Monday, February 28, 2011

Military option looked at ...yet, 'highly unlikely'

"(Reuters) - The United States began moving warships and aircraft closer to Libya on Monday and froze $30 billion in Libyan assets, ramping up pressure on leader Muammar Gaddafi after calling on him to step down..."There is not any pending military action involving U.S. naval vessels," she said after the Pentagon announced it was moving warships and air force units closer to Libya.... The Obama administration has said military action is one option it is looking at, although many analysts say the United States is highly unlikely to launch a ground invasion or air strikes because of the volatile situation on the ground..."

Hariri: "Hezbollah is the enemy!"

"(AP) Lebanon's outgoing prime minister says Hezbollah's weapons are a threat to the country's security.On Monday, Saad Hariri said the weapons could be used against Lebanese as they were in May 2008 ... Hezbollah has gained significant political power this year. The group and its allies toppled Hariri's government last month by walking out of the government. They then gained enough support in parliament to name their own candidate as prime minister-designate."

Little Elias Murr scribbles a newspaper!

Morale boosted, Qaddafi orders Tripoli killings ...

I guess the Saudi supporting fatwa did boost Qaddafi's morale!
"...(Reuters) Several people were killed and others wounded on Monday after forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi opened fire to disperse a protest in the capital, the online edition of Quryna newspaper reported.The protest in the Tajoura neighborhood gathered close to 10,000 protesters, ..."When the protesters reached the Souk Juma, they were joined by armed men from the Gadhafi battalion who were dressed as civilians and opened fire on the unarmed youths ... Many among the youths were wounded and killed," it said, referring to a market in Tripoli..."

Saudi prince supports Qaddafi & issues a fatwa against the 'rebels'..

The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب: Saudi Fatwa in favor of Qadhdhafi: "Saudi Prince, Julwi Bin Sa`ud, calls a Libyan TV show to express support for Qadhdhafi and to issue a fatwawawa against rebelling against hiM..."

"it’s the interest of Egypt that the peace becomes warmer, not colder."

"... Opening the third day at the annual J Street conference in Washington, Dennis Ross dedicated the first part of his speech to the revolutions in the Arab countries. “...  Egypt has been a pillar for Israel’s pursue of peace. The last thing we want to see is extremists benefit from the situation... it’s the interest of Egypt that the peace becomes warmer, not colder.Changing the topic to Israel, Ross stressed that one of the Obama administration's principles was “an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.” ............ He also referred to Iran, saying that "We will keep an eye on Iran and the pressure on..... "

Of Revolutions, Regime Change & State Collapse in the Arab World

D & M Ottaway at the WWCS:  "... Pro-democracy protesters in Tunisia and Egypt have been quick to use the word “revolution” to describe their astounding achievement in forcing Presidents Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power after decades of rule. Tunisia’s “Jasmine revolution” and Egypt’s “January 25 Revolution” have certainly injected the long-silenced voice of the people into the autocratic politics of the region. But they have not brought to the fore a new ruling class, system of governance, or the profound social and economic changes associated with the classical meaning of revolution. And it remains to be seen whether they will succeed in doing so...... In both countries, the same well-developed bureaucratic states and powerful military and security forces that buttressed authoritarian rule remain intact and seemingly determined to curb the pro-democracy momentum generated so far. A change in ruling elites and system of governance is still a distant goal.
The fall of Qaddafi will be a different matter. By necessity it will bring about both a new leadership and entirely different system of government. His downfall will create a vacuum because the political house he built, inspired by his rambling Green Book of philosophical socialist musings, is now being blown away with him. The mercurial Revolutionary Leader really does believe “l’etat, c’est moi,” or perhaps more precisely, l’etat, c’est ma famille.”. ..."

Saudi Arabia & the crisis in Bahrain

The momentous events in Bahrain are placing the Saudi government in a difficult position.  On the one hand, the Saudis fear the potential “fall” of Bahrain to Iran, on the other, they know that a muscled intervention and interference could actually create it.  Indeed, as the United States knows from experience, intervention and occupation do not win hearts and minds.  The most salient fact of Saudi policy at this time is that there is none.  The country suffers from a major power vacuum.  Any decision to invade and occupy Bahrain to put down a “Shi’ite” rebellion would have to come from the King himself after he has obtained consensus from the rest of the leadership of the country.   The King is 87 years old...  and has not had the time and the energy to build a national consensus on a response to Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain or Libya.   Prince Sultan, is often reported to be unable to build any kind of response or policy....
From five thousand miles away, the solution to the Bahrain crisis appears simple.  The al-Khalifas should accept to become a British-style monarch....  Unfortunately, this rosy scenario is under severe attack by an important side of the al-Khalifas who do not want to give up their right to control and plunder the island.  They know that their time is coming to a close and have their back to the wall.  They seek to create havoc and polarize the situation—i.e., make the uprising into a Sunni-Shi’i issue.  Their game is to ensure that the United States and the Saudis maintain their support of the corrupt regime as a bastion against “evil Iran”.  Undoubtedly the orders to shoot at the demonstrators came from this camp, to provoke and emphasize the sectarian split in the Island.  It is this  which has also given nationality to the foreign mercenaries in order to change the sectarian balance of the island, arrested and tortured Shi’a leaders, manipulated elections, seized the best pieces of land, demanded percentages in successful businesses, etc.  This faction of the family is headed by the Prime Minister....  and his group have substantial support among many Salafi Sunni groups, which view him as perhaps corrupt but strong enough to defend the true faith against the Shi’a. (reminds you of some place in the Levant?) The more liberal side of the family, headed by the Crown Prince, has shown that it is more willing to accommodate a new system of competition for power....  The King may be the arbiter between the feudal and the modern factions within his family, but over the years he has increasingly appeared to be a very weak figure unable to stand up to the faction headed by his uncle, the Prime Minister, which seeks to preserve its feudal control over society....
If we try to put the Saudi equation and the Bahraini one together, it would appear that a Saudi direct intervention is not likely at this time.... Physical Saudi presence in Bahrain would open the Kingdom to major criticism from all its neighbors and from most Muslim countries..... On the other side of the Saudi causeway, even the most feudal among the al-Khalifas would be wary of a physical Saudi intervention,...  From their point of view, it would be better to have the al-Saud in charge rather than the Iranians, but not much better.   Perhaps, some of the more feudal al-Khalifas do not see the danger of a foreign camel putting its nose into their tent.  After all, they did provide nationality to many Baluchi, Yemeni and Syrian military types, thereby creating a new class of Mamluks.  However, one can assume that the ultimate interest of the al-Khalifas is to remain in charge, and not sell out their inheritance to the al-Saud for a plate of lentil–like security...."

