Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
Lebanon has a new government. I will not be surprised if Syria receives official notice that an Ambassador has been named to return to Damascus, pending congressional confirmation. We turn to Qifa Nabki for smart analysis. (Also see his breakdown of the cabinet). I have also copied Blanford, who is wise on things Lebanon and fair.
2) National Unity, the sequel:…. The March 14 coalition, or what’s left of it, doesn’t command a majority in parliament, so what’s the point of trying to maintain it anymore?
If Hariri wants to be able to govern effectively, he needs to build a new coalition. Or, at least, he needs to re-build the kinds of partnerships that his father constructed and manipulated so masterfully, reaching across the aisle to court erstwhile opponents like Hezbollah, AMAL, and the FPM. Those are the parties with the real clout in their communities and the seats in parliament. If I had to guess, this is more or less what’s in the back of the young PM’s mind.
3) Hezbollah’s Arms & Israel: The final major issue on the horizon is how Hariri decides to deal with the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, in the cabinet statement. Given the change in the regional atmosphere (moving from confrontation to reconciliation and diplomatic engagment), I’d say it’s almost certain that the same language is going to be used that went into the previous statements: Hezbollah is not a militia, it’s the legitimate expression of the Lebanese people’s resistance to regain their land, etc.
What happens if Israel decides to test Hariri’s tight-rope act? We’ll have to wait and see.
Lebanon’s Hariri, Hezbollah form new government
Five months after a Western-backed coalition narrowly beat the Hezbollah-led opposition in in Lebanon’s June elections, the two sides reached a deal Monday night.
By Nicholas Blanford | The Christian Science Monitor
November 10, 2009
… The March 14 bloc, a coalition of mainly Christians and Sunnis that is supported by the West as well as Saudi Arabia, received 15 seats. The Hezbollah-led parliamentary alliance, which includes mainly Shiites and Christians, was handed 10 seats – two of which went to Hezbollah politicians. The remaining five portfolios were filled by people chosen by the politically neutral president.
“… after a Western-backed coalition narrowly beat the Hezbollah-led opposition in in Lebanon’s June elections, the two sides reached a deal Monday night…..
“The cabinet will either allow the Lebanese to renew trust in their institutions, or it will lead them to repeat their past failures to achieve consensus,” Hariri said (read the later!)……
The next stage is the drawing up of a government policy statement. The key element of the statement will be the status of the “resistance” – Hezbollah’s military wing, …. The previous national unity government granted legitimacy to the “resistance” to seek the liberation of remaining Lebanese territory under Israeli occupation.
“The drafting of the ministerial statement will not be a problem at all, on the grounds that in parallel to Lebanon’s commitment to Resolution 1701 it is the right of the resistance to restore land by all means available,” Suleiman was quoted as saying in Lebanese newspapers Tuesday, echoing the phrase contained in the previous government’s policy statement. The new government is expected to reaffirm that clause, …. says Ousama Safa, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. “We should experience a modicum of stability for a while, but do not expect any earth-shattering changes from the government.”…
Lebanon’s domestic disputes often reflect the broader power struggles between regional rivals that back competing factions here. But the wrangling over the distribution of cabinet portfolios this time appears to have been a homegrown affair. The deadlock was finally broken last week, when Syria and Saudi Arabia leaned on their respective Lebanese allies.
Obama, Netanyahu and Assad
Judah Grunstein | Bio | 10 Nov 2009
The big winner from yesterday’s frosty meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu? Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. With the Palestinian peace track once again derailed, that leaves Syria as the only credible peace player in town.
That’s the guiding logic behind a diplomatic fact-finding report just delivered to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, anyway. The advantage of an Israel-Syria deal preceding the Palestinian track being that Hamas would almost certainly be forced to adapt to the changed landscape in ways that would favor intra-Palestinian reconciliation and facilitate a subsequent Israeli-Palestinian deal. It’s in that context that France believes the offer of lifting its diplomatic embargo on Hamas, if played at the right time, could move negotiations forward.
Iraq, Syria’s Main Trading Partner in 2008 – See Jihad Yazigi’s Syria Report
Iraq was Syria’s main trading partner last year according to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.
The Richest Syrian Businessman finds himself below water
French Ship Line CMA CGM Losing $148 Million a Month, JDD Says
2009-11-07, By Helene Fouquet
Nov. 7 (Bloomberg) — CMA CGM SA, the world’s third-biggest container-shipping operator, is losing 100 million euros ($148 million) each month, Journal du Dimanche reported, citing unidentified government officials.
Marseille-based CMA CGM has debt of 7 billion euros that includes bank loans, orders for 49 new ships that cannot be canceled and 1 billion euros of losses after speculation on the oil market, JDD said. CMA CGM, which is wholly owned by the Saade family, is currently seeking investors’ help to reduce its debt, JDD said.
