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 January 25, 2007 05:42 PM
Comments

Michael,
Reading over everything that has happened during the last few days...isn't there a real danager that Nasrallah will lose control of his own people..."riots" take on a life of their own, and it seems to me there's a real danger they may already have crossed a point of no return...especially if some of Hezbollah has attacked the army.

Posted by: LCB at January 25, 2007 05:56 PM

LCB,

Definately. Hezbollah wannabes and groupies are more dangerous (inside Lebanon) than Hezbollah itself. They are less disciplined and more extreme.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2007 05:59 PM

If Nassrallah stays true to form, he'll overplay his hand and reap the whirlwind. The Arabs have been doing it since '48. I don't see any reason for them to change now.

Besides, it appears that the Sunnis, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, may be willing to take on Hizb'allah to take Iran down a peg. They really appear to be worried about Persian/Shia hegemony. Taking out Hizb'allah is the quickest way to start reducing Iranian influence.

The question is what Syria would do if Hizb'allah is opposed by Arabs rather than Israel. Hizb'allah is Syria's only real leverage in Lebanon. By himself Aoun is nothing. If Hizb'allah is really threatened, I would expect Syria to act, especially since it is now beholden to Iran.

Should be interesting, anyway.

Posted by: Ephraim at January 25, 2007 06:00 PM

Taking out Hizb'allah is the quickest way to start reducing Iranian influence.

Second-quickest.

The quickest would be to turn the pumps on the oilfields to maximum and flood the market, driving oil prices through the floor and triggering an implosion of the Iranian economy.

But that would cost the Saudis billions and billions of dollars, so they're going to try this first.

There are a great many cards left to be played in this round.

Posted by: rosignol at January 25, 2007 06:17 PM

Michael:

Your analysis seems to be correct. Nasrallah is likely to be caught between the conflicting interst of his foreign patrons. Syria needs continued conflict in Lebanon to fend off the International Tribunal, justify further meddling, and to shore up support at home. The Iranians, on the other hand, do not want to see their "Shia Arab Hero" waste his support in the wider, Sunni dominated Islamic world by butchering Sunnis in Lebanon. I understand that Nasarallah's popularity among non-Iraqi, Sunnis has already taken a hit because he has failed to forcefully criticize Saddam's hanging or the actions of Shia death squads in Iraq.

I have also heard that the Saudis are now funding a Sunni based resistance to the Allawite dominated Baath party in Syria. Is there any chance that Iran will become so fedup with Assad undercutting the popularity of Nasrallah that they eventually decide to let Assad twist in the wind before the tribunal? It sounds to me like Assad may end up in more danger than Nasrallah. Is this scenario consistent with what your sources are saying?

Posted by: Mark-In-Chi-Town at January 25, 2007 06:17 PM

Is there any chance that Iran will become so fedup with Assad undercutting the popularity of Nasrallah that they eventually decide to let Assad twist in the wind before the tribunal?

It's possible.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2007 06:20 PM

I hope Nasrallah does over plays his game...It will be a fascinating Chess game now. How far Syria and Iran can stay close, it depends on what happens in Lebanon. Right after the revolution in Iran (1979), Lebanon was the first target fro the Mullahs. I remember the number of the flight going to Lebanon from Tehran, at one point, was on daily basis. The strategy was to send as much militant Basiji there as possible and let them start their life over there ...marry locals and grow the base there. I have to give them credit, they accomplished that. so losing Lebanon will be a big defeat.

Posted by: Frieda at January 25, 2007 06:54 PM

"Hezbollah can likely win a defensive war if Lebanese try to disarm them."

Even if UNIFIL is given a mandate to assist the Lebanese at disarming Hezbollah?

Posted by: Solomon2 at January 25, 2007 06:56 PM

It looks like either HA is so dump (he proved that last July war when Nasrallah said: "if I knew that that will be the reaction I wouldn't have done it.") that the rest of the country (Sunni, Druze and Christian) will not fight back or he is not in control of his street!

I was in Lebanon at the beginning of the civil war in the 1970s and I knew how Syria was igniting the war everytime the fighters agreed on a cease fire! I still recall how both areas (Muslim and Christian) were bombed from the same place!

I strongly think that Syria has a hand in this and will try to feed it. They even will try to force themselves into Lebanon using excuses like "protecting the Alawite in Tripoli". I doubt that they will try to go further!

