World Council for the Cedar's Revolution
Freedom and Democracy in Lebanon - Analysis
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The Cedar's Revolution stands for Horriyeh, Siyadeh, Istiqlal (Freedom, Sovereignty, Independence), and Haqiqa, Horriyeh, Wahdeh wataniyeh (Truth, Freedom, National unity) for all Lebanese, not based on race, color, creed, religion, national heritage, sex, age, or disability - Truely A Lebanon for ALL LEBANESE.
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Summary, STRATFOR 30 Aug 2006
THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW
Doubtless all three, since Mr. Jumblatt maneuvers dialectically, particularly in his politics. Once a prop of Syria's order in Lebanon (though the regime of Hafez Assad had murdered his father, Kamal, in 1977), he became the man most responsible for its overthrow in 2005. This betrayal earned him a sentence of death in Damascus, which is why he rarely leaves Mukhtara, from where he leads the mostly poor, mostly rural 200,000-strong Druze--like a "tribal chieftain," he once told me. It is a tribute to his political skills, but also to his hard-nosedness, that his influence far transcends the microscopic size of his community. At 57, he has been at the center of Lebanese public life for 29 long years.
It takes a good hour and a quarter to reach his home from Beirut, since Israeli aircraft have bombed the shorter route via the southern coastal road. I kill time by asking an aide about the main topic of conversation wafting though the waiting room--how to manage the thousands of Shiite refugees who have escaped south Lebanon to regions controlled by Mr. Jumblatt. The aide tells me that the relief effort is stretched to the limit, and that providing help will become a considerable problem in the coming weeks.
Mr. Jumblatt personifies patronage politics at their most essential. His is a hands-on management style, and there is sophisticated method to what can be mistakenly interpreted as Mukhtara's ambient disorder. The Druze leader runs his life with Germanic precision. His papers are well-organized, as are his publications, his collection of magazine covers, his weapons (I notice a Glock and several clips across the room), his Soviet-era regalia--even the more sinister memorabilia, such as the identity card his father had on him the day he was killed, pierced by a bullet.
As we kick into the interview, Mr. Jumblatt doesn't wait for a question. He describes the visit to Beirut the previous day of Condoleezza Rice, and particularly the international effort to set up an expanded peacekeeping force in South Lebanon to end what, by now, are two weeks of fighting. "At first they said they wanted to create a buffer zone of 20 kilometers to put in an international force. But what does that mean when Hezbollah can fire rockets over your back? Now there is a new formula: the demilitarization of the South."
Mr. Jumblatt is dubious. "Rice didn't clarify how the international force would deploy. As I've told the Americans: As long as Syria can send weapons to Hezbollah, there will be no change in the situation. Not with this regime in Damascus. We need a force that can cover all of Lebanon, like in Kosovo. Monitor the Syrian border, then talk."
The United States is not thinking about such a scheme, Mr. Jumblatt tells me. And that's why he plainly feels that American ambitions are likely to crash against the reality on the ground. If Hezbollah refuses to disarm (and it does), "then we enter a phase of all-out war, endless war, with the possibility that this will weaken the Lebanese state. Let us also remember that the Syrians a few days ago promised the Americans they would help them fight al Qaeda. This was, in fact, a backhanded warning that Syria could use al Qaeda to kill innocents in Lebanon."
(Mr. Jumblatt sounds even less confident a day later. I call him up for a reaction to the early-morning address by Hezbollah's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, in which he promised to bomb deeper inside Israel. Our conversation takes place amid reports that the Israelis have suffered heavy losses in fighting for the town of Bint Jbail. "Even if Nasrallah loses positions, Hezbollah's fierce rearguard is making it increasingly difficult to set up something afterwards. I doubt we will see a multilateral force if this continues. If Nasrallah comes out victorious, he will dictate his conditions to the Lebanese state--if he still accepts the state.")
There is a strong desire for retribution in the Shiite community. Quite a few politicians, including Mr. Jumblatt, have implied that Hezbollah's abduction of two Israelis soldiers was irresponsible, which many of the group's faithful deem to be a stab in the back. This prompted Mr. Nasrallah to declare, ominously, in an Al Jazeera interview last week: "If we succeed in achieving the victory . . . we will never forget all those who supported us. . . . As for those who sinned against us . . . those who let us down, and those who conspired against us . . . this will be left for a day to settle accounts. We might be tolerant with them and we might not."
