Top French Officials Go to Damascus on a Fool’s Errand

Sarkozy sent his two top advisers to Damascus on a fool's errand.

Claude Gueant, President Nicolas Sarkozy's chief of staff, and Jean-David Levitte, his chief international adviser, met with Bashar al-Assad. They all agreed the Lebanese should elect their next president freely and without any foreign inference, SANA reported.

How France can believe that Syria will help the West elect an anti-Syrian government that will try to disarm Hizbullah before the West gives any guarantees to uphold UN resolutions concerning the return of the Golan Heights is mind boggling. The French know better. This must be posturing before the failure. Everyone is position himself to blame the other when Lebanon fails to elect a president.

Before the Iraq adventure, the skeptics warned, "You break it, you own it." The wisdom on the Lebanon adventure is: "You break it, Syria owns it." That was what happened in 1975; it happened in 1982. Nevertheless, Washington seems determined to push Lebanon to the breaking point by encouraging March 14 not to compromise.

Italy's Prodi advised the United States that if Syria and Iran are not at the Annapolis conference there would be no use in reaching agreements because without the cooperation of Iran and Syria, little could be implemented. 

Rice, Olmert agree to involve Syria into peace summit conditionally say the headlines, but it is not true. The second sentence of the article explains that Syria would be included only to be seen and not heard. Trying to treat Syria as a Victorian child is silliness.

Syria is welcome to join Middle East peace talks set to be held before the end of this year in Annapolis, Md., the U.S. and Israel both said on Sunday.

But such a dramatic diplomatic breakthrough would only happen if the Syrians agreed to focus on Israeli-Palestinian issues and not on Syria's desire to regain the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Comments (19)

Jamal said:

Here, let’s read something nice about Syria. Written by someone who has actually spent a bit of time inside the place.

Ignore the hype: Syria shouldn’t be demonised
Article by William Dalrymple
The Spectator (UK), Wednesday, 24th October 2007

November 5th, 2007, 9:35 am


Jason said:

French National Security Adviser Jean-David Levitte: “The Lebanese people must have the possibility of choosing their next president freely, without pressure or outside meddling, in a peaceful manner and by strictly respecting the Lebanese constitution.”

Condi Rice: “I made very clear that everybody was watching, that it was expected that Syria was going to adhere to its international obligations not to interfere, to allow Lebanon to continue to have a constitutional process for the selection of a president.”

Maybe Syria and the Lebanese Opposition should send the US and France a copy of the Lebanese constitution. Sryia and the Lebanese opposition have been saying this from start. By the US pressuring March 14 to elect a president by simply majority, the US is going against the Lebanese constitution. Fadlallah lashed out against the US today in the Daily Star: “The insanity of the US president and its administration is reflected in Lebanon by their ambassador pressuring the Lebanese people and preventing them from reaching an agreement over the presidential election,” and went on to say that the US “does not fight terrorism but rather they produce it and does not fight radicals but provide them with the best environments.”

The proxy war of truth v. propaganda.

November 5th, 2007, 2:54 pm


Alex said:

Nothing can be solved in the Middle East with their no-compromise conditions.

We can live with that one more year regarding the Palestinian part … but … The problem with the Lebanese part is that we have a due date for a decision … this month.

November 5th, 2007, 3:15 pm


Habib said:

I wasn’t aware that Syria and Lebanon remain
under French Mandate.

The French must learn once again that the Syrians
will throw off political colonizers.

History is circular, meaning that France will
overreach, and the Syrians will once again have
their April 17, 1946.

We are our grandfathers, it seems.

November 5th, 2007, 3:17 pm


MSK said:


Maybe you (and some in the Lebanese opposition) should actually read the Lebanese constitution.

For your reading pleasure, I am here including a link to the full text:

You might want to pay special attention to the following articles:

Article 34 [Quorum]
The Chamber is not validly constituted unless the majority of the total membership is present. Decisions are to be taken by a majority vote. Should the votes be equal, the question under consideration is deemed rejected.

Article 73 [Election of the President]
One month at least and two months at most before the expiration of the term of office of the President of the Republic, the Chamber is summoned by its President to elect the new President of the Republic. However, should it not be summoned for this purpose, the Chamber meets of its own accord on the tenth day preceding the expiration of the President’s term of office.

