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« Reply #100 on: September 08, 2006, 02:00:56 PM »

Russia to probe Hizbullah weapons
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, at her meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, reiterated Israel's concerns that Russian-produced weapons sold to Syria reached Hizbullah.

Israel has complained that Hizbullah had Russian-made anti-tank missiles - which it bought from Syria - in its possession and that these weapons caused many of the casualties the IDF suffered in the war in Lebanon. IDF forces that captured Hizbullah positions found weapons with Russian markings - among them Kornet guided anti-tank missiles - stashed in the group's bunkers. Russia has previously assured Israel that none of the weapons it sold to Syria would reach Hizbullah.

  • Hizbullah weapons cloud Lavrov visit
  • The rocket hunters - best in the world

However, Lavrov said at a press conference after Friday's meeting that his country was now investigating the possibility. "We have clear rules under which a country cannot transfer weapons we sell it to a third party," he said.

Livni said that Lebanon had "a clear and unconditional responsibility to enforce the weapons embargo called for by the Security Council. If Syria does not comply with the resolution, it should face sanctions. Syria must understand that a condition for its acceptance in the international community is ending its support for terror and for Hizbullah."

Addressing the overall situation in the Middle East, Lavrov expressed support for an Arab League initiative proposed earlier this week for an international peace conference under the auspices of the UN Security Council that would bypass the Road Map plan and call for direct negotiations between Israel and its neighbors - Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

Livni said that Israel was opposed to the Arab proposal, and that an international conference was not the right move under the current circumstances. She added however, that Israel was in favor of resuming dialogue with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and that a meeting with him should take place soon. "That doesn't mean there will be peace tomorrow morning, but we've got to see what we need to do to talk about the future," the foreign minister said.

Denny Schlesinger
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« Reply #101 on: September 08, 2006, 08:38:57 PM »

Israel, Lebanon: Olmert's Loaded Land Offer

Israel might be willing to hand over the disputed Shebaa Farms to Lebanon should all provisions of the cease-fire that ended Israeli-Hezbollah hostilities be carried out, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sept. 8. Even hinting at giving up the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon, however, further damages Olmert's credibility while providing Hezbollah with another claim to victory against Israel. In spite of this, Israel's symbolic offer is intended to strip the militant group of its legitimacy as a resistance movement and to set Hezbollah up for an Israeli assault in the Bekaa Valley.


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 8 that Israel would consider handing over the disputed Shebaa Farms to Lebanon, provided the Lebanese government follows through on its commitment to fully disarm Hezbollah.

The Shebaa Farms is a small area claimed by Lebanon stretching less than 10 square miles between the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian borders. Israel seized the territory during the 1967 Six-Day War. The area later was declared part of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights of Syria by the United Nations in 1974. In his discussions with Lavrov, Olmert stipulated that the United Nations must officially declare the Shebaa Farms Lebanese territory before Israel will negotiate the land transfer.

The Shebaa Farms is of strategic value to Israel, given its location on Mount Hermon, approximately 5,000 feet above sea level. The territory provides Israel with a vantage point to monitor Hezbollah strongholds in the Bekaa Valley to the north. The Shebaa Farms was also crucial for Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars against Syria. Israel has used the area primarily as an observation post for signals intelligence and electronic warfare. With Hezbollah having solidified its positions in the valley below the Shebaa Farms, Israel would be sacrificing a key outpost that could potentially be turned over to Hezbollah through its aides in the Lebanese army, giving the militant group the high ground.

Such an elevated position would allow artillery and rocket fire to be targeted by line of sight rather than calculated using a magnetic azimuth. It would also allow adjusted fire to bring northern Israeli cities, such as Qiryat Shemona, a major staging ground for the Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon, into target range. Hezbollah would, however, use the territory with caution in the event of another conflict. The militant group's true effectiveness in the conflict came from drawing Israel Defense Forces (IDF) into unknown fields of fire and close combat in urban areas. In other words, for Hezbollah, a well-defined fortified position with which Israeli forces are intimately familiar could well bring any Hezbollah forces in the Shebaa Farms under heavy shelling and airstrikes.

Beyond its military value, the issue of retaking the Shebaa Farms is grounded on Hezbollah's purpose as a resistance movement. Hezbollah maintains that it has a right to keep its weapons in order to defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression and to retake the disputed area. By hinting at negotiations over the Shebaa Farms, Olmert is looking to strip the resistance movement of its purpose and expose Hezbollah's true intent to retain its military credentials.

Removing the Shebaa Farms cause will amplify Lebanese government pressure on Hezbollah to completely dismantle its military arm, in an effort to prevent another devastating conflict with Lebanon's southern neighbor. Hezbollah has steadily entrenched itself in the Lebanese political system to prepare for this day of reckoning, and its fighting days are still far from over. The group has already successfully manipulated the cease-fire demand that it remove its military presence in the south.

Meanwhile, Iran is in the middle of an aggressive campaign to assert its influence throughout the arm of the Shiite crescent extending into the Levant, and will be unwilling to sacrifice its potent military asset in Lebanon at this time. Moreover, Hezbollah is fully aware Israel will not allow its military prowess against a guerrilla group to remain in question. Once Israel sorts itself out internally -- in the form of a major government upheaval that likely will see Olmert replaced -- IDF will revisit its objective of crippling Hezbollah by launching an assault against the group's strongholds in the Bekaa Valley. Recent Hezbollah movements indicate the group is already preparing for this eventuality.

The Shebaa Farms offer also allows Israel to destabilize Syria's relationship with its proxies in Lebanon, as the Syrian regime will be sweating over the idea of Israel cementing a separate deal with Lebanon while the Syrian claim to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights is left in the dust.

Given these considerations, Olmert's offer to negotiate over the Shebaa Farms appears to be largely disingenuous. If Hezbollah ignores the offer and retains its arms by sticking to its right to defend Lebanon in future conflicts, as Olmert expects, Israel will be able to brand Hezbollah as an Iranian agent. Olmert can then try to shore up international support for Israeli action to neutralize Hezbollah forces in the Bekaa. In the meantime, however, he will be taking a political hit by discussing a deal regarding the Shebaa Farms; the move will make him look weak on national security by appearing to award the symbolic Hezbollah feat of forcing an Israeli compromise on the disputed territory.
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« Reply #102 on: September 25, 2006, 06:17:53 AM »

From today's NY Times:


U.N. Force Is Treading Lightly on Lebanese Soil
 Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Italian soldiers in Lebanon say that for now, they cannot even set up a checkpoint. Instead, they alert the Lebanese Army of any suspicious cars.

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Published: September 25, 2006
TIBNIN, Lebanon, Sept. 24 ? One month after a United Nations Security Council resolution ended a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon?s Hezbollah militia, members of the international force sent to help keep the peace say their mission is defined more by what they cannot do than by what they can.

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The New York Times
United Nations officials in Tibnin say part of their job is to stay neutral.
They say they cannot set up checkpoints, search cars, homes or businesses or detain suspects. If they see a truck transporting missiles, for example, they say they can not stop it. They cannot do any of this, they say, because under their interpretation of the Security Council resolution that deployed them, they must first be authorized to take such action by the Lebanese Army.

The job of the United Nations force, and commanders in the field repeat this like a mantra, is to respect Lebanese sovereignty by supporting the Lebanese Army. They will only do what the Lebanese authorities ask.

The Security Council resolution, known as 1701, was seen at the time as the best way to halt the war, partly by giving Israel assurances that Lebanon?s southern border would be policed by a robust international force to prevent Hezbollah militants from attacking. When the resolution was approved, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one of its principal architects, said the force?s deployment would help ?protect the Lebanese people and prevent armed groups such as Hezbollah from destabilizing the area.?

But the resolution?s diplomatic language skirted a fundamental question: what kind of policing power would be given to the international force? The resolution leaves open the possibility that the Lebanese Army would grant such policing power, but the force?s commanders say that so far, at least, that has not happened.

?There?s a lot of misunderstanding what we are doing here,? said Lt. Col. Stefano Cappellaro, an Italian commander with the San Marco Regiment.

The force, known as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or Unifil, now has 5,000 troops on the ground, including 1,000 from Italy, and is stepping gently as it tries to carve out a role in a country that is feeling its way through the postwar period. It is early in the United Nations mission, but officials say that their most difficult task, and one they are adamant about achieving, is not being drawn into any power struggles between the religious and political factions in Lebanon. ?We will not get involved in any domestic or regional politics,?? said Milos Strugar, senior adviser to the force.

