September 17/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 15,1-32. The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." So to them he addressed this parable. What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it?And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.' In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Far From Disagreement over the Quorum.Elias Harfouche. September 16/07
Lebanon: Dialogue Still Not in the Air. Abdallah Iskandar.September 16/07
Has Hezbollah's Rise Come at Syria's Expense? by Robert G. Rabil. September 16/07
Cooling The Clash With Iran.Washington Post. By David Ignatius. September 16/07
Censor mums media over said IAF strike in Syria.  By Amos Harel,Ha'aretz. September 16/07

Four questions on al Qaeda's threat to Sweden.Counterterrorism Blog.September 17/07
Peace Talks Seem Impossible as Tensions Grow Between Syrians and Israel.By: Simon Mcgregor wood. September 16/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for September 16/07
Hariri: Don't Say You Want Dialogue, Do it!.Naharnet
Hizbullah: Aoun Oppositions' Only Presidential Candidate.Naharnet

Various factions in Lebanon must learn to work together.Gulf Times
Syria pays price for aiding terror.Boston Herald
Records on N. Korean ship docked in Syria were altered.Ha'aretz
A visit to Israel, Jordan and Lebanon in 1967.Worcester Telegram

Syria won't go to war with Israel, Kassem says.Ynetnews
A tale of two dictatorships: The links between North Korea and Syria.Times Online
Fewer Foreigners Crossing Into Iraq From Syria to Fight.Washington Post
End Syria's isolation.Jerusalem Post
Experts: Syria may have violated non-proliferation treaty.Ynetnews

Four questions on al Qaeda's threat to Sweden
By Walid Phares
Posted on Jihadi web sites, a declaration by the commander of al Qaeda Iraq, Omar al Baghdadi promised to pay 100,000$ for anyone who would assassinate Swedish Cartoonist Lars Vilks, who published an "offensive cartoon" of Prophet Mohammed in the Nerikes Allehanda. Al baghdadi would add another 50,000$ if the artist is "slaughtered," and 50,000$ for the killing of the publication's editor. The "Cartoon Jihad" is back in Europe after the Danish affair last year. But as we are analyzing the far consequences of this threat, and independently from the discussion of the cartoon and the sensitivities it may have hurt (which are real and important on the emotional levels), following are questions to be raised:
1. Why would al Qaeda Iraq and not another branch offer such a bounty? The Cartoonist is Swedish and the al Qaeda Iraq fights against the US in Iraq. Where is the link here? Many voices in the debate on the War on Terror have been saying that al Qaeda came to Iraq just because the US invaded the country. What about Sweden?
2. Why is al Qaeda-Iraq offering a bounty for the killing of an editor in Scandinavia? Why offering money for Jihad? Well, when a Jihadi group begins to offer financial rewards, it means that the ideological reward isn't enough.
3. Will such a call be heeded in Sweden? Does al Qaeda have cells -dormant or not- that far north? Reports tells us that the Salafists are propagating this ideology across Scandinavia. Very few realized that an assassination of a film maker in Amsterdam was imaginable before Theo Van Gogh was killed.
4. Will al Qaeda or other Jihadists attack Swedish companies or individuals worldwide? In fact orders were given but it depends on whom would consider themselves the "infantry" and actually take action. It will also depend on what the Swedish Government and Multinational Corporations would state in public or do in private. Sweden has had decades of neutrality regarding many challenges in international relations, and its foreign policy wasn't comparable at all to NATO countries in their struggle against Terror. However, this is the greatest litmus test yet to be addressed. **Dr Walid Phares is the Director of Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy and the author of the War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy. September 15, 2007 01:49 PM Print

Hizbullah: Aoun Oppositions' Only Presidential Candidate
Hizbullah stressed that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun is the opposition's only presidential candidate.
"The opposition's only presidential candidate is Gen. Michel Aoun, and no one else will run for the presidency from our ranks," said Ghaleb Abu Zainab, a member of Hizbullah's politburo. "Contacts exist between opposition forces, and its political maneuver is directed towards subsequently declaring a presidential candidate who is well-known," Zainab said in remarks published by the daily An Nahar on Sunday. Beirut, 16 Sep 07, 08:39

Hariri: Don't Say You Want Dialogue, Do it!

MP Saad Hariri called for resumption of all-party roundtable talks "immediately," and appealed to his rivals, telling them that if you want dialogue, don't just say it, do it.
"Let's resume dialogue at once and not just settle for expressing a desire to start talks through the media, because the only way out of the crisis is through immediate dialogue," Hariri told a dinner banquet on Saturday. "Let's brush aside political, constitutional and media bickering and meet," Hariri told a dinner banquet on Saturday.
"Presidential elections should take place in accordance with the constitutional schedule," Hariri said. "Hampering the election process is a big crime against Lebanon. Anyone who seeks to hamper the elections doesn't want the good for Lebanon.""A Presidential vacuum and threats of a second government are dangerous for everyone, not just for March 14," he stressed. "They pose a threat to Lebanon's unity and legitimacy and, consequently, (pose) a threat to all."
Addressing Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Hariri said: "Open the door today and you will see that we (March 14) will be the first to enter the dialogue room for a get-together (meeting).""I'm certain that we will reach a solution, God willing," Hariri said. The daily An Nahar on Sunday said Hariri, determined to resume national talks, telephoned Berri after the banquet and said both leaders agreed to hold contacts soon. Beirut, 16 Sep 07, 08:39

'As many as eight IAF jets involved in strike on Syria'

Unconfirmed details of Israel's alleged foray into Syrian airspace 10 days ago continued to circulate Sunday in foreign media with a latest report by the British Observer which claimed that as many as eight F-15 and F-16 fighter jets participated in the operation.
The planes, said the report, were equipped with 'Maverick' heavy missiles and 500 pound bombs. Escorting the pilots high above them was an ELINT - an electronic intelligence gathering aircraft - the report claimed.
The Observer estimated that the IAF was holding a rehearsal ahead of a future
The operation "can be seen as a dry run, a raid using the same heavily modified long-range aircraft, procured specifically from the US with Iran's nuclear sites in mind," the report said. Over the weekend, reports in the American media claimed that the so-called raid targeted a North Korean-Syrian nuclear facility.
According to The Washington Post, Israel had been keeping a watchful eye on the facility, which is officially characterized by the Syrians as an agricultural research center. The offending shipment arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus on September 3, three days before the reported IAF raid.

