Syria’s faultlines extend into Lebanon and Palestine

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Hezbollah fighters celebrating their return from al-Qusayr (photo, Nehme Hamie)

The civil war in Syria is reverberating all over the Middle East – nowhere more than in neighboring Lebanon, where the fighting has spilled across the border and inflamed already tense sectarian divisions. But events in Syria are also the subject of intense disputes throughout the region, as individuals and political-religious organizations are drawn to take sides in the conflict. It is hard to have any conversation here without the subject of Syria coming up, whether among religious or secular Lebanese, in Palestinian refugee camps or in everyday encounters here in Palestine/Israel.

The usual narrative in Europe and America of “democratic reformers” confronting a dictatorial al-Assad regime was always an oversimplification. A French archaeologist I met in Jerusalem, who had worked in Syria, told me about a colleague who had joined the rebellion and then switched back to supporting the regime. Her friend reported that even in Dera’a two years ago, where the “democratic” revolution supposedly began, demonstrators were already receiving payments from Saudi Arabia.

As the conflict is increasingly portrayed as a sectarian battle between “Sunni” and “Shia” Muslims, these distortions continue. In fact, the religious-sectarian aspect of the war is rather asymmetrical. The principal political divide is now between Islamists and their backers in the Gulf monarchies, who see the struggle as a religious battle, and secular Muslims allied to the Shia powers who view the conflict in political and strategic terms.

* * * *
During a recent visit to Lebanon earlier this month, on my way to Amman and Jerusalem, I had the chance to observe some of the military and political aspects of the Syrian conflict first-hand.

A Lebanese friend of mine, who is a part-time journalist, invited me to visit his village in the northern Bekaa Valley. Few tourists may be arriving these days to visit the impressive Roman ruins of nearby Baalbek, but there is plenty of coming and going over the Syrian border just a few miles away.

Every community around here has contributed fighters to the battle in Qusayr. In the village of Taraya, where I stayed, the Hezbollah combatants were returning exhilarated from their big victory in al-Qusayr over what they term “fanatics” and foreign soldiers. Most of the Shia-populated villages are firmly in support of Hezbollah and the Assad regime. In the hills nearby, there are Sunni villages, which I did not visit, supporting the other side in the Syrian war.

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Martyr banners in Britel, near Baalbek

The Hezbollah fighters were cocky about their exploits in al-Qusayr, but there was a cost too. Hezbollah admits to 94 killed (“martyred”) in the nearby fighting, along with an undisclosed number of wounded. The towns around Baalbek are draped with banners commemorating the martyrs –six from Britel and three from nearby Taraya, when I visited. Many funerals have been held in recent days and the traditional mourning tents are still up. Britel has also been the target of sporadic rocket and mortar fire from pockets of rebel supporters, either in the hills nearbyor from just across the border.

A few days earlier, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrullah visited the villages around here to congratulate the fighters and pay tribute to the fallen. People say that Nasrullah also participated personally in the al-Qusayr fighting. Whether true or not, every veteran of the fight showed me cell-phone pictures of the bearded Hezbollah leader in full combat gear and carrying an assault rifle — and some recent eye-witness reports lend credence to this story.

Despite the losses, enthusiasm and pride are the emotions displayed by most of the Hezbollah fighters and their families. However, no one I met spoke about the war in religious terms, except to express indignation at the “Takfiris” on the other side – that is Sunni Muslims who label religious dissenters, Shia and otherwise, as non-Muslim apostates who are condemned to be killed. Chilling videos of the gruesome results of this extremism have been widely circulated on the Web.

The version of the battle from the Hezbollah soldiers consistently downplayed the fighting spirit of the anti-Assad forces. People said that when the preliminary maneuvering around al-Qusayr was completed, the actual assault and capture of the town was quick and easy. “They ran like rabbits” was the typical refrain of the Hezbollah fighters belonging to the elite “Nukhba” unit based in Taraya. The fighters claimed that nearly all the casualties on their side were caused by snipers and booby traps, rather than in the actual assault on al-Qusayr.

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Abu-Ali, wounded at al-Qusayr

I spoke with a wounded fighter named Abu Ali spoke in his house, where he is recuperating from serious shrapnel wounds that nearly shattered his right leg. He said he had been a Hezbollah fighter since the 1980’s and was ready to return to the battle in Syria when his wounds healed. Many of his comrades are now on their way from al-Qusayr to join the fight in Aleppo. Abu Ali’s 83-yer-old mother Zainab chimed in that she is ready to fight and be martyred in Syria also if God wills it. Abu Ali’s children and the continuous stream of visitors expressed the same sentiments. People in Taraya say their village sent 500 men to fight in al-Qusayr.

Another fighter, Ahmad, was home in Taraya for some rest between bouts at the front in Syria. Like many Hezbollah soldiers, he typically spent three weeks fighting alternating with one week at home, although he was reticent about going into more detail. Ahmad, age 38 and with three children, said he had fought with Hezbollah since his teenage years.

The inhabitants of Taraya belong to a large Lebanese “tribe” known as the Hamie and say they are originally of Kurdish origin. The Hamie claim to have arrived in Lebanon as soldiers with Salahaddin (Saladin) in the 12th century and are Intensely proud of their martial history. Most of the Hamie are Shia, but, confounding the stereotypes of strict sectarian divisions, my friend Nehme explained to me with pride that there were also Sunni, Christian and Druze branches of the clan. Nehme’s own wife is Roman Catholic.

