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Antoun Issa

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say."
- Anaïs Nin
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Posts Tagged ‘Hezballah’

Nasrallah praises Egyptian protests

Posted By antounissa on February 8th, 2011

Lebanon crisis a test for the US

Posted By antounissa on January 22nd, 2011

My piece on ABC’s Unleashed:

Lebanon’s national unity government collapsed last week following the resignation of Hezballah and its allies in protest at a controversial UN investigation into former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination in 2005.

Deposed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain former premier, and his Western-backed March 14 coalition have refused Hezballah’s demands to end co-operation with the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is expected to indict Hezballah members.

The crisis has spurred regional powers into action, aimed at preventing the troubled tiny Arab country from relapsing into civil war.

Regional talks have hit a snag, however, as Saudi Arabia – a key player in Lebanon – announced in frustration its withdrawal from negotiations this week.

Nevertheless, the emergence of new regional players signals a clear decline of US influence in a region where it once held exclusive hegemony.

It is not only the typical arch nemeses of Iran and Syria that are challenging the US in the Middle East, but friendly states in Turkey and Qatar that are becoming increasingly assertive on the regional arena.

The Turkish alternative

Turkey, in particular, has in recent years distanced itself from Washington in its Middle Eastern approach. Gone are the days when Ankara turned a cold shoulder to its east. Turkey is today asserting its own agenda in the region that is visibly independent of American interests.

The Turks – a NATO ally – have refused to take sides in the regional battle for influence between the US and Iran, and instead have pursued friendly relations with Tehran and continue to conduct trade and business with a country under increased US sanctions.

The rise of a Turkish, democratic and Sunni alternative to the US and Iran is proving to be increasingly popular among ordinary Arabs resentful towards American and Israeli regional hegemony, and wary of Iran’s intentions.

Public and vocal condemnations of Israeli policies in Palestine have made Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan among the most popular figures in the Arab world.

Turkey’s drive to the forefront of regional politics has pushed long-time Arab Sunni powers, and key American allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt out of the spotlight.

Many Lebanese analysts – as well as Hezballah leader Hassan Nasrallah – blamed the US for scuttling months-long Saudi-Syrian efforts to prevent the current crisis from occurring. Washington’s refusal to play ball would have infuriated its Saudi allies after Riyadh reportedly reached an agreement with Damascus and local Lebanese factions.

Obama’s failing Lebanon policy

Entrenched in a regional contest with Iran, the Obama administration has inherited Bush’s legacy of a divided, tense Lebanon.

The neoconservative Bush administration included Lebanon in its plan to transform the region into a New Middle East. Bush sought to expel Syrian and Iranian influence from the country – a feat the US already failed to accomplish in the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War – and destroy Hezballah.

The Israeli onslaught of 2006 failed to achieve the key goal of eradicating Hezballah. To the contrary, Bush’s confrontational policies in Lebanon only empowered Hezballah, with Iran enjoying unprecedented levels of influence in the country.

American scholar and expert on Syria Joshua Landis accurately writes that “President Obama finds himself trapped in a Lebanese civil war that President Bush reignited and that he cannot win”.

Obama’s insistence on the STL in an attempt to strike a blow to Hezballah, Syria and Iran risks backfiring. Hezballah’s local Western-backed opponents do not have the capability to confront the Shi’ite group in a civil war.

The “military and popular” pressure of Hezballah is greater than White House statements, according to key Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who holds the balance of power in determining the next Prime Minister.

Should the Americans continue to squeeze Hezballah, its Iranian and Syrian backers may give their local ally the green light to take control of the state by force.

The US is pursuing an aggressive Lebanon policy that will inevitably lead to conflict, a game the Iranians are willing to play. Tehran is aware it holds the upper hand, and there is little the Americans can do to dislodge Hezballah, which enjoys widespread popular support in addition to its unrivalled military presence in Lebanon.

