Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14

Lebanon’s Latest Game of Chicken: Who Will Resign First?

Today has been a very silly day in Lebanese politics. A cabinet session scheduled to address various issues unrelated to the funding of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) had to be canceled because ministers belonging to General  Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement decided not to turn up.

The reason? According to various sources, it was to send a signal that the FPM is prepared to resign and “turn the tables on the opposition”, with respect to the STL funding issue, which must be brought to a vote at next Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. Minister of Energy Gebran Bassil told the AFP that the signal had to do with the FPM’s unhappiness with the government’s performance, not necessarily on the issue of the STL.

Come again?

Let’s remind ourselves that the FPM is the majority partner in the Mikati government. In other words, they are the government. There is no meaningful opposition to their policies. So how can they be disappointed in the government’s performance?

Even by the cynical standards we’ve grown accustomed to, this latest move by the FPM takes the cake. Between 2005 and 2009, they complained because they weren’t given the Presidency. Between 2009 and 2011, they complained because they didn’t have enough seats in government. And now that they are the single largest bloc in the cabinet, they are threatening to bring down their own government because of its poor performance?

In an Arab world where tyrants are struggling to hold on to their seats, Lebanon’s leaders are trying to find ways to get out of theirs as quickly as possible.

No one is fooled that this move doesn’t have everything to do with Najib Mikati’s own vow to resign if the STL’s funding is not approved at next week’s meeting. But the FPM’s counter-threat to resign first is an escalation typical of the blustering and irrational theatrics of Michel Aoun. “You think you can scare us with your resignation, Najib? Well then, we’ll resign first! Ha!

Amateur psychological analysis aside, what does this puzzling strategy tell us about what the STL funding issue means to the March 8 coalition? Obviously, there’s no way that Hizbullah can support the STL since they are being targeted by it. Nor can one expect AMAL to break with Hizbullah on any issue. But the FPM surely could have elected to play some kind of conciliatory or mediating role rather than walking such a hard line. Why be more Catholic than the Pope?

My own conversations with a few FPM insiders over the past couple days suggest that there is considerable befuddlement and frustration with the position that the party finds itself in.

And let’s not forget that resigning and bringing down the current government would only make matters worse — for Aoun, for Hizbullah, and ultimately for Syria. By pushing the magic button and sending Lebanon into its familiar tailspin, Aoun can dodge the STL funding bullet. But this measure will certainly not bring the STL’s activities to a halt. All it will do is create chaos in the near term and possible sanctions in the long term.

Maybe Aoun and Hizbullah would prefer that kind of combative atmosphere to the current situation, where they look worse and worse each day as the Arabs, the Turks, the Europeans, and the Americans keep heaping more pressure on Damascus. Or maybe Aoun is just bluffing. We’ll know sooner rather than later.

At the end of the day, March 8 needs to wake up and face the fact that they’re not going to get away from the Tribunal issue by changing prime ministers every few months.
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86 thoughts on “Lebanon’s Latest Game of Chicken: Who Will Resign First?

  1. QN:

    Can you please dumb down the discussion for me. I don’t understand the gist of what’s happening.

    They brought the previous government down.

    Why exactly don’t they want to vote for ending funding of the STL which is what their official position on the matter is?

    Posted by Gabriel | November 25, 2011, 2:22 pm
  2. Gabriel

    They want to be publicly against the STL but they don’t want to face the possible repercussions of ceasing the funding. They want to have it both ways.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 25, 2011, 2:30 pm
  3. والله يا ست ام جهاد، ما حدا عارف شي من شي

    Posted by Ziad | November 25, 2011, 2:47 pm
  4. What is the default position if there is no vote? An end to funding or not?
    it seems to me that the best way to resolve this is to stop paying elected members salaries for any time they walk out.
    Perhaps this has been discussed ad nauseum before, but what exactly is the repercussions of ending the funding? That lebanon becomes a pariah state? That they lose funding? That they don’t ingratiate themselves to wealthy saudis? I fail to see how exactly they can actually have it both ways

    Posted by Gabriel | November 25, 2011, 2:59 pm
  5. This is me waltzing in with my “Just as I predicted” comment 🙂

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 25, 2011, 3:19 pm
  6. BV

    Akh 3alayk w predictionetak…. 🙂

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 25, 2011, 3:52 pm
  7. ghassan,

    Qare’at el funjan is my fav song from 3Abdl el 7aleem: D
    QN a few of us told you so….So here we go again. 😛

    Posted by danny | November 25, 2011, 4:13 pm
  8. Fitting photo of Miqati “the two meter man” and Napoleonic Aoun.

    Posted by Charles | November 25, 2011, 4:45 pm
  9. I will give a bonboneh to everyone for their accurate predictions of something that nobody ever disputed, despite the fact that they were wrong 10 times for every time they were “right”.

    Yalla sa7tein 3a albkon. 😉

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 25, 2011, 5:12 pm
  10. With that out of the way, let me add a twist that you did not address in your analysis above.

    I’ve often argued that it is important for HA (the real decision maker here) to not be “the official govt. of Lebanon” so as to avoid sanctions, a hit on the economy, that would stop the country’s ability to function (from a standpoint of daily business being conducted).
    I’ve also made the argument that when push come to shove, with regards to the STL, HA would bring down the Mikati government.
    As you pointed out, if the Mikati government rejects funding the STL, Lebanon will suffer the economic consequences because the Mikati government will be considered by the west as an “HA government” (for lack of a better). And I’ve always maintained that it is important to M8 to have a facade of a “western friendly” government.

