Across the Bay

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Square One?

An interesting briefing from the EIU echoing many of the points raised here. More to come.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hezbollah's Delusion and the Shia's Dire Straits

Two excellent items in NOW Lebanon:

One, a superb piece by Michael Young on the repercussions of Hezbollah's mad, and failed, coup attempt on the Lebanese Shi'a. It's really a must read (and you can see echoes in Abu Kais' moving post yesterday).

Two, a sharp editorial on Hezbollah's weapons and its dead-end options within a unitary state. Again, it's worth reading in full.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hezbollah's Third Botched Coup Attempt

In three years, since the murder of former PM Rafik Hariri, Hezbollah has attempted three coups -- and failed.

On March 8, 2005, Hezbollah thought that by rallying supporters they would nip the independence movement in the bud, maintain the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and move on as though nothing happened.

One week later, March 14 happened, in large part as a reaction to Hezbollah's rally. It secured the expulsion of the murderous Assad regime's occupying force.

Then in 2006, with the July war and its aftermath, especially the movement in December 06-January 07.

In their first attempt in January 23-25, Hezbollah tried its coup and relied on Aounist elements. That proved a disaster as the Aounist riffraff were done away with in a matter of hours, ending any prospect of relying on Christian proxies to do Hezbollah's bidding. The Lebanese Forces' Samir Geagea, whose supporters were instrumental in dispersing the Aounists, was the central figure during that coup.

Then came this last attempt, which Nasrallah deliberately placed in parallel to the aftermath of the Hariri assassination: i.e., this was intended to be the official reversal of the independence movement.

After Hezbollah took west Beirut, attacking civilians in their homes, ransacking and terrorizing neighborhoods and media outlets, following a conscious decision by Hariri not to put up a fight, the Iranian militia foolishly thought that it can just as easily overrun Jumblat on his own turf in the Shouf.

Hezbollah had another thing coming. For three days of intensive fighting in the Shouf, and contrary to the lying info ops and disinformation of Hezbollah water carriers like this clueless Hezbollah willful tool (on whose propaganda for Hezbollah I've written in the past and will soon be ripping to shreds once again), not a single village in the Shouf fell to Hezbollah. Not Niha, like that Hezbollah watercarrier MacLeod wrote, not anything.

Quite the contrary. According to the PSP and other local sources, more than three dozen Hezbollah fighters were killed and a number of their vehicles were destroyed. The fact that they had to introduce artillery and vehicles (mounted with heavy machine guns, like so, and recoilless rifles, like so) only showed that they could not make advances into the villages.

Not just that, but Hezbollah's attack has led Talal Arslan's fighters to switch and fight alongside the PSP against Hezbollah, undermining Hezbollah's tiny Druze ally -- which is precisely why Jumblat put him in the forefront from the get go (it was not, as shrill commentators and dishonest flacks read it, a sign of "weakness." It was a shrewed move by a master tactician.).

At the end of the day, the PSP maintained control of the strategic hills of the Barouk to the east and Ras al-Jabal west of Aley, overlooking the Dahiyeh.

And so, Jumblat and the Shouf played a historical role these last few days (and I will have a lengthy post on Jumblat's role in this crisis asap) and have essentially botched Hezbollah's coup.

All the idiotic commentators, from Paul Salem onwards, who talked about a different "political balance" as a result of the fighting, don't and never did know what they're talking about. This is political suicide for Hezbollah, who has already made contacts with Hariri through a third party informing him that they're looking for an exit. They know they're in a jam.

Not just that, now the government is in a position to leverage rescinding its decisions -- which it could never implement to begin with! -- and we're already seeing M14 and government sources expressing that.

For one, all M14 officials -- including Hariri who made a powerful, uncompromising speech yesterday -- are now unanimous about placing the fate of Hezbollah's weapons as the first item on any "dialogue" agenda. Gone are the days of the "sanctity" of the weapons of the "resistance." Minister Joe Sarkis has added that any rescinding of the decisions has to be met by not just a withdrawal of armed men from the streets and the reopening of all roads, but also the evacuation of the tent city in downtown Beirut.

The mere fact that M14 and the government are bartering the rescinding of a decision that was never going to be implemented (and if the government was illegitimate, according to Hezbollah, then why even bother focusing on its decisions and thereby affirm its legitimacy?) suggests, regardless of outcome, that they know that there's no "new balance" advantageous to Hezbollah that forces them to capitulate.

