Archive for the 'Lebanon' Category



Any Spooks Left in the CIA Attic? Aiding the Syrian Army Defectors

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 1 month ago

I just want to know.

General Petraeus.  Once you get settled in over at the C.I.A., can you check around the closets or under the desks at Langley and see if there are any covert ops people left?   I know we are too high-tech for that sort of thing nowadays, but every so often a job comes up that just can’t be done by the drones or the snooping satellites or wire intercepts.

The Washington Post publishes this article concerning the rising numbers of Syrian soldiers defecting to the opposition:

WADI KHALED, Lebanon — A group of defectors calling themselves the Free Syrian Army is attempting the first effort to organize an armed challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, signaling what some hope and others fear may be a new phase in what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful Syrian protest movement.

For now, the shadowy entity seems mostly to consist of some big ambitions, a Facebook page and a relatively small number of defected soldiers and officers who have taken refuge on the borderlands of Turkey and Lebanon or among civilians in Syria’s cities.

Many of its claims appear exaggerated or fanciful, such as its boasts to have shot down a helicopter near Damascus this month and to have mustered a force of 10,000 to take on the Syrian military.

But it is clear that defections from the Syrian military have been accelerating in recent weeks, as have levels of violence in those areas where the defections have occurred.

“It is the beginning of armed rebellion,” said Gen. Riad Asaad, the dissident army’s leader, who defected from the air force in July and took refuge in Turkey.

The article goes to great lengths to point out that the group does not have much clout at the moment but also notes:

There are nonetheless signs that the Free Syrian Army is expanding and organizing as reports of violent encounters increase. The group has announced the formation of 12 battalions around the country that regularly post claims on the group’s Facebook page, including bombings against military buses and ambushes at checkpoints.

This type of reporting is to be taken with more than a grain of salt, particularly in light of the lack of any reporters inside of Syria verifying the claims  (Calling Geraldo:  report to your choice of border crossings into Syria).  At the same time, it is only natural that protesters who are regularly attacked, beaten, tortured and killed will want to take up arms and at least try to defend themselves.   Given that the Assad Regime has been a major supplier of insurgents and armaments into Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and actively does the bidding of Iran in Lebanon, the U.S. has a keen interest in seeing him toppled.

What perfect justice for the U.S. to return the favor to Assad tenfold by infiltrating weapons into Syria from western Iraq.

But does the U.S. even have that capability?  And if we do, would this Administration actually follow through?

How does the U.S. influence the future of Syria?  At some point, when the Assad Regime continues to kill and torture its citizens, the U.S. must do more than just offer a rhetorical bone to the opposition.    Connections are made and relationships formed by providing material assistance (even if covert) to the opposition groups in Syria who at least have a willingness to work with the U.S.   How do we know that we will not be supplying weapons and training to Islamist militants?

That requires actual intelligence officers and human sources inside Syria.

General Petraeus, do you have anyone like that around the office?

The Role of Palestine in the War with Iran

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

While supporting Israel’s right to a robust self defense, The Captain’s Journal has also questioned both the strategic and operational goals of the current Israeli offensive, especially since it is being run by the more leftist administration currently in power in Israel.  But there are deeper questions still about the operation, ones that drive to the heart of the matter.

Robert Kaplan discusses the larger war in which Israel is engaged.

Israel has just embarked on a land invasion of the Gaza Strip after a week of aerial bombing. Gaza is bordered by Egypt, and was under Egyptian military control from 1949 through 1967. And yet in a startling rebuke to geography and recent history—and in testimony to the sheer power of audacity and of ideas—the mullahs in Teheran hold more sway in Gaza today than does the tired, Brezhnevite regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Gaza constitutes the western edge of Iran’s veritable new empire, cartographically akin to the ancient Persian one, that now stretches all the way to western Afghanistan, where Kabul holds no sway and which is under Iranian economic domination.

Israel’s attack on Gaza is, in effect, an attack on Iran’s empire, the first since its offensive on Iranian-backed Hezbollah in 2006. That attack failed for a number of reasons, not least of which was Israel’s poor intelligence on Hezbollah: historically, its intelligence on the Palestinians has been much better. Moreover, this attack seems more deliberately planned, with narrower, publicly stated aims – all in all, a more professional job. But there is a fundamental problem with what Israel is doing that goes to the heart of the postmodern beast that the Iranian empire represents.

To start with, Hamas does not have to win this war. It can lose and still win. As long as no other political group can replace it in power, even as some of its diehards can continue to lob missiles, however ineffectually, into Israel, it achieves a moral victory of sorts. Moreover, if Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement tries to replace Hamas in power, Fatah will forever be tagged with the label of Israeli stooge, and in the eyes of Palestinians will have little moral legitimacy. Israel’s dilemma is that it is not fighting a state but an ideology, the postmodern glue that holds together Greater Iran.