    So now here’s the trick: Enter the FPM. When it’s time, and the government is faced with having to pull the trigger on a decision regarding funding the STL, the FPM ministers resign, thus bringing down the government. No government, no funding decision. Back to the “vaccum” situation we had right after HA brought down Hariri.
    Lebanon saves face vis a vis the west or at least gets to kick the sanctions can further down the road under the pretense that there is no government to hold accountable for lack of STL funding. HA gets to have it both ways yet again (no official “HA” government in power to face sanctions, but no STL funding for now).
    Once again, the FPM ends up providing the perfect patsy/cover for HA’s schemes.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 25, 2011, 6:10 pm
  11. BV

    I don’t think anyone is going to be fooled by the “no official govt to face sanctions ploy”. If sanctions are a serious possibility, they will be imposed whether HA votes to veto funding or resigns to avoid approving it.

    The vacuum situation does not solve their problem.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 25, 2011, 6:19 pm
  12. QN,

    It’s really not a matter of bonbonehs 🙂 I just stuffed myself on thanksgiving leftovers. So I’m good.

    Seriously though, it’s really not a matter of prediciting specifically the minutiae of how it played out.
    My point all along has been time and again that HA is using these schemes (bringing down governments, etc) to avoid having an offical pro-HA government (which would bring down international sanctions and have repercussions on the every day affairs of Lebanese).
    If you look at the sum total of what’s happened throughout this long government saga, that’s been my refrain all along. When you were looking for an explanation to why they brought down Hariri, I postulated that “It was always the STL, stupid” and that if you look back all the way to May 2008, everything HA has done has stemmed from one main approach to handling this affair: Do not formally take power, so as to maintain a semblance of “friendly” official state (to the West) while maintaining the ability to sabotage anything STL-related. Every time the government of Lebanon has been put into a “you must make a decision” situation, HA has found a way to postpone it by bringing down a govt or creating a vaccum, while refusing to formally take power themselves (in an official sense).
    This “theory” pretty much explains every question we’ve collectively had at each step of the way as to their actions.
    My so-called predictions have derived from this overarching theory. That’s all.
    The details are really unimportant if you look at this bigger picture.

    The REAL question, if one accepts the above premise, is “For how long can HA maintain this delicate balancing act of not officially being in power, while continuing to obstruct the STL.” before the consequences (sanctions, etc) cannot be postponed anymore.

    Let me apply that question to the current state of affairs: What do you think will happen if this government falls (either through Mikati resigning, or the FPM resigning)? Will the West continue with sanctions on account of Lebanon withholding its obligations to the STL? Or will the West give us a reprieve (as they have done so far), pending a new government (which, no doubt, will take months to form).

    I’m curious what everyone thinks to that.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 25, 2011, 6:19 pm
  13. QN,

    Just saw your comment #11. You kinda answered the question I posed.
    You think that if the government falls, the west will continue with the “consequences” they’ve been warning about should Lebanon fail to fund the STL. Interesting.
    I’m not sure I agree.
    History has shown otherwise. So far, the West has been reluctant to enforce these “consequences” they’ve warned about (and they’ve been warning about them for a while now). They have their reasons for that (I believe having Lebanon officially declared a “pariah” does not serve the West at the moment). I happen to think that HA’s gamble will work. At least for now.
    A fall of the present government will stir some ramblings from the West, more warnings, but no direct action (with the unspoken excuse that they’ll wait for the next government and expect it to fulfill Lebanon’s obligations).

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 25, 2011, 6:23 pm
  14. BV

    What I’ve been trying to say to you is that this reading is perfectly unproblematic but it doesn’t actually explain anything. If you ask any taxi driver on the streets of Beirut why Hizbullah doesn’t join the government in a serious way, they’ll say it’s because they want to maintain the semblance of a Western friendly govt while trying to push their own interests from behind the scenes. This is a legitimate observation, but it doesn’t expla in the day-to-day decisions, and yes, that’s my interest. Big sweeping overarching theories are of no use if they don’t help us understand the details.

    Take your statement: “It’s about the STL, stupid.” Well of course the STL matters. But how does that help us explain why they brought down Hariri? How did that serve Hizbullah’s interests with respect to the STL? Hariri wasn’t bent on taking some kind of decision that they managed to block by ousting him and creating a vacuum. Bil 3aks, they wanted him to help undermine the Tribunal. So it didn’t serve their purposes by getting rid of him.

    And the same goes for Mikati today. What do they gain by ousting him? The STL is not going to grind to a halt. A vacuum in Lebanon is not going to serve their interests.

    Whether or not sanctions are imposed is a different issue. But even if sanctions are NOT imposed, the current strategy does not serve HIzbullah’s interests in the slightest. What will they have achieved? They will have thumbed their nose at the UN. Bravo. Will that stop the STL? No. Will it impact the trial whatsoever? No. If anything, all it does is make them look more guilty in the eyes of the undecided Lebanese, and it riles up the Sunnis even more.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 25, 2011, 6:36 pm
  15. But qn… What are ha interests. It seems there is consensus that they are in fact running the show in threw background. Are they realistically expecting any more than that

    Posted by Gabriel | November 25, 2011, 8:19 pm
  16. QN,
    It is only fair to recognize an astute prediction. To the best of my knowledge, the only person to suggest resignation as a potential tactic in this comedy is Danny. All sorts of other scenarios have been proposed by you and others, including yours truly, but the only one that has panned out is that of danny. As a result he deserves much much more than a bonboneh:-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 26, 2011, 12:22 am
  17. Well, technically Mikati hasn’t resigned yet.
    There’s also the “FPM ministers resign en masse” option.

    (2 sides of the same coin, in the end, but if we’re being super-technical about who predicted what resignation…)

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 26, 2011, 2:14 am
  18. Well I don’t know who’s right and who’s left. Either way, no-one really has weaved a cohesive narrative yet.

    Just what precisely is happening?

    Is it all a game?

    Was Najib bluffing, and were the FPM in on the bluffing game? Is this part of an attempt by Najib to look rather independent?

    Or was Najib really taking some principled indepedent stand vis-a-vis the STL funding?

