Thursday, May 31, 2007

1757 !

Good news for a change! Those are truly historic events… One can only feel safer with terrorists out of the picture. One can also feel stronger now that the International Tribunal is set up.

Great News! But…


As we face the repercussion, we can only commend the Lebanese security services, and we can never be grateful enough for the brave men of the Army.

But from those who have been following the events in Northern Lebanon a little bit too close for comfort, one gets mixed feelings.

First, there were some surprising “turnarounds”, with presumed allies turning into enemies. At the UN, while the unholy alliance of Qatar and Syria was not surprising, since it is based on simple business interests, South Africa’s petty hypocrisy was more surprising; those who endured apartheid should know better than take such a “principled position”… No doubt similar turnarounds were foremost on the mind of the mind of the leaders of Fath Al-Islam, who was “pre-empted” just before the battle heated up, while he was taking a break. He had though he was safe among friends…

Second, this newfound efficacy of those services is “surprising”, to say the least. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the turnaround in security, while welcome, augurs that there may be more to this than meets the eye. Are the country’s “terror contractors” changing sides? If so, is this the early sign of a deal?

Third, finding the truth will take time… The tribunal will not be settled till another year. Even with an expected “heavy” 8th report due in mid-June, Brammertz’s report series is not over yet. Last but not least, many local obstacles remain to finding the truth and bringing the guilty to justice. The Lebanese system is such an inter-connected web of rival interests that many surprises can still spring up.

So here’s a small tale that sums it up;

A Cautionary “Parable”

A bird was flying, migrating to warmer climes.

Suddenly, a cold snap came in, and before he could do anything, the bird was frozen stiff. The bird fell to the ground; few branches broke his fall and he did not die on impact. But he was immobile, too cold to move or do anything but wait to die…

Then a cow happened by. She did not notice the bird, and almost stepped on him. As she went along, she dropped a warm “cow pie” on the frozen little birdie. The bird felt warm again; as he regained feeling in his muscles, he started singing, rejoicing in his luck…

Then a cat came by, lured by the singing. As the bird was still groggy, the cat pulled him out of the “cow pie”, gently cleaned him… And ate him.

There are three morals to the story:

Moral 1/3: not everyone who dumps on you means to hurt you,

Moral 2/3: not everyone who gets you out of a mess means to help you,

Moral 3/3: When you’re in deep voodoo up to your neck, stay quiet, and try to get out of it by your own means, lest you attract unwelcome attentions...

Thinking Blogs (Digression/Update)…

Since we’re on the subject on thinking and Cautionary takes, here’s one thing that I came across; Mary at Exit Zero tagged yours truly as one of five Thinking Blogger awards. This is part of “a new blog meme” started by Ilker Yoldas, to refer to the 5 Blogs that made me think. Those who were “tagged” are supposed to;

1.write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,

2.Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,

3.Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

So here’s my “Lebanese” twist on the meme;

1- To all those who are looking for a thinking Lebanese perspective on matters, Across the Bay is a great site, I happen to agree that the tribunal “is a must”; indeed, “You Can't Play Nice with Syria”.

2- When the trouble erupts in the Middle-East, it is always refreshing to see an American such as Michael J. Totten searching for objective facts on the ground. Rather than rehashing tired slogans, Michael rightly states the facts, as in “What Assad Fears Most Has Come to Pass” with UNSC 1757.

3- In the days before the internet, many of those slogans would be hard to shoot down. Today, those nefarious idiots have a harder time; thanks to Abu Kais’ diligence, From Beirut to Beltway remains a reference of all Lebanese blogs (IMH-But Accurate-O), especially to those searching for a true secular, objective statement of the facts, and an informative debate.

4- Objectivity would be nothing without raw facts, which Kamangir gives plenty of. Their interesting perspective comes from an Iranian side that is often misreported, and reminds us that their great civilization began before 1979. Far too often, we get a “Disney-noir” version of Iran that misses the complexities of the great Persian civilization.

