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I promise to move on to something else soon, but over the past 24 hours new information has come to my attention that suggests the Der Spiegel report may be accurate.  However, when assessing the veracity of the report we must ask two questions.  First, is the claim that the investigation has shifted its focus away from Syria and towards Hezbollah as the likely perpetrator true?  And second, did Hezbollah actually in fact carry out the assassination?

I spoke with a reliable Washington DC based analyst last night who said that he had heard several weeks ago that the investigation had shifted its focus from Syria to Hezbollah (meaning before the Der Spiegel report).  This was reportedly confirmed at the time by two independent and unrelated sources, one of which is in the US State Department. 

Also, in today’s paper, Asharq al-Awsat interviews Erich Follath, the author of the Der Spiegel report.  Follath affirms the veracity of the report, claiming that the documents on which he based his claims on were “original and not copied”.

Based on the above information I’m beginning to think that the investigation has indeed shifted its focus towards Hezbollah.  As I mentioned above, this does not mean that Hezbollah did in fact carry out the assassination.  The investigation has clearly suspected Syria for some time and also pursued other possibilities such as the involvement of Palestinian groups or al-Qaeda.  Serge Brammertz infamously wasted months trying to determine whether or not a bomb was detonated below ground.  Likewise it is possible that the puported Hezbollah link will prove a dead end.

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On Memorial Day or (in Lebanon) the Ninth Celebration of the Liberation and Resistance, a consensus began to emerge between March 14 and March 8 over the allegations in the Der Spiegel article.  Generally, March 14 leaders and Hezbollah are treating the report as spurious and planted by Israel.

Saad al-Hariri said, “كل ما يحكى في الصحف ويصدر عنها نعتبره كلاماً صحافياً وليس لنا أي تعليق عليه وأننا لا نحتكم إلا لقرار المحكمة التي ناضلنا من أجلها ودفعنا دماء وسقط شهداء في سبيلها [Everything that is said in the newspapers and published in it we consider journalistic speech and we don't have any comment on it.  We do not judge anything expect the decision of The Tribunal that we fought for, that we paid blood for, and that martyrs fell for.]  Hariri’s position is more measured than Jumblatt’s, who explicitly rejects Der Spiegel’s claims.  Still, Jumblatt delivered his remarks in the prescence of Hariri and thus it can be assumed that he tacitly approves.

As as-Safir reports, Walid Jumblatt asserts that Israel was behind the Ain al-Rumaneh massacre that sparked the Lebanese Civil War so as to use Lebanon as leverage in peace negotiations with Egypt.  Likewise he suggests that Israel planted “Der Spiegelgate” to sow fitna (sedition) between the Lebanese so that it can have its way with the Palestinians.  as-Safir writes:

ودعا جنبلاط الى عدم الوقوع في فخ «الفتنة الكبرى»، معتبراً أن البصمات الإسرائيلية تكمن خلف ما نشرته «ديرشبيغل وخصوصاً أن اللوبي الصهيوني يملك نفوذاً واسعاً على حيز من الصحافة الالمانية، ولفت الانتباه ان السيناريو الذي سربته المجلة الالمانية والمفبرك إسرائيلياً يهدف ايضاً الى التغطية على اكتشاف شبكات التجسس في لبنان

Jumblatt called for not falling into the trap of “Greater Sedition”, considering Israeli fingerprints at work behind what Der Spiegel published.  Particularly the Zionist Lobby holds wide influence on a section of the German press and it turned attention to the scenario that the German magazine leaked.  The Israeli fabrication also aims at the coverage of the revealing of the espionage networks in Lebanon.

