Has a Lebanon Deal Been Clinched?

Is a Lebanon deal in the works? Did the Saudi-Iran meeting produce results?

There are two versions. The Lebanese are saying it did produce results. The Daily Star and al-Sharq al-Awsat both claim a Lebanon deal has been clinched, but the details remain vague, which is not a good sign of success. The Daily Star writes:

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, a strong critic of the opposition who has been repeatedly accused of hampering efforts to end the deadlock, confirmed on Sunday that there was "indeed an effective solution."

"The solution is based on two things, on forming a joint committee that will oversee the modifications to the international court [to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri] and the formation of a national consensus government of 19 + 10 + 1," Geagea told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation.

The unaffiliated Cabinet minister in Geagea's formulation would belong neither to the majority or the opposition but would serve as an independent.

Geagea's version of the agreement was confirmed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who earlier had called for a "joint judicial committee" to work on a final draft of the international tribunal.

The details of the International Tribunal do not seem to have been completely worked out, nevertheless, diplomats have been trying to finesse the issue in order to get a cabinet deal that would bring Hizbullah and the opposition back into government and allow the Lebanese economy to be relieved of the paralyzing demonstrations in the downtown financial district.

Syria has insisted that it would not allow the International Tribunal to go forward for fear that it will be politicized and used to further isolate and harm Syria. Damascus insists that the Brammertz final report, which is due out this summer, first be published. Only then, it claims, should the decision of whether to establish a tribunal or not be taken. Damascus believes that the evidence that the UN team has been able to gather in the last two years is less than compelling and will not justify a trial. Damascus insists that the reason the US and Lebanese government want a tribunal established before the release of the report is precisely because they know the evidence against Syria, or anyone else for that matter, is weak. Washington wants the court established before the release of the Brammertz report in order to be able to tie Syria up in litigation for the next several years and use it's existence as an excuse to isolate Damascus for another several years. Syria is gambling that the report is a bust and that international support for a tribunal will evaporate once the public understands that the US and France are engaged in a fishing expedition.

Hassan Fattah of the NYTimes, in contrast to the Daily Star, writes that the "Saudi-Iran Meeting Yields Little Substance." The Saudi proposed Arab Peace Plan for Palestine was discussed, however, despite Iranian denials. Fattah writes:

The Saudi Press Agency reported that Mr. Ahmadinejad had expressed support for a Saudi-led land-for-peace initiative that would have Arab states recognize Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the lands occupied by Israel in 1967. Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday agreed to revive the plan ahead of the Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh later this month.

An Iranian official, speaking to Iran’s state-run media, reportedly denied that the initiative was discussed during the summit meeting.

The possibility that that Islamic World will get behind a renewed effort to promote an Arab-Israeli peace plan has many in Israel worried and some excited.
Haaretz published an editorial yesterday asking Olmert to respond positively to the Saudi initiative:

Saudi Arabia holds a unique status because of the king’s role as the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites and also because of the country’s oil wealth. It is therefore in a position, more than any other state, to offer religious and economic backing to peace settlements between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and Israel also share concerns about the growing strength of Iran and both wish to prevent another war in the region. They have a shared interest in the renewal of the peace process. Taking advantage of this opportunity requires both sides to show flexibility and openness. The Saudis need to understand, as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said, that Israel has red lines on the issue of refugees, and it will not be able to accept the right of return as the basis for dialogue. It is therefore important that the Riyadh summit conclude with a more pragmatic formulation of the initiative.

It is the duty of the government of Israel not to reject the hand that is being offered by Saudi Arabia. Olmert must consider the Arab peace initiative to be an appropriate basis for dialogue, one that will lead to a permanent settlement and a settling of the status of Israel in the region, and which will serve as a definitive response to Ahmadinejad and his partners in the extremist camp. A renewed peace process will save Olmert’s government from the impasse in which it is stuck. It is important that the four weeks left before the summit in Riyadh involve intensive diplomatic efforts to formulate an agreed-upon framework for the regional peace initiative.

