Observations of a German journalist in Beirut

Here is a fascinating personal account of recent events in Lebanon from Heiko Wimmen, a German journalist and political analyst who resided in Beirut for the better part of the past fourteen years. He would like to share it with readers of Syria Comment. 

Alex. 

 

Dear everybody,

So the civil war has started, or maybe it is over already. Thursday night was fighting almost non-stop. In the afternoon and evening, salvoes of fire from automatic weapons into the air during and after the speeches of the two main opponents, Nasrallah for Hezbollah and Hariri for the pro-American Future Movement, as has become fashion for a couple of months now. Then the rhythm changes, the firing moves closer, becomes fire and counter fire. Names of places in the news are more familiar now, are finally only two blocks away, where Jumblat lives, the one opponent singled out by the Hezbollah chief as the image of evil collaboration with the American and the Israeli enemy. But it might as well be in the alleyway under our bedroom window, punctuated by the dull pounding of missiles from a kilometer’s distance. Small fry compared to what the Israelis administered on the suburbs two years ago, but much, much closer to us. Our three year old son dismisses our stories about firecrackers and decides it’s thunder. We deliberate where to sleep – civil war lore has it that you are supposed to sleep in the bathroom, but it’s too small there. The corridor, the hallway – anything with no outside windows. In the end, we stay in the bedroom – anybody who takes up position in that alleyway, we tell ourselves, must be plain mad – it’s a trap, if there ever was one. Finally, the thunder really comes: a furious and unseasonal thunderstorm hits the city, pounding the streets and our windows with relentless rain, drowning out the sounds of the explosions for nearly an hour. For a night of long knifes, this is terrific choreography.

lebanon_1.jpg

Shooting continues until the morning, when Jumblat’s house is finally surrounded. Somehow, the wave just rolled over us and our alleyway. Across the hallway, the door of an abandoned house – the owner, an old Armenian woman, lives in Spain, and hasn’t been seen since the last war – has been kicked in. Apparently they came to check if the owner of the building, a 150 % Hariri man and possibly training in the Future militia, was using it as a weapon’s cache. Carefully, we venture in: nothing but stale air, dust, covered furniture. Not a drawer has been opened, not a sheet crumpled. They walked in, checked the place, and walked out. As it turns out, that pretty much sums up the style of the whole operation.

One by one, the quarters and positions held by government supporters fall. By all accounts, it is a rout. Within less than eight hours – fighting only really started in earnest after the speech of Saad Hariri in the evening – it is all over. Hezbollah and Amal, their rather low-brow and thuggish auxiliaries, have taken over most of West Beirut, flushed out most strongholds of the “Future”-movement and forced their media to shut down (some of the offices were also trashed). The Army, after standing by throughout the fight, has deployed to secure sensitive spots, in particular where pro-government officials live. Around 10, army vehicles take up positions in our area. On Friday, all quiet and deserted streets, intermittent gunfire – some last pockets of resistance, or maybe just militia shooting in the air in celebration.

On Saturday, a semblance of normality seems to return, but everybody remains on edge. We cross to the East, where nothing has happened (yet) – the old demarcation lines have been reinstated, and as was the case during the 1980ies, fighting only occurs in the Muslim areas, despite the bitter animosity that also divides the Christians in government and opposition supporters – yes, there are Christians, possibly the majority, who support Hezbollah. We spend the day on the seaside, feasting on fish and Arrack and giving our bored kid some dearly needed entertainment, after being locked into the house for three days. In the afternoon, two thuggish guys in their mid-thirties enter the place, and the head waiter turns all jittery and flustered, lavishing attention on those unsmiling characters – if our radars are good for anything, those must be men of Geagea, the shadowy and staunchly pro-American former henchman of the Lebanese Forces who vies for leadership of the Christians, patrolling their turf. We prefer to leave.

Areas like Tarik El-Jadide where lower middle class Sunnis – the power base of the Hariris – concentrate are tense with wounded pride and barely contained rage. Six are shot dead during a funeral procession for one of the victims of the day before, the pro-opposition shooter claims self-defense. Saturday night, fighting between pro- and anti-government Druze, vicious antagonists divided by clan rivalries, erupts in the hills to the South-East of the capital. In their strongholds around Tripoli, the Hariri supporters battle the Alawis of Jabl Muhsin, who have the bad luck to adhere to the same religion as the rioters’ favorite but unreachable enemy, the Syrian regime, on top of old wounds from the civil war. After a long night with several dead and hundreds displaced, again the army moves in. In a nearby town, a dozen supporters of the Syrian National Socialist Party, a particularly despicable formation of rabid Jew-haters following a wacko Arab/Levantine nationalist ideology are killed – allegedly, they were executed after a negotiated surrender. Soon enough, a gory video with bodies showing head wounds circulates. Jumblat’s men kidnap three Hezbollah fighters and execute them, mutilating the bodies. Clashes keep flaring up on and around the two main roads leading to Syria.

On Sunday, Hezbollah and its Druze auxiliaries fight it out with Jumblat, the strategic mastermind of the government camp, in the mountains above the capital. A friend receives a hysterical call from the sister of a Druze friend, an engineer with a master’s degree and a career ahead of him, who just called in wearing fatigues, determined to fight Hezbollah (he didn’t reach in time to put himself in harms way). Ominous growling of missiles all afternoon, but even the result of this battle is sealed from the start, despite the heavy armor that the Druze are rumored to have – it appears that Jumblat has neglected his home base for too long, and that his formerly fearsome fighters are no longer what they used to be. In the afternoon, he orders them to stand down and hand over their arsenal to the army, all under the oversight of his Druze arch nemesis, the Hezbollah ally, ending a very long weekend (nobody has been to work since Wednesday). The Airport remains closed, as are the roads to Syria and the port. Soon, the fuel oil for the power plants will run out, and the Lebanese electricity grid, already strained by three postwar decades of corruption and mismanagement, will falter again.
 