Rebels in Libya's not ready to take Tripoli ...yet

"... Military commanders in liberated eastern Libya said that while they're eager to wrest control of the capital, Tripoli, from dictator Moammar Gadhafi, they believe his personal forces are better equipped and trained than their newly cobbled together Libyan People's ArmyAll they can promise the residents who are asking them to charge forward toward the capital, 600 miles to the west, is that they'll move "soon, if we get orders." In the meantime, military leaders are sorting through looted weapons, putting new ranks on commanders who days ago served under Gadhafi, and seeking a role for the youth who took to the streets and spurred the liberation of this city, Libya's second largest...."

Mubarak family barred from travel

"... Egypt's public prosecutor has issued a travel ban on Hosni Mubarak and his family. The order also freezes their money and assets, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said. ...The prosecutor's office said the travel ban and asset freeze was issued while complaints - which were not specified - against the Mubarak family were being investigated, Reuters news agency reported. The order applies to Mr Mubarak, his wife Suzanne, their two sons Ala and Gamal and their wives..."

Haaretz: Kerry & Assad working to renew peace talks with Israel

"... Kerry has met with Assad in Damascus five times over the last two years. The issue of restarting Israeli-Syrian talks was raised at all of these meetings, and a few months ago, the two began exploring practical ideas for doing so..., Kerry and Assad began drafting an unofficial position paper that would define the principles of negotiations with Israel and the conditions for restarting them.
Kerry kept Obama and his advisors informed of these discussions, in which he tried to devise wording that would be sufficiently ambiguous to satisfy both sides' political needs.
The first item dealt with a key Syrian demand - that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights. The wording of this clause was similar to that used during the Israeli-Syrian talks conducted by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: It stated that the basis for the talks would be the principle of land for peace, in accordance with the 1991 Madrid Conference and UN resolutions on the subject.
Kerry also tried to draft a clause to satisfy one of Israel's key demands - that any peace agreement lead to Syria severing its ties with Iran and Hezbollah.
A European diplomat briefed on the Kerry-Assad talks said that Assad had expressed willingness to discuss "Syria's strategic positioning and regional security issues" in negotiations with Israel. That formulation is vague...."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hezbollah ... post-Tahrir square...

"... Understanding Hezbollah ..... it doesn't want responsibility for decisionmaking commensurate with its power, as I discovered in conversations with several Hezbollah officials.
I met last week with Ammar al-Mousawi, the top Hezbollah "diplomat," and several of his subordinates in the organization's international department. This was an "unofficial" visit, so I can't directly quote Mousawi or his colleagues. But the discussion illustrated the thinking of the toughest player in the world's toughest political league.
Hezbollah appears to realize that the revolt sweeping the Middle East has subtly changed the game for them. Officials see the Arab world moving into a more democratic and pluralistic politics with the fall of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and perhaps Libya. In this new environment, Hezbollah doesn't want to be seen as a sectarian militia or a wrecker, but as a democratic partner (albeit a potent one that has thousands of missiles pointed at Israel). Because Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are Sunni countries, recent events can be seen in part as a Sunni political resurgence, which Hezbollah must respect.
The first order of business for Lebanon's Hezbollah-dominated government will be the delicate matter of the United Nations inquiry into the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri..... Hezbollah seems assured that the practical effect of any indictments will be blunted and that the matter will be left unresolved in characteristic Lebanese fashion...
So eager is Hezbollah to avoid responsibility for unpopular decisions that officials object to descriptions of the new government as Hezbollah-controlled...
Does Hezbollah see any doors to the West opening in the post-Tahrir Square environment? Is a Middle East "restart" possible that might allow gradual engagement with, say, the United States? I didn't hear much enthusiasm for that idea ...
Hezbollah is a ruthless political player, but it's a mistake to underestimate the finesse of its tactics. Officials insist that no matter what the West may think, the Shiite militia is logical (meaning self-interested) in pursuing its policies. And the ever-logical Hezbollah seems to realize that even the self-styled "resistance" must make adjustments in this period of Arab upheaval."

Netanyahu, Abbas, Blair ... trampling Palestinian dreams

"...Tony Blair, the Quartet's Mideast envoy, arrived at the region on Sunday, and met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. On Monday, he is scheduled to meet Netanyahu in an attempt to sway the premier to send Molcho to the meeting..."

Miqati keeping things "close-hold" & hopefully he is not in a rush...

Syria retains the right to interfere, but the time being, will stick to 'non-inteference', mainly with the super allies headed by Hezbollah & Aoun.
PM Miqati has no obvious differences with HzB, and if any exist with Michel Aoun, regarding the FPM's share in the new government, they remain in the PM's "very private mail" box. On the other hand the harping of Michel Suleiman, who refuses to be totally irrelevant, could be an obstacle, surmountable, with guessed it, Syria breathing heavily down somebody's neck.
PM Miqati has a serious detractor at the State Department while Jeffrey Feltman remains a Bush leftover & rogue.

Obama condemns Iran

The White House condemned an Iranian government "intimidation campaign" against political and human rights activists, students and journalists in a statement Sunday, as the United States sought to push back against Iran feeling emboldened by the unrest threatening the hold of several Arab regime rivals.
"The United States strongly condemns the Iranian government's ............" the statement came as European diplomats said they were preparing to discuss issuing sanctions ..."

Israel sees "turmoil & unrest" in 500 secular Lebanese' march ...

"The unrest sweeping the region reached new corners of the Arab world on Sunday, as hundreds rallied in Lebanon against the sectarian structure of their government and Omanis hit the streets to challenge their sultan’s four-decade rule..... About 500 Lebanese waving flags and chanting for national unity gathered in Beirut to protest against the sectarian makeup of the country’s government..."