U.S. says Syria on nuclear watch list

By Associated Press
Friday, September 14, 2007 - Added 1d 15h ago
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.
© Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

Syria, North Korea nuke deal suspected

By Associated Press
Saturday, September 15, 2007 - Updated 1d 9h ago
ROME - A senior U.S. nuclear official yesterday tenuously linked North Korea to Syrians trying to obtain nuclear equipment.
Andrew Semmel, an acting deputy assistant secretary of state who works on nuclear policy, did not identify the people he called “secret suppliers” to the Syrians but he said North Koreans were in Damascus.
“Whether anything transpired remains to be seen,” Semel said.
Syria, an Arabic and Islamist linchpin that borders Iraq and Israel, is a secular dictatorship, often accused of underwriting and promoting violence, terror and disruption in neighboring states. It has a particular enmity with Israel, which took over the Golan Heights, formerly part of Syria, in the 1967 Six Day War.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he was not aware of a specific nuclear link between North Korea and Syria, but he said the United States has many concerns about North Korea and nuclear weapons proliferation.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Israel had gathered satellite imagery showing possible North Korean cooperation with Syria on a nuclear facility.
Meanwhile, the chief U.S. envoy to talks on North Korea’s nuclear capability said yesterday that negotiators from six nations will gather as planned next week in Beijing to discuss ways to disable the North’s nuclear reactor.
When asked if reports about possible North Korean cooperation with Syria on a nuclear facility would complicate next week’s talks, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said, “Such reports are an important reminder of the need to accelerate the process we’re already engaged in. . . . It does not change the goal we are aiming for.”The nations are North and South Korea, Japan, China, the United States and Russia.
Regarding Syria’s nuclear aspirations, on which the country keeps mum, experts have said that the country’s listless economy would make it hard-pressed to afford nuclear technology. But North Korea has a longstanding alliance with Syria. Israel says North Korea and Iran are major suppliers of missiles to Syria.
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. Semel made his comments from Rome, where he attends a nuclear nonproliferation meeting today.
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.
© Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Syria pays price for aiding terror

By Herald editorial staff
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Israel has just given the world a good example of the virtues of speaking softly and carrying a big stick.
This past week Israel launched airstrikes over northern Syria and said absolutely nothing. At last, Syria has to pay real penalties for its aid to terrorists.
There were not even any leaks out of the leakiest government in the Western world. What is known comes from other capitals, notably Washington.
The airstrike near the border with Turkey hit a shipment of weapons supplied by Iran and destined for the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, according to a U.S. military official. (It wasn’t known whether this official was relying on information from the Israelis or on U.S. intelligence such as satellite photos.)
An earlier report said Israel attacked nuclear material sent to Syria by North Korea. Another report said the attack was on sophisticated new missiles. Hezbollah said Israel was testing an air route for a later attack on Iran. Any of those would be good reasons for action.
Arab countries were mostly silent. Syria complained to the United Nations about a violation of its airspace, which took some brass since arming private groups in Lebanon like Hezbollah was forbidden by the Security Council resolution that ended Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah last year. Syria did not admit that a real target had been bombed, claiming only that Israeli planes dropped fuel tanks and munitions to enhance their getaway after Syrian anti-aircraft defenses opened up. There were indications that Syria was grateful for Israel’s silence. North Korea denounced the attack, which raises the possibility that North Korea was indeed the ultimate source of the arms. What counts is the conclusion that Syria draws. It should conclude that it is safer to stop supplying arms to Hezbollah and to Hamas, the terror group that controls Gaza on Israel’s southern border, as it has for years. Further, it should conclude that the smart course is to return to the negotiations with Israel that were broken off in 2000. Other countries trying to destabilize their neighbors would do well to take note.

Mummed media base IAF strike reports on world press
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent
The CNN report last Tuesday on the circumstances of the Israeli air assault in Syria managed to rouse the rest of the U.S. mainstream media from its slumbers. During Israel's four-day weekend, a torrent of reports on the incident flooded the U.S., some of them contradictory, others complementary.
In Israel, the double blackout is still in effect: Both the official and unofficial establishment is chary of releasing any reference or bit of information about what happened in the skies over northern Syria in the dawn hours of September 6. On top of this, there is the army censor, which blocks publication of any information on the affair.
Under these stiff limitations, all the Israeli media can do is to attempt to piece together the puzzle for its consumers from their foreign counterparts, including CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Nevertheless, below are a few salient points:
The North Korean connection. All the latest U.S. reports find a direct connection to North Korea in the Israeli assault. The first to mention the possibility of Pyongyang selling nuclear technology to Damascus was John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, in a Wall Street Journal article the week before the incident. The Fox News Channel reported American suspicions that technology and equipment for enriching uranium was secretly being transferred from North Korea to Syria. The Washington Post later quoted international experts who claimed that Israel had targeted a suspicious delivery that had arrived from North Korea three days earlier.
A State Department official, in the first official response, noted that Syria is on Washington's nuclear watch list, mentioned the presence of foreign technicians in the country and did not discount the possibility of North Korean involvement.
To some extent this sounds like a rerun of the match between the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and Libya, which was exposed about four years ago: Two distant states, ostensibly without close ties, join forces in a shady deal that surprised the West. In this case, new life has apparently been breathed into the "Axis of Evil," precisely when the Bush administration believed that Pyongyang had returned to the nuclear-free straight and narrow.
Silence is golden, for now. U.S. commentators have suggested that Israe's post-incident silence was intended to preclude international condemnation. After all, the world has already inferred what happened in northern Syria, and apart from the predictable denunciations from the immediate suspects (Russia, Iran and, apparently not by chance, North Korea), the attack was received with indifference if not approval.
So why did Damascus report the violation of its air space in the face of Israeli silence? One possible explanation points to the force of the air defense systems that were activated on the night of the incident. The activity may have been so extraordinary that it was witnessed by many Syrians, and that the regime felt a need to provide an explanation.
The tension will continue. Syria has apparently not responded to the Israeli action in any way, but the fact that 10 days have gone by has not erased all fears on the Israeli said. The relatively high state of readiness along the northern border is likely to continue through the end of the holidays, early next month. In an interview to Newsweek published Friday, Syria's U.S. Ambassador, Imad Moustapha, said that Israel would "pay a price" for the attack.
Syria's claim to be the victim of Israeli aggression are a little hard to swallow, but one cannot blame Damascus for failing to believe Jerusalem's promises that Israel does not want a war. After all, similar declarations were made just before the incident in northern Syria.

