Nahr al-Bared: The Emerging Picture « The Fanonite

Thanks to the Fanonite for this great post.  Two other places to watch Democracy Now are Democracy TV and Chomsky Torrents 

Democracy Now! has extensive coverage of the developments in Lebanon today, with interviews with Seymour Hersh, Rania Masri and Alistair Crooke. Their analysis is somewhat similar to my own earlier impressions, however Hersh, Masri and Crooke do a much better job of dispatching some of the common misperceptions. I would recommend watching the whole program, but here are some highlights:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Lebanon’s defense minister has said Islamist militants entrenched in a Palestinian refugee camp must surrender or face further military action…The army has laid siege to the Nahr al-Bared camp since the fighting erupted on Sunday, bombarding it with tank fire and artillery shells. At least eighty people have died, with dozens more wounded.

On Wednesday, an informal ceasefire enabled thousands of residents to flee the camp. Some headed for another Palestinian refugee camp nearby, while others traveled to the neighboring city of Tripoli. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates between 13,000 and 15,000 refugees have left Nahr al-Bared.

AMY GOODMAN: The Lebanese government accuses Fatah al-Islam of having ties with al-Qaeda and the Syrian government. But there’s another theory of who’s backing the militant group: the Lebanese government itself, along with the United States. Last March, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker magazine that the US and Saudi governments are covertly backing militant Sunni groups like Fatah al-Islam as part of an overarching foreign policy against Iran and growing Shia influence…

SEYMOUR HERSH:There was a major change of policy by the United States government…[which] would join with the Brits and other Western allies and with what we call the moderate Sunni governments — that is, the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — and with Israel to fight the Shia.

One of the major goals for America, of course, was the obsession the Bush White House has with Iran, and the other obsession they have is, of course…of Hezbollah, the Party of God…that’s so dominant in southern Lebanon…and whose leader Hassan Nasrallah wants to play a bigger political role and is doing quite a bit to get there and is in direct confrontation with Siniora.

[The obsession is not ‘American’ of course. It is a neocon obsession and the President, through the VP, are willing accomplices in the program]

And so, you have a situation where…the American-supported Sunni government headed by Fouad Siniora, who was a deputy or an aide to Rafik Hariri, the slain leader of Lebanon, that government has — we know, the International Crisis Group reported a couple years ago that the son Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik Hariri, who’s now a major player in the parliament of Lebanon…put up $40,000 bail to free four Sunni fundamentalists, Jihadist-Salafists — you know, this word “al-Qaeda” is sort of ridiculous — they were tied to jihadist groups. And God knows, al-Qaeda, in terms of Osama bin Laden, doesn’t have much to do with what we’re talking about. These are independently, more or less, you can call them, fanatical jihadists.

And so, the goal — part of the goal in Lebanon, part of the way this policy played out, was, with Saudi help [Prince Bandar mainly]…we began supporting some of these jihadist groups, and particularly — in the article, I did name Fatah al-Islam.

The idea was to provide them with some arms and some money and some basic equipment so — these are small units, a couple hundred people. There were three or four around the country given the same help covertly, the goal being they would be potential enemies of Hezbollah in case of warfare; in case Nasrallah decided to do something physical, get kinetic, in Lebanon, the Sunni Siniora government would have some very tough guys on its side, period. That’s the policy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sy Hersh, if that is true, then what has led to the current fighting now? If the Lebanese government had been backing the group, why is it now attacking it?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, first of all, the Lebanese army is very distinct…But based on common sense and what I’m reading, the Lebanese army has maintained an amazing sort of neutrality, which is surprising. The army has not been a pawn of the Siniora government…

There’s a stand-off politically right now, a very serious one, in Lebanon…it’s not a constitutional government, because Hezbollah, which had…five members of the cabinet and a dozen or so members in the parliament…pulled out months ago. And there were street protests…against Siniora. And right now, you have Hezbollah in league with a Christian leader named Aoun, a former chief of staff for the army…in an amazing partnership against the Siniora government…America clearly supports Siniora. But there’s a big brutal fight going….

