May 31, 2008

Hezbollah’s Downfall?

Beirut's David Kenner thinks Hezbollah's latest move will ulimately lead to its downfall.

I think he's right, which is what I was getting at when I wrote in COMMENTARY that Hezbollah's power is now at its apogee. Hassan Nasrallah isn't likely to ever be stronger than he is right now. It's all downhill from here. It would be foolish to expect him to fall in the short or medium term, but Kenner's piece is especially worth reading if you're worried that Lebanon will become the next Gaza.

UPDATE: See also Michael Young's latest column in Beirut's Daily Star, which contains this humorous tidbit: "Thanks to the Israelis, who may soon hand a grand prisoner exchange to Hizbullah, Nasrallah may earn a brief reprieve for his "resistance." It's funny how Hizbullah and Syria, always the loudest in accusing others of being Israeli agents, are the ones who, when under pressure, look toward negotiations with Israel for an exit."

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:50 PM | Permalink | 18 Comments »

May 29, 2008

Introducing Standpoint Magazine

Daniel Johnson just launched an impressive new magazine in the U.K. called Standpoint. His deputy editor Jonathan Foreman asked me if I

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:52 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

May 28, 2008

Home Again

By Michael J. Totten

I

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:33 AM | Permalink | 12 Comments »

May 23, 2008

Hezbollah’s Victory

by Michael J. Totten

Lebanon

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:11 PM | Permalink | 19 Comments »

May 21, 2008

Writing While Traveling

by Michael J. Totten

I find it difficult to write the long dispatches you're accustomed to reading while traveling. It takes the better part of a week for me to transcribe the interviews on my voice recorder and the observations and quotes in my notebooks, organize and upload photographs, and write a well-written and thoughtful feature-length article. It doesn't make much sense to spend so much time doing all that while I'm paying for a hotel room and need to be out doing field work. None of my material from Kosovo and the surrounding area is time-sensitive anyway.

In a few days I will be home and can sit down and do some serious writing. I'll try to have another short piece or two for you to read in the meantime. Thanks for being patient while I'm abroad, and thanks again to Tony Badran and Lee Smith for helping out when they can.

The Balkans is a bottomlessly fascinating region where everything I've learned in the Middle East is turned upside down. It's like an alternate history novel here, and it's too bad the region fell off the media map after September 11, 2001. (The Kosovo War, if you recall, occurred only two years before.) If the Kurds of Iraq are instructive foils for Arabs

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:56 AM | Permalink | 9 Comments »

May 17, 2008

Lebanon’s Future

by Michael J. Totten

Lebanon will not become the next Gaza.

Commenters both inside and outside the country compared Hezbollah's invasion of West Beirut last week to the Hamas takeover of Gaza last year, which is perhaps understandable: that's what it looked like. If Lebanon's mainstream Sunni-dominated party--Saad Hariri's Future Movement--has a militia that is able and willing to fight, it didn't make much of an appearance. Hezbollah seized the western half of the city in a walk. Most journalists focused on this portion of the conflict because West Beirut is where almost every journalist in Lebanon lives and where almost every hotel for visiting journalists is located.

Far less attention has been paid to Hezbollah's military and strategic failure in the Chouf mountains southeast of Beirut where Lebanon's Druze community lives. Hezbollah picked a major fight there and lost. After three days of pitched battles, its gunmen were unable to conquer a single village--even when they brought out mortars and heavy artillery.

The Druze are among the fiercest of warriors, and everyone in Lebanon knows it. They are well-known in Israel, too, where they often serve in elite units of the Israel Defense Forces and suffer lower-than-average casualty rates in battles with Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups. Most of Israel's Sunni Arabs abstain from military service, but Druze Arabs are as loyal to the Israeli state, and are as willing and able to fight for it, as their Lebanese counterparts are in their own country. There's a reason two of the Middle East's religious minorities--Maronite Christians and Druze--live in Lebanon's mountains in significant numbers: attempts to invade and subjugate them are ill-advised, very likely to fail, and therefore rarely attempted by even large armies.

It's debatable whether or not Lebanon's Sunnis are organized and well-armed or not. Certainly they are not compared to Hezbollah. No one in Lebanon is. But Druze chief Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party proved they have no shortage of weapons, and they fought off Hezbollah's invasion even though he told them not to. A tiny percentage of Druze are partially loyal to Talal Arslan, Hezbollah's only Druze ally, but they defected in large numbers when Hezbollah launched its attack. They fought on the same side as the rest of their community. Political alliances have their limits, and Arslan's people and Hezbollah discovered theirs. It is now almost safe to say that Hezbollah has no friends at all in the mountains overlooking the dahiyeh, their

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:26 AM | Permalink | 31 Comments »

May 16, 2008

The Real Iraq

by Michael J. Totten

Moment of Truth in Iraq, by Michael Yon (Richard Vigilante Books, 227 pp., $29.95)

Iraq is where ideologies go to die. Arab nationalism, Baathism, anti-Americanism, al-Qaidism, Donald Rumsfeldism, and Moqtada al-Sadrism have either died there or are dying. Conventional liberal opinion, more or less correct about the foundering American war effort from 2004 to 2006, has been severely bloodied

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:07 AM | Permalink | 9 Comments »

May 15, 2008

Hezbollah’s Delusion and the Shia’s Dire Straits

By Tony Badran (cross posted at Across the Bay)

Two excellent items in NOW Lebanon:

One, a superb piece by Michael Young on the repercussions of Hezbollah's mad, and failed, coup attempt on the Lebanese Shi'a. It's really a must read (and you can see echoes in Abu Kais' moving post yesterday).

