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May 9th, 2008, 09:54
Just some thoughts on PJs response;

Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
(1) I don't believe the kidnappings that sparked off 2006 were a calculated provocation. The reason is simple: Tsahal soldiers aren't easy to kidnap. You can't just go "Ya Hussein, go get me a couple of Tsahal grunts, willya? I'm getting bored here, we need some entertainment." .
I dont' think they planned to make off with Israeli soldiers as a provocation but they weren't staying in Lebanon and polishing their weapons just in case Israel invaded either, there was definatly some testing of Israeli responses going on at the time.

Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
(2) The Lebanese government does not have the means to disarm Hezbollah. The Lebanese army is reasonably well-trained and pretty disciplined, but compared to the battle-hardened Hezbollah veterans they might as well be toting peashooters. Moreover, it consists of Lebanese with dual loyalties — to their community and to the army. That means that in any serious confrontation between the two, the Lebanese army will (a) lose on the battlefield and (b) split.
Agreed. Which is why I think the bloodshead will depend largely on how serious the government is in persuing this. I suspect at the moment they could probably backdown with a loss of face and not too much blood spilled but once the cycle of attacks and retaliation starts its going to be difficult to stop.

Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
(3) Hezbollah does not have the means to impose its will on the country either. It has the unconditional support of at least a plurality of the Lebanese Shi'ites, who are the biggest ethnic group in the country, but very little leverage with anyone else. That essentially means that they're unassailable in their strongholds, but can't do much (other than make mayhem) outside of them.
There's a lot of downside for them here I'm fairly sure they'd be happy with the status quo ante.

Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
(4) No, the country can't be physically divided along sectarian lines. The geography won't work — it's a mosaic with most areas actually mixed; there are reasonably "pure" enclaves (the Maronite heartland, the Chouf, Ba'albek, a slice along the Israeli border), but the coastal strip where most of the people live is mixed, and the mountains consist of villages with different dominant sects living next to each other. (This is one reason Lebanese civil wars get so bloody — the belligerents start out within shooting, or even rock-throwing, distance of each other.)
Much like Bosnia, 'winning' will involve a genocide which no one wants and (probably, I hope) no side can achieve.
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May 9th, 2008, 10:37
Originally Posted by V7 View Post
I dont' think they planned to make off with Israeli soldiers as a provocation but they weren't staying in Lebanon and polishing their weapons just in case Israel invaded either, there was definatly some testing of Israeli responses going on at the time.
That's for sure. I think it's most likely that the Hezbollah units on the border had standing orders to exploit any harassment opportunities they could see.

Agreed. Which is why I think the bloodshead will depend largely on how serious the government is in persuing this. I suspect at the moment they could probably backdown with a loss of face and not too much blood spilled but once the cycle of attacks and retaliation starts its going to be difficult to stop.
I can't see any other way for them than to back down. Whether that'll shut down the violence or not is a different question. The problem is that the civil-war period neighborhood militias have already been reactivated, and they're the ones facing off over the barricades. Even if the government backs down and Nasrallah agrees to call off the fighting, that wouldn't stop the street-level militias from doing what they're doing. Nobody controls the Sunni and Christian militias, and even Hezbollah's control over the Shi'ite militias not directly under their command is not complete. And, of course, if there's serious fighting at the street level, the bigger and more disciplined players will have to step in, so we'll have the Lebanese Army on one side and the Islamic Resistance on the other all over again.

There's a lot of downside for them here I'm fairly sure they'd be happy with the status quo ante.
Yes, they probably would be. Whether it's achievable or not is another question. I can see only three (near-term) outcomes for this: either the government steps down and a new, pro-Syrian, anti-Western, Hezbollah/Aoun government takes control (which will cause the Sunni and Christian militias to reactivate for real, paving the way for another confrontation pretty soon), the government backs down but somehow manages to stay in power, a compromise is reached about the presidency and a new government in which Hezbollah again gets what it wants (a couple of key ministries and a veto over cabinet decisions), or the violence spins out of control, in which case we're looking at easily several years more of low-intensity warfare. Of these, the second option would be the least bad, and the third the most likely.