So I think the story that we have is that there was a crime, and they were chasing people into one of the Palestinian camps, which are always hotbeds. God knows the Palestinians are the end of the stick, not only for the West, but also for the Arab world. Nobody pays much attention to them and those places. I’ve been to Tripoli and been into the camps, and they are seething, as they should be. You know, rational people don’t like being mistreated. And in any case, so what you have is, what seems to me, just a series — the word you could use is “unintended consequences.” …

Blaming Syria

And what is the laugh riot and the reason I’m actually talking to you guys…is because the American government keeps on putting out this story that Syria is behind the Fatah group, which is just beyond belief. There’s no way — it may be possible, but the chances of it are very slight, simply because Syria is a very big supporter, obviously, of Nasrallah, and Bashar al-Assad has told me that he’s in awe of Nasrallah, that he worships at his feet and has great respect for him. The idea that the Syrians would be sponsoring Sunni jihadist groups whose sole mission are to kill [Shia ‘apostates’ of Hizbullah]…Nothing can be ruled out, but that doesn’t make much case, and I noticed that in the papers today there’s fewer and fewer references to this. The newspapers in America are beginning to wise up, that this can’t be — this isn’t very logical. The White House is putting it out hot and heavy as part of the anti-Syria campaign, but it’s not flying, because it doesn’t make sense….

You might think that…one of the things that the Saudi Bandar had promised us was that we can control the jihadists. We can control them, he assured us…the same kind of assurances were given to us in the late 1980s, when we supported, as I said, bin Laden and others in the war against Russia, the Mujahideen war, and that, of course, bit us on the ass…

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, what about the role of Vice President Dick Cheney, the Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you always — any time you have violent anti-Iran policy and anti-Shia policy, you have to start looking there. Look, clearly this president is deeply involved in this, too, but what I hear from my people, of course, the players — it’s always Cheney, Cheney. Cheney meets with Bush at least once a week. They have a lunch. They usually have a scheduled lunch. And out of that comes a lot of big decisions. We don’t know what’s ever said at that meeting. And this is — talk about being opaque, this is a government that is so hidden from us.

So I can’t — I can tell you that — you know, the thing that’s amazing about this government, the thing that’s really spectacular, is even now how they can get their way mostly with a lot of the American press. For example, I do know — and, you know, you have to take it on face value. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you know a lot of the things I write are true or come out to be more or less true. I do know that within the last month, maybe four, four-and-a-half weeks ago, they made a decision that because of the totally dwindling support for the war in Iraq, we go back to the al-Qaeda card, and we start talking about al-Qaeda. And the next thing you know, right after that, Bush went to the Southern Command — this was a month ago — and talked, mentioned al-Qaeda twenty-seven times in his speech. He did so just the other day this week — al-Qaeda this, al-Qaeda that. All of a sudden, the poor Iraqi Sunnis, I mean, they can’t do anything without al-Qaeda. It’s only al-Qaeda that’s dropping the bombs and causing mayhem. It’s not the Sunni and Shia insurgents or militias. And this policy just gets picked up, although there’s absolutely no empirical basis. Most of the pros will tell you the foreign fighters are a couple percent, and then they’re sort of leaderless in the sense that there’s no overall direction of the various foreign fighters. You could call them al-Qaeda. You can also call them jihadists and Salafists that want to die fighting the Americans or the occupiers in Iraq and they come across the border. Whether this is — there’s no attempt to suggest there’s any significant coordination of these groups by bin Laden or anybody else, and the press just goes gaga. And so, they went gaga a little bit over the Syrian connection to the activities in Tripoli. It’s just amazing to me, you guys.

The View From Lebanon

AMY GOODMAN:Rania Masri, you’re in the camp where thousands of refugees from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp have fled. What do you see there?

RANIA MASRI: I’ve been hearing this a lot in the Western press, that the violence that we are seeing right now in Lebanon is called the worst since the civil war. Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. The worst violence we had since the civil war was the Israeli war last year in July. So, if you can just remember this country has not healed from the July war last summer.

With that, …the Beddawi camp has approximately 15,000 refugees in it already. The number of refugees now in the Beddawi camp has almost doubled, because we have approximately 12,000 refugees from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp…That alone could give you an idea of the amount of lack of goods that is now available in the camp. I mean, there is a lack of extraordinarily basic goods, be it medicine, be it foods, be it mattresses, be it anything. Every individual that we talk to, every agency that we talk to said the same thing, which is that the international agencies have not operated quickly enough to be able to respond to the presence of 12,000 refugees almost overnight in this already extraordinarily impoverished camp of the Beddawi camp. Approximately 25% of these refugees are going to schools. Another 75% are going to homes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the aid, approximately 80% of the aid, is going to those individuals in the schools. 20% of aid is going to the 75% of the refugees in the homes, which means we are having an extraordinary lack of goods that are being given to the people most in need. When we look at the situation and when we keep in mind the ultimatum that’s been given by the minister of defense, which is this threat of actually invading the Nahr al-Bared camp, then we can envision at the very least that the number of refugees we now have in the Beddawi camp from the refugee camp, Nahr al-Bared, is probably going to increase. So as bad and as horrific as the situation is currently in the Beddawi camp, we are expecting it to actually get worse tomorrow.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of how the fighting is progressing in the Nahr al-Bared camp, what is the situation right now, as far as you can tell?