What does Mr. Jumblatt think of that threat, obviously directed against him and his political comrades? "Nasrallah was talking in the name of the Syrian regime. He thinks he's a demigod. Like [Iran's President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad he's waiting for the 12th Imam, the Mehdi. This aspect of Shiite religious mobilization can be frightening." He pauses. The phone is ringing--one of the countless times this has happened as his men ask for guidance on organizing the aid effort. Before closing, he issues instructions that trash be removed from a certain location. A lady had earlier called complaining about it.
Mr. Jumblatt's relations with Hezbollah are complex. He has been the group's most vociferous critic in recent months, and yet it was he who broke its isolation last year during the "Cedar Revolution," by helping engineer an election law preserving Hezbollah's quota in Parliament. Why? Partly to protect his own electoral stakes, partly because he thought he could profit politically from being the middleman between Hezbollah and the coalition opposed to Syria. But the arrangement later collapsed when the party refused to break with Damascus, and Mr. Jumblatt realized that his own chances of reconciling with the Syrians were negligible. An inveterate calculator, the Druze leader has surely factored easing Hezbollah's anger into his hospitality for the Shiite displaced. He even adds, for good measure: "I don't care if the refugees put up Hezbollah flags and photos. I can understand this emotional reaction." (What he doesn't say is that he's allowed this in order to lessen Shiite frustration to avert tension between Shiites and Druze.)
Given the estimated 500,000 to 700,000 people made refugees, most of them Shiites, will Hezbollah be more flexible on an overall settlement? "It makes no difference to Nasrallah," Mr. Jumblatt says. Nor should one expect much from those critical of Hezbollah's unilateralism. "We need a prominent Shiite to work with us, particularly [Parliament Speaker] Nabih Berri. Nasrallah thinks he's at the peak of his power, but you have to talk to the Shiites; you cannot allow them to be frustrated and humiliated. You have to reason with Nasrallah. The destruction we've suffered is not worth two Israeli captives, having a private army, declaring war and peace. But we need a Shiite to say this to Nasrallah."
It is the Syrians, however, who feed Mr. Jumblatt's anxieties. As he surfs the Internet at night--a pastime for which he is known to depart early from dinner parties--he can read the mounting calls in the U.S. and at the U.N. to bring Syria into a deal to control Hezbollah. For the Druze leader, this has existential implications. It could mean a Lebanese homecoming for an Assad regime that wants his head. "Syria and Iran have strengthened their cards in Lebanon today," he insists. As for the Bush administration, its Syria policy is "confused."
Starting earlier this year, Mr. Jumblatt tried to help refine the administration's strategy. On a trip to the U.S., he actively peddled the idea of regime change in Damascus, telling Ms. Rice: "The U.S. says Syrian behavior must change, but nothing will change for as long as this regime is in power. The U.S. must open a dialogue with the Syrian opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has accepted pluralism in its political program." However, all the signs from Washington are that Mr. Jumblatt will be disappointed.
Iran's role in starting the latest round of Lebanese violence is a theme Mr. Jumblatt has repeatedly raised in interviews. I play devil's advocate and suggest there is no evidence yet of direct Iranian implication--or does he know something I don't? He doesn't answer directly: "It's enough for Hezbollah to have the famous Fajr-1 and Fajr-3 rockets to show such involvement. The last I heard, these devices were not manufactured in Lebanon!" In that case had he heard that Iranians were fighting alongside Hezbollah? "Yes, we've heard rumors that Iranian Basij militiamen are participating in the fighting. I believe these stories."
In 1976, at the height of the civil war and less than a year before his assassination, Kamal Jumblatt traveled around the region to rally support against Arab endorsement of the Syrian army's presence in Lebanon. Jumblatt and his Palestinian allies were then fighting Syria. His trip started well, and he was received by top officials. But by the end of the tour, the Arab states had reached a consensus on backing a Syrian deployment, and Jumblatt suddenly found doors closing in his face. That isolation led to his eventual elimination. This explains why his son has always been sensitive to the dangers of quixotism, even as he now risks finding himself in a trap similar to his father's.
"I'm afraid that because of the chaos in Lebanon today, Syria might try to assassinate people here." Does that include him? "Yes, me, but also Fuad Siniora," the prime minister. But even if Mr. Siniora does survive, can his government do so, given that it is collaborating with the U.S. to tackle Hezbollah's arms? "Either he survives or we must accept the coup d'état fomented by Syria and Iran. That will determine whether Lebanon remains democratic."
