Saturday 29 November 2008

Armoured cars and guns... part 2

No sooner had the US offered to send more arms... that Iran will do the same, but with a 5 year security pact thrown in for good measure.

The irony was not lost on the Jerusalem Post: "By supplying the Lebanese army with weapons, Iran will thus be responsible for arming Lebanon's two major armed forces: the national army, and Hizbullah".

Thursday 27 November 2008

Non-toxic assets

The AFP news agency reports:

Lebanon's banking sector is weathering the global financial crisis and profits are expected to increase by 10 percent this year, the Central Bank governor said, in a reflection of the country's ability to rebound from a legacy of adversity.

Riad Salameh attributed the growth in the banking sector, which comes at a time when a liquidity crisis has gutted some of the world's top banking giants, to strict regulations imposed by the Central Bank, including a cash reserve requirement of 15 percent.

The strength of the country's banks is largely a reflection of the country's resilience as it has repeatedly looked to rebuild after years of conflict and instability turned broad swaths of Beirut into a gutted battleground with different areas controlled by competing militias and armies.

"There are no toxic assets in our banking sector and that has created a comfort to the markets and to depositors," he said.

Salameh said private banks' assets currently top $100 billion, or nearly four times the country's gross domestic product. Foreign currency and other assets held by the Central Bank have risen steadily to nearly $20 billion.

Most of the country's banks have reported an increase in deposits and profits in the first nine months the year, he said.
Bank Audi, Lebanon's largest in assets and deposits, announced last month that its net profits for the first nine months of 2008 increased by 28.7 percent, to $180.6 million, compared to the same period a year ago.


Picture: Hussein Malla/Associated Press. An employee at the Central Bank of Lebanon stacks bricks of Lira... there is lots of cash going through the system, but how much of it stops in the country?

Armoured cars and tanks and guns...

"The United States is planning to boost its military support to Lebanon’s army with high-tech tanks," writes Raed Rafei in the LA Times:

The Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported last Friday that the United States was going to provide Lebanon with dozens of M60 battle tanks to be shipped in batches starting early 2009.

The assault tanks in question are all-purpose vehicles with advanced firepower and mobility at night and under conditions of limited visibility.

[The deal] coincides with the visit of Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Robert Clapper.

He is responsible for overseeing and providing policy and budgetary guidance to defense intelligence agencies.

In past years, the US has significantly boosted its military aid to Lebanon, providing the army with ammunition, communication devices and Humvees. But Lebanese military experts say that this kind of military assistance is not enough to lift the capacity of an army with ailing equipment.

Israeli military officials reportedly frowned upon the alleged offer.

"There is a possibility these tanks will fall into Hezbollah's hands," one official told the Jerusalem Post. "At the moment, Hezbollah does not yet have heavy armor in its arsenal."

But some military officials toned down the impact of these weapons.

"Hezbollah's strength is that it is a guerrilla force that does not operate in a conventional manner," another official told the Israeli daily. "Tanks are easy targets from the air and from the ground."

Meanwhile Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Hizbollah had greatly improved its capabilities since the 2006 war.

"Hezbollah has three times the ability it had before the Second Lebanon War and now has 42,000 missiles in its possession, as opposed to the 14,000 it had before the war," Barak said.

He warned that in view of Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese government, Israel would bomb Lebanon’s infrastructure in case of a military confrontation between the two countries.

Hezbollah ruled out this possibility anytime soon.


Picture: The M60 battle tank. Designed 1960. Even though it has some new bits added on, it is primarily a siege gun.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

End of the death penalty?

Mona Alami reports on plans for Lebanon to abolish the death penalty.

The Lebanese government will use television to gain maximum attention for its plan to abolish the death penalty, giving one station the first right to question Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar about the details of an abolition bill which will be eventually presented to parliament.

News of plans to abolish the death penalty was first made public on Oct. 10, the World Day against the Death Penalty.

On the same day, Najjar informed the cabinet of the details. A brief official press statement said then that the proposal was to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment with hard labour.

Abolishing the death penalty was in line with Lebanon's religious and humanitarian values, as well as its legal culture, Najjar said at the time.

"Preventive measures are more effective than the death penalty in reducing crime," he said.

The abolition bill comes after years of campaigning by anti-death penalty activists.

"I am confident that it is only a matter of time before the law is passed," Walid Sleybi, head of the Lebanese Association for Civil Rights, told IPS.

"Society should not be allowed to sit back and look at the killing of people, even if they are found guilty of a crime. A crime should never be punished by another crime.

"Recent studies have shown that capital punishment does not contribute to curbing crime levels. On the contrary, people tend to resort to violence when they see the state itself committing the ultimate crime."

Sleybi has long struggled to implement civil rights initiatives in Lebanon, promoting non-violent movements and battling against sectarianism with fellow-activist Ugarit Younan. In 1997, Sleybi published the book The Death Penalty Kills, a critique of capital punishment.

In 2004, the movement against capital punishment, which includes seven MPs such as long-time activist Ghassan Mokhaiber, also proposed a bill to abolish the death penalty.

However, the adverse political situation after the 2005 assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri and the ensuing paralysis of parliament until recently prevented it ever being put to a vote.

"We have new hope now that parliament is reconvening on a regular basis," Sleybi said.

He added that executions in Lebanon had often been tied to politics.

"Presidents have often used the death penalty as an instrument to reaffirm power and control over the state, especially after the civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. This was best illustrated during the term of President Elias Hrawi (1989 to 1998), which witnessed the highest number of executions," Sleybi said.