanding, but not this way." Saad said the local situation and crisis is intertwined with a regional and international crisis which makes reaching a solution difficult.
Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, speaking to visitors in Tripoli Friday, said Berri's initiative represents an opportunity for national salvation that must not be wasted.
"The alternative would be subjecting our country to the dangers of total collapse, constitutionally, politically and economically," Mikati said. "It is no longer useful for each side to stick to their positions and consider any step toward resolving the crisis a retreat or defeat."

US says aid will flow as long as Lebanon implements reforms
Dibble: any government which takes over will receive assistance

By Osama Habib
Daily Star staff
Saturday, September 15, 2007
BEIRUT: A senior US official said Friday that Washington will continue its economic and financial aid program for Lebanon as long as the government continues its reform plan based on the Paris III paper. "Lebanon was represented in Paris by a government which represented the Lebanese people and that government submitted its reform plan and for this reason Lebanon received the aid packaged pledged by the international community," Elizabeth L. Dibble, the principle Deputy Assistant Secretary, International Finance and Development, told reporters at the US Embassy.
The US official said that any government which takes over responsibility after the presidential elections will continue to receive Washington's economic assistance if the reform programs are implemented according to the plan. Dibble said that part of the aim of her visit to Lebanon was to demonstrate the continued American support for the Lebanese people. Dibble, who tried to dodge political questions, made it clear the US hopes to see presidential elections in Lebanon on time and according to the provisions of the Lebanese Constitution and free of foreign intervention. The government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora received $7.6 billion soft-loan and grant pledges to help reduce the public debt, execute reforms and stimulate the economy.
The massive aid package was based on a five-year economic-reform program which was highly commended by the international community, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. As part of the international response at Paris III donor conference, US aid increased in 2007 with a pledge of $770 million for economic grants, additional security funding, and a new program for Lebanon. The United States is already dispersing these funds through grant assistance.
The $770 million is aimed at helping Lebanon to reduce the cost of debt servicing, the largest single spending item in the government budget. Part of this money will be allocated for infrastructure reconstruction. This brings the US total post-conflict assistance to Lebanon to $1 billion, including the $230 million pledged at the Stockholm conference on humanitarian needs. Dibble, who commended the work of the government in tackling major issues in the economy, said the US is not putting a timetable on the privatization of the telecom sector.
"If Lebanon decided to postpone the privatization of the telecom sector until next year it will not affect the US benchmark for the assistance to the country," Dibble said, adding that the government so far has met all the US benchmarks. Dibble said that the remaining US assistance will continue to flow into Lebanon as long as the reform measures are implemented on time. The US government last week provided Lebanon with $75 million which entirely went to settle a loan from the World Bank.
Dibble expressed her admiration of the Lebanese economy which remained resilient despite the high public debt to the GDP ratio. "There is a lot of untapped potential in the economic field in Lebanon and there are tremendous human resources," Dibble said. She added that the economic climate has not allowed the Lebanese to reach their full potential and part of that is also due to the political climate. Dibble underlined the need for the privatization program and the restructuring of Electricite du Liban. "But Lebanon need some parliamentary actions to complete some of the reforms which was agreed upon," Dibble said. She added that Lebanon has a chance to join the World Trade Organization if some measures such as the enforcement of the copy rights laws is taken.

U.S.: Syria on Nuclear Watch List
The Associated Press
Friday, September 14, 2007; 1:17 PM
ROME -- A senior U.S. nuclear official said Friday that North Koreans were in Syria and that Damascus may have had contacts with "secret suppliers" to obtain nuclear equipment.
Andrew Semmel, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy, did not identify the suppliers, but said North Koreans were in the country and that he could not exclude that the network run by the disgraced Pakistan nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan may have been involved.
He said it was not known if the contacts had produced any results. "Whether anything transpired remains to be seen," he said.
Syria has never commented publicly on its nuclear program. It has a small research nuclear reactor, as do several other countries in the region, including Egypt. While Israel and the U.S. have expressed concerns in the past, Damascus has not been known to make a serious push to develop a nuclear energy or weapons program.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment on Semmel's remarks but noted that the United States had longstanding concerns about North Korea and nuclear proliferation.
"We've also expressed, over time, our concerns about North Korea's activities in terms of dealing with A.Q. Khan and others around the globe," he told reporters.
McCormack said he was not aware of any specific link between North Korea and Syria.