This is similar to the view espoused by Dr. Ely Karmon, namely that “The present conflict in Gaza must therefore be understood in its broad regional context. Israel is fighting not only Hamas, a radical Islamist religious/political movement whose ideological and strategic goal is to destroy the Jewish state in order to build on it a Taliban-style one, but is facing a coalition of radical actors — Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas — which is responsible for the destabilization of the entire Middle East for the last two decades … Hamas is a crucial element for Iran because it is the only Sunni member of the coalition, a faction of the broader Muslim Brotherhood movement (the Sunni Syria is actually led by an Alawi/Shia dictatorship), and represents the Palestinian cause, so dear to the Arabs and Muslims worldwide.”

In The Globalization of Jihad in Palestine, The Captain’s Journal pointed out that Ayman al-Zawahiri and the al Qaeda leadership had heretofore rejected participation in jihad with Hamas because of its acceptance of nationalism and democracy, two things al Qaeda hates most.  Global jihad (and hence, al Qaeda) doesn’t recognize borders or the legitimacy of states.  But we also pointed out that radical Salafist schools were developing across Palestine – including Gaza – financed by Saudi money and producing young radicals accepting of a more global and even less tolerant perspective.

Adding to this narrative is an analysis by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Both Hamas and the Gazan jihadist groups share a desire to destroy Israel and impose sharia, but Hamas focuses on local interests limited to the Palestinian arena. Hamas, therefore, directs its energy largely at Israel, while these groups target foreigners as well. The Salafi-jihadist groups espouse an ideology of “pure resistance,” within which there is no room for ceasefires or temporary halts in attacks against the enemy. Some of their members were therefore especially motivated to continue attacks following Hamas’s agreement to a tahdiyah, or lull …

Although these groups do not aim to usurp Hamas’s control of Gaza, the expansion of their power and popularity poses an ideological and practical challenge for Hamas and emphasizes the dichotomy in the movement; on one hand, Hamas is a resistance movement siding with an ongoing jihadist struggle, on the other, it is a sovereign power that is required to compromise on daily governance issues. Hamas is worried that this phenomenon will gain popularity among the young generation, since it represents “pure resistance.” Confronting this phenomenon not only endangers Hamas’s image on the street, but also forces the organization to confront one of the cornerstones of its identity: the ideological adherence to jihad as a way to achieve its goals. This very dilemma may go a long way toward explaining why Hamas allowed the tahdiyah to erode; attacks from time to time allow Hamas to explain that it remains committed to resistance.

In the wake of the current crisis, Hamas may choose to ease its crackdown on these jihadist groups, causing repercussions beyond Gaza. Strengthened Salafi-jihadist groups in Gaza could ultimately pose a threat not only to Hamas, but also, as the various attacks and foiled plots over the past several years illustrate, to Israeli and Western interests as well.

Al Qaeda’s inability to utilize differing sects in its global struggle, e.g., the nationalistic Hamas, is not a mistake made by the Persian empire which, while Shi’a, has no problems working with the Sunni Hamas.  Al Qaeda may look on with envy at the empire carefully constructed by Iran, but in the main Israel is surrounded by Iranian proxies.  True, there are allegations and counter-allegations over the role of al Qaeda in Lebanon (page 5).

There is no official consensus in Lebanon on whether al-Qa`ida has a presence in the country. Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, all politics in Lebanon has been polarized. It is on the threat of terrorism where the gap is arguably most pronounced. On the one hand, the anti-Syrian political coalition, led by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and parliament majority leader Saad Hariri, believes that al-Qa`ida does not have an indigenous presence in Lebanon. What the country faces instead is a fabricated threat by Damascus and its intelligence services that is intended to destabilize Lebanon and restore Syrian hegemony. On the other hand, the pro-Syrian alliance, spearheaded by Hizb Allah (also spelled Hezbollah) and the Free Patriotic Party of Michel Aoun, judges that al-Qa`ida exists in Lebanon and poses a real threat to national security. For them, the rise of al-Qa`ida in the country is largely attributed to a devilish pact between Lebanese Sunni politicians and extremist Islamic factions in the north, the purpose of which is to counter-balance the perceived ascending power of Shi`a Hizb Allah. The Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), an institution that is perceived to be fairly loyal to Siniora—in addition to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two most influential regional patrons of the anti-Syrian coalition—are also accused by the pro-Syrian alliance of having a hand in financing and arming these terrorist groups.

But the argument itself is evidence of the paltry presence of al Qaeda, or strongly Sunni anti-Persian elements.  Syria is an apparatchik of Iran, and Damascus gets its orders directly from Tehran, orders it immediately relays to Hassan Nasrallah who governs Hezbollah, which is itself Iran’s troops deployed in Lebanon.  Hamas, like Hezbollah but still following in its footsteps, serves the interests of Iran.

