Diagnosing Failure: The Case of Lebanon

by Qifa Nabki

In an article entitled “The Mamluk Conception of the Sultanate” (Int’l Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, xxvi, 1994), the historian Amalia Levanoni discusses the intellectual background of the Mamluk political system. The Mamluks, who ruled Egypt, Syria, and parts of Western Arabia from 1250-1517, were a dynasty of Turkic slaves who seized power from the weakening Ayyubid regime and created one of the strangest systems of government witnessed in human history: a slave sultanate, in which the supreme ruler was chosen from among an elite class of former slave warriors. Remarkably, this system sustained itself for two and a half centuries, withstood the Mongol invasions, succumbing only to rising Ottoman hegemony in the early 16th century.

Rather bizarrely, the recent Lebanese political experience contains a couple of features in common with the Mamluk system, which was a military oligarchy dominated by factions who competed endlessly with each other for power. A few quotes from Levanoni are illustrative: 

“After they had seized power, their dominant amirs formed a council and chose one from among their rank as sultan whom they entrusted with their authority and made their representative… Although the choice was sometimes predetermined, the sources all describe decisions of the amirs as expressions of common consent-the phrase used is ittafaqa ‘alaa, "they reached agreement." (375-76)

“That the sultan remained dependent on the support of the mamluks becomes obvious in the sources of this period. They introduce the rather surprising phrase, kaana murashshahan li l-saltana "he was a candidate for the sultanate." As in modern times, the term "candidate" implies that the electors have an advantage over the would-be ruler” (385)

Sound familiar?

Anyone who has been following the Lebanese standoff cannot help but feel some déjà vu upon reading these descriptions, and they suggest the following observation about the breakdown of the Lebanese government: it is less a function of sectarianism than it is a product of a defective political architecture. Simply put, Lebanon remains an oligarchy dominated by a few important families and political figures, and the state has not yet developed the structures to regulate and eventually break the power of this political class.  

Solutions

Many have said that the solution to Lebanon’s crisis lies in reforming several aspects of its political system. Where to begin? At a Brookings Institution presentation entitled "Lebanon: The Forgotten Crisis" Bilal Saab argues that "the root cause [of the problem] is political representation and power sharing amongst communal groups in Lebanon." The three ways in which the conflict has been typically portrayed (i.e., as a (i) Sunni-Shiite conflict; (ii) a conflict between those who want Lebanese independence and those who want Syrian tutelage; (iii) a clash between "moderates" and "extremists") are all, he says, wrong. Rather:

…the essence of the conflict for almost 2 years now has to do with the fact that the Lebanese political system has reached the point where it can no longer ignore the political aspirations of one large unit in that system, which is the Shiite community.

Saab goes on to say that these aspirations will not be addressed substantively "as long as Hizbullah remains the unchallenged patron of the Shiite community," because of how the militia is viewed by Sunnis, Druze, and a segment of the Christian community. What is needed is not so much a second Ta'if Accord, but rather the full implementation of the existing Ta'if Accord, specifically within four major areas:

  1. The decentralization of administration of municipalities
  2. Devising a new and fair electoral law
  3. Strengthening the judiciary
  4. Abolition of confessionalism (a long-term objective)

One thing that Saab does not mention, but which normally tops the list of clauses from Ta'if that should be fully implemented, is the creation of a senate. Bicameralism is a system of government that would appear to be tailor-made for a country like Lebanon. The Ta'if Accord states:

With the election of the first Chamber of Deputies on a national, not sectarian, basis, a senate shall be formed and all the spiritual families shall be represented in it. The senate powers shall be confined to crucial issues.

Such a formulation is highly (and purposefully) ambiguous, but the gist is that a second legislative body should be created, in which all of the various sects are represented. This system, theoretically, would express the will of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. Under such an arrangement, the parliament would be elected with no constraints or allotments of seats based on sect, while the senate would give each sect an equal number of seats, much like the American system whereby California and Rhode Island have two senators each but California has 53 representatives in the House, to Rhode Island's two. 

Several questions emerge; given the number of Christian sects in Lebanon (over a dozen), this would presumably create a large imbalance, vis-a-vis the number of seats given to Muslim sects. There are other issues as well. The increasing demographic weight of the Shi`a population in Lebanon, coupled with the larger rates of immigration in Sunni and Christian communities may prompt the Shi`a parties to argue against decoupling the logic of confessionalism so thoroughly from Lebanese politics. Finally, of course, there is the influence of Syria, which has mostly obstructed the full implementation of Ta'if since its inception, precisely because of the greater degree of independence that will accrue from these measures.

The Near Term

These solutions are still very far off, and seem to offer little guidance in the way of solving the short-term crisis. In the meantime, both the majority and the opposition must realize that each passing week drives the nail further into the coffin of genuine reconciliation, much less reform. A wininer-take-all endgame, on the other hand, would be potentially catastrophic, given the boiling point reached in the tensions between partisans of the opposing groups. A 10-10-10 solution is the only way, and the majority should be willing to give up a blocking veto to the opposition in exchange for the immediate election of Suleiman as president without any further conditions placed on ministerial portfolios. (If necessary, the more powerful ministries should be appointed by Suleiman himself). This is the only face-saving solution for both sides. Perhaps this is its primary virtue, but it is an important one. Such a solution will undoubtedly lead to more stagnation and bickering, but at least it will be within the context of a functioning government, which will gradually undercut the turmoil and spirit of anarchic conflict in the street, and give the country a much needed feeling of closure.

The government that emerges in the wake of this crisis is going to be a lame-duck (or single issue, at best) government, no matter who wins. There is no trust left between the two sides, and the parties will be almost exclusively focused on the legislative elections of 2009. The single issue that might provide a source of cooperation is the reforming of the electoral law, which has already received a great deal of attention. Both sides should opt for turning 2008 into a recovery year, an opportunity to draw breath, before returning to the trenches in 2009. At that point, there will be a new face in the White House, perhaps a new strategy in Iraq, and with any luck,  fresh opportunities for political reconciliation.

Comments (209)


majedkhaldoun said:

these changes will require approval from the house of Lebanese representatives, which is impossible.
the solution for Lebanon, USA suffered a humiliation in Iraq, it is like an impotent man , he can talk,watch,and touch ,but he cannot perform, this means no american interferance.france has already reached menopause.
Syrian regime changes, HA loose, but this is unlikely.
Israel wages a war , and suffers the same fate as 2006, then Geagea,and Gemeyel loose,HA will dictate its will.

February 19th, 2008, 9:26 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN,
Sometimes divorce is the only solution. The writing is on the wall. Lebanon will break up, either by consent or by war in the next decade or so. It can be united but only under Syrian rule if you prefer that option.

Let’s admit the French made a mistake and move on.

February 19th, 2008, 9:52 pm

 

jbello said:

My understanding is that ‘the opposition’ would prefer to see a national electoral system replace the confessional one. They are not the ones who will lose power through an open democracy.

February 19th, 2008, 9:54 pm

 

Honest Patriot said:

Masha2allah ya Majed, what did you have for lunch (or dinner)? Only extremist solutions are predicted? I don’t know if you’re right and would not get into an argument with you on this, simply because I don’t know. I do know this, however: there is a majority of ordinary citizen in Lebanon wanting nothing more than a normal environment in which to conduct their business, raise their families, seek a better life. For these folks extreme solutions don’t bode well. Then again, QN’s prognostications are not exactly optimistic but at least they leave open room for some semblance of normalcy.
Ya 3ammeh hanneyss badda t3eesh!

February 19th, 2008, 9:57 pm

 

Bashmann said:

QN,

A refreshing input indeed and wonderfully put. However, I’m afraid the Syrian Jack will torpedo any efforts made at a conciliatory solution that falls outside the influence of the Damascus Mafia.

Cheers

February 19th, 2008, 10:08 pm

 

kingcrane jr said:

The Taif accord has signifcant problems, as it will disenfranchise some factions or sects. I recommend Albert Mansur’s book on this subject for those interested, and this subject is very complex.

The roots of the Lebanese problems are many, and the similarities with the Mameluks is only apparent. The Mameluks survived well beyond the Ottoman invasion of the Near East and the Middle East, and were well implanted in Egypt (albeit under Ottoman “supervision”) until Napoleon and then (and most decisively) Mohammad Ali really got rid of them for good; so they survived well in the 16th, 17th and 18th century, centuries after their Sultanate was brought down.

In contrast, Lebanon’s old feudal families occupy center stage, but there are challengers on the Christian side (such as Awn) and on the Moslim side (such as Hariri, a new feudal family). Some of the feudal families are ensuring their future presence on the scene (Murr, Frangieh, Skaff, Hariri, Jumblatt, Arslan), but others are not (Eddeh, Shamun, Gemayyel, Karameh, Salam, Hamadeh, Asaad). Other leaders are not looking at family members as political heirs, most notably Hassan Nasrallah. And two parties (the LCP and the SSNP) have long ago parted with familial heirs; for these parties, families of militants are welcome (the Debs family for the LCP, the Ashkar family for the SSNP are very good examples) but they have tried to stay away from the Salian law of Lebanese politics.

The best system for Lebanon? Too many Zaims is a problem, so here is my recipee:

1-Reduce the Parliament to 100 members, and take away religion and confession as criteria for election. The election should be by lists on a NATIONAL BASIS to diminish for good the influence of money. Lists will be represented according to the percentage of votes obtained.

2-Create a Senate of 28 members: 14 Christians and 14 Moslims. I am not sure if 7 Maronites, 3 Greek Orthodox, 2 Greek Catholics, 1 Armenian Orthodox and 1 various other Christians is a good cocktail. I am not sure either if 6 Shia, 5 Sunna, 2 Druze and 1 various other Moslims is a good cocktail either. May it be time to have a National census? Will people at the census state if they live within Lebanon or not? Will they fess up to be double or triple Nationals?

The election of these Senators will be by votes held within religious and sectarian boundaries. At the end, once true deconfessionalism is reached, the Senate will be no longer needed. Currently, the Cabinet members are a pseudo-Senate, as none are nominated because of their competence or technical abilities (none since Georges Corm was Minister of Finance, in my very humble opinion), but rather as political heavyweights representing their communities. The future Senate and the future Parliament will have to divide a variety of legislative powers amongst them; good luck.

As to Lebanese-Syrian relations, it is a completely different subject, one that has nothing to do with the Taif agreement or any other agreement. Syria and Lebanon are neighbors forever, and many binationals (like me) are NOT interested in discord to please some artificial foreign object illegally created by the UNSC south of our borders.

February 19th, 2008, 10:58 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Dear QN (MSK, thanks for pointing out the forgotten proper salutation),

Bravo for putting the proper analogy to the Mamluk’s era followed by your eloquent essay. Sultan al-Zahir Baibars is one of my favorite past time personalities (I remember once listening to a 7akawati reciting his stories at a coffee shop in old Damascus. People were so taken by his stories that they got up and started kissing and hugging one another when 7kawati mentioned that Baibars had won the battle of Acres!!)

If you have not done so yet, and you happen to be in Damascus, make sure to visit the al-Zaheriya Library in Damascus- home to some of the most important books in Islamic and Arabic history.

Back to the topic of hand. QN, I am not sure if any near-term solution will work in Lebanon unless the cold war between the regional powers has abated. In my opinion, this simple fact is one of the root causes of what we are witnessing today in Lebanon.

Lebanese suffer from a plague called “regional power outreach”. Currently, no one has developed a vaccine to inoculate the Lebanese people from that disease. It is no secret that, based on the delicate balance of the myriad of confessional Lebanese groups, most reach out to regional and international powers to advance their own cause rather that Lebanon’s cause. And of course, regional powers oblige every time there is a cry from one of their favorite Lebanese faction.

So, when there are regional tensions – as the unprecedented tensions we see today – there is Lebanese tension. The irony is the Lebanese tensions correspond to a surprising degree to the regional tensions – almost verbatim.

When regional tensions go into remission, Lebanon is the heaven we all know. (Mom, if you are reading this, I love you and love Lebanon to death. This is my half Syrian side talking.)

Moreover, the 10-10-10 formula is doomed to fail at anytime there is a serious decision to be made by the government – an overarching decision deemed existential by some group (e.g., disarm HA). Since the wild-card 10 ministers are of unknown allegiance quality at this time, they will soon revolve and orbit around a particular power center. Worse yet, one of the original 10 will accuse the wild-card 10 of switching sides or acting as a surrogate to the other. And the crises will be back into square one.

We can theorize about all sorts of working formula for Lebanon. But unless there is regional harmony in the area (not inflamed by Washington), poor Lebanon is going to suffer. And my heart is broken over that heavenly place.

February 19th, 2008, 11:05 pm

 

Alex said:

Ya salaam ya Qifa Nabki. I love the intro.

Let me address one of the more important points you raised … closure.

Unfortunately, there was no satisfactory closure to the Syrian era… no closure because we had the craziest 3 years since the Syrian army left. A satisfactory closure requires honesty.

The Syrians need to stop insisting that they only wanted to help Lebanon and that they spent 30 years doin nothing but sacrificing everything for their Lebanese brothers and sisters.

And, more importantly … the Americans, the Saudis, and their supported M14 need to simply shut up. They have created a monster in the minds of their supporters … that monster (Syria) is so eveil that they (the M14 people) need to do anything .. absolutely anything in order to destroy it … so that they can live in peace and freedom.

Three years ago, some Lebanese called their newborn boys “mehlis”… those parents favored the name of the man they hoped will help them take revenge from Syria over the names of their saints or prophets.

You will not have closure in Lebanon if one third the country is paranoid about Syria.

In return, Syria will have zero trust in the leadership of that group of Lebanese people and will do its best to defeat them … creating more bitterness in the process…

BEfore you can tackle LEbanon’s internal challenges .. you need the external factors to have a positive role, or at least a neutral role in the process.

For that I agree with Nabih Berri .. Syria and Saudi Arabia are the problem … and to solve that problem, we have no choice but to wait for the end of the source of most problems in the Middle East … this Neocon American adminsitration.

Until then … Syria is not trusting the Lebanese leaders who promised to assassinate its president, and the Saudis who are superbly empowered and encouraged by this administration are on a mission to show Syria who is the boss … in a very primitive way.

It is not looking good… no Saudi retreat from their post 2005 gains in Lebanon, no Syrian trust in any Saudi or American puppets.

Aoun, Salim Hoss, Kareem Bakradoni have the most balanced approach to regional alliances … But they are not in power.

M14 are in power … and HA is in power (in a different way) … both are part of the fight .. and the fight is not over it seems.

That’s my pessimistic mood of today. I hope I am wrong.

February 19th, 2008, 11:10 pm

 

Enlightened said:

QN: Thanks for the History lesson regarding the Mamelukes, for a more apt comparison regarding the situation it would have been just as equally wise to look at Frances role (post world war 1)in the Levant as well. The defective constitution derives from this era as well as French pressure on the Ottomans to grant MT Lebanon a form of independence and self rule.

What is most interesting about the Mamelukes and how they were able to perpetuate that rule for so long is Consensus amongst the council, but his rule depended upon support from this council (an oligarchy in everything but name).

The Bi Cameral system is one alternative, Michael Young suggested this in a article 18 months ago. The real question is how are going to get a consensus in this tiny state without one side feeling that they will lose something? Its not a easy jigsaw puzzle to solve.

February 20th, 2008, 12:01 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

AIG,

The problems are not existential. There is no reason to have a divorce and “move on”; in fact, this is not a realistic option. If anything, the opposite scenario is much more likely, and preferable (i.e. rule by Syria, which actually produced a stable society for 15 yrs after the civil war). We need something in between.

KingCrane,

I have not read Albert Mansur’s book, but it has been on my shelf for some time. I’m intrigued by him not least because he’s one of the only people I’ve ever heard As`ad Abu Khalil praise.

Obviously, I didn’t mean to equate Mamluks/Lebanese. The systems only have factionalism in common. As for your “recipe”, it makes sense. Ideally, although the parliament would be a confessional ‘mirror’ of Lebanon for the first couple of terms (assuming people continue to vote largely for members of their own sect) the theory goes that people will eventually start to vote for individuals on the basis of political platforms. Thus, the majority whose will is expressed would not be a confessional one but a political (intellectual) one.

It may sound like a fairy tale for all of you doubters out there, but I am in touch with members of a growing secularist movement in Lebanon, and it includes in its ranks some very influential people… an initiative to remove the confessional identification from the national ID cards has gathered much momentum. This is a start.

Ford Prefect,

Thanks for a lovely post. Yes, it is a heavenly place, current hatefulness notwithstanding.

You are right about the malady that afflicts Lebanon (regional power outreach). This is why it is so crucial to reform the system such that the local players are less vulnerable to outside interference. There will always be foreign interests (as there are in any democracy; cf. AIPAC in the USA), but Lebanon needs a system of checks and balances to mitigate the influence from the outside. With respect to the 10-10-10 system, I don’t see it failing because of major decisions. To the contrary, the mutual vetos will prevent any substantive legislation, which is what Lebanon needs at the moment. We need time for tempers to cool, and negotiating space to open up between the parties.

Alex,

You’re right as usual. But I disagree with some points (also as usual). You know what they are.

February 20th, 2008, 12:59 am

 

majedkhaldoun said:

HP
you have to understand, I have to put some words in between,so I do not get in trouble, you are from Lebanon, you are under no risk, I assure you, you will like what I want.

February 20th, 2008, 1:17 am

 

jo6pac said:

If you ever get to this point please take money out of the election, if you don’t you’ll end up like Amerika.
jo6pac

February 20th, 2008, 2:49 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Just in case there wasn’t enough symbolism and pathos floating around…

Sidon’s garbage dump collapses, causing environmental disaster

February 20th, 2008, 3:06 am

 

Enlightened said:

Read it earlier QN , the symbolism is hard to miss, the storm comes in and cleanses the land and the refuse with it. Only poignantly it didnt take the real garbage out with it the politicians, arrh but thats another storm!

February 20th, 2008, 3:10 am

 

norman said:

QN,
Did they blame Syria for the collaps?.

February 20th, 2008, 3:21 am

 

Enlightened said:

Norman You want to admit something that we should all know?

February 20th, 2008, 3:26 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Norman,

Of course they did not blame Syria for the collapse. That would be ignorant. They blamed the storm for the collapse.

But they blamed the storm on Syria!

😉

7ilwe hayy?

February 20th, 2008, 3:28 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Take a look at this interview with Eliezer Tsafrir, former Beirut station chief for the Mossad, during the early 80’s. He offers his take on the Mughniyeh assassination.

More interesting is the picture accompanying the article. Notice anyone in the background?

By the way, it’s Aoun’s birthday today. The FPM blogs are hilarious… people writing love letters, ridiculous poetry, telling him 3a2bel lmiyye… At the same time, the level of paranoia about Nasrallah’s “open war” speech is very high. It’s as though people are turning to each other, gulping, and saying… “Uhhh, what did he just say? Open what? War? Hmmm…” Nasrallah needs to be careful, shore up his Christian support.

February 20th, 2008, 3:30 am

 

norman said:

QN,
That Bashir Gamaiel Isn’t he , is anybody else there that i did not recognize?.

And yes we sent the storm west. I admit it , we were aiming for Jumblat though.

February 20th, 2008, 3:39 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Norman, yes it’s Bashir. I wonder if he signed it: “To Eliezer, with love from BG”

February 20th, 2008, 3:52 am

 

Enlightened said:

No he signed that To Sharon, To Eliezer it was cordially yours

February 20th, 2008, 4:00 am

 

norman said:

QN,
I wonder whether they left his picture in the background to inflame the hearts of the Lebanese Muslims against the Christians to push Lebanon further toward a civil war.

February 20th, 2008, 4:03 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Norman, the choice of his pose cannot have been accidental. The guy is a retired grandfather… he’s itching to get his hands dirty again.

February 20th, 2008, 4:19 am

 

Zenobia said:

QN:
the analysis you presented was excellent and i believe right on the mark.
It is very clear to all the historians that Lebanon must do away with the confessional system in order to ever have a functioning government. But of course the Zaim have historically stood only to benefit from keeping the system as it is. And, today, I think still Lebanon is ruled by this political elite (from every confession and sub-group) that refuses to give up their own personal power interests and patronage system in the service of saving their country as a whole.
The rise and challenge of the Shia has definitely brought the greatest confrontation so far with the outdated system, and it will be interesting to see what will come out of all of this.
I think it is evident that sectarianism is not the key problem- it is power elite governing that is… and the feuding sectarian elites have such changing alliances over time precisely because their agenda is not essentially about sectarian hatreds but about keeping their own power intact and using alliances to do so. Thus far, they have used alliances with other elites (even enemies) to quash any challenge by the non-elites (previously nationalists or socialists, and those disenfranchised) to capture some political power away from the ruling patrons and families.

It is a sick system.
But regarding Ford Prefects comment- I tend to see the problem of the ‘Foreign power outreach disease’ the opposite way around. I see it similarly to QN in your reply to FP… that a new functioning political system is precisely what would be the inoculation against the foreign power interference disease. I believe this would even be the inoculation against the Syrian problem because as it is now, a segment of the Lebanese are cooperating with Syrian interference in order to bolster their own power. If the system was truly fair and balanced that this would diminish the need to accept Syrian backing.
Lastly, I like the mention of a bicameral system. I agree that this would be a big improvement. However, a senate as in the United States has its problems too. It too, tends to be full of elites in its make up. And I feel it give a too much power to the minority states over the majority because the Senate has equal if not more power than the House. Many worthy measures make it through the House of Reps…that just stall in the Senate unfairly i feel.
anyhow, it would be a hell of a lot better than what they have in Lebanon now.

February 20th, 2008, 4:27 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Thanks for your comments, Zenobia.

February 20th, 2008, 4:33 am

 

qunfuz said:

A great post, QN

Allow me to be controversial, and say that the invention of an independent Lebanon was a great mistake. If people like QN ever get control of the world, perhaps we will see a Lebanon that is truly able to be independent. Lebanon as it is today will never be independent because it consists of sects and classes who always try to use alliances with outsiders to gain leverage over their neighbours. This is why the March 14 ‘sovereignty’ refrain rings false.

I am not suggesting that Syria in its current shape take control of Lebanon again, or occupy it militarily. But neither do I think that a separate Lebanon has any positive future role. The fact that it was separate allowed Syria to abuse it. A more democratic, better educated Syria could perhaps in the future be a home that the majority of Lebanese would like to return to.

Economically, the two countries need each other. Historically and culturally, Lebanon and Syria are one. Syria is also a mixture of sects and ethnicities. The Phoenician capital was at Ras Shamra, north of Lattakia. Mar Maron was from Homs. Of course there are differences between Tartus and Trablus, but they are smaller than differences between Deir ezZor and Sham.

http://www.qunfuz.blogspot.com

February 20th, 2008, 5:49 am

 

Alex said:

Totally agree with Qunfuz.

I was told that there are real differences between Beirut and Damascus .. and I also replied that there are real differences between Beirut and Sidon, between Cairo and Aswan, between Basra and Mosul, between NY and Houston …

I hope that in few years (10 to 15 is my current estimate) Lebanon and Syria ( a much more reformed and improved Syria) will happily agree to merge again… just like East and west Germany who had “real differences” too.

Too bad the French did not name Lebanon “West Syria” and Syria “East Syria” … if they did, the name alone would have made it much easier for all to forget those real differences… they would have united by now.

But if they do not want to unite back … then I am for considering the bicameral assembly option as a possible way to protect minority rights on the fundamental issues while moving towards one-man-one-vote democracy in Lebanon.

Although, Qifa, it is not easy to assign senate seats based on religion … I can think of complications already. Do you know of any other religion-cut senate elsewhere which is functioning successfully?

Maybe by region… taking into account the religious mix of each region.

