Category Archives: Lebanon

Iran has won Lebanon

 Hezbollah fighters, holding up Lebanese flags and the yellow flag of the militant Shiite Muslim group, parade through the southern suburbs of Beirut in November 2009. (AFP)

Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah declared his victory in Lebanon in his last speech and he’s right. Hezbollah won Lebanon and no one seems to care.
March 14 dissolved long before its leaders nominated March 8 figures for presidency. Political opponents to the Party of God and its hegemony over Lebanon lost the battle a long time ago, when they compromised values for political gains. The state is increasingly weakened by the void in its institutions, corruption of its spearheads, and petty individual interests.

Regional powers are busy in Syria and Yemen while the international community seems to have given up on Lebanon. As long as Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is not challenged by the international community, it means only one thing for Lebanon; that Iran has been given a free hand to take over. The release of a criminal and terrorist of Michel Samaha’s caliber is nothing but a sign of who runs the show, and how weak we are to even protest it.

Iran won Lebanon! And Iran can do anything it wants in Lebanon without any political opposition or challenges. And now Iran can focus to win what it needs in Syria, while everyone is busy making business deals with the “new Iran.” Lebanon, on the other hand, is going to pay a very high price for all these deals and compromises, more so as Iran, Russia and the Assad regime are scoring more gains in Syria.

Iran’s plan for Lebanon

To protect Hezbollah’s arms, Iran will do anything; whatever it takes and no matter how many people and lives are sacrificed. The arms are above all. The sacredness of these arms was justified by fighting Israeli aggression and occupation, and is justified today by fighting terrorism and takfiris. However, the real purpose and ultimate goal of Hezbollah’s arms is their mere existence.

Hezbollah’s arms are a symbol of its power and authority over Lebanon and the Lebanese. So without them, Hezbollah has nothing, and Iran will lose influence in Lebanon and the region. Even if they’re not in use, arms are the backbone of this power. With the changing dynamics in the region, Iran’s deal with the West and the escalating Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region, Hezbollah wants to make sure nothing changes the status quo of its arsenal. Today, there is no one to challenge Hezbollah’s arms in Lebanon. To guarantee that for the longest time possible, Hezbollah will need more void and the disintegration of state institutions, which will intensify and become worse.

The Sunni community will have to remain headless. Former PM Saad Hariri has been out of the country for years, and there’s no one else to challenge his popularity yet. The Saudi money stopped coming to the Sunni community, through Hariri’s institutions, as it used to, which left them in urgent need of leadership and financial support.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is taking advantage of the situation by recruitingmore Sunnis into the Resistance Brigade [Saraya al-Moqawama]. For a mere $400 a month, Sunnis are joining the Brigade – not to fight in Syria – but only to receive training and stay on hold until further notice.

This “further notice” is probably a local moment, similar to the May 7 events of 2008, or the Black Shirts of 2010. “What the Sunnis are used for, however, are reconnaissance missions in Syria, as they have access to rebel areas and make good informants,” a Sunni activist in the Bekaa told NOW a few months ago. “They offer some money, but more than that, they offer weapons, and, most of all, protection and the illusion that they are powerful.”

In any case, Hezbollah prefers this community to stay leaderless because it simply gives them more power and sway over Lebanon, its state, and its communities.

But the most significant part of this plan is the Shiites in Lebanon. They are the ones providing fighters for the war and protecting the party and its weapons. The supporters will die for Hezbollah and Iran, but they won’t die for Lebanon. This loyalty and dedication needs to endure. Without it, Hezbollah loses a lot, but it requires a lot as well; that is, money, for services, media, and compensations. The money is coming, despite the recent US sanctions. But the challenges are elsewhere.

Containing discontent

Hezbollah’s support-base is increasingly complaining. It started with the parents of the kids who died fighting in Syria, but it seems even the fighters themselves are complaining now.
Sources in the southern suburbs tell NOW that the increasing number of young men coming back in coffins – and sometimes not even coming back – without any benefit or victory felt, has intensified discontent. “When Hezbollah was resisting Israeli occupation, its victories were felt by the people. For example, they could go back to their occupied towns and villages in the South. Today, their victories have no practical repercussion on the community, but their losses do; it the death of our children, brothers and fathers,” she said.

