Monday March 17, 2014, no175
Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com
Editor in chief Wassim Raad
New Orient Center for Strategic policies
Resistance is inevitable, whatever enemies say
By Ghaleb Kandil
The illusions of some parties of their ability to alter the balance of power in Lebanon, and realize their dreams to target the Resistance and its legitimacy, have filed on the rock of reality. They thought to change the balance of power with the help of the Americans, the West and the Arab Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, but they have once again failed.
At the expiry of the period which would have transformed Tammam Salam government to a caretaker Cabinet, white smoke finally cleared, and the protagonists agreed on a ministerial statement recognizing "the right of Lebanon and Lebanese citizens to resist the Israeli occupation." An inalienable right recognized by the United Nations Charter, but some Lebanese were willing to sell out, for free, to serve the interests of Israel, abandoning the only factor that makes the strength of Lebanon. March-14, helped by the President of the Republic, have still failed. Just hours after the oratory Carnival of March-14, the Future Movement has resigned to accept his defeat. The intervention of diplomats based in Beirut and major capitals concerned by the Lebanese situation convince that coalition of the inability to change the balance of power.
The escalation initiated by March-14 in denying the right of the Lebanese to resist occupation illustrates the internal dissensions which blow in the ranks of that coalition, the weakness of its external support, and reflects an unparalleled political amateurism. In this context, we can highlight the following factors:
-Saudi Arabia sees its sphere of influence gradually reducing and witnesses the dismemberment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
-The West, led by the United States, is lost and does not know how to act after the offensive against Russia in the Ukrainian case. Moscow has prevented Westerners to capitalize on Ukrainian crisis. Germany launches signals on his disagreement with its NATO allies and seems tempted by a Eurasian partnership with Russia.
-According to the most optimistic estimates, it is clear that the enemies of the Resistance are unable to launch a global offensive, as had been believed for a moment, by those who have analyzed too simply and too quickly events in Ukraine.
-The Israeli attempts to change the rules of the game were met with strong ground realities and responses, some of which remained unknown to the general public and deeply mysterious.
The determination of the Lebanese political forces, allies of the Resistance, and their intelligent management of the confrontation, were due to the stubbornness of the Future and 14 Mars. These political forces have brandished the possibility of binding parliamentary consultations in if the government of Tammam Salam falls. They sent messages to the appointment of a new personality to form a government from which March-14 would be excluded. Unable to stay longer out of the government, the leaders of this coalition are resigned to accept the reference to the Resistance in the Ministerial statement. They felt that the Salam government is the most they can hope for in the current circumstances, where the organization of the presidential election seems very difficult.
Saad Hariri, Futur Movement leader
«The army, people, and resistance expression ended and will not come back, as the new formula does not give any party rights above the state’s authority. The ministerial statement does not give any legitimacy to the use of arms outside the framework of the state, its army, and its security and military institutions, or the implicating Lebanon in foreign wars. There is no more room for doubt that the resistance’s arms, or any other arms, are a controversial issue and will remain subject to national dialogue and the new president.»
Beshara Rai, Maronite Patriarch
«We hope that the concerned parties, especially the ones who are loyal to Lebanon and the state, stop this bleeding, correct what needs to be corrected, explain what is unclear, and give the cabinet the vote of confidence. This way they can start working seriously in sectors that need urgent attention and rebuild the Lebanese people’s trust in them and the state. Do political leaders feel and realize how much the economic, social, security, and administrative bleeding has intensified during the ten months it took to form the government?»
Mohammad Raad, Hezbollah parliamentary group leader
«Wait for the good that will come from the resistance because it will be kinder to them than the Israeli enemy whose agenda they are trying to carry out in the ministerial statement. We have been tolerant with all the paragraphs of the ministerial statement, but when they wished to remove the resistance, which represents for all the Lebanese people the option of their free, dear, and independent existence, we objected.»
