Friday, June 22, 2007

Plausible Deniability

Victory at last… More like “at first.

Not to rain on our Parade, but our road to freedom has yet to begin, and it is long and arduous journey.

In this Poker-for-Life between the Assad Regime and Lebanese Freedom, the Syrian dictator still has a few cards to play. In trying to keep a semblance of “Plausible Deniability”, he has been playing the “furthest” cards first. Only those who cannot be traced directly to him were first to hit the table with full force.

First Cards

The first card was low scale terror; a little bombing here and there, escalating to assassination and cold blooded murders. Some of those were caught, and the party behind them weakened. But the network is little shaken, and still stirs.

Also among the first second cards were useful idiots, all too ready to play the game; some, like Hersh, were motivated by Vanity, others, like Michel Aoun, by spite and political ambition. They allowed the player to sow doubt in his opponents, but were soon spent.

For all the trappings of celebrity, evidence is mounting against this part of Hersh’s journalistic work. And Aoun is now a spent force, his only appeal being the disgust many feel with Samir Geagea, the Lebanese “ruling” class, and the Martyr Rafic Hariri’s side-effects.

There is even a “joker” among those first cards; few westerners truly understand the Middle East and what’s at stake, and fewer are even willing to ask the right questions. Those that do get involved, forget the nature of the beasts they are dealing with.

Second Cards

The fist of his second cards was played-out over the past month. Fath Al-Islam and its fans, more than 4,000 of them, were sacrificed in an attempt to split Tripoli and Akkar from the rest of Lebanon.

This was a smart strategic move; luckily (?) for us, it backfired. Today, in this sectarian standoff of ours, Tripoli, Dinnyeh and Akkar have all proven to be the main Sunni “muscle” behind Hariri. Remove that, and March 14th would become a mainly Christian and Druze affair, easily justifying a “Jihad” against it. This plan backfired, with the unforeseen effect of Tripoli’s resolve overtaking Hariri’s tendency at appeasement.

But there still are a few more; Jund Al-Sham, Asbat el Ansar, and a few other nasty little groups that can still be called upon to do their duty for “Bashar and family”.


Those political dinosaurs may not understand what the world has evolved into, but they still have a helluva bite. And as a poker player, the Syrian regime still has a few major terror cards, and is expert at playing them.

Assad has not yet played his stronger “tarnib” yet. It may not feel like it, after the July 06 War, the miscalculations, and the almost civil war of January 07, but he has so far used his master cards with parsimony.

First, Ahmad Jibril and his troglodytes have yet to enter the fray.

Second, a cursory zapping across Al-Manar reveals a brooding Hezb who has yet to activate his core troops. As expected, his early attempts at conservative revolution have failed, and the party is much weakened by all the economic pressures of rebuilding; unable to keep his promise of a flood of “pure money”, save for their “exclusive” claim on God, or maybe because of its “alliances”, the party has lost much support. It is harder to deliver on promises than to rail against the government. Especially when this government is playing the reconstruction “game” rather deftly, with cynical international backing.

But to Hezb’s real motivations, those losses are peripheral mercenaries, at best; the core of “True Believers” remains. At worse, they have still a measure of control over the Army and many Services; Berri’s little hiring spree was not all purely patronage.

And there may be more cards they can play, some we know, some we forget, and some we don’t. In this particular case; absence of any evidence is no evidence of their absence.

Raising the Stakes?

To conclude with some rain on our parade.

While we look to our Army’s victory with great joy, recall that “they” look at Hamas’ takeover of Gaza with anticipation; the entanglement there is not quantum, it is Syro-Iranian. And the Syrians will try something else, just as soon as this Arab waste of time is over; they do not want to provoke too many “brothers” too fasts.

And since he Syrians can afford only to play for keeps, they will likely try something big.

Then again, maybe that’s the whole plan for March 14th; knowing the Player is wasting his cards one after the other, play for time. But they’re only postponing the inevitable…

August will be hot. If we make that far…


ghassan karam said...

There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that the FAI in Northern Lebanon and the Hamas grab for power in Gaza are two moves orchestrated by the same Grand Masteron the same chess board , the one with the hammer and the invisible Iranian Mullahs behind him. There is no doubt that the FAI backfired, mind you the shot was not a Dud, it was seriously deadly but it achieved its "unintended consequences". Would the Syrian dictator ever learn that events seldom produce their intended results. Afterall, the so called Cedar revolution and second independence would not have occured when they did had it not been for the Syrian decision to eliminate Rafic Hariri from the scene. It is true that the Hamas move in Gaza has not run its course yet but my crystal ball tells me that a strategy born out of desperation would self destruct. Hamas, just like Lebanons HA are anachronisms.

Surprisingly the Syrian few successes , in Lebanon,have all been due to their dispensable puppets. It is their more valuable bigger assets that have been counter productive. The Syrian game master is running low on his ammo. As has been discussed earlier two such options are visible to everyone. Closing the borders and using the PFLP-GC. Closing the borders will result is short term pain but the cost of such a move will be felt also by Syria and even other Arab countries. The ineffectiveness of this tool will become apparent to Syria and they will reverse this misguided policy whose time has gone. After the Naher El Bared affair I would hope that the LAF would want to continue performing their duty to the state. A well planned confrontation designed by the GC would be costly but I think that LAF will eventually prevail even when Syria throws into battle its most valuable card.

