News Round Up (20 June 2008)

Asma In India
Asma Al-Assad in India

Barak: Only US can help Israel-Syria talks; Syria: No chance of …Ha'aretz

Israel and Syria are unlikely to hold direct peace negotiations before the end of the year, especially without the involvement of the United States, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying yesterday.

US diplomat to visit Syria on Iraqi refugees: (AP)

Ambassador James Foley, the department's coordinator for Iraqi refugees, will travel to Syria on June 23-26 as part of a four-nation Mideast tour to boost the numbers of Iraqi refugees coming to the U.S. to meet the Bush administration's goal of accepting 12,000 by the end of September.

"He will assess the needs of Iraqi refugees in these countries and look at ways to enhance programs that provide assistance to refugees and help resettle the most vulnerable in third countries," said Kurtis Cooper, a department spokesman.

Foley also will visit Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, but the Syria stop will be the highlight because it is home to the largest number of Iraqi refugees and because of strong U.S. objections to Syrian policies in Lebanon and its support for anti-Israel groups.

The United States does not currently have an ambassador in Syria and trips there by senior U.S. officials are unusual. Foley's visit to Damascus will be his second as the Iraq refugee coordinator. Last year, he went to Syria and won approval for a small number of U.S. immigration agents to go there to interview Iraqi refugees.

Cooper said the trip did not imply any change in U.S. policy toward Syria,

Seeds of hope in crisis-strewn Mid East BBC

In May, Lebanon seemed to be slipping into a new civil war. Now a Lebanese friend in Beirut tells me that people are partying like there's no tomorrow….

Shia Hezbollah has resisted the temptation to turn the screw tight on its Sunni rivals. They have been seriously weakened by Hezbollah's victory on the streets, but they are still in power.

Syrian leaders in upbeat mood despite IAEA visit (20 June 2008)
Reuters by Alistair Lyon, Beirut

The attitude is not wait-and-see," said Taqi. "We have to produce the necessary momentum so that when the new U.S. administration comes it will find something to work on, and not treat the Middle East as the Bush administration treated it."

Washington, grappling with the Iraq war and other setbacks to Bush's "freedom agenda", has seen nations like Turkey, Qatar, Egypt and others step in as mediators in Middle East conflicts to fill what al-Taqi called "a vacuum in American vision". 

Syria, whose troops left Lebanon in 2005, was delighted by last month's Qatari-brokered deal among rival Lebanese leaders which translated a military victory won by Hezbollah and other Syrian allies against U.S.-backed factions into political gains.

"The Syrians were thrilled to see them wiping away the facade of U.S. power," said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma University. "It was clearly very sobering for the Americans, who are trying to figure out where to go from here."

Thaw Between Syria and Israel Puts Hezbollah on Front Burner 19 June 2008
By Nathan Guttman in the Forward – New York, NY, USA

“Syria is bending over backward right now to be accommodating to Israel and France by pushing Hamas to compromise and by pushing the Lebanese opposition to moderate their demands,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria scholar at Oklahoma University. Syria and Israel are finding common ground on the issue of Hezbollah, Landis added, but while Israel would like Damascus to break altogether with the terrorist group, Syria believes it can encourage Hezbollah to focus on politics.

Nur al-Cubicle writes:

Meanwhile, relations are not so good between the Arab League and Israel:

“A sharp verbal exchange occurred yesterday in Petra between Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Israeli President Shimon Peres, When Peres gave a speech at a working lunch, he called upon Arabs to “follow the path of peace in the example of Anwar Sadata and the late King Hussein of Jordan”. Mr. Moussa stood up and chastised Peres, “We haven’t heard anything about Israel’s opinion on peace. All you talked about was King Hussein and Anwar Sadat. What is your opinion on the Arab peace initiative? Oh, yes, you’re a master talker but you can’t go on fooling us forever, we’re not dumb!…Stop building those colonies!…Mr. Moussa then left the room….”

Via L’Orient-LeJour

The paper also reported that according to opposition leader Mohammad Raad, Condoleeza Rice, having flown to Beirut unexpectedly, has urged a delay in forming the government for “pending a certain event”

Qifa Nabki Comments:

It seems Michel Aoun is back to proving why he is so good for Lebanon.

All and sundry flay Aoun for bid to curb premier's powers
Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 19, 2008

BEIRUT: Sunni leaders from across the political spectrum slammed Christian opposition leader MP Michel Aoun for demanding that the authorities of the premier be amended. Former Prime Minister Omar Karami, a staunch opposition supporter, criticized Aoun for seeking to transform the prime minister into "a junior aide."

Karami made the remark during a news conference on Wednesday to express opposition to a call that Aoun made one day earlier to amend the premier's powers.

He said Aoun's call aims at "stripping the prime minister of all the powers gained by the Taif Accord."

"This is totally unacceptable," Karami added.

Read the rest here.

In addition to Karami, Hoss and Miqati also slammed Aoun for this pulpit preaching. It seems the opposition also has little patience for a megalomanical spoiler.

I'm beginning to think that, but for Aoun, HA, Amal, and the FM would have solved all of their problems back in 2006.

Oil prices rose $3.07, to $135 a barrel. Analysts speculated that the rise resulted from media reports of increased tensions between Israel and Iran which could, in the long run, decrease the supply of Middle Eastern crude.

"U.S. Says Exercise by Israel Seemed Directed at Iran – NYTimes.com"

Iran on Its Heels
In Tehran's Setbacks, an Opportunity in Iraq
By Vali Nasr
Thursday, June 19, 2008; Page A19

For the first time since 2003, Iran has stumbled in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to confront Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last month caught Tehran off guard. The Mahdi Army lost more than face: It surrendered large caches of arms, and many of its leaders fled or were killed or captured. Crucially, the militias lost strategic terrain — Basra and its chokehold on the causeway between Kuwait and Baghdad and Iraq's oil exports; Sadr City and the threat it posed to Baghdad security. Visiting Basra this month, I saw city walls covered with pro-Maliki graffiti. Commerce is returning to the city center. Trouble spots remain in both places, as Tuesday's car bombings show, but the Mahdi Army's unchallenged hold has ended…..

