DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 9,9-13. As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."
In Lebanon, Staying Alive in Order to Preserve the Government.By NADA BAKRI. September 21/07
The transformation of Lebanon's Sunnis.By Rayyan al-Shawaf. September 21/07
How not to help 'moderates. By CAROLINE GLICK.Jerusalem Post. September 21/07
Latest News Reports From
Miscellaneous Sources for September 21/07
Tears, Wrath and Determination Mark Ghanem's Funeral-Naharnet
Ghanem's Killing Worries Christians-Naharnet
Thousands in Lebanon attend legislator's funeral.AFP
Lebanon Bids Ghanem Farewell-Naharnet
Beirut mourns murdered MP.Guardian Unlimited
Lebanon: Funeral for Slain Lawmaker.The Associated Press
U.N. Chief Warns Against Two Governments-Naharnet
Rice to Discuss Lebanon, Iran Crises with Kouchner-Naharnet
March 14 for Arab League and U.N. Arrangements to Protect Presidential Elections-Naharnet
Security Council Demands End to Intimidation, Urges Free Elections-Naharnet
Ready for another Mideast war?International Herald Tribune
''Intelligence Brief: Lebanon's Upcoming Presidential Elections''.PINR
In Lebanon, Staying Alive in Order to Preserve the Government.New York Times
Climate of fear after killing of Lebanon MP.Guardian Unlimited
Lebanese leaders seek to ease tension ahead of vote. Reuters
Bush refuses to talk about Israeli strike on Syria.Reuters
Clovis Maksoud: Phoney wars, fiery crises.Al-Ahram Weekly
With friends like these...Al-Ahram Weekly
assassination threatens poll.BBC News
A strange air raid in Syria.International Herald Tribune
Lebanon wants poll on time despite MP's murder.Africasia
Lebanon ratings affirmed with negative outlook - S&P.Forbes
Restoring Israel's deterrence.Ynetnews
Berri, Hariri agree on need to resume dialogue between rival camps-Daily Star
Breaking point: Lebanese mull next step - Daily Star
US 'urges Israel to end airspace violations'.Daily Star
Social conservatism makes saving lives a hard sell
Security Council calls for further steps toward court . Daily Star
Report on the establishment of the Hariri tribuna-Daily Star
Iraqi women wrap up training workshop on gender awareness-Daily Star
Fading greenback adds up to higher prices for Lebanese-Daily Star
Residents describe blast that killed an MP and tore apart their neighborhood-Daily Star
Will the latest assassination affect the battle for Baabda Palace?-Daily Star
59 Fatah al-Islam members charged with terrorism-Daily Star
American forces detain Iranian in northern Iraq.Daily Star
Kouchner offers to visit Iran for talks on nuclear dispute.AFP
mourns murdered MP
Mark Tran and agencies
Friday September 21, 2007
Thousands today attended the funeral of an anti-Syrian MP whose assassination has deepened Lebanon's worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Mourners packed the streets in east Beirut, waving the white and green flag of the rightwing Phalange party to which Antoine Ghanem belonged - as did the former industry minister Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated in November.
Party anthems blared from loudspeakers as pallbearers carried Ghanem and his two bodyguards' coffins, draped in Lebanese and Phalange flags, to the Sacre Coeur church.
"This is a crime. We want Lebanon to be free of foreign forces and to be independent. We want the Lebanese to live together as brothers, from all sects," one mourner, Ghaleb Shayya, told Reuters.
Ghanem, 64, who represented the Christian party, and six others died in a car bomb attack on Wednesday.
The killing, which drew widespread international condemnation, has deepened fears that the divided country may lurch into further political turmoil.
The timing of the assassination, the sixth anti-Syrian politician to die since a truck bomb killed the former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, came just days before parliament meets to elect a new president.
The death of Ghanem means the ruling alliance of Sunni, Christian and Druze factions - with 68 MPs in the 128-member assembly - now has only a slim majority over the opposition bloc that includes the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hizbullah.
Rival leaders last night reportedly discussed how to defuse a 10-month-old political crisis that has paralysed Lebanon's institutions, but it was highly unlikely they could strike a deal in time for next week's vote.
"Things have not collapsed but more time is needed to ease tension. A compromise is still possible, eventually," said a senior opposition source.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, this week warned that the failure to elect a new president could lead to two governments and two presidents, "a very worrisome situation for the peace and security of not only Lebanon, but also peace and security in the region".
The president, who is elected for a one-off six-year term, has limited powers. But the post, which is reserved for the country's Maronite Christian minority, is ostensibly seen as a figure of unity.
The US-backed government led by the prime minister, Faoud Siniora, is looking to parliament to elect someone less pro-Syria than the current president, Emile Lahoud. MPs allied to the prime minister appealed to the world to protect Lebanon from what they called a "new war" by Syria.
"The Syrian regime has taken the decision to bring down the Lebanese republic," the anti-Syrian coalition said in a statement released after a meeting yesterday. "It has assigned its intelligence agencies to liquidate the lawmakers."
Damascus has denied any involvement in Ghanem's death or in the recent spate of assassinations.
"Of course, we condemn the Lebanese assassination," Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, said yesterday.
pays final respects to slain anti-Syrian MP
by Rana Moussaoui
BEIRUT (AFP) - Lebanese politicians and thousands of mourners turned out Friday for the funeral of anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem, whose assassination has raised tensions in the runup to a key presidential vote.
"Lebanon's soil has been drenched with the blood of our martyrs, but those who wish evil for Lebanon, who will not stop until they are deterred, will be deterred," vowed former president Amin Gemayel, fighting back tears, as he addressed mourners packed into the Sacred Heart church east of Beirut.
"Your (Ghanem's) martyrdom is but an incentive to carry out the presidential election," added Gemayel, referring to a vote in parliament next Tuesday to replace the current pro-Syrian head of state Emile Lahoud, whose mandate expires in November.
Apart from Gemayel, whose own son industry minister Pierre was slain last November, ruling majority leaders Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, Samir Geagea and others attended the funeral held under tight security. Gemayel said he feared the long-running crisis between the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition would lead to the country's division and charged that the standoff over the presidency was "just meant to end the Christian role at the top of the state."
Lebanon's presidency is traditionally reserved for the Maronites, the country's largest Christian community.
In an emotional eulogy, Ghanem's eldest daughter Mounia said: "I want to address the killer with my own sharp weapon -- prayer. "My father dedicated his life to Lebanon until his martyrdom," she said. After the ceremony, Ghanem's coffin, draped in the Lebanese and his Christian Phalange party flags, were taken for burial along with those of his two slain bodyguards. Ghanem was buried in the cemetery of the nearby Furn el-Shebak neighbourhood.
Thousands of men, women and children, as well as foreign diplomats turned out for the funeral of the 64-year-old member of parliament.
Many wept and waved national or party flags as brass bands played to pay their last respects.Women threw rice and rose petals from balconies as the cortege made its way from the mortuary of the Lebanese Canadian hospital, near the site of Wednesday's bomb blast that killed Ghanem and four others, to Furn el-Shebak.