Internal Lebanese strife raises the stakes of regional conflict as Israel has previously warned it will not allow a Hezballah-ruled Lebanon on its doorstep. Any future war with Hezballah, according to Israeli strategists, is likely to draw in Syria.

Aware of the spiralling effect war in Lebanon may have on the region, emerging regional powers such as Turkey are countering with their own drive and interest for regional stability. The current Lebanon crisis is most certainly a test to see which regional will prevails.

Jumblatt’s defection may prevent civil war, Hezballah to rule Lebanon

Posted By antounissa on January 22nd, 2011

Political kingmaker Walid Jumblatt’s defection to Hezballah effectively ends Western-backed Saad Hariri’s hopes of retaining his post as Lebanon’s Prime Minster.

Jumblatt’s support will give Hezballah and its Christian allies the necessary numbers to form government without the need to compromise with Hariri’s March 14 coalition. It’s a major victory for Syria and Iran over the US in the latest round of Lebanese chess, with a pro-Syrian government set to return to office for the first time since 2005.

Hezballah is leaning to nominate former Prime Minister, and staunch pro-Syrian Sunni figure Omar Karami. Karami’s government was brought down in 2005 amidst mass protests against Syria’s occupation of the country following Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination.

Irony may deliver Karami back into power, with the looming STL prompting Hezballah to flex its political muscles and install a government friendly to the Party of God.

Jumblatt’s decision will sting his former close ally Saad al-Hariri, and no doubt a strong sense of betrayal will be felt in the March 14 camp. The Druze leader is insisting his defection was made as a result of strong Syrian and Hezballah pressure, as if claiming he had no choice in the matter in a bid to appease disillusioned supporters of the once fierce critic of Syria. He may not be lying about this one.

Despite his status as a deceitful warlord, Jumblatt’s decision may in fact stave off the threat of civil war for the time being. Hezballah made its intentions loud and clear when it resigned from government that it was in no way going to tolerate a Beirut leadership that was a threat to its weapons and legitimacy.

If Jumblatt had nominated Hariri as Prime Minister, Hezballah would have most likely swept the country by force, raising the prospect for civil war.

The Americans were gambling that the STL would have, indeed, pushed Hezballah to use its force in Lebanon, potentially drawing Israel into another round with the Iranian ally.

The US and Israel are perhaps also pushing for the fragmentation of Lebanon, as hinted by the Saudi Foreign Minister last week when he stated the country could be partitioned into sectarian cantons ala the Lebanese Forces’ federalism model.

America’s strenuous effort to have the STL – originally a Bush project – imposed on Lebanon and drive the troubled state to conflict appears to have been thwarted by Jumblatt’s decision to award Hezballah official rule of the country. It also ensures the country remains united, as the now Shi’ite-Christian-Druze coalition is set to establish government with strong Syrian support.

Dangers still remain, however, as the Americans and Israelis are unlikely to back down on the quest to eliminate Hezballah. The STL’s indictments are still to be released. Lebanese analysts warn it may take months for Hezballah and its allies to form government. Should the indictments be issued before a government is announced, the STL could still have a divisive impact on Lebanon and raise tensions.

March 14, now to be in opposition, may also resort to Hezballah’s old tactics of turning to the streets and sparking uproar amongst the country’s Sunnis who will no doubt feel marginalised. Such demonstrations will receive maximum American and Saudi support, with widespread media coverage in the West and Saudi-owned Arab media.

But it’s clear that with the major Druze and Christian parties now firmly behind Hezballah, there’s little room to move for Hariri and his few remaining allies. Civil war is now incomprehensible as Hariri now finds himself increasingly isolated against the bulk of the country. In roles reversed five years ago, Hezballah has successfully shifted from being the isolated outcast in Lebanon, to the inclusive ruler with allies in every region and sect of the country.

Hezballah is no longer a state within Lebanon, it is Lebanon.

Lebanon a regional conflict fault line

Posted By antounissa on January 20th, 2011

The regional orgy (bar Saudi Arabia now) currently underway to resolve Lebanon’s crisis just exemplifies the helplessness of our country.

