Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hezbollah is building a new base, or are they?

The English newspaper The Times had a background article two days ago that confirms the many rumors about Hezbollah’s regrouping and building a new base, north of the Litani river. The article claims that a Shiite businessman close to Hezbollah has been buying land during the last year at a fast pace in order to create a stronghold away from prying eyes.

It demonstrates the deep pockets behind Hezbollah, and, even more interesting, it clearly indicates that Hezbollah must be in possession of long distance rockets that can hit Israel from behind the Litani river. This would confirm a story I posted earlier on my (back then Dutch) blog in which I mentioned the story I heard from people who were in Faraya during the war and saw Hezbollah rockets flying from the north of the Bekaa valley (they said Hermel, but I thought that was a Sunni stronghold?) to Israel.

If they have rockets that can cover 100+ kilometer, then building up a new base away from the border makes sense. This way, Hezbollah will avoid Unifil soldiers who are getting increasingly tough with them. As a bonus, the area is in the midst of Christian and Druze villages, which would reduce the number of Shiite victims in case Israel would retaliate against their base.

The article speaks of the defense line that Hezbollah is constructing, but this is obviously incorrect…unless you assume that Hezbollah has no desire anymore to defend the land south of the Litani river, their own backyard so to speak. No, in combination with the rumors of long range weapons, one can only conclude that this new base is for offensive purposes only, a huge launch pad from where to attack Israel.

Either way, it is difficult to imagine why Hezbollah would want to set up a more or less centralized base. During the July War, their head offices in Haret Hreik were fully demolished. By creating another huge, “yoo-hoo here we are”, central command area, they are facilitating Israel to bomb them to Kingdom Come during a new conflict.

It would make more sense if Hezbollah would remain low key, spread out in tiny units, a rocket launcher here and there, fully in line with the guerrilla strategy they have successfully applied all throughout their existence. So why build a huge base on millions of square meters of land? Something does not compute.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Justice for all?

Attention: This article has been rectified because it contained some errors. Please refer to the rectification

There was an interesting article in the French newspaper L’Orient – Le Jour this Saturday about Solida. This is an organization that lobbies for releasing Lebanese political prisoners. In the early days, they dedicated themselves mostly to liberating the Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, which gained them a reputation of being closely linked to the Resistance. Solida’s asking to release proven murderers from Israeli cells didn’t help their image either.

Later, with the departure of Syria, they tried to adjust their standing by also lobbying for the release of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails. Interesting enough, this move was never supported by Hezbollah although Nasrallah is always going on about releasing the Lebanese prisoners from foreign (read Israeli) cells.

Now, in this period where everybody seems to be forced to choose side, Solida has gone back to its presumed roots of being close to the Resistance. They have added a new group to their list of prisoners they feel are worth fighting for: the 8 people of the ancient pro-Syrian regime that have been imprisoned after the murder of Hariri! These people, four of which high ranking generals, were the top dogs of the security apparatus and have been in held in isolation for over a year and a half without any formal charges being brought forward.

Obviously, they are held in custody because of their involvement with the killing of Hariri, but it’s unclear if there is a legal basis for detaining them for so long. And the end is nowhere in sight, now with the UN Tribunal possibly being postponed ever further.

One can expect it to be a matter of time before Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations start picking up on this because it’s such a great theme: even suspects have rights. But somehow I doubt that the generals will be released soon, or that many people care if they won’t…except for Solida, which out of so many prisoners to fight for, elected to dedicate their limited resources to the pro-Syrian generals.

Normally, I sympathize with Solida and I fully support their quest for releasing political prisoners, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Solida’s current initiative has more to do with politics than with true concern over the well-being of the prisoners.

Lahoud might stay

What is it with Lebanese politics that either makes you want to laugh or cry; and most of the times leaves you somewhere in between, unsure what to think of it? Take the headline today on Naharnet: Lahoud warns that he might not leave. Already the use of the word ‘warns’ makes me crack up. Are we really to believe Lahoud said this? Of course not, but journalists in Lebanon are more biased then ever, so anything goes.

