Yesterday, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MP Michel Aoun announced that he mediated between Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, and the leader of the Future Movement (FM), former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which coincided with the restoration of security and political channels of communication between Hezbollah and the FM.
Is Lebanon witnessing a new political scene based on a five-party alliance in the government that can manage a truce, which would in turn allow the election of a new president?
In 2005, the four-party alliance excluded the FPM which had won an unequivocal majority of the Christian vote in the parliamentary elections. The new alliance includes, in addition to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, the FM, the FPM’s Change and Reform bloc, the Phalange Party and the Progressive Socialist Party. Based on the sectarian considerations governing Lebanese politics, the sectarian representation in this alliance appears to be complete. This five-party alliance seems to have become a reality, as an increasingly positive environment seeps out little by little.
Aoun announced yesterday that he mediated between Hezbollah and the FM, and specifically between Nasrallah and Hariri. In addition, a step was taken in the same direction yesterday, prior to Aoun’s announcement, when the head of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit, Wafiq Safa, visited the new Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi at his apartment in Achrafieh.
The official goal of the meeting was to offer congratulations to Rifi for his ministerial appointment, but the form the meeting took gives it additional significance. In addition to Rifi and Safa, the meeting was attended by the head of the Internal Security Force’s (ISF) Information Branch, Colonel Imad Othman and director of the ISF Operations Room, Colonel Hussam al-Tannoukhi.
According to political sources, Tannoukhi – who is on good terms with the leaders of both Hezbollah and the FM – arranged the meeting which relaunched the security and political communication back channels between the two sides. This back channel had maintained contact between both parties until Rifi’s retirement and the rising political tension between Hezbollah and the FM.
While at Rifi’s home, Safa called the new interior minister, Nohad al-Machnouk, and congratulated him on his new post. Political sources said that this “positive environment comes as a follow-up to the efforts that resulted in the formation of the new government and can be relied upon to carry the government through future political junctures such as the ministerial statement and the presidential elections.”
In a related matter, Aoun confirmed that he met both Hariri and Nasrallah, explaining: “Whoever wants to conduct mediation to bring disparate parties closer together has to talk to everyone, that is why I met both of them.”
When asked if his willingness to accept Rifi as interior minister during consultations on government formation angered Hezbollah, Aoun replied: “I was not present during the distribution of ministries and I am not the prime minister charged with assigning ministers to the various ministries. There was a difference of opinion between Hezbollah and the FM on this issue. To form the government, we suggested a kind of solution based on exchanging posts.”
Regarding concerns over the ministerial appointments of Machnouk and Rifi, especially since the Interior and Justice ministries could facilitate the work of terrorists and takfiris, Aoun argued “this issue is handled by the judiciary and the government as a whole and does not rely on the authority of one or two ministers.”
Akhbar Al-Yawm News Agency revealed that a family dinner was held Thursday evening at Aoun’s home in Rabieh and it included FPM minister Gibran Bassil and the director of the Future Movement’s presidential office, Nader Hariri. The obstacles that were still facing the formation of the government were overcome at this meeting.
In addition, information emerged in the past few days that Bassil traveled to Saudi Arabia last week where he met Saad Hariri.
Israel accused Hezbollah on Wednesday of setting up military bases inside residential buildings and threatened that it would target these bases in any future conflict, even if civilians are killed.
According to Israeli officials, Iran and Syria have supplied more sophisticated missiles to Hezbollah, which defended Lebanon against the technologically superior Israeli military in July 2006.
Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post reported that: “The unusually explicit threat by air force chief Major General Amir Eshel appeared to be part of an effort by Israeli officials to prepare world opinion for high civilian casualties in any new confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
The newspaper noted that last year Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon showed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon an Israeli map of alleged military sites for Hezbollah in villages in southern Lebanon, further suggesting that Israel is threatening a high civilian death toll in any future war.
According to Agence France Presse, during the July 2006 war 1,287 Lebanese died, nearly all civilians, and 4,054 were wounded when Israeli forces intentionally inflicted severe damages to civilian infrastructure, especially in southern Lebanon and in the capital city of Beirut.
Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, has called the Israeli threats to strike residential and civilian areas in his country “a flagrant violation of human rights principles.”
He added that the Israeli position is “an attempt to spread a sense of instability among the Lebanese citizens, the thing which the enemy wants, as Israel is happy about the turbulence that is taking place in the Arab region.”