Lebanon’s government consists of Assad, Ahmedinejad, Erdogan, Obama, Abdullah, Sarkozy, Netanyahu, bin Khalifa, anyone else want to join the party?

Here’s my latest coverage on Lebanon for Crikey (full article below) and Global Voices:

Lebanon’s political crisis is set to deepen as the UN prosecutor’s findings into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri were filed on Monday.

The contents of the indictment are not to be released for at least a month, according to Lebanese officials, but it is widely expected that the powerful Lebanese Shi’ite movement, Hezballah, will be implicated.

Lebanon has been without government since Hezballah led a mass Opposition resignation of cabinet last week, effectively toppling the national unity government.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Hezballah of a last-minute attempt to “subvert justice”, while Hezballah continues to deny involvement in the killing.

In a live speech on Sunday, Hezballah leader Hassan Nasrallah defended the Opposition’s decision to force a government collapse, and reiterated his view that the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is a US and Israeli design directly aimed at the Shi’ite group.

Nasrallah blamed US interference for scuttling a Saudi-Syrian brokered deal to resolve the crisis. The Hezballah leader alleged outgoing Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain former premier, agreed to a final Saudi-Syrian proposal before suddenly baulking at the last minute.

Hezballah initially refused to back Hariri to return to his post as Prime Minister — a position reserved for Sunni Muslims — and were leaning towards former pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami.

In a show of strength, the powerful Iranian-backed Shi’ite movement is demonstrating its political clout in assuming the role of king maker of Lebanese politics. Hezballah has flexed its ability to return Lebanon to political paralysis and end Hariri’s career as Prime Minister should the Sunni leader fail to compromise on the STL.

Much hinges, however, on the decision of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who holds the balance of power in parliament and can decide whether Hariri’s March 14 camp or the Hezballah-led Opposition form majority.

Jumblatt, a former critic of Hezballah and Hariri ally, has shifted his position in the past year to play the role of mediator between the pro-Western and pro-Syrian blocs.

Jumblatt proclaimed his support for Hariri as Prime Minister following a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on the weekend, but only on the condition that Hariri accept a negotiated Saudi-Syrian deal that would allay Hezballah’s concerns.

Meanwhile, a regional diplomatic flurry involving Syria, Turkey, Qatar, France, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the US is in motion in a bid to contain the crisis.

Syrian, Qatari and Turkish leaders held a regional summit in Damascus on Monday, emphasising the need to adhere to the Saudi-Syrian initiative. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for an international contact group to resolve the Lebanon crisis, which Turkey has agreed to.

Negotiations for a new government have been postponed for a week to allow regional powers to broker a solution. Turkish and Qatari officials are currently in Beirut holding talks with all Lebanese factions.

As is often the case, Lebanon’s fate is likely to be decided in foreign capitals as the deeply divided factions fail to reconcile their issues. The latest saga only reinforces Lebanon’s status as a regional conflict fault line, with the US and Iran continuing to battle for greater influence in the country.

The US will insist on the STL as it is likely to implicate Hezballah members, and potentially tarnish the patriotic brand of Iran’s local ally among Lebanese. Iran and Syria — whose officials may also be indicted in the Hariri assassination — will conversely move to contain the fallout of the STL by weakening Hezballah’s local opponents and discrediting the tribunal to win Lebanese public support.

Nasrallah’s emphasis on using constitutional and legal means to argue Hezballah’s case against the STL — as well as regional efforts to defuse tension — are reassuring signs against a relapse into civil war.

However, Israel has previously stressed it will not tolerate a Hezballah-ruled Lebanon, which will undoubtedly factor into negotiations for a new government.

Lebanon as a failed state: are we asking the right questions?

Posted By antounissa on January 14th, 2011

Hezballah’s latest resignation from government is not a unique development in the Lebanese landscape. Rather, it is the continuation of unending failure in a state that was artificially created as part of a colonial project.

