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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Can Lebanon leave Syria’s orbit? (updated)

On my last night in Lebanon, members of Amal and Hizbullah were roaming the streets of Beirut vowing eternal support for Syria and Bashar. Through obnoxiously loud speakers on generic looking cars, they offered their blood and their souls to Bashar, much to the dismay of many of their compatriots.

An LAU student I spoke to on the evening following the LAU student election that saw the Hariri and PSP (Jumblatt) lists defeat an alliance of Aounists, Amal and Hizbullah, relayed an unsettling picture from his small Beirut campus. He said scores of Amal and Hizbullah students gathered to pledge support to Syria’s Assad, who came third after Allah and Muhammad in their loud Ashoura-style chanting. Their style clearly turned the majority of the students off, driving them to vote for the Mustaqbal and Ishtiraki list.

During my short stay in the country, I would hear statements by Hizbullah MPs and officials that are not different from Bashar’s Thursday speech, even if they didn’t resort to name-calling. Mohammad Raad, on one occasion, accused Mehlis of running his report by the Israeli foreign minister before submitting it to Annan. On Saturday morning, at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International airport, Naim Qassem could be heard on the small television screens near the departure gate loudly promising Bashar that Lebanon would not be a passage for conspiracies against Syria.

Any objective and non-sectarian observer would note that Hizbullah’s talk of saving Lebanon from destruction is at odds with their insistence to keep the country in a state of chaos by allowing fringe Palestinian militants to roam freely in the country practicing offensive self-defense and receiving arms through a loose border with Syria. In Hizbullah’s outdated and destructive rhetoric, Lebanon has only one option: war. Lebanon’s enemy is external and Satan-like in its omnipresence. The only way to confront it is through a military fight. All internal problems are swept under the Syrian rug of resistance. In Hizbullah’s world, the concept of dialog is very much like Syrian cooperation: an exercise in time buying until Providence sends an emissary to nuke Satan. Lebanon’s fate, meanwhile, is made to depend on the fate of a dying regime—a death wish.

I used to think that Hizbullah’s participation in the government was a positive development. But Hizbullah has been using it to bully the cabinet and obstruct any attempt to refocus policies away from a destructive subservience to Syrian ones. Emile Lahoud might be on his political death bed, but Hizbullah and to some extent Amal, have taken over his obstructionist role. Sadly, Hizbullah’s growing influence never translates into work that could benefit their voters in the south and the Bekaa or even the Shia community as a whole. It is safe to say they are using their new power to obstruct and buy time for the cornered Syrian regime, and for themselves. Siniora even had to postpone the international donor's conference because Hizbullah and Amal still view foreign aid as a form of international hegemony.

Citing an American security official, al-Shiraa reported in its 14 November issue that security officials from Hizbullah and Amal continue to hold regular meetings with their Syrian intelligence counterparts in Damascus to coordinate strategies. Hizbullah is also reportedly providing logistical support to Iranian intelligence officers, who are monitoring “the political and security developments” in Lebanon from their headquarters at the Iranian embassy. In countries where rule of law and some degree of healthy patriotism prevail, this amounts to treason.

Meanwhile, Islamists continue to pour into the country from Syria, taking up positions in the refugee camps of Ein el-Helweh and Borj Barajneh and in the north of the country. The word on the street is that it is a matter of time before these groups, funded by Iran and supported by Syria, begin blowing up hotels and other places in Lebanon. Al-Shiraa mentions the “Ansar Allah” group, headed by former Fateh official Jamal Suleiman, as one such group that is training militants in al-Sufsaf in Ein el-Helweh and forming cells in other camps in Tyre and Beirut. The Lebanese weekly also reported that the “al-Da’wa al-Salafiya” group headed by “Abu Ibrahim” is “holding meetings in Tripoli with a group of Pakistani Salafists.”

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these reports, but they do seem to confirm that Syria’s plan of attack is nearing the implementation phase. If Hizbullah and Amal continue to buy time for Bashar and his group, the country will be plunged into mini conflicts featuring these groups and the Lebanese army. Judging from Bashar’s speech, the Syrian regime is incapable of realizing that such ploys will neither distract the international community nor pressure the Security Council into abandoning the Hariri investigation. After all, what options does a dying star have except collapse under its own gravity and suck everything around itself? It’s Lebanon’s misfortune to have been left in Syria’s orbit for so long.

