Thursday, February 24, 2005

Lebanon update 2 

Update: Find out why Chrenkoff is now a part of a "neocon circle jerk."

Quote of the day: "The Arab world is up to its neck in problems" - Amr Mussa, the head of the Arab League, following his meeting with Syria's Assad. I've got a feeling though that by "problems" Mussa mostly means that darn democracy thing.

Quote of the day II: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq... I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world... The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it." - Lebanon's Druze opposition leader
Walid Jumblatt, talking to the "Washington Post"'s David Ignatius. Writes Ignatius: "Over the years, I've often heard [Jumblatt] denouncing the United States and Israel, but these days, in the aftermath of Hariri's death, he's sounding almost like a neoconservative."

For the continuing analysis: read
Beirut to Bayside blog.

Which way the cookie crumbles:
Just like Ukraine: "A small tent city has popped up on Martyrs' Square in Beirut as anti-Syrian protesters call for political changes in the wake of former prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination."

across the border: "More than 150 Syrian intellectuals on Wednesday signed a petition calling on Damascus to end its military occupation of Lebanon. The petition was sent to Syrian President Bashar Assad... The Syrian opposition makes its voice heard periodically in letters it sends to Assad. The group has no real influence on Syrian policy, but criticism of such sensitive issues like Syria's presence in Lebanon is unprecedented."

Back in Lebanon:
"Tens of thousands marched Monday in Beirut in the biggest anti-Syrian protest in Lebanese history, a week after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

"Another former prime minister, Gen. Michel Aoun, said Monday he would return from exile before this year's parliamentary elections and that he may launch his own candidacy if the opposition needs his support. The former commander of the Lebanese army fled the country in 1990 and has lived in France."
Aoun is a Maronite Christian. Christians no longer constitute majority of Lebanon's population, but at just under 40% they still have a significant presence.

The pieces of the opposition puzzle have been falling for the past few years. In 2001, Maronites and Druze have started a process of
reconciliation following a century of mutual hostilities, including the bitter civil war of 1975-1990 which pitted them against each other. Now the Sunnis seem to be finally onboard the anti-Syrian bandwagon after the murder of their most prominent son.

And the anti-Syrian opposition is trying to
woo Hizbollah away from the current government. "[Hizbollah's leader, Hassan] Nasrallah, a great Lebanese who freed Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation, should join the caravan of those who want liberty and independence," said Walid Jumblatt. Hizbollah, of course, has accepted the Syrian occupation and the current pro-Syrian government of Lebanon precisely in exchange for the tacit approval to continue its war against Israel.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Omar Karameh has
offered to resign. As the current parliament is largely pro-Syrian there is little indication that the new cabinet would be much different. However, strange things can happen in a volatile political climate.

Will they, won't they?:
February 20: "Syria rejects US call for Lebanon pullout"

February 22: "Assad 'willing to withdraw troops'"

Ironically, both articles say essentially the same thing: Syria is not willing to withdraw from Lebanon until Israel withdraws from the Golan Heights (annexed from Syria in the aftermath of the 1967 war) as well as Gaza and West Bank. It's an interesting case of blackmail: Syria is holding a fellow Arab country hostage to force Israel to vacate what it considers to be other Arab land.

The difference between the two articles is that the second one comes in the aftermath of the talks between Assad and Arab League chief Amr Mussa. Says Mussa: "During our meeting, President Assad expressed his firm desire, more than once, to continue implementing the Taef accord and to withdraw from Lebanon in keeping with this agreement... Taef and the withdrawal are part of Syrian policy. Steps in these matters will be taken shortly." As the report notes, "The Taef Accord, which ended Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, called for Syria to start redeployments from Lebanon within two years of the conflict's finish." Which means that Syria is now in the fourteenth year of the second year of its implementation (more on the Taef Accord

In any case, before the "Syria is pulling out" news even had a chance to go around the globe, the Syrian authorities decided to be
spoilsports: "Syria says Amr Moussa misunderstood President Bashar Assad. A Syrian government official told the BBC its position remains a redeployment within Lebanon. He said that Syrian and Lebanese troops are 'in complete harmony' in the Bekaa Valley." It's got a nice, New Age ring to it.

