Across the Bay

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Young on the Der Spiegel Story

Michael Young provides the best, in fact the only real analysis on the Der Spiegel story on Hezbollah. It's worth quoting in full:

Understanding the Der Spiegel upheaval
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The article published in Der Spiegel accusing Hizbullah of being behind the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, appears to use conceivably correct information to arrive at a conclusion the article itself never really substantiates: namely that "it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of [Hizbullah] that planned and executed the diabolical attack." At most, the article declares that Syria "is not being declared free of the suspicion of involvement," but that "President Bashar Assad is no longer in the line of fire."

The author, Erich Follath, tells us what French journalist Georges Malbrunot already did in an August 2006 article for the daily Le Figaro. Malbrunot, like Follath, reported that the investigation of telephone intercepts after Hariri’s killing revealed that one of those involved in the crime had broken protocol by calling a friend outside the circle of assassins. This mistake led Lebanese investigators to discover that the alleged assassin had ties with Hizbullah.

Malbrunot did not name the person, but Follath does. He may be Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, he writes, whose "recklessness led investigators to the man they now suspect was the mastermind of the terrorist attack: Hajj Salim ... considered to be the commander of the ’military’ wing of Hezbollah ... [whose] secret ’Special Operations Unit’ reports directly to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah."

The differences between Malbrunot’s article and Follath’s are essential. In his article, Malbrunot cited "someone close to Saad Hariri", as well as "a source close to the [Internal Security Forces]" who evidently had information on the telecommunication intercepts. At the time, the investigation of the intercepts was headed by ISF Captain Wissam Eid, later killed in a car-bomb attack in January 2008. Significantly, however, the Hariri source did not believe that Hizbullah had carried out the Hariri assassination on its own initiative. "Who had the capacity to bring the equivalent of 1,200 kilos of TNT into Lebanon", the source asked, before answering: "Syria, a Lebanese security service working with it, and Hizbullah." The direction of Malbrunot’s article was that the operation was Syrian, but that Hizbullah may have somehow been brought into it.

Follath’s informants appear to be different. He says his information comes from sources "close to the tribunal and [was] verified by examining internal documents." In other words Follath’s source appears not to be an employee of the tribunal, but someone who has contacts with it and access to documents the tribunal is working with. That leads to suspicion that the sources are Lebanese who, to corroborate their information, showed Follath Lebanese documents from, or on, the Eid investigation, copies of which must also be in the possession of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon - hence the vague formulation "internal documents."

Who would leak such documents, and why, remains to be seen. It seems improbable that this was done by a pro-Hariri source to affect Lebanon’s upcoming elections. After spending four years accusing Syria, the Hariri camp is not about to exonerate Damascus for uncertain electoral gains. The broader conclusions reached by Follath are his own, however, and are poorly argued. Nothing in his piece allows him to make the jump and push the burden of responsibility for the killing on Hizbullah. There appear to have been at least two "circles" participating in the crime; that Hizbullah members were, let’s say, in the second circle, which presumably was involved in shadowing Hariri, does not necessarily mean they were in the first circle, which supervised the actual assassination, whether directly or through a suicide bomber. Eventually, the Hariri tribunal may tell us the specifics of how Hariri was eliminated, but Follath’s article never even makes it clear which circle Ghamlush was in.

If Hizbullah did plan and execute the attack, a theory long discussed in Lebanon, it is virtually impossible to envisage that the party would have taken this action without receiving prior Syrian approval to do so. In fact, it is virtually impossible to envisage that it would have taken such action without Syrian direction to do so - direction that only Bashar Assad, given the centralized nature of Syria’s regime, would have signed off on.

Follath provides motives for the assassination that are laughable. He says that Hizbullah got rid of Hariri because his "growing popularity could have been a thorn in the side of the Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah. In 2005, the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity." Hariri also stood for what Nasrallah hated, Follath continues: close ties to the West and to moderate Arab regimes, as well as "an opulent lifestyle, and a membership in the competing Sunni faith."

This is nonsense. Those who had an overriding motive to kill Hariri were the Syrians, because his expected successes in the summer 2005 parliamentary elections, so soon after passage of Resolution 1559 by the Security Council, would have seriously threatened their hold on Lebanon. Successive reports by the United Nations commission investigating the crime repeated that hypothesis, which has never been challenged.

