There has been much understandable worry about the civil war in Syria re-igniting dormant conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq. Despite the ongoing violence in northern Lebanon, I used my World Politics Review column yesterday to explain why spillover was likely but also why it would not take the form of civil war.
(As my article went online, Emile el-Hokayem published this excellent analysis on the drivers of conflict in northern Lebanon. Highly recommended.)
[The United States] gave Egypt’s military $1.3 billion worth of tanks and fighter jets, and it gave Lebanese public-school students a $13.5 million merit-based college scholarship program that is currently putting 117 Lebanese kids through local American-style colleges that promote tolerance, gender and social equality, and critical thinking. I’ve recently been to Egypt, and I’ve just been to Lebanon, and I can safely report this: The $13.5 million in full scholarships has already bought America so much more friendship and stability than the $1.3 billion in tanks and fighter jets ever will.
I am more than sympathetic to arguments that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East must go beyond military partnerships, but this Tom Friedman op-ed is nonsense. First off, no where in this op-ed is there any discussion of U.S. interests in the region, which are, according to the president:
That $1.3 billion in annual military aid? That is the price the United States pays to ensure peace between Israel and Egypt. For three decades, it has been a fantastic bargain.
Second, I am a proud graduate of the American University of Beirut, but do you know who else counted the AUB as their alma mater? The two most innovative terrorists in modern history, George Habbash and Imad Mughniyeh. U.S. universities and scholarship programs are nice things to do and sometimes forge important ties between peoples and future leaders, but they can also go horribly wrong and do not necessarily serve U.S. interests. There is certainly no guarantee a U.S.-style education leads to greater tolerance or gender and social equality.
Third, I'm glad Tom Friedman is traveling, but after a few weeks (days?) in Cairo and Beirut, he can "safely report" nothing about the relative effectiveness of U.S. activities in Egypt and Lebanon.
Fourth, the military aid we give to Egypt does not come out of the International Affairs budget, so it's not a simple matter of moving some cash around. Tom Friedman will want to speak to the U.S. Congress about this. I was wrong about this! See this Congressional Research Service report (.pdf) for more. Also, Gulliver wrote in to add that "ISA (which includes Foreign Military Finance – particularly the earmarked Israel and Egypt money – and International Military Education and training) is a separate budget line to the humanitarian aid and educational exchange stuff. Congress specifically appropriates that money and would have to be the ones to change it."
Fifth, in 1975, Lebanon was arguably the best educated and most cosmopolitan population in the Arabic-speaking world. I don't need to tell the guy who wrote this book what happened next, but for the rest of you, I'll just say that only in a twisted way did it involve "transforming [Lebanon] into what it should be and can be."
One of the biggest compliments I have received as a researcher came in the summer of 2010, when Nick Blanford, who was finishing a military history of Hezbollah, asked me to read and comment on his thousand-page manuscript. Even though Nick and I had been friends for several years, it takes a lot of trust to give someone working on a very similar subject to your own full access to your unedited work and all your sources. (I was finishing up a doctoral dissertation on Hezbollah at the time.) Now that the manuscript has been pared down to just 544 pages and published, I can tell you that if you only buy and read one book this holiday season, it should be Nick's Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah's Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel. Nick was in town last week, and I convinced him to participate in a question-and-answer session for the blog. I respect Nick so much that I even changed the way I transliterate Hizballah Hezbollah in his honor -- something I have only done once before, for Thomas Hegghammer.
Nick, first off, thank you so much for allowing me to read this book when it was still in its unedited early drafts. It was incredibly useful to me as I finished my dissertation, and it was a rip-roaring yarn. What a fantastic story you have written. This is truly the work of a lifetime, and I have been telling people for 12 months now, when they ask me about the one book they should read on Hezbollah, that they should read your magnum opus. Tell us: how relieved are you to have this work finally published?
Thanks, Ex, for those kind words. I guess I have mixed feelings about finishing the book. It's a project that was over a decade in the making. I first began mulling a book on Hezbollah's military evolution around 1999 as the Israeli occupation was drawing to an end and the prospects of peace between Israel and Syria were looking good. If peace had been achieved, it would have led to Hezbollah's disarming. Of course, there was no peace deal and Hezbollah has only grown stronger since then. One writes to one's strengths and my intention always was to write a book telling Hezbollah's military story which has been the focus of most of my reporting from Lebanon over the past decade and a half. There are plenty of good books on Hizbullah looking at its ideology and structure, but nothing comprehensive on the "resistance" which after all is the most important component of the party. I have been lucky enough to be in a unique position for a foreign journalist to watch in microscopic detail Hizbullah's military evolution unfold in real time since the mid 1990s. I wanted to produce a book of record that had sufficient weight to interest scholars and academics in the field who hopefully will continue to find it useful 10 or 20 years down the road, but also to provide enough color, reportage and anecdote to make it accessible to a more lay audience. When I began the writing process, I assumed I would need Hezbollah's help to fill gaps in my research, but as it turned out, my problem was not finding more information but choosing what to exclude from a rapidly expanding manuscript. You, Ex, had the misfortune of being the only person who read the much longer original manuscript, which was nudging a quarter of a million words before I started cutting. Very often, a book is improved when it is trimmed down and the MS becomes tighter. I think that's the case with Warriors, but there were some elements and stories that I was sorry to leave on the cutting room floor. In particular, the family and friends of Mohammed Saad, this incredibly resourceful and interesting Amal leader in south Lebanon in the early 1980s, provided me with boxes of information, but I could only use a fraction of it in the book.
