Across the Bay

Thursday, February 28, 2008

No Grip on Reality

The Carnegie Endowment has just published a terrible report on the Middle East with a particularly god-awful and remarkably clueless section on Lebanon and Syria.

I trash that section of the report in The Daily Star, here.

Here's a sample:

The authors' faulty premises about Syria are captured in this revealing passage: "A new policy toward Syria also needs to recognize the country for what it is: a small country without massive ambitions or ideological crusades, trying to maintain some role in the region."

This statement grossly misstates reality. Syria's goal, which its regime has acknowledged, is the restoration of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon. So while the Carnegie experts fantasize about "compromise," Syria always had other plans. In an interview last year, Syrian President Bashar Assad showed no ambiguity in declaring that the "normal place" for Syrian-Lebanese relations was where "they were a few years ago," in other words before Syria withdrew from Lebanon in April 2005.

Aside from hegemony over Lebanon, Syria has accorded itself the right to meddle in the affairs of all its neighbors - including Iraq and the Palestinian territories. This stems from a self-image and sense of entitlement to being a major player in the Levant - "the fortress of Arabism." Syria's strategic posture is intimately linked to the regime's ideological worldview. It was best described by Assad himself recently when he dubbed Damascus the "capital of the Arab culture of resistance." The identity and legitimacy of the regime rests on this perception. Syria has always strived to fulfill the perception through violence - its only asset - and by keeping an open front against Israel through the Lebanese border and encouraging attacks by Hizbullah or Palestinian proxies.
...
Syria's goals in Lebanon and those of the international community are diametrically opposed. This, quite simply, leaves no common ground for meaningful engagement with the Assad regime.

US Sends USS Cole off Coast of Lebanon

This is breaking news:

Signaling impatience with Syria, the United States has sent its USS Cole warship off the coast of Lebanon in a 'show of support' for regional stability, a senior US official said on Thursday.

The senior official told Reuters the United States was very concerned about the political deadlock in Lebanon, which Washington blames on Syrian meddling. A US defense official said the Cole left Malta on Tuesday and was headed towards Lebanon, adding it would not be within visible range of Lebanon but 'well over the horizon.'

More here.

This comes on the heels of another Treasury designation involving Syria and its support for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Treasury Designates Members of Abu Ghadiyah's Network

This is what we mean when we Syria is Terror Central.

The ties of the regime to al-Qaeda in Iraq need no introduction, which is why Treasury has come out with another designation:

"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Syria has become a transit station for al Qaida foreign terrorists on their way to Iraq," said Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. "Abu Ghadiyah and his network go to great lengths to facilitate the flow through Syria of money, weapons, and terrorists intent on killing U.S. and Coalition forces and innocent Iraqis."

The Syrian regime harbors every possible variety of terrorists. It wasn't just the late Imad Mughniyeh, but also al-Qaeda. So much for the pathetically idiotic canard repeated by so-called "experts" that the "secular" regime in Syria "cannot" work with Islamists.

We have heard for some time now how Washington must engage Damascus, or to use the operative diplomatic cliche, that you talk to your enemies, not your friends. Now that it is clear as day that the Assad regime sponsors Shi'a and Sunni terror outfits, targeting US troops and US allies throughout the region, does anyone really believe that Syria wants "good relations" with the US?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mughniyeh and the Mahdi Army

Back when I was discussing the comedy of Michel Aoun's Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah, aka. Toilet Paper, I noted an item that appeared in The Independent back in August 2007:

Lebanon's Hizbollah has trained Shia fighters from Iraq in advanced guerrilla warfare tactics, according to Mehdi army militants who have been fighting British forces in the south of the country. Members of Muqtada al-Sadr's powerful militia said they had received instruction from fellow Shias from Hizbollah.
...
Another Mehdi Army fighter, a 26-year-old who asked to be identified as Abu Nasser, said he and 100 other group members travelled to Lebanon in December 2005. "They didn't teach us anything about suicide bombings, they showed us real tactics and taught our snipers," he said. Speaking in Tufa in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Mehdi Army, admitted to "formal links" with Hizbollah.

"We have formal links with Hizbollah, we do exchange ideas and discuss the situation facing Shiites in both countries," he said. "It is natural that we would want to improve ourselves by learning from each other. We copy Hizbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other and we are getting better through this."

Mr Sadr said members of the Mehdi Army had travelled to Lebanon, and would continue to do so.

Apparently, the man who organized this was the late Imad Mughniyeh -- you know, the guy who academics almost invariably said (on Hezbollah's word too mind you!), had no formal ties to Hezbollah.

A ranking Iraqi military intelligence officer told the Iraqi Az-Zaman that Mughniyeh had co-founded the Mahdi Army, and supervised travel of JAM cells to Lebanon for training at Hezbollah bases in the Bekaa Valley as early as 2003.

Mughniyeh also recruited fighters for the Mahdi Army (Jaysh Al-Mahdi/JAM) from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, that were also sent to Lebanon for training under the supervision of an Iranian intelligence official, Qassem Soleimani.

On a side note, I seem to recall one clown who poses as an Iraq expert, and who is fond of referring to Muqtada Sadr as "young Shiite nationalist cleric," who was at pains to deny any ties between Sadr and Iran. He bent over backwards to deny that Muqti had went into "occultation" in Iran for a while. Yeah, that funky expert always was funny.

The Iraqi officer also said that Mughniyeh had sponsored the Tha'rullah group in Basra. The group is supposedly in charge of supervising the activities of the Kuwaiti Hezbollah, which surfaced after Mughniyeh's assassination.

Now, this is quite interesting. Mughniyeh's ties to the Saudi Hezbollah are known, especially for their involvement in the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers.

But the Kuwait angle is quite relevant today, in light of the threat against the Kuwaiti embassy in Lebanon the other day.

Mughniyeh had been involved in terrorism against Kuwait in 1983-85 (in cooperation with al-Da'wa), including the hijacking of a Kuwaiti airliner in 1984 (for more, consult Magnus Ranstorp's book, esp. pp. 91-93). As a result, when Kuwaiti Shiite MPs participated in commemoration services for Mughniyeh, other Kuwaitis were mighty upset, which led to the expulsion of the two MPs by the Popular Work bloc. The commemoration was reportedly organized by the Kuwaiti Hezbollah.

Now, this didn't sit well with Hezbollah in Lebanon. And they "filed a complaint" with the Kuwaiti Speaker of Parliament informing him that they were "offended" by statements released by "some legislators, ministers and media outlets in Kuwait towards a great commander of the Islamic resistance."

