Franklin Lamb: Lebanon on the Brink
Lebanon on the Brink
Blindsided Hezbollah mulls its response
Outside Beirut's closed Airport
"The question is no longer why, for the answer has become clear. However, what is the secret behind the timing of this? What is being prepared for the future stage and which coincides with US President George Bush's tour of the region? Has internal dialogue gone without return, and if it takes place, then what is its agenda? What will Hezbollah and the opposition do to face the new challenges?"
– Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassim during a just completed May 8, 2008 interview
Hezbollah sources concede that they were taken by surprise and some were shocked by the intense, incendiary bombardment of the last few days by pro-government operatives. As Hezbollah studies 'the situation' and how to respond this beautiful spring Beirut morning, there is a real danger things may rapidly spiral out of control.
Yesterday started off peacefully enough, with a strike called by the General Federation of Labor Unions (GFLU) in Lebanon represented by the General Labor Union. The strike was supported by Hezbollah to protest the Governments failure to adopt what the Union considers a living wage of $600. Currently the minimum wage in Lebanon is approximately $200 per month. The Strike continues for the second day but tensions are escalating and Beirut's airport remains closed by anti-Government demonstrators. Beirut's main roads are intermittently blocked, the streets virtually empty and the town largely locked down as sporadic violence and stone-throwing continue.
The region awaits this evening's news conference, his first since July 12th 2006, the first day of the last war, during which Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is expected to give an indication of Lebanon's immediate future.
"Stay inside today, Dr. Lamb! Do not go outside!" this observer's friend, Hussein Chokr from Nabysheet in the Western Bekaa Valley ordered by telephone at crack of dawn this morning. "Abu Mohammad", as he prefers to be called (of out respect for his eldest son) was in Montreal, Canada when he lost his wife Khadija, 43, (a full time mother for five children, and loving wife, while he arranged for them to immigrate to Canada. Khadija single handedly raised the children as mother and father in his absence.
Their beautiful sons Mohammad, 22 (who had just become a lawyer graduating first in his class); Bilal, 19 (a first year university accounting student, known in his community for his computer skills); Talal, 17 (a gifted artist who was planning for the first public exhibition of his art in Canada (some of which can be seen at www.majzarat-al-nabysheet.org) and Yassin, 15 (who had just received a full tuition scholarship), were all murdered at 7:10 am on July 19, 2006.
This happened when the Israeli air force "erred" and launched a US MK-83 1000 lb. bomb, guided by a Raytheon JDAM (joint direct attack munition) system and blew up their home. The boys' sister Bushra miraculously survived as she slept with her mother in the third floor bedroom and was later dug out from the rubble with serious injuries for which she continues to receive intensive care.
No one in the Chokr family, building or immediate neighborhood, according to villagers, had any connection to any element of the Lebanese Resistance. Abu Mohammad's family, like himself, and many in Lebanon, were non-political.
The Israeli act was quite simply one more war crime.
How Hezbollah was ambushed
The continuing and intense anti-Hezbollah barrage started last week in rat-a-tat fashion. It continues to intensify this morning with a significant number of Lebanon's politicians, religious leaders and other partisans raising a cacophony with new charges. Conspiracy theories, taunts, threats and provocations continue, the stone throwing on some streets, as commentators offer myriad analyses of "the implementation of suspicious schemes" as Beirut's An Nahar noted.
The hot war prospects not looking so great recently, it is widely believed in Lebanon that the decision was taken following David Welch's recent visit here for an intense cold war assault against Hezbollah and we are now witnessing its implementation. Some locals are calling it a "hot air cold war" as a barrage of accusations is fired across Dahiyeh from several directions.
Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt, led off against Hezbollah last weekend, followed rapidly by the Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
- Hezbollah is spying on the airport! Jumblatt announces. "They are monitoring runway 1-7 with cameras on top of Jihad al Bina packing crates in order to assassinate or kidnap their opponents along airport road which runs through Shia neighborhoods".
Swoi habibee! (Easy, sweetheart) Walid. "The containers to hide the cameras," said Jihad al Bina Director Qassim Allaq, "are owned by the organization (Jihad al Bina construction company) and have been in place for the past 20 years, so why hasn't anyone asked about them in the past?"
"These containers," Allaq continued, "are our property and have been in place for more than 20 years. There are cameras everywhere around the place for security. The land on which the containers are placed is the property of the organization (Jihad al Bina)…why hasn't the media spoken about the containers before? Why haven't anyone of the officials asked us about them in the past?"