Proliferation experts have said that Syria's weak economy would make it hard-pressed to afford nuclear technology, and that Damascus _ which is believed to have some chemical weapons stocks _ may have taken the position that it does not also need nuclear weapons.
Semmel was responding to questions about an Israeli airstrike in northern Syria last week. Neither side has explained what exactly happened, but a U.S. government official confirmed that Israeli warplanes were targeting weapons from Iran and destined for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Israel had gathered satellite imagery showing possible North Korean cooperation with Syria on a nuclear facility.
North Korea, which has a longstanding alliance with Syria, condemned the Israeli air incursion. Israeli experts say North Korea and Iran both have been major suppliers of Syria's missile stock. Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on Thursday that the accusations of North Korean nuclear help were a "new American spin to cover up" for Israel. Semmel, who is in Italy for a meeting Saturday on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, said Syria was certainly on the U.S. "watch list." "There are indicators that they do have something going on there," he said. "We do know that there are a number of foreign technicians that have been in Syria. We do know that there may have been contact between Syria and some secret suppliers for nuclear equipment. Whether anything transpired remains to be seen." "So good foreign policy, good national security policy, would suggest that we pay very close attention to that," he said. "We're watching very closely. Obviously, the Israelis were watching very closely."Asked if the suppliers could have been North Koreans, he said: "There are North Korean people there. There's no question about that. Just as there are a lot of North Koreans in Iraq and Iran."Asked if the so-called Khan network, which supplied nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, could have been involved, he said he "wouldn't exclude" it.

THE U.S. AND SYRIA Getting down to business

By Andrew Tabler Published: September 14, 2007
Relations between the Syrian government and Americans who work with Syrians here are as bad as I have seen in the four years since I began working as the American editor of Syria Today, the country's first private-sector English language magazine.
Last November, the Syrian authorities closed the Damascus offices of Amideast, an American nongovernmental organization that seeks to promote understanding and cooperation between Americans and the people of the Middle East. Syrian coordination with the Fulbright program has petered out as well. Residency permits, normally rubber-stamped long in advance for teachers at the local American School, were approved after intense diplomacy only days before classes started this autumn. Americans are still studying in Syria's excellent Arabic-language institutes, but their visa applications are being scrutinized more closely than at any time since 2000, when I first began coming here.
These disruptions - the direct result of Washington's schizophrenic Syria policy - are blocking the best path to rapprochement between the two countries, the development of economic ties in the private sector.
On the one hand, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is following the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission by "engaging" Syria on "Iraq only." Damascus, sensing its isolation is over, wants its concerns with Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinians on the table as well.
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On the other hand, the "Syria Democracy Project" of the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative is financing exiled Syrian dissidents bent on overthrowing the Assad regime - which increasingly views American activities in Syria as a Trojan horse for "regime change." The resulting diplomatic dialogue of the deaf has yet to produce any tangible results.
The isolation and engagement camps agree that "dealing" with Syria politically, albeit in distinctly different ways, is key to containing spiraling violence in Iraq, to ending political turmoil in Lebanon and to making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Both arguments make strong points. But the policy that is likely to work in the long run will be that which bolsters America's waning leverage in Syria today by engaging its booming private sector.
Diplomatic pressures on Damascus following accusations of its involvement in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 spurred a number of economic crises in Syria that led Damascus to implement long-delayed plans to loosen its 44-year socialist grip on the economy. Be it in finance, trade, or foreign exchange, everywhere the lethargic public sector gives way, the private sector blooms - a testament to the trade and entrepreneurial base of Syria's secular society and culture. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that non-oil economic growth in Syria in 2006 will hit a record 7 percent.
Getting involved in this boom makes sense for two reasons. First, it's an arena where America can compete with spreading Iranian influence in the Arab World. As the media focused on Iranian-financed arms shipments to Syria over the last year, Iran invested $400 million in Syria, equal to 66 percent of Arab and half of all non-Arab investment in the country. Earlier this year, Iran helped Syria open its first automobile assembly plant.
Many Syria watchers belittled announcements of Iranian joint ventures in refining, transportation, chemicals and food processing as mere "paper projects." But if only half break ground by the time a new American president takes office in January 2009, Tehran's influence will be that much harder to uproot later as part of any U.S. attempt to "wedge" Syria from Iran or secure a Syrian-Israeli peace deal.
