Posts Tagged ‘Hizbullah’

On Samir Quntar’s homecoming and Lebanese/Arab Culture

July 22, 2008

[Being Civilized]

Comment: Those familiar with the field of Middle Eastern Studies know the culture debate (i.e. blaming all the ills of Arab/Muslim society on culture, rather than on hard political, economic factors etc.) is nothing new. French scholar Maxime Rodinson referred to the tendency of ‘Orientalists’ (or scholars of the Orient, which has now become a dirty word) to attribute all actions of Muslims to their religion as Theologocentrism. Mahmood Mamdani of Colombia University has a good survey of the culture debate in his Foreign Affairs piece Wither Political Islam?, in which he sides against the culturists.

While it’s clear that culture cannot account for all of these ills, let’s face it, the ‘victory’ rallies for Samir Quntar in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon — given what he did — epitomize a deep sickness in Arab culture and society. In what other region would the populace consider ‘victory’ as involving a war that results in 1,200 deaths and many more maimings, a ruined country and $5 billion in economic damages, all for the perceived humiliation of Israel and the successful return, among other lesser prisoners, of this unsavory character, Quntar? What kind of inferiority complex must there be for that to constitute ‘victory’?

To be fair, as the below Jerusalem Post article points out, not all Lebanese are in fact happy about Quntar’s release — not because he killed a baby — but because many of them who are opponents of Hizbullah worry about the domestic implications of another Hizbullah victory.

(Jerusalem Post) — “(Eyal) Zisser said the response in Lebanon was completely different from one that would have been seen in Israel due to cultural differences. Israel wouldn’t use the return of soldiers for political gain, and the celebration in Israel would have been about “the return of the individual,” and not victory, he said. “This is something you can only find in primitive societies,” said Zisser.

So why is there a need to celebrate the return of a terrorist known to have killed a child? “When you have an ideology that Zionism is the epitome of evil, when you dehumanize your enemy, you can justify anything,” said Litvak. “He didn’t kill a child. He killed a Zionist.”

Moshe Maoz, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University, said the need to defeat Israel was deeply entrenched in the Arab culture.

“Anything they can recover from the feeling of humiliation [following past losses against Israel] is welcome,” Maoz said… Click for full article

Context of the Lebanese Crisis

May 16, 2008

[Taking a stroll in downtown Beirut]

American media never pro-actively follow political developments in places like Lebanon, nor sufficiently explain the deeper issues even when crises breaks out. That is why Americans are left scratching their heads when violence erupts so suddenly and unexpectedly. And that is why I turn to British media. No gasket ever blows without simmering pressure, and there’s been a lot of that in Lebanon. For a very in-depth explanation of the situation in Lebanon, The Economist has a great article. Also see Patrick Seale’s quite informative piece, Lebanon Steps Back from the Brink of War.

Probably the most significant lasting fallout from the previous week’s events surrounds Hizbullah crossing the Rubicon by using its arms for internal Lebanese political machinations, which the militant group had previously vowed never to do. That, and the pro-Western Lebanese government may fall. The argument that their weapons are reserved only for use against Israel is now totally undermined. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah demonstrated in both words and actions last week that, “We no longer have red lines.”

Writing for the Daily Star, Rami Khouri believes the reconciliation talks going in Doha may lead to short term or even long term peace and quiet in Lebanon, but not before a new power sharing formula is devised, or before the country goes through some major soul searching about its place among the regional and global power rivalries.

It’s often said that Middle Easterners have long memories (there are people in my field who would call that an Orientalist cliche but I believe it’s true). So do Lebanese who remember the civil war years (1975-1990) really want to go down that road again? Did they forget it wasn’t pleasant? Ask Robert Fisk for his opinion on that

‘Lebanese Carlos’ Killed in Damascus Blast

February 13, 2008

mughniyah.jpg

My immediate reaction to Imad Mughniyah’s assassination is that it was almost certainly the Israelis, who have had a long-standing and well deserved grudge against him. It appears Israel has adopted the now common Al Qaeda and Hamas post-attack practice of praising the event while denying responsibility for it. Thus, Israeli Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, formerly a senior intelligence officer, stated today, “I, of course, do not know who carried out the assassination of Imad, but he should be blessed.” If it was Israel, it also proves the Mossad still maintains extensive intelligence and operational capabilities in the region for which the organization has become famous. This man, Mughniyah was very difficult to kill. Read for example, about the last botched attempt to kill him in the 1990s when they got his brother instead, a car shop owner in Beirut.

