I’m just thinking about her next gig. Her options surely include a guest blogger spot at Mondoweiss, a column in the Guardian, or as a political analyst for al-Manar. Or maybe as the spokesperson for the Turkish embassy in Washington.
For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.
Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president. In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon. Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend. Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.
If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing. After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad. Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev. If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.
Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed. Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance. In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.
Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.” However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy. For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran. At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.
Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon. Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.
In a series of counterterrorism raids undertaken earlier this week, Moroccan authorities arrested 32 individuals suspected of planning attacks against domestic targets. Among those arrested was Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite television station.
In light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat of an “open war” on Israel in response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh last week, Sriti’s arrest appears significant. Nasrallah’s eulogy at Mughniyeh’s funeral has been interpreted as foreshadowing attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests abroad—Hezbollah doesn’t distinguish between the two—and the Jewish community of Morocco has been the previous target of Islamist terrorists. On May 16, 2003, a Jewish cemetery, Jewish community center, and Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, among other Casablanca targets, were hit in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Indeed, it is possible that Hezbollah has already begun planning its response to the Mughniyeh assassination, deploying its “media wing” in the immediate service of terror against one of the Muslim world’s most freely accessible—and therefore vulnerable—Jewish communities.
More concretely, however, the apparent involvement of an al-Manar correspondent in a Moroccan terrorist ring should serve as a stark reminder of the international dimension of Hezbollah’s operations. Far from “Lebanonizing”—i.e., increasingly participating in domestic Lebanese politics and thereby moderating, as many “experts” have claimed—Hezbollah has continually developed its relationship with Islamist organizations worldwide for the enhancement of its terrorist capabilities. In this vein, the Moroccan Islamist Badil al-Hadari party has been implicated in planning the attacks, while the Moroccan government has arrested Abdelkader Belliraj—a Moroccan national who lived in Belgium—as the network’s leader. In short, Hezbollah has found good company with militant Islamists well beyond Lebanon’s borders.
Finally, Sriti’s arrest should reinforce the extent to which al-Manar plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s terrorist activities—not only in the satellite transmission of radical Islamist ideology, but in the operational aspects of planning attacks. For this reason, policymakers should closely monitor Morocco’s investigation of Sriti, as this might provide key details regarding al-Manar’s non-media activities.
UPDATE: The AP is now confirming that the arrested Moroccan terrorist ring was targeting local Jews, though bizarrely omits the fact that an al-Manar correspondent was among those arrested.
James Abourezk is a co-founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a former United States Senator: he represented South Dakota for one term, from 1973 until 1979. Last month, Abourezk was interviewed on al-Manar, the Hizballah television station. Sitting in a lushly-appointed Damascus plaza, he gushed to his interviewer that he watches al-Manar regularly in the United States, claims that “the Arabs who were involved in 9/11 cooperated with the Zionists,” and says that Hizballah’s war against Israel last year was “a marvel of organization, of courage and bravery.”