Who is at Fault in Lebanon? The Blame Game Heats Up

According to Ibrahim Hamidi in al-Hayat, Syria insists that it is playing a positive role with the French in developing "a road map" forward for Lebanon. Foreign Minister Walid Mualem explains that Syria will not sacrifice its national interests for the Arab League meeting scheduled to be held in Damascus this spring. All the same, Mualem pointed out the achievements of the Franco-Syrian dialogue that has been taking place over Lebanon: there has been agreement over who the next president should be, Michel Suleiman; there has also been agreement that a national unity government should be formed and a new election law promulgated.

French parliamentary delegation affirms good relations with Syria despite spat over Lebanon (AP) Sarkozy had said that France wouldn't talk with Syria.

Hiyam Kossaify in the daily an-Nahar expresses a widespread Lebanese conviction that "Syria will never allow the Lebanese presidential issue to be resolved so long as it does not have a firm commitment from France to scrub the international trial on the Hariri assassination."

Rosana Boumounsef of an-Nahar also blames Syria: 

The French stand, as outlined by President Nicolas Sarkozy from Egypt, named Syria as the side that is blocking the presidential election process, and efforts by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem to put the burden on Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun, were aimed at trying to avoid the isolation that Damascus is suffering from, Boumounsef wrote.

"The French who had repeatedly threatened to expose the side that is blocking the settlement have … declared the truth, named Syria and the opposition and held Speaker Nabih Berri responsible for the unprecedented closure of Parliament," according to the article.

Mualem insists that Syria cannot resolve the Presidential issue if the Lebanese opposition leaders are unwilling to accept the unity government offered by Hariri and company. The Syrians have been stressing that they do not have communications with General Aoun and cannot influence him. Although they acknowledge close relations with Hizbullah, they also insist they cannot order Hizbullah on such a crucial issue as the make up of a national unity government. Opposition representation in the new government will establish Hizbullah's power until elections are held in 2009.

Hizbullah maintains that it was stabbed in the back by the March 14th alliance in 2005 and cannot trust it to stick by political understandings – hence it wants a blocking third in the new government. It believes the Lebanese opposition will win the majority in free elections.

HIzbullah maintains that before the elections of 2005, it agreed with March 14 leaders to support eleven of their candidates in the parliamentary elections in exchange for a promise to support the "resistance," i.e. Hizbullah's right to maintain its militia and arms. What happened? Hariri and Jumblat turned against the resistance and hardly concealed their desire for Israel to wipe out Hizbullah during the summer war of 2006. Hizbullah believes it can take back many of the 11 parliamentary positions from Jumblat and Hariri in the 2009 elections, but in the meantime it wants guarantees that the government will not move against Hizbullah and that it can veto any election law of which it does not approve.

The devil is in the details of the national unity government. Initially there were reports that the president would be given ten members of the thirty member cabinet to appoint. This caused resistance among both the opposition and parliamentary majority. The opposition has called for each side being allotted a share of cabinet members in proportion to there membership in parliament, but this is not acceptable to March 14 as it would increase the opposition's authority. The March 14th group would like to keep the composition of the cabinet as close to what it is today as possible.

Hizbullah MP Mohammad Haidar said his party was awaiting Moussa's arrival to guarantee that there would be "no winner and no loser" as part of the Arab settlement plan. "We want to make sure that under the proposed formula, no party will be able to impose its decisions in the next government," Haidar said. "If this is the case, then we can have an elected president on Saturday," he added.

Israel planned 1991 strike on NKorea-Syria ship

President Bush signaled he would give Israel leeway to continue raids on Palestinian militants and to develop settlements in disputed parts of Jerusalem. (Transcript) (WSJ)

Bush has said Israel must end its occupation of some Arab land to enable the creation of a viable Palestinian state. No Golan statement. (BBC)

  • Palestinian refugee families should be compensated, rather than returning to former homes in what is now Israel
  • adjustments to the pre-1967 boundaries "to reflect current realities" – a reference to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank
  • a viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent Palestinian state

Mearsheimer and Walt argue that U.S. presidential candidates aren't doing the Jewish state any favors by offering unconditional support in their article: "Israel's false friends."