February 20th, 2008, 6:12 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

Though again not really my place to comment here… but what the heck. If I had to wager on the future of this region, say 15-20 years from now, I’d say Lebanon and Syria are not merged. However, there’s a good chance we are instead referred to as “U.M.E.” (United Middle East). I hope all the energies that have been used for fighting, hating, inciting for so many years, will be used to bring us closer together, to reconcile, and to unite at least like the EU did. There are absolutely no reasons why that cannot happen here in this region. The nonsense about Israelis being “western” or more “European” and therefore not fitting in with the “cultures of the orient” are a bunch of hogwash. You have no idea just how similar we are to one another. It takes knowing Israelis AND Arabs to understand this. Not just reading about them…

February 20th, 2008, 7:39 am

 

MSK said:

Dear QN,

Just a quick comment – taking a break from work.

You said that the Lebanese problem is “less a function of sectarianism than it is a product of a defective political architecture.”

But then you go on citing Bilal Saab saying that the main issue is that one sectarian group is not represented well enough.

THIS, I think is at the crux of the matter. Lebanese politics are based on a sectarian identity and citizens see themselves as members of a sectarian group first, and Lebanese second. The fundamental concern in the political arena is not to protect the rights of citizens but that of communities.

So it IS sectarianism. And no political architecture can fix that.

Just think about this: We’ll have a bi-camerial parliament with a “one man, one vote” Chamber of Deputies and a 100-member Senate, each community represented equally. And then, one fine day, all Muslims and Christians – in both Chamber & Senate – are voting to implement some sort of law or measure or project that would negatively affect the Druze. What then?

Or, what if the majority in the Chamber, representing the majority of the population, would keep trying to vote for certain issues, but couldn’t get it through in the Senate (which is not representative of numbers)? Let’s say the Shi’ite members in the Chamber and some of their Christian and Druze and Sunni allies vote for an issue that the majority of Sunnis and their Christian & Druze allies don’t like – they could then block it in the Senate …

And what if the Speaker of Parliament, for some reason or another, doesn’t call for a session of Parliament. Let’s, just for argument’s sake, assume that he is allied with Hizbollah (you didn’t include its disarmament in your list) … who’s going to force him?

Ya QN, the political architecture, unless it somehow manages to transform Lebanon from a country of communities into a country of citizens, will fail.

At this point, it seems that we have two groups whose fundamental outlook on the world are diametrically opposed and I do not see a way to reconcile them.

–MSK*

February 20th, 2008, 8:57 am

 

Honest Patriot said:

Qunfuz and Alex, I’m sorry but your statements belie the inherent problem leading to the perpetual aspiration of Syria to dominate and absorb Lebanon. You simply cannot accept an independent Lebanon, and you are the intellectual elite. What then of the rest of the Syrians? If left alone, Lebanon will undoubtedly progress away from its current zaim-based feudal system to a true democracy through the shear influence that economic development, free markets, and pursuit of education entail. There is an intrinsic Lebanese spirit of entrepreneurship, openness, modernization, which promises to guide the country – albeit through irregular stages and many ups-and-downs – to become a modern mecca of trade, tourism, and culture. There is a significant Lebanese diaspora which will not hesitate to pour back its resources into the mother-country to see it re-emerge as shining beacon of economic strength. Hariri tried to do that (at a time when he could have just as easily continued to enjoy his forture elsewhere), and paid dearly with his life as a consequence. There are millions other who, while not as wealthy as Hariri, certainly add up in aggregate to multiples of his weath. With that comes a higher standard of living to all its citizens, including the Shi’a. Joshua has no problem predicting that HA adherents will progress away from religious fanaticism as they are grafted with followers of General Aoun. What then if they were the beneficiaries of a tremendous economic boom. And no, I do not think the economic boom will only make the rich richer and enslave the poor. We are in the 21st century and this will not happen in a country as open as Lebanon (any more) in the flat world we live in. What is pulling Lebanon down is its embroilment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along with the ever present jealous eye of Syria, government and intellectual elite. I regret that you do not recognize how you simply rationalize what is an emotional choice on your part to absorb Lebanon, whether litterally or just practically while maintaining an appearance of its independence. Perhaps I should not blame you since you probably think of yourselves as Syrian patriots. However, your ambition cannot be allowed to infringe upon the ambition of Lebanese patriots. History happened. Get over it. Deal with the reality on the ground now. Almost four generations have elapsed since the declaration of the state of Great Lebanon. There is no going back.

February 20th, 2008, 9:22 am

 

annie said:

Shai says :You have no idea just how similar we are to one another. It takes knowing Israelis AND Arabs to understand this. Not just reading about them…

I agree with him and I have known both of them very well; often I cannot see any difference between the children of my Arab friends and those of my (now ex-) Israeli friends.
But Shai, there is prejudice and that blurs the similarity and makes people blind.

February 20th, 2008, 9:24 am

 

Shai said:

Annie,

You’re right, and it won’t be easy to undo. But, at the end of the day, only interaction between the two peoples will lead us to see and finally focus on our similarities and common challenges, rather than on our differences…

February 20th, 2008, 9:38 am

 

Honest Patriot said:

MSK – 1, QN – 0
(The competition is heating up)

February 20th, 2008, 9:45 am

 

Nour said:

HP,

All this talk of an intrinsic Lebanese spirit of entrepreneurship, openness, and modernization is not going to get you anywhere when the system is flawed. It is systems that help countries develop, not simply the inherent characteristics of their people. The system in Lebanon is flawed and it is inherently corrupt. It cannot possibly lead to prosperity and is actually an obstacle to a truly independent Lebanon.

However, your post reminds me of the continuous attempts by Lebanese to create a different identity for themselves by stressing on particular characteristics that they want to convince themselves are unique to Lebanon. This is far from being the case. The same spirit of openness and entrepreneurship with which you describe the Lebanese is also prevalent amongst Syrians and Palestinians. Let’s not forget that a lot of the trades and businesses contributing to Lebanon’s economic life-cycle were opened by Palestinians and/or Syrians. In addition, there is a natural bond that connects the Lebanese and Syrians such that interaction across the border is constant and continuous. It is no surprise that when the Syrian government began liberalizing its economy, Lebanese business persons immediately took advantage of the opportunity to set up shop in Syria. Let’s face it, the Lebanese and Syrians enjoy a natural unity on the social, cultural, and economic levels. The only real issue is the political system which should guide their relations.

February 20th, 2008, 11:45 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Dear MSK,

Thank you for your post. Your points are well taken. Let me further qualify my argument.

While sectarianism may be the “root” problem, it really does us no good to frame the issue in this way. Let me give you an example. In a political system that disenfranchises a given race or sex, one could say that the problem is ultimately rooted in racism or sexism. Approaching the problem from this angle, though, would require us to solve the broad issue of sexism or racism first, before going on to address the institutional structures that promote it.

My argument is that we need to approach the problem from the opposite end, namely by getting rid of the defunct political architecture that has enshrined our sectarian attitudes. Yours is a very common sentiment about Lebanon that I encounter both in the blogosphere as well as the mainstream press, namely that Lebanon is a nation “in name only”; i.e. one cannot speak of a real nation-state called Lebanon. For people who hold this opinion, Lebanon is best described as a loose confederation of clans, sects, and tribal structures… local allegiances that greatly outweigh the average citizen’s allegiance to the national idea. A more extreme version pushes this idea even further, arguing that Lebanon will never be a state, as its population is too heterogeneous, containing too many diverse sub-cultures to ever acquire a core national identity. It is this kind of thinking that fuels the pessimism about establishing a system of non-confessional politics in Lebanon today. People seem to believe that it simply can’t be done, because the Lebanese think of themselves first and foremost as Maronites, Shi`a, Sunna, Druze, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, etc.

My feeling is that this is a hollow assessment of Lebanese society. It is also worth noting that there are plenty of other heterogeneous societies which manage to find a way of representing the diverse sectors of their populations. The U.S. is a prime example. Surely Lebanon is no more heterogeneous than America, and yet, representative democracy has flourished in the U.S. for almost a quarter of a millennium.

At the present, the language of majorities and minorities in Lebanon is expressed in religious terms, but that’s partly the result of the political system itself: it is because the system is based on quotas of this nature. It doesn’t have to be. There will always be lobbies which represent certain interest groups, and some of these groups might define themselves along confessional lines, just as AIPAC or ISNA does in the U.S. However, we don’t want to have a system which rewards confessional self-definition, in other words which makes it virtually impossible to get elected without self-defining along confessional lines.

People make the argument that even if we had a representative democracy in which candidates ran in their districts and could receive votes from constituents of any sect, people would still vote for members of their own sect, so as to “protect their own interests.” Maybe this is true, and maybe this would be the case in the short term or even medium term. However, is it not possible to envision a future where people begin to define “their own interests” in terms of something other than confessional identity, and therefore start to vote for their candidates on the basis of a political platform? This is what we’re talking about, when we talk about building strong national institutions, and starting to dismantle feudal structures.

February 20th, 2008, 12:29 pm

 

Honest Patriot said:

Nour, I have absolutely no argument with anything you said. It makes sense and I agree with it. But I don’t see these arguments as being mutually exclusive with my post regarding the transparency in Qunfuz and Alex’s posts about their view of Lebanon as being somehow integral with Syria.
I cannot cite statistics (because I don’t know them) and you may well be right about the disposition and success of Syrians and Palestinians. What I do know, are the numerous anecdotal accounts of Lebanese who triumph and excel outside Lebanon, in fields ranging from Nuclear Physics to Business to American Politics. Again, without citing statistics, my impression is that they form a much higher rate of success than other much more populous immigrants from other nations (none specifically – this is a general comment).
I also know that if and when the situation stabilitizes in Lebanon in a clear and convincing manner then many self-exiled seeking a better (and peaceful) life would return with their forturnes and invest in their native country. I know I would.
The difference I do see is while the pride I reflect is limited to reviving Lebanon and having that country stay within its borders and improve the lots of its citizen, by contrast, Alex and Qunfuz (appear to) include Lebanon in any plans they have for Syria.
Now, I also have (remote) family in Syria. My late father was born in Damascus. My late paternal grandmother was Syrian. There is no denying (and in fact every reason to embrace) the closeness of the two people, the commonality of culture and language and history. There can also be mutually beneficial trade and coordination on political interests, etc. But, and it’s a bit BUT, it has to be on the basis of mutual recognition and respect of full independence. That’s the only way the greatest majority of Lebanese (even Shi’s) can accept it. [Of course they can be forced into this or that arrangement, as happened for 30 years, but that does not mean they accept it].
Thank you for paying attention to my post and taking the time to respond. I’m waiting for QN and MSK to change the system, although I do like MSK’s seemingly more purely secular approach better than keeping any remnant of confessionalism (in the Senate representation of the bicameral approach of QN). Cold turkey transformation – if it can be done – is what appeals more to the destination of full democracy with one person one vote.

February 20th, 2008, 12:32 pm

 

Nour said:

HP,

I’m glad to see that you recognize the closeness of the people in the two entities and the interest they would both have in cooperation. I believe that you misinterpreted Alex and Qunfuz’s positions as a desire for a Syrian takeover of Lebanon, which I do not believe was the case. Rather, they are both saying that unity is something that would serve the interest of both sides. They do not, however, believe that such unity should come about by force. Remember Alex is saying that once there is an open and democratic system in Syria, that the Lebanese would naturally seek to merge with their neighbor. In the end, however, it is all based on the will of the people on both sides.

February 20th, 2008, 12:43 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

HP,

Where in MSK’s post does he advocate a “seemingly more purely secular approach” or “cold turkey transformation”?

MSK,
One more thing… The perceived division between “the interests” of this or that confessional group is, to my mind, mostly rhetoric. It is a form of hyperbolized baiting used by the political elites in order to frighten their constituencies.

What does it really mean to say that such-and-such a “law or measure or project … would negatively affect the Druze”? Give me a concrete example. The challenge of democractic politics is necessarily about distributing the services of government in as equitable a fashion as possible. Some communities will benefit more than others, as a result of political influence, money, and power. This happens even in advanced democracies. But we’re not even close to that level of political failure! We have much more elementary failures in political participation and distribution of services.

February 20th, 2008, 12:48 pm

 

Honest Patriot said:

Dear Qifa (following the code set by MSK :-)),

You haven’t addressed what I believe was the primary critique of your post by MSK, which is the remnant of a confessional basis in the Senate structure of the bicameral system you propose. My take (as a physical scientist, which I am, and NOT as a political scientist – which I’m not) is that MSK is advocating a complete elimination of any confessional basis. I espouse that view and believe that – if foreign influences really stay out of it (and I know this is a big IF) and just mind their own business – the Lebanese will indeed prove that there is such a thing as a Lebanese identity. Cold turkey to one-person one-vote is fair for anyone. Christians cannot continue to relay on the crutch of quotas to maintain what they believe is their right to be in the lead (because of their superiority?). True, protection of minoright rights is needed, and in fact indispensable, but that has to be instituted by principles not relying on confessionalism.
Amen

February 20th, 2008, 1:00 pm

 

Honest Patriot said:

— Hmmm — QN (let’s drop those “Dear” titles – no change in respect or admiration) —
I’ll re-check MSK’s post to see what gave me these impressions. — More later

February 20th, 2008, 1:02 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Finally, to the Syrian nationalists on this thread … 😉

If Syria achieves a turn-around such that there is no real difference between the two countries anymore, and all of these inept leaders have been washed away… who knows?

Until then, you are all welcome in Beirut anyway.

February 20th, 2008, 1:02 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

HP

One-man one-vote would be the system expressed in the main legislative body, i.e. the parliament. The Senate would exist purely to preserve a voice for the minority. Now, over time, more and more powers would be ceded over to the parliament (as with the House of Lords, in England), until presumably it would either be a ceremonial body or disbanded altogether (which I don’t think is necessary… the U.S. senate plays a very important intellectual role in American democracy).

The whole point of the bicameral system is to make it possible to move to a nonconfessional result. Cold turkey transformation is impossible with the current political class. They are too entrenched. Look at the situation we’re in right now. You have all these feudal lords (Jumblatt, Gemayel, etc.) hanging on to power so tightly that they’d rather send the country back into civil war before they give up their hold on their communities. This is why an overnight transformation is impossible. If you’re still not convinced, ask the Iraqis.

February 20th, 2008, 1:07 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

Maybe they should have called the two countries Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon?

😉

w lak 3am bimza7 ma3ak ya zalameh.

February 20th, 2008, 1:14 pm

 

Honest Patriot said:

QN, ok it’s not there; I guess I read between the lines and (a) assumed MSK’s rejection of any confessional basis from his giving counterexamples of how it wouldn’t work and (b) extrapolated to what I then understood (telepathically :-)) to be the next steps, i.e., “cold turkey transformation.”
It’s dangerous when them scientists try to delve into politics.
Glad you have the clarity to see through unproven assumptions.

But, isn’t the continued use of any confessional basis in any part of the new arrangement a formula for perpetuation of the flawed system?

February 20th, 2008, 1:25 pm

 

Honest Patriot said:

QN, that’s giving it too much weight. Try Lebanon and Not Lebanon. The opposite of love is indifference (not hate, since love and hate are two forms of the same passion).

February 20th, 2008, 1:26 pm

 

Honest Patriot said:

QN – OK, last one for the day for me: Yes, any change from the current system moving towards reducing the confessional element is an improvement. Just get us there, will ya?

February 20th, 2008, 1:31 pm

 

qunfuz said:

Honest Patriot – Nour is right. I do not want Lebanon to be occupied or dominated by Syria. I am pleased that the Syrian army has left Lebanon, and I don’t want it to return. If you want, you can see my wish for the longterm as Lebanon absorbing Syria. I do think that the two countries belong together. I think that having more states does not in itself equal having more rights or freedoms. I don’t particularly support the idea of a Palestinian state, for example, although it may be a reasonable temporary solution. I support the Palestinians having more rights.

I also think that, had the French succeeded in cutting more states out of greater Syria, the Alawi state and the Druze state and the Jazireh state and so on, the partisans of those states today would be against returning to Syria. Thank God the French did not succeed.

And HP, everything you say about the Lebanese moving away from sectarianism in the event of economic success and a fairer distribution of resources is valid for Syrians too. (If it’s valid that is. If it isn’t valid, then it’s equally invalid for Lebanese and Syrians!)

February 20th, 2008, 1:39 pm

 

Norman said:

With brothers like these , who needs enemies,

مصدر دبلوماسي :جميع قادة دول الخليج سيشاركون في قمة دمشق العربية بإستثناء الملك السعودي الاخبار السياسية

مصادر : سعود الفيصل يقف وراء عقوبات بوش الأخيرة ضد شخصيات سورية

قال مصدر دبلوماسي عربي بارز إن زيارة الشيخ محمد بن راشد آل مكتوم نائب رئيس دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة ورئيس الوزراء وحاكم دبي لسورية التي أختتمت أمس الثلاثاء

“أظهرت أن جميع قادة دول مجلس التعاون الخليجي سيحضرون قمة دمشق العربية العشرين بإستثناء السعودية التي لاتزال حتى الآن تجري إتصالات مكثفة معها من أجل حسم موقفها ودعوة الملك السعودي عبدالله بن عبد العزيز ليرأس الوفد السعودي الى القمة.”
ونقلت صحيفة “الوطن” القطرية عن المصدر قوله إنه “فيما تقوم الدبلوماسية السورية بجهود الوساطة لتعزيز علاقات الثقة بين طهران وأبوظبي فإن الإمارات تتحرك على خط العلاقة المتوترة بين دمشق والرياض .”
كما نقلت الصحيفة عن مصادر دبلوماسية عربية قولها إن “ضغوطاً سعودية – مصرية تمارس حاليا على سورية بهدف توظيف القمة العربية المقبلة في دمشق وتحويلها الى ورقة ابتزاز سياسي وتوظيفها باتجاه الضغط على الجانب السوري لتقوم دمشق بالضغط على قوى المعارضة اللبنانية لتقدم تنازلات الى فريق الأكثرية .”
وتحدثت المصادر ذاتها عن تحركات وإتصالات تجرى بين الرياض والقاهرة للتشويش على قمة دمشق عبر الدعوة الى عقد قمة عربية مصغرة لتكون بديلاً عن القمة المقبلة في وقت تتواصل الاستعدادات من قبل السلطات السورية للتحضير للقمة العربية المقبلة في دمشق ويقوم حاليا وفد من الجامعة العربية بمواكبة هذه الاستعدادات والتحضيرات متعددة المستويات .
وأعرب نائب رئيس مجلس الوزراء القطري وزير الطاقة والصناعة عبد الله بن حمد العطية عن أمل بلاده في نجاح القمة العربية في دمشق الشهر المقبل من خلال تحقيق التطلعات العربية وتمتين التضامن العربي.
وأضاف العطية في تصريح أمام المؤتمر الإقليمي لتقييم منتصف العقد للتعليم أن “قطر تعمل على التضامن العربي والتفاعل بكل ايجابية مع قضايا وهموم الأمة العربية”.
وسلمت سورية حتى الآن عشر دعوات إلى دول عربية لحضور القمة كان آخرها تسليم وزير الخارجية وليد المعلم الدعوة إلى أمير دولة الكويت الشيخ صباح الأحمد الجابر الصباح .
وكان المتحدث الرسمي باسم الأمين العام للجامعة العربية عبد العليم الأبيض نفى ما أثير حول انعقاد مؤتمر قمة عربي استثنائي قبل انعقاد المؤتمر الدوري في دمشق وقال إنها “مجرد شائعة لا أساس لها من الصحة”.
وأفادت تسريبات إعلامية حول مساع سعودية ومصرية لنقل القمة العربية أو إلغائها أو التلويح بفشلها في حال عدم التوصل إلى حل للأزمة اللبنانية, في وقت دأب فيه المسؤولون السوريون على التأكيد أن القمة ستعقد في دمشق وفي موعدها المحدد.
وكان عمرو موسى أمين عام الجامعة العربية أكد أن قمة دمشق العربية ستنعقد في موعدها ومكانها المحددين وفق مستوى تمثيل كالمعتاد وستحل مشاكل كبيرة.
وتحدثت مصادر مطلعة في باريس ولندن وعدد من العواصم الأوروبية أن وزير خارجية السعودية سعود الفيصل “قام مؤخراً بجولة على عدد من البلدان الأوروبية إضافة لواشنطن لمطالبتها بفرض مزيد من العقوبات على سورية والإسراع بإنشاء المحكمة الدولية الخاصة باغتيال رئيس وزراء لبنان الأسبق رفيق الحريري وأبدى استعداد المملكة للقيام بكل ما يلزم لضمان نجاح مهمته وعزل سورية كلياً.”
وبحسب هذه المصادر فإن واشنطن “إستجابت مباشرة لرجاء سعود الفيصل واصدرت الأسبوع الماضي قراراً جديداً بالحجز على أموال عدد من الشخصيات السورية لم يكشف عن أسمائهم كما مدد الرئيس بوش صلاحية العقوبات التي كان سبق أن فرضها على سورية.”
وأما في أوروبا وبحسب صحيفة الوطن السورية التي أوردت النبأ فإن الفيصل “اصطدم برفض أوروبي شبه تام لفرض أي عقوبات على سورية وأُبلغ سعود الفيصل بأن أوروبا لا ترى أي مصلحة لها في فرض عقوبات على دولة لم تركتب أي جرم أو مخالفة للقانون الدولي ونصحت بعض العواصم الأوروبية الفيصل بالعمل على التضامن العربي بدلاً من شق الصفوف وزرع بذور الفتنة الإقليمية والطائفية .”
وفي لندن أعلن رئيس الوزراء البريطاني غوردن براون رسمياً أن بلاده” تتحفظ ازاء اتخاذ أي موقف عدائي تجاه سورية.”

سيريانيوز

2008-02-20 13:02:55

February 20th, 2008, 1:54 pm

 

qunfuz said:

And I agree with Shai and Annie that Syrians and Jews have a great deal in common. There’s a London joke about the Jewish mother who introduces her children as “my son the doctor” and “my son the professor.” Need I say more?

February 20th, 2008, 2:04 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

We’re moving closer to the solution, proposed above. If Berri (the perennial survivor in Lebanese politics) has to repeat himself to be heard, then this suggests some divisions in the opposition, but perhaps not insurmountable.

Berri Hints Solution in the Offing, Says 10+10+10 Formula Could be Adopted
Naharnet

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said that a 10+10+10 formula in the future government could still be adopted to salvage Lebanon and expressed fears over the deteriorating security situation.
“Many Lebanese sides have been in favor of this (10+10+10) formula,” Berri said in remarks published by Lebanese dailies Wednesday.

“I informed (Arab League chief Amr Moussa) that I was ready to adopt (the formula), head to parliament and elect a president,” during a session scheduled for Tuesday Feb. 26, Berri said.

“All Arab and foreign envoys, and ambassadors I’ve met have told me that they don’t object to the formula of three 10s,” Berri added.

The speaker said the Arab League’s initiative, which called for the election of Army Chief Gen. Michel Suleiman president and formation of a national unity government, had stressed rejection of veto power in the future Lebanese cabinet.

About a meeting scheduled to be held on Sunday between Moussa, Mustaqbal movement leader Saad Hariri, Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun and ex-President Amin Gemayel, Berri said: “Something is being prepared to be put forward in the meeting of Feb. 24…If (conferees) agree on it, we immediately head for elections on Feb. 26.”

Moussa has so far failed to mediate a solution to the protracted crisis between the pro-government camp and the Hizbullah-led opposition.

Meanwhile, Moussa’s assistant Hisham Youssef arrived in Beirut Wednesday in an effort to bring bickering politicians’ views closer ahead of Moussa’s visit Friday.
About recent clashes between his Amal movement’s supporters and Hariri’s backers in Beirut, Berri said: Civil strife “destroys the country…Not any side in Lebanon is thinking about creating problems and crises on the street.”

“No one will emerge victorious” from any trouble, he said.

February 20th, 2008, 2:06 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

The amount of time spent on analyzing the differences between Syrians and Lebanese is surprising. Do commentators really believe that the genetic makings of the two people is somehow different?The differences between Syrians and Lebanese lies in the system that has governed their recent history.

