International Tribune: A non-closed chapter

By Abir Bassam

August 20, 2020 – 0:16

Fifteen years, the Lebanese people have been waiting for fifteen years for the alleged justice that should be brought by the International Tribune. The tribune was commissioned to investigate the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

But, after the long waiting for the indefinite results, the indictment list on the 18th of August was clearly a “U” turn back to the starting point. The declaration was internationally needed as a damned sword on the necks of Syria and Hezbollah.

However, it is difficult to trust the results of the international investigations because it was doubted from the start by judges and investigators who were directly involved in it.  

According to an article published by the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, the president of the International Tribune, Sir David Baragwanath, forced the vice president of the tribune Robert Roth to resign because his wife was working with an editor to unspecified Israeli newsletter. And Mrs. Roth was accused of tampering with the evidence.

Former UN investigator Bo Astrom announced another accusation of deliberately dropping crucial evidence. In a recorded interview, he said many facts involved the inquiry was totally ignored by the investigators, especially the facts related to the Wissam al-Hassan assassination in 2012. Al-Hassan was the only person who had information about the road or roads Hariri parade was supposed to take.

In addition, the tribune announcement was politically manipulated. Judge David Ray revealed on the 18th of August, as he was reciting the verdict that most of the evidence depended on telephone communication data.  Telephones were used to orchestrate the assassinator(s). However, the investigations could not link the numbers to its users.

Furthermore, the persons who were charged with the assassination were all Shiites.  As if Hezbollah was foolishly pointing the fingers towards him. In fact, the accusations were pointed to freedom fighters, who were preparing exploding charges that allegedly targeted the Israelis in South Lebanon.
The final investigation revealed that three of the accused persons were discharged. Hezbollah and Syria are the main parties that benefited from the assassination of Hariri; however, there are no proofs to support the accusations. Hence, the carefully planned assassination was declared as an act of political vendetta. And it took the stupid tribune fifteen years to announce these results.

It is important to dissect the political gain, especially the one that was achieved by Syria and Hezbollah from the assassination! Before the assassination, Hezbollah was leading fruitful talks with Hariri, relations with the late prime minister were about to become at its best since 1991. Total coordination in the next elections was about to be reached.

Secondly, Hezbollah, before the 14th of February 2005, did not aim to be part of the Lebanese political maze.

Meanwhile, the Syrians, with their presence in Lebanon, protected his back. The Hezbollah was indeed presented in the Lebanese Parliament, but it was not among its plans to be part of Lebanon’s corrupt governments since the Taif Agreement in 1989. Hezbollah’s main focus was on protecting the South, liberating the Shebaa and Kafer-Shoba farms, and liberating the Lebanese war prisoners in the Israeli dungeons. Three aims were not to be granted to Lebanon on a silver plate, and the Israeli knew that if it were accomplished, they would distort his image as the ultimate power in the region.

On the other hand, the Syrians were perfectly aware of the winds of international political changes accompanied by electing George Bush junior.

The Syrians were alerted by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about the consequences of their continuous support for the resistance against Israel in Lebanon.
They urged the Syrians to disarm Hezbollah military wing. Nonetheless, the Syrians refused American demands. Resolution 1559 appeared on the horizon, and the Syrians refused to leave Lebanon unless the Lebanese government asked them. It seemed that the situation was still water running deep. When Hariri was assassinated, it was the huge eruption that made it possible for the Americans to fulfill at least one part of their demands: the Syrian Army withdrew from Lebanon.

The Syrian departure resulted in non-humanitarian results. Syrian workers were attacked in the streets, more than 100 were killed, and no official investigations were seriously held. Until today no indictments were directed to anyone. This, for sure, created sentiments of fear and hatred among the Syrians towards the Lebanese. Even Syrian businesspeople were kidnapped in several areas of Lebanon. The same was about to happen in Syria; however, the Syrian police arrested several attackers, and restrictive rules were issued in 2005 to control such irregularities. It was the Israeli war in 2006 that could bring back the Syrians and the Lebanese sentiments of pride.

The Americans thought they had created a deep ditch of hate among the brothers; nonetheless, it was in vain.

It is important to study the atmosphere that prevailed after 2005, on the political and social level, to understand who benefited from the assassination. The ridiculous legal pleading of Judge David Ray was totally dependent on the testimonies given by the same people and parties that have benefited from Hariri’s assassination, which paved the way for a golden era for all the parties who became fully in control.

Walid Jumblatt became the defender of Hariri. He took the family and the country under his “wings.” Fouad Siniora was nominated to be the next prime minister after the resignation of Omar Karami. The main beneficiary was Samir Geagea, the murderer of Lebanese politicians, and the executor of massacres in Lebanon was given a full pardon.

The previous group worked closely with the Americans to disarm Hezbollah during the 2006 war and later in 2007 during the attempt to control Hezbollah’s communication sector, which provided protection for the secret telephone lines among the freedom fighters and with their commandants.

There was a far greater conspiracy to displace the Shiites in South Lebanon if Israel had won the war in 2006. This was the end means of the assassination of an important man as much as Hariri was. The International Tribune has failed to read in politics these facts, as much as it was able to read the other version.

When Marwan Hamadeh’s attempt of assassination took place in 2005, Syria, without a certified investigation, was directly accused. In a paradox, the same technique of detonation was used in the attempt to kill Hamadeh was used to kill Harir; and before that was executed in Damascus in 1981. The French blamed the Syrians for the killing of their ambassador in Beirut and revenged it by blasting 500 kg of TNT in al-Azbakia neighborhood using almost the same technique. However, in Syria, it was a time bomb, while in other two it was remotely activated.

Bernard Emie, the French ambassador, was the first to go around giving consultation and provoking the different parties after the attempt to end Hamadeh’s life. Judge Ray called it a Syrian warning.

However, it can be easily called as the first attempt to threaten the Syrians. In case they failed to comply with the American demands in disarming Hezbollah.
It seems that we need to wait another month before the date of the sentence on the 21st of September. Nothing is special about the date. Salim Ayyash is going to be sentenced after declaring the innocence of the three other suspects. The next month, Ayyash, a simple man, will be accused of plotting, preparing, and killing a state’s man for personal vengeance. And that is why the Lebanese taxpayers paid 800 million American dollars so that an American cliche verdict is achieved.

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Lebanon: Information Branch Belongs to the Future Movement

Today the Information Branch has settled any questions regarding its loyalties, pursuing crimes based on the identity of the perpetrators and not according to any standards. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Former head of the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces Wissam al-Hassan may not have been a secret member of the Resistance, and he was undoubtedly loyal to Saad Hariri, but at the end of the day he knew was the commander of an official security agency.

This cannot be said of his Hariri-appointed successor Imad Othman, whose approach runs completely counter to that of Hassan. Othman has no problem acting as if he were leading the armed wing of March 14.Why make such accusations?It is the sudden vigilance that the Information Branch showed by arresting a suspect in the recent kidnapping of two Turkish pilots on the Airport Road in Beirut, and then leaking the news exclusively to the Future newspaper to establish his loyalty beyond a shadow of a doubt.

This is the same security branch that decided to take an extended vacation when they should have been pursuing those who fired rockets on Beirut’s Dahiyeh and Baalbeck, and placed bombs on the highway to Damascus. They failed to intercept any communication before or after these attacks as they are often known to do.

At the time, the branch complained that its forces were not allowed to operate in places like Dahiyeh and therefore could not conduct a proper investigation, despite the fact that, by the agency’s own admission, the kidnappers of the Turkish pilots were based in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

The branch also seems to have nothing to offer when it comes to the events surrounding Ahmad al-Assir and the battle of Abra, in which over a dozen Lebanese soldiers and officers were killed, other than to provide March 14 with evidence that Hezbollah was in fact involved in fighting alongside the army.

Nor do they have much to say about the many Syrian armed opposition groups that move freely across the border from Future-dominated areas in Lebanon without interference.

Today the Information Branch has settled any questions regarding its loyalties, pursuing crimes based on the identity of the perpetrators and not according to any standards.

It is single-mindedly focused on anything that may cause harm to the Resistance and its supporters, especially the kind of information that is provided to Gulf nations that are now expelling Lebanese expats after accusing them of having contacts with Hezbollah.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

