Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Hezballah's Christian allies": a "covenant with death" if ever there was one.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon -- the International Court set up in May 2007 by the UN Security Council to investigate the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri and 22 others -- will soon deliver its findings. Expectations are running high that the tribunal will indict Hezballah, Syria and heads of Lebanon's intelligence agencies.

Reports and movements on the ground in Lebanon indicate that if the tribunal does indict Hezballah, then Hezballah will stage a coup or a policy-reversing blitzkeig similar to the one it staged in Beirut in May 2008 in which it laid siege to the homes of Sunni leader Saad Hariri (son of the assassinated Rafiq Hariri) and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, and won, through force of arms, the right to share power and veto government decisions.

"What is beyond doubt," writes Zvi Mazel in the Jerusalem Post, "is that both Hizbullah and Syria will do all they can to prevent the court from fulfilling its mandate. If the court does not desist one way or another, fighting will probably erupt in Lebanon."

Tensions soar

If the Special Tribunal on Lebanon (STL) rules, as is expected, that Hezballah, Syria and the heads of Lebanese intelligence agencies are complicit in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, then the issue of Hezballah's arms would most certainly be back on the table. As Elias Youssef Bejjani reports, Hezballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has vowed not to abide by the court's rulings, having tagged the tribunal an Israeli-American conspiracy and a tool of treason against Lebanon established on the fabrications of false witnesses in a bid to have the "resistance" cornered, framed, dismantled and disarmed. Nasrallah, determined to prevent any ruling that could lead to calls for Hezballah's disarmament, is threatening violence.

Once again, Lebanon teeters on the verge of civil war. The pressure has been such that Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced to retreat. Realistically, what else can Hariri do? For PM Hariri has no means to fight Hezballah, especially now the US has no influence in the region, Iran is ascendant, and Saudi Arabia (Hariri's natural ally) is more interested in improving ties with Sunni-majority Arab Syria in the vain hope that it can lure Syria out of Iran's Shi'ite-majority Persian embrace.

Even after his March 14 Alliance won the June 2009 elections, Hariri was forced to accommodate Hezballah by inviting them into a government of national unity. Thus Hezballah secured through terror, not only a share of power and the right to veto parliament, but control of the foreign affairs, health, communications, energy and industry portfolios as well.

The situation has not changed. In the absence of meaningful international support (i.e. something other than mere words), Lebanon's national security will remain dependent upon perpetual accommodation and appeasement of Hezballah.

In September, Syria's President Bashir summonsed PM Hariri to meet with him in Damascus. Upon his return, Hariri echoed the sentiments of Hezballah's Nasrallah and cast suspicions on the ability of the STL to make a right judgement. Hariri suggested that the tribunal had been deceived and that this had led to a deterioration of relations between Lebanon and Syria. Next month Hariri will play host Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Clearly, to a threatened man without means of resistance, the gravitational pull of the Iranian axis is irresistible.

Sami Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, is the son of former president Amin Gemayel, brother of assassinated MP Pierre Gemayel, and nephew of assassinated former president-elect Bachir Gemayel. As a strong Lebanese nationalist, he is a staunch critic of Hezballah. Consequently, Gemayel objected vehemently to PM Hariri's u-turn on the STL, going on to accuse Hezballah of collaborating against Lebanon's interests. Nasrallah responded by posting a grim threat on Hezballah's website -- the Islamic Resistance Forum -- in which he denounced the Christian leader as an Israeli spy and called for his "crucifixion on a pole in the Pride and Dignity Square in Beirut".

Hezballah's Christian allies

At the time of the 2005 elections, around 70 percent of Lebanon's Christians supported the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of General (retired) Michel Aoun. On 6 February 2006, Aoun signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) with Hezballah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a ceremony in Mar Mikhail Church, just a few blocks from Hezballah's headquarters in Beirut's southern suburbs. Doubtless Hezballah was seeking to secure Christian allies who could support their causes in parliament. Nasrallah may have even been betting that the March 8 opposition could ride to power on the FPM's coat-tails. Meanwhile, the highly ambitious Aoun had his eyes on the presidency (reserved for a Christian) and was doubtless betting (as were many Christians) he could secure political power, liberty and security for Christians through a pact/covenant with the toughest boys on the block.

