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The Stage is Set – Updated

From Stratfor:

The Lebanese army already has deployed four brigades to greater Beirut to assume combat readiness in case Hezbollah forces attack Sunnis in West Beirut. Lebanon’s Sunni bloc, led by the al-Hariri clan and their regional Arab allies, also has sent a number of fighters to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to receive military training in order to counter Hezbollah’s well-equipped and well-trained military forces. In the meantime, Syria continues to send reinforcements to its allies in Lebanon. Syrian army officers who previously served in Lebanon have infiltrated the country and are leading combat units of their allies in Hezbollah, pro-Syrian groups and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Furthermore, about 2,500 Syrian troops masquerading as laborers have joined the ranks of the anti-government forces in Lebanon.

UPDATE: Lebanese readers in the comments (and not just the crazy “anonymous” one) think this excerpt from Stratfor is b.s. Maybe it is. I pulled it off a Lebanese blog, and the commenters don’t have much of an argument against it. But you can’t prove a negative and it isn’t passing the smell test.

Stratfor has sources that I don’t have, and that the Lebanese commenters don’t have. And Stratfor is more reliable than DEBKAfile, which I refuse to quote, ever. So let me just tag this one as controversial. I can’t stand by it because I didn’t write it, but I also don’t have any evidence that it’s false.

Faysal, the Sunni Lebanese who posted this on his blog, said in his comments section: “STRATFOR is a private intelligence firm with very close ties to the CIA. They have credibility. And I can confirm the arming and training of Sunni and Christian factions from sources in Lebanon.” But I don’t know Faysal, and I don’t know his sources.

There was a great deal of talk in Lebanon even before the July war about other groups and parties re-arming themselves in response to Hezbollah. And some of my trusted and reliable Lebanese sources and friends agree that West Beirut is a lot more dangerous now than it was and that there could be clashes there. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Ok, more Lebanese whom I do know and trust also say this is bogus. I will take their word for it. Bogus it is.

UPDATE: Lebanese blogger Bad Vilbel adds in the comments — and I know he’s right about this:

Just because i don’t buy the “Sunnis and Christians training in Jordan” doesn’t mean I don’t think they are arming themselves. In fact, I am pretty sure they are. These folks were never “disarmed” in the first place. Everyone in Lebanon has weapons (and I don’t mean little handguns here). If violence were to break out today, Hezbollah might be the best organized and financed, but I can guarantee that both the Christians and the Sunnis, and most certainly the druze are armed and ready to go (as sad as that may sound).

Oops

I don’t know if this is true, so take it for what it’s worth. From Blacksmiths of Lebanon:

Al Seyassah daily learned from authoritative sources in Beirut, that one of the editors of the Syrian National News Agency (SANA) placed a phone call to a pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper at 3:05 pm on Tuesday. The caller inquired about the details of the assassination of Lebanese Minister for Industry Pierre Gemayel, raising eyebrows at the Lebanese newpaper. The timing of phone call was 55 minutes before the assassination was carried out.

Ten minutes after the call was place, the Syrian editor placed another phone call in order to apologize for a misunderstanding.

Link to original in Arabic.

Keystone Terrorists

Tony Badran has the latest on Syria’s transparent and laughably clumsy attempts to find a plausible “fall guy” for the murder of Pierre Gemayel. At least Damascus has enough sense to avoid blaming the Israelis for murdering a leader of the most historically pro-Israel political party in Lebanon.

Burning Aoun

Lebanese Christians tore down and burned portraits of Hezbollah’s tactical Christian ally Michel Aoun in Sassine Square (Achrafieh, Beirut) and elsewhere in the city.

When I first moved to Beirut, Bashir Gemayel’s portrait hovered over that square like a deity, around the corner from a shopping mall and across the street from a Starbucks. Bashir was assassinated shortly after being elected president of Lebanon in 1982, most likely for his anti-Syrian, anti-Palestinian, and pro-Israeli position. Pierre Gemayel, murdered just yesterday, was his nephew.

I’m not sure when, exactly, but at some point Michel Aoun’s portrait went up in Sassine. It looks like the ghost of Bashir owns the square again now.

(Note: the particular incident shown in the video is not the torching of the Sassine Square portrait. That portrait was bigger, and its burning seems to have taken place off-camera.)

UPDATE: Mustapha at Beirut Spring says “today will herald a new age of Hezbollah Isolation,” since Aoun’s group is attending Gemayel’s funeral. He may well be right. Hezbollah, properly cowed by the Lebanese majority, cancelled their scheduled riot today.

Blowback

Hezbollah’s tactical Christian ally Michel Aoun has asked members of his party to attend Pierre Gemayel’s funeral in Beirut tomorrow, the same day that Hezbollah is threatening to take to the streets.