Everything could change if there is a regime change in either Syria or Iran! I hope it will happen soon.

Posted by: Ghassan at January 25, 2007 06:59 PM

Are you so sure that Hezbollah is "dumb"? Perhaps Nasrallah - or whoever pulls his string - is a supremely sensitive leader who knows how to get ahead? Every time he pulls a whopper people say, "He's going too far", yet at the end of each episode he's inched forward, n'est-ce pas? He stops, people take a deep breath, and then give Hezbollah more latitude to act, hoping they won't go off the deep end again, correct?

Posted by: Solomon2 at January 25, 2007 07:06 PM

Michael
I am not sure that you're right about Assad wanting another Lebanese civil war. The availability and precision of weapons has changed and in the next war (if it comes), the missiles will rain on Damascus just as they rained on Haifa last summer. Assad must know that and will avert a civil war. This standoff is a huge bluff that Hezbollah is losing so far.

Posted by: NoSleep at January 25, 2007 07:25 PM

Solomon2: Even if UNIFIL is given a mandate to assist the Lebanese at disarming Hezbollah?

That's a whole different story. If Hezbollah faces NATO armies in combat in alliance with the Lebanese government, they will be in deep shit.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2007 07:33 PM

He stops, people take a deep breath, and then give Hezbollah more latitude to act

That's not what's happening now, though. Nasrallah only has lattitude with the limits proscribed to him, and that's it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2007 07:36 PM

NoSleep: Assad must know that and will avert a civil war.

The US and Israel keep promising they will leave him alone and hinting at yet another useless peace "process" instead. The Assads have been using the exact same play book for more than 30 years now. Nothing has changed. And I doubt anything will change until Syria is bombed or very seriously threatened with war.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2007 07:40 PM

NATO can only ally with the Lebanese government if there is a Lebanese government to ally with. Charles Malik once claimed that if any minister gets out of line, he can be rubbed out by the Syro-Hezb axis, yet such anti-government action is probably the one thing that could motivate ordinary Lebanese to assist foreign troops at disarming Hezbollah.

As a "backstop" to discourage such assassinations, or to act in case all else fails, expat Lebanese supported by pro-democracy ministers could form vocal anti-Hezbollah Sunni, Shia, Druze, and Christian political groups in foreign capitals, so the Lebanese government could be sure that no matter what happens, people who already have credibility will be there to speak for Democratic Lebanon in the media and at the U.N. But that would require a degree of imagination and courage that Lebanese have yet to display, I think.

Posted by: Solomon2 at January 25, 2007 07:50 PM

Interesting take.

The angryarab blog seems to make the claim that the other side is also doing a lot to instigate violence.

This situation seems fairly complicated.

Posted by: NM at January 25, 2007 11:25 PM

The quickest would be to turn the pumps on the oilfields to maximum and flood the market, driving oil prices through the floor and triggering an implosion of the Iranian economy.

But that would cost the Saudis billions and billions of dollars, so they're going to try this first.

That would be a great idea, but I thought the problem was that the Saudis already were pumping at near enough capacity?

Nevertheless, Iran, which obviously doesn't have the cash reserves Saudi has, is starting to feel the heat and the internal divisions are worth looking at as this obviously has implications for Hezb. in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. That end of the world religious fantastist Ahjamadinejad is fortunately making enough of a mess of the economy as it is, and the clerical leadership unsurprisingly does not seem keen on war with the US or Israel.

A good result all around would be that he is reigned in by Rafsanjani who again seems to have the ear of the 'supreme leader'and the Iranians simply run out of money to give to Hezbollah

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1997779,00.html

Posted by: Dirk at January 25, 2007 11:27 PM

The quickest would be to turn the pumps on the oilfields to maximum and flood the market, driving oil prices through the floor and triggering an implosion of the Iranian economy.

But that would cost the Saudis billions and billions of dollars, so they're going to try this first. (Ros)

That would be a great idea, but I thought the problem was that the Saudis already were pumping at near enough capacity?

Nevertheless, Iran, which obviously doesn't have the cash reserves Saudi has, is starting to feel the heat and the internal divisions are worth looking at as this obviously has implications for Hezb. in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. That end of the world religious fantastist Ahjamadinejad is fortunately making enough of a mess of the economy as it is, and the clerical leadership unsurprisingly does not seem keen on war with the US or Israel.

