November 21, 2006
Lebanese Logic Returns to Lebanon
Afraid this is a rather nasty turn for my second favourite destination (or maybe third, but in any case of the favourites) in MENA land, Lebanese Christian [Maronite] cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel whacked in assassination jobby.
Smart money would likely bet on Syria being stupid again, but on the other hand the Gemayel have no lack of enemies either.
Posted by The Lounsbury at November 21, 2006 11:40 AM
Filed Under: Levant
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Knocking off a Cabinet minister plays to Hizbollah's interests in government collapse, no? O, ye Lebanon-informed, please advise?
Syria is a safe bet indeed.
Posted by: matthew hogan at November 21, 2006 01:53 PM
Knocking off a Cabinet minister plays to Hizbollah's interests in government collapse, no?
But in this case, motives are a dime a dozen.
Posted by: Lazarus at November 21, 2006 03:23 PM
Indeed, isn't Gemayel Arabic for "target"?
Posted by: matthew hogan at November 21, 2006 04:05 PM
Syria is a good-enough bet, or at least people within the Syrian regime (perhaps even people about to be named for trial in that international Hariri court that is presently being negotiated...).
Hizbullah seems, to me, very unlikely. If they're going to go for street protests in the next few days, as they say they are, this couldn't have come at a worse time.
On the other hand, I wouldn't rule out some Sunni-Islamist whackjob: al-Qaida style, to menace the government, create chaos and hopefully have the infidel Shia blamed for it too. Qui bono, eh?
Posted by: alle at November 21, 2006 04:42 PM
Indeed, the Al Manar spokesman (Musawi?) has been on Al Jazeera English pretty often saying that Hizbullah will still go ahead with its protests, but will now delay them. On the other hand, Saad Hariri and others are calling for a basically political funeral for Gemayel, which is fair enough - something to rally the March 14 people around.
Whatever. Anyone have any advice about personal-sized shipping out of Lebanon?
Posted by: Tom Scudder at November 22, 2006 05:20 AM
I don't know about the Syrian track, apparently even Israeli media seem to think it a tad too obvious - see http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/objects/pages/PrintArticleEn.jhtml?itemNo=790974 ...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at November 22, 2006 06:28 AM
Correction: By Syrian track I mean direct implication of or sanction by Bashar al Assad.
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at November 22, 2006 08:14 AM
Bashar Assad's regime has nothing to do with this: it's against their interests. However, it is NOT against the interests of the neo-con wing of the Amerikan foreign policy establishment, which has a VITAL interest in stopping the West's rapprochement with Syria and Iran. I'd bet on rogue elements of THAT group, using Mossad or CIA agents, as being responsible. It plays directly into THEIR hands, not Syria's. The Syrian ambassador to the United States suggested as much last night to the BBC, and I believe he's right.
Posted by: Bruce at November 22, 2006 11:08 AM
Unfortunately, there's some indication that Assad's regime is not very good at calculating their own interests.
Also, spelling America with a "k" is not, in fact, a very convincing rhetorical flourish.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at November 22, 2006 11:19 AM
The Syrian ambassador to the United States suggested as much last night to the BBC, and I believe he's right.
The Syrian faction(s) explanation (i.e. not necessarily Bashar himself) seems plausible, but who knows at this point.
Posted by: eerie at November 22, 2006 11:21 AM
Also, spelling America with a "k" is not, in fact, a very convincing rhetorical flourish.
So true Tom, I find Amerikkka to be much more convincing than just Amerika.
Not being a Leb expoit myself, I think the Syrian agencies may not be completely under government's control, like eerie suggested. Rather like the Litvinenko tallium poisoning, which doesn't play into Putin's blood-soaked hands either.
I think the Syrian agencies may not be completely under government's control
I think that in Syria it's mostly the other way around: the government may not be completely under the intelligence agencies' control...