"Domination without Occupation ..."

".... Moreover, the most sensational witness testimonies recorded in the first IIIC report were largely discredited by the time of the STL's establishment in mid-2007.... This unimpressive scorecard did little to exonerate Damascus, but it steadily reduced expectations that the hammer was going to fall anytime soon...  Although the IIIC later made progress in linking Hizballah to the killing (which implies Syrian involvement), by that time the battle for Lebanon was effectively over.
Asad's most formidable defense against pressure from Washington, Paris, and Riyadh was his ability to paralyze the Siniora government.  Syria controlled large minority blocs in parliament and the cabinet; held the offices of president and parliament speaker; dominated both the military and the General Security Directorate, and commanded the preponderance of non-state paramilitary forces in Lebanon. This weapon was particularly decisive because Syria's three international adversaries had markedly different preferences regarding the breakdown of political cohabitation between Hariri and Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Washington favored a breakdown over any political accommodation that limited the parliamentary majority's ability to govern unilaterally, a stance that found strong support from Druze and Christian members of March 14....   In order to ensure that no holds were barred, Washington and some members of the Saudi royal family encouraged the parliamentary majority to antagonize Hizballah, escalate its anti-Syrian rhetoric, and forge ties with the Syrian opposition.  .....The Bush administration began tacitly (and, according to some reports, actively) supporting Saudi funding of militant anti-Shi’i (and anti-Alawi) Salafi groups in Lebanon as a means of making the breakdown of law and order in Lebanon more dicey for Asad. .... Rather than spooking the Syrians, turmoil in Lebanon mainly served to undermine Saudi and French resolve... Although the Bush administration largely abstained, it did little to discourage either the Saudis or the French from undertaking direct talks and frequently communicated its preferences through their diplomats.... Riyadh hoped to secure a "normalization" of Lebanese-Syrian relations that would allow Lebanon to sit out the storm as Syria's (and Iran's) confrontation with the West reached its climax.  For this, it was reportedly willing to accept a settlement that recognized Hizballah's right to bear arms and even floated a proposal requiring the parliamentary majority to desist from anti-Syrian media activity .... The Bush administration, however, was determined to thwart any agreement that limited the majority's ability to govern unilaterally without major reciprocal Syrian concessions.... 
Although Riyadh officially rebuked "voices in Lebanon" advocating violence against the Asad regime, many Saudis privately encouraged such strident rhetoric as a foil to impress upon him the dangers of being unreasonable.  However, this may only have reinforced his reluctance to accept a Saudi-brokered "normalization" in Lebanon ....  The international entente belatedly rallied against Asad in the wake of Hizballah's deadly July 2006 raid against Israel, but this burst of resolve was premised on erroneous expectations that Israel's retaliatory campaign against Lebanon would critically weaken Hizballah politically. It did not....
Obstructing an undesirable settlement proved easy enough for the Bush administration.  Washington vastly increased economic and security aid to the Siniora government (particularly institutions firmly under the March 14 control, like the Internal Security Forces)....  authorized covert CIA assistance to March 14 politicians, feted them with warm official receptions in Washington, and turned a blind eye to their embryonic militia forces.  ....  (but) American leverage was further undermined by the May 2007 departure of Chirac,...  French talks with Damascus went nowhere.  Facing no credible threat of punishment for non-cooperation and quite content to let the Lebanese crisis drag on, Asad had little reason to intervene ...  
The failure of engagement efforts left the field open for the Bush administration (and the Saudis) to advance a bold plan to break the stalemate before it left office.  In May 2008, the Siniora government proclaimed Hizballah's private fiber optic telecommunications network to be illegal.... Nasrallah responded by abandoning altogether his militia's longstanding "purity of arms" in domestic conflicts (much to the surprise of its most vocal Lebanese detractors, ironically) and quickly routing rival Sunni and Druze militiamen with one overwhelming eruption of force....  Hizballah's power play more than compensated by dispelling the illusion of competence on the part of Saudi-financed "security companies" and putting to rest the widespread assumption that Syria and/or Iran were too fearful of sectarian conflict in Lebanon to risk such a major armed confrontation.... Washington's failure to mitigate the consequences of a confrontation it helped instigate dealt an enormous blow to American influence in Lebanon and re-opened the floodgates of international and regional diplomatic engagement with Syria.... The American-led campaign to force Syria's hand in Lebanon was effectively over by the time the Bush administration left office. ...   Saudi and American reconciliation with Asad removed the last major external incentives for any Lebanese group to continue antagonizing Asad. .....(his) success in nevertheless expanding Syria’s dominion over Lebanon amid the final countdown to the indictments--without making major concessions or incurring diplomatic penalties--is a striking manifestation of his adversaries' conflicting interests and lack of resolve...... The return to office of Najib Miqati, the last prime minister of Syrian-occupied Lebanon, may not have been Asad's preferred outcome, but it left him squarely in command of the political process....  Although many of Hariri's supporters at home and abroad are portraying his defiance as a second wind of the Cedar Revolution, it is significant that his ire has been directed squarely at Hizballah, not Damascus. Last month, his aides interrupted a member of his parliamentary bloc who began criticizing Asad in a live speech. Thus far, Hariri is not opposing Syria, but trying to win its favor vis-à-vis his political adversaries (indeed his threat to stay in the opposition may yet prove to be a ploy to extract better terms for joining the government).  While it is not clear how the current impasse will be resolved, it is quite evident that Syria is once again the supreme arbiter in Lebanon." (Read the Full story here) 

French Foreign Minister Resigns... finalement!

"... The French leader went on prime-time TV Sunday to announce the changes to the top rungs of the government ...  Sarkozy made no reference to Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who hours earlier sent him a resignation letter, but said simply that Defense Minister Alain Juppe will now become France's top diplomat... the turmoil over her holiday in Tunisia as its longtime regime was crumbling showed her to be politically tone-deaf... "

"His election would "reassure the Saudis" but a great disapointment to Egyptians who want serious change!"

...The question to ask is, what exactly does Amr Moussa represent? Whose party is he a candidate for? I would suggest the following: 
  • A candidate that serves the interests of the Armed Forces, in that Moussa is a career apparatchik with no particular track record as a democrat or someone willing to stand up to the military.
  • A candidate that would generally satisfy much of the Egyptian elite, in that — again because he's an apparatchik — he's accustomed to the way power is brokered among this elite...
  • A candidate that will worry some in Israel, but will generally preserve the status quo in the Camp David framework and work well with whoever is in power in Tel Aviv...
  • A candidate who will make other Arab regimes, most notably Saudi Arabia, much reassured about post-January 25 Egypt, its role in the region, and the challenge it poses to the al-Sauds.  Amr Moussa represents the past. He's appealing because he's a known quantity at an uncertain time. And he's argument number one for why you need alternatives to get their names and faces known, because right now, the only person known to most Egyptians and seen as presidentiable is Moussa. And that's a scary fact."

Americans: End aid to Arabs, but keep backing Israel

"...However, many Americans feel that the wave of revolutions sweeping the region is another indication that there is no guarantee that US aid given today to a trusted leader won’t be misused tomorrow by his hostile successor
Only 20 percent of those polled said that aid to the Arab countries should continueAt the same time, 51 percent of Americans want US economic and military aid to Israel to continue. Thirty-two percent said the US should no longer aid Israel financially. ..."

"..Those Saudi "shebabs" who were dancing & cheering for the King's return, they didn't really care about the King ...they are are bored!"

 'Your fingers lickin'-$35-billion-good'...for now'
"... As in Egypt, there are real issues indeed for the Saudi mass: the country shows huge discrepancies in wealth in this vastly rich Oil Giant. Although Saudi Arabia has risen in stature to become one of the G-20 countries, there is much poverty in this country. Just like Egypt with a mass of unemployed youth, Saudi has a huge population of youngsters: nearly half (47%) of the Saudi population is 18 years old or younger. Although the national unemployment figure stands at 10%, the jobless rate is nearly four times higher (39%) for Saudis aged 24-24 years. And if the Egyptians and Bahrainis complained about the absence of liberty in their own country, these countries seem clearly liberal in comparison to Saudi in terms of freedom of the press.Despite these possible sources for unrest,....  Saudi seems a bastion of stability in the midst of the Middle Eastern turmoil. But one can never be sure about these a Saudi friend explained his own fears: "those young teenagers [the "shebabs", the same Arabic name for the Somali pirates] who were dancing in the streets waving Saudi flags and cheering for the King's return, they didn't really care about the King, These kids are bored. This isn't Cairo or Bahrain, there is nothing to do here. They have no movies, they have no means of having fun, they don't work, how can they pass their time? So they were dancing in the streets, not for the King but instead to have fun. Blowing off steam. Who knows what they will do next.

Libyan revolutionaries ask for 'non-interference' as US 'reaches out to revolution' ...

"We are reaching out to many different Libyans in the east as the revolution moves westward there as well," Clinton said, referring to opposition groups. "... It is too soon to see how this is going to play out."
A spokesman for the new National Libyan Council, which formed in the eastern city of Benghazi after it was taken by anti-Gaddafi forces, said his group did not want foreign intervention..."

Egypt's military apologizes for "unintentionally" beating protesters ...

"... (AFP) – Egypt's ruling military council apologised on Saturday after military police beat protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, ... The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said that "what happened late Friday was the result of unintentional confrontations between the military police and the youth of the revolution."..."

Lebanon's sectarian system 'alive & well'...

500 young Lebanese demonstrated against the 'system', while 4 million worried about the Mufti, Jumblatt, Hariri, Berri & Miqati ... A Facebook page showed over 2,600 people due to protest but only a few showed up and demonstrated...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Move over King Tut!

Egypt's hottest new tourist attraction: Tahrir Sq.
"... “Enjoy Tahrir,” a young man yelled to me before taking a photo of his girlfriend, her white headscarf blowing in the wind. I smiled, then joined the parade of Egyptians heading to the square.
Many tourist sites in and around Cairo are open again — from the pyramids to the Khan el-Khalili souk to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum. But these days the most sought-after photo is not one of Tutankhamen’s mask but of Tahrir (Liberation) Square, a mammoth traffic circle the world had stared at for three weeks on television. Named after Egypt’s 1919 liberation from the British, Tahrir Square is a top destination for many of the Western tourists who have begun trickling into Egypt in recent days...."

".. Assad must decide soon....."

The rise and fall of a protest demonstration here recently shows that Syrians share the yearning for dignity that's sweeping the Arab world - and also illustrates why President Bashar al-Assad so far hasn't been threatened by this tide of anger.
Here's what happened on Feb. 19, according to accounts provided separately by a Western diplomat and a Syrian official: A policeman insulted a driver in downtown Damascus; when the man protested, he was beaten by the cop, who was joined by two others. It was the sort of harsh encounter with authority that Arabs swallowed, bitterly but passively, until the surge of anger in Tunisia and Egypt.
A crowd of hundreds quickly gathered in the Damascus street and began chanting...It was a volatile situation. Then something interesting happened, which shows how closely the authorities are monitoring events: The minister of the interior arrived on the scene about 30 minutes after the protest started, apologized to the beaten man and took him away in his car. The police officers were reprimanded. The crowd eventually dispersed, and the government did another sensible thing: Rather than try to suppress information about the event (which would have been futile, in any event), the government allowed the videos to circulate widely on the Internet. People shared their anger about police abuses, but the rage doesn't seem to have focused on the leader, as has been the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Syria is a paradox in this Arab season of revolt. It has an authoritarian regime dominated by a corrupt Baath Party - a relic of the age of dictators that is being swept away in so many other countries. But President Assad, relatively young at 45 and wrapped in the popular banner of resistance to Israel and America, hasn't yet been affected.
Is Syria next? That's impossible to predict at a time when, as an Arab proverb puts it, "the artery of shame has ruptured." The answer depends on whether the Assad regime is able to make reforms - and move as quickly as it did a week ago in responding to that street demonstration.
The French, who probably know this country better than most outsiders, view Assad as relatively secure. (but as we have seen in Tunisia's case, France's cleab bill of health is not very credible, but that does not mean that Bashar Assad's rule is insecure) "In the short to medium term, the probability of revolution is extremely low in Syria compared to other countries," is how one official describes the French perspective.
An intriguing debate is underway among Assad's advisers about whether he should allow more democracy and openness - something he has long claimed he wants...Assad must decide soon whether to allow real parties - other than the Baath and its various fronts - to compete in elections this year. Syria has both municipal and parliamentary elections scheduled for this year, and the question is whether there will be real, open balloting for candidates and parties, or a Soviet-style, rubber-stamp version, as in the past. Another opportunity for a shake-up is a congress of the Baath Party also planned for this year....
Corruption is also a volatile issue here. The regime is vulnerable because Assad's cousin, Rami Makhluf, is the dominant shareholder of the lucrative cellphone franchise known as Syriatel. Assad is considering whether Makhluf should reduce his interest to make way for foreign investment, according to two knowledgeable people. But that reform move could trigger a rift within his family.
The debate among Assad's inner circle mirrors the wider political battles that are rocking the Arab world. For now, the streets of Damascus are mostly full of shoppers, not protesters. But if the experience of other countries over the past two months shows anything, it's that delaying reform too long in a one-party state like Syria is potentially a fatal mistake.

Russian missiles to Syria "in the implementation stage" ...

"... (AFP) Russia announced Saturday that it intended to fulfil its contract to supply Syria with cruise missiles despite the turmoil shaking the Arab world and Israel's furious condemnation of the deal.
"The contract is in the implementation stage," news agencies quoted Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying. ..."

Wikileaks: Senior French Official: "March14 are Stupid, ..I am sorry, there's no other word for them..."

1. (S) Summary: A March 14th delegation led by Lebanese MP Marwan Hamadeh that met October 2 with senior French officials may have done more harm than good, at least so far as relations with the Elysee are concerned. "What world are they living in?" Boris Boillon, Counselor for Middle East Affairs at the Elysee, wondered as he listened to Hamadeh express March 14th's concerns to French NSA-equivalent Jean-David Levitte. Boillon's negative impression was sealed when Hamadeh alluded to the possibility that the French and Syrian armies were collaborating on a plan for the Syrian re-occupation of Lebanon...
2. (S) PolMin/C and NEA Watcher met with Boris Boillon, President Sarkozy's advisor for the Middle East and North Africa, October 7 at the Elysee. Boillon provided a readout on the October 2 meeting between MP Marwan Hamadeh, the head of a March 14 delegation that included Suleiman (David Hale must mean SAMIR!) Franjieh, Dory Chamoun and Fares Sayed, and Jean-David Levitte, President Sarkozy's NSA-equivalent. Recapping developments over the last few months in Franco-Syrian relations, Boillon said he and Levitte reassured Hamadeh that "everything we have done is to ensure the security and independence of Lebanon"...... While Hamadeh reportedly left reassured, the visit seems to have further soured the Elysee on the March 14th movement. Boillon, who met separately with the entire group, expressed incredulity at the "stupid ideas" ,"I'm sorry, but there's no other word for them", which had seized the delegation's imagination. Hamadeh apparently alluded at one point to rumors that the French and Syrian armies are collaborating on a plan for the Syrian military to reassert control over Lebanon. "What world are they living in? Either they're joking or they're truly crazy," Boillon thought to himself at the time. Boillon accused March 14th of living in a fantasy world fueled by a rumor-mongering Lebanese press, much of which is sympathetic to the Lebanese opposition. "Of course the opposition is going to claim that France is backing them, that's part of the game," said Boillon, who insisted that the March 14th leadership should be smart enough not to believe such tripe. But the reality, he lamented, is that March 14th is part and parcel of a political culture mired in navel-gazing and paranoia......
6. (S) Given the dramatic about-face in French policy towards Syria since the end of the Chirac administration, March 14's insecurity about the Elysee's thinking is understandable if not inevitable. Nevertheless, (from a US view) it is unfortunate that Hamadeh struck so many wrong notes during his meeting with Levitte, as his performance will not make it any easier for March 14 to find a receptive ear in Sarkozy's circle of advisors. Fortunately, the delegation left a more favorable impression at the MFA. Ludovic Pouille (MFA DAS-equivalent for the Levant) told us that he found Hamadeh's message "better than expected"

Obama to Qaddafi: 'Leave now!'

"... The President and the Chancellor shared deep concerns about the Libyan government’s continued violation of human rights and brutalization of its people. The President stated that when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now..."

Not Mubarak, Ben Ali or Qaddafi minions & thugs; The EU targets ....Iranian officials!

Not Husni-minions, not Bin Ali-henchmen, not Qaddafi thugs .... Iranians!
"...POLITICO was provided a list of the Iranian individuals European diplomats have prepared for EU discussion of possible sanctions to include asset freezes and travel bans. EU foreign ministers will discuss the list at a brainstorming session in March, a European diplomat said Friday.
Notable is that the list includes not only such senior Iranian security and ministry officials as the interior and intelligence ministers and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps general commander, but that it names quite specific prison guards, militia members, police unit figures, revolutionary court judges,  prosecutors and ministry bureaucrats...
Among the over 80 Iranian individuals on the list are: Ansar-e Hezbollah chief Hossein Allahkaram, and several Basij militia commanders... IRGC figures...Information and Communications ministry officials ... interior, intelligence and justice ministries and Iran and Tehran Judiciary ..." (The full list, here)

"..Tunisia is not a dictatorship .."

The year in French foreign policy began rather well, with a feeling of a fresh start as the new minister of foreign affairs, Michèle Alliot-Marie, returned home rejuvenated from her Christmas holiday to provide renewed strength and focus at the Quai d'Orsay, the home of the ministry. As it turned out, neither her return, nor the vacation itself were such a great idea.
Two months into 2011, the transformation of North Africa has exposed a slew of moral failings in French policy in the Arab world, and it has raised a flurry of questions about Alliot-Marie's ethics, judgment, and veracity. Political observers and even government ministers are already debating who might take her place, perhaps in the coming days. The French diplomatic corps is increasingly turning on the president as his Middle East policy continues to disintegrate.
It all began in Tunisia, a former French protectorate....
At least 35 people had been killed by Jan. 11, when Alliot-Marie shockingly offered to bolster Ben Ali's grip on power. She suggested to France's Parliament that the world-renowned "savoir-faire of our security forces" allows for the "solving of security problems of this sort."...
It was only after Ben Ali fled into exile on Jan. 14 that French officials finally took the side of the Tunisian people. In Egypt, where relations were never as deep, France spoke cautiously of the potential terrorist threat, and it came around to supporting the Egyptian people before Hosni Mubarak gave up power. But in the case of Libya -- whose leader of 42 years, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, was warmly welcomed by Sarkozy for a pomp-filled, five-day visit to Paris in 2007 -- France stayed silent through six days of crackdowns during which an estimated 233 people were killed. Qaddafi's promise to fight to the "last drop of blood" seems to have played a role in driving France to turn against him...
The late recognition of the history-changing tide was, perhaps, to be expected. After all, France's relations with its former colonies have long prioritized stability -- especially opening doors for French business and military contracts, while also protecting geopolitical interests....More recently, Sarkozy applied a sort of Françafrique-lite concept to Libya when he signed billions of dollars in industrial contracts with Qaddafi during the 2007 visit. As Libya's leader pitched his Bedouin tent in Paris, widespread complaints rang out that France -- along with Britain and especially Italy -- was doing business with a terrorist who regularly abused his own people...
A 2007 U.S. Embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks and later published by Le Monde quoted France's ambassador to Tunis at the time, Serge Degallaix, as having said, "Tunisia is not a dictatorship," and paraphrased him as saying, "Its leaders genuinely listen to the country's people." The cable also cited Degallaix as telling his American counterpart that "major changes in French policy toward Tunisia" are "unlikely" under Sarkozy..."

Qaddafi's son: "If you hear fireworks don't mistake it for shooting.."

"... Tripoli's streets were eerily quiet overnight, with portraits of Gaddafi adorning street corners and a few police cars patrolling after a day in which residents said pro-Gaddafi forces fired at and over the heads of protesters in many areas. Up to 25 people were said to have been killed in one area alone.
"Peace is coming back to our country," one of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, told reporters flown into Libya under close supervision.
"If you hear fireworks don't mistake it for shooting," the 38-year-old London-educated younger Gaddafi said, smiling.
He acknowledged pro-Gaddafi forces had "a problem" with Misrata, Libya's third largest city, and Zawiya, also in the west, where protesters had beaten back counter-attacks by the military but said the army was prepared to negotiate.
"Hopefully there will be no more bloodshed. By tomorrow we will solve this," he said on Friday evening...."

"..The Saudis have told the US that they are prepared to intervene in Bahrain with the National Guard, should that prove necessary to stabilize the government.

"... There is deepening concern about the course of developments there and about the US ability to influence them. Urgent efforts are underway to fashion an international consensus at the UN and elsewhere on the way forward. However, for all the frantic activity over Libya, US officials believe that the intensifying challenge to the Bahrain government provides the greater threat to US interests. As they explain it to us, State Department officials portray Libya as a crisis taking place within “understandable parameters.” This requires very substantial coordination measures on such matters as the evacuation of foreign nationals, refugee flows, the imposition of sanctions and possible no-fly zones. But Libya does not represent systemic risk to US strategic interests.
By contrast, a collapse of the Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain would have direct implications for Saudi Arabia
. The Saudis have told the US that they are prepared to intervene in Bahrain should that prove necessary to stabilize the government. This would be carried out by the National Guard (SANG) which is well tested in battle. An eventuality of this sort would prompt some very uncomfortable choices for the Administration – as one senior official put it to us, “between history and the oil price.” Intensive exchanges are underway with the Saudis and Bahrainis to seek a non-violent outcome to the tensions there. US officials draw some modest encouragement that their interventions are proving effective from the relatively moderate statements of the Shia cleric Hassan Mushaima on his return from exile. These dramas in the Middle East are obscuring what Pentagon officers privately describe to us as a “deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan and the continuing stalemate with Paskistan over the detention of an American official now acknowledged to be a CIA contractor..."

Friday, February 25, 2011

'Free Libyan Army'

"Bring Tahrir to Gaza!"

“If the marchers are blocked, attacked or arrested, we will do as the people of Egypt have done,” explained Tahrir4Gaza spokesperson Ken O’Keefe. “We will create a Tahrir-style camp as close to Rafah Crossing as possible and call for people of conscience, supporters of Palestine and Egypt, wherever you come from, to join us in Egypt to peacefully demand an end to the illegal siege of Gaza.”...

Death of judge is symptomatic of the Hariri tribunal ...

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, issued a statement Friday announcing Judge Bert Swart, the presiding judge of the Trial Chamber has died after a protracted illness...
"The death of Judge Swart is a considerable loss both to the STL and to the international legal community..."The process of finding a replacement for Judge Swart on the trial bench is underway," the STL said.

US outlook is like "Whac-a-Mole"...

   "... As US officials survey the Middle East, they are trying to assess the likelihood of new flare-ups and the consequences of ongoing as well as successful uprisings.  Dependent on reporting from Embassies in the region as well as US intelligence sources, they have, at best, only a notion of what is likely to come. "It's a bit like "Whac-A-Mole," said one Administration insider this week referring to a popular arcade game.  "Up pops one problem just as quickly as another seems to disappear."
    The major problem this week is, of course, Libya.  Although some analysts believe that Libyan strongman Mouamar Qaddafy has descended into nearly complete madness, others are not counting him out so quickly.  "He has got a plane fueled and ready for escape," said one US official.  "But it is not clear yet whether the opposition can take Tripoli or an all-out civil war could be in the offing.  What is certain, say key US officials, is that no matter the outcome, it will not be pleasant for the Libyan people.  "Even if Qaddafy is overthrown, there is no civil society to replace him," says one veteran State Department official.  And there is considerable concern in Washington about the power emerging in the eastern part of Libya where the rebellion has had its greatest success because it is also home to the radical Libyan Islamic Action Front.
    However, it is the outcome in next door Egypt that is of the most concern.  There the peaceful revolutionaries who toppled Hosni Mubarak, while having ambitions to create a democratic society, still, in the view of long time US analysts, are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis both the Moslem Brotherhood and the Military establishment.  The latter, led by Defense Minister Muhammad Tantawy, is, for the time being in firm control.  And some US analysts are skeptical that the military will give real power to civilians anytime soon.  Says one key State Department official, "I think the best we can hope for is the old Turkish
model, where an elected civilian leadership must always be careful not to alienate the military -- either politically or economically.  The worst outcome would be for something along the lines of the Pakistani model where the military rules in all but name."
    What still rankles many in the State Department, not to mention key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, is the way the White House helped to push Mubarak from office.  "The Saudis were in a state of disbelief," says one key State Department official. He argues that the White House "kept moving the goal posts" and points out that when former Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner was sent to talk to Mubarak, the Egyptian leader agreed not to run
again for President this fall, nor allow his son, Gamal to run in his stead.  Mubarak also agreed to begin to set in motion a series of reforms.  However, just days later the White House was pressing for his departure from office.  "The President's advisors cared most about getting their man out in front of the curve, not keeping promises," complains this official.
    The counter argument offered by the White House centers on how crucial it was for the US to win the battle for the trust of the Egyptian people.  "There could be no stability without deep reforms and Mubarak was not the man to do it," said one well- placed source.  "Cosmetic change would only buy time."  However, no one sees Tantawy as an architect of deep reforms.  Already he has sidelined Vice President Omar Suleiman, considered by many the most capable military leader.  
"They all have much to work out before democracy comes to Egypt, " says one State Department expert.   Some believe that among the civilian leadership the most likely man to emerge will be Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, a secular man of the Egyptian elite ["He loves his afternoon scotch and cigars," (egypt has been longing for a guy like this!) says one veteran US official] but also a man who ran afoul of Mubarak. Administration officials concede that he will be a "handful" to deal with both for the US and Israel but insist he buys into the US/Israel/Camp David accords approach to the Middle East.
    The other key country all are watching carefully is Saudi Arabia.  Although not yet directly experiencing unrest, concern is about events next door in Bahrain.  Here, as in Egypt, the Administration is pressing Bahrain's leadership for reforms.  And this week they see signs of success.  They note there has been nearly a week without violence and Bahrain's King Hamad al- Khalifa took the unprecedented step of releasing nearly two dozen political prisoners.  Ultimately, however, most analysts believe that if Khalifa's Sunni monarchy is truly threatened...
    US officials find it telling that Iran, which has fomented trouble in Bahrain in the past, has not been active there now. The reasoning among US officials is that Iran has been both caught by surprise by events throughout the region and conflicted about them...
    For some observers, Iran has scored real success as a result of US friends discomfiture.  And top US officials admit that Teheran, in the words of one policy maker "...has indeed been an incidental beneficiary."  From an arms control perspective, the near total focus by top Administration officials on Egypt and other uprisings, Iran has bought some time, say US officials involved specifically in reigning in Teheran's nuclear program. That has left the US with a decision on how to implement the next set of sanctions -- which are likely to target Iran's central bank and its oil exports.Israeli officials are especially keen to see the focus back on Iran.  And they are still insistent that the military option be kept on the table...." MEPGS (excerpts)

"..One can only wonder what will happen when the attention of the American public wanders from the Arab world, as it inevitably will. .."

"... We are privileged to be experiencing what may well be a world historical moment, when what once seemed to be fixed verities vanish and new potentials and forces emerge.
The same mainstream Western media that habitually conveys a picture of a region peopled almost exclusively by enraged, bearded terrorist fanatics who "hate our freedom" has begun to show images of ordinary people peacefully making eminently reasonable demands for freedom, dignity, social justice, accountability, the rule of law, and democracy. Arab youth at the end of the day have been shown to have hopes and ideals...
These young voices have been a revelation only to those deluded by this media's obsessive focus on Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism whenever it turns its attention to the Middle East. This is thus a supremely important moment not only in the Arab world, but also for how Arabs are perceived by others. A people that has been systematically and habitually maligned -- probably more than any other in recent decades -- are for the first time being shown in a new, and largely positive, light. The most difficult tasks are yet to come...
It once looked as if the Arab countries would continue indefinitely to be an exception to the wave of liberation from authoritarianism which has swept other regions of the world over the past few decades....This last point raises embarrassing questions. Why were American tear gas canisters used copiously against peaceful protesters in Tunis and Cairo, as they have been systematically used for years against Palestinians and a few Israeli and foreign activists demonstrating at villages like Bil'in in the occupied West Bank? Why were the goons and thugs of Ben ‘Ali and Mubarak on such good terms with the intelligence services of the United States, France and other European countries? Why was support for "stability" (which really meant support for repression, corruption, the frustration of popular demands, and the subversion of democracy) in practice the main, and indeed the only, policy of the United States and the European Union in most parts of the Arab world?These may be questions which policymakers prefer not to answer in Washington, Paris, London and Bonn.... Clearly, these young revolutionaries know better what they need to do to achieve democracy and social justice than those who until literally a couple of weeks ago were the closest friends of dictators in Tunis and Cairo, and are still intimately linked to the rest of the Arab despots.....
The last question these Arab revolutions raise is that of the role of the United States and its European partners in upholding the rotten Arab status quo which seems to be crumbling before our eyes. The United States is always torn in its Middle East foreign policy between its principles, including support for democracy, and its interests, including upholding dictators who do what is wanted of them. When there is little public scrutiny, the latter impulse almost always predominates in U.S. policy in the Middle East. Today, with the American media featuring stories of charismatic young Arabs bringing down hated dictators and calling for democracy in perfectly comprehensible English, the public is watching, and Washington has responded by tepidly supporting a democratic transition, and calling for restraint by its other Arab clients in repressing their peoples. One can only wonder what will happen when the attention of the American public wanders from the Arab world, as it inevitably will.
In any case, this new moment in the Middle East will make the old business as usual approach in Washington much harder. The dictators and absolute monarchs, even if they stay in power, have been placed on notice that they cannot any longer ignore their peoples, as they have done before in making policy. Whether this meant submissively following Washington's lead in its Cold War against Iran, or in protecting Israel from any pressure as it colonized Palestinian land and entrenched its occupation, these highly unpopular policies of most Arab governments are no longer tenable. Much remains to be decided in the Arab world, and a real input of public opinion into the making of foreign policy there is still in the future. But the day when a Sadat or a King Hussein could ignore domestic and Arab public opinion and make peace with Israel while it brutalized the Palestinians may well be past.
Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan will most probably survive, even if there are real democratic transitions in the entire Arab world. But no one in Washington can rely on the complaisance and submissiveness towards Israel and the United States that was one of the features of the stagnant Arab order that is being challenged in the streets all over the region. What will replace it is unknown. It will largely be determined in these streets, as well as in the internet cafes, and in the union halls, newspaper offices, women's groups and private homes of millions of young Arabs who have served notice as publicly as possible that they will no longer tolerate being treated with the contempt and disrespect their governments have shown them for their entire lives. They have put us all on notice with their slogan: "The people want the fall of the regime." They are not only referring to their corrupt governments; they also mean the old regime that has prevailed for decades in the entire Arab world, from the Atlantic to the Gulf."

Egypt's Supreme Military Council: 'Mubarak & Soleiman wield no influence whatsoever!'

"... three members of the ruling Supreme Military Council appeared on Munah Shazli's program on Dream TV the other night.  What a show.  Shazli and Wa'il Ibrashi were so tough in interviewing them.  I must confess that I saw the three (politics aside) much more professional and capable than, say, high ranking military officers in Lebanon or other Arab countries.  They handled the tough interrogations well and assured viewers that Mubarak and Sulayman wield no influence what so ever. They affirmed that Ahmad Shafiq cabinet is only temporary and that it would be replaced...."


ex-Housing Minister Ahmed Maghrabi, left, former Tourism Minister Zuheir Garana, right & steel tycoon & prominent ruling party leader Ahmed Ezz, centre, sit in a metal cage in a Cairo Criminal Court in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. (AP)

"..Having played a direct role in the targeting, I can say that we certainly intended to kill him .."

"...Encouraged by this weakness, Qathaafi felt that he could support any sort of terrorist  enterprise ... The US response to this was an operation that bombed targets around Tripoli and Benghazi in retribution.  Having played a direct role in the targeting, I can say that we certainly intended to kill him and I am sorry that we did not succeed.  We aimed for his tent in Tripoli but inadvertence in delivery resulted in the bombs striking the building in the compound.  The same was true of the bombs that struck downtown.  They were dropped by an aircraft that had been mortally wounded and which crashed into the sea just offshore killing the crew.
After that Qathaafi "sobered up" about the US and began to beg like a dog at the door in a cold rain to be allowed in out of the weather by the US.  He begged in every conceivable channel.  He begged until 2003 when he realized that the GW Bush Administration was vulnerable to blandishments involving the offer of surrender to the "freedom agenda."  Who suggested that approach?  I have been told that Qathaafi's Saudi business partner suggested this approach, an approach that led to enormously lucrative oil contracts in Europe.  In pursuit of the relaxation of US hostility, Qathaafi accepted responsibility for Lockerbie and "gave up" his non-existent nuclear weapons program (a lot of junk in warehouses).  The US re-established diplomatic relations after that and Qathaafi was "re-constructed." 
Now we have this.
Why should we think that the world will take us seriously?  pl ..."

".. Think there's no chance that this kingdom's restless youth, mostly under 18 & unemployed, will rise in revolt?.."

"... Think there's no chance that this kingdom's restless youth - 60 percent of the population is under 18, and 28 percent of working-age youths are unemployed - will rise in revolt? King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz doesn't agree with you. On Wednesday, the ruler landed in Riyadh after a three-month absence abroad for medical treatment - and for an 87-year-old with a bad back, he looked like a man in a big hurry.
Before his plane even touched down, Abdullah had ordered about $2,000 for every Saudi. There were loans for young Saudis to buy homes, get married and start a business, and a 15 percent pay raise for government workers. Next are a prisoner release and a cabinet reshuffle.
Meanwhile, waiting among the 50 or so white-robed men on the tarmac to meet Abdullah was the man who worries him most: King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa of the neighboring island nation of Bahrain. A week ago the Khalifa regime tried to put down the first popular uprising in an Arab emirate by force - the solution sought by Saudi Arabia. It failed, thanks in part to countervailing pressure from the United States, which keeps a fleet in Bahrain's port.
Thousands of protesters are camped in the center of Bahrain's capital, Manama. Their demands, from the Saudi perspective, are frightening: at the least, a constitutional monarchy that will empower the country's repressed Shiite majority - and maybe also the deposal of the al Khalifa family, which is Sunni. Watching closely are the 2 million Shiites of Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province, who are also a disadvantaged majority in their region and who are separated from Bahrain by a 16-mile causeway.
King Hamad probably has broken some bad news to King Abdullah: I no longer have the option of ending this by force. It won't work - and the Americans won't let me. That leaves the Saudi ruler with a couple of hard choices. He can order Saudi forces through the causeway to put down the Bahraini Shiites, in what would be an Arab version of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Or he can let the al-Khalifas bargain away their power, while hoping that the democratic infection doesn't spread... invasion could bring Saudi Arabia directly into conflict with the Obama administration, which is backing the reform route in Bahrain. It could even cause a historic rift in the 65-year-old alliance. At the least, a $60 billion arms sales package just agreed to between Washington and Riyadh would be in danger.
Abdullah has no love for Obama; he spurned the U.S. president's request for help in the Arab-Israeli peace process and fumed at Obama's turn against Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak. According to the New York Times, the last of their two phone calls during the Egyptian crisis "ended in sharp disagreement."
Still, I'm betting that Abdullah would rather be a Gorbachev than a Brezhnev. Rather than invade, he's more likely to embrace the strategy of trying to get ahead of the Arab wave of change before it is too late..."