Though intensely loyal to Hezbollah and imbued with the especially Shia respect for martyrdom, the people in Taraya are also surprisingly relaxed about other religious observances. Contrary to the image of black abaya-clad Shia women in Iran and parts of Lebanon, many of the women in Taraya are completely uncovered in their homes or outside — often showing off the blond hair which people say is a feature derived from their Kurdish ancestors.

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Grandmother Zainab, mother of the wounded man, is on the left; on the far right her granddaughter Zainab — who seemed a little embarrassed to having her picture taken wearing the abaya — was marrying an Iranian imam’s son the next day. In between, Zainab’s son Ahmed, who is a military policeman in the Lebanese National army, and his wife Nahed.

Hashish production is a thriving cottage industry here and the inhabitants of Taraya are not averse to smoking some of their own product either. Lebanese Arak liquor is also available (sometimes discretely, sometimes openly) during social gatherings and celebrations. Live and let live seemed to be the religious attitude most common in these Bekaa villages – and also in the Shia neighborhood of South Beirut, where I stayed – contrasting markedly with the practice of Sunni extremists in other parts of Lebanon.

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Field of hemp in Taraya:  the plants are harvested in the fall and processed into hashish cakes during the winter.

The vacationing fighter Ahmad said that Hezbollah military leaders are already studying the terrain in the Golan Heights in preparation to take the battle to the Israelis. “After al-Qusair we’re coming to Golan, then Palestine. With God’s help, Al-Quds (Jerusalem) with be free.” Whether this is serious or mere bravado is hard to tell.

Certainly an attack on Israeli forces occupying Golan would be no easy step and could ignite another large-scale war like the one in 2006 that resulted in more than a thousand dead Lebanese (mostly civilians) and severe damage to the Lebanese infrastructure. The Shia villages in the South and the Dahiya neighborhoods of Beirut suffered near total destruction.

But Hezbollah is also under strong political and popular pressure to live up to its mission as the Lebanese Resistance to Israel, rather than just a factional participant in and inter-Arab civil war in Syria. Whether this will result in renewed hostilities in Golan or on the Israeli border remains to be seen. But both sides are preparing for that eventuality. Most likely they will continue their proxy war on Syrian soil.

* * * *
Palestinians, meanwhile, are sharply divided on the issue of the Syrian war, with volunteers said to be fighting on both sides. Occasionally, especially in the very polarized Ein al-Helwe, there has been violent conflict between the factions in the refugee camps.

In general, the breakdown of loyalty among the Palestinian is between religious supporters of the Sunni rebels (including, some say, Hamas) and more secular individuals or leftist political parties. Few Palestinians – or secular Lebanese for that matter – express any fondness for the Assad regime, but increasingly they fear the consequences of victory by religious extremists in Syria.

This view is increasingly widespread not only among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, but also in the Occupied West Bank and Palestinian communities within 1948 Israel. Friends of mine who were initially enthusiastic supporters of the anti-Assad rebels now tend to see the struggle in strategic terms of US and Israeli interests in weakening an Arab nationalist regime.

As usual, Palestinians are caught in the middle.

Jeff Klein is a retired local union president and long-time peace and solidarity activist who is visiting Lebanon and Palestine this month to do research. A version appeared on Jeff’s blog “At a slight angle to the universe

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 53 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. HarryLaw says:

    Yes, fanatics is the right term for most of these Sunni anti Assad forces, who regard people with different religions as an enemy, even moderate Sunni’s who don’t have their zeal, they regard as apostates who should be killed, the recent assault on the Lebanese military by Sheikh Ahmad Assir, was an attempt to ignite sectarian war in Lebanon, these people need to be defeated, an analogy is if a white person in the US called for the killing or driving out every black person, or vice versa. I don’t know how many of these lunatics there are, but every Arab state has them and they are funded by the Saudi’s [the true state sponsor of terrorism] and the West, on the basis of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, that worked out so well in Afghanistan didn’t it

  2. American says:

    Interesting, thanks.

  3. Obama is everywhere in middle east, proping up terrorists, meddling, sanctioning, intervening, just so Israel could maintain its occupation and power in the region.

    Disgusting and this is the result. Israel-firsters happy now?

  4. Krauss says:

    This is a brilliant report. Independent reporting from the region is much appreciated.
    And many refugees have indeed been Palestinians as well as many others.

    I’d love to read more independent reporting from you – and others – about the war in Syria and the fallout, both on the I/P situation but also in a more broader sense for the region.

    • i agree on all counts. much appreciate the report.

    • Walid says:

      “… also in a more broader sense for the region.”

      Kraus, although it’s supposedly about “the war of ideas in the Middle East” it’s mostly about the monotony of Israel and its Palestinian problem and vice versa; the odd time you’d see something here about other countries in the Middle East. In your own words, you are asking for more regional input insasmuch as it impacts on the I/P situation. There isn’t much interest beyond Israel or the bad things that Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

  5. Obsidian says:

    ” and secular Muslims allied to the Shia powers who view the conflict in political and strategic terms.”

