The American defeat against Bashar al-Assad
By Ghaleb Kandil
Kerry has prepared the ground for a possible meeting with Assad in several statements referring to “ideas” that might convince the Syrian leader to negotiate with its opponents. It is important to note that the initiative proposed by President Assad on January 6 is the only serious effort to organize the dialogue and partnership with the opposition. However, the head of American diplomacy seems to prepare public opinion and governments in the region to the scene of his dreams but it will not be easy to achieve: a photo showing him presenting his respects to the Syrian leader, as Secretary of State of The USA. A leader that Americans believed at one time they can overthrown.
Who ordered Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Libya and the Lebanese Future Movement to offer money, arms, training, logistical support and political et media cover to these Takfirists groups? Is it not America? What is the secret of this change?
Why do some insist to import at any price the Syrian crisis into Lebanon?
Patriarch Rai’s visit to Damascus is beyond all bidding. He gave a message of hope to Christians in Syria and confirmed the need to protect the diversity in the Orient at a time when it is the sounds of guns and military aircraft, as well as Takfirists fatwas that prevail at the expense of coexistence between communities.»
There is no doubt that this visit gave a breath of fresh air and support the Syrian regime.
From the beginning of the unrest in Syria, patriarch Raï has not hidden his support for the regime and the Syrian people, expressing fears that the Arab Spring will cause chaos. As he has never hidden his concern about the rise of extremism. This concern extends beyond Lebanon and is also in the Vatican.»
- Ø The Chairman of the Committee for the Iranian reconstruction in Lebanon Houssam Khosh Navis, was killed while he was on the road to the Airport of Damascus. His driver, also Iranian, was killed too. In a statement issued Thursday morning, the Iranian Embassy in Beirut said Houssam Khosh Navis “was killed by armed terrorist groups while en route from Beirut to Damascus.”
- Ø The new Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, the largest Christian community in Iraq, said that the Arab Spring was diverted to special interest and paved the way to tension and bloodshed. At the begining, the Arab Spring called for freedom, democracy and development, but “unfortunately, these claims have taken a partisan orientation,” said patriarch Raphael first Sako. “We are monitoring the situation in the countries of the Arab Spring. Where is spring? There are clashes, tensions, there is blood, corruption and a radical discourse”, he added.
- Ø The Lebanese army said Friday that it has arrested 11 men, including four Syrians, for weapons possession in the tense border town of Arsal, which has seen frequent unrest linked to the war in neighboring Syria. “Army units deployed in Arsal arrested on Thursday and Friday 11 people including four Syrians, and seized from their possession weapons, ammunition and military material,” the army said in a statement. The arrests took place “in a mountainous region leading to the Lebanese-Syrian border,” and were part of “operations the army is carrying out to arrest wanted people… and to end weapons smuggling and illegal crossings” across the border. Lebanon’s military intensified its operations in Arsal in eastern Lebanon after two soldiers, including an officer, were killed in a clash with armed men on February 1. Also on Friday, a group of Arsal residents demonstrated near a checkpoint against the army’s measures, and troops shot into the air to disperse them, a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
- Ø The Lebanese daily Al Joumhouria reported that Arab countries used from the beginning of the crisis in Syria, to provide large-caliber weapons to the Palestinians in Lebanon. The weapons included Kalashnikovs, RPG rocket launchers, heavy anti-aircraft guns 24.4 mm caliber, and anti-tank rockets.
- Ø The Lebanese lawyer Wadih Akl filed a complaint Wednesday against the Saudi daily Al-Watan for offense and insult against the Patriarch Bechara Rai.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, close to the majority, February 12, 2013)
Those who were shocked by the patriarch Bechara Rai visit to Damascus are unable to get out from the comparison between the attitude of the current patriarch and his predecessor Nasrallah Sfeir, and ignore the profound differences not only between two individuals but also between two periods.
Dramatic changes in the region showed that the Syrian regime and a wide spectrum of Christians in Lebanon and Syria share the same fear, provoked by the Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood wave.
Some members of March-14 tried to convince themselves that the positions taken by Patriarch Raï on the Syrian crisis and the issue of Hezbollah weapons are transient or have been misunderstood due to a misinterpretation. However, his visit to Damascus shows that these positions reflect a thoughtful approach adopted with “aforethought”.