Article 74 [Vacancy of Presidency]
Should the Presidency become vacant through the death or resignation of the President or for any other cause, the Chamber meets immediately and by virtue of the law to elect a successor. If the Chamber happens to be dissolved at the time the vacancy occurs, the electoral bodies are convened without delay and, as soon as the elections have taken place, the Chamber meets by virtue of the law.

Article 75
The Chamber meeting to elect the President of the Republic is considered an electoral body and not a legislative assembly. It must proceed immediately, without discussion or any other act, to elect the Head of the State.

On the question of 2/3 vs. simple majority, this is the only article of the constitution that comes close to answering it:

Article 44 [First Session]

(1) Each time a new Chamber is elected, the Chamber meets under the presidency of the oldest member and the secretariat or the two youngest. It will then elect separately, by a secret ballot and by an absolute majority of the votes cast, the President and the Vice President of the Chamber to hold office for the length or the Chamber’s term. At the third ballot, a relative majority is sufficient. Should the votes be equal, the oldest candidate is considered elected.

This is the basis for the “majority-plus-one” argument. Frankly, I don’t see how the opposition can claim to argue on the basis of the Lebanese constitution.


PS: Alex, I’d posted something earlier today on that “news roundup” thread, but it never made it, yet I couldn’t post again as it was a “duplicate post”. I’m wondering if it got caught in the filter. Thanks for your help.

November 5th, 2007, 3:37 pm


norman said:

Back to Article Click to Print Sunday, Nov. 04, 2007
Is Israel About to Attack Hizballah?
By Nicholas Blanford/Beirut

Is Israel laying the ground for pre-emptive air strikes against targets belonging to the militant Shi’ite group Hizballah in Lebanon?

Tensions have been building along the Lebanon-Israel border in recent days. The Israeli army was engaged last week in large-scale military exercises in northern Israel, close to the border with Lebanon, putting into practice the lessons learned from last year’s 34-day war against Hizballah. The exercises took place at the same time as Israeli jets conducted a growing number of mock air raids and overflights in Lebanese airspace. Israeli aircraft fly in Lebanese airspace on a near daily basis, but last week Lebanese army anti-aircraft units fired at the jets for the first time since the end of the war.

Hizballah, too, is reported to have carried out over the weekend its largest ever military manouevers in south Lebanon. According to a report Monday in Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, Hizballah’s three-day exercise was a response to the Israeli army’s own maneuvers and was intended, according to quoted Hizballah sources, to “deter the enemy from undertaking any further Lebanese adventures.”

Accompanying all this heightened activity has been a flurry of reports in the Israeli media about Hizballah’s rearming, with claims that the Shi’ite group today possesses rockets that can strike Tel Aviv. Last week, a United Nations report on Lebanon carried information provided by Israel that alleged Hizballah was more heavily armed than prior to the 2006 war, with hundreds of long-range rockets and three times as many anti-ship cruise missiles. “Israel has stated that the nature and number of weapons in Hizballah’s control constitutes a strategic threat to its security and the safety of its citizens,” the report said. And at a recent panel discussion in Washington, the outgoing deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army openly talked about the need to launch a preemptive strike against Hizballah targets in Lebanon sometime in the future.

Hizballah’s leadership is playing down the prospect of renewed fighting with Israel. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hizballah’s secretary-general, said in a speech last week that “these maneuvers and mock air raids and these Israeli drum beats, threats and browbeats which we hear from time to time do not affect us at all.”

“Today, we are stronger [than last year] in terms of will, determination, faith, morals, finances, brains, measures, presence in the field and preparations for the confrontation. Nothing intimidates us,” he said.

Israel has been looking to restore its threat of deterrence, which was damaged by the inconclusive results of the 2006 war. The mysterious Israeli air strike in August against a suspected nuclear facility in northern Syria is seen as part of a renewed assertiveness. But could Hizballah also be in the Israeli military’s sights?

Last month, this reporter sat on a panel to discuss Hizballah at a conference hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The other panelist was Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, the outgoing deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army. Before discussing Israel’s role, Kaplinsky offered up a series of recommendations that he believed would help neutralize and ultimately disarm Hizballah. They included strengthening the Lebanese army and expanding the mandate of the 13,300-strong United Nations peacekeeping force, known as UNIFIL, to areas beyond the south Lebanon border strip. UNIFIL, he said, should mount patrols in Hizballah’s new stronghold in mountains north of the Litani river, the limit of UNIFIL’s area of operations. He added that UNIFIL must deploy along the border with Syria to check the flow of weapons smuggled into Lebanon by Hizballah.