Haaretz writer Akiva Eldar bemoans what he sees as his government's inability to move toward negotiations and peace. He writes:
The government is fighting the Mecca agreement, which was designed to allow the Palestinian Authority unity government to authorize PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to conduct negotiations on a final-status accord. Instead of talking to Syria and Lebanon on a peace agreement, the government is preparing the public for another war in the North. Essentially, the Olmert-Peretz government isn't offering anything but more blood, sweat and tears. …
It is precisely the dangers lying in wait at Israel's gates, and threatening the pragmatic Sunni regimes, that have provided the Olmert government with a rare opportunity to end the conflict with all Arab states, once and for all. Five years after the missed opportunity of the Arab peace initiative approved in Beirut, the Arab League is offering Israel a second chance. In a Riyadh summit at the end of the month, the Arab League intends to pave the way for accelerated negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and lay the groundwork for an end to the conflict along the northern border as well. Israeli acceptance of the initiative would be rewarded by "normal relations" with all its neighbors. Even the Bush administration has discovered that anger is not a policy and decided to to talk with the Iranians and Syrians on ways to leave Iraq. The United States would no doubt be grateful to Israel for any contribution to the fight against the global jihad that is shedding its soldiers' blood.

Amr Mousa, has come out against any changes in the Saudi peace plan despite FM Livni's insistance that the article demanding the Palestinian right of return be removed from the proposal. Read: Arab League chief: We will not change Saudi peace initiative.

Recent public opinion polls in Arab countries, according to a sweeping overview of recent polling by Peter Kiernan, demonstrate that the single most important issue that Arabs want the US to fix is the Arab-Israeli dispute.

When asked what steps the United States could take to improve its regional standing, 62 percent identified brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal based on 1967 borders. A significant minority of respondents identified withdrawal from Iraq (33 percent), and withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Arabian Peninsula (22 percent) as well. More than half (52 percent) ranked U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict as "extremely important."

The polls also show that Sunnis throughout the Arab World are in favor of Iran developing nuclear power and even weapons, despite Saudi and US efforts to stimulate Sunni fears of Iran.

Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli minister, is forced to cancel a trip to Egypt because he is accused of executing Egyptian war prisoners. Israel denies it, but the issue brings up an ugly past. Egyptian ministers exploit the flap to call for renewed war with Israel.


A number of pro-government journalists and politicians in Lebanon have spent the last several days trying to insist that the government does not need to cut a deal with Syria or the Lebanese opposition. 

John Aziz of al-Akhbar (March 3) reports that (Junblat ?) has been insisting that the United States will bomb Iran and scare Syria enough that Hizbullah will be forced to come back into the government with its tail between its legs and without a greater share of power. He tells Lebanese not to worry and that the West is with Lebanon; its economy will be fine after the bombing of Iran. 

Raghida Dergham of Al Hayat (March 2) tells us that the Syrian opposition is "well prepared and trained" in Syria and ready to "carry out acts of sabotage" capable of overwhelming the Syrian leadership. Powered by her faith in the Syrian opposition, Dergham is certain that the Siniora government will win the day, not make concessions to Syria, and that Damascus will be forced to accept the international tribunal for fear of being overthrown by the opposition.  She explains: (translation thanks to mideastwire.com)

“The US president still has the upper hand in foreign policy making. He will continue this way for another two years despite the collapse of his popularity because of the war on Iraq. He is not considering a deal with Damascus and Tehran that would sacrifice the international tribunal and Lebanon. He may not be considering plans to topple the regimes in Damascus and Tehran, either. But he will never hesitate to do so if Syria and Lebanon press on with their efforts to destabilize Lebanon. This is the reason why there has been much talk lately about strengthening the capabilities of the Syrian opposition.

“This opposition is not only based in European capitals, but it is also based in many of Syria's neighbors. If well prepared and trained, it is ready to carry out acts of sabotage, outstripping the scale of the Syrian leadership. There is a significant opposition in key positions in Syria seeking to save the country from a fate similar to Iraq's and sees that the only means to do so is to overthrow the government. Clearly, the Syrian regime opposes the setting up of a tribunal of an international character for existential reasons. However, it will have to surrender to an emerging Arab consensus about the tribunal – in addition to the international one.

