Sunday, May 27, 2007

Syria's Media Insurgency in Lebanon

Almost as soon as the Syrian-backed Fatah al-Islam group launched a series of suprise attacks on Lebanese Army outposts and patrols, Syria’s other allies in the country mounted a suprise attack of their own, attempting to transform a battle that should have rallied all Lebanese together in the defense of the state into a partisan conspiracy aimed at breaking any potential unity that could have arisen out of this week’s national tragedy and impending victory.

Armed with a feature piece laden with “anonymous tip offs”, “someone told me’s”, “my source’s theories”, and “I heards” (the majority of which could be traced back to pro-Syrian sources in the first place) as well as a set of misconstrued events and flaky recounts, the country’s pro-Syrian mouthpieces have sought to propagate their claim that the very same group the government has vowed to “finish off” in the upcoming days and hours, is in fact receiving arms and funds from it, and that any effort to eliminate the remaining 100 or so terrorists in the camp would be a mistake (I’ll get to that later). But while this malicious campaign continues to grow fiercer by the day, the supports on which it was built have already started to crumble.

In his latest editorial, the Dailystar’s Opinion Editor, Michael Young, builds on an earlier deconstruction of Seymoure Hersh’s New Yorker article (the above mentioned feature piece) and takes the allegations of Hariri family funding extremist groups head-on. Young writes,

“The lie about the government financing of Fatah al-Islam has been given legitimacy thanks to a spectacular blunder by the Hariri camp, in particular Bahiyya al-Hariri. A few months ago she helped resolve a crisis that had resulted from the presence of Islamists located in the Taamir district of Sidon, abutting the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, by paying compensation money to Jund al-Sham militants so they would leave the area.

However, instead of disbanding, a number of the militants went to Nahr al-Bared, according to Palestinian sources. There, they joined Fatah al-Islam. Now the Hariris look like they financed Islamists, when they were really only doing what they usually do when facing a problem: trying to buy it away.”
In addition to the Taamir incident, however, Syria’s defenders in the country have attempted to build upon a joining of ranks between the country’s leading moderate Sunni group, the Future Movement – led by the Hariri family, and conservative Sunni groups such as the Jamaa Islamiyya. Writing in early March, Young previews the build up to the campaign of disinformation we are witnessing today,

In fact, it is true that the Lebanese government is allied with Sunni Islamists - most notably Al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya, the Lebanese branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The reality is that amid the sectarian polarization in Lebanon today, most Sunnis have rallied to the government's side, against the Shiite Hizbullah. Al-Jamaa is close to Saudi Arabia, and in 2005 the Saudis intervened prior to parliamentary elections that followed the Syrian withdrawal to ensure the group would not vote against candidates in North Lebanon backed by Saad Hariri, Lebanon's most powerful Sunni leader who enjoys American and Saudi backing. However, Al-Jamaa is nothing like Esbat al-Ansar or Fatah al-Islam; it has integrated into the state and has had members in Parliament.
While its true that the Hariri family’s attempts to unify all ranks of the Lebanese Sunni community (be they liberal, moderate or conservative) under the flag of its Future Movement, has resulted in some paltry sums of money reaching unsavoury types, there is no credible evidence and absolutely no indication, based on their stances, cross-sectarian allegiances, and policies in Lebanon to date to support the allegation that these activities constitute an attempt to assemble extremist militant groups in the country, let alone the country’s Palestinian Refugee Camps.

A Victory for Lebanon

And so, while the Lebanese Army prepares to finish a battle Syria’s Fatah al-Islam started, Syria’s most influential ally in the country has moved to cast a protective cover for its [Syria’s] terrorists in Nahr el Bared.

Speaking in a televised address on Friday night, Hizballah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, claimed that an assault on the camp would be a “mistake” and that any attempt to move on the camp and terrorists within it constitutes a “red line”.

But a red line for whom? For the Palestinians? Since the launch of military operations at the camp Palestinian factions have voiced unconditional support for the Lebanese Army and Government in their campaign to dislodge what they described as a “foreign element” that has “no links to either the Palestinian people, cause, or the Sunni religion”.