We only need to look to Sudan, or Israel/Palestine, to know that arbitrary boundaries drawn by Western powers nearly a century ago are a source for the constant instability the Middle East and Africa struggles to escape. The boundaries are no longer sacrosanct.

If Sudan, soon-to-no longer-be Africa’s largest state, makes little sense in its fusion of northern Arabs and southern Christians and Animists, what sense does Lebanon make?

Sectarianism has defined Lebanon’s identity since the first day it was welcomed as a newly independent state. Created to appease a Christian community, Lebanon has remained an unfortunate reality that the various sects have been forced to deal with. There is no communal Lebanese identity, no sense of nationhood, despite the fact that beneath the religious surface, we are the same people … a fact many of us are blind to.

Lebanon’s identity crisis, and its failure to determine its reason to exist, lies at the core of the country’s ongoing and tiresome internal woes.

Many commentators and journalists are accurately focusing on the initial question that comes to mind when trying to analyse the latest government crisis: Why did Hezballah resign? To torpedo the STL many have said.

But track the “why” question back several times, and we end up at the same core problem: Lebanon … why is it here?

Andrew Exum aka Abu Muqawama touched this nerve when highlighting Hezballah’s insecurities stemming from the Shia’s sense of paranoia, but he didn’t go that fraction further to hit the nail on the head. Why do our confessional identities supersede our national identities? Why does one’s sect define a person’s socio-economic status in the country? Why are there disparate levels of funding and services among our sects?

Josh Landis at Syria Comment equally resigns Lebanon to eternal stagnation as it returns “to its battleground existence of division and confessional confusion”. The only comment I will add here is that Lebanon isn’t returning to such a role because it was never absolved of it. Indeed, it is the role it was born to play, for the cedar flag that represents Lebanon is but an overarching superficial lie that encompasses a state-less oligarchy of sects and tribal clans jostling for power and survival because they have to.

That is the heart of our problem. Hezballah might be removed tomorrow, but the symptoms that spawned Hezballah into being remain, and will undoubtedly resurface in this grand sectarian wrestle for a greater slice of the pie.

What will happen now? Political and economic paralysis? Definitely.

Violence? Probably.

Demonstrations? Most likely.

Same old? Yes.

Lebanese and the world at large have grown accustom to Lebanon’s status as an irreparable failed entity that seems forever condemned to instability, conflict and confessional division. The common response to a crisis in Lebanon is to deal with it as a contemporary problem that can be papered over. Sure we can appease Hezballah by electing a new Prime Minister, and that may stave off civil war for now.

But by focusing solely on the contemporary, we stop asking the tough questions that lie at the core of Lebanon’s fragility, and lose the drive to find a long-term solution. We become complacent in our surrendered acceptance of Lebanon as a state beyond repair. We cannot find a definite solution to the problem that is Lebanon without asking the right and difficult questions.

What does being Lebanese mean and why does Lebanon exist?

Opposition walkout throws Lebanon into a state of flux

Posted By antounissa on January 13th, 2011

My latest piece for Australian independent online political media, Crikey, on the Hezballah-led cabinet walkout that has forced the government to dissolve.

Freelance writer Antoun Issa writes:

Lebanon’s Hezballah-led Opposition has resigned en masse from the country’s fragile national unity government, triggering its collapse.

Eleven Opposition ministers, including Hezballah’s Christian allies, walked out from their posts as Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri was meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington. The resignation follows a dispute over a controversial UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Sunni, in 2005.

Rumours in recent months have intensified that the STL is set to indict members from the Shia Hezballah in the assassination. Hezballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has previously vowed not to co-operate with what he calls a politicised tribunal by Israel and the US set to harm Lebanon’s internal stability.

Hezballah and its allies have been vigorously pushing for Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain former Prime Minister, to denounce the STL and refuse participation.

