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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The fall of Mubarak, the control of Nile Water in Soudan, Egypt and the seizure of the Litani in the Lebanon. Why Netanyahu failed to seize Arab water

Lebanese bracing for the worst
Israeli threats to unleash the dogs of war

President Sleiman: official visits to Cyprus, Russia

President Assad (in conversation with former President Emile Lahoud): Israel not serious about the search for peace

At the March 14 meeting, from left: Fares Souaid, Samir Franji, PM Saad Hariri, Ministers Michel Pharaon, Jean Oghassabian

A meeting to close ranks and reaffirm the relevance of the movement

Antonio Cassese, president of the STL

At the eye of the storm: a Lebanese goatherd tending his flock near the border village of Marwahin, opposite an Israeli border post

People in the border village of Beit Leef. Unlike people in Northern Israel who are building bomb shelters, villagers like these are taking a more fatalistic attitude to rumors of war

Schoolchildren walking home after school in the border village of Aita al-Shaab, which is deceptively calm amid the war talk

Barak: If Israel is attacked, we will not limit ourselves to only Hezballah targets

Israel will target Lebanese civilian infrastructure during its next offensive against Hezballah, according to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Addressing Israeli army officials last Monday, Barak made clear that Tel Aviv would hold nothing back in any future conflict in Lebanon.

“If Israel is attacked, we will not limit ourselves to only Hezballah targets”, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper quoted Barak as saying.
He also reiterated previous Israeli threats that it would hold all of Lebanon responsible for any Hezballah attack.
“The government of Lebanon is responsible for everything Hezballah does”, Barak added. “The organization has an internal Lebanese identity, in addition to its well-known affiliation to Syria and Iran”.
Israel claims it avoided targeting civilian positions during the 2006 summer war following a tacit agreement with then-US President George W. Bush. Nevertheless, the 34-day assault hit Beirut International Airport, highways, bridges, power stations and other vital civilian infrastructure, causing billion of dollars of damage.
Barak also refused to rule out pre-emptive strikes against Iran, should international sanctions fail to stifle what Tel Aviv sees as Teheran’s designs on a nuclear weapons program. An Israeli attack on Iran could prompt responses from Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon -- Hezballah included -- according to some analysts.
Israel’s hawkish defense minister has previously warned that any provocation from Lebanon will be met with severe repercussions. Hezballah, for its part, maintains it is ready for another conflict whenever it comes, and its secretary-general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah promised “surprises” should hostilities restart. Last Tuesday, Israeli warplanes conducted practice aerial raids over parts of the South of Lebanon, including Nabatiyé and Iklim al-Toffah, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.
“The said planes performed mock raids at a low altitude, [reaching] to Marjayoun and Khiam”, the NNA added.
The latest incident to raise tensions along the UN-demarcated Blue Line -- the boundary of the Israeli military withdrawal from Lebanon -- occurred on Sunday, January 31, when Israeli soldiers arrested a Lebanese shepherd, Rabih Mohammad Zahra, 17, as he tended a flock of sheep close to the disputed Shebaa Farms region.
He was returned to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and handed over to the Lebanese Army. Zahra claims he was beaten by Israeli soldiers and interrogated about Hezballah positions in South Lebanon.
Lebanon has filed a complaint to the UN about Zahra’s arrest, which it claims took place on its side of the Blue Line and is a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701 -- drafted to end the 2006 war -- which stipulates that Lebanon’s sovereign borders be respected.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said last week that Beirut was not doing enough to implement resolution 1701, as Hezballah and other non-state actors harbor weapons south of the Litany River, in violation of intentional law.
This promoted a riposte from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, which claimed that Israel was the main culprit in breaching conditions set by Resolution 1701.
“Israel has committed over 6,000 violations since 2006, the latest of which was the abduction of Mohammad Zahra from Lebanese territory on Sunday”, said a statement from the ministry’s media office.
Last Tuesday UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams, following a meeting with Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, said that the pair had discussed the implementation of Resolution 1701.
Williams told Berri that during a recent visit to Israel, “officials assured me that they still remain committed to the prevailing cessation of hostilities and to Security Council Resolution 1701”.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday accused Lebanon of allowing Hezballah to develop its military force by smuggling weapons in violation of a UN resolution.
“We are worried about developments in Lebanon and the great flow of weapons, rockets and missiles in blatant violation of Resolution 1701”, Netanyahu told a press conference alongside his Berlusconi.
Hezballah is represented in the Lebanese cabinet by what is referred to as its political wing, the Bloc of Loyalty to the Resistance. The government was formed in November by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Netanyahu said he held the Lebanese government accountable.
“Hezballah is in the Lebanese government and is developing a military force under the government”, Netanyahu charged.
“These weapons are without doubt aimed at Israeli civilians”, said Netanyahu. “It is the responsibility of the Lebanese government to prevent attacks against Israel and its citizens”.
Berlusconi said he would raise the Israeli concerns when he met Hariri in Beirut later this month.
Israel and Hezballah fought a devastating war in 2006. Resolution 1701, which led to an end to the 34-day conflict, set mechanisms to stop arms smuggling into Lebanon.

