Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mr. Nasrallah's Opus

On Saturday evening, over a million and a half Lebanese gathered to hear the most popular man in the Middle East today. This man is Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah who appeared for the first time in months, an appearance came to crown his Magnum Opus ever.

According to press and security officials the crowed gathered in the southern areas of Beirut this past Saturday September, 23, was the largest ever in the history of Lebanon. They came to see and hear Hassan Nasrallah, arguably, the most popular man in the Arab and Muslim world today.

( Nasrallah Super star)

Hassan Nasrallah popularity stems from his effective leadership of Hezbollah,a group founded in 1982, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah is credited with liberating South Lebanon in 2000, through a war of attrition that lasted over two decades through which Hezbollah fighters honed their military and leadership skills against their Israelis nemesis.

Nasrallah who appeared for the first time publicly since the beginning of hostilities with Israel on July 12, dubbed his victory as “ Divine victory” engaging the public with his masterful rhetoric coupled with humility he is known for and dedicating the victory to the martyrs, the Lebanese, Arabs and Muslims.

( southern Beirut Saturday 9/23)

Nasrallah’s demeanor of being candid and honest appeals to the public and has been constant theme in his speeches and interviews throughout the war, in which he came across as a pan-Arab-Muslim leader, appealing to all Arabs and Muslims rallying them sometimes and often times thanking them, “the Nation” with striking simplicity and humility, a rare quality among Middle East leaders. His appeals did not go unheeded in the Arab street, It had made major difference in making the official Arab countries tone down their anti-Hezbollah rhetoric and press for cease fire after they were squarely and publicly against it.

Arabs and Muslims throughout the Middle East and around the world did not fail Nasrallah either. They took to the streets by the thousands, held up his posters; hoisted Hezbollah flags and banners proclaiming support and solidarity. This wave of support was unprecedented in the modern Middle East, for it sent shock waves in the Arab palaces and halls of power, and partly because Hezbollah, to the Arab populace, was making history that for once in their lifetime they felt they were witnessing an Arab party bloodies Israel’s nose and remains standing despite its merciless bludgeoning blows.

In commenting on Nasrallah’s speech and the ramifications of Hezbollah success against Israel; Dr. Khair aldean Hasib, president of Arab Unity Studies institute in Beirut,in an interview on Aljazeera Channel Open Dialogue program, when asked about the meaning of this success and how would it impact the future of the Arab world and perhaps the Middle East, This is an “ Earthquake” he said, “the change might not be immediate or apparent now, slowly but surely the politics of Arab World will change based on this historic event” he added. “ In Jordan, already the trade unions,and the opposition parties feel empowered in standing up to government policies, in Egypt too, the opposition has become more vociferous and emboldened by Hezbollah’s victory” added Mr. Hasib.1

Nasrallah’s first public appearance in months was not without grave risks to his life. Israel had made it known that it wants to kill the leader of Hezbollah. Acknowledging this danger, Nasrallah said, "My presence here is not without any danger. However, my heart and my soul would not allow me to address you from a distance and through some screen."

* Hidden diplomacy

Rosana Abu Munsef a columnist for Lebanese daily Al-Nahar wrote that “ there were hidden diplomacy before Nasrallah public appearance, in which there was an implied understanding that if Israel were to harm Nasrallah, the implications would be catastrophic, not only for Lebanon and Israel but also for the entire region"

" Harming Nasrallah would be considered a blatant violation of UNSC 1701 but such move on part of Israel would transform the conflict from a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel into a conflict between the state of Lebanon and Israel,which would drag the entire region into yet another destructive war" Abu Munsef added.2
unconfirmed reports claim that French fighter jets protected the Lebanese skies to deter any Israeli attempts to kill Nasrallah.

20.000 rockets and more!

In one of the most important parts of his speech; Nasrallah declared that Hezbollah is even stronger, {militarily) than it was before the start of hostilities in July 12. “ The resistance has replenished its military, organizational and firepower strength in the immediate days after the cessation of hostilities with Israel” said Nasrallah".