Michael Ledeen makes a strong case that Iran has turned Hamas loose to lose if necessary, a sort of cowardly betrayal of the Hamas leadership.  Further, argues Ledeen, there is rot inside of Iran.  Indeed, there is a budding insurgency in Western Iran, one that we have argued that should be aided in fomenting a full blown insurgency and regime change inside of Iran.

Caroline Glick makes a similar argument to Ledeen, but ends with a stern warning.

ALAS, THERE is another possible explanation for Iran’s apparent decision to abandon a vassal it incited to open a war. On Sunday, Iranian analyst Amir Taheri reported the conclusions of a bipartisan French parliamentary report on the status of Iran’s nuclear program in Asharq Alawsat. The report which was submitted to French President Nicolas Sarkozy late last month concluded that unless something changes, Iran will have passed the nuclear threshold by the end of 2009 and will become a nuclear power no later than 2011. The report is notable because it is based entirely on open-sourced material whose accuracy has been acknowledged by the Iranian regime.

The report asserts that this year will be the world’s final opportunity to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And, as Taheri hints strongly, the only way of doing that effectively is by attacking Iran’s nuclear installations.

In light of this new report, which contradicts earlier US intelligence assessments that claimed it would be years before Iran is able to build nuclear weapons, it is possible that Iran ordered the current war in Gaza for the same reason it launched its war in 2006: to divert international attention away from its nuclear program.

It is possible that Iran prefers to run down US President George W. Bush’s last two weeks in office with the White House and the rest of the world focused on Gaza, than risk the chance that during these two weeks, the White House (or Israel) might read the French parliament’s report and decide to do something about it.

So too, its apparent decision not to have Hizbullah join in this round of fighting might have more to do with Iran’s desire to preserve its Lebanese delivery systems for any nuclear devices than its desire to save pennies in a tight economy.

And if this is the case, then even if Israel beats Hamas (and I eat my hat), we could still lose the larger war by again having allowed Iran to get us to take our eyes away from the prize.

Whatever their strategy, unless Israel is willing to follow through with these current operations and the U.S. is willing not only to implement democracy programs in Iran but also to pursue regime change, the entire Middle East might be dealing in the near future with a nuclear Persia, leading not only to mortal danger for Israel but also to a nuclear Egypt, Jorgan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Thus we haven’t questioned the role of Iran in the war with Palestine, for that would be to miss the point.  The real question is the role of Palestine in the war with Iran, and whether the larger strategic picture is being kept in sight.

Further Reading:

Robert D. Kaplan, Iran’s Postmodern Beast in Gaza, a “must-read” from the author of the remarkable Imperial Grunts.

Michael Ledeen, Is Iran in Trouble?

Caroline Glick, Iran’s Gaza Diversion

Yoram Cohen, Jihadist Groups in Gaza: A Developing Threat

Syed Saleem Shahza, Al Qaeda Sniffs Opportunity in Gaza.  Saleem purveys fantasy when he says that there has been a slight resurgence of AQ in Anbar, and has to be read through the lens of someone who shills for both AQ and the Tehrik-i-Taliban.  Nonetheless, his prose is interesting and if you’re able to discern fact and analysis from propaganda, is usually useful.

Charles Levinson, Israel’s Ground Assault Marks Shift in Strategy

Victor Davis Hanson, Gazan Calculations

James Lyons, Gaza Distraction

Even if the current Hamas leadership and infrastructure are destroyed, nothing will change as long as the Ali Khamenei regime remains in power with continued support of terrorist groups to act as their proxies to further their political agenda.

While we have proof positive of Iran’s direct involvement in terrorist activities over the last almost 30 years, which has resulted in thousands of U.S. military and civilian casualties, they have never been made to suffer the consequences of their cowardly acts or held accountable. The ultimate solution is to change the power structure in Iran preferably by a form of a “yellow revolution” in which Iranians who desire a better life are able to free themselves from their current medieval theocratic regime. The odds of a popular uprising are slim unless supported by a variety of actions led by the United States.

Lyons’ commentary is analogous to the arguments made at TCJ for the last two years.

Hezbollah as Iranian Occupier

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Iranian flag displayed on equipment used to build a new road through southern Lebanon mountains with money from Iran.

Abu Muqawama had a post a few days ago entitled the resistance as oppressor, saying in part:

In the eyes of many Lebanese, the resistance is now an occupying power. How will Hizbollah — which has in the past divided the world into the oppressors and the oppressed — adjust to the ugly new reality where they are seen as the former?

To which The Captain’s Journal responded (in the comments) that Hezbollah has always been an occupying force.  But let’s back up a bit.

As the reader knows by now, Hezbollah flexed their muscle in Lebanon a few days back with the Lebanese Army basically watching events without responding.  Walid Phares argues (persuasively) that the mini-war was fought over a closed circuit telecommunications system and whether they would be allowed to have such a thing (since it violates the law).  Well, not only can they have it, but now they have been given essential veto power over all government decisions.

