Saturday, February 16, 2008

Analysts expect Hizbullah to deal major blow to "Israel"

Source: Daily Star via Islamic Resistance in Lebanon

By Michael Bluhm

BEIRUT: Wednesday's assassination of Hizbullah senior commander Imad Moghnieh will spark a new round of violence in the region, as Hizbullah is certain to retaliate in spectacular fashion, thereby provoking further security fallout in Lebanon, a number of analysts told The Daily Star on Friday.

The aftershocks of Moghnieh's killing could even increase the chances for civil strife here, said Ahmad Moussalli, a professor of political science and Islamic studies at the American University of Beirut.

We are close to a major conflict," he said. "We are at a point of some kind of war. It's very dangerous. You will see Hizbullah hardening its [domestic] position, rather than softening."

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's words at Moghnieh's funeral on Thursday about an "open war" between Hizbullah and "Israel" were not a mere fulmination fueled by the moment, Moussalli added.

"It is a declaration of war, kind of," he said. "The whole ballgame now is different. I don't think it was just rhetoric and emotion. It's not just venting his anger."

On the other hand, Nasrallah's proclamation of an ongoing, open war represents only an explicit admission of the reality dating to the emergence of Hizbullah in late 1982 to fight against the "Israeli" occupation of South Lebanon, said retired General Elias Hanna, who teaches political science at Notre Dame University. For example, after Hizbullah's then-Secretary General Abbas Moussawi was assassinated by "Israeli" helicopters in February 1992, a car bomb killed 29 at the "Israeli" Embassy in Buenos Aires in March 1992, although Hizbullah has never claimed responsibility for the attack.

"It never was a closed war," Hanna said. "It is not something new. There is no cease-fire. It was a declared war a long time ago. It's not one point out of context. It's a continuation of the same war."

Nasrallah's fiery language at the funeral in Rweiss was to be expected, as an effort to bolster spirits and guarantee the continuity of Moghnieh's work, Hanna added. "First, he is trying to keep the morale high [and] then to reassure the resistance Imad Moghnieh accomplished everything he was assigned to," Hanna said.

For Hizbullah, Moghnieh's assassination takes precedence over the maneuvering in the 15-month-old domestic political deadlock with the March 14 governing coalition, meaning the Shiite group will step away for some time from street protests or talks over the presidential vacuum, Hanna added. With all the political actors awaiting Hizbullah's response to the killing, the further direction of the political crisis "is in Hizbullah's hands - Mar Mikhael is secondary, the [presidential] election is secondary," Hanna said, referring to the investigation of the deaths of seven opposition supporters on January 27 in Beirut's Mar Mikhael-Shiyyah district.

Hizbullah will first focus on striking back at the Jewish state - which Hizbullah blames for the assassination - in a retaliatory attack on a meaningful target, said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East center. "It will deal a major blow to "Israel"," she said. "Hizbullah assumes that this is war. According to Hizbullah, the war is ongoing. It sees [the assassination] as part of the war."

Nasrallah's comments about "Israel" expanding that war "outside our natural battleground" by killing Moghnieh in Damascus were the most significant element of his speech, Saad-Ghorayeb said, as a signal that Hizbullah would act likewise.

"He was giving an advance claim of responsibility for an operation that Hizbullah will conduct," she said. "In Hizbullah's history, it has never claimed responsibility for any operation against "Israel" or Jewish targets overseas."

Hizbullah will seek out a substantial target as a reflection of the importance of Moghnieh's importance to Hizbullah, Hanna said. "It's going to be big," Hanna said, because Moghnieh "is irreplaceable. He is a co-founder of Hizbullah.

"When you see [Iranian Foreign Minister] Manouchehr Mottaki in Lebanon attending the funeral, it tells you what the importance of this guy is."

The retaliation will probably not take place in Lebanon, as the Blue Line offers few appetizing targets and is now patrolled by a beefed-up UN peacekeeping force, Hanna said. "The dynamics of the South do not let Hizbullah wage an open war" there, he said.
Once Hizbullah hits back, Lebanon will have to face the consequences of the inevitable "Israeli" counter-strike, although the violence could amount to only a series of isolated intelligence operations, Hanna said.

"Maybe this will become a security war, tit for tat," Saad-Ghorayeb said, or it could erupt into a regional conflict involving other states. Saad-Ghorayeb pointed out Nasrallah's "unprecedented" vow that Moghnieh's death marks the beginning of a battle that will lead to the eradication of "Israel".

"That implies that Nasrallah is talking about ... a wider regional war," she said, adding that Hizbullah might have interpreted Moghnieh's killing as a desire on the part of "Israel" and the US to reignite a war against Hizbullah. In this context, Mottaki's presence at the funeral signals Iran's backing for whatever steps Hizbullah takes, she said.

"Mottaki's appearance was very important," she said. "It underlines the strategy and ideological relationship between Hizbullah and Iran. This lends support to whatever Nasrallah said and gives added support to Nasrallah's threats."

Hanna, on the contrary, said regional geopolitical strategy did not play a role in the timing of Moghnieh's assassination - an operation as complex as his killing is only part of the unceasing Hizbullah-"Israeli" war and not tied to any other messages or external factors.

"When you get the chance to hit, you hit," Hanna said.
Commentary: Connecting the dots or how we could see a "Syrian Gulf of Tonkin"

While I do not agree with everything Hanna and Saad-Ghorayeb are saying they are correct in their assessment that Hezbollah's response is likely to trigger a war, possibly a major one. The question then is would such a war be in Hezbollah's interest?

The NIE is long gone and forgotten (after all, the new Indiana Jones has just been released!), the Republicans are likely to bite the dust, Olmert looks like a lame duck, the "Surge" in Iraq will sooner or later be discovered to be the abject failure it always was, the greenback is in free fall, the USA has just SNAFUed again in South America (Bolivia), the Russians dont' care in the least about the OSCE's rejection of the elections, Kosovo is about to blow up, Siniora, Abbas and Mubarak are clueless and desperate, Gaza is not showing any sign to imminently show great love for Fatah, the Russians are doubling their presence in Bushehr - wherever you look you can see signs of collapse of the Neocon dream of a new world order (again). For the Neocons, a big war in the Middle-East could provide the kind of "Gulf of Tonkin" pretext to simply remove all these issue from the political discourse and drawn it all in a wave of self-righteous patriotism.

I think that to provide such a pretext to the Empire would be a major mistake for Hezbollah whose leaders should remember two important facts:

1) High states of readiness are not sustainable over time
2) The longer a liberation war will be delayed, the weaker the Empire will be

Thus, Hezbollah and Iran should sit on their hands as long as possible. Still, that might not be enough.

In the current situation any terrorist act - whether "false flag" or real - will be attributed to Hezbollah and thus make an USraeli 'retaliation' seem legitimate in the eyes of the TV-watching public. Furthermore, the USraeli Empire can simply accuse Iran of assisting Hezbollah in whatever action Hezbollah is accused of taking and that, in turn, will justify both "preemptive" and "retaliatory" attacks on Iran.

I would be willing to bet that all this has already been choreographed in Jerusalem and Washington before Mughniyah was killed. Under those circumstances Hezbollah might also decide that since "retaliation" will happen anyway they might as well take the opportunity of a first shot. I guess that we will find out soon.