Lebanon’s Hezbollah has managed to resist Israel’s invading army –the region’s most powerful armed force– by successfully deploying guerrilla tactics in what is known as an asymmetric war (where one side is much more powerful than the other).
Bashar el Assad’s powerful Syrian army is waging an equally unbalanced war against the lightly armed Free Syrian Army (FSA). What would Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah advise the FSA to do in order to emerge victorious? Below are some of the tips he would have given the leaders of the FSA had he not decided to side with the forces of aggression:
- When the enemy is attacking, lay low. The point is to fight the enemy when its guards are down and is least expecting it. So with all the indiscriminate shelling happening today in Syria, the best thing the FSA can do is to wait and conserve its energy.
- Attack where the enemy is least prepared: The Syrian army is on the offensive in Homs and Zabadani? Attack in Deraa and Aleppo.
- Keep the propaganda war on: You’re the weak party that is being constantly pummeled by a stronger one. The aim is to lower the morale of your enemy’s soldiers and convince them that they’re fighting an unjust war. It is also to show the world that your enemy is an aggressor.
- Use your community’s support to your advantage. When the enemy approaches, melt away in the population. Burry your weapons in a safe place and don civilian clothes. The soldier can’t stay around forever. Occupation costs money.
- Use kidnapping, creative “qualitative operations” and deception. Those generate high publicity and raise the costs of protecting the enemy’s soldiers.
- Remember that the aim is to wear down the enemy, not to deliver a knockout blow.
And finally, always remember that things may take time, but be confident that in the end you will emerge victorious.
A few weeks ago the US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said the following: “Iran is basically down to just two principal remaining allies — the Assad clique in Syria and Hezbollah”
It was telling that Hamas was not on that list. There was talk at the time that Hamas has left the Mullahs and was now in the orbit of influence of post-revolutionary Egypt. Today we are starting to witness some of the repercussions of that break, as we are hearing noises about Hamas potentially letting go of armed resistance altogether and switching to non-violent resistance against Israel.
If this is true, it’s huge for two reasons:
- It would be the first time an Arab resistance group willfully abandons violence because it believes that non violence is a more effective way to restore rights. That should be attributed to the success of the revolutions in places like Tunisia.
- It would deprive the Hezbollah-Assad-Iran axis of the only Sunni ally they had, which served as very important PR talking point whenever they were accused of being a “Shiaa Crescent”.
Update: Read Hussein Ibish’s more subtle and informed take on Hamas’ realignment
If you watched CNN today, you can’t escape the part of the news that covers the American withdrawal from Iraq. There are endless videos of military vehicles streaming out of Iraq. There are interviews with happy soldiers. There’s even a reporter embedded inside one of the withdrawing vehicles. It’s one of those news items that just go on and on without end and leave you wishing there was a “next item” button.
Why am I bringing this up? Because this is something Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told us will never happen. Here’s what he said in his Ashoura speech on December 7th:
If you open the Arab and international satellites you will not find any news about the withdrawal from Iraq, no picture about the tanks’ or the army’s pullout, knowing that yesterday I read in a newspaper the number of American soldiers who are still present in Iraq.
How did 150,000 soldiers pullout from Iraq without anyone recognizing or even knowing about the issue? They did succeed in that.
This was –you guessed it– a conspiracy to hide the humiliation of a retreating American army that was vanquished by the “Iraqi Mujahideen”. The great American propaganda machine supposedly took great care in hiding images of the dog running with its tail between its legs, and “it succeeded”, Sayyed Nasrallah magnanimously conceded…
Alas, with Hezbollah, there’s always a conspiracy lurking around the corner. It’s the tinted glass they see the world with: A world that is out to get them against which they have to stay guarded, armed to the teeth and united. It is one thing to know a paranoid person. It is completely another to be ruled by one.
Le Figaro paints a picture of a despondent Hezbollah that is cornered, confused and angry. According to the french publication, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was betrayed by Imad Moughnieh who assassinated the Lebanese ex prime minister Rafik Hariri behind his back. Moughnieh was then killed himself by Maher el Assad in Damascus.
Steven Cook on liberal Egypt’s shock at the success of Salafists:
given the world in which many Egyptian liberals exist, they can’t seem to fathom where the Salafis come from so they complain about Saudi money and the manipulations of Habeeb al Adly’s Interior Ministry in the late Mubarak era, but I have news for them, they come from Egypt. It’s the same dynamic as when New Yorkers, for example, woke up on November 3, 2004 to learn that George W. Bush had been re-elected. Like everyone on the 6 train that morning who was feeling alienated from the rest of the United States, the denizens of La Bodega and the Marriott garden are collectively asking, “Who are these people?”
My own such moment of waking up to the other’s existence was on March 8 2005, when Hezbollah rallied hundreds of thousands of its supporters to thank Syria. I remember thinking precisely: “Who are these people?”
