“Lebanese Sunnis Deeply Divided over Relations with Hizbullah” by Anonymous

A Lebanon analyst sent this note on the Hersh and Saab articles copied in the previous two posts. He prefers not to use his name.  The following is his:

Allow me to add a number of comments to the fine discussion initiated by Bilal Saab on Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece.

Lebanese Sunnis Deeply Divided over Relations with Hizbullah

** First, Saab is right that Hersh misrepresents the loyalty of Sunni groups as determined by sectarian lines in Lebanon, but I disagree that Sunni fundamentalist groups want to join hands with Hizballah to fight the US and Israel. They are deeply divided on this issue. Saab slightly overstates Fathi Yakan's role and importance as a Sunni fundamentalist leader. He is certainly a good thinker/speaker/coalition-builder, and has managed to build a pro-Hezbollah umbrella group, but his authority in Tripoli, where Yakan has his support base, is contested. Granted, some Sunni groups actually want to align with Hezbollah, but others are vehemently anti-Shia, and unimpressed or supremely infuriated by Hezbollah (not just because it is Shia, but because it is also successful). Don't forget that last year, prior to the summer war, Zarqawi accused Hezbollah of protecting Israel and preventing Sunnis from resisting!!! The fact that Hezbollah sought to monopolize anti-Israeli resistance for years (note that Nasrallah recently offered to expand the resistance to other, non-Shia groups; Saab writes in his paper that Hezbollah claims that Sunni fighters assisted Hezbollah during the summer war) and the Syria-Hezbollah alliance (after all, Sunni radicals suffered greatly under Syrian hegemony) are problematic issues for some Sunni groups.

** Second, it is important to differentiate between established organizations and boutique structures. The larger groups (Tawhid, Ahbash, Yakan, Jamaa etc.) are what Saab calls Sunni fundamentalist groups. They are involved in the political game, which makes their own calculations a great deal more complex than one might think. They can derive benefits from aligning with this or that leader, they have to think about Islamic solidarity, elections, image, social services. Yakan supports Hezbollah, while the Jamaa supports Hariri. The boutique groups (or Sunni radical groups) are more complex to understand, and they are multiplying. They have their own internal dynamics, but can also act as front ends for domestic and foreign intelligence.

** Third, Hersh has a point when he says that people linked to Hariri have dealings with Sunni radicals. Hariri politicians have tried to manage and manipulate (as necessary) Sunni radicalism. They sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed. They have bailed out the Denniye prisoners, claiming that the 2000 clashes were fabricated by Syrian intelligence (this is a baseless claim). It is a game of trying to outsmart and buy off the radicals, but that there is no guarantee of success (Sunni militants are growing more radical and more emboldened), and the consequences of failure are disastrous.

But guess what? Hariri is far from being the only one to play this game. In the North, Karame, Mikati and Safadi do it too, as does former Defense Minister Mrad in the Bekaa. Karame, Mikati and Mrad are aligned with Syria, have supported Sunni radical groups in the past, and are still involved in manipulating them. Most notably, Mikati is the one who brought back Sheikh Hashem Minkara (a Sunni fundamentalist who opposed Syria in the 1980s) from his Syrian jail to Lebanon during the Summer 2000 elections in order to win the votes of Sunni Islamists – with Syrian blessing. The Syrians were probably also trying to placate Sunni Islamists after the Denniyeh clashes. Sunni politicians, whether pro or anti-Syrian (the distinction matters only from 2005 on), have showered these groups with money and attention, hoping to get their votes (I think that the Jamaa Islamiyah can count on at least 10,000 votes in the North if not more) and buy some quietness (Ironically, Christian politicians played this game too, since Tripoli was merged into one district with other Christian regions. The same thing happened in Akkar. They disbursed money, but nothing compared to their Sunni counterparts.)

** Fourth, Hersh is wrong to assert that there is an official (but

undeclared) Lebanese policy of supporting Sunni extremist groups as a way to counter Hezbollah. The allegations that Siniora's government is courting Sunni radicals disregards the simple fact that these guys don't want to deal with the government (Saab is right to write: "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") and can extract much more from politicians than the state. While possible, we need more than Hersh's reporting to ascertain that "Asbat al-Ansar has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government." Some government employees are certainly implicated (guess what, you are in Lebanon, where loyalties are porous); this does not necessarily mean that this is government policy.

