January 30, 2007

Intermission

I'm working on a brief side project and will be back shortly. If it takes more than another day I'll at least be back with some links.

In the meantime, discuss amongst yourself in the comments. Feel free to post links to anything interesting you might have read. And be nice. Don't make me pull over the car.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:23 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

January 29, 2007

Busted

Lebanese bloggers Rampurple and Jeha, who both show up at times in my comments section, busted Hezbollah and Michel Aoun for peddling a blatantly doctored photograph on Hezbollah's An Manar TV channel.

Here is a screen shot of Aoun holding up the photo on TV.

Aoun Propaganda Screen Shot.jpg

Below is the photo. It supposedly shows a (Christian) Lebanese Forces “militia man” in the lower-left corner pointing a weapon at Lebanese soldiers. Notice the cross on his sleeve. The man and the cross were photoshopped in.

AntiLF Propaganda Photo.jpg

Here is the real picture.

Real Picture Before Doctoring.jpg

And here is the picture that was used as bad photoshop fodder. It was taken during last summer’s war and was itself criticized as propaganda for its inaccurate caption. Notice the cross on the sleeve isn't there. That's because this man is Hezbollah, not a member of the Christian Lebanese Forces.

Fake Photo Fodder.jpg

Hats off to Lebanese bloggers for exposing this one. Busting propagandists for fauxtography isn’t just for Americans any more.

UPDATE and CORRECTION: Lebanese blogger Nancy says Aoun and Hezbollah were busted on television by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. So this isn't just a blogosphere thing. And N10452 posted this at Rampurple's site, not Rampurple herself. Credit where it's due.

UPDATE: Beirut's Daily Star picked up the story.

UPDATE: Apologies to EU Referendum. I should have said "Westerners," not "Americans."

UPDATE: A reader created and emailed a nice animated gif file.

AntiLF-Propaganda-Photo.gif

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:17 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

January 26, 2007

“They Had Machine Guns Welded in Windows”

Blown Up House South Lebanon.jpg

I went to South Lebanon looking for Lebanese civilians who witnessed the July War between Israel and Hezbollah and who could, perhaps, clarify some controversial claims. Did Israel bomb indiscriminately? Did Hezbollah use human shields?

Some civilians did testify that Hezbollah used people in their village as human shields. And I found evidence that Israel at least sometimes struck with precision, if not at all times.

Lebanese civilians, though, weren’t the only witnesses to the war. Hezbollah was there, too – although I’m officially blacklisted with the organization and am denied access to interviews.

The Israeli Defense Forces also were there. I found a soldier who spent the entire war in and out of South Lebanon. He was willing to talk to me by phone even though our interview was illegal – he’s still in the army and is not supposed to talk to anyone in the media about what he did and what he saw. He did anyway, though, and he did not say what I thought he would say. The number of people killed in South Lebanon may be more heavily tilted toward Hezbollah fighters than most of us realized.

To preserve his anonymity I can only identify him as “an Israeli soldier in a long-range patrol unit.” So I’ll just call him Eli, which isn’t his name. Our conversation by phone was recorded. Here is the transcript.

MJT: There is a controversy about whether or not Hezbollah was using the civilian population and infrastructure as shields, whether were hiding behind people and apartment buildings and the like.

Eli: Did they use populated areas to fire? It was clear that they did. Except Israel also dispersed flyers ordering all the civilian population of South Lebanon to leave. So it was in those villages after the, I don’t remember the date, except anyone who was in those villages was probably helping Hezbollah fighters.

MJT: Where in Lebanon was your unit?

Eli: We went all around the West. Opposite Metulla there’s all these villages called Hula, Abbasieh, Markaba, Jwayya. It was 15 kilometers in. So we would go in 15 kilometers, mark targets.

MJT: So you were marking targets yourself? What kind of targets were you marking? I was on the border at the end of the war, and I watched a lot of Israeli artillery being fired, but it was impossible to tell what you guys were shooting at.

Eli: I can’t explain exactly what we use, but we use very advanced scopes and thermal scopes and stuff like that so you can see exactly what’s going on in villages at night or during the day or whenever. We could see armed personnel walking around there, carrying big bags. So as long as they’re armed they are targets for us to mark, for Air Force and artillery.

MJT: The reason I ask what kind of targets you were marking is because the majority of people inside Lebanon think the Israelis were firing at civilians deliberately.

Eli: If you ask me what should have been done in the villages in Lebanon during this war, I think Israel wasn’t harsh enough. Now, I’m not right-wing, I’m not…I just think that if we are in a war…it’s like, if you play with fire, people get burned. There’s nothing you can do about it. These whole villages, they were empty, just filled with Hezbollah terrorists. They should have been totally wiped off the map. Except Israel left them standing. Many of our soldiers were killed because of that, so Israel wouldn’t be blamed after the war for war crimes and destroying civilian houses.

When they say that Israeli artillery was aimed at civilian targets, I can tell you a bit about how the artillery works. If I find a target in the middle of a village, like one house that I see that there are armed people going in, and I will aim artillery, heavy artillery, on it. Not Air Force, not like pin-pointed targets. Artillery will dispense rounds 100 meters from that target also. It’s not accurate. Anyway, even if a target is next to it, these houses were empty. No civilians were walking around South Lebanon. I know. I was in their villages. In their houses. Anyone who was there was definitely working for the Hezbollah or working as a Hezbollah fighter.