Hariri and his pro-Western bloc, March 14 — inclusive of Sunnis, Christians and Druze — have rejected Hezballah’s demand, and insist on pursuing justice through the STL. Lebanon has been in deadlock for several months, as local protagonists awaited the outcome of intense negotiations between Syria and Saudi Arabia to resolve the crisis.

Syria and Saudi Arabia each hold significant influence in Lebanon, and are widely seen as patron states to the country’s rival political factions. Syria holds sway over Hezballah and its allies, whilst Saudi Arabia remains close to Hariri.

The two states were at odds following the assassination of Saudi-ally Rafik al-Hariri, as the Saudis — backed by the Bush administration — sought to remove Syrian influence from Lebanon. Damascus and Riyadh have recently reconciled in a bid to co-operate over regional flashpoints, particularly Lebanon.

Following the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement, the Saudis’ local Lebanese allies, including Hariri, re-established friendly ties with Syria, after once accusing Damascus of assassinating his father. As rivals in Lebanon began to forgive and forget, many hoped the latest Syrian-Saudi effort to defuse internal tension over the STL would succeed.

The Opposition’s resignation from the government comes a day after Syria and Saudi Arabia failed to broker an agreement.

It remains unclear what led to the breakdown of the Syrian-Saudi negotiations, but some Lebanese analysts are blaming US pressure, which has insisted the STL go ahead, dismissing Hezballah’s complaints.

What now for Lebanon?

It’s not the first time the Hezballah-led opposition bloc has walked out from a national unity government. Indeed, the Shia group resigned from the Siniora government in 2006, paralysing the country for two years until an agreement was reached in Doha, 2008.

Although Hezballah quit cabinet in 2006, it did not trigger the collapse of government as the Opposition did not hold the amount of seats required to bring it down.

Ironically, its key demand in 2006 was that it be given a special veto to do exactly what it is doing now, that is, bringing down the government when it sees fit.

Hezballah and the Opposition now hold the 11 necessary cabinet seats needed to cause a collapse, all of whom have now resigned.

The Opposition’s failure to bring down the government in 2006 led to mass demonstrations and sit-ins by Hezballah and its allies, that subsequently drew counter demonstrations from supporters of Hariri’s March 14 bloc.

Hezballah may again resort to mass demonstrations to further pressure Hariri to drop the STL. Hariri is currently torn between preserving stability in the country, and finding the truth of his father’s murder — with Hezballah and the US tugging in opposite directions.

There is no reason to assume, however, that the government’s collapse will dramatically lead to renewed civil war, as much is contingent on the interests of Syria and Saudi Arabia — neither of which wants to be drawn into another Lebanon conflict.

Will the STL end Lebanon’s culture of impunity?

Posted By antounissa on November 16th, 2010

Maronite Patriarch Sfeir stated that justice needed to prevail, and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) needed to go ahead regardless of the political repercussions.

Here are his exact words, as cited in The Daily Star:

“It has become well-known that there is a party that intends to abolish the international tribunal, but this tribunal shall take its course and be effective if there is a will to put an end to the assassinations that Lebanon has seen.

It should achieve justice so that every criminal is punished, or else, assassinations and anxiety will go on and Lebanese will continue to leave their country.”

Let’s forget for a moment that it was Sfeir who made the call. Yes, Sfeir has a political agenda that often pits him against Hezballah. No, it is unlikely that Sfeir would apply the same call for justice to criminals in his Christian camp (e.g. Samir Geagea).

But the message needs to be emphasised nonetheless, as it touches one of the core problems Lebanon has faced since the end of the Civil War … the culture of impunity.

In fact, we can trace this prevailing culture to the Taif Accord and the end of the Civil War, when all warlords decided to grant themselves, and each other, amnesty for the atrocious crimes of humanity they committed for 15 years.

Lebanon’s post-war reconstruction was unique to other intra-state conflicts (e.g. Balkans, Rwanda, South Africa) in that the crimes committed were never investigated by an international tribunal, nor was there any attempt by international organisations to foster reconciliation among the warring factions and heal a ravaged community.

