The Resistance is one project and the resistance movement is one movement and has one course, one destiny, one goal, despite its different parties, factions, believes, sects and intellectual and political trends…Resistance movements in this region, especially in Lebanon and Palestine, complement one another and (Hezbollah and Hamas) are contiguous groups.
— Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah 7/18/08
In Lebanon, we, the Islamic Resistance, are ready and prepared to confront any Israeli stupidity. We are prepared to face any foolishness. We have the wisdom to act calmly and we will not be dragged to any act of which we are not convinced. But we will not accept becoming a target for anyone. Hezbollah’s level of readiness is greater than the enemy’s imagination.
— Mohammad Raad, leader of the Hezbollah’s block in the Lebanese Parliament 1/09/09
Beirut, Lebanon — “Where is my friend Hussein?,” this observer asked some of the guys yesterday at my favorite motorcycle repair shop in Dahiyeh, the Hezbollah area in Beirut, as I helped, with my bandaged arm, off load my motorbike. “Silver”, sad to report, was not at all in good shape. In fact Silver needed a front end alignment, a new headlight, two turn signals, a new tail light and a new front wheel guard and at least the cracked windshield taped, before we could head off again and add the more than 11,000 miles we have logged crisscrossing Lebanon together.
The problem was Beirut’s flash hailstorm on Sunday. Immediately upon entering Verdun street near the Dunes hotel, Silver, not being used to a surface road mixture of oil and ice, and having a van cut him off from the right, tried to maneuver and skidded on his side and this observer went tumbling (again!). This time against a hotel protective barrier as some army guys jumped out of the way then courteously helped me up with a friendly “Welcome in Lebanon.”
“Isn’t this about your third ‘divine accident’ this year?,” one of Hussein’s mechanics, Ali grinned, as payback for me telling him a Sunni joke the other day about Hezbollah’s string of “divine victories.”
Again, I asked why my friend Hussein was absent. No response.
If one wants his motorcycle fixed cheap, well and quickly, even the pro government-anti Hezbollah Sunni repair shops in the central Beirut area of Hamra neighborhoods will tell you it’s best to take it to Ghouberi. “Ghouberi” is code language for the Hezbollah area of Dahiyeh/Haret Hareik, where most macho Hamra guys fear to tread as they continue to smart over “the events of May,” when Shia Hezbollah and some of their allies in Shia Amal and the Christian National Syria Socialist Party stormed parts of Sunni West Beirut and locked it down tight for around 72 hours before handing it over to the Lebanese Army. It was all about sending a message to the US-Israeli backed government not to mess with Hezbollah’s communication system or with their guys at the Beirut airport.
Once again the Hezbollah shop that took care of Silver did a great job. The mechanics, mainly Hezbollah reservists with ‘day jobs,’ apply the same work ethic of thoroughness and skill to their bike work as they do defending Lebanon against Israeli attacks. Space only allows for one example. As I inquired about the prospects that Hezbollah would open a second front, I noticed that a mechanic and his Palestinian dropout helper (quitting school is the growing pattern these days in Lebanon’s Refugee camps due to economic and political pressure), one with a screwdriver and the other with a wrench, literally checked and tightened every nut or screw on the bike. Never in 20+ years of riding and crashing motorcycles in more than a dozen countries had I seen mechanics do that.
Pastries or Pistachios as Clues
“So where was Hussein?” I asked for the third time. “He not in Beirut,” one of the mechanics said.
I immediately understood.
There is quite a lot of code language used in Lebanon these days, and “He’s not in Beirut” in Hezbollah parlance means, “He’s been called up,” he’s off somewhere for a few weeks doing ‘training’ or he’s been posted with his 5-6 man unit.
While Hussein is “not in Beirut.” it’s likely no one among his family or friends will hear from him. He may spend days or weeks in a tree along the Blue Line electronically eavesdropping on Israeli soldiers or recording their movements and habits or any one of hundreds of preparatory tasks. Hussein will return as if he just completed his day off but will answer no questions that begin with where, what, why, who, when, are, can, do, etc. Quite likely he will look leaner, stronger, more serious than when he left and will parry inquires with a smile and a question about “what’s new with you,” etc.
One might gain some inkling where he has been from what he brings back as gifts for his pals. For example, if Hussein brings special pastries acquired only from a certain village, which he did last time for this observer, obviously he had been posted in the Bekaa Valley. If he returns with a bag of oranges perhaps he was down south. Iranian candies or Iran’s famous Pistachios? For sure he was, well, the dear reader gets the idea.
