Posted by Joshua on Monday, January 24th, 2011
The big news for Syria this week come from Lebanon. Walid Jumblatt’s announcement that he would throw his support behind Hizbullah and Syria caused jubilation in Damascus and bitter remarks from Neoconservatives. Israelis pronounced it “dangerous for Israel.” Geagea declared that Lebanon would become Gaza. Saad Hariri will refuse to join any government formed by the opposition. He insists that there was no such thing as a “consensual candidate.” Qifa Nabki does the math to show that parliament will either be stalemated over the next Prime Minister, or, if most of Jumblatt’s bloc follow him, elect the pro-Syrian Billionaire Najib Mikati as Prime Minister. Hariri has 60 seats while the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its allies, including the Amal movement and Christian leader Michel Aoun, have 57. Jumblatt leads a bloc of 11 parliamentarians and his support could now give Hezbollah and its allies a veto over who becomes the country’s next prime minister. It is bitter blow to Saad Hariri, who will be unable to secure enough votes to form a new government.
The decision by Saad Hariri to stand by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and allow the opposition to withdraw from the government was a principled one, according to those close to him and US authorities. What is more, Hariri’s position is intimately connected to the US and Saudi Arabia and the US is dead set against Hizbullah and the Lebanese opposition gaining greater legitimacy in the region. The STL was America’s brainchild; Washington will stand by it. Perhaps most important in understanding Washington’s course of action over the last few weeks, is America’s long-term effort to disarm and destroy Hizbullah. The US government calculates that STL indictments against Hizbullah will force European governments to finally move against the Shiite organization and define it legally as a terrorist organization. US efforts to isolate and dismantle Hizbullah through economic sanctions and international organizations has been undercut by the failure of European governments to join US efforts. What is more, the European refusal to proscribe Hizbullah as a terrorist organization has impeded Israeli efforts to lock in its territorial gains on the Golan.
As one SC Commentator argued:
The significance of the indictments will not be that the accused will stand trial. Rather it will be an international court making a formal allegation within the framework of a multi-national body. This is the classic precursor of sanctions. The Europeans will be hard pressed to ignore them because they are strong proponents of such multi-lateral bodies to solve international problems. Also the fact that most of the judges / staff are from the EU should not go unnoticed…. Over time they will be severely weakened. Think of it as death by a thousand small paper cuts. … Yes, a lot of innocent people will be harmed …. But in the end the Lebanese people will have to determine whether Hezbollah is worth paying such a price and what they plan to do about it.
Lebanon remains a hostage to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Being divided, the Lebanese people have little ability to “determine whether Hizbullah is worth paying such a price for.” Hizbullah and the regional powers will make that decision.
More importantly, the Arab-Israeli conflict could easily be solved, releasing Lebanon from its long list of victims. If the Wikileaked cables from Syria showed us anything, it is that Assad was and remains keen for peace with Israel if he can get back the Golan. Assad is recorded in several of the leaked cables promising US statesmen that Syria’s support for HIzbullah and Hamas would change if a real peace could be hammered out. The regional dynamic would change. Assad is not the only regional statesman to argue this, Israel’s leading military authorities are also convinced that returning the Golan would lead to an important change in Syria’s strategic calculations and posture. Israel’s chief of staff and head of military intelligence have both spoken out recently to argue that peace with Syria is the key to settling issues such as Hizbullah. They lament Netanyahu’s determination to hang onto the Golan.
Washington’s position on the Golan is so intimately tied to Israel’s that it has but one option: to stand by Israel’s refusal to give up land and to fight Israel’s enemies. The US cables leaked to al-Jazeera record how generous Palestinian offers to Israel were also refused Israeli authorities. Israel has tried to argue that it does not have interlocutors in either Syria or Palestine. Leaked cables have shown the opposite. It is the Syrians and Palestinians who have no interlocutor in Israel. The real story is not so much that they were turned down by Israel. Anyone who has watched the process closely understands by now that Israel is no longer interested in a two-state solution. The real story is that America is so vulnerable to Israeli dictates. US diplomats must shadow Israeli policy makers. So long as both the Democratic and Republican Parties compete to be the most pro-Israeli party, the White House must accommodate Israeli appetites not matter how harmful they are to US interests in the region. To blunt accusations that it is supporting Israel’s illegal and bad behavior, Washington must use a high degree of subterfuge and diversion. This is why so many Arabs see the STL as a diversion. They see it as an instrument designed to hobble “resistance” to Israel and help Tel Aviv gain greater military advantage. Many do not view the investigation to be primarily designed to promote lawfulness and justice in the region. See David Pollock’s article in Foreign Policy- Case Closed – revealing how Christian Lebanese have abandoned support for the STL.