Ain el Helweh camp, Lebanon – It isn’t just the Zionist regime still occupying Palestine six decades after the Nakba; one can sense the carnivorous drooling from Tel Aviv to Amman, from Riyadh and the Gulf Kingdoms all the way to Washington DC and beyond—drooling and salivation over their project to promote tensions between the Palestinian Resistance and what is in some respects its historic offspring—Hezbollah.
The hostile forces gathered against the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah-Palestine Resistance alliance are reportedly hard at work on yet another scheme to weaken, and possibly destroy, all four. It won’t be easy, but it is a key game plan among those still seeking regime change in Syria.
Even as some of these governments deceptively play down their central goal of regime change in public, they appear to be fantasizing that by building up the Lebanese army—with a pledged $3 billion from Riyadh—that Lebanese troops can be induced to confront Hezbollah and its allies, this in what seems to be a “beat em or bleed em” strategy.
Patrick Cockburn, writing recently in the UK Independent and Counterpunch, gave a digest of anti-Shia hate propaganda being spread by Sunni religious figures, clerics financially backed by, and in some cases based in, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies. Cockburn noted accurately that what is being painstaking laid is the groundwork for a sectarian civil war engulfing the entire Muslim world.
Efforts to egg on a confrontation between Palestinians and Hezbollah have increased over the past three months in Lebanon’s camps, stemming principally from some of the local Sunni and Christian power centers. Support is being seen for various “militia of the month” groups, those terrorizing the population of the Syrian Arab Republic.
Moreover, the Takfiri Al-Nusra Front leader Abou Mohammed al-Joulani insists his organization is active on Lebanese soil in order to help the Sunnis, including Palestinians, face the “injustice” of Shiite Hezbollah. “Lebanon’s Sunni are requesting that the mujahideen intervene to lift up the injustice they are suffering from at the hands of Hezbollah and similar militias,” he said recently in an interview on Al-Jazeera.
Shiite-populated areas across Lebanon have been the target of terror attacks even before Hezbollah entered the fighting on the side of the Syrian government in May 2013, but those terror attacks have intensified recently. Four car bombings have targeted southern Beirut in recent months, while a number of IED attacks have occurred in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.
The head of the Islamic Jihadist Movement in Ain al-Hilweh camp voiced fears on January 8 of a possible armed sectarian confrontation between Hezbollah and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon if the party did not revise its policies at home and in Syria. Sheikh Jamal Khattab told the Daily Star that should fighting erupt between Palestinians and Hezbollah the conflict could be even worse than the “war of the camps” (read: massacres) of the 1980s, when that conflict was not considered particularly sectarian. Today, says Sheikh Khattab, it would be different. Today it would be a Sunni vs. Shia war, with regional and international consequences, given the poisonous sea-change in sectarian relations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In Ain al-Hilweh and other camps, posters of local men killed while fighting alongside Takfiri groups in Syria, or against U.S. troops in Iraq, are tacked up throughout the camp. Lebanese security sources claim that Palestinian Islamist groups in Ain al-Hilweh have all finalized preparations to for a possible conflict with the Hezbollah’s organized and trained “Resistance Brigades.” These organizations include Usbat al-Ansar, Jund al-Sham, Fatah al-Islam, and other Salafist groups, and supporters of the controversial fugitive Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, and rumors abound that some of these elements are being financed by certain of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states as well as some Lebanese pro-Western March 14 parties. Apparently the consideration among such groups and their sponsors is that conditions in Lebanon are ripe for an expanded war against “Shia infidels,” and reportedly plans are now in place to bring it here, with several groups that are now fighting in Syria pledging to widen the Sunni-Shia war into Lebanon.
For their part, some pro-Hezbollah groups and many Lebanese citizens are suspicious of possible Palestinian involvement in recent terror attacks in Dahiyeh and the recent bombing of the Iranian Embassy. In point of fact, one of the two suicide bombers who attacked the Iranian Embassy on November 17 was Mouin Abu Dahr, a known pro-Palestinian whose mother is a Shiite and his father a Sunni. Ain al-Hilweh of course has also been in the spotlight with the arrest of Majed al-Majed, the leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Majed is believed to have lived in the camp since 2012.
Clearly Israel and its new—as well as its longtime—allies seek a Sunni-Shia war, and the sooner the better. Also favored is a continuation of the Syria crisis for the reason that they consider Hezbollah to be squandering some of its best fighters and commanders and well as its weapons stores. Western Diplomats have spoken about US-Israeli hopes that Syria will be Hezbollah’s Achilles heel and Iran’s Vietnam, and Israeli media have commented on views by some officials that Hezbollah has shifted its attention toward Syria and away from the southern front with occupied Palestine.
