Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 07, 2008

Lebanon Heating Up

The situation in Lebanon is heating up:

Supporters of Lebanon's U.S.-backed government fought gun battles in Beirut on Wednesday with gunmen loyal to the Hezbollah-led opposition, escalating the country's worst internal crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
The clashes took place a day after the government accused Hezbollah of violating the country's sovereignty by operating its own telecommunications network and installing spy cameras at Beirut airport.
Security sources said pro-government supporters exchanged assault rifle and grenade fire with Hezbollah sympathizers in the Beirut neighborhoods of Noueiri, Ras al Nabae and Wata al-Musaitbeh. It was not clear if there were casualties.

Hizbullah's own communication network can not be listened into by the rump government and its friends in Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Washington. The network was recently extended from the south up into the area north of the Litani and into the Bekaa valley.

Hizbollah set up cameras at the air port to be able to register what planes are coming and going. A year ago, during the crisis around Nahr el-Bared, the U.S. shipped plane-loads of weapons through the Beirut airport to the Lebanese army. Maybe Hizbullah wanted to stay informed about future deliveries?

When others found out about the cameras, the airport security boss, an alleged Hizbollah man, was fired. This led to the current strike of the airport union workers and the continued closing of the airport.

The clashes today still seem to be small and the Lebanese army is trying to keep people apart. But in Beirut small clashes can grow big pretty fast.

Posted by b on May 7, 2008 at 14:14 UTC | Permalink


I love Hiz. having their own cameras. They answer the old question of "Who will watch the watchers?).

Posted by: R.L. | May 7 2008 16:17 utc | 1

Sounds really bad:

Nir Rosen from Beirut via FLC

"....i spent the entire day running around all the flashpoints in beirut, wherever there were mobs, shootings, explosions, i got harassed by various militias from both sides and it works perfectly for my big story about the sunnis of lebanon and their militias, but i was really shocked at the behavior of amal.

i've spent a lot of time with mustaqbal militiamen, who of course are thuggish and racist and their militias are getting better organized, and thats all frightening, but they seem very weak and almost cowardly when compared with the amal thugs i saw today, who were very provocative. it had nothing to do with the labor union strike for them, it was just a show of force to specifically intimidate sunnis.

even in iraq i havent seen this kind of anti sunni sectarianism, its couched in anti baathi or anti wahabi language. obviously i've seen anti shiite sectarianism all over the place among sunnis in the region

they had switch blades, clubs, and they even had small molotov cocktail bottles in their pockets in case they needed them. they threw stones at the army without provocation, and the army was basically letting them do whatever they wanted, and proved how weak it was, the army guys were begging the amal and hizballah guys to behave basically. it was clear today how pathetically weak the lebanese army and police are. in most cases they just stood by and watched as protesters did whatever they wanted, in other cases, depending on their affiliation, they actually physically helped both sunni and shiite militias.

when the amal guys threw stones at the soldiers, all some of the soldiers did was throw them back

when the call to prayer started from the sunni mosque across the street in tariq al jadida, the amal guys started shouting various religious shiite slogans, insulting sunnis etc.

it was quite obvious that the hizballah men present were controlling them when they looked like they were about to cross to the sunni side. it was as if hizballah has these amal pitbulls who are just foaming at the mouth eager to attack and kill, and hizballah is letting them bark and bite a little, to show the other side that its holding the leash and can let go at any time and the amal pitbulls would destroy anything in their way, which it was very clear they wanted to do

this country is so fucked, the sunni militias now run checkpoints and demand IDs and act just like shiite militias"

Posted by: b | May 7 2008 16:17 utc | 2

Reproducing in full from the Arab Monitor:

Lebanon's Fouad Siniora approaching the red line

Beirut, 6 May - While the US Chargé d'Affaires Michelle J. Sison was on a surveillance tour to the northern Lebanese border with Syria, aimed at inspecting the degree of implementation of the "secure communications system" delivered by the US, the Lebanese cabinet held a lengthy session focussing on the issue of Hezbollah's allegedly "illegal and unconstitutional" private communications network, used, among others, to monitor movements at the Beirut airport. The cabinet then decided to fire the airport security Chief Brigadier General Wafiq Shuqeir, accused of having permitted the "infiltration" of Hezbollah's monitors. For US and European governments backing the Lebanese government against the oppositon, the removal of Hezbollah's communication system is a prerequisite for the plan to "internationalize" the Beirut airport putting it under the same "secure communications system" to be installed at the borders.

In what Lebanese analysts defined as a declaration of war, the cabinet also decided to dismantle Hezbollah's communication network describing it as a "threat to state security". Deputy secretary general of Hezbollah Sheikh Naem Kassem declared that Hezbollah's communication network was a vital ingredient of the Lebanese Resistance's capability to defend the country and commented the cabinet's decisions saying "they are calling on us not to fight Israel". The communication system had played a crucial role in preventing success of Israel's latest military onslought on Lebanon in summer 2006. Therefore, Hezbollah stresses that targeting its communication network is tantamount to targeting the arms of the Resistance itself, which is a red line.

Sheikh Kassem declared that "Hezbollah will deal with those who interfere with the network as if they were Israeli spies", since the communications network was "part of its security". The decision by the government came a day after Free Patriotic Movement's chairman Michel Aoun urged his party members to adhere to a general strike to be held in all of Lebanon tomorrow to protest the government's inactivity in the face of the worsening economic and social situation. Aoun defended Hezbollah's communications network pointing out that "there are other private communications networks beside Hezbollah's". Stressing that "finding a camera on an airport road is not a security penetration", Aoun pointed out that "the road to Bekfaya", the stronghold of the Lebanese Phalange Party, "is full of cameras and they monitor us all the time". Meanwhile, on the sidelines of Hezbollah's official call on all Lebanese to participate in tomorrow's general strike, it was announced that Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah will hold a press conference on Thursday to declare his party's positon toward the cabinet's decisions.

Posted by: Alamet | May 7 2008 21:46 utc | 3

Pat Lang sums it up:

It should be apparent by now that Dick Cheney is touring the Middle East lately for some purpose.

In Jerusalem the Olmert government seeks an opening to settle its problem with Syria. Bashar Assad seems to want the same thing. Cheney is said to have arrived in Israel with the message that the Bush Administration rejects the conclusions of last year's NIE on Iran in favor of some mysterious and super secret "evidence" that the Israelis supposedly have that contradicts the NIE. Olmert's government is now threatened with removal. What a coincidence!

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the forces of information management are doing all they can to beat the drums for further war in the Middle Eastern region.

Now we have the Siniora government (the Sonora government in the Bush pronunciation) in Beirut seeking a confrontation with Hizbullah? We have come to the end of the "fiddling around" in the Lebanon? Have the Jacobins, their Israelis allies and whatever it is that Cheney is, decided to end the suspense and trigger a war on Hizbullah and maybe Syria. We live in interesting times. pl

Posted by: b | May 8 2008 16:25 utc | 4

the gangsters are gathering in lebanon against its popular resistance. chief amongst them is the crime boss & sometime u s lackey saad hariri - gangs incapable of defending lebanon against the illegal invasions of israel buit happy & prepared to burn their people & their country to the ground

Posted by: remembereringgiap | May 8 2008 17:11 utc | 5

I'm sure it is right that the US is stirring these eruptions in Lebanon; the situation is too similar to what is happening elsewhere - Sadr City, Somalia, etc.

However many Lebanese commentators seem to think that US-Israel pressure is not the only game in town. I am certain that, being Lebanon, there are innumerable conflicts and interests. The Lebanese commentators are probably too close to see the wood for the trees.

It's interesting though that Nasrallah set out his position clearly, and in the subsequent speech by Sa'd Hariri, it appears that it is Hariri who is blinking. Quite conciliatory remarks. Washington won't be pleased. It may be Maliki's attack on Basra all over again.

Posted by: Alex | May 8 2008 20:58 utc | 6

I should have made the connection... Recent food price hikes play a part in the escalation:

High prices, low wages feed violent political stand-off

Prices of basic commodities have spiked over the past month.

