Friday, November 24, 2006

Surrealistic nightmare

From Ynet News, 22/11/06, by Isi Leibler ...

Weak leadership must be replaced; Iran threat requires different approach

These are difficult times. In contrast to the quiet confidence that prevailed even during the height of the terror, nowadays whenever Jews or Israelis gather, the conversation gravitates towards the state of the nation and invariably ends on a depressing note.

There is contempt and an utter lack of confidence in the military leadership. Most Israelis consider it outrageous that the principal failed military leaders responsible for conducting the war still remain in their posts. Some were even recommended for promotion.

And besieged Chief of Staff Halutz went so far as to reprimand the officers he had himself selected to investigate the army's performance, because their findings were highly critical!

There is also frustration that despite the prime minister's approval rating sinking to below 20 percent, and that of his defense minister collapsing to an all-time low of four percent, both remain in the saddle.

Zigzag policy
Even more disconcerting is that Olmert's government continues to zigzag on a day to day basis without any strategic game plan, despite a widespread belief that the winds of war are gathering. The ongoing "spins" like the prime minister's bizarre statement to the GA that " Israel 's geo-political position has never been better," exasperates everyone.

His blatantly contradictory statements designed to "make us happy" are equally infuriating. He informs the nation he has shelved plans for future unilateral withdrawals but tells the Americans that he has only temporarily suspended this policy.

He assures the Israeli public that he is determined to stand firm and prevent a repeat Gaza performance of the Hizbullah missile build up but is still undecided how to respond to the Qassam rockets raining down on Sderot and Ashkelon.

When an errant shell tragically kills Palestinian innocents, instead of blaming Hamas, he apologizes and pleads for a meeting with Abbas telling him "you will be surprised how far I would be willing to go."

He regurgitates the nonsense about Abu Mazen being a moderate. As was the case during the Lebanese war, despite grating Churchillian style outbursts, the climate of indecisiveness is all pervasive and ministers continue to publicly contradict one another.

To retain power, the prime minister co-opted Avigdor Lieberman's party to his coalition despite the fact that it is diametrically opposed to all the central policies in the Kadima platform. Had Olmert called for a national unity government, there may have been some logic to his position, but what he has done, once again makes a mockery of responsible government.

Privately, most MKs agree that this is one of the worst coalitions in the history of the State and concede, despite indictments of leading public figures, that a genuine purge against corruption is impossible as long as the failed leaders remain in control.

If they were acting in the national interest, they would already have brought about the dissolution of the government and held new elections. But many of them, fearful of losing their seats, opted for the status quo, despite the realization that their inaction was holding back reforms desperately needed in the face of a possibly impending two-front war.

Reject gloomy mood
The Jewish people are surely entitled to better, but their rage has been transformed into a deep depression out of a feeling of impotence that they cannot force the failed leaders to relinquish their positions and a conviction that nothing will change.

We must not permit such moods of gloom and doom from overtaking us. We should remind ourselves that the most meaningful changes and revolutions in the global social order were achieved by people power. We should set aside the doom and gloom and recall that we overcame far greater challenges in the past.

After all, despite our troubles, the Israeli economy remains robust, terror today is more effectively contained than it was a few years ago, and notwithstanding the blunders in Lebanon , Israel remains a regional military superpower.

But for our immediate purposes, we should demand the creation of a blue chip national task force on the lines of the Baker Commission appointed by President Bush to reassess his Iraq policy and to chart short and long term strategies to be considered and implemented by his Administration.

The alternative is that we could well wake up one day with yet another flawed policy similar to the unilateral Sharon disengagement fiasco which, despite clear warnings of disastrous consequences by the military leaders, was determined by a handful of politicians behind closed doors.

In the short term, we must demand that our indecisive leaders not replicate the disaster they committed when they succumbed to pressure from the State Department and relinquished control of the Gaza borders, enabling terrorists to flood the area with sophisticated armaments. We have yet to pay the bitter price for that blunder.

In addition, we must gird ourselves for the reappearance of James Baker and other new players on the Washington scene, many not as friendly to Israel as their predecessors. If, in order to accommodate to their broader political interests, the Americans try to pressure us to make further concessions impinging on our security requirements, we must be prepared to stand up and say no and explain our position to the American people.