One note of caution however: There were a number of other countries and players who were after him. Thus, the possibility someone else could have carried out the assassination, while not likely, can not be ruled out. Dr Eyal Zisser, head of the the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University (who is a personal friend of mine) said today that Mughniyah “was wanted by 42 countries, most of the world was after him. Israel’s official denial just adds another question mark to all the others raised by the assassination.” Nonetheless, it remains largely irrelevant because Hizbullah will not wait for an investigation.

Some analysts will probably point to the timing of Mughniyah’s killing to implicate Israel, noting that just this week Israel announced it may launch targeted assassinations against the Hamas leadership in response to ongoing Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli towns in the western Negev — Hamas and Hizbullah being two completely different organizations notwithstanding. Some may conclude it was meant as a signal to Damascus-based exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal that the Qassams must stop, or perhaps there are other recent events to which they will discover a link. But on the contrary, I think timing has very little to do with this. Israel and possibly other players have been trying to kill the elusive Mughniyah for years without success, until today. In the world of intelligence, it’s well understood that when you have a valuable target in your sights, you pull the trigger. The longer you wait, the higher the chance of your plot being uncovered, the greater the danger to your operatives on the ground. Frankly, if it were so easy to assassinate Mughniyah at a given time Israel saw fit to send a message, he would have been killed years ago. Speaking to the Jerusalem Post today, retired Israeli Brigadier-General and senior Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) research fellow Shlomo Brom stated, “As far as timing is concerned, it’s probably little more than grabbing the opportunity. If you read James Bond novels you might think that reaching someone is easy, but in reality a security service can be tracking a person down for years and years before getting a chance to strike.”

Remember that scene in Scarface when Tony Montana is enlisted by Sosa to help his assassin dispose of a journalist who is about to expose the drug trafficking industry? As they sit and wait for the journalist to come out of his hotel, his wife and children get in the explosive-laden car along with him. At this point Montana refuses to allow Sosa’s assassin to push the detonator, despite his insistence to carry out the operation, and Montana shoots him a few moments later in a fit of coked-out rage. Montana turns to Sosa’s man and says, “What’d you think of that, huh? What you think, I’m a fucking worm like you?… I told you, no fucking kids! No, but you wouldn’t listen, why, you stupid fuck, look at you now.” Afterwards the explosive device is found under the journalist’s car and the plot is uncovered.

Mughniyah was truly vicious and nobody should shed a tear for him although some in the Arab world undoubtedly will. But before you go celebrate, know that there will be consequences. Hizbullah has a proven track record of tit for tat responses to Israeli attacks. We don’t know yet when, where or how many dead. First of all, there is the possibility of retaliation against captive Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, two cards Hizbullah currently holds against Israel. At the very least we should not expect their return anytime soon. However, much more likely is that Hizbullah will retaliate either with a high profile assassination of their own, as predicted by Timur Goksel, lecturer on international relations in Beirut and a former United Nations official in south Lebanon, or will opt for a larger and more gruesome attack against Jewish or Israeli targets abroad, resembling the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Beunos Aires and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, also in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. These attacks are seen as retaliation for the Israeli assassination of former Hizbullah leader Abbas Musawi in 1992, and for Israel’s 1994 raid on Hezbollah’s Ein Dardara training camp in the Bekaa Valley. Musawi was then replaced by the more charismatic and effective Hassan Nasrallah.

Only in this case, there is no chance any replacement for Mughniyah will be more effective than he was. And Mughniyah won’t be planning the retaliation this time around.

Hashish Thrives Amid Lebanon’s Instability

October 16, 2007

hashish.jpg

This is an interesting article about Lebanese marijuana cultivation as it relates to the country’s political climate. It’s also a prime example (strangely giving you faith in humanity) that no matter how badly things deteriorate, there’s always someone who figures out how to make a bunch of money off of it. I remember reading that during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), or the “golden years” of Lebanon’s marijuana cultivation as this article refers to it with terrible irony, occasionally young Israeli soldiers occupying the country couldn’t resist buying stashes for themselves, and would even trade weapons for it. The way things are going in Lebanon there could be a real future for marijuana farmers…

(Christian Science Monitor) — Farmers in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are growing more marijuana now that government forces are once again too busy with conflicts to stop them.