Today, the Lebanese Resistance led by Hezbollah remains on full alert, in the 1/10/09 words of Lebanon’s Oppositions leader in Parliament, Mohammad Raad, “in case Israel does something stupid, we are ready.”
Some Hezbollah officials took note of what might be an Israeli record of some sort. They pointed out that whereas in the July 2006 War, Israel killed approximately 1,100 Lebanese civilians in 33 days of carpet, frenzied and indiscriminate bombing, in Gaza they have achieved the killing of approximately the same number of Palestinians, is about have the number of days. No doubt some kind of a lesson the Israeli military learned from their failure in the earlier conflict.
Many questions are being asked throughout Lebanon about whether the Hezbollah leadership will yield to growing pressure from all parts of Lebanon and within its ranks to force Israel to lift its destruction of Gaza? If so, are there ways it could be done without a igniting a sixth war in Lebanon?
Contemporary Wisdom in Lebanon
Every day brings more questions from Resistance observers inside and outside of Lebanon: when is Hezbollah going to deliver on all those speeches by Party leaders expressing Hezbollah’s ‘sacred commitment’ to the bloodstream issue for all Arabs and Muslims: the liberation of Palestine?
These days the Lebanese Resistance, led by Hezbollah is on Full Red Alert and there is a palpable sense of foreboding in many Hezbollah supporting neighborhoods.
In the bike shop, with its “town meeting” atmosphere, some Hezbollah members are more explicit.
“We can hit Dimona with hundreds of rockets on the first day, if we get the order,” the veteran Abass explains. “The Zionists are very lucky I do not have the authority or we would have joined the battle when the first bomb fell on Gaza. It is just a matter of when, not if, we join the Gazan Resisters.”
The largest of dozens of demonstrations in support of the Gaza Resistance Hamas have been organized by Hezbollah. Thousands of those in attendance at every demonstration bristle with anger along with hundreds of millions all over the World. In Lebanon, many, not only in the Palestinian camps and Hezbollah areas, but north and south ache to do something to help the trapped and dying Gazans.
Regarding the likelihood that Hezbollah will come to the military aid of Gaza, the local conventional wisdom, much of it likely wrong, includes:
* Hezbollah is still regrouping its base from the July 2006 Israeli aggression and rebuilding thousands of homes and businesses and doesn’t want them destroyed again.
* Hezbollah may not yet be prepared militarily.
* Hezbollah has not completed its redeployment to the Bekaa Valley and to the strategic mountain tops where the next war with Israel will be largely based. This includes towns such as Sajad near Al-Rihan Mountain, north of the Litani River with its clear view of all of South Lebanon and the upper Galilee of occupied Palestine, as well as part of the Golan and the Mediterranean coastline. The geographic location of Sajad between the Al-Zahrani and Litani Rivers give it strategic importance and links the South and the Bekaa. They need more time.
* The certain massive destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure of roads, bridges, schools, would turn the populace against it and undermine its great political progress since 2006.
* That Hezbollah, having recently consolidated its base and formed a political coalition with Christian and some Druze leaders wants time to see its alliances grow stronger and free of potential military and political “unintended results.”
* Hezbollah wants to win the currently scheduled June 9, 2009 elections, and being seen as sparking another massive destruction of Lebanon would give its rival parties plenty to beat it over the head with at the polls. Every time Israel issues a new threat against Lebanon and announces in advance that it intends to commit war crimes by destroying Lebanon, this helps Hezbollah’s rivals in the polls as they take to the airwaves and argue that Hezbollah wants another war and does not care about destroying Lebanon like last time. Or, as scholar Amal Saad-Ghorayeb observed last week, intense domestic pressures to disarm, and possible, more externally manufactured, locally-executed conspiracies hatched against it that could drag it into the kind of civil warfare that the movement found itself in during May 2008.
* Hezbollah does not want to risk losing the June 9 election and wants to keep its lead in the polls.
* Hezbollah is currently behind in the polls and needs peace in Lebanon in order to convince swing voters that it will be behave responsibly if the voters will allow it to govern.
* Hamas is assured of winning the war Gaza, given that Israel must win with its 1000 to 1 military advantage or it will be humiliated and, as Anthony Cordesman has pointed out, would likely in any case lose its deterrence position, likely for good.
* That the Israeli government and its supporters claim that Israel learned from their poor performance in July 2006 is wishful thinking and their performance to date strongly suggests Israel has learned nothing and will deliver to Hamas a silver platter with huge organizational and political gifts.
