Thursday, February 28, 2013

Shaykh Al Aseer and the transition from the sectarian cold war to the hot war

There is a threat of a sectarian hot war in Lebanon that puts an end to the long simmering sectarian cold war that started with the assassination of PM Rafiq Hariri..

As of today-the sectarian war, if it were to break out, it would be the result of using force against the al- Aseer and his supporters.

If the Hezbollah attacks al Aseer- there is no doubt that the Hezbollah will win-easily. However, it will not be another May 17 operation. Far from it. Lebanon will be firmly on the path of being another post 2003 Iraq.

There will be sectarian attacks, suicide bombings etc.- Iraq style.

Let's hope not. Not because there are many "mixed marriages" but because sectarian wars, civil wars, are medieval in their brutality and viciousness.

There is also the real threat that the Lebanese armed forces and the Lebanese police face significant desertions from Sunni Lebanese who will again see Hezbollah using its military power against their co-religionists while the army and the police are watching in what appears to be tacit acceptance- like what happened on May 7th.

It is well known that in the aftermath of the May 7 onslaught a large number of Sunni officers submitted their resignation from the army. All but one of them withdrew it. They withdrew their resignation for 2 reasons. 1. The Future Movement did not want war nor did it support their resignation. 2. There was a political compromise/deal being worked on and Saad al Hariri said he is a lover/builder and not a fighter.

That is not going to be the case with a violent move against al Aseer.

Worst of all if al Aseer is killed- his successor will not be of the same nature as al Aseer.

Al Aseer has avoided sectarian incitement and called, ad nauseum, for co-existence. His successor will abandon that policy since it would, from the group's viewpoint, have proven unworkable.

The Al Aseer message has resonance in the Sunni community in Lebanon, Syria and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world as one can easily discern from his Youtube channels and Facebook page. His death would provide the movement with the high- profile martyr it needs and help further mobilize and recruit the disgruntled Lebanese Sunnis who have been sitting on the fence unhappy that Rafiq al Hariri and Wesam al Hassan were killed and Saad al Hariri is afraid to come back to Lebanon.

Just like Ghaddafi's criminal kidnapping and killing of Imam Sayed Musa Sadr helped strengthen the Lebanese Amal Movement, as the movement leaders themselves admitted to Augustus Norton in Amal and the Shi'a, the killing of Al Aseer will make the Al Aseer movement bigger,stronger and more militant.

Are the Lebanese ready for the showdown and its aftermath?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Dearborn- notable and quotable

'"We've been observing Muslim communities in the United States for thirty, forty years," Fuller told me when I talked to him a few months before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. "Until the '90s nothing developed from those operations that caused people to say we've got a threat here." Then came the first World Trade Center bombing of 1993. "Thereafter, we were taking a little bit stronger look at Muslim communities. Yet no one came out of that harder look. No match or link or whatsoever from observing the people who lived in Dearborn, Michigan. Nothing ever came out of Dearborn, Michigan, or anywhere else that was remotely connected to the people who did what they did in 1993, or any of the other attacks up to and including 9/11." Fuller added: "It's always been my argument that Muslim communities in the United States haven't been supporting terror or  sheltering terrorists in any significant way. The response to 9/11 was to use a nuclear weapon to kill a gnat. People suddenly thought that if you're a Muslim, you're either a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer."'

Retired FBI veteran Myron Fuller  whose responsibility was "researching the links between US Muslim communities and international terrorist organizations."

The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured war on Terrorism by Trevor Aaronson. p. 210

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hizbullah: On Lebanese sheep- and a “rebuffed” United States

Flag of Hizbullah


Nabil Haitham of the Lebanese pro-Hizbullah Lebanese newspaper Assafir wrote a short article that has valuable insights on Hizbullah.

In the article he attributes some comments to “Hizbullah members.”

The other comments he attributed to the # 2 public face of Hizbullah, Shaykh Naim Qassim.

Shaykh Naim Qassim is known in the West as the author of Hizbullah: the Story from Within. He is Sayed Hassan Nasrallah’s deputy and is known as one of the more hawkish leaders of the group.