Iran has also managed to bolster the Iraqi army. The dissolution of Iraq's military after the fall of Saddam Hussein was a strategic victory for Tehran. Yet after all the talk of standing up an army that could confront the Sunni insurgency, it was not by fighting al-Qaeda in Mosul but the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army in Basra that the Iraqi army found its footing.

Iran still has considerable influence in Iraq. It may reconstitute the Mahdi Army and pick up the fight against America, using special groups of the type suspected in the Baghdad car bombing Tuesday. It may also try to use nationalist opposition to the U.S.-Iraq "status of forces" agreement to its advantage. But Tehran will find it difficult to regain lost turf in Baghdad or Basra, or to go back to happily supporting Shiites both at the center and in the militias. It will have to choose whether it is with the state or the sub-state actors.

That debate is unfolding in Tehran. In not-too-subtle criticism of the Quds Force's handling of Iraq, even Tehran's conservative press heaped praise on Maliki during the Basra operations. Some calls for expelling Sadr from Iran even made it into the media.

Washington needs to see this as an opportunity not just for Iraq but for U.S. relations with Iran. The U.S. and Iraqi governments should build on recent gains. Stepped-up action against Mahdi Army cell…..

It is a frequent refrain in Washington that the United States needs leverage before it can talk to Iran. In Iraq, Washington is getting leverage. America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels. Engaging Iran now could even influence who wins the Iraq debate in Tehran.

NYC Mayor Bloomberg defends Obama before Jewish audience

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is urging Jewish voters to denounce the online rumor that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim with a hidden agenda.

Bloomberg was speaking to members of a Jewish group in Boca Raton, Florida on Friday. The mayor says in prepared remarks that the rumor campaign is "cloaked in concern for Israel" but threatens to undo the strides that Jews and Muslims have made together.

Obama is Christian but has noted that some of the rumors about him have also been insulting to Muslims. Political independent Bloomberg has not endorsed anyone yet in the presidential race. His defense of Obama could help the Illinois senator in Florida, which is home to many Jewish voters

Comments (49)


1. EHSANI2 said:

Forget politics. What Turkey has been able to achieve in the European Soccer Championship has been remarkable. Their mental strength, courage and never-give-up attitude has to be saluted. The Ottomans failed in Vienna in 1529. Not tonight.

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June 20th, 2008, 9:44 pm

 

2. Karim said:

Ehsani and also in 1683.

Alf Mabrouk to Turkey

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June 20th, 2008, 10:11 pm

 

3. Alex said:

1000 mabrouk to Turkey

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June 20th, 2008, 10:51 pm

 

4. Nidal said:

QN,

There is a huge campaign to undermine Aoun and his party, since 2005. Since the Doha agreement, everybody is trying to sideline him by refusing his party their fair share in the government, considering that his bloc represents the majority of Christians.

If it weren’t for Aoun/Hezbollah understanding in 2006, Lebanon would have descended into civil war because, as is well known today, the US and their proxies in Lebanon (as well as Israel) were bent on weakening Hezbollah by the use of force (as evidence of summer of 2006 war).

No one seems to take account of the fact that, among the main parties and leaders in Lebanon, Aoun’s party is the one that is not corrupted. That is why all other parties (except for Hezbollah, but Amal included) would only wish to have him shut up forever. Nobody wants a clean party to be popular in a political arena that stinks with corruption and scandals.

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June 20th, 2008, 11:31 pm

 

5. Nour said:

Does anyone know where I can view highlights of the game online?

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June 20th, 2008, 11:59 pm

 

6. Hans Morgenthau said:

In retrospect it may have been a tactical mistake for M14 to discount Aoun in 2005, as he clearly did have the support of a large cleavage of Christians. However, his subsequent 180 vis a vis Syria and his [still] unrelenting quest for the Presidency Aoun have divided and weakened Lebanese Christians overall. Meanwhile his argument for a sovereign portfolio, that the Prime Ministership should also count as a sovereign portfolio, undermines Ta’if and is frankly disingenuous. I’m not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that Lebanon would have succumed to Civil War in 2006 if not for Aoun-Hizbollah. Civil war didn’t happen because Hizbollah’s arms ultimately weren’t threatened, and this had little to do with Aoun. Rather, it was poor strategic decisions on the part of Israel and the fact that Hizbollah simply is a formidable military force that secured the Party’s position. Finally, why do you think Aoun’s FPM is not corrupt? Try drawing a line between the FPM coffers and the bank accounts of Aoun’s family members…

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June 21st, 2008, 1:06 am

 

7. blowback said:

In “Iran on Its Heels”, Vali Nasr’s main hypothesis seems to be that because the Mahdi Army is being pressured by the Iraqi Army, Iran’s position in Iraq is being damaged. Any fool knows that SCIRI/SCII and the Dawa party are Iran’s major proxies in Iraq and that the Mahdi Army is opposed to Iranian domination of Iraq. So damage to the Mahdi Army benefits Iran and Iran is laughing at the Washington Post’s stupidity.

Looking at Vali Nasr’s bio on Wikipedia raises a further worry:

“In August 2006, Nasr briefed President Bush on the dynamics of sectarian violence in Iraq. He has also testified before the U.S. Senate and advised members of both houses of the Congress on Middle East issues.”

Oh dear!