Overriding all these concerns is the Iranian nuclear threat, which now heads the crisis agenda. It is obligatory for the prime minister and other leaders to highlight the fact that Iran poses an existential threat to the State of Israel.

But when Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh proclaims that a nuclear Iran will cause Israelis to emigrate and that this will lead to the collapse of the Zionist dream, he needlessly creates an atmosphere of malaise and doom within Israel and plays into the hands of Israel's enemies.

He should be stressing that the Iranian threat transcends Israel because in the event of a rogue state or terrorist group obtaining access to nuclear weapons, a disaster of holocaust dimensions could occur in New York , London , or Tokyo no less than in Tel Aviv.

It would be a surrealistic nightmare if a weak and indecisive Israeli leadership seeking to curry favor with the public is propelled by demagoguery into adopting a flawed policy in this crucial area. Instead of generating hysteria, they must warn the Iranians and the world at large that Israel has sufficient deterrence to guarantee that any nation that directly or indirectly initiates a nuclear attack on it will be decimated.

Our leaders must urgently determine a collective policy in relation to Iran and commit to speaking with one united voice in relation to this potentially existential threat.

Isi Leibler chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran Jewish international leader

Lebanese tragedy

From The Australian Editorial, 24/11/06 ....

Cabinet minister's killing opens the door for Hezbollah

AFTER hearing the news of the assassination of Lebanese cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel earlier this week, cynics would be excused for saying that the present-day Middle East looks an awful lot like the proverbial road to hell – that is to say, paved with good intentions. For Gemayel's death in a hail of automatic gunfire not only brings Lebanon one step closer to once again falling under the sway of Hezbollah and its backers in Damascus and Tehran, it is also another blow to the much-criticised project to bring democracy to the region.

Although Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have all denied responsibility for the killing, it is hard to see who else would have staged the brazen operation. Syria is widely thought to have killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Killing Gemayel is in keeping with the pattern of perverse interest shown by Syria in its would-be client state. And such a move fits the ultimate interests of the Middle East's great partners in crime, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

Iran makes no bones about its desire to dominate the entire Middle East and a Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon with the ability to harass Israel's northern border fits perfectly into these plans.

Furthermore the outbreak of democracy in Lebanon that occurred during last year's Cedar Revolution was profoundly threatening to the dictators in Damascus and Tehran, worried that similar movements might eventually topple their own unpopular regimes, which do not allow dissent.

Gemayel was the fourth outspoken anti-Syrian critic to be murdered since 2005 and his death leaves Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's Government hanging on by just two ministers. Should it fall, the way will be paved for Hezbollah to assert control over the entire nation, an event that would be a tragedy for its cosmopolitan and diverse population. Those who believe Iran and Syria should be brought to the table to bring peace to Iraq should remember these nations' form in this other Middle Eastern democracy.

But while the political liberalisation of the Middle East looks at this moment shambolic, the question must be asked: What is the alternative? Those who protest that Western interventions have provoked terrorism ignore the fact that September 11 and a host of other strikes against the West predate the invasion of Iraq.

Certainly post-invasion Iraq has suffered for everything from a lack of troops to a failure to successfully reintegrate members of the old regime into the country's civil service and military, as was successfully done in post-war Japan and Germany. But this does not mean one should suggest that the people of the Middle East are not ready for democracy. To do so is to deny the humanity of people living in these countries, who have as much right to freedom as those of us in the West.

Furthermore, spreading democracy in the Middle East is essential for a Western world that is engaged in a slow but existential war with jihadist terrorism. Political liberalism is anathema to our enemies, who will fight everywhere to stop the process by which people might vote for peace and turf out their terrorist masters.

Understanding Middle East Realism

From GLORIA, by Barry Rubin, November 22, 2006 ...

The time has come to speak of what "Realism" means in international affairs. Historically, realism has been the core of diplomatic practice. This concept says that countries rationally formulate their national interests and pursue them. These interests are defined in material, not "sentimental," terms--obtaining or holding security, territory, and economic assets.

As an explicit doctrine, this arose in Europe. America has always had some trouble accepting this approach. It often seeks to inject ideas and values into its foreign policy. If George W. Bush is only the latest example of this (promoting democracy), it is a concept central also to the thinking of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Bill Clinton too.