Hezbollah goes from just another crappy Lebanese militia in the early 1980s to the most feared non-state actor in the world. Briefly tell us how.
Hezbollah emerged in the early 1980s and was initially very much guided by the Iranians. It owes its creation to the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982, although its leadership had been mulling establishing some form of anti-Israel resistance that followed the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Hezbollah's military exploits began slowly but by the latter half of the 1990s they had come to dominate the resistance against the Israeli occupation in the south. In those days, it was fairly ramshackle, and tactics - such as human wave assaults against Israel outposts - cost them a lot of casualties. Hezbollah's "Golden Years" were in the 1990s - the second phase of the party's evolution - when with the civil war over and under the protection of Syria, Hezbollah was able to focus its activities on resistance. The Islamic Resistance was adaptive and a quick learner and it was fascinating in those days to watch them improve year-on-year. The Israeli withdrawal in 2000 marked the beginning of Hezbollah's third phase. This is where they evolved from a resourceful guerrilla group employing classic hit-and-run tactics into something that folks like you describe as a "hybrid force" - a group that employs a blend of guerrilla and conventional weapons and tactics. Hezbollah today is probably the most formidable non-state military actor in the world. Although we concentrate on Hezbollah's ever expanding arsenal of weapons, for me the most telling aspect of its evolution is its highly complex and advanced electronic warfare and communications systems.
This book focuses primarily on Hezbollah's military activities, but as you know, I always argue the non-kinetic lines of operations -- the information operations, the social services -- are as important to Hezbollah as their military operations. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Hezbollah understood the importance of hearts-and-minds very early on. In fact, it was the Iranians that introduced the concept back in 1982 when among the first things they did on arriving in the Bekaa in the summer of that year was to begin building clinics and providing basic social services along with the lectures and religious educational programs. Jihad al-Binna, Hezbollah's flagship social welfare organization, began operating in 1985. I write about this in the book and how Hezbollah has expanded the social welfare activities to create what they call a "culture of resistance". This makes it much more than simply patching up war-damaged homes, providing free education and medical aid. The community becomes part of the "resistance". Youngsters now grow up in an atmosphere of resistance, jihad, martyrdom and hostility toward Israel. Hezbollah does not accept combatants below the age of 18, but by the time a new recruit has reached the age to join the Islamic Resistance, the chances are he will have been immersed since childhood in Hezbollah's "culture of resistance", reading anti-Israeli cartoon books when he was a kid, attending religious classes and Islamic scouting camps in the school holidays. Maybe even getting some basic weapons training when a young teenager. This culture, or society, of resistance testifies to Hezbollah's long-term strategic vision. Obviously the social welfare programs, the creation of a culture of resistance and even the parliamentary presence from 1992 was intended to build up and sustain Hezbollah's base of support. However, the byproduct of this massive emotional and financial investment is that Hezbollah today has a large constituency towards which it is answerable. When you win over a sizeable percentage of the population to your side, you have to respect and satisfy their needs. That adds another layer of complexity to an organization that is ideologically tied to a country 650 miles to the east the interests of which may not always coincide with the interests of Hezbollah's Lebanese constituency.
How does a researcher like yourself even write such a book? How did you gain the incredible access you gained, and are you worried about how the book will be received among your sources?
I have access to a number of Hezbollah people who are willing to talk to me either because they have come to know me over the years or on the assurances of mutual acquaintances. These guys are not supposed to talk to me at all, of course, so I am very careful to protect their identity. Mind you, what they tell me is a fraction of what they know, but it's more than other people get. I didn't ask for Hezbollah's formal help for my research. I have a huge database of information which I have built up over the past 16 years and I have interviewed just about all Hezbollah's leadership at some time or other. Will Hezbollah like the book? I think they will like some things and won't like others. It's a controversial subject and I think there's something in there for everyone to love and hate.
This is a two part question: a) why, in your professional reason, did I kill Rafik Hariri, and b) is it true that when Hezbollah speaks of the most gifted military commander they have ever faced, they speak of me on the paintball court?
I have always felt that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has been wasting its time examining the alleged roles of Syria and Hezbollah in Hariri's assassination. When I was researching my previous book - Killing Mr. Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and its Impact on the Middle East - I quickly discovered the intense rivalry and hostility between you and Hariri: the financial dealings that went sour, how he thwarted your political ambitions in Lebanon, how you stole his girlfriends. You may recall that I was planning to expose the entire plot before your lawyers threated legal action. The truth will out one day, my friend. Seriously though, the guy who spread this rumor was acting extremely irresponsibly and really should be held accountable for spreading such malicious and potentially dangerous falsehoods. As for the paintball competition, all I recall of that was you curled up on the floor pleading for mercy as the Hezbollah guys splattered you with paint pellets. Or was that me?
It was probably me. A certain H.P. Flashman has always been my role model when the bullets -- or paintball pellets -- start flying. Anyway, I always end these interviews with a few questions about food and drink. You, my friend, are a past master of the Beirut bar scene, but now that you are a family man with a beautiful wife and kids, where do you like to go in Lebanon for a nice meal?
