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Corruption Watch: March 17, 2005

17 March 2005, Volume 5, Number 3
By Roman Kupchinsky

Once the poster child for Mideast terrorism, Hizballah (Party of God) is rapidly emerging from the slums of Beirut and the economically depressed southern part of Lebanon to flex its muscles and possibly become a major player in the region and, inter alia, in the war on terrorism.

After three weeks of the "Mercedes Revolution," led mainly by Lebanon's Christian and Sunni middle classes, who demand that Syria withdraw its army and military intelligence units from the country following the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the Shi'a, led by Hizballah, showed their street power by bringing out more than half a million lower class supporters on 8 March to "thank Syria for its role in Lebanon" and protest any "foreign intervention" in Lebanon.

Muhammad Fneish, a parliamentary deputy for the Hizballah parliamentary bloc, told the 10-16 March edition of the Egyptian weekly "Al-Ahram" that: "We are neither with the opposition nor with the pro-Syria forces," he said. "We stand on a middle ground and are thus supported by the majority of the Lebanese people," Fneish said.

At almost the same time as this large show of support by Hizballah, the United States indicated it was ready to accept a political role for Hizballah in Lebanon in order to prevent a political crisis in the country.

Earlier, in mid-February, the international press reported that representatives of the United States and Israel visited a number of European capitals in an attempt to convince government officials to put Hizballah on a terrorism watch list and to ban its fundraising activities in Europe.

Despite French opposition, on 10 March the European Parliament voted 473 to 8 with 33 abstentions to declare Hizballah a terrorist organization; however, for the vote to be binding it needs unanimous agreement from the EU's Council of Ministers. The vote came one day after the United States agreed to a role for Hizballah in a Lebanese government, according to "The New York Times" on 10 March.

The move to get the Europeans to classify Hizballah as a terrorist organization came one week after talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and newly elected Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas took place on 8 February. The two leaders met in Egypt where they announced a cease-fire, hailing it as a new opportunity for peace in the Middle East.

The United States clearly did not want Hizballah to derail the cease-fire by helping one of the Palestinian groups that opposes cooperation with Israel commit a terrorist act that would damage chances for progress in the peace process.

Soon after the cease-fire was declared, former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri was killed in a massive explosion in Beirut on 14 February. One popular perception was that Syria was behind the assassination (some speculated that the assassins might have been Hizballah members acting for Syria) and soon the Lebanese government resigned under pressure. After a month of severe pressure from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, other European countries and even some Arab countries, Syria agreed to pull its troops out of the country.

At that point Hizballah called on its supporters to take to the streets for a massive show of strength.

Hizballah And Israel

The apparent reaction of Hizballah to the latest Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire agreement was made in a roundabout way when Manzar TV, a Hizballah-controlled television station in Lebanon, broadcast a speech by its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, on 18 February.

According to a transcript of the speech monitored by MEMRI (, Hasan Nasrallah stated: "Israel is our enemy. This is an aggressive, illegal, and illegitimate entity, which has no future in our land. Its destiny is manifested in our motto: 'Death to Israel.'"

Hizballah's seeming rejection of the peace efforts were further confirmed when a high-ranking security official of the Palestinian Autonomy told "The Jerusalem Post" on 9 February that: "Hizballah and Iran are not happy with Abbas's efforts to achieve a cease-fire with Israel and resume negotiations with Israel.... That's why we don't rule out the possibility that they might try to kill him if he continues with his policy."

When a terrorist bomb killed four people in Tel Aviv on 25 February, London's "The Daily Telegraph" wrote that "A senior Palestinian official involved in the investigation said: 'All the information that we have from interrogations shows that Hizballah is involved in the operation.'"

Avi Pazner, an Israeli spokesman, declined to rule out Hizballah involvement in the bombing, the first suicide attack in Israel since 1 November. Soon after the Israelis blamed Syria for harboring members of the Islamic Jihad organization which took credit for the blast and did not mention Hizballah as a suspect.