So along with the threat to the Kuwaiti embassy, Hezbollah apparently wanted to force the Kuwaitis to show some respect, and so they placed a large mural of Mughniyeh right at the Kuwaiti embassy.

And just to make sure it was crystal clear who made the threat against the embassy, one of Hezbollah's thugs, Nawaf Musawi (who is responsible for the Party's "international relations") made sure to rub it in, by calling the Kuwaiti charge d'affaires and denouncing the threats, assuring him that "the security of the brothers in the Kuwaiti embassy is the same as that of Lebanon and the Lebanese."

But hey, Hezbollah is not a terrorist group. It's "evolved" into a "nationalist insurgency group" and a "political party" that's been "Lebanonized" (and not, as per the above, a narrow Shiite sectarian force operating as the extension of Iran in the region). The "experts" said so after all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

EIU on the Makhlouf Designation

The following EIU briefing briefly discusses the Makhlouf designation, and places it in the context of a broader effort at pressuring the Assad regime:

The US decision to step up pressure against Syria comes amid an intensification of Saudi Arabia's diplomatic efforts to put the squeeze on the Assad regime.
...
Given the wide range of business activities of Mr Makhlouf within Syria, the US move against him is likely to have a significant effect on the government's plans to attract inward investment. Foreign investors will also have to take into account the possibility that the US might add other leading Syrian business people to the list of figures designated as benefiting from corruption.

The US action is clearly designed to portray the Assad regime as being increasingly isolated. Syria itself is seeking to present the opposite impression, pointing to its success in laying the preparations for an Arab League summit conference, scheduled to take place in Damascus at the end of March. However, this success, as measured by acceptances from several Arab heads of state, has been qualified by the apparent refusal of Saudi Arabia even to allow the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Muallim, into the kingdom to present his invitation to the Saudi monarch.

The EIU briefing raises the specific issue of the fate of Makhlouf's dealings with Gulfsands Petroleum (which has expatriate Syrian money behind it), which has been trying, with not much success (they hit dry holes and where there has been finds, the payload is minimal. Furthermore, it's in small pockets not easy to develop and with a short shelf life), to dig for more oil wells in Syria in an attempt to stave off the inevitable dry-up, which will have severe repercussions on the regime's budget, given the high percentage of its reliance on oil revenues.

It'll be interesting to watch how that plays out now that Makhlouf's been blacklisted.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Assad's Cousin, Rami Makhlouf, Designated

Pursuant to President Bush's latest EO, the Treasury Department has designated Assad's cousin, and Syria's one-man economy, Rami Makhlouf:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated Rami Makhluf, a powerful Syrian businessman and regime insider whom improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials. This action was taken today pursuant to Executive Order 13460, which targets individuals and entities determined to be responsible for or who have benefited from the public corruption of senior officials of the Syrian regime.

"Rami Makhluf has used intimidation and his close ties to the Asad regime to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians," said Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. "The Asad regime's cronyism and corruption has a corrosive effect, disadvantaging innocent Syrian businessmen and entrenching a regime that pursues oppressive and destabilizing policies, including beyond Syria's borders, in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories."

Syria is well known for its corrupt business environment, which denies the Syrian people economic prosperity and other freedoms. The considerable role the Asad family, their inner circle, and the Syrian security services exert over the economy, coupled with the absence of a free judicial system and the lack of transparency, concentrates wealth in the hands of certain classes and individuals. In turn, these classes and individuals depend upon this corrupt system for their success and fortune. Syrians without these connections are unable to improve their economic standing, and suffer as a result of policies implemented by an unaccountable regime.

Sometime when I'm in the mood for comedy, I'll relate to you some of Makhlouf's tales, like how he used the Syrian courts, where his brother Ihab was the appointed judge, to shaft Orascom, which helped him set up SyriaTel, Syria's mobile phone network, which he controls. In 2001, during what is pathetically called the Damascus "spring," when Riad Seif released a study exposing Makhlouf (not the mythical "old guard" as the Bashar propagandists would have it) over the mobile network monopoly, he got sentenced to 5 years in jail. It's all part of the economic "reform" that's sweeping across Syria, as the regime flacks and hired hands keep selling us.

Rami's other brother, Hafez, a senior official in the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, was previously designated by Treasury as well.

On a related note, there were reports that the place where Imad Mughniyeh was staying in Damascus was owned by one of Rami Makhlouf's business associates, Nader Qal'i. What that would mean is that Mughniyeh was personally patronized by Bashar's inner-most circle.

That's why Syria is called Terror Central, regardless of the lies and/or pathetically clueless protestations of apologists, useful idiots, and Imad Mustapha lackeys everywhere.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ranstorp on Hezbollah Experts

Magnus Ranstorp joins the discussion over at the MESH blog on the issue of how Hezbollah experts, as I showed here, kept on regurgitating the official line fed to them by Hezbollah, denying their relationship with Imad Mughniyeh and minimizing the organization's involvement in global terrorism.

Ranstorp's verdict is quite devastating:

Less understandable are the many academics who allowed themselves to be misled about Hezbollah’s clandestine wing and its use by Iran and, at times, Syria. Some of them were blinded by going “native,” or they never really got close enough to Hezbollah to grasp the centrality of the clandestine wing and the crucial role of Mughniyah, the Hamadi clan and others. They preferred to believe that Hezbollah could not possibly harbor a secret structure involved in terrorism, when its above-the-board operations—social, political and military—were so effective and (according to some) so noble and legitimate. And so Hezbollah was allowed to have its cake and eat it too.

Hezbollah’s present embrace of Mughniyah as a great commander and hero has vindicated experts such as myself, who were right to underscore Mughniyah’s significance. We were not surprised to see Nasrallah standing over Mughniyah’s coffin and vowing vengeance. The same cannot be said for Amal Saad-Ghorayeb and others, who downplayed or altogether ignored the most senior Hezbollah commander.

You'll note that I did not include Ranstorp in my survey of Hezbollah scholarship. There's a reason for that. Unlike the others, his book did not waffle on Mughniyeh's command status in Hezbollah. For instance, discussing Hezbollah's Special Security Apparatus, Ranstorp wrote:

The restructuring of the movement in 1989 with the addition of an [sic] new organ, The Executive Shura (Majlis al-Shura al-Karar) which ranks after the main Majlis al-Shura as the second highest leadership authority, and Politbureau (Maktab al-Siyassi), a supervisory organ which coordinates the work of the various committees under the Jihad al-Bina' (Holy Reconstruction Organ).
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[Hizb'allah] has continued to maintain strict operational secrecy in the field of military and security affairs.

