Across the Bay

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Path to Suicide

It's been clear since at least March 2005 that Hassan Nasrallah is intent on taking the country to war.

After Thursday's deadly Sunni-Shiite clashes, what does Nasrallah do? Escalate further.

In an Ashoura speech, Nasrallah came full circle. He returned to explicit, open, and full-blown Khomeinist rhetoric. Naturally, he never gave this up. It was covered during the 90's in order to win Sunni support by repackaging Hezbollah as an Islamo-Arab nationalist force. It was decidedly uncovered during the summer war. Now, the political discourse in Lebanon commonly refers to Hezbollah in those terms, as it used to during the 80's.

Nasrallah quoted Khomeini in the speech, and made reverential references to Khomeini and Khamenei, to cheers from his audience.

What was his message to the Shiite community and the Lebanese? It was one of war, death, and suicide. This was best crystallized in a truly disturbing historico-religious analogy he offered his audience. He told them that when Imam Husein
led a "reformist" charge, like Hezbollah today (according to Nasrallah), he was faced with two choices: surrender, or death. And he chose death.

The message is quite simple: the Shi'a community has no choice. The other Lebanese are the equivalent of the murderers of Shiism's icon, and in dealing with them, there is really one option, if one were to emulate this icon: death. Any other option would be surrender, and that's no option, because Hezbollah will "not surrender" and it will emerge "victorious" (over the Lebanese!).

The Shi'a community, therefore, is to be led to the slaughter. Nasrallah has placed it on the path to suicide, pitted against the other Lebanese, who are "serving Israeli interests." Besides, who needs the other Lebanese, or the Lebanese state anyway? Nasrallah told his audience, "we are capable of defending ourselves, and we have God."

This implication was understood, ironically, by Hezbollah's former leader, Subhi Tufayli, who has been expelled from the ranks of Hezbollah and has had an ongoing feud with Nasrallah. Tufayli put it plainly: "this is crazy ... we'll be slaughtered like sheep even in Lebanon. This is a reality."

Tufayli also stressed that Nasrallah was in charge of carrying out Khamenei's policy in Lebanon. Here one can argue that Nasrallah is escalating in order to pressure the Saudis in the ongoing Saudi-Iranian negotiations, and to strengthen the Iranian hand. Furthermore, it's Nasrallah's way to continue serving the agendas of Iran and Syria. It signals, in case anyone had any doubt, that Nasrallah will continue to place these agendas over Lebanon, and the Shi'a, anytime.

Michael Young recently addressed these issues:

However, that reality only reaffirmed how Hizbullah has been juggling contradictory agendas. The Iranians may not want sectarian discord, but what happened this week was fulfillment of the Syrian side of Hizbullah's agenda. The main obstacle remains the Hariri tribunal and Syria's refusal to permit its creation. How Tehran and Damascus will work out their clashing priorities is anybody's guess. You have to assume that with the Lebanese so close to doing battle, and given the dire implications of what this would mean for Hizbullah and its already dilapidated reputation in the Sunni Arab world, Iran will remind Nasrallah of who pays the checks. On the other hand, the Iranians realize that the tribunal might be fatal to the Syrian regime, depriving the Islamic Republic of a key asset in the Levant.

Indeed, the tribunal remains the central issue on the Syrian agenda. It was no coincidence that on Tuesday (the day of the riots), the pro-Syrian rag ad-Diyar made sure to include a section in its lead story about the necessary changes that need to be made to the tribunal draft, in order to empty it of any substance. One such change is that the tribunal's jurisdiction would only be Lebanon, and if the UN wants to extend it to another Arab state, i.e. Syria, the UN would need to sign a treaty with Syria like the one with Lebanon. This is the Syrian demand as expressed by Faysal Mekdad, who said that Syria considers itself "not concerned" with the tribunal because no such treaty has been signed with it.

Once again, leaks are coming out that the Saudi-Iranian negotiations have hit a brick wall: the tribunal. The most recent leak added another well-known Syrian demand: the tribunal should not be established before the investigation is over and Brammertz submits his final report. Only then "could it be discussed" and seen whether it's "necessary."

This again exacerbates tensions between Shiites and Sunnis, and indeed, all other Lebanese communities. That it should emerge that the Shiite Hezbollah is blocking the tribunal into the assassination of a Sunni symbol, a Greek Orthodox MP (Tueni) and various other figures, the son of a prominent Maronite political family (Gemayyel), and an attempt against a leading Druze minister (Marwan Hamadeh) would seriously imperil communal ties even more than they already are, especially given the state of Sunni-Shiite tensions in the region.

So what is Hezbollah's answer to this? Blame it on the non-Sunnis: Geagea and Jumblat. There has been a vicious campaign against these two leaders in the pro-Syria/Iran/Hezbollah rags in Lebanon, most notably al-Akhbar, but also as-Safir and ad-Diyar, not to mention al-Manar TV.