The same sources believe that those who criticize Raï visit to Damascus saying that it creates animosity between Muslims and Christians, are themselves encouraging extremism against Christians. Especially since there is no reason to see any provocation in a visit by Rai to his flock in Damascus, his participation in the enthronement of patriarch Yazigi and his call to stop the violence and tragedies.
Bishop Samir Mazloum said that circumstances today are different from those prevailing at the time of Patriarch Sfeir. In the past, he said, the Syrian army was in Lebanon and Damascus had a political hegemony over the country. Therefore, Patriarch Sfeir had refused to go to Syria because his visit should be interpreted as an acceptance of the prevailing order. Today, the circumstances has changed, fears and priorities also in light of the dangers facing Christians throughout the region.
As Safir (February 11, 2013)
European diplomatic circles believe that “Bashar al-Assad may remain long in power and can continue to rule for an unlimited period. That is the real concern.
“Assad’s strength comes from the strength of his soldiers and his use of armed means. In addition, he has money. “We must compel him to go away, pursue the same sources. However, the problem is that the European Union has broken contact with the inner circle of President Bashar al-Assad, including the Vice-President Farouk al-Shara, with which the head of the Syrian National coalition, Ahmad al Moaz Khatib says willing to negotiate.
An Nahar (Lebanese Daily, close to march-14 coalition)
Rosanna Bou Mouncef (February 14, 2013)
Political sources fear that the President of the Republic, Michel Sleiman, has demonstrated precipitation announcing at the last meeting of the Council of Ministers that he would not “extend the mandate of Parliament.” The position of the President was meant to show his determination, in view of its responsibilities, to organize the elections within the constitutional period. But the fear is that Michel Sleiman did not leave room for other possibilities that begin to impose itself, which will force him to back off. Indeed, the discussions in the parliamentary electoral sub-committee are stalled. Each party presented its project or vision, while the trust does not exist between the protagonists. Some worry that Lebanon is heading towards a dead end because of the refusal to hold elections on the basis of the 1960 Act. And contrary to what some believe, the major powers are not currently lobbying to convince the Lebanese to hold elections on time.
Politicians suggest the following scenarios: The lack of agreement on a consensual law prevents the organization of elections on time, because neither the majority nor the opposition are willing to voluntarily provide power to their opponents; the lack of agreement on the post-election period is an additional reason for the postponement of the elections; the organization of elections without agreement on the post-election period means that the country will be without government for a year or more.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese daily, close to the majority, February 15, 2013)
At a ceremony marking the 8th anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, his son and political heir Saad used a big-screen video link to launch his campaign for the 2013 parliamentary elections. His speech emphasized the Future Movement’s “moderation” while talking tough against Hezbollah.
Saad Hariri did not surprise his supporters. He did not visit his father’s tomb, nor did he turn up at Beirut’s BIEL complex to wave at them like Fouad Siniora. But they did not have to wait long. Sheikh Saad made his appearance on a giant screen.
His speech was neither routine nor exceptional. The young former prime minister wanted two things out of the digital appearance: to launch his election campaign under the slogans of moderation and the civil state, and to prepare for his return to Beirut.
Hariri posed as a leader who had been forced into exile. He tried to give the impression that his remaining abroad is an act of political struggle, and that his homecoming will be one too: “God help them when I return.”
He must be credited for turning to the discourse of moderation, and adopting concepts that are deemed “civil” in Lebanon: civil marriage and allowing Lebanese women to pass citizenship on to their children. “We are a moderate movement, and nobody will drag us to extremism,” he said.
Excellent. But it seems that Hariri and the people who contributed to writing his speech for him are untroubled by the difference between slogans and practice.
The slogan may be moderation, but in practice it’s the behavior of MPs like Khaled Daher and Mohammed Kabbara. Has Hariri ever counted the number of times his Future Movement MPs and officials have used the terms “sect,” “Sunni people,” “we are targeted,” “our areas,” and other expressions from the sectarian lexicon in their speeches?