After a rather bellicose speech over a week ago, yesterday Hassan Nasrallah struck a more conciliatory tone towards his Lebanese rivals in remarks delivered in the southern suburbs of Beirut on the occasion of the 9th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon.  As I predicted a couple of days ago, in this speech Nasrallah expanded upon his contention that Israel was behind the Hariri assassination and the Der Spiegel report, conveniently situating both within a larger Zionist conspiracy.  What is more interesting however is the way he cites the view articulated by Jumblatt and emphasizes the importance of Shia-Druze harmony.  Nasrallah says:

 هذا الذي اكتشفه سريع عقلاء القوم وحكمائهم في لبنان عندما تحدثوا عن استنبات الفتنة في لبنان، اشهد بالحق واسجل بشكل خاص بشجاعة وجراة ما قاله جنبلاط: على اللبنانيين ان يتعاملوا مع تقرير ديرشبيغل انه اخطر من بوسطة عين الرمانة قراءة جنبلاط وتحليله صحيحين، لذلك يجب ان نتعاطى مع الامر بحذر والمفروض التعامل مع الموضوع انه مشروع فتنة مش خبر صحفي والمحكمة هي من تحكم بالنهاية

منذ تأسيس حزب الله أقمنا علاقات مع كل الدروز في كل لبنان ومع جميع قياداتهم والمشايخ والنخب ولم نشعر في يوم أنه هناك مشكلة بين الشيعة والدروز بشكل عام وبين حزب الله والدروز بشكل خاص

This [courage of the Southern Suburbs] was revealed by the people’s quick wit and wisdom in Lebanon when they speak of trying to sow sedition in Lebanon.  I witness with truth and I note in particular what Jumblatt said with courage and bravery, “It is on the Lebanese to deal with the Der Spiegel report as if it is more dangerous than Ain al-Roumaneh.”  The reading and analysis of Jumblatt are correct.  Therefore, it is necessary that we deal with the matter with caution.  It must be dealt with as if it is a plan for sedition, not journalistic news.  The Tribunal is who judges in the end.

ٍSince the establishment of Hezbollah we have undertaken good relations with all Druze in all of Lebanon and with all of their leaders, sheikhs, and elites.  And we have not felt for a day that there is any problem between the Shia and Druze generally and between Hezbollah and the Druze particularly.

The above is explicitly an endorsement of both the views of Jumblatt and Saad Hariri with regard to Der Spiegel’s report.  Also, it is a clear attempt at easing tension between Hezbollah and Jumblatt.  The latter fact is notable in light of the good relations between Nabih Berri and Jumblatt.  Finally, one effect of the Spiegel story and the release of the four generals last month is to put Hezbollah in a position in which it is inclined to voice support for the Tribunal.

Again, as I mentioned in my first post on the matter, there is little March 14 can do to actively capitalize on the Der Spiegel story beyond allowing Lebanese to digest its claims for themselves.  I’m typically suspicious of explanations based on Zionist conspiracies and if the Spiegel story is indeed false I think it is more likely that someone friendly to March 14 conjured up the allegations.

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By now you’ve likely already come across Der Spiegel’s report on the alleged role Hezbollah played in carrying out the Hariri assassination.  The claims made by the piece are startling, but not entirely incredulous.  Der Spiegel writes the following about its sources:

SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah (”Party of God”) that planned and executed the diabolical attack. Tribunal chief prosecutor Bellemare and his judges apparently want to hold back this information, of which they been aware for about a month. What are they afraid of?

In the above paragraph Spiegel refers to “sources”, but later in the article the author repeatedly refers to “the source”, which makes the claims more questionable.  NOW Lebanon reports that a spokesman for the Tribunal declined to comment on the veracity of the information.  Is this tacit approval of the Der Spiegel piece?  In fact, the spokesperson said, “We don’t know where they are getting the story from.”  This can either be read literally or as implicitly suggesting that the story is so far-fetched that the spokesperson can’t imagine where it could have come from.  Still, the revelations are likely to reflect poorly on Hezbollah for the elections, a point surely not lost on those who leaked and reported the story.  At this point either further clarification or silence on the part of Tribunal has political ramifications for the election.  The STL has generally, at least since Mehlis, been tight-lipped when commenting on its activity.  Likewise, I expect that there will be no confirmation or denial of the Der Spiegel report before the elections.