In general, Realism needs some small, reasonable adjustments. Let me mention three:
  1. Ideology does matter. The USSR and Russia have parallel interests but how they define and pursue them is related to the difference between seeking world hegemony for Communism and just trying to keep a country afloat. Both the Shah's and Islamist Iran tried to become the leading power in the Persian Gulf but the way they went about it is rather significantly not the same.
  2. The interests of the regime might not be that of the nation. Syria as a country would benefit from peace with Israel and good relations with the West. But these things would mean death for the current regime. Therefore, these are not its policies.
  3. Ideas can be an important part of a Realist policy. For example, the United States knew that promoting democracy and prosperity in Europe was essential to avoiding Communist takeovers. During the Cold War, it was the liberal position--for example that of John Kennedy--that the United States should promote reform and democracy in, say, Latin America, to achieve victory over the pro-Soviet forces.

But if Islam was "hijacked" by radical Islamists, Realism is now being hijacked by those who are far from being realistic. Because Realism does not mean that all countries think alike even if they act structurally in similar ways. The key is to understand how a given regime defines national interest. This requires real knowledge of various countries, not just conversations with leaders or reading their newspaper interviews with Western correspondents.

Here's how Lewis Carroll put it in Alice in Wonderland, one of the best guides for understanding Western policy toward the Middle East: "Would you tell me," asked Alice, "why you are painting those roses?" The playing card painter replied, "You see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off."

A Realist is not someone who repaints Iran, Syria, Hizballah, and Hamas from white to red, but rather one whose starting point is to recognize their true color. To be so deluded as to believe one can profitably "engage" these forces is not Realism, but Surrealism. Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler at Munich with the gift of Czechoslovakia not because he was a bad man but because he thought it would work. The same applies to those who today are ready to sacrifice Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel on the same principles.

Human beings are supposed to learn from experience and observation. Syria has sponsored terrorism, lied repeatedly to the West, plotted to seize control of Lebanon, sponsored terrorists in Iraq, and so on. Are these strategies not a true picture of its national interests as perceived and practiced by the rulers? For five years, the U.S. government tried to engage Syria and found out this was impossible.

Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, spreading hatred and incitement, sabotaging an Arab-Israeli diplomatic resolution, sponsoring terrorism, trying to take over Iraq, and so on. Do its leaders have any idea of what they think suits Iran? For three years, the world has been trying to engage Iran on the nuclear issue and found this was impossible.

Conclusion: There is a genuine clash of interests between the Iran-led alliance and those of the West, which cannot be bridged by diplomacy because of its goals and methods. The Washington Post understands this in a November 15 editorial, which advocates a truly Realist policy:

  • The UN Security Council should quickly establish an international tribunal to begin criminal proceedings against Syria's government for murdering former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri;
  • It should consider other actions against Syria, including sanctions, if Syria continues trying to block the tribunal's formation and sponsoring political violence in Lebanon;
  • "Security Council action against Iran for its refusal to suspend its nuclear program is long overdue; governments that are holding it up, beginning with Russia, must be forced to choose between supporting sanctions and breaking off strategic cooperation with the West;"
  • "Until Iran and Syria are made to pay a price for their attempts to radicalize the Middle East, they will have no incentive to rein in clients such as Hezbollah."

And if this doesn't happen, others in the Middle East will copy, join, or surrender to the extremists. As a great document of Realist politics put it: "On every side the wicked roam when vileness is exalted." (Psalm 12)

Chamber-Blair Flashback

Western retreat must be reversed

From THE JERUSALEM POST Editorial, Nov. 22, 2006 ...

The assassination of Pierre Gemayel is a reminder, if any was needed, of whom the West is dealing with. This was a classic Mafia-style hit to accompany Syria's standard criminal tactics: spread murder and mayhem in the hopes of extorting support for dictatorial rule.

According to the Economist, Syria would be pleased to accede to calls from some, such as James Baker, to "engage" with the US, and already has its list of demands prepared: an end to the Hariri investigation, a US guarantee not to undermine the Assad regime, a return of Syrian influence in Lebanon, and Israel handing over the Golan Heights. In exchange, presumably, Syria would pledge to stop fomenting terrorism in Iraq.