RANIA MASRI: Well, there has been a quote/unquote “truce” for almost a day and a half. But one thing I do want to emphasize with regard to the violence — and, again, this is based upon numerous amounts of eyewitness reports — that the violence isn’t simply extraordinarily indiscriminate heavy artillery coming from the Lebanese army into this — let me stress again — one of the most impoverished Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which is the Nahr al-Bared camp; in addition to getting this heavy artillery from the Lebanese army, in addition to that, there is a third factor: there probably is an armed civilian camp, you know, group militia, that is operating outside of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, that is attacking both the refugees that are leaving, as well as lobbing sniper attacks into the camp itself. So not only do we have the Palestinians in the camp stuck between Fatah al-Islam, which is a non-Palestinian radical organization and the Lebanese army; they are also stuck between this third armed civilian militia group.

Hizbullah’s Stance

RANIA MASRI: The position of almost — almost — every single Lebanese political party…including Hezbollah, has been support for the Lebanese army. The Hezbollah leadership has made gentle requests that the civilians on both sides of the conflict, Lebanese and Palestinian, not be harmed, that there be attempts to try to minimize the loss of civilian life. But the response from almost all Lebanese politicians and all the Lebanese political parties is support behind the Lebanese army.

And here, and I want to add something to the comments that Seymour Hersh made. This is being presented — this conflict is being presented by, I would say, a strong segment of both the Lebanese population and almost all the Palestinians within the refugee camps as a conspiracy against both the Lebanese and the Palestinians and as a conspiracy that includes within it a conspiracy against the Lebanese army.

Alistair Crooke on Fatah al-Islam

ALASTAIR CROOKE: I think it’s probably worth, for your listeners, just to understand a little bit more about the nature of this group. Although it came from Syria into Lebanon and it came from a group that was associated with Palestinians — its name was Fatah also — and was an old mainly Palestinian group that existed in Syria from the days of the Oslo Accord, what we have in Lebanon is something quite unrelated to the Palestinian issue. This is an extreme Sunni group. It’s a Salafi group, as Seymour described it, which means that their main characteristic is not concern about Palestine or a Palestinian state, but their main concern is their antagonism and their hatred for the Shia. And I think the reason that we saw them in Lebanon probably had something to do also with the conflict this summer, that took place last summer with Israel, and the aftermath of that, which seemed to presage an internal conflict within Lebanon, possibly between the Shia and the Sunnis and with Christians involved, as well. In other words, there was a real fear at some stages that Lebanon could be tipping back toward civil war. And I think in this context, therefore, this group, which is virulently anti-Shia, came across with the idea of defending the Sunnis.

Of those that have been killed in this group so far, not one of them has been Palestinian. It’s true that the leader is Palestinian, but the other members of it that have been taken so far have turned out to be Saudi, Tunisian, Yemeni and Lebanese, but not Palestinians. So they ended up in this refugee camp — they forced their way in; there’s not much refugees can do when 200 determined and armed men enter your camp — and eventually set up a little satellite area of their own, adjacent to the camp. So I think that’s the context that you have to see this. And I think some Sunnis in Lebanon welcomed their arrival, if you like, as potential reinforcement. If you wanted someone to take on the ranks of Hezbollah, which is a Shia movement, then here was a determined group who hated them that could be co-opted on the basis of your enemy’s enemy is your friend. So I think this is very much the way in which to see what happened. And I think it’s quite true what Seymour said: in a sense, it’s a reflection of a wider policy…I think the rhetoric and the language that is being used by the United States and by Europe, in some cases, of trying to encourage, if you like, Sunni fears about a Shia threat and a Shia menace, the axis of or the crescent of Shia, a threat that faces the region, gives the opportunity and gives a space to these sort of groups to emerge and quite often ends with them getting the support and the financial resources that they require.

Nahr al-Bared: The Emerging Picture « The Fanonite

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