"Ya habibi (my love), Ya habibi," cried out Ghanem's widow Lola as his coffin was carried out from the hospital. "We are all desperate," said mourner Siham, in her 40s. "We can't keep burying martyrs. Is there no end to these assassinations?"Flags flew at half mast and schools and businesses were shut after the government declared a day of official mourning for the funeral. It was the second assassination to hit the Phalange party in the past 12 months, after Pierre Gemayel was gunned down last November. Leaders from all sides of the political spectrum have vowed to go ahead with the controversial presidential vote on Tuesday despite the assassination which drew condemnation from around the world. Pro-government MPs in Beirut have pointed a finger of blame at Syria, which denied any involvement and said the bombing was a "criminal act" aimed at undermining efforts at a rapprochement with Lebanon.
Fearing for his life, Ghanem and dozens of other MPs from the ruling majority had fled into exile following the assassination in June of another anti-Syrian lawmaker. Ghanem had returned to Lebanon just three days before the attack on his life.
He was the eighth anti-Syrian politician to be assassinated since the February 2005 murder of five-time prime minister and billionaire tycoon Rafiq Hariri.
The authorities have prepared emergency accommodation for fearful MPs in a special high-security wing of a luxury Beirut hotel.
Senior Phalangist official Joseph Abu Khalil said the attack was clearly aimed at cutting the number of pro-government MPs to derail the presidential election.
Ghanem's death reduced the government's support in parliament to 68 out of the remaining 127 MPs, with numbers set to play a key role in the vote.
Failure by the parties to choose a consensus candidate for the presidency could spark a dangerous power vacuum or even the naming of two rival governments -- a grim reminder of the final years of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon Bids Ghanem Farewell
Lebanon was in mourning on Friday for the funeral of anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem whose assassination threatened to derail bids to elect a new head of state.
Ghanem, a 64-year lawyer who served in parliament since 2000, was killed along with five other people in a massive car bombing on Wednesday in the Beirut surburb of Sin el-Fil.
The funeral procession for Ghanem and two of his guards who were killed with him is to head for the Furn el-Shebak district in mainly Christian east Beirut where he had his constituency and then to Sacre Coeur church in nearby Badaro.
The other two victims of the blast, which also injured about 70 people, were a grandmother drinking coffee with the family on her balcony and a young executive driving home from work.
One was buried on Thursday. The other was to be laid to rest separately on Friday.
Ghanem belonged to the Christian Phalange party of former President Amin Gemayal, whose own son, Industry Minister Pierre, was killed last November.
The government declared a day of official mourning to coincide with the funeral, with flags on official buildings to be flown at half-mast. All schools and universities were ordered closed on both Thursday and Friday.
On the political front, Lebanon has vowed to go ahead with the controversial presidential vote scheduled for next Tuesday despite the assassination which drew condemnation from around the world.
The election comes amid political deadlock between Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's cabinet and the pro-Damascus opposition.
U.S. President George Bush condemned what he called "a tragic pattern" of attacks against champions of "an independent and democratic Lebanon" while U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon condemned a "brutal assassination."
Pro-government MPs in Beirut have pointed a finger of blame at Syria, which denied any involvement and said the bombing was a "criminal act" aimed at undermining efforts at a rapprochement with Lebanon.
Hizbullah, the leading party in the opposition, said the assassination was "a blow to the country's security and stability as well as any attempt at reconciliation" and called for feuding political parties to show unity.
Saniora urged the United Nations to investigate Ghanem's killing as part of its probe into similar murders of anti-Syrian figures including former premier Rafik Hariri who was assassinated in 2005.
Fearing for his life, Ghanem had fled into exile following the assassination in June of another anti-Syrian MP, and returned to Lebanon only on Sunday.
He was the eighth anti-Syrian politician to be assassinated since the February 2005 murder of five-time prime minister and billionaire tycoon Hariri.
The authorities have prepared emergency accommodation for fearful MPs in a special high-security wing of a luxury Beirut hotel.
Ghanem's death reduced the government's support in parliament to 68 out of the remaining 127 MPs, with numbers set to play a key role in the presidential vote.
Senior Phalangist official Joseph Abu Khalil said the attack was clearly aimed at cutting the number of pro-government MPs to derail the vote.
A candidate, who by convention comes from the Maronite Christian community, needs a two-thirds majority to be elected president from a first round of voting, while a simple majority is enough in any later round.
An election can be held right up until the final deadline of November 24, but if the president's seat is left vacant, his powers are automatically transferred to the government.(AFP) Beirut, 21 Sep 07, 07:16
Wrath and Determination Mark Ghanem's Funeral
Despite the mounting death threat, March 14 leaders took part with a sea of mourners Friday in the funeral of anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem amidst calls for Arab and international protection to enable the nation's legislators elect a new president and safeguard the state.
Ex-President Amin Gemayel, supreme leader of the Phalange Party of which the slain Ghanem was member, said the killing mandates the Arab League and the international community to "protect the presidential elections and save the Republic of Lebanon."
Druze leader Walid Jumblat, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and al-Moustaqbal Movement's Saad Hariri along with other prominent anti-Syrian figures ventured out of their heavily-guarded residences to take part in the funeral of Ghanem, an ally who was assassinated by a powerful car bomb explosion on Wednesday.
Gemayel said Ghanem's "martyrdom is a new incentive to hold presidential elections irrespective of the cost … There will be no entente if elections were not held."
Any Mp who boycotts the forthcoming presidential elections "will be held responsible for his act by the people, the nation and history," Gemayel added.
He stressed that Ghanem's slaying is "a message to the Arab league, the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council to protect the democratic practice of electing a president and save the Republic of Lebanon, for there will be no republic with only ministers and parliamentary deputies. The president of the republic is the state symbol."He said boycotting the forthcoming election of a head of state is also aimed at "finishing off the Christians' role on top of the state helm and creating (power) vacuum which I fear would lead to partitioning Lebanon."He stressed that "this is what is wanted by those who boycott the presidential elections, especially Christian MPs.""Wouldn't any MP who boycotts the presidential election feel that he is assassinating Antoine Ghanem and the other martyrs one way or the other?" Gemayel asked. "Entente," Gemayel stressed, "starts with the election of a new president."
Church bells tolled as waves of mourners clapped to salute the coffins of Ghanem and his two body guards draped in Lebanese flags and carried into the packed Sacred Heart church in east Beirut's Badaro district. Family members, friends, and prominent leaders from the ruling majority along with Arab and foreign diplomats, stood somberly in the Maronite church as the coffins were placed near the altar. Outside the church, thousands of mourners gathered, many weeping and waving Lebanese flags and the banner's of Ghanem's Phalange party, the Lebanese Forces and Jumblat's Progressive Socialist party.
Women threw rice and rose petals from balconies when the cortege made its way from the morgue of the Lebanese Canadian hospital, near the site of Wednesday's bomb blast that killed Ghanem and four others, to the Furn el-Shebak neighborhood near Badaro. "Ya habibi (my love), Ya habibi," shrieked out Ghanem's widow, Lola, as his coffin was carried out from the hospital. "We are all desperate," said mourner Siham, in her 40s. "We can't keep burying martyrs. Is there an end to these assassinations?"Flags flew at half mast and schools and businesses were shut after the government declared a day of official mourning for the funeral.
Apart from Ghanem and his guards, the other two victims of the blast were a grandmother drinking coffee with the family on her balcony and a young executive driving home from work. One was buried on Thursday. The other was to be laid to rest separately on Friday.