Time will tell.
Hezbollah maintains it is using only five percent of its capacity to confront Israel, and according to one source close to the Resistance: Hezbollah has self-sufficiency when it comes to the missiles, strategic and non-strategic weapons. All these weapons are quite abundant. Any additional equipment will constitute a negative factor because there is no need for them. All the weapons that are manufactured by Iran or owned by Syria are also available for Hezbollah. The land forces and the Special Forces fighting in Syria have acquired a lot of practical and intelligence related experience and a force of maneuvering on the land. This experience will be used when the war with Israel begins again.
The Sunni and the Shia, just as with the Palestinians and Hezbollah, need each other for many reasons, including confronting growing Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate propaganda, and the deepening and broadening apartheid occupation of Palestine.
All must work to tamp down their differences publicly and privately while endeavoring to neutralize sectarian provocateurs, Sunni as well as Shia—domestic and regional as well as international—provocateurs that today are seeking internecine and sectarian violence in order to weaken both sects, and even all of Islam.
PressTV Videos · January 21, 2014
Two car bombs have gone off in a southern neighborhood of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, killing several people.
The explosions on Tuesday hit the Haret Hriek neighborhood in southern Beirut, which is considered as a stronghold of Lebanon’s resistance movement Hezbollah.
Reports say that at least four people have been killed and another 46 have been injured.
The al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra front has claimed responsibility on its twitter page for the bombings.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar television channel said the bombings hit a busy commercial street.
The neighborhood was also targeted by a deadly car bombing on January 2.
Lebanon’s March 14 Christians are banding together in an attempt to pressure former Prime Minister Saad Hariri about the government. However, their game will be over very soon. According to March 14 sources, “March 14 Christians are used by Hariri to fuel his battles then sacrificed when a settlement is reached.”
The smile on Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s face was not enough to convince French presidential envoy Emmanuel Bon that the situation is well. Geagea stressed that Hariri would never join Hezbollah in one government. Yet no matter how hard Geagea attempts to show confidence in his relationship with Hariri, he will never manage to cover up their discords.
Geagea remarked, “We are still in the stage of deliberations and negotiations regarding the government,” perhaps not noticing that Hariri announced from The Hague his willingness to join Hezbollah in the government.
MP Sami Gemayel spoke to Geagea via telephone for 15 minutes, assuring him that Kataeb will boycott the government, even if Hariri participates. He expressed his support for Geagea’s position favoring a neutral cabinet. Sami later announced, “We are not concerned with the nature of the government. What matters is its agenda.” Perhaps Sami had heard about Hariri’s positive attitude before the rest of Lebanese, hence his taking a middle ground.
Former minister Boutros Harb seemed ready to overcome the tensions that emerged between the Lebanese Forces and March 14 independent figures following the debate over the infamous Orthodox Electoral Law. Due to Hariri’s “concessions,” Harb now sees his alliance with the Lebanese Forces as the only available option to confront Hariri’s waiving of March 14 demands, mainly Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria.
At the peak of the confrontation, Hariri left his allies blundering. According to leaked information, Hariri’s statements on the sidelines of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon show “he is holding negotiations with the opposite side while his allies are in a whole different place.” Some March 14 sources even stressed that Hariri is going to participate in the upcoming cabinet “even if his allies refuse to join him.”
Hariri is willing to drop his Christian-Muslim partnership, and “March 14 will no longer be united.” Sources confirmed that Hariri cannot be part of any compromise regarding the government unless he receives a Saudi order.
March 14 Christian sources said, “There has been no Saudi password. Riyadh left the decision to its people in Lebanon so they do what they deem suitable. Hence, Hariri is seeking his own interests, not those of his alliance! Despite all that, some in Geagea’s and Gemayel’s circles still believe that Hariri negotiators are trying to reach a compromise that would include the Baabda Declaration in the government statement and would omit the word ‘resistance’ in order to gain leverage against Hezbollah.”
The Christian wing of March 14 is counting on “Sunni politicians to continue what Maronite politicians started in their policies against Syrian and Iranian hegemonies,” said a source. They hope Hariri “will change his mind about joining a government with Hezbollah if the party doesn’t return to the state and comply with all conditions.”
Geagea didn’t make any “loud statement” concerning Hariri’s latest remarks, neither did Gemayel, Harb, or anyone who sees himself as future president. These politicians are seeking to “buy time and announce positions that they can concede to Hariri when the time comes.”
