Meddling with the elections…

“There are agents, like Mahmoud Rafea, who confessed to have delivered bags with explosives. Other collaborators have confessed to have carried out field reconnaissance missions. Others have facilitated the entrance and exit of Israelis after accomplishing their missions. This is what is meant by executive agents. The door must be opened wide … this Israeli path should be scrutinized so as to reach a place where we would find information about many crimes, particularly from 2005 onwards.” – Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, commenting on the recent spate of Israeli spy arrests during a rally marking the ninth anniversary of the removal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, 22 May 2009.

So after we had Joe Biden flying in to tell the Lebanese they are free to vote for whoever they want, as long as they vote for friends of the US (and by extension of Israel), we get that load of crap in Der Spiegel by a ‘journalist’ who routinely writes for Israeli newspapers. The suggestion that Hizbullah was behind Hariri’s murder is so incongruous and ridiculous as to be dismissed out of hand in this part of the world – even by Hizbullah’s opponents – but apparently it is taken seriously in Europe and the US, so let’s have some detailed criticism of it (by Rannie Amiri): ‘In the midst of unraveling and dismantling these espionage rings operating in Lebanon, a report penned by Erich Follath surfaced in the sensationalist, pro-Israel German weekly Der Spiegel implicating Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The allegation was immediately dismissed by Hezbollah who claimed it was simply an attempt to sully its image prior to the upcoming June parliamentary elections as well as sow discord between Sunnis and Shias. But does it have any merit? Not a single piece of credible evidence was presented to substantiate Follath’s claim. No sources were named, no documents were produced and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon charged with investigating the Hariri assassination denied ever coming to those conclusions (yet alone discussing them with Follath).“We don’t know where the Der Spiegel magazine did get their information from and we don’t know where they brought this story from. No one in the prosecutor’s office has spoken to the German magazine about anything,” said the spokeswoman for the Tribunal. According to Nasrallah, “The Israelis and the Americans wondered how to scuttle the election and influence its outcome. Der Spiegel was their answer.” The case against Hezbollah is not only flimsy, but one likely fabricated by the author’s anonymous “sources.” It was discounted or simply ignored in Lebanon, even by Hezbollah’s opponents; Saad Hariri refused comment and Walid Jumblatt cautioned it may “derail justice.”Readers are referred to the trenchant reporting of Dr. Franklin Lamb who clearly exposed the gaping holes in, and unanswered questions of, Follath’s article.’

This is what Franklin Lamb writes: ‘The headline was dramatic. The strongly pro-Israel German weekly Der Spiegel offered bold “new information” it claimed came from secret sources and documents, stemming “inside investigative sources who were working on the Rafic Hariri assassination. Der Spiegel’s breakthrough ‘exclusive’ with ‘new evidence pointing to those who were guilty. The headline screamed BYE-BYE, HARIRI! UN Report Links Syrian Officials to Murder of Former Lebanese Leader By Erich Follath et al. Publication date? October 24, 2005, nearly four years ago. Yes, that particular Spiegel excloo came back in 2005. Syria was accused in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri of being the ‘real’ assassins. An international anti-Syria campaign was promptly launched by the Bush Administration and Israel to demonize its government. Fast forward to the tense run-up right now, before the June elections. This weekend, a new exclusive, secret, investigative report showing the real, real assassins was published by the same weekly, Der Spiegel. Same author. Same editor. New target. This time Der Spiegel’s Erich Follath claims that the international committee investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister martyr Rafik Hariri has reached “surprising new secret conclusions”, this time pointing to Hezbollah. The new Der Spiegel head line (May 24, 2009): BREAKTHROUGH IN TRIBUNAL INVESTIGATION New Evidence Points to Hezbollah in Hariri Murder By Erich Follath (…) Radiya Ashouri, Spokeswoman for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) says for the record:  “We don’t know where the Der Spiegel magazine did get their information from and we don’t know where they brought this story from. No one in the prosecutor’s office has spoken to the German magazine about anything. We have a clear policy of not leaking any information about the tribunal through media outlets, and we have been stressing this since the beginning. When Der Spiegel spoke about Bellemar’s spokesperson, they meant me. They emailed me and asked a few questions. My answer was that the tribunal does not deal with investigation files through the media and adopts the policy of direct announcement by the part of Mr. Bellemar.If we had something to say, we would have said it directly, not through media outlets.”’

By the way, there are some compeeling arguments to link the mossad to this assassination – beyond the obvious fact that this is what the mossad has been created for and has been doing all over the world for decades anyway. The fact is that Hariri and Nasrallah had been getting closer before the former’s assassination and were about to work out a national defense strategy against Israel which would combine the resistance and the army’s forces and weapons. That might be the reason why Hariri had to be done away with… Looking at it from the cui bono angle, neither Hizbullah nor Syria stood to win anything from killing Hariri, and neither has won anything from it.