A good result all around would be that he is reigned in by Rafsanjani who again seems to have the ear of the 'supreme leader'and the Iranians simply run out of money to give to Hezbollah

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1997779,00.html

(NB, apologies for double post, too hasty in sending 1st one)

Posted by: Dirk at January 25, 2007 11:32 PM

The angryarab blog seems to make the claim that the other side is also doing a lot to instigate violence.

I think it was a given that he would claim that. He's consistent. Pay him no mind.

This situation seems fairly complicated.

I'm not knowledgeable enough about Lebanon to know whether it's complicated, but I do know that Angry Arab trying to muddy the waters doesn't complicate anything.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 25, 2007 11:33 PM

In one of the threads, someone mentioned sanctions against Iran as if they were already in place.

Are there any sanctions in place?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 25, 2007 11:35 PM

Josh, re sanctions that are in place:

I believe there are unilateral US sanctions which were past by the elder Bush and Clinton, chiefly regarding US companies doing business in Iran.

Just before Xmas, the UN security council passed a resolution with various watered down sanctions, chiefly banning the sale of nuclear related technology:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6205295.stm

I've said it before here, but I believe a grand deal with Iran is infinitely preferable to one with Syria as unlike Syria, Iran makes no actual claim to Lebanon. And though it is linked to Hezb. by religion, it is also divided by ethnicity (Persian / Arab). A lot of Iranians are apparently questioning why all this money is being funnelled to Lebanon where it could be used on projects at home.

A deal is also possible given that one was on the table three years ago.

Dick Cheney's (alleged) original objection to the deal that the US doesn't deal with evil makes no sense bearing in mind that a similar agreement was made with Gaddafi's Libya which is equally morally suspect.

The fact that Rafsanjani spoke to the UK ambassador about nuclear negotiations is significant. As the US for obvious reasons has no embassy in Tehran, this is the closest he can get to actually telling the US that elements in the Iranian hierarchy have an interest in turning down the temperature a bit.

Posted by: Dirk at January 26, 2007 12:04 AM

Trouble-makers exist to cause trouble.

Trouble-makers who are backed by trouble-makers will cause trouble.

Trouble-makers who are backed by trouble-makers, who are themselves backed by trouble-makers will---that's right!---cause trouble.

What part of "cause trouble" do you have trouble understanding?

Oh, and these guys "do" attrition really well. Almost as well as they do car-bombings. About as well as they launch rockets. They'll wait, and they'll pressure, and they'll complain that the Shi'a are oppressed.

And they'll continue to paralyze civil life in Lebanon, because that's what they do. They'll bide their time. They're goal is power and they're not going to give up unless they're trounced.

Now, who's gonna do that? With all this brinksmanship going down here, and the progressive, media-driven world insisting that "we're all Hezbullah now!"

Posted by: Barry Meislin at January 26, 2007 12:31 AM

I think (and word on the street confirms) that Nasrallah and Iran are diverging from Syria pretty quickly. The Syrian really hurt Nasrallah very badly yesterday. Issuing a fatwa to get his people off the street must have been a real blow to Nasrallah.
Word on the street also says that it is absolutely forbidden for anyone to shoot a single bullet in the Christian areas. What this means to me is that Sunnis and Shiaas want to fight each other for supremacy in the region, and that fight is probably going to happen. But it's going to be contained, unless the Syrian has his way and manages to extend the fight to be global to Lebanon.

I think that the Syrian's end is near, but only within a framework of redrawing country and sectarian lines in the region.

Posted by: Wonka at January 26, 2007 01:55 AM

This just in:
The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran’s influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort…
[...]
The White House has authorized a widening of what is known inside the intelligence community as the "Blue Game Matrix" -- a list of approved operations that can be carried out against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. And U.S. officials are preparing international sanctions against Tehran for holding several dozen al-Qaeda fighters who fled across the Afghan border in late 2001. They plan more aggressive moves to disrupt Tehran's funding of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and to undermine Iranian interests among Shiites in western Afghanistan.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/25/AR2007012502199_pf.html

The force calculus quietly changed under Nasrallah last fall. It could be that he is taking these actions now while he still has sufficient support to lock down lasting power before his support is eroded under him. Specifically, if the Iranian Revolutionary Guards trainers start calling in dead or disappeared, morale amongst Hezbollah's fighters will probably drop.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at January 26, 2007 04:08 AM

Reading your blog and many others about the ME, and Islam, I'm just so glad I was (a) born in the USA and (b) am not an Arab. Total luck of the draw.