The fact of the matter is that a successful conclusion to this crisis for the country’s military would constitute a defeat of the Secretary General’s rhetoric which itself has amounted to an assault on the ability of the Lebanese Army to provide a security cover for the country, and for the state to enforce its control over the entirety of Lebanon’s territory. Fellow blogger, Abu Kais, reported on a speech Nasrallah made on April 8th, 2007:
Speaking before 1,700 Hizbullah university students, Nasrallah admitted he was running his own state. "When you become a state,come back and demand that we don't [run our own]… Having a state depends on a strong army able to confront any Israeli attack."
In short, a victory for the Lebanese Army coupled with the Government’s ongoing efforts to place the contested Shebaa farms under a UN mandate would provide all the Lebanese with undeniable proof that there is a veritable state capable of confronting both the internal and external dangers facing the Lebanese nation and people. It is a victory Hassan Nasrallah, and his extra-institutional mini-state, cannot afford to accept and it is a victory all the Lebanese cannot afford to forgo.


  1. Looks like Nasrallah is a very unhappy camper. He has a 'divine' resistance in search of an occupation and a strong and capable Lebanese Army is going to get his knickers in a real twist. No wonder the looked stressed (to say it mildly) in his speech. The situation is just going from Bad to Worse for him.

  2. Rodrigo5:58 AM

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  3. Hassan Nasrallah, claimed that an assault on the camp would be a “mistake” and that any attempt to move on the camp and terrorists within it constitutes a “red line”.

    Not even close to what nasrallah said (i heard the speech twice, yeh i know i have plenty of free time :-).

    He said: assault (bombing) on the camp with refugees in it is like assault on a lebanese village with its inhabitants in it to kill a criminal who has taken refuge there...

    Assualt on the palestinian refugee camp (no mention of terrorist) is a red line. To him this also constitutes an assault on the ARMY, by dragging it into a war with alqaida who may be brought in...

    and any attack or assault on the ARMY is a red line.

    this position is not far from the position of the ARMY. Army chief refused to enter the camp when ordered to by the cabinet at the beginning of the crisis, remember?

    There are fears that this may drag into sunni-shii clashes with refugee camps scattered in the south.

    Palestinian in camps stand against FAI (which is not palestinian) but that doesn't mean they will tolerate incursion into the camps that may cause civilian casualties and set precedant to entering other camps...

    I think it is the 1559 in action now. (sorry for this long comment, i tried to shorten it as much as possible at risk of being misunderstood)

  4. But Moussa (M Bashir),

    Assualt on the palestinian refugee camp (no mention of terrorist) is a red line. To him this also constitutes an assault on the ARMY, by dragging it into a war with alqaida who may be brought in...

    That doesn't even make any sense! How could the Army be dragged into a war with Al Qaeda when it was assaulted in the first place? Its elimination of FAI (good acronym) is a necessary and suitable reaction, not an unprovoked political decision as Nasrallah is trying to cast it.

    Palestinian in camps stand against FAI (which is not palestinian) but that doesn't mean they will tolerate incursion into the camps that may cause civilian casualties and set precedant to entering other camps...

    The Palestinians have already repeatedly given their consent to a military entrance into the camp. Nasrallah's position is effectively more "Palestinian" than the Palestinians', it is a sham!

    And yes it is 1559, but it is also Lebanese sovereignty and the respectability of the Lebanese Army as an institution first and foremost.

    The truth of Nasrallah's speech is that after 5 days of siege and assault the terrorists inside the camp have now been offered cover by a major Lebanese player, whereas before the speech their options were clear, elimination either by death or surrender.

  5. Good post Jade! I had a similar one yesterday which u can check here if u like:

    Don’t forget that the issue of Shebaa will soon be addressed by the UN and we have reasons to be optimist on this one. Coupled with the fact that Hezbollah’s hands are tied in the South, there are practically no reasons left that could justify HA’s weapons anymore. That explains why we are witnessing this sudden, calculated, surge of sunni extremism in the country: This is going to be HA’s next excuse for keeping its arms, by pretending that the only protection we have against Sunni terrorism is the Resistance.
    And Syria’s allies are playing it pretty well, making sure to include the Christians (recent al-qaida video threatening Lebanese Christians; constantly playing the “Wahhabi Future Movement wants to naturalize the Palestinians to adjust the demographic balance in favor of Sunnis” and other scare tactics…) so that they position themselves as the protector of not only Shiites, but also the Christian minority.