However, there is little chance of Kaplinsky’s wishes being fulfilled, analysts say. UNIFIL is under threat from groups inspired by Al-Qaeda — six members of the Spanish battalion were killed in June in a car bomb attack — and the peacekeeping force has no wish to make new enemies by deploying along the border with Syria and inside Hizballah’s military areas.

Given those realities, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that Kaplinsky also declared that Israel should pre-emptively attack Hizballah targets in Lebanon, such as new positions and arms convoys crossing the border from Syria. “I approve pre-emptive strikes against Hizballah. We have to find the exact time. This is one of the lessons I learned from before,” he said.

Kaplinsky has many years experience fighting Israel’s enemies in Lebanon, from 1982 when the Israeli army invaded to drive out the Palestine Liberation Organization then dominating south Lebanon. In the early 1990s he commanded the elite Golani Brigade at a time when Hizballah was evolving into a formidable guerrilla-fighting force dedicated to ousting the Israeli army from its occupation zone in south Lebanon. Hizballah’s resistance campaign led to an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. Hizballah units moved in to the vacuum and five months later kidnapped three Israeli soldiers from the Shebaa Farms, an Israeli-occupied mountainside running along Lebanon’s south east border over which Lebanon claims sovereignty. Kaplinsky and other senior Israeli officers urged then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to order a swift and punishing response to deter future attacks. Barak, however, refrained from a heavy retaliation, apparently worried about being sucked back into the Lebanese quagmire just five months after leaving it.

That restraint encouraged Hizballah over the next six years to build up an impressive military infrastructure of secret bunkers and rocket firing positions in the hills and valleys of south Lebanon, which was put to good use in last year’s war.

Kaplinsky and other Israeli commanders say they cannot afford to repeat the same mistake. Although Hizballah appears to have rearmed substantially, Kaplinsky believed the organization is not yet ready for another round with Israel because of its internal political battles with the US-backed Lebanese government. That suggests Israel has a window of opportunity to attack Hizballah’s military assets at little cost.

Whether Israel launches pre-emptive raids or not, analysts agree that a second round between Israel and Hizballah is inevitable. And Kaplinsky was confident that Israel would prevail against Hizballah in that event. “I believe that the next round will take us less time, [we will] send [into Lebanon] more quickly our ground forces. We will have to take control of the area for some weeks, some months… to [disarm] Hizballah,” he said. Hardly encouraging words for the war weary residents of south Lebanon.

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November 5th, 2007, 4:11 pm


idaf said:

Tourist Trips to the Box-on-the-Euphrates (the alleged remote nuclear site).

November 5th, 2007, 4:20 pm


Jason said:


Unless I’m reading this wrong…according to Article 49(2), “The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies.”

November 5th, 2007, 5:13 pm


why-discuss said:


YOU should read better the constitution!

Article 49 [Presidential Powers]

((2) The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a twothirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The President’s term is for six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the Presidency of the Republic unless he fulfills the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.

November 5th, 2007, 5:13 pm


Another Way said:

It is truly unbelievable to me the extent to which the US and France are willing to meddle in Lebanon. How is it that if the opposition gets a say it is because of Syrian orchestrating, but if March 14 refuses to compromise than it’s authentic democracy in action? Since when is compromise and discourse undemocratic?
The current US Middle East policy is like a knotted string, and instead of realizing that and starting over, they just keep pulling the string harder. But that knot is only getting tighter, and the more you pull on it, the harder it will be to get it undone later.

November 5th, 2007, 5:24 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

what is the definition of electoral bodies?

November 5th, 2007, 6:58 pm


Jamal said:

Thanks, Idaf for that link showing the reality of the “remote and secret” site of the alleged Syrian nuclear installations near Halabiya. Wow!

I now realise I’ve been there myself a couple of times. Climbed to the top of that high hill with the splendid archaeological ruins and probably gazed across the landscape at the very spot. Even been annoyed at the tourist buses spoiling the scene.

I hadn’t paid close attention to the location reports, but now I know more I am stunned at the laziness, ignorance and ineptitude of the foreign media and officials who have been dramatizing and exaggerating it without doing any research.

And I am equally dismayed by the failure of the debonair ambassador Imad Moustapha to point this out – confirming my impression that he never goes anywhere but Damascus restaurants when he spends time in Syria. Somebody, quick please send him a general tourist guide book on Syria so he can use it in future discussions about the mystery site.

