Time magazine reports: Speeches by Hizballah head Hassan Nasrallah are usually predictable affairs. Each time he speaks, be it in front of the podium or from a secure, undisclosed location, the bearded, turbaned and bespectacled leader blends fiery rhetoric, anti-Western exhortations and bombast in a familiar pattern designed to inspire his followers, fire up new recruits and strike fear into enemy Israel. But in an interview with Lebanese TV station OTV late on Tuesday night, he went radically off script, zeroing in on a new target for his rhetorical darts: Saudi Arabia.
Nasrallah rarely mentions Saudi Arabia by name, only referring to the monarchy in vague terms in order to maintain plausible deniability. But that all changed on Tuesday, when he accused Saudi agents of being behind the suicide-bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut last month that claimed 23 lives. (The assassination of a senior Hizballah commander on Wednesday, though the assailants remain unknown, deepened the group’s sense of embattlement.) In doing so he has openly declared a war that has long been fought in the shadows, first in Lebanon where Hizballah-allied parties are at a political impasse with the Saudi-backed Future Movement of Saad Hariri, and now in Syria, where Hizballah, with Iranian assistance, is fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad against Saudi-backed rebels. “This is the first time I have ever seen such a direct attack [by Nasrallah] against Saudi Arabia,” says Lebanon-based political analyst Talal Atrissi. “This was the formal declaration of a war that has been going on in Syria since Saudi first started supporting the rebels.” [Continue reading...]
Haaretz reports: The death of Hassan al-Laqis, a senior Hezbollah commander who was killed on Tuesday in what looks like a clean and especially professional assassination in Dahieh, the Shi’ite quarter of Beirut, is the biggest operational blow to the Lebanese organization since the death of Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh, who was described as the Hezbollah chief-of-staff, was assassinated in Damascus in February 2008. At the time Hezbollah blamed Israel, which refrained from responding. On Wednesday morning the organization blamed Israel for the assassination of Laqis as well.
Laqis, one of Hezbollah’s veteran military leaders, has been familiar to Western intelligence services since the 1980s. Intelligence officials have described him in the past as a “brilliant mind” who played a combined role in the Shi’ite organization, which could be compared to the head of Israel Defense Forces’ research and development as well as technology and logistics branch.
Laqis was knowledgeable of and involved in all the organization’s operational secrets – from the acquisition and development of advanced weapons to the establishment of classified communication systems to Hezbollah’s operative plans. His death strips Hezbollah of a “intelligence source” – a person whose experience and widespread connections to Syrian and Iranian intelligence organizations served Hezbollah well for almost three decades. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: A Western intelligence agency gave Lebanese government authorities audio evidence that al Qaida-style militants were planning attacks on targets related to Hezbollah over the last two weeks, but the warnings, which were passed to Hezbollah, failed to prevent the bombing Tuesday of the Iranian Embassy, which killed more than 20 people.
The warning, which tracks similar cautions from American intelligence to the Lebanese government first reported by McClatchy in July, was first reported by the Lebanese newspaper al Safir. Lebanese and Western intelligence officials confirmed the report.
The report did not identify the Western intelligence agency, but it said that audio the agency gave to the Lebanese government caught a Saudi organizer with links to al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula attempting to coordinate an attack with a local militant group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The targets were associated with Hezbollah and Iran in retaliation for their support for the government of President Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria.
According to a local security official who asked to remain anonymous because he did not have permission to talk to reporters, the captured conversation was between Ahmed al Suedi, a Saudi national who’s been described as AQAP’s liaison and coordinator in Lebanon, and Abdullah Azzam’s top leader, Majed al Majed.
“We were given a specific warning about these men and a plot,” the security official said. “That information was passed on to all important parties as we are obligated to do as the Lebanese government.”
Al Jazeera reports: Shia fighters from Hezbollah will keep fighting in Syria’s conflict alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces as long as necessary, the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah has helped turn the tide in Assad’s favour this year, leading the recapture of the town of Qusair and fighting alongside government forces south of Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo.
“As long as the reasons [to fight in Syria] remain, our presence there will remain,” Nasrallah said on Thursday in a speech in front of tens of thousands of Lebanese Shia marking the religious ceremony of Ashoura in southern Beirut.
“Our fighters are present on Syrian soil… to confront all the dangers it faces from the international, regional and takfiri attack on this country and region,” Nasrallah said, referring to the self-declared jihadist rebels fighting in Syria.
Takfiri is a term for a hardline Sunni Muslim who sees other Muslims as infidels, often as a justification for killing them. [Continue reading...]
The Times of Israel reports: Israel conveyed a series of bitter protests to the White House and to others in the US administration over the weekend over the Obama administration’s confirmation that it was the Israeli Air Force that struck a military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia last Wednesday.