5- Roots and History get a good treatment on Kishkushim, where you can find interesting debates and exchanges. Amos thinks the Israeli government may still service; I feel that the Labour primary may prove to be the first nail in its coffin… Time will tell...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Dress Rehersal (2/3): Interest Accrued

On the heels of the Nahr El-Bared battle, many “intellectuals” are nitpicking at the army, the real motivations behind all this, the timing… Most of us are aware of the real stakes;

To most Lebanese, what was started in 1973 must end in 2007…

To Hezb, the real stakes are different; once the taboo of weapons inside the camps is broken, what’s to keep the weapons outside the camps safe?

But they cannot use that line of defence publicly, so they higlight the few unasnwered questions about this "Law and Order" episode, and they attack Hariri’s failures in a "Media Insurgency", of which there were a few...

Hariri’s Debit

Indeed, the Hairiris do have an unfortunate proclivity to throw money at problems, hoping to drive them away. Yes, they did throw much cash at those people, at least twice.

First, they were trying to get out of an electoral hole they manoeuvred themselves into. When Hariri and Joumblat made a deal with Hezb and Amal, they were thinking they could easily win the elections in the rest of the country. They disregarded the complex electoral dynamics of Lebanon, and overreached by trying to maintain a discredited cast; those Christians who did not mind the “deal” with the props of the Syrian occupation hated the way Hariri was trying to push Ghattas Khoury. Not that Pussy Ashkar or Solange Gemayel are such luminaries, but a crook who ransacked the Order of Physicians had far less claim at sainthood...

As a response to this perceived betrayal, the Christians did not participate in the Beirut phase of the election, and then surprised them by massively voting in Aoun's list in the second phase. Some of Joumblat's list barely snuck in. Incidentally, it is Aoun who now mistakes the negative vote that propelled him for a positive endorsement.

In response to that response, the Hariri camp started throwing money in North Lebanon, much of which fell into the wrong hands.

A second mistake was committed in response to a crisis that erupted in the Ain el Helweh camp, in the southern Lebanese city of Saida. Back then, the Hariris threw more money at the Jund Al-Sham to “go away”. And they did; I give you one guess as to where they went…

So, Yes, Hariri is partly responsible for this mess. But so is Nasrallah, Berri, and the usual cast of suspects; many of those actors still control far too much of the “services” who did not coordinate properly with the Army...

Nasrallah’s Credit

Indeed, the real reason for all the commotion is not Hariri’s unpaid bills; it is the fact that Hezb cannot accept the Army’s disarmament of the Palestinians. They could be next; echoes of 1559?

At the very least, Nasrallah is raising the price when he considers that the Nahr el-Bared camp a “red line”, that he will not allow the army to cross. He completely disregards the fact that those fanatics started this when they butchered the Lebanese Army’s soldiers.

At worst, Nasrallah confirms Lebanon’s enduring sectarian nature. To him, it is only case of the Sunnis are vying to finish in 2007 what the Christians failed to do in 1973. To him, the taboo of his weapons must not be broken; this is the rational behind Berri “compromise” and Lahoud’s call for a unity government earlier this past week.

It is not the first time Palestinians are being used as leverage in Lebanon’s internal politics. And a few other outsiders are playing that nasty little game

Lebanon’s Accounts

As a Lebanese politician, Nasrallah miscalculates (again).

He risks being out of step with today’s Lebanon. His supporters are sold on the idea of an American-Iranian deal, and the future may yet prove them right. But in the meantime, Lebanon has a real window of opportuinity, as Arabs, French (new, more assertive version), the United States (for all their many faults), and the rest of the world is clearly sold on the need a peaceful Lebanon… And the United States is far less tolerant of those who mix beards and cordite

On one hand, the Palestinian lever cannot be pushed so easily, pace Nasrallah’s spin-doctoring… Sultan Abou Al-Aynan, Fatah’s man in Lebanon, made that clear when he called Al-Manar to set the record straight.