Special Security Apparatus

Within the military committee on Hizb'allah's main Majlis al-Shura and in the three regional areas, there exists a separate body, the so-called Special Security Apparatus (SSA), responsible for intelligence and security matters. In turn, the Hizb'allah's security apparatus is divided into three subgroups: the central security apparatus, the preventative security apparatus and an overseas security apparatus. The central security apparatus is further divided into two groups responsible for either East or West Beirut. While Sheikh al-Musawi was the overall head of Hizb'allah SSA until late 1985 and thereafter headed by Sheikh Wafic Safa, the central security apparatus is headed by Imad Mughniya and Abd al-Hadi Hamadi and was chiefly responsible for Hizb'allah's hostage-taking activity of foreigners. On the operational level, it was mainly family members from both the Mughniya and Hamadi clans that were involved in the hostage-takings which ensured loyalty to the senior commanders and secrecy surrounding the operations. Apart from Mugniya and Hamadi, other senior members of the national central security apparatus were Sheikh Hussein Ghabris, who acted as Mughniya's deputy, Sheikh Hussein Khalil, who was the main liaison between Hizb'allah's security and intelligence, Nabil Kaouk, head of the SSA in southern Lebanon, Hamze Zakaria, Muhammad Ali Mikdad, and Hassan Izzeldine, who was responsible for Hizb'allah's international relations and was most notably closely involved in the 1985 TWA-847 and 1988 KU422 hijacking as well as the negotiations concerning the Western hostages. This division of Hizb'allah's SSA has also been effective in the infiltration of its own members within rival movements and in the elimination of military and political opponents in Lebanon, most notably revealed by the Amal movement's dismissal of a number of leading members after discovering their dual allegiance to Hizb'allah in 1988. Hizb'allah's national preventative security apparatus was headed by Salah Nun and Muhammad Hammud and was in charge of the personal security of prominent Hizb'allah clergymen. The functions of Hizb'allah's central security apparatus and the overseas security apparatus, in charge of special operations abroad, overlapped as Hussein Khalil, Ibrahim Aqil, Imad Mughniya, Muhammad Haydar, Kharib Nasser and Abd al-Hamadi, were the senior commanders of the Hizb'allah operations in Europe. Waid Ramadan acted as the chief coordinator of Hizb'allah with Iran concerning these European operations. During the frequent absence of Mughniya from Lebanon, the influence of his de facto deputy, Ali Karekeh, increased within the SSA. (pp. 68-69)

During the summer 2006 war, I translated parts of a Le Figaro interview with Ranstorp about Hezbollah's decision-making and organizational structure. He had the following to say about Mughniyeh at the time:

Imad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon during the 80s, plays an equally very important role. He shuttles between Tehran and Beirut, through the Damascus airport, before using the military routes of the Bekaa valley. Mughniyeh, who is always tracked by the Americans, never passes through the Beirut airport. He is tied directly to Nasrallah, who himself has old personal ties with the Iranian directors. Through Mughniyeh, Hezbollah and Iran have been involved in the Palestinian intifada since 2000. Mughniyeh is notably in charge of recruiting foreigners for reconnaissance operations in Israel or elsewhere. In Beirut, the representative of Hamas, Ussama Hamdan is also an essential pawn in the Iranian involvement in Palestine; he was previously the representative of Hamas in Tehran.

Most of the names Ranstorp listed in his book are still recognizable active senior Hezbollah commanders today (Khalil, Kaouk, Safa, and Hassan Khalil, whom he mentions in the Le Figaro interview as the "liaison with military intelligence [i.e. Asef Shawkat] in Damascus," etc.). Some have speculated that Mughniyeh's successor might be none other than the above-mentioned Ibrahim Aqil.

When asked by Le Figaro about Hezbollah's ultimate goal in Lebanon, Ranstorp explained that it was "to provide itself with a platform that would permit it to continue the armed struggle against Israel. Its agenda surpasses the Lebanese framework, and is dictated by Iran."

He also made sure to remind of the organization's terrorist "global reach": "Don't forget that it also maintains a terrorist capacity abroad."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Experts and Access

Picking up on my previous post, Michael Young elaborates further:

[F]ew of those writing on Hezbollah bothered to search beyond what the party told them about Mughniyah—and even came to internalize the party line on him.
...
This is emblematic of a wider problem. Hezbollah has been very adept at turning contacts with the party into a supposedly valuable favor. Scholars, particularly in the West, who can claim to have a Hezbollah contact are already regarded as “special” for having penetrated a closed society, so that readers are less inclined to judge critically the merits of what the scholars got out of Hezbollah. The same goes for book editors. Since Hezbollah denied knowing Mughniyah, few were willing to say “This is rubbish, I’m going to push further.” The mere fact of getting that denial was regarded as an achievement—one the authors were not about to jeopardize by calling Hezbollah liars.

The issue of "access" and its potential (yet fairly regular) detrimental effects on scholarship is equally applicable to academics working with regimes. The examples from the Syrian case are easily observable.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Paging Norton and Other Hezbollah Experts

"It was difficult for them to be convinced that I am part of an organization."
Imad Mughniyeh, Summer 2006 (Al-Akhbar)

Martin Kramer's critique of mainstream Hezbollah scholarship, about which I posted yesterday, has spurred some curiosity about how academics have discussed Hezbollah's ties to Mughniyeh and terrorism more broadly. Kramer wrote:

Assassinations of terrorists can boomerang, and so might this one. But it’s already had the one merit of exposing the core of Hezbollah that lies deep beneath the schools, the hospitals, and all the other gimmicks the party uses to get support and pass in polite company.

One immediately hears the echoes of Hezbollah groupies -- the likes of Augustus Richard Norton, who, in a typically-titled 1998 article in Middle East Policy, asserted that

while it may be tempting to dismiss Hizballah as an extremist or terrorist group, this sort of labeling conceals the fact that Hizballah has managed to build an extremely impressive social base in Lebanon.

In his post, Kramer explicitly mentioned Judith Palmer Harik, who tried to stick to the official line (that Mughniyeh is not really affiliated with the organization) as much as possible after Mughniyeh's killing was announced, all to no avail.

