Annapolis and the Unholy Alliance

Midnight in Beirut

11.27.2007 | Counter Punch
By KARIM MAKDISI

At midnight last Friday night, Lebanon entered the uncharted waters of a constitutional crisis as the outgoing President Emile Lahoud’s term ended without the appointment of a successor. Earlier in the day, the scheduled meeting of parliament to elect a new president was postponed for the fifth time, this time to November 30, amidst an opposition boycott that prevented the two-third quorum required by the Constitution.
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Letter from Lebanon: Where Justice Seems Very Far Away

The summer break is officially over in Lebanon. At about 5pm yesterday, a roughly 40 kg bomb placed in a Mercedes was detonated in a bustling part of Sin el-Fil district of Beirut. The immediate target was member of Parliament (MP) Antoine Ghanim of the right-wing Phalange party and pro-government March 14 coalition, the fourth MP to be assassinated since former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s murder in March 2005 split the country and paralyzed the state.

Six other civilians were killed and over 50 wounded in the blast, with the vast majority of Lebanese both apprehensive and disgusted with a political class that has failed them politically, socially, economically, and security-wise.

The real target of yesterday’s assassination, however, was the apparently not-far-off consensus among key government and opposition players seeking to resolve the crisis enveloping the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for next week. March 14 currently holds a slim (though disputed) Parliamentary majority-now, tragically, made even slimmer-and has hinted that it could break from the traditional constitutional interpretation and elect a president by a simple majority rather than the customary two-thirds required quorum. This has infuriated opposition figures who consider the current pro-US government of Fouad Siniora to be illegitimate and supportive of US-Israeli desires to disarm the resistance.

Following several months of futile negotiations and bitter recriminations from both sides, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri recently launched a last-ditch compromise initiative which was widely seen to have achieved a break through. As former President Amin Gemeyal correctly noted: “This is how Lebanese politics work. At the last quarter-hour, everybody realizes that the bargaining time is up, and they would put all the papers on the table and agree on a compromise that would save the country. The alternative is disastrous.”

Berri’s compromise requires the opposition–which includes Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement lead by General Michel Aoun, the most popular Christian leader in Lebanon–to participate in a Parliament session on 25 September to elect a new President in return for explicit recognition by March 14 that a two-thirds parliamentary majority is indeed required for the election as per the Lebanese Constitution. After this, a national unity government would be appointed.

After receiving the blessing by the leader of March 14 coalition, Saad Hariri, Speaker Berri was due to meet with the Maronite (Christian) Patriarch, who serves as a power broker among the competing presidential candidates (who must be Maronite Christian according to Lebanon’s power-sharing agreement). Such a meeting, if successful, could have paved the way for a consensus Presidential candidate and, just maybe, the beginning of a wider resolution of the Lebanese crisis that has deepened since Israel’s bloody invasion of Lebanon last summer.

This week’s car bomb, then, must be read against this context. While we will never know who actually masterminded this murder-such cases stretching back many years have never been solved by Lebanese investigators, usually for political reasons-it did not take long for accusations to be bandied about.

Live on TV, several MPs and officials from March 14 stated clearly that “everyone” knows who is behind not only this heinous murder, but all the others of the past two and a half years: Syria. Saad Hariri even, bizarrely, accused Syria of assassinating Ghanim in retaliation for Israel’s recent aerial strike in Syrian territory. Some March 14 politicians also seized the opportunity to openly accuse any opposition MP who does not attend the 25 September parliamentary session of treason, and thus indirectly of being complicit with Ghanim’s assassination.

Lebanese opposition figures and Syrian spokesmen, who had all unequivocally condemned yesterday’s terrorist act, angrily rejected such logic and accused anyone who took advantage of this tragedy for political gains of fomenting discord and serving “foreign” interests. For them, these attacks on March 14 MPs always come conveniently whenever the momentum seems to be swinging away from US and Israeli interests and towards internal consensus.

It is too early to tell what the precise fall out from this latest murder will be. Alas, genuine statesmen capable of rising above petty interests are in short supply here, and Lebanese will now expect more assassinations as Lebanon head towards a worst case scenario, namely the formation of two governments (in case no consensus is reached before the current President’s term expires on 24 November) and the effective partition of the country, not to mention state institutions. If this is allowed to happen, the future could be grim indeed.