It was the second assassination to hit the Phalange party in the past 12 months. Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was killed last November.
Leaders from all sides of the political spectrum have vowed to go ahead with the controversial presidential vote scheduled for next Tuesday despite the assassination which drew condemnation from around the world. The election comes amid political deadlock between the Western-backed cabinet and the pro-Damascus opposition. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon in an interview with the leading daily an-Nahar, warned that the naming of two rival governments in Lebanon would be the "worst case scenario" and called for the timely election of a new president.
Pro-government MPs in Beirut have pointed an accusing finger at Syria, which denied any involvement and said the bombing was a "criminal act" aimed at undermining efforts at a rapprochement with Lebanon. Hizbullah, the leading party in the opposition, said the assassination was "a blow to the country's security and stability as well as any attempt at reconciliation" and urged the feuding political parties to show unity. Fearing for his life, Ghanem had fled into exile following the assassination in June of another anti-Syrian MP, and returned to Lebanon only on Sunday. He was the eighth anti-Syrian politician to be assassinated since the February 2005 murder of five-time Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The authorities have prepared emergency accommodation for fearful MPs in a special high-security wing of a luxury Beirut hotel.
Senior Phalange Party official Joseph Abu Khalil said the attack was clearly aimed at cutting the number of pro-government MPs to derail the vote.
Ghanem's death reduced the government's support in parliament to 68 out of the remaining 127 MPs, with numbers set to play a key role in the presidential vote.
An election can be held right up until the final deadline of November 24, but if the president's seat is left vacant, his powers are automatically transferred to the government. Failure by the parties to choose a consensus candidate for the presidency could spark a dangerous power vacuum or even the naming of two rival governments -- a grim reminder of the final years of the 1975-1990 civil war.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 21 Sep 07, 15:45
Ghanem's Killing Worries Christians
Lebanese Christians said on Friday that the murder of yet another Christian MP was aimed at reducing their community's historically prominent role but balked at being dragged into another civil war. "There is a general feeling that we are targeted as Christians," cried a mourner who did not wish to be identified during the funeral of Antoine Ghanem, the anti-Syrian MP who was killed in a car bombing on Wednesday.
"I am convinced that those who carried out this assassination wanted it to be a trap in order to push the Christians to react violently," she said, as pallbearers carried the coffins of Ghanem and his two slain bodyguards. "They want to plunge the country into another civil war, but we will not let them do that," she said, wiping a tear from her face. Ghanem was the eighth anti-Syrian politician to be assassinated since the February 2005 murder of Sunni Muslim prime minister Rafik Hariri. Six of them were Christians.Rabih, a 30-year-old member of the Lebanese Forces party, stood in anger as he watched pallbearers carrying the coffin into the nearby Sacred Heart church. "They are specifically targeting the Phalange (Christian party) and the Lebanese Forces," he said. "We are always the first ones to say 'no,' so they are making us pay the price of our battle for an independent Lebanon," he said while nervously crumpling a Lebanese Forces flag.
Many mourners accused Syria of Ghanem's assassination. They also voiced anger with the Damascus-backed Lebanese opposition led by the Shiite militant Hizbullah and including followers of popular Christian leader Michel Aoun. "Hizbullah terrorist. You donkey, Bashar al-Assad," a group of young men shouted, referring to the Syrian head of state. "They are killing us because they want the (anti-Syrian parliamentary) majority to become a minority, and the minority to become the majority," said Joanna, 20.
"They want the next Lebanese president to be under the orders of Syria and Iran," she said. "Damascus does not want the Christians to be united, because they do not want a united Lebanon," said her friend Fadi. For others, it is the entire ruling majority -- grouping Muslims and Christians -- which was targeted.
Leila, a resident of Ain el-Remmaneh district near the former green line that separated Beirut's Christian east from the capital's mostly Muslim west during the 1975-1990 civil war, said "the enemies of Lebanon want the Muslims and the Christians to remain divided." "They are attacking us because for once we are united," she said.
And in an emotionally charged speech during the funeral mass for Ghanem earlier Friday, former president Amine Gemayel said he feared that the standoff over the presidency was "just meant to end the Christian role at the top of the state." Gemayel's own son, Pierre, numbered among the Christian figures slain since the Hariri assassination. He was serving as industry minister when he was gunned down last November. Lebanon, the only Arab country with a Christian head of state, traditionally elects its president from the Maronite Catholic community. The prime minister is traditionally a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.(AFP) Beirut, 21 Sep 07, 17:34
Ghanem's Bomb Killed and Wounded 97 people
The Hospitals' League released Friday the casualty toll for the car bomb blast that killed anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem two days ago.
It said Wednesday's lethal attack in east Beirut's suburb of Sin el-Fil killed five people and wounded 92. The detailed list said 54 people were treated at emergency wards of nine hospitals from wounds and were allowed to leave the same day of the blast. According to the list, 33 people were hospitalized , 17 of them remained in three hospitals by Friday. The blast killed Ghanem, his two body guards and two passers by. All the wounded, with the exception of one who remains in critical condition, were not related to the targeted MP. Beirut, 21 Sep 07, 16:04
Security Council Demands End to Intimidation, Urges Free Elections
The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned Wednesday's "terrorist attack" in Sin el-Fil that killed six people, including MP Antoine Ghanem, and demanded an end to intimidation of Lebanese elected officials.
In a presidential statement read out by Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France, which holds the rotating presidency this month, the Council also called for the holding of free and fair presidential elections "in conformity with Lebanese constitutional norms and schedules and without any foreign interference."
The 15-member body reiterated its condemnation of all targeted assassinations of the country's leaders that have taken place, including those since October 2004.
It appealed for an "end to the use of intimidation and violence against representatives of the Lebanese people and institutions."
"Any attempt to destabilize the country, such as through these targeted attacks, must not be allowed to impede or subvert Lebanon's constitutional process," Ripert said. The statement also commended "the determination and the commitment of the Government of Lebanon to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of this and other assassinations." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he was "shocked by the brutal assassination" of Ghanem.
"Such acts of terrorism aim at undermining Lebanon's stability and are unacceptable," he said. "Lebanon has suffered far too many such attempts."
Bomb Explodes in Baalbek
A small bomb exploded in the Bekaa Valley's ancient town of Baalbek early Friday, inflicting damage, but causing no casualties.
The state-run National News Agency said the bomb went off at 3:20 a.m. in Baalbek's Shrawneh neighborhood near shops that sell vegetables.
The explosion inflicted damage to the shops, the main road and some surrounding property, NNA reported. The short report did not disclose further details beyond stating that an investigation was launched.
Brammertz Back in Beirut After Ghanem's Killing
U.N. Chief investigator Serge Brammertz flew into Beirut Friday from Dubai, the state-run National News Agency report.
The short report did not disclose further details.
Observers, however, noted that Brammertz flew into Beirut two days after the car bomb assassination of anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem.
The Belgian judge, who leads a probe into the 2005 slaying of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes, was in the United Arab Emirates, where the late Ghanem had been residing until his return to Beirut on Sunday evening.