Ghassan Rubeiz in his Daily Star article, "Who should Arab Americans Vote For?," argues that "if Barak Obama wins, there is hope that he will be more open on the matter of Middle East justice than other front runners in the presidential race."

Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations explains that: "The six leading candidates have expressed common themes on the subject of democracy promotion in the Middle East. For example, they all say (as does the Bush administration) that if Arabs are provided with an opportunity to express their grievances through democratic institutions, there would be less terrorism. However, in general the candidates have been vague about how the United States can promote such developments."

Shlomo Ben-Ami, argues in "From father to son, Arab despotism may have merit," that:

As countries like Egypt, Syria and Libya might be indicating, hereditary succession is not an inherently reactionary move. Rather, it means opting for a controlled transition to a post-revolutionary phase in which economic modernization and international integration might usher in greater political change in the future.

In a new opinion poll by www.statisticslebanonltd.com asks:

What is the most important: An Arab Lebanon, or a democratically oriented Lebanon? 

The majority of respondents (68.67%) considered a democratically oriented Lebanon to be the most important, while 27% considered an Arab Lebanon to be the most important. Only 3.17% considered a Muslim Lebanon to be the most important and 1.17% refused to answer. See figure 2

A majority of 91% of respondents support a revision of the Lebanese constitution to ensure the best equality among the Lebanese regardless of their sect.

French source tells Al-Hayat about details of negotiations with Syria…” from mideastwire.com

Randa Takkey-Eddine of Al-Hayat, an independent Saudi owned newspaper, wrote on January 4:
“A French source in the team of the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner who attended his meetings in Beirut at the beginning of last month revealed that MP Al-Hariri never accepted in any form to give the debilitating third in the coming government to the opposition during his meetings with Kouchner and the parliamentary speaker Nabih Birri. He clarified in response to Al-Muallem’s affirmation that Al-Hariri agreed to give the debilitating third that Al-Hariri refused from the outset of the meeting to discuss any issue other than the amendment of the constitution to allow for the election of General Suleiman to the presidency. The source added that when Birri insisted on Al-Hariri agreeing to an announcement of principles sanctioning the formation of a government with 55% of the seats going to the majority and 45% to the opposition, Al-Hariri told him that if Birri guarantees “Hezbollah’s ok then I will agree to talking about the announcement of principles”

“The same source clarified that “there was no problem concerning the amendment of the constitution and the new electoral law but that the issue of the national unity government was discussed in depth but Al-Hariri refused to form the government based on the ratio of the size of the respective coalitions in the parliament”. The source announced that “a formula stating that the government will be formed according to a formula that will take into consideration the size of the parliamentary coalitions but without any specific details”. The French official declared that no agreement was reached concerning the announcement of principles because Birri didn’t agree to the path for the constitutional amendment.

“The source pointed out that the Syrians sent to the French president palace on the eve of the meeting between Kouchner, Al-Hariri, and Birri a draft for a joint statement between Birri and Al-Hariri which would “facilitate matters” but its contents were similar to Birri’s suggestions in that meeting. The source added that this means that Birri received the same draft that was sent by Al-Muallem to the presidential palace…” – Al-Hayat, United Kingdom

Click here for source

Comments (15)


1. Observer said:

The fat lady did not sing. The devil is in the details.

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January 10th, 2008, 7:27 pm

 

2. ausamaa said:

I like this one:

“Randa Takkey-Eddine of Al-Hayat, an independent Saudi owned newspaper,”

Independent Saudi Newspaper! Independant from Who? And owned by Who?

Prince Khalid bin Sultan I think owns it, or some other Prince from the ruling family. Am I right?

Tishrin is more Independent if you ask me. At least it reflects the State position without calling itself Independent!

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January 10th, 2008, 8:10 pm

 

3. Atassi said:

I like Tishrin without the fornt\first page !!!

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January 10th, 2008, 9:31 pm

 

4. Bashmann said:

Josh,

Thanks for the articles. I’m very intrigued by Mr. Ben-Ami’s article “From father to son, Arab despotism may have merit”.

