Franklin Lamb: Does “Loving Lebanon” Mean the Bush Administration Never Has To Say It’s Sorry?

Franklin Lamb reflects upon the recent term of Bush administration-appointed (to Lebanon) and former Israel-posted US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman.

feltman_jeffrey_.gifBefore his appointment as US Ambassador to Lebanon in July 2004 and commencement in August of that year, Mr. Feltman served at the Coalition Provisional Authority office in Irbil, Iraq, from January-April 2004. Prior to this, as Franklin Lamb mentions in his article below, he served for seven years in Israel.

Fouad Siniora’s government in Lebanon has been dubbed “Feltman’s Government” by several opposition parties in Lebanon.

See also this Daily Star Editorial (20 Oct): There’s a better – and cheaper – way that Washington can help Lebanon (URL updated: now direct link; for all Daily Star editorials, click here)

As US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman packs his bags and prepares to depart Lebanon for his next assignment, he probably should be forgiven for feeling a bit abused these past few months.

His pique surfaced on October 22 when he rudely insulted his host, his Christian eminence Bishop Mattar specifically, and Lebanese journalism in general when he likened it to a court clown tasked with bringing him some laughter in the morning which helps him forget his Lebanese concerns. Beirut’s media, including Al Safir, has been having a field day commenting on the American Ambassador’s unprecedented pro Israel activities while claiming to “love Lebanon.”

Talal Salman, editor in chief of As-Safir in Beirut wrote on October 24:

If there had been a true state in Lebanon, the America ambassador in Beirut Jeffery Feltman would have been “deported” back to his country. … Never in the history of relations between countries has a foreign ambassador given himself such license to interfere, through public and secret personal communications, daily televised statements, and written journalistic columns of late, in the most critical of internal affairs of the state to which he was sent.

Salman continued:

As for the (Hezbollah led) opposition, the ambassador is persistent in his attacks on it and on its political committees, prominent figures, and leaders as if he was a citizen of this country or one of its prominent figures in the legal, constitutional, and popular sense. The ambassador often goes beyond all borders as he does not settle for defending Israel against the accusations that it waged a destructive war on Lebanon for paltry excuses. He forgets all the facts and insists on announcing that Hezbollah is responsible for all the material and humanitarian losses that Lebanon suffered while the whole world knows that Feltman’s administration back in Washington forced its eternal ally Ehud Olmert to escalate the situation from a routine border engagement to a war for which the Israelis were not prepared, which in turn forced Olmert to work to cause the maximum suffering in Lebanon to make up for Israel’s loss of prestige following the defeat of its invincible army… The most that the Lebanese can hope for now is that this ambassador can leave us alone before the fire, which he keeps fanning, spreads and burns what is left of Lebanon.

Another columnist wrote: “… we thank the American ambassador for spending his last days in Lebanon and we hope that he will be successful wherever he goes next and that what befell Lebanon during his tenure will not befall Ambassador Feltman’s future destinations…”

In fairness to the Ambassador, his assignment has not been easy. Being a US Ambassador these days in the Middle East involves more than ribbon cuttings, and Friday night Beer blasts with the marine embassy guards and keeping visiting and loquacious US officials under wraps.

Following a total of nearly seven years service in Israel, at both the US Embassy and the US Consulate, Foreign Service Officer Feltman was sworn in as US Ambassador to Lebanon on July 22, 2004, with the help of former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, an ardent Zionist and current Washington DC based activist for AIPAC and an Arab/Muslim bashing mouthpiece for the Israel Lobby. Feltman acquired Indyk’s support to be Israel’s man in Lebanon during the year (2000-2001) they worked together in Israel. Feltman was Ambassador Indyk’s Special Assistant.

But, no sooner had Feltman arrived in Beirut than he was handed a thick file which included nearly a dozen unfinished projects. They were not just your everyday, easy make work projects and he has failed at every one of them.

According to a Staffer at the Lebanon Desk at the State Department (202-644-4000) who was not authorized to speak publicly on this subject: “State expected Feltman to advance at least some of this shit!” indicating a list fairly well known to Foggy Bottom denizens. Some of the items:

* Formulate ways to weaken Hezbollah and the influence of the Lebanese Resistance in Lebanese politics and the Region

* Sharply reduce, with the eventual objective of elimination, Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanese politics and help identify their “assets.”

* Conduct and coordinate with visiting US officials, on site visits and undertake discussions with Tripoli/Bignin/Akkar Sunni groups with respect to a possible joint US-Lebanese Airbase at Kleiaat

* Analyse the feasibility of a North Lebanon Sunni Army to check the Southern Shia military power

* Facilitate the establishment of a new Shia political party in the Tyre area in order to counter and weaken Amal and Hezbollah

* Analyze the prospects of a civil war in Lebanon involving March 14 Christians and Sunni Muslims against (Aounist) Christians and Shia Muslims

* Investigate and analyze the possibility of Lebanon being divided into Autonomous Regions a la Iraq.

* Advance the plans to build an enlarged and more secure US Embassy in Baabda

* Bolster the acceptance and popular standing in Lebanon of the Maronite Lebanese Forces and the Druze Socialist Party led by Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt respectively. (Meanwhile, Feltman’s bosses in Washington were telling Walid Jumblatt this week that he can count on US military help for the “autonomous zone” he dreams about to combat Hezbollah and the Lebanese Resistance)

* Continue analysis of the feasibility of a US-Lebanese Strategic Alliance with a possible NATO aspect

And the list goes on…

Feltman’s current schedule and recent burden has been to try to answer a host of questions which have arisen inside Lebanon and throughout the Middle East over the US-Israel project for the region. One aspect is the above noted “strategic alliance” complete with “forward power projecting military bases” widely believed to be planned for Lebanon. Last week, Eric Edelman, US undersecretary of Defense for Strategic planning seemed to promote its importance when he met with a number of civilian and military officials during his visit here and sat for a television interview in which he uttered clear statements that clearly refuted what ambassador Feltman had denied publicly.