By Nicholas Blanford

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Ali plucks a sprig of the cannabis sativa plant and sniffs its distinctive leaves with appreciation. This Lebanese farmer’s field of marijuana, a splash of bright green on the sun-baked plains of eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, will yield around 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of cannabis resin, or hashish, which he will sell for about $10,000, many times more than he could hope to earn from legitimate crops and for almost no work at all.

“All I have to do is throw the seeds on the ground, add a little water, and that’s it,” says Ali, who spoke on the condition that his full name was not used. “I would be crazy not to grow [marijuana].”

It has been a bumper year for marijuana cultivation in the Bekaa Valley, the largest, growers say, since the “golden years” of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, when marijuana and heroin grown and processed here flooded the markets of Europe and the United States.

Hashish production is illegal in Lebanon, and each year since the early 1990s police backed by troops bulldoze the crops before they can be harvested, leaving farmers penniless. But the failure of United Nations and government programs to encourage the growth of legitimate crops, coupled with months of political crisis, deteriorating economic prospects, and a frail security climate have encouraged farmers to return to large-scale marijuana cultivation.

“The worse the security situation is in Lebanon, the more we can grow,” says Ali.

Worth the risk, farmers say

Despite the threat of police raids destroying their crops, farmers say the financial returns justify the risk. This year they were lucky, however. The Army was unable to spare troops to provide security for the police raids because of the raging battle during the summer growing season against Islamist militants in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Furthermore, the heavily armed local farmers made it clear to the police that they would resist attempts to wipe out their marijuana crops.

“We told the police that for every [marijuana] plant they cut down, we would kill one policeman,” says Ibtissam, the wife of a marijuana farmer in the village of Taraya.

Cannabis cultivation has a long history in Lebanon. For centuries, farmers have grown marijuana in the fertile Bekaa. However, it was not until Lebanon’s civil war that marijuana and opium poppy growing really took off. By the end of the 1980s, the northern Bekaa was awash with both crops, generating an annual local economy worth $500 million, a massive sum for one of the poorest districts of the country, turning local farmers into multimillionaire drug barons.

The biggest of them all was Jamil Hamieh, a simple farmer from Taraya who built a fortune from cannabis and heroin production, cutting deals with Colombian drug lords and mafia dons and earning him the dubious distinction of being the only Lebanese on the US government’s list of leading international drug “kingpins.”

Now retired from active drug production, Hamieh lives in an air-conditioned tent where he hosts visitors with tiny cups of bitter coffee.

“It wasn’t the government that made me stop. I was tired of being ripped off by all the foreigners I was dealing with,” he says with a rueful chuckle.

With the end of the civil war in 1990, the Lebanese government launched a drug eradication program in coordination with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Encouraged by promises of state support and international funding, the farmers stopped growing cannabis and by 1994 the UNDP declared the Bekaa drug free.

But the development funds never fully materialized. Of the $300 million the UNDP assessed was required to develop the Bekaa without resorting to drug cultivation, only $17 million was received by 2001.

The program fizzled out a year later, although the UNDP continues to seek new ways of persuading farmers to grow alternative legal crops, such as plants with medicinal qualities that can be sold to pharmaceutical companies. The UNDP is about to launch a one-year pilot project to grow industrial hemp, which comes from cannabis but does not have narcotic properties.

“The farmers can sell the fibers to make money. We have had a lot of interest from factories overseas,” says Edgar Chehab, the head of the UNDP’s energy and environment division in Lebanon.

The northern part of the Bekaa Valley – where the bulk of the marijuana is grown – is dominated by Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hizbullah party. Hizbullah officially disapproves of drug production, but it has chosen to turn a blind eye to the practice rather than risk a confrontation over the issue with its grass-roots supporters.

Indeed, Hizbullah in the past has co-opted cross-border drug smuggling networks between Lebanon and Israel, allowing narcotics to flow south into the Jewish state in exchange for intelligence gathered by Israeli drug dealers.

Will local drug use increase?

The promise of easy money dampens any moral misgivings farmers may have about producing cannabis and hard drugs. But some expressed uneasiness that the difficulties in smuggling drugs out of the country will mean that most of the cannabis will end up being sold in the local market which could increase domestic drug dependency.

“All the borders are in lockdown so we have to sell it in the Lebanese market as cannabis only has a two-year life,” says Ahmad, a former marijuana farmer and heroin refiner.

Brigitte Khoury, a clinical psychologist and professor at the American University of Beirut, says that domestic drug use rises with the rates of production within Lebanon. “I am sure that if the marijuana planting increases there will be a corresponding increase in domestic drug use,” Ms. Khoury says.