Thursday, January 18, 2007

The January Offensive

As the country reels from yet another 2-hour, hundred-man march launched by pro-Syrian elements within Lebanon’s labor union structures, Lebanon’s war-weary - ‘escalation’-weary - populace seems set to weather yet another round of Nasrallah’s surprise-laden ‘escalations’. This time, however, Syria’s faithful in the country will be seeking to build upon the two-pronged ‘socioeconomic’-diplomatic offensive launched last week by that state’s allies, both within and outside Lebanon.

Local Scene
On the domestic front, the topic of the day has been (for the past 2 weeks at least) the socio-economic reform plan announced by the government in a bid to obtain increased international participation in upcoming Paris III donor’s conference. The conference will be “aimed at achieving a Lebanon capable of managing its debts in a better way, providing its people with job opportunities and implementing a social strategy that serves all the Lebanese people”, according to France’s ambassador to Lebanon, who also claimed that “On the basis of such commitments, Lebanon will receive international support, and then the country will be offered aid according to reforms being executed.”
The strikes and protests called for by labor unions long dominated by figures and parties closely allied to the Syrian regime, provided for a dismal turnout and uninterrupted work days across the country. Culminating (even before beginning) in a split within the national labor union’s leadership heavily in favor of groups aligned against the strikes and in favor of the government.

Yet despite the pathetic numbers mustered by Syria’s allies within the labor movement, the nominal issue has remained the government’s ‘Reform Plan’, a misnomer if there ever was one. This plan, of which I am no fan (look for a point-by-point analysis of the plan in later posts), includes a set of policy procedures whose span is so limited and proposals so mundane, that it hardly deserves to be called a plan. For one, at least half of the policy points presented in the plan amount to a simple continuation of what has been Lebanese policy for the past 15 years (if not more) and in some cases, to proposals that have been on the tables for years but never implemented. But again, a more in-depth analysis of these ‘socioeconomic’ proposals will follow in later posts.
For its part, Hizballah and its pro-Syrian allies have taken an opposing stand to these plans, a fact that is even more mind boggling considering that they were the ones that drove an economy, set to break a number of tourism and revenue records this summer, to the ground with a war that has cost us $10 billion in losses and lost revenue, not to mention the long term implications for the country’s environment and future touristic prospects.


The second prong of the offensive has come in the UN, where a strange debate and decision took place Thursday, January 11th. The debate in question saw Russia calling on the UN Security Council to draft a letter to lead UN Investigator Serge Brammetz calling on him to divulge the names of countries which have, as yet, not fully cooperated with his investigation. This call follows a previous call by the Syrian ambassador to the UN for a similar revelation in view of Brammetz’s remarks that Syrian cooperation with his investigation had been satisfactory while there remained 10 countries who had as yet, not fully responded to 22 questions submitted to them. The Russian motion was rejected by a majority of the council with the lead countries, France and the US, declaring their belief that the motion’s purpose was aimed at deflecting attention from Syria.

It is worrying, to say the least, to hear that there are countries that seem to be obstructing the investigation into the assassination of a former Lebanese Prime Minister (as well as a string of assassinations that followed) the identity of which will continue to be unknown. With the same certainty we can have that Syria was behind the assassination (speculative certainty that is), however, we can be certain that those countries are most likely the US, France, and their regional allies, not barring Israel. However, the timing of the call also seems suspicious, after all, Brammetz had already promised to reveal the names of those countries not fully cooperating in the investigation by the next report, barring any change those countries’ behavior. So why bring it up now? Taken with the attempts to bring down the government in Lebanon through protests and a set of generally disconnect accusations, this move appears to be aimed at increasing the pressure on the anti-Syrian movement in Lebanon with the aim of achieving a set of short term goals in Lebanon that would ensure the re-ascension of pro-Syrian elements just in time to affect the wording and passing of the government bill on the International Tribunal.