Much like Bosnia, 'winning' will involve a genocide which no one wants and (probably, I hope) no side can achieve.
Oh, there are plenty of people there who *want* it, never fear — I've met a quite a few of them personally, even. But nobody has the means to do it. They did their level best during the last civil war, and not much has changed since then. If this does spiral out of control, we'll certainly see some local-level ethnic cleansing — mixed neighborhoods massacring or kicking out their minorities — but not full-scale genocide. Just like the last time around. My wife could tell you about the time the local Sunni militia showed up and shot all the Armenian shopkeepers on Al-Qala'a street…
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May 9th, 2008, 11:46
Here's the best I've found on the situation on the streets there right now: [ http://today.reuters.com/news/articl…1-ArticlePage3 ].

Basically, Hezbollah's Islamic Resistance is going where it wants, doing what it wants, torching the buildings it wants, and then handing them back to the Lebanese army if it wants. In other words, it's making a pretty good impression of being the most effective fighting force in the country.

Edit: according the latest information, Hezbollah is now in control of West Beirut.

[ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7391600.stm ]

FYI, West Beirut is a medium-sized city, perhaps a few hundred thousand to a million or so inhabitants, depending on how you count it. Mostly Sunni, with some Armenians and Orthodox Christians as well. Looks like they've gone too middle-class since the previous civil war to be able to set up a proper M-E style neighborhood watch program. If they move into Achrafiyeh, Sodeco, or East Beirut, there will be trouble.

Pictures from one of my trips there:



That's Rafic Hariri, the assassinated PM, on the wall in that one.




This one is the Café Rawda, something of a legendary spot there. It operated all through the civil war, and served as a quiet place for Beirutis to take their children for lunch and a swim, or for various spies, terrorists, secret agents, smugglers, and what not to hatch their plots.


This is Joanna having a coffee there.
Last edited by Prime Junta; May 9th, 2008 at 12:34.
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May 9th, 2008, 14:58
I'll give a summary of what happened(or at least what Lebanese media says):
1-Lebanese Government gives orders to remove Hizbullah's private wired network which is spread in areas where Hizbullah and its headquarters is.
2-Hizbullah's supporters go down to the streets and wreck havoc in the airport highway and close the road to the airport which is closed and all flights suspended.
3- Some shooting sessions in Beirut in places where Sunnites and Sh'ites resides.
4- The next day Hasan Nasrullah states that and I quote" any hand which come near our wired network will be cut and we will defend ourselves and we will fight as if we were fighting Israel".
5-Shortly after, hell breaks in Beirut and Hizbullah fighters start taking over government offices and media and at the end of the day they control all western Beirut.

As for casualties, 11 were killed and 2x were injured.
The Lebanese army hasn't taken sides and is trying to avoid confrontations with Hizb.

Right now Hizb guys are surrounding Qraitem the house of Sa'ad Al Hariri and the house of Walid Gunblatt in Klimonso in Beirut.

Where I live in Saida there's no armed action but if this goes on it won't take long b4 it moves to the south, right now he north is the only safe area in Lebanon
Politically speaking, what happened is totally unexpected because Hizbullah changed its attitude 180 degrees, never would anyone has expected to see Hizbullah fighters doing what they are doing, but it seems this time the government has gone far by their last decesions…as this network is an integral part of Hizbullah's force thus it's untouchable
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May 9th, 2008, 15:05
I disagree about it being unexpected. I've been expecting something like this ever since the deadlock over the presidency started to drag on; say about a year or so. (That's why we canceled our travel plans there three times already.)

The only really unexpected thing about is the way it happened — I cannot for the life of me understand how the Lebanese government would not realize how Hezbollah would react to a direct attack on their strategic infrastructure. They don't call it a state within a state for nothing.

Edit: OTOH nobody's ever lost predicting instability in the Middle East. It's the stable periods that are hard to predict.

Hang in there, Polygon, and let's hope those morons at the top are suddenly shocked into reason before this gets completely out of hand. Hope your house has its own water supply and generator…
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May 9th, 2008, 15:24
Pretty good summary of the bigger picture here: [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7392013.stm ], although it leaves out a number of IMO very important factors, specifically the marginalization of the Shi'ites before Moussa Sadr started to organize them. That's the deep underlying resentment fueling Hezbollah's effort to build its state within a state.
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May 9th, 2008, 15:38
Very educational. Thanks, gents, and keep us informed.

Stay safe, POLYGON.

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May 9th, 2008, 17:45
Ditto—thanks for the inside look at what would otherwise be just a meaningless headline. Best wishes for some sort of resolution sooner rather than later, though it doesn't sound good. And as dte says, hope POLYGON and Prime J's in-laws (and all others at risk)come through all this safely.