Damascus warns Israel
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem warned Israel last week about launching any war against his country, saying it would turn into a wider conflict.
“Israelis, do not test the power of Syria since you know the war will move into your cities”, Mouallem told journalists in Damascus.
“Return to reason, follow the path of peace... and implement the requirements of peace fairly and comprehensively”, he told a media conference with his visiting Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos.
Mouallem had been questioned about comments made last Monday by Barak.
“In the absence of a peace agreement with Syria, we might find ourselves in a forceful conflict that could lead to an all-out war”, Barak’s office quoted him as saying in a speech to senior officers on Monday.
The Syrian minister said such statements “heightened the risk of war in the region. If such a war comes... it will be widespread even if it is waged against [just] South Lebanon or Syria”, Mouallem warned, while excluding the chance of “peace negotiations being launched after such a war”.
Moratinos, who visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories last Monday and Tuesday, said he “had not heard the war drums beat” in the Jewish state.
“Instead, I heard about peace”, he said, stressing that the European Union would keep up its efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a meeting with Moratinos that “Israel was not serious in achieving peace and that everything showed it was working towards a war”, according the state news agency SANA.
Syria and Israel held indirect talks mediated by Turkey in 2008 over the Golan Heights, which was seized and later annexed by the Jewish state after the 1967 war.
Israel’s firebrand foreign minister further fuelled the battle of words with Syria last Thursday, warning that its president would be toppled in any armed conflict between the two countries.
Avigdor Lieberman’s direct verbal punch at Assad capped several days of threats traded between Israel and Syria.
“When there is another war, you will not just lose it, but you and your family will lose power”, Lieberman asserted a day after Mouallem’s words of caution in the presence of Moratinos.
Hours after Lieberman spoke, Netanyahu’s office sought to ease the tone, saying the premier had spoken to the ultra-nationalist foreign minister on the Syrian issue.
“The two would like to make it clear that the government’s policy is clear: Israel seeks peace and negotiations with Syria without preconditions”, a statement said.
“At the same time, Israel will respond vigorously and with determination to any threat against it”.
And analysts warned against reading too much into the blunt language from both sides.
“All this is just posturing and things will calm down in two or three days since neither Israel nor Syria wants to cause a war”, said Eyal Zisser, a specialist on relations with Syria at Tel Aviv University.
The latest spat emerged after Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned on Monday that if there is no peace agreement with Syria, “we might find ourselves in a forceful conflict that could lead to an all-out war.”
But Barak reaffirmed on Thursday that “peace with Syria is a strategic objective”, and tried to distance himself from the row.
“The least I can say is that I am unhappy with the exchanges of the past two days”, the Labor Party leader said.
Zisser said he believed the Syrians misinterpreted Barak’s original comments, which were meant as an argument in favor of renewed negotiations.
The previous government of Ehud Olmert held a series of Turkish-brokered peace feelers in 2008.
On Thursday Netanyahu suggested relaunching the contacts, which collapsed after Israel launched its devastating military offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
“The prime minister has declared on numerous occasions he is willing to go anywhere to negotiate with Syria, without precondition,” his office said, lamenting what it said were obstacles put in the way by Syria.
But Lieberman’s warning to Assad overshadowed Netanyahu’s statement.
“It should be clear that if he provokes us, it will end badly for him on the battlefield but also for his power. I hope this message will be heard in Damascus”, the minister said at a business conference at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv.
Lieberman noted that Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Syrian President Hafez Assad -- Bashar’s father -- both stayed in power after they were defeated in wars against Israel.
Moshe Maoz, a political analyst at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, called the minister’s outburst “a disaster” that “destroys” Israeli efforts at making peace. And Eitan Cabel, a member of Parliament in Barak’s center-left Labor Party, urged Netanyahu to get rid of Lieberman, calling the foreign minister a “warmonger who has neither honor nor wisdom”.

South Lebanon residents in fearful anticipation
More than three years after the last war between Israel and Hezballah, South Lebanon residents are preparing themselves for a new conflict.
“If you come back, we’ll be waiting for you”, Hezballah warns Israel on a billboard near the southern village of Aita Shaab.
It was across the border from Aita Shaab that Hezballah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid in July 2006, provoking a devastating month-long Israeli offensive against Hezballah strongholds in South Lebanon and destructive onslaughts against civilian facilities in other parts of Lebanon.
The war killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
“We’re afraid, of course”, commented Hayat, a resident of the southern village of Cana, which came under deadly bombardment in the 2006 war.
“Every day we hear news of a possible new war”, she observed, adding that she feared any renewed fighting would see even the heart of the capital Beirut bombed. “Where will we hide?” she asked.
Her neighbor Diba agreed that any new conflict risked being more devastating than 2006.
“If war erupts, Syria and Iran will participate too. Next time it will not be limited to Hezballah”.
Israeli officials have warned repeatedly in recent weeks that any attack by Hezballah will meet with a tough response. Last month, Yossi Peled, an Israeli minister without portfolio and a reserve army general, warned Israel was heading towards a new war with Hezballah.
“We are heading toward a new confrontation in the north, but I don’t know when it will happen, just as we did not know when the second Lebanon war [i.e. the conflict of 2006] would erupt”, Peled told Israeli radio.
In Aita Shaab, new houses and villas are under construction, visible to Israeli soldiers across the border.
But a third of the homes in the village remain in ruins after the 2006 war. Farmer Hassan Srour’s house was reduced to rubble.
“We are rebuilding, and if war breaks out again, then we will rebuild again”, the 39-year-old said resignedly.
“We have got used to occupation, war and destruction. Where are we expected to go? This is our land”, he said.
Unlike in Northern Israel, villagers in Aita Shaab are not building bomb shelters as they reconstruct their homes.
“What for?” said Srour. “In 2006, two of our neighbors were buried alive in their bomb shelters”.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has voiced fear of another “Israeli intervention” and Hezballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah said the next war would “change the face of the region”.
In the village of Yarin, Khaled and his wife Dima, who run a shop near the border, carry on with their daily lives amid the mounting war of words.
“This time with the first explosion we’re packing our bags”, Dima said.
Akel Hammoud, from the nearby village of Beit Leef, said Hezballah’s fighters were prepared for any Israeli move.
“Everything is ready”, he said. “The weapons and equipment are there. All we need is anti-aircraft defense”.