The other side of this argument is that the ISF is the new Sunni militia with a new intelligence branch set up by a Hariri protege. This is a grave accusation (but not new – nothing in Hersh's piece breaks new ground). The argument of government officials for setting up this new intelligence branch is that military intelligence is infiltrated by pro-Syrian and pro-Hezbollah elements (very true) and that there is a need for an intelligence agency that reports through the chain of command. This is a dangerous game on the part of the government. But the ISF is not a militia (yet?), is still underequipped (except for their poweful cars) and ill-trained, and opposition fears might be overstated (but should certainly be addressed). Does the ISF provide support to groups like Asbat al-Ansar that military intelligence is busy containing? Possible, but again, Hersh offers no evidence.

** Fifth, and in disagreement with Saab, Sunni extremists are still wondering who their top enemy is: is it the government, UNIFIL, Israel, Hezbollah and the Shia community, the Christians? Who comes first? There is no (or maybe not yet) dominant and coherent framework that identifies all these parties as a single enemy. Sunni groups have simply too many enemies in Lebanon and limited resources, and the consequences of a strategic mistake could be disastrous. So basically, they are in the process of deciding who is going to be their next target. There are intense debates within these groups: some jihadis returning from Iraq are bitter about their experience there (either disgruntled about the whole thing or frustrated that intra-Iraqi politics constrained their actions – some recount tensions with Iraqi Sunnis), others are ready to pursue their anti-US struggle in Lebanon, others see Lebanon as a place where to export their anti-Shia agenda, and some are ready to fight UNIFIL (the irony here is that Hezbollah is probably providing intelligence and protection to UNIFIL, not because it likes UNIFIL, but because it wants to choose the timing, form and scope of any confrontation). The fact that these debates are ongoing should not be of any comfort to anyone: these groups could split over these differences and pursue their own objectives independently.

It is also difficult to know who arms and funds them. Some (not all) of the weaponry that enters the Palestinian camps (including Nahr al-Bared that Hersh talks about) is from Syrian origin (Syrian officials claim weapons are smuggled from Iraq to Lebanon without their knowledge, but there is a serious probability that Syrian intelligence itself is involved in this trafficking and arming of Palestinian groups). But the funding often comes from Arab Gulf individuals, not states (though there are rumours that states are also joining the fray). Still, I doubt that the Syrians and the Gulf Arabs are coordinating their efforts. What is interesting is the Syrian game. A measure of instability in Lebanon is good for Syria because it illustrates the 'stabilizing' role it played and that its allies in Lebanon (i.e. Hezbollah) are organized, rational and not apocalyptic like the Sunni radical groups (remember the February 2006 burning of a consulate in Achrafieh at the hands of Sunni radicals protesting the Danish cartoons). At the same time, Syria of all countries knows the risk of Sunni radicalism and is probably not behind every single one of these groups. Syria has reasons to be concerned about the jihadi problem in Lebanon to say the least.

** Sixth, for all the rumours about a massive rearmament of the various political parties in Lebanon to prepare for a civil war, the available evidence (and deduction from market prices) shows that there is a sharp increase in small weaponry, a slight increase in light weaponry and no apparent increase in heavy weaponry.

Here are the rumours that are circulating: Hariri is allegedly training his people in Jordan, Jumblatt has hired Kurdish peshmergas, the Lebanese Forces have training camps in the Christian mountains, Amal and Aoun's FPM are having their people re-trained and re-armed by Hezbollah, the Marada (Frangieh) have reopened their weapons cache in the Miziara region etc.

But there is no evidence of a major military build-up. What is taking place is ugly, but nothing on the scale of what rumours and hearsay have

it: political indoctrination camps with often overweight people trying to get back in shape by doing physical exercise and training to shoot small weapons, not a reorganization of wartime militias on a large scale. You also have politicians and businessmen dramatically increasing their bodyguard teams. One story that was played up in the news in November turned up to be a bust. Initial reports talked about 60 men armed with light and heavy weaponry training in the Kesrouan region and affiliated with the Lebanese Forces, while in reality they were 9 bodyguards of the CEO of LBC training with small licensed weapons at a site well-known by the military that had advanced knoweldge of the training session. The LAF commander published a statement to that effect, but it went unnoticed.

Just a final note on Seymour Hersh: he may be very good at researching the US side of a story and exposing bureaucratic debates and infighting over important policy issues. His research and analysis on foreign countries is less impressive.

Comments (11)

Alex said:

anonymous, i am impressed with your degree of knowledge and especially with your impartiality (a very rare thing these days)…

But, it is also too complicated. It is almost useless to get into the details:

Would it be fair to conclude the follwoing “obvious” points:

1) Alliances are based on both internal and external considerations.
2) they are also based on political/sectarian considerations

Given how many religions/sects and regional (external) players involved … can any one seriously expect to force his solution on Lebanon? Palestine? Iraq? … they are all playing, just to protect their grounds there.

I prefer to analyze the deision makers … to see if they take the logical way or continue trying to show their opponents who is the Boss.

The future will be decided through:

1) Bush … what is the minimum he needs, in terms of achievements, in order to not destroy the middle East (war on Iran)

2) King Abdullah / Bashar … what kind of formla can be acceptible for both for splitting the leadership role of the Arab world (East of Egypt). The mecca agreement was a very good sign that they can cooperate and make deals.

3) Iran .. will it be satisfied with influence in Iraq and special status for Lebanon’s Shia population?

4) When wil the Israeli PEOPLE realize they have to return the Arab occupied lands to have comprehensive peace and natural relations with the Arab world?

The rest is pure noise … what is the use analyzing it? look at this post… what are we supposed to conclude?

February 27th, 2007, 12:48 am


norman said:

When we look at Aqaida we see that they attack Shia only in Iraq and i beleive that they do that beacause they consider the Shia Gov of Iraq as America’s freind and not because they are Shia ,when we look at Azwaheri’s speaches we hear calls to attack Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordon but hear nothing about attacking Iran or Syria and i beleive that is because of Syria’s and Iran’s stand toward the Palestinians and Israel and the US .i do not expect the Sunni fundimentalist in Lebanon to stand against Hizballa in a major way.

February 27th, 2007, 1:03 am


Ghassan said:

In urban wars, you don’t need heavy weapons. A sniper with a good rifle can close the whole street! The news are that a lot (I mean hundreds) of Lebanese (Christians, Druze and Sunni) are being trained in several countries. Sure, Hizb-Iran fighters (please don’t seperate between Hizb-Iran and Amal. They are the same!) are being trained in Iran and Syria. At the end of the day, even if there was a civil war, not any group can dominate the others! All of them know that and that’s why they are afraid to start one. Keep in mind the outside influence. Syria can’t get involved like in the 1970s because Israel will not allow it. The pro-government groups (Sunni, Druze and the Christians) will be in a better situation militarly within 3 months to take on Hizb-Iran.
I still believe that Iran will be bombed and Syria too if the US will feel that it has no other choice!

February 27th, 2007, 1:06 am


Gibran said:

محققون دوليون
زاروا دمشق مرتين
علمت “اللــواء” أن عدداً من محققي لجنة التحقيق الدولية في جريمة اغتيال الرئيس الشهيد رفيق الحريري زاروا العاصمة السورية دمشق مرتين في الأيام العشرة الماضية، وأجروا تحقيقات مع بعض المسؤولين السوريين، وتطلب الأمر المبيت في دمشق في إحدى هذه المرات·

February 27th, 2007, 2:09 am


Akbar Palace said:

Alex –

Responding to your comments with my weird pro-Zionist slant:

“The future will be decided through:

1) Bush … what is the minimum he needs, in terms of achievements, in order to not destroy the middle East (war on Iran)”

Assuming Bush needs anything, and assuming the ME hasn’t already been destroyed.

“2) King Abdullah / Bashar … what kind of formla can be acceptible for both for splitting the leadership role of the Arab world (East of Egypt). The mecca agreement was a very good sign that they can cooperate and make deals.”

Staying in power is the only “acceptable” formula. The rest is window-dressing.

“3) Iran .. will it be satisfied with influence in Iraq and special status for Lebanon’s Shia population?”

See above.

“4) When wil the Israeli PEOPLE realize they have to return the Arab occupied lands to have comprehensive peace and natural relations with the Arab world?”

The Israeli PEOPLE don’t have to do anything that will jeopardize their security.

“The rest is pure noise … what is the use analyzing it? look at this post… what are we supposed to conclude?”

Yes, lots of noise.

February 27th, 2007, 2:55 am


Alex said:

Akbar, don’t worry, I will reply with my weird Baathist slant : )

The reason I said PEOPLE, is that my Israeli journalist friends (the whiners, according to you) keep blaming Olmert and Bush for the fact Israel did not start talking to Syria yet. I insist it is because 60% of Israelis are against returning the Golan (40% are for it).

Arab rulers wanting to stay in power, sure it is one of the main objectives (like Olmert and Bush, but more). But even Arab rulers do act like statesmen sometimes.

February 27th, 2007, 3:37 am


Alex said:

Norman, that is very true. But the problem is that “sunni extremists” are not only one type … there is the type you can buy with lots of money too. Those could fight Shiites if they are asked to do so.

Besides, if clashes do start, then many of those who initially did not want to fight other Muslims, would be reacting with anger instead.

February 27th, 2007, 3:41 am


ausamaa said:

An Informative and Excellent analysis by “anonymous”. Thanks

February 27th, 2007, 4:10 am


ausamaa said:

Alex, you may not want to bother with the details, but you know in Lebanon, the “details” is what you have to look out for. There is no Single source or Player that can provide an answer to the Lebanon riddle.

Look at things now; Al Huss with Muttaki, Harriri Jr. in Saudi and Not conferring with the King, Junblat to Washington, Ja’aja to follow, Seniora seems to be entertaining a Bush like vision that he can open shop on his own. Practically, the only united camp for the moment is the opposition camp. Basically because it has a Vision for Lebanon and serious Presence on the ground.The rest are searching for the most benificial welcoming side to side with. Benificial to them in person that is.

If some feel sorry for Syrians for having to live under a government they have not elected, then one should feel “sorrier” for the Lebanese people whose system allow for choosing their represntative, in the presence of Syrian Mukhabarat, or not, but they do go to the polls and make the miserable choices they have right now. Similar to the claim by most of today’s loyalist parlemetarians in Lebanon who are still attacking Syria and acting like Tarazans, while they were the first to raise their hands and approve Lahoud’s term few years ago. They claim “Syrian pressure”, but I say “self interest” is much more like it.

The problem is that people like Jaja and Junblat, the true culprits behind a lot of what is happening now are acting out of misguided expectations, rather than in the intersts of their clans even. They are “humoring” Bush exactly as Bashir Gemayel did with the Israelies back in the eighties. And soon, they may very well find themselves in the same basket.They think they can “manipulate” the world to their advantage, but they forget that there are much Bigger players whose intersts may change and shift at any moment leaving them, eager expectants, high and dry. But again, those “shuttar” do not care; it is not their blood that is being spilt on the one hand, and on the other, they do not ascribe to a real higher cause that they can claim that sacrifices justify. They ruin Lebanon in the process, but who cares, they are safe and fine. Oh, they are not idiots, they know exactly what they are doing, but they think that a plane ticket to somewhere nice ,and close to their personal stach is, the answer if things get rough. Chameleons and survivours, hired hands waiting for the highest bidder, obvious to all but not to themselves, is what they are. The necessary details of the irrelevant details.

What a waste for such a resourceful, smart and enterprising people.

February 27th, 2007, 5:05 am


Alex said:

Yes, Ausamaa .. that’s exactly what “Gibran” types say about us Syrians … we follow a corrupt regime of thugs who do not care because they can fly outside the country anytime.

I am still more concerned with the big picture. We can not make anything out of the noise at the micro level. You want a very good example? Jihad elKahzen just came back from Lebanon. He met his freinds (Saad hariri, leaders of Hizbollah, and the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon. You know jihad’s conclusion? … hopeless case… All the doors are closed .. too many players who refuse to compromise.

Read it here (Arabic) .. basically he says that the Saudis and Iranians agreed on the 19-11 government reform at least. But Hariri and Seniora refused.

I say there is a small chance if Syria and Saudi Arabia make a deal. Noting guaranteed … Junblatt already is trying to sound now less Muslim and more of a philosophical gnostic man … He knows many in Washington like this type.

Lebanon needs redefinition … and today the regional environment does not allow for such a difficult project. Lebanon will continue to absorb dirty products from regional conflicts (like the Israeli invasion, Syrian Saudi competition over who rules Lebanon), and to export its own dirt to its neighbor Syria… like Junblatt’s constant efforts to convince the Untied States to attack Syria … because he has no other option after he chose to bet all his money against Damascus.

A picture is often worth a thousand words. And this one certainly is:

Spencer Platt Wins World Press Photo Award.

New York-based photographer’s picture from bombed-out Beirut challenges pre-conceived notions of the Middle East.

“It’s a picture you can keep looking at,” wrote Michele McNally, assistant managing editor at The New York Times, who chaired this year’s jury of the World Press Photo competition. McNally said the photo, taken by Getty Images photographer Spencer Platt, “has the contradiction of real life, amidst chaos.”

February 27th, 2007, 6:13 am


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