Posted by: Seymour Paine at January 26, 2007 06:38 AM

Don't expect a quick ceasefire if this comes to open warfare. If the government gets the upper hand,it'll want Hezbollah disarmed. If Hezbollah gets the upper hand,it'll want control of the government. Now that south Lebanon is rubble,I think Hezbollah has its sights on the north. And Aoun really REALLY wants to be president.

Posted by: Perry Addison at January 26, 2007 07:12 AM

Question: Does any of this sort of news reach the impoverished Shia in the south, ever? Or does Hezbollah pretty much have a monopoly control on information in that part of the country as well?

Posted by: Nate at January 26, 2007 07:24 AM

Forgive me if I read this here -- I can't find a search option -- Regarding Saudi oil -- I read yesterday that the Saudis have in fact quietly begun releasing more oil in the market, and declined to discuss the effect on global prices with OPEC; there was supposition the other Sunni-led oil states might do likewise.

Iranian oil costs 4-5 times per barrel to produce compared with Saudi oil, Iran uses a lot of its own oil, it is pumping at near capacity already, and it imports huge amounts of gasoline. The theory is that combined with Western economic pressure, a drop in oil prices and revenues will nudge Ahmedinejhad's domestic popularity down another notch, which may mean he'd be replaced sooner rather than later. The Saudis and Gulf states don't want the US going military on Iran if there's any way to avoid it, and they want to apply leverage immediately as well.

Posted by: Pam at January 26, 2007 08:06 AM

The Saudis and Gulf states don't want the US going military on Iran if there's any way to avoid it, and they want to apply leverage immediately as well.

Let's hope they do - a combination of stick (tightening the economic thumb screws) and carrot (we'll leave you alone, if you leave us and our friends alone) might work. Remember that Iran isn't a sparsely populated Gulf state but a nation of 70 million people. And these people want jobs, social services and so on

One thing Iran has got in its favour is that even though the mad mullah element is pretty prominent, there is more to Iran than crowds chanting 'death to America' after Friday prayers.

For sure, it can't be described as a democracy in any sense of the word, but there are different shades of opinion within Iran - actually in many ways Iran is more pluralistic than, say, Saudi Arabia.

Rafsanjani and his associates are in an Iranian context conservatives with a small 'c', and like any good capitalists, like stability. What they don't want is an economic meltdown

Added to that there's the fact that Ahmadinejad isn't really a "President" in a way we understand it in the west. The real head of state is whoever is the supreme leader (so Khomeini's heir), as he has control over Defence, foreign policy and a veto over laws, and so the name of the game in Iran is getting influence over the Ayatollah's inner circle and decisions.

I suppose that's a long winded way of saying that I think Pam is right: There is a faction of realists in Iran and economic pressure on a largely poor country of 70 million may well provide results - just watch how quickly they'd turn off the dollar pipeline to Hezbollah and Hamas in the right circumstances!

Posted by: Dirk at January 26, 2007 08:50 AM

In my opinion solomon2 was correct when he wrote:

"Are you so sure that Hezbollah is "dumb"? Perhaps Nasrallah - or whoever pulls his string - is a supremely sensitive leader who knows how to get ahead? Every time he pulls a whopper people say, "He's going too far", yet at the end of each episode he's inched forward, n'est-ce pas? He stops, people take a deep breath, and then give Hezbollah more latitude to act, hoping they won't go off the deep end again, correct?"

Nasrallah is using a classic and proven incremental strategy. The Israelis under Sharon - used it to great effect against the Palestinians. By incrementally ratcheting up the intensity Israeli raids against the Palestinians he eventually destroyed their ability to wage the intifada without incurring much worldwide condemnation.

Its like a scuba-diver coming up after a long time down deep - by pausing incrementally on the way up, the nitrogen bubbles in the blood are dissolved and the ascent can continue without fear of harm.

Here, Nasrallah is letting the Lebanese population incrementally adjust to new levels of threat and disorder. Each increment, never being enough to go to war over - but each increment allowing Hizb. to increase its dominance.

Posted by: Brian at January 26, 2007 09:11 AM

Brian: "Nasrallah is using a classic and proven incremental strategy. The Israelis under Sharon - used it to great effect against the Palestinians. By incrementally ratcheting up the intensity Israeli raids against the Palestinians he eventually destroyed their ability to wage the intifada without incurring much worldwide condemnation."