The “strategic alliance” project, is confirmed by more than one high-ranking American official in Washington and is being studied in the State Department, the Senate Armed Services Committee and Intelligence Committee Chaired by Bush Administration critic Patrick Leahy.

In his frustration, Feltman, according to Beirut’s As Safir, revealed (in his response to their reporting of a new strategic US-Lebanon alliance) “a number of military secrets unknown to anyone in Lebanon about military bases on Lebanese soil that have been around for more than 30 years but have never been noticed by any other ambassador before him, or even by a military attaché or even by a single border smuggler.”

The State Department is not happy about this and the Ambassador’s end of assignment Evaluation Report being compiled on the 5th floor of the State Department at Foggy Bottom may reflect his verbal indiscretions and remarkable lack of success in advancing objectives of the Welch Club. For an ambitious FSO, the Lebanon posting is normally not a great career advancer.

In proper and fair minded defense of Jeffrey Feltman, it must be publicly acknowledged that he has not “lost Lebanon” by himself. The Bush administration has lost Lebanon by intensifying more than 30 years of wrongheaded policies that harmed both Lebanon and the national interests of the American people as well as the whole of the Middle East and beyond.

Nor is Feltman the first ambassador to be saddled with mixed signals from home while trying to explain to his host country what his government has in mind. But one of Feltman’s problems is that the Lebanese public, throughout the 18 confessions and beyond, are highly literate, sophisticated politically, and have an excellent idea what the Bush administration intends despite the latter’s obfuscations.

Feltman’s tough job has been to convince Lebanon to be grateful for his service and remember the fact that before the July 2006 Israeli aggression, US aid to their country was nil and was only increased with his help after the July War to nearly 250 million with promises of eventually up to possibly a half billion dollars. Not much compared to the total annual US largesse of over 8 billon dollars to Israel (on and under the table) but then again, as they say in this observer’s DC neighborhood, “dog, that ain’t chump change.”

2006117-demo-lebanon.jpgIt required all Jeffrey’s diplomatic skills to try to make the people of Lebanon forget that he helped prolong the July 2006 slaughter by pushing on them the “birth pangs of the new middle east” message of his boss Ms. Rice, and to overlook his demands for Lebanese gratitude and patience during the war while more and more civilians were killed until ” a sustainable ceasefire could be arranged”.

During the last days of his tenure, Feltman habitually reminds his Lebanese audiences of “the martyrs of the Lebanese army who fell in the fight against Fatah Al-Islam terrorists” while forgetting the martyrs from the same army killed by US planes supplied to Israel and equipped with American-made bombs while they were sleeping in their barracks and tents between the 12th of July and the 13th of August, 2006.

Feltman inherited a lot of pitfalls and he faced a daunting task because history has rather thoroughly condemned the Bush administration in American eyes as well as in the minds of the people of the Middle East. Bush Administration credibility in Lebanon is zero.

Feltman failed and the US lost Lebanon, for at least the foreseeable future, for a number of reasons including Bush administration support for Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine and intensification of human rights violations there and the US aggression in Iraq.

Foreigners living in Lebanon are often amazed and the level of knowledge among the population here, which includes thousands of Iraqi refugees, and how they can rattle of the statistics on Iraq: 3,847 US soldiers dead, nearly 28,999 wounded, but over 600,000 Iraqi casualties and two million Iraqi refugees and two million internally displaced. This pipeline of information direct from the Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and nearly 1.5 million taken in by Syria convince Lebanon that the Bush war in Iraq and the nearly incalculable and mounting death toll was all for nothing. Absolutely nothing. Most Lebanese want no part of US projects in their country.

A History and Fine Arts major in college, Feltman sometimes sounds “preachy” when he frequently threatens no economic aid to Lebanon “unless it fully implements UN Resolutions.” Those he has in mind include Security Council Resolution 1559 “disarming militias,” not SCR 425, or 1701 both of which require Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory including Shebaa Farms and Ghajar, and stop its nearly daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

Some Lebanese don’t grasp Feltman’s meaning when he regularly states “the United States will support the Lebanese people’s choice for a freely elected President as long as there is no outside interference, or undue influence from terrorist or undemocratic forces.” That there is daily “interference from US outsiders” is pointed out nearly every Friday by the senior Shia cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah during his weekly sermons in Haret Hreik.

In the final analysis, Jeffrey Feltman’s work record, including his nearly 7 years in Israel and 40 months in Lebanon suggests that Israel arranged for Feltman to be posted to Lebanon to do Israel’s work.

In that task, he succeeded, but many of the nearly 50,000 US citizens in Lebanon think we Americans can do better next time by bringing in an envoy that will put American and Lebanese interests before Israel’s.

Franklin Lamb is author of the recently released book, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons in Lebanon. His volume Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners is due out in early summer 2007. He can be reached at fplamb@gmail.com. Click here to read Franklin Lamb’s other articles.

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Appeal for Lebanon refugee rights

Rights group Amnesty International has condemned Lebanon for what it describes as discrimination against generations of Palestinian refugees in the country. Some 300,000 refugees are denied access to work, education, adequate housing and health care, the report says.

It calls on the government to improve conditions in 12 overcrowded camps that have housed refugees since their flight from what is now Israel in 1948-49.

But the “significant cost” that Lebanon has borne is also acknowledged.

