"Just maybe!" hints the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)

BEIRUT — An experienced Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, to his credit not among the most biased Israeli hasbara-spewers from  the Zionist daily, dropped by our Hezbollah neighborhood known as Dahiyeh the other day. During an hour meeting with Hezbollah Foreign Relations Officer Ammar Mousawi and his brilliant assistant, and friend to many Americans,  English Literature scholar Hussein Haider, the Post  reporter  came away apparently impressed with the quality of the discussion with the Lebanese political party that Israeli President Shimon Peres claims “is now Lebanon!”   Visiting Westerners are regularly surprised to learn firsthand that Hezbollah, the new majority party in Lebanon whose imprimatur will be stamped on all major Lebanese government decisions, including, enshallah (God willing), without any more nonsense, the internationally mandated civil right to work and to own a home for Lebanon’s quarter million Palestinian refugees, bears no resemblance to the past quarter century of Zionist Fox News- US Main Stream Media portrayal.

But then, western epiphanies in Dahiyeh are old news.

Like many observers of Lebanon’s new majority, Ignatius apparently wondered about the possibility of some sort of high level direct dialogue between Hezbollah and the Obama administration, given the continuing US skid and waning influence in the region and the dramatic rise of Hezbollah and its allies against the backdrop of the Islamic-Arab Awakening that may be in just its early stages. So, as seems to happen every couple of years recently, an alert journalist makes contact with the US Intelligence Community and grist is offered for an intriguing column that the US might anoint for dialogue  the “political wing” of Hezbollah as distinct from the “military wing”, since the Party does not act much like  a “terrorist organization” should.

The “separate wings” concept is a fiction, of course, as there is no totally separate political-military command division within Hezbollah. There are many departments and units that do specialized work on health care, education, urban and environmental planning, post war reconstruction, and fourteen other social service focused tasks. Specialized units keep an eye on the blue line and prepare to confront Israeli aggression against Lebanon.  The party is generally unified in its decision making following sometimes freewheeling  “best expert argument wins” debates as part of its almost Leninist ‘democratic centralism’ model with the buck stopping with the 7 member Shura or Executive Council. The Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah has significant power but he acts for and answers to the Shura and lacks the typical absolute authority of collapsing Arab despots.

The “good wing-bad wing” pretense is favored by some in the US Intelligence Community as it allows political cover for desired engagement much as was the case for other ‘terrorist’ groups such as the PLO, the ANC and the IRA. For that reason John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser recently discussed the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Hezbollah that is nearing completion, with ‘draft ideas’ being circulated to key Members of Congress and AIPAC.

According to Congressional sources, the White House, has zero interest in attacking Iran and believes that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is someone the US “can do business with.”  Given Nasrallah’s admirers in Tehran, and his mass popular appeal in this region, some of the NIE drafters and White House staffers think Nasrallah could help with at least some US-Iranian antagonisms.

As Israel and its Arab collaborators quake  as Iran ascends in the region, the future determinate of Middle East Peace will be US Iranian relations”, according to a US Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, who added: “Many in Washington think we can work with Iran and Nasrallah could perhaps help both of us immeasurably.”

The same source opined that the White House appears split down the middle whether to seek direct contact with Hezbollah with some close Obama aides arguing that times are changing in the Middle East and maybe US policy should too following a decade of trillion dollar a year wars with nothing but carnage and US economy ruining deficits to show for them.  Obama aids are said to favor a regional approach that has already led to two U.S.-sponsored meetings on Afghanistan that included Iranian representatives – one in Rome last year and one in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on March 3.

Opposed to this view is the foreign policy establishment which, committed to Israel, does not care much who is president, as they always stay in power and exist in the form of the Council on Foreign Relations and other non-elected, self-appointed, and  auto-replenished guardians of American foreign policy.  Their view, expressed this week by Tommy Vietor, the National Security Council spokesman, is still mired in: “on the political level, there can be no dialogue with Hezbollah because it is a terrorist organization creating instability in the Middle East.”