The shakedown, then, has already started. The choice before the US and Europe is straightforward: fight or submit. In truth, there is no choice, because only someone ignorant of history would fall for the notion that submission to such blackmail will buy quiet, rather than spurring more murders, terrorism and demands.

...Now is the time to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1701, rather than standing by as it is added to the pile of tattered resolutions defending Lebanese independence. Since the war in Lebanon ended in August, Syria has been rearming Hizbullah in direct violation of the embargo imposed in Resolution 1701. That embargo lacks minimal monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, which should now be created - better late than never.

....In general, both Syria and Iran need to be shown that every atrocity committed by their proxies and agents will not spur Western submission to blackmail, but tougher measures against both regimes. The current trend of Western retreat must be reversed. On the contrary, rogue regimes must be put on the defensive with the ample means that free nations have to defend themselves.

....The millions of Lebanese and some of their leaders are showing considerable bravery in asserting their independence from Syrian and Iranian predations. The question is whether the nations which claim to defend their cause will show similar determination, and will take concrete actions to repel the onslaught of rogue regimes.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Assad images burnt in Gemayel funeral

From Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST, Nov. 23, 2006 ...

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese bid farewell to an assassinated young Christian politician Thursday, turning his funeral into a powerful show of anger against Syria and its allies, led by Hizbullah.

The sprawling funeral of Pierre Gemayel reinvigorated suporters of the US-backed government in a showdown with Hizbullah and its pro-Syrian allies that threatens to split this small Mideast nations along sectarian lines. "The second Independence Uprising was launched today for change and it will not stop," Gemayel's father, former President Amin Gemayel, told the crowd in Beirut's downtown, speaking from behind a panel of bulletproof glass. "I pledge to you that we will soon take steps so that your efforts will not go in vain."

.... in the wake of Gemayel's slaying, Lebanon is polarized to a degree not seen since the 1975-1990 civil wars, sharply divided between anti-Syrian Christians and Sunni Muslims and pro-Syrian Shiites. Many fear Thursday's funeral could be the first round of demonstrations that could bring the political crisis into the volatile streets....Police estimated some 800,000 people participated in the rally and funeral.

The square was the scene of mass anti-Syrian rallies in last year's "Cedar Revolution," which helped end Damascus' domination of Lebanon. But in contrast to those protests, which were often festive, Thursday's funeral rally was charged with anger - at Damascus and its allies in Lebanon. "They will not take away our determination to live ... and to be free," Walid Jumblatt, the Druse political leader and senior anti-Syrian figure who has accused Damascus of the assassination, told the crowed. ....

Many in the crowd burned pictures of Syria's president and Lebanon's pro-Syrian leaders. One man carried a large banner with the pictures of Lebanon's assassinated leaders and the words: "Syria's killing regime. Enough!"

Several of the politicians speaking in the square vowed the next step would be the removal of President Emile Lahoud, a staunch Syria supporter. Lahoud was at the Baabda presidential palace, where heavy security measures were taken amid fears that protesters would later march there to attempt to force the president to resign.

Anger also was pointed at Hezbollah, which had been calling for mass protests of its own in an effort to topple government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government, which is dominated by opponents of Syria. After Gemayel's killing, the guerrilla group said it would not hold demonstrations for the time being, but it will likely feel the need to responde with its own show of strength after Thursday's funeral.

"If they (Hizbullah) have 30,000 rockets, we have 30,000 words. They do not scare us," said Joseph Hanna, a 45-year-old rental car shop owner and Gemayel backer who came to the rally to show his support of Saniora's government....

Lebanon assasination won’t succeed

From the Arab Times (Kuwait), 23/11/06, by Ahmed Al-Jarallah Editor-in-Chief ....

PROMINENT Lebanese leaders Saad Al-Hariri and Walid Jumblatt have said those who are involved in the assassination of Lebanese Cabinet Minister Pierre Gemayel have not understood until this moment that the policy of killing will backfire. Those behind the assassination are still unable to understand their policy will only yield opposite results. Their methods have served to unite the people of Lebanon and heightened their hatred towards the perpetrators.