- "The Iranians are spying on my house!", Geagea announced within hours. Actually three teenage students may indeed have watched Geagea's mistress leave his house just minutes before Samir's wife returned. The students said they were following the popular tourist route called "the Jesus Trail" and got off the right road. A definite violation of the redline because Mrs. Geagea, who represents the Phalangist Lebanese Forces in Parliament has a fiery temper! One wag joked that maybe Iran put Geagea, who still may be obliged to answer for the disappearance of the four Iranian diplomats in l983 who it is claimed were kidnapped by his forces, "in the doghouse again!"
- Within minutes, Israel Defense Minister Barak called in reporters to go on the record and repeated David Welch's comment that the Lebanese will have a 'hot summer' and that the local economy will tank again as tourists stay away and that Hezbollah can destroy Israel's nuclear faculty at Dimona.
- The next day it was announced that the Saudi Government pledges "to spend their whole treasury if that is what it takes to 'save Lebanon' (and their business interests i.e. solideire, hotels, banks and real estate) as they reportedly increase dramatically aid to all Lebanese Christians who will oppose General Aoun and his entente cordial with Hezbollah.
- A Pro Government Muslim group verbally attacked Hezbollah, without offering any evidence to support its claim saying "What Hezbollah is doing as part of its expansion policy is setting up armed barracks inside residential apartment buildings along the coast of Iqlim (Kharroub) and its entrances for dubious goals – one of which could be to control the international highway that links Beirut with Sidon and the rest of the south," said a statement issued after a meeting between the two groups at the house of MP Mohammed Hajjar.
- On May 6 pro Siniora MP Atef Majdalani accused Hezbollah of shifting to civil strife with the objective of declaring a breakaway state.
- A couple of hours later, Geagea again: "Hezbollah is another Mahdi Army militia planning on fighting the government in the Beirut alleys."
- Last night the Phalangist Voice of Lebanon radio said Hezbollah members were dressed up in police uniforms and penetrating districts of Beirut controlled by their rivals of the Mustaqbal movement.
- Within minutes a government source also said Hezbollah was massing gunmen in downtown Beirut, sparking fears of a possible attack against Prime Minister's Siniora's private office.
- A statement was issued from Saad Hariri's office on behalf of the March 14 group which accused Iranian ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Reza Shibani of becoming a "high commissioner" entrusted with overseeing the creation of the Hizbullah state.
- Geagea again: "Hezbollah is buying up Mt. Lebanon and West Beirut real estate to disperse their security assets and build 'a state within a state!"
- Jumblatt again: Hezbollah has set up a separate optic cable telephone communication system near Saida to link the Shia communities.
This "telephone system" item did get some significant public attention in Lebanon but not for the reason Jumblatt had hoped. Not many Lebanese are against Hezbollah creating another "resistance tool" against Israel. During the July 2006 war Israel messed with Lebanon's phone system sending scare messages and jamming the phones in the south, but could not penetrate Hezbollah communications. What fascinated the general public here is the fact that at nearly 49 cents per minute Lebanon's phones rates may be about the most expensive in the world with terrible reception—plus bugged by Israel and others, tens of thousands across Lebanon mistakenly believing they could sign up with "Hezmobile, Inc" phone service with cheap rates and better reception were at first delighted and then disappointed when they learned the system was only for military communications and in no way will compete with the regular miserable phone system.
"We were hoping we could stop paying off the warlords each time we make or receive a call", one couple said wistfully.
And so it has been going these past several days.
It has been a "Hezbollah this, Hezbollah that, Hezbollah can do no right" campaign thought by many observers here to have been planned and launched in Washington. "The best defense is an aggressive offense" Feltman and Welch tutored the March 14th Deputy Nayla Moaward according to her report of her recent consultation in Washington as they prepare to receive the Maronite Patriarch Sfeir the 6th of the recent stable to strut into Washington to receive their "briefings".
Things came to a head on May 5th when the Cabinet decided to move to shut down the Hezbollah communication system and fire Shafiq Shuqeir the Security head at Beirut's Airport who is believed to be a Hezbollah supporter.