Dialogue with political adversaries is a well-known hallmark of Hezbollah, and some have suggested that Hassan Nasrallah and Barack Obama might have a fascinating private tête-à-tête given many shared life experiences and outlooks including work as community organizers, inclusive outreach advocates, multiculturalists, bright and broad minded progressive thinkers not much attracted to acceptance of stereotyping or political shibboleths.

Truth claimed, Congressional sources report that Obama, and his friend US Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerrey (D-Mass.) are fascinated with Nassrallah.  On the other hand, having been publically humiliated three times by Israel’s Netanyahu, Obama reportedly finds the latter intransigent, lacking any interest in a just peace in Palestine and fixated only in building illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land. At the same time, finding Netanyahu personally obnoxious.  Nasrallah might agree.

Some of the 16 intelligence agencies that comprise the US Intelligence Community are discussing the prospects, in the context of the expanding Middle East uprising,  that the single obstacle to normalizing relations between the US and the Middle East, the continued occupation of Palestine by the 19th Century Zionist Colonial Enterprise, may be resolved, perhaps sooner than later.  Some Israeli leaders reportedly concede privately that with the rising youth fuelled rebellions toppling US-Israeli backed despots the freedom tsunami might not ebb until Palestine is restored.

There remains some heavy baggage around potential “let bygones be bygones” discussion between Dahiyeh and Washington.  During its 29-year history, Hezbollah has had multiple indirect contacts with US administrations via Lebanese politicians, PLO figures, and European diplomats and even today, with Western countries queuing for dialogue with Hezbollah, understanding  mutual US-Lebanese resistance problems is no mystery.  The issues are clear.

While conceding that White House-Dahiyeh talks, based on mutual respect, could be historic, nevertheless neighborhood contacts suggest that there is a de facto condition precedent to meaningful dialogue.  It includes a political ceasefire from Washington.

Since the 1992 Lebanese elections, when Hezbollah decided to participate in governing Lebanon, but even before, the American administration has waged, with Israel, a continual campaign against the Lebanese resistance, for one reason: Hezbollah’s opposition to the theft of Palestine and the movement’s pledge to help return Palestine to its rightful inhabitants. The same pledge millions of American and Western human rights advocates have taken and continue to pursue with increased solidarity during this Arab Spring.

Hezbollah has been incessantly targeted by Washington accusing it, without proof, of “terrorism”, and sometimes even conceding US errors such as the admitted March 8, 1985 CIA-ordered assassination of the erroneously identified “Hezbollah leader”, the late humanist, Mohammad Hussein Fadallah.  Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah escaped death, but more than 60 Lebanese civilians were slaughtered and more than 250 wounded outside his Hussayneyeh (Mosque) near my current home.

After more than half the past decade of launching various anti-Hezbollah schemes, the Jeffrey Feltman team has made clear that its pressure on Lebanon’s new majority is just getting started. Analysts across the political spectrum in Lebanon claim they have never witnessed  such intense sectarian strife and vitriol as has been unleashed since the collapsed of the pro-US  March 14 government last January.

Last week, the US Treasury Department reminded Lebanon of its skill at interfering with international banking and sent a warning that Lebanon’s banks were “on limits for scrutiny.” It hinted that a run on the banks from Gulf money could be expected.  Among those it seeks to intimidate is Lebanon’s richest businessman, Nijab Miqati, whom Hezbollah helped choose for Prime Minister. Washington claims that some Lebanese banks laundry money for Hezbollah and allow Iran to avoid US sanctions while helping to fund the Resistance.  Current US Ambassador Maury Connelly told the media that the US actions “were part of the U.S. Treasury’s global effort, under Section 311 of the Patriot Act to protect the U.S. financial sector from illicit activities. Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor, Riad Salameh Central Bank fired back that Lebanon’s banks abide by all national and international regulations and that the US should offer proof otherwise if it has any.

The Feltman teams: “It’s us or Nasrallah – it’s the US or Iran running Lebanon!” attitude has been exposed yet again by the publication of a bundle of Wikileaks Beirut Embassy cables, this past week.

The diplomatic cables confirm that the US Embassy functioned as a virtual Israeli operations center during the July 2006 war and has saturated Lebanon with more intelligence and political penetrations than perhaps any country in the region, except Iraq.