    And if no vote is made officially on this matter what does that mean for the funding? That it defacto stops?

    Posted by Gabriel | November 26, 2011, 3:17 am
  19. Here’s my prediction: No one resigns, issue gets voted down by cabinet, opposition bitches and burns some tires to block some roads, Miqati is visibly upset and regretful but stays on as PM because billionaires love Lebanon so much, west condemns and threatens some more while doing nothing but tries to covertly get the opposition to stir some sectarian shit (most likely in Tripoli), and from now until 100 years from now the current opposition will be faking tears about Rafiq Hariri, just to make sure all Lebanese are thoroughly annoyed, even though LF and Phalanges really hated Rafiq Hariri when he was alive (and they still do).

    Posted by Murad | November 26, 2011, 3:19 am
  20. Upset much Murad? I’d be angry too if I believed in these jokes of politicians.

    Posted by Patrick | November 26, 2011, 4:04 am
  21. Murad #19, that could still happen, since I’m convinced the majority is mostly playing “by the ear” and don’t know yet themselves their final action. Some intractable red lines might be drawn for the big ones, like HB never voting for the funding, and the PM never appearing against the STL (ideally, appearing as a staunch supporter). The rest will adapt to the choreography. Anyway, it is not like they didn’t have the time to study a strategy well in advance. In my opinion, a range of options, many of then contemplated by the commentators here, are already in place, depending on how things go in Syria, and the whole show is, hmm, a show. Because only one factor was fully unexpected in the STL showdown: the Syrian earthquake. So any bet that ignores Syrian events as a factor is a blind bet. The only aim is to gain time without loosing too many feathers in the storm. It is “Syria, stupid”.

    Posted by mj | November 26, 2011, 5:22 am
  22. Ghassan

    I wasn’t talking about Danny; I meant BV’s predictions from days of yore. Danny’s observation about FPM resigning deserves a bonboneh if it happens.


    What’s happening is the following. Mikati’s threatening to resign on the STL because he knows that his career as a Sunni politician will be over if he lets Lebanon renege. Aoun’s threat to resign is a very silly ploy to throw the country into temporary chaos so as to avoid having to vote yes on the funding.


    Your scenario could well happen. It all depends on how serious the Americans and Europeans are on the sanctions threat. This is all a game of chicken at this point. Hariri, meanwhile, is waiting in the wings to swoop in and receive a hero’s welcome once GMA and Mikati finish beating each other up (or at least this is what he’s hoping for). Next week will be extremely interesting.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 26, 2011, 8:05 am
  23. QN, with regards to your assertion that the FPM is the largest bloc in the government, true, but they aren’t the majority. It’s always them versus the rest, with Hizballah in the middle. It’s what happened when they discussed the electricity law, or the law preventing MPs from becoming ministers (they had to exempt the prime ministership specifically because they lack a majority). Mikati and Suleiman can alsov easily prevent them from getting a decision through by simply not adding it to the agenda.

    While it might seem simple and obvious to assume that it’s all about the STL, it seems too simplistic to explain the recent moves of the FPM block. If Mikati already volunteered resigning, why should they offer themselves as Hizballah’s hand in the government by resigning for the STL?

    Bassil gave 5 points of contention today. It seems a bit hollow that all this came up now though. Aoun could have brought it all up in his weekly press conference, rather than have it seemingly come out of nowhere. It seems to be more like a clash between his bloc and Mikati/Jumblatt/Berri (for many things including the STL, the ISF, Ogero, proportional representation…). If you look at Ahmad Karami’s statement today, it does seem to be more of a general clash between them rather than one specifically focussed on the STL.

    I’m willing to bet Aoun is doing this because he felt personally insulted by Mikati’s threat to resign. That’s maybe the only reason he took it so far as threatening to withdraw his ministers. Otherwise, he would have kept these complaints to his (relatively) civil weekly press conference.

    Posted by MusaKusa | November 26, 2011, 8:40 am
  24. Re: 11

    Your reading could be wrong in the sense that if Tayyar resign and leave the cabinet vacuous (as if it is not); it would amount to a finesse with a typical Lebanese justification that they are western looking non sectarian party and thus not be lumped with HA. HA will not resign. Thus therein will be provided the escape hatch to tampering any sanctions against Lebanon.
    However all this is bupkus and almost everything will gravitate to the worsening situation in Syria and Lebanese thumping their nose to possible sanctions against Syria. You see as far as they don’t hit the banking sector the other areas are self sufficient. The Non HA areas; i.e. Non Shiite zones will have their life as usual and life will go on. Post Assad anything is possible. One thing though I doubt is the war against Israel card. Day by day I believe that the option has expired. It will doom HA & Syria as I think this time there would be “foreign” intervention and the Iran’s multi billion $$$ investment will evaporate.

    Posted by danny | November 26, 2011, 9:52 am
  25. MusaKusa

    Coalition governments are always going to require some pushing and pulling. The current situation is about as good a deal as the FPM could possibly have gotten. Hizbullah has a very hands off approach, and so it’s really the FPM that’s calling the legislative shots. Yes, Mikati controls the agenda, but this is part of the Constitution and I think it is essential that there is some kind of unitary authority in the government or else we’d never get anything done. It seems a bit too convenient that the FPM is bringing all of these things up now. Whenever they’re cornered, they start attacking constitutional precedents to create some kind of distraction. They did it with the demand for a veto; then they started to demand representation in cabinet proportional to representation in parliament; now they’re calling for changing the PM’s powers. These are all non-starters, and their sole objective is to create some fireworks.

    I think that the main cause is the STL issue, but it’s also possible that they’ve already found some kind of solution in private and are simply trying to use the resignation threat as a way to force some concessions from Mikati on other issues. This is entirely possible, and while I disapprove of their brinkmanship, it’s a legitimate strategy.