Really? I thought the intifada was proceeding apace until the Israelis finally gave up trying to police the PA and built--all at once--a wall to separate them, for which the world condemned Israel mightily.

Not that I think you're necessarily wrong about Nasrallah's strategy. It's an interesting theory, though I'm not sure what sort of endgame Hezbollah would have in mind. They still can't peacefully rule the other Lebanese factions or let their public image in Arabia become simply as an Iranian puppet and Shiite oppressor of Sunnis.

Posted by: Stacy at January 26, 2007 09:22 AM

Stacy, I think the west bank wall was a great help but it does not explain the abrupt end to the effectiveness of the intifada. The abrupt end came with the killing of Yassin and his replacement. The leaders don't want to be martyrs. They don't work hard to rise to the top of their organizations just to go getting themselves killed. So, the leaders stopped trying real hard for mass casualty attacks on the Israelis out of fear for their lives. All the while the wall made it harder and harder to conduct suicide bombings (for those who might have still been inclined).

But, those targeted killings were made possible by the incrementally aggressive prior operations by the Israelis. They inoculated the world media in advance. Had they moved right to killing Yassin at the beginning I think the "world" would have put up a huge stink. As it was, it was a big news item for a day or two and then it sank back into the background noise.

My main point here is that I agree with Soloman2 – Nasrallah is a very bright, dedicated and patient opponent who should never be underestimated.

Posted by: Brian at January 26, 2007 11:57 AM

Stacy, as to what the end game is; I would assume that it is increased control over the government. I think he is hoping to make enough of a problem to: (a) make the majority trade the Hariri tribunal for peace in the streets and a return of commerce; and (b) greater representation for Hez. and other pro-Syrian elements in the government.

How much of this are the Lebanese willing to endure to have the Hariri tribunal?

Based on what Michael has written it is clear that Hezbollah cannot militarily dominate the country. But, all Nasrallah needs to do is peel-off some of the March 14 support. Don't underestimate the attractiveness of the side that appears to be strong (the likely victor) and don't underestimate what people are willing to give up just to get back to "normality".

As to the latter, I see it here in the US. Everyone wants to stop fighting, go fetal and hope the mountain lion goes away. It won't.

Posted by: Brian at January 26, 2007 12:30 PM

he abrupt end came with the killing of Yassin and his replacement. The leaders don't want to be martyrs. They don't work hard to rise to the top of their organizations just to go getting themselves killed. So, the leaders stopped trying real hard for mass casualty attacks on the Israelis out of fear for their lives.

That sounds right.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 26, 2007 01:15 PM

Firstly Charles Malik quotes "other bloggers" in his report, so yMichael is reporting what another blogger says other bloggers have said as fact... and Mr. Malik, like Micheal, is not even in Lebanon at the moment. IMO this is about as far from verifiable accurate reporting as one can get.

Secondly, these snipers are generally thought to have been government supporters, not Hezbollah supporters. This has been widely reported here in Lebanon...

Michael's earlier assertion that Hezbollah supporters "fired M-16s, government supporters had pistols" is simply not accurate either.

In fact, one of the few "hopes" such as there are, in this mess, is the fact that Hezbollah supporters are - for all their faults - extremely disciplined. There are clear lines of authority and respect for authority is drummed into these guys somewhat fascistically, from a very young age. Whether the same can be said for Amal and other groups in the anti-government camp is moot. As is whether or not the government side has real control over it's own variegated followers.

Posted by: Microraptor at January 27, 2007 10:19 AM

"Secondly, these snipers are generally thought to have been government supporters, not Hezbollah supporters. This has been widely reported here in Lebanon..."

Funny, I thought the 2 arrested snipers were a Palestinian and a Syrian?

Posted by: Corinne at January 27, 2007 10:36 AM

Microraptor: Firstly Charles Malik quotes "other bloggers" in his report, so yMichael is reporting what another blogger says other bloggers have said as fact... and Mr. Malik, like Micheal, is not even in Lebanon at the moment. IMO this is about as far from verifiable accurate reporting as one can get.

Secondly, these snipers are generally thought to have been government supporters, not Hezbollah supporters. This has been widely reported here in Lebanon...

Michael's earlier assertion that Hezbollah supporters "fired M-16s, government supporters had pistols" is simply not accurate either.

