Friday, 18 July 2008

Morning after

Veteran Lebanon reporter Nicholas Blanford sheds some light on potential trouble for Hizbollah on the morning after the night before:

Hezbollah's leaders have long championed intra-Muslim unity, believing that the schism between Shiites and Sunnis only benefits the enemies of Islam.

Yet, since May, Hezbollah has been slow to reconcile with moderate Sunni leaders, who were left looking weak and helpless before the Shiite party's military machine.

Angry, humiliated, and frightened by the May clashes, Sunnis are clamoring for weapons and training, a step that the moderate Sunni leadership is unwilling or unable to take.

That leaves an opening, however, for Sunni extremists to move in. And there are mounting indications that Al Qaeda-inspired militants are mobilizing.

A previously unknown group called the Sunni Resistance recently circulated a list of names of Sunnis cooperating with Hezbollah, calling for their assassination.

"It's a very dangerous atmosphere. We see these tensions happening everywhere," says Abdullah Tiryaki, leader of the Fajr Forces, a Sunni armed group allied to Hezbollah.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Bitter tears

For Israelis there are only bitter tears of defeat, according to the New Zealand Herald:

Family and friends outside the homes of two captured Israeli soldiers burst into tears when TV showed Lebanese guerrillas turning over two black coffins believed to contain the bodies of Israeli soldiers captured two years ago.

An aunt of Regev's sank to the ground when she saw the coffins appear on a small TV hooked up outside the soldier's father's house.

Some 50 friends, neighbours and family who had gathered there sobbed, rocked back and forth in prayer, or tugged at their hair.

"Nasrallah, you will pay," several of the mourners vowed. "It's the saddest day for Israel. They kept us waiting until the last second to learn the fate of our sons,"said another, then burst out crying.

Other people in the crowd criticised Ehud Olmert, saying the soldiers died for nothing.

Olmert waged a much-criticised month-long war against Hizbollah in 2006 after the Israeli soldiers were taken.

The sorrow that swept across Israel with the images of the coffins contrasted sharply with the hero's welcome that awaited Samir Kantar upon his return to a homeland he left 29 years ago to set out on his deadly mission.

Nasralla wins

Hassan Nasrallah makes a brief appearence with Qantar.

Syrian political analyst Sami Moubayed sets out the ballance sheet of the exchange for Asia Times:

The biggest winner by far is Nasrallah. The man has surrounded himself with something of a superhuman aura in the eyes of millions in the Arab world. For the past eight years he has delivered nothing but success to his constituency.

Now he boasts of a long record: getting the Israelis to leave South Lebanon in 2000, the prisoner exchange of 2004, the Israeli defeat of 2006, and more recently the overpowering of his opponents in Lebanese domestic politics in May.

This led to the election of Suleiman — a friend of Hezbollah — as president and gave a greater representation, with veto-power, to the Hezbollah-led opposition.

And now the exchange, which leaves no Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.

Few can deny Nasrallah's achievements, and Arabs from every end of the political spectrum (even those loyal to Saudi Arabia, which is not too fond of his powerbase, considering him an extension of Iranian influence) have showered him with praise.

Former adversaries such as Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze, called on their followers to celebrate July 16 and mark the day as a national holiday so that all Lebanese, regardless of sect, can honor what Nasrallah has done.

And the losers ...
Mahmud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, has now been put in the embarrassing position that Nasrallah has been able to release more Palestinians than both he and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, were ever able to achieve with Israel.

Nasrallah has been challenging the authority of Abbas — without knowing it — since Arafat's death in 2004.

Nasrallah had allied himself with the Palestinian uprising of September 2000, coordinating with anti-Arafat groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and abducting Israeli soldiers in October 2000 to pressure then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to change course with regard to the Palestinians.

That endeared him to thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. He was young, charismatic and an accomplished war hero who never spoke of defeat, whereas Abbas was aged, ailing, compromising and had never obtained — or strived for — a war medal in his life.

If Nasrallah is able to bring Qantar back to Lebanon, then the least Abbas could do is to work for the release of Marwan Barghouti, the charismatic West Bank leader from Fatah, from Israeli jails.

Other losers are hardliners in the Israeli government who argued against the deal, claiming that it would encourage more violence against Israel and "proves that terrorism pays, and pays well".

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


Mabrouk to Bassam Kuntar for the return of Samir.

I have known Bassam for years, and remember him as a tireless campaigner for his brother's release.

Of course much is made of Samir and his comrades' opperation in 1979 as that of a "criminal act". It was an act of war, the same type undertaken ten thousand times by Israeli troops—and all armies.

All war is ugly by its very nature, all the reason for it to stop.


Hassan Nasrallah greeted the returned POWs with the words, "The age of defeats is gone and the age of victories is upon us."

PR inside has more details:

The Shiite leader kissed and hugged each of the five men in his first public appearance since January. Nasrallah, who only appeared for the third time in public since the war fearing Israeli assassination, later addressed the crowd from a secret location on a giant projection screen.

One of the released prisoners, Samir Kantar, vowed to continue fighting Israel.

"I returned today from Palestine but believe me I will not return until I go back to Palestine," he told the roaring crowd. "I promise my people and dear ones in Palestine that I and my dear comrades in the valiant Islamic resistance are returning."

Image is of Samir, aged 16, before his capture

Prisoner swap

Reuters has the latest on the prisoner swap:

Hezbollah handed the bodies of two Israeli soldiers to the Red Cross on Wednesday to be exchanged for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel in a deal viewed as a triumph by the Lebanese Shia guerrilla group.

Many Israelis see it as a painful necessity, two years after the soldiers' capture sparked a 34-day war with Hezbollah that killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 159 Israelis.

Two black coffins were unloaded from a Hezbollah vehicle at a UN base on the Israel-Lebanon border after a Hezbollah official, Wafik Safa, disclosed for the first time that army reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were dead.

The International Committee of the Red Cross took the coffins and drove them into Israel. Safa later said DNA tests conducted by the ICRC had verified the identity of the soldiers. The Israeli army said it had started its own checks.

"We are now handing over the two imprisoned Israeli soldiers, who were captured by the Islamic resistance on July 12, 2006, to the ICRC," Safa said at the border. "The Israeli side will now hand over the great Arab mujahid (holy warrior) ... Samir Qantar and his companions."


It seems the Lebanese communist party has not be invited to the official celebrations to welcome home the boidies of fallen resistance fighters—even though many of the bodies are of CP comrades.

Party chief Khaled Hadade told NTV television that he believes the reason behind the snub is because communists continue to believe that resistance should be linked to struggle for democracy.

Hadade spoke against sectarianism and criticized those is in charge of the celebrations (meaning hizbollah and the new pressident Michel Suleiman).

Monday, 14 July 2008

Syria—in from the cold

Syria basks in diplomatic breakthrough, writes Sami Moubayed in Asia Times:

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad got things done — his way — first in Doha in May and now in Paris at the weekend. In a series of meetings at a "Mediterranean" conference, Assad resumed diplomatic ties with Lebanon and held indirect talks through Turkey with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Assad also made it clear that Damascus is central to solving problems in the Middle East. He also helped launch the Union for the Mediterranean with more than 40 other heads of state and government.

The Europeans — more so than the United States — realized that "isolating" Syria had led nowhere, except to empower groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. If anything constructive was going to be done in the Middle East with regard to Arab-Israeli peace, it needed to include the Syrians.

The perception of Syria started to change, from problem-maker to problem-solver. Among other things, it was reasoned that getting rid of Hezbollah through military force was impossible — as Israel found out in 2006.