    My view is that Aoun’s actions are often not very rational at all. He doesn’t always do what’s in his best interests, so we can’t always assume that he has some kind of brilliant master plan. Much of his rhetoric is motivated purely by bluster.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 26, 2011, 12:09 pm
  26. danny 24,

    Well said. I think that’s the best explanation/prediction at this point.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 26, 2011, 2:36 pm
  27. Le General Michel Aoun’s obsession is in preserving Lebanon’s “Maronite” heritage … which he understood can never geopolitically come under threat by the Shi’ites or the Alawites.

    The rest of his behavior is self explanatory.

    Posted by R2D2 | November 26, 2011, 3:13 pm
  28. Ya R2D2, I’ve been respectful and appreciative of many of your posts but permit me to say that this last one, #27, falls in the ranks of what physicists call “vacuum space,” the French “parler pour ne rien dire,” and the erudite Arabists “ba3dal jahdi wal-ijtihadi, fassaral ma2a bil-ma2i.” Sorry.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | November 26, 2011, 4:46 pm
  29. What I find strange is that this issue was not discussed before Mikati formed the government. Did they really leave the issue open, or is someone reneging on what was agreed?

    Posted by AIG | November 27, 2011, 12:14 am
  30. AIG, you’re assuming that reason, logic, and principles guide politics, Lebanese politics in particular.

    Posted by honestpatriot | November 27, 2011, 4:41 am
  31. I love how AIG always asks the most logical question… 🙂

    The modus operandi in Lebanon is to live to fight another day. There’s a belief that the whole world could be different next week, let alone six months from now. So why should we worry our little heads about how to permanently solve the problem that we’ve just temporarily solved with our little band-aid, when everything could be completely different soon enough?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 27, 2011, 5:52 am
  32. AIG, QN, HP et al.

    The Kabuki drama continues, it’s never about the issues, it’s always about (empty) form or the esthetics of equilibrium: Do we look like we agree? Do the Syrians like it? Do we have the right blend of colors…errr sects. Are all the clowns included in the formula? Let’s call it “union” or “brotherly” or “consensus” or “national” government and fool ourselves once more.

    Now Berri wants all to coalesce around a “consensus”, consensus to do what? To look good and be all in the same offcial pic? Or to fool the international community?

    Perhaps it’s a consensus to call Berri a “statesman” because he’s calling for consensus.

    I’m told Kabuki is an exquisite art form, though frankly I am waaaayyyyyyyy tired of the play and of actors.

    Posted by OldHand | November 27, 2011, 7:57 am
  33. QN
    Am I correct to see that Aoun is getting hints on how to respond in genius manner from Mouallem!.

    Sad to see how the so called “Syrian Foreign Policy Brilliance” unravels. The Assad regime is now starting to pay the long overdue tab of interference, black mailing, bad mouthing, and strong-arming their weaker neighbors. If I dare make a prediction in front of the sages of Lebanese politics, the only one I would make is that the comedy will continue to defy logic more than it already does. And sadly, whether the Assad regime survives or falls, it does not bode well for Lebanon initially in the latter case, and for far longer duration in the former. This is what could be different in six months and it would be the difference that matters.

    Posted by SYRIAN HAMSTER | November 27, 2011, 11:13 am
  34. Was something lost in translation here?

    “Speaking on behalf of Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri – who is currently outside Lebanon – Siniora said that “the people want the STL, whether some are with or against it.”

    Posted by lally | November 27, 2011, 12:33 pm
  35. Am I the only one surprised by the change in the Arab League? If someone would have told me 1 year ago that one day they will put such sanctions on Syria I would have laughed. I think Assad and the Iranians are hated more than we imagine. Assad’s “great” foreign policy is coming back to bite him.

    Posted by AIG | November 27, 2011, 1:14 pm
  36. Ya AIG, you’re being logical again. All these years in the neighborhood haven’t decimated that bent of yours?
    But seriously, the transformations in the Arab world, with Egypt, Lybia, Tunisia, are nothing short of political earthquakes, ones that you actually, to your credit, sort of predicted. So how come you are surprised by the shift in attitude of the Arab League? They are not potted plants despite their previous inertia.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | November 27, 2011, 1:30 pm
  37. AIG, the interesting question — one for which I have no insight at all — is how all this is being viewed in Israel and, importantly, what solutions it might open to the Palestinian problem that weren’t available before?
    Also, with the rest of the world taking on the responsibility of containing Iranian nuclear ambitions, is the sentiment in Israel still inclined to want to create a military engagement there?
    Your insights please…

    Posted by Honest Patriot | November 27, 2011, 1:33 pm
  38. It seems that the STL will no longer be the main reason for the collapse of the Mikati government: the cost of Lebanon “disassociating” from the Arab League sanctions and ignoring the will of Qatar, KSA and other Gulf will be too prohibitive. The health of Lebanon’s financial sector depends on following the line of the Gulf states, no matter what idealists think of autonomy and independence. The only reason Lebanon matters to the Arab League is its financial sector (and some business climate, touristic and real estate, etc). Unlike Iraq (the other dissenter from the AL decision) who depends on its trade with Syria, Lebanon does not rely solely on that trade. Furthermore, even if Lebanon will accept the sanctions, it can always continue its trade illicitly. So, it seems that the decision of disassociating is political, driven by regional alliances, and not self interested (economically and strategically). Which means that Miqati, whose first responsibility is to keep Lebanon from becoming a parish state, or from no longer being “investment ready” with some credibility regionally and internationally, will have no choice but resign. He is not at the helm of his government’s foreign policy, nor is he able to preserve the necessary market conditions required for belonging to the “global community”. That is the main reason that he will resign, with the hope that the deadlock in forming a new government will 1) buy time until events change, and 2) deflect the attention to a crisis of legitimacy in the caretaker govt so that Lebanon will be considered in transition of some sort and not completely under the control of an HA/Iran satellite.

