The Man Without a Country
Poor Lebanon. Beirut to the Beltway notes Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's chagrin at being contradicted, undermined and outflanked by Iran, Syria and Russia in his attempts to obtain a ceasefire.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, in remarks published on Friday, accused Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of "going over the limit" by criticizing his plan to end the war between Hizbullah and Israel. During a visit to Lebanon last week, Mottaki expressed implicit reservations about Siniora's seven-point plan to bring peace to Lebanon, saying there was no rush to discuss questions beyond an immediate cease-fire.
"I think that Mr. Mottaki went over the limit and some parties have been quick to adopt his position," said Siniora, in reference to Hizbullah and other Lebanese parties also close to Iran's regional ally, Syria. "Our plan is based on what the Lebanese want and on the demands of Hizbullah," the prime minister said in an interview with the French-language daily L'Orient Le Jour.
Beirut to the Beltway goes on: "Meanwhile in Moscow, Saad Hariri lashed out at the Assad regime and for the first time at Iran in an interview by Russia Today ... In a separate interview, Hariri accused the Assad regime of “resisting the Israelis” through Lebanese territories while doing nothing about its own occupied territories." This is a deeper problem than is evident at first glance. Some commentators have argued that Syrias de jure and de facto occupation of Lebanon is being covered up by the current conflict in Lebanon, as in the case, for instance of the Shaba Farms.
At the time of the 2000 Israeli withdrawal the UN asked Syria about its position on the issue. Damascus was in a quandary: On the one hand, this was obviously Syrian territory; on the other, if Syria conceded that the farms belong to Lebanon, there might be a chance of getting one more sliver of Arab territory out of Israeli hands. Syria thus responded that whatever its former claims to the Shaba Farms, it now agreed to cede them to Lebanon.
But when the UN asked Damascus for a formal document stating that the area had indeed been legally transferred to Lebanon, Syria balked - and it has still not supplied such a document. WHY? AT the root of the issue is the simple fact that up to this very day Syria has not accepted the legitimacy of the existence of a separate, sovereign Lebanese state. Lebanon was carved out by the French imperial powers in the 1920s as an attempt to create a pro-Western, Christian entity in the Levant - hence France's continuous solicitude for Lebanon, including its recent support for UN decisions calling on Syria to evacuate Lebanon.
This Syrian non-recognition of Lebanon as an independent state has consequences. There are no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries; there is no Syrian ambassador in Beirut, no Lebanese ambassador in Damascus; and during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s, Syria's representative in Lebanon was the director of Syrian military intelligence (Ghazi Canaan, who eventually committed suicide in murky circumstances). In Syrian textbooks Lebanon appears as part of "Greater Syria."
Little wonder than Siniora has a hard time speaking for anyone when his country is under the grip of two invading powers, one now advancing through southern Lebanon and the other already entrenched for decades. Now come Iran and the "continuous solicitude" of the former colonial power, France. International diplomacy ostentatiously sympathizes with Lebanon but comparatively few, apparently, actually want Lebanon to exist. Beirut to the Beltway's ending paragraph summarizes everything: Lebanon is a place that might become a country someday if all the long shots come off.
In conclusion, the Iranians, it seems, had dispatched their foreign minister to Lebanon as soon as it became apparent to them that Siniora was gaining the upper hand after getting international approval in Rome for including the Shebaa farms and prisoner exchange in his plan-- something that would rob Iran's proxy-force from an excuse to “liberate land”, or whatever it is Hizbullah does in the name of Lebanon. As for the Assad regime, there is nothing new there, and Hariri’s comments hit the spot, though I am not sure about Lebanese being sovereign right now. I hope that was a mistranslation, since achieving sovereignty is part of the Siniora plan. In any case, one hopes that these words are matched with action as soon the unnecessary carnage ends.
Actually Siniora's problems with sovereignty began a little before today. The Counterterrorism Blog noted nearly two weeks ago:
Hizballah’s decision to kidnap the two IDF soldiers was taken by Sheikh Hassan Nasserallah and the other six members of the Shura Karar, its supreme decision-making body. Additionally there are two Iranian representatives (from the Iranian embassy in Beirut/Damascus) that provide a direct link on matters that require strategic guidance or Iranian assistance or arbitration. The file for handling special operations of this kind is usually left to Imad Mughniyeh, the elusive terrorist mastermind for Hizballah, who stands with one foot within Hizballah (reporting to Nasserallah directly) and with one foot in Iran inside the architectures of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the al-Qods unit within the Iranian Pasdaran. Mughniyeh is strictly reserved for special occasions (like the Buenos Aires bombing in 1992 to avenge the Israeli assassination of the previous leader Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi) and his primary mission over the last decade has been to forge qualitative ‘military’ guidance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives inside Gaza and the West Bank.
Siniora might have been, as they say, "the last to know". Speaking of which Tigerhawk looks at predicting events in Lebanon from the point of view of market investors. He compares the Dow Jones to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE).
For all the hanky-twisting that the war is not going well, investors in Israel seem to think otherwise. The graph below is a three-month chart of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange 100 Index. Yes, it sold off broadly at the start of the crisis, but the progress has been impressive since Israel began its campaign to disarm Hezbollah. If you believe in the distributive wisdom of the financial markets in assessing geopolitical risk, Israel is improving its position. ...
The two indices traded essentially in tandem, but started to diverge significantly in mid-June, a month before Hezbollah made its move and almost two weeks before Hamas kidnapped Gilad Shalit. Did the market "know" that Israel was on the brink of some security crisis, even if no individual understood the contours it would take, or is there another explanation for the divergence in the indices in mid-June? Anybody out there trade the TASE 100? We seek your wisdom.
Wanted: someone who can do the same for securities anchored on Lebanon. Just kidding. But seriously, in the light of Beirut to the Beltway's observations about the role of Syria and Iran, I wonder how these two countries are faring in the capital markets?