Anti-March 14th General Assassinated

The blame game begins 

Brigadier General Francois al-Hajj, the Lebanese military officer tipped to take over the job of chief of the Lebanese Army should Michel Suleiman be voted President of the Republic, was assassinated.

The title I have used — "Anti-March 14th General Assassinated" is sarcastic. It highlights the irresponsible reporting that has followed most of the assassinations that have taken place in Lebanon over the last 3 years.

It has become normal practice among journalists to claim that an "anti-Syrian" politician was assassinated, which suggests that Syria was behind the assassination, when no evidence for blaming Syria is available. Then a paragraph is usually added to such reports that goes something like this:

Lebanon has seen a wave of assassinations since the killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.

United Nations investigators have said Lebanese and Syrian intelligence officials, including the brother and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, were implicated in the truck bombing that killed Hariri. Syria has denied any involvement in the attack.

The problem with such paragraphs is that "UN investigators" have not officially said that Syrian Intelligence Officials are implicated in the killing of Hariri. The first Mehlis report did not "officially" name any Syrian officers. It was discovered to have edits that were undo-able in Microsoft Word. Once reversed, the edits revealed that Mehlis had named Syrian officers. Someone — possibly Mehlis himself or someone higher up in the UN –had decided to edit the names out of the final published report. The first copy of the report sent out to journalists could be fiddled with to return to the earlier, edited version of the report. The problem with claiming that "UN officials" implicated Syrian officers is that it does not take into account any of the subsequent evidence that casts doubt on the primitive "unedited" version of the first Mehlis report.

The three witnesses used in the first Mehlis report, who were responsible for naming Syrian officers, were subsequently discredited and dropped by later reports.

Mehlis's reputation was badly damaged by his willingness to include these shoddy witnesses in his report, all of whom claimed to have been paid to implicate Syrian officials.

The UN never meant to print the names of the Syrians in the first place. It never included Syrian names in the subsequent reports. Brammertz, who took over the UN investigation after Mehlis resigned, has studiously avoided naming Syria as the prime suspect. He has certainly not named any Syrian officers.

Thus, it is extremely irresponsible for reporters to continue invoking the discredited and unredacted first draft of the early Mehlis report that "UN officials" decided not to publish instead of the many subsequent reports that do not name Syrian officers.

As an exercise in reverse irresponsibility, I named my article as I did.

Here is what "Friday Lunch Club" wrote about General al-Hajj:

Gen. Francois El Hajj, candidate to the LAF's command after Michel Sleiman, assassinated in Baabda

Gen. Al Hajj was known to FLC as a low profile, professional, exemplary and disciplined officer. On the wake of the January 23, 07' demonstrations, the World Council of the Cedar Revolution issued a plea asking that Gen. El Hajj and his officers be brought before a world tribunal and listed as "terror supporters." El Hajj, fought the Lebanese Forces under the command of Michel Aoun, and was among the critics of Gea'gea's visit to Michel Sleiman in Yarzeh. He is the same General El Hajj who answered M14's allegations of borders porosity, that the " the Lebanese Army is properly controlling its borders with Syria", obviously, not a man after M14ers' hearts!

Lebanon's March 14 officials blame the killing on Syria:

Lebanon blames Syria for deadly blast

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Sinioria says he believes the killing of an army commander was carried out to disrupt attempts to fill the country's vacant presidency. Lebanese army chief of operations General Francois El-Hajj was killed in a bomb attack in Beirut yesterday. He had been tipped to take over as head of the army from General Michel Suleiman, who is in line to become the next president.

Lebanese Communications Minister Marwan Hamade blames Syria for the attack. "We believe that all the institutions of Lebanon civilian and military have been targeted by the Syrian-Iranian axis," he said.

"And willing this to the statement by the Syrian vice-president yesterday telling his allies in Lebanon that they were stronger than ever and therefore calling them for attack." Syria has denied any involvement in the attack. AFP/BBC 

Syria's Champress argues that march 14 killed the General:

Massoud A. Derhally quotes Syria sources blaming Israel

Syria condemned the killing of Haj today. The official state-run news agency Sana cited an unidentified government official as saying the assassination targeted the Lebanese army and it was Israel that benefited from the killing of a national figure. The agency noted that Israel blew up Haj's car in 1976 in southern Lebanon after he refused to cooperate with its allies.

Nadim Ladki of Reuters has the best article on Brigadier General Francois al-Hajj, Bomb kills Lebanese general tipped for army chief

Comments (49)


1. Thomas said:

This smells like Mossad.

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December 12th, 2007, 10:10 pm

 

2. Nadim Shehadi said:

But Josh, you are quoted as saying that the assassinations in Lebanon are probably by Syria and in one case I think you are even more clear. Recently you also said the Lebanese were paranoid, would you say that today? Also when you have to point out that your title is ‘sarcastic’ it really means that it is closer to bad taste than sarcasm.

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December 12th, 2007, 10:31 pm

 

3. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

How does the Mossad smell?

I think it was suicide.

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December 12th, 2007, 10:44 pm

 

4. Nur al-Cubicle said:

Syria accuses Israel, Nicolas Sarkozy accuses Bashar al-Assad, Michel Aoun accuses Fuad Siniora, the Druze accuse Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, Saad Hariri accuses Syria, Farid Makari accuses 14th March! Round up the usual suspects!

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December 12th, 2007, 10:58 pm

 

5. ausamaa said:

An action on this scales is obviously carried out by a “fearless” party who does not want General Michle Sulieman to become President, regardless of wether his nomination was a result of US-Syrian reconciliation or not.

Any guesses as to who fits the above description????

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December 12th, 2007, 10:59 pm

 

6. Enlightened said:

AIG;

It has been empirically proven that any person who works for a security agency exhibits a certain odour. That odour exhibited by the Mossad leads you to believe that it was suicide, Thomas smells the Odour as murder.

Josh, your attempt at sarcasm, makes you look a very good proffesor of peace.

Does anyone know where Hajj’s political allegiances really lie?

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December 12th, 2007, 11:04 pm

 

7. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am sure it was suicide. He had a terminal disease and wanted to be a martyr.

