Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nicaragua veteran finds sudden fame in northern Lebanon

First, lets look at four points about the current Lebanese crisis that have been drummed home to Western readers, all of them wrong, and all pointing to a scheme to justify increased Western intervention in that country.

(1) The leader of Fatah al Islam, Shaker al-Absi has meaningful al-Qaeda connections.

This appears to be based entirely on a Jordanian indictment in connection with the murder of US diplomat Laurence Foley in 2002, which said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was in charge of planning for that assassination, and Shaker al-Absi worked on logistics. Stories circulated that he had fought in Iraq too, but in a March 1 interview in the Nahr al-Bared camp with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Absi denied having fought in Iraq, adding "but I did fight at one time in Nicaragua." He said he was never jailed in Jordan, but he was jailed in Syria "because I had tried to get into Palestine via the Golan Heights". He claimed his group (whose existence was first announced in November 2006) already had a presence in other countries of "the belt" (apparently meaning surrounding Israel) as well as in other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, the aim being to liberate Jerusalem from bases in all of the countries, not just from Lebanon. Thus, by his own account, al-Absi's pre-Fatah al-Islam resume included having fought in Nicaragua, and getting jailed in Syria for trying to sneak into Palestine via the Golan Heights, not exactly the stuff of charismatic leadership. The picture then changes dramatically, according to his account, and now he is leader of a group with a vast presence throughout the region and a world-historical program to go with it.

(2) Fatah al-Islam is being manipulated by Syria.

This is the easy one. There isn't any evidence for it, moreover a fundamentalist group like this would be a natural enemy of the Syrian regime.

(3) The AlQaeda-like sophistication and power of this group was demonstrated by the casualties they inflicted on the Lebanese army.

Abdulbari Atwan makes the point this morning that the army casualties were the result of lack of experience and poor training in the army, not any particular sophistication by this small group. Moreover, the second-day shelling of the Nahr al-Bared camp was a clear demonstration of something else: The Lebanese army was reacting to its losses by retaliating against the civilian population, with indiscriminate shelling of the camp.

(4) Lebanese politicians stand foursquare against groups like Fatah al-Islam.

In fact, there is said to be a long history of support and sponsorship by the Hariri movement (father and son) for groups like this, moreover this kind of support has been a natural outcome of the sectarian nature of Lebanese society and politics, where the Hariri group is the main representative of the Sunni population. I say "said to be" only because I myself lack the background to chronicle this. If you know a lot of recent Lebanese history, you might find this piece in Al-Akhbar this morning to be enlightening in this respect.

There you have it, one part of it anyway. A Nicaragua veteran with a lackluster history finds sudden and almost miraculous fame in the sectarian environment of northern Lebanon, as a supposed Syrian tool capable of standing up to a supposedly well-trained Lebanese army. In the echo-chamber of Western media, this "AlQaeda/Syria" theme plays into a supposed need for increased Western "support" for a democratic government under threat. Do you really need Seymour Hersh to tell you Fatah al-Islam has US support?

But domestically in Lebanon, there is another dimension, which is even farther from the grasp of the Western newspaper-reader: the Hariri tribunal. Atwan in his Al-Quds al-Arabi piece this morning puts it this way:
What is going on in Lebanon today is nothing but a small rehearsal for what could happen if the Security Council, at the suggestion of the [Lebanese] government, decides on an international tribunal. because everyone is arming themselves, and arms are being stockpiled, in anticipation of a major war. And it is very clear, from the poor security response to the crisis in Nahr al-Bared camp, that the chances of controlling the coming explosion are very limited, if not non-existent.
The meaning of an international tribunal as another form of Western intervention is lost on Western readers. Chances of explaining that to a Western audience are remote indeed, given the ease with which the media have been able to drown out the facts about the Nahr al-Bared crisis.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fact, Seymour Hersh just reiterated what he said earlier, and in very clear terms: http://rawstory.com/news/2007/Hersh_Bush_arranged_support_for_militants_0522.html

And here is further support from a most unlikely source, a very pro-Government, pro-Army Lebanese blogger:

"The Government is blaming Syria. I am really not a fan of Syria but word on the streets is that militants in the north (said to be linked to Al Qaeda) have been funded and armed to create sunni arms in response to the shia's hizballah. The word on the street is that Lebanese sunnis will not hold arms and fight so yes, such militants have been created and grown as a possible retiliation. Of course, just like the US couldn't control Al Qaeda which in reality it helped create, these militants will be very hard if not impossible to control as well. Proof of the matter... these days events."

at http://mybelovedlebanon.blogspot.com/2007/05/lebanon-here-we-go-again.html

4:13 PM  
Blogger Dick Durata said...

Is there any hint of when he was in Nicaragua, and who he was fighting for?

7:01 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Alamet, That's pretty interesting: that in Lebanon even a government supporter recognizes that "defence against the Shia" explanation is the very plausible view on the street, while in the anglo world even our "progressive" bloggers aren't paying any real attention to it.

Dick Durata, Unfortunately no details. The Asharq alAwsat piece is just a summary of an interview, and the writer just says, he denied he fought in Iraq but he said "I did fight in Nicaragua once", almost as if he was explaining his credentials. Kind of strange behavior considering this is supposed to be a strict Islamist group...Consistent, however, I guess, with this guy being a nobody who lucked into another Negroponte-type funding operation.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The connection between these types of orgs and Hariri/Saudi money might be through the Muftis, such as the Mufti of Tripoli Taha Sabounji and Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, who exchanged contributions for electoral boostering for Hariri lists even against other Sunnis. These muftis also have sympathies for bin Laden style ideology, and as mentioned in this article, these groups are the ones who will really fight. I haven't found a smoking gun however.

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dare say last year's Israeli invasion of Lebanon was a Syrian plot too.

4:19 AM  
Blogger Nell said...

There's a better-than-average-for-corporate-media look at Fatah al-Islam on the ABC News site.

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