Abu Muqawama referred to Hezbollah as at one time a “resistance” force, wondering how they would transition to a new role.  John Robb – who is also smart and always an interesting read – does essentially the same thing.

May’s dispute between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah is an interesting example of the contest between hollow states and virtual states over legitimacy and sovereignty. As in most conflicts between gutted nation-states and aggressive virtual states, Hezbollah’s organic legitimacy trumped the state’s in the contest (an interesting contrast between voluntary affiliation and default affiliation by geography). The fighting was over in six hours.

Catch that?  “Organic legitimacy.”  Nice phrase, and it sounds erudite to boot.  The only problem is that this is as wrongheaded as it can possibly be.  W. Thomas Smith gives us another view of things in his most recent article at Human Events, entitled Lights Out Temporarily in Lebanon.

The proverbial lights have gone out in Lebanon: But for those of us having faith in that country’s swelling pro-democracy majority, the lights will only be out temporarily.

For now, however, it’s dark: In the wake of last week’s shameful concessions to the terrorist group, Hizballah, on the part of the Lebanese government and the legitimate army — which barely fired a shot in defense of the Lebanese people — Hizballah has achieved a never-before-realized strengthening of its position in that country.

This upper hand was achieved by force and against the will of most of the Lebanese people: Christians, Druze, and yes, Muslims, both Sunni and many Shiia. What makes it worse is that the international community — which has been warned time-and-again, heard appeals for assistance from various pro-democracy groups, and vowed to support the government, the army, and the will of the majority – did nothing to prevent Hizballah’s thugs from attacking the state and winning.

Let’s boil it down: Hizballah — trained and financed by Iran and operationally supported by Syria — contends it is a legitimate “resistance” against foreign aggression. The group also considers itself to be a fair and viable Shiia political party (it does indeed hold seats in the parliament), and a social movement providing services to Lebanon’s Shiia population (but no one receives social services without pledges of allegiance and promises of service to Hizballah.). In reality, Hizballah is a heavily weaponized, Talibanesque army of terrorists with tremendous global reach and existing as a sub-kingdom within the sovereign state of Lebanon.

Hizballah was ordered into action nearly two weeks ago after the state dismissed the security chief of Beirut International Airport (after discovering he was Hizballah), and attempted to shut down Hizballah’s extensive telecommunications system.

Refusing to accept the government’s decisions, Hizballah launched a series of attacks, May 7, from its stronghold in Beirut’s Dahiyeh, as well as from other so-called “security squares” across the country which the legitimate army and police had previously deemed off-limits to national policing.

Deploying from Dahiyeh, Hizballah fighters retrieved pre-staged weapons and quickly seized most of largely Sunni west Beirut (The group wisely avoided the Christian areas of east Beirut.). Fighting also broke out in the Chouf mountain region — where in several clashes, Hizballah’s forces were mauled by pro-government civilian fighters — the Bekaa Valley, and in-and-near the northern city of Tripoli.

Several of my sources have since independently confirmed that many captured and killed soldiers operating with Hizballah were indeed Syrian and Iranian: One source confirmed many of the captured soldiers “spoke Farsi and were unable to speak Arabic.” Another said Hizballah fighters operating in Beirut were “specifically ordered” not to communicate in the presence of Lebanese civilians because it would be discovered they were foreign (Iranian) soldiers.

“Syrian intelligence officers never quit Lebanon [after Syrian troops were officially kicked out in 2005],” Sami Nader, a political science professor at St. Joseph University in Beirut, tells HUMAN EVENTS. “And all the security and military apparatus put in place is an integrated system equipped and managed by the Iranians.”

Farsi.  The Persian language.  Hezbollah was never a resistance movement.  To be sure, they funded medical care and other necessities, but only for a price.  Their price was absolute loyalty.  Hezbollah is nothing more than troops of Iranian occupation.  They always have been foreign occupiers, and as long as they exist, they always will be.  They have no organic legitimacy, no matter how sophisticated it sounds to say so.

The Tangled Web of Allegiances

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

The Captain stumbled across an analysis today that precisely mirrors his own concern, entitled US/Iraq: Tangled Web of Allegiances Leads Back to Tehran.

If politics makes strange bedfellows, then the relationship between Iran, the United States and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is the strangest ménage à trois in international relations today.

Violent Shia-on-Shia hostilities officially came to an end this week when a formal ceasefire was declared between government forces of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, but sporadic fighting still continues. And questions remain about the role that the U.S. is playing.

In testimony before Congress a month ago, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and the U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker characterised the conflict in Iraq as a “proxy war” to stem Iranian influence.

