Four days that shook the Middle East

Viernes 30 de mayo de 2008 por CEPRID

Alberto Cruz CEPRID

The taking of Beirut by Hizbollah militants and their allies from May 7th to May 11th foiled a political military operation supported by the US and Saudi Arabia against Lebanese patriotic nationalist forces meant to weaken and defeat Hizbollah decisively .

Since Hizbollah defeated Israel in the war of the summer of 2006, both the US administration and the Saudi monarchy have promoted a dual strategy against that organization : on the one hand to reduce its prestige among significant parts of Arab people’s opinion from Morocco to Iraq, regardless of religious affiliation and on the other to disarm its military structure.

The campaign to undermine Hizbollah began from the very moment the war ended and spread further when that organization and the patriotic nationalist forces supporting it (Maronite Christians, and leftist secular groups) began a campaign of civil disobedience against the Siniora government in November 2006.

With the resignation of Hizbollah’s five government ministers, along with a Maronite Christian, the government ought to have resigned too, since the Lebanese constitution stipulates that any decision taken without the presence of all the religious confessions is illegitimate. Still, the government defended its position, counting on Western and Saudi support.

That decision by the Siniora government was not autonomous but imposed from outside. It was impossible to accept under any circumstances a government influenced by an organization that had defeated Israel and whose example was regarded sympathetically by organizations like Hamas in Palestine. That would "destabilize" the region. In other words, it would signpost the way for peoples to free themselves from the yoke of corrupt regimes. It is what Middle East commentators call the "Hizbollah effect", one which buries US neocolonial plans for that part of the world.

So, therefore, it was necessary to intensify a sectarian campaign along the lines of "growing Shi’ia regional influence" or "Hizbollah, an Iranian puppet". That is the context in which to note the appearance of phenomena like Fatah al Islam in the Narh al Bared Palestinian camp near Tripoli. There, for some time, the pro-Saudi Future Movement organization led by Saad Hariri has been influential and has consequently sought an armed counterweight to Hizbollah. Thus, too, have appeared Sunni militias, in the form of security contractors like Secure Plus, for example, with which to confront "Shi’ite expansion" and also police forces clearly linked to the Hariri clan which owes its fortune to a close alliance with the Saudis and concretely to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, currently Saudi Arabia’s Security Minister. (1)

The confrontations in Narh al Bared were seen as a pilot trial by the Siniora government for a future confrontation with Hizbollah. But the effort did not work out. Despite the camp’s destruction, the conflict did not spread beyond. That meant, therefore, another turn of the screw. This took the form of accusations against Hizbollah’s communications network and a demand for its dismantling from the most faithful representative of imperialist and Zionist interests in Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt.

Quickly taken up by Western media, the Siniora government set to work and decided to dismantle the network and to fire the airport’s security chief for being regarded as too close to Hizbollah. But the existence of the network turned out to be old news, as well as being the basis for Hizbollah’s victory against Israel in the war of the summer of 2006. So why the anxiety of the government to dismantle it right then?

In Beirut people are convinced a plan existed for Israel and the US, with the connivance of some Arab governments, to carry out a military operation against Hizbollah, intended for April 25th which was finally deterred by that telecommunications network and especially by its presence on runways 1 through 7 of the international airport. The day chosen for that operation coincided with some military manoeuvres, "Turning Point 2", Israel was carrying out on the Lebanese frontier.

When Imad Mugniya, one of Hizbollah’s main military leaders, was assassinated in Damascus, it was unanimously considered as an Israeli provocation trying to force a response from Hizbollah and so start a new war. Since Hizbollah decided that it would respond, but choosing for itself where and when, it became necessary to carry out a new provocation. That was the operation that was cancelled on discovering Hizbollah’s communications network in Beirut’s airport. So, for such an operation to be feasible in future, that system had to be dismantled.

Al Ahram, the Egyptian weekly graphically reported what that measure might mean : "For the foreign intelligence community operating in the Middle East, often in collaboration with allied regimes (meaning pro-Western Arab governments - A.C.) it is no secret that Israel has the technological capacity to supervise and listen to regional telecommunications. The Hizbollah network has turned out to be impenetrable and that is a source of frustration as much for the US and for the Israelis.