    Can someone explain to me WTF this means?

    Better yet, lets skip Jeff’s grandiose, self-indulgent bullshit and cut right to the daily body count, which, after all, is what matters most.

    • Obsidian, sure. it means the fight is between salifists and people who want a secular syria. syria has a secular government and if you don’t know what a secular muslim is i can explain that right after you explain what a secular jew is.

      or this might interest you link to mondoweiss.net

      Friedman describes the secular Sunni Muslims who support Assad as “merchants.” Friedman ignores the fact that Syrians, like Iraqis before our invasion, lived, primarily, in a secular society.

      Assad’s regime is secular. Saddam was also a secular dictator. The US supports and empowers sectarian actors, while claiming to seek democratic secular results. Why do we do that? Friedman won’t tell you.

    • Walid says:

      “” and secular Muslims allied to the Shia powers who view the conflict in political and strategic terms.”

      Can someone explain to me WTF this means?”

      Easy to understand, Obsidian, even for Israelis obsessed with body-counts. On one side, you have fanatical, head-cutting Sunni fundies in a war against ordinary Sunni folks and the rest of humanity and on the other side, you have regular Sunni Muslims that want no part of this fundy extremism and are banding with the Shia to defend themselves against this problem because both are being specifically targeted by the Sunni Fundies.

      • Obsidian says:

        Ohhhh.

        Thanks Walid.
        So whose side should I be on?

        • yrn says:

          So whose side should I be on?

          This is the question, no one here want’s to answer, as it’s great to observe a situation where hundred of thousands are butchered, and you don’t take any side.
          I would say, well many people are inactive or apathetic……….
          But all of you here, are “active bloggers” declare they are the humanity source of the world, but in the Syrian situation.
          Nothing, all turned into “black holes” …….
          Not taking any side……..
          So from Activist I turn into an observer, watching people butchered, but I don’t have a point.
          But I will look for those to blame…… as always, the west and here especially the Zionist.

        • Taxi says:

          Lonely there in the zi0 echo chamber, eh?

          Your question is so pathetic (silly-billy bait much?), considering you’re utterly devoted to your beloved zionism, and zionism is basically on the same side as alqaida mercenaries in Syria. And just like we all know alquaida is against EVERYTHING non-salafi, zionism too is against EVERYTHING alive and non jewish.

          Simply put, you’re already on alqaida’s side dearest ziobots – no need to pretend to seek direction from mw bloggers. And if you can’t already tell whose side mw bloggers are on – then you’re really super-whooper dense.

          Just enjoy your bed-hopping with takfiris, will ya – I hear they got quite the explosive libido.

  6. Wonder if the Christian Phalange militias will join the battle. They are ruthless and probably hate Sunni fanatics more than anybody. These are the same folks who massacred large numbers of Sunni Palestinians back in 1982.

    • These are the same folks who massacred large numbers of Sunni Palestinians back in 1982.

      lebanon is a different place than it was in 82. Israel had no qualms about bombing christians during their 06 invasion.

      • My point was that the ruthless Christian Phalange could make a big difference in the struggle should they become actively involved. There is no future for Christianity in the Middle East should Sunni fanatics succeed in toppling Assad.

        • W.Jones says:

          My guess is that the Lebanese Catholics have a close relationship with the French. While obviously they should be directly interested in tolerant forces succeeding in Syria, it should also have been obvious that they shouldn’t have massacred tons of Palestinian refugees and allied with the Israelis in doing so, since a few decades later the Israelis were bombing those Lebanese- all over their country.

          You might as well say that the US shouldn’t be funding Al-Qaeda in Syria, for other obvious reasons.

          The suggestion I get from this is that due to the Great Power games, the Lebanese Catholics might be ironically less likely to act on their own direct interests as you mentioned.

        • Walid says:

          fillmorehagan, you have an outdated opinion of the Phalange. After the execution of the Israeli subcontract in 1982, it split into 2 groups, a strictly political one that is still called the Phalange (Kata’eb) with nothing ruthless about it and currently very active in Christian political and social activities and into a political and military one called the Lebanese Forces that is allied with the pro-US groups. Neither have any interest or activity in Syria.

        • Walid says:

          “My guess is that the Lebanese Catholics have a close relationship with the French.”

          W. Jones, it’s stronger than that. The Lebanese Catholics, known as Maronites, actually have a formal treaty with France since 1725 or thereabouts that protects them. France moved in to protect the Maronites in their civil wars with the Druze and the Ottomans in 1840 and 1862 and most probably the reason why France picked Lebanon and Syria in the Sykes-Picot pie-cutting. To this day, the first official state visit by a new Maronite Patriarch after his investiture in Rome is always to France.

        • Tzombo says:

          As Walid pointed out, they were split in two a long time ago. The Christian militias haven’t had any combat experience since the civil war, all of their veterans are in their fifties. I doubt the LF are still the formidable force they once were. At any rate, they have been disarmed following the end of the civil war.

        • piotr says:

          I am not sure if “ruthless Christian Phalange” still exists. It should be remembered that Lebanese Christians were not a monolithic force even during the civil war, and now they are split between March 14 and March 8 (for some reason, both alliances in Lebanon are names after dates in March).