No Jumblatt interview is complete without malicious wittiness. Asked about how the Lebanese conflict will develop in coming weeks, he says Israel's ground war will determine the outcome. "But if Hezbollah's missiles are pushed back, they will soon be here; no, they may soon be on Hamra Street," a shopping drag in the center of Beirut. "It took us a full 24 hours to negotiate the removal of a single missile from near the Pepsi-Cola factory," an enterprise just south of Beirut owned by a wealthy Druze family.
Mr. Jumblatt laughs at the absurdity of the episode, but he is making a serious point. Hezbollah can wage war from wherever it wants, regardless of its countrymen's preferences. Then he stands up and heads for an anteroom. "Let's see what the former minister wants," he sighs.
Mr. Young, a Lebanese national, is opinion editor at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.
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Hezbollah Didn't Win
By AMIR TAHERI
August 25, 2006; Page A14, WSJ
The way much of the Western media tells the story, Hezbollah won a great victory against Israel and the U.S., healed the Sunni-Shiite rift, and boosted the Iranian mullahs' claim to leadership of the Muslim world. Portraits of Hassan Nasrallah, the junior mullah who leads the Lebanese branch of this pan-Shiite movement, have adorned magazine covers in the West, hammering in the message that this child of the Khomeinist revolution is the new hero of the mythical "Arab Street."
Probably because he watches a lot of CNN, Iran's "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei also believes in "a divine victory." Last week he asked 205 members of his Islamic Majlis to send Mr. Nasrallah a message, congratulating him for his "wise and far-sighted leadership of the Ummah that produced the great victory in Lebanon."
By controlling the flow of information from Lebanon throughout the conflict, and help from all those who disagree with U.S. policies for different reasons, Hezbollah may have won the information war in the West. In Lebanon, the Middle East and the broader Muslim space, however, the picture is rather different.
Let us start with Lebanon.
Immediately after the U.N.-ordained ceasefire started, Hezbollah organized a series of firework shows, accompanied by the distribution of fruits and sweets, to celebrate its victory. Most Lebanese, however, finding the exercise indecent, stayed away. The largest "victory march" in south Beirut, Hezbollah's stronghold, attracted just a few hundred people.
Initially Hezbollah had hesitated between declaring victory and going into mourning for its "martyrs." The latter course would have been more in harmony with Shiite traditions centered on the cult of Imam Hussain's martyrdom in 680 A.D. Some members of Hezbollah wished to play the martyrdom card so that they could accuse Israel, and, through it, the U.S., of war crimes. They knew that it was easier for Shiites, brought up in a culture of eternal victimhood, to cry over an imagined calamity than laugh in the joy of a claimed victory.
Politically, however, Hezbollah had to declare victory for a simple reason: It had to pretend that the death and desolation it had provoked had been worth it. A claim of victory was Hezbollah's shield against criticism of a strategy that had led Lebanon into war without the knowledge of its government and people. Mr. Nasrallah alluded to this in television appearances, calling on those who criticized him for having triggered the war to shut up because "a great strategic victory" had been won.
The tactic worked for a day or two. However, it did not silence the critics, who have become louder in recent days. The leaders of the March 14 movement, which has a majority in the Lebanese parliament and government, have demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to the war, a roundabout way of accusing Hezbollah of having provoked the tragedy. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has made it clear that he would not allow Hezbollah to continue as a state within the state. Even Michel Aoun, a maverick Christian leader and tactical ally of Hezbollah, has called for the Shiite militia to disband.
Mr. Nasrallah followed his claim of victory with what is known as the "Green Flood" (Al-sayl al-akhdhar). This refers to the massive amounts of crisp U.S. dollar notes that Hezbollah is distributing among Shiites in Beirut and the south. The dollars from Iran are ferried to Beirut via Syria and distributed through networks of militants. Anyone who can prove that his home was damaged in the war receives $12,000, a tidy sum in wartorn Lebanon.
The Green Flood has been unleashed to silence criticism of Mr. Nasrallah and his masters in Tehran. But the trick does not seem to be working. "If Hezbollah won a victory, it was a pyrrhic one," says Walid Abi-Mershed, a leading Lebanese columnist. "They made Lebanon pay too high a price -- for which they must be held accountable."