فرع المعلومات لصاحبه تيار المستقبل

لم يكن الراحل وسام الحسن عضواً سرياً في حزب الله، بل ظل حتى اللحظة الاخيرة مساعداً رئيساً لسعد الحريري، وعضواً فاعلاً في مجموعة التعاون الأمنية الداعمة لمعارضي النظام في سوريا. وفي عهده وبإشرافه تم إعداد كل المواد التي استند إليها قرار الاتهام لمقاومين باغتيال الرئيس رفيق الحريري. وهو كان وراء «فخ» ميشال سماحة، إضافة الى عشرات الملفات التي لا تناسب فريق المقاومة وحلفائها.
لكن وسام الحسن كان يعرف كيف يدير اللعبة. يعرف أنه في مكان ما، هو رئيس لجهاز أمني رسمي. صحيح أنه لم يكن يتّكل على رئيسه المباشر ولا على رئيسه السياسي ولا على السلطة كلها، إلا أنه كان يعرف كيف يرتب ملفاته بطريقة لا تضبطه متلبساً بالولاء لجهات سياسية. وهو لذلك لم يكن يعترض على قيام جهازه بأعمال أمنية تخص المواطنين في البلاد. وكان كثيرون يلجأون إليه لمعالجة جرائم جنائية أو حتى جنح، وكان يساعد أجهزة التحقيق في أمور كثيرة. حتى في ما خصّ المقاومة، عمد الى إبلاغ حزب الله أن جهازه يشتبه في أن يكون بعض عناصر الحزب على علاقة بالاستخبارات الإسرائيلية.
مات وسام الحسن. رفض سعد الحريري إعادة سمير شحادة الى موقعه خلفاً للحسن، وأصرّ على تولّي عماد عثمان المهمة. لم تكن الخطة تشمل خروجاً مبكراً لأشرف ريفي من قيادة قوى الامن الداخلي، لكن واقع الامور لا يشير الى مجيء وزير للداخلية أو مدير عام لقوى الامن الداخلي من الصنف الذي يسحب فرع المعلومات من دويلة سعد الحريري الى دولة لبنان. وهذا ما جعل عثمان يخوض التجربة بخلفية تثبيت الولاء لفريق «المستقبل». وهو منذ وصوله الى منصبه يفعل كل ما هو عكس ما كان يفعله وسام الحسن، علماً بأن عثمان ليس لديه خبرة سياسية أو حتى أمنية من النوع الذي تجعله في موقع مؤثر كالذي احتله الحسن في سنوات قليلة. ومع ذلك، فإن عثمان وجد أنه لا يقدر على التزام أجندة الدولة الرسمية وأجندة تياره السياسي، فاختار أن يكون واضحاً ومباشراً وشفافاً: أنا الذراع الأمنية لفريق 14 آذار، وولائي لمن أتى بي الى هذا الموقع، وهو سعد الحريري.
ما الذي يستدعي هذا الكلام؟
النشاط الذي دبّ في جسد فرع المعلومات خلال الأيام القليلة الماضية أثمر نتائج في تحديد ما قال إنه هوية خاطفي الطيارين التركيين. وبدل أن يكون المشرف على الجهاز حذقاً بأن يسرب المعلومة الى إعلاميين أو وسائل بعيدة ولو بعض الشيء عن الفريق اللصيق به، أبى إلا أن يثبت ولاءه على كل الصعد، فقرر تخصيص جريدة «المستقبل» بمعلوماته الخاصة جداً، وكشف الفرع أنه يقدر على القيام بخطوات عملانية سريعة ومثمرة كما هي الحال في ملف المختطفين التركيين.
لكن هذا الفرع قرر أخذ إجازة مفتوحة من مهمة ملاحقي الذين يخططون ويعدّون وينفذون التفجيرات وإطلاق الصواريخ على الضاحية الجنوبية وبعلبك والهرمل وطريق مجدل عنجر. وهو لم يقم بأي خطوة، ولم يضبط أي اتصالات هاتفية قبل الاعمال الإرهابية هذه وبعدها، وهو تذرع بأن الضاحية الجنوبية ممنوعة على عناصره، وهو الذي ينشر فيها شبكات كثيرة، بينما كان في منتهى النشاط في ملاحقة من اتهمهم بالوقوف وراء خطف التركيين، علماً بأنهما موجودان، بحسب ما يقول الفرع، في الضاحية الجنوبية.
فرع المعلومات ليس لديه ما يقدمه في ملف أحداث عبرا غير تزويد سياسيي 14 آذار بما جمعه من أدلة تثبت تورط حزب الله في المعركة الى جانب الجيش. وهو لا يقدم أي معلومات ذات قمية جدية تخص بقية هذا الملف، ومتابعة المطلوبين من القضاء بتهمة قتل عناصر الجيش اللبناني.
وفرع المعلومات الذي يقدر على مطاردة حتى الحدود الجنوبية للبنان، أو على السواتر الترابية الفاصلة بين لبنان وسوريا، وجد أنه لا يملك معلومات كافية تفيد من يهمه الأمر في مسألة المجموعات السورية المسلحة التي تنطلق الى سوريا من لبنان، ومن خلال قرى وبلدات ومناطق تخضع لنفوذ تيار «المستقبل» الذي يتبع له فرع المعلومات.
فرع المعلومات اليوم يحسم الجدل حول هويته كجهاز يعمل وفق أجندة فريق سياسي. هو يلاحق الجرائم وفق هوية المجرم أو الضحية، لا وفق المعايير التي تفرض عليه ملاحقة الجريمة بمعزل عن ضحيتها أو مرتكبها. هو فريق يهتم بكل ما يضرّ المقاومة وجمهور المقاومة، وهو يستنفر كل طاقاته، من الاستعلام البشري والتقني وغير ذلك من آليات العمل، لأجل الإضرار بالمقاومة وجمهورها، بما في ذلك تلك المعلومات المفصلة التي تصل فجأة الى أجهزة استخبارات عربية تقوم بطرد لبنانيين من أراضيها على خلفية علاقة لهم مباشرة أو غير مباشرة مع حزب الله.
مشكلة فرع المعلومات اليوم لم تعد محصورة في جدول أعماله الخاص بملاحقة خصوم فريقه السياسي، بل هو تقدم خطوة أكبر نحو تهشيم إضافي لصورة الدولة، من خلال التنازل عن حق الناس في معرفة من يخرب عليهم أمنهم، وهو اليوم لا يتوقف عن تقديم أوراق الاعتماد لأكثر من جهة، لبنانية وغير لبنانية، وليس من بينها على الإطلاق مصلحة الشعب اللبناني!

LBC Referendum: 84.8% Say ‘Yes to Resistance’

Local Editor
Lebanon: LBC referendum on HezbollahThe Lebanese journalist Marcel Ghanem posted a vote on the page of ‘Kalam el-Nass’ talk show program on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) website, asking: Do you suspect a role of Hezbollah in the security bombings?
Even though the question has occupied the Lebanese public, where many believed it was unacceptable and suspicious, but that did not prevent around 30 thousand people to participate in the poll.
The audience of the Lebanese Resistance used every means to express his love and solidarity towards it, whether via Whatsapp messages, Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.
Ghanem announced the results during his Thursday’s episode on LBC, after the Resistance supporters made a spontaneous campaign supporting their pride and dignity:

Lebanon: LBC referendum on Hezbollah Do you suspect a role of Hezbollah in security bombings?
Yes 15.2 %
No 84.8 %

Chief of Beirut Center for Research Abdo Saad told Al-Manar website that “the vote results reflect the severe enthusiasm which caused the Resistance supporters to rise up in this way, especially as the result was not in favor of resistance at the afternoon of the same day.”
“This change that has occurred along with the high rate which reached about 85% in favor of the resistance are amazing and express the great will of the people and show that they went on alert themselves and their friends,” Saad added.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

The Future Movement Without Wissam al-Hassan

 

 
Published Friday, November 9, 2012
 
The assassination of Gen. Wissam al-Hassan has begun to cast it shadow over the workings of the March 14 camp, and particularly within the Future Movement.
It has led to heightened security measures for Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea, who ordered more security at his main headquarters and for his entourage. These measures were extended to all leadership figures in the organization whose members feel it was Hassan who played the key role in information-gathering.
 
The Phalange party has long been on the alert. There is a deep-seated feeling that the family of former president Amin Gemayel is under constant threat. The precautions taken by MP Sami Gemayel in particular show the extent of these worries. Although in this case, they do not stem from the same calculations as the LF’s worries, even if the two overlap at times.
 
There is general apprehension among Christian figures in the March 14 coalition. Acting on Geagea’s advice, the prominent leaders among them have taken extra security measures. Geagea focused on what he termed the “pivots and keys” – those important figures who wield electoral clout, or whose absence would weaken March 14 in various other respects.
The same approach has been used with other figures. Marwan Hamadeh, the former telecommunications minister, has been persuaded that he is a permanent target, as his elimination would weaken the Druze element that keeps the country in balance thanks to the acrobatics of Walid Jumblatt.
The real beefing up of security is within the Future Movement, where the security machine has been mobilized on several fronts.
Included are measures to protect the Internal Security Forces (ISF) commander General Ashraf Rifi, Colonel Imad Othman (who replaced Hassan as head of the ISF Information Branch), as well as other ISF and army officers and commanders in Beirut, the north, and the Bekaa.
The central concern is for the protection of former prime ministers Fouad Siniora and Saad al-Hariri. The Future Movement’s forward thinkers believe that there would be chaos without Siniora – given his pivotal role as manager and communicator – and that the removal of Hariri would deal a fatal blow to Future and destroy the entire March 14 coalition.
 
Outside Lebanon, a different kind of security effort is underway. It seems that Arab and Western players are assessing the impact of Hassan’s absence on the ISF’s work, and also on the networks of informers active inside the state and political parties. These could be severely compromised, given that Hassan used to provide them with a security umbrella as well as financial support.
 
Most striking in this regard is the spate of personnel transfers and changes that have been quietly taking place. It seems that some of these steps are in accordance with advice Hassan had earlier offered, but was not heeded for reasons related to balances within the Future Movement. Others are moves Hassan had previously blocked, but are now being pushed through in his absence. It has reached the point of absurdity in some cases.
Ultimately, there is a different and deeper reason for all this worry, especially among Hariri’s entourage. It has to do with the role they have been playing in Syria. Their involvement in the conflict there broke through all ceilings. The state of delirium that prevailed during Future MP Uqab Saqr’s latest interview on Future TV indicated that these people know that important security players in the region are preparing for the next phase, and that this might make it necessary for dirt that was previously swept under the rug to be cleaned up.
That was reflected in a campaign of highly damaging leaks of information about the direct involvement of Hariri’s entourage in the Syria conflict. If the information coming from Paris, Ankara, Amman, and Abu Dhabi is correct, we should reconsider Suleiman Franjiyeh’s remark about Hassan’s assassination:

“The question isn’t, ‘Who killed Wissam al-Hassan?’ The question is, ‘Who sold Wissam al-Hassan?”

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
 
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

Spinning a Saudi Tale of al-Hassan’s Assassination

Why would Israel assassinate a courageous security investigator who dared to reveal Hezbollah and Syria’s crimes? (photo: Haytham AlMoussawi)
Published Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Al-Akhbar responds to allegations of distortion and fabrication in its report on the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan. A reporter from the pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat has difficulties believing that Israel or al-Qaeda could even be potential suspects in Hassan’s killing.

