June 04/08


Free Opinions, Releases, letters & Special Reports
Exploiting Hezbollah’s Coup-By Tariq Alhomayad-Asharq Alawsat - 04/06/08
Riyadh Versus Damascus. By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed 04/06/08

A One Package Deal. By Mamoun Fandy, Ph.D. 04/06/08
Hezbollah army arises as a potent force under Lebanon's peace deal-Christopher Torchia, 04/06/08


A One Package Deal
By Mamoun Fandy, Ph.D./senior fellow for Gulf security and director of the Middle East programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. Before joining IISS

Anyone that tries to understand the Doha agreement between the Lebanese adversaries from a Lebanese perspective would be making a mistake because the correct perspective to understand this agreement is not Lebanon but Iraq. First of all, the Doha agreement between the Lebanese adversaries is a diplomatic package deal by all standards. But the issue is not in Doha nor is it in Lebanon. The issue is that of two battles, two camps, two states, and two operation theaters. As the countries of moderation in the region thought that Lebanon was the principal theater for diplomatic action, the eyes of the United States, Iran, and Turkey were on another playground; namely, Iraq. Iraq is the true arena for diplomatic action. Iraq is where everything is taking place and is the large strategic playground that is full of diplomatic prizes. That is why all the steps taken by these three states [United States, Iran, and Turkey] and all their energies were on this playground rather than on Lebanon as the Arabs imagined. While Arab diplomacy -represented by the Arab League and Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa were busy in the Lebanese playground, the US-Iranian-Turkish diplomatic game was about to end on the Iraqi playground.
As the Arabs were expecting US President George W. Bush to announce the establishment of the Palestinian state - in his speech in Sharm al-Sheikh during his recent visit to Egypt - the United States, Iran, and Turkey (the other team in the other playground) were seeking to end the dream of the establishment of the Kurdish state. A Kurdish state is the common threat to each of Iran, Turkey, and Syria; they are obsessed with this threat. No doubt, the dream of establishing the Palestinian state is not a concern for the Turks and the Iranians. Their concern is the establishment of a Kurdish state. As everyone knows, the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] is a thorn in the side of the modern Turkish state. This party that is known for its radicalism and its activities in northern Iraq and southern Turkey has forced the Turkish forces to enter Iraqi soil several times in order to chase the PKK Kurdish rebels. There are more than 20 million Kurds in Turkey, that is, more than 40% of the entire population, and about six million Kurds in Iran that are concentrated in four provinces in northwest Iran. They represented a real threat to the Iranian state before and during the reign of the former Shah and even after the establishment of the Islamic Republic although the Kurds initially supported this republic. It is the joint Kurdish threat to both Iran and Turkey that drove the Iranians and the Turks to sign an agreement during the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran. This agreement provides for cooperation between the two countries to confront the Kurdish fighters and prevent them from establishing an independent Kurdish "entity" in northern Iraq that may lead to strengthening the Kurdish secessionist movement and establish a Kurdish state in the region.
In Syria, the Kurdish problem may assert a lower presence than in Turkey and Iran; however, this problem does exist. The riots in Al-Qamishli in northeastern Syria in the past few years attest to this presence. There are about two million Kurds in Syria. They are to be found inmost of the major Syrian towns and regions and they are concentrated in most of the towns and villages of the Province of Al-Hasakah. Syria's Kurds have always been influenced by the Kurdish activities in the neighboring countries. Syrian Kurds have volunteered to serve in the ranks of the Peshmerga in northern Iraq and the almost public presence of the PKK in the Syrian arena revived the spirit of Kurdish nationalism. The revival of this spirit of nationalism drove the majority of the Kurdish youths to fight in the mountains of Kurdistan.
The main point here is that the largest strategic arena in which the United States invested its diplomatic efforts was in Iraq not in Lebanon. The United States wants to stop the attacks on its forces in Iraq and its basic goal in the region is to score an acceptable victory. Meanwhile, Iran wants to have strategic influence in southern Iraq and wants an Iraqi government in Baghdad that is close to Tehran. It also wants to crush the dream of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq. The United States is ready to negotiate with Iran to obtain what is mentioned above in return for ceasing its nuclear enrichment activities, ending its confrontation with the United States in Iraq, and ending its support for the military religious parties such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others. Turkey wants the same thing but in return for Iran's influence in southern Iraq, it wants to have its influence in northern Iraq. In addition to its wish to end the dream of the Kurdish state, Syria wants the Golan in return for Lebanon, as I said in a previous article.
The interests of all these states intertwine with those of the United States in the Iraqi playground. The three countries (Iran, Turkey, and Syria) are key players in the Iraqi arena and Iran and Syria are also key players in the Lebanese arena. Since the main concern of the US Administration is to score a modest face-saving victory in Iraq, it has concluded that it should negotiate with these three countries despite all the differences and the reciprocal animosity. Thus, the Doha agreement to solve the Lebanese conflict constitutes part of a deal to appease the Iranian and Syrian players for the sake of US interests in Iraq not in Lebanon. We should also not forget that the United States is well aware that it is Hezbollah that has the military power in Lebanon. This was demonstrated in two recent events: The July 2006 war with Israel and the military control of Hezbollah's men on Beirut during the recent Lebanese crisis.
Naturally, Qatar has a very important side issue with Iran concerning the northern oil field [Haql al-Shimal] that sits on a quarter of the world's gas reserve. This field may cause tension in international relations and a serious problem similar to that of Saddam's against Kuwait on the Al-Rumaylah oil field that led to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Furthermore, Qatar has important diplomatic relations with the United States. The two major military bases of the United States are on its soil. This is what brought the Qatari role and made Qatar the diplomatic mediator of the United States with the countries in the region. The interconnected interests of the United States, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Qatar drove Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa AlThani to visit Syria, Tehran, and southern Lebanon. These interests also led to issuing an invitation to Iranian President Ahmadinejad to attend the recent Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] summit that convened in the Qatari capital Doha.
It is these intertwined interests that also brought in the Turks and the Israelis in the person of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to attend the activities of the Doha Forum for Democracy, Development, and Free Trade in Doha following Qatari and Turkish visits to Syria and Syrian visits, on the level of the head of state, to both Turkey and Qatar. These intertwined interests cooked a joint peace deal in one package and led the Doha agreement on Lebanon, the announcement on the Syrian-Israeli negotiations, and the secret negotiations between Hamas and Israel to coincide with one another. It is perhaps the US Administration's reassurance that the success of this diplomatic deal - that solved several thorny files - is imminent that drove US President George W. Bush to take a hard-line stance with Egypt in his speech in Sharm al-Sheikh. When the United States sensed that the camp of moderation in the Arab world is not docile and is not open with it as it wishes, it decided to deal with the original hard-liners - Iran, Syria, and the radical movements - believing that if it has the chance to deal with the original hard-liners, why should it deal with conventional ones?
What happened simply is that while the Arab League was playing with the Lebanese teams on the Lebanese playground, the United States and the countries that have similar interests were running the game in the Iraqi playground. It was a professional ploy that "resolved" all the issues in one package deal.