Hezbollah alleges that the purpose of the accusations is to, “التأثير على الاجواء الانتخابية في لبنان والتغطية على اخبار وعمليات اعتقال الشبكات التجسسية الاسرائيلية [influence the electoral environment in Lebanon and the coverage in the news and the operations of arresting the Israeli espionage networks.]“  As we recall, Hezbollah blames the Israel for perpetrating the Hariri assassination.  Thus, it is not surprising that the Party’s response is consistent with its theory of Israeli conspiracy against Lebanon.  In the next few days the Party will likely continue this line of argument.  I expect that Nasrallah will address the matter at length in one of his upcoming speeches.

Curiously, March 14 has not yet directly commented on the Spiegel allegations.  One explanation for this is that it doing so would make the report look like a ploy orchestrated by March 14 or on behalf of the movement.  As the Opposition explains the Spiegel report as evidence of foreign interference in the Lebanese elections, March 14 will not want to tie itself directly to the allegations.  Thus, Jumblatt merely said, “احذر من الشائعات والاخبار والتسريبات لصون العدالة من الجهل والظلم والحقد والانتقام [I caution against rumors, and news, and leaks, to protect justice from ignorance, wrong, wickedness, and revenge.]“  For its part, the Future Movement refused comment on the matter.Technorati Tags: , , ,

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I apologize for the long period of inactivity and I promise that regular posting resumes today.  The provocative speech Hassan Nasrallah deliered last Friday has already been commented upon at Qifa Nabki’s blog.  I just have a couple of brief remarks to add. 

I think it is important to examine the speech as a whole so as to put Nasrallah’s more incendiary remarks towards the end in their proper context.  One theme that he reiterates throughout is Hezbollah’s respect for the state and its desire to not subvert, but rather reform it.  Not coincidentally, he also makes clear that those who defeated Israel are “capable of running a country 100 times larger than Lebanon”.  Nasrallah explains at length, when discussing the Israeli spies, that Hezbollah surrenders suspects to the civil authorities and does not summarily judge and punish them.  In his view, this makes Hezbollah more just and righteous than any other resistance movement in the past.  He also discusses the lack of judicial authority and the need for proportional representation in Parliament.  The argument Nasrallah offers here is that the Lebanese state is flawed and Hezbollah, as the most just and capable group in Lebanon, is best suited to fix it.

The later remarks about May 7 ought to be read in this context as well.  I disagree with those who argue that Nasrallah is deliberately trying to lose the elections; there are better ways to lose an election than by giving an ambiguous speech.  Broadly, Nasrallah is trying to reframe the historical narrative in a particular way that makes clear who he believes was right and wrong last May, just in time for the elections.  He understands that many in Lebanon view Hezbollah as the aggressor in the violence of May 7.  Thus, Nasrallah argues that May 7 occurred first and foremost due to the actions of an illegitimate government on May 5, and not on Hezbollah’s initiative.  The narrative he offers is not new, namely that Israel, the United States, other foreign powers etc., sought to sow fitna (sedition) between Sunni and Shia in Lebanon and that the March 14 led government on May 5 set about implementing this plan.  In an election where the Christian electorate will determine the outcome, Nasrallah pointedly leaves them out of the May 7 conflict.  In his view, Hezbollah acted in the interest of Lebanon and the state against nefarious foreign powers and their local agents.  Ultimately, the recasting of May 7 as “a glorious day for the resistance” is similar to referring to the outcome of the 2006 war as a “divine victory”.  Stalwart Hariri supporters are not likely to be swayed by the rhetoric, but there are still undecided minds up for grabs and Nasrallah wants their votes on June 7.

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I apologize for the recent dearth of posting, but I’m swamped with work.  I promise a return to regular posting by the middle of next week.  In the meantime there is much to talk about.  As most readers of this blog probably know by now, President Obama has decided to renew the Executive Order imposing certain sanctions on Syria.  Also, David Hale has been in Lebanon to reaffirm US support.  The third big news item is the apparent decision by Berri and Aoun to run separate lists in Jezzine.  For the past few weeks, the two March 8 leaders, with Hezbollah’s mediation, have tried to work out a compromise over a list in Jezzine.   This episode illustrates that internecine disputes are not unique to March 14.  The big question is whether this episode will pass with limited repercussions or if it portends future divisions within the March 8 ranks.

General Aoun announced on May 7 that he would include Maronites Michel Helou, Ziad Aswad, and Catholic Issam Sawaya.  Berri’s Amal movement quickly let it be known that its list would consist of Samir Azar, Camille Serhal, and Antoine Khoury, though Berri has yet to formally make an announcement.

as-Safir has a long article chronicling the relationship between General Aoun and Nabih Berri in recent years, I recommend reading it in full.  The first major rift between the two occurred over Berri’s failure to unequivocally support Aoun for the Presidency.  Nevertheless, the arrangement of electoral districting included in the Doha Agreement deliberately created to allow Aoun to pick up a number of seats that went to March 14 in the 2005 elections.  And predictably ever since Aoun has been trying to snatch up seats wherever he can.  Meanwhile Berri has been adamant that he will not accept any decrease in the size of his bloc.  Last summer Aoun visited Jezzine in full campaign mode and promised to reclaim the district’s three Christian seats.  Berri had three loyal allies in the Jezzine seats and resented what he perceived to be an infringement upon his turf.  While Aoun and his supporters view the predominantly Christian Jezzine as a district that should be in control of the dominant Christian bloc, Berri views it as part of the South and thus his turf.  A shrewder analysis might simply understand it as a power grab within the March 8 camp.

The inclusion of Samir Azar on any March 8 list is a “red line” for Berri and Aoun has refused to concede this condition.  Aoun’s FPM began levying accusations at Azar, claiming that he did doubted the seriousness and popularity of candidates the FPM’s candidates and neglected his obligations during Aoun’s visit to Jezzine.  as-Safir seems unpersuaded by the General’s claims and, perhaps unsurprisingly, is sympathetic to Berri, citing multiple attempts he made to reconcile with Aoun over the issue of Azar.  as-Safir suggests that Aoun’s intransigence over the three seats in Jezzine stems from a desire to demonstrate to Christians in other districts that he could take Christian seats, even from his allies.

As for Hezbollah, the question becomes how will they instruct their supporters to vote?  Perhaps the Party of God will support their preferred candidates, namely Samir Azar (Berri), Issam Suwaya (Aoun), and Ziad Aswad (Aoun).  However, there apparently many supporters of Hizbollah and (many more of Amal) who have become fed up with Aoun’s bellicosity over Jezzine.

For Aoun’s part, as an-Nahar reports, he has yet to give Berri a guarantee that if the FPM emerges as the dominant bloc in Parliament he will support Berri’s Candidacy as Speaker.  This has Berri scared and hinders compromise on Jezzine.

As I have suggested before, the post-election jockeying will be decisive, perhaps more so than the elections themselves.  The possibility of a centrist bloc including Berri, Jumblatt, Miqati, and Safadi is real.  Another scenario is that if the Future Movement emerges as the largest bloc it could be in a position to name the Speaker, which is another way that Shia unity could be threatened.  Thus it is clear that the divisions in the Opposition are as real and serious as those that exist in the ranks of the Majority.  More to the point, is the current composition of March 8 sustainable beyond June 7?

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Following the release of the four generals last week, the Opposition has begun a campaign to hold the Lebanese judiciary “accountable” for their allegedly injustice detention of nearly four years.  As al-Hayat reports, yesterday evening during the Council of Ministers session Opposition Ministers Ali Qanso, Talal Arslan, Mario Aoun and Gebran Basil raised the issue with their counterparts in the Majority.  Their basic complaint is that the detention of the generals was a political decision taken by the certain Lebanese judges and thus the judiciary is politicized. On the other hand, the Majority Ministers replied that the Opposition’s campaign against the judiciary is itself a political move.  They argue that the release of the Generals itself demonstrates that the Tribunal is not politicized.  However, there appears to be a tacit consensus amongst the ministers to wait until the Judicial Council meets on Tuesday to issue its position on the detention of the generals before substantive action is taken by the Opposition Ministers.  Thus, depending on what position the Judiciary itself takes, we will either see the calls for resignations subside or escalate.  My sense is that this is that the latter is more likely.

Meanwhile the Muhammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s political bloc says:

الطريق لمعرفة من قتل الرئيس الشهيد رفيق الحريري هو في محاسبة من ضلل التحقيق ولفق الأكاذيب وغير المسار باتجاه لا يوصل إلى معرفة الحقيقة

The way to know who killed Rafiq al-Hariri is in the accountability of those who led astray the investigation and frabricated lies, not in the direction that does not lead to knowing the truth.

For his part, Mustaqbal MP Ahmed Fatfat argues that the detention of the generals was taken at the behest of the Prosecutor Detlev Mehlis who acted on the basis of Lebanese law.  Thus, the Majority position is that

The Lebanese media is rife with talk of accountability for the judiciary.  Specifically,  Prosecutor Said Mirza and Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr appear to be the targets of the outcry, with some calling for their resignation.  Curiously though, in his Friday night address Nasrallah did not address the matter of accountability.  Moreover, neither MP Raad nor the Opposition Ministers, as far as I know, singled out either Mirza or Saqr Saqr specifically.

Jamil Sayyid, following the warm reception his release received from the Opposition seems to be placing himself in their service.  In an interview with Associated Press Sayyid stated his case for the politicization of the judiciary:

Sayyed said he felt especially bitter toward Lebanon’s judicial system which, he claimed, had allowed itself to be politically manipulated in the case.

He added that he saw no reason why the militant group Hezbollah and its allies, which have treated the generals as heroes, should not exploit the situation now.

“Our detention was politically motivated and was exploited for four years by the majority,” he said, referring to the Western-backed ruling alliance in parliament headed by Hariri’s son Saad.

“So it is perfectly normal that the tables are turned now.”

Sayyed also accused Saad Hariri of having pressured Lebanese judges to keep him and the three other generals behind bars.

“The judges would tell us ‘we have nothing against you, but if we free you Mr. Hariri will cut off our heads’,” he said.

There is no sign that the issue of the detained Generals will go away soon.  The Opposition is likely to continue using the case as an argument for political nature of Tribunal and thereby try to undermine March 14’s commitment to “the truth” as little more than a political ploy.  While this hurts March 14’s election prospects, a protracted campaign against the Tribunal in light of the release of the generals will further damage the credibility of the Tribunal.  Regardless of one’s political orientation the Tribunal remains the best means to bring the perpetrators of the Hariri assassination to justice.  Thus, “the truth” will likely continue to elude Lebanon.

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In his speech yesterday evening (click here for the audio) Hassan Nasrallah addressed the Egypt-Hizbollah controversy and the release of the four generals.  I don’t have a transcript of the speech yet, but I do want to comment on a few points Nasrallah made with regard to the release of the generals. 

First, Nasrallah began by stating that the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri galvanized the Lebanese to come together.  However according to him, what subsequently divided the Lebanese were “political accusations”.  This is one of the key overarching themes of his speech.  The post-assassination consensus was lost due to political accusations. 

Second, Nasrallah clearly links Mehlis to March 14’s political program and argues that this nexus is where politics entered the investigation.  He singles out Mehlis as the one who called for the detention of the four generals,  though it soon after became clear that this was based on false testimony.  Nasrallah then supposes that if the investigation was in fact fair and impartial and independent of Lebanese politics then the generals and other detainees would have been released the day Mehlis stepped down.  Thus, he reasons it was for the political interests of March 14 that the generals remained in prison.  Here Nasrallah doesn’t outright condemn the international tribunal itself, but rather its practices and the way it proceeded.  Essentially he constructs a narrative in which the generals were imprisoned for the political benefit of March 14.

Third, Nasrallah calls upon the Lebanese, Hariri, and his bloc to cooperate in revealing “the truth” on the Hariri assassination.  He calls for a return to the consensus that immediately followed the martyring of Rafiq Hariri.  He then says that if the tribunal errs, the Lebanese judiciary must investigate, arrest, and punish those who are guilty of giving false testimony if the international tribunal does not. 

Fourth, Nasrallah devoted a few minutes to discussing Israel and the possibility that it played a role in the Hariri assassination. Frankly there doesn’t seem to be much reliable evidence pointing in the direction of Israel.  However, I suppose blaming a common enemy is one way in which the Lebanese could come together.

Finally, Nasrallah downplays the impact the release of the generals will have on the elections.  I disagree.  The release of the generals bodes ill for March 14, no matter how its leaders try to portray it.

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Yesterday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a surprise visit to Lebanon following her visit to Iraq.  The New York Times reports the following:

While Mrs. Clinton said the choice of a government was up to the Lebanese people, the United States, which classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, clearly hopes to bolster the electoral prospects of the existing majority, a coalition of Sunni Muslim and Christian parties.

“It won’t surprise you to hear that I think moderation is important in the affairs of states,” Mrs. Clinton said after meeting the president, Michel Suleiman, a former chief of the armed forces who stays above the political fray.

“We want to see a strong, independent, free and sovereign Lebanon,” she said, noting that President Obama had sent Mr. Suleiman a letter expressing those sentiments. “This election will be, obviously, an important milestone.”

Beyond the elections, Mrs. Clinton pledged not to undermine Lebanon in pursuing a peace deal with Syria, which supports Hezbollah and has long sought to influence Lebanon’s affairs. The Obama administration dispatched two emissaries to Damascus, Syria’s capital, last month to reopen diplomatic channels.

The NY Times clearly interprets this as a move to help bolster March 14 in the elections.  However, as-Safir reads into the fact that Secretary of State Clinton only met with President Suleiman, and not Prime Minister Siniora or March 14 leaders (except for a 10 minute talk with Saad Hariri at Rafiq Hariri’s grave), as evidence that perhaps the Obama administration has a different approach than its predecessor.  as-Safir mentions that former Secretary of State Rice typically met with Siniora and an array of March 14 leaders when it Lebanon.  Still, it is possible that this is merely a function of scheduling constraints. 

Nevertheless, the important question is what will be the status of US aid to Lebanon (over 1 billion US dollars since the 2006 war) should March 8 win a majority of seats in Parliament on June 7.  Buried at the end of the NY Times piece is the following:

Still, if Lebanon ends up with a government more heavily influenced by Hezbollah as a result of the election, the Obama administration will re-evaluate its commitments, said a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to upstage Mrs. Clinton.

While this is only hearsay, “re-evaluate its commitments” may very well mean substantial cuts in funding, particularly to the $400 million of military assistance Lebanon has recently received.  It is hard to imagine that US Congress will continue to approve military aid to a state who’s government is dominated by a political faction that includes Hezbollah.

However, as-Safir reports:

وقالت مصادر اطلعت على فحوى مباحثات كلينتون لـ»السفير» ان كلينتون نقلت تأييد أوباما للمسيرة التي يقودها الرئيس سليمان، بحكمة وروية لإعادة لبنان الى الخريطة السياسية الشرق اوسطية»، وأكدت استمرار برنامج دعم الجيش اللبناني، وفق روزنامة خاصة ومحددة. 

Sources informed on the contents of Clinton’s messages said to as-Safir that Clinton conveyed Obama’s support for the path that President Suleiman leads with the authority and view of returning Lebanon to the political map of the Middle East.  And it confirmed the continuation of the program of supporting the Lebanese army according to the specified timetable.

Perhaps the Obama administration is bracing for a March 14 loss in June and seeking to establish President Suleiman as the prime US interlocutor in Lebanon.  Also in the as-Safir piece, Clinton reportedly asked Suleiman whether or not he will have a bloc in the next Parliament.  This seems to hint that the Obama administration would prefer not to cut off aid to Lebanon in the event of a March 8 win in June.  It is possible that the Obama administration would seek to work with Suleiman, March 14, and independents to temper the political program of a March 8 government and not cut off aid a la the Hamas win in January 2006.

Along these lines the Associated Press reports:

Hezbollah officials say they have received assurances that the West does not envisage imposing the same sort of boycott as it slapped on the Palestinians when a Hamas-led government took power in March 2006.
“The ambassador of a key European country… informed us that the US will deal with any government, even though they are hoping the (Western-backed parliamentary) majority wins the vote,” Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem told AFP earlier this month.

Again, like much of the information above, this ought to be taken for what it’s worth. 

Nevertheless, there seems to be a ambiguous Lebanon policy for the Obama administration.  Such a nuanced approach may prove to be beneficial in the long run, but anything less than stalwart support for March 14 until the June 7 elections likely works against the stated US preference for their allies to retain power.

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Interesting articles in al-Hayat and as-Sharq al-Awsat today about Walid Jumblatt’s reconciliation gathering with Talal Arsalan.  Al-Hayat reports that yesterday Jumblatt said the following:

ان الانتخابات مرحلة مهمة في لبنان «لكن الأهم هــو ما بعـد الانتخابات لحماية الوحدة الوطنية ولتحقيق المصالحة التي هي الأساس في تثبيت القضية العربية الوطنية واحتضان القضية الكبرى قضية فلسطين».

The elections are a an important stage in Lebanon, “but the most important  is after the elections to protect national unity and realize the reconciliation that is the basis in settling the national Arab issue and embracing the larger issue of Palestine.

Roughly a year ago Jumblatt was the March 14 lightning rod who threatened Hezbollah’s weapons, now he drifts increasingly towards more centrist and conventional positions.  The al-Hayat piece continues:

ويأتي إعلان جنبلاط استعداده للانفتاح على «حزب الله» بعد تواصله المستمر مع رئيس المجلس النيابي نبيه بري فيما الاتصالات شبه مقطوعة بين الأخير وعدد من القيادات الرئيسة في 14 آذار باستثناء تواصله من حين الى آخر برئيس كتلة «المستقبل» النيابية سعد الحريري.

Jumblatt’s announcement of his preparations for an openness towards Hezbullah after his continuous communication with Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri comes when contacts are virtually cut off between the later and a nmber of the leaders in March 14 with the exception of his communication from time to time with the leader of the Future Parliamentary Bloc Saad Hariri.

While most March 14 leaders are hardening ranks (or, the undetermined electoral lists notwithstanding, at least trying to), Jumblatt is keeping his options open.  This really doesn’t bode well for March 14 that Jumblatt feels the need to shift his position, though it is not surprising.

Finally:

كما ان تأكيد جنبلاط الانفتاح يمكن ان يلقي الضوء على ما ستكون عليه الخريطة السياسية في لبنان بعد الانتخابات النيابية التي من شأنها، بحسب قول مراقبين، لـ «الحياة» ان تفتح الباب امام حصول تحولات سياسية جديدة تعيد خلط الأوراق خلاف ما هو حاصل حالياً من انقسام حاد بين الأكثرية و المعارضة، وربما هذا ما اخذ يقلق رئيس «تكتل التغيير والإصلاح» العماد ميشال عون الذي ما زال يتشدد في مفاوضاته مع بري برعاية «حزب الله» في شأن التفاهم على اسماء المرشحين في دائرتي جزين وبعبدا باعتبار ان مقربين منه يحاولون استكشاف حدود العلاقة المستقبلية بين جنبلاط ورئيس المجلس الذي لا يترك مناسبة إلا ويشيد فيها بمواقف رئيس الحزب التقدمي

Also Jumblatt’s confirmation of the opening can shine light on what will happen to the political map in Lebanon after the Parliamentary elections that themselves, according to what some observers said to al-Hayat, it opens the door to achieving new political transformations reshuffling the cards.  In contrast to the current sharp division between the majority and opposition, perhaps this is what worries General Michel Aoun, the leader of the Change and Reform Bloc who continues to harden in his negotiations with Berri under the sponsorship of Hezbollah on the matter of understanding the names of the candidates in the districts of Jezin and Baabda, considering that those near to him try to discover the extent of the relationship between Jumblatt and the Head of Parliament, who misses no opportunity to praise the positions of  leader of the Progressive Party.

There also seems to be unease from Aoun’s camp at the relationship between Jumblatt and Berri in particular.  Still, I think that this is more likely part of a broader strategy on the part of the Hezbollah dominated Opposition to weaken the ranks and resolve of March 14 in the weeks leading up to the elections.  For Jumblatt’s part he is merely trying to hedge his bets and observers ought to view him as a bellweather in the coming weeks.  All that said, the refrain that the elections are not “fateful” as Nasrallah stated some weeks ago, coupled with Jumblatt’s recent indications of politicking following the elections, suggests that at least some of the major players view June 7 as part of a larger bargaining process.

To add another layer of complexity, the reconciliation event was supposed to include Jumblatt, Arsalan as well as a representative from Hezbollah, but apparently the Party of God was not present.  The asharq al-Awsat article gives no clear reason for the Party’s absence, but it seems that perhaps they were not satisfied with the text of the reconciliation document for some reason.

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The issue of the alleged Hezbollah cell formed on Egyptian soil continues to escalate.  Asharq al-Awsat reports that Egypt has ratcheted up its security measures as Egyptian MPs and NDP officials continue to insinuate that there is direct Iranian involvement in the affair.   Apparently the Egyptians fear that Hezbollah “sleeper cells” may attack Egyptian targets at home or abroad.  Asharq al-Awsat also reports today that a high level Iranian official refused to comment on any involvement of Iranians or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, simply saying that Egyptian-Iranian relations are presently  ”inflamed”.

The most interesting item in the Saudi owned Asharq al-Awsat’s robust coverage of the issue is the following on Nasrallah’s possible culpability:

وكان مصدر قضائي قد قال إن نيابة أمن الدولة التي تحقق في القضية تدرس مدى تورط الأمين العام لحزب الله اللبناني، حسن نصر الله، في القضية، خصوصا بعد اعترافاته الأخيرة التي أعلنها على الفضائيات وقال فيها إن المتهم الرئيسي سامي شهاب كُلف من حزب الله بتقديم دعم لوجستي إلى قطاع غزة، عبر الأراضي المصرية. وأضاف أن النيابة تلقت أيضا طلبا برقم 6865 لسنة 2009، من المحامي المصري سمير الششتاوي تقوم بدراسته، ويطالب فيه بإدراج اسم نصر الله كمتهم في القضية، كـ«شريك بالاتفاق والتحريض والمساعدة»، ما يتوجب معه «مخاطبة النائب العام في دولة لبنان باتخاذ الإجراءات القانونية ضد أمين حزب الله، وإلقاء القبض عليه لمثوله أمام جهات التحقيق في الجرائم المنسوبة إليه وتقديمه للمحاكمة أمام المحاكم اللبنانية»، طبقا لاتفاقية التعاون القضائي بين مصر ولبنان.

A judicial source has said that the General Prosecutor who is investigating the case is considering the extent of the Secretary General of Lebanese Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah’s involvement, particularly after his recent admission announced over the satellite TV.  He [Nasrallah] said that the chief accused, Sami Shihab, was commissioned by Hezbollah to offer logistical support to Gaza through Egyptian territory.  He [the judicial source] added that the Prosecutor delivered a request under number 6865 of 2009 to the Egyptian lawyer Samir Shashtawi for his consideration.  He asked in the the request to include to include the name of Nasrallah as an accused in the case as as a “consenting party, incitement and assistance”, which requires, “the speech of the Secretary General in the state of Lebanon to take legal measures against hte Secretary General of Hizbollah, and arrest him so he appears before the investigation into the relevant crimes and bring him to trial before the Lebanese courts,” in accordance with the agreement of judicial cooperation between Egypt and Lebanon.

While the above clearly reflects the nadir that relations between Hezbollah and Egypt have reached, it also highlights the precarious position the Lebanese state could soon find itself in.  The issue clearly has grown to include Iran and it is only a matter of time before other regional players (Hamas, Saudi Arabia, Syria) begin to firmly line up behind their respective allies.  If the Egyptians continue to push forward (and there are no signs that they plan to do otherwise) where will the Lebanese state stand?  What will be the position of the relevant Lebanese authorities such as Michel Suleiman, Ibrahim Najjar etc. on formal charges against the Lebanese citizen Sami Shehab and/or Nasrallah himself?  What are the implications for domestic Lebanese politics and the elections?

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