A visit to Israel, Jordan and Lebanon in 1967
By:*Albert B. Southwick - Sunday Telegram.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
On the one hand, the Israelis were exuberant about the recent war, which had left them in possession of all of Jerusalem. On the other, there was an undercurrent of anxiety for the future.
“God’s Warriors,” the perceptive CNN documentary by Christiane Amanpour on the religious fundamentalists of the Middle East, brought to mind my own visit to that region 40 years ago.
I landed in Beirut on Sept. 16, 1967, with a group of American journalists traveling, courtesy of the U.S. State Department, to report on the fractious situation in the Middle East. In the past four decades, some things have changed not at all, others markedly.
Only three months before we arrived, in what was called the Six-Day War, Israel had resoundingly repulsed the invading armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan and had seized crucial parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. That part of the city had been under Arab control for more than 1,000 years. Before that, Jerusalem had long been linked to Jewish history, even in the days when the Romans, Syrians, Babylonians and others held sway there.
The city was, and remains, a cauldron of ethnic and religious passions, a focal point for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
I have to give a little background to younger readers who may have little knowledge of how the disclosures of Nazi atrocities in World War II affected a whole generation of people in the West, including Americans. For more than half a century, people have been trying to understand how a modern state, even one driven by a fiendish ideology, could set up a huge, enormously expensive industrial complex aimed at physically eliminating a whole people from the earth. More than 5 million Jews were murdered by SS death squads and in death camps like Auschwitz, where their remains were burned in monstrous crematoriums. In the long, bloody history of massacres and atrocities, the Holocaust remains uniquely horrible.
That was the background of the founding of Israel in 1949, when it was immediately attacked by Arab armies from five different nations. Israel repulsed that attack, and another one in 1956, and then again in June 1967. Our visit in September was confined to Israel, Jordan and Lebanon because diplomatic relations with Egypt and Syria had been broken off.
We were royally wined and dined everywhere. In Lebanon we were served an elegant dinner al fresco, under palm trees with brooks running underneath. We were taken by boat into the great grotto, with its spectacular views and dripping walls. We visited the massive Roman ruins in Baalbek. On the way to swank government offices in Beirut, we passed by the dismal camps of Palestine refugees from the war. We talked to Lebanese Christians, Muslims and members of the Armenian Church. They all had different takes on what had happened and what the future would bring. The Muslims, in particular, were grappling with the reality that Israel was in the region to stay. It would not be driven into the sea.
But, according to many we spoke to, Israel would be accepted only under conditions — the same conditions that Israel has rejected from the start — giving up the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, restoring refugee Palestinians to their property, etc. We heard versions of the same argument in Amman, the capital of Jordan, which we visited in the days following. This was long before we had even heard of Hezbollah, Fatah, Hamas and the other radical Arab and Palestinian groups. We did not know that Islam was divided between two bitter rivals, the Shia and the Sunnis. Al-Qaida was far in the future. We were really uninformed about the Middle East and the Arabs. Our questions must have seemed naïve.
We arrived in Israel on Sept. 21, the first non-refugees to use the Allenby Bridge across the Jordan River since the end of the war in June. Our last stop before crossing the boundary was at the refugee camps of Shuneh and Numrin, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees were packed into tents in the searing heat of the Jordan Valley, hundreds of feet below sea level.
Israel was one surprise after another. On the one hand, the Israelis were exuberant about the recent war, which had left them in possession of all of Jerusalem. On the other, there was an undercurrent of anxiety for the future. The biblical dream had been achieved but there was hatred on all sides. We began to see the complexity of things when we visited the Western Wall where the Temple once stood many centuries ago. Jews in skullcaps prayed rhythmically at this ancient Jewish shrine. But above, on the flat terrace, we visited the Dome of the Rock, with its splendid mosque. That is a place revered by Muslims, for it was from here, according to Islamic belief, that Mohammed ascended physically into heaven and met Allah face to face.
And if we needed any further instruction in the complexities of the Middle East, we found it at the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre, a famed Christian shrine since the 4th century. Some Christians believe it to be located on the spot where Jesus was crucified and buried. But it is hardly a model of Christian charity and understanding. It is controlled mainly by three Christian groups, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic who have sometimes resorted to fist fights to maintain their special status. Jerusalem does not always bring out the best in people, whether they be Muslim, Christian or Jewish.
The Israelis were model hosts. We visited battlefields, littered with smashed tanks, cartridge shells and other debris. We had an audience with Prime Minister Eshkol, who seemed devious about the issue of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. We visited a kibbutz, one of those communes so important in the early history of Israel. We visited former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion at his retirement home in the Negev desert. Mr. Ben Gurion, a spry 81, said that his country’s future depended on the addition of 3 million Jews over the next 20 years. Even then Israeli leaders were concerned about the demographical problem posed by the high Arab birthrate.
I will never forget my visit to the Holy Land. It was thrilling to be in those fabled places that I learned about in my Sunday school days — Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the Jordan River and all the rest. And there is no question that Israel has performed a miracle — several miracles, in fact, in building a vibrant, modern, democratic society in a place of limited resources and surrounding hostility.
But it has been done at a price. And much of that price has been paid by the Palestinians who once lived there. They have been pawns in the Middle East power game, and, with many of them still confined in squalid refugee camps, they still seek justice.
But the Middle East, despite its noble and holy traditions, its martyrs, saints and warriors, has often found justice in short supply. That was the case in 1967 and remains so today.
**Albert B. Southwick’s column appears regularly in the Sunday Telegram.

Cooling The Clash With Iran
By David Ignatius
Sunday, September 16, 2007; Page B07
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 U.S.-Iranian tension was evident this summer when Israeli intelligence detected signs that Syria was mobilizing its military. 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 U.S. attack on Iran. Damascus anticipated that Iran would retaliate by ordering its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, to launch rocket attacks on Israel; the Israelis in turn would attack Syria, which provides military and political support for Hezbollah. Israeli officials are said to have concluded that Damascus's war mobilization, while worrisome, was basically defensive.
Israel's volatile relationship with Syria was illustrated by reports that on Sept. 6 the Israelis bombed targets in northeastern Syria, possibly because they suspected the Syrians were importing nuclear materials from North Korea.
The most dangerous flash point 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. U.S. officials say they have tried to reassure Iraqis that 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 U.S.-Iranian confrontation was highlighted by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in interviews at The Post last week. Petraeus said U.S. troops had captured Qais Khazali, a leader of the "special groups" of the Mahdi Army, which is trained by the elite al-Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. 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:
Lebanon. The moment may finally be ripe for a bargain that ends the year-long standoff between Hezbollah and the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The opportunity for compromise would be agreement on a new president to replace Emile Lahoud. U.S. 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.
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.
Syria. Petraeus reckons that security assistance from Syria in recent weeks has cut the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq by nearly half. Many top U.S. 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.
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 Guard. An unexpected opportunity for discussion occurred last weekend, when Central Command's naval chief, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, appeared on a panel with the brother of the commander of the Revolutionary Guard. 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 to act in ways that avert a crackup.
**The writer is co-host ofPostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address

