Saturday, May 17, 2008

He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind

Colonel Charbel Barakat is a retired Lebanese Army officer who had a vast first hand experience, education and knowledge on fundamentalism, terrorism and terrorists. He is a prominent author, writer, political commentator, expert on terrorism and human rights activist. In a recent political analysis he addressed in depth the latest Hezbollah coup d'état in Lebanon and dwelled extensively on its predisposing and precipitating factors. Our Lebanese Canadian Coordinating Council (LCCC) Media Department translated the analysis from its original Arabic version, and I would like to share it with you./Please consider for publication
Elias Bejjani/Lebanese  Canadian coordinating Council (LCCC) Chairman


He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind
By: Colonel Charbel Barakat

May 28/08

"It was a forlorn day when the Lebanese agreed, albeit under duress, to the 'Taef Accord".  It necessitated dismantling and disarming the militias in 1990. Syria, which at the time was occupying Lebanon, kept and retained Hezbollah, the one terrorizing Lebanon today, as the sole armed militia under the slogan of "fighting Israel".

Syria set out and helped, in conjunction with Iran, to build a State inside a State, whereby the terrorist group, Hezbollah was founded and fostered in its fundamentalism to become a blight on Lebanon's national landscape.

Some short-sighted Lebanese, especially inexperienced rookie politicians, believed Syria's claim that Hezbollah militia would fight for Lebanon.  This militia was always exclusively Shiite, connected to Iran in training, financing, armament, command and slogans.  It was destined to be aloof of the Lebanese populace and determined to remain so.

Hezbollah never carried the Lebanese flag and has advocated since its beginning (1982) for an Islamic State a la Tehran.  The majority of the smart Lebanese politicians failed to realize then that the beast they were raising would devour their children when its teeth are bared.  Perhaps they misplaced their bet on time and good intentions, or perhaps on others.

The Syrian occupation imposed Hezbollah, this armed gang, which recognizes no-one, and none of the Lebanese values, it promoted it as a sacred hero, which it praised day and night.  Inevitably, Hezbollah became intoxicated by the Syrian sycophancy to the point where it sees itself as the rightful ruler of Lebanon."

The tide then turned, first against the abandoned people of the South who defended Lebanon with their lives and youths so that it could remain a dignified, democratic and free country. They did not surrender it to the Israelis as the Syrians, the Iranians and some ignorant and shortsighted Lebanese politicians falsely allege. The Southern people accepted the Israeli help after they were abandoned by their state, and were honest and free allies with Israel for 25 years. More than 800 hundred of their patriotic martyrs paid the ultimate sacrifice and were dressed in, and buried under the Lebanese flag.

The Southern Children chanted no national anthem, but that of Lebanon. While the treacherous Hezbollah aggressor played its liberation propaganda in insult to the real heroes, the children of the land, the Lebanese southerners waited vainly for years on an empty promise made by Lebanese President Elias Hrawi (1990-1998), to reintegrate them in the state without bloodshed.

Then the Lebanese State was distracted by reconstruction, unconcerned with the Beast (Hezbollah) that was growing in the house while ignoring completely the plight of our Southern brethren, who were orphaned when their mother (the state) fled from the Palestinian gangs. The southerners were left unprotected while their mother, (the Lebanese State) fooled around with the Syrians and others, so they grew in the care of the Israeli neighbor, which she called "enemy".

Israeli PM Barak then decided to withdraw unconditionally from Lebanon, (in year 2000) as UN representative Terry Rod Larsen refused to hear the opinion of the southerners under pressure from the Syrians. No one accepted their offer to disarm their South Lebanon's Army (SLA) simultaneously with Hezbollah in order to resolve all the problems of the south once and for all. "A burden they have come to regret".

No one in Beirut was willing to admit that this offer was the last instrument in Lebanon's favor, because the hatred planted by the suicidal party (Hezbollah) blinded the hearts of many, who thought the humiliation of our Southern brothers at the hands of Iran and Syria was a benefit to them, so they praised the beast, and carried it on their shoulders.

