Category Archives: Lebanon

A Saudi Defeat in Lebanon? Hariri and Nasrallah’s Beard and the Shifting Alliances……….

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Former prime minister Saad Hariri returned recently to Lebanon carrying a visible mark of a major political shift. That visible mark is also on his face, in a physical sense.

Hariri, a Lebanese who also grew up in Saudi Arabia and also carries its citizenship, was telling a story. Until recently known as leader of the pro-Saudi faction in Lebanon, he had always sported the goatee (saksooka) that senior Saudi princes (and all kings) sport. It is a tell-tale Saudi symbol, almost as much as the red/white shmagh checkered ghutra (kafiyya) is.
Hariri now sports a full beard, somewhat neater than the one Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah chief) sports, but similar.

He has also taken a political step that clearly signifies a break with Saudi Arabia. He now supports the same candidate as Iranian ally Hezbollah for president of Lebanon, former General Michel Aoun.
Some neutral Arab media speculate that the Saudi break has been in the making for months. Since Hariri-controlled Saudi Oger LTD faced financial trouble and the Saudi princes refused to help. Instead there have been reports of some prince seeking to take over the company.

So, now Harriri has surprised some allies of his right-wing traditionally pro-Saudi Al-Mustaqbal (Future) Movement by announcing his support for Hezbollah’s ally General Aoun (Maronite Catholic). This may open the door for Hariri ro return as prime minister of Lebanon. The Saudi support and money may now shift to other former Hariri sycophants, like former prime minister Saniora and some others. Not very strong allies.

Lebanese claim (credibly) that the Saudis traditionally send a large personal check ($10-20 million) to every new Lebanese prime minister and president, as personal pocket money. Just to break the ice and insure loyalty. Mr. Hariri, reportedly having lost a few billions recently from his Saudi ties, is not likely to even get that much now.

Saad Hariri may be returning to his Lebanese roots, and the heavy-handed Saudis may try to make up for this big Lebanese defeat by nurturing other (mainly Sunni) politicians. But it is a big gap to fill.

(Some Lebanese media have reportedly quoted the latest/newest American ambassador in Beirut as saying that one of her tasks is ‘to weaken the hold of Hezbollah on Lebanon‘. A tough task. This recent development is not a mark of her success. Not yet.)

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

 

Humor in Politics: Donald Trump of the Middle East?………

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“Saudi Arabia’s moves against Lebanon seem amateurish. Even if the Lebanese parties wanted to, they could do little to diminish the role of Hizbullah, which acts as a state within the state and also dominates the government. “Saudi Arabia sometimes acts with bombast and violence that makes it look like the Donald Trump of the Arab world,” says Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut. The result is likely to be that the Saudis lose influence in Lebanon, possibly to Iran………”

The Economist is often wrong about the Middle East, especially if it holds a view different from mine. This time it is quite wrong. Saudi Arabia is not quite a Trump of the Arab world: it is causing much more harm. Trump is not an extremist Wahhabi. Trump is not involved in bombing towns and cities in poor Yemen. Trump is not engaged in unleashing Jihadis terrorists in Iraq, Syria, and other places. Besides, Trump is a humorous person, highly entertaining, unlike Saudi Arabia and its potentates. No sir, it is a rather humorless place, and not only because of their current unsmiling foreign minister, the grim Mr. Al-Jubeir.

Besides, Saudi Arabia is not as much fun to watch as Trump is on the campaign trail. No Arab regime is. No Middle East regime is. In fact most Middle East comedians, not just princes and potentates and leaders, are not as much fun to watch and listen to. Even ex-president Hadi of Yemen issuing meaningless daily executive orders from a Riyadh hotel is not as funny.

Unfortunately, and in fairness, humor is fading away in most of the Middle East (and North Africa), from Iran through Turkey (especially Turkey) and into Egypt all the way to Morocco.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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Lebanon Faces an Economic Blockade: the Other Saudi Quagmire………

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The Saudis brought enough pressure, and presumably wrote enough checks, to get most Arab Ministers of Interior at a meeting this week to vote on calling Hezbollah a “terrorist” group. Europeans only consider the military wing of it a sponsor of “terrorism”. Americans are more in line with the Saudis: everything that has anything to do with Hezbollah is terrorist, including its TV network.