The resistance today is stronger than it was on July 12 the day the war started with Israel. With regard to Hezbollah rockets, Nasrallah declared that the resistance possess “over and above 20.000 rockets”

This astonishing declaration underscores Hezbollah ability of maintaining its supply routes with Syria despite extensive Israeli bombardment of all major roads and bridges that lead and connect Lebanon with Syria.

This comes after knowing that a week after the fighting broke out Israel bombed the entire road and bridge systems in Lebanon to cut off the supplies lines from Iran that runs through Syria. According to Nasrallah statement,it appears that Israel had destroyed much of Lebanon civilian infrastructure in vain.

The efforts to deprive Hezbollah of its arms, however,or at least preventing it form rearming itself were not a unilateral Israeli effort. In an almost simultaneous move with Israel, on July 12, the US administration moved to immediately trying to intercept arms shipments to Hezbollah.

On July 19, US spy satellites apparently photographed Iranian military planes being loaded with eight Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship “ Noor” missiles, the same kind of Missile that hit the Israeli ship across Beirut shores in July, and three launchers at the military terminal of Mahrebad Airport. The Turkish authorities apparently acting on a tip from the American intelligence refused to allow the transport planes to use Turkish air space on its way to Damascus. 3

This type of information about early US involvement in the war supports Hezbollah assertion that the war was preplanned and it was planned to occur in late September or early October in order to destroy Hezbollah with a preemptive strike.It also undermines Israel's casus belli to save its two captured soldiers as the reason for its massive bombardment of Lebanon.

moretellingly,the argument and analysis putforth by Seymour M. Hersh in his famed essay in August issue of The New Yorker magazine, supports this line of thinking, that the war was essentially a joint effort between Israel and the US, a war that from a US perspective, would serve as a dress rehearsal to an anticipated conflict with Iran.4.

It is no surprise that the chief of US diplomacy Ms. Condoleeza Rice refused repeated calls and resisted pressure form world leaders and from US’s Lebanese allies to convince Israel to halt its fire and agree to a some kind of cease fire especially after it became clear that Israel in its efforts to destroy Hezbollah, it was turnning the entire country of Lebanon into a one big pile of rubble.

Ms. Rice went on describing the war as a “ Birth Pangs” of the new Middle East. In Other words, the war against Hezbollah was necessary to rework the political map of the Middle east, beginning with obliterating Hezbollah or as Max Rodenbeck had put it, in that “ The Shia party will be brought to heel, and its revolutionary zeal, culturally as well as politically jarring to many Lebanese will be muted. A foreign army, and the vaunted and powerful Israeli one at that, would eliminate the last remaining nonstate actor of the civil war.” 5
( Hezbollah fighters parade)

Unfortunately for the US, Israel and their allies, Hezbollah turned out to be a tough nut to crack and a bigger surprise than they were expecting and even beat them to the punch. Thanks to years of diligence and preparation clocked in deep secrecy.

Moreover, Britain the closest US European ally was on it too. John Kempfner the Scottish writer wrote on August 7 that :

“I am told that the Israelis informed George W. Bush in advance of their plans to "destroy" Hezbollah by bombing villages in southern Lebanon. The Americans duly informed the British. So Blair knew. This exposes as a fraud the debate of the past week about calling for a ceasefire. Indeed, one of the reasons why negotiations failed in Rome was British obduracy. This has been a case not of turning a blind eye and failing to halt the onslaught, but of providing active support. 6

Hezbollah surprised even the most seasoned military observers and analysts with its performance in the battlefield and the strength of its military doctrine, logistical preparedness, level of training and the quality of its fighters.Those were matched by surprising military hardware and the quality of weapons that were not known to have had.

Hezbollah came into this war a guerrilla fighting force with a classical or regular army weapons, training,intelligence apparatus, and battle-hardened leadership.

For Hezbollah, victory means that they withstood the Israeli devastating onslaught and were at the same time able to punish Israel with painful loses to its elite units and even more devastating loses to its celebrated Mirkava tanks.