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December 12th, 2007, 11:39 pm

 

8. George Ajjan said:

Syria killed him, isn’t it obvious? They are just spreading around their assassinations to confuse people and obfuscate their guilt for the pre-existing killing spree.

This is also a good opportunity to mention how undemocratic they are (unlike Jordan), how poor their human rights record is (unlike Egypt), how they don’t realize that “freedom is on the march” (unlike Saudi Arabia) and how little they respect women (just 1 female VP??? Kuwait has 6 or 7).

Alex, as per SOP, please post the definition of sarcasm. Thanks.

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December 12th, 2007, 11:46 pm

 

9. Habib said:

Can anyone explain to me why Al-Qaeda is never mentioned as a suspect in these killings, as if it was some sort of taboo?

The motives are certainly there: One less Christian, one more push towards a Lebanese civil war and overthrow of the Syrian government.

Not to mention his role in Nahr al-Bared.

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December 13th, 2007, 12:08 am

 

10. Ford Prefect said:

Dear Josh,
Without going into how (and why) everybody was trying to blame one party (Syria) or another (Syria) with the heinous assassination crimes, allow me to list some comments related to your posting above:

Primo: Regarding the final report by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor with the crystal-clear knowledge and conviction of who did what, did in fact implicate Syria in his final and official report. Here is a direct quotation from his final report:

“…..there is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and
Syrian involvement in this terrorist act. It is a well known fact that Syrian Military
Intelligence had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at the least until the withdrawal of
the Syrian forces pursuant to resolution 1559 (2004). The former senior security
officials of Lebanon were their appointees. Given the infiltration of Lebanese
institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in
tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex
assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge.”

Secondo, The pre-final version released by Mehlis, (apparently when he was on a break from protecting Lebanon), had Track Changes, a feature in MS Word, still enabled. That means anyone with MS Word (you really don’t have to do much reverse engineering or hire the Geek Squad) will be able to see how the document was edited. For example, on the cover page of the report, the word Confidential was deleted by an editor named “Special.Rep”. Just the mere fact that the document was “leaked” in its Word format with Track Changes enabled and not in the more professional PDF format indicates that someone was trying to score some political points. Most of the edits present in the leaked document are insignificant and immaterial. Except, of course, of the listed names of the Syrian and Lebanese officials. Go figure.

Terzo, indeed, the world press took that first, mainly discredited report and made the standard blurb every time an assassination occurs in Lebanon. The press rarely mentioned that subsequent reports by Brammertz did not follow the same accusatory line of blaming Syria with the murders.

Finalmente, Something is bothering me. With the presence of many world-renowned investigative agencies from the US, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Israel in Lebanon, is it that hard to catch Syria red-handed with these acts?

Cheers Josh!

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December 13th, 2007, 1:02 am

 

11. Nur al-Cubicle said:

…is it that hard to catch Syria red-handed with these acts?

As Significant Other once said…Half of Lebanon was involved in those assassinations!

HABIB asks a good question.

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December 13th, 2007, 2:49 am

 

12. abraham said:

Nur Al-Cubicle said:

Round up the usual suspects!

Awesome!

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December 13th, 2007, 2:59 am

 

13. Enlightened said:

AIG;

Hajj was a christian maronite, and you probably thought he was muslim by his surname, your comment at his murder (being suicidal and wanting martyrdom) is both pathetic and contemptible, but i just guess you will say it was in response to Thomas acuusations against the mossad and not a ingrained racist blurb on your behalf? Correct?

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December 13th, 2007, 3:04 am

 

14. Joshua said:

Dear Nadim, (Nadim Shehadi is an associate fellow of Chatham House, and an academic visitor at St Antony’s College, Oxford)

You write: “But Josh, you are quoted as saying that the assassinations in Lebanon are probably by Syria and in one case I think you are even more clear. Recently you also said the Lebanese were paranoid, would you say that today?”

Let us distinguish between two very different articles. The paranoid article was about the US making a deal with Syria and abandoning Lebanon.

The “don’t-blame-Syria-for-all-political-murders-in-Lebanon” article is about something very different.

First, on the paranoia article. It seems clear that the US has made no deal with Syria and has not abandoned Lebanon.

On June 19, President Bush indicated that he would not mediate in any new negotiations between Syria and Israel, signaling no change of his lines.

After the Annapolis conference, Rice did not mention the Moscow meeting to discuss the Golan and Olmert played down prospects of restarting peace talks with Syria. “Conditions are not yet at the point” for talks with Syria,” Olmert said. “There’s enough that we will have to do that will be heartbreaking.”

I think Lebanese anxiety that the US and Israel and selling Lebanon to Syria as part of a Golan deal is far fetched.

I do think, however, that the Western powers will eventually tire of Lebanon because it is so clearly divided of of little use to them, but abandoning it is very different from selling it. Yes, Syria has a role to play in creating Lebanon’s divisions, but the vast majority of those divisions are home made, I suspect.

I would be interested in your opinion on the question of whether Washington is in the process of selling Lebanon to Syria.

As for Syrian responsibility for the Hariri killing and the 22 subsequent assassinations, it is not clear to me that Syria can be blamed for them all. You are correct that I have written that Syria had motive and means to assassinate Rafiq Hariri.

This was before al-Qaida in Lebanon revealed itself as such a potent and capable force during the Naher al-Bared struggle, during which it held off the entire Lebanese army for 3 months, killing as good as it got.

This, of course, does not mean that al-Qaida is responsible for killing Hariri, but it does open up the possibility. Clearly, al-Qaida had both motive and means to kill Hariri. What is more, a member of al-Qaida has confessed to the crime. He has also recanted his confession. The two avenues of investigation alluded to in the Brammertz report are Sunni extremists and Syria – at least that is what I surmise from his reports. He suggests that he still lacks the proof to tie together the two avenues of investigation in a master conspiracy, although, that is what the UN investigation is trying to do.

Brammertz has given us no evidence to suggest that Syria carried out the Hariri murder or subsequent crimes, or that it can be tied to the extremist elements for which there is greater proof of involvement. I think we have to wait for that proof.