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May 9th, 2008, 19:45
Me too. Stay safe, everyone. You'll be in our thoughts and prayers.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
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May 10th, 2008, 12:03
It seems things have quieted down a bit for now, and the Hezb have pulled their fighters back. Flare-ups in various places around the country, though.

I also came across a new interpretation of events. Try this on for size:

* Since the Mughniyeh assassination, relations between Hezbollah and Damascus have deteriorated: Iran and Hezb no longer trust Bashar.
* If the Syrian-Israeli peace talks succeed, they will leave Hezb hung out to dry. Damascus no longer needs it, and stopping aid to them in a verifiable way will be a precondition of any such peace deal. They will also take the Cheba'a farms pretext off the table, since they'll be transferred from Israeli control to Syrian control.
* This means that Hezb will need the Beirut airport for logistics. Specifically, they'll need enough control over it that the Tehran-Beirut cargo flights won't be inspected too closely.

The upshot is that the Hezb finds itself in a corner — Iran still supports it, sure, but its list of allies closer to home will be a lot shorter, and it will have major logistical difficulties getting supply to its army.

Now that the Lebanese government acted to (1) remove their man on the airport, and (2) dismantle their command-and-control network, they felt they had no choice but to remind everyone who wears the pants in the country. Time is against them, and to get what they want, they need to resolve the political crisis to their liking sooner rather than later.

I don't know how much merit this theory has; it's unlikely the guy who presented it (Pierre Akel, interviewed on Al Jazeera) has any more information to go on than the rest of us. But it seems no less plausible to me than most other explanations I've heard.
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May 10th, 2008, 12:58
Well for the Syrian side that sounds much like some of the ideas we were tossing round in the thread on Syria's offer. If Hezb is looking to use Beirut aprport for large scale arms shippments there's going to be more trouble and a lot of international pressure on the government to shut them down.

Hope you're still safe over there Polygon and this all blows over without further violence.
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May 10th, 2008, 14:24
Yep, any way you look at it, Hezb is going to be the loser in a Syrian-Israeli deal.

The trouble is that they will be able to resist that pressure. The government won't be any more capable of shutting them down than they are now.

The smart thing to do would be to find some kind of carrot to offer them to get them to climb down, and integrate their army into the Lebanese one. A "Martyrs of Bint Jbeil Brigade" in the Lebanese army wouldn't be exactly an ideal solution, but it would be an improvement over the current situation.
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May 10th, 2008, 17:12
Well well, looks like there's some movement again. The government appears to have faced the inevitable, although it's hiding behind the back of the army. The Lebanese army has rescinded the government's two decisions that sparked this fighting — the ones about the telecom network and the Hezzies' man at the airport.

[ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7393982.stm ]

This means that there is an opening for talks, but it isn't going to be easy — there's been a huge loss of face for the government, which will make discussions very difficult. One possible way out is to blame it all on Walid Jumblatt and serve his head on a plate to Hezbollah. (Probably not physically, though, since that would seriously annoy the Druze; the Druze are another group there that you really don't want to seriously annoy. They run their own fief like Switzerland; it's very beautiful and easy to visit, but they take their own security very seriously. I understand some of Jumblatt's guys managed to shoot some Hezb guys dead when the latter showed up to pay them a visit a day or two ago. Which, of course, is also not good.)
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May 10th, 2008, 22:15
What on earth has possesed Lebeanese government to confront Hezbollah? Anybody who know anything about situation in Lebanon could have told them folly of such an action! So how a body of people with (apparent) local knowledge and experience could overplay their hand so badly? Terminal stupidity or have they counted on something which just didn't come off?
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May 10th, 2008, 23:37
That's what's puzzled me too. It just doesn't make any sense. The best I can offer is that Sinioura has no military background and therefore did not realize what he was playing with when he targeted that telecom network (he's a physician, actually), while Jumblatt, who hates Hezbollah like poison and is borderline insane or on drugs, talked Sinioura and the rest into it.

Whatever it was, it was colossally stupid. My respect for Sinioura and his gang has gone down several notches. The man has his heart in the right place, but you gotta admit he's not doing a very good job leading the country, or even keeping the damn place together.

In any case, it looks like this round is winding down; the Hezb accepted the army's decision to revoke the government orders (don't ask, that's the way things work there), and is returning to its positions before the mess. Status quo ante, in other words, more or less as V7 predicted. (Boy am I glad I was wrong on this one.)