On a different level, many businessmen in Lebanon are panicking after the US Treasury sanctions started targeting more people. Hezbollah’s economic support-base has never been targeted as it is today. Any businessman dealing with any of Hezbollah’s institutions is today reconsidering their deals – even if it is the selling of office supplies or catering services. This is not going to hurt Hezbollah significantly, but it will certainly increase the level of discontent by a community suffering more and more of isolation.

Hezbollah is trying to fight this discontent by increasing the funding for propaganda and services. For example, Iran is trying to take advantage of the severe financial crisis in Lebanon’s media sector – mainly due to the ceasing of Saudi funding for Lebanon’s media – to increase its support to its own media. For instance, recent reports show that Iran is spending millions of US dollars on media institutions, mostly located around the Iranian embassy in Beirut. Houthis, Iraqis and Hezbollah share a lot of these spaces and editorial operations. While Lebanese media – newspapers and TV channels – are closing or downsizing, Iranian-funded media outlets are prospering, expanding and hiring more than ever.

The whole point is to expand the propaganda rhetoric in order to contain the increasing discontent. Despite the challenges, the Party of God is steadily moving to take whatever is left of Lebanon. If no one stops it, Lebanon will be a state-within-Hezbollah’s-state, not the other way around. And we are not far from it.

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. She tweets @haningdr.

How ISIS terror benefits Hezbollah

Members of Lebanon

   At the tail end of November, the Saudi Interior Ministry announced sanctions against 12 Hezbollah members and institutions that engage in business with the party and finance its activities across the Middle East. “The kingdom will continue to combat Hezbollah’s terror activities with all the available means, and will continue to work with the partners across the world [in this regard],”the statement said.

 

Riyadh’s decision came a week after the US Senate passed a bill to block Hezbollah’s financing activities by imposing sanctions on all international financial institutions that knowingly engage with Hezbollah and its enablers. The bill also aims at identifying Hezbollah’s satellite and Internet providers, which support its television network, Al-Manar. US government agencies have been trying to curb Hezbollah’s finances for years by blacklisting businessmen who funded the party. Gulf countries have also been deporting Shiite businessmen and confiscating their assets for years. But analysis say that the Syrian war and the emergence of the Islamic State, as well as the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, might have increased Hezbollah’s popularity as well as the donations reaching its pockets.

 

Analysts say that while the war in Syria seemed to have overstretched Hezbollah and made recruitment a struggle, the war effort was counterbalanced by enthusiasm raised by the framing it as a holy war. The enthusiasm was not just seen in Lebanon, but also among the youth in the Shiite Lebanese diaspora. Many young men have returned to Lebanon to join Hezbollah’s troops in Syria — some allegedly using their Westrern passports in planned attacks against Israeli targets on foreign soil while others continue to donate and finance the Party of God.

 

 

The holy war against takfiris

 

Hezbollah does not have an obvious strategy to recruit youth from the Shiite Lebanese diaspora in order to fill its ranks of troops in Syria. However, analysts say there are young men who do come back to Lebanon to join the fight against thetakfiris. The reason is that Hezbollah, just like ISIS, its Sunni enemy on the ground, has been framing its involvement in Syria as the holy war of the end of days.

 

“Logically, I believe that, just like there are people born in France or America or Europe who are attracted by the idea of fighting alongside ISIS, there are definitely other people who belong to the Shiite community who are attracted by the idea of fighting alongside Hezbollah,” Lebanese analyst Ali al-Amin told NOW. “The idea of sectarian struggle creates this environment and attracts people who do not currently live in the Middle East, where the direct fight occurs. But they respond to the call to the sacred war — Hezbollah and ISIS base their propaganda on religious slogans to justify their involvement in the war in Syria. The sacred war attracts many people who are relatively far away, but feel that they are concerned by the fight,” he said.

 

Al-Amin says that in European communities, specifically, Muslims have not been able to feel integrated and have continued living in closed groups, which has made them more vulnerable to radical discourse and to cling to group identities, he said.

 

According to Mohamad Haidar, an analyst whose name has been changed for security reasons, Hezbollah has used the term “jihadist duty” in the past to justify youth joining the fight in Syria. “But later the war became holy. They were defending the shrine of Sayyidah Zaynab,” said Haidar. “This line of propaganda also helped raise enthusiasm among the youth. Hezbollah is counting on the importance of the holy sites and religious shrines related to the Shiites. The party started to organize trips to the holy places in Iraq: the southern town of Nabatiyeh was empty last week because all its inhabitants were on a Hezbollah-organized pilgrimage to Karbala.”

 

Haidar added that this enthusiasm within the Shiite supporters of Hezbollah in Lebanon is matched by the enthusiasm among the supporters in the diaspora. “I know a Lebanese family from Australia that arrived in Karbala a few days ago to commemorate the 40 days since Imam Hussein’s death.”

 

 

The alleged plots

 

Expatriates are never full members of Hezbollah, according to Haidar. But he says the diaspora is very valuable to Hezbollah in terms of business and finances, as well as freedom of movement. “They are official members of the party only when they’re foreign agents. But their number is very small and they are under very tight surveillance from the party,” Haidar said. “The freedom of movement for the members of Hezbollah is limited. They cannot travel wherever they want; they need prior authorization by the leadership of the party and they always travel with a mission.”

 

A man with a mission was Hussein Bassam Abdallah, sentenced to six years in prison for plotting a terrorist attack in Cyprus after being caught with 8.2 tons of fertilizer in Larnaca. Abdallah had a Canadian passport and admitted in front of the court that he was part of Hezbollah’s military wing. The 26-year-old pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and said he repented and cooperated with the investigation, according to AFP reports. His defense was based on the argument that the man was only in charge of keeping the bomb-making fertilizer safe, and not to carrying out the attacks. Abdallah was arrested in May 2015, but according to the Cypriot investigators he had been stockpiling ammonium nitrate since 2012. Coincidentally, 2012 was the year that Cypriot authorities arrested another Lebanese young man with a Swedish passport who was gathering intelligence on the Israeli tourist charters landing in Larnaca. Housam Taleb Yaacoub also admitted to having been recruited by Hezbollah as a courier and was sentenced to four years in prison in Limassol.

 

 

Donations and fundraising

 

Hezbollah is not the only Lebanese party that receives donations from supporters in the diaspora. “Whoever is ready to participate in a fight and maybe get killed supporting a political party is definitely ready to transfer money to people who are fighting these sacred wars. Therefore, financial donations are always sent to Lebanon, but it’s really difficult to quantify these remittances,” Al-Amin said. He also said that such donations increased after the Syrian conflict because of the religious aspect of it. While the fight against Israel was a political struggle, the war against the Sunni radicals in Syria and Iraq is sectarian — it has a stronger religious echo.

 

“After the Syrian war, Hezbollah became a representative of the sectarian Shiite nerve. The party is now attracting people because of the war between Shiites and other sects. Lately, Hezbollah abandoned the idea of Muslim unity and started fighting as a Shiite party. This is very similar to ISIS or Al-Qaeda’s strategy and this definitely draws more support.”

 

Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609

Islamic State: Heading for Lebanon Next

ISIS 2

Dr. Mordechai Kedar///The Syrian regime’s situation took a turn for the better when in May 2013, Hezbollah’s infantry entered the conflict in full force in an attempt to conquer the city of Al-Qusayr, located between the Jussieh border crossing that separates northeast Lebanon from Syria and the Syrian city of Homs. Al-Qusayr was of great importance to Hezbollah, because it is on the road that leads from northern Lebanon deep into Syrian territory and was the site of much arms, weapons, ammunition, communications equipment and cash smuggling that came from the port of Tripoli and the Sunnis of northern Lebanon and reached the rebel forces.

The Syrian army did not succeed in conquering al-Qusayr, so the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command decided to bring in Hezbollah to free the town from anti-Assad rebels headed by the Free Syrian Army and Jabhat al-Nusra. Hezbollah managed to win the tough battle that included house-to-house fighting, but it paid a hefty price with over one hundred of its fighters dead and at least double that number wounded. The rebels lost over two thousand fighters, of whom 1000 were killed and another 1000 taken prisoner by the Syrian Army while at least 2000 were wounded. The high number of rebel casualties is a result of the Syrian Air Force’s intensive use of barrel bombs.

Hezbollah continued to take part in freeing Homs from rebel control, helping Assad hold his ground by ensuring that the Allawite area and its seaports remained accessible from Damascus. At that time, those fighting Hezbollah were mainly the Free Syrian Army and Ja;bhat al-Nusra.

In 2014, however, Islamic State made its appearance, and in June 2014 it began fighting heavily in Syria, conquering large swaths of land in the eastern, thinly-populated part of the country. Islamic State’s tactics were to use a large motorized force of 4X4 vehicles plus heavier tanks and troop carriers that it had taken as booty in Iraq to attack small towns, villages and army posts. Only rarely would Islamic State mass its forces in order to engage in static trench warfare, as it did in Kobane on the Syrian-Turkish border, because in that type of battle it had no advantage over those protecting the city.

As a result, Islamic State has developed a most useful tactic – it simply surrounds places that are difficult to conquer, such as eastern Syria’s regional city, Dir-a-zur, laying siege to them and blocking overland supply routes. This minimizes casualties for Islamic State and allows it to achieve significant territorial and psychological successes at a relatively small price.

Another important detail of Islamic State’s strategy is its efforts to gain control over border passes, thereby stopping overland traffic between Syria and its neighbors – Iraq, Turkey and Jordan – and resulting in a partial siege of Assad’s regime. Up until this week, Lebanon was the only country whose border crossings were still in Assad’s hands.

That ended when advance forces of Islamic State infiltrated westward to the area south of Homs this week, surrounded al-Qusayr and overran Hezbollah positions guarding the Jussiah crossing that joins Homs with northern Lebanon. Hezbollah lost tens of fighters in the short battle that took place in an area where it did not expect to be attacked.

Islamic State chalked up several gains: it isolated Damascus, cutting it off from the Alawite coastal area, surrounded the cities of al-Qusayr and Homs, gained control of an important border crossing and surprised the Hezbollah in what it sees as a strategic victory, as Hezbollah will now have to transfer fighters from Syria back to Lebanon in order to protect the country and its Shiites.

Surrounding al-Qusayr and Homs is a ringing slap in the face to Hezbollah which lost two hundred of its fighters to free these cities, and now is forced to see all that effort obliterated, since that is not able to stop the determined IS forces on their westward route to Lebanon. For the past three years, Hassan Nasrallah has been claiming that Hezbollah fought in Syria in order to survive in Lebanon, but it looks as though its involvement in Syria has not brought about the hoped-for results. The opposite is true, it increased the Sunni rebels’ motivation – Islamic State and Jebhat al-Nusra – to take revenge on Hezbollah in its own strongholds, that is, in Lebanon.

Hezbollah may also retreat from Zabadani, a city on the road from Beirut to Damascus, clearing the way for a possible retaking of the city by the rebels or Islamic State.

The Sunni stranglehold over the Alawite sect in Syria, Assad’s regime, the Shiites of Lebanon and the Hezbollah militias is growing tighter, with the voices of those under siege calling out for aid to their patrons in Tehran and Moscow. That is the reason for the feverish efforts of politicians in those two countries this week, attempting to find a solution of some kind to the war in Syria before Assad, his people and the Lebanon Shiites fall under the knives of Islamic State. As time passes, the chances of finding a solution are less and less realistic, especially since the rebels and Islamic State are already picturing the blood gushing from the necks of their opponents, the Shiites of Lebanon.

