The Alliance of Fear in Lebanon

June 6, 2013

by Avi Melamed

As the war in Syria percolates into Lebanon and Iraq, turning into a massive Sunni-Shiite collision, it is worthwhile to take a close look at another factor in Lebanon – The Palestinians.

Some half a million Palestinians (who are all Sunni) live in Lebanon. They live in large refugee camps scattered throughout most of Lebanon. The biggest one is Ain Al-Hilweh, located next to the city of Sidon, the biggest city in southern Lebanon, which is also predominately Sunni. Other large camps are located in the vicinity of Beirut as well as in the area surrounding Tripoli, the biggest city in northern Lebanon, which similar to Sidon, is also predominately Sunni.

The scenario of a Sunni-Shiite collision in Lebanon deeply concerns the major Palestinian organizations: Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As the war in Syria escalates, these organizations are going the extra mile to make it very clear that they want nothing to do with the war and have no interest to take a side.

Here are some examples of their efforts:

    Repeated announcements made by the senior leadership emphasizing their non- involvement policy

    Maintaining open communications channels with the Shiites in Lebanon – especially with Hezbollah – and mostly in the area of Sidon and Beirut

    Monitoring and restraining Palestinian Salafi Jihadist groups (mainly in the Ain Al-Hilweh camp) who openly call for the Palestinians to stand by the rebels in Syria and to fight Assad and his allies – Hezbollah and the Iranian regime

    Avoiding open criticism of Assad’s regime and/or Hezbollah

Yet, it seems as if the Palestinians in Lebanon will find it more and more difficult to distance themselves from the fire:

    Thousands of Palestinians fleeing the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, because of the war, are making their way into the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. As an outcome, living conditions and every day life in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are more challenging. The new arrivals report about the atrocities they have experienced in Syria; killing, raping and looting of Palestinians by Assad’s troops is common. The brutality of the Assad regime towards the Palestinians in Syria is fueled with vengeful feelings: Assad does not forget the fact that Hamas and Islamic Jihad – who enjoyed for many years the warm welcome of his regime – turned their back on him and fled the sinking ship as the war in Syria escalated.

    Dozens – if not more – Palestinians have been killed by Assad’s troops in clashes in the Palestinian refugee camps and particularly in the biggest one in Syria – the Al-Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus. Reports about the dismal situation of the Palestinians in Syria ignited an outcry on the Palestinian streets in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Jordan. Accumulating reports indicate growing numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza as well as Jordan and Lebanon have gone to Syria to assist the rebels in the war – the most substantial group to have joined the fight are the Jordanian Salafi Jihadist militants, many of whom are of Palestinian origin. Reportedly a couple hundred Jordanian Jihadists are fighting in Syria and there are dozens of fatalities among them.

One also must remember that the Palestinians are Sunnis. As the war in Syria intensifies, feelings of revenge and hatred continue to rise among Sunnis all around the Arab and Muslim world.  The Palestinian leaders in Lebanon cannot ignore these sentiments. Here are some examples of the desire for revenge:

    Major Sunni religious leaders throughout the Arab world openly call for a Jihad – a mandatory war – against Assad’s regime as well as against Hezbollah.

    In Egypt, a Sunni senior religious official issued a Fatwah (religious ordinance) formally urging Sunni Muslims to launch a Jihad (holy war) in Syria. The official added that “Jihad in Syria is a mandatory obligation (in Arabic – fard al-ayn ) upon all Muslims.” This official is a member of the Iftah Committee (the body which issues Fatwah – religious ordinance) at Al-Azhar University – the most important Sunni theological institution, which is located in Cairo.

    In Lebanon, the senior Sunni religious authority of the Lebanon Mountain Area (a geographical region in the northeastern part of Lebanon with a mixed population of Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Christians, etc.) indirectly encouraged the Sunnis in Lebanon to take up arms and to fight Assad and Hezbollah.

    A very significant announcement was also made by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Kardawai, the most known and admired Sunni religious leader in the Muslim world. He recently defined Assad and Hezbollah as “Infidels even worse than Jews.” In a recent sermon he said that if he was younger he would himself go to Syria to fight. Kardawi’s statement is very important for another reason – a couple of weeks ago he visited the Gaza Strip as a formal guest of the Hamas government. His visit was a major political achievement for Hamas who has spared no effort to express their gratitude.   It should be mentioned that Kardawi lives in Qatar – a country that is a major supporter of the rebels in Syria – and also a major donor of the Hamas government.  By the way, Qatar is also home today for Khalid Masha’al, the Chair of Hamas’ Political Bureau and the Senior Leader of Hamas – his former home was in Damascus.

