Whoever killed anti-Syrian Lebanese MP Walid Eido Wednesday knew Syria would be blamed and that the country would move closer to civil war. Pro-government factions turned out in force along Beirut’s Roauche sea front chanting anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah slogans but no serious fighting has been ignited yet.
Another consequence may be to breathe new life into chances for a US backed Northern Sunni Army to confront Hezbollah and the Palestinians. The Northern Sunni Army, seemed doable-at least a couple of years ago-during Plan “B”-then Plan “C”—which became Plan “D” sessions of the Welch Club to decide who was going to control Lebanon.
For the Club, comprised of David Welch, Samir Geagea, (Lebanese Forces) Walid Jumblatt (Druze PSP militia) and chaired by Saad Hariri, (Future Movement) plus some allies, like current Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, the choices were black and white simple: Lebanon’s future will be controlled by Israel and the US or Lebanon will be controlled by Syria and Iran.
What role will be played by the Lebanese themselves would depend on ‘variables’. Among which were the need for a Bush administration victory in Iraq, destroying Hezbollah, leader of the Lebanese resistance and nationalist movement, and preventing Israel, increasingly seen in the Pentagon as teetering, as history’s judgment approaches, from virtually collapsing.
When some bright graduate student writes a Doctoral dissertation entitled : Who lost Lebanon? the thesis may well argue that effects of the historic events now unfolding including Nahr al-Bared and simmering in Ain el Helweh, and Lebanon’s other ten Palestinian Refugee Camps. This, in addition to the blowback from the debacle of the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq which unleashed a horrific Shia/Sunni conflict and civil war. Within 9 months of the invasion of Iraq, fear of the ‘Shia rising” phenomenon quickly created panic in Washington, Riyadh and Amman. Both Kings Abdullah explained to all who would listen that a dangerous Shia Crescent was taking form that would arc from Iran, across Iraq to Lebanon.
The Bush administration listened, and never creating a Middle East problem it didn’t have a solution for, followed the lead of the Neocons and Ziocons in their ranks and advised their Sunni allies of yet another new project.
“It was a truly ‘ epiphanous, spiritual awakening'” one American University of Beirut student recently called it. The obvious solution to check the increased regional influence of Iran and Syia, was to quickly create a Northern Sunni Army to confront a Southern Lebanese Shia army (Hezbollah). The murder of Rafic Hariri, and those seven Lebanese opinion makers assassinated since, accelerated the project.
North Lebanon appeared to be the perfect recruiting ground for Lebanon’s newest army because the area is overwhelmingly Sunni, pro-Hariri, has high unemployment with many able young men willing to be recruited and the community feels left out of economic advances to their south.
In addition, North Lebanon has a well situated airport at Keilaat, which, according to this scenario, could be converted to US base which would include a training facility for the new force.
From interviews with members of Fatah Intafada, Fatah al-Islam, Jund al Sham, Osbat al Ansar, Jund Allah and many PLO factions, plus residents in all 12 of Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugees Camps, as well as various NGO’s and long time camp observers, one fact seems quite clear. Those who were imported into Lebanon to be the catalyst of the new force proved more interested in fighting Israel than fighting Hezbollah or the Palestinians and appeared to take seriously the late Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi counsel that fighters should go to the border of Palestine and fight.
Moreover, the widely held view here is that Al Qeada has arrived in Lebanon with a vengeance and Fatah al-Islam is just the tip of the iceberg. The ‘cells’ are throughout Lebanon and are organizing broadly and not just in the Palestinian Camps, where they are resisted by Hamas, Fatah Arafat, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as in Shatilla and Burj al-Baraneh Camps.
Practically every day witnesses Lebanese security forces finding all sorts of explosives, car bombs, arms stores( 6/14/07 another large stash six blocks from Nahr al-Bared) and receiving information from Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham and other Salafist detainees, concerning dozens of planned operations from bombing the American Embassy, large hotels, malls and attacking UNIFIL forces. As Robert Fisk reported recently, Hezbollah officials have assured the French, Spanish and Italian Embassy’s that Hezbollah will watch UNIFIL’s back and try to stop Al Qeada from attacking them. A “hit list” with 30 names was reported on 6/13/07, just hours before MP Wadid Eido,one of the names on the list, was murdered.