Peace Talks Seem Impossible as Tensions Grow Between Syrians and Israelis

JERUSALEM, Sept. 14. 2007
Share Eight days ago, the Syrian government announced that Israeli military jets had been spotted flying through Syrian airspace. The Syrians said the jets had been fired upon and had fled. The Israelis said nothing at all.
Ever since, the region and its media have been engaged in a frenzy of speculation as to what really happened. As soon as news of the reported incident broke, the Israeli government imposed a complete media blackout.
That blackout has muzzled Israeli journalists who have been frustrated by the silence of their usually talkative defense sources. In one bulletin an Israeli radio announcer sarcastically told his audience to log onto the Web site of a government-sponsored Syrian newspaper to find out what really happened.
In the strange atmosphere that has followed last week's incident, the region's bloggers have been working overtime to fill the void. What seems clear is that something important did happen, and far from the Israeli mission being limited to probing, or reconnaissance, the consensus view is that the Israelis flew a mission that had a real target. This speculation has been supported by a number of anonymous defense sources in the United States. One such source is quoted in The New York Times saying, "The strike I can confirm, the target, I can't."
Judging by the extraordinary secrecy attached to the target, it was highly sensitive. Another unnamed U.S. source said the Israeli strike "left a big hole in the desert." Meanwhile the Syrians are sticking to their story that the Israelis turned and ran once they were detected. Syrian U.N. ambassador Bashar al Ja'afari told reporters: "There was no target. They dropped their munitions. They were running away."
Here are the leading theories about the target, in no particular order of credibility or importance:
The Israelis, presumably with U.S. knowledge and backing, targeted a transfer of weapons destined for the Lebanese group Hezbollah. This trafficking of weapons has long been an issue for the Israelis, and now is in direct contravention of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which was drawn up at the end of last year's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Israeli intelligence has been warning that Hezbollah is trying to rearm and the usual suspects are Syria and Iran.
Syrian ballistic missiles were the target. Syria has a lot of missiles within range of Israel's main population centers. In recent years, according to Western intelligence sources, they have been trying to improve and upgrade with the help of the North Koreans and others. Last summer's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah showed that Israel's conventional military superiority can be neutralized by an opponent who can strike deep inside Israel's home front. Syria certainly has that capability and if it is radically improved that would be cause for Israeli concern.
The strike targeted nonconventional weapons facilities. Syria is known to have chemical weapons capability and its own production plants. With an upgrade in Syria's missile arsenal, this capability becomes a big worry for the Israelis. If some kind of intelligence warning indicated the Syrians have reached a higher level in this area, the Israelis might have decided to act.
The second unconventional area is, of course, the nuclear one. A New York Times story this week suggested with the help of some U.S. defense and diplomatic sources that the strike targeted an emerging nuclear program. Again, the North Koreans are implicated with former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton stoking the fires with bold claims about North Korean technology transfers to the Syrians. "It is legitimate to ask questions about whether that cooperation extends on the nuclear side," he told The New York Times.
Despite the recent improvement in U.S.-North Korean relations over the nuclear issue and the communist state's declared intention to abandon its enrichment program, one unnamed administration official, quoted in the Times, expressed a word of caution. "The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an interview with Fox News declined to comment on the supposed airstrike, but did add fuel to the fires of speculation by repeating the administration's policy of preventing what she called "the world's most dangerous people from having the world's most dangerous weapons."
ABC News consultant and former U.S. Ambassador to Korea, Donald Gregg believes that the North Koreans could be selling weapons but is highly skeptical of the idea that they would be touting nuclear technology, "North Korea has sold short-range missiles to a number of countries, and may well have sold some to Syria."
But, Gregg adds, "The idea that North Korea would jeopardize the progress it is currently making with the United States by becoming involved in nuclear-related issues in the most volatile region of the world beggars belief, as the establishment of normal relations with the US has been a major objective of North Korea since the collapse of the USSR." If the Israelis thought the Syrians were developing nuclear ambitions, many analysts think they would certainly consider a preemptive strike, as they did against the Iraqi nuclear program of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.
It is interesting to note that the only countries to have launched vehement rhetorical attacks against the Israeli action have been Iran and North Korea, whose foreign ministry in an official statement accused Israel of a "dangerous provocation little short of wantonly violating the sovereignty of Syria and seriously harassing the regional peace." Syria's Arab neighbors have been strangely quiet and have refused to be drawn into their usual criticism of Israel's military adventures. Do their governments know something about the target we don't?
Whatever happened, the incident has certainly raised tension between the two countries. They are already in a state of war after the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights at the end of the Six Day War in 1967. The tension has been growing all year with both sides conducting a confusing dual campaign of military exercises and talk of peace negotiations. The chance of them sitting down to talk peace now seems more remote than ever. The Syrians have complained to the U.N. Security Council, but are also hinting at other responses. "Our response has not yet come," Ja'afari told BBC Arabic Service, accusing Israel of "seeking military escalation." Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad added that his country retains "the means to respond in ways that will preserve its position of power."
Meanwhile, most diplomatic sources suggest neither side wishes to let this incident flare into a full-blown conflict. The Israelis have recently stopped potentially provocative military exercises on the Golan Heights, and Western intelligence sources have detected no mobilization of Syrian forces since the incident.
In the absence of official statements from the Israelis, the frenzy of speculation, however, looks set to continue, with little prospect of the two sides sitting down to talk peace.

Far From Disagreement over the Quorum
Elias Harfouche- Al Hayat - 16/09/07//
The disagreement over the numbers and percentage leading up to the presidential elections in Lebanon seems to be superficial, and probably trivial, when weighed against the risks that this disagreement entails with regard to the security and future of the country should it flare up. But this seemingly superficial disagreement harbors something more profound than numbers or percentage. The divergence between the two conflicting parties on the liable or obstructing third in the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora showed that the disagreement was not rooted in obtaining this percentage. It was rather a disagreement over the political fundamentals, i.e. on the decisions taken by the government and the path it is following in the light of the severe polarization that the region is currently undergoing and that Lebanon could not evade. This after the two conflicting forces turned into two parties that are promoting their own respective sides. As a result, the opposition party started voicing accusations against Siniora and the political conduct of his government within the region's conflict, and indicted it of being biased to the US stance in this conflict.
The same could apply today on the two third percentage that is said to be necessary to secure the constitutional umbrella for the Presidential Elections. But everyone is aware, fronted undoubtedly by President Berri, that when the legislator drafted provision 49 of the constitution, he surely had in mind the number of votes that the elected president should secure. This is why this provision focused on votes rather than quorum and addressed the candidate's need to secure "the majority of the two thirds of the Parliament's votes in the first round, and settle for absolute majority in the following voting ballot." The logical interpretation of this clear text is that the number of deputies attending the session is not important, as long as the candidate has secured the percentage needed constitutionally for his election. Even if all deputies attend the session, the president could win constitutionally with the absolute majority of them, i.e. half plus one. A living example of this situation is the precedence set by the election of President Suleiman Franjieh in 1970. The same could be valid if the absolute majority solely attends the session and votes in its entirety for a particular candidate. The legislative basis of this, as stated earlier, is the number of deputies' votes that the candidate needs to win. Based on this, the focus on the quorum issue as a prerequisite for holding the election session becomes a "obstructing" resolve at core. This is similar to obstructing the government and parliament's actions that that was espoused by the Head of Parliament and that clung to constitutional claims, which can be considered at least flawed and inefficient in the framework of an impartial constitutional test.
Let's be clear and upfront. The quest for the intended obstruction is actually rooted in political reasons and has nothing to do with the constitutional frame that is vainly being sought. The political reasons are related firstly to the stances of the new president vis-à-vis the conflicting issues and his internal and regional inclinations. Had the oppositionists and constitutionalists been able to seize the absolute majority of the Parliament, they would have brought the president of their choice without having to raise the issue of the quorum. Had they been proposed a specific candidate from the majority who embraces their approach to the future of the country and complies with the obligations they set for him, the issue of the quorum wouldn't have been a dilemma.
The "ideal" way out of this quagmire is finding a political personality that is objective and neutral. But where can such person be found, and if it were to be found, can he be labeled a political man? The current escalation in the region, whether on the Syrian-Israeli or the American Iranian front, has become a major factor in the presidential battle. It is directly reflecting on the Lebanese situation and raises alarming questions on its stance and role in these conflicts.
This is the reality of the current tug of war game over the presidential issue. It would be better if everyone stands up to this reality and tries to find solutions and agree on stances thereon, instead of hiding behind numbers and percentage, as is the case now