There are a number of other reasons why the United States wants Hizballah brought under control and prevented from influencing the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

An end to Palestinian-Israeli violence would be a major victory in the war on terror. It is thought that an end to that conflict would take away much of the anger and resentment that exists in Arab countries surrounding the Palestinian issue and, by extension, negate some of the anti-American rhetoric used by terrorist organizations to justify their actions.

A solution to the Palestinian question would also be seen by some as a byproduct of the free elections held in Palestine and could provide the United States with the impetus for continuing its strategy of working for democratization in the Middle East.

The Evolution Of Hizballah

Hizballah first appeared on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations nearly 25 years ago, after it was suspected of having bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and killing 241 U.S. Marines when a suicide bomber drove into the Marines' barracks in Beirut in 1983.

The militant Shi'ite group was formed in Beirut in 1982 and found much of its inspiration, and financing, in the Iranian Shi'ite revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the late 1970s. Hizballah saw as its goal the expulsion of the United States from the Mideast. The group's "Open Letter from Hizballah to the Disinherited in Lebanon and the World," issued in Beirut on 16 February 1985 and quoted by Martin Kramer, a scholar of Islamic movements, in his essay "Hizballah: The Calculus of Jihad," ( declared: "We are proceeding toward a battle with vice at its very roots, and the first root of vice is America." After the Lebanese civil war ended and Hizballah was instrumental in pressuring Israeli troops to leave the "security zone" in the south of the country, Hizballah strove to gain legitimacy among wider circles, not only in Lebanon, where it is now a legitimate political party with 12 seats in parliament, but also in Europe where it presented itself as a charitable organization helping Shi'a rebuild their community in Lebanon.

"Hizballah is not what it was 20 years ago," a Shi'ite publisher was quoted as saying by "The Jerusalem Post" on 24 February. "Lebanon has changed, and the world has changed. There is no reason why Lebanese Shi'ites should not adopt."

Hizballah, according to the report "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," issued by the U.S.-based Congressional Research Service (CRS) on 6 February 2004, has not engaged in any anti-American acts of terror for more than 10 years.

However, Hizballah did not abandon its militant anti-Israeli rhetoric and support for terrorist groups in Palestine. Hizballah also still maintains an armed militia in southern Lebanon and training camps in the Bekaa Valley. It is suspected of receiving aid from Syria and Iran.

Hizballah's intentions remain largely unknown at this time. Is it bent on subverting the goal of Palestinian Authority President Abbas to negotiate a peaceful solution with Israel? Will Hizballah and its supporters in Iran and Syria try to disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire?

There are legitimate doubts that Hizballah is willing to take this risk and become isolated prior to the Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for April. It certainly is unlikely to relish the idea of being seen as an agent of the mullahs in Tehran or of Syrian military intelligence for much longer.

By Roman Kupchinsky

Al-Qaeda is on the decline. Porter J. Goss, the former chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee and director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was quoted by "The Washington Post" on 16 March 2003 as saying "I believe the tide has turned in terms of Al-Qaeda."

This view is shared by many in the U.S. intelligence community who helped prepare the National Intelligence Council's (NIC) December 2004 report "Mapping the Global Future" ( The authors of the report believe that Al-Qaeda will eventually be replaced in part by "experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq."

"The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of abating over the next 15 years. Experts assess that the majority of international terrorist groups will continue to identify with radical Islam. The revival of Muslim identity will create a framework for the spread of radical Islamic ideology both inside and outside the Middle East, including Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia" the NIC report states.

Al-Qaeda's Desperation

In the Saudi kingdom, many of Al-Qaeda's cadre have been arrested and a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry described the latest attacks by militants as acts of desperation, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on 31 December 2004. This could prove to be only a temporary setback for terrorists if the NIC report is proven correct.

Police have arrested 131 suspected Islamic terrorists in 2004, 62 of whom were suspects linked to the Madrid train bombings of 11 March 2004, "The Boston Globe" reported on 6 January.

