Monday, December 17, 2007

Emergency Numbers

Its a hell of a time to do this but I had to do it sometime: I'm going on vacation. In any case, the country [and its crises] aren't going anywhere. Not as long as we have the Syrians trying to retake the country; the Iranians trying to implement their regional agenda on our back - and with our blood; and all their quislings jostling for a piece of the action while the rest of the political class continues to run around like a flock of headless chickens [assassinations do that to you I guess], anyway.

In any case, be sure to check our news and blog feeds on the left [and right] sidebars for the latest updates and in case of emergency, be sure to call the numbers displayed in the video below [courtesy of a Lebanese public safety NGO called YASA].

You can also reach us via email (check my profile) if need be. As for the date of return, unfortunately it will have to wait until after the New Year (sorry, can't be more specific).

So here's to a better year [less assassinations, for starters] and Happy Holidays to all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Assassinating Salvation

It’s not easy to quantify the sense of shock, desperation, and fear that this most recent ‘hit’ [on Lebanese Army Brigadier General Francois el Hajj] by the Syrian killing machine has rendered on the country.

Indeed, for a country now all too used to the roving bands of assassins striking at its politicians [while other politicians quickly move to exploit their murder], this latest assassination has struck a particular chord. Echoing off the Army’s recent victory against a malicious terrorist cell in Nahr el Bared, and striking at the one institution in which most Lebanese had placed their faith for their salvation. A salvation they had pursued so far as to propose the amendment of the constitution, in order to bring to the nation’s head the man at the head of that [perceived] salvation.

This latest assassination is what it always is: Syria’s use of death, terror, and destruction to try and keep the Lebanese “in line”. Through every opening it receives - the last being France’s overwhelming act of diplomatic buffoonery in Lebanon's Presidential elections throughout November - the Syrian regime is reinforced in its belief that the international community is unwilling to take serious steps against it, leaving it open to kill, maim, and terrorize the Lebanese.

Hajj’s assassination comes at an important juncture and targets a man who sat atop that juncture: Given the [eventual] ascension of Army Commander, Gen. Michel Suleiman, to the Presidency, Hajj was slated to be a serious contender to the post of Army Commander; And as the Chief of Operations for the Lebanese Army, Hajj played a major role in the military campaign against the Syrian-backed terror group Fatah al Islam at Nahr el Bared.

Taken with the continued drive at the reformation and modernization of the Lebanese Army seen over the last year and half, and the attempted transformation of the institution from just a symbol of sovereignty to an effective bulwark and tool for implementing it, the above may hint at the Syrians’ choice for a target.

By murdering Hajj, the Syrians may have been sending a message aimed at making sure that none of that transformation is realized, either on the level of the Army or on the level of the Presidency.

The latter comes as the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority continues to push for the election of Suleiman as a compromise candidate in the face of Syrian and Iranian-inspired blockages [by the likes of Aoun, Hizballah, and Berri], and in avoidance of a prolonged Presidential vacancy.

For the former, it is a reminder by the Syrian regime to the country’s soldiers that any attempts to break from the “brotherly relationship” which holds them to the Syrians will result in scenes like today’s; and that the events of Nahr el Bared are to be buried, once and for all…

…this, as the Syrians "bury" their own top military and intelligence officials who might have known too much.

Breaking News: Deadly Explosion in Baabda!!

Update: News services have reported the assassination of the Lebanese Army Chief of Operations, General Francois el Hajj.

A large explosion has been reported in the Baabda-Hadath district of Lebanon, just south-east of the capital. According to emerging reports, the explosion took place at approximately 7:00 am (local time) near the Baabda municipal building.

News services have reported between four and six dead along with dozens wounded. News services have also reported the strong possibility that the explosion may have been due to a car-bomb. Several cars in the vicinity of the explosion were completely destroyed, with debris scattered over a large area. A large plume of smoke could be seen rising over the site of the explosion.


A security cordon has now been established around the site of the explosion. The wounded have been taken to the Saint Charles Hospital, the Baabda Hospital, and Qalb Yassou3 Hospital.

The Baabda district is home to the country's Presidential Palace, the current center-stage for the country's ongoing crisis.

Brigadier General Francois el Hajj has been confirmed as the target of today's assassination (via the Baabda explosion). Hajj's body was discovered some 150 meters from the site of the explosion. He was rumored to be a serious contender [along with Chief of Military Intelligence, George Khoury] to succeed Michel Suleiman in the post of Army Commander. Hajj's current post within the Army was Chief of Operations.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Word About Suleiman: Part II

Where is Shaker el Absi?

That Suleiman is Syria's man is sure. His brother-in-law, after all, was the official spokesman for the Presidential Palace in Damascus and its occupant at the time, Hafez el Assad.

As for Suleiman’s purported even-handedness throughout the Cedar Revolution, my guess is that it was more an issue of the Commander correctly feeling and reading the international pressures felt by a man in his position, rather than any sense of moderation or nationalism that stayed his hand.

Along the border with Syria, Suleiman’s officers have hardly moved a finger in response to the massive weapons transfers that continue unabated [a few busts here and there were carried out by security agencies supervised by ministries currently under the control of the March 14th movement – e.g. Customs (Ministry of Finance), and ISF (Ministry of the Interior)].

And, of course, who can forget Nahr el Bared. Despite the bravery of the rank and file, the most important questions and their answers [leading back to Syria] have been “officially” buried by the Commander and his staff.

Where is Shaker al Absi?

All this to say, of course, that Suleiman is Syria’s man [and we haven’t even mentioned anything dating back past the year 2000].

Already the Lebanese streets and airwaves are being plastered with posters and songs praising the Commander’s rise to power [those in Montreal can check AM radio frequency 1450 Hz, for live broadcasts of the “Voice of Lebanon”]. And already comparisons are being made with that other Commander who, in 1958, provided the country with another “least worst” choice of the Presidency.

At that time, the masses were all too happy to give up some basic freedoms in order to be rid of a political class preying on their livelihoods. Fifty years later, the Lebanese general public seems to have given its final acquiescence [extorted by Damascus’s terror, Hizballah’s blockages, Aoun’s destructive treachery/idiocy/cowardice, and to some extent March 14th ineptitude – or at least, the ineptitude of those left alive by the Syrian assassination campaign] to the sacrifice of the country’s absolute sovereignty, in favor of relief (from the four extortions listed above) and the semblance of sovereignty through the attainment of some objectives…pending Damascus’ approval, of course.

So congratulations to Gen. Michel Suleiman for his replacement of Gen. Emile Lahoud in the seat of the Presidency [and to Gen. Georges Khoury for his rumored replacement of Suleiman in the seat of Army Commander].

As for my first question to the new president: Where is Shaker el Absi!?

A Word About Suleiman: Part I

Where is Shaker el Absi?

Maybe I should start this post by looking at the possible positives in our leader-to-be, as opposed to the realities of the negatives.

That Suleiman is Syria's man is sure, that Syria in its relationship with Lebanon will be limited in its involvement – as compared with its 15 year occupation, and in the short run, at least - is also sure.

To that extent, it is possible to view Suleiman's arrival to the Presidency as the commencement of a nominal thawing of the past three years' icing over of relations between the Syrian regime and the Anti-Syrian parliamentary majority that has governed [or attempted to in the face of the pro-Syrian oppositions blockages] the country, a thawing that could bring with it certain superficial [and maybe useful] advantages.

These advantages include the possible expansion of the UNIFIL mandate to the Syrian-Lebanese border. This enforcement of one UNSC Resolution [1701] would come – to a certain extent - at the expense of another [1757] – to another certain extent.

Another, perhaps more long term, advantage could be witnessed in the continuation and augmentation of American-led efforts at bolstering the capabilities of a Lebanese Army long-drained of any capabilities by regional “equations” [i.e. the maintenance of Israel’s regional air superiority] and “proxy armies” [i.e. Hizballah and its continued policy of undermining the establishment of strong national army].

Where is Shaker el Absi?

As far as the Army’s [and the state’s] relations with that “proxy army” are concerned, however, the placement of Suleiman in the country’s top post seems to have highlighted the complete withdrawal of the issue of Hizballah’s weapons from the Lebanese domestic political scene and secured it in a broader international framework. A framework which could see Syria finally selling [if it still can] the only thing the world [the West] is interested in buying – Hizballah’s disarmament.

Nevertheless, it seems unclear that a domestic solution – and the election of a man willing and [to some extent] capable of implementing it – could have been reachable in the first place. The last time it was tried [through the 2006 National Dialogue talks aborted by Hizballah] the country found itself mired in a devastating “July War”.

The enthusiastic support Suleiman received in the “build up to his nomination” from the Egyptian political and military establishment, along with the upcoming US delivery of training jets to the Lebanese Army, seems to be confirmation of movement in a direction that can’t afford to be impeded by the Army’s infiltration by Hizballah and the officers who’ve plundered its armories for the group.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Word About Aoun: Addendum

This video was brought to my attention by a friend after having read the post: A Word About Aoun. Carlos Edde's recount of meetings held with Aoun by the budding Anti-Syrian movement confirms the information presented in that post surrounding Aoun's dealings with the Syrian regime prior to his return to Lebanon from Paris. In addition, it serves as further proof that the "General" had been actively engaged in those negotiations as early as late 2004.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Word About Aoun

I hope you’ll forgive the digression but I thought I’d start this post by talking a little about a character we haven’t heard about in a long time, Emile Emile Lahoud.

The Voice of Lebanon's Youth?

Emile Emile is the son of recently retired Syrian stooge [you guessed it] Emile Lahoud. His ridiculous name shot to notoriety when his father cashed in Syrian favor to have him (s)elected as a Parliamentarian for the Metn district in 2000. As a Member of Parliament, Emile Emile’s name was quickly associated with a number of shady business projects that cropped up in his mountainous district, as well as in Beirut.

After the Cedar Revolution and the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005, Emile Emile was among a handful of [Syrian-imposed] Parliamentarians who thought it safer not to ask their constituents what they really thought of them. Subsequently, he chose not to run for “re-election”.

The last that was heard of Emile Emile, he had been implicated in the multi-billion dollar Iraqi oil-for-food program while serving as an MP [funds from that scandal were said to have been laundered through the now-collapsed Al Madina Bank]. His brother Ralph Lahoud, meanwhile, was busy co-owning and managing [along with Majid Hamdan, the brother of ex-President Emile Lahoud's commander of the Presidential Guard, Mustafa Hamdan] one of numerous “private security” companies roaming the country.

As chance would have it, however, this particular company was charged with the security of the part of Beirut in which the late Rafic Hariri was assassinated [along with 22 others – including ex-minister Basel Fuleihan] at the time in which the assassination took place [the assassination itself has been reportedly linked to the Al Madina Bank scandal and Hariri's possession of documents incrimminating top Lebanese and Syrian officials in it]. Well maybe it wasn’t chance, but that’s a subject for another day.

Now if you’re asking yourself what in the world reminded me of a run-of-the-mill stooge/traitor/criminal character such as Emile Emile and prompted me to include him in a post [that will ultimately get to be] about the Presidency [or lack thereof], then lay your eyes on this quote, retrieved from Emile Emile’s official website:

Febraury 1 2005 - M.P. Emile Lahoud to Al Balad newspaper: General Aoun is rightfully entitled to financial compensation.

And so we begin our look at the effective sabotage of the country’s efforts at achieving a measured degree of normalcy with a retrospective look at how the “General” - currently at the [nominal] head of efforts to abort another General’s [unconstitutional] ascension to the Presidential seat - actually came to be in Lebanon for the event.

The Tsunami

The truth of the matter is that Michel Aoun’s return to Lebanon [in the spring of 2005] had less to do with the ouster of the Syrian Army and intelligence apparatuses than with a deal cut by Aoun and the Syrian regime [including its stooges in Lebanon] in which the General stood to regain funds he had abandoned in his hurried flight from the country.

That these negotiations between Aoun and the Syrian regime took place ahead of the assassination of the Rafic Hariri – and the subsequent launching of the Cedar Revolution – seems to be hinted at by the above proclamation [did I mention Emile Emile tried to pitch himself as the voice of Lebanon’s youth? What a joke].

After Hariri’s assassination Aoun was met in Paris by a number of delegates representative of the budding March 14th movement, with the most public of these meetings being that between Aoun and Wael Abou Faour [on behalf of Walid Jumblatt]. Despite positive initial indications, relations between the two politicians [Aoun and Jumblatt] quickly degenerated, hitting rock-bottom with Jumblatt’s famous declaration likening Aoun’s imminent return to the Lebanese political scene to a “Tusnami” [passing through the country with destructive force and leaving only chaos and devastation in its wake - two years on, that sounds about right].

According to sources close to the talks, the collapse was a direct result of Aoun’s refusal to abandon negotiations with the Syrian regime [and its representatives in Lebanon] linked to his “financial compensation” as well as several criminal charges brought against him by those same representatives. Two days ahead of his return, the General would witness the suspension of all charges by Syria's judicial enforcer in Lebanon, Public Prosecutor Adnan Addoum.

The Traitor

Of course this doesn't begin to describe the full extent of the damage that Aoun continues to do today to his country and his community, but its a start. A continuation would entail a look at the General's relentless assailing of everything his soldiers died for and everything his supporters bled for at the hands of those he now readily supports and contrives with over the future of our country.

Whether it be in the form of that ridiculous piece of toilet paper readily referred to as the MoU; or the closure of Parliament to which he and his party have been accessories; or the devastating riots and protests which took the country to the brink of civil war; or the blockages he continues to impose on the successful election of President of the Republic.

[All this is - along with the political implications these actions carry - are what we are referring to when we talk about the political cover Aoun grants Hizballah. None of it would be possible without his support and mobilization. And none of it is reflective of the views of the Lebanese Christian community which he claims to represent.]

In everything he does, Aoun has proven to be not only a useful destructive idiot, but something much much worse, a man who is fully conscious of the act that he is committing: treason.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hizballah's Henchmen

Stratfor [or Strategic Forecasting, Inc.] provides a look at Hizballah's top operatives and their links to both Syria and Iran:
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah: is Hezbollah's secretary-general and has been Hezbollah's most pragmatic and charismatic leader -- though his stature has exceeded Iranian limits, and his accommodating attitude toward Syria and Lebanese politics does not sit well with a number of mullahs in Tehran.

Imad Fayez Mugniyah: nicknamed "the Wolf," is Hezbollah's strongman. He has alternately been described as the head of Hezbollah's security apparatus, as the group's chief of intelligence and as its chief of special operations. Mugniyah also has been described by sources as having one foot in Hezbollah and the other in the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, indicating that his loyalty is to Tehran.

...

With Mugniyah back in the game, Hezbollah once again is capable of staging major attacks abroad, allowing Iran to raise substantially the cost of a U.S. attack against the country. Mugniyah coordinates with Hashim Abu Fares, Hezbollah's main official in Iran, who does the group's dirty work by training and recruiting operatives for Iraq and for reprisal attacks in the Gulf states.

Wafiq Safa: is Hezbollah's head of security. Safa is one of the founding members of the group and is highly trusted by the IRGC and Nasrallah. Since Nasrallah no longer attends meetings, he depends primarily on Safa for updates. Safa, who is a terse and paranoid leader, takes care of the group's security arrangements, doing everything from arming Hezbollah allies in Beirut to forging automobile license plates to sheltering Syrian agents in the city's southern suburbs. Safa constantly coordinates with Mugniyah and controls most of Hezbollah's centers in the Bekaa Valley. He is known to have an extensive surveillance system throughout the Bekaa, with all incoming and outgoing security reports passing through him.

Hussein Khalil: takes the lead in shaping Hezbollah's political position and activities, as well as communicating with local political forces in Lebanon. He also acts as the group's primary liaison with Syria. Khalil works in collaboration with Sheikh Naim Qasim, Hezbollah's deputy secretary-general. Qasim is widely seen as a hard-liner in the organization and is far more willing to carry out Iran's bidding than to accommodate the Syrians, whom he deeply distrusts. His views toward Damascus consistently put him at odds with Nasrallah.
Readers are invited to leave comments in this post's comments section. The above quote was taken from Stratfor's November 28th, 2007 report titled: Dissecting "The Party of God", and was written by Fred Burton and Reva Bhalla.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Celebrating the Murder of the Downtown Economy

Images as seen on Yahoo!News

At least 200 people turned up today to celebrate the one year anniversary of the murder of downtown Beirut's bustling economy by militants and protestors loyal to Iranian-backed Hizballah and other pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon.

The takeover of the downtown area by the groups has forced the closure of 75 caf├ęs and restaurants in the area and led to the loss of 2,750 jobs. All the while, those participating in the closure are rumored to have been receiving payments of between $30 and $50 a day through funds transfered from Iran [and managed by Hizballah].

The tents erected by the groups have remained relatively empty over the past several months but the presence of a heavy security cordone around the encampment has scuttled all tourist activity and left local businesses with little room to operate.

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