The Middle East on a Collision Course (3): The Lebanese-Syrian Front

The Middle East on a Collision Course (3): The Lebanese-Syrian Front
By: H. Varulkar

Introduction

Since the demonstrations of January 23 and 25, 2007 ended, calm has prevailed in the Lebanese streets. In addition, opposition leaders have stressed in their statements the aspect of a nonviolent political resolution to the crisis, and have reiterated to the Lebanese people, and particularly to their own public, that they must not be dragged into civil war. Various sources reported that the calm that currently prevails in Lebanon was the result of Iranian influence. This influence is so great that Lebanese sources have argued that the Lebanon crisis is no longer an internal matter, but is now dependent upon a regional settlement that could impose a new reality on the forces in Lebanon and even force them to make certain concessions. [1]

The stumbling block for any regional settlement is Syria, which is vehemently opposed to an international tribunal for the Al-Hariri assassination. As noted in a previous MEMRI report, [2] it was Syria that thwarted the draft agreement for Lebanon drawn up a few weeks ago by Saudi Arabia and Iran. As a result of Syria’s refusal, violent clashes broke out in Lebanon. [3] However, after the clashes were stopped, Iranian-Saudi contacts were resumed and Lebanese sources reported that some progress had been made. The Saudi daily Okaz also reported that Iran would pressure Syriato accept a settlement that would include approval of the international tribunal. [4]

The difficulty in finding a solution for the Lebanese crisis is not only due to the Syrian position, but is also the result of the overall complexity of the situation in the region. The regional initiatives focus not only on Lebanon and Syria, but also on other issues, both regional and global, including: oil issues, Saudi-Iranian relations, Sunni-Shi’ite tensions, the insurgency in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program, U.S.-Russia relations, and the struggle for influence in the Middle East and in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

In a February 5, 2007 article in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, the daily’s editor Ibrahim Al-Amin revealed that the talks between Saudi National Security Council Chairman Bandar bin Sultan and top U.S. officials had failed, and that the U.S. had rejected Iran’s and Syria’s conditions. According to Al-Amin, this meant that the fire would continue to rage and that no settlement was on the horizon. Al-Amin added that Lebanon was facing difficult days.

Developments in the Lebanese Arena in Recent Weeks

Following the violent clashes in Lebanon on January 23 and 25, the positions expressed by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah clearly became more moderate. In a speech on January 30, 2007 marking the anniversary of the Karbala massacre, Nasrallah announced that a solution to the crisis must take the form of a political settlement: “We in the opposition believe that the solution and the settlement can only be a political [solution]…”

Recently, Nasrallah has devoted significant portions of his speeches to calling on the public supporting the opposition to be restrained and temperate, and under no circumstances to be dragged into violence and civil war. Nasrallah also warned the Lebanese not to take vengeance into their own hands, because the [unity of the] state and of the military had to be protected. He also said that the weapons of the Lebanese resistance must not be used in the domestic arena, and stressed that civil war and war between Sunnis and Shi’ites were lines that must not be crossed. [5]

On February 3, 2007, the Hizbullah website reported that “Lebanon has entered a stage of…cautious calm and undeclared hudna [temporary ceasefire], in anticipation of the results of the Saudi-Iranian efforts concerning the Lebanon crisis.” [6] The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar also reported that the opposition leaders had decided to give these diplomatic contacts a chance to bring about a solution to the crisis. [7] Likewise, opposition leaders have issued no harsh statements or threats to again escalate the situation.

Continued Mediation Efforts Fail; Sources Close to Hizbullah and Syria: “The Region Will Continue to Burn”

At the same time, Saudi-Iranian contacts have been continuing, in attempts to find a solution to the Lebanese crisis. Al-Akhbar, representing the Syria-Hizbullah axis, reported that the main obstacle in these contacts was the issue of the international tribunal, and mentioned the possibility that this issue would be postponed until the investigation of the assassination was completed. [8]

Sa’d Al-Hariri, a leader of the March 14 Forces, who visited Russia to learn its position on the international tribunal, was informed by the Russian Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee chairman that Russia did not support “unnecessary haste” in investigating the assassination. Likewise, Russian National Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said that “the establishment of the international tribunal must not be a source of instability in Lebanese society…” [9] Ivanov also rejected Al-Hariri’s request that the international tribunal be approved by the U.N. Security Council without the signature of either the Lebanese parliament or the Lebanese president, who is known to be Syria’s protégé. Moreover, Russia also refused to announce its support for the government of Fuad Al-Siniora, because Russia supports only a national unity government in Lebanon, which is Hizbullah’s position. [10]

Saudi National Security Council Chairman Bandar bin Sultan, who is conducting the contacts for Saudi Arabia, went to the U.S. to discuss the crisis. In a February 5, 2007 article, Ibrahim Al-Amin reported that during the visit bin Sultan had failed to obtain U.S. backing for the understandings reached by Iran and Saudi Arabia. He wrote that Iran and Syria know that only the U.S. can provide the guarantees that they want – namely, guarantees that they will not be attacked. Therefore, bin Sultan conveyed the following messages to his American hosts: If the U.S. wants Iran and Syria to help it reduce its losses in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, it must agree to a ‘give and take’ deal. Likewise, the U.S. cannot demand that Syria and Iran hand over all their cards. Al-Amin also stated that the U.S. had told bin Sultan that it had no intention of giving up on either the Iranian nuclear issue or on the issue of the international tribunal. As a result, Al-Amin claimed, an agreement would not be reached any time soon, and the region would continue to burn. Al-Amin concluded by saying that “Lebanon is facing difficult days” and that the opposition forces had to decide, now more than ever, which path they would take in the next phase. [11]

In recent days, various sources have been reporting on the possibility that Arab League Secretary-General ‘Amr Moussa would return to Lebanon in order to renew his initiative for settling the crisis. Moussa, who is currently in Russia and who met there with top Russian officials, sent the director of his office to Lebanon on February 5 to begin talks with the various forces in Lebanon.

