Posted by Joshua on Friday, November 24th, 2006
It seemed clear before the Gemayel murder that President Bush was determined to thwart efforts to open up dialogue with Syria and Iran. The assassination will harden his resolve to isolate both countries and to "win in Iraq", as he insists he will. Instead, Washington seems intent on returning to the Palestinian problem to look for a way to defuse Arab passions and shore up Egyptian, Saudi Arabian and Jordanian support in confronting Iran and Syria.
This strategy is bound to fail. Saudi, Egypt and Jordan have little interest in combatting their neighbors. They can do nothing to help Washington win in Iraq. And Washington has proven that it is incapable of solving the Palestinian issue, let along fooling Arabs into thinking it is serious about pressuring Israel to withdraw from settlements. Bush's strategy will only further radicalize the region, exacerbate the blood letting in Iraq, and speed up the decline of its influence in the region.
The Wall St. Journal writes that an estimated 800,000 mourners, turned out in Martyrs' Square at the funeral of Gemayel in a show of force in support of the beleaguered U.S.-backed government.
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora went on national television Thursday night appealing to Hezbollah and its allies to resume a national dialogue broken off earlier in the month.
"Dialogue is the only and sure path that guarantees results," he said.
But his government was pressing ahead with one of the issues that prompted the crisis — the creation of a U.N.-backed international court to try suspects in the Hariri slaying, which Hezbollah opposes. A government official said Mr. Saniora called a Cabinet meeting for Saturday to approve the court…
After Mr. Gemayel's death, Hezbollah put off its threatened demonstrations for now, but will likely feel the need to respond with a show of strength after Thursday's funeral rally.
Business and industry leaders announced they would go on a two-day strike beginning Friday to pressure politicians from both sides to sit down and talk to settle the political crisis.
But the bitterness dividing the country was on vivid display.
Shadid in the Washington Post writes:
"They wanted it to be a contest, so let it be one," Samir Geagea, a Christian leader allied with the government, told the cheering crowd in Martyrs' Square. "We are not afraid one bit. We shall not give in. We shall not submit until the crimes stop."
"We are the true majority, and you are the illusion," said Hariri's son, Saad, who has inherited leadership of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community and allied himself with Jumblatt and Geagea. "To them, we say, leave your illusions behind and return to the truth, return to the idea of sovereignty, return to national unity and return to Lebanon." [Shadid ends on a bleak note, raising the posibility of renewed civil war or the division of Lebanon.
With the exception of Damascus, General Aoun seemed to generate the most hatred among those who gathered.
“He split the Christian line,” shouted Fadey Ghazehli, 21, after spitting on a picture of the general. “He used to say he would disarm Hezbollah. Now he is with Hezbollah.”
Taken together, the reaction to Mr. Gemayel’s death could be a strategic boost to the government coalition, analysts said. “Morally, the government coalition has had a lot of gains,” said Oussama Safa, general director of The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, regarding the killing. “They defused the opposition. They revved up the March 14th coalition, which was dead.”
The WSJ qutoes Jumblatt:
Mr. Jumblatt said the assassination of Mr. Gemayel vindicates a message he took to Washington on a visit last month: Only pressure, not dialogue, can force Syria to moderate its behavior. The key, Mr. Jumblatt says he told Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Rumsfeld, the departing defense secretary, is the rapid establishment of a U.N. tribunal to judge Syrian officials and others implicated in Mr. Hariri's murder.
"The main issue is the tribunal," he says. "There is no other issue. . . . This is why the Syrians are counterattacking in Lebanon. They want to topple the government because they know that somewhere they are responsible for the murder or murders."
Mr. Jumblatt says the U.S. has been right to try to promote democracy in the Middle East but wrong to snub the consequences — the rising clout of Islamist groups such as the Palestinian organization Hamas, which Washington denounces as a terrorist outfit. Without a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he says, the region will be doomed to an "an endless crusade" pitting Muslims against Israel and its supporters.
Democracy, he says, "is a risk worth taking . . . but the Arab world is becoming more and more radicalized because of Palestine." Mr. Jumblatt, whose father and grandfather were assassinated, belongs to a clutch of veteran Lebanese politicians who have alternately fought and befriended each other for years and still command great influence, thanks to the loyalty of their various communities. The 57-year-old politician represents the Druze religious sect, an offshoot of Islam, whose members account for less than 10% of Lebanon's population.
These days, there are two basic, though highly unstable, camps in Lebanon: forces that back and are backed by Washington, and those, such as the Shiite Islamist movement Hezbollah, siding with Syria and Iran. The choosing of sides has led to some odd alliances.
