Syrian Army Retakes Key Border Town of Yabroud

Al-Qaeda Bombs Lebanon Village in ‘Revenge’

After weeks of sieges in the area, Syrian military forces backed by Hezbollah have taken the rebel stronghold of Yabroud, the last of the rebels’ possessions along the borer with Lebanon.

SyriaThe rebels had lost most of the rest of the towns in the area in recent weeks, and this weekend finally took Yabroud itself after an intense multi-day battle.

The last rebel reports were that Yabroud was facing heavy air strikes, including with barrel bombs. Yabroud was initially a Christian-majority town but has been a rebel arms smuggling depot for months.

After the loss of Yabroud, a suicide car bomb killed two people in a Shi’ite village across the border in Lebanon. Syrian al-Qaeda faction Jabhat al-Nusra claim credit for the bombing, calling it “revenge” against Hezbollah.

by Jason Ditz

Israel’s Syria Strikes Done With Eye on Broad, Regional War

Officials Envision Enormous War Encompassing Iran, Syria and Lebanon

Though they officially won’t even acknowledge that the strikes took place, recent Israeli attacks on Syria have been done with hushed tones surrounding the prospect of Hezbollah acquiring hugely powerful offensive weapons from the Assad government’s arsenal, and chemical weapons are usually at least implicitly included in the fretting.

The reality is much different, however, and reports that the targeted weapons supposedly ear-marked for Hezbollah were anti-aircraft and defensive weapons don’t make sense in the context of Israel’s official statements on the matter. Yet analysts say that defensive weapons very much are the target, and it stems from Israel’s constant expectations of an imminent region-wide war.

IsraelThough Israel hasn’t fought a major regional war since 1967, their political leadership is always playing to fears of the entire Arab world united in an effort to drive them into the sea. The reality is that Israeli military leadership has been taught to expect major attacks, and in this case it spans the Shi’ite world, with an assumption that they will be fighting a multi-front war with Hezbollah, the Assad government in Syria, and Iran all at the same time.

It is in this context that Israel is constantly talking up its “military superiority” needs, and expecting the US to pony up aid to maintain. Not merely defensive superiority against any single opponent in the region, but overwhelming superiority over the entire region at once.

That’s why Hezbollah acquiring defensive weapons is a big problem from Israel’s perspective, not only because Israeli military officials envision a token invasion of southern Lebanon every few years, but because if Hezbollah becomes less convenient to attack, the rest of their prospective enemies become harder in the bargain. For Israel, a Hezbollah armed with anti-ship weapons means Israel can’t part its Navy off the Lebanese coast and just shell away at their cities with impunity, and a Hezbollah with decent anti-aircraft weapons means Israel can’t constantly have warplanes violating Lebanese airspace, which they do even in peacetime.

Indeed the old WMD canard isn’t really at play here, except as a rhetorical tool. Former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin dismissed the threat posed by chemical weapons, saying Hezbollah would be even less likely to try to use them than Syria, and that they are simply too difficult to use to be operationally practical.

 

Exclusive: Congressman Preps Bill to End Terror War Authority

In the wake of President Obama’s big speech about restraining the war on terrorism, a member of the House intelligence committee is working on a bill to undo the basic authorities to wage it.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is preparing a piece of legislation that would “sunset” the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), a foundational law passed in the days after the 9/11. “The current AUMF is outdated and straining at the edges to justify the use of force outside the war theater,” Schiff tells Danger Room.

Repealing the AUMF would be the boldest restriction of presidential war powers since 9/11. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have relied on the document to authorize everything from the warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens to drone strikes against al-Qaida offshoots that did not exist on 9/11. Getting rid of it is certain to invite fierce opposition from more bellicose members of Congress, who have repeatedly demagogued efforts to roll back any post-9/11 wartime authority, let alone the most important one.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the only legislator to vote against the authorization in 2001, has long fought unsuccessfully to repeal the AUMF. But Schiff is a moderate, not a firebreathing liberal, and while sunsetting the AUMF is sure to be a big legislative challenge, even conservative legislators like Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are raising fundamental questions about the merits of a never-ending war.