I have never written about the subsequent killings, although, it seems unlikely that Syria is responsible for many of them. Sunni extremists have been caught and accused of carrying some of them out. I know Lebanese authorities blame Syria for controlling these extremist elements, but again, we don’t have proof of this. It is very reasonable to suspect that they have their own motives to kill would refuse to take orders from or coordinate with Syria.

Again, I would be interested in hearing your opinion on the most important matter of whom is to blame for the assassinations in Lebanon.

I would happily post your reply as feature article on SC if you would take the time to write one.

Best, Joshua

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December 13th, 2007, 3:09 am

 

15. abraham said:

Well, I’m not surprised by the shoddy reporting in the Western press. What other reason could you attribute their inability to get simple facts correct to other than laziness or stupidity or complicity with Western governments in their bid to establish global empire? Each of these possibilities is as valid as the next and each is equally heinous. In any case they are failing the citizenry and damaging democracy.

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December 13th, 2007, 3:09 am

 

16. abraham said:

U.S. Jews are losing interest in Israel

American Jews are losing interest in Israel, according to figures released Tuesday in the American Jewish Committee 2007 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. Figures showed that 69 percent of Jewish Americans agreed with the statement “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew” in 2007, compared to 74 percent last year and 79 percent in 2005.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/933815.html

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December 13th, 2007, 3:20 am

 

17. Honest Patriot said:

Who benefits from chaos in Lebanon? is it not Syria which will claim that only under its tutelage is Lebanon able to have peace?

The economic benefits reaped by the Syrians in Lebanon are alone enough of a drive for their secret service to want to go back to controlling Lebanon, directly or by proxy.

Cut that Mossad accusation out, will you? Israel has more important pursuits than meddling at this level in Lebanon.

The worst idiot in all this is the great General Aoun who managed to convince enough of the Christian population that he is a “clean” and honest politician when in fact he is nothing but a coward with blind ambition. He happily took the offer of saving himself and his family almost ten years ago after having made threats of martyrdom and driven many of his underlings to it. What the hell is he thinking with this alignment of his?

Sadly, I drift more and more into thinking that Lebanon is a lost cause and that soon enough (with Josh’s article on Lebanese emigration quite timely and appropriate) most of the civilized Christians who have the means will be out of the country, leaving it to the blind followers of Hezbollah – including the great General Aoun – to lead a life of “epsilons” led by a single “alpha” who for the short term will be Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (the Great leader of the “divine” victory). To all those expats still holding on to your Lebanese passport: time has come to just shred it.

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December 13th, 2007, 3:31 am

 

18. norman said:

It looks like whenever Syria seems to be getting ahead a Christian Lebanese dies ,
Gagaa seems to be clearing the decks for himself as the leader of the Christians, God helps the Christians if that happens .

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December 13th, 2007, 3:38 am

 

19. Akbar Palace said:

Abraham,

Don’t get your hopes up. AIPAC’s membership continues to grow.

Sort of like the Muslim Brotherhood.

http://www.aipac.org/about_AIPAC/Learn_About_AIPAC/26.asp

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December 13th, 2007, 3:40 am

 

20. Habib said:

Anyone care to answer my question?

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December 13th, 2007, 3:51 am

 

21. abraham said:

Habib,

Because it doesn’t fit in with the proscribed Western narrative. Al Qaeda is only responsible for everything that happens in Iraq. Syria gets the blame for everything that happens in Lebanon.

Get with the program 😉

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December 13th, 2007, 3:58 am

 
 

23. offended said:

Okay, picking up form Habib, were there any forensic similarities between these assassinations and the previous ones?

Where is T_Desco?!!!

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December 13th, 2007, 5:10 am

 

24. Ford Prefect said:

Correct Akbar. AIPAC is continuing to grow – Viagra style. They got more with the addition of Ghadry.

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December 13th, 2007, 5:38 am

 

25. MSK said:

Dear Josh,

What was the motive of Al-Qa’ida for killing Hariri? So far I haven’t read/heard anything that is convincing.

As for Gen. al-Hajj, since he was the commander of operations in Nahr al-Barid (where, btw, the Islamists did not “hold off the Lebanese Army for three months” but the Lebanese government & LAF decided against a Hama-style bombing campaign that would’ve killed thousands of innocent camp dwellers but instead took their time to gain control over the camp [and why SHOULD they have rushed?]) and thus a revenge killing by Islamists would have to be put high up on the “motive” list. Not everything in Lebanon is related to the March 14 / March 8 struggle.

But yet again I am moved to (politely) ask you just when you will write as passionately about a domestic Syrian topic as you keep on writing about Lebanon.

How about a passionate defense of nice Syrian dissidents? Or an appalled account on the ostentatious display of wealth by Syria’s nouveau riche – flying in the face of the vast majority of Syrians having to deal with rising prices? Or maybe you can proclaim your strong opposition to the growing anti-Iraqi sentiment in Syria, which is turning them into the Gypsies/Jews, blamed for everything that is wrong?

The possibilities are endless … 😉

–MSK*

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December 13th, 2007, 7:13 am

 

26. why-discuss said:

What the hell is Brammertz doing?
In his last report, Brammertz said that the ‘second group’ that was part of Hariri’s murder plot is still in Lebanon and is still active.
By not giving more information I consider Brammertz as an accomplice to all subsequents murders that have happenned in Lebanon.
It is the UN’s duty to disclose this information so Lebanon can take some preventive measures and not wait until the tribunal is active and more people killed. I am outraged at the UN’s strategy on the Hariry murder investigation. Aren’t they supposed to protect Lebanon from more killings? By delaying the accusations for political or financial reasons they are allowing more killings to go on!

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December 13th, 2007, 8:42 am

 

27. Youssef Hanna said:

Dear JOSHUA,

I beg to differ with your statement that the crimes against anti-SR politicians and journalists irresponsibly blamed on the SR are limited to the last 3 years.

