Posted by Joshua on Saturday, June 7th, 2008
Dividing the Spoils in Lebanon
Sami Moubayed, the indomitable, has this to say about the latest on the Lebanese Cabinet slice up.
According to the Doha Agreement, the March 14 Coalition, which commands a parliamentary majority, will hold 16 of the cabinet's 30-seats (including the sovereign post of Minister of Finance). The opposition will have 11 (including that of Foreign Affairs) and President Suleiman, who is trying to appear as a neutral third party, will get to name three ministers. Two of them will be the ministers of interior and defense. These new presidential powers, unheard of after the Taif Accords, entitle him to appoint a Maronite at the Ministry of Interior, a Greek Orthodox at the Ministry of Defense, and a Catholic in any post he sees fit.
Suleiman's wishes, of finishing before Friday, might not materialize—at least not in time for Sarkozy's visit—given the tremendous variety of disagreement over distribution of cabinet seats. One of the clauses agreed to at the Doha Conference was that neither the Hizbullah-led opposition, or the March 14 Coalition, would walk out on this new government, regardless of how strong political disagreements are with Siniora. This was to avoid repeating what happened in 2006, when six ministers from Hizbullah and its sister party Amal, walked out on Siniora, making his cabinet un-constitutional. The opposition immediately called on him to step down, claiming that the cabinet was illegal because it no longer represented the Shiites. To avoid this, all parties have agreed that the Sunnis will name a Shiite minister, so that even if Hizbullah and Amal ministers resign, the cabinet will continue to have a Shiite member and not be written off as un-constitutional. This means that the Shiites (who get a total of five seats) get to name a Sunni minister as well, and a Druze.
One of the stumbling blocks facing all parties is the portfolio of Defense. Suleiman wants the job for current minister Elias al-Murr. Earlier he had toyed with the idea of naming one of his comrades in the Lebanese Army (he had served as Army Commander in 1998-2008) as Minister, but his advisors strongly advised him against that, claiming that public opinion will accuse him of militarizing the cabinet. General Michel Aoun, who remains not-too-thrilled with the Doha Agreement (because it denied him his last chance to become president and doesn't give him a 'sovereignty' ministry) wants to make his right-hand-man Issam Abu Jamra, Minister of Defense. Since Abu Jamra is also a retired officer, it has now been settled that if the Ministry of Defense goes to a officer, then the Ministry of Interior will go to a civilian, probably, a veteran and respectable civilian (who is yet to be named).
Saad al-Harriri, the leader of the parliamentary majority, is opposed to relinquishing the Ministries of Telecommunications and Justice (both of which were held since 2005 by a member of March 14). He also refuses that anybody but Fouad al-Siniora himself becomes Minister of Finance, a post Siniora had held several times during the years of Rafiq al-Harriri. Additionally there are six seats in the cabinet allocated for Maronites (two for Aoun and three for Samir Gagegea and ex-President Amin Gemayel combined). Aoun also wants the Ministry of Health, a post that is coveted by Amal, the party of Aoun's ally, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Berri is telling Aoun to look elsewhere, advising that he should seek the Ministry of Finance for his bloc, and take it away from the Harriri team. Aoun also wants to make Elias Skaff, the head of the Zahle bloc in Parliament, the Minister of Public Works and has proposed Druze leader Emir Talal Arslan as Minister of the Displaced. The latter issue needs to be approved personally by Walid Jumblatt, a historical rival (and relative) of the Arslan family. To date, Jumblatt has surprisingly not opposed making Arslan minister, noting Arslan's offer to protect Jumblatt during the violent events that rocked Beirut and the mountains in mid-May 2008. Going further than anybody expected, Jumblatt has even agreed to remove two controversial figures (to whom Hizbullah is categorically opposed) being Marwan Hamadeh, the outgoing Minister of Telecommunications, and Ghazi al-Aridi, the Minister of Information.