Schiff thinks that the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 ought to occasion the end of the AUMF, and his bill would use the Afghanistan drawdown as a hinge point. He openly admits to being unsure whether Congress should pass a follow-on piece of legislation allowing the president a limited version of his war powers, or what those post-Afghanistan powers might appropriately be.

The U.S.’s counterterrorism “architecture is becoming increasingly unsustainable,” Schiff says, “but I have only a less clear idea of what should follow.” Schiff, a moderate, is still in the early drafting stage of the bill and doesn’t yet have a timeline for introducing it. But the animating idea behind it is that Obama ought to come back to Congress to outline what war powers are necessary, so legislators can go on record blessing or rejecting the next phase of the war on terrorism.

There has only been one previous effort to reexamine the AUMF. Spoiler alert: It failed.

Shortly after the GOP win in the 2010 midterm elections, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), argued that it was time for a new version. Since the short 2001 AUMF only authorizes military action against those responsible for 9/11, McKeon contended, the administration lacked legal authority to combat the contemporary versions of al-Qaida in places like Yemen and East Africa. He noted that only half of his colleagues had served in Congress long enough to ever vote on the open-ended war that two administrations have asked them to support.

The Obama administration wasted little time in telling McKeon’s committee it wasn’t interested in revisiting the AUMF. The 2001 AUMF was “sufficient to address the existing threats that I’ve seen,” Jeh Johnson, then the Pentagon’s senior lawyer, testified in March 2011.

Formally, Johnson didn’t really explain how a law that was about avenging 9/11 actually allowed Obama to take military action against, say, al-Shebab. But Johnson didn’t make the administration’s real reasons for opposing the AUMF explicit. It was worried that congressional Republicans would write a bill expanding presidential authority to attack terrorist groups unrelated to al-Qaida, something that would expand a global war that the administration was internally growing skeptical about.

Obama made that position explicit in his speech at the National Defense University — as well as endorsing, for the first time, the eventual repeal of a law he has relied heavily on throughout his presidency.

“I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate,” Obama said. “And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end.”

That’s a position that may not sit well with the U.S. military. During a Senate hearing last week, generals from the Joint Staff and senior Pentagon civilians argued that the AUMF was a necessary law that should remain in place — unchanged. The position satisfied neither Democratic and Independent critics who saw it as a blank check for war nor Republican critics who considered it too restrictive to fight 2013-era terrorism.

One of them is McKeon, the first legislator who proposed reexamining the AUMF. Repealing it outright doesn’t sit well with him — and probably many other congressional Republicans and some Democrats.

“The chairman is far from convinced that’s the direction we need to go,” says an aide to McKeon’s committee. “We need to reaffirm our authority with respect to those [al-Qaida] affiliated groups.” What’s more, Obama’s willingness to “ultimately repeal” the AUMF runs right smack into his codification of a more limited counterterrorism war lasting for years. At the National Defense University, Obama simultaneously talked about a longer war and removing his own authorities for waging it.

Schiff sees all this tension — on the Hill and within the administration — as an opportunity. “There’s probably bipartisan support for the idea that the existing AUMF is ill-suited to the nature of the threats we face now,” he says. But there’s “probably bipartisan opposition to what would come after,” both from the left and right. Schiff thinks that disagreement means a congressional debate about the future of presidential authority against terrorism is overdue. He intends to kickstart one.

Hezbollah: Iran Could Strike US Bases, Troops if Israel Attacks

Hassan Nasrallah said ‘a decision has been made’ that ‘if Israel targets Iran, America bears responsibility.’

Iran would strike US military bases in the Middle East in response to any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities, the leader of Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah said on Monday.

“A decision has been taken to respond and the response will be very great,” Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview. ”The response will not be just inside the Israeli entity – American bases in the whole region could be Iranian targets,” he said. “If Israel targets Iran, America bears responsibility.”

The statement came on the same day an Israeli newspaper reported that the Obama administration sent a secret message to Iran via European allies confirming that the US will not back an Israeli strike against Iran so long as Tehran refrains from attacking American interests in the Persian Gulf.