Key to understand Hezbollah's success in facing off with Israel and come out intact militarily and without any loses to its top military and political leadership include those general themes:

1. The native son : Hezbollah fighters were defending their own homes, land, towns and villages. they were not about to cut and run, this was a determined indoctrinated force.

2. Intelligence: Hezbollah has a superior Intelligence apparatus , one of the best in the region, with resources equal or even more than those of small independent countries.

Its intelligence units ran spying and code-cracking operations inside Israel and on the battle field during the war which enabled its command and control centers to react to constant military development on the battle field.

3:Training and armaments: Hezbollah has battle-hardened career soldiers with vestiges of a standing army . It also has weapons inventories that include its long range rockets that enabled it to strike back at Israel almost at will.

( South Beirut in July)

During the war and in a move that shows Hezbollah’s leadership strategic thinking and foresightedness; Hezbollah embarked on ambitious rearmament program to foil an Israeli or international attempt to prevent it from replenishing its inventories and thus weaken it in any possible future arrangements after the war.

For its part,Iran,Hezbollah's patron, fearing a Hezbollah demise, made sure that Hezbollah remains battle ready and fully equipped with Iranian weapons. Especially that a Hezbollah victory would strengthen Iran’s angling in the region and would give her the recognition it desperately wants as a regional power to be reckoned with.

For that, Western intelligence and diplomatic sources confirmed Iran's intent to supply Hezbollah with Surface-to-air-missile {SAM} systems. Also Iran, according to those sources will supply Hezbollah with Russian made SAMS including SAM-7, known as "Grail” in western military parlance, Strela-3 ( SA-14" Gremlin" ), and man portable Igla-1E ( SA-16 Gimlet) 7

*Intelligence War.

( Imad Mughaniyeh)

While fierce battles raged in the hills surrounding the southern towns of Bint Jubail, Aita al-Shaab,and Marwaheen between Israel's Mirkava tanks and Hezbollah highly mobile anti-tanks units, another cloak and dagger battle was raging between Hezbollah’s Intelligence and Israel’s Mossad and Military Intelligence.

Hezbollah intelligence capabilities has surprised even the Israelis during this war, it was widely known,however,that Hezbollah’s intelligence apparatus is much better than that of the Lebanese state and that Hezbollah’s operatives are planted deep under cover in different government agencies and security organs, Hezbollah intelligence has also infiltrated all of the Lebanese factions, which would make it very difficult for them to openly challenge them, in fact “ Hezbollah intelligence on the Lebanese factions is even better than Israel’s intelligence on those factions” noted a senior official in the Jordanian Department of General Intelligence. 8

During the first weeks of the war, Hezbollah was able to arrest and dismantle several Israeli spy rings in the Southern Beirut areas and arresting several local informants working for Israel.

Imad Mughaniyeh,one of the world’s most elusive and wanted men, whose picture is not even authenticated and no updated picture of him is known to exist;unconfirmed reports claim that Mughaniyeh is Hezbollah's Intelligence Chief . He is, also implicated in numerous acts of terrorism against US, French, Israeli targets in Lebanon and around the world. Mughaniyeh, some reports claim that he was put in charge of military operations in the south during the war.

Hezbollah also has what’s called “ Preventive Intelligence” which is something like the counter-espionage departments in western intelligence agencies. Preventive Intelligence, PI, is tasked with enforcing security and protecting the leadership and ensuring that members of the Party especially top leadership tiers rarely use communication technology that would enable Israel to spy on them. It has been rumored that Nasrallah has rarely used a telephone ever since he became the Secretary General of the group.

This strategy has paid off for Hezbollah. In an interview with Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah has suffered no loses in its first, second and third tier leadership. The only loses Hezbollah sufered as far as its leadership,were four or five village commanders who were 4th-tier leadership level.9

Hezbollah seems to have learned from the PLO mistakes during its days in Lebanon in the sixties and seventies. The rakish PLO suffered catastrophic loses in its top commanders and political leaders to Israeli Mossad assassination units whose spies have infiltrated the different PLO organizations in part due to the party and thuggish life style its leaders had adopted during their days in Lebanon.