But that line has a long pedigree well beyond Palmer Harik's book. In fact, it's quite pervasive in recent mainstream Hezbollah scholarship, which all too often acts as uncritical apologetics for the organization and unquestioning conduits of its propaganda and disinformation.

For instance, take this quote from card-carrying Hezbollah flack, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. On p. 96 of her 2002 book, Hizbu'llah: Politics and Religion, she makes the single reference to Mughniyeh in the entire tome:

The party even claims to have intervened on behalf of the hostages so as to secure their release. As articulated by Husayn al-Mussawi: 'We would encourage someone [who held hostages] through a speech, or other means of exhortation, that it was in our interest for this hostage to be released.'

Jaber sees much truth in these repeated denials of involvement. Like Fayyad, she refers to the 'common ideology' shared by Hizbu'llah and the kidnappers, and even affirms that the party permitted them to operate in areas under its control. However, she does not believe that these factors alone implicate Hizbu'llah in the hostage crisis. According to Jaber, most of the kidnappings were actually masterminded by Iran and executed by individuals such as 'Imad Mughniyeh, but who were organisationally distinct from Hizbu'llah. These individuals were afforded military training by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and were accorded a number of privileges that were not granted to Hizbu'llah, which upon closer inspection was but one of the Guards' proteges in Lebanon.

Saad-Ghorayeb simultaneously toed the official line (represented by [Ali] Fayyad, a Hezbollah official) while placing it all on Hala Jaber, whom she footnotes four times in the above quote.

Jaber's 1997 book has multiple references to Mughniyeh. On p. 117, Jaber writes:

According to an analyst with close contacts to the Iranians, 'One must regard Mughniyeh as someone who is on the margins. In other words, he believes in Hezbollah's ideology and Iranian-styled goals, but he is not their agent. In fact, Mughniyeh does not report to Hezbollah, but to the Iranians. He is what would be described in the West as the hit man.'

You'll note the dubious nature of the source, which only adds to the existing evidence regarding an official policy to deny organizational ties to Mughniyeh. Academics repeated it and then others kept on recycling it. For instance, a propos the Jaber quote, the notion that Mugniyeh was a "rogue operative" is popping up once again.

But this is not a new phenomenon. The stress on the supposed independence of Mughniyeh's operations is obviously part and parcel of the official line. It's usually formulated through turns of phrase emphasizing Mughniyeh as an "individual," almost lone actor.

Even sharp journalists weren't immune. Take this characteristic line from an article by Nicholas Blanford in 2003:

[I]t has never been proven categorically that Hizballah, as an institution, ordered these attacks and kidnappings. ... The weight of evidence thus far collected has clearly implicated Iran as the initiator behind most incidents, though Lebanese individuals, such as the elusive Imad Mughnieh, were instructed to carry them out.
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Mughnieh is often described as Hizballah's security chief. But no firm evidence has been produced that he takes his orders from Hizballah or has any established organizational link with the group. Mughnieh is generally believed by Western intelligence services to work directly under Iranian intelligence and to use a small circle of trusted Lebanese Shiites to carry out the instructions of hardliners in Tehran. (Emphasis mine.)

Another example along the same lines is Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh's 2004 book, In the Path of Hizbullah. Again, Hamzeh repeats the official line -- which dovetails with the ones sampled above -- by quoting none other than Nasrallah himself -- also stressing the "individuality" meme:

Also, Hizbullah has denied any relationship with the Islamic Jihad (al-Jihad al-Islami), which was the main organ of Hizbullah's security apparatus in the 1980s. Reportedly, Imad Mughniyyah and Abdel Hadi Hamadeh were said to be the masterminds of the Islamic Jihad suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy and the marine barracks in 1983, and later in the kidnapping of Western hostages. According to Nasrallah, "There was an organization other than Hizbullah called al-Jihad al-Islami. It was made up of honest mujahiddun individuals. They executed the operations against the U.S. Marines and the French, and kidnapped the Western hostages." He adds, "Whether it is still in existence or not, to know we have to search." (p. 74)

As per the pieties that pervade Hezbollah scholarship, this was hardly questioned. Hamzeh maintains a skeptical tone when discussing Mughniyeh's ties to the organization:

The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for kidnapping dozens of Americans, British, and French in March 1984. Whether Imad Mughniyyah controlled these operations or whether he is still active and in charge of Hizbullah's external security apparatus is still speculative. (p. 85)

The award for most creative buffoonery, however, has to go to Mohammad Bazzi, who is now apparently a Hezbollah expert, with an upcoming book on the organization. In this interview today, he declared that Mughniyeh "hasn't really been active since the 1980s" and that it was "debatable whether he still had a leading position in Hezbollah up to this day." I guess that's why Nasrallah made sure to include him in the Party's triumvirate along with Raghib Harb and Abbas Musawi -- because he was "an old, symbolic Hezbollah cause." For you see, "The reports that list him as an active senior leader of Hezbollah at the time of his death are mistaken. He might have had some contact with some people in Hezbollah leadership but he wasn't giving out orders and he wasn't in the position to do that." Right. Apparently Bazzi also didn't hear the news that a successor was appointed to take Mughniyeh's seat in the organization's Jihad Council.

The lineup would not be complete without a quote from the above-mentioned Augustus Richard Norton.

Norton, whose punditry during the 2006 summer war was nicely deflated by (who else?) Kramer, is the author of a 2007 short book on Hezbollah.

His handling of Mughniyeh is dictated by his mission to minimize, if not whitewash, Hezbollah's terrorism record, especially the issue of its "global reach," which is part and parcel of his "Lebanonization of Hezbollah" theory that he peddled in the 90s.

Here's some of what he said about Mughniyeh on p. 42 of his book:

Perhaps the signal act of the period was the June 1985 skyjacking of TWA flight 847 to Beirut, masterminded by the infamous Imad Mughniyah, who continues to be linked to Hezbollah's External Security Organization.

