Hezbollah trying to demoralize the Lebanese Army

W. Thomas Smith, Jr
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Posted: Feb 03, 2008 3:57 PM

Arrest warrants were issued Saturday for 11 Lebanese soldiers over the shooting deaths of several Hezbollah and Amal rioters during last week’s clashes in Beirut (the clashes instigated by Hezbollah, which also spread to other areas around the country). Six civilians were also arrested and charged with, among other things, “bearing unlicensed firearms.”

Investigations continue, more arrests will probably follow, and Mahmoud Koumati, the deputy commander of Hezbollah’s political-wing, has called for the execution of anyone found guilty.

WHAT’S SAD is that the arrests of the soldiers – three officers and eight enlisted men – may have been a sacrifice on the part of the Lebanese Army (LA) leadership in an attempt to salvage the hope that Gen. Michel Sleiman might become Lebanon’s next president (The country has been without a president since November, and the complexities of Lebanese politics, death threats from Hezbollah, and the equally threatening hand of Iran and Syria have created an environment that makes it nearly impossible for the parliament to elect a chief executive.).

WHAT’S SADDER is that Hezbollah – the increasingly dangerous Iranian-funded, Syrian-backed, Lebanese-based terrorist army – has been pushing for the legitimate Lebanese army and police to fall on their swords since the rioting ended last week.

Hezbollah contends the clashes stemmed from “protests” over electricity shortages in Hezbollah zones of Beirut: Keep in mind Hezbollah often launches protests over electricity shortages, the rising cost of bread, the rising of a full moon, whatever – any opportunity to block roads, burn tires, and generally test and probe legitimate army and police defenses – but conveniently arranges those protests to coincide with other events like last week’s summit between Arab foreign ministers in Cairo.

Lebanese Army insiders and a parliamentary official have said the “so-called protests” last week had more sinister objectives.

Hezbollah has stated its protests stemmed from public angriness over electricity shortages, but “the areas Hezbollah's militants are coming from have the same ratio of electricity as other areas in the capital,” said an Army officer who chose not to be named. “In addition, Hezbollah has enough generators to sustain electrical power for months.

“Many in the Western media were deceived into believing it was about electricity shortages, when in fact, it was a carefully planned and orchestrated operation aimed at strengthening the terrorists’ hand and position in Lebanon.”

The officer added, Hezbollah also was first to open fire, and it did so on Lebanese Army forces and civilians.

SADDEST OF ALL: Gen. Sleiman – the pro-Syrian commander-in-chief of all Lebanese armed forces, who previously made excuses for the continued existence of Hezbollah when that organization should have long-been disbanded under UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 – has apparently now tossed some of his young riflemen to the curb.

Though Sleiman’s sacrificing of his men and playing politics with Hezbollah is unfortunate, it’s not surprising:

Sleiman tried to justify Hezbollah’s existence as a “legitimate resistance” during the time I spent with him in private conversation at his Ministry of Defense office, last fall, as did the commander of strategic intelligence and several of Sleiman’s subordinate generals during subsequent conversations. The only general who didn’t try to convince me that Hezbollah should exist was Gen. Francois Hajj, the late chief of operations for the LA and senior planner of the operation that wiped out the forces of al-Qaeda affiliate Fatah al Islam during the battle to regain control (from the Fatah fighters) of the Palestinian refugee camp at Nahr al-Bared.

Hajj was one of my best sources while in Lebanon. I had more contact with him than any other general there. He arranged access for me when other generals said, “no.” And in December, the terrorists killed him in a car-bomb attack (It’s since been speculated that Fatah al Islam elements were responsible for the assassination, but the bombing was surely coordinated through Hezbollah with the blessing of the latter’s Iranian-Syrian overlords. In fact, Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah warned in May 2007 against the LA’s storming of the camp, referring to Nahr al-Bared as a “red line” and some analysts have suggested the Hajj killing was payback for crossing that line.)

Several times during a Sept.-28 conversation with Sleiman – three weeks after the LA claimed victory over Fatah al Islam -- I brought up the issue of Hezbollah; and each time the general become agitated, attempted to change the subject, and wanted to know why I wanted to talk about Hezbollah.

When Hajj was killed two months later, many Middle East experts said his assassination was a coordinated strike by Syrian agents, Hezbollah, and Fatah al Islam, all hoping to strip the army of its fighting spirit, particularly after the victory at Nahr al-Bared.

That’s also one of the goals today.

Hezbollah and its Iranian-Syrian overlords obviously planned for the rioting to:

a) Place the Lebanese Army in an impossible, untenable position.

b) Test the leadership of Hezbollah and its ability to mobilize and direct forces.

c) Force the LA’s hand, and make the LA’s combatants appear heavy-handed.

d) Push the LA to defend itself both in street fighting and eventually in the courtroom.

e) Force Sleiman to choose between a chance at the presidency and his loyalty to the LA in the aftermath of the clashes.

f) Demoralize and weaken the LA in the process. For the terrorists, the arrest of the LA 11 was just icing on the cake.

According to one government official: “This reinforces the fact that if the UN does nothing to put a stop to this – if they do not intervene with military force under ‘Chapter VII [of the UN Charter]’ – for the sake of Lebanon’s sovereignty and the safety of the Lebanese people, Hezbollah will become the Taliban of Lebanon. The Lebanese Army cannot compete with the Iranian money pouring into Hezbollah’s accounts, and it cannot adequately defend the country when its soldiers are forced to choose between either defending themselves and the civilian population on the streets in riotous combat against a terrorist militia, or defending themselves in courtroom battles proffered by those same terrorists who attack Lebanon’s soldiers over rules-of-engagement, while those same soldiers are thrown to the curb by their senior commander.”

Though it has not been widely reported, limited attacks also have been launched against Lebanese Army posts in recent days.