They even requested that the free world countries decline from receiving the southern refugees in the aftermath of the Israeli military withdrawal from their region in the year 2000. These victims who are from all Lebanese religious denominations had no other safe place to flee to, except to Israel. The majority of them are still living in Israel while the Lebanese state tags them as collaborators and traitors.

Meanwhile hundreds of the SLA members and their family members who took the risk and stayed in Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal, or afterwards returned from Israel to Lebanon, were charged with treason, imprisoned and stripped of their civil rights.

Destiny however triumphed over all, as those Lebanese politicians and parties who falsely deceived themselves and thought they have pacified the beast were devoured by it, starting by the leader that defended it all over the world (late PM. Rafik Hariri), and protected them from offenses, then they rewarded him by facilitating his assassination in 2005, then proceeded to burn his dream of rebuilding the country. 

And now here we are today regretting his passing, and the passing of other fallen ones, despite their shortsightedness. The beast has devoured the father and now turned on the sons.

One may wonder, what could Lebanon do in the face of this bloody and savage war that Hezbollah is waging against one Lebanese territory after another, spilling our people's blood so that terror can establish its authority over our homeland?

How pitiful is a government that dares not support the Free world who prescribed the cure in the UNSCR 1559, in 2005, but instead volunteered to protect the beast in its cabinet statement and legitimize its terrorism and its state inside the state. And then failed to request international assistance to tame, disarm and contain Hezbollah after the destructive war it instigated against Israel in July 2006.  It instead protected this beast and facilitated its big lie of the" Divine Victory" over Israel and chanted for this fatal deception.

One wonders what the solution is then. The answer is very simple. The Lebanese Government must recognize fully and seek the implementation of the UNSCR (1559 and 1701), and immediately officially request that the international body intervene militarily and by all other means to protect Lebanon and implement its resolutions.

The Lebanese Government must also put at the UN's disposal all its armed forces and services and coordinate with it to uproot this evil which has ravaged the life of civilians, burned neighborhoods, destroyed media outlets, and is indiscriminately spreading its hatred in all directions.

Will Lebanon's PM. Mr. Saniora make a move and request publicly the aid of the Free world for his cabinet and for Lebanon? Or does he still thing that he can conduct a civilized dialogue with Hezbollah and its sponsors, Iran and Syria while the Lebanese people are slaughtered and the Lebanese territories fall to this axis of evil one after the other?

It is a mockery of fate that Larsen has been put in charge of the UNSCR 1559 implementation; after all, he was the one that rejected Lebanon Southerner's and their SLA's (South Lebanon's Army) proposal of simultaneous disarmament with Hezbollah.

As it is an irony too that Barak the Israeli PM then, the defense minister now, surrendered the South Lebanon and its SLA to Hezbollah, which grew in power and attacked everyone. Will Larsen and Barak correct today, the fatal mistake they committed in the year 2000?

Will the Lebanese politicians and officials also correct their strategic mistake of calling Hezbollah a "liberator", and "resistance" group, this beast that retarded the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon for 15 years, and is trying now to topple the country's legitimate government and control the whole country by force?

Meanwhile will the Lebanese politicians and parities deal with reality and once and forever abandon the rhetoric fight against the state of Israel, and start building their real state which provides security to its entire people and seeks peace with all its neighbors, and fights terror regardless of its direction or source?

Or will they all, again, bear false witness to the birth of a Hezbollah state over the totality of Lebanon's land, so that it spreads, not only as it did after the Israeli withdrawal of 2000, with a series of terrorist bombings in Israel, the Arab countries, and elsewhere that ultimately reached New York and European capitals, but to launch unconventional attacks this time, which will force the whole world to taste bitter and bloody experiences much more destructive than September 11, and what followed in Afghanistan or Iraq?

Lebanon will know no real stability until its leadership and politicians understand fully the meaning of peace, the value of nationhood, and the principle of cooperation.

When Lebanon thought that by adopting Hezbollah, it liberated its land and was surpassing the regions' strongest nations; it was lying to itself then and believing the lie. Lebanon was like the one that planted the wind, and ultimately reaped the storm.

