Lebanon Gets a New Government

Lebanon has a new government. I will not be surprised if Syria receives official notice that an Ambassador has been named to return to Damascus, pending congressional confirmation. We turn to Qifa Nabki for smart analysis. (Also see his breakdown of the cabinet). I have also copied Blanford, who is wise on things Lebanon and fair.

Qifa Nabki

2) National Unity, the sequel:…. The March 14 coalition, or what’s left of it, doesn’t command a majority in parliament, so what’s the point of trying to maintain it anymore?

If Hariri wants to be able to govern effectively, he needs to build a new coalition. Or, at least, he needs to re-build the kinds of partnerships that his father constructed and manipulated so masterfully, reaching across the aisle to court erstwhile opponents like Hezbollah, AMAL, and the FPM. Those are the parties with the real clout in their communities and the seats in parliament. If I had to guess, this is more or less what’s in the back of the young PM’s mind.

3) Hezbollah’s Arms & Israel: The final major issue on the horizon is how Hariri decides to deal with the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, in the cabinet statement. Given the change in the regional atmosphere (moving from confrontation to reconciliation and diplomatic engagment), I’d say it’s almost certain that the same language is going to be used that went into the previous statements: Hezbollah is not a militia, it’s the legitimate expression of the Lebanese people’s resistance to regain their land, etc.

What happens if Israel decides to test Hariri’s tight-rope act? We’ll have to wait and see.

Lebanon’s Hariri, Hezbollah form new government
Five months after a Western-backed coalition narrowly beat the Hezbollah-led opposition in in Lebanon’s June elections, the two sides reached a deal Monday night.
By Nicholas Blanford | The Christian Science Monitor
November 10, 2009

… The March 14 bloc, a coalition of mainly Christians and Sunnis that is supported by the West as well as Saudi Arabia, received 15 seats. The Hezbollah-led parliamentary alliance, which includes mainly Shiites and Christians, was handed 10 seats – two of which went to Hezbollah politicians. The remaining five portfolios were filled by people chosen by the politically neutral president.

“… after a Western-backed coalition narrowly beat the Hezbollah-led opposition in in Lebanon’s June elections, the two sides reached a deal Monday night…..
“The cabinet will either allow the Lebanese to renew trust in their institutions, or it will lead them to repeat their past failures to achieve consensus,” Hariri said (read the later!)……

The next stage is the drawing up of a government policy statement. The key element of the statement will be the status of the “resistance” – Hezbollah’s military wing, …. The previous national unity government granted legitimacy to the “resistance” to seek the liberation of remaining Lebanese territory under Israeli occupation.

“The drafting of the ministerial statement will not be a problem at all, on the grounds that in parallel to Lebanon’s commitment to Resolution 1701 it is the right of the resistance to restore land by all means available,” Suleiman was quoted as saying in Lebanese newspapers Tuesday, echoing the phrase contained in the previous government’s policy statement. The new government is expected to reaffirm that clause, …. says Ousama Safa, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. “We should experience a modicum of stability for a while, but do not expect any earth-shattering changes from the government.”…

Lebanon’s domestic disputes often reflect the broader power struggles between regional rivals that back competing factions here. But the wrangling over the distribution of cabinet portfolios this time appears to have been a homegrown affair. The deadlock was finally broken last week, when Syria and Saudi Arabia leaned on their respective Lebanese allies.

Obama, Netanyahu and Assad
Judah Grunstein | Bio | 10 Nov 2009
WPR Blog

The big winner from yesterday’s frosty meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu? Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. With the Palestinian peace track once again derailed, that leaves Syria as the only credible peace player in town.

That’s the guiding logic behind a diplomatic fact-finding report just delivered to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, anyway. The advantage of an Israel-Syria deal preceding the Palestinian track being that Hamas would almost certainly be forced to adapt to the changed landscape in ways that would favor intra-Palestinian reconciliation and facilitate a subsequent Israeli-Palestinian deal. It’s in that context that France believes the offer of lifting its diplomatic embargo on Hamas, if played at the right time, could move negotiations forward.

Iraq, Syria’s Main Trading Partner in 2008 – See Jihad Yazigi’s Syria Report
Iraq was Syria’s main trading partner last year according to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The Richest Syrian Businessman finds himself below water

French Ship Line CMA CGM Losing $148 Million a Month, JDD Says
2009-11-07, By Helene Fouquet

Nov. 7 (Bloomberg) — CMA CGM SA, the world’s third-biggest container-shipping operator, is losing 100 million euros ($148 million) each month, Journal du Dimanche reported, citing unidentified government officials.