The report says more than half registered refugees live in deteriorating camps lacking basic infrastructure on virtually the same land allocated in 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the registered refugee population.

The pain associated with expulsion and decades living in exile is aggravated by the systematic discrimination they suffer in Lebanon

Amnesty International

Obstacles to peace: Refugees

Pictures: Palestinian camp

In some households, as many as 10 people share one room, and homes are often makeshift huts lacking either ventilation or sanitation.

“The pain associated with their expulsion and the decades of living in exile is being aggravated by the systematic discrimination they suffer in Lebanon,” the report says.

Amnesty carried out research in official and unofficial camps across Lebanon, including Nahr al-Bared camp before residents were forced out by fighting between the Lebanese army and a group of mainly-foreign militants.

Banned professions

The 24-page Amnesty report examines restrictions affecting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, 60 years after they or their forebears fled the former Palestine.

Entitled Exiled and Suffering: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, it calls curbs imposed by Lebanon to protect itself from the influx of Palestinians “wholly unjustified” and says they should be lifted at once.

Palestinian children showing Lebanese refugee identity cards

Refugees are denied rights and opportunities afforded to Lebanese

Until recently Lebanon banned Palestinian refugees from employment in 70 professions.

The proscribed list now stands at 20 professions, but the report says the refugees still face obstacles in the job market, leading to high drop-out rates in schools.

A higher proportion of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in abject poverty than any other Palestinian refugee community, a situation exacerbated by restrictions on their access to social services, the report says.

“We recognise that the Lebanese authorities and people have accommodated hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees for almost six decades and the significant cost – economically and in other ways – this has imposed on Lebanon,” Amnesty says.

It adds that additional responsibility lies with Israel and the international community to find a durable solution for the plight of Palestinian refugees “that fully protects their human rights including their right of return”.

However, the report says, the Lebanese government has the obligation to immediately end all forms of discrimination against Palestinian refugees and fully respect their human rights.

The Lebanese government has not responded to Amnesty’s recommendations.

BBC News

Robert Fisk: Secret armies pose sinister new threat to Lebanon

Lebanon is peopled with ghosts. But the phantoms now returning to haunt this damaged country –the militias which tore it apart more than 30 years ago – are real. Guns are flooding back into the country – $800 for an AK-47, $3,700 for a brand-new French Famas – as Lebanon security apparatus hunt desperately for the leadership of the new and secret armies.

Only last week, they arrested two followers of ex-General Michel Aoun – the pro-Hezbollah opposition’s apparent candidate for president – for allegedly training pro-Aounist gunmen. After themselves being accused of acting like a militia for arresting Dario Kodeih and Elie Abi Younes, the Lebanese Internal Security Force issued a photograph of Christian gunmen holding AK-47 and M-16 rifles. Aoun’s party replied quaintly that “they were just out having fun with real weapons but were not undergoing any military training”. Fun indeed.

What now worries the Lebanese authorities, however, is the sheer scale of weaponry arriving in Lebanon. It appears to include new Glock pistols (asking price $1,000). There are growing fears, moreover, that many of these guns are from the vast stock of 190,000 rifles and pistols which the US military “lost” when they handed them out to Iraqi police officers without registering their numbers or destination. The American weapons included 125,000 Glock pistols. The Lebanese-Iraqi connection is anyway well established. A growing number of suicide bombers in Iraq come from the Lebanese cities of Tripoli and Sidon.

Fouad Siniora’s Lebanese government – supplied by the US with recent shipments of new weapons for the official Lebanese army – has now admitted that militias are also being created among Muslim pro-government groups. Widespread reports that Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri – has himself created an embryo militia have been officially denied. But a number of armed Hariri supporters initially opened fire into the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian camp after its takeover by pro-Al-Qaida gunmen last April. Hariri’s men also have forces in Beirut (supposedly unarmed) and again this is denied. Those who suspect the opposite, however, might like to check the register of the Mayflower Hotel in the western sector of Beirut.

The Fatah Al-Islam rebels who took over Nahr el-Bared last April – 400 died in the 206-day siege by the army, 168 of them soldiers – also used new weapons, including sniper rifles. In a gloomy ceremony last week, the military buried 98 of the 222 Muslim fighters who died, in a mass grave in Tripoli. They included Palestinians but also men from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Tunis and Algeria.

Among the militants of Fatah Al -Islam still sought by Lebanese authorities are three Russians – “Abu Abdullah”, Tamour Vladimir Khoskov and Aslan Eric Yimkojayev – all believed to be from the former Soviet Muslim republics. A fourth Russian citizen, Sergei Vladimir Fisotsk, is in custody in Beirut. Along with three Palestinians member of Fatah Al-Islam, he faces a possible death sentence.

Siniora’s government is well aware of the dangers that these new developments represent – “such a situation could lead to a new civil war”, one minister said of the military training taking place in Lebanon – in a country in which only the Hezbollah militia, classed as a “resistance” movement, hitherto had permission to bear arms. But Hezbollah too has been re-arming; not only with rockets but with small arms that could only be used in street fighting. Aoun’s supporters were allegedly practising with weapons near the town of Byblos north of Beirut but there are reports of further training in the Bekaa Valley.

Military outposts manned by Palestinian gunmen loyal to Syria have reappeared in the Bekaa, closely watched by a Lebanese army which was severely blooded in the Nahr El-Bared fighting. Sayed Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah, one of the most senior – and wisest – Shi’ite clerics in Lebanon, warned last Friday: “Rearming as well as the tense and sectarianism-loaded political rhetoric, all threaten Lebanon’s diversity and expose Lebanon to divisions.” Fadlallah stated that the US – which supports Hariri – wished to divide the country. The American plan to chop up Iraq, it seems, is another ghost that has crept silently into Lebanon.