How could someone come up with a skewed point of view?!!

I can understand that some Israeli’s would rather have Arab secular despots over Islamists ones, but I would not dare argue that despotism might actually have merits. That is a grotesque statement. Now I know what Alex has been readying. 🙂

Cheers

Cheers

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January 10th, 2008, 9:37 pm

 

5. majedkhaldoun said:

George Bush said, it is time israeli occupation ends;
I think he should say also;
it is time american occupation of Iraq ends

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January 10th, 2008, 9:46 pm

 

6. Alex said:

Bashmann,

Eyal Zisser is heading in the same direction in his conclusions.

3oubal 3ndak and 3and AIG… and this gentleman:
(Thanks Atassi for emailing article)

Amid Arab diplomacy, whither the tribunal?

Michael Young

11 January 2008

Daily Star

Beirut — So unreliable have Syrian commitments to Lebanon’s normalization been in recent months, that almost no one anticipates success for the Arab League plan to resolve the Lebanese presidential crisis. Yet that reaction may be short-sighted. Something is taking place behind the scenes – it’s still not apparent what – that might encourage Syria to play along with the Arab consensus, if only for tactical reasons. And if that happens, you have to wonder whether the Hariri tribunal will be part of any package.

The United Nations investigation of Rafik Hariri’s assassination, previously so central to political life in Lebanon, has been pushed to a twilight zone. One commissioner, Serge Brammertz, has gone and another, Daniel Bellemare, this week officially replaced him. Bellemare is reportedly no more willing to name names than Brammertz was, because he wants to prepare a legally spotless case. That’s good news, but it also means we will return to the absurd situation where the UN commission tells us that Hariri was killed for political reasons related to the 2005 parliamentary elections, then stops short of declaring that the only actor with an interest in eliminating him on that basis was Syria.

What happens next with the Hariri tribunal? Earlier this week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that there had been progress in establishing the body, and that he would announce the names of the judges “at an appropriate time in the future.” The secretary general added that the judges would assume their functions “on a date I will also determine soon.” The nomination process for judges is tricky, particularly with regard to the Lebanese judges, who are more vulnerable to domestic political pressures. But Ban was also waffling. Not all the pieces are yet in place, and in late December the municipal council of The Hague issued a statement saying the tribunal would only begin operating in 2009. Even by the glacial standards of the UN, that’s disturbingly slow.

One reason for the delay is money. The tribunal will need $120 million for three years of operation, but it’s not at all clear where things stand today. Some countries have pledged money, but have not yet paid. A key question is whether Saudi Arabia has given anything, or will, which would open the door to other Gulf funding. There were unconfirmed reports that at the donors meeting for the Palestinians last month in Paris, the Saudis pledged to match the French contribution to the tribunal. After this, Future TV suggested in a news item that financing had been secured. At around the same time, the American ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that the UN’s top legal man, Nicolas Michel, had informed him that the tribunal had received the needed monies. But there never was an official announcement to that effect from New York, and Ban’s ambiguous remarks on deadlines imply that something is not right.

We must watch Saudi behavior very closely in order to get a better sense of how the Arab states in general will deal with the Hariri tribunal. Whoever puts money into the tribunal has valuable political leverage over Syria. However, if the Syrians first agree to compromise in Lebanon, the funds might never be forthcoming. That is why pledging money is very different than paying up. A pledge can be indefinitely postponed.

Which brings us back to the Arab League plan for Lebanon. Nothing suggests that the Arab states are discussing the tribunal with Damascus. But the tribunal is the elephant in the living room whenever one talks to the Syrians. Sooner or later the topic must make its way to the table. While the Arabs don’t have the power to derail a UN Chapter VII decision, they can do two things: delay the tribunal by holding back on payment (if that’s indeed what is happening); and help create a political context that somehow rehabilitates Syria, making it much more difficult for the international community to push the Hariri trial to its logical conclusion.

