Across the Bay

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Target: UNIFIL and the Tribunal

As per my previous post, Hezbollah has once again affirmed its (and Syria's and Iran's) targets: UNIFIL (and UNR 1701) and the tribunal.

The other day (1/29), I spotted this (my translation) in L'Orient-Le Jour (link expired):

According to the head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc [Mohammad Raad], what is taking place today on the local scene is the conflict between two projects: the first, that of the opposition, seeks to preserve the country's unity and independence. The second, that of the majority, wants to place Lebanon under foreign suzerainty. According to M. Raad, the instruments used by the proponents of the second projects are the disarmament of Hezbollah and the international tribunal, knowing full well that this tribunal will not uncover the assassins of Rafik Hariri. That is why, he said, we posed questions about the implication of the parties who are pushing for the international tribunal into this assassination.

Hezbollah, as had been noted by Bill Harris, has intentionally entangled the tribunal with the controversy over its armed state within the state, with all the sectarian implications of this.

If Hezbollah persists with this agenda, the repercussions on communal relations, as I noted in my previous post, will be disastrous.

Intimately tied to Hezbollah's state within a state and its determination never to give up its weapons, or the idea of an open front in the south, is the matter of UNR 1701 and the UNIFIL.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Nasrallah and Hezbollah (echoing Syrian officials) have been sending consistent threats against UNIFIL. Nasrallah's recent reference to the "multi-national forces" was an ominous hint at 1983 (first made by Walid Moallem. I was also told by an EU official of direct Syrian threats to the French).

But it probably won't be done openly by Hezbollah. It would be done indirectly. Nasrallah recently gave a hint in an interview with the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa (1/15. Emphasis added):

Q: Deputy Sec. Gen. Sheikh Naim Qassem warned the UNIFIL against spying on Hezbollah in the south. Does this reflect your fears of additional tasks for the UNIFIL after the French reconnaissance planes were brought up? Moreover, what is the likelihood of a renewed Israeli aggression and under what circumstances?

A: ... Of course the Sheikh wanted to send an open warning message so that it's understood that this issue is known to us and it's serious, and because there are popular remarks in the south, for what Hezbollah knows could be kept low profile and raised with the particular countries. But the people of the south observe and follow and see the movement of some of these forces which arouse suspicion or distrust. We also don't want people to do uncalculated or unstudied acts to express their objection or rage against some of these movements by some of the forces, and not all the forces of UNIFIL. We're working on dealing with this matter with the governments of these countries.

Certainly, some of these forces have overstepped all limits of responsibility. For example, they don't have the right to enter a village and raid houses and search them. This is not the mandate of the UNIFIL, but some forces in UNIFIL have done this, once or twice. We raised these remarks with the government of these forces.

Now, for example, talk of French reconnaissance planes, which are said to be making flights, and this idea was proposed as an alternative to Israeli reconnaissance flights, this is a laughable and silly matter. It's as if they're telling the Israelis: "the information you need, and the pictures and films and visuals, we will offer them to you, so don't bother." In reality, we didn't raise this issue in the media. We called the French embassy in Beirut and asked them, is this serious? Does France really want to do this? If it is serious, then this is a dangerous matter, and it will have dangerous repercussions. It would mean that the UNIFIL forces will become a spying airforce for Israel. They promised us to carry this to their government. A few days after our contacts, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement denying France's intention to use reconnaissance planes. But after a few days we heard this possibility on the lips of the French Defense Minister. At any rate, this issue has not been settled. And in any case, we say that the UNIFIL must abide by the set missions and not go beyond these missions at all. When these missions are transgressed, we seek to handle them through direct contacts. We do these contacts and also ask the leadership of the Lebanese Army and the concerned officials to do these contacts in order to end these violations.

We certainly don't want any tension in the relation between Hezbollah, and the resistance in the south, and the UNIFIL forces. We seek the best relation. But at the same time, we are cautious that the UNIFIL act only within its pre-determined mandate.

The implicit threat is clear (the bizarre incident with the Spanish troops, immediately after the Nasrallah interview, and the spin it received in the pro-Syrian, pro-Hezbollah media, may have been related to this). But Nasrallah may have set the stage for potential attacks in his Ashoura speech on Tuesday. Mohammad Salam explains:

However, after saying it is "no secret" that Hizbullah fighters are no more in the confrontation zone of south Lebanon, Nasrallah made a call for the creation of a "sole" multi-faction national resistance movement to liberate the Shabaa Farms.

Nasrallah even went as far as saying that "whoever has been banned from liberating (the Farms) should step forward to liberate (the area) and we'll be with him."

The key note in this National Resistance call by Nasrallah is "we'll be with him."

So Nasrallah wants Hizbullah, which did not even allow the regular Lebanese army into south Lebanon during its monopoly era, to return to the confrontation zone with Israel, but this time with "partners" under the banner of a "national" resistance movement.

The next move would, almost certainly, be a declaration forming this "national" resistance outfit, which would group Syrian-backed factions that form Lebanon's opposition.

The Arab Socialist Baath Party, Lebanon's chapter of Syria's regime, is expected to be part of the new resistance along with the Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) and Osama Saad's Popular Nasserite Organization.

I would also add Fathi Yakan's people. It may also be that Nasrallah still thinks he can sell this to the Sunnis, in an attempt to split them, maybe by appealing to the Jama'a Islamiya (which Hezbollah had tried to cajole but failed to get them to align with them). In other words, now that Hezbollah's standing with the Sunnis is in the sewer, it may want to revive the strategy of the 90s, which was designed, and is being used today (and failing miserably), to sell Iran to the Sunnis, by presenting Hezbollah (and by extension Iran) as patrons of the Palestinian cause, and thus, true Arabists. Now that Hezbollah's explicit Khomeinism is strongly back in the spotlight, it might want to recreate that fig leaf (whether it can work is an entirely different question, and it will not. That ship has sailed). The other possibility is that this is designed to counter the attack by Tufayli.

But what this means is that Nasrallah (and Syria and Iran) could be setting up front organizations (which of course they'll try to sell as being "national") through which they could return to action in the south, and more specifically, target the UNIFIL. As Salam put it:

First they would have to cross the 23-kilometer deep buffer south of the Litani river patrolled by the Lebanese army and troops of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Geographically, Nasrallah's "liberation" road to Shabaa Farms goes through UNIFIL's area of operations. This is a fact.

Was Nasrallah setting the stage for a "national" war on UNIFIL?

It could be argued that in many ways, this is a sign of weakness on the part of Hezbollah, which has hit a brick wall, and has had a "meltdown" in recent months, as Michael Young put it. But it's also a very dangerous proposition if Salam's analysis is accurate -- and given the consistent threats, and Syria's and Iran's intent on doing away with UNR 1701, it's well within reason.

Both strategies will be disastrous for Lebanon, and, as I said, for communal relations, which Hezbollah has already strained to the limit.