Here is a (probably incomplete) list of lebanese anti-SR politicians, journalists, and religious dignitaries that were victims of crimes irresponsibly attributed to the SR:

Pdt Bachir Gemayel
Pdt René Moawad
PM Rafic Hariri
Moufti Hassan Khaled
Cheikh Soubhi Saleh
MP Kamal Joumblatt
MP Nazem el Kadri
MP Raymond Edde
MP Saeb Salam
MP Marwan Hamadé
MP Bassel Fleihan
MP Pierre Gemayel
MP Walid Eido
MP Antoine Ghanem
Journalist Salim el Laouzi
Journalist Riad Taha
Journalist Joubran Tueni
Journalist Samir Kassir
Journalist May Chidiac
Politician Georges Hawi

Here is a list of religious dignitaries whose assassination was irresponsibly blamed on the Lybian regime (while they may be still alive and hiding in Rome):

Imam Moussa Sadr
Shaikh Hassan Yaacoub

Here is a list of politicians whose assassination was responsibly attributed to anti-SR militiaman Geagea:

PM Rashid Karamé
Dany Chamoun
(these are the unique cases investigated and tried, under the SR control of Lebanon)

Here is a list of politicians and religious dignitaries whose assassination was irresponsibly attributed to Israel:

Shaikh Hussein Fadlallah
Shaikh Abbas Moussawi
MP Elie Hobeika

Here is a list of politicians and military whose assassination was irresponsibly blamed on the Lebanese government services:

General François Haj

Best regards

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December 13th, 2007, 8:44 am

 

28. why-discuss said:

Josh

I agree with your title fully. This “anti-syrian” cliche that most press has been using at nausea has become irritating. With the warming up of relations between the west and syria, the press will probably switch to the “anti-iranian” label soon. In the case of the horrible killing of al Hajj, the press could not found any label to use… I am glad you found one for them!

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December 13th, 2007, 8:50 am

 

29. Akbar Palace said:

Habib asks:

Can anyone explain to me why Al-Qaeda is never mentioned as a suspect in these killings, as if it was some sort of taboo?

Habib,

The US State Department has identified about 100 Islamic terrorist organizations. They all have their own gripes and greivances and all of them do not recognize the State of Israel and all of them do not want peace.

Furthermore, most Arab and Islamic governments in the Middel East promote these organizations in their mosques, in their government controlled media, and in their schools.

These terror organizations are so numerous and undefined, that the West has no interest in segregating each one. that would be impossible, instead the US and the West find it much easier to segregate the States and governments that promote, fund and assist these terrorist organizations.

I think that makes sense. That’s why I’m so popular on this forum.

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December 13th, 2007, 12:15 pm

 

30. Honest Patriot said:

Youssef Hanna:

Excellent Post.

Add Tony Franjieh to your list under the murders attributed to Geagea. Geagea was a megalomaniac who miscaluclated his ability to confront the Syrian regime (as did the “great” General Aoun). Perhaps Geagea has changed but there is still discomfort in having a former warlord play an honest political role (although Begin and Shamir did perform this about-turn effectively).

Notwithstanding the studipidty, naivety, and violence tendencies of some Lebanese, compounded by a complete lack of civic sense, NOTHING justifies the murderous methods of the Syrian regime to control Lebanon. It is sad that this fact is not acknowledge or “proven” yet, and may, in time, be fuzzied up and forgotten. Ask any knowledgeable journalist and this fact IS KNOWN. [To the one who keeps posting asking me for “the proof,” please DON’T… I don’t have it, just like I can’t prove to you that OJ killed Nicole nor – immediately after 9/11 – that Osama Bin Laden ordered the operation].

The Lebanese nation is trying to emerge now, with alliances among former enemies within Mar 14, a determination to build the state’s institutions and evolve, in time, to a secular society guided by national interest, equality, and neutrality. “The Switzerland of the Middle East” is a worthy goal which, alas, the evil forces – at the top of which comes Syria – will always try to derail. Josh can claim that the Syrians are simply doing what every country does: promote their interests. No one quibbles with that: it’s the methods they use that are unjustifiable. Remember Hama.

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December 13th, 2007, 1:22 pm

 

31. why-discuss said:

Honest Patriot

Do you really think that countries looking for their own interests have morals and ‘good ways’ of how they obtain them? If you look at the recent history, it’s sickening how the US, Great Britain and France used murders to divide and conquer the middle east and other countries. Only recently the US offers a great model of amoral behaviour provoking the death not of hundred politicians but of hundred of thousands of innocent iraqis in order to “defend” their national interest(oil). Come on, in politics there has never been morality and the end always justifies the means. Israel creation is a good example of that. I am not justifying any country’s evil behavior, just observing. Justice is a very elusive issue in the political arena.

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December 13th, 2007, 1:58 pm

 

32. Observer said:

from Micheal Young
Syria prepares its grand comeback
By Michael Young
Commentary by
Thursday, December 13, 2007

To better understand the assassination of General Francois Hajj on Wednesday morning in Baabda, one has to view it against the backdrop of the statement by Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa a day earlier. At a conference of Syria’s National Progressive Front, Sharaa declared that “Syria’s friends in Lebanon represent a true force on the ground, and no one in Lebanon is able to harm Syria and Lebanon.”

One of the things most disturbing to the Syrians about the decision of the March 14 coalition to support army commander Michel Suleiman was that this was apparently preceded by commitments on both sides. One such commitment appeared to have been agreement on a new army commander, or a list of potential army commanders. Hajj, despite the opposition’s effort to paint his killing as a blow against Michel Aoun, was actually Suleiman’s man and was reportedly one of those on the list.

The message, therefore, was that for Suleiman to become president, he has to, first, renounce all previous commitments reached with March 14 and enter into new arrangements with the “true force on the ground.”

The Syrians are accelerating their return to Lebanon, and the disastrous French initiative on the presidency only confirmed to them that the international community would readily engage Syria on Lebanon. As for the United States, it has been comatose – caught between the constraints of the Annapolis process (if a process it is) and the need to reduce pressure on Iran after the release last week of a National Intelligence Estimate affirming that Tehran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The French and the Americans have been neutralized in Lebanon, and while this can be reversed, Sharaa’s remarks showed the extent of Syrian confidence.