On Thursday, November 1, the pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat ran an article by Abdul-Rahman al-Rashed, director of the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya satellite channel, titled “Hezbollah and Wissam Hassan’s assassination.”
The article was written in response to a report published in Al-Akhbar on 30 October 2012, titled “Wissam al-Hassan: A Man Who Had Many Enemies.” In his article, Rashed accused this reporter of having distorted and fabricated information regarding the suspects in Hassan’s killing.
These were the very same suspects Hassan himself feared were planning to assassinate him, as he had reportedly stated in private meetings prior to his death. These suspects included Hezbollah, Syria, Israeli intelligence services, and al-Qaeda. Of course, Rashed decided to ignore the first two possibilities, namely Hezbollah and Syria (both were mentioned in Al-Akhbar’s report). It seems that he was more offended by the possibility that Israel and al-Qaeda could have been considered possible suspects in the assassination.
Rashed posed a question that many would consider obvious: “Why would Israel assassinate a courageous security investigator who dared to reveal Hezbollah and Syria’s crimes?”
But the question is a ridiculous one, and we thought Rashed would never embarrass himself by asking it. After all, he is a prominent writer in one of the most-widely read mouthpieces of the House of Saud, a standard bearer of pro-Wahhabi liberalism in the Arab world. In addition, he runs the second most frequently watched Arab-language political TV network.
Rashed’s question thus takes us back to square one, or to arguing in defense of Wissam Hassan. Indeed, his question reflects claims made by hardliners within Hezbollah and Syria’s camp that Hassan was essentially a tool of the US and Israel.
These hardliners maintain that the arrests of Israeli spy rings in Lebanon by the Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Branch were merely ploys to polish its image. But this is simply not true. The Information Branch dismantled a very large number of Israeli spy networks over the past five years, not only in Lebanon, but also in Syria.
There was a time when Rashed could have asked President Bashar al-Assad about this himself, when the Saudi columnist was on very friendly terms with the Syrian president, and would meet with him frequently.
At the time, the Information Branch’s successes, along with those of Lebanese army intelligence and Hezbollah’s counterespionage unit, dealt a serious blow to Israeli intelligence services, even though the first few arrests had tipped the enemy off that its methods in Lebanon and Syria had been exposed.
The officer in charge of handling human sources in the Israeli military intelligence committed suicide as a result of this major failure, and certainly not because of anything Saudi intelligence did.
Speaking of Saudi intelligence, Rashed can also ask its senior leaders about the information gathered so far in the course of the investigation into Hassan’s assassination. He could even ask Bandar bin Sultan while he’s at it, for Bandar – the director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency – has a long history of carrying out assassinations.
In 1985, Bandar’s grudge against the Resistance pushed him to stain his hands with the blood of innocents in Lebanon when he volunteered to finance the attempt on the life of Sayyid Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. The failed operation killed more than 80 civilians in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir al-Abed.
Regarding al-Qaeda’s possible involvement, the director of al-Arabiya can consult his friends at Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s intelligence services in Abu Dhabi, which had sent warnings to Hassan at the beginning of this year about a plan to assassinate a senior officer in the ISF.
The Emiratis designated a specific area where the assassination would take place, and it happens that this area covers the location where Hassan was assassinated last month. The UAE intelligence services even surprised Hassan by mentioning his secret home, before telling him that their intelligence indicated the plot was going to be carried out by an al-Qaeda affiliated group based in the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp.
It is not quite clear why Rashed would categorically deny any involvement by al-Qaeda and its affiliates, unless he believes these groups are the legitimate offspring of the Saudi regime. There is no question that Rashed wants to downplay any account that runs contrary to what “His Highness” decided happened.
For the sake of Rashed’s credibility, we must draw his attention to what the Director General of the ISF Major General Ashraf Rifi stated in the aftermath of Hassan’s assassination. Rifi, in the eyes of Rashed, is of course not among those trying to spread disinformation about the assassination.
Rifi said that there were four possible motives behind the slaying of Hassan: the arrest of former minister Michel Samaha; the dismantling of the Israeli spy networks; the arrest of terrorist cells linked to al-Qaeda and its affiliates; or what Rifi called “a fifth column.”
Ultimately, what is most bizarre about this is that the man who is accusing us of lying is the director of a television network which, as no doubt he is aware, lacks any credibility.
For instance, in 2010, when Rashed wanted to peddle the claim that Hezbollah had assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a documentary entitled A Crime in Beirut, which was produced by none other than his London-based company, he tried to have it aired on Al-Jazeera and other networks – because he knew “no one would believe Al-Arabiya.”
In fact, the words “no one would believe” were the same ones used by Rashed in the course of what he wrote about Al-Akhbar. Recall also that Al-Arabiya published in recent weeks hundreds of fabricated documents, which the television network tried relentlessly to claim were authentic.
One of the allegations contained in these forgeries was that the Turkish jet was shot down off the Syrian coast by a Grad rocket. But it seems no one has explained to Rashed and his colleagues at Al-Arabiya, that downing a jet using a Grad rocket is only slightly less plausible than the American Civil War urban legend which claimed that Confederate soldiers fired a rocket from Richmond towards Washington DC – more than 150 km away – and that the rocket went on to reach outer space.
Hassan Illeik is the Politics editor at Al-Akhbar
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Before and After: Boycotting National Dialogue


Lebanese flags placed by anti-government protesters are seen on barbed wire securing the area in front of the government palace in downtown Beirut 25 October 2012. (Photo: Reuters – Jamal Saidi)
 
Published Thursday, November 1, 2012
 
The recent March 14 declaration to boycott Mikati’s government was clipped and revised prior to its public reception. Here’s a look at some of the edits, as well as the logic behind them.

Differences among the March 14 forces did not blunt the acerbic language used against their opponents on Tuesday night when the alliance declared a boycott of the Mikati government.
The statement was initially written by the Lebanese Forces and sent to the opposition leadership shortly before before their meeting in Saad Hariri’s home in Beirut. Reservations voiced by the Lebanese Phalange Party were addressed and quickly incorporated into the text. Future Party leader Fouad Siniora accepted these changes, which in turn led to the revision or removal of four clauses.
– The declaration initially included a clause stating that March 14 will boycott the national dialogue roundtable that is currently being organized by President Michel Suleiman. This paragraph was removed to avoid any suggestion that the president will also be boycotted.

– The point about the complete boycott of the government, parliament, and the joint legislative committees was changed to state that the boycott is directed at the government, leaving the parliament and committees out.

– While the initial text called for firing the heads of the security services for having failed to prevent the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, the revised version simply demanded that the security forces be reinforced in order to perform more effectively.

– The Lebanese Forces’ draft had also called for a government of technocrats without the participation of either March 8 or 14. This was changed to state that the opposition want a neutral national salvation government, which would adopt the “Baabda Declaration” as its ministerial statement.

These four changes opened the way for the adoption of the final declaration by consensus while maintaining the core demand calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government.

From the day Hassan was killed on October 19, March 14 leaders began proposing several alternatives to the Mikati government. At first they wanted a cabinet to themselves, but soon changed course and suggested that they would be satisfied with a neutral government that would exclude both March 8 and 14.

Phalange leader Amin Gemayel, one of the key leaders in the March 14 coalition, put forward the idea of a national salvation government that would include both sides, along the lines of past governments in Lebanon.

The key weakness in the opposition’s campaign is the expectation that the prime minister will resign due to pressure they will bring to bear on him. This is at a time when Mikati appears more resolved to stay in power and is less amenable than he was a few days ago to reconcile with his opponents.

The opposition did not even bother to appeal to head of the Progressive Socialist Party and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who can make or break the current government. There are many reasons for this:

1- The opposition’s overblown expectation that Jumblatt would pull out his three ministers from the government after the assassination of Hassan. Although such a move would not have brought down the government, it would have dealt a blow to the ruling coalition, particularly in parliament where Jumblatt MPs can tip the scales in either direction.

2- March 14 leaders are aware of the close ties between Jumblatt and Hassan. Not only was the head of the information branch of the Internal Security Forces a fixture in the relationship between Hariri and Jumblatt, he was also roundly trusted to obtain sensitive information and provide level-headed analysis.

More crucially, the opposition and Jumblatt entrusted Hassan with their security. For example, Hassan would quickly inform Jumblatt of any threats against him or his family, as was the case when Hassan received information that the Druze leader’s son, Timour, was being targeted by the Syrian regime.

This protection was enough in the eyes of March 14 to prompt Jumblatt to move quickly after the death of Hassan and turn the tables on the Mikati government without hesitation.

3- March 14 had always expected that Jumblatt would pull out of the government sooner or later, believing that he needed Sunni votes in next year’s parliamentary elections. Therefore, the opposition made no offers to entice him, assuming that his departure from the cabinet was inevitable.

When they met in Paris on September 4, Hariri informed Jumblatt about his efforts to reconcile the Saudi king with the Druze leader. Hariri assured him that King Abdullah would receive him as soon as he returned from Morocco. When no such meeting took place, Hariri explained that the king was in Saudi Arabia for three days and was returning to Morocco to continue his vacation. But the king never left, nor was Jumblatt invited to visit.

Hariri had wanted Jumblatt to pull out of the Mikati government and ally himself with March 14 in parliament before going to Saudi Arabia, seeing the Druze leader’s audience with the king as a final seal of approval.

4- Before the Hassan assassination and under pressure from the opposition to resign from the government, Jumblatt always expressed concern about the vacuum such a move would leave behind. If the government fell and no alternative was formed to take its place quickly, he predicted destabilization.

So Jumblatt’s response in such situations was always to back Mikati and the government. After Hassan’s death, the Druze leader’s concerns were reinforced by the international community, which was not too eager to topple the government for fear that the various Lebanese parties would not agree on a replacement, thus endangering the country’s stability.

Jumblatt supports President Suleiman’s efforts to form a national unity government, along the lines of what Gemayel is proposing, with the prior consent of all the main parties. Only Hezbollah opposes the dissolution of the Mikati government, while Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri has expressed support for the idea of a national unity government.

On the other side stand the March 14 forces, demanding that the government resign first, and only then are they willing to discuss alternatives. The opposition is still acting as if it is victorious when in fact they had the upper hand for only a few hours after the Hassan assassination. They threw it all away when they decided to storm the government headquarters.

Nicolas Nassif is a political analyst at Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

Wissam al-Hassan: A Man Who Had Many Enemies

Urgent investigations conducted by the Information Branch did not show any suspicious activities in the area. But the precision of the information from the UAE led Hassan to treat it seriously. (Photo: Marwan Tahtaht)

 
 
Published Tuesday, October 30, 2012
 
The fallout from the assassination of Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Branch chief Wissam al-Hassan nearly two weeks ago was very similar to that following the series of assassinations that has rocked Lebanon since 2005.

Syria was blamed immediately, and those who expressed doubt were labeled collaborators. March 14 alluded to Hezbollah’s involvement as well. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea even went as far as accusing Hezbollah directly.

Jumping to conclusions prevents honest dialogue. In reality, prior to his death, Hassan felt threatened by more than one party.

People who knew Hassan heard him in recent years speak about those he thought wanted to kill him. Some of this information was based on analysis, but some of it was also based on data and facts on the ground.

Of course, Hassan had his suspicions regarding Syria’s role in Lebanon. Over the last few months, he became more apprehensive towards Syrian intelligence agencies. He would often mock their structural weaknesses, which became especially obvious following the arrest of former minister Michel Samaha who was indicted for his involvement in “terror plots” in Lebanon on behalf of the Syrian regime.

Hassan also never hid his conviction that Hezbollah, along with Syria, was behind the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, but he was convinced it was the product of a conspiracy within the organization.

Hassan believed that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and assassinated Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh did not have prior knowledge of the killing and were not involved in it in any way.

The intelligence chief made it clear that he feared a certain group within Hezbollah made up of “undisciplined elements who do not obey their leadership.”

This apprehension did not prevent Hassan from cooperating with Hezbollah and even exchanging intelligence on several occasions.

While the Information Branch led the crackdown on Israeli spy networks over the last four years, the Resistance provided information that was crucial to their discovery.

“The are better than us in human intelligence gathering,” he would say of Hezbollah’s intelligence branch.

Hassan knew that the nature of his work made him a target. He often said that his job “left me without any friends.”

A few months ago, Hassan told people close to him about meetings he had with Jordanian officials, including the head of Jordanian intelligence, who he met in Germany, and a minister linked to Jordanian intelligence.

He said that each of them had relayed information – on separate occasions – about discussions with the Israelis regarding the situation in Lebanon.

As a result, both officials told Hassan that the Israelis do not look on him favourably and that he should be careful, even in Europe.

Hassan knew that the Israelis were after his neck. On several occasions, he reportedly said that he did not feel safe in Europe anymore.

He was aware of the damage done to Israel through the unraveling of its spy networks in Lebanon, starting in 2007 when the Intelligence Branch commenced its counter-intelligence operations.

Hassan also received a clear message from the US Congress, which cut back on some of the joint programs between his branch and its American counterparts. On one occasion, several US Senators explicitly informed Hassan that were facing Israeli pressure to stop their assistance to Lebanon.

But the clearest message came from the Jordanian intelligence officer he met with almost a year ago and whose warnings he took seriously.

Earlier this year, Hassan got another warning. In January 2012, he received a letter from the United Arab Emirates’ intelligence body saying they had credible information that a high ranking officer from the ISF would be targeted with a car bomb in Achrafieh on the road between the ISF headquarters and the officer’s safe house.