Lebanon: Dialogue Still Not in the Air
Abdallah Iskandar - Al-Hayat - 16/09/07//
The intense flurry of Arab and international diplomatic activity towards Beirut, coupled with so many statements from influential capitals all confirm the necessity of re-launching dialogue between the Lebanese contending parties, to ensure timely presidential elections. All the players interested in dialogue were encouraged by the initiative of House Speaker Nabih Berry, and the response it received from the 14 March coalition, especially that both parties also stressed their commitment to dialogue.
However, the said dialogue did not take place. Few still wager on it, with the nearing of the parliamentary session Berry called for, to take place in less than 10 days. In this context, there are foreign and local attempts to keep the doors of dialogue open, but simply keeping them open does not push the settlement forward. The breeze that should pass trough these doors is yet to blow.
The initiative of Speaker Berry, which turned into an opposition initiative, is not a political one, even though it was presented in a political frame. Its main basis is for the 14 March forces, which represent the parliamentary majority, to agree on a consensual election of a President by a two-third majority. Thus, it is an initiative that interprets the Constitution. Accordingly, it seeks to establish a constitutional mechanism. The parliamentary majority should agree in advance to this interpretation, or else "great evil" will come about.
Many foreign and local parties praised the openness of Berry and his will to dialogue. But this dialogue ends as soon as the majority agrees to it, because it deprives it from being a majority and gives the opposition the right to choose a President since it detains the key to the quorum set in the initiative. Even if the majority agrees to this mechanism, and to the two-third quorum, it still can block this quorum if it does not agree to the consensual President. Subsequently, dialogue would not achieve its set goal, i.e. the election of a new President to succeed the current one within the constitutional delay, next November.
Also, the initiative does not speak of a constitutional mechanism in case a consensual President could not be found, 10 days before the end of the current President's mandate. Does the forced parliamentary meeting to elect a President also entail a two-third quorum? Or is it constitutionally binding to all MPs to come to the session, and if they do not, they would have failed a key obligation of their parliamentary mandate, which strips them of their MP status?
These are questions that the majority did not raise in its response to the initiative. However, it implied them, especially when it stressed the meaning of the elections, and the necessity of holding them. It also spoke of the political program to be applied under the new President's term; the same program that led the opposition MPs to leave the current Cabinet. The majority placed international resolutions and the decisions taken during the national dialogue sessions at the forefront of this program.
International resolutions tackle the issues of illegal arms, the Syrian presence, securing the Southern borders with Israel and forming an International Tribunal to try the suspects in Lebanese political crimes. The decisions of the dialogue, for their part, speak of Palestinian arms, Lebanese-Syrian ties and border demarcation.
What the opposition understood by this program was that it targeted the arms of the Resistance, and calls for ongoing hostility towards Syria, thus a US-instigated rejection of dialogue.
Between the initiative and the response it received, dealing with constitutional interpretations and the prerogatives of the three powers, there is a dilemma linked to the power of 14 March to translate its position as a majority, and the inability of the opposition in overcoming its status as minority. This is what the Free Patriotic Movement leader, Michel Aoun, expressed in simplified terms when he considered that the most powerful party on the ground is to take over power in case a new President could not be elected. In that case, the Constitution, with all its mechanisms, and interpretations, only takes on a meaning when it suits personal political interest.
Dialogue has not yet begun. Each of the formulas at stake is viewed as a cancellation of the other party: the constitutional formula Berry offers does not guarantee the right of the majority to be a majority, while the political program of the majority does not preserve the significance of the opposition to remain an opposition

Has Hezbollah's Rise Come at Syria's Expense?

by Robert G. Rabil
Middle East Quarterly
Fall 2007

The Iranian and Syrian relationship with Hezbollah developed from a combination of ideological, domestic, and regional factors. Both Tehran and Damascus found Hezbollah to be a useful proxy to further regional objectives. Today, however, Hezbollah's position has changed. Tehran's growing strength is matched by Damascus's regional weakness. As overt Syrian suzerainty over Lebanon fades and Hezbollah increases its regional role without regard to the Lebanese government, the nature of Hezbollah's relations to Syria has changed. The group has outgrown its subservient relationship to Damascus. Hezbollah is no longer the junior partner in the axis.

Hezbollah's roots lie in both the Lebanese Shi'i revival of the 1960s and 1970s and, more directly, to the return of Lebanese clerics who had studied in Najaf under the supervision of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. After the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Jerusalem sought to set up a Lebanese government friendly to itself. Tehran and Damascus sought proxies to undermine this new government and, in Tehran's case, advance its new revolutionary agenda. In 1982, Shi‘i political activist Hussein al-Musawi broke away from Amal, then the Shi‘i community's main political movement, and allied himself with radical Shi‘i clerics to form Hezbollah (Party of God).

Tehran adopted the new group. It bankrolled it and sent its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to train it. Syrian president Hafez al-Assad also supported Hezbollah. He and the Iranian leadership agreed to a strategic framework to govern their relationship with the group: Tehran would organize Hezbollah, subsidize it, and provide it with weaponry. Damascus would oversee Hezbollah operations against Israeli troops to ensure that Hezbollah operations did not expose the Syrian army to military confrontation with Israel and would allocate the Bekaa Valley as a location for the IRGC to establish training camps. In addition, Syrian authorities would secure a supply route and assist with logistics.[1]

In a number of terrorist attacks through the 1980s, Hezbollah proved its capability and lethality. But Assad's support for Hezbollah's terrorism was not unconditional. He expected to maintain a tight grip over the group. When, on July 19, 1982, Hezbollah, acting under Iranian direction but without Syrian knowledge kidnapped David Dodge, the acting president of American University in Beirut, Assad was furious and threatened to expel the IRGC from Lebanon.[2] Damascus and Tehran also sparred over Hezbollah's June 14, 1985 threat to execute hijacked TWA flight 847 passengers on the tarmac of Beirut International Airport. On June 17, 1987, Syrian troops beat Hezbollah members for kidnapping ABC correspondent Charles Glass near a Syrian checkpoint[3] and, later that year, Syrian troops shot twenty-seven Hezbollah fighters after they refused to obey a Syrian officer's order to remove a West Beirut checkpoint.[4] Clashes the following year between Amal and Hezbollah reflected continuing tension between Damascus and Tehran. Still, such tension was the exception, not the norm, and improving processes to resolve conflicts improved their working relationship. Assad began to see Hezbollah not only as a "resistance movement" but also as a strong Lebanese political force.[5]

Transforming Hezbollah
On October 22, 1989, Lebanese deputies meeting in Saudi Arabia signed the Ta'if accord, a compromise brokered by the Syrian government and mediated by Saudi and Algerian diplomats, ending the 15-year Lebanese civil war.

