|Southwest Asia News Digest
Hezbollah Allies Could Win Lebanese Election
April 25 (EIRNS)Hezbollah and its allies, who are now Lebanon's parliamentary opposition, could be the winners in the June 7 elections. The coalition has been running a quiet but widespread campaign, which has capitalized on the tremendous credibility Hezbollah has mustered since defeating Israel in the 2006 war. The election results in the areas where Hezbollah is directly fielding candidates are seen as a foregone conclusion, with hardly any serious campaigns against these candidates.
Now, Western media are beginning to discuss the potential victory, in such articles such as an April 23 AP story, "Hezbollah Looks for Election Win that Could Shake Up Lebanon."
In order to preempt the treatment meted out to Hamas after its victory in the Palestine Authority's 2006 parliamentary elections, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has said that if his coalition wins, it would invite its opponents to join in a national unity government to ensure stability.
The possibility of a Hezbollah coalition government victory, on top of the open-handed policy of the Obama Administration, as demonstrated by special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, has pushed the Saudis into a frenzy. An advisor to the Saudi government, which opposes Hezbollah, told the New York Times: "We are putting a lot into this," and would likely spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the elections. Expatriate Lebanese are being flown to their home villages to vote in closely contested districts. Saad Hariri, the leader of the present majority, is reputed to be the biggest spender.
A Lebanese analyst told EIR that the election in the little country of 4 million people is the background to the recent arrest of 49 members of a so-called "Hezbollah cell" in Egypt. He said that the old saw of the confrontation of radical militant forces against the moderates in the region was being pushed hard by the Saudis. Yet, he pointed out, the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram editorialized this week, that "the upcoming Lebanese elections will be a test not just for state institutions, in their capacity to run free and fair elections, but also test the ability of international and regional powers to accept their results."
U.S. Envoy George Mitchell in Cairo and Riyadh
April 20 (EIRNS)U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell was in Cairo and Riyadh over the April 18-19 weekend. He met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit on April 18. At a press conference, Mitchell said: "We believe that a comprehensive Middle East peace is not only in the interest of the people of the Middle East, the Palestinians, and the Israelis, and Egyptians ... but it is also in the national interest of the United States and people around the world."
On April 19, Mitchell was in Riyadh, where he met Saudi King Abdullah, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal, and Intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz al Saud.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to make an official visit to the U.S. on May 17, after President Barack Obama meets King Abdullah, and perhaps after he meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.
Pickering: Take the Iran Attack Off the Table
April 17 (EIRNS)Former senior State Department official Thomas Pickering called for immediate U.S. engagement with Iran, with no preconditions, as a first step towards ending the 30-year diplomatic impasse. Speaking at the Middle East Policy Council's (MEPC) Capitol Hill seminar series on April 16, Pickering emphasized the critical role of Russia in these talks, and that U.S.-Russian cooperation in the soon-to-begin talks on Iran should be part of a broad revival of the Russian-American strategic cooperation. Pickering cited missile defense, nuclear energy, and the global financial crisis as three areas to pursue the strategic partnership. The bulk of the seminar discussion was, however, focused on Iran.
In response to a question from EIR, Pickering promoted the idea of an international consortium to produce enriched uranium for nuclear power plants, which could include an enrichment facility on Iranian soil. Such a proposal, if accepted by Tehran, could allow for Iran's sovereign right to enrich uranium, while providing a secure framework for preventing the diversion to a nuclear weapon. Pickering and other speakers said that U.S. intelligence estimates place Iran at least two years away from obtaining a nuclear weapon; therefore, there is time to negotiate without imposing near-term deadlines.
Another speaker, Congressional Research Service Middle East specialist Ken Katzman, confirmed that the Pentagon has delivered a series of unambiguous messages to Israel: There is no U.S. toleration for an Israeli strike against Iran. In response to a second question from EIR, Gen. William Nash, the new MEPC president, denounced the "effects-based operations" doctrine, including Israel's applications of that doctrine in the recent Lebanon and Gaza wars.
U.S. Bill Introduced To Avoid Confrontation with Iran at Sea
April 17 (EIRNS)A bipartisan concurrent resolution calling on President Obama to negotiate an "Incidents at Sea Agreement" between the United States and Iran has been introduced into the Congress by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.). The bill says an agreement is necessary because there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries. An incident between the U.S. and the Revolutionary Guard Navy came close to confrontation in January 2008. Though it does not mention it, the bill would also provide a way to de-escalate, if President Obama implemented the Condoleezza Rice-Tzipi Livni agreement, that the U.S. would block Iranian ships from delivering anything to Hamas.
The Conyers-Davis bill was brought up by Dr. Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), as a positive sign of willingness to pursue a peaceful track with Iran. Parsi was one of the speakers on Iran at the April 16 Middle East Policy Council.
The bill says (in part) that whereas, in January 2008, then-Centcom Commander Adm. William Fallon had noted the danger of confrontation "by mistake," and whereas "Retired Admiral James Lyons, who previously served as commander of the Pacific Fleet and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, suggested, in an opinion piece in the Washington Times, that the set of rules and regulations incorporated in the Incidents at Sea Agreement could be applied as modified for naval operations in the Persian Gulf," the Congress resolves that the President should negotiate such an agreementwhich does not depend on diplomatic relations.
The bill notes that "at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union entered into an Agreement on the prevention of incidents on and over the high seas (entered into force with respect to the United States on May 25, 1972)," which could be a model for this agreement.
Further, "the Strait of Hormuz [is] ... a global strategic chokepoint through which nearly two-fifths of the world's oil is shipped," and the danger of an incident is related to "the naval buildup in the region, and differences between the United States and Iran, Hamas, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon and Hezbollah, and Iran's nuclear program, [which] all make for an environment that is highly charged, fragile and very susceptible to destructive developments."