    Sunnis in Lebanon and Iraq are already participating in the Syrian war – whether inside Syria or within their own homeland.

o    In the city of Tripoli – the largest city in northern Lebanon – massive clashes have occurred between Sunnis and Alawites, resulting in the killing of dozens. Reportedly, hundreds of families are fleeing the city.

o    In the city of Sidon, Sunnis blocked the road leading to the city’s cemetery, preventing Hezbollah from conducting funerals for its militants killed in Syria.

o    Angry Palestinian refugees in the Ain Al-Hilweh Refugee Camp – in a formal protest – burnt the food, commodities, and aid packages that Hezbollah had distributed to them.  By the way – one can understand their fury – after all, it is partially also because of Hezbollah’s support for the Assad regime that these refugees had to flee Syria and go to Lebanon in the first place.

o    In Iraq, clashes between Sunnis and Shiites have intensified. For more about the escalating Sunni- Shiite tension in Iraq read my Intelligence Bulletin Immediate Intelligence Bulletin Iraq is on the verge of a violent Sunni-Shiite confrontation, March 2013)

For the above reasons, it is very likely that the major Palestinian organizations (Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad) will approach their moment of truth in Lebanon. And the signs are already written on the wall:

    Over the last few months shooting incidents have increased In Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp. The parties involved are the Palestinian Salafi-Jihadist groups on the one side and members of the major Palestinian organizations (it has been confirmed that Fatah members have definitely been involved and apparently members of some of the Palestinian organizations affiliated with the Assad regime such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-The General Command and the As-Sa’iqa organization have also been involved) on the other side.  Though attributed to “personal rivalry”, it is quite clear that these incidents reflect the growing discontent of the Palestinian Salafi-Jihadsit groups with the policy of “non involvement.” (For more on that subject  read my Intelligence Bulletin Clashes in Ain Al- Hilweh, a Palestinian Refugee Camp in South Lebanon, March 2013)

     It seems as if the Salafi-Jihadist groups are now taking a proactive position to express their discontent. On Sunday, May 26 two rockets (according to one report – three rockets) were fired at Al Dahya Al Janobiya in the southern quarter of Beirut – the capital of Lebanon. Al Dahya Al Janobiya is the major stronghold of Hezbollah in Lebanon. As many of you may remember from my article Inside Hezbollah’s Private Dominion (February 2012). Though the identity of the shooters is yet unknown, it is very possible that the rockets were launched from one of the Palestinian refugee camps in the area of Beirut. Reliable information indicates that following the incident, Hezbollah contacted the “relevant factors” asking them “to restrain the shooters and make sure that such incident will not take place again.” I tend to assume that the “relevant factors” are in fact the major Palestinian organizations – Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad – with whom, as I have said, Hezbollah conducts, ongoing communication.

In March 2013 in my article Clashes in Ain al-Hilweh – a Palestinian Refugee Camp in South Lebanon I had foreseen the scenario of using Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon as a base to launch attacks on Hezbollah in my article. Here is a quote from that article:“…According to unconfirmed information, Sunni-Jihadist militants recently entered Lebanon and are preparing the ground to launch attacks on Hezbollah targets and personnel inside Lebanon. Allegedly, some of these groups’ militants are based in Ain al-Hilweh Camp…The incident in Ain al-Hilweh is a reflection of the war in Syria. This incident could potentially intensify the tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon and specifically between the Sunni-Jihadist groups on the one hand and the Shiite-Hezbollah on the other hand.”

For the time being, the major Palestinian organizations in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon – Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad – are doing all they can to distance themselves from being involved in the evolving Sunni-Shiite collision in Lebanon.

The current policy of the major Palestinian groups serves Hezbollah well. Therefore, Hezbollah has no interest in initiating a confrontation with the Palestinians in Lebanon. Hezbollah, fearing a change in the status quo with the Palestinians, is also keeping the lines of communication with the major Palestinian organizations in Lebanon open and flowing.

However, the first cracks in the fragile Shiite-Palestinian understandings in Lebanon are appearing:

    On recent – public – occasions, the Hamas Prime Minister in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Hanyieh, has openly criticized Assad’s regime, declaring that “Hamas can’t support a regime who butchers its own people.” However, as of now, he has not criticized Hezbollah for its involvement in the war in Syria.

    Reportedly, following the rocket attack on Hezbollah’s stronghold, Hezbollah demanded Hamas leaders in Lebanon to leave the country. Though this report was denied by both Hezbollah and Hamas people in Lebanon, it may indicate an indirect and delicate signal from Hezbollah to Hamas which aims to make sure that Hamas does not reevaluate its current “non intervention” policy.

