Posted by Joshua on Monday, February 26th, 2007
Bilal Saab, an analyst who specilaizes in Middle East security and terrorism at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, has recently published :Expanding the "Jihad": Hizb'allah's Sunni Islamist Network" with Bruce Riedel, a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center. Saab has provided the following comments of Hersh's New Yorker article copied in the last post.
Bilal Saab writes:
I will only tackle the section on Jihadis in Lebanon in Seymour Hersh's article.“We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”
That's a key policy statement and I don't think anyone has problems with or doubts its revelations. In other words, it is no secret.
Now, let me dissect the following statement and place it in the Lebanese context.
"American, European, and Arab officials I spoke to told me that the Siniora government and its allies had allowed some aid to end up in the hands of emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with Al Qaeda."
Sunni radical groups… First of all, Sy assumes that Sunni radical groups and Salafist jihadist groups in Lebanon are pretty much the same thing. Whether by default or design, this is a flawed perception and interpretation.Who are these Sunni radical groups? The established fundamentalist (rather than radical) groups in Lebanon are Harakat al Tawhid al Islami, Al Jama'a al Islamiyyah, and Al Ahbash. The first two are the relevant actors in the Lebanese political scene as the latter has ideologically shown a disinterest in politics and has refuted militancy throughout its existence. In terms of worldview and political positioning, I can assure you that the leaders and core cadres of Harakat al Tawhid al Islami and Al Jama'a al Islamiyyah have today allied themselves with Hizb'allah under the Fathi Yakan-formed umbrella of Jabhat al Amal al Islami. Bottom line, Hizb'allah ahs outmanoeuvered and preempted any major attempts by the government to win over the core Sunni voices in the country. For a detailed description and analysis of the relationship between Hizb'allah and the Sunni fundamentalist groups in Lebanon, you can post my article with Bruce Riedel which will appear on the Brookings homepage tomorrow morning (your readers will see it on your website first). So, in terms of financing by the Siniora government, I obviously am unable to disprove that but can seriously doubt its efficiency in terms of winning them over. It is money down the drain as I see it.Who are the Salafist Jiadist factions? These are Osbat al Ansar, Jund al Sham, the dismantled (but now regrouped in Ein el Helweh under the leadership of Ahmad Miqati) al Dinniyeh Group, the Majdal Anjar group, the Qarun group, rogue (turned salafist jihadist) elements inside Harakat al Tawhid al Islami and al Jama'a al Islamiyya, and finally alienated and unemployed Lebanese Sunni Muslim youth who belong to the lower and middle classes of the Sunni community, who mostly center around the coastal areas of Lebanon and the capital (Tariq al Jdideh, also in the town of Aramoun) and who are all, without any exxageration, potential al-Qaeda recruits.Here again, I am in no position to disprove that elements inside the Siniora government (the article refers to the Internal Security Forces who pretty much operate under Siniora's leaderhsip and the command of the pro-government ISF Director Ashraf Rifi) may be attempting to finance such salafist jihadist factions. In fact, I find such assumption resonably believable. What I doubt is the success of such efforts. While the ISF may succeed in financing and arming alienated and unemployed Sunni youth and rogue Islamist elements here and there, I have enough empirical evidence (mostly based on field work, which I will reveal in a journal article I will soon be running with Magnus Ranstorp entitled "Securing Lebanon and UNIFIL from the threat of Salafist Militancy") to support the argument that any virtual attempts by the government at reaching out to the core salafist jihadist groups in Lebanon, mentioned above, will not only fail but backfire and have grave consequences.Three main reasons why the salafist jihadist groups won't be "bought" (at least not all) by evildoers inside the Siniora government are:1- these groups are very serious about their salafist jihadist ideology: the pro-American Lebanese government is an agent of the US-Zionist alliance and must be fought, period.2- The history of terrorism and political violence perpetrated by these groups against Lebanese interests and the Lebanese political establishment is a testament to the seriousness of their fundamental disagreements with the makeup of the Lebanese secular and confessional order.3- the salafist jihadist current in Lebanon is disunited and divided along political lines (the most notable example is the serious rift between Osbat al Ansar and Jund al Sham). So even assuming that some factions might be lured by the government, the majority will categorically refuse any "reaching out attempts".Best, Bilal