Second, embracing Syria's private sector would help reverse America's rapidly declining reputation in the Arab world by engaging through our shared trade and entrepreneurial traditions. Many Syrians are repulsed by sectarian chaos in Iraq and resent Washington's tacit support for Israel's strikes on civilian areas in Lebanon during the war last summer. But they still admire and respect America's business prowess.
Given the rapid pace of globalization, and with it Syria's options to develop trading partnerships with China, Iran and elsewhere, America's "soft-power" advantage will not last long.
The irony here is that the biggest hurdle to Americans engaging Syria's private sector hasn't been the Assad regime, but failed U.S. trade sanctions on Syria. Last year, official U.S.-exports to Syria actually increased by 30 percent, which combined with rampant smuggling from Lebanon and Dubai, means that the Syrian market is full of American goods. But American companies refrain from sending trainers and consultants to talk about the ideas and values behind their products for fear of crossing some line in the fog of Washington's Syria policy. American investors face the same obstacles as well.
For sure, if Washington re-calibrated or lifted trade sanctions on Syria, the Assad regime would dub it a "victory." But this would allow America to invest in shared ties that will lead to greater influence in Syria, undermine Damascus' hard-liners who cite sanctions to justify curbing American programs in Syria, and, perhaps most importantly, prove that America doesn't have a beef with the Syrian people - and never did.
**Andrew Tabler is editor-in-chief of Syria Today and an outgoing fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs. He is author of "The High Road to Damascus: Engage Syria's Private Sector."

The Middle East as a graveyard for grand ambition

By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Credit General David Petraeus with trying to apply two essential rules of politics in his testimony before Congress last Monday: always sell high what you don't have and buy cheap. Petraeus sold a significant drawdown of America forces by next summer, though he couldn't do otherwise since the rotation cycle of US forces makes a longer deployment almost impossible; and, thanks to that phony concession, he is trying to buy a much more extended deployment for American soldiers in Iraq.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not wrong when she responded, "sounds to me like a 10-year, at least, commitment to an open-ended presence and war." But Petraeus just might succeed in having his way, for now at least, because he made clear that there is so much more to Iraq than domestic American politics.
The gist of Petraeus' written testimony, alongside that of the US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, was expected, given recent media leaks. The general intends to gradually reduce forces to pre-surge levels by next summer, with subsequent reductions to follow, though Petraeus added for good measure, "it would be premature to make recommendations on the pace of such reductions at this time." American forces will continue to train Iraqi security units, but for the moment it would again be "premature" to abandon the defense of the Iraqi population, he added. Progress was clearly discernible, Petraeus insisted, but he exhibited no overconfidence, observing: "I should note again that, like Ambassador Crocker, I believe Iraq's problems will require a long-term effort. There are no easy answers or quick solutions. And though we both believe this effort can succeed, it will take time. Our assessments underscore, in fact, the importance of recognizing that a premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences.
However, two words - one very present in Petraeus' presentation, the other completely absent - neatly defined the American predicament in Iraq. The general mentioned "Iran" in one way or another 10 times in his opening statement, but not once did he utter the word "democracy." Petraeus declared that "none of us earlier this year appreciated the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq, something about which we and Iraq's leaders all now have greater concern." This he listed as a reason why the United States might have to remain longer in Iraq, placing the American presence there in the context of regional containment of Iranian power. It will not be easy for Congress to push for a rapid withdrawal of US forces if the net result is that Iraq falls into the lap of its eastern neighbor.
However, the fact that Petraeus did not refer to democracy was more revealing, confirming the extent to which the Middle East is a graveyard for grand projects. The general's testimony was all about power and its limitations, not in the least about an American desire to democratize the Arabs. For Petraeus, what happens in Iraq will be defined by what is possible, by a correlation of political and military forces that might favor one side or the other. There was little abstraction in his testimony; Petraeus didn't deploy extravagant ideas - reasonable from a man called in mainly to avert a complete American debacle in Iraq.
Where the general displayed inevitable modesty, he might have been fortified in knowing that the US democratization effort is not the only grandiose project the Iraqi conflict will help scuttle. Iran's attempt to expand its influence regionally, namely through advances in Iraq that will give it more sway over the Persian Gulf as a whole, is already hitting up against the existential fears of the mainly Sunni Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Flaccid and increasingly illegitimate, Arab leaders will nevertheless show fierce single-mindedness in mobilizing against Iran, mostly through sectarian means, if that becomes necessary to save their regimes. The notion of a new Persian imperium in the region also seems fanciful with the US almost certain to stay put on Iran's borders. But then again, if we are to believe the statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both the US and Israel are destined to soon disappear.
