DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 16,1-13. Then he also said to his disciples, "A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, 'What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.' The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.' He called in his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, 'How much do you owe my master?' He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.'Then to another he said, 'And you, how much do you owe?' He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.'And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
False Equation. By: Hazem Saghieh. September 23/07
The Whispers of War.By Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball.Newsweek.September 23/07
Lebanon - The wait for a leader.Ya Libnan, Lebanon. September 23/07
The Lebanese labyrinth.By Michael Young. September 23/07
It was about oil after all. By:Osama Al Sharif. September 23/07
Latest News Reports From
Miscellaneous Sources for September 23/07
Safadi's Rope Trotting Puzzles Political Spectrum-Naharnet
Hizbullah Wants Accord on New President Prior to Elections-Naharnet
Nine Years of Lahoud in Office-Naharnet
Lebanon MPs demand security boost for presidential poll.AFP
Israel-Syria peace feelers languish in US freezer.Reuters
Israel raises alert level in north after electronic alarm activated.Xinhua
Report: IDF commandos seized nuclear material from Syria as proof ...Israel Insider
International Community Protecting Lebanon by Squeezing Damascus-Naharnet
Berri Launches 'Consensus Mechanism" for Tuesday Consultations.Naharnet
Berri warns of poll delay in Lebanon. AFP
Iranian leader warns West against attack. AFP
US to invite Syria, Lebanon to Mideast peace summit.Ha'aretz
Berri warns of Lebanon poll delay if MPs stay away.AFP
Lebanon MP killing must not derail elections: US, France.AFP
Lebanese Christians Mourn Assassinated Lawmaker.BosNewsLife
Syria denies involvement in murder of Lebanon MP.Ya Libnan
Israeli man carrying German passport arrested in Lebanon.Jerusalem Post
Lebanese still fear return of fugitive Islamists.Lebanese Lobby,
Person With Israeli German Citizenship Arrested in Lebanon on.Infolive.tv
Israel is capable of using force against 'threats'.MSNBC
Syria's Chemical Weapons Proliferation Hydra.Defense Update
N. Korea's No. 2 leader meets with Syrian delegation.WHDH-TV, MA
German-Israeli under probe in Lebanon.Gulf News
After Ghanem’s murder, Lebanese ask: Who’s next?Aljazeera.com, UK
All to lose, much to gain in Lebanon presidential election.Relief Web
Lebanon Vote for President Is Postponed
By NADA BAKRI
New York Times
Published: September 23, 2007
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Sept. 22 — With Lebanon caught in virtual political stalemate, Amin Gemayel, a leader in the governing coalition, said Saturday that a much-anticipated election for president set for Tuesday was unlikely to take place until next month, diminishing hopes that the deadlock could end soon.
Parliament will still convene on that date, but the session to elect a successor for President Emile Lahoud, who must step down on Nov. 24, will probably center on discussions between the ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition. The majority wants to elect one of its own, but the opposition is pressing for a compromise candidate. The opposition vowed to block a candidate it did not want by boycotting the session. Only a few opposition legislators are expected at the session so that the number of participants is fewer than two-thirds of the 128 seats in Parliament, the quorum needed to elect a president. Mr. Gemayel spoke to reporters following a meeting with the speaker of Parliament and a leader of the opposition, Nabih Berri. It was the first time the two had met in at least six months.
Mr. Gemayel said the session would be the first in a series of meetings and “at the end we will agree on a president who is capable of uniting all the people.”
Lebanon has been caught in a 10-month power struggle between the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the Hezbollah-led opposition, supported by Iran and Syria. The election for president could play an important role in settling that confrontation.
If Parliament fails to elect a successor for Mr. Lahoud 10 days before his terms ends, the majority contends it can elect a president 65 votes of the 128 total.
Berri Launches "Consensus Mechanism"
for Tuesday Consultations
Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has launched a "mechanism for consensus" on a new president and would hold separate talks with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and al-Moustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri in due course. The daily an-Nahar said Berri's gear up was launched Saturday in a meeting with ex-President Amin Gemayel, the highest leader of the Phalange Party. An-Nahar quoted Berri as saying his meeting with Gemayel "was not just good, but rather excellent."
Gemayel, however, expressed hope that a parliamentary session set for Tuesday to elect a new head of state would be an "entry way" into the process, noting that "we are still in the beginning of the road and we realize the difficulties ahead."Gemayel's remarks could indicate that actual election of a new president would not be carried out during Tuesday's Parliamentary session. Gemayel, according to an-Nahar, suggested the meeting Tuesday would be "a session of consultations between all the leaders who would meet again."
He said Tuesday's proposed consultations would "set the stage for further consultations, meetings and swift initiatives to crystallize Berri's initiative" that focuses on consensus on a new head of state. "In the end we would reach consensus on a president who can bring together all the people,' Gemayel added. Gemayel said the March 14 majority alliance wants Tuesday's session to be an "entry way into the solution" to the ongoing political crisis. Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari, a member of Hariri's Moustaqbal Movement, welcomed the launch of Berri's consultations to facilitate the holding of Presidential elections "within the constitutional schedule."In a further positive development, Berri also telephoned Druze leader Walid Jumblat Saturday.
Jumblat's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) said Berri, who also heads the opposition AMAL Movement, expressed his condolences at the assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem by a car bomb explosion. The statement said Jumblat thanked Berri for the call and "promised to call him in the proper time."Members of Berri's Development and Liberation parliamentary bloc would be present at their offices in the house Tuesday, an-Nahar reported. They would not enter the general assembly hall, though, pending developments, it noted. But MP's representing Hizbullah, which leads the opposition, and their allies of Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement would announce their decision regarding participation in Tuesday's session in 24 hours.
However, an-Nahar observed indications that opposition MP's would not take part in the session prior to a consensus agreement on the new head of state.
As for security arrangements related to the parliamentary session, an-Nahar quoted an unidentified military source as saying the military would provide "tight protection for MPs" who chose to head to the parliament compound in downtown Beirut. The source, however, refused to disclose details. Minister of Communications Marwan Hamadeh, nevertheless, said the area surrounding parliament should be cleared off "advanced military bases" prior to asking legislators to meet at the house. Hamadeh was referring to the Hizbullah-controlled Tent City, a few meters off Parliament compound in downtown Beirut. The makeshift Tent City was erected on Dec. 1 in an effort to topple Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's majority government, which remains in office despite the 10-month protest. Beirut, 23 Sep 07, 09:53
International Community Protecting Lebanon by Squeezing Damascus
The international community is considering three options to pacify Damascus in the forthcoming Lebanese Presidential election, including upgrading the U.S. Syria Accountability Law into a U.N. Security Council Resolution, the daily an-Nahar reported Sunday.
The exclusive report by an-Nahar's Rosana Bou Munsef, said the three options also include "executive mechanisms" for U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701. UNSCR 1559 was adopted in Sept. 2004, and called for the election of a Lebanese President in line with the nation's constitution and without foreign intervention, in addition to disbanding Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.
