Hezbollah and Lebanon Updates
Aug 31, 2007 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
August 31, 2007
Number 08/07 #11
This Update features three pieces on the state of Hezbollah efforts within Lebanon to prepare militarily for another round of conflict with Israel, and politically, to gain control of the Lebanese government.
First, top Israeli Arab affairs reporter Ehud Yaari warns that a major showdown on the domestic front in Lebanon is looming, probably as soon as next month, in connection with the constitutional requirement to elect a new president. He warns that electing a successor to the pro-Syrian incumbent Emile Lahoud is likely to be impossible given the ongoing clash between the pro-Western government and the Hezbollah dominated opposition, and lays out three possible scenarios for the future, none of them positive. For this important warning from a very knowledgeable source, CLICK HERE.
Next up, Andrew Exum of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who just returned from a visit to southern Lebanon, details Hezbollah’s efforts to prepare for a future conflict with Israel, including moving Shi’ite villagers north of the Litani river (just beyond the area where UNIFIL forces patrol) and building large-scale public works there. He says these are likely to be used to house medium and long range missiles to attack Israel from a safer distance, and also speculates on Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah’s promise of a major “surprise” as part of war preparations. For his full detailing of Hezbollah’s plans, CLICK HERE. Exum also had a report on UNIFIL’s efforts over the past year a few days earlier.
Finally, Canadian columnist Jonathan Kay argues that last year’s Hezbollah/Israel war was a precursor of things to come not only in Israel, but around the world, because Hezbollah presented a model to be imitated by other terrorist groups. He identifies a number of features of Hezbollah’s efforts which he argues are innovations in the way terrorist groups operate that it can be predicted other groups will try to emulate. For his explanation of what these are, CLICK HERE.
Jerusalem Report, August 8, 2007
In the coming weeks, the catch-as-catch-can duel between Hamas and Fatah will turn into a routine chronicle that will be relegated, in stages, to the inside news pages. The place of the Palestinians front in the headlines is about to be taken by the deciding round in the battle for Lebanon. At the end of the upcoming contest there, probably towards September, it may become clear whether that unfortunate country has been caught in the claws of Syria, with Hezbollah’s fangs clamped on its throat.
Though the danger now seems remote, the threat is very real indeed. One very possible scenario is that the three Lebanese regular army brigades that have been deployed south of the Litani River, since the end of last summer’s Second Lebanon War, will receive orders converting them into no more than an auxillary force for Hezbollah’s deployment in the area – ot, perish the thought, enforcing Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war a year ago, by preventing any non-state armed force from putting down roots in the area, but providing cover, support and aid to Hezbollah’s moves. Such a development will turn South Lebanon into an integral part of the Syrian front. If President Bashar al-Assad finally decides on a military adventure in the Golan Heights, the fighting will spread all along the Lebanese border with the Galilee down to the Mediterranean coastline. And even if the current quiet is maintained, Lebanon will be connected to the Teheran-Damascus axis, which will get a Beirut extension.
The timing of the current round is determined by the September conclusion of the term of office of President Emile Lahoud. Due to the paralysis of the parliament brought about by the Hezbollah-headed opposition, the election of a new president is impossible. Consequently, the outgoing president has the power to appoint an emergency government with interim authority. A situation may arise in which two governments claim legitimacy – one appointed by Lahoud, pledged to represent Syrian and Hezbollah interests, and the current government headed by Fouad Siniora, representing the majority in Parliament, the “March 14 Alliance” named after the date of the Cedar Revolution against Syrian influence in 2006. The emergence in Lebanon of two rival governments is bound to lead to a de facto partition of the country into spheres of influence. The state bureaucracy as well as the army and the police will split according to sectarian and political affiliations. The South will become the exclusive domain of Hezbollah, and Nasrallah will have to decide when and how to move to neutralize the UNIFIL forces in the area.