So Jumblatt and the Siniora government’s alarm at the Hizbollah network and Beirut international airport’s security chief can only be interpreted in the context of the US-Israeli escalation against Syria and Iran. A possible military action against Iran or Syria would require the neutralization if not the destruction of Hizbollah. If Prime Minister Siniora had been successful in the case of Hizbollah’s telecommunications network, especially with cooperation from the Lebanese army, it is not difficult to guess where the operating manuals and codebooks would have fetched up 48 hours later." (2)

As Hasan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s General Secretary said, it was clearly a declaration of war. Jumblatt, as well as Siniora and Hariri, were well aware what they were asking for and their hope was for the army to take on what it had not done when the Islamists rose up in Nahr al Bared : a total war against Hizbollah. In that scenario, UNIFIL would have felt "obliged" to intervene in support of the Lebanese army, applying UN Security Council’s Resolution 1701. But Hizbollah showed them they had made a huge error of judgement. And it did so in just four days.

Taking Beirut was a masterful political-military operation and a demonstration of the coolness of an organization that knows how to measure its strikes to perfection, as was clear from its refusal to occupy either the seat of government or the residences of the main pro-Western leaders and from its handover to the army of the areas taken under its control. The army is not its target. Nor is sectarian confrontation, contrary to the past-its-sell-by-date, ignorant, provocative coverage of Western news media and Arab media aligned with their reactionary regimes.

And something even more worrying for supporters of a government already about to capsize : the militias they had created to "protect" themselves from the Shi’ites dissolved like sugar in a coffee cup. US$60 million thrown in the trash can and three years worth of work by Western secret services and Arab States (the Saudi Arabians and Jordanians in particular) for nothing. (3)

The Arab street

The Arab street by no means perceived a return to civil war, so readily mentioned by the Western media, nor the Sunni-Shia confrontation reported in the official media of pro-Western Arab regimes. Recent polls show that 63% of Lebanese consider that the Siniora government is responsible for what happened.(4) In Egypt, Nasrallah continues to be seen as a reference point for the Arab world (5) and Mohamed Mahdi Akef, supreme leader of the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood has publicly said, "The Lebanese resistance is the only group working for the good of the country (Lebanon) by confronting the US-Zionist alliance"

In Jordan, where the monarchy is training mercenaries of Hariri’s private army - both the Sunni islamists and a prestigious group of 60 lay and muslim intellectuals have publicly supported Hizbollah.(6) The perception on the Arab street is not that of their governments. Hizbollah’s prestige remains practically intact.(7) However, one does have to acknowledge that in some orthodox Sunni sectors Hizbollah’s image is not the same, when some people continue encouraging the formation of Sunni militias as an "Islamic resistance to Iran and its proxies in Lebanon".(8)

Street opinion is beginning to make inroads into Arab governments. In the emergency meeting called by the Arab League, as well as the confrontation between Syria and Saudi Arabia, one could note a significant discrepancy from Saudi Arabian arguments on the part of countries like Qatar, Yemen and Algeria. Now the hard core remaining is made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. This triad of pro-Western governments are the only ones maintaining the stale discourse of Iranian interference in the area and the only ones who continue arguing for a strategy of containment of "Shia expansion".

The weakness of the triad and of their United States mentors is complete. If the defeat of the Lebanese government is clear, forced to give up the dismantling of Hizbollah’s telecommunications network and the dismissal of the airport security chief, it is no less a defeat for Saudi Arabian strategy. The ones who turned Lebanon into a hostage of their confrontation with Iran are now weaker and less able to manoeuvre.

That is why Saudi King Abdullah has contradicted his Foreign Minister when the latter described what happened over those four days as a "coup" and why he called on Middle Eastern countries to abstain from stoking up "sectarian tensions" in Lebanon. Although everyone has to make concessions, the ones who have to most of all are the Lebanese government and its advisers, by having to accept General Michel Suleiman as the new president, the formation of a government of national unity and, most importantly, a review of the electoral law before parliamentary elections next year.

That implies a reform of the Taif Agreements of 1990 and the end of sectarianism, a legacy of French colonialism. The conversations being held in Doha, the Qatari capital will not prosper if people insist on disarming Hizbollah while the Shebaa Farms remain occupied and the Lebanese constituion remains unreformed.


(1)Alberto Cruz: "La nueva estrategia de EEUU en Líbano: la guerra secreta contra Hizbulá" http://www.nodo50.org/ceprid/spip.php?article31

(2)Al Ahram (Egipto), May 15th-20th 2008.

(3)The Angeles Times, May 12th 2008.

(4)Asia Times, May 13th 2008.

(5)Al Destour (Egipto), May 13th 2008

(6)Al Manar, May 14th 2008

(7)Asia Times, May 16th 2008.

(8)Khaled Al-Dhaher, Lebanese ex-Deputy, interviewed on LBC TV May 12th 2008.

Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and writer specializing in International relations - albercruz@eresmas.com

CEPRID - Centro de Estudios Políticos para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Desarollo (www.nodo50.org/ceprid)

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