Going where no Druze has gone before, Walid Jumblatt, leader of the anti-Syrian opposition in Lebanon, showed up on the doorstep of pro-Syrian Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah Monday, March 28.
This was how the Druze leader explained his unheralded visit.
“I have come to you in the southern suburbs of Beirut – not because you deserve this honor but because I cannot take a chance on your coming out alive from a visit to my home.”
After a moment’s thought, Nasrallah replied: “If you, the Christians and the anti-Syrian Sunni camp can come up with a guarantee that Hizballah will not be disarmed, then both you and I can be sure that no one will try to kill either of us in the foreseeable future.”
Their conversation went on in this tough vein of barely concealed reciprocal threats for three hours. It ended with Jumblatt and Nasrallah agreeing to conclude a non-belligerency pact between their communities.
Another pair of bitter enemies – the Maronite Patriarch, Archbishop Nasrallah Sfeir, recently back from Washington, and the pro-Syrian Lebanese president Emile Lahoud – held secret talks elsewhere in Lebanon. After some hard bargaining, they too sealed a deal which partly met the Hizballah leader’s primary terms.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Lebanon and Washington reveal that the moving force behind these accords was deputy assistant secretary of state David Satterfield. Under the guidance of secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley, he briefed Jumblatt and Sfeir before they set off for their separate encounters.
Both obtained the American broker’s okay before finalizing their respective pacts.
This truce, revealed her for the first time by DEBKA–Net-Weekly, was the first forged by any two rival factions since the Lebanese civil war erupted exactly thirty years ago. It was put together by the American broker two days before Lebanese prime minister Omar Karameh announced he had given up his efforts to form a unity government in the tense aftermath of the February 14 assassination of anti-Syrian ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri – and explains why he has thrown in the sponge.
Old enemies prepare to govern in broad coalition
Incidentally, Darrell Issa (R-California), a US congressman of Lebanese descent, stepped into the middle of this delicate maneuver for some spotlight-grabbing interviews with Lebanese media. According to our sources, he was never asked by Washington join the effort and he was only partly informed of how it was going.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Beirut stress that the two pacts engineered by Satterfield should mean curtains for Syrian influence in Lebanon and place the country under an indigenous coalition of Christian, Sunni Muslim, Shiite (the Amal movement), Hizballah and Druze leaders.
This regime is designed to place Lebanon’s interests first and let Syria’s powerbroker status fade into the past. Our sources caution that only the first preliminary steps have been taken towards this new beginning and they still need shoring up.
Under the agreements:
1. Lahoud’s status as president will be up for negotiation. All the parties accept that an option exists to replace him.
2. The Maronite ex-president Michel Aoun, a favorite as next president of Washington and the Lebanese opposition, will quietly return home from his Paris exile.
3. Karameh will be booted out of the prime minister’s office for good – except that Lahoud refused to dismiss him when they met on March 30. The president may become the first of the foursome to query the truce pacts over this bone of contention.
4. Either member of parliament Nasib Lahoud (no relation to president), or another legislator, Boutrous Harar, will be named to form the next government. Nasib Lahoud, a former Lebanese Army colonel, is staunchly anti-Syrian.
5. Hizballah will not be disarmed. This issue will be put on ice for several years until a stable government is in place.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that in Nasrallah’s view, this concession also covers the continued presence with their weapons of several hundred Iranian Revolutionary Guards troops deployed in Hizballah bases.
Hizballah will keep weapons as price for supporting opposition rule
6. Lebanon’s security chiefs will be dismissed. General Raymond Azar, head of the Deuxieme Bureau of Lebanese military intelligence, was the first to read the signals. He announced he was taking a month’s leave, but our intelligence sources report that he and his deputy took a plane to a safe berth in Paris. Other pro-Syrian military, security and intelligence officers are expected to bite the bullet and resign in the next few days, including the head of internal security, General Ali al-Hajj.
7. Beirut’s second voting precinct will be demarcated to ensure the late Hariri’s faction wins the May election.
(DEBKA-Net-Weekly 194 of Feb. 18, 2005 analyzed the political significance of this particular precinct in an article under article headed “Domestic Goals”)
Control of this precinct by Hariri backers is seen by all the parties to the new accords as the key to a parliamentary majority for the Lebanese opposition and its formation of the next government.
Hizballah chief Nasrallah is playing along with this plan. He is not concerned, he told Jumblatt, by Hariri’s partisans winning the precinct or the elections.
“I don’t care about Lahoud or Karameh. Neither do I care how many seats Hizballah wins in the new parliament. My only concern is that Hizballah should not be disarmed.”
Satterfield and his principals in Washington found this pill hard to swallow.
The United States views Hizballah as a terrorist organization. The decision to allow its members to stay armed contravenes the second clause of UN Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for all militias in Lebanon to be disarmed.
Nonetheless, Washington gritted its teeth and gave Jumblatt the go-ahead on his deal with Hizballah, leaving the disarmament of other militias in Lebanon up in the air.
8. A date for a Lebanese general election. Both the Druze and Hizballah chiefs have reasons for wanting to postpone the general election scheduled for May 5. Washington is adamantly opposed to any delays for fear of the Satterfield initiative unraveling in a climate of uncertainty. Wednesday, March 30, Washington issued statement insisting on elections taking place on time i.e. May 5.
The Syrian ruler is meanwhile pulling his soldiers out of Lebanon and going forward with a surprising new plan, as revealed in the next article.