According to the Oxford Business Group Lebanon's real problem is the economy. The government cannot hold out for a better deal or resist Hizbullah's and Syria's demands forever because the economy will implode. The OBG's article, "Lebanon: Downtown Beirut Going Down" of 5 March 2007 has this to say:

Eighty institutions have closed in downtown Beirut and there are fears of more businesses being shut if the situation continues this way, Salameh said during a press conference called by representatives of various professional groups on March 1.

In order to give the commercial sector some respite there should be an end to the demonstrations and even talks between rival factions and cabinet meetings should be shifted to another location to reduce the tension in the business district, he said.

Another speaker at the press conference was Paul Ariss, the president of the Lebanese syndicate of restaurant owners, who said the country's political leaders had to resolve the stand off before the damage to the economy becomes worse.

Business groups have called on the government to come to their rescue, proposing interest-free medium and long-term loans for companies worst affected, and a holiday for the payment of state levies such as taxes, municipal fees and rents.

However, Salameh said these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

It's been three months since we started visiting politicians, explaining our suffering to them, he said. We received promises but up to now they haven't been implemented.

The option of taking legal action against the state was also raised during the meeting, in an effort to recoup some of the losses sustained over the past three months.

Lawyers representing business groups have drafted up documentation to support civil action against the government and business owners have been collating estimates of losses.

During the March 1 press conference, it was said that, unless concrete measures were taken within the next two weeks to alleviate the pressure on the central business district, the battle front would be moved to the courts.

Another sector to call for an end to the clogging up of downtown Beirut and the subsequent disruption to the economy is Lebanon's beleaguered tourism industry.

However, while the proposals to provide low cost or interest free loans and tax breaks have been canvassed, no formal decisions have been taken. Indeed, without a cease fire in the political conflict engulfing central Beirut, there can be little hope of relief for the businesses holding the trenches in the front line.

Iraqi Refugees in Syria are safe for now. Syria has rescinded the stricter rules it announced in January for Iraqi refuges.

Previously, the authorities had demanded that refugees leave the country for a month once their residency permits expired, and only after that period could they return and reapply.

Now, Iraqis fleeing the violence back home can stay for a month before applying for a three-month permit which can then be renewed by leaving Syria and returning again as early as the same day.

Syrian Bloggers responded in force to the sentencing of Egyptian blogger Kareem Nabeel Sulaiman, with a joint statement, started on Levantine Dreamhouse… The statement was republished on many other Syrian blogs, and will stay on the main page of Syria Planet -Syrian Bloggers Portal- for a week. Read Ihsan Attar from Damascus on the regime and whether Syrian bloggers are any safer than Egyptians. Blogspot has been blocked in Syria for weeks.

How Barack Obama learned to love Israel ( 4 March 2007)

Jean-Pierre de Chadarevian wrote Syria Comment this interesting note about his Aleppine relative who was reportedly dissolved in Sulfuric acid!

By chance, I stumbled on an old discussion on your blog referring to so-called François de Chadarevian, Syrian communist activist killed in the 60ies for his ties to the Syrian Communist Party .  Someone, maybe you, asked who was this man.  I would like to clarify some details and make a slight correction.  The man in question was not called François, but Pierre, and, indeed he was eliminated by the Syrian secret services.  Rumor has it that his body was dissolved in sulfuric acid, the alleged reason why the family was not allowed to open the coffin.  He was the grand-son of Thoross de Chadarevian, who was a prominent Aleppo [Syria] lawyer made Count of the Vatican by Pope Benedict XV for services rendered to the Holy Sea, protecting the rights of the custodians of the Terra Sancta in Jerusalem.  Pierre de Chadarevian was a passionate and also a communist, and belonged to a passionate family who produced several catholic priests! [his uncle who died in Damascus, Syria, and his nephew who's now priest in Vancouver, Canada.] 

Just for the record!  How do I know this?  Pierre's grand-father, the Count, was my great-grand-father!!
Jean-Pierre de Chadarevian, M.D., Philadelphia, PA

Two older articles that I overlooked last month are:

Martin van Creveld, the dean of Israel's military historians, in his "Make a Deal With Syria," tears into the defense argument for not negotiation a deal on the Golan. (See his site for other good articles on the Lebanon War this summer.)