U.S. Bases in Lebanon

Great post from Sursock

A report in al-Safir newspaper on Thursday confirms all the worst fears about US intentions for Lebanon.

The US wants to set up a string of military bases in Lebanon.

Apprently a Pentagon delegation headed by undersecretary of defense Eric Edelman met with top-ranking Lebanese officials to dicuss gaining “a foot-hold in the strategic region of northern Lebanon”.

The delegation held meetings with Lebanese PM Siniora, defense minister Elias Murr and army chief Michel Suleiman.

The Pentagon tabled a request to establish bases in order to counterballance “Russian presence in northern Syria”, and according to one report, “the US policymakers are exploring new strategies to counter Russian show of military might.”

So that’s it, a return to the Cold War in which Lebanon becomes a battleground for Russian/US inperialism.

Apparently the US want a string of bases: one in the Christian region of Bsharri; one in the Bekaa (to cover Baalbek and the Hermel); and one in the plains of Damour south of Beirut.

Futhermore the US Air Force want to use the airstrip at Qoleiat, and two naval bases near Tripoli.

Al-Safir notes that the Americans also want radar stations in Qornet Sawda, Barouk and Dahr al-Baidar.

Apart from the fact that the area around Tripoli is “Salafi central”—and no doubt will become a protracted Iraq-like battleground between US troops and Lebanese/Palestinians— all the bases are less about the Russian Bear and more about encircling Hizbollah areas.

So we will have battles in the north, centre and south.

The report also reveals that the US wants the Lebanese army to abandon its neutrality towards the resistance and Syria— and no doubt a reassessment of Lebanese relations to Israel.

Along with this the US is a doubling military aid to the Lebanese army from $270 million to $500 million.

This shoddy deal shows that the March 14 movement (the ones that harp on about “independence”) are setting the country on a path to a grim, bloody and violent future.

The Middle East is now on the verge of several wars. Israel round II on Lebanon; US attack on Iran; US-Israeli attack on Syria; a Turkish invasion on Northern Iraq; Israeli reoccupation of the Gaza Strip; a gloves off fight for control of Lebanon; and now a US occupation of Lebanon.

Will the troops be landing at the beach in Khalde?

UK Government report on Lebanon War

Tagged:

From: 

Spinwatch

“We conclude that the Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. As the Minister [Kim Howells] admitted to us, the option of a dual track diplomatic strategy could have succeeded. We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.”

These words are taken from a report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) published on 25 July 2007 (1). The report, entitled Global Security: The Middle East, is surprisingly critical of recent British foreign policy towards the region, especially with regard to Lebanon but also Palestine. It is also very critical of Israel.

Its criticism of the Government’s failure to call for an immediate ceasefire at the start of Israel’s war on Lebanon is quoted above. It is also critical of the Government’s support for the continued collective punishment of Palestinians by the EU after the formation of the Hamas/Fatah National Unity Government in March 2007. More fundamentally, it recognises that Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine are part of the political fabric and are not going to go away. It recommends that the Government talk to both – which is a radical departure from the Committee’s previous stance.

All-party committee

The FAC is a 14-member all-party committee (8 Labour including its chairman, Mike Gapes, 4 Conservative and 2 Liberal Democrat). In all probability, therefore, the views expressed in this report would be acceptable to the House of Commons as a whole.

The FAC is supposed to scrutinise the Government’s actions in foreign affairs. I have read many of its reports in recent years and none of them would have given the Government any reason for anxiety. This was especially true of its report on The Decision to go to War in Iraq (2), which in July 2003 performed the impossible feat of exonerating the Government for misleading Parliament on the intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”, even though the Government denied it access to the intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”. (See my subsequent evidence to the Committee (3) & (4)).

But this FAC report is a different kettle of fish. For the first time in my experience, the FAC has been seriously critical of important foreign policy decisions. And in the course of doing so, the Committee made Kim Howells, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Middle East, look very foolish. (Howells was appointed to this post by Blair after the 2005 General Election and was retained by Brown when he succeeded Blair in June 2007).

Of course, the Committee was not reporting on the foreign policy actions of the present Brown government but of the previous Blair government. Criticising a past government, which cannot exact revenge, is easier than criticising the current one. It’s possible that Brown let it be known that criticism of his predecessor’s actions in foreign affairs would not be unwelcome. It may be that he and his new ministerial team in the Foreign Office have a mind to shift ground on the Middle East – if so, being advised to do so by the all-party FAC would be an advantage. The Government is constitutionally obliged to give a formal response to Select Committee reports and reply to questions posed by the Committee. The Government’s response to this report will be worth studying.

In the following, I will examine the FAC’s criticism of foreign policy towards Lebanon and Palestine.

Part I Lebanon

Paragraphs 84 to 120 of the FAC report are concerned with policy towards Lebanon.

“It is tragic that so many innocent lives, Lebanese and Israeli, have been lost over the past weeks. … The hostilities on both sides should cease immediately …” (5)

Those were Prime Minister Blair’s words on 12 August 2006 in a statement after the Security Council passed resolution 1701. He had waited a month to make this call, a month in which “many innocent lives” were lost.