Lebanese opposition sources claimed that Moussa’s upcoming visit will be the last chance to discuss a solution that deals with the national unity government and with the international tribunal, but leaves the issue of early parliamentary elections for discussion by the future unity government. The sources added that were Moussa’s initiative to fail, the opposition would make an “irreversible” decision – to demand the establishment of a transitional government that would pass a new elections law and hold early parliamentary elections. The sources added that in such an event, all attempts by the March 14 Forces to intimidate the Lebanese public by invoking the specter of civil war would be useless, and that the opposition would be forced to escalate its activity to the maximum. [12]

A New Syrian Approach to the United States

In a February 5, 2007 interview for the American ABC TV, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad expressed his willingness to help broker peace, saying: “We [i.e. Syria] have credibility. We have good relations with the other factions. They should trust [us] to be able to play a role. We have [these] good relations with all the parties, including the parties participating in this government, and the others who oppose the political process. So that’s how we can help.” [13]

This new Syrian openness to U.S. apparently stems from the fact that Iranian-Saudi negotiations for a settlement are continuing, and Assad feels that Iran is about to waive his vital interest – that is, his demand to postpone the approval of the international tribunal.

* H. Varulkar is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1]Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 30, 2007.

[2] MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 320, “The Middle East on a Collision Course (1): Recent Saudi-Iranian Contacts to Resolve the Lebanon Crisis,” January 26, 2007, http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=IA32007.

[3] It should be noted that Syrian sources denied reports that Syria had thwarted the Saudi-Iranian agreement, saying that the reports were aimed at harming Syria. The sources added that Syria knew nothing about any Saudi-Iranian initiative, but only about an exchange of ideas between the two countries. According to these sources, Syria was not setting any conditions for efforts to resolve the Lebanon crisis, and supported anything acceptable to the Lebanese. Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, February 2, 2007.

[4] Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 30, 2007.

[5] Website of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, http://www.moqawama.org/ , January 28, 2007; Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 1, 2007.

[6] Website of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, http://www.moqawama.org/ , February 3, 2007.

[7] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 1, 2007.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 1, 2007, February 2, 2007.

[9] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 1, 2007.

[10] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 2, 2007. The paper also reported that Al-Hariri had conveyed to Russia a Saudi request that after his visit to Saudi Arabia, Russian President Vladimir Putin would not visit Qatar, but the request was refused.

[11] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 5, 2007.

[12] Website of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, http://www.moqawama.org/, February 5, 2007.

[13] ABC News, February 5, 2007, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/print?id=2849435.
 

Let’s review the situation

Is Gaza Becoming Another Lebanon?

Is Gaza Becoming Another Lebanon?

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad

Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs, Israel Ministry of Defense

·      The Iranians have a clear goal to combine their long-range missiles with their developing nuclear technology. We are living in the final years before Iran goes nuclear. Listen carefully to Ahmadinejad. He is not insane. He embodies very accurately the nature of the Iranian regime and he is gaining popularity among Muslims.

·      Iran wants to establish an axis to compete against the moderate Sunni Arab countries, and Israel is in the center of the conflict. To weaken the vicious axis sponsored by Iran, Israel must join in an unofficial alliance with the Sunni Arab world.

·      All the rockets in the hands of Hizbullah are an integral part of a whole system that enables Iran to attack Israel from Lebanon without taking responsibility. The Iranians are not happy with what happened in Lebanon because Israel attacked the infrastructure they had built before they were ready.

·      Syria is another regional actor supporting terror in Hamastan and Hizbullahstan. The headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are in Damascus, and all Iranian assistance to rebuild Hizbullah crosses Syrian territory. In addition, Syria directly supported Hizbullah in Lebanon. Syrian rockets from the Syrian army were given to Hizbullah to use to attack Israel.

·      Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, sitting in Damascus where he is supported by Iran and Syria, controls the military wing of Hamas and is more powerful than PA Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh. Mashaal is responsible for the money, for the policy of terror, and he holds many cards relating to Israel’s abducted soldier in Gaza.


The Iranian Connection

To understand the situation in Gaza, we must first focus on Iran. The issue of Iran as a potential strategic threat on the horizon was first raised back in the 1990s. At that time, however, there were illusions about then-Iranian President Khatami. Now there are no more illusions because the current Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, is so clear about his objectives. The Iranians have a clear goal to combine their long-range missiles with their developing nuclear technology.

From Israel’s point of view, Iran has the potential of becoming the existential threat it is frequently declared to be. We are living in the final years before Iran goes nuclear. Listen carefully to Ahmadinejad. He is not insane. He embodies very accurately the nature of the Iranian regime and he is gaining popularity among Muslims. We have to take him seriously because of the developing capability behind his policy.

Iran wants to establish an axis to compete against the moderate Sunni Arab countries, and Israel is in the center of the conflict. Iran created Hizbullahstan to Israel’s north, which is more powerful than the Lebanese Republic in which it is located. To Israel’s south is another entity, Sunni Hamastan. In Iraq, the Shiites and Sunnis are eating each other, but both are cooperating against Israel, where they want to eat us together.

One danger of Hamastan and Hizbullahstan is that they serve as an example, an inspiration for the whole Muslim world. What if they succeed? Can you imagine what the Middle East would be like for Israel without the peace with Egypt and Jordan, without the leadership of President Mubarak and King Abdallah? They are both pillars of a sane, stable Middle East. Even states like Saudi Arabia understand that Iran is the main threat to their stability, their existence, and to the whole area.

The moment Iran achieves nuclear capability, it will inspire terror, instability, and efforts to take over the Gulf States. Iran has a dream to become a regional superpower. To weaken the vicious axis sponsored by Iran, Israel must join in an unofficial alliance with the Sunni Arab world.

After the War in Lebanon

The war in Lebanon, with all its problems, has resulted in some at least temporary achievements. Hizbullahstan is weaker because Israel destroyed its bunkers along the border, as well as the Iranian rocket deployment that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Its aim was to cover the Galilee with 10,000 rockets, as well as longer-range rockets that could reach Tel Aviv.

Hizbullah is now determined to destroy the Lebanese government, to reestablish Hizbullahstan, to rebuild its military and terrorist infrastructures, and to support Palestinian terror and destabilize the Palestinian entity.

Furthermore, all the rockets that are in the hands of Hizbullah are an integral part of a whole system that enables Iran to attack Israel from Lebanon without taking responsibility. I think that the Iranians are not happy with what happened in Lebanon because Israel attacked the infrastructure they had built before they were ready.

The Role of Syria

Syria is another regional actor supporting terror in Hamastan and Hizbullahstan. The headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are in Damascus, and all Iranian assistance to rebuild Hizbullah crosses Syrian territory. In addition, Syria directly supported Hizbullah in Lebanon. Syrian rockets from the Syrian army were given to Hizbullah to use to attack Israel.

The Syrian army lacks any intention to attack Israel for the time being, though Israel was on alert during the war in Lebanon. Syrian President Assad may not be in favor of the State of Israel, but if we analyze all the intelligence material, we don’t find any hint that he’s going to attack.