Visit of Sleiman to Cyprus and Moscow
Continuing his official visits to foreign capitals, President Sleiman will in February 12 go to Cyprus at the head of a ministerial delegation for talks with his Cypriot counterpart, Dimitris Christofias and senior officials on issues of mutual interest in the light of Lebanon’s presence as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council
Beirut sources indicate that the president will raise the issue of oil-prospecting in the waters between the two countries and the demarcation of the two countries’ respective spheres in those waters, as well as the sphere of Syria.
President Sleiman will then go to Moscow on February 24 at the invitation of President Dimitri Medvedev, with whom he will have negotiations on issues of mutual interest, the Arab-Israeli conflict and developments on the regional and international scenes.
Sources close to Prime Minister Hariri say he will be visiting Moscow later, after his trips to the Vatican and Washington.

Cabinet meeting
Failing to adopt amendments suggested by the interior minister to the law on municipalities, the Council of Ministers convened once again on Wednesday at the Serail under the chairmanship of the prime minister to discuss the above-mentioned law, while the rest of the meeting was dominated by the aftermath of the crash of the Ethiopian airliner.
Concerning the municipal elections and in the absence of an agreement among ministers, President Sleiman insisted on “the necessity of holding the municipal elections within the legal frame time”, this being preferable to their postponement”.
During Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, the head of state discussed the municipal elections with many ministers to try to reach a consensus likely to ensure the holding of the elections in a calm climate and on the basis of an agreement on amendments to the electoral code. But no decision was taken.

Aoun in Syria after Lahoud

Visiting Syria over the weekend was former President Emile Lahoud for talks with President Bashar Assad on the regional and international situations. The former president was accompanied by his two sons.
After Lahoud, General Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Popular Movement (FPM), was to visit Syria on February 9 to celebrate the feast of Saint Maroun.
Speaking of the weapons of Hezballah, Aoun said, “I’ve placed myself on the side of Hezballah because its weapons have a justification. If we want to eliminate them, let’s begin by eliminating the reasons for them”.
March 14 closes ranks
With the political changes which have taken place on the local scene, the March 14 movement has been trying to close ranks following what some have called reverses for it on the local scene, and in the context of preparations to mark the fifth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14.
Movement leaders met at the Le Bristol Hotel last week to discuss their position. The moderate tone of the communiqué issued after the meeting reflected the reflected “the imperatives of the present situation and also confirmed the movement’s presence on the scene and its capacity to adapt without changing anything in its immutable national principles”, said one source, speaking anonymously.
The meeting grouped more than 136 political and civil personalities; Prime Minister Saad Hariri, former President Amin Gemayel (now supreme leader of the Kataeb Party), Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Dory Chamoun and Carlos Eddé, respectively leaders of the National Liberal Party and the National Bloc; former MPs Nayla Mouawad, Solange Gemayel and MP Sethrida Geagea, who are the principal figures of the movement. Also on hand were ministers, MPs, and a host of others who adhere to the movement’s ideals. Noted was the absence of MP Walid Jumblat, once a top figure in the movement, and of most members of his parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc, apart from MP Marwan Hamadé, who was attending in a personal capacity, he said. Also absent was Nassib Lahoud, leader of the Democratic Renewal movement.
The presence of the prime minister was regarded as significant in view of rumors that he might distance himself from the movement because of his official functions and in the wake of his recent meeting with Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
The closing statement had a moderate tone compared with those of previous statements, in the context of the calm prevailing on the local and regional scenes.
In another development, the president of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Antonio Cassese, visited Beirut last week for talks with officials. He told reporters of the “great complexity” of the investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri and said there was no deadline for issuing indictments in the case.

Pastoral visit by Cardinal Sfeir to Syria
Maronite Church sources note that Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir will be making a pastoral visit to Syria to be informed of conditions among his flock in Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia. The visit is to be coordinated with the Syrian authorities, though they have issued no formal invitation to him.


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