[End Landis analysis]
Ehsani2 writes: The Lebanese “people” will soon turn against the court. Their real estate values would have dropped. Their economy would be in tatters. Will people blame HA?
“Regarding the rumor that Khamenei will be indicted by the STL: the original source seems to be an article by Kenneth R. Timmerman (“UN: Iran Ordered Rafik Hariri Execution”, Newsmax, 01 Dec 2010 (sic; Israeli media quoted the article but gave a more recent date)).
I always thought that Newsmax was about as credible as Debka (incidentally one of Timmerman’s trusted sources).
The article is quite funny, actually:
“Sources familiar with the investigation tell Newsmax that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon will accuse Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei of giving the order to murder Hariri, (…)”.
“Syrian President Bashar al-Aassad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the head of Syrian intelligence, also played key roles in the assassination plot, the sources told Newsmax.”
Lebanon’s Christian community has lost faith in the court established to prosecute the killers of the country’s former premier.
BY DAVID POLLOCK | JANUARY 20, 2011 Foreign Policy…
“… Behind Hezbollah’s power play against the tribunal lies something more than brute force: Lebanon’s Christians and Sunnis, once largely united in support of the tribunal, have parted ways. This split began a few years ago at the elite level with the defection of Gen. Michel Aoun, the leader of the largest Christian party …… At this point, a majority of Lebanon’s Christian community has actually turned against the tribunal. As a result, there is little prospect today of the sort of mass popular demonstrations that kicked Syrian forces out of Lebanon in 2005 following the assassination of Hariri, a Sunni — or that booted president-for-life Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali out of Tunisia just a few days ago.
This is the most surprising and politically significant finding of a public opinion poll conducted in Lebanon during November and December 2010 by Pechter Middle East Polls, a firm advised by the author. ….. As of last month, 79 percent of Lebanon’s Sunnis called the tribunal “free and fair,” including a solid majority (60 percent) who felt “strongly” that way. But only about half as many (42 percent) of the Christians agreed even “somewhat” with that position. Instead, a majority (55 percent) of Christians said the tribunal was not free and fair. In this respect, Lebanon’s Christian community is closer to the country’s Shiite population, from which Hezbollah draws its support….
The tribunal is not the only issue on which Lebanese Christian and Shiite views have converged. Regarding Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, around 60 percent of Shiites and 40 percent of Christians now voice at least somewhat favorable views. Among Sunnis, by contrast, that percentage plummets to just 17 percent. By comparison, Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son, garners favorable ratings from nearly all Lebanese Sunnis (94 percent) and around two-thirds of the country’s Christians; a mere 11 percent of Lebanon’s Shiites concur with that assessment. Nevertheless, when asked in an open-ended way to name the national leader they most admire, 51 percent of Sunnis cite Hariri, but only 3 percent of Christians do….. Such intriguing nuances notwithstanding, the central finding from this survey remains: Lebanon’s Sunnis are currently the only group who continue to support the tribunal. They are more isolated than ever before, as the Shiite opposition to the court has remained strong and the Christian community has clearly moved toward an anti-tribunal and even pro-Syrian position. As a result, Hezbollah’s firm opposition to the tribunal, to the Hariri government, and to what remains of U.S. policy in Lebanon will probably carry the day — not only among the shifting Lebanese elites, but also on Lebanon’s volatile streets.”
The Mideastwire Blog
Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region
From FPA, here: part two of an exclusive interview with Ilan Mizrahi, the former deputy chief of the Mossad and former head of the Israeli National Security Council under former PM Ehud Olmert.
“…FPA ISRAEL BLOG: Why such urgency on the Syrian track?
MIZRAHI: [On] my first day as national security counsel to Ehud Olmert [i recommended] make a deal with Syria. It will change the security situation in the Middle East. … I think that if we would strike a deal, our key enemy always, Israel’s enemy from the first day of independence, was radicalism in the Middle East. …. most of their masses, are supporting Iran because they are against Israel and against the United states. So, what I’m saying is that if you want to diminish, to mitigate the influence of Iran, to weaken their position in the Middle East, you have to look for the weakest link in their axis. And the weakest link is Syria because Syria is an Arab country. 75 percent are Sunni Muslims. It’s a secular state. It’s a secular state — it’s not Saudi Arabia or even Egypt. And in my point of view, Bashar al-Asad, doesn’t like the idea that Hezbollah is totally an Iranian instrument. He wouldn’t like to see Lebanon ruled forever by Hezbollah backed by Iran….. I do believe that his father and he himself already decided that he would like to have agreement with Israel. Not because they want to live in peace with us, because they need the United States.