No truth commissions, no war crimes investigations, no pursuit of justice, not even a day to commemorate the war dead.

Instead, Lebanese were told to forget the past and mourn in silence.

Of course, the problem with leaving crimes unpunished is that it creates an environment where the rule of law is undermined by the powerful, and a culture of impunity becomes the norm.

Fast forward 15 years and a string of political assassinations, beginning with Rafik al-Hariri, rocks the country. One after another, heads were rolling, yet no suspect was brought to trial (with the exception of the initial flawed UN investigation), and not surprisingly, not many in Lebanon expected it.

In a country where the powerful rule above the law, and the criminal runs unpunished, Lebanese have become accustomed to the culture of impunity. No one paid the price for 150,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians killed in the Civil War, why would they now?

That it has taken a high-profile assassination to gain UN attention is quite despicable in itself, but nevertheless it is an opportunity to bring justice to at least one political crime. Given the long drought of justice, we cannot afford to be picky. Lebanese warlords must be made conscience of the possibility that their crimes in the country will no longer go unpunished.

The STL has set a precedent in bringing a Lebanese political crime in front of an international tribunal, and should Lebanon continue on its deadly road, further investigations may take place. Indeed, the STL has raised expectations that political crimes in Lebanon will from now on come under tight scrutiny by the UN.

The success of the STL will be measured by its ability to deter future politically-motivated criminal acts in Lebanon. Human rights groups should be on the heels of the STL and demanding expanded investigations into the plethora of war crimes that have been swept under the carpet. Only once Lebanon has faced its past, and healed its wounds, will it be able to progress.

Dismantling the culture of impunity is but one step.

Shuffling and reshuffling – conceding Lebanon to Iran

Posted By antounissa on October 16th, 2010

Interesting comments by several Lebanese academics were quoted in this article by The Age’s Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis, more or less surrendering Lebanon to Iran in the latest round of regional chess:

“It’s not just the Israelis who are hysterical about Iran,” says Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt – countries that have meddled in Lebanese politics for so long – have given up here. It’s Iraq they are trying to save from Iranian influence. They believe Lebanon is already lost.

Whatever else Mr Ahmadinejad was hoping to achieve with this week’s visit to Lebanon – including an array of economic, trade and cultural agreements – he provided tangible proof that Iran is in virtual control of Lebanon’s southern border, heightening security concerns within Israel and embarrassing the United States, which put significant pressure on Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to cancel the visit.

Many believe Lebanon, which emerged from 15 years of war in 1990, is once again headed towards internal rupture.

A United Nations Special Tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri is soon to deliver findings that seem certain to implicate Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah will not tolerate it, because they cannot live with such an accusation,” says Professor Khashan. “So the current Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has a choice.

”He can denounce the tribunal’s findings, or he can leave the government. But he can’t support a finding that Hezbollah were involved in his father’s murder. He does not have anything like the power to do so. His time in politics has, in my view, already expired.

It was clear when Obama took office, and withdrew from Bush’s neocon drive to reshape the Middle East, that Lebanon would be surrendered to Syria and Iran.

As soon as the US changed course, Saudi Arabia threw in the towel, King Abdullah kissed and made up with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and ordered Hariri to do the same. The wayward Jumblatt rescinded on insults made towards Syria and Hezballah during the Bush years, and won forgiveness in turn.

To demonstrate the helplessness of Hariri at present, the Future Movement leader will most likely not dare to confront Hezballah over the possibility that the Shia movement was involved in the murder of his father.

Civil war is highly unlikely, simply because it’s impossible for any other faction to stand up to Hezballah. If Ahmedinejad’s visit signified anything, it was a clear warning to Hezballah’s Lebanese opponents that Iran is the guarantor of its ascendancy in the country, and any challenge to it will be quashed.

Ironically, the Saudis and the Hariri camp are turning to Syria to calm the situation. This is how Syria plays its cards in Lebanon, and it plays it well. Syria will always seek to ensure it is the major player in Lebanon, and thus shares an interest with Saudi Arabia and the US to not allow Iran to become overly dominant in the country.