Some March 14 Christians are convinced that “Hariri is not very pleased with his alliance with Geagea and Gemayel. Even though they all shared a common political position in 2005, Hariri still believes that he naturally belongs alongside Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt, whom his father used to reach compromises with.”
The defense counsel of four Hezbollah members accused of planning the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri dismissed evidence presented by the prosecution over Thursday and Friday as unverifiable “observations.”
Prosecutors offered nothing new during their opening arguments, the defense team said at a press conference Friday evening after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) went to recess.
“There is nothing new in the presentation the prosecutor presented at the beginning of the trial,” Antoine Korkmaz, one of the defense lawyers for the suspects being tried in absentia, told reporters.
“We have not heard anything about the content of the conversations that the prosecutor claims were made between the defendants,” he added.
“The burden of proof lies with the prosecution,” and so far it has only provided circumstantial evidence that does not prove the suspects were behind the bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others on February 14, 2005.
Nor did the prosecutor explain the motive behind the killing of Rafik Hariri, he added, saying that the billionaire maintained good relations with Hezbollah before his assassination.
“The evidence presented by the prosecutor is only theoretical,” defense lawyer Yasser Hassan added. “We have not seen anything new, and there is no court that could issue convictions on the basis of speculation.”
The defense will present their counter arguments when The Hague-based court resumes on Monday.
The burial of former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah next to assassinated ex-premier Rafic al-Hariri in Beirut’s Muhammad al-Amin mosque was as striking and deliberate in symbolism as the towering structure itself.
Last Friday’s assassination of the Hariri family’s senior advisor and one-time U.S. ambassador was by similar method: a massive car bomb detonated under his convoy as it drove through the heart of Beirut’s upscale downtown district. As if to purposefully underscore the parallels and frame the post-assassination narrative, it also occurred just a few hundred yards from the site where the billionaire Hariri was murdered in February 2005.
Just as after Hariri’s killing, the calculated recriminations of the March 14 coalition, led by the Future Movement, came fast and furious. Blame was laid squarely at the feet of Hezbollah. March 14 supporters were quick to point out that the crime took place less than three weeks before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL; the U.N.-established court tasked with investigating the Hariri assassination) was set to open proceedings against four accused Hezbollah members.
The shoddy STL investigation, relying heavily on telecommunications data wholly compromised by Israeli intelligence and their captured agents, has been previously discussed.
Did the masterminds of the Shatah assassination hope the Lebanese population would turn against Hezbollah, already facing strong rebuke for its intervention in Syria by March 14 politicians (despite that the latter have implicitly lent support to radical takfiri elements involved in the Syrian conflict since its earliest days)?
As with all political upheavals in Lebanon, the question that must be asked is, “who benefits?” Does Hezbollah? Although Shatah was a stalwart March 14 operative who decried Hezbollah’s role in Syria, he was nevertheless regarded as a relative moderate. But the increasingly virulent sectarian discourse of those on the fringes of this political alliance (and many at its center) and the cover they have extended to extremists like fugitive Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, cannot be ignored. Beirut after all, is still reeling from recent twin suicide car bombings at the Iranian embassy followed shortly thereafter by the assassination of Hezbollah senior commander Hassan al-Lakkis. On Thursday, innocent Lebanese civilians were again victims of a car bomb detonated in the Haret Hreik neighborhood of Beirut’s Shia-majority southern suburbs, known as the dahiyeh.
“Moderate” Sunni politicians like Shatah are viewed as expendable, for their killing only serves to polarize the wider Sunni community by inciting sectarian hatred and thereby marginalize more reasoned voices. Even Lebanon’s Grand Mufti was not spared as he was accosted after mourners’ passions were stoked by Sheikh Ahmad al-Omari, the cleric who delivered the sermon at the funeral of a young man also killed in the assassination. As Al-Akhbar reports, “Omari attacked Hezbollah, describing it as the ‘party of the devil.’ He called on the Shia to ‘disown’ Hezbollah ‘if they are true believers,’ and stressed the ‘patience of the persecuted Sunni sect is running out.’”
Again, does Hezbollah achieve any gain, political or otherwise, with Shatah’s demise?
The irony is that the inflammatory rhetoric and policies of March 14 parliamentary bloc members have led to the exponential growth of radical forces in the country. One only has to recall how former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Bahia Hariri and others insinuated the Lebanese Army was responsible for provoking Salafist cleric al-Assir’s armed forces to launch an attack against them this past summer in Sidon, killing 18.
Son of the late prime minister and Future Movement head Saad Hariri also did not waste any time in essentially blaming the victims themselves for Thursday’s attack: “They are at the same time victims of [Hezbollah’s] involvement in foreign wars, particularly in the Syrian war.”
