Article Round Up: Nov. 21 2005
"The United States had no evidence that Syria was involved in the infiltration of insurgents in Iraq," said A top U.S. Air Force general, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, Commander of the 9th U.S. Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces. "Our only concern with Syria is the number of terrorists infiltrating through porous borders with Iraq," he said.
Anton Efendi at Bayside has linked to a series of articles from in As-Siyassah in his post: Democratic Change in Syria. He also links to a number of articles dissecting Bashar's speech.
Youssef Ibrahim has an interesting article: VIEWPOINT: SYRIA ON THE RAILS in the Middle East Times.
In the United Nations' looming confrontation with Syria, it's hard to define the best strategy, but easy to identify the worst one - the imposition of general economic sanctions that would hurt the Syrian people while allowing the ruling clique to grow even richer. That's my strongest impression from a visit to Damascus.Marlin Dick has written an excellent survey of The Mehlis Report and Lebanon’s Trouble Next Door
November 18, 2005
(Marlin Dick is a freelance journalist based in Lebanon.)
For background on the Lebanese elections, see Sateh Noureddine and Laurie King-Irani, “Elections Pose Lebanon’s Old Questions Anew,” Middle East Report Online, May 31, 2005.
The fall 2005 issue of Middle East Report focuses entirely on developments in Syria and Lebanon since the Syrian withdrawal. To order the issue or to subscribe to Middle East Report, visit MERIP’s home page.
The UN-authorized investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, now well into a second phase of heightened brinkmanship between Damascus and Washington, also has Lebanon holding its collective breath.
As expected, the first report of German investigator Detlev Mehlis, released on October 21, 2005, did not produce a “smoking gun” proving the involvement of Syrian officials or Lebanese proxies in the February 14 killing of Hariri and 22 others with a one-ton truck bomb in downtown Beirut. Rather, Mehlis wrote that “on the basis of the material and documentary evidence collected, and the leads pursued until now, there is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act” and that “it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge.” The public version of the report lays out a circumstantial case for these allegations, and cites the claim of a witness who worked for Syrian intelligence that “senior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate” Hariri in September 2004. A leaked, unedited version of the report names two of these officials as Mahir al-Asad, head of Syria’s Republican Guard and brother of President Bashar al-Asad, and Asef Shawkat, head of Syrian military intelligence and the president’s brother-in-law.
Mehlis has demanded that Shawkat and other current and former high-ranking Syrian officers be made available for questioning before his second report is due on December 15. Facing international pressure to comply, in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 1636, Damascus has pledged to cooperate, while lambasting the first report for relying on hearsay and protesting the requested cession of Syrian sovereignty to a UN-appointed official. In a speech on November 10, Asad predicted: “We will cooperate, but in the end they will say that we did not cooperate.”
Whatever the resolution of Syria’s standoff with Mehlis, politics in Lebanon are paralyzed due to the lack of a resolution of the Hariri killing. From Lebanese politicians, Mehlis’ findings have elicited loud approval and calls to continue the investigation to the end, as well as outraged complaints that the entire process is politicized, a vendetta against Syria by France and the US. Some politicians have advocated both views simultaneously. There is a domestic angle as well: the report does not directly implicate President Emile Lahoud, but four of his security chiefs (and key allies) were arrested in late August under suspicion of having planned the killing. Lahoud, the extension of whose term at Syria’s behest in September 2004 was the backdrop to the political crisis culminating in the Hariri killing, has refused to resign. Due to shifting alliances entangled in the web of apprehension about the Mehlis investigation, his opponents have not yet compelled him to.
The assassination and subsequent Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon happened to precede Lebanese parliamentary elections that had already been scheduled for May and June. The elections were held under roughly the same election law as 2000, when Hariri and his allies scored important victories but failed to win control of Parliament because of a cohort of Syrian-backed deputies. In the 2005 round, the “March 14 opposition,” so named for the date of a million-person demonstration demanding “the truth” about Hariri’s death and an end to Syrian influence in Lebanon, won a slight majority of seats. This alliance was led by Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain premier and heir to his heavily Sunni Future Movement, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, along with Christian MPs from the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, the Lebanese Forces, several mainly Christian groups and the Democratic Left Movement. However, victorious Christian MPs from this camp had what, in the sectarian logic of Lebanon’s confessional system, is seen as a political liability. All of Lebanon’s electoral districts are multi-member; an MP who wins election does so thanks to the votes of the entire district, not just her own sect. The sectarian logic also means that when an MP wins a race without securing at least a plurality of votes from his own sect, he is subject to charges that he lacks legitimacy as a spokesperson for the sect. In opposition, many hailed the March 14 coalition as multi-confessional. In electoral victory, the coalition was widely seen as dominated by Sunni and Druze politicians who had to court the Shiite parties to get business done. Anything dramatic like the fate of the president would require full consensus, namely support from the leading Christian politician whose credentials were not “tainted” by having won his seat on the strength of non-Christian votes.
That person was former general Michel Aoun, who returned to Lebanon in May from 14 years of exile in Paris. .... Continued
Michael Young writes, "Asad of Syria: No More Mr. Nice Guy," in the INternational Herald Tribune. He concludes:
Assad might survive such trials if he deems the "resistance" route necessary. However, Syria would also be irremediably damaged. It is ironic that the Syrians, who legitimately fear seeing their country transformed into another Iraq, may be led by leaders who somehow regard pre-2003 Iraq as a model for emulation