The Foreign Affairs Committee interrogated Kim Howells about this delay on 13 September 2006. Chairman, Mike Gapes, asked him if he still believed “the Government was right not to call for an immediate ceasefire” (6). He replied:

“Yes, I do, Chairman. I was out there in the middle of the conflict and I saw for myself the appalling consequences both of the bombing of Lebanon and the rockets that were being fired into northern Israel. It was very distressing and there were a lot of people, in my view, being killed needlessly and a lot of infrastructure being damaged.”

which, one might have thought, made an irresistible case for the Government calling for an immediate ceasefire. Nevertheless, Howells continued:

“However, I also saw very clearly that the only way that this could be stopped was by a UN resolution, and there had to be some real teeth behind any ceasefire that would occur. I believe that was the right decision. … What we needed was a permanent ceasefire.”

One doesn’t need to be a genius to recognise that it was possible to call for an immediate ceasefire and, at the same time, work for permanent arrangements. This point was put to Howells by Conservative MP, Sir John Stanley:

“Minister, in answer to the Chairman’s initial question you seemed to be taking the view that the calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and, at the same time, working for a satisfactory UN resolution were two mutually incompatible policies. Surely, a very much better foreign policy position for the British Government would have been to combine the two; to say that we were wanting an immediate cessation of hostilities and, at the same time, working for an effective UN resolution. Has there not been a foreign policy misjudgement in that by not calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities the British Government gave the clear impression that it was actively supporting the Israeli operations against the whole of Lebanon?”

Howells replied categorically:

“I do not agree with you, Sir John, about the possibility for a dual track diplomatic progress at that time.”

However, pressed shortly afterwards by Labour MP, Ken Purchase, who asked:

“A short period of ceasefire, you say, may just have resulted in people rearming. Could I say that in even a day of a ceasefire hundreds of lives would have been saved?”

Howells “appeared to change his mind” (in the words of the FAC report) and said:

“I am not saying … that a dual approach might not have worked. I am not saying that and I am not dismissing that at all. Maybe it would have worked.”

The FAC sets out Howells’ contradictory positions in paragraph 97. I don’t recall the Committee doing such a hatchet job on a Foreign Office minister before.

Bolton tells it as it was

Worse was to follow. In paragraph 100, the FAC says:

“At the time of the conflict, many believed the United States was obstructing calls for an immediate ceasefire to give Israel a chance to defeat overwhelmingly Hezbollah’s militia.”

The FAC then quoted the words of John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN in July 2006, in an interview with Ed Stourton in a BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast on 22 March 2007. Stourton asked him if the US had been “deliberately obstructing diplomatic attempts” to bring an end to the war so that “Israel could have its head.” Mr Bolton asked “what’s wrong with that?” and added that he was “damn proud of what we did”. (For details of this revealing conversation, see the BBC press statement about the programme (7)).

The FAC wrote to Kim Howells to ask him about John Bolton’s comments. In his reply, Howells stated (see report, Ev 126):

“The UK was certainly not involved in collusion with either the US or Israel to support the continuation of hostilities or to block a ceasefire. Whilst I cannot speak for the US position [on] this matter, I do not believe they acted differently.”

The FAC commented (paragraph 101):

“There are three possible explanations for this discrepancy. The first is that Mr Bolton misled the BBC journalist by suggesting that the US blocked diplomacy at the UN because it wanted to give Israel the opportunity to destroy Hezbollah when in fact this was not the case. The second is that the US did indeed block attempts to find a quick diplomatic solution to bring about a ceasefire, but that the UK, even though it is a permanent member of the Security Council and a close ally of the US, was not brought into or made aware of this collusion with Israel. The third alternative … is that the UK was in fact brought into, or at least aware of, the efforts to obstruct the diplomatic process. Based on the evidence provided to the Committee, we are unable to rule any of these possibilities out.”

In addition, the FAC asked (paragraph 102) that in its response to the report the Government

“clarify on what date the first draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire or cessation of hostilities was presented to members of the Security Council, and what the Government’s response to this draft was.”

Government responses to select committee reports are not known for providing straight answers, but it is difficult to see how the Government can avoid giving straight answers in this case.

(The Security Council had a formal meeting on 14 July 2006 two days after hostilities began and at that meeting a number of states, including France, called for an immediate ceasefire. The French Ambassador to the UN, Jean-Marc De La Sablière, said:

“France, as solemnly stated by President Chirac today, calls upon the parties to immediately cease hostilities, which is the only way to give a chance to mediation efforts.” (8)

Whether by then this sentiment had been expressed in a draft resolution that was presented to members of the Council informally is not known.)

The FAC concluded (paragraph 102) that the Government’s decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire was a mistake:

“We conclude that the Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. As the Minister admitted to us, the option of a dual track diplomatic strategy could have succeeded. We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.”

It is difficult to argue against that. And it’s possible that the Brown Government won’t bother to argue, preferring that the decision not to call for a ceasefire be categorized as a Blairite mistake.

(As far as Blair personally is concerned, it was definitely a mistake since it shortened his stay in 10 Downing Street by at least a year. His failure to call for an immediate ceasefire produced a minor revolt in the Parliamentary Labour Party and, to contain it, he had to announce that he would be stepping down within a year to make way for Brown.)

Israeli action disproportionate

Unusually for a report emanating from the House of Commons, the FAC report is very critical of Israel. Whilst nearly every other state in this world (and the Conservative opposition in Britain) was prepared to use the word “disproportionate” to describe aspects of Israeli military action against Lebanon, Britain wasn’t. The FAC is.

Kim Howells was in Lebanon on 22 July 2006 during the war. While he was there, he strongly criticised Israeli actions, saying:

“I very much hope that the Americans understand what’s happening to Lebanon. The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. And it’s very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they’re chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation.” (9)

Despite having said this, Howells refused to characterise Israeli actions as “disproportionate” when interviewed by the FAC on 13 September 2006. By contrast, the FAC itself was prepared to apply the word, especially to Israel’s use of cluster bombs. In paragraph 108, the FAC says:

“… we conclude that elements of Israel’s military action in Lebanon were indiscriminate and disproportionate. In particular, the numerous attacks on UN observers and the dropping of over three and a half million cluster bombs (90% of the total) in the 72 hours after the Security Council passed Resolution 1701 were not acceptable.”

