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Deadly miscalculation in Lebanon

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    A deadly miscalculation in Lebanon Sami Moubayed Asia Times http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JE14Ak03.html DAMASCUS - The Lebanese government made a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 7, 2008
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      A deadly miscalculation in Lebanon
      Sami Moubayed
      Asia Times

      DAMASCUS - The Lebanese government made a fatal underestimation of
      how far leaders of the Shi'ite group Hezbollah would go to preserve
      what they believe are their rights, such as an intelligence network
      and the freedom to carry weapons.

      The result is at least 81 people dead in clashes across the country
      since violence erupted on May 6; a political and military victory
      for Hezbollah and Iran and a stinging setback for the government and
      Saudi Arabia.

      The crises was sparked last week in Beirut when the government of
      Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora ordered the communication and
      surveillance network at Runway 17 of Beirut Airport be dismantled,
      claiming it was "illegal and unconstitutional".

      The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting on May 6 that lasted
      until 4 am, lobbied for by Telecommunications Minister Marwan
      Hamadeh. The network is one of the primary espionage tools used by
      Hezbollah in its war against Israel, keeping tabs on comings and
      goings at Beirut Airport.

      Adding insult to injury, the Lebanese government dismissed Wafiq
      Shuqayr, the Shi'ite security commander of the airport, for planting
      the system in accordance with Hezbollah's wishes, supposedly behind
      the back of Siniora.

      Hezbollah cried foul, claiming the network had been in place for
      years, adding that dismantling it was a red line because otherwise
      Beirut Airport would be "transformed into a base for the the CIA,
      the FBI and Mossad, referring to American and Israeli intelligence.
      Hezbollah secretary general Hasan Nasrallah spoke just hours after
      the crisis started, saying the communication system and Shuqyar
      were "red lines" that could not be crossed. He reminded his audience
      that when Siniora became prime minister in 2005, one of the main
      points of his political program was "supporting the resistance" and
      giving it (Hezbollah) a free hand to wage its "war of liberation"
      against Israel in any way it saw fit.

      Veteran Shi'ite cleric Abdul-Amir Qabalan, deputy chairman of the
      Higher Shi'ite Council, contacted the Lebanese government and
      advised it to back down, warning that Nasrallah must not be provoked
      and that he would not stand by and watch his security system being
      torn down. Qabalan said, "Touching this communication system affects
      our nationalism, integrity and loyalty to the nation."

      The government refused to change course, arguing that security must
      be monopolized by the state and that it was inconceivable that a non-
      state party like Hezbollah could run a parallel security system at
      Beirut Airport.

      In this stubbornness, the government failed to anticipate the value
      Hezbollah places on what it believed its key rights. Worse, Defense
      Minister Elias al-Murr, Interior Minister Hasan al-Sabe and Public
      Persecutor Said Mirza were tasked to create a team to look into
      other security violations committed by Hezbollah.

      Engineering the escalation was Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a one-
      time Nasrallah friend now turned enemy, who knew that within 48
      hours the United Nations Security Council was due to discuss
      resolution 1559, regarding the disarmament of Hezbollah, which has
      yet to be fully implemented.

      Nasrallah angrily replied that "we will cut the arm" of whoever
      tries to dismantle the arms of Hezbollah, claiming that security
      networks were weapons, just like missiles and guns. He then reminded
      that in the past, he would always say that "our weapons will never
      be used internally", but this time he warned that "weapons will be
      used to guard weapons".

      He was not understating the situation. By the evening of May 7, all
      hell had broken lose in Beirut.

      Hezbollah troops took to the streets of the capital and were
      confronted by armed men loyal to parliamentary majority leader Saad
      al-Hariri and Druze leader Jumblatt. Road blocks were set up all
      over the city, bringing back haunting memories of the 17-year civil
      war that ended in 1990, and snipers showed up on rooftops.

      The Hariri-led March 14 Coalition cried foul, claiming that
      Hezbollah had launched a coup and taken over the (in the lightening
      speed of six hours). Parallels were drawn between Hezbollah's
      behavior in Beirut and the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.

      Nasrallah denied a coup was in the making, saying, "Had we wanted a
      coup, they government leaders would have woken up to find themselves
      in jail, or [thrown) in the sea."

      Hezbollah fighters did storm entire neighborhoods of Beirut loyal to
      Hariri, aided by Amal militiamen loyal to the Shi'ite speaker of
      parliament, Nabih Berri, an ally of Nasrallah. The poor training and
      weaponry of the Hariri team was no match for the sophisticated war
      machine of Hezbollah, which managed to ward off a massive Israeli
      attack in 2006.

      So amateurish were Hariri's men that it almost seemed as if they had
      no arms at all. They were round up in hours, disarmed and handed
      over to the Lebanese army. Rather than take control of the
      districts - to prove that this was not a coup - Hezbollah fighters
      called up the army, a third party, asking it to take control.
      Vandalism did take place, and so did an ugly exchange of words
      between Hezbollah's team, who are all Shi'ite, and Hariri's men, who
      are all Sunnis. One of the most telling acts was shutting down all
      of Hariri's media outlets, which were very active in spreading anti-
      Hezbollah propaganda, including Future TV, Future News, Orient Radio
      and Future Newspaper. All of these were taken over by Hezbollah and
      then handed to the army, yet hoodlums did manage to break into
      Future TV and set one floor ablaze.

