Robert Fisk – the Independent August 17, 2012
Lebanese kidnappings ‘stir memories of civil war’. Gulf Arabs flee Beirut. Lebanese Hezbollah sends 1,500 men to help Bashar al-Assad. Ex-Lebanese minister charged in Syria terror plot. The ‘spill-over’ – it’s become the new cliché for Lebanon in the shadow of Syria’s war – is fast becoming as dishonest as the lies invested in its promotion. So like gangrene, fear spreads across Lebanon when it needs a surgeon’s dissection.
First, the kidnappings, 20 of them, all Sunni Muslims – Syrian businessmen, a Turk and a Saudi – near the airport road in Beirut, a highway controlled by the pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian and very much Shia Muslim Hezbollah. The Saudis, the Emiratis and Qatar have urged their citizens to flee the fleshpots of Beirut. And yes, kidnappings were fuel to the fire of the first weeks of the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. But the reason for these abductions is a lot less clear.
We have to look at the case of one Hassan Selim Moqdad, for whom Beirut’s latest hostages are held. A Lebanese Shia, he was seized by the Free Syrian Army inside Syria and videotaped babbling that he was a Hezbollah member, part of a 1,500-strong contingent of Hezbollah fighters sent to assist Assad. The Americans accused Hezbollah of assisting the Assad regime and thus further embittered those Lebanese Sunnis who hate Assad almost as much as they resent Hezbollah’s MPs in the Lebanese parliament and its control of the Beirut government.
Now there happen to be about 17,000 Moqdads in Lebanon, all members of the same tribe but including not just Shia but Sunnis and Christian Orthodox as well. And Hassan Moqdad, far from arriving in Syria with a legion of Hezbollah fighters, had been staying there – this from his wife – since before the revolt began 18 months ago, because of financial problems in Lebanon. Hassan’s money difficulties resolved, he was on his way home to Lebanon when he was kidnapped and transmogrified into a Hezbollah warrior. Hezbollah have denied that Moqdad was a member, just as they have insisted they’ve no militiamen fighting in Syria, a statement that may bear the merit of truth since Assad has plenty of plain-clothes Syrian gunmen without hiring any more from Lebanon.
The Hezbollah Party of God cannot deny that the 20 hostages in Beirut – all but six of whom had been released last night as Maher Moqdad (another of the famous 17,000) announced an end to such abductions – were all taken in an area which the government long ago effectively handed over to the party. In reality, however, the kidnappings symbolise not the power of Hezbollah but the utter impotence of the divided, self-abusive Lebanese government.
Maher Moqdad said one of the detained Syrians was an army lieutenant who wanted to join the rebels. Meanwhile, those same rebels claim to hold dozens of Iranian ‘spies’ captured on the Damascus airport road, although Iran says that all were visiting a shrine outside Damascus. But would Iranian secret agents really take a vulnerable bus to Damascus airport? The case is faintly similar to the six Iranian ‘militiamen’ captured in Homs who turned out to be legitimate power station workers.
Now that Michel Samaha, ex-minister, ex-MP, and Lebanese supporter of Assad, is charged with plotting to blow up Lebanese politicians on behalf of Syria’s security major domo, General Ali Mamlouk, the ‘terror conspiracy’ – without a shred of evidence publicly revealed – has become fact. Like the mass of bank robberies around Beirut, the clan battles in the Bekaa Valley and the armed offensive against Lebanese troops trying to destroy the country’s hashish fields, the whole shooting match doesn’t exactly invite tourists and Gulf investors to sunny Beirut. Nor did it help when the Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, announced that the kidnappings “bring us back to the days of the painful (civil) war.” Nor, I suppose, is there a surgeon who can put Lebanon together again.