Posted by Joshua on Thursday, November 18th, 2010
The US can do very little about the difficulties of the Special Lebanese Tribunal and Saad Hariri’s need to back away from its results. The Lebanese pendulum is returning to its equilibrium. Syria’s and Hizbullah’s authority in Lebanon is being restored after the effort by George Bush, Jacques Chirac, and Ehud Olmert to yank it out of Syria’s orbit in 2004 – 2006. The Special Tribunal was a device conceived of by George Bush to use international law and Western institutional clout to hog tie Syria and Hizbullah. It was of a piece with UN resolution 1559 and the other Security Council resolutions. They were designed to mobilize international law against Syria and Hizbullah and to help bring Lebanon into America’s orbit. The effort failed.
Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon’s strong man, was assassinated because he switched sides. We do not know how Bush and Chirac enticed him to abandon Syria, the country that had helped him to power in Lebanon. Presumably Bush turned to the Saudis and the French to convince him. What assurances of protection were promised Hariri by Ameirca’s president, we do not know. They did not stop Hariri’s murder. We do know that Rafiq Hariri was scared that he would not survive the Bush gambit. Only 22 years earlier Bashir Gemayyel, the Lebanese strongman that the Israeli’s made president in order to sign a peace agreement with Israel, was blown up in similar circumstances. Israel’s effort to wrench Lebanon out of Syria’s orbit collapsed in the same way that America’s effort to do the same thing has failed.
When Hizbullah soldiers marched into West Beirut in May 2008 to surround Saad Hariri’s offices and demonstrate that they were in control and that the Lebanese army would lift not a finger to oppose Hizbullah, no one could question that Syria and Hizbullah were back in control. George Bush and the US military stood by and watched. They were not going to repeat Ronald Reagan’s mistake of sending marines into Beirut. Saad Hariri discovered that he had no power and that Washington would not and could not back him up.
U.S. State Department officials are clamoring for Syria and Hizbullah to recognize the SLT. They insist that Prime Minister Hariri stand firm in supporting the SLT and act on any indictments of HIzbullah members. This places an impossible burden on Hariri. It is unlikely that he will try to use the Lebanese state to move against Hizbullah or give orders for the arrest of Hizbullah members. If he does, his government is likely to fall, and Lebanon will return to the government paralysis that characterized the years between 2005 and 2008, when the Doha Accord provided a compromise between Hizbullah and the March 14 coalition. The US cannot protect Hariri from Hizbullah, who will most likely feel compelled to find a face saving way to finesse the SLT.
If the US is serious about the peace process in Palestine, it will need Syrian help.
Despite US Effort, Syrian Mideast Role On The Rise – CBS News
Syria Rebuilds Mideast Clout, Shrugs Off US Incentives And Pressure To Shun Iran, Hezbollah
Syria has bounced back from years of international isolation and is wielding its influence in crises around the Middle East, shrugging off U.S. attempts to pull it away from its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Damascus played a role in helping Iraq’s fractious politicians agree this month to form a new government after eight months of deadlock. Now with Lebanon’s factions heading for a possible new violent collision, Arabs have had to turn to Syria in hopes of ensuring peace, even as Damascus backs Lebanon’s heaviest armed player, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Washington has increasingly expressed its frustration with Syria, which it says is stirring up tension through its support of Hezbollah. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Syria’s behavior “has not met our hopes and expectations” over the past 20 months and that it has “not met its international obligations.”
Since 2005, Washington – along with its Arab allies – hoped to squeeze Syrian influence out of its smaller neighbor Lebanon. But Arab powers that once shunned Damascus, particularly Saudi Arabia, have had to acknowledge its regional weight.
This month, Syrian and Saudi officials have been holding talks trying to avert an explosion in Lebanon. It’s a remarkable turnaround from several years ago, when the two countries were locked in a bitter rivalry and an outright personal feud between their leaders, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi King Abdullah.
Fears of violence in Lebanon are high because an international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected soon to indict members of Hezbollah.
Many Lebanese fear that could break the country’s fragile unity government grouping Hezbollah and pro-Western parties loyal to Hariri’s son, Saad, who is the current prime minister, and even lead to clashes between the two sides. With Syria’s backing, Hezbollah demands Saad Hariri break off Lebanon’s ties with the tribunal.
Little is known about the Syrian-Saudi talks, but Lebanon’s daily As-Safir reported Monday that the contacts have produced a five-point compromise plan in which Hariri, a close Saudi ally, is likely to declare Hezbollah innocent of the assassination once the tribunal issues indictments.
