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April 14, 2003

The Lebanese-Canadian Crisis

Middle East Intelligence Bulletin has this interesting article
The recent diplomatic row between Lebanon and Canada over the latter's designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization vividly underscored the magnitude of Syrian control over Lebanese foreign policy. The Lebanese government's objection to sanctions against a foreign-backed guerrilla organization occupying large swathes of its territory was hardly a surprise given Syria's continued military and political hegemony in Lebanon. What was a surprise to many observers was that Lebanon escalated its diplomatic and public relations offensive to the brink of a major breakdown in relations with Canada, which had provided Lebanon with $200 million in economic assistance just weeks before.

The dispute was also a reflection of the balance of power between Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and the military-intelligence apparatus over Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The Syrian-backed president, who has controlled most diplomatic appointments since 1998, has repeatedly taken actions that compromise (and often appear intended to compromise) Hariri's quest to attract international aid and investment, on which he has staked his political reputation. Recent statements by the Lebanese ambassador in Ottawa, Raymond Baaklini, left many in Canada wondering which government he represented. As Hariri loses more and more power to Lahoud, Lebanese foreign policy is becoming not just un-Lebanese, but anti-Lebanese.


Shortly after attending the opening ceremonies of the October 2002 Francophone summit in Beirut, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was asked by reporters about Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who had been seated nearby at the event. "Who is he?" Chrétien replied, "I don't know him." Minutes later, he was asked if Hezbollah was a terrorist organization. "Well, I don't know," he answered.1 Canadian officials later explained that Chrétien had not been adequately briefed, but the gaffe-prone prime minister's remarks signified precisely the Canadian government's policy toward Hezbollah prior to December 2002.

Following the September 11 attacks, Canada enacted anti-terrorism legislation under which Canadian citizens who provide material assistance to individuals and groups listed by the government as "terrorist entities" face a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The list originally included only terrorist groups directly linked to Al-Qaida, but the government expanded it over the next year to include the Palestinian Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, following the lead of Britain, Canada outlawed only the "external security" apparatus of Hezbollah (there is no such apparatus, per say - the term is merely a euphemism for Hezbollah cells which operate abroad).

Hezbollah has operated in Canada for at least a decade. In 1997, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) stated in a federal court document that there is an underground network of operatives in the country who "receive and comply with direction from the Hezbollah leadership hierarchy in Lebanon." Due to the country's sizeable Lebanese immigrant population and porous borders, Canada has been not only an important source of Hezbollah fundraising and recruitment, but an integral component of the group's network in the Western Hemisphere. After the September 11 attacks, investigators in South America complained that key Hezbollah operatives in the Triple Frontier region were funneling money to the Middle East through Canada. In January 2002, US authorities uncovered a network of operatives who had smuggled large quantities of the drug pseudoephedrine from Canada into the Midwest and funneled the proceeds to Hezbollah and other Middle East groups. A Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina was found to have purchased night vision goggles and other military items in Canada and smuggled them to Lebanon. Not surprisingly, Chrétien came under pressure from international quarters to ban the group entirely.[more]