Maybe it's the fate of present and former empires to reject stasis, but Ahmadinejad's impudence, if transformed into policy, is likely to lead Iran precisely nowhere. But the Arab states as well, agents of stasis for over four decades, have paid a heavy price for peddling grand projects. Arab nationalism, instead of uniting Arabs in a single state, mainly dissolved into brutal authoritarianism and factionalism, with the Syrian and Iraqi branches of the Baath Party having fought most bitterly against each other between the late 1970s and early 1990s. Similarly, the Saudi ambition of spreading Wahhabism through the funding of mosques and educational institutions backfired, so that the most dangerous threats to the monarchy today are the violent Islamist groups it fostered and sustained for so long.
For a brief moment, during the allegedly golden age of President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Egypt looked like it would become a cornerstone of Arab progress, and many in the Middle East bought into this. Yet the optimism died following the Egyptian military fiasco in Yemen during the 1960s, the breakup of Egypt's union with Syria in 1961, and the devastating loss to Israel in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. At the end, Abdel-Nasser personified what he had wrought: dying at the relatively young age of 52 of a heart attack, his legacy one of successive premature burials.
In that sense, Petraeus may be the defining figure of a typical Middle Eastern moment: someone brought in to limit the damage brought about by hubris. But there is hubris and there is hubris: uniting the Arab world under the rubric of a totalistic national-cultural ideology such as Arab nationalism, usually by coercion; forcing the Arabs of the Middle East to accept Persian hegemony; using one's vast funds to disseminate a peculiar, acutely bigoted brand of Islam such as Saudi Arabia has done for decades, are not really comparable to installing representative government in a country that was until 2003 ruled by a mass murderer.
The Bush administration has abandoned the democratization goal, showing perhaps that it never seriously cared about it in the first place. But that shouldn't undermine a deeper truth. The only grand project that can ever really work in the Middle East is democratization, because only democracy won't leave behind bitter losers. But the Arab world may yet be a long way away from that enlightened step, despite what the optimists - present company included - believe. That Petraeus never mentioned democracy shows that he's integrating into the region.
***Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Will Lebanon's politicians at least perform damage control?
By The Daily Star
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Lebanon's political class seems well on its way to squandering another opportunity to undo the multiple Gordian knots its members have tied for themselves and their unfortunate constituents. Speaker Nabih Berri proffered a generous and ingenious formula with the potential to allow both sides to climb down from their respective positions without losing face. He failed to carry out the necessary follow-up that might have given his initiative more momentum, but at least he left the door open for the March 14 camp - and other key opposition players endorsed the speaker's gambit. Unfortunately, however, the government and its allies have failed thus far to do their part by accepting the invitation, almost certainly because certain key figures insist on clinging to maximalist terms.
As is generally the case when Lebanon's politicians undertake a delicate task without adult supervision, they appear to be failing. Berri assumed that the details and utility of his plan would be communicated spontaneously by a process akin to osmosis. More moderate figures like Prime Minister Fouad Siniora indicated that they understood the value of the initiative, but similar realizations failed to dawn on two of his most important cohorts: Democratic Gathering chief Walid Jumblatt and Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea. Intoxicated with the attentions they have received from US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, these two potential kingmakers have done their best to impose an all-or-nothing approach on their allies - and so far it has worked. And so the stalemate continues. A heated debate continues over what, precisely, the Constitution means when it says a two-thirds quorum is required for Parliament to hold an initial vote on the next president. And both sides are preparing for the possibility of a dramatic escalation in their power struggle in the coming two months. All the while, the general population remains in limbo, unsure of what will happen next but generally looking for the exits because they have no confidence in their "leaders" to behave in a manner consistent with the national interest.
The best that can be hoped for in the short term is that each side honors its commitment to refrain from taking to the streets. This year began with an ugly example of what can happen when crowds of angry young men, somehow convinced of their respective masters' infallibility, attempt to "prove" their moral rectitude by bashing one another's skulls. This brand of collective suicide always has the capacity to degenerate into full-fledged warfare, but even if it is contained, it wastes precious lives and heaps hardship on all and sundry by wreaking havoc on the economy.