Israel has not acknowledged carrying out the strike, one of half a dozen such attacks widely ascribed to Israel in recent months, but an Obama administration official told CNN on Thursday that Israeli warplanes had indeed attacked the Syrian base, and that the target was “missiles and related equipment” set for delivery to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
This US confirmation, which was not the first case of the administration leaking word of Israeli strikes in Syria, risked causing a flare-up that could “endanger the security of Israel and the region as a whole,” Israel claimed in its protest messages to the US according to a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Sunday.
Israel’s fury was conveyed directly to the White House, as well as during meetings and conversations between senior Israeli officials and their US counterparts in the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department, the report said.
Israel’s shocked complaints produced no American explanation or reaction whatsoever, the report went on, which Israeli officials ascribe to embarrassment on behalf of the administration. Israel believes the leaks may be “a consequence of negligence.” [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Israel said it would not allow advanced weapons to fall into the hands of Hezbollah, after a raid on Syria that opposition sources said had hit an air force garrison believed to be holding Russian-made missiles destined for the militant group.
Israel has a clear policy on Syria and will continue to enforce it, officials said on Friday, after U.S. sources said Israel had launched a new attack on its warring neighbor.
Israel declined to comment on leaks to U.S. media that its planes had hit a Syrian base near the port of Latakia, targeting missiles that it thought were destined for its Lebanese enemy, Hezbollah.
“We have said many times that we will not allow the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah,” said Home Front Defence Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the inner security cabinet which met hours before the alleged Israeli attack.
Reuters reports: In the photograph the two robed men stand shoulder-to-shoulder, one tall and erect, the other more heavyset. Both smile for the camera. The picture from Tehran is a rare record of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meeting Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite paramilitary group.
Taken in April during a discreet visit by the Hezbollah chief to his financial and ideological masters, the photograph captured a turning point in Syria’s civil war and the broader struggle between Sunnis and Shi’ites, the two main branches of Islam. It was the moment when Iran made public its desire for Hezbollah to join the battle to help save Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, diplomats said. At the time, Assad and his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, were losing ground to an advancing Sunni insurgency.
Within days of returning home, Nasrallah gave a televised speech making it clear that Hezbollah would fight alongside Assad to prevent Syria falling “into the hands” of Sunni jihadi radicals, the United States and Israel. The very survival of the Shi’ites was at stake, he said.
Soon afterwards, fighters from Hezbollah – which until then had largely stayed out of its neighbour’s civil war – entered Syria. In June they helped Assad’s forces recapture the strategic town of Qusair and other territory, turning the war in Assad’s favour.
Regional security officials told Reuters there are now between 2,000 and 4,000 Hezbollah fighters, experts and reservists in Syria. One Lebanese security official said a central command in Iran led by the Revolutionary Guards directs Hezbollah operations in Syria in close coordination with the Syrian authorities. Another source said Hezbollah had “hit squads” of highly trained fighters in Syria whose task is to assassinate military leaders among the Sunni rebels.
Hezbollah declined to comment for this report on its involvement in Syria. Nasrallah has previously said it is necessary for Hezbollah to fight Sunni radicals allied to al Qaeda.
Officials in Iran did not respond to requests for comment. Last week, Iran’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said that Iran had no official military presence in Syria, but was providing humanitarian assistance. Last September, Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guards, said some members of Iran’s elite Quds force were in Syria but that it did not constitute “a military presence.”
Hezbollah’s role in Syria has ramifications not just in its home in Lebanon but across the region. If Assad wins, Iran’s influence along the shores of the Mediterranean will grow. If he loses, Hezbollah and Iran’s reach will likely be damaged. For some members of the group, the fight is an existential one. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency warned Lebanese officials last week that al Qaida-linked groups are planning a campaign of bombings that will target Beirut’s Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs as well as other political targets associated with the group or its allies in Syria, Lebanese officials said Monday.
The unusual warning – U.S. government officials are barred from directly contacting Hezbollah, which the U.S. has designated an international terrorist organization – was passed from the CIA’s Beirut station chief to several Lebanese security and intelligence officials in a meeting late last week with the understanding that it would be passed to Hezbollah, Lebanese officials said.
Hezbollah officials acknowledged the warning and took steps to tighten security in the southern suburbs that are known locally as Dahiya.
“Yes, a warning came from the CIA,” said a Hezbollah internal security commander who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. “They passed us this information through the mukhabarat (military intelligence), but we had our own information about the bombs.” [Continue reading...]