The force is larger and better equipped than an earlier Unifil contingent, which has been on the border with Israel for years. But at the moment, the Lebanese government and the United Nations have a similar agenda in trying to win the trust of the Lebanese people and not have the force become a tool of political factions looking to incite domestic conflict. The goal is to be viewed as a peacekeeping force, not an occupier.

So while there may have been some expectation that the international force would disarm or restrain Hezbollah, or search for hidden weapons caches, the commanders on the ground say very clearly that those tasks are not their job for now. ?We will advise, help and assist the Lebanese forces,? said Col. Rosario Walter Guerrisi, commander of the San Marco Regiment, referring to the Lebanese Army.

But the challenges facing their determined neutrality are significant and often beyond their control. In Syria, for example, President Bashar al-Assad was reported in the Lebanese news media to have told a visiting Lebanese delegation that the strengthened United Nations force, with its heavy European contingent, resembled a force from NATO. In Lebanon, the United Nations force found its credibility questioned when German officials said that their country would contribute to the naval patrols off the coast of Lebanon as a means to protect Israel.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has also questioned the purpose of the expanded force.

?Thus far, I have not heard any country participating in the Unifil say that it sent its sons and soldiers to defend Lebanon and the Lebanese,? he said in a speech Friday before hundreds of thousands of his supporters. ?They are ashamed of us, brothers and sisters. They are ashamed of saying they came to defend us, but they talk about defending Israel.?

Hezbollah has so far acted in accordance with the cease-fire terms of 1701, which prohibits the deployment of weapons south of the Litani River, close to the Israeli border.

When the United Nations Security Council passed 1701, which set up the cease-fire, it outlined basic principles with few specifics. One of those principles was that militias were to be disarmed in compliance with earlier agreements and resolutions. It did not say, though, that the United Nations force would carry that out.

Hezbollah, the only militia that did not lay down its weapons after the Lebanese civil war ended, has made it clear that it is not going to surrender those weapons now. And Sheik Nasrallah made it clear that the international forces had better not even think about trying.

(Page 2 of 2)

In Israel, skepticism about the effectiveness of the enlarged United Nations force has always been high, particularly about disarming Hezbollah or enforcing the arms embargo on it. Israeli military officials have said that if they find evidence that trucks from Syria are resupplying rockets and launchers to Hezbollah, Israel will be justified in bombing those trucks. Israel also notes that Unifil is barely 5,000 troops now, just 3,000 more than the old Unifil, still a long way from the 15,000 foreseen in the U.N. resolution.

The United Nations officials here say their primary duty, and the one that carries the most long-term benefits for both sides, is to help strengthen the Lebanese Army. At the moment, officials say the first priority is to make sure that all of the Israeli Defense Forces withdraw from land occupied during the war. United Nations officials said the process should be completed by the end of the month. The process involves weekly meetings along the border to set up a schedule that allows Israel to withdraw and the United Nations forces to move in, followed by the Lebanese forces. So far 85 percent of Israel?s forces have withdrawn, the United Nations said.

The formula for ending the war was also contingent on the state?s asserting its authority in the south, primarily by dispatching 15,000 Lebanese troops to the area. The resolution called for the Lebanese Army to be supplemented by up to 15,000 foreign troops. Officials say that the ultimate size of the foreign force will be determined based on need ? and one United Nations adviser said that meant it was unlikely the number of troops would ever exceed 10,000.

But however large the force, its officers said it would never be large enough if the population began to view it as an occupying force. The United Nations first set up an international force here in 1976, and so the people of the region are accustomed to seeing foreign troops in the blue berets of the United Nations.

But the new troops have stepped into Lebanon at a particularly tense time, as Hezbollah and the American-supported government are jockeying for position and power. If the Lebanese government did decide to expand the responsibilities of the troops now, they would risk turning them into targets of attack. These forces are much better equipped than past forces, and that has people a bit nervous about their mission.

?If these troops are going to clash with the resistance, they are going to clash with the people,? said Abu Rowda Noureddin, 64, as he collected free blankets and food supplies from the Red Crescent Society. He lives in the village of Burj Qalawiyah, a community of just 1,000 year-round residents in southern Lebanon that took heavy fire from Israeli jets.

The village is about 70 miles from Beirut and a short drive from a base staffed by Italian forces. Like most residents of neighboring villages, the people were essentially ignored by their government for many years. There is one school, no high school and few jobs. Villagers said that five times since 1972 the Israeli military had invaded their village, and so even those who said they did not count themselves as Hezbollah members said they counted themselves as Hezbollah supporters.

?The people here will fight against anybody who tries with force to take Hezbollah?s weapons away,?? said Ibrahim Noureddin, another villager.

Up the hill, past houses pocked by shrapnel, the mukhtar, a kind of village administrator, was busy taking an inventory of the damage to crops and olive and fruit trees. He said that the Italian forces recently gave his community $3,000 to buy aluminum and glass to repair the school, which was damaged in an Israeli raid. ?It was a very nice gesture on the part of the Italians,? he said.

But like everyone else, he said that for the forces to remain welcome they must demonstrate they are there to protect the Lebanese from Israel ? not to police the Lebanese on behalf of Israel.

Not far away, on a busy road heading toward Beirut, Colonel Cappellaro stood beside two armored personnel carriers and 11 of his soldiers as cars sped by. He said that they were conducting a ?static point,? as opposed to a checkpoint. If they saw anything suspicious they would notify the Lebanese Army. But the Lebanese Army was a good way up the road. At this point, he said, it would be impossible for the two forces to actually staff a check point together.

?When you don?t know each other?s procedures, you can not overlap,? he said before climbing into his jeep and driving off.
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« Reply #103 on: September 28, 2006, 11:58:33 AM »

GPO warns press on doctored photos

The Government Press Office held a meeting with heads of foreign news agencies earlier this month to protest the doctoring of photographs of the recent Lebanon war and the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, and warned them that action could be taken against them if this practice continued, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The director of the Government Press Office, Danny Seaman, told the Post Israel reserved the right to act against any media outlets working out of Israel if they "fail to conduct themselves in a professional manner."

The foreign journalists' coverage of the Lebanon war was discussed, with the meeting focused on doctored photographs used by news agencies, Seaman said.

"This was something new to the world, but we've seen it before," he said. "We expect them to take precautions in the future. If they are not taking the necessary measures to maintain professional standards then we reserve the right to take action against their offices in Israel."

The GPO cannot act directly against foreign press services, but it can make recommendations to the Communications, Foreign and Defense ministries, Seaman said.

The only action taken by the government against the news agencies during the recent war was to send complaints to their main offices.

Seaman spoke of staged photos from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, such as people standing in front of destroyed homes and falsely claiming ownership and instances in which photographers asked people to "recreate" reported incidents. He also said Palestinian photographers would sometimes tell children to throw rocks or have adults carry children pretending to be injured.

He also referred to photos making damage in Lebanon appear worse than it actually was.

After American Web blogs publicized the doctoring of a Reuters photograph, Reuters put the freelance photographer on leave and removed the photo from its Web site. The photograph showed a smoky, bombed area in southern Beirut. While the area had been hit in IAF air raids, the photographer added billows of smoke and additional damage to buildings using computer-imaging technology.

Reuters said it took the matter seriously and that its policy was not to alter photos.

Seaman said he had met with the bureau chiefs of Reuters, The Associated Press and the Foreign Press Association in his Jerusalem office to discuss actions that he described as "fueling anti-Israel sentiment."

All the bureau chiefs were barred from commenting on the meeting by their organizations.

Speaking on behalf of AP, international editor John Daniszewski said if one of their photographers was caught doctoring photographs, he would be fired immediately.

"I heard about it in regard to the Reuters stringer," he said in a phone interview from New York. I think they're trying to tar everyone with the same brush.

He said both Israelis and Palestinians often criticized the way they were covered, but that the agency had its own "gold standards" of accuracy and fairness to meet.

"It's such a contentious part of the world and other organizations and parties are going to want to pull coverage into one area or another," said Daniszewski. "We try to go straight down the middle. If anyone wants to raise issues, we are always willing to talk about it."

Denny Schlesinger
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« Reply #104 on: October 08, 2006, 11:47:56 AM »

The Accidental Prime Minister
Fuad Siniora: "We managed to stop Israel from winning."

Saturday, October 7, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

BEIRUT--There was a time, not so long ago, when Fuad al-Siniora was the most vilified man in Lebanon. As the person in charge of the nation's finances under the late prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, he was regarded by the Lebanese as the abominable taxman. On the evening of Hariri's assassination on Feb. 14, 2005, it was another Mr. Siniora I recall seeing among a gathering of anti-Syrian opposition figures at the Hariri mansion--a proper technocrat, seemingly misplaced amid the promenading politicians. Yet when the opposition elected a majority to parliament later in the year, Mr. Siniora emerged, almost naturally, as the successor to his onetime boss. For now, despite efforts by an array of forces to bring his government down, Mr. Siniora remains firmly in place.