Iran has conventional capabilities that would allow it to target thousands of US troops in the region, in neighboring Afghanistan, in the southern Gulf island Bahrain, and elsewhere. Even with Obama’s alleged deal, this deterrent threat is something Iran will stick to in order to discourage an attack for a nuclear weapons program it doesn’t even have.

declassified war simulation run by the Pentagon earlier this year forecasted such a “strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States” and would immediately get at least 200 Americans killed in Iran’s retaliation, not to mention heavy Iranian and Israeli casualties.

Nasrallah also said that Hezbollah would attack Israel in retaliation of any preemptive strike on Iran. Even Hezbollah has no chemical weapons, he added, they do have an arsenal that could strike Israel’s nuclear reactors.

The costs of an unprovoked Israeli strike on Iran would be immense for everybody in the region. The fact that it would entirely be a war of choice, not of necessity, is making Israel’s constant warmongering – and the Obama administrations aggressive economic and diplomatic postures – all the more dangerous.

“Now’s Not the Time for Hezbollah to Cut-and-Run”

Defending its political mantle and participation in government is key for the future of the Hezbollah led Resistance.

Dahiyeh, South Beirut.

This observer admits that politically speaking, things might appear a bit tough for Hezbollah these days but will spare the dear reader the tedium of a laundry list of what the Party has experienced over the past 20 months in terms of domestic and foreign attacks, condemnations, calumny, obliquey, sundry plots, and legislative and political wounds, some a result of the Party of God lumbering under the weight of some tawdry political ‘allies’ who it must work with in Parliament. Some of the more commonly known and intensifying targeting of the Resistance by its internal and foreign foes who have pledged at all costs to dismantle it but sowing Sunni-Shia discords, include exploiting the chaos in Syria, manipulating the frustrations of the Lebanese public given widespread lack of public services, and attacking Hezbollah’s  success in linking its military power with its growing political power but periodically insisting that it gives up its weapons.

Concerned friends of Hezbollah sometimes over react out of sincere solidarity and friendship and a desire to protect the Resistance from surrounding events that are swirling out of control around them. Perhaps it is in this context that the editor in chief of the pro-Hezbollah Beirut newspaper, Al Akbar, Ibrahim al Amin is demanding that Hezbollah throw in the towel and withdraw from Lebanese politics.

On 7/18/12, the 6th anniversary of Lebanon’s July 2006 victory over Israel during the latter’s fifth war against Lebanon which included its brutal 1978, 1982,1993, 1996 aggressions, it was quite normal to discuss and evaluate  where the Resistance is today in terms of its work and goals, not least of which is Hezbollah’s moral, religious, political and humanitarian duties to support the Palestinians growing international campaigns to retrieve their country which is still occupied by  a Zionist colonial regime after more than six decades and their obligation to enact in Parliament right to work and home ownership legislation for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

One interesting,  provocative but wrong-headed proposal in this observer’s opinion was put forward in a 7/18/12 editorial in Al Akbar newspaper, by its Editor and Chief Ibrahim al-Amin, reputed to be close to some Hezbollah officials.

Editor al-Amin did not mince his words, declaring thus:

“There’s no longer any point in the resistance (Hezbollah) remaining in government. The government is no longer good for anything. No good will come from the current (Hezbollah led) government surviving.

There’s no longer any point in the resistance remaining in any branch of Lebanon’s government, not even in parliament. It’s impossible for it to play a legislative role given the weird and wondrous partnership between the executive and legislative establishments.

There’s no longer any point in the resistance remaining involved in domestic political quarrels or discussions…There’s no longer any point in the resistance getting mixed up in political games that tarnish its reputation, undermine its standing, and make it resemble the gangsters who make up most of the political class in this land of the deranged.”

Al-Amin editorializes that

“The system sees the resistance as an alien body which must be ejected by any means: through isolation if possible, sectarian strife if necessary, and treason and the summoning of foreign invaders when desperate.

Al Amin additionally concluded:

“There’s no longer any point in the resistance continuing to be involved in government crises which it never had anything to do with, and when there is no real partnership in decision-making. This reduces it to the role of mute witness to daily acts of robbery, waste, sabotage and the destruction of what remains of the hybrid state.

“There’s no longer any point in the resistance remaining around the table with people who are above the law, however lofty or lowly their ranks. This has become akin to providing cover for the debasement of every family and individual in the country.