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June 21st, 2008, 1:35 am

 

8. Alex said:

Israel’s Peace Offensive

June 20, 2008

Israel’s peace offensive of recent days may have been motivated in part by personal or domestic politics, but the driving force behind its willingness to negotiate is part and parcel of a much larger plan. As the dynamics in the Middle East shift in response to Iraq war backlash and Iran’s increasingly vigorous nuclear program, Israel has finally conceded that peace with Syria holds the key to rapprochement with the rest of the Arab world, including the Palestinians. At this time it is clear that waiting any longer will only increase Iran’s threats to Israel’s survival. If a comprehensive peace with Syria can be agreed upon, Israel will have a much better chance at successful negotiations with Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority and be better equipped to deal with Hezbollah and Hamas-all which will become extremely important as Israel gears up to face Iran.

The decision to engage Syria in peace talks was in the making for more than a year. I have been privy to some of the indirect talks between the two sides and I know first hand that had it not been for the objections of the Bush administration, Israel would have commenced these talks much earlier. Israel and Syria fully understand the requirements for a peace agreement, which is the return of the entire Golan Heights in exchange for comprehensive peace with normal relations. Without establishing these requirements in advance it is doubtful that the two nations would have entered into any negotiations directly or indirectly.

The importance of engaging Syria from the Israeli perspective cannot be overestimated. Without peace between Israel and Syria, most Israelis believe that Israel will always remain insecure on its northern front. Peace with Syria can also pave the way to an Israeli-Lebanese normalcy, specifically because Syria is imbedded in Lebanon’s social, economic, and political makeup and it continues to exert tremendous influence over Hezbollah. Moreover, Syria can wield significant influence on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating front because more than any other Arab state it provides a sanctuary for Palestinian radical leaders and an influence over the political and financial support of Palestinian extremist groups. Syrian influence transcends the Arab-Israeli conflict because as a predominantly Sunni state, Syria can shift the dynamic of the Shiite-Sunni conflict away from a dangerous escalation with the potential to engulf the entire region. More importantly, in any effort to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, substantially reduce its influence in Lebanon and dramatically weaken Hezbollah and Hamas, Syria matters because luring it out of the Iranian grips would isolate Tehran especially should it become necessary as a last resort for Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Although some Israeli officials argue about Syria’s role in the search for Middle East solutions, Prime Minister Olmert, his Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were in full agreement that the Bush administration should invite Syria to the Annapolis Middle East peace conference knowing full well that the Syrian delegation would raise the issue of occupation of the Golan Heights. They reasoned then, and they believe today, that the constructive engagement of Damascus that could lead to peace also has the potential to dramatically realign the forces behind much of what troubles the region which could help avoid a potential war with Iran. Reports from Ankara about the Turkish peace mediation between Israel and Syria suggest that the two nations have made considerable progress and that the two sides will soon meet face-to-face to accelerate the negotiating process. Syria’s President Bashar Assad’s recent statement expressing optimism about the outcome of these negotiations clearly indicates how far the two sides have gone.

Seeing it in this light explains Israel’s various peace overtures towards Lebanon, as well as its willingness to negotiate a prisoners exchange with Hezbollah and accept a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.

The negotiations between Hezbollah and Israel in connection with the exchange of prisoners and Israel’s willingness to relinquish Shebaa Farms to the UN or to Lebanon were mutually pursued for different reasons. Hezbollah’s leaders fully understand that the closer the understanding between Israel and Syria is, the less leverage Hezbollah will have in any future negotiations. Striking a deal with Israel now will allow them to take credit for recovering Lebanese territory and hail their resistance of Israel as the key to their success. On the Israeli side, removing the reasons behind Hezbollah’s resistance will give Syria an even greater leverage over Hezbollah to bring about its disarmament in due course. In making peace with Syria, Israel is basically accepting the inevitable by returning the Golan. But making a move at this time will, in particular, blunt any prospect of needing to deal with another hostile front should an attack on Iran becomes inevitable.

Accepting a ceasefire with Hamas has also its own calculus: Without peace with Syria, Israel would have most certainly opted for a major operation against Hamas’ forces in Gaza to put an end to the reign of terror. But since the negotiations with Syria are going well, a massive incursion into Gaza which would have claimed huge number of casualties on both sides has-for the time being-become unnecessary. Israel fully expects that Iran’s support of Hamas through Syria will eventually come to an end. This could alleviate much of Israel’s concern over the likelihood that Hamas’ will take advantage of the ceasefire to rearm and regroup and be better prepared for the next round. Meanwhile, a period of calm will also allow the peace negotiations between Israel the Palestinian Authority to advance more rapidly, thereby strengthening the hands of the Palestinian moderate forces led by Mahmoud Abbas. Moreover, this will give Israel an opportunity to reduce some of the stringent security measures including the removal of many road blocks, release more Palestinian prisoners and allow greater number of Palestinian worker to seek employment in Israel. While this will certainly not solve the complex dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians, it will show a concrete effort on Israel’s behalf to start making concessions in the name of peace. Israel will then be in a better position to assist Mr. Abbas directly and indirectly in building his security forces without being accused of pitting one Palestinian faction against another.

Finally, Israel’s peace overture towards Lebanon would have been an empty gesture had it not been for the fact that Israel is negotiating with Syria. For all intents and purposes, there is no substantive dispute between Israel and Lebanon. Israel has no territorial claims against Lebanon and is willing to relinquish Shebaa Farms either to the UN or directly to Lebanon. But this issue, along with all other matters related to peace making between Israel and Lebanon, depends largely on the kind of understanding Israel and Syria reach concerning the future of Lebanon. Whereas on the surface Syria will accept Lebanese sovereignty, it has and will continue to seek recognition of its special relations with Lebanon. Indeed, you can remove Syrian forces from Lebanon, but you cannot take Syria’s historic and cultural relations as well as it’s political, economic and security interests out of Lebanon. Although Israel’s overture towards Lebanon is significant, as it demonstrates the comprehensiveness of the Israeli approach, the Israeli government should have no illusions about a real prospect of making peace with Lebanon before peace with Syria becomes imminent.