Syrian troops on Sunday seized full control of the rebel bastion Yabrud in the strategic Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border, Syrian state media reported. "Our brave armed forces have full control over Yabrud in Damascus province and are combing through the town and removing explosive devices placed by terrorists," state television said, citing a military source. Capturing Yabrud, the last major rebel bastion near the Lebanese border north of Damascus, would help President Bashar al-Assad secure the land route linking his Mediterranean coastal stronghold with the capital Damascus, and choke off a cross-border rebel supply line from Lebanon. A military source told Reuters that the rebels had pulled out of Yabrud around dawn, a day after pro-government forces had entered eastern districts of the town and captured several strategic hilltops. A fighter in Yabrud from al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria, confirmed to Reuters the rebels had decided to pull out and said they were heading towards nearby villages including Hosh Arab, Rankos and Fleita.
The security situation in the eastern Beqaa town of Arsal came under the spotlight Sunday after Syrian regime troops seized the border town of Yabrud across from Lebanon’s Beqaa region. Lebanon’s state National News Agency reported that the Lebanese Armed Forces detained a group of Syrians carrying military grade weapons and ammunition in the area around Arsal. Shortly before news of the group’s detention, another NNA report said that the LAF had fired at a pick-up truck in the Wadi Raayan area close to Arsal after it refused to stop at a checkpoint, hitting the vehicle a number of times. A Lebanese Armed Forces statement later confirmed that the pick-up had approached Lebanese territory from Syria via a dirt road in Arsal’s outskirts. When the army fired on the car it proceeded to return from where it had come. The army statement added that another pick-up was stopped later in the day in the Wadi Hamid area. The second car, which also came from Syrian territory, was transporting three Syrians carrying an unspecified “quantity of drugs.” Meanwhile, seven dead and pver 100 injured people, most of them Syrians from Yabrud, were admitted to a field hospital set up in Arsal. The Syrian air force targeted fighters fleeing to Arsal from Syria’s strife-stricken Qalamoun region, killing a number of fighters, the NNA reported.
A Lebanese army soldier injured an attack late-Saturday in the northern city of Tripoli succumbed to his wounds Sunday, bringing to 12 the death toll in three days of clashes between neighborhoods divided over the war in Syria, the military said. Militants attacked three army vehicles with hand grenades and grenade launchers in separate incidents in Tripoli Saturday, injuring six soldiers. One of the unnamed troops later died of his wounds, the army said in a statement. The death comes as fighting continues in the latest flare-up of violence between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. Hundreds have been killed in a series of brutal clashes between the neighborhoods over the past two years, often triggered by events in Syria, or Syria-related events in Lebanon. The fighting erupted Thursday after gunmen on scooters shot dead Walid Barhoum, an Alawi resident of Jabal Mohsen marking the latest in a spate of sectarian attacks by salafi militants in the city. Dozens of soldiers have also been killed or injured in attacks on their patrols and checkpoints in Tripoli over the last two years. The army is incredibly vulnerable in some parts of the city, including Bab al-Tabbaneh, where Islamist gunmen who back Syria's rebels view Lebanese troops as enemy forces.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman apologized to Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghadanfar Roken Abadi Friday for accusations made against Iran by Interior Minister Nohad Mashnouq during a recent Arab League meeting in Marrakesh Morroco. “Salam confirmed that the position [expressed] towards the Islamic Republic of Iran does not [represent] the position of the Lebanese government,” Abadi said in a statement after a meeting with Salam. He later met with Suleiman who echoed Salam’s apology and added that bilateral connections between Lebanon and Iran were “capable of resolving disputes when they occur,” the National News Agency reported. On Wednesday at the meeting of Arab Interior ministers in Marrakesh, Mashnouq stated that recent and past violence in Lebanon was a result of Iranian and Syrian intervention.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)
(March 14, 2014)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the most important quality in the next Lebanese president is the level of “resistance” he is able to demonstrate, and complimented Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
“We are not waiting for the person himself; rather, for his selection,” said Assad to his visitors. “We are waiting to see what he will be able to grant [as far as] resistance [is concerned,] which is a fundamental criterion for us, afterwards let he who comes come. That is an internal Lebanese affair.”