This is my point of view. First Syria and then Palestinians….
FPA ISRAEL BLOG: Would giving back the Golan prove to be a strategic problem?
Our chief of staff doesn’t think so. Our head of intelligence, military intelligence doesn’t think so.
You know, in the ottoman empire, the sultan sent his Navy to take Cyprus. You know why? For its wine, because the Cyprus wine was very good. Now, we’re not going to keep the Golan because the wine there is wonderful. But, this is a territory to be negotiated, in my point of view. Now, if our military generals come and say the minute you give the Golan there is a direct threat against Israel, you should not do it. Then I’d have to think several times about it. But the best Israeli generals are saying we can negotiate it, so I believe them. Though, it’s a wonderful piece of land. Wonderful Druze restaurants. So I won’t go to Majid al-Shams. I’ll have my oriental food in Jaffa…”
The Case for Syria
Samer Araabi | Posted: January 18, 2011
In late December, with Congress away on recess, Robert Ford was appointed the new U.S. ambassador to Syria, filling a six-year vacancy. Shortly thereafter, condemnations poured in from those critical of U.S. efforts to engage Syria. President Barack Obama was criticized for “sending the wrong message” amounting to “a major concession to the Syrian regime.” Pundits and commentators expressed concern that such “appeasement” would compromise the influence and authority of the United States in the Middle East.
Five days later, the unity government of Lebanon collapsed after the resignation of 11 members of the pro-Syrian opposition bloc. Though the ensuing competition for power is widely expected to further empower Hizballah and undermine the Special Tribunal for Lebanon—two serious setbacks for U.S. regional policy—Washington finds itself lacking the necessary connections to alter the situation.
Lebanon’s unraveling and the undiminished influence of the Syrian state clearly demonstrate that U.S. attempts to isolate Damascus have failed. Syria continues to occupy an important strategic position in the Levant, and it sits at the crossroads of a number of U.S. interests. Direct and honest engagement, which Ambassador Ford will hopefully foster, is the only way to satisfy U.S. foreign policy goals, rein in violent extremism, and encourage political reforms in that country.
A History of Hostility
During the past decade, U.S. relations with Syria have been primarily characterized by mutual distrust and antagonism. Washington’s hostility toward Damascus has been fueled in part by concerns that the Syrian government has supported violent political factions in both Lebanon and Palestine, interfered in the democratic functions of Lebanon, and actively undermined the stability of the new Iraqi state. In response, a number of prominent analysts and regional experts have called for direct engagement as the only effective means to reform the Syrian state. However, the continued isolation of Syria plays to interests of powerful groups with significant political leverage, including neoconservative and other rightwing “pro-Israel” organizations, their allied politicians, and Saudi backers.
Wonks at institutes like the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs (WINEP), and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies have been amongst the most fervent hawks on Syria. Other parts of the “Israel lobby,” like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have also used their connections in Congress to prevent engagement with Damascus.
Rightist factions in the United States have been targeting Syria since well before the 9/11 attacks and the election of President George W. Bush. Back in February 2000, for example, David Wurmser published an article for the American Enterprise Institute entitled, “Let’s Defeat Syria, Not Appease It,” which called on the Israeli and U.S. governments to assist Lebanon to “take matters into their own hands, and Syria will slowly bleed to death there.”
That same year, Wurmser and other likeminded ideologues assisted in the production of a strategy document co-published by Daniel Pipes‘ Middle East Forum and Ziad Abdelnour‘s U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon that helped clarify the central role that hardline views of Israeli security have played in rightist anti-Syria advocacy. The study, entitled “Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role?” called for the United States to force Syria from Lebanon and to disarm it of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. It also argued that “Syrian rule in Lebanon stands in direct opposition to American ideals” and criticized the United States for engaging rather than confronting the regime. Among the document’s signatories were several leading neoconservative figures—many of whom would be given posts in the Bush administration—including Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Michael Rubin, and Paula Dobriansky, Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Michael Ledeen, and Frank Gaffney.
No More Waiting
For many years, a shared conviction of the anti-Syria hawks had been that Syria would eventually recognize that to succeed and advance, it needs the blessing of the West. They in effect decided that there was no point in engaging the Assad regime. Instead, they opted for active enmity while awaiting the fall of the Baath.
However, following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in the wake of Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri’s assassination in February 2005, conservatives saw a prime opportunity for “regime change” in another “rogue state,” and launched an intensive international political campaign with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Assad regime in Syria.