The assassination of the young Minister Pierre Gemayel has brought the Lebanese closer to the system. Pierre Gemayel’s father and former President Amin Gemayel has urged the people of Lebanon to turn the night of the assassination into a prayer night to foil the plans of the killers. In spite of this gruesome event, the Lebanese have not vented their anger or resorted to any uncalculated reaction because they have learnt their lessons well. They are aware of the conspiracy against Lebanon.

Those who are suspected to be behind the assassination of Pierre Gemayel have underestimated the political awareness and psychology of the Lebanese. As a result they have failed to unsettle Lebanon’s internal situation or lure its people to fight with each other. Gemayel’s killers did their best to destroy the independence and freedoms of the Lebanese.

When they saw their policy of killing and vandalism didn’t succeed, they forced Hezbollah to provoke Israel and launch a vicious attack on Lebanon. However, Lebanon survived the attack and currently is in the safe hands of multi national forces. Hezbollah, which used to control Southern Lebanon and act as if there was no legitimate authority in that country, has lost the support of Iran. Tehran is using Hezbollah merely as a bargaining chip to win a deal over its nuclear program. Hezbollah, which has been isolated, will sink deeper unless it agrees to come under the umbrella of the legitimate Lebanese authority.

The assassins of Pierre Gemayel have failed in their evil design. Their followers in Lebanon have also failed to create a rift between the Lebanese and have been isolated from the society. Their memory is so short they have forgotten how the people of Lebanon united in the aftermath of the assassination of their former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri. Those who want to attack Lebanon cannot achieve their objective because the Lebanese have become more united and the international tribunal to try the people behind the assassination of Al-Hariri was formed on the same day when Pierre Gemayel was killed. Soon we will see the assassins behind bars to get what they rightly deserve.

Christian dynasty loses rising star

From the Australian, November 23, 2006 ....

BEIRUT: Assassinated cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel was a rising star in one of Lebanon's leading political dynasties. Gemayel's grandfather, Pierre, founded the Falange party, at one time the leading Christian political body. His uncle, Bashir, was assassinated in a bomb blast in September 1982, days before being sworn in as president.

Speaking to reporters outside the hospital, a shocked Amin Gemayel, Pierre's father and former Lebanese president, called on supporters not to react to the killing with violence. "I would like to ask those who loved Pierre to preserve the cause. We don't want to do anything instinctively," he said. "He was serving the cause and he died for Lebanon, for freedom and humanity and we should not tarnish his memory by any irresponsible acts."

The Falangists fielded the largest Christian militia during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war between Christians and Muslims, allying themselves first with Syria, and then with Israel during that country's invasion and occupation of the country.

The Gemayel family has been enmeshed in the past three decades of bloodshed between Lebanon's divided communities.

A 1975 assassination attempt against Mr Gemayel's grandfather prompted the Falangists to attack a busload of Palestinian refugees in a slaughter that sparked a 15-year sectarian war.
After Bashir Gemayel was killed in 1982, militiamen stormed Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, killing hundreds of civilians.

Several years earlier, an 18-month-old daughter of Bashir was killed in an attack targeting him. Two nephews of Bashir and Amin were also killed during fighting in the 1980s.

The younger Pierre Gemayel was elected to parliament in 2000, and again in the 2005 elections that brought an anti-Syrian majority to the legislature.


Assassination sparks civil war fears

From The Australian, by Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent, November 23, 2006 [emphasis added]...

LEBANON stood on the brink of civil war yesterday after the assassination of an anti-Syrian cabinet minister triggered calls for revenge among enraged Christians and pushed the Government closer to collapse.

Pierre Gemayel, Industry Minister and heir to the legacy of one of the country's most powerful and hardline Christian dynasties, died in a hail of bullets on a busy Beirut highway in a killing that Christian and Sunni leaders blamed on Syria.

....The assassination coincided with threats by the leader of the pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian Hezbollah movement to topple Lebanon's Government, raising fears that soaring tensions between the country's rival factions could rapidly spiral out of control.

Mr Gemayel, 34, was the fourth outspoken anti-Syrian critic to be killed in Lebanon since the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. He was also the seventh member to be removed from the unstable cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose tenuous grip on power now hangs on two ministers. The resignation from the cabinet last week of a bloc of six ministers from Hezbollah and the allied Shia group Amal sharply destabilised the Government.