Declarations by both the U.S. and al-Maliki’s government about Iranian sponsorship of Sadrist activities are often used to paint Iran as a destabilising force in Iraq — the meddling neighbour encouraging unrest to boost its own influence. U.S.-backed Iraqi government excursions against Sadr are defended by citing unsubstantiated evidence of Iranian agents’ influence.

But this perspective has yet to be explained in terms of one of Iran’s closest allies in Iraq, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), who, as part of al-Maliki’s ruling coalition, also happen to be one of the U.S.’s closest partners.

The U.S. military says that it killed three militants in Baghdad’s Shia Sadr City slum on Sunday, alleging that the targets were splinter groups of the Mahdi Army who had spun out of Sadr’s control and were receiving training and weapons from Iran.

Last week, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it was clear that Tehran was supporting “militias that are operating outside the rule of law in Iraq”. Many fear that the rhetoric is part of an effort to ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

But the constant barrage of criticism lobbed at Iran and the so-called “special groups” of Sadrists still fighting against the government and U.S. forces tends to overlook the fact that the coalition of parties ruling Iraq are largely indebted to Iran for their very existence and continue to be closely connected with the Islamic Republic.

There seems to be no solid explanation about the double standard of U.S. denunciation of Iranian influence and U.S. support and aid to one of the strongest benefactors and allies of that influence — the government coalition of al-Maliki.

“I’m not confident we know what the hell we’re doing when we’re making these actions,” Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

The two strongest parties in al-Maliki’s coalition, his own Dawa Party and ISCI, have both been based out of Iran and are both Shia religious parties …

ISCI and Iran, for example, support a Shia super-region in the south as part of a loosely federated Iraqi state. The homogenous super-region would likely facilitate Iranian influence. Both Sadr and the U.S. oppose the idea in favour of a strong central government.

The Captain says that the folks with the Multinational Force are far too smart not to have figured this out by now.  It all comes down to a lack of political will.  While spot on concerning the other allegiances (with Dawa and ISCI), the analysis above is far too complimentary of Sadr and his militia, and his criminal elements must be taken down.  Ralph Peters agrees (or more correctly, the Captain agrees with Ralph Peters), in his commentary on Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, our mortal enemy, must be destroyed. But we – Israel, the United States, Europe – lack the will. And will is one thing Hezbollah and its backers in Iran and Syria don’t lack: They’ll kill anyone and destroy anything to win.

We won’t. We still think we can talk our way out of a hit job. Not only are we reluctant to kill those bent on killing us – we don’t even want to offend them.

Hezbollah’s shocking defeat of Israel in 2006 (when will Western leaders learn that you can’t measure out war in teaspoons?) highlighted the key military question of our time: How can humane, law-abiding states defeat merciless postnational organizations that obey only the “laws” of bloodthirsty gods?

The answer, as Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us, is that you have to gut the organization and kill the hardcore cadres. (Exactly how many al Qaeda members have we converted to secular humanism?).

Entranced by the military vogue of the season, we don’t even get our terminology right. Defeating Hezbollah has nothing to do with counterinsurgency warfare – the situation’s gone far beyond that. We’re facing a new form of “non-state state” built around a fanatical killing machine that rejects all of our constraints.

No one is going to win Hezbollah’s hearts and minds. Its fighters and their families have already shifted into full-speed fanaticism, and there’s no reverse gear. Hezbollah has to be destroyed.

As the more timid among us gasp for air and cry out “get thee to thy fainting couch!” the contrast between the Anbar campaign – about which the Captain should know just a little – and the balance of Operation Iraqi Freedom comes fully into the light once again.  No quarter was given to recalcitrant fighters by the U.S. Marines, whether al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna, or indigenous Sunnis.  Al Qaeda was killed or captured, and the indigenous Sunnis were killed or battered to the point of exhaustion and surrender.  Not coincidentally, they (they Sunnis who live in Anbar) are now our friends.  This is the way it works.

Badr was co-opted into the ISF without so much as evidence that their loyalties lied with Iraq (and while they still received pension paychecks from Iran), and the Multinational Force has played patty cake with the Sadrists since 2003.  Whether Hezbollah in Lebanon or ISCI or JAM in Iraq, they are all manifestations of the long arm of the Iranian regime.  Ralph’s declarations that Hezbollah must be destroyed – and the Captain’s declarations that Iranian influence must be rooted out of Iraq – will probably go unheeded.  It all comes down to a lack of political will.  And upon this, in our estimation, rests the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Assassination of Imad Mughniyeh

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

At this point it is not news that someone has assassinated the chief military commander of Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyeh.

Mughniyeh was killed late Tuesday night after a bomb, planted inside the seat of his car, exploded in Damascus’s upscale Kafar Soussa neighborhood. Security forces quickly sealed off the area and removed the destroyed car, which had its driver’s seat and the rear seat blown away by the blast.

