Syrian Opposition – New Articles

A number of articles on the Syrian Opposition are due to come out soon.

One, written by Joe Pace and myself, appeared in this December's issue of the Washington Quarterly: 

1. Joshua Landis & Joe Pace, “The Syrian Opposition,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 30, pp. 45-68.

2. Seth Wikas of WINEP is finishing up an article soon. He has been working on it for some months and it should be good. It promises to have coverage of the US and European side of the opposition, something Joe and I were unable to concentrate on.

3. Robin Wright's new book: 

Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright (Hardcover – Jul 19, 2007)

Will have an excellent chapter on Syria. She includes a moving interview with Riad al-Turk, who gives an overview of the opposition struggle and his years in prison. She also has one of the last interviews with Michel Kilo before his imprisonment.

4. Salim Abraham wrote his master's thesis at Columbia Journalism School on Farid Ghadry. It is excellent, but I have been unable to publish it as Salim is looking for a paying publisher. Salim, who was an AP reporter in Syria for many years, has recently gotten married and moved to Great Brittain, where he is looking for a journalism job. I hope to get permission from Salim to publish his thesis yet.

Finally, I am adding this excellent article:
5. Andrew Tabler, "Democracy to the Rescue," Institute of Current World Affairs, AJT-1- Middle East, March 2006.

Andrew knows as much as anyone about the Syrian Opposition and has interviewed many of its leaders in Syria. I did not ask Andrew or the ICWA for permission to post this article and will take it down if asked to do so. It was an important source for my own article and Andrew was able to confirm a number of facts for me that Joe and I used in the article.

Ammar Abdulhamid has a good interview: Towards a democratic Syria: "In 1998, only 219 Syrians voted against Hafez Assad's government. One of them was Ammar Abdulhamid. Now exiled and awaiting political asylum in US, Syrian opposition leader talks to Ynet in exclusive interview…"

Comments (25)


1. majedkhaldoun said:

What we need to know about is the opposition INSIDE Syria

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February 24th, 2007, 9:26 pm

 

2. Enlightened said:

Just read Joshs article’ The Syrian opposition; while I found it a fairly well written piece on the opposition, and the current situation within Syria; this is my take out of the sitauation:

As intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh commented,
“When you repress the parties, for all practical purposes you are imprisoning the people in a
framework of traditional or family-centric memberships The crushing of independent, free political life in Syria has fostered a rebirth of sectarianism and has created this crisis.”

This I feel is what is being used bt the regime to stifle the opposition , and it is a tool they use very very well.

I found appalling the story of the seventy year old man arrested for an off the cuff remark while having coffee.

What this all points to is this; “this regime will hang on to power for grim death and will use any means at its disposal to keep in power” But at least the opposition process for reform has started and that is a good sign (unthinkable in Hafez day). How it is managed and how careful the opposition is maintaining unity and a common blue print that is inclusive for all citizens rights will remain a litmus test. Follow the yellow brick road1

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February 25th, 2007, 12:25 am

 

3. norman said:

I read notes of Ammar Abdelhamid who considers himselfe to be secular and liberal , i found him to be able to forgive Khadam with all his coruption only because he is Sunni while blaming Bashar Asad for things he has nothing to do with just because he is an Alawat, that is not a Syrian leader ,that is a sunni leader who does not belong in Syria ,it also seems that mr Abdelhamid was offerd to help when Bashar became president as he was his schoolmate but he elected exile , many of us if given the opportionety to help they will jump at the chance to help Syria , like what they say in the US when the president calls you for public service you should not refuse but apparently Americans love their country more than Syrian opposition leaders .

I once asked Ammar about the platform of the Syrian opposition and their plans for the economy legal reform and the kind of politecal reform they suggest and a way to avoid religous or sectarian voting , that was monthes ago , I am still waiting. They have no plans beyond (WE are Better ).How can the Syrian people support people while not knowing where these people are going to lead them the examples of Iraq ,Lebanon and Egypt are hard to swallow as examples.