I like the Greedy Goose because they serve locally brewed 961 beer and I meet some journo friends there once a week. I am out of touch with most bars in Beirut these days. I preferred the good old days when there were perhaps three bars in Beirut, the best of which was the Lord Kitchener which was at the back of an abandoned shopping center in Hamra and had a very laid-back speakeasy-type atmosphere and a wicked oud player. As for food, still love Le Chef, an institution. Best cafe is Cafe Younes in Hamra. I used to live above the cafe in 1995-96 when it was just a place to buy freshly ground coffee and knock back a double espresso in the morning. Otherwise, it's local cafes and restaurants dotted around the country. Eat foul in the Tyre souq. There's a brilliant sandwich place in Dar al-Wassah in the Bekaa - best labneh sandwiches in Lebanon. I also stop at Abu Rashed next to the army barracks in Marjayoun. They make terrific shish taouq. Corny though it may sound, the best meal is the one with a couple of spit roast chickens, olives, bread and with the family on a picnic somewhere high up in the mountains.
That doesn't sound corny in the least. Thanks, Nick. As for the rest of you, you know what to do: buy Nick's book here.
As some of you may or may not already know, Hizballah, together with the Lebanese government, has rolled up what is believed to be the vast majority of the assets of the Central Intelligence Agency in Lebanon. Ken Delanian of the Los Angeles Times and Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press have more, but this story has already attracted the attention of the U.S. Congress, which has some questions for the CIA.
I know about as much about clandestine operations and running agents as I do about playing linebacker in the NFL, but I do know a little about Lebanon, and I also know something about what my boss John Nagl likes to refer to as "learning organizations," a concept I believe to be relevant here. I first heard about this story from a journalist over lunch last week, and I'll relate to you what I told him and some of what he told me.
1. As many of you know, Hizballah and Lebanese intelligence have been quite good at rolling up Israeli intelligence assets since 2006. (Contrary to what I would have thought, Israel managed to keep a pretty good human intelligence network alive in Lebanon after its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.) Our intelligence assets were vulnerable to the same counter-intelligence methods that did in the Israelis, but we apparently blew off the warnings.
2. Given that negligence, if I am a member of the U.S. Congress, I am going to ask if it is really true that the station chief in Beirut was subsequently promoted within the ranks of the CIA. If told this is in fact true, I am going to ask who, if anyone, is being held accountable.
3. I am also, if I am a member of the U.S. Congress, going to be asking whether or not CIA tradecraft has eroded over the past decade as the agency has chased the bright shiny ball we'll call "drone-strikes-in-Pakistan". (A question that, quite frankly, needed to be asked after the 2009 bombing in Khost.) It's great to have an intelligence agency with a knife in its teeth, but the primary mission of an intelligence organization is to gather and analyze intelligence, not to thwack bad guys. If you fail in that primary mission, questions have to be asked as to why you are failing.
4. The CIA strikes me as an organization that hates having to explain itself and has every bureaucratic reason to avoid doing so. In the same way that the U.S. Army has an institutional interest in convincing policy makers that every general officer is equal to another, the CIA has an interest in convincing outsiders that external evaluation will compromise valuable tactics, techniques and procedures and will endanger operational security. (This is not a good recipe for an organization that learns from its mistakes and solicits external criticism in an effort to be more effective.) All organizations resist criticism, but intelligence organizations resist criticism and then wrap themselves in the cloak of all-important operational security to avoid it. Again, if I am the U.S. Congress, I am going to call bulls***, and I am going to do so in the following way.
Because that's what it really comes down to: poor tradecraft. This is not a matter of some Lebanese Karla lurking out there, out-smarting us. This is our premier intelligence agency getting sloppy, resulting in the death or incarceration of some brave U.S. allies.
UPDATE: Greg Miller has more information in today's Washington Post. Key lines:
CIA veterans familiar with the exposure described the harm as extensive. “It has caused irreparable damage to the agency’s ability to operate in the country,” said a former CIA official with knowledge of the case. The former official attributed the failure to a breakdown in tradecraft. “It is all a result of bad counterintelligence tactics.”
One of my commenters, meanwhile, has some intelligent words in defense of the agency. Check it out.
On a completely unrelated note, famed University of Georgia radio announcer Larry Munson died yesterday. I grew up around SEC football and remember my father, a friend of Munson's, introducing me to the great man. ESPN has compiled a list of Munson's greatest calls, several of which came in games against my Volunteers. My own personal favorite has to be Munson's reaction on seeing a new freshman running back by the name of ... Herschel Walker. Bill Bates may have gone on to enjoy a stellar career with the Dallas Cowboys, but listen to Munson as Walker, a freshman, absolutely runs him over. My god, a freshman!
I do not know Sharmine Narwani, but she has written one of the more bizarre pieces on Hizballah and Lebanon I have read in quite some time -- and took some unfair shots at a few accomplished journalists in the process. (Read the whole post here.) Two of those journalists, Nick Blanford and Sheera Frenkel, are friends of mine from the region, and Nick responded in an email to a few close Lebanon watchers. He has allowed me to reproduce his response here. Let me just add that when you accuse a journalist in the Middle East of fabulism and then go on to cite the testimony of Robert Fisk (!!!) in support of your argument, you're not off to a good start.
First, my contribution to the Times article was limited to the Hizbullah sources. I have no idea about the veracity of the Scud/Jabal Taqsis claims. Rupert Murdoch's political inclinations do not interest me.