The good news (so far): while the conflict does have a sectarian dimension – the fighters are mostly Shiites on one side, Sunnis and Druze on the other – it is still first and foremost a struggle between two irreconcilable political agendas, and has not (yet) turned sectarian, despite the best effort of pundits in the pay of the government and its Saudi masters (who control much of the Arab media) to discredit Hezbollah as hell-bent on turning Lebanon and the Levant into an Shiite-Arab foothold of a new Persian Empire. People are fleeing the fighting, but no ethnic cleansing is occurring. Likewise, news of plundering or rampage, or deliberate bombing of residential buildings not home or very close to armed positions. Hezbollah and Amal have uprooted their armed opponents from their positions in neighborhoods that are often Sunni-dominated but mostly mixed or intertwined with Shiite neighborhoods. Those captured in the fighting are handed over to the army. In some areas, they have forced known Future-activists out of their neighborhoods. Uninvolved civilian residents, regardless of religion and sect, are largely left alone. Some thuggery does occur, inevitably, and in particular Sunnis feel intimidated by the sight of the gunmen and their symbols. But apart from those unlucky enough to be living in the vicinity of actual clashes, most people living in Beirut were not under immediate threat. The prime minister decries “massacres” and “people being attacked in their houses”, but it remains unclear where those actually occurred.

How it all started: a few days ago, the government or what is left of it took a twin decision to fire the chief of airport security, and to dismantle Hezbollah’s private telephone network – a “declaration of war” according to the party’s secretary general. And war it was. Why were these decisions a casus belli? According to Hezbollah’s secretary general, replacing the chief of airport security was part of a plan to convert the airport into “a base for the CIA and the Israeli Mossad” – a rather outlandish accusation (since it would constitute criminal high treason and be nearly impossible to conceal within a complex structure like an airport), if well in line with the party’s rhetoric, expressed constantly since the aftermath of the 2006 war, of casting the government as a tool in the hand of those forces.

The communication network appears to be quite a different matter: Nasrallah’s assertion whereby this system was of crucial importance for Hezbollah’s operations during the 2006 war (directing their fighters and orchestrating the missile attacks on Northern Israel) and would be of equal importance in any future confrontation, seems to make immediate sense – it does not require a degree from a military academy to realize that in any armed confrontation, to be able to maintain secure communication between headquarters and the troops in the field is critical, and that having your communications penetrated or disrupted can very easily be the beginning of the end (for a good article on this, click here).

So why were these decisions taken in the first place, and why now? The Airport Security Chief, who has served in this position for years, stood accused of not moving decisively enough against “surveillance equipment” which Hezbollah allegedly installed close to the Airport – but the areas around the Airport have been Hezbollah strongholds for more than two decades, and hundreds of residential buildings overlook the runways, where people will happily welcome Hezbollah to install just about anything. The phone network has been in place for years, and even if were true that illicit profits are reaped from it – which Hezbollah categorically denies -, that hardly seems sufficient reason to risk civil war – illegitimate telephone services are available all over Lebanon.

Moreover, it appears mysterious how the decision was meant to be physically implemented. Surely, Hezbollah knows where the wires are, has means to know about any attempts to dig them up, and would have not stood by and watched.

So that leaves us with several possible explanations:

  1. Bazaar – the decision was taken without any real intention to see it through, but rather, to score a political point and create a political asset, first by seeing Hezbollah obstruct it – voila, here you have the state within the state –, and then to trade it against concessions in the ongoing haggling about the formation of the new government, electoral law, etc. etc.
  2. Posturing – a move to please their Western benefactors, and deliver a show of strength and determination to boost morale among the follower base, after a grinding 18 months of political stalemate. To be sure, a purely rhetorical show of strength – since no army or police commander in his right mind would have exposed his troops to such an adventure.
  3. Hubris & Underestimating the adversary – after three years of receiving military, financial and moral support and restructuring the Internal Security Forces to become government loyalists (nowhere to be seen during the event), the government may have felt strong enough to risk a confrontation. Former flare-ups, both politically and in the streets, may have helped create the impression that once seriously squeezed, Hezbollah would always back down, fearing the stigma of illegitimacy and the potential for uncontrollable sectarian (Sunni-Shiite) strife (which both Hariri and the religious head of the Lebanese Sunnis evoked heavily on the eve of the fighting).
  4. Conspiracy – all of this was a bait and a trap to draw Hezbollah out into the open, discredit their nationalist credentials and expose them as sectarian warmongers staging a coup, thus preparing for some sort of international intervention to take them out. A variety of scenarios circulate that center on the highly publicized Turkish-mediated initiative for a peace deal between Israel and Syria, starring a variety of actors (determined by the position of he who presents the scenario) who may want to use the Lebanese crisis to shoot such a deal down (American neo-cons, Israeli and Syrian hawks, Iran). And even the long standing argument about Iran being ready to fight the Americans until the last Lebanese and Arab, and being ready to sell its allies out once the US are offering the right terms, is being rehashed by pundits of the Egyptian and other regimes, who are known for their own close ties with the Americans, and despised by their people for that.