Marseille-based CMA CGM has debt of 7 billion euros that includes bank loans, orders for 49 new ships that cannot be canceled and 1 billion euros of losses after speculation on the oil market, JDD said. CMA CGM, which is wholly owned by the Saade family, is currently seeking investors’ help to reduce its debt, JDD said.

No-one from CMA CGM’s office was immediately available for comment when called by Bloomberg News. A French Finance Ministry spokesman declined to comment when contacted by telephone today.

Scholars hunt missing pages of ancient Bible
2009-11-10, MSNBC

JERUSALEM – A quest is under way on four continents to find the missing pages of one of the world’s most important holy texts, the 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible known as the Crown of Aleppo. Crusaders held it for ransom, fire almost destroyed it and …

Russia-Saudi Relations: The Kingdom and the Bear
Saurav Jha | Bio | 09 Nov 2009
World Politics Review

Saudi Arabia’s possible purchase of at least $2 billion of Russian military equipment has the potential to be the most significant Russian arms deal in the Middle East since the Soviet Union transferred SA-2s to Nasser’s Egypt. By all indications, it seems that the two countries have reached an agreement for the arms transfer, after a two-year negotiation period. The deal may be part of a larger process that leads to a significant realignment in the external relations of both parties.

The arms transfer agreement, which covers a broad spectrum of weapons, is guided by the agreement on cooperation in military technology that was initiated during a visit of Russia’s then-President Vladimir Putin to Riyadh in 2007, and later signed by the two countries in 2008. According to Russian sources, Saudi Arabia may purchase up to 150 helicopters (30 Mi-35 attack helicopters and 120 Mi-17 transport helicopters), more than 150 T-90S tanks, around 250 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and “several dozen” air defense systems (including possibly the S-400 Triumf). Contracts for the sales of the helicopters, tanks and IFVs — worth a combined $2 billion — seem imminent, with more negotiations required on the air defense systems. In all, the Saudi market may absorb up to $7 billion worth of Russian equipment in the future.

The precise timing for the deal seems to have been guided by the worsening Iran nuclear crisis and the increasing enmity between the Iranians and the Saudis. The Saudi defense requirements also come at a time when Russian newspapers are awash with reports of the monetary loss — in the billion-dollar range — that Moscow must incur on the sale of S-300 air defense systems to Iran. That deal has been stalled due to pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv. Clearly, handsome compensation seems to be in the pipeline from Saudi quarters.

Beyond the Iranian angle lies the Saudi need to diversify its sources of military equipment and thereby raise its bargaining power as a buyer. With the deal, Russia has beaten out the French, who have fallen out of favor lately with the Saudi establishment, especially since King Abdullah has been directly overseeing weapons procurement. The French practice of bundling additional weapons not sought by the buyer in a consolidated package has irked the Saudis. The turn to Russia effectively thwarts French pressure to buy weapons that the Saudis do not need, allowing them to focus on those that they do.

Saudi Arabia also seems to have responded favorably to Russian feelers with respect to coordinating production and pricing on the international oil market. These two countries lead the world in oil exports and have huge reserves of gas as well. In the future, the Saudis may provide a bridge for the Russians to OPEC.

Henry Siegman in Haaretz (Thnaks to FLC)

“Bradley Burston is offended by my characterization of Israel’s inability to let go of the occupied territories as a pathology, a characterization he says can only be made by someone who hates Israelis…….
I challenge Burston to cite a single instance of my having touched on the subject of the “venality” of Israel’s leaders (i.e. that they can be bought with money) in any of the hundreds of columns I have written over the past forty years, although it is a subject that Israeli columnists have had a field day with. I have avoided it entirely, because my concern has been the damage that Israel’s occupation policies and its denial of the human rights and national rights of the Palestinian people are doing to Israel’s ability to survive as a Jewish and democratic state.

It is not true, as Burston claims, that I said Israelis lie when they tell pollsters they favor peace. I said that when the peace they favor is for all practical purposes defined as requiring Palestinians to accept the status quo, that is not a choice of peace over territory.

Yes, I have repeatedly written about the deceitfulness of proclamations by Israeli governments about their commitment to a two-state solution. The relentless pursuit by these governments of the settlement enterprise can only be understood as a commitment to prevent such an outcome.

…… Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claimed that he removed the settlements in Gaza as a prelude to further withdrawals from the West Bank and a peace agreement with the Palestinians. But the man who negotiated the deal for President Bush’s letter of April 2004 to Sharon on the subject of settlements, Dov Weisglass, told Ari Shavit of Haaretz that Sharon’s real purpose was to “effectively remove this whole package that is called the Palestinian state from our agenda indefinitely.” ….. To blame Palestinians, rather than their occupiers, for their responsibility for remaining under a forty-year, oppressive military occupation when Netanyahu’s government refuses to consider anything resembling a viable or sovereign Palestinian state, insists on retaining far more Palestinian land than was demanded by previous Israeli governments, rejects the idea of equal land exchanges, and has taken Jerusalem entirely off the table, is to add insult to injury. ….”

Comments (9)

norman said:

Alex ,
See this and tell me what you think .


November 11, 2009
Memo From Riyadh
Saudi Arabia and Egypt Fret as Their Influence Slips Away
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Even before Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would not seek re-election as the Palestinian president, throwing the Palestinian Authority into chaos, America’s closest Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, had begun to despair over Washington’s Middle East missteps, government officials and political experts said.

With Israel having rebuffed American calls to freeze settlement-building, and with the prospects for substantive peace talks fading, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are increasingly viewed in the region as diminished actors whose influence is on the wane, political experts say.

They have been challenged by Iran, opposed by much smaller Arab neighbors, mocked by Syria and defied by influential nonstate groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

Even while Iran has been focused on its domestic political crisis, and Syria has struggled with an economic and water crisis, their continued support for Hamas and Hezbollah has preserved for them a strong hand in matters like the formation of a new government in Lebanon and efforts to reconcile Palestinian factions, officials and analysts said.

Officials in Saudi Arabia and Egypt acknowledge all this; they admit that they are no longer masters of their universe. What they do not agree upon is how to respond.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has decided that Arab unity is the only way to re-establish the kingdom’s role and to blunt Iran’s growing influence. The king has begun a diplomatic drive to smooth relations with two Arab leaders who have insulted and admonished him in the past, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya and, more recently, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Egyptian officials say they wish the king well but have declined to participate in his reconciliation initiative because they think it will fail as long as Syria determines that the advantages of playing the spoiler outweigh the gains of pushing for peace.

“If there is no peace, then all those who bet against peace are winning,” said an Egyptian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid increasing tensions with the United States or Saudi Arabia. “And all those who act and bet there will be peace are losing, like us. We are losing because we are putting this bet.”

The great promise of President Obama’s June speech in Cairo, officials and political commentators said, was severely damaged when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her recent trip to the Middle East, praised as “unprecedented” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to slow the building of settlements. That left the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Egypt — the two regional American allies most committed to negotiating with Israel — exposed, embarrassed and weakened, political analysts and government officials.

“Egypt’s role is receding regionally, and its cards are limited,” said Emad Gad, an expert in international relations at the government-financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “Their main card, which is reconciliation and peace, is receding.”

Egypt says these efforts will come to nothing until there is progress in the peace process, an approach the Saudis have not accepted.

Even as its vast reserves of oil money have expanded its global influence, Saudi Arabia finds itself unable to exert its will even on its own border, where it blames Iran for stoking an uprising against the government in Yemen; or in Lebanon, where its chief source of influence, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated. Even its goal of leading the Persian Gulf states, under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has faltered.

“Saudi’s role in the last 10 years has declined,” said Abdulkarim H. al-Dekhayel, a political science professor at King Saud University in Riyadh. “The leadership now feels it has to try to reset the agenda.”

The Saudis have decided that the key to re-establishing a strong hand in the region rests broadly in Arab unity and specifically in Syria. Syria has close economic and political ties with Iran. It hosts the political leadership of the militant group Hamas. It shares a border with Iraq and has been accused of allowing militants and weapons to cross over. It has a close alliance with Hezbollah. All of these are excellent tools for undermining Saudi efforts to blunt Iran and push for peace with Israel.

“The relations between the Arab countries, if they are solid, if the understanding is there, if the cohesiveness of their policy exists, then there is no worry,” said Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s longtime foreign minister. “It is only when there is division, and looking for other alternatives between the Arab countries, that creates problems.”

But Saudi Arabia’s challenge is also one of leverage, political analysts and Saudi officials said. How does Saudi Arabia persuade Syria to switch from the antipeace camp, to the pro-peace camp?

The Saudis have hinted at two strategies. One involves giving Syria much needed economic assistance. The other, though not stated directly, involves Lebanon. Syria has made it clear that it views events in Lebanon as central to its national security, as well as its pride. Saudi Arabia has tried in recent years to keep Lebanon in its orbit through proxies and cash infusions. But lately it has suggested that it might not object to Syria reasserting political control there.