As was demonstrated by Israel’s F-16 and F-15 fighter major air exercise earlier this month, Iran’s overt threats on Israel’s existence are being taken at face value. And should Iran’s uranium enrichment program get to a point of immanent danger, Israel will need any alliances it can make in the time being. Thus in any peace-making efforts in the region, Syria has proved to be the most strategic key in preventing all out war. Historically, Syria has demonstrated that once it commits itself to any agreement or understanding it usually fulfills its obligations. Sticking to the rules of the 1974 disengagement agreement with Israel is one of many examples. Should the current peace negotiations end up successfully, the Middle East geopolitical dynamic will experience an historical transformation while preventing a major conflagration between Israel and Iran. Both Syria and Israel fully grasp the huge potential gain or losses should they succeed or fail.

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June 21st, 2008, 2:05 am

 

9. Alex said:

Hamas says Syria won’t cut ties for Israel peace
Wed Jun 18, 2008 5:17am EDT

ABU DHABI, June 18 (Reuters) – Hamas is confident Syria will not bow to Israeli pressure to cut ties with the Palestinian Islamist group to clinch a peace deal, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said.

“Israel has a tactic of trying to push Syria away from its allies and the Palestinian issue but this is a game,” he told Reuters during an official visit to the United Arab Emirates.

“The Syrians have said, officially and at the top levels, that their efforts and determination to return the Golan will not come at the expense of the Palestinians or Syria’s ties and contacts. We trust the Syrian position.”

Israel and Syria concluded a second round of indirect peace talks on Monday and agreed to continue the negotiations over the fate of the Golan Heights in July.

Meshaal, who is based in Damascus, said Hamas was not invited to the talks.

“It is not Israel’s right to set conditions for the Syrians or any Palestinian or Arab state,” he said.

“A wrong and aggressive move was made to occupy Palestinian and Arab land and … Israel can reverse this wrong move by withdrawing.” (Reporting by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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June 21st, 2008, 2:39 am

 

10. Majhool said:

Is it really happening (peace)?

If it does happen I will take it upon myself to personally cook “stuffed grape leafs” (yabra2) and invite the entire neighborhood over.

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June 21st, 2008, 2:54 am

 

11. Qifa Nabki said:

Nidal

I agree with much of what Hans said.

Aoun is, as always, trying to re-write the rules in order to find some way to come out on top. The opposition was given 11 seats in the new cabinet. Aoun is insisting on 5 of them, leaving Hizbullah and Amal to split the other 6. This seems a bit extreme. Furthermore, he is looking for any way to justify being awarded a sovereign ministry, even though this would mean that the opposition would control more of them than the majority. Again, this doesn’t make sense.

There are several things that I admire about the FPM, and I enjoy following and participating in their online discussion forums. But Michel Aoun, in my opinion, has proven to be the most selfish, egotistical kind of politician. The MoU with Hizbullah was a smart move, and a good one for Lebanon, but Aoun has long since put his personal ambitions ahead of the interests of the country.

He talks out of the reformist and non-sectarian side of his mouth when it suits him (like challenging Ta’if on a regular basis), and out of the staunch sectarian side at other times (like styling himself as the representative of the Christians, etc.)

I personally believe that Aoun will not do so well in next year’s elections, barring a serious change in public opinion. I know from first-hand experience that many Christians (including many in my family) who feted Aoun’s return to Lebanon in 2005, now despise him.

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June 21st, 2008, 12:21 pm

 

12. Nour said:

QN,

Do you seriously believe that Aoun is more selfish and egotistical than most other Lebanese sectarian/tribal chieftains? In any case I don’t agree that HA would have agreed with FM absent Aoun because FM was trying impose the American agenda of disarming the Resistance.

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June 21st, 2008, 2:11 pm

 

13. Honest Patriot said:

May I humbly add as a distant observer (hence with some level of detachment and objectivity) that I fully concur with QN’s assessment of Aoun. There is much to be admired about his (once) honesty, patriotism, drive for reform, etc., but, alas, he did indeed end up mixing his hollow personal ambition with political decisions and positions to the detriment of the country. Under the guise of being a reformist his early insistence on accountability in a manner that was completely impractical — more of a wilde goose chase of corruption and money theft that was sure to lead nowhere — belied a political naivety that negated all his other qualities.
There is only one true statesman in Lebanon: PM Fouad Siniora. The only close second is Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, modulo unacceptable (and barely hidden) fanaticism. Notwithstanding the silly claims to the contrary, it was Siniora who successfully put at long last an end to the 2006 war. Without his political maneuvering Lebanon would have been completely and utterly destroyed, and Syria and Iran were simply watching with full cowardice. Siniora is the one who maneuvered courageously to ensure the formation of the international tribunal, against enormous odds and threats. He always kept his poise. He is articulate, poised, respected throughout the world, and, sacrificing much of his personal comfort, safety, and peace of mind, he is patriotically continuing to serve the country. History will do him justice long after the shameful ridicule that many on this blog throw at him.

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June 21st, 2008, 2:11 pm

 

14. Honest Patriot said:

Nour, when you come down to it, the Resistance is not serving the interests of the Lebanese people – witness the destruction, physical and economic, they caused. No, Lebanon and the Lebanese will do fine, thank you, by towing a neutral polilitcal position, like a Middle East Switzerland. They will thrive and contribute enormously to a true solution to the Middle East conflict. Instead, the Resistance has served no other interests but those of Syria, Iran, and the hordes of rejectionists across the Arab land. All this talk about “American Agenda” is rubbish, albeit a successful one at that, playing into the populism that keeps warlords in business.

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June 21st, 2008, 2:15 pm

 

15. Qifa Nabki said:

Actually Nour, I do.

The rest of them are selfish and egotistical, for sure. They’re pathetic and embarrassing, and they make me cringe.

