Monday April 14, 2014, no179
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
Syria's enemies nightmares
By Ghaleb Kandil
The famous American investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, has made important revelations on an agreement by the United States with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for the transfer of weapons from Libya to Al-Qaeda in Syria. But the most serious in what he wrote regarding the crime committed with chemical weapons by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyeb Erdogan, in the eastern Ghouta of Damascus in late August 2013, and the decision of Barak Obama to waive military aggression against Syria, not because of the discovery of Turkish conspiracy but because of the assessment of military balances. These revelations -NewOrientnews.com publishes an Arabic translation of Seymour Hersh article- and other facts prove that the victory of Syria and President Bashar al-Assad is inevitable and imminent, causing the worst nightmares in Washington, Paris and London, particularly in Riyadh, Doha and Ankara.
First: Seymour Hersh reveals that the United States has created what the CIA called "rats channel" to support Al-Qaeda groups in Syria. Financing and transfer of weapons recovered in Libyan arsenals were entrusted to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. These facts are confirmed by the seizure by the Lebanese Army, in May 2012, of Lutfallah II ship, carrying 60 tons of weapons from Libya. The Lebanese authorities have smothered the case to protect the political and security officials close to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, involved in trafficking. Obviously, the attitude of the Lebanese leaders came after Saudi-American pressures, according to information published by Hersh.
Second: The facts reported by Seymour Hersh, citing sources of U.S. intelligence, concerning the role of Erdogan and Al-Qaeda show that neo-Ottoman Prime Minister is suffering from hysteria because of defeats inflicted to terrorist groups by the Syrian army. Erdogan provides unlimited assistance to Al- Nosra Front, with the blessing of the United States.
Al- Nosra is the official representative of Al-Qaeda in Syria and was officially dubbed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, a key partner in the aggression against Syria. The actions of Al-Qaeda leader have coverage and support of the United States, Western States, and Saudi, Turkish and Qatari governments. This proves that all statements on the fight against terrorism, initiated by these countries, are just pure lies.
Third: The information cited in Hersh's article, without a shadow of a doubt, that Erdogan is a war criminal. He helped Al-Qaeda to obtain toxic gas for use in massacres against the Syrian people in Khan al-Assal and eastern Ghouta, to justify the NATO war against Syria, funded by the Saudi Arabia.
Seymour Hersh reveals that the US-NATO attack, scheduled to begin Sept. 2, 2013, was in fact a war of extermination against the Syrian army and the country's infrastructure. This information highlights the leadership qualities of President Bashar al-Assad, when he decided to resist aggression and then to accept the compromise on chemical weapons, proposed by Russia.
Fourth: Seymour Hersh says the decision of Barak Obama to cancel the attack against Syria came after the evaluations of army joint staff, which were forwarded to the U.S. president by General Martin Dempsey. These evaluations emphasized that any strike against Syria might plunge the United States and NATO in a costly regional and global war whose outcome is uncertain.
This proves that the Syrian decision to resist, the clear warnings of Iran and the firm stance of Russia curbed Washington.
The nightmare that scares the covenant of war against Syria is becoming a reality with each advance of the Syrian army in the field and with the renewed popularity of President Assad, who is seen by more Syrians as the only man capable of saving the country from the threat of terrorism, to preserve its unity and restore calm and security. The nightmare will reach the peak of horror for Washington and its allies when Bashar al-Assad will be reelected for another term and the steamroller of the Syrian army continued its progress in different parts of Syria, crushing his passing terrorist groups.
Time will tell.
Bashar al-Assad, Syria's President
«This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the attacks targeting the country.»
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah Secretary General
«Hezbollah has decided the name of the presidential candidate that it would support and vote for. Announcing the name of our candidate requires a convenient time and coordination among our political alliance. Hezbollah’s stance regarding the extension of the president’s term is definitive and final… threatening the Lebanese people with the possibility of a political void should not scare them. Bkirki was at the forefront of those calling for electing a new president. Regardless of our assessment of Geagea, his stances, biography, principles and political goals, and regardless of our assessment of any March 14 candidate, it is normal and logical for us to support our candidate. Some Christians politicians accountable for hindering the arrival of the most popular Christian to the presidency. The stances of President Michel Suleiman in the last months have lost him the position of one who can run a national dialogue to discuss an issue as important as the defense strategy. There should be an approach on the political, economic, social and developmental levels, in addition to holding reconciliations among political parties. It is important to have a political, economic, social, and developmental approach to the situation in both areas, rather than just a security and judicial approach. It is the Resistance that had planted the bomb that targeted an Israeli patrol in the Shebaa farms in mid-March. This was a part of the retaliation against Israel for its raid that targeted one of the resistance’s locations in the town of Janta. Israel understood the message well. It is not about the rules of engagement, it is about deterrence. Had the resistance remained silent over the Janta raid, the enemy would have come the next day and strike any truck, any target, any home, or any location under the pretext of striking advanced weapons (...) The military developments in Syria worry the Israelis, who are wondering whether this experience would lead Hezbollah, in case of any war with Israel, to go toward new directions. In this context, the enemy is shedding light on the area of Galilee. The resistance is not facing a problem with its supporters regarding its participation in [the war] in Syria. Some of our supporters were hesitant, but now they have made up their minds and support our fighting in Syria… I can say that some of the March 14 coalition’s supporters favor our intervention in Syria to protect Lebanon from terrorist takfiri groups. President Assad's enemies can wage a war of attrition as long as there are still countries that are financing and arming rebel groups for this purpose, but there is nothing in the horizon that shows that the opposition is capable of waging a big war. In the last three years, the developments have proven that the regime is not weak, and has strong popular support. Many Arab countries are in contact with the Syrian regime under the table and tell [President Bashar al-Assad]: we are with you, hang in there. I know that some Arab countries support the resistance ostensibly, but under the table they want the regime to win the war quickly. Before the start of the so-called Arab Spring, the Americans were seriously discussing the future of Saudi Arabia, and I was informed that the discussions tackled the necessity to divide Saudi Arabia into several countries. The French and British were involved in these discussions.»
Beshara Raï, Maronite Patriarch
«What we said was that if consensus is not reached on a March 8 or March 14 candidate, another person will be considered for the presidency. I have no authority to eliminate anyone. Any person that might be elected from the March 8 or 14 coalitions or outside the two political groups…will be our president. I will not nominate anyone, but I will not eliminate anyone either because I respect the parliament and the constitution. Speaker Nabih Berri promised to call for presidential election sessions next week.»
Samir Geagea, Lebanese Forces leader
«There is no deliverance without a strong republic, no strong republic without a strong president, no strong president without clarity, and no strong president without rectitude and a firm stance. There is no strong president who wears multiple colors. He who is with the state alone is the only strong president, he who does not flirt with the statelet, does not fear the statelet, and does not have a thousand tongues and faces. The strong president is he who states clearly what he wants, he who enters the battlefield in front of the people, not in embassies or closed rooms. The strong, strong president is he who has not once sought a position, office or interest, but has sought only to be a strong president in a strong republic.»
Najib Mikati, Former Lebanese Prime Minister
«The information I am seeing today is not in keeping with the election of a unifying president. At around 45 days before the end of the deadline for presidential elections. I don’t see any positive indicators in that area. Despite this I hope an all-encompassing personality will be chosen because we need one in these very difficult circumstances. It is our duty to elect a president who has a conciliatory background and brings the Lebanese together.»
Elias Bou Saab, Lebanese Education Minister
«If the situation remains as is, the number of Syrian students will exceed that of the Lebanese in Lebanese schools, which could lead to the collapse of the educational system in all of Lebanon. There has to be an educational plan for Lebanon, which would consist of providing one hundred million dollars, then two hundred million in annual aid from donors.»
The Lebanese Armed Forces’ Intelligence Branch arrested a “dangerous” person for rigging cars with explosives at the Wadi Hmeid checkpoint in Beqaa’s Arsal Saturday evening. The man was identified as Ahmad al-Atrash, who is known by the alias “The Falcon of Arsal.” Army units later raided a house Atrash used on the outskirts of Arsal, and seized a number of stolen cars found parked in the garage. Ahmad is the brother of Sami al-Atrash, who died two weeks ago of wounds suffered in an LAF pursuit. Sami al-Atrash was wanted for firing rockets at towns in the Beqaa, preparing booby-trapped cars, detaining citizens, providing aid to Syrian rebel fighters, participating in the killing of four civilians in Arsal’s Wadi Rafeq, killing soldiers in Arsal’s Wadi Hamid, and plotting to target an LAF officer.
Development and Liberation bloc MP Kassem Hashem said on Saturday that the parliament will pass the ranks and salaries system next week. Hashem also noted that Nabih Berri, speaker of the parliament and head of the Development and Liberation bloc, was keen on having the issue of the public workers' salary raise worked out “quickly, but not hastily." Parliament’s joint committees finished discussing the ranks and salaries system late Friday and announced that they have reached a consensus on the articles dealing with living expenses and that the legislation will be forwarded to the parliament.
A number of refugees from the Syrian village of Fleeta returned home from refugee camps in the eastern Beqaa town of Arsal on Thursday. The refugees, who had fled to Arsal during fighting between opposition and regime forces in Syria’s Qalamoun region, left Lebanon via the Al-Qaa crossing, passing through the Syrian towns of Qusair and Qara before reaching Fleeta, the National News Agency reported. The NNA added that the group of refugees which returned to Syria on Thursday was the second to leave refugee camps in Arsal in the past twenty-four hours.
Hezbollah condemned on Thursday the attempted murder of a member of the Charity and Islamic Projects Foundation, Sheikh Arsan Suleiman in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in South Lebanon’s Sidon. “The assailants are people who hate plurality of opinions, reject the diversity in jurisprudences and kill those who have different thoughts and affiliations, thus offering a favor to the Zionist entity,” Hezbollah said in a statement. On Wednesday, Arsan was gunned down by unknown masked men in the Ain al-Hilweh camp. He was severely injured and transported to the Hammoud Hospital. He remains in a critical condition. A number of angry youths reacted to the incident and closed the vegetables market and the shops in the camp’s Al-Fawqani Street.
As Safir (Lebanese Daily close to March-8 coalition)
Imad Marmal (April 11,2014)
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said that he would preserve the Lebanese army’s current combat doctrine which categorized Israel as an enemy, and promised to make the army the sole institution responsible for applying it.
“The army is capable of replacing Hezbollah, [because] the elite forces that include the Special Forces unit, the Strike Force, the Airborne Regiment and the Commandos can deploy and work as required by the specificity of the conflict with Israel,” Geagea told As-Safir.
Geagea also said that Hezbollah should offer the army all “the tactics and experience that it gained through its combat with Israel.”
The LF leader also said that if he was elected president, he would cooperate with Hezbollah to build a real state. “I will suggest partnership in building a real state that would be the only [party] responsible for defending all the citizens, based on making the army’s weapons the only recognized weapons.”
Geagea also noted that he was aware that it would be difficult for him to win enough votes to become president, but voiced his optimism that he could gain the needed votes. “I am very aware that [my journey to Baabda] is very difficult, but nothing is impossible in politics,” he said.
He also said that besides the March 14 MPs votes, he would still need six other votes to become president. “If the [parliamentary session was held based on the two-third quorum, it would be difficult for any candidate to win the required majority on the first round of voting. However, on the second round of voting, the winner needs half-plus-one majority [65 votes], and I think I have the chance to provide these votes,” Geagea said.
“I have the support of 59 MPs, who belong to the March 14 coalition, and would still need 6 other votes. In principle, winning those [six] votes is not impossible,” he added.
However, Geagea noted that running for president was as important as winning the race, adding that by announcing his candidacy, he restored the orderliness of the election. “Through my candidacy, I wanted to restore the orderliness of the election and lay new traditions in approaching it, so that it would not remain captive in closed rooms, embassies, deals and secret codes.”
An Nahar (Lebanese Daily close to March-14 coalition)
Sarkis Naoum (April 11, 2014)
While visiting the United States, I met the head of a major research center in Washington. The official said that U.S. President Barack Obama is opposed to any U.S. military intervention in Syria and the Middle East in general. "He will do nothing, either in Syria or in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I also think that because of the presence of Islamist-Takfirists Bashar al-Assad might ultimately win in the sense that it can remain in power, "said the analyst.
An Nahar (April 10, 2014)
What are the prospects of the dialogue that was initiated between Hezbollah and the Future Movement concerning security issues. Security sources indicate that the links were never broken between Hezbollah security official Wafiq Safa and Minister Ashraf Rifi, since he was leading the Internal Security Forces (ISF). The same sources add that there is nothing new on the political level between the two parties, noting that the divergent questions remain unchanged, and no political contact has been made with a view to treated. Resolving contentious issues -the withdrawal of Hezbollah from Syria, weapons, defense strategy, and STL- requires a serious, frank and deep dialogue, the security coordination between the two formations may be the first step.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Nicolas Nassif (April 12, 2014)
The situation today is different from 2008. Back then President Michel Suleiman was elected following a written agreement to name him as a candidate within the framework of the Doha Accord- a first in the history of the Lebanese presidential elections. Six years have passed but divisions between March 8 and March 14 have yet to be bridged.
In 2007, potential candidates were more evident and their campaigns were less confusing. However, today March 8 and 14 Forces are still pushing constitutional time limits just like they did in the last elections, when the president’s post remained vacant for six months.
Back then, March 14 equally named four candidates: MP Boutros Harb, MP Robert Ghanem, late MP Nassib Lahoud and former President Amin el-Gemayel, though the latter had a lesser chance as he had already been a president in the past.
March 14 said that choosing the final candidate would depend on the prevailing situation as the elections approach and would require a consensus between all four candidates. Afterwards, three of them would withdraw.
March 14 linked the political situation to the profile of its candidate. Some even suggested that there was a conflict between March 14 leaders. Head of the Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora supported Lahoud, while MP Saad Hariri supported Ghanem and head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea stood by Boutros Harb.
Political maneuvering that started even months before the end of President Emile Lahoud’s mandate linked between the candidacy of these four figures and a quorum in the parliament. Accordingly, Nassib Lahoud appeared to win only half of the MPs’ votes, Harb the required two-thirds, while Ghanem was considered a consensus candidate. But in the end, March 14 took a whole different approach that their leadership had objected to before; it opted to amend the constitution to elect the army commander as the new president.
In 2007, and even though no actual elections took place, the Future Movement abandoned its four proposed candidates, exactly 48 hours before President Emile Lahoud’s term came to an end.
In a meeting attended by Siniora, Hariri and Jumblatt, which excluded their two main Christian allies, Gemayel and Geagea, a plan was drawn up to elect the army commander as a consensus candidate. The surprising announcement revealed a trick that the four candidates have fallen into.
Today, the Future Movement is playing the same game. Like it did in 2007 with its proposed candidates, today it is saying that Samir Geagea is its candidate but so are the other individuals. However, the final decision is not up to the Future Movement alone but also to its allies, including new candidates: Gemayel, Harb, Ghanem and Geagea.
The Future Movement put Geagea, Harb and Ghanem on the same level but refrained from mentioning Gemayel a lot. It has so far showed an announced commitment to a March 14 candidate but it its saying that it all depends on “the prevailing situation,” as an excuse for not choosing the president at this time, maybe so it won’t choose any of them like it did in 2007.
Contrary to the situation in 2007, when Shia ministers withdrew from the Siniora government and Hezbollah and the Future Movement were in a fierce confrontation, today it seems that both parties within the coalition government have agreed to realistically approach the presidential elections and refrain from provocations that would result in clashes like those of May 7, 2008.
However, Geagea has a different point of view. For him, he is more qualified than all other Christian factions in March 14 to give Hariri and the Future Movement Christian support that it would need in the battle against Hezbollah and its Christian ally Michel Aoun. The goals of Geagea’s campaign and the methods he has been adopting don’t exactly fit with Hariri’s position who has remained silent about Geagea’s candidacy since he announced it on April 4, leaving his deputies to comment about it.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has implied that it supports the nomination of General Michel Aoun without publicly announcing that he is the party’s only candidate, but Speaker Nabih Berri has yet to send his approval. Hezbollah found itself in a similar position back in 2007 and had to go along with the election of Suleiman as an integral part of the Doha Accord. Back then, Hezbollah gave Aoun an unrealistic veto about the appointment of a new army commander, which was later traded to get Aoun a better representation in the government under the new president.
Just like the March 14 candidates, Aoun was described as a polarizing candidate and it was hard to elect him amid such a deep Shia – Sunni split. Nothing has changed about March 8, but Aoun himself has apparently changed. Unlike Geagea who is presenting himself as a one-sided candidate, Aoun seeks to appear like a consensus nominee supported by Sunnis and Shia alike, while- as in the years that preceded the Taef Accord - also chosen by Christians, or at least a majority of them.
Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri was asked why he hasn’t announced a clear position about naming Aoun as a candidate following Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s statement saying that his presidential candidate is already known. Berri said: “Did Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah name his candidate?” “No” he was told, “Then the one who hasn’t given a name is just like the one who hasn’t taken a position,” he answered.
Al Akhbar (April 11, 2014)
Hezbollah did not withdraw from Syria, yet it sits with its adversaries in the government. Hezbollah did not deliver its weapons, yet some of its adversaries have been disarmed and are being prosecuted through a security plan, in which it is participating. It did not announce a change in its strategy to confront Israel, but the West is knocking on its door again. Hezbollah is a difficult but necessary partner that must be consulted, according to a European diplomat.
What are the reasons behind these new stances taken by Europe? There are many, but four of them are the most significant:
A conviction, that grows day by day, is that Hezbollah is unbreakable, on the security, social, and political levels. The party has the proper capabilities, expertise, and weapons to serve as a counterbalance against Israel and its local and regional rivals.
The party went from being accused by NATO of terrorism to becoming a partner in counter-terrorism. The Lebanese army cannot succeed in its current and future plans without at least moral support from Hezbollah. It would not be possible to eliminate terrorist and takfiri groups in Syria without the party. Security actors are aware of the important intelligence role played by the party in uncovering bombs and networks aiming to terrorise Lebanon and ignite strife. The party and its allies form a heavy political force, making it impossible to take any major national political decision against the party or without it. The presidential elections are the best example.
Oil exploration in Lebanon will not happen if the oil companies were enemies of the party. Simply, Hezbollah could prohibit their involvement under the pretext of protecting Lebanese interests against Israel. It could also facilitate the operation if the interests converged, even with international adversaries. This situation will be reinforced if negotiations between Iran and the international community continue at their current pace.
Despite all the social calamities of the Israeli war prior to the victory of 2006 and its repercussions, the party's remained firm and steadfast, especially when the areas destroyed by Israel were rebuilt better than how they had been. The organic alliance between Hezbollah and the Amal Movement did not disintegrate, despite disagreements on some occasions.
The party's involvement in Syria did not weaken the party, although martyrs are continuing to fall. The general situation of the regional environment is still supportive of the Resistance and its leader.
There is no doubt that Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian war tarnished the party's image on the domestic and regional scene. The propaganda machine against this involvement was ready to incite confessional strife, but now the tide is turning. There are serious changes in Arab public opinion. Various delegations have visited Hezbollah on their way to Syria. They represent anti-Israeli national, Arabist, and Nasserite political factions. Even members of the Syrian opposition visit in response to the the party's role in promoting reconciliation and reducing the tragedy of the war.
In the past two days, statements from the US, France, Iran, and Arab countries called for the election of a consensus Lebanese president. Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi announced his rejection of a president from either March 8 or March 14.
Hezbollah is publicly supporting MP Michel Aoun for the presidency and Hassan Nasrallah is resolute on this issue. But those seeking a consensus president are hoping, more than ever before, to convince the party of changing its position. However, the doors are still closed to anyone who wishes to discuss a name other than Aoun.
The presidency is important. But what is more important is that Hezbollah finds itself today a major player in the presidential elections in Lebanon, even though it was expected to disappear by those who believed in the imminent fall of the Syrian regime.
The party is able to reach consensus with the Amal Movement, Aoun's parliamentary bloc, and even MP Walid Jumblatt since the interests of the mountain and his relationship with the party require him to do so.
Hezbollah is also capable of reaching an agreement between its allies and the Future Movement on a consensus candidate, if it could convince Aoun of the futility of his bid for presidency (even though this is impossible at the time being). If all channels of communication between political factions breakdown and a strong anti-Resistance presidential candidate is imposed, the party is able to disrupt the presidential elections.
More than ever before, Hezbollah has strengthened its role as a part of a major regional and global axis, which believes it carried out a strategic achievement in Syria. However, on the domestic Lebanese political scene, it acts from the rationale of being a mere party of a social fabric requiring consensus. Some believe this to be a weakness, but for those who are politcally aware they know that this is the beginning of a phase of regional and international transformations, which are more important than a ministerial declaration or a presidency.
The distance between Beirut, Tehran, and Crimea has become smaller.
Al Akhbar (April 11, 2014)
Ashraf Rifi’s pictures are still here. The sun - which feels as if it is shining on Tripoli for the first time in a long time - rises from behind his posters. The steel doors on Azmi Street roll up gracefully as though the shop owners’ arms rolling them have regained their youth. The water washing the pavements outside the stores suggests that the pavements have not been washed in months. Taxi drivers, the bustle of the elderly in the cafes, kaak sellers, students and street vendors with their colorful stalls all come out at the same time. One kilogram of cucumber (2.2 pounds) was 2 thousand Lebanese Lira (LL) ($1.32), now it is LL 750 ($.50) again.
Owners of sweet shops, for which the city is famous, say that they sold last week more than they have sold in the past three years. A real estate agent celebrates selling an apartment for the first time in two years. Shops that have not changed the clothes of their mannequins in the past two years finally changed them in preparation for the summer season. The alleyways once again see pedestrian traffic as people frequent stores again. The bullets that used to fly all over the city have suddenly disappeared and the panting of those escaping sniper fire has faded away.
The fighting began in Tripoli as a rebellion during the Future Movement’s anger over the appointment of Najib Mikati to lead a new government after Saad Hariri’s government collapsed. Then people started to publicly arm themselves under the eyes and ears of the Future Movement after the death of Sheikh Ahmed Abdel Wahed. Soon, various regional security agencies found in this overwhelming chaos an opportunity to prove their existence. Many political factions were preoccupied with turning the city into a field feeding the Homs countryside with everything that its fighters need.
The Future Movement thought that one day, Hezbollah will come exhausted to the negotiating table and give up the party’s weapons in return for army weapons that come from the hands of the Future Movement. Tripoli, donning an armed takfiri mask, was part of a project aimed at blocking the way of the Resistance in Saida and sending car bombs through Ersal.
Hariri’s attempt to sell the theory that Hezbollah took power by force was a preface to saying that what was taken by force can not be restored except by force. In light of the international indifference to Saad Hariri being deposed, Islamist figures like Jamal Jarrah, Khalid Zahraman, Badr Wannous, Ziad Allouki and his colleagues were the only lifeline available to Hariri’s supporters.
When Hezbollah became the target of terrorist attacks, the Future Movement publicly put forward a clear formula abandoning fundamentalists, but no one paid attention. When they realized that there was an international decision to announce the withdrawal of support for Islamist groups, which they had heavily backed, they dropped most of their demands. The offered to abandon their popular, political and financial backing for Islamist groups in return for handing over Rifaat Eid himself, emptying the heavy and light weapons caches in Jabal Mohsen and changing the leaders of the security agencies in the city, starting with the army intelligence official of North Lebanon, Amer al-Hassan.
But once again, it appears that the Future Movement exaggerated the price of the project that cost Tripoli 238 casualties, more than 2,000 injured and threatened the city’s entire economy. The strategy of Abra in return for Haret Saida did not work, neither did that of Tripoli in return for the Dahiyeh of course. Rifaat and Ali Eid did not hand themselves over and Amer al-Hassan did not leave the playing field entirely for Rifi. The arrest warrants did not touch Hezbollah’s closest ally in the city, Sheikh Bilal Shaaban.
The most that the Future Movement could do was spare the city’s major militia leaders - Amid Hamoud, Sheikh Salem al-Rafai and three other figures affiliated with Rifi - arrest warrants. It was clear that the purpose of the decision was to weaken and not crush the Islamists. From Bab Amr to al-Qusair, Abra, Yabroud, Qalaat al-Hosn and all of Qalamoun, there was always a safe way for the takfiris to get out. What is important is to isolate them from their supporting milieu. Ali and Rifaat Eid will find at least three countries that will embrace them and allow them to live in utter freedom. The other fugitives have no place to go.
The arrest warrants, in principle, targeted the city’s local militia leaders, but in reality these warrants went after the heart of the Islamists in Tripoli. At the forefront of the Islamists there is Hussam Sabbagh. He was not a local militia leader and he always criticized the clashes between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen if they were not aimed at disarming Jabal Mohsen completely.
Dai al-Islam al-Shahal tried to preempt the arrest warrants by visiting Saudi Arabia. Security sources say that he provided all the guarantees needed to the intelligence agencies that fight terrorism. That, however, did not prevent the army from stopping his car convoy and keeping two of the cars that were found to be stolen. The Army Intelligence is raiding the homes of local militia leaders and their weapons caches, while the Information Branch is raiding the places where Islamists are suspected of hiding.
Surely, the Future Movement does not have a problem with arresting Islamists. However, Rifi prefers that the local militia leaders escape given his previous close and personal relationship with them and his fear of their confessions in court. According to one insider, the actual goal of the security plan has been achieved: scattering the Islamists, isolating them from their supportive environment and ending the mutual bleeding between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh. After some of the wanted men demonstrated amongst their allies in Bab al-Tabbaneh a few days ago, the security agencies intensified their raids in their neighborhoods to send a clear message that it is one thing to turn a blind eye to their escaping but they will not allow the city to revert to chaos again.
At the local level, there are two major political alliances in the city and each one has its own point of view of the current events. In the milieu that really supports the fighters, the Islamists and those sympathetic to them, there is an overwhelming feeling that the Future Movement betrayed them. It brings to mind one of the discourse of Fatah al-Islam after the Information Branch confronted them, and the subsequent assassination of Future MP Walid Eido. This is countered by a view timid in its justification of the “necessities of the Future,” pointing out that the party sent messages prior to the arrest warrants warning against them and delayed launching the security plan.
Those who suffered from the extortion imposed by the fighters, who destroyed Tripoli’s economy and its social and educational life, are divided on who to hold accountable. There are those who hold the Future Movement responsible for its failure to stop the fighting in the past, especially now that it has proven its ability to do so in record time. And those who think the link between stability and the government’s security plan orchestrated by the Future Movement believe that Mikati’s government did not want stability in Tripoli.
The tragedy of the Future Movement goes beyond people’s comments. It lies in their belief that their men’s military control over their areas will definitely destroy their opponents. But the influence of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati did not evaporate, Faisal Karami did not immigrate, and Mohammed al-Safadi did not retire. They are still there, at least where they were three years ago. The Future Movement on the other hand needs to unify its officials, MPs, and candidates to reconcile with the community that supports the fighters.
Three years ago, Tripoli’s security officials, the Mufti of Tripoli Malek al-Shaar, the head of the municipality Nader Ghazal and all the directors of the public administration departments were with the Future Movement. The party telling the public what it wanted to hear. Rifi at the time was an employee in a machine that worked in the service of MPs Samir al-Jisr and Mohammed Kabbara. Safadi was one of the pillars of March 14 and Karami was an obscure political heir. Today, the security is not in the hands of the Future Movement, half of the directors of the public administration departments are not with Hariri, the head of the municipality is reeling under the weight of his own failure, the Mufti gives priority to himself over everybody else and no one knows if Rifi will join the Future Movement or if the Future Movement will join Rifi.
The Independent (British daily, April 10, 2014)
Had yet another Middle East 'strongman' turned into a tin-pot (and dangerous) dictator? Or had a conservative, level headed democrat suddenly shown his true colours? When the Arab awakening began to destroy the local dictators in 2011, Erdogan was the first Muslim leader to grasp its significance and praise its revolutionaries. Who would have believed that the old Ottoman flag - or the current Turkish version of it - would be flown once more with pride over Arab homes in Gaza and Egypt? Even when the latter's elected president Mohamed Morsi was chucked out by that wonderful democracy-loving Egyptian deputy prime minister, defence minister and chief of staff - Erdogan could scarcely bring himself to pronounce General al-Sissi's name - the Turkish prime minister, like Qatar, insisted that Morsi was still the leader of Egypt.
Next on his target list, I suspect, will be the Daily Zaman, one of the most feisty and provocative of Turkish newspapers which will soon - its journalists fear - feel Erdogan's lash. The paper this week trashed the prime minister's attacks on his Islamist antagonist Fetullah Gulen, currently residing in Pennsylvania, as having no basis in law, approvingly quoting a retired supreme appeal court prosecutor as saying that Erdogan was trying to influence the justice system. The paper, regarded as close to Gulen ideologically, has carried articles asking if corruption and bribery contributed to Erdorgan's 45 per cent Justice and Development Party election victory. And in an unprecedented reporyeaht, it also wrote that Armenians driven on 16 March from their homes in the Syrian town of Kassab by Islamist rebels supported by Turkey, were drawing parallels with the 1915 mass killings - which the paper was not quite brave enough to call a genocide.
Turkey denies all this, just as it denies the genocide. Both statements are nonsense. The Jabhat al-Nusra men who stormed into Kassab did not come from Iraq or Jordan. The town, in which thousands of Armenians lived in the very last part of what had been Ottoman Armenia, is only a few miles from the Syrian border where the Turks have been furnishing their Syrian rebel allies - both Islamist and secular - with arms. The Armenian expulsions have provided ample opportunity once again for the Assad regime to demonstrate the cruelty of its opponents.
But there is growing evidence that Turkey's - or rather Erdogan's - involvement with the revolt against Assad is critical to his relationship with Obama. The Syrian government were, of course, the first to claim that the sarin gas which killed hundreds of Syrian civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta last August had come from Turkey - and had then been used by Islamist groups in the hope that the West would blame Assad and turn its strategic weapons against the regime. WhenThe Independent enquired about the attacks in Syria, Russian sources stated that the chemicals had not been sold to Assad. They had come from stocks sold by Moscow to the former Gaddafi regime in Libya.
Syrian army officers and one figure close to Assad complained to me, too, that when the US and its allies insisted the regime was to blame for the gas attack - which of course they did at once - no heed was paid to public evidence that sarin gas was being transported through part of Turkey for rebels in the north of Syria. They constantly referred to a 130-page Turkish indictment of ten al-Nusra men accused of transporting through southern Turkey what local police identified as chemical precursors for sarin. They were correct. The ringleader of the group, Haytham Qassab, appeared in court where a Turkish prosecutor demanded 25 years imprisonment, but he was later released "pending trial". They have all since disappeared, while Turkey's ambassador to Moscow was later to dismiss the arrests, claiming - with almost Saddam-like conviction - that the 'sarin' was "anti-freeze". That most controversial of American investigative journalists, Seymour Hersh - I confess he is an old mate of mine even though he often uses my most hated phrase, anonymous "officials" and "experts", as his sources - has now published his own disturbing and compelling research on the use of chemicals in Syria and points the finger at Turkey for allowing rebels to use sarin in an earlier chemical attack against the Syrian village of Khan al-Assal.
Far more explosively, he claims that the British Porton Down defence laboratory examined the sarin used in Ghouta (courtesy of a Russian military intelligence operative) - this was the attack that propelled Obama and his administration into paroxysms of rage against Assad - and that British intelligence confirmed to the Americans that the gas did not come from stocks in the Syrian army's chemical weapons' arsenal.
This, according to Hersh - who naturally has his own detractors - was enough to persuade the US Joint Chiefs of Staff to tell President Obama that he must not use the Ghouta attack as an excuse for a military strike against Syria. Obama finally agreed - although he used a sudden (and still unexplained) decision to seek congressional approval for a bombardment of Syria - permission he knew he was unlikely to get. The Turks - and here comes the Erdogan connection - were outraged that the Americans had not fallen into their trap of destroying Assad.
Erdogan, according to Hersh, had allowed the Americans to ship a 'rat line' of weapons from Libya via Turkey to the Syrian rebels - hence the connection to earlier shipments of sarin to Libya from the then Soviet Union. Hersh says that for months after the Ghouta attack occurred, this 'rat line' continued. So did permission to the Turks to trade in gold with Iran - a profitable enterprise which created a slush fund of billions of dollars, the very same corruption money which later appeared to fall into the hands of senior figures around Erdogan.
One Turkish journalist insisted to me in Istanbul this week that Erdogan's 'madness' - although already evident - reached ferocity pitch after the Ghouta sarin attack in Damascus which was supposed to drive Obama to attack the Assad regime, but which ultimately failed to do so. If the US bombardment had taken place, Turkey would have been the 'kingmaker' in any new Syria, and that ancient nation might even have become part of a putative, enlarged, Ottoman-style empire. This is taking things too far. Erdogan is, like Yossarian in Catch 22, a very odd person. There are signs of political megalomania.
But Hersh does detail a dinner on 16 May last year between Erdogan and Obama - and a senior Turkish intelligence official called Hakan Fidan - at which Obama angrily pointed at Fidan and said: "We know what you're doing with the (rebel) radicals in Syria." The dinner took place. No-one, of course, will reveal on the record what was said.
Turkey's meddling in the Syria war will continue, whatever the Americans do. Obama believes the rebels are both untrustworthy, dangerous and are being beaten. But one of the tapes which so enraged Erdogan when it appeared on YouTube - hence the ban - showed an apparent conversation between Turkish officials seeking an excuse to stage their own attack on Syria. "Manipulated," screamed the Turkish government. No doubt.
Haaretz (Israeli daily, April 7, 2014)
The pro-Palestinian "hacktivist' collective broke into the Education Ministry's website, as well as the websites of the Israel Postal Service and the Central Bureau of Statistics, Ynet reported.
Anonymous struck first in November 2012 after Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense assault on Gaza, and again on April 7, 2013. It issued a warning message on Sunday that stated:
"This is a message from Anonymous Operation Israel, Anonymous Special Operations, Pillars of Anonymous, the Anonymous Collective of the cyber warriors from across the planet: on April 7, 2014, we call upon our brothers and sisters to hack, deface, hijack, database leak, admin takeover, and DNS terminate the Israeli Cyberspace by any means necessary," read a robotic-sounding narrator on a YouTube video the group posted on Sunday.
The cyberattack a year ago took down scores of Israeli websites, as Anonymous claimed to have hacked into the websites of the Prime Minister's Office, Defense Ministry, Shin Bet and other state agencies. The group also published a long list of Israeli email addresses and credit card numbers reportedly taken from the site of a business that sells equipment to the Israel Defense Forces.
However, Israeli authorities said at the time that Anonymous had not caused significant damage to state or civilian Internet operations.
The YouTube video said the group was acting in retaliation for Israel's "crimes against humanity" visited on the Palestinians.
"You can NOT hide a demolished home. You can NOT hide the barrage of bullets you use to kill and maim Palestinians. You can NOT hide apartheid roads. The further assault on the people of Gaza, who have been flooded by your sewage, terrorized by your military apparatus, and left to die at the border while waiting for medical attention will NOT be tolerated anymore. Your vicious campaigns to attack Palestinian solidarity groups worldwide through censorship and legal wrangling has also NOT gone unnoticed."