The current relationship and arrangements between Hezbollah and the Palestinians in Lebanon are based on fear. It is in both sides’ strategic interests to make sure that the Palestinians in Lebanon are kept out of the evolving Sunni-Shiite confrontation in Lebanon.

Yet, both sides know how fragile the situation is, and all parties are aware and concerned that the situation could violently explode in an instant. Should a broad Sunni-Shiite collision break out in Lebanon, the major Palestinians organizations will not be able to continue to sit on the fence for very long. At some point – even if against their will – they will have to take a side – and they’re not likely to choose Hezbollah. Therefore, Hezbollah can only hope that such a scenario will not unfold.


The Spider Caught in its Own Web

May 31, 2013

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by Avi Melamed

Since late 2011, I have been outlining a scenario in which Hezbollah in Lebanon would find itself in a violent confrontation with a Sunni Syrian-Lebanese crescent (links to articles on the subject are at the bottom).

These very days – right in front of our eyes – it is happening…

On Sunday May 26 three rockets were fired at Al Dahya Al Janobiya in the southern quarter of Beirut – the capital of Lebanon. As many of you may remember from my article Inside Hezbollah’s Private Dominion (February 2012), Al Dahya Al Janobiya is the major stronghold of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The attack on Hezbollah’s stronghold is not a surprise. Syrian rebels and Lebanese Sunnis have been warning Hezbollah ever since it entered Syria – if you don’t remove your forces from Syrian territory and you don’t stop shooting rockets on Syrian cities – we will target Hezbollah centers in Lebanon.

Over the past few weeks threats and ultimatums have turned into actions. First, rockets were launched from within Syria on the city of Al-Harmal, Hezbollah’s major stronghold in northeastern Lebanon. Al-Harmal is a critical center for Hezbollah activities, operations and logistics – housing weapons, training facilities, command centers, etc., it is also the organization’s major logistical base from which Hezbollah militants make their way into Syria.

Undeterred by the attack on Al-Harmal, on May 19 Hezbollah, together with Assad’s forces, launched a massive attack on the Syrian city of Al-Qusayr, pounding the 25,000 residents of the city with artillery, rockets and air power. Yet, as relentless as the shelling has been, Hezbollah and Assad’s forces have not yet been able to take over the city. Read more about Al Qusayr in Pay Attention to the Battle over Al-Qusayr in Syria (October 2012) and The Syrian Stalingrad (May 2013).

The scenes of the ruined city of Al-Qusayr and the mounting civilian casualties triggered the rocket attack on Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut. The message is clear: Al Dahya Al Janobiya as punishment for Al-Qusayr – an eye for an eye.

Who specifically launched the rockets on Hezbollah’s stronghold Al Dahya Al Janobiya? Formal spokesmen of the major Syrian rebel umbrella organization – the Free Syrian Army – deny their involvement in the shooting. According to unconfirmed information, the rockets were launched from Palestinian refugee camps in the area of Beirut.  That is very possible. Read more about this issue in my article Clashes in Ain al-Hilweh – a Palestinian Refugee Camp in South Lebanon (March 2013).

Here is a quote from that article:  “…According to unconfirmed information, Sunni-Jihadist militants recently entered Lebanon and are preparing the ground to launch attacks on Hezbollah targets and personnel inside Lebanon. Allegedly, some of these groups’ militants are based in Ain al-Hilweh Camp…The incident in Ain al-Hilweh is a reflection of the war in Syria. This incident could potentially intensify the tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon and specifically between the Sunni-Jihadist groups on the one hand and the Shiite-Hezbollah on the other hand.”

Hezbollah is sinking in the Syrian mud. Accumulating reports indicate that hundreds of Hezbollah militants have been killed in the war in Syria. According to unconfirmed information attributed to a senior Hezbollah militant who reportedly defected – 365 Hezbollah militants have been killed and more than 1000 wounded- 400 severely – in the war in Syria. This information should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt since the alleged Hezbollah militant quoted is identified with an opposition group within the Hezbollah party – a Lebanese Shiite group which is opposed to Nasrallah and his policies. Nonetheless, the figures quoted by this person are apparently not so far from the reality.

As Hezbollah’s fatalities in Syria grow every day, feelings of discontent are beginning to percolate among its core supporters and senior religious and political Shiite leaders in Lebanon are now openly criticizing Nasrallah, arguing he is dragging Lebanon and the Shiites towards catastrophe.