There is an urban Sunni merchant's litheness in that metamorphosis from staid number-cruncher to persuasive prime minister. A native of the southern port city of Sidon who started his career as a Citibank executive, Mr. Siniora is velvety and unflappable, as befits a maven of the Levantine marketplace. He avoids hard angles in favor of nods, winks and baroque compromises--qualities essential for herding the fat cats that make up Lebanese government.

Mr. Siniora receives me in his cavernous office in the Grand S?rail, an Ottoman barracks that after World War I housed the French Mandatory authorities. The vast structure, built in 1853, was destroyed during Lebanon's civil war, before Hariri rebuilt it as a headquarters for the prime minister. Mr. Siniora now works as well as lives there, with his family. These days, like most of Syria's Lebanese foes, he spends much time indoors, to avoid assassination.

During the summer war between Hezbollah and Israel, Mr. Siniora walked a tightrope. A seven-point plan he devised was instrumental in creating a framework for an exit from the conflict and the extension of Lebanese state authority to the southern border. But this little endeared him to Hezbollah, which controlled an autonomous area in the south from which the Lebanese Army had been excluded. As Israel began bombing after the abduction of two of its soldiers on July 12, the prime minister had to balance conflicting interests: to use the violence as leverage to loosen Hezbollah's hold over the south, but without appearing to betray the party, which controls two ministers in his cabinet.
The high-wire act is continuing. That's why Mr. Siniora will admit that "it's definitely difficult now for Hezbollah to conduct any military operation south of the Litani River"--but he won't gloat. On the contrary, he insists, "We managed to stop Israel from winning, for the second time since the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. This is important in the conscience of the Arabs." When I point out he is being disingenuous, that he and his allies in the parliamentary majority were never keen to see Hezbollah make gains, let alone endorse its claim of having scored a "victory" against Israel, Mr. Siniora says: "There were heroic efforts by [Hezbollah] combatants and by Lebanese who received the displaced. But I don't claim we won a victory. We could have sent the army south without this war, and we've now done so for the first time in 35 years. But here were the negatives: My country was reoccupied; it was destroyed; Israel took us back 10 years [economically]; and we must comply with international resolutions that affect Lebanese sovereignty."

I bring up a prickly moment two weeks ago when Hezbollah's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, speaking at a rally in Beirut's southern suburbs, mocked Mr. Siniora. Last August, during an Arab League foreign ministers' summit in Beirut at the height of the fighting, the prime minister dissolved into tears in the midst of a speech defending Lebanon's Arab bona fides. In his address, Mr. Nasrallah affirmed: "Tears don't liberate [land]." What did Mr. Siniora think of the statement? "I don't react to every word I hear. I take it easy. I have a high degree of serenity. . . . Yet the impact of those tears on all the Arab world was greater than a thousand rockets [Hezbollah] fired on Israel."

There was a less obvious subtext to the exchange. The Arab summit was very much an effort by the predominantly Sunni Arab states to contain Shiite Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their way of doing so was to support the Siniora plan, which sought to remove excuses for new wars in the south. This succeeded: Aspects of the seven-point plan, including Lebanon's declaring a desire to return to the 1949 Armistice Agreement with Israel, were integrated into the U.N. resolution that ended the fighting, and Hezbollah agreed to them, albeit reluctantly. Mr. Nasrallah, in ridiculing Mr. Siniora, was expressing antipathy for his attachment to a Sunni Arab order that Hezbollah loathes.

As for a return to the armistice, I suggest to Mr. Siniora that this is easier said than done. Some experts argue the agreement is no longer valid, given its repeated violations; others say it needs to be updated. More importantly, Hezbollah and Iran don't like it. Mr. Siniora is dismissive: "It doesn't have to be updated or renegotiated. It was approved by the government, and will be implemented de facto." But going back to an armistice first requires a resolution of the disputed Shebaa Farms issue. The U.N. says the farms area, occupied by Israel, is Syrian; the Lebanese say it is part of Lebanon. Mr. Siniora wants to place it under U.N. auspices until this is decided, in effect forcing the Israelis out. His aim is to deny Hezbollah a reason to pursue armed resistance there. But the U.N. is not enthusiastic. Won't this only encourage Hezbollah to say Mr. Siniora's methods have failed, justifying the guns again? "What can armed resistance bring?" he retorts. "Israel recently reoccupied Lebanon. Only diplomacy made them withdraw."

Would Hezbollah play along, given its Iranian agenda? "I must assume that, and act as if Hezbollah has a Lebanese agenda," he answers. However, his government is not taking chances: "There are no restrictions on the Lebanese army's movements in the south. It has clear instructions to prohibit the appearance of weapons or uniforms, and to confiscate them." More worrying is that the U.N. force helping the Lebanese might be attacked by al Qaeda, or by Islamists supported by Syria. Does Mr. Siniora consider this likely? "I don't think so," he answers, adding, far less reassuringly, "but we should take our precautions."

The prime minister tells me once again that he has "a high level of serenity," but he does seem unsettled by the increasing pressure from Hezbollah, Christian leader Michel Aoun, Syria and Iran for him and the parliamentary majority to accept a new "national unity" government. He even sounds mildly irritated: "Change is unwarranted. Our performance this summer was outstanding. We passed the seven-point plan, reworked the U.N. resolution on Lebanon in our favor, ended the hostilities, sent the army south, forced Israel out, and gained international support, including financial support. What more could be done?"
Some discern more sinister designs in the effort to bring the government down. A few days ago, on Wednesday, the influential Christian Maronite bishops issued a statement implying that the call for a broader cabinet was a furtive way of blocking progress in the Hariri investigation. In the coming weeks the government must consent to guidelines for a mixed tribunal to try those accused of involvement in the late prime minister's murder. Syria is the leading suspect, and Mr. Siniora's allies fear the push to change the government is meant to ensure there are enough pro-Syrian ministers to block any cabinet vote on the tribunal--or impose a limper court.

The prime minister is sanguine. "This is a tempest in a teapot. My experience in this cabinet is that in a very limited number of cases did we resort to voting. The tribunal was agreed upon [in a national dialogue between Lebanese leaders], and it's in no one's interest to make an issue of it." But his last phase is plainly a warning to Hezbollah, one Mr. Siniora repeats: "If someone tries to stop the legal process, then we must make sure we don't go back on what was agreed." When I ask whether Syria is the Svengali behind the new government plan, he sidesteps only slightly: "The effort is being made by people who are pro-Syrian."

But Mr. Siniora's strongest argument against a cabinet change comes in an anodyne phrase: "Nabih Birri says it might be difficult to form a new government, and could take Lebanon into a crisis to no one's advantage." Mr. Birri is the parliament speaker, and a Shiite. By invoking him, Mr. Siniora is using one powerful Shiite to offset the demands of another, Mr. Nasrallah, in warning that a political vacuum might ensue.

Politics are not the only thing the prime minister has to worry about. With a $40 billion debt, a GDP estimated at only $18 to $20 billion, and losses from the July-August conflict estimated by some U.N. agencies at over $10 billion, Lebanon is in dire financial straits. Mr. Siniora says the situation was already "unsustainable" before the "catastrophe," making reform imperative. What he outlines, however, is a dilemma.

Lebanon's credit rating is set to go down in the near future, and the government urgently needs revenue. However, Mr. Siniora is first to admit that, given the country's dark mood, "we cannot raise taxes, this would lead to a recession. We need alternative sources." He means privatization, particularly of the lucrative fixed and mobile telecommunications network.

Fair enough, except that unless the government shows tangible progress on financial reform soon, particularly on privatization, a long-anticipated international donor conference to help Lebanon out of its debt noose will not materialize. And like so much else, privatization remains vulnerable to political discord. So, when Mr. Siniora says the conference might happen "I hope before the end of the year," I have my doubts.

A government priority is compensating those whose homes were destroyed in the recent fighting. Hezbollah garnered publicity by handing money to victims out of suitcases, an approach it sought to contrast with the slowness of the state's reaction. Does Mr. Siniora see himself in competition with the party? "No. We have an obligation toward the people. It was not their mistake that they suffered." He accepts that "Hezbollah might politicize the relief effort against the government," and when I ask whether the party's distribution of funds had provoked problems in certain villages, Mr. Siniora probably sees an opportunity to get one back: "I've heard there are problems. Giving more aid to certain people and less to others creates a great deal of sensitivity."