Lebanon has no strong central government. It also does not have a dominant group/sect. At least, it no longer does. This has made the country impossible to govern or survive in a region like the Middle East.

Syria on the other hand has a dominant group that broke away from the rest and has been able to exert full control over the governance of the country. Most importantly, it leadership has ultimate control over its armed forces. This strongest of central governments has come at a price. Freedoms of all kind have been thwarted to ensure ultimate control.

The model in Lebanon cannot be any different. The fact that a country can survive without a President is the best illustration of how weak the leadership office of the country is. Put simply, there is no one leadership. In the Middle East, no country can survive with such a setup. Can anyone imagine a country like Syria without a President for even 24 hours?

Lebanon had prospered because security and a dominating leadership were not part of its fabric. Instead, it relied on a free wheeling happy going system. Without the internal or external strength to protect this framework, the country has become an easy target for both internal and external parties vying for piece of the spoils.

It is security and a domination by a powerful leadership versus weak central governing and a free wheeling happy going system that sums up the differences between the two neighbors. Genetics do not enter the mix.

February 20th, 2008, 2:17 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Ehsani,

The fact that a country can survive without a President is the best illustration of how weak the leadership office of the country is. Put simply, there is no one leadership. In the Middle East, no country can survive with such a setup. Can anyone imagine a country like Syria without a President for even 24 hours?

This is a superb point. I will file it away, and rip it off in the future!

Actually, this is precisely one of the things I was getting at. The Lebanese need a system that institutionalizes their disparate power structures, but trades the token of confessional identity for political identity. We are already seeing this in the current crisis. As pessimistic as it looks, one still must recognize the fact that people are essentially fighting a political struggle, not a sectarian one. The issue is politics, and the two sides are confessionally diverse. This is at least a step in the right direction.

One day, Syria will also need to develop such a system, when autocracy is gone.

February 20th, 2008, 2:31 pm

 

qunfuz said:

You make perfect sense, Ehsani.

February 20th, 2008, 2:38 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Qifa Nabki,

I think that Lebanon will only find stability when one of its many groups/factions/sects runs away from the pack and wins domination over the country at large. That domination will have to be demonstrated and exercised through the armed forces where the ultimate leadership is also “the ultimate commander in chief” of a strong and feared armed force.

In other words, Lebanon can only find stability when it starts moving in the direction of its neighbor. The Lebanese people keep wondering why they cannot have it both ways? Why not keep that happy-going free-wheeling system and be stable and independent at the same time?

It is that weakness at the core of its governance that will ensure the near impossibility of attaining that lofty goal above.

Please note that the Hariri attempt was to precisely be that runaway dominant group/person/sect who would ultimately exert that all powerful domination. The other groups of course had other ideas. What we have been witnessing in Lebanon is precisely that battle. Hariri thought that this was the time to make his move. “Others” saw the writing on the wall and pulled all the stops to prevent that scenario from seeing the light of day. With Hariri senior removed and with Hariri Junior not being to pull it off, it is all back to square one now. No clear ultimate winner and hence no stability.

February 20th, 2008, 2:44 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Ehsani,

A central power structure is necessary, as it is in any democracy. The problem in the Middle East is that we imagine that a centralist system has to be a dictatorship!

Hariri was that dominant figure, and I supported him in many of his stances. Unfortunately, his reign was plagued by corruption. However, I had no problem being governed by a Sunni. I didn’t feel that my rights were being infringed upon.

Politics is power, and efficient politics is centralized power. But there is a difference between autocracy and the just rule of law. Lebanon needs a strong central authority that is simultaneously sensitive to the intricacies of its population.

February 20th, 2008, 2:54 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

qifa nabki,

In principal, of course. In practice, it is another story. Clearly, it would be great to have a strong (you ommited that word in your comment above) central power and be nice and democratic.

Once others smell the fact that you are not “strong” or authorative enough, they will be after your seat in no time. The Assads, Mubaraks and Husseins of this world figured this out long ago.

February 20th, 2008, 3:03 pm

 

trustquest said:

QN,
Great post,
If we look at the subject from historians prospective, the Mamluk system was the product of that era, and it supposed to have lived its useful life and it remains as remnant in the current century after living a long time of adjustment through the Ottoman era.
This is also true for most of the Levant, which does not stop on the Lebanon boarder but extend through big part of the Levant including Syria.
OK, we learnt the Lebanese situation and we know how to get out of this dilemma, but what is the state of the external obstacles which mentioned in the diagnosis. Is the Syrian’s regime suffering from the same remnant of Mamluk condition too, which instead of leaving the natural Oligarchies distribution over three parts of the country, as in Lebanon, there is one oligarchy as the case in Syria and its regime. The Syrian stand against implementing the Taaf agreement does not stem from Syrian political policy as it seems on the surface; it comes from the structure of the regime since the 1960s. Lebanon “democratic” oligarchy was always a thorn in the side of Syrian regimes because it has always created a comparable picture to the common Syrian. The change in the global economy will create greater problem to the Syrian’s regime and the only way to block change is to prevent the appearance of free States and free institutions in the surrounding areas. This is of course not a Baath party theory; it is a regime specified mental stands to sell the external domination as a defensive policy in counter of the need of internal change.
Creating a house of common and a senate house in Syria will render the regime null; from here the idea should dies in its conception since it is a contagious one.

February 20th, 2008, 4:21 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Sahi,
While reading all the excellent comments on this post, I must stop and commend you on the courage and leadership you are taking by indicating how close Israelis and Arabs in the region are. Thank you for saying it!

February 20th, 2008, 4:30 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

What’s for dinner? More anarchy.

Hariri: Aoun, Berri Promote Syrian Meal That We Won’t Eat

Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri on Wednesday rejected a proposal by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for a tripartite distribution of equal shares in the forthcoming cabinet as a Syrian inspired recipe.
Hariri, in a statement distributed by his press office, said backstage contacts have not resulted in a compromise.

The Hizbullah-led opposition, according to Hariri, is orchestrating a two-pronged maneuver that “does not lead to the required exit.”

“The first trend, as outlined by Gen. Michel Aoun, adheres to veto powers (in the cabinet) and the second path, outlined by Berri, promotes the idea of three equal shares, which is a Syrian originated idea that aimed from the beginning at blocking the presidential election and bypassing the framework set by the Arab initiative,” Hariri noted.

The March 14 leadership “would take part in the third round of dialogue with full commitment to the spirit and text of the Arab initiative as outlined by Arab league Secretary General Amr Moussa,” Hariri said.

He stressed that Moussa’s interpretation of the Arab initiative “does not cancel the majority, does not give the opposition veto rights and does not set any conditions regarding the government, the premier, and the portfolios.”

Hariri said any proposals that contradict Moussa’s original interpretation of the Arab initiative is an attempt to “leap into non-existing expectations and into a recipe that is in the making at the Syrian regime’s kitchens.”

“We, along with the rest of the Lebanese, are not obliged to eat the Syrian meal,” he concluded.

February 20th, 2008, 4:39 pm

 

Alex said:

Here is another friend of America, the Wafd party in Egypt trying to put pressure on Syria. this time, they are claiming that SYRIA is putting pressure on EGYPT .. threatening Egypt to cut its food exports to Egypt if Egypt does not agree to enter in a war against Israel!!

Here we have this obvious PR effort by a friend of this administration designed to affect the way the Egyptian people look at Syria (as an extremist trying to make them hungry and to push them to go to war) … Is this is their way to make sure that the Egyptian people do not stand on Syria’s side in case it is attacked along with Hizbollah sometime soon??

Syria uses wheat to put pressure on Egypt – opposition paper chief

20 February 2008

BBC Monitoring Middle East

English

(c) 2008 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved. No material may be reproduced except with the express permission of The British Broadcasting Corporation.

Text of report by editor-in-chief Abbas al-Tarabili headlined: “What does Syria want?” published in Egyptian opposition Wafd Party daily newspaper Al-Wafd on 18 February

The countries that export vital foodstuff commodities wield power over the importing countries. In this behaviour, the exporting countries do not differ whether they are big or small. They join in using food to pressure the importers. Syria regrettably is of those exporting countries. Dear sister Syria, with whom we are linked by bonds of blood and history, uses wheat as a weapon to pressure Egypt, because Egypt, gentlemen, advises Syria to ease its pressure on sister Lebanon on one of the most important principles of national sovereignty, namely Lebanon’s right to choose its president.

Regrettably, Syria is moving along this road together with Iran, and they both support Hezbollah and its military position which has turned all of south Lebanon into a state within a state, with the central government in Beirut barely controlling affairs of the Lebanese south, and the supreme word in this south now being up to Hezbollah alone.

To start with, we support the heroic resistance that is demonstrated and carried out by Hezbollah against the Israeli enemy. It is almost the sole Arab resistance which stands up to the Israeli ambitions, demonstrating that Israel is the real enemy of the Arab nation and all the Islamic peoples. What is between us and it [Israel] is something that will not last. But we do not want a war at present for which Israel is perhaps ready, while we are not ready for any war now, especially the countries that have common borders with Israel, namely Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon because we simply do not want a repeat of what happened in the war of June 1967 in which Israel occupied all Sinai, and all the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights. We still suffer until today from this war even though 40 years have passed.

The question is specific: Does Syria want to drag Egypt – and the Arabs – once again into a war for which we are not ready, so that we lose new land and call for its return, forgetting what was lost in a former war?

Such a war, if it took place, would abort all and any attempts at development and improving the living conditions of the Egyptian who bore the brunt of the former wars. All those who wish to spark any new conflict with Israel have to remember what Egypt bore in the 1967 war and the war of attrition then the 1973 war. These wars brought to a halt all development projects and efforts to raise the standard of living of the Egyptian citizen.

What I am saying is not a call for surrender. But those who are scheming to get Egypt involved should know the enemy strategy which is basically built on preoccupying Egypt and dragging it into a war every 10 years so that it bleeds its potential to serve its people or raise the standard of living, or to build an economic, industrial and food base capable of shouldering the burden of any war, adding to the result of former wars which augmented the rate of poverty in Egypt and led to accumulation of debts and the loss of tremendous amounts.

If we spent on the Egyptian people half what we spent and wasted on these wars, the Egyptian individual would have been enjoying a standard of living on par with that of citizens in any European state.

As to the Syrian wheat which the Syrian government is using as a means of pressure on Egypt, we reject it. Regrettably it has placed Damascus, the fellow combatant, in one basket with the United States or with any state that uses wheat to exercise pressure on Egypt.

Egypt, gentlemen, has world markets open to it, from Asia and Australia to Europe and North and South America, to import what we wish.

But what is more important is to review our agricultural policy to increase the area under wheat cultivation.

As to Syria, we say to it: We had not expected that from you, you who have accepted to be silent to date over the occupation of the Golan.

Source: Al-Wafd, Cairo, in Arabic 18 Feb 08

February 20th, 2008, 5:15 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Dito, Dito, dito and more dito to all QN’s replies to MSK.

Dito to Ehsani’s comments too…..

and finally, Syria and Lebanon are never going to come back together…. (well never say never…but…. not as long as there are states and life is as we know it)…. L and S…have many of the same people, but not all. And not even HA would not want to be part of syrian rule. The coast of greater syria is a different world in some significant respects regarding identity….and unless the rest of the ME…moves towards it…. it certainly is not going to move towards the rest of the arab world….hasn’t this always been true?

February 20th, 2008, 6:42 pm

 

Zenobia said:

When you cross over those mountains!….you feel you are entering a different world…

February 20th, 2008, 6:52 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Syria’s interest in Lebanon is independent of any political system it might have – as long as there is a smell of war in the area coupled with regional cold wars.

Let us not kid ourselves by imagining a correction to the political system in Lebanon will yield an independent and free Lebanon far from the happenings of the Middle East. Lebanon is not Dubai.

If Lebanon wants to be the Monaco of the world, it needs to be either physically next to France or on a different planet altogether (maybe even with people of a different mindsets; but please let’s keep all the beautiful women verbatim).

Unfortunately, being next to Syria, a country is a state of a very complicated war with Israel, does not help in achieving QN’s objectives – as noble and well-thought out as they are.

Lebanese imagine that they live in the Switzerland of the Middle East. Under the current condition, however, Lebanon is more like the Swaziland of the Middle East. And that is truly unfortunate and painful.

Lebanon today is being used (and often abused) by Syria, no doubt. But let’s us not forget the mounds of compelling evidence we see of how Lebanon is used AGAINST Syria as well. Go figure!

As Ehsani and QN are correctly arguing the need to re-engineer and implement strong centralized institutions based on the national identity of a nation-state called Lebanon, I feel that the genuine spirit of free dealing with the highest bidders (AKA, democracy) will bring back Lebanon to its current miseries, as long as the whole plateau of the Levant is trembling.

So what does Syria want from Lebanon? It is not fortune, resources, oil, or tourism that it wants to steal. And it is certainly not fame or glory. As many have discovered, ruling over Lebanon is a thankless and exhausting task that can have serious ramifications to the ruler.

What Syria wants is a cooperative Lebanon, orbiting around its sphere, where it cannot be used to undermine its regime, stability, or its war/peace initiatives. Even if Mother Theresa was ruling Syria, she’d want a more than a friendly regime in Lebanon while it fights its war on hunger.

I key to peace in the Middle East is Syria. If that peace would ever happen, Lebanon and Syria will be much different than the countries we know today.

February 20th, 2008, 7:37 pm

 

Shai said:

Alex,

Such a strange article. From my angle of course, I keep wondering why any Egyptian would think that Israel all along had an evil ulterior motive by giving up the Sinai in return for peace. I mean, do you know of any other nation on earth that after winning territory like the Sinai in war would have given it back so quickly? And if all the Jews wanted was to drain Egypt’s resources, what’s a better way to do it – make peace and give back the Sinai, or continue to have wars every decade or so? A person who is educated enough to use the word “augment” in an article, really should not take himself too seriously over these ridiculous accusations. I hope his readers don’t…

February 20th, 2008, 7:50 pm

 

Shai said:

Ford Prefect,

What you say makes sense to me, but here’s a question: Is it possible for a neighbor that was invited/invited himself to come be in charge of Lebanon for some 30 years, only to be “kicked out” (at least that’s the international image – Alex, please don’t be angry…), to just accept a new reality in Lebanon, without its so-called approval? I’m obviously no expert on Syria-Lebanon affairs, but it seems to me, as an observer, that the closure that is much required by Syria entails at the very least some kind of Lebanese recognition (open, verbal) of Syria’s great contribution to Lebanon’s existence and well-being for some 1/2 of its life. What do you think?

February 20th, 2008, 8:00 pm

 

Alex said:

Shai,

Don’t bother with the details .. the article is about making Syria ook selfish, extremist, and foolish … so that the Egyptian people would not stand b Syria in case there is a conflict soon.

Where Israel is dragged into the argument, it is the writer’s attempt to tell his readers (who love Nasrallah and hate Israel) that it is OK to stand up to Syria and its foolish policies AND be a good Arab at the same time… like he is.

He is trying to establish his Arab nationalist credentials while he attacks Syria, which many Egyptians consider ot be the only Arab country that was not an American puppet.

But this is only one isolated article … if I see more, then I am more sure there is a trend towards preparing the public opinion in Egypt for a confrontation with Syria in which their country will not stand by Syria.

The best way to do so is to explain: look Syria is another Saddam Hussein who will try to drag us with them to another defeat like the 1967 one.

February 20th, 2008, 8:08 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Ford:

WHY is it that every time we speak of the virtues of Lebanon- somebody has to mention the “beautiful women”?
WHAT about the beautiful MEN?
Hasn’t anybody noticed all the adorably cute boys…. all over the place? And this is even with all the educated ones gone! I checked carefully, and there are even more good looking young men than there are women… (at least out in public).

I want to save the hot guys of Lebanon.

Even Joshua can’t remove his post on the “Babes of Hezbollah” from his best post collection. But what I want to know is where is the “Hotties of Hezbollah” posting???

YOU male commenters here….are sooo biased……..

February 20th, 2008, 8:08 pm

 

Observer said:

I really find some very parochial commentators on this blog. Some of them live in countries or regions which have achieved a huge degree of integration despite overwhelming odds: the US which has been extremely successful at integrating people from all over the world into a system of meritocracy, equality under the law, and complete bureaucratic freedom. Or even more daunting the EU which has banished war from the continent as an option for resolving conflict, understood that it takes a continent to compete on the world stage in crtitical fields that guarantee independence such as aeronautics or space satellite communications, and where full freedom of people and ideas now happens merely 50 years after the most bloody of wars ending hundreds of years of stupid and ethnic conflicts. Yet, we have some that think that insignificant Lebanon, chaotic Iraq, quasi feudal Syria and Jordan are entities worthy of any nationalistic pride or exclusive particularism. There is much more in common between peoples of the region than between the German hating French, the superior to all English, the small minded Belgians, the inappropriately proud Spaniards, or the disorganized and unrly Italians. It is amazing that we see them coming together, forge a new super union, bury the hatchet, and actually forge even a common market and currency and even a foreign policy.

Now on a different subject, the oil exchange bourse on Kish Island is officially open, and the Iranians no longer use the dollar for thei oil and gaz transactions. They sell to Japan in Yen, and if the Kish bourse is a go, you will see that the dollar on the one hand and the NY?London exchanges will be dethroned.
As Pepe Escobar explains in this important piece, the Empire will strike back and expect that Israel will provoke HA into a war in Lebanon and that the NIE will be changed again to show that Iran has an active weapons program.

If the dollar collapses, the US will no longer to be able to wage war by credit. This is why Chavez and Ahmadenjad are so irksome.

Fianlly, tongue in cheeck I heard that the discussions regarding the Arab summit next month are stuck on whether to have Kibbeh or Yalanji for dinner.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/JB21Dj07.html

February 20th, 2008, 8:28 pm

 

Alex said:

Shai (part II)

“Lebanon” is made of many Lebanons.

I think Aoun’s position is the healthy one … Syria is out now, we understand what Syria needs from Lebanon … if Syria accepts to recognize us and send an ambassador, then we have no reason and no interest in ever allowing others to use us against them.

We would have had closure if Jumblatt and Hariri and fatfat did not go on TV every day promoting hate and anger.

Syria must send an ambassador … before I look forward to that unity between Syria and Lebanon in 15 years (After Syria becomes very similar in a good way to Lebanon) .. Syria must allow and help Lebanon to be an independent country … an independent Lebanon can CHOOSE to be back as part of Greater Lebanon (or Greater Syria) .. but not a weak Lebanon that is under Syrian control.

As for the UME (United Middle East)… even better. Chomsky said that he is sure that this United Middle East will follow the first step of unity between the “natural pairs” … he meant Lebanon and Syria, probably Israel and the Palestinians and Jordan (economic union at least)…

So I agree with you .. but there is a complication: religion.

Israel and Saudi Arabia and Iran are currentl the Jewish, Sunni and Shia citadels … before they unite with others they need to redefine their missions.

February 20th, 2008, 8:33 pm

 

Shai said:

Alex,

What you say now worries me even more. Because if “analysts” here in Israel come to the same conclusion about Egypt preparing its citizens for NOT standing by Syria in the near future, then in some fashion that may strengthen the resolve of some extremist “advisors” here to push for confrontation with Syria. There are plenty of hardliners here that would jump at such an opportunity, viewing it as almost a plain Egyptian invitation to punish Syria. Can you imagine? It’s almost as if Egypt still remembers Syria’s manipulation (which as we know today was actually a Soviet manipulation) by getting it to prepare its forces for battle in 1967. Now it could manipulate Israel into an adventure against Hezbollah, almost hoping we would add Syria this time around to the list. I’m going to need some time to think this through… but it’s starting to sound a bit crazy.

Zenobia,

On a completely different tangent, as an Israeli who’s lived in Europe and the U.S. for many years in my youth, I can honestly attest to the irrefutable fact that Lebanese women are some of the prettiest in the entire world, not just in our region… and I’m willing to even say this next to my wife.

February 20th, 2008, 8:37 pm

 

Alex said:

Zenobia,

Go get your own blog, damn it.

Don’t wait for Ford Prefect or Alex, or AIG to talk about the”Hotties of Hezbollah”

Nice to see you here today : )

And I’m sorry but … our Syrian women are the prettiest … Saad Hariri is married to a Syrian woman, the Saudi King is married to a Syrian woman.

Even what’s his name is married to a Syrian woman. His three children used to study in Damascus in the 70’s

February 20th, 2008, 8:37 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Shai,
You raise a very good point. The issues between Syria and Lebanon are much more complicated than meet the eye. Developing nation-states usually do not follow the path of predictable outcomes such as “if Lebanon does this, Syria will do that.”

The importance of your point reminded me of one of my favorite books called “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy” by Robert Putnam. A fascinating read of the subject of democracy where Putnam argues that functioning democratic institutions are shaped by social context and historical events. In short, it is the civic conscience that has the most profound influence on the working on any democracy.

When a country is deeply divided along sectarian, ethnic, and mercantile lines, the success of any democratic institution is heavily dependent on the harmonic merging of the Lebanese ethos – including a homogeneous interpretation of their ancient and modern history – including Syrian involvement. Today, for example, Lebanese do not overwhelmingly see it as one way or the other. Moreover, I am sure that not all Lebanese view that the 2006 war in Lebanon was against all Lebanese.

It is a very complicated issue we have here and I really do not know the answer to your question. But you and I know that resolving the war issue and moving towards peace, will remove one heck of a huge barrier to all inhabitants of the Middle East and will allow them to move towards normalcy and democracy.

February 20th, 2008, 8:38 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Oberver,

So, please tell us why the EU has been able to get it done while our region falters in spite of easier odds as you put them.

You give the EU and US example and stop short at explaining why the region is unable to emulate.

p.s. I take it that you thought that my original comment was “very parochial”.

February 20th, 2008, 8:46 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Alex,
i am surprised at your confidence in the statement about “after Syria becomes very similar in a good way to Lebanon”…..
15 years!
You know it is not just the Lebanese with their superiority complex that is an obstacle to this type of change.
Have you spoken to Syrians inside Syria (and not ones who lived in the west)… on this subject.?
They are as anti-Lebanese on the subject of culture and social personality as the reverse. Almost all Syrians who i heard speak on this subject… were so denigrating of the Lebanese….and always exclaimed how they would never hope to be like them. All they envy is the popularity of Lebanon with the outer world… i think. But I don’t see syrians emulating Lebanon, and in fact, I think there would be great resistance to changing and being like Lebanon.
Again, a lot has to do with religious conservatism that has taken over syria. Maybe.

but i will say more in a minute regarding this ‘parochial’ idea… are they just like the Belgians and the French, or the English and the French, or the Dutch and the Germans??? good question i think…or is there a lot more at play.
again, i think there is a big factor in the presence of religious domination in the ME….that makes division and lack of unity more forceful….tbc

February 20th, 2008, 8:50 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Zenobia,
Have you recently compared Ja3ja3’s natural male beauty to his lovely wife Strida’s? You still want to go through that line of discussion or is the case closed?

February 20th, 2008, 8:57 pm

 

Alex said:

I know Zenobia … but things change … and it is not hate … remember how hundreds of thousands of Lebanese refugees were hosted by regular Syrians at their modest homes during the 2006 war?

Remove Jumblatt and Hariri’s influence, stop the Saudi and Hariri owned media’s daily attempts to make the Lebanese and Syrians hate each other, and give it a couple of years.

I did not say that Syria will imitate Lebanon in everything .. I was referring to two specific reforms

1) Economic reforms .. and they are happening already … enough to make Syria a much more attractive partner to marry … The Lebanese might not be able to resist tremendous opportunities in Syria in 5 or 10 years.

2) Freedom of speech … not 100% freedom but a serious improvement over what we have today.

February 20th, 2008, 9:05 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Shai, I am now upset with you – very very much. Both Lebanese and Syrian women are pretty. You cannot just mention the Lebanese beauty without referring to the Syrian ones. C’mmon now, have you not seen a Syrian beauty lately?