Hezbollah is also criticized from within the Lebanese Shiite community, which accounts for some 40% of the population. Sayyed Ali al-Amin, the grand old man of Lebanese Shiism, has broken years of silence to criticize Hezbollah for provoking the war, and called for its disarmament. In an interview granted to the Beirut An-Nahar, he rejected the claim that Hezbollah represented the whole of the Shiite community. "I don't believe Hezbollah asked the Shiite community what they thought about [starting the] war," Mr. al-Amin said. "The fact that the masses [of Shiites] fled from the south is proof that they rejected the war. The Shiite community never gave anyone the right to wage war in its name."
There were even sharper attacks. Mona Fayed, a prominent Shiite academic in Beirut, wrote an article also published by An-Nahar last week. She asks: Who is a Shiite in Lebanon today? She provides a sarcastic answer: A Shiite is he who takes his instructions from Iran, terrorizes fellow believers into silence, and leads the nation into catastrophe without consulting anyone. Another academic, Zubair Abboud, writing in Elaph, a popular Arabic-language online newspaper, attacks Hezbollah as "one of the worst things to happen to Arabs in a long time." He accuses Mr. Nasrallah of risking Lebanon's existence in the service of Iran's regional ambitions.
Before he provoked the war, Mr. Nasrallah faced growing criticism not only from the Shiite community, but also from within Hezbollah. Some in the political wing expressed dissatisfaction with his over-reliance on the movement's military and security apparatus. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they described Mr. Nasrallah's style as "Stalinist" and pointed to the fact that the party's leadership council (shura) has not held a full session in five years. Mr. Nasrallah took all the major decisions after clearing them with his Iranian and Syrian contacts, and made sure that, on official visits to Tehran, he alone would meet Iran's "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei.
Mr. Nasrallah justified his style by claiming that involving too many people in decision-making could allow "the Zionist enemy" to infiltrate the movement. Once he had received the Iranian green light to provoke the war, Mr. Nasrallah acted without informing even the two Hezbollah ministers in the Siniora cabinet or the 12 Hezbollah members of the Lebanese parliament.
Mr. Nasrallah was also criticized for his acknowledgement of Ali Khamenei as Marjaa al-Taqlid (Source of Emulation), the highest theological authority in Shiism. Highlighting his bay'aah (allegiance), Mr. Nasrallah kisses the man's hand each time they meet. Many Lebanese Shiites resent this because Mr. Khamenei, a powerful politician but a lightweight in theological terms, is not recognized as Marjaa al-Taqlid in Iran itself. The overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shiites regard Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in Iraq, or Ayatollah Muhammad-Hussein Fadhlallah, in Beirut, as their "Source of Emulation."
Some Lebanese Shiites also question Mr. Nasrallah's strategy of opposing Prime Minister Siniora's "Project for Peace," and instead advancing an Iranian-backed "Project of Defiance." The coalition led by Mr. Siniora wants to build Lebanon into a haven of peace in the heart of a turbulent region. His critics dismiss this as a plan "to create a larger Monaco." Mr. Nasrallah's "Project of Defiance," however, is aimed at turning Lebanon into the frontline of Iranian defenses in a war of civilizations between Islam (led by Tehran) and the "infidel," under American leadership. "The choice is between the beach and the bunker," says Lebanese scholar Nadim Shehadeh. There is evidence that a majority of Lebanese Shiites would prefer the beach.
There was a time when Shiites represented an underclass of dirt-poor peasants in the south and lumpen elements in Beirut. Over the past 30 years, however, that picture has changed. Money sent from Shiite immigrants in West Africa (where they dominate the diamond trade), and in the U.S. (especially Michigan), has helped create a prosperous middle class of Shiites more interested in the good life than martyrdom à la Imam Hussain. This new Shiite bourgeoisie dreams of a place in the mainstream of Lebanese politics and hopes to use the community's demographic advantage as a springboard for national leadership. Hezbollah, unless it ceases to be an instrument of Iranian policies, cannot realize that dream.
The list of names of those who never endorsed Hezbollah, or who broke with it after its Iranian connections became too apparent, reads like a Who's Who of Lebanese Shiism. It includes, apart from the al-Amins, families such as the al-As'ad, the Osseiran, the al-Khalil, the Hamadah, the Murtadha, the Sharafeddin, the Fadhlallah, the Mussawis, the Hussainis, the Shamsuddin and the Ata'allahs.