This new vote does not create many problem for most Arab states. Most of them take the Saudi or Emirati money and go home. They make the occasional right noises about Hezbollah, but it is too far away and they know its focus is on the periphery of Lebanon, unlike the Wahhabi groups which are global.

But this does create an interesting dilemma for two Arab states: Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s man in Lebanon, former PM Saad Hariri, has said that negotiations with Hezbollah continue. Other politicians of the March 14 (Saudi-financed) movement disavowed that their foe, Hezbollah, is a terrorist group. Otherwise, how can they be seen to negotiate and form a cabinet with Hezbollah (which is also the largest political party in Lebanon)?
Complications for the Lebanese, no?
But complications for the Saudis as well. They have been embroiled in a war against Yemen for a year now. It is war without end, as I could have told them last year, actually I did. I had thought Vietnam proved that the most expensive weapons can’t win a foreign civil war. Apparently that period of history bypassed the princes. The deposed former ‘president’ of Yemen General Hadi Bin Zombie occasionally claims from his Riyadh hotel that Hezbollah agents were arrested in Yemen, he did so again last week. Yet he and his foreign bosses have failed to produce any such arrested Lebanese agents.
The Yemen war is easy to get out of, at some cost of losing face. They can always declare victory in Yemen and pull out. The USA did it in Vietnam, with no lasting negative effect.

Getting out of Lebanon is harder, more complex. Unlike the Houthis of Yemen, Hezbollah is a true ally and beneficiary of Iran. Unlike the Houthis and Iraqis and many Hezbollah members, its chief Hassan Nasrallah himself believes in the theocracy. It is not clear if he means that he believes in it in Iran only or even outside that country. His close Lebanese Christian allies don’t seem to take it seriously, nor do his Lebanese Sunni allies.
Still, giving the Iranian mullahs a black eye in Lebanon is an irresistible goal for the Saudis. It is a goal that seems to be moving farther and farther way from them. The Israelis have failed to do it militarily for them so far, and seem to have given up unless seriously provoked. The Americans, under both George W Bush and Obama, have declined to be drawn into the morass of the warlord-dominated shifting politics of Lebanon.
The Saudis have now persuaded their Persian Gulf allies to impose an economic blockade on Lebanon. It is not original (the Saudis are never original): they probably mean to ratchet it up, like the now-defunct Western blockade of Iran…..

And that is where it stands now………
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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Is It Brotherly Blackmail? Lebanon in Arab Financial Crosshairs………

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The Saudi move to cancel the $4 billion promised aid to Lebanon (and indirectly to France) is apparently a ‘first step‘ in something bigger.  At least that is what Saudi proxies and allies in Beirut are gleefully threatening.

The Saudis are frustrated with their failure to weaken Hezbollah and pull Lebanon out of what they claim is an Iranian orbit. It is hard for them to believe that all the inducements they have offered Lebanon could fail, that their top proxies in Beirut, occasional billionaire Saad Hariri and his sidekick Fouad Saniora, could not bring the small country along. One Lebanese minister, a Mr. Mashnuq (the Hanged Man) who is part of the Saudi-financed March 14 (Hariri) camp has warned of more pain to come. Clearly a not subtle Saudi threat-by-proxy.
The threat of “more pain to come” could include a renewal and expansion of previous expulsion measures against the expatriate Lebanese citizens in some GCC states of the Persian Gulf.  The UAE has recently been reported to have resumed its old policy of summarily expelling Lebanese expats who are Shi’as. The secretary general of the GCC, a Bahraini close to the ruling autocrats, has ominously warned Lebanon for going against what he called erroneously “Arab consensus on Iran“. The GCC secretary was of course lying, to put it politely: in fact there is no Arab consensus on Iran or on anything else whatsoever.
An expulsion of the Lebanese expats would not be in the interest of the Gulf states. They are not normally involved in politics. Many businesses and institutions benefit from the Lebanese experience and skills in various economic sectors. It would effectively lower the efficiency of business and the quality of life in the host countries.

Some Arab media speculate that the Saudis are canceling the promised aid partly because of their own dire financial situation. A situation largely created by their own short-sighted oil policies of recent years.

Another possible factor that Saudi and Gulf media ignore is that the Lebanese authorities are holding a high-ranking young Saudi prince who had tried to smuggle large quantities of illegal drugs on his private jet through Beirut airport.

