Nasrallah Declares War on al Qaeda
Because of the extraordinarily arcane nature of Hizballah’s armed branches, it is almost impossible to fix on the precise nature of the quakes rumbling through the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group of late.
However DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and counter-terror sources diagnose the conflict as one waged between the movement’s pro-Iran and pro-Lebanon schools; between Hizballah commanders who blindly toe the line of Tehran’s diktats communicated via three Revolutionary Guards officers from a command post in Syria, and the faction which wants those diktats be treated in the light of political realities in Lebanon.
This dispute erupted very recently.
Before and during the conflict with Israel of summer 2006, Hizballah automatically obeyed every Iranian command to the letter.
Some experts suggest that the cracks in Hizballah may have been caused by their shock over the spectacle of Iranian officials joining Americans for the first time Saturday, March 10, at the international meeting in Baghdad for stabilizing Iraq – particularly as there is more of the same to come. Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki has a date to meet US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in Istanbul next month.
The faction critical of the absence of a Lebanese dimension in Hizballah policies is asking why, if Iranians can talk to Americans, Hizballah can’t by the same token meet US or even Israeli officials.
That divergence of opinion is one possible rationale for the struggle shaking Hizballah; another is Tehran’s decision to use its Lebanese surrogate as a back channel for officially unacknowledged messages to Washington and Jerusalem.
In the last few days, Hizballah has stepped out of character in four important ways:
Hizballah’s top command retired
1. Its top military command is undergoing a rare reshuffle. Dozens of officers have been promoted in rank, awarded pay hikes and fancy cars – and retired from their commands. They are replaced by younger, unknown officers. The purged commanders were known for their close ties with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Much less is known about the new lot.
It could be assumed that the veterans were sent packing because of how they performed in the war with Israel last summer. That is not likely. The conflict ended almost eight months ago, and a round of new appointments followed it in December 2006. Therefore, doctrinal-political differences were most probably behind the reshuffle rather than tactical expedience.
2. A serious falling-out has occurred between Hizballah chiefs and the close circle of their ally, Gen. Michel Aoun, leader of Lebanon’s pro-Syrian Christian Maronite factions.
The general accuses Hizballah of backing out of their joint campaign to overthrow Fouad Siniora’s government out of “alien motives.” The Shiite group and its leader Hassan Nasrallah feel they are being accused of putting Tehran’s interests ahead of their patriotic duty to country and are uncomfortable because they know the charge is just.
This quarrel may have stimulated the split in Hizballah by inspiring an opposition to rise up against Nasrallah’s absolute submission to Tehran with a demand for a rebalanced policy compatible with Hizballah’s interests at home.
3. Tuesday, March 9, Nasrallah delivered a speech to the group’s activists declaring open war on al Qaeda’s presence in Lebanon.
While it is difficult to imagine the Hizballah leader taking this extreme line without Tehran’s blessing, it does imply that the Shiite-Sunni conflict tearing into Iraq is in the process of being imported to Lebanon.
That process would be diametrically opposed to Tehran’s policy. The last thing Iran wants is for Iraq’s sectarian conflict to ignite the Muslim world, because it would leave the Islamic Republic at the pinnacle of a Shiite camp at loggerheads with, and isolated by, the Sunni Muslim majority.
Nasrallah accuses al Qaeda of stirring up sectarian strife
Nasrallah’s words were as follows: The greatest hazard to the Muslim world today is posed by groups who dare to stigmatize fellow Muslims as heretics.
The Hizballah leader went on to elucidate: The inciters of the Sunni-Shiite warfare are, he said, the same people who sent suicide bombers against the Shiite pilgrims in Hilla.
(Tuesday, March 6, a suicide bomber murdered 118 Shiite pilgrims and injured more than 250 in the town of Hilla as they headed south from Baghdad to the shrine city of Karbala.)
These suicide bombers, said Nasrallah, are prolonging instead of shortening the US military presence in Iraq.
The Hizballah leader finally got to the point: “We no longer regard groups like al Qaeda as true Sunni Muslims,” he said. “They kill more Muslims than Americans or Israelis.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Hizballah experts stress that such loaded statements are never delivered lightly. They demand action. This one carried the weight of a decision to embark on swift and effective action against al Qaeda’s cells in Lebanon, an effective siege coupled with active warfare. The alternative, according to Nasrallah, is a Sunni-Shiite conflict enveloping the entire Middle East.
4. Hizballah has issued an unprecedented invitation to Israel to send its representatives for direct negotiations on the fate of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the Israeli soldiers his followers kidnapped in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006, precipitating a major conflict. (See HOT POINTS below)
For the first time in the murky history of its hard-line rejectionism, Hizballah is willing to talk to Israeli officials, even intelligence officers. According to our exclusive information, they are ready to meet the man in charge of negotiations for Israeli soldiers kidnapped by the enemy and they know his name: Ofer Dekel, Shin Bet ex-deputy director.
It is too soon to say what has prompted this step, whether a sudden change of face by Hizballah or an Iranian signal to Israel that it is willing to pay in kind for information on the missing former general Ali Reza Asgari.