Another option is a dramatic Hezbollah move – a takeover by force of government institutions in Beirut, as Hamas did in Gaza. At this stage it seems that fear of general blood-letting may reduce the temptation for such a move, though it cannot be discounted entirely. In South Beirut, Hezbollah has forces capable of a one-night attempt to rout the security forces guarding the main government installations in the northern suburbs. The Syrians have also moved Palestinian forces loyal to them into Lebanon, and there are also local militias loyal to them.
The power of the pro-Syrian opposition emanates first of all from the surprisingly stable partnership between Nasrallah and general Michel Aoun, the senior Maronite Christian leader. Aoun’s ambition to become Lebanon’s next president and fears among the majority of Christians of the establishment of a ruling Sunni-Druse coalition has brought them, for the first time in their history, into close partnership with the Shi’ites.
The third option which is now being explored energetically is a kind of compromise arrangement. For example: The election of army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman to the post of interim president for three years, until new parliamentary elections are held, to be followed by a presidential election. Such an arrangement, if it is honuored, will result in a loss of the March 14 Alliance’s current parliamentary majority, which in the last elections rested considerably on the support it then received from Hezbollah and Amal, the other Shi’ite organization. Hence the government that is formed and the president who is elected will be, at the very least, very attentive to Hezbollah’s arguments, if not totally submissive to Nasrallah’s desires.
In each of the scenarios that can be foreseen, the Lebanese government and, as a result, the army in the South, will take a turn to the worse from the Israeli standpoint. Nasrallah will have greater influence on the central government and the General Staff, and there will be more consideration for Syria’s requirements, and more openness vis-a-vis Iran. Assad is seeking to torpedo, via Lebanon, the Security Council decision to bring former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s murderers before an international court. Since this now has priority over all other Syrian objectives, it is certain that Assad will continue dispatching terrorists to Lebanon to continue the campaign of assassinations of his opponents and the massive arming of Hezbollah.
Israel finds itself devoid of real influence on the direction of developments in Lebanon. There are quiet, secret contacts with people in various movements there, but Israel, the United States and France have all failed in the most important mission: enticing Aoun to break away from his covenant with Hezbollah. Put in the simplest terms, we have few cards to play to defend Beirut from Hezbollah.
Ehud Ya’ari is chief Middle East commentator for Israel’s Channel 2 Television news, and Middle East editor of the Jerusalem Report. © Jerusalem Report, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.
By Andrew Exum
August 21, 2007
On August 14, the anniversary of the end of last summer’s Lebanon war, Hizballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel of a “big surprise” if it initiated a new conflict in the South. Analysts immediately began speculating over the nature of the promised surprise. But what is most important to note is that Hizballah, a year after its last war, is making serious preparations for the next one.
The Litani Line
The most significant development in southern Lebanon since the end of the 2006 war is Hizballah’s construction of a defensive line north of the Litani River. Whereas all territory south of the Litani falls under the jurisdiction of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), territory north of the river is off-limits to UNIFIL.
As soon as the war with Israel ended, wealthy Hizballah sympathizers began buying up land north of the Litani — in historically Christian and Druze areas — at prices well above the market rate. Much of the Christian village of Chbail, for example, has been bought by the Shiite businessman Ali Tajeddine and repopulated with poor Shiites from the south. Another village just south of the Litani has been built entirely from scratch. Such developments have alarmed other Lebanese communities for purely sectarian reasons. But the construction and repopulation of these villages is almost certainly intended to link the traditionally Shiite villages of the western Bekaa Valley with those of southern Lebanon.
Most of this construction is along a new, Iranian-funded road being built along the Litani’s northern edge. Constructed by the “Iranian Organization for Sharing in the Building of Lebanon,” the road is as large as any in southern Lebanon and features signs every few hundred meters with slogans such as “In the service of the people of Lebanon.”
To be sure, there is nothing implicitly wrong with either the resettlement of impoverished Shiites or the development of large public works projects. But these moves mask a static defensive line that Hizballah intends to use in what it sees as the inevitable sequel to last summer’s fight against Israel. Using friendly Shiite-dominated villages as fighting bases was key to Hizballah’s successes last summer. The Litani River valley offers Hizballah an opportunity to link these villages with other Shiite villages in the Bekaa Valley.
