Thursday 7 August 2008

More guns or disengagement?

General David Petraeus made an unannounced visit to Lebanon yesterday to discuss American support for the country's national army, writes the New York Sun:

"The presence in Beirut of General Petraeus, confirmed recently as head of US Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East, is an indication of the growing strategic prominence of Lebanon in the complex regional map.

"The general's discussions about increased military aid to the government of Prime Minister Siniora, however, come amid growing Israeli alarm at that government's deference to Hezbollah."


The visit was to discuss "key developments in the region", according to the Lebanese presidential office. This is diplo-babble for "something is going on, and we're not telling you".

The International Herald Tribune notes only that "Petraeus, who was accompanied by a US military delegation, also held a meeting at the Defence Ministry with acting army commander Major General Shawki al-Masri. The general later met with Saniora for more than an hour."


By process of elimination Sursock has narrowed down the content of the talks:
1) Petraeus tells Siniora government to attack Hizbollah.
2) He tells him not to attack Hizbollah.
3) He tells Siniora the US still wants military bases in the north.
4) He tells him the US no longer needs military bases in the north.
5) He tells Siniora that Syria is still the enemy.
6) He tells him that Syria not the enemy... at least for now.
7) He enjoys hummus and wants Mrs Siniora's recipe, or it's hashish time in the Bekaa and he wants to increase supplies to his troops in Iraq.
8) Israel are gong to surrender at there will be a golden future for the region.
9) He is visiting Lebanon because US policy is in disarray and he has to put up a pretence that the Americans are still key players in the region.
10) None of the above, and its not our business to know.

Wednesday 6 August 2008


Sami Moubayed writes in Asia Times on Syria and the "US loopholes":

The Israelis are eager to end the conflict, since they believe peace with the Syrians also means peace with Lebanon, and a curbing of the power of Hamas.

Alon Ben Meir, a professor of international relations at New York University, wrote, "Israel will have to return the Golan Heights [to Syria] whether it is now or in five, 10 or even 100 years.

"The Golan will have to be returned if Israel wants to live in peace. Why not negotiate now and appreciably reduce Israel's security concerns with its two northern neighbors and free itself to focus on the threat of Iran?"

Even if Olmert leaves office in September as he has promised, under charges of corruption, his successors are hurrying to uphold the Syrian track, showing just how strongly the mood has changed in Israel.

Prime minister-hopeful Shaul Mofaz (current deputy premier), said, "My opinion and my goal will be to continue to speak to the Syrians without preconditions. The way is, peace for peace."

Salafi fury

The Jamestown Foundation provides an important update on the fury of Salafis in Lebanon. The Salafis received a double blow over the past two years; the crushing of Fatah al-Islam by the Lebanese army; and the expultion of Salafi fighters from west Beirut by Hizbollah during the "May events".

Below is an edited version of a report posted by one of its experts, Abdul Hameed Bakier:

A Lebanese jihadi posted a letter addressed to Osama Bin Laden [that] details the sectarian politics of Lebanon, highlights Hezbollah’s continuing attempts to take over Lebanon and describes the misfortune of the Salafi-Jihadi Fatah al-Islam organization.

The core of Omar al-Bayruti’s message revolves around Shiites and their alleged attempts to take control of Lebanon with the help of Iran and Syria to form a “Shiite Crescent” through the Arab Middle East.

Al-Bayruti adds that Shiite militias have, for the second time in the last quarter century, invaded and vandalized Beirut, this time with the collaboration of “Sunni agents” in an attempt to hide the “heinous face” of Shiite occupation.

According to al-Bayruti, the atmosphere is ripe for al-Qaeda to get involved in Lebanese politics; “It’s time to work on inheriting al-Hariri’s [political] stream in Lebanon without a rude entrance or through Iranian and Syrian intelligence networks as did Fatah al-Islam last year in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. Such a wrong approach inflicted a double loss on the Lebanese Sunnis.”

Fatah al-Islam, explains al-Bayruti, was used as a scapegoat, with all the dirty work and political assassinations committed by others pinned on them. By assassinating the late prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, the main foe of Syria and the Shiites, and accusing the mujahideen of responsibility, Hezbollah eliminated the Sunni initiative in Lebanon.

By starting a war with Israel, Hezbollah escaped the guilt of having to use heavy weaponry to subdue internal political rivals, since the war led to Hezbollah’s political rivals temporarily forgetting their conflict with Hezbollah.

Al-Bayruti explains the political situation in Lebanon and Shiite attempts to control the Sunni population by recruiting Sunni agents to facilitate a Syrian and Iranian agenda in Lebanon through groups such as the Islamic Scholar’s Assembly.

As a result of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Iran hosted a conference for Lebanese Muslim scholars from both the Sunni and Shiite sects in Tehran. The outcome of the conference was the establishment of an assembly comprised of Sunni and Shiite scholars with the blessing of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Finally, al-Bayruti says the objective of his message is to caution Sunnis about Hezbollah’s ideological gains in Lebanon, urging the mujahideen not to abandon Lebanon and to apply a “practical strategy”.

His message received negative comments from the forum in regards to his notion that al-Hariri and his Future Movement represent Sunnis. Others rejected the assumption that Hariri was assassinated by Hezbollah, though they all agreed to the need for a Salafi-Jihadi amir in Lebanon.

Initiatives to end the intensive ideological conflict between Sunnis and Shiites have failed so far to mend fences between the two sects. The complicated sectarian nature of Lebanese political life, however, means that it will not be easy for al-Qaeda to find enough supporters and adherents to challenge the strength of Hezbollah’s well-organized partisans.

Monday 4 August 2008

Convertion rates

Asia Times notes that:

Aoun claims the support of 70% of Lebanon's Christians, and Hezbollah is seeking to bolster the FPM in advance of 2009 elections, in the hope that Aoun can bring a majority of Christian votes with him, and thereby secure a pro-Hezbollah majority.

Alain Aoun, the FPM's political affairs officer, told Asia Times Online that "Westerners misunderstand our MOU [understanding] with Hezbollah.

The Shi'ites are a pillar of Lebanon, and they have chosen Hezbollah as their main representative. And we are working with Hezbollah on the basis that the reasons for Hezbollah bearing arms must be addressed, as part of a national dialogue, before any progress can be made on this issue."

Christian politicians across the divide have a problem: how to halt the seemingly inevitable drift to Hezbollah, and the possible material carrots this may bring to Christians who lost their homes or saw family members imprisoned by Syria during the 1975-1990 civil war.

With Hezbollah help, from Tehran via Damascus, the FPM may be able deliver on these, a potential game-breaker come election time, scuttling the UN investigation into Rafik Hariri's death, and sending the Cedar Revolution full-circle.