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February 25th, 2007, 2:08 am

 

4. majedkhaldoun said:

* دمشق تعلن “دبلوماسياً” قبولها بالمحكمة الدولية لكنها تصر على انتظار انتهاء التحقيق .. وتعتبرها تكراراً لتجربة لجان التفتيش في العراق
is it a change of heart?
I want to comment on the opposition, inside Syria, the syrian society is careful,they only talk to the person who they trust,behind close door,those who speak in public, good by, they are in jail, Josh and joe will not be able to penetrate the real inside opposition,there are factors that influence those opposition, economic factor( does not exist now, but it is coming as the economy deteriorate),Ideas and religion(syrian are mostly sunni ,and will object if they feel Shiite ideas spreading), media(this is present in the internet only,few people know the truth,yet),regional crisis(I think attacking Iran,is provoking),the Hariri investigation result(which syrian intellectuals are waiting for)this could touch the dignity of the syrian.
we should not forget that freedom does not come free,and that military coup,will only bring another dictator,and foreign help must be avoided,since it is always come with demands that are not acceptable to the syrian.
the apple will fall,when the apple is ripe,close to the end of summer.

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February 25th, 2007, 3:47 am

 

5. SOURI said:

Norman,
I don’t see how u can criticize ammar abdulhammid especially with those irrelevant arguments with all do respect.
First of all, why shouldn’t we forgive khaddam, what harm have he done? When I see Khaddam, I see an opportunity for a stronger opposition. You can’t just say corruption and blame everything on him, if he was truly corrupt, he will be punished later. Khaddam has a lot of experience, knowledge, connections inside and outside Syria .
And I didn’t really know whether to laugh or cry when I was reading your comment about ammar’s disapproval to help bashar… you are contradicting yourself: You said most people if given the chance to help bashar, they would jump at the chance because what they really care about is themselves not their country, we all know bashar won’t be able to get on the right track, so those people will only gain money and be told what to do and say but ammar chose his country!

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February 25th, 2007, 7:55 am

 

6. t_desco said:

U.S. developing contingency plan to bomb Iran – report (by Seymour Hersh)

Despite the Bush administration’s insistence it has no plans to go to war with Iran, a Pentagon panel has been created to plan a bombing attack that could be implemented within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead from President George W. Bush, The New Yorker magazine reported in its latest issue.

The special planning group was established within the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in recent months, according to an unidentified former U.S. intelligence official cited in the article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in the March 4 issue.

The panel initially focused on destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities and on regime change but has more recently been directed to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq, according to an Air Force adviser and a Pentagon consultant, who were not identified.

The consultant and a former senior intelligence official both said that U.S. military and special-operations teams had crossed the border from Iraq into Iran in pursuit of Iranian operatives, according to the article.

In response to the report, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous. …” …

The article, citing unnamed current and former U.S. officials, also said the Bush administration received intelligence from Israel that Iran had developed an intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads that could reach Europe. It added the validity of that intelligence was still being debated.

The article also included an interview conducted in December with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who said that while he had no interest in initiating another war with Israel, he was anticipating and preparing for another Israeli attack sometime this year. …

Nasrallah also said he was open to talks with Washington if such discussions “can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region,” but they would be waste of time if the purpose was to impose policy.
Reuters

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February 25th, 2007, 8:20 am

 

7. t_desco said:

THE REDIRECTION
by SEYMOUR M. HERSH
Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?

A STRATEGIC SHIFT

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”

Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney. (Cheney’s office and the White House declined to comment for this story; the Pentagon did not respond to specific queries but said, “The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran.”)

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.

“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. “The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”

Flynt Leverett, a former Bush Administration National Security Council official, told me that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the new strategy with regard to Iraq. “The Administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett said. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the Administration will have an open door to strike at them.”

The U.S. military also has arrested and interrogated hundreds of Iranians in Iraq. “The word went out last August for the military to snatch as many Iranians in Iraq as they can,” a former senior intelligence official said. “They had five hundred locked up at one time. We’re working these guys and getting information from them. The White House goal is to build a case that the Iranians have been fomenting the insurgency and they’ve been doing it all along—that Iran is, in fact, supporting the killing of Americans.” The Pentagon consultant confirmed that hundreds of Iranians have been captured by American forces in recent months. But he told me that that total includes many Iranian humanitarian and aid workers who “get scooped up and released in a short time,” after they have been interrogated.

“We are not planning for a war with Iran,” Robert Gates, the new Defense Secretary, announced on February 2nd, and yet the atmosphere of confrontation has deepened. According to current and former American intelligence and military officials, secret operations in Lebanon have been accompanied by clandestine operations targeting Iran. American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.

Still, the Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran, a process that began last year, at the direction of the President. In recent months, the former intelligence official told me, a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.