The northern city of Tripoli and the Ain al-Hilwah Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon have provided extremist groups with safe refuge. Details have now emerged pointing to a possible link between those in the camp and recent events.
Just as in Iraq, moderate Sunni politicians have been singled out for assassination by takfiris who seek to exploit their spilled blood, provoke co-religionists into committing crimes against civilians and stir a simmering sectarian pot.
Who are the likely perpetrators behind Mohammed Shatah’s assassination and the dahiyeh bombing?
The very same ones the U.S. and Saudi-backed March 14 coalition have emboldened.
Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.
By Robert Thompson | Axis of Logic | March 8, 2009
The good news is that two envoys have been sent by the USA to Damascus, and that they have discussed with the Syrian Foreign Minister what can be done to improve Syria’s relations with the USA, now that a new régime is in place in Washington.
The bad news is that these envoys (and their bosses) seem to have expected Syria, as part of this aim, to give up all its present diplomatic and other links with some of its principal local friends and allies in the region, especially Hezbollah, Hamas, and (above all) Iran. If this is indeed so, it shows a staggering lack of understanding, not only of Syria, but also of the whole Near and Middle East on the part of the US State Department under the direction of Mrs Hillary Clinton [who seems to think that Syria should be yoked to an alliance with U.S. backed Sunni regimes].
The Syrian Ba’ath Party remains (as its founders, Michel Aflaq and Salah-al-Din Bitar always intended) strictly secular, and its links with theocratic bodies and governments are based on practical strategic concerns and on shared interests which are not linked to any religious affinities. Beyond this, the Syrian government has the good sense to wish to remain in close touch with the vast majority of the inhabitants of all the Arab states. This is in stark contrast, very clearly, with the behaviour and policies of the many Arab rulers who, effectively to protect themselves from their own subjects, have decided to shelter under the protection of the USA and the Zionists.
The rulers of the USA must also bear in mind that a significant and strategic area of Syrian territory is still under harsh enemy occupation. We, on the sidelines, can only wonder what the Obama régime, with its ‘diplomacy’ being mismanaged by Mrs Clinton, thinks it can do, if it believes that it can bully Syria into joining the club of Arab states which have been neutered to make them do as the Zionists/Neocons wish.
The very sensible proposal put forward once again by Syria (using much more polite words than I do) is that it should serve as a bridge linking the USA, the Zionist entity and their servile allies on the one hand, and the people of the Near and Middle East on the other. If the Neocons/Zionists really wanted peace in the area, they would not hesitate a second to welcome such a proposition. Any hesitation can only be a sign that they wish merely to make much of pretending to work for peace, while doing all that they can to ensure that justice continues to be denied to the Palestinians, the Syrians, and the Lebanese, all of whom seek liberation from the atrocities inflicted on them by the Zionist war machine.
It would appear that even the Obama régime has finally understood the sheer lunacy of the expression (invented for Mr George W. Bush by Mr David Frum) ‘Axis of Evil’ in grouping Iran and Syria with North Korea. These three states are so dissimilar that it is hard to follow what this expression was intended to mean. The USA has every interest in having the best of relations with both Iran and Syria; and if they wish to get anywhere in solving the multiple problems arising from the chaos of Afghanistan, they could not do better than to cooperate closely with Iran. Both parties have similar concerns relating to that unhappy country.
To revert to the question of relations between the USA and Syria, some humility on the part of the former would not come amiss, since Syria is no threat to any of the USA’s genuine interests. It is fully understandable, though, that Syria would be extremely happy to see its turbulent south-western neighbour converted into a single democratic and secular state, based on justice, in which its citizens of any religion or none would have equal rights and duties. Apart from the benefits that the whole world would enjoy if peace could return to the Near and Middle East, the USA has no vital interests in that part of the world. The sooner they withdraw their occupation forces from the area, the better it would be for the ordinary citizen (and taxpayer) in the US, as well as for the rest of the world.
The basic problem remains, as ever, the greedy desire by the rulers of the USA to dominate the whole world, and I cannot get out of my mind the fact that the command structure based in Diego Garcia is known as CENTCOM (i.e. Central Command). I would still like a satisfactory answer to explain what it is ‘central’ to, for the USA.
My conclusion is that the USA has every interest in taking advantage of any assistance which Syria can give them, and should be grateful for it. However, I cannot see this being welcomed by the Zionist entity based on (and only held together by) its viciously rigid apartheid system!