    Posted by parrhesia | November 27, 2011, 2:06 pm
  39. ugh

    Posted by dontgetit | November 27, 2011, 10:49 pm
  40. AIG, QN…

    To answer the pertinent AIG question above:
    While it seem to the outside observer that the issue of funding the STL was not agreed on when the government was formed, or that it was agreed on and that someone then reneged on the agreement, it is also possible that the current state of affairs was exactly what was agreed on.
    It is not beyond the realm of the possible that HA gave their OK to Mikati at the time, knowing full well they intended to sabotage him as soon as the “deadline” arrived.
    In the end, that bought them 6 months. No?

    Lebanon would’ve been under the gun a lot sooner had HA come out and said they wouldn’t accept a government that would abide by Lebanon’s obligations towards the STL.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 28, 2011, 12:57 am
  41. Good points, Parhesia. I’m with you on that one as well.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 28, 2011, 12:59 am
  42. HP,

    The AL is still populated by autocrats. By taking off the table using force against their population, how do they expect to stay in power long term? It seems that by supporting sanctions on Syria they are sawing off the branch they are sitting on. This is what I don’t understand.

    As for the mood in Israel, it is a “wait and see” attitude. Nobody is in a mood to take risks when the future political situation in the Arab world is so uncertain. Who knows what is the status of our peace agreement with Egypt? A civil war in Syria would be a headache for everybody. The results of the Arab Spring will dictate the peace process or lack thereof. So I am not expecting much progress in the next 5 years until things stabilize to some extent.

    Posted by AIG | November 28, 2011, 11:22 am
  43. AIG,

    You make a valid point with regards to the AL. However it is important to remember that the bedrock of the AL remains mostly the gulf states and KSA which have NOT hesitated to use force against their populations in recent times (See Bahrain, etc.)
    It is no coincidence that the only countries the AL “turned against” were Syria and Libya. One is not part of the mainstream AL axis, but rather a rival (to KSA and the pro-west AL states), the other a somewhat fringe member (While Ghaddafi wasn’t exactly a rejectionist, he wasn’t necessarily a centerpiece of the pro-west, gulf/KSA types).
    In the short term, the AL is simply playing the game of internal rivalries, nothing more. KSA, Qatar and a few others would love nothing more than to get rid of Assad, or at least of his troublesome policies, so they have no problem taking sanctions on Syria.
    Do not expect the same if it comes to Bahrain, KSA, or another gulf state taking on its citizens. These AL decisions were not based on the principle of the thing. It was just a convenient means to deal with ongoing rivalries.

    In the long term though, I agree with you that the authoritarians in the AL are simply bound to fall over time, no matter what they do. This Arab Spring business is bigger than they are and whether they swim with the current under false pretense, or against it, it’s not going to matter in the end. They’ll be swept away.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 28, 2011, 1:27 pm
  44. BV,
    I have never been a fan of AL and I can understand your skepticism about the recent moves against Syria. But I caution that one cannot be against them when they refuse to act and yet be against them when they do. I will not judge what they might do in the future but at the moment I am delighted that they have decided to act. Contrary to what you have alluded to, I am of the opinion that it will not be easy for them to reverse course since this move has set a precedent for the future.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 28, 2011, 5:37 pm
  45. Oh i never said i was against them or with them. You may have misread the context of my statement. I am merely pointing out that the AL is not acting out of principle. They are simply acting under international pressure as well as opportunistic self-interest.

    Let me put it this way, if the revolution was sweeping KSA, I highly doubt the AL would be expelling and passing sanctions. It just so happened that there’s been enough international outrage, coupled with the fact that no one in the AL likes the Assad regime.

    As for my personal tilt? I am against the AL as an institution and have been so for a long time. That doesn’t mean I don’t applaud sanctions against Syria. I do. It just means I realize full well that these guys happened to do the right thing for once because it’s convenient to their interests.

    I did say that regardless of what they choose to do in the future, they will be swept away by the current. This Arab spring has far transcended the AL and other political constructs of the Arab World.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 28, 2011, 5:43 pm
  46. I has been revealed in tripoli that the video clip showm by Al Mouallem to support his position that Syria is under attack by groups of armed terrorists is a video of a group in Tripoli taken in the 2008 troubles between Bab Al Tibbaneh and Jabal Mohsin.
    How clueless can one get and yet survive?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 28, 2011, 6:01 pm
  47. Clueless?…. I doubt that they are clueless, the matter of the fact is that the ministry of disinformation are used to lying and dispensing disinformation to their subjects knowing that for so many decades the people have bought the lies of the regime. This is why the Arab Spring should be celebrated for its principles more than the consequences, where the people are starting to see straight through the lies and the propoganda to the detriment of the ruling regimes.
    Clueless? yes perhaps towards the people’s attitudes.

    Posted by Maverick | November 28, 2011, 6:32 pm
  48. AIG,

    Well we all knew this was going to happen. Interestingly, it happened way later than anyone expected:

    Missiles flying over the border from Lebanon.

    Care to comment on this?


    Posted by Akbar Palace | November 28, 2011, 9:13 pm
  49. AP,

    Don’t read too much into it.:D

    Posted by danny | November 28, 2011, 9:59 pm
  50. Danny,

    What’s there to read? The issue is basically:

    – when to respond
    – how severe the response
    – how this will affect the Arab Spring

    Posted by Akbar Palace | November 28, 2011, 11:25 pm
  51. AP,

    You are a bit too hasty in your judgment. Nothing will happen. First, this was not HA’s doing but the usual suspects (some loonies from fringe Palestinian factions with access to Katyushas); 2) Israel will not respond beyond the usual complaint to the UN and mediation meetings; and 3) when/if the time comes for a staged incident, it would have to be after something really big, related to Iran (possible air strikes on nuclear installations) and not to Syria. The current strategic position of HA does not consider its allegiance to Syria as primary but as secondary, and Iran has already distanced itself from the Syrian regime in practice (strategically and militarily) but not in discourses (diplomatic and covert support). HA is ready for when and if Asad falls and will not create any problems and will do its best to convey that and try to dissuade Israelis from adventurism in Iran. What I don’t understand is the source of Syria’s power over the Lebanese governmental players in the stages of QN endgame. How will the government survive economically? Iran is in no position to support it financially to the level it needs to survive, I don’t think Russia is or can either, and it can no longer extort protection from ISA and Gulf countries. This is the end of the Bashar stint and he cannot even start a war or a major incident, with his army in disarray and his Lebanese cronies (HA is no longer in his pocket) too insignificant in a transformed Lebanese military landscape. The next 3 months will be interesting to study.