The Lebanese government has also
denied that the Syrian withdrawal is on the cards. "Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said the transatlantic call for an immediate Syrian withdrawal was 'nothing new'."

Meanwhile, the new/old ally comes to rescue: "
Iran has accused the United States of interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs and advised the Lebanese people not to be deceived by Washington's comments on the withdrawal of Syrian forces." Pretty rich from a country which maintains Hizbollah in Lebanon.

Strange bedfellows: "The United States and France join with the European Union and the international community in condemning the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and in their support for a free, independent, and democratic Lebanon. We support the U.N. investigation into this terrorist act and urge the full cooperation of all parties in order to identify those responsible for this act. We urge full and immediate implementation of UNSCR 1559 in all its aspects, including its call for a sovereign, independent, and democratic Lebanon as well as for the consolidation of security under the authority of a Lebanese government free from foreign domination." From a
joint American-French statement, 21 February.

Blame game continues: And so do ironies. On the same day as the Lebanese authorities have performed
a U-turn and agreed to assist the independent United Nations investigation into the assassination, the Saudi government (with whom Hariri had very close ties) came out against the outside investigation and cautioned against blaming Syria.

In Lebanon, the official spotlight is on
"Assassins of Rafic Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, came from Iraq through Syria to carry out the attack, according to the Beirut judge leading the inquiry into the bombing. Rachid Mezher, the senior investigator for the Lebanese military tribunal, was quoted as saying Sunday by the Telegraph paper that the organizers had been recruited from Islamist groups linked to Syria and operating against the US-led occupation in Iraq.

"No firm ties with the Syrian regime have been established, according to Mezher. Investigators believe that a suicide bomber drove a car laden with explosives into the 60-year-old politician's convoy last Monday, killing him and 14 others. Judge Mezher said that a video in which a fanatic called Ahmed Abu Adas said the attack was the work of 'Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria', an unknown group, was a genuine claim of responsibility.

"Abu Adas, 23, a Palestinian Lebanese believed to have fled the country, attended two Beirut mosques known to be recruiting grounds for the Ansar al-Islam group, linked to the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Investigators suspect that the mosques have links to Sheikh Abderrazak, a Damascus cleric who has helped fighters travel through Syria to Iraq."
Egyptian newspaper, meanwhile, blames the Jews: "The paper touched upon 'the meeting of the Israeli cabinet several months ago that discussed means of aggravating the situation on the Lebanese arena.' 'The authorities suggested arranging assassination of one of Senior Lebanese figures on the condition that this would be a preparatory stage for another assassinations inside Lebanon to embarrass Syria and destabilize the region,' the paper mentioned. 'Israel began to communicate with its agents on the Lebanese arena and asked for help of the US intelligence bureaus to carry out the scheme then it chose Hariri to be the starting point'."

One person who agrees - kind of - is
Patrick Seale in the "Guardian":

"If Syria killed Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister and mastermind of its revival after the civil war, it must be judged an act of political suicide...

"If Syria did not kill Hariri, who could have? There is no shortage of potential candidates, including far-right Christians, anxious to rouse opinion against Syria and expel it from Lebanon; Islamist extremists who have not forgiven Syria its repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 80s; and, of course, Israel.

"Israel's ambition has long been to weaken Syria, sever its strategic alliance with Iran and destroy Hizbullah. Israel has great experience at 'targeted assassinations' - not only in the Palestinian territories but across the Middle East. Over the years, it has sent hit teams to kill opponents in Beirut, Tunis, Malta, Amman and Damascus."
I first remember encountering Seale when I read his biography of the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal (Nidal, as you will recall, died in suspicious circumstances in 2002, while enjoying Saddam's hospitality), built on the thesis that Nidal must have been a secret Israeli agent because no "genuine" Palestinian terrorist would have done so much damage to the Palestinian cause. Enough said.


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