Far from representing the Lebanese national consensus, Hezbollah is a sectarian group backed by a militia that is trained, armed and controlled by Iran. In the words of Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan, "Hezbollah is 'Iran in Lebanon.'" In the 2004 municipal elections, Hezbollah won some 40% of the votes in the Shiite areas, the rest going to its rival Amal (Hope) movement and independent candidates. In last year's general election, Hezbollah won only 12 of the 27 seats allocated to Shiites in the 128-seat National Assembly -- despite making alliances with Christian and Druze parties and spending vast sums of Iranian money to buy votes.
Hezbollah's position is no more secure in the broader Arab world, where it is seen as an Iranian tool rather than as the vanguard of a new Nahdha (Awakening), as the Western media claim. To be sure, it is still powerful because it has guns, money and support from Iran, Syria and Hate-America International Inc. But the list of prominent Arab writers, both Shiite and Sunni, who have exposed Hezbollah for what it is -- a Khomeinist Trojan Horse -- would be too long for a single article. They are beginning to lift the veil and reveal what really happened in Lebanon.
Having lost more than 500 of its fighters, and with almost all of its medium-range missiles destroyed, Hezbollah may find it hard to sustain its claim of victory. "Hezbollah won the propaganda war because many in the West wanted it to win as a means of settling score with the United States," says Egyptian columnist Ali al-Ibrahim. "But the Arabs have become wise enough to know TV victory from real victory."
Mr. Taheri is author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).
Analysis: Breaking the Syria-Iran alliance
- Saturday, 26 August 2006
Since the outbreak of the conflict between Israel's army and Hezbollah's militia, some commentators in the US have been calling for direct talks with Syria.
Some in Washington argue that to contain Hezbollah, the US needs to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, since Syria is the vital conduit for the weapons that Iran is allegedly transferring to the Lebanese militant group.
For almost three decades, Iran and Syria have had a strategic alliance, in part based on their shared animosity to the former ruler of Iraq, Saddam Hussein.
Assad and Ahmadinejad: Alliance of convenience or true friends?
However, with the collapse of that regime, some analysts argue that the value of the Iran-Syria alliance has vanished.
"An alliance between Iran and Syria is no longer a strategic alliance. It's an alliance of convenience and habit," argues Edward Luttwak, a scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
He adds that the alliance with Persian and Shia Muslim Iran is isolating Arab and Sunni Syria from the rest of the Arab world, something that goes against the natural feelings of the Syrians.
Indeed, the Syrians may not be very happy with their current relationship with Iran.
Professor David Lesch of Trinity University, who has met Bashar al-Assad several times over the past few years, raised this question in a meeting with the Syrian president.
"Bashar himself told me one time when I asked him about having friendly relations with Iran and North Korea. He said: 'Well, I have no choice. I have to have some friends.'"
Mr Lesch concludes: "Possibly giving the right incentives to Syria, like the Golan Heights in a comprehensive peace agreement, might make Syria willing to downgrade its relationship with Iran."
But he is quick to add that because of President Assad's lack of trust in US President George W Bush, such an agreement may not take place under the current US administration.
The assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 isolated Syria from the international community. Syrian officials were accused of plotting against Mr Hariri.
The assassination led to the humiliating withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon, ending its three-decade presence in the country.
Since then, Syria's president has longed for an opportunity to become a major player in the region.
The current conflict in Lebanon may catapult Syria into the game again.
In fact, during the G8 Summit, Mr Bush, in what he thought was a private conversation with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, said: "The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over."
In a recent meeting with the Syrian president, Mr Lesch asked him how he felt about the US president's expletive: "He said: 'Actually I look at it as positive, because at least the US president is thinking about Syria and Syria is on his mind.'"
This response can certainly be seen an expression of how desperate Mr Assad is to get back into the game, Mr Lesch suggests.
But its desire to re-establish itself as a regional player does not necessarily mean that Syria will cut off its alliance with Iran.
Abbas Maleki, Iran's former deputy foreign minister, says that this is not the first time that the US has tried to drive a wedge between the two states.
Its previous attempts have failed, Mr Maleki says, because the relationship between Tehran and Damascus is "deep" and was not formed "one or two months ago".
Mr Maleki, who is now a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, points out: "Syria might make an apparent compromise with the West.
"But this will not worry Iran because the government of Syria has a long-term strategic plan which says that a good relationship with Iran is more important than anything else."
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