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Jumblatt’s Men Set Back Iran’s Militia in Lebanon

_By Lee Smith_

Our friend and colleague in Lebanon Elie Fawaz writes in to remind us that The War for Lebanon has not even begun yet in earnest and Hezbollah’s “victory” in Beirut is not all it seems:

“So, we know that Hezbollah’s well-trained fighters are in control of most of west Beirut. The decision taken by Walid Jumblat and Saad al-Hariri not to fight back in Beirut, but rather hand most of their positions to the army ended any illusion regarding the sanctity of the “resistance” — that it would never turn its weapons inward, for now its hands are dripping with the blood of innocent Lebanese. But it’s different in the Chouf where Jumblatt’s forces bloodied Hezbollah.

“The Chouf is calm now after fighting over the weekend in which forces belonging to Talal Arslan, part of the Hezbollah-led opposition, jumped sides and joined alongside Jumblatt’s men. As the Progressive Socialist Party “website”:http://www.psp.org.lb/ reports: ‘The free people of the Shouf roll back an attack by the Iranian militias causing severe casualties in lives and equipment.’

“Hence, Jumblatt sounded more assertive last night on LBC news because he knows he got the upper-hand in the Chouf battles (Reuters is reporting at least 14 Hezbollah gunmen killed. Meanwhile, the PSP “website”:http://www.psp.org.lb/ is claiming 32 Hezbollah fighters killed and 250 wounded.). He was willing to hand his offices over to the army to deflect some of the tension and because he wants to avoid a civil war.”

In short, what happened in West Beirut was a given. According to a “report”:http://www.al-akhbar.com/ar/node/73087 from the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar, this coup had been planned well in advance and its mastermind was the recently assassinated Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh. The government may in fact have forced Nasrallah to show his hand at a time of its choosing, not his. Hezbollah’s walkover in Beirut came as a surprise to no one; nor did the performance of the army, except perhaps the Bush administration which must now reconsider the amount of money it has spent on equipment and training for the Lebanese Armed Forces.

As for the pro-government fighters in Beirut, contrary to most press accounts, there are no Sunni “militias” in the capital. Rather, it is mostly defensive armament, private citizens with small arms defending their families, homes and property. So it is hardly any surprise that Hezbollah managed to overrun Sunni neighborhoods easily. But that is merely one small part of Lebanon, and while the attention of the foreign press has focused on fighting in one sector of the capital, events throughout the rest of the country suggest that Hezbollah’s “rout” is illusory. Tony Badran, drawing on various Lebanese accounts and his own reporting, offers this account:

“After taking over West Beirut, Hezbollah tried to move to the Shouf, where there are two Shiite towns, Kayfoun and Qmatiyye. Hezbollah is trying to link them up to the Dahieh through the Karameh road, which links Dahieh to Choueifat-Aramoun-Doha-Deir Qoubel-Aytat-Kayfoun and Qmatiye, so that it can make encroachments, maintain access routes and not allow the Druze to surround the two Shiite towns.

“That was the plan, but Hezbollah got a severe beating in the Shouf. They were not able to penetrate anything, relying instead — for the first time in the current fighting — on artillery/mortar fire. To no avail. Yesterday alone we heard that seven Hezbollah fighters who tried to infiltrate got killed.

“Hence, Hezbollah burned its Druze ally, Talal Arslan. Whatever tiny following Arslan had before this, it’s safe to say it has been seriously damaged. Witness for instance the fate of Syria’s little Druze creation, the pitbull Wi’am Wahhab, who, it is rumored, has taken his followers (which on a good day may actually reach about 100) and left the Shouf altogether.

“Meanwhile in Northern Lebanon, the pro-opposition Alawites are being slammed by Sunnis in the Baal Mohsen area. Similarly, Sunnis in the Akkar area in the north attacked and torched offices of the SSNP, Baath party, Hezbollah and Aoun, killing a good number of SSNPs. As with Arslan, we see a parallel development, former PM Omar Karami, a Sunni who is at the same time trying to support Hezbollah while shoring up his Sunni bona fides. So he lamented the “deep wound” that has occurred between Sunnis and Shia, and told Hezbollah that if this becomes a sectarian fight, then we have two choices: to either stay home, or fight with our sect.

“So far we’ve had the luxury of not seeing this sad charade play out in the Christian areas. Sleiman Frangieh has been inconspicuously quiet these last few days. Michel Aoun, on the other hand, can’t help himself. So, while there are rumors that he might be urging Hezbollah in to East Beirut, others are watching to see if Nasrallah will attempt to do with the tiny Shiite communities in Nab’a, Metn, and Keserwan/Jbeil, what they did with Qmatiyye and Kayfoun.

“And so, the Party of God has achieved the ‘great victory’ of conquering a few Beiruti streets, terminating the credibility of the army, hastening the prospect of its disintegration, and damaging beyond repair for the foreseeable future, the Shiites’ ties to the Lebanese social fabric.”

Hezbollah and its allies have won one small battle in a war that has just begun.

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