The agreement recognized Syria's "special relationship" with Lebanon, a trusteeship augmented by the May 20, 1991 Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination and the September 1, 1991 Lebanon-Syria Defense and Security agreement.

As the Syrian government exerted more formal suzerainty over Lebanon, Hezbollah clerics such as Secretary-general Hasan Nasrallah and Political Council president Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed understood the need to compromise the party's ideology to adjust to Lebanon's changing circumstances. Although the mission of "Islamizing Lebanon" remained a central tenet of their party, it became a long-term objective. In the more immediate term, Hezbollah sought to become a mainstream political party. At the same time, Damascus sought to use Hezbollah both to pressure Israel for a return of the Golan Heights and to undermine the development of any opposition movement in Lebanon.

Such objectives were difficult to reconcile. How could Syria build Lebanon's state institutions and support Hezbollah's military role? Assad established rules to govern the relationship among the state, Lebanese political forces, and Hezbollah, which the Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon would oversee:[6]

Pro-Syrian officials would staff Lebanese state institutions and the army.
The cabinet of ministers would exclude any anti-Syrian official, and Damascus would retain effective veto power over sensitive government portfolios such as the ministries of the interior, defense, and foreign affairs.
The Syrian chief of intelligence in Lebanon would oversee elections and gerrymander districts to control them.
Hezbollah would take the lead on military operations against Israel but enjoy the implicit political support of the Lebanese government.
Unless otherwise approved by Damascus, Hezbollah would limit its operations to the Israeli-occupied "security zone" in southern Lebanon.
Neither Hezbollah nor the state could use force against the other with Damascus the arbiter in disputes.
Lebanese political parties could pursue their objectives so long as they did not conflict with Syrian policies.
Absent Damascus's approval, no political party could use external forces to advance a political agenda.
While Damascus would supervise Hezbollah's operations against Israel, Hezbollah could decide the timing within windows specified by Damascus.
Hezbollah could capitalize on its resistance role and financial assistance from Iran to advance its political agenda but could not do so at the expense of pro-Syrian parties such as Amal.
Assad, through his intelligence apparatus in Lebanon, enforced those rules. For example, Ghazi Kana‘an, Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, closely oversaw the 1992 and 1996 parliamentary elections. The Lebanese government toed the Syrian line and exiled, jailed, or liquidated major opposition figures.

The year 2000 marked a new phase in the Hezbollah-Syrian relationship. Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon undercut the legitimacy of the Syrian presence. With Syrian encouragement, Hezbollah exerted a claim to Lebanese sovereignty over the mountainous Shebaa Farms.[7]

On June 10, 2000, Hafez al-Assad died; his son Bashar took the reins of power. Though Bashar sought to observe the rules governing Syria's relationship with Lebanon and Hezbollah, he enhanced Hezbollah's political status and power not only by receiving Nasrallah warmly in Damascus but also by supplying Hezbollah with increasingly sophisticated weaponry.

His rapprochement accelerated after the United States launched military operations against Iraq in March 2003. Assad said he "wished that its [U.S.] military plan would fail in Iraq"[8] and his foreign minister, Farouq al-Shara, told the Syrian parliament that "Syria has a national interest in the expulsion of the invaders from Iraq."[9] Syrian officials turned a blind eye toward jihadist infiltration from and through Syria into Iraq.

Relations between Damascus and the United States deteriorated. On May 3, 2003, the Bush administration sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to Damascus to demand Syria close terrorist organizations' offices, decommission Hezbollah's armed groups in Lebanon, and support the extension of Lebanese army authority throughout southern Lebanon. On December 12, 2003, over State Department objections, the Congress passed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act calling upon Syria "to halt Syrian support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, and stop its development of weapons of mass destruction."[10] With the cosponsorship of the French government and its successful passage, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 placed Lebanon on the international stage with the call for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and for Hezbollah to be disarmed.[11]

Encouraged by these events, many Lebanese sought to reclaim their country from Syrian occupation. While Damascus sought to extend the mandate of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud and accelerated the delivery of enhanced Iranian weaponry to Hezbollah, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt began to rally anti-Syrian politicians.[12]

The Syrian regime fought back. It responded, according to the suspicion of many governments and U.N. investigators, by ordering the February 14, 2005 assassination of Hariri, which sparked mass protests—the so-called Cedar Revolution.[13] Several bombings, assassinations, and violent clashes followed in subsequent months. But, under significant international pressure, on April 26, 2005, Syrian forces officially withdrew from Lebanon.

Damascus still used Lebanon's state institutions to support and give political cover to Hezbollah, which opposed the Cedar Revolution, and directed Lebanon's state security apparatus to support logistically the arming of Hezbollah. [14] The directors of institutions who provided safe routes for shipping arms by land and air and those who interceded to handle emergency cases included such pro-Syrian officials as Brig. Gen. Jamil Sayyed, the chief of the General Security Department (known as Sûreté General); Gen. Edward Mansour, director-general of the State Security Apparatus; Gen. Ali Hajj, chief of the Internal Security Forces; Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar, chief of Military Intelligence; Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan, commander of the army's presidential brigade; and Col. Ghassan Tufeili, chief of the "Eavesdrop Apparatus" in Military Intelligence.[15] Syrian rearmament not only of Hezbollah but also of Palestinian groups in Lebanon such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and the Abu Musa Organization coincided with the Lebanese debate about their disarmament.

Perhaps Syrian officials hoped that their campaign of violence and intimidation would demonstrate that only Damascus could prevent Lebanon from descending into chaos. Syrian actions both undercut Lebanon's national dialogue and undermined the argument that Hezbollah needed to disarm. The Israel Defense Forces launched air raids against Palestinian terrorist bases in Lebanon on May 28, 2006, to retaliate against rocket attacks on its northern border. Lahoud responded by commending Hezbollah's "resistance" and criticized political forces calling for the party's disarmament.[16]

A New Relationship for a New Reality
As international pressure increased on both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah,[17] both parties retrenched their relationship. Their intimacy metamorphosed into a quasi-strategic relationship in which Hezbollah no longer remained the junior partner. Though Damascus could count on pro-Syrian officers in Lebanon's state institutions and pro-Syrian forces and parties, the Syrian army's withdrawal from Lebanon and the consolidation of a Lebanese nationalist opposition in parliament to the Syrian presence undercut Syria's position. Damascus needed Hezbollah should Syria wish to reclaim its "historical" role in Lebanon. And, while Syrian intelligence could activate its Palestinian allies inside Lebanon, these were not organic to Lebanon's society. Only Hezbollah could serve as the Trojan horse which could bring Syria back into Lebanon.