          This week fight in Sidon (south Lebanon) had Hezbollah assisting the government forces, and probably mainstream Sunnis verbally siding with both:

          His men have been storing weapons for two months with money given to them by Qatar,” said Sheikh Maher Hammoud, a conservative Sunni cleric who has a close relationship with Shiite Hezbollah. Hammoud said a few dozen radical Sunni Islamists from the Palestinian camp had bolstered Assir’s military capability.

          Read more here: link to mcclatchydc.com

    • Walid says:

      fillmorehagan, those you are wondering about are currently politically chummy with the Sunni fundamentalists. What happened in 1982 in the camps was not because they were Sunni but simply because they were Palestinian.

  7. American says:

    Fisk always has the details

    Iran to send 4,000 troops to aid President Assad forces in Syria
    World Exclusive: US urges UK and France to join in supplying arms to Syrian rebels as MPs fear that UK will be drawn into growing conflict

    Robert Fisk Sunday 16 June 2013

    link to independent.co.uk

    • W.Jones says:

      Fisk’s article is interesting. But it says:
      “It is a sign of the changing historical template in the Middle East that within the framework of old Cold War rivalries between Washington and Moscow, Israel’s security has taken second place to the conflict in Syria. ”

      I am doubtful. After all, why is the conflict in Syria in the first place? Doesn’t this go back to the whole issue of how much influence it has over US foreign policy in the region? Isn’t the idea in this case to weaken its neighbor, Syria, by encouraging proxy wars there?

      Another thing that intrigued me was the claim “Another of the region’s supreme ironies is that Hamas, supposedly the ‘super-terrorists’ of Gaza, have abandoned Damascus and now support the Gulf Arabs’ desire to crush Assad.”

      I am confused. If this is about the empires attacking the Shiites, why would the Shiite Hamas be allied in attacking the Shiites Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria?

      • Walid says:

        Hamas an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni, not Shia, and more specifically a fundamentalist type of Sunni like those that rule most of the Gulf countries. Like most, it’s sticking with its main benefactor, which should be a signal that peace of some kind or other with Israel is far away if and when Assad, Israel’s last major obstacle is removed. Last year, Hamas political office moved from Damascus to Qatar, like the similar move to Doha by the Taliban. Things are starting to look up to those that the US used to call “terrorists”.

      • Inanna says:

        @W. Jones there’s a bit of a split in Hamas now. Even though the leadership of Hamas has thrown its lot in with the Gulfies (you get far more money from them than you get from Syria), the military wing of Hamas still has close ties with Hezbollah – there’s a Hamas office in the Shia suburbs of Beirut and apparently the two groups are in regular contact. The military wing knows that it won’t get the same kind of support from the Gulf Kingdoms as it would from Hezbollah.

  8. ToivoS says:

    This portrait of the Shiites in the Beka region reminds me of a Lebanese scholar that I once worked with on a project in France. He was from one of those villages and was a veteran of the civil war and and some actions against the Israeli occupation in Southern Lebanon. He mentioned that he was returning to Lebanon to marry his girl friend who was a Japanese national. I asked him if there would be some problems with his family accepting someone from outside of his religion. He laughed. He said ‘they accept me and I am an atheist’ as was his older brother. That certainly shattered a stereotype I held.

    • Walid says:

      “That certainly shattered a stereotype I held.”

      Not really; if he actually went ahead and married her, they are probably both living miserably now unless they moved elsewhere. With over 250,000 Sri Lankans, Philipinas, and other foreigners currently working in the country as housemaids, the Japanese girlfriend would be ignorantly mistaken for one them and not allowed into enter most swimming pools, restaurants and other private areas. Your Lebanese atheist friend would be accepted socially of course, but not his girl friend. I’m sure he wasn’t aware of this impending and ugly problem when you asked him.

      • Taxi says:

        Walid,
        ” Your Lebanese atheist friend would be accepted socially of course, but not his girl friend”.

        Seriously, this is probably the most untrue statement that I’ve ever read by you. There is a Japanese lady living in the village where I’m staying in the south. She’s married to a shia and they have 4 children. She’s not in hijab and on hot sunny days, she walks around the village holding up a Japanese sun umbrella. It’s particularly cute when her mother visits from Japan and both of them petite women walk around the village carrying their bright sun umbrellas. Everyone in the village is friendly to them – no one disrespects them in any way whatsoever. Even though the Japanese lady’s been living here for years, some villagers still gawk in fascination when she walks past them: allahu akbar, they mutter and smile at her. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

        Your sweeping statement in this instant is simply untrue. I’m not saying that there are no xenophobes and snobs in Lebanon, but hands down: not everybody is like that.

  9. Inanna says:

    Good article but the headline is not quite accurate. Lebanon and Palestine have their own issues independent of Syria. In Lebanon, for example, Salafi groups have been active for years before the uprising in Syria, mostly in Tripoli and Sidon. The Nahr-al-Bared refugee camp battle between the Lebanese Army and Fath al-Islam was one such case in point. The on-going troubles between the Salafis in Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawites in Jabal Mohsen is another. The current problems in and around Sidon is caused by Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir whose fighters have just killed 16 army soldiers in battles. These Salafis are funded by Saudi Arabia and Hariri (and supported by the US) and their cause in Lebanon is futile. There is no religious group that has a majority in Lebanon and any group that seeks to impose its will on others will suffer. Part of the reason why Hezbollah has survived in the post-civil war and post-Israeli occupation period is by realizing this and adjusting its political position accordingly.