The resolution was breached 24 hours after it was adopted when the Syrian-controlled Lebanese Parliament amended the constitution and extended for three years the mandate of Damascus ally president Emile Lahoud. UNSCR 1701 ended on Aug. 14, 2006 a 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah by renewing adherence to resolution 1559 and stressing on banning the illegal trafficking of weapons from Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese-Syrian borders remain loose. The an-Nahar report noted that the serial killings targeting anti-Syrian MP's representing the March 14 majority "raised major fears within diplomatic circles of a new wave of assassinations … leading to (a state of) actual terrorism."Such fears open the door to the adoption of "an executive mechanism or executive resolution" for 1559 to facilitate "the protection of presidential elections in practice, not just in principle," the report noted. As for resolution 1701, the report explained, the United States and France are considering "a mechanism to implement" the called for control of the Lebanese-Syrian borders to "ban the trafficking of weapons and related material to Lebanon."Upgrading the U.S. Syria Accountability law into a U.N. Security Council Resolution, according to the report, is being worked out along the lines of harmful procedures at several economic and financial levels."The third option "could lead into the adoption of a U.N. Security Council Resolution," the report added. Beirut, 23 Sep 07, 11:54
By Michael Young
Lebanon is poised to hold a presidential election that none of its contending factions - indeed, none of the rival factions in the region - can afford to lose. Let's start with Syria. In 2005, President Bashar Assad's regime was forced to withdraw its army from Lebanon, following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria is widely believed to have been responsible for the crime, and domestic Lebanese and international pressure helped force Syria's pullout. In a speech soon thereafter, Assad warned that nothing could sever the Syrian-Lebanese relationship.
Assad knows that the election of a president who bolsters Lebanon's sovereignty and independence would make Syria's return difficult - and Assad, as even his allies privately admit, wants nothing less. Moreover, Assad is worried about the creation of a mixed Lebanese-international court to try suspects in the Hariri assassination. The court was approved under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and will be situated in Holland. Once the trial begins, Syria may find itself in the dock.
Closely allied with Syria is Hezbollah, whose armed militia is far more effective than Lebanon's national army, and which has openly rejected UN Security Council resolutions to surrender its weapons. Hezbollah's priority is to maintain the military capacity to fight Israel, and also to play a pivotal role in the broader regional rivalry between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas on one side, and the United States, the Sunni-led mainstream Arab states, the Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority, and Syria's Lebanese foes on the other.
Lebanese women, members of the Phalange Party a Christian Group, attend the funeral procession of the Anti-Syrian Lebanese lawmaker Antoine Ghanem, and his two bodyguards, who were killed last Wednesday by a powerful bomb, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday Sept. 21, 2007. AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
But there are constraints on Hezbollah. The party's leaders, like their patrons in Iran, know that any crisis in Lebanon could provoke a Sunni-Shiite conflict, with disastrous consequences. Iran would find itself the bogeyman of the Arab world's Sunnis, while Hezbollah could be swallowed up by another debilitating Lebanese civil war. Hezbollah will have to calculate at several levels. If Assad decides to scuttle the presidential election in order to strengthen Syria's hold in Beirut, Hezbollah will go along. But a political vacuum in Lebanon only makes violence more likely, which Hezbollah doesn't want.
On the other side, Syria's Lebanese enemies know that the election's outcome will determine their fate. Given that several prominent critics of Syria have been killed since 2005, there is little room for compromise. The problem is that the anti-Syrian coalition, known as "March 14," is not yet united around a single presidential candidate. The US has made it clear that it will not accept a president close to Hezbollah or Syria. While America will not bargain with Syria over the election, it would probably accept a candidate with whom Syria feels comfortable, provided he is acceptable across the political spectrum.
The US must also calculate what the Europeans will accept. France, Italy, and Spain all have large contingents in the UN force in south Lebanon that was expanded after the summer 2006 war. No election, they fear, would endanger their soldiers. This makes them vulnerable to Syrian leverage, and hence more amenable to dealing with Syria on the presidency.
Another key actor is Saudi Arabia, whose relations with Syria are at an all-time low. The Saudis, deeply disturbed by the Syrian-Iranian alliance, worry that re-imposition of Syrian supremacy in Lebanon, and with it the strengthening of Iranian and Shiite power there, would threaten the Kingdom itself. But, as the Saudis also want Syria to be included in King Abdullah's regional peace plan, they are not looking for an open-ended confrontation with Assad.
These clashing interests will be played out after September 25, when the two-month period during which Lebanon's parliament must elect a president begins. No side has a yearning for war, which is why compromise solutions are possible. But what would such a compromise look like?
One idea - to elect a candidate with whom everyone can live - would likely produce a weak president. So would an agreement by all sides to elect an interim president for two years, buying time until the regional balance of power changes or solidifies. Whatever the outcome, the choice of Lebanon's next president will emerge from a political maelstrom - one that he will almost certainly be powerless to allay.
**(Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon.) Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2007. Exclusive to The Sunday Times
Berri warns of poll delay in Lebanon
Sunday, 23 September, 2007,
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker Nahib Berri said in remarks quoted yesterday that next week’s controversial presidential election would be postponed if MPs did not turn up in sufficient numbers. Berri, a member of the pro-Syrian opposition, told the most senior MP, Ghassan Tueni, that he personally would attend Tuesday’s session in parliament, but added: “If a quorum is not reached, we will postpone it” (the vote).
Berri, who was quoted in An-Nahar newspaper, has been pushing for the two sides to find a consensus candidate to replace the outgoing, pro-Syrian, President Emile Lahoud whose term expires on November 24. Both domestically and internationally, supporters of the anti-Syrian majority have demanded that MPs proceed to elect a new president, with pressure to do so boosted following the latest killing of an MP opposed to Damascus.
Under the constitution, MPs elect the president – traditionally a Maronite Christian – by a majority of two-thirds of parliament’s 128 seats in a first round or a simple majority afterwards if a second round is required. The pro-Syrian opposition, backed by Damascus and Tehran, and spearheaded by Hezbollah, interprets the rule as saying a quorum of two-thirds of MPs is needed, enabling it to prevent the election of a candidate it rejects, as the anti-Syrian camp has only a simple majority.
Hezbollah has several times threatened to torpedo a quorum, pulling out MPs in its camp from the vote.
Tuesday’s election comes just days after the bomb attack which killed MP Antoine Ghanem, the eighth anti-Syrian politician to be assassinated since the February 2005 murder of five-time prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. Pro-government MPs in Beirut have pointed the finger of blame at Syria, which denied any involvement and called the bombing a “criminal act” aimed at undermining efforts at a rapprochement with Lebanon.
Leaders from across the political spectrum have vowed to press ahead with the controversial presidential vote despite Ghanem’s killing.