The story continues with Lahoud stating that he cannot hand in the country to a non-existing government. The establishment of a unity government is the only way for him to give up his post once his extended mandate expires, as he does not want to repeat the experience back in 1988 when Lebanon witnessed two governments. I doubt that Michel Aoun would mind it much, but that’s a different story.

It’s interesting to see how Lahoud is adopting the same conditions of the government, but with a twist: the government states that the removal of Lahoud is a condition for a unity government, while Lahoud expressed that a unity government is the condition for him to step down. Quite a nice Catch-22 he’s trying to establish here.

Will it work? Well, you never know. Normalcy has long ceased to exist in the Lebanese political arena. What’s even more is the lack of legal agreement on basics such as the interpretation of the constitution. Simple questions such as “Can Lahoud stay on if there is no government?” or “Is the current government indeed unconstitutional?” are seemingly unanswerable and would depend on political affiliation. That’s worrisome because it means the rule of law becomes obsolete in favor of the rule of thugs, be it camouflaged as politicians or not.

Why is it, a friend of mine asked the other day, that the Lebanese cannot be a bit more like the western world, where you have, say, Al Gore who lost the presidential elections by a clearly politically divided Supreme Court, and did so with a smile? Perhaps it’s because democracy is all Americans have and that makes it precious for them. Unfortunately, the Lebanese are spoilt with more options: who needs democracy when you can rely on wasta and connections?

More explosives found

The Lebanese TV had a hard time this weekend keeping up with all the discoveries of bombs. It seemed that almost every hour, they discovered a new unexploded bomb somewhere. For us, the most threatening location was next to the Orthodox Church in Makhoul, which is very close to our house as we can see the church from our balcony.

So far, all the bombs have been warning signs. None of them exploded, but imagine if they did. It is quite a signal the perpetrators are trying to give. With bombs spreading everywhere, it demonstrates their capability of being able to hit anywhere they please. Also, the fact that none of the people behind it got caught, adds to the impression that the police is helpless in the face of this terror.

And terror it is: placing bombs in civilian areas aiming to hit innocent citizens, is a scary escalation of the violence. The obvious purpose is to pressure Siniora’s government to give in to demands from the Opposition. However, this is a subtle game because Hezbollah cannot make this link themselves. Imagine if they would say that the bombs would stop if they were allowed a blocking minority in government? That would mean that they would be behind targeting and possibly killing fellow Lebanese, which they swore never to do.

Come to think of it, in what way could they make a connection between the bombs and their demands? The only possible way might be to hint that the current instability of the country is the reason behind the bombs and that once they are back in government, stability would return. This sounds reasonable, but it overlooks one thing: what would change in terms of practical security measures to guarantee the stopping of bombs, once Hezbollah gets its way? Would all of a sudden the police be more effective to stop the terrorists who plant these bombs? Would they catch the bad guys?

Or, could it mean that the terrorists no longer would have a reason to spread the bombs? In that case, there is a direct link between the interests of the terrorists and the Opposition. If so, why can’t the Opposition influence the terrorists to stop placing bombs? Surely, they could convince them that spreading terrorism is against the Opposition’s agenda?

The scary part of this reasoning is that the lack of exercising this supposed influence can only mean that the Opposition gives its tacit support for the terror.

Update: A bomb exploded this morning in a car in the Mossaitbeh area. No casualties.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Explosives found in residential areas

iExplosives were found in four different locations yesterday. Twice in the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafieh, once in the Christian village Ghbaleh in the Kesrouan region and once in the Christian town Jezzine. Pattern anyone? [to be complete: on Tuesday, explosives were found in the Sunni neighborhood of Beirut, Bir Hassan]

As usual, the Christian Lebanese are once again the target of the threats. It’s easy to forget: Rafiq Hariri was the only non-Christian politician/journalist assaulted or killed in the long list of attacks that have happened since his murder. The perpetrators are most likely targeting the Christians since they are an easy prey. It would be much more risky to stir up the always present rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites.

In the four above mentioned locations, TNT (dynamite) was found, up to 11 kilogram, right in front of houses, a shop and a restaurant. They showed on TV the dynamite. It was simply left behind, packed in some carton boxes. As always, no news yet on the people behind it.