As it were, Hezbollah decided to not take chances and linger long wondering about the government’s intentions. Or maybe they decided that, blunder or brinkmanship, rhetoric or conspiracy, the time had come to bite rather than bark and draw a very clear red line, preempting additional demands and more pressure. They may have also thought it high time to crack down on the proto-militias the government was building, before they could turn into something like a real fighting force, and they may have finally lost patience with stalemate that has been going on for 18 months now.

Exploiting or rather hijacking a general strike that the labor federation had called over purely economic demands, they sent their youth to the street, who quickly blocked all roads to the airport. By touching the airport – the one lifeline out of the country for anybody opposed to Syria, named after the late Rafik El-Hariri and iconic for his project of turning Lebanon into a leisure hub for petrodollar Arabs – a response from the other side was virtually assured. And surely it came: hails of stones exchanged between youth supporting either side, who live side by side on the southern edges of the city – a stone-throw from each other, quite literally. First gunshots (as always, we will never know who fired first), then the fighters were deployed.

When we saw the first footage of those guys, we knew that a whole new game had just started. Those were not some angry youth or neighborhood thugs who just picked up some old Kalashnikovs: these guys were well trained and equipped for urban warfare, advancing slowly and well-coordinated down the alleys, seeking cover and securing positions. As it were, the Hariri militia – a lot of them young guys recruited from dirt-poor areas in the North, with a few yalla-rounds of basic military training – were no match, and it appears that some of their commanders abandoned ship and ran even before the fight had started. So devastating was the defeat that the government felt compelled to deny that a battle ever took place – only a few “unprotected citizen defended their houses” – with automatic weapons, and rocket-propelled grenades, stuffs we all store under our beds. (click here).

So where do we go from here? The victors, Hezbollah and Amal, have in fact largely withdrawn, leaving the army to control the streets. Agency reports whereby "Beirut is in the grip of fear and chaos" as bearded fundamentalist militias are roaming the streets are absolute rubbish, poor and simple. Even the one day they WERE roaming the streets of the city, what reigned was relief – that the fighting was over, and that those guys, scary as they may have looked to some, by and large acted with discipline, even the Amal-guys, who do not have a reputation for such behaviour. Bringing in the army so far is the smartest move in a game they have played with perfect planning, timing and tactics – staying within the framework of a legal institution, denying as it does its opponents the opportunity to portray what has happened as a coup, absolving the party of the effort to maintain security, and leaving it in the hands of a legal institution that is neutral, if not sympathetic to them. Almost a game of bad cop – good cop.

But withdrawing does not wipe away the past days. The shadows of war linger. Invisible, the fighters are there as a ghostly presence. We know that they can be there any second. We know that nothing will stand between them and simply wiping the state out of existence. The army, the last institution potentially functioning as an arbiter, has lost that ability, if it ever had it. Over the past days, they have largely acted as an auxiliary or second-tier force shadowing Hezbollah, doing things that could have tied down or compromised the party – controlling masses prone to riot, moving in and securing the areas that were “cleared”, leaving the fighters with their hands and backs free to knock out their opponents elsewhere. Yes, weapons that are illegitimate and positions that should not have existed in the first place, in particular for parties who have been singing the hymn of state sovereignty for the past three years, are handed over to the army – but it’s only weapons and positions of the pro-government parties who are handed over, and while Hezbollah and Amal voluntarily withdrew from the streets, the others had to surrender. Amal-“offices” have sprung up all over the city, with bored thugs hanging out outside – and nobody comes to check what they store in their closets. In some areas, they even dress up as policemen but are given away by their beards, which police are not supposed to have. In Shiite quarters – in particular those located close to or surrounded by Sunnis – the party is on, and youths roam the streets with ostentatious swagger. In Sunni areas, all posters of Hariri father and son have disappeared, many shops are closed, people avoid being on the street. The balance has been changed – and the prime minister, now more than ever, has been reduced to little more than a janitor of the Saray, the Ottoman barracks-turned government palace overlooking a city that is now in the hand of his enemies.

In any other place, a government with even a token residue of self-respect would have resigned, or exiled itself. But they are hanging on, propped up by foreign backing. Yet, pretending that nothing has happened is simply not going to work. It appears highly unlikely that things can return to the status quo ante of political attrition that has lasted for 18 months – we don’t know yet what the new balance of power will be, what the rules of the next phase will look like, but one thing is sure: they will be different. Soon, not much will be left of the political institutions, some of which have already been reduced to mere ciphers. The army, touted now by everyone as the one institution with untainted national credentials, seems to be set to perform a much bigger role (already, the army chief has been pre-selected to become president, if there is ever going to be an election). The next government, if there will be one, will certainly have a very different colour.

So is it over? Militarily speaking, and barring outside intervention, the answer is probably yes, as the defeat of the government camp has been so complete that there is hardly anything left to fight with. The question remains what the Americans want, and if they know what they want, and whether they are even free to think about it. No doubt, the demise of the Seniora government, praised right left and centre by anybody in the Bush administration who ever said a word about the Middle East, is another black spot on the Middle Eastern report card of this administration, and not exactly reassuring for those Arab regimes who rely on American support for their own survival. Are they going to do anything about it? Can they do anything about it? Is this still part of a “grand plan”? Really a plot to sabotage Israeli-Syrian peace (as if Olmert has any authority or credibility to see such a thing thru)? Or just another addition to a long book of blunders, a list of assorted self-inflicted messes that Mr. Bush will happily bequeath to a democratic successor, or which a republican successor will happily convert into an occasion for a new show of force (though I am not sure a democratic successor will deal any different). Most likely, however, the fading Bush administration will have just enough momentum or rather inertia left to continue supporting Seniora, and pressure its Arab allies to do the same, thus keeping the living corpse that his government is propped up in the Saray, possibly prompting the other side to push even further.