Such a deal would be a setback for Washington, which has pressed for support of the tribunal, and for pro-U.S. factions in Lebanon who fear the country is coming under Hezbollah’s thumb. But it would mark a new success for Syria and illustrate how it has come to restore its regional clout largely on its own terms.
It has done so while ignoring incentives from Washington. President Barack Obama has made repeated overtures to Damascus this year, nominating the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with Assad, in hopes of swaying it away from its alliance with Iran and regional militant groups.
Still, “Syria did not abandon Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah or its principles regarding the (Mideast) peace process,” said Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst who is the editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine.
Relations with Washington have now chilled before they even had a chance to fully warm up. Last month, Assad accused the United States of sowing chaos around the world.
“Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper, referring to U.S. intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice in turn accused Syria of displaying “flagrant disregard” for Lebanon’s sovereignty, citing its provision of increasingly sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah and other militias in violation of a U.N. resolution.
“Hezbollah remains the most significant and most heavily armed Lebanese militia,” Rice said on Oct. 28. “It could not have done so if not for Syria’s aid, and facilitation of Syrian and Iranian arms.” Iran funds the militant group to the tune of millions of dollars a year and is believed to supply much of its arsenal.
As it spurns moves by the U.S., Damascus is making friends elsewhere – and not just with staunch anti-American governments such as Iran and Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez swung through Damascus in October.
Iraqi leaders looked to Syria for help in solving the political stalemate stemming from March parliamentary elections, which failed to produce a clear winner. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who along with other prominent Iraqi officials made a trip to Damascus, is expected to form a new government after last week’s deal broke the political impasse.
Syria’s emergence as a regional heavyweight is a reversal from just a few years ago. Rafik Hariri’s assassination prompted a wave of anti-Syrian protests that forced Damascus to withdraw its military from Lebanon and end its long control there. In 2006, relations with some Arab states took a dive when Assad called Saudi King Abdullah and other Arab leaders “half men” over their disapproval of Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, which sparked a 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel.
Syria could benefit from improved ties with Washington, which would boost its economy and end sanctions first imposed by President George W. Bush. Assad also wants U.S. mediation in indirect peace talks with Israel – a recognition that he needs Washington’s help to win the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
But after rebuilding its regional status, it may feel less of a need to pay the price for better ties. Syria has “turned the page on isolation” by building its partnership with Saudi Arabia and asserting a role in Iraq, Peter Harling, a Syria-based Mideast analyst with the International Crisis Group, says.
“Syria has been doing well in a region that has not.”
I am not sure what to make of the Bar’el article. It is smart but I we have no evidence that the Syrian government double crossed Iran as he claims it did. I wouldn’t believe it without proof. Lebanese sources have a long history of misinformation about infighting within the Asad family and between Iran and Syria and between Hizbullah and Syria. Almost all of them have turned out to be false. We were told that Syria killed Mughniya, when it was almost asuredly Israel – perhaps with US assistance. We were told that the Assad family was at daggers drawn, with Assaf Shawkat out of favor and Bushra in exile. Not true. These perennial stories of intrigue and treachery are the products of wishful thinking and mischievous minds seeking to assure opponents of Syria and Hizbullah that if they refuse to cooperated with Damascus and Nasrallah, they will be rewarded by a sudden collapse of the Iran-Syria-Hizb alliance. It is not likely to happen. They make for good copy but Iran and Syria are not double crossing each other in this way. No alliance could withstand it for 30 years as the Syrian-Iranian alliance has.
Are relations between Syria and Iran cooling off?
New article in Asharq Al Awsat reveals Syria apparently was responsible for confiscating a large shipment of explosives that Iran was planning to send to Hezbollah.
By Zvi Bar’el
Tehran and Damascus were able to trust each other so long as it was clear that the other was not planning to encroach on its sphere of influence. Just as Syria does not intervene publicly or ostentatiously in Iraqi affairs – an area considered to be under Iranian influence – so Damascus expects Tehran to refrain from intervening too crudely in Lebanese affairs, at least not in a manner that portrays Lebanon as an Iranian protectorate rather than a Syrian one. But Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon, the presence of Revolutionary Guards there, and the transfer of explosive materials from Iran to Syria in a way that puts Damascus under scrutiny by the committee examining sanctions against Iran, raise questions about the quality of relations between the two countries. ….
Syria would like to leave Hezbollah as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Saudi Arabia over the international committee looking into the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese president assassinated in 2005, or as a reward for Israel in case of a peace agreement. But Iran has other plans. It would like Lebanon to become an Iranian protectorate, through Hezbollah. …. Hezbollah and Syria will not cooperate with the international tribunal hearing the Hariri case, but neither will Assad permit Lebanon to be shattered.