The linking of Mughniyeh to Hezbollah's ESO sounds reasonable enough at first, but as one reads on, things become murkier, falling back on the official line, intentionally distancing Mughniyeh from, or at least fudging his ties to the Party. Take the following quote for instance:

It is generally easier to trace much of the terrorism of the 1980s and early 1990s to Iran than to Hezbollah.
...
Following Israel's 1992 assassination of Hezbollah Secretary-General Abbas Musawi, two terrorist attacks occurred in Argentina that many knowledgeable observers believe were the joint work of Iran and Hezbollah's external security organization, which apparently operates autonomously from the party and is widely believed to be closely linked to Iranian intelligence. (Emphasis mine. p. 78)
...
The Argentinian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh, one of the two hijackers of TWA flight 847 in 1985, a man believed to have regularly collaborated with Iran in acts of terrorism. (Emphasis mine. p. 79)

And so, presto, Mughniyeh's relationship to Hezbollah, and indeed the whole function of the ESO, changes to fit the official line. Mughniyeh's terrorist activity is now more Iranian, autonomous, and "individual." It makes little difference that a mere couple of pages before (p. 77), Norton wrote:

there is no question that Hezbollah has engaged in acts that do, indeed, constitute terrorism in its more precise and generally understood sense. one such clear instance was the 1985 skyjacking, by two Hezbollah operatives, of TWA flight 847, en route from Athens to Rome, Robert Stethem, a U.S. sailor on leave and traveling on the flight, was mercilessly beaten and shot in the head. The hijackers, Imad Mughniyah and Hasan Izz al-Din, [TB: this is actually an error. Neither of them was a hijacker. As Martin points out, the two hijackers were Muhammad Ali Hamadi and Ali Atwa] who remain close to the top of the FBI's 'wanted list,' disgracefully dumped his body on the tarmac of Beirut airport.

All it takes is two pages to fudge things and conform to the Party line.

But like I noted earlier, this is part of Norton's agenda (or, if you prefer, "thesis"), the so-called "Lebanonization" of Hezbollah. It's similar to the quote from Exum that I critiqued yesterday, that Hezbollah has "evolved" to being a "nationalist insurgent group" and a "political party."

It's captured in this quote from the same Norton article referenced earlier:

In recent years, especially since the signing of the Taif accord in 1989, Hizballah has been transforming itself, preparing for life after resistance while simultaneously exploiting its commitment to liberate the South in order to gain political support.

Similarly, in his book Norton is at pains to ensure that we view Hezbollah only as a nationalist resistance and political party, with no "global reach":

Terrorist" is a useful rhetorical bludgeon that many states have wielded to outlaw or de-humanize radical or revolutionary groups.
...
Terrorism can be defined as the intentional use of political violence against civilians and civilian sites such as schools, hospitals, restaurants, buses, trains, or planes. Putting aside for the moment that Hezbollah promotes activities and performs services in Lebanon that have nothing to do with terrorism, such as running hospitals, the organization has engaged in forms of violence that fall outside the rubric of terrorism as it is generally understood.
...
The primary reason why the United States has not succeeded in convincing most European states to endorse its blanket designation of Hezbollah as 'terrorist' is because many of those states insist on a more precise conception of terrorism than the U.S. habitually employs. Of course, once Israel withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon, in 2000, Hezbollah found itself on far weaker normative ground. (pp. 75-77).

Clearly, Hezbollah and Mughniyeh (who now is openly confirmed as always having been a senior Hezbollah commander) have had a global reach, part of which Matthew Levitt and Dave Schenker profile here (for more you can read Thomas Joscelyn's study, here).

That this remains the case is evident from Nasrallah's threat to wage an open war "anywhere" with Israel, outside the theater of the Lebanon-Israel border (which is also now off limits, as per UNSCR 1701), which would only confirm Hezbollah's involvement in global terrorism. And so, the canard of Hezbollah's "Lebanonization" ought to be shelved once and for all, along with the rest of the misinformation cataloged in this post.

Maybe this is why Norton has yet to make a peep since the Mughniyeh assassination. The latest entry on his blog dates to Feb. 14, but it only talks about March 14's rally.

Perhaps, like Hezbollah, he's quietly trying to figure out how to respond.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Canard about Syria's Role in Mughniyeh's Killing

In my post yesterday I addressed the notion that the Mughniyeh assassination somehow speaks of a "deal" between the US and Syria. Sure enough, this nonsense has now become a staple of virtually every media report.

The notion was again raised by Jon Alterman (with some back up from Exum) in response to David Schenker's posting on the Mughniyeh assassination.

I was going to address it myself (again) but I see that Schenker, Lee Smith and Michael Young have pretty much covered all the bases. (Makes you wonder whatever happened to the favorite Bashar line -- often repeated by flacks and engagers alike -- that Syria was not a charity!)

Just goes to show how deep and widespread the faulty premises and thinking about the Syrian regime really are, and it explains why "engagement" with Syria has always failed without exception.

Update: Barry Rubin also weighs in.

Kramer on Mughniyeh, Hezbollah

In my post yesterday, I noted the observation made by my friend Abu Kais regarding the sudden u-turn in Hezbollah's public stand, embracing Mughniyeh as a pillar of the organization after having spent years denying any ties to him.

I also pointed out another interesting about face by an American academic who has written on Hezbollah, Judith Palmer Harik. She told NOW Lebanon:

“If they've been careful to keep some distance between themselves as an organization and this man, then they wouldn't do more than mourn him as a kind of Arab or Islamic martyr. We'll see.”
...
“For years, ever since the surfacing of his name, Hezbollah have denied that he was a member of the organization.”

Harik is one to know, because she herself had peddled this nonsense in her book, as the one and only Martin Kramer discusses in his excellent post today:

Another American academic wrote this precious paragraph in her book on Hezbollah:

"For its part, Hezbollah has consistently denied the existence of any relationship with Mughniyeh, direct or indirect. As a matter of record, from the time of the party’s inception, all Hezbollah officials have emphatically denied ever knowing a person by the name of Imad Mughniyeh. The apparent avoidance of this issue is clear in an answer to a recent question about the party’s relationship with Mughniyeh. The response of a Hezbollah senior official was that Mughniyeh had never held a position in their organization, and was, in Deputy Secretary General Naim al-Qassim’s words, ‘only a name’."

So even as Hezbollah immediately claimed Mughniyeh as one of their own after his assassination, Palmer Harik had to stick to her delusional narrative, which as Kramer notes, has been a standard of the mainstream mythology:

Now that Nasrallah’s eulogy has placed Mughniyah officially in the pantheon of Hezbollah’s greatest martyrs (with Abbas al-Musawi and Raghib Harb), this question looks absurd. That it ever arose is a testament to the discipline of Hezbollah in sticking to lies that serve its interests. One of its paramount interests is concealing from scrutiny that apparatus of terror that Mughniyah spent his life building. Hiding the clandestine branch protects it from Hezbollah’s enemies, and makes it easier to sell the movement to useful idiots in the West, who insist that the movement hasn’t done any terror in years, and maybe never did any at all. They produce statements of such mind-boggling gullibility that one can easily imagine Mughniyah chuckling to himself on reading them.