And it goes on to ask the Government to “explicitly state whether it believes that, in the light of information now available, Israel’s use of cluster bombs was proportionate”.

(The Committee wrote to the Israeli Ambassador in London, asking (see report, Ev 136):

“What was the intended military purpose of using a large number of cluster munitions in south Lebanon at a late stage of the war last summer?”

In his reply, the Ambassador failed to deal with the issue of timing.)

The FAC report also criticised Israel for its continued violations of Lebanese sovereignty since the war (paragraph 112) and for its refusal to provide the UN with full information about where it dropped cluster bombs (paragraph 112).

Shi’as under-represented

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the FAC report as regards Lebanon is the understanding shown of the Lebanese political system, and the fact that the Shi’a community is under-represented within the system (paragraphs 89 & 90). The report describes accurately the question at issue between the March 14 coalition, which dominates the present Lebanese Government, and the opposition led by Hezbollah, which withdrew its ministers from the Government last November and has since been engaged in a protest in the centre of Beirut (paragraph 91):

“Hezbollah and its allies have been demanding the creation of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘1/3 +1’ Government. Under this system, they would return to Prime Minister Siniora’s Government, but with enough Cabinet seats to be able to veto proposals within Cabinet. This solution has been bitterly opposed by the ‘March 14’ coalition.”

The Committee ignored Kim Howells’ crude characterisation of the opposition protests as “trying to subvert the democratic process” in Lebanon.

On 30 May 2007, the Security Council passed resolution 1757 to set up an international tribunal to try individuals accused of the murder of Rafik Hariri, overriding the internal political processes of Lebanon (see my article The Security Council interferes in Lebanon – again (10)). Remarkably, the Committee questions this “bypassing of Lebanon’s state institutions” suggesting that this “only serves to undermine them and thus increase the potential for civil conflict” (paragraph 115).

In paragraph 94, the FAC concludes that

“the tribunal process has brought to the surface important questions regarding the under-representation of the Shi’a population in Lebanon’s political system”

and recommends that

“the Government work with its international allies to help the Lebanese parties find consensus on a more representative and democratic political system”.

Talk to Hezbollah

In paragraph 120, the report describes Hezbollah as “undeniably an important element in Lebanon’s politics” (albeit with the qualification that “its influence, along with Iran’s and Syria’s, continues to be a malign one”). The FAC continues:

“We further conclude that, as the movement will realistically only be disarmed through a political process, the Government should encourage Hezbollah to play a part in Lebanon’s mainstream politics. We recommend that the Government should engage directly with moderate Hezbollah Parliamentarians.”

This would be a major change in policy for Britain. In making a case for such a change, the Committee reported (paragraph 119):

“On our visit, we asked a range of Lebanese politicians whether the British Government should engage directly with the group. No one, including bitter opponents of Hezbollah, told us that the current Government approach was the correct one.”

The FAC made Kim Howells look foolish on this issue as well – see paragraph 118. There, he is quoted as voicing the following opinion to the Committee about engagement with Hezbollah:

“I am not going to go out of my way to talk to people who are trying to subvert the democratic process so that they can enhance the standing and position of an extremist Islamist organisation that does not value democracy at all.”

Paragraph 118 continues:

“However, this apparently clear-cut position was muddied somewhat when, in the same evidence session, Dr Howells told the Committee he believed he had met someone who was ‘essentially Hezbollah’.”

Part II Palestine

Paragraphs 10 to 83 of the FAC report are concerned with policy towards Palestine.

The last FAC report that examined policy towards Palestine was Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, published in July 2006 (11). In it, the Committee endorsed unequivocally the Government’s refusal to deal directly with Hamas, saying (paragraph 192):

“We recommend that, until Hamas accepts the existence of Israel and commits itself to both a two-state solution and exclusively peaceful means of achieving its goals, the Government should continue to refuse to deal with it directly.”

What is more, the Committee endorsed the Government’s policy of applying collective punishment to Palestinians because a bare majority of them voted for Hamas in January 2006 (paragraph 197):

“We conclude that the Government was right to refuse to channel its aid through a Palestinian administration led by Hamas … .”

A year later, the Committee has changed its stance dramatically. True, it cannot quite bring itself to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian Governments formed after the Hamas victory in the elections of January 2006, that is, the Government formed by Hamas on its own in March 2006 (because, pressurised by the US, Fatah refused to join with Hamas in a National Unity Government) and the National Unity Government formed in March 2007 after the Mecca Agreement. Both of these were legitimate governments, having been duly endorsed by the Palestinian Legislative Council in accordance with Article 67 of the Palestinian constitution, aka the Basic Law (unlike the present “government” headed by Salam Fayyad, which hasn’t).

However, the Committee has belatedly come to the conclusion that the establishment of a National Unity Government was a good thing, which should have been established earlier (and without US interference would have been established earlier) and should have been supported by Britain. It concludes (paragraph 41) that

“the unwillingness of the EU to modify the financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority following the Mecca agreement was very damaging”

and (paragraph 50) that

“the decision to boycott Hamas despite the Mecca agreement and the continued suspension of aid to the national unity Government meant that this Government was highly likely to collapse”.

To its credit, the FAC does not repeat the lie broadcast in Britain’s name by the Quartet in a statement on 16 June 2007 (12) that the present “government” was duly established “under Palestinian law”.