MJT: So you didn’t see any women? It was mostly men and no children?

Eli: I never saw one woman or any children in Lebanon. I was going in and out for the whole time since the day when the soldiers were kidnapped. We flew from my unit straight to the north in helicopters, and since then we were there until a week after the cease-fire.

MJT: An article was recently published in the Washington Times, and it wasn’t sourced very well, that said…Hezbollah is known for doing charity work in South Lebanon. One of the things that they had supposedly done, according to the article, was build houses for poor people with Katyusha rocket launchers embedded inside the center of the house, walled off on four sides in sealed rooms so the residents didn’t even know they were there. And supposedly when the war started Hezbollah peeled off the roofs and fired rockets from inside the houses. Did you see anything like this?

Eli: I didn’t see any Katyusha rockets being installed inside houses. But I’ve seen stuff…like we went toward this house, we were fired upon from inside the house. We went into the house. We cleared the house. Anyone who was in the house was neutralized. We went down to the basement. And also in the basement everything was neutralized. And we saw a periscope in the basement that was looking up toward the main road.

MJT: A periscope like something they use in a submarine?

Eli: Yeah, a periscope. You know, you can be underground and see above. It was a pipe that had mirrors that were reflecting up. And a small kind of detonator. Our team checked it out. There were 500 kilos of explosives under the road waiting for Israeli tanks. There were really ready. They built these houses for that purpose because they knew this was going to happen some day. They were just waiting for the tanks to roll in.

MJT: Do you have any idea when you found houses that were being used militarily if they were Hezbollah houses per se, or had they taken over other people’s civilian houses?

Eli: I don’t know.

MJT: You couldn’t tell.

Eli: No. But they could take any house they wanted because the whole place was empty. Everyone left. When we were fighting we were fighting from house to house. They would just skip houses, they would go a different house. We would detonate one house, they would fire a few from another house, and skip to yet another house. They would go wherever they want, it was their area in South Lebanon. It’s not like they thought about them as civilian houses.

MJT: What do you know about that went on in South Lebanon that has been under-reported in the media?

Eli: Not so much in South Lebanon, but in Israel. The way the Israeli army and the prime minister and the chief of staff, the chief of military staff, used the war and controlled the war, if you ask me, was wrong.

MJT: In what ways?

Eli: The chief of the military in Israel did not come from the army. He came from the Air Force. He used to be an Air Force Commander. He was not an army grunt. And the first three weeks of the war he tried to really win this war with air strikes, in the South and in the area in Beirut, what do you call it?

MJT: The dahiyeh.

Eli: Yeah, the dahiyeh. The dahiyeh area. He did not use the ground troops as well as he should have. He would send ground troops one kilometer in, they would stay for a few days, and walk out. Only during the last week of the war did the army take up the war. And every time we went in and went out, people got killed.

MJT: Do you think the air war was effective at all? Or should the war have been fought on the ground only?

Eli: Of course it should always be together, air and ground. You can’t win one without the other. You have to place your air strikes exactly where you need them. Just dropping thousands of tons of bombs on that area in Beirut was useless if you ask me.

Because they couldn’t get Nasrallah. He’s planned this out for how many years? I mean, he knew where he was going to go and how to avoid Israeli intelligence in Lebanon. The bottom line is that they should have aimed more air strikes in the area of South Lebanon.

For the first few weeks they called it a mission. They didn’t call it a war. The enemy was firing rockets from inside Lebanon. And Israel went out to stop that enemy. Which is…kind of like a war. It is war. In any war civilian houses get damaged and there’s nothing you can to do stop it. When you play with fire, people get burned.

Israeli troops went into standing villages where they just were ambushed. Our unit was ambushed also once. And I know lots of other units who were ambushed. Standing villages were there. There could have been nothing, we could have rolled into rubble.

MJT: Hezbollah claims they tried to keep their fighters away from civilian areas, that they keep their fighters away from the towns and the villages and more out in the countryside. So, when you say that you were ambushed, were you inside one of the towns when this happened?

Eli: Yes. We were also ambushed in more open areas. They have these small bunkers, they built bunkers and caves and stuff in open areas. They were ready. They had machine guns welded in windows. They were welded in already. They were ready. They were ready for urban warfare. That’s where they killed the most Israeli soldiers, in urban warfare.

In open warfare? They didn’t have much of a chance. It’s in urban warfare where they can skip house to house and leave very large amounts of explosives under asphalt where you can’t even see it.

MJT: So you’re saying that a lot of the damage done in South Lebanon towns was done by Hezbollah themselves, not all of it was by the Israeli Defense Forces?

Eli: I can tell you about the places I’ve been. Some of the places you’ve heard about, like Bint Jbail, I haven’t been there. My unit didn’t go there.

We got to one village one time and the information was that there weren’t going to be very many armed Hezbollah. It was just going to be like a few helpers or spotters. So the whole village was going to be left standing and there was not going to be any problem.

