“How Hizbullah Blundered and Why Things Will Get Worse,” by Rex Brynen

Rex Brynen of McGill University makes a powerful argument that Hizbullah has blundered (Copied below). He is correct that the Shiite move on Sunni West Beirut has exacerbated sectarian anxieties and fears – not only Sunni fears, but Christian fears as well. Lebanon's other sects now realize how little stands between them and Hizbullah's militia.

Second, Sunnis such as Salim al-Hoss and Najib Mikati who would be expected to lead Lebanon in a compromise and who have showed themselves in the past to be willing to work with Syria even at the most trying of times, have taken an anti-Hizbullah line. This demonstrates how difficult it is for Sunnis to reach out to Hizbullah and Syria at this moment. This is not a good sign for a future compromise.

The rhetoric on all sides as grown worse than I have seen it since the civil war. Siniora has said that Hizbullah has done things that the Israelis never did when they occupied Beirut. The PPS or SSNP issued a statement that they would hold Hariri personally responsible for the killing of their people in Tripoli. Nasrallah called the Lebanese government illegal, and on it goes.

Most distressing is Rex's conclusion about the March 14 Movement's determination to ignore the implications of Hizbullah's occupation of West Beirut. In this he may well be correct. It is, after all, how March 14 responded to the Hizbullah's tent city. In essence, Siniora's government will dare Hizbullah to carry out the coup the Shiite party clearly does not want to carry out. The game of chicken will continue. Hizbullah's use of force will neither lance the boil of paralysis that has overtaken Lebanon's government, nor will it serve as a wake up call to Lebanon's bickering factions that they must compromise. That is what Rex is predicting. Here is his analysis:  

Rex Brynen wrote in the Comment Section:

It has also demonstrated that it can game out its actions and is prepared for its end-game, something that others in the region seldom seem to do.

While Nasrallah is certainly a good strategist, one is as much struck by his missteps as his successes in recent years.

First, there was the 2006 war, which Hizbullah clearly did not foresee (although it was quite foreseeable). As it turns out they secured their “divine victory” because the Israelis made even more serious mistakes, but it certainly wasn’t a triumph of strategic master thought.

Then there was the withdrawal from cabinet, and the “tent camp” siege of the government–which turned out to NOT to have the rapid and decisive effect that Hizbullah intended. Nasrallah seems to have never anticipated that he would simply be ignored, and that it would be business as usual in the Grand Serail.

Finally, there is the take-over of West Beirut. While the rather foolish and incautious cabinet decisions were the cause of this, I think it was also driven by Hizbullah’s continuing inability to leverage M14 as much as they wanted to. The withdrawal of fighters from the street (albeit, after some very thuggish behaviour by their Amal and SSNP proxies) was clearly intended to spin this all as a reluctant Hizbullah with a national agenda (rather than a sectarian move), they’ve clearly underestimated the effect in the Christian community where it has all done substantial damage to Aoun (a fact that even his most loyal deputies are privately admitting). Given that the Christian community is the only one in play–the Shiite, Sunni, and Druze communities are all pretty much solidly behind the Hizbullah/Amal, Mustaqbal, and the PSP respectively, and now even more so–the long term result could be a politically weakened M8. Ironically, this comes at a time when M14’s weak government performance were causing it some real problems with its constituents–however, events in Beirut will now counter that with a “rally around the (sectarian) flag” effect.

It is also possible that the M14 groups will now do some serious arming and training (despite all the accusations, their past efforts have been VERY limited and haphazard), probably with Saudi/Jordanian/Egyptian support–not really in Hizbullah’s long-term advantage.

Finally, what does Hizbullah do if M14 just ignores Hizbullah’s obvious preeminent military power? I suspect they’ll do exactly that: not soften on the “presidential package” (next cabinet/PM, new electoral law), leaving Hizbullah no better off than before. Indeed, given the damage M8 has taken in non-Shiite communities, in a few months it could even be in a somewhat worse position.

In short, I think this is far from being an unalloyed masterstroke of strategic brilliance.

Ex-IDF Chief: Hezbollah rule in Lebanon may help Israel beat it
By Yoav Stern and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and Channel 10

Former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak said Sunday Hezbollah's persistent attempts to take over Lebanon could eventually benefit Israel in its struggle against the militant group.

"If an armed conflict erupts it will be simpler to strike Lebanon when Hezbollah is the legitimate ruler," Shahak told the Army Radio.

Earlier on Sunday, Israel's Vice Premier Haim Ramon told cabinet members that Lebanon must be viewed as a "Hezbollah state," after the Shiite guerilla group seized control over the western part of the Lebanese capital over the weekend.

"Lebanon has no government. It is a fiction, there is only Hezbollah," Ramon said during the weekly cabinet meeting. "Hezbollah is directly responsible for everything that happens [in Lebanon], and the organization completely controls the state."

Furious Sunnis feel betrayed by their leader
from Monday's Globe and Mail
May 11, 2008

…. “I blame Saad Hariri for what has happened. He practises politics in the Middle East. You need to make a militia to protect your people here, or you will be demolished,” said Talal, a 51-year-old lawyer who asked that his last name not be used. A day before, he said, Shia militiamen from the Hezbollah-allied Amal movement broke into his apartment, stealing jewellery and asking about members of Mr. Hariri's Future Movement.

While most Lebanese have kept weapons in their homes since the country's 1975-1990 civil war, the Sunnis found themselves outnumbered and underequipped on Friday as Hezbollah and its allies carried out their lightning occupation of West Beirut. “We are fighting with sticks and stones and they have Iranian weapons,” complained Abu Tariq, a Future Movement leader in Tariq al-Jadeeda. Hezbollah is backed by both Iran and Syria.

The Future Movement, so hopefully named by Mr. Hariri's peacemaker father, formed the backbone of the peaceful uprising after his assassination in 2005 that became known as the Cedar Revolution. Those protests, which drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, forced Syria to withdraw its soldiers from Lebanon after a 29-year stay.

That revolution lay in shambles Sunday. Even after Hezbollah and its allies withdrew their fighters from areas of West Beirut they had seized on Friday, the Shia militant group's yellow banner hung over numerous Sunni neighbourhoods, leaving no question as to who was now the power on the ground.

Despite its popularity, the Future Movement had no fighting wing that could stand up to Hezbollah or Amal. Even as the government became more deeply embroiled in the escalating political standoff with the heavily armed Hezbollah, it directed its efforts – and the funding it received from the United States and its allies in the Sunni Arab world – into building up the national army as a military counterweight.

That strategy failed last week, as the army, afraid of splitting along sectarian lines, stood aside as Hezbollah captured West Beirut and briefly made Mr. Hariri a prisoner in his own home.

With Sunni rage rising and Mr. Hariri discredited in the eyes of many, some now worry that al-Qaeda-style radical Islamists could fill the void and give deadly direction to the anti-Shia sentiment, as in Iraq….

Comments (115)

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101. Loubnan ya Loubnan - le retour « Ibn Kafka’s obiter dicta - divagations d’un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée said:

[…] Bien évidemment, il y a l’incontournable Angry Arab, a.k.a. As’ad Abu Khalil (qui passe chez Democracy Now), à déconseiller aux hariristes hypertendus. D’autres blogs généralistes sont également très utiles – Friday Lunch Club, et des analyses intéressantes chez Abu Muqawama et Syria Comment. […]

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May 12th, 2008, 7:56 pm


102. SHAMI said:

Alex ,
how do u estimate anti alawi feelings in Syria,it have increased or decreased compared to 40 years ago ?
what’s your plan for a healthy political transition ….?do u think that a political and peaceful alternative in Syria is possible ?Or change can only happen through violent means?
(plz stay in syria )

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May 12th, 2008, 7:59 pm


103. Naji said:

OH, NO… !!! Observer, in MacDous mode, has just confirmed my earlier scenario… and I have come to believe that he knows everything…!!

It is that 3-pronged defanging crap… another fucking hot summer of criminal lunacy… 🙁

Btw, what happened to our young MSK…??! Wasn’t his las gig working for Jumblatt…?! I am worried for him…

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May 12th, 2008, 8:01 pm


104. Seeking the Truth said:

Alex said:
I am a big fan of Rime Allaf and she is a serious regime critic…

Could you please provide a sample of (web link to) her critisism of a political policy of the regime.

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May 12th, 2008, 8:20 pm


105. ausamaa said:

Does the Cole have fire power much superior to the nuclear powered aircraft carrier called USS Israel which is in the immediate vicinity of Lebanon???

It is did not just happen to be returning to base in Italy is it?

As to WAR, No War, an nformed Seer has told me after consulting with a source within the Bush directionless policy making group in DC.

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May 12th, 2008, 9:29 pm


106. Simon said:

These articles sound like spin from the losers and their supporters. Similar to how Hizbullah “lost” to the Israelis. Look for the moment Hizbullah kicked the Marth 4th’s butt, deal with it. Do what George Bush never does, live in the reality.

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May 12th, 2008, 9:37 pm


107. Naji said:


I’ll sleep on your assurance… You better be right…!

“the Bush directionless policy making group” always leaves mayhem in its wake when lost… 😉

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May 12th, 2008, 9:42 pm


108. ausamaa said:


But as I wrote two days ago: After so many lost battles, Bush must have developed a sportsmanship approach to winning and losing. He seems reconciled with himself, revenge is not a must-do thing and losing does not bother him anymore.

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May 12th, 2008, 10:01 pm


109. abraham said:

I am not sure about whether there will be a war. My personal feeling as of right now based on everything I’m reading and observing is that, if there was a war planned, it is being held off, for now.

On the other hand, the Saudi’s leaving town is an odd thing. I don’t know that the Saudi’s would leave in a huff even if the gang they were backing was routed and himiliated. There’s something to that that needs to get investigated. I’m not sure what it means.

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May 12th, 2008, 11:28 pm


110. Alex said:

SHAMI said:

Alex ,
how do u estimate anti alawi feelings in Syria,it have increased or decreased compared to 40 years ago ?
what’s your plan for a healthy political transition ….?do u think that a political and peaceful alternative in Syria is possible ?Or change can only happen through violent means?
(plz stay in syria )

Seeking the Truth said:

Alex said:
I am a big fan of Rime Allaf and she is a serious regime critic…

Could you please provide a sample of (web link to) her critisism of a political policy of the regime.



The plan is to start with limited seats in parliament for independents and other political parties (non religious and non ethnic based) … then few years later go for more political reforms that should lead to a freely elected prime minister.

Then … we’ll see : )


You don’t need links … Rime criticizes everything. But she does it in a very balanced way. And she knows how to do that without helping her country’s enemies.

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May 13th, 2008, 6:47 am


111. Antoun said:

Rex Brynen analysis sounds reasonable.

Hizballah promised not to use its arms against the state, and it has.

It has broken promises, weaved in and out of its opponents neighbourhoods quite easily, humiliated March 14 leaders and so forth.

Its reputation among the Lebanese may have been damaged, and fears of its power are growing.

Or is it?

I noted in my own analysis that a strong PR war would be under way to win the hearts of minds of the Lebanese. I noted that Hizballah had a lot of work to do to recover the trust of the Lebanese people.

And March 14 appear to be helping them.

I’m not sure when Rex wrote his analysis, but I wrote mine before news of the Halba massacre came out.

100 FM supporters killed 12 SSNPers, mutilated their bodies and destroyed the SSNP office. The injured who went to hospital, were hunted down by the FM supporters and killed in the hospital.

Other incidents have indeed taken place throughout the country, but the spin on this one is that some foolish FM supporter filmed the massacre.

The SSNP have released the videos onto the internet. YouTube had them on for a while, but took them down. Lebanese sites still have them up. I have them up on my own blog.

Thousands have viewed, thousands are disgusted. The main Opposition internet forum, LFPM.org, have posted links to the videos and people are venting their disgust and anger. People who have never liked the SSNP are venting their disgust and anger.

Saad Hariri has lost an opportunity to gain in the PR war, an advantage Rex Brynen was sure March 14 would take. He has shot himself in the foot. Images of this atrocious, barbaric act, committed by Future Movement supporters, is all over the internet, and even foreign media outlets are beginning to get their hands on them. Whether they air it to the Western public is another question.

I’m praying the SSNP restrains itself and doesn’t carry out revenge attacks. Then it will truly be a civil war. But it will be hard for a generally vengeful party like the SSNP, with the full backing of Syria, to control its rage.

I’m praying.

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May 13th, 2008, 12:36 pm


112. Syrian Nationalist Party said:

Hezbollah now acting the silly Mottakian Diplo in Lebanon. Respecting and seeking compromises with traitor thugs that are on CIA-Mossad payroll. Having Qatar as lead negotiator is an offence to any decent person dignity and honor. This country not only sleeping in the same Israeli pants Olmert wearing, but it has been a prime hole in the ground for waging genocidal wars on our Greater Syria and its people since the first Persian Gulf war. It has provided Mossad and their underling the American armada all the bases and logistics to carry out unhindered these crimes against our nation. Qatar is training with Mossad agents and the West for prep to an attack on Iran as we speak right here. The resistance in Lebanon should have some dignity and honor and not bend over or take anything from the dirty hands. They should have it their way, because it is the only right way. All Moslems, including Syria’s Sunni Moslems are in support of the Lebanese resistance. You have the power use it, the American style. Have the cowards surrender or else.

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May 14th, 2008, 5:59 pm


113. wizart said:

Future TV denied FM had anything to do with Halba. Absent absolute evidence to the contrary, the story is part of a smear campaign. Anybody can shoot a massacre video and use it to attack his target.

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May 14th, 2008, 6:37 pm


114. ugarit said:

“By the way, there is one person one vote in Israel.

Meanwhile, 1.5 million Gazans starve on your border, a direct result of your “democracy” in action.”

There are millions of Palestinians in Gaza, “West Bank”, Jerusalem who are not citizens of Israel yet Israel occupies the land and controls virtually every aspect of their lives. When will those Palestinians be given Israeli citizenship?

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May 14th, 2008, 6:59 pm


115. Jihad Nasr said:

Mr. Landis, I don’t see how Rex Brynen’s argument can be described as “powerful.”

Mr. Brynen makes two very weak points.

Firrt, Mr. Brynen pretends that Sayed Narallah made a blunder by not foreseeing the 2006 Zionist onslaught on innocent civilians in Lebanon. Such talk begs the question: did Mr. Brynen foresee such crimes against humanity back then?

Mr. Brynen undermines his “powerful” argument by stating that the DEFEAT, yes Mr. Brynen, DEFEAT of the Zionist army was possible “because the Israelis made even more serious mistakes, but it certainly wasn’t a triumph of strategic master thought.”

It might interest Mr. Brynen, and many other deniers of the total triumph of Hizbollah in the 2006 INTERNATIONAL WAR on the party and its supporters, especially Muslim Shiites, to read how Hizbollah defeated the Zionist army on three fronts: intelligence, media and the battlefield. A detailed study of the subject was written in Asia Times by Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry. Here is the link: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HJ12Ak01.html.

Second, Mr. Brynen writes that “there was the withdrawal from cabinet, and the ‘tent camp’ siege of the government–which turned out to NOT to have the rapid and decisive effect that Hizbullah intended. [Sayed] Nasrallah seems to have never anticipated that he would simply be ignored, and that it would be business as usual in the Grand Serail.”

Aside from being condescending, Mr. Brynen as well as others like him seems to forget that had Sayed Nasrallah wanted to enter the Grand Serail he would have done it from day one. And many, many, many Lebanese wanted Hizbollah to get rid of the collaborationists and criminals inside the Serail, the same ones whom Mr. Brynen was defending back in 2007 when they were destroying the Palestinian refugees camp of Naher El-Bared.

It is understandable that Mr. Brynen would take the side of the Siniora gang that fed him propaganda and lies when he was welcomed inside the Serail. And he had the audacity of protesting on the pages of the Middle East Report the destruction and havoc brought on the camp and its civilian inhabitants by thugs like Sionira and Hariri. According to him, the Siniora government “has broken with more than half a century of Lebanese government policy in an effort to improve the living conditions of Palestinian refugees.” Both Muhammad Ali Khalidi and As’ad Abukhalil have made an excellent job in responding to the preposterous claims made by Mr. Brynen in defending what can only be described as a criminal gang in Beirut.

Finally, one can only advise readers of this blog and elsewhere to watch what Sheikh Maher Hamoud, the Imam of the Quds Mosque in Sidon, has said on Aljazeera’s “Hiwar Maftou7” a few days back. It is the best antidote against the propaganda coming out from the Grand Serail in Beirut and McGill University in Montréal!

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May 17th, 2008, 1:04 pm


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