But, in my opinion, Aoun takes the cake. The guy has had a Napoleon complex since he was born. He’s had one ambition and one ambition only: to become president of Lebanon. He has gone to great lengths his entire career to try to make this a reality. As early as 2003, he was referring to Hizbullah as a “terrorist organization”, and trying to woo the Americans to go for regime change in Damascus. When that didn’t work, he tried to play the other side, also to no avail.

As for the FM and Hizbullah, I will repeat my belief that they would have come to an agreement much earlier had it not been for Aoun. All of the hesitation and changes of tack, were due to him. When the FM accepted Hizbullah’s proposal of Suleiman as a consensus candidate, it took Aoun off guard, and he was responsible for the months and months of delay and distraction. Up until Doha he was pouting and behaving like a petulant child, saying things like “I have not yet withdrawn my candidacy and I have to be compensated for it if I do.”

As for the American agenda of disarming the resistance, do you really still look at things in such a black and white way, ya Nour? If so, then there is a much stronger case to be made that Syria is currently playing a central role in the “American agenda” by pursuing peace talks, which will inevitably lead to disarmament and integration.

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June 21st, 2008, 2:23 pm

 

16. Qifa Nabki said:

HP

Where does your admiration for Saniora come from?

To me he’s just not leadership material.

As for the resistance, I also disagree with you. Hizbullah is much more than just a front for rejectionism. It is more than a militia, more than a political party: it is a phenomenon, a social movement to which millions of people have yoked their nationalist aspirations.

I may not agree with many of their strategies and orientations, but I think it is necessary to do them justice as a legitimate and powerful expression of resistance. Without them, south Lebanon would likely still be occupied, and Israel would have little reason to be negotiating for peace with Syria.

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June 21st, 2008, 2:29 pm

 

17. why-discuss said:

Honest patriot

No, Lebanon and the Lebanese will do fine, thank you, by towing a neutral polilitcal position, like “a Middle East Switzerland. “

That was Hariri’s dream… live in a bubble, ignoring the neighboring countries and hosting half a million palestinians in camps with no hopes and civil rights.
Well that turned out to be a nightmare and the Lebanese are starting to realize that Lebanon is NOT and will not be Switzerland, it is more like Kosovo.

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June 21st, 2008, 3:56 pm

 

18. Alex said:

HP my friend,

I understand that Seniora looks like a decent civil servant. I understand that he is smart, diplomatic, and best of all, he is not a war lord with thousands of innocent Lebanese murdered under his sectarian leadership like a few other M14 leaders.

But …

1) He has zero charisma.
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=733

Here is what Harvard students wrote after meeting him:

“We met for two hours with Siniora, who seemed to be genuinely excited to see us but unfortunately proved to be very boring, lacking charisma or a sense of interactivity”

2) He is a worshiper of the King of Saudi Arabia (who does not read and write too well)

Here is what Seniora wrote about the Saudi King in the Saudi Newspaper Asharq Alawsat:

“As for King Abdullah Ben Abd alaziz (King of Saudi Arabia), the grand human being, the grand leader, the noble knight, may god preserve his friendliness and prolong his rule, and allow us to continue enjoying his presence and his work, reward him for all that he provided and participated in, reward him for his struggle and hard work for the success and progress of the kingdom … citadel of all Arabs and Muslims, and his struggle for the benefit of the Arab world and for peace and freedom and Arabism and independence and stability of Lebanon’s democratic system and its successful coexistence.”

http://www.asharqalawsat.com/leader.asp?section=3&article=431784&issue=10481

The Kingdom? … “citadel of all Arabs and Muslims”??

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June 21st, 2008, 4:07 pm

 

19. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN,
You have fallen for this propoganda also?
“Without them, south Lebanon would likely still be occupied, and Israel would have little reason to be negotiating for peace with Syria.”

Without Hizballah Israel would have been out of South Lebanon much sooner. The main reason that there will not be peace with Syria and that Netanyahu will win the elections is because most Israelis do not think that the Golan should be returned to a regime that supports Hizballah and Hamas. This is certainly how I feel. Such a regime should be isolated and not dealt with.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:00 pm

 

20. Nur al-Cubicle said:

For the last time, Ohmert is damaged goods. Thus, he is not a negotiating partner.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:06 pm

 

21. Qifa Nabki said:

AIG

I don’t believe this because Hizbullah says it. I believe it because Israel has proven over and again in its dealings with Lebanon that it has little use for any logic but force.

At the same time, however, as a Lebanese citizen I’m willing to tolerate the resistance only as a means to a very specific end, namely the defense of Lebanon.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:08 pm

 

22. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN,
Israel has made many mistakes in Lebanon, but it is just not true that it always used force. It tried countless times to have Lebanon deal with the Palestinian problem by itself to no avail. It believed (stupidly) that Lebanon would limit Hizballah to defense only after the 2000 withdrawal, but Lebanon never stepped up to the plate. The Lebanese state has proven itself so weak at asserting itself, that any peaceful solution that Israel tried never worked.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:19 pm

 

23. Nour said:

Alex,

Let’s not forget Sanioura’s hugging and kissing of Condoleeza Rice while she was calling for Israel to continue to bombard Lebanon and providing them with the weapons to kill his people. I guess that’s the act of a true statesman.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:20 pm

 

24. Nour said:

HP,

The Resistance did not cause damage to Lebanon; “Israel” did. To continue to repeat this line is disingenuous and does a lot of harm to Lebanon. The Resistance is the only force willing and able to defend Lebanon against “Israeli” attacks. “Israel” would have had settlements in south Lebanon by now were it not for the Resistance. We’ve seen what “Israel” does with any land that it occupies, so what makes you believe that the same would not have occurred in Lebanon? “Israel” had a goal of occupying Lebanon up to the Litani in the last war and it was strictly the Resistance that prevented them from achieving that goal. So there is no way I can agree with your assessment that the Resistance is bad for Lebanon.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:25 pm

 

25. Nour said:

QN,

I think you’re a bit blinded by your hatred for Aoun. The essential disagreement between FM and HA was over the Resistance which made HA insist on having veto power in any government, Aoun or no Aoun. The fact that Aoun was on their side definitely helped them, but the essential problem was that FM wanted to eliminate the resistance in accordance with foreign commands.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:27 pm

 

26. Qifa Nabki said:

AIG

The Lebanese state is caught in a double bind. In order to gain strength, it needs to cede power away from several dispersed loci of authority: not just Hizbullah but also the Palestinian camps and the various sectarian leaders. However, the state is itself composed of these players and their allies, who have little interest in changing the system.

