Thursday 28 February 2013

Iran proxies growl: Hands off Assad!

Clockwise from top: Assad with Iran's Ali Khamenei, Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki and Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah

“The best defense is a good offense” is a popular saying in sports and military combat.
For Iran, the idiom might also prove useful in politics to prop up its embattled strategic ally in Damascus.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – both Shiites and unabashed surrogates of Shiite Iran – are openly warning of regional sectarian conflict if Syria’s quasi-Shiite President Bashar al-Assad is ousted.
In the words of Sarkis Naoum, the primary political analyst of Beirut’s independent daily an-Nahar:Nasrallah and Maliki are bracing for civil wars.”
In an interview with The Associated Press (AP) released yesterday, Maliki warned a victory for rebels in Syria would create a new extremist haven and destabilize the wider Middle East, sparking Sunni-Shiite wars in Iraq and Lebanon.
The implication of his comments is that Assad’s ouster would empower Syria’s majority Sunni Muslims.
"If the world does not agree to support a peaceful solution through dialogue... then I see no light at the end of the tunnel," Maliki told AP in Baghdad.
"Neither the opposition nor the regime can finish each other off," he continued. "The most dangerous thing in this process is that if the opposition is victorious, there will be a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq."
The Iraqi leader's comments come as his government confronts growing tensions of its own between the Shiite majority and an increasingly restive Sunni minority nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The war in Syria has sharp sectarian overtones too, with predominantly Sunni rebels fighting a regime dominated by an Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Nasrallah also warned yesterday against Shiite-Sunni infighting in Lebanon related to the Syria war.
"There are some who are working night and day and pushing the country toward civil and religious strife, and specifically Sunni-Shiite strife," Nasrallah said on the group's Al-Manar TV. If this were to happen, he said, it would "destroy everyone and burn down the entire country."
Nasrallah denied accusations by the Syrian opposition that his men were fighting alongside forces loyal to the Assad regime, and reiterated that some Shiites in villages along the Lebanese-Syrian border, including Hezbollah members, have taken up arms in self-defense against Sunni gunmen. (Nasrallah’s views have been publicly challenged by Hezbollah’s first Secretary-General Subhi al-Tufayli -- see my post yesterday, “The other face of Hezbollah”).
Officials and analysts say there is real anxiety within Hezbollah that if Assad falls, the militant group might lose not only a crucial supply of Iranian weapons via Syria but also political clout inside Lebanon, where it currently reigns supreme.
Editorially, an-Nahar’s Sarkis Naoum writes in his column today:
ON ONE HAND we have the Euro-American approach to the Syrian revolution, which is to starve it of serious military backing in order to keep the regime in place.
Most Western military experts concur the regime could have been brought down last year had the revolutionaries been supplied with antitank and antiaircraft weapons and logistics equipment.
From this perspective, decision-makers in the West do not mind the fighting continuing to (1) destroy united Syria and hearten Israel (2) drain Iran financially, militarily and morally and implicate its Lebanese offshoot Hezbollah in the killing of Syrians (3) ingather as many Arab and non-Arab Jihadists on Syrian soil, where they can be easily monitored, then killed there and elsewhere.
ON ANOTHER HAND is the Iran-led regional alliance fighting full-strength in Syria to avoid losing Iran’s “Jewel in the Crown.”
Maliki, offspring of Iran’s cherished Islamic Dawa Party, warns that a Syrian revolution victory will trigger wars in Iraq and Lebanon. Therein lies a cloaked warning to internal Lebanese and Iraqi sides that (1) they would be made to pay for Assad’s fall (2) the Shiite surge will fight tooth and nail in Lebanon and Iraq to preclude turning back the hands of time.
Maliki means to say (1) Iraq’s Shiites will fight to keep the upper hand in Iraqi politics and security (2) Hezbollah won’t hold back from waging an internal war to prevent putting back the Shiite jinni in the bottle from which it emerged a few years ago.
Maliki’s comments join Nasrallah’s discourse yesterday, when the Hezbollah leader dwelt on the matter of “sedition,” telling his adversaries in Lebanon, “Beware misestimating us.”
In other words, the post-Assad chapter is the subject of serious thinking between Iran’s satellites in Iraq and Lebanon.
They are warning of civil wars here and there if the Iraqis or Lebanese tried to exploit Assad’s fall and capitalize on the rise of a regime hostile to Iran’s regional politics...

Wednesday 27 February 2013

The other face of Hezbollah

Former Hezbollah Secretary-General Subhi al-Tufayli on MTV

Former Hezbollah leader Subhi al-Tufayli has accused current leaders of Lebanon’s militant group and Iran of the double crime of fighting alongside the Syrian regime and stoking the fire of a regional Sunni-Shiite war.
He made the accusation in a wide-ranging, two-hour interview on Be Mawdou3ia (Arabic for “Objectively”), a weekly program hosted Monday nights by Walid Abboud on MTV Lebanon.
Tufayli spent nine years studying theology in Najaf and was influenced by the teachings of Ruhollah Khomeini.
He was spokesman for Hezbollah between 1985 and 1989, and became the militant Shiite group’s first Secretary-General from 1989 until 1991.
I excerpted and paraphrased from the interview with Tufayli these Qs and As on Syria:

Abboud: What’s going on at the Syrian-Lebanese border? What’s this tension all about? Why the on-off exchange of fire?
Tufayli: I said previously the war in Syria was taking an alarming turn and that Syria risked biting the dust. I warned of the war’s repercussions on Lebanon. I was trying then to avert a spillover and urging Lebanon’s Sunnis and Shiites to stand together and spare Lebanon the Syria war fallouts. I didn’t imagine we would choose – of our own volition -- to join the sedition in Syria.

Abboud: Who is “we”?
Tufayli: We Lebanese, both Sunnis and Shiites. We elected to join the sedition, which was a very dangerous thing to do. The result can only be catastrophic. I am certain: whoever is behind this does not give a hoot about the future of either the Sunnis or Shiites, or about Lebanon or the region. And here, I would like to interject a word to my meritorious, beloved, pious and righteous sons in Hezbollah…

Abboud: …Do your meritorious sons include the Hezbollah leadership?
Tufayli: I include some of the leaders, yes. I remind the rest that each time some members, some Iranians, tried to put us off-course and have us fight wars here and there against this side or that, we refused and remained focused on Palestine… Today, to put it bluntly, we are fighting in Syria.

Abboud: Who is fighting in Syria?
Tufayli: Hezbollah.

Abboud: Is Hezbollah fighting in Syria, or is it defending or helping Lebanese in villages there?
Tufayli:  It is fighting in Syria.

Abboud: Those in Syria are defending themselves.
Tufayli: I don’t want to hide behind my finger. The Shiites in Syria don’t need someone to defend them. We compromised them and we ensnared them. If they are in danger, we are to blame. We are responsible for any harm befalling any Shiite in Syria. We got them in trouble. We caused them pain. They didn’t need our help or our solidarity. Even today, we can still take the correct steps and desist. By so doing, Syria’s Shiites would be spared Syria’s tragedy.

Abboud: But Hezbollah does not speak of Syria’s Shiites. It speaks of the Lebanese Shiites residing on Syrian territory.
Tufayli: I am referring to both. Moreover, the stones of the shrine (in the Damascus suburbs) of Sayyeda Zeinab do not need our protection. All this is haywire and meant for the naïve. The real aim (of Hezbollah now) is to protect the regime – a tyrannical regime killing its own people. Is it conceivable to see the Syrian people being slaughtered and shelled by all sorts of weapons? Not once did Syria fire a missile – of the types being rained on Aleppo, among other places -- toward Palestine, not even in (the Israel-Hezbollah war of) 2006. To avoid saying it is defending the regime, Hezbollah invented all this rubbish about protecting Shiites, the Lebanese in Syria and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine. Hezbollah is implicating Syria’s Shiites.
Hezbollah and Iran are accountable for every Shiite life lost in Syria. They are responsible for every house destroyed or tree cut in Syria. We could have spared the Shiites of Syria, Lebanon and the region this hateful sectarian conflict.
We claim to be followers of Imam Hussein and his struggle against injustice. And what we have in Syria are people wanting to rid themselves of an unjust ruler. Our legal, religious, moral and humanitarian duty is to take the side of the oppressed Syrian people. Any other stance is a heinous crime for which we will be held accountable before God.

Abboud: A viewer emailed this question, “Would a Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria be considered a martyr?”
Tufayli: A martyr because he killed Muslim children, because he panicked them, a martyr because he destroyed their homes, a martyr because he is allegedly liberating Palestine? No, such a person is destined to hell, according to the Holy Quran.

Abboud: There’s more now to the Syria war – internal, regional and international factors and talk of an attempt to bring down the Axis of Resistance represented by Syria, Hezbollah and Iran?
Tufayli: What I can say is that a regional Sunni-Shiite conflict would benefit Israel. Our involvement in Syria serves Israel. In addition, neither side will be allowed to win the Syria war. The powers that be and Israel want both sides to end as losers. Their interest is for the Ummah (Islamic nation) to self-destruct -- whether in Lebanon, or Syria or Iraq… The United States wants the regime to continue destroying Syria for now.

Abboud: Are you therefore asking the Iranian leadership to also leave the Syrian regime – its strategic partner – to its fate?
Tufayli: If the price of supporting the Syrian regime is leading to lose Syria, Lebanon and the Ummah, I have to rethink my strategy – unless I am bent on serving Israel’s interests.  I know that Israel today is elated by Hezbollah’s course. Israel would be happy to defend Hezbollah so long as Hezbollah continues to fight in Syria. Who can render Israel a better service?

Abboud: But Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is keeping up his threats to hit Israel hard if it launched any attack.
Tufayli: Israel today is very keen to see Hezbollah fighting in Syria and the Ummah falling to pieces. Khomeini called for unity and not for internecine strife in the name of the Axis of Resistance.

Abboud: If, as you said, Israel is off Hezbollah’s back now, how do you explain Hezbollah sending a drone over Israel (last October)?
Tufayli: You could say it was probably to obscure Hezbollah’s role in Syria – like its jargon about defending Shiites in Syria and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Scuds killed 71 Aleppo children last week -- HRW

A Scud killed 38 children and 40 adults in Ard al-Hamra (above)

The Syrian government launched at least four ballistic missiles that struck populated areas in the city of Aleppo and a town in Aleppo governorate during the week of February 17, 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. The attacks killed more than 141 people, including 71 children, and caused immense physical destruction.
The extent of the damage from a single strike, the lack of aircraft in the area at the time, and reports of ballistic missiles being launched from a military base near Damascus overwhelmingly suggest that government forces struck these areas with ballistic missiles. Human Rights Watch visited the four attack sites, all in residential neighborhoods. Human Rights Watch found no signs of any military targets in the vicinity of any of the four sites, which would mean that the attacks were unlawful.
“I have visited many attack sites in Syria, but have never seen such destruction,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, who visited the sites. “Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the Syrian government finds ways to escalate its killing tactics.”
Human Rights Watch compiled a list of those killed from cemetery burial records, interviews with relatives and neighbors, and information from the Aleppo media center and the Violations Documentation Center, a network of local activists.
Around midnight on February 18 a missile struck the Jabal Badro neighborhood in Aleppo, killing at least 47 people, including 23 children. According to local residents, government forces started shelling the attack site about 20 minutes after the missile struck, wounding several people. Just before 6 p.m. on February 22, a missile struck the Tariq al-Bab neighborhood in the eastern part of Aleppo, killing at least 13 people, including eight children. Just minutes later, a missile struck the Ard al-Hamra neighborhood close by, killing at least 78 people, including 38 children.
The opposition controlled the three neighborhoods, all in the eastern part of Aleppo. While opposition fighters move throughout opposition controlled areas, there had been no ground fighting in these neighborhoods for months, local residents said. The opposition military headquarters known to Human Rights Watch are in other neighborhoods.
At the time of the attacks, many people who had initially fled the fighting in August 2012 had returned to the area, as well as people displaced from other parts of the Aleppo governorate. There is ongoing fighting around Aleppo’s international airport, south of the neighborhoods that were struck, but local residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch at each of the sites attacked said that there had been no bases for opposition fighters in the vicinity and that opposition fighters had staged no attacks from these neighborhoods. During its visit, Human Rights Watch confirmed that there was active fighting close to the airport, but not in these neighborhoods.
The fourth missile attack documented by Human Rights Watch struck Tel Rifaat, a town in Aleppo countryside, around 9:30 p.m. on February 18, killing three people, including two girls. While there has been no ground fighting in Tel Rifaat for months, Aleppo residents told Human Rights Watch that government forces at a nearby airport under attack by the opposition have repeatedly shelled the town, causing the majority of residents to flee. During previous visits Human Rights Watch met with opposition commanders in Tel Rifaat, but never in the area that was struck. Local residents told Human Rights Watch that no fighters had been there.
Human Rights Watch research indicates that at least 141 people, including 71 children, were killed in the four attacks. Human Rights Watch was not able to establish the first name of six of the 141 documented casualties.
The total casualty number is probably higher, Human Rights Watch said. Since many families left the areas after the attack and buried family members in surrounding villages, the records are probably incomplete.
Relatives at the attack sites told Human Rights Watch that they continued to search for people believed to be still buried under the rubble. During Human Rights Watch’s visit to the attack site in Ard al-Hamra on February 24, two days after the attack, local residents found the body of a woman who had been buried under the rubble. A family member told Human Rights Watch that they were still looking for other members of her family.
In each site, the attack had completely destroyed 15 to 20 houses and significantly damaged many more.
Human Rights Watch did not find weapons remnants at the attack sites, and so was unable to identify the exact weapons used. However, a group of local activists in the Damascus countryside reported on their Facebook page that they had observed missiles being launched toward the north before three of the four strikes.
At 9:38 p.m. on February 18, the local coordination council in Yabroud posted on its Facebook site that it had observed a “scud missile” in the sky over Yabroud at 9:05 p.m., heading toward northern Syria. Witnesses in Tel Rifaat told Human Rights Watch that a missile hit the town around 9:30 p.m. on February 18.
Likewise, on February 22, the Yabroud coordination council reported that it had seen three “scud missiles” flying northward around 5:30 p.m. Just before 6 p.m., the Yabroud council reported that missiles had hit Aleppo. Human Rights Watch has not documented any warning of the attack that hit the Jabal Bardo neighborhood in Aleppo shortly around midnight on February 18.
The level of destruction and witness statements describing a single explosion at each site is consistent with the use of ballistic missiles. Witnesses also told Human Rights Watch that they did not see or hear any airplanes before or after the attack, which makes it unlikely that the attacks were airstrikes.
Syria stockpiles several types of ballistic missiles according to the authoritative publication Military Balance 2011 by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
A Syrian government official denied that the authorities had used Scud-missiles against the opposition. Several videos from different dates posted on YouTube, however, show Syrian military forces launching ballistic missiles. In addition, a weapon used in an attack on Belioun in Jabal Zawiya in December, 2012, has been identified as a Luna-M ballistic missile (also called FROG-7), according to identification marks on the remnants.
Syrian government forces used ballistic missiles for the first time in December 2012, the New York Times reported. Since then, activists have counted more than 30 attacks with such missiles before the attacks documented in this report. Several of them have landed in fields without causing any damage, they said. Activists in Yabroud have claimed on their Facebook page that the government has launched the missiles from the nearby al-Nasiriyah air base, north of Damascus city. The Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists, have accused the 155th Brigade based near Damascus of launching the missiles.
“Using ballistic missiles against its own people is a new low, even for this government,” Solvang said. “There was no sign of fighters or their bases in these areas, only civilians, many of them children.”

Syria: “When doing nothing is a policy”

Of all the transcripts, news and views on Syria I could assess this morning – and they were many – I fancied this opinion by the brilliant Richard Cohen, who writes a weekly political column for the Washington Post that appears on Tuesdays. This week’s is titledWhen doing nothing is a policy”.

In the movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” the attempt to unite the Arabs comes apart in Damascus. Lawrence bangs on his desk with the butt of his gun to bring the assembly to order, but to no avail. Chaos erupts. Now something similar is happening in Syria. A mountain of dead (70,000 or so), not to mention an approaching regional bloodbath, suggests that once again things are coming apart. Still, life does not exactly imitate art. Lawrence of Arabia at least tried to do something. Barack of D.C. just sat on his hands.
Actually, he sat on his polling numbers. The president’s refusal to do anything material to end the Syrian civil war is a policy long suspected of having two elements — fear of blowback and fear of the nightly news. Now comes a book from a one-time administration insider who bluntly and altogether convincingly outlines the role domestic political considerations played in the White House’s approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The goal of policymakers was “not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion.” Syria, it seems, has been no exception.
The former insider is the resplendently credentialed Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and, most pertinently, former senior adviser to the late Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that capacity, Nasr says he saw the almost daily humbling of Holbrooke, a volcano of a diplomat who was forever erupting ideas, plans and strategies — almost always to no avail. In his telling, the White House was some sort of high school cafeteria where Holbrooke was always being shunned and given the silent treatment. He blames “a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers whose turf was strictly politics” for this. Mean Girls, not the Wise Men, made American policy.
Nasr set down his views in a book called “The Dispensable Nation.” It will be published in April, but samizdat copies of it are already being circulated. In a sense, the book only confirms the general impression that Obama is a man without a foreign policy. He had naive aspirations — a world to be changed by the transformative power of a good speech — but no clear path to achieve anything. Nasr describes his dismay when the surge in Afghanistan was announced in tandem with a pullout date. In his head, Secretary of State John Kerry, the new implementer of Obama’s contradictory policy, must now hear a reprise of the question he once asked about his own war: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?”
Nasr’s regional specialty was Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the thrust of what he says supports the view that Obama shied from intervening in Syria out of domestic political considerations. A president who was campaigning as the peace candidate — out of Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan, too — could not risk anything bold in Syria. The country fell into the margin of error. “It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations,” Nasr writes.
Boldness is what the situation in Syria demanded. A civil war that could have been contained has instead become a sprawling, regionwide bar fight. Arms could have been shipped to the insurgents; a no-fly zone could have been imposed. Much could have been done. Instead, Obama merely called for Bashar al-Assad to go and, for some reason he, like Rep. Eric Cantor or somebody, remains immovable.
The stakes here are enormous. Lebanon teeters, swamped with refugees. Jordan, too, is overwhelmed. The Kurds in Syria’s north may, as they have in nearby Iraq, establish an autonomous zone — and Turkey will not be pleased. The jihadists are on the move, hungry for Syria’s vast store of chemical weapons. Israel watches, nervously. What if Hezbollah gets its hands on chemical weapons? An Obama administration, afraid of blowback, may well have allowed the Middle East to blow apart.
The battle for Damascus is now engaged. The war next month enters its third year, a humanitarian crisis that has been permitted to fester under the rubric of foreign policy realism. But another realism is now apparent: Inaction has bred the manufacture of orphans — a carnage, a horror, a reprimand to inaction. Life imitates art. Damascus is where it all came apart in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Damascus is where it is coming apart in reality.

Monday 25 February 2013

Moaz al-Khatib pulls 2nd rabbit out of his hat

Top, Mohammad Hamsho and a banner slamming him. Below, Maher and brother Bashar

Moaz al-Khatib, head of the Syrian opposition umbrella, has pulled a second rabbit out of his hat.
He pulled his first four weeks ago, when he made a “personal” and conditional offer for talks with representatives of the Syrian regime.
That rabbit was promptly returned to the hutch by the collective leadership of the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
The second rabbit to come out of al-Khatib’s hat was a hush-hush meeting he is said to have held with Mohammad Hamsho, brother-in-law and longtime front for the shady business of Maher al-Assad.
Maher is the most powerful man in Syria after his brother, President Bashar al-Assad. He commands the Republican Guard and the army’s elite Fourth Armored Division.
The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Hamsho and his businesses in August 2011.
"Muhammad Hamsho earned his fortune through his connections to regime insiders, and during the current unrest, he has cast his lot with Bashar al-Assad, Maher al-Assad and others responsible for the Syrian government’s violence and intimidation against the Syrian people," said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. "The sanctions we are applying… to Hamsho and his company are the direct consequence of his actions." 

According to the U.S. Treasury, Hamsho “has served as a front to mask a senior Syrian official’s illicit and licit financial and business transactions.  Members of the Syrian business community believe that Hamsho is a successful businessman because of his relationship to Syrian elites rather than his business acumen."  
The Damascus government Sunday described as “untrue” reports about a secret meeting between a regime representative and an opposition figure.
Khatib himself did not specifically deny an encounter with Hamsho took place. Instead, he wrote on his personal Facebook page, “There were no meetings to talk or exchange political messages with any side, whether a Syrian politician or businessman.” 
But the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat quotes an unnamed Syrian National Coalition official as saying the meeting happened “before February 14” but was “apolitical and unplanned.”
The first to break the news about the Khatib-Hamsho encounter was Faeq al-Mir, the one-time “prisoner of conscience” now living underground in Syria and heading the leftist “Syrian People’s Democratic Party.”
Mir said Khatib told the National Coalition “collegiate” leadership, “Hamsho did all the talking in our one-hour meeting. My answer took two minutes.”

Saturday 23 February 2013

Russia, U.S. and “Friends” get SNC slap in the face

The Syrian National Coalition, the country’s opposition umbrella group, has finally given Russia, the United States and the so-called “Friends of Syria” group a kick in the teeth.
The Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces said it was turning down invitations to visit Moscow and Washington and suspending participation in the “Friends of Syria” conference due in Rome next month.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page late Friday night, the National Coalition described the deathlike “silence of the international community over daily crimes committed against our people” as “complicity in the slaughter of Syrians throughout the past two years.”
The statement said, “Hundreds of defenseless civilians are being killed by Scud missiles.
“Aleppo, the city of history and civilization, is being systematically destroyed.
“Add to this millions of refugees and displaced and hundreds of thousands of detainees, wounded and orphans.
"In protest against such shameless international stance, the coalition leadership decided to suspend its participation in the ‘Friends of Syria’ conference in Rome and to turn down invitations to visit Russia and the United States.
“We hold the Russian leadership ethically and politically responsible for the most part because they continue to back the (Damascus) regime with arms.
“We also urge people around the world to regard the week of March 15-22, which marks the Syrian revolution’s second anniversary, as a week of mourning and protest.”
Kuwait’s Muslim scholar Dr. Ghazi al-Tawbah, writing for last week, wondered if “Friends of Syria” conferences were not in reality meetings of “enemies.”
The Syrian opposition, he said, has been telling its “friends” for two years -- at successive meetings in Tunis, Istanbul, Paris and Marrakesh -- what it needs to protect the Syrian people.
All the Syrian opposition got in return was “hollow promises.”
Dr. Tawbah wrote, “Opposition leaders told their hosts opposition forces needed some qualitative weapons to face tanks and warplanes. They said setting up an interim government needed safe zones and a budget of $500 million to meet the Syrian people’s needs. They explained the Syrian people suffered 60,000 fatalities, 140,000 wounded, 60,000 disappeared, 140,000 detainees, 720,000 refugees, two million displaced and four million in need of humanitarian aid.”
The “friends” having offered zilch, “we are justified to ask: Were these ‘Friends of Syria’ conferences in the past two years meant to be meetings with the friends or enemies of Syria?”
Friends, Dr. Tawbah opined, “are supposed to answer their friends’ pleas. But why is that not so with Syria of all the Arab Spring countries?”
Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s analyst, author and kingpin of the impending Al Arab TV news channel writing today for pan-Arab al-Hayat, says, “Raising funds nowadays is tough, given the global economic slowdown.
“At the (January 30) Kuwait conference, the United Nations sought to raise $1,2 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Since then, it received not more than 20% of the pledges made.
“So who is going to come up with the billions needed to rebuild Syria?
“Even if Bashar (al-Assad) were to succeed in putting down his people’s revolution, the region’s states and leaders won’t rehabilitate him or return him to their fold. Nor will they bear the cost of seeing him survive without victory or defeat.
“Accordingly, it is time to focus on the benefits of seeing him out and the establishment of a friendly, democratic and popular regime. All regional countries will draw benefit from this happening, except Iran.
“If truth were told though, losing Syria is better for Iran long-term. Losing Syria would bring Iran down to reality instead of continuing to live its pipedream of reversing 1,400 years of history. Iran would revert to its regional size, concentrating on its people’s wellbeing.”
With Assad’s exit, Khashoggi continues, “Jordan would be relieved of its northern neighbor’s plots and resultant security and intelligence costs. It would have a neighborly country complementing its economy and agriculture. Jordan and the new Syria would connect with Lebanon in a Bilad al-Sham economic triumvirate without border or regime change.
“Saudi Arabia would also be relieved of security strains the Baathist regime posed on and off in Lebanon or in connivance with Iran – this, without Saudi Arabia being able to isolate, or dissociate from, Syria.
“After all, Syria represents Saudi Arabia’s strategic and economic expanse and its doorway to Turkey and Europe.
“A free, democratic Syria with a market economy would certainly be good news for Saudi Arabia.”
Khashoggi says if Turkey and the Arabs choose to boost their support of the Syrian people, they could induce U.S. President Barack Obama not to wait any longer and to put his weight behind the Syrian revolution independently of the UN Security Council.
“Precedents of ‘Special Operations’ behind the Security Council’s back are many,” Khashoggi remarks.

Friday 22 February 2013

Syrian opposition says Assad out of any deal

The Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is willing to negotiate under U.S. and Russian auspices a peace deal in Syria exclusive of President Bashar al-Assad and his enforcers.
The announcement came in a statement posted on the National Coalition's Facebook page following two-day meetings in Cairo of the group’s 70-member assembly meant to set “the framework for a political settlement.”
Today's announcement appears meant to bury Coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib’s “personal initiative” earlier this month in which he made a “personal” but conditional offer of talks with Assad representatives.
The Coalition, formed with Western and Arab backing last November, has a "collegiate" leadership, and al-Khatib is a first among equals, rather than outright head.
Following is my translation of the Coalition’s statement in full:

At its February 21 meetings in Cairo, and in light of revolutionary achievements on the ground, the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces believes the parameters for a political solution liable to achieve the revolution’s objectives and bloodshed, bring stability and safeguard state institutions must be based on the following:
  1. Fulfill the quest of the Syrian people’s revolution for justice, freedom and dignity and spare the Syrians’ blood and the country further ruin, devastation and threats. It must also safeguard Syria’s territorial, political and territorial integrity, making possible the transition to a democratic civil and pluralistic regime where all Syrians enjoy gender, religion and belief, sect, race and ethnicity equality.
  2. Bashar al-Assad and the security-military leadership responsible for the state of Syria today must step down and be considered outside this political process. They cannot be part of any political solution in Syria and must be held accountable for their crimes.
  3. The political solution and our country’s coveted future concerns all Syrians, including the honorable people in state institutions, Baathists and other political, civil and social forces that were not involved in crimes against the Syrian people.
  4. Any initiative based on these parameters must have a specific timeline and a clear and avowed objective.
  5. Any initiative also requires UN Security Council guarantees, chiefly from Russia and the United States of America, proper sponsorship and adequate safeguards to make the process possible via a binding UN Security Council resolution.
  6. Continued support of the revolutionaries on the ground so they can change the balance of forces there.
  7. Keep lobbying our friends and brethren for a political solution based on the aforesaid parameters.
  8. The National Coalition’s Assembly is the sole body authorized to put forward any political initiative in the Coalition’s name.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Lebanon’s coup d'état

Clockwise from L.: David Malouf, Beshara & Salim Takla, George Zaydan, Rose al-Yousef and Amin Maalouf

From L. around Danny Thomas: Anthony Abraham, Richard Shadyac, Georges Corm, Dr. George Younan, Anis Freiha and Milton Hatoum
I introduced Samir Atallah in two posts last year saying his career as a journalist, writer and author spans almost half a century. A native of Lebanon, he has published several novels, historical books and travelogues. He now contributes a weekly think piece for Beirut’s an-Nahar and has been writing a daily column of about 300-400 words for Saudi Asharq Alawsat since 1987. The Arabic for "coup d'état" is the headline he chose for his think piece this week for an-Nahar. My paraphrasing:
The Financial Times celebrated 125 years in print last week.
Since its launch in 1888, the FT has become the gold standard in business and financial journalism.
But 13 years earlier, in 1875, two Lebanese brothers, Beshara and Salim Takla, launched from the Egyptian port city of Alexandria an economic weekly newspaper they called Al-Ahram.
Within two months, the Takla brothers turned it into an economic daily before relocating to Cairo.
It has since become Egypt’s newspaper of records.
Beshara and Salim Takla called their publication al-Ahram – Arabic for Pyramids – in honor of their host country and its history.
In 1892, prolific Lebanese novelist Georgie Zaydan (1861-1914) created al-Hilal, the oldest cultural periodical in the Arab world and the only journal that has been issued regularly for more than a hundred years.
Zaydan called his publication al-Hilal – Arabic for Crescent – to show the appreciation of a Lebanese Christian émigré of the Muslim faith of most Arabs.
It is futile and stupid to compare years and dates. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that al-Ahram is anywhere near the Financial Times. I only mentioned dates and brands to compare not what we accomplished, but what we lost.
Over the years, we managed to lose tiny Lebanon’s outsized overseas role, whether in Ecuador, New York, Rio or even Alaska.
Lebanese émigrés proved time and again their human capacity to be exemplary citizens in host countries whenever they were prevented from being ordinary citizens on their native land.
How do you cope with such hard fate?
Is this tiny country fated to be a gateway for its citizens’ exit and a portal for the entry of invaders and transients?
To escape Ottoman persecution, Lebanese moved to Egypt, where they found safety and dignity under Khedive Muhammad Ali Pasha, an Albanian commander in the Ottoman Army, and further away to Malta.
In Egypt, they diffused publishing, brain work and theater arts. Fatima (Rose) al-Yousef, who was born in Lebanon’s Tripoli in 1898, became the queen of the stage and the press in Egypt.
The Rose al-Yousef magazine, which she founded in 1925, is still one of the most popular and widely-circulated weeklies in Egypt and the Arab world, along with its sister weekly Sabah al-Khair.
There is nothing childishly romantic about remembering the launch of al-Ahram on the occasion of the FT’s 125th anniversary. By association of ideas, the two events evoke the here and now.
Today, for instance, we find ourselves deploying fighters to Syria from Lebanon’s North and South. Today, families in seeing their intellectuals wing their way among Arabs find themselves threatened by the latter’s military wings.
Lebanon was a university graduating Arab scholars. It has turned into a training camp for those bracing to fight their own people and scorch their land.
This is not moaning about the brilliant past but lamenting the bleak present. The past will be rekindled in future history books, albeit in abridged form.
On his visit to Lebanon last September, Pope Benedict urged multi-faith Lebanon to be a model of religious peace and coexistence for the Middle East. He was probably referring to Lebanon as it was from the late 19th century until its assassination in (the civil war of) 1975.
Lebanon was a beacon of humanity in those years. It was shining through such novelists as David Malouf in Australia, Amin Maalouf in Paris and Milton Hatoum in Brazil. All three wrote on one subject: human fraternity and Man’s faith in Man.
In each continent around the world, you will find a Lebanese looking for peace of the souls that is lacking in Lebanon.
In Miami, Florida, I looked for the daughters and sons of Anthony R. Abraham, who I had met in the mid-1970s through Danny Thomas, the most renowned Lebanese in America after Khalil Gibran and through Anthony R. Abraham I got to meet lawyer Richard Shadyac.
What joined the three was Lebanese before the coup d’état.
Danny Thomas founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a pediatric treatment and research facility focused on children’s cancer diseases. He bequeathed his fortune to St. Jude. Richard Shadyac and Anthony Abraham, who died in 2009 and 2011 respectively, also left part of their fortunes to St. Jude.
All three cannot vote in Lebanon, because we want to suffice with the voters we have.
Philanthropist Anthony Abraham graduated from the University of Detroit but dropped out of law school during the Depression to work for the Chicago Evening American, then launched his own Help Wanted News and became wealthy when he sold it.
Abraham and his family moved to South Florida in 1951, and launched a Chevrolet dealership in the outskirts of Little Havana. He prospered again, turning the sprawling two-block business into the largest Chevrolet dealership in South Florida.
Throughout his long life, the savvy businessman with the omnipresent cigar was also devoted to numerous causes involving faith and philanthropy. As a child, he had vowed, “If, by the grace of God I ever could, I would feed the poor and help the sick.” He more than made good on that promise.
Abraham was the last living founding member of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
In 1976, Abraham, who named one of his sons Thomas after his friend Danny Thomas, founded the Anthony R. Abraham Foundation, which gave millions to stateside hospitals and charities. The foundation also supported schools and hospitals in Lebanon and Haiti.
His daughter Norma Jean, whom he adopted from an orphanage in Lebanon, is continuing his charitable work and philanthropy.
Abraham was also a founding member of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Coral Gables.
Coral Gables has all the hallmarks of Ashrafieh before the Beirut neighborhood was set upon in 1975. An aura of Lebanon also permeates the Anthony R. Abraham Family Gallery at the new Coral Gables Museum.
In the Lebanese renaissance era between 1955 and 1975, intellectual rivalry was chiefly over a cultural identity, according to Dr. George Younan. It involved thinkers like George Corm and Anis Freiha.   
But don’t look around you now. The year 1975 marked the bloody start of the coup d’état against the Republic of Humanitarian Tweeting. It was the year Said Akl launched a newspaper to cover battlefront news and gulls overflying Beirut were felled by Kalashnikovs. What remains of the Kalashnikovs that arrived in Beirut in crates are now exported to Syria.
The image – but not the message – is of Lebanon now being swamped by waves and dark clouds from all sides. It is only natural for the political mayhem to be mirrored in the press and on campuses and playgrounds.
I don’t think anyone remembers seeing a media pandemonium such as we see today. The buds of breakups and hatred are everywhere. Advocates of unity and forgiveness are treated as outcasts.
Lebanon’s elder statesmen formulated the National Charter, drafted the Constitution and charted the roads to togetherness and the ways to communicate. These evaporated under today’s politicians.
Two Lebanese outraced Europe to launch a financial newspaper a century-and-a-half ago. Today, we are a state lacking a national economy and electricity, a state whose legislators meet a few miles from Kandahar to draft an electoral law smacking of sickly sectarianism. It’s another chapter of the coup d’état.