  10. Rusty Pipes says:

    Hezbollah’s command structure is famously tight-lipped (which is part of the reason that they have managed to avoid infiltration by Israeli intelligence). In fact, this fighter fits the Hezbollah stereotype: “Like many Hezbollah soldiers, he typically spent three weeks fighting alternating with one week at home, although he was reticent about going into more detail.” How did you manage to get so many Hezbollah fighters to talk to you on the record and to allow you to take their pictures?

  11. W.Jones says:

    Good article and reporting.

  12. Jeff Klein says:

    Thanks for the comments. I would have thought the point about “sectarian war” was obvious enough. Only one side speaks about the conflict mainly in religious terms — “our” side.

    I was fortunate to be visiting the area accompanied by a local friend. That’s probably why people were willing to speak to me. But not everyone! I never met any of the military commanders. Of course it was a moment of great pride in their military achievement at al-Qusayr, so maybe people were feeling less guarded than usual. . .

    Unfortunately, news from Lebanon right now is very bad and possibly getting worse.

    • ToivoS says:

      The people you talked with were probably not members of Hezbollah. I know my friend who served in Shiite dominated militias in both the beka valley and in Southern Lebanon said quite explicitly that he did not belong to Hezbollah though he was sure they were present in his units.

  13. W.Jones says:

    Friends of mine who were initially enthusiastic supporters of the anti-Assad rebels now tend to see the struggle in strategic terms of US and Israeli interests in weakening an Arab nationalist regime.

    The plan is to put sharp objects into the container and turn on the blender. The sharp objects in this case being forces allied with Al-Qaeda, which is the supposed reason we have to go through cancer machines at airport terminals in the first place.

    Yes, it’s messed up.

  14. seafoid says:

    I still can’t get my head around the fact that the US is on the same side as al qa’ida. Someone should tell the NY fire department .

    I liked the bit about thw different religions in the same tribe. I met a Christian in Ramallah with a surname I knew from elsewhere. I asked her if she knew someone with the same surname and she said he was from the muslim branch of the family. That is about as far away from the zionist weltanschauung as a family can get.

    • Taxi says:

      I have a Lebanese shia friend from the south of Lebanon whose brothers and sisters are married to Lebanese sunnis and christians, and their shia cousins each even married a Swede, a Scot, a Brit, a Mexican and a Japanese. I went to a family gathering of theirs last summer (they all get together in their ancestral village every summer) and boy did I see some extremely exotic looking children. Wow – talk about unusual and intense beauty!

  15. yrn says:

    What is significant in the Syria issue, is that no one here takes any stand regarding which side they support.
    In this situation if this keeps on for the next 2-3 years few more hundred of thousands are going to be killed, and what you are going to read is commenters describing and picturing the situation, while people a re butchered everyday.
    Where are all of you standing, what are your action points ?

  16. Taxi says:

    Yes it’s true what Jeff says: that only sunni takfiris and their saudi and western zio pimps in the media and halls of power, talk of sectarian conflict, keep framing it as such, while the shia and their christian friends in Lebanon, see the turbulence spilling over from Syria as a strategic war between them and an axis of evil consisting of imperialists, zionists and takfiris.

    Fact is that hizbollah was forced to enter the Syria battle in Qusair because the takfiris who had occupied Syrian villages on the borders of eastern Lebanon, were vitriolic and threatening to enter Lebanon and massacre shia and christian villages (not sunni villages), and sending several takfiri rockets into Lebanon to prove they’re serious about their intentions to kill. So hizbollah was really forced to step in at this stage, insisting that it’s a local security issue and not a religious one. The Lebanese army thus far has taken a position of neutrality regarding the Syria conflict, as instructed by the Lebanese government, creating therefore a security vacuum along the Syria-Lebanon border where only someone like hizbollah can provide the necessary security to Lebanese boarder villages.

    Tis true too, as Jeff says, that religious shias in Lebanon are by far more tolerant than the sunni religious nutcases, both socially and on the battlefield. This is due to the shias’ long history of successfully c0-existing as a minority in Lebanon (they’ve learned to socially accept the ‘other’ as part of their survival); and also, due to their strict adherence to the rules of fighting a ‘just war’. For shias, in order to be a legitimate martyr (a high accolade in times of strife), a shia must first be fighting a just cause and fighting this cause in a just way too. For instance, while the takfiris were torturing and butchering shia pow’s in Qusair, hizbollah were rushing fallen takfiris to the nearest hospital or to their own mobile clinics. You won’t find any youtube videos of lebanese shias cannibalizing their dead enemy’s corpses with bravado, that’s for damn sure.

    The shias in the Bekaa valley (east Lebanon) are closely connected to the shia’s in the south where I’ve been staying for 20 months – enjoying living on a village farm some 45 kilometers from the border with israel, and some twenty minutes drive from the ancient port city of Sidon, where, for the past two years, the tikfiri sunni cleric Asseer has been attempting to stir a ‘Fitna’ (sectarian war) between sunni and shia.

