May 23, 2007

The Ice is Cracking

by Michael J. Totten

Here is a terrific article by Mario Loyola about the unfolding crisis in Lebanon:
Perhaps the single most surprising, and enchanting, thing about Lebanon is the stillness of the place. High above Beirut on Mount Lebanon, signs at the Monastery of Saint Maron-Anaya admonish visitors to respect the quiet: “You can hear God in the silence.” At night even Beirut sleeps peacefully. When I was there two months ago, I stayed in the heart of Christian east Beirut; I slept with the sliding glass door to my balcony wide open, the curtains waving in the soft breeze, and I think I’ve never slept so soundly in my life.

A few blocks away from that place, just after midnight last Sunday night, a massive car bomb blew the façade off the main shopping mall in east Beirut, killing an elderly woman and demolishing dozens of cars. Monday night, with all Lebanon glued to the television, another car bomb destroyed another quiet corner of the city — this time in Sunni west Beirut. Yesterday, suicide bombers struck army targets for the first time. The heralds of terror and civil war have come to remind the people of Lebanon that their tranquility is on thin ice — and the ice is cracking.

Needless to say, after 15 years of civil war, and 15 more years of Syrian occupation, the people of Lebanon need little reminding how precious and fragile are their peace and their freedom. Monday night on the phone, one friend of mine in Beirut cried softly as we spoke, not because of what’s happened in recent days — Lebanon has seen much worse — but because of the inevitability of whatever is going to happen next.
Next has already happened. Another bomb exploded, this time in the mountain resort town of Aley:
The blast which went off at around 9:00 pm damaged several buildings and shops along the street, which was immediately cordoned off by police. It sheared off walls of apartments, tore down electrical cables and wrecked parked vehicles. It also blew off shutters on the many shops in the street.
UPDATE: Trying to read the logic behind the last three car bombs is a little bit like reading tea leaves. But as someone named Triok pointed out in the comments, it may not be an accident that the first bomb was in a Christian area, the second bomb was in a Sunni area, and the third bomb was in a Druze area.

The overwhelming majority of Christians, Sunnis, and Druze are in the anti-Syrian coalition. And until this week, no bombs have exploded in Sunni or Druze areas since Syria's withdrawal. Perhaps this is enough to discern a deliberate pattern, especially since the UN is gearing up to impose a tribunal against Syrian regime suspects for assassinating Rafik Hariri.

As Triok pointed out, no placement of bombs in Lebanon is ever random. Of course this will not stop a certain kind of person from thinking Christians, Sunnis, and Druze bombed themselves, or that Jews did it.

UPDATE: See also Mustapha at Beirut Spring.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 23, 2007 01:19 PM

Can anyone explain the mercifully small numbers of casualties? It is likely the car bombs are poorly made compared to those used in Iraq, but for a bomb to cause heavy damage to nearby buildings but not cause mass casualties. Odd, no?

I'm not suggesting anything Truther-esque. Just curious.

Posted by: MattW at May 23, 2007 02:27 PM

Very odd. Too many things conflicting here and as murky as hell. I for one am not entirely comfortable with this coinciding with news of US ships in the PG and the new report by the IAEA. Too much news at the same time.

Posted by: Scandi at May 23, 2007 02:56 PM

it's a warning,

christians + sunni + druzes = anti-syrian coalition.

Tonight on al-jazeira english, they said it was "random targeting". My ass. there's nothing random in a bombing in lebanon. NEVER. People are too conscious about that sort of things.

Assad is sending a message.

Posted by: triok at May 23, 2007 03:08 PM


Can anyone explain the mercifully small numbers of casualties?

My guess: turning up the heat gradually, trying to wreck Lebanon without causing a massive international outrage or major embarassment for their local Hezbo/Aoun.

Weeks ago, unexploded bombs were found everywhere. Message: we get can do, you can't stop us, watch out.

Now, bombs explode at night. Message: we will explode them if we have to, you know we have the criminal will. PS to mssg.: if we can do it at night we can also do it during the day.

God help us if they go to the next phase.

Its about the tribunal for Syria, and about getting a Hezbo state for Iran.

Posted by: JoseyWales at May 23, 2007 03:24 PM


I expect there is some truth to that.

But what I don't understand is how the explosion and shrapnel can wreck shop fronts and set apartments on fire, but not kill or wound more than a dozen here, a dozen there. Are they being remotely detonated when there are few crowds around? If so, why?

Posted by: MattW at May 23, 2007 03:34 PM

because it happens at night, when most people are in their homes. Also because it's not on a market place or other densly populated area.