Gen. Michel Aoun, a Christian former army chief who fled Lebanon in 1990 after armed clashes with Syrian troops and returned to Beirut last year, now stands with Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian groups. Mr. Jumblatt, who used to attend military parades in Moscow and was close to pro-Soviet Syria, has joined Syria's foes and blames Russian diplomats at the U.N. for initially stalling the Hariri tribunal.
"I don't hide my past," Mr. Jumblatt said in an interview in his ancestral mountain compound southeast of Beirut. "Yes, I've changed. I was pro-Syrian. OK. But I said, 'Enough is enough.'" Lebanon's politics, he says, "are a long, complicated story."
Mr. Jumblatt says he reminisced about the "good old times" with Mr. Rumsfeld when they met late last month at the Pentagon. When Mr. Rumsfeld visited Beirut in the early 1980s as an envoy for President Reagan, Mr. Jumblatt's forces shelled the airport. He was fighting at the time with a Christian militia run by Amin Gemayel, father of the cabinet minister murdered this week.
Mr. Rumsfeld, says Mr. Jumblatt, recalled the incident: "He told me: 'You were firing at me' . . . I told him: 'I'm sorry. At that time I was a warlord. Now I'm a democrat.'" Mr. Jumblatt says there was nothing personal, noting, "Our artillery was not very accurate." The Pentagon confirmed the meeting but declined to say what was discussed.
The former warlord says he now shares Washington's view that Iraq and the rest of the Middle East needed shaking up with a dose of democracy. "There was no way but for the Middle East to change," he says. But he faults Washington for ignoring the rise of Islamist groups as the only popular alternative to the region's dictatorial rulers. The U.S., he says, has to accept this and start dealing with Hamas and other groups inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood,
which the U.S. calls terrorists.
Scott McCleod of Time Magazine writes:
The regimes in Syria and Iran are bent on undermining U.S. policies, including support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fuoad Siniora, who came to office in last year's pro-democracy Cedar Revolution. But a key reason for the U.S.'s setbacks in the Middle East is it's chronic refusal to wholeheartedly address the root causes of conflict, such as the lack of a negotiated end to Israel's occupation of Arab lands, the failure to establish a Palestinian state and Western support for repressive Arab regimes. Instead, Washington labors under the fantasy that its political and military strength alone can win the day. With that approach fanning an unprecedented number of crises in the region, amid the largest long-term deployment of U.S. military forces in Middle East history, it is past time for Washington to learn from its mistakes.
Early-'80s Lebanon ought to have served as a cautionary tale heading off the U.S.'s more recent adventure in Iraq. In 1982, the U.S. backed an Israeli plan to invade Lebanon and destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization, kick out Syrian troops and install a pro-Western, Israel-friendly government led by Lebanese Maronite Christian leader Bashir Gemayel. Israel drove out the PLO, only to start negotiating with Yasser Arafat after a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza trip a few years later…
Lip-service aside, the Bush Administration has largely ignored the 58-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict, which provides pretexts for wars, feeds political extremism and bolsters authoritarian regimes. Syria's price for good behavior in Lebanon and Iraq is the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel for nearly 40 years. Labor governments negotiated towards that end with Syria, but the current Israeli government insists that the Golan is part of the Jewish State…
This summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described Israel's pummeling of Lebanon as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East." A return to the old Middle East, more like it. Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon, despite achieving few of its objectives. But U.S. support for Israel's bombardments gravely undercut the pro-American Siniora government to which Pierre Gemayel belonged and that now may not survive Hizballah's bid for greater power. As I watch dramatic events in Lebanon yet again, the U.S. looks no more able to direct events than it was two decades ago when Pierre Gemayel's uncle lost his life and his father was deserted by Washington.
Internal strife within the Baker commission, outright opposition from President Bush and Tuesday's assassination of a cabinet member in Lebanon are complicating the prospect of U.S. overtures to Syria and Iran over Iraq, sources say.
The current Republican chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee is heading to Jordan and Lebanon next week in an effort to better understand issues in the volatile Middle East.
But Rep. Pete Hoekstra said he has dropped a planned trip to Syria from his itinerary following the assassination this week of anti-Syrian Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, who was gunned down in an assassination that many Lebanese blame on Damascus.
"With the assassination, this is a good time to just step back and not push the envelope," Hoekstra told the Ludington Daily News.
Flurry of Diplomacy to Build Alliance of Sunni Leaders;
Pressure Concerning Israel Could the Bloodshed Spread?
November 24, 2006; Page A1
WASHINGTON — As violence escalates in the Middle East, top U.S. officials are reaching out to traditional Sunni Arab allies in a bid to stabilize the region and build a coalition to contain Iran's Shiite regime.