© Copyright 2009 by AxisofLogic.com
The assassination of former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah will open a dangerous chapter in Lebanon, a bit similar to the one that followed the assassination of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Shatah was no ordinary man in the region, and the attack occurred at a crucial moment in Lebanon and its neighborhood’s history. Here, escalated tensions and sedition will never let such a crime pass by without major repercussions. The killer knew it!
Hariri’s assassination in 2005 was a turning point for Hezbollah’s image in the Arab and Islamic world, and contributed to the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon. These events weren’t just a result of local demands. Former US President George W. Bush and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac were also involved.
The Sunni-Shia strife that ripped Iraq apart after the American-British invasion was further consolidated when Hezbollah, with its large Shia base, was accused of murdering the new symbol of modern Sunnism in the region: Rafik Hariri. Back then, political accusation preceded all real investigations on the ground.
Now, what to expect after Shatah’s assassination?
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was brief, while Future bloc leader Fouad Siniora elaborated, hinting that the Syrian regime planned the crime, and its Lebanese allies, mainly Hezbollah, carried it out. In the March 14 statement, Siniora echoed the calls that followed Hariri’s murder, urging to take Shatah’s assassination to the international level, something we expect to hear quite often in the coming weeks amid international pressure on Hezbollah and Lebanon.
Head of the National Struggle Bloc MP Walid Jumblatt was alone in his call for reason and moderation. He knows quite well that some are seeking to exploit the assassination to achieve bigger political gains. He also understands that this assassination is apt to take the country from sectarian sedition to the battlefield.
The Shatah assassination occurred while Lebanon was at a crossroads. The future government and the current presidency are now up for grabs amid political bickering between Hezbollah and March 14. But behind both parties is a larger and deeper conflict taking place in Syria.
The assassination ought to increase pressure on the formation of a Lebanese government and a formula for a presidential agreement. Previously hesitant, the international community is now expected to support these solutions as the death of Shatah and the other martyrs raised the alarm about a bloody year awaiting Lebanon.
Shatah’s murder also paves the way for further assassinations, clashes, and blasts. Obviously there is a plan to transform Lebanon into an arena for a regional and international conflict that has not been settled in Syria.
What if a Hezbollah leader or ally is killed in the coming days? Will we hear that it is a retaliation for the Shatah murder? Who will break this vicious cycle?
Israel may also find an opportunity to conduct a military operation. It is reported that Hezbollah’s incursion in Syria and the widening rift with its former Sunni base offers Israel the right opportunity to strike. In Lebanon, Israel may redeem what it couldn’t achieve in Iran. At least that’s what the Israelis believe.
The assassination put the Syrian regime and Hezbollah in a raging storm of accusations at a critical time. The world is heading toward the Geneva II conference and an historic understanding with Iran. The international tribunal investigating Hariri’s murder will soon begin its sessions.
Martyr Mohammed Shatah was no ordinary man. Neither was martyr Wissam al-Hassan. Shatah, a man with hefty economic and political baggage, was, just like security man Hassan, standing on a pivotal local, regional, and international intersection. With such assassinations, it is easy to point figures, but it is hard to support accusations with evidence as political exploitation comes in smoothly.
A dark period of major transformation is awaiting Lebanon, but unfortunately the fierce battle ahead won’t yield any winners. What if a fait accompli government was imposed on Hezbollah and its allies? How will Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah put his words “don’t mess with us” into action? Those messing with him this time will have an international cover far larger than the one they had before the assassination.
The latest deadly attack in Lebanon’s capital Beirut is yet another desperate attempt to destabilize not only that country, but the entire Middle East to precipitate all-out sectarian war.
The murder of senior Lebanese Sunni political figure, Mohamad Shatah, on Friday in a massive bomb blast that hit his motorcade as it drove through downtown Beirut was aimed at implicating the Shia Hezbollah and closely allied Syrian and Iranian governments.
Syria’s government of President Bashar al-Assad, along with Hezbollah and Iran, swiftly condemned the assassination of Shatah, who was formerly Lebanon’s finance minister between 2008 and 2011.
But the condemnations didn’t stop anti-Syria politicians within Lebanon and various Western media outlets from pointing the finger.
“Anti-Assad ex-minister killed in Beirut bomb,” was the headline carried by Reuters and Britain’s Daily Telegraph, among others.
This contrived innuendo betrays who the real perpetrators are.
Mohamad Shatah, a senior political adviser to Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri, was indeed a strident critic of Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad, accusing them of fuelling bloodshed in Syria and also sectarian tensions inside Lebanon. His political views were consistent with the narrative of the pro-Zionist Western media, as well as Saudi Arabia.
