Negotiations are taking place. Whether this is happening directly or indirectly is unimportant; the fact that there are negotiations is what is important here and that the process is being facilitated. Syria is holding talks with Israel via Turkey and Hezbollah is negotiating with Israel via Germany. It is as though the presence of a mediator cancels out the idea that these are negotiations.
A few years ago, a female friend of mine who owned an expensive clothes shop in Beirut told me about the sister of a senior cleric. She said that this woman would browse in her shop every week with a female associate who, when they finished shopping, would pay the total amount for the items in cash. The reason was that the cleric’s sister refused to touch money with her hands…even though she wore expensive clothes.
The state of today’s negotiations is similar to the situation in which the July war [in Lebanon] took place. The first war was launched to divert attention away from the Iranian nuclear issue and today a deal is being reached in light of increasing talk about a potential war on Iran. The question however is: How can Israel, which is negotiating with Iran’s allies, namely Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, launch a war against Iran? In addition, Israel abandoned a position that it has always maintained as a pretext so as not to release Palestinian prisoners such as Marwan Barghouti by stating that the prisoners’ hands are stained with the blood of Israeli civilians. In the latest deal, Israel decided to release Samir Kuntar who is deemed a hero by Hezbollah. In 1979, Kuntar shot dead an Israeli man in front of his four-year-old daughter and then smashed her head on a rock killing her. In their hideout, the mother tried to prevent the younger daughter from crying [so as not to reveal their whereabouts] but accidentally suffocated her to death.
As the deal was announced, Hezbollah stated that its terms had remained the same as when it captured the two Israeli soldiers and killed eight. Therefore, the party’s supporters considered the deal a second victory. However, in reality, the price of this deal to release Samir Kuntar was a destructive war for Lebanon that resulted in 1200 casualties and caused the destruction and paralysis of the Lebanese state. Due to the fact that the party failed to translate its military victory into a political one, its war was launched against the Lebanese state and all its institutions.
This war led Syria to resume its negotiations with Israel, which was previously accused of assassinating Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s military leader in Damascus. Although Syria promised to conduct an investigation into the assassination and reveal the identity of the perpetrators within one week of the killing, silence still reigns and Hezbollah has not insisted upon pursuing the assassins and seeking its revenge upon those who are responsible in the way that it did when the Lebanese army was gradually lured in to confront demonstrators who protested the power cut in Chiyah – Ain al Rumanneh where nine people were killed. The investigation failed to reveal who was first to open fire; however, it was later announced that four officers had been detained as part of an investigation. Since then, military activity has been somewhat crippled.
At the time when the terms of the exchange deal were concluded, confrontation escalated between Israel and Iran. The Americans leaked information about 100 Israeli warplanes that took part in a military exercise in cooperation with Greece over the Mediterranean Sea as part of training for an attack against Iranian nuclear installations knowing that to carry out the attack Israel needs American cruise missiles, strategic bombs and coordination with Washington.
In response to this, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), General Mohammad Ali Jafari warned Israel against attacking Iran because the Hebrew state “is located within the reach of Iranian missiles.” He also indicated opening up Lebanon’s southern frontier.
Yet these statements did not prevent Israel from striking a deal with Hezbollah. The mutual threats also did not prevent Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem from heading to Paris in preparation for President Bashar al Assad’s upcoming visit or from allowing an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team to carry out an inspection at the location of the Israeli raid that took place July 6, 2007. Syria did not seem to be too eager about its sovereignty on this matter. Walid al Muallem said Syria would not have allowed inspectors into the country if Syria had a nuclear program. However, a lot of information is being divulged about this installation ranging between a VX nerve gas plant and an arsenal for Iranian nuclear weapons. However, even more dangerous is the rumour that the Syrians leaked information to the Israelis through a Turkish mediator about the presence of this installation, which explains the lack of reaction to it or the silence that surrounds it just as it explains the continuation of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.
Since a settlement was reached in Israel between the Labor and Kadima parties, a major obstacle that threatened these negotiations had been removed. The French then asserted to Damascus that the Likud party was in support of a peace agreement with Syria. The objective of the negotiations is to come to an agreement and the outcome of the agreement will be the distancing of Syria from Iran.
Everybody expects that Iranian opposition to these negotiations would be the main obstacle. However, if Damascus was given the necessary guarantees for the possibility of achieving peace and the ensuing financial and economical obligations, it would begin to take measures in Lebanon regarding Hezbollah’s activities.
The prisoner deal exchange with Israel will not give Hezbollah the security that it hopes for. In an interview by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar television station about the absence of a resistance in the Golan Heights region conducted on June 25, Syrian Vice President Farouk al Shara said, “There is a military agreement between us and Israel to separate the forces in the Golan Heights. If Hezbollah did say that Syria that does not engage in resistance and does not open the door to resistance in the Golan Heights, we would take this seriously. As for those who criticize Syria on this subject, they do not want resistance in the first place.”
It was noticeable that the pro-Hezbollah Al Akhbar and As-Safir newspapers dropped these comments made by al Shara [in their reports]. Hezbollah would not dare present these words as it knows how sensitive its relations with Syria are and knows which of the two sides is stronger. Therefore, in the last speech he delivered, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah did not hesitate to announce his explicit affiliation to Waliyat-e-Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) in Iran.
The continuation of Israeli-Syrian negotiations and the deal that was reached between Hezbollah and Israel increase pressure on Iran regarding its nuclear file and it will seek to alleviate these pressures in Lebanon. There are two matters that should be considered in this regard:
In an article published in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh wrote that American President George W. Bush secretly signed a document to carry out operations inside Iran to destroy its nuclear program and government so as to facilitate regime change. Since this was a covert decision, it could not have been leaked if the administration did not intend so in order to increase pressure on Iran. Unless no major security violation is committed by Iran, psychological warfare against it will escalate.
The second issue is that former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel revealed recently that there are military surveillance posts belonging to the “resistance” in the mountainous region of Sannine [Lebanon]. It took Hezbollah over three days to deny this but those who know the party well in Lebanon assert that Hezbollah is extending outside the Shia regions and trying to control Keserwan and Bekaa Valley, which overlook the Druze, Sunni and Christian regions. What further confirmed this was Hezbollah’s attempt during the last 7 July conflicts to have control over the 888 Hill in Aley overlooking all crossings that lead to the southern suburbs. It also tried to take over Niha and Al Barouk which would force Al Mukhtara, a stronghold of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, to be at the mercy of Hezbollah’s weapons. In addition, Hezbollah’s refusal to discuss the issue of its arms, even if Israel and Syria restored the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon, will force the remaining parties to arm themselves. Lebanon will not be able to disarm Hezbollah and Hezbollah will not be able to defeat Lebanon completely. By surpassing its regions, Hezbollah might push towards igniting a civil war.
The problem, which may result from recent developments, lies in the possibility of Lebanon falling into the Syrian trap, that is, for rescuing it from Iranian control. To prevent the eruption of a civil war, the world is handing back the reins of power in Lebanon to Syria.