The “Varsity Squad” of Hezbollah has so trained the “Junior Varsity Squad” that there is no need to intervene unless Hamas is on the verge of total elimination which given its strong showing during the past 17 days appears very unlikely. As one Hezbollah reservist noted, “If Hamas survives to fire even one rocket into Israel after Israeli forces eventually withdraw from Gaza, the World will declare Hamas the winner.” Israel discovered Hezbollah expertise last weekend when it learned that the capabilities of Hamas are much more than they anticipated including its ability to strike Beer Sheba.
Based on conversations with several Hezbollah functionaries, Shia Hezbollah appears to have increasingly deep respect for Sunni Hamas. They share an ideology and a set of strategic goals that transcend their religious difference. Both were created as an alternative to failed Arab nationalist organizations in order to effectively confront the Zionist occupation. Hezbollah has been the primary role model, trainer, and “coach” of a “new” Hamas with apparent dramatic results.
Strategically, the fact that Sunni Hamas and Shia Hezbollah cooperate well, despite differing interpretations of some of the Koran, and the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), leads some observers to believe that this display of Muslim unity dampens the effects of the fiery rhetoric of Egypt’s Mubarak and Jordan’s Abdullah, among others, who regularly raise the chicken-little alarm of an Iranian constructed “Shia crescent.”
Hezbollah’s “Parental Pride” in Hamas
When Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, was assassinated last February, one of the major projects he had been working on for nearly two years was to teach Hamas the lessons Hezbollah learned during the 22-year Israeli occupation of much of Lebanon as well as the 2006 Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The current conflict in Gaza may indicate how well Hamas learned from “Hajj Radwan,” Moghinyeh’s nom de guerre.
It was Israel that killed Imad. One reason was that he was deeply involved in training Hamas with the Hezbollah model of Resistance. He is known to have been very proud of the Palestinians and stated shortly before his death to Party colleagues: “They (Hamas) are becoming a very good resistance force.” Some in Lebanon refer to Hamas as the JV (Junior Varsity) or “red shirts” as opposed to the Hezbollah “Varsity” or “blue shirts,” and “Hajj Radwan” is the coach of both. In another Report to the Party, he expressed his admiration for their ability reporting that, “they are proving day after day that they are powerful people capable of facing all challenges.”
During Mughinyeh’s scores of tutorials, Israel was tipped off by certain Palestinians who had met with Imad and who knew or suspected his real identity from “the old days” when Imad spent years with the PLO and was close to Arafat and his inner circle. Most people, even those who worked closely with him, did not know his true identity and he tried to keep it that way even avoiding his home village where half the residents are Mughinyehs. Yet, some who met with him remembered him and ultimately betrayed him.
Some, including this observer, theorize this is why Mughinyeh was killed, almost certainly with the help of Syrians in Israel’s employ since every individual allowed in the Damascus “special security zone” where the killing occurred was closely vetted, examined and then carefully watched. A “full report” on the assassination was claimed to have been made by the Syrian government, which promised to release it within a few days. In two weeks the report will be exactly one year past the promised release date and no one claims to have seen it.
Yet Hajj Radwan is said to have helped revamp Hamas’ military command and replaced certain elements. One subject Mughinyeh is said to have stressed to Hamas during such meetings was the importance of “the communications network as a strategic weapon,” which included Hamas keeping in direct battlefield contact with other Resistance groups fighting Israel, and advising Hamas on ways of fighting Israel using a number of different tactics and bases in locations in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, according to the authoritative Beirut daily Al Akbar.
One of his communications to superiors in Hezbollah is said to have reported: “The way the bottom of the earth was transformed in (areas) around the Strip and inside cities indicates that if determination and leadership was provided to them (the Palestinians), they would achieve what hasn’t been achieved before.”
Other lessons Mughinyeh offered Hamas, based on the lessons from 2006, included that each Hamas small unit of approximately five fighters should be fully equipped and must have a clear plan to fight Israeli soldiers and to wage a long war of attrition until Israel withdraws. Another included instruction on ways to stockpile weapons that would allow Hamas to have quick access to them even if Israel occupied many areas in the Gaza Strip. It is some of these pre-positioned weapons that special Israeli search units try to find in order to exhibit them for propaganda purposes.
How well Hamas has learned from Hezbollah’s experience remains to be seen. Meanwhile plenty of suspicions and speculation remain concerning exactly who killed Hezbollah’s much loved Imad Mughinyeh and why.
As Hezbollah has leveraged its 2006 victory, Hamas will likely do the same, with the losers again being the American–Israel axis, the current PA leadership, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The winners, in addition to Hamas, are once more Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Never in American history has one US administration delivered such a long and consistent string of political victories to its declared adversaries while assuring the eventual collapse of its most favored nation, and managing to turn most of the World, and its own country, against itself.