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Sunday, December 03, 2006

HizbAllah's Offensive in Lebanon: Day Two

By Walid Phares

In its second day, HizbAllah’s offensive in Lebanon against the democratically elected Government has maintained pressures on various levels. Following are the main axis of activities:

HizbAllah’s deployment

By mid week end, several thousands of HizbAllah’s members, cadres and officers have settled inside downtown Beirut, surrounding the Prime Minister’s office. The militia erected dozens of tents in a military fashion, with 30 fighters in each tent. Sources from the Lebanese Army described the “deployment” of the tents as a bivouac-maneuvering of about three brigades, “clearly following the Iranian military code,” said the sources. By late Saturday evening early Sunday morning, the Lebanese Army was able to move a number of these tents to the sides opening a path to the Government building.

However, security sources noted that HizbAllah’s units are positioning themselves in several circles around the center of Beirut. There are no weapons apparent but according to observers, the “demonstrators” can be armed in less than three hours and “become” the equivalent of half a “division” in the downtown area and close to a division inside Sunni Beirut.

Sunni resistance begins

In the early hours of Saturday through the first hours of Sunday, several incidents took place between HizbAllah’s cells moving into several neighborhoods in mostly Sunni West Beirut, and between local Sunni youth. In most of these urban clashes, with clubs and stones, HizbAllah’s members withdrew to their quarters in downtown and the southern suburbs. Observers believe these incidents were a sort of testing on behalf of HizbAllah’s military command to assess the level of “popular resistance” against its stretching inside Muslim Beirut. It is to note that Sunni areas have been displaying more opposition to Nasrallah’s militia in more than one area. More noticeably in the Eastern Bekaa where entire villages such as Kamed al Lawz and surrounding areas have erupted in small demonstrations against the pro-Iranian coalition. Also in Tripoli, and despite the presence of some solid pro-Syrian Sunni influence, anti-HizbAllah manifestations are taking place.

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Shiite moderates appear

Interestingly, more moderate Shiite voices are emerging against Nasrallah’s power and in support of the Lebanese Government and its supporters. In addition to the prominent Shiite Mufti of Tyre Ali al Amine, the spiritual leader of the Shiites in Jabal Amel, core of south Lebanon’s community, a newly formed “Free Shiite Coalition” led by the intrepid Sheikh Mohammed al Haj Hassan is calling on the Shiites to rejects the “orders by Ahmedinijad to wreck havoc in Lebanon.” In a strong speech aired worldwide on internet Saturday night, Sheikh called on the international community to assist the Lebanese people against the terror threat, HizbAllah. This is the boldest call by a Shiia cleric against Iran’s influence in Lebanon. Sunni spiritual leaders have already voiced their opposition to the “Syro-Iranian aggression” against the Government. Lebanon’s national Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani extended his support to the Cedars Revolution backed Seniora Government yesterday and insisted on praying inside the Prime Minister’s office while HizbAllah was encircling the government building. On his part the Mufti of Mount Lebanon, Mohamed Ali al Juzu attacked Hassan Nasrallah accusing him of taking orders from Iran and targeting the independence of Lebanon.

Next HizbAllah’s moves

The latest information released by the Lebanese security sources and published in the Arab press on Sunday morning, and detailed by the Kuwaiti daily as Siyassa says HizbAllah was planning on shutting down Beirut airport, possibly its port and large segments of the basic public services such as electricity and water. A memo sent by Nasrallah to his supporters inside the security and police forces asked them to withdraw and join the ranks of the “movement against the Government.”

Media tilting noted

On the media level, the campaign unleashed by HizbAllah widened on al Manar TV and was supported by Syria’s press and audiovisual as well as Iran’s. Al Jazeera is backing the crumbling of the Lebanese Government by “projecting” that the cabinet will fall, despite indicators that the popular majority in Lebanon backs it. But the most interesting development is the gradual editorial twist in most of the news agencies distributing information around the world indirectly towards HizbAllah. In fact, the choice of words in the reports issued by Reuters, AP and UPI indicates that they are increasingly portraying the HizbAllah’s campaign as “an opposition movement against a Government refusing to accept its demands.” These mother ships of international media, that feeds thousands of newspapers and audiovisual networks around the world, have for example pushed the number of the demonstrators as “close to 800,000 persons,” or as they put it “one quarter of Lebanon’s population.” While in reality, researchers in Lebanon, measuring the space these demonstrations took place in, cannot absorb more than 250,000 persons. A quarter of a million people is a large number but compared to the 1.5 million people gathered by the Cedars Revolution indicates clearly to social demographers, that HizbAllah, with the support of Syria, Iran, the radical Palestinians, cannot muster a popular support greater than one sixth of the majority. But many sectors in the international media are tilting towards producing pro-HizbAllah’s trends. A reporter for Time wrote that “what he saw was a reverse of the Cedars Revolution,” using words uttered by the organizers of the pro-Iranian move. “It is not so difficult to understand,” said a human rights activist in Beirut, “HizbAllah has done a great job in influencing many correspondents on the ground. With Iranian logistics, its operatives can provide all what a journalist can dream of. Unfortunately also,” said the NGO observer, “many HizbAllah media cadres have found their way into being recruited by some media. You wouldn’t believe where these infiltrations have reached,” he said. Bloggers in Beirut have begun to monitor the HizbAllah’s penetration of international media as the reporting has been drifting towards promoting the pro-Iranian militia.

Lebanese facing alone

As the third day of the offensive begins, HizbAllah and its allied are bracing for bolder moves to take over the Lebanese Government. Out of Egypt, President Mubarak warned from more dramatic steps HizbAllah would take, leading to a blood shed. In New York, US ambassador Bolton warned from a Terror war against Lebanon. And in Beirut, the unarmed civil society of the country fears the worse: Being left with a democratically elected cabinet they are proud of, they feel they are facing, alone, the world’s most dangerous Terror forces: the combined power of Ahmedinijad, Assad and Nasrallah

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