On another hand, the Sunnis are hell-bent on ending this; Fatfat chimed in, accusing him of providing such tacit support for Fath Al-Islam is not the way to play politics. The threats by the Sham Al-Qaeda will only strengthen Sunni resolve; “division” is not an easy card to play those days...

Finally, his own “Christian cover” is blown. Much like so many others, Aoun’s FPM pledged “full support to the Army” and clearly refused to consider that there were any “red line to the Lebanese Army”… While they played lip service to Nasrallah’s “religious considerations” and continue to pander Hersh’s overused piece, their site is nothing short of a fan site for the Army, and good source of the latest photos. incidentally, Aoun is back in Paris, temporarily, just for a book signing and a couple of meetings...

The Interest Accrued

The balance of accounts in simple; This generation will have to pay the dues owed by the procrastinators that preceded them, with interest.

The Palestinian proposal that calls, among other things, "a mechanism for the departure of Fatah al-Islam from the camp" is unsustainable, and only a return to the past. Putting lipstick on a pig will not solve this problem; anything short of punishment for those guys, in a way that will look acceptable, will only worsen the long-term problem. There is no way the Army can survive if it allows Fath Al-Islam to "save face" in this.

For this reason, we need to brace ourselves for the coming few weeks, as the tribunal is voted in, and as Fath-Al-Asswipes (catchy name...) gets support from other quarters; Naameh is still brewing, after all. This is why the short-term is crucial, If the army is not able to assert itself quickly, and if 1973 does not end soon, we better all brace ourselves for a repeat of 1975 as other groups join the mess.

And to those who answer to a higher calling, one note of caution; as 1975 was far worse than 1958, another war would be more complex, far nastier, and will change little

And remember;

No starting player survived the last "game"…

Syrians and Iranians: Diverging Tracks? (May 28th, 2007)

An interesting piece of news; on one hand, the Syrian-Israeli “peace track” appears to be moving again, on the other, Iran's Larijani has been offering to include Hezb’s forces into the army.

Now that Bashar has a new mandate (well, it’s only 97.29%), is this a Syrian manoeuvre to leverage terrorists such as Fath Al-Islam and maybe even a few retirees to find a way out of the tribunal?

Now that they French “regime” has changed, is this an Iranian attempt to circumvent 1559 and allow his proxies to take by diplomacy and stealth what they could not secure in the streets?

Are the two allies working on different agendas, or is this a time-gaining manoeuvre?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bank Al-Qaeda (?)

The Lebanese Army and “Fatah All-Asswipes” gets ready for a showdown, in which all Lebanese are rooting for a “definitive solution”, no matter the priceIn typical Lebanese schizophrenia, regardless of what they publicly state, and regardless of the proclivity du jour of the leader they happen to follow, the Lebanese are not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. If 1973 does not end now, our leaders will find few who will mourn their passing.

In the background, however, there are increasing threats from other nasties joining in the fun. Ahmad Jibril may be too close to Syria, Al-Qaeda too far, but there still are a few other local “friends” who can provide the Assad regime with sufficient plausible deniability.

A Limited Offering

Still, those look like the last cartridges; if the Army is successful in Nahr El-Bared, the Syrian would need to resort to more direct means on confrontation, which come with long-term side-effects. This is because the Syrian offering is limited today, especially since its actions prompted a "great Sunni Makeover"....

The Syrians do not have as much control over Islamists as they used to think; until the assassination of Rafic Hariri, there was “no Muslim leader who [could raise] the issue of [their] presence” in Lebanon. After his assassination, many have been queuing up to oppose what is essentially a Alawite dictatorship masquerading as a “secular” regime, n’en deplaise à Mr. Fisk et consorts.