Army Commander Suleiman is now under tons of pressure. Hariri himself criticized the Army's performance, and we know that 40 senior officers submitted their resignation (which would've split the Army) in protest of Suleiman's handling of the situation (and we also know that criminal pro-Aounist officers were particularly egregious during the crisis). Saudi outlets have even criticized the Army's performance, putting more pressure on Suleiman to get his act together if he wants to become president (especially now that any gambit about Hezbollah tilting the balance has failed). The US, which also has leverage through its aid to the Army might also do the same. These kinds of pressures, domestic, regional and international, and Suleiman's susceptibility to them, is why Syria won't take a chance with him. Anyone who doesn't fall and lick Bashar's boots without hesitation at a moment's notice cannot be trusted as far as the murderer of Damascus is concerned, and it's why Syria knows that it must return militarily to Lebanon in order to rule it. Even doing it by proxy, through Hezbollah, hasn't worked.

This is far from over. In fact, this has only just begun.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Commentary Over at Totten's

For those interested in more regular commentary, you can check out Michael Totten's blog, where Lee Smith has been putting up regular posts where I'm quoted extensively! Here's the latest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Terrorists and the Free Media

Over at Beirut Spring Mustapha has launched a campaign in defense of free speech in Lebanon.

Aside from assaulting the Hariri Foundation -- a foundation that has paid for the education of thousands upon thousands of Lebanese college students -- Hezbollah and its goons have focused their venom, hatred and destruction on the media.

The very first thing they attacked, burned and destroyed were newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations that support March 14th political line.

What is noteworthy is how they've shown themselves to be true kindred spirits with their murderous terrorist friends in Damascus. Their first target is the same: the free media.

While the killers in Syria first went after An-Nahar (Kassir and Tueini) and LBC (May Chidiac) and constantly threatened several others including Al-Mustaqbal's Fares Khashan, not to mention insisting in all the "initiatives" in 2005-2006 that the Lebanese media must be silenced, Hezbollah followed suite by first targeting Al-Mustaqbal TV and paper, Ash-Sharq, Al-Liwa', Sevan Radio, Ash-Shiraa' magazine, and the March 14 news website.

How apt was it then for the Hezbollah thugs to erect the photo of the chief-murderer in Damascus on the ruins of the media offices they ransacked.

That's where his photo belongs: amidst piles of trash and rubble. That's all he and his allies represent: murder, destruction, tyranny, thuggery, obscurantism and terrorism.

The true mark of totalitarian terrorist thugs, whose enemy is one and the same: liberty and pluralism in all their forms.

Update: Hezbollah's thugs don't frighten the journalists and reporters. This is from the NOW Lebanon website:

Journalists and media personnel have started gathering at the Bourj Al-Ghazal Tower in Tabaris to express their rejection of yesterday’s forced closure of media institutions by opposition factions.

Voice of Lebanon radio station: Groups of armed Hezbollah supporters are entering buildings in Beirut and taking down Future television’s transmission antennas.

Journalists and media personnel have reached the Future Channel building in Qontari after holding a march from the Bourj Al-Ghazali Tower in Tabaris in solidarity with Future media employees, who were routed out of their offices and harassed by opposition members.

Future News Channel staff have entered their offices in Qontari to continue work despite receiving threats from the opposition.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Military Situation in Beirut

Fighting in Beirut has broken out between Hezbollah/Amal and Future Movement supporters. Here's a brief look at the military situation. For a political reading, see the post by Lee Smith over at Michael Totten's, and make sure to read the excellent quoted op-ed by Michael Young.

The tactics are reminiscent of the 1970s-80s war, with two essential differences: 1- the trigger is not the Palestinian guerrilla threat to the state, but Hezbollah's threat to Lebanon, and 2- the beginning fault line is to the west of the 1975 flash point.

The current areas of clashes are roughly along a crescent from Hamra and the vicinity of the Serail in the north down to Tariq el-Jdideh in the south, and the vicinity of Qoreitem (Hariri's residence) and Ain el-Tineh (Berri's residence) in the west to Ras el-Nabe' in the east.

The areas therein are mixed Sunni-Shiite areas, especially in the Corniche Mazraa-Barbour area, and the fighting has even touched on the Druze neighborhood northward, next to Hamra. The vicinity of the Serail has also seen some fire.

The armed clashes have included standards of the civil war: light and medium machine guns, grenades and RPGs (and, apparently, we're now seeing light mortars by Hezbollah in Ras el-Nabe' -- also a staple of the 70s-80s), and sniping, which was/is a highly effective tool to control opposing movements and neighborhoods in built-up areas.