As we wrap up, the inevitable question provokes an inevitable answer. I ask Mr. Siniora what it feels like being a marked man. "I'm a believer. I know that if anything must happen, it will happen. But I take my precautions. I'm afraid of God. My mother once said: 'Don't be afraid of whoever is afraid of God.' " Many of Mr. Siniora's enemies will readily admit, of course, to a fear of God. What he must worry about is that they will increasingly fear Fuad al-Siniora, the accidental prime minister who may have turned out to be more than they bargained for.

Mr. Young, a Lebanese national, is opinion editor at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

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« Reply #105 on: December 07, 2006, 12:38:58 AM »

The Syrian-Iranian Agenda for Lebanon

Opposition protests in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, entered their sixth day Dec. 6 as Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora continued to hold his ground against hundreds of thousands of demonstrators calling for his resignation. Hezbollah and its allies plan to continue with the sit-ins for the time being, but are looking at other options to meet their objective of toppling the government. Meanwhile, Syria and Iran are devising plans to determine who will be the next target for assassination in Lebanon.


Hundreds of thousands of protesters staged demonstrations in the heart of the Lebanese capital of Beirut for a sixth consecutive day Dec. 6. Most of the protesters belong to the pro-Syrian March 8 alliance composed primarily of youth supporters of Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah; the Amal movement, led by Shiite Speaker of the House Nabih Berri; and the Free Patriotic Movement, led by Maronite Christian leader Gen. Michel Aoun.

The demonstrations are one of the instruments the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance is using in an effort to meet its wider objective of undermining the Lebanese government, which is dominated by the anti-Syrian bloc with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the helm. Protesters have spent the past six days chanting slogans -- "Down with the U.S. government in Lebanon" is a favorite -- and also studying, smoking hookahs, praying, dancing and sleeping in makeshift camps in the streets. While the demonstrations have had a paralyzing effect on the capital, negotiations have failed to progress and the Lebanese government has yet to cave in to the opposition's demands. Siniora is already under considerable pressure from Arab allies in the region, Europe and the United States not to allow Hezbollah to further consolidate its power and fortify Shiite influence in the region.

Hezbollah had made extensive plans to prevent the protests from turning violent by organizing security squads to break up any clashes along the Sunni-Shiite and Shiite-Druze border areas in and around Beirut. Though these Hezbollah control units have been busy breaking up street fights, violent clashes picked up steam in west Beirut between rival factions, leaving one Shiite demonstrator dead. Sources in the Amal movement's security apparatus have revealed that the clashes in the Qasqas area -- which straddles west Beirut and the southern suburbs where the Shiite protester died -- also spread to the nearby Al Shuhada cemetery. At the cemetery, fighting reportedly broke out between unidentified assailants from the Palestinian Shatila refugee camp and Hezbollah fighters. Four Hezbollah members and two unidentified men from the Shatila camp were killed, though police records made no reference to the deaths since they involved combatants and not civilians. These clashes arising out of the Palestinian camps are indicative of Syria's hand in the Beirut street fights to stoke sectarian violence and show the extent to which Lebanon has devolved into chaos without a strong Syrian security presence in the country.

The demonstrations also have dealt the Lebanese economy a serious blow, with estimates that the country will lose more than $30 million a day if the political crisis continues. To lessen the financial impact, Hezbollah organized the protests to begin on Friday, Dec. 1, after most of Beirut's residents received their paychecks and were off work for the weekend. The economic impact as well as the potential for violence to spread throughout the capital, however, have factored into Hezbollah's calculus in continuing these demonstrations. The Shiite militant and political movement is determined to show it is working in the interests of Lebanese citizens, and not only for its own Shiite sect -- as demonstrated by the strict rules given to protesters to wave only Lebanese national flags and refrain from violence. Particularly after the summer war with Israel, the group is already facing criticism for inviting the war onto Lebanese territory and harming Lebanese business interests.

Hezbollah is still in the process of deciding its next plan of action should the Siniora government fail to accede to the demands. Sources within Hezbollah claim the group's next move will be to have more parliament and civil service members resign and to block access to the Rafik al-Hariri International Airport by sending around 70,000 demonstrators to camp on the main highway. While the Lebanese army commander has made it clear that the airport will remain open and is off limits to the protesters, Hezbollah members believe the army will be unable to restrain a mob of 70,000 people.

Syria, meanwhile, has been looking at its own agenda for Lebanon. Following the assassination of Lebanese Ministry of Industry Pierre Gemayel, a Syrian security delegation made its way to Tehran to discuss at length the assassination of anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian Lebanese figures. To cover up Syria's suspected involvement in the spate of killings, Iran allegedly has suggested killing one or two second-tier Lebanese allies of Syria to confuse the ongoing investigation, led by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, who is due to release a report on the political assassinations in mid-December. The prime targets for assassination in this scenario include Najah Wakim, a Greek Orthodox, who is an outspoken supporter of Syria and fierce critic of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, as well as Nasser Qandil, a Shi'i, who is associated with Berri's Amal movement. Both Qandil and Wakim are suspected of playing a role in the al-Hariri assassination, and their killings would give opposition forces an excuse to accuse the March 14 anti-Syrian alliance of the act.

A new Palestinian movement that has appeared in Beirut is expected to aid the Syrians in these assassinations. The group calls itself Harakat Fatah al-Islam, a splinter group of Fatah al-Intifada, which itself split from the Fatah movement in 1983. About 200 members of the new movement have entered Lebanon lately -- some 150 to the Badawi refugee camp near Tripoli and about 50 to the Burj al-Barajneh camp in the southern suburbs.

Evidently, the political assassinations in Beirut are far from over, and Hezbollah is feeling bold enough to escalate the demonstrations to cripple the Siniora government, leaving Lebanon in an all-too-familiar state of chaos. The opportunity for negotiations still exists, but plenty of AK-47s will be passed out to various sects in Beirut to prepare for a worst-case scenario.
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« Reply #106 on: February 05, 2007, 08:36:23 PM »

Lebanon: A Tempestuous Anniversary Approaches

Feb. 14 marks the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Lebanon's Shiite, Sunni, Druze and Christian factions are busy preparing for the event in traditional Lebanese fashion -- by gun shopping.


Feb. 14 will be a tumultuous day in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, as the country's various rival factions pour into the streets for the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. With Lebanon's various factions busily arming themselves for a potential confrontation, the anniversary is likely to be an explosive event.

Nearly two years ago, al-Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing that sparked widespread protests and forced Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Though Syria suffered a great deal of humiliation in being evicted from its western neighbor, it has managed to maintain a strong presence in Lebanon's political, military and economic apparatuses to serve Syrian interests. Syria's main militant asset, Hezbollah, is now in the middle of a campaign to undermine the Western-oriented Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Damascus is working to expand Hezbollah's political prowess forcefully while ensuring Syrian allies are safeguarded from an international tribunal that would potentially implicate the Syrian regime in the al-Hariri assassination.

With communal tensions steadily rising in the capital city, Hezbollah's lengthy protest campaign has led Lebanon's sectarian communities to return to old habits from Lebanon's 1975-1989 civil war and to prepare for the worst by mounting a massive armament campaign.

The best-equipped of these groups is the Shiite bloc led by Hezbollah and the Amal movement. Sources in Beirut say hundreds of Hezbollah fighters armed with automatic rifles and hand grenades have arrived from the south and from the Bekaa Valley to replace civilian protesters in Beirut. Armed groups from Hezbollah, the Amal movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) already have begun reconnaissance missions to explore buildings overlooking downtown and place snipers on top floors to prevent any members of the anti-Syrian March 14 alliance from firing at SSNP supporters. Should any attempts be made to cut off Hezbollah supply routes on the coastal highway or the Beirut-Damascus highway that connects Beirut's southern suburbs to southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah has indicated it will use Katyusha rockets to remove any blockades. Hezbollah's ability to accurately aim a Katyusha at a specific target remains in doubt, however.

Hezbollah is also busy monitoring the steady armament of Lebanon's Sunni faction, which is led by Saad al-Hariri (the slain former prime minister's son) and is heavily supported by Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Truckloads of arms including automatic rifles, guns, grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and mortars, ammunition and military uniforms are being regularly unloaded in building basements in mostly Sunni west Beirut. Saad al-Hariri is procuring arms paid for by Saudi Arabia to give the essentially urban Lebanese Sunnis the means for self-defense. In addition to Arab suppliers, the Lebanese parties associated with al-Hariri's anti-Syrian March 14 bloc are purchasing arms through Eastern and Southern European agents. Sources say popular items on their shopping lists include sniper rifles, night-vision binoculars, land mines and short-range missile launchers. Providing further evidence of the arms buying frenzy, used AK-47 prices in the local market already have risen from $200 to $700 since the 2006 summer war with Israel. Al-Hariri loyalists also have conducted training exercises on light and medium arms in schools, mosque yards, parking lots and social clubs in Beirut.