The government of Premier Fouad Saniora had referred Ghanem's murder to the U.N. investigation which covers the serial killings and killing attempts that have targeted anti-Syrian Lebanese figures since Oct. 1, 2004. Beirut, 21 Sep 07, 17:17
leaders seek to ease tension ahead of vote
By Nadim Ladki
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Rival Lebanese leaders held discussions on Thursday to defuse rising tension a day after the assassination of an anti-Syrian lawmaker threatened to derail efforts to elect a new president. But political sources maintained that a parliament session planned for next week to choose a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud would not yield the necessary quorum for a vote and the election would be postponed. A two-third quorum in the 128-seat assembly requires a political agreement between the anti-Syria coalition that holds a slight majority and the opposition that includes Hezbollah, supported by Syria and Iran. The sources said Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an opposition leader allied to Damascus, discussed the fallout of Wednesday's assassination of Christian MP Antoine Ghanem with majority leader Saad al-Hariri, who is backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, in a telephone conversation.
"Things are still under control," a senior opposition source said. But he said it was virtually impossible that an agreement would be in place in time to hold the presidential election on Tuesday. "Things have not collapsed but more time is needed to ease tension. A compromise is still possible, eventually," the source said. Parliament has until November 23 to elect a president. Government ministers affirmed their "commitment to holding the presidential elections on time," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said after an emergency ministerial meeting. "Terrorism will not intimidate us," he said.
The U.N. Security Council called for the election to be held within the constitutional time frame and without foreign interference despite the killing of Ghanem, which it said was a "terrorist attack.""On the eve of the crucial period of the presidential election any attempt to destabilize Lebanon, including through political assassination or other terrorist acts, should not impede or subvert the constitutional process in Lebanon," a Council statement said.
TRAIL OF BLOOD
Ghanem was the seventh anti-Syrian figure to be killed since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Ghanem's allies were quick to blame Syria for the latest bombing. Damascus condemned it.
His death cut the anti-Syrian coalition to 68 in the 128-seat parliament -- only three above an absolute majority of 65, whittling away at its leverage in the presidential election.The funeral of Ghanem, who was 64 and died in a car bombing, is set for Friday. The latest bloodshed drew international condemnation while Lebanese newspapers and politicians said the killing had set back efforts to reach a deal on a consensus candidate to replace Lahoud. Berri had called parliament to meet on September 25 to elect the new president but the session will not go ahead without a deal between the governing coalition and opposition. The Shi'ite Muslim speaker also had indirect contact with anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the opposition source said, in a rare reconciliatory gesture.Agreeing on a new president is seen as a step towards ending Lebanon's worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. Efforts to solve the conflict have been complicated by the rivals' ties to competing regional powers. Failure to elect a successor to Lahoud could result in two governments -- one backed by the majority and one by the opposition -- and further destabilize Lebanon. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has asked the United Nations to add the Ghanem killing to other crimes being investigated by a special U.N. commission, Aridi said. (Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, and U.N. bureau
March 14 for Arab League and U.N. Arrangements to Protect Presidential Elections
The March 14 majority alliance on Thursday called on the Arab League and the United Nations to protect Lebanon's forthcoming presidential elections from alleged Syrian attempts to block it, including the slaying of MP Antoine Ghanem. The alliance also pleaded with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to "shoulder your responsibilities" in shepherding the presidential elections by working to dismantle the tent city opposition protest, which is a few meters from parliament headquarters.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Fouad Saniora presided over a ministerial meeting which stressed that the "terrorist" slaying of MP Antoine Ghanem would only reinforce its demand that a parliamentary vote to choose a new president goes ahead on time. "We do not fear terrorism and this will not break our will. It will only reinforce our determination to prevent the terrorists from succeeding," said Information Minister Ghazi Aridi.
"This is a terrorist act similar to the terrorist acts against the lives of members of the majority" over the past three years, Aridi told reporters after a ministerial meeting chaired by Saniora. "It cannot be separated from the presidential election... or from attempts to plunge the country into chaos," he said.
"But we are determined to hold the election on time," he said, confirming that Berri had said the September 25 date still holds for a parliamentary session to choose a successor to President Emile Lahoud. Aridi said the ruling majority "keeps its hand extended to everybody," in an apparent reference to the country's opposition. "We have to save Lebanon." The March 14 alliance also urged the Hizbullah-led opposition to adopt a "moral stand by supporting the victim … and refraining from covering the Syrian regime with justifications."Parliament is due to convene next Tuesday for the first time in nearly a year amid an almost total deadlock between the pro-Damascus opposition and the Western-backed ruling majority which has accused Syria of Ghanem's murder.
The majority alliance said it was the MPs "duty" to take part in the parliamentary session to elect a new head of state.
It called on the Arab League, the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council to "take all the resolutions and adopt all arrangements in all spheres to guarantee the holding of presidential elections and protecting the republic."It also urged foreign nations to adopt a "decisive stand" regarding the Syrian regime.
Ghanem, killed along with four others in a car bombing on Wednesday in a Beirut suburb, was the eighth member of the anti-Syrian majority to be assassinated since the 2005 murder of former billionaire premier Rafiq Hariri. The majority accused Syria of "physically eliminating the deputies in order to prevent the presidential vote.
"The Syrian regime has taken the decision to destroy Lebanon by blocking government actions, preventing the presidential election, creating chaos and resuming its hegemony over Lebanon," the majority statement said. It called for "massive participation" in Ghanem's funeral on Friday, a day of national mourning.
Beirut, 20 Sep 07, 15:37
Phoenicia Furnished Apartment Bastion Hosts March 14 MPs
The March 14 alliance has rented the furnished Apartment section of Beirut's plush Phoenicia Hotel and changed it into a bastion-like safe residence for its threatened parliamentary deputies who would take part in electing a new president for Lebanon. The building, which is part of the three-block sea-side hotel compound, is now off limits to all non-authorized individuals and would not accept any guests until after the presidential elections, a senior source told Naharnet.
The hotel management, in a statement e-mailed to Naharnet on Thursday, said: "InterContinental Phoenicia remains fully operational and open to all guests."
"While in light of current activities in Beirut, the hotel is operating heightened security measures, contrary to some recent reports these by no way impede the accessibility of the property," the statement added.It stressed that "All Ramadan events such as Iftars and Sohours continue and all restaurants and leisure facilities are welcoming guests as normal."The hotel management concluded by noting that "as always, the safety and welfare of all InterContinental Phoenicia guests remain of paramount importance." It did not disclose further details. However, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said "even MPs representing the opposition and non-March 14 factions would not be allowed into the hotel (furnished apartments building)." The hotel is across the street from site of the explosion that killed ex-Premier Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005. The source said some of the March 14 MPs "have already moved into the Phoenicia (furnished apartment building) which was totally screened, searched and checked in the past 48 hours."The source disclosed that Phalangist MP Antoine Ghanem, assassinated by a car bomb explosion, was "supposed to move into the hotel this (Wednesday) evening."Ghanem returned to Lebanon from Abu Dhabi two days ago. The Phoenicia Hotel is hardly one kilometer south of Parliament compound, where legislators are invited to elect a new head of state as of next Tuesday to succeed President Emile Lahoud, whose extended term in office expires on Nov. 24
Beirut, 19 Sep 07, 21:31
Rice to discuss Lebanon, Iran crises with French FM
21 September 2007 | 02:24 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French counterpart Bernard Kouchner will discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions and turmoil in Lebanon Friday during his first official US visit, a US spokesman said, AFP reported. The two chief diplomats, whose countries have worked closely together on Lebanon and Iran, will also discuss the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's western region of Darfur, State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Thursday.