In the past month, I was told by an Air Force adviser on targeting and the Pentagon consultant on terrorism, the Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment: to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities and possible regime change.

Two carrier strike groups—the Eisenhower and the Stennis—are now in the Arabian Sea. One plan is for them to be relieved early in the spring, but there is worry within the military that they may be ordered to stay in the area after the new carriers arrive, according to several sources. (Among other concerns, war games have shown that the carriers could be vulnerable to swarming tactics involving large numbers of small boats, a technique that the Iranians have practiced in the past; carriers have limited maneuverability in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s southern coast.) The former senior intelligence official said that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring. He added, however, that senior officers on the Joint Chiefs were counting on the White House’s not being “foolish enough to do this in the face of Iraq, and the problems it would give the Republicans in 2008.”

PRINCE BANDAR’S GAME

The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed.

Nasr went on, “The Saudis have considerable financial means, and have deep relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis”—Sunni extremists who view Shiites as apostates. “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.”

The Saudi royal family has been, by turns, both a sponsor and a target of Sunni extremists, who object to the corruption and decadence among the family’s myriad princes. The princes are gambling that they will not be overthrown as long as they continue to support religious schools and charities linked to the extremists. The Administration’s new strategy is heavily dependent on this bargain.

Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged. In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction. At least four main elements were involved, the U.S. government consultant told me. First, Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran.

Second, the Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

The third component was that the Bush Administration would work directly with Sunni nations to counteract Shiite ascendance in the region.

Fourth, the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations. Syria is a major conduit of arms to Hezbollah. The Saudi government is also at odds with the Syrians over the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, in Beirut in 2005, for which it believes the Assad government was responsible. Hariri, a billionaire Sunni, was closely associated with the Saudi regime and with Prince Bandar. (A U.N. inquiry strongly suggested that the Syrians were involved, but offered no direct evidence; there are plans for another investigation, by an international tribunal.)

JIHADIS IN LEBANON

The focus of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, after Iran, is Lebanon, where the Saudis have been deeply involved in efforts by the Administration to support the Lebanese government. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is struggling to stay in power against a persistent opposition led by Hezbollah, the Shiite organization, and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah has an extensive infrastructure, an estimated two to three thousand active fighters, and thousands of additional members.

The United States has also given clandestine support to the Siniora government, according to the former senior intelligence official and the U.S. government consultant. “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”

American, European, and Arab officials I spoke to told me that the Siniora government and its allies had allowed some aid to end up in the hands of emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with Al Qaeda.

During a conversation with me, the former Saudi diplomat accused Nasrallah of attempting “to hijack the state,” but he also objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. “Salafis are sick and hateful, and I’m very much against the idea of flirting with them,” he said. “They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly.”

Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.

The largest of the groups, Asbat al-Ansar, is situated in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. Asbat al-Ansar has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government.

In 2005, according to a report by the U.S.-based International Crisis Group, Saad Hariri, the Sunni majority leader of the Lebanese parliament and the son of the slain former Prime Minister—Saad inherited more than four billion dollars after his father’s assassination—paid forty-eight thousand dollars in bail for four members of an Islamic militant group from Dinniyeh. The men had been arrested while trying to establish an Islamic mini-state in northern Lebanon. The Crisis Group noted that many of the militants “had trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.”

According to the Crisis Group report, Saad Hariri later used his parliamentary majority to obtain amnesty for twenty-two of the Dinniyeh Islamists, as well as for seven militants suspected of plotting to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut, the previous year. (He also arranged a pardon for Samir Geagea, a Maronite Christian militia leader, who had been convicted of four political murders, including the assassination, in 1987, of Prime Minister Rashid Karami.) Hariri described his actions to reporters as humanitarian.

In an interview in Beirut, a senior official in the Siniora government acknowledged that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. “We have a liberal attitude that allows Al Qaeda types to have a presence here,” he said. He related this to concerns that Iran or Syria might decide to turn Lebanon into a “theatre of conflict.”

In January, after an outburst of street violence in Beirut involving supporters of both the Siniora government and Hezbollah, Prince Bandar flew to Tehran to discuss the political impasse in Lebanon and to meet with Ali Larijani, the Iranians’ negotiator on nuclear issues. According to a Middle Eastern ambassador, Bandar’s mission—which the ambassador said was endorsed by the White House—also aimed “to create problems between the Iranians and Syria.” There had been tensions between the two countries about Syrian talks with Israel, and the Saudis’ goal was to encourage a breach. However, the ambassador said, “It did not work. Syria and Iran are not going to betray each other. Bandar’s approach is very unlikely to succeed.”