The first claim is backed up by the fact that Hezbollah supporters got involved in fire fights after Nasrallah ordered them to remain peaceful. Charles and "other bloggers" aren't the only source for that. I just wanted to send some blog traffic over to my friend Charles.

Meanwhile, the identity of the snipers and the weapons used in the clashes were reported in Lebanese media. If the initial reports were wrong (and maybe they were), do you have alternate sources?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 27, 2007 11:10 AM

There is a very tense atmosphere now in the opposition held "tent city" in the downtown area Riad Solh and Martyrs Squares. I think the occupants are expecting some sort of attack to expel them. Although there is a sizeable army and ISF presence nearby, with M113 APCs and smaller armoured cars, the Hezbollah and FPM security heavies are all tooled up with these identical 4 foot wooden staves or lengths of scafolding.

There are piles of rocks being collected in some places. It is 03.00 in the morning and yet there are dozens of these guys awake guarding entrance/exit points - or patrolling and on the move in between the camps. At this same time yesterday they were all asleep and there was no-one to be seen, but all that has changed now.

The rumour mill has it that all this comes on the back of an incident in the upper Basta district in which a firearm was discharged: While the police ran upstairs to arrest the gunman a number of cars were trashed in the street.

We will see what tomorrow brings....

Posted by: Microraptor at January 27, 2007 05:10 PM

"But they can’t conquer the country. No one is strong enough to do that."

Conquer: According to the Encarta Dictionary, conquer means the following - To sieze or capture an area completely (fully), most conventionaly through military force. To defeat people in a war.

I don't get it, how is calling for a national unity government where everyone participates a conquer?

How is calling for early democratic election - this time less rigid than the past one - an act of conquer?

I don't get it. Hizbollah, if they wanted to, could conquer lebanon from north to south anytime they want. It's really easy, i'll tell you how:

Hizbollah leader goes on TV and makes a religios fatwah - The shi'as are being supressed and every shia person must side with a shi'a uprising.

The hizbollah military wing will storm every office, home and building owned or is in use by a pro-government official, arrest them all and would have no-one to stop them because !) the army would have neutralised from the fatwa and 2) the militias still existing in lebanon are wayyyy too weak to so much as bring a hizbollah nail, let alone facing them.

Everyone knows it's possible for hizbollah to do this. When it come's down to these things, everyone sides with his sect applying the "whether right or wrong" concept for their actions.

The opposite is true. The government is conquering lebanon by disallowing a very large number of people have any kind of fair representation in government. They say hizbollah wants the seats to stop the international court or to resign from the government and therefall cause it to fall.

1) Hizbollah claimed they were ready to give up their seats if they would cause a problem as long as they were given to some-one representing his masses.

2) The opposition offered early elections or national unity government. If it's true they don't have much supporters, then why is the government hesitating from holding new elections? In new elections their would be both a coalition government and a new president. If they knew they would win they wouldn't hesitate from doing this.

3) Concerning the court. let them make national unity government, early parliamentary elections, which in turn would have to have a new presedential government. Since the court was already accepted by government, all it needs now is the presidents' permission. With a new president, they could have him sign the document withought the unity government intervening or blocking.

4) Let them temporarily change the constitution to have 50%+1 able to block government decisions. Form a government of 20ministers. Each side takes 10. This way, both sides can not pass or block anything without the other sides' agreement.

5)Why is the government so scared of a national unity government when so many of their own people are calling for it? Why are they scared of early elections? Why do they have no presidential candidate? Why are their many many many conspiracies, with much proof, that the government was siding with an "enemy" state at a timw of "war"? Why were there plots to evict and refuge hundreds of thousands of shi'as to iraq? Why were there documents located containing information of how the country was to be divided after most shi'as were to be evicted into syria or iraq with every hizbollah member including sayyid hassan nasrallah to be put in the biggest jail in the world located in northern israel in a kibbutz just outside nahariyya?

Alot won't mind the last question ?(lol?) but in internal lebanese politics it is very worrying. Lebanese people, 89%, believe their differences with hizbollah are political. It is morally ad officially just wrong to criticize the fighters because they have nothing to do with the politics. Most lebanese agree the fighters are their for the well being of lebanon, they defend the country. Even if the country is rampaged because of a decision by the fighters' party, lebanese will hold the leader and not the fighters to account, because just like the army, leaders make orders and soldiers carry them out.

Posted by: NoN at January 27, 2007 07:04 PM
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