Butcher, mayor, spy

‘One Lebanese analyst even went so far as to suggest that events may have come full cycle. Before the 1979 revolution in Iran, Israel’s Mossad was deeply involved in training and advising the Shah’s dreaded secret police, Savak – a legacy of expertise inherited by Tehran’s current Islamic rulers, who were instrumental in establishing Hezbollah in Lebanon and retain very close ties with the movement. Whatever the case, the head of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said the dismantling of so many networks amounted to a strategic blow of the utmost seriousness, unprecedented in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Other observers agree.”The loss of these eyes and ears within Lebanon is undoubtedly a major strategic setback for Israel,” said intelligence analyst Alastair Crooke. “Networks of these sorts don’t come off the shelf in a supermarket. You can lose them in ten minutes, but they can take 5, 10, 15 years to put in place. So the importance of this should not be underestimated. (…) the arrests in general have not become an election issue, because they have been across the board – Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Palestinians are all among those detained, with no obvious political or sectarian bias.“‘

‘Lebanese authorities have arrested three more alleged spies, including one carrying an Israeli passport, as investigation with Israel-linked espionage networks was likely to lead to persons “above suspicion.” Media reports on Friday identified the new detainees as Ali Gh. And Youssef H., both brothers of Nasser Nader already in police custody on charges of spying for the Israeli secret service, the Mossad.’

In other news, Nasrallah put forward the one eminently practical and logical reason why people should vote for the resistance (i.e. March 8th), namely that the Lebanese army would then be armed by a country that actually wants it to be able to defend itself from Israel – Iran – rather than underarmed by a country that wants it to remain unable to defend itself against Israel – the US: ‘”The Islamic Republic of Iran, and in particular Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei, will not hold back on anything that will help Lebanon be a strong and dignified state, and without conditions,” Nasrallah said. “So far, Lebanon has not requested arms and Iran will not offer them unless asked,” he said in a televised address to mark the ninth anniversary of Israel’s troop withdrawal from southern Lebanon after 22 years. “But Iran will help any Lebanese government that requests military aid,” he told a crowd of thousands gathered in the eastern Lebanon Hizbullah stronghold of Baalbek. Nasrallah also dismissed as farcical U.S. aid to the Lebanese army, which amounts to close to half a billion dollars in training and armament since 2005 but does not include anti-aircraft defense. He urged his supporters to vote for his Hizbullah-led opposition alliance in the June 7 parliamentary election, saying his coalition would ensure the army was well equipped to defend Lebanon against Israel.’

‘”The resistance faces today new and serious challenges that prompt us to assume great responsibilities. Following the 2000 victory, the Zionists have worked on a new strategy which was frequently declared by former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom,” Al-Manar TV channel quoted Nasrallah as saying on Friday. Nasrallah criticized the ruling bloc for putting its focus on his group’s arms instead of improving the country’s ailing economy.’

‘UNIFIL and the Lebanese army, meanwhile, went on high alert Wednesday ahead of an Israeli military exercise scheduled for Sunday along the border with Lebanon. Lebanese news outlet Naharnet cites the Arabic-language National News Agency in Lebanon as saying Lebanese and UNIFIL soldiers dispatched to the southern border as a safeguard against any unforeseen emergency. Meanwhile, Israeli military equipment was observed near Lebanese territory in what is dubbed Exercise Turning Point 3, which is intended to train Israeli troops in emergency response drills.’

And finally, one of the reasons why I love living in this country: the virtual absence of health fascists telling you that you can’t ruin your own health in the way you choose (while being careful never to mention the car exhausts, factory fumes and Israeli bombarments with depleted uranium and cluster bombs which you are subjected to without your consent: ‘Want to indulge in a guilt-free tobacco experience? Then head to Lebanon, a smoker’s paradise where you can work, dine and have your hair styled in a cloud of smoke. The anti-smoking lobby is barely a blip on the radar and the government cares little about the issue. So the price of Cuban Havanas is among the world’s cheapest, cigarettes are free of punitive pricing and health warnings are barely visible on the side of packs — far from the bold warnings and pictures the World Health Organisation (WHO) is promoting on “World No Tobacco Day” on Sunday. Even teenagers can afford the average one dollar per pack, compared to an average seven dollars (five euros) in France or nearly nine dollars in Britain. “The minute you land in this country you start huffing and puffing,” said Ghazi Zaatari, a physician and chairman of the department of pathology at the American University of Beirut as well as head of a WHO study group on tobacco regulation. “As far as tobacco is concerned, Lebanon is a health disaster.” George Saade, a cardiologist and head of the tobacco control unit at the ministry of health, presents a similar picture. “The Lebanese government is doing nothing as far as tobacco control is concerned,” he lamented, partly attributing lax enforcement to a rocky political situation. (…) Zaatari also noted that although Lebanon signed WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005 it has failed to ratify the document and has shown little interest in enforcement.’ Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, dude, but there are some real problems in this neck of the woods, you know

