Written by MEMRI
May 9, 2008
Memri Dispatch #
A Clean Sweep: Amal, Hizbullah Take Much of Beirut in Redux of Hamas' Gaza Takeover
By: Yigal Carmon and E. Zweig *
Following the 2006 Lebanon war, and during the standoff of the Lebanese government and the March 14 forces versus Hizbullah and the Amal forces, Hizbullah has engaged in wide-ranging efforts to rearm, reorganize, and rebuild towards confrontation on two fronts - against Israel and against the March 14 and government forces.
Two elements of Hizbullah's preparations have been uncovered in the past few weeks: Hizbullah's independent communications network,  and a surveillance network at Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport, set up by airport security chief Wafiq Shuqer, who is in the service of Hizbullah (see footnotes for MEMRI’s reports on these issues going back to 2007). 
This week, the Lebanese government made a series of decisions deeming Hizbullah's communications network to be both illegal and intolerable.
In response, armed forces, primarily from Amal but also from Hizbullah, took to the streets of Beirut, cutting off roads, mostly those leading to the airport; paralyzing life in the city; clashing with the army in western Beirut; besieging the homes of March 14 forces leaders; and attacking and damaging the building housing Future TV, which belongs to Sa'ad Al-Hariri, a March 14 Forces leader forcing the station to halt broadcasting.
TV footage shows that the Lebanese army did not undertake a major counter-operation against the Amal and Hizbullah militias. The militias of the Christians and Druze did not respond at all, while the militia of Sa'ad Al-Hariri, representing Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, reacted in a limited manner. These responses coincided with the unions' declaration of a general strike, which was later cancelled.
Nasrallah: 'Our Communications Network is the Most Important Part of the Resistance Weapons… We Will Sever Any Hand Stretched Out to Touch the Resistance's Weapons… Had We Intended To Carry Out a Coup, You Would Have Woken Up... In Jails, Or Thrown Into the Sea…'
Following two days of street clashes, on May 8, 2008, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech in which he said: "The decisions of the party of the government on that dark night [regarding the illegality of Hizbullah's communications network] began a new phase in Lebanon. After this dark meeting, Lebanon is no longer the Lebanon it used to be. The party of the government brought Lebanon to a totally new situation, given the dangerous decisions that were taken, their background, and their implications. Our reaction to this decision is naturally that whoever declares, and starts, war against us, be it a mother, a father, or a brother - we have a right to counter him and defend our rights, our weapons, our existence, and our resistance. Our communications network is the most important part, and not a negligible part, of the resistance's weapons. Moreover, it is the most important part of the resistance. As I said in the past, any hand stretched out to touch the weapons of the resistance, no matter whose hand or where it comes from, we will sever it."
As Amal and Hizbullah forces took control of large parts of Beirut, Nasrallah further stated: "We don't want to harm anyone. We don't want to carry out a coup. We don't want to rule [Lebanon]. There are those who talk about the failure of the coup… Had we and our allies intended to carry out a coup, you would have woken up in the morning in jails or being thrown to the sea. But we have never chosen this measure. We always say that there is a political problem and a political struggle, whose solutions are political, and the way in which it is conducted is political - a way of dialogue, early elections, a referendum, and polls. We haven't spoken about weapons a single day."
Nasrallah also pointed to the solutions to the crisis, saying: "First, it lies in the cancellation of the illegitimate decision of the illegitimate government, which is in fact run by [Lebanese Druze leader Walid] Jumblatt. Second, it is in responding to Lebanese parliamentary speaker [and Amal head] Nabih Berri's invitation to [the March 14 Forces to engage in] a national dialogue. Apart from these steps, there is not, and will not be, a solution. All there will be is one party declaring war on the other."
The Hizbullah website Al-Intiqad highlighted two paragraphs from the speech: "From now on, we will not accept being shot at on the roads by anyone. We will not accept any conspiracy against our weapons, and no touching of our existence and legitimacy - even if all the armies of the world have come here [to fight us]. This is our decision today, in all clarity and transparency.
"They never gave Brig.-Gen. [Wafiq Shuqer] an opportunity to defend himself. What is he accused of? That is how this gang [i.e. the March 14 Forces] acts…"
Al-Hariri, Al-Siniora Respond: Compromise and Conciliation
In a May 8, 2008 appearance on Al-Jazeera TV (rather than on his own demolished Future TV), a rumpled and stammering Sa'ad Al-Hariri said: "I call upon all of Lebanon to stop the freefall into civil war, to put an end to the language of the weapon… to the armed anarchy, and to the blocking of roads and to the siege on the capitol." Al-Hariri offered a compromise - to consider the aforementioned government decisions to be a misunderstanding, in exchange for Amal/Hizbullah's stopping the armed militias and opening all roads and the airport, the immediate parliamentary election of Gen. Michel Suleiman as president, and the launch of a national dialogue, under his chairmanship.