Second, I will not discuss nor elaborate upon my contacts within Hizbullah. They have learned to trust me sufficiently over the years to meet and talk (many of them have become friends) and protecting their identity is my paramount concern. That said, these are not "moles" slipping secret information to a foreign reporter. They are dedicated and proud members of Hizbullah and the Islamic Resistance and (frustratingly) guarded in their comments. Hizbullah cadres are not automatons; they are human beings and feel the tug of human emotion like anyone else. It is not extraordinary that they might be willing to meet and chat with a foreigner whom they like and have grown over the years to trust, the "veil of secrecy" notwithstanding.
If I am a peddler of pro-Israel propaganda, then why would Hizbullah's Al Manar TV interview me for a documentary on the 2006 war, part one of which was aired this evening? (I think part two is tomorrow (Tuesday) night).
My contacts within Hizbullah - both at a grassroots level and at a leadership level - are borne of nearly 16 years following the affairs of the organization from within Lebanon. Sharmine is perfectly within her rights to question my sourcing. All I can say is that after 16 years one develops good contacts. That said no Hizbullah figure - fighter or leader - has ever specified to me any particular weapons system that the organization has acquired or seeks to acquire prior to its use on the battlefield. Believe me, I have tried since my early interviews with Sheikh Nabil Qaouq in the mid '90s to obtain details and my requests are invariably met with a polite smile and a raised hand. No Hizbullah member has ever confirmed to me that the organization has acquired or seeks Scud missiles. When the Scud story broke last year, I wrote several articles that questioned the veracity of the claims. My doubts were not based on whether Hizbullah would like to include Scuds within its arsenal but centered on the logistical complexities of maintaining and launching them. (Without wishing to belabor the point, Scuds are liquid fueled not solid fuelled, like other rockets believed to be in Hizbullah's arsenal, which means that the launch cycle is much lengthier and more complicated. They also require dedicated transporter-erector-launchers which is another hassle to bring into Lebanon and hide. There's more, but I'm sure you get the point.)
As for the increase of weapons into Hizbullah's arsenal, I have been hearing this since late March, shortly after the uprising began in Syria and long before the Israeli and US press began reporting such things. It's common knowledge within Hizbullah circles. Where the weapons go and what they are, I have no idea.
To some specifics:
Sharmine writes: I have been looking for weapons in Lebanon since Israeli President Shimon Peres told us in April 2010 that Syria was sending long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah. Problem is that I can’t find them anywhere and neither can anyone else.
Blanford says: Me too. And not since 2006 but since 1996. I like to think I know south Lebanon like the back of my hand, but I couldn't find any weapons down there in the 2000-2006 period even though I was sure they were there. (I did stumble across one of their 57mm anti-aircraft guns in 2002 which made for an entertaining afternoon but that's another story.)
Sharmine writes: While Peres’ claims were reported widely in the international media, Syria rejected all charges and Hezbollah played the Israeli game of refusing to confirm or deny anything. Then came a slow but steady stream of denials from an array of international observers – albeit, quietly.First up was UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Commander General Alberto Asarta Cuevas: “We have around 12,000 soldiers and three Lebanese army brigades in a small area. We haven’t seen a thing,” said Asarta Cuevas. “Scud missiles are big. I’m sure there are no Scuds because it is very difficult to hide them,” he added.
Blanford says: If Hizbullah has acquired Scuds, they are not going to bring 40-foot missiles and even larger TELs south of the Litani. The whole point of acquiring a Scud (probably the only point) is that you can launch them from northern Lebanon and still hit Eilat. Come to think of it, didn't Mohammed Raad last week say "If Israel launches an attack, rockets of the resistance will cover all of Israel. Even the city of Eilat won’t be spared".
Sharmine writes: The Jewish state has even provided maps – down to the exact house – that indicate where Lebanese women-and-children-commandos have stashed these weapons. Kudos go to the IDF too for creating user-friendly video games – or, as they like to call it, “3D animated clips” – that “illustrate how Hezbollah has turned over 100 villages in South Lebanon into military bases.”
Blanford says: I'm assuming that Sharmine is referring to the widely disseminated map published by The Washington Post in March showing a rash of red, blue and yellow dots across south Lebanon pointing out Hizbullah bunkers and positions. At the time, out of curiosity, I overlaid the WaPo map over a Google Earth image of south Lebanon and zoomed in to try and guage the accuracy of these multiple dots (I know it's a bit nerdy and obsessive but what can I say). Unlike Sharmine, who discerned that the map was accurate to the "exact house", I found that each dot covered around half a village. Come on, the WaPo map was nothing more than a psy-ops ploy by Israel and had no bearing on reality. If the Israelis really had such sensitive information, do you think they would pass it on to the media? The same applies to the 3D graphics video of Khiam released last year. I tried to relate the video to Khiam itself but failed. Maybe I'm not sufficiently tech-savvy to translate 3D graphics into reality, but this too was just another case of Israeli psy-ops.
Sharmine writes: Hebrew-language newspaper Maariv last summer reported that Israeli finance officials were using Hezbollah to justify exorbitant defense budget demands. Ben Caspit wrote on July 11, 2010: “It’s interesting how every time the military budget is on the table, they release from the stocks Hezbollah’s missile array and expose sensitive classified material.”