As soon as we got around 500 meters from the village they started firing everything they had at us. From inside the village. So of course Israel retaliated with a few rounds of artillery, some war planes came down on the place. It wasn’t really…a round of artillery won’t bring a house down. It will make a big hole in it. And the airplane, unless it’s a big bomb, it won’t bring a house down. You know, maybe it will make it an unsafe house to live in. So you’ll see big holes in walls, and some tank shells blew holes in walls. Except the only reason why those holes are there is because they were shooting from these villages. They were shooting from within mosques. They were firing Katyushas from behind mosques and stuff.

MJT: Were they also firing from churches?

Eli: I didn’t see any churches. I wasn’t in any Christian villages. Most of the Christian villages, the Israelis detoured around them because they thought they were probably anti-Hezbollah, that Hezbollah would not be in there. Except the Hezbollah, they often dressed up as Israeli soldiers.

MJT: Did you actually see this yourself? Hezbollah wearing Israeli uniforms?

Eli: Yes.

MJT: Really. How many Hezbollah soldiers did you see wearing Israeli uniforms?

Eli: Once they hit us with a few anti-tank missiles. And I saw straight away like six of them.

MJT: Was it just the one time that you saw this?

Eli: I’m not the only one who has seen this happen in Lebanon. There are lots of other people from lots of other units who have seen this. It’s, it’s guerilla warfare.

MJT: Where do you suppose they get the uniforms? Do they make them themselves? Or are they stealing them?

Eli: Well, all of them are probably stolen. When Israel left Lebanon in 2000 they left a ton of army supply stuff.

MJT: They claim that they have their own uniforms.

Eli: Yeah, they have like a kind of a dark khaki colored, like dark American colors. They have camouflage and stuff like that. But they’re also wearing, they’re people walking around towns, with weapons, who aren’t wearing uniforms. They look like civilians. I mean, in every civilian house in Lebanon there is a shotgun. And that’s not because they’re against the IDF or because they’re against Israel, it’s that most people in the small villages, they’re hunters. They hunt for food. But we also saw people walking around with AK-47s and hand guns and stuff. There are definitely Hezbollah people in, in civilian clothes.

MJT: So, okay, what’s the most common appearance for a Hezbollah fighter in South Lebanon during a war? Do most wear civilian clothes? Hezbollah uniforms? Israeli uniforms?

Eli: It changes all the time.

MJT: Hezbollah claims they had some missiles from Iran, specifically the Zelzal missiles, and that they chose not to fire them. I wonder, do you know if they’re lying about that, if the Israelis perhaps took the Zelzal missiles out at the beginning of the war and that they were unable to fire them?

Eli: The greatest bulk of the long-range missiles that they had were destroyed. By the Air Force. This is what I heard, but I don’t really know, it’s not what I do in the army.

MJT: Have you fought in the West Bank or Gaza?

Eli: Yes.

MJT: How much more skilled are Hezbollah than Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

Eli: Much more skilled. Much more skilled. You can’t compare with fighting against Hezbollah and fighting against Palestinians. Hezbollah has had such a long time to get prepared for these attacks. And they were dug in. Everything was planned, and the weapons, the ammunition, everything was accurate, everything. And the mortar rounds they were all fixed, everything, all the mortars were already fixed on targets where they knew the Israelis were going to come through.

With the Palestinians, it’s very amateur with the Palestinian freedom fighters or whatever they call themselves.

MJT: Alright. From where I was during the war, which was the Israeli side, it looked like the Israelis won every engagement with Hezbollah.

Eli: In the end, Israel won every engagement, this is true. Except the problem is winning an engagement against people who are fighting guerilla warfare. You will win, but you will sustain losses, heavy losses. With guerilla warfare you have one or two guys on a mountain hidden in small holes holding an anti-tank missile. And really at the end of the day he’ll shoot the missile at a few soldiers. He’ll maybe kill one or two, I don’t know. Except you won’t be able to find him afterwards. Unless you were looking in exactly the same direction when it was fired, you won’t. That’s the problem with guerilla warfare.

If there was a full-out war, you know, tanks against tanks, combat units against combat units, and everything done out in the open, Israel would definitely, totally defeat and win. Except the problem is guerilla warfare is extremely hard, it’s, I don’t know how to explain it except that it’s stressful because it’s not a real army, it’s not an army, it’s like cells. Fighting against cells that are operated by bigger cells, you don’t know where they could be, it’s not a big army.

MJT: Do you think it would be possible for Israel to defeat Hezbollah completely in a future war? If you killed every Hezbollah fighter they could always recruit more, but that aside, do you think you could eliminate all or most of them? Or would it just take too long because of the nature of the fighting?

Eli: The problem is, if you kill their combat units…which was possible, during the war the Israelis killed 700 to 800 Hezbollah fighters, which is a third of their whole combat fighters. Which is quite a lot of people.

MJT: It is, yeah.

Eli: Except killing them all…I’ve read MEMRI where there are Arab newspapers translated into English. It’s on the Internet. You can read it. Hezbollah said they were bringing in 3,000 to 4,000 Somali fighters.

MJT: I remember reading that. Did you see anybody who looked Somali, like they were from Africa?

Eli: No.