Can we presume, then, that the Arab plan for Lebanon is partly an opening shot to retrieve Syria? That’s not to say that a presidential election in Beirut is one facet of a cover-up to save the Assad regime. However, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has consistently avoided blaming Damascus for the stalemate in Lebanon, and while that’s normal for the head of a pan-Arab organization, it has also left him with room to maneuver on a broader agreement between the Syrians and their Arab critics. Once that logic kicks in, it’s time to start asking questions.

The Arab states never had a liking for the Hariri tribunal. Even the Saudis were not convinced by it in late 2005, only coming around after President Bashar Assad strengthed his alliance with Iran, pursued his destabilization of Lebanon, embarrassed the Saudis on the Palestinian front, and escalated his rhetoric against the kingdom. But all that really means is that the Saudis view the tribunal as a useful political instrument – one that can be calibrated depending on the Syrian response – not a medium to dispense justice. Fair enough, international legal cases are a lot about politics, but we have no guarantees that the kind of arrangement the Arabs might find acceptable with Damascus is one that truly enhances Lebanese sovereignty.

For the moment, the Syrians and the Saudis are still too far apart to reconcile. Damascus is also too greedy, wanting total hegemony over Lebanon – backed by tanks if it could manage that – not a more detached form of Finlandization. This makes compromise with the Assad regime difficult. But we can assume that Moussa will keep the door open to the Syrians whatever happens, and in this he will have the support of most Arab leaders. At some stage, expect the Hariri tribunal to enter into the toxic bargaining that spawns inter-Arab political settlements.

In Beirut, however, there is still too much silence. The parliamentary majority has ceded the initiative on the tribunal to outsiders, as if March 14 has no domestic stake in its outcome. But many in the international community and the Arab world just hate the tribunal because it threatens to overturn the way they do business. So don’t be surprised if one day the tribunal suddenly is only half as effective as it was supposed to be.

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January 10th, 2008, 9:51 pm

 

7. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Bashmann,
Ben-Ami’s statement is indeed ridiculous. It is also very condescending: Arab’s can live with depotisim for now but of course Ben-Ami demands a democracy for Jews now. For all Ben-Ami cares another generation of Arabs can be lost. Pathetic.

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January 10th, 2008, 9:56 pm

 

8. idaf said:

Apparently, Iran can beat the US hands down in the “winning hearts and minds” game…

Even with sanctions, Syrians embrace KFC and Gap

With American goods already flooding Damascus, analysts say lifting restrictions will help counter Iran’s influence.

Julien Barnes-Dacey | Christian Science Monitor
January 11, 2008

Damascus, Syria – The brightness of the KFC is hard to miss on the drab Damascus street corner with its iconic Col. Harland Sanders logo, bringing a bit of Americana to a country that Washington has long deemed one of its chief nemeses.

But the political bitterness between the two countries has not dampened the appetite for US products here – nor has it stopped American companies from finding a way past sanctions in order to do business in Syria.

American goods are indeed booming here and its iconic brands are popping up all over Damascus despite years of this country’s own self-imposed economic isolation and the US trade sanctions that were imposed in 2003 to punish the Syrians for allegedly meddling in Lebanon.

President Bashar al-Assad’s push to liberalize the economy and nudge Syria into the age of globalization is providing a back door for everything from Betty Crocker cake mix to Johnson & Johnson baby oil. Even Cargill, one of America’s largest private companies, is currently building a sugar refinery in the town of Homs.

By October last year, official imports from the US in 2007 already bettered any previous recorded annual total according to US trade figures. In September, monthly imports reached US$61.2 million, a dramatic increase on the June 2004 postsanction low of US$12.7 million.

Abdullah Dardari, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and the country’s economic guru, calls the trade sanctions “ridiculous.” And observers say that as Washington considers drawing in Syria from the cold – or at least away from its growing relationship with Iran – it could do worse than play the economic hand.

“Sanctions on Syria haven’t worked. Officially, trade has gone up between the two countries and the Syrian market is full of American goods,” says Andrew Tabler, Syrian analyst for the Stanley Foundation.

Provided that goods are not manufactured in the US or produced with more than 10 percent of American content, both increasingly the case with the globalization of production, American companies are not restricted from selling goods in Syria – although the goods are not then classified as American.