“What is recognized is that Lebanon is more important to Syria than any other Arab country,” said a Saudi official who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize officials in either country. “It’s in its backyard. We understand that. But what we are looking for is some kind of Arab unity to stop foreign intervention in our Arab affairs.”

Egyptian officials, for their part, have been trying to reconcile the Palestinian factions, which have been at odds since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. While that is looking ever more remote, the Egyptians believe that a deal between Hamas and Fatah would already have been reached as a result of their mediation efforts if not for intervention by Syria, officials said.

Egyptian officials say they would be delighted if Saudi Arabia succeeded, not only in mending relations with Syria, but also in persuading the Syrians to sever ties with Iran, stop supporting Hamas and actually support the Arab initiative, which offers Israel peace in return for withdrawal to 1967 border lines, establishment of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and a “just solution” to the refugee problem.

But the Egyptians said they simply did not believe that would happen.

“Does the West give any support to those moderates on the Palestinian front, on the Arab side, that advocate peace, that say, ‘It is not about resistance any more, but what we want can be achieved through negotiations?’ ” said the Saudi government official. “The answer is, ‘No.’ Do we have an empty hand? The answer is, ‘Yes.’ ”

November 11th, 2009, 3:55 am


Alex said:

Thanks Norman.

We are not there yet … The Saudis are in practice, although not officially or verbally, admitting their need to work with Syria and to even adopt Syria’s positions when possible. For example, they finally followed Syria’s lead by diminishing their interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs thus allowing Saad Hariri to reach a compromise with Michel Aoun and other Lebanese opposition parties, leading to the formation of the long anticipated new Lebanese government.

Egypt, Israel, and Likud’s friends in the United States (aka “Israel’s friends”) have been for a while stuck against a wall … the right move they need to make is to backtrack, move towards Syria, shake hands and forget the past.

Instead, they are stuck in their predictable blaming of Syria for any failure.

So you read here an Egyptian analyst talking about finding ways to convince Syria to support peace! … what success do you expect from delusional leaders or advisers who have not heard that Syria always recognized the Arab peace plan and that President Assad this week called on Turkey to maintain good relations with Israel! in order to remain an acceptable peace mediator between Syria and Israel …

November 11th, 2009, 5:35 am


Alex said:

Last update – 00:44 01/01/2009

Netanyahu to Sarkozy: Israel ready for Syria talks without preconditions

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies

Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel would be prepared to hold immediate peace negotiations with Syria, as long as the talks were held without preconditions.

Netanyahu made the remarks in response to a question from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom he met for more than an hour and a half in Paris on Wednesday. Their talks focused on reviving Middle East peace efforts and Iran’s contenious nuclear program.

After the meeting, the two shook hands but did not speak to reporters.
In a joint statement, they said they agreed to deploy all efforts toward
immediately reviving the peace process. No agreement was reached on the issue of freezing construction in West Bank settlements, however, a demand which has topped the agenda for Palestinians and the United States.

Their statement also said that they discussed international efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program in light of latest evolutions, referring to Iran’s apparent rejection of an international proposal to send Iranian uranium abroad for enrichment.

Their meeting took place just days after Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama in Washington for unusually low-profile talks.

Netanyahu’s declaration regarding Syria came hours after Syrian President Bashar Assad said he would not set any preconditions for peace negotiations with Israel.

“Resistance is the essence of our policy in the past and in future. We have no conditions to achieve peace but rather rights and we will not abandon them,” Assad said in a speech opening the 5th Conference of the Arab Parties titled “The Independent Arab Decision.”

Two days after Netanyahu’s visit, Assad will also be in Paris for talks with Sarkozy. French officials have said the two meetings are not linked, seeking to kill off any speculation that France might try to act as middleman between the two nations.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Tuesday ahead of Netanyahu’s visit that France fears that Israel no longer desires a Middle East peace deal. He also said that Paris remained deeply opposed to settlement building in the West Bank.

Speaking on France Inter radio, Kouchner made clear he was not expecting any swift break through in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

“What really hurts me, and this shocks us, is that before there used to be a great peace movement in Israel. There was a left that made itself heard and a real desire for peace,” Kouchner said.

“It seems to me, and I hope that I am completely wrong, that this desire has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it,” he added.

November 11th, 2009, 9:13 pm


Alex said:

Angelina Jolie planning to adopt child from Syria

By Haaretz Service

Tags: Israel News, Brad Pitt

Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie is planning to adopt a child from Syria, OK! magazine reported Wednesday.

