Most Likely Future Sponsor of Hezbollah is Baghdad’s Shiite Tyranny of the Majority


The most interesting item I came across tonight on the Middle East crisis came by way of an email from former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and former Asst. Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chas Freeman.
Freeman provides a fascinating look at the “game behind the game” — and rather than committing the error that so many analysts do of mirror-imaging decision-making, he starts with a lucid articulation of the view of things from Israeli shoes — and then from Arab shoes.

(This note is printed with permission from Ambassador Freeman).

Chas Freeman writes:

The assumption in Israel and here is that Iran and Syria put Hezbollah up to its provocative gesture of solidarity with the beleaguered Palestians in Gaza. The assumption in the Arab world is that the U.S. put Israel up to what it is doing in Gaza and Lebanon. Both assertions remain politically convenient assertions that are almost certainly wrong. There is no evidence for either.
The relationship between Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran is analogous to that between Israel and the United States. Syria is the quartermaster and Iran the external financier and munitions supplier to Hezbollah; we play all three roles in support of Israel.
There is no reason to believe that Hezbollah, which is an authentic expression of Lebanese Sh’ia nationalism birthed by the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in 1982, is any less unilateralist or prone to consult its patrons before it does things it sees as in its interest than Israel, which is an authentic expression of Jewish nationalism birthed by European racism, is in relation to us.
Remember the assertions that Vietnamese expansionism was controlled and directed by the Chinese? similar stuff. Chinese backing for the Viet Minh and the Hanoi regime did not equate to Chinese control or direction of North Vietnam, its armed forces, or its agents in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Consider the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war.
The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad. But that will not mean that the successors of Nouri Al-Maliki control Sheikh Nasrullah. Sometimes clients direct the policies of their patrons, not the other way around. This is a point exemplified by the dynamic of Israeli-American relations but far from unique to them.

This short statement is insightful and nuanced and reflects the thinking of someone with comprehensive undestanding of regional dynamics.
I agree with Freeman that there exist “authentic nationalisms” competing with each other for status and identity in virtually the same spot on the globe. Despite Israel’s remarkable show of force and incursion into Lebanon — a well-planned operation that was apparently waiting for any small crisis to launch it — these competing “nationalisms” won’t disappear.
Ultimately, a political bargain is going to have to be struck. At least in the not too old days when the Israel crisis was mostly defined by its interaction with Palestinians, a majority of Israelis and Palestinians preferred a “negotiated” final status arrangement.
Matters are messier now, but radical instabilities — and the kind of missteps that Hezbollah, the militant wing of Hamas, and Israel have made — could prompt some new global “adult supervision” in the region that could very well lead to a new, pragmatic grand bargain.
More later.

— Steve Clemons


19 comments on “Most Likely Future Sponsor of Hezbollah is Baghdad’s Shiite Tyranny of the Majority

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  2. Jean Post says:

    Public Diplomacy should be talking with all sides of an issue to understand, address and find solutions. Our present Foreign Policy seems to many to be the result of BIG money being spent in Washington DC to influence our politicians to side with only one country in the Middle East. If we continue on this path the conflict will continue.
    Our country was built with the vision of our Founding Fathers recognizing the human spirit and the importance of freedom. Our freedom seems to be at risk. People peacefully protesting the President’s policies have been arrested. If you criticize Israel’s killing of people without “Due Process” you are labeled “anti-Semitic”.
    Imagine Howard Dean calling the Iraqi Prime Minister anti-Semitic because Maliki criticized Israel’s aggressive killing in Lebanon…when Maliki is a Semite.
    Imagine also the tragedy of the Holocaust and that Israelis are now tattooing numbers on Palestinian prisoners.
    Our Founding Fathers must be turning over in their graves that we supply bombs to the Israelis and then aid to the battered (from our bombs) Lebanese.
    Where is the outrage in all of this?


  3. alice says:

    Just some historical correction on historicalrelationships right. China had a fairly close relationship with the NLF, the southern Vieetnmanes communist infrastructure which had some independance from the North, similar to the kind of relationships described here. China’s relationship with the north was more tense. It has been speculated that Tet was in part a desire on the part of the north to destroy southern independant forces which were both increasingly less effective and a hindrance to northern domination.