However, Assad is determined to return to Lebanon and to restore Syrian influence on the Lebanese government and its policies. Syria is not going to recognize Lebanon as an independent state. This is traditional Syrian policy and Assad is returning to this policy.

The Palestinian Arena

While the most important threat to the future of this region is Iran. Gaza and the West Bank belong to the same strategic picture. In the Palestinian arena, Mahmoud Abbas is the only one who embodies some hope for coexistence with Israel, while Hamastan is a total contradiction of the perception of peace. The weapons being smuggled into Gaza can be used to destabilize the Abbas’ regime as well as against Israel.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, sitting in Damascus where he is supported by Iran and Syria, controls the military wing of Hamas and is more powerful than PA Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh. Mashaal is responsible for the money, for the policy of terror, and he holds many cards relating to Israel’s abducted soldier in Gaza. Even if he wanted to be more moderate, Mashaal receives orders from Iran and Syria. So it is very difficult to come to any agreement that will ease the life of the Palestinians or pave the way to peace.

Losing Lebanon

Losing Lebanon
By P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | January 26, 2007

Israel’s month of fighting Hezbollah last summer in
Lebanon combined some effective air attacks on missile installations with confused, inconclusive actions on the ground. On August 11, around when
Israel appeared to have learned lessons and was set to launch a serious ground campaign against Hezbollah, the UN Security Council imposed Resolution 1701 and stopped the offensive in its tracks.

I wrote at the time

 

Allowing Israel to take a few more weeks and rout Hezbollah—preferably also with some sobering strikes against
Syria—would have created a different scenario and, most important, perceptions of a Western victory and humiliating jihadist defeat. That may have allowed the truly moderate Christian, Druze, and Muslim forces in
Lebanon to start trying to retake control of their country while leaving the Iranian-led jihad axis reeling.

Instead the
United States and the world community have chosen with this dire Security Council resolution to create a powerful scenario of perceived, and to some extent real, jihadist victory…It is a moment that will come back to haunt
America and the West.

It didn’t take long for it to come back and haunt it. Already on November 24 Time magazine reported that Hezbollah had replenished “its war chest with over 20,000 short-range missiles—a similar amount to what they had at the start of the conflict.” The effectiveness of the Lebanese and enhanced UNIFIL units that deployed after the war was limited to “forcing smugglers to use mountain passes instead of the heavily monitored crossing on the main Beirut-Damascus road.”

 

Tuesday’s harsh, Hezbollah-led agitation against the Siniora government was another ominous episode in a rapid deterioration.
Lebanon’s Daily Star
called it “a nationwide protest that paralyzed the country and left its capital engulfed in barricades of blazing tires and bloodied by clashes that left at least three dead and over 130 wounded…unverified reports [said] at least seven had perished in street clashes.”

 

The Star quotes Siniora in a televised address Tuesday night: “We are at a dangerous crossroads: Either we are heading to a civil war, or heading to dialogue.”

 

His hope for dialogue appeared naive, as Hezbollah MP Amin Cherri declared: “This was a warning to the government…. The government has to respond to our demands, and if it doesn’t, then it should expect even greater escalation, far worse than today’s.”

 

Since Hezbollah’s demand is basically that the government dissolve itself, further strife seemed assured. It continued Thursday with a Shiite-Sunni riot at Beirut’s

Arab
University that left four dead.

 

The situation found the West doing little but looking on and hoping for the best. In President Bush’s 2903-word January 11 speech on Iraq, the word Lebanon appeared only once: “From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the

Palestinian
Territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence. . . .” The speech devoted a few sentences to Iran and Syria’s destabilizing role—in Iraq, while saying nothing about their effort, through their Hezbollah proxy, to convert
Lebanon from a moderate, struggling, pluralist democracy to an outpost of fanaticism.

 

And Bush’s State of the Union address Tuesday night managed only to recount
Lebanon’s recent troubles—“assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel…And Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran…are seeking to undermine
Lebanon’s legitimately elected government”—without even hinting that anything might be done about it.

 

On Thursday at a donors’ conference for Lebanon in Paris, Western and Arab parties pledged $7.6 billion to assist
Lebanon with damages from the summer’s war and an enormous national debt. But with the country’s future in imminent peril, the idea of a gradual, assisted economic recovery has a surreal slow-motion quality to it.

 

Like—to a large extent—the imbroglio in Iraq, the crisis in Lebanon stems from having allowed Iran, with Syrian help, to foment radicalism and instability in the
Middle East for close to three decades with little response other than warnings. Last summer the near-universal allergy to Israeli military action led the United States and other Western countries to save Hezbollah and ensure
Lebanon’s descent into graver plight.
Israel’s neutralization means there is no pro-Western force left to counter the radicals on the ground.

 

The fall of the Siniora government would constitute a major victory for the Nasrallah-Assad-Ahmadinejad axis, make war with Israel a certainty, and further galvanize Shiite and other extremism in the
Middle East. The only remaining hope is that eventual Western military strikes on Iran and possibly Syria would take the geopolitical sting out of such a dire development, apart from
Lebanon’s own tragedy.

Lebanon Inches Toward the Precipice

Lebanon Inches Toward the Precipice

By Rick Moran

In what is being referred to by pro-government forces as an attempted coup, Hezb’allah and their allies in the opposition took to the streets on Tuesday in what was billed as a “General Strike” in order to force the government of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to capitulate to opposition demands for a “National Unity Government.”