The information came as a surprise to Hassan, since he believed his safe house in Achrafieh was a secret. Even his closest aides were not informed of its location. He knew that the information from the UAE concerned him personally, the Achrafieh safe house being his own.

All he could do was leak the information to the press, to tell those who wanted to assassinate him that their plot had been discovered.

Urgent investigations conducted by the Information Branch did not show any suspicious activities in the area. But the precision of the information from the UAE led Hassan to treat it seriously.

The information was leaked to the press and treated, as usual, as fodder for internal Lebanese politicking. The Information Branch was accused of fabricating the information to use it to pry communications data from telecom operators.

But for the security officers concerned with the investigation, the issue was critical. Hassan did not know who was behind the plot discovered by UAE intelligence.

He assumed it was related to Syrian intelligence operations. He remained convinced of this until he met a UAE intelligence official who told him that their information points to al-Qaeda, specifically one of their groups operating out of the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp.

Wissam al-Hassan knew he had to stay a step ahead of his adversaries, some of whom remained a mystery even to him. He knew his enemies were many and that the last seven years of his life as a top intelligence chief only made him more of a target.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Lebanon’s Red Lines, Bared



Sunday, Oct 28 2012
By Sharmine Narwani

What a difference a week can make in the Middle East.

On October 19, when a car bomb tore through the upscale Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh in Beirut killing a major security official, Lebanon shuddered in fear that the era of political assassinations was back.

Politicians and commentators didn’t miss a beat. The murder of Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Branch head Wissam al-Hassan was compared to the killing of his former boss, ex-PM Rafiq Hariri in 2005. And the Hariri-allied pro-West, anti-Syria, pro-Saudi “March 14” political coalition lined up to deliver a visceral blow to their opponents, just as they had in 2005 when they ejected Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Hassan’s body was not yet cold before his political allies started pointing their fingers at Syria and whipping up fury in the anti-Syrian Sunni enclaves of Lebanon. Young men spilled onto the streets with weapons brandished; some with RPGs and even combat uniforms. Clashes ensued, people died, but still their March 14 leaders did not call for calm.

In a replay of 2005 when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese rose up in the State Department-dubbed “Cedar Revolution” to oust the Syrians, March 14 groups on Sunday called for the masses to rally against Syria and its Lebanese government allies.

Except that not a single Syrian was ever charged by the international UN-backed tribunal that investigated Hariri’s death. And last week there was no evidence that Syria was implicated in Hassan’s assassination either.

But that didn’t stop the political theater at Hassan’s funeral service last Sunday when just a few thousand showed up to participate in what some hoped would be a replay of 2005.
There was no comparison whatsoever.

Instead of the sea of Lebanese flags, unifying slogans like “Freedom, Sovereignty, Independence” and the dazzling marketing and color-revolution choreography of, respectively, Saatchi & Saatchi and Serbia’s Otpor that marked the 2005 event…the scene at Martyr’s Square in downtown Beirut on Sunday resembled a wake for the March 14 coalition.

There was barely a Lebanese flag to be seen. Instead, the throngs held up flags of the Future Movement headed by Hariri’s son Saad, right-wing Lebanese Forces Christian militia flags, Saudi flags, the colonial flag of the Syrian opposition and Islamist flags in black. Radical Muslims rallied alongside radical Christians, their one commonality, revulsion for the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

The visible awkwardness of these March 14 alliances was impossible to ignore on Lebanese TV that day. Who failed to note the incongruity of a right-wing Christian Samir Geagea supporter standing next to a Sunni youth sporting an Al Qaeda headband?
How can there be a future for a Future Movement so fundamentally at odds within itself, one wondered.

The crowds had little in common, their disparate leaders were smug, the mood was nationally divisive – little wonder then that the event ended with sticks and stones and tear gas. Not to mention a pitiful attempt to storm the Grand Serail and eject the Lebanese government headed by Hezbollah ally and billionaire Sunni, Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Those few hours on Sunday produced the first post-bombing revelation:

March 14 has nothing to offer Lebanon – they are morally bankrupt, out of ideas, yesterday’s leaders clawing for relevance as the region changes rapidly around them. Their supporters too are just treading water – this grouping exists only in opposition to something; it stands for nothing.

While the bombing had March 14 licking their opportunistic lips, it was their own western allies France, the UK and US (FUKUS) that crushed their political hopes. Without any apparent tactical coordination, FUKUS overrode March 14 publicly, and declared that PM Mikati and his government must stay.

What is surprising is March 14’s utter cluelessness about the way those winds were blowing. Not just FUKUS, but all five UN Security Council permanent members and Ban-Ki Moon’s personal representative in Lebanon weighed in on the side of Mikati’s government.

Not only was the UNSC speaking with one voice, but the speed and decisiveness of their message also undermined a key March 14-FUKUS refrain. In effect, the global powers were recognizing that the Iran and Hezbollah-backed Lebanese government was integral to guaranteeing the country’s stability at a vulnerable time. No longer could this duo claim that these regional players were acting to destabilize Lebanon.

And so another red line is bared. The three main western backers of the Syrian and Lebanese opposition have shown their limits:

It is perfectly okay to sow sectarian strife in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, but not if it means destabilization on several of Israel’s borders. One conflict-struck country is manageable in the Levant, but more than that and things can spread like wildfire.

Controlled chaos is fine, but certainly not concurrent with a power vacuum. A powerless Lebanese state will mean loss of control over the critical southern territories along the Israeli border and along the eastern border with Syria – both are hard limits for FUKUS.

The FUKUS states have of course realized that at this critical juncture in Syria, they need levers in neighboring Lebanon. They care not a whit about their allies being in power – a compliant government is far less valuable than one with “access.” The governing March 8 coalition is led by a weak and malleable Mikati, but importantly, he is a route to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – which counts when regional stakes are this high.

No matter that Hezbollah has just flown a drone over FUKUS-ally Israel in an embarrassing breach of security for the Jewish state. No matter that Israel has been demanding military strikes against Iran just before a US presidential election. No matter that March 14 have been staunch FUKUS allies in both a local and regional geopolitical context against mutual foes Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

The only thing that counts now is that FUKUS isn’t confident about the outcome in Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has outlasted all their predictions and opposition forces supported by the west are radicalizing in a direction that makes their mentors uncomfortable. If Islamist militants spin out of control in Syria, FUKUS will need to tame that chaos fast, before it spills into allied Jordan and Israel and further disrupts the Turkish and Lebanese borders.

The red lines hurriedly drawn in Lebanon last week have shown regional antagonists some new and unexpected cards. March 14’s diffuse political identity resonates little with the Lebanese, and its interests are diverging from traditional external allies. FUKUS and the UNSC views the Iran, Hezbollah and Syria-backed Lebanese government as a force for stability in the Levant. Western leaders fear loss of control in the Syrian crisis they helped fan. Iran and Hezbollah hold valuable levers for the international community.

We may never discover who killed Wissam al-Hassan, but Lebanon last week was full of revelations nonetheless.

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

The Crisis of March 14


The rest of March 14 are also counting on a Saudi promise to exert special efforts to convince France and Britain and even the US to change their positions and support toppling the government quickly. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)
 
Published Monday, October 29, 2012
 
Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief dissects the internal crisis threatening to bring down the March 14 alliance. The movement, he concludes, lacks a “voice of reason” to help it adapt to new realities and the loss of much of its foreign support.

In addition to his role as UN Under-Secretary-General for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman is also preoccupied with his role in Lebanese politics.

According to documents from the US state department published by Wikileaks, Feltman is the spiritual and the practical guide for most of the March 14 figures.

Because of assuming this role and following developments in Lebanon closely, he got quite angry last Sunday [the funeral of assassinated Wissam al-Hassan] and busied himself sending e-mails to leading personalities, politicians, consultants and decision-makers in the March 14 Movement.
His analysis of the regional and global situation was brief. He ended by describing what March 14 supporters did in downtown Beirut as rash and irresponsible. His advice for them was to go back home and stay calm.

In Beirut, the US ambassador Maura Connelly faced her first test with the influential figures of March 14. As far as she is concerned, these figures have little to no room for dissent when faced with a decision from a major external power. Nevertheless, she was forced to raise her voice and to use firm language in presenting her country’s point of view on the current crisis.

She told the Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea that the assassinated security chief Wissam al-Hassan was a successful officer but that he was an officer nonetheless and it is unacceptable to turn the country upside down because an officer was killed.

She told former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel, former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and the advisors of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that the situation is not necessarily what they think, and that their calculations and reading of the situation overestimate their capabilities.

Calls for toppling the Lebanese government are perhaps justified, but how are they to achieve this goal, the US ambassador wondered. Who among them has guarantees that the resignation of the current government will directly lead to the emergence of a new government? Lebanon’s stability should not be shaken at this point.

The British and French ambassadors played a supporting role. The Lebanese Francophone politicians waged a campaign against the French ambassador in Lebanon because he sought to set up direct communication between the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and the Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

The prime minister heard unequivocal statements that the French government does not back any attempt to topple the government, that they do not want to see political vacuum in Lebanon and have no guarantees that a new government would be formed if he were to tender his resignation.

MP Marwan Hamadeh strongly protested the opinions of Western ambassadors regarding the situation in Lebanon, and even flew out to meet the French foreign minister.

Hamadeh’s problem is twofold: First, he left a bad impression among staff at the French embassy in Beirut because he acted as though “they do not know what is happening in Lebanon.” His second problem is with MP Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader and head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), who had verified the French position during a phone call with Fabius himself. In addition, Hamadeh claimed to his colleagues in March 14 that the French position is more resolute than the US position.

The British embassy received assistants of former prime minister Hariri. The ambassador heard criticism of the Western position that has served as a cover for the government’s survival. The ambassador said calmly: “let me hear what kind of an alternative plan you have if this government resigns.”

After all these meetings, foreign ambassadors sensed the difficult situation in which March 14 finds itself. But what is to be done? Connelly said she played a direct role with the US state department in issuing a statement emphasizing the West’s support for Lebanese President Michel Sleiman’s efforts to form a new national unity government. Connelly told her Lebanese interlocutors that until the president’s efforts are fruitful they will not agree to topple the government.

The ambassadors returned to their offices but they received more unpleasant reports. The number of those participating in Hassan’s funeral was very small. Not to mention the number of non-Lebanese participants, particularly Palestinians and Syrians.

Gemayel informed March 14 forces who came to his house to “appease him” that he can no longer take this “exclusionary way of taking decisions without prior consultations.” Gemayel vented his anger to March 14 General Secretariat Coordinator Fares Soaid, asking who was really behind the attack on the Grand Serail – the prime minister’s headquarters.

Gemayel also angrily asked who decided to raise the flag of the Syrian opposition instead of the Lebanese flag during the protests. The former president also broached a central point of contention within March 14 by rejecting the unilateral decision to boycott the national dialogue.