  4. Easy E says:

    The U.S. mainstream corporate media serves the interests of global imperialists, empire builders, war profiteers, neocons/zionists, etc., etc. The people are the victims. Those who wish to be more than sheeple must get their information from alternate sources.


  5. Zathras says:

    It is more than a little grating to read Mr. Freeman, who since his years as Ambassador in Riyadh has absorbed much of the Sunni Arab perspective on the region, echo Saudi rhetoric about the tyranny of Iraq’s Shiite majority and the risk it poses to the region.
    That Iraq’s government today includes so many illiberal elements is a direct result of years of determined effort by the mostly Sunni Arab insurgency, the consituency of which is now, naturally, claiming the status of victims. The insurgency has succeeded in weakening all the Shiite Iraqis most willing to give religious minorities a fair stake in government, and strengthened all those Shiites of a bloody-minded cast. It is still doing this, as Saudis and their partisans bemoan the inevitable consequences.


  6. Pissed Off American says:

    BTW, it seems that there is talk of a filibuster on the Bolton confirmation. However, I can find no news accounts that actually name the Dems that would commit to such an action. I don’t hold out much hope. If you recall, the major players in the Dem party on the last go ’round only climbed on board after it was too late to launch a successful filibuster. Seeing as how human beings are unable to regenerate lost body parts, I don’t expect these geldings to act any differently in this round.
    Also, if anyone is watching this fucker Bush drool his fantastic bullshit right now at the Maliki news conference, are you as embarrassed as I am??? This asshole Bush is completely detached from reality.


  7. Matthew says:

    Steve: Who is going to provide the “adult” superivision? Hasn’t Bush utterly compromised us in the Arab world? And the Europeans are not going to defend Israel unless the Palestinians are liberated.
    This seems like fantasy talk.


  8. Pissed Off American says:

    I have been following this, but haven’t brought it up because it was mainly being cited on fringe blogs, and I could not find the references to it from major news sources. I recalled that MSNBC had originally reported that the CAPTURE of the Israeli soldiers was WITHING LEBANON, but could not find that news account either. Well, the following blog entry at Daily Kos links to some of those references…..
    Kidnapped in Israel or Captured in Lebanon?
    by Joshua Frank
    Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 06:20:27 AM PDT
    This was first published at
    Official Justification for Israel’s Invasion on Thin Ice
    As Lebanon continues to be pounded by Israeli bombs and munitions, the justification for Israel’s invasion is treading on very thin ice. It has become general knowledge that it was Hezbollah guerillas that first kidnapped two IDF soldiers inside Israel on July 12, prompting an immediate and violent response from the Israeli government, which insists it is acting in the interest of national defense. Israeli forces have gone on to kill over 370 innocent Lebanese civilians (compared to 34 killed on Israel’s side) while displacing hundreds of thousands more. But numerous reports from international and independent media, as well as the Associated Press, raise questions about Israel’s official version of the events that sparked the conflict two weeks ago.
    Joshua Frank’s diary :: ::
    The original story, as most media tell it, goes something like this: Hezbollah attacked an Israeli border patrol station, killing six and taking two soldiers hostage. The incident happened on the Lebanese/Israel border in Israeli territory. The alternate version, as explained by several news outlets, tells a bit of a different tale: These sources contend that Israel sent a commando force into southern Lebanon and was subsequently attacked by Hezbollah near the village of Aitaa al-Chaab, well inside Lebanon’s southern territory. It was at this point that an Israel tank was struck by Hezbollah fighters, which resulted in the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the death of six.
    As the AFP reported, “According to the Lebanese police force, the two Israeli soldiers were captured in Lebanese territory, in the area of Aitaa al-Chaab, near to the border with Israel, where an Israeli unit had penetrated in middle of morning.” And the French news site reiterated the same account on June 18, “In a deliberated way, [Israel] sent a commando in the Lebanese back-country to Aitaa al-Chaab. It was attacked by Hezbollah, taking two prisoners.”
    The Associated Press departed from the official version as well. “The militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers during clashes Wednesday across the border in southern Lebanon, prompting a swift reaction from Israel, which sent ground forces into its neighbor to look for them,” reported Joseph Panossian for AP on July 12. “The forces were trying to keep the soldiers’ captors from moving them deeper into Lebanon, Israeli government officials said on condition of anonymity.”
    And the Hindustan Times on July 12 conveyed a similar account:
    “The Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah movement announced on Wednesday that its guerrillas have captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon. ‘Implementing our promise to free Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, our strugglers have captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon,’ a statement by Hezbollah said. ‘The two soldiers have already been moved to a safe place,’ it added. The Lebanese police said that the two soldiers were captured as they ‘infiltrated’ into the town of Aitaa al-Chaab inside the Lebanese border.”
    Whether factual or not, these alternative accounts should at the very least raise serious questions as to Israel’s motives and rationale for bombarding Lebanon.
    MSNBC online first reported that Hezbollah had captured Israeli soldiers “inside” Lebanon, only to change their story hours later after the Israeli government gave an official statement to the contrary.
    A report from The National Council of Arab Americans, based in Lebanon, also raised suspicion that Israel’s official story did not hold water and noted that Israel had yet to recover the tank that was demolished during the initial attack in question.
    “The Israelis so far have not been able to enter Aitaa al-Chaab to recover the tank that was exploded by Hezbollah and the bodies of the soldiers that were killed in the original operation (this is a main indication that the operation did take place on Lebanese soil, not that in my opinion it would ever be an illegitimate operation, but still the media has been saying that it was inside ‘Israel’ thus an aggression first started by Hezbollah).”
    Before independent observers could organize an investigation of the incident, Israel had already mounted a grisly offensive against Lebanese infrastructure and civilians, bombing Beirut’s international airport, along with numerous highways and communication portals. Israel didn’t need the truth of the matter to play out before it invaded Lebanon. As with the United States’ illegitimate invasion of Iraq, Israel just needed the proper media cover to wage a war with no genuine moral impetus.