Why the Litani?
From the perspective of a Hizballah military planner, it is difficult to surmise what strategic objectives Israel might seek to accomplish in the event of another war. Hizballah is left in the awkward position of trying to answer the question of how Israel might fight without knowing why it would fight.
At the moment, the group seems to think that despite Israel’s heavy reliance on airpower in the last war — with ground forces deployed in only a limited fashion — the next war would begin with a much larger Israeli ground assault. Any attempt to defend the area south of the Litani would therefore be suicidal. Moreover, the deployment of 12,000 UN peacekeepers and several thousand Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) personnel has made the construction of static defensive lines in southern Lebanon much more difficult than it was before summer 2006. Accordingly, even as Hizballah continues to train village units south of the Litani in the hope that they could slow an Israeli ground invasion, the group has constructed its main defensive positions to the north, where the terrain favors the defender and where Hizballah could deny Israeli armor columns easy access to the Bekaa Valley.
Although Hizballah had ample time to prepare for the last war — which the group initiated with its decision to kidnap two Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006 — the next clash could result from either a wider regional conflict or an Israeli decision to finish the job begun in 2006. Whether or not there is a real danger of a war initiated by either Israel or Syria matters little for the purpose of understanding Hizballah’s strategy — at the moment, the group seems convinced that another war is likely.
Another good reason for Hizballah to build positions north of the Litani is that this approach allows for entrenched positions that can house medium- and long-range missiles. Hizballah successfully launched large numbers of short-range and largely ineffective katyusha rockets into Israel in 2006, but the Israeli air force had knocked out its longer-range and more potent arsenal just a few days into the fighting.
Israeli planners, for their part, have never understood why Hizballah felt the need to launch rockets from such advanced positions in the first place. Launching them from the other side of the Litani — over the heads of UNIFIL and the LAF — has the advantage of leaving Hizballah positions unharassed by the initial stages of an Israeli ground invasion. From positions north of the Litani, Hizballah katyushas could comfortably reach major Israeli population centers vulnerable from firing positions along the border (e.g., the 16,000 people in the town of Kiryat Shimona), while its longer-range missiles could reach more distant potential targets such as Haifa and even Tel Aviv.
All along the Iranian-built route north of the Litani, new roads and trails are springing up where once there were only trees and rocks. Where do these roads go, and what is taking place there? It is difficult to tell because many of them have been designated closed “military areas,” patrolled by Hizballah gunmen. To longtime Lebanon observers, these areas evoke memories of border zones similarly off-limits between 2000 and 2006, used to great effect by Hizballah as reinforced fighting positions during the summer war.
Although Hizballah positions north of the Litani might be the “big surprise” Hassan Nasrallah referred to in his August 14 speech, that hardly seems likely. Observers have been taken aback by how overt much of the construction has been — very unlike Hizballah, an organization famous for its secrecy. Perhaps these positions are being constructed as decoys in the same way that others were constructed for this purpose between 2000 and 2006. Or, as some have argued, maybe these construction projects are just a way to keep Hizballah’s gunmen busy while the real fight — the political one — takes place to the north, in Beirut. Most likely, though, Hizballah — which remains a disciplined fighting force — is motivated by a genuine sense of urgency, unsure when the next round of fighting will begin and concerned that its pre-2006 defenses would be insufficient against a massed Israeli ground invasion (and too difficult to reconstruct with UNIFIL in the way).
There is speculation that Nasrallah’s “surprise” would be the inclusion of antiaircraft capabilities in the next round of fighting, a move Hizballah hopes would break Israel’s air superiority and enable it to fight on a more fluid battlefield. For U.S. observers, however, the source of continued fascination remains Hizballah’s transformation from the world’s finest guerrilla army into a force that, in 2006 and today, seems quite comfortable in conventional fighting as well.
Andrew Exum, a Washington Institute Soref fellow, recently returned from a trip to southern Lebanon.