Add to this the dilemma of the conflict being a regional one, with different powers trying to use Lebanon for their own advantage.

It’s a classic Middle Eastern Gordian knot: impossible to disentangle, but also very difficult to slice outright.

I think that Syria is currently trying to fashion itself as the ideal point to slice the knot. Bashar is effectively saying: “Deal with us, and we can deliver everything you need: peace with us, peace with Lebanon, peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs… Iran will be forced to follow.”

Maybe I’m naive, but I prefer to believe this for now than the alternative.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:34 pm

 

27. Qifa Nabki said:

Is it just me or does anyone else think that Asma al-Asad looks like a movie star from the 1950’s?

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June 21st, 2008, 5:35 pm

 

28. Qifa Nabki said:

Nour

I wouldn’t call it hatred. 🙂 More like extreme distaste.

What do you mean by “eliminate the resistance”? This is a loaded and rather jingoistic statement. It’s statements like these that ensure that the Lebanese political scene remains as polarized as it is.

I personally believe that there should be a middle ground between the current Resistance with a capital R (which basically answers to no one in Lebanon and styles itself as the leader of ma3raket al-umma, as Nasrallah said in 2006) and no resistance at all. It is not acceptable to me that any group or party in Lebanon should be beyond reproach. Hizbullah has tried to silence its critics using this tactic, and to me this is extremely dangerous. Even you, an educated Lebanese living abroad, once said that anyone who questions the legitimacy of the resistance is a traitor. To me, this kind of thinking belongs in authoritarian regimes, not in pluralistic democracies.

At the same time, I don’t want to see the group disarmed and disbanded. I’d like them to be integrated into the Lebanese army, and for the defense strategy of the country to be modeled along the lines of HA’s experience.

So, does this mean I want to see the resistance eliminated? Some aspects of it, yes. But not all.

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June 21st, 2008, 5:45 pm

 

29. Seeking the Truth said:

According to this report from the German magazine “Der Spiegel”, Syria and North Korea were helping Iran in its nuclear program through the bombed reactor, which was under construction in Al-Kibar. However, Syria has now a change of heart regarding this matter.

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June 21st, 2008, 6:22 pm

 

30. Shai said:

QN,

You said: “I think that Syria is currently trying to fashion itself as the ideal point to slice the knot. Bashar is effectively saying: “Deal with us, and we can deliver everything you need: peace with us, peace with Lebanon, peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs… Iran will be forced to follow.”

I completely agree with you. I think Bashar is trying to send exactly that message, and I think Israel should take him up on that offer. Bashar has recently said that Syria has “nothing to give Israel” in return for the Golan heights. But in fact, it is exactly those things above, which Syria can, and most probably will, provide if and when we make peace. Syria is the ideal peace partner for Israel, and never more so than now. It astounds me sometimes when I think about how most Israelis can’t see this.

On that issue, AIG is completely right – most Israelis don’t want to give back the Golan because they can’t understand nor accept Syria’s support of Hamas and Hezbollah. If Bashar ever explained it, speaking directly to Israelis, and using terms other than simply “resistance”, I think there’s a good chance we could finally “see the light”.

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June 21st, 2008, 6:45 pm

 

31. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN,
Who knows where the line between hope and naivete lies?

But let’s suppose the ultimate scenario. Israel gives back the Golan. Syria gets $3 Billion a year from the US and has excellent relations with. Lebanon is a free country from Syrian influence.

The problem is that Syria will still be a backward third world country with an oppressive regime but now with no way of projecting any power and with the regime having no excuses for its dismal failures. How can this be a scenario Asad wants? Something is not adding up.

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June 21st, 2008, 6:54 pm

 

32. Shai said:

AIG,

I imagine Assad wants what Mubarak and Abdullah want – to be free once and for all from having every step they take measured against their support/lack thereof for the Palestinian problem. They want peace in our region, so they can go about changing their country. They know that as long as Israel occupies the Palestinian lands (and the Golan), the muftis in the mosques throughout the region are more powerful than ever. But they also know they themselves aren’t strong enough to take-on the religious zealots. Bashar cannot utter the words “No to Jihad”. But as a man who listens to country music on his iPod, chances are, he doesn’t exactly view Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” as something to look forward to.

I may be wrong, but I think Assad wants a way out, and a way onto the path to the modern world, and believes peace will make that happen, not democracy that’ll put some Islamic party in power. If not, then really things don’t add up. Surely if he was just after power and money, he should stay put, and continue to nourish resistance and anti-Israeli policies. If he’s bluffing, it’s time for Israel to call his nearly 4-year bluff. Personally, I doubt he’s bluffing.

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June 21st, 2008, 7:11 pm

 

33. Shai said:

AIG,

Btw, congratulations for making it to the Grand Order of the Mulukhieh! Well done! 🙂

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June 21st, 2008, 7:13 pm

 

34. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
But Egypt and Jordan are in such bad shape, that I do not think that this is what Bashar wants. Syria would be even worse with the secterian issues that are much more problematic than those of Egypt and Jordan. It just does not add up.