This faulty mainstream mythology, the "mind-boggling gullibility" Kramer describes, was perfectly encapsulated in this graph by Andrew Exum:

For researchers such as myself, Mughniyah was of great interest because he represented a constant figure in Hezbollah throughout its evolution from an Iranian-backed Lebanese militia in the 1980s to a nationalist insurgent group in the 1990s and finally to its current incarnation as the most powerful political party in Lebanon—both in terms of weapons and popular support.

Aside from the confusion in this quote (not to mention the laughable last bit about how the power of Hezbollah as a political party is measured in terms of its weapons! What, no "military wing" cliches?!), it's not accurate.

In reality, as I've long argued on this blog, "Hezbollah has come full circle back to the 80s. In fact, it never stated otherwise. Only western cheerleaders did."

That's the kind of misunderstanding that lies behind categories like "nationalist insurgent group." In fact, as I wrote almost a year ago, "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."

I hasten to explain the function of the "Islamo-Arab nationalist" category (as opposed to "nationalist insurgent") and why it is important. The point of the camouflage of the 90s always was about extending Hezbollah beyond Lebanon, as a model allowing Iran to penetrate and influence the Sunni Arab world; specifically to be able to have a lever against Arab governments (the "people" vs. "states" dichotomy has always been and continues to be integral to Hezbollah's and IRI's discourse). As such, it was always supra- and trans-national. And it was never an "evolution." It was a matter of "concealing," as Kramer put it. That veil started crumbling in 2005 after the Syrian withdrawal (the Syrians were instrumental in fostering and benefiting from Hezbollah's media repackaging of the 90s), and it has now completely fallen apart.

If a year ago Nasrallah came full circle back to the 80s, today, at Mughniyeh's funeral, he cemented that reality. Not only was Iran's Foreign Minister present at the funeral, where he eulogized Mughniyeh (I guess that's evolution "back" to being an "Iranian-backed" militia), but also, as Kramer noted, the very nature of the threat of retaliation itself is an indication of it. The threat itself is based on Hezbollah's "global reach," to quote Kramer again. So much for the "evolution" from "nationalist insurgent" to "political party."

In terms of domestic politics, (and here I'd like to reassure Andrew "Abu Muqawama" Exum that the March 14 rally today was a huge success despite everything, and went without a single fist-fight breaking out. Lebanon was not "so %$&*ed" after all) what Nasrallah's speech today says about Hezbollah's MoU with Aoun is that it is... well... toilet paper. So much for Aoun's assertions that his MoU has "changed" (maybe he should've used the term "evolved") Hezbollah's scope from wanting the complete destruction of Israel (i.e., something along these lines) and the liberation of Jerusalem (i.e., something along these lines) to being solely concerned with the Shebaa Farms and the Lebanese prisoners in Israel (i.e., kinda like that "nationalist insurgent" thing.)

Right, so much for that. But toilet paper is not without its benefits. For instance, it has helped create an "evolution" in Aoun's political discourse. Witness what, according to his website, he did today. He told Hezbollah that he considered the Mughniyeh assassination an aggression against Syria and Lebanon and an expansion of the stretch of terrorism.

Just what exactly is left of this fantastic MoU?!

And so, to borrow a line from Exum, someone did indeed get "%$&*ed" today in Lebanon.

Addendum: I had linked this Michael Young review of Nasrallah's speeches in the past, but it's quite relevant for this post. I recommend you take a look.

Update: A relevant quote from Young's latest op-ed:

But Lebanon has been split by a cold civil war for over a year now, and as the country commemorates the third anniversary of Rafik Hariri's assassination today, Jumblatt's rhetoric may have, paradoxically, helped stabilize the situation - even if stabilization remains a relative concept.

The assassination in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, whatever its larger implications, may actually bolster this modest stability. Hizbullah's leadership will likely need time to assess where it is, and what Mughniyeh's killing means for the party and its relations with Tehran.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Schenker on Mughniyeh and Syria

To add to my own post earlier today, David Schenker comments briefly on the Mughniyeh affair, especially elaborating on a point I raised, and that is how this reflects on Syria:

Mughniyah’s death raises some interesting issues. The fact that Mughniyah was killed in Damascus highlights the Asad regime’s increasing difficulties in protecting the terrorists they provide with “safe haven.” In 2004, another guest of the regime, Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israelis bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp in 2003, buzzed Asad’s Latakia palace in 2006, and destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in 2007. As Mughniyah’s aunt told AFP earlier today, “We were shocked to learn that he was killed in Syria. We thought he was safe there.”

In all of these cases, to put it mildly, the Syrian response has been remarkably restrained.

Another interesting issue raised by Mughniyah’s death is the impact this will have on the next U.S. Administration’s policy toward Syria. It’s no doubt problematic that the Asad regime provides sanctuary to top former Saddam regime elements who help orchestrate the insurgency in Iraq, getting a lot of U.S. soldiers killed in the process. But this hasn’t stopped many in the United States from arguing that “dialogue” with Damascus is the solution to these misunderstandings.

But Syrian attempts to harbor a leading killer of American citizens like Mughniyah will likely be viewed even more harshly by Washington. It will be more difficult for a candidate like Senator Obama to make the case for talks when Syrian behavior is so brazenly anti-American. The harboring of Mughniyah and others belies Syrian officials’ claims (like those of Syrian Ambassador Imad Mustafa) that Damascus seeks good relations with Washington.

Now let me add to that, and to what Michael Rubin said, that Zbig Brzezinski was in Damascus today. And, according to SANA, Zbig told journalists that the US and Syria have a shared interest in stability in the region. Now, we all knew that Zbig was a buffoon, but to say this on the day that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus is really a proud moment for the man on whose watch Mughniyeh's bosses took over Iran.

Update: On another note, somewhat related to Schenker's point, here's the latest from the White House. As the press secretary put it:

Today the President signed an Executive Order that takes additional steps with respect to the Syrian regime's continued engagement in certain conduct that formed the basis of the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004.

This order expands sanctions to block the property of senior Syrian Government officials and their associates who are determined to be responsible for, to have engaged in, or to have benefited from public corruption. The order also revises a provision in Executive Order 13338 to block the property of persons determined to be responsible for actions or decisions of the Syrian regime that undermine efforts to stabilize Iraq, or allow Syrian territory to be used for this purpose.