  9. selise says:

    i’ve come to the conclusion that israeli’s most dangerous enemies are the neocons in washington… seems like they are determined to create a situation where peace between israelis and their neighbors is impossible… maybe to make israel even more dependent on US political/economic/military support?
    the government of israel seems to act with in the best interest of israelis about as much as the bush/cheney administration acts in the interest of americans. in other words, not at all.


  10. beth says:

    Juan Cole’s take on Rice’s visit is much more “informed” (get it?) than mine above, and much less optimistic.
    “Rice’s visit showed how low American stock has fallen in the Middle East, since she came virtually empty-handed, merely as a go-fer on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with little positive to offer. Berri thunderously rejected her ultimatums, or rather those of her political bosses. She came with nice words but Israeli bombs hit Beirut before and after her visit, according to my sources. Her professions of sympathy rang hollow, since her government was encouraging the bombing raids and blocking any UN or European move toward a cease-fire. She played no more exalted a role than Mafia enforcer, lifting her suit coat at the corner to display the loaded pistol as she discussed just how much the owner of the Lebanese restaurant would be paying per month for “protection” from certain of her “friends,” or else, you know, something bad could happen to this nice restaurant of yours.”


  11. beth says:

    I must say that I’m actually a bit encouraged after watching the news this morning–I think it is a good sign that Sec. Rice went to Lebanon before she went to Israel, and this morning she actually met with Palestinian PM Abbas. She used the P word–peace more than the T word “terrorist”.
    At least four years late, but better than nothing.
    In another opinion, I’m glad we’ve offered humanitarian aid to Lebanon, but wouldn’t it have been better if the Lebanese infrastructure hadn’t been destroyed in the first place? Can we deduct that 30 million from the aid we give Israel?


  12. minn says:

    Tony Judt had a provocative Op Ed piece in Haaretz a couple of months ago about Israel’s immaturity as a nation, and how that has alienated them from much of world opinion.
    It’s a long piece and worth the read for a number of reasons, but especially because of a telling incident he cites that indicates that Israel may be losing its support even here in the US of A, at least with the younger portion of the intelligensia:
    “This new willingness to take one’s distance from Israel is not confined to foreign policy specialists. As a teacher I have also been struck in recent years by a sea-change in the attitude of students. One example among many: Here at New York University I was teaching this past month a class on post-war Europe. I was trying to explain to young Americans the importance of the Spanish Civil War in the political memory of Europeans and why Franco’s Spain has such a special place in our moral imagination: as a reminder of lost struggles, a symbol of oppression in an age of liberalism and freedom, and a land of shame that people boycotted for its crimes and repression. I cannot think, I told the students, of any country that occupies such a pejorative space in democratic public consciousness today. You are wrong, one young woman replied: What about Israel? To my great surprise most of the class – including many of the sizable Jewish contingent – nodded approval. The times they are indeed a-changing.
    “That Israel can now stand in comparison with the Spain of General Franco in the eyes of young Americans ought to come as a shock and an eleventh-hour wake-up call to Israelis. Nothing lasts forever, and it seems likely to me that we shall look back upon the years 1973-2003 as an era of tragic illusion for Israel: years that the locust ate, consumed by the bizarre notion that, whatever it chose to do or demand, Israel could count indefinitely upon the unquestioning support of the United States and would never risk encountering a backlash. This blinkered arrogance is tragically summed up in an assertion by Shimon Peres on the very eve of the calamitous war that will in retrospect be seen, I believe, to have precipitated the onset of America’s alienation from its Israeli ally: ‘The campaign against Saddam Hussein is a must.'”


  13. jonst says:

    It is a sign of the times when Freeman’s assertions, obvious, and logical on their face, based upon a bit of common sense and superficial familiarity with history; become guiding words of wisdom. I don’t mean that to diminish, or ridicule, what Freedman wrote. Or what Steve noted. Quite the opposite. It’s more a sign of how we are governed by self-delusional idiots who think spin and marketing are the answers to every problem. And whose views are foisted upon us by like minded morons. It would be more appropriate if State Dept types were required, these days, to have communications or marketing degrees.


  14. Hal says:

    Amb. Freeman’s comments are quite interesting, but they are also not backed up by evidence. I’m not saying he’s wrong, I am just saying that I still don’t know.
    Did Hezbollah attack to do Iran’s bidding or its own? Yes, Freeman is right that a client has its own agenda, and maybe Hezbollah to cross the border all on its own. Or maybe Iran encouraged them to do it some time soon, leaving the timing open.
    Certainly Iran’s stature in the Arab world has never been higher, so this war benefits them at a low cost. It’s hard to believe that’s just coincidence. But again we do not know.
    Freeman also says:
    “The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad.”
    I agree about Iraq; it further shows the folly of our invasion. But why will Iran cease to be Hezbollah’s main supporter?


  15. Jean says:

    Freeman’s assessment is succint and accurate. Why can’t we read his informed opinions on the editorial pages of, e.g., the New York Times, instead of that ignoramus Tierney, whose column today perpetuates the myth of the unfathomable, primitive and alien “Arab mind” and its “honor culture,” Hezbollah is fighting for “honor” and not any particular objective, etc. etc.
    Bill Blum also provides some valuable perspective and context:


  16. Carroll says:

    I hope some “adult supervision” is on the way.
    But it won’t be from us, that’s for sure. So who will it be?
    Which countries will step forward and seize control of a Isr/Pal settlement?..or at least back the Geneva people’s plan?
    We have the UN, the ICC, a host of international laws that have been broken in both Palestine and Lebanon, unless they have the authority to overide some country like the US and Isr gone bezerk what good are they?


  17. Easy E says:

    Let’s not continue to complicate things. The problem is actually quite simple, as Paul Craig Roberts succinctly writes:
    “….This Israeli policy is the source of the Middle East conflict.
    It is ignorant and immoral to blame the conflict on Hamas and Hezbollah. These organizations were created by Israeli aggression……The fault is America’s more than Israel’s. The American government and the brainwashed American public are the source of the conflict……”


  18. Thomas Brock says:

    Do you think that this is Iraq’s way of buying street credit? Certainly, if this is true, it’s a way of sending the ‘We (Iraq) is not an American puppet.’ message…


  19. susan says:

    Alas, there are few adults who can come to the table with an leverage. Rice, Bush & co seem spectaculatly uninterested in stopping Israel run amok.
    My recollection of history was that a “cease fire” allowed combatants to stop fighting and try to work things out without making concessions about who started it, who was at fault, who killed who and took whose land and so on. like so many other things, Rice, Bush & co seem to be redefining cease fire as “capitulation.”


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