Michael Young writes: Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in the Syrian war is a high-risk venture. Many see this as a mistake by the party, and it may well be. Qusayr will be small change compared to Aleppo, where the rebels are well entrenched and benefit from supply lines leading to Turkey. In the larger regional rivalry between Iran and Turkey, the Turkish army and intelligence services have an interest in helping make things very difficult for Hezbollah and the Syrian army in northern Syria, particularly after the car-bomb attack in Reyhanli in May.
Many will be watching closely to see how the current crisis in Turkey affects Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to react to the Syrian situation, particularly if the epicenter of the fighting shifts to Aleppo. Erdogan has faced the displeasure among many in Turkey’s southern border areas with their government’s policy in Syria. At the same time, a defeat of the Syrian rebels in and around Aleppo is not something that Turkey can easily swallow so near to its borders, particularly if Hezbollah is instrumental in the fighting.
Hezbollah is willing to take heavy casualties in Syria, if this allows it to rescue the Assad regime. The real question is what time frame we are talking about, and how this affects the party’s vital interests elsewhere. For now, Hezbollah has entered Syria with no exit strategy. [Continue reading...]
Rami G Khouri writes: The most fascinating aspect of the war in Syria this month – and perhaps also the most significant in terms of long-term regional geopolitics – is the direct involvement of Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite party and resistance group that is closely allied to Iran and Syria. The significance of Hezbollah’s participation in the battle for the Syrian town of Qusair comprises several distinct elements – its reputation as a fighting force, its political wisdom, its perception among Lebanese, its independence from Iran, and its standing in the region and globally as it identifies more closely with the Syrian regime that has been increasingly isolated and sanctioned.
Together, these factors make this a potential turning point for the organization whose history since its establishment in the early 1980s has been one of the most remarkable achievements in modern Arab political life. It can be credibly argued that Hezbollah is the single most successful political party or organization in modern Arab history, given its many accomplishments: It has transformed Lebanese Shiites from a downtrodden and subjugated community to the most powerful single group in Lebanon; it has forced Israel to end its occupation of southern Lebanon, and it has helped shape a regional “resistance and deterrence front” with Syria and Iran that defines many regional policies and confrontations.
These achievements have been countered by its single biggest weakness to date, which is inherent in all such resistance or revolutionary movements: difficulty in making the transition from liberation hero to governance maestro. The multiple strengths that have defined Hezbollah’s many successes in community empowerment and military resistance – secrecy, external support from Syria and Iran, anchorage in a powerful form of theocratic nationalism, independence from state controls or public accountability – have all proven to be weaknesses in its slow and imprecise move into the political arena in Lebanon. [Continue reading...]
In an article on the life and death of Hezbollah’s top military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, Mark Perry writes: The Syrians always had a loveless marriage with Iran — and Hezbollah. Syrian President Hafez al-Assad had only reluctantly agreed to the deployment of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps training units to the Bekaa Valley in 1982, and then insisted that the deployment be scaled back. His son and successor, Bashar, followed suit: He maintained strong ties to Tehran, while registering discomfort with Iran’s anti-Baath strategy in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion of neighboring Iraq.
Relations soured further after the 2006 Lebanon war. Facing domestic economic pressures as a result of U.S.-imposed sanctions, the Syrian president pursued deeper ties with the West — over Iranian objections. “I want to make this clear: Syria views itself as a Mediterranean country,” Imad Moustapha, then Syria’s ambassador to the United States, pointedly told me in 2007. “We look west — not east. We look to America for leadership.” The statement, shocking at the time, reflected Syria’s desire to normalize relations with Washington — a fact that discomfited Tehran.
Hezbollah had its own problems with Damascus. Movement leaders were bitter about Syria’s February 2007 decision to open a communications channel with Israel through Turkey, and with Assad’s decision to send the Sunni Islamist militants of Fatah al-Islam into the Lebanese city of Tripoli, where they sparked a bitter conflict in a Palestinian refugee camp in May 2007 that claimed hundreds of lives. Syria’s move in Tripoli roiled Hezbollah leaders, who accused Assad of purposely attempting to destabilize the Lebanese government — at their expense. “We know who’s responsible for Tripoli, even if you and your journalist friends don’t,” a Hezbollah official told me at the time.
Ties between Damascus and Hezbollah reached a low point that September when Israeli jets bombed Syria’s clandestine nuclear reactor under construction in the country’s north and Assad’s regime refused to respond militarily. In private, a senior Hezbollah leader with whom I spoke accused Syria of “flirting with the Zionists.”