National Post (Canada), Thursday, August 16, 2007
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the end of the 2006 Lebanon War. In strictly numerical terms, it was a small conflict. Fewer than 2,000 people died, a tiny fraction of the number killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor did the war result in any territory changing hands, or the regional balance of power shifting permanently in a significant way.
But the battle will nonetheless be remembered as an important milestone in the Long War between the West and militant Islam. While the Taliban and al-Qaeda are alienating their would-be followers with nihilistic violence, Hezbollah has developed a far more complex strategy that combines terrorism with sophisticated guerilla warfare, state-of-the-art weaponry, savvy public relations, charismatic leadership and state sponsorship. In fact, the group’s surprisingly strong effort a year ago highlighted at least a half-dozen important innovations in Islamist war-making:
Public relations: Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are shadowy organizations that occasionally emit videos full of rambling apocalyptic speechifying. Hezbollah, on the other hand, operates a professional satellite channel, Al-Manar Television, that the Israeli air force was never able to put out of commission.Throughout the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah’s charismatic Chairman, Hassan Nasrallah, kept up his media profile from undisclosed locations. When Israeli bombs went astray and killed civilians — as they did, most tragically, in the town of Qana on July 30 — Hezbollah media handlers quickly descended on the scene to manage the coverage. Thus was Hezbollah — which had started the war by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers — able to turn world opinion against Israel by the end of the conflict.
Massive state sponsorship: Since its creation in the early 1980s, Hezbollah has been armed, trained and financed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Even during the war itself, IRGC officers assisted Hezbollah, and ensured that supply routes through Syria remained open for the group’s fighters. At the United Nations, Iran exerted pressures on its veto-wielding trade partners, China and Russia, to water down any action against Hezbollah. Damascus and Tehran also constrained Israel’s strategy by threatening to bring the Jewish state into a wider regional war.
Missiles: Hezbollah’s use of thousands of Iranian-supplied missiles to bombard northern Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War represented an unprecedented tactic: Until this time, no guerrilla force had waged this sort of sustained, long-range missile campaign against enemy population centres. While the Katyushas had little military effect, they had enormous psychological impact, sending hundreds of thousands of Israelis fleeing southward. Battlefield weaponry Iran supplied Hezbollah with not only missiles, but state-of-the-art tactical weapons. Especially effective were guided, shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons, which Hezbollah ambush crews used to attack Israeli vehicles and troop concentrations. Hezbollah fighters were also equipped with modern night-vision equipment, erasing the night-time advantage that Western armies have come to take for granted in other theatres.
The creation of a wholesale terrorist mini-state in southern Lebanon :This innovation permitted Hezbollah fighters to act entirely unconstrained by Lebanon’s army and government. It also complicated Israel’s response by turning the conflict into a three-way affair, in which Lebanon itself was cast as an innocent bystander being made to suffer for Hezbollah’s actions. By separating its jihadi cause from any particular sovereign, geographical entity, Hezbollah enjoyed the benefit of territorial control without the obligations and vulnerabilities that go with governance. Cleverly concocted righteous fury Hezbollah has always styled itself as a Lebanese “resistance” group.” When Israel evacuated its forces from Lebanon in 2000, this raison d’etre was eliminated. But Hezbollah managed to keep its “resistance” campaign alive by insisting that a tiny Israeli-controlled border region called Shebaa Farms is actually Lebanese territory.
Unlike Islamist fanatics in other countries, moreover, Hezbollah has paid proper attention to domestic Muslim politics. From the beginning, the group has presented itself as the champion of Lebanon’s long-suffering Shiites. In the aftermath of last year’s war, Hezbollah turned the local destruction to its own advantage by funnelling Iranian cash into distressed Shiite areas.
Terrorists may be evil, but they aren’t stupid. As the migration of suicide bombers from Baghdad to Kandahar shows, they copy what works. And so in coming years, we should expect to see terrorists trying to import these Hezbollah innovations to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the horn of Africa, Kashmir, Gaza, the West Bank and other parts of the Muslim world. As tiny as the 2006 Lebanon War was, it may have a gigantic impact on the defining struggle of our times.
© National Post 2007