Now the Arab foreign ministers are in town, and last night the offending decisions were formally withdrawn. Apparently, some in the government still wanted to play tactical games about the timing, but were told to shut up and not waste the time of the delegation. Maybe those guys mean business. Maybe Saad Hariri has re-inflated himself enough through his televised post-defeat rants (in a puzzling twist of logic almost to inane to repeat, he claimed that Hezbollah operated under the cover and with the implicit support of Israel – after all, the Israelis did NOT bomb the Hezbollah fighters when they approached Beirut, and they could have done that, so NOT BOMBING is indirect assistance…) to sit down and make the necessary compromises.

Comments (169)


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151. norman said:

QN,

You said ,

Coups always try to style themselves as revolutions, but they eventually fall apart if the root causes are not addressed. Sayyed Hasan understands this; that’s why he didn’t storm the Serail as you suggest. You see, the man is wise.

May 20th, 2008, 12:49 am

I am glad you beleive me that Nasrallah is wise

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May 20th, 2008, 1:59 am

 

152. Qifa Nabki said:

Why-Discuss

There is no point being vulgar. You see things your way, I see things mine. I think there is more than enough blame to go around.

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May 20th, 2008, 2:16 am

 

153. Honest Patriot said:

It really comes down to 2 options, either accepting the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and then working through the peace agreements needed to establish coexistence and prosperity for all in the Middle East, or insist on “wiping Israel off the map,” or “throwing the Zionists in the sea” and establish a single state in Palestine. Those who believe in the first option should know that those who are pushing the second option are standing in the way of the solution whose elements are quite known. Judging from history and applying wisdom I see the first option as the sensible one. All those here who argue for HA weapons, for the righteousness of the Syrian regime, etc., are really in the other camp. There is no middle ground. You cannot root for the Syrian regime and claim you are for a 2-state solution. It simply does not compute. Alas Lebanon is caught in the middle of an Arabic quagmire. The true Lebanese want their country to be non-aligned, prosperous, completely independent of any foreign influence, with clearly delineated borders with both Syria and Israel, with diplomatic relations with both Syria and Israel, and working in the most effective way to voice persuasive arguments defending the rights of the Palestinians (which will be, for a change, the most effective way to claim those rights). Those who disagree are in the other camp, and are repeating the mistakes made by the Arabs over and over again. They never learn, and the most ironic aspect of this, is that they are not the ones who are paying the price but are rather mere loud mouthpieces for the (losing) rejectionsist stand. I know I speak for many readers of this blog even if they don’t bother voicing their opinion (or if they stopped reading in utter disappointment). This camp will soon include me, I’m afraid. I apply objective, reasoned, scientific anlaysis to all this and I don’t see it any other way.

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May 20th, 2008, 2:20 am

 

154. Zenobia said:

Only “two options” ? and no middle ground?
of course there is middle ground…. tons and tons of middle ground. Swaths of middle ground.
People actually don’t fit into one camp or the other. They agree on some terms and not on others… with all kinds of nuances and specific differences and agreements.
this with us or against us, black and white dichotomous choices picture is not reality either.
It is very easy to see this even on the most basic views. For example, I personally am in favor of a lasting Israel and peaceful coexistence between all the countries there, but at the same time- I am not against HA asserting themselves this way or taking things to this level. Sounds contradictory, but it is possible to have these things both in ones mind.

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May 20th, 2008, 2:52 am

 

155. norman said:

US and Russia ranked among least peaceful nations
By James Blitz in London

Published: May 20 2008 03:00 | Last updated: May 20 2008 03:00

An annual study ranking nations in terms of how peaceful they are has given poor marks to the US and Russia, placing them firmly in the bottom half of a list of 140 states.

Iceland tops the survey, which analyses how peaceful countries are both in terms of international policy and domestic conditions. For the second year running, Iraq is in last place due to the continuing violence since the 2003 US-led invasion.

However, the different results scored by the world’s leading powers remain the most striking feature of the Global Peace Index, the brainchild of Steve Killelea, an Australian entrepreneur and philanthropist. The survey, published today, finds that 16 of the 20 most peaceful states are European democracies – most of them members of the European Union. If the EU is judged as a bloc, it would come in fourth place.

However, China is put in 67th place, the US is 97th and Russia is at 131.

The Global Peace Index is drawn up by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an independent think-tank, together with the UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit. It tests each nation against 24 “peacefulness” criteria, including a nation’s relations with its neighbours, arms sales and foreign troop deployments.

It also takes into account data on a nation’s crime rate, its prison population and the potential for terrorism within its borders.

The low ranking of the US, which comes below Syria, Rwanda and Mongolia, reflects its high level of -military expenditure and engagement. It also has proportionally more citizens in jail than any other state.

Russia remains in the bottom 10 despite a lower score in the measure of domestic conflict, which partly reflects increased stability in Chechnya. Relations with neighbouring countries are moderately tense and Russians have low levels of trust in other citizens, probably a reflection of the country’s high rates of violent crime.