Walid Jumblatt, who is the leader of the Druze minority in Lebanon and a strong Siniora supporter, has attacked Nasrallah as an agent of Syria, and has repeatedly told foreign journalists that Hezbollah is under the direct control of the religious leadership in Iran. In a conversation with me last December, he depicted Bashir Assad, the Syrian President, as a “serial killer.” Nasrallah, he said, was “morally guilty” of the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the murder, last November, of Pierre Gemayel, a member of the Siniora Cabinet, because of his support for the Syrians.

Jumblatt then told me that he had met with Vice-President Cheney in Washington last fall to discuss, among other issues, the possibility of undermining Assad. He and his colleagues advised Cheney that, if the United States does try to move against Syria, members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood would be “the ones to talk to,” Jumblatt said.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a branch of a radical Sunni movement founded in Egypt in 1928, engaged in more than a decade of violent opposition to the regime of Hafez Assad, Bashir’s father. In 1982, the Brotherhood took control of the city of Hama; Assad bombarded the city for a week, killing between six thousand and twenty thousand people. Membership in the Brotherhood is punishable by death in Syria. The Brotherhood is also an avowed enemy of the U.S. and of Israel. Nevertheless, Jumblatt said, “We told Cheney that the basic link between Iran and Lebanon is Syria—and to weaken Iran you need to open the door to effective Syrian opposition.”

There is evidence that the Administration’s redirection strategy has already benefitted the Brotherhood. The Syrian National Salvation Front is a coalition of opposition groups whose principal members are a faction led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian Vice-President who defected in 2005, and the Brotherhood. A former high-ranking C.I.A. officer told me, “The Americans have provided both political and financial support. The Saudis are taking the lead with financial support, but there is American involvement.” He said that Khaddam, who now lives in Paris, was getting money from Saudi Arabia, with the knowledge of the White House. (In 2005, a delegation of the Front’s members met with officials from the National Security Council, according to press reports.) A former White House official told me that the Saudis had provided members of the Front with travel documents.

Jumblatt said he understood that the issue was a sensitive one for the White House. “I told Cheney that some people in the Arab world, mainly the Egyptians”—whose moderate Sunni leadership has been fighting the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for decades—“won’t like it if the United States helps the Brotherhood. But if you don’t take on Syria we will be face to face in Lebanon with Hezbollah in a long fight, and one we might not win.”

THE SHEIKH

On a warm, clear night early last December, in a bombed-out suburb a few miles south of downtown Beirut, I got a preview of how the Administration’s new strategy might play out in Lebanon. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, who has been in hiding, had agreed to an interview. Security arrangements for the meeting were secretive and elaborate. I was driven, in the back seat of a darkened car, to a damaged underground garage somewhere in Beirut, searched with a handheld scanner, placed in a second car to be driven to yet another bomb-scarred underground garage, and transferred again. Last summer, it was reported that Israel was trying to kill Nasrallah, but the extraordinary precautions were not due only to that threat. Nasrallah’s aides told me that they believe he is a prime target of fellow-Arabs, primarily Jordanian intelligence operatives, as well as Sunni jihadists who they believe are affiliated with Al Qaeda. (The government consultant and a retired four-star general said that Jordanian intelligence, with support from the U.S. and Israel, had been trying to infiltrate Shiite groups, to work against Hezbollah. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has warned that a Shiite government in Iraq that was close to Iran would lead to the emergence of a Shiite crescent.) This is something of an ironic turn: Nasrallah’s battle with Israel last summer turned him—a Shiite—into the most popular and influential figure among Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region. In recent months, however, he has increasingly been seen by many Sunnis not as a symbol of Arab unity but as a participant in a sectarian war.

Nasrallah, dressed, as usual, in religious garb, was waiting for me in an unremarkable apartment. One of his advisers said that he was not likely to remain there overnight; he has been on the move since his decision, last July, to order the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid set off the thirty-three-day war. Nasrallah has since said publicly—and repeated to me—that he misjudged the Israeli response. “We just wanted to capture prisoners for exchange purposes,” he told me. “We never wanted to drag the region into war.”