Recommitment to Iran accompanied Assad's increasing ties to Hezbollah. On February 26, 2004, the Syrian and Iranian governments signed a "memorandum of understanding" to outline expansion of bilateral defense cooperation—and to codify an Iranian commitment to protect Syria in case of attack by either Israel or the United States.[18] Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's January 2006 trip to Damascus further underlined the relationship.[19] In June 2006, the two countries signed a defense treaty. Cooperation between Tehran and Damascus continues to increase with both countries signing an additional defense protocol underlining their joint approach toward the United States and Israel.[20] In this approach, Hezbollah is a shared tool.

But whereas the Syrian regime sees its struggle as a fight for survival, the Iranian leadership is angling for regional hegemony. Damascus is the linchpin in the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis. Its location allows Syria to extend Iran's reach into the Levant, as well as to provide Arab nationalist cover for Iranian regional ambitions. But Syria is also the junior partner in the alliance. In the words of former Syrian vice-president Abdel Halim Khaddam: "Bashar Assad is not a strategic ally of Iran but only a strategic tool."[21] As Syrian troops left Lebanon, Damascus lost leverage over Hezbollah and some Palestinian groups operating there.

Still, the Syrian-Hezbollah relationship is important.[22] Hezbollah provides a means by which the Syrian government can exert pressure on the government of Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora. The group has impeded his ability to appoint anti-Syrian officials to sensitive posts. The Syrian government has also used Hezbollah to break the unity of Cedar Revolution forces. Hezbollah has significant room to maneuver as many Lebanese remain reluctant to confront it over its demands, fearing the renewal of civil and sectarian strife which cost 150,000 lives during the 1975-90 civil war.

It is in this context that the summer 2006 war erupted. Given the history of the Hezbollah-Syrian relationship and the recent subversive activities allegedly orchestrated by Syria in Lebanon, it is likely that senior Syrian officials knew beforehand about Hezbollah's cross-border operation into Israel that sparked the crisis. At the same time, it is also plausible that Hezbollah carried out the operation in order to deflect growing Lebanese domestic criticism over its arms and to highlight the need to preserve the party as a militia to defend Lebanon.[23] The two explanations are not mutually exclusive.

In the wake of the summer 2006 war, Hezbollah consolidated its position. Its ability to launch a war unilaterally undermined the position of Siniora's government as did the resulting political crisis although the war did create grumbling about Iran's sacrifice of Lebanon for greater Shi‘i interests.[24] The war augmented Hezbollah's stature—and therefore Syrian and Iranian influence—within Lebanon. In an article in An-Nahar, Mona Fayed, a Lebanese University professor, asked "Who is a Shiite in Lebanon today?" and suggested it is someone "who terrorizes coreligionists into silence and leads the nation into catastrophe without consulting anyone."[25] However, some officials, such as Christian leader Michel Aoun, sought closer alliance with Hezbollah and adopted many of their demands.[26]

The Syrian government has not hesitated to ride the wave of victory which Hezbollah claimed. While Nasrallah's declaration of victory may have been spurious given the destruction wrought upon both Lebanese infrastructure and Hezbollah members—he himself declared "had I known about the scope of Israel's response, we would not have kidnapped the two soldiers"[27]—the group could argue that not only had the Israeli government failed to achieve their objectives,[28] but Hezbollah had also become the first Arab "army" since 1948 to attack Haifa.

Assad embraced the new Hezbollah strategy. In an August 15, 2006 speech to the Syrian Journalists Union in Damascus, he supported Arab resistance as the new paradigm of Arab nationalist struggle against a weakened Israel. He criticized Arab leaders as "half men" who brought humiliation to the Arab world and lauded Hezbollah's achievements by reaffirming Syria's support of the "legitimacy of the central role of resistance as a viable alternative to conflict resolution when peace negotiations fail."[29] The Syrian leadership, which sought until summer 2006 to maintain a balance between its relationship with Iran and Arab states, has now cast its lot with Tehran.

Whatever semblance of national unity Lebanon had exhibited during the summer crisis dissipated upon the end of the crisis. Recriminations and counter-recriminations became a staple of Lebanese politics. At the heart of this charged political climate has been both a clash over the attempt by the government in Beirut and its Cedar Revolution allies to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions and establish an international tribunal[30] and also to prepare for the 2007 presidential elections which could create a showdown over whether or not the titular head of state remains a Syrian proxy. At a minimum, Hezbollah seeks veto power over government decisions under the pretext of national unity;[31] at a maximum, Hezbollah desires the collapse of the Siniora government. It was in this context that on November 30, 2006, Nasrallah called for a mass protest and sit-in in Beirut to topple the prime minister's government,[32] an action which many Lebanese nationalist activists labeled a "Syrian coup attempt."[33] Sporadic clashes continue.[34]

While the outcome of the struggle between pro- and anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon is unclear, the struggle reflects Syria's diminished status in the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis. On February 8, 2007, Lebanese authorities detained a truck transporting weapons to Hezbollah in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. Hezbollah confirmed that the weapons belonged to it but reiterated its right to fight to liberate "the remainder of occupied territories,"[35] a position the Lebanese cabinet endorsed before it supported U.N. Resolution 1701.[36] While the Lebanese government is emboldened to confront Syrian interests, Hezbollah's position remains secure. Given increased polarization of Lebanon's society, the group has become impervious to compromise.

Lebanese authorities have moved instead to confront other Syrian proxies. On February 13, 2007, terrorists bombed two commuter buses in Ain Alaq, a Christian town north of Beirut, killing three people and wounding twenty. Lebanese authorities arrested three Syrians, who confessed to being members of a new jihadist organization called Fatah al-Islam, and charged them with carrying out the bombing.[37] In May and June 2007, the same group became the focal point of an uprising in the Palestinian Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.[38] The Lebanese government, despite threats from Hezbollah,[39] continues to pursue formation of an international tribunal to hold Syrian officials accountable for Hariri's assassination. Hezbollah might have once been, in part, a Syrian proxy, but it is no longer the most vulnerable member of the axis. Syria is. While by no means sovereign, Hezbollah's embrace of Lebanese nationalism has augmented its stature at Syria's expense. Addressing members of parliament sympathetic to Siniora and to his demands for Syrian accountability, Hezbollah parliamentarian Ali Ammar remarked that the "sovereignty of Lebanon precedes the sovereignty of international institutions."[40] While Assad likewise ruled out cooperation with the international tribunal,[41] Hezbollah's obstructionism has become a more serious impediment to the tribunal's formation than Syrian complaints.

Patterns and Expectations
While Hezbollah may appear to be operating in Lebanon to safeguard the interests of the Syrian regime, deeper analysis suggests that Hezbollah's actions go beyond either protecting the Syrian regime or forcing the collapse of the Beirut government. Hezbollah has escalated its political brinkmanship far beyond what is needed to counteract the government's policies.