The fate of the Druze, Christians and Alawites in Lebanon will be no better than the fate of the Shiites, and Lebanon – once called the Switzerland of the Middle East – may soon become its Hell on earth.

Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq must join forces with regard to Hezbollah’s rocket stores, because if and when they fall into the hands of Islamic State, they will in all probability be launched against each one of those countries. Iran, the main supplier of these missiles, will take revenge on whoever allows Islamic State to carry out its plans against the Lebanese Shiites.

The Ayatollahs of Iran, whose regime is the main chess piece in the Middle East, will put the billions it receives as a result of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement to good use in order to get back at anyone who supported, aided and helped the Sunni militias in Syria, starting with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Turkey and Israel.  That makes it imperative for anyone who cares about the future of the Middle East to put an end to this scenario’s possible occurrence before it is too late. The chaos that Iran has wrought in Yemen is exactly what it will do in Lebanon, if given the chance.

The problem is not only the nuclear arms it possesses, it is the Iranian regime itself, its way of thinking, its belief system and behavior. The world must strangle this regime in every possible way, exactly as it has to strangle the threat of Islamic State. The hope that Iran will do the world’s dirty work and destroy Islamic State is unfounded, nothing but a pipe dream. The world must unite against both Iran and Islamic State, before they present it with an unconventional challenge.

Unconventional warfare

Islamic State, while fighting its opponents, also has to deal with internal problems. This week it was reported that sixteen of its fighters were infected with AIDS as a result of the “Marriage Jihad” they held with two Moroccan volunteers who brought the virus with them. The Saudi doctor and two Yazidi nurses who discovered the presence of the disease publicized it, causing a panic among Islamic State forces. The doctor and nurses were put to death after it was discovered that the Moroccan women had escaped to Turkey when the reports went public. Islamic State decided to give those who had contracted AIDS suicide missions in order to stop the spread of the disease and to see to it that their blood is spilled among Islamic State’s enemies, infecting them as well. That is Islamic State’s method of waging biological warfare.

This week, it became known that Islamic State’s weapons engineers have begun filling katyusha rockets with chlorine gas. This became clear when one of the rockets exploded near its launching pad and the gas it gave off killed the fighters who had launched it. This does not come as a surprise – two weeks ago the first reports surfaced claiming that Islamic State is using mustard gas in rockets and missiles. The gas supplies may have been taken from Syrian army supply depots in Alspira and Aleppo and it is quite possible that Syrian army deserters know how to use them. Only a month ago, an attempt by persons connected to Islamic State to pour barrels of poison into the Kosovo capital Pristina’s reservoirs was foiled and its perpetrators captured, preventing the deaths of the 200,000 residents of that city. Can Islamic State wage a chemical war? It seems likely.

In northern Syria, with its Kurdish majority, a new women’s unit of Assyrian Christians has been formed and has been provided with intensive military training in preparation for all types of warfare. This unit will be sent to fight Islamic State bearing in mind that Islamic State fighters believe that if they are killed by a woman they will not receive the reward awaiting them in Paradise. As a result, as soon as they know they are surrounded by women’s army units, they usually flee. This is why the Kurdish women fighters shout loudly and bloodcurdlingly when they think they are approaching a place that has Islamic State forces. It seems likely that the Assyrian women will do the same, using psychological warfare against Islamic State. For its part, Islamic State continues its own psychological warfare by spreading horrendous videos showing the butchering of its enemies; selling the daughters of infidels as slaves is also intended to demoralize its opponents.

In conclusion: Islamic State is engaging in biological warfare, chemical warfare and psychological warfare, another reason to define it as a terror state and not just a terror organization. Before its fighters get their hands on radioactive materials which they will use unhesitatingly against their enemies, it might be a good idea to remember that every hospital trashcan contains radioactive materials from its x-ray department and putting together a “dirty bomb” using these materials is really easy. May G-d help us all.