Yesterday’s events cannot be taken out of the larger regional context. Just as prospects for Lebanon’s unity was taking a beating-and Iraq continues its violent spiral towards partition-Palestine was being further divided with Israel officially declaring Gaza, now a huge prison with 1.5 million people living in atrocious conditions, a “hostile territory” (with American blessing). Leaving aside the obvious legal and humanitarian considerations of such a provocative move by Israel, as noted by the UN Secretary General, it is clear that the Arab region is undergoing yet another round of internationally-sponsored violence and perhaps even partition, redrawing the regional map along the line fantasized by some neocons. The objective of such policy is to establish a string of “pro-US” (and neoliberal) regimes across the region and punish the “bad guys,” those state (e.g., Iran, Syria) or non-state (e.g., Hizbullah, Hamas) actors who reject Pax Americana and Israeli regional hegemony.

It is customary to end such an article with a plea to sane people everywhere to ensure that just settlements are reached in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. However, my feeling today is that we have only just begun a particularly violent stage of our history here, and lasting settlements–let alone justice–seems very far away indeed.

Karim Makdisi is an Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Dept. of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut. He can be reached at: makdisi007@yahoo.com

Electronic Lebanon: Shatila & Press Freedom

None of the people I spoke to in Shatila expressed any sympathy with Fateh al-Islam; they just showed concern and anger at the way the Lebanese Army is shelling the camp and destroying the houses of the people.

Nadia says that her cousin said seventy percent of his neighborhood in the camp is totally destroyed. “Maybe it is all leveled now.” Nadia, as everybody else in the camp, feels that the Palestinians are paying a price for a fight that has nothing to do with them. It is not a Palestinian group, not a group fighting for the Palestinian or refugee cause, they just were operating from the camp. As for why they had come there, most of the people have the same answer: they always referred to the unbearable conditions of the refugees in the camp, a fact that made them subject to all sorts of exploitation.

If Shatila residents are pretty sure of their disconnection with Fateh al-Islam, they are pretty sure too that something is awaiting them, something that does not look good.

Electronic Lebanon: Solidarity in Shatila

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned that journalists have been prevented since Monday from entering a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon during clashes between Islamist militants and the Lebanese Army.

….

Journalists told CPJ that they suspected the army was also attempting to hinder coverage of the humanitarian crisis inside the camp where, according to news reports, more than a dozen civilians were killed and 12,000 refugees forced to flee the camp.

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Attacks against journalists were also reported. Al-Akhbar photographer Wael al-Ladifi, Al-Balad photographer Asad Ahmad, Agence France-Presse photographer Ramzy Haidar, and Al-Alam cameraman Ali Tahimi said they were beaten by members of the Lebanese Army on Thursday.

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In related news, television crews from three different stations came under attack from civilians while covering the aftermath of a bomb blast in the mountainous town of Aley, east of Beirut on Wednesday night.

Electronic Lebanon: Lebanese Army imposes restrictions on coverage of camp siege

Reclaiming space Uri Avnery: Lebanon War Report A Swiss Cheese «

Reclaiming space Uri Avnery: Lebanon War Report A Swiss Cheese «

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Uri Avnery provides a peace and Israeli perspective on the consequences and failings of Israel’s Winograd Inquiry Report into last year’s war on Lebanon.

He is none too optimistic about what the findings bode for the region and this is reflective in the Report in part by how it frames a political problem in misguidedly militaristic terms.

The Report for him bespeaks of likely further belligerency against its neighbours in the near future, and the further militarisation of Israeli society and the rank corruption in the IDF.

The Report is also damning in its glaring omissions — hardly anything about the impact on Lebanon itself — and for what it says about US involvement and the Bush administration’s enablement of these monstrous events.

This is how he reads the findings; boldface emphasis is mine:

THE WINOGRAD committee of inquiry is not a part of the solution. It is a part of the problem.

Now, after the first excitement caused by the publication of the partial report has died down, it is possible to evaluate it. The conclusion is that it has done much more harm than good.

The positive side is well known. The committee has accused the three directors of the war – the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Chief-of-Staff – of many faults. The committee’s favorite word is “failure”.

It is worthwhile to ponder this word. What does it say? A person “fails” when he does not fulfill his task. The nature of the task itself is not considered, but only the fact that it has not been accomplished.

The use of the word “failure” all over the report is by itself a failure of the committee. The new Hebrew word invented by the protest groups – something like “ineptocrats” – fits all of the five committee members.

IN WHAT did the three musketeers of the war leadership fail, according to the committee?

The decision to go to war was taken in haste. The war aims proclaimed by the Prime Minister were unrealistic. There was no detailed and finalized military plan. There was no orderly staff-work. The government adopted the improvised proposal of the Chief-of-Staff at it was, without alternatives being offered or requested. The Chief-of-Staff thought that he would win by bombing and shelling alone. No ground attack was planned. The reserves were not called up in time. The ground campaign got off very late. In the years before the war, the forces were not properly trained. Much equipment was missing from the emergency stores. The big ground attack, which cost the lives of so many soldiers, started only when the terms of the cease-fire were already agreed upon in the UN.