His 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.
*Syria yesterday rejected as “baseless and without proof” accusations by Lebanon’s ruling coalition that Damascus was behind Ghanem’s killing.
Syria’s Information Minister Mohsen Bilal, in a statement published yesterday, said: “Accusations made against Syria by the forces of March 14 (the ruling coalition), which are linked to a foreign plan, are allegations without foundation and lacking proof.”
In his comments in the government newspaper Tishrin, Bilal added: “Syria does not intervene in any way in Lebanese internal affairs. It works for entente between all Lebanese in favour of a president who would represent them all, because Syria is in favour of Lebanon’s security, stability and unity.” – AFP
Iranian leader warns West against attack
Sunday, 23 September, 2007,
TEHRAN: Iran yesterday warned the West of the “serious consequences” of launching any attack against the Islamic republic after showing off a new longer-range missile in public for the first time. “Military aggression against Iran is no longer a case of ‘you hit and you run away,’” said supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “Anyone who launches an aggression will seriously suffer the consequences of this aggression.” His comments, broadcast on state television, were the first such intervention by Iran’s undisputed number one since French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned the world last week to brace for war against Tehran.
Iran earlier showed off its military prowess at the annual military parade to mark the start of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, taunting Israel with a host of slogans calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.
A longer range missile labelled Ghadr-1 (Power) was shown at the parade for the first time in public.
The official announcer at the parade told reporters that the weapon had a range of 1,800km, sufficient to put US bases in the Middle East and Israel within reach.
The Ghadr missile, which has a “baby bottle” style nose for extra aerodynamic efficiency, is seen as an improved version of Iran’s existing longer-range Shahab series, which was also paraded. Officials have said in the past that the Shahab-3 could reach 2,000km, but the announcer said it had a 1,300km range.
The head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Mohamed Jaafari, echoed Khamenei’s message: “My message to the enemy is that they will regret it (an attack). Do not do it.” The parade came amid growing tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, which the US alleges is cover for a nuclear weapons drive but which Tehran insists is aimed solely at producing electricity. Khamenei however brushed off the Western warnings of conflict, saying “they talk like an illiterate person who is showing their biceps and fists against a learned person.” “The people and the officials have never been afraid of the threats and have increased their preparation,” he added.
The parade was marked by a litany of slogans calling for “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”. Western military attaches, apparently warned of this in advance, boycotted the rally for the second year running. Iran’s military, especially its air force, has been hit by the US trade embargo, and General Jaafari admitted that the Islamic republic would need to outsmart its enemies using means other than technology. “Their material capabilities are better than us, everyone knows it and we admit it. We are responding to technology not with technology but with special methods and tactics,” he told reporters. – AFP
It was about oil after all
By Osama Al Sharif, Special to Gulf News
Published: September 22, 2007, 22:54
More than four years since it was unleashed, the Iraq war is still looking for a casus belli. In his just published memoir The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan suggested another motive for toppling Saddam Hussain, one most of us have always suspected: oil grab. Add that to the initial justifications of ridding the world of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, bringing freedom and democracy to the hapless Iraqis and crusading against Al Qaida murderers as part of the global war on terror and, most recently, containing Iran's expansionist designs and you have enough motives to wage a third world war.
Greenspan's Bush bashing is particularly embarrassing to the White House because the man, a die-hard Republican, enjoys respect and admiration not only in America but worldwide. Since his book was published, creating a stir across the US, Greenspan has tried to tone down his comments on the motive for going into Iraq. But it's a bit too late for damage control. The Democrats are reloading their guns and getting ready for the next round, in Congress and across America, to force the president to call it quits and end what they see as the Iraqi fiasco.
That he won't do in the coming days and weeks. In fact after the sensation that accompanied the testimonies of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker over Iraq, the White House feels relieved. Withdrawal of troops within the coming six months will not exceed pre-surge levels - about 30,000. And in spite of the killing of a prominent Sunni leader in Anbar, one week after the president shook his hands commending him on the success of the tribal alliance with US troops against Al Qaida in that province, the Bush administration is looking buoyant. But bad news keeps coming from Iraq; a leading US security company was just ordered out of the country because its members were caught red-handed killing innocent Iraqis, and Nouri Al Maliki's government is wobbling in the wake of the collapse of the Shiite coalition - the Sunnis had left earlier.
With Saddam gone and the weapons of mass destruction motive for war blown to smithereens that leaves Al Qaida, Iran and of course the second largest oil deposits in the world as practical casus belli. Al Qaida wouldn't be there if it wasn't for the American occupation and as for Iran, well, we now know that Saddam's ouster and America's intervention in his country had helped make Tehran a viable force not only in Iraq but in the region. It is not so long ago that, with American and Arab backing, Saddam was goaded into fighting the Iranians for eight long years to prevent them from exporting their revolution and extending their influence beyond their borders.
But that's ancient history. What matters today is that America is building huge military bases all over Iraq. The biggest American embassy in the world is about to open for business in Baghdad's Green Zone. It doesn't look like the troops will leave soon. Why on earth would the Bush administration, bloodied and humiliated as a result of its misadventure, want to stay any longer in Iraq? Could it be because of the oil?
It doesn't really matter what the motives were because, if we believe France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, we should prepare for the worst very soon; yet another war, this time against Iran over its nuclear programme. Kouchner's warnings to the world verged on the sensational. They took everyone by surprise, the Iranians, the Russians, the IAEA chief and even the Americans. So much so that Kouchner and his aides tried to dampen down the minister's earlier statement.
Talk about yet another war came just as Israel, the Palestinians and few other parties were trying to get their act together in preparation for the US-sponsored autumn peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So far little has come out with regard to expectations. The pessimists, and they are many, have little faith in the conference's outcome. Some don't think it will ever be held.
Of course Israel always loves a good war to deflect attention from its problems with the Palestinians. In recent days the Israeli press hinted that a sudden escalation in tensions with Damascus could easily develop into an open military confrontation. Syria is under pressure because of its close ties to Tehran, Hezbollah and its alleged backing of the Iraqi insurgency. On the other hand, Iran has been underlining its willingness to talk to Washington over Iraq and is reported to be making some progress with the IAEA over its nuclear programme.
So a new war, probably in the autumn? The only casus belli for a war against Iran would be to turn world attention from the Iraq quagmire and the Palestinian issue. Maybe it is about oil after all; maybe it has always been about oil, that and few other things as well!
Osama Al Sharif is a Jordanian journalist based in Amman.
All to lose, much to gain in Lebanon presidential election
Middle East On Line 22/09/07
Lebanese citizens say hopes for end to divisions remain laced with fears of further instability.
BEIRUT - Hajj Mustafa Zaatari, a baker from the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon, has little patience for his country’s beleaguered politicians as they struggle to overcome deep divisions ahead of electing a new president.