The purely domestic, the regional and the global geopolitical forces do not favour a victory by the dinasaurs. The price will be high but Irans's designs on cloning the IR will be totally frustrated and Syria's dictator will be contained until the Syrians decide to change it. My sleepless nights are caused by the type of Lebanon that will emerge once the present standoff is resolved. I am afraid that it will continue to be tribal, sectarian, undemocratic and socially unjust.

Blacksmith Jade said...

Covering all bases with style. Another excellent post Jeha.

Bashar will keep starting the fire and trying to sell the water until he gets the west (and the saudis) interested. The hotter the fire, the more interested they will be.


Jeha, this is the best article I've read in a long time. So clear and simple even orange people should understand it :) If Marth 14th starts now planning for a real democratic country and institutions, very transparent system, and with a clear development plan to favor the poor Shiite regions, whathever the Syrian regime conspires will backfire on it. As for Hizb, the first day they shoot and kill a Lebanese army will be their political suicide... Watch my word because their support is a mile wide but only an inch deep (as many before them... communists, baathists, etc). I always believed Lebanese have inherently more democratic beliefs and aspirations than Iranians and Hezb is an abberation in lebanese landscape. So our counter attack is to start building a real democracy using the young talent in each Marth 14th political force...

david said...

I just discover your blog, surfing on another. Go on like that, it's really interesting...

Amos said...


I read Michael Young's piece on "something big" that the Syrians might try, and it is quite worrisome. For one, with regard to the Lebanese actors, it places the onus for a decisive intervention on the Maronite patriarch. Wouldn't that give the pro-Syrian forces an excuse to call the opposition to them a narrow sectarian affair?

Also, Young argues that Hizb may be using the battles in the north to effect a diversion of Lebanese troops away from southern Lebanon. This would open up space for various groups to resume cross-border attacks against Israel. So far, we have not seen a great deal of such activity. Is it possible that some of the UNIFIL troops are actually proving useful on the ground, or is Hizb. feeling more constrained by domestic, political forces?

Do you think there is any truth to the rumors of a deal struck between the Italians and the Syrians, which was supposed to guarantee the safety of the former's UNIFIL troops?

Lastly, a while ago you lauded the LAF's operations at Nahr el-Bared as effective counter-insurgency, contrasting it with Israel's modus operandi. At the time, I thought that you were right. However, it now looks to me as if the Lebanese army is still far from subduing the terrorists holed up in the camp. They are resorting more and more to artillery strikes from the land and the sea. I realize that most of the civilian residents are long gone. But will this still be a model counter-insurgency operation once it is completed? Also, do you think Israel would have been able to get away with conducting a campaign like this, even if it wanted to?

Jeha said...

Amos raises a few questions.
Some other commenters have answered a few of those points, but my "comment moderation" throws the dialogue out of sync...

Israel has the luxury of thinking ahead about the implications of its policies. The lesson is not only at Nahr-El-Bared; this battle is part of a larger "dialogue" between Lebanon and the powerful forces arrayed against us.

A first element is Authority. we're more than just reacting to events, and trying to catch up. While the contexts are different, the main element of counter-insurgency is giving the "right mix" of carrots and sticks. In the case of Lebanon, we had been dangling carrots for too long, the stick was bound to come hard. Especially that, as you point out, the Italians may well be trying to make a making a deal behind our backs. If that latter bout of European spinelessness pans out, the best way to prevent it is for Lebanese army has to overcompensate, and show them that we don't really need them. Rather than sending troops, let them just send ammo. At this stage, and in this context, Perception is reality; It is vital for Lebanon that the players know we mean business, and that the perception of weakness be erased. Before Nahr El-Bared, we had a glorified police force. Now, as BJ remind us, we have an Army, somewhat of an Air Force, and more curcially, we bwill use it.

Unfortunately, I do not think "Orange people" or others will be convinced, as Gebran's Son hopes, but it will make a few "dissenters" think twice. Many of my friends on March 8th "side" appear to be changing their tune, presenting Nasrallah's "red line" not as attempt to scare off the army, but as a shrewd maneouver to support the army while avoiding giving it "Shiite cover", and thus saving us from "Fitna".

A second element, and Ghassan describes some of its aspects in his comment, is that the battle is "multifaceted" and much more is at play here than a refugee camp. Nothing less that the survival of Lebanon as a secular nation is at stake here. The forces arrayed against us are indeed powerful; note how the minister of defence felt forced to play "nice" to all the sides of his "contradicted" politcal family.

A third element is the spineless know-towing of those millionaire-singers of ours, David pointed out on his blog how they have no shame singing the praises of foreign dictators while our soldiers die. Even during Syria's occupation, few stooped so low... Except for politicians, but that's part of the job description.

ghassan karam said...

Thank you for bringing to our attention the low standards to which some of our popular singers and song writers have fallen.
These songs are not advocating an idea or supporting a concept they are nothing short of crass personality worship of clans and dictators. These are not artists but simply prostitutes. I am so surprised that this behaviour has not generated a maelstrom. Of course the singers in question have the right to self expression but the public also has the right and the obligation to question the motives of such "artists" and to hold them responsible for the messages that they disseminate through their songs.