Blanford says: Totally right. I wrote such comments for The Daily Star back in the 1990s. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
A few days ago, I was accused by a German conspiracy theorist of having assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. On first glance, this is kind of funny. Yesterday, for example, the Twittersphere was joking about all the other people I might have killed: Stringer Bell, Bill, Tupac, Iranian nuclear scientists, the sheriff and the deputy, Amy Winehouse, a man in Reno (just to watch him die), etc. One friend, employing the same "logic" as this conspiracy theorist, noted that I was also "suspiciously near" the scene of dozens of bombings in Iraq in 2003 and that 338 people have been murdered since I moved back to Washington, DC in 2009. Also, this same friend noted, I have never been able to prove that I did not meet with Mohammed Atta in Prague.
Quite quickly, though, what's kind of amusing on the first glance is not at all funny. If you are a journalist or researcher working on the Arabic-speaking world, what do you think is the worst possible thing someone could do to endanger your work and your life? If you guessed "holding a press conference in Beirut to announce you are working for the Mossad or CIA," you're either correct or close to the mark. As several other scholars of the region noted in emails to me yesterday, my research in Lebanon and the broader region will almost certainly be complicated by this crank and his new pet conspiracy theory.
But at least I have a nice job in Washington, D.C. that allows me to do a lot of my work from a comfortable air-conditioned office. Spare a thought for my ex-girlfriend, who I mentioned in a New York Times op-ed a few days after the assassination and who now works as a credentialed photojournaist in the Arabic-speaking world. With no evidence whatsoever, this German "journalist" has now quite literally endangered both her life and her livelihood.
A few notes about the claims themselves, which were made on the pro-March 8th Coalition website tayyar.org as well as on Hizballah's television station, al-Manar. Unsurprisingly and aside from the basic fact that I did not assassinate the former Lebanese prime minister*, the claims are riddled with factual errors. I am not even Jewish, for example.** On all four sides of my family, I am the latest in a long line of Scottish Presbyterians who have all been in the United States since well before the American Revolution. Prior to this century, the only times we felt the need to leave the United States was to invade and defeat Germany on a few occassions, the first defeat of which was explained away by some German extremists by blaming it on a Jewish conspiracy against Germany, and the second of which ... well, you get the point. At some point, amidst the rubble and the mass murder of millions of Jews, Roma, and other minorities, most Germans and other Europeans decided blaming the ills of the world on Jewish conspiracies was not in anyone's best interest. Most Germans, it seems.***
Second, if anyone wanted to actually see my military record, they could do the responsible journalistic thing and submit a freedom of information request. There is nothing classified in my military record, and you can see for yourself exactly what I did, where I deployed, what medals I earned, etc.
Third, and along the same lines, I am a semi-public figure. I have a Wikipedia page, a publicly available biography (all of the facts of which you can check), and a publications record a mile and a half long. Do I behave, in any way, shape, or form, like a spy?
This entire experience is deeply frustrating and troubling. I am not aware of any legal recourse I have available, though the claims being made by this guy endanger both work as well as the life and work of my ex-girlfriend. (Who is a great and wonderful person despite having dated me and was never my fiancee. I am happily married, as many of you know, to a woman who will surely be cannonized at some point.) I am hardly the first American to do research on the Middle East to be accused of being a spy, but this is upsetting nonetheless.
Last fall, I was actually contacted by this conspiracy theorist. I responded in good faith to his first email but ignored his others as they grew weirder. If any of you out there, by the way, send me requests for research assistance and such out of the blue and wonder why I have never responded, you have cranks like this guy to thank. I am attaching the full text of this guy's emails to me below and, when I get to work tomorrow, will scan and publish a .pdf of these emails as well.
*I cannot believe I actually had to write this sentence. Do I also need to let you guys know I did not assassinate Imad Mughniyeh?
**Although rest assured, if I were blessed enough to be one of God's chosen people, I would be very proud of that.
***Today, Germany boasts an impressive Holocaust education program, and even in the madness of the early 20th Century, many brave Germans spoke out for the Jews and against anti-Semitism. I am not trying to tar an entire noble people with the same brush here, but I find this especially disturbing a German is peddling this nonsense when surely he should know the power of these kinds of conspiracy theories.
Hariri assassination; your articles_4
Sent: Friday, November 12, 2010 4:17 AM
Dear Mr. Exum,
I want to mention you and XXX in my next book. Your presence at the Hariri crime scene is remarkable and raises questions. I like to repeat my question: Have you been asked by UN investigators and how did you respond?
Von: juergen_ck [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Gesendet: Freitag, 5. November 2010 11:46
An: 'Andrew Exum'
Betreff: Hariri assassination; your articles_3
Dear Mr. Exum,
I have one last question: Have you been questioned by the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission or the Special Tribunal for Lebanon regarding your observations prior and after the Hariri assassination, the kind of disaster tourism you executed and your motive to visit the crime scene and so on?
Von: juergen_ck [mailto:email@example.com]
Gesendet: Dienstag, 2. November 2010 11:51
An: 'Andrew Exum'
Betreff: Hariri assassination; your articles_2
thank you very much for your quick reply.
Yes, I know Fisk and his article with his unforgettable impressions. He’s living a few hundreds meter from the blast scene and therefore he was one of the first there. Unlike you he describes the tragic situation very vividly. This is not meant to be an accusation. Apparently you have all seen through the eyes of a military. I would indeed do so, I'm a criminologist.
But let me make some other remarks.