History shows that Syria has sought to contain Iran in Lebanon once before, when it backed the Lebanese Shia Amal movement against Hezballah in the 1980s.

Of course times have changed. Hezballah is a crucial part of Syria’s military defence strategy vis-a-vis Israel, and will not abandon it. It will also not abandon its alliance with Iran, as Assad has reiterated in recent times. But as has been Syrian policy in Lebanon since the French separated the multi-confessional state from Damascus, the Syrians will seek to maintain some level of balance between the various factions in the country.

This effectively works as a guarantee for Lebanon’s non-Shi’ite communities against an ever-powerful Hezballah. The only thing Syria will ask in return is that Hariri abandon the UN’s Special Lebanon Tribunal. With strong Saudi backing, Hariri will have little choice but to accept this deal.

The irony that March 14 would find itself turning to Bashar al-Assad to contain Iran’s influence and Hezballah’s rise.

Simply another round of Lebanese chess.

Lebanon: Hariri and Hezballah still on collision course

Posted By antounissa on October 14th, 2010

As I highlighted in my previous post, Ahmedinejad’s visit to Lebanon is likely to have more bearing on domestic issues.

Although the media is beating up the story of an Iranian president on Israel’s border, the Israelis – with the exception of a few extreme comments from the far-right – are keeping a low-profile.

The Israelis are keeping an eye, as everyone is, on Lebanon, waiting for the next twist in the never-ending saga of political bickering and instability. When will the country implode again?

Below is an excerpt from a post on Friday Lunch Club, where a few possible scenarios have been thrashed out should Hariri and Hezballah not arrive at a detente on the UN’s Special Lebanon Tribunal (SLT).

It seems further instability is inescapable for Lebanon, but rather it’s a question of restraining local factions from resorting to violence. Syria probably plays the most important role here in pulling the strings and calming Lebanese rivals.

Ahmedinejad’s visit to Lebanon, however, may have the complete opposite effect and inflame internal Lebanese tensions with an ostentatious display of support for Hezballah. The Iranian leader’s visit will be exploited by Hezballah to add further pressure on Hariri to abandon the SLT.

Personally, I think it has always been ludicrous that the fate of the country should be determined by the assassination of a single man, when so many Lebanese have been killed without any pursuit of justice.

But this is Lebanon.

Friday Lunch Club
In the face of increasing pressure, Hariri has so far held firm, vowing on September 29 not to “let the blood of Premier Rafiq Hariri go to waste.” But with the expiration of Hizballah’s September 30 ultimatum, the stage appears to be set for a potentially violent political confrontation. Several scenarios are possible:

Hariri concedes. To avert a crisis, Hariri could decide to accept Hizballah’s demands, disavowing the STL, ending Lebanon’s funding for it, and calling for the withdrawal of Lebanese judges…..

Hizballah walks out. If the pressure campaign against Hariri fails, Hizballah could seek to bring down his government by asking its allies to withdraw from the cabinet. The group controls ten of the eleven cabinet members needed to produce such a collapse, so it would need the support of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt or one of President Michel Suleiman’s appointees (e.g., Adnan al-Sayyed Hussein, a Shiite placed on the cabinet with Hizballah’s consent)…

Hariri resigns. In an effort to preserve his dignity and uphold his father’s legacy amid Hizballah pressure, Hariri could decide to step down as prime minister — an option publicly floated last week by a member of his parliamentary bloc. Although some have suggested that such a move could strengthen Hariri’s hand by making it politically untenable for any other Sunni politician to accept a compromise on the STL, it could also give Hizballah the leverage needed to block formation of a new government, as in the previous scenario.

Hizballah takes to the streets. ….
Ahmadinezhad’s visit — aimed in part to reinforce Lebanon’s further shift toward Syria and Iran — may signal the beginning of a new, more dangerous phase in Hizballah’s intimidation campaign. This weekend, for example, Nasrallah reiterated his determination to “stop this American and Israeli attempt to destroy the resistance.” With few other choices, Hariri and the Saudis appear to be placing their faith in Syria to restrain Hizballah and maintain calm — a role that Asad relishes ….