“There’s no longer any point in the resistance remaining a player in a game of appointments and patronage that does nothing to protect the resistance fighters or maintain the dignity of their families. Instead it isolates those who are willing to sacrifice all they hold dear for their people and beliefs but still cannot cross a road un-harassed or provide for their children.

“What use is there in Hezbollah staying in a government, parliament or other state bodies that it cannot trust?

“What is the use of remaining in a government that provides misleading, fabricated or skewed information to sustain an international body which seeks to damage the resistance in the name of justice – helping Israel achieve what it failed to do by force of arms? It grinds its people to the bone, and will not spend a penny on developing public utility.

“What is the use of remaining in a government that provides misleading, fabricated or skewed information to sustain an international body which seeks to damage the resistance in the name of justice – helping Israel achieve what it failed to do by force of arms? It grinds its people to the bone, and will not spend a penny on developing public utility.

Editor in Chief Amin’s  sunshine-patriot weak-kneed laments and his apparent eagerness to throw in the Resistance towel plus his expressed fears sound at times like they were written by a speech writer last July for Libya’s  Gadhafi  or Yemen’s Salah, and he errs with virtually every syllable he pens.

Defending its political mantle and participation in government is key for the future of the Hezbollah led Resistance. The Resistance is bigger than Hezbollah and has now become truly international as has its project of supporting the Palestinian cause.  Daily, the Resistance gains strength and support as Israel weakens and US and Western regional implantations and hegemony fades into the pages of history books.

Setbacks are surely in store for the Party of God, as with this country, region, movement, era, and culture of Resistance, inspired as it is by the 7th century sacrifices for the commonweal by Hussein bin Ali and the martyrs at Karbala and the 1st century C.E.  Martyred Prophet from Nazareth at Calvary.

Were the logic of the no doubt well-meaning Al Akbar editor to prevail and were Hezbollah to become ostrich like politically, the predictable result would be nothing less and quite likely rather more than the following consequences.

Withdrawing from the political battles in Lebanon’s government would be an egregious capitulation to the designs of Elliot Abrams and the Bush administration when Abrams requested in 2004 of the Saudi Regime, $ 50 million in funding to set up the March 14th coalition. Abdicating its legislative duties would be for the Resistance to cave to the likes of Israel’s Netanyahu, the Zionist controlled US Congress, reactionary despotic Arab regimes and other defenders of the Zionist occupation of Palestine  at the expense of people of good will everywhere and supporters of the Hezbollah led Resistance throughout  Lebanon as well as internationally.

The suggestion that Hezbollah cannot remain cutting edge in its military preparedness simultaneous with the high quality of its Parliamentary delegation including Mohammad Raad, Nawaf Musawi, Ali Fayad, Hassan Fadallah, and Mohammed Fneish, to name just a few, is faulty.  This stellar Loyalty to the Resistance team is more than capable of continuing to advance the Hezbollah campaign pledges and party platforms in Parliament and get results while Hezbollah remains vigilant and prepared to defeat the coming Israeli aggression.

The decision of Hezbollah to participate in Lebanese politics and government was the right decision when it was debated and decided in 1992 and it remains even more so today.

Hezbollah is known for its culture of dialogue, analysis, elements of democratic centralism and patience in decision making.  Many supporters of the Resistance, including this observer, believe that proposals for Hezbollah to disengage from Lebanese politics err at best and at worst they are patently absurd, counter-Resistance and undermine prospects for a prosperous future for Lebanon and the people of all 18 confessions who Hezbollah seek to serve.  Participating in Lebanon’s government  and not least in the mundane work of trying to ameliorate scores of local government problems after decades of neglect is a noble cause.

Whether in Palestine or here in Lebanon, the Resistance takes nearly countless forms, paths, protests, operations, from military to academic and social.  Continuing to engage every day, every hour with Lebanon’s government of which Hezbollah is an essential component and is vital.

Now is not the time to throw in the towel just because times are tough, but it would be well for the tough to get a move on and to redouble efforts to serve the people by concrete results from Parliament and through government agencies.

By Franklin Lamb
Franklin Lamb
is doing research in Lebanon and is reachable c/o [email protected]

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