The UN, also to be targeted, according to Internal Security reports, is on high alert. One reliable source advised this observer on 6/14/07 that Hezbollah men are actually discretely leading UN convoys along the 75 mile blue line, sort of riding shotgun, in front of them and with the electronics they are known for. Hezbollah intelligence, which checkmated Israel during the July 2006 war, is believed by the UN to be just as solid today and the UN appreciates the help.
Seymour Hersh uses the word ‘acute’ to describe the concern in the White House regarding the Shia renaissance.
As a result, Hersh claims the Bush administration is no longer acting rationally in its policy. “We’re in the business of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shiite. … “We’re in the business of creating … sectarian violence.” And he describes the scheme of funding Fatah al-Islam as “a covert program we joined in with the Saudis as part of a bigger, broader program of doing everything we could to stop the spread of the Shiite world, and it just simply – it bit us in the rear”. That the Bush administration Welch Club Arranged for Al Qaeda affiliates and kindred spirits to enter Lebanon and received help from local ‘club members’ is widely believed in Lebanon. The US Embassy in Beirut and the CIA will neither confirm nor deny involvement in the plan to use Al Qeada to confront Hezbollah
Everything seemed to be falling neatly into place. Much like the US/Saudi supported Osama Bin Laden operation in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, cash was committed (apparently it did not dawn on the Welch Club that history sometimes repeats itself and that their creation may not be easily returned to Pandora’s Box). In addition there were other deep pockets that could be tapped. As Forbes magazine documents, the Hariri family fortune skyrocketed from a measly 4.1 billion in 2002 to 16.7 billion and counting, as of early last year- a stellar performance even by Saudi standards.
Surely some seed money was in order and Bahia Hariri wasted no time in funding Fund al Sham in the Taamar neighborhood just outside of Ain el Helweh, whose PLO factions objected to the group inside its ‘jurisdiction’ while her nephew arranged funding for Fatah al-Islam and already existing Sunni Salafist groups including Osbat al Ansar and Jund Allah, both mainly staffed by Lebanese and beefed up with outsiders brought in for the purpose. Mohammad Kobanni, the Grand Sunni Mufti and Hariri aide, is accused of chipping in with “religious scholar visas” to ease entry into Lebanon of al Qeada affiliated Salafists
Hezbollah is the mortal enemy of al Qeada, who considers Shia apostates. In return, Hezbollah acuses al Qeada of subverting the Koran and conducting terrorism, as they made clear in their denouncements of Al Qeada following 9/11. But many observers here do not expect them to fight each other.
When the Welch Club decided to move Fatah al-Islam from the Southern Sidon base at Ein el Helweh, to the North Lebanon Nahr al-Bared camp, Ms. Bahia Hariri admlits that she paid for the transplantation, according to Arab Monitor of 6/6/07. Given the disaster that happened when Jund al-Sham’s unruly twin ambushed the Lebanese Army on May 20, Mrs. Hariri feels awful and has generously arranged with the Army to provide full scholarships to all the children of the killed soldiers, 61 as of June 13, 2007, for an average of 2 per day killed, with five times that number wounded and more than 80 civilians killed.
Both Jund al-Sham and Fatah al Islam are joined together by friendship and family with al-Sham supplying some of the initial fighters for establishing FAI. It is also why so many checkpoints have now been set up along the Sidon to Tripoli road, which funnels men and material in both directions. The June 4, 2007 attack by JAS in Sidon’s Ein el Helwe camp against the army was in direct response to the Army increasing pressure on FAI in Nahr al-Bared.
JAS has admitted ties to the Hariri family and both JAS and FAS were funded from the same spigot of Washington/Riyadh/Hariri (Welch Club) money. The March 14th group, but particularly Saad Hariri, is now calling for the complete destruction of both these Welch Club creations, as is the Palestinian Authority envoy, Abbas Zaki, who wants increased recognition for Palestinians and better conditions in Lebanon for the 420,000 Refugees. Zaki also wants policing authority for all of the 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon. The Welch Club objects to Zaki’s proposal because they fear the Palestinians will become too powerful and may even demand representation in Parliament!
On May 22, 2006 the Welch club got orders from the White House to pull the plug on the North Lebanon Sunni army project following the horrific slaughter of May 20 when it became obvious that the Salafists were out of control, more interested in fighting Israel than Hezbollah or the Palestinians, and too many questions were being asked about who they were, how they got into Lebanon and who arranged and eased their entry and for details about one of the strangest ” bank robberies” ever to occur. On June 11, 2007, Michel Aoun, leader of the largest group of Christians in Lebanon demanded a thorough investigation of the whole Nahr al-Bared conflict and the involvement of the Siniora government.
As recently as May 2007, Al-Akbar (Algeria) reminds us, that the Welch Club was bad mounting the Lebanese army claiming it was too sympatric to Hezbollah, had too many Shia in its rank and file and may not be up to the job of protecting Lebanon, not from Israel of course but from ‘ internal dangers’.
The Bush Administration was in no hurry to help the Army. That has all changed since the events of May 20 and Fatah al-Islam’s attack on the army which condemned to futility the Northern Sunni Army project. No way could these compromised Sunni Salafist groups be used by their sponsors as the catalyst of the Northern Sunni Army, hence the new US interest in the Army of the Republic of Lebanon.
Hence the Bush administration joined every would-be patriotic group in Lebanon which supports the army publicly. The Bush administration speeded up already paid for spare parts and ammunition for the Lebanese army. In the coming months more than $230 million is to be directed to Lebanon for the army from Washington with financing available, not gifts.
The new Bush administration largess for Lebanon’s army should be kept in perspective and not confused with military and economic aid to Israel . Over the past 10 years average US aid to Lebanon (mainly for reconstruction following Israeli attacks with US weapons) has been approximately $ 33 million per year. Compared with $ 15.1 million per day to Israel for an annual average of 5.7Billion. Indeed, Israel , slightly larger than Lebanon, makes up roughly 0.06% of the Worlds population but receives more US aid than all of South America, Central America and Africa (minus Egypt) combined. Of total US foreign aid to the other 195 countries members of the UN, Israel gets more than a quarter of the entire US foreign aid budget. Or looked at another way, each Israeli family receives approximately $ 6,000 in US aid per year, American families $3,300 and Lebanese families $ 12. The Palestinians get 29 cents per family.
According to Beirut press reports of 6/12/07, a Lebanese Army official stated during an interview with the Daily Star, “We (the Lebanese Army) also suspect that the U.S. is putting pressure on other Western and Arab countries to not supply us with weapons, and to only provide us with ammunition and vehicles for logistical support.”
He said that a military aid package pledged by Belgium late last year, which included 45 Leopard-1 tanks, 70 armored personnel carriers and 24 M109 self-propelled guns, had suddenly gone to another country with no clear explanation from Brussels.
“Officials in Belgium had made the pledge… and we had made all the needed arrangements before they suddenly changed their minds and said they sold the weapons to another country,” said the official.
A Belgian Ministry of Defense official said June 8 that ´the donation of equipment was canceled because of the Belgian government’s worries about the political-military situation in Lebanon” Translation: The Bush administration worries it may be used against Israel.
The same Bush Administration shackling of the Lebanese army occurred with the nine French Gazelle attack helicopters donated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which can be seen daily whizzing along the campus of the American University of Beirut up the coast to Nahr al Bared. The Gazelles arrived with 20mm machine guns but without HOT antitank missiles. The Lebanese army states they were told that” the missiles were not included because they were old and needed replacing” According to former long time UNIFIL, spokesman, Timur Goksel, now lecturing at AUB, it’s a simple and quick matter to stick on the missiles”. Nevertheless, without the missiles the LAF sends the Gazelles into action against Fatah Al-Islam in the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp with machine guns, basically to chase snipers off rooftops.
Many in Lebanon believe that the Lebanese army is being designed by Washington and Tel Aviv to be an internal Welch Club police force with the capability to fight the Palestinians or Hezbollah if need be, but definitely not to be given arms necessary to protect Lebanon from Israel.
The past three weeks have seen numerous arrests of Palestinians by the Lebanese army outside of Nahr al Bared and between Tripoli and Beiut with reports of torture. Human Rights Watch condemned these practices yesterday and if they don’t cease the Army may lose much of the goodwill it has been receiving from the public.
Two weeks ago Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nassrallah warned the need to respect a ‘red line’ on attacks on the Army as well as entry into Nahr al-Bared. Criticized at the time in some quarters, Nassrallah appears to have been correct in his counsel in light of the high casualties and humiliation being suffered by the army and the destruction of al-Bared and civilian casualties.