The onus is on the leaderships of both sides, therefore, to dampen the impact of their squabble by moving - now - to control their more ardent supporters. That is the least they can do.

Be afraid of a game of US-Iranian chicken in the Gulf

By David Ignatius
Commentary by
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Overarching the Middle East like a dark canopy is the growing confrontation between the United States and Iran. The test of wills is sometimes obscured by the daily war news from Iraq, but it has become the main event in the region - carrying dangers of wider war and also some new opportunities for creative diplomacy.
The spillover of US-Iranian tension was evident this summer when Israeli intelligence detected signs that Syria was mobilizing its military forces. The Israelis put their own forces on heightened alert. They also contacted Damascus through intermediaries to warn against miscalculation.
The surprising return message from Damascus was that the Syrians feared a chain of escalation that would begin with a US attack on Iran. Damascus anticipated that Iran would retaliate by ordering its Lebanese proxy, Hizbullah, to launch rocket attacks on Israel; the Israelis in turn would attack Syria, which provides military and political support for Hizbullah. Israeli officials are said to have concluded that Damascus' war mobilization, while worrisome, was basically defensive.
Israel's concerns about Syria deepened with reports that on September 6, the Israelis had bombed targets in northeastern Syria, possibly because they suspected the Syrians were importing nuclear materials from North Korea.
The most dangerous flashpoint is still Iraq. Military forces are engaged - America's openly, Iran's clandestinely - in a battle for influence over the shattered remnants of the Iraqi state. Indeed, now that the United States has co-opted Iraq's Sunnis, the new American priority is to prevent Iranian hegemony over Iraqi Shiites. US officials say they have tried to reassure Iraqis they won't fight a proxy war against Tehran on Iraqi territory. But that's precisely what has been happening in recent months.
This intensifying US-Iranian confrontation was highlighted by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in interviews at The Washington Post last week. Petraeus said US troops had captured Qais Khazali, a leader of the "Special Groups" of the Mehdi Army, which is trained by the elite Al-Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. According to Petraeus, when interrogators asked Khazali if he could have conducted his deadly attacks without Iranian support, the Shiite fighter responded, "Of course not!" Crocker said he has warned Iran's ambassador to Baghdad that "No Quds Force officer is going to be safe in Iraq."
So what are the diplomatic opportunities that might defuse this growing state of tension? I count four, and each of them would require the Bush administration to conduct more aggressive diplomacy in the Middle East:
First, Lebanon. The moment may finally be ripe for a bargain that ends the year-long standoff between Hizbullah and the US-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The opportunity for compromise would be agreement on a new president to replace Emile Lahoud. US officials agree with most Lebanese that the right choice would be someone who isn't closely identified with Syria or with the United States. But it will take some deft maneuvering (and American help) to identify the right candidate and close the deal.
Second, the Palestinian issue. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads back to the Middle East this week to coax Israelis and Palestinians toward agreement on a basic framework for a Palestinian state. The two sides are tantalizingly close, but they will need a strong push from Rice - probably in the form of an American draft document that summarizes points of potential agreement. In taking that step, Rice would upset the Israelis, but if she can produce an agreement in principle that could be ratified at a regional conference in November, she would disarm Iran's most potent propaganda weapon.
Third, Syria. Petraeus and Crocker indicated this week that security assistance from Syria in recent weeks has cut the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq by nearly half. Many top US military officers think the time to engage Syria is now; so do some senior Israeli officials. The Bush administration should be talking with Damascus, quietly.
Fourth, the Persian Gulf. America's top military commanders in the Gulf favor an "incidents at sea" agreement with Iran that would reduce the danger of a confrontation. The big problem isn't the regular Iranian Navy, but the naval forces of the Revolutionary Guards. An unexpected opportunity for discussion occurred last weekend, when the US Central Command naval commander, Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, appeared on a panel with the brother of the commander of the Revolutionary Guards. This chance encounter at a Geneva meeting of the International Institute for Strategic Studies should be pursued.
The United States and Iran are playing a game of "chicken" in the Middle East. A collision would be ruinous for both. Each side needs to be careful to avoid miscalculation and act in ways that avert a crackup.
**Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.

King Berri and the stinky onion
Friday 14 September 2007 Send the story
Hail King Berri, for he holds the key to parliament, declares governments illegal and picks presidents. Or so he wants you to believe. The mailbox spends his speeches and interviews praising himself and his "initiatives", accusing the executive authority of seeking to control the country, and gets away with it because he is the one and only.
