• Narrow screen resolution
  • Wide screen resolution
  • Auto width resolution
  • Increase font size
  • Decrease font size
  • Default font size
  • default color
  • red color
  • green color

World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Aug 03rd
Home arrow News Content arrow Sensing the Next Peril in Lebanon
Sensing the Next Peril in Lebanon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Monday, 02 July 2007


U.S. Puts Heat on Syria as Militants Rearm, Political Fractures Worsen And the Threat of Conflict Grows

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, fearing a rupturing of Lebanon's political system, is ratcheting up pressure on Syria and its Lebanese allies ahead of what the U.S. believes could be a bid by opponents of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to set up a parallel government in Beirut by the fall.

On Friday, President Bush signed a proclamation blacklisting from U.S. travel any Syrian or Lebanese individuals seen as threatening Beirut's democratically elected government. It also listed 10 people who the U.S. believes are playing central roles in seeking to overthrow the current government.

The U.S. moves come as the United Nations reports an unimpeded flow of weapons into Lebanon from Syria, part of an apparent campaign by Damascus and Iran to rearm the Shiite militia Hezbollah after last summer's war with Israel. U.S. and Lebanese officials say these arms are also reaching a growing number of Palestinian and Sunni militant groups in Lebanon challenging Mr. Siniora's control in the north and south of the country.

WSJ US Watch ListThis mix of arms and political polarization is infecting Lebanon with rising sectarian tensions and the threat of a return to all-out civil war, said U.N. and Lebanese officials. It is also stoking concern in Washington and Tel Aviv of another major conflict erupting between Lebanon-based militants and Israel in the months ahead.

"I am deeply concerned that Lebanon remains in the midst of a debilitating political crisis and faces ongoing attacks aimed at destabilizing and undermining its sovereignty," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in a report released Friday. Mr. Ban said he was particularly alarmed by last month's bombing in southern Lebanon that killed six Spanish U.N. peacekeepers, as well as the firing of three Katyusha rockets into Israel from the same region.

Among the 10 individuals who the U.S. believes are playing central roles in seeking to overthrow the current Beirut government are Assef Shawkat, who is the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad as well as the country's and intelligence chief; Hisham Ikhtiyar, one of the Syrian leader's top advisers; and Rustum Ghazali, former head of Syrian intelligence inside Lebanon. Six former Lebanese ministers who are viewed as working as proxies for Damascus inside Lebanon are also on the list.

U.S. officials acknowledged that the U.S. travel bans are unlikely to have much direct impact on Syrian leaders. But they say they are more focused on dissuading Lebanese politicians from siding with the Syrians against Mr. Siniora. Senior Bush administration officials say some of these Lebanese officials have significant numbers of family members, as well as financial assets, in the U.S.

Of particular focus are Christian politicians who have joined into a formal political alliance with Hezbollah in a bid to unseat Mr. Siniora. Some of them, such as retired Gen. Michel Aoun, have in the past coordinated closely with the U.S. on Lebanon policy, particularly on the need to reduce Syrian influence. They also have presented themselves as potential allies to Washington if any new government is formed in Beirut.

"A lot of people are opposed to Siniora, and might try to bring him down but still want to present themselves as friends with the U.S," said a senior Bush administration official working on the Middle East. "We want to convey to them that there's a price to pay" for their actions.

Some of the Lebanese politicians on the White House's watch list called it an example of the U.S. interfering in their country's domestic politics. They also called Mr. Siniora a lackey of the U.S. "The decision is a dictatorial measure [by the U.S.] targeting democracy in Lebanon," said Assad Hardan, a former Lebanese labor minister.

Beirut is scheduled to hold elections in September to replace President Emile Lahoud, who was installed by President Assad before Syria's military withdrawal in early 2005. Lebanon's president is elected through a parliamentary vote, and Mr. Lahoud is constitutionally barred from serving another term. Beirut's legislative body has been shuttered for more than six months as Hezbollah and its political allies have taken to street protests to try to unseat Mr. Siniora.

Many Lebanese and U.S. officials fear that Mr. Lahoud, with Hezbollah's and Gen. Aoun's backing, is preparing to unilaterally establish a rival, pro-Syrian government in Beirut, arguing Mr. Siniora's mandate has expired. Lebanon was similarly split between competing governments in east and west Beirut during the height of the country's civil war in the 1980s.

"The two-state government is a real concern for us," said the senior Bush administration official. Mr. Lahoud is "trying to create an alternate government that's going to challenge Siniora."

In addition to trying to stabilize Mr. Siniora politically, the Bush administration is increasingly seeking ways to help Lebanon's security forces seal its eastern and northern borders with Syria. A U.N. report released last week said arms and militiamen were transiting into Lebanon from Syria all but uninterrupted.

These porous borders have allowed Hezbollah to restock much of the rockets and artillery spent during last summer's war with Israel, particularly in Lebanon's central Bekaa Valley, according to the U.N. And the weapons flows have allowed Damascus-based militias, like Fatah-Intifada and the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, to refortify their military posts inside Lebanon. These militias, as well as an al Qaeda-linked Sunni army, Fatah Islam, have clashed with Lebanon's armed forces near the cities of Tripoli and Sidon in the past month, killing hundreds.

The Katyusha missile attack on Israel last month was also believed linked to one of these private armies, according to Lebanese officials. And members of Mr. Siniora's government fear even greater confrontation between the state's security apparatus and these pro-Damascus militias if Lebanon's political crisis intensifies.

The U.N. is calling for improved intelligence-sharing and military equipment to aid Lebanon's policing of its borders. But many U.S. and U.N. officials working on Lebanon say much more drastic measures are being considered privately to head off a potential escalation of violence in Lebanon. One would seek to redeploy some of the U.N.'s peacekeeping contingent to the Syrian border from its current base in Lebanon's south. Another would be for Mr. Siniora to seek troops from neighboring Arab countries to assist Lebanon's policing of the Syrian border.

Both actions, however, are likely to meet stiff resistance inside the U.N. Security Council. President Assad has already said he would view any deployment of foreign troops on Syria's border as a hostile act.

"Lebanon is now on a very narrow and difficult path," said a U.N. official working on its disarmament. "For the moment, the Syrians think they are winning."

Write to Jay Solomon at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

By JAY SOLOMON, July 2, 2007; Page A6, WSJ

Last Updated ( Monday, 02 July 2007 )
< Prev   Next >

In Memory

Rafik Hariri
Rafik HaririIn Memory of Rafik Hariri, he rebuilt Beirut, at the time of his brutal Assassination Lebanon witnessed the birth of the Cedars Revolution
Gebran Tueni
Gebran TueniIn Memory of Gebran Tueni One of the most Prominent founders of the Cedars Revolution
Sheikh Pierre Gemayel
Sheikh Pierre GemayelIn Memory of Sheikh Pierre Gemayel Another Prominent founder of the Cedars Revolution
George Hawi
George HawiIn Memory of George Hawi another Anti-Syrian who supported the formation of the Cedars Revolution