You wrote: “As a former soldier, I couldn't help but marvel for a moment at the audacity of the attack and the meticulous planning involved. The Corniche at this point takes a sharp turn, forcing cars to slow. The men who placed the bomb surely knew this. In addition, the building across from the St. George was also under construction and uninhabited, so any collateral damage to civilians would have been minimal. Further down the Corniche, the road is wider and would have been choked with pedestrians. Whoever planned this attack had been calculating as well as ruthless.”
I do not share your opinion on any kind of intended prevention of collateral damage to civilians: At the end 21 people died and about 220 persons were wounded!
You wrote: “The crater it left in the middle of the Corniche was at least three meters deep and 20 wide, astonishing given all the asphalt and rock it had to blast through.”
Indeed, Beirut was built on a rocky promontory. And the crime scene behind the Rocky-coast-Line between Ain al Mrayseh and Zaytuneh is located in a cove with rocky underground. Now let’s go back to bomb. OK, we are not experts but as former officers we should know a little bit about explosions. The bomb produces primarily heat. The bomb itself and the material in their environment evaporate. It creates abruptly a (relatively) small area with very hot and high pressured gas. All around is just a vacuum, so the gas expands, and that is the pressure wave. But a more complex problem is the behavior of the pressure wave of any explosion under reflection. An explosion near a flat hard surface (rocky basement of the coast) leads to a strengthening of the pressure wave. The relationship between the reflected shock wave and the incident shock wave is called the reflection coefficient. And don’t forget the reflection from the buildings around the crime scene. The explosion was calculated to do maximal damage. That’s my opinion.
Remember Fisk; he wrote: “The blast had sent another car, perhaps one of Hariri's, soaring through the air into the third floor of the empty hotel's annex, where it was still burning fiercely.”
It was a powerful explosion that shot a car from a weight of about one ton to a height of 6 to 7 meters. Did you see the car? I can find neither any photo nor another source.
Best and thanks
Von: Andrew Exum [mailto:]
Gesendet: Montag, 1. November 2010 16:20
Betreff: FW: To Mr. Andrew Exum: Hariri assassination; your article
Answers below. IN CAPS.
Sent: Monday, November 01, 2010 10:53 AM
To: Andrew Exum
Cc: CNAS Information
Subject: FW: To Mr. Andrew Exum: Hariri assassination; your articles
From: jürgen_cain_kuelbel [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, November 01, 2010 8:31 AM
To: ; CNAS Information
Subject: To Mr. Andrew Exum: Hariri assassination; your articles
Dear Mr. Andrew Exum,
my name is Jürgen Cain Külbel, I’m a German author and former criminalist. I’m just writing my second book about the Hariri assassination and the assassination series in Lebanon from 2005 to 2008.
I studied your interesting articles “Blood, Smoke and Tears in Beirut”, (NYT, 16 February 2005) and “Hope amid tragedy” (saloon.com) over the weekend. You are something like an “eye witness” of the devastating bombing and I’d greatly appreciate if you could kindly answer my few questions.
You wrote: “Firefighters and police officers worked to keep back the crowd, then soldiers slowly began to pour in.”
How did you manage to escape police or soldiers and climb up the hotel St. George although a large fire was raging inside the shell of the hotel?
THERE WAS NO LARGE FIRE. I MUST HAVE ARRIVED 10 MINUTES AFTER THE INITIAL BLAST AND DID NOT SEE ANY SECONDARY FIRES INSIDE THE HOTEL. THE ONLY SECONDARY EXPLOSIONS THAT I SAW CAME FROM A FEW CARS WHOSE GAS TANKS HEATED UP AND EXPLODED.
Was the crime scene not secured at that time (you arrived around ten minutes after the blast)?
HA. IT WAS “SECURED” IN THE LEBANESE SENSE OF THE WORD. WHICH MEANS MY GIRLFRIEND AND I IDENTIFIED OURSELVES AS WORKING MEMBERS OF THE PRESS AND, WITHOUT ANY ACCREDIDATION, SLIPPED THROUGH THE OUTER CORDON ESTABLISHED BY THE POLICE AND ARMY. AT SOME POINT, A LITTLE LATER, THEY REALLY SEALED OFF THE BLAST SITE. BUT INITIALLY, IT WAS REMARKABLY OPEN. I SAW OTHER REPORTERS THERE, INCLUDING ROBERT FISK. AND THERE WERE ALSO WHAT LOOKED LIKE ORDINARY LEBANESE. ANYWAY, IN THE INITIAL CONFUSION, IT WAS QUITE EASY TO GET CLOSE. AND EVENTUALLY TARA AND I JUST CLIMBED UP INTO THE ST. GEORGE.
You wrote: “… and I climbed up the ruins of the St. George and looked down at the crater. It was easily 25 yards wide and at least three deep. To create a hole this size, you would have to fill a large truck or van with high explosives, first re-enforcing the shock absorbers to accommodate all the extra weight.
This is a very smart first analysis because the experts argued at length about theories of aboveground or underground explosions. How do you get the smart idea of a large truck or van with re-enforced shock absorbers? Did you have some experiences? Did you ever see in Iraq or Afghanistan such kinds of terror trucks or explosions?