A just released study by the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies focused on the socio-economic profile of Nahr al-Bared and concluded that approximately “half” of the employed residents of Nahr al-Bared may lose their jobs and incomes as a result of the conflict.
“Unlike other refugee camps in Lebanon , the majority of the refugees in Nahr al-Bared worked within the camp,” Age A. Tiltnes, the study’s researcher and Middle East coordinator, reported.
Prior to the conflict, 63 percent of the labor force in Nahr al-Bared worked inside the camp. The study lists “physical destruction” as the main difficulty refugees will face when trying to resume their previous jobs. Two thirds of the businesses will be prevented from functioning because of the copious destruction: demolished buildings, including offices, workshops and stores, as well as ruined roads and a broken sanitation and electricity infrastructure.
“They will have no jobs and no livelihood once they go back,” said Tiltnes, adding that “investments and external help” will be needed to get the displaced back on their feet. With most of the schools in Nahr al Bared destroyed, some 5,000 school children are without classrooms (a third of the residents of al Bared are younger than 15 and nearly half under 20).
Further fallout from the failed “Sunni army” project includes increasing evidence that the Bush administration is playing the same role in Lebanon as it is in Iraq. The Iraqi Shia leader Moktada Sadr claims the US is behind the sectarian violence in Iraq and the schism between Iraqi ethnic groups and the country’s economic hardships. He is calling for a “cultural resistance” against US influences and what he called the US attack on Islam.
Sadr’s views are resonating in Lebanon where increasingly the various confessions are realizing that the Bush administrations “great support for Lebanon’s young Democracy” may be short lived and quickly abandoned if the Lebanon continues to resist Israel.
In Iraq , where the Islamic Army is one of the strongest and best-organized Sunni armed groups, responsible for dozens of attacks on American forces, and at odds with al-Qeada, both groups appear to have settled their differences and have united against the Bush administration occupation. It appears quite likely that, despite yesterdays attack on the Shia Imam el-Askary Mosque Sunni and Shia groups in Lebanon will be able to avoid continued internecine warfare.
In Lebanon , evidence of Sunni, Shia, and Christian mutual tolerance was heard in last Sunday’s Sermon (6/10/07) by the Maronite Patriach Nasrallah Sfeir, in east Beirut.
The Maronite Patriarch sounded conciliatory towards the Muslim population including Hezbollah, appearing mindful of the positive Shia-Christian friendship and cooperation which was encouraged by the vanished Imam, Musa al-Sadr, who worked with the Christian leadership in the Sidon area, sometimes delivering sermons in Churches and participating in a Christian wedding. The Maronite Patriach is aware that during the July 2006 war there were many occasions when Christians gave refuge to Shia neighbors during the Israeli attacks. Cases such as in Aita al-Shaab when following days of Israeli artillery and bombing some of the residents were able to emerge from shelters and make their way to the nearby Christian village of Rmeish where they were sheltered. Israel sometimes appears to avoid bombing Christian villages except in cases like Qana. Shia protection for Christians includes efforts during the 1860’s Druze massacres of Christians in the mountains east of Beirut to help the latter move to safety in South Lebanon, as well as the Shia Fatwa issued at the time of the Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1906 stating that it was the religious duty of Muslims to aid and protect the Christians.
One of the lasting impressions of some Americans from the July 2006 war in Lebanon was the site of Muslim Hezbollah soldiers, protecting Christians seeking shelter, from Israel soldiers and bombs, inside their Holy Grotto at Qana where according to Christian tradition, the Virgin Mary asked her son Jesus to make wine for poor villages who gathered from surrounding villages to watch the event.
Some of us forget the two millennia of close friendships among all religions in the “northern holy land” of Lebanon where Jesus frequently visited friends to escape the hostility of the Sarihedrin to the South and to enjoy the villages and the sea at Tyre and Sidon.
When Pope Benedict spoke with President Bush the other day and expressed his concern over the safety of Iraq’s Christians, it included his angst over the 18,000 Iraqi Christians estimated to have been killed by US bombs and artillery. Many Iraqi Christians are making their way to Syria and Lebanon given these countries traditions of religious tolerance.
And the blowback continues….
FRANKLIN LAMB’s recent book, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel’s use of American Weapon’s against Lebanon (1978-2006) is available at Amazon.com.uk. Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners is expected in early summer. Dr. Lamb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.