But Hezbollah can’t pull out of Syria because they are instructed by their master – the Iranian regime – to save Assad’s regime in Syria at all costs. And the more Hezbollah sinks in Syria, the more they find themselves on a collision track with a revengeful Sunni crescent that stretches from Syria into Lebanon. As long as Hezbollah stays in Syria attacks on its centers in Lebanon are inevitable.

Whether the attack on Hezbollah’s stronghold was conducted by Syrian militants who infiltrated Syria, Lebanese local Sunnis, or Palestinian Salafi Jihadist groups in Lebanon, Hezbollah is almost powerless to deter further attacks:

  • Hezbollah can’t threaten to attack within Syria if they’re attacked by the rebels – because they are already attacking the rebels.
  • Hezbollah can’t risk opening a broad confrontation with Sunnis in Lebanon while they’re bleeding in Syria.
  • Hezbollah also can’t risk a confrontation in Lebanon with the Palestinians. For the time being, major Palestinian organizations in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon – Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad – are doing all they can to distance themselves from being involved in any Sunni-Shiite collision in Lebanon. Furthermore, they are putting pressure on Palestinian Salafi-Jihadist groups not to launch or perpetrate attacks on Hezbollah.

The current policy of these major Palestinian groups serves Hezbollah well. Therefore, Hezbollah has no interest in initiating a confrontation with the Palestinians in Lebanon.  In fact, Hezbollah is walking the extra mile to express good will towards the Palestinians. Hezbollah is providing goods and commodities to the Palestinian refugees who are flee from Syria to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon (a phenomenon Hezbollah is partially responsible for since Syrians are fleeing the violence and bloodshed and desperate situation in Syria). Hezbollah, fearing a change in the status quo with the Palestinians, is also keeping the lines of communication with the major Palestinian organizations in Lebanon open and flowing.

However, the current relationship between Hezbollah and the Palestinians in Lebanon is quite fragile and all parties are aware and concerned that the situation could violently explode in an instant. Should a broad Sunni-Shiite collision break out in Lebanon the major Palestinians organizations will not be able to continue to sit on the fence for very long…At some point – even if against their will – they will have to take a side – and they’re not likely to choose Hezbollah. Therefore, Hezbollah can only hope that such a scenario will not unfold.

Hezbollah seems to be on a dead end street and this is a major source of concern for its patron – the Iranian regime. Hezbollah in Lebanon is one of the most valuable strategic assets of the Iranian regime. Hezbollah is the platform that gives the Iranian regime a foothold in the Mediterranean Sea. Hezbollah is a major bargaining chip the Iranian regime uses in its negotiations with the West regarding Iran’s nuclear military project. And Iran has poured billions of dollars, manpower and assets into building and strengthening this valuable and obedient proxy.

As of today Hezbollah is on a dangerous track. Hezbollah may find itself bleeding on two fronts simultaneously – Syria and Lebanon. Such a development could present a real strategic threat to Hezbollah and to its master – the Iranian regime.

Should Hezbollah face such a threat, this will force Iran to directly intervene to save its major proxy. To that end – and as a last resort – the Iranian regime may drag Israel into to a war. However, the ramifications of such a move may very well be counterproductive to the Iranian regimes strategic interests:

  • A war with Israel will cause Hezbollah grave damage. It will leave the organization badly beaten and at the mercy of the Sunni-armed crescent – and they will show no mercy. The Iranian regime will have to watch its major proxy and powerful strategic card disappear into thin air…
  • A war with Israel risks a massive reaction which could jeopardize the strategic assets of the Iranian regime within Iran.

In May 2000 following the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Nasrallah made a speech known as “The Spider Web” speech, arguing that Israel is a weak spider web doomed to be torn apart.

As of May 2013, Hezbollah finds itself on a dead end street – and its master, the Iranian regime may soon also find itself in a similar position.

History definitely takes interesting turns; the rockets launched at Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut thirteen years after Nasrallah’s “Spider Web” speech, indicate that Hezbollah and its patron are caught in the web they spun.

Here is a complete list of my articles most relevant to this story

May 23, 2013 – The Syrian Stalingrad

March 12, 2013 – Clashes in Ain al-Hilweh, a Palestinian Refugee Camp in South Lebanon

October 24, 2012 – Pay Attention to the Battle over Al-Qusayr in Syria

October 11, 2012  – Mysterious Blasts as Hezbollah Sinks in the Syrian Mud

October 2, 2012    Most Senior Hezbollah Figure in Syria killed

August 23, 2012 – Nasrallah is Sending a Message…but to whom?