“Typically you have Ford cars inside the market. When they opened the showroom you had people from the US embassy attending. Ford cars are manufactured in Germany, not the US, so they are not banned from being exported here,” says Syrian economist Jihad Yazigi.

Proponents of sanctions say that the measures serve an important purpose of political punishment, demonstrating that the US will not tolerate policies that obstruct its regional interests.

However, some observers argue that the effect has been counterproductive, restricting transparent economic ties that could soften political frigidity and, significantly, opening the door to greater Iranian influence in Syria, itself seeking stronger regional ties to counter US hostility.

“Iran has filled the gap created by sanctions,” says Umran al-Zaube, a political analyst close to government circles, pointing to both the fueling of anti-Americanism as well as the economic possibilities. “While Iran is looking for more openings, sanctions have been a lost opportunity for America.”

Every day new Syrian-Iranian economic joint ventures are announced from car companies to oil refineries.

“The sanctions keep American companies from getting directly involved in Syria and competing with Iranian businesses. Given the fact that American policy is behavior change, these sanctions are counterproductive,” says Mr. Tabler, who argues that America is losing out by not engaging Syria’s developing private sector. While sanctions have not greatly restricted the inflow of American goods, they have prevented American firms – fearful of a domestic backlash – from openly building ties with Syria’s businesses.

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January 10th, 2008, 10:02 pm

 

9. idaf said:

Josh,

You missed the following important story in your excellent round-up.. Syrian FM Walid Al-Muallem to the Saudi owned Al-Arabiya TV: “Syria was offered to negotiate on the international [Hariri] tribunal in return of accepting to pressure its allies in Lebanon”. He also said that the amount of incentives that were offered to Syria from several parties, including France, were “numerous”.

Here are some quotes by Syria News from the interview in Al-Arabiya captured from the actual interview:
http://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=69141

The interesting point here, is that Al-Arabiya TV did not think that this part of the interview with Al-Muallem (on negotiating on the tribunal) was news-worthy. It did not publish any reference to this quote on its website, and did not distribute anything about this in the press release sent to news wires. Check for yourselves: Here’s Al-Arabiya’s story and here’s the AFP’s story based on the press release sent from Al-Arabyia. If it wasn’t for Syria News no one would’ve heard this (other than those who watched the interview)! Unfortunately, this is typical Al-Arabyia “balanced reporting” on Syria.

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January 10th, 2008, 10:07 pm

 

10. Honest Patriot said:

From Naharnet:

http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&7CE9854B497E06F9C22573CC002330BE

Nasrallah: Bush’s Mideast Trip ‘Disgraceful’ for Arabs
Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah condemned U.S. President George Bush’s Mideast trip, describing it as “disgraceful’ for the Arabs and Muslims.
“Today is a black day in the history of our Arab region and the history of our Arab and Islamic nation,” Nasrallah told supporters in the southern suburbs through a giant screen Wednesday evening.
“It is a disgraceful and shameful day for all Arabs and Muslims when the Pharaoh (Bush) of this age sets foot on our occupied holy land,” Nasrallah added.
Hizbullah, in a statement, also condemned Bush’s visit and urged Arab governments to be aware of the “dangers” of U.S. policy on the future of Arab and Islamic worlds.
“The U.S. sponsorship of the negotiations between the Palestinians and Zionists represents a direct cover for liquidating the Palestinian cause and displacing the remaining Palestinians under the so-called Jewish state,” said the Hizbullah statement.

Beirut, 10 Jan 08, 08:27

Declarations such as the one above reveal the true agenda of Nasrallah. Smart man, yes, erudite, affable, etc., but Oh how much of a fanatical extremist… and this is whom Aoun is teaming with, promising that he will lead an integration of HA into a unified Lebanese civil society. Dream on. The true test of Lebanese nationalism is whether the person is working towards the true benefits of the Lebanese people, not some blind fanatical obsession with perpetuating the U.S. as the Great Satan and sabotaging any rapprochement that could lead to true peace in the Middle East. Love him or hate him, President Bush is the current leader of the free world. And for my colleagues here on this forum who are US citizen, he is your president and mine. Mistakes or not, stupidity or not, his visit to the Middle East is the official visit of the head of state of the only remaining superpower. Nasrallah’s opinion matters little to the larger Middle East peace process involving Palestinians, and is shameful and destructive. Much like HA has acted since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Sad.