But, of course, this hasn't solved anything. As of now, the situation is:

(1) Hezbollah's position has changed pretty radically. They've lost whatever goodwill they had among non-Shi'ites — turning their weapons on Lebanese crossed a line they have not crossed before. This will strengthen the case that they really, genuinely do need to be disarmed — it'll be a lot harder for them to present themselves credibly as a "national" movement, acting in the interests of Lebanon. On the other hand, they've given a stark reminder to everybody just how powerful they are. They've gone with "Let them hate us, as long as they fear us" rather than a softer approach that they've also, occasionally, flirted with. This does not bode well.

(2) The government has shown just how irrelevant it is. It doesn't control the army, it can do absolutely nothing about Hezbollah or even keeping order in the country, or indeed much of anything more than pounding their fist, pouting, or weeping.

(3) The army came out of this kinda OK. They didn't split, they stayed neutral, and they actually resolved the crisis (if it is, indeed, resolved and doesn't spin out of control again, which could very well happen). Their prestige is unchanged or perhaps slightly enhanced.

(4) I predict that Jumblatt will be the big loser. He's the loose cannon in the government, and after this, the government won't have much need for him.

What next? I don't know. The power struggle over the presidency *must* be resolved, otherwise this will just happen again, and again, and again, until the country does slide into full-scale civil war. And after this, pretty much the only way to resolve it is to give the Hezb what they want. After *that,* the ball is in Hezb's court — if they use their power responsibly, things might start to stabilize; if they act like Iran's proxy on the Mediterranean, things will turn ugly very quickly indeed.

So it looks like we may have dodged a bullet this time. But there will be others. We'll have no shortage of excitement from the Middle East.
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May 11th, 2008, 00:51
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
The best I can offer is that Sinioura has no military background and therefore did not realize what he was playing with when he targeted that telecom network (he's a physician, actually), while Jumblatt, who hates Hezbollah like poison and is borderline insane or on drugs, talked Sinioura and the rest into it.
While that's possible that would also mean that Sinioura listened to Jumblatt but haven't consulted army? And if there was no consultation why have military agreed to Sinioura's plan?
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May 11th, 2008, 01:11
There's been a lot of pressure on the government to disarm Hezb one might wonder if this hasn't demonstrated good will and the lack of capacity to those doing to pushing, might even lead to some quiet internaitonal assistance.

It also might be worth wondering if someone in the government was drawing the same connections PJ was between Syria, Hezb and the airport and calculated the government's best shot might be to move first before any Syrian deal made the airport Hezb's only supply route.

And if you're really cynical you might wonder whether Hezb was deliberatly provoked to divide them from the rest of the country which would make for a very dangerous game of brinkmanship indeed.
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May 11th, 2008, 03:41
Originally Posted by V7 View Post
There's been a lot of pressure on the government to disarm Hezb one might wonder if this hasn't demonstrated good will and the lack of capacity to those doing to pushing, might even lead to some quiet internaitonal assistance.
And you think that Sinioura's government was prepared to suffer consequences of their action just to prove the point? Besides this regime would be long gone if not for "quiet international assistance" and any less quiet one (from any side) could make already precarious sytuation worse still don't you think?
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May 11th, 2008, 04:43
I'm not at all sure that that was the calculation they made, just suggesting it for consideration. If you step back and think for a moment what are the consequences?

They've shown they can't disarm Hezb but that was already known.
Hezb is now isolated politically in Lebanon and the moral arguement to disarm them strengthened.
The government looks bad, but then PJ's already suggested a scapegoat and from what I can see most of the anger about the fiascio seems to be directed at Hezb rather than the government anyway.

Basically if there's no more violence we're back to where we were with some added tension and Hezb looking more isolated and the government looking irrelevant (to use PJs word). For Hezb thats a problem, for the government thats not much of a change (they basically sat and got bombed without doing more than protesting during the last war). Graned I could well be wrong but I find it hard to belive the government would misjudge Hezb so much as to think they wouldn't respond.
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May 11th, 2008, 05:19
I am not sure how isolated Hezb have actually become. Like PJ said, they took up arms against fellow Lebanese (something they said they will never do) but fighting was brief, casualties minimal and only time will tell if they have suffered any lasting damage. And let's not forget that Hezb enjoyed quite wide support among Lebenese population so, depending on how much popularity they actually did loose, it might matter or it might not.
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