MJT: A lot of Lebanese people think this is just Hezbollah propaganda, that it’s not true. And I suspect they’re right. Like you said, Hezbollah is a professional guerilla army, whereas Somali fighters are pretty amateurish, like Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Eli: Hmm. You can’t compare the Hezbollah fighter to the Israeli soldier. The Israeli soldier is much better trained. He’s much more fit. Better weapons. And they’re trained for much longer. Except fighting guerilla warfare is just much harder than fighting a regular war.

MJT: Right.

Eli: That’s just it, at the end. And you asked me about getting rid of Hezbollah. Surely getting rid of all the Hezbollah fighters is not the solution. You have to get it from the root. And the root of the Hezbollah is, in the end, it’s the road toward Syria, and from Syria toward Iran. They are the big funders and the people who give Hezbollah the ok. In the end.

MJT: It looks like it’s an unresolvable problem without dealing with Syria and Iran in some way, somehow.

Eli: It’s a matter of time. Because the way I see it, the way I look at the situation now in Lebanon, at the parliament there, that within a few months or a year, I don’t know, the Hezbollah are getting stronger again. And they might push out the Lebanese government. They’ll take over the government there. And they’ll ask the UN peacekeepers to leave. And they will have to leave. And then we’ll have it all over again.

Post-script: If you like what I write, please click the Pay Pal button and help make it happen. I have to eat and pay bills, and your donations are the only thing that makes my work possible. I would do this for free if I could, but we don’t live in a Star Trek money-free universe yet.

If you would like to donate money for travel expenses and you don't want to use Pay Pal, you can send a check or money order to:

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Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

January 25, 2007

Tough Times Ahead for Nasrallah

When Hugh Hewitt interviewed me three weeks ago we discussed the possibility of Hezbollah seizing the road to the airport, a threat that appeared, at the time, to be empty. Here is what he and I said then:

HH: Okay, put on your seeing, your swami hat, your Kreskin hat, what’s going to happen in Lebanon?

MT: Oh, God. Literally, Hugh, anything could happen at this point, although I do think that the threat of civil war is lower than it was a month ago.

HH: Why?

MT: Here’s why. Because after two days, when these protests and sit-ins started, if you would have asked me what the odds of a civil war in Lebanon, I would have said probably 60%. And the reason is because Hezbollah tried to take the prime minister’s office.

HH: Right.

MT: Tried to physically seize it on the day of their rally. And they backed off, because the prime minister said, and I mentioned this in the article I wrote that you linked to, the prime minister said that if you take my office, I cannot control my street, which means basically that the Sunnis of Lebanon were going to go out in the streets, and forcibly take the prime minister’s office back. And it would be war, and it would be very ugly, because there’s really only so far Hezbollah can take this, because like I explained before, every group in the country is a minority, and no minority group is allowed to rule over the others. And the prime minister’s office is Sunni. And if the Shia tried to physically take it, it’s over. There’s going to be definitely more fighting in Lebanon. And so, Nasrallah backed off, because he knew that that was taking things too far. But then he kept threatening to escalate the situation, and he was saying well, okay, we’re not going to be able to take the prime minister’s office, but we’ll take the airport and shut the whole country down. And for a week, he was threatening to take the airport. And I thought well, God, if he takes the airport again, there’s going to be blood in the streets. And then, somebody who advises Nasrallah, must have taken him aside and talked him out of it, because that would be a bridge too far. And there was no way the rest of the country was going to put up with actually seizing the country like this. And so then Nasrallah, instead of threatening to take the airport, he threatened to escalate, but he was vague about how he was going to escalate.

HH: Well, you’re describing a tinderbox, though.

MT: Basically, yeah.

HH: Any day, something could go wrong, Sarajevo, 1914, sort of thing.

MT: Yup. And then when Nasrallah finally did escalate, all he did was have another rally, because he knew he’d taken the country to the absolute limit, and that if he went any further, it was going to be war.

But Hezbollah went further, after all. Blockading the country for one day triggered three days (so far) of violence. Hezbollah can’t keep this up without provoking a serious murderous backlash. But Hassan Nasrallah still says he will escalate even now. If he does, my prediction for another round of war in Lebanon is well above 50 percent. It could be a short one (we're not talking fifteen more years of hell here) but it would be war all the same.

These things change, though, like volatile weather. A compromise is still possible. And Nasrallah may yet back down. Hezbollah can likely win a defensive war if Lebanese try to disarm them. But they can’t conquer the country. No one is strong enough to do that. If Nasrallah starts that kind of war he’ll lose everything.

The Sunni Arab “street” outside Lebanon rallied behind him as a hero in July and August for his “resistance” against the Israelis. If Nasrallah becomes, instead, the butcher of Sunnis, he will become one of the most detested Arab figures alive.

The Syrian regime wants civil war in Lebanon. Bashar Assad’s late father Hafez helped foment the last one and kept it boiling for fifteen years until Lebanon all but surrendered to Syrian domination. The younger Assad has been trying to re-ignite it ever since March 14 two years ago. He hoped to demonstrate that only Syria can keep order in Lebanon, that Syrian withdrawal means mayhem and blood in the streets.

But Nasrallah and the Iranians (not to mention most Lebanese) don’t want more civil war. It works to Iran’s advantage if their proxy guerilla is a hero in the Arab world. But if the mullahs are seen as the sponsor of Shia killers of Sunnis in Lebanon they’ll be even more staunchly opposed in the Arab world than they already are.