 **Translated from Arabic by the Lebanese Canadian Coordinating Council Media Department

To Read original Arabic commentary click here

Yemen lessens sentence for embassy shooter in wake of U.S. terrorism assessment


By: Yemen Times Staff

Returning detainees from Guantanamo Bay military prison, pictured here, are a source of concern for the U.S. government.
SANA'A, May 14 — Just a week after the U.S. State Department published its annual assessment of terrorist activity in Yemen, the Sana'a Court of Appeals has lessened the prison sentence for a man convicted of shooting at the U.S. Embassy.

Saleh Al-Ammari, the young man who admitted attacking the U.S. Embassy with a semi-automatic rifle in December 2006, originally was sentenced to five years in prison. On Monday, Judge Mohammed Al-Hakimi lessened his sentence to three years without specifying a reason for the leniency. Al-Ammari had confessed to the shooting, which caused no injuries or fatalities, back in 2007.

Prosecutors told the Associated Press that Al-Ammari carried out the shooting after listening to tapes calling for jihad or holy war against the United States because of its war in Iraq and its support of Israel.

This news comes on the heels of the recently published yearly roundup of terrorism in Yemen. The U.S. State Department called Yemen's efforts to reduce terrorism "mixed" and highlighted the rumored glitch between the two countries: Yemen's treatment of suspected terrorists and former Guantánamo Bay prison detainees.

The Yemeni program uses rehabilitation techniques, including counseling sessions with imams to psychologically and religiously reform prisoners who waged violent jihad. In the report, the United States criticized Yemen for using a surrender program "with lenient requirements" for unapprehended terrorists, as well as its "relatively lax incarceration" of them once they turn themselves over.

The report also questioned the short assessment and rehabilitation periods for returning Guantánamo detainees, which likely is the point of contention between the two countries regarding repatriating more Yemeni inmates held at the U.S. military detainment in Cuba.

While other countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia have repatriated the majority of their Guantánamo prisoners, Yemen and the U.S. have yet to finalize agreements for the remaining Yemeni prisoners, with both sides occasionally blaming the other. Yemenis now make up the largest single nationality of prisoners at the facility, with an estimated 100 Yemeni men still being held there.

Another area of concern in the report was the uncertain recapture of Jamal Al-Badawi, one of the U.S.S. Cole bombers who has escaped from prison twice.

Although the report only concerns 2007, it's now known that other Cole plotters, such as Fahd Al-Quso, have been released. Al-Badawi is thought to be in custody again following a period of suspected release authorized by the Yemeni government.

International media sources report that a former Guantánamo inmate from Kuwait was part of an April 29 suicide bombing in Iraq. Abdullah Saleh Al-Ajmi was repatriated to Kuwait in 2005, where he faced trial, but was acquitted of all charges.

According to accounts from Agence France Presse, Al-Ajmi later traveled to Syria and then ended up in Iraq, where he and two others exploded suicide bombs that killed several people in the city of Mosul.

The U.S. military estimates that foreigners carry out 90 percent of suicide bombings in Iraq, so U.S. authorities are hesitant to return Yemeni Guantánamo prisoners for fear that they'll do exactly what Al-Ajmi did – return to fight in Iraq.

There are no other reports of former Guantánamo detainees returning to Iraq to carry out suicide missions, although many foreign fighters come to Iraq to wage violent jihad against the U.S. presence there.

The terrorism report also mentioned the July 2007 blasts at Marib, which were heard about around the world. Seven Spanish tourists and two Yemenis were killed while visiting the temple of Bilqis, an architectural site popular with visitors.

The report only evaluated terror-related events in 2007, but since January 2008, there have been more killings (two Belgian tourists and two Yemenis at Marib), mortar attacks on the U.S. and Italian Embassies and strikes against other foreign firms such as the Canadian Nexen oil company headquarters and a residential compound housing foreigners in Sana'a.

Lessening Al-Ammari's prison sentence, combined with the release of several men who participated in the U.S.S. Cole bombing, is likely to add further strain to relations between the U.S. and Yemen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How many divisions has Hariri? : Hariri vows no surrender to Hizbollah

How many divisions has Hariri? His stance is admirable, but isn't it hopeless?
A supporter of Hizbollah fires in the air during the funeral procession of a Hizbollah member in Beirut on Tuesday (AFP photo by Hassan Ammar)
A supporter of Hizbollah fires in the air during the funeral procession of a Hizbollah member in Beirut on Tuesday (AFP photo by Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Sunni Muslim leader Saad Hariri pledged on Tuesday there would be no political surrender to what he called a bid by Hizbollah and its Syrian and Iranian backers to impose their will on the nation by force.