    Last weekend, I could hear all the booms and bangs of the battle of Abra (hill above Sidon). For two days we heard it here day and night while the Lebanese army surrounded Asseer’s mosque and compound in Abra and battled with a mixture of Asseer’s Lebanese followers and other ‘foreign’ sunni fighters. The villagers here carried on living as per usual, no problemo – in fact there was a big village wedding here last sunday and you could here the music and dancing all afternoon mixing with the boom sounds of the Abra battle in the background. Wars don’t stop people living around here. But I did take note that over the weekend, the local village resistance guys set up check-points at the three points of entry into the village where I’m staying, tucked away in a maze of Levantian hills. After the Abra battle was over on Monday, the checkpoints disappeared. This village is small with approx 300 permanent residents and maybe 1200 people with homes here who visit at the weekend. It also has a population of 223 registered Syrian manual workers, employed in local building sites and farmlands. These Syrian workers were put under strict curfew over the weekend, and their small neighborhood (they live in the oldest part of the village which looks like old Jerusalem but with no zionists in sight heh heh!) , yeah their neighborhood was also put under constant and vigilant supervision by the local village fighters, fearing takfiri infiltrators amongst the Syrian workers. They remain under curfew and observation.

    It’s been two days since the end of the Abra battle and the usual calm quiet has returned to the south. The conclusion of the battle of Abra is that the Lebanese army smashed stupid the cleric Asseef’s takfiri ring in Sidon, and its leader is now supposedly on the run. But I have it on the best of authorities that Asseef was actually killed during the fighting and the Lebanese army are keeping this information quiet for the time being, to allow for calm to settle again, and to pre-emptively place their soldiers in key hotspots where troubles might erupt once the news is released.

    Beware people, all media that pits the current Levant conflict as sunni versus shia are either profoundly uninformed or on the payrolls of one of the current axis of evil (west, israel, takfiri monarchists). As far as Lebanon is concerned, its people en mass are rejecting a ‘Fitna’ absolutely and absolutely some more. They are refusing to see it as such because they astutely understand that there is an evil conspiracy and a trap being set for them Lebanese, and that if they fall for it, they could actually lose not just their lives, but the life and unity of the country itself – the future of their children and grandchildren at at stake here. The pressure that global takfiris are putting on people here is immense, daily and relentlessly trying to provoke and open up old sectarian wounds that the country of Lebanon is already suffering from. But I think the Lebanese generally, are not willing to go back to the old civil war days – at any cost. You don’t have to be a Lebanese supporter of hizbollah to declare that you are against a Fitna erupting in Lebanon. We can safely say that only a small minority of sunni Lebanese tikfiris support a Fitna and were also against the Lebanese army’s operation in Abra. The rest of the country, the majority of the country, was 100% behind the army rooting out the trouble-making Asseef, who, by the way, was an unknown actor till two years ago when the Syria trouble started (interesting timing eh). He suddenly became famous when he started to publicly and verbally provoke hizbollah, often his bearded men dramatically taking to the streets of Sidon and burning tires in protest against hizbollah and shiaism – and all this while, hizbollah not even responding to the provocations but just letting them slide.

    What can we take from this turbulent geo-political theater? We can certainly glean that a conspiracy to weaken the Arab region, especially the Arab countries who are still actively resisting israel, has been preplanned and is now being executed, using a collective army of takfiris against these ‘resistor’ countries – chief among takfiri targets are Syria and Lebanon.

    The takfiris and the axis of evil have lost the battle of Qusair and now the battle of Abra. This is very good. But there is still a problem. How to wipe-out the takfiri ideology? Cuz unless this is achieved, the region will continue to have Abra and Qusair battles for the next hundred years. Whack-a-mole contains the rodents some, but doesn’t offer a solution. This is what we need to think about: a solution to the problem of takfirism. If you defeat takfirism, you disable imperialism and zionism in the region. Think of takfirism as the current military arm of the imperialists and zionists.

    Jeff Klein is doing journalism the good-old-fashioned honest way: going there to see it for himself and to say it like it is, without simultaneously suckling on some fat corporate teat. Thank you for your immense work, Jeff. The longer you stick around this part of the world, the more layers of nuance you find, the more the big-picture crystallizes, the more accurate, even prophetic, your journalism. It is certainly more intellectually exciting to be living in actual history, than reading about it, accurately or not, from the other end of the world.

    Let’s all hope that soon enough, someone comes up with a plan to wipe-out intolerant takfirism, wipe-out the ideology and the actual body of one of the most evil movements in today’s world.

    • bintbiba says:

      Kudos, Kudos, Kudos , Taxi.
      The crystal voice of common sense and truth telling. Keep on going on!
      Your writing should be on the main broadsheets of the West as well. You grace this site with your wit and insight about our part of the world that is undergoing such tragic and momentous events in the name of the sickeningly farcical touted so-called ‘democracy and human rights’….

    • seafoid says:

      “You don’t have to be a Lebanese supporter of hizbollah to declare that you are against a Fitna erupting in Lebanon”

    • aiman says:

      Thanks Taxi.

    • Fantastically insightful and informative account. Thankyou, Taxi. The whole muddle makes more sense to me now, through your eyes.