    Posted by parrhesia | November 29, 2011, 1:23 am
  52. Corrections: an endgame and NOT QN endgame; KSA and not ISA.

    Posted by parrhesia | November 29, 2011, 1:31 am
  53. “Loonies from fringe Palestinian factions with access to Katyushas” in Lebanon, take their orders from the Syrian regime.

    Posted by Vulcan | November 29, 2011, 3:10 am
  54. A source of power Assad holds over the Lebanese gvernt is the border crossing. Then again with limited border crossings from Jordan and Turkey as well closing border crossings with Lebanon will be a measure of attrition for the regime as well.

    Posted by rm | November 29, 2011, 4:18 am
  55. parrhesia Says:


    You are a bit too hasty in your judgment.

    Maybe. The GOI has usually been fairly patient with this sort of thing.

    Nothing will happen.

    Maybe. I think it depends on the severity and the frequency of the attacks.

    First, this was not HA’s doing but the usual suspects (some loonies from fringe Palestinian factions with access to Katyushas)

    Oh, well in that case, it’s not important. [huh?]

    2) Israel will not respond beyond the usual complaint to the UN and mediation meetings

    Yes, I’m sure that will make things right.

    3) when/if the time comes for a staged incident, it would have to be after something really big, related to Iran (possible air strikes on nuclear installations) and not to Syria.

    We all know how the war with Lebanon started in 2006. 3 soldiers were kidnapped.

    Now we have a crumbling Syria and a nervous Hezbollah and Iran. It is in their interest to start another war against Israel to take the heat off the revolutions going on across the ME and Syria (in particular). It would be as easy as opening a spigot.

    The next 3 months will be interesting to study.

    The “resistance” could start another war at the drop of a pin.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | November 29, 2011, 7:22 am
  56. “Now we have a crumbling Syria and a nervous Hezbollah and Iran. It is in their interest to start another war against Israel to take the heat off the revolutions going on across the ME and Syria (in particular). It would be as easy as opening a spigot.”???

    “Take the heat of the revolutions?” Care to explain?

    Au contraire mon ami; that card has met its expiry date. There is nothing to gain for Iran/HA by starting a destructive war. That exactly would give Israel the cover to hit the Iranian nuclear facilities.
    BTW don’t jump on the war wagon every time a firecracker goes off!

    Posted by danny | November 29, 2011, 8:54 am
  57. BTW don’t jump on the war wagon every time a firecracker goes off!


    This was the same criticism Israel got after deciding to war with Gaza.

    Thousands of missiles over a span of 7 years.

    I would not have waited that long. I’m not as patient as you are.

    But I appreciate your POV.


    Posted by Akbar Palace | November 29, 2011, 9:31 am
  58. AP,

    I still think a war is not in anyone’s interest yet. However, I am not as complacent as the Lebanese on this blog. I think if the Assad regime is replaced by a pro Saudi regime, Hezbollah’s thinking will have to change significantly. That may lead to more brinkmanship that can result in a war.

    Posted by AIG | November 29, 2011, 11:28 am
  59. AIG,
    But can we hope to change the Assad regime with an independent pro Syrian one that is not pro Saudi? 🙂

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 29, 2011, 12:49 pm
  60. GK,

    One can always hope… 🙂
    Unfortunately, it is the mid east not the mid west. And in the mid east the Saudis have the money and the agenda.

    Posted by AIG | November 29, 2011, 1:12 pm
  61. AIG,

    If Syria is replaced with a pro-Saudi regime, why exactly should you or Benji be worried? The Saudis are 100% pro-Israel … unless you haven’t kept up with the wikileaks cables.

    Your worry should be if the Syrian regime is replaced with pro-Syria regime that will demand the Golan after they overthrow the a’hole regime in power that lost it for them in the first place, shouldn’t it?

    Posted by R2D2 | November 29, 2011, 1:42 pm
  62. As for Hezbollah … apart from your kin obliging them into a war after the Syrian regime falls (to save face your mighty army’s face in light of your 2006 fiasco), what exactly do you think Hezbollah have to gain internally or regionally from warfare?

    Posted by R2D2 | November 29, 2011, 1:48 pm
  63. 1) AP, Parhesia

    I’m going to agree with Parhesia on this one. Not to condone any kind of rocket launching (cause I don’t). But Parhesia is right. This will be considered a minor incident with no repercussions for the moment (as long as it was a one-time incident).

    2) AIG,

    Agree with you as well. It is not in HA or Iran’s interest to start a war now. It would give Israel the perfect excuse for striking Iran with complete impunity (and without any kind of western-imposed restraints).
    I also agree that if we are to see a provocation on the Lebanese-Israeli front, it will come at a much more opportune (for Iran/HA) time.

    3) Ghassan, AIG.