Shlomo Ben-Ami, Test of Syria's intentions, also argues for dialogue. He explains that "the road map" is dead and that a deal with Syria offers "a more functional regional order, stability in Lebanon and a severing of the Damascus-Tehran axis."

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51. ausamaa said:

“What Has Tehran to Gain from Hizballah’s New Face?”

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

March 13, 2007, 6:48 PM (GMT+02:00)

For the first time in its 20-year history as a reviled international kidnapper, Hizballah is demanding that its representatives be allowed to hold direct talks with Israel.

The demand interrupted the efforts by a German BND intelligence go-between to negotiate the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the Israeli soldiers whose abduction on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border touched of a 33-day war.

If the Olmert government responds positively, it will also be the first time that Israeli military intelligence officers have ever come face to face with Hizballah’s military officials.

The Hizballah demand was specific. They asked to meet with “Ofer Dekel and his people,” thereby identifying the former Shin Bet deputy chief who is in charge of the effort to obtain the release of the two soldiers snatched by Hizballah and Gilead Shalit, who was kidnapped in a Hamas-led incursion from the Gaza Strip a month earlier.

In addition to the German middleman, the Lebanese Shiite terror group has also asked Qatar to open up a direct link with Israel for talks on the two hostages.

One conjecture by Israeli intelligence officials is that Hizballah has been told to offer to trade information about Goldwasser and Regev for word about Iranian ex-general Ali Reza Asgari, said to have disappeared in Istanbul on Feb. 7.

Before deciding on a response to Hizballah’s surprise approach, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has asked for intelligence evaluations on what is behind it.

One theory speaks of a fresh Hizballah trap.

But, more seriously, the case of the missing Asgari, who according to some reports is in the process of debriefing by Western intelligence somewhere in Europe, has completely stumped Tehran. The Iranian government is at sea over how, when and why the former deputy defense minister disappeared, and who is holding him now. They refuse to believe that he spied for the West for many years or that he defected voluntarily.

To support this conviction, Tehran put Ziba Ahmadi, Asgari’s wife, their three children and his brother, on television to deny his defection. Their appearance was meant to belie the reports that he had asked for asylum in the West for himself and family.

But there were two slips in the TV interview.

Mrs. Asgari said he had been missing since Dec. 9, 2006, whereas he was generally reported to have disappeared in Istanbul on Feb. 7.

His brother Davoud admitted that Asgari had two wives.

This hypothesis postulates that, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appealed to the Saudis for help in tracing the missing general and was turned down, Tehran sent Hizballah to dig information from Israel. It was understood that the Olmert government would not to agree to sensitive negotiations of this kind going forward through a third party. The German middleman was therefore dispensed with and a direct encounter demanded.

A third hypothesis current in Israeli intelligence is that Hizballah’s initiative is part and parcel of the newly-launched US-Iran diplomatic track on Tehran’s nuclear misdoings and its disruptive role in Iraq. The first steps went forward discreetly through Saudi Arabia. Since the Baghdad neighbors’ meeting for stabilizing Iraq Saturday, March 10, the exchanges are out in the open. A follow-up between foreign ministers is expected to take place in Istanbul in April.

The first positive action by Tehran has been to call its proxies off from hounding the pro-Western Fouad Siniora government of Lebanon; Hizballah has been told to end its boycott of the government in return for additional cabinet seats. Therefore, Iran emerges with its Lebanese cat’s paw’s position in Beirut enhanced, well before diplomacy for an accommodation on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and the stabilization of Iraq has gone anywhere.

To solidify its position, Hizballah must behave like a respectable political party rather than terrorists who conduct terrorist and kidnapping raids against the neighbors. The comprehensive face-lift Hizballah is aiming for, according to this third theory, is to be accomplished through a new mode of behavior, which would relegate the Goldwasser and Regev abduction affair as far as possible to its murky past.

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March 13th, 2007, 5:49 pm


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