Follath, intentionally or unintentionally, is being used to draw the light away from Syria by casting it on Hizbullah. However, all the evidence that has filtered out from the UN investigation, as well as circumstantial evidence, leads in the direction of a principal mastermind: the regime in Damascus, regardless of who was implicated in the crime to guarantee everyone’s silence. It was only Syrian participation that could have pushed the Lebanese security agencies, then completely dominated by Syria, to corrupt the crime scene; it was only Syrian participation that could lead a Lebanese security chief to distribute the video of Ahmad Abu Adas claiming responsibility for the crime; and it was above all Syrian insistence after 2006 that pushed Hizbullah and Amal to block the creation of the tribunal through Lebanese state institutions.

Recall this crucial exchange in April 2007 between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Assad in Damascus. The Shiite ministers had left the government, and there was talk of establishing the Hariri tribunal under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Ban asked Assad to support the tribunal. Instead, Assad replied that Lebanon was a country of instability, which "will worsen if the special tribunal is established. Particularly if it is established under Chapter VII. This might easily cause a conflict that would degenerate into civil war, provoking divisions between Sunnis and Shiites from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea ..."

Echoes of Assad’s message permeate the Der Spiegel article, which implicitly asks whether the truth about who killed Rafik Hariri merits a Sunni-Shiite war. The Damascus conversation was leaked by a UN source to the daily Le Monde, and stands as a telling document. For why would Assad have been so worried about a tribunal passed under Chapter VII authority had Syria been innocent of Hariri’s elimination?

If Follath was given documents from or on Wissam Eid’s investigation, that means someone may also be trying to discredit Eid’s work by generating such a furor now over the accusation against Hizbullah, that it will be very difficult in the future to use the disclosures in such a way that they won’t be tainted by politics. The article may also imply that Eid, unlike the UN commission, actually did his work properly, and that someone is worried about the results. Who showed the "internal documents" to Follath, and are they the same people who might have earlier revealed to Eid’s killers that he was on to something?

These questions will continue to remain unanswered, and the tribunal process will continue to be open to manipulation, for as long as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon does not come out with a formal accusation. We are witnessing the consequences of a slipshod UN investigation since 2006. The prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, may have lost control of his case, and those who leaked to Der Spiegel could well be pushing for its complete collapse.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hezbollah's Agenda In Lebanon

Here's my essay on Hezbollah, which appears in the latest issue of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology. It contains, along with my argument, a critique of prevalent theories that have dominated the literature.

Much in recent events and statements by Hezbollah officials, which I highlighted here and here, has bolstered a number of my conclusions.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ibrahim Mussawi, or Hezbollah Disinformation 101

Some of you may not know who Ibrahim Mussawi is. Others may have recently heard of him after the controversy surrounding his invitation to lecture in England, and his subsequent barring from entering the UK in March 2009.

Mussawi is essentially the head of disinformation and propaganda for Hezbollah, a.k.a, "media relations officer." He is the editor of the Party's weekly rag, al-Intiqad, and the head of political programs at the organization's TV station, al-Manar.

People like him, and Ali Fayyad for example (as well as Ghaleb Abu Zainab, et al.), are handlers who ensure that the party line is properly disseminated. I gave a rundown of this in a post last year about how Hezbollah ensured that pretty much the entire body of literature relating to its ties to Imad Mughniyeh toed the party line. That was the necessary "nihil obstat" to gain the group's imprimatur and guarantee continued access for the authors.

What this line is, however, is a flat out lie. And Mussawi gives us a perfect example of this in a recent article by David Samuels in TNR:

I ask Mousawi about a quote from Hezbollah's number two, Naim Qassem, in which he talked about submitting Hezbollah's decision to become a political party in 1992 to Iran. He reaches into his bookshelf and tosses me a copy of Qassem's book, translated into English. "Find it," he says. Score one for Mousawi.

This is quite remarkable, if only for its brazenness. The mendacious Mussawi tries to catch Samuels on the fly and imagines that nobody will have the wherewithal to sound him out in his lies. His request was clearly a tactic to throw Samuels off-balance and to change the subject. Samuels had the option of wasting 20 minutes trying to find the quote in the book, or proceed with the interview. Of course, he chose the latter option, but proceeded to show how much of a con artist Mussawi is.