Well, about Syrian factions, when the last UN report was released, there was a lot of talk of Maher al-Assad, Shawkat Whatsisname and their associated thugs, and the racket they ran in Lebanon. If I remember correctly, they were both fingered in the first (2nd?) Mehlis report, but then edited out of the final draft (insert conspiracy theory), whereafter the unedited version was leaked to the press (insert second conspiracy theory). If the tribunal that is coming up now is really going to name them again and demand their extradition, I could very well imagine they would use whatever networks they have in Lebanon to strike out in panic, because who knows whose side Bashar and others will take if it comes down to that. And if Hizbullah is cooking up trouble at the same time, so much the better for them.
Related: also, the mystery suicide of Ghazi Kenaan, who was the Baathist capo di tutti capo in Lebanon for many many years, in 2005, coincided strangely with the release of the first Mehlis report. So how odd is it that his brother Ali Kenaan just also killed himself in equally mysterious circumstances, right before the release of this final draft...?
The Syrian regime is beginning to look a bit like an Addams family version of Schroedinger's box: there was definitely something slimy with claws shuffling around in there a minute ago, but you can't tell if it's alive or dead unless you open and look, with the risk of letting it out...
Posted by: alle at November 22, 2006 04:16 PM
Ah leftist git morons.
Assad's regime has nothing to do with this: it's against their interests.
No, it is not.
It was stupid, but Syria often does stupid.
However, it is NOT against the interests of the neo-con wing of the Amerikan foreign policy establishment,
Only bleeding LEftist gits write such tripe as Amerika.
And one should never, ever cite the Ambassador of a police state as your evidence, idiot.
As to Gemayal, yes, there is every sign as Klaus suggests that Syrian intel agencies are not under 100% control of al-Assad. Clannish divided police states are capable of sometimes stunning acts of stupidity.
Now at the same time, as in Hariri one can't exclude other actors - as in everything ranging from intra-Leb political clan killing to dirty money killing - although unlike Hariri I suspect it less in this case. Of course one should recall that in Leb Land exclusive categories are... rare. Right Wing Xian Generals getting in bed with Hezbullah as a matter of power plays, for example.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 22, 2006 04:20 PM
Syria has admittedly calculated its own interests very badly under Bashar, but to think that he would have given the go-ahead in such a terrible timing (with Hezbollah just about to launch a civic unrest campaign against the Siniora government and the Security council struggling to overcome Chinese and Russion objections to the kangaroo Hariri court) really needs some serious factual underpinning before gaining credence. But then I'm just a lawyer.
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at November 22, 2006 07:44 PM
Nice summary, alle. You make it sound like a GTA game, I think I'll forward that as a suggestion. Or have someone make this into a movie.
Actually, entirely off-topic, are there any movies/series in MENA that deal with police state machinations and secret police intrigues?
Does anyone have the feeling that Bashar wishes he could move to California and start a dental practice?
Posted by: Antiquated Tory at November 23, 2006 05:05 AM
klaus: Well, Syriana is pretty good. Or you mean in/from the region?
A. Tory: He's actually an ophthalmologist by training, but no, I don't think he would mind doing dental work if he could just get out of this mess.
Posted by: alle at November 23, 2006 06:11 AM
yeah, from the region. It also occurs to me that Lebanese politics are like a bitterly sad and far too long soap opera among the political elite.
If you say Syria enough times then many would believe it is Syria that is behind the assassinations and this is what the neo-cons want. Everyone, that is every ordinary person must be baffled with the assassinations of Lebanon, but if you keep on the one track approach then your mind becomes limited to one thing only: It is Syria. What about the regional situation, hasn't anyone thought about that, what about Israel--they long had a role in Lebanon--or are they not willing to destabilize, and what about the US and its presence in Iraq, wouldn't they be happy to see a destabilized Lebanon and a destabilized West Bank and Gaza to keep off the pressure in what they are up to in other areas of the region. A great majority of intellectuals and the so-called people in the know are pointing their finger at Syria but the fact is there are many actors in the region. The problem with Lebanon is that it has long been a playground for many international actors and people with axe to grind. Lebanon is a sad country, people love it but people hate to love it at the same time. If there isn't an international will to find out who is behind these spate of assassinations, you can bet your bottom dollar that the country would be on another slippery-slope to another bloody civil war soon.