Of all the provocations this past couple of weeks, one of the most bizarre involved a guest of Walid Jumblatt, the arch Zionist French Deputy Karim Pakzad invited to a Conference here by the Druze leader. The Deputy's claimed "kidnapping" and interrogation caught the attention of journalists and researchers in Lebanon who are familiar with Hezbollah's highly efficient Media Relations Office and Hezbollah's security concerns.
It wasn't just that the Deputy set out to take photos in secure areas without permission, or how he appeared to exaggerate what had actually occurred, as he repeatedly explained, more dramatically with each telling, that he was "kidnapped, blindfolded, held for four hours and interrogated by Hezbollah in a secret location." Or even the well prepared news conference with no fewer that 22 microphones which Jumblatt laid on to announce "this international crime" to the world which every Zionist and US neocon media and Internet outlet dutifully hyped as the story which grew direr at each retelling.
What was stranger was that everyone Karim was hosted by, just like every researcher and journalist in Lebanon knows the rules and they are simple and reasonable. Because of decades of pervasive Israeli spys metastasizing in Lebanon and especially areas where many in the Lebanese Resistance live and work, visitors are ask to drop by Hezbollah's Media Relations Office and obtain a permit so the neighborhood watch people will not inquire of them who they are and why they are photographing in security areas.
The same precautions are taken in most sensitive areas these days. Jumblatt's and Geagea's area also take security precautions. Try photographing in Hamra near Saad Hariri's Quiritum offices or around Muerab or near Jumblatt's Mukhtara area and learn how quickly security personnel will approach.
When the French Deputy is in Washington he might want to test US sensitivity to security and try to walk around the Pentagon, CIA headquarters, inside the M Street Naval Annex, enter the ground on Observatory Road of the Vice Presidents acreage, or dozens of other locations and start snapping photos without permission.
The evidence strongly suggests this and many of the 'incidents' recently were staged to provoke Hezbollah into a reaction that has so far failed through various violent incident designed to achieve the same end. That effort continues today in Beirut as event unfold
Americans who live in and frequent Dahiyeh comment on how peaceful and safe it is. One can walk or jog around these neighborhoods at 3 am without any fear of being accosted. One visiting journalist from Washington explained:
"I live almost exactly half way between the White House and the US Capitol (less than one mile between the two) there are no fewer than 9 police forces, ranging from the Capitol Police to the DC Police to the Executive Protective Brand and others assigned to secure our neighborhood. No chance I would wander around at 3 am on my street out of fear of being mugged or held up by someone high on drugs or looking for cash. There is no comparison between the security in DC where all you see are cops and here when you hardly notice any security".
Last July, former American Ambassador to Lebanon Robert Dillon, leading a Washington based Council for the National Interest (CNI) delegation met with Hezbollah and later decided to have lunch in their neighborhood of Haret Hreik at the popular Halefee Restaurant, in fact, near where Karim was taking photos.
After dining on Falafel and Shawarma the American Ambassador and a few of his group decided to take a walk and observe some of the hundreds of buildings bombed during the July 2006 war.
As the group meandered toward the Bir Abed area and approached what is known locally as "Security Square", a young lady in the American group starting taking pictures. The group had not visited the Hezbollah Media Office for a permit or arranged for a guide because their visit was spur of the moment and it was a Sunday afternoon. After a few photos were taken the group made a quick collective decision not to take more photos out of respect for the community and its security concerns. The CNI delegation young lady put away her camera. Within probably 45 seconds of her putting her camera in her purse, as the delegation continued its trek through the devastation, a young man with a walkie talkie appeared on a small "jog" motor scooter from one direction and seconds later another arrived from the opposite direction. It took five minutes of polite conversation to assure all that henceforth the rules would be followed. Sometimes Neighborhood Watch Hezbollah security guys will ask to quickly review recent photos taken. One imagines that if there were suspicious photos of "sensitive buildings" further inquiries would be made. In the present case no request to see the photos were made perhaps because the group were very obviously benign tourists. As the CNI group continued their walk the young lady said "they sure were polite and so apologetic for having to ask us not to take photos without permission. They were sweet. It's their neighborhood. I am glad that they try to protect it."
The French Deputy's 'kidnapping' hoax was clearly meant to create an international incident out of something that was commonplace and could have been avoided if the Deputy had kept his cool and not become antagonistic when first approached by Neighborhood Watch.
This observer is not aware what was in the French Deputy's camera that led to a little more attention from Neighborhood Watch than usual. Perhaps he will share them with us on YouTube.