Two, a sharp editorial on Hezbollah's weapons and its dead-end options within a unitary state. Again, it's worth reading in full.

Posted by Charles Chuman at 5:03 AM | Permalink | 13 Comments »

May 14, 2008

Hezbollah’s Third Botched Coup Attempt

By Tony Badran (cross-posted at Across the Bay)

In three years, since the murder of former PM Rafik Hariri, Hezbollah has attempted three coups -- and failed.

On March 8, 2005, Hezbollah thought that by rallying supporters they would nip the independence movement in the bud, maintain the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and move on as though nothing happened.

One week later, March 14 happened, in large part as a reaction to Hezbollah's rally. It secured the expulsion of the murderous Assad regime's occupying force.

Then in 2006, with the July war and its aftermath, especially the movement in December 06-January 07.

In their first attempt in January 23-25, Hezbollah tried its coup and relied on Aounist elements. That proved a disaster as the Aounist riffraff were done away with in a matter of hours, ending any prospect of relying on Christian proxies to do Hezbollah's bidding. The Lebanese Forces' Samir Geagea, whose supporters were instrumental in dispersing the Aounists, was the central figure during that coup.

Then came this last attempt, which Nasrallah deliberately placed in parallel to the aftermath of the Hariri assassination: i.e., this was intended to be the official reversal of the independence movement.

After Hezbollah took west Beirut, attacking civilians in their homes, ransacking and terrorizing neighborhoods and media outlets, following a conscious decision by Hariri not to put up a fight, the Iranian militia foolishly thought that it can just as easily overrun Jumblat on his own turf in the Shouf.

Hezbollah had another thing coming. For three days of intensive fighting in the Shouf, and contrary to the lying info ops and disinformation of Hezbollah water carriers like this clueless Hezbollah willful tool (on whose propaganda for Hezbollah I've written in the past and will soon be ripping to shreds once again), not a single village in the Shouf fell to Hezbollah. Not Niha, like that Hezbollah watercarrier MacLeod wrote, not anything.

Quite the contrary. According to the PSP and other local sources, more than three dozen Hezbollah fighters were killed and a number of their vehicles were destroyed. The fact that they had to introduce artillery and vehicles (mounted with heavy machine guns, like so, and recoilless rifles, like so) only showed that they could not make advances into the villages.

Not just that, but Hezbollah's attack has led Talal Arslan's fighters to switch and fight alongside the PSP against Hezbollah, undermining Hezbollah's tiny Druze ally -- which is precisely why Jumblat put him in the forefront from the get go (it was not, as shrill commentators and dishonest flacks read it, a sign of "weakness." It was a shrewed move by a master tactician.).

At the end of the day, the PSP maintained control of the strategic hills of the Barouk to the east and Ras al-Jabal west of Aley, overlooking the Dahiyeh.

And so, Jumblat and the Shouf played a historical role these last few days (and I will have a lengthy post on Jumblat's role in this crisis asap) and have essentially botched Hezbollah's coup.

All the idiotic commentators, from Paul Salem onwards, who talked about a different "political balance" as a result of the fighting, don't and never did know what they're talking about. This is political suicide for Hezbollah, who has already made contacts with Hariri through a third party informing him that they're looking for an exit. They know they're in a jam.

Not just that, now the government is in a position to leverage rescinding its decisions -- which it could never implement to begin with! -- and we're already seeing M14 and government sources expressing that.

For one, all M14 officials -- including Hariri who made a powerful, uncompromising speech yesterday -- are now unanimous about placing the fate of Hezbollah's weapons as the first item on any "dialogue" agenda. Gone are the days of the "sanctity" of the weapons of the "resistance." Minister Joe Sarkis has added that any rescinding of the decisions has to be met by not just a withdrawal of armed men from the streets and the reopening of all roads, but also the evacuation of the tent city in downtown Beirut.

The mere fact that M14 and the government are bartering the rescinding of a decision that was never going to be implemented (and if the government was illegitimate, according to Hezbollah, then why even bother focusing on its decisions and thereby affirm its legitimacy?) suggests, regardless of outcome, that they know that there's no "new balance" advantageous to Hezbollah that forces them to capitulate.

Army Commander Suleiman is now under tons of pressure. Hariri himself criticized the Army's performance, and we know that 40 senior officers submitted their resignation (which would've split the Army) in protest of Suleiman's handling of the situation (and we also know that criminal pro-Aounist officers were particularly egregious during the crisis). Saudi outlets have even criticized the Army's performance, putting more pressure on Suleiman to get his act together if he wants to become president (especially now that any gambit about Hezbollah tilting the balance has failed). The US, which also has leverage through its aid to the Army might also do the same. These kinds of pressures, domestic, regional and international, and Suleiman's susceptibility to them, is why Syria won't take a chance with him. Anyone who doesn't fall and lick Bashar's boots without hesitation at a moment's notice cannot be trusted as far as the murderer of Damascus is concerned, and it's why Syria knows that it must return militarily to Lebanon in order to rule it. Even doing it by proxy, through Hezbollah, hasn't worked.

This is far from over. In fact, this has only just begun.

Posted by Charles Chuman at 9:53 AM | Permalink | 17 Comments »
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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