Shatah could therefore be considered an ally of the West, Saudi Arabia and the Zionist Israeli regime. But that very profile may have been what made him a prime target, not for Hezbollah or Syria, but for his so-called allies.
The day before his killing, Shatah had reiterated criticism of Hezbollah, claiming that the group was using Syria to consolidate its military strength in Lebanon.
Within minutes of Shatah’s murder, the Saudi-backed Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri implicated Hezbollah for the attack. “Shatah’s murderers are the same ones who assassinated former premier Rafik Hariri.” This was a reference to the bomb-blast killing of his father, Rafik, also a former prime minister, in 2005.
A United Nations-backed Lebanese tribunal has indicted five members of Hezbollah for that 2005 murder. The trial is set to open in the coming weeks in a Hague court. For the past eight years Hariri’s group have accused Hezbollah as well as Syrian intelligence over that assassination, without the accusations gaining much credibility.
Both Hezbollah and Syria have strenuously denied any involvement, saying that there is no evidence, and that the tribunal is politically driven. Hence, they have refused to cooperate with the forthcoming trial.
That is why Saad Hariri said of the latest killing: “The accused… are the same ones who are running away from international justice.”
Shatah’s assassination this week comes at a sensitive time, which strongly suggests who the real perpetrators might be.
First, the atrocity serves to re-ignite the accusations against Hezbollah, and its regional allies, in the murder of Rafik Hariri just when the case is being re-opened in an international court.
Secondly, there is the forthcoming Geneva II political talks organized to find a peaceful solution to the nearly three-year Syrian crisis. If Hezbollah, and by extension Syria and Iran, can be linked by sensational media claims of involvement in the murder of high-profile Lebanese politicians, then that would have a damaging impact on the Assad government during the Geneva negotiations.
Thirdly, and this is more to the point of who are the likely perpetrators, the murder of Mohamad Shatah comes at a time of mounting sectarian tensions and violence across the region. Lebanon has witnessed a wave of deadly bomb attacks and assassinations in recent months, which have mainly targeted Shia areas of Beirut.
Earlier this month, a senior Hezbollah commander was shot dead. And at the end of last month, a twin suicide bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed 29, including Iran’s cultural attaché, Ebrahim Ansari. Back in August, a bomb outside a Sunni mosque in Sidon reportedly butchered 40 people.
This violence replicates the pattern of sectarian bloodshed unleashed in neighboring Syria and Iraq. There is ample evidence to show that that violence is being systematically fuelled by Saudi Arabia, working in collusion with Israeli and Western intelligence.
Israel in particular has a long track record of sabotaging Lebanon from within, having invaded that country in 1978, 2000 and 2006. There is also evidence that its agents were the real authors of the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Lebanon is particularly vulnerable to sectarian strife. The country’s communal wounds are still raw from the 15-year-old civil war between its Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze communities, which ended in 1990. There have been renewed sectarian clashes between Sunni and Shia/Alawite groups in Sidon, Tripoli and several other towns over the past year. Saudi-backed Sunni clerics have been prominent in agitating sharper tensions in Lebanon.
This pattern of sectarian destabilization within Lebanon and across the Middle East by external forces is consistent with the latest murder of Mohamad Shatah in Beirut. The massive blast is believed to have come from a 50-60 kg bomb wired in a booby-trapped car. Wreckage was scattered 100 meters away and some 40 other cars were damaged, some of them upended. This was a professional hit with a devastating message.
In the grand nefarious scheme of geopolitics it matters little that Shatah was a prominent Sunni figure who was an ardent critic of Hezbollah and Syria. Indeed, from the viewpoint of the agents of subversion and destabilization, Shatah’s political and religious affiliation would have made him a prime target for their purpose of trying to explode sectarian war.
The heinous role played by Saudi, Israeli and Western intelligence in inflicting untold suffering on civilians across the Middle East, whether Shia, Sunni or Christian, means that their capability of using the dirtiest tricks knows no limits. The murder of Mohamad Shatah would be viewed by these dark forces as merely an expendable sacrifice if that means achieving the bigger aim of inciting all-out sectarian war in Lebanon; and engulfing the entire region in internecine flames.
The powers that gain from this atrocity are those that sow division and thrive on conflict in order to shore up their illegitimate hegemony over the region and over the mass of its ordinary, decent people.
