Wednesday, March 5, 2008

'Cole Looks Like Bait to Provoke Qaeda in Lebanon'

From The Daily Star, via Al-Manar

"05/03/2008 The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar quoted well informed sources as saying that a major US-international television network has rented a hotel in Beirut for a month to host its huge crew that will "prepare itself for a phase of massive media work in Lebanon." According to the daily, sources pointed that all US and international media companies have been preparing themselves on every level for this phase based on information it possesses about the situation in the region following the assassination of Hezbollah's top military commander Imad Moghniyeh and the deployment of the USS Cole off Lebanon's coast.

Meanwhile analysts told the Daily Star that despite US assertions that it deployed the USS Cole off Lebanon's coast to support regional stability, the destroyer's presence represents symbolic backing for the "March 14 faction", an attempt to contain Hezbollah and put pressure on Syria in the regional context.

"Initially we thought it might have been to support Israel vis-a-vis Gaza," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center. "I don't think we can say it's there to target Syria or the Gazans or whomever. The statements coming out of the Bush administration all mention Lebanon," she told the Daily Star. "It's there for Lebanon, to support Fouad Saniora. Regional stability' is a euphemism for 'To keep Lebanon under our wing."

She added that the choice to sail a warship to Lebanon's coast demonstrates the "political bankruptcy" of US President George W. Bush's administration, after countless initiatives pushed by the US and its regional allies have failed to break the 16-month-old political impasse here between loyalty and opposition blocs.

In addition to signaling support for its allies in the "March 14 coalition", the USS Cole also sends a message to Hezbollah to reconsider any plans to retaliate against Israel for the February 13 assassination of senior resistance commander Imad Moghniyeh in Damascus, retired General Elias Hanna, who teaches political science at Notre Dame University, told the newspaper.

Although the US has made clear that the USS Cole would be in the waters off Lebanon, its presence will also impact other nearby US foes such as Syria and Iran, Saad-Ghorayeb said. "You can't extricate one from the other," she added.

"When you look at the American project in the region, you have to look at it holistically," Hanna said. "Their next move will be to contain Iran and separate Syria from Iran. This is the main issue. Maybe now they are trying to threaten the regime itself.

Another political analyst, Simon Haddad, said that while US officials tout the abilities of the Cole to ensure stability in the region, the destroyer's appearance here means in reality that the United States "expects some instability. "It is becoming clearer that a regional war will happen in the coming months," Haddad told the Daily Star. "The positioning of the USS Cole is not directed against Lebanon - it is most certainly directed against the Syrians. I think the next war will be directed against Hezbollah by the Israelis, and maybe the Americans want to prevent a Syrian intervention."

Saad-Ghorayeb also said that regardless of the US intentions in dispatching the Cole, its presence might boomerang by driving out some of the Sunnis from the "March 14 coalition" or by tempting militants here to attack the destroyer, which lost 17 sailors in a "suicide" bombing by Al-Qaeda in Yemen's Aden port in October 2000, said.

"One consequence could be to provoke Al-Qaeda elements to target it," she said. "This is obviously a prime target for them, considering it was already attacked. This looks like it's bait, almost."

"It might cause a split in the Sunni community," which has many anti-American members, she added. "It will be hard for the Future Movement to argue that this is legitimate or not in any way condemn this. It might well close ranks between some Sunnis and Hezbollah."

Although the US has not said how long the Cole will remain on station off Lebanon, the destroyer will draw acute attention if it remains here if and when Hezbollah takes its avowed revenge on Israel for Moghniyeh's assassination, Saad-Ghorayeb said.

"That's the real litmus test for them," she added. "Things are to really change once Hezbollah responds.""

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