“Why would I want to talk politics?” he asks. “It’s the holy month of Ramadan, and politics in this country is blasphemy, pure blasphemy.”
With parliament set to re-open on 25 September, for the first time in just under a year, to begin electing a replacement to current President Emile Lahoud, analysts and citizens alike say their hopes for an end to divisions remain laced with fears of further instability.
The assassination on 19 September of Antoine Ghanem, a leading Christian MP touted as a possible compromise candidate for the presidency, raises serious doubts over whether parliament will indeed convene as scheduled.
Ghanem, a Christian Maronite member of parliament (MP) in Lebanon’s Phalange party, was killed in a massive car bomb in the Sin el-Fil neighbourhood of east Beirut just two days after returning to the country along with at least six others. At least 30 other people were injured.
The site of the blast was just a few hundred metres from the residence of former president and head of the Phalange party Amin Gemayel, whose son, Pierre Gemayel, was gunned down in November last year. Ghanem, 64, was the sixth figure allied to the ruling pro-West majority to be assassinated since the 2005 murder of billionaire five-time Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. There were three other attempted assassinations over the past three years.
The government blames Damascus, once the power broker in Lebanese affairs, for the assassinations, which have targeted outspoken MPs and journalists opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanon. Damascus has consistently denied the charge, though an ongoing UN investigation into Hariri’s murder found evidence of the involvement of Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials in the killing.
“Sabotaging” the election
Members of the ruling coalition have portrayed Ghanem’s assassination as an attempt to derail the presidential election.
“This is an attack aimed at sabotaging all efforts to reach a solution to the current political crisis,” said Boutros Harb, an MP and presidential candidate. “You cannot separate this killing from the presidential election.”
Outgoing President Emile Lahoud, whom many in Lebanon consider a puppet of the Syrian regime after his term was extended at the behest of Damascus, is due to step down by 24 November. The constitution stipulates that parliament has two months to elect a new president ahead of the end of Lahoud’s term.
Journalist Ibrahim Beyram said a prompt election would mean “an automatic annihilation of the last Syrian stronghold in Lebanon”.
Lebanon's confessional political system carves up power between Christians and Muslims, with the presidency reserved for a Maronite Christian, while the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim.
The constitution states that two-thirds of parliament must be present to elect a new president. Should less than two-thirds of MPs show up on the day, the government argues the vote should be rescheduled and would operate on a simple majority. The killing of Ghanem has reduced the ruling coalition’s majority to just three.
Lebanon has been in a political stand-off for nearly a year between the Sunni, Druze and Christian coalition known as the March 14 forces, and the opposition comprising Shia movements Hezbollah and Amal and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement of former Army General Michel Aoun.
Aoun is the opposition’s candidate for the presidency, while March 14 MPs Boutros Harb, Naseeb Lahoud and Minister of Social Affairs Nayla Mouawad have put themselves forward.
Having withdrawn its ministers from government last November arguing they were being ignored, the opposition demanded veto power over cabinet decisions and began an open ended protest outside the government offices in central Beirut.
Tensions boiled over in January with riots between Sunni and Shia students that killed three people.
Bruised and battered
The opposition protest is just one part of the worst spell of economic and security instability since the end of Lebanon’s ruinous 15-year Civil War in 1990.
Last July’s 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah militants cost Lebanon US$15bn, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
The country was left even less capable of servicing its roughly US$40bn public debt - amassed during the huge post-Civil War reconstruction drive.
The resulting brain drain has further stripped this services-based economy of its chief input while a 15-week bloody conflict between the army and Islamist militants in a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon did little to boost investor or tourist confidence, while reducing the homes of up to 40,000 Palestinians to rubble.
Balance of fear
The conflicts and crises that have beleaguered Lebanon served to tinge what has been a momentous period of change for the country.
Replacing Lahoud caps what has been for many Lebanese a journey of independence from Syrian tutelage that began with Hariri’s assassination, the overthrow of the Syrian-backed government and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops, stationed in Lebanon since the end of the Civil War.
But with MPs being assassinated, Islamist militants threatening internal stability and Hezbollah preparing its weapons for an expected resumption of war with Israel, analysts warn this tiny country may once again be teetering on the edge of breakdown.
“Both sides fear taking this country back to how it was during the Civil War,” said veteran commentator Nabil Bou Monsef. “There is a real balance of terror among Lebanon’s politicians, and therein - ironically- lies the hope. Since no-one wants to be held responsible for further deterioration there always remains the possibility of reaching a consensus.” Many Lebanese are less than optimistic.
“I don’t care about the election. I’m just concerned about violence on the streets,” said Amani Salloum, a new graduate.
“The president will be just as bad as this one: a picture fitting a frame. Worst case scenario, we’ll have no president and two governments.”
Lebanon - The wait for a leader
Sunday, 23 September, 2007
By Dr Joseph A. Kechichian*
Beirut- Eleven men have held the post of elected president since Lebanon gained its independence from France on November 22, 1943.
Bisharah Al Khoury was followed by Camille Chamoun, Fuad Chehab, Charles Helou, Sulaiman Franjieh, Elias Sarkis, Bashir Gemayel, Amine Gemayel, Rene Moawad, Elias Hrawi and Emile Lahoud.
Both Bashir Gemayel and Rene Moawad were assassinated before they could serve, and three candidates acceded to power following constitutional emendations (Al Khoury, Hrawi and Lahoud), which permitted them to extend their constitutionally mandated terms. One man refused an extension (Chehab), another left politics for philanthropy and writing (Helou) while one supervised (some say, accelerated) the 1975 civil war (Franjieh). Another was powerless vis-à-vis both Syria and Israel (Sarkis).
Amine Gemayel replaced his brother — who had been murdered — but left the office vacant after General Michel Aoun assumed prime ministerial functions when the country operated under two competing governments.
Gemayel's term witnessed an Israeli invasion and occupation and an ill-advised, US-drafted and imposed peace treaty with Israel, which was never ratified. Hrawi, the most unpretentious president, acted as a powerbroker after he secured the critical Taif Accord to reformulate the 1943 National Pact. He was more than a caretaker leader as Lebanon emerged from two decades of internecine wars.
Failed by the leader
The present officeholder assumed the presidency in 1998 amid overall optimism. He managed to accomplish little during his regular six-year term, and though he took credit for the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, Lahoud embroiled the country in a major crisis in 2004 when he consented, perhaps under Syrian duress, to a three-year constitutional extension of his mandate.
Lebanon elects its president in Parliament, which, since the 1989 Taif Accord, is composed of 128 deputies divided equally between Muslims and Christians. The president normally serves a six-year term although three men served for longer. Between 1998 and 2000, when Israel was literally emasculated by Hezbollah in South Lebanon, Lahoud appeared as a competent leader. Still, it was Hezbollah that was responsible for the withdrawal, which ended an 18-year occupation and which significantly strengthened the Party of God on the domestic scene.