The comment attributed by Haitham to Hizbullah members is that some in the group see the group confronting internal and external challenges. The external enemies are referred to as “wolves”, and the internal enemies, that is Lebanese who oppose the group, are described as “sheep who have grown claws.” This is a very interesting use of language. Thinking of the group’s internal adversaries as “sheep” is interesting characterization of fellow Lebanese, individuals or groups.

Are they “lambs” because the group is preparing them for slaughter? Or because they are not armed while the group is armed?  Whatever the intent is or the meaning of this usage of the word lambs- on the face of it- it reveals an arrogant and condescending attitude to fellow Lebanese.

Haitham also attributes certain comments to Shaykh Qassim.  Qassim claims that “Americans” tried to open channels of communication with Hizbullah and the Hizbullah rebuffed the U.S. “We wanted a change in mentality and they wanted a photo- op.”

Who were these Americans? From which branch of government?

Most likely Qassim was referring to former President Jimmy Carter who asked to meet with the group- a meeting it declined.

Below is link to the interview.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hizbullah and Europe: The Future holds a smaller world?

Flag of the EU

Flag of Hizbullah

Bulgaria has charged two alleged members of Hizbullah with the terrorist attack on its soil against Israelis. It is possible that this accusation will result in the EU’s classifying Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. Currently the EU differentiates between the military wing and the political/social wing of Hizbullah. As a result of this distinction members and supporters of Hizbullah operate in Western Europe raising funds and holding events.

This EU policy has been criticized by the U.S. which does not distinguish between a social or political wing and a military/”terrorist wing” of Hizbullah. As far as the U.S. government is concerned, and this message has been consistent U.S. policy for the past decades, is that Hizbullah is a terrorist organization. The fact that the "terrorist organization," the US government logic goes, has acquired a social wing and a political wing and got involved in the  "respectable politics" of Lebanon as a "responsible player", does not mean that the group has “evolved” as some observers of the groups have noted- observers such as Hala Jaber and Judith Harik. The U.S. sees the group as fundamentally and inalterably a terrorist group, which with time, acquired a social wing and a political wing. To the US government the Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that has not evolved or changed a bit- it has merely acquired, for its own tactical reasons, social and political outfits.

The U.S. has tried to convince the Europeans to change their mind about the distinction between a "good" Hizbollah and a "bad" Hizbollah. Over the years these efforts have failed because the Europeans do not see Hizbullah as a threat to them the way that the U.S. does. This is understandable. The position that the U.S. has in the ideology and rhetoric of Hizbollah, and its patron Iran, is not shared by any of the European states. In fact, one can say that Hizbollah is built around enmity to the U.S. While the Hizbollah does sometimes say that it has a problem with the U.S. government and not the American people, the enmity to U.S. power and influence is not seen as a charge to be denied but is regarded by the group as a badge of honor and a claim to Islamic credibility and authenticity. It is common to hear the chants of “death to America” at the group’s events even when the subject of the celebration or the protest is not connected to U.S. government or policy. 

The crisis over the Iranian nuclear program is instructive on how Hizbollah sees the U.S. Many in the Arab and Muslim world believe that the “Jewish lobby” controls the U.S. and is responsible for all the policies that Arabs and Muslims hate. Not Hizbollah. The leader of Hizbollah Sayed Nasrallah has stated that he does not believe that Israel controls the U.S. He thinks it is the other way around- he believes the U.S. controls Israel and all the bad deeds of Israel are attributable to the U.S. Therefore, he stated that an Israeli attack on Iran is an American attack on Iran and his group would respond according to this logic.

One is tempted to say that the U.S. position on Hizbullah is the result of the Israel lobby. The effusively pro- Israel statements by senators and congressmen give that impression. However, the concern about Hizbullah’s intents and capabilities is not a matter of political grandstanding. The head of the FBI called the Hizbullah the “A team of terror.” This is not a political statement tied to elections and fundraising. This is the assessment of the intelligence community that is concerned about the group due to, as seen by the intelligence community, three factors: a history of attacks on American targets, capacity to attack American targets with sleeper cells in the U.S., and a virulent anti- American ideology and rhetoric that does not leave any space for doubt about the intentions of the group.