  6. Very insightful post Jade.

    I can only concur with your comments on Nasrallah's speech, and you can take the argument even further. In all honesty, Nasrallah's alternative proposition to have the memebrs of Fatah al-Islam judged makes very little sense. How can one expect them to willingly hand themselves over?

    From his comments, it seems to me that Nasrallah wants to buy more time by adding more confusion to the Lebanese public mind. I'm not saying that he has anything directly to do with them because I wouldn't be able to validate such a a qualification, but I am saying that his ally and Lebanon's neighbor, Syria, would be very interested in buying more time to permeate the instability that is currently taking place.

  7. Update from YaLibnan:

    According to eyewitnesses the snipers of Fatah al -Islam have tried to prevent the UNRWA, the UN relief agency from providing aid to the Palestinians at the Naher el Bared camp . The eyewitnesses also stated that Fatah al -Islam gunners are trying to prevent Palestinians from leaving the camp . The Lebanese army has accused Fatah al -Islam of using the civilians as human shields.

  8. Jade, I was not defending any position, just clearifying quotes. If we depend on what we hear in the news conferences etc, nothing makes sense. a lot of loopholes and contradictions, i agree. for example: The Palestinians have already repeatedly given their consent to a military entrance into the camp. is true, they even drove FAI out of the camp a year ago, but if the palestinian refugees start suffering, then there may be another stand. There are analysis that the first attack on the army was in itself a trap, coupled with what we are hearing from the arab world (in media) that the army (they say is mostly shii) is fighting the sunni etc. puts HA in an awkward position (don't forget they also depend on the army's support for legitimacy). On the one hand they have a genuine fear that this is going the iraq way of sunni-shii clashes, on the other hand they have to keep their legitimicy.
    Jade, there is a lot at play here. it is not just about HA and FAI. many players are involved. known and unknown.

  9. there is also the fear that this may be a prelude to disarming everybody and what it entails...

    Allah yehmeh

  10. You're right, there is a lot we don't know and things aren't always as black and white as a snapshot would otherwise have you think. In this case, however, it is important to realize that there can be no national or political winners in anything but a military victory for the Army.

    Yes, there does seem to be quite a bit of non-conformity in the different news agencies' reporting on the speech.

    But despite this non-conformity in its reporting, there is a degree of conformity in the analysis of the speech and its implications, and those are highighted in this post.

  11. As always, thanks to everyone for your insightful comments...

    ...Keep them rolling in!

  12. Regardless of what is happening, and what each party is saying or doing. They are all the final attempts to slow down the Tribunal.

    From now till the Tribunal is officially born, we will still have insecurity and all kinds of destabilization.

    One thing to to be noticed is the contradiction between FPM and HA regarding Fatah-l-Islam situation, could that be the first "true disagreement" and where would it lead to?

    The UNSC is about to vote on the Tribunal next Wednesday according to Annahar, though the process won't start till June 11th (Russia asked for this time period so that it would give a chance to the Lebanese parties to agree on it on their own). So, we can say that we're expecting a very HOT June, at least the first couple of weeks, then things will calm down...Hopefully!

  13. Failasoof, you can expect a very hot summer bcos the problem isn’t limited to the Tribunal. The issue of the presidency is equally important. The next President has the ability to take the country in one of 2 directions: Either consolidate the current process of independence, or recover the previous state of affairs characterized by a weak state controlled by armed militias and regional powers (without the need to have Syrian soldiers in the country - this aspect is really secondary).

    In fact I believe the priority of the opposition is the Presidency. The issue of the Tribunal is mainly for blackmail. Of course it would suit them not to have a Tribunal at all since the main suspect is their ally, Syria, but since they are not directly linked to Hariri’s assassination, the only way the Tribunal can harm them is indirectly by harming their allies. If you look at it from their point of view, securing a favorable President in Baabda could help reduce the effects of having a Tribunal.

  14. Far too many things remain in the air, especially that, as Bashir has pointed out, 1559 is the gorilla in the room.

  15. lloyd7:19 PM

    If the Pals themselves are supportive of the army going in and getting rid of these terrorists and the big Naz isn't, what does that say?

    I agree with Jade but also wonder if Naz is afraid the army might find something incriminating there.


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