In addition to these policies targeted by this Executive Order, the Syrian regime continues to pursue other activities that deny the Syrian people the political freedoms and economic prosperity they deserve, and that undercut the peace and stability of the region. Syria continues to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy, imprison democracy activists, curtail human rights, and sponsor and harbor terrorists. The United States will continue to stand with the people of Syria and the region as they seek to exercise their rights peacefully and to build a brighter future.

So much for Paul Salem's "progress" in "deal-making" on Lebanon.

Mughniyeh Assassinated in Damascus

Hezbollah's head of special overseas operations Imad Mughniyeh was killed in a car bomb in Damascus yesterday.

This is a major blow to Iran, Hezbollah and Syria.

Mughniyeh's record is quite illustrious, and the blood on his hands is extensive, from the terror operations against the US and hostage taking in Lebanon in the 80s to the attacks in Argentina in 1992 and 1994 to the attack on the Khobar Towers in 1996, all the way to his involvement in Iraq in recent years (the Quds Force also had ties to Zarqawi, who was nailed by the US while hiding in a Quds Force safehouse).

To say that Mughniyeh was an Iranian asset is to understate his relationship with the Iranians. He was much more than an asset. He was an organic part of the Iranian regime, with direct access to Khamenei. Just like Hezbollah is itself an organic extension of the Islamic Revolution -- an Iranian ministry as one Iranian analyst told me -- Mughniyeh is like one step above that, according to some analysts.

As such, this is a big loss for the Iranians and Hezbollah. It was perhaps best encapsulated in the statement by Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who declared that "the march of Jihad against the enemy has lost an essential pillar." Operationally, this adds to the losses suffered by Hezbollah in 2006, which, unlike stockpiles of Katyushas, is much more difficult to replace.

But it's also a huge embarrassment for Syria. As Michael Rubin noted at NRO's Corner, "as important as who was killed is where." Not that we needed this, or Mughniyeh's aunt Fayza for that matter, to know that Damascus is terror central.

Coming a few months after the Sept. 6 hit on their nuclear facility in Deir el-Zor, this hit on a most-wanted terrorist, harbored in a joint Iranian-Syrian location in the heart of Damascus is a major embarrassment for Assad. Regardless who did it, it reflects quite badly on Assad, not long after his secret nuke facility was pulverized. Speculation over who did it only adds to the embarrassment no matter how you cut it, and whether Israel did it or not, the suspicion that it did would once again make a mockery of Assad's and Hezbollah's proclamations regarding the "loss of deterrence" after the 2006 war.

Yet there's always room for idiocy, like the following gem of an "analysis" by the clueless Paul Salem, and his perennial obsession with the "deal" rubbish:

``It's a big blow and very significant blow no matter who did it,'' Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, said in a telephone interview from Beirut.

``This was done in Damascus,'' he said, adding that, if the Hezbollah commander was killed by Syria, ``then it's enormously significant and, if not, then who was able to penetrate Damascus so coolly and comfortably?''

Syrian Deal?

Mughniyeh was a hard target and his killing could be part of a deal between the U.S. and Syria, Salem said. ``He was one of the figures that was always asked for by name by the U.S. If, and it's a big if, it's part of a Syrian agenda, it means that the U.S. and Syria must be making progress and there is some deal-making on Lebanon.''

Mmmm, yes... Deep. And it makes perfect sense too. A top Iranian commander, near an Iranian facility in Damascus probably crawling with IRGC personnel, was taken out by the Syrians, in Damascus (I repeat), presumably without informing the Iranians, and of course not paying any attention for the embarrassing fallout of having a hit go down in "a security area in close proximity to an Iranian school and the offices of the Syrian intelligence services and military intelligence unit," in return for... "progress" in the "deal-making" between the US and Syria on Lebanon! Such penetrating analysis. Such acumen. Such a well thought-out, careful observation. It's perhaps only rivaled by this nonsense from Duane Clarridge -- who, I might add, has been out of the loop for years, and clearly doesn't know what he's talking about here. But to be fair to Clarridge, the quote by one Ted Karasik of the Rand Corp might surpass it in the category of astounding idiocy.

But enough with nonsense.

The Syrians, exactly like they did after the hit on the nuke site in Deir el-Zor, issued an unofficial official response through their proxy, the PFLP-GC, whose Anwar Raja declared that the assassination of Mughniyeh "crossed all red lines, and it is an act of aggression against the sovereignty of an Arab state, and has political and security fallouts."

And this brings us to the issue of what the retaliation might be. Syria was exposed after the strike against the nuke site and neither it nor its proxies (the outrage of the PFLP-GC at the time notwithstanding) were able to mount a retaliation, further exposing Syria's weakness.

Expectations are different now, it would seem. The Hezbollah reaction that it reserves the right to retaliate "anywhere" might be an early hint of operations abroad. But this too will have repercussions against Hezbollah and Iran for that matter.

This becomes an interesting issue because of the constraints on Hezbollah in south Lebanon, and whether Hezbollah wants to risk the consequences of its breaking the 1701 security regime in the south.

More to come.

Addendum: On a side note, and just for the historical record, some have even speculated that Mughniyeh, in cooperation with the Syrians, was behind the assassination of Elie Hobeika. Mughniyeh's brother Jihad was killed in 1985 in a car bomb intended for Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. Hobeika is thought to have been behind the attempt. Mughniyeh's other brother, Fuad, was killed in 1994 in a hit intended for Imad.

Update: Two excellent points by my friend Abu Kais:

Hizbullah, which spent years trying to publicly disassociate itself from the man, is now mourning him as a resistance leader, vowing revenge and what have you. To now claim that he was an active member of the group is to finally admit to being an international terrorist organization that never really "changed" after the end of the Lebanese civil war, as many had convinced themselves. Mughnieh was practically an Iranian intelligence operative, and was linked to attacks in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. His assassination left Hizbullah exposed. The group that could no longer argue for the holiness of their weapons, could no longer claim their theater of operations is restricted to Lebanon. [TB: Regarding the point on Hezbollah's attempts at distancing itself from Mughniyeh in the past, see what Judith Palmer Harik said here.]
...
The March 14 statement said Mughnieh's assassination should be an occasion for unity, especially that it took place on the eve of a planned demonstration to commemorate the killing of Rafik Hariri. Unity of what, I wonder. The two men had nothing in common, and worked towards opposite goals. Mughnieh could have killed Hariri for all we know. I would like to think that today, Hizbullah and March 14 became united in vulnerability. It could be wishful thinking, but why not.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Aoun and Nasrallah Show (Yawn)

Another very good editorial from NOW Lebanon:

[W]e were left wondering what that weird encounter was all about.