Public Relations 101

In either case, it is clear that this component of the offensive has yielded the greatest dividends, with references to the UN session already making appearances in the speeches and interviews of numerous pro-Syrian officials. In Lebanon, the greatest beneficiary of this diplomatic effort by Syria and its allies will be Hassan Nasrallah, who is struggling to salvage an image severely damaged in the last round of ‘escalations and surprises’. That campaign saw the cleric attempting to portray the government as being subservient to US (and Israeli) interests, and resulted in a media war that uncovered a number of embarrassing details surrounding the political maneuvering in play before, during, and after the July war. Most damaging to Nasrallah were the accusations that he was personally informed by Saad Hariri of Israel’s intent to respond disproportionately if any actions were taken against them in the summer – a contradiction to Nasrallah’s remarks that he had no idea there would be such a reaction – and statements by the Prime Minister that he was approached by an Iranian minister who urged him to reject any Israeli overtures on Shebaa, that is, he was asked to keep the farms occupied.

But Nasrallah will have to fight an even tougher PR battle regionally where much of the support he and his Shiite group had enjoyed after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 (and after their latest confrontation this summer) has begun to wane among the Arab Sunni public. This has come in the wake of a series of events including the sectarian escalations in Iraq, the hanging of Saddam, and Iran’s continued drive to develop nuclear capabilities and the emerging public discontent with those moves amongst the Sunni governments of the region. However, with the resignation of Israel’s Military Chief (Gen. Dan Halutz) in response to growing public discontent with his handling of the conflict with Hizballah this past summer, diving poll numbers for the Israeli PM (and the calls for his own resignation), and the return of Ehud Barak (the source of Hizballah’s boasts for the past 6 years) to Israeli politics, the job of Nasrallah’s public relations officer seems to have gotten much easier.

Picture of fireworks over Hizballah protest-camp in Downtown Beirut, following announcement of Halutz resignation

I realize this post was more of a news roundup than an analysis piece (oh and yes it was way too long) but I thought it would be a good place to start after my month-long vacation from talking or blogging politics. I want to thank Abu Jaafar for taking time out of his Christmas vacation to post pictures and comments from his recent trip to Lebanon. I look forward to all your questions and comments.


  1. Anonymous5:16 PM

    a remark about the reform plan of paris III

    the main economists figures among which nabil ghorbil from by byblos back research department heavely criticized the plan, stating that it wont benefit to the lebanese economy due to X,Y,Z reasons.
    however it wasnt said in the media, there was just a tiny article in the daily star about 2 weeks ago.

    The sames critics formulated by the CGTL, of course with others demands, were flamed by the governemental medias and taken as a pro argument by the opposition media, showing also how extremist are our mediatic isntitution.

  2. JImmy5:23 PM

    Every blog I've visited has been against this stupid plan. Its just a repackaged version of the Future Movement's economic agenda. One they couldn't pass even while they were in government before.

  3. Good effort on the post, but let me get your attention to the following:

    1) Both camps are dependent on the Sectarian line-ups within Lebanon

    2) Both camps want to maximize their share of the cake,

    3) Both camps admitted that the solution will come from the outside for this crisis rather than be brave and solve it themselves

    4) None of the camps are proposing what is good for Lebanon really such as a good LU program or Civil Marriage, on the contrary, it is again the division of power.

    5) Notice how the opposition fight the government by claiming that a political solution first (in reply to Lebanon first) while the government goes economical first (without really offering anything).

    I hate both camps, but hey this situation at least proved that Lebanon is democratic at least, despite the leaders bluffing their own (14th and 8th of March) "followers"

    Best Regards


  4. Your welcome Blacksmith Jade... One question or remark: you didn't mention Iran, Iraq or the USA (in regard to those two countries); actually you jumped from the local to the international scene without mentioning the sabre-rattling going on in the region... not to mention your analysis of it all and how it most certainly relates to Lebanon in God knows what ways. What a big mess!!!!