But Samuels hardly made up the quote, which is why Mussawi's trick was so brazen, and so telling. Anyone who's read the book knows it's there. I reproduce it in the original Arabic (followed by my translation), for the record. The quote comes from the fifth chapter entitled, "Participation in the System's Institutions" (al-musharaka fi mu'assasat al-nidham), in the section entitled "Participation in the Parliamentary Elections" (al-musharaka fil-intikhabat al-niyabiyya), pages 257-263 in the edition I have, and pp. 277-283 in the 2008 edition of the book. Perhaps the most relevant quote comes on page 263 (or 283 in the 2008 edition):

ثم جرى استفتاء سماحة الولي الفقيه الإمام الخامنئي (حفظه الله) حول المشروعية بعد تقديم اقتراح اللجنة فأجاز وأيّد، عندها حُسمت المشاركة في الانتخابات النيابية، ودخل المشروع في برنامج وآلية عمل الحزب، فعقد الأمين العام سماحة السيد حسن نصرالله مؤتمراً صحفياً في ٣ تموز ١٩٩٣، أعلن فيه عن قرار حزب الله بالمشاركة في الانتخابات النيابية


Then the legal ruling of the noble Jurisprudent [al-wali al-faqih] Imam Khamenei (may God keep him) was sought on the legality [al-mashrou'iyya] [of participation in elections] after the [Party's] committee presented its proposal, and he granted permission [ajaza] and support, and then the [decision of] participation in the parliamentary elections was settled, and the project was admitted into the Party's program and mechanism. And so, the Secretary General the noble Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah held a press conference on July 3, 199[2] in which he declared Hezbollah's decision to participate in the parliamentary elections... [Emphasis mine.]

Qassem earlier states clearly that, on its own, Hezbollah's own committee "cannot answer the question regarding the legality [of the participation]," since it is "the specialization of the Jurisprudent [al-wali al-faqih]." (p. 258 in my edition).

In other words, Mussawi engaged in deliberate disinformation, and his job is to ensure that Western journalists writing on the subject reflect the Party line, as was the case with Mughniyeh and Hezbollah's "global reach." He failed with Samuels. But he has other venues, such as the so-called "Beirut Exchange Program." And there is no shortage of compliant journalists, "experts," and flacks.

But now you know, whenever you read reports quoting him (or even presenting him as some sort of academic), or books where his "assistance" and "encouragement" are duly noted by the author, that you should always apply due caution. The man's job, after all, is to lie.

Update: The always gracious Barry Rubin picks up on this issue and offers his own unique take. For those of you who don't know, Barry now has his own blog, which you should all bookmark.

Addendum: The below statements by Mussawi (which set up the quote addressed in the post above) are equally remarkable for their blatant, yet hilariously transparent, dishonesty:

The formalities concluded, I ask Mousawi to explain the conditions under which Hezbollah asks Iran for advice. "It has nothing to do with Iran," he says. "These are purely religious questions. In Shia Islam," he continues, in his modest, scholarly way, "we have a concept called the Wilayat Al Faqih, the mandate of the jurisconsult, or Supreme Guide. I wrote my dissertation in England on this subject. The Wilayat Al Faqih is a concept that is central to Islam, but it was crystallized in the thought of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Even when the Ayatollah Khomeini was living in France, he was still the Wali Al Faqih. So you see that this is a purely religious question that has nothing to do with Iran. The followers of the Wali Al Faqih would emulate him wherever he is, and wherever they are."

This is amusing on a number of fronts -- and Mussawi lies on each and every one of them. First, the notion that the consultation of the Jursiprudent is somehow "purely religious" is utterly ridiculous. After all, as noted above, he was consulted on whether Hezbollah's participation in Lebanese parliamentary politics was permissible or not! Moreover, as Naim Qassem writes in his book, as I note in this essay, that "the al-wali al-faqih alone possesses the authority to decide war and peace" (huwa lladhi yamtalik salahiyat qarar al-harb wa as-silm), along with the authority “to make the major political decisions related to the interests of the umma” (ittikhadh al-qararat as-siyasiya al-kubra allati tartabit bi masalih al-umma), pp. 72, 76.

Secondly, the notion that somehow Khomeini's theory is "a concept central to Islam" but that somehow it was only "crystallized in the thought of the Ayatollah Khomeini", is your average boiler plate revisionism (which you can find in Qassem's book as well). If it were so, then how come all the other senior Shiite scholars, e.g., Kho'i, Fadlallah, Sistani, et al., who are superior to Khomeini's successor, the current Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei, rejected Khomeini's thesis?