All the terrorism, bombings, and assassinations can only increase the resolve of the regime’s Lebanese opponents; it convinced many that the bridges had all been burned. Thus cornered, opponents have no choice but to press on, and hope for the best.

Enter Al-Madina

The Syrian offering is set to become even more limited, with the unravelling of the Bank Al-Madina scandal.

To be sure, the level of corruption in Lebanon is such that all the political class is likely to be involved, one way or another. Heck, the inter-connectedness of the Lebanese banking system is such that we could all potentially be affected, one way or another.

There may well be more to the story; the statutes of the International Tribunal being established are so “encompassing” that we could all be potentially pursued for the Hariri assassination; from the politician with a grudge to the lowly peon whose meagre assets were sacrificed to Moloch (Hint: It is otherwise referred to as SOLIDERE).

Now, the assassination and the Bank Al-Madina scandal both appear solidly linked together thanks the Mehlis/Brammertz investigation; after Ms. Koleilat’s interview, a little noticed piece of news discussed how her “testimony had ‘shed light on important issues that have been awaiting clearance’ from the U.N. commission”.

With those links "established", the United States and France now only need to finalize their deal with the Russians; then the net can be cast as wide as they desire to bring to Justice the perpetrators of the massacre of February 14th, 2005, in which Hariri was killed along with more than 20 others, lest we forget...

And if that's not too cynical a reading; time will tell... The time between now and June 10.

Odd Statements

With this in mind, some of the hints being dropped here and there are interesting. Having already been “sensitized” to the idea of a link between Bank Al-Madina and the Hariri assassination, the public is now being fed interesting tidbits.

The first to timidly appear is a tidbit about a few names being “identified”; it was little more than the first small-fry, with a promise of many more to come.

Then came a little piece of information that a certain Mustapha Abu al Yazeed was Osama’s CFO back in the heady Khartoum days… Khartoum, a city in which a few Lebanese banks did much lucrative business back in the 1990’s.

Incidentally, the man was last seen on Al-Jazeera channel, that same little TV news outfit the Lebanese are so angry about, and to whom Joumblat sent a message “live” on air the other day, after the Aley bombing.

Finally, then came an interesting little piece by a “veteran Saudi commentator” (H/T Mustapha), stating that those Al-Qaeda islamists were gunning for the Hariri Tribunal because of the threat it poses to Bin Laden himself

Before you dismiss the piece, recall that the writer, Abd El-Rahman El-Rashed, is no mere Seymore Hersh when it comes to the regions’ goings-on. Is it a hint for the Syrians to scuttle their little Fath Al-Islam protégés and “make a deal”? Or is it a response to the regime’s blackmail, and the Syrians really risk a blowback via some of its key operators in Lebanon, themselves weakened by the jailing of their underlings.

In case the latter option is true, it is little wonder Bashar is playing for keeps… And little wonder Johnny Abdo is so pessimistic

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Will 1973 end in... 2007(?)

Better make sure it does...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dress Rehersal (1/3)

The battle in Nahr El-Bared is more than a firefight between the Army and some crazed lunatics. The army may be winning at great cost, and Mr. Jibril and his retinue may join in the fun, and this may escalate further as the recent bombings demonstrated.

The bombings in Ashrafieh and Verdun are more than attacks by Syrian mobsters against Lebanese freedom.

But this is not the worse of it…

I fear that there is more to it. No matter how bad this is, the real struggle could well be far worse, and the current battle may well prove to be a dress rehearsal for a far greater fight to come.

Arab Destiny

On the longer run, that fight is not only about Lebanon’s future, but about the destiny of the Arab Soul, as part of the ideological war between Black Arabism and White Arabism.

This is no mere grandstanding; ever since the advent of the Ottoman Tanzimat, the deep conflicting currents within the Arab world have always surfaced in Lebanon, as Arabs struggled to embrace the modern world and come to terms with their own history.