Back to Egypt. I think one of the best things that came out of the Egyptian elections is the surfacing of the Salafists from their underground. The choice was not between Salafists or no Salafists. It was between Salafists who are working in public and Salafists that are in public view and that are subject to the scrutiny of the rest of Egyptians.
That New York Times article about Hezbollah’s finances turned out to be a little amuse-bouche in preparation for the real news: The American government is launching a full on legal war on all parties that have dealt financially with Hezbollah as reported by the Times:
The court action, filed in Manhattan federal court, seeks nearly half a billion dollars in penalties from three Lebanese financial organizations — the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Beirut-based money exchange houses — and 30 auto dealers in the United States. The $480 million in penalties is the sum of the drug proceeds that are alleged to have been laundered; the government is also seeking to freeze and seize assets traceable to those companies.
SGBL, which took in the assets of the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) is safe because it refused to take in suspect accounts. But the court action might involve tracing the assets of the 200 account-holders orphaned by the LCB and who are now probably hosted at other Lebanese Banks. Governor Riad Salameh is in a tough spot as he might find himself forced to cooperate with the legal investigation and shine more light on a publicity-shy Lebanese banking system.
A nice side-story to this entire tale is that sources close to the Association of Banks in Lebanon told Annahar that the 36$M paid by Lebanese banks to the International Tribunal are partly meant as a gesture of goodwill towards an international community which has set its eyes on Lebanese banks for allegations of laundring money and dodging sanctions against Syria.
And yet this is the news they wake up to this morning.
One of the aspects that grated me most about the story that Lebanese private banks payed for the STL is the fact that the government did not end up paying. It was Lebanese private businesses who footed the bill, and it is still not clear if their shareholders got anything in return, save for perhaps “protection” from extortion.
On a symbolic level, this is bad. Remember those pesky Aounists who claimed that Hariri should pay this from his own pocket because he’s rich? Remember how we always answered that this is not about Hariri or other individuals, that this is about a commitment made by the Lebanese government to the international community on an institutional level?
This has all gone up in the wind. This is now a crude case of the merchant being extorted by the gunman. Lebanese institutions are more of a joke today than they ever were.
Update: Apparently Mr. Hariri doesn’t mind..
Considering the length of the New York Time’s exposé on Hezbollah’s finances and the Lebanese Canadian Bank (again, I strongly recommend that you read it) , you will be forgiven if you didn’t reach the very last paragraphs, specifically those that deal with Banque Du Liban’s Governor Riad Salameh’s cooperation with the treasury department and “terorrism financing”.
Long story short, there were two hundred bank accounts in the LCB that were identified as “suspect” and that the SGBL has refused to take in after acquiring the LCB’s assets. This left two hundred millionaires with potential Hezbollah connections as bank orphans who are shopping for a place to put their money in. Many banks would love their business, but the American treasury department would also like to keep its eye on them. For that to work, governor Salameh needs to cooperate with them.
Daniel L. Glaser, assistant Treasury secretary for terrorism financing, issued what seemed like a warning in the Times article:
What the Central Bank hasn’t fully demonstrated, and the jury is still out, is whether they will use [Governor Salameh's cooperation on the Lebanese Canadian Bank] as a launching pad to ensure that these illicit actors aren’t migrating elsewhere
The Times reporter also did his homework and followed up. Notice the skeptical language he’s using:
The signs are not terribly encouraging. The Central Bank governor, Riad Salameh, cut short an interview when asked about the aftermath of the American action, calling it an “old story.” As for those nearly 200 suspect accounts, Mr. Salameh would only say that he does not involve himself in such commercial questions.
Privately, he has played down the findings to the Treasury Department, attributing much of the suspicious activity to peculiarities in the way business is done in Africa. Those accounts he did deem problematic, he told the Americans, have been referred to Lebanon’s general prosecutor. But the prosecutor refused to comment, and his deputy, who handles money-laundering inquiries, said last week that he had received nothing.
In fact, as Treasury officials acknowledge, on Mr. Salameh’s watch, most of the accounts were simply transferred to several other Lebanese banks.
I don’t know about you, but this seems like a big and scary “I am watching you” directed at Governor Salameh.
Elias Muhanna (A.k.a Qifa Nabki) on the double standards of those who accuse March 14 of being the sectarian ones:
I challenge you seasoned Lebanon-watchers to listen to the final segment of [Nasrallah's Ashoura] speech [...] and tell me that it is not one of the most blatant and unashamed examples of sectarian incitement they’ve heard coming out of the mouth of a Lebanese politician in recent memory
I leave you with this thought. If Samir Geagea were to give a speech calling Nasrallah a modern-day Judas Iscariot, or if Saad Hariri wrote a tweet accusing the Shi`a of being heretical Uthman-killers and Aisha-slanderers, how quickly do you think the March 8th media outlets would be down their throats, calling them bloody-minded sectarian feudal warlords?
Excellent question.. (PS: makes sure you check Elias’ translations of the relevant parts of Nasrallah’s Ashoura speech in his post)