In Europe, France, Britain, Cyprus and Greece fall out of the top 20. Relatively high levels of militarisation in the UK and France are one of the main reasons the states receive a lower ranking.

Iceland’s position reflects its internal political stability and its good relations with its neighbours. But internal factors also count, Iceland has no standing army and among the lowest proportion of its citizens in jail.

Iraq’s position at the bottom of the table is no surprise, given that 4m Iraqis are now said to be in exile. Among the least peaceful states clustered at the bottom of the list are Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan.

The 2008 list also reveals the biggest risers and fallers since the first survey was conducted last year. The nations making the biggest jump up the table are Angola, Indonesia, India and Uzbekistan.

Angola has risen 13 points because, five years after the end of the civil war, it has an increasingly stable political scene and is set to hold elections this year for the first time in 15 years.

Kenya, which witnessed serious internal violence after December’s presidential elections, has been the biggest faller.

For full ranking see: http://www.ft.com/peaceindex
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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May 20th, 2008, 3:13 am

 

156. Nur al-Cubicle said:

You know, maybe the fact that the Lebanese warlords are in Doha is a good thing. It seems the are willing to freeload as long as Doha is willing to pay the tab…this may be the solution everyone’s been looking for!

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May 20th, 2008, 3:21 am

 

157. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
My line on the bombings has always been the same: Israel would take the risk in doing such a thing only for a nuclear facility. So what you are saying is just not true, I did not believe any other story.

The Jordanian article is inciting against the Kurds, Americans and Israelis. If you are against incitement, then at least be consistent. Even when the incitement serves your interest you should not support it.

There are plenty of people that view the Americans as a force for good in the Arab world. They are of course silenced and threatened by the voices of “resistance” so their support is not public.

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May 20th, 2008, 4:07 am

 

158. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

HP has got it right.

Take the case of South Korea and North Korea. One is US “puppet” and for over 50 years has US troops stationed there. The other has “resisted” the US for years. Where would you rather live?

Take the case of Israel and Syria. Israel has been the “puppet” of the US and Syria has led the “resistance”. Which country is in better shape and has provided better for its citizens?

Take the Kurds and the Sunni in Iraq. The Kurds have become American “puppets” and have accepted US hegemony. The Sunni are blowing up Americans. Who is in a better situation?

Yes, American hegemony is so so bad. You get aid, you get loans, you get technology and you get security and in cases like Germany, Japan, South Korea and the Kurds, you get democracy and a chance to be a first world country.

When a Syrian moves to the US he must by definition accept US hegemony. This is why I find it utterly amazing that Syrians in the US are rejecting for their countrymen what they themsleves accept freely (after all, they can move back to Syria).

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May 20th, 2008, 4:14 am

 

159. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I wish that for once an American Lebanese who is a supporter of Hizballah would explain his line of thinking. Why do you personally accept US hegemony and find it good but think that Lebanon as a country should reject it? Why would it be so bad if the Lebanese in Lebanon had a life like you have in the US? What would be so bad if the Shia got a fair representation in the political process in Lebanon and Hizballah disarmed?

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May 20th, 2008, 4:20 am

 