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January 10th, 2008, 10:50 pm

 

11. t_desco said:

The gentleman was on Press TV some days ago (“Arab Foreign Ministers Meeting on Lebanon Crisis”; 07 Jan. 2008) as I discovered by chance thanks to the Strait of Hormuz incident. Interesting program. It’s a very good sign that they give ample room to people like Michael Young to express their views. A little later they had an interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad (I can’t believe that some journalists still quote him as “expert on al-Qaeda”), so our gentleman was in good company…

Extremist groups cast shadow over Lebanon – analysts
Fatah al-islam remains ‘a serious threat’
By Michael Bluhm
Friday, January 11, 2008

Thursday’s arrest of a Fatah al-Islam official, along with the recording issued this week by fugitive Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abssi and the bomb attack on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), demonstrate that Islamic extremists still pose a serious threat to Lebanon’s security, a number of analysts told The Daily Star on Thursday.

Tripoli’s Abu Samra neighborhood, where alleged Fatah al-Islam senior member Nabil Rahim was captured with his wife on Thursday, remains a “stronghold” of Islamic militancy, regardless of the strength of Fatah al-Islam, said Ahmad Moussalli, professor of political science and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut.

Fatah al-Islam lost a three-month battle in mid-2007 against the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, while the Lebanon’s largest refugee camp – Ain al-Hilweh – also represents a “powder keg” of violence threatening the country, said retired General Elias Hanna, who teaches political science at Notre Dame University and elsewhere.

These Sunni extremist groups could undertake future attacks not only against UNIFIL, but also against any persons or entities they view as representing the Lebanese state, which they see as illegitimate, Hanna added.

Despite the more than 220 Fatah al-Islam militants killed during the three-month siege and the 200 in custody, many more linger in Lebanon, Moussalli said.

“I believe it’s a serious threat, and the people captured in Nahr al-Bared only represent a small fraction” of Fatah al-Islam’s manpower, he said. “Imagine if they hit northern Israel with rockets or if they blow up a shopping center or supermarket. Don’t be amazed if there is a big explosion here or there.”

Despite the hundreds of militants seized, the state has not been forthcoming with information about the structure and background of Fatah al-Islam, making it difficult to assess the scope of the danger, he added.

“There are around 300 people captured by the security services in Lebanon, but nothing has been told to the Lebanese people,” Moussalli said.

While Rahim’s arrest shows that Fatah al-Islam is still operating in Tripoli, the capture also shows that the security forces have made inroads inside the organization, Hanna said.

“It means that they still have some sort of quasi-network system in Tripoli,” Hanna said. “He had a safe haven.

“Arresting this guy means that the security apparatus has knowledge. They have inside information. Now this guy will be another source for information for the security services.”

“What is important in this kind of fight is human intelligence,” Hanna added. “Fatah al-Islam before Nahr al-Bared was mystery. Post-Nahr al-Bared, it became a puzzle. The puzzle is difficult to solve, but you know that you have a solution for it. The $1 million question is: Are they still a threat? Yes. But not like before Nahr al-Bared.”

Abssi’s audio message, released on Monday and threatening the LAF with further bloodshed, serves as further evidence that Fatah al-Islam lives on, Moussalli said. Rumors had it that Abssi had gone to Iraq and then the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but the Jericho native is probably in hiding here, Moussalli added.

“Most likely, as I think, he’s back in Lebanon,” Moussalli said. “Most likely [the recording] is done by him. It is an indication that this movement is still alive.”

Even if the security forces can eradicate Fatah al-Islam, the conditions that give rise to and feed Islamic extremism persist in Tripoli’s impoverished areas, Hanna said.

The militant ideology in Abu Samra combines the Saudi-based Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam with the call to armed jihad against infidels, in a revolution against traditional Wahhabism, Moussalli said. The political extremism finds fertile ground in the grim economic circumstances of the Abu Samra district, Hanna said.