The “alliance” between Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah is not a sincere one. It may or may not be able to withstand coming events. I seriously doubt it has any long-term viability. I met two members of Aoun’s movement who wanted to kill Hezbollah members even before Nasrallah strapped a suicide-bomb belt on Lebanon this summer.

Echoes of Zarqawi

If you think radical Shias are the only dangerous people in Lebanon, think again.

From the SITE Institute:

The Mujahideen in Lebanon threaten that the Shi’ites will not have an “entity” in Lebanon, and increasingly warn the Sunni Muslim people that the “zero-hour” is approaching, in a statement issued today, Monday, November 20, 2006. Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, is stated to be bearing his evil and gathering killers, and will not greet the Sunni with “flowers,” but with curses. The Mujahideen believe that the Nusayri [aka Alawite - MJT] regime in Syria and Iran is gathering parties around Nasrallah and Hezbollah, and to counter, the Sunnis must be prepared to fight. They warn: “The blood will flow like rivers,” and to the Shi’ites: “Prepare your coffins and dig your graves. The hurricanes of the Mujahideen are coming in Lebanon”.

This sentiment, if I could call it that, does not represent mainstream Sunni opinion in Lebanon. (Mainstream Sunni opinion is more fairly represented by Fouad Seniora and Saad Hariri.) But as recent events in both Lebanon and Iraq show, minority extremist factions can be big enough to start wars by themselves.

Incidentally, those Americans who say they want a civil war against Hezbollah in Lebanon need to realize that these are the kinds of people they’re egging on. The famous “protest babes” are not going to pick up the rifles.

Another Assassination in Beirut – Continuously Updated

The only thing that surprises me even slightly about today’s political assassination in Beirut is that the victim was Pierre Gemayel, a Christian, rather than Fouad Seniora, a Sunni.

All the assassination victims after Rafik Hariri, a Sunni, have been Christians. But the most heated sectarian tension right now is between Sunnis and Shias. The Christians aren’t in a fighting mood, but many say the Sunnis are. The Syrian regime cannot restrain itself from butchering its Lebanese enemies, but it looks to me like someone in Damascus just flinched.

Gemayel’s father Amin was President of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988, during the civil war. His uncle Bashir was elected president for that term, but he was assassinated shortly before taking office.

Gemayel’s party, the Kataeb, was an ally of Israel during the war.

UPDATE: Just spoke to a friend of mine in Lebanon. I did not realize until now that Gemayel was a member of the Lebanese cabinet. The Hezbollah/Syrian axis has been trying to bring down the government by pressuring three more members to resign. One down, two to go. Looks like the coup d’etat is in progress.

UPDATE: Abu Takla in the comments says “one more to go, not 2. If they assassinate one more minister, the cabinet is automatically dissolved, because it would lack the two-thirds + 1 it needs to be constitutional.”

UPDATE: Another member of Lebanon’s political cabinet, Michel Pharaon was targetted with assassination today. He survived. But if the bastards had gotten him, the government would have fallen and stage one of the coup would be over.

UPDATE: Hezbollah is planning massive street “protests” on Thursday. Tony Badran notes: “This assassination will likely ensure that if such street rallies do take place, clashes would erupt, as it’s clear that the Syrians are set on that. (Just another reminder for the idiots who believe Syria is a force of “stability.”) Syria has a primary objective that outweighs everything else: kill the Hariri tribunal, and redominate Lebanon at any cost. This is nothing short than a fight to the death for the Syrians. And, as these thugs have done throughout their bloody history, they will kill anyone.”

UPDATE: “Anonymous Leb” in the comments says Abu Takla is wrong. The Syrian/Iranian/Hezbollah/Whatever axis needs to kill two more members of the cabinet to pull off their coup.

UPDATE: Mary Madigan is frustrated with fools who want to sit down and “talk” (in other words, cut deals) with Syria and Iran:

Discussions about Middle East politics remind me of a bit from a comic, Pearls Before Swine. One of the characters is a Zebra, who can’t understand why the lions keep eating his fellow Zebras. So, he writes a letter to the lions filled with philosophical questions about peace, understanding and the nature of being, asking why can’t they all get along, why can’t they be friends..

The answer comes back from the lions “we eat Zebras becuz you taste gud.”

UPDATE: The UN Security Council approved the tribunal that will put the Assad regime and its Lebanese tools on trial. Also, Abu Kais notes that March 14 is asking for massive turnout at Gemayel’s funeral in downtown Beirut on Thursday, the same day that Hezbollah says it will take to the streets to topple the government. Lebanese live in interesting times.

One Word

Inspired by Noorster.