Interesting, and difficult, times lie ahead for Hassan Nasrallah.

UPDATE: Charles Malik at the Lebanese Political Journal notes that Hassan Nasrallah has lost control of his followers. Indeed, he has, which makes things even worse for him and for Lebanon. Hezbollah, and Hezbollah's fans, do not know when to stop. Their delusions of supremacy, strength, and popularity may be their undoing. They made that mistake with the Israelis and learned nothing at all from the experience.

UPDATE: Two snipers, one Syrian and the other Palestinian, have been arrested by the army. Not only has Nasrallah lost control of his fans, he never had control of his masters who have plans of their own. He is riding three tigers at once.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:42 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Slouching Toward War — Continuously Updated

While I'm finishing up my next article, read Michael Young's latest in Beirut's Daily Star:

For the third time in almost a year Lebanon has averted a civil war, but we're nearing the end of the rope. If the Danish Embassy demonstrations and Hizbullah's mobilization in early December were, ultimately, manageable when it came to Christian-Sunni or Sunni-Shiite antagonism, what happened on Tuesday was, in its permutations, pretty much war. And if anything induced Hizbullah to suspend the protests, it was an awareness that if these continued for even a day, war was inevitable.

...Hizbullah had cut off most roads between the eastern and western sectors of Beirut, as well as the airport road. The irresponsibility of those steps was staggering. Not only did the party take Lebanon back to the symbolism of the war years, but Beirut's Sunnis saw the move as trapping them in their half of the capital. The word "blockade" started being used, prompting the mufti to heatedly muster his community. Wael Abu Faour of the March 14 coalition warned that if the army did not reopen the roads, supporters of the majority would. Hizbullah backed down, aware, let's not forget, that a Sunni-Shiite confrontation is a red line for Iran.

However, that reality only reaffirmed how Hizbullah has been juggling contradictory agendas. The Iranians may not want sectarian discord, but what happened this week was fulfillment of the Syrian side of Hizbullah's agenda. The main obstacle remains the Hariri tribunal and Syria's refusal to permit its creation. How Tehran and Damascus will work out their clashing priorities is anybody's guess. You have to assume that with the Lebanese so close to doing battle, and given the dire implications of what this would mean for Hizbullah and its already dilapidated reputation in the Sunni Arab world, Iran will remind Nasrallah of who pays the checks. On the other hand, the Iranians realize that the tribunal might be fatal to the Syrian regime, depriving the Islamic Republic of a key asset in the Levant.

At a more parochial level, the opposition's actions were self-defeating for being built on a lie. If the benchmark of success was Hizbullah's ability to close roads, then Tuesday was indeed successful. However, that weapon has now been used up, and the government remains in place. The next time the opposition threatens to do something similar, we might as well load the guns or head for the shelters. On the other hand, what kind of confidence can anyone have in a party, and its Christian appendages in the Aounist movement and the Marada, that promises to be peaceful, only to practice intimidation? There is such a thing as Lebanese civil society, one hardened by the 1975-1990 war, and it will unite against such abuse.

Read the rest in the Daily Star.

UPDATE: There were more violent clashes in Beirut even after Nasrallah called off his siege. The clashes, of course, are between Sunnis and Shia. Hezbollah used M-16s, and Hariri supporters used pistols. Beirut is now under curfew.

25leba.337.jpg

UPDATE: According to the Ouwet Front, Hariri supporters burned the office of the (fascist) Syrian Social Nationalist Party in Tareek Jdeede.

UPDATE: From Naharnet:

Police sappers also defused a rocket that was directed at the Moustaqbal newspaper in Beirut, shortly before it was set to launch.

"Luckily they discovered it. It would have resulted in a massacre. The newspaper is packed by journalists at this time of the evening," Editor Nassir al-Assad told Naharnet by telephone.

Moustaqbal is the newspaper for Hariri's Future Movement, by the far the most popular Sunni party in Lebanon.

Naharnet also reports that Hezbollah is attacking buildings in the downtown banking sector.

UPDATE: Thugs from the Hezbollah dahiyeh attacked the Lebanese army.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:48 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

January 24, 2007

The Two Faces of Lebanon

Before I analyze what’s going on in Lebanon now, I will first publish some photographs without comment that show the two faces of Lebanon.

Which ones appeal to you more and why?

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No War Godot.JPG

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IMG_2231.jpg

capt.xhm10401230830.mideast_lebanon_protests_xhm104.jpg

I Love Life Billboard.jpg

fug2.jpg

Glass Tower Beirut.jpg

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Wage Peace Billboard.jpg

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Shove Your Civil War.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:10 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

January 22, 2007

Hezbollah Riots in Lebanon (Continuously Updated)

Beirut Tires Burning.jpg

While I was in Lebanon gathering the material I've been publishing, Hezbollah kept threatening to strangle the country by seizing major roads, including the one that leads to the airport. I was worried I might get stuck there, but I didn't. Today, though, they finally make good on their threat. Palestinian guerillas are reportedly helping.

Future TV and LBC say there are clashes between rioters and commuters. Cars, as well as tires, are burning.

Beirut Tires Burning Night.jpg

Photos via Blacksmiths of Lebanon. Click for more.