This is Hezbollah's lame answer: attack other Lebanese! So naturally, Nasrallah attacked Geagea without naming him by calling him a servant of Israel who is seeking to ignite Sunni-Shiite strife in Lebanon. The same has been said about Jumblat, that he's the mastermind of fitna between Sunnis and Shiites, who would otherwise be all lovey-dovey. So, we are asked to ignore that Sunnis marched in numbers in the Bekaa at the funeral of a Sunni youth who was killed by the Hezbollah-led rioters, and that the Sunni Mufti of the Bekaa openly held Nasrallah responsible for the death, saying that the youth's blood was "on his neck."

Nasrallah had tried to turn this further away by trying to make it an inter-Christian fight. Unfortunately for him, Aoun was roundly beaten and put in place. His move was a total dud. So once again Hezbollah couldn't hide the real issue, that this is very much a Shiite-Sunni conflict. That's what Thursday's events showed. They also showed just how much of a foreign tool Nasrallah is.

Having reportedly first threatened the Army not to interfere on Tuesday, Nasrallah was made to eat crow on Thursday. Iran is said to have directly called him off the streets when it appeared that Sunni-Shiite clashes could spin out of control. A fearful Berri also made sure to give the Army all the cover it needed to impose a curfew. Also, Jumblat's and Geagea's decisive statements and moves were instrumental in aborting Nasrallah's plans.

Cornerned, now Hezbollah is threatening more violence and trying to bully March 14 into not trying to show up in numbers to commemorate the second memorial of Hariri's assassination on February 14. With incredible nerve, one of Hezbollah's pitbulls, Mohammad Raad, told them that there were plenty of streets in the country other than the downtown, further cementing the perception that the downtown is being occupied by Hezbollah's hordes. Brilliant move.

As if that weren't enough, Nasrallah also lashed out against the US, directly threatening it, and probably the UNIFIL. Having painted the other Lebanese as latter day Yazids and agents of Israel (i.e., consummate evil) who must be vanquished, to the death (à la Husein), he tried to present himself as magnanimous (and how!): "we will not take our revenge from these slaves and servants. We will seek it from their masters." Who are their masters? The West, America and France in particular (and maybe an implicit threat to Saudi as well).

Given how Nasrallah and Hezbollah have been, in sync with the Syrians, directly threatening UNIFIL (Nasrallah the other day used the term "multi-national force", an ominous reference, first made by Walid Moallem, to Hezbollah's 1983 attacks), this could signal a threat to hit the UNIFIL, which, as I have written repeatedly, is the second target, along with the tribunal, as it directly threatens Hezbollah's foremost objective: maintaining its state (and weapons) above the state.

But Nasrallah's speech included a direct threat to the US as well, and perhaps, the US embassy (and most specifically, Ambassador Feltman) there should take extra precaution. Keep in mind that Hezbollah routinely refers to the Seniora government as "the Feltman government."

It is around staunch opposition to UNIFIL and UNR 1701 that Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah interests most obviously converge. A hit against UNIFIL remains more than a possibility.

All this simply shows the complete failure of Hezbollah in the post-Syrian Lebanese order. Nasrallah, the alleged political "genius," has proven nothing more than a thug, not a politician. Hezbollah has shown its inability to function as a political party within the Lebanese system. Its interest is to keep its weapons, a state within and above the state, and an open front against Israel as Iran's spearhead. It has lost the ability to enforce acquiescence and submission on this issue (which was done on its behalf by the Syrians), and now its intimidation tactics have not only become hollow and useless, but worse, they're steadily paving the way to war. Here again Tufayli, ironically, had it right: "There cannot be two states and two weapons, that of Hizbullah and that of the government. We need to unify the weapons under one command. Two states would lead to war," he said.

Michael Young also put it well:

The last six months have been a period of meltdown for Hizbullah. The party has been neutralized in the South, at least for the moment; its reputation in the Arab world lies in tatters because it is seen as an extension of Iran; domestically, Hizbullah is viewed more than ever as a menace to national coexistence and civil peace; few Lebanese, other than Hizbullah's own, believe that its insistence on participating in the political process means respect for the latter's rules, free from foreign interests; and none of Nasrallah's political rivals trust him anymore.

At the same time, Hizbullah has shown that under all that weaponry lie weak knees. The party's threshold has been surprisingly low in moments of internal crises. It took only three and a half weeks during the 2006 summer war with Israel for Nasrallah to announce that he was amenable to a cease-fire under any conditions. This was an acknowledgment that his Shiite community could not long endure living in public facilities, streets, and parks. Six days after the start of the December protests, Nasrallah retreated before a wall of Sunni opposition. He did organize a massive rally a few days later, but only to cover for the fact that the government had beaten Hizbullah to a draw in the Downtown. And on Tuesday evening, Hizbullah's decision to "suspend" the protests proved that the party could not transgress certain limits in bullying the majority. This may have exhibited good judgment, but it also exposed Hizbullah's vulnerabilities.

In response, Nasrallah has said, I'm going to take the Shiites, and Lebanon, to the slaughter.

Now you understand why when Jumblat called in on LBC's Kalam an-Nas program on Thursday, he urged Nabih Berri to return to the institutions in order to save Lebanon, but more specifically, Jumblat added, to save the Shi'a.

Addendum: An interesting cartoon commentary on the subject from my friend and fellow Lebanese blogger _z.