Things are more complicated with

regard to the Arab states. Saudi-Syrian hostility continues unabated, and a

paramount Syrian objective in imposing a Lebanese presidential vacuum is to gain leverage for Syria’s triumphal re-entry into the Arab fold. The intended date is next March, when the Arab League summit is to be held in Damascus. The Assad regime would like the gathering to consecrate its return to regional prominence, and Lebanon is Syria’s hostage to bring that about.

For the moment leading Arab states aren’t playing ball. At a press conference on Tuesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit shot down reports that a mini-summit was to be held soon between Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Palestinians. He also downplayed prospects for a regional peace summit in Moscow next year, which the Syrians hope will place the Golan Heights issue back on the table.

But will the Arabs stick to their guns? Syria humiliated the Saudis and Egyptians by undermining their separate efforts to sponsor an inter-Palestinian settlement. Damascus is now blocking Suleiman’s arrival in Lebanon, although both Egypt and Saudi Arabia approve of the general. Less clear, however, are the calculations of King Abdullah of Jordan. His apparent engagement of the Assad regime suggests he is willing to be more flexible on a Syrian role in Lebanon if this can help calm the Palestinian front, thereby buying Jordan a measure of domestic stability.

Whichever way you cut it, Lebanon is in for many more months of anxiety. However, the imbroglio over the presidency makes you wonder whether the Syrians have a clear-cut presidential strategy. Syria has impeded the election of a bevy of allies, likely friends, or fellow travelers who were acceptable to March 14, including Robert Ghanem, Michel Edde, and Suleiman. Their treatment of Suleiman in particular reveals that they don’t quite trust the Lebanese Army, and that they certainly don’t want a new army commander who might reverse pervasive Syrian infiltration of the senior officer corps.

Creating a vacuum is not a strategy; it is a tactic designed to bring someone to power on Syria’s terms. Damascus wants exclusivity in the next Lebanese president, but without its armed forces in the country to impose this, a new officeholder might prove too independent. That’s why we should doubt Sharaa when he says, as he did on Tuesday, that Syria does not intend to return to Lebanon “militarily or in a security capacity.” But it’s also why, in believing that they cannot dominate the Lebanese without an armed presence, the Syrians might be overreaching. The Syrian move into Lebanon in 1976 required a regional and international consensus, as well as an Israeli green light, and was formalized by the Arab League. That’s unlikely to happen again today. In forcing the issue, doesn’t the Assad regime risk provoking a powerful local, regional and international backlash that might ultimately scuttle its plans?

Then again, a direr scenario is just as plausible. What remains of the Cedar Revolution is under mortal threat, with March 14 increasingly disoriented and without imagination. The coalition’s Christian policy is a shambles, allowing Michel Aoun to continue conning many of his coreligionists into believing that he best represents their interests, even as he perpetuates the presidential vacuum to undermine Suleiman. Amid such chaos, no wonder the Syrians feel they are but a step away from reversing the losses of 2005. And so repulsive are the divisions within Lebanese society that we must seriously worry that the West and the Arab states will soon quietly agree to subcontract Lebanon to Syria again.

That’s what the Syrians are hoping. They are convinced that the logic of the gun will prevail. When a substantial proportion of Lebanese society is either actively or objectively working on Syria’s behalf, it’s difficult to blame them. Yesterday was the second anniversary of Gebran Tueni’s assassination. It is dawning upon us, certainly too late, that he and all the other murder victims of the past two years probably went in vain. That’s no surprise when so many Lebanese are taking their country in vain.

Michael Young is opinion editor of

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December 13th, 2007, 4:27 pm

 

33. t_desco said:

I was trying to write a summary of my postings on the Hariri case and Fatah al-Islam, but to my regret I am not really comfortable with the quality and reliability of the sources and the reporting in general: too many problems, too little time to sort them out. Perhaps it will make more sense to try to discuss these problems here with you.

Lebanon probes car bomb slaying of army general, including al-Qaida links

Authorities were questioning Thursday four men in the fatal car bombing that killed a senior Lebanese army general as the military investigation turned its attention to possible links to al-Qaida-inspired extremists and other militant groups.

The army is questioning four Lebanese in the southern port city of Sidon about their possible links to the explosives-laden car, a security official said.

The four were picked by from Sidon’s Taamir neighborhood on the edge of Ein el-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian camp that is notorious for its lawlessness where extremists are known to have taken refuge.

The explosive car’s license plates were found to have been registered in the names of the four, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

Security officials said Thursday the military investigation was concentrating on more than one scenario or motive for the attack.

A strong possibility is that Islamic extremists or dormant Fatah Islam cells carried out the attack, the security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

During the Nahr el-Bared fighting in May, Palestinians living in the Ein el-Hilweh camp in southern Lebanon said they would form “Jihadi groups” to fight alongside Fatah Islam group battling the Lebanese army, according to statements posted on Internet Web sites known to circulate militant views.

As-Safir, a pro-opposition newspaper, quoted an unidentified senior military official as saying the probe is focusing on the possibility that a “regional terrorist fundamentalist group” might have carried out the attack, linking it to al-Qaida or Fatah Islam. …
AP

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December 13th, 2007, 4:48 pm

 

34. Honest Patriot said:

WHY-DISCUSS:

The world is a very sad place if you’re right, which you may be. Even then, the Lebanese could still come together to protect a true Lebanese interest – away from any religious fanaticism or external alliances. I may be dreaming, but this would certainly solve the problem there.

Still, perhaps it is not right to equate mistakes and incompetence by the US in Iraq to a deliberate murderous approach of using any means to an end – which is what I accuse Syria of doing. Israel is a whole different story, and in that case, we can only blame religious fanaticism for the obsession by the Zionists to regain what “God has given them,” coupled with the utter stupidity and equal religious fanaticism of the arabs who could not come to some sort of accommodation with the Jewish state. The great catalyst was the guilt-feeling by the Europeans for the Holocaust which they try to mitigate by supporting a convenient solution far away from their backyard. Along the way, reciprocal terrorism became the norm. I’m not sure what Israel’s options could be when it is threatened by the surrounding arab and persian masses.

Take a look at Youssef Hanna’s list and see if you can equate actions by the US to it.