Over the next week, President Bush is scheduled to visit Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah II and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Vice President Cheney is flying to Saudi Arabia, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to huddle by the Dead Sea with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, among others. Issues on the U.S. agenda are expected to include how to bring order to Iraq and how to check Iran's nuclear program.
The visits highlight the administration's longer-term strategy to build a broad alliance of Sunni Muslim states to offset Tehran's growing regional ambitions. Since the spring, the U.S. has sought to increase cooperation between traditional Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, including developing joint maritime patrols and a regional missile-defense shield for these countries.
In order to build such an alliance, however, the administration could be forced to shift its Middle East strategy in significant ways. Arab diplomats from ally countries are pushing Washington to be much more assertive in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. They are also expected to advise the White House to scale back efforts to promote democracy in the region, arguing that they could lead to more extremism.
The flurry of diplomacy and Washington's outreach to long-standing Arab allies underscore the Bush administration's growing concern over Iran's influence. Iran announced yesterday it was proceeding with a plan to build nuclear reactors. But in seeking to contain Iran, many Middle East analysts warn, Washington could find itself in the middle of the long and bitter split between Sunnis and Shiites.
"The whole rhetoric of containing Iran could spark competing extremism" between anti-Iranian Sunnis and pro-Iranian Shiites, says Vali Nasr, a Middle East expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "Washington doesn't want to be seen as actively encouraging this."
In Baghdad yesterday, coordinated suicide car bombings and mortar attacks on the Shiite slum of Sadr City left at least 160 dead and hundreds more injured. Immediate reprisals against Sunni neighborhoods and against a revered Sunni shrine raised fears that the country was slipping further into civil war. (See related article.)
Regional leaders worry that bloodshed could spread to Lebanon, where political tensions have been rising in recent weeks. (See related article). Thousands of Lebanese took to Beirut's streets yesterday to protest Tuesday's assassination of Pierre Gemayel, a Christian cabinet minister who had sought to counter the political influence of Syria and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. Many in the crowd blamed Syria for the slaying, a charge Damascus denies, and accused Hezbollah of trying to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government.
The roles played by Iran and Syria in Hezbollah's rise are regarded as evidence of growing Shiite power across the Middle East. While Syria's population is majority Sunni, its ruling Assad family is from a Shiite sect. Many Arab leaders fear a powerful Shiite axis taking shape between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Many Lebanese leaders have expressed concern recently that their country also could descend into civil war. Some contend that Mr. Gemayel's slaying is part of an effort by pro-Syrian forces to head off a United Nations investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The initial U.N. investigation implicated senior Syrian officials, an allegation that Syria denies. This week, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution establishing a tribunal to oversee the trial of anyone charged in that case. The Lebanese government has to consent to any trial.
How Mr. Bush responds to pressure on the U.S. to get more involved in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could affect Washington's relations with its Arab allies in the region, as well as relations between Sunnis and Shiites. Arab diplomats say countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates will find it difficult to publicly stand with the U.S. on Iran and on broad regional stability unless Washington pressures Israel on a peace initiative.
"The road to Baghdad runs through Jerusalem, and not the other way around," says one senior Arab diplomat in Washington.
There are signs that the White House may be coming around to this view. Philip Zelikow, a top policy adviser to Ms. Rice, said in a September speech that an "active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems" in the Middle East. A few days later, Mr. Bush told the U.N. General Assembly that he had asked Ms. Rice to lead a diplomatic effort to engage moderate leaders across the region to help Israelis and Palestinians resolve their differences.
Previously, neoconservatives in the Bush administration had argued that peace in Israel could only be achieved through the removal of dictatorial regimes such as Saddam Hussein's, which funded militant groups targeting the Jewish state. Many Arab allies of the U.S. oppose that approach.
Arab officials are expected to push the Israel issue during their upcoming U.S. visits. President Bush and his top lieutenants hope to use the discussions to continue efforts to bring together Sunni Arab states to offset the growing regional clout of Tehran's Shiite theocracy. Sunni leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries worry that Iran's rising influence could stir up their own Shiite minorities or other groups hostile to the U.S. and its allies.
Islam's split into Sunni and Shiite sects dates back to differences over who should succeed the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632. Sunni-based royalty and political parties have held power in most of the Islamic world since then, relegating Shiites to the political and economic minority. Iran's 1979 revolution brought to power a Shiite theocracy that rekindled regional Shiite political activism. Iran's influence increased when a Shiite-led government took over in Iraq after the 2003 ouster of Mr. Hussein, and through Iran's support of militant groups fighting Israel, including Hamas and Hezbollah.
Many Arab and U.S. officials were alarmed this summer by Hezbollah's military strength in its fight against Israel. Tehran has supported the group for decades with funds and arms. Hezbollah's main goal has been fighting Israel, which invaded Southern Lebanon in 1982 and occupied it until 2000. But Iran has also viewed the group as a deterrent to the U.S. and Israel. Today, Hezbollah, with its extensive social and political networks and military capability, behaves in many ways like a state within Lebanon.