It recommends (paragraph 60) that

“the Government urge President Abbas to come to a negotiated settlement with Hamas with a view to re-establishing a national unity Government across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

And, in a radical departure from its previous stance, it recommends that the Government talk to Hamas (paragraph 60):

“Given the failure of the boycott to deliver results, we recommend that the Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles.”

And it recommends that former Prime Minister Blair do likewise (paragraph 67). Since he is a Quartet envoy, that is, essentially a US envoy, it is unlikely that Washington will let him.

www.david-morrison.org.uk

References:

(1) www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmfaff/363/363.pdf

(2) www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmfaff/81/3120218.ht…

(3) www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmfaff/81/3120218.ht…

(4) www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmfaff/81/3120219.ht…

(5) www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page9982.asp

(6) www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmfaff/1583/6091301….

(7) www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2007/03_march/22/lebanon…

(8) daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/PRO/N06/429/93/PDF/N0642993.pdf

(9) news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5205658.stm

(10) www.david-morrison.org.uk/lebanon/lebanon-tribunal.htm

(11) www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmfaff/573/573.pdf

(12) See www.fco.gov.uk

US Aid Dependency: The Road to Ruin for Lebanon

Protecting Lebanon according to the Bush administration is achieved by undermining its ability to fight Israel

 

Global Research, October 7, 2007

Electronic Lebanon – 2007-10-0

“We have received only a lot of promises and some ammunition but no equipment, as if they are telling us: Die first and back-up will arrive later.” -General Michael Sulieman, Lebanese Armed Forces, on US support during the summer-long Nahr al-Bared refugee camp battle

Since Israel’s July 2006 war on Lebanon, and up to the current deadlock over electing Lebanon’s next president, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to express its commitment to Lebanese “democracy” and to building a strong and sovereign country that can “stand up” to Syria’s and Iran’s allies within Lebanon’s borders.

Inside those borders, prime minister Fouad Siniora’s March 14 government and the Hizballah-led opposition are sharply split over Washington’s intentions. The March 14 movement has feverishly called on the capital of the “free world” for help and the movement’s civil-war seasoned leaders reassure the Lebanese that the superpower won’t abandon their “cedar revolution.” In response, opposition leaders reiterate their distrust of Israel’s closest ally and accuse its March 14 supporters of holding Lebanon hostage to its enemy’s best friend. In the fog of these accusations and counter-accusations, is it possible to evaluate Washington’s support to Lebanon without resorting to the polemics of either camp?

The true measure of the alliance of any two states or political groups rests on an accurate and fair reading of two forms of support: military aid and economic assistance, and reaching a verdict about these two forms of support is based on the examination of three properties of such aid: the monetary value (size or quantity) of this aid, the declared and hidden objectives of the aid and the conditions attached to it (the quality of the aid). Based on these criteria, what is the truth behind the US support for Lebanon, in numbers and according to Washington’s own sources?

Military Support

One of the main bones of contention between the government and the opposition in Lebanon is the disarming of Hizballah. The March 14 movement does not miss an opportunity to proclaim its intention to build a strong state capable of protecting the country’s borders (particularly the south). And the disarming of Hizballah, the Hariri-led movement claims, is a major step in that direction. So does American military aid provide a realistic alternative to Hizballah’s battle-proven power of deterrence?

From 1946 to June 2006, Lebanon did not receive any significant US military aid except in the years 1981 to 1984. This was the period when the Lebanese army’s official leadership was aligned with forces sympathetic to or allied with Israel, and more importantly it was a period of direct American military intervention in Lebanon. During this period, Lebanon received $148 million in military aid, an average of $37 million per year. This aid surpassed what the country had received in the entire 34 years that preceded; around $128 million (95 percent of this aid was in the form of loans not grants). After 1984 and the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, US military aid declined to its lowest levels (around half a million annually earmarked for training purposes).

The assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, contrary to what some might think, did not lead to a fundamental change in this aid policy. The Bush administration’s request was for just one million dollars in 2006 and around $4 million for 2007. The gigantic increase came on the heels of the summer 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. In the wake of the war, the Bush administration filed an emergency request to congress to provide Lebanon with additional military support valued at $220 million for the single year of 2007.

What we learn from this is that any significant increase in US military aid to Lebanon is temporary and linked to the existence of internal divisions in Lebanon or the outbreak of regional wars or conflicts. And as such, this support is not the product of a strategic alliance akin to that forged between Hizballah and Iran. More importantly though, even when this aid is boosted, the objectives and conditions of its release are far from geared towards building a Lebanese military force capable of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this tiny country.

One wonders about the nature of promises General Sulieman is referring to, but the only binding promises of the US are those stated in the legislative bills tabled by the administration and passed by Congress. And the purpose of budgeting the huge sum of $220 million requested by the Bush administration for this year is very clear in that regard. The State Department has unequivocally declared that the purpose of this aid is to “promote Lebanese control over southern Lebanon and Palestinian refugee camps to prevent them from being used as bases to attack Israel.” (US officials lobbied to spread the fight in Nahr al-Bared to other camps.)

Protecting Lebanon according to the Bush administration is achieved by undermining its ability to fight Israel, the biggest source of threat to Lebanon’s security, and the entity which attempted to invade it in the same year those aid packages were pledged.