UPDATE: Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Seniora accuses Hezbollah of intimidation and terrorism. He may be over-reacting a bit with the t-word in this context, but it's telling because he used to call them a "resistance" movement instead of terrorists. Those days are gone.

UPDATE: More pictures at The Ouwet Front. One commenter says "It looks like Gaza." Yes, it does.

UPDATE: Here is a BBC photo gallery. Below is a sample.

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Lovely.

UPDATE: Violence is spreading. Three people have been shot. Sunni and Shia Muslims fought each other with sticks, rocks, and automatic weapons in Southern Beirut. Violent clashes, often involving gunfire, are erupting elsewhere in the country as well.

Smashing Cars Beirut.jpg

Michel Aoun threatens to escalate.

UPDATE: Beirut is covered in smoke.

Smoke Over Beirut.jpg

UPDATE: Just a side note here...Up until today Hezbollah has modeled its "resistance" to the elected government after the March 14 demonstations to oust the occupying Syrian army. The March 14 movement, though, never did anything remotely like this. That's because they are, for the most part, liberal and democratic while Hezbollah is a Syrian-Iranian terrorist army. Today should be a moment of clarity for the willfully obtuse.

Notice, also, that the violent clashes in the streets are mostly between Sunnis and Shia, not between Christians and Shia. This is, and was, entirely predictable. Those who think Hezbollah is a popular movement with the support of Lebanon's Muslims as a whole should think again.

UPDATE: This post is getting a lot of attention from other blogs. This is mostly a link round-up, though. In case you missed some of my recent original reporting from Lebanon, here is an interview with a liberal Shia cleric, a descendent of the Prophet Mohammad, no less, who is an outspoken enemy of Hezbollah. And here is a photo gallery of Hezbollah's "capital" south of Beirut that was devastated by the Israeli Air Force during the summer. It looks like World War II blew through there.

UPDATE: Hezbollah called off the so-called "strike." Nasrallah seems to be aware that his latest stunt was seen by Lebanese an act of war in direct violation of Lebanon's power-sharing arrangment.

Members of Parliament today described Hezbollah as "terrorists" and Beirut as "occupied." Nasrallah is learning the limits of what he can do. He can squat downtown, but he can't seize it or burn it without starting a war.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:57 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Jumblatt Challenges Hezbollah

Lebanese Druze leader and Member of Parliament Walid Jumblatt has had enough of Hezbollah's ongoing "carnival," as he puts it, and threatens them with massive counter-demonstrations that may take place in the same physical space.

Jumblat, addressing Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said "I advise you to accelerate your party's approval of the international tribunal because in three weeks we have a major event. The third anniversary of the Hariri assassination."

"We wish it would be a binding occasion for all the Lebanese. We don't want it to be an occasion for discord when the masses head to downtown Beirut to declare their opposition to (Syrian) hegemony," Jumblat added.

Also worth noting is this:
In outlining his opposition to Hizbullah's Islamist agenda which, like that of Iran, calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, Jumblat said: "We do not support the elimination of Israel. We support the two state solution" by which a viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital can live in peace near Israel.
UPDATE: Meanwhile, Hassan Nasrallah accuses the March 14 government of being an Israeli Mossad tool that wishes to expel the Shia from Lebanon. If I were a Lebanese Shia I'd hate the elected government, too, if I believed that hysterical nonsense.

This is the sort of phantasmagorical political environment "the opposition" lives in, and has been raised on.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:00 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

January 19, 2007

The Blitzing of Haret Hreik

HARET HREIK, LEBANON – I have been to Haret Hreik, Hezbollah’s dahiyeh and de-facto “capital” south of Beirut, many times. But I didn’t expect to see it on my most recent trip. Every Lebanese person I know warned me to stay out of there. The destruction from the summer war is severe and Hezbollah’s fear and loathing of visitors, especially Americans, is even more so. The most paranoid party in Lebanon is more paranoid than ever before. Best to steer clear of their base.

Welcome to Haret Hreik.jpg

That was before I met the resident moderate Shia cleric Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, an outspoken enemy of Hezbollah from within the community. I interviewed him in his modest apartment, and afterward he showed me around the bombed out parts of his neighborhood.

“You can take pictures,” he said. “Don’t worry. No one will do anything or say anything to you if you are with me.”

This was important. Hezbollah’s media relations office explicitly warned me never to take pictures in the dahiyeh. Even local people aren’t allowed to take pictures. You never know who might be working for the CIA or the Mossad. Lebanon has more Israel supporters and “collaborators” than any other Arab country by far.

Husseini is a Sayyed, which means he is supposedly a descendent of the Prophet Mohammad. He can take pictures if he damn well pleases, and so can anyone who is his guest. He is as close to untouchable as a person can be in an assassination-plagued country like Lebanon.

So we went downstairs and hopped in his sporty SUV outfitted with tinted black windows.

Sayyed Husseini in SUV.jpg

Our first stop was only a few streets from his house. Whole blocks of towers were missing.

Dahiyeh Damage 1.JPG

“Did you stay here during the war?” I said and shuddered at the thought of hunkering down while whole towers exploded just down the street.

“No,” he said like I was crazy for asking. “No one could stay here. Everyone had to leave.”