It does not matter. What matters is the slogan. That was also the case when Hariri spoke of the relationship between Hezbollah and Prime Minister Najib Mikati. The latter, according to his predecessor, was given a “ministerial bribe” by Hezbollah in exchange for upholding the idea of the “people, army, and resistance.” But just a minute. Didn’t that same phrase feature in the program of Hariri’s own government, and of his two administrations headed by Fouad Siniora? What bribe did they get from Hezbollah? There was no bribe, only a royal directive.
Another of the slogans raised by Hariri yesterday was borrowed from the commemoration’s marketing campaign: The Dream. He informed the masses that his father, the late former premier Rafik Hariri, had dreamed that the Lebanese would stop having to keep dreaming of electricity, phone lines, hospitals, schools, universities, and jobs. It is a nice election slogan, but it only works for a dissident. Not for people who held power for 18 of the past 21 years.
Hariri must also be credited for conceding that there are weapons in abundance throughout Lebanon. But his aim in doing that was to portray the Resistance’s weapons as a sectarian arsenal. He addressed “the Shia,” telling them that these weapons do not protect them.
The young chieftain acknowledged that the Shia have been in Lebanon for more
than a thousand years, and wants to encourage moderation among them. Another glittering slogan. But what’s the practice? The practice is to oppose any electoral system based on proportional representation, which alone would enable those Shia to raise their voices.
He returned to the theme of weapons with the slogan that “only the Lebanese army” must be allowed to posses them. Yet again, Hariri forgot the practice, as clearly displayed by his team when they were in power.
At the time, their attitude to the Russian military grant showed their vision of the Lebanese state and their desired capabilities for the armed forces. When Moscow offered to strengthen the Lebanese air force (or rather to create the nucleus of one, as there is no air force in Lebanon) Hariri welcomed the idea. He used the grant to sloganize against Hezbollah. But it only took an American whisper, and a pat on the back, for him to decline the Russian offer.
Hariri launched a fierce attack on the weapons of the Resistance and Hezbollah while proclaiming that “I will be alongside March 14 in the election battle, whatever the law, whatever the challenges, and whatever the risks.”
He said the Future Movement was putting together “clear proposals for constitutional amendments that would lead to the elimination of political sectarianism, the establishment of a Senate, and the inclusion of the Baabda Declaration on Lebanon’s neutrality in the preamble of the Constitution. The essential aim is for power to be confined in the hands of the Lebanese state and its institutions.”
Hariri repeatedly denounced Hezbollah’s weapons, declaring that “Hezbollah and its brigades and its weapons are the greatest danger” to Lebanon, and “Hezbollah refuses to acknowledge this.”
In his view, “every Lebanese can see that the problem is not a fatal mistake in Ersal” – the Bekaa valley town where gunmen recently ambushed an army patrol – “but…that there are deadly weapons in Ersal because of the existence of a mini-state that is bigger than the state.” “Hezbollah is prepared to give a ministerial bribe to the head of the government at the expense of Hezbollah’s share [of cabinet portfolios], in exchange for the formation of a government that doesn’t touch its weapons. It is prepared to appease its ally Michel Aoun over the Orthodox [election] law to keep parliament hostage to the weapons.
“It is prepared to let the government fund the Special Tribunal [for Lebanon], and to overlook Walid Jumblatt’s attacks on it and his view of the Assad regime, in exchange for the weapons remaining off-limits.”
Hariri affirmed that the state “cannot live in a jungle of illegal weapons, namely Hezbollah’s and [those] of groups like Fatah al-Islam.”
After stating that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon “is proceeding, and the criminals will be punished sooner or later,” he wondered “how can Hezbollah continue to prevent the handover of the accused in the attempted assassination of MP Boutros Harb?”
He stressed that “to deny that Hezbollah’s weapons play a direct role in Lebanese political life is to ignore the essence of the problem.”
Regarding the elections, Hariri pledged “we will turn the dream into reality, and the first step is the parliamentary elections that we will wage together, with our allies in March 14, and with all Lebanese who believe in a civil state.”
Al Akhbar (February 15, 2013)
General Michel Aoun remains an oppositionist par excellence, critical of the government’s performance despite the fact that his Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) is a key player in the governing majority.
Hiyam Kossayfi (HK): Previously, you were not entirely convinced by the proposed Orthodox electoral law. Today, you are its strongest defender. Is this your final position?