Mr Gemayel was a key member of the anti-Syrian bloc, which clings to a small majority amid a resurgent grab for power in Lebanon by Damascus and a naked bid to derail political support for the establishment of a special international tribunal to try the killers of Hariri.

A UN report released last year incriminated senior Syrian regime figures and their Lebanese proxies for the slaying of Hariri on the Beirut waterfront on Valentine's Day, 2005. Within one month, Syria was forced to end its 30-year overlord role in Lebanon - a presence it has been trying to re-establish in the wake of Hezbollah's war with Israel this year.

Hezbollah is strongly backed by Syria and Iran .... Mr Siniora has called for calm across Lebanon, warning that pro-Syrian forces would benefit if violent protests broke out in Beirut. "This attack against a symbol of freedom in Lebanon ... makes us more determined to set up the international court, the tribunal that would stop the criminals and is the means to protect all Lebanese," he said.

"I pledge to you that your blood will not go in vain," Mr Siniora said, eulogising Mr Gemayel. "We will not let the murderers control the fate of Lebanon and the future of its children."
Saad Hariri, son of the slain Hariri, broke down in tears on CNN as he accused Syria of seeking to block the formation of the tribunal by destabilising Lebanon. "We see the hands of Syria in this," he said. "They are a bunch of killers and assassins and they need to be brought to the international tribunal."

US President George W. Bush pointed a finger at Iran and Syria, saying the US stood firmly behind Mr Siniora despite mounting calls for Washington to seek Syria's help in stabilising Iraq.

Warning of a potentially grave period of instability descending on the region's most unstable democracy, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "We need to do everything we can, particularly at this moment, to protect democracy in Lebanon and the premiership of Prime Minister Siniora."

Assad's hand

From an Analysis by Khaled Abu Toameh, THE JERUSALEM POST, Nov. 22, 2006 [emphais added]...

The assassination of Lebanese Christian minister Pierre Gemayel on Tuesday was intended to remind the anti-Syrian forces in Beirut that President Bashar Assad has not forgiven them for forcing him to pull his army out of Lebanon in a humiliating manner. Although the Syrian occupation of Lebanon formally ended with the pullout, Syrian military intelligence officers are reported to have remained behind to settle scores with all those who dared to speak out against Assad. These officers, who operate under the guise of businessmen, have infiltrated the various Lebanese security branches and parts of the political establishment in Beirut.

With the help of remaining pro-Syrian elements such as Hizbullah, the Syrians have embarked on a systematic policy of eliminating and terrorizing their critics. Gemayel was the fifth anti-Syrian figure to be killed in Lebanon in the past two years. Three other critics of the Syrian regime have been wounded in failed assassination attempts since the Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon earlier this year.

Tuesday's assassination comes in the wake of increased tensions in Lebanon over the government's decision to endorse an international tribunal that would bring the assassins of former prime minister Rafik Hariri to justice. In a desperate attempt to prevent a further investigation into the Hariri murder, Assad has been trying to undermine the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora with the help of Hizbullah.

Earlier this week, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah openly declared that his followers would soon launch a campaign to get rid of the pro-US government in Lebanon. Although Nasrallah made it clear that he was talking about a non-violent campaign that would force Saniora and his government to resign, many Lebanese expressed the fear that his remarks could signal the beginning of a new civil war.

Last month, Nasrallah and his masters in Damascus instructed Hizbullah ministers to resign from the government hoping that such a move would lead to its collapse. The resignations were part of a larger scheme designed to disrupt the investigation into the Hariri assassination.
The slaying of Gemayel is yet another indication of how far Assad is prepared to go to avoid a situation in which he is held personally responsible for the Hariri assassination.

Assad's biggest fear is that once he is implicated in the murder, he could meet the same fate as Saddam Hussein. When Assad succeeded his father, many Middle East experts and analysts predicted that the young and charismatic leader would lead his country out of the darkness and into a new era of openness and democracy. But it took Assad only a few months to prove to the entire world that, in his case, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Endorsing his father's ruthless and tyrannical tactics, Assad launched a merciless campaign against reformists and critics at home. In Lebanon, he copied his father's policy of liquidating opponents and critics. The timing of the Gemayel assassination is of particular interest because it comes only days after reports in the US media claimed that Washington was seeking Syria's assistance in ending the violence in Iraq.