One question often asked is why the E.U. approach is different from the U.S. approach: Why  does the U.S. refuse to follow the European approach of distinguishing between the different branches of Hizbullah? The more important question is whether Hizbullah wants the U.S. to deal with it the way the Europeans are dealing with it so far. Hizbullah has not undertaken any effort that indicates that  it wants a different relationship with the U.S. The reason for that is that enmity to the U.S. is so fundamental to the ideology and the identity of Hezbollah that the group needs and wants the existing dynamic.

  There will be serious consequences to the EU’s classification of Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. This classification will undo years of Hezbollah PR efforts that have excluded the U.S. but focused intently on building up the group’s reputation as a legitimate organization that deserves recognition and engagement.  The group has spent ample resources to reach out to any and all in Western Europe who would listen to it that it is a “resistance group” and not a “terrorist” group. The fact that the Europeans disagreed with the U.S.’s approach to Hizbullah was used by Hizbullah to argue that the U.S. approach has more to do with the U.S. and its aggressive and aggressor foreign policy toward the "freedom fighting" group than with what the group is and what it stands for. The argument went: Why would France and the UK, friends and allies of the U.S., resist U.S. pressure and deal with the Hizbullah had it not been that the U.S. is the problem and not Hizbullah?

That argument that the problem is the U.S. and not Hizbullah will become untenable if the EU moves to classify Hizbollah as a terrorist group. It would be the end of partial Western respectability of the group and will have serious consequences for the many organizational and individual supporters of the group in Europe.

If the EU makes the move- the world of Hizbullah and its supporters will shrink and their margin of movement will be severely reduced. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The 2006 Lebanon War and the 14th of March Movement

In the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, Hezbollah and its supporters accused the 14th of March Movement of colluding with Israel in its effort to destroy Hezbollah and bring war and destruction to the Shia-majority areas of South Lebanon and the Beirut Southern suburbs (Dahiyeh). This accusation is a serious accusation- an accusation that is one of the main reasons behind worsened tensions between Sunnis and the Shias in Lebanon. This accusation meant that the Sunni Prime Minister of the time, Fouad Saniora, was colluding to have Israel destroy the homes and the liveliood of the Shias.  This accusation helped kick Sunni-Shia tensions to a  level unprecedented in Lebanon's history. MP Fouad Saniora represents the biggest constituency among the Sunni Lebanese and holds the top Sunni position in government. Hezbollah is a Shia group. The increased sectarian tensions should have been surprising to no one.

As evidence of this serious accusation, in addition to a selective release of he said-she said hearsay Wikileaks documents, the meeting that was held with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at the US emabsssy in Beirut was presented as evidence of collusion. In her memoir, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, Rice mentions the 2006 war and how she was pushing for the end of the war against Lebanon. This is the exact opposite of what the Hezbollah and its supporters claim that the 14th of March and Rice were trying to do during the 2006 war. Those who met Rice were meeting the voice in the adminstration vigorously pressing for the end of the damaging war- a war that most of the Lebanese were not consulted on its beginning or its end.

There is more validation of this reality that has been distorted and mangled by the supporters of Hezbollah- who by default or by design are pouring oil on the sectarian fires.

Lee Smith in a book review of Elliott Abrams' book, Tested by Zion. a review published in The Wall Street Journal of February 4, 2013, Smith writes:

"But it wasn't until Israel's 2006 war with the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah that Mr. Sharon's absence proved decisive. Unlike Mr. Sharon, who, as Mr. Abrams explains, had masterfully cajoled Ms. Rice, the inexperienced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was incapable of managing her. As secretary of state, Ms. Rice was so determined to leave her mark as peacemaker that she seems to have viewed Israel's second Lebanon war as a personal affront. She unconscionably adopted Hezbollah talking points, like demanding that Israel return the Shebaa Farms, a small plot of land in the Golan Heights, to Lebanon, a move that implicitly justified Hezbollah terrorism against the Jewish state. This was one of a number of self-inflicted wounds that issued from Ms. Rice's newfound distrust of Israeli leaders."

The truth is the first casualty of war- it should not remain mangled in the post-war period.