Dahiyeh Damage 2.jpg

The Israeli Air Force dropped leaflets over the neighborhood warning residents to get out of the way of the incoming air strikes. Many times more people would have been killed if they hadn’t done this.

Decapitated Dahiyeh Tower.JPG

Haret Hreik is vertically packed with civilians, including the liberal cleric who was my guide and who is completely innocent of this war. Tens of thousands of people live in the area. Some of their homes were destroyed. Those whose homes weren’t destroyed now fear theirs could be next.

Haret Hreik also is packed with the infrastructure of a warmongering militia that unilaterally instigated the conflict on purpose. That’s why it was hit harder than any other urbanized section of Lebanon.

Dahiyeh Rubble 1.JPG

Some Lebanese Shia support Hezbollah because they actually want war with Israelis.

Others (wrongly) believe that Israel will continue to invade and attack even if Lebanon and Hezbollah sign a peace treaty. Hezbollah, in their view, is their only defense. These people have not, apparently, noticed that Israel has had no military trouble with Egypt or Jordan since peace treaties were signed. The price they paid for this misunderstanding was a grave one, indeed. The last war will more likely prolong that misunderstanding than counter it. The cause-and-effect relationship between Hezbollah’s casus belli on the border and the Israeli reaction has been lost in Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s bombastic pronouncements.

I have been to Israel four times in the last nine months and I know very well that Israelis, left-wing and right-wing alike, overwhelmingly prefer peace to war. But when your only exposure to Israelis is through racist and phantasmagoric Hezbollah propaganda, and when that propaganda is underscored by air raids with blockbuster bombs, it can be a bit hard to believe that Israelis would rather leave you alone.

Dahiyeh Crater 1.JPG

The Israeli government hoped the destruction in Hezbollah strongholds would deter any plans for future attacks. Perhaps Hezbollah has quietly decided not to provoke Israel from now on. Anything is possible, but there is little or no evidence that this is the case. Hezbollah has restocked its weapons supply from Iran via Syria. Hassan Nasrallah insists the “resistance” will continue. His supporters applaud him for that even though huge numbers are homeless or live next to piles of rubble.

Dahiyeh Rubble 2.JPG

I was in Northern Israel in August while Hezbollah bombarded the area with Katyusha rockets. I returned to the city of Kiryat Shmona the day after the war ended so I could survey the damage slowly, carefully, and in safety.

Katyushas are World War II era rockets that only do serious damage when they strike a single location in a barrage. Hezbollah packed these rockets with shrapnel (the better to kill you with, my dear) and fired them randomly at civilian population centers.

Shrapnel Kiryat Shmona Apartment.jpg

Katyusha shrapnel, Kiryat Shmona, Northern Israel

Kiryat Shmona was sprayed with hundreds of rockets and tens of thousands of shrapnel holes, as though machine gun battles had erupted everywhere in the streets. It’s right on the border, too, so there was no time to get to a bomb shelter when incoming rockets were picked up on radar. The air raid sirens came on and the rockets exploded at the same instant.

The city was a ghost town during the summer, almost completely emptied of people. I didn’t dare spend much time there. It was a perilous place for human beings. Katyusha shrapnel will tear you apart. But the physical damage was limited. It would take years for Hezbollah to physically destroy that city with the arsenal they currently have. And Katyushas are useless against armies. They can’t slow the Israeli Defense Forces for even a second. In the modern era they only work well as terrorist weapons.

Meanwhile, the Israelis dropped tower-busting bombs on Haret Hreik.

Dahiyeh Crater 2.jpg

They could have flattened all of Haret Hreik in a day if that’s what they wanted to do. There is nothing Hezbollah can do to stop that kind of assault.

Hezbollah’s supposed “victory” is a Pyrrhic one, if even that. And it should serve as a warning. Military historian Michael Oren explained it to me this way at the end of the war: “If [Nasrallah] has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Broken Dahiyeh Tower and Bulldozer.JPG

If Hezbollah ever acquires the ability to do to Israel what the Israelis did to Haret Hreik, Hezbollah and the strongholds they control could very well cease to exist. Hezbollah can’t win a total war. They can only “win” if the Israelis don’t feel like they have to fight to the finish. I would not want to be anywhere near South Lebanon or Beirut’s southern suburbs if Hezbollah decides to launch skyscraper-shattering missiles at Tel Aviv instead of long-range souped-up hand grenades at Kiryat Shmona.

This is what scares the Israelis, after all – that missile war may be replacing terrorist war. Their ability and willingness to launch an overwhelmingly disproportionate response means Hezbollah had better not dare ramp it up.

Dahiyeh Crater from Car.JPG

None of this means Israelis won the last round. Hardly any of their war objectives were met. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may end up the most internally despised leader in Israel’s history. But they only actually lost if different standards of winning and losing are applied to each side.

Hassan Nasrallah says Hezbollah won because they survived. Well, Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces survived. By that standard of winning, Israel won.

Shattered Dahiyeh Tower 1.JPG

No one, though, seems foolish enough to believe that both Israel and Hezbollah won. Destructive and inconclusive wars are never win-win. They are always lose-lose.

