Temporary Reduction of Hezbollah Enrichment

hezbollah-funeral

Somewhere deep in the bowels of Dahieh, a Hezbollah communications task force is working hard to solve a prickly problem: Where should the party of God officially place blame for the assassination of Hassane Laqees, a man whose profile in the party is so high that the news of his death took the first spot on the BBC’s international news website?

For starters, Hezbollah must point a finger. It doesn’t do the whole ‘we will wait for our official investigations to end before blaming anyone’ line. Theirs is traditionally a choice between a whipping boy and complete silence. But today their options look particularly bad; the death of Hassane Laqees has already done irreversible harm to the party.

The Usual suspects

Blaming Israel or Saudi Arabia, a few weeks after the dual explosions in Dahieh that targeted the Iranian embassy and killed scores of innocent people, would be a morale-sapping admission of failure by the party which until recently derived a good deal of its power from its reputation of infallibility and its ability to protect its own. Two hits in a row awkwardly change the conversation from “bad luck” to “dangerous incompetence.”

Another snag is defining the nature of the enemy. Are we talking about crazy bearded Sunni ideologues who blow up themselves indiscriminately, whose very irrationality is cause for rallying the Shiaas around Hezbollah? Or are we talking about a precise, professional opponent who can carry out sophisticated assassinations of senior operatives in their strongholds?

The Not-So-Usual suspect

What we won’t be hearing for sure however is the possibility that Hassane Laqees’s head was a token of goodwill from the Iranians to the Americans as part of their latest deal. The secret talks are still ongoing after all. Killing such a high official in Hezbollah’s military arm could have been the Hezbollah equivalent of reducing Uranium enrichment to 5%.

Through this assassinations the Iranians would have dangled to the Americans the tantalizing prospect of Sayyed Nasrallah’s head as part of a future final deal, giving even more strength to the Iranian negotiating hand and giving more reasons for the Americans to concede regional influence and respect to the Persian behemoth..

The spinners have their work cut out for them..

Jumblat's Irish Peace

Something is cooking in Mukhtara


– Could this be where Lebanon’s future is built? –

The sage of the mountains may have his quirks, but one of his redeeming qualities is his ability to gaze into the future and start planning. His next plan: Disarming Hezbollah amicably using a long term peace process inspired by the Good Friday Agreement that helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.

In his recent Kalam el Nass interview, Mr. Jumblat focused many times on “oranizing our internal affairs”, and he kept mentioning the irish peace process as a good model. For those who don’t know, the Belfast Agreement came out of a process that took a long time, most of which was spent on building trust and imagining a mutually beneficial future for the northern Irish people.  Continue…

If Only They Could See It

Hezbollah supporters are incapable of seeing that Assir’s group is the mirror image of Hezbollah

In many ways, Hezbollah, the well organised military force with strategic thinking and regional reach, is very different from the ragtag band of clumsy and reactive gun holders who support sheikh Ahmad el Assir (and similar, less known figures in Sunni Lebanon).

Just putting the two together in an argument is quickly dismissed as either a sign of amateurism or an act of sectarian provocation, especially by supporters of Hezbollah –many of whom are my friends– who are insulted by the very act of comparing the two. They are quick to note that Hezbollah’s stated objectives is the fighting of an enemy (Israel), while Assir’s outbursts are nakedly sectarian.

Mirror mirror..

I submit to many of the logical arguments for why Hezbollah is different than Al-Assir’s thugs, even if I dispute the assertion that Hezbollah is a force for good in the country.

But “reality” is beside the point.

In Lebanon nowadays, all that matters is perception and base instincts. What is true is that to many in Lebanon, there is absolutely no difference between “bearded Shiaas with guns” and “bearded Sunnis with guns”. The only difference is the one that is on your side.

When my friends, Hezbollah’s supporters, look at Ahmed el Assir and his armed men and feel sick to their stomach with disgust, I hope they realize that this is exactly what many Sunnis feel when they see Hezbollah.

What Sayyed Nasrallah Wants


Banners by Hezbollah welcoming the Pope

To understand Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s calls for protests against the Innocence of Muslims movie, a call that puzzled observers who saw Sayyed Nasrallah as a rational player with no interest in fanning flames at the moment, it is important to look at two driving forces in Hezbollah’s strategic thinking: 1) The competition for the hearts and minds of Lebanese Christians, and 2) The narrative for Syria and for the region in general. Continue…

Give This National Dialogue a Chance

Despite many failed attempts at national dialogue in the past, there are reasons to hope the upcoming one is the real deal.

National dialogue lebanon
Many national dialogues have come and gone

Insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results every time. The Lebanese have tried national dialogues many times before and failed. Wouldn’t it be insane to even think that the next one could be any different?

There are many reasons to be skeptical and pessimistic. This could all be theatre designed to diffuse the alarming street tension. It could be a conspiracy of politicians trying to divvy up the next parliamentary elections. It could also start with good intentions and then bump into the usual hurdles: Hezbollah’s weapons, the International Tribunal and other knotty issues. Why even bother going through all of that again?

Continue…

What Hezbollah and America Have in Common

A smart and interesting angle from Andrew Exum:

Hezbollah finds itself in much the same position as the United States as it watches the clouds of war gather between Israel and Iran. Like the United States, it has reason to hope conflict can be averted. But like the United States, it is realistic about the likelihood that it will be drawn into a conflict once the first shots are fired.