The Shiite Hizbollah group and its opposition allies have routed supporters of the Sunni-led government in Beirut and hills to the east in fighting that has pushed Lebanon to the brink of a new civil war.

"They simply are demanding that we surrender, they want Beirut to raise white flags... This is impossible," Hariri told a news conference in his first public appearance since Hizbollah swept through Sunni-dominated areas of the capital last week.

"They will not be able to obtain Saad Hariri's signature... on a deed to surrender to the Iranian and Syrian regimes." Lebanon experienced its calmest day since violence broke out on May 7 after US-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora outlawed Hizbollah's communications network and fired Beirut airport's security chief, who is close to the Shiite group.

Hizbollah said this was a declaration of war and swiftly took over much of Beirut, crushing pro-government Sunni Muslim gunmen. It then handed over its gains to the army.

Hariri's Future TV, forced off the air during the battles, resumed broadcasting shortly before the news conference.

Hariri, son of slain ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, said the two decisions, now a dead letter, were no threat to Hizbollah.

"This was not an attack on Hizbollah. This was a decision made by Iran and Syria to attack Lebanon, to take Lebanon over and put it in Syrian-Iranian hands," the business magnate said.

Bitterly questioning the Shiite Islamist group's promise to use its arsenal only against Israel, Hariri said: "When these same arms that came from Iran and Syria are pointed at Lebanese, it means there's a start of maybe a civil war. We don't want a civil war because a civil war needs two sides and we will not lead the Lebanese into a civil war."

Arab League mediators are due in Beirut on Wednesday to try broker a solution to the political crisis that led to Lebanon's worst internal fighting since the 1975-90 civil war.

Lebanon's army earlier stepped up patrols as part of a drive to restore order after a week of fighting in which Hizbollah and its allies triumphed in Beirut and hills to the east.

The army measures were not seen as a challenge to Hizbollah, which has avoided friction with the military - whose own composition reflects Lebanon's volatile sectarian mix.

Wary of fragmenting its ranks, the army has stayed neutral in the conflict, which has killed 81 people, wounded 250 and raised Arab and international concern over Lebanon's future.

Setback for US policy

Saudi Arabia said that if Iran endorsed Hizbollah's actions it would affect the Islamic republic's ties with the Arab world.

"Of course, for Iran to back the coup that happened in Lebanon... will have an impact on its relations with all Arab countries," said Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal.

In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied his country was meddling in Lebanon.

Troops took over more positions held by Druze forces loyal to pro-government leader Walid Jumblatt, whose mountain fiefdom east of Beirut was attacked by Hizbollah on Sunday.

But in the hill resort town of Aley, a grocer named Wassim Timani, who is loyal to Jumblatt, was not sure peace would last.

"The army's presence here is only for show. It won't be able to do anything if the truce is violated," he told Reuters. "We have shown it all respect but we will not hand over our guns." Even if the army halts all fighting, it has no plans to remove street barricades paralysing Beirut port and airport as part of the opposition campaign to press its political demands.

US President George W. Bush is to consult allies on how to assist Lebanon when he visits the region this week. He pledged more aid to help the Lebanese army defend the government.

Bush will travel to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, starting on Wednesday, and plans to meet Siniora in Egypt on Sunday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner hinted at a possible UN Security Council resolution on Lebanon.

"A resolution, which is still not entirely complete, could be proposed to the Security Council," Kouchner told parliament.

The government has for 18 months resisted opposition demands for veto rights in Cabinet, though Hizbollah has now shown it has the military muscle to block decisions it dislikes anyway.

Political turmoil has left Lebanon without a president since November. Parliament speaker and opposition leader Nabih Berri has postponed until June 10 an assembly session called for Tuesday to elect a head of state. It was the 19th such delay.