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June 21st, 2008, 7:22 pm

 

35. Alex said:

Shai,

I guess I have to admit it at this point … I tried to ban him many times when I realized he is going to surpass me … but then I realized there is no hope … he was on his way to winning the Grand Order of the Mulukhieh no matter what I did.

: )

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June 21st, 2008, 7:24 pm

 

36. Shai said:

You see Alex, that’s the price of freedom!!! Sure you want that? 🙂

AIG, I’m not suggesting in any way that Bashar wants to be like Egypt or Jordan, of course he does not. I mean that, like their leaders, he wants the main uniting factor on the streets of the Middle East to disappear once and for all. It is the one thing that is keeping him from doing what he wants. When he, Mubarak, and Abdullah, wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, they must ask themselves “Am I being pro-Palestinian enough today…?” They’re tired of it. They want to each focus on their own internal affairs, and to talk with the rest of the modern world about development and improvement, not about Israel.

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June 21st, 2008, 7:32 pm

 

37. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
Why can’t Egypt and Jordan focus on internal affairs because of the Palestinian issue? It is quite helpful in keeping Arabs united.

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June 21st, 2008, 7:49 pm

 

38. Shai said:

AIG,

I’m not sure any of the leaders in this region are interested in “keeping Arabs united”. The first concern of each leader, is what goes on in his own country, and what is best for his own people. Although Bashar, Mubarak, and Abdullah certainly identify with the suffering of the Palestinians, they too want this conflict to end. It has occupied their local and foreign policy for way too long. They know (like we in Israel should) that as long as this issue remains unresolved, everything they do is measured up against it. Imagine always having to think about how pro-American-Jews you are, day and night, year in year out, for decades! As much as I love them (y’all), there’s a limit to how much I can build my life around this problem. And look, at least in Jordan and Syria, the Palestinians are treated like normal citizens (in Jordan, they are citizens of course). Bashar knows he can help us resolve our conflict with the Palestinians. He, unlike anyone else, is trusted by Hamas and by Fatah. He can help broker talks between us. He can help convince Israelis that are afraid of the Arabs, that we truly can be at the verge of a new and peaceful era. We have to give him a chance.

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June 21st, 2008, 8:01 pm

 

39. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
You still haven’t explained why what Asad is doing is in his interest and in the interest of the Syrian elite that supports his regime. It is just not. Unless for example the economic situation in Syria is much worse than we think, what he is doing does not make sense.

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June 21st, 2008, 8:15 pm

 

40. Shai said:

AIG,

In this day and age, when anyone in Damascus can watch Baywatch on their satellite tv, as well as Fox, CNN, BBC, and even Israeli channels, Bashar knows that freedom and openness are not an option, but indeed a necessity. They are a MUST. It will either happen with him, or without him. He could, if he waits too long, fall victim to a military coup, a religious coup, a sectarian coup, an Al Qaida sponsored assassination, etc. He knows the Syrian people are looking up at him, and awaiting his leadership, to take them out of their current state and into the modern world. His own survival depends on the well-being of his people. And the only way to ensure their well-being, is by making peace, and helping end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is the only rationale I can come up with, for why Hafez Assad, and now his son, sought and seek peace with Israel.

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June 21st, 2008, 8:30 pm

 

41. AIG said:

Shai,
Well if Asad knows that freedom and openess are a must, why does he need the Golan or peace with Israel to pursue them? Let’s wait until he implements such reforms.

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June 21st, 2008, 8:49 pm

 

42. Nour said:

QN,

You are communicating a completely different agenda than that of FM. FM is promoting an American agenda, in line with Saudi desires. This means no Resistance It doesn’t only mean disarming HA, but it goes further to mean that all spirit of resistance should be crushed. That’s why they use such grotesque and vulgar sectarian incitement, and why they ridicule and mock any and all resistance.

Now as for parties being beyond reproach, they ALL are. All sectarian warlords and chieftains are beyond reproach. There is no state in Lebanon to hold anyone accountable for anything, especially not these tribal lords. These people all have their own fiefdoms and their own militias and no one can say anything to them. You keep insinuating that all that is standing in the way of an ideal Lebanon is HA and its arms. This is utterly inaccurate.

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June 21st, 2008, 10:04 pm

 

43. Qifa Nabki said:

AIG

You said: “The problem is that Syria will still be a backward third world country with an oppressive regime but now with no way of projecting any power and with the regime having no excuses for its dismal failures. How can this be a scenario Asad wants? Something is not adding up.”

Actually, I think that this is a good question. There are many reasons to believe that the current talks are a bluff, by both sides, and that it is neither side’s interest. As I said, I’d prefer to be hopeful at this point, which means that I view the situation following your “ultimate scenario” as follows: Bashar would be tremendously popular in Syria, buying him at least another 5-7 years in power during which he could start taking some more risks. During this time, he would ideally begin implementing economic and political reforms, opening up the country, setting it on a path towards democracy… a kind of 10-15 year plan. Peaceful conditions and stability would encourage and facilitate this.

Of course, this might all be a pipe dream.

Nour,

Again I think you’re painting with a very broad brush. There is a very significant culture of political criticism in Lebanon; the press castigates the various leaders on a daily basis. No one is above criticism… except that Hizbullah has, in the past, regularly tried to silence criticism of its own leaders and their projects. When Basmet Watan did a sketch which featured Nasrallah, there was a huge hoopla about it, even though the rest of the political class are regularly parodied.

I agree with you that there is no way to hold these people accountable, and that is why we need an independent judiciary.

Finally, I am not insinuating that HA stands in the way of an ideal Lebanon. Believe me, Lebanon is far from ideal. Even if HA were to disarm tomorrow, this wouldn’t solve the vast majority of our problems. We need solutions on a vast array of issues: electoral law, judiciary, school system, economy, water security, defense, telecommunications, etc. etc. not to mention the treatment of Palestinians, and our relations with our two neighbors.

