Rockets strikes reveal new foe in Lebanon
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - Speaking in Beirut on January 7, the Muslim Ashura holidays,
Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah told supporters, "We have to act
as though all possibilities are real and open [against Israel] and we must
always be ready for any eventuality."
Twenty-four hours later, Nasrallah's words seemed to become reality when
rockets were launched from South Lebanon into Israel, near the town of
Nahariya, threatening to open another front to the Israeli war on Gaza.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, stationed on the
borders between Israel and Hezbollah, declared a state of emergency, while the
pro-US government of Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora condemned the attack but
fell short of blaming Hezbollah. For its part, Hezbollah denied having ordered
the Ketyusha attack.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) responded with fire into South Lebanon,
drowning an Israeli statement on Wednesday, which said that Israel would send a
senior official to Egypt to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza.
A Hamas delegation had already arrived in Cairo, and mediation efforts are
expected to be lead by Omar Suleiman, the chief of Egyptian intelligence.
International pressure for a ceasefire had been intensified after Israel struck
at an United Nations for Relief and Work Agency in the Far East (UNRWA) school
in Gaza earlier in the week, killing 46 people. Israel claimed that rockets had
been fired from the school, a statement denied by John Gin, the director of
Gaza operations for the UNRWA.
Reportedly, US Secretary of States Condoleezza Rice is "constantly on the
phone" with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and earlier at the United
Nations, several Arab delegates had been trying to push for a an immediate
ceasefire. This would put the US in an uneasy situation since it does not want
to pressure Israel with a binding resolution, yet would find it diplomatically
very difficult to veto a ceasefire.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also intensified his efforts at bringing a
ceasefire to Gaza, and so has Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Breaking his silence for the first time since war broke out 13 days ago,
president-elect Barack Obama said that he was "deeply concerned" over the loss
of life on both sides and would "engage immediately" in the Middle East after
coming to power on January 20.
To date, the conflict has led to the killing of over 700 Palestinians,
including 218 children and 90 women. Over 3,000 Palestinians have been wounded
and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights says that 130 children, under the
age of 16, have been killed.
Israel says that 130 fighters from Hamas have been killed, including its senior
commander Nizar Rayan, although Hamas denies such a high death toll. The IDF
also says that Ayman Siam, Hamas' commander of artillery, has also fallen in
combat. All mediating efforts were on the verge of evaporating into thin air
when the rocket exchange started with Lebanon on Thursday morning.
Attention shifted on Thursday, however, from Gaza and Hamas, to Hezbollah and
Nasrallah. Hezbollah clearly did not fire the rockets. If it did, it would have
been the first to boast of having done so, hailing it as a champion feat as it
has done so often since the Palestinian uprising started in September 2000.
Hezbollah's al-Manar TV would have praised the attack and repeated it over and
over with sub-titles in Hebrew to scare the IDF.
Additionally, when Hezbollah strikes - as was the case in 2006 - it hits
targets and creates plenty of damage. These attacks were amateur, to say the
least, not the style of Hezbollah. During his numerous appearances since the
Gaza war began in December, Nasrallah warned that Israel might try provoking
Hezbollah into another confrontation while it wages war on the Palestinians. He
called on his troops to be prepared for war, but never hinted that he wanted
war or would be taking any military action against Israel. Instead, he has
repeatedly called on his followers to demonstrate peacefully in support of
So, if Nasrallah did not fire the rockets, who did?
Some Arabs claim that Israel fabricated the attack to justify striking against
Hezbollah. That is difficult to believe, since the IDF already has too much on
its hands and cannot fight on two fronts - despite assurances from Israeli
officials that they can simultaneously battle Hamas and Hezbollah.
A more reasonable argument is that Saudi Arabia doctored the attack, through
its own proxies in South Lebanon, to incriminate Hezbollah and provoke Israel
into striking at the Islamic group. Saudi Arabia, after all, was not pleased
with the results of the Lebanon war of 2006, since it failed to break - or even
weaken - Hezbollah, which it sees as an extension of Iranian influence in the
Coinciding with the latest tension in Lebanon was the emergence of a rival
group to Hezbollah on January 7 called the Arab Islamic Resistance - believed
to be linked to Saudi Arabia. It was founded by Sayyed Mohammad Husseini, a
Shi'ite, who boasts of being an Arab (and ostensibly opposed to Hezbollah's
Iranian connections) committed to fighting Israel "with an Arab agenda", rather
than a Persian one.
He is head of the Arab Islamic Council, founded two years ago with clear
objectives of challenging Hezbollah in Lebanon. The new resistance
organization, which is marketing itself as a alternative to Nasrallah, claims
to have 3,000 fighters. The organization's launch was first announced on the
Saudi channel, al-Arabiyya, and Sayyed Husseini claims to have received 1,500
membership applications "from the Arab Gulf".
Husseini told al-Arabiyya that his militia "has enough weapons to please
friends and frighten enemies", boasting of an "exclusive weapon" called "The
Sending a strong message to Hezbollah, he added, "Our resistance will be Arab
Islamic, founded to defend Arab nations. Its roots are Arab. So are its
objectives and decision-making." The training of his troops was wrapped up
three months ago, he added, and the Arab Islamic Resistance "aims at striking
against anyone who threatens the Arab world". He naturally denied having
received money from the Saudis, noting that financing came from "private
individuals and not any particular state".
Last October, Husseini's Arab Islamic Council founded a TV channel to challenge
Hezbollah's official al-Manar, called, al-Ourouba (Arabism). Speaking at the
launch, Husseini had said, "The Lebanese reject any kind of guardianship from
outside. The Lebanese are part of this nation and they pledge allegiance to
Lebanon, and not any other outsider [in reference to Iran]."
Saudi Arabia's project in Lebanon is not new, having been aggressively pursued
since mid-2008 when Riyadh opened channels with mid-level Shi'ites, opposed to
Nasrallah's popularity in the Lebanese street. One of them had been Sheikh
Subhi al-Tofeili, the ex-secretary general of Hezbollah, who had been
completely sidelined from political life since the rise of Nasrallah in early
These people, through Saudi money, seem to differentiate between Saudi and
Iranian patronage. To date, however, rival Shi'ite groups have repeatedly
failed at scoring any points in Lebanon, and certainly have not challenged
It is very probable, however, that they were the ones who fired the rockets
into northern Israel, to create a pretext for a new round of bloody war,
between Hezbollah and the IDF.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.