160. Naji said:

أضرار «جانبيّة»
خالد صاغيّة

مهما تكن النتيجة التي سيتمخّض عنها مؤتمر الدوحة، فإنّ قوى الأكثريّة التي ستعود إلى لبنان، لن تكون هي نفسها الأكثريّة التي عرفناها في السابق. لقد أدّت أحداث بيروت والجبل الأخيرة إلى فقدان المعارضة الكثير من رصيدها، لكنّها أدّت إلى فقدان الأكثريّة لنفسها.
نحن أمام مشهد يتراوح بين نقيضين: يمثّل وليد جنبلاط التسليم المطلق بنتائج الحملة العسكريّة. وهو مارس ضغطاً لإلغاء قرارَي الحكومة المشؤومين بالقوّة نفسها التي مارس بها الضغط لإقرارهما. انتقل جنبلاط سريعاً من موقع القيادة الفعليّة لقوى 14 آذار، إلى موقع قيادة طائفته الصغرى التي تعرّضت لضربة موجعة. في موقعه الأوّل، كان يقابل كلّ ضربة بمزيد من التطرّف. أمّا في موقعه الثاني، فلا خيار إلا اعتماد سياسة الحدّ من الأضرار.
على الضفّة المقابلة، يبدو سمير جعجع في حال إنكار كامل للواقع المستجدّ، ولا يكفّ عن الترداد أنّ ما جرى على الأرض لن تكون له انعكاسات سياسيّة، وهو العسكريّ الذي بنى كلّ أمجاده السابقة على قلب المعادلات السياسيّة بواسطة انقلابات عسكريّة. لكنّ جعجع المحاط بحلفاء مسيحيّين ضعفاء، والمحاصَر بميشال عون المتفاهم مع حزب الله، لا يملك غير إنكار الواقع وسيلةً لمواجهته. يزيد من صلابة هذا الإنكار أنّ أيّ نافذة على الواقع لن تطلّ إلا على استيعاب دروس «حليفه الاشتراكيّ».
يقف فؤاد السنيورة وسعد الدين الحريري في الوسط، وهما أقرب إلى الزوجين المخدوعين. الأوّل خدعته نفسه، وخدعه حلفاؤه السياسيّون الذين شكّل غطاءً لهم. بقي يردّد لازماته بشأن بناء الدولة، حتّى كاد يصدّق أنّ المعركة في لبنان تدور حول هذه النقطة بالذات، وأنّ قادة 14 آذار، وكوندوليزا رايس من وراء البحار، لن يتمكّنوا من النوم قبل تأمين احتكار الدولة للعنف، وقطع دابر الفساد.
لم يكن السنيورة قائداً شعبياً. لم يخضع نفسه لأي امتحان انتخابي، ولا يحمل من الصفات الكاريزميّة أكثر من نظيره سلام فيّاض. لكنّه لم يكن مجرّد واجهة لأمراء الطوائف والحروب والنهب المنظّم الذين يشكّلون قادة 14 آذار. لقد أراد أن يكثّف في شخصه ما يمكن أن نسمّيه أيديولوجيّة الدولة. لكنّه سقط في فخّ انعدام القدرة على التمييز بين المتخيّل والحقيقي. فذهب بعيداً في خطاب الدولة، وبدلاً من التعامل مع الأيديولوجيا وسيلةً لـ«صناعة» الأفراد أو وعيهم، تعامل مع الجماعات وسيلةً لخدمة الأيديولوجيا. فكان أن أدّى الدور المطلوب منه بأمانة: مزيد من تحلّل الدولة أمام زحف الطوائف.
خديعة الحريري الابن كانت مختلفة. إنّها خديعة ملعقة الذهب، إذا جاز التعبير. جاء إلى دنيا السياسة محاطاً بدعم شعبي ودولي جارف، فضلاً عن القدرات الماديّة الضخمة. لقد خدعه المحيطون به، أو ربّما لم يجدوا طريقة أفضل لتفسير تعقيدات العالم له. قسّموا له الدنيا، كما في الأفلام الهوليوودية، إلى الرجل السيّئ والرجل الجيّد (Good guys and bad guys). كان يجول في عواصم القرار في العالم، فلا يجد من يدحض له هذه الاختزالات. فالدور المراد له أن يؤدّيه لم يكن يتطلّب إدراكاً أكثر عمقاً. وجد الحريري نفسه فجأة في منتصف الطريق، وسط تعقيدات لا قدرة لمفرداته الضيّقة على التعبير عنها، فضلاً عن إيجاد تفسير لها أو التعامل معها.
لقد كانت لضربة حزب اللّه العسكريّة تأثيرات متفاوتة الأحجام على مركّبات السلطة. لا يمكن فريقاً أصيب بهذا القدر من التهشيم، أن يخوض حواراً منتجاً، وخصوصاً في ظلّ خصم ضاق ذرعاً بالسياسة، فلم يتورّع عن استخدام القوّة الصلفة.

عدد الثلاثاء ٢٠ أيار ٢٠٠٨

عنوان المصدر:
http://www.al-akhbar.com/ar/node/74296

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May 20th, 2008, 4:30 am

 

161. Shai said:

AIG,

You said: “Incitement works in the middle east because each side is prepared to believe the worst about the other side.”

I completely agree with you. But I would also say that we are not only prepared to hear more terrible things about one another, we indeed continuously seek such “reinforcements” to our own distorted views. We are not open minded, we do not wish to hear opposing views, and as time passes we lose those last shreds of hope. At best, we adopt apathy and cynicism as a way to handle life.

Zenobia,

I don’t think HP means that there is no middle ground in the process. I think he’s stating that in the end, you will either have an Israel which is a Jewish state, or you will have an armed HA (as an example). That you cannot have both. So while you may, at the moment, support both, HP is saying that while that may be legitimate, it is holding up the end result. I agree with HP about the end, but not about the process. Unfortunately, we are nearing the end precisely because HA and Hamas are armed. If these were never created, nor the Syrian-Iranian alliance, we may still be contemplating continued occupation of the Palestinian territories, the Golan, and Southern Lebanon. HP probably believes that once Israel has shown signs it is willing to give up on the West Bank (as it did on Gaza and the Sinai), and on the Golan, then anything that may counter her on the ground impedes in reaching these goals. I just don’t see how we can remove those elements of (armed) resistance, one nanosecond before signing the final peace agreements. Of course I wish we could, but I’m afraid my own country would only take advantage of it, and change its course for the worse, not for the better. I am sadly forced to admit, that Israel (as well as some others in this region) only responds to force. In the immediate term, it reacts wrongly (another operation into Gaza). In the long term, correctly (withdrawal from Gaza, West Bank, Golan).

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May 20th, 2008, 4:43 am

 

162. Zenobia said:

Shai,
yes, i see what you are saying. I don’t disagree with HP about the end, but i disagree about the process involved and the evolution of societies which is not so amenable to our control.

Aig,
I don’t think you know what the definition of Hegemony is. Or i simply don’t understand what you are saying about it. Why did you keep saying that by living in the US, one is accepting the notion or principle legitimacy of US hegemony? Nonsense. Lots of americans are opposed to it. And certainly immigrants who come to the US are agreeing to play by the US laws while they are here. However, they may completely disagree at the same time with the foreign policy or the role in the world that the United States is playing. There is no contradiction there. What goes on inside the US is not equivalent to how this country treats the rest of the world. Hegemony is about the country’s relation with other powers and the world.

and by the way, there are many Syrians, my own cousins for example, who have come to the United States to get education, and some to make money, and some just to get an American passport (ironically,in part, so if the US ever bombs Syria they can get out! and just as ironically… because the passport has prestige when you try to get engaged.. although this prestige is now waning fast) and then they leave to go back to Syria. Many have no intention of staying in the States … no matter how materially better it is and how much better the standard of living is… and even no matter how “free” the individual is comparatively. Interestingly enough – they don’t like how lonely they are in America, how segregated it is culturally (actually)… and that it is a place that generates a lot of feeling of alienation, particularly for the immigrant.
but I think these are subtleties that you don’t consider in your evaluation of life or in this bizarre way of comparing life across the worlds different countries.
Ultimately, not all life is evaluated by the type of terms you have laid out. Even democratic participation and any feeling for it – is a luxury to experience. A huge number of people everywhere and even in America really are very passive and dismissive of such participation and concern.
In fact, I never heard from any personal acquaintance or relative of mine that they are soo determined to get that citizenship so they can vote and politically have a voice. It rarely had anything to do with that.