Israeli political and military leaders of all levels have been issuing almost daily threats against Hezbollah while claiming that the Israeli army stands fully ready to confront – and even crush – Hezbollah. So, why don’t they destroy Hezbollah now?
Recently, Israel began to step up its verbal threats, “flexing the muscles” of its military. Hardly a day passes without a statement, report, or interview coming from the Jewish state raising alarm about Hezbollah’s military capabilities but affirming at the same time the “might” of the Israeli armed forces and their preparedness for any future conflict involving Hezbollah.
Israeli military commanders have all put their two cents in. The Israeli top brass seem to suffer from a curious case of overconfidence, prompting observers to wonder why Tel Aviv has not already proceeded to wage war and end Hezbollah once and for all, with victory so close at hand given Israel’s allegedly full readiness and unmitigated superiority.
The most recent statement on Hezbollah came from Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister. Steinitz was keen to affirm that Hezbollah does not have chemical weapons, and that it had not obtained any, prior to the deal to dismantle Syria’s arsenal being reached.
Steinitz may have been clarifying remarks made earlier by a senior Israeli officer, who said that it could be neither confirmed nor denied whether Hezbollah had acquired part of Syria’s chemical weapons – an issue that aggravates the concerns Israelis have regarding the losses to be expected in the event of a confrontation with Hezbollah.
In recent days, Tel Aviv resumed its campaign against Hezbollah, raising many questions about its aims with regard to timing. Usually, these Israeli campaigns, often instigated by the Israeli army spokesperson, seek to ramp up the perception of Israel’s deterrence vis-à-vis Hezbollah to dissuade it from carrying out any operations, or to warn it against responding if Tel Aviv decides to launch an attack.
The question is: Does this weeks-long campaign seek to achieve one of these goals, or both?
Colonel Asher Ben-Lulu, commander of the Israeli army’s Kfir infantry brigade, stressed the army was ready to face the worst and most complex scenarios involving Hezbollah, though he acknowledged, “The smartest and most formidable enemy we face is Hezbollah, whether at the level of intelligence, combat techniques, or military doctrine.” In an interview with Maariv, Ben-Lulu said, “Hezbollah is a smart enemy. It possesses a network of underground tunnels and has professional fighters and state-of-the-art combat techniques.”
Regarding scenarios for a future conflict with Hezbollah, Ben-Lulu warned, “The conflict will not involve convoys of armored vehicles or legions of soldiers, but [will involve] guerilla warfare and hostilities originating from civilian areas.” The Israeli colonel then stressed the need for additional troops on the ground, and said that the Kfir brigade would be suitable for the job.
Ben-Lulu continued, “The next war will see forces brought in to control the areas where rockets are launched. We at the Kfir brigade train on combat behind enemy lines to inflict heavy losses on the enemy.”
The commander then remarked that Israel’s enemies, especially Hezbollah, are fully aware of Israel’s air superiority, intelligence capabilities, and precise firepower, and said, “Hezbollah will operate underground, will not rely on communications, and will try to invalidate our superiority as a conventional army.”
In the same vein, Raafat Halabi, commander of the Israeli army’s Herev (Sword) battalion, said that his unit was prepared to move from “zero to one hundred” in a matter of seconds. In an interview with the website Israel Defense, the officer in charge of the Druze battalion specialized in combat in Lebanon revealed that preparations had been stepped up recently, with the build-up focusing on training and increased readiness for contingencies along the northern front. He said, “We must be ready in a matter of seconds.”
“Hezbollah members patrol the border in four-wheel drives or disguised as shepherds, who are sometimes seen carrying scopes,” he added.
Concerning whether Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria serves the interests of the Israeli army, Halabi said, “On the one hand, this hurts Hezbollah. But nevertheless, it allows its fighters to accumulate operational experience on how to carry out attacks.” Halabi reckoned that “offensive combat is new to Hezbollah, which has so far played on the defensive.”
Herev’s commander then pointed out that the members of his unit are frequently posted along different border positions with Lebanon to maintain their readiness, saying that in the next war, they will spend a long time inside Lebanese territory and reach the areas where Hezbollah’s rocket-launching platforms are deployed.
According to Israel Defense, a specialized military affairs website, the Herev battalion has developed new techniques to fight Hezbollah. Israel Defense indicated that the Northern Command in the Israeli army is currently considering transferring Herev’s techniques to other units that must also be ready for war.
The website also stated that the soldiers in the battalion were training to fight inside Lebanon in a third Lebanon war and to defend settlements in the Galilee, as Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah had promised “surprises” in any future conflict, for example, in the form of a Hezbollah incursion into northern Israel.