Hezbollah has, for example, changed its position on several sensitive national matters. Hezbollah denied that it ever supported Siniora's seven-point plan to end hostilities between it and Jerusalem in August 2006. It has tried to preempt the Lebanese government from placing the Shebaa Farms under U.N. jurisdiction in the event that Israel withdraws from the territory. After failing on January 23, 2007, to grind transportation to a halt in its attempt to extend authority over the entire country, Hezbollah dropped its demand that the pro-Syrian opposition should possess eleven ministries, giving it an effective veto. This is not a good sign: Rather than compromise with the Siniora government, Hezbollah is staking out a more maximalist position to eschew cooperation and instead dominate the country and transform its political character into an Iranian-style fundamentalist state. Nasrallah's speech of April 8, 2007, in which he sarcastically questioned whether or not to give the majority forces of the current government one-third of the cabinet seats in the forthcoming legislative elections, attests to his ambition to dominate Lebanon.[42]

To accomplish this, Hezbollah and its allies have called for more "democratic" measures, which they believe would advance the group's power: early national elections, direct presidential elections, and policy by referendum.[43] As the Shi‘a claim a plurality, Hezbollah believes that such measures could translate into irreversible power. At the same time, the group couples its quest for such reforms with its traditional reliance on military measures. Naim Qassem, Hezbollah's deputy secretary-general, brags that Hezbollah has "rebuilt its defenses in a way to respond to any new Israeli attack."[44] By keeping Lebanon in constant sociopolitical and military flux, Hezbollah believes it can whittle away at the power of the majority.

Against this backdrop, it becomes difficult to conceive that Damascus is behind Hezbollah's political challenge. This is not to deny that Damascus could use its agents in Lebanon to wreak havoc. But the reality is that Damascus—in contrast to the 1980s and 1990s—can no longer match its ability to inflict damage on Lebanon with an ability to force the major parties in the country (particularly Hezbollah) to reconcile as it did in 1989 when it helped broker the Ta'if accord. Syria's role in Lebanon today is far less powerful than it was then.

Rather, it is Tehran that is orchestrating and backing both Hezbollah and Assad's moves. The Iranian government is confident that the Bush administration is in deep crisis in the Middle East and will not be able to regain its capacity to "manage" the region before its term ends in January 2009. It also feels secure in its new influence in Lebanon where Tehran's agents have consolidated a state within a state. Here, the Islamic Republic has adopted Damascus's former role in the country and is sending a message to Washington as well as to Arab capitals that there can be no resolution to the crisis in Lebanon without Iranian involvement.

Robert G. Rabil is director of graduate studies and an assistant professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. His most recent book is Syria, the United States, and the War on Terror in the Middle East (Praeger, 2006).

[1] Judith Palmer Harik, Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), p. 38.
[2] Robert Baer, "It's Not Syria's Problem Anymore," Newsweek International, Aug. 14, 2006.
[3] Ibid; Magnus Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), pp. 99-100.
[4] For a Hezbollah account of the incident, see Naim Qassem, Hizbullah: The Story from Within (London: Saqi, 2005), p. 240.
[5] Robert G. Rabil, "The Evolution of Hizbollah-Syrian Relations," paper presented at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA CORP), Oct. 27, 2006 and at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, CNO Executive Panel, U.S. Department of Navy, Nov. 17, 2006.
[6] Harik, Hezbollah, pp. 43-52.
[7] Gary C. Gambill, "Syria and the Shebaa Farms Dispute," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, May 2001.
[8] As-Safir (Beirut), Mar. 27, 2003.
[9] Alfred B. Prados, Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues, Congressional Research Service (Washington: The Library of Congress, Oct. 10, 2003), p. 6.
[10] Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, Public Law 108–175, Dec. 12, 2003.
[11] U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1559, Sept. 2, 2004.
[12] Daily Star (Beirut), Jan. 29, Feb. 3, 2006.
[13] Peter Fitzgerald, "Report of the Fact-finding Mission to Lebanon Inquiring into the Causes, Circumstances and Consequences of the Assassination of Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri," United Nations, New York, Mar. 24, 2005; Detlev Mehlis, "Report of the International Independent Investigation Commission Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1595 (2005)," United Nations, New York, Oct. 21, 2005 (hereafter "Mehlis Report.")
[14] Interviews by the author with a senior Lebanese army official and political activist, Beirut, June 30, July 10, 2006.
[15] Interview by the author with a senior Lebanese army official, Beirut, July 10, 2006; An-Nahar (Beirut), Mar. 3, 2005.
[16] Lahoud's statements on Lebanese Broadcasting Company International (LBCI) May 28, 29, 30, 2006.
[17] See U.N. Security Council S/Res/1636 (2005) and S/Res/1644 (2005); "Mehlis Report."
[18] Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA, Tehran), Feb. 29, 2004.
[19] Daily Star (Beirut), Jan. 20, 2006.
[20] An-Nahar, Mar. 13, 2007.
[21] Al-Mustaqbal (Beirut), June 5, 2006.
[22] Interview by the author with a senior Lebanese army official, Beirut, July 10, 2006.
[23] Emile El-Hokayem, "Hizballah and Syria: Outgrowing the Proxy Relationship," The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007.
[24] Jihad al-Zein's letter, An-Nahar, July 26, 2006.
[25] An-Nahar, Aug. 7, 2006, in Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Special Dispatch Series, no. 1258, Aug. 22, 2006.
[26] An-Nahar, Aug. 16, Sept. 25, Dec. 2, 2006; United Press International, Nov. 20, 2006.
[27] An-Nahar, Aug. 28, 2006.
[28] "Winograd Commission Interim Report," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Apr. 30, 2007; Ha'artez (Tel Aviv), May 18, 2007.
[29] Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA, Damascus), Aug. 15, 2006.
[30] UNSCR 1559, Sept. 2, 2004; UNSCR 1701, Aug. 11, 2006.
[31] An-Nahar, Mar. 10, 2007.
[32] Al-Manar television (Beirut), Nov. 30, 2006.
[33] Al-Mustaqbal, Nov. 30, 2006.
[34] As-Safir, Jan. 24, 25, 2007; An-Nahar, Jan. 24, 25, 2007.
[35] An-Nahar, Feb. 9, 2007.
[36] As-Safir, July 26, 2005.
[37] As-Siyassa (Kuwait), Mar. 6, 2007.
[38] BBC News, May 21, 2007; Al-Jazeera (Riyadh), May 20, 2007.
[39] See Nasrallah speech, Al-Intiqad (Beirut), Apr. 11, 2007.
[40] Al-Intiqad, May 18, 2007.
[41] Al-Jazeera, May 30, 2007;, May 10, 2007.
[42] Al-Intiqad, Apr. 11, 2007.
[43] An-Nahar, Apr. 10, May 1, 2007.
[44] An-Nahar, May 6, 2007.