Date: Fri, May 9, 2008 at 1:20 PM
Subject: Beirut update: Very ominous
This just in from Joshua Landis, who is by far the best analyst on Syria-Lebanon. I hope his pessimism proves to be exaggerated, but I cannot think of any reason to question his assessment based on the facts as he is presenting them. Poor Lebanon!
The War is Over: What Were They Thinking?
Friday, May 9th, 2008
The war is over. Hizbullah has taken control of West Beirut in one day of fighting, during which Hariri's amateur and untested militia proved no match for the highly trained and war hardened Hizbullah fighters.
The outcome of this showdown was completely predictable. Anyone who expected the Lebanese Army to take on Hizbullah on behalf of the Sunni leaders of Beirut was dreaming.
It appears that the military, realizing the lopsided distribution of power, has sided with Hizbullah. Hizbullah has been turning over the strategic centers to Lebanese military elements as soon as it captures them. The military has assumed control of the al-Mustaqbal offices.
Qifa Nabki said I was wrong. He proposed that Jumblatt had gone off half-cocked and was dragging Hariri and Siniora into a confrontation that no one was prepared for, least of all Washington and the West. I could not believe that the pro-Western alliance would be so foolish and disorganized. When Ambassador Feltman was in Beirut, this would not have happened. He was in constant motion, conferring with the March 14 forces and brow beating Hizbullah and Aoun. One may have objected to his constant interference and hectoring, but there was little room for the lack of coordination between the US and March 14 leaders.
Now I am inclined to believe that March 14 was dragged along by rash leadership. It is hard to believe Washington would be so foolish. There will be those who believe this is part of a larger US and Israeli plan to sucker Hizbullah into overreaching only to provide justification for a second Israeli attack. Neither the governments in Washington or Jerusalem are in any clear-minded state to be thinking with such Machiavellian calculation.
I just received this not from Ehsani:
Dear Dr. Landis,
I just got off the phone with my business partner, who was staying at the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut. Below is a summary of what he told me:
After heavy gunfire in the early hours of the morning, the hotel management advised its residents to vacate the hotel as it could not guarantee their safety. The rumor was that the Hizballah (HA) forces might occupy the Saraya, or main government building, next door. The hotel itself was the recent spot for March 14th gatherings. Thus the hotel management was worried that HA could be planning to take over the Phoenicia itself.
At 6:15 am, my friend was evacuated with his family. Close friends guaranteed his safe passage to an apartment he owns in the Eastern (Christian) section of the city. As he left the Phoenicia, he described the scene outside as a "war zone".
The HA forces seemed to have total control of the situation on the ground. He described them to be "incredibly sophisticated" and organized as they moved through the streets.
Things could not be more different on the Eastern side of the city, where normalcy prevails. Reaching his apartment made him comfortable enough to feel like "there is nothing going on".
Normalcy is also returning to the Western or Muslim side of the city occupied by Hizbullah. The reason for this is that HA has been completely successful in overwhelming opposition forces. The other side was not even close to matching them. They were overrun with such ease that HA can see no resistance in sight.
What was March 14th thinking? What is the U.S. going to do? The French Foreign Minister states that his country will not sit idly by and watch the events unfold. But what is France going to do? Send its forces into Lebanon? Are the Americans prepared to do the same?
What is likely to happen is that the White house and Condi will condemn the latest events and claim that HA is a terrorist organization that took over the democratically elected government by force. Great, like that is really going to scare HA and convince them to retreat.
Particularly noteworthy has been the behavior of the Lebanese army. HA takes over a building and seems to turn it over to an army unit that follows behind the Shiite party. This is very odd indeed. The army seems to resemble a U.N. force that watches over buildings and streets after they have been overrun by a sovereign military force.
What the future holds, no one can say. This round overwhelmingly and devastatingly belongs to HA and its supporters. Jumblat and Hariri Junior were crushed.