Michael Totten

A Perfect Storm?

A perfect storm may be brewing in Lebanon.
I’ve been under Tornado Watch probably ten times or so in the American Midwest. Not once did a tornado touch down anywhere near me while I was on alert. Several tornadoes, though, blew through the area out of the blue with no warning on different days. So consider this a storm watch weather forecast for Lebanon with that level of built-in unpredictability.
The Lebanese government says Syria and Iran aim to overthrow the elected government in Beirut and reconquer the country. Whether they are actually trying to do this right now or not is unknown. There should be no doubt, though, that if they don’t have a plan to execute now it’s because they want to do it later instead.
Meanwhile, a group that calls itself “Al Qaeda in Lebanon” appeared from Lord-only-knows-where and directly threatened to destroy the March 14 government. “Al Qaeda in Lebanon” may or may not exist as a wing of bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. If they do, they’re serious. If they don’t, they’re a Syrian proxy. Either way, it doesn’t look good. This is not a prank phone call.
These threats to Beirut’s elected government are concurrent with Hezbollah’s and Amal’s resignation from the Lebanese cabinet. Hezbollah and Amal quit for two reasons. The first is that the March 14 bloc refused to give Nasrallah and friends who lost last year’s election more power in a “national unity” government. The second is because it was time for the cabinet to move ahead on the Hariri tribunal. Hezbollah will not tolerate the prosecution of their patron in Damascus.
Once again, the country is bracing itself for sectarian war in the streets. Charles Malik says Christians may sit this one out for the first time in Lebanon’s history. Whatever fighting there may or may not be will likely involve Sunni and Shia.
If this isn’t gruesome enough, Syria and Iran have reportedly replenished all Hezbollah’s destroyed arsenal stocks. Hezbollah, according to the Times of London, now has more rockets than they had before the most recent Israeli invasion. If this is, in fact, true, UNIFIL ought to just go home right now. These foreign soldiers are useless except as human shields.
Israelis need a new Lebanon strategy. Now. But they are not likely to get one, at least not until Ehud Olmert takes his rightful place among the losers of Israeli prime ministers. He’s threatening to invade Lebanon again as early as this coming Spring. So far there is no talk whatsoever of doing anything to Hezbollah’s logistics hub in Syria. Hebollah is nothing but a protest and charity movement without its supply train from Tehran through Damascus.
Instead, Israel pinky swears to leave Bashar Assad alone even though he, more than anyone else, is responsible for turning Lebanon into an engine of chaos. The Israelis even phoned Bashar while bombing Beirut and the Bekka. They told him to sleep tight because he is not on their list. So of course he went and rigged up Round Two.
In the meantime, though, Round 1.5 may (or may not) break out at any time.
UPDATE: A friend and trusted source emails from Lebanon with an update on what’s going on in the Dahiyeh south of Beirut, the capital of Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state.

My friend __________, an American who used to live down there, just visited his old apartment, which was right next to the al Manar Building. It really spooked him. There are massive buildings missing all over the place. There are still heaps of trash and rubble all over, but the streets are all navigable. Of course, the Shia down there don’t seem to mind. They’re all outside smoking argile in front of the buildings like they used to. Most of his old neighbors are still there. However, Hezbollah is all over the place. The area is completely monitored.

During the war, Hezbollah’s full control of Dahieh became 100% apparent to even the most pro-Hezbollah, Lebanese-American-French-Saudi hating idiot. To even get into the area, foreigners had to present their passports, which Hezbollah photocopied. After the war, they first approved who could and could not enter the area, even amongst Lebanese.
Now, their surveillance is everywhere, even though they have allegedly moved their bases of operation. They still have deep tunnels under their, but Dahieh has also become a bit of a trap. Anyone looking for Hezbollah will go there – even though it’s no longer the heart of their operation, thus they’ve set up their surveillance systems to see who’s looking for them and what they are doing. If they see those same people at any of their other locations, those people will be ever more closely monitored.
A paranoid organization is now paranoid beyond belief. Allegedly, Hezbollah surveillance is extending further and further than it was before. They are watching everyone, to an even greater extent than in the past. And this has become easier because many moderate Shia who are integrated into the non-Shia communities have now become complete Hezbollah supporters.
Even supporters of Michel Aoun are suspicious of the Shia who joined the FPM, now. The FPM members know the Shia only support Aoun because he’s allied with Hezbollah. If there isn’t Hezbollah support, those people will be gone. So, it’s assumed they are working for Hezbollah and reporting everything back.
According to a graduate computer science student at AUB, the English speaking and moderate Shia are now monitoring websites. He told me to be careful about what I write. I don’t take that too seriously, but I wouldn’t doubt that they are watching to an ever greater degree.

UPDATE: Don’t miss my Pajamas Media podcast interview with Lebanese blogger and political expert Tony Badran.