Jabal Mohsen & Bab al-Tabanneh: the aftermath…

Or the pointlessness of fighting another man’s war… Mitch Prothero writing in The National: ‘“We have lost most of our businesses and so have the Syrians,” Abu Ahmad said, as his grimy workmen smoke cigarettes and drink bitter coffee in the dark workshop. Abu Ahmad’s employees all volunteered to fight last summer, but none show any appetite for violence today. “There is no economy in here now and we are the poorest area in the world,” said Moustapha Zoubi, 42. “The only thing people live on is some vegetables that they sell and some are related to political groups where they get small amounts of money out of them, but nothing much, maybe US$100 (Dh367) per month.” Mr Zoubi said the fallout from the fighting hurt the people of Jabal at least as badly as the Sunnis in Beb al Tibani because of the nature of Tripoli’s economy. “The Allawites were more affected because most of them own shops in Beb al Tibani and many of them go down here to work, so last summer when the war was on, none of them could come down, plus the men from Tibani were raging about what the Allawites and Hizbollah had done [in Beirut last May] so they burnt every single shop, store and business that was owned by an Allawite here in Tibani. Yes, economically they lost a lot. We did too, because people who come from Tripoli or Akkar to shop in Tibani were afraid, and even after the clashes were over people are still hesitating to come.” That take on the situation means, according to Mr Zoubi, that hardly anyone can afford to fight and that the current economy relies on the elections, where young men are often hired to place political posters around the city. “I have no job and neither do the Syrians,” said Mazen, an unemployed labourer who makes money by putting up posters for both the majority and opposition. “People all thought that if we fought the Syrians, we would be rewarded by our Sunni leaders,” he adds. “But now we never see them except on posters. Why don’t they help us with the jobs we lost while fighting for them? That’s why I will put up posters from both sides as long as they pay.”’

Elections, spies & traffic jams

About a month to go to the Lebanese elections, and the ISF keeps uncovering more Israeli spies on a daily basis, while Beirut and presumably half the country is locked in gigantic traffic jams – all those potholes, cracked road surfaces and eternally halted construction works which didn’t bother the authorities for years seem to be in sudden need of repair right before the elections. A clear parallel with the Belgian way of electioneering – incidentally elections in both my old and new home country are held on the same day, June 7th.

Qifa Nabki – whose blog is an excellent way to follow the elections, reports on an article in al-Akhbar which aggregates four predictions by pollsters for the upcoming parliamentary elections. The upshot seems to be that the current majority of M14 could get anywhere between 48 and 71 seats, while the current opposition of M8 is looking at between 57 and 80 seats, with the ‘guaranteed’ seats for each – i.e. districts with no competition at all – being respectively 36 (M14) and 37 (M8).

Meanwhile, Israel has announced large-scale military exercises just south of the Lebanese border for May 31st, which Hizbullah spokespeople insist are a cover for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and possibly another assault on Lebanon. Or they could be meant as intimidation before the elections, in a desparate last bid to dissuade the Lebanese people from electing the opposition forces into power… How the US and its lackeys will react to an opposition win is another interestig question, especially in the light of their reaction to Hamas’ election in Palestine. The UK and other European countries have recently been seen ‘overtly’ talking with Hizbullah for the first time in living memory, so in any case everybody has seen the weather changing around here. Hizbullah for its part has waged a very low-key election campaign and leaves it to Aoun and the FPM to increase the seats of the opposition, not putting forward more candidates themselves than the seats they already have.
The price for most creative and interesting campaigning, by the way, definitely goes to the Aouni marketing team (see the ++961 blog for regular updates with pictures of the posters and occasional translations of the slogans) while Hariri’s Future Movement is probably responsible for the most empty and boring visual pollution of them all (although competition is stiff among both ‘opposition’ and the ‘majority’ contenders).

PS – slight update: after writing this I went to the balcony and saw a new Future poster, and for once it didn’t say something like ‘the economy first’ or ‘independence first’ or any of the other mutually contradictory ‘firsts’. It read: ‘ma byirja3u w-as-sama zarqa’ – ‘they (i.e. the Syrians/opposition) are not coming back – the sky is blue (i.e. the colour of the Future Movement in these colour-coded elections). Some sign of creativity and actual content at last…

PS2 – Oh, I forgot to mention episode 743 of the long-running popular soap series ‘Israel is going to end its occupation of southern Ghajjar (really!)’