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Live from Syria

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Sami Moubayed
PostGlobal Panelist/Syrian Political Analyst, Journalist and Author.
Monday, July 17, 2006; 12:00 PM

Sami Moubayed , PostGlobal panelist, Syrian political analyst, journalist and author was online Monday, July 17 at noon ET to answer questions on Hezbollah, Hamas, Israel's offensive in Lebanon, and the role of Syria and Iran in the unfolding crisis.

A transcript follows.

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Sami Moubayed:

The general tone in the Arab World today is the following: the war has errupted. It is no longer important if Nasrallah was guilty or if Hizbullah miscalculated. That is now history. Its now: either one is with Hizbullah or with Israel. There is no third way and neutrality is unacceptable in the Arab and Muslim World. Do you think this is fair and correct?

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2005 Truman Scholar, Stanford Graduate, Harvard Law School Student, Danville, CA: If you disagree with Israel's actions in southern Lebanon, what do you think would have been an appropriate Israeli response to the kidnapping of its soldiers by Hezbollah based in Southern Lebanon?

Sami Moubayed:

I disagree with Israel's actions in the South for a variety of reasons. Why is Hizbullah in South Lebanon to start out with? The Sheba Farms are of little importance to Israe and Tel Aviv knows this? Why doesn't it withdraw from them--then use the argument in its own favor to call for a disarming of Hizbullah? It would make it more difficult for the Lebanese group to keep its arms if there were no Israelis in Sheba.

Now what it should have done to avoid this war was the following: trade off the prisoners, as Nasrallah had wanted. Shimon Perez did it in 1985 and Ariel Sharon did it in 2004. It never cost or embarassed the Israelis, because it is seen as very brave in the Israeli Street to sacrifice for the fate, or bodies, of Israeli soldiers and to bring every Israeli soldier back home. The biggest answer to what might happen is repeating the case of air force officer Ron Arad, who was arrested when he parachuted into Lebanon in 1986. Amal, the party that took him, demanded a high price. Isreal refused to pay, and Arad disappeared. What Israel now has done is put high danger on losing its two soldiers in Lebanonn and the one in Gaza, in addition to the rest of those who would be killed in battle. Meaning: Israel did not enter the war to free the soldiers. It entered the war to destroy Nasrallah and Hizbullah.

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Brooklyn, New York: Hi Sami-

What are the leaders in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia thinking about what's happening in Lebanon? Why aren't they calling for a summit with Syria, Iran and Lebanon?

Thanks.

Sami Moubayed:

The leaders in these three countries are on opposite ends with Syria and Iran vis-a-vis Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, which is the patron of the Harriri family, does not want its influence in Syria or Lebanon to be replaced by that of Iran. The Iranians are even proposing to step in and rebuild what was destroyed by war over the past week. This same step was done by Saudi Arabia after the civil war in 1990. Egypt and Jordan are in-tune with Saudi because they don't want the Iranian brand of revolutionary Islam, since it threatens their own regimes. They are too weak to stand up to it at home, because they have no credibility as Arab nationalist regimes since they are both bound to Israel by peace deals. So basically, they don't sit and talk because they cannot afford to even think of Iran as calling the shots in Lebanon. It is a reality they must digest.

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Williamsburg, Va.: Do you think an international peacekeeping force that included British and American forces would further ignite problems between Islamists and the West? I want to see this conflict come to a resolution but I fear that American and UK troops are so controversial that they might increase the amount of conflict, not decrease it.

Sami Moubayed:

Peacekeeping forces from the USA are a bad idea in the Muslim World. Great Britain, until events got out of hand recently in Basra, were more friendly to the Muslims and Arabs. But on the whole, a UN peacekeeping force, or a peacekeeping force organized by the Arab League, is much more effective for the Islamic World. This is something debated by the Arab League when it was founded in 1945 but it never materialized. That was a pity and it should see the light today.

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Washington, DC: Sami,

What is life like in Syria today? What do you discuss over dinner?

Sami Moubayed: Life in Damascus is very tense. For six days now we have discussed nothing but Lebanon. Lebanon is not a normal Arab country to Syria. Relations surpass those with Iraq or Jordan, for example. Every single family has relatives in Lebanon. All of the Syrians have been frequently to Lebanon, lived there, or worked there. The mood is sad--very sad, that a country so dear and so close should fall apart in a matter of days. We woke up on July 12 and Lebanon was in pieces. Regardless of who is responsible for the war the mood in Syria today is: its either one is with Israel, or with Lebanon and Hizbullah. This has united Syrian society on some aspects. Everyone is sad if Lebanon suffers more, but due to popular pan-Arab sentiment and Arab nationalism, they would also be greatly saddened if Hizbullah is defeated.

