Beirut — Secretary of State Rice’s aircraft kept its engines warm and its fuselage surrounded by the US Secret Service and Lebanon’s Internal Security agents as she dashed into Beirut for less than 275 minutes en Route to Ireland yesterday. Her secret arrival here in Beirut avoided protesters which greeted Bush on the same day during his similar 275 minute touchdown in Ireland, both en route to Washington.
It is likely Ms. Rice’s last visit to Lebanon, but not her finale to the region which has averaged roughly one appearance every 9 weeks since assuming her current post. Rice, as with the Bush administration generally, remains hugely unpopular here in Lebanon based partly on her callous remarks during the 33 day July 2006 War: “It [the wanton Israeli killing and bombing] are the birth pangs of the new Middle East”; “it’s too early for a sustainable ceasefire”; “Israel is just exercising its right to self-defense and the United States supports that right”; and her work to delay a ceasefire during the fighting which directly contributed to more than 1,400 Lebanese killed, 4,500 wounded and massive destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure as well as its economy and environment.
As she left for Ireland, Secretary Rice presumably had been briefed that to its great credit, Ireland’s judicial system last week acquitted the Raytheon 9 of all terrorism charges in a much anticipated and perhaps bellwether trial. The Bush Administration supported the Raytheon 9 indictments stemming from actions by peace activists in Derry who decommissioned Raytheon computers in Derry, Northern Ireland, following the July 30, 2006 Second Qana Massacre which killed 27 mainly women and children and wounded more than 40 others who had hidden, frozen in terror for 16 days in the dark basement of a house without food, water, ventilation or sanitation (the first Qana Massacre being the April 18, 1996 Israeli bombing of the UN Post in Qana, that killed 105 civilians and wounded more than 200).
Both locations are a few hundred meters from where Jesus of Nazareth is believed to have performed his first miracle at the suggestion of his mother Mary, to turn water into wine to supply the larger than expected number of wedding guests who liked to visit Jesus when he came north to the Tyre and Saida area for a warm welcome and respite from the Serahedren authorities in Jerusalem. Given South Lebanon’s great natural beauty, Jesus’s frequent visits are understandable. The topography, atmosphere and geography are, experts assure us, are essentially unchanged from his day — a sharp contrast to the Saviors’ well trod paths in Palestine.
A US Embassy press aid was asked a question during the stopover about the fact that Rice urged President Bush to quickly resupply Israel with Raytheon Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) bomb guidance systems during the July 2006 War, and whether Rice was aware that the Belfast court had found last Wednesday that the Raytheon 9 “were reasonable in believing that Israel was committing war crimes and that Raytheon was aiding and abetting them”. The Embassy was not sure about the correct answer to this question but would check on it and advise.
A second question was whether or not Secretary Rice was aware and/or concerned that the US had given Israel Raytheon weapons that had been used at Qana, as well as at an estimated 137 other sites in Lebanon during the 33 day attack (including the JDAM guided MK-83 1000 lb. bomb dropped on the early morning of July 19, 2006, on the Nabysheet, Bekaa home of the Hussein Chokr family killing, Mrs. Khajeda Chokr and all but one of her children including Mohammad, Bilal, Talal and Yassin). Concerning whether Secretary Rice was aware and concerned about US supplied Raytheon products being used for this purpose the Embassy press office answer was identical to the one given in the Belfast Courtroom last week by a Raytheon Board member.
The answer was a dismissive and curt ‘No’. A film of the aftermath of the Qana bombing had been admitted into evidence as a Defense Exhibit and shown to the jury at the Raytheon 9 Trial in Belfast.
Meanwhile, the Raytheon issue continues with a campaign underway to have Raytheon itself investigated as a criminal enterprise as it regularly aids and abets Israeli war crimes, much as is the case with the US Caterpillar Corporation and its bulldozers in Palestine which killed the American human rights activist Rachael Corrie in March of 2003 and whose equipment continues to be sold to Israel and to destroy the homes, crops and property of Geneva Convention (IV) enshrined ‘protected persons’.
While her visit was brief, Secretary Rice covered a lot of subjects. One purpose was to meet and greet the new President Michel Suleiman who some in the Welch Club feel is too friendly with the Hezbollah-led Opposition (read: Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and a majority of Lebanon’s Christians).
“He’s a very fine man”, she called out to the Press, as she dashed to meet with a quartet of gentlemen who is not at all happy with her these days.