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December 13th, 2007, 5:18 pm

 

35. Akbar Palace said:

Honest Patriot sates:

I’m not sure what Israel’s options could be when it is threatened by the surrounding arab and persian masses.

We were hoping you were going to recommend national suicide (aka leave all the terrortories pre-67 w/o any peace agrements).

Get with the program sir.

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December 13th, 2007, 5:25 pm

 

36. kingcrane jr said:

Josh,

Politicians get killed by a perpetrator who is manipulated by a handler serving a (secret) service that is sponsored by one or more powers.

The problem with Al-Qaeda attributed political assassinations, from Hariri to Hajj, and not including the two misses (Hamadeh and Murr), is that there is a political agenda at the horizon that does not really fit with al-Qaeda’s putative priorities.

Hariri died so Syria could be flagged out of Lebanon.

Hajj died to signal to many, including the “current potential compromize President” that anti-Israelis who are going against the schemes of the farcical entity called “the international community” will be eliminated. The fact that Hajj was also a notorious Awni means that Michel Awn is being sent a message. The fact that Geagea and the Lebanese Farces did not go after Awn himself is due to the fact that they would even more marginalized among Lebanese Christians if Awn is the victim.

One of my close friends sums this up as follows:
The death of Hajj is the last deadly chapter of the sinister neo-con agenda in Lebanon. And bolton’s protege is still ruling the country with the traitor San-Ioura (the Saint of short penises, remember that neo-cons have short penises, think about it twice, this statement is very important) as a figurehead.

And Michael Young continues spinning his lies…

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December 13th, 2007, 6:05 pm

 

37. Honest Patriot said:

Akbar Palace states:

(…) We were hoping you were going to recommend national suicide (aka leave all the terrortories pre-67 w/o any peace agrements).
Get with the program sir.

AP:
Conforming to what should be a common sense approach that respects tradition and beliefs, the arabs and the Jews are cousins, descendants of Abraham. The solution is clear to any civilized and sensible person: living in peace and harmony and working together to advance the well being of both populations. It has always been clear – once past the initial war of 1948 and associated crimes on both sides – that Israel wants nothing better than such civilized solution. Along the way, they clearly do have to have a defensive strategy against arab fanatics who will unceasingly try “throwing them into the sea.” I do blame the arabs for endless stupidity and fanaticism, and I do sympathize with Israel and pay the greatest respsect to the hard work, etchics, and family values of Jews worldwide. What I do have to criticize (although I can’t say I would act differently when threatened by arab fanaticism) are the violent techniques and tactics often used against the Palestinians. I know I’m not offering a solution, but merely lamenting the eternal truth of “homo homini lupus.”

Peace

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December 13th, 2007, 6:19 pm

 

38. Honest Patriot said:

Kingcrane Jr,

So… if I understand you correctly, the Mossad or Geagea are responsible for the list of killing in Lebanon (see Youssef Hanna’s list in this thread), and Hajj was killed to send a message to Awn.

Brilliant, sir. Actually, what is brilliant is the remarkable spinning by Syria and its supporters that could lead someone like you to adopt such twisted logic. Come on, Jr, Professor Landis knows that the Syrians masterminded the Hariri assassination, as do almost all contributors on this blog. Accuse Geagea of megalomania and early criminal acts, but not of what you accuse him of here. Siniora is a thorn in every stupid arab leader and government’s thorn due to his higher intellect and to the respect he has commanded worldwide. The obscenities in your accusations of Siniora betray your fanaticism and lack of logic.
The neocons in the US made many mistakes. Don’t accuse Siniora of complicity with them. He maneuvered with sincerity and effectiveness to bail Hezbollah’s behind out and prevent the utter destruction of Lebanon. History will judge this honorable man, not your hollow rhetoric.

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December 13th, 2007, 6:31 pm

 

39. Bashmann said:

Honest Patriot,

I’m beginning to have a great admiration for your efforts here.
I wish Prof. Landis can see the wisdom in your words and speak the truth in your eloquent fashion. Instead we get a post like this one which throws doubts about the ways and means of the Syrian mobocracy in subduing Lebanon. Keep up the good work.

Cheers

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December 13th, 2007, 8:03 pm

 

40. Bashmann said:

Here is one I couldn’t help but share with you here;

Analyze This: The ‘Al-Shara principle’ in action

——————————————————————————–

Calev Ben-David , THE JERUSALEM POST
Dec. 12, 2007

——————————————————————————–

Last year, the Syrian human rights activist Michel Kilo published an article in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi on what he termed the “Al-Shara Principle,” after a speech given by Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara on the subject of Lebanon.

According to the article (as translated by MEMRI-The Middle East Research Institute): “The “Al-Shara Principle” limits Lebanese sovereignty, links this sovereignty to the Syrian regime, and states that a free and independent Lebanon is necessarily a center and a base for plots against Syria.

Lebanon, peripheral and marginal, is required to keep in its place even after the Syrian army has withdrawn from its territory, and if it forgets, there are a thousand ways to remind it – either through dialogue or through operations in the field.

Another implication [of the Al-Shara principle] is that it leaves the Lebanese with only two options: either to [accept] Syria’s return to the land, or to be subjected to a variety of ever-escalating measures.”

For writing such articles, Kilo was sentenced earlier this year in a Damascus court to 12 years imprisonment.

As for al-Shara, in remarks reported just Tuesday, he declared that Syrian connections to Lebanon are as strong as ever and issued a stern warning to anyone, in Lebanon or outside it, who threatened those ties.

Another message – or maybe the same one – was delivered Wednesday, with the assassination of top Lebanese army commander Brig.-Gen. Francois Hajj, killed in the same manner, with a powerful car bomb, as several anti-Syrian Lebanese lawmakers over the past two years.

As in those attacks, no responsibility has been claimed. But members of the ruling March 14 coalition that helped free Lebanon from Syrian occupation in the Cedar Revolution are in no doubt that Damascus was behind the attack.

Neither is “Beshara,” a resident of the Beirut suburb of Baabda where the bombing took place, who immediately afterward spoke with the South African news site iAfrica.com, and gave her own interpretation of the Al-Shara principle.