It's a warning, warnings don't do massive damage, they warn their could be a lot of damage.

Posted by: triok at May 23, 2007 03:38 PM

Okay, that makes more sense. Thank you.

Posted by: MattW at May 23, 2007 03:44 PM

I think Triok and Josey Wales are both right on the money here.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 23, 2007 03:50 PM

the big problem in syria-lebanon and to some extent in iraq is te asad clan who is ruling syria. if this asad thug and his baath party are removed from syria, all these three countries and kurdish minority in little kurdistan will see some peace and freedom. so let the coalition freedom form otherwise everybody will suffer. regards.

Posted by: little kurdistan in syria at May 23, 2007 03:53 PM

Hi mike, long time no see, hope u r fine, thanks 4 the nice words since u came here, mario said it well, but it is going to get rough back here. keep your eyes & ears open. C U soon.

Posted by: said at May 23, 2007 04:06 PM

@little kurdistan in syria

yeah i really doubt that.

Remove assad and you soon have another irak, in reverse this time. Sunni majority, shiite minority, kurds in the north. Plus you have all the iraqi refugees, about 1.2 Million people, and all the iraqui fractions (sunni and shiites) have offices there.

Somehow i don't think the respite would last very long. Assad doesn't need to be removed, he needs to be castrated.

Posted by: triok at May 23, 2007 04:12 PM

Said, nice to "see" you here.

Be careful over there, my friend.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 23, 2007 04:19 PM

to clarify triok's response to matt a little:

actually, the bombs ARE being set off in "market places" and densely populated areas. (i put market places in parentheses for the sake of readers less familiar with lebanon, as these are all upmarket shopping districts -- the kind of places you can pick up a $500 pair of jimmy choo's, not the old hollywood stereotype of a middle eastern bazaar.)

HOWEVER, the bombs are being set off late at night, when these places are not as crowded, and just off the main drag (in the first two cases, a parking area) -- so no one's around really.

even at 11 pm, there were plenty of targets in all three cases, within tens of meters, that could've brought quite high casualty rates. and if any of them were hit during the day or early even, the losses would be catastrophic.

as josey explains, they are warnings/threats, and indeed an escalation from finding TNT in dumpsters. let me echo his parting thought: god help us all if they move on to the next phase.

Posted by: carine at May 23, 2007 04:40 PM

UPDATE: Trying to read the logic behind the last three car bombs is a little bit like reading tea leaves. But as someone named Triok pointed out in the comments, it may not be an accident that the first bomb was in a Christian area, the second bomb was in a Sunni area, and the third bomb was in a Druze area.

michael, there's no "may" about it!! the christian-sunni-druze targeting is NOT an accident. not even the tiniest sliver of a chance.

it's all just so awful. after verdun, we were all speculating which druze area would be getting hit in the next explosion. but now what? repeat the cycle from the beginning? or escalate?

Posted by: carine at May 23, 2007 04:48 PM

Carine: after verdun, we were all speculating which druze area would be getting hit in the next explosion.

That's interesting, and unsurprising. I wasn't thinking that far ahead, but I'm thinking about Iraq at the same time. So I'm "distracted."

Be careful over there! Things could get a lot worse very quickly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 23, 2007 04:54 PM

Thanks, carine.

let me echo his parting thought: god help us all if they move on to the next phase.



Posted by: MattW at May 23, 2007 04:56 PM

Nothing like a bit of brute force - from jpost:

Israel's threat to target senior Hamas leaders in response to the Kassam rocket attacks from Gaza has prompted the group to agree to a unilateral cease-fire with Israel, Palestinian Authority officials said Wednesday.

"Hamas wants to stop the Kassam rockets. They are especially worried about reports that Israel may assassinate [PA Prime Minister] Ismail Haniyeh and [Hamas chief] Khaled Mashaal," the officials told The Jerusalem Post.

Posted by: mertel at May 23, 2007 07:32 PM


and i wish the lebanese armed forces had the US army's weapons and supplies!! sad to note that one of the most urgently requested items in the lebanese government's appeal to the US this week for military aid was HELMETS. another was ammunition.

the LAF may have the courage and resolve, but our boys are lacking some of the most basic kit needed for combat. that's why the casualty numbers are so skewed in favor of the terrorists.

i do have faith we'll win -- but with a lot of unnecessary losses.

Posted by: carine at May 23, 2007 07:41 PM

Sorry, Carine, I deleted Reliapundit's comment even though I agree with it.