    MarxistfromLebanon, we need more of that attitude (minus your hate, though, of the camps). But unfortunately, we can't put out forest fires by lighting candles... you need water and lots of it. The opposition will say that with respect to their moves against the government and vice versa... I suppose where the individual stands (Govt vs Opp)depends on who he/she believes is the 'primary stressor' in our big Lebanese family.

    God have mercy on Lebanon and the Middle East.

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  6. Hey Abu Jaafar,
    Yeah I started writing some stuff about that but figured that the post was too long already. But of course, the key developments in the region have been:

    1)The shift in US strategy to better reflect the realities of its allies on the ground. Several important elements of this new Iraq strategy include a call for a change in the Iraqi constitution and an engagement of Iraq’s (Sunni) Baathist elements, as well as heightened pressure on the Iraqi government to crack down on Shiite militias, as well as the active US pursuit of Iranian clandestine agents in Iraq.

    2)The recent visit by the Iraqi President to Syria.

    3)And the revelation that not only were Syria and Israel in secret peace talks (and yes, everyone knew about it and approved) but also Hamas and Hizballah held meetings in Beirut with European officials in order to procure favorable terms for themselves, should any settlements have taken place. These meetings, which took place in Beirut, were also attended by two former senior Central Intelligence Agency officials.

    How does all this relate to Lebanon? Now thats a whole other post on its own...but I'd be happy to hear anyone's thoughts on these matters, and the ones outlined in the post.

  7. MFL, you're pretty much right in your points. But I think the country would be better served through moves towards a disarming of all armed groups in the country and the re-enforcement of our defence apparatus first, a reform of electoral laws seconds, a reform of state institutions third, and the proposal of a new education and development bill - along with some serious economic reforms - fourth.

    I have some specific ideas on each of those points above but I'm still working on them...

  8. Jund Beirut4:26 PM

    "Hizballah held meetings in Beirut with European officials...also attended by two former senior Central Intelligence Agency officials."

    Now we see the liars who accused Seniora of being a traitor. THey are bigger traitors!!

  9. Good post, as always.

    A news roundup it may be, but it filters the "noise" out from the "real" (manufactured) news.

  10. To be exact Blacksmith Jade, the problem is not only with the arms, but with the Sectarianism system.

    We both know that Hezbollah would not disarm unless a major political comprise would take place.

    Second, it is not only the Hezb. who got arms, all the other parties got arms as well (despite what they claim on TV). Even though the only difference between Hezbollah and the rest, they got 20,000 long distance missiles (which with proper offer from the government they would be part of the Lebanese Army and then disarmed again probably by the "International Community"

    And jund, if Europe sat with Hezbollah, at least that is part of the pressure lifted on them, being tagged with Terrorism :)

    Looking forward for your comments Jade... and abu Jaafar, I can't but get disgusted, the problem is this year I had a whole year studying on the Lebanese Civil War, with the very details and behind scenes, you get disgusted with all. For example why Junblatt does not demand seperate embassies between Damascus and Beirut? Becuase he signed the Brotherhood treaty with Syria (been publishing the Myth from Reality Series)

    Jade, glad we established contacts :)

    Best Regards

  11. MFL, you know I've been thinking about the sectarian system a lot, well the one we have at least. I think i've come up with a solution that i'm typing up for a post...a whole series of posts on a final, longterm solution for the country.

    Anyway, I don't think we can be naiive about the solution, if we want it to be viable. We can't just say, ok have one big national election to elect a president from any sect in 2008. There are too many influential and incumbent powers that would effectively resist something like that. So in a way they have to be outflanked...but yeah I guess I'll be clear about all that whenever that friggin post is finished.

    Jeha, thanks for vote of confidence :D

    Here's to Lebanon and constructive discussions on how we can help it be all it can be! ;)

  12. good luck :)

    I started with it but problem I ran out of time due to papers :(


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