UPDATE. Al-Mustaqbal claims that Aoun, who finally broke his silence over the Bashar speech, has been sending his son in law and representative Gibran Bassil to Damascus to discuss destabilizing the Siniora government. The Hariri-owned daily said Bassil was in Damascus just days ago. Aoun, al-Mustaqbal argues, had reached a dead end in his quest to become president and is now taking the "non-democratic" Syrian route via alliances with Hizbullah and pro-Syrian groups to reach Baabda.

Patriarch Sfeir, in a significant move Sunday, broke with Aoun by saying that Lahoud has to decide for himself whether “his remaining as head of state serves or harms his post.” The patriarch added that Christians alone cannot select the president and that a consensus similar to the one that led to the withdrawal of the Syrian army is needed to select a new president. (The Daily Star completely missed the significance of Sfeir's comments). With Siniora becoming increasingly popular in Christian circles, even beating Aoun, and the rising popularity of Geagea, I think Sfeir can now more comfortably express his divergence from Aoun's obsessive policies.

Seen this interview with Naim Qasem? (note: temporary link).
Interesting comments and I believe that the points are not far fetched and rather closer to reality. However I wanted to also comment on the very last line of your article. "It's a misfortune to have been left in Syria's orbit for so long". Well we can thank those Lebanese such as the PSP's and Harrirists who finally awoken from their commas and realized that Syria was not such a saviour but rather a conqueror. So I say to the Jumblatists it's about time. But I truely believe that Jomblasts 180 degree twist is not out of conviction but rather it is the way of the new tide.

It’s Lebanon’s misfortune to have been left in Syria’s orbit for so long

Yep, and much more than a misfortune. Let's also blame ourselves for that.

Like you said in your post Kais: previous actions by local factions and current ones by Hezbo and Amal amount to sedition and treason. Heard anyone important mention that?
More evasion and self-righteousness from Tarrad Hamade.
"It’s Lebanon’s misfortune to have been left in Syria’s orbit for so long."

Lebanon in its present state can never avoid the political events engulfing its neighbours and the region. The Lebanese cannot insulate themselves from either Israel or Syria- we are just too weak and divided.

The new expression of Lebanese nationalism after the murder of Hariri needs to be broadened and should not just be tied to anti-Baathism( Syrian) or anti-Zionism.

We desperately need a new president who can bring legitimacy and unity to the State. The new President will have to find a way to include the Shia in a new political accord.

Chibli Mallat has just announced his candidacy for the Presidency and is someone who can bring the Lebanese together.http://www.itp.net/business/news/details.php?id=18722&category=arabianbusiness

Sedition and treason has always been fair game in Lebanese politics. It will continue this way unless we have a strong state that everyone feels is their own.

As for the Salafists, they are not all controlled by the Syrian regime. They will naturally use Lebanon as a base to cause havoc in Syria as in Iraq.

The MB is the only Muslim group with any base in Syria and is the group to watch especially as to the maintenance of their relationship with HA. The MB have a clear political program that challenges the nihilism of the Salafists.

There is now way, in the foreseeable future, for us to escape this Law of Gravity.

Sedition and treason has always been fair game in Lebanese politics. It will continue this way unless we have a strong state that everyone feels is their own.

This statement goes in both directions. Strong state will imply less sedition too.
There is no reason whatsoever why being a Syrian/Iranian/Palestinian/whatever agent is OK.

If you accept it, or tolerate it, or shove it under the rug you will get more of it.

OK, we live in a shitty neighborhood. But don't tell me we are doing the best we can, even under the circumstances.
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Disregarding the fact that I'd be happy to kick Hezbollah's ass, it's not certain that the so-called 'party of God' will burn Lebanon to ashes only to please Bashar and the rat of Tehran. Not all Shias accept the extremist agenda of this party and Hezbollah's leaders are well aware that moderate Shias will not necessarily vote for them in the future.
JW, complete the circle and add Israeli/French/American/Saudi to your list of agents in Lebanon.

Politicians in Lebanon for the most part profit greatly from their service to foreign countries. It is a respectable business in Lebanon that is tolerated by the electorate accross the whole political spectrum.

OK Issam,

I wrote "whatever", but you love to see "American" and "Israeli" explicitly in every paragraph, suit yourself.

More important: I hope we agree there's a difference between agents, allies, and sympathizers.

For Issam and those who like EVERYTHING spelled out: yes even American agents, and for Israel you can't be either of the above cuz we're technically at war.

I suspect that even current Lebanese law must have some kind of test for "agent", though I am no expecting that law to be applied any time soon.
"Al-Mustaqbal claims that Aoun, who finally broke his silence over the Bashar speech, has been sending his son in law and representative Gibran Bassil to Damascus to discuss destabilizing the Siniora government. "

I really doubt that
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