In Southeast Asia, Al-Qaeda seems to have been largely neutralized by arrests and effective interdiction.

In Russia, despite the Kremlin's oft-exaggerated charges that Al-Qaeda and "international terrorism" are responsible for atrocities committed in Beslan and other cities, many experts refuse to blame Al-Qaeda for these attacks and place the blame on Chechen rebels who reportedly have limited contacts with Islamic terrorist organizations outside Russia.

Europeans have managed to achieve greater cooperation and coordination among their law-enforcement agencies and have not been attacked since the Madrid train bombing.

And despite the view that some European governments have concluded an "understanding" with Al-Qaeda and therefore find themselves spared from further attacks, the more likely explanation is that Al-Qaeda has been unable to strike at targets in Europe.

Recent successes against Al-Qaeda, the NIC implies, should not be mistaken for security and could well turn out to be only a brief respite from what might occur in the future.

The Bad News

While acknowledging the decline of Al-Qaeda, the NIC prognosticates that a post-Al-Qaeda generation of terrorists could be worse than its predecessor.

"Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are 'professionalized' and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself," the NIC report states.

The report goes on: "The most worrisome trend has been an intensified search by some terrorist groups to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Our greatest concern is that these groups might acquire biological agents or less likely, a nuclear device, either of which could cause mass casualties."

The 2003 case of Pakistani scientists illegally selling nuclear secrets is held up as a case in point.

The Concentric-Ring Defense

The war against terrorism has been by-and-large fought on the security front and supplemented by the long-term strategy of linking U.S. security to a democratic and liberal transformation of the Islamic world.

The U.S. strategy of "defense-in-depth" has consisted of creating concentric rings of defense -- a modern day "cordon sanitaire" between the West and the jihadist incubators in Pakistan, North Africa, and the Middle East, in order to confine suspected terrorists to those regions. The West was hopeful that once the terrorists were isolated, they would then be destroyed by indigenous, Western-trained antiterrorism forces, as is the case in Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser degree, Pakistan.

The NIC study finds this strategy to be effective and writes that "Defense of the U.S. Homeland will begin overseas. As it becomes more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States, they are likely to try to attack the Homeland from neighboring countries."

While current security countermeasures are producing results, the political differences between the West and the Muslim world remain largely unresolved.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has temporarily replaced Palestine as the central political issue for many Muslims. Bruce Hoffman from the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research group, has pointed out that "Muslims reportedly harbor a deep sense of humiliation and resentment over the relatively bloodless conquest of Baghdad and the perceived unbridled projection of American power and influence into the region." ("Al Qaeda, Trends In Terrorism And Future Potentialities: An Assessment," Rand Corporation, 2003.)

In such countries as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, perceptions of the United States are at their lowest ever. The findings of the 2004 Zogby poll "Impressions of America -- How Arabs View America" show that "Attitudes toward U.S. policy in Iraq and Palestine are extremely low, in the single digit range."

Whether these attitudes would change if the Islamic world underwent large-scale democratization is questionable. France and Germany are both liberal democracies and this has not moderated their highly critical views of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

In the Worldviews 2002 survey, undertaken by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (, 38 percent of Europeans rated the U.S. administration's foreign policy as "excellent" or "good." Forty-seven percent say the U.S. handling of terrorism is "excellent" or "good," and only 20 percent approve of its handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The 2003 Freedom House survey of global freedom found that: "The largest freedom gap exists in countries with a majority Muslim population, especially in the Arab world. But the survey finds no inexorable link between Islam and political repression. Indeed, it shows that half of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims live under democratically elected governments in countries like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey."

"The Christian Science Monitor" on 5 May 2003 quoted Greg Fealy, a Southeast Asia expert at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, who stated that in Indonesia, rated in 2003 as "partially free" by Freedom House with a "democratically elected" government, there is a "general distaste and revulsion at the US for actions they perceive in contravention of international law. It's quite possible that the Iraq war could produce more terrorists in Indonesia."

