Written by W. Thomas Smith Jr.
September 5, 2008
by Gary H. Johnson, Jr.
Two years after the Israeli-Hezbollah war which left much of south Lebanon's infrastructure in shambles, military analyst W. Thomas Smith, Jr. offers new insight into recent developments surrounding Hezbollah's quest for power in that country. Lending a trained eye to the strength and activities of Hezbollah, challenges faced by Lebanese Army and police forces, as well as sharing a portion of a personal conversation with President Michel Sleiman, Smith unveils the truth behind Hezbollah: He describes the extremist state within the legitimate state, and expounds on the regional dangers of the Shiia terrorist organization and its newly acquired political powers.
A former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor, Smith is today a columnist, author, and military analyst whose work has appeared in USA TODAY, U.S. News & World Report, Townhall.com, Human Events, the Middle East Times, Canada Free Press, and many others. Widely considered to be “a military expert” whose "sources are very deep,” Smith directs the Counterterrorism Research Center of the Family Security Foundation. He has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq (twice) and Lebanon. And he frequently provides information and analysis to the U.S. military.
Smith’s expertise and analysis in the field of international terrorism is invaluable for anyone attempting to grasp the complex strategic-military dynamics of the Middle East.
GARY H. JOHNSON, JR.: Do censors or imposed restrictions on Western journalists in Lebanon hinder the free flow of information to the West?
W. THOMAS SMITH, JR.: Oh absolutely. Many Lebanese journalists are afraid of Hezbollah. And international journalists either report only those surface-stories that Hezbollah allows them to see and report, or if they want deeper access they must go through Hezbollah’s media-propaganda people where they will be shown what Hezbollah wants them to see. Nothing more. Or they are either paid by Hezbollah or they soft-soap the terrorist organization through their reporting to gain greater access. If you go against Hezbollah at a level the terrorist group considers to be unacceptable, they – or their supporters and covert-sympathizers – will come after you asymmetrically … in ways you cannot begin to imagine.
The level of deception that takes place through media and open sources in Lebanon is legion. That’s because Hezbollah has tremendous control over much of the flow of information in Lebanon: Some of that control is obvious. Some is not.
JOHNSON: On July 17th 2008 yalibnan.com noted Minister Qanso's remarks on NBN Television: "Only a stupid person or a conspirator would doubt the Resistance's legitimacy from now on." Is Ali Qanso's statement a none-too-subtle threat to Journalists in Lebanon?
SMITH: I’m not familiar with that statement, but I’m also not surprised by it.
Hezbollah (and its backers, Iran and Syria) has indeed forced – at the point of a gun – the Lebanese government, the army, and the national police to accept it as a “legitimate resistance.”
In fact, back in the fall of 2007, I spent close to two hours one-on-one with Gen. Michel Sleiman, then-commander-in-chief of Lebanon’s armed forces, who became noticeably agitated with me whenever I posed the question to him about Hezbollah’s right to exist. He did not want to discuss the issue. He knew Hezbollah had heavily infiltrated the army and so had – actually, still has – him by the crotch.
Sleiman said to me, “Hezbollah is a resistance” and “they were here before the army.”
Sleiman by the way is now president of Lebanon, a fact my sources told me would be a reality even before anyone else believed it would be.
JOHNSON: How can the covert microwave telecommunications network that sparked the internal violence in Lebanon this May allow Hezbollah to act as a state within a state?
SMITH: It’s not the telecommunications system that has allowed Hezbollah to act as a state within a state: The telecom system is only one piece of the Iranian-funded infrastructure in Lebanon that supports Hezbollah’s state – actually more of a kingdom – within the state of Lebanon.
The real danger of the system is that it provides secure command-and-control for Hezbollah by connecting Hezbollah’s stronghold in Dahiyeh (Beirut’s southern suburbs) with all points controlled by Hezbollah in south Lebanon, the Bekka Valley and elsewhere, and links them directly to Teheran and Damascus.
Hezbollah today is far-better wired than it was prior to the 2006 war with Israel.
JOHNSON: In terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, what is the significance of the Hezbollah-led “opposition” gaining veto power in Lebanon through the Doha Agreement?
SMITH: First of all, the Doha (Qatar) agreement was nothing more than putting a used band-aid on a sucking chest wound.
Though praised by world leaders because it temporarily halted Hezbollah’s killing spree in May, Doha unequivocally undermined UN Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559, which call for the disarming of Hezbollah.
And when I think of the veto power now held by Hezbollah – thanks to Doha – I am particularly concerned because this newly granted power means Iran and Syria now have veto power over Lebanese government decisions. But it’s not just the veto power gained after Doha; it’s the increased number of cabinet seats for Hezbollah and its allies, and, now, an official positioning as a legitimate arm of the Lebanese Defense apparatus.
Worse, the world knows after May that if any of these decisions are rescinded for whatever reason, Hezbollah has no qualms about turning its weapons on the Lebanese people.
JOHNSON: Based on the intelligence currently available, what is the most likely cause of the nearly 900 mini-earthquakes in southern Lebanon over the last few months?
SMITH: No one is really certain. What we do know is that for approximately three months – up until the time in early July when pro-democracy groups became more vocal about it – there were literally hundreds of earthquakes occurring primarily in southern Lebanon (but also in other regions). Many of those quakes were, as I reported, “damaging buildings and bridges … in some cases, [destroying homes] … and forcing frightened residents to sleep outside of their homes at night.”
Some of our sources said they believed it was not so much naturally occurring seismic activity, but the result of blasting and other construction for Hezbollah’s subterranean warfighting facilities.
Now, that may sound like a bit of conspiracy theorizing, but the U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes worldwide, had no answer. And both the World Council for the Cedars Revolution and the International Lebanese Committee for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 had reason to believe the quakes were man-made.
[additional information about the earthquakes may be accessed here.]
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