    • piotr says:

      The people called takfiris by Taxi are not really “tools of imperialism and zionism”. My private term is “pet cobras”. The art of fostering pet cobras was perfected in Pakistan, with pretty woeful results. (The analogy is motivated by a tale about a person saving a viper, once restored to good health the viper bit him. And in Indian subcontinent cobra fits better.) The success of Taliban in Afghanistan is a rare case of a major victory for these guys, a more usual pattern is that they either fight between themselves or have a knack of mobilizing disparate opponents into alliance that defeats them.

      To summarize, “imperialists” fight with Sunni extremists in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali and few other places (Libya?). In Iraq the West does not care. In Syria we support them, even though they may be the very same people. This is pretty insane.

      Without a doubt, major transient gains were achieved from the point of view of Israel: Hamas was forced to accept more moderate (from Israel point of view) sponsorship in Qatar, the supply route of Hezbollah got uncertain, Syrian air defenses disabled by rebel attacks on the installations, Syria is removed from a role as a plausible military opponent for at least a decade, Turkish and Egyptian government were distracted away from the conflict with Israel. But reliance on pet cobras is a curse that may undo all those gains and more.

      For starters, American may ignore the issue but it was noticed by Chinese, Russians and quite a few others (like a some key British politicians or an increasing part of Turkish public) that the “democratic forces” depend on pet cobras they wreck havoc not merely in Syria but also in China, Russia, England and perhaps even in Turkey. The fault lines extend to Beijing, Moscow and London, and they surely cover Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara.

      • Taxi says:

        piotr,
        “Without a doubt, major transient gains were achieved from the point of view of Israel: Hamas was forced to accept more moderate (from Israel point of view) sponsorship in Qatar, the supply route of Hezbollah got uncertain, Syrian air defenses disabled by rebel attacks on the installations, Syria is removed from a role as a plausible military opponent for at least a decade…”

        My dear, hamas hasn’t softened it’s stance on israel regardless of new patronage. Their shameful move to bed qatar is a serious back-stab to Syria: the same Syria that for 30 years had protected hamas, as a resistance group, and armed it.

        The supply route for hezbollah is mainly through beirut airport and therefore untouched by the syria crisis, regardless of what zio propaganda has to say about this.

        And Syria is more of a threat to israel now that ever: since the day Bashar announced that he intends to liberate the golan soon and asked for volunteers to start training.

        israel has gained nothing but more push against it from syria and hizbollah and iran. Life was a lot less dangerous for israel before the Syria crisis began and with every gain Bashar makes, and he IS making gains, israel is pushed further back into a corner.

        Don’t you worry about Bashar’s air defenses – it’s all still intact and capable of some serious damage. The israeli strike on syria a couple of months ago barely scratched Syria. Yes israel has a better air defense system but the problem is that israeli won’t be able to handle the casualties that Bashar can inflict on israel with his weaker air defense.

        We may very well see a big fight over the golan late autumn – or by next spring. Hizbollah has publicly announced that it is ready to help Bashar liberate the Golan. Mark my words, Golan is the next big ground zero.

        Not forgetting that international law will be on the side of Syria regarding the liberation of Golan.

        • piotr says:

          It is hard to conclude anything with certainty. Given a bit of time, I can compile a list of link proving that Hamas is more moderate now and another that it is not. Concerning Syria air defenses, clearly they neatly dispatched the Turkish attempt to test them on Mediterranean coast and the Israeli attack incurred no losses, and at the time there was a statement that insurgents degraded air defenses. If nothing else, they clearly harassed the installations is south Syria and transiently took over a few, while installations in Latakiya region were probably never disturbed. But Israel also has more advanced air force than Turkey, and Turkish test used training planes that were somewhat obsolete.

          How weapons get in and out of Lebanon is similarly unclear. Did the crazy guy in Sidon get his weapon stash through Beirut, or rather smuggled by boat? For that matter, the details of what happened in Sidon are extremely unclear, like how many fighters were there, what was the role of Hezbollah etc.

          What will happen in Golan next year? I may accept a bet but purely as a matter of gambling.

          The main point that you dispute is if there are any gains that can be shown for supplying the rebels. Clearly, there is enough stuff that people who push that policy will include in reports to the decision makers who can increase or decrease the funding. Those reports will be probably accepted.

        • Taxi says:

          Piotr,

          Thanks for your response.

          Hamas are not more moderate regarding their struggle against israel, they’ve just had their mouths stuffed with copious amounts of Qatari money that it’s impossible for them to make above a whisper – though the military arm of hamas remains largely outside of Qatar’s direct influence.

          It’s an agreement between israel and Qatar for Qatar to quieten hamas down (with extra pocket money) to diminish not only (resistance) Jihad ‘energy’ in occupied Palestine, but also to dissipate any coordinated plans for a 3rd Intifada. Basically, making israel’s security details less worrisome. And what does Qatar get out of helping israel, out of holding hamas on a leash of gold? Praise and prestige from the west, which the midget country of Qatar is obsessed with gaining, and literally buying for itself. Also in their Qatari shopping cart, the all important and fierce united front between israel and Qatar (others too) against Iran and global Shia-ism.