Mughniyeh’s assassination in Damascus [on February 12, 2008] marked the final indignity for Hezbollah. In public, the “resistance axis” presented a united front, putting out nearly identical statements bemoaning the killing. In private, however, Hezbollah leaders blamed Syria for Mughniyeh’s death, citing lax security and the incompetence of Gen. Assef Shawkat, Assad’s brother-in-law, who was personally responsible for Mughniyeh’s safety. In the bombing’s immediate aftermath, according to a senior Lebanese Islamist, Hezbollah officials in Damascus adamantly refused all Syrian requests for access to the body, physically barring security officers from the room at the hospital where he had been deposited. Iran dispatched its foreign minister within hours of the killing to calm tensions, but without success. According to my senior Islamist source, no high-level Syrian official attended Mughniyeh’s memorial service, and Hezbollah was enraged when Assad appointed Shawkat as the incident’s chief investigator. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: Hezbollah bombed a bus filled with Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year, investigators said Tuesday, describing a sophisticated bombing carried out by a terrorist cell that included Canadian and Australian citizens.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, in the first major announcement in the investigation into the July 18 bombing that killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver, said one of the suspects entered the country with a Canadian passport, and another with one from Australia.
“We have well-grounded reasons to suggest that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,” Tsvetanov said after a meeting of Bulgaria’s National Security Council. “We expect the government of Lebanon to assist in the further investigation.”
Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group and political party that emerged in response to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has been linked to attacks and kidnappings on Israeli and Jewish interests around the world. The group has denied involvement in the Bulgaria bombing.
The bomb exploded as the bus took a group of Israeli tourists from the airport to their hotel in the Black Sea resort of Burgas. The blast also killed the suspected bomber, a tall and lanky pale-skinned man wearing a baseball cap and dressed like a tourist.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Europol Director Rob Wainwright said the bomb was detonated remotely using a circuit board that a Europol expert has analyzed. Although it was initially believed to be a suicide bombing, Wainwright said investigators believe the bomber never intended to die.
Two counterfeit U.S. driver’s licenses that were found near the bombing scene were traced back to Lebanon, where they were made, Wainwright said.
He said forensic evidence, intelligence sources and patterns in past attacks all point to Hezbollah’s involvement in the blast.
“The Bulgarian authorities are making quite a strong assumption that this is the work of Hezbollah,” Wainwright said. “From what I’ve seen of the case — from the very strong, obvious links to Lebanon, from the modus operandi of the terrorist attack and from other intelligence that we see — I think that is a reasonable assumption.” [Continue reading...]
Robert Fisk writes: Hezbollah was once the Lebanese “resistance”, the tough, courageous, self-sacrificing guerrilla army which drove Israel’s occupation soldiers out of Lebanon 12 years ago.
Today, it looks more like yet another Arab “security” institution – or insecurity institution – as it flies drones over Israel and continues to support, to the increasing condemnation of many Lebanese, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader – famous for wind-milling between Syria and its opponents – is one of several Lebanese politicians to ask why Hezbollah does not give its military and political support to the Syrian “resistance” rather than the regime it is fighting. Hezbollah is not, as the US State Department claims, fighting alongside Assad’s men: but it has assumed “security” duties on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border – effectively keeping the Lebanese-Syrian frontier out of rebel hands – and uses its formidable intelligence services in the regime’s favour. At least four Hezbollah “martyrs” have been returned from Syria for burial in Lebanon. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: A Hezbollah commander and several fighters have been killed inside Syria, a Lebanese security official said Tuesday, a development that could stoke already soaring tensions over the Lebanese militant group’s role in the civil war next door.
Hezbollah’s reputation has taken a beating over its support for the Syrian regime, but any sign that the group’s fighters are taking part in the battle raises fears that the conflict could expand into a wider fight engulfing the region.
Hezbollah has stood by Syrian President Bashar Assad since the uprising began 18 months ago, even after the group supported revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain.
Assad’s fall would be a dire scenario for Hezbollah. Any new regime led by Syria’s majority Sunni Muslims would likely be far less friendly — or even outright hostile — to Shiite Muslim Hezbollah. Iran remains the group’s most important patron, but Syria is a crucial supply route. Without it, Hezbollah will struggle to get money and weapons as easily.
The Syrian uprising has left Assad deeply isolated — making his remaining allies such as Iran and Russia all the more important. At last week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, dozens of nations excoriated the Assad regime for its role in a conflict that activists estimate has killed at least 30,000 Syrians.
It was not immediately clear how the Hezbollah militants were killed or whether they had been fighting alongside the Syrian army. But Hezbollah’s newspaper al-Intiqad said Hezbollah commander Ali Hussein Nassif, who is also known as Abu Abbas, was killed “while performing his jihadi duties.” It did not say when or where he was killed.
A Lebanese security official said Nassif was killed in Syria and his body was returned to Lebanon through the Masnaa border crossing on Sunday. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, the official said the bodies of several other Hezbollah fighters have been brought back to Lebanon in recent days. [Continue reading...]
Hezbollah has a problem: how does a resistance movement defend the status quo?