Although Hizballah and its allies have directed their pressure campaign against Hariri, their ultimate aim appears to center on challenging overall support for the STL by forcing the international community to choose between justice and stability. The Obama administration should use its nascent dialogue with Damascus to make clear that Syrian efforts to undermine the tribunal will have adverse consequences….. Washington should continue to reaffirm support for the tribunal and make clear that it will not countenance any political deal over its future…. “

New blog, new look … Ahmedinejad in Lebanon and Turkey’s play

Posted By antounissa on October 14th, 2010

Master degree out of the way … tick

Chosen a city to live in for at least a year … tick

Ready to write again. I must say it’s quite refreshing to be sitting here typing away after a near year hiatus.

And what a better way to restart my political blog, the week of Ahmedinejad’s visit to Lebanon.

A lot is happening in Lebanon this week, with Turkey’s Erdogan to meet Ahmedinejad in Beirut on Friday.

What is the significance of this trip?

As noted by Hezballah expert, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, the visit reinforces the Iran-Syria-Hezballah-Hamas alliance in the face of the US and Israel. Perhaps it is a signal of contempt towards Obama’s recent drive for peace talks  - although the Israelis poured cold water on this move before it ever gathered pace – or simply a reminder to Washington that it is not the only force in the Middle East with the ability to influence the end game.

For Hezballah: Hezballah is also showing its strength to its domestic rivals, currently at loggerheads over the UN Special Lebanon Tribunal that is expected to indict several Hezballah members in the Hariri assassination. Is it a case of ‘don’t mess with me, look who’s behind me’, an attempt to scare Hezballah’s domestic allies from provoking it?

For Iran: Josh Landis comments in the same Bloomberg article that Iranian domestic issues are also at play in Ahmedinejad’s visit to Lebanon. Landis states that the Iranian leader is trying to “shift the focus from his internal failures” by highlighting the one success in Iranian policy, Hezballah/Lebanon.

Erdogan: A get together between long friends in Iran and Hezballah is not exactly going to raise too many eyebrows. However, Erdogan’s attendance to the after party will perhaps be the most significant element of this visit. Turkey’s shifting regional policy has been well documented, reaching fever point with the flotilla raid.

Erdogan’s visit will further cement that shift, potentially complicating any American/Israeli attempt to exert maximum pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. More importantly for Israel, Erdogan’s public appearance with Ahmedinejad in a visit to Hezballah will automatically signal Turkey’s symbolic support for the Lebanese Shia group.

Whilst Erdogan’s visit to Lebanon is undoubtedly going to heighten concerns in Tel Aviv and Washington, Turkey is actually increasing its stocks as a very important player in any final peace settlement in the region.

Let’s not sugarcoat Obama’s charade that are the peace talks. Time and time again the US invites Israel, the PA and its local Arab puppets in Mubarak and Abdullah to a meeting in the White House, and dubs it a renewed regional peace track. Egypt and Jordan are not the two states the US needs to gain support from for the peace talks to work.

No peace deal is going far without Iran and Syria. And with Hezballah’s continued rise in Lebanon, coupled with their leverage over Hamas, any “peace talk” between an already reluctant Israel and PA is hardly going to reap any rewards.

The only power in the region that has best positioned itself to broker peace talks between all sides is Turkey. Erdogan keeps his phone book full. Indeed, his strong criticism of Israel in recent times and his accompanying visit to Lebanon with Ahmedinejad this week is a clear sign to the US that Turkey is no American foot soldier in the Middle East (ala Egypt and Jordan), but a friend nonetheless that brings benefits with its connections.

Will the US smarten up and utilise Turkey’s potential?

*Also, a good read here from the Huff Post on Iran’s growing soft power in the Middle East.