Syria and America: The End of the Honeymoon Period
Saturday 06 November 2010
By Tariq Alhomayed
It seems that the American – Syrian honeymoon has come to an end, and to make matters worse, the Republican Party has gained control of the US Congress following this week’s mid-term elections. Damascus wasted two years of Obama’s presidency, failing to achieve anything; during this period the Syrians dealt with Washington in the same manner that they deal with certain Arab countries, and this is something that can be seen in their response to the statement made by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, in which Damascus called on Feltman to “recognize historical and geographical facts.”
Two years after Washington extended its hand to Damascus, the US is outraged by the Syrian behavior in Lebanon, with the Americans believing that Damascus is contributing to undermining security and stability there. This is something expressed by US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, and Feltman himself reiterated this in his statement that provoked the Syrians. If we add a Republican-controlled Congress to this equation, then we can say that Obama cannot continue opening up to Syrian in this manner, especially as there have long been demands in Washington that the US reassess the manner in which it is dealing with Syria.
WASHINGTON — Syria has failed to meet Washington’s hopes since the Obama administration started to engage with the former US foe, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview published Friday. “Syria’s behavior has not met our hopes and expectations over the past 20 months — and Syria’s actions have not met its international obligations,” the chief US diplomat told the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar.
Syrian bloggers brace for fresh blow to Middle East press freedom
The Christian Science Monitor -By Sarah Birke, November 16, 2010
A Syrian law awaiting parliamentary approval is one of a raft of measures across the region to clamp down on a surge in Internet activity over the past decade.
The Middle East’s modest window for dissent, created by a surge in blogging and online journalism over the past decade, looks poised to narrow with a raft of measures across the region.
A draft Internet law awaiting parliamentary approval in Syria is one such measure. The government says it would give a needed legal framework to online activity by forcing bloggers to register as union members, conferring rights such as a press card to online journalists for the first time, and potentially requiring content be withdrawn from websites.
Online journalists and bloggers in Syria, already subject to harassment and imprisonment, are concerned that the law is designed to crack down on their activities and restrict freedom of expression. Media analysts say parliamentary approval is likely to come soon.
Since Syria’s online sphere began to blossom in 2000, Syrian websites – which face less scrutiny than the country’s print media – have been able to publish stories on sensitive subjects such as the army and corruption. They have recently brought to light a controversial personal status law and the issue of corporal punishment.
“We have democratized information and flagged up sensitive and important topics for debate, both controversial and non-controversial,” says Abdel Ayman Nour, the editor of All4Syria, a news website run from outside the country which as well as writing about politics has actively campaigned about neglected topics such as the environment. “But a law that stipulates that police can enter the office of a website to take journalists for questioning, seize their computers, and impose penalties of jail or a fine of up to 1 million Syrian pounds [$200,000] is clearly designed to end that.”
New media push boundaries
The Middle East has long been known as one of the least liberal regions for media freedoms in the world, though the advent of new media forms has pushed the boundaries of media restrictions and made governments more accountable to their citizens.
“The satellite revolution and the launch of private television in the 1990s made it harder to censor content,” says Naila Hamdy, a former journalist who now teaches at the American University in Cairo. “Now the Internet, which was formerly used only by a handful of people, has exploded, challenging traditional government-controlled media.”
But Middle Eastern countries pushed back as Internet usage surged 13-fold from 2000 to 2008. A 2009 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists detailed the tailoring of press laws and the introduction of new laws across the region, including measures such as the United Arab Emirates’ Cyber Crime Law that stipulates $5,400 fines and prison sentences for vague online acts such as insulting family values.
Egypt, in the run-up to Nov. 28 parliamentary elections and the presidential election next year, has imposed restrictions on the press. Satellite television stations must now request a license before broadcasting a live event, as must companies engaging in mass text messaging.
But Syria is ranked even worse than Egypt on this year’s annual press freedom chart by Reporters without Borders. The international organization based in Paris put Syria at 173 out of 178 countries, just behind Sudan and China, and beating out only Iran and a handful of others.
Defamation is concern, say governments
Syrian websites espousing harsh political criticism, such as All4Syria, are blocked along with some human rights and social networking sites such as YouTube and Facebook – although most Syrians use proxy software to access them. Many publications are subject to censorship.