Protestors blocked roads with burning tires in what appeared to be an extraordinarily well organized effort to shut down the country. The roadblocks effectively kept tens of thousands of people from commuting to work and many of Lebanon’s businesses were closed for the day. Also, the road to the airport was blocked when dump trucks appeared and piled dirt and garbage at strategic locations along the route.
Pro government forces clashed with the opposition at many locations throughout the country, but especially in the north in Tripoli where violence continued Wednesday. All told, at least three deaths were reported and 133 injured. Most of the injuries were from gunshot wounds.
As swiftly as the violence broke out, it appears today that the opposition has called off the protests. Hezb’allah leader Hassan Nasrallah may have been taken aback by the intensity of the clashes between his supporters and those of the government and decided to take a step back. Or, he may have planned the strike as a one day demonstration of his ability to shut the country down any time he wishes. In either case, it is clear that Nasrallah has begun to ratchet up the pressure on the government and force them to accede to his demands.
But in so doing, Nasrallah has energized the Sunnis and forced them to confront the Shias. The act of blocking the roads in southern and western Beirut hemmed the Sunnis into their own enclave and was seen as something of a blockade. Not only that, the roadblocks and the shutting down of the road to the airport were all too reminiscent of what transpired during the years of civil war. Many of the same areas that were battlegrounds during that horrible period once again saw blood running in the streets. The significance was not lost on Nasrallah nor on the Sunnis, which may be the main reason that the Hezb’allah leader called off the general strike. Nasrallah and his masters in Iran do not want a civil war in Lebanon. He would just as soon swallow Lebanon whole without a messy sectarian conflict on his hands.
This doesn’t take into account what Nasrallah’s Christian ally Michel Aoun would like to see happen. Aoun and Nasrallah appear to be getting farther apart in what each wants to accomplish with these opposition demonstrations that have been going on since early December. Where Nasrallah wants a sufficient number of ministers in the cabinet so that he would have veto power over the government, Aoun’s Presidential ambitions seem to have taken a backseat in Nasrallah’s planning.
And Aoun’s machinations have split the Christian community to the point that some of those clashes yesterday were between Christian factions loyal to Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the pro-government Lebanese Forces headed up by Aoun’s longtime rival Samir Geaegea. The Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir has condemned both sides in the conflict but so far has done little to try and heal the split among his people. This schism among Christians is another reminder of what happened during the civil war when the anti-Syrian faction headed up ironically by Aoun fought pitched battles with Geagea’s Lebanese Forces in East Beirut. It is indicative of the tragedy that is Lebanese history and politics that 17 years later, the same forces are fighting again only this time it is Aoun allied with pro-Syrian forces and Geagea in opposition.
Where was the army during these clashes? Early in the day, the army commander Michel Suleiman ordered his troops not to fire on protestors but to try and keep the roads open. This order was honored in the breech as there is ample evidence the army not only assisted the opposition by preventing people from going to work but also stood by and allowed small numbers of protestors to blockade the roads. It is clear that the army failed to do its job. Troops did move in when violence erupted to scatter combatants with tear gas and by firing their guns into the air. But the damage is done. Prime Minister Siniora may not be able to trust the army when Nasrallah makes his next move.
The timing of the protest is interesting in that Siniora was headed to Paris to conclude talks that would bring billions of dollars in aid to the Lebanese economy, devastated by Hezb’allah’s war with Israel last summer. The US has pledged more than $750 million while the French have promised another $500 million to help rebuild much of the infrastructure destroyed in the war as well as help with Lebanon’s crushing debt burden. By any measure, the Paris III Conference, involving dozens of countries in the reconstruction effort, is a triumph for Siniora’s government – something that Nasrallah couldn’t abide. In effect, Siniora is demonstrating that the government doesn’t need Hezb’allah or its allies to govern effectively.
At present, Nasrallah appears to be running out of “peaceful” options in his quest to overthrow the government. Everything he has tried in order to bring down Siniora has failed. He has been stymied not only by the support of the Lebanese people for the government but he has been checked by Lebanon’s friends and neighbors who have worked diligently to help Siniora and his government survive, now holed up in the Grand Serail for nearly two months in order to prevent Hezb’allah from achieving their aims through assassination.
The Arab League has been especially supportive and their appears to be a tentative agreement to end the cabinet standoff that has been negotiated by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Few details are available but the agreement apparently addresses both cabinet representation for the opposition as well as coming to an understanding regarding the International Tribunal that will try the assassins of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. This is crucial as it is thought that the Tribunal will almost certainly implicate high level Syrian government officials in the death of Hariri as well as other bombings and assassinations in Lebanon over the past 2 years. It is doubtful that the Saudis would have agreed to any measures that would dilute the power of the Tribunal which makes Hezb’allah’s acceptance of this agreement problematic. It is equally doubtful that Nasrallah will be handed veto power over cabinet decisions.
This means that either Nasrallah accepts this face saving retreat (he will probably get a near majority of ministers) or he continues his quixotic protests in the hopes that eventually he can wear down the March 14th Forces in government. But it is becoming more apparent as time passes that the only way that Nasrallah will get what he wants is through violence. Siniora and his government aren’t going anywhere. There is no chance that early parliamentary elections will be held that would give him an opportunity to muscle his way into power through voter intimidation and fraud. And his alliance with Michel Aoun may begin to become more of a burden as time goes on. Losing the vain Aoun would doom his faction to a permanent minority as well as taking away any fig leaf of legitimacy he held in his claim that he represented all Lebanese and not just the Shias.
What will he do? A hard man to read, Hassan Nasrallah. He seems unwilling to take the final plunge into civil war (something opposed by his paymasters in Tehran) but will lose credibility if he simply gives in and goes home. His calculations must include the fact that rule by the Shias or a Shia dominated government will be unacceptable to the Sunnis and most Christians. For this reason, I believe that if the agreement ironed out between Iran and the Saudis gives him enough of what he wanted, he may fold and go home, hoping that the next round of elections will give him more leverage in his next confrontation with the government.
Nasrallah knows that no one will dare disarm his militia, something called for in 2 separate UN resolutions and the Taif Accords under which the Lebanese government operates. And as long as his bully boys have the guns, they will have the ultimate veto power over the Lebanese government and society. For this reason, Nasrallah will be able to bide his time and wait for the next opportunity to take Lebanon to the brink.
Rick Moran is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and is proprietor of the blog Right Wing Nuthouse

Saving Lebanon

Saving Lebanon
By Joseph Puder
FrontPageMagazine.com | January 11, 2007

How to keep Lebanon’s freedom and democracy alive was the subject of a conference held at the Hudson Institute offices in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, January 4, 2007. Merav Wurmser, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, moderated the conference and opened the discussion by asserting, “In the current situation, Lebanon’s freedom is being threatened. Hezbollah has been strengthened and a stronger Hezbollah is a stronger Iran.”The conference speakers included Lt. General Thomas McInerney, former Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force and Director of the Defense Performance Review, reporting to the Secretary of Defense. McInerney is also the founder of Government Reform Through Technology (GRTT), a consulting firm that works with high-tech companies. McInerney served for 35 years as a pilot, commander, and strategic planner in the U.S. Air Force.

Dr. Joseph Gebeily is President and Executive Director of the Lebanese Information Center based in Alexandria, Virginia. Adib F. Farha is the Senior Policy Advisor and Spokesman for the Lebanese Information Center, and Tony Badran, is a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy in Washington DC. Badran also serves as the Editor of the Levant and a Syria Monitor.