Geagea’s problem is of a different kind. Only a few hundred LF supporters participated in Hassan’s funeral. But a few LF members with a well-known history of working on the ground headed the group that attacked the Grand Serail. Then the situation spiraled out of control and Geagea was forced to withdraw, absolving himself of responsibility for what was going on.

But Geagea’s reading is different too. At this moment of high tension, he gathered his cadres and explained the general picture to them. He spoke of a “real problem between Saudi Arabia and the US” regarding the Lebanese crisis. Geagea did not tell his cadres that the head of Saudi intelligence Bandar Bin Sultan asked him for a stronger movement on the ground while at the same time the US ambassador in Beirut called on them to stay calm and follow Jumblatt’s example.

Geagea, however, told his cadres that he is going to take a public position against Syria and Hezbollah and advocate the toppling of the government. When some of those present asked him who he thinks is responsible for Hassan’s assassination, Geagea named multiple suspects, including Israel, which surprised many of those present.

Before Hassan’s assassination, Geagea was trying to reach a compromise with Hariri. The last meetings in Saudi Arabia were not very fruitful. They did not reach a deal on the election law and they did not come to an understanding regarding their partnership with Jumblatt.

Geagea wants to stay top of the March 14 list of presidential candidates. He knows, however, that it is close to impossible, especially after he got news that one of Jumblatt’s problems with March 14 is the Druze leader’s belief that Geagea’s candidacy would constitute a severe political shock.

Geagea promised his supporters and confirmed to his allies in March 14 that their actions are going to escalate and that the West is going to have a new position after the US presidential elections.

The rest of March 14 are also counting on a Saudi promise to exert special efforts to convince France and Britain and even the US to change their positions and support toppling the government quickly.

There are stories about the French president’s visit to Saudi Arabia and imminent meetings with the US and British leadership. Also the director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, Bandar Bin Sultan, insists that a decisive change is possible in the last few weeks of this year whereby the weakening of the Syrian regime will create a new opportunity to topple Mikati’s government.

Bandar Bin Sultan adds that in Mikati’s last visit to Saudi Arabia, Bin Sultan gave the Lebanese PM a very clear message that he must leave the Syrian-Iranian axis quickly. March 14 leaders quoted Bandar as saying that the meeting between him and Mikati was cold and went badly.

People who met with Mikati heard a different version. He said the meeting went well and that there was a lot of honesty. But March 14 leaders say that after what happened, the Saudis decided to cut off all relations with Mikati. No one will meet with him, not even secretly.

Saudi Arabia’s problem went beyond Mikati to Jumblatt. The Druze leader rejected all Saudi temptations. Nevertheless, the Saudi ambassador in Beirut advised the March 14 leaders to be more flexible in their relationship with Jumblatt and not to push him completely to the other side. As for Mikati, the ambassador said they will deal with him in a different way.

The Saudi ambassador went to the presidential palace carrying a message for President Michel Suleiman about the need to change the government. Just like Siniora and the rest of the March 14 forces, some of these figures alluded to the fact that Suleiman did not keep a promise to provide grounds for toppling the government, but Suleiman absolutely denies this. Those in contact with the president say that he was honest with the group that wants the government to resign. He asked them if they want to set a new precedent of having a Maronite president ask a Sunni prime minister to resign.
Suleiman apparently looked for a compromise between the two sides. He told the March 14 forces that he would prefer to hold a national dialogue session as soon as possible to discuss the general situation including the electoral law, the government and the defense strategy.

The March 14 forces rejected this suggestion. They prefer to leave the national dialogue till the end of next month. They are thinking about the results of the US elections and the outcome of the new Saudi efforts with Europe. At this point, Siniora was the most honest, saying that they will not engage in national dialogue with Hezbollah and Mikati.

Suleiman asked them what alternative there is. Siniora demanded the government be toppled.

Side talks clarified the situation. The March 14 alliance wants a neutral government and are demanding to have control over the ministries that deal with because they feel threatened. But they know that Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) will never accept this. So what is their view of a national accord government? The answer was a quick ‘no.’ Who are their candidates for the post of prime minister? They said they will cross that bridge when they come to it. The government must fall first.

Suleiman is discussing the issue further, but he knows that Hezbollah and FPM leader Michel Aoun will surely not accept this deal. He also knows that the Maronite patriarch Beshara al-Rai is not with March 14 and that Jumblatt’s problems with Hariri, Geagea and even Siniora are growing.

Jumblatt had informed Suleiman that he rejected an offer by Hariri to leave the government [in exchange] for a larger number of MPs because he did not want to create a political vacuum. Then he got a more enticing offer from Siniora, who told Ghazi al-Aridi – an MP from Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, the National Struggle Front (NSF) – that they can set up a meeting between Jumblatt and the Saudi king but that the PSP leader needs to leave the government first.

It is obvious that the country is currently facing a complex crisis, and not just because of the sharp divisions surrounding Syria, the Resistance and national unity. The country is facing a crisis because major parties in Lebanon support the views of March 14 but lack the leadership and voice of reason needed to reformulate their position.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

‘In Beirut Blast, US Loses a Top Ally’

‘In Beirut Blast, US Loses a Top Ally’

[WSJ] “…WASHINGTON—The assassination of Lebanon’s security chief a week ago robbed the U.S. and Europe of one of its closest allies in monitoring and countering the regional activities of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as well as its backers in Syria and Iran, said U.S. and Arab officials.
 

Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan headed intelligence-gathering for Lebanon’s police force, the Internal Security Forces, which was among Beirut’s primary recipients of U.S. financial aid since mass protests forced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remove his troops from the country in 2005.
 
Because of Gen. Hassan’s ties to the West, Arab and Western officials said they believed last Friday’s car bombing in central Beirut—which killed the security chief and seven others—was a warning from Syria and Iran. Its aim, these people say, was to warn anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon and the West not to work for the overthrow of Mr. Assad’s regime in Damascus.
 
“This is a big blow for the Americans because of Hassan’s role inside Lebanon,” said a senior Arab diplomat. “He was the top intelligence chief and interlocutor.”…
 
In late August, according to Arab diplomats, Gen. Hassan visited Washington, where he held extensive discussions with the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, and other senior Obama administration officials.
 
The two spy chiefs discussed Syria’s efforts to destabilize Lebanon using Hezbollah and pro-Damascus politicians, these officials said. They also discussed Hezbollah’s efforts to bolster Mr. Assad’s security forces inside Syria, by sending in military advisers and fighters. Hezbollah has denied acting inside Syria.
 
A senior U.S. official praised Gen. Hassan as “a significant figure” but stressed that U.S. intelligence ties to Lebanon go beyond one person. “It would be wrong to overestimate the damage to the U.S. from this one attack,…….. His killing doesn’t have to be a trigger for even more violence.”

Gen. Hassan also maintained close ties to French intelligence….
 

The U.S. has specifically worked with the ISF to deploy Lebanese security officials in areas traditionally dominated by Hezbollah in south Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley….”

 

Hariri, Jumblat in Heated Dispute

Local Editor

The Lebanese people witnessed late Thursday a heated dispute between former Premier Saad al-Hariri and the leader of Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblat.
Hairi and Jumblat
The dispute started when Jumblat revealed that Hariri had telephoned him and asked him to withdraw his ministers from the government.

“Hariri telephoned me and asked me to resign and I told him that I won’t resign. He said the Sunnis are being killed and I told him that Wissam al-Hasan is the martyr of Lebanon and that I won’t subject the country to vacuum. I also said other things and he was dismayed by my remarks,” Jumblat said in an interview on LBCI television.

Hariri hit back at Jumbalt, accusing the Druze leader of being a “liar”.

“Walid Jumblat is quoting me as saying that Wissam al-Hasan is the martyr of the Sunni sect. This is untrue and his ally (PM Najib) Miqati is the one who said that. Wissam al-Hasan is the martyr of Lebanon,” said Hariri on the social networking website Twitter during Jumblat’s interview.

Jumblat snapped back immediately during the interview. “Great. If Miqati said that then he committed a mistake and let us consider Wissam al-Hasan the martyr of the Lebanese state,” he said.
“May God forgive you Walid Bek. You understand stability as staying in the Syrian-Iranian alliance, so congratulations,” Hariri then tweeted.

For his part, Jumblat said, “May God forgive him about all these remarks.”

Addressing the PSP leader, Hariri said: “Your partners in government are the ones who incited against him and accused him of treason like they accused Rafik Hariri.”

“From now on, I will not remain silent in the face of anyone,” Hariri vowed.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

A Day of Sectarian Violence in Lebanon


I feel obligated to write about this because all – ALL – Western media are complicit in the propaganda campaign of the pro-Saudi coalition known as March 14 (which is identified as “pro-Western” regardless of the prominent membership of Jihadi Salafis). What followed after the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan (head of a sectarian intelligence apparatus founded by the Hariri family on behalf of Saudi intelligence) is yet to be reported in the Western press. This is a story in which far-right Zionist media, Israeli media, and the Economist, the Guardian, the New York Times and Fox News all sound the same. If you are conspiracy-minded, you would think that they all receive their marching orders from the same source.

Basically, the Hariri militia all over Lebanon took to the streets and began a campaign of sectarian killings and beatings. They were bent on seeking revenge for the assassination of their sectarian intelligence chief: they know that they can push because the Lebanese prime minister is weak and is desperate for Saudi approval. They also took advantage of Hezbollah restraint: they know that Hezbollah is avoiding an all-out sectarian civil war, as much as the clients of Saudi Arabia are pushing for it.

What happened in Tripoli has become predictable: Salafi armed thugs habitually resort to shelling the predominantly-Alawi Jabal Mohsen because they know that they can get away with it. The armed groups of Tripoli are known as tools of the same intelligence apparatus that was headed by Wissam al-Hassan.



So, who wants civil strife in Lebanon?

The Tripoli Salafis include Bin Ladenites, but their presence is not acknowledged by the Western press, although al-Qaeda flags were on prominent display in the days of sectarian violence this past week. Western media still insist on ignoring the evidence of Bin Ladenites among the March 14 movement, just as they have succeeded on insisting that there are no Bin Ladenites among the gangs of the Free Syrian Army. The Alawis of Jabal Mohsen (a mere 5 percent of Tripoli’s population) used to be empowered by the presence of the Syrian regime army, but now have no support among the Lebanese population. In the Lebanese system of sectarian ranking, Alawis rank very low on the scale. The Alawis are sitting ducks and no one speak on their behalf. They are merely a step above the rank of Kurds and Gypsies and foreign maids.

‘al Qaeda-Hariri gunmen fighting the Lebanese National Army’

But the militia of Hariri also struck in Beirut. They made their presence known in various Sunni neighborhoods and starting shooting at the Lebanese Army. The weak Lebanese Army arrested two Palestinian boys and said that they alone were responsible for the mayhem in Beirut. The Lebanese Army announced their names and nationality because they don’t dare arrest any member of the Hariri militia. The last refuge of all Hariri politicians is sectarian agitation and mobilization. The arrest of any of their armed thugs would have immediately led to cries of sectarian persecution and the Saudi government would have issued a statement.