14 May 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Abu Dabi: Arab intellectual welcomes the Jews

You do not see an article like this every day in the Middle East:

Welcome Back Our Long-gone Neighbours

April 26, 2008
The National, Abu Dhabi
Sultan Al Qassemi

Many of us have heard of the famous advertising empire known as Saatchi and Saatchi, laughed at the jokes of Jerry Seinfeld, tapped our feet to the beats of Paula Abdul and shopped at Max Azria's BCBG stores. So what do all these successful people from various industries have in common?

They are all of Arab origins.

The Jewish presence in what is now the Arab world dates back thousands of years; in fact, the very religion was founded in this region. Arab Muslims, Christians and Jews have been living in peace and harmony for centuries, so what happened? In short, after the violent wave of European anti-Semitism in the mid-20th century there was an exodus of European Jewry into historic Palestine, much of it forced, armed and violent, lead by groups such as the Hagana and the Irgun (who were responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel).

Unfortunately, many Muslim Arabs from across the region reacted violently to these developments and decided to reciprocate; as a result, Jews who were living amongst them were shunned and assaulted. In Iraq, for example, about 120,000 Jews were compelled to emigrate to Israel, the US and Europe in just less than three years.

The streets of Cairo, the historic neighbourhoods of Syria, the mountainous terrains of Lebanon and the bustling markets of Baghdad were, for the first time in thousands of years, emptied of one of the most successful ethnic minorities living within their communities. Doctors, architects, businessmen, scientists, poets and writers started to pack up and leave, some with good reason and some to avoid the repercussions of the founding of the state of Israel.

It wasn't all bad blood between the Arabs and the Jews; in fact, there were stories of heroism that have gone unreported and unnoticed in the Arab media. In the midst of the horrors of the Nazi occupation of France in the 1940s, the imam of the Paris Mosque saved the lives of scores of Jews by issuing certificates stating their faith to be Muslim. In Tunis, entire Jewish families were saved by a local hero, Khaled Abdelwahhab, who hid them in his farm at great risk to himself and his family; he was honoured posthumously for his bravery. As a result of such actions fewer than one per cent of the Jews of Arabia — who numbered in their hundreds of thousands — perished compared to more than 50 per cent of the Jews of Europe.

Since then, there has been predominantly negative coverage of Judeo-Arab relations. Europe, after the Second World War, was able to turn the page almost immediately, yet many Arabs still paint all Jews with the same brush used for Israelis.

In 1975, after the death of the Egyptian revolutionary leader Jamal Abdul Nasser, many countries in which he financed and encouraged revolutions were free from his pan-Arab nationalism and scaremongering and decided to take action in order to restore the social unity of their countries. The pre-Saddam Iraqi Revolution Command Council issued advertisements in The New York Times and elsewhere inviting Jews to return to their home countries and guaranteeing their rights. Sadat's Egypt and Hafez Al Assad's Syria also issued such statements.

In recent history it has only been two forward-thinking Middle Eastern kingdoms of Morocco and Bahrain that have broken the mould of suspicion towards their Jewish citizens and integrated them into the social and political spheres. The first with the case of André Azoulay, an adviser to the previous and current kings; and the latter with the recent appointment of Huda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo as the new Bahraini ambassador to America.

Today in New York City alone there are more than 75,000 Jews of Syrian origin, many of them educated in the best schools, speaking or understanding Arabic and still having an affinity for Syria. Is it not possible to imagine that such persons have the right, if they so choose, to be full citizens of Syria?

Is it not time to reassure the Jews of Arab origin that their ancestral homes are mature enough to welcome them back if they decide to invest, visit or even take up citizenship? If football players who spend a few months in the Middle East are given citizenship, shouldn't people who have a natural birth-right, tremendous wealth and valuable education and skills be given the same?

Of course such statements will be met with criticisms and reminders of what the Israelis are doing to our Palestinian brothers and sisters. To that one can say that in the Middle East, no one has been more cruel and violent to Arabs, more exploitive of the Palestinians and more manipulative of their cause than Arabs themselves. Do we forget it was Iraq that invaded Kuwait, Egypt that encouraged bloody revolutions throughout the region and mostly militants from the Arabian Peninsula responsible for atrocious crimes of terrorism in Iraq? We ourselves have been the victims of unfair generalisations by the Western media, but should we learn from past lessons, or should we continue to reciprocate?