Exploiting Hezbollah’s Coup
By Tariq Alhomayad
the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat
Amidst the blaze of forming the Lebanese government, numerous statements have emerged here and there from the conflicting factions with each group justifying its position by relying either on the Taif Accords or the outcome of the recent Doha meetings. However it is evident that the opposition; Hezbollah specifically, is only relying upon the May 7 coup and the occupation of Beirut.
How should we interpret Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah’s warning to the majority in parliament that, “If it [the majority] is convinced and follows the correct path then we will walk with it down this long road and together we can build a state and society and live with happiness and pride. If it does not accept the past experience, then it will be incapable of changing or achieving anything.”
But even graver were the comments made by Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan, Deputy President of the Higher Islamic Shia Council in Lebanon who stated: “The absence of the Shia signature from the government will not be permitted,” and called for “creating a vice presidential post to be filled by a Shia so that the Shia may take part in the decision-making process, in the case of them not getting the Ministry of Finance.”
Sheikh Qabalan did not stop there; he continued to speak about [the ministries of] justice and interior and the necessity of having neutral judges and officers as it is not right for innocent people to be imprisoned without having recourse to a fair trial, he said.
What Sheikh Qabalan seeks is the release of the four officers embroiled in the case of Rafik Hariri’s assassination. This matter is shrouded in suspicion and it foreshadows bigger things to come in near future. Moreover, it is clear that there are roles being doled out by Hezbollah and its followers.
Sheikh Qabalan launched an attack on Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic the day that he warned against the sedition of the May 7 coup. Sheikh Qabalan said, “If some leaders are happy to become tools in the hands of Israel so that it may achieve its goals, then is it conceivable for those in religious positions to be dragged behind them and cover them [leaders] with their evocative speeches?”
But Sheikh Qabalan took it even further when he defended Iran in response to Walid Jumblatt’s call for the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon. He said that such questionable demands “fall under the framework of Israeli and American incitement.”
All of the above suggests that Hezbollah and its supporters act based on the coup that they carried out and their occupation of Beirut and not in accordance with the Doha Agreement.
Hezbollah and its supporters want the sovereign ministries and want to create a vice-presidential post to be filled by a Shia and they brag about what happened in Beirut rather than apologize for what they have perpetrated. And why not? In his most recent speech to his supporters, didn’t Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah say “I have promised you victory” in reference to his martyrs in comparison to the victims on the other side? So this means that his affiliates are martyrs while others rank lower in life and death!
The danger of all of the aforesaid is that it can only aggravate matters, in addition to firmly establishing the belief amongst some that accumulating weapons and preparation are necessary – whilst there is nothing to guarantee that Hezbollah will not repeat its actions, especially since the party’s supporters continue to remind their opponents of the Beirut coup.
The gravity does not lie in the fact that this comes from a Hezbollah MP but rather that it comes from a man of considerable status and who occupies the position of Deputy President of the Higher Islamic Shia Council in Lebanon.