“Didn’t you hear what Farouk al-Shara said yesterday? His declaration has been translated today? They want to destabilize Lebanon. There has been no president for three weeks now, the government hardly works, and parliament is paralyzed. They want to target the army because it is the one institution that remains united and functioning.”

Hajj was instrumental in suppressing the revolt of the radical Islamic terrorist group Fatah al-Islam last summer in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, a victory that was a great source of national pride for those who believe in an independent Lebanon, and in the army as its best protector.

Some analysts have speculated that elements or supporters of Fatah al-Islam may have struck back Wednesday – although it’s odd that they wouldn’t proudly take credit for such a successful revenge, if this was indeed the case.

It’s true that Hajj had no connection to the anti-Syria coalition – if anything, according to reports, he was closer to Michel Aoun, the Christian former army leader who brokered an alliance with Hizbullah last year and who until recently enjoyed their support in the efforts to choose a new Lebanese president.

But Aoun has lately demonstrated what must be disturbing signs of independence to his partners/masters in Damascus and Teheran, by meeting with March 14 leader Saad Hariri for a series of political discussions in Paris last month. The killing of Hajj could be designed to send a sharp message to Aoun not to stray too far from the line dictated by Syria and Iran.

It also delivers a warning to the Lebanese army – whose current chief, Gen. Michel Suleiman, is now a front-runner to take the vacant presidency – that they will not enjoy any immunity from the kind of retribution Syria and its allies in Lebanon have meted out in recent years to the politicians who have stood in their way.

And the killing of Francois Hajj should tell the rest of the world, especially Washington and Paris, that while Syria may have attended the Annapolis conference, what Kilo called the Al-Shara principle, that Lebanon must either submit to Syria or face “escalating measures,” is as valid today as it was in the past.

Cheers

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December 13th, 2007, 8:05 pm

 

41. Observer said:

Once again I will say this: Syrian departure from Lebanon was very good for Syria for it forced the regime to open up the economy, allow for banking and financial institutions, and increase overall economic freedom. Opponents of the regime should not confuse this with freedom in the political arena.
On the military side, it also helped as the Syrians are opting to prepare themselves for asymetric warfare as the have failed to come to parity with Israel for a variety of reasons from the illitracy of the population to the huge technological advance that Israel enjoys.
On the security side, it has increased its acumen and its ability to infiltrate the Lebanese scene, as well as the Iraqi resistance groups. It has its pulse on all the players.
Finally, regardless of who killed Hariri and others, it has adapted to the situation of being put repeatedly in the accused box and worked to maneuvre around every move by the US and France.
Both the US and France turned up to be somewhat amateurish in their immersion in Lebanese politics and politicians.
In Lebanon, my family there tells me that some Lebanese think that Syria has effectively paralyzed the country completely and will continue to do so until it gets a friendly goverment. They do not care about the presidency post as much as about making sure that the March 14 majority is fragmented and defeated.
The regime in Syria has mastered the method of spinning the population: I remember in the 1980’s when bananas were scarce followed by diapers followed by butter and so on and so forth to the point that the population was bothe exhausted and compeletly bewildered by the rolling shortages. All of this to continue the spin.
Those on this blog that are vehemently against the Syrian regime and are visceral about it should really take a breath and start helping elevate the level of debate. All of the players in the ME are extremly brutal and savage in their dealings; and all will not hesitate to obliterate the other completely if they could. None of these countries are true nation states and none have a clear idea of where they want to go. Even the zionist entity has a PM that reiterates that this is a Jewish nation. This is as old as 1897 and is still looking into a past that is no longer in mesh with the reality of 20% of the population being Arab and non Jewish. So all are caught in a post colonial spiral of slow disintegration.

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December 13th, 2007, 8:31 pm

 

42. kingcrane jr said:

To the March 14 spinners on this site:

1-Many among the PEOPLE that turned up at the March 14 were Awn supporters. The fallacy of the “March 14 was more successfull than the March 8 demo” spinners is further exposed by Hassan Nasrallah when he talked about how the media covered the two events.

2-The sources that I have in Lebanon are all Christians, mostly Maronites, and mostly pro-Awn by default (they were not Awni originals, but joined the Christian majority in supporting “el General” out of disgust and contempt for previous Syrian lapdogs who became suddenly “anti-Syrian” whatever that means). My sources are authentically anti-Syrian Mukhabarat but they are not anti-Syrian people. These sources were appaled that Michel Sleimane accepted to meet with Lebanese Farces murderer-in-chief Samir Geagea who they hold in poorer esteem (to say the least) than serial denier (and serial dinar aficionado, no matter what the currency is) Amine Gemayel, dubbed by those who lost everything in Lebanon (first to Amine, then to Rafic) le “cheque-a-main” aka le Cheikh Amine. My sources say that, after the aborted verbal offensive against Syria, they will settle for the usual culprit, some Palestinian or Al-Qaeda bouc emissaire to satisfy the Western corporate media (remember: you write what you’re told THANKS CORPORATE NEWS, WE COULDN”T CONTROL THE PEOPLE WITHOUT YOU) that Josh has very nicely mocked in his article. But they are not fooled, and they know that those who profit are those who want to appease the Zionist entity.

3-I so happen to be an ex-Nassib Lahoud (NL) supporter. I thought NL would work with Awn and distance himself from the pro-Syrians-turned-anti-Syrians, but I was wrong. Despite many years in Washington where he kept some distance with the neo-cons, NL had become part of the neo-con orbit.

4-Before that, I was a staunch Raymond Eddeh supporter, and I will always be. He opposed the Cairo accord, the single most devastating blow to Lebanon as a sovereign state prior to the blows hammered in unison by all those who want to cripple Lebanon (the Zionist entity and the Wahhabi entity, and yes Syria was for a long time the instrument of the latter). One blogger has accused Syria of being behind the murder attempt against Eddeh, but those who know him (and I have met him personally several times in Paris before his death, but I have never met Awn wjile in Paris BTW) have heard the truth straight from him: he was too independent and too honest and had to be scared off to France so not to compete with the now defunct Sleimane Frangieh Senior / Pierre Gemayyel / Camille Chamoun axis.