July 15, 2012 – Hezbollah Sunni Tension Rises

June 21, 2012 – Nasrallah Gets a Taste of his Own Bitter Medicine

February 25, 2012 – Is War in the Middle East Inevitable?

February 14, 2012 – Inside Hezbollah’s Private Dominion

August 23, 2011 – Thugs that use Honey-Dripped Words 


Mysterious Blasts as Hezbollah Sinks in the Syrian Mud

October 11, 2012

by Avi Melamed

Nasrallah made a speech tonight (Israel time) in which he claimed responsibility for the launching of the unmanned drone that was intercepted by the Israeli Air Force after infiltrating Israel on October 6th.  This speech was clearly an attempt to repair Hezbollah’s damaged image and to regain popularity in the Arab world by using the “defying Israel card.”

First and foremost, Nasrallah’s speech reflects the deepening crisis Hezbollah is mired in as the organization sinks in the Syrian mud.

Hezbollah’s active involvement in the war in Syria is no longer a secret.  Hezbollah militants openly fight side by side with Assad’s troops against the Free Syrian Army.

Hezbollah’s troubles are accumulating.

Since May 2012 a group of senior Hezbollah militants has been held in captivity by one of the Syrian rebel groups.

On October 9, an official spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army announced that thirteen Hezbollah fighters were captured during a firefight by the Free Syrian Army.

Over the past few days (according to multiple sources) somewhere between thirty and forty Hezbollah militants were killed in fierce battles next to the Syrian town of Al-Qusayr located about ten miles from the Syrian–Lebanese “border” (the two states do not have formal borders).

Accumulating reports indicate that tens of dozens – if not more – of Hezbollah’s militants have been killed in the war in Syria.

Yet, until now Hezbollah has consistently denied its involvement in the war in Syria.

Hezbollah secretly buried their slain militants and discreetly published brief messages saying they were killed “in mission.”  On some occasions posters of the dead militants with a photo were printed.

Now it seems that Hezbollah is changing its public relations policy.

The turning point was a public funeral they held for Muhammad Hussein Al  Haj Nasif, the senior commander of Hezbollah’s military operation in Syria that was killed on October 2nd.

Similar funerals for other Hezbollah militants killed in Syria were held over the course of the next few days.

Hezbollah now claims its militants were killed while “protecting Lebanese civilians in Syria.”

However, neither using the “Israeli Card”, nor changing their “marketing” regarding their involvement in the war in Syria will restore Hezbollah’s ruined image in the Arab world.  In the Arab world the anger and criticism of Hezbollah and its leader is only escalating.

Most recently, an official spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army publically threatened to take the war in Syria into Lebanon.  More specifically, he warned that if Hezbollah continues to support the Assad regime he will bring the war directly into Al Dahya Al Janobiya, Hezbollah’s major stronghold in south Beirut.  According to some sources, Hezbollah is very concerned that it may face a scenario of a series of attacks – including suicide bombers – that would target Hezbollah’s infrastructure and personnel in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s concern is not groundless. On October 3rd a series of major blasts rocked the Lebanese town of Al Nabi Shit, a well-known Hezbollah stronghold, located in the Lebanese Valley.   The blasts were caused by the explosion of ammunition that was stored in one of Hezbollah’s many weapons and ammunition warehouses scattered throughout Lebanon.  According to reliable sources, at least ten Hezbollah personnel and one at least Iranian Revolutionary Guard officer were killed in the blast.  There are good reasons to assume that explosion was not an accident.  According to a reliable source, it was caused by a bomb planted in a car that was loaded with weapons and ammunition which was supposed to be sent to the Hezbollah militants in Syria. Some may attribute that operation to Israel.  It’s possible that the operation was executed by Free Syrian Army groups that operate inside Lebanon against Hezbollah.  It is reasonable to expect other operations down the road.

For the past five or six years, both in my articles as well as in my briefings and tours, I have been talking a lot about the growing tension between Hezbollah and the Sunnis that would eventually lead to an all-out conflict between the two sides.  As Hezbollah is drowning deeper in the Syrian mud and experiencing increasing stress, the odds for the realization of that scenario are significantly increasing.

Please read my related articles:

October 2, 2012                Most Senior Hezbollah Figure in Syria killed

August 23, 2012               Nasrallah is Sending a Message…but to whom?

July 15, 2012                     Hezbollah Sunni Tension Rises

June 21, 2012                    Nasrallah Gets a Taste of his Own Bitter Medicine

February 25, 2012            Is War in the Middle East Inevitable?

February 14, 2012            Inside Hezbollah’s Private Dominion

August 23, 2011                Thugs that use Honey-Dripped Words


Inside Hezbollah’s Private Dominion

February 14, 2012

by Avi Melamed

The southern quarter of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is known by the name Al Dahya Al Janobiya.  Since the 1980’s Al Dahya has been primarily populated by Shiites most of whom came to Beirut from the southern part of Lebanon and the  Beqa’a area (a 120 km long and narrow valley in the center of Lebanon).

Al Dahya is also the nerve center of  Hezbollah.  Al Dahya is the home of Hezbollah’s central headquarters as well as their main offices, thousands of Hezbollah members live there, including its senior leadership.  Al Dahya, like southern Lebanon and the Beqa’a area, is completely under the control of Hezbollah.  Practically speaking, the State of Lebanon has no sovereignty in these areas.  Al Dahya, the Beqa’a and South Lebanon are the private kingdom of Hezbollah, and Al Dahya is its capital.

I would like to take you on a tour of Al Dahya.

As you enter Al Dahya you are first struck by the huge posters plastering the walls of the buildings and lining the city’s streets.  The posters are of the “Commander,” the “Guide” and the “Master” in this order:  The Commander is Ayatullah Ruhullah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran; the Guide is Ayatollah Seyed Ali Hoseyni Khāmene’i, the current spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran;  and the Master is Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah.

Other posters are those of Hezbollah senior leaders that died as martyrs: Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s Chief of Staff who was assassinated in Damascus; Abbas al-Musawi, former Secretary General of Hezbollah who was killed by Israel; and Ragheb Harb, the Hezbollah’s commander in south Lebanon who was eliminated as well.

The next thing you’ll notice is a sea of flags – black, green, yellow and red flags.

Black is one of the core symbols of Shiite culture; it symbolizes the tragic narrative that is deeply rooted within Shiite legacy.  A central component of that narrative is the following phrase: “Every day is Ashura’a and every land is Kerbala.”  That phrase tells the whole story of the formation of  Shia Islam which I will summarize here:

The son-in-law of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was named Ali (Alī ibn Abī Tālib).  Ali was the 4th Khalif  (the Islamic version of a Monarch) of Islam.   He was assassinated in 661 by members of the Umayyad Dynasty.

Upon his death, his youngest son, Al Hussein (Hussein Ibn Ali) claimed himself his father’s successor.  However, his rivals, the Umayyads, refused to accept him as the next Khalif.

In 680, Al Hussein and a group of his followers were killed by the Umayyads in a battle next to the area of Kerbala (located in Iraq).  Ali was killed on the tenth day of the month of Muharam (the first month in the Muslim calendar). The word for ten in Islam is ashura’a (similar to the Hebrew word eser).

After Al Hussein’s death his followers called themselves Shiites.  The meaning of the word Shia’a is “a faction” and “Shia’a” is also the short form of the phrase “Shīatu Alī”, meaning “followers of Ali”, “faction of Ali” or “party of Ali” – core to their identity was the phrase “Every day is Ashura’a and every land is Kerbala” – this continues to be central to the Shiite identity today.

Green stands for the missionary nature of Islam – Muslims are called upon to “invite” other people to Islam.

Yellow represents the willingness of Hezbollah to fight.

The use of red is a relatively new symbol in Shiism.  It represents the anticipation of the Shiites for the return of the “Disappearing Imam.”  An Imam is a spiritual leader and according to mainstream Shiite belief, a chain of 12 Imams led the world, the last one disappeared when he was a young boy – but he is not dead – he is waiting to be summoned back to lead the world and to avenge the killing of Al Hussein.

In addition to the posters you see everywhere; the walls of the buildings in Al Dahya are also covered with slogans: “The Resistance” (I wrote about the concept of “Moukawama” (The Resistance) in some of my articles – such as the attached -“The Middle East:  Where Rhetoric is Rarely Reality” and others) “Martyrdom,” “Death to the traitors,” “Dress modestly” (meant for women), etc.

What is the dress code in Al Dahya?  Many women wear an abayah – a long black cloth that covers the body completely – inspired by the Iranian chador.  Other wear a mandil – a scarf which completely covers their hair, shoulders and the upper part of their body.  Others are less strict and prefer a modern, lighter scarf.

Many men – mostly Hezbollah members – wear black, khaki or green clothing.  Their dress code is also inspired by the dress code of the Iranian regime – a military style button-down shirt, a hat that resembles a baseball cap, and a carefully cut beard.

Many men, including Nasrallah, wear a ring decorated with a star or other Shiite symbols.

On the streets you see many young men wearing an imamah – a kind of a turban that indicates they have a position in the religious establishment.  These young men are the graduate of countless religious small classrooms, known as Husseiniyas.

Though Lebanon is an Arab state, the Persian language, Farsi, is quite common in Al Dahya, due to the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard members as well as the fact that many Hezbollah militants and officials studied and trained inIran.

You won’t find movie theatres or clubs in Al Dahya.  The Shiite narrative emphasizes suffering and the need to sacrifice. Therefore, Shiite belief does not encourage rituals or behavior that relate to joy or fun.  According to a religious ordinance issued by the Iranian spiritual leader, belly dancing is prohibited since it is “provocative” and Western music is prohibited because it is “a tool of the devil.”

Pictures of women on commercial billboards are often sprayed over with black paint if the image is “immoral” or if the women in the photo are wearing makeup.

The heart of Al Dahya is the compound known as The Security Quarter (Almurab’a Alamni).    Hezbollah’s offices and headquarters, as well as the residences of its senior leaders and officials, are located there.  The complex is monitored by a massive security system – both revealed and hidden. Huge sets of security cameras screen the surrounding streets and alleys, while Hezbollah security personnel lurk about and interrogate people in the vicinity.

Cars with dark-tinted windows driven by Hezbollah security personnel and Hezbollah senior leaders travel the streets forcing all traffic to come to a halt so they may pass.

Scooters and motorcycles are the most common mode of transportation in Al Dahya – none of which are licensed.

Al Dahya is not a bad place to live in if you’re a member of Hezbollah – not to mention if you’re a senior leader or official.  While most residents of Al Dahya eat at one of the countless popular cheap restaurants, high-ranking Hezbollah members prefer to dine in style at swanky restaurants which surprisingly bear western names like “Fantasy World” or “Seasons.”  And believe it or not – in the heart of Hezbollah’s Security Quarter is a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

And of course, there are fancy shops in Al Dayha as well, and like the fancy restaurants – the main clients of these luxury boutiques are the senior Hezbollah leadership and their wives.

Iranian funds were used to “renovate” Al Dahya following the enormous destruction caused by the 2006 War (in Israel it is called the “Second Lebanon War” and most Arabs call it “Harb Tamouz” meaning the “July War”).  New residential complexes were built and were given names like “The White Neighborhood” or “The American Neighborhood.”  I guess by now you can guess that the main residents of these neighborhoods are members of Hezbollah.

Al Dahya is one giant pressure cooker; the lid is tightly sealed almost by cement, cement made of tough, strict, unified codes of behavior, ideology and thinking.

Nevertheless, according to various sources, the seal on this pressure cooker is showing signs of cracking and it’s beginning to boil over…

Crime is common and increasing in Al Dahya.

Neighborhoods like Al Hazemia, Al Zueitra and Al Mukdad are ruled by gangs of drug and weapons dealers.   According to some reports, Hezbollah members, including senior officials, are deeply involved in the drug market – as dealers and as users.

Gangs also control the satellite dish and stolen vehicles market – one of these gangs is known as the “Van Mafia” because of the fancy vans its members drive.  Gangs of motorcyclists terrorize and extort businessman and shopkeepers.

Public areas, like sidewalks and parks are being taken over and private businesses, like coffee shops and restaurants, are forced to pay bribe money to the gangs or pay the price…These gangs are often fighting each other over control and influence and street fights and gun battles in the streets are common scenes in Al Dahya.

Disturbed by the increasing crime and anarchy in Al Dahya, Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, launched a massive campaign aimed to limit the crime and anarchy.  The campaign was a complete and utter failure and Nasrallah prefers to avoid a confrontation with these powerful gangs.

Rumor has it that Nasrallah is considering allowing the Lebanese Security Forces to enter Al Dahya and to restore order.

This turn of events is ironic and gives us insight into the changing landscape of the Arab world.

Hezbollah is the most powerful armed factor in Lebanon.  Hezbollah is stronger than the Lebanese military forces.  Hezbollah is armed and financed by the Iranians and the Assad regime in Syria.