November 5th, 2007, 7:23 pm


ausamaa said:

Al Hay’at Al Nakhiba !

November 5th, 2007, 7:28 pm


fadal said:

you will know very soon that the Syr Gov is putting Golan on sale for half price…

November 5th, 2007, 7:36 pm


Youssef Hanna said:


According to the Constitution (article 49, see MSK), MPs shd first try to elect a consensual President enjoying a wide backing (2/3d), failing which and in order to avoid the void elect him/her at the absolute majority.

How the opposite 1st-grade-law-student view could survive beyond a wide laugh proves that whoever is strong, like Hezballa (or Bush), can utter stupidities with sheer impunity and wide following.

November 5th, 2007, 8:51 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

In all fairness the Lebanese constitution is not clear about the following: Is a 2/3 quorom required also for the second absolute majority vote?

Another way of putting this: Can the vote based on absolute majority take place even if there is no 2/3 quorum?

My view is that it is not reasonable that a constitution would give 1/3 of the MPs a veto on electing the president (they just don’t show up). But, this is an issue best resolved in the Lebanese high court or constitutional court. But alas, we are speaking about Lebanon and this won’t happen.

November 5th, 2007, 10:04 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

They are apparently dispatched to “pave the way” for that loose cannon and Sarkozy’s pick for FM, Bernard Kouchner. What a comedian compared to the competent de Villepin (who probably speaks Arabic as he grew up in Morocco). Ever ready de Villepin’s response when France vetoed the war on Iraq? Simple elegance and eloquence.

November 6th, 2007, 1:08 am


Youssef Hanna said:


Kindly verify 1st, from article 49, the text of which is supplied above by WHY DISCUSS, that it qualifies the 2/3d as “a rule of majority” (and for the 1st round only), not as “a rule of quorum”.

The reason for the constitutional legislator not to set the 2/3d as a blocking rule that wd have impeded the organisation of the 2nd vote provided for on the basis of the lowered majority, the reason why the constitutional legislator provided for a lowered majority to avoid the void in the event where MPs did not reach in the 1st session the desirable consensus of the 2/3, is that the key position of the State, a vacancy of which causes the latter to collapse as will be shown hereunder, obviously cannot depend on a meager one third of MPs, and thus hinge on the problematic gathering of a consensus as improbable to find as the 2/3 of all votes, or remain vacant.

It is the President indeed who appoints the Prime Minister and signs with the latter the decree appointing the other ministers, in such a manner that a limited one third of MPs cannot cause the system, in the event for example of a successful assassination of the Prime Minister (the decease of the PM terminates the government’s mandate), to collapse (and allow then an external force to fill the void and restore the system on a new ground).

Instead of shouting repeatedly to give credence to an absurd legal thesis, the Hezballa shd have boldly declared its right to amending the Constitution; the Hezballa however does not appear to be willing to open at this stage the Pandora box, and risk alienating its Xstian following or igniting a Shia-Sunni strife that wd make the birth of an Islamic State a definitive chimera and the eradication through emigration of the West’s Trojan Horses an unreachable dream.

November 6th, 2007, 4:57 am


MSK said:

Jason and Why Discuss,

Here, for you, the FULL Article 49, which I actually had overlooked yesterday, yet which still bolsters my argument:

Article 49 [Presidential Powers]

(1) The President of the Republic is the bead of the state and the symbol of the nation’s unity. He shall safeguard the constitution and Lebanon’s independence, unity, and territorial integrity. The President shall preside over the Supreme Defense Council and be the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces which fall under the authority of the Council of Ministers.
(2) The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a twothirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The President’s term is for six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the Presidency of the Republic unless he fulfills the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.
(3) It is also not possible to elect judges, Grade One civil servants, or their equivalents in all public institutions to the Presidency during their term or office or within two years following the date of their resignation or their leaving office for whatever reason.

WD If you highlight passages, make sure you don’t overlook the next sentence.

Thus – there needs to be a quorum (50% of the MPs plus 1), then there needs to be a first ballot, and if no candidate receives 2/3 of all MPs’ votes, then there will be a second (and if needs be, a third, fourth, fifth, …) round in which an absolute majority (of MPs) is sufficient. That is, again, 50% plus 1.



November 6th, 2007, 7:59 am


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