    I do not think the only 2 options in Syria are “Pro-Saudi” and “Assad”. As Ghassan points out, it is quite likely there may be a third option.
    I have never quite seen the Syrian population at large being very pro-Saudi in any sense of the word. Even if an Islamist “Muslim Brotherhood” type regime were to take power after Assad’s demise, I’d see it far more likely to be closer to Egypt’s MB.
    Those may all seem like the same thing to an Israeli like AIG, but I think those of us who are a bit more familiar with the various Arab sub-cultures would agree with me that Syrian Sunnis as a whole are not quite of the Saudi/Khaliji mold. Egypt is a lot closer culturally and historically.
    Of course, this is mere speculation on my part.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 29, 2011, 1:51 pm
  64. (to save your mighty army’s face in light of your 2006 fiasco)

    Posted by R2D2 | November 29, 2011, 1:55 pm
  65. Obviously your kin are not going to return the Golan to Syrians … and Hezbollah can bank on that.

    Posted by R2D2 | November 29, 2011, 2:04 pm
  66. I still think a war is not in anyone’s interest yet. However, I am not as complacent as the Lebanese on this blog.


    I think it IS in Assad’s interest. The closer he is to being overthrown, the closer he is at creating a “scene”/

    I think if the Assad regime is replaced by a pro Saudi regime, Hezbollah’s thinking will have to change significantly. That may lead to more brinkmanship that can result in a war.

    It will happen BEFORE Assad is replaced. That is why the missile game will begin again.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | November 29, 2011, 2:18 pm
  67. AP,

    HA and Hamas as as different as black & white. So is Gaza vs. Lebanon. They are miles apart in armament, training, ideology and the landscape they cover.

    Yes it might have been in Assad’s interest to start a war…but he can hardly control the home front and any kind of skirmish will take accelerate his demise. As for HA; they do not take orders from Assad. Assad is a terminally wounded duck. Iran is trying to balance out its stances through the past months. Just follow their official announcements..

    Posted by danny | November 29, 2011, 3:01 pm
  68. I bought some Hugo Boss knockoff socks in China that ended up giving me a bad case of smelly Athlete’s foot disease.

    Anyone have a fast cure for it on this blog?

    Much appreciated.

    Posted by R2D2 | November 29, 2011, 3:14 pm
  69. R2D2: Garlic

    Posted by 3issa | November 29, 2011, 3:22 pm
  70. euhhhhh,…..

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 29, 2011, 3:32 pm
  71. Yes it might have been in Assad’s interest to start a war…


    “MIght”? I think “absolutely”. An intense skirmish or war would take the heat off him entirely. The UN focus would be Israel and not him.

    …but he can hardly control the home front…

    How do you know what he can control? My impression is that Hezbollah is itching to war with Israel and wants to war with Israel. This is their “raison d’etre”. I think all Besho has to do is wink his eye, and Nasrallah will commence action.

    … and any kind of skirmish will take accelerate his demise.

    Only if the IDF is seriously committed to taking out President PencilNeck. And even that will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

    As for HA; they do not take orders from Assad.

    I don’t know, but I think fighting Israel is something all the actors are interested in.

    Assad is a terminally wounded duck.

    And what happens when you try to move the wounded duck from his nest?

    He bites back.

    Iran is trying to balance out its stances through the past months. Just follow their official announcements.

    Their announcements are a salad of fatalism and war. Please provide translation;)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | November 29, 2011, 3:38 pm
  72. HA do take orders from Assad, we have seen it since 2004 HA can always claim “Israel started it or they have been planning it since 2006” and the population in Lebanon will nod and go along .
    I previously said Assad’s only chance at survival is a regional war that puts a whole lot of pressure on any Syrian reformers and other Arab and Turkish powers leading the campain against him.

    if Israel is Bombing Lebanon and Syria no one would dare to do anything but condemn the attacks and back Assad, the whole focus would become ending the hostilities thus giving Assad a new lease on life as el presidente

    I hope it doesnt happen but we shall see, am certainly not happy building for the 3rd time in Khiam

    Posted by Vulcan | November 29, 2011, 4:50 pm
  73. AP,

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see how wrong you are. 😀
    HA is not itching for war. On the contrary; they are just to lose their free access to arms and terror through Syria. They are in “Lebanese” mode right now.
    I had mentioned several times in this and prior posts and echoed by others that HA will not provide Israel with a cover to attack Iran’s nuclear sites! Again; don’t get jumpy from firecrackers. Here they celebrate birthdays by firing RPGs. This a man’s land. 😛
    I am sure you know better than me that Israel is no shape to wage a very costly war against ghosts! FYI; nobody gives a rat’s ass on what coz Bibi thinks anymore! Whether he prefers Assad at his borders or not is irrelevant. The area is in a continuous sea of change that keeps up swallowing up its autocrats.

    Are you afraid of a duck’s bite lol?

    Posted by danny | November 29, 2011, 4:54 pm
  74. Vulcan,

    The Klingon empire & Romulus have collapsed. This is not 2004.

    Posted by danny | November 29, 2011, 4:57 pm
  75. While there is some merit to the logic that a war might benefit Assad (in the short term)…Even if I don’t agree with that view, I can see how Assad himself might think so.

    But HA on the other hand is not at all itching for a war, as AP puts it. No way. Considering their current situation, a war with Israel is the LAST thing HA needs. Seriously. It would be the nail in the proverbial coffin in more ways than one. It would finish turning the rest of Lebanon against them. It would bring their military destruction at the hands of the IDF. It would gain HA absolutely NOTHING. There is ZERO reason for HA to be itching for a war right now.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 29, 2011, 5:51 pm
  76. Again; don’t get jumpy from firecrackers. Here they celebrate birthdays by firing RPGs. This a man’s land.


    Well, I guess Israel doesn’t want to be like Lebanon. Believe it or not, most countries don’t accept missiles flying over their border. As an American, I know what the US would do. Israel accepts missile firings w/o starting wars, OTOH, they do have limits.

    I hope you guys are right about HA; I find it hard to believe.

    It would bring their military destruction at the hands of the IDF.

    The IDF didn’t destroy HA before.