Goaded by both Damascus and Tehran, Hezbollah enhanced its presence throughout the South while denying the regular armed forces the right to deploy on the international borders.
Amid a raucous call for change, the Parliament extended Lahoud's term in 2004, after Rafik Hariri, then a member of parliament, sought and received international assistance to end Syrian interference in the country's internal affairs. Beirut was then put on a full-scale reconstruction programme that reopened the war-torn country to the rest of the world. Needless to say, Hariri and many other Lebanese concluded that Damascus, which had maintained a large military presence in Lebanon since 1975, hindered this progress.
Hariri managed to internationalise the country's plight with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which was quickly opposed by Syria, perceiving it as a Western ploy to weaken and isolate it from the larger Arab-Israeli arena.
The Franco-American Resolution 1559 was adopted on September 2, 2004 and called upon Beirut to establish its sovereignty over its territories. It also invited "foreign forces" (interpreted as referring to, but not limited to Syria) to withdraw troops, end sophisticated intelligence-gathering deployments and stop the economic strangulation that chiefly benefited corrupt high-ranking officials.
The resolution admonished the Lebanese to disband all militias (targeting Hezbollah, which was the last such major actor that maintained weapons independent of the legal armed forces). It further declared its support for a "free and fair electoral process" that, presumably, referred to the presidency. This key resolution remains at the heart of all disputes between Hezbollah and everyone else. While the Lebanese agree on most issues, they strongly disagree on Resolution 1559, which takes a new direction.
Few of Lahoud's accomplishments during his regular term stand out other than his rejection of Resolution 1559. When Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005, Lebanon entered a new phase in its political life — a virtual roller coaster. Hundreds of thousands participated in his funeral precession, Muslims reading Al Fatihah and Christians making the cross over his burial tomb.
The Hariri national memorial service turned into an anti-government rally that mobilised the reluctant and warned the blasé. Around one million Lebanese (mostly Shia supporters of Hezbollah) gathered at Martyrs Square on March 8, 2005 to support Damascus. Hariri supporters perceived this demonstration as being in poor taste — given its proximity to the slain leader's tomb — as well as a challenge. A counter-demonstration on March 14 drew more than 1.5 million at the same venue — renamed Freedom Square — to demand a Syrian withdrawal.
As the Cedar Revolution garnered support and the tide turned against occupation forces, Syria started a rapid pullback in April 2005 as Beirut scheduled parliamentary elections — executed in four rounds between May 29 and June 19 — to elect a new chamber. This was the first election in three decades that occurred without the presence of foreign military forces.
The 2005 Parliament was divided into three main groups: a majority of 72 seats led by Sa'ad Hariri and his late father's Future Party, 35 seats within the Resistance Bloc, which grouped the two Shia parties Amal and Hezbollah, and the 21 Change and Reform Bloc members. Along with its 36 deputies, the Future Movement grouped 16 Progressive socialists (Jumblatt), 6 Lebanese Forces, 6 Kataeb, 5 independents and 3 Armenians. Amal alone won 14 seats as did Hezbollah (14). Two Syrian Social Nationalist Party deputies and 5 others, including a lone Armenian Tashnag deputy joined the Resistance Bloc.
Change and Reform was composed of the 14 Free Patriotic Movement members, 5 deputies beholden to Elias Skaff and 2 to Michel Murr. After the August 2007 by-election, the majority was reduced to 71, and the Aounist forces increased their count to 22.
In other words, on September 25, 2007, 71 deputies from the majority will face 57 opposition parliamentarians. It is they who will elect the next president and both sides face the challenge of maintaining discipline within their respective ranks.
Assuming that all 71 deputies from the majority will be present, a quorum will require the physical presence of an additional 15 parliamentarians (for a minimum of 86). Will there be 15 or more opposition deputies in Parliament at 10.30am on September 25? Naturally, without an understanding, or even a compromise candidate, there are no guarantees that a quorum will be met. As an alternative, deputies could be bussed to the chamber but might refuse to vote, which will automatically postpone the session. The most likely scenario is for everyone to actually enter the Parliament building without entering the chamber proper, which will be interpreted as patriotic fervour. No one can realistically force a vote even if a quorum is established.
Today, the main dispute is over the identity of the candidates. While the opposition nominally supports General Aoun (even though Hezbollah has yet to make a formal announcement), and while the majority may yet choose a single candidate from among a slew of contenders, there are excellent chances that two final candidates will simply cancel each other out.
In fact, even if a quorum is established, it is impossible for Aoun to gather either two-thirds (86) of the votes or be elected by a simple majority (65) because the majority was not ready to give up seven votes. Likewise, even if the majority candidate won in the second round with at least 65 votes — more likely 71 — that would still be shy of a clear two-thirds required to govern the country effectively.
In short, neither the March 8 nor the March 14 coalition can win with a candidate with broad support even if a president can technically be elected by a simple majority in a second round or later ballots. Under such circumstances, the majority and opposition leaders — probably goaded by both international and regional actors — will settle on a compromise candidate, who might be either Riad Salamah (Central Bank) or, more likely, Army Commander General Michel Sulaiman.
While Salameh is a competent administrator, he lacks the political backbone to muzzle Lebanon's warring factions. Moreover, his personality is subdued, something that was noticed by the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir — the ultimate decision maker on such matters — in previous encounters. Michel Sulaiman, on the other hand, could well be the surprise choice. Born on January 21, 1948 in Amchit, Sulaiman became Commander of the Armed Forces on December 21, 1998. He recently announced that he would reluctantly accept a transitional role in the event of a deadlock. Still, he stood as the ideal compromise candidate among all political factions by virtue of his impeccable patriotic credentials, especially after the tragic events of Nahr Al Bared.
It is important to note that unless both sides agree on a compromise candidate, there will probably be no elections on September 25 or at later sessions. Both sides will enter a period of testing, which will further widen the gulf separating them, because no single candidate will achieve the comfortable margin of 86 votes.
Naturally, a candidate could garner from 65 to 71 votes, but such a president will probably be even more isolated than Emile Lahoud in his well-appointed but politically barren Baabda "Palace". Even if the majority will not be responsible for such an outcome, a president elected with a simple majority will quickly lose his cachet, well ahead of the problematic 2009 parliamentary plebiscite. He will be a lame duck even before wearing the official presidential seal.
Should Lebanon's 128 deputies agree to amend the constitution and elect Michel Sulaiman — a career officer who joined the army as a cadet officer on October 4, 1967 and who was regularly promoted until his appointment by President Lahoud — many fear that the country would distance itself from democratisation. While Sulaiman is credited for remaking the military, strengthening its nationalism and deploying it against terrorist forces, the next president — Sulaiman or another candidate — faced critical security choices that went beyond democratisation. The choice was to be either like Fuad Chehab or pursue the Hrawi model. Both addressed democratisation but from different perspectives.