Strong medicine. What is the conclusion? That we must learn these lessons and improve our performance quickly, before we start the next war.

And indeed, a large part of the public drew precisely this conclusion: the three “ineptocrats” have to be removed, their place has to be filled by three leaders who are more responsible and “experienced”, and we should then start Lebanon War III, so as to repair the damage caused by Lebanon War II.

The army has lost its deterrent power? We shall get it back in the next war. There was no successful ground attack? We shall do better next time. In the next war, we shall penetrate deeper.

The entire problem is technical. New leaders with military experience, orderly staff-work, meticulous preparations, an army chief from the ranks of the ground forces instead of a flying commander – and then everything will be OK.

THE MOST important part of the report is the one that is not there. The report is full of holes, like the proverbial Swiss cheese.

There is no mention of the fact that this was from the start a superfluous, senseless and hopeless war.

Such an accusation would be very serious. A war causes death and destruction on both sides. It is immoral to start one unless there is a clear danger to the very existence of the state. According to the report, Lebanon War II had no specific aim. That means that this war was not forced on us by any existential necessity. Such a war is a crime.

What did the trio go to war for? In theory: in order to free the two captured soldiers. This week, Ehud Olmert admitted publicly that he knew quite well that the soldiers could not be freed by war. That means that when he decided to start the war, he blatantly lied to the people. George Bush style.

Hizbullah, too, does not present an existential danger to the State of Israel. An irritation? Yes. A provocative enemy? Absolutely. An existential danger? Surely not.

For these problems, political solutions could be found. It was clear then, as it is now, that the prisoners must be freed through a prisoner exchange deal. The Hizbullah threat can be removed only by political means, since it stems from political causes.

THE COMMITTEE accuses the government of not examining military alternatives to the Chief-of-Staff’s proposals. By the same token, the committee itself can be accused of not examining political alternatives to the government’s decision to go to war.

Hizbullah is primarily a political organization, a part of the complex reality of Lebanon. For centuries, the Shiites in South Lebanon were downtrodden by the stronger communities – the Maronites, the Sunnis and the Druze. When the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in 1982, the Shiites received them as liberators. After it became apparent that our army did not intend to go away, the Shiites started a war of liberation against them. Only then, in the course of the long and ultimately successful guerilla war, did the Shiites emerge as a major force in Lebanon. If there were justice in the world, Hizbullah would erect statues of Ariel Sharon.

In order to strengthen their position, the Shiites needed help. They got it from the Islamic Republic of Iran, the natural patron of all the Shiites in the region. But even more important was the help coming from Syria.

And why did Sunnite Syria come to the aid of the Shiite Hizbullah? Because it wanted to create a double threat: against the government in Beirut and against the government in Jerusalem.

Syria has never given up its foothold in Lebanon. In the eyes of the Syrians, Lebanon is an integral part of their homeland, which was torn from it by the French colonialists. A look at the map is sufficient to show why Lebanon is so important for Syria, both economically and militarily. Hizbullah provides Syria with a stake in the Lebanese arena.

The encouragement and support of Hizbullah as a threat against Israel is even more important for Syria. Damascus wants to regain the Golan Heights, which were conquered by Israel in 1967. This, for Syrians, is a paramount national duty, a matter of national pride, and they will not give it up for any price. They know that for now, they cannot win a war against Israel. Hizbullah offers an alternative: continual pinpricks that are intended to remind Israel that it might be worthwhile to return the Golan.

Anyone who ignores this political background and sees Hizbullah only as a military problem shows himself to be an ignoramus. It was the duty of the committee to say so clearly, instead of prattling on about “orderly staff-work” and “military alternatives”. It should have issued a red card to the three ineptocrats for not weighing the political alternative to the war: negotiations with Syria for neutralizing the Hizbullah threat by means of an Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese accord. The price would have been an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan heights.

By not doing so, the committee really said: there is no escape from Lebanon War III. But please, folks, try harder next time.

A CONSPICUOUS hole in the report concerns the international background of the war.

The part played by the United States was obvious from the first moment. Olmert would not have decided to start the war without obtaining explicit American permission. If the US had forbidden it, Olmert would not have dreamt of starting it.

George Bush had an interest in this war. He was (and is) stuck in the Iraqi morass. He is trying to put the blame on Syria. Therefore he wanted to strike a blow against Damascus. He also wanted to break the Lebanese opposition, in order to help America’s proxy in Beirut. He was sure that it would be a cakewalk for the Israeli army.

When the expected victory was late in coming, American diplomacy did everything possible to prevent a cease-fire, so as to “give time” to the Israeli army to win. That was done almost openly.

How much did the Americans dictate to Olmert the decision to start the war, to bomb Lebanon (but not the infrastructure of the Siniora government), to prolong the war and to start a ground offensive at the last moment? We don’t know. Perhaps the committee dealt with this in the secret part of the report. But without this information it is impossible to understand what happened, and therefore the report is to a large extent worthless for understanding the war.

WHAT ELSE is missing in the report? Hard to believe, but there is not a single word about the terrible suffering inflicted on the Lebanese population.

Under the influence of the Chief-of-Staff, the government agreed to a strategy that said: let’s bomb Lebanon, turn the life of the Lebanese into hell, so they will exert pressure on their government in Beirut, which will then disband Hizbullah. It was slavish imitation of the American strategy in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

This strategy killed about a thousand Lebanese, destroyed whole neighborhoods, bridges and roads, and not only in Shiite areas. From the military point of view, that was easy to do, but the political price was immense. For weeks pictures of the death and destruction wrought by Israel dominated world news. It is impossible to measure the damage done to Israel’s standing in world public opinion, damage that is irreversible and that will have lasting consequences.

All this did not interest the committee. It concerned itself only with the military side. The political side it ignored, except to remark that the Foreign Minister was not invited to the important consultations. The moral side was not mentioned at all.

Nor is the occupation mentioned. The committee ignores a fact that cries out to heaven: that an army cannot be capable of conducting a modern war when for 40 years it has been employed as a colonial police force in occupied territories. An officer who acts like a drunken Cossak against unarmed peace activists or stone-throwing children, as shown this week on television, cannot lead a company in real war. That is one of the most important lessons of Lebanon War II: the occupation has corrupted the Israeli army to the core. How can this be ignored?

THE COMMITTEE judges Olmert and Peretz as unfit because of their lack of “experience”, meaning military experience. This can lead to the conclusion that the Israeli democracy cannot rely on civilian leaders, that it needs leaders who are generals. It imposes on the country a military agenda. That may well be the most dangerous result.

This week I saw on the internet a well-done presentation by the “Reservists”, a group of embittered reserve soldiers set up to lead the protest against the three “ineptocrats”. It shows, picture after picture, many of the failures of the war, and reaches its climax with the statement that the incompetent political leadership did not allow the army to win.

The young producers of this presentation are certainly unaware of the unpleasant smell surrounding this idea, the odor of the “Dolchstoss im Ruecken” – the stab in the back of the army. Otherwise they would probably not have expressed themselves in this form, which served not so long ago as the rallying cry of German Fascism.

Galloway Indicts the British Government

“Galloway, without a doubt, is the finest orator on either side of the Atlantic. Doesn’t it say something about the state of British democracy that, while everything he says is true, his is the only voice uttering it.” Fanonite

“She [UK Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett] talked about supporting the Government and the people of the Lebanon…..she wasnt much help to the Government of the Lebanon when its prime minister was weeping on television, begging for a ceasefire, when the British and American Governments alone in the world were refusing and indeed blocking any attempts to demand an immediate ceasefire of the Israeli bombardment, worse, she wasnt much help to the Government or the people of the Lebanon when British airports were being used for the trans shippment of American weapons to Israel that were raining down death and destruction on the very people of Lebanon she now says she stands beside.  But of course that was code for saying she does not support the million demonstators in the square in Beirut who are demanding democracy…. She describes the Government of the Lebanon as a democratic Government….  There is no democratic Government in the Lebanon.  If there was a democracy in Lebanon Hassan Nasrallah would be the president because he would get most votes.  But of course he can’t be the president, because you have to be a Christian to be the president, and you have to be a Sunni to be the prime minister, and you have to be a Shite to be the speaker.  Its precisely the opposite of democracy they have in Lebanon.  Its a sectarian building block government they have in the Lebanon, and more over its one that is based on a census more  than 50 years out-of-date [Religious communities shared power based on population size which has changed drastically since the origional census].  If the million demonstrators had been in the Ukrane or Bellarus or Georgia they’d be being described as the Orange Revolution or some other epiphet, perhaps the Cedar Revolution even.”  George Galloway

Its interesting to look at the British Embassy website in Lebanon.  Its guilty of the same thing as the Foreign Secretary –

The purpose of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is to work for the United Kingdom’s interests in a safe, just and prosperous world.

The Embassy works for those aims in Lebanon.

The UK supported the bombing of Lebanon to its total destruction for the kidnapping of two soldiers by Hezbollah (Israels stated reason) – thats just, peaceful or promoting prosperity?  If I was Lebanese I’d find this insulting, a good example of terrible UK propaganda….