Bush on the essence of civilization
Friday, April 1, 2005, 23:49
“The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak.” George W. Bush
(Not an April Fool’s joke.)
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60 days on
Thursday, March 31, 2005, 23:532 years of “liberation,” 9 months of “sovereignty” and 2 months of “democracy” later, Iraq is not doing well. For one thing, if this is how long it’s taking the Iraqi parliament to agree on a government, a speaker, and a president and prime minister, how long is it going to take them to agree on a constitution? It certainly doesn't look like any kind of agreement will be reached by August, after which the document should have been presented for a national referendum.
To summarize the last few weeks very crudely, the Shias and the Kurds each want control over the oil ministry (assuming they can get the Americans away from it that is) which may also determine control over oil-rich Kirkuk. And neither side has been able to impose on the other its choice for speaker of the parliament. As for the position of prime minister, it doesn't look like it's a done deal yet either.
In the meantime, as we approach the two-year anniversary of Iraq’s invasion, security is appalling. I wouldn’t even know which article to link here to illustrate the seriousness of the situation, but recent and terrifying examples abound on the Internet. The epidemic of killings, car bombs and kidnappings continues, over 10,000 prisoners are being held in jail by the US and there seems to be no end in sight. In addition, basic infrastructure and standards of living remain terribly lacking, and malnutrition in children has doubled since the invasion.
There is more and more talk about religion becoming a heavy (and dividing) factor in Iraq, with most Shia politicians making no secret of their wish to impose their own interpretation of Shari’a on the whole of Iraq. Most women have already taken to wearing a scarf and dressing more modestly, just to avoid trouble. One of the main contenders for the post of prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, had no qualms about the position of many in his alliance: in an interview he recently gave Der Spiegel, he confirmed that Iraq should become an Islamic state.
In fact, some Shia militants have already taken the law into their own hands, as was reported by a number of journalists. An innocent picnic turned into a nightmare when students were beaten to death by members of Al Mahdi Army for having committed the crime of listening to music. Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post describes the shocking events in much detail.
Even the British are beginning to show signs of nervousness, as exemplified by yesterday’s inexplicable raid on the house of MP Mansour Abdulrazzaq Mansour, one of their closest allies in Basra, smashing his car windows, computers to the ground, and taking $260,000 (don’t ask).
Dare anyone venture to guess what the third anniversary of the invasion will bring?
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Expanding “facts on the ground”
Thursday, March 31, 2005, 22:29Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- in spectacular fashion and with both overt and tacit support from Washington -- is fast imposing a blueprint for Israel's permanent borders that would extend beyond the 1967 frontiers the Palestinians say should frame their future state.
If that’s what the Associated Press is saying, imagine how Palestinians are seeing this. But AP forgets to mention that the 1967 borders are not just what “the Palestinians say should frame their future state” but indeed what international law says, beginning with UNSC Resolution 242 which demands that Israel withdraws from territories occupied in the 1967 war.
AP, and other media as well, describes how two parliamentary votes this week cleared the final hurdles to Sharon's plan to vacate the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements this summer. The government also plans to expand the West Bank's largest Jewish settlement, vowing to encompass it and others on the Israeli side of a massive separation barrier.
The piece also quotes Haaretz writer Yoel Marcus, who says: “With Sharon's bold and single-minded efforts to create permanent borders for Israel, he is imposing on this country its most important national agenda since the (1967) Six-Day War."
This apparently does not really bother the US, as we already know from Bush’s statements about “facts on the ground.” Accordingly, Secretary of State Rice first tentatively claimed Sharon’s policy was “at odds” with US policy (which AP considers to be her sharpest criticism of Israel yet); she later refused to repeat this “criticism,” preferring to reaffirm American support for Israeli settlements. Speaking to Israel Radio, she confirmed that “the changes on the ground, the existing major Israeli population centers will have to be taken into account in any final status negotiation.” What a big surprise.
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Death of a giant
Thursday, March 31, 2005, 21:44This is a long and comprehensive piece on Rafik Hariri’s relationship with Syria, by Sami Moubayed, which I haven’t had a chance to post before.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2005, 21:24It’s not often these two words come together when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. But at the start of a World Cup qualifying match tonight between France and Israel, Israeli fans booed La Marseilleise.
That’s because Fabien Barthez, the famous French goalkeeper, dared to criticize Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian territories last week, saying he didn’t understand why anyone would want to play in Israel, with all the suffering in the world. “I don’t like it at all. I am speaking as a father and not as a soccer player,” he explained.
That didn't go down well in Israel, of course, and he had to change his mind (like many critics do under pressure) and fly to Tel Aviv to play the match, even amidst fears for his safety. At least, he refused to retract on his words, saying "Je ne reviens pas sur mes propos" upon arrival to the hotel.
In the meantime, posters of “Barthez the Nazi” giving a stiff-armed salute against the background of a swastika flag had already found their way to some websites.
Barthez will be retiring after the World Cup next year, so his fans have very little time to chant "Allez les bleus!" while he's around. At least, on the occasion of Palestinian Land Day today, many can say Allez Barthez.
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Food for thought
Monday, March 28, 2005, 23:55In US media, thankfully, some people are still paying attention to events in Palestine. While many are watching out for "freedom on the march," Pat Oliphant has seen Sharon sowing his seeds.
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Coincidences, or selective editing?
Monday, March 28, 2005, 18:55Is it just me, or is this getting difficult to point out facts, let alone criticize any American or Israeli actions? And I’m talking about Arab media.
Check this interesting phenomenon and judge for yourself. I wrote an article for Bitter Lemons on Thursday, titled Syria’s stake in Lebanon.
Today, it is published in The Daily Star, where I have often written before, under the title Redemption is nigh for Lebanon and Syria.
At first glance, the two pieces are identical. However, on closer look, you will find an interesting sub-sentence missing from the Daily Star edition, which I have marked in bold as follows:
“Even allowing for the Taif Agreement, no political analyst would seriously argue that a Syrian withdrawal could have been strategically possible before May 2000, when Israel ended its 22-year occupation of Lebanon (but has since then continued flexing its muscles with daily violations of Lebanese air space as reminders of its might)."
I’m sure the Opinion Editor decided he needed the space. Which is surely why he also removed the seemingly innocent words (also in bold below) which could have been understood as being an overly sarcastic reference to claims made by some parties in Lebanon that Syria was out to unleash hell:
"Likewise, allegations that Syria intends to ignite civil strife as it withdraws, in après moi, le déluge mode, are dangerous; Syria needs a stable and peaceful Lebanon, especially when instability in Iraq still has the potential to overflow."
Ah, the constraints of space! This comes a couple of days after Asharq Alawsat, also surely for reasons of space constraints, decided to remove practically every single criticism, or even plain reference to facts, regarding American pressure on Syria, in my analysis on US-Syrian relations.
I don’t know why the US complains about Arab media, really. Criticism of certain Arab states’ actions or attitudes is more than welcome, apparently, but criticism of the US and Israel is getting off limits these days.
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A fond farewell to Ahmad Zaki
Monday, March 28, 2005, 03:57If Egypt is “oum eddounia” (the mother of the world), then Ahmad Zaki is one of its most talented sons. However, it is not just Egypt, but the whole Arab world which mourns today the passing of this wonderful human being and actor who embodied characters both close to its heart (such as Nasser and lastly Abdel Halim) or close to its real life (from struggling employees to corrupt officials).
In the movie "Nasser 56" which came out in the summer of 1996, 40 years after Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal and was consequently attacked simultaneously by Britain, France and Israel in the Suez War, Zaki’s performance and his faithful embodiment of the Egyptian leader roused the passion of crowds in Cairo and in every Arab city. It was one of his most memorable roles, but by no means the only one where he displayed his amazing capacities and charisma.
As fate would have it, Zaki was working on what would be his last film, "Halim" (the story of one of the Arab world’s most beloved singers, Abdel Halim Hafez) when he was diagnosed with cancer, the ruthless illness which also took Abdel Halim’s life.
The great Ahmad Zaki, a real Arab superstar, passed away on Sunday at the age of 56. May God rest his soul in peace.
Ahmad Zaki in Nasser 56
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Superstars and superculprits
Thursday, March 24, 2005, 23:35For some reason, this story came to mind when I was thinking about the much more serious events of the last weeks. Go figure.
In August 2003, many people in the Arab world were engrossed in a frenzy of excitement as the first Superstar program (the local version of Britain’s original Pop Idol, or the US’s American Idol) was coming to an end. The last three contestants were Melhem Zein from Lebanon, Ruwaida Atieh from Syria, and Diana Carazon from Jordan. In the penultimate show, Melhem Zein was voted out – and fans went beserk.
People in the audience started throwing chairs at each other, protesters chanted ridiculous pledges in front of Hariri’s Future Television Network (which made the show) as if Zein was a leader – you know, the whole “with our soul, with our blood, bla bla bla.”
In the commotion, the last two contestants fainted and were rushed out, and Future TV stopped the live broadcast.
Well, tough luck for Zein, you’d think. But no … to hear the rumours that week, you’d have believed the Syrian mukhabarat had cooked the whole story and rigged the voting (by eliminating votes in favor of Zein), forcing the elimination of Zein so that the Syrian contestant could win the contest. This seemed to make perfect sense to many otherwise rational people: Syria controled Lebanon, and therefore controled Superstar, and Lebanese leaders could do nothing about it. Zein had been a victim of Syrian domination.
When the last show finally started broadcasting live, conspiracy theories had made the rounds, which may have been a good thing considering that it took many people’s minds off the severe electricity cuts Lebanon was experiencing at the time. Meanwhile, Syria and Jordan were caught in a whirl of theories about who would win: the Jordanian (who – rumour had it – would be getting the votes of the entire Jordanian army, on the orders of its king) or the Syrian (who – rumour also had it – would have the support of the Syrian intelligence services). The Lebanese seemed to have no doubt that the Syrians, because of their advantage in Lebanon, would have the upper hand.
Tensions were high as the results were announced: the Jordanian candidate won with 52% of the votes. End of the conspiracy theory about Syria, right? Well, not quite. You see, apparently, Syria decided to “allow” the Jordanian girl to win, so that its interference in the voting wouldn’t be too noticed. Had the Syrian girl won, people said, it would have just been too obvious.
Therefore, the Jordanian’s victory proved Syrian involvement!
Moral of the story: in some cases, it’s damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
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Levantine discord and American dismay
Wednesday, March 23, 2005, 19:24It’s getting hard to catch up on events (and non-events) in the Lebanon/Syria affair. Two bombs, several casualties and many demonstrations later, there is still no government in Beirut, and the opposition keeps changing its mind about what it wants. First it wanted an interim coalition government, but then it refused to participate in one. It wanted Lahoud’s resignation above all, but now the utmost priority is the elections. It initially screamed about Resolution 1559, but now it considers the Taef Accord to be the ceiling.
At least the tiresome war of rallies and counter-rallies is over for the time being, except of course for the exasperating parades taking place in a succession of Syrian cities, which only serve to point to an embarrassingly bad (and quite futile) PR effort from a party that probably couldn’t even preach to its own choir.
The message from Lebanon’s streets was clear: like everyone else, Lebanese are not entirely united behind a single political agenda, but the vast majority do agree on the basic premise of a Syrian withdrawal. Those who implied that Hezbollah’s manifestation was to support Syria’s presence weren’t listening to Nasrallah, whether in his first press conference and subsequent statements, or during the first Hezbollah-organized demonstration, when all he did was wave goodbye to Syria and thank it for its contribution to the pacification of Lebanon.
Hezbollah tried to make Syrians feel they were not all bad. Unfortunately, others in Lebanon continue with insults (through banners, emails, or text messages), some of which are downright racist. And, in many cases, people are actually adding injury to insult. According to Nasrallah, some 30 Syrians have been killed (with more reported since he made that statement last week).
I’m told that a friend of ours, a European diplomat posted in Damascus, took a day trip to Lebanon last week – in his car with clearly marked diplomatic plates – and was attacked by several Lebanese until he agreed to put a picture of Hariri in the car. One of our family friends went to Chtaura with his elderly mother, who waited in the car as he went into a bank; he had to rush out when a group of youngsters started to insult the frightened lady, banging on the car and kicking it. Thankfully, he was able to talk some sense into the young men, but how many similar situations are happening on a daily basis?
Violence against Syrians has been regular and completely unwarranted, targetting people who have absolutely nothing to do with the Syrian regime. Most Syrians have for a long time been opposed to its handling of Lebanon (don’t believe reports that everyone is upset by the departure from Lebanon – rather, many are upset by the mishandling in the last months and years).
The Bush administration has, for its part, reacted with dismay to some of these developments. Democracy is people power, according to the Americans – but that was without factoring in Hezbollah. Poor Bush: every time he begins to praise democratic foundations, he ends up having to recognize the people power of groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and SCIRI and Dawa – all of whom were (and partly still are) Islamic resistance organizations.
Hezbollah has been on the American list of terrorist organizations for a while now; lo and behold, after realizing that its secretary general could count on the support of a significant part of the population (roughly half, if one considers the demonstrations), the US now seems to imply that it might reconsider its classification of the group.
America is probably also quite surprised to see the Syrians initially retreat so quickly, having listened to a number of “experts” explain that the Syrian regime would fall if it had to leave Lebanon. Well, the Syrian people were never happy with the presence of their troops there, and they never felt they received anything in return apart from Lebanese resentment – which they can live without.
In the end, the country which recently sat on the Security Council and voted for Resolution 1441 on Iraq, which entertains diplomatic relations with the US, which cooperated heavily in the “war on terror” and in the Iraqi out-of-country voting program, and which repeats at every opportunity its wish to renew peace talks with Israel – that country is being threatened daily by the US. On the other hand, the organization that still calls for death to Israel could win U.S. backing for a role in Lebanon's political mainstream.
Some have said that Syria understands only force, not reasoning; the same possibly holds true for the US.
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Bush's Ten Commandments
Wednesday, March 23, 2005, 02:11Little time to blog, several papers on deadline, and an unrepentant urge to sneak a look at what various sources are covering sums up my current hiatus. Paul Conrad, of the Los Angeles Times, obliges tight schedules with his summary of what's going on in the White House - too bad he left out a big chunk on the international front.
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Undiplomatic licenses at the UN and the World Bank
Thursday, March 17, 2005, 00:18Surely nobody really expected Bono to be named at the head the World Bank, no matter how much (or maybe precisely because of how much) he cares about the conditions of the world’s poor and dispossessed. Still, it’s a shock for most people to hear that the person George Bush decided to nominate for the World Bank’s top position is none other than Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the invasion of Iraq who had advocated the attack even before September 11.
So much for the notion that Bush was reaching out to the world after his re-election last November and adopting a more conciliatory approach with the international community - unless, that is, he really believes his own assessment of Wolfowitz as "a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job at the World Bank."
Many will find it hard to trust Bush’s judgement. Just as many still haven’t swallowed Bush’s nomination of John Bolton, of all people, as ambassador to the United Nations. “There is no such thing as the United Nations; there is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States,” once said Bolton.
Apparently, even Condoleezza Rice, who refused to accept Bolton as her deputy, was unhappy about the nomination of Bolton, which was said to have been pushed by Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.
Good thing Bush has nominated a third person to help the world digest Bush’s newest contributions to international understanding: re-enter Karen Hughes (who has practically no foreign policy experience but plenty as Bush’s spin doctor) as under-secretary of state in charge of enhancing America’s image abroad.
One of her predecessors, Charlotte Beers, had used her experience marketing Uncle Ben’s rice, amongst other products, to enhance the US’s reputation in the Arab world. Can Hughes do any better, or is the spectacularly bad image of the US abroad beyond repair, especially with John Bolton as its ambassador to the world? Short of a miracle, even the greatest marketing guru would be hard pressed to sell Brand USA, to borrow from Naomi Klein.
But maybe that’s a good thing: remember, nothing kills a bad product like good marketing!
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US should think before presenting Iraq as an example to the region
Tuesday, March 8, 2005, 02:26The situation in Lebanon and Syria is gripping many of us, but is unfortunately taking our attention away from other places of conflict, such as Iraq. Everyone is analyzing whether Syria really means what it says, and making sure the level of warnings is kept at orange, at least. Apparently, few people see the irony in American rhetoric that there can be no free and fair elections in Lebanon while Syrian troops are there. In contrast, we are asked to believe, elections in Iraq (under Anglo-American occupation) and in Palestine (under Israeli occupation) were free, fair and legitimate, bringing democracy to their respective people.
Meanwhile, Iraq has been in complete political limbo; since the election of January 30, no government has been formed yet, and rumours abound that Iyad Allawi is still trying to get the top job (with the “encouragement” of the Americans). No matter how creative you can be with the math, it doesn’t seem legally achievable.
As for the general situation, it is even worse, and Iraq sems to be slipping into an even bigger civil war. Haifa Zangana describes in The Guardian what it really feels like to be in Iraq today: so much for illusions.
Despite all the rhetoric about "building a new democracy", daily life for most Iraqis is still a struggle for survival, with human rights abuses engulfing them. A typical Iraqi day begins with the struggle to get the basics: petrol, a cylinder of gas, fresh water, food and medication. It ends with a sigh of relief: Alhamdu ilah (thanks, God), for surviving death threats, violent attacks, kidnappings and killings.
For ordinary Iraqis, simply venturing into the streets brings the possibility of attack. Most killings go unreported. With no names, no faces, no identities, they cease to be human beings. They are "the enemy", "collateral damage" or, at best, statistics to argue about.
Oganized killings are becoming more common. According to Knight Ridder, Shiite Muslim assassins are killing former members of Saddam Hussein's mostly Sunni Muslim regime with impunity in a wave of violence that, combined with the ongoing Sunni insurgency, threatens to escalate into civil war.
The report claims that ”the assassination squads are widely believed to be from the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country's most influential Shiite political party and the biggest winner in the elections.
Details of the methods are just as chilling as those of the Sunni insurgents, including not only printed death threats but also demands for clear identifying signs (an imposition that sounds awfully familiar in the rotten history of our civilization).
In a tactic borrowed from Sunni insurgents, Shiite militants have begun distributing printed death threats. One leaflet that lists several former Baathists targeted for assassination says: "We have given you the chance to repent for your crimes against the people of this country, but we have noticed during surveillance that you are instead trying to restore the glory of the atheist, corrupt Baath Party."
Especially besieged are Shiite Baathists who live in predominantly Shiite or mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods, where targets are more accessible than in homogenous Sunni strongholds. Militiamen have demanded that former Baathists fly white flags to atone for their party membership and let their neighbors know they've renounced their pasts. Those who refuse often end up dead.
How strange then, in the midst of so much chaos and violence, that Ayatollah Sistani has been nominated by over 7,000 people for the Nobel Peace Prize, after a petition started by a group of Iraqi Christians. While I have never been a fan of clergies (of any religion) that try to run a country (ditto for the military), I have no doubt that many religious figures deserve recognition for their attempts to pacify their people and help the poor and the weak. However, I wonder if Sistani’s complete silence when Najaf was under siege by American forces (while he supposedly underwent an operation in London), and when Fallujah was practically bombed to the ground, can affect his record - at least for the many people who were frustrated by his silence, knowing that his intervention could have turned the situation around.
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Israel demands compliance with UN resolutions
Tuesday, March 8, 2005, 01:41The official Israeli reaction to Saturday’s speech by the Syrian president was quite incredible, considering who’s talking. According to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, "Israel demands a full implementation of UN Resolution 1559, meaning a complete withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon."
Skating (with the heavy weight of Israeli hypocrisy) on thin ice, Shalom did not mention the dozens of UN resolutions which Israel still flouts, including Resolution 242 (passed by the Security Council in 1967) which demands it gives back territories acquired during the Six Day War. That means the Syrian Golan Heights, the Shebaa Farms (regardless of whether they belong to Lebanon or Syria), and of course the Palestinian lands in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
But there are few voices demanding the equitable application on international law. In fact, many Israelis are openly advocating the opposite. In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el is crystal clear about which occupations should be opposed: “End the occupation – but only in Lebanon,” he says, admitting that “the status of this resolution is no different than that of resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israel to withdraw from the territories it conquered” and that “the hypocrisy of occupying states is nothing new and the attempt to find differences between one occupier and another always requires semantic juggling.”
Bar’el is worried that the weakening of Syria will lead to a strengthening of Hezbollah, but seems reassured by reports (mentioned by Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday) that Uri Lubrani, Israel’s former policy advisor on Lebanon, said that Lebanese forces had asked that Israel apply pressure on Syria – as if it needed to be asked.
Bar’el can’t wait for Israel to get involved again. Quoting Lubrani as saying that “Lebanese personages” had approached Israel for assistance, he asks that Lebanon should remember, if it achieves democracy, to whom it owes this: “Indeed, it is hard to resist the longing for the period of the Phalangists.”
It is unlikely, however, that many Lebanese are really pining for such a scenario.
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Sunday, March 6, 2005, 03:48After what already seemed like weeks of watching, reading, thinking and talking about the current crisis in Lebanon and the pressures on Syria, the resignation of the Lebanese government on Monday opened new debates, even within a clearly surprised opposition which had expected Omar Karami’s government to easily win the vote of no confidence.
Five days later, as Lebanon still finds itself in political limbo, not yet finding a Sunni politician willing to risk his career as the head of an interim government, let alone one who would be acceptable to both the current parliamentary majority and the opposition. The Lebanese political system has its quirks, of course, somewhat stretching the concept of democracy with its provision that the president should be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim.
In the past few days, we have supposedly witnessed how people power has brought down a government, surely scenes about which Bush would be less enthusiastic if they were to take place in Riyadh, Cairo, Amman or Rabat. Without dismissing the effect of the demonstrations in Martyrs Square, which seem to consist mainly of young people (apparently from middle and higher social classes, judging by the scenes which led to the “Gucci revolution” label), the international pressure on Syria heralding Karami’s resignation would be a more accurate assessment of this unprecedented event.
Now, we are thrown into another cycle of analysis and commentary with Saturday’s speech by the Syrian president, and I have a feeling we’ll all be discussing its possible meanings and repercussions practically until the troops are out.
Obviously, this speech will not be satisfactory to the US, something even Assad jokingly said before ending his address. In it, Syria neither submitted completely to American demands of a timetable for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, nor defied these demands entirely by refusing to comply with international law. Therefore, the US (and other parties threatening Syria) can neither bask in self-satisfaction following an unconditional obedience of the accused, nor can the trigger-happy Bush administration consider it a challenge and jump on the occasion (for the time being at least) to spread some more of its freedom in the region.
If you watched the speech, in Arabic or translated, you would have clearly understood that Syria is committing itself to eventually comply fully with the obligations of both the Taef Accord and with Resolution 1559. You would have thus clearly understood that it’s not an if, but a when. Most probably, it will happen when the least-rushed solution will have been devised with concerned Arab countries, before the planned parliamentary elections in Lebanon.
Assad’s mention of thorny issues (including the May 17 accord, the legal status of Palestinian refugees, and the reminder of why Syria entered Lebanon) were not appreciated by a number of Lebanese who have already commented on them. Nor will the US and Israel be rushing to answer the questions Assad posed about the logic behind the Israeli refusal to discuss the Golan Heights (well, clearly they love to ski there and drink its wine), or behind the repeated (but unproven) accusations of Syrian trouble-making in Iraq.
But facts are facts, regardless of who is stating them. They may not like the messenger, but they can hardly refute the message. Syria is going to first redeploy to the Beqaa, and then withdraw (hopefully before being forced to do it), but that is not going to stop the pressure on the country, nor bring it the liberation of the Golan from Israeli occupation. On the contrary, the Israelis, who have repeatedly claimed that the Syrian track was not an option while they negotiated with the Palestinians, suddenly seemed able to do multi-tasking; after the Syrians withdraw, Israel would love nothing more than a peace treaty with Lebanon.
But this would be forgetting that even the opposition, which includes the warlords who fuelled the 15-year civil war, does not presently seem eager to pursue that track. And that would also be forgetting that approximately half the Lebanese population (mainly Shias) has yet to join in the opposition to Syrian presence in Lebanon.
The media does not seem to have reached a consensus on the issue of withdrawal either. If you read Reuters, for example, you would have gathered that Syria vows a complete and swift Lebanon pullout.
In contrast, the Associated Press concluded that Syria ignored demands to withdraw troops, while Britain's Telegraph qualifies the speech as defiance.
One of the most laughable comment trails I have heard in the past few hours is the idea that Assad, by mentioning the May 17 (1983) short-lived peace accord between Lebanon and Israel, was giving some kind of signal to factions in Lebanon to stir up trouble. Really now, there would have been many other ways to pass on the message, if this was indeed a secret message.
But the most laughable of all responses has been Israel’s reaction to the speech, a comment so ridiculously hypocritical and arrogant that it deserves an entry of its own.
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For whom the bombs toil
Monday, February 28, 2005, 03:09While the vast majority of articles in the media take Syria’s complicity or responsibility in Hariri’s killing as a given, some have questioned the logic of this assumption (directly or indirectly) and have looked at other parties whose wider agendas are benefitting from the current situation. Here are a few I didn’t have the chance to post before.
The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele wonders about Bush’s assurances to Europe last week, saying that the heart of the matter remains the neocons’ agenda for the Arab world and their support for the most hardline elements in Israel, of which Europe needs to be highly wary. In particular, they need to remember that what Bush does in the Middle East is more important than what he says in Europe.
Steele argues that neocons have pressured Syria’s for years, noting the influence of the paper “A Clean Break” (discussed in this blog last week) and maintaining that the number one focus for regime change under Bush Two is Damascus, not Tehran.
Hassan Nafaa argues in Al Ahram that after Lebanon’s reconstruction, its resistance would be targetted. He reasons that “it would be naïve to imagine that Israel has forgotten the day when it had to run away in shame, abandoning its dearest allies in Lebanon. All those who helped bring about that shame -- the Lebanese resistance, the Syrian and Lebanese regimes -- are targets for revenge. Israel's path is now open. It will try to destroy Lebanon's national cohesion and the Iranian-Syrian-Lebanese alliance.
The margin of manoeuvre for the Syrians is narrow. Al-Hariri's murder harms Syrian interests more than it harms anyone else. But Syria cannot recapture the initiative unless it succeeds in disclosing the identity of the perpetrators of this crime. This must be Syria's first priority.”
Patrick Seale for his part recognizes that “Syria has made grave mistakes in Lebanon. Its military intelligence apparatus has interfered far too much in Lebanese affairs. A big mistake was to insist on changing the Lebanese constitution to extend the mandate of President Emile Lahoud - known for his absolute allegiance to Syria - for a further three years.”
But he believes that attributing responsibility for the murder to Syria is implausible, “as there is no shortage of potential candidates, including far-right Christians, anxious to rouse opinion against Syria and expel it from Lebanon; Islamist extremists who have not forgiven Syria its repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 80s; and, of course, Israel.”
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Sunday, February 27, 2005, 20:19You don’t know whether to laugh or cry about when such stories surface. Thinking it is a good way to protect themselves from the anti-Syrian sentiments that have been taken to extremes by some Lebanese, several Syrian taxi drivers (many of whom make the Damascus-Beirut-Damascus several times a week) have begun to arm themselves with pictures of Rafik Hariri as soon as they cross the Lebanese border. As if we needed more pictures in the Middle East, even if they are of people who have become icons.
What is less funny is the violence that has targeted mostly helpless Syrian workers in Lebanon. This has been documented in The Daily Star, which also reports that all is quiet on the eastern front, especially in the town of Chtaura; the town which normally witnesses a steady level of traffic coming from and going to Syria on a daily basis is now turning into a ghost town.
Like most Syrians and Lebanese who do the trek between the two capitals, I have often stopped in Chtaura for a coffee and a breakfast of “manakeesh,” amidst a setting that is at the same time provincial and modern (many Lebanese banks have branches in Chtaura, to cater to a mostly Syrian clientele). If the situation doesn’t improve, many people may want to close shop there, but one hopes this is but a passing storm and that the customers will come back in a much better environment for all concerned.
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Only one cook spoiling so many broths?
Sunday, February 27, 2005, 00:54To believe recent media reports, one would get the feeling that Syria has been very busy in the past few weeks. First, countless articles have decreed, practically beyond reasonable doubt, that Syria was responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The issue of Syrian presence in Lebanon is going to be a hot one for months to come, but other supposed Syrian misdeeds are surfacing, with alarming (but convenient) regularity now.
In a stroke of luck for its accusers, Syria has been “found guilty” of training terrorists to go to Iraq to kill people. An Iraqi television channel, funded by the US, aired interviews with Egyptians, Sudanese and Iraqis who claimed to have received training in Syria. One of them even claimed he was a lieutenant in the Syrian intelligence service, identifying himself as Lt. Anas Ahmed Al Essa. The aim of these terrorists? “To cause chaos in Iraq … to bar America from reaching Syria.”
While all gave details about their backgrounds, one Iraqi even said that Syrian intelligence had trained him on how to behead hostages! How about that … it turns out Syria was the only place they could learn how to do this? The authenticity of this tape will be a long time in coming; “confessions” of this type are not quite reliable evidence.
But that’s not all. Wouldn’t you just know it, Syria (apparently through its “tool” Hezbollah) has also been sabotaging the truce between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, as if it didn’t have enough on its plate already.
The Israeli government, according to a statement by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, has accused Syria of being responsible for the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last night. That comes right after Mahmoud Abbas and his lieutenants had first tried to mysteriously hint at “third party involvement” (namely Hezbollah) even though the actual bomber himself claimed to be from Islamic Jihad in the tape taking responsibility for the crime. On Al Jazeera tonight, Nabil Shaath even declared that Islamic Jihad uses a different style of talking and of responsibility claiming, but he did not really explain what those differences are.
News of this latest suicide bomb had immediately brought to my mind the Israeli strike of October 2003 on an alleged training camp for Islamic Jihad in Syria (which Syria said was not in use), which Israel claimed was retaliation for the suicide bombing in Haifa. Are the Palestinian Authority and Israeli declarations a heralding military action of some sort? Israel hasn’t waited for evidence before, but it now claims it will be lauching a diplomatic offensive (or rather, continuting on its persistent anti-Syrian drive) to present the case against Damascus, and perhaps to leave the honors of striking for someone else?
In any case, according to all these reports, Syria appears to be single-handedly wreaking havoc in Lebanon, Iraq and Israel. That’s quite a feat. The bigger feat would be actually coming up with some evidence of this Machiavellian capacity to disrupt so much.
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Looking for clues
Saturday, February 26, 2005, 22:37Many journalists were somewhat confused by George Bush’s statements on Iran this week. Unfortunately, they tried to use logic to make sense of the following declarations:
1. “Iran is not Iraq.” (Most people already knew that.)
2. “This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is
simply ridiculous.” (Ridiculous, yes. Impossible, no.)
3. “Having said that, all options are on the table.” (Meaning?)
Tom Toles didn’t waste much time in trying to decifer Bush’s pearls of wisdom.
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Filmed killing is no witness to the prosecution
Friday, February 25, 2005, 15:47Those who watched on their television screens as an American soldier shot and killed a wounded Iraqi in Fallujah, in November 2004, may have been eventually prepared for a light sentence to be given to the soldier, in view of the incredible leniency that has been exercised with US military personnel involved in various American adventures across the region.
But it is hard to believe that the soldier might not even be prosecuted, let alone sentenced (even symbolically). The Independent, referring to a CBS news reports today that “investigators concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge the marine, and that given the circumstances of the battlefield, it was possible that he felt his life was threatened.”
The US Marine Corps says that the investigation has not been completed, but CBS also says that at the very least, navy legal expects believe the situation is ambiguous enough that no prosecutor could get a conviction. If you’ve seen the footage, you may wonder about the ambiguity of this statement.
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Anger and fear across the borders
Wednesday, February 23, 2005, 04:09Accusations are still flying about Syria’s alleged role in Rafik Hariri’s assassination, as are appeals for calm. George Bush and Jacques Chirac issued their ultimatum in Brussels on Monday, demanding that Syria withdraw its forces from Lebanon before May's parliamentary elections, albeit without pointing more fingers on Hariri. But while speaking to the press in Brussels, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said there was "a high level of suspicion of the potential involvement of Syria in the assassination".
That’s not the view of Saudi Arabia, however, a country from which Rafik Hariri was also a prominent citizen, and where the Hariri family is currently receiving condolences. Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal told journalists in London that countries should not hastily accuse Syria of involvement in Hariri’s killing, nor insist on an international inquiry which he thought should be left to Lebanon. “We cannot accuse one side before we know the facts. Those who accuse Syria without evidence will be open to criticism,” he said.
Monday’s massive demonstration in Beirut spoke volumes about the conclusions most Lebanese people have already reached; many feel that 30 years of Syrian presence (or 15, if one counts the period since the end of Lebanon’s brutal civil war) have given them more than enough reason to demand a pullout, Hariri’s murder being the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, no matter who was responsible.
The Daily Star, which in the past managed quite well to comment on deficiencies in Syrian-Lebanese relations in the most diplomatic manner, has in the past week been much more direct (and probably much more representative of popular sentiments). More and more, its editorials ask for action – rather than just reaction - from Syria; today, it asked Damascus to act wisely and fulfill its historical inevitability, and to read the writing on the wall saying that “Syria must leave Lebanon and grant to the Lebanese their right to determine their own affairs.”
Some Syrians have already begun to leave Lebanon in droves, forced not by international consensus, but sadly by sheer fear. Tents “housing” Syrian workers have been scorched, several Syrians are said to have been killed, and some Syrian cars have been stoned, leading to a peculiar sight of traffic going only one-way on the Lebanese-Syrian border post of Jdaideh, which is usually packed on both sides.
In particular, many of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian workers doing the menial jobs that few Lebanese want to do have quickly departed rather than face anti-Syrian violence, a phenomenon which could prove to be quite problematic for a number of Lebanese industries, according to The Daily Star:
“If Syrian workers do not return to Lebanon, it is feared that nearly every construction project across the country will be halted indefinitely.
‘This is a huge problem,’ said Abdo Sukaireh, board member of the Lebanese order of engineers. ‘I am executing three projects for the Council of Development and Reconstruction and all three have been stopped,’ he added, estimating Syrian labor accounted for some 70 percent of construction crews across the country.’ …
‘This is a real shock,’ he added, saying the use of Lebanese labor could boost construction costs by 50 percent. In addition, the number of available indigenous laborers would only cover some 20 percent of the loss, he said. …
Largely undocumented, Syrian laborers are often stripped of legal benefits and subjected to hazardous working conditions in Lebanon, where they are paid an average of $10 per day."
This is surely not what the people of both countries want. Syrians, increasingly worried about developments, are speaking out and pleading with their government to do what many believe is the right thing. A number of Syrian intellectuals, including leaders in the reformist movement and the so-called Damascus Spring, have signed a statement urging the government to withdraw its troops from Lebanon immediately, but also lamenting Lebanese insults and violence targeting Syrians.
Ammar Abdulhamid, for his part, has poured his heart out in a poignant op-ed beseeching Syria’s leaders to move towards reform, in a number of ways:
“The first reform step that needs to be taken at this stage is to implement an immediate Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon, regardless of the economic fallout involved. For the political price of staying there is potentially much dearer and will have even greater economic repercussions.”
These are difficult times for the Lebanese, and worrying times for the Syrians. Both people undoubtedly want the same things for themselves and for each other, and it would truly be a tragedy if their relationship were to be damaged by current events out of their control. Hopefully, voices of reason on both sides will manage to bridge the divide and focus on what is important.
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Silencing the messengers who denounce the shooting of messengers
Monday, February 21, 2005, 02:07Before Hariri’s assassination took us by storm, a number of interesting stories were simmering in the media, and would have merited more discussion. One of them is the “resignation” of Eason Jordan, who seems to have been pushed rather than to have jumped boat himself.
Although the story is not very clear, it seems that CNN’s chief news executive had implied during a debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month that American forces had deliberately targetted journalists in Iraq. His comments, as detailed by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation, “quickly ignited a firestorm on the Internet, fueled by right-wing bloggers, that led to Jordan’s recanting, apologizing and ultimately resigning after 23 years at the network.”
But Scahill rightly argues that “the real controversy here should not be over Jordan’s comments. The controversy should be over the unconscionable silence in the United States about the military’s repeated killing of journalists in Iraq.”
In fact, “Eason Jordan’s comment was hardly a radical declaration. He was expressing a common view among news organizations around the world.”
I agree, and had already prepared a list of journalists (whom Scahill mentions) killed – several of them very clearly deliberately – by American forces.
In full view of television cameras, on April 8 2003, US forces fired directly on Baghdad’s Hotel Palestine where many journalists had been staying, killing Reuters’s Taras Protsyuk and the Spanish Telecinco’s José Couso. That very same day, a U.S. missile struck Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau, instantly killing correspondent Tarek Ayoub.
On August 17 2003, Mazen Dana, a veteran conflict cameraman for Reuters news agency, was killed by machine gun fire from a U.S. tank (from a distance of only 50 meters) near Baghdad, struck in the torso while filming near Abu Ghraib Prison.
On April 19 2004, US forces killed Asaad Kadhim, a correspondent for Al Iraqiya TV, and his driver at a checkpoint near Samara.
On September 12 2004, Mazen al-Tumeizi, a reporter for Al-Arabiya television, was killed as he filmed a sequence as a U.S. helicopter fired missiles and machine guns to destroy a disabled American vehicle.
There are more, and they are all to be found on various websites detailing the abuses by occupation forces. But as reported in The Nation, the US military has yet to discipline a single soldier for the killing of a journalist in Iraq.
And for the record, speaking of occupation forces, journalists are not safe in Palestinian territories occupied by Israel either. On April 19 2003, Nazih Darwazeh, from the Associated Press Television News, was killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Nablus as he filmed. On May 2 2003, British freelance journalist James Miller was fatally shot in the Gaza Strip by an Israeli tank, as he and his colleagues walked slowly, waving a white flag and pointing to the TV sign on their jackets, calling out their profession. The killing was captured on film.
On March 2 2004, Mohamed Abu Halima, a journalism student at Al-Najah University in Nablus and a correspondent for university-affiliated Al-Najah radio station, was shot by Israeli forces at the entrance of the Balata refugee camp, outside the city of Nablus.
Reporters Without Borders and The Committee to Protect Journalists are only two of the respected organizations which follow the status of journalists around the world; often, their reports make for very sobering reading.
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Media debates on Hariri
Monday, February 21, 2005, 00:53The grief is understandable, and people’s devastation as they mourn the criminal loss of their most prominent compatriot is touching and a poignant indicator of the mood in Lebanon. Countless articles have described the scenes of anguish and anger in Beirut, although the extent of the confrontations is best assessed on Arabic television. There have also been articles in the media shedding more light on the issues which had stirred so much debate before Hariri’s assassination.
A Daily Star journalist recounts the discussion she had with Hariri on Sunday February 13, the day before he was killed. The meeting was off the record, but she has decided to make his comments public due to the extraordinary circumstances. We learn that Hariri was not in fear for his life, and that ”he expressed support for the privileged relations between Lebanon and Syria, arguing: ‘Syria represented the father, mother, sister and everything to Lebanon.’ However, Hariri objected to Syria's tutoring of Lebanon and to Lebanon's anti-Syrian policy.”
Most articles in the media have given the basics (with varying degrees of accuracy), but some have begun to delve deeper into the background of the late Hariri, and into the question of who could possibly be behind his murder. In a number of serious publications, the Syrian track has not been accepted by default.
A good piece explaining the major political issues in the weeks leading up to the murder is found in Middle East International which concludes with the following question:
”There is a party that has an obvious interest in such an assassination and the political consequences it would rain down on the Syrian and Lebanese leaderships in the wake of Resolution 1559, one that has historically shown itself ruthlessly proficient in pursuing realpolitik in Lebanon and would — in the world of rational choice — be indifferent to the financial and economic cataclysm that is likely to descend on Lebanon in the coming months. That party is Israel.
Those political actors who habitually blame Israel for every traffic violation in this country have so discredited themselves that today Lebanese are as unlikely to take such an idea seriously as Americans. That is striking in itself.”
The Observer today discusses why Mr. Lebanon had many enemies, quoting British officials’ doubts over US and Israeli-backed allegations that Syrian intelligence agents were behind his assassinations, describing that “a picture began to emerge of a deeply flawed billionaire with as many foes as friends.”
“While the shiny new Beirut looked good, by the late 1990s Hariri's political leadership was under attack. High unemployment, public disgust at the corruption and the biggest per capita debt in the developing world all took away the shine. Beneath the gloss, Mr Lebanon's economic problems and his enemies were multiplying.”
Re-reading the Taef Agreement of 1989 may also help those wishing to understand how the civil war was brought to an end, and what was expected of the different parties involved - both in the fighting and in the peace making.
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A clear trap for a clean break
Saturday, February 19, 2005, 04:45Rafik Hariri hadn’t been declared dead a few minutes when most people, “analysts” included, had already concluded that no-one but Syria could have killed him, or could have even wanted to. So much for the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Jumping to conclusions doesn’t solve the mystery of this horrific assassination and may even help the culprits get away with it, whoever they may be. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh and his accomplices were probably quite satisfied, for a while, to hear “experts” explain that only Arabs or Islamic fundamentalists could have committed that atrocity.
The rationale of the “Syria did it” theory is childishly simple: the Syrian regime, desperate to control the rising opposition to the presence of its troops in Lebanon, eliminated Hariri to scare other opponents into accepting its hegemony. Elementary. Too much so, in fact.
One should remember that even though the Lebanese opposition is now portraying Hariri as its patron saint, this was not exactly the case – something the opposition seems to acknowledge indirectly by claiming he was about to announce his alignment with them “soon.” But Hariri was never as careless or vitriolic as they have been in the past few weeks (attributes that the Lebanese government, with its recent irresponsible statements, shares with the opposition); he was a pragmatist who was unlikely to take Lebanon into an open confrontation with Syria, who had never publicly asked for the retreat of its troops from Lebanon (although even Syrian media suspected he had a hand in UNSC 1559), and who cultivated his relations with Arab and Western countries alike.
Hariri was not Syria’s staunchest opponent, nor was Syria Hariri’s harshest critic. Having been mainly opposed to Lahoud, after years of being allied with Syria, Hariri in power would have had little time for today’s chief opposition leaders. Many of those who claim Hariri as their leader today had spent his years in power criticizing him, and Lebanese media is witness to that, but that is not the point here. Hariri is being made into the biggest opponent to Syria’s continued presence in Lebanon; even supposing that he was, the jump from that to a Syrian assassination theory is far-fetched.
Wouldn’t it be terribly self-confident of the Syrians to have done this mere days after having been warned by Terje Roed Larsen that they would be held responsible for any harm done to Walid Jumblatt or Rafik Hariri (the latter being a very surprising name to mention in one sentence with Jumblatt)? And wouldn’t it be utterly crazy, if not suicidal, of the Syrians to have done this even when they surely imagined what the consequences would be?
After a UN Security Council resolution demanding their departure in a drastic reversal of public French policy towards Syria, and after repeated American and French warnings over their failure to comply, they still felt they could get away with this? Even after the strong warning in the State of the Union address and promises of more sanctions under the Syria Accountability Act?
It’s not impossible that the Syrians thought they had nothing to lose, but it’s highly unlikely. Syria is still hoping for the ratification of the EU Association Agreement, for France to rekindle a relationship that had been much warmer, and for everyone else (including Egypt and Turkey) to help in getting some process started for Israel’s withdrawal from Syria’s Golan Heights – after 38 years of occupation.
The Syrian regime may have been foolish in the past, but the repercussions of their extension to incumbent president Emile Lahoud’s term in office quickly showed them that they had gone too far. In recent weeks, they had begun to adopt a much more conciliatory tone with the international community (could that have worried the Lebanese opposition, amongst others?), and had even launched a semblance of a diplomatic channel with Lebanon, by dispatching the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister to the Foreign Ministry in Beirut – something that had never happened before. These are small, but very significant developments.
Syria’s position, in addition to having been hurt by unwise decisions, has not been helped by its catastrophically bad and archaic communication methods and rhetoric, and by the complete absence of official Syrian spokespeople able to explain (let alone convincingly) their position. In many ways, Syria has been its own worst enemy, not knowing how to present its perfectly legitimate demands and strategic interests, and how to argue its genuine concerns over the geopolitical situation. (The application of 1559, incidentally, is a lot more problematic than meets the eye and entails much more than a Syrian troop withdrawal.)
Communication deficiencies, however, do not indicate that Syrians are oblivious to the realities – both those in their favour and against it. If anyone apart from the Lebanese understands the intricacies of Lebanese politics, it is the Syrians; after all, they’ve had 30 years of first-hand experience. The withdrawal of their forces was deemed an inevitability for all the above reasons, and they needed to find a dignified exit that took into account the other factors of 1559, and of the Taef Agreement.
Their implication in Hariri’s murder is unlikely because they knew what the consequences would be, both on them and on Lebanon, a country whose stability is an obvious Syrian concern. What is also not impossible, but much more likely, is that the assassination was ordered by parties who had a lot more to gain by the repercussions of Hariri’s murder – namely an indictment of Syria by not only the US, but, conveniently, by the international community.
Hariri’s assassination will probably have been the catalyst (but not the cause) of Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon. It may become the means by which Syria leaves it weakened and humiliated, possibly isolated from its neighbors and from the international community. And Hariri’s assassination provides the Bush administration with an opportune pretext to pump up the pressure on Syria, after months of sabre rattling and public threats.
Bush’s recall of his ambassador to Damascus was a rash and baseless decision. Increasingly called a “low hanging fruit” in Washington circles, Syria had nevertheless not been obliging enough to provide Bush with the “proof” he needed to confront it one way or another. In-depth cooperation on the “war on terror” since September 11, increased cooperation on the issue of Iraqi borders, extreme goodwill with the out-of-country Iraqi elections which were facilitated in Syria, repeated public discourse on the wish for peace with Israel, and even (to the angry frustration of most Syrians) a practical abandonment to Turkey of Syria’s historical right to Alexandretta … all these measures and gestures were not quite helpful to the Bush administration, which needs a really “bad” Syria to pursue its agenda.
And what agenda might that be? One can pick and choose. To “liberalize” the region (according to the nauseatingly phony American rhetoric) within the overall Iraq-regime change agenda, or perhaps to turn it into much less of a problem for Israel? Syria is a problem for Israel because it continues to support Palestinian resistance groups (all of which are designated as terrorists by the US and Israel), because of its support for Hizbullah (another terrorist for the Americans and Israelis, who have still not gotten over its role in Israel’s sudden departure from Lebanon in 2000), and because of its annoying repeated demands for the equitable application of international law – specifically UNSC Resolution 242, and the restitution of the Golan Heights to Syria.
Syria bothers Israel, and it bothers the US with its Arabist agenda. But with no proofs about WMDs (not that this tactic would work again, hopefully), and not enough evidence of other transgressions that could convince the international community, what better than the assassination of Lebanon’s most prominent political personality? It’s worked before: in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon a couple of days after the assassination attempt on its ambassador to London. Was Hariri’s elimination a spectacular trap for Syria?
In 1996, Richard Perle headed a study group (which included other hawks like Douglas Feith) which delivered a document to Benjamin Netanyahu, explaining to him how Israel should now make “A Clean Break” with past peace-making policies. The document explained that Israel should now secure its northern border and concentrate on weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria, stating that “it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan ‘comprehensive peace’ and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program, and rejecting ‘land for peace’ deals on the Golan Heights.”
Recent events indicate that Israel has been doing exactly that – with US support - without even attempting to hide it. The Israeli media has been uncharacteristically quiet about Hariri’s assassination, and the developments in Lebanon in the past few days; has Israel been asked to lay low for the time being, while the US handles the problem? Or will it spring into action sooner or later?
And does this mean Israel, or the US, commissioned Hariri’s assassination just to get Syria into even more trouble? Nobody knows. But these possibilities are just as plausible as others, and given the repercussions, they are certainly more plausible than that of a Syrian hand in the crime.
The only people who know who killed Rafik Hariri are probably the perpetrators themselves, and possibly a more distant guiding hand. The rest of us, without a shred of evidence, can only analyze and speculate.
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Shooting the messengers, again
Thursday, February 10, 2005, 01:45Two more journalists were savagely murdered on Wednesday. Al Hurra correspondent Abdul-Hussein Khazal and his 3-year old son were shot dead in Basra, and Kate Peyton, from the BBC, was shot in the back in Mogadishu.
In the meantime, Florence Aubenas, a journalist with the French daily Liberation, and her Iraqi interpreter Hussein Hanoun Al-Saadi, have been held hostage for 36 days. Giuliana Sgrena, from the Italian daily Il Manifesto, has been missing for 6. Hopefully, they will be released safe and sound.
What The Daily Star rightly says about Khazal’s murder also applies to the rest:
”For Islamists and nationalists and every other kind of political creed, ignoring the opinion of the civilized world and killing its messengers is scraping the bottom of the barrel. It does, indeed, tell us much about the universe these people inhabit - it is a small, claustrophobic universe constructed of ignorance, stupidity and short-sightedness. It is a universe that is more akin to a deep, dark dungeon of their own making, a dungeon in which they are their own prisoners.”
Terrorists, ruthless regimes and occupying armies are those most wary of the power of the media, and are those most violent with journalists. We have been sadly growing accustomed to hearing such tragic news, from various culprits. The freedom of the press is not even that sacred in democracies, conclude Reporters Without Borders. The US fares badly in the worldwide index of press freedom (number 22 in the US, but 108 in Iraq), not to mention the UK (28), and Israel (36 in Israel, but 115 in the Occupied Territories). As for the pathetic Arab regimes, they are amongst the worst offenders.
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Occupation, as lived by children
Thursday, February 10, 2005, 00:09In both Palestine and Iraq, the occupation is the original terror, especially for children.
The terror in the eyes of a 3-year old child from Hebron, in the face of the Israeli occupier.
And the terror a small girl feels in Fallujah, in the face of the American occupier.
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The bloody hands that will remain unchained
Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 22:39Sharon’s empty words yesterday about children and grandchildren ring empty, and Israeli promises to release Palestinian prisoners who “do not have blood on their hands” is even more hypocritical. Indeed, no Israeli (soldier or otherwise) will be held accountable for Palestinian blood.
What about the blood of Iman Al Hamas, asks Amira Hass in Haaretz? On whose hands is her blood? Certainly not on the hands of the Israeli officer who shot her repeatedly, “verifying the kill,” nor on anyone else’s hands in the Israeli army, apparently, because the 13-year old girl’s murderer has been set free.
Here are some excerpts from Hass’s truly poignant and pertinent piece today, especially for the benefit of readers in some Middle East countries whose governments idiotically prohibit them from accessing Israeli websites:
“Iman's name became famous because of the perjury of the soldiers. Her futile death was reported in the Israeli media, which very rarely reports on dead Palestinians. There is a long list of Palestinian civilians whose blood was spilled neither in battle nor because they endangered someone, and their blood has evaporated from our consciousness. …
Mahmoud Abbas was instructed yesterday at the summit not to ask whose hands were bloodied with the blood of the Arar family. Mohammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub are expected not to remember nor remind the Israeli commanders who gave the orders to shoot and blow up and shell and kill civilians, of all the orders that killed and wounded thousands of Palestinians civilians, in the last four years, in the first intifada, in Lebanon, in Qibiyeh. The Palestinian people are not allowed to ask their leaders why soldiers of the occupation who killed civilians, and their officers, are not arrested and put on trial.
That's the upside down method: occupy them, their land, their natural resources, take over their lives and judge them as criminals when they resist us - when they kill either civilians or soldiers. We admit we killed civilians, but the "war" apparently not only justifies our cruelty, it erases it. On the other hand, the war - in other words, the occupation, in other words, the war for the preservation of the loot from the 1967 war: the settlements - does not justify or even explain their cruelty in our eyes.
If the Palestinians had warplanes and tanks so their killing was sterile, they would prefer to use those. And then, even if they killed Jewish civilians, they would not be called murderers with blood on their hands but enemy soldiers. And when caught they would be considered prisoners of war. If the policy makers of the Olso Accords really were thinking about peace the way they are said to have been, they would have freed all those prisoners. But then, like now: those who speak about gestures and then only free Marwan Barghouti's son, even if it was at Abbas' request, continue to operate with the old diskette of the colonialist who throws candy to the natives.
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What’s new, copycat?
Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 00:54Iran and Syria, that's what.
Remember (although it already seems like so long ago) when every American statement would be swiftly followed by a “spontaneous” and remarkably similar British declaration? Afghanistan, terror, hearts and minds, and all the rigmarole relating to why Iraq had to be invaded (WMDs, Saddam is evil, liberation, democracy, etc.) – you name it, all were a two-step affair. First Bush said it, then Blair, standing shoulder to shoulder with him across the Atlantic, repeated it.
Now we’re moving on to new fields: Iran and Syria. And sure enough, Blair was adamant in his assertion that Iran not only had to give up its search for weapons of mass destruction, but that it currently sponsors terrorism.
"It certainly does sponsor terrorism. There's no doubt about that at all," said Blair on Tuesday. I for one can’t wait to see the “intelligence” on this one, especially now that Alastair Campbell is back on the prime minister’s payroll (and already making a lot of noise about his declared arch-enemy, the BBC).
Blair is so sure, this time, of his "facts" that he did not even completely dismiss the possibility of a strike against Iran – something Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has nevertheless recently claimed was “inconceivable.”
Blair also warned Syria, surprise surprise, not to allow Iraqi insurgents to cross their borders, to bog down US forces and thus reduce the chance of invasion, as one question stated: “I think if they were to make that calculation, it would be a very severe miscalculation.” (Like Bush, Blair's forte is not English.)
And here we were thinking that the European Union, to which Britain seems to belong very randomly, was all for diplomacy. Perish the thought.
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Less-than-historic motions by the beautiful sea
Tuesday, February 8, 2005, 03:50Forgive me for not joining in the general euphoria preceding yet another “historic” summit in the Middle East. To hear the exited comments, peace really is around the corner if we “grab the opportunity,” whatever that is.
The Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government are supposed to declare a cease-fire, a truce, an armistice, or some sort of end to the fighting at Sharm El Sheikh on Tuesday. Lovely. Not to dismiss the importance of halting violence, but then what?
So far, the only cease-fire that has been holding in the past few weeks has been from the Palestinian side. Since Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, 44 Palestinians have been killed by Israel; if we count the casualties since Yasser Arafat’s death in November, when Israel claimed it would help Palestinians make the transition, the number of fatal casualties comes up to 140. Let’s see how Israel keeps its side of the bargain; already, as usual, it is putting the onus on Palestinians.
Sharon’s advisor Raanan Gissin (the little chap who manages to be just as unpleasant as his boss) made sure the caveats were inserted: Israel would refrain from military action “to the extent that the Palestinians will fulfill their pledges and their commitments.”
Very importantly, will this cease-fire also mean that Israel will stop demolishing houses, building more settlements, and illegally grabbing Palestinian territories? How many of the 8,000 Palestinians being held prisoners in Israeli jails become free? Will Israel halt the illegal encirclement of East Jerusalem or the construction of the infamous wall which amounts to an illegal, creeping annexation of Palestinian land?
There’s very little being said about all these matters, about the essence of the conflict being the Israeli occupation, about the real terms of a peace agreement, about the status of Jerusalem, or about Palestinians’ right of return. Then again, all that was already covered in successive UN Security Council resolutions and in the Madrid Peace Conference (which was truly historic, and which Israel couldn’t wait to break up), to name but these.
Tuesday’s “historic” summit will not cover the basic issues. That’s because Bush and Sharon have managed to turn this conflict into one of Palestinian democracy (which will help solve the conflict, according to the Bush logic), and into one of security reform, as is evident by Bush’s sudden appointment of General William Ward as “security envoy.”
In other words, if the Palestinians “democratize” their institutions, and if they “reform” their security forces (i.e. control all militants, one way or another, as Arafat tried to do –violently – after Oslo), then “peace” is attainable, and never mind the Israeli occupation. How irritatingly repetitive, and futile.
Been there, done that. Then, it was “Gaza and Jericho first.” Now, it’s just Gaza (with borders controlled by Israel) and democratization (with institutions controlled by Fatah). Sharon has made no secret of his plans, like his chief of staff Dov Weisglass: the withdrawal from Gaza aims at handing the responsibility of the Palestinian resistance "problem" to the Palestinian Authority, while Israel is left free to concentrate on securing the West Bank for itself.
Surely even Bush knows enough about the region (in spite of calling Abbas “prime minister” today) to realize that buying time for Sharon and accepting his “facts on the ground” will have dangerous consequences. Perhaps that is why his secretary of state made a quick exit – no fried Rice for the time being – to avoid holding the US responsible to anything, should (as it most probably will) anything go wrong.
Therefore, don’t hold your breath for true progress, or wait for another grand ceremony in the Rose Garden, à la Oslo – that is, unless Abbas gives in more than he has the mandate to do.
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The logic of preemption
Tuesday, February 8, 2005, 00:55Preemptive action, as seen by Ted Rall, has a simple logic: first you take over the countries that threaten you, then the adjacent countries to protect your new real estate (not forgetting to turn neighbors into buffer states), and all their neighbors successively until nobody hates you anymore.
Good thing it's not technically feasible in four years.
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