Shortly thereafter, WINEP featured an article by Dennis Ross—now a Mideast adviser in the Obama administration—which was entitled “U.S. Policy toward a Weak Assad.” The article argued that Washington should “avoid engaging with the Syrian leadership” in expectation of its imminent collapse. Ross lamented President Bashar Al-Assad’s failure to recognize “the immediate value of cooperating with the United States,” and recommended that the United States passively enable regional forces to take down the Syrian leadership.
In line with this advice, the Bush administration recalled its ambassador to Syria. It also began using Lebanon as a staging ground to empower Bashar Al-Assad’s purported enemies, particularly the Lebanese Maronite establishment, which they hoped to leverage as a counterweight to the overwhelming Shi’a support for Syria’s Lebanese ally Hizballah.
The Bush administration’s heavy-handed approach failed to take into account the complexity, nuance, and local dynamics of the region. Instead of compelling Syria to change its policies, it produced a backlash that severely undermined U.S. regional goals. As local parties realized that strong relations with the Syrian state provided far greater security and benefits than adherence to American expectations, the pro-western coalition formed during the Cedar Revolution quickly disintegrated. Within a short span, the largest Maronite party—the Free Patriotic Movement—switched sides to join the pro-Syria opposition, followed by a number of smaller groups, ultimately ending with the defection last year of Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, the darling of Western diplomats.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government entrenched itself and flourished, adapting to the sanctions imposed by the Syria Accountability Act of 2004 by developing new domestic industries (producing an annual growth rate of five percent since the implementation of sanctions), powerful support and influence in Lebanon, and key strategic capital with both Iraq and Iran.
Turkey and Qatar have suspended efforts to broker a new government in Lebanon, a day after Saudi Arabia also threw in the towel,Local media reported on Tuesday that a gathering of “hundreds of unarmed men” from the two Shia parties, Amal and Hezbollah, had marched on downtown Beirut. Tension has risen in the capital since Monday, when the prosecutor in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri submitted his long-awaited results of the case.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s minister of foreign affairs, said Wednesday that his country had abandoned mediation talks to resolve the crisis and situation in Lebanon as “dangerous.”
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah said that he would “lifted his hands and kept away from the negotiations,” al-Faisal said. The Saudi foreign minister add, that “if matters come to separation and partition of Lebanon, then Lebanon will end as a state containing this type of peaceful coexistence between religions, nationalities, and different strata and this will be a loss for the entire Arab nation.”
“… Speaking to a small group of journalists on his way to Beirut, Davutoğlu said that Hezbollah — which brought down Saad al-Hariri’s government, and Iran, which has close links to the Shiite group, had to be involved in the efforts to find a solution to the crisis. “We will definitely meet with Hezbollah representatives. As a political party and a group with very strong support within Lebanese society, Hezbollah is one of the most essential elements of this process,” Davutoğlu said earlier in the day, while speaking to reporters before departing for Beirut…..
Speaking before the talks with Davutoğlu, Salehi said a solution should come from within the region and opposed the involvement of “foreign actors.” He did not mention any non-regional country, but said actors in the region such as Syria and Saudi Arabia could also be involved in Turkish-Iranian efforts to help stability in Lebanon. “We see no benefit in foreign actors getting involved in this,” Salehi said. Speaking on Tuesday, Davutoğlu appeared to back Salehi’s call for a regional solution and said Iran would be part of efforts for a settlement. He said Salehi had told him during their talks on Monday that Iran was ready to contribute to Lebanon’s stability and support every Turkish effort to that effect. “Our consultations with Iran will continue. No actor should be left out of this process, otherwise there will be polarization both within Lebanon and on a regional and international scale,” said Davutoğlu……..
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday that he has received a written invitation from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to attend an international meeting on Lebanon and has instructed his staff to respond in the affirmative to the invitation. Erdoğan said seven countries have been invited and that no date has been set for the meeting yet. Iran is not among the countries invited….”
Obama thanked Mubarak for Egyptian support of the tribunal, ” and achieving justice for the Lebanese people,” the White House said…”
Elliott Abrams on Lebanon: ‘the atmosphere is rife with trouble’
Anthony Shadid in the NYTImes:
“The confrontation here is the latest sign of a shifting map of the Middle East, where longtime stalwarts like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have further receded in influence, and emerging powers like Turkey, Iran and even the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar have decisively emerged in just a matter of a few years. It is yet another episode in which the United States has watched — seemingly helplessly — as events in places like Tunisia, Lebanon and even Iraq unfold unexpectedly and beyond its ability to control. The jockeying might be a glimpse of a post-American Middle East, where the United States’ allies and foes, brought together in the interests of stability, plot foreign policies that intersect in initiatives the United States must grudgingly accept.”