During the Lebanese civil war, Lebanon's Sunnis primarily relied on the Palestine Liberation Organization for their protection. In the aftermath of the war, the late al-Hariri believed it was the duty of Lebanese Sunnis to restore law and order in the country and to demilitarize the various factions. To this end, he created the Saudi-funded Hariri Foundation to provide an opportunity for Lebanese youths from all sectarian backgrounds to pursue a college education. His assassination and the summer 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, however, shook things up and gave the Sunnis under Saad al-Hariri's leadership a wake-up call to create their own militia. In Tarik al-Jadidah (a predominantly Sunni working-class neighborhood in Beirut), graffiti reveals the changing attitudes of Lebanese Sunnis: "Saad, you are as precious as our eyes; arm us and we will take care of the rest."

Meanwhile, Maronite Christians and Druze have maintained their own militias since the early 19th century. These two factions recognized the importance of self-defense in their Lebanon Mountain enclaves, which were autonomous from the Ottoman Empire. During the 1970s, the Druze and Maronites were among the most heavily armed groups in Lebanon as they sought to counter the rapid militarization of the Shiite community under Imam Musa al-Sadr, who founded Amal. The Druze today are actively arming their Sunni allies in Beirut with light arms and are contracting arms deals on Saad al-Hariri's behalf.

Maronite Christians, however, are seriously divided between the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the al-Hariri-led March 14 alliance. Gen. Michel Aoun, a prominent figure in the Maronite community, is currently allied with Hezbollah's group along with Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces, on the other hand, are bitter foes of Aoun's movement and are allied with al-Hariri's bloc. Rumors suggest Maronite supporters of Lahoud and Aoun will lead an effort with their allies in the Lebanese army to confront the Lebanese Forces militarily in an attempt to weaken al-Hariri's alliance and prevent Geagea, an anti-Syria candidate, from becoming a serious contender for the presidency once Lahoud's term ends.

Escalating arms sales on all sides make a political compromise between the March 8 and March 14 factions unlikely in the near future. On Feb. 14, government loyalists will hold massive protests in downtown Beirut to commemorate the anniversary of al-Hariri's death, namely Riad al-Solh and Martyrs' squares. The presence of both the Hezbollah-led opposition and the March 14 alliance is bound to cause friction -- and could easily result in violent clashes in the capital. Though Hezbollah has an interest in containing the protesters and preventing violent outbreaks, a number of actors have an interest in allowing the protests to spiral out of control. For Damascus, a major destabilization in Beirut could legitimize a Syrian military intervention in Lebanon to restore its influence. Segments of the pro-government March 14 alliance are also interested in provoking clashes with Hezbollah supporters to give the Lebanese army an excuse to intervene and evict protesters from downtown and end Hezbollah's protest campaign.

Though a civil war repeat is still unlikely in the near future, the high potential for violence and the charged atmosphere in Beirut will certainly raise the bar for Hezbollah in the negotiations it conducts with the al-Siniora government. Saudi-Iranian competition over Beirut also will intensify, as Iran makes it clear that any political resolution in Lebanon will have to be negotiated with Hezbollah's patrons in Tehran.

In any case, it would be advisable to stay out of Beirut this Valentine's Day.
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« Reply #107 on: February 09, 2007, 02:27:59 PM »

LEBANON: A truck transporting weapons to Hezbollah from the Bekaa Valley was intercepted in Beirut, Lebanon, and government forces seized the weapons. Though Hezbollah has demanded that the truck and weapons be released, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr has refused to turn the weapons back over to Hezbollah. According to unconfirmed reports, rocket launchers and rockets were among the weapons found concealed in the truck.
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« Reply #108 on: July 09, 2007, 11:38:08 AM »

Lebanon 'to erupt in 1 week'

Syria calls on citizens to evacuate Lebanon, reports say; Expert: Civil war possible
Yaakov Lappin

Syria has called on its citizens to leave Lebanon ahead of an expected "eruption" in that country, Arab and Iranian press reports have said.
The media reports were translated and made available by MEMRI in a special dispatch on Sunday.
"In the past few days, Arab and Iranian media reports have pointed to the possibility that Lebanon's current political crisis may become a violent conflict after July 15, 2007," the MEMRI dispatch said.
July 15 comes one day before a special UN Security Council meeting which is expected to discuss the possibility of stationing international experts on the Syria-Lebanon border, in order monitor the ongoing illegal cross border arms traffic to Hizbullah, thought to be originating from Iran and Syria.
The UN Security Council is also expected to meet next week to discuss a key report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a development which may bode badly for Syria.
"On July 5, 2007, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported that Syrian authorities had instructed all Syrian citizens residing in Lebanon to return to their country by July 15, 2007. The next day, the Israeli Arab daily Al-Sinara similarly reported, on the authority of a Lebanese source close to Damascus, that Syria was planning to remove its citizens from Lebanon. Also on July 5, the Lebanese daily Al-Liwa reported rumors that Syrian workers were leaving Lebanon at the request of the Syrian authorities. In addition, the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra reported that Syrian universities would accept Syrian students who were leaving Lebanon due to the instability there," MEMRI said in its report.
Within Lebanon itself, the Hizbullah-led opposition threatened to establish a "second government" through "historical steps" in mid July, according to senior Hizbullah officials quoted in the Lebanese media, MEMRI added.
'Civil war possibility'
A violent clash next week in Lebanon is a real possibility, but would not be aimed at Israel, General (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a former senior officer in the IDF's Military Intelligence Directorate, told Ynetnews. He added, however, that such an internal conflict could "deteriorate" to the point where Israel is targeted by rocket fire.
"This is a warning and a threat, directed not towards not us, but towards the Lebanese government, and against activities by the UN, the US, and the Europeans in Lebanon," Amidror said. "Can this deteriorate to the point of firing on Israel? It doesn't look like it now, but it can get there," he said.
"This signals distress more than power," Amidror said. "If they (Iran, Syria and Hizbullah) were confident, they wouldn't go for such extreme maneuver that would expose them to the fury of Sunnis and Christians in Lebanon. Few in Lebanon want Nasrallah to take power. Shiites are the largest sect, but they make up 40 percent of the population. There are 60 percent who don't like the idea of a Shiite takeover at all," Amidror explained. He added that tensions could erupt into a full scale civil war in Lebanon, with Shiites on one side and Sunnis, Christians, and Druze on the other. "Civil war occurred in Lebanon in the past, there is no reason to think it can't happen again," he warned.
Amidror added that Shiites were determined to take power in Lebanon out of an ideological motivation, and a wish to mimic events in Iraq.
"What's happening in Lebanon is part of a wider Middle Eastern conflict in which Shiites are trying to push Sunnis out of power. This is part of a conflict against Israel in a wider context, but it is primarily a Shiite-Sunni struggle. This is more proof that Israel is not the source of strife in the Middle East, but rather it is the Sunni-Shiite conflict," he added.,7340,L-3422565,00.html
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« Reply #109 on: July 24, 2007, 06:26:57 AM »

Syria Occupies Lebanon. Again.
A land grab proportionally equivalent to a foreign power occupying Arizona.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

As of this minute, Syria occupies at least 177 square miles of Lebanese soil. That you are now reading about it for the first time is as much a scandal as the occupation itself.

The news comes by way of a fact-finding survey of the Lebanese-Syrian border just produced by the International Lebanese Committee for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, an American NGO that has consultative status with the U.N. Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the authors have requested anonymity and have circulated the report only among select government officials and journalists. But its findings cannot be ignored.

In meticulous detail--supplemented by photographs, satellite images, archival material and Lebanese military maps predating Syria's 1976 invasion (used as a basis of comparison with Syria's current positions)--the authors describe precisely where and how Lebanon has been infiltrated. In the area of the village of Maarboun, for instance, the authors observed Syrian military checkpoints a mile inside Lebanon. In the Birak al-Rassass Valley, they photographed Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. On the outskirts of the village of Kossaya they found a heavily fortified camp belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in violation of U.N. resolutions and Lebanese demands.