1. Yourself: wanderer

2. Your spouse: anchored

3. Your hair: annoying

4. Your mother: sweet

5. Your father: practical

6. Your favorite item: ipod

7. Your dream last night: vanished

8. Your favorite drink: wine

9. Your dream car: ferrari

10. The room you are in: warm

11. Your ex: friends

12. Your fear: boredom

13. What you want to be in 10 years: self-actualized

14. Who you hung out with last night: wife

15. What you’re not: complacent

16. Muffins: chocolate

17: One of your wish list items: visa

18: Time: fast

19. The last thing you did: painted

20. What you are wearing: jeans

21. Your favorite weather: sunny

22. Your favorite book: loaned

23. The last thing you ate: mexican

24. Your life: adventurous

25. Your mood: content

26. Your best friend: talkative

27. What you’re thinking about right now: sleep

28. Your car: fast

29. What you are doing at the moment: typing

30. Your summer: war

31. Your relationship status: married

32. What is on your TV: Battlestar

33. What is the weather like: rainy

34. When was the last time you laughed: today

Tagged: Nancy Rommelmann

Fill in your own in the comments.

Just a Thought

The Netherlands is considering a ban on burkas. Naturally this is controversial. Some Arab and Muslim countries — Tunisia, for instance — won’t let women wear even a headscarf, let alone a veil or a burka, on schools or government property. But Western countries are and should remain freer. Tunisia’s law shouldn’t be a license for a similar Dutch law for obvious reasons: Tunisia also bans political parties.

The Dutch mean well, though. Burkas and veils are tools used by men to oppress women. (Spare me the excuses. I have heard them all and I’m not buying.) The oppression of women is clearly not something Dutch culture values too highly. Neither, though, is a state-enforced dress code. So there is tension.

Here’s an idea, even though the implementation might be a bit tricky: How about forbidding men from forcing “their” women to wear a veil or a burka? Women can wear them if they want (sometimes they do), but it would be illegal for medieval-minded men to use clothes to bully their wives, sisters, and daughters.

UPDATE: Okay, okay, the commenters win. I’m just thinking “out loud” on the page here, and I am convinced this isn’t workable. Does anyone else have any idea how Western societies can resist the importation of burkas, veils, and other tools of male dominance without being overly authoritarian?

It is, most likely, unconstitutional for the U.S. to ban burkas, and I shudder at the thought of a government dress code. 21st Century American men shouldn’t be slapping burkas on “their” women, though.

I saw a woman with her husband last year at the Fry’s Electronics store wearing a full burka. I’m not talking about a headscarf, a veil, or even an abaya. I mean the whole body sheet with a screen over her face. Her husband looked like he was from Pakistan. (Arabs don’t wear burkas.) I wanted to tell him to go eff himself, but I’m polite and didn’t say anything. My friend Ed said he would have told that guy to go eff himself, and I believe him.

Egyptian “Morals”

Somehow Egypt has startlingly prudish sex laws on the books and at the same time tolerates despicable sexual aggression against women in public.

Egyptian blogger Big Pharoah explains how some of his country’s laws work:

If I went out and arranged with an Egyptian girl, the hotel will report us both to the police and we’ll get arrested for “indecent acts”. In Egypt, the reception has to see the marriage certificate of the Egyptian couple before they can get a double room.

If I hooked up with a foreigner, I will get arrested and she’ll walk as freely as she entered the hotel gate.

If I was a holder of a foreign passport and I walked up to the reception desk with 10 Ukrainian prostitutes all wearing G strings, the reception guy will roll out the red carpet for me. Why? Because we’re all foreigners and in Egypt foreigners or holders of foreign passports have the freedom to sin while we Egyptians don’t.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Sandmonkey reports the following news in the wake of the horrific sexual assault rampages in downtown Cairo:

Yesterday was the second sexual harrassment protest in downtown cairo against what went down in the eid incident. And while the first one passed without incident, the police has cracked down on the second one. On my way there I bumped into Sharkawy, who told me that its nearly impossible to get to the protest: State security cars were everywhere, and police agents were blocking anyone from reaching the protest area, so they had to cancel it. The few activists who were there, however, were harassed, beaten up and arrested.

Thought for the Day

“One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter and VICE VERSA.” — Lebanese blogger Josey Wales in the comments.

Updated to add: It’s those last three words that are so often forgotten by those who enjoy the first (cliched) part of that statement.

Unlike most of us, Josey Wales grew up in a country that was blown up and dismembered by freedom fighters, er terrorists.

The New Middle East

Michael Young, Opinion page editor at Beirut’s Daily Star, writes a Kiss Goodbye to a Liberal Middle East.

Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid, whom Michael sometimes publishes in the Daily Star, has more on this theme on his blog:

During my recent talk at Brookings, one of the attendees, a well-known and respected former diplomat, asked me whether I did not think that US diplomat are smart and clever enough to be able to convince the Assads, once they engage them, of them of the usefulness of breaking away from Iran.

That’s the real problem here. US officials, their ideological predilections notwithstanding, think always that they can outsmart their way out of any mess that they outsmarted themselves into. They come to this “game” with their smug confident attitude and want us to have faith in their wisdom, because, hey, they know things about our own realities that we somehow don’t. They invest their egos in this “game,” while we invest our lives. They gamble with the lives of 300,000 or so Americans, while we are forced to see their three or so hundreds and raise them a few hundred millions more.

Now the neo-cons, because they had a place for us, Arab democrats, in their plans, that is, when victory was eventually achieved, asked us for our advice then ignore it and proceeded to do what they were inspired to do, expecting us to adjust all the while, or, from their point of view, catch up, because of course they knew better. The realists, however, won’t have to play this game with us, because the place they have reserved for us in their particular schemes is right there on the margins of things, in exile or in the dungeons of the ruling regimes.

Good Neighbors

My Israeli friend Yael has created a group blog unlike any other I know of. It’s a Middle Eastern blog called Good Neighbors where both Arabs and Israelis contribute.

So far she has signed up herself (obviously) and Tif from Israel, Big Pharoah from Egypt, Free Cedar from Lebanon, Drima from Sudan, Shiffa from Jordan, Ramzi S from Palestine, and Yaser from Syria.

This is a place for people who want to opt out of the destructive “narrative” that convulses the region and do something more civilized and productive instead.

The Middle East desperately needs a satellite TV station with a similar mission that can compete with Al Jazeera, etc. Cyprus might be a good neutral nearby location where something like that could be launched. In the meantime, Good Neighbors is one of the first and few options available.

Our Bastards

I need a one-day break from the doom and gloom of the ongoing Middle Eastern catastrophe. Since I have no affection whatsoever for either American political party, and since bitching about the government is one of our ever-popular past-times, I’m going to indulge in some slightly juvenile behavior today — photo gallery style. Hopefully you will laugh at least once. If not, lighten up!

Here are some pictures of American politicians.

Bill Clinton.jpg

Bill Clinton, Democrat

Alan Keyes.jpg

Alan Keyes, Republican

John Kerry.jpg

John Kerry, Democrat

John McCain.jpg

John McCain, Republican

Nancy Pelosi.jpg

Nancy Pelosi, Democrat

Dennis Hastert.jpg

Dennis Hastert, Republican

Hillary Clinton.jpg

Hillary Clinton, Democrat

Dick Cheney.jpg

Dick Cheney, Republican

Howard Dean.jpg

Howard Dean, Democrat

Donald Rumsfeld.jpg

Donald Rumsfeld, Republican

John Murtha.jpg

John Murtha, Democrat

George W Bush.jpg

George W. Bush, Republican

Teresa Heinz Kerry.jpg

Teresa Heinz Kerry, Democrat

Jeb Bush.JPG

Jeb Bush, Republican

Dennis Kucinich.jpg

Dennis Kucinich, Democrat

Lincoln Chafee.jpg

Lincoln Chafee, Republican

Jimmy Carter.jpg

Jimmy Carter, Democrat

Rudy Giuliani.jpg

Rudy Giuliani, (male) Republican

Iran Wants Lebanon Now

If you have any doubt that Iran and Syria are bound and determined to seize Lebanon and yank it into their axis, take a look at what Ayatollah Khamenei has to say about it. From Lebanon’s Naharnet:

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the United States and Israel would be defeated in Lebanon, in talks with speaker Nabih Berri, Iranian media reported Wednesday.

Khamenei praised Berri for his “excellent role” in the July-August war between Hizbullah and Israel, and for the “victory” against the Jewish state, in their meeting on Tuesday.

“What led to this great victory was the unity and harmony between Hizbullah and Amal brothers which must go on in future more strongly than before,” said Khamenei.

Berri is the head of the Amal movement that is allied with Hizbullah.

Lebanon “will be the defeat point for Israel and America,” the two-arch enemies of the Islamic republic, Khamenei said.

Iran, along with Syria, is accused of arming and financing Hizbullah. Tehran denies the allegation, insisting it only gives “moral” support to the Shiite group.

“Today it is (America’s) policies in the world and the region that are bound to fail. These opportunities must be exploited with determination and action,” said Khamenei.

Lebanon, tragically, is resuming its historic role as a proxy war battleground for countries more powerful than itself. Just about every group in the country allows itself to be used as a proxy by some nation or other, and so it continues.

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