Back in June 2006, after I wrote a piece entitled "Lebanon Falls" in which I was critical of Hezballah's May 2008 violent seizure of Beirut, I was chided by some well known Lebanese evangelicals who accused me of misrepresenting Hezballah. After commenting that they and virtually all Lebanese Christians shared Hezballah's anti-Israel stance, they insisted that Hezballah was most definitely not anti-Semitic, not anti-Christian, and not a terrorist organisation. On the contrary, they told me, Hezballah was in fact an ally in the quest for religious liberty, political power and equality, citing the MOU as "proof".

I said at the time, and still maintain today, that this alliance with Hezballah will be for Christians nothing other than a "covenant with death" (Isaiah 28:15-22).

By the time of the June 2009 elections, suspicion was simmering throughout the Christian heartland north of Beirut where Hezballah's establishment of military outposts was causing alarm. Consequently, a significant number of Christians deserted Aoun on polling day, and Aoun could not deliver to Hezballah the numbers he had projected.

Today, reports and movements on the ground suggest that Hezballah is preparing to stage a coup and co-opt its Christian allies to fight its Christian opponents.

Elias Youssef Bejjani reports: "Well-informed Saudi sources have confirmed to the 'Beirut Observer' that . . . information became available to them indicating that an imminent Hezbollah coup is in on the horizon." According to reports, Hezballah's strategy will be similar to that enacted in the May 2008 blitzkrieg, in that militants will simultaneously take control of roads, media and state institutions, and besiege the homes of government officials, effectively placing them under house arrest until they are subdued.

(Of course there will be no need to besiege Walid Jumblatt's home this time, as he switched sides after the June 2009 election in order to align himself with the ascendant force. For along with the fact that Hezballah has proved itself to be the strongest military force in the country, despite losing the election 70 to 58 seats, the Hezballah-led March 8 opposition did win 55 percent of the vote.
See: How will Jumblatt’s split affect March 14?
By Maya Khourchid, NOW Lebanon, 6 August 2009
AND: Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: 'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites'. MEMRI June 2009. )

According to reports, Hezballah's Christian allies have conspired with Hezballah to this end, and have served as intermediaries enabling Hezballah to purchase real estate in Christian regions loyal to PM Hariri and the March 14 Alliance. It has been confirmed that Hezballah has deployed some 3,500 armed militiamen along the Mediterranean coast and throughout the Christian regions north of Beirut, including through the cities of Junieh, Tabarja and Batroun. These militants, having taken up residence in chalets and apartments deep inside Christian areas, simply await the green light. Consequently, in the event of conflict, Hezballah will be positioned to besiege the homes of Dr. Samir Geagea (head of the Christian Lebanese Forces Party) and Amin Gemayel (head of the Kataeb Christian Party) and subdue the Christian regions by force. As in May 2008, Hezballah is not expecting any resistance from the clearly partisan Lebanese Army.

Further to this, Hezbollah is reportedly counting on General Michel Aoun's military aid in the Christian regions, where Aoun's role allegedly will be to contain and abort by force any resistance from the Lebanese Forces and the Phalanges Parties.

This sets up a conflict scenario where Hezballah's Christian allies (backed by Hezballah of course) will be pitted against Hezballah's Christian opponents in a military conflagration where ultimately the only real winner can be Hezballah. A "covenant with death" indeed.

See also:
Hariri case 'could cause civil war'
Politician warns of sectarian violence if UN-backed tribunal indicts members of Hezbollah movement.
Aljazeera, 24 Sep 2010

Lebanon's hour 
of reckoning
Claude Salhani, Khaleej Times, 25 September 2010

Syria, Saudi seek to calm tensions in Lebanon
By Rita Daou (AFP), 24 Sept2010

Fear and Loathing in the Levant
By Zvi Mazel for the Jerusalem Post, 21 Sept 2010.

Hezbollah's looming Coup Scenario
Elias Youssef Bejjani, International Analyst Network, 24 Sep 2010

Geagea accuses rivals of plotting 'coup' over STL
FPM raps LF chief’s ‘isolationist policy’
By Wassim Mroueh, Daily Star, 27 September 2010

Hizbullah reasserts right to defend itself against 'politicized' STL
By Elias Sakr, Daily Star, 27 September 2010