Posted by: marwan asmar at November 23, 2006 09:15 AM
marwan - What about the regional situation, hasn't anyone thought about that, what about Israel--they long had a role in Lebanon--or are they not willing to destabilize, and what about the US and its presence in Iraq, wouldn't they be happy to see a destabilized Lebanon and a destabilized West Bank and Gaza to keep off the pressure in what they are up to in other areas of the region.
Right. I'm all for considering every possibility, and Israel is certainly not beyond killing Lebanese politicians (they've done so on several occasions). But after acknowledging that there are many possible perpetrators (Syrian gov, autonomous Syrian gov factions, Israel, USA, Lebanese Sunni Islamists, al-Qaida, Hizbullah, Iran, Palestinian factions, criminal gangs, financial mafias, Christian rivals, and just about anyone else with a gun in Lebanon), next step is to look at which ones are more or less likely. Turkey, for example, "could" have done it just as well as Syria, but come on.
And same goes for Israel, even if that is far likelier. So, please explain what on earth they would have to gain from (a) killing Pierre Gemayel or (b) trying to edge Lebanon closer to civil strife or (c) felling the Siniora cabinet? All three are clearly negative from any sensible Israeli strategist's point of view.
As for US gov, the thing they want LEAST right now is probably conflict in Lebanon, where they have finally managed to find an ally in government, semi-secure Israel's northern front and push out Syria.
Posted by: alle at November 23, 2006 01:12 PM
Incidentally, since we're discussing Syria, can someone elaborate (or link) on their relationship with the Sunni militants in Iraq? The Syria-Iran alliance could possibly run into some trouble there if Syria fails to stop (or even aids) Sunni militias operating or supplied from Syrian territory - given that Syria is mostly Sunni, though the Assads are Shia (Alawite). The religious schism of Iraq might spread to Syria, I'm thinking.
Posted by: Klaus at November 25, 2006 05:10 AM
I haven't seen any good evidence that Syria is consciously assisting Sunni Jihadis in Iraq, except that it might not be cracking down quite as hard as it could, and is not cooperating with the US. Though that goes both ways.
They do seem to be vaguely supportive of some old Baathists (a bunch of them are living in Damascus now), which I guess would be their best route to influence among militant Sunnis, despite the history of the two parties. Also to some extent with Shia parties -- Muqtada made a much-publicized visit to Damascus some time ago -- even if that might be more as second fiddle to Iran. Plus I'm sure there are all sorts of self-interested contacts, support and bribery towards border tribes and local leaders, whether they are involved in the rebellion or not.
Anyway, the Assads certainly agree with you about what Sunni fundamentalism in Iraq means for Syria, and for them in particular. It's not as if they aren't aware what a Sunni theocracy would do to them; they've been thinking about that ever since coming to power -- witness their extreme fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.
And the government has been warning repeatedly since 2003/4 that Jihadists and guns are coming in from Iraq into Syria, even while the US harps on about infiltration in the other direction. Of course, it's in their obvious interest to promote fears about destabilization (since the only thing they can sell to the west is stability), but it rings true nevertheless. They've had quite a few clashes with Islamists in Syria these last two years. Hard to tell, of course, whether they're just publicizing it more, or if it is really happening more often -- both, I'd say.
Posted by: alle at November 25, 2006 06:25 AM
So the Assads, who have fought Sunni Islamists and been hostile to Iraqi Ba'athists for a long time, have little reason to aid these factions in Iraq, apart from bleeding USA. To what extent does this run counter to the Syrian street? I understand that, as police states go, Syria is one of the more efficient ones, but the Brotherhood is not easily eradicated.
And another thought; that massive Sunni refugee influx will make Syria a staging area for Sunni militants, necessitating a more or less violent clampdown, which in turn would make the Assads a great deal more unpopular? Yes, no, win, lose?