But I do think that the Hizb needs to adapt, for the sake of the country’s stability, and for the sake of its own constituents. Keeping up the Resistance in its current form, in my opinion, condemns the Shia of Lebanon to the party’s embrace, and its embrace alone.

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June 21st, 2008, 11:50 pm

 

44. Shai said:

AIG,

Like the Palestinian issue, so is democracy and major reform, they’re all interlinked to everything in our region. Assad cannot make serious changes in Syria without first winning so much “credit” that no one on the inside (whose interests are not-exactly reform, etc.) could pose a threat. To do so, he needs to deliver the Golan and perhaps even help broker peace with the Palestinians. He can achieve neither, without peace with Israel. We must NOT set as precondition to peace, the level of reform/democracy in Syria, or any other nation in this region. We must do our share, to help the current leaders help their people, by at least returning land that’s not ours.

QN,

America would have never been discovered if it wasn’t for someone’s “pipe dream”. Nor would have at least 90% of the today’s technology. Most people couldn’t fathom (and probably still can’t) how a person can type on a keyboard on a tiny laptop attached to nothing whatsoever, click “submit comment”, and 2 seconds later, his words are viewed by many people at the same time all around the world! We take it for granted now, but someone not long ago at all, had a nice little “pipe dream”, and made it happen! Peace should be much easier to accomplish – it doesn’t even require understanding nanotechnology… 🙂

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June 22nd, 2008, 5:09 am

 

45. JustOneAmerican said:

Is it just me or does anyone else think that Asma al-Asad looks like a movie star from the 1950’s?

I think she looks quite a bit like the American actress Sean Young, actually.

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June 22nd, 2008, 5:51 am

 

46. Honest Patriot said:

Hmm, HP’s (that’s me) admiration of Siniora and partial negativiy towards the “Resistance” has spurred some disagreement and maybe puzzlement at the rationale behind my statements.

So,… here goes:

– With the renewed disclaimer (once again!) that I’m no political expert, observing the news over the past 2 years, I’ve always found Siniora’s interviews with the Western media, his speeches at home, his poise, the principles he repeats and that drive his decisions and actions, I’ve found these to be always very clearly stated, logical, faithful to Lebanon as an independent country whose foremost concern should be the well being of its citizens. I’ve admired the power and lucidity of his expression, his persuasive skills with foreign leaders despite one of the poorest hands you can hold in the political game. Then I compare Siniora’s behavior in this way to any other Lebanese politician’s and I find that there’s not even a close second. It’s as simple as that. Now, I’ve read above the criticism of some of Siniora’s statements in which he seemed to lavish praise and almost adoration on the Saudi King, and other such pronounements. I don’t know what to make of those other than to wonder whether they are anything but just words with really no consequence.
I believe Siniora was very unfairly judged — and that history will correct this judgment — in how he worked the international scene to lead, at long last, to the cease fire in the war of 2006. I don’t buy that what stopped the war was HA’s strength in resisting. This doesn’t mean that I condone Israel’s actions nor what I believe they were prepared to do (utter destruction of Lebanon). However, I find it really ironic and cowardly that Syria and Iran just stood by watching and voicing verbal complaints when Lebanon was being destroyed. Unless history in the future reveals otherwise, at this point I think the war ended in great part due to the persistent maneuvering of Siniora. I don’t think this point can be proven or refuted at this stage. It’s too soon for the real truth to be allowed to emerge.

– As far as the “Resistance” and HA and Nasrallah, I look at what could have been after 2000 had they limited their activity to powerful political action backed by their disciplined organization and numerous followers. We saw during the “Cedar Revolution” what ordinary people, when they come together, can achieve by the sheer pressure of their presence. HA did not need to engage in offensive maneuvers against Israel and all that followed to achieve even greater status than they have now. Instead, the path they chose barely veils a dangerous undercurrent of a dormant hidden agenda to establish, sooner or later, the rule of the Faqih in Lebanon. Yes, I know that many have declared they are not after that, etc., but I have a hard time accepting that the fundamentalist religious faith of Nasrallah and many of his followers — one that dictates working towards the rule of the Faqih — that such faith will not, as soon as the opportunity becomes available, return to the diligent work towards that end. Of course, they will likely not succeed, but that doesn’t change the fact of their intention to try. In a way, this is just like the extremist fundamentalist Christians in the US seeking continually to re-link church and state.

Anyway, I do appreciate the comments, explanations, and references from QN, Alex, Nour, Why-Discuss, and all others who addressed my statements above. Maybe I’m unconsciously changing my mind and I don’t know it 😉

PS 1 – Just wanted to express my pride as being the first ranked in the Order of the Falafel. Please make it Falafel “Freyha.” No other Falafel in the world matches it.

PS 2 – Mrs. Assad really looks as a super distinguished, elegant, first lady. Without necessarily the physical resemblance, the best analogy is as the Jacqueline Kennedy of Syria.

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June 23rd, 2008, 3:19 am

 

47. why-discuss said:

Ibrahim Chamseddine, a shia intellectual vehemently accuses the Hezbollah of trying to create a Welayat al Faqih controlled state in Lebanon:
“Le projet du Hezbollah est de prendre le pouvoir au Liban et d’instaurer une République islamique. Non pas à la manière iranienne, bien sûr, mais à travers un coup d’État institutionnel. Le pluralisme sera respecté, mais, politiquement, tout le monde sera sous les ordres du faqih iranien. Il pourrait alors instaurer une sorte de système de protection des dhimmis….”
More..

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June 23rd, 2008, 2:29 pm

 

48. why-discuss said:

Asma Al Assad resembles Angie Dickinson… Striking, intense and elegant.

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June 23rd, 2008, 2:32 pm

 

49. norman said:

WHY-Discuss,

Good for Angie dckinson , Don’t you think.?

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June 23rd, 2008, 2:52 pm

 

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