Sultan Al Qassemi is a Sharjah-based businessman and graduate of the American University of Paris. He is founder of Barjeel Securities, Dubai.

This article was first published in The National on April 26, 2008. [A.I - the original Web site is not on line at the moment]  

[Yemen] NDI: Revenge killing negatively impacts education system

NDI: Revenge killing negatively impacts education system

Almigdad Mojalli

More than 1000 chidlren at the age of schooling depended on this school in Al-Jawf, now that it is closed they are forced to live a life without education, but at least they are still alive. Photo by NDI-Yemen
SANA'A, May 11 — Closing schools, suspension of teaching, missing classes and examinations and the general spreading of ignorance are the main negative impacts on education system caused by revenge killings.

The revenge killings take place in three particular governorates: Marib, Shabwa and Al-Jawf, according to the National Democracy Institute (NDI) that released the results of its survey on tribal conflict's effects on education last week.

The NDI survey showed that tribal conflicts, such as an in Marib where there are 38 unresolved blood feuds, led to the evacuation of many families and prevented students from attending schools.

The presentation was a result of surveys complied by three anti-revenge killing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the three governorates.

Future Association for Development and Social Peace in Marib Governorate, a local NGO, indicated that the spread of illiteracy and ignorance were the direct results of widespread revenge killing. The report indicated that 347 university students in Marib governorate couldn't take their final examinations because of revenge killing incidents. The report added that many students left the examination halls and were enforced to stay at home because of the violence.

The report from the Brothers Association for Development and Social Peace (BADSP) in Shabwa revealed that the Setnan school, built in 1992, was blasted by mines in 2001 due to a revenge conflict. The report stated that the construction of Al-Jarasha, another school in the region, was stopped due to a tribal dispute over the land. The report added that many students were compelled to go to school carrying weapons because of tribal conflicts.

The Association for Peace and Development (APD) in Al-Jawf disclosed that more than eight schools in Al-Mazareq and Al-Saidah districts, which contain hundreds of students, have stopped classes indefinitely since the outbreak of tribal war three years ago. The tribal warfare also killed more than 30 people while injuring 30 others.

As a result of these continued feuds, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) launched a campaign to reduce the impact of conflict on education in Marib, Al-Jawf and Shabwa governorates under the auspices of the Minister of the Interior, Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi, and the head of the National Commission on Tackling Conflict Issues.

"We are only focusing on these three governorates because they are the most affected," stated Peter Dimitroff, the Resid
Beer Al-Marazeeq School in Al-Jawf built in 1989, has been made to ruins because of conflict and exchange of firearms. Now the school instead of hosting its students is a shed for goats. Photo by NDI-Yemen
ent Director of the NDI. "Certainly, we would like to expand these programs and replicate them through the rest of the affected areas."

Though blood money plays an important role in stopping revenge killing, NDI doesn't intend to pay blood money as it is a short-term solution. "The NDI don't have the ability to generate a fund towards paying blood money. But even if we did, I think that would be the wrong approach because though it is effective in stopping in a short-term conflict, it is like putting on a bandage," noted Dimitroff. He also pointed out that most of the tribal conflicts in these areas are a function of the lack of viable government presence, especially regarding land disputes. "They lack a land registry system," said Dimitroff.

The campaign's general framework and activities were discussed and approved during a workshop which was held in Aden during April 20 to 23. It focused on uncovering the impact of conflict on education, reinforcing the role of local NGOs, media, mosque and religious institutions, tribal leaders, women and youth along with authorities in raising awareness about the impact of conflict on education. The campaign also aims to advocate and lobby the government to protect education from revenge killing and conflict.

The campaign will take action this Month and run through August. It is supported by NDI's Conflict Management Program, which is funded by United States Agency for International Development, known as USAID.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Jumblatt's Men Set Back Iran's Militia in Lebanon

May 12, 2008

Jumblatt's Men Set Back Iran's Militia in Lebanon

By Lee Smith

Our friend and colleague in Lebanon Elie Fawaz writes in to remind us that The War for Lebanon has not even begun yet in earnest and Hezbollah's "victory" in Beirut is not all it seems:

"So, we know that Hezbollah's well-trained fighters are in control of most of west Beirut. The decision taken by Walid Jumblat and Saad al-Hariri not to fight back in Beirut, but rather hand most of their positions to the army ended any illusion regarding the sanctity of the "resistance" – that it would never turn its weapons inward, for now its hands are dripping with the blood of innocent Lebanese. But it's different in the Chouf where Jumblatt's forces bloodied Hezbollah.