Speaking about natural beauty, your Tipzi is way too attractive to have a talk with our Mou3llem.

February 20th, 2008, 9:06 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Dito Ehsani.

to pick up where i left off….in response to Observer’s comparison of Europe….
are they really the same? or isn’t there a lot of other factors that will prevent the ME from being able to follow suit and achieve such alliances… as Ehsani.. suggested already.?

I haven’t thought this out at all….but there seem to be vast differences.
I don’t think the presence of dictators and kings in the ME is the problem, as Europe too was once ruled by monarchs, and that can easily change.
The ME first off…. of course… could also be driven by desires for economic growth and development. But there has never been and industrial revolution of any kind in the ME. That seems to matter to my mind, but i am not sure exactly how.
The Europeans such as French and Belgians…(or French and anybody) still don’t like each other, but they put aside the Narcissism of small differences….for the sake of mutual economic benefit.
But in the ME…it seems that religious and perceived ethnic divides…. appear to completely make union impossible. It is taken extremely seriously, and creates barriers. It is not about the practice of religion, but the identities that are created that prevent groups from identifying with each other and collaborating. Arab nationalism was I suppose an attempt to bridge that, but..it failed. Why? not everybody is an arab for one thing, so ethnicity is not grounds for union. But more significantly, Arabism was tied to Islam so wholeheartedly, that this again was going to be a problem.

One has to find union on secular terms I believe. And that would mean that the most powerful institutions in the region would not be religious ones. But Islam is not going to let that happen over its dead body.

In contrast, Europe has secularism, and the Europeans in general are so secular minded at this point….that they could develop. A system of cooperation based on economics and respect for all.

Anybody have more thoughts on this?

February 20th, 2008, 9:09 pm

 

Shai said:

Ford Prefect,

I was actually starting to understand and accept your disappointment in my failure to mention Syrian women’s beauty alongside Lebanese… and then you had to mention Tzipi Livni’s “beauty”??? My God, I would rather marry my oldest daughter to Moualem himself, than admit to Tzipi’s beauty…! True though, compared to Golda Meir, Tzipi Livni is like Marlyn Monroe.

February 20th, 2008, 9:15 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Ford Prefect,
NOOOO. Case is NOT closed.

Yes, you are right, that the disgusting fat cat leaders…with their droopy faces (Jumblatt) and ugly guts and general repulsiveness (Nasrallah is no beauty)…. can still take the most beautiful wives and mistresses they want…..
this is obvious…..
no, it is not your male leaders who are so handsome… even Saad, who i am sure thinks! he is a hotty.

but alas, it is the guy washing your car, and bringing you coffee…and working at the bar, or in the hotel lobby, and maybe shooting the guns… for the army or rockets from the launching pad……that are the hotties…..
YOU just haven’t noticed!…. it is the benefit of being female that allows me to notice both the beautiful women and the beautiful men.
Shai, i never said the lebanese girls weren’t the most, i just said it wasn’t correct to neglect that it is really the lebanese PEOPLE as whole who are so attractive……:)…

As for the Syrian girls….. i don’t know….. jury is still out. I think they are more gutsy overall, more spine, …that is for sure…. hence they get chosen by many leaders across the middle east as their leading ladies.

(and a few men have claimed that Syrian women are better lovers, but i can’t verify this..)

February 20th, 2008, 9:19 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Europe is a misleading example. The napoleonic wars saw the creation of conscript armies with horrendous consequences after which Europe took a vacation from war (except the Franco-Prussian one). When the people who remembered the Napoleonic wars and their decendants died europe was ready for war again. WWI and its extension and culmination in WWII took the appetite for war out of the Europeans for a long time. The european system works because the Europeans still remember well the alternative where nobody wins. War in the middle east was never as devastating and will never be as devastating.

Looking to Europe for reasons for success without looking at the history that lurks in the background and is always the real alternative will not help. The people in the middle east need to be really tired of war to emulate the eurpean system.

February 20th, 2008, 9:19 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am of course referring to wars between European countries and not colonial wars which were not devastating for the europeans.

February 20th, 2008, 9:24 pm

 

Shai said:

Zenobia,

Though again, perhaps not my place to comment, but I tend to agree on the issue of religion interfering in any kind of secular union and the establishment of significant institutions with decision-power. My personal belief is that no nation, or a union of nations, can succeed unless there is a clear separation of “church and state”. Not that they are solely to blame for this, but in Israel, the fact that religious parties can basically blackmail any ruling party into anything it wants (huge budgets, etc.), because of the multi-party system and the inability to create a government without a coalition, has all too often interfered in any peace initiatives a particular ruling party may have had in mind. Very little moves in my country without the approval of at least some of the religious parties. If you ask me, that’s crazy, and must change. Same of course would go for religious Islamic parties and institutions and their approval of a UME (United Middle East). Unless… they had something to benefit from… Like a URC (United Religious Council), with certain powers enjoyed?

February 20th, 2008, 9:26 pm

 

Observer said:

First I did not think that Ehsani’s comments were parochial.

I believe that there are many reasons that there is no discussion regarding a common policy for the region: first and foremost is entrenched interests; second is significant educational gap; third is the complete banishment of meaningful dialogue and discussion of ideas as the thinkers and writers and intellectuals have no forum or audience; fourth and no less pervasive is the poisonous mode of thinking that needs to be uprooted exemplified by words of
Mashi alhal, Maalesh, Allah Karim, Boukra, Basita, Tawel Balak, and many more that have institutionalized to the core the acceptance of mediocrity, lowered expectations, reduced self respect, and increased tolerance for incompetence.
There comes a time when a people refuse to live on their knees and force their will on destiny. I have members of my family martyred in the 1916 Arab revolution, the 1920 Syrian independence revolution, the 1948 Palestine defense, and in the 1973 October war, others were chased from one refugee camp to another from Lebanon to Syria to Tunis to Gaza; and yet all of their sacrificies have to come to naught for all the above reasons. I sense that the moment for a critical mass of people who are fully fed up with the current situation may be approaching and I believe that the example of others in the region may be the trigger.

Finally, I did not mean to insult anyone, far be it that I even think of doing so, so if some were personally offended, my apologies, the parochailim that I speak of is typical of what I read of people who revert to very local mentality when it comes to discussing the old country: as Louis the XIV said once: ils ont des yeux pour ne rien voir.

February 20th, 2008, 9:29 pm

 

Zenobia said:

AIG,
i agree with this point about war exhaustion too, as a contributing major difference. You would think the ME would be tired of violence at least, but it hasn’t experienced WW on that level…where every person is involved….and the entire region.
There is still time though…..

February 20th, 2008, 9:31 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Dear all,

Let me say how impressed and cheered I am by the response to this post. Alex and I have been discussing the possibility of a modest blog (because honestly, what could compete with SC?) that deals with various issues of reform related to Lebanon including:

1. Non-confessional democracy
2. Demography and whether it matters
3. The Palestinians in Lebanon
4. Integrating Hizbullah into the army: how and when
5. Peace with Israel: can Lebanon lead rather than follow?
6. Achieving national closure after the Civil War (through a Truth & Reconciliation type commission, or public monuments, etc.), representative democracy, etc. in Lebanon.

This post, in fact, was a kind of test gauge for the possible interest in such a forum, and your intellegent and thoughtful commentaries are encouraging to me.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that a second blog will be needed that examines the aesthetic qualities of Syrian and Lebanese women. Such a forum could only serve to bring our nations closer together.

February 20th, 2008, 9:36 pm

 

Zenobia said:

QN:
I think that would be EXCELLENT….. beauty contest included.

February 20th, 2008, 9:42 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

It was a very busy day for me,today.but going over non jewish comments( I do not read AIG Shai comments)I think ;
I do not think that the two countries belong together.
this is dead wrong, Qunfoz, they do belong togather.
and as far as domonation by one group, this mentality is what got us in trouble, to start with, no one group shoud dominate the other.the relation between Syria and Lebanon should be like two friends, full of respect, cooperation,and frequent meeting togather, and good advise,and defend each other.full economic cooperations.

lebanese president, may infact be vice president of Syria.

February 20th, 2008, 9:45 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Majed K:
the irony of your comment is laughable.
you start out with your own bigotry…announcing not reading ‘jewish comments’ (whatever that means, and as if anybody needs to know which comments you don’t want to read)…. and then follow with your plea for tolerance between two very intolerant peoples (both lebs and syrians)….
yours is the mentality that has to go…..

February 20th, 2008, 9:53 pm

 

Shai said:

Majedkhaldoun,

I can take anti-Jewish comments, anti-Zionist comments, the whole lot. But to put me in the same parenthesis as AIG? That’s just too much! 🙂

Come on, we’re not all Arab-haters, and Islam-haters. If we were, what would we be doing here?

February 20th, 2008, 9:56 pm

 

offended said:

Talking about beauty contests:

Israeli MP blames quakes on gays
An Israeli MP has blamed parliament’s tolerance of gays for earthquakes that have rocked the Holy Land recently.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7255657.stm

It must be them, pesky homos, rocking the tectonic layers and messing with earth crust!

February 20th, 2008, 9:57 pm

 

offended said:

Shai, you’ve mentioned earlier that you have an innate love for Syria.
Allow me to ask: how much do you know about the intricacies of Syria to make you love her?

This is a sincere question by the way and not a tricky one : )

February 20th, 2008, 10:00 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Offended,
lol.
damn right. I think one of the American holy rollers blamed Hurricane Katrina… on homosexuality…. .god paying those sinners back and all that…. : ) . that cracks me up….

February 20th, 2008, 10:11 pm

 

Shai said:

Offended,

I’ll first relate to your first post: did you have to bring up this “touchy” subject? What a disgrace, huh?

(Zenobia, you see – this is the religious party Shas, one of the largest parties in Israel, and you can bet no peace will ever be established without the “blessing” of those uneducated, backward buffoons.)

Now to your second post: I didn’t claim I was an innate “Syrian lover”, except when suggesting that AIG and AP saw me as such. But I did mention on numerous occasions that I saw Syria as the key to peace in our region today (and not just the Israeli-Syrian issue, but also Iraq, Iran, the Palestinians). I don’t have a “love affair” with Syria, but I do and have noticed the peaceful overtures that Bashar and his deputies have extended over the past 2-3 years, unlike ever before, and I’m unwilling, like some other Israelis, to ignore them. In fact, I find every reason in the world NOT to ignore these gestures, and to pursue in every way possible the very real potential for peace between Syria and Israel. I believe that it is feasible, I agree with Assad that we’re basically 80% there, only 20% to go, and now the tough task ahead is to convince public opinion in Israel to support the last 20% effort. As I’ve mentioned here before, the same majority of Israelis that supported peace with Syria during Rabin’s time are still here today, but many of them have grown numb to the ups-and-downs in the region (mostly because of Summer 2006, and because of the Qassam rockets over Sderot for the past 7 years…!) This numbness must be tended to, in order to remind Israelis that history tends to offer us many more opportunities for war, than for peace. And if Syria has reached a strategic decision 2-3 years ago that it is time to end the conflict with Israel, then no Israeli has the right to dismiss this. It is high time we reach out to one another, and take the last remaining steps towards peace. Too much blood has been spilled, too much pain, it’s time to end the suffering.

February 20th, 2008, 10:13 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
I don’t like Shas policies but calling hundreds of thousands of Israelis “uneducated, backward buffoons” is a racist generalization. You get offended when I explain why you are a useful idiot but I see you have no problem offending hundreds of thousands of Israelis whose views are different than yours. How will you be able to convince anybody in Israel if that is your attitude?

The problem in Israel is not the religious parties. The fact that they are represented is good and keeps in check religious fundamentalism. And anyway, any system that will give them less power will also take power from other minorities such as the Arabs and that would also be very bad. As long as the Israeli Arabs are fairly represented in the Knesset, they will be more inclined to address their problems without violence. This goes for any minority.

The democratic system in Israel which ensures the representation of minorities is one of the major reasons for Israeli stability. And if you believe that Arabs and Israelis are the same, then the Arabs should look at the Israeli system and imitate it.

February 20th, 2008, 10:26 pm

 

Shai said:

Since AIG has either not read my comments to him in 596, or is choosing to continue to address me directly, I’ll answer the following:

When I say “uneducated, backward buffoons” I am referring to the few representatives of those few hundreds of thousands of Shas-supporters, not to the supporters themselves. In fact, I could have used a few more adjectives, like corrupt, unethical thieves, but I chose not to (until now).

Religious parties are absolutely a problem in Israel (not THE problem, like not THE debate, there are lots of problems, lots of debates). The main problem, of which the religious parties are a symptom, is the multi-party system. By not being able to ever create a government without a coalition, little 5, 6, or 10-seat parties can blackmail the rest of the country into doing as they will, with the constant threat that they would pull out of government and bring about new elections at any time (like Shas is in fact threatening right this instant, about god-forbid talking to the Palestinians about E. Jerusalem). The American system ensures representation for minorities, for smaller populations, etc. through their two-house system, and with two parties, not twenty. The opposite, no small minority can blackmail the Democrats or Republicans into doing something contrary to their platform, something that happens continuously in Israel, and will continue to occur until the system is changed.

Now with that, please do not address me anymore, as I really do not wish to engage you further – not now, not in the future. Have the decency to respect at least that request, ok?

February 20th, 2008, 10:37 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
Of course the American system does not ensure representation for minority groups. A stark example is that Ralph Nader’s green party cannot elect even one representative because its support base is not located in one geographic location. You just do not understand the system.

When you call the representatives of a few hundred thousand people “uneducated, backward buffoons” you are indirectly calling a few hundred thousand people “uneducated, backward buffoons” because otherwise why would they elect “uneducated, backward buffoons” as their representatives? Perhaps they are just stupid according to you?

February 20th, 2008, 10:44 pm

 

Shai said:

You won’t let go, will you? If you missed the last paragraph, here it is again:

“Now with that, please do not address me anymore, as I really do not wish to engage you further – not now, not in the future. Have the decency to respect at least that request, ok?”

February 20th, 2008, 10:48 pm

 

Zenobia said:

AIG: Maybe that’s his genuine assessment of the quality of that party. He is entitled to his opinion of it, you know.
and other countries definitely have at least a few hundred thousand uneducated buffoons…. i can think of many.

anyhow, I think Italy has the same sort of multi-party system and the same criticism concerning the hijacking of gov’t by small parties and minority interests. I know that in Italy it is hard to get things done, in addition.

As for the American system, i think it far from perfect, but it has a certain elegance and effectiveness. There is however, many people feel, a flaw in the fact that there is no room for third parties. In the previous centuries there were more than two parties at times… but then it evolved into a monopoly by the two.
Many people have been advocating for years…a more proportional representation in VOTING practices.. not a winner take all method of election voting schemes….for instance rank voting, so that one can vote for a candidate who is third party with out fear of throwing away a vote. In such a system there could be more openess for new party candidates at least on the regional district level or in the congressional elections. I am in favor of this more representational system of voting.

But, having said that, I am just as annoyed at the tyranny of the minority as that of the majority. And as I said early on in the post, even the American senate is a place that gives too much power ( i feel) to many states that hardly represent the will of americans in general.
I appreciate S’s earlier input about the system in Israel. it was helpful, and confirmed what my impression was before – that the Israelis policy can be held hostage by a right wing end of the political spectrum or a religious block.
Even in the states, because of the way presidents are elected…… one of the parties, namely the repubs, have to pander to their religious right and their most conservative elements.
the miracle is that at this very moment the republicans are having to try to overlook this base… swinging to the center because of the mood of the country as a whole… and we’ll see if they get away with that…

February 20th, 2008, 11:37 pm

 

Alex said:

Zenobia

You “appreciate S’s earlier input about the system in Israel”?

“Shai” is too long to type compared to “S’s”? : )

February 20th, 2008, 11:56 pm

 

Zenobia said:

ok. i don’t know why.
leave me alone, you.

February 21st, 2008, 12:36 am

 

Enlightened said:

QN: What do you propose a Lebanon Comment? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Maybe we can convince our very,very unattractive Syrian brothers, and our very attractive Syrian sisters of this proposal. But what the heck lets not beat around the Bush, Syria Lebanon comment it has a nice ring to it we can have a marriage a non confessional one, we can have Fairouz singing at the reception and Ghawar to provide the Dinner comedy entertainment, and you QN can be the master of ceremony, HP and Offended can Usher the guests.

Anway some light hearted comedy about the Homos causing the earthquakes reminded me of my university days, some right wing christians on campus were protesting the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras and after the event some Graffitti was spray painted on the campus walls
“God hates Homos”, a witty gay guy in our marketing course the following lunch break spray painted a response “But does he Like Tabouli”

February 21st, 2008, 12:45 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Hmmm, a Lebanese (or Syrian?) in Australia… I’ve heard about you, troublemakers.

🙂

Maybe we should call the blog “Greater Syria Comment”

What do you think, ya Alex? 😉

Actually, maybe not, as Joshua probably could sue us for copyright infringement.

February 21st, 2008, 1:29 am

 

Enlightened said:

LOL QN,

Lebanese descent, but have a lot of Syrian relations through marriage on My wifes side. TRoublemakers in Aus( I live very far away from them in the Hills area in Syd) and yes you do need a armed escort through the Lebanese areas in Sydney ( all very true LOL)

During the 9/11 aftermath I called myself Juan, and later Alphonse, but then decided to invest in some plastic surgery and called my self Trevor ( A very good Australian Name )

February 21st, 2008, 1:40 am

 

Enlightened said:

Patrick Seale’s New Article:

Israel’s ‘Targeted Assassinations’ Strategy by Patrick Seale
Released: 20 Feb 2008

Israel has made something of a specialty of “targeted assassinations” — that is to say sending hit teams to kill its enemies abroad in the evident belief that the best way to deal with Arab resistance movements is physically to eliminate their leaders. Over the past several decades, scores of Arab activists, intellectuals and scientists have perished in this way.

There seems little doubt that Israeli agents were responsible for the car-bomb assassination in Damascus on 12 February of Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hizbullah commander.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office issued a lame denial, but the applause from Israeli ministers, the popping of champagne corks, and the jubilant reports in the Israeli press tell a different story. “The score has been settled,’ said Israel’s YNetnews website, in a clear suggestion that the killing was a response to the humiliation Hizbullah inflicted on the IDF in the 2006 Lebanon war.

But is that all there was to it? Israel is well aware that such murders invariably provoke revenge killings, as Hasan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s secretary-general, was quick to warn. Speaking to a vast crowd of tens of thousands at Mughniyeh’s funeral in Beirut, he addressed Israel directly:

‘You killed Imad outside the battleground. Our battle was inside the Lebanese territory. You crossed the borders. Zionists, if you want open war, let it be an open war anywhere.’

Such a response was entirely predictable — and will no doubt result in attacks on Jewish targets. So it remains something of a mystery why Israel’s leaders thought that killing Mughniyeh was such a good idea.

There are many possible explanations for Israel’s behaviour. One of them is simply that such murders are what Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and Mossad chief Meir Dagan, know how to do.

Thirty-five years ago, in April 1973, Barak, disguised as a woman, led the hit team which penetrated to the heart of Beirut, and assassinated three Palestinian leaders in their apartment — Kamal Udwan, Kamal Nasir and Muhammad Yusif Najjar. In April 1988, Barak was also involved in the killing of Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir), Yasser Arafat’s military chief, in his family home in Tunis. These, and other such lethal operations, earned Barak a record number of decorations — more than any other Israeli soldier.

Another possible explanation for the Mughniyeh killing is that Israel was keen to demonstrate to its regional opponents — not just Hizbullah and Hamas, but Syria and Iran as well — that its long arm can reach deep into their home territory. This seems also to have been the message of Israel’s air-raid last September against a military installation in eastern Syria — an unprovoked violation of Syrian sovereignty and international law, which the Bush administration appears to have approved.

No doubt, such spectacular feats of arms are also intended to remind Washington — and especially its intelligence community — that in spite of the fiasco of the Lebanese war, Israel remains a valuable strategic asset in America’s ‘global war on terror’.

There may well have been some reasons of internal Israeli politics for the assassination of Mughniyeh. Olmert may have felt the need to restore his prestige with the Israeli public after the Vinograd commission’s stern indictment of his leadership in the 2006 war.

For his part, Barak may feel that he needs to project a super-tough image if only to counter the spell that arch-hawk Binyamin Netanyahu still casts over many Israelis. The Likud leader could well be Barak’s direct opponent in the next elections.

Yet another explanation should perhaps be sought in the intense debate, now being conducted inside Israel’s defence and security establishments, on how best to deal with Hizbullah and Hamas, the two militant non-state actors on Israel’s immediate borders.

These movements, deeply rooted respectively in the Lebanese and Palestinian populations, pose a particular difficulty for the IDF. As recent history has shown, they cannot easily be defeated by conventional means. Fighting them is more like conducting a counter-insurgency operation than a conventional war.

Israel is anxious to restore its highly-prized deterrent capability with regard to these two hostile movements. It wants to dissuade them from daring to attack Israeli targets by raising the cost to them of Israeli counter-attacks — or pre-emptive attacks, as in the case of Mughniyeh’s killing.

But the immense damage inflicted on Lebanon in 2006 failed to quell Hizbullah (although its fighters were forced by international pressure to withdraw from the border area), while the severe punishment that continues to be inflicted on Gaza and its one-and-half million population — the daily raids and the cruel siege — has not stopped home-made Qassam rockets from falling on the Israeli town of Sderot.

These Palestinian rockets inflict few casualties — at most one Israeli is killed for the death of some 40 Palestinians — but they make life very unpleasant in Israel’s Negev towns and put great pressure on Olmert’s government to do something to stop them.

How to seize the initiative in the asymmetric war waged by Hizbullah and Hamas? This is Israel’s immediate challenge. It seems highly reluctant to launch a major ground operation against Gaza, let alone a repeat of the Lebanon war. It may, therefore, have decided that targeted assassinations is the best way to proceed.

Although such killings run the risk of provoking revenge attacks, the Israeli calculation may be that such a risk is worth taking, compared to the inevitable losses that would be incurred by a major military operation, not to speak of the missile threat to the civilian population of northern Israel.

If this analysis is correct, the assassination of Mughniyeh should be seen as an alternative to a large-scale war, and not a prelude to one — as many Arabs fear. Israel is seeking to deter Hizbullah not to provoke it into another conflict on the scale of the ill-fated 2006 war.

There is yet a further possible explanation of Israel’s brutal forward strategy towards its Arab opponents. The Jewish state has resolutely refused to be drawn into serious peace negotiations with Syria or the Palestinians — or even into a long-term ceasefire such as Hamas has proposed — because any peace settlement would necessarily entail territorial concessions.

In order to avoid returning territory — which the Arabs demand as the price for peace and normal relations — Israel’s traditional strategy has been to radicalize its Arab environment. It has no time, for example, for “moderate” Palestinians who want to negotiate. Mahmud Abbas, president of the hapless Palestinian Authority, will be hard put to get even a few crumbs out of Ehud Olmert.

Israel seems to prefer being surrounded by radical movements like Hizbullah and Hamas (which it did much to create), because, as Israeli leaders like to intone, “How can you negotiate with someone who wants to kill you?”