The important insight here is that both of them are so wary of a war that they’re almost willing to work together to prevent it from happening.. That would nicely explain the chumminess between the two sides lately.. (PS: Exum is one of the paint-balling 4)

Operation "The Light Side of Hezbollah"

A few days after “paint-balling with Hezbollah”, we get yet another exposé in an english language publication in which the themes of Hezbollah, entertainment and western journalists getting privileged access and bragging about it, are mixed together.

“Inside Hezbollah’s Terror Tech Museum”, published today in WIRE, (more colorfully republished in io9) is yet another piece in which the journalist (in this case Sharon Weinberger) tries to overcompensate for his access to Hezbollah by using the words “terror” and “terrorism” whenever he can. (Translation: Yes, I fraternized with Hezbollah but I still think they’re a bunch of baby killing monsters)

Everybody wins. Hezbollah plays the journalists, the journalists brag about their access and western readers get exotic photos and material to read.

Do I get anything out of the article? Yes: I find myself thinking that the amount of visitors to the Mleeta park is directly related to how popular Hezbollah is in the region. If only I could get statistics of visits, how they changed during key Hezbollah events, and how they are affected by the events in Syria.. (Thanks Azmi)

Update:

Patric Galey, a western journalist with an extensive Beirut experience (reporting for the Daily Star, a local newspaper with a Lebanese readership), explains western Journalists’ fascination with Hezbollah:

["paint-balling with Hezbollah"] is in keeping with a long narrative of western gawping at Hezbollah. We’ve all done it. When I first arrived in Beirut I wrote excitedly that six days into my stay I’d had tea with party officials. I thought that was cool and, in a way, I suppose it was for someone fresh off the plane. But reporters learn and evolve. When you’ve gathered party sources and interviewed enough officials, you realize that, largely, Hezbollah is just like most political parties here; they just happen to have more rockets

Maybe “fresh off the plane” should be the standard way of dismissing writers who come up with such pieces..

Hezbollah Fighters and American Journalists Shoot Each Other for Fun

Think of this scenario: 4 American Journalists, one of whom was publicly accused of killing P.M Rafik Hariri in a Beirut press conference last year, and another had greatly angered Hezbollah by publishing a supposed interview with one of their operatives accused of killing Hariri, have managed somehow to arrange a game of paintball with 4 Hezbollah fighters.

“It took nearly a full year to pull together this game”, wrote Mitchel Prothero, one of the 4, “and all along I’d been convinced that things would fall apart at the last minute. Fraternizing with Westerners is not the sort of thing Hezbollah top brass allows”.

Long story short, it happened, and Michel Prothero lived to tell the story. They played, they laughed, they joked, and Hezbollah apparently kept cheating and using real weapons. But this for a good cause, Prothero explains. In case you’re wondering why honest-to-god American journalists are playing with terrorists, rest assured that it’s for the greater good:

After more than five years in Beirut, I’d never once found a way to interact closely with Hezbollah fighters. So I wondered: What might I learn if I could get them out of their tightly disiplined environment, into a place where they might relax a little and trust me enough to reveal even a fleeting truth or insight?

This is an entertaining read, but something bothers me about it and I can’t put my finger on it.. Maybe if you read it you can tell me..

Update: But of course there was going to be a parody.. (Thanks Moussa)

Lebanese Cartoonist Had To Defend Drawing of Sayyed Nasrallah

This caricature has landed famous Lebanese cartoonist Pierre Sadek in hot waters (Arabic) with “the people of the resistance”. I’m looking at it and I honestly can’t see why anyone would be offended by it. Unless the very portrayal of a man of religion is forbidden, but last time I check such reverence was reserved for the Prophet only..

❊ The National Dialogue. A Waste of Time or a Chance for Hezbollah to Bow Out?

– For a change, this could be useful –

From an editorial in Now Lebanon:

The national defense strategy is a chimera, a function that allows the Party of God to maintain its weapons while appearing to side with reason and debate. Does he honestly believe that Hezbollah would put its weapons at the disposal of the state when they are the very stick that allows it to beat the state whenever it feels like it?

I made that same argument before, but I think this conventional wisdom is worth revisiting in the wake of what’s happening in Syria and Iran nowadays: What if the national dialogue was Hezbollah’s chance to disarm without losing face?

Maybe this sounds too optimistic and more like a stretch of imagination. But let’s assume a regional war against Iran and an implosion of the Syrian regime take place in the coming years. With its two military crutches broken, wouldn’t Hezbollah prefer to transition into the role of normal Lebanese party that advocates a different kind of resistance –namely moral and economic– against Israel?

It would be a mistake to humiliate a weakened Hezbollah considering the place it has in the hearts of many in the Lebanese Shiaa community and considering the danger it could pose if it found itself cornered. A grand Lebanese bargain, as Michael Young had suggested in a previous National column, could be the wise course of action to take:

an increasingly insecure Hizbollah is also potentially a dangerous one. Now is the time for the party’s Lebanese rivals to consider innovative ideas for integrating Shiites into the political system. One such idea is to offer a swap – Hizbollah’s weapons in exchange for more political power for the Shiites – in the framework of a broader reform effort.

For reasons of self-interest, if not compassion, the rest of the Lebanese would do well to give Hezbollah a ladder to climb down on. The national dialogue would be the perfect theater to stage such an honorable exit