They will also discuss ongoing international talks on the final status of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo, Casey said.
"Certainly I expect they will have a discussion about Iran and about our joint efforts at the (UN) Security Council and elsewhere to thwart Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions," he said. The UN Security Council's permanent members -- the United States, France, China, Britain and Russia -- plus Germany will meet in Washington Friday to discuss tighter sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
Climate of fear after killing of Lebanon MP
Hugh Macleod in Tripoli
Friday September 21, 2007
The scene of the car bomb attack in Beirut which killed the anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem and six others. Photograph: Wael Hamzeh/EPA
Surrounded by bodyguards, monitored by security cameras and protected by blast doors, Mosbah Ahdab, an MP in Lebanon's parliament, sits in the darkened flat in Tripoli he has rarely left over the past three months ."My constituents call me simply 'the one who dares'," he told the Guardian with a grin that could not quite mask the seriousness of the subject. For Mr Ahdab believes he is a wanted man, a name on the hit-list of Lebanon's assassins, who work, say leading politicians, to the orders of the regime in Syria. "There is a threat. We are hunted, one after the other," said Mr Ahdab, who was one of the few MPs in the western-backed March 14 coalition that swept into government opposing the influence of Damascus not to flee the country this summer.
The assassination on Wednesday of an MP, Antoine Ghanem, two days after he returned to Beirut to join the process of electing a new president has pitched a divided Lebanon further into turmoil. President Emile Lahoud is due to step down by November 24 from a position reserved under Lebanon's constitutional system for a Maronite Christian. However, the government and opposition have yet to agree on a compromise candidate ahead of the reopening of parliament next Tuesday for the first time since Hizbullah withdrew its ministers from cabinet last November, raising fears of two rival governments emerging, or of a military interim head of state.
Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, yesterday, the information minister, Ghazi Aridi, pledged to press ahead with Tuesday's vote. "We are determined to hold the election on time," he said, adding that the ruling majority "keeps its hand extended to everybody," in an apparent reference to the opposition. "We have to save Lebanon."
Yet the murder of Mr Ghanem, the sixth anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated since a truck bomb killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, has reduced the ruling coalition's majority to three."Last year I had many calls from Syria - I could see the number -telling me I was going to be killed if I continued defending my position. Now I just get daily threats by letter," said Ahmed Fatfat, a March 14 (in reference to the date of protests against Syria's role in the country) cabinet minister. Since the killing of former cabinet colleague Pierre Gemayel last November, Mr Fatfat has lived a reclusive life in his offices in the government building in central Beirut, protected by troops.
For Mr Ahdab the watershed came in June with the car bomb that killed MP Waleed Aido, days after the government appointed judges to the UN court set up to try suspects in the assassination of Hariri, whose death triggered protests against Damascus and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
A UN investigation into Hariri's murder has found evidence of the involvement of Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials, a charge denied by Damascus.
"There is a political context to these assassinations you can't avoid," said Mr Ahdab. "The Syrian president has openly linked instability in Lebanon to the Hariri tribunal.""If no president is elected on time there could be another war in Lebanon," said Rita Akeekee, a bank worker who yesterday observed an official day of mourning for Ghanem. "These assassins want to kill the message of a new Lebanon of peace and co- existence."
Mr Ahdab is taking no chances. He has sent his wife and children to Cyprus and hired six bodyguards. There is a roof over his driveway to hide his cars from assassins. When he has to travel he only tells his driver where they are going once on the road, having first removed the battery from his phone, so as not to be tracked.
In Lebanon, Staying Alive in Order to Preserve the Government
By NADA BAKRI
Published: September 21, 2007
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Sept. 20 — Lawmakers from the anti-Syrian governing party, the March 14 Movement, took refuge on Thursday in a landmark hotel near the Parliament building in downtown Beirut because they fear assassination plots aimed at eliminating their razor-thin majority in the House.
The move reflects just how terrified the legislators are after one of their colleagues, Antoine Ghanem, and six others were killed in a powerful car bombing near Beirut on Wednesday. Mr. Ghanem was the fourth member of Parliament and the eighth anti-Syrian figure assassinated since a huge blast killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, setting off a cycle of political crises.
“The problem is now the security of the M.P.s,” said Fares Souaid, a former lawmaker and leader in the March 14 Movement. “Our M.P.s are now locked inside the Phoenicia Hotel under the responsibility of the government and the Internal Security Forces. They will move under their supervision.”
By staying alive, the members can protect a parliamentary majority that will enable the Western-backed coalition to elect one of its own as president. Deliberations will begin next week to replace President Emile Lahoud, who must step down on Nov. 25. The pro-Western government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has been locked in a 10-month power struggle with the Hezbollah-led opposition backed by Iran and Syria. The election for president could play an important role in settling that confrontation, many analysts say. “There is a Syrian terrorism against them because they want to elect a new president,” Mr. Souaid said.
With Mr. Ghanem’s death, the March 14 Movement will control 67 of the 128 seats in parliament; to elect a president outright, it must have a simple majority of 65.
Akram Chehayeb, a legislator with the ruling majority, said his coalition will appeal to the Lebanese Army to ensure the presidential election. “If the army fails to protect us, we will demand an Arab and international protection,” he said. “It could be political and it could be international security forces.” Mr. Chehayeb is said to have taken extra security measures beginning in June, when another legislator from the March 14 Movement, Walid Eido, was killed by a car bomb.
Just few steps from Parliament, protesters have conducted a sit-in for 10 months on behalf of the Hezbollah-led opposition The sit-in is aimed at bringing down Mr. Siniora’s government. The tents in the two main squares in the city’s commercial center are heavily guarded by Hezbollah. The March 14 Movement is now pressing the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, a close ally of Hezbollah, to dismantle the tents, saying they pose a threat on the lives of the legislators.
“We all know that certain things related to security can be happening inside the tents which are not under the authority of the Lebanese government,” Mr. Souaid said.
Across the razor wire, Mr. Siniora and his ministers have for several months been living in the Grand Serail, an Ottoman-era building after a minister, Pierre Gemayel, was killed in November. A number of lawmakers, apparently nervous about the situation, have been outside the country in recent weeks. Mr. Ghanem, the assassinated minister, had returned just two days ago to take part in next week’s Parliament session. Two years ago, Gebran Tueni, another outspoken opponent of Syria, who was killed a day after he returned from Paris.
The governing majority also appealed to the world to protect Lebanon from a “new war” begun against it by Syria. Legislators called on the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council to take measures to ensure that the election for president is held. “The Syrian regime has taken its final decision to bring down the Lebanese republic,” the March 14 Movement said a statement at the end of the meeting. The statement added that Syria “has assigned its intelligence agencies to liquidate the lawmakers.”Schools, universities and banks across the country as well as several businesses in different areas were closed in a day of mourning for Mr. Ghanem and in observance of a strike called by the Phalange Party to which Mr. Ghanem had belonged. His funeral will be held Friday, and his allies have called for a wide participation.