Fifteen days after he "sacrificed" the demand for a national unity government, he proposed to pick the president, telling deputies that he alone can call them into session, and he alone can decide how many are required for a quorum, and he alone can pull a Lebanese solution. Bashar’s mailbox, you see, is full of it.
As the most ranking Shia in the country, one that is still in a legal (though paralysed) institution, he still manages to command the respect of those desperate for light at the end of the Lebanese tunnel. Nobody can afford to ignore him. People find themselves looking for gold in the hay he spits out in the form of "intiatives" and "consultations" to allegedly save the country from itself, as opposed to saving it from his foreign allies. His latest initiative soared in popularity for the simple fact that it was the only window open in a house he boarded shut. The French and the Saudis rejoiced, and so did 71% of the Lebanese populace according to Berri’s own survey, forcing March 14 to respond by half accepting, and half reminding him of the non-negotiable: UN resolutions and independence from Syria.
The "stinky onion" Berri smelled today in March 14’s late response is their shy determination to go ahead with nominating a president for the new republic of Lebanon. His name could be Nassib Lahoud, judging from the attendance of his candidacy annoucement today. Berri and his allies saw the shy but sly March 14 tip-toeing to what is rightfully theirs: the presidency. They may limp and occasionally fall on their backs, but there is no turning back, and Berri knows it. This country will either be reborn, or die.
Only the French and the Saudis still hope for a miracle in Nejmeh square. This blogger wishes he could share their delusion, but it does seem as if the plan for a second government is underway. Aoun today warned that Hizbullah could resort to using force if it felt threatened, and yesterday predicted that the strongest on the ground will take over power when the constitution collapses. The poor thing still believes he will be made president of Lebanon, or Lebanon 2. He did not see in Berri’s offer to find a president a blow to his candidacy, as he perhaps read it as a hopeless and insincere last minute gesture to justify a inevitable coup (or coup attempt).
According to Berri, the great evil is coming in the form of a second cabinet, two general security agencies, two different internal security forces and divided ministries. Luckily, he said the army would stay united because it "paid the blood tax". Ignoring that March 14 has been paying that same tax since 2004, he said Emile Lahoud has six options to consider, one of them being a second government, another could be a self-extension of his term, and the others unknown.
Praise be to Berri, for he has delivered. The criticis may find a good performance, but the audience is bored.
Now on with the rest of the show. Are we running with Nassib Lahoud?

Israeli Strike Aimed to Break the Syrian-Iranian Alliance.
Raghida Dergham 

(Translated by DarAlHayat.Com)
The media blackout imposed by Israel - about its violation of Syrian airspace last week in an attack whose objectives, messages and consequences remain obscure - has been suspicious. It’s clear that Israel violated Syrian sovereignty. The strange part is the timid Syrian response to what the government in Damascus called “a clear violation of its airspace and an aggression” against Syrian territory. There have been several versions of what happened. One is that American, and not Israeli, planes entered Syrian airspace via Turkey. Sources in the American administration told the media that Israeli aircraft had struck an area in northeastern Syria, perhaps hitting “Syrian nuclear facilities” sold by North Korea to Damascus and Tehran. Israeli sources told the media about the bombing of a joint Syrian-Iranian rocket base in northern Syria, funded by Iran, which was successfully destroyed. There has been another group of leaks about what happened, and these versions have spoken of the targeting of weapons warehouses that the Israeli government believes Iran has sent to Hizbullah in Lebanon, via Syria, and destroying weapons shipments headed for Hizbullah, in order to rearm the party and enhance its arsenal. Some stressed that there had been a warning by Israel to Syria regarding Hizbullah, while others have spoken of messages meant to split Syria from Iran, through military intimidation, after a policy of enticements and rewards has not led to a dismantling of the Damascus-Tehran alliance.
These analyses and assumptions do not remove the doubts about the Israeli silence and what lies behind Syria’s hesitation to lodge a meaningful protest with the Security Council or respond to a violation of Syrian sovereignty with more than just hiding behind the event. If the government of Ehud Olmert was flirting with Damascus by shrouding the operation in obscurity and official silence, hoping that it would understand the message, a violation of sovereignty is not something that falls in this category. However, if the motives were politically justified, then Israel should stop covering up and explain what happened, instead of proceeding ahead in this de facto partnership in this strange and suspicious relationship.