Another major stumbling bloc is the Lebanese Forces (LF) whose leaders insist on making their commander, former warlord Samir Gagegea, a minister in the Siniora cabinet. That has been vetoed mainly by the Tripoli bloc loyal to former Prime Minister Omar Karameh, which is opposed to March 14 and pro-Syrian. The elder statesmen was enraged, since Gagegea has been convicted of murdering his brother Rashid Karameh, another prime minister, in 1988.
Another Christian leader having his eyes set on cabinet office is ex-President Gemayel, who wants to become Minister of Industry to replace his slain son, Pierre. If that does not happen, then he would nominate his son Sami for the job. The other branch of the Gemayel family, headed by his brother's wife Solang, wants to start grooming his nephew Nadim (who is the son of slain president elect Bashir Gemayel). Harriri has proposed a way out, by naming Michel Mukattaf, a senior member of the Lebanese Phalange (founded and run by the Gemayel family) as minister but this was vetoed by both President Gemayel, Solang, and Sami Gemayel. Within the Maronite community another family, Suleiman Franjiyeh of Zgharta is lobbying against current MP and minister Nayla Mouawad, insisting that neither she nor her son be given a post in the new cabinet, because of the aggressive pro-Western and anti-Syrian stance they took during 2005-2008.
There are 7 posts with no portfolios, Minister of State in the 30-man Siniora cabinet. Nobody is accepting to become a Minister of State with No Portfolio!!
With such an agenda, and days left counting, it is doubtful if Siniora can announce success by June 7, 2008. The Lebanese—kingmakers and public alike—are keeping their fingers crossed.
"….Dans un entretiens aux quotidiens L'Orient le jour, Annahar et Assafir Nicolas Sarkozy affirme qu'"aujourd'hui, une nouvelle page est peut-être en train de s'ouvrir entre la France et la Syrie". "Depuis trop longtemps, la situation de blocage et de crise au Liban empêchait la reprise progressive d'un dialogue" mais avec l'élection du nouveau président libanais, consécutif à l'accord de Doha, "les choses sont peut-être en train de changer. C'est en tout cas ce que je souhaite", poursuit-il."J'avais dit (…) que je reprendrais des contacts avec la Syrie seulement lorsque des développements positifs et concrets seraient intervenus au Liban en vue d'une sortie de crise", affirme le président de la République. Selon lui, "il faut bien reconnaître que l'accord de Doha, l'élection du président Sleimane, la reconduction du Fouad Siniora dans ses fonctions de premier ministre constituent de tels développements". "J'en ai tiré les conséquences et j'ai appelé le président Assad pour lui faire part de mon souhait de voir le processus de mise en oeuvre de l'accord se poursuivre", dit-il. "Je lui ai aussi dit que les pourparlers indirects de son pays avec Israël, via la Turquie, allaient également dans le bon sens et je l'ai encouragé sur cette voie", ajoute-t-il. Mais "notre exigence de vérité et de justice en ce qui concerne les assassinats politiques perpétrés au liban est intacte", affirme également M. Sarkozy…"
7 Jun 2008, 0541 hrs IST,Indrani Bagchi,TNN
NEW DELHI: India is looking to reclaim some of its lost space in the Middle East. As part of its renewed engagement with the region, India will play host to the Syrian president Bashar al Assad here later this month — his maiden visit to this country and the first visit by a Syrian president here since 1978.
The visit is also part of the government's enlarged vision of the Middle East where India is working with more and more countries. The driving force of India's interest is clearly energy security as well as a demonstration of its independent foreign policy, particularly to its Left allies back home.
Assad's visit comes at a time when Syria is getting ready to show off its blasted nuclear site to the IAEA, which was blown up by the Israelis last year.
Interestingly, though Syria is in the US's crosshairs, Israel and Syria have begun the process of a dialogue, brokered by Turkey.