The 'Multiple Front' Strategy

The NIC report recommends that a new "multiple front" counterterrorism policy strategy needs to be adopted.

This "multiple front" strategy was defined by the NIC study as: "The development of more open political systems, broader economic opportunities, and empowerment of Muslim reformers would be viewed positively by the broad Muslim communities who do not support the radical agenda of Islamic extremists."

Despite the findings of the 2004 Zogby poll, which found that "US policy is the major factor that accounts for the low US favorable ratings and the decline in these ratings" and the Worldviews 2002 survey, which found that 55 percent of Europeans believe that U.S. foreign policy is in part to blame for the 9/11 attacks, the NIC report did not address U.S. policy towards the Middle East.

Does current policy play any role in promoting Islamic extremism? Does U.S. Middle East policy need any adjustments, specifically as it relates to the Palestinian issue? In the "Middle East" subsection of "How the World Sees the United States" of the NIC report, there is no mention of Palestine or Israel, the central themes of the Middle East conflict for almost 50 years.

By Roman Kupchinsky

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma returned to Kyiv on 5 March after cutting short his vacation in the spa resort of Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. He arrived the same day that some members of parliament were calling for his arrest in the investigation of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's abduction and killing in 2000, and a suicide note by former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko was revealed in which he blames his suicide on "political intrigues" by "Kuchma and his supporters."

In a brief interview for Czech Television on 4 March, Kuchma once again insisted that he was innocent of any wrongdoing in the Gongadze case and that he did not order Kravchenko to kill Gongadze. Kravchenko was found dead on the morning of 4 March, the day he was to be interrogated, in what has been described as a suicide by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and the Interior Ministry.

On 5 March, Interfax reported that Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko announced that Kravchenko died of two self-inflicted bullet wounds to the head; the first nonfatal shot was immediately followed by another shot that killed him. Lutsenko added that Kravchenko had left a suicide note that "named some concrete people who are under suspicion in this case." The "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( posted the alleged text of the note on 5 March, in which Kravchenko repeated his innocence of any wrongdoing but wrote a cryptic sentence saying that he was a victim of the "political intrigues of President Leonid Kuchma and his supporters."

Soon after Kravchenko's death, a number of parliamentary deputies called for Kuchma's immediate arrest. Hryhoriy Omelchenko, the head of the parliamentary commission investigating Gongadze's killing, repeated his earlier call that Kuchma, former SBU head Leonid Derkach, and others be arrested in order to protect them from possibly killing themselves or being killed.

Omelchenko also accused President Viktor Yushchenko of having "made a deal" with Kuchma prior to the election by allegedly granting him immunity from prosecution. Yushchenko has denied this in the past and Kuchma has often said that he does not need immunity since he did not engage in any illegal activities.

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko also issued a statement demanding Kuchma's arrest.

Members of the pro-Viktor Yanukovych opposition placed the blame for Kravchenko's death on the government. Yanukovych said that the unprofessional behavior of the prosecutor-general lead to Kravchenko's suicide while former Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasilyev called for the removal of Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, who replaced him in December. Vasilyev, a close political ally of Yanukovych, was blamed for stonewalling the Gongadze investigation by Yushchenko on 1 March.

If Kuchma challenges possible charges against him, this might create a dilemma for Yanukovych supporters. After the Ukrainian Supreme Court ruled in December that the second round of the presidential election was to be repeated, the Yanukovych team abandoned its earlier slogan of "continuity of the past" and adopted an anti-Kuchma stance, claiming to be reformers and against the corruption of Kuchma's old regime.

This would now make it difficult for them to intervene on Kuchma's behalf and at best, they can criticize the government on points of procedure and not on substance. At the same time, if the recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko are admitted as evidence in the case, a precedent will be created that could easily be used against Yanukovych. The recordings contain conversations from 2000 with a voice resembling Yanukovych's, who was appointed by Kuchma as governor of Donetsk Oblast in 1999, in which he is heard discussing with Kuchma a number of allegedly illegal activities.