Last year he wrote vicious, hysterical, libelous, and utterly batshit things about me here and on his own blog and I banned him for doing it. He is not allowed to leave comments here under any circumstances without first writing a very public apology and retraction.

He accused me of being a Jew-hater and a Hezbollah agent (an actual one, not just a moral supporter), which is not only stupid beyond belief but completely offensive and unacceptable.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 23, 2007 07:50 PM

As the summer begins in earnest, it appears that the intelligence reports of Iranian escalation are proving correct.

Bear with me as I explain: It should surprise no one that Syria has a hand in the Palestinian enclave episode. Uprisings like that don't just rise up out of thin air. Syria, as we are aware, gets a certain amount of their marching orders from Iran. As icing on the cake, they also get another in a long line of distractions to their many assinations.

Following closely on the heels of this escapade are the coordinated bombings, designed to provoke suspicion, fear and animosity amongst the Sunni, Christians and Druze. Perhaps I am misled, but I don't think there was a car bombing in the Hezbollah neighborhoods included in the this recent string of destruction.

Strangely absent from all of this is Hezbollah. Curious, indeed. Yet, they have the most to gain by a further destabilization of the Lebanese government. How clever of them to have all of this take place without dirtying their hands.

To my mind, this is a very well co-ordinated series of events which are simply a prelude to greater demonstrations of chaos and turbulence that are on the horizon. Nazrallah may be out of the spotlight, but you can bet that he's right there back-stage choreographing this second summer of uprising, with the help of his Iranian Guard mentors.

I see some parallels occurring in Lebanon to events which previously have taken place in Iraq. Specifically, the mosque bombing which set the pace for the increased sectarian violence over there. It seems to me to be a variation on a theme. Classic divide and conquer. It's a page right out of terrorism 101.

Iran's summer offensive is not going to be limited to Iraq. Their designs of an Iranian hegemony are far more widespread than that. No, this summer will find them increasing their ploys as provocateurs throughout Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, as recent events have demonstrated. Saudi incursions can also be expected to increase.

Given the seeming weariness of the American people to cope with the Middle East, another summer of tumult and tragedy might just be the ticket to have the government simply give up and pack the whole thing in. That is what the Iranians and Syria want. To not give them the credit of great chess players should be an insult to our collective intelligence.

What is going on is a psychic battle of attrition. The Islamic fascists are betting it all on their belief that they can best us on the battlefield of resolve and commitment. They believe, with all their heart that we are weak and spineless. Good can only overcome evil if good has the guts to do what needs to be done.

Only the truly naive will stand and watch as these opening summer salvos commence, and not connect the dots.

What will be the response of the West? If history tells us anything, it will be similar to what happened when Hitler invaded Poland and Austria. In short, not a whole lot. Everybody not directly concerned will hem and haw, and be very grateful it's not happening in their back yard. The fog of war might be gathering around their ankles, but hey, something good wlll come along and make it all better, right? I mean, you can still see the sun shine.

That's my take.

Posted by: Curt Matern at May 23, 2007 08:25 PM

This is probably a long shot, but I am wondering if France's (potentially) new foreign policy will strengthen the West's hand in the looming showdown with Iran and Syria. Yesterday's headline in the Jerusalem Post read, "France's Sarkozy calls to tighten sanctions on Teheran." The article also said that Sarkozy “warned that a
road to an arms race will be paved that could endanger
Israel and southeast Europe.” The article also reported that “Sarkozy announced that France will join the official US-led struggle against head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei, who
recommended that Iran be allowed to enrich uranium in
some of its nuclear plants.”

It has been argued -- persuasively, in my opinion -- that Operation Iraqi Freedom might have been avoided had the French (and Russians) backed the Americans and British. Instead, Saddam was emboldened by assurances from the French that they’d have his back in the Security Council. We all know what the results were.

Maybe the Iranians and Syrians might think twice about some of their policies if they are up against a united Western alliance?

Posted by: Zak at May 24, 2007 12:33 AM


This is probably a long shot, but I am wondering if France's (potentially) new foreign policy will strengthen the West's hand in the looming showdown with Iran and Syria.

Maybe. There were reports that Iranian agents have started casing major European targets, including the European Parliament in Brussels and nuclear power plants (which probably means France).

I wonder how long France would stay on this new course after Iran were to fire a shot across Europe's bow.

Posted by: MattW at May 24, 2007 01:54 AM

This is probably a long shot, but I am wondering if France's (potentially) new foreign policy will strengthen the West's hand in the looming showdown with Iran and Syria.

Yes, up to a point.