Table Wines of the Hizballah Heartland
Thursday, Sep. 20, 2007 By ANDREW LEE
Andrew Lee Butters for IME
ToolsPrintEmailSphereAddThisRSS The slow end to a sizzling summer along the shores of the eastern Mediterranean has brought harvest season to the Bekaa valley. The fertile basin just over Lebanon's coastal mountain range may be well known as a hotbed of Shi'ite militancy that has at various times hosted some of the world's most notorious terrorists, but it is also home to Lebanon's wine industry. It's a very Lebanese experience to watch Bedouin farm workers in the early morning light that illuminates distant mosques, as they carry crate-loads of grapes to be pressed into a liquid that Islamic law forbids them, and most of their neighbors, from consuming.
Alcohol production might seem incongruous in the overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East, but viniculture is an integral part of Lebanese culture — and not just because of the country's large Christian minority. Winemaking began in this part of the world thousands of years ago, and such was the importance of the Bekaa to the global wine industry of classical antiquity that the Romans built a massive temple in Baalbek to the wine god Bacchus, which still stands today. In fact, it was Arabs who invented the art of distilling fermented beverages into alcoholic spirits, and then exported it during the Islamic conquests of the Middle Ages. They practice it still by making arak, a grape-based anise flavored drink. Today, the majority owners of Lebanon's two largest wineries are, respectively, Druze- and Sunni Muslims. The workforce that picks the grapes, and the landowners who grow them are almost all Muslims. And only God knows how many of Lebanon's wine drinkers are also Muslims.
Democracy, not terror, is the engine of political Islam
Neocon policies designed to promote liberal opinion in the Middle East have in fact played into the hands of the religious parties
Friday September 21, 2007
Six years after 9/11, throughout the Muslim world political Islam is on the march; the surprise is that its rise is happening democratically - not through the bomb, but the ballot box. Democracy is not the antidote to the Islamists the neocons once fondly believed it would be. Since the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been a consistent response from voters wherever Muslims have had the right to vote. In Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and Algeria they have voted en masse for religious parties in a way they have never done before. Where governments have been most closely linked to the US, political Islam's rise has been most marked.
Much western journalism in the six years since 9/11 has concentrated on terrorist groups, jihadis and suicide bombers. But while the threat of violence remains very real, those commentators who have compared what they ignorantly call "Islamofascism" to the Nazis are guilty of hysteria: the differences in relative power and military capability are too great for the comparison to be valid, and the analogies that the neocons draw with the second world war are demonstrably false. As long as the west interferes in the Muslim world, bombs will go off; and as long as Britain lines up behind George Bush's illegal wars, British innocents will die in jihadi atrocities. But that does not mean we are about to be invaded, nor is Europe about to be demographically swamped, as North American commentators such as Mark Steyn claim: Muslims will make up no more than 10% of the European population by 2020.
Yet in concentrating on the violent jihadi fringe, we may have missed the main story. For if the imminent Islamist takeover of western Europe is a myth, the same cannot be said for the Islamic world. Clumsy and brutal US policies in the Middle East have generated revolutionary changes, radicalising even the most moderate opinion, with the result that the status quo in place since the 1950s has been broken.
Egypt is typical: at the last election in 2005 members of the nominally banned Muslim Brotherhood, standing as independents, saw their representation rise from 17 seats to 88 in the 444-seat people's assembly - a five-fold increase, despite reports of vote-rigging by President Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Alliance. The Brothers, who have long abjured violence, are now the main opposition.
The figures in Pakistan are strikingly similar. Traditionally, the religious parties there have won only a fraction of the vote. That began to change after the US invasion of Afghanistan. In October 2002 a rightwing alliance of religious parties - the Muttahida Majlis Amal or MMA - won 11.6% of the vote, more than doubling its share, and sweeping the polls in the two provinces bordering Afghanistan - Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province - where it formed ultra-conservative and pro-Islamist provincial governments. If the last election turned the MMA into a serious electoral force, there are now fears that it could yet be the principle beneficiary of the current standoff in Pakistan.
The Bush administration proclaimed in 2004 that the promotion of democracy in the Middle East would be a major foreign policy theme in its second term. It has been widely perceived, not least in Washington, that this policy has failed. Yet in many ways US foreign policy has succeeded in turning Muslim opinion against the corrupt monarchies and decaying nationalist parties who have ruled the region for 50 years. The irony is that rather than turning to liberal secular parties, as the neocons assumed, Muslims have lined up behind parties most clearly seen to stand up against aggressive US intervention.
Religious parties, in other words, have come to power for reasons largely unconnected to religion. As clear and unambiguous opponents of US policy in the Middle East - in a way that, say, Musharraf, Mubarak and Mahmoud Abbas are not - religious parties have benefited from legitimate Muslim anger: anger at the thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq; at the blind eye the US turns to Israel's nuclear arsenal and colonisation of the West Bank; at the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the incarceration of thousands of Muslims without trial in the licensed network of torture centres that the US operates across the globe; and at the Islamophobic rhetoric that still flows from Bush and his circle in Washington.
Moreover, the religious parties tend to be seen by the poor, rightly or wrongly, as representing justice, integrity and equitable distribution of resources. Hence the strong showing, for example, of Hamas against the blatantly corrupt Fatah in the 2006 elections in Palestine. Equally, the dramatic rise of Hizbullah in Lebanon has not been because of a sudden fondness for sharia law, but because of the status of Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's leader, as the man who gave the Israelis a bloody nose, and who provides medical and social services for the people of South Lebanon, just as Hamas does in Gaza.
The usual US response has been to retreat from its push for democracy when the "wrong" parties win. This was the case not just with the electoral victory of Hamas, but also in Egypt: since the Brothers' strong showing in the elections, the US has stopped pressing Mubarak to make democratic reforms, and many of the Brothers' leading activists and business backers, as well as Mubarak's opponent in the presidential election, are in prison, all without a word of censure from Washington.
Yet on a recent visit to Egypt I found everywhere a strong feeling that political Islam was there to stay, and that this was something everyone was going to have to learn to live with; the US response had become almost irrelevant. Even the Copts were making overtures to the Brothers. As Youssef Sidhom, who edits the leading Coptic newspaper, put it: "They are not going away. We need to enter into dialogue, to clarify their policies, and end mutual mistrust."
The reality is that, like the Copts, we are going to have to find some modus vivendi with political Islam. Pretending that the Islamists do not exist, and that we will not talk to them, is no answer. Only by opening dialogue are we likely to find those with whom we can work, and to begin to repair the damage that self-defeating Anglo-American policies have done to the region, and to western influence there, since 9/11.
· William Dalrymple is the author of The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857.
''Intelligence Brief: Lebanon's Upcoming Presidential Elections''
21 September 2007
he upcoming presidential elections in Lebanon are likely to be a watershed moment that could lead either to the beginning of a national reconciliation process between opposing political factions, or to the exacerbation of existing internal divisions and tensions. The September 19 political assassination of pro-government lawmaker Antoine Ghanem has only heightened the sense of crisis.
The Lebanese parliament is set to reconvene on September 25 -- almost a year after the beginning of the worst political crisis confronting the country since the civil war of 1975-1990. The predicament initiated over the failure to create a national unity government between the majority coalition -- the March 14 coalition -- and the opposition parties, led by the Hezbollah-Amal bloc. This lack of agreement led to the resignation of the opposition ministers from Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's cabinet in November 2006 and to a long-standing boycott, causing the de facto paralysis of the Lebanese government and deeply impairing its decision-making process.
On September 25, the parliament will hold a special session to choose a successor to current President Emile Lahoud, whose mandate terminates on November 24. Parliamentary speaker and member of the opposition Nabih Berri decided to reconvene the 128 deputies on the basis of a national reconciliation proposal. He announced willingness to abandon the demands for a national unity government if the main political coalitions agreed to nominate a presidential candidate by consensus.
The beginning of the dialogue between the two main coalitions has, however, been delayed by a sharp disagreement over a crucial procedural concern. Berri's initiative, in fact, asks for the president to be elected by a two-thirds majority of the parliament, and the parliamentary speaker has stated that the two-thirds quorum is a non-negotiable precondition for dialogue. His position has been challenged by several majority leaders, such as parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, who have put forth a counter-proposal calling for a dialogue with "no set preconditions."
The deadlock stems from the opposing interests and leverages of the two main political factions. Specifically, the majority coalition, with its 68 deputies in parliament (down from 69 after Ghanem's killing), does not want to pre-commit to the two-thirds majority vote because this would grant a de facto veto power to the opposition bloc. The March 14 coalition's numerical strength in parliament would allow them to elect a president by simple majority if the dialogue failed -- and so they do not want to forfeit this option.
The opposition parties, on the other hand, have a precise interest in preventing an election by majority, hence their firm campaign for the two-thirds quorum. However, the opposition's main strength lies in the fact that, even if simple majority rule were to prevail, still at least two-thirds of the parliament needs to attend the vote to validate it, thus a renewed boycott would effectively prevent the opposition from electing a new president.
Moreover, this is not the only deadlock for Lebanese decision-makers. In fact, given the highly polarized status of the Lebanese political arena, the chances of selecting a candidate by consensus could be quite slim despite the quorum disagreement. Furthermore, as an additional factor, the pre-existing Lebanese power arrangements demand the president to be a Maronite Christian, placing an additional constraint upon deputies. Currently, a few names have emerged as potential presidential candidates. The opposition parties seem to have decided to rally behind one nominee, the Christian leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun. Recent declarations by Hezbollah politburo member Ghaleb Abu Zeinab have stated that no other candidate will be nominated among the opposition ranks.
From the majority parties, on the other hand, a few candidates have emerged, such as Democratic Renewal Movement leader Nassib Lahoud, or the Rally of Independent Maronite leader Butros Harb. However, discussions about who will be the potential joint candidate will have to be postponed until the parties bypass the current procedural deadlock and initiate a real dialogue.
In the absence of an electoral agreement, the March 14 coalition's main alternatives would be either to elect a candidate of its choice relying on a simple majority in the parliament, or -- in the absence of elections -- to push for Prime Minister Siniora and his cabinet to temporarily assume executive powers when Lahoud steps down from the presidency. None of these outcomes would likely be accepted by the opposition, however, and they would especially meet fierce opposition from all pro-Syrian forces. It is foreseeable how these courses of action could lead to a substantial escalation of existing tensions, with the concrete option of more direct confrontations between the parties, along with prolonged instability.
On the other hand, the opposition parties' main alternative would be to boycott the elections, denying the two-thirds quorum and leading to another political deadlock, which again would cause further polarization and instability. In the event of an impasse, they could also rely on President Lahoud, who has stated that he would nominate army chief General Michel Suleiman as his provisional successor along with a transitional cabinet. This option would be received negatively by the March 14 coalition, who would perceive it as a setback on democracy and an undue increase of pro-Syrian forces within the government. Similarly, the United States has preventively warned against this outcome, as U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman has stated that "the U.S. will not recognize a president it viewed as a renegade head of state," alluding precisely to the possibility of the pro-Syrian Lahoud appointing an interim cabinet.
In the international arena, a destabilized Lebanon is generally perceived as detrimental to regional stability and security, and this has led to a series of attempts by international players to pressure the parties to agree on a presidential nomination, preventing an escalation of the crisis. Such was the purpose of the recent visit of the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and similar recommendations were made by the U.N. secretary general's Lebanon Representative Geir Pederson. On the other hand, Syria may view the current crisis through a different lens, as a divided and unstable Lebanon could allow it to reassert its influence, especially if the prolonged boycott leads to more ungovernability and achieves the toppling of the Siniora government.
In conclusion, despite all the existing obstacles, reaching an agreement seems the sole concrete option to elect a new president, and also the best way to initiate a reconciliation process and attempt to reestablish a degree of normalcy, governability, and stability. On the other hand, the cost of failure would be high, and it could lead -- at worst -- to increased polarization, instability, and ungovernability within Lebanon, and -- at best -- to months of stalemate and to an uncertain interim period. Because it seems in most of the parties' best interests to avoid such an outcome, the time for negotiation and settlement seems ripe. Nevertheless, it is hard to predict whether pre-existing rivalries and power dynamics in play will indeed allow for a settlement.
The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of email@example.com. PINR reprints do not qualify under Fair-Use Statute Section 107 of the Copyright Act. All comments should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Column One: How not to help 'moderates'
By CAROLINE GLICK
According to the commander of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel's raid in Syria on September 6 against what was reportedly a North Korean-supplied nuclear installation in eastern Syria restored Israel's deterrent posture which was so weakened in last summer's war in Lebanon.
Yet as the execution of anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarian Antoine Ghanem in a Christian suburb of Beirut on Wednesday indicated, Israel's successful raid did not derail Syria's and Iran's pursuit of their strategic goals. Those goals involve achieving regional domination through their proxies in Lebanon as well as in Iraq and the Palestinian Authority.
In Iraq, the Americans pursue a policy of military confrontation against Shi'ite and Sunni forces that are supported and directed by Iran and Syria. In contrast, in Lebanon and the PA, the Americans and the Israelis have avoided decisive confrontations, opting instead to advance a diplomatic course aimed at bringing about the political defeat of Iranian and Syrian proxies. In Lebanon this involves supporting Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government against Hizbullah. In the PA it involves supporting Fatah against Hamas.
It is still too early to know how the American strategy of military confrontation against Iranian and Syrian proxies in Iraq will pan out. But it is already clear that the American-Israeli strategy for contending with Lebanon and the PA has failed.
Ghanem was a member of the Christian-Phalange party. He had announced his intention to run in the presidential elections that will take place next week in the Lebanese Parliament. With his assassination, the Syrians and Iranians effectively completed their campaign of murder and intimidation aimed at anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians.
With Ghanem out of the picture, the anti-Syrian forces lost the parliamentary majority of 72 out of 128 seats that they won in the 2005 general elections. Today, the anti-Syrian coalition has only 64 sure votes. A presidential candidate needs a 65 vote majority to be elected. Now the pro-Syrian forces have the ability to force their presidential candidate on the country.
Led by Hizbullah, the pro-Syrian parliamentary bloc demands that a "compromise" candidate who will bring "national unity" be elected to the presidency next week. Their demand is openly supported by France, the UN and Saudi Arabia. The Americans have not weighed in on the issue and so it can be assumed that they, too, support it.