Desperately Seeking Syria at Lebanon’s Expense
Richard Grenell – Huffington
It has been almost six years since a brutal bombing in Beirut killed Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others on Valentine’s Day 2005. This week, the UN prosecutor overseeing the investigation finally submitted sealed indictments to the criminal court’s pre-trial judge as to who was responsible for the bombing. UN investigators and foreign intelligence over the last several years, however, have consistently pointed to senior Syrian and Iranian officials’ involvement. While the names of the indicted individuals are not expected to be known for eight weeks, the Obama administration has known for quite some time that senior Syrian and Iranian officials are to blame for the brutal killings.
That is why it is puzzling that while the long-awaited indictments were being prepared last month, President Barack Obama naively ordered the return of the U.S. Ambassador to Syria after a six-year hiatus. Obama’s premature move gave Hezbollah, Damascus and Tehran the instant credibility they had been looking for to characterize the coming indictments as political rather than criminal.
Administration officials have ignored Lebanon’s developing crisis from the moment they took office by consistently siding with Syria. Last week, administration officials leaked that President Obama has now given French President Nicholas Sarkozy the lead in dealing with Lebanon and the indictments for the international community. The move washes Obama’s hands of Lebanon’s problems and gives France control.
January 20, 2011 Edition 2
Breaking, not engaging, the region
It is said that repeating an action and still expecting a different result every time, despite proof of the contrary, is a sure sign of insanity. With its strange attitude towards Cuba’s regime, the US has for decades demonstrated that adage while seemingly making Cuba the exception to the rules of diplomatic engagement. In particular, in the Middle East, American influence was for long directly proportional to its direct involvement, be it positive or negative.
Since the Bush administration, however, the Castro approach–or lack thereof–has been applied to what should be one of the most crucial centers of open communication for Washington. After over 12 years of serious and consistent US engagement with the Middle East peace process, with full recognition of Syrian territorial rights on the Golan, George W. Bush decided to alienate Syria even while banging on the drums of war for Iraq. Instead of cajoling the neighbors when invading and occupying Iraq turned nasty, Bush and his neocons directed every possible accusation at Damascus and piled on the demands.
The big freeze came on Lebanese turf: following the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, Bush promptly withdrew his ambassador from Damascus, pushed for Syrian troops’ exit from Lebanon, and actively sought to isolate Syria.
Six years later, a new US ambassador, Robert Ford, has landed in Syria a year after his nomination. There is no cause for celebration, however, because US-Syrian relations are neither being upgraded nor being restored to the point they were at six years ago. Instead of getting back to square one, things are now much worse, elegant letters of accreditation notwithstanding. The more the US has connived to redraw the political map of the region, looking to sideline its opponents and to punish them for insubordination, the more it has created imbroglios from which it can’t extract itself.
Instead of seeking stability at all costs, the US has steadily lessened the potential of compromise between all parties and increased the likelihood of a major clash, all under the guise of protecting Lebanon’s sovereignty from Syria.
The premise that Lebanon could function, politically, without the benign acquiescence of the major powers in the region was always false. The premise that the Lebanese would unite under one “majority” in cultural or political terms was always false as well, and all efforts aimed at coaxing one half of Lebanon to abide by the terms of the other half were never going to bear fruit. Yet, the US has had a burning obsession: the eradication of Hizballah, which would end all resistance to Israel, remove Syria’s proverbial cards from Lebanon, and weaken Iran in the region. To that end, with other tricks having failed, the US needed the Special Tribunal for Lebanon; one could argue, in fact, that it needed the assassination of Hariri.
But while motives abound whenever Syria is blamed, speculation with regards to Israel shines in its absence, as if nobody but Hizballah could think of a single reason why Israel would want to wreak havoc in Lebanon. Indeed, the investigation into Hariri’s murder has not even bothered to pretend to explore all options–including the one country with a steadfast history of assassinations in the Arab world……
Lebanon Must Find Its Own Way Out Of Crisis -Clinton
2011-01-20 19:27:48.693 GMT
WASHINGTON (AFP)–The U.S. stands ready to help Lebanon out of its ongoing political impasse, but it is ultimately up to Beirut to resolve the crisis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Thursday.
Asked at a press conference about international mediation efforts following the collapse this week of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, Clinton said: “We stand ready, as do many others in the region and beyond, to be of assistance,” Clinton said. But she said, “any decision will have to be made by the Lebanese people.”
The top U.S. diplomat added: “Any mediation effort engaged in by anyone outside of Lebanon itself should be aimed at supporting the people of Lebanon and making decisions that lead to stability and security, justice and a commitment to bringing those who committed the murders of prime minister Hariri and 22 others to account.”
Lebanon crisis a test for the US by Antoun Issa