Riyadh Versus Damascus
By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
the general manager of Al -Arabiya television.
A battle is taking place between Riyadh and Damascus.
It is a silent battle on the part of Riyadh, but noisy on the part of Damascus. Damascus rejected the Arab League secretary general's proposal to reform the Arabs' relations with Iran. Syria rejected the idea in its capacity as president of the Arab summit. It holds the view that no one is in disagreement with Tehran and, therefore, let the Saudis alone deal with the problem. Damascus leaked its views to the Lebanese press. Even though it officially denied these views, everyone knows that they are literally Syrian, not Iranian, statements in spite of Damascus's attempt to imply that they are Iranian. For some time now, Damascus has been trying to convince the Gulf leaders that Iran is behind the statements and reports that come out of Beirut and behind the events that take place there and that Damascus has nothing to do with them.
Surely, Iran plays a large role in the crises of the region. However, we cannot hold it responsible for everything happens and said in the region, even if they were attributed to an Iranian news agency, such as Fars, or others, which were lately used a lot in publishing statements of Syrian origin to keep suspicions away from Damascus and fasten them on Iran, or even if they were attributed to the Iranian Television Network.
What makes the disagreement with the Iranians different is that it is obvious and can be defined. The Iranian regime's desire to dominate the Arab region from the Gulf and Iraq to Lebanon is now public. They [the Iranians] told the Americans "we have a role to play in Iraq and the Gulf" and said to the Saudis" come let us reach an understanding on Lebanon" and so forth. However, it is difficult for one to imagine that the Iranian regime's desire would be fulfilled without causing dangers and extremely serious sectarian conflict. Thus, the situation suffers a political and security tension. Besides, there is the nuclear issue, and Iran does not hide its intentions to make nuclear weapons. The Gulf region is more affected by this danger than by Israel, the name of which is used to justify the making of weapons, as Saddam used to do in the 1980s. Afterward, he used his deadly weapons against Iran and his Kurdish compatriots and occupied Kuwait. The six Gulf states are collectively convinced that the Iranian weapons target them. The Iranian weapons will subject these Gulf states to Iran's blackmail in the future, if not directly used against them. These disagreements with Iran are clear. Even though they are serious, communication between Riyadh and Tehran never ceased. In fact, it has been said that this communication saved the region during some periods of tension, even though it failed during the crisis of Hezbollah's recent coup. For the first time, this crisis led to a public verbal altercation between the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
That is why Damascus's leaked press statements were exciting. They show a state of tension and fury and a desire to invent a clash. They complement statements that were made early this year by Syrian Vice President Farooq al-Sharaa who predicted the downfall of the Saudi oil regions. The Syrian statements that were recently leaked to the press said Saudi Arabia was conspiring to overthrow the Syrian regime. What a charge! I am sure the Syrians know very well that if Saudi Arabia adopted a plan to topple their regime, the plan would not be impossible and would be carried out in a "legitimate" way. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia is not like Syria in dealing with crises. The severest penal action that that Saudi Arabia takes in such situations is to reduce or sever its contacts. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia supported stability in Syria throughout the past 30 years, not necessarily because it loved the regime, but because it is against chaos in the region. Saudi Arabia believes that disagreements, no matter how bad, can be resolved in the end. It held the view that if regimes do not rectify their behavior, they do not livelong, no matter how many alliances they establish.
Currently, the Syrians are persistently engaged in a campaign of various forms through many parties with the aim of insulting, provoking, and intimidating the Saudis, out of their belief that this campaign will force their adversaries to submit to their demands. Anyway, let us wait and see.