Chehab and Hrawi Models
Like Chehab, Sulaiman could play the nationalism card, focus on reconstruction and restore legal authority. In fact, Sulaiman's most important contribution before this past summer occurred on March 14, 2005, when he directed the army to desist from preventing a gathering of more than 1.5 million people in Freedom Square. Added to his 2007 record, a Chehab model will most likely mean law and order, with a significant boost in the country's defensive capabilities, as well as further strenghtened international support to fend off the country's foes.
Sulaiman could opt for the Chehab model by focusing on domestic matters and encourage reconciliation and prosperity. Like Chehab, he will rely on the military to muzzle the opposition (with Syrian approval), to restore the country's privileged relations with Damascus in exchange for certain compromises on the United Nations Hariri Tribunal and aim at restoring what the people clamour for most — security.
The other available model is that of former president Hrawi, who worked hard to end conflict, encourage tolerance and open a new page in intra-communal life. Should Sulaiman opt for this model, he is likely to significantly reduce internal tensions, although this option required both Saudi and Iranian approval to coerce and buttress beholden local actors.
Lebanon is at the dawn of a new age and only a strong leader can restore legal authority. Only the military can command unquestioned respect throughout the country and — this must be stated as clearly as possible — only the army can persuade Hezbollah to turn over its weapons to Lebanon's legal authorities.
While reconciliation is a necessity, the next president of Lebanon must opt for a combination of the Chehab and Hrawi models. Such an outcome will allow the prime minister (who, under the unapplied Taif Accords enjoys far greater privileges than the president) the freedom to govern and meet internal demands, while the president helps restore glory to the country's blemished image.
According to the unwritten 1943 National Pact brokered between Lebanon's established Maronite, Sunni and Shia leaders, the office of president was "reserved" for a member of the Maronite community. Today, several Maronite contenders have either declared their candidacies or are considering it. Mostly, contenders are existing or former parliamentarians, with the exceptions of Army Commander General Michel Sulaiman and Governor of the Central Bank Riad Salamah. However, by virtue of their high-ranking posts, both are not eligible unless a constitutional amendment adjusts their ranks.
Given alphabetically are brief introductions of these and other likely contenders:
General Michel Aoun was born on February 19, 1935 in Beirut (Haret Hreik) and is the nominal head of the Free Patriotic Movement. Aoun was elected a deputy from Kesrouan in 2005 and served as commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces from 1984 to 1990. From September 1988 to 1990, he was empowered by outgoing President Amine Gemayel to lead one of Lebanon's two opposing governments but was defeated by Syrian forces in October 1990. He took refuge at the French embassy in Beirut and was forced into exile to France for 15 years. Aoun returned to Beirut in 2005, after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. While expected to side with the majority, which would press for a Syrian military withdrawal, Aoun signed a controversial memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah in February 2006. He has won several tactical victories both in the 2005 parliamentary elections as well as the August 2007 Metn by-election, which transformed him into a controversial and colourful contender.
Still, Aoun frequently wonders why he is rejected by those affiliated with the majority, who do not trust him and refuse to acknowledge his record is less than stellar. His supporters say that no personal ambitions motivate their "General", whereas the majority perceives him as an opportunist who places his glory ahead of the state's interests. More importantly, many of his early supporters have deserted him and his two-year long record in Parliament is also considered weak. Should he be elected, some wonder whether he will continue to rely on colourful language, which is certainly entertaining but seldom presidential.
Fares Boueiz was born on January 15, 1955 and served as a deputy from Kesrouan until 2005, when he withdrew from the race. A son-in-law of former president Elias Hrawi, Boueiz was minister of foreign affairs from 1990 to 1998 except for a few months in 1992 when he was temporarily replaced by Nasri Maalouf.
Amin Gemayel was born on January 22, 1942 in Bikfaya (Metn) and is the head of the Kataeb (Phalange) party. Gemayel entered the political arena in 1972 by winning a by-election in the Metn. He was elected president of Lebanon (1982-1988) after his brother was assassinated. In August 2007, he narrowly lost to Camille Khoury in another by-election, called to fill the post left vacant by his slain son, Pierre, who was both a member of parliament as well as minister of industry.
Robert Ghanem was born on June 18, 1942 in the Bekaa valley and is a member of parliament. Interestingly, Ghanem won his 2005 seat on the "National Resolve List", a rare phenomenon backed by Hariri's Mustaqbal (Future) Movement, Nabih Berri's Amal Movement and Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party. He is the son of former Army Commander Iskandar Ghanem and considered a constitutional authority.
Boutros Harb was born on August 3, 1944 in Tannourine (Metn) and has served as a member of parliament. Best known for his repeated attempts to run for president, Harb issued a detailed programme during a well-attended news conference on August 31, 2007, in which he outlined a six-year plan to unite various factions under the authority of the head of state.
His platform rests on the premise that the Lebanese president must uphold the 1989 Taif Accord without shunning national leaders who reject particular aspects of the agreement. This articulate contender insisted on national unity, declared his opposition to contemplated naturalisation for the estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees, as well as the transformation of Palestinian camps into security zones that have so far been outside the state's authority. Harb reiterated the importance of liberating the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, underscored his commitment to all UN resolutions (from 1559 to 1701), the deployment of UNIFIL+ in Southern Lebanon and the empowerment of the military to defend the country from all foes. He called for dialogue with Syria based on established traditions, but wished to strengthen them further by insisting on mutual respect for sovereignty and independence.
Ghattas Khoury was born on December 27, 1952 in Ksar Nis and earned a medical degree from the University of Madrid. A practicing physician in Beirut, he entered politics on an affiliation with Rafik Hariri's parliamentary bloc. Khoury voluntarily stood down from his seat in 2005 to ensure that Solange Gemayel (the widow of slain president-elect Bashir Gemayel) was secure on her seat.
Nassib Lahoud, born on November 23, 1944 in Baabdat (Metn), is a trained engineer with a degree from the United Kingdom. He founded Lahoud Engineering and served as ambassador to the US (1990-1991) before running for Parliament. He won three consecutive four-year terms before he was narrowly defeated in 2005 by an Aounist candidate. He is the president of the Democratic Renewal Movement, which was founded in 2001, and is a reform-mandated opposition group that is widely supported among the country's intelligentsia.
A distant cousin of President Emile Lahoud, Nassib situated himself early on in the anti-Syrian camp and while he opposed former premier Hariri's economic policies, he agreed with the latter about the need to end Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Significantly, he was one of the few parliamentarians who voted against constitutional amendments to extend the mandates of both presidents — Hrawi in 1995 and Emile Lahoud in 2004.
Chibli Mallat was born in 1960 in Baabda and is a licensed attorney as well as a well-known scholar of contemporary Lebanese political affairs. His claim to fame was established in the prosecution of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in a Belgian court, most notably for the latter's role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres. Although a brainy contender, Mallat lacked the imprimatur, as well as Cardinal Sfeir's blessing to enter the vicious intra-Maronite arena.