According to the reports, the Americans believe that Assad's Syria could play a "positive" role in ending sectarian violence and bloodshed in Iraq. Gemayel's friends are convinced that the US overtures toward Syria encouraged Assad to order the killing of another one of his foes in Lebanon. Assad may be able to help the US achieve some of its goals in Iraq, but there is no doubt that he's expecting Washington to pay a price, namely allowing him to get away with the Hariri murder and to send his army back into Lebanon. Unless the Americans comply, Assad will continue to stir up trouble not only in Lebanon, but also in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, where radical elements continue to enjoy Syria's full backing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The danger of James Baker

From The new Republic; Post date: 21/11/06, Issue date: 27/11/06, by Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief ...

The man who has come to rescue U.S. policy in Iraq is actually the man who rescued Saddam Hussein twice. The first time came early during the presidency of George Bush père. ..... The second time was toward the close of the first Bush presidency, and Baker was still in charge. Iraq had been forced back from the invasion of a country it had intended to annex .... the victors .... maintained Saddam in Baghdad with the goal of keeping him on a tight rope and constraining his economy by a regime of sanctions. Such a regime has rarely worked.....

The primary consideration of Saudi Arabia, for example, was that a Sunni government .... not be displaced ..... A neighboring Shia state would be an enormous discomfort for the royals in Riyadh......Almost uncannily, Baker's instincts and convictions meshed (and mesh still) with the House of Saud.

.....Let's face it: The Baker-Hamilton Commission is a desperate rescue operation for the Iraqi Sunnis. George W. Bush has gotten us all into trouble, and he will now be taken to the woodshed by his father's faithful but resentful lieutenant.

.... although former Virginia senator and presidential son-in-law Charles Robb (age 67) is a fresh face in the pool of Washington Wise Men.... But ..... aside from Baker, two other members of the commission have sins to atone for with regard to Saddam as well: Larry Eagleburger and Alan Simpson, who, in April 1990, lectured the "haughty and pampered" Western press that dared report Baathist abuses. And what, by the way, is Vernon Jordan doing on this particular commission of sages? .... It is true that this group is numerous and various. But several names ring alarms: Chas Freeman, Shibley Telhami, William Quandt, Phebe Marr, Marina Ottaway, Augustus Richard Norton--all fading apologists for the exhausted Sunni solution to everything.

What I fear is that the thrust of the moment is to restore as much of the old orthodoxies as possible..... Inevitably, Baker will deploy the only trick he knows: force Israel to retreat to the 1967 lines. OK, it can't be forced. Then at least hold a peace conference. The 1991 peace conference actually accomplished nothing, except to pay Bush-Baker's debt to their partners in the Kuwait coalition. And the Oslo accords--also nothing. In any case, although many people believe a resolution of the Palestine question is the key to everything, it is actually a key to nothing but itself. It would not affect the bloodshed in Iraq. It would not even affect the strife in Lebanon. It also would not calm the anxieties of the Saudi monarchy. Or the clamor for freedom in Egypt. Well, if a peace settlement doesn't douse these fires, another blue-ribbon panel surely will rise to the challenge.

Monday, November 20, 2006

World War Three tomorrow

From DEBKAfile, November 18, 2006, 1:59 PM (GMT+02:00) ...

If Islamic militancy is not stopped today, “we’ll go through World War Three tomorrow,” US Middle East chief warns

Addressing a Harvard University audience Saturday, Army Gen. John Abizaid compared the rise of militant ideologies such as the force driving al Qaeda to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and said: “If we don’t have guts enough to confront this ideology today, we’ll go through World War Three tomorrow.

If not stopped, said the general, “extremists would gain an advantage to gain a safe haven, to develop weapons of mass destruction, to develop a national place from which to operate. And I think that the dangers associated with that are just too great to comprehend.”

Blair Sets out to Damascus. Next Stop Tehran

From DEBKAfile, November 18, 2006, 5:44 PM (GMT+02:00) ...

The primary object of the new Spanish-Italian-French Middle East “peace plan” is to insert European military forces into the Gaza Strip after establishing themselves in the expanded UNIFIL in South Lebanon. In furtherance of their goal, the European Union endorsed the UN resolution’s call Friday, Nov. 17, for Israel to pull out of Gaza, although its withdrawal to the UN-approved line was completed in September 2005.