"The Chouf is calm now after fighting over the weekend in which forces belonging to Talal Arslan, part of the Hezbollah-led opposition, jumped sides and joined alongside Jumblatt's men. As the Progressive Socialist Party website reports: 'The free people of the Shouf roll back an attack by the Iranian militias causing severe casualties in lives and equipment.'

"Hence, Jumblatt sounded more assertive last night on LBC news because he knows he got the upper-hand in the Chouf battles (Reuters is reporting at least 14 Hezbollah gunmen killed. Meanwhile, the PSP website is claiming 32 Hezbollah fighters killed and 250 wounded.). He was willing to hand his offices over to the army to deflect some of the tension and because he wants to avoid a civil war."

In short, what happened in West Beirut was a given. According to a report from the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar, this coup had been planned well in advance and its mastermind was the recently assassinated Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh. The government may in fact have forced Nasrallah to show his hand at a time of its choosing, not his. Hezbollah's walkover in Beirut came as a surprise to no one; nor did the performance of the army, except perhaps the Bush administration which must now reconsider the amount of money it has spent on equipment and training for the Lebanese Armed Forces.

As for the pro-government fighters in Beirut, contrary to most press accounts, there are no Sunni "militias" in the capital. Rather, it is mostly defensive armament, private citizens with small arms defending their families, homes and property. So it is hardly any surprise that Hezbollah managed to overrun Sunni neighborhoods easily. But that is merely one small part of Lebanon, and while the attention of the foreign press has focused on fighting in one sector of the capital, events throughout the rest of the country suggest that Hezbollah's "rout" is illusory. Tony Badran, drawing on various Lebanese accounts and his own reporting, offers this account:

"After taking over West Beirut, Hezbollah tried to move to the Shouf, where there are two Shiite towns, Kayfoun and Qmatiyye. Hezbollah is trying to link them up to the Dahieh through the Karameh road, which links Dahieh to Choueifat-Aramoun-Doha-Deir Qoubel-Aytat-Kayfoun and Qmatiye, so that it can make encroachments, maintain access routes and not allow the Druze to surround the two Shiite towns.

"That was the plan, but Hezbollah got a severe beating in the Shouf. They were not able to penetrate anything, relying instead – for the first time in the current fighting – on artillery/mortar fire. To no avail. Yesterday alone we heard that seven Hezbollah fighters who tried to infiltrate got killed.

"Hence, Hezbollah burned its Druze ally, Talal Arslan. Whatever tiny following Arslan had before this, it's safe to say it has been seriously damaged. Witness for instance the fate of Syria's little Druze creation, the pitbull Wi'am Wahhab, who, it is rumored, has taken his followers (which on a good day may actually reach about 100) and left the Shouf altogether.

"Meanwhile in Northern Lebanon, the pro-opposition Alawites are being slammed by Sunnis in the Baal Mohsen area. Similarly, Sunnis in the Akkar area in the north attacked and torched offices of the SSNP, Baath party, Hezbollah and Aoun, killing a good number of SSNPs. As with Arslan, we see a parallel development, former PM Omar Karami, a Sunni who is at the same time trying to support Hezbollah while shoring up his Sunni bona fides. So he lamented the "deep wound" that has occurred between Sunnis and Shia, and told Hezbollah that if this becomes a sectarian fight, then we have two choices: to either stay home, or fight with our sect.

"So far we've had the luxury of not seeing this sad charade play out in the Christian areas. Sleiman Frangieh has been inconspicuously quiet these last few days. Michel Aoun, on the other hand, can't help himself. So, while there are rumors that he might be urging Hezbollah in to East Beirut, others are watching to see if Nasrallah will attempt to do with the tiny Shiite communities in Nab'a, Metn, and Keserwan/Jbeil, what they did with Qmatiyye and Kayfoun.