I SERVED TWICE IN AFGHANISTAN AND ONCE IN IRAQ. AT THE TIME OF THE BLAST, I HAD ONLY BEEN RETURNED FROM IRAQ FOR A YEAR AND FROM AFGHANISTAN FOR JUST SIX OR SEVEN MONTHS. SO YES, I HAD A LITTLE BIT OF EXPERIENCE WITH EXPLOSIVES AND WITH CAR BOMBS. I ALSO HAD EXPERIENCE WITH CRATERING CHARGES. THE U.S. ARMY WOULD USE THOSE IF YOU WANTED TO CREATE A HASTY ROADBLOCK. IT TAKES A LOT OF EXPLOSIVES! SO I KNEW, FIRST, THAT A LOT OF EXPLOSIVES HAD TO HAVE EBEN EMPLOYED TO HAVE CREATED A CRATER THAT LARGE IN ONE BLAST. I KNEW, SECOND, THAT ANY TRUCK OR CAR YOU LOADED UP WITH THAT MUCH EXPLOSIVES WOULD HAVE HAD TO HAVE BEEN REINFORCED IN TERMS OF THE CAR’S SHOCKS.
Thank you very much.
Jürgen Cain Külbel
تهم المحقق السابق والخبير الألماني جيرغن هانزغولبل الموساد الإسرائيلي بوقوفه وراء اغتيال رئيس الوزراء اللبناني الأسبق رفيق الحريري مؤكداً تجاهل وعدم مصداقية التحقيق الدولي في التعامل مع الأدلة التي قدمها الأمين العام لحزب الله السيد حسن نصر الله وخاصة مراقبة طائرة الأواكس الإسرائيلية لخط سير الحريري قبل الاغتيال.
وعرض الخبير الألماني في مؤتمر صحفي عقده اليوم مع المحامية اللبنانية مي الخنساء في بيروت وثائق وأدلة تؤكد تورط إسرائيل والإدارة الأمريكية وبعض الدول الأوروبية في التخطيط لاغتيال الحريري.
وأشار الخبير الألماني استنادا لتحقيقات خاصة قام بها بنفسه إلى وجود شخصيتين أمريكيتين يهوديتين هما اندرو اكسيوم ضابط سابق في الجيش الأمريكي وخبير متفجرات عمل في أفغانستان والعراق وخطيبته تارا تودرس وايت هيل مهندسة اتصالات حضرت إلى لبنان يوم وقوع الجريمة حيث شوهدت في منطقة الحمراء في بيروت في نفس التاريخ ثم غادرت إلى إسرائيل حيث تعمل هناك.
وأوضح الخبير الألماني أن الضابط الامريكي بقى في لبنان تحت ستار الدراسة في الجامعة الأمريكية لكن تبين انه كان يتجسس ويجمع المعلومات ويحاول اختراق صفوف حزب الله والأحزاب الوطنية اللبنانية حيث غادر لبنان أواخر عام 2006.
ودعا الخبير الألماني إلى الرجوع للأمن العام اللبناني والجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت للتأكد من صحة المعلومات التي أوردها عن حركة دخول وخروج هاتين الشخصيتين الأمريكيتين إلى لبنان وخروجهما منه.
This is pretty hilarious. As some of you may know, I was indeed in Beirut the day of the bombing and wrote about the experience for the New York Times the next day.
As the names of those indicted by the special tribunal for Lebanon begin to leak out, please go to Qifa Nabki for invaluable background reading on the tribunal itself.
My friend Sean takes issue with what I wrote yesterday. Sean is obviously partisan on this issue (and I do not use that word "partisan" pejoratively), but read his account of events from the Lebanese side of the border anyway. Another great witness account was posted in the comments. This is from an American student studying at the American University of Beirut.*
I was there yesterday at the Lebanese border, not protesting or remembering but watching what happened (I'm an american student of European descent, with more ties to the Jewish community than to any arab community). There was a clear effort by Hezbollah to make their presence known at the event, but only as "traffic cops". They were all clearly visible in their yellow hats with green writing, and green lanyards, but NONE of them were openly armed. even on the drive down, there was a distinct lack of weaponry on anyone except for Lebanese Army/Police forces. Hell, they were even checking bags to make sure that no one was bringing in weapons of any sort. On top of that, they were helping to transport the dead/injured out of the zone as fast as possible, by either bringing them out of the valley or helping clear a way through the crowds for the ambulances. They wanted to make it clear that NO ONE from Hezbollah was instigating anything, and that this was only a Palestinian movement (even if for it to happen, it did take government acquiescence). So from what I could see and hear about the other remembrances, it was very much the same. None of the anti-Israel groups wanted to give them a reason to start anything, and to keep it as much of a Palestinian event as possible.
At #1: as I was leaving the event after getting a little spooked at seeing dead bodies getting rushed up the hill, the current kill count was four, and that was at 3PM local time. I heard estimates of up to 16 dead, but 10 seems much more likely from the amount of ambulances I saw going in and out, and the stretchers being rushed up and down the hill. Also, as far as from what I could tell and from what I heard (although this is still probably subject to some more scrutiny), was that the IDF fired on the crowd before they even started throwing rocks, and fired on people at the fence vandalizing (aka hanging Palestinian flags on) the LEBANESE fence and chanting, which in turn spurred the rock throwing. From my vantage point and from the pictures I took, the area where the Palestinians mobbed the fence was near for the most part open farm land, with about a maybe a 10 yard stretch of trees between the Israeli fence and the farmland, with IDF soldiers right on the edge of the trees near the fence. If the Israelis were worried about anyone crossing the border, they could have sat out of range of the stones, and just watched. Not to mention the surveillance along that area of the border includes CCTV cameras (from what a friend who had visited the border the weekend before, the number of cameras had grown by a bunch that week) that could have easily told them if someone was attempting to cross the fence. Not to mention that there were two Merkavas, an observation post, a Humvee and a couple of civilian looking SUV's nearby that were all watching the border and could have easily run down or taken out any Palestinians crossing the border.