Ms. Rice could be excused for dreading this necessary meeting which included the Bush “A” team here in Lebanon. Before racing over to meet with Parliament Speaker and Hezbollah ally, Nabih Berri, Rice met with Hezbollah Leaders in Lebanon.
According to Israeli journalist Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, writing in a report published at 7pm Jerusalem time on June 17, 2008 on Arutz Sheva, the IsraelNationalNews.com, Rice also met with Hezbollah officials in trying to work out a governmental accommodation. This observer’s Hezbollah sources are not prepared to confirm this report just now.
Rice held talks at Qoratem Palace with the March 14 majority alliance represented by Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri, Democratic Gathering leader Walid Jumblatt, Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. Rice reportedly got an ear full which included, depending on the source, an alphabet soup of problems and complaints which included:
* “Where the hell were you (the Bush administration) when we needed you to enforce your bright ideas regarding attacking Hezbollah’s phone system and sacking the pro-opposition Airport security Chief!” (On Tuesday June 10, 2008 Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General, and former long time chemistry Professor, Naim Qassim, told this observer and former US Ambassador Richard Viets, and the visiting Washington DC based Council for the National Interest delegation that Hezbollah made a move to emphasize its opposition to the US-ordered initiative only following nearly 10 hours (of monitored?) phone calls between Washington and Prime Minister Siniora office “and other countries.” Hezbollah, Qassim explained, with a smile and twinkle in his eye, believes Lebanon’s government is occupied and that all important decisions are now being made in Washington.)
* “Hezbollah will likely sweep the next election so what are you going to do about it?” This is a tough one to answer for the Bush administration given all its solemn words about the Democracy project, loving Lebanon, “being here to support the freely elected government of Lebanon,” what is “good for Lebanon is good for the United States” etc.
Some in the Media wanted to know if the US would repeat those words after the next election, perhaps remembering the US quick switch regarding “respecting the will of the voters” that occurred in other places including Palestine with the Hamas victory, Iraq and Egypt. Hezbollah Deputy Naim Qassim stated during the above noted meeting that Hezbollah intends to compete in the coming election for seats throughout Lebanon and hopes to win half, or 64, of the 128 seats with its Christian, Sunni and Druze allies. Other observers think Hezbollah will win more than 70 of the Parliament’s seats. Either way, Hezbollah becomes the next government of Lebanon.
Does it get declared ‘a terrorist regime’ or does it get taken off the US terrorist list? The inquiring minds meeting with Rice wanted to know. Put another way, Ms. Rice says the US wants to work with “the very fine Michel Suleiman”; will it also want to work with “the very fine Hezbollah government”?
Rice, talking to reporters at Ain al-Tineh following a cordial meeting with Speaker Berri said the Shia speaker and close confidante of Hezbollah realizes that he enjoys the backing of the United States. She dodged a question as to whether Washington would recognize the next Lebanese government if it is a majority Hezbollah government. Some thought her warmth toward Berri was meant to signal Hezbollah that the US realized its awkward position if it keeps touting democracy and free elections and continues to reject the results of those democratic elections.
* The Shebaa Farms issue was also raised and complaints were aired to Rice by her team that the US has not pressured Israel to return them thus bolstering Hezbollah’s resistance role. While this issue has been raised since, since Israel took the Farms in 1967, it has become acute since 2000. Rice repeated the Bush administration mantra that the matter must be studied and the UN must be more vigorous in making a decision.
“The Secretary-General should intensify his efforts,” she told the gathering and also advised them that Presidents Sarkozy and Bush discussed the matter and want the UN of occupy them.
The fact of the matter is that the UN cartography completed the study nearly one year ago and the parties agree that the Farms belongs to Lebanon and that Israel must withdraw. Israel is demanding a unknown price before it departs and as in the case of the recently announced 1,300 new housing units in Palestine (40,000 more over the next 10 years) believes the Bush administration is finished and in unable to pressure Israel due to the US election season.
Rice is angry over being stiffed by Olmert and Livni during the weekend on the settlement expansions as well as this week’s further land grab of prime agricultural land inside Gaza along the Gaza-Israel border, but feels the US can do nothing, though she will mention it to the Israelis. She has altered her language just a little bit on the Shebaa Farms and now adds that the relevant UN resolution must be enforced. She of course has in mind UNSCR 1701, not the 60 year old UNSCR 242 or the 40 year old 425 which respectively demand complete Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian and Lebanese land.