Nasrallah accused the Bush Administration of working with Israel to deliberately instigate fitna, an Arabic word that is used to mean “insurrection and fragmentation within Islam.” “In my opinion, there is a huge campaign through the media throughout the world to put each side up against the other,” he said. “I believe that all this is being run by American and Israeli intelligence.” (He did not provide any specific evidence for this.) He said that the U.S. war in Iraq had increased sectarian tensions, but argued that Hezbollah had tried to prevent them from spreading into Lebanon. (Sunni-Shiite confrontations increased, along with violence, in the weeks after we talked.)

Nasrallah said he believed that President Bush’s goal was “the drawing of a new map for the region. They want the partition of Iraq. Iraq is not on the edge of a civil war—there is a civil war. There is ethnic and sectarian cleansing. The daily killing and displacement which is taking place in Iraq aims at achieving three Iraqi parts, which will be sectarian and ethnically pure as a prelude to the partition of Iraq. Within one or two years at the most, there will be total Sunni areas, total Shiite areas, and total Kurdish areas. Even in Baghdad, there is a fear that it might be divided into two areas, one Sunni and one Shiite.”

He went on, “I can say that President Bush is lying when he says he does not want Iraq to be partitioned. All the facts occurring now on the ground make you swear he is dragging Iraq to partition. And a day will come when he will say, ‘I cannot do anything, since the Iraqis want the partition of their country and I honor the wishes of the people of Iraq.’ ”

Nasrallah said he believed that America also wanted to bring about the partition of Lebanon and of Syria. In Syria, he said, the result would be to push the country “into chaos and internal battles like in Iraq.” In Lebanon, “There will be a Sunni state, an Alawi state, a Christian state, and a Druze state.” But, he said, “I do not know if there will be a Shiite state.” Nasrallah told me that he suspected that one aim of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer was “the destruction of Shiite areas and the displacement of Shiites from Lebanon. The idea was to have the Shiites of Lebanon and Syria flee to southern Iraq,” which is dominated by Shiites. “I am not sure, but I smell this,” he told me.

Partition would leave Israel surrounded by “small tranquil states,” he said. “I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” he said. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”

In fact, the Bush Administration has adamantly resisted talk of partitioning Iraq, and its public stances suggest that the White House sees a future Lebanon that is intact, with a weak, disarmed Hezbollah playing, at most, a minor political role. There is also no evidence to support Nasrallah’s belief that the Israelis were seeking to drive the Shiites into southern Iraq. Nevertheless, Nasrallah’s vision of a larger sectarian conflict in which the United States is implicated suggests a possible consequence of the White House’s new strategy.

In the interview, Nasrallah made mollifying gestures and promises that would likely be met with skepticism by his opponents. “If the United States says that discussions with the likes of us can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region, we have no objection to talks or meetings,” he said. “But, if their aim through this meeting is to impose their policy on us, it will be a waste of time.” He said that the Hezbollah militia, unless attacked, would operate only within the borders of Lebanon, and pledged to disarm it when the Lebanese Army was able to stand up. Nasrallah said that he had no interest in initiating another war with Israel. However, he added that he was anticipating, and preparing for, another Israeli attack, later this year.

Nasrallah further insisted that the street demonstrations in Beirut would continue until the Siniora government fell or met his coalition’s political demands. “Practically speaking, this government cannot rule,” he told me. “It might issue orders, but the majority of the Lebanese people will not abide and will not recognize the legitimacy of this government. Siniora remains in office because of international support, but this does not mean that Siniora can rule Lebanon.”

President Bush’s repeated praise of the Siniora government, Nasrallah said, “is the best service to the Lebanese opposition he can give, because it weakens their position vis-à-vis the Lebanese people and the Arab and Islamic populations. They are betting on us getting tired. We did not get tired during the war, so how could we get tired in a demonstration?”

TELLING CONGRESS

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)

The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”

The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House’s policy goals but “wanted to do it by the book.” The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.” It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,” he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

“This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.” …
The New Yorker

(my emphasis)

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February 25th, 2007, 10:36 am

 

8. annie said:

Josh, your article on the Syrian Opposition is not available from here. Would you mind reproducing it in your column ? Same thing for Andrew Tabler

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February 25th, 2007, 3:29 pm

 

9. youngSyria said:

Josh,
I find your article on the Syrian Opposition well written and deep..it provides information covering 2000-2007 in a good analytical description of Syrian opposition and Syrian regime behavior.thanks.

