Jumblatt shoots his mouth off

BEIRUT — Well, this is just great. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said that reconciliation with Hezbollah was “impossible” because the Shi’ite militant group wants to replace the current pluralist state and society of Lebanon.
This is bunk. I have my criticisms of Hezbollah, but they don’t want to take over the whole country. For one, they don’t want the responsibility. They want to be a resistance movement fighting the Israelis; they don’t want to be in charge of filling potholes in Tariq el-Jdeide. They want enough power within the current system to guarantee the south remains theirs, so they can move freely in and out of it and keep their weapons, which is the real base of their power. Does anyone think Iran and Syria would continue to finance them if they weren’t such an effective tool against Israel? If Hezbollah had no weapons, then they have no money. If they have no money, they have no ability to support their social services, which are a strong draw to Lebanon’s poorer Shi’ite population. Without that loyalty, they’re nothing — and Hezbollah knows it. As Hezbollah sees it, they _have_ to protect their weapons if they want to remain politically viable.
But back to Jumblatt (or “Jumbo” as he’s affectionately know to local journalists). He’s long had a reputation as a dial-a-quote politician/warlord, but he represents one of the smallest communities in Lebanon. (Druze make up maybe 5 percent of the population.)
What’s dangerous about his comments, however, is that he’s listened to by the rank and file of March 14, and his comments can harden attitudes to any kind of compromise — which is sorely needed these days. Hezbollah ain’t going away, and it has to be integrated into the Lebanese political system somehow — fully and nonviolently. Jumblatt’s comments make that more difficult.
At any rate, his comments came in the wake of the disturbing discovery of two caches of explosives and detonation fuses scattered around Beirut and the rest of the country. Perhaps someone was just trying to dump them, but it’s set the place on edge. Careless comments from political leaders are not the best way to calm the situation.

A response to the Jerusalem Post

BEIRUT — A response is in order to the Jeruasalem Post‘s story today, in which Michael Totten is interviewed and my name comes up in the article.
The _Post_ says, “Chris Allbritton, who sometimes works for Time Magazine, briefly mentioned on his blog during the war that several journalists he knows were threatened by Hizbullah because of what they were writing.”
Let’s look at what I “actually wrote”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/07/tales_from_the_south_sort_of.php:

To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.

In a “follow-up post”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/08/silence.php, I expanded on this, as this one comment was taken completely the wrong way by many, many right-wing blogs and publications (Such as Totten’s and the JPost.)
The beginning of my response was this:

Let’s set aside that the Lebanese Internal Security also has photocopies of our passports. The reason for the hassling and the threat was that a reporter had filmed or described either a launching site or Hezbollah positions. (I’m not sure which.) To the best of my knowledge, that’s been the extent of the hassling. I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I think it’s a reasonable restriction. This is the exact same restrictions placed on journalists by the Israeli army and by the Americans in Iraq. I don’t think threatening journalists is cool at all, and it certainly doesn’t endear me to them, but that has been the extent of Hezbollah’s interference in our coverage.

You can read the rest of it, and I hope you do, “here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/08/silence.php.

Two buses blown up in Christian area

Bombs destroyed two commuter buses today in the small Christian community of Ain Alaq, in the mountains north of Beirut. Was this Syria? Hezbollah? CIA? (A Hezbollah spokesman said it was the latter.) Was it a warning to the March 14 coalition not to attend the big rally planned for downtown tomorrow to mark the two-year anniversary of Hariri’s death?