The usual opposition to what the US wanted to do in the UN Security Council was France and Russia (with China quietly opposed).

Now the opposing bloc will be Russia (and perhaps to a lesser extent, China, altho I doubt they care much about Lebanon one way or the other).

That will make it somewhat more difficult for Bush's domestic opponents to criticize him when the opposition is mainly coming from Putin. Very few politicians in the US want to be on the same side of an issue as Putin, and Americans aren't going to think worse of a President because the guy running Russia is unhappy with him.

Unfortunately, a Democratic Congress, a great deal of popular unhappiness with Iraq, and most of the deployable forces already committed makes Bush a lot less intimidating than he was in 2002. He can still order sanctions, airstrikes, and maybe a blockade, but there aren't going to be any regieme-changing invasions for a few years at least- and everyone in the middle east knows it.

Maybe the Iranians and Syrians might think twice about some of their policies if they are up against a united Western alliance?

Not really. Iran seems to have a crash-enrichment program going. IMO, the mullahs are betting that they'll be a nuclear power before the US has enough deployable forces avaliable to get rid of them.

They may be correct.

Baby Assad's position is also fairly secure- he knows that if anyone gets invaded in the next 6 years, it'll be Iran, not Syria. His survival strategy seems to be to make sure he's the second-biggest a-hole in the middle east.



Posted by: rosignol at May 24, 2007 02:11 AM

OTOH, maybe not...


Discontent has been growing in Iran in recent months over soaring prices. The cost of housing has doubled and prices for basic goods such as vegetables have tripled since last summer.


That looks a lot more like an economy that's about to implode than an economy riding an oil boom.

Looks like this round is being run from Damascus, not Tehran.

Posted by: rosignol at May 24, 2007 04:01 AM


Thanks for explaining the reliapundit bit. I blog over at his place and wondered what happened to his comment.

I hope you don't hold it against me. :-)

He can be intemperate in his posts, but I'm surprised he took it out on you.

Having known you for a long time (Winds of Change) it really surprises me that he took that view of your position. I personally got a lot of value out of what you did last summer esp. your reporting from the Israeli towns near the border.

The fact that you were trusted by the Israelis doesn't surpise me at all. Your views have always been pro civilization. How he could come to the conclusion he did is beyond me (I seem to vaguely remember the dust up - not being directly involved it didn't stick).


Glad to see you are back at it. I'm going to visit your blog. Always a joy and it has been a while.

Posted by: M. Simon at May 24, 2007 05:40 AM

M. Simon,

Don't worry about it, I know you are separate people.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 24, 2007 09:12 AM

Re: Iranian economy. Here's a statement by a retired National Iranian Oil Company petroleum engineer and high ranking executive named Dr. Samsam Bakhtiari. He is speaking to the reduced oil production rates worldwide, but on Iran specifically, he says here:

"As for Iran, the usually accepted official 132 billion barrels is almost 100 billion barrels over any realistic assay. If the higher figure was for real, its oil industry would not be struggling day in and day out to keep output at between 3.0-3.5 million barrels per day (inclusive of Persian Gulf offshore)."

I am not one to venture into political ramifications of such figures, eg nuclear programs. But I deem it significant that this high level petroleum engineer who used to be in the center of their oil program would offer up such divergent reserve and production numbers. It would seem to be relevant to the discussion of economic changes and esecially price inflation in Iran. That is, their struggle with current oil production may not be allowing the subsidization of petroleum products to their citizens to the same extent it has in the past. And perhaps, as the US has experienced, trying spread your influence around the neighborhood can be quite a drain on your cash.

Posted by: allan at May 24, 2007 10:30 AM

"The Islamic fascists are betting it all on their belief that they can best us on the battlefield of resolve and commitment."

They may be betting a good amount, but not even close to "their all" -- which is moral leadership of some 1/5 of humanity, over a billion humans, based on hatred of America, Bush, capitalism, and Jews; usually not in that order.

Anybody who hates any of those four is a good candidate as an ally. Until Iran and Saudi Arabia become civilized, human rights respecting states (not necessarily democracies, but extremely unlikely otherwise), the America haters will continue to have huge resources.

The Iranians believe they can get a nuke before democracy can "win" in Iraq. In 2004 I was afraid of this; I still am. Lebanon is a sideshow distraction from the main Iraq and Nuke shows.

Will the majority non-Hezbollah in Lebanon decide they're against terrorism enough to fight Hezbollah? I don't think so, yet -- but maybe in the Summer the Hezbollah will become too provacative.

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