Posted by Joshua on Sunday, May 11th, 2008
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….