BEIRUT — Bombs destroyed two commuter buses today in the small Christian community of Ain Alaq, in the mountains north of Beirut.
Reports of fatalities varied, but ranged from three (Red Cross, security forces) to 12 (LBC and other media sources.) Ten to 20 were wounded. The first bomb was apparently attached to the undercarriage of the first bus while the second was in a back seat on the second, according to my fixer, who is trying to find more info. I’ll update if this changes.
The wounded were civilians possibly traveling to work, marking a change in the “two-year campaign of bombings and assassinations”:http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L13582123.htm that has wracked Lebanon since the killing of Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005. Before, the attacks were either targeted assassinations of well-known anti-Syrian politicians and journalists or small bombs exploded in buildings late at night so as to minimize casualties. This seems aimed at Iraq- or Israel-style terror. Random, anywhere, pitiless.
Details are still emerging, but speculation is rampant. Was this Syria? Hezbollah? CIA? (A Hezbollah spokesman said it was the latter.) Was it a warning to the March 14 coalition not to attend the big rally planned for downtown tomorrow to mark the two-year anniversary of Hariri’s death?
One intriguing connection is to Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defense minister. The buses originated in Bteghrin, the home of the Murr family — they’re the major clan there — and some have wondered if this could be a response to Murr’s “refusal last week to return a truck full of Hezbollah weapons”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6345761.stm intercepted by the Lebanese Army?
Elias Murr was the target of a failed assassination in July 2005.
I’m not convinced of that, as it would be a complete turn-around for Hezbollah, who have not (yet) turned their weapons on their fellow Lebanese — a point of pride for the group.
Also, the attack happened near Bikfaya, the ancestral home of the Gemayel clan. Several of the dead were Gemayels. Lebanon’s industry minister, Pierre Gemayel “was assassinated”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/11/pierre_gemayel_has_been_assass.php in November.
Michel Murr, the defense minister’s father, was at the site of the bombing and said it was a message for all Lebanese to come together and transcend politics. That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s almost assuredly _not_ the message the bombers were trying to send.
More likely, it was a warning to March 14.
“They are trying to sabotage tomorrow’s meeting,” said Ahmad Fatfat, the former interior minister. “They are trying to divide the Christians. … The people who are doing this don’t want the people to come together and it’s another link in the chain” of assassinations.
“I cannot believe any Lebanese is capable of doing such a terrible thing,” he added.
Fatfat also said the bombs were placed on the buses yesterday, although he declined to say how he knew that.
Obviously, Fatfat is not-so-subtlely pointing the finger at Syria. A Hezbollah spokesman said the same thing, but blamed the CIA instead of Syria.
I witnessed this in Iraq, too, by the way, early in the insurgency. In 2004, when the violence was much more sporadic and rare than it is now, Iraqis would often tell me, “These bombs could not come from Iraqis. No Iraqi would hurt another Iraqi. This must be the Israelis or CIA.”
There’s always a natural tendency to believe that outsiders are the ones doing the killing. Witness the immediate reaction to the Murrah Building in 1995. Everyone immediately suspected Arab terrorism, not home-grown white supremacists.
But right now, especially on the eve of the anniversary of the killing of Hariri, everyone in Lebanon — Hezbollah, March 14, etc. — is banking on national unity for their own purposes. “Hariri was for all of us,” as many say. Other parties — Syria, especially, but possibly Israel — would love to see Lebanese at each others’ throats. Syria could use any violence as an “I told you so” excuse to intervene again, and Israel probably wouldn’t mind seeing Hezbollah on the defensive in its own country.
(Mind you, I’m not accusing Israel of today’s bombing; I’m just analyzing who might stand to gain from Lebanese discord.)
*UNRELATED (?) NEWS:* The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the highest ranking Sunni cleric in country, claims in a press release to LBC that he was heckled and threatened by the pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-led March 8 protesters as he led prayers at Hariri’s grave in Martyr’s Square downtown today. He says he was told to leave or they would burn his car.
(March 8 is a coalition of mostly Shi’ite parties and some Christians, and includes Hezbollah, Amal, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Christian parties of Michel Aoun and Suleiman Franjieh. With the exception of Aoun, they are all solidly pro-Syrian. Aoun just wants to be president and will hitch his horse to whichever wagon he thinks will win.)
Also, in this morning’s _San Francisco Chronicle_, I have a story about the “rearming of the Lebanese factions.”:http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/02/13/MNG62O3F5U1.DTL&hw=allbritton&sn=001&sc=1000 It might become very relevant after today.