April 27th, 2001

Honorable General Colin Powell Secretary Of State 2201 C Street, NW. Washington, DC 20520

Re: Your Meeting with Prime Minister Rafik Hariri

Dear Secretary Powell,

I am writing to you as an American venture capitalist, financier and lobbyist who was born in Lebanon and have been attempting to propose pragmatic political solutions to the ongoing crisis striking my mother country Lebanon for around two decades now.

Since 1982, I have seen a number of Lebanese Presidents and other officials parade one after the other in Washington, taking their roles real seriously in terms of trying to break away from Syria and realigning their country with the US, only to be cut low by verbal salvos from the Syrian power brokers running the country like their respective “personal” fiefdoms.

Is Hariri any different?

It is a fact that Hariri is as much of a hostage of Syrian/Saudi patronage as any other Lebanese politician, if not more. It is on the other hand also a fact that Hariri's political survival is dependent upon improving Lebanon's economic situation, which is in turn dependent upon regional stability and the maintenance of calm along the Israel–Lebanon border. In contrast, Hizballah's future and its "Jihadic identity" are inextricably linked to the continuation of operations in the Sheba'a Farms and the preservation of regional instability. Ironically, despite this clash of interests, both parties — who both consider themselves Lebanese patriots — are also dependent on each other for their survival. Hariri cannot provoke Hizballah opposition to his economic plans just as Hizballah cannot provoke the antipathy of the majority of Lebanese who support Hariri's efforts to kick-start the economy. So on the one hand, a low level of instability on the Lebanese–Israeli border serves Syrian national interests vis-a-vis the Golan Heights, reminding Israel that this remains an unresolved sore on its frontiers. On the other hand, cross-border provocations run the risk of provoking Israeli retaliation aimed directly at Syria or at Syrian assets or targets in Lebanon.

U.S Policy Suggestions

We at the U.S Committee for a Free Lebanon, Inc. believe that an attack which sets back Lebanon's economic rehabilitation will harm Syrian interests, since Lebanon is a mainstay of the Syrian economy, both as a source of direct income and "a bridge to the West and since the Syrians have a strong interest in supporting Hariri's efforts to attract foreign investments to Lebanon, given that these can provide a financial windfall to Syria that bypasses Syria's archaic bureaucracy and its sluggish economic reforms.

Having said that, while the logic of finding a rapprochement between Hariri and Nasrallah may make sense for Bashar al-Asad — who wants to enjoy both the financial benefits Hariri promises and the political benefits Nasrallah can deliver — it may not make sense for the United States to let this minuet proceed.

I would even go one step further and recommend adding Lebanon to the terror-states list. This will almost certainly deter Western governments and companies from investing in the country, slowing down and perhaps even preventing Lebanon's economic rehabilitation. The resulting economic strain would highlight to the Lebanese the cost of giving Hizballah and other organizations virtual carte-blanche to maintain their activities against Israel and the West, and might compel the Lebanese populace to force the government to rein in these groups.

According to the relevant statute, Lebanon certainly fits the description of a terror-supporting state. Groups recognized as terrorist organizations — such as Hizballah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, to name a few — operate relatively freely in the country, with no significant governmental effort to limit their activities. Indeed, according to the 1999 Patterns report, "The U.S. was concerned that a variety of terrorist groups operated and trained inside Lebanon with relative impunity. Lebanon was also unresponsive to U.S. requests to bring to justice terrorists who attacked U.S. citizens and property in Lebanon in previous years. "Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon should remove any reluctance to punish Lebanon for what could have been, over the years, construed as "resistance to occupation." And if Lebanon is independent enough to merit a U.S. embassy, ambassador, and even a modest military–education financial assistance program to the Lebanon Army, the argument that Lebanon should be immune from this law because it is under Syria's thumb doesn't hold water.

Of course, terrorism sanctions are a blunt instrument and there could be considerable downsides to imposing them on Lebanon. Stymieing Lebanon's economic revival risks undermining the most potent arrow in the quiver of those arguing for political stability as the alternative to the chaos and violence of the past decades.

Let’s not forget, on the other hand, that the Lebanese Army has enough resources to maintain order and stability and could easily take sole responsibility in the areas protesting against Syrian military presence while the Syrian Army could re-deploy temporarily into the areas dominated by the radical fundamentalists assisted by Lebanese regular troops and the U.S Government and International Community could send observers to report on the situation in the days to come.

Secretary Powell, I remain ready to assist you and the U.S Government in any consultation or expertise regarding the matter and on behalf of the U.S Committee for a Free Lebanon, Inc, I would like to thank you for stating the obvious: There should be no money for Lebanon until the Shebaa Farms area is pacified, Hizballah is completely dismantled and the Lebanese Army is in total control of southern Lebanon.

 

Sincerely yours

Ziad K. Abdelnour President U.S Committee for a Free Lebanon, Inc.
www.freelebanon.org