In Naameh, thugs of the Hariri movement stopped cars and asked whether passengers were Sunni or Shia. Those who were Shia were stopped and severely beaten. Scores of people were killed or injured. Yet, the New York Times’ coverage talked about conflict “spilling into Lebanon” without naming names and without identifying the killers. In fact, the New York Times coverage made it seem as if the Syrian regime was behind the shootings in Lebanon. The narrative can’t deviate from the simple one-track line of US media propaganda.

Future MP Oqab Saqr Funds, Arms, Kidnaps in Syria

To be sure, all Lebanese sides are involved in the Syrian conflict, but none are as involved as the Hariri faction. Saad Hariri had to acknowledge last week that his assistant, Oqab Saqr, was involved in Syrian opposition affairs, but he implied that his work is… purely charitable.

The scene in Lebanon this past week was part of the legacy of Wissam al-Hassan. When the Hariri militia fled the scene on 7 May 2008, the Intelligence Branch of al-Hassan relied on an alternative scenario.

They increased their sponsorship of Salafi and Bin Ladenite groups in Lebanon.

A friend of al-Hassan, Wiam Wahhab (a pro-Syrian regime politician with little popular support), appeared on TV and said that al-Hassan told him that his visit with Petraeus last month dealt exclusively with the Tripoli-based armed Salafi groups. These are now the orphans of Mr. al-Hassan.

The Lebanese Army intervened but only after the blood was shed and the sectarian lines in the sand were drawn with fire. The Hariri movement has a long history of recklessness and brinkmanship. But the restraint of Hezbollah has worked in the latter’s favor thus far. That may change soon and that could not possibly be in their favor, or even in the favor of their allies in Syria.

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

March 14 Suffers Pre-Mature Aging…Seeks Re-organization

 
Local Editor

“As-Safir” Lebanese newspaper confirmed Thursday “there is no secret that there is a big difference between March 14 scene that followed the assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri in 2005, and that of October 2012 that followed the assassination of Major General Wissam al-Hassan.”


As the daily highlighted that there are a lot of regional and international developments, it also noted: Hariri’s political position and popularity certainly varies from al-Hassan’s nature, and his shadow work.

Meanwhile, it added that the transformations that occurred within “March 14” structure and the pattern of relations its constituents turned with time to a gap in this experience.

On the level of March 14 public opinion, it is not difficult to detect the sharp criticism to the leaders, every while and then, to object their inclination towards bargains and trade-off deals at the expense of principles and values.

7 years on its birth, the political body of March 14 became exhausted. It seems that this body is showing signs of premature aging under the pressure of divergences and self-calculations among its members.

In this context, it’s sufficient to address some March 14 experiences to show the fundamental distinctions that go beyond the limits of diversity within unity, to differences on the options.

Young March 14 enthusiasts feel they need some kind of victory following a series of setbacks. They accuse the political leadership of bringing March 14 out of its popular context and its first patent and turning it into a mere political tool used in the domestic game.

In parallel, if it was said that March 14 forces are more organized than March 8, this argument had been cracked with time.

Moreover, former PM Saad Hariri’s absence from Lebanon disrupted the party leadership, thus affecting the March 14 forces’ action mechanism.

According to the daily, the Salafist and extremist trends are clearly on the rise, as former PM Saad Hariri lost control over them knowing that he had relied on them at one point in the confrontation with Hizbullah.

For his part, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has been able to exploit former PM Hariri’s absence to his own advantage.

In this context, as-Safir learned that both Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel and the head of the Future parliamentary bloc MP Fouad Siniora met in a dinner table in Bikfayeh in the presence of Nadir Haririr and other March 14 officials. The discussions focused on organizing March 14 positions.

Similarly, the head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea called former President Amin Gemayel. The two men agreed on meeting through respective envoys in order to hold further discussions.

Key Future Movement sources told as-Safir that preparations are ongoing for taking practical steps within the framework of the constitution and the law in order to bring down PM Najib Mikati’s government.

“The position that Siniora declared during al-Hassan’s assassination has not changed, and therefore no dialogue before the resignation of the government,” Siniora’s sources told the daily.

Source: as-Safir daily, Translated and Edited by moqawama.org

Dressed in ‘LF’ Flag, Zionist Agent Threatens to Kill from Beirut

Local Editor

Covered with the Lebanese Forces flag, a well known pierre nammourIsraeli collaborator said he was “ready to kill”, as he was taking part in Sunday’s events when March 14 militants and partisans tried to storm the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.

Pierre Nammour, of Lebanese nationality, has been charged of spying for the Zionist entity in the Lebanese territories for more than ten years.

He entered the occupied territories for treatment at the Israeli Rambam Medical Center after being injured in his chest and abdomen during his service as a collaborator.
pierre nammour
Nammour asked the Zionist entity for an asylum following July offensive in 2006 when one of the Israeli patrols occupied the southern village of Marwaheen.

Born in Saida, he was from Qlaiaa residents.

The man, who speaks Hebrew fluently, was among the people who took part in the protest that coincided with the funeral of Internal Security Forces Information Branch Chief Wissam al-Hasan on Sunday.

He appeared in a report broadcast by al-Jadeed TV on Sunday, covered with the Lebanese Forces flag.

“March 14 is still alive in our souls,” Nammour told al-Jadeed reporter as he voiced distress for pierre nammourthe ongoing events in Lebanon.

“What happened in the country is no more bearable!” he said, adding that “we can do much more actions,” against what the second side has been doing.

When asked to name some of these “actions” the Israeli colloborator can do it to “counter” the other camp’s practices, he said: “The easiest action in life is killing!”

The reporter here asked him: “Are you ready to kill?”

Nammour answered blatantly: “If we were obliged to do so… Why not?”

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

Is There a Link Between the al-Hassan and Hariri Assassinations?

A link between this attack and the 2005 assassination of Hariri must be proven. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)
Published Monday, October 22, 2012
With foreign intelligence agencies offering to assist in investigating Friday’s assassination of top security official Wissam al-Hassan, the politically delicate situation of the possible involvement of the STL is being discussed.

At a press conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati was asked: “You say that this crime [the assassination of Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan] is of the same gravity as the murder of [the late] Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. So why has the case not been referred to the international tribunal, especially when you are speaking of ‘international investigations’?”

Mikati replied: “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was set up for a specific situation, at a specific time. I did not wish to preempt the issue before discussing it with the international organizations. The decision is clear – it is to cooperate with every foreign and international body, agency and authority. The tribunal is one of the organizations we can resort to for help when needed.”

Besides the clear indication that he will be inviting foreign intervention into Lebanese affairs, Mikati’s reply is not even factually correct. The STL, the international tribunal tasked with investigating the assassination of Hariri, only has jurisdiction over the 14 February 2005 attack, in which Hariri and others died, and dozens were wounded. If the tribunal comes to consider – according to the principles of criminal justice and through investigations carried out by its own public prosecutor – that other attacks in Lebanon carried out between 1 November 2004 and 12 December 2005 are linked to the 14 February 2005 attack, and that their nature and gravity are comparable, then the court will also have jurisdiction over these attacks.

However, if the Lebanese government, in agreement with the UN secretary general and with the approval of the UN Security Council, decides to ask STL prosecutor Norman Farrell to expand his jurisdiction to include attacks that took place in Lebanon after 12 December 2005 – such as Hassan’s assassination – then a link between this attack and the 2005 assassination of Hariri must be proven.

This link would have to include – for example, but not exclusively – a number of the following factors: criminal intent (motive), the aim of the attacks, the status of the targeted victims, the modus operandi of the attacks, and the alleged perpetrators. The government will not be able to reach a conclusion on any such link in a short period of time. The official agencies in charge of the investigation would have to complete the first phase of their mission and place the preliminary information in the hands of the judicial authorities, who can in turn send their report to the cabinet via the justice minister.

Three days after the bombing in Achrafieh, one can discuss some of the preliminary information to determine whether there is any basis for a link between the attacks, though the investigation is a long way from being resolved:

First, it seems that investigating criminal intent will include local parties, as well as regional and international parties. One of the motives for the crime could have been to disable a security/ intelligence apparatus that has proven capable of arresting several persons, some of whom were later convicted in court, for working on behalf of Israeli intelligence services. Hassan’s Information Branch also foiled an operation to transport explosives to Lebanon from Syria, allegedly at the behest of the Syrian government. Possible motives for the attack, therefore, could include regional intelligence services settling scores.

However, examining the motives for the attack against Hariri – according to the STL prosecution’s indictment – and the possible motives for Hassan’s assassination, leads to the conclusion that a connection ought to be ruled out. The international indictment, or arrest warrants resulting from it, do not point to any relationship between the four accused in Hariri’s assassination and the Syrian or Israeli intelligence services.

Second, it seems that the aim of the Achrafieh attack was not just to assassinate Hassan, but also to spread fear among the people in a predominantly Christian area. Some of the attacks that followed the assassinations of 2005 were also aimed at spreading fear among people in areas that belonged to this same sect, without targeting any specific person (such as the attacks in Kaslik, Sadd al-Bouchrieh and Ashrafieh between 2005 and 2007). Undoubtedly, a careful examination of the criminal techniques used in the Hassan assassination will help uncover the motive behind the attack.

Third, the largest number of direct victims of this attack were civilians with no relationship to the target. When it comes to the target himself, one can clearly distinguish the significance of his institutional position from his political, sectarian or religious one. Hassan was an officer in the Internal Security Forces, but despite law number 17/90 forbidding officers of this institution from getting involved in politics, Hassan also played a political role, which almost overshadowed his institutional one. On this basis, we can say that Hassan’s status does correlate with that of Hariri. In addition, Hassan was one of Hariri’s closest companions before the latter was assassinated, because he was in charge of protocol at the time. Hassan had resigned from the security forces, but decided to rejoin them after the Hariri assassination with the aim of establishing a sophisticated security intelligence force. Therefore, it seems that Hassan operated in a more practical and functional capacity than a merely symbolic or superficial one.

This compels a return to the motives of the crime, where it appears that the argument for deactivating the agency Hassan led is stronger than the motive for inciting strife. In other words, Hassan’s security, intelligence and operational position, and his responsibility for essential daily tasks, can help establish the criminal intent. It also permits a distinction from other assassinations, which targeted persons who were playing or had played a political, media or military role, with the exceptions of Major Wissam Eid, assassinated in 2008, and Lieutenant Colonel Samir Shehadeh, who survived an assassination attempt in 2006.

Fourth, as for the modus operandi of the attack, preliminary information indicates that it differed from previous ones. From camera and audio recordings, it appears that the attack was the result of two bombs – not one – as was the case with all other assassinations since 2005, with the exception of the attack against ex-minister Pierre Gemayel, who was shot. As with the previous attacks, it is most likely that the target was being carefully surveilled. But the difference between Hassan and most of the previous targets is that he was the best qualified to protect himself from such surveillance. The founder and director of the most sophisticated intelligence service in Lebanon should have been able to uncover any attempt to infiltrate his service or to monitor his movements.