Here’s our theory. The Aounists have been unable to take to the streets in support of the opposition’s demands – largely because most Christians and, now, the Lebanese army disapprove of such an endeavor. That bothers Hezbollah to no end, because without Christian frontage, the opposition looks exclusively Shia. In many ways, it is, but that’s not the impression Hezbollah wants to create. Instead, the party wants to show that it is part of a broad, multi-confessional movement – one as diverse as the parliamentary majority.

Aoun is unable to confirm this in the streets, but he can confirm it on television. Hence, the joint interview.

And of course, there had to have been an affirmation that the MoU was, as I insist on calling it, mere toilet paper, with each party holding to a completely different interpretation of what that useless piece of sanitary paper is supposed to say:

Or what about the interesting sliver of difference between Nasrallah and Aoun on the future of Hezbollah’s weapons? Nasrallah once again tied Hezbollah’s retaining its weapons to the existence of an Israeli threat. But since that threat is, presumably, everlasting, does that mean that Hezbollah will remain permanently armed? Aoun tentatively ventured out of his shell to offer that the weapons could perhaps be held by the army.

That incoherence was captured by the editorial:

That’s not surprising. Aoun and Nasrallah have no common vision. They do share a deep contempt for traditional Lebanese politics and regard themselves as hovering above the political gutter. They personally dislike the March 14 leaders. They’re willing to look the other way on whatever Syria does in Lebanon. But that’s it. Each man has something of the absolutist in him, and no town is big enough for two absolutists.

And while the Supreme Guide-wannabe gave his usual tiresome show, Aoun looked like the shriveled old useful idiot that he is:

Aoun was a pussycat in Nasrallah’s presence. Virtually everything the Sayyed said, the general agreed with. When Aoun stumbled, Nasrallah came to his rescue, clarifying a vague thought, tightening the script, gently telling Aoun what he should say. ... Without a presidential project guiding him, Aoun is in disarray. ... The old general is being used, and that was again obvious on Wednesday evening.

The whole interview was a tedious yawn seemingly aimed at Aounist followers. The way the General looked and sounded, it was rather counterproductive. He was worn out window dressing; a footnote.

Update: By far the funniest and wittiest trashing of the Aoun-Nasrallah show comes from Walid Jumblat today. Had me in stitches. Here's the original Arabic. Naharnet's translation doesn't do it justice!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Hezbollah and the Iran Question

To follow up on my last post, check out this interesting editorial in NOW Lebanon:

Syria’s priority remains controlling Lebanon, and so we return to our riddle: How can Syria save itself from the Hariri trial by refusing to surrender on the idea of hegemony over Lebanon?

Second, the mystery. Will Hezbollah continue to help advance Syrian interests in Lebanon, on the grounds that without a Syrian comeback, the party has no future? We fear that Hezbollah has already taken a strategic decision on that matter. It is, after all, thinking in existential terms. If Lebanon were to become truly free, sovereign and, well, normal, the party would be unable to justify retaining its weapons against a majority of Lebanese who would like to see Hezbollah place itself and its largely autonomous areas under the authority of the state.

If the mystery of Hezbollah’s behavior is uncovered, and we find that the party intends to push ever harder to help Syria in Lebanon, then this will, in all likelihood, lead to a civil war that consumes everyone, including Hezbollah. Worse, that war will be one pitting the Shia against the other Lebanese communities.

Which leads us to the enigma: Will Iran allow Lebanon’s Shia to enter such a dark political alley? Has the Islamic Republic spent billions of dollars on Hezbollah and its supporters over the years just to see it all go up in the smoke of a new Lebanese Armageddon?

We don’t know, but we don’t have obvious answers to any of the questions posed above. The chances are that Syria will continue to press forward because it cannot, by its very nature, accept yielding on Lebanon. Hezbollah will continue pressing forward because without its weapons, the party has no reason to exist. That leaves Iran. We can only pray that it will restrain its allies before they go over the edge – and take us with them.

Syria is pressing in Lebanon because Lebanon is the key to its regional relevance, which it can only sustain through sponsorship of terrorism -- its only foreign policy asset. This subversive regional extension is intrinsic to the regime's domestic standing -- hence the reference to the regime's nature in the editorial, as I read it. It is indeed the nature of this regime that dictates its so-called policies, as Barry Rubin has convincingly demonstrated in his recent book.

I've discussed this issue at length, and quoted this important article by Eyal Zisser, and it's why all the fantastic theories about a Syrian "strategic reorientation" are so ridiculous and laughably ignorant. Syria cannot change its behavior and its support for terrorist groups and its colonialist aspirations and its strategic alliance with Iran because this regional posture is related, indeed central, to the regime's domestic standing and legitimacy, and the regime's priority is its survival and continuity.

The surge in Iraq terminated the Syrian lie that it has a "card" in Iraq (they never had any asset in Iraq. They only had the dispatching of jihadists to kill Iraqis and US troops, which the surge is successfully confronting with the help of Iraqi Sunnis and tribes.). Their attempts to use the Israeli window for renewed regional relevance through a revival of the Israeli-Syrian track have not succeeded. The Moscow conference, already a mere consolation prize, is not going anywhere, and the Arab states have threatened Syria to isolate it regionally (through the Arab summit) and, more significantly, to not back its quest to restart talks with Israel should it continue subverting Lebanon. In other words, there is no horizon for Syria's wish to force a "deal" over Lebanon that would reinstate it as Lebanon's colonial master.

Which is why Syria is attempting to force that outcome through terrorism, violence, and the instigation of a civil war. It is a zero-sum game, as I recently noted. There's no "middle ground" solution. An independent Lebanon is non-existent in the Syrian Stalinist mindset.

The question is whether Iran is going to watch its very expensive, and most successful, investment go up in smoke in a desperate attempt by Syria to forcefully restore its hegemony over Lebanon, in what would be, as Michael Young put it in his op-ed, a war not just against the Lebanese Sunnis (which is crucial for the sectarian Alawite Assad family regime) and the independence coalition in which they are a central part, but also a war against the Arab world.