Similarly to Europe in the 19th Century, the current struggle has always been between two broad camps; progressives and conservatives, each one a motley crew of varied alliances. My own bias notwithstanding, the current struggle more complex and far more than about mere worker’s rights, as simplistic Lefties may have you think.

The aspect that concerns us today is the immediate events unfolding in Lebanon, with the Lebanese Armed Forces struggling against Fath Al-Islam, Security Forces struggling against terror attacks… All this, in the context of infiltrations directed and sponsored by a Syrian regime who seems hell-bent on interpreting openings as either weakness or blan seign. As Tony and AllahPundit put it;

So now you see how 'productive' Pelosi’s — and Rice’s — outreach to Damascus has been [...] Talking is not consequence-free, contrary to the prevailing punditry

Lebanese Destiny

Our immediate context is Lebanon’s destiny. And yes, to the risk of sounding like a broken “March 14th” record; it is ALL about the Hariri tribunal.

In this context, the tribunal issue is the culmination of a fight between Progressives and Conservatives. This is not a straight forward fight; neither are the progressive all on the side of “White Arabism”, nor are the conservatives all Nasserite “Black Arabists”. The stakes will not change, but many parties will switch sides as the sectarian rapport de force is adjusted after the dust settles.

For this reason, we have to add an “in between” Lebanese camp. Its members will either serve useful idiots or become great heroes, depending on the timing of their actions, and the support they get.

The Progressives

The word “progressive” is overused, with as many definitions as there are fields of human activity, or the lack of it. By the dictionary definition:

Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods”.

Many forget that Aoun’s partisans were the first progressives, yearning to break the “order” established by the United States under the Pax Syriana. This brought us to March 14th, when all of us, save for Hezb and Amal, were progressives. Aoun has now moved away from the progressive camp, and the main contenders for the label are Hairiri, Joumblat and Geagea, backed by the Saudis and most Arabs. Some of those 11th hour progressives are lowlifes who “turned coats” in the nick of time, as a new master came to Damascus and Syria’s fortunes were changing

Their conversion had started after the 2000 Israeli withdrawal, the sole purpose of Hezb’s “resistance” became (for optimists) its own self-perpetuation, reinforced by its own social network, the party was taking over the country… As Southern Lebanon was freed by one occupier, the rest of the country fell deeper under the yoke of another one. This was not to the liking of many powerful interests,; as the situation had changed, so did their interests, and they were soon gravitating towards the “progressive” camp.

The Conservatives

The established disorder has many partisans. The definition above, from their perspective, becomes;

Promoting or favoring progress toward [what one considers are] better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods”.

To many conservatives, the established order is nice; this is why the French CGT likes Segolen, and why Hezb likes Syria… They were doing well, thank you; to them, “progress” is a matter of perspective.

In Lebanon, thanks to the “Free World’s” complacency and short-sightedness, a new regional order has emerged, under the extortionist yoke of all the lowlifes whose only skill is playing Quislings, or committing murder and making mayhem.

Things are changing now. Initially, the Syrians had a measure of support within the House of Saoud and the British. Their Quislings drew much solace from it, but it all blew away when the bomb that killed Hariri; Saudi Arabia was now solidly opposed to the Assad clan’s interests. Even the so far lenient British are now slowly moving away from their seat on the fence, if you consider the Economist as a good Barometer;

Although Syria has denied any connection to the assassinations, or to the current violence, there is evidence to support the charges against it. […] During Syria's long occupation most of Lebanon's 12 Palestinian camps were directly controlled by Syrian military intelligence. Syrian intelligence also infiltrated several radical jihadist groups, using them for dirty work both in Lebanon and in Iraq (against American troops). The leader of Fatah al Islam, whose ideology is close to that of al-Qaeda, is known to have been held in Syrian custody before resurfacing in Lebanon in 2005. Since then the group has recruited not only among Lebanon's 400,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom are destitute and disillusioned by the failure of secular groups to better their lot, but also among international jihadists.