Fifth, searching for possible suspects in the initial phase should not be limited to the intelligence and security services operating on Lebanese soil that are technically capable of carrying out such an attack. Rather, the investigation should also consider the degree to which this attack benefits each of these services and states.

As for the international tribunal, it seems that most security and government agencies in Lebanon, with Prime Minister Mikati at the forefront, are pointing the finger at Syrian intelligence, not to Hezbollah – the party to which the four men accused by the STL of assassinating Hariri belong.


Can the Investigation be Entrusted to the Information Branch?

Assassinated Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan built a sophisticated security-intelligence apparatus that was supposed to be under the authority of the chiefs of staff of the Internal Security Forces’ General Directorate. The Information Branch is considered to be the most sophisticated and effective security apparatus in Lebanon. Its officers and rank and file are highly-qualified as are its technical experts, who underwent training in Lebanon, the US and Europe. As for equipment, Hassan presided over the most state-of-the-art equipment, offices and technology.

However, despite all these qualifications and abilities, professional standards dictate that another apparatus should be placed in charge of investigating the assassination of the agency’s director and founder. Officers at the Information Branch knew Hassan personally, which implies an emotional connection that has to be suspended in criminal investigations.

Tasking officers at the Information Branch with investigating Hassan’s assassination should be avoided – not least of all because Hassan’s movements were a closely-guarded secret, and the trap set for him in a back alley of Achrafieh presupposes that his assassins may have been privy to inside information.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Wissam al-Hassan and the Information Branch

Looking Behind and Into the Assassination





Hassan had previously received warnings from Arab intelligence agencies that Israel was upset with him for cooperating with Hezbollah (Photo: Haytham alMoussawi)
Published Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Let us try to enter the mind of whoever decided on and carried out the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan.

They (an individual, organization or state) must have considered Hassan to be an enemy who needed to be got rid of. This may have been to punish him for something he did, to prevent him from doing something, or to use the assassination to send a message with political and security overtones to the parties seen as standing behind Hassan. Accordingly, in addition to making the necessary logistical and technical preparations, the killers would have considered the likely repercussions of and reactions to such a move, both if it were to succeed and if it were to fail.

Given Lebanon’s experience over the past decade, any rational person would know that the assassination of someone of Hassan’s stature would have an explosive impact. But this rational person may have decided to proceed with the operation having taken the anticipated fallout fully into account. It is also clear from the nature of the operation that the perpetrator was highly professional. That leaves us with limited possibilities.

First, that Lebanese parties were involved, in collaboration with external parties, because they supposed the direct political fallout from an operation of this magnitude would benefit their political side. The assassination could be expected to bolster the political camp to which Hassan belongs. The political repercussions would, therefore, be highly negative for the perpetrators if they were opponents of March 14.

Second, that the perpetrators’ external political connections enabled them to conclude that the killing would not cause a major change in their domestic political scene, nor even in the regional and international scene as it relates to Lebanon. That implies that they had the capacity not only to execute a plan aimed at eliminating an enemy, but also to ensure that the fallout would remain limited.

Third, the bombing was the work of a party that is hostile to everything in Lebanon, such as Israel. Hassan had previously received warnings from Arab intelligence agencies that Israel was upset with him for cooperating with Hezbollah in uncovering Israeli espionage networks in Lebanon.

Fourth, that al-Qaeda opted to pre-empt an anticipated confrontation between it and Hassan. There have been many indications, including the outcome of his last meeting with the director of the CIA and his aides, that Hassan was a partner in the process of gathering intelligence on groups affiliated to al-Qaeda in Lebanon and the region. He and the Americans agreed to exchange information about the activities of these groups in Syria and Lebanon.

Can any of the possibilities currently being talked about be ruled out?

Yes, though that might displease a great many parties today. There are 1,001 reasons that make Syria an unlikely suspect.

People working in security deem it naive to think Hassan’s assassination was a response to his uncovering of the Michel Samaha case. There are many reasons for that, including the fact, revealed by the crisis in Syria, that the Syrian security establishment is in seriously and dangerously decrepit condition – as evidenced by its failure to take the most basic security measures to prevent repeated attacks on high-level regime figures.

How could such a precise and professional action be carried out by an entity that cannot protect its own centers from simple infiltration? Does everyone remember how the opposition managed to poison senior officers in the national security bureau, and then came back and carried out a multiple assassination by bringing explosives into the meeting room? How can a state which could not find or arrest its own prime minister after he defected and remained inside the country before leaving, suddenly display a high degree of proficiency in a security operation that would have required thorough and professional preparation?

How could someone who demonstrated the utmost stupidity in preparing Michel Samaha’s plan for confronting the regime’s opponents in Lebanon, become highly sophisticated a few weeks later and mount an operation like that which targeted Hassan? In the past, some used to cite the fact that the assassination attempts against Marwan Hamadeh, Elias al-Murr and May Chidiac were botched as evidence that Syria was behind them!

At present, a specialist team is conducting the investigation. The hard evidence available so far is confined to footage of the booby-trapped car being parked, also showing the time, and some distant and unclear images of the individuals who drove it to the location. Investigations are proceeding – and will be kept under wraps for some time – into questions such as:

  • How did the perpetrators know about Hassan’s arrival in Beirut the previous evening, and his decision to go to the apartment in Achrafieh which had been exposed some time previously?
  • Who were the people who were in a position to know that?
  • Are any them linked to the perpetrators, or were they under surveillance, enabling the perpetrators to reach Hassan?
  • What about the mechanism of the explosion, the nature of the device, and the bombers’ confidence that they could hit the target with such precision and ease?
  • What traces did they leave behind?
  • Can communications data help identify them?
  • What kind of movements were witnessed in the area recently, and how could the killers operate with apparent ease?

Meanwhile, as some engage in a vile game of exploiting blood, a family has had a massive calamity inflicted on it. One need only look again at the images of Wissan’s two sons at the funeral to appreciate the enormity of the personal tragedy, which alone lives on in memory.

Ibrahim al-Amine is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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The Wrong Way to Change the Government

The leadership of the Lebanese Forces and the Phalange Party called upon their constituents to come out in large numbers without raising the possibility of any further escalation. (photo: Haytham alMoussawi)
 

 

Published Monday, October 22, 2012
 

After it appeared that the Lebanese government was on its way out – with Prime Minister Najib Mikati suggesting on Saturday that he would resign – the ministers’ moods changed completely after March 14 protesters attempted to storm the government’s main headquarters in downtown Beirut.

The protesters had gathered on Sunday in Beirut’s central district to bury former head of the Internal Security Forces’ (ISF) Information Branch Wissam al-Hassan, who was killed in a car bombing on Friday afternoon.

Many ministers are now predicting a new lease on life for the government, saying that March 14 handed them this gift “on a silver platter,” due to the violent turn that the funeral took on Sunday.
 

Mikati was in high spirits by the end of the weekend after receiving calls from the UN general secretary as well as from both the US secretary of state and France’s foreign minister. The state department also declared than Hillary Clinton and Mikati had agreed on “the US providing assistance in the investigation into the assassination” of Hassan.


Echoes of such international reassurances for Mikati have even reached Saudi Arabia, which will be receiving the prime minister in the coming days as he arrives in Mecca to make his hajj pilgrimage to the holy site.

Lebanon’s Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani and head of ISF Ashraf Rifi also came out in support of Mikati. The mufti declared his opposition to bringing down the government by force, while the security forces – with the help of the army – defended the government headquarters and kept protesters away from Mikati’s home in Tripoli.

The Christian parties within the March 14 coalition were already beginning to talk about the composition of the new government after they heard reports that President Michel Suleiman was not eager to change the government until a credible alternative exists.

March 14’s Christian parties tried to act in a balanced manner on the eve of Sunday’s funeral: on the one hand, they wanted to mobilize the largest possible numbers; and on the other, they did not want to raise their demands beyond what their Future Party allies would accept.

“If [Future party leader] Saad Hariri chooses to resort to popular pressure to bring down the government, we will be with him; otherwise a large turnout will suffice and we will leave any ratcheting up of pressure for later discussions,” according to a March 14 activist.

On the the eve of the funeral, the leadership of the Lebanese Forces and the Phalange Party called upon their constituents to come out in large numbers without raising the possibility of any further escalation.

By the end of the funeral, following some provocative speeches and media calls to attack the government’s headquarters, Christian protesters were at the forefront of those who charged the building, believing that the decision to do so was coordinated at the leadership level.

This was why Lebanese Forces and Phalangist flags and placards dominated the crowd that clashed with the security forces and army personnel protecting the government compound. Their party leaders were taken aback by the scene and called on them to immediately retreat. Phalange sources even claimed that their pictures and flags were used in the clashes even after their members withdrew from the scene.

For the Christian leadership in March 14, besieging the government headquarters is crossing a red line, due to the building’s significance in the eyes of their Sunni allies in the Future Movement. An attack of this kind is something that even Saad Hariri himself could not contemplate. This led to calls by virtually all March 14 leaders to pull back, while maintaining the goal of toppling the government.

Phalange Party sources say they are basing their actions on two constants: first, they will continue to demand that the government resigns and to call for the formation of a national salvation government, in accordance with what party leader Amin Gemayel told the president.

Second, “there is no truth behind the general view that Western diplomats asked Mikati to remain at the head of the government. Those ambassadors who were asked by the Phalange maintained that their priority is stability, not the government,” one Phalange leader insisted.

As for the Lebanese Forces, their calls center around demanding that the current government be replaced by one led by March 14, along with a refusal to negotiate with the March 8 parties on the composition of any new government before the current one resigns.

The Christians of March 14 are now asking themselves what will happen next, after their failed assault on the government headquarters. Even though they may not all agree on the imminent fall of the government, they are all seeking to take full advantage of Hassan’s assassination ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.

These are some of the views they share:

First, that the West is concerned about stability and could be convinced of keeping the government in place if it can keep its promises. However, March 14 also believes that the assassination of Hassan will make Mikati more beholden to Hezbollah, given the anger it sparked on Mikati’s home turf in the North.
Second, that Mikati benefitted from the assault on his office and managed to use it to maintain his position as prime minister. He also succeeded in gaining the support of Mufti Qabbani and Mufti of the North Malik al-Shaar, both of whom rejected evicting the government by force.

Third, March 14 will not return to the national dialogue roundtable, making changing the government a precondition for their future participation. In this matter, it appeared that they won over the president in backing such a stance.

Fourth, March 14 was hoping to evict the prime minister after having mobilized the street against him within 24 hours of Hassan’s assassination. There is, however, an unspoken concern among many in the coalition’s ranks that it may have wasted an ideal opportunity to do so, with the funeral giving the government a new lease on life instead of ending it as March 14 had hoped.

Hiyam Kossayfi is a journalist at Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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March 14 Military Wing Seizes Tripoli

Smoke billows in Tripoli’s Bab al Tabanneh neighbourhood during clashes with Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, in Jabal Mohsen area in northern Lebanon, on 22 October 2012. (Photo: AFP – Joseph Eid)
 

Published Monday, October 22, 2012
 

The violent reactions to the assassination of General Wissam al-Hassan, head of the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch, have redrawn the political map of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli.