Nayla Mouawad was born on July 3, 1940 in Bcharré (Metn) and is both a member of parliament from Zghorta-Tripoli and minister of social affairs in the Siniora government. She is affiliated with the Democratic Forum, established after her husband Rene Mouawad was assassinated in 1989. Although she announced her candidacy for president in 2004, Mouawad withdrew when President Emile Lahoud's term was extended. More importantly, and while a pillar of the Maronite community, she is widely believed to be setting the stage for her son, Michel (born in Jbeil in 1980), a civil engineer with an MBA from the ESSEC Business School in France, to eventually run for high office.
Jean Obeid was born on May 8, 1939 and served as minister of foreign affairs in the government of former prime minister Salim Al Hoss in the 1980s. Obeid also served as a deputy from Tripoli and is considered a dark horse.
Charles Rizk was born on July 20, 1935 in Maad (Jbeil-Metn), and served as minister of justice in the Siniora government. The former head of Tele Liban, the state's official broadcasting vehicle, Rizk gained admiration for his painstaking negotiations with United Nations envoys to help establish the international tribunal that will identify and try individuals implicated in the murder of Rafik Hariri. The gregarious Rizk is well liked on both sides of the aisle, though his uncompromising stand on the Hariri tribunal may work against him.
Articles 34, 49 and 79
Constitutional experts offer various interpretations for the required quorum to elect a president according to three articles in the constitution.
Article 34 clarifies:
The chamber is not validly constituted unless the majority of the total membership is present. Decisions are to be taken by a majority vote. Should the votes be equal, the question under consideration is deemed rejected.
Article 49 identifies presidential powers and in Section 2, states that:
The president of the republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After the first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The president's term is for six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the presidency of the republic unless he fulfils the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.
Article 79 declares (Part 1):
When a draft law dealing with a constitutional amendment is submitted to the chamber, it cannot discuss it or vote upon it except when a majority of two thirds of the members lawfully composing the chamber are present. Voting is by the same majority.
How does one interpret these clauses? Is a quorum required to elect a president? Yes, say opposition leaders. No, respond members of the majority since a simple majority will do after the first ballot. Still, while the necessity for a quorum may be subject for interpretation, established traditions compel politicians to opt for a consensus driven preference.
*Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books
Sources: Gulf News
The Whispers of War
By Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball
Oct. 1, 2007 issue - Sam Gardiner plays war for a living. a former air Force colonel who helped write contingency plans for the U.S. military, Gardiner has spent the 20 years since his retirement staging war-simulation exercises for military and policy wonks within and on the fringes of government (he keeps his client list confidential). Lately, more of his work has focused on Iran and its nuclear program. Gardiner starts by gathering various experts in a room to play the parts of government principals—the CIA director, the secretary of State, leaders of other countries—and presents them with a scenario: Iran, for example, has made a dramatic nuclear advance. Then he sits back and watches the cycle of action and reaction, occasionally lobbing new information at the participants.
In Gardiner's war games, the conduct of Iran's nemesis, Israel, is often the hardest to predict. Are Israeli intelligence officials exaggerating when they say Iran will have mastered the technology to make nuclear weapons by next year? Will Israel stage its own attack on Iran if Washington does not? Or is it posturing in order to goad America into military action? The simulations have led Gardiner to an ominous conclusion: though the United States is now emphasizing sanctions and diplomacy as the means of compelling Tehran to stop enriching uranium, an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities could end up dragging Washington into a war. "Even if Israel goes it alone, we will be blamed," says Gardiner. "Hence, we would see retaliation against U.S. interests."
How far will Israel go to keep Iran from getting the bomb? The question gained new urgency this month when Israeli warplanes carried out a mysterious raid deep in Syria and then threw up a nearly impenetrable wall of silence around the operation. Last week opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu chipped away at that wall, saying Israel did in fact attack targets in Syrian territory. His top adviser, Mossad veteran Uzi Arad, told NEWSWEEK: "I do know what happened, and when it comes out it will stun everyone."
Official silence has prompted a broad range of speculation as to what exactly took place. One former U.S. official, who like others quoted in this article declined to be identified discussing sensitive matters, says several months ago Israel presented the Bush administration with reconnaissance images and information from secret agents alleging North Korea had begun to supply nuclear-related material to Syria. Some U.S. intelligence reporting, including electronic signal intercepts, appeared to support the Israeli claims. But other U.S. officials remain skeptical about any nuclear link between Syria and North Korea. One European security source told NEWSWEEK the target might have been a North Korean military shipment to Iran that was transiting Syria. But a European intelligence official said it wasn't certain Israel had struck anything at all.
While the Bush administration appears to have given tacit support to the Syria raid, Israel and the United States are not in lockstep on Iran. For Israel, the next three months may be decisive: either Tehran succumbs to sanctions and stops enriching uranium or it must be dealt with militarily. (Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes only.) "Two thousand seven is the year you determine whether diplomatic efforts will stop Iran," says a well-placed Israeli source, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak for the government. "If by the end of the year that's not working, 2008 becomes the year you take action."
In Washington, on the other hand, the consensus against a strike is firmer than most people realize. The Pentagon worries that another war will break America's already overstretched military, while the intelligence community believes Iran is not yet on the verge of a nuclear breakthrough. The latter assessment is expected to appear in a secret National Intelligence Estimate currently nearing completion, according to three intelligence officials who asked for anonymity when discussing nonpublic material. The report is expected to say Iran will not be able to build a nuclear bomb until at least 2010 and possibly 2015. One explanation for the lag: Iran is having trouble with its centrifuge-enrichment technology, according to U.S. and European officials.
Twice in the past year, the United States has won U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran. More measures might come up at Security Council discussions later this year, and recently French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned that European nations might impose their own sanctions. One U.S. official who preferred not to be identified discussing sensitive policy matters said he took part in a meeting several months ago where intelligence officials discussed a "public diplomacy" strategy to accompany sanctions. The idea was to periodically float the possibility of war in public comments in order to keep Iran off balance. In truth, the official said, no war preparations are underway.
There are still voices pushing for firmer action against Tehran, most notably within Vice President Dick Cheney's office. But the steady departure of administration neocons over the past two years has also helped tilt the balance away from war. One official who pushed a particularly hawkish line on Iran was David Wurmser, who had served since 2003 as Cheney's Middle East adviser. A spokeswoman at Cheney's office confirmed to NEWSWEEK that Wurmser left his position last month to "spend more time with his family." A few months before he quit, according to two knowledgeable sources, Wurmser told a small group of people that Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz—and perhaps other sites—in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out. The Iranian reaction would then give Washington a pretext to launch strikes against military and nuclear targets in Iran. (Wurmser's remarks were first reported last week by Washington foreign-policy blogger Steven Clemons and corroborated by NEWSWEEK.) When NEWSWEEK attempted to reach Wurmser for comment, his wife, Meyrav, declined to put him on the phone and said the allegations were untrue. A spokeswoman at Cheney's office said the vice president "supports the president's policy on Iran."