The actress, who was recently in Syria with partner Brad Pitt to visit Iraqi refugees, has reportedly started the adoption process to bring home a baby girl.

Jolie already has six children, three of them biological and three adopted.
A spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service confirmed that “only Angelina’s name was on the adoption papers,” the British tabloid reported.

“It is clear that the Syrian people, no matter the challenges or difficulties they may face, have always shown generous hospitality to people in need,” the magazine quoted Jolie as telling local news agency ChamPress during her October trip.

Jolie also reportedly said she hopes the world recognizes the plight of Iraqi refugees.

Jolie and Pitt reportedly met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma, while in Syria.

November 11th, 2009, 9:16 pm


Off the Wall said:

I know not many of us are fans of Mr. Utri, but what do you think of this recent quote from him

وختم عطري حديثه بالقول: إن الدولة تحملت دعماً مقداره 720 مليار ليرة سورية خلال ست سنوات، كان يمكن أن نستفيد منها لصالح التنمية..؟ كم محطة كهرباء وكم مشروع ري وكم طريقاً كان يمكن أن نقيم بهذه المبالغ التي ذهبت على الدعم لغير مستحقيه وللدول المجاورة تهريباً..؟! ونحن أيضاً نتساءل ونضيف كم هو حجم التهرب الضريبي؟ وكم هو حجم المدخلات والمخرجات من الفساد الذي لن يكون أقل حجماً من المبلغ الذي تم ذكره، إن لم يكن أكثر!! والذي سيلعب دوراً مهماً في التنمية التي نرجوها، فلا الاقتراض الخارجي أو استنزاف الاحتياطي الاستراتيجي هو المطلوب..؟! بل المطلوب سياسات تطبق على أرض الواقع، لان لدينا ما يكفينا في أن نكون في المقدمة دائماً، كما نحن في السياسة الخارجية، أن نكون في المقدمة اقتصاديا أيضاً.

I believe that we are between the the rock and the sledge hammer. On the one hand, we all want liberalization of the Syrian economy, which requires substantial revision of subsidy programs, on the other, we all want to make sure that those in need, which are the majority, are not left out to dry.

I have to agree with Mr. Utri on the issue of smuggling subsidized commodities to neighboring countries. There is also an internal smuggling problem resulting from diversion of subsidized commodities from consumption by intended recipient to black market sales. Combating both requires major investment in auditing at various levels and such will add a sizable workforce to an already large government. This in fact was a reason behind major revisions of the US own food stamps program, which had significant auditing problems, (in addition to the mean spirited attitude of some republicans and democrats).

Are we lacking creative solutions?, or are the facts on the ground so complex that a butterfly ripple can become a hurricane of unintended consequences (Chaos theory of highly nonlinear systems).

Using capitals in full sentences does not add emphasis, it is considered shouting and immature in blog-circles. Your blogging style is usually more mature than that. If you are trying to question our loyalty by linking to such well known source of racist xenophobia, i have one answer for you, you are not an iota more American than any of us who are US citizens, naturalized or by birth.

Here is a link on that subject you may not be happy reading

Dearest, Grandest, Most Wonderful, Most Enlightened and Many more mosts Jad
the greatest and dearest Off the Wall???!!
Wow (or as haifa sings wawa), I had to get out of the house, which could no longer contain my about to explode ego. 🙂

Seriously, I am honored and humbled

November 11th, 2009, 10:25 pm


Alex said:

Here is what Arab Canadians are doing to counter camera.org and the countless other Israeli media watchdogs in the United States.

To become a respondent


November 12th, 2009, 3:16 am


JAD said:


November 12th, 2009, 3:50 am


JAD said:

Dear Alex,
That is a great project.
Thank you for spreading the word.

November 12th, 2009, 3:53 am


Jad said:

My last rant for today, I promise, beside, it wasn’t my mistake, it was this piece of news that triggers it:

Abbas resists U.S. pressure to resume peace talks

We the Arab have a huge defect in our mentality it goes back from the tribal days when only the chief was allowed to take the decision and the funny yet sad thing is that even when he (I didn’t write she, because our Arab systems discriminate against our women that they unfortunately would never become a chief) failed miserably and when we see and feel his disastrous results we always praise him for his unforgivable mistakes and we forgive his wrong doing and we ‘beg’ him to stay our chief! How stupid is that? The latest example from this infamous Arab/Bizzaro world is Mr. Abbas, he reminded me of Adb Alnaser, when he drove us into the wall yet people ‘begged’ him to stay in power and he actually did.
How delusional are we?

November 12th, 2009, 5:05 am


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