Some might argue that America’s above-stated goal is meant to prevent any non-sate organization (Hizballah) from monopolizing the duty of defending Lebanon. But the conditions attached to the aid leaves no doubt that building any force, legitimate or otherwise, is impossible under constraints placed by the US. According to these conditions, any support to Lebanon’s army should be intended for “expanded personal training by private US contractors or provision of spare parts and ammunition for Lebanese forces,” as well as vehicles employed for logistical or patrol purposes. As for equipment and weapons normally used to defend any country’s territory, such as anti-aircraft missiles or tanks or even technologically primitive missiles such as Katyushas, such weapons are out of bounds according to the aid provisions. The administration calls it “non-lethal” assistance. In contrast, permitting Israel to invest a portion of US aid in domestic military research since 1977 was instrumental in the development of the Merkava tank, the primary weapon used for Israel’s land invasion of Lebanon last summer.

Counting on US military aid means transforming the Lebanese army at best to a peacekeeping or patrolling force and at worst an internally oppressive security force. This suggests that the only way to disarm Hizballah without stripping the people of southern Lebanon of the only effective defense force on their land is for the Lebanese government to seek assistance from US adversaries, the same ones possibly Hizballah is allied with.

Economic Aid

The history and present trend of US economic aid to Lebanon mirrors to a great degree that of its military aid. Again, the turning point for an astronomical increase of the aid (much of it remains a pledge) was the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon and not the assassination of Hariri.

Prior to the 2006 war, American economic aid to Lebanon reached its zenith in the first half of the ’80s (around $53 million in 1983). Between 1986 and 2006, it ranged between $8 and $15 million. The annual aid package then jumped to about $35 million between 2000 and 2006 (the increase was partly an incentive for the Lebanese army to deploy in the south following the withdrawal of Israeli troops in 2000). In the wake of the 2006 war, Washington allocated about $180 million in emergency aid and later requested $300 million in supplemental aid. (Most of this aid was in the form of grants.)

The aid is ostensibly earmarked for post-war reconstruction, declared Washington. But the release of the funds is conditional on the the Siniora government successfully implementing a bundle of economic “reforms.” Indeed, even before Congress approved the aid package, Siniora declared his government’s intention to cut social security programs, privatize the electricity and telecommunications sectors, increase value added tax by two percent, and implement other measures he claimed were aimed to reduce Lebanon’s $40 billion national debt. Siniora’s effort to push through these measures however were met with strong popular resistance inside Lebanon that led him to reconsider the timing and strategy of implementing the “reforms.”

American economic aid to Lebanon was and remains part of neoliberal American policies across the globe that aim to construct an unregulated market-based economy by weakening the economic role of the very governments it purports to support.

US aid: Causes and consequences

How can one explain the US policy towards Lebanon?

First, Lebanon may be a “piece of the sky” according to its famous crooner Wadih Assafi, but in the eyes of US policy makers, it is a bargaining chip used to settle other regional conflicts. In fact, Lebanon does not possess any of the properties that constitute vital national interests to a superpower such as oil fields, international waterways or military bases. Hizballah may be the only serious threat.

In recorded history, only two US presidents described Lebanon using the rhetoric of the “national interest” –(Eisenhower in 1958 and Reagan in 1983). And both references coincided with direct US military intervention in Lebanon and not in the vein of drawing up a strategic vision of Lebanon’s place in foreign policy.

Secondly, The US does not trust two of three types of allies in the Middle East, the Siniora government among them.

The first type is that of political forces or governments that represent elites or particular religious or political communities and who exercise limited authority within countries or territories that suffer from partial or total instability. These countries include Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Lebanon. US military and economic aid to their allies in these countries is mostly symbolic, tactical or directed towards internal security and against the interest of the peoples or these countries.

The second category of allies is composed of governments or dictatorial regimes that represent their own interests over and above that of their people and rule in countries that are partially or totally stable. These countries include Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. US aid to this countries is more than symbolic, but often limited and subject to serious constraints.

The last category of US allies in the Middle East is that of governments that speak in the name of the interest of its own people (at least the majority) and rule in internally stable countries. These countries include Turkey and Israel. US aid to these countries makes a significant contribution to the military and economic performance of these countries.

Understanding US aid to Lebanon, and comparing it to similar patterns in Palestine and Iraq in light of this overall map of US aid to the region, leaves little doubt that Lebanese (and by extension Palestinian and Iraqi) politicians betting on the goodwill and unmatched power of Washington to build their country’s defenses, are doing so out of either unintentional or willful ignorance, and both are a recipe for further instability and a disregard for the safety and security of their people.

Hicham Safieddine is a Lebanese Canadian journalist. This is an edited version of an article that appeared recently in Arabic in the Lebanese newspaper
Al-Akhbar and is republished with permission.

Under the Bombs – Sous les Bombes

under_the_bombs.jpgThanks to Michael B. for the heads-up about this remarkable upcoming Lebanese film centred around the Israeli attack last year, Under the Bombs/ Sous Les Bombes.

Franco-Lebanese Director Philippe Aractingi filmed during the actual conflict, commencing shooting only ten days into the 34 day war that claimed well over a thousand Lebanese lives–most of them civilians; that displaced around a million residents — about a quarter of the population; and in which the Israeli regime savagely destroyed so much of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. Israeli casualties were a sixth of Lebanon’s and mostly combatants.

Remarkably, he hired only two film actors, Nada Abou Farhat and Georges Khabbaz. The rest of the cast — refugees, demonstrators, civilians, NGO officials, soldiers and journalists — all play their own role.

Keep a look-out for it at your local independent cinema. The movie website features a bi-lingual summary of the film script authors, actors, film stills, and more. For now, here is the movie trailer followed by a short snippet with the Director.

Under the bombs Trailer| La bande-annonce du film libanais Sous les bombes du realisateur Philippe Aractingi (1 min 46 s)

لشريط الدعائي ل تحت القصف اخر افلام المخرج اللبناني فيليب عرقتنج

Thanks to Reclaiming space