Quite scary to see how easy it apparently is to plant dynamite without leaving a trace. This time, no detonators were present, so the dynamite could not have exploded. It’s intention was to give a message, and indeed: it is easy to see that next time the sticks will actually be detonated.

The incidents fits with a shifting of strategy of the bad guys: from attacking politicians and journalists, to innocent civilians. Without a doubt, they are doing this to increase the pressure on Siniora to reach a compromise with the Opposition before things get really out of hand.

Although nothing happened yesterday, the irrational reactions take over after events like this. The owner of the store (a barber) said that most customers cancelled their appointments. Also, the restaurant will be seeing little business the next few days.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hezbollah announces the obvious: Tribunal in exchange for veto

After hinting at it for months, Hezbollah has officially stated that they consider the UN Tribunal linked to the overhaul of the government. Up until yesterday, the official line was a consequent denial, but now the second man in Hezbollah, Sheik Naim Qassim stated the obvious: both issues are directly related to each other. Hezbollah is willing to accept the UN Tribunal in return for a blocking minority participation in the government.

It is a positive step that Hezbollah declares for the first time to be truly behind the UN Tribunal. Too bad that they immediately link it to changing the democratically elected government. One can only wonder what both items have to do with one another. A possible connection would be that Hezbollah considers the UN Tribunal as American inspired which could lead to a sell-out of Lebanon's interests. By having a veto right in the new government, Hezbollah can try to limit the influence of America on Lebanon.

The first reactions from the Hariri block are positive. They are not afraid that Hezbollah might misuse its veto right by blocking the UN Tribunal once it is back in government. There's no reason for such fear either. Hezbollah is known to be a reliable partner: they deliver on their promises so if they say they will support the Tribunal, they will most likely not backtrack from this.

First reactions from the Christian leader Samir Geagea was less positive. He was quoted as saying that he feels the results of the recent elections should be respected. He is war of giving Hezbollah a much greater influence that these results warrant by letting Hezbollah use the UN Tribunal as a bargaining chip.

He has a point; one should respect the outcome of elections. Still, the objections are largely theoretical in nature since most, if not all, previous cabinet decisions were made unanimously. Having a veto right sounds nice, but using it might prove to be next to impossible. Sure, history never gives you a guarantee for the future, but if there is one thing that became crystal clear during the last few months, it is that the political system in Lebanon is build on consensus. Remove this, and the whole political structure collapses.

Whatever you might think of it, Lebanon has to find back its way to the consensus. Power play by the majority has proven to be leading nowhere and the same goes for power play by the minority. Geagea's fear for domination by Hezbollah seems a bit premature. What he might be worried about is a loss of face. It's likely he wants to avoid of being seen as 'giving in' to Hezbollah since that would be a reward for ruing the country. First by the devastating war with Israel and now by occupying Downtown. Still, it seems both parties are reaching out to each other and that's the best to expect for now.

Update: Today, Friday, the news papers stated that Samir Gaegea has welcomed the proposal of Hezbollah to accept the UN Tribunal and that he's willing to adjust the government. Yesterday, I was blogging that he was against Hezbollah's suggestion, now he seems to have changed his mind 180 degrees. Is it really or is it another example of sloppy journalism and innocent bloggers like me who copy/paste these stories without questioning?

The reason for Gaegae's support is anyone's guess. A possible explanation might be that he's counting on the Tribunal to do so much damage to Syria and thus Hezbollah that this will weaken their position drastically. As a result, Hezbollah's veto right would become less of an issue in this theory.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Welcome to my blog

Dear reader,

Welcome to my blog. It is the continuation of my Dutch blog which was started at the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hezbollah in July 2006.

The purpose of this blog is monitor the current events in Lebanon, hopefully relatively neutral and with an outsider point of view. I am a Dutch man living and working in Beirut since 2001. As I don't speak, read or write Arabic, I am limited to English and French news sources, so please keep that in mind when reading my blog.

I'd appreciate feedback and comments, which you can leave behind at each article. You can also contact me at

Enjoy the blog!