“The suburbs of Tripoli are the breeding ground for extremism because of the social system of these people,” Hanna said. “This is the problem of Tripoli. The safe haven is the belt of poverty that surrounds Tripoli.”

The militant movements in the North wind up mixing – in personnel and philosophy – with radical groups in Ain al-Hilweh such as Jund al-Sham and Osbat al-Ansar, Moussalli said.

“They are all inter-related,” he said. “They are different formations of the same ideology, and people move back and forth between these movements.

“They are ultimately accepting the Wahhabi jihadism and takfir [infidel] ideology as presented by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri” of Al-Qaeda, he said. “Shaker al-Abssi did go to Afghanistan and was with Osama. He is part of that. Now it is a globalized movement.”

The jihad movements are not a tightly coordinated set of militias, and their branches in Ain al-Hilweh are held in check by the presence of other strong Palestinian movements, Hanna said.

“The powder keg is there, but it will be contained,” Hanna said. “There is a balance of power over there” between the most radical groups and the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas.

“They will not let these people go out and create problems for the Shiites,” Hanna added.

The militants do, however, pose a concrete danger to the international troops of UNIFIL, Hanna said.

“They see the UNIFIL as an occupying force,” he said. “They call it the enemy within.”

Tuesday’s attack against UNIFIL, in which a roadside bomb lightly wounded two Irsih peacekeepers, took place near Sidon in Rmeileh, not south of the Litani River where UNIFIL is strongest, Hanna said.

“Usually, when you are weaker, you go the softer way,” Hanna said. “Instead of attacking UNIFIL inside their land, they have targeted these guys on the highway.

“How ready are they to wage war against UNIFIL? How much will Hizbullah allow this to go on?” Hanna asked.

Hizbullah has been coordinating with the beefed-up UNIFIL contingent, which swelled to some 13,000 troops as part of UN Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war with Israel.

Hizbullah’s cooperation with the foreign forces has also made the Shiite group a target for the Sunni militants, Moussalli said.

“They have opposed Hizbullah’s acceptance of [Resolution] 1701,” he added.

In addition, any part of the state, which also complied with Resolution 1701 and which is seen as working with the West, also faces a threat from the Islamists, Hanna said.

Potential targets include the LAF, LAF commander Michel Suleiman – who has been chosen as a consensus presidential candidate by Lebanon’s feuding political camps – and “all that constitutes the Lebanese government,” Hanna added.

The peril, however, relates little to the deadlocked domestic political scene, said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.

The attacks do not “feed into” political disputes, Salem said. “It doesn’t have large political consequences. It doesn’t reverberate much in the country. It doesn’t snowball anywhere.”

The threat from Islamic extremism will continue, though, as long as the state remains too weak to tamp down the eruption of violent jihadism which simmers throughout the region, Hanna said. In the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution, regional political currents tiled from pan-Arabism and nationalism to a rising wave of Islamism, he added.

“We are in the process of changing what was [and] not knowing what’s coming,” Hanna said. “In this transitional phase the price is very high. The war is still going on. There is no end in sight.”
The Daily Star

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January 10th, 2008, 11:56 pm

 

12. Akbar Palace said:

majedkhaldoun said:

George Bush said, it is time israeli occupation ends;
I think he should say also;
it is time american occupation of Iraq ends

Majedkhaldoun,

Do you think Arab and Islamic terrorism should end as well or is that not important?

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January 11th, 2008, 2:31 am

 

13. norman said:

AP ,

Here , Take this one , Yes terror using Islam should end , now can you say that Israeli and Western terror should end and leave the Mideast to it’s people. I will be happy for the Hebrews to live in peace in the Mideast.