This is a story to which I can contribute my own testimony. In May 2005 I paid a visit to Lebanon, just a month after Syria had announced that it had fully withdrawn its 14,000 troops from Lebanon in compliance with Resolution 1559. The rumor in Beirut was that a company of 200 or so elite Syrian soldiers remained encamped within Lebanon near the Druze village of Deir al-Ashaer. I decided to have a look. After a long drive over rutted roads, I found it.
Or rather, what I found was a hillside outpost that I was able to enter without crossing any apparent international border. The man in charge was a Syrian intelligence officer who "invited" me into a sweltering tent while he phoned his commanders for instruction. After a few tense minutes of silence with the soldiers inside, the officer reappeared, explained that the camp was 50 yards inside Syrian territory, and ordered me to go. From there I went to the village, where the mayor insisted the camp was several hundred yards inside Lebanon.

Who was right? Inclined as I was to believe the mayor, it was hard to sort out contending claims over remote parcels of land. A week later, then Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the U.N. had "verified all [Syrian military units] had withdrawn, including [from] the border area." It seemed that was the end of the story.

I should have known then that anything "verified" by the U.N. must be checked at least twice. I should have known, too, that anything to which Mr. Annan devoted his personal attention would inevitably become worse. Last September, Mr. Annan paid a visit to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after the latter had declared he would treat any attempt by the U.N. to deploy peacekeepers along the Lebanese-Syrian border as a "hostile act." To defuse the impasse, Mr. Annan simply accepted Mr. Assad's assurances that Syria would police its border and prevent arms smuggling. "I think it can happen," said the diplomat at a press conference. "It may not be 100%, but it will make quite a lot of difference if the government puts in place the measures the government has discussed with me."

What happened, predictably, was the opposite. In May, Fatah al-Islam, a terrorist group whose leadership was imported from Damascus, attacked Lebanese army outposts outside the Palestinian refugee camps of Nahr El-Bared and Biddawi, causing a bloody standoff that continues till this day. In June, current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report citing numerous instances of arms smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah and the PFLP. Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that he once again has missiles that can reach Tel Aviv--missiles he could only have obtained via Syria. Israel confirms his claims.

Mr. Ban's report is notable for its clarity and seriousness. Taken together with the border report, it paints an alarming picture. Though the land grabs are small affairs individually, they collectively add up to an area amounting to about 4% of Lebanese soil--in U.S. terms, the proportional equivalent of Arizona. Of particular note is that the area of Syrian conquest dwarves that of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms. The farms, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967 and which amount to an area of about 12 square miles, are claimed by Hezbollah as belonging to Lebanon--a useful pretext for it to continue its "resistance" against an Israeli occupation that ended seven years ago.

Needless to say, Hezbollah--which purports to fight for Lebanese sovereignty--makes no similar claims against Syria. For his part, Mr. Assad refuses to agree to a demarcation of his border with Lebanon, just as he refuses to open an embassy in Beirut. The ambiguity serves him well: He can seize Lebanese territory without anyone appearing to take notice, supply terrorist camps without quite harboring the terrorists, and funnel arms to Hezbollah at will--all without abandoning the fantasy of "Greater Syria" encompassing Lebanon, the Golan Heights and Israel itself.

It would, of course, be nice to see the Arab world protest this case of illegal occupation, given its passions about the subject. It would also be nice to see the media report this story as sedulously as it has the controversy of the Shebaa Farms. Don't hold your breath on either score. In the meantime, the only countries in a position to help Lebanon are France and the U.S. They could strike a useful blow by closing their embassies in Damascus until such time as Damascus opens an embassy--with all that it implies--in Beirut.

Mr. Stephens is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. His column appears in the Journal Tuesdays.

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« Reply #110 on: July 25, 2007, 12:02:55 PM »

This does seem to be getting a tad less coverage than when the Israelis go after one of these camps , , ,

1114 GMT -- LEBANON -- The Lebanese army's military operation has entered the final phase against Fatah al-Islam militants at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, Reuters reported July 25, citing a political source.
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« Reply #111 on: November 19, 2007, 11:11:13 PM »


Lebanon's fractured government has until Nov. 23 to elect a new president that is acceptable to both the pro-Syrian Hezbollah-led opposition and the pro-West March 14 coalition. With no compromise in sight, Hezbollah and its Syrian allies are readying plans to set up a shadow government in Beirut. Even by Lebanese standards, this is one political crisis that has the potential to plunge the country into all sorts of craziness.


Emile Lahoud's term as Lebanon's president expires Nov. 23. Under the country's constitution, the government has until that date to elect a new Christian president.

There are a few not-so-minor problems with this state of affairs, however. First and foremost, it must be remembered that this is Lebanon, where legalities do not generally take precedence in the political system. Hezbollah and its allies in the Shiite Amal Movement and Michel Aoun's Christian faction already have boycotted the government. Technically speaking, the pro-West faction led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora can elect a new president on its own through a very narrow, simple majority. But without the votes of Hezbollah and its allies, the election of the new president easily can be labeled illegitimate and illegal by a sizable political force in the country.

There are weighty issues at stake in this election, particularly for Syria. The Syrians steadily have reasserted their presence in Lebanon since the government was forced to withdraw its troops from the country in the wake of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Naturally, the Syrian regime wants to ensure that the new president -- who must be a Maronite Christian, according to the constitution -- is amenable, to say the least, to serving Syrian interests in Lebanon. At the same time, Syria's militant proxy, Hezbollah, is seeking to expand its political presence in the government and ensure that it faces no long-term threats to its survival as a movement.

The Siniora-led March 14 alliance, however, is on an entirely different page. This coalition is being heavily backed by the U.S., French and Saudi governments to counter Hezbollah and keep a tight rein on Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon. Though diplomats from the region, the United States, Europe and Russia have been flying in and out of Beirut in an effort to come up with the ultimate political resolution, the feuding factions are nowhere near a compromise, with only four days left until Lahoud's term expires.

Hezbollah and Syria essentially have drawn a red line. If a compromise cannot be reached and the Siniora-led faction calls a special session of parliament to elect its preferred candidate independently, plans likely will be activated to set up a shadow government in Beirut.

According to sources in the city, a security meeting recently took place between Syrian officials and Hezbollah to go over these contingency plans at the residence of Hussein Khalil, Hezbollah's political consultant, in the eastern Baalbek region. The plan that was agreed on involves the occupation of 20 ministries and public institutions in the greater Beirut area by a combined military-civilian force provided by Hezbollah. It also calls for storming the Sarai, the headquarters of the prime minister, and reopening by force the coastal highway between Beirut and Sidon, as well as the Damascus highway -- both of which lie within the Druze stronghold of Walid Jumblatt, who is allied with the anti-Syrian March 14 alliance. Controlling these key highways is central to Hezbollah's plans to set up a rival government. The Damascus highway links Hezbollah strongholds in the central and northern Bekaa Valley with Beirut's southern suburbs, while the coastal highway between Beirut and Sidon connects Hezbollah bases in the South with Beirut's southern suburbs.

Occupying ministries by force undoubtedly will be a complicated affair if this plan actually goes into effect. By law, the Lebanese army would have to step in to defend these institutions. But here again we have another problem, in that Lebanon's army already is deeply fractured and lacks the will to stand up to civilian protesters, much less to Hezbollah. Moreover, nearly half the army is comprised of Shia who will not necessarily go against their patrons in Hezbollah. Any foreign force that even attempts to intervene in such a scenario very rapidly will become bogged down in a domestic fight in which Hezbollah most likely will take the upper hand.

This plan by Hezbollah has long been in the making. Recently, Hezbollah replaced the party official in charge of the sit-in protest camps in downtown Beirut. While Hezbollah circulated rumors that the official was replaced because several of its members were caught smoking hashish in the downtown camp, the real reason was to prepare Hezbollah operatives for the coming confrontation by inserting a strong officer capable of mobilizing the group's human resources in downtown Beirut. Recruiting and training efforts by Hezbollah also have picked up speed in recent months, with hundreds of men from the militias of Lebanese opposition groups undergoing training in the area of Wadi al-Nabi, between the villages of Brital and Hour Taala in the Bekaa Valley.

There is no guarantee -- as of yet -- that Hezbollah's plan will be activated. After all, Syria traditionally plays politics in Lebanon via car bombings. If Damascus wants to deprive the March 14 alliance of its slim majority in parliament, it can take out another parliamentarian as a stopgap measure. There also is the possibility that Lahoud will appoint Lebanon's army chief, Michel Suleiman, to run the country in order to prevent Siniora's government from taking over. Suleiman has been singing a pro-Syrian tune in the past few months, making this a potentially viable option for Damascus.