    It would be the nail in the proverbial coffin in more ways than one.

    How so? HA owns Lebanon militarily.

    Thanks again,


    Posted by Akbar Palace | November 29, 2011, 6:05 pm
  77. AP,

    Because things are not the same as they were in 2006.

    1) Israel went out of its way to target only HA (give or take). This time, Israel has promised to rain destruction on the whole of Lebanon.
    2) In 2006, the population, much divided at the time, seemed to unite with HA against the “outsider” Israeli aggression. That was before HA turned its weapons against other Lebanese, when they still had a semblance of being a resistance movement only. These days, while HA followers still believe them to be a resistance movement and victims of an international plot, the rest of the populace does not. In fact, I suspect a lot of non-hardcore followers are a lot less likely to “unite” with HA if there were to be a war.
    3) HA may be the bully in Lebanese politics and may have stronger militia than others. But if pushed into a corner by a war, I have to wonder how the rest of Lebanon would react.
    4) In 2006, HA was not at the center of the Hariri investigation as it is now. Where it is becoming increasingly clear to most that the STL is not going away and that Lebanon WILL face international consequences if it doesn’t play along.
    5) Lastly, and not least: The Arab Spring / Syria. While it may seem a good idea to Bashar to start a war (who knows what that man is thinking), i think the situation, viewed from HA’s POV is completely different. They do not have the unwavering support of the Arab street anymore. They also do not enjoy the logistical support of Syria as they did in ’06. Not with Bashar occupied with the uprisings there.

    6) Also, can you list to me what HA may GAIN from a war?

    This is just my opinion. I may be way wrong on it. But I cannot imagine HA has anything to gain by starting a war at the moment. And i just listed a lot of reasons as to why they stand to lose from a war.
    Nassrallah may be a devil, but he’s not stupid. I think we all agree on that. He’s not about to start anything that won’t benefit him, and will very likely put him in a worse position than the one he’s in already.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 29, 2011, 6:41 pm
  78. AP is just expressing his fears. As Danny and BV have mentioned above amongst others, HA has absolutely nothing to gain by going to war.
    Also, you co relate or join two dots that dont really add up.”I think all Besho has to do is wink his eye, and Nasrallah will commence action”…. I dont think youre giving Nasrallah enough credit. HA is not the mercenary arm of Syria and no they do not take orders from Bashar. If anything, theyre quite pissed off with him.
    Do not mistake HA for the ” fringe Pro-Syrian Palestinian factions” and armed groups.
    So, another No! for the war scenario from me.

    Posted by Maverick | November 29, 2011, 7:13 pm
  79. On the other topic, the giant seems to be heading for a slam dunk! over all the critics. Mikati might be a little under estimated.

    Posted by Maverick | November 29, 2011, 7:16 pm
  80. AP.

    Those crappy little AQ-ish Katyushas landing in the western Galillee shouldn’t be scaring ya’ll as you sit all comfy in New Jersey. Cripes, the Israeli residents on the recieving didn’t even require treatment for shock.

    Even though the Israeli consensus rules out HA being the perps, you aren’t alone thinking Assad, El Giganto Golem of the ME, is behind Operation Chicken Coop. I’ve seen plenty of the Syrian “opposition” express theories similar to yours. Wishful thinking.

    Heed the words of the majority here; no fans of Nasrallah/HA. They, and the IDF, MI, etc. know the score.

    The Israeli response, firing artillery rounds into empty land, was impressively measured and restrained. Israel isn’t ready for war until the early 2012 iteration of the ISR/USA joint exercise “Juniper Cobra”. That’s when the considerable American military assets so designated to help provide missile defense for Israel will be in situ. Israel isn’t stupid enough to start up some shenanigans with enemies posessing thousands of rockets and missiles “til then.

    BTW. As an American, I know damn well that our country would never attack, say, Mexico ’cause some narcotrafficantes in Juarez fired rockets in the direction of El Paso.

    Posted by lally | November 29, 2011, 9:13 pm
  81. AP is just expressing his fears.


    “Concerns” would be a bit more accurate. The concern, for me, would be an escalation like 2006. IMHO, HA/Syria/Iran could commence another such war whenever they want, and would be inclined to do so especially now as the
    Assad regime is teetering. This is a card Assad and his axis have yet played.

    BTW. As an American, I know damn well that our country would never attack, say, Mexico ’cause some narcotrafficantes in Juarez fired rockets in the direction of El Paso.


    Someone created a list of American action against some of our southern neighbors. Just having missiles in Cuba almost started WW3 in the early 60s. No one I know has had the chutzpa to fire missiles like Katyushas into the US. So I disagree with you. If the US had to put up with the same 4000 or so missiles HA fired into Israel in 2006 and the 44 civilian deaths, Mexico City would have been flattened.

    Anyway, thanks for the input, I guess we shall see. I am willing to wager that if Assad falls from power, we will see at least 100 missiles fired into Israel in order to provoke a war. Anyone want some of this?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | November 30, 2011, 7:51 am
  82. Nothing can describe the latest twist in the STL drama than “The Hollow Men” by Elliot:

    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.

    Well, Mr. Mikati lives for another day.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 30, 2011, 9:15 am
  83. When there is a will there is a way! Syria needed this government to remain in place and asked it Mr magic wand Berri to find a way to finance the tribunal.

    Lo and behold the tribunal has been financed without going thru the government!

    Hizbollah has been able to both prop up Mr. Mikati in the Sunni community and strip him of the council for development and construction and the higher relief council at the same time. Watch the FPM pounce on this.

    Posted by Ali | November 30, 2011, 10:20 am
  84. Hizbollah has been able to both prop up Mr. Mikati in the Sunni community and strip him of the council for development and construction and the higher relief council at the same time. Watch the FPM pounce on this.

    Ding ding ding!

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 30, 2011, 1:14 pm

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