Leaders of Sunni Arab states warn that wars in Iraq and Lebanon risk upsetting the regional balance between Sunnis and Shiites. They have also voiced concern that their nations could be dragged into the fighting on behalf of militias or terrorist groups that share their religion. Civil war in Iraq could force Saudis to fight "shoulder to shoulder with al Qaeda," said Jamal Kashoggi, an adviser to Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal, at a conference on the Middle East last week in Washington.
U.S. leaders will be traveling into the heart of the Sunni world. Mr. Cheney is set to arrive today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital, where he will discuss Middle East developments with King Abdullah. In a visit hosted by King Abdullah II of Jordan starting Nov. 29, Mr. Bush is scheduled to hold two days of meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq.
On Nov. 30, Ms. Rice will kick off meetings with foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members, along with Jordan and Egypt. They are expected to discuss how to deter Iran from meddling in the politics of neighbor countries and from developing a nuclear arsenal, say officials involved in setting up the meetings. Arab leaders are likely to bring up the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
The visits come amid U.S. efforts to build a Sunni-based regional alliance. U.S. naval fleets have engaged in training exercises with several Persian Gulf countries. Last month, the U.S. conducted war games with Bahrain, Qatar, the U.A.E. and about two dozen other countries about 20 miles outside of Iran's territorial waters. The exercises were part of the Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative, which seeks to stanch weapons trafficking.
State Department officials such as John Hillen, assistant secretary for political-military affairs, have in recent months visited the six Arab countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, as well as Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, to work on revamping the region's security framework. Saudi Arabia formed the GCC in 1981 to coordinate economic and security issues among Persian Gulf states. Other members include Oman, Qatar and the U.A.E.
Mr. Hillen is pushing a plan to better integrate the U.S. into the GCC's security architecture. The plan calls for helping GCC member nations to develop regional maritime-security and missile-defense initiatives, to share intelligence, and to improve air defenses. The Bush administration wants to incorporate all GCC countries into its antiproliferation program.
Mr. Hillen maintains that the initiatives shouldn't be viewed as anti-Shiite. "In fact, the vast, vast preponderance of U.S. efforts in the region are oriented on making sure a majority Shiite government led by a Shiite prime minister succeeds" in Iraq, he says.
Many Middle East analysts are skeptical that Washington's containment strategy for Iran can work. Few Arab governments have militaries capable of confronting Iran on their own, and many people in the region are sympathetic to Iran's confrontational stance toward the U.S. and Israel. Ultimately, these analysts say, Washington may be forced to choose between pushing the nuclear issue with Iran and working with it on stabilizing Iraq.
The U.S. itself has offered conflicting messages. A coming report from an advisory group led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton is expected to urge the White House to engage both Iran and Syria to help ease violence in Iraq. Iran has allegedly armed and funded Shiite militias that are fighting Sunni insurgents in Iraq. The U.S. has alleged that Syria has allowed al Qaeda and other foreign fighters to cross into Iraq.
Mr. Baker has said he believes Iran and Syria share Washington's interest in preventing violence in Iraq from worsening, and perhaps spilling over its borders. Some counterterrorism officials believe Iran shares the U.S. goal of combating al Qaeda and other militant Sunni organizations, which have a history of targeting Shiite communities.
President Bush and other senior U.S. officials have repeatedly cast doubt on the utility of seeking help from either Iran or Syria. Mr. Gemayel's assassination could further diminish Washington's interest in talking with either nation. U.S. officials have implied that Syria was involved in Mr. Gemayel's shooting, citing its alleged targeting in the past of anti-Syrian politicians.
The greater fear is that a U.S.-led Arab coalition against Iran could bring the region's tensions to a boil. Lebanon is seen as particularly vulnerable, and Sunni and Christian political parties in Beirut are worried by Hezbollah's moves to gain power. Some fear Lebanon could slip into a sectarian civil war like the one that ravaged the country in the 1980s.
Other countries could also be vulnerable to rising Sunni-Shiite tensions, analysts say. Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority lives in some of the kingdom's most resource-rich areas and has increasingly sought to expand its political influence. Afghanistan and Pakistan have endured sectarian violence in recent decades. And countries like Kuwait, a major oil exporter, and Bahrain, which has close ties to the U.S., are trying to preserve the uneasy balance between their Sunni and Shiite populations.
Lebanese Assassination may Impair US Mideast Policy Zaman Online – Istanbul,Turkey … Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria from Oklahoma University, underlined that US president George W. Bush blamed Syria and Iran for the murder. …