Whether India finally asks for a piece of this dialogue or looks for a bigger role in Middle East peace is still a while away. But certainly, India is making tentative moves into this region.
Azmi Bishara claims that "Israel offered Syria to cede the Golan Heights during the Second Lebanon War in exchange for Damascus cutting its ties with Hizbullah," former Knesset Member Azmi Bishara said in an interview with the Nazareth-based 'al-Anwan al-Raisy' newspaper. According to Bishara, Syria will refuse to sever its ties to Iran and Hizbullah – a key Israeli demand.
Obama clarifies united Jerusalem comment
By Hilary Liela Krieger, Jerusalem Post, June 6, 2008
Robert Fisk: The West's weapon of self-delusion
There are gun battles in Beirut – and America thinks things are going fine
Saturday, 7 June 2008
So they are it again, the great and the good of American democracy, grovelling and fawning to the Israeli lobbyists of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), repeatedly allying themselves to the cause of another country and one that is continuing to steal Arab land.
New York Times: Jobs Down for 5th Month; Oil’s Rise Adds to Gloom Recent hopes that the U.S. might yet skirt a recession sank swiftly in the face of indications that the economy is gripped by a slowdown and pressured by record fuel prices.
Ha’aretz: U.S.: We will address Iran nuclear threat diplomatically White House makes statement after Kadima minister Mofaz says Israeli strike on Iran seems 'unavoidable.'
Jerusalem Report: The Battle for the Golan Can Syria be lured away from its radical axis?
Trial of militant group gets under way in Beirut
'Net of 13' accused of plotting terror attacks in Lebanon
By Anthony Elghossain
Friday, June 06, 2008
BEIRUT: Lebanese military courts on Thursday began trying members of the "Net of 13," a group initially suspected of involvement in the February 2005 blast that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for "plotting to commit terrorist acts on Lebanese soil." The group has been linked by judicial authorities to Al-Qaeda, although members have repeatedly denied any ties with the Islamist network.
The "Net of 13" counts six Lebanese, one Palestinian, one Saudi and five Syrians among its members, in addition to a man who has eluded capture for around one year. The Daily Star was unable to confirm the nationality of this member.
At the trial, which is open to the public, members of the organization retracted earlier confessions to the Hariri assassination and said their admissions of guilt had been extracted by "police brutality and torture."
One member said Hariri's assassination was not carried out by Ahmad Abu Adas, who ostensibly leads the "Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria" Islamist group – an outfit which initially claimed carrying out the Hariri killing and to which Net of 13 members had been accused of having ties – but by "specialized intelligence services." …….
The source also told The Daily Star that these men, operating in blind cells of three or four individuals, "were to be smuggled into Iraq by a contact in Syria known simply as 'Jamil.'"
"When the United States clamped down on border security in Iraq, these men were forced to remain in Syria, where the authorities consistently harassed them," the source added. "This is why they came to Lebanon, although little else is known."
Cleared of involvement in the Hariri case, at least for now, group members have been brought to trial under suspicion of planning terrorist operations in Lebanon. …..
Three and a half years on, the Hariri case is yet to be resolved, but testimonies and investigations relating to the activities of the "Net of 13" may shed some light on a potential regional web of implicated individuals and groups, some of whom remain at large with ties to the group being tried.
June 6 (Bloomberg) — The Justice Department is investigating a decision in 2002 to send a terrorist suspect to Syria, where he was tortured, the New York Times reported, citing U.S. officials.
The Office of Professional Responsibility began an inquiry in March 2007 about the role of Justice Department lawyers in the expulsion of Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria, the newspaper reported, citing spokesman Peter A. Carr.
The case of Arar involved “very questionable'' actions by U.S. officials, Richard Skinner, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security said at a congressional hearing yesterday. Skinner's office has reopened its four-year inquiry into the case after getting new information, the Times said.
Arar was imprisoned for a year in Syria and beaten with a metal cable before being returned to Canada in 2003, the Times said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at email@example.com