For me, this was really really disconcerting, because I've always thought of the IDF as a professional force, one of the best in the world and one that knew how to exercise restraint (especially after reading accounts of the Al-Aqsa intifada), but what I saw left me with the exact opposite impression. You would think that the IDF would remove themselves from a situation where they would be forced to use any sort of force, but what I saw really dictates otherwise. Even if they did return fire for stone throwing, they were waiting for it to happen. The soldiers didn't have to be within range of the stones, it seemed like they wanted to be there. From what I could discern from my pictures (taken from long range with a good zoom lens), the IDF soldiers were in full battle garb, not even riot control. I hate to insinuate that they wanted to kill Palestinians, but that's what seemed like. what made that even more stark was watching a man being brought up the side of the hill with most of his right leg missing. Now, I heard no explosions, but I did hear gunshots (I know my ear's not discerning enough to tell the difference between calibers), so that makes me wonder how he lost his leg, and a logical conclusion would be that it was shot off, and from my limited knowledge of weapons, it seems like it would have had to have been a large caliber weapon, or one with a high rate of fire. Why would any force on crowd control fire either something with that much of a rate of fire into a crowd, or a caliber that large?
I too find it extremely weird that the IDF was caught "unaware" of the coming protests, and in many ways find it too convenient, especially after being told that the gatherings were well publicized via facebook and other forms of social media, and you'd think someone in Israel would have picked up on it. One other bit of food for thought, normally that valley contains a large UN presence (an English friend had been the weekend before and told me as such), but they were starkly absent, minus one overflight of a UN helicopter, which then summarily disappeared.
*These two accounts are from Americans living in Lebanon. A summary of events from a truly Lebanese perspective (and one sympathetic to the Palestinians) can be found via the Leftist newspaper al-Akhbar.
So the events of yesterday do not, thankfully, seem to have kicked off a regional war, though continue to knock on wood. As predicted, though, the violence along Israel's borders (Page A1, today's Washington Post, above the fold, with a color photograph) has drowned out coverage of Bashar al-Asad's continuing war against his own people (Page A9, today's Washington Post). A few more observations to either add to or amend ones I made yesterday:
1. I promised there would be room to criticize the tactics and operations of the IDF going forward, though I also noted that as critical as I have been of the IDF in the past, I am sympathetic toward any military organization simply trying to protect the integrity of its territories. That having been said, the only place where there seems to have been an actual breach of the border was along the Syrian border. (And again, the Golan Heights are occupied territory that we assume will someday transfer back to Syria as part of a broader peace agreement, so we're not so much talking of an international border here as we are a line of control. The readers who pointed this out yesterday are, of course, correct on this point.) Yet the IDF killed how many along the Lebanese border? Let me just say that a) there was no excuse not to have been better prepared for this kind of mass protest on Nakba Day and b) that the IDF has demonstrated in the West Bank that it has the means to use non-lethal means to counter protests. So one question I would have going forward concerns how the IDF units along the border with Lebanon were prepared to respond to the protests along the Lebanese border in terms of escalation of force. What non-lethal means did they have to respond to protesters and rock-throwers? Because although a solider has the right to defend himself, Israel as much as any other nation understands that the kind of international condemnation you receive from shooting protesters carries with it strategic effects.
2. There was a lot of conversation in the Twitter-sphere concerning tactics of both violence and non-violence in support of the Palestinian cause. Much of this is poorly uninformed, and some are simply trying to crudely portray all Palestinians as violent savages while others are defending Palestinian tactics over the years without any kind of critical reflection on their appropriateness or effectiveness. Let me just say this: before anyone opens his or her mouth about strategies and tactics of the Palestinian national movement over the years, he or she should first check this book out from a library and read it.
3. As I said yesterday, the events along Israel's borders should be a wake-up call for the Israeli political class. Although the easy thing to do here will be to claim that Israel has no partner in peace, it is foolish to think the kind of non-violent protests that proved so effective in Egypt and Tunisia will not migrate to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the eyes of the world, Israel will look like Ben Ali or Mubarak in the face of a non-violent movement for the creation of a Palestinian state. Is Israel prepared for that? When I was in Israel 18 months ago doing some research, some security analysts I talked to spoke of the West Bank and the Palestinians as a problem to be managed: sure, there would be an uprising every now and then, but it was nothing Israel could not handle through force. I'm not sure that is any longer the case, if indeed it ever was, which is part of the reason why I believe Western, Arab and Israeli policy-makers should start setting the conditions for a Palestinian state (.pdf) now rather than wait.
4. Have I mentioned before how much I hate writing about issues relating to Israel and Palestine? I think I have, so I usually avoid it and only made an exception in this case because of the Lebanon and Syria angle. Don't expect this, then, to be the new normal here on the blog. I will go back to my usual coverage of everything-but-Israel-and-the-Palestinians soon enough.