In Iran, preparations for war are underway. "Crisis committees" have been established in each government ministry to draw up contingency plans, according to an Iranian official who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely. The regime has ordered radio and TV stations to prepare enough prerecorded programming to last for months, in case the studios are sabotaged or employees are unable to get to work. The ministries of electricity and water are working on plans to maintain service under war conditions. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also sent envoys to reach out to European negotiators recently, in the hopes of heading off further sanctions or military action.
The question may not be whether America is ready to attack, but whether Israel is. The Jewish state has cause for worry. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vows regularly to destroy the country; former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, considered a moderate, warned in 2001 that Tehran could do away with Israel with just one nuclear bomb. In Tel Aviv last week, former deputy Defense minister Ephraim Sneh concurred. Sneh, a dovish member of Israel's Parliament and a retired brigadier general, took a NEWSWEEK reporter to the observation deck atop the 50-story Azrieli Center. "There is Haifa just over the horizon, Ben-Gurion airport over there, the Defense Ministry down below," he said, to show how small the country is. "You can see in this space the majority of our intellectual, economic, political assets are concentrated. One nuclear bomb is enough to wipe out Israel."
But can the Israelis destroy Iran's nuclear program? Gardiner, the war-gamer, says they would not only need to hit a dozen nuclear sites and scores of antiaircraft batteries; to prevent a devastating retaliation, they would have to knock out possibly hundreds of long-range missiles that can carry chemical warheads. Just getting to distant Iran will be tricky for Israel's squadrons of American-made F-15s and F-16s. Danny Yatom, who headed Mossad in the 1990s, says the planes would have to operate over Iran for days or weeks. Giora Eiland, Israel's former national-security adviser, now with Tel Aviv's Institute of National Security Studies, ticked off the drawbacks: "Effectiveness, doubtful. Danger of regional war. Hizbullah will immediately attack [from Lebanon], maybe even Syria." Yet Israelis across the political spectrum, including Eiland and Yatom, believe the risk incurred by inaction is far greater. "The military option is not the worst option," Yatom says. "The worst option is a nuclear Iran."
The idea of a pre-emptive strike also has popular support. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the raid on Syria earlier this month, his approval rating was in the teens. Since then, it has jumped to nearly 30 percent. And though Olmert may not believe Israeli warplanes can get to all the targets, he might be willing to gamble on even a limited success. "No one in their right mind thinks that there's a clinical way to totally destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities," says the well-placed Israeli source. "You strike at some and set the project back. You play for time and hope Ahmadinejad will eventually fall."
Alternatively, Israel might count on Tehran to retaliate against American targets as well, drawing in the superpower. To avoid that outcome, Gardiner believes, Washington must prevent Israel from attacking in the first place. "The United States does not want to turn the possibility of a general war in the Middle East over to the decision making in Israel," he says. Does not want to, certainly—but might not have a choice.
**With Rod Nordland in Jerusalem, Christopher Dickey in New York and John Barry in Washington
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc. |
ALC Statement on the Assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem
September 19, 2007
The American Lebanese Coalition condemns, in the strongest terms, the terrorist car bombing in a suburb of Beirut today, which claimed the lives of Lebanese Member of Parliament Mr. Antoine Ghanem and several other innocent Lebanese citizens.
The timing of this heinous crime, which comes on the eve of the upcoming presidential elections in Lebanon, is not coincidental and neither are its objectives a mystery to any objective observer. The forces of evil that assassinated former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and all the subsequent martyrs of Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution are the obvious and only beneficiaries of this atrocious act of terrorism. It is no secret that the Syrian regime is determined to reverse the progress of the Cedar Revolution, to prevent the election of a pro-sovereignty President and to fuel the counter-revolution by its cronies in Lebanon. But the Lebanese people will not be discouraged by terror nor will their resolve to restore Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty wane. The lives of Mr. Ghanem and the other victims of today’s car bomb are new sacraments on the altar of democracy, dignity and independence. Nevertheless, the torch that Mr. Ghanem carried shall remain alive through the majority of Lebanese people, who share his objectives and his dedication to Lebanon’s independence. We offer our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of the victims in particular and to the Lebanese people in general and we pray for the rapid recovery of the injured.
Hazem Saghieh Al-Hayat - 22/09/07//
If we consider the traditional characterization of the Phalangists as "fascists" and apply it to Lebanon's current situation, we derive a whole new meaning to the term: it comes to mean terrorized, murdered and threatened.
I say in consideration of the number of Phalangists who have been victims of assassination - their assassins being much closer to fascist than their victims. The same can be said of the members of March 14, who alone are being murdered at a rate that casts doubt on any doubter.
It would have been possible to claim - as some do - that America is behind these killings, if it were not also being accused of interfering in Lebanon through its support for election of a president by a simple majority. For it is doubtful that America - and its ally Israel, whom it has become a duty to accuse - would work towards trimming a majority of its "creation."
The same can be said for the members of March 14 - who are accused of seeking to expand their power and are thus unlikely to eliminate the very individuals through whom they seeks this expansion.
This all reveals a series of truths that are difficult to hide: There is a growing populist belief in light of the current political stalemate that the politicians themselves are equally implicated in what is happening. That is incorrect - for those being killed are not in league with those benefiting from their deaths. This is not to defend March 14 but rather to emphasize that holding them accountable is contingent on the presence of a state, of laws, of borders and the monopoly on violence within them in the hands of legitimate authorities. As for the opponents of the 14 March members, their harm affects the fundamentals, preventing the final from being finalized, thus lending the assassinations tools and utility.
Without succumbing to our tendency to absolve ourselves from blame, such tactics are not based on a Lebanese precedent. It is true that the people of Lebanon paved the way for and fought their own civil war - with all its atrocities and wrongdoings. Yet assassinations of the kind that befell Antoine Ghanem and those before him require the cold, bureaucratic calculation of 'ideological' regimes. We do not see conservative and traditional Arab regimes dealing in assassinations - in detonations and bombings. For Riad al Solh, King Abdullah I of Jordan, Hazzah Al Majali, Nassib Al Metni, Kamel Mroueh and Wasfi Al Tal were slain either at the hands of fanatical parties or ideological military regimes that employ similar means. Similarly, Lebanon's politics - with the exception of the later civil war years - have not witnessed this method of settling political disputes. Beshara El Khoury never murdered Emile Edde, nor did Fouad Shehab kill Camille Chamoun.
This underlines the fundamental contrast between the factions involved. This is what several local factions are trying to cover up - factions that cannot guarantee their own power and representation without driving us to the depths of despair. How can we live with such lies while they enjoy popular support