The answer is that you kill him first.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

February 21st, 2008, 2:53 am

 

Ziad said:

As for the other famous lebanese married to syrian women :saeb salam ,riad al solh,charles helou’s mother was syrian ,samir kassir allah yerhamo was half syrian half palestinian….walid jumblatt’s wife ,nora al sharabati and the wife of nassib lahoud are also syrian …many families of leading politicians and businessmen are also of syrian origin ,the sehnaoui,pharaon,azhari(managers of the most important bank in leb BLOM and are muslims),obeiji,bustani(those in the banking sector),bonja,maronites from aleppo….and in the academic fields ,former president of the AUB Costantin Zureyk (damascus) and the most important jurist in lebanon ,Edmond Rabbath(Aleppo)…
lebanese and syrians are very close people but after 40 years of baathism ,la creme de la creme of the syrian society has left syria and these years of state terror have destroyed the pride of the syrian people.a city like aleppo was very rich in intellectual activities ,for example the syrian journalim sector was so important that former president Charles helou and Said Freiha the founder of the most important press group have worked in Aleppo for a french language newspaper.(more than 40 dailies,magazines only for the city of Aleppo in the 50’s).Damascus univeristy was on the most respected in the region ,some of the leading lebanese politicians have studied in it ,like nasri maalouf.
.And about the women matter ,i dont like to speak about this subject but i say that some of these women that we see in damascus that are originally from the mountains or the villages make themselves ugly and vulgar when they are trying to imitate the lebanese singers and models
Alex ,what is strange here is that the wife of bin laden is from the nusayri mountains.
I would like to add ,that as conservative muslim from syria and despite that both people are related in religion ,familly,in history ,i dont want lebanon to be integrated into syria ;, its dominant christian character must be preserved,lebanon is our window to the western world ,and honestly without its christian character ,lebanon wouldl became like any other arab country.
For this reason ,I’m for the naturalisation of the palestinians of Lebanon but they should be transfered to Syria and then naturalized as syrian citizens with the other palestinians of Syria.But this will never happen under the asad regime.

February 21st, 2008, 3:00 am

 

Ford Prefect said:

Ziad,
I hope no one in the right mind will ever even dare to think of integrating Lebanon into Syria, Syria into Lebanon, or Kosovo into Darfur.

And I salute you for saying that “Lebanon’s Christian character must be preserved” and protected, and cherished. I am another Muslim who proudly add my voice to yours in that regard.

It is clear that neither the Lebanese nor the Syrians want to be part of the other. They just want to share tabbouleh, shawarma, Fairuz, bab al hara, and marry the heck of one another. Other than that they’ve had enough of “he loves me, he loves me not”.

February 21st, 2008, 4:01 am

 

norman said:

Alex, Joshua,

Can you put numbers to the comments so people can call the number of the comment they respond to.

Shai,
Israelis like you make have hope for peace soon between Syria and Israel.

February 21st, 2008, 4:08 am

 

Enlightened said:

FP;

Can you please clarify, I thought that our syrian bretheren loved us unconditionally (maybe except ausamma) why would we not want to go into a arranged marriage? Is the Bride to be ugly? Half pregnant? does she flatulate in bed?

I think if we try hard enough we can make this marriage work, but only after 45 years, when the kids grow up, get married leave the house then we can argue again and divorce?

February 21st, 2008, 4:22 am

 

ausamaa said:

This is all very interesting. We should keep it up!

February 21st, 2008, 4:22 am

 

norman said:

QN,
How many counties in Lebanon and what is the population number of the Lebanese ,

I do not think we need another blog SC is all what we need as apparently we write anything we want here , that is better than looking at different sites.

February 21st, 2008, 4:38 am

 

Ford Prefect said:

Enlightened,
The 3arees, the3aroos, and the whole marriage industry never saw any boundaries between Syria and Lebanon. Nevertheless, people want their breathing space so they can work on establishing their very young nation-states identities.

But please be aware that any bride who has bed instabilities will be a deal breaker and will get us back into square one.

BTW, Ausama does indeed love Lebanon – all of it except not M14 version.

February 21st, 2008, 4:38 am

 

Enlightened said:

FP:

Well said, the3aroos might just need a 3arnoos then and the 3arees might have to remain single.

Its interesting some of the perspectives here regarding union with Syria. I am of the belief that if the christian character in Lebanon is altered the fabric of the country will change, some of my clients at work, very old pensioners have worked and resided in the ME and in Lebanon have noticed the difference, and often commented on it when they realise where my roots lie( no pun intended).

I often worry though whether there is a union that Lebanons uniqueness in the Arab world might just disappear.

February 21st, 2008, 4:54 am

 

offended said:

Ziad, (February 21st, 2008, 3:00 am)

The Bonjas of Aleppo are not Maronites. They are Roman Catholics. You can ask George Aggan if you don’t believe me….

Norman,
You can quote the dateline of the comment, just like what I did with Ziad!

February 21st, 2008, 4:58 am

 

Arnie in NYC said:

Thanks to ‘Enlightened’ for posting Patrick Seale’s New Article:
Israel’s ‘Targeted Assassinations’ Strategy by Patrick Seale
Released: 20 Feb 2008

Seale writes that “Israel is well aware that such murders invariably provoke revenge killings” and therefore “it remains something of a mystery why Israel’s leaders thought that killing Mughniyeh was such a good idea.”

If we follow Seale’s tortured attempt to explain this mystery, we are left with a compilation of all possible motivations: a response to Hizbullah’s humiliating defeat of Israel in 2006, simply doing ‘what comes natcherly’ to Barak and Mossad, sending messages to neighboring adversaries like Hamas, Syria and Iran, sending messages to friends like Washington, as a way to deal with internal Israeli political pressures, in an effort to avoid a major ground operation against Gaza, to radicalize the Arabs and kill the possibility of a peace settlement, etc., etc., etc.

For Seale, Israel is all-powerful. It both creates a terrorist like Mughniyeh simply to eliminate him. “Israel seems to prefer being surrounded by radical movements like Hizbullah and Hamas (which it did much to create), because, as Israeli leaders like to intone, ‘How can you negotiate with someone who wants to kill you?’
The answer is that you kill him first.”

What utter nonsense. If, as Seale implies, the time was right for Israel to take out Mughniyeh (based on all these motivations), doesn’t that mean he could have been killed whenever Israel wanted to do it.

There is a much simpler explanation. An opportunity presented to take out a murderer of many many innocents, always protected by Syria and Iran from any reach of justice. The opportunity was taken. No other explanation is warranted or needed.

February 21st, 2008, 5:01 am

 

Alex said:

Offended,

That is correct .. the Bonjas are Roman Catholics.

I don’t think George Ajjan knew that.

As for UBL … I made a mistake … He studied in Damascus (with his two other brothers) … and his mom, not his wife is Syrian.

February 21st, 2008, 5:51 am

 

Alex said:

Qifa NAbki,

I thought we agreed to name it “Phonecian dreams” no?

February 21st, 2008, 6:03 am

 

offended said:

Yeah Alex : )
The most expensive jewelry shop in Aleppo with the most sophisticated security system can’t be mistaken.

Man, I miss roaming Al 3azizeyah!

February 21st, 2008, 6:21 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

Thank you for Patrick Seale’s article. While I agree with most of what he wrote, I strongly disagree with the last three paragraphs and their corresponding three points:

First: Israel certainly has NOT refused to “be drawn” into peace negotiations because of territorial concessions. You don’t need to be an Israeli genius to understand that no peace can come without these. The two previous peace treaties Israel had involved the return of territory, and all future ones will as well. The only reasonable explanation (and one which I completely disagree with) for Israel’s current refusal to negotiate with Syria is, of course, the United States. For some odd reason, Ehud Olmert, though a far superior politician to George Dubya, has allowed himself to comfortably take the position of Puppet. And as such, will only do what his Puppet-master allows him to. If McCain, or Clinton, or Obama were now President, and were reversing America’s anti-Syria stance, Olmert would be right there in Camp David, sitting with Farouq al-Sharaa, talking about the return of the Golan. It’s not about territory, it’s about “permission”.

Second: Israel has “no time… for moderate Palestinians who want to negotiate”? What’s Patrick talking about? Why on earth is the Olmert administration so endlessly (and in my mind uselessly) courting Mahmoud Abbas? A “few crumbs”? Israeli papers are bashing Olmert now for pretending NOT to have talked two nights ago with Abbas in Olmert’s own Jerusalem apartment about Jerusalem, but instead about “other things”. The current Israeli government is, as usual, not reading the map correctly and gambling on the wrong horses. Abbas is a great person, a champion of Palestinian cause. But he does not represent the majority of Palestinians, and hasn’t figured out a way to accept Hamas back. As such, though he is a moderate, and therefore more ideal to negotiate with, Israel cannot reach historical agreements with him just yet.

Third: “Israel seems to prefer being surrounded by radical movements like Hizbullah and Hamas…”? Come on Patrick, you can’t possibly attribute such irresponsibility and cynicism to Israel. No Israeli leader in the past, present, or future, is going to “prefer” radical movements on our borders than regular nations with regular armies, which are easier to identify, easier to target, and easier to defeat. As he correctly stated, this asymmetrical war has been terribly difficult for Israel to deal with. But to make the point clear – though causing a far smaller human toll on Israel (than conventional wars did), Hezbollah and Hamas have created a far more destabilizing reality on the ground and, frankly, one which could easily spark a large regional war at any moment. No Israeli leader would condone an atmosphere of such instability, which could have huge ramifications on Israel and the region. Any leader here would prefer the relative-stability of nations, even sworn enemies of Israel, with their regular armies, over organizations.

The dramatic ending really kind of ruined his otherwise sensible article. “The answer is that you kill him first.” Kill him first? Israel tries to kill leaders when it can, but clearly recognizes that each time it succeeds, those same organizations don’t shrink in size, but only grow. They don’t lose capabilities they don’t very quickly make up again, and then some. Israel tries to deter, but knows it really isn’t doing such a great job at reaching that goal… Historians will one day judge whether these assassinations had any positive contribution whatsoever. In a cruel and odd kind of way, perhaps by succeeding in high-level assassinations, and seeing the far-costlier aftermath, with each such “success”, Israel is getting closer to an end to its part in this bloody cycle. Papers in Israel have, for the past number of days, started asking “If we did it, was it worth it?… given the known and likely upcoming response.”

February 21st, 2008, 7:22 am

 

why-discuss said:

Shai

I agree with your remarks, except for that:
As long as Israel is not ready to accept the return of territories and the return of palestinians, Israel leadership would prefer to be surrounded by militias they can claim as a being “terrorists” than states with army and recognized by the UN. Would Israel accept that The West Bank and Gaza declare unilateral independance and the creation of a State ( Kosovo like) with, like Israel’s constitution, undefined borders???

February 21st, 2008, 8:47 am

 

Kooki said:

Regarding genetic differences between Syrians, Lebanese, Jews, Palestinians etc your instincts are probably right. Take a look at the row that erupted when DNA testing started to prove just how little difference there was between the different “ethnic” groups:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/nov/25/medicalscience.genetics

Similarly, there were shockwaves when scientists showed that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are closer genetically to each other than to the populations on the Greek and Turkish mainlands.

February 21st, 2008, 10:19 am

 

Shai said:

Why-Discuss,

I beg to differ about the issue of preferring militias over organized nations and armies. Both from internal/security point of view, as well as the external/international one, Israel would much prefer not having Hezbollah and Hamas there. Security-wise, clearly militias are much tougher to deal with than regular armies. Internationally, which has more weight, complaining to the UN General Secretary when a President of a nation like Iran refers to Israel as a “cancerous virus”, or when Nasrallah promises to now fight an “open war”? The world has yet to accept the legitimacy of a nation attacking a militia, but certainly not a nation attacking another nation. Imagine it was Syria who kidnapped those 2 Israeli soldiers in Summer 2006. We’d have war in the region the same day, and the international community would likely support Israel throughout the entire duration. But in Hezbollah’s case, barely a week went by, and pressure began building against Israel, because we could not limit the fight purely to Hezbollah, and ended up hurting innocent civilians in Lebanon. I don’t see any advantage whatsoever for Israel in having militias on our borders, as opposed to regular armies.

As to your question about Israel accepting a declaration of independence by the Palestinians (like Kosovo’s of this week). I don’t think it’s Israel’s place to accept or not-accept such a declaration. We’re not the UN, no one is asking us to vote on the future of Palestine, and the entire world, including most Israelis, know that the state of Palestine is only a matter of time. I believe there is only one body that can decide, and accept, such a declaration, and that is the Palestinian people of course. It would be interesting to see not what Israel does after such a declaration, but what the International community does. Will they hail it like they did with Kosovo? Will they remain “embarrassed” for a week or so, until coming up with some “diplomatic response”? Personally, I believe the Palestinians have already made this declaration, some 21 years ago. The First Intifada was a loud-and-clear declaration that sent a “We’ve Had It!” message across the world, and was quickly understood to be an intent of becoming a nation at the earliest opportunity. Shame we’re 21 years later, and still no clear vision of when and how such a state will become a reality (not just in declaration, but on the ground).

February 21st, 2008, 11:46 am

 

offended said:

Marie (Seurat) Maamarbachi whose husband was the french islamologist, victim of hatred and terror by the friends of Alex.

Now I didn’t get this, would you please elaborate?

Untill then, it’s taken as an undue offense…

February 21st, 2008, 12:12 pm

 

Ziad said:

Offended where is the offense ?

February 21st, 2008, 12:30 pm

 

offended said:

Who are the friends of Alex who are terrorizing people?

February 21st, 2008, 12:32 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

I agree with Norman, if a number can be placed to the comment,it will be easier to respond to, and understand who responds to who, as of now, I feel like we are in Hammam, without water,(maatooa mytu)

February 21st, 2008, 12:37 pm

 

Ziad said:

Alex,

For OBL.

Both are syrians ,his mother and his first wife ( they are cousins)

As for Bonja ,i thought that Bonja and Khokaz familly were maronites,unfortunately they are rare in today Aleppo(4000)…during the ottoman era ,Aleppo was the city that had the biggest maronite population ,it was famous for its maronite school founded by the maronite patriarch estfan al duwayhi in the 17 century,4 of its students founded the aleppine maronite order in the lebanese mountains, known today as the lebanese maronite ordrer.The most famous was al Mutran Gabriel Farhat Germanos al 7alabi,pioneer of al nahda.

http://mouka.chez-alice.fr/fondateur.htm

Another famous lebanese whose wife has syrian origin was the president Bashir Gemayel.(Solange Tutunji).
Other famous lebanese from Syria,the Safra familly

Exactly Offended ,this building was once the familly residence of one of the most wonderful personality in Aleppo ,Georges Maamarbachi ,the father of Marie (Seurat) Maamarbachi whose husband was the french islamologist,Michel Seurat, victim of hatred and terror.
http://www.cyberpresse.ca/article/20080213/CPMONDE/80213061/5024/CPDMINUTE

Voila Offended,i have erased the controversial line , may be it was harsh on him.

February 21st, 2008, 12:49 pm

 

offended said:

Ziad, I don’t read French.
Can you please find an article about the subject in English?

February 21st, 2008, 1:10 pm

 

t_desco said:

‘Salafis behind Hariri assassination’

Rafi Madayan, stepson of former head of Lebanon’s Communist Party George Hawi, says Salafis orchestrated Rafik Hariri’s assassination.

“The real perpetrators of Rafik Hariri’s assassination were under prosecution in the beginning, but now they are not because of the pressure from several Persian Gulf states,” said Rafi Madayan, Press TV reported from Beirut.

Hawi himself was assassinated in the Lebanese capital around three years ago.

“I asked a high-ranking security official close to the Hariri family about the leads they had in connection with Rafik Hariri’s assassination. He told me that Syrian officers and Lebanon’s security organization had nothing to do with the Hariri death,” said Madayan.

“I was surprised. I said it is two years that you have been accusing the Syrian intelligence organization and Rustum Ghazali (Syria’s former head of intelligence in Lebanon), … He responded by saying that it was the Salafi movements that orchestrated the attack,” he added.

Pointing to a document which is currently in his possession, Madayan said that it was the intelligence organization’s complete and official report on the incident.

“The details of Hariri’s assassination and the involvement of the Group 13 (Extremist Salafis affiliated to Saudi Arabia) has been included in this report, although they (the intelligence organization) denied it later because of the pressure put on it,” said Madayan.

He added that the group was not under persecution in his country, although it was accused of terrorism in Iraq.

“At the moment, Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who has close ties with Israel’s intelligence organization (Mossad), is a high-ranking official of the investigation committee,” added Madayan.
Press TV

February 21st, 2008, 1:10 pm

 

antika said:

to Josh,

I like your latakian accent. it is great. but it is strange how you managed to speak arabic and criticize the regime without being arrested. Have you got a syrian nationality? be careful…never to do so.

February 21st, 2008, 1:45 pm

 

offended said:

Antika,
Josh’s accent is not Lattakian, it is Tarttousi. And a heavy one at that. : )

February 21st, 2008, 1:53 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

McCain is in deep trouble,lucky Obama

February 21st, 2008, 2:11 pm

 

offended said:

Majed, I wonder why Mccain is so keen on attacking Obama this early…
Maybe he feels his Republican nomination ticket is totally secured; thus he’s prepared to take on Democrats to keep up the hype.
Or has he got something else in mind?

February 21st, 2008, 2:17 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

McCain have the delegates needed to be the nominee of his party, and the momentum is supporting OBAMA, however the news(newsweek)that McCain had sexual relation with Vickie Isenman,and the favor he provided to her, this will ruin his chances,Isenman, an Israeli woman,will destry him like Clinton, and senator Hart.

February 21st, 2008, 2:35 pm

 

Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy said:

[…] In an analysis of the current crisis in the Lebanese government, Qifa Nabki at SyriaComment argues that the situation “is less a function of sectarianism than it is a product of a defective political architecture.” Nabki continues to state that the only viable solution is the 10-10-10 solution, and measures for the immediate election of Michel Suleiman as president should be actively pursued. […]

February 21st, 2008, 2:38 pm

 

Shai said:

Offended,

Damn-it, those Israelis are everywhere!… Now they’re influencing the Presidential elections? It’s not enough the Jews are infiltrating politics, now Israelis! God I wish that woman had as much influence on Israeli election results!

February 21st, 2008, 2:40 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Oh great, it’s POMED again.

I’m so glad that my Syria Comment alibi is more famous than me.

“Nabki continues to state…” blah blah blah

😉

February 21st, 2008, 2:47 pm

 

Norman said:

Saudi-Syria crisis puts Arab summit at risk

Arab officials warn crisis in ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia over Lebanon threatens Arab summit.

By Suleiman Nimr – RIYADH

Lebanon’s political crisis has damaged relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia, putting at risk next month’s Arab summit in Damascus, Arab officials in Riyadh warned on Thursday.

“There is a crisis in ties with the Syrian government, with Lebanon the main reason,” a Saudi official said, asking not to be named.

“Damascus has not joined in efforts, including the Arab initiative, to elect a consensus president” in Lebanon, which has been left without a head of state since November amid deadlock between pro- and anti-Syrian camps, he said.

The Arab League plan calls for the election of army chief General Michel Sleiman as consensus president, followed by the formation of a national unity government in which no single party has veto power, and a new electoral law.

Despite agreement on Sleiman, the League has failed to nail down an accord on power-sharing in a new government between the Western- and Saudi-backed parliamentary majority and the opposition, supported by Damascus and Tehran.

“I call on all those with influence to help with the success of the Arab initiative,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Wednesday from Buenos Aires, in an indirect reference to Damascus.

He warned that Lebanon was “on the verge of civil war.”

A member of Saudi Arabia’s appointed consultative council, Mohammed al-Zulfa, recalled that the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former premier Rafiq Hariri, who also held Saudi nationality, had affected ties with Damascus.

Syria has repeatedly fought off charges that it was behind the killing.

“The situation is worsening, as the kingdom believes the Syrian government is blocking efforts to settle the Lebanese crisis, especially with the Arab plan which had passed… with Syria’s accord,” he said.

Zulfa explained that Saudi Arabia was “upset at Iran’s growing influence in Lebanon and the region at the expense of Arab interests, with Syria’s help.”

Behind the scenes of the political crisis in Lebanon lurks the international tribunal being set up to establish the truth behind the Hariri murder, added Saudi academic Khalid al-Dakhil.

“Damascus defines its relations with other countries on the basis of their attitude towards the tribunal. And because Riyadh favours setting up the trial the Syrian regime sees this as an unfriendly stance, even hostile.”

An Arab diplomat said Syria was “accusing Saudi Arabia of trying to internationalise the Lebanese crisis” by supporting the Hariri tribunal which Syria fears could pin the blame on Lebanon’s eastern neighbour.

Damascus believes Prince Saud’s recent tour of several Western capitals, including Washington and Paris, was aimed at speeding up the establishment of the tribunal, said the diplomat posted in Riyadh.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have informed the Beirut government they will soon pay their contributions towards financing the tribunal, according to a senior Lebanese official.

Ahead of the March 29-30 summit in Damascus, Saudi Arabia has not even received an invitation from Syria even although the Gulf state currently holds its rotating presidency.

Zulfa said the kingdom was unlikely to take part at a high level unless Syria changes its stand on Lebanon, where it was the key powerbroker before the Hariri murder led to a Syrian military pullout after a three-decade deployment.

“It’s possible the summit will not take place at all or only before a handful of heads of state,” said Dakhil.

The Saudi academic said Lebanon could be left without a president for a long time yet “unless Syria secures an arrangement on the international tribunal… its biggest worry.”

But the Arab diplomat ruled out a Saudi compromise on the Hariri probe, leaving little scope for healing the rift between Damascus and Riyadh.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said earlier this month that he hoped the Lebanon deadlock would be resolved by the time his country hosts the summit.

“Syria supports the Arab initiative as an overall plan which would be implemented by consensus between the Lebanese,” he said. Print Printer Friendly Version
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February 21st, 2008, 3:33 pm

 

MSK said:

Dear T_Desco,

Press TV … hmmm. And what makes Hawi’s stepson an expert on the subject again? It’s like when his family said that they “knew” the Mossad killed Hawi. Are they the super-sleuths of Beirut?

–MSK*

February 21st, 2008, 3:36 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Somebody explain to me why Syria — if it has nothing to do with Hariri — has not conducted its own investigation into the crime, in order to exonerate itself?

The mukhabaraat had their finger on the pulse of the entire country well past February 14, 2005. If anybody should have been able to trace the perpetrators, it would have been the Syrians.

A thoroughly-investigated, well-documented report complete with evidence, testimonies, etc. would have cast a different light altogether on the Tribunal.

This is, in my opinion, a classic problem with the Syrian government. They have the worst PR in the Middle East. Even the Saudis — custodians of the two holiest cities in Islam, who waste their treasures on yachts, gambling, and alcohol — do a better job of putting a good face on.

(By the way, this criticism does not apply to those who work tirelessly on their own initiative to promote the interests of their beloved country, like Alex and others on this blog. And of course Joshua.)

If Assad is innocent, why doesn’t he make the case?

February 21st, 2008, 3:57 pm

 

Shai said:

QN, if Assad is guilty, certainly he shouldn’t investigate. If he’s not, isn’t he benefitting from the maybe-he-did-it unresolved speculations, especially amongst his staunchest rivals, at home and elsewhere?

February 21st, 2008, 4:12 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Shai

I think that your theory would be true were it not for the huge pressure that the regime has come under for the past three years. It is suffocating, esp when it comes from the US, EU, and Arabs all at once.

My own theory is that there is a more than 50% chance that Syria was behind it, but I also feel that the Tribunal will have a very hard time proving it. Hariri was such an important figure, both at home and abroad, that his killers had to have known that there would be a major blowback. As Alex has said, the people who can kill high-profile targets like Hariri not only know how to do it, they know how to cover themselves. It is certainly the case that the people who ordered the killing were several iterations above the ones who did it… so, we may never know. The argument I’m making is that the Syrians were in the best position to finger someone… even if it was cover-up! Why didn’t they?

February 21st, 2008, 4:18 pm

 

Norman said:

QN,

Because they Blamed Syria before the dust setled. and any investigation by Syria would have been called ( Coverup).

February 21st, 2008, 4:25 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Norman,

Fine. But the Syrians (and all the anti-Americans) are going to call the Tribunal report a cover-up anyway.

February 21st, 2008, 4:27 pm

 

Norman said:

QN ,
The killing and the investgation is to punish Syria for it’s stand on Iraq ,and to scare Syria into submition to the plan for the Mideast, lead by KSA and the US.

February 21st, 2008, 4:32 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN,
1) Asad miscalculated the repercussions of killing Hariri. He thought it would be treated like an other Syrian assasination in the past; a little noise and then soon forgotten.