Hezbollah army arises as a potent force under Lebanon's peace deal
Christopher Torchia, Associated Press
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Hezbollah fighters have pulled back since seizing parts of Lebanon's capital, but their brazen display has made one thing clear: A private army blamed for terrorist attacks on Western interests and dedicated to the destruction of Israel will be a fixture in this weakened country for a long time.
Lebanon is an ideal incubator for Hezbollah's military clout, just as Afghanistan served al Qaeda. Lebanon's U.S.-funded military doesn't interfere with the thousands of rockets and missiles that militants are believed to have hidden in basements and bunkers throughout Shiite Muslim areas of the tiny country.
Hezbollah's refusal to discuss disarmament at talks with Lebanese factions in Qatar recently means it has formidable firepower to unleash at will. This could have wider implications, given Hezbollah's summer war with Israel two years ago, though some Lebanese suspect Hezbollah's main objectives include local power grabs and settling ethnic scores.
"Hezbollah's mask has dropped," said Ayman Kharma, a Sunni Muslim cleric whose fourth-floor apartment in the northern city of Tripoli was blasted during fighting this month with a militia allied to Hezbollah. "We were in favor of Hezbollah when it was fighting Israel. Now we see it from the inside."
Kharma was talking about the sectarian tone of the violence, with Shiite militants from Hezbollah targeting Sunnis tied to the government. He spoke in the blackened wreckage of what was his living room, littered with fragments of rocket-propelled grenades.
Hezbollah says its chief goal is to fight Israel, and its combat record - burnished by the 2006 war - has earned it respect throughout the Arab world. The attire of a Shiite fighter in the recent fighting in Lebanon testified to past and present conflicts: an Israeli helmet, green fatigues with a "U.S. Army" stamp, a black T-shirt and an American-made M4 carbine with a telescopic sight.
Witnesses say Hezbollah fighters used automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, but refrained from shelling parts of Beirut with mortar rounds, which would have threatened civilians for minimal military gain.
The witnesses said militants handed out cell phone numbers to shopkeepers, telling them to call if anyone attacked their stores. Hashim Jaber, a former brigadier general in the Lebanese army, described many Hezbollah combatants as "grade C, grade B" operatives who acted like military police officers, supervising unruly fighters from allied militias.
Unlike Sunni al Qaeda, Shiite Hezbollah is a social and political movement inspired by Iran's Islamic revolution. It has stepped back from the spectacular bombings, kidnappings and hijackings in which it was implicated in the 1980s and 1990s, but praises Palestinian suicide bombers and helps the Palestinian group Hamas, which has repeatedly fired rockets into Israel from Gaza.
The United States lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group and denounces suspected aid by Iran and Syria. Washington also says Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda have taken advantage of instability to infiltrate Lebanon, where extremism breeds in Palestinian refugee camps.
Hezbollah says it doesn't have a foreign branch, but it is believed to have operatives and fundraisers as far afield as Latin America, and among other Shiite Muslim communities in Lebanon's diaspora of more than 10 million.
In 2006, Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets at Israel, and intelligence experts believe it now has a longer-range arsenal.
Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel's chief of military intelligence, says Hezbollah maintains a "massive" presence close to Lebanon's southern border with Israel, including rockets, combat forces and observation points, in violation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the 2006 war. U.N. patrols in the area have not reported similar claims, though the United Nations has complained of illicit arms shipments to Hezbollah and Israeli overflights.
"If there is a future flare-up, Hezbollah will try to attack Israel not only from the area south of the Litani (River) but from deep inside Lebanon as well," Yadlin said in an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
He said Hezbollah has munitions that "now cover large areas of Israel" in contrast to rockets that mostly hit only the north during the war. The comments match claims by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Hezbollah has built a private telephone network to shield operatives from eavesdropping and be more resistant to aerial bombing. The government reversed a decision to ban the fiber-optic system after Hezbollah's fighters and allies overran parts of Beirut and other areas earlier this month, killing dozens in scenes reminiscent of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.
A purported map of the phone network, released by a government ally, shows links that stretch from Hezbollah's base of Dahiyeh in the southern suburbs of Beirut, through the coastal cities of Sidon and Tyre to areas near the Israeli border and up the entire length of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon's interior. It follows Lebanon's sectarian divide, connecting virtually all Shiite Muslim areas but not Sunni Muslim and Christian areas.
Jaber, the former military commander, said the network was designed for military rather than commercial use, and should be included in any discussion of Hezbollah's weaponry.
The best Hezbollah fighters are believed to have trained in Iran, others at camps in northeast Lebanon, near Syria.
Shlomo Brom, former head of strategic planning on the Israeli military's general staff, said Israeli intelligence estimated that Hezbollah lost 500 to 600 fighters in the 2006 war.
"The only area where it is not clear whether they were able to reconstruct successfully since the war is the training of new cadres, because they had quite a large number of casualties," he said. "It is not easy to replace them, because those were people who were trained for the past 10 years."
**This article appeared on page A - 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle