Thursday, January 29, 2009

Commentator Captions 4

Cedar Island

With a grateful hat-tip to: A Diamond in Sunlight and Qifa Nabki. And here is the project website ... take a look.

Here are the promised updates to this post:
Update: Jad Aoun provides an update on the project.

Under Pressure – Part III

Part I, Their Goodwill Our Blood, Part II, Part III

The proof is in the pudding.

In the first instance I can remember, and in response to the PFLP-GC rocket fire, Gen. Jean Qahwaji (the man chosen to take over the position of Army Commander in the wake of Michel Suleiman’s ascension to the Presidency - and in the wake of the assassination of Gen. Francois el Hajj, the top commander in the “red line-crossing” Nahr el Bared operation) ordered the deployment of Lebanese Army special forces units south of the Litani.

Meanwhile, in another first that I can remember, the Army has announced that it will be conducting Hawker Hunter manoeuvres over the coming days. The news comes after Russia’s declaration that it intends to supply Lebanon with 10 MiG-29 aircraft, the usefulness of which resides in the Army’s increased ability to confront internal threats rather than external ones. For a nation stung by the sight of its troops having to manually drop bombs on militants in the Nahr el Bared campaign, and (more importantly) by the high death toll exerted on its fighting forces throughout that campaign, the link between this manifestation of our enhanced air capabilities and the threat of another confrontation with [Syrian-supplied] militants operating under the guise of the “Palestinian struggle” (i.e., the PFLP-GC) cannot be missed.

And while our new Army Commander (who was himself subjected to a hushed-up assassination attempt – attributed to militant elements linked to the Nahr el Bared campaign … ) has moved to spruce up the Army’s preparedness to confront any instability, his predecessor, President Michel Suleiman, has called on the Cabinet to move to confront the “instrument of influence” from which that instability could arise.

The President’s stances, both in Qatar and at home (with regards to the PFLP-GC), in the face of the gathering storm should be commended. As the International Tribunal becomes operational, as the threat of an electoral defeat begins to loom larger for Syria’s allies in Lebanon (measure that threat with the number and volume of rants by Aoun and his oranges – against the President – as the elections approach), and as Syria feels the need to demonstrate the fashion in which it exercises its influence to a new US administration, the dangers to this country will grow.

If we are to survive them, we must close ranks and recognize those who have taken steps to uphold our sovereignty, supporting them against those who would tear it down.

Under Pressure – Part II

Part I, Their Goodwill Our Blood, Part II, Part III

Despite its bloody tactics and relentless campaign, the regime in Syria has so far been denied in its efforts to stymie the establishment of the International Tribunal, while the survival of the [pre-Doha Accords] Cabinet and the Parliamentary majority throughout these campaigns of terror and intimidation meant that the Syrians were unable to spike the Lebanese state’s participation in the Tribunal’s investigations or organizational structure (for example, by forcing the Lebanese government to call for a majority Lebanese panel of judges and then forcing the selection of pro-Syrian Lebanese judges) .

And despite the imminence of the approaching storm, there is a sense that the majority of Lebanese will continue to insist on determining their own fate and extract their country from the clutch of regional entities intent on using Lebanese territory and lives in the pursuit of their interests.

In a development unprecedented since the end of the civil war (and the subsequent assassination of Rene Mouawad at Syria’s hands), there is a sense that we have a President interested in and capable of working to ensure that we can be a country at peace with our neighbour to the east while at the same time remaining sovereign and independent of that country’s regional ambitions.

This as the President continues to be subjected to intense pressure to “fall in line” with the Syrian stance, as accentuated by a recent leak citing a threat by some pro-Syrian groups to “pull their ministers out of government in case [the President] insisted on not going to Qatar.”

As the country’s parliamentary elections draw near the emergence of the President as a patient promoter of a pro-sovereignty agenda – divergent (in substance or style?) as it may be from that of the pro-sovereignty Cedar Revolution movement – will face the ultimate test. Already the prospect seems to have driven the rivals of the pro-sovereignty agenda into a veritable panic (cue rant by Michel Aoun or one of his lesser Aounites).

In the past that panic has translated into violence and disruption, as was the case in January 2007, after the Lebanese government officially requested the creation of the International Tribunal, as was the case in May 2008, after the Lebanese government instructed the military to transfer a General with close ties to Hizballah from his position overseeing the security and operations of the country’s international airport.

In January 2007 Hizballah was thwarted in its attempts to paralyse the country by its [FPM, SSNP, and Marada] allies’ inability to enforce roadblocks along the predominantly Christian coastal highway stretching from Tripoli to Beirut. Unsatisfied with the Army’s intervention (limited as it was) during that crisis along with Army Command’s complete rejection of the “Nasrallah Red Line” during the May 2007 Nahr el Bared offensive, the group moved in January 2008 to ensure that the Army’s hands would be tied in the next crisis, brought about in May 2008.

This time around, the situation may lend itself to a scenario in which the Army moves to take up its role as a defender of the nation and the state.

Under Pressure – Their Goodwill Our Blood

Part I, Their Goodwill Our Blood, Part II, Part III

But nothing ever happens the same way twice.

With the prospect of a return to Clinton-era diplomacy on the horizon, the Syrian regime must be banking on gaining more mileage out of the disruptive role it continues to play in the region, and the tactics which it implemented throughout the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that stretched on throughout the Clinton years.

At that time, peace was closer than it had ever been, and closer than it has ever been since. Slighted at having been sidestepped through the Oslo Accords, and intent on portraying itself as a regional player, the regime in Syria sought to gain leverage in its own negotiations with Israel (and the US) and project an image of regional influence by enabling Hamas and Islamic Jihad and activating their attacks at times when it was most hurtful and costly to the peace process and those pursuing it.

Today that option seems to have been neutralized with the effective end of an [excessively bloody] Israeli military campaign in Gaza which has rendered Hamas operationally defunct. Not only is the group now effectively cut off from its supply routes through Egypt, but the Gaza war has proved Hamas’ complete inability to mobilize any effective action against Israel emanating from the West Bank.

Which brings us back to Lebanon ...

... which was the scene of some “light” rocket fire into northern Israel (insert intense Israeli media commentary on the devastating effect on the mental well-being of farm animals affected by the rockets) attributed to another militant group, and instrument of Syrian “regional influence”, the PFLPL-GC.

Despite the “regional” connotations of the act, what this paltry attempt at launching rockets ended up reflecting was the operational constraints placed on any militant group operating in the region south of the Litani in the aftermath of UNSC Resolution 1701 and the presence of a 30,000-strong combined UNIFIL-Lebanese Army force mandated by that resolution. Indeed, Hizballah’s effective idleness, along with its attempts to move the theatre of supportive action for Hamas to Egypt, underlined that group’s own inability to act in the face of staunch resistance to the ignition of another conflict by the people most affected by it, the residents of the South. All this in the wake of the July War which, similarly to the most recent conflict, saw the group enter the fight as Hamas took a battering in Gaza.

With the Gaza card effectively diminished, and as the US renews its drive to push past the roadblocks and obstacles put up by the region’s radical movements (both on the Israeli side and along the Syrian-Iranian axis), the prospect of Lebanon being once again used as a Syrian-Iranian bargaining chip has intensified. And already, along with the sad proclamations of victory by Hamas, we now have proclamations by the Syrian regime that it is to them that the world owes a debt of gratitude for having kept our country out of war!

Under Pressure – Part I

Part I, Their Goodwill Our Blood, Part II, Part III

With parliamentary elections (June 7th 2009) and the International Tribunal’s operational starting date (March 1st 2009) fast approaching, Lebanon is entering a period of increased risk. For Syria, the stakes are too high to allow the continuation of Lebanon’s pro-sovereignty drive, especially with the apparent addition of that country’s recently-elected President to the ranks of those working towards a strong, viable and sovereign state. As Syria begins to feel the pressure of an operational Tribunal (witnesses and all), along with a newly reinvigorated Arab Peace Initiative under the stewardship of an ambitious US-Middle East policy, so too will it bring pressure (of the explosive kind) to bear on those Lebanese it perceives as a hindrance to its dominance of the only piece of real-estate it ever really cared about, i.e. its tiny neighbor to the west.

Those following developments in Lebanon and the broader region should, by now, be no strangers to the tactics employed by the Syrian regime in order to coerce its way out of having to abide by the International Tribunal. For the most part, these tactics consist of a two-pronged approach: On the one hand, the costs to the broader international community and those Lebanese who support the International Tribunal are dramatically increased through a series of destabilizing measures rendering the country unsuitable for business, life and any further international interest.

On the other hand, the regime works to ensure that its allies and proxies in Lebanon are strategically placed throughout the executive, legislative, and judicial bodies of the state [and its security apparatus], thereby preventing the execution of any decision emanating from that international court – a move, should it ever come to fruition [through this June’s elections], which would place us in direct confrontation with the broader international community and render unto the country and its citizens a global “pariah status”.

The two “prongs” have not been mutually exclusive, converging through such actions as the targeting and assassination of MPs and Ministers (cutting away at the pro-sovereignty two-thirds majority in Cabinet and simple majority in Parliament), the launching of the January 23rd 2007 riots and their culmination in the attacks started on May 7th 2008.

This week, reports emerged of approximately 150 militants being transferred across the Syrian border to bases controlled by proxies of the Syrian regime’s intelligence apparatus. The reports are especially worrying given the pattern such developments have taken in the past. Go back to May 2007 when the International Tribunal was activated and a string of terrorist attacks launched – including the Fatah al Islam insurgency in Nahr el Bared. Precede that with this report from late 2006, bringing news of 200 fighters being smuggled in from Syria. And finally, juxtapose it with the assassination of Walid Eido, a former judge and Future Movement MP thought to have been involved in the Lebanese government’s work on the drafting of the International Tribunal’s charter and mandate.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama Al Arabiya Interview

US President Barack Obama gave his first [ever] televised interview to the Al-Arabiya news station, a manifestation of his continued efforts to reach out to Arab and Muslim communities around the world. Read the full transcript of the interview here, or watch the interview below:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Butros Harb's Defense Strategy

As Hizballah continues to filibuster and delay any progress on the national dialogue for a national defense strategy, MP Butros Harb, a stalwar of the Cedar Revolution pro-sovereignty drive, has proposed the following points as part of his national defense strategy:
  1. Adoption of a national defense strategy that the state would commit to, in defending Lebanon and in liberating occupied territories.
  2. State to fully implement UNSCR 1701 in all its articles.
  3. State to commit to Taef accords and in particular the state of truce between Lebanon and Israel, while extending Lebanese armed forces authority over internationally recognized borders.
  4. State to strengthen armed forces by all available means.
  5. State to adopt modern and advanced methods in equipping and training military, under supervision of Lebanon's military general command.
  6. Hizbullah to deliver its arms to the Lebanese military under a specific timetable and program.
  7. State to take measures in protecting Hizbullah leaders and cadres.
  8. Strengthening international guarantees for Lebanon.
  9. State to officially request from Syria to provide signed documents demarking borders for Shebaa Farms.
  10. State to immediately begin collecting Palestinian arms inside and outside refugee camps as agreed to at the national dialogue.
  11. State to approve draft constitutional amendment proposed by members of parliament that calls for a parliament unanimous decision for any resolution for settling Palestinians in Lebanon. A matter that would prevent settling Palestinians in Lebanon.
  12. Lebanon to stay away from any regional axis and announce its positive neutrality.
  13. All political parties and players to commit to all of the above in affirming national unity and independence of Lebanon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Syria Smuggles PFLP-GC Fighters into Lebanon

Naharnet reports:
About 150 fighters from Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command have reportedly been smuggled to the northern refugee camp of Beddawi and the coastal town of Naameh south of Beirut.

The daily Al Balad on Sunday said the PFLP-GC -- which has bases in barren terrains in east Lebanon's towns of Qossaya, Hilweh, Sultan Yaqoub, and Deir el-Ghazal -- had smuggled around 150 fighters to Beddawi camp and a tunnel in Naameh.

The newspaper, citing a security report, said the fighters were smuggled via the northern town of Talbira in the Akkar province.

It reported "unusual" PFLP-GC activity, including setting up rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns and planting anti-personnel mines and anti-vehicle mines around its bases.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Launching A New Middle East Policy

George Mitchell Appointed Mid East Envoy

The man who brought peace to a centuries-old religious and ethnic struggle in Northern Ireland a decade ago has been appointed as the new U.S. envoy to the Middle East.

According to CNN,

In 2000, Mitchell served on a commission that examined the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

In 2001, he wrote a report that that called for a halt to Israeli settlements and greater Palestinian efforts to crack down on terror. The "Mitchell Report" was praised for its impartiality and became the basis of a so-called road map for later peace initiatives.

and check this little nugget out:
[Mitchell] was the fourth of five children born to an Irish father and a Lebanese
In accepting the appointment, Mitchell declared he was confident the Middle East conflict could be solved:
"Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings - they can be ended by human beings. I saw it happen in Northern Ireland,"
The move signals the Obama administration's seriousness in tackling the Arab-Isreali struggle and was accompanied by strong statements by the President in support of a sustainable two-state solution, the empowerment of the Palestinian Authority, and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Obama also declared his intent to increase humanitarian and financial assistance to Gaza while pursuing increased security along the Gaza-Egypt border, in coordination with the Egyptian government.

For their part, Hamas [unsurprisingly] delcared that President Obama's was off to an "unfortunate start ... in the region and the Middle East issue. And ... the next four years, if it continues with the same tone, will be a total failure."

Other foreign policy initiatives undertaken by the new President today included the ordered closure of Guantanamo Bay, as well as all CIA-operated prisons on foreign soil, an executive order banning "harsh interrogation measures" (a.k.a., torture), and the appointment of veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Rockets Fired from Lebanon

[Top] Lebanese army soldiers look at a rocket which fell short in Lebanon several kilometers north of the Israeli border, near the village of el-Meri, in southern Lebanon, on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009.(AP Photo/Lutfallah Daher) [Middle] Sheep pass next to a rocket which fell short in Lebanon several kilometers north of the Israeli border, near the village of el-Meri, in southern Lebanon, on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla) [Bottom] The remains of a rocket which was fired towards Israel but missed its target and fell in the Lebanese village of al-Mari. The commander of UN forces deployed in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) has urged restraint following a rocket attack on northern Israel.(AFP/Taher Abou Hamdan)

Israeli forces fired artillery north into Lebanon in response to a rocket attack, the second such border exchange in days which threatened to ignite a second front as Israel battled Hamas in Gaza. There were no reports of casualties on the Lebanese side, according to U.N. peacekeepers. No one was hurt after three rockets fell in open areas near the Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona, but residents were ordered into bomb shelters, Israeli police said.

For quick updates check the Twitter app in the top left sidebar of this website. For comprehensive analysis on rocket fire from Lebanon throughout the Gaza War, check Tony's excellent piece as well as the recent piece written by Michael Young (recall, the July War first started off as a war between Israel and Hamas before Hizballah moved to alleviate pressure on its ally).

[Pictures and captions courtesy of Yahoo!News]

Friday, January 09, 2009

Gaza Articles: Humanitarianism and Politics

Here are some articles on the conflict in Gaza outlining the political dynamics of the conflict - especially in the context of the rockets fired from South Lebanon into Israel yesterday. I've also included links to articles highlighting some of the humanitarian atrocities committed [predominantly by Israeli troops] in the Gaza strip:
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