5-Incidentally, I happen to be Syro-Lebanese and a big fan of the traditional leaders of Syria: the National Bloc’s Quwwatli, the People’s party Qudsi, and that great man born in Hasbaya (Lebanon) Fares el-Khoury, the real founder of the People Party. So, I do not qualify for Baath mouthpiece. See my previous (old) interventions on this blog about the shortcomings of the Baath, from the failed agricultural nationalization and appropriations to the arabization of teaching that lacked foresight. I may also add my opposition to the status of Syria as KSA-sponsored-occupier-of-Lebanon, a status that was questionned by younger Syrians inspiring Bashar Assad to depart from previous fundamentals of Syrian policy in Lebanon, which until then consisted of keeping the Lebanese under the tutelage of the KSA surrogate Rafic Hariri.

Josh, keep up the good work. And please stop linking to or mentionning Michael Young altogether, there are enough spinners on this blog to quote his royal ineptitude.

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December 13th, 2007, 9:53 pm

 

43. Friend in America said:

Habib –
My take is that while Al Qada cannot be ruled out, the case that Al Qada is responsible is doubtful.
Al Qada did not have operators in Beruit that were effective enough to pull off this many assassinations.
Some of the assasinations do not bear the hand marks of Al Qada – “not Al Qada’s style. ”
If the goal of the assasination sis to destabilze the government, the winner will be Hezbollah and Al Qada has never supported a Shia victory (Hizbollah is seen as Shia, although I think it is better characterized as secular).
All of the assassinations were men in prominent postions who were involved in implementing the March 14 agreement. The only winner from destabilizing the March 14 agreement is Syria.
But, Al Qada should not be ruled out – keep watching for further developments.

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December 13th, 2007, 10:17 pm

 

44. Habib said:

About “Al-Qaeda’s style”, couldn’t it all have been false flag operations conducted by A-Q to frame Syria, after they realised what the Hariri murder lead to? Back then, they supposedly took the blame, but afterwards we didn’t hear from them again, and that lead to extreme pressure on Syria, and a Lebanon on the verge of civil war.

Isn’t that in the interests of Al-Qaeda, or Al-Qaeda sympathisers? After all, Al-Qaeda conducted two car-bombings just prior to the bomb in Lebanon, in Algeria and Iraq. They want civil war all over the Middle East, and they certainly don’t want Alawites ruling Syria.

You say the winners of an unstable Lebanon would be Hizballah, that might be true, but that hardly kept Al-Qaeda from trying to start a civil war in 60% Shia Iraq.

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December 14th, 2007, 1:50 am

 

45. Alex said:

Nice words from Lebanese singer Majida el-Roumi, in Arabic.

In the memory of Gebran Tueni (Bikaffe)

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December 14th, 2007, 3:44 am

 

46. Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy said:

[…] December 14th, 2007 by Sean Michael Young argues today in the Daily Star that, in light of recent assassination of Brig. General Francois al-Hajj, Syria is interested in maintaining a political vacuum in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the editors of the Daily Star write today that the Lebanese army, “the last remaining symbol of unity in this country,” will not lose its credibility or ‘internal cohesion’ as a result of the assassination. Josh Landis on his blog argues against “irresponsible” media accusations of blame in a country where periodic political assassinations have become a norm. […]

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December 14th, 2007, 7:55 am

 

47. Qifa Nabki said:

KINGCRANE JR

Two questions:

1. Given your negative opinion of the Cairo Accord and what it spelled for Lebanese sovereignty, what is your assessment of the effect of Hizbullah on Lebanese sovereignty today?

I am, by the way, an admirer of Nasrallah, so I’m not trying to bait you. On the other hand, I think there is an unavoidable case to be made about the ways in which HA has severely undermined national sovereignty in recent years and months. It’s a huge neon pink elephant in the room, no matter what you think of the “Zionist entity”, the “plundering entity”, the “Wahhabi entity”, the “neo-con entity” or any other entity you chose.

If you think that the Cairo Accord was the first nail in the coffin of Lebanese sovereignty, then surely the memo of understanding between HA and Awn (also informal, like the Cairo Accord) has the potential to be the last nail. Your thoughts?

2. What do you see as the KSA plot in Lebanon? I mean, what kind of seriously destructive work was performed by al-Hariri during the years of his reign? Sure, he was a big corrupter, as Blanford studiously documents in his biography, but the Lebanese benefited greatly during the period in which he was steering the nation. He sent thousands of young men and women to college, he built hospitals, infrastructure, schools… Not to be trite, but such a record of civil service and ambition — in many other countries — would merit a great deal more glorification than even Hariri has netted in Lebanon. I know that there were also many blemishes, but tell me what else I’m missing…

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December 14th, 2007, 3:25 pm

 

48. Friend in America said:

Habib –
Trying to answer your good comment about A-Q’s attitude.
Iraq: Bin Laden financed a A-Q type of sunni extremists in Iraq after it became they would not regain control of the cental govenment. This group chanhed its name to Al Quada in Iraq and was only affiliated with Bin Laden. Subsequently it has been financed by Bin Laden and others in Saudi Arabia. All of its attacks since then have been either against Americans forces or the Shia population. Remember it was A-Q in Irag that bombed the great Shia Mosque in February, 2006 that set off the sectarian war.
A-Q activists in Lebanon have been few in number, although capable of some terorist activities. A-Q is not known for targeting individuals (but do not rule it out).
Should Bin Laden devote major resources to A-Q activities in Lebanon, look for a “civil war” in South Lebanon to oust Hizbollah. A-Q would then have a base of operation on Israel’s border, the ability to keep Lebanon in chaos and invoke A-Q’s style of sidewalk court hearings followed by public hangings. For now Bin Laden is too involved in Afganistan and trying to save his Iraq affiliate to start such a venture. Later? Maybe.

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December 14th, 2007, 4:29 pm

 

49. Global Voices Online » Lebanon: Who Killed Francois Hajj and Why? said:

[…] More reactions can also be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Share This […]

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December 17th, 2007, 5:11 pm

 

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