In any case, the situation is turning explosive, even by Lebanese standards. The conflict will not be confined to Lebanon, either. The Iranians, the Syrians, the Americans, the French, the Saudis, the Jordanians and even the Turks will in a variety of ways become entangled in this crisis as the country further destabilizes. For a country whose government was designed to rule by consensus, the probability of a consensus candidate getting elected in the next few days is dangerously low, bringing Lebanon even closer to the dark days of civil war.

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« Reply #112 on: May 13, 2008, 09:07:16 AM »

From Lebanon to Hezbollahstan
May 13, 2008; Page A15
On Friday, Hezbollah gunmen set fire to the Beirut offices of Future TV, a Lebanese broadcaster. On a purely symbolic level, it was an apt demonstration of where the Party of God stands in relation to the future itself.

But that wasn't the worst of what has happened in the past week in Lebanon, where scores of people have been killed in interfactional violence. More ominous was the role of the Lebanese army, avowedly neutral and nominally under civilian control. "An army officer accompanied by members of Hezbollah walked into the station and told us to switch off transmission," an unnamed Future TV official told Reuters. So much for army neutrality.

Shiite gunmen patrol the streets in Chouweifat, south of Beirut, May 11.
The army also countermanded government orders to dismantle Hezbollah's telecommunications network at the Beirut airport and remove the brigadier responsible for airport security, who is said to be a Hezbollah pawn. "I have called on the army to live up to its national responsibilities . . . and this has not happened," Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's increasingly irrelevant prime minister, said on national TV.

Future historians will look for the precise moment the Lebanese Republic began to transmogrify into Hezbollahstan. Was it the June 2005 murder of anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir – the earliest sign that Syria, whose 29-year military occupation of its neighbor had ended just two months before, intended to reinsert itself by stealth and terror (and with the connivance of Hezbollah)? Was it the role played by the Maronite Gen. Michel Aoun, a hero of the last Lebanese civil war, who returned from exile in 2005 intending to play the part of de Gaulle only to become, after striking a bargain with Hezbollah, another Pétain?

Was it the summer war of 2006, when Israel failed to destroy Hezbollah militarily and, in so failing, gave Hezbollah an aura of invincibility? Was it the unwillingness of international peacekeepers to patrol the Lebanese-Syrian border, thereby allowing Hezbollah to rearm itself after the war? Was it the absence of an effective, or even intelligible, American policy toward Lebanon, epitomized by Condoleezza Rice's decision to rehabilitate Damascus by inviting it to November's Annapolis Middle East conference?

The answer is all of the above: An accumulation of policy mistakes, political dodges and moral atrocities that have nearly killed the "new" Lebanon in its crib.

Demography has also played a role. Christians in particular have been fleeing Lebanon for decades. And though a census hasn't been taken in Lebanon in 75 years, Nizar Hamze of the American University of Beirut estimates that there are between eight and nine live births per Shiite household. The comparable figure for Lebanon's Sunnis is about five; for Christians and Druze, about two. These numbers must ultimately count against an outmoded constitutional order geared to favor Christians first, Sunnis second, Shiites third.

But even if Lebanon cannot escape its Shiite destiny, it is not ordained that it must also become a Hezbollah state, taking its orders from Tehran. So what are the U.S.'s policy options?

Inside Lebanon, they are few. No American president will send American troops back to Beirut and risk a reprise of 1983. Supplying the Lebanese army is a nonstarter; it is no longer clear whose side that army is on. Should the U.S. arm the anti-Hezbollah factions in the event of an all-out civil war? Some of them, like Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces, have well-earned reputations as war criminals.

A more productive thought comes from Dwight Eisenhower, who observed that "if a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it." The reason the U.S. lacks for options in Lebanon is because it has no policy toward Syria.

In 2003, Congress passed the Syria Accountability Act, but the administration has observed only its weakest provisions. They could be enforced in full. A Syria Liberation Act, similar to the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, would be a step forward. So would international sanctions for Syria's violations of the Nonproliferation Treaty, exposed by Israel in its raid last year on an unfinished nuclear reactor. Bombing the runway of the Damascus airport for the role it plays in serving as a conduit for Iranian arms to Hezbollah would also be an appropriate signal of American displeasure.

None of this is likely to happen, however. U.S. policy toward Syria will continue to vacillate between partial engagement and partial ostracism, achieving neither. And Lebanon will continue its transformation into Hezbollahstan, a sad fate for a country that might have stood for something fine.

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« Reply #113 on: May 13, 2008, 09:09:44 AM »

Post two of the morning:

Two days after Lebanon’s Shiite Islamist movement Hezbollah took over western Beirut, the Syrian- and Iranian-backed militia and its allies on Sunday defeated Sunni and Druze forces allied with the United States and the Arab countries (particularly Saudi Arabia) in other areas such as Bekaa, Tripoli and Mount Lebanon. Back in the capital, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met with the charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and then held an emergency Cabinet meeting. An Arab League delegation is supposed to arrive in the country May 12 to try and broker a negotiated settlement.

In many ways, these developments are to be expected, given that Lebanon is a nonfunctioning state where pro- and anti-Syrian factions have long been struggling for power. But what makes these latest clashes significant is that one side — the side allied with Iran and Syria — appears to be gaining the upper hand. Furthermore, the Lebanese army has not come to the aid of the government.

For the longest time, Lebanon was caught in a stalemate between the Shiite- and Sunni-led camps, which manifested in the gridlock over the election of a new president. Having defeated its opponents on the battlefield and then worked skillfully with the Lebanese military to try and avoid the perception of a complete takeover, Hezbollah is now in a position to not just dictate terms on the issue of the vacant presidency but also possibly force a new power-sharing agreement — one in which it has a significant advantage.

Put differently, Hezbollah has demonstrated that it is the premier political force in the country. Its performance in the war with Israel in 2006 and the attitude of the Lebanese army in recent days underscores Hezbollah’s status as much more than a typical paramilitary organization. The government’s indication that it is willing to reverse its decision to try and dismantle Hezbollah’s communications array — the decision that triggered the events of the past several days — shows that it has all but capitulated.

So, what we have now is a Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon, which has significant geopolitical ramifications for a number of players in the region and beyond. Israel will have the most immediate concerns; it has been oscillating between peace talks with Syria and the need to reverse the outcome of the 2006 war with Hezbollah. Furthermore, Israel now has to deal with hostile forces taking over areas on two fronts: Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All of this is materializing as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government is trying to survive amid a bribery scandal.

Hezbollah’s control over Lebanon is something that the Syrians have been waiting for ever since Damascus was forced to withdraw its troops from the country in the wake of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination. Similarly, for Iran, which is seeking to assert its regional player status, Hezbollah’s gains greatly enhance its position in the region.

Saudi Arabia’s position has been doubly weakened. First, the events in Lebanon represent a reversal of sorts for Riyadh, which has spent a great deal of energy trying to weaken Damascus’ influence in Lebanon and pry Syria away from the Iranian orbit. More importantly, the Saudis now have to worry about pro-Iranian Shiite forces gaining dominance not just in Iraq, but also in Lebanon.

Far more important is the U.S. calculus for the region. Washington has been working hard to contain the rise of Iran and its radical alliance consisting of Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. The key theater in this respect has been Iraq, where the United States has been engaged in excruciatingly complex and difficult negotiations with Iran to stabilize Iraq. Hezbollah gaining the upper hand will allow the Iranians to drive a much harder bargain with the Americans on not just Iraq, but also the nuclear issue.

This emerging configuration on the regional chessboard is clearly out of line with U.S. interests. Thus, the key question is whether the situation in Lebanon will prompt the United States to deal with Iran in a much more aggressive manner than it has for the past five years.

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« Reply #114 on: May 13, 2008, 09:11:04 AM »

Post three of the morning;

Lebanon’s “300″
By Walid Phares (bio)

While the West is busy living its daily life, a beast is busy killing the freedom of a small community on the East Mediterranean: Lebanon. Indeed, as of last week, the mighty Hezbollah, armed to the teeth with 30,000 rockets and missiles and aligning thousands of self described “Divine soldiers” has been marching across the capital, terrorizing its population, shutting down media, taking its politicians and the Prime Minister as hostages, and looting at will. The hordes of Lebanon’s “Khomeinist Janjaweeds” have conquered already half of the Middle East’s cultural capital, Beirut. As I have reported before, Hezbollah has occupied West Beirut and has since sent its storm troops in multiple directions to resume the blitz.