No-one from CMA CGM’s office was immediately available for comment when called by Bloomberg News. A French Finance Ministry spokesman declined to comment when contacted by telephone today.
Scholars hunt missing pages of ancient Bible
JERUSALEM – A quest is under way on four continents to find the missing pages of one of the world’s most important holy texts, the 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible known as the Crown of Aleppo. Crusaders held it for ransom, fire almost destroyed it and …
Russia-Saudi Relations: The Kingdom and the Bear
Saurav Jha | Bio | 09 Nov 2009
World Politics Review
Saudi Arabia’s possible purchase of at least $2 billion of Russian military equipment has the potential to be the most significant Russian arms deal in the Middle East since the Soviet Union transferred SA-2s to Nasser’s Egypt. By all indications, it seems that the two countries have reached an agreement for the arms transfer, after a two-year negotiation period. The deal may be part of a larger process that leads to a significant realignment in the external relations of both parties.
The arms transfer agreement, which covers a broad spectrum of weapons, is guided by the agreement on cooperation in military technology that was initiated during a visit of Russia’s then-President Vladimir Putin to Riyadh in 2007, and later signed by the two countries in 2008. According to Russian sources, Saudi Arabia may purchase up to 150 helicopters (30 Mi-35 attack helicopters and 120 Mi-17 transport helicopters), more than 150 T-90S tanks, around 250 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and “several dozen” air defense systems (including possibly the S-400 Triumf). Contracts for the sales of the helicopters, tanks and IFVs — worth a combined $2 billion — seem imminent, with more negotiations required on the air defense systems. In all, the Saudi market may absorb up to $7 billion worth of Russian equipment in the future.
The precise timing for the deal seems to have been guided by the worsening Iran nuclear crisis and the increasing enmity between the Iranians and the Saudis. The Saudi defense requirements also come at a time when Russian newspapers are awash with reports of the monetary loss — in the billion-dollar range — that Moscow must incur on the sale of S-300 air defense systems to Iran. That deal has been stalled due to pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv. Clearly, handsome compensation seems to be in the pipeline from Saudi quarters.
Beyond the Iranian angle lies the Saudi need to diversify its sources of military equipment and thereby raise its bargaining power as a buyer. With the deal, Russia has beaten out the French, who have fallen out of favor lately with the Saudi establishment, especially since King Abdullah has been directly overseeing weapons procurement. The French practice of bundling additional weapons not sought by the buyer in a consolidated package has irked the Saudis. The turn to Russia effectively thwarts French pressure to buy weapons that the Saudis do not need, allowing them to focus on those that they do.
Saudi Arabia also seems to have responded favorably to Russian feelers with respect to coordinating production and pricing on the international oil market. These two countries lead the world in oil exports and have huge reserves of gas as well. In the future, the Saudis may provide a bridge for the Russians to OPEC.
“Bradley Burston is offended by my characterization of Israel’s inability to let go of the occupied territories as a pathology, a characterization he says can only be made by someone who hates Israelis…….
I challenge Burston to cite a single instance of my having touched on the subject of the “venality” of Israel’s leaders (i.e. that they can be bought with money) in any of the hundreds of columns I have written over the past forty years, although it is a subject that Israeli columnists have had a field day with. I have avoided it entirely, because my concern has been the damage that Israel’s occupation policies and its denial of the human rights and national rights of the Palestinian people are doing to Israel’s ability to survive as a Jewish and democratic state.
It is not true, as Burston claims, that I said Israelis lie when they tell pollsters they favor peace. I said that when the peace they favor is for all practical purposes defined as requiring Palestinians to accept the status quo, that is not a choice of peace over territory.
Yes, I have repeatedly written about the deceitfulness of proclamations by Israeli governments about their commitment to a two-state solution. The relentless pursuit by these governments of the settlement enterprise can only be understood as a commitment to prevent such an outcome.
…… Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claimed that he removed the settlements in Gaza as a prelude to further withdrawals from the West Bank and a peace agreement with the Palestinians. But the man who negotiated the deal for President Bush’s letter of April 2004 to Sharon on the subject of settlements, Dov Weisglass, told Ari Shavit of Haaretz that Sharon’s real purpose was to “effectively remove this whole package that is called the Palestinian state from our agenda indefinitely.” ….. To blame Palestinians, rather than their occupiers, for their responsibility for remaining under a forty-year, oppressive military occupation when Netanyahu’s government refuses to consider anything resembling a viable or sovereign Palestinian state, insists on retaining far more Palestinian land than was demanded by previous Israeli governments, rejects the idea of equal land exchanges, and has taken Jerusalem entirely off the table, is to add insult to injury. ….”