In spite of calls from the international community, as well as within Lebanon, to do so, Hezbollah has always refused to disarm because it asserted that their massive arsenal was “the weapon of resistance which protects Lebanon from Israeli aggression.”  And in fact, for many years due to this line – and other actions – Hezbollah enjoyed the admiration and support of many people in the Arab world.   They were seen as the only Arab force that defeated Israel causing Israel to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000.  At their peak, the Arab world was deeply in love with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s positive image in the Arab world began to be tainted following the 2006 war it waged against Israel. The Lebanese, as well as other Arabs, could not ignore the fact that Hezbollah had started a war which severely damaged Lebanon. However, due to Nasrallah’s sophisticated rhetoric and public relation campaigns, Hezbollah continued to enjoy a certain amount of credibility in the Arab world.

However, two years later, Hezbollah’s image and its place in the hearts and minds of the Arab world took a turn for the worse.  In May 2008, Hezbollah’s “weapons of resistance” were used to occupy Beirut, the capital of Lebanon in a bloody coup.  To put it simply – in 2008 Hezbollah simply took Lebanon hostage.

The violent coup in 2008; the accumulating reports of the spread of corruption within Hezbollah; their involvement in the narcotics and money laundering industry; the exposure of Hezbollah’s terror cells in different Arab states; the discovery of the involvement of Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik al -Hariri; topped off by the fact the that Hezbollah is a proxy of the Iranian regime and for the past year (since the beginning of the Uprising) has been providing open moral and practical support for the Assad regime as it openly and brutally massacres Syrians has caused a sharp shift in Hezbollah’s image.

In 2012, the Arab world – by large – loathes Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

And the hatred is even in its own backyard…the Shiites in southern Lebanon, the stronghold of Hezbollah, openly and brazenly renounced the organization following Nasrallah’s recent statement: “nothing is happening in Homs.”  Following that statement Hezbollah’s flag was burned.  This scene, just a few short years ago, was unthinkable.

In an attempt to restore Hezbollah’s image, just last week Nasrallah made a speech denying Hezbollah’s involvement in criminal activities, narcotics or money laundering.

Nevertheless, Nasrallah’s statement will not turn back the hands of time. The time when the Arab world was head over heels in love with Hezbollah is over.

As far as the Arab world is concerned, the real face of Hezbollah and its leader has been exposed. The only way Hezbollah will continue to impose its political agenda inLebanonis by doing what it does best – terrorizing.

Bibliography:

Abu Matar, Ahmad. “The Mask Falls off Hezbollah’s face” Elaph.  June 2011.

http://www.elaph.com/Web/opinion/2011/6/665576.html?entry=homepagewriters

Aqel, Biar.  “In the Shadow of the Crisis in Syria:  Power Struggle and Corruption Within the Iron Party.” (i.e. Hezbollah) Middle East Transparent .  November 2011.

http://www.metransparent.com/spip.php?page=article&id_article=16894&lang=ar

Alamin, Ali.  “Chaos in Al Dahya: The Hezbollah Security Forces Shirts are Getting Dirty.”  Middle East Transparent.  January 2012.

http://www.metransparent.com/spip.php?page=article&id_article=17317&lang=ar

Heidar, Ali.  “The Republicof Al Dahya– Hezbollah Members Benefit from the 2006 War While the Middle Class Turned Poor.”  Middle East Transparent.  January 2012.

http://www.metransparent.com/spip.php?page=article&id_article=17500&lang=a

Heirallah, Heirallah. “The Arab war on the Persian   Crescent” Elaph.  November 2011. http://www.elaph.com/Web/NewsPapers/2011/11/696559.html?entry=homepagenewspapers

Jaf, Nizar. “Hezbollah’s Autumn.” Elaph.  August 2011.

http://www.elaph.com/Web/opinion/2011/8/679744.html?entry=homepagearaa

Taheri, Amir. “Lebanon: SyriaRetreats While Iran is Moving Forward” Alshark Alawsat.  October 2011.

http://www.aawsat.com//leader.asp?section=3&article=645020&issueno=12008

Taher, Marwan. “Will the Lebanese Army Have a Base in Al Dahya? Will Nasrallah Allow Al Dahya to be Open?”  Middle East Transparent.  November 2011.

http://www.metransparent.com/spip.php?page=article&id_article=16781&lang=ar

Heidar, Ali. Shiites in South Lebanon openly confront Hezbollah following Nasrallah’s statement “nothing happens in Homs” Middle East Transparent February 12, 2012 http://www.metransparent.com/spip.php?page=article&id_article=17638&lang=ar

Web site of the International Tribunal of the United Nations Security Council STL that was established to investigate the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri – http://www.stl-tsl.org/

The above articles (except the Tribunal web site) are from various Arab newspapers, news web sites and news portals and represent Arab writers from around the world.  Any translation mechanism you have on your computer will be enough for you to understand the essence of the articles.


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