Will all this economic pressure against Lebanon work? Will the small country where pro-Wahhabi sentiment is restricted to a small fraction of the population yield to Saudi pressure?  It looks highly unlikely now, given the political realities and the demographics of Lebanon.

The Israelis are watching this game next door with great interest.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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Saudi Arabia Concedes Defeat in Lebanon, Cuts All Aid……

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Developments in Lebanon are taking an interesting turn. A turn that was perhaps predictable in the past year or two. Saudi Arabia has announced a cessation of all its aid to Lebanon, effectively conceding defeat in its attempt to pry that country towards it. For the time being.

That includes all sorts of aid: especially military and security. This doesn’t mean aid to Saad Hariri or Fouad Saniora or to its other proxies in Lebanon will stop. But  aid to official Lebanese institutions has been stopped. The Saudis said that cut was because of Lebanese behavior which does not help the brotherly (or sisterly) between the two countries. Silly naive me, I had thought all that money for Lebanon was for its just being a brotherly (or maybe sisterly) Arab country.
This has been brewing for weeks, since it became clear that a candidate with the approval of Hezbollah (an ally of Iran and Syria) will become president of Lebanon. This should have been clear for a long time, given that Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, is the largest political party in Lebanon (as well as the most powerful and most effective military force in the country).

Apparently the intervention of Hezbollah (along with Iranian personnel) in the Syrian civil war has not affected its popularity inside Lebanon. That has been a disappointment to the Saudis and their Arab and Western allies, although I could have told them that, but they never asked me.

This may also mean the billions of dollars in agreed Saudi purchases of exclusively French weapons for the Lebanese army are canceled. Someone in Paris should be pissed about this, but perhaps the new export deals with Iran will ease that French pain.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Valentine in the Middle East: Swine Flu, Stag Kissing, and Excommunicating Barbie…….

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They report that a Lebanese minister has advised the people of his country this week to reduce the amount of kissing on Valentine’s Day this year. Which makes me wonder what type of neighbors does he have: I mean hygiene and not just looks. But he is worried about the spread of “Swine Flu” aka H1N1.
Yet we kiss a lot in the Middle East, in Arab and Muslim countries, much more than they do in the West. And almost always it is kissing in public rather than in private. We probably do more public kissing than the French do French-ing in Paris. Everybody does it, even the Salafis, Wahhabis, Shi’as, Sufis, Sunnis, Haredim, Vegans, Christians, Evangelicals, and possibly Jews (oddly I haven’t seen many native Jews on the Gulf in recent years for some reason). But the difference is that it is not heterosexual kissing, it is same-sex kissing, at least the public part is.

In Iran, there are reports that the police have warned against spreading Valentine’s Day culture in shops. Yes, shops. A warning which a lot of people and most shop owners will typically ignore, as they do every year.

In Saudi Arabia, red color on February 14 can send you straight to hell, even if you are not Shi’a- Safavi- Rafidhi-Jew-Christian-Animist. The Vice Squad (religious cops) are also cracking down on dolls (Barbie, etc) that expose too much plastic than is considered decent by the clerics. Barbie, of course, was famously excommunicated (by Fatwa) by a religious sheikh and professor (or Dean) of Sharia in my own hometown some years ago.

A few years ago in Gaza some vendor painted an ass red (no, I mean a jackass, donkey) on Valentine’s to promote his business. This year Egypt’s Al Sisi wants the Gazans to have a bit more red in their Valentine: he is opening the Rafah pass to the ‘qualified’ Gazans. But only for February 13 and 14, only for Valentine’s. He will close it back shut right after that, but still it is sweet of the Generalissimo.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Hezbollah: Lebanese Shepherd Dog Beats Back IDF, LOL…….

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“The Israeli occupation army violated the Lebanese border eastern Kfar Shuba and attempted to capture a shepherd, according to Al-Manar reporter. The Zionist trial failed as the shepherd’s dog attacked the occupation soldiers…………”

This is the story according to Hezbollah network. It is also not the first time there have been reports of Israeli soldiers attempting to kidnap Lebanese shepherds along the border. It is not clear why they would want to kidnap a shepherd: maybe a built-in suspicion from the days before they were forced (by Hezbollah) to withdraw from South Lebanon. This is an annual event according to Lebanese media. Almost a tradition now.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
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Lebanonization of Yemen, Yemenization of Lebanon…….