The nature of the fighting, again, typical of the 70s-80s, involves control/blocking of access routes (using bulldozers, landfills, etc.), main roads and highways, control of neighborhoods (esp. those that are mixed), and control of strategic tall buildings (for sniping).

There's no clear report yet regarding casualties and the situation on the ground in terms of advances, if any, by the combatants and the control of neighborhoods. Interestingly, the blockages of roads has involved both parties. The coastal road leading to the south has been cut, in a message to the ability to cut off the communication between Hezbollah areas, isolating them in certain areas, should the fighting develop.

The Army is positioned at certain roads, and is attempting to open certain roads.

This is a brief synopsis and I'll hopefully have more as time permits.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

Jonathan Spyer has penned what is by far the most sober analysis of the current soap opera involving Turkey, Syria and Israel.

Put briefly, Spyer explains why this is a dead end because the main objective of Syrian track enthusiasts in Israel -- taking Syria out of the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas nexus -- is a fantasy.

But Spyer's insight lies in his explanation as to why this is the case. As you might know, this is something I've discussed at length on this blog. The main deficiency in the prevailing ignorant punditry on the subject is that it sets out from two faulty premises: 1- that the motivating force for Syria's behavior, including its alliance with Iran, is grievance -- i.e. it's reactive. And 2- therefore the solution lies in finding the right price to settle that grievance.

Spyer's argument is that Syria has its own objectives and its own role conception -- what EU MP Jana Hybaskova correctly dubbed "an over-exaggerated" self-image -- and that is the motivation behind its alliance. Or, as Maher Assad tool Samir Taqi put it, "It is naïve to think Syria would behave foolishly and abandon its strategic alliances with Iran and Hizbullah, which are not limited solely to the Israeli-Arab conflict but also touch on topical geopolitical issues. These strategic associations are for the long term." (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, as many of us have been saying for the longest time, the Middle East (and regime interests and ambitions) doesn't revolve around the "peace process" -- except of course for the Western "peace processors." Spyer explains what those "geopolitical issues" are, and how they are directly related to the regime's nature as well as its limited -- all violent -- assets which "allow it to punch above its weight in the region":

Syria lacks the size of Egypt and the resources of Saudi Arabia. But it has been able to project power and influence in the region because of its willingness to support radicalism, act as a disruptive force and thus create a situation in which it cannot be ignored. Thus, Damascus backs a host of Palestinian groups opposed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict with Israel - including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, PFLP-GC and others. Syria offered significant support to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. And most importantly, Damascus maintains influence in Lebanon - following its ignominious departure in 2005 - via its relationship with the pro-Iranian Shia militia, Hizbullah.

The ability to foment chaos and project influence in Lebanon is key for the Assad regime.
[O]nly by backing the radical power in the region can Syria maintain its powerful role as mischief-maker. No Iran means no more fomenting radicalism, no more reaping the benefits of having to be bought off, no more pro-Iranian militias to help out in Lebanon, no return to Lebanon, and the nightmarish possibility of seeing major regime figures collared for the killing of Hariri. It is a near certainty that the regime will prefer to maintain all of these - with the additional mobilising charge of the "occupied Golan" into the bargain - rather than give it all up and become a minor, status quo power.

This is why, as Spyer goes on to note, the absurd notion of "returning Syria into the Sunni Arab fold" always was an incomprehensible hilarity to me, as I've written several times on this blog. Spyer concludes:

In other words, Syria is too deeply committed, on too many levels, to its alliance with Iran to consider abandoning it for the Golan and the Arab mainstream. Syria's conflict with Israel can't be separated out from Damascus's larger regional concerns. Hence, with all due respect to the Turkish mediators, we are faced here with another manifestation of that well-known Middle Eastern phenomenon: much ado about nothing.

Or, as the regime's Oklahoma-based poodle put it: "inducing Damascus to follow a 'Syria First' policy, much as Jordan follows a 'Jordan First' policy ... is a tall order as it requires Syria making an ideological and strategic about face. It's entire identity would need to be turned inside out."

This echoes the assessment made by Hybaskova: "Anything we touched, [the] answer was similar. Syria is different. Syria is unique. As such it quite clearly cannot be a normal, equal member of the international community, of [the] community of states in the Middle East. Syria is so different that it can pursue its relations with its neighborhood differently than normal states. It reserves for itself the right to interfere, to collaborate openly with terrorists."

And since this is the case, Spyer rightly concluded that all this riffraff is much ado about nothing. The Assad regime will not "flip," because, as that same regime poodle put it, it views such behavior and identity change as "tantamount to regime change."