The March 14th Forces have called for a massive turnout of their followers for Thursday - the same day that Hizbullah is to take to the streets in their announced effort to overthrow the government - thus setting the stage for what has to be considered the most dramatic confrontation in history between ordinary people and terrorists.
The anti-Syrian camp has called for a massive turnout at the funeral of slain Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel on Thursday.
“The entire world will hear in the next few days the real voice of Lebanon, the voice of freedom, sovereignty and independence,” said former MP Fares Soaid, reading the statement.
“The March 14 forces calls on their followers and friends … to participate massively in the popular burial of the heroic martyr Pierre Gemayel,” it said. They also called for a total shutdown of businesses across Lebanon.
The group said “sadness has turned into anger” after Tuesday’s assassination. “We will go after the criminals and all those who cover this crime … the blood of Pierre Gemayel will not go in vain,” it said.
But “the March 14 forces also call on all their followers … to stay away from any sign of discord which only serves the objectives of the evil criminals,” it added.
Largely middle class, educated, and peaceful, the supporters of March 14th are being asked to take to the streets of Beirut for the funeral of cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel and confront the armed fanatics of Hizbullah who may or may not be trying to occupy the same turf at the same time. If he’s smart, Nasrallah will either call off his planned demonstrations as a sign of respect for the death of a member of one of Lebanon’s most important political families or move the demonstrations to Hizbullah territory in the southern suburbs of the city. This would defeat the purpose of the demonstrations but it is hard to see how he can back down at this point.
But the fact is that Nasrallah may not have a choice. His patron in Syria is desperate to stop the approval of the International Tribunal looking into the Hariri assassinations which just received the final go ahead from the United Nations yesterday. A strong denunciation of the assassination of Gemayel accompanied the resolution authorizing the Tribunal which now heads back to Lebanon for final approval by Siniora’s besieged cabinet. If President Assad has decided that the Tribunal must not go forward under any circumstances (as some have speculated), then it is likely that armed conflict will indeed ensue.
The death of Gemayel has scrambled the political situation and psychologically handed March 14th a powerful weapon. The call for what amounts to a general strike to demonstrate the people’s support for democracy is a brilliant tactical move by Siniora in that it unites the people in opposition to his killers - Syria or their toadies in Lebanon. It also places Nasrallah in the uncomfortable position of having to defend his support for Syria while making his quest for power seem small and petty during this time of crisis. How Nasrallah and Hizbullah behave over the next 24 hours will tell us a lot about whether the Sheik is following his own agenda or whether he is playing a full proxy role for Assad.
To underscore the preparations being made by both sides for armed conflict, here’s a Stratfor analysis:
The Lebanese army already has deployed four brigades to greater Beirut to assume combat readiness in case Hezbollah forces attack Sunnis in West Beirut. Lebanon’s Sunni bloc, led by the al-Hariri clan and their regional Arab allies, also has sent a number of fighters to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to receive military training in order to counter Hezbollah’s well-equipped and well-trained military forces. In the meantime, Syria continues to send reinforcements to its allies in Lebanon. Syrian army officers who previously served in Lebanon have infiltrated the country and are leading combat units of their allies in Hezbollah, pro-Syrian groups and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Furthermore, about 2,500 Syrian troops masquerading as laborers have joined the ranks of the anti-government forces in Lebanon.
And Michael Totten reports that some radical Sunnis won’t take Hizbullah attacks on their co-religionists lying down:
If you think radical Shias are the only dangerous people in Lebanon, think again. From the SITE Institute:
The Mujahideen in Lebanon threaten that the Shiâ€™ites will not have an â€œentityâ€ in Lebanon, and increasingly warn the Sunni Muslim people that the â€œzero-hourâ€ is approaching, in a statement issued today, Monday, November 20, 2006. Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, is stated to be bearing his evil and gathering killers, and will not greet the Sunni with â€œflowers,â€ but with curses. The Mujahideen believe that the Nusayri [aka Alawite - MJT] regime in Syria and Iran is gathering parties around Nasrallah and Hezbollah, and to counter, the Sunnis must be prepared to fight. They warn: â€œThe blood will flow like rivers,â€ and to the Shiâ€™ites: â€œPrepare your coffins and dig your graves. The hurricanes of the Mujahideen are coming in Lebanonâ€.
This sentiment, if I could call it that, does not represent mainstream Sunni opinion in Lebanon. (Mainstream Sunni opinion is more fairly represented by Fouad Seniora and Saad Hariri.) But as recent events in both Lebanon and Iraq show, minority extremist factions can be big enough to start wars by themselves.
Incidentally, those Americans who say they want a civil war against Hezbollah in Lebanon need to realize that these are the kinds of people they’re egging on. The famous “protest babes” are not going to pick up the rifles.
Michael is right about the “protest babes.” But if blood is spilled on Thursday, it will most likely be some of those “protest babes” who get injured or killed so perhaps we shouldn’t be selling them short.
Perhaps a spasm of violence is in the offing followed by some kind of pull back by both sides. Or maybe Nasrallah will surprise us and call off his demonstrations until he has the streets of Beirut all to himself. Either way, he looks like a loser at this point. He has yet to make any kind of statement on the assassination (a statement condemