No deal at the expense of Syria
By Ghaleb Kandil
Some analysts think great deals were concluded after Barack Obama ’s decision to attack Syria. They conjure up scenarios that exist only in their minds on alleged agreements between Russia and the United States.
Information from reliable sources indicate that the priority of Russia was to prevent any attack against Syria. It has taken the right positions to achieve this goal. This became clear in the announcement by President Vladimir Putin of his country’s commitment to provide Syria all the military equipment and economic support needed to defend itself against external aggression. Indeed, the Russian decision was implemented by several measures: sending warships to the Syrian coast; delivery to the Syrian army sophisticated weapons in accordance with the contracts.
Sources ensure that the U.S. decision to attack Syria was serious and not a maneuver, as tried to say Obama, after he was forced to retreat. Iran and Russia have some information that the day and time of the attack had been set by the Pentagon. The decision was canceled after the United States had realized that the price of the attack will be very high because of the determination of Syria to resist, especially that the Syrian missiles were deployed, ready to be fired. Iran also sent strong messages by activating its long-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting military and economic targets, land and sea, in an area from the Hormuz to Israel including the Gulf states. In addition, the silence of Hezbollah has been an enigma , difficult to assess in the process of profit and loss.
After the United States relied on the Security Council, accepting the new balance of global power, Moscow has sought to put on the rails the political solution originally proposed by the Syrian leadership based on a mechanism to ensure the cessation of violence and the start of political dialogue. Vladimir Putin expressed this view by exposing its chemical initiative, focusing on the need to stop the flow of arms and mercenaries in Syria and calling for the cessation of support to terrorists. He spoke of the need for American engagement in this direction, so to compel other States to renounce financing and arming extremists.
So far, Washington has not responded positively to the Russian move and dodge any commitment, continuing to provide political cover for its partners and allies in the war against Syria. However, Western countries are beginning to recognize that part of what they call the "moderate armed groups " has joined the ranks of Al- Qaeda.
In this context, fighters linked to the terrorist organization now openly displayed their desire to dominate the rebels regions of Syria trying to oust their rivals a strip of land extending from Iraq to Turkey.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), led by the Iraqi Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, has set up checkpoints on the main roads leading to the border and opened several fronts to counter its competitors.
According to civilians and rebels living in the north and east, the group seeks to seize the natural resources such as oil, check the roads and submit the population.
The conflict between Russia and the United States continues under the new balance of power, with its geopolitical and economic complexities. The first change in Iran-US relations is the result of new equations arising from the resistance of Syria and the achievements recorded by the axis of resistance in the last two decades.
But this does not mean that Russians and Americans or Iranians and Americans have reached a deal on Syria and many other contentious issues such as the Iranian nuclear, the U.S. anti- missile shield, Bahrain, Yemen or the withdrawal from Afghanistan .
Russia seeks to recover all of its traditional areas of influence taken by the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including the former Soviet republics, the states member of the former Warsaw Pact, or the Slavic and Orthodox countries. Iran, for its part, wants to wrest recognition by the West of its regional role and wants to obtain the lifting of international sanctions, while maintaining its nuclear rights.
Syria is finally determined to crush international terrorists and mercenaries, supported by Turkey and the Gulf countries.
What was true for the last months is still true today: everything is decided on the battleground.
Bashar al-Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic
«It is not possible to put terrorism in your pocket and use it as a card because it is like a scorpion which won’t hesitate to sting you at the first opportunity. In the near future, these terrorists will have an impact on Turkey and Turkey will pay a heavy price for it. Before the crisis, Erdogan had never mentioned reforms or democracy, he was never interested in these issues ... Erdogan only wanted the Muslim Brotherhood to return to Syria, that was his main and core aim. I have not yet decided whether to run in presidential elections next year because the situation on the ground was changing rapidly. I would only put myself forward if Syrians want me to. The picture will become clearer in the next 4-5 months. Practically these issues are not related. Geneva II is about Syria’s own domestic political process and cutting neighboring countries’ weapons and financial support to terrorists.»
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran supreme leader
«We support the diplomatic initiative of the government and attach importance to its activities in this trip. However some of what happened in the New York trip was not appropriate. We are pessimistic towards the Americans and do not put any trust in them. The American government is untrustworthy, supercilious and unreasonable, and breaks its promises. The American administration is a government that is seized by the international network of Zionism, and has to put up with the usurper Israeli regime and show flexibility towards it. We hear the repetitive and disgusting threats of the Iranian nation’s enemies. Our response to any mischief will be serious and harsh.»
Michel Aoun, Leader of the Free Patriotic Movement
«I do not intend to present my candidacy for the presidency of the Republic. But if they want me as president, than they can elect me (...) Arab countries supplying arms and support to the rebels are not interested in the Syrian people. The Free Patriotic Movement presented a project to address the problem of Syrian refugees. But we did not get the support of our allies about our vision on this issue. I do not know why. Each party has their own calculations.»
• Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday said two high-profile raids in Libya and Somalia showed the United States’ unflinching determination to hunt down those responsible for terrorism. "We hope that this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror," he told reporters in the Indonesian island of Bali after Saturday’s raids. The action should also make clear that "those members of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations literally can run, but they can’t hide", Kerry added. In Libya US forces seized a militant known as Abu Anas al-Libi, a long-sought Al-Qaeda operative indicted in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A separate raid was launched before dawn against a Shebab leader in the southern Somali port of Barawe. It failed to capture the senior militant and it was unclear whether he had been killed, but a US official said several Shebab members were slain. "We will continue to try and bring people to justice in the appropriate way with hopes that ultimately these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop," the secretary of state said.
• An attack targeting Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad killed 56 people and wounded at least 115 on Saturday, officials said. Accounts differed as to whether the attack in the Adhamiyah area of north Baghdad was a bomb followed by a suicide bombing, or a suicide bombing alone. The attack came as pilgrims walked to a shrine in Adhamiyah to commemorate the death of Imam Mohammed al-Jawad, the ninth Shiite imam. Violence has reached a level unseen since 2008, and there are fears Iraq may relapse into the kind of intense Sunni-Shiite bloodshed that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed tens of thousands of people.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)
(October 5, 2013)
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said that he was not working on disrupting a cabinet meeting to discuss the oil exploration issue. He denied that he was playing a disruptive role regarding the cabinet extraordinary session. “The answer to the issue is not with me, it can be found with the top leaders. If the situation needs an exceptional approach to be resolved, I won’t have any objections. What is important is for the recommendations of the oil sector committee to be heeded,” he added.
Earlier in the week, caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said that Lebanon was working to resolve its dispute with Israel over the maritime exclusive economic zone under the framework of international law. Bassil has called on the cabinet—which resigned in March—and the parliament to hold extraordinary sessions to approve the oil sector decrees.
A government must still pass two decrees – laying out the model for the Production Sharing Agreement that companies will eventually sign and officially delineating the blocks available for bidding – before bidding and negotiations can begin.
As Safir (October 4, 2013)
Some Lebanese have jubilee after learning that Iranian President Hassan Rohani announced not want to make the pilgrimage this year at the invitation of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Some went so far as to mourn the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, considering that the dispute between the two countries is likely to continue and grow. These have provided such an assumption would have a negative impact on the situation in Lebanon, in particular with regard to the issue of the government formation and the national dialogue. However, political and diplomatic informed sources say that experts and senior officials of the two countries are preparing the ground for a Iranian- Saudi summit. The Iranian deputy foreign minister himself has said that "meetings will be held between senior officials at the first opportunity." The same sources report that the bet made by the Lebanese on a Saudi -Iranian rapprochement is always appreciated.
An Nahar (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition)
Rosanna Bou Mouncef (October 4, 2013)
Lebanese fear that Iran-US agreement is limited to a barter between the Iranian nuclear issue and the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on the country. This hypothesis also raises fears of regional states for a possible expansion of Iran to Arab countries. According to diplomatic sources, the Arab states should make their voices heard and to use their influence in the United States and Europe to make room on the table for their claims against Iran. Such a deal between Tehran and Washington will not suit either in Lebanon because it will not change anything at the situation on the ground. Instead, in such an eventuality, Iran, having settled his problem with Washington on the nuclear issue would have more flexibility in the region and will seek to further strengthen the Hezbollah so that it becomes a force regional strikes the balance of Iran.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Nasser Charara (October 5, 2013)
The bid by regional and Western opponents to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by military means has all but failed. Today, Washington is mulling a different approach: achieving Assad’s ouster using the next presidential election scheduled for 2014. In the United States’ view, this goal can only be achieved by relying on “displaced voters,” who are mostly in pro-opposition environments in the Diaspora.
There is a kind of cold war unfolding internationally over the issue of Bashar al-Assad’s candidacy for a new term in 2014. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the “Friends of the Syrian People” group of states have been adamant about Assad’s removal, having failed to force him to change his conduct and agree to the demands set out by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during a famous meeting with Assad in 2003.
Diplomatic chatter over Syria indicates that with the failure of the plan to oust Assad by military means, the second option for Washington now is to remove him by political maneuvering. This could happen in one of two ways: one, by preventing him from running for a new term in the 2014 presidential election; or two, by mobilizing all resources to defeat him in this election, if the West is forced to acquiesce to holding a vote with Assad as a contender.
It is no secret that Russia, Iran, and the US have contradicting attitudes regarding Assad’s candidacy for a new presidential term next year. But unbeknownst to many, at least until now, Washington and its Western and Arab allies have been seeking to translate their agenda in a manner that goes way beyond public sparring with the other side, into workable plans to ensure the Syrian president would be defeated in any election.
Last year, the Qatar Foundation, which was overseen by the wife of the former emir of Qatar, Sheikha Mozah, conducted a public opinion survey to determine the likely results of a free presidential election in Syria. Two things about the poll, however, are striking: First, both the company and the team conducting it on behalf of the foundation were American. Secondly, the poll examined two samples of Syrian citizens: one inside Syria, and the other comprising Syrian refugees in the Gulf countries, Africa, and the Levant.
The poll showed that 54 percent of the respondents inside Syria supported Assad in running and even serving for a second term, compared with 46 percent who opposed him. By contrast, 83 percent of Syrian respondents based in the Gulf voted “no” to Assad, with 93 percent of Syrian refugees in Africa and 64 percent of refugees in the Levant sharing this position.
The Qatari poll was followed by other, unpublicized polls conducted by American and French pollsters, funded by Arab countries. These polls more or less had the same outcome: More than 50 percent supported Assad among respondents surveyed inside Syria, while more than 60 percent opposed Assad among Syrian refugees.
These polls are important because Washington might rely on them to insist on two particular matters in its approach to the Syrian crisis: One, precluding Assad from nominating himself in 2014, fearing his victory based on what polls by reliable organizations have shown; and two, pursuing a policy vis-à-vis the Syrian displaced that would encourage Syria’s neighbors to receive more of these refugees.
Although the latter move would be justified by humanitarian considerations, this policy would be inwardly linked to preparations by the anti-Assad coalition for a political solution in Syria, which would include presidential elections with Assad’s participation. In this case, the ’biggest voter’ demographic who would be relied upon to topple Assad will be refugee voters, in line with the results of the surveys mentioned earlier.
This might explain Washington’s insistence for Lebanon to admit any and all refugees, without restrictions. There is an American inclination to push these numbers further up, so that when the time comes for the Syrian presidential election, the refugees can represent a sizeable enough block to defeat Assad or reduce his chances for victory.
While Turkey and Jordan have refused to receive more refugees for different reasons, Lebanon remains the only place available to achieve this goal.
One of the proposals being currently tested by the US, prior to negotiations over a political transition in Geneva, would impose an agreement granting the refugees the right to vote outside Syria, in polling stations established in the countries in which they reside. However, Damascus will insist that all polling stations must be on Syrian territory, even if they would be under joint international-Syrian supervision.
In truth, the dispute essentially centers on the climate in which the refugees would be voting. To be sure, most of the countries hosting Syrian refugees are hostile to Assad, especially the Gulf countries and Turkey. Furthermore, refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are lured to settle in areas that are dominated by factions that are either opposed to the Syrian regime or working directly in supporting the Syrian opposition.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has hinted at this during a meeting on the refugee issue attended by diplomats. Mikati said that the Syrian refugee flow to Lebanon is being handled outside of international norms governing the reception of refugees. At the time, a diplomat responded by saying, “It is clear from Mikati’s statements that he thinks the flow [of refugees] in this manner to Lebanon is not innocent.”
Washington and its allies understand that the political-electoral climate inside Syria is increasingly moving in favor of the regime in general, meaning that the behavior of Syrian voters at home cannot be predicted. The most recent development that supports this conclusion is the fact that the dollar slumped by more than 50 percent against the Syrian pound, when Washington backed down on its threat to carry out a military strike against Syria.
Certainly, the political interpretation of this means, among other things, that the Syrian urban elite felt relief after the threat of regime change by force dissipated, essentially because of the partial return of stability and internationally sanctioned regime continuity. If anything, the implication is that in contrast with the refugee voters who can be turned against Assad, there is an equally sizable bloc of voters who cannot be swayed and who happen to support a new term for Assad: the broad and mixed social base that has only one enemy, namely, the “unknown alternative” and “terrorism” portending to turn Syria into another Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq, all rolled into one.
Another notable reason for seeking to transfer a pro-opposition voting bloc to outside Syria is the fact that large swaths of the areas under the control of the Syrian opposition are now either directly or indirectly in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, and other radical groups. These groups believe that voting or participating in elections is prohibited by religion.
Therefore, it is likely that ISIS, come election day in Syria, would carry out the same kind of suicide attacks it had staged against polling stations during elections in Iraq. This would no doubt affect voter turnout in opposition-held territory, while relative calm would prevail in regime-held areas, increasing voter turnout there.
Another possible tactic being factored in is denying Assad the chance to benefit from the fact that he will be the sole candidate of the “pro-stability” constituency, against several candidates representing the opposition. To be sure, it will be easy for countries like Turkey, Saudi, France, and the United States to agree on one candidate against Assad, to prevent pro-opposition votes from being scattered.
Recent reports indicate that as part of electoral preparations by the anti-Assad camp, a prominent figure in the Syrian opposition – at the behest of Saudi and France – is planning to establish a satellite television network with the aim of addressing minorities in Syria and the Middle East. The goal would be to attract the Christian and Kurdish vote in Syria, and counter the Vatican’s discourse, which stresses concern for the future of Christians in Syria and the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring.
Al Akhbar (October 4, 2013)
The differences between al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remain unresolved. ISIS’s strength is growing by the day, while al-Nusra’s continues to shrink. Yet the quarrel between the two al-Qaeda affiliates has not spread to afflict their neighboring counterparts, with Lebanese jihadis maintaining their distance pending a consolidation of the Syrian-based ranks.
“ISIS or al-Nusra? Which of the two groups should we follow?” This is a question jihadis in Syria have had difficulty answering, resulting in between supporters of al-Nusra Front and ISIS.
Lebanon’s jihadis have been asking the same questions, but ultimately, they have opted for ‘self-dissociation’ – particularly since the disputes between al-Nusra and ISIS have not led to military confrontations, as clerics on both sides have issued fatwas prohibiting bloodshed between the followers of the same ideology.
Nevertheless, there has been an exodus of fighters from al-Nusra wanting to join ISIS, for a variety of reasons. This has had clear effects on the ground, with al-Nusra weakened on the battlefield in parallel to the rise of ISIS, which has proven itself strong in combat. Most foreign jihadis also fight under the banner of ISIS.
In light of this, the leaders of radical Islamic groups in Lebanon aligned with al-Qaeda have taken a middle ground. For instance, Sheikh Osama al-Shihabi, the leader of Fatah al-Islam, has called for unity and for rising above disputes, calling for “reducing differences among the muwahiddin[strict adherents to monotheism, self-proclaimed name of Wahhabis/Salafi jihadists], because harmony is the rule and dispute is the exception.”
Shihabi, according to sources close to Lebanese jihadis, has made a proposal to the commanders of the two radical groups, namely, to punish any member of ISIS who slanders al-Nusra with imprisonment, and vice versa.
Meanwhile, sources told Al-Akhbar that radical Islamic leaders in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp are unsure what to do about the split between ISIS and al-Nusra, as many of them have recently been cozying up to the latter: Five of their leaders (Osama Shihabi, Mohammad al-Arefi, Haitham al-Shaabi, Naeem Abbas and Ziad Abu al-Naaj) left to engage in jihad in Syria in May 2012, pledging allegiance to the commander of al-Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, before subsequently returning to Lebanon.
The sources cite this pledge of allegiance as the reason for their current embarrassment, and argue that self-dissociation – that is, neutrality – has proven to be the best possible option. Concerning reports claiming that ISIS was strict in enforcing Sharia compared to the “leniency” shown by al-Nusra, some seem to support ISIS’s strictness, but say that based on what they call the “fiqh (jurisprudence) of exigency,” “enforcing Sharia in superficial matters may not be well-timed, if the goal is to consolidate efforts to fight an unjust regime.”
Even so, security sources told Al-Akhbar that the remnants of the Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam have not yet decided whom to align with. These sources point out out that some of the two groups’ members have declared their allegiance to the Syrian branch of Jund al-Sham, established by Sheikh Khaled al-Mahmoud, aka Abu Suleiman al-Muhajir.
According to the same sources, the same applies to the followers of Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon. It seems these radicals are also maintaining neutrality and biding their time until things become clearer, bearing in mind that the group, according to a June 2012 audio recording of Sheikh Majed bin Mohammad al-Majed, the commander of Abdullah Azzam Brigades in the Levant, has distanced itself from al-Nusra Front.
Now, it seems that members of the Brigades are in turn split between those who favor ISIS, and those who favor al-Nusra, such as Ziad al-Arefi and Mohammad al-Dawkhi, also according to the same sources.
Though both al-Nusra and ISIS follow the same Salafi jihadi ideology, their followers are torn over which side to be loyal to. Interestingly, most of those who defected from al-Nusra joined ISIS because they see the latter as a bigger organization than the former, which they believe is nothing more than a militia.
Furthermore, in the Salafi jihadi ideology, a field commander has a lower rank than the so-called Emir of an organization – al-Nusra doesn’t have an Emir currently, only a field commander. This is not to mention that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Emir of ISIS, allegedly has Qureshi lineage [a descendant of the tribes of Mecca who were contemporaries of the Prophet Mohammad], giving him precedence and seniority.
It is also worth noting that ISIS is financially superior to al-Nusra. For instance, ISIS controls oil wells in both Iraq and Syria, including in the Raqqa governorate, and is also engaged in fierce battles in the countryside of Deir al-Zour, home to a large number of oil fields.
All this means that ISIS can meet the needs of the jihadis who join its ranks. In addition to supplying its fighters with cutting-edge weaponry, ISIS sometimes also pays for accommodation for the families of combatants, whether in Lebanon, Turkey, or elsewhere.
Recently, reports have surfaced alleging that ISIS sent delegates to Lebanon to obtain pledges of allegiance from like-minded individuals. These reports indicate that the delegates came out with a roadmap for establishing groups that answer directly to ISIS. However, this information has come from informants, and has yet to be confirmed by the jihadi groups themselves.
Al Akhbar (October 3, 2013)
As Lebanon’s Ministry of Energy and Water prepares to issue licenses to international companies for oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean, Israel is crying foul.
Israeli officials issued statements to the media warning that Lebanon seeks to issue oil and gas exploration licenses to international companies in what Tel Aviv insists are disputed waters in the Mediterranean.
Lebanon “is close to issuing survey rights for gas and oil in areas that are within Israel’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” one official told the Hebrew economic affairs website Globes.
It remains to be seen how Israel plans to deal with this territorial dispute, which could spark a war with Lebanon. Israeli experts in international law warned that their country could lose these areas if it does not act by either objecting legally or, if need be, resort to force.
The Israeli website reported that the Lebanese Ministry of Energy is currently considering bids by a number of major petroleum companies, and will soon issue licenses for drilling in five blocks within Lebanon’s EEZ. However, it adds, Tel Aviv has raised objections about Block 9, which lies at the southernmost tip of Lebanese territorial waters.
Israel claims that this block – one of the richest areas in terms of commercial gas deposits recently discovered in the Mediterranean – extends into its EEZ.
“According to accepted legal practice in international law,” Israeli legal expert David Cornblath told Globes, “the country that does not respond to such a step is tantamount to surrendering its right to demand jurisdiction over it.”
He suggested Israel sends its navy to conduct patrols in the disputed area, while at the same time seeking out a third party that can mediate the dispute. He also advised his government to seek out the companies that have submitted bids to warn them that there are conflicting claims.
The site reported that tens of companies have submitted bids to conduct exploration to the Lebanese government, pointing out that many of these firms are reluctant to deal with Israel for fear of losing business in the Arab world.
Al-Liwaa (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition)
(October 4, 2013)
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said in remarks that the implementation of the security plan that was set for the northern city of Tripoli has begun.
The plan is formed of two missions: the first is to protect Tripoli from the outside, that is to prevent car bombs from entering as well as revealing the [gunmen] networks, and the second mission will be announced after Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati returns to Lebanon,” said the minister.
Charbel also voiced his surprise over the statements of Future bloc MP Mohammad Kabbara, who said that there was a “lack of seriousness” in the implementation of Tripoli’s security plan. “Kabbara was present in the Serail’s meeting, and he knows that a security plan must be reviewed first by the premier before it is implemented, and he approved of this agreement,” Charbel said.
Last month, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that “a comprehensive plan will be announced for Tripoli, and it will include three main goals: security, development and reconciliation among the city’s residents.”
NowLebanon (Internet site close March-14 coalition)
(October 4, 2013)
One of the leading Sunni militia commanders in Tripoli’s Bab al-Tebbaneh, Saad Masri, allegedly left Lebanon for Australia with a large amount of money, NOW’s correspondent in the northern city reported Friday.
The correspondent cited residents of the troubled Bab al-Tebbaneh quarter of the city as saying that Masri left Lebanon four days ago with around $2 million, “which he collected from local political leaders in Tripoli.”
Young men in Bab al-Tebbaneh said that Masri fled with the money, leaving the militants under his command to face their fate alone.
Another militia commander identified as “General Hammoud” was not able to leave the country due to arrest warrants against him after he was charged for killing Sheikh Abdel Razzak al-Asmar, being involved in the Tripoli explosions as well as several assassinations, the correspondent added.
Meanwhile, reports emerged that Masri had left Lebanon a day ago for Jordan.
Around five months ago, Masri said that he worked independently from all political parties in Tripoli, and added that he will dedicate his time to help the poor and defend Bab al-Tebbaneh.
A security source told NOW earlier in the year that Masri makes a salary of $30,000 a month for his efforts in leading one of the largest armed groups in Bab al-Tebbaneh.
Bab al-Tebbané residents have frequently clashed with locals from the neighboring area of Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli. These recurrent disputes are triggered by sectarian differences, which also reflect a split in Lebanon’s political scene in which the March 14 coalition backs the revolt in Syria while the March 8 alliance, led by Hezbollah, supports the Damascus regime.
New Orient News