Assad also complimented Salam calling him “the son of a highborn political family with excellent morals” and said that Nasrallah’s position “shows loyalty and [demonstrates that] we are in the same boat.”
Al Joumhouria (Lebanese Daily close to March-14 coalition)
(March 14, 2014)
Sources have cited Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as saying he could leave the March 14 due to issues related to the ministerial statement.
Geagea will withdraw from the alliance if its leaders accept March 8’s formula concerning “resistance” in the ministerial statement; sources told Al-Joumouria .
“Geagea will affirm that the LF’s problem with the [current] cabinet is its fundamental contradiction over two projects: the state project and the statelet project,” the sources said in reference to a speech the LF leader will deliver at Friday’s March 14 ceremony.
The role of “the resistance” against Israel has been the main point of contention for the committee in charge of drafting the ministerial statement.
Al Anbaa (Kuwaiti daily, March 14, 2014)
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria devalued the formula of the unity of the Lebanese army, people, and resistance that was promulgated in the previous cabinet’s ministerial statement.
“When the resistance went to Syria, this trinity was devalued… Hezbollah devalued it when it went to Syria without asking the people or the army,” Suleiman told Al-Anbaa.
The president added that he will call for a national dialogue session soon in order to discuss a defense strategy.“When the government receives the vote of confidence, I will call for the resumption of the discussion of the defense strategy.”
He reiterated that “the solution to avoid the Syrian crisis’ repercussions is to abide by the Baabda Declaration” that calls for Lebanon’s in Syria.
The president also underscored the importance of electing a new president. “The Lebanese interest is accomplished by electing a new president, not by extending [my] term, but by implementing the constitution.”
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Ghassan Saoud (March 15, 2014)
The Ministry of Justice, like the Internal Security Forces (ISF), is firmly in Ashraf Rifi’s grip. His heavy-handed actions appeal to the people of Tripoli, who have been frustrated by politicians’ empty promises of big projects for the city that don’t materialize.
On Tripoli’s streets, General Ashraf Rifi’s posters are now plastered not just on public property, but on apartment balconies and roofs as well. Rifi’s transition from sponsoring Tripoli’s street fighters to becoming minister of justice is a significant event in this man’s life, according to those who knows how much he exploited his former position as general director of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) for his political aspirations.
There is now an ongoing competition between the pictures of Rifi and MP Mohammed Kabbara and their supporters in Tripoli’s markets. Kabbara bears more similarities to Rifi than some might think. Neither Rifi’s father nor Kabbara’s were MPs. Neither one owns a bank and neither man’s grandfather was a Mufti. Not only that, both men are far from being religiously devout, a trait that the city’s traditional notables are known for, such as former prime ministers Omar Karami and Najib Mikati. Also both men share the same political ideology, namely, providing services and telling the masses what they love to hear. All of this means that their playing field is identical. Neither Rifi nor Kabbara count on trade unionists, intellectuals or former partisans. Both men go after poorer citizens only occasionally helped by Mikati. Perhaps that is what makes the competition between them so fierce.
Kabbara knows that there are five Sunni parliament seats up for grabs in Tripoli. The electoral victory of Mikati, former Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Safadi, and MP Samir al-Jisr is guaranteed irrespective of the alliances in the city. Rifi is expected to win the fourth seat, which means that Kabbara has to compete with 20 candidates for the remaining seat. He must compete against two former MPs, Mustafa Alloush who, unlike Kabbara, belongs to the Future Movement (FM), and Misbah al-Ahdab, who belongs to the club of March 14 notables.
There are elaborate discussions in Tripoli about former Prime Minister Saad Hariri offering Jisr moral compensation for excluding him from the government by asking him to accompany him to Egypt. No one, however, was concerned with Kabbara’s sentiments. He had hoped that his son-in-law, Ziad al-Qadiri, would be appointed to the cabinet so he can regain the ability to offer services and therefore regain his influence in the city.
In addition to Mikati, Kabbara and Rifi, the Karami family, represented today by former Minister of Sports Faisal Karami, enjoys historical influence. The Future Movement on the other hand is only good for distributing aid or asking for a loan. But when push comes to shove, Tripoli residents resort to one of these four figures for help if they face some kind of crisis.
Therefore, if Mikati agrees to make an alliance with Karami and Kabbara, he can put an end to Rifi’s rising star. Also if Rifi decides to be humble and accept an alliance with Mikati and Kabbara, he can deal a serious blow to the Karami leadership in their main stronghold of Tripoli. If, however, they are divided in pairs, Rifi and Karami on one side and Mikati and Kabbara, on the other, they could very well rip apart Tripoli’s social fabric.
In the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood of Tripoli, the recent rain disrupted the work of the very few merchants that are still able to make a living. The closed shops allude to the stagnation in the area. The economic crisis plays an instrumental role in enabling gang leaders to recruit more fighters despite their failure to achieve tangible victories.
From one garage to another, people’s undocumented conversations are about the recurring civil strife in the city. Here, too, there are nouveaux riches who have profited from Rifi’s patronage. One Salafist leader now owns more than nine residential apartments in Abu Samra in Tripoli. He recently bought a large plot of land in al-Quba area to build a residential complex on it. One of the neighborhood gang chiefs takes advantage of the truce between one combat round and another to tour Europe. Another gang chief bought a residential apartment for his family in al-Maarad in Tripoli as far away from the neighborhood where he fights as possible. Future Movement MPs fight amongst each other so their supporters can get food, social assistance, and other goods meant for Syrian refugees.
Rifi’s priority is still Tripoli according to one of his associates. Imitating the Karami family as opposed to Mikati, he puts the ministry at the service of his leadership. Among the trade unionists generally, and the lawyers and doctors specifically, it is hard to find Rifi supporters except for attorney Tarek Shandab who went from suing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and others left and right, to defending Omar al-Atrash who was arrested in connection with a recent wave of deadly bombings in Lebanon.
As for the security system that he worked so hard to lead single-handedly, he handed it over to retired Colonel Amid Hammoud as soon as he took over the Ministry of Justice. According to security sources, Hammoud is supposed to begin a serious arrangement for this system under Rifi’s supervision excluding undisciplined elements. Tripoli’s security forces can be summed up in two main groups. One with Saudi affiliations headed by Hammoud and the other led by Salafist leader Hussam Sabbagh.
On the popular level, it seems clear that Rifi benefited from the anger of March 8 supporters over his appointment as minister to make the residents of Tripoli feel that they achieved a victory. He also benefits from the public frustration with those of whom much was expected but did not deliver while Rifi, of whom nothing was expected, surprised people. In this context, no one cares about his cover up of violations perpetrated by his family, or how one of his properties infringes on the coast which is public property.
When talking about Rifi and the people under his patronage, one remembers former MP Mohammed Bek Hamza nicknamed, “Mohammed the conqueror.” He was one of the strong men of the 1958 crisis who appealed to the first intelligence man in the history of Lebanon and Syria, Abdel Hamid al-Sarraj, so he supplied him with weapons and asked former Prime Minister Rashid Karami to include him in his electoral list in 1960. Karami accepted reluctantly, thinking it is the best way to end the influence of the Mokadem family in the city as Hamza was their son-in-law. Hamza went from driving a bus to driving the masses. His crowning achievement in parliament was launching a new sewage network in the city. The people celebrating had barely made it home and used the bathrooms when the drains were blocked and sewage water flooded the city.
Time seems to repeating itself once again in Tripoli.
Al Akhbar (March 15, 2014)
In the latest round of clashes between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, Islamic Jihad went against the tide by actually retaliating against the continuous Israeli bombardment. In light of its the operation “Breaking the Silence,” one wonders: were the rockets hitting Israel a direct message to the enemy, or a message to all parties staying silent inside Gaza and the outside world?
Islamic Jihad leader, Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, said that the retaliation was in response to Israeli aggressions while he warned the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah from engaging in a hollow deal brokered by the United States.
As expected, Shalah didn’t criticize other Palestinian factions involved in the Resistance, making us wonder about Hamas’s true position. In fact, all signs on the ground suggested that Islamic Jihad deliberated with Hamas about the operation. It didn’t seek Hamas’s permission, but it acted reasonably, respecting Hamas’s role as a main partner in the Resistance and its influence inside Gaza. Furthermore, Islamic Jihad was not about to fight the enemy while clashing with other Palestinian factions.
However, Hamas was not being neutral as is often the case with the “disassociation” enthusiasts in other parts of the Arab world. It did take a political position, which was reiterated by the Ezziddin al-Qassam Brigades; however Hamas is quite aware that this is not the right time to wage an open ended war against Israel. Islamic Jihad also acknowledges this fact but the difference between the two is that Hamas is not even interested in getting involved in a single round of clashes, because that would call for an international intervention, while Islamic Jihad can operate on its own.
In fact, Hamas’s political agenda has changed since 2011; hence the Resistance is no longer its ultimate priority. We are not suggesting that Hamas has given up on the Resistance or that it is ready to settle, but the movement is now paying the price of the confusion it created since it supported the Syrian opposition.
Hamas’s actions are still a debatable issue, but in any case all rational people should keep in mind that the Resistance remains the only mean to restore Palestinian rights.
Today, we ask Hamas: isn’t it about time to conduct a comprehensive, transparent and courageous review of the last three years? Isn’t it time to redraw a roadmap that serves only the Resistance?
Israel escalated its assault on the Resistance in Gaza in recent weeks as it is seeking to undermine the measures taken to reinforce the Resistance. In fact, officials in Tel Aviv prefer to engage in dispersed clashes along the Gaza border than to commit to an appeasement that the Resistance may exploit to build tunnels and landmines. Meanwhile, Israel doesn’t seem interested in waging a full-scale war. In any case, the unfolding events can be explained based on the “waiting game” adopted by the enemy for a while now.
Israel has exploited the Syrian crisis to break the rules of the game; it raided Syrian targets without anticipating any response from the Syrian side. It recently also tried its luck in Lebanon when it struck a Hezbollah target on the Lebanese- Syrian borders. However, the enemy is now examining the missile attack in the Golan Heights, as well as the bomb blast yesterday that targeted an Israeli patrol in the occupied Shebaa Farms. Israel is considering all these events as a message from the Resistance in Lebanon announcing that it rejects any changes in the rules of the game. A message ought to be repeated if necessary.
Israel believed that Hamas is in “crisis” and cannot afford a clash right now, and it thought that no other Palestinian factions, including Islamic Jihad, could respond. In addition, the current crisis between Egypt and Hamas is affecting the whole Gaza Strip with the destruction of most tunnels on the Egyptian borders and Israel believes it can take advantage of the Gaza-Egypt tension. The enemy even resorted to maritime piracy by blocking an alleged arms cargo carrying Syrian missiles on its way to Gaza and it is now planning to exploit the incident as a way to impose new measures on the ground that go beyond the appeasement agreement of 2012.
However, Israel was shocked with Islamic Jihad’s response, which was not even proportional to the size of the Israeli aggression. As 150 missiles targeted periphery settlements, Israel was forced to think twice about its current underestimation of Palestinian force.
For Israel, the reaction of Islamic Jihad was a lot more than an angry response. The Resistance is ready to engage in a confrontation that goes beyond a minor clash. Also, Israel and other parties need to examine whether Islamic Jihad’s reaction is limited to Gaza or if it’s linked to the Resistance movement as whole.
The latest round in Gaza was a major success for the Resistance; it worried Israel but also raised even more questions about Hamas.
Al Akhbar (March 14, 2014)
Extending President Michel Suleiman’s term is no longer on the table. No one can say why, but even Suleiman and his inner circle are no longer eager to stay in power.
French President François Hollande was one of the most enthusiastic about Suleiman’s term extension. Sources from the Lebanese presidential palace claim he had suggested the idea to Suleiman in Baabda in November 2012. However, visitors of the French capital came back recently with another story. Lebanese politicians quoted people close to Hollande as saying that he merely asked about the term extension and did not suggest it.
Those who heard this piece of information believed the French president retracted his suggestion "to extend Suleiman’s term in order to avoid a presidential vacuum that would put Lebanon’s stability in jeopardy." A Lebanese politician who frequents the Elysée Palace added that Hollande prefers to strengthen the position of the Lebanese presidency. "It is the highest Christian authority in the East," he said. "The extension will have a negative impact on the position of the presidency."
Potential presidential candidates heard this piece of news, but this does not mean the race has begun. One of potential candidates said that one cannot speak about a battle for Baabda, unless "the US makes up its mind about nominating General Michel Aoun for president."
"The Americans want a president who could ensure stability," a politician involved in the presidential elections added. "They want someone who could communicate with Hezbollah without any obstacles."
Rumors in political salons are saying that Jeffrey Feltman, United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and former US Ambassador to Lebanon, called a politician who hated Aoun to tease him, "What do you think? Wouldn't it be useful for Aoun to become president? Wouldn't this contribute to protecting the Christians in Lebanon? Couldn't Aoun help in curbing Hezbollah influence?"
The Lebanese politician jokingly said "Aoun in Baabda would be the same as having Samir Geagea there. Both are equivalent to electing former President Bachir Gemayel. It will lead to civil war."
This differs with what is being said by associates of Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt, the pioneers of the post-Taif political school, who say that the US has adopted the nomination of Aoun for president. "Washington wants to expose Hezbollah nationally," said a Jumblatt associate, feeling uneasy about the possibility.
Some of Berri and Jumblatt’s associates put the US and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's "openness" towards Aoun purely in the context of a "conspiracy." In fact, politicians from Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and some centrists indicate that Berri and Jumblatt would prefer a president that is closer to the style of Elias Hrawi, Lebanon’s first president after the Taif agreement.
"Saad Hariri also agrees," the sources close to Berri and Jumblatt added. "Those who want to make sure can look closely to the communications between Gebran Bassil and director of Hariri's office, Nader Hariri. They could also listen to Aoun's sweet talk about Saad and Nader. There is no one left to oppose Aoun's nomination, except us, March 14 Christians, and the Saudis."
In the March 14 camp, specifically in the Future Movement, there are those who merely grin when asked about the issue. "Don't be silly," says a source within the Future Movement. "If Aoun breaks his alliance with Hezbollah, we would begin to think about his nomination to the presidency, while taking our allies into account." However, he insinuated that the Future Movement would not lose by unnerving Hezbollah by approaching Aoun.
The news about the current truce between Hariri and Aoun is no less distressing to March 8 supporters than it is to those close to Berri and Jumblatt. Some politicians are openly expressing their fear of an Aoun-US agreement, which would dissolve the alliance between the FPM and Hezbollah.
Yet it seems clear that the source of the anxiety over the issue is the lack of information about what goes on behind the doors of the closed meetings between Aoun, US Ambassador David Hill, and Saad Hariri on one side, and between Aoun and Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah on the other.
It seems not many people in Hezbollah and the FPM knew what happened in the latest meetings between Nasrallah and Aoun. However, those familiar with the relationship between the two men maintained that Hezbollah's support for Aoun's nomination to the presidency "does not need discussion."
Sources close to Hezbollah reminded the "skeptics" of the 2006 July War and Aoun's steadfast support of the Resistance. The same sources added that the positive talk about Aoun and Hezbollah's emphasis on backing him in the battle for the presidency "are not merely directed to its supporters. It is what Nasrallah says in Hezbollah's internal meetings."