"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.
During the July 2006 war, US embassy staff led by Feltman, who functioned as a kind of ‘godfather’ for Hezbollah’s detractors, received countless pro-Israeli consigliore as they executed plans how to best manage the war for Israel while protecting their own business and sectarian interests.
On the degree to which some Arab leaders – in this case Bahrain and its ambassador Houda Ezra Nonoo – are collaborating with Israel while publicly pledging brotherly support for the Arabs “central cause”, Palestine, a recent report is instructive.
Feltman, the cables make plain, personally instructed Washington to tell Israel not to bomb bridges in what he derisively called “Maronistan areas” because that would weaken Christian support for Israel and affect logistics for US Embassy “staff” in Awkar. Embassy Beirut apparently had no problem with Israel carpeting bombing south Beirut, with American weapons, endangering Shatila and Burj al Barajneh Palestinian Camps around the Bir Hassan neighborhood, which includes the ‘little Tehran’ neighborhood with Iranian media outlets and the Iranian Embassy.
Five days after the July 2006 war was launched, Embassy cables to Washington that were immediately passed to Israel document: “The Ambassador asked Jumblatt what Israel should do to cause serious damage to Hezbollah. Jumblatt replied that Israel is still in the mindset of fighting classic battles with Arab armies. ‘You can’t win this kind of war with zero dead,’ he said. Jumblatt finally said what he meant; Israel will have to invade southern Lebanon. Israel must be careful to avoid massacres, but it should clear Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon”. (July 17, 2006)
On August 5, Assistant Secretary David Welch and Ambassador Feltman met with a more than a dozen Christian leaders from the anti-Syria March 14 movement. The Embassy cable read: “While claiming to be fully supportive of Prime Minister Siniora’s call for a ceasefire, they are troubled that the current conflict might leave Hezbollah in a stronger position within Lebanon than at the beginning. The Lebanese government will need to be in a position of strength to deal with Hezbollah once the conflict is over, the leaders argued. To this end, they would support a continuation of the Israeli bombing campaign for a week or two if this were to diminish seriously Hezbollah’s strength on the ground…. Claiming to reflect PM Siniora’s private thoughts, several of the assembled leaders urged that Hezbollah be given a ‘real pounding’ by the Israelis to the point that the group would be ‘soft enough to listen to reason.’ According to Boutros Harb [one of the anti-Palestinian Cabinet Ministers who prevented Palestinians from obtaining the internationally mandated Right to Work and Home Ownership on August 17, 2010], “if we are convinced that Israel can finish the job, then we can allow a few more weeks [of slaughter],” though the consensus seemed to rest between seven to ten days. If on the other hand Hezbollah were to emerge emboldened with a perceived sense of victory, ‘that would be a disaster.'” (August 7, 2006)
Another leaked Embassy Beirut cable: “Asking that his comments be kept close-hold, Saad Hariri whispered that, ‘We need to remove Lahoud, (LAF commander Michel) Sleiman, and (Head of the G2 army intelligence) George Khoury. They are in bed with Syria. They are in bed with Hezbollah.’ While Hariri hopes to eventually recruit Nabih Berri’s critical support to achieve this, he asked that international pressure on Iran and Syria continues unabated.” (August 12, 2006)
This close coordination with Israel during its July 2006 War on Lebanon, which slaughtered more than 1,400 and wounded thousands, represented a rogue US government view of “noninterference in the internal affairs of Lebanon.” These strategy sessions, and a long list of other actions by some claiming to represent the American people in Lebanon has raised serious questions about the diplomatic status of Embassy Beirut and whether Embassy Beirut serves the American people or Israel. According to Lebanese Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil, “Israel has an Embassy in Lebanon representing its interests. The American people do not.”
Yet another serious allegation that the Feltman team corrupted the Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL) has been leveled by As Safir, a Lebanese daily, in its March 23 edition. According to its investigative report, the US sought to use the indictment of the STL to back Caretaker Premier Saad Hariri after his government was toppled by the Hezbollah-led alliance, and to bring Hariri back to power while sidelining Hezbollah. The US plan was to have the STL issue the indictment after STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare filed an amended indictment earlier in the month for confirmation by pre-trial judge Danial Fransen. But developments in the Arab world, including the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime “thwarted the US plan to issue the indictment as a prelude to a change in the political balance of power in Lebanon with Feltman’s team concluding that the release of the indictment at this stage would have made it ineffective amid the ongoing Arab Awakening turmoil. Moreover, western diplomats informed March 14 officials that any STL indictment and Lebanon are currently at the bottom of their priority list, hinting that the release of the charges could be delayed for several months.”
If true, this latest US action alone would destroy any remaining STL credibility as such a political corruption fundamentally violates UNSCR 1757.
Perhaps it is the above described US government campaign that is one of the reasons that Hezbollah contacts, in principle, genuinely interested in dialogue, feel the timing is not yet quite right.
Hassan Nassrallah, speaking on March 19 to our neighborhood gathering in support of the Arab Spring Awakening, repeated Hezbollah’s position: “We will have something constructive to talk about and call for normalizing relations with the Americans once the US administration changes its policy on Palestine. We will reevaluate our stance on the United States’ policies when it changes its stance on Palestine.”
One neighbor, a fan of Kenny Rogers, as Jeffrey Feltman is said to be, put it this way to me: “We in Hezbollah know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. For now Hezbollah best hold our cards. There will be time enough for talking when the dealings done.”