2) The only people that Asad can credibly finger are Syrians or Lebanese. Because if we follow Alex’s logic, if it was anyone else they would be smart enough to cover their footsteps.

3) If the Syrians officialy investigated they would be obliged to share their information with the UN investigations.

Since they actually did it, they had no choice but to stay quiet. They could have tried to frame somebody but given the scrutiny given to the case, this would probably have backfired.

Assasinations have two main effects. Scaring other politicians into submission and removing an effective politician and leader. The Syrians were greedy and went for both goals at the same time. The right thing to do was to kill Hariri but make it look like an accident and then frighten the other politicians by taking out a minor one with a huge car bomb. Not as scary as showing that you have no problem killing even Hariri, but the optimum under those circumstances.

February 21st, 2008, 5:05 pm

 

Norman said:

White House Targets Syrian Businessman
U.S. Imposes Economic Sanctions Over Alleged Efforts To Weaken Iraqi, Lebanese Governments
Comments 1
WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2008

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President George W. Bush last week signed an executive order that expanded penalties against senior government officials in Syria and their associates who are judged to have benefited from public corruption. (AP)

Related
Fast Facts
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Learn about the people, economy and history.

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Hezbollah Chief: New “Incentive” To Attack

(AP) The United States on Thursday imposed economic sanctions against a prominent Syrian businessman as part of an effort to punish officials in Syria for alleged efforts to undermine the governments of Iraq and Lebanon.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions would be imposed on Rami Makhluf, who was identified as a prominent Syrian businessman and regime insider.

President George W. Bush last week signed an executive order that expanded penalties against senior government officials in Syria and their associates who are judged to have benefited from public corruption.

The Treasury Department order freezes any assets that Makhluf holds in U.S. financial institutions and prohibits U.S. citizens and firms from engaging in any business contacts with him.

Makhluf is the first cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and is considered one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in Syria. The 39-year-old controls the country’s mobile phone network, SyriaTel, as well as other lucrative businesses

“Rami Makhluf has used intimidation and his close ties to the Assad regime to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians,” Stuart Levey, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

“The Assad regime’s cronyism and corruption has a corrosive effect, disadvantaging innocent Syrian businessmen and entrenching a regime that pursues oppressive and destabilizing policies, including beyond Syria’s borders, in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories,” Levey said.

Mr. Bush signed the executive order on Feb. 13, one day after Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world’s most wanted and elusive terrorists, was killed in a car bombing in Syria nearly 15 years after dropping from sight.

The one-time Hezbollah security chief was the suspected mastermind of attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon as well as the brutal kidnappings of Westerners.

The new executive order builds on one that Mr. Bush issued in May 2004 that banned all U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine.

The 2004 order also banned flights to and from the United States to Syria and authorized the Treasury Department to freeze assets of Syrian nationals and entities involved in terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, occupation of Lebanon or terrorism in Iraq.

© MMVIII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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February 21st, 2008, 5:25 pm

 

ausamaa said:

AIG, do even your side a huge favore and be quite for God’s sake! For a long time if you can!

Others,

Would it be possible that the Lebanese Opposition may decide to foil the plot by “whoever” and accepts a semi-acceptable solution in Lebanon now?

The ones who matter (and really care about Lebanon) would understand the guesture and appreciate it, the ones who matter(and do not really care) would understand but may wonder why. Even if they call this a victory for their side later; Let them. People know who really has the upper hand but had agreed to bow down to save Lebanon. Bush and the current Moderates & Co. are intent on heating things up in Lebanon because they can not do so safely anywhere else, so why not foil their game plan? Sort of pull the rug away from under “their” feet. And Parlimentary Elections are a year or so away. Scores can be settled then. We all have few other important things to do in the meantime!

February 21st, 2008, 5:35 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

This is excellenet news. Finely a president that knows how to deal with mafioso. It will just hasten the recognition in Syria that you cannot have “resistance” and substantial economic growth at the same time. Asad better not make any mistake about how far Bush is willing to go. Brinkmanship is a dangerous game, especially when playing with the US.

February 21st, 2008, 5:40 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

One cannot overestimate the significance of the economic sanctions on Rami. This is HUGE

February 21st, 2008, 5:42 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ausama,
Why not instead I do your side a favor, and continue posting? You see, I can be nice just like Shai and help the other side.

February 21st, 2008, 5:44 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

majedkhaldoun said:

…Isenman, an Israeli woman,will destry him like Clinton, and senator Hart.

Majedkhaldoun,

Feel free to post a link showing the forum that Vickie Iseman is Israeli.

February 21st, 2008, 5:45 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Forget all the “other news”:

The sanctions imposed on Rami is the ONLY story now. This is huge. One cannot overestimate the significance of this development.

February 21st, 2008, 5:53 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

AP,
He doesn’t read Jewish posts. You need to post the question under another name. 🙂
I can already imagine the conspiracy theories in the Arab world if McCain is elected. Did you know that Iseman is a Mossad agent and that McCain is an Israeli puppet controlled by her? There, I was the first to say it.

February 21st, 2008, 5:55 pm

 

Norman said:

is Iceman Jewish, And if she is like Shai , I do not mind .

February 21st, 2008, 6:08 pm

 

Shai said:

Norman,

I don’t know if she’s Jewish (she doesn’t seem an Israeli or ex-Israeli), but she’s certainly prettier than me… 🙂

February 21st, 2008, 6:45 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

1: Did you know the Jews sunk the Titanic?
2: I thought it was an iceberg.
1: Iceberg, Goldberg what does it matter?

February 21st, 2008, 7:01 pm

 

Atassi said:

Read the part about the reaction form
lawmaker Mohammed Habash.. very shortsighted personality makes it worse for the regime ..
===============
US imposes economics sanctions on prominent Syrian businessman
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
AP Economics Writer
21 February 2008
Associated Press Newswires
WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States on Thursday imposed economic sanctions against a prominent Syrian businessman as part of an effort to punish officials in Syria for alleged efforts to undermine the governments of Iraq and Lebanon.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions would be imposed on Rami Makhluf, who was identified as a prominent Syrian businessman and regime insider.

President George W. Bush last week signed an executive order that expanded penalties against senior government officials in Syria and their associates who are judged to have benefited from public corruption.

The Treasury Department order freezes any assets that Makhluf holds in U.S. financial institutions and prohibits U.S. citizens and firms from engaging in any business contacts with him.

Makhluf is the first cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and is considered one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in Syria. The 39-year-old controls the country’s mobile phone network, SyriaTel, as well as other lucrative businesses

“Rami Makhluf has used intimidation and his close ties to the Assad regime to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians,” Stuart Levey, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

“The Assad regime’s cronyism and corruption has a corrosive effect, disadvantaging innocent Syrian businessmen and entrenching a regime that pursues oppressive and destabilizing policies, including beyond Syria’s borders, in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories,” Levey said.

Syrian lawmaker Mohammed Habash said the American move will have no effect on Makhluf because he has no money or assets in the United States or in U.S. financial institutions.

“They know that neither Rami nor other Syrian officials have money in America. This move is part of psychological pressure to affect people who do business with him (Makhluf),” Habash told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“We are expecting a lot of such measures in the next six months, but this will not affect Syria’s policy,” Habash said. “There is no solution with this American administration, and we have to wait for the next president.”

Bush signed the executive order on Feb. 13, one day after Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world’s most wanted and elusive terrorists, was killed in a car bombing in Syria nearly 15 years after dropping from sight.

The one-time Hezbollah security chief was the suspected mastermind of attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon as well as the brutal kidnappings of Westerners.

The new executive order builds on one that Bush issued in May 2004 that banned all U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine.

The 2004 order also banned flights to and from the United States to Syria and authorized the Treasury Department to freeze assets of Syrian nationals and entities involved in terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, occupation of Lebanon or terrorism in Iraq.

February 21st, 2008, 7:02 pm

 

Shai said:

Enlightened,

I just noticed that I incorrectly thanked Alex (instead of you) for posting the Patrick Seale article. Sorry!

February 21st, 2008, 7:19 pm

 

Naji said:

On the Rami sanctions… Let history record that this is the first “master-stroke” (darbet moalem) that the Bush administration has managed to muster…!! This is the first move that could gain W and, by extension, US policy any sympathy in Syria and the region… But, what would realy make everybody in the region (including HA and Hamas!!) raise an American flag on his roof, is the application of similar sanctions to all the corrupt crooks in Lebanon, Saudi, Egypt, …etc.

February 21st, 2008, 7:21 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

AIG, that’s a good one.

February 21st, 2008, 7:24 pm

 

Naji said:

… But, what would realy make everybody in the region (including HA and Hamas!!) raise an American flag on his roof, is the application of similar sanctions to all the corrupt crooks in Lebanon, Saudi, Egypt, ISRAEL, …etc.

February 21st, 2008, 7:25 pm

 

Nour said:

Naji,

You and I both know very well that the US couldn’t care less about corruption and cronyism in the Arab World, or anywhere else for that matter. First, those very officials in the US claiming to protect Syrians from corruption are up to their necks in corruption themselves. Second, as long as a regime is pro-US and supports US/Israeli policies in the Middle East, they will be supported and encouraged by the US, regardless of their corruption, authoritatrianism, human rights record, etc.

February 21st, 2008, 7:33 pm

 

Norman said:

No matter how much many people like what president BUSH did ,The question that i have , How can an American president in this country of Laws confiscate the asssets of a forign national that did not commet a crime against the US , Isn’t that ( TAMEEM ),and illegal ,any comment.

February 21st, 2008, 7:34 pm

 

Nour said:

QN,

I have a better joke. A loving Jewish mother tells her son “Now, go to war, kill an Arab, and relax.” Her son says, “but what if he tries to kill me?” to which the mother responds “Why would he do that? What have you done to him?”

February 21st, 2008, 7:35 pm

 

Shai said:

Naji,

We don’t have corrupt crooks in Israel. Only religious political party leaders that think homosexuality causes earthquakes… So please, show some respect! 🙂

February 21st, 2008, 7:36 pm

 

Naji said:

Nour,

…so I guess it will be sometime before we see the “star-spangeled banner” flying over every roof around here… Pity…!! Perhaps, if we all start working with Obama…!!??? Maybe…!??

February 21st, 2008, 7:40 pm

 

Shai said:

Nour,

Unfortunately, I have to agree with you.

Norman,

Yes, but no one is going to try to explain that to George Dubya, and risk not getting invited to the world’s greatest going-away party on a Texas ranch… As locals often say: “Everything’s BIG in Texas!”

February 21st, 2008, 7:41 pm

 

Shai said:

Nour,

Here’s an EVEN better one: A guy wants to be accepted into Kach, a super-extremist-right-wing party in Israel, who’s been known to be very violent against Arabs (and Arab-lovers like myself). For his initiation, the guy is told he must show up with an Uzi machine gun late one night at a cemetery on a hill next to an Arab village, and await further orders. Quite scared, he does so, and is met by 4 Kach members at the cemetery. They tell him “You see that village down there? You must go in, and not come back until you’ve killed 10 Arabs and 1 cat!” The guy asks “Why 1 cat?”, to which they respond “OK, you’re in!”

I don’t think you can top that one…

February 21st, 2008, 7:50 pm

 

Nour said:

Shai:

Ha ha ha, that was pretty funny.

February 21st, 2008, 8:01 pm

 

Shai said:

Nour,

Ok, we’re even! 🙂

February 21st, 2008, 8:03 pm

 

Norman said:

I thought because he did not want to called racist .

February 21st, 2008, 8:21 pm

 

Zenobia said:

This comment is directed to Shai, regarding your comment on Patrick Seale’s contentions.
I believe that what Seale is suggesting is not untrue or preposterous despite its level of cynicism. But perhaps it sounds unqualified. Of course, not all or not even many Israelis think in those terms, but I think that Seale is suggesting that some very powerful ones do and are that cynical and insane. I believe that there was significant evidence that in the past (20 years) the efforts of moderate Palestinians and moderate Israelis to move negotiations forward were frequently undermined if not destroyed.

I am not going to present myself as some expert on this subject. I am not at all. And I haven’t even read that much recent history. And anything I have read was written by those moderates, Ben-Ami, Uri Avnery, and most importantly- the autobiography (called Once Upon a Country) of Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian intellectual and president of Al-Quds University. Now, Sari is hardly a fanatic. He is completely a moderate, a respected man in the eyes of many Palestinians and Israelis and American peace oriented people.
I loved his book. I recommend it to anyone because it is a personal memoir that also gives a historical play by play of developments in Jerusalem over decades, and of the political transformations that were going on there.

But here is what I wanted to report about it. In the book, Sari describes in a lot of personal detail his and other’s experiences between the first Intifada and the second Intifada in which he and other activists were attempting to start a popular movement for peace negotiations with the Israelis. He was in contact with Israelis who were working behind the scenes (out of the spotlight) as he was….to bring about consensus for a peace plan. On both sides, these were not high level people, but the Israelis that were contacting him were supposedly able to bring their information and progress back to the top levels. On the Palestinian side, Nusseibeh was/is not a politician, but he was connected with Fatah, and he had the blessing of Arafat- to proceed with any activities he wanted and to negotiate on behalf of the leadership.
However, what happened as his tale unfolds, time and time again, over years was that on both sides – the fanatics came and completely undermined the efforts being made and did everything possible to destroy the reputations of these activists and their ability to continue their activities and organizing. Sari describes how young Hamas members were attacking him left and right and he was physically assaulted a number of times. Then these- Israeli intelligence agents who harassed him for years were basically publicizing him as a Saddam Hussein supporter and dangerous man. The irony was that at the same time… the same Israeli agencies were leaving alone… much more radical and fanatical Palestinian elements… and letting them thrive.
The story was so sad… as all the best people were being harassed, imprisoned, smeared and libeled, and their efforts exposed before they could get anywhere so that they could be attacked.
Now, Sari Nusseibeh doesn’t make some generalization that ‘Israelis only want fanatics like Hamas and Hezbollah to be on their borders”, but what his story does reveal… is that there were a fair amount of people on both sides that repeatedly destroyed all moderation and the moderates in favor of fanaticism. In the time period that he is describing in the 90’s, Hamas was not yet as powerful as it is today… and the Israelis had many opportunities to start negotiations with moderate activists on the Palestinian side… but they missed it, and the question is WHY????. On both sides, the fanatics destroy their moderate competition in their own people… because they want to hold out.. to hold out because they think they can WIN….the whole shebang…..that they can have everything…if the fight goes on!…. Hamas thinks the same way… They think they can achieve it through violence and armed militancy….

On the Israeli side… the answer to the question Why….has to be what Seale is suggesting…. There are clearly powerful people in the Israeli leadership and definitely amidst the right wing that know… that negotiating with moderates too soon will mean concessions that they don’t want to make. Instead, it is understood implicitly… that the longer the conflict goes on…. and the longer one can claim that there is no reasonable Palestinians to negotiate with… than the more time there is to create settlements, to occupy more space and land….to colonize east Jerusalem. Then when the inevitable negotiations finally come one day…. the more they have under control…the less they have to concede… simply because in a tit for tat exchange…the Israelis can appear to be giving up sooo much more… while still holding on to a great deal. And nobody in the international bodies involved will want to insist upon or enforce the removal of PEOPLE and HOMES from the new areas settled.

It is obvious. It is an obvious equation. And if one thinks that way….that as long as Israel can keep a lid on conflict…control it to a tolerable degree, while allowing time to pass and construction to continue, then in the quest for land, it stands to reason….that enemies that one can continue to fight with and who are crazy enough to continue with their own self-destruction are actually more beneficial and more desirable… than are opposition who are willing to come to the table right now…today, even yesterday…and make a compromise….and finish things NOW, make a final status.

Is this cynical? of course it is. Is it a reality in your government and in the right wing Israeli camp. Unfortunately, I believe it is.

February 21st, 2008, 8:22 pm

 
 

Qifa Nabki said:

Good jokes.

Here’s one that I’m afraid won’t translate well… so I’ll put the punchline in Arabic. (This one started circulating after the end of the 2006 war, when Hizbullah was riding high and everyone wanted to be Shi`i).

Abu l-`Abed goes to the dentist and says:

Allah yikhallik ya 7akim, fik ti2ba3li sinni wa t7attilli waa7ad shii3i?

February 21st, 2008, 8:55 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

From one of the smartest politicians in Lebanon, a pretty good idea:

Mikati for Electing Suleiman President and Formation of Neutral Cabinet

By Dalia Nehme
Ex-Premier Najib Mikati proposed the formation of a cabinet that does not represent any of the feuding factions to lead Lebanon out of its ongoing crisis.

Mikati, in an interview with Naharnet, also said a settlement to the crisis is not expected “neither this week, nor the week after.”

“The reasons that hampered progress of the Arab initiative in the past months persist, that is why I think success of the initiative at present is impossible,” Mikati said.

“This initiative would yield no results so long as confidence among the various Lebanese factions is lacking,” he added.

He rejected the proposed tripartite power sharing formula saying: “We have a constitution that sets the correct course to run the nation. So let us apply the constitution instead of setting new rules.”

“Any new interpretation or any convention would lead us to a bigger problem,” Mikati said.

He declared: “I am against any new convention that adds up to the existing splits. If we start today with the tripartite power sharing concept we’ll have an endless chain of gaps and concessions .. and we’ll end up without a constitution.”

The ongoing discussion of tripartite power sharing and distribution of cabinet seats are “serious indications to dismantling the state,” Mikati said.

In answering a question as to whether he would accept to form a neutral cabinet, Mikati said: “I would not jog to any post amidst the ongoing din … in principle I wouldn’t jog to this post but I would not hesitate if I found out that I can repeat the 2005 example of shifting Lebanon and the Lebanese from one river bank to the other.”

Mikati led a neutral cabinet in 2005 that sponsored parliamentary elections following withdrawal of Syria’s troops from Lebanon after a three-decade deployment.

He said the main reason for differences among the Lebanese over interpreting the nation’s constitution is “the lack of trust” between the various feuding factions.

Mikati said a settlement should go through the constitutional procedure by electing a president first, then the head of state undergoes binding consultations with Parliament members to designate a premier.

He criticized verbal attacks targeting religious leaders and attacks by the Hizbullah-led opposition targeting the Arab league as biased in favor of the majority.

“It is not in the interest of the Lebanese to consider the Arab League a party to the ongoing conflict,” Mikati said. “The League operates in the interest of Lebanon.”

He called for adhering to the “Taef accord” which leads to abolishing the so-called political factionalism “that has become the major problem.”

The nation’s priority, according to Mikati, “should be electing a president and, so far, I haven’t heard any party declaring opposition to the election of Gen. Michel Suleiman president.”

February 21st, 2008, 9:01 pm

 

Shai said:

Zenobia,

First, thank you for putting so much thought into that particular issue Seale discussed in his article. I believe you’re partly right, and partly wrong. Here’s where I make the distinction. Between the Intifadas, you’re quite right, many Israeli politicians were still questioning the very possibility of a Palestinian state, and as such were certainly unwilling to engage in any discussion with “moderates”, on either side by the way. As you correctly state, in those days, Hamas was not deemed a serious threat, and unfortunately was left alone to simmer and grow. It’s not that Israelis back then preferred to see Hamas grow and become what it is today (so that, as some claim, we could just point at them and say to the whole world “You see, they’re all a bunch of terrorists!”), but instead it’s that the Shaback and Aman weren’t able to read what was happening correctly, and instead focused on “moderates”.

Today, however, thing are very different. Look, what better proof do you need, than to see the man himself, Sharon, “Butcher of Lebanon”, come to the realization and acceptance that painful concessions must be made and that a Palestinian state must rise. It was he who pulled settlers out of Gaza, and it was he who stated that the next stage was the West Bank (but unfortunately had the stroke before being able to carry it out). No one on the right was more influential than Sharon was for the past 3 decades in the Likud. What about Netanyahu? Remember, it’s Bibi who vacated settlers, and gave the PA control of Hebron and Jericho. He swore he wouldn’t shake Arafat’s hand, so he didn’t. He only kissed the man each time they met! So things have changed a lot in the past two decades, since the first Intifada, and now very few politicians in Israel can be taken seriously if they claim a Palestinian state will not rise, or that it will but without giving back land. Gaza has already been given back. Now it’s time for the West Bank. But look, if Patrick Seale was right, about Israel’s refusal to engage the moderates (and instead prefer the militias), why on earth is Olmert’s administration courting Mahmoud Abbas so much? Jesus, the two men probably have more hours together than Olmert and his wife do… (almost). I personally think it’s a mistake, as I’ve mentioned before. But Israel is absolutely engaging Palestinian moderates. For the past few years, by the way, the right wing camp has very little influence over politics. Unfortunately, so do the center and left wings, who are as impotent as one could ever imagine. Again, this is mostly due to a ridiculous acceptance of the role of US-puppet, and lack of courageous leadership.

Though Israelis are certainly cynical people (an understanding of our history, especially in the Diaspora over the past 2 millennia, provides possible explanations for this fact), there is a limit to what our leaders are willing and are capable of doing. Don’t forget, we are a very open society, which almost by definition is ready to eat-one-another alive at every opportunity. If any leader would be found to be in support of militias on our borders, instead of regular armies, he or she would be crucified day and night, relentlessly by the normally-biased media who wouldn’t have it. Most Israelis today view Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran as basically the same body, just in parts. No one in his right mind would suggest that enabling them to “flourish”, especially in their anti-Israel activities, is good for Israel, in any way whatsoever. Patrick Seale is dead wrong on this point.

It’s getting a bit late here… I hope I made some sense… 🙂

February 21st, 2008, 9:12 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

By the way, can someone tell me what America’s plan is for the region?

We hear about this plan all the time, and people mention it from time to time on SC.

Nasrallah says that HA’s mission is, among other things, to thwart it.

So… what is it? And how does it differ from previous such plans?

Just curious.

February 21st, 2008, 9:15 pm

 

Alex said:

Ehsani … how serious do you think will it be for this administration to go after Rami?

To me, the financial aspect is not very relevant no matter what it translates into … but what worries me is that it is obvious that this administration does not intend to let the next few months go by… they are working as hard as they can to continue the confrontation.

And … what else can they do? .. sanctions on Rami are not going to make Syria blink. The only real option is … war. Becasue congress won’t approve, they have been trying to get Syria to start it .. Syria or HA.

1) Israeli attack on Deir Ezzore … was it really needed that urgently?

2) Killing I.M. while he was in Damascus … again, why now?

3) The Egyptian Wafd party opinion piece this week trying to tell the Egyoptian readers that Syria wants them to be hungry (by cutting its wheat exports to Egypt) if Egypt does not join Syria in a foolish war against Israel that is bound to be lost.

4) The Saudi foreign minister touring Russia, Europe, and America to get support for … what?

5) Story today that Barak sent a signal to Syria that Israel will attack HA and that Syria should not help their Lebanese ally.

6) Jumblatt and Hariri are trying twice a week to insult or threaten Bashar or Nasrallah in any way they can …

Will Israel attack? will Syria get involved? … I can’t always read the Syrians or the Israelis… these two are always sending mixed signals. On the one hand Bashar is meeting with with his cabinet to discuss details for the planned parking meters in downtown Damascus … on the other hand Syria is clearly not in not going to change its strategies.

It can start in many different ways … Lebanon is very useful for starting wars… and everyone is very confident … the Israelis, the Syrians, HA, and Iran.

But I still doubt HA or Syria will retaliate for anything. If the neocons want another war, I think they will have to work hard to start it.

February 21st, 2008, 9:21 pm

 

Shai said:

Alex,

May I suggest that the issue you raise (potential for war soon) becomes a topic of its own discussion? Do you have any good articles to serve as a starter? What do you think?

February 21st, 2008, 9:26 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN,
And while we are at it can anyone explain what “American hegemony” is?

February 21st, 2008, 9:33 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

AIG

That’s an easy one. How many McDonald’s do you have within 50 miles of your house?