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May 20th, 2008, 5:09 am

 

163. Majhool said:

I have to agree with both HP and AIG.

resistance has become a banner under which all ills are justified.

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May 20th, 2008, 7:08 am

 

164. Shai said:

Majhool,

Let’s switch roles for a second – you represent Israeli interests, and I’ll represent Arab ones. Are you suggesting that armed resistance should end? Should it morph completely into non-violent resistance (e.g. diplomatic, economic, etc.)? Do you honestly think Israel listens better to diplomatic outcries than to Qassam missiles? If you’re saying HA’s excuse for holding arms is to resist Israel, and in so doing, it legitimizes its own use of these weapons also against the Lebanese, that’s one thing. But if you’re suggesting HA and Hamas should disarm, become purely-political organizations, and resist Israel on the international diplomatic arena, rather than on the battlefield, you may be exercising wishful thinking here, unfortunately. Look at the absurd – I, as an Israeli, am considering the benefits of an armed enemy that vehemently hates me and my people. It really should seem hallucinatory to any objective party observing from the side. But the problem for me is, that only this resistance caused officials in my country to start thinking about changing our ways. Without it, 3 million Palestinians would remain refugees within their own territory for another 60 years. And my people, and my children, would continue to suffer the consequences of that.

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May 20th, 2008, 7:45 am

 

165. SimoHurtta said:

Take the Kurds and the Sunni in Iraq. The Kurds have become American “puppets” and have accepted US hegemony. The Sunni are blowing up Americans. Who is in a better situation?

AIG when Sunnis and Shias in Iraq have “solved” US invasion, against who do think they will then turn? By the way the democratic Turkey under US hegemony is blowing up “democratic” Kurds and US is clapping hands.

“Who is in a better situation” changes in time. Some times rather fast and unexpected.

—-

Peace index, thanks Norman for the link. Very interesting. I can’t wait the IGs commenting it. Strange that the FT story did not mention Israel. 🙂
http://www.visionofhumanity.org/gpi/results/rankings/2008/

Syria on place 75, Iran on place 105. Egypt 69. Lebanon 132.

And the miserable bottom of the list. Israel on place 136, just before Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and Iraq. Even North Korea is better in this aspect than Israel. And even Myanmar. (smile mark if it would be proper)

Interesting data in the list details. For example

Number of paramilitary personnel per 100,000 people
Lebanon 492.6, Israel 114.1, Syria 556.4, Iran 56.9

Freedom of press (Source Reporter Without Borders; Year: 2007)
Syria 66, Israel 32, Lebanon 28.8, Finland 1.5.

Hmmmm free press IGs??? Why so bad results?

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May 20th, 2008, 8:58 am

 

166. norman said:

institute for war & peace reporting

Bush Visit Won’t Affect Syria
(20-May-08)

Syrian analysts and activists say President George Bush’s recent visit to the Middle East will not have a significant impact on their country, arguing that the United States leader enjoys little credibility in the region.

Bush made a few public comments on Syria during his five-day trip to the region, which ended on May 18.

Maintaining his administration’s tough stance towards Damascus, Bush urged Arab nations to reject both the Syrian and Iranian governments, saying he envisioned a democratic future Middle East that did not include the current Syrian regime.

The pro-government press in Syria ignored Bush’s visit.

Fuad Aliko, a former member of parliament and secretary of the Syrian Kurdish Yakiti party, said he did not believe the remarks represented a major threat to the government.

“I don’t think that the American administration has any intention of overthrowing the Syrian regime,” he said.

Aliko predicted that the US would not change its policies, which include putting pressure on Syria to institute democratic reforms and to cut links with Tehran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

An activist in Syria’s anti-globalisation movement described Bush’s regional trip as “a waste of time.”

“Bush has lost his credibility in American public opinion,” he said. “So what is his credibility in a region like the Middle East, to which he has brought agony and war? His crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have made him a man of war rather than peace.

“The American president has damaged the image of the American people in the eyes of people in the Middle East, Arabs in particular.”

Bush’s credibility may have plummeted since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but Aliko argues that the US retains some authority in both Syria and the rest of the region. Damascus has, for example, repeatedly demanded that Washington sponsor peace negotiations with Israel, and some regional states like Egypt and Jordan have strong ties with the US.

While the activist maintained that it was better that Bush did not visit Syria, others said his decision not to engage with the country during this trip was unimportant.

“It isn’t necessary for the American president to visit in order for the two countries to communicate,” said one political activist.

He noted that the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited Syria over a year ago and met President Bashar al-Assad. Many members of Congress and former US president Jimmy Carter have also visited Syria.

Although these visits were heavily criticised by the Bush administration, the political activist suggested that “perhaps these visits are being used to convey messages to the Syrian leadership”.