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February 25th, 2007, 4:42 pm

 

10. Joshua said:

Annie, What do you mean? If you click on the link, it doesn’t come up? Try again. Perhaps it just takes time because it is a pdf? Let me know. Best, J

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February 25th, 2007, 5:42 pm

 

11. Alex said:

Dear Atassi, and others who got upset at me since I started few months ago to be very concerned about the Saudis and prince Bandar. Here are a few selections from SEYMOUR HERSH’s article today:

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser.

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace

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February 25th, 2007, 6:43 pm

 

12. Akbar Palace said:

“The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace”

And mind you, not just Saudi Arabia:

“Report: 3 Gulf states agree to IAF overflights en route to Iran

By Yoav Stern and Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondents”

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/830309.html

I guess suicidal, terror supporting Iranians just don’t frighten Joos.

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February 25th, 2007, 7:31 pm

 

13. MSK said:

AP,

that Ha’aretz piece quotes the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasah, which is notorious for printing made-up stuff.

One of those 3 Gulf states mentioned is Oman. Yeah … ’cause that’s RIGHT on the route from Israel to Iran …

It’s a non-story. A fake.

–MSK

http://www.aqoul.com

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February 25th, 2007, 8:30 pm

 

14. Atassi said:

Dear Alex,
The U.S. government consultant told you…!! I am guessing this consultant has speculating personality as many self-claimed consultants do and we see on TV.
Alex, what concerned me the most was your new mind-set anti SA direction in Parallel to the new adopted direction of the Syrian –baath policies of attacking the image of the KSA as tool to reclaimed the lost title of “ defender of the Arabism” and new act as the defender of “ Islamism “ .. Alex as you know Bander can and will deliver a favorable Iranian-Sunni outcome. Unfortunately Mr. Moualem” Can not” deliver.

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February 25th, 2007, 8:53 pm

 

15. majedkhaldoun said:

talbani in jordan,with heart attack,transfered as emergency

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February 25th, 2007, 9:29 pm

 

16. t_desco said:

Seymour Hersh on CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer:

“…

BLITZER: And you write that already, some special operations forces, some U.S. intelligence forces have crossed the line and have gone into Iran. Is that right?

HERSH: Oh, yes, that’s been happening for months. There’s been a lot of very aggressive cross-border activity. It’s more than just casual. There has been a lot of jumping over the border, chasing bad guys, or people we think are bad guys. That’s been going on quite a bit.

HERSH: …
I will tell you also that there’s a lot of evidence — I didn’t get into this that much into the piece — that the Iranians are digging more holes, moving their leadership into underground bunkers in other places besides Tehran in case of a bombing. They are anticipating the worst.

HERSH: Look, of course, nobody knows what the answer to that question is with no assurances, but I can tell you, from what I know — and I do have some access obviously, information — there is no thought in this administration to letting Israel do it.

If Israel feels it has to do it, we will do it because that is the last thing they want. Israel, of course, is capable of firing some cruise missiles from the Indian Ocean, but we are certainly just as capable of doing that and much more.

So I think if it goes, and one doesn’t know, it is going to — you know, I have been writing the same story for a year, sort of like I would call up my friends and say, it is Chicken Little, you know, the sky is falling, in the last year. And now, obviously, it seems to be much more serious. It is much more intent.

My own instinct is, Wolf, that this president is not going to leave office without doing something about Iran. And he could always negotiate, it’s always on the table. And he keeps on refusing to negotiate. He keeps on saying he will not. And he keeps on talking tough.

And maybe we just have to really listen to what he is saying. And I don’t know what can stop him because he is president.

BLITZER: Near the end of your article, you have this explosive point in there about John Negroponte, who is now going to be the deputy secretary of state, as opposed to the head of U.S. intelligence. You write this: “I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence officials that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept the position of deputy secretary of state.”

Explain what you were hearing, because that’s obviously a very explosive charge.

HERSH: Yes, it’s probably the single most explosive, if you will, or depressing or distressing sort of thing I discovered in the last few months, which is simply this: This administration has made a policy change, a decision that they’re going to put all the pressure they can on the Shiites.

That is the Shiite regime in Iran, and they’re also doing everything they can to stop Hezbollah, which is Shiite, the Hezbollah organization from getting any control or any more of a political foothold in Lebanon.