 The burning of TV stations in Beirut
Unstoppable, including by the Lebanese Army which Commander Michel Sleiman has allowed the slaughter to occur the Pasdaran-founded militia is now hurdling towards the Druze Mountain and positioning its forces against the Sunni North and the Christian Mount Lebanon. Ironically, the geographical bases of Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, are well guarded by the United Nations Interim Forces (UNIFIL). Per a UNSCR 1701 in 2006, more than 10,000 international troops are stationed across the southern parts of Lebanon, technically protecting the 200 Shia towns and villages from where the bulk of Hezbollah fighters came from. Hence, free from guarding their own areas, a dozen thousands well trained “Hezbollahis” have marched north to join another 5,000 already based in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
This huge force, by Lebanon’s standards, was joined by an undetermined number of real Iranian Guards, shipped from Tehran to man sophisticated weapons offered by the Khamanei regime as a gift to topple the democratically elected Government of Fuad Seniora. In addition, from the four corners of the country, Jihadist and ultra radical organizations have joined the fray including: The Nazi-like SSNP, the Amal Movement, the Wi’amWahhab pro-Syrian militia, and many others. And to top it, Damascus was able to neutralize the Lebanese Army which has been equipped recently by the United States. Its Commander, a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic was “convinced” by the Assad regime to open the passages to Beirut and all other regions for the hordes to thrust into their enemies’ backyards. Reminding us of the tales of Greek Antiquity, this Xerxes –Khomeinist- Army burst into the capital, whipping out the thin internal security forces and reigning with brutality.

Hezbollah’s “Immortal Guards” against the “300″?

After securing the Muslim side of the city, the “Immortal Guards” –since most of the Hezbollahis believe in martyrdom as a path to eternal after-life, encircled the mostly Druze Mountain from all directions. Closing in from the coast, the south and the Bekaa, thousands of fighters and their heavy artillery were ordered into battle this week end. The massive “Persian” Army is now attempting to take these passes into the Bekaa and from there into the North and the Christian Mountain. In a sense these may become Lebanon’s Thermopylae: A vast Hezbollah Iranian-backed Army unleashing its power against few Lebanese Spartans, to dislodge them and open the paths for the rest of the country. Indeed, it looks like the few hundred Druze fighters in Aley and the Shuf –who have decided to fight on their own, may become Lebanon’s “300”.  The vision is chilling. Despite the calls by their leader Walid Jumblat, now hostage to the Pasdaran in Beirut, to desist from resisting, the mountainous peasants decided to fight and resist the onslaught. The balance of power is terribly uneven. The forces of Hassan Nasrallah, hyper armed by “Xerxes” Ahmedinijad, line up thousands of soldiers, Special Forces, missiles and endless containers of ammunition. They have hardened their battle experience through years of fighting against a powerful Israeli Army, Air Force and Navy. Nasrallah is convinced that his Army of Suicide-bombers has defeated the region’s nuclear super power in 2006. Hence, a few “hundreds” of Druses won’t even stand for a day. Logically, he is correct. The Lebanese Army was tamed by Hezbollah, the Sunnis of Beirut collapsed in few hours, the Christians are intimidated, the U.S and Europe fears Hezbollah’s Terror and the Arab regimes are terrified by his myth. Who on Earth will resist the Khomeinist Xerxes? Well so far, Lebanon’s 300 have.

The Grand Hezbollah PlanThe first waves of attacks launched by the Iranian backed forces aimed at seizing the first portion of the strategic Damascus Highway (the I-70 of Lebanon) linking Beirut to the Syrian border via the Mountain. The offensive began from Kayfoun towards Baysur. Instead of seizing terrain, Hezbollah lost Kayfoun with heavy casualties (about 23 killed) and the Druze fighters of the Socialist Party planted their flag on the enemy bunker before they pulled back to their positions. The Iranian commanders were stunned by these mountain “Rangers.” But the Druze had only AK 47 with one or two clips of ammunitions; rarely an RPG. While the whole of Lebanon was watching with fear, awaiting their turn, the “300” were repelling the waves of “Immortal Hezbollah” who in fact got very mortal in 24 hours. Another battle raged in Aley and the “Persians” lost again: 9 casualties or so: Among the bodies, three Iranians.  Near Aley the strategic hill 888 was assaulted repetitively but the defenders repelled the “Guards.” Later on, the Druze transferred the hill to the Lebanese Army. Nasrallah’s troops then stormed Deir Qubal but were pushed back towards the surrounding hills. Hezbollah tried to seize Ein Unub but again the attack failed. 

 Druze clerics   Hezbollah Guard

Then Hezbollah ordered its forces to advance on the coastal axis towards Shueifat. There, the Druze pulled back inside the town allowing the “Hezbos” to take the control of the beaches and the adjacent roads. But when the Iranian backed militias moved toward the neighborhoods, their advance was stopped. Frustrated the “Xerxes” War Room decided the grand assault by early Monday: More than 2,000 Khomeinist-trained commandos took the back roads to the Baruk Mountain coming from the southern Bekaa. Their target are the Maaser heights and from there to the district capital of the Shuf, Mukhtara. From south Lebanon, the hordes of Hezbollah are marching across Jezzine, Tumate heights into the southern frontiers of the Druze lands. According to reports, 5000 Hezbollah/Iranian/Syrian infantry, backed by rockets and artillery are to close in from the south. The Druze, youth and elderly, have mobilized all they could, but are isolated with little ammunition. Their adversaries are numerous, well equipped, fanaticized and have their supply lines opened to Syria and via Damascus, to Iran. The tableau looks like a real collection of small Thermopylae where the “300” of Lebanon will be fighting a Goliath.

 Pasdaran and Hezbollah’s forces

But irony is that the United States and other Democracies, whose forces are present in the area and ships cruising the waters along the Eastern Mediterranean, and who have committed to fight terror around the globe may be watching these “300” falling in this epic fight. The greater irony is that these peasants of Mount Lebanon have withstood the mighty machine of Hezbollah for three days and maybe for a few more, while the standing myth internationally was that no one on Earth can defeat this Terror force. Well, for few days the myth of invincibility of Hezbollah was shattered. Eventually if the powers -who have already spent 500 billion dollars on the War on terror- would fail the Lebanese “300” in their mountains, the legend will be owned by the those little intrepid and courageous peasants. But if Washington and Paris would quickly assume their strategic responsibilities –which they initiated by voting UNSCR 1559 to liberate Lebanon- then perhaps Khomeinist-Terror won’t plant its banners on the Eastern Mediterranean.


Dr Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.

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« Reply #115 on: May 23, 2008, 10:34:15 AM »

Counterterrorism Blog

Millions in Criminal Proceeds + Iran's Oil Millions = Hearts, Minds, Votes for Hezbollah

By Andrew Cochran

Our future national counterinsurgency or asymmetric threat strategy must take into consideration the success which Hamas, Hezbollah, and other segments of the jihadist community have had in building and operating a social services network which influences the local populace. Matthew Levitt has written extensively on that success; see his post here on November 21, 2007, "Zakat-Jihad Activism," in which he discusses an excellent "Military Review" article, "S.W.E.T. and Blood: Essential Services in the Battle Between Insurgents and Counterinsurgents." Matt noted, "(t)his tactic (sometimes also described as dawa activities) not only produces significant grassroots support, it also creates an ideal means to launder and transfer funds as well as a means of providing activists day jobs and a veneer of legitimacy. It many cases, it also serves as a logistical support network for less altruistic activities."

Hezbollah already has such a network in Lebanon, as Matt pointed out in a Washington Institute article. Nothing the U.S. has done has prevented Hezbollah from providing such services outside of Lebanese government channels. For instance, despite the Treasury Department's designation in 2007 of Jihad al-Bina, Hezbollah's construction company in Lebanon, that company is operating with little hindrance; David Schenker tells me that the company's subsidiary is rebuilding much of Dahyia. Hezbollah's diplomatic victory this week will enable further development of that network.

Hezbollah has two sources for hundreds of millions of dollars. First, it has a long history of using criminal activities around the world, including inside the U.S., to raise funds, as Matt wrote on November 8, 2007 and as Dennis Lormel wrote on July 16, 2006. I was told this week by two experts that recent estimates of the funds raised through such activity run from $100 to 300 million. Second, of course, it is the ward of the Iranian regime; Walid Phares recently put that support level at upwards of $1 billion, thanks to the extraordinary price of oil. And we should have no doubt that Hezbollah will use a considerable portion of those funds to buy popular support inside Lebanon. No other group there has that type of financial muscle, and in my opinion, it will enable Hezbollah to maintain and expand its power through the 2009 parliamentary elections and beyond.

By Andrew Cochran on May 22, 2008 4:37 PM
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