As soon as news of Hassan’s assassination spread on Friday, armed groups, including masked men, took to the streets. They shot their weapons towards the sky and demanded that shops immediately shut down. They burned tires in the streets and public squares and sealed off all the main roads into Tripoli, completely paralyzing the city.

Armed groups also attacked the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and Islamic Unification (Tawhid) Movement (IUM) headquarters, triggering 15 minutes of armed clashes before the army intervened to stop the fighting. Sheikh Abdul Razzaq al-Asmar from the IUM was killed in the clash.

The precarious and rapid security deterioration over the weekend brought back memories of the 7 May 2008 events when the March 8 coalition took over most of Beirut and demanded that Future Party’s offices be handed over to the army.

In the past two days, a decision was made and immediately enforced to give the Lebanese Army control of the SSNP and IUM headquarters in al-Jummaizat and Abi-Samra streets, respectively. The decision was made after an emergency meeting at North Lebanon Governor Nassif Qaloush’s office, which was attended by SSNP and IUM representatives.

Analysts say these latest developments clearly show how the military power scales in Tripoli have dramatically tipped since 2008 in favor of the opposition March 14 forces – with a new cocktail alliance of Islamists and groups loyal to Saad Hariri’s Future Movement.

Future managed to attract extremist Islamist forces to form a reliable alliance. In addition to the remnants of the well-known “regiments” in the city, the alliance managed to draw on zealous and mercenary Islamists, as well as Palestinian militants. Syrian opposition groups later joined, adding to its military power.

As of mid summer, the new Future-led alliance has engaged in 12 rounds of clashes around the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen area, where its gunmen gained “combat experience.”

Analysts say a lack of security and political coordination among the March 8 coalition also contributed to strengthening its rival alliance after the 2008 clashes. When the situation on the ground began to tip in favor of the March 14 team, it began to gradually gnaw at the clout of the March 8 camp in the city.

The Jabal Mohsen neigbourhood appears through a hole

With the decision to keep the SSNP and IUM under the army’s care, Jabal Mohsen becomes the only area in Tripoli outside March 14 military control. Snipers, mortar shelling, and other attacks on Jabal Mohsen continued throughout Saturday and Sunday, wounding four people.

Observers say this shift on the ground threatens the political diversity and pluralism the city has historically enjoyed as it gradually comes under the control of a single faction whose affiliations extend from the Future Movement to the Islamists and the Syrian opposition; groups that appear to be united by their common enemy more than a shared vision for the country.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
 

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It’s True… There’s No Going Back

Ibrahim Amin



 Tomorrow is another day. It has to be. The logic of life dictates that. The victims and the bereaved want it to be another day, as do Wissam al-Hassan’s murderers.

Former premier Fouad Siniora also made clear in his speech that tomorrow is another day. The unpublicized reactions of his political opponents, too, indicate that we are most definitely facing another day. 
As things are being said candidly, the incident should be approached with equal candor.

Yes, Wissam al-Hassan was an officer in the Internal Security Forces, who did many things to serve his country’s citizens, and succeeded in building an agency that can be of much benefit to the Lebanese if they manage to preserve and develop it properly.

But Wissam al-Hassan was also a politician enlisted in a political project that goes beyond Lebanon’s borders. He was at the heart of a mechanism of action related to the conflict in, and the global conflict over, the region.

He was a member of an intelligence and political team that is waging a violent battle against the regime in Syria, and against that regime’s allies – in Syria itself and in Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf, extending to Iran and Russia.

It is stupid, indeed immoral, to portray the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan as a political/security operation aimed at serving local purposes. And as justice is based on laws, evidence, verdicts and prosecutions, it’s no good riling against the perpetrator now. Until a judicial body that is not controlled by the US passes judgement, all such talk qualifies as merely part of the domestic political game.


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The failed coup

The March 14 camp’s problem is that it does not want to face hard facts. The coalition’s more stupid and self-serving members are in a hurry to pocket gains in the form of government offices, ignoring the fact that this cannot happen without a regional deal. As if they don’t know that Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government would never have been formed if the US hadn’t agreed to it, and that Mikati himself would not have accepted the job without expressed support from Western and non-objection from Arab parties. Today, even if on a personal level he is prepared to resign, he will not take such a step unless he is notified by those same Western and Arab parties that they have decided he should go. This has not happened to date.

 

In the condition we’re in today, March 14 should stop bluffing its supporters. The demand for the government to be brought down is not new. It was not prompted by the bombing. It has been this camp’s demand, and the objective it has been working toward, from the day Saad al-Hariri was ousted from office.
 

Perhaps these people would benefit from being told to their faces: it is shameful of you to repay Wissam al-Hassan’s favor by reverting to your old ways. But their behavior demonstrates only one thing: an all-round deficiency of sense, thought, planning and imagination, and a lack of comprehension and implementation. Unfortunately, the only thing the March 14 whiz-kids could think of was to call for the execution of Najib Mikati in Riad al-Solh Square.
Did these juveniles stop to think what if Mikati had been in the Saray, the protestors had been able to storm and torch it, and people had been killed? Were they planning for Mikati to be physically killed? At least that’s what we heard in their rantings from the podiums.


The March 14 camp should rethink all their policies and see things for what they are. They should give people a break from their third-rate generation of spokesmen, such as those who try to imitate Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni and keep spewing repugnant and tedious statements that convey nothing but hatred. They should review their calculations, and find the courage to reappraise what they have been doing for the past seven years. They would find that they are marching down the wrong road, one which leads only to a precipice.


Failing that, it might help to alert them that the silence of the other side’s supporters is merely an expression of reverence for the sanctity of death. It is not due to desertion, nor to fear of the “sharpened crosses” or the foul-mouthed racists of both sexes. The March 14 camp – both its traditional leaders and the spokesmen who promote a culture of eradication and exclusion – need to know that the country has changed, the region has changed, and people have changed.

Do these people really know what tomorrow is another day means; that another day is very different to the final day; and that changes in posture or behavior cannot change facts?

Is it not the March 14 camp which reminds us every day that the clock cannot be turned back?

So why does it now want to take us back in time seven years, marked by folly, fickleness and attempted empowerment through foreign intervention as happened in June 2006?



Nadim Koteish and the slogan
“O young boys and girls … move it to Serail,”


None of this shouting will do any good. The hard fact is that Wissam al-Hassan fell in an ongoing battle of which he was part. That is a harsh truth, but a firm one.

Everyone who knew him or worked with him or near him knew he was in danger, and that he was aware of what he was doing and used to defend his choices. He knew his life could come to an end at any moment. Those who want to continue his journey can do so in the manner they want, but without making the rest of the Lebanese pay the price for mistaken choices.

Ibrahim al-Amine is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

“Opposition’s Political Suicide, Failed Coup D’état”: Sunday’s Repercussions

Local Editor
 
For sure, General Wissam Al-Hasan deserved a better farewell that suited his obvious qualifications and achievements. Maybe it would have been better to settle for the equable ceremony in the Internal Security Forces’ General Directorate, rather than committing all these mistakes and taboos in one day, in the name of the martyr, As-Safir newspaper said in its editorial on Monday.

Al-Mustaqbal partisan storming the Grand Serail on Sunday; Oct. 21, 2012It further considered that: “What happened during the funeral of Hasan in Beirut was only the perfect recipe for political suicide. The body of the martyr was not buried yet when some of those who marched in his funeral from “Future movement” and “March 14” committed the sin.”

“While Hasan has done much, including sacrificing his own self, to secure the stability of the country, the inciting speeches and the fervent attitude in the past two days actually threatened the core of this stability, knowing that the riot has gone beyond the borders of down town and extended towards various directions by cutting the roads, spreading armed men, firing and attacking people on the streets,” the Lebanese daily added.

As it indicated that Former PM Fouad Seniora’s speech was denying any possibility for negotiations, it quoted what it referred to as leaders in the 8th of March coalition as saying that the only substitute for the government would need an agreement, and this requires dialogue not separation.

Similarly, under the headline “War of Returning to Government under Power of Weapons… The Failed Coup D’état” Al-Akhbar wrote that PM Saad Hariri insisted that the funeral of General Wissam Al-Hasan and Ahmad Sahiouni be political and carry the slogan of “the Cedar Revolution”, but this did not stop here. The supporters of the Future Movement and his new Islamic friends took out their weapons and spread in the streets of North Lebanon, Beirut, and the Southern coast.”

“They built identity card checkpoints and clashed in most of the sectarian friction spots. When attempts to break into the government failed because of the red lines that the Lebanese and North Muftis, as well as the West drew, fighters related to the Future Movement went out of Tariq Jdide region and clashed with the Lebanese army, before violent clashes erupted in the Cola Region where the army interfered strongly to put an end to,” the Lebanese daily added.

“It seemed that the Future’s (movement) decision yesterday was close to the popular rage day: What I want or chaos,” Al-Akhbar,” considered.

For his part, Ibrahim Al-Amin wrote that “the problem with March 14 is that it does not want to see the clear facts. Its fools and fanatics rush want to achieve power, which they know is not achievable except by settlement in the region,” considering that overthrowing the government was not a new thing, as this has been March 14’s goal since the first day Saad Hariri left the government.

“It is useful to tell those: It is shameful to reward Wissam Al-Hasan by returning your old files; but what is happening means one thing: narrowness in mind, thoughts, planning and imagination, as well as reading an implementing… “ Amin said.

He also wondered “What did those boys – who watch too much cartoons where the mouse turns into an elephant- think if Miqati was in the government, and they were able to break into it, burn it, and kill someone what would have happened? Did they plan to kill Miqati? At least this is what we heard them scream on the podium,” considering that “the other group’s silence was only to show respect to the deceased.”



Clashes & dead across Lebanon as Army battles Hariri’s & Salafi militias

‘al Qaeda-Hariri gunmen fighting the Lebanese National Army’

[BBC] “…Lebanon’s army has urged the country’s political leaders to show caution when expressing their opinions, in a bid to calm “unprecedented” tensions….

The worst clashes were in Tripoli in the north, where at least three people died as gunmen exchanged fire. Soldiers have been deployed in the capital Beirut, where there have been sporadic clashes.

In a statement, the army urged “all political leaders to be cautious when expressing their stances and opinions” and in attempting to mobilise public action “because the fate of the nation is at stake”….

The BBC’s Wyre Davies in Beirut says the army is a widely respected institution in Lebanon that has often been required to stand between the country’s diverse political and religious factions….

A group of angry protesters broke away from the funeral, held at the Rafik Hariri mosque, and attempted to storm the prime minister’s office. Police fired into the air and used tear gas to break up the crowds.

Overnight, protesters set up road blocks in the capital. Exchanges of gunfire were reported in the city overnight and on Monday morning in Tariq al-Jadida. The army launched a major security operation in the morning, sending troops backed by armoured personnel carriers on to the streets to restore calm and re-open roads.

Serious clashes were reported in Tripoli on Sunday evening, where two children were among at least three people killed….”

 River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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