So essentially, I quote — I saw Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, and he described it this way, as fitna, the Arab word for civil war. As far as he is concerned, we are interested in recreating what’s happening in Iraq in Lebanon, that is, Sunni versus Shia.

And in looking into that story — and I saw him in December — I found this. That we have been pumping money, a great deal of money, without Congressional authority, without any Congressional oversight — Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia is putting up some of this money — for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East where we think that the — we want to stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence.

They call it the “Shiite Crescent.” And a lot of this money, and I can’t tell you with absolute assurance how, exactly when and how, but this money has gotten into the hands, among other places, in Lebanon, into the hands of three, at least three jihadist groups.

There’s three Sunni jihadist groups whose main claim to fame inside Lebanon right now is that they are very tough. These are people connected to al Qaida who want to take on Hezbollah. So this government, at the minimum, we may not directly be funneling money to them, but we certainly know that these groups exist.

My government, which arrests al Qaida every place it can find them and sends — some of them are in Guantanamo and other places, is sitting back while the Lebanese government we support, the government of Prime Minister Siniora, is providing arms and sustenance to three jihadist groups whose sole function seems to me and to the people that talk to me in our government, to be there in case there is a real shoot-‘em-up with Hezbollah and we really get into some sort of serious major conflict between the Sunni government and Hezbollah, which is largely Shia, who are basically — as you know, there is a coalition headed by Hezbollah that is challenging the government right now, demonstrations, sit-ins. There has been some violence.

So America, my country, without telling Congress, using funds not appropriated, I don’t know where, but my sources believe much of the money obviously came from Iraq, where there’s all kinds of piles of loose money, pools of cash that could be used for covert operations.

All of this should be investigated by Congress, by the way, and I trust it will be. In my talking to the membership, members there, they are very upset that they know nothing about this. And they have great many suspicions.

We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11, and we should be arresting these people rather than looking the other way
CNN

US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran

America is secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear programme.

In a move that reflects Washington’s growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran’s border regions.

The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian regime.

Funding for their separatist causes comes directly from the CIA’s classified budget but is now “no great secret”, according to one former high-ranking CIA official in Washington who spoke anonymously to The Sunday Telegraph.

His claims were backed by Fred Burton, a former US state department counter-terrorism agent, who said: “The latest attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and train Iran’s ethnic minorities to destabilise the Iranian regime.”

John Pike, the head of the influential Global Security think tank in Washington, said: “The activities of the ethnic groups have hotted up over the last two years and it would be a scandal if that was not at least in part the result of CIA activity.”

Such a policy is fraught with risk, however. Many of the groups share little common cause with Washington other than their opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose regime they accuse of stepping up repression of minority rights and culture.

The Baluchistan-based Brigade of God group, which last year kidnapped and killed eight Iranian soldiers, is a volatile Sunni organisation that many fear could easily turn against Washington after taking its money.
The Daily Telegraph

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February 25th, 2007, 9:46 pm

 

17. MSK said:

Majedkhaldoun,

you keep posting snippets on here. Would you terribly mind including your sources? Thanks.

Dear T_Desco,

I take it that the emphases are yours. Personally, I’d like to see a bit more evidence than Seymour Hersh just asserting it. I know, in his article (which I’ve read) he said that he’d heard it from Euro diplomats in Lebanon. But frankly, I do find it a bit far-fetched that Seniora/Hariri/etc. should give arms to Asbat al-Islam and similar gangs.

I might be wrong.

But, as the saying goes “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

–MSK

http://www.aqoul.com

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February 25th, 2007, 9:59 pm

 

18. t_desco said:

MSK,

for starters, there is the ICG report, which you must have noticed because Hersh is quoting it in the article.

Of course, it’s nice to put a face to these allegations: Al-Qa’idah-for-Sanyura.

Hersh’s article is not the first time that this strategy has been mentioned in the media or on this blog:

“Posted on Mon, Oct. 09, 2006

Moderate Sunnis in Lebanon fear rise of extremist groups
By Hannah Allam

McClatchy Newspapers

(MCT)

Political analysts said they’d detected signs that the moderate Sunni leadership was working to reach an accommodation with the radicals – something that might benefit both sides.

The Sunni leadership would benefit, the analysts said, by winning Islamists’ agreement not to attack in Lebanon. It also might be able to depend on the Islamists as an effective armed counterbalance to Hezbollah.