      Many saw this as a proxy war between the Saudi Arabia-backed March
      14 Coalition and the Iran-backed Hezbollah. Telecommunications
      Minister Hamadeh said the entire crisis was the doing of Tehran. His
      boss, Jumblatt, went even further, asking for the expulsion of the
      Iranian ambassador from Beirut.

      Jumblatt's tone changed, however, 48 hours into the confrontation,
      when the fighting ended in Beirut and shifted to Druze villages
      overlooking the Lebanese capital. Hezbollah fighters surrounded his
      palace in Beirut, near the American University of Beirut, but did
      not invade. It was clear for Jumblatt, one of the United States'
      main and newfound allies in Lebanon, that it was pointless to resist

      Jumblatt got on the phone with Nabih Berri, the Nasrallah-allied
      speaker of parliament, and said, "I am a hostage now in my home in
      Beirut. Tell Sayed Hasan Nasrallah I lost the battle and he wins. So
      let's sit and talk to reach a compromise. All that I ask is your

      Nasrallah and Jumblatt had been good friends and strong allies
      during the heyday of the Syrian presence in Lebanon. The Druze
      leader had positioned himself as one of the main protectors of
      Hezbollah arms throughout the 1990s. A political animal, however, he
      changed sides when it was clear the Syrians had fallen out with
      Washington after the Iraq war and he transformed himself into one of
      the loudest critics of Syrian power in Beirut.

      He put his full bet on the Americans, patched up with the George W
      Bush White House (which he had once accused of staging the September
      11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington) and became an
      aggressive critic of Nasrallah. In his speech on the eve of
      hostilities, Nasrallah said that the plan to transform Beirut
      Airport into a base for the US Central Intelligence Agency, the
      Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mossad was the brainchild
      of "the government of Walid Jumblatt".

      Intense fighting between Druze forces and Shi'ite militiamen raged
      on in the villages of Shouf, the towns of Aley and Shuwayfat,
      raising red sirens throughout Lebanon. This is where heavy fighting
      had taken place in the civil war - and although the war ended nearly
      20 years ago - the wounds have not healed.

      Two Hezbollah members were killed in the Druze districts, and
      another disappeared, prompting Jumblatt to give an urgent press
      conference, accepting blame for the entire ordeal and calling on his
      troops to lay down their arms, avoid a sectarian outburst, and
      transfer order of the districts to the Lebanese army.

      Jumblatt added, "I must admit that the Iranians are smart and they
      knew how to play it in Lebanon. They chose a time when the US is
      weak in the Middle East and did it."

      Calm was restored to Beirut when the government, with as much face-
      saving as possible, revoked its earlier decisions by transferring
      the issue of the communication system, and the security commander of
      Beirut Airport, to the army. Instead of executing the orders Army
      Commander Michel Suleiman, a neutral third party, declared both
      null. It is still unclear if the Siniora cabinet will issue a formal
      apology for its actions, as the Hezbollah-led opposition is

      Regardless, it was a political and military victory for Hezbollah.

      The March 14 claims it was a moral victory for itself as well,
      saying that they had helped prevent a civil war by backing down on
      their earlier legislation. To date, while fighting continues in the
      Druze mountains, and has even reached as far north as Tripoli, the
      government has not resigned. Not even has Interior Minister Hassan
      al-Sabe, who is a member of March 14.

      Rumors circulated in Beirut that Siniora wanted to step down when
      the fighting was at its peek, but was prevented from doing so by
      Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, enraged by what was happened in Beirut,
      realized that Iran - and the Syrians - had taken the upper hand in

      True, Hezbollah has restored all "occupied" districts to the army,
      but it is clear they were far superior in power, training, arms and
      logistics to Saudi Arabia's proxies in Lebanon. Additionally, they
      have done it once. Nothing prevents them from doing it again at any
      time the Saudi-backed government tries to dismantle, crush or curb
      Hezbollah's influence.

      When a coup is not a coup
      Speaking at the southern village of Bint Jbeil in 2005, Nasrallah
      once said, "There is talk of disarming the resistance. Any thought
      of disarming the resistance is pure madness. We do not want to
      attack anyone. We have never done so. And we will never allow anyone
      to attack Lebanon. But if anyone, no matter who, even thinks about
      disarming the resistance, we will fight him like the martyr-seekers
      in Karbala."

      That sums it up. Nasrallah will not allow anybody to touch the arms
      of Hezbollah and is willing to fight to maintain his status, and
      that of his party, in the Arab-Israeli conflict. His supporters
      argue that as a pragmatic leader, and a cunning statesman who excels
      in psychological warfare, he does not want to rule Beirut.

      He is neither interested nor politically able (although it would be
      easy, in military terms). He realizes that the confessional system
      of Lebanon is too complicated for such a task, and said it bluntly
      last Wednesday, "If they told us to come take over, we would say 'no
      thank you'."

      Had he wanted a real coup, he would not have transferred control to
      the Lebanese army, nor would he have laid down his arms in Beirut.
      He would have invaded and stormed the homes of Jumblatt and Hariri
      and arrested both of them, along with Siniora, and set up a new
      government, to his liking, and to that of Iran. But that is an
      illogical scenario that would never pass.

      What he did last week in Beirut was show his power - flex his
      muscles - and tell the world, "I am still here. Still in control and
      still powerful - or as some would say, king - in Lebanese politics."
      It was a rude wake-up call to all those who imagined he would never
      go this far to bring his message to the region and the international

      Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.



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