Michel Aoun (MA): This is the only solution for our electoral problem in Lebanon for many reasons. The current state of Lebanon’s sects effectively undermines democracy in the country. Previously, the main sects had at least two parties to represent them. Take Akkar’s Christians, for example, who are far outnumbered by Sunnis. When there were two Sunni parties competing, the Christian vote had an impact. Today, there are single Sunni, Shia, and Druze blocs. In order for a Christian candidate to win, they must be part of the dominant bloc in their area. In such a situation, our voice is lost. The Orthodox proposal allows for the representation of all the sects and prevents any vote from going to waste, as is the case today. For example, there are 30,000 Maronite voters in the South who either don’t vote or their votes are considered “dead” because they cannot influence the race there in any way. This is also the case with the 14,000 Christians in the Minyeh-Duniyeh district; 5,000 in Nabatieh; 11,000 in Tyre; and 15,000 in Rmaish. We’re talking about 460,000 Christians who are marginalized electorally.
HK: Practically speaking, the Orthodox proposal will not pass because the president is opposed to it and has threatened to challenge its constitutionality.
MA: And we will do the same with any other law – and [the president’s] challenge will fail. I say to the president, don’t even bother. The law that allows 64 Christians to reach parliament through Christian votes is the only one that is legal and constitutional.
MA: We want the armed forces to defend themselves. We want an army, not boy scouts. When the army is attacked, it need not wait for the cabinet or anyone to take a decision.
Its commanders must quickly respond with force and surround the killers and arrest them. It’s as if we’re living in the ‘70s again. If the army keeps taking blows left and right, its morale will be affected. Does it not have the right to defend itself?
HK: The government’s official policy toward the Syrian crisis is to disassociate itself and maintain neutrality. But after Ersal and the recent assassination of the Iranian official, Hussam Khosh Nuwais [real name: Hassan Shateri], isn’t Lebanon becoming more and more implicated in what’s going on in Syria?
MA: Lebanon is already implicated in the Syrian crisis, from the time a particular faction of Lebanese began participating in the war there, either by smuggling weapons or through political support, prompting others in Akkar, the North and Ersal to also become involved.
Now, with the armed groups suffering setbacks in Syria, there will be negative consequences for Lebanon. The balance is tipping in favor of the regime, which means more refugees and armed groups coming to Lebanon, some of whom are not even Syrian.
HK: Could the security situation lead to the postponement of the elections?
MA: There may be a side that wants it to go in that direction and the opposition in Lebanon could exploit it to put off the elections.
HK: Do you support an extension for parliament?
MA: God forbid, no. I am opposed to any extension for any person or group.
HK: Are you concerned about the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Lebanon?
MA: These forces tend to harm themselves and their supporters, and the possibility of it spreading is limited. It gained power in some places, but it has failed because it has no solutions. In Syria, the people who once wanted the regime to go are now praying for its stability. After the opposition disrupted people’s lives and robbed them of their dignity and livelihood, Syrians have come to prefer the regime they once hated.
Al Joumhouria (Lebanese Daily close to March-14 coalition)
(February 14, 2013)
Citing a report of the intelligence services, Israeli newspapers reported that U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fear a “Syrian-Iranian revenge that would not necessarily be military but electronic”. Launched by Hezbollah, this attack would allow Iran to achieve two strategic objectives: respond to Israeli raids against Syria and neutralize Israeli capabilities to launch an imminent attack against Iran’s nuclear program. “
The report adds that American computer experts will precede Obama in Israel before his scheduled visit soon. They will work with their Israeli colleagues to develop a quick plan to counter any cyber attack. They’ll also try to lay the foundations of a long-term plan to build Israeli electronic warfare capacities at a time when the means of Hezbollah and Iran in this field have been developed in recent months.
According to the report, Netanyahu is determined to complete the construction in the area of Bir el-Sabaa, of the center of Israeli computer network protection. The report reveals that “South Lebanon is more than ever monitored by Israel because Hezbollah has built a secret digital operating room.”
Haaretz (Israeli daily, February 13, 2013)
Israeli predictions of a rapid fall of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been denied and it seems that the belligerents are equal forces, which prevents early outcome of the battle despite the escalating violence. Although assessments of Western intelligence services continue to capitalize on the inevitable fall of the Assad regime, some scenarios favor the gradual shift from Syria into chaos.