Another lesson learned from the PLO fighters who flaunted themselves everywhere they went, was for Hezbollah to remain invisible among the population and lay low to hide its capabilities therefore cause its enemies to underestimate its real strength as this war has shown.

Hezbollah intelligence units for example were able to intercept and decode Israeli transmission traffic, and militray signals during the war signifying that Hezbollah had higher military capabilities than what American and Israeli officials thought. Throughout the war Hezbollah continued to surprise Israel by deploying different types of missiles and military tactics. 9

Hezbollah intelligence breakthrough enabled its fighter’s to thwart and hunt down Israeli Mirkava tanks destroying and damaging tens of them, an embarrassing defeat to Israel’s most celebrated tank, and the pride of Israel’s military industries,considered to be a moving fortress for its heavy armor.
( Israeli Mirkava MBT series)

“ We were able to monitor Israeli communications, and we used this information to adjust our planning," said a Hezbollah commander involved in the battles. 10

One of the major military lessons that came out of this war was that a small, well-trained, well-armed determined militias can inflict and even defeat well established super powerful armies. A lesson that was madeduring the nineties in the battle of Grozny, when the mighty Russian army suffered heavey losses and was unable to defeat the Chechen guerrillas for the city of Grozny despite obliterating the entire city.

Lebanon’s other battle.

Hezbollah’s victory might not be the best thing for several Lebanese segments and politicians who view Hezbollah's emerging regional power as a threat to the fragile balance between its many religious and political groupings. During his “ Divine Victory" Speech on Saturday, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah outlined his Party’s future plans in Lebanon.

1: A National unity government
2: New national election law, which would ensure more accurate representation of different Lebanese groups.

Nasrallah is demanding, in light of Hezbollah’s victory, a major realignment of the Lebanese political system that was based on sectarian representations of the 1930s and 1940s. The Shia today represent the largest segment of the Lebanese population, almost half of the population of Lebanon. Yet they are represented by 1940’s standards when they were considered the runt of Lebanon, mostly rural and mostly poor.

Today, Hezbollah stands to demand, and perhaps forcibly, a rearrangement in Lebanon’s political system based on its new realities.

(PM Siniora and parliament speaker Berri)

The problem, for Hezbollah, however, is that the political machination in post July-war Lebanon is already being aligned and polarized. Samir Geaga, one of the Lebanon’s leading Christian politicians, and former warlord, speaking to thousands of supporters the next day on Sunday in a rebuttal to Nasrallah’s speech,addressing his supporters with: “ O’Christians” an ominous sign and a grizzly reminder of Lebanese tribal- religious warfare between 1975-1990.

Fawaz A. Gerges, a Lebanese American who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College,wrote describing the break down of state and civil society in Lebanon during its bloody civil war, 1975-1990, the following:

“ Religious coexistence gave way to estrangement and suspicion. Waving holy banners, neighbor railed against neighbor. People seized upon their communal identity in a desperate effort to self-preservation. The state of war pushed people into their sectarian bunkers and turned an open, tolerant society into a jungle”12

The future of Lebanon today depends on its leaders ability to cause Fawaz Gerges's words to come to life again, or not.


1:Al-Jazeera, Open Dialogue interview, Arabic 9/25/06
2:Annahar newspaper: Arabic, issue # 22783, 9/23/06
3: Jane’s Defense weekly, September 6 2006
4: The New Yorker magazine, issue of 2006-08-21
5:New York Review of Books Magazine, 9- 21,2006 issue
6:The New Statesman newspaper, 8/7/2006 issue
7: Jane's Defense weekly, 8/7/2006 issue
8:Jane's Defense Weekly 8/14/2006 issue
9: AlJazeera channle, Ben-Jeddo interview with Hasan Nasrallah
10:Newsday: 9/18/2006
11:Newsday 9/18/2006
12:Fawaz.A. Gerges: Journey of the Jihadest, Harcout Books, 2006

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