“interests of the neo-con wing of the Amerikan foreign policy establishment”
I can understand his spell check wasn’t probably working very well, but to include neo-con in the same sentence as “foreign policy establishment” is so wrong! The neo-cons are like carp on the surface of a quiet pond, sucking wind.
Posted by: Larry at November 26, 2006 03:38 AM
klaus -- To what extent does [Syrian regime fear of Sunni insurgents in Iraq] run counter to the Syrian street?
Well, depends on who you talk to. Nobody wants civil war and few want the Taliban-style craziness that some of those groups peddle in Iraq. But most "ordinary" people I've talked to in Syria were either overtly pro-rebellion ("liberation struggle" etc etc) or at least sufficiently anti-USA to be smug about what's going on.
But the religious minorities are horrified that the same kind of war/persecution could happen there -- they would be on the receiving end. Not only the Alawis (10%), but also Christians (10%) and Druze (5%). Most of them (and probably many Sunnis too) seem to think that that is indeed what would happen, if the regime went out with a bang (and I agree). So whatever minuscule prospects there were for a velvet revolution in Syria before 2003, they're zero now. No fucking way that any rationally-minded Alawi regime power-broker (i.e. the people who matter if Bashar stumbles) would peacefully bow to majority rule under these conditions, whatever brotherly feelings he may personally have towards other religions. Kurds are of course pretty happy about the invasion, and madly proud of Iraqi Kurdistan, but it's not as if they have any pull with the Assads. And being few and unarmed (as opposed to what was the case in Iraq), they too fear what civil strife would mean.
About refugees, one should not forget that there are already very large numbers of Iraqi Shia in Syria, most from pre-2003, but also from after it. Exact numbers are anyone's guess, but upwards of half a million I'm sure. There are whole quarters in Damascus dominated by them, now post-2003 equipped with Sadr offices and stuff. That will matter in all of this. (There are also tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians who have come after the invasion, but they´re probably less of a political factor.)
Posted by: alle at November 26, 2006 03:46 PM
Oh feed me your nuggets of wisdom. Great stuff, alle. Like tectonic plates of ethnicity grinding against each other, give them a nudge and it's an earthquake. I wonder why the European nations have so few ethnicities compared to places like Iraq and Iran, must have been the rampant nationalism taking care of that.
Now give us the lowdown on Jordan! :D
I understand Jordan has a rougher time with refugees from Iraq. First the rich Ba'ath bastards, then the poor and the wretched, droves of them. A hotel bombing here and there, and a nation not so tightly wrapped up in 'security'. Jordan has also had a difficult time with its Palestinians, and vice versa.
Posted by: Klaus at November 27, 2006 02:24 AM
As the political groupings in Lebanon coalesce according to sectarian identity, the Hariri bloc has drawn support from quite unsaviory figures. I do not remember names, but there is apparently one sunni cleric, who airs his own radio talk show, who is quite keen on comparing non-muslims to pigs and so on. You shouldn't forget either that liberation of Samir Ja'ja of the maronite Forces libanaises last year was traded off against the liberation of sunnis accused of terrorist activities, whose liberation was demanded by the Hariri bloc.
As for Israel having a hand in the assassination of Gemayel, while it is theoretically possible, I do not find it very likely. However, the arguments against an Israeli implication - i.e. that would have nothing to gain from it - would also disculpate Syria, as the killing probably had the worst possible timing. And just as the Israeli opinion, and even the moronic defense minister Amir Peretz, began to clamor for negotiations with Syria, the assassination of Gemayel was a God-given gift to Omert. But then again, no legal saying has sent so many inocent people to the gallows or to prison than "à qui profite le crime?"...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at November 27, 2006 07:06 AM
Big Hizbullah demo scheduled for tomorrow PM. Pain in the butt, my office is downtown & now I'll probably have to do a bunch of time in a cyber cafe somewhere to get anything done.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at November 30, 2006 08:44 AM
Well, if civil war starts tomorrow, do try and stay out of trouble.
Posted by: eerie at November 30, 2006 03:16 PM
But do file an entry here before getting out of trouble.
Posted by: matthew hogan at November 30, 2006 04:06 PM