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Washington, DC: Hello Mr. Moubayed: The Syrian ambassador to the US has

often said that the Bush administration is often quick to

point fingers of blame at Syria. He has mentioned that

singling out one country isn't the answer - that we must look

at the bigger picture. Do you agree with this? Is it fair to

continually single out Syria?

Sami Moubayed:

Of course it is not a solution to single out Syria. I totally agree with Ambassador Mustapha. There is always a reason for Syria's action, and they cannot be understood unless one looks at the greater picture of what other countries in the region (Iran, Israel, Lebanon) have done.

Sami Moubayed: Of course it is not a solution to single out Syria. I totally agree with Ambassador Mustapha. There is always a reason for Syria's action, and they cannot be understood unless one looks at the greater picture of what other countries in the region (Iran, Israel, Lebanon) have done.

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Springfield, VA:

What can we do to help Lebanon?

Sami Moubayed:

The United States needs to get Israel to stop the war. The war is destructive. It has ruined Lebanon. The USA must convince Israel to a cease-fire, and to sit down in indirect negotiations to free the Israeli prisoners in exchange for a freeing of Lebanese prisoners. This is the only way. War was not needed to free prisoners. The same kidnapping took place in 1985 and was solved by diplomacy. Again in 2000, and it was solved by diplomacy. Why shouldn't diplomacy work out now? The reason is that Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert needs his war medals. Its that simple.

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Tel Aviv, Israel: Dear Mr. Moubayed

Isn't it about time for your president to make the critical decision to abandon Hezbollah in order to enter into serious negotiations with Israel?

Furthermore, don't you think that a confrontation with Israel may result in a total military defeat by Syria?

Sami Moubayed:

I personally don't think, after all that is happening in this part of the world, to live in peace and total harmony. This is a big lie we all forced ourselves to believe. I am not being rude, but I am being realistic. I personally would not mind living in peace with Israel, but my views are not shared by others in the Arab and Islamic World. The Syrians believe that peace is not a high priority on their agenda, especially with what is happening in lebanon. So in response to your question about abandoning Hizbullah and talking peace: thats on nobody's agenda. On the contrary, moderation forces counter-moderation and extremism forces counter-extremism. It is not in Hizbullahs' interest to conduct peace, because it would cease to exist, nor is it in the interest of Hamas, because it would no longer be able to fight Israel.

Sami Moubayed:

There is a conviction in the Arab World and I agree with it, that peace with the current leaders of Israel is impossible. The atrocities in Palestine and now Lebanon have killed whatever current chances of peace there was. Sharon could have signed peace in his final hours--he had the war history and the legitimacy to do so, but this has faded with Olmert.

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Less impressive credentials; Tulsa, OK: You mentioned in your opening remarks that "There is no third way and neutrality is unacceptable in the Arab and Muslim World". What about the Saudi, Jordanian, and Egyptian response? I would call it nuanced, at minimum.

Sami Moubayed:

These three countries are being neutral indeed. Actually, they are being anti-Hizbullah and this endangers them in front of thier own public opinion. Lets now forget the Saudi Arabia has a disgruntled Shiite population that is already a headache to Riyadh. When I mean no room for neutrality, I refer to that of popular Arab sentiment. What Israel is doing is making a legendary hero of Hasan Nasrallah, unmatched in popularity by anyone since Gamal Abdul-Nasser.

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Tulsa, OK: If Israel released prisoners, wouldn't it just embolden Hezbollah and Hamas to kidnap more soldiers in the future? Doesn't Israel have some moral authority to not only defend themselves, but prevent future attacks by these groups by making a bold statement?

Sami Moubayed:

Yes this would encourage them to kidnap more troops. But lets use this argument. If Israel withdraws from the Sheba Farms, and releases all prisoners from its jails who are from Lebanon, would Hizbullah still be able to kidnap Israel troops?

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DETROIT,MICHIGAN: Do you think that Hezbollah would release the two Isreali soldiers as a condition for a cease fire?

chris

Sami Moubayed: The first step has to be done by Israel. But if Israel does it then of course, Hizbullah cannot but release the two soldiers.