The Israeli operation won’t recover the prime minister’s lost popularity, or the prestige of the Israeli army, as long as it remains secret. If the target was the infrastructure of the network of Iranian weapons transiting to Hizbullah, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, then Israel would find some sympathy for its action, as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner noted when he said, “If true, as it is believed now, that (Israel) hit a weapons shipment being transported via Syria to Hizbullah, we can understand the motives.” In addition, disclosing this kind of operation, if it really destroyed warehouses of Iranian weapons headed for Hizbullah, would embarrass Damascus and Tehran, exposing them and robbing them of the ammunition of self-defense, as the matter involves the Security Council. Even more, such a revelation might lead to gathering enough evidence to impose sanctions on Iran and Syria for violating a resolution that was adopted by the Security Council under Chapter Seven of its charter, which forbids countries from smuggling weapons to anyone in Lebanon. Perhaps Syria’s failure to request the convening of the Security Council to discuss the aggression is due to considerations having to do with repercussions such as this. It’s also possible that Damascus’ timidity in beating the drum in the Security Council is based on advice it has received from its allies, such as Russia, who might be implicated if the story of North Korea and Iran’s nuclear aspiration via Syria is confirmed.
Through its sources, Damascus denies all of this and limits its version to the Israeli violation of its airspace and the aircraft’s dropping “some ammunition and empty fuel tanks in uninhabited areas.” The Syrian leadership, in taking the decision to soften its tone and lodge a light protest, might have decided that it would like to avoid playing up the matter, because it doesn’t want to respond in a way that would escalate the matter, because it is keen to be conciliatory in Syrian-Israeli relations, or because it was surprised by Israel’s destruction of its rocket capacities.
In exaggerating its delight over the operation, via a blackout on the incident, Israel has revealed its accumulated complexes and the obvious mystery regarding the type of relationship that it wants with the Syrian government. Olmert might be afraid of his shadow, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak comes to his position with a complex of rage and failure toward Israel. Both of them, as well as the majority on the Israeli scene and in the ranks of the Israeli lobby in the US, believes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime constitute the safety valve guaranteeing that Syria won’t turn into an arena for Islamic extremism; it also guarantees that “nationalist” Arabs won’t arrive in office, insisting on opening the Syrian-Israeli military front, which is in practical terms “put to sleep” by a Syrian-Israeli understanding. There isn’t much difference between Israelis and American Jews about the relationship with the Syrian regime. However, there is a split when the issue involves evaluating the Syrian-Iranian relationship. Some believe both to be made of the same stuff, and that there is no room at all for a division in the two countries’ strategic relationship. There are those who insist that there must be a means, whether political, military or diplomatic, or one of intimidation, or a warning, that leads to breaking the contract between Tehran and Damascus.
The majority believes that merely informing Damascus of the Israeli decision to protect the regime, guard it and prevent it from being toppled is enough to strip it away from Iran. However, others warn of the visceral strategic relationship that the Syrian government has taken on for itself, through the Arab equation, and note that Damascus is now working against this formula and the Arab interest, linking itself with Iran for strategic and existential objectives. Therefore, the two countries will not be split, no matter how much Israel desires this, threatens, or is conciliatory, in one way or another. Perhaps the Israeli strike was an attempt to break the Syrian-Iranian relationship itself, in its most important and basic dimension, through Hizbullah, after it became clear that the option of enticement did not prevent the flow of Iranian weapons and rockets to Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Perhaps Israel – and with it the United States – wanted to deprive the Syrian government of its bargaining chips, which Damascus believes it can use to conclude deals. These chips include the weapons and rockets coming from Russia and Iran. The Syrian leadership does not hide or deny that it is enhancing its military capabilities to give the impression that it can inflict damage. President Bashar al-Assad, according to those familiar with this thinking, has concluded that he needs these bargaining chips to improve his negotiating position.
al-Assad wants to be taken into consideration, especially by the US administration and the US President George W Bush, and by the Israeli government and its prime minister, Ehud Olmert. According to those close to him, al-Assad wants to be taken seriously. It pleases him to see his picture in every part of the country, even though it embarrasses him. Being pleased with himself, perhaps due to a bit of vanity, has become a part of the personality of the Syrian president, compared to the beginning of his rule, when he appeared shy and timid. Thus, he is a bit excessive in displaying his self-confidence.