The Syrians may be on their way to losing the “Palestinian” lever, at great cost to braver nations as both the Palestinians and Lebanese are set to suffer. Its renunciation of Fath Al-Islam may become more than mere rhetoric when/if the Lebanese Army is done with them.

Syria will be left with few other real levers than Hezb, now a key component of their defence strategy. It had not always been thus; initially, the resistance to Israel was a progressive act of sorts, but it was taken over by Hezb; after imposing itself on the Civil War scene, the party more than “took the lead” from the “secular” groups who had carried out the first operations. This was no mere “passing the flag”, as Hezb actively sidelined other parties with heavy Syrian help. Having first brutally repressed the party, Hafez El-Assad made a deal with Iran and streamlined his sponsorship operations. It allowed Hezb a measure of exclusive control over Southern Lebanon, at the expense of other movements.

Those in Between

The “in-between” here would be mainly Aoun and the Palestinians. Understandably, some would be excused to add Joumblat, our national chameleon champion, but he is merely an excellent indicator of the direction of the political winds… It is a fool that opposes the storm; statesmen bend and wait for better times.

Today, Aoun finds himself among the “useful idiots”. Whether it is due to a spiteful personality or sheer stupidity, he has little justification. He is right in pointing out the intelligence failures. He is also right in pointing out that the current government had, within it, some of the elements that made possible today’s current morass. But he is wrong on the fundamentals, he far too readily forgets that much of it is due to his new partner’s continuing hold over some security services, their sabotage of others, their infiltration of the armed forces, and their role in bringing about the current mess.

The Palestinians are still playing a swing role; for all the support they have given the Lebanese Armed Forces, many of their “men on the ground” remain dubious at best. They have their own safety to worry about… It is true, however, that the Army’s operations show a worrying lag of planning and vision. It is also true that we Lebanese share the blame for the sorry lot of our Palestinian brethren, having restricted them to camps and forbidden them from (officially) working.

But it also the fact that their leaders have contributed much to the current morass. Arafat S.à.R.T.L, held sway over Lebanon in the 60’s and 70’s. Heck, they may have even played a role in Koreiche’s accession to the Maronite Patriarchate! The Pope even had to promote him away to Cardinal, to “bring in” the current Patriarch…

But they were all too happy to maintain a ready pool of cannon fodder, and blocked many an attempt to improve the fundamentals of the camps’ economies.

What Does it all Mean?

With all those neighbours and “friends”, No wonder we Lebanese often quip that Lebanon’s best neighbour is the Mediterranean Sea; it has not invaded us yet…

Until the next (real) Tsunami, that is…

When it comes to the immediate problem at hand, I am not sure whether it is too late for integration.

I am not sure if there is more to Fath Al-Islam than meets the eye. Robert Fisk asks a few good questions, and raises one side of the veil hiding the cesspool under Lebanon’s glitz;

And who were the dead men I saw yesterday, perforated by bullets, partly torn open by grenades? Silent testimony is all we receive from the dead. One of them had big eyes above his fluffy beard, eyes which stared at us and at the police who jeered at his corpse. I wonder if they will not come to haunt us soon. And if we will discover what lies behind this terrible day in Lebanon

Unfortunately, Fisk is too strongly influenced by Hersh’s sophistic stupidity, which has been discredited countless times by so many others.

What Now?

One can never be certain as to the future impact of immediate events. But one can be dead certain of what immediate actions are needed; the best we can do is stick to first-principles, regardless of the “short-term” rewards...

In this case, I am damn sure it is too late to ask the Lebanese to give a hoot, or to demand our armed forces exert restraint. And I am dead certain that traditional half-measures, are the last thing we need. I am also dead certain that a repeat of 1973, no matter who “engineered” this one, will only usher in another 1975;

Lebanon’s got to win this at all costs

Lebanon’s got to Finish off those bastard

Failing that, Lebanon will die (not) trying.

And it would be deservedly so…