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January 11th, 2008, 2:41 am

 

14. Observer said:

Several points:
1. HP does want the Lebanese to have allegiance to a Lebanese nation state without regard to any other consideration and that is a pure secular state. Therefore, he is asking for the political establishment to commit suicide. Like myself, who left the region in the early seventies, he thinks that the Lebanese back home have evolved. They did in one sense: the majority of the people and political elite know that violence will not solve any of their problems. That is the extent of evolution of the Lebanese in the last 25 years. The rest is as entrenched as ever. The confessional system is the reason that so many powers choose to do battle in Lebanon. It is a pity but it is the reality now.
2. Originally, the idea of Lebanon was to create a state for the Christian community. Realising that it is not viable, it was enlarged to include the South and the Bekaa valley. That inherently created an unstable system as long as the distribution of power is confessional.
3. Neither Syria nor Lebanon have even achieved the modicum of a nation state. In actuality, just a few years ago, one could argue that Syria was certainly moving towards becoming a failed state in that it had no power to protect its citizens, be a refereree among the protagonists, insure the minimum requirement for education and health. Only the departure from Lebanon has forced the regime to modernize back home. Otherwise the old guard was perfectly happy to remain in the status quo.
4. The tribunal is the sword of Damocles over the Syrian regime. It is left there hanging. It will be used only if and when the decision has been made collectively to replace the regime. It does not matter who killed Hariri. It is the blame for the killing that is important politically. So far, the Syrian administration has played its chess game very well indeed. Giving enough to reduce the pressure while holding on to all its cards. I would argue that it even enhanced its position and even played the Arab regimes against each other very well
5. The Arabs do not want a repetition of the Iraq debacle. Another disaster like this and all of their regimes will be severely weakened to say the least. They have come to realize that the US use of power has its limits. How to deal with the rise of Iran is the big question. Now that a US attack on Iran is out after the NIE publication, the conflict will evolve in two directions: an Israeli attack or subversion in both Iraq and Iran or perhaps both. In all of those situations, Iran is prepared. It has infiltrated all of the Shia communities on the shores of the Gulf and has built forward positions for its secret services in all of these countries. It is prepared to wage an asymetric war with the US and no one can afford to do anything during a recession. It will turn it into a worldwide depression.
6. The mission in Afghanistan is crucial to the success of NATO. If fracture about the nature of the mission continue to evolve, it is the future role of the US as the leader of the organisation that is at stake. The Europeans are waiting to see who occupies the White house next year. If it is a hawkish democrat or a republican do not expect much change, if it is a new generation of leaders, expect them to bail out of the mission.
7. Russia will continue to use the Iranian card on the one hand the energy transportation hubs on the other to foil the US in the region and to drive wedges between Europe and the US. If the Poles are pressured to accept the defence shield by the US, expect a Russian sale of very sofisticated weapon systems to Iran. Already the sale of the S-300 and the Tor-1 system has effectively allowed Iran to have a multilayered air defence system around its facilities.
8. The fact that the Arab League is now in the front on Lebanon means that both the US and to a lesser extent France are giving it lip service. The M14 have but themeselves to blame as they are slowly being abandoned. They accepted the initiative thinking that they can get their President and keep the majority in the goverment blocking HA and the opposition from consolidating their position with new elections and new electoral law. As I said before the devil is in the details and HA will not budge until and unless it has all of its demands met IN ADVANCE.
9. Syria has effectively returned in full force in Lebanon, notwithstanding what Michael Young says. It is back even better than when it had its tanks just as Britain would leave its colonies only to return with other means.
10. The news that the US used its airforce to bomb 40 insurgent strongholds simultaneously( over 10 minues) using B-1 and other aircraft just a few days after the confrontation in the strait of Hormuz is a signal to Iran about what the US can do with its high tech weapons. Expect in time an Iranian response about its asymetric capabilities.
Lebanon is a speck in all of this and Syria is comma.

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January 11th, 2008, 4:22 am

 

15. Honest Patriot said:

Observer,

All hats off to you… really, and sincerely. You are obviously a first rate analyst of the situations in the ME. On the other hand, now that you’ve gotten me somewhat depressend – albeit no more than I should be given the never-ending saga of my native country of Lebanon – the question I want to ask is, beyond all the analyses and interpretations and comments on what already happened, what, if any, would be a solution bringing real peace and prosperity, first to Lebanon (a selfish desire), and then to the whole region?

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January 13th, 2008, 2:02 am

 

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