But this is not a complete picture, say analysts. Taleb Kadi Amin, director of the Arab Radio & TV training center in Damascus and former deputy information minister, says the Syrian law is part of a global trend to regulate the Internet and deal with negative effects such as violations of copyright law.
“This law is simply designed to tell online journalists that they are responsible for what they write,” he says. “Many websites copy and paste material and publish defamatory or untrue material, often anonymously, and there is currently no mechanism to deal with it.”
“It is not about limiting freedom of expression but giving support to legitimate online journalists and increasing people’s rights not to be defamed,” he added.
But such laws include a risk of abuse, say analysts. “The challenge is promulgating a law that cannot be used to silence dissent,” says Professor Hamdy.
More anxiety for journalists
Syrian bloggers claim the new regulations will lead them to self-censor, write anonymously, or leave the country, which will lower their credibility, but some say the law will have little consequence.
“The Internet is almost impossible to police and Syria and other countries already mete out penalties without a specific law,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma University. “It will, however, add another layer of anxiety for journalists.”
Professor Landis, operator of the blog Syria Comment, adds that it was in the interest of all countries to have a free press, including Syria.
“It is necessary for the economic liberalization desired by Syria,” he says. “Many officials realize that debating difficult topics such as the removal of subsidies and salary disparities is more likely to get people onside with painful but needed reforms.”
Israel pullback alarms Lebanon border town
By Douglas Hamilton
GHAJAR, Israel | Wed Nov 17, 2010
A woman walks past concrete security blocks in the village of Ghajar on the Israeli-Lebanese border November 7, 2010. Reuters/Nir Elias
GHAJAR, Israel (Reuters) – Israel said on Wednesday it would withdraw troops from a village straddling the Lebanese border, in a gesture to the United Nations that drew residents onto the streets protesting the division of their community.
The people of Ghajar, a prosperous hillside town of 2,300 who are members of Syria’s Alawite sect, say they want no “Berlin Wall” dividing the north from the south of their village and forcing them to chose between Lebanon or Israel.
They say they were not consulted on U.N. plans to resolve a situation that has long inflamed tensions between Israel, the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group and neighboring Syria.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen when the Israelis pull back. We’re afraid the village will be cut in two, and in Ghajar we’re all one big family,” said local council head Ahmed Fatali.
Morocco and Syria have the highest SMS rates in the Arab World
New research from the Arab Advisors Group reveals that 87% of Arab cellular operators provide the MMS service. The SMS service, which is provided by all mobile operators in the region, is priced quite differently across the region. Yemen and Palestine have the lowest average SMS rates, while Morocco and Syria have the highest.
Lebanon PM: Army to get assistance from Russia
The Associated Press
Russia will provide the Lebanese army with free helicopters, tanks and munitions in a deal that will boost the country’s poorly equipped military, officials said Tuesday. The announcement comes at a time when military assistance to Lebanon is under scrutiny after U.S. lawmakers demanded assurances that American aid will not fall into the hands of Hezbollah.
Madame Clinton has been on the phone to Hariri, nagging him to disarm Hezbollah and to stick to the tribunal. In Washington, this makes sense. In Lebanon, she sounds as if she is mad.
Why? Shiites are the largest community in Lebanon, yet their sons and brothers make up a majority of the Lebanese national army.
It’s not that the Hezbollah have infiltrated the ranks. It’s just that since the Christian and Sunni elites have maintained the Shiites in comparative poverty, the youngest sons need a job and are sent off to the army.
… If they were indeed ordered to march south…. are they going to shoot their Hezbollah brothers, fathers and cousins to a chorus of White House cheers?
No, they would refuse and the Christian-Sunni soldiers would be tasked to attack the armed Shiites. The army would split. That’s how the civil war started in 1975.
Does Madame Clinton – and France’s foppish foreign minister, the saintly Bernard Kouchner who has turned up in Beirut to support the tribunal – want another civil war in Lebanon?
There’s another problem. Given their numbers, the Shiites are grossly under-represented in the Lebanese parliament and government. And there’s been an unspoken – certainly unwritten – agreement in Beirut that to compensate for their lack of political power, the Shiites can have a militia.
If God was to tell Nasrallah to disarm the Hezbollah – he would surely obey, for no-one else in the region would dare to make such a request – then Nasrallah would immediately demand an increase in Shiite numbers in government, commensurate with his perhaps 42 per cent of the population. There would, therefore, in effect, be a Shiite government in Lebanon.
Is that what Clinton and poor old Obama want? Another Shiite Arab state to add to the creation of the Shiite Iraqi state which they have bestowed upon the Saudis and the rest of the Arab Sunnis as a neighbour?