It is the one year anniversary of the “Second Lebanon War” as the Israelis now call it. It took them nearly as long to finally decide on a name for their failed campaign against Hezbollah–an understandably difficult task when you lose in the manner they did last summer.
Since then, both Israel and the United States have not stopped seething at the opportunity lost to vanquish an organization which has proven itself capable of doing what no other Arab country, party or ruler has ever done before: precipitating an Israeli retreat from occupied territory as occurred in 2000 and withstanding the full onslaught by their lauded military last year, allowing them to emerge the victor.
Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, not only survived but soon became the toast of the “Arab street” (no small task for a Shia group in the predominately Sunni Arab world). Because Nasrallah showed no interest in playing the sectarian card, his appeal as a nationalist leader was likened to that of Gamal Abdel Nasser and won him wide acclaim.
For Bush, Olmert and a host of Arab rulers though, it is a job unfinished.
Since the war, a stalemate developed and has persisted between the political forces of Hezbollah, Amal, and Christians backing former General Michel Aoun and those of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the Future Movement of Saad Hariri, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, and allied Maronite Christians, paralyzing the government.
Recent fighting between the Salafi group Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Army outside Tripoli in the Nahr al-Barad Palestinian refugee camp has added a new variable to the already tense Lebanese situation. Ominously, these and other Sunni militants sympathetic to al-Qaeda were invited into Lebanon or released from their prisons by the Hariri family, as detailed by former MI6 official Alastair Crooke, to serve as agitators against Hezbollah. Although the present conflict in Tripoli is evidently a deal gone bad, it has still proved useful in that it provided Siniora with a “terror” excuse resulting in a quick shipment of US arms.
A few weeks ago, disturbing reports surfaced from both the Syrian weekly Al-Madar and Qatar’s Al-Watan newspaper. Despite being a bit sensational sounding and not distributed by the Western media, when the above context in kept in mind, they seem more than plausible. To paraphrase the headline:
“Plot to kill Nasrallah by United States, Israeli and Saudi intelligence foiled.”
According to Al-Madar, the intelligence agencies of these nations attempted to infiltrate Hezbollah’s bunkers in a bid to assassinate Nasrallah. Collaborators in this effort included former Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar Bin Sultan (“Bandar Bush”) and Fatah’s former security chief in Gaza, Mohammad Dahlan.
Al-Watan likewise reported that informed Lebanese sources indicated that the Mossad, in cooperation with other Arab states and officials, sought to kill Nasrallah. They too named Dahlan and Bin Sultan as being in touch with the Mossad and CIA.
If the veracity of the stories from these papers is doubted, adding to their credibility is Lebanon’s own reputable As Safir newspaper, which has published within the last week similar accounts of plots against Nasrallah’s life.
But why him?
Simply, Hezbollah under his leadership is perceived as a threat to the order which the United States and Israel would like to establish throughout the Middle East: a cadre of docile Arab rulers, deferential to the West yet authoritarian in controlling their own “street.” The perks and privileges of being in this club include a life-long term, money, and arms. Its most prominent members are King Abdullah of Jordan, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Fouad Siniora and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas are the latest recruits.
Hezbollah also stood up to the Israelis twice and forced them to leave Lebanon twice. Among the ordinary people, Nasrallah has become one of the most respected leaders in the Middle East. By avoiding sectarianism he has made common cause between Sunni and Shia in the struggle against Israel and its occupation. And any time there is unity of the two, alarm bells start ringing in Washington.
All this helps explain why the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia contently watched as Israel ravaged Lebanon last year, for they too wanted Hezbollah eliminated as both a political and military force.
Seymour Hersh, after interviewing Hassan Nasrallah, spoke to radio talk show host Charles Goyette in February and had this to say:
This time I went to see him [Nasrallah] about Lebanon. If you remember last summer, he had conducted something that had never happened before. He had done a war against Israel–put up against Israel and beat them. The only Arab country to ever do it. Nobody is more important right now. This isn’t just me talking. This is our intelligence people in the government saying to me, “the most important man in the Middle East right now is Nasrallah.”
Anyway, so I go to see the guy [Nasrallah] in December and oh man Look, I know the Israelis have him under a death threat. They’ve had him under a death threat for years, particularly after he won the war–or did well in the war. So I am in three or four cars. I am searched. I mean, [it’s] black, with all of the shades and the curtains drawn in the car. I am transferred three or four times in basements–all bombed out.
I finally get to the guy and say, “What is going on, man? I didn’t know you were that scared of the Israelis?” He says, “Oh no, it is not the Israelis. We’ve got fellow Arabs: Jordanian intelligence, Salafis, Wahhabis–jihadists. These are the most extreme guys.”
What Nasrallah stated then, and what Hersh has reported since on the efforts of United States and its Arab client states in arming Sunni radicals, has come to pass, both in Iraq and Lebanon.
The question is not therefore not when the Third Lebanon War will begin, but how. Some are speculating Israel is again gearing up for an assault to finish what they have been unable to complete for more than a decade. Although they no doubt have considered this option, it is unlikely.
The necessary elements to start this war after all, are already in Lebanon, in the form of radical Sunni elements who vehemently hate Shia Hezbollah. Contrary to what most Americans are reading about Syrian meddling, it is actually the United States, Israel and other “brotherly” Arab countries who are sowing the seeds of discord there in a fruitless quest to wipe out Hezbollah. When this sectarian conflict starts it will thus appear to be ignited from within, sadly in collusion with the current prime minister and his allies.
If war is to be ultimately avoided in Lebanon, people of all political and religious stripes, irrespective their opinion of Hassan Nasrallah or Hezbollah, need to send a clear message to the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the PA that their interference will no longer be tolerated.
That message can be effectively delivered by first dumping the Siniora government.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.