David Lesch, an American expert on the Syrian president, who has conducted a number of interviews and spent considerable time in his presence to prepare books about him and explain Syria’s position in the US, recently spoke at a seminar to a number of individuals well-versed in foreign policy. The event was sponsored by the Century Foundation in New York, under the title “The Syria-United States-Israel Triangle and Prospects for Middle East Peace.” According to the rules of the seminar, only part of the event was permitted to be made public.
Lesch, a professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, described al-Assad in 2004, when he met him for the first time, as “perplexed,” unaware of why Syrian-American relations were in the state they were in. In 2005, al-Assad had “resigned” to his conclusion that the US administration wanted to get rid of him. In 2006, the Syrian president had become “cocky and angry” in describing Syrian-America relations, saying: “I do not need anything from the US, I do not want anything from the US, I am very popular.” After the Israel-Hizbullah war in Lebanon last year, he had the same level of confidence. During May and June, he was relaxed and confident,” convinced that time would prove him to be correct regarding developments in Iraq and Lebanon. In the estimation of Lesch, al-Assad felt that he was “secure in power, had brought stability to Syria, and that people were extremely grateful to him for keeping the country together” to fend off the pressure of the US and the United Nations.
Lesch saw al-Assad speaking in the language of “strategic assets” and that Iran had given him “strategic depth,” especially in Lebanon via Hizbullah. The professor believed al-Assad to be “feeling good about himself,” and that the White House had lost a true opportunity to cultivate Bashar al-Assad early on.” The only way to move forward now, he believed, lay in the US giving up its “arrogance” in believing that dialogue with al-Assad would give him legitimacy.
Lesch’s message is that Assad no longer wants “back channels” for dialogue, and is insisting on an open dialogue; therefore, one of his top priorities is for the US to send its ambassador back to Damascus. The important part of Lesch’s remarks at the seminar, in front of leading foreign policy thinkers, was that Assad is going to stay for the foreseeable future and that the Syrian opposition is dispersed and fragmented. The Bush administration should listen to him and others when they say: Bashar Assad is going to be with us for a long time.
The only thing that might disturb Assad’s tranquility is the international tribunal to try those involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and his fellow companions, as well as other political assassinations, which the investigation has shown to be linked to the Hariri killing. Lesch acknowledged this when cornered, after getting a free pass when he used the term “clumsy behavior” to describe the actions of Assad and the Syrian regime in Lebanon.
Revealing another interesting aspect of the Syrian president’s thinking, Lesch related an incident from May, before the Security Council adopted Resolution 1757, which set up the international tribunal under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, after the failed attempts to block the move by Syria through its allies in Lebanon. Lesch said that he was sitting with Assad in Damascus and asked him about the tribunal. Assad replied: The Russians will not let it happen. The surprise came when Russia abstained during the vote instead of using a veto to prevent the establishment of the tribunal. Their abstention allowed the body to be created. Assad was behaving like Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, misreading the positions in the Security Council, and miscalculating the developments and course of the resolutions that helped end his career.
Lesch said that the Syrians want to appear as if they’re not worried about the tribunal, but added that there is an awareness, at the bottom of their hearts, that the tribunal has taken on a life of its own. Lesch believes that the Syrian wager is on America’s need for the Syrian regime in Iraq, and that the Israeli wager is on the Syrian regime. The military establishment in Israel believes that it is better with the “blunderer” they know than the unpredictable successor.
Thus, the confusing military strike was not the knockout punch to Syrian-Israeli relations, but it does represent an important turning-point, that should not be taken lightly. Such a turning-point means there should be intensive study and monitoring of the development in the tripartite relationship between the US, Syria and Israel. Talk about a peace conference, and Syria’s participation or non-participation, is merely a distraction in the considerations of these three actors. Since Damascus discounts the US Secretary of State to the extend that it removes her from the equation, its focus on Iraq is aimed at surpassing Rice since its concentration on the Syrian-Israeli relationship leads to a de facto containment for any actor within the US administration who might want to drift away from the conciliatory relationship, as understood by Damascus.
The transitional policies in Israel have a life and pace of their own, just like the air strikes, or the international tribunal. One should be cautious about exaggerating one’s comfort level and self-confidence and self-admiration at a time of predicaments and entanglements. One should be wary about silly and secret joy over the artificial “prestige” of an Israeli operation that lacked the courage to reveal the supposed achievements involved.