Audio Lecture given at AUB titled “More fraternity than friction: The role of values and policies in relations between the United Kingdom and the Arab and Islamic world.” I think we can all agree theres lots of friction and no fraternity from the UK Government. Actions speak louder than words and while activists in the UK halted the shipment of bombs through Scotland to Israel, the UK Government was extremely supportive of Israel’s July War. Guy perhaps hits the nail on the head when she says that the UK involvement in Iraq was based on self interest: maintaining a favourable relationship with the United States. With that in mind it seems a little naive to say that the UK has no interest in Palestine other than in promoting peace. The UK has the same interest in Palestine as Iraq of supporting the US position, not to mention UK arms deals with Israel and the importance of supporting Israel to political party funding (both parties have an active “Friends of Israel” group to compete for this).
Protecting Lebanon according to the Bush administration is achieved by undermining its ability to fight Israel
by Hicham Safieddine
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?
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.
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.
On August 9th, general Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free patriotic Movement and a Hezbollah ally in Lebanon, gave this post-election interview to Le Temps (Genève). The interview appeared in Le Monde. It is part of their paid archives now.
By Alain Campiotti
Lebanese live in bubbles, against their own good, prisoners of archaic and sectarian institutions set by the French mandate which administered the country after the fall of the Ottoman empire until 1943. There are maronite bubbles very high in the mountains. Shia bubbles at the periphery of Beyrouth and in its south. Sunni bubbles in Tripoli and Hamra… Michel Aoun’s bubble is in Rabieh, on a wooded hill, where luxurious villas are protected by multiple layers of high-tech security. “Six assassination attempts including three who died around me”, says Aoun.
Since his return, two years ago, from a 15 years exile in France for fighting the Syrian occupation in his country, this politician and military has been fighting the sectarian bubbles. Or at least that’s what he declares forcefully he is doing in Politics. His adversaries in the Sanyura government, furious at his alliance with Hezbollah, accuse him of the contrary. As a justification, Michel Aoun accpeted to be interviewed by le Temps in his eagle’s nest, the headquarters of his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement.
Le Temps : Since you defeated ex president Amine Gemayel in an election last sunday, Your Maronite adversaries are saying that you lost, that you don’t control, like in 2005, the Maronite community.
Michel Aoun : They are deluding themselves and they still have an old way of thinking politics in Lebanon. Those among them who are in parliament today were elected by a sunni majority in an elctoral law devised by Rafiq Hariri and Syria destined to dilute the Christian vote. Our candidates’ electorate is half Christian and half non Christian. I am ready to sacrifice 20% of my popular support if this is the price to pay in order to prevent a confrontation in the country. That’s what we were looking for when we signed last year an agreement with Hezbollah.
Le Temps : Is putting an end to the system of confessional parity in the state’s institutions, inherited from the French mandate, the goal of such a move ?
Michel Aoun : This is a bankrupt system destined to become extinct. We want to establish, step by step, a secular state. Lebanese must get themselves used to excercise power and take decisions on a political level without resorting to a confessionnal organisation of¨Politics.
Le Temps : Isn’t your agreement with Hezbollah an example of this confessionnal organisation ?
Michel Aoun : Our agreement with hezbollah is not an empty agreement meant to exercise parity for the sake of parity. It is a political program ! On the reform of the state, its independance, relations with Syria, and with the Palestiniens (Aoun actually wanted to discuss this program with other parties and sects in Lebanon but they were not interested). Hezbollah is convinced by the idea that Lebanon needs a civil code. Its chief, Hassan Nasrallah, declared, ten days ago, that he was ready to discuss the following: laying Hezbollah’s arms and armistice between Israel and Lebanon, independant of the situation in the rest of the Middle East. I challenge our adversaries, supported by th West, to have the courage to come up with such a program as we did.
Le Temps : But is Hezbollah independant ? Aren’t they tied directly to the supreme guide of the Iranian revolution by the principle of “Velayat al-faqih” in the Shia religion ?
Michel Aoun : Political leaders, as ordinary people change over time and according to circumstances. To assume that Hezbollah’s allegiance lies outside Lebanon, within the Shia principle of “Velayat al-faqih”, is to assume that the human being is a rigid stone that does not change over time. Hezbollah used to refer to “Velayat al-faqih”, as much as Samir Geagea, the Maronite chief of the Lebanese Forces, used to refer to some areas in Lebanon as Christian cantons, and as much as Walid Joumblatt, the Druze chief, used to refer to Druze frontiers in Lebanon. Times have changed. Hezbollah, today, is claiming its fair share of power in Lebanese politics, nothing else.
Le Temps : Isn’t Syria still yielding much more political influence than Iran in Lebanon ? And didn’t you meet recently in Germany, according to the Saudis, with a Syrian emissary ?
Michel Aoun : That’s a fabricated and defamatory lie intended to hurt me. I caught Amine Gemayel repeating this calumny. Syria is playing against me. Some pro-Syrian movements have called last sunday to vote for my candidate. This has costed us votes because Lebanese have developped a rejection of the Syrian diktat.