          Now, regarding isreal verus Syria air defense: a wide arial assault on Syria by israel (not a surgical strike like the last three were), would activate the Syrian air defenses and major amounts of their strikes will assuredly be aimed at tel aviv and other important strategic targets. Such an israeli move would also trigger simultaneous attacks on the whole of israel by Iran and hizbollah, as per their announced security pact pledges.

          Again, israel can strike harder due to it’s sophisticated arsenal, but it cannot protect isreali lives or property, or even the Damona, from an onslaught of missiles and rockets fired from multiple and coordinated sources. Israel’s super-duper expensive defense ‘shields’ that they’ve installed (and we paid for), will not be able to stop all the lethal firework that will rain on israel once all-out war breaks out. In other words, israel can assault better than it can defend. This is the current secret that the israeli government is hiding from its people. This is not 1967. Israel’s neighbors have got their act more together now – they have bigger guns and more of them too – it has taken many generations of organization and training for israel’s neighbors to have arrived at the stage today where they are confidently challenging israel’s military deterrence and supremacy. I know the israelis would like to spin it differently, the opposite in fact, but the zionists really are in a most serious crisis. Do you honestly think that israel working with alqaida in Syria and politically hob-nobbing with Qataris and Saudis isn’t a sign of acute zionist desperation? They effing hate Arabs – but now they’re forced to jump in bed with the worst of them, the most extreme and violent ones, namely saudis and qatari takfiris – takfiris from other oil producing Arab countries too, except for the Sultanate of Oman (it remains skillfully neutral amidst the spreading turbulence). The prognosis is bad bad bad. And it can only get geopolitically worse for israel.

          “How weapons get in and out of Lebanon is similarly unclear. Did the crazy guy in Sidon get his weapon stash through Beirut, or rather smuggled by boat? For that matter, the details of what happened in Sidon are extremely unclear, like how many fighters were there, what was the role of Hezbollah etc.”

          There are many ways that hizbollah weapons get in and out of Lebanon. In case you didn’t know, Hizbollah controls every security aspect of operations at Beirut International Airport. This fact should make “clear” to you how the majority of their arsenal is delivered to them.

          Regarding the “crazy guy in Sidon” – his operation is under investigation and no info has been officially released by the army investigators yet. I heard a couple of days ago that out of 76 men that were arrested (more have been arrested since), 42 were Lebanese and the rest were foreign Arabs from yemen, saudi, etc (the same motley of takfiri in Syria). It is common knowledge around here that Qatar has been supplying arms to the worst of the worst of tafriris (to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia who doesn’t like to be sidestepped by its bratty mini-me). Though in the case of Asseef of Sidon, well, he is known to have graduated as a ‘sheik’ from an islamic school in Saudi Arabia – the saudis taught him, made him shiek there in saudi, and gave him bags of money and weapons to set up a wahabi branch in south lebanon. Hope this “clears” for you where Asseef gets his terrorist arsenal from.

          Now, Qusair in Syria, under the takfiris, was how most terrorist weapons used to entered Lebanon, but Qusair fell a month ago and so it’s getting harder for nutjobs like Asseef of Sidon to get Saudi weapons safely and surely. There are other known smuggling roots, north, near the Tripoli-Syrian border – and countered: there’s an ongoing army clampdown on villages that are smuggling weapons through. Presently, everyone is waiting for the army to release a report of it’s findings regarding the Abra battle. What we do know is that Asseef’s men attacked an Army checkpoint in Abra and killed 4 soldiers, prompting the army to respond with the strongest of measures. It’s true that near the battlefield in Abra, in shia neighborhoods, local hizbollah fighters put up their own security roadblocks, but there is no evidence that they participated in the fighting themselves alongside the Lebanese army. It would be a stupid move for the hizb to fight Asseef’s sunni men and hizbollah strategists aren’t exactly known for their stupidity, or hot-headeness. They fight ‘strategically’, not emotionally or recklessly. To fight and kill sunnis in a sunni mosque would be seen as an explosive provocation that would indeed bring out the crazies in the sunni Lebanese community and the country’s stability would be severely compromised. Hizbollah is making a concerted effort to stop a ‘Fitna’, not ignite it. A ‘Fitna’ would indeed weaken hizbollah, so why would hizbollah fall for that “trap”? They don’t need to teach a gang of terrorists a lesson or two when the army is perfectly capable of handling it – as indeed it proved it could.

          As regards the liberation of golan – today i’m thinking that planning for a successful military operation will probably take longer than my “next spring” prediction of yesterday. What I do know is that Bashar publicly ‘opened’ the gates of the Golan after 40 years of dormancy, and asked for volunteers to step up and start training for its liberation. It would indeed solidify Bashar’s ‘legitimacy’ as a leader to first crush the terrorist takfiri mercenaries, then immediately take up the populist cause of liberating Golan. Unlike his father, he will confront israel and take by force what’s rightfully Syrian land – the axis of evil have left him no other option.

  17. American says:

    US getting deeper into the mess.
    Has left US 1000 troops and equipment in Jordon after joint excerise with Jordon in event of Syria spillover.
    Has sent 400 troops to Sina in event of riots in Egypt affecting Israel.
    Has US troops in Somali ‘training’ Somali police.
    Nothing being too small to escape the *US Masters of the Universe* the winged crusaders in the taxpayer provided superman capes have also offered a $23 Million reward for capture of the “pirates”.