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There was a time when the term ‘Lebanonization’ indicated the worst of the worst, the absolute bottom for a country. An indication of a country’s descent into political and sectarian and confessional divisions and lawlessness and eventual civil war. The Lebanese had their ‘Lebanization’ during 1975-1990. They are still as divided as ever, if not more, but they have mostly managed to refrain from a shooting internal war. So far.

It is like the past Mafia wars: when all the Dons were of almost equal power, they started fighting in order to prevent anyone of them from gaining supremacy. Once one of them was supreme and war was hopeless, there was no incentive for an internal war among the Mafia families. A form of enforced stability prevailed. Some (not necessarily me) might say that the latter is the case now in Lebanon.

In recent years I have even read some warnings about the possible Lebanonization of Yemen. Which makes no sense now, would be laughable if it were not so tragic, but it probably made sense then to somebody. Now we know that was an optimistic warning. Given the multiple little wars in Yemen, sectarian and tribal and political and regional, it is Yemenization that can be used to refer to how far a nation can descent. Even Lebanon can face Yemenization if the political powers are not careful and if the Syrian war is allowed to spill over the border.

Now, about NATO-liberated Libya and about Syria which has not yet been liberated by the democratic freedom-loving Saudis and Emiratis and Qataris and………

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter

On Hezbollah, Israel, and Arab Hopes for War………

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Some Arab media on the Gulf and their ‘attached analysts’ often taunt Hezbollah when Israel attacks in Syria or Lebanon and does not get a response. The same controlled media and the same ‘attached analysts‘ are also quick to blame Hezbollah for recklessness when it responds to Israeli attacks, as they did this week. But that is politics.

Some of them are no doubt disappointed and dismayed that none of the skirmishes and little wars between Hezbollah and the IDF ever lead to a larger war. Their hope is that it might somehow lead to the eradication of the Lebanese Party which is close to the mullahs in Iran. I have seen some of them salivate ‘audibly’ at the prospect of an israeli all-out war in Lebanon, and that includes oligarchs as well as Salafi Islamists. Perhaps they think of how the 1982 Israeli invasion led to the expulsion of Arafat and the PLO from Lebanon. There have been sporadic unconfirmed but credible reports that some of them have lobbied for direct American action in Lebanon as well. Of that I also have no doubt.

But we know, most of us, that wars often turn out different from the expected. The Israeli invasion and occupation of 1982 lead to the rise of Hezbollah, a much fiercer foe than the PLO groups ever were. They prefer to forget that the invasion of Iraq led to the rise of AQI and ISIS, and that the Arab Wahhabi interference in the Syrian uprising led to the rise of the murderous Caliphate. That earlier the interference during the 1980s in Afghanistan led to the rise of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban
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Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter

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Will the Balance of Terror Between Israel and Hezbollah Hold?……..

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“Missiles fired by the Lebanese Hezbollah group struck an Israeli military convoy on Wednesday, killing two soldiers in an apparent retaliation for a deadly airstrike attributed to Israel that killed six Hezbollah fighters in Syria earlier this month. The violence was the deadliest Hezbollah attack against Israeli forces since a 2006 war between the two sides. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond “forcefully” to the attack, and the military launched aerial and ground assault on Hezbollah positions………….”

Israel has been taking a lot of liberties in recent months over Lebanon and Syria. Its air force has been flying at will over Lebanon, violating its airspace, bombing at will into Syria, and its artillery active along the Golan lines. The Golan is a particular worry for them these days, given the proximity of one theatre of the Syrian war. They have tried to increasingly play the regional “policeman”, by stealth, of the Eastern Mediterranean. With apparent American acquiescence, so long as the targets were Hamas or Hezbollah or Syria.

The Israeli attack last week that killed several Hezbollah members was bound to lead to a response from Hezbollah, given the implications for future Israeli incursions. Given the missile-based balance of terror that has existed along the border with Lebanon. Given the understanding in Lebanon of the role of the upcoming Israeli elections in Mr. Netanyahu flexing his military muscles at this time. Perhaps also given the symbolism of the fact that one of the victims was a son of Imad Mughniyeh, a leading Hezbollah strategist who was killed by the Mossad-planted bombs in Damascus in 2008.
(FYI: foreign bombings in Arab and Muslim cities are not considered terrorism in the West, although the UN has not voted on it yes).
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter

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