A student at Damascus University’s department of information said Bush did not lay much emphasis on Syria during his visit because his administration does not have a clear policy on how to deal with the country.

He expressed concerned, however, that Bush might consider launching another war against Syria, Iran or the Lebanese Hezbollah.

“The tragedies of the American war in Iraq are the most obvious proof that the decision to launch a war against Iraq was a mistake,” he said. Despite this, he said, “Bush might make another similar decision before departing.”

(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country, whose identities cannot be revealed for security reasons.)

© Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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May 20th, 2008, 12:34 pm

 

167. Akbar Palace said:

The Miracle, at 60

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, May 16, 2008; Page A19

Before sending Lewis and Clark west, Thomas Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis to Philadelphia to see Benjamin Rush. The eminent doctor prepared a series of scientific questions for the expedition to answer. Among them, writes Stephen Ambrose: “What Affinity between their [the Indians’] religious Ceremonies & those of the Jews?” Jefferson and Lewis, like many of their day and ours, were fascinated by the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and thought they might be out there on the Great Plains.

They weren’t. They aren’t anywhere. Their disappearance into the mists of history since their exile from Israel in 722 B.C. is no mystery. It is the norm, the rule for every ancient people defeated, destroyed, scattered and exiled.

With one exception, a miraculous story of redemption and return, after not a century or two, but 2,000 years. Remarkably, that miracle occurred in our time. This week marks its 60th anniversary: the return and restoration of the remaining two tribes of Israel — Judah and Benjamin, later known as the Jews — to their ancient homeland.

Besides restoring Jewish sovereignty, the establishment of the State of Israel embodied many subsidiary miracles, from the creation of the first Jewish army since Roman times to the only recorded instance of the resurrection of a dead language — Hebrew, now the daily tongue of a vibrant nation of 7 million. As historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote, Israel is “the only nation in the world that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name, and with the same religion and same language as it did 3,000 years ago.”

During its early years, Israel was often spoken of in such romantic terms. Today, such talk is considered naive, anachronistic, even insensitive, nothing more than Zionist myth designed to hide the true story, i.e., the Palestinian narrative of dispossession.

Not so. Palestinian suffering is, of course, real and heart-wrenching, but what the Arab narrative deliberately distorts is the cause of its own tragedy: the folly of its own fanatical leadership — from Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem (Nazi collaborator, who spent World War II in Berlin), to Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser to Yasser Arafat to Hamas of today — that repeatedly chose war rather than compromise and conciliation.

Palestinian dispossession is a direct result of the Arab rejection, then and now, of a Jewish state of any size on any part of the vast lands the Arabs claim as their exclusive patrimony. That was the cause of the war 60 years ago that, in turn, caused the refugee problem. And it remains the cause of war today.

Six months before Israel’s birth, the United Nations had decided by a two-thirds majority that the only just solution to the British departure from Palestine would be the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state side by side. The undeniable fact remains: The Jews accepted that compromise; the Arabs rejected it.

With a vengeance. On the day the British pulled down their flag, Israel was invaded by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan and Iraq — 650,000 Jews against 40 million Arabs.

Israel prevailed, another miracle. But at a very high cost — not just to the Palestinians displaced as a result of a war designed to extinguish Israel at birth, but also to the Israelis, whose war losses were staggering: 6,373 dead. One percent of the population. In American terms, it would take 35 Vietnam memorials to encompass such a monumental loss of life.

You rarely hear about Israel’s terrible suffering in that 1948-49 war. You hear only the Palestinian side. Today, in the same vein, you hear that Israeli settlements and checkpoints and occupation are the continuing root causes of terrorism and instability in the region.

But in 1948, there were no “occupied territories.” Nor in 1967 when Egypt, Syria and Jordan joined together in a second war of annihilation against Israel.

Look at Gaza today. No Israeli occupation, no settlements, not a single Jew left. The Palestinian response? Unremitting rocket fire killing and maiming Israeli civilians. The declared casus belli of the Palestinian government in Gaza behind these rockets? The very existence of a Jewish state.

One constantly hears about the disabling complexity of the Arab-Israeli dispute. Complex it is, but the root cause is not. Israel’s crime is not its policies but its insistence on living. On the day the Arabs — and the Palestinians in particular — make a collective decision to accept the Jewish state, there will be peace, as Israel proved with its treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Until that day, there will be nothing but war. And every “peace process,” however cynical or well meaning, will come to nothing.

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May 20th, 2008, 1:35 pm

 

168. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Zenobia,
I do not know what American hegemony is, but somehow many Arabs resent it. So perhaps you can help me out here. What exactly are they resenting? And I am not looking for a general answer like “foreign policy”. What aspects of foreign policy do they resent? It seems to me that it all boils down to support of Israel. What is your take?

You are letting your compatriots off the hook to easily. Obama supports Israel just as much as any Republican. US support has been going on for decades both under Democrats and Republicans and will take decades to change if it will change at all. Every person taxed in the US knows that he is supporting Israel militarily. Yet, Syrians and others accept this “hegemony” or whatever you want to call it. Why? It seems like muddled thinking to me. Take Avorres who won’t buy Israeli made hummus but by living in the US agrees to pays taxes to support Israel and to support the military that attacked Iraq and may one day attack Syria. I don’t get it.

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May 20th, 2008, 1:48 pm

 

169. Qifa Nabki said:

Folks,

There’s a new post up. Let’s leave this one alone because poor Joshua can’t load such a long comment board with his connection in China.

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May 20th, 2008, 2:41 pm

 

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