A grocer in Ras al-Nabeh neighborhood of Beirut said a bottle of cooking oil had risen from $4 to $6.50, while the price of sugar had doubled. Where one dollar used to buy 1.5 kilogram of bread, it now buys 1.1 kilogram. Chickpeas and grains that are a staple of Lebanese diets, meat and vegetables have also risen.

According to the consumer association, prices have risen by 43 percent over the past 21 months, while the official unemployment rate stands at 10 percent. Independent estimates put it at 20 percent.

Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh also said last week that the inflation rate had risen by 10 percent, due to a rise in oil prices on international markets, food prices and the weakening of the dollar against other currencies.

Posted by: Alamet | May 8 2008 23:25 utc | 7

Pat Lang in comments at his place:

The worst case is civil war in Lebanon followed by Israeli war against Syria (necessary since UN forces are in the way in Lebanon. Remember the French have brought a lot of equipment this time)Left hook from syria into Lebanon. No US participation unless a "crisis" with Iran emerges.

Hehe - see my map here (scroll down)

Posted by: b | May 9 2008 9:23 utc | 8

So it looks like Hizbullah is winning. "Hezbollah takes over west Beirut". I don't see this as being in the US-Israeli game plan.

Posted by: Alex | May 9 2008 11:04 utc | 9

But I do think it was always on the cards - a Hizbullah win, or rather an improvement in their situation, one cannot really talk about "winning". They are bright guys. Nasrallah's speech was carefully thought out, not bluster. The functional and organisational model of Hizbullah is brilliantly worked out. A communications network that can survive Israeli attack, wow! Nothing like this has been seen in the Arab world in my memory (forty years). Not surprising that Hamas and Sadr copy the model.

Posted by: Alex | May 9 2008 11:23 utc | 10

From Alex's link

As Hezbollah fighters move around large swathes of Beirut unopposed, the BBC's Jim Muir in the city says it all amounts to a humiliating blow to the government.

It appears to have badly overplayed its hand in moving to close Hezbollah's telecoms network on Tuesday, says our correspondent.

Another U.S. proxy who was pushed into a fight and lost. Birthpangs ...

Posted by: b | May 9 2008 11:30 utc | 11

From the Times: Lebanon's 'one-sided civil war'

I spoke to one of Mr Hariri's advisers, who is holed up in the same building, and he sounded very despondent. He called it a 'one-sided civil war'. They're trying to work out what happens next but it's unclear how the Government can survive this situation. Lebanon has definitely gone through a major change in the past 24 hours.

Looks like the idea was the same as that of Hamas in the Gaza takeover. Amazing that M14 didn't see it coming.

Posted by: Alex | May 9 2008 12:54 utc | 12

yes, it seems waaly jammblatt, saad hariri are a little shamefaced this morning

Posted by: remembereringgiap | May 9 2008 14:10 utc | 13

Looks like the idea was the same as that of Hamas in the Gaza takeover. Amazing that M14 didn't see it coming.

Yep - and those who started it didn't see this coming.

Angry Arab (who is from Lebanon)

What is not known is this: how did the crisis in Lebanon start? Or in other words: what (or who) did instigate Walid Jumblat to suddenly bring up the issue of Hizbullah's lines of communication, and the matter of airport security? What about the timing? Is there any connection between Jumblat's sudden announcement on the matter and the visit by David Welsh?
But make no mistake about it: just as Muhammad Dahlan was trying to overthrow the Hamas government in Gaza, before it preempted him, the Jumblat-Hariri gang was about to takeover the government and move against Hizbullah, at the behest of the US/Israeli/Saudi plan before they were outcouped or overwhelemed. It is to expect a Sunni rift to grow with Jumblat: typically, when defeat is imminent, he appeared on LBC-TV yesterday and called on his fighters to refrain from fighting, and to surrender the offices of his militia to the Lebanese Army. Many Sunnis will feel that he pushed Hariri camp toward a confrontation, and then left them to fend for themselves.

Posted by: b | May 9 2008 14:11 utc | 14

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