Rice heard plenty about Hezbollah and how the coming prisoner exchange promised by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah — likely to happen within days — will enhance the party even more. Rice is aware that US impotence in getting Israel to hand over the cluster bomb maps has caused continuing loss of life and use of agricultural acreage in the South. She was advised that all of Lebanon is outraged about this and why hasn’t the Bush administration done something about it? She was advised that human rights organizations and some NGOs are encouraging Hezbollah to delay any prisoner swap with Israel until the German mediators can get Israel to include the landmine and cluster bomb maps in the deal.
Hezbollah just may take their advice. The party is very aware of last month’s 111 Nation initialed Treaty banning cluster bombs and moreover, Hezbollah’s core Shia constituency in the South of Lebanon is the group most affected, every hour, every day, by the unexploded ordnance. One Hezbollah Commander asked this observer, “if the cluster bombs were in occupied Palestine and we had the maps, and withheld them, how do you suppose the situation with respect to US pressure would differ?”
Rice assured her interlocutors, as she has repeatedly done since the August 2006 cessation of attack that, as with the serial Israeli violations of the 1976 US Arms Export Act as amended, “we are looking into that — it’s being considered” (read: ‘forget about it fellas — it ain’t gonna happen’).
So if the “A Team” feels let down as Condi jets off into the horizon, perhaps it is a case of unrequited love. But her guys’ political disappointment with the Bush administration is palpable.
The ‘ruling team’ in fracturing according to the Beirut political analysts. Some are plotting against those they usually kiss upon greeting, and turning on others while blaming “the Americans.” All, no doubt, calculating their next moves and their confessions’ odds in the rapidly approaching elections.
One of the currently most disgruntled appears to be Walid Jumblatt who is said by political analysts in Beirut to have several reasons to dismantle the March 14 alliance. Because the base which supports the Welch Club projects is made up of Jumblatt, Al-Hariri, and the Christian team, Jumblatt is in a position to cause a lot of changes in the period preceding the parliamentary elections. Jumblatt felt months ago that the United States was not about to do anything concrete to help his team but he kept wagering on Hezbollah abstaining from moving on the ground and “going after him in the mountain”.
After he became aware that there is no US effort to change the Syrian government, and that Hezbollah’s strength is growing and that nothing can be done to stop it, he was told by the Saudis to handle the Sunni situation until Al-Hariri matures enough. According to Beirut’s Al Akbar Daily, this Welch Club directive caused Jumblatt to temporize and tread water. But then the disturbances took place last month and pushed Jumblatt into a comprehensive re-evaluation of his actions and policies and even of his leadership position.
People who have met with Walid Jumblatt recently, including the delegation of Harvard grad students and the American CNI group mentioned above, report that he is in particularly bad shape.
The brilliant long term Progressive Socialist leader is contemplating retirement to enjoy his vast (‘socialist’) land holdings and vineyards above Khalde and Damour. Last week he told his key advisors that he was prepared to resign and turn the PSP over to his son (that’s how it works in feudal Lebanon tradition – Primogeniture today! Primogeniture tomorrow! Primogeniture forever to paraphrase the late Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama).
When one aid asked Walid if his depression and wish to resign was the result of the May events (Hezbollah roared up into parts of his Chouf to rattle his cage, one observer noted, with unnecessary loss of life on both sides), apparently it did shake him up. Only yesterday did the Lebanese Army finally vacate his Sweifeit Headquarters and turn it back over to the PSP). Jumblatt was candid as reported in Beirut newspapers. “They won. We lost”, he was quoted as saying, referring to the 20-month struggle between the US-backed majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition.
Walid has been Condoleezza’s favorite for more than a year. She once said he is “so lovable” and reminded her of a cross between the Nutty Professor and that fellow in Back to the Future.
This observer withdraws, with apologies, the tentative conclusion he drew during the fighting that many of Jumblatt’s (Druze) people broke from him in favor of his Druze rival, ex-minister Talal Arsalan in the May conflict. Some did, but talking with many Druze since then I have come to believe that when last month’s shooting started, like other confessions, the Druze circled their wagons and most still love Walid. I overstated the Druze defection and thus I erred.
One could hope that the “A Team” recovers from any heartache and bruised feelings as Condi flits back to Stanford after the Bush administration ends its reign of terror in this region.