Considered Hizbullah’s operations chief, Mughniyeh co-founded the group in 1982 together with Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and was a member of its ruling Shura Council. He was in charge of all overseas operations, and as the chief operations officer, coordinated Hizbullah relations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Not only was he a very bad actor, he was perhaps the smartest terrorist in the Middle East, and getting inside his daily habits is an incredible feat.

As Robert Baer, who hunted Mugniyeh for years as a CIA officer, describes Mughniyeh, ““He is the most dangerous terrorist we’ve ever faced. He is probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else. He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never makes appointments on a telephone, never is predictable. He only uses people that are related to him that he can trust. He doesn’t just recruit people. He is the master terrorist, the grail that we have been after since 1983.”

Haaretz is carrying a short list of his accomplishments (also here), one of which is masterminding the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.  Mughniyeh was a major player in the world of terror, and was probably more important than Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.  The U.S. is welcoming the news of his demise.  Israel is denying any involvement in the assassination, and perhaps the most interesting assessment of who might have done this is given to us by Michael Ledeen.

There will be a lot of speculation about his killers. Hezbollah has already accused the Israelis, which is what you’d expect them to say. But there are many others who hated Mughniyah, ranging from various Lebanese and Saudi groups who held him responsible for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, to anti-Iranian and anti-Syrian groups, especially some of the Kurds, to our very own spooks and soldiers, who have long yearned for revenge against the man who organized the brutal murder of Robert Stethem, the suicide bombings against the U.S. Marines in Beirut, similar acts against U.S. diplomats and spooks at our Embassies in the same city, and of course Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the dreadful death-by-torture of our top spy in Beirut in the mid-1980s.

I doubt we did it. Indeed, I rather suspect that CIA was bound and determined NOT to go after Mughniyah, even though there was a bounty on his head. I know of several instances in which CIA vetoed proposals from well-placed people who claimed to be able to kill or capture Mughniyah, and I have spoken to government officials in Washington who were astonished at the Agency’s lack of vigor. Nonetheless, I have no doubt we will hear from several “experts” that it was a CIA operation.

Israel is more likely, and has a proven ability to operate in Damascus, although Olmert has denied any Israeli involvement. On the other hand, it may have been a joint operation involving a European intelligence service (the French, who were big supporters of Hariri, come to mind) and a local group, perhaps Lebanese Druse, perhaps Syrian and/or Iranian Kurds.

There are a number of possibilities, but I agree with Ledeen – the U.S. didn’t do it.  President Gerald R. Ford signed Executive Order 11905 on February 18, 1976, which in part states that “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.”  Whether this was wise is beside the point.  This, in addition to two administrations under President Clinton, stripped the CIA of its human intelligence and also its capability to effect change within the international intelligence community.

In a national atmosphere in which CIA employees are at risk of prosecution for waterboarding – something that wasn’t illegal when it was done, is not illegal now, and only recently received a vote from the Senate – to believe that a CIA employee would either be involved in such a plan or even hire operatives who would be involved in such a plan, is not credible.  This is especially true given that, like the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, there are CIA employees who are actively working for the loss of the global war on terror and would willingly turn over fellow employees if it was found out that an executive order had been violated.

Still, I will observe that this order hamstrings the CIA.  It was succinctly stated by one Israeli commando officer that in order to fight people like this the U.S. needs to “adopt Israel’s assassination policy.”  I am in agreement, and have called for the assassination of both Hassan Nasrallah and Moqtada al Sadr.  Too much can be made of individuals and personalities.  As I have pointed out before, the focus on high value targets can take the focus off of the necessity for kinetic operations against the enemy holistically.  Yet replacing this individual will be difficult for Iran, and the world is a far better place because he is dead.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., and His Reporting from Lebanon

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In blogging as well as life, quick reactions that lack hard analysis are rarely beneficial or valuable.  This is why I don’t participate in blog bursts.  If you want snappy, timely blogging that lacks substance and takes on the appearance of tantrums, you can go elsewhere.  If you want your analysis later and correct, you can stop by The Captain’s Journal.  At least that is the intent, whether my articles fully comport with this ideal or not.

Tantrums fairly well describes the reaction(s) to W. Thomas Smith’s alleged dishonesty concerning his reporting from Lebanon.  But before I respond to his critics, let’s cover some detail regarding the alleged dubious reports by Smith.

That reporter who questioned the Smith account of his experiences in Lebanon was Christopher Allbritton.  You can study his letter to Kathryn Lopez (editor at National Review), but the only substantive, factual allegation I can find against Smith is the following:

… he’s a liar. Hezbollah never invaded east Beirut on the 29th. And they don’t have 200 “heavily armed” militiamen downtown. I passed by today. There are about 40 guys down there with no weapons at all. They sit around, smoking shisha in jeans and t-shirts.