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, said May 8, 2008 on Al-Arabiya TV that the Druze will not deploy their militia, and that they expect the army to fulfill its duty and defend Lebanon.
Lebanese Forces party head Samir Geagea, in a May 9, 2008 speech on Al-Jazeera TV on behalf of the March 14 Forces, also called on the army to fulfill its duty. He also reaffirmed the March 14 Forces' support for the Al-Seniora government as the legitimate government of Lebanon, in a show of support for Al-Seniora in response to rumors that he might resign.
Also, Al-Seniora told Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that there was no way to solve Lebanon's problems through violence. 
Middle East Countries React
In response to the showdown in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt expressed support for the Lebanese government, promising to assist it in its efforts to retain its independence and legitimacy.  Syria stated that it would not intervene in this "internal Lebanese issue." 
Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Ali Al-Husseini blamed the U.S. and Israel for the situation in Lebanon, saying, "Iran's unyielding efforts to bring about an understanding between the different political factions in Lebanon did not gain the support of other states in the region." 
In a meeting broadcast by Al-Jazeera on May 9, 2008, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Aal-Thani decided that the crisis in Lebanon should be considered "an internal Lebanese matter." As a result, Al-Jazeera has cut its screening of footage of the violent Amal/Hizbullah takeover to a minimum, airing only statements by March 14 Forces leaders and halting its airing of inflammatory speeches by Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. It should be mentioned that weeks ago, Al-Jazeera denied the legitimacy of the Lebanese government by referring to the country's two parties not as "government" and "opposition," but rather as "the allied parties" (muwalah) and "the opposition" (mu'aradha).
The decision by Al-Assad and Sheikh Hamad to consider the Lebanon crisis an "internal Lebanese issue" may be aimed at preempting international intervention in the crisis, whether by means of bringing in international forces or by new U.N. Security Council resolutions.
It should be recalled that in the 2006 U.N. Security Council discussions that led to Resolution 1701, Hizbullah was represented at the Security Council not by the Arab League or by the Saudi or Egyptian foreign ministers, but by Qatar's foreign minister. In January 2008, Qatar, which is part of the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah-Hamas-Shi'ite axis, drove a wedge into the Saudi-Egypt-Gulf-Sunni bloc against Iran by inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the GCC conference, defying the U.S. and of the other GCC members. 
On May 9, 2008, Al-Jazeera announced that an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers would be convened to discuss the Lebanon situation.
* Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI. E. Zweigis the MERMI Research Fellow.
SOURCE: MEMRI The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) explores the Middle East through the region's media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.
References to above Dispatch
 "Iran Builds Communications and Eavesdropping Network for Hezbollah," MEMRI Economic Blog, May 5, 2008, http://memrieconomicblog.org/bin/content.cgi?news=2101 ; "Hizbullah Warns Against Damage to Its Telephone Network," MEMRI Blog, May 6, 2008, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/7213.htm ; "Lebanese Government: Hizbullah Communications Network is Illegal," MEMRI Blog, May 7, 2008, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/7238.htm ; "Lebanese Government to Investigate Hizbullah's Independent Communications Networks," MEMRI Blog, August 8, 2007, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/2401.htm ; "Jumblatt: Hizbullah Has Set Up Cameras at Beirut International Airport to Monitor Leaders' Comings and Goings - So it Can Harm Them," MEMRI Blog, May 5, 2008, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/7169.htm ; "Exposed Hizbullah Telephone Network Extends North, South," MEMRI Blog, August 28, 2007, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/2669.htm ; "Hizbullah Expands Communications Network," MEMRI Blog, April 21, 2008, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/6954.htm ; "Lebanese Communications Minister Accuses Hizbullah Leader of Spying for Iran," MEMRI Blog, February 24, 2008, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/5687.htm.
 "Lebanese Government: Hizbullah Communications Network Illegal," MEMRI blog, May 7, 2008, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/7238.htm ; Jumblatt: Hizbullah Has Set Up Cameras at Beirut International Airport to Monitor Leaders' Comings and Goings - So it Can Harm Them," MEMRI Blog, May 5, 2008, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/7169.htm.
 Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 9, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 9, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 9, 2008.
 ISNA, Iran, May 9, 2008, http://isna.ir/main/newsview.aspx?id=news-1127831.
 See Memri Inquiry and Analysis No. 416, "The Collapse of the Saudi Sunni Bloc against Iran's Aspirations for Regional Hegemony in the Gulf," January 11, 2008, http://www.memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA41608.