Dr. Gibeily began the panel discussion by offering reasons why it is crucial to safeguard Lebanon’s democracy and freedom. He pointed out that aside from moral considerations, a disintegrated Lebanon would become another belligerent state bordering Israel and, forces opposed to regional peace will take over.

The second reason for preserving Lebanon’s independence is for the cause of democracy. “Lebanon,” Gibeily said, “has been a parliamentary democracy since 1926, and serves as a model for the Arab world.” “Religious coexistence between Christians and Muslims” which “could serve as an inspiration for a pluralistic-democratic Iraq” was the third reason mentioned.

Gibeily went on to recount recent history, charging that, “Syria has destabilized Lebanon and has introduced in Lebanon a culture of intimidation, violence, and intolerance – a culture that breeds terror.” The passage by the U.S. Congress of the Syrian Accountability Act, Gibeily asserted, paved the way for “independence and democracy in Lebanon,” and the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 15, 2005 further spurred its renewal.

Syria created a corrupt system in Lebanon and now seeks to revitalize it but Gibeily said, “The fight for a free and democratic Lebanon is not over.” Syria, he said, is “attempting to affect a coup d’etat through assassinations and, if Lebanon is to be free again, the Syrian and Iranian system must be removed.” Gibeily further stressed “the majority of Lebanese reject Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon.”

Adib Farha, speaking next, asked “Why is Lebanon important?” and answered, “As goes Lebanon so goes the entire Middle East.” “Lebanon,” he suggested “is a model for the Arab world.” The civil war in Lebanon ended with the end of the Cold War. The current conflict in Lebanon, Farha noted, “is a battleground between the civilized world and Iran and Syria.”

“The Hariri assassination” Farha asserted, “inflamed all Lebanese and created the Cedar Revolution. It resulted in the eviction of the Syrian forces from Lebanon, but not its intelligence apparatus and its Lebanese stooges.” Farha added, “Syria and Iran have been encouraged by the U.S. war in Iraq.”

Farha accused U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and the other U.S. Senators who rushed to Damascus of “appeasing and rewarding” bad behavior by the Syrian dictatorship that has employed terrorism in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq. He asserted, moreover, that the “U.S. has delivered Iraq to the Iranians.”

Dealing with Hezbollah, Farha pointed out that unlike its depiction in some of the Western media, “Hezbollah is not a movement for the poor (as the New York Times describes it) nor is it a civil rights movement…it is however, a vital Iranian asset in the West.”

Farha stressed that when Hezbollah resisted Israel before Israel’s withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May of 2000, all Lebanese supported it. But, there was no reason for its resistance after the Israeli withdrew from Lebanon. Although Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah emerged as heroes from the recent war in Lebanon, “in the last four days Hezbollah showed itself as a brute force.”

In ending his presentation, Farha offered the following suggestions to save Lebanon: cease appeasing Syria and Iran; strengthen the Central government in Lebanon; end U.S. statements (such as the Iraq Study Group regarding talking to Syria and Iran); and, direct U.S. support to the Lebanese army and police.

Tony Badran began by quoting author Michael Oren, saying that Israel should have attacked Syria not Lebanon. He said that during the Syrian occupation the Hezbollah “got a free hand in South Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal.” Syria, Badran said, “Made Hezbollah’s interests supreme” in Lebanon.

Badran maintained that Hezbollah failed to achieve any strategic gains as a result of the July 2006 war. Bashar Assad found himself in a bind according to Badran, due to U.N. Resolution 1701. Assad, he said, wanted to make the Hezbollah the sole arbiter of Lebanon and turn it into an Arab-nationalist movement. What is emerging in Lebanon after the war is a Hezbollah that is functioning like an Iranian revolutionary guards or Pasdaran.

Nasrallah, according to Badran, believed that he could lure the Sunnis to join him but failed. Iran, he said, “Has used the Palestinian card to capture support from the Sunni Arab world.” Nasrallah and Syrian interests, Badran said, “are identical.” Nasrallah created a backlash however from all other groups in Lebanon.

Badran warned that Assad is trying to thwart the Hariri assassination Tribunal, and that the West must block his attempts. “He (Assad) is trying to use Israel (peace talks) to escape the Tribunal. “Assad” Badran said, “wants permanent peace talks but not peace with Israel.”

Gen. McInerney focused on Iran, he declared that Ahmadinejad will not use diplomacy and that Iran is driving the conflict in the Middle East. He guesstimated that “We have no more than a year before we must use the military option.” “Iran,” he said, “is the cancer infecting the entire region.” McInerney reminded the audience of Ahmadinejad’s October 26, 2006 statement: “ Soon there will be a world without the U.S. and the Zionists.” He warned that Iran hopes to place a nuclear bomb in American cities. Iran would use containers to ship such a bomb through Mexico and Venezuela.

What happens in Iraq, McInerney declared, will determine the future of the entire Arabian Peninsula. He charged, “The coalition of the willing must stop the Shiite Crescent.” Addressing the military option, McInerney said, “24 hours of action will be required to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities.” And within 48 hours, he added, “1500 targets could be bombed including air defenses, command and control, and the Iranian navy.”

McInerney suggested however that covert operations aimed at taking out the Iranian regime must be conducted alongside military action. “Israel” he said, “should not be involved.” He maintained that Russia and China are supporting Iran and that the U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran sanctions will not impact its trade thanks to Russia and China.

“Iran” McInerney said, “is driving today’s Islamic extremism and hatred for the West, and it is doing it through proxies.” He pointed out that the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon would not have taken place without the U.S. presence in the Middle East (Iraq). Referring to peace in the Middle East, McInerney said, “An Israeli-Palestinian dispute will not be solved until Tehran, Riyadh, and Damascus wanted it solved.”

Gathering Storm in Lebanon

Gathering Storm in Lebanon
By P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 7, 2006

When Jordan’s King Abdullah warned early in 2005 about the formation of a dangerous “Shiite crescent” in the Middle East, many dismissed his words as the fears of a pessimist who did not appreciate the strides democracy was making in the region. Today, with Iran-backed radical Shiites continuing (among other factors) to destabilize the situation in Iraq and the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah axis now making a naked attempt to topple the elected government and grab power in Lebanon, Abdullah’s words emerge more clearly as what they were: the fears of a knowledgeable, realistic Middle Easterner.

Lebanon’s Daily Star describes ongoing riots, clashes, and tensions since hundreds of thousands of Shiites flooded the streets of Beirut on Friday to call for the resignation of Sunni prime minister Fouad Siniora’s government. The paper cites Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman as saying the standoff is “drain[ing] the army’s resources and weakening its neutrality. This weakness will make the army unable to control the situation in all areas of Lebanon.”

The Star also reports that “opposition leaders plan to hold meetings in the coming days to discuss taking anti-government demonstrations to the ‘next level.’” The same article notes that “profane and personal attacks on members of the government, particularly Siniora and [Youth and Sports Minister] Ahmed Fatfat, have increased since…Friday, with several participants in Tuesday’s funeral procession [for a Shiite killed in rioting] chanting ‘Death to Siniora.’”

Especially ominous is that, unlike past intra-Lebanese strife that tended to cluster along Muslim vs. Christian lines, the present confrontation has a starkly Shiite vs. Sunni character, with the Christians divided between the two camps. Given that the Sunni side is relatively moderate and tolerant whereas the Shiites are spearheaded by fundamentalist Hezbollah and backed by Iran, the only reason some Christian factions, like Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the late Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Party, are siding with the Shiites is power. In the Middle East, being on the losing side can be particularly costly. That some Christian groups would now be hopping on the radical-Shiite bandwagon only underlines King Abdullah’s warning a couple of years ago.

Matters have reached such a pass because of the West’s persistent refusal to recognize the danger posed by the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah axis and confront it effectively. Things looked better when, in the aftermath of Lebanese Sunni leader Rafik Hariri’s assassination by Syria in February 2005, Syria was nudged by American, French, and internal Lebanese pressure into carrying out a cosmetic withdrawal of its military from Lebanon. But Syria maintained its grip by leaving a dense network of intelligence operatives in Lebanon and perpetrating a string of assassinations of its Lebanese opponents culminating in the murder of Pierre Gemayel last November 21.

Other factors have emboldened the radicals since 2005: America’s ongoing, confused struggle in Iraq; the West’s laughable, hollow posturing and threats toward Iran as it continues its march toward nuclearization; Israel’s unilateral flight from Gaza last year and bungling in its war against Hizballah last summer; the Democrats’ win in the U.S. elections amid talk in Republican circles of retreat from Iraq and “engaging”—that is, appeasing—Iran and Syria.

With the West still showing a spark of assertiveness by moving in November to set up a UN-backed tribunal in Lebanon to try suspects in the Hariri assassination, the radicals decided it was time to act. The murder of Gemayel and the massing of Shiite demonstrators (Hezbollah operatives) in Beirut are direct affronts not only to Lebanese Sunnis or to the Lebanese state, but to the UN, the international rule of law, and civilization itself.

The Daily Star reports that on Tuesday German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Jacques Chirac called for “an end to all interference in the affairs of Lebanon. As far as Syria is concerned, we want that country to stop supporting forces that seek to destabilize Lebanon and the region…If Syria changes its conduct, it could hope to resume normal relations with the international community and with the countries of the European Union in particular.”

Apart from such standard empty inducements, it does not appear that Western countries are doing anything aside from watching and hoping the crisis does not boil over. Nor is it clear what they can do as long as the sources of the crisis—the Syrian and, particularly, Iranian regimes—are allowed to keep building their strength.

If not checked, the Shiite tide—with its non-Shiite fellow travelers like the Christian factions in Lebanon, the Sunni Hamas and Fatah terrorist movements, and so on—threatens not only to tighten its grip on Iraq and Lebanon but to foment a conflagration with Israel and endanger the region’s oil-rich Sunni regimes. That the West does not react even to that danger by taking the Lebanese crisis more seriously testifies to its overall failure to cope with Middle Eastern reality.

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Column One: The Gemayel warning

Column One: The Gemayel warning



Tuesday saw another nail driven into the coffin of US President George W. Bush’s vision of a free and democratic Middle East. The Syrians aren’t even trying to hide their involvement in the assassination of Lebanon’s Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel.

Hours after Gemayel was murdered, his killers issued a communiqu calling themselves the “Fighters for the Unity and Liberty of Greater Syria.” They said that they killed Gemayel because he was “one of those who unceasingly spouted their venom against Syria and against [Hizbullah], shamelessly and without any trepidation.” Gemayel, they threatened, would be the first of many victims. As they put it, “Sooner or later we will pay the rest of the agents their due…”

The hit this week was not a bolt from the blue. For the past several weeks Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah and his bosses in Syria and Iran have made it brutally clear that they intend to bring down the anti-Syrian government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and replace it with a pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian coalition led by Hizbullah.

Although their intentions are clear, a casual observer of events could be forgiven for finding the timing of Gemayel’s murder somewhat mystifying. After all, the UN Security Council is preparing the establishment of an international tribunal to try those responsible for the February 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Why would Syrian President Bashar Assad wish to make people mad at him now by killing yet another anti-Syrian politician in Lebanon? What a casual observer misses is the simple fact that events in Lebanon do not stand on their own. Like Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon is a front in a regional war being waged against the US, Israel and their allies by Iran and Syria. Iraq is another front in this war and Gemayel’s murder is intimately tied to developments in Iraq.

The Democratic Party’s victory in the November 7 Congressional elections convinced Iran and Syria that they are on the verge of a great victory against the US in Iraq. Iranian and Syrian jubilation is well founded in light of the Democratic leadership’s near unanimous calls for the US to withdraw its forces in Iraq; Bush’s firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his appointment of his father’s CIA director Robert Gates to replace him; and Bush’s praise for the Congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group charged with revisiting US strategy in Iraq, which is being co-chaired by his father’s secretary of state James Baker III.

Although his committee has yet to formally submit its recommendations, Baker made clear that he will recommend that the administration negotiate a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq with Iran and Syria. That is, he is putting together a strategy not for victory, but for defeat.

Baker fervently believes that US foreign policy should revolve around being bad to its friends and good to its enemies. Consequently he thinks that the US can avoid the humiliation of the defeat he proposes by buying off Syria and Iran, the forces behind most of the violence, instability, subversion and terror in Iraq. If the US accepts their conditions, they will temporarily cease their attacks to enable a US retreat that will look only mildly humiliating to the television viewers back home.

This week Bush said he has yet to decide how to move ahead in Iraq. But Baker is moving ahead without him. While Bush also said that he opposes negotiating with Iran and Syria, last Friday The New York Times reported that Baker and his group held talks recently with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. And, as truth would have it, for the past year or so, the US Ambassador to Baghdad Zalmay Khalizad has been conducting negotiations with the Iranians. Administration sources say that Bush is expected to make a decision on the course of operations in Iraq by mid-December.

But as far as Iran and Syria are concerned, the game has already been called. They are wasting no time collecting their winnings. As Gemayel was being murdered Tuesday in Lebanon, Muallem paid a visit to Baghdad. There he established full diplomatic relations between his country and Iraq. Monday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his intention to host a three-way summit with his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts. Responding to Ahmadinejad’s invitation, Iraqi President Jalal Talibani is scheduled to visit Iran and Syria next week.

Just as Israelis and American Jews both bitterly recall Baker’s acrimonious and degrading treatment during his tenure as secretary of state, so the Syrians and Iranians take comfort from his record. They remember Baker as the man who accepted the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the Syrian-sponsored Lebanese civil war by sacrificing Lebanese sovereignty to Assadian fascist occupation in the name of regional stability.

Then too, Baker is remembered as the man who abandoned Iraq’s Shi’ites to their fate at the hands of Saddam after the US failed to assist them in their post-Gulf War rebellion which the US itself had encouraged. Finally, no doubt they noticed that Baker’s law firm Baker-Botts is representing the Saudi government in the 9/11 victims’ lawsuit against the kingdom.

BAKER’S CURRENT dealings with Iran and Syria parallel closely Israel’s talks with the Palestinians in the lead-up to its withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria last year. As Baker does today, at the time Israel appealed to the Palestinians to restrain themselves temporarily to enable an orderly Israeli surrender of the territories.

Last year the Palestinians demanded that Israel hand over the international border between Gaza and the Sinai in exchange for their cooperation. By forcing the IDF to withdraw from the Philadelphi Corridor, the Palestinian Authority transformed a tactical and symbolic victory for jihad into a strategic victory for jihad. Without Israel controlling the border, Gaza was rapidly transformed into a major base for global terrorists.

Today, the Iranian and Syrian price tags for cooperation are similarly high. The Iranians demand international acceptance of their nuclear weapons program replete with European abandonment of Israel. Their demands have apparently been met.

There is no end in sight for the UN Security Council deliberations over the relatively insignificant European sanctions proposal. And between British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speeches calling for Israeli capitulation on all fronts; French threats to shoot down IAF jets in Lebanon; the Spanish-French-Italian “peace plan;” and France’s Arab League-like treatment of Israel in the UN, it is self-evident that the Europeans have abandoned Israel to Ahmadinejad’s tender mercies.

Syria set its price for cooperating with the US in Iraq when it murdered Gemayel. That is, in addition to pressuring Israel to give up the Golan Heights, the US will be expected to accept the reassertion of Syrian/Iranian control over all of Lebanon through a new government controlled by Hizbullah and its allies which will replace the Saniora government. The fall of the Saniora government will also spell the demise of the Hariri murder tribunal. Iran and Syria also demand that the US abandon its policy of regime change in both countries.

Another similarity between Israel’s retreat from Gaza and northern Samaria last year, its withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, and the proposed US retreat from Iraq today are the obvious consequences of such a retreat for the US, the region and the world. Far from bringing peace and stability, as the champions of the withdrawal policy mindlessly claim, a retreat will cause more war, more instability and more suffering in Iraq, in the region and throughout the world.

In the wake of a US (and Coalition) withdrawal from Iraq, the country would become an Iranian-Syrian-controlled base for global jihad. Battle-tested, heavily armed terrorists, cocky after their victory over the Great Satan, would use Iraq as a stepping-off point for attacks throughout the region and world. Israel and Jordan, as allies of the defeated great power, would be first on the list of targets.

Moreover, as was the case with soldiers and officers of the South Lebanon Army after the Israeli withdrawal, and with Palestinians who assisted Israel in counter-terror operations in Judea, Samaria and Gaza before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Iraqis who worked with Coalition forces will likely be killed, arrested and tortured by their new mafia-like terror masters.

Israel will find itself beset by an emboldened, nuclear weapons building Iran, an exhilarated Assad and by Iranian proxies from Gaza to Ramallah to Beirut.

BOTH ISRAEL’S decision to vacate Gaza, northern Samaria and south Lebanon and the current push in the US to leave Iraq are informed by the same strategic confusion. In choosing the strategy of retreat, Israel and the US have ignored the regional and indeed global nature of the war being waged against them. In such a war, it is impossible to view conflicts as discrete campaigns. Everything is related.

Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 inspired the Palestinian jihad. Its withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria caused the two-front war this summer with Iran and Syria in Gaza and Lebanon. That war in turn inspired the current chaos on Lebanon, the Iranian-Syrian brinkmanship in Iraq, and Iran’s emboldened sprint to the nuclear finish-line.

The fact that both Israel and the US continue to ignore the nature of the war was made clear this summer when they accepted UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which while setting the terms for a cease-fire in Lebanon made no mention of Syria and Iran – the main parties to the war. Then too, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s stated interest in giving Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians, and the US hope to retreat from Iraq, show that both countries continue to deny reality.

The most pressing question today then is whether Bush will give in to Baker and the Democrats and agree to capitulate to Iran and Syria in Iraq, Lebanon and indeed throughout the world. Unfortunately, things look bleak given that Bush relies most heavily on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice has been blocking US action against Syria and Iran for the past two years. She was the primary architect of UN Resolution 1701 this summer, has been pushing for dangerous Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and is known for her good relations with Baker.

Although a great blow to Bush’s vision of democracy in the Middle East, Gemayel’s murder can still serve as an opportunity for the reinvigoration of that vision. If Bush sees this murder as the warning sign it is of what awaits Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and indeed the entire world if the US removes its forces from Iraq or is perceived as moving in that direction; if he finally recognizes that Iraq is not a separate war, but a great battle in a larger struggle, then Bush will be able to formulate a new strategy for victory.

Such a strategy, founded on an understanding of the regional and global nature of the war, will change the emphasis of US operations in Iraq in a manner than weakens, rather than strengthens Iran and Syria.

Such a strategy is the only way to ensure the continued functioning of the Saniora government and indeed the survival of Lebanon as an independent nation.

Most importantly, such a strategy will be the only way to ensure that a policy will be formed and adopted by the US and Israel that will prevent Israel’s annihilation at the hands of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Crushing a Flower of the Cedar Revolution

Crushing a Flower of the Cedar Revolution
By Dr. Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | November 23, 2006

The assassination of Lebanese Christian politician Pierre Gemayel this Tuesday has revealed that the Tehran-Damascus axis remains busy with terror activities across the Fertile Crescent. When UN Security Council resolution 1559 passed in 2004, reaffirming Lebanon’s political independence and calling for the withdrawal of the Syrian occupation army and the disarming of Hezbollah, Syria’s Ba’athist regime pledged heavy retribution against those Lebanese who would dare join the international campaign for freedom triggered by the U.S.-led War on Terror.

Damascus has kept its promise. In the fall of 2004, a former minister from the Druze community, Marwan Hamade, was targeted with a car bomb. While Hamade survived, Rafiq Hariri, the former Sunni Prime Minister of Lebanon, was not so fortunate. On February 14, 2005, he was killed in an explosion orchestrated by highly trained terrorists.

Dozens of Lebanese civilians were also killed and maimed in the blast. This prompted thousands, mostly students, to take to the streets and demand the withdrawal of Syrian forces and the end of the occupation of their country. In response, Syria ordered the Lebanese Army, via the pro-Syrian government headed by Prime Minister Omar Karami, to send in troops to shut down the “Lebanese intifada.”

The Lebanese people refused to be intimidated. As the world watched on television, the youth of Lebanon, soon joined by the masses of the country, painted the colors of freedom on their faces and marched through the lines of Lebanese soldiers. Women first, boys behind, and the elderly following, they crossed into downtown Beirut in an inspiring illustration of national defiance. One and a half million people marched through the capital and the suburbs in what came to be known as the “Cedar Revolution.”

Instead of authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism, the Lebanese longed for freedom and peace. Given political freedom, the Lebanese — Sunnis, Druze and Christians, along with a growing number of Shiite moderates — emerged as majorities in the country’s government, including in municipalities, student unions, and parliament.

It was a powerful slap in the faces of Syria’s Bashar Assad and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both disliked the emerging democratic forces. Hence, cooperation solidified between Tehran and Damascus. In partnership with their common client, Hezbollah, the two regimes launched a campaign to kill the idea of Middle Eastern freedom in its infancy.

In the summer of 2005, progressive Lebanese leaders George Hawi and Samir Qassir were assassinated. Journalist May Chidiac was maimed by a bomb. In December the bright, young and promising Jubran Tueni, a member of the Lebanese Parliament and publisher of the daily an Nahar, was killed. Hezbollah lured others, such as General Michel Aoun, into cooperation. During the winter and spring of 2005, Nabih Berri, the pro-Syrian speaker of the Parliament, played the role of Don Corleone, inviting the senior political leaders of the country to what the mafia calls a “sit down.” After weeks of sterile talks, the “loaded dialogue” failed.

But the effects of the intimidation campaign were palpable. The government of Fouad Siniora hesitated to call for U.N. implementation of resolution 1559. Non-governmental organizations who appealed for action on this front were informed that the fear was too great. “Hezbollah is up to terrible things,” Lebanese-Americans told the bipartisan committees in the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. Lebanese memos to the United Nations stated: “The country has been taken hostage.”

This prophecy was soon realized when Hezbollah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, with Machiavellian success, dragged Lebanon and Israel into a surprise war this past July. For Nasrallah, the war was an opportunity, a chance to reassert himself as a “legitimate” player in Beirut and destroy the gains of the people’s revolution. For Iran and Syria, it was a chance to undermine the newly independent Lebanese government. For the majority of Lebanese, it was a nightmare. They did not want a war, let alone a regional one.

By the end of October 2006, Hezbollah and its allies felt confident enough to launch a new bid for power. Nasrallah rallied his troops in the suburbs of Beirut, urging them to arm for the coming urban jihad. Thousands of militiamen, as well as the Syrian Mukhabarat intelligence service and possibly suicide bombers, were tasked to invade the capital.

Mukhabarat’ operatives were readied to cut off water and electricity and to surround Lebanese police stations. Hezbollah also demanded that Prime Minister Siniora’s government recant its decision to accept the UN Tribunal investigation of Rafik Hariri’z assassination. It was expected that the ensuing indictment would touch high-ranking officials in the Syrian regime, Hezbollah’s patron. Also discernible was the influence of Iran. If the Syrian regime were to be weakened, so too would be the Iran-Syria axis, leaving the mullahs alone in the Middle East. The Lebanese democrats had to go.

If Iran and Syria had any doubts about their strategy of destabilization, the midterm elections in the United States dispelled them. On November 7, the opposition party in the United States grabbed both houses of Congress. Although an unremarkable feature of American and Western politics, this shift in power was read by Iranian and Syrian elites as a collapse of American determination to defend democracies in the region. Ayatollah Khamenei declared: “The defeat of Bush in Congress is a victory for us.” He was echoed in Lebanon by Hassan Nasrallah: “America is being defeated and is leaving the region. Those who worked with the US will pay the price.”

Further reinforcing suspicions in Tehran and Damascus, the Iraq Study Group, headed by presidential advisor James Baker, is slated to recommend next month that Washington backtrack from its policy of promoting democracy in order to cut deals with…Iran and Syria.

On the basis of these developments, Iran and Syria concluded that the time was ripe to strike a punishing blow against democratic forces. But Lebanese leaders moved first. They emphasized that they would go to the UN and lead the masses into the streets against foreign interference in Lebanese politics. Calculating the numbers of the opposition, the “axis” commanders in Lebanon shifted tactics. Instead of sending in troops, a decision was made to send in the death squad to “mollify” the resistance.

The warning signs came last week. The ministers of Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal Party resigned from the Lebanese council of ministers to shake the “legitimacy” of the cabinet. They failed. The Lebanese Constitution is clear: You need more than one third of the members to collapse a cabinet. Therefore, the “axis” needed to eliminate three members, one after the other. Thus the decision was made to kill the youngest, brightest and most vocal Lebanese minister, a true symbol of Lebanon’s civic revolution: Pierre Gemayel.

Unlike the warlords and senior politicians, the 34-year-old MP acted like a head of a happy family, with a wife and children. He drove his own car in the middle of the most dangerous urban areas, and socialized with neighbors, partisans and friends. He was living the life he was struggling to defend: one of peace, freedom and democracy. It was abruptly ended on Tuesday. Two vehicles blocked Pierre Gemayel’s car, while several assassins shot the young leader “execution style.”

Gemayel is dead, but, as his younger brother Sami told his friends, “The march continues.” On these shores, the question arises: What should be done?

The answer is clear. The United States and the new Congress must be implacable in resisting the onslaught of terror and fascism in the Middle East. When cynical politicians, interest groups and apologist academics call for the appeasement of Iran and Syria, resist them. When a population is endangered and its leadership is being eliminated, assist them. Will the new Washington rise to the occasion?

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Not again –This is the big news of the day. Or rather, in a non-O.J., non-Hollyweird-drenched, non-trivialized world, it would be the big news of the day.