"And so, the Party of God has achieved the 'great victory' of conquering a few Beiruti streets, terminating the credibility of the army, hastening the prospect of its disintegration, and damaging beyond repair for the foreseeable future, the Shiites' ties to the Lebanese social fabric."

Hezbollah and its allies have won one small battle in a war that has just begun.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hezbollah Leaves West Beirut After Beating Government Challenge

By Daniel Williams

May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Hezbollah, Lebanon's powerful Shiite Muslim party and militia, handed sections of Beirut to the Lebanese army after forcing pro-Western Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to abandon efforts to curb its military activities.

Hezbollah and its allied gunmen still remained in side streets in the central Hamra district of downtown Beirut today. Dirt and debris barricades blocked roads; traffic throughout the city was light, according to the Naharnet Internet news site.

Calm returned a day after Siniora placed the implementation of two government decisions in the army's hands: to shut down Hezbollah's electronic surveillance operation at Beirut's international airport and a vast land-line telephone network. The military, in a statement, overturned the government's plans. It reinstated the head of airport security fired over the existence of the spy system and left the phone lines under Hezbollah's control.

``This was probably an inevitable moment, when Hezbollah felt it had to show the government the real balance of power between them,'' Rami Khoury, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, wrote in Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper.

Iran is engaging everyone else

A few years ago I was engaged in an animated multi-way debate with American and other foreign policy analysts who insisted that Iran poses no existential danger to Israel. They reasoned that Iran could not realistically use nuclear weapons against Israel even if they got them, and they pointed out Iran has no border with Israel, and would have no way of invading Israel. Therefore, they could attack under a nuclear umbrella that prevented massive retaliation. So how, they asked could Iran constitute an existential danger to Israel?

They got the first part of their reply in the summer of 2006, when Hezbollah, with the consent of Iran and probably at its bidding, triggered the 2006 Second Lebanon war. Iran, both through Hezbollah and other means, has also been supporting the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank. Hezbollah has boasted frequently of its aid to "Palestinian resistance."

But this week Israel was given another dramatic illustration of the escalating Iranian threat, when Hezbollah, which has virtually paralyzed the Lebanese government since December 2006, almost pulled a coup in Beirut similar to the one that Hamas engineered in Gaza. As Hezbollah terrorists overran Beirut, a frightening new prospect opened up for Israel: Lebanon is on its way to being converted into a franchise Islamic republic, a second Iran, right on our northern borders. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said:

"(Egyptian) President Hosni Mubarak recently declared that Egypt already has a border with Iran with the Gaza Strip. For us it's even worse because it's not only the Gaza Strip, but also Lebanon in the north.

Actually, it would be much worse, because Lebanon is a recognized state. If Hezbollah takes over Lebanon, they will have all the resources and rights of a state at its disposal. At the very least, Lebanon would become a training and operations base for terrorism aimed at Israel, both directly over its border with Lebanon, and through infiltration into the West Bank. We can anticipate that large numbers of Iranian Nation Guard Corps troops would be stationed there, training Islamic Jihad and Hamas members in guerrilla warfare, and recruiting Palestinian terrorists from the misery of the refugee camps. Hezbollah would also control the Lebanese army even if it would not necessarily merge with it, and it might turn that army into a potent fighting force. But that is the best case scenario. Hezbollah controlled Lebanon can provide Iran with a Mediterranean naval base and forward airbases. In the worst case scenario, it could be the staging ground for an Iranian invasion of Israel.

A Lebanese Islamic republic is clearly a threat not only to Israel, but to US and French interests in the Levant, and to neighboring Turkey. The most alarming feature of last week's crisis is that nobody did much about it. The United States issued some pro-forma warnings, and France engaged in some feverish and pointless diplomatic activity. The major activities of France and Italy were to prepare for evacuation of their citizens. True to form, they were planning the retreat. Turkey was silent, at least in public. The Arab League scheduled a meeting. Israel did nothing, because Israel, given the presence of UNIFIL in Lebanon, cannot possibly do anything. In any case, any support for the government of Fouad Saniora given by Israel would most certainly doom that government.

Continued at Meeting Iran half way