The radicals, meanwhile, would be able to continue their clandestine organizing with little fear of government reprisal.

“The payback is that the state won’t go to war against them, like in Egypt and Jordan,” said el Amin, the al Hayat journalist. “The dozens of guys who went to Iraq came back and are safe in their homes now.”

An al-Qaida presence also might weaken Hezbollah, he suggested. “If al-Qaida is going to do any operation here, it’s going to be against the Shiites, not the peacekeepers,” he said. ”

Quoted by me here.

There was also talk about the “Afghan model”:

Royal Intrigue, Unpaid Bills Preceded Saudi Ambassador’s Exit
Policy Dispute Regarding Iran Loomed Large
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 23, 2006; A18

In his secret visits, Bandar increasingly pressed the Bush administration not to deal with Iran — and, instead, to organize joint efforts to counter Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, such as in Lebanon, said sources close to the royal family. The new model would be based roughly on the kind of joint U.S.-Saudi cooperation that assisted anti-Soviet forces during Moscow’s 1979-1989 occupation of Afghanistan, the sources said.

Washington and Riyadh are already planning a major aid and military training package for the beleaguered Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose government is besieged by thousands of supporters of Iranian-backed Hezbollah.”

Quoted (and highlighted :D ) by me here.

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February 25th, 2007, 10:49 pm

 

19. Anonymous said:

I’m curious about Tabler’s remark that the Syrian Marxist groups are split on sectarian lines. If I’m not mistaken the Bakdash faction is largely Kurdish, unlike the main party. Is this what he was referring to? I wasn’t aware of any differences in the religious compositions of the various groups on the Syrian left. Can someone enlighten me?

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February 26th, 2007, 12:09 am

 

20. Alex said:

Dear Atassi,

You bet I have started to attack the image of SOME OF THE LEADERS in Saudi Arabia before it became fashionable to do so publicly in Syrian controlled media.

I hope you are not insinuating again that I take my directions from them… are you?

7abibi, if you filter what you read so that it sounds more to your liking, then you end up more and more biased. For example you decided to not notice that the text in italics was from Seymour Hersh’s article… a US government consultant told HIM, not me …

Here it is again, you know Seymour Hersh is not a Baathist … HE is telling you in his article that your hero prince Bandar is coordinating with the Neocons and with Israel.

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser.

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace

So, from a non-baathist source, a very reliable one as you know, Bandar and Eliott are coordinating their new strategy in the middle East.

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February 26th, 2007, 12:21 am

 

21. norman said:

Souri, you are missing an important distinction between Syria and the govverment of Syria , helping Syria is first no matter who is in charge , Don’t you agree.?

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February 26th, 2007, 2:02 am

 

22. annie said:

Dear Josh, This morning the download has worked; but it did not yesterday and it was not a matter of not waiting long enough. It said “terminé” and that was it.
So, I have what I wanted. Thank you.

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February 26th, 2007, 6:01 am

 

23. SOURI said:

Norman,
I strongly agree with you on the fact that we should differentiate between the syrian regime and the syrian people, there is a huge difference between them.
But when talking about helping Syria in this crucial time, it is assumed that we mean helping the syrian regime. One can not go to syria and help it without being in direct or indirect ties with the regime. He won’t be able to function for the good of the country, he will have to do as he is told to whether he like it or not. So helping Syria in this critical period will actually harm the syrian people, maybe on a smaller scale on the small run but on a huge scale on the big run.
I may be wrong, but how can anyone in syria actually help syria but not the syrian regime?

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February 26th, 2007, 6:26 am

 

24. MSK said:

Dear T_Desco,

the Dinniyeh group and Islam Intifada are somewhat different, maaheek? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

–MSK

http://www.aqoul.com

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February 26th, 2007, 8:25 am

 

25. nahed Al-husseini said:

Mr. Landid Hi. Have not heard from you for a long time. I would like to know from the significance of opening an office for the national salvation front in Washington. Is this a serious issue that has to be taken into consideration in your opinion? What are the ramifications? I understand that the Front will open other offices in Europe and the Middle East, Do you have the same imput? Is this a repitition of the Iraqi scenario? Is the tendency now to change the regime? Please answer my questions? and send me the Khadam article you already published on my e-mail. Pls stay in contact with me, and best regards.

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May 1st, 2007, 9:46 am

 

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