European assertiveness is coming at the expense of the Bush administration’s post-election weakness. Its tenaciously-held premise that the roads to all the region’s woes lead back to the Israel-Palestinian issue is already reflected in these two European steps, the first of a systematic campaign of crushing pressure on Israel to fall into line.

The campaign will peak in the third week of December, when British premier Tony Blair is due to visit Damascus to open the road for Washington (as first revealed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 278 on Nov, 17). As a down-payment for buying Syrian president Bashar Asad’s cooperation on Iraq, Blair will try and coerce Israel to accept talks with Syria for the return of the Golan captured in the 1967 war.

Last Monday, Nov. 13, prime minister Ehud Olmert rather naively claimed he and President George W. Bush were of one mind that Israel must not sit down and talk to Syria until the Asad regime had abandoned its sponsorship of terror. As he spoke, three high-ranking US officials - David Satterfield, the state department’s coordinator for Iraq, J.D. Crouch, deputy national security adviser, and Condoleezza Rice’s assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, David Welch - were deep in arrangements for the Blair visit to Damascus, which they see as the key for opening the door to direct US-Tehran talks.

The fresh US-European Middle East momentum on the Palestinian issue is being crafted as a positive counterweight to the negative effect of the impending American-British withdrawal from Iraq.....Blair’s most recent foreign policy statements .... sound like an effort to prepare American and British public opinion for the extreme policy reversal embodied in his impending visit to Damascus in the role of appeaser. The pacifier he means to offer for Syria’s cooperation on Iraq: massive Israeli concessions.

In an interview to the Washington Post Thursday, Nov. 16, Prime Minister Tony Blair was suddenly optimistic about progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that "sensible Arab and Muslim countries" now see "strategic reasons" for finding a solution and new initiatives could come within weeks.

In a closed-door video conference Tuesday with the US Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel in Washington reviewing Iraq policy, Blair said that any solution to Iraq must begin with progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is the one issue, he insisted, that unresolved allows extremists to gain purchase on the more moderate elements of the Muslim and Arab world.

Then, talking to David Frost on al Jazeera’s new English language program Saturday, Blair again stressed the importance of progress in the Middle East peace process in winning the "war on terror". But he admitted for the first time that Western intervention in Iraq had "so far been pretty much of a disaster.”

...All this radical shifting around of US and British positions for the sake of an exit from Iraq, coupled with Europe’s maneuvering to make hay on the Palestinian-Israeli front, leave the Jewish state prey to crippling pressures as well as dangerously exposed to Iran, whose nuclear weapons aspirations remain unsolved in the stampede to leave Iraq. Tehran’s proxy Hizballah, Syria and the Palestinian Hamas will be left in peace to advance on their agenda for rapid armament and preparations for the next war.

There is still a month to go before the British prime minister’s projected mission to Damascus, time enough for the notoriously fickle Syrian ruler to change his mind or for the Iranians to derail the plan – unless the ayatollahs are assured they playing a winner’s game.

Saudi Royal corruption

From The Australian, November 20, 2006, by David Leppard ...

SAUDI Arabia is threatening to suspend diplomatic ties with Britain unless Downing Street blocks an investigation into a £60 million ($148 million) "slush fund" allegedly set up for members of its royal family.....The Saudis, key allies in the Middle East, have also threatened to cut intelligence co-operation over al-Qai'da.

....The Saudis are furious about the Serious Fraud Office's criminal investigation into allegations that BAE Systems, Britain's biggest military supply company, set up the slush fund to support the extravagant lifestyle of members of the Saudi royal family. The payments, in the form of holidays, luxury cars including a gold Rolls-Royce, rented apartments and other perks, are alleged to have been paid to ensure the Saudis continued to buy from BAE under the Al-Yamamah military supply deal.

Al-Yamamah, meaning "the dove" in Arabic, is the biggest military contract in British history and has kept BAE in business for 20 years. British police have arrested at least five people during the course of the investigation. These include BAE's managing director of international programs, Peter Wilson, and Tony Winship, a former company executive who oversaw two travel firms that are alleged to have been conduits for the corrupt payments. Both deny any wrongdoing.......

The Sunday Times