Did Hezbollah Thwart an Attack on Beirut?

Did Hezbollah Thwart an Attack on Beirut?
Franklin Lamb, fplamb@gmail.com

This week Israel’s military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin complained to the Israeli daily Haaretz that “Hezbollah proved that it was the strongest power in Lebanon… stronger than the Lebanese Army and if it had wanted to take the government it could have done it.” He said Hezbollah, continued to pose a “significant” threat to Israel “as its rockets could reach a large part of Israeli territory.”

Yadlin was putting it mildly.

What he did not reveal to the Israeli public was just how “significant” but also “immediate” the Hezbollah threat was on May 11. Nor was Yadlin willing to divulge the fact if the planned Israeli attack on Lebanon’s capital went forward, Tel Aviv would be subject, in the view of the US intelligence community, to “approximately 600 Hezbollah rockets in the first 24 hours in retaliation and at least that number on the following day”.

According to US Senate Intelligence Committee sources, the Bush administration initially green-lighted the intended May 11 Israel “demonstration of solidarity” with the pro-Bush administration militias. In the end, “the Bush administration got cold feet”, a Congressional source revealed. So did Israel.

Israel was not willing to proceed with the original White House idea which was to have Bush attend the May 15 Israel anniversary celebrations following the Israeli attack meant to hit Hezbollah hard, and give Bush the credit for coming to a dangerous region.

The plan involved Israeli airstrikes on South and West Beirut in support of forces it was assured would be able to surprise and resist Hezbollah and sustain a powerful offensive for 48 hours.

Also presumably disturbing to Israel was the report it received that Hezbollah “had once again in all probability hacked its secure military intelligence communications and the fear that the information would be shared with others”.

The Hezbollah rout of the militias in West Beirut plus the fear of retaliation on Tel Aviv, ruining the 60th anniversary celebrations, forced cancellation of the supportive attack.

Israel limited its actions to sending two F-15s and two F-16s into as far north as Tyre, one more of literally hundreds of violations of Lebanese airspace, sovereignty and Security Council Resolution 1701.

Clearly frustrated, Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit said Israel should not yet take any action now, but warned, “those things could change if Hezbollah takes over Lebanon.” Minister Yitzhak Cohen (of Shas) said: “Israel must immediately ask the United Nations Security Council to hold renewed discussions over Resolution 1701.” The reference was to the resolution that stopped the Israeli actions against Lebanon during the 34-day war in 2006, leading to a fragile cease-fire.

Finally, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed Israeli supporters in Lebanon, through the media, and presumably other means that “Israel was following the violence in Lebanon closely, but would refrain from intervening.”

The Bush administration, also disappointed, switched tactics and is opting for domination of the narrative of the fairly complicated events of the past week and using their media and allies to launch a media blitz (minus Future TV for a few days) to flood the airways with:

•Hezbollah staged a coup d’état. Even Israel, if not the Bush administration, concedes Hezbollah has no interest in taking over the government.

•Hezbollah brought its forces from the South and occupied West Beirut: Hezbollah not only did not bring their forces from the South to Beirut (rather they remained on alert for an Israel attack down South.)

•Hezbollah broke its pledge not to use resistance arms against Lebanese militias.

The facts are very different when viewed close up on the streets in Beirut.

When the Lebanese resistance took the decision during the early hours of Friday morning to engage in civil disobedience, it delayed its actions so as not to pre-empt the labor movement strike for higher wages that it supported. When the marching strikers were prevented from moving into West Beirut, the opposition extended its civil disobedience manifestation.

Various militias, including the smartly outfitted Hariri “Secure Plus” with its distinctive maroon T-shirts and beige trousers, (now know locally by some as “Secure Minus”) were planning an operation in Lebanon but their plans disintegrated surprisingly quickly because many of its green recruits brought down from Tripoli felt misled and betrayed regarding their job description as they were handed weapons and instructed to fight Hezbollah. Snipers from anti-opposition factions killed civilians from rooftops in Beirut trying to ignite a civil war.

Hezbollah, acting in self-defense, quickly clamped down on the troublemakers, took control of the streets, within hours handed them over to the army, and virtually evacuated West Beirut, retaining one position near Bay Rocks manned by unarmed representatives.

Meanwhile, the Hariri influence has been greatly weekend in Akkar near the Palestinian Refugee camp of Nahr Al-Bared and in the Tripoli area. According to some political analysts, including, Fida’a Ittani, a regular columnist for the independent pro-opposition newspaper Al-Akhbar (May 14), the Future Movement, defeated in Beirut, no longer has any serious influence in the north.

Several pro-Al-Qaeda movements are present in Lebanon and like Fatah Islam’s declaration this week that they will fight for the Sunnis, they vary in their attitudes from silent opposition to Future leader Saad Hariri to fully supporting him as the leader of the Sunnis.

Judging from Saad Hariri’s confused statements at his subsequent news conference and statements by other parties, the bitterness at the promised but unforthcoming assistance was evident.

For two days, the head of the Future Movement said nothing. Finally on May 14 he broke his silence. The Halba massacre, in which 11 people from the opposition were murdered, did not seem worthy of discussion as he spoke. In a press conference on Tuesday, Hariri simply ignored what all the Lebanese had seen on TV of weapons, ammunition and alcohol found in Future movement offices, and instead listed a series of delusions.

“We awaited an open war on Israel, and yet here is an open war on Beirut and its people,” he stated. When American criticism resumed, and Hezbollah fighters withdrew from the alleys surrounding his house, Hariri was urged to stand up and speak again, this time with a stronger tone, saying, “This has been decided by the Iranian and Syrian regimes that wanted to play a political game in Lebanon’s streets. For us nothing has changed. We will not negotiate with someone having a pistol pointed to our heads.”

Anger at the Bush administration and Israel by certain warlords in Lebanon must feel much like the frustration of “Secure Minus” personnel who rushed from Tripoli and felt misled, abandoned and cheated.

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