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Rockville, MD: Can Syria be pulled into the fight? Occupied?

Sami Moubayed:

That question should be presented to Israel. It is the one that is accusing Syria of being behind this entire mess. This, of course, is not true. But if Syria is attacked or provoked, it will be pulled into combat. Of course, its a matter of good faith, honor, and national pride.

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Athens, Greece: If this conflict continues at the pace that it is now, what are the chances of Syrian involvement? I Syria up to the task of fighting Israel?

Sami Moubayed:

Syria would only get involved if Israel attacks. We will not sit back and watch our country being insulted or attacked. In the Middle East nothing is impossible.

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Anonymous: What is the impact of Nasrallah's TV broadcasts in the region? Do they reach a wide audience and prove inspirational or are they limited in reach?

Sami Moubayed:

They are very popular in the Arab and Islamic World. True. he is highly charismatic and a very gifted orator. He starts out in calm tone, explains things logically, then gets worked up in his own rhetoric and works up masses in the process. No Arab or Muslim has been more popular since Gamal Abdul-Nasser in the 1950s. Yesterday's speech by Nasrallah was disappointing, however, because he was obviously exhausted and lacked the fire in his voice.

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Baltimore, MD: You posed the question: But lets use this argument. If Israel withdraws from the Sheba Farms, and releases all prisoners from its jails who are from Lebanon, would Hizbullah still be able to kidnap Israel troops?

THE ANSWER IS YES!!! Hizbullah is committed to destroying the Jewish state. They have admitted this to be true. A unilateral withdrawal by Israel would not prevent further strikes. How can you legitimately and credibly say that this act would singlehandedly alter Hizbullah's mission from destroying the Jewish State?

Sami Moubayed:

If israel is no longer in the South, Lebanon and the international community would not let Hizbullah operate. Its not about what Hizbullah operates, its about logistics of operation once the Israelis leave and restore prisoners.

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Patra, Greece: Syria has legitimate claims with regard to Israel. By this I mean the Golan Heights. Israel has steadfastly refused to negotiate their return. Is the current fighting in Lebanon related to this? Are there other legitimate claims that Lebanon has against Israel that need to be publicized in the west so that people can understand what Hezbollah's resistance is all about?

Sami Moubayed:

No this fighting is about Lebanon. It is not about the Golan. Its about Hizbullah and Israel wanting to use the soldier issue as a reason to destroy Hizbullah. The Golan is purely a Syrian issue and Israel is not interested in giving it back.

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Fairfax, Virginia: How many Hezbollah fighters are there and why doesn't Israel just invade and eliminate them and their rockets rather than bombing Lebanese cities and killing innocents?

Sami Moubayed:

Hizbullah is the largest political party among the Shiites of Lebanon, who in turn are 40% of the country's 3.7 million. I would say that it has 1 million members but not all of them are armed or trained. Israel can only destroy Hizbullah if it invades. But if it does invade, it would be dragged into an unbelievable swamp, especially in the suburbs of Beirut, where 500,000 Shiites are located. It would lose a street war with Hizbullah. That is why it cannot invade. Meaning, it stands back at Square One. It cannnot defeat Hizbullah by missiles, nor can it defeat them by invasion.

Sami Moubayed: Hizbullah is the largest political party among the Shiites of Lebanon, who in turn are 40% of the country's 3.7 million. I would say that it has 1 million members but not all of them are armed or trained. Israel can only destroy Hizbullah if it invades. But if it does invade, it would be dragged into an unbelievable swamp, especially in the suburbs of Beirut, where 500,000 Shiites are located. It would lose a street war with Hizbullah. That is why it cannot invade. Meaning, it stands back at Square One. It cannnot defeat Hizbullah by missiles, nor can it defeat them by invasion.

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Bala Cynwyd, PA: Do you think Iran or Syria had any knowledge ahead of time of Hezbollah's intent to capture Israeli soldiers? If so, do you think they're pleased about about how events have unfolded since?

Sami Moubayed:

Iran might have known about it but not Syria. Hizbullah since 2000 has outgrown Syrian patronage. in fact, it is Syria that needed Hizbullah in Lebanon after the Syrian Army left Lebanon last year and not the other way around. Hizbullah confers with the Syrians in some issues, coordinates with them on others, but it does not take orders, or money or arms, from Damascus. It needed Syria greatly back in the 1990s, when in post-war Lebanon, all armed groups were being disarmed but that is not the case since the mid-1990s.

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