Smith responded (in part) with the following clarification (I have redacted Smith’s response as well as Allbritton’s charges for the sake of brevity):

A reporter recently contacted NRO questioning the accuracy of two blog posts I filed for “The Tank” while I was in Lebanon this past September and October.

On September 25, I filed a post, in which I described a “sprawling Hezbollah tent city” near the Lebanese parliament as being occupied by “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen”: According to the e-mail, my detractors said that, “…there are rarely 200 people there at all — much less ‘heavily armed,’” and, “…at least once a week I walk or jog through this area. I have never seen a civilian carrying a weapon.”

I can’t possibly know what someone else saw or witnessed or where they were jogging or on what day. But I do know this: The Hezbollah camp in late September — and up until the time I left in mid-October — was huge (“sprawling”). And though the tents were very large and many of them closed, I saw at least two AK-47s there with my own eyes. And this from a moving vehicle on the highway above the camp. And in my way of thinking, if a guy’s got an AK-47, he’s “heavily armed.”

Did I physically see and count 200 men carrying weapons? No. If I mistakenly conveyed that impression to my readers, I apologize. I saw lots of men, lots of them carrying walkie-talkie radios, and a tent city that could have easily housed many more than 200. I also saw weapons, as did others in the vehicle with me. And I was informed by very reliable sources that Hezbollah does indeed store arms inside the tents. And they’ve certainly got the parliamentarians and other government officials spooked and surrounded by layers of security.

My detractors’ argument that they had never seen weapons in the camp does not mean there is an absence of weapons. But don’t take my word for it. For further reading, I would recommend this recent AP article (and multiple others) about the increasing prevalence of armed civilians in Lebanon. I would say I was justified in believing not only my sources, but also my own eyes in this case …

Second, with regard to the post I filed September 29, in which I reported that between 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen had “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force’”: My detractors have said this event, “simply never happened,” because “every journalist in town would have pounced on that story, and he’s the only one who noticed?

In retrospect, however, this is a case where I should have caveated the reporting by saying that I only witnessed a fraction of what happened (from a moving car), with broader details of what I saw ultimately told to me by what I considered then — and still consider to be — reliable sources within the Cedar Revolution movement, as well as insiders within the Lebanese national security apparatus. As we were driving through that part of town, I saw men I identified as Hezbollah deployed at road intersections with radios. I was later told that these were Hezbollah militants deploying to Christian areas of Beirut, and there were four or five thousand of them …

Let me briefly mention some of my sources in Lebanon: extremely reliable men and women, who also enabled me to gain access to members of parliament, mayors and other municipal leaders, the grandson of a late president of Lebanon, one of the highest-ranking (perhaps the highest-ranking) Muslim clerics in Beirut, multiple high-ranking military and intelligence officers, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the head of the national police, and the special forces and counterterrorist strike force commanders.

At the time I read this response, my reaction was “fair enough,” but I took the opportunity to send Tom a letter saying that I have found good sources to be better than anything else, and probably better than mine and his own eyes.  Good sources, I said, are around for the long haul.  They are part of the cultural milieu and social framework.  They can “see” things that we cannot.  I can ascertain subtle changes in my neighborhood, local political scene, and all manner of things far beyond the capabilities of a foreigner.  A foreigner, for instance, had better not attempt to make his way through the backwoods of Appalachia without knowing something about the people.  I, on the other hand, would be quite comfortable doing this.  It takes more than eyes to see and understand your surroundings – it takes personal history.

I thought everything was done with this story, but the confessions and self deprecation began at National Review Online.  Worse still, blogs and main stream media publications alike picked up on this story in an orgy of self righteous outrage and indignation (I am not linking them because not a single one of them is worth the time of my readers).  Frankly, it was unseemly and embarrassing – at least it would have been embarrassing for me if I had participated.

It doesn’t take a writer as prolific as Thomas Smith to regret at some point something that was said or ignored.  It only takes living with another person such as a wife or husband.  But a good example of missing the boat in the professional military writer’s community comes from no less than Michael Yon, a prolific and popular writer in his own right.

In the recent dispatch, Men of Valor Part II, I wrote the following:“ . . . by systematically and in relatively short order demolishing Iraq’s government infrastructure, firing its staff en masse, disbanding its army, our combined militaries in Iraq could only accomplish the mission by rebuilding the country from scratch.” (italics original).

As a writer, I could have used more precision with the six key words. I have seen the extent to which Coalition forces spend great energy and suffer risks to avoid destroying Iraq’s physical infrastructure. Yes, many Iraqi government buildings stand with shattered concrete and twisted rebar, hollowed by our bombs and missiles; but the vast majority of Iraqi infrastructure was intentionally spared. In fact, US forces have been (and are) forbidden to attack infrastructure. Our people use lethal force to protect Iraqi infrastructure.