Moreover, the bit about France and how this has "nothing to do with Iran" is just beyond ridiculous. Yes, it's totally unrelated that the only figure to "crystallize" this theory was an Iranian cleric. It was also mere coincidence that its only application was in Iran. It is equally haphazard that the successor of the first Jurisprudent (Khomeini) is the current Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Ali Khamenei)!

One could go on refuting this nonsense in more detail, but I'll spare you. (And the guy wrote a "PhD dissertation" on this!).

Hussain Abdul Hussain wrote to me commenting on the above quote. I'll conclude with his thoughts:

It does not look as though my friend Ibrahim Moussawi has a full grasp of the thought of Khomeini. Khomeini’s idea is based on what he called the Islamic Government [TB: Khomeini's book is entitled Hokumat-e Islami: Velayat-e Faqih], and when you give your ideology such a name, it hardly stays “purely religious” and rather becomes an issue of how Shiites perceive of themselves as citizens, or not, in the various states they live in around the world.

Even if we go by Moussawi’s definition of the concept of Wilayat Al Faqih, we will get a virtual Shiite state, unrestricted by geography or time. This undermines the idea of citizenship for every Shiite, in whatever state he or she lives in. It is the equivalent of demanding political allegiance of every Catholic in the world, regardless of their national identity, to the Pope in Rome. This undermines the allegiance of these Catholics toward their states and will inevitably bring them into clash with their co-nationals, exactly similar to the conflict that Khomeini has created for the Shiites with their co-nationals in the different countries around the world.

Khomeini’s concept of Wilayat Al Faqih is in contradiction not only with the idea of a nation-state, a product of centuries of human intellect and experiences, but also with whatever international conventions the different nation-states have drafted. Khomeini’s thought belongs to early political thought that renders individuals members of tribes assembled along perceived divine teachings. This kind of thought clearly has no place in the 21st century, and a clash between the followers of Khomeini and the world is apparent. Unfortunately there is no reconciliation between Khomeini’s thinking and world ideologies, and one of them should eventually cave or defeat the other, whether now or in the future.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Can We Finally Dispense with the "Lebanonization" Myth?

To follow up on my previous post on this subject, check out the following interview with Naim Qassem in the FT:

FT: Let’s move on to the recent arrests of 49 men in Egypt who were alleged to be part of a Hizbollah cell there. Hizbollah has always said it gave only moral support to the Palestinians in Gaza but has that now changed? Are you helping on the ground? Are you expanding your operations?

We have always said that we supported the resistance in Palestine but we have not mentioned how or given details of such support, we have avoided giving details of our support. But Egypt has now revealed that we have given military support to Palestine. We have done so for a while but we have not talked about it. For us it is a great honour and not just an honour but a duty for us to support the Palestinians, and it should also be an honour and a duty not just for us but for all Arabs and all Muslims to support the Palestinians in their resistance. We are asked about our specific and limited support for Gaza while nobody questions the US about their total and unflinching support for Israel. We are always questioned but nobody questions the US.

FT: For how long have you been supporting the Palestinians in Gaza?

SNQ: It is one of the secrets of the resistance that we don’t talk about the details of our support, but suffice to say that we are giving them every type of support that could help the Palestinian resistance. Every type that is possible.

FT: Have you been giving them military arms? Rockets? Training? Logistical support?

SNQ: We don’t talk about the details of our support or how or what we support them with. We leave this to be seen in time to come.

It's well past due to relegate Norton's (et al.'s) "thesis" (if it can be called that), which always went against empirical evidence, to where it always belonged: the trash bin.

Friday, May 08, 2009

US renews sanctions against Syria

Much to the chagrin of the Syrian regime and its flacks (such as the pathetic regime court jester cited in the article below), I'm sure, who have been flooding the media with leaks about how they "expect" the Obama administration to lift the sanctions.

The Financial Times:

The Obama administration has renewed its sanctions against Syria for another year, citing a continuing “national emergency” facing the US from Syria’s support for terrorist organisations and weapons trade.
The sanctions, which were introduced by the Bush administration in 2004, will remain in place for another year, a state department official told the Financial Times.
“The national emergency with respect to Syria remains in effect because Syria continued to not meet its international obligations. We continue to have serious concerns about Syria’s actions,” the US official said.

Oh and just for good measure, here's DoS spokesman Robert Wood the other day:

They know what they need to do...

Sounds rather familiar.

Update: More from Wood.