February 21st, 2008, 9:46 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Shai,
thanks so much for the extensive reply. It was very helpful, and I accept what you are explaining. I had gone back and read more carefully the Seale piece, and i agree with you on the part where he is talking about Abbas etc. I don’t think that is true that he is being ignored or whatever. I am not sure why Seale gave that as an example.
and More importantly I agree that things have really changed and evolved further over the twenty years and after the second Intifada. I was really talking about the period described in Nusseibeh’s book which went through about 2002. He ended it on a very sad note….because things were basically exploding, and it all sounds so tragic.
I am surprised that you seems to think that Israeli politics is improving. but you would understand it more than I. I have no idea. I definitely think that at the beginning of this decade it was looking pretty bad. But as you note, things are very unpredictable, and even Sharon was eventually unpredictable.
It remains tragic though that at an earlier time- negotiations might have been easier because Hamas and HA were less strong. No, i agree, i doubt anyone was calculating on purpose to let Hamas become what it is today. But, I think you would agree that the Israelis in charge miscalculated exactly how strong these entities would become. Or unruly i should say about Hamas.

I guess what i am wondering is if it is possible to say that there are many competing activities going on still with Israelis. Perhaps, yes, in the past few years.. nobody wants the radical elements growing and threatening. But I think that Seale is arguing that the mindset – of which i understood to be present in the 90’s, is still at play… in which hawks – despite the overtures and smoozing with Abbas, still are willing to antagonize and fight it out with Hamas and HA, at the expense of the larger process to peace. I mean I think Seale is saying…if they really wanted Abbas to gain in power and be able to draw the Palestinians to his side and away from Hamas- they would have to give him A LOT of aid and REAL CONCESSIONS… ahead of time… NOW, in order to make him into a leader who the people think can actually gain anything for them. Right now, the average people think he can do nothing, so they turn to those with the guns.
That is why Seale calls what the Israelis are giving him “crumbs”… kisses and photos are not enough.

I hope you are correct that in a way, even though there is a great impotency in the leadership currently, that realism and pragmatism is alive and becoming more present. I hope so much that things improve.
“Courting Abbas” may result in nothing at this point. you said you weren’t in favor of it, but I am afraid I probably missed other discussions in which your reasons were articulated. i can find out later though…. as you said it is late for you.
You must be an old guy…. huh….what is it there…. not even midnight ?….thats not that late 🙂

February 21st, 2008, 9:50 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Shai:

Seale’s article is interesting, especially the point about Hamas receiving support from Isreal initially as a counterweight to Fatah, it is a fact that most commentators overlook, talk about a 10 headed hydra monster that grew out of control.

I like reading Seales articles , but my favourite journalist writing about the mid east is Fisk, a realist with a cynical bent but he also has a touch of humanity about him.

Alex: “Phoenecian Dreams has been done, it became a nightmare. Assad (senior) told Gemayel , that he was more phoenecian than him, because his village was closer to the water remember?)

QN: “By the way, can someone tell me what America’s plan is for the region?

Ask Majed, AP,AIG, and for moderation maybe HP and Alex for an answer,

My answer is if they failed to plan, they were planning to fail! After Powell left the team , there was no coherent Plan!

February 21st, 2008, 9:54 pm

 

Nour said:

Plans for Redrawing the Middle East: The Project for a “New Middle East”

by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

Global Research, November 18, 2006

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“Hegemony is as old as Mankind…” -Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. National Security Advisor

The term “New Middle East” was introduced to the world in June 2006 in Tel Aviv by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was credited by the Western media for coining the term) in replacement of the older and more imposing term, the “Greater Middle East.”

This shift in foreign policy phraseology coincided with the inauguration of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Oil Terminal in the Eastern Mediterranean. The term and conceptualization of the “New Middle East,” was subsequently heralded by the U.S. Secretary of State and the Israeli Prime Minister at the height of the Anglo-American sponsored Israeli siege of Lebanon. Prime Minister Olmert and Secretary Rice had informed the international media that a project for a “New Middle East” was being launched from Lebanon.

This announcement was a confirmation of an Anglo-American-Israeli “military roadmap” in the Middle East. This project, which has been in the planning stages for several years, consists in creating an arc of instability, chaos, and violence extending from Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria to Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Iran, and the borders of NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan.

The “New Middle East” project was introduced publicly by Washington and Tel Aviv with the expectation that Lebanon would be the pressure point for realigning the whole Middle East and thereby unleashing the forces of “constructive chaos.” This “constructive chaos” –which generates conditions of violence and warfare throughout the region– would in turn be used so that the United States, Britain, and Israel could redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their geo-strategic needs and objectives.

New Middle East Map

Secretary Condoleezza Rice stated during a press conference that “[w]hat we’re seeing here [in regards to the destruction of Lebanon and the Israeli attacks on Lebanon], in a sense, is the growing—the ‘birth pangs’—of a ‘New Middle East’ and whatever we do we [meaning the United States] have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the New Middle East [and] not going back to the old one.”1 Secretary Rice was immediately criticized for her statements both within Lebanon and internationally for expressing indifference to the suffering of an entire nation, which was being bombed indiscriminately by the Israeli Air Force.

The Anglo-American Military Roadmap in the Middle East and Central Asia

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech on the “New Middle East” had set the stage. The Israeli attacks on Lebanon –which had been fully endorsed by Washington and London– have further compromised and validated the existence of the geo-strategic objectives of the United States, Britain, and Israel. According to Professor Mark Levine the “neo-liberal globalizers and neo-conservatives, and ultimately the Bush Administration, would latch on to creative destruction as a way of describing the process by which they hoped to create their new world orders,” and that “creative destruction [in] the United States was, in the words of neo-conservative philosopher and Bush adviser Michael Ledeen, ‘an awesome revolutionary force’ for (…) creative destruction…”2

Anglo-American occupied Iraq, particularly Iraqi Kurdistan, seems to be the preparatory ground for the balkanization (division) and finlandization (pacification) of the Middle East. Already the legislative framework, under the Iraqi Parliament and the name of Iraqi federalization, for the partition of Iraq into three portions is being drawn out. (See map below)

Moreover, the Anglo-American military roadmap appears to be vying an entry into Central Asia via the Middle East. The Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are stepping stones for extending U.S. influence into the former Soviet Union and the ex-Soviet Republics of Central Asia. The Middle East is to some extent the southern tier of Central Asia. Central Asia in turn is also termed as “Russia’s Southern Tier” or the Russian “Near Abroad.”

Many Russian and Central Asian scholars, military planners, strategists, security advisors, economists, and politicians consider Central Asia (“Russia’s Southern Tier”) to be the vulnerable and “soft under-belly” of the Russian Federation.3

It should be noted that in his book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geo-strategic Imperatives, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. National Security Advisor, alluded to the modern Middle East as a control lever of an area he, Brzezinski, calls the Eurasian Balkans. The Eurasian Balkans consists of the Caucasus (Georgia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Armenia) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan) and to some extent both Iran and Turkey. Iran and Turkey both form the northernmost tiers of the Middle East (excluding the Caucasus4) that edge into Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The Map of the “New Middle East”

A relatively unknown map of the Middle East, NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan, and Pakistan has been circulating around strategic, governmental, NATO, policy and military circles since mid-2006. It has been causally allowed to surface in public, maybe in an attempt to build consensus and to slowly prepare the general public for possible, maybe even cataclysmic, changes in the Middle East. This is a map of a redrawn and restructured Middle East identified as the “New Middle East.”

MAP OF THE NEW MIDDLE EAST

Map: click to enlarge

Note: The following map was prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters. It was published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006, Peters is a retired colonel of the U.S. National War Academy. (Map Copyright Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters 2006).

Although the map does not officially reflect Pentagon doctrine, it has been used in a training program at NATO’s Defense College for senior military officers. This map, as well as other similar maps, has most probably been used at the National War Academy as well as in military planning circles.

——————————————————————————–

This map of the “New Middle East” seems to be based on several other maps, including older maps of potential boundaries in the Middle East extending back to the era of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and World War I. This map is showcased and presented as the brainchild of retired Lieutenant-Colonel (U.S. Army) Ralph Peters, who believes the redesigned borders contained in the map will fundamentally solve the problems of the contemporary Middle East.

The map of the “New Middle East” was a key element in the retired Lieutenant-Colonel’s book, Never Quit the Fight, which was released to the public on July 10, 2006. This map of a redrawn Middle East was also published, under the title of Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look, in the U.S. military’s Armed Forces Journal with commentary from Ralph Peters.5

It should be noted that Lieutenant-Colonel Peters was last posted to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, within the U.S. Defence Department, and has been one of the Pentagon’s foremost authors with numerous essays on strategy for military journals and U.S. foreign policy.

It has been written that Ralph Peters’ “four previous books on strategy have been highly influential in government and military circles,” but one can be pardoned for asking if in fact quite the opposite could be taking place. Could it be Lieutenant-Colonel Peters is revealing and putting forward what Washington D.C. and its strategic planners have anticipated for the Middle East?

The concept of a redrawn Middle East has been presented as a “humanitarian” and “righteous” arrangement that would benefit the people(s) of the Middle East and its peripheral regions. According to Ralph Peter’s:

International borders are never completely just. But the degree of injustice they inflict upon those whom frontiers force together or separate makes an enormous difference — often the difference between freedom and oppression, tolerance and atrocity, the rule of law and terrorism, or even peace and war.

The most arbitrary and distorted borders in the world are in Africa and the Middle East. Drawn by self-interested Europeans (who have had sufficient trouble defining their own frontiers), Africa’s borders continue to provoke the deaths of millions of local inhabitants. But the unjust borders in the Middle East — to borrow from Churchill — generate more trouble than can be consumed locally.

While the Middle East has far more problems than dysfunctional borders alone — from cultural stagnation through scandalous inequality to deadly religious extremism — the greatest taboo in striving to understand the region’s comprehensive failure isn’t Islam, but the awful-but-sacrosanct international boundaries worshipped by our own diplomats.

Of course, no adjustment of borders, however draconian, could make every minority in the Middle East happy. In some instances, ethnic and religious groups live intermingled and have intermarried. Elsewhere, reunions based on blood or belief might not prove quite as joyous as their current proponents expect. The boundaries projected in the maps accompanying this article redress the wrongs suffered by the most significant “cheated” population groups, such as the Kurds, Baluch and Arab Shia [Muslims], but still fail to account adequately for Middle Eastern Christians, Bahais, Ismailis, Naqshbandis and many another numerically lesser minorities. And one haunting wrong can never be redressed with a reward of territory: the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians by the dying Ottoman Empire.

Yet, for all the injustices the borders re-imagined here leave unaddressed, without such major boundary revisions, we shall never see a more peaceful Middle East.

Even those who abhor the topic of altering borders would be well-served to engage in an exercise that attempts to conceive a fairer, if still imperfect, amendment of national boundaries between the Bosphorus and the Indus. Accepting that international statecraft has never developed effective tools — short of war — for readjusting faulty borders, a mental effort to grasp the Middle East’s “organic” frontiers nonetheless helps us understand the extent of the difficulties we face and will continue to face. We are dealing with colossal, man-made deformities that will not stop generating hatred and violence until they are corrected. 6

(emphasis added)

“Necessary Pain”

Besides believing that there is “cultural stagnation” in the Middle East, it must be noted that Ralph Peters admits that his propositions are “draconian” in nature, but he insists that they are necessary pains for the people of the Middle East. This view of necessary pain and suffering is in startling parallel to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s belief that the devastation of Lebanon by the Israeli military was a necessary pain or “birth pang” in order to create the “New Middle East” that Washington, London, and Tel Aviv envision.

Moreover, it is worth noting that the subject of the Armenian Genocide is being politicized and stimulated in Europe to offend Turkey.7

The overhaul, dismantlement, and reassembly of the nation-states of the Middle East have been packaged as a solution to the hostilities in the Middle East, but this is categorically misleading, false, and fictitious. The advocates of a “New Middle East” and redrawn boundaries in the region avoid and fail to candidly depict the roots of the problems and conflicts in the contemporary Middle East. What the media does not acknowledge is the fact that almost all major conflicts afflicting the Middle East are the consequence of overlapping Anglo-American-Israeli agendas.

Many of the problems affecting the contemporary Middle East are the result of the deliberate aggravation of pre-existing regional tensions. Sectarian division, ethnic tension and internal violence have been traditionally exploited by the United States and Britain in various parts of the globe including Africa, Latin America, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Iraq is just one of many examples of the Anglo-American strategy of “divide and conquer.” Other examples are Rwanda, Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan.

Amongst the problems in the contemporary Middle East is the lack of genuine democracy which U.S. and British foreign policy has actually been deliberately obstructing. Western-style “Democracy” has been a requirement only for those Middle Eastern states which do not conform to Washington’s political demands. Invariably, it constitutes a pretext for confrontation. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan are examples of undemocratic states that the United States has no problems with because they are firmly alligned within the Anglo-American orbit or sphere.

Additionally, the United States has deliberately blocked or displaced genuine democratic movements in the Middle East from Iran in 1953 (where a U.S./U.K. sponsored coup was staged against the democratic government of Prime Minister Mossadegh) to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, the Arab Sheikdoms, and Jordan where the Anglo-American alliance supports military control, absolutists, and dictators in one form or another. The latest example of this is Palestine.

The Turkish Protest at NATO’s Military College in Rome

Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters’ map of the “New Middle East” has sparked angry reactions in Turkey. According to Turkish press releases on September 15, 2006 the map of the “New Middle East” was displayed in NATO’s Military College in Rome, Italy. It was additionally reported that Turkish officers were immediately outraged by the presentation of a portioned and segmented Turkey.8 The map received some form of approval from the U.S. National War Academy before it was unveiled in front of NATO officers in Rome.

The Turkish Chief of Staff, General Buyukanit, contacted the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, and protested the event and the exhibition of the redrawn map of the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.9 Furthermore the Pentagon has gone out of its way to assure Turkey that the map does not reflect official U.S. policy and objectives in the region, but this seems to be conflicting with Anglo-American actions in the Middle East and NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan.

Is there a Connection between Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Eurasian Balkans” and the “New Middle East” Project?

The following are important excerpts and passages from former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geo-strategic Imperatives. Brzezinski also states that both Turkey and Iran, the two most powerful states of the “Eurasian Balkans,” located on its southern tier, are “potentially vulnerable to internal ethnic conflicts [balkanization],” and that, “If either or both of them were to be destabilized, the internal problems of the region would become unmanageable.”10

It seems that a divided and balkanized Iraq would be the best means of accomplishing this. Taking what we know from the White House’s own admissions; there is a belief that “creative destruction and chaos” in the Middle East are beneficial assets to reshaping the Middle East, creating the “New Middle East,” and furthering the Anglo-American roadmap in the Middle East and Central Asia:

In Europe, the Word “Balkans” conjures up images of ethnic conflicts and great-power regional rivalries. Eurasia, too, has its “Balkans,” but the Eurasian Balkans are much larger, more populated, even more religiously and ethnically heterogenous. They are located within that large geographic oblong that demarcates the central zone of global instability (…) that embraces portions of southeastern Europe, Central Asia and parts of South Asia [Pakistan, Kashmir, Western India], the Persian Gulf area, and the Middle East.

The Eurasian Balkans form the inner core of that large oblong (…) they differ from its outer zone in one particularly significant way: they are a power vacuum. Although most of the states located in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East are also unstable, American power is that region’s [meaning the Middle East’s] ultimate arbiter. The unstable region in the outer zone is thus an area of single power hegemony and is tempered by that hegemony. In contrast, the Eurasian Balkans are truly reminiscent of the older, more familiar Balkans of southeastern Europe: not only are its political entities unstable but they tempt and invite the intrusion of more powerful neighbors, each of whom is determined to oppose the region’s domination by another. It is this familiar combination of a power vacuum and power suction that justifies the appellation “Eurasian Balkans.”

The traditional Balkans represented a potential geopolitical prize in the struggle for European supremacy. The Eurasian Balkans, astride the inevitably emerging transportation network meant to link more directly Eurasia’s richest and most industrious western and eastern extremities, are also geopolitically significant. Moreover, they are of importance from the standpoint of security and historical ambitions to at least three of their most immediate and more powerful neighbors, namely, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, with China also signaling an increasing political interest in the region. But the Eurasian Balkans are infinitely more important as a potential economic prize: an enormous concentration of natural gas and oil reserves is located in the region, in addition to important minerals, including gold.

The world’s energy consumption is bound to vastly increase over the next two or three decades. Estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy anticipate that world demand will rise by more than 50 percent between 1993 and 2015, with the most significant increase in consumption occurring in the Far East. The momentum of Asia’s economic development is already generating massive pressures for the exploration and exploitation of new sources of energy, and the Central Asian region and the Caspian Sea basin are known to contain reserves of natural gas and oil that dwarf those of Kuwait, the Gulf of Mexico, or the North Sea.

Access to that resource and sharing in its potential wealth represent objectives that stir national ambitions, motivate corporate interests, rekindle historical claims, revive imperial aspirations, and fuel international rivalries. The situation is made all the more volatile by the fact that the region is not only a power vacuum but is also internally unstable.

(…)

The Eurasian Balkans include nine countries that one way or another fit the foregoing description, with two others as potential candidates. The nine are Kazakstan [alternative and official spelling of Kazakhstan] , Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia—all of them formerly part of the defunct Soviet Union—as well as Afghanistan.

The potential additions to the list are Turkey and Iran, both of them much more politically and economically viable, both active contestants for regional influence within the Eurasian Balkans, and thus both significant geo-strategic players in the region. At the same time, both are potentially vulnerable to internal ethnic conflicts. If either or both of them were to be destabilized, the internal problems of the region would become unmanageable, while efforts to restrain regional domination by Russia could even become futile. 11

(emphasis added)

Redrawing the Middle East

The Middle East, in some regards, is a striking parallel to the Balkans and Central-Eastern Europe during the years leading up the First World War. In the wake of the the First World War the borders of the Balkans and Central-Eastern Europe were redrawn. This region experienced a period of upheaval, violence and conflict, before and after World War I, which was the direct result of foreign economic interests and interference.

The reasons behind the First World War are more sinister than the standard school-book explanation, the assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg) Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo. Economic factors were the real motivation for the large-scale war in 1914.

Norman Dodd, a former Wall Street banker and investigator for the U.S. Congress, who examined U.S. tax-exempt foundations, confirmed in a 1982 interview that those powerful individuals who from behind the scenes controlled the finances, policies, and government of the United States had in fact also planned U.S. involvement in a war, which would contribute to entrenching their grip on power.

The following testimonial is from the transcript of Norman Dodd’s interview with G. Edward Griffin;

We are now at the year 1908, which was the year that the Carnegie Foundation began operations. And, in that year, the trustees meeting, for the first time, raised a specific question, which they discussed throughout the balance of the year, in a very learned fashion. And the question is this: Is there any means known more effective than war, assuming you wish to alter the life of an entire people? And they conclude that, no more effective means to that end is known to humanity, than war. So then, in 1909, they raise the second question, and discuss it, namely, how do we involve the United States in a war?

Well, I doubt, at that time, if there was any subject more removed from the thinking of most of the people of this country [the United States], than its involvement in a war. There were intermittent shows [wars] in the Balkans, but I doubt very much if many people even knew where the Balkans were. And finally, they answer that question as follows: we must control the State Department.

And then, that very naturally raises the question of how do we do that? They answer it by saying, we must take over and control the diplomatic machinery of this country and, finally, they resolve to aim at that as an objective. Then, time passes, and we are eventually in a war, which would be World War I. At that time, they record on their minutes a shocking report in which they dispatch to President Wilson a telegram cautioning him to see that the war does not end too quickly. And finally, of course, the war is over.

At that time, their interest shifts over to preventing what they call a reversion of life in the United States to what it was prior to 1914, when World War I broke out.

(emphasis added)

The redrawing and partition of the Middle East from the Eastern Mediterranean shores of Lebanon and Syria to Anatolia (Asia Minor), Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian Plateau responds to broad economic, strategic and military objectives, which are part of a longstanding Anglo-American and Israeli agenda in the region.

The Middle East has been conditioned by outside forces into a powder keg that is ready to explode with the right trigger, possibly the launching of Anglo-American and/or Israeli air raids against Iran and Syria. A wider war in the Middle East could result in redrawn borders that are strategically advantageous to Anglo-American interests and Israel.

NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan has been successfully divided, all but in name. Animosity has been inseminated in the Levant, where a Palestinian civil war is being nurtured and divisions in Lebanon agitated. The Eastern Mediterranean has been successfully militarized by NATO. Syria and Iran continue to be demonized by the Western media, with a view to justifying a military agenda. In turn, the Western media has fed, on a daily basis, incorrect and biased notions that the populations of Iraq cannot co-exist and that the conflict is not a war of occupation but a “civil war” characterised by domestic strife between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

Attempts at intentionally creating animosity between the different ethno-cultural and religious groups of the Middle East have been systematic. In fact, they are part of a carefully designed covert intelligence agenda.

Even more ominous, many Middle Eastern governments, such as that of Saudi Arabia, are assisting Washington in fomenting divisions between Middle Eastern populations. The ultimate objective is to weaken the resistance movement against foreign occupation through a “divide and conquer strategy” which serves Anglo-American and Israeli interests in the broader region.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is in an independent writer based in Ottawa specializing in Middle Eastern and Central Asian affairs. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG).

February 21st, 2008, 10:02 pm

 

Shai said:

Zenobia,

I must be an old guy??? My god, am I really coming off that way? Well, I’m 38, but also a husband, and a father of two girls, one of which tends to wake up around 05:30 am, which is precisely 5 hours 20 minutes from now… But yeah, I guess I do party a lot less than I once did (sigh). That happens, when you become a parent, and when you join forums like these late at night. 🙂

Just to make one last point, which I may have misled you on. I do not believe that Israeli politics have improved in the recent years. Quite the opposite. As I mentioned, the parties that rule today are mostly impotent. What is desperately needed is a courageous leader who will NOT be a US-puppet, who has vision and knows what must be done, and can deliver. Sadly, I can’t say Olmert is such a person, in fact, he’s not. Barak and Netanyahu have failed miserably in the past, but as bizarre as our political system is, they’re both still around. Which means that one of them will likely have to face up to these challenges. Can either do it? I’m not terribly optimistic. What CAN make a difference then? A new administration in Washington, which hopefully will adopt a Baker-Bush style from the early 90’s vis-a-vis all parties, and basically force us all back to the negotiation table. Once Farouq al-Sharaa comes to Camp David, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s Barak there (they’ve already met twice, as you may recall), or Netanyahu. Both have failed, and both will try not to fail again.

As Alex is suggesting, tension is so high right now, that we all just need to pass these next 9-12 months without some major war happening (which, unfortunately, is looking more and more like a real possibility), until a new president walks the halls of the White House. Whether it’s Obama, Clinton, or McCain, there’s very likely going to be a different policy towards our region. None of those three has been welcomed at the House of Saud like Dubya and his Dad have, so there’s a better chance that at least image-wise, the new administration will seem more impartial, and less interest-driven (I say “less”, and not “free”, because it’ll always have its interests in the region). So, while I go off to sleep, try to come up with ways of calming down our region, and our hotheaded leaders (Israel, Syria, HA, Hamas, Iran, anyone else?) I trust your abilities no less than our leaders’… In fact, probably MORE!

February 21st, 2008, 10:23 pm

 

Zenobia said:

lol. ok you aren’t an old guy!….you are the exact same age as me.
but I have no little creatures waking me up at 5:30 am….. soo you are off the hook.
anyhow, points taken and thx for the clarifications. I’ll get on that….

February 21st, 2008, 10:34 pm

 

Shai said:

Zenobia, cheers and good night!