My guide Sayyed Husseini’s gas was running low, so we pulled into a station to fill up the tank. We stepped out of the SUV as the attendent inserted the pump. A group of children ran up to Husseini and excitedly yelled “Sayyed! Sayyed!” as though he were some kind of black-robed Santa Claus figure. The attendent smiled as though he felt lucky to be in the presence of a great man. If anyone who recognized him detested him for his stance against Hezbollah, it didn’t show.

Shattered Dahiyeh Tower 2.JPG

The gate that lead to what was Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV station headquarters still stands. Attached to it is a poster thanking Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his support.

Chavez Dahiyeh.jpg

Chavez could, like most of the rest of the world, support Lebanon’s elected government instead of the illegal militia that unilaterally – and at the height of tourist season, no less – strapped a suicide-bomb belt around the waist of the country. But that would mean siding with the United States, the country he most loves to hate. So there he is, hanging up in the dahiyeh along with the Baathist Assad and the theocratic Khomeini.

Khomeini Poster Dahiyeh.JPG

Facing the Al Manar gate is the remains of Hezbollah’s “Security Square.” The hole in the ground pictured below is where their media relations office once stood.

Destroyed Security Square.jpg

I wish I could show you a “before” shot as well as the “after” photograph. But there was no way I could take pictures of the Security Square the first time I went there. I had no protection, and that place had more surveillance than the Panopticon.

Here, though, are satellite photographs showing the center of Haret Hreik before and after July. I pulled the first off Google Earth. The second is from Amnesty International.

Haret Hreik Before Google Earth.JPG

Haret Hreik After Amnesty International.JPG

My old nemesis Hussein Naboulsi worked there, in that Security Square office that now is a crater, before Hezbollah fired him after the war. At least I heard from my fixer that he was fired after the war. For all I really know he was killed in the air strike.

He was Hezbollah’s media relations liaison, the guy who set up interviews for journalists, who creepily kept photocopies of our passports on file, who monitored everything we published and wrote, who threatened me with violence for cracking a joke about “the party” on my blog, and who infamously led CNN’s Nic Robertson around by the nose in the dahiyeh during the Israeli bombardment.

Naboulsi.JPG

Hussein Naboulsi, former terrorist spokesman, minder, and issuer of threats against journalists

I can’t help but wonder: What do you do after being downsized by a terrorist organization? Do you work at the local CD store? Al Jazeera? Perhaps the Syrians will have something for him, though the pay grade may be a bit lower.

Even before the war broke out in July I marveled at Lebanon’s ability to hold itself together when no common values unite the people who live there. Lebanon belongs to the Arab world, and also to the Mediterranean world. It is Eastern and, in some ways, it is Western, as well. French- and English-educated Christians look to the US, France, and the West. Most Sunnis take their cues from the wider Arab world, though they also are a part of the broader Mediterranean culture with its open and tolerant ways. Many, if not most, Shia look to Persian Iran.

Enormous forces pull this tiny country (only half the size of tiny Israel) in violently opposing directions at the same time. Lebanon cannot be in the Western and moderate Arab orbit and be absorbed into the Syrian/Iranian axis. Civil war, as well as war with their southern neighbor, will hang like the Sword of Damocles over the country until this is resolved.

Since the war in July the Shia experience in Lebanon is even farther removed than it was from that of the Sunnis, Christians, and Druze.

Haret Hreik, like much of the South, has been devastated. Rubble abounds. The economy, which wasn’t much to begin with, is as broken as the harsh urban landscape.

Meanwhile, downtown Beirut looked better than it did last time I saw it in April of 2006.

Saifi Village from Air.jpg

Saifi Village, downtown Beirut. The construction in the lower-left corner is now finished.

Saifi Village 2.jpg

Saifi Village 2 is under construction

Glass Tower Beirut.jpg

New hotel under construction

Lebanon’s capital is in the midst of a boom, even if it’s dampened now because of the war and the ongoing instability. But the “capital” of Hezbollah looks like World War II just blew through there.

Rubble Pile in Dahiyeh from Car.JPG

The two Lebanons are moving, at great velocity, in opposite directions physically and economically as well as culturally and politically now. “National unity” is a castle in the air, more so than at any time since the civil war ended 16 years ago.

The Shia have always been the poorest and most marginal of Lebanon’s sects – and not just in Lebanon, but elsewhere as well. Fouad Ajami aptly describes them (and he is one of them, too) as the stepchildren of the Arab world. They need and deserve better than this, as all human beings do. Hassan Nasrallah has promised to lead them out of the darkness. Instead he brought ruin and a violent catastrophe down on their heads.

The Shia of Lebanon must find another way, if not with Sayyed Husseini then with someone who is very much like him, someone who can help them lead lives of dignity and prosperity and of normal relations with others. Instead of bringing Haret Hreik to Beirut they need Beirut in Haret Hreik. As Abu Kais, himself a Shia who grew up in the South, said during the summer war on his blog: Iran’s Shia farm must be shut down, and its residents set free.

Post-script: If you like what I write, please click the Pay Pal button and help make it happen. These trips are expensive, and I have to eat and pay bills. Your donations are the only thing that makes my work possible. I would do this for free if I could, but we don’t live in a Star Trek money-free universe yet.

If you would like to donate money for travel expenses and you don't want to use Pay Pal, you can send a check or money order to:

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:45 AM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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