Thursday, July 19, 2007

On Vacation...

Hi Everyone,

Following an incredibly hectic 2 weeks at work I'm reporting that the Blacksmiths will be on vacation for the next two to three weeks. We will be as far away from a computer screen and as close to the waves as possible.

For your regular news, analysis, and rational commentary on events in our troubled little homeland look to the sidebar! So, barring any major events, we'll see in August!


Monday, July 16, 2007

Breaking News: Another Bomb Targets UNIFIL

The bomb struck the convoy as it was driving through the village of Qassimiyeh near the southern port city of Tyre...

Naharnet:

A roadside bomb targeted a UNIFIL patrol on Qassmiyeh bridge near the southern port city of Tyre on Monday, the second such attack on the peacekeeping force in less than a month.

UNIFIL spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane confirmed the attack on the vehicle belonging to the Tanzanian contingent. She said no casualties were reported in the blast...

NOW Lebanon:

Security sources said an estimated 200 grs. of TNT connected to a timer exploded when two soldiers of the Tanzanian Military Police left their vehicle. Their Patrol convoy was passing near a permanent checkpoint of the UNIFIL.

This explosion comes a day after the French Minister of Defense Herve Morin’s visit to the French division in the UNIFIL. During his visit Morin stressed on the reinforcement of protection measures for the French troops.

Commentary:

You don't need to have been following the situation in Lebanon for long to realize what is happening...

...France hosted a meeting in Paris to try and bring the Lebanese side together in agreement (pretending as if one side doesn't take its orders from Damascus and Tehran).

The discussions were an attempt to bring some of those parties in the pro-Syrian opposition out from under the Syrian wing and engage them as Lebanese players. In short, it was an attempt at progress on the Lebanese front while sidelining Syria.

So Syria responded in typical fashion (terror) and reminded the Europeans that if they try to sideline it, it will kill their troops.

The question is, will the Europeans allow themselves to be threatened, intimidated, and muscled by the B-level thugs in Damascus or will be stand up for themselves?

Images as seen on Yahoo!News

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pictures: Nahr el Bared Heats Up!

Another four Lebanese Army soldiers lost their lives today as they battled Syrian-linked terrorists in (what remains of) the Nahr el Bared Palestinian Refugee Camp in northern Lebanon. Sources in Lebanon revealed that the military operation against the terrorists (now in its 54th day) was due to come to an end in the coming days...


...our thoughts and prayers go out to the soldiers and their families.

The nation salutes you.

Images as seen on Yahoo!News

Video: Roundtable Discussion on Lebanon

Al Jazeera English's Inside Story program brings together the DailyStar's editor at large, Rami G. Khoury, analyst and columnist Kamel Wazneh (sympathetic to Hizballah), and the chief public relations officer of the (anti-Syrian) Progressive Socialist Party, for a discussion on the issues plaguing the country today.




Ad-Diyar Spills the Beans...

The Lebanese daily Ad-Diyar revealed today the circulation of an initiative by the country's pro-Syrian speaker of Parliament for the "election" of Army Commander Michel Suleiman as President of the Republic. Suleiman would be mandated for half the regular Presidential term and would oversee new Parliamentary elections, according to the paper.

The replacement of Lahoud, himself a former Army Commander and predecessor to Suleiman, with Suleiman has been the Syrian plan all along. It is a plan we've blogged about repeatedly (back in January, and twice this month), and it is a plan that would rob the country of any progress in advancing towards establishing viable defenses against the continued subversion Syria and its allies are conducting in Lebanon. In short, Suleiman's election would be two-steps backwards to the standstill that Syria's allies have forced on the leap to sovereignty embodied in the Cedar Revolution.

The Syrians will use every opportunity to create the circumstances needed to allow their candidate to come into power, whether it will be through some massive Nahr el Bared-like insurgency, continued bombings and assassinations, or the precipitation of civil strife by its allies, the Syrians will create the national catastrophe from which their 'salvation' candidate will save us.

And if, by chance, a President not clear and certain in his convictions to Syria were to emerge, he can most likely expect to look forward to an early retirement along the same lines his neutral or anti-Syrian predecessors have left office in the past, on the back side of an explosion...

...Of course, Aoun will always be ready to jump in and take their place, as long as its constitutional of course!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Heading Down A One Way Street

I have nowhere near enough time to write a proper post these days, but the waters in Lebanon are churning and something has to be said! So here's a quick look at the news, events, and rumors making the rounds in the country over the past several days.

Accountability Avenue

I'll start with the now infamous "Islamisation of Lebanon" incident, which led to a whirlwind of controversy, showboating, and PR crisis control, in the country over the weekend.

Now I want to be very clear about one thing: putting the whole separation of church and state issue aside for the moment (who ever said we were living in a secular state?), there is nothing wrong with the Council of Bishops - or any other party or interest group for that matter - criticizing the legislative or executive branches of government. After all, it is through such criticisms that governments are held accountable to the voters who got them elected (alongside those that tried to not get them elected).

But accountability is a two-edged sword, and any side willing to engage in the kind language and accusations leveled by the bishops last week must be able to backup their claims with credible facts and evidence - something the bishops fell a little short of last week.

Speculation Street

Meanwhile the beat goes on in Nahr el Bared, three weeks since the Minister of Defense declared victory there. But where some may now view the minister's statement with ridicule, this blogger speculates that its prematurity might have been the result of a tactic employed by the minister to try and put pressure on the Army's politically-aspirant-Chief to bring a quick end to the conflict. A conflict that has lasted almost twice as long as last summer's July War (the commemoration of which begins today), and an end that would free up those units trapped in the North, fighting the Fatah al Islam infestation, in preparation for the next Syrian assault-by-proxy due to be launched in the coming weeks.

And launched it will be! That according to the various rumors, editorials, blog posts, and various other media snippets making the rounds over the past two weeks.

While some of those snippets have limited themselves to the now-obvious prediction of the launching of a second government by Syria's allies in the country, others have indulged the notion that the summer could result in yet another war along the country's southern border with Israel. This time, the speculators hold, the true source of the missiles that will rain down on Israel's north will not remain unscathed.

But while some choose to scoff at the doomsayers, events on the ground all seem to be adding fuel to the speculative fires.

Take for instance, the Arab League's decision to engage in an historic visit to Israel, aimed at promoting the Arab Peace Initiative launched by the League in 2002 and standing in direct contradiction to Syria's efforts to peddle a scheme that would essentially allow Israel to deal with the Golan on its own terms in return for Syrian hegemony over Lebanon.

Despite the Arabs' criticism of the Israeli PR frenzy over the visit of the Egyptian and Jordan FMs representing the League, it is nonetheless a significant diplomatic coup for the Israelis. A coup the Arabs will not have handed over without some significant payback from a nation that has been all too comfortable with an autocratic Syria for the past 30 years.

But where the above might hint of overreaching, events on the ground continue to proceed along the same chilling path. While Syria continues to augment its allies' stockpiles and capabilities in Lebanon, it has also moved to a heightened rhetoric against the US Ambassador in Beirut. And when it comes to Iran - Syria's main backer and partner on the Lebanese front - where attacks against multinational troops have come, attacks against their embassies have never been too far away.

Its not like they haven't done it before, the question is: will they be held accountable this time?

Wrong Way

And so we come back to the bishops and accountability. While the "Islamisation Crisis" may now be subsiding, the effect of a certain bishop's adoption of the "Aoun rhetoric" has left the Church scrambling to shore up its neutrality. Leaving one to wonder as to the timing of the bishops' airing of those grievances, less than a month from by-elections that could prove to be the catalyst for a series of unfortunate events.

That is in the future, however, and today is a day to remember the past. A day when we should be asking: Who is holding Hizballah accountable for its actions one year ago today? Who is holding them accountable for trying to place limits on our Army's actions inside its own territory? Who is holding those Hizballah-sympathetic officers in the Surete Generale and Army itself accountable for their refusal to follow orders on our borders and on our roads? Who is holding Syria's allies in the country, those who continue to sing its praises to this day, accountable for the weapons, fighters, and assassins it continues to smuggle across our border? Who is holding Michel Aoun accountable for providing Hizballah and the rest of the pro-Syrian clique with the political cover they have exploited for over a year now?

Oh, and who is holding the government responsible for canceling a holiday?

Friday, July 06, 2007

"Ya Kan" Be Arrested for Possession of Weapons

Remember Fathi Yakan? The brilliant Sunni luminary who was dispatched by the Syrians back in December to lend a Sunni voice to the Hizballah-led protests downtown, the wise scholar who met with Syrian officials in Damascus ahead of the fighting in Nahr el Bared, and who falsely claimed he was mediating on behalf of the Lebanese Army - both in Damascus and in Nahr el Bared - for an end to the fighting? The very same Sheikh who has openly acknowledged his links with both Islamist insurgents and the Assad regime?

Well if you do remember him you might be surprised to learn that his apartment, along with several others belonging to suspected militant extremists, was raided by State Security agents who uncovered weapons and ammos caches at the Sheikh's apartment. The raid took place in the Abi Samra district of the city of Tripoli which witnessed violent clashes two weeks ago when Lebanese Army units moved in to confiscate another weapons and ammo cache.

Which reminds me, where was the Sheikh himself while all this was taking place and why hasn't he been arrested? Most likely he's either in Syria itself, or in one of a number of security pockets (be it in the camps or in a Hizballah stronghold) established - or preserved - by the Syrians since they took over the country in 1990 - and which have been safeguarded by their allies since they left in 2005. But what do I know.

Oh...

...and in other news, Syria invaded part of Lebanon the other day. No worry, its an area almost equivalent in size to the Shebaa Farms. And where Israel's holding of 3 Lebanese prisoners was enough to cause Hizballah to launch a war resulting in 1200 Lebanese deaths, Syria's continued illegal incarceration of over 250 Lebanese citizens should therefore trigger a massive retaliation by the group. No I'm not worried, the brave resistance will save the day.

On a less ridiculously sarcastic note, Syria's mini-invasion might have had something to do with the government's decision to deploy 300 ISF troops to the border in a bid to get some personnel there who might at least report Syria's weapon smuggling when they see it. And much weapons smuggling there is as Syria arms its bands of fighters in the country ahead of the next phase of attacks and disruptions. The aim of this next phase, as with all the other phases, will be to bring down the government and remove Lebanon from the international protective sphere which has sought to build defenses against Syria's violent disruptions in the country.

But at least Syrian students won't be affected by the next bout of fighting those 'disruptions', or for the fun of it lets call them coup attempt, will bring.

The Politics of Property

NOW Lebanon continues its series of exposees on one of Lebanon's largest and perhaps most controversial business and social sectors: that of Construction, (Re)Development, and Land Ownership.

The interactive piece, tackling the stories of five of the capital's distinctive war-time-era landmarks, touches on the number of undertones that color the country's complex politics, or at least social phenomena.

Some stories speak of inspirational initiatives such as the Barakat Building project which aims at using the land, and our lasting effect on it over the years, to tell the story of a people, nation, and shared history that bind them together.
A handful of intellectuals, however, including the architects behind the campaign to save the Barakat Building, have argued that Lebanon cannot move forward from the civil war until it creates a “collective memory” and then uses that unified account of civil war events to heal some of the divisions fracturing society today.
Others, remind us of the politics of property and the greed and corruption that accompanied a fifteen year Syrian infiltration and occupation. Others still, touch on the current occupation of downtown Beirut by supporters of Syria's allies in the country in a bid to bring down the government.

Whatever your political outlook, this piece will most likely prove an entertaining read with a number of old rumors and a sprinkling of new ones both put to rest and/or resurrected (depends on how you see it).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Video: This is Lebanon - A 1950's Documentary

A slow-moving, original footage documentary detailing the country's state, educational, industrial, and touristic attributes in the early 1950's. I haven't seen all of it yet (a little too slow moving for my taste), but as far as I have seen the film has some excellent footage. The original posters of the documentary on YouTube provide the following description: A British film-maker captured the spirit of Lebanon while on a road-trip. He shot almost everything. This is a very rare footage with a recently added narrative.

Enjoy:




Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Breaking in Two: The Presidency (Part II of II)

Two-government crisis or not, military victory or not, the advancement of yet another military man as a 'compromise' or 'salvation' candidate for the country's number one seat might prove harder than it seems, especially when that candidate is no compromise at all.

Already the government has mobilized its international allies to confront the on-the-ground rallying of Syria's finest in their preparation for the formation of a second government. The move comes months after the spiritual leader of the community to which that seat is reserved has openly voiced his opposition to the 'rule of generals'. In both cases, a strong message was sent to another wistful member of the opposition with a keen interest in the Presidency and whose political missteps in pursuit of that Presidency in the present (as in the past) have thrown the door wide open to a re-installment of Syria's domination over the country.

Allow me to digress.

The anti-government coalition, as it stands today, is a heterogeneous body in composition. Where Hizballah operates on an axis of Iranian power-policy projection and where the Marada, SSNP, Baath, and Amal political machines operate on the fuel of Syrian power-money interests, the third component of this opposition - the General's predominantly Christian FPM - is a party with a supporter base that has in the past shown its readiness and dedication to placing the Lebanese question above those foreign considerations - if not above its leader's myopic presidential pursuits.

The presence of this third component, even as it undergoes transformations which have brought the members of its top echelons more inline with the interests of those providing it with the rials to operate its expanding operation, has provided those other elements (first among them being Hizballah) with the political cover they have needed to advance the moral and topical fudging (and attempt at equity) they have pushed in their undermining of the state.

And therein lies the urgency and importance of creating a crisis in the Presidency for the Hizballah-led opposition. Any facilitated resolution of the question of Lebanon's Presidency would in turn spell the end of the grounds on which Syria's allies in the country could continue to hide the true fault line currently dividing the country.

A fault line separating a vision of a western-oriented 'conformist' Lebanon as espoused by those parties currently in government, from the eastern-oriented 'rejectionist' Lebanon as embodied primarily by Hizballah. A fault line which any meritorious President would be expected to bridge through a successfully managed disarmament of Hizballah within the framework of the country's previously agreed upon sectarian balances (or within the framework of a successfully drafted new agreement) all the while securing the international guarantees (both in the form of text resolutions and military armaments) needed to defend and insulate the country's delicate internal structure from regional players to the north, east, and south.

And so from the perspective of those actively working to prevent the establishment of bulwarks for the state and its sovereignty over Lebanon, it becomes evident that there can be no Presidency without a President willing to allow the continued assaults on the state engineered in Damascus and Tehran, and implemented in Lebanon through their fifth-columnists there.

In the short run, the political cover provided by Aoun and his FPM will be preserved by the Syrians and their quislings through one of two possibilities. The first would entail the placement of the General at the helm of an illegitimate Presidency (setup in conjuction with the parallel government those pro-Syrian forces will move to establish). The second, and perhaps more likely, scenario would witness an escalation and prolongation of the crisis of the Presidency along the same lines on which the country's Parliament has been consistently undermined - that is, by calling its legitimacy, mandate, and duration into question.

In addition to forcing (or enabling) Aoun to maintain his position within the opposition through a prolongation of the crisis (and basically keeping his hopes for the presidency alive), this scenario would also provide Syria with the additional bonus of a precipitation of Lebanese internal strife and chaos so important for its argument that there can be stable Lebanon without its choking control of it - all the while preserving Hizballah's weapons and those in the hands of other Syrian controlled militant groups (both inside and outside the camps).

And if all else fails, there would remain for the Syrians that other favored option for undermining the country's democratic institutions, death by assassination. Which brings us to the final point: If the General were to somehow attain the Presidency, he might finding himself departing it far sooner than he would've expected, and doing so on the backside of a concussion wave. An unfortunate thought, but one made all the more so by the fact that of 3 past Presidents to have come in without having been explicitly chosen for the seat by the regime in Syria, two have met such an end (Bashir Gemayel and Rene Mouawad - the third being Amin Gemayel who served his full term and subsequently went into self-exile in France out of fear for his life).

That is the fate that any Presidential candidate possessing a hint of deviation from Syria's interests must be ultimately aware of.
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