QN, what interests me are how many McDonald’s are within 110 miles of my house? 🙂

February 21st, 2008, 10:38 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

QN;
Professor Joshua will tell you about american plan in the M.E.
however, from my republican friends, they say our policy is what is good for Israel, and about Lebanon, they care about their christian friends, and they want them to be in power.
American policy = Israeli policy

February 21st, 2008, 11:12 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Shai:

Keep the young girls away from that Big M

I watched the news late last night, Obama has taken the lead, what was surprising they interviewed several voters coming out after the last primary, and he is getting a lot of support from the middle class white Americans, as I judged from those interviews( I know through sampling this might not translate into whole sale support), but also reports in the Australian press this morning are suggesting that if Hillary does not win Texas she is in Big Trouble!

You chaps in America, might want to give us some updates.

February 21st, 2008, 11:44 pm

 

Enlightened said:

SYRIA COMMENT EXCLUSIVE:

I have finally after a few months detective work, that Mr Mehlis and Senior Bremmer would be proud of have unmasked AIG’s Identity. Take a look you will be surprised. (LOL)

http://www.danielpipes.org/pics/new/large/525.jpg

February 22nd, 2008, 12:15 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Nour,

Thank you for posting this piece that exposes the American plan for the region. It’s very interesting. By the way, the Atlantic Monthly published a piece by Jeffrey Goldberg last month that took up the issue of “the new Middle East”… it’s called “After Iraq”.

My problem with this and similar treatments of global geopolitics is that they never actually say what the American plan…is. Sure, we are told that there is a plan. A big one. In fact, a REALLY big one. It’s pervasive, it’s devious and malicious. It stops at nothing. But Mr. Nazemroaya doesn’t tell us what it is. Re-read the article, and try to find it. You won’t, trust me, I’ve tried.

Here’s a representative excerpt:

Attempts at intentionally creating animosity between the different ethno-cultural and religious groups of the Middle East have been systematic. In fact, they are part of a carefully designed covert intelligence agenda.

Even more ominous, many Middle Eastern governments, such as that of Saudi Arabia, are assisting Washington in fomenting divisions between Middle Eastern populations. The ultimate objective is to weaken the resistance movement against foreign occupation through a “divide and conquer strategy” which serves Anglo-American and Israeli interests in the broader region.

I get shivers just reading that. Especially because I don’t know what these “interests” are. This is what makes me wonder if Mr. Nazemroaya really knows either. It’s so easy to say: “HA! You’re so naive… don’t you know that the Americans and Israelis have a PLAN?? This is all part of the PLAN!” I’ve had many conversations with taxi drivers in Beirut that usually consist of nothing more than this point, hammered over and over again.

What’s missing is the actual point of the plan. Can you tell me what it is?

February 22nd, 2008, 1:44 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Here’s a blast from the past (Syria Comment, 2004)

Rami Makhlouf stiffs Mercedes

Rami Makhlouf is muscling in on the Mercedes concession. (See the article in June 24th’s Elaph)

Makhlouf, Bashar’s cousin and hot-shot Syrian businessman who owns half of Syriatel and many other juicy monopolies in Syria, has managed to get the government to pass a law denying Mercedes the right to import spare parts until it makes him the exclusive agent. Mercedes must dump Omar Sanqar and his sons, who have long held the concession and whom Mercedes wants to keep. Mercedes said they would stick with the Sanqars. Rami got the law changed to show Mercedes who is boss in Syria.

How can Bashar allow this to happen? Who will take reforms seriously? Who will ever want to invest in Syria if they are going to get whacked by the President’s cousins?

February 22nd, 2008, 2:29 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/arabic/news/newsid_7258000/7258062.stm

In the meantime, Rami’s name is now part of OFAC’S SDN list. This effectively shuts him out of the global financial system.

February 22nd, 2008, 2:34 am

 

norman said:

QN,

The American Israeli plan is simple ,Turn the region to the time before Islam to the time of ( city states) where Israel will be the biggest one while the US like the Roman empire has dominant over the resources of the region ,

Majed ,
The US has no love for the Christians of the region , everywhere the US went the Christian left they did that in Iraq they are doing that in Lebanon , the US plan for Lebanon is a conflict between Shia and Sunnies with the US siding with the Sunnies as a pay back to KSA after what happened in Iraq and how Iran was the winner in that war.

February 22nd, 2008, 2:55 am

 

norman said:

Print this page

Syrian-Saudi ties continue to deteriorate
http://archive.gulfnews.com/articles/08/02/22/10191611.html

02/22/2008 01:22 AM | By Marwan Al Kabalan, Special to Gulf News

Syrian-Saudi relations have deteriorated markedly in recent months. Media representing the two countries have embarked on a war of words, accusing one another of trying to split the Arab world and collaborating with foreign powers to undermine Arab interests.

On a more official level, Saudi Arabia has threatened to boycott the Arab summit – due to be held in Damascus in late March – if Syria does not facilitate the election of a new Lebanese president. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal toured major world capitals last week to get them to apply greater pressure to Damascus to change its Lebanon policy. The Saudi government has also announced that it would contribute to financing the international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Syrian officials believe that Riyadh may have taken the key step towards complete breakdown in the relationship between the two countries. Damascus believes that Saudi Arabia has decided to support the US efforts to isolate it and force it towards total submission to western demands. It also complains about Saudi support for anti-Syria Lebanese politicians and for playing host to Syrian opposition members.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, accuses Syria of not being sensitive enough to its concerns on a number of regional issues, particularly its strong ties with Iran, lack of co-operation in solving the Lebanese crisis and its Iraq and Palestine policy.

In fact, Damascus and Riyadh have always been key players in what the late Middle East expert Malcolm Kerr called “the Arab Cold War”, wherein the two countries have almost always taken opposite sides. In the 1950s Syria rallied around the pro-Soviet Egyptian regime, whereas Saudi Arabia sought friendship from the Western camp. Relations between the two countries improved only after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, to which Saudi Arabia contributed a small brigade on the Syrian front and imposed the oil embargo on western nations backing Israel.

Syria’s honeymoon with Riyadh lasted until the Iranian revolution in 1979, which put the two countries once again in opposite camps. Syria staunchly supported the Khomeini government throughout the eight-year war with Iraq, whereas Saudi Arabia stood by Iraq and financed its military machine against the Iranians.

The 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait brought the two countries very close to one another. The Saudis watched with astonishment as Syria supported the US-led coalition to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait. The shift in Syrian policy led to the emergence of the tripartite axis, including Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which dominated Arab politics for a decade.

Widely divergent

The tripartite axis survived until the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Even though Saudi Arabia and Syria both opposed the US invasion, their policies diverged widely after the collapse of the Saddam Hussain regime. Riyadh accepted the US occupation as a fact; Syria rejected it and supported the Iraqi resistance. But the conflict between Syria and Saudi Arabia came into the open only after the assassination of Hariri.

The Saudi government suspected a Syrian role in the elimination of Hariri and joined forces with France and the US to expel the Syrians from Lebanon. The two countries also took different sides in the power struggle in the occupied Palestinian territories. Syria supported Hamas, but Saudi Arabia supported the president of the Palestinian authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

On Iran, the two countries are in even greater disagreement, caused by their geopolitical interests as well as their ideological stand. Geopolitically, Saudi Arabia is more concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions and its quest for nuclear weapons.

By contrast, Iran is Syria’s major and only ally in the region. Given its geopolitical location, Syria does not seem to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions. Syria fears Israel more than Iran and the alliance with it is seen by Damascus as fundamental to its national security and wellbeing. Syria also does not seem to be bothered by the so-called Shiite crescent or Iranian revolutionary expansionism. The conflict between Syria and Saudi Arabia was kept out of the public eye for the past three years. That it would float to the surface, however, was only a matter of time, and that time finally seems to have come.

Dr Marwan Al Kabalan is a lecturer in Media and International Relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Damascus, Syria.

February 22nd, 2008, 3:14 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Norman whines:

The American Israeli plan is simple ,Turn the region to the time before Islam to the time of ( city states) where Israel will be the biggest one while the US like the Roman empire has dominant over the resources of the region…

Norman,

Without thinking too hard, can you tell us what the Arab and Muslim plan is?

February 22nd, 2008, 3:54 am

 

Enlightened said:

QN: This is a funny one from the archives:

Diagnosing Failures, I pose the question can you trust any of these characters?

http://joshualandis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/7aret%20kel%20meen%20eido%202elo%20(2).jpg

February 22nd, 2008, 4:07 am

 

Shai said:

QN,

I know Majedkhaldoun, and many others, have been raised on the idea of a “Grand Plan” by the American imperialists, by the Zionists, you name it. I can attest to at least my (our) plan here in Israel – it is to make sure that we never again are forced into another 2000 years in a Diaspora, exiled out of the Land of Israel. That’s it. It doesn’t entail a “Greater Israel”, it doesn’t entail kicking the Palestinians out of their cities and villages, it doesn’t entail stealing other people’s resources (water, for instance, will have to be decided on by agreement, not by force). As for the “American Plan”, I kind of don’t get this. First, does America view itself as a colonialist power today? Probably not. Does it have interests worldwide? Of course. What are its interests in our region? Democracy (stability), and Oil. I can’t imagine it is official or even unofficial policy to get the Sunnis and Shias to fight one another. What would America gain by that? It gets the KSA to further embrace it? Things for America become MORE stable in the region, or worldwide, when infighting takes place? I doubt they believe that. The only thing that does make sense about letting the two groups fight, is their innate fear that the Shia will seek and achieve regional hegemony. So in order to stop that from happening, they may support this violence. But I can’t imagine that’s a long-term history-old policy passed on from one president to the next.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting even for a second that America is reading the MidEast map correctly, just like Israel isn’t. Both of us are wrong in thinking that WE should or could influence the outcomes. Instead, we should let the various peoples of the region determine their own fate, whatever that may be, good or bad. No one will forgive us if we influence the elections in Palestine, Lebanon, or Syria for that matter. It’s a dilemma that requires courage, and a thorough understanding of history. Imagine Olmert’s advisors telling him that if he doesn’t get to an agreement with Abbas, he may be sentencing Israel to another 50 years of war with a Hamas-led Palestine. That’s a lot of pressure to handle. So he ends up courting Abbas, and probably supporting him in ways we don’t even know (behind the scene), but obviously some 50%-plus of the Palestinians are not supportive of this. It’s like America thinking it can force Democracy in Iraq, or in Lebanon, by siding with one part, against the other. Smart leaders understand things differently, and will try to reach out to all major sides (including Hamas, Hezbollah), and engage them seriously not on the battlefield, but in the state and political arena.

February 22nd, 2008, 6:27 am

 

Yossi said:

Qifa Nabki,

I visit Syria Comment frequently to get my dose of Levantine affairs analysis. It was a pleasant surprise to see you quote Amalia Levanoni’s paper on the Mamluks. You see, I have a vested interest—she’s my mother 😉 I don’t have much to contribute to the discussion at this point (a few of my compatriots are doing a much better job than I could possibly hope to do myself, with Shai seeming to be a professional diplomat…) but I thought it would still be nice to make things a bit more personal (why not?!)

Best regards,

–Yossi

February 22nd, 2008, 7:53 am

 

why-discuss said:

KSA feels impotent in front of the rising popularity of Iran, the Shia craddle, that threatened the proselytism of wahabism perceived more and more by moslems are extremist and socially ( especially in the case of women’s rights) innaceptable.
For decades KSA has invested huge sums of money to spread wahabism in Pakistan and Afghansiatan and others, we can see the result: Al Qaeda growth and countries in turmoil. The failure of the wahabbite expansion and in the contrary the successful expansion of Shism is upsetting KSA. Worse , they are seeing Shism getting praised in most arab countries and growing influence in Lebanon supported by Syria. Unfortunately KSA besides their petro dollars and their support from the US seem totally impotent politically to stop that.
As they have not a single charismatic leader, their emotional influence is dwingling. No wonder they are hysterical against Syria. Failing to put back Lebanon sunnis in control will be another political disaster for KSA and will show everyone that KSA has no more influence in the arab world.

February 22nd, 2008, 10:08 am

 

Enlightened said:

Druze Defiance Guardian Interview with Walid Jumblatt:

If you’re planning to visit Walid Junblatt, it’s best to make sure you’re not in too much of a hurry. And if you’re not in a hurry, wait until the weekend and arrange to call on the Lebanese Druze leader in his ancestral home at Mukhtara, deep in the Shouf mountains south of Beirut.

Junblatt is one of the great survivors of Lebanon’s turbulent and political life, a traditional “za’im” or hereditary chieftain of perhaps the most colourful of the country’s 18 sects. Now aged 58, he is a key member of the western-backed, Sunni-Christian-Druze government headed by Fuad Siniora. He is also an unrelenting critic of Syria, whose humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon he applauded after the cedar revolution three years ago – and who he continues to attack at every opportunity.

Taken that no less than 21 Lebanese politicians, journalists and soldiers who were considered enemies of Damascus have been murdered since the best-known victim – the former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005 – Junblatt risks his life whenever he opens his mouth on the matter, which is most days.

The security arrangements at Mukhtara, a honey-coloured 18th century mansion with a mountain spring gushing pastorally beneath it, are a sobering reminder of the dangers he faces. Visitors must pass machine gun-toting guards, metal detectors and body searches before ascending a stone stairway to a huge front door.

Fear of sudden death goes with the territory and the heritage. Junblatt’s father, the famously ascetic socialist Kamal, was assassinated, almost certainly by Syrian agents, in 1977. Kamal’s father was also murdered. “A Junblatt never dies in his bed,” he used to quip. Not for nothing has Walid been described as a “dead man walking.” He survived an assassination attempt in 1982 after the Israeli invasion. His son Taymur is studying abroad, out of harm’s way.

On a recent Saturday morning, Junblatt sat in his diwan, or reception room with Oscar, his pet Shar Pei, snapping at his heels, and received visitors asking for favours or advice – or simply paying homage. Many, with the Druzes’ trademark bristling moustaches and white knitted skullcaps, stood chatting by the fountain in the courtyard before seeing Walid Beg – the honorific title, equivalent to the English “lord”, dates back to Ottoman times, the very model of a modern feudal leader.

Huddled over a stove by the window overlooking the snow-covered hills, Junblatt — bald, wiry and with bulging eyes — was leafing through copies of the New Yorker and a collection of essays by Susan Sontag, confirming his reputation as an intellectual with a wide range of interests – and talking all the while in Arabic, English and French. His less refined side is reflected in a collection of Soviet-era medals and uniforms and a small arsenal of machine guns and hunting rifles. There are several automatic pistols in reach of his laptop in his private rooms.

Friends in Beirut had warned me Junblatt was busy, and what passed for an interview over a cup of bitter coffee was hurried – but it still gave a strong sense of the man and the leader at a time of mounting tensions in Lebanon. With the anniversary of the Hariri assassination coinciding with continued deadlock over the election of a new president, and the lack of a functioning parliament, the sense is that the country is facing its worst political crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

Just four days after our meeting, tensions soared with the assassination in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, Hizbullah’s military chief. That was followed by a mass funeral rally in Beirut’s southern suburbs where the Shia organisation’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, pledged “open war” with Israel – widely assumed despite its denial to be behind the killing.

Hizbullah was certainly uppermost in Junblatt’s thoughts – and sights – when we met. “We have a party that is run by remote control by the Iranians and the Syrians, that is very well armed and trained and is paralysing the whole of life and is not willing to accept the rule of the Lebanese state,” was his blunt opening gambit. “They are part of the parliament but they want to impose their will to declare war and peace whenever they feel like it. They are using Lebanon as a platform for their own advantage.”

Junblatt’s strongest sentiments were reserved for Syria, his ally after the Israeli invasion in 1982 and the subsequent peace agreement between Amin Gemayel, Lebanon’s Christian president, and Israel. Druze PSP fighters went to war, along with all the other militias. His choice, he insists, was between the sea, Israel and Syria – a no-brainer for any Arab nationalist. But his disenchantment with Damascus deepened to breaking point after 2000, when Israel finally withdrew its troops across the international border while the Syrian army and intelligence agencies stayed firmly put.

President Bashar al-Assad, Junblatt charged, would “do anything” to sabotage the UN tribunal investigating the Hariri killing, and was allowing Hizbullah to smuggle rockets into Lebanon – its arsenal reportedly fully replenished since the 2006 war with Israel. “Hizbullah has a formidable security infrastructure and the Syrians couldn’t have done all their bloody murders without the facilities offered by Hizbullah and other allies of Syria,” he insisted. “All the people who were killed were opponents of the Syrian regime and key figures in the military.

“For Syria, Lebanon is just a province, part of Syria. As for the crazy Iranian [president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, Lebanon is a platform to be used against the Israelis and the Americans and he is trying slowly but surely to establish his Hizbullah state in Lebanon. Lebanon is paralysed … we won’t have stability and peace in Lebanon as long as these bloody butchers are there. It’s a long story.”

Junblatt’ language is strong and provocative, but clearly deliberate: the following day he went public with a stark warning to Hizbullah. “You want anarchy? We welcome anarchy. You want war? We welcome war.”

The Druze leader is as fatalistic as he is fluent, preferring to discuss books than his country’s tangled and perhaps insoluble political problems. Had I read Gunter Grass’s Peeling the Onion, he asked eagerly, or the latest Jose Saramago? “It’s better to read literature and get away from Hizbullah and the others,” he smiled mournfully.

“Lebanon is in an existential crisis,” Junblatt concluded. “Either we survive as an independent state and a democracy or we disappear under the killings of the Syrians and the Iranians and their allies. Up to now I’ve been able to survive, but at a price.”

February 22nd, 2008, 10:38 am

 

Nour said:

QN,

I think the US plan has been clearly described. The division of the Middle East into smaller, weaker statelets, and the destruction of any and all resistance, to make the region more suitable for Israeli dominance. You keep saying you don’t know what the plan is, but that’s probably because you really don’t want to believe that such a plan exists. I know it’s much easier for us to close our eyes and not see the agenda that the US is pursuing in our region, because it’s easier to just accept the status quo and not resist US/Israeli hegemony. I am of the opinion, however, that if we do not stand up in these crucial times and thwart all US efforts at achieving their goals, our children and children’s children will curse us in our graves.

February 22nd, 2008, 11:01 am

 

Shai said:

Nour,

My friend, I understand your fears. I’ve put myself in your shoes on numerous occasions (conceptually), and never found I liked or lived at peace with what I saw. Indeed the way America is behaving in the region, it would seem that its goals entail dominance. Israel, too, has been behaving in a way more suitable to an Apartheid regime than to a nation made up of tolerant, peace-loving people. The Palestinian people, more than anyone else, have suffered the results of this behavior. But I ask you, as a decent human being who can probably sense out other decent human beings, to believe me when I say that Israel, and Israelis, are not interested in dominating this region. We have no expansionist illusions, we are not interested in land in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or Egypt. In fact, when signing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, we gave land back. The same is happening with the Palestinians (Gaza), and will happen in full (West Bank) once the two sides can agree on a final solution.

Once there’s peace with Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians, the rest of the Arab world would soon follow, and no one will still view Israel as having goals of dominance. If I may say so, what you now need to stand up to, are any and all extremists that have a clear goal of thwarting peace in the region, even a fair and just one. We, on our side, have to do the same.

February 22nd, 2008, 11:45 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Yossi, what a nice surprise! Your mother is one of the great scholars in the field of Mamluk studies (as I’m sure you know).

But please don’t show her the article… she will scoff at my dubious comparisons. 🙂

February 22nd, 2008, 1:57 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Nour,

Israel already dominates the region. Our region is already a global backwater, with societies crippled by poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, limping economies drained by armies that don’t fight, etc. America doesn’t need a grand master plan to further assure Israel’s dominance. Israel dominates by default.

What Arabs chafe at is this silly neo-con term “creative destruction,” which is hardly a new idea. Major changes in any society require a certain degree of destruction, sometimes minor and sometimes major. This is the nature of revolution, and the tenor of Hizbullah’s rhetoric is suffused with it. Tear down the walls of parliament, bring down the antiquated and corrupt political class, to the barricades! So there’s nothing necessarily neo-con-esque about creative destruction.

A Middle East that is composed of strong, democratic, prosperous nations will not be an existential threat to America or Israel. It may be a threat to certain racist and millenialist elements in the political classes of Israel and America respectively, but it won’t spell the end of American dominance. To the contrary, stronger economies, higher GDP’s etc, will mean larger markets for American exports, more dependence on American technology, companies and institutions.

I believe it’s time for us to focus on our own problems, and agitate for their solutions. Sometimes, these solutions will run contrary to American/Israeli interests (as with the ousting of Israel from southern Lebanon in 2000), but sometimes they won’t. Rather than assuming that America is to be resisted at all costs and in every quarter, why don’t we try focusing on the problems themselves? Our children and children’s children will thank us.

February 22nd, 2008, 2:14 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN,

I couldn’t agree more!

Off comes the tarboush again.

February 22nd, 2008, 3:14 pm

 

kingcrane jr said:

Qifa Nabki,
I have a simple transliteration question: are you Qifa Nabki with a QAF (thus your nom de plume means let us both stand and weep) or rather Kifa Nabki with a KAF (and thus your nom de plume means let us stop weeping)? I gathered that you are Lebanese and not Syrian, and that you are thus not Kifah Nabki, a member of the SSNP who, to become anonymous, uses the originative attribute to the city of al-Nabek (Nabaki or Nabki) instead of his last name (greetings, Kifah, if you read this post).

I happen to agree with you on several key aspects of how the Mameluks and the feudal lords of Lebanon are similar, but the Mameluk Sultanate was very functional while post-1946 Lebanon is a model of how dysfunctional an elito-oligarchy can be. The Mameluks inflicted on the Mongols the first ever military defeat at Ain Jalut, starting a new era of relative peace and relative prosperity in the Middle east, and probably also in Europe and in Persia. In comparison, the Lebanese military has been criplled by incapable leaders who are only interested in the army as protection against the other sects or lords.
Interestingly, I read once (As’ad Abukhalil is very well informed) how the battles of succession occur in the KSA, and it also reminded me of the Mameluks.
In Lebanon, the political system has consocional appearances but only the oligarchically anointed clans are able to rise to the position of leadership.

As to comparisons between Syria and Lebanon, the older generation (kingcrane and the hundreds of people in the USA and Canada he talks to every week) knows very well that there were very few differences between Syria and Lebanon until those in favor of the union with Egypt raped Syria in the fifties, and committed the ultimate crime in 1958.

My lyrical side has a problem equating the powerful Mameluks, ass-kickers of the mighty Mongols with the irresponsible “leaders” of modern-time Lebanon, hence:
Samir Geagea, Walid Jumblatt, and Saad Hariri,
Thought they were mighty like the Mameluks,
But were to afraid of committing heroic Harakiri,
And we thus realized they were just Saaluks.

PS: There are far more differences between a Syrian from Lattakia and a Syrian from Qamishli than between a Dimashqi and a Beiruti.

February 25th, 2008, 9:19 pm

 

SimoHurtta said:

Once there’s peace with Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians, the rest of the Arab world would soon follow, and no one will still view Israel as having goals of dominance. If I may say so, what you now need to stand up to, are any and all extremists that have a clear goal of thwarting peace in the region, even a fair and just one. We, on our side, have to do the same

…and no one will still view Israel as having goals of dominance. Are you serious Shai. Israel’s mighty IDF has long ago stepped out of role of a defensive army. Does Israel really need those hundreds of nukes, long range flight capacity, nuclear bomb sending capable subs etc to defend the tiny area of Israel. 10 nukes would be enough to “keep the Arab states out”, but now Israel has the capacity of destroying a couple of continents. For what?

What do you Shai think the Germans spy ships + numerous other European and Asian nations on Lebanese and Syrian border are listening and observing. Certainly not Hizbollah is their main target of interest.

Of course through military dominance Israel seeks also political dominance and control. If not, why use so much money (= US money) to build such a oversized military force? What would Shai Israel do with its numerous WMD’s if there would be peace in the region? Destroy them or allow the neighbours to do the same as Israel has done to keep the military balance?

February 25th, 2008, 11:22 pm

 

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