Although the demand for "compromise" and "unity" sounds like a call for fairness and even stability, just the opposite is the case. In the Lebanese context, "compromise" and "unity" can only serve to bring about the election of yet another Syrian and Iranian puppet to the presidency. Like outgoing President Emile Lahoud, such a leader will work to prevent Lebanon from extricating itself from Iranian and Syrian influence and control.
That the inclusion of pro-Syrian and Iranian elements in the Lebanese government renders the government, regardless of its members' actual desires, an effective tool of Syria and Iran was made clear in last summer's war. During the war, Hizbullah's membership in the Siniora government worked to transform the Siniora government into a mouthpiece of Hizbullah and, through it, of Iran and Syria.
Many had hoped that Hizbullah's entry into Lebanese politics would signal its integration into Lebanese society and force its leaders to dismantle Hizbullah's military force. But the opposite occurred. Hizbullah's entry into Lebanese politics - and into the Siniora government - consolidated its position as a Syrian-Iranian state within the state in Lebanon. Rather than distance itself from Hizbullah after Hizbullah launched its war against Israel, the Siniora government actively assisted it both diplomatically and militarily. With Hizbullah in the government, the Lebanese military openly assisted its forces in attacking Israel and IDF troops.
Hizbullah used its governmental power to increase its influence over the Lebanese military. With Shi'ites comprising 40 percent of the Lebanese army and with army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman being touted by pro-Syrian forces as a "compromise" candidate for the presidency, it is impossible to trust the Lebanese army's loyalty to the elected government. Indeed, since the war, the Lebanese army has enabled Hizbullah to reassert its control over southern Lebanon and has turned a blind eye to massive arms shipments to Hizbullah coming across the Syrian border.
During last summer's war, in a bid to protect the ostensibly pro-Western Siniora government, the US, France and the UN pressured Israel not to attack Lebanese infrastructures. By so acting, the US, France and the UN ignored the actual status of the government. While it talked the anti-Syria talk, it walked the Hizbullah walk.
Siniora's inability or unwillingness to confront Hizbullah and to end its status as an independent political and military force in Lebanon engendered a situation where, through their support for Lebanon's "unity" government, the US, France and the UN effectively protected Hizbullah and preserved its ability to maintain its independent position in Lebanon as a Syrian and Iranian proxy against Israel. Since the cease-fire went into effect last August, that protection has been maintained by UNIFIL forces stationed along the border with Israel.
Last October, Iran and Syria determined that Hizbullah had nothing more to gain from remaining in the government and so they ordered it to resign. Ever since, they have worked steadily to overthrow the government by politically paralyzing it in Parliament and, of course, by assassinating its supporters. At the same time, they have poured arms and cash on Hizbullah and ordered it to expand its territorial control north of the Litani River, while enacting an ethnic cleansing of southern Lebanon by preventing Christians who fled their villages during the war from returning home.
Commentators warn that if the Lebanese Parliament does not elect a pro-Syrian presidential candidate next week, then Lahoud is liable to call general elections. Those elections, in turn, are liable to give rise to a situation where two separate governments operate in competition. That, we are warned, will almost certainly foment a new civil war.
But given the fact that Hizbullah together with Iran and Syria already wield enormous power over the Lebanese army, it could be reasonably argued that a renewed civil war is the least bad option. The more likely option - that Iran and Syria will consolidate their domination of Lebanon - would be far more destabilizing for the region and for Lebanon itself.
The fact of the matter is that the West's unconditional support for the anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon has always been problematic. Even if Hizbullah had not entered the government, Siniora and his colleagues never had sufficient political or military will or power to fight Iran, Hizbullah and Syria effectively. Indeed, many members of the anti-Syrian coalition are anything but pro-Western.
Aside from the Siniora government's inherent inability to assert its control over the entire country by defeating Hizbullah and its sponsors, the government's regional supporters have never been interested in a confrontation with Hizbullah or Iran and Syria. Specifically, the Saudi government, which acts as the Siniora government's primary supporter in the Arab world, has consistently encouraged it to reach an accommodation with Hizbullah rather than fight it. When the Saudi view is contrasted with the consistent Iranian and Syrian goal of dominating Lebanon through Hizbullah, it is clear that the political victory of the anti-Syrian and Iranian forces in 2005 was insufficient to defeat Hizbullah or free Lebanon from the influence of Syria and Iran. It is, after all, impossible to accommodate an opponent charged with destroying you.
The situation in the PA is strikingly similar to that in Lebanon. But it is also far more problematic. As in the case of the contest between Hizbullah and the Siniora government in Lebanon, so in the PA, the US, Israel and the West in general have decided to support Fatah in its contest against the Iranian and Syrian proxy Hamas.
Militarily, the desire to "strengthen" Fatah has led to a situation where Israel has almost completely stopped its operations against Fatah terror cells. Furthermore, it has abstained from taking action against Hamas's new army in Gaza, lest an Israeli offensive somehow weaken Fatah.
Politically, Israel and the US are bending over backwards to appease Fatah in the hope that doing so will strengthen it against Hamas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel on Wednesday to advance the peace process with Fatah. En route to Israel, Rice told reporters, "We can't simply continue to say we want a two-state solution. We've got to start to move toward one."
For its part, the Olmert-Barak-Livni government already made clear through official statements and leaks that it is ready to withdraw from Judea and Samaria and to partition Jerusalem and surrender the Temple Mount.
The reason that the situation in the PA is worse than the situation in Lebanon is because Fatah is not analogous to the Siniora government. For all its weaknesses, the Siniora government truly seeks Syrian and Iranian disengagement from the country. The same cannot be said of Fatah. As the fighting this week between Fatah terrorists and the IDF in Nablus indicates, far from objecting to terrorism and the war against Israel, Fatah fights side by side with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Consequently, the massive concessions that the Olmert-Barak-Livni government is now offering Fatah will redound directly to Hamas's (and Iranian and Syrian) benefit. This will be the case both if Israel actually implements those concessions and if they are merely offered formally at Rice's summit in November.
Since Hizbullah quit the Siniora government in October, the Lebanese leadership has rejected all of Hizbullah's demands for "unity." In contrast, both before and since Hamas took over Gaza in June, Fatah has sought to join a Hamas-dominated "unity" government. And while in Lebanon, Iran and Syria actively undermine Siniora and his colleagues, in the PA, they assist both Hamas and Fatah. Both serve Iran's and Syria's purpose of expanding and consolidating their control over Gaza, Judea and Samaria.
In their handling of the situations in Lebanon and the PA, the US and Israeli governments are implementing a strategy predicated on their refusal to acknowledge the nature and significance of regional power struggles in these theaters both for the West and for the Syrians and Iranians. As is the case in Iraq, so in the cases of Lebanon and the PA, the possibility of forming a "moderate" government will only materialize after the Lebanese and Palestinian Iranian and Syrian proxies - Hizbullah, Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad - are defeated.
Moreover, in spite of the IDF's bravado, as long as these proxy forces continue to exist and augment their powers, and as long as the Syrian and Iranian regimes remain in power, no single military operation - no matter how successful - can rebuild Israel's deterrent strength or ensure its security.