I have covered in some detail the physical destruction done intentionally by al Qaeda to Iraq’s infrastructure (the damage isn’t limited to water supplies and the electrical grid, as proven by this attack against oil pipelines).  I understand what Michael Yon was trying to say in the post.  But this debate belongs stateside, four years ago, and includes the question should we have invaded to begin with (along with the horrible decisions by Paul Bremer).  This debate shouldn’t get mixed up with the bravery of our men in uniform, or better put, our warriors don’t deserve to have their carefully targeted combat described in this manner.  Given that I have a son who earned the combat action ribbon for service under fire, I appreciate Michael’s “clarification.”  He didn’t use the word “apologize” as did Smith, but I get the sense that he regrets having used those words.  He should not have used those words, and he should have clarified them, as he did.

I don’t know Christopher Allbritton from Adam, and the fact that he says that something must be so doesn’t make it so.  While Thomas Smith’s clarification is welcome and appreciated, I don’t believe it adds anything to the story.  As to Allbritton, I would not have given him the time of day had I been the recipient of his letter.  I have followed Tom’s work for years now, and while I have a sincere appreciation for his style, hard work, and passion with which he writes, I also feel a kinship with Tom first because he is a man of faith (the Christian faith as am I), and secondly because he is a Marine as is my son (someone stupidly called Tom an ex-Marine, forgetting that there is no such thing as an “ex-Marine”).  I generally have very good judgment when it comes to people, and it brings me some degree of joy that I am proven right this time around too.

There is an important update to Smith’s sources in Lebanon.

It’s one thing to be embroiled in the recent media circus surrounding my reporting from Lebanon; it’s quite another to learn that in the midst of that circus – though having nothing to do with it – one of my strongest sources while I was in Lebanon, Gen. Francois Hajj, was assassinated Wednesday.

Hajj, 55, a Maronite Catholic and the director of operations for the Lebanese Army, was killed in a car-bomb attack, on the route between his home and his office at the Ministry of Defense in Beirut. It’s been reported that he “was considered a leading candidate to succeed the head of the military, Gen. Michel Suleiman [Sleiman], if Suleiman is elected president” …

During my time in Lebanon – September and October of this year – Hajj was one of my strongest sources. And despite my railing against the often under-reported threat of Hezbollah activities in Lebanon – as well as what I perceived to be problems within the military — Hajj pulled some serious strings enabling me to gain greater access to elements within the defense structure from which I had been previously barred.

Smith describes one meeting with Hajj: “As I entered his office — his desk covered with several huge maps of Lebanon, a couple of cell phones, and a single pack of Marlboros – Gen. Hajj was discussing something (unintelligible to me because it was in Arabic) with another general. The other general and I shook hands, he left the office, and Hajj ordered coffee for the two of us. We discussed everything from current security operations in Lebanon to the recent fighting at Nahr al-Bared. He then showed me an exclusive video tape – not seen by outsiders [he told me] – of the fighting at Bared, including some truly grisly images of killed Fatah al-Islam fighters.”

While I don’t know Allbritton, I do know that an Army doesn’t long survive without good intelligence.  My judgment now is as it was before.  Sources – good sources – can sometimes be better than your own eyes.  Smith’s sources were good, and this raises a question – not about Smith, but about Allbritton.  What story, exactly, is it that he is getting, and why does it disagree so markedly with the one given by Army intelligence?   Perhaps Allbritton should be questioning the authenticity and truthfulness of his own writing.

In the mean time, I regret that Thomas Smith is no longer at NRO.  I will miss his perspective at NRO very much.  As for Allbritton, he is a flash in a pan, and his five minutes of fame are over.  I will never read his prose again, and am sorry to have spent even the two minutes it took to read it.  Thomas Smith will land on his feet.  The quality of my judgment remains intact, and it is my hope that this humble little blog can still correspond with Tom in his future endeavors.


26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (675)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (28)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (6)
Ammunition (14)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
AR-15s (38)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (34)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (26)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (44)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (15)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (4)
Body Armor (16)
Books (2)
Border War (6)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (26)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (1)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (5)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (214)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (114)
Department of Homeland Security (9)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (5)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (1)
Featured (160)
Federal Firearms Laws (15)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (252)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (38)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (207)
Guns (575)
Guns In National Parks (2)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (34)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (378)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (33)
Islamists (37)
Israel (17)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (71)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (8)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (2)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (1)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (11)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (7)
Logistics (47)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (229)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (22)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (20)
Mexico (24)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (10)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (13)
NATO (15)
Navy (19)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (205)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (17)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Police (117)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (137)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (77)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (74)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (27)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (140)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (22)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Survival (10)
SWAT Raids (50)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (86)
Thanksgiving (4)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (10)
TSA Ineptitude (10)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (4)
U.S. Border Security (11)
U.S. Sovereignty (13)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (2)
Uncategorized (38)
Universal Background Check (2)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (2)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (5)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (11)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2014 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.