Le Temps : Do you consider the West, and especially the US, as your adversary ?
Michel Aoun : The US is refusing any attempt at ending the isolation of Hezbollah in giving their full support to the Sanyura government in order to maintain this isolation. George Bush had announced last week the freezing of assets of any individual who acts against the “legitimate government” of Lebanon. We have been disputing the legitimacy of this government for a year now. Bush’s announcement came three days before the August 5th sunday election as to scare those donors who support us.
Le Temps : You have called for a national unity government. Do you believe that Lebanon’s unity is under threat ?
Michel Aoun : Our agreement with Hezbollah on a political program for Lebanon, and the unity we are calling for, are the only way to salvage the country. The West doesn’t want to discuss our proposal. I suspect the US is working to destabilise Lebanon, after having destabilised Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, etc. I believe that the US wishes for a new armed confrontation in our country. Their goal is to create, amid the confusion of a new confrontation, the conditions for a permanent implementation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. That’s because the US does not intend to give those Palestinians a homeland.
As the West looks anxiously at Iraq and Afghanistan, dangerous cracks are opening up in Lebanon and the White House is determined to prop up Fouad Siniora’s government
The spring rain beat down like ball-bearings on the flat roof of General Claudio Graziano’s office. Much of southern Lebanon looked like a sea of mud this week but all was optimism and light for the Italian commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, now 11,000 strong and still expecting South Korea to add to his remarkable 29-nation international army. He didn’t recall how the French battalion almost shot down an Israeli jet last year – it was before his time – and he dismissed last month’s border shoot-out between Israeli and Lebanese troops.
No specific threats had been directed at Unifil, the UN’s man in southern Lebanon insisted – though I noticed he paused for several seconds before replying to my question – and his own force was now augmented by around 9,000 Lebanese troops patrolling on the Lebanese-Israeli frontier. There was some vague talk of “terrorist threats … associated with al-Qa’ida” – UN generals rarely use the word ‘terrorism’, but then again Graziano is also a Nato general — yet nothing hard. Yes, Lebanese army intelligence was keeping him up to date. So it must have come as a shock to the good general when the Lebanese Interior Minister Hassan Sabeh last week announced that a Lebanese Internal Security Force unit had arrested four Syrian members of a Palestinian “terrorist group” linked to al-Qa’ida and working for the Syrian intelligence services who were said to be responsible for leaving bombs in two Lebanese minibuses on 13 February, killing three civilians and wounding another 20.
Now it has to be said that there’s a lot of scepticism about this story. Not because Syria has, inevitably, denied any connection to Lebanese bombings but because in a country that has never in 30 years solved a political murder, it’s pretty remarkable that the local Lebanese constabulary can solve this one – and very conveniently so since Mr Sabeh’s pro-American government continues to accuse Syria of all things bestial in the state of Lebanon. According to the Lebanese government – one of those anonymous sources so beloved of the press – the arrested men were also planning attacks on Unifil and had maps of the UN’s military patrol routes in the south of the country. And a drive along the frontier with Israel shows that the UN is taking no chances. Miles of razor wire and 20ft concrete walls protect many of its units.
The Italians, like their French counterparts, have created little “green zones” – we Westerners seem to be doing that all over the Middle East – where carabinieri police officers want photo identity cards for even the humblest of reporters. These are combat units complete with their own armour and tanks although no-one could explain to me this week in what circumstances the tanks could possibly be used and I rather suspect they don’t know. Surely they won’t fire at the Israelis and – unless they want to go to war with the Hizbollah – I cannot imagine French Leclerc tanks are going to be shooting at the Middle East’s most disciplined guerrilla fighters.
But Unifil, like it or not, is on only one side of the border, the Lebanese side, and despite their improving relations with the local Shia population — the UN boys are going in for cash handouts to improve water supplies and roads, “quick impact projects” as they are called in the awful UN-speak of southern Lebanon – there are few Lebanese who do not see them as a buffer force to protect Israel. Last year’s UN Resolution 1701 doesn’t say this, but it does call for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon”. This was a clause, of course, which met with the enthusiastic approval of the United States. For “armed groups”, read Hizbollah.
The reality is that Washington is now much more deeply involved in Lebanon’s affairs than most people, even the Lebanese, realise. Indeed there is a danger that – confronted by its disastrous “democratic” experiment in Iraq – the US government is now turning to Lebanon to prove its ability to spread democracy in the Middle East. Needless to say, the Americans and the British have been generous in supplying the Lebanese army with new equipment, jeeps and Humvees and anti-riot gear (to be used against who, I wonder?) and there was even a hastily denied report that Defence Minister Michel Murr would be picking up some missile-firing helicopters after his recent visit to Washington. Who, one also asks oneself, were these mythical missiles supposed to be fired at?
Every Lebanese potentate, it now seems, is heading for Washington. Walid Jumblatt, the wittiest, most nihilistic and in many ways the most intelligent, is also among the most infamous. He was deprived of his US visa until 2005 for uncharitably saying that he wished a mortar shell fired by Iraqi insurgents into the Baghdad “green zone” had killed then- Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. But fear not. Now that poor old Lebanon is to become the latest star of US foreign policy, Jumblatt sailed into Washington for a 35-minute meeting with President George Bush – that’s only 10 minutes less than Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert got – and has also met with Condi Rice, Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Gates and the somewhat more disturbing Stephen Hadley, America’s National Security Adviser. There are Lebanese admirers of Jumblatt who have been asking themselves if his recent tirades against Syria and the Lebanese government’s Hizbollah opponents – not to mention his meetings in Washington – aren’t risking another fresh grave in Lebanon’s expanding cemeteries. Brave man Jumblatt is. Whether he’s a wise man will be left to history.
But it is America’s support for Fouad Siniora’s government – Jumblatt is a foundation stone of this – that is worrying many Lebanese. With Shia out of the government of their own volition, Siniora’s administration may well be, as the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud says, unconstitutional; and the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics came violently to life in January with stonings and shooting battles on the streets of Beirut.
Because Iraq and Afghanistan have captured the West’s obsessive attention since then, however, there is a tendency to ignore the continuing, dangerous signs of confessionalism in Lebanon. In the largely Sunni Beirut suburb of Tarek al-Jdeide, several Shia families have left for unscheduled “holidays”. Many Sunnis will no longer shop in the cheaper department stores in the largely Shia southern suburb of Dahiya. More seriously, the Lebanese security forces have been sent into the Armenian Christian town of Aanjar in the Bekaa Valley after a clump of leaflets was found at one end of the town calling on its inhabitants to “leave Muslim land”. Needless to say, there have been no reports of this frightening development in the Lebanese press.
Aanjar was in fact given by the French to the Armenians after they were forced to leave the city of Alexandretta in 1939 – the French allowed a phoney referendum there to let the Turks take over in the vain hope that Ankara would fight Hitler – and Aanjar’s citizens hold their title deeds. But receiving threats that they are going to be ethnically cleansed from their homes is – for Armenians – a terrible reminder of their genocide at the hands of the Turks in 1915. Lebanon likes its industrious, highly educated Armenians who are also represented in parliament. But that such hatred could now touch them is a distressing witness to the fragility of the Lebanese state.
True, Saad Hariri, the Sunni son of the murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri, has been holding talks with the Shia speaker of parliament, Nabi Berri – the Malvolio of Lebanese politics – and the Saudis have been talking to the Iranians and the Syrians about a “solution” to the Lebanese crisis. Siniora – who was appointed to his job, not elected – seems quite prepared to broaden Shia representation in his cabinet but not at the cost of providing them with a veto over his decisions. One of these decisions is Siniora’s insistence that the UN goes ahead with its international tribunal into Hariri’s murder which the government – and the United States – believe was Syria’s work.
Yet cracks are appearing. France now has no objections to direct talks with Damascus and Javier Solana has been to plead with President Bashar Assad for Syria’s help in reaching “peace, stability and independence” for Lebanon. What price the UN tribunal if Syria agrees to help? Already Assad’s ministers are saying that if Syrian citizens are found to be implicated in Hariri’s murder, then they will have to be tried by a Syrian court – something which would not commend itself to the Lebanese or to the Americans.
Siniora, meanwhile, can now bask in the fact that after the US administration asked Congress to approve $770m for the Beirut government to meet its Paris III donor conference pledges, Lebanon will be the third largest recipient of US aid per capita of population. How much of this will have to be spent on the Lebanese military, we still don’t know. Siniora, by the way, was also banned from the United States for giving a small sum to an Islamic charity during a visit several years ago to a Beirut gathering hosted by Sayed Hussein Fadlallah, whom the CIA tried to murder in 1985 for his supposed links to the Hizbollah. Now he is an American hero.
Which is all to Hizbollah’s liking. However faithful its leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, may be to Iran (or Syria), the more Siniora’s majority government is seen to be propped up by America, the deeper the social and political divisions in Lebanon become. The “tink thank” lads, as I call them, can fantasise about America’s opportunities. “International support for the Lebanese government will do a great deal for advancing the cause of democracy and helping avoid civil war,” David Shenker of the “Washington Institute for Near East Policy” pronounced last week. “… the Bush administration has wisely determined not to abandon the Lebanese to the tender mercies of Iran and Syria, which represents an important development towards ensuring the government’s success,” he said.
I wouldn’t be too sure about that. Wherever Washington has supported Middle East “democracy” recently – although it swiftly ditched Lebanon during its blood-soaked war last summer on the ridiculous assumption that by postponing a ceasefire the Israelis could crush the Hizbollah – its efforts have turned into a nightmare. Now we know that Israeli prime minister Olmert had already pre-planned a war with Lebanon if his soldiers were captured by the Hizbollah, Nasrallah is able to hold up his guerrilla army as defenders of Lebanon, rather than provokers of a conflict which cost at least 1,300 Lebanese civilian lives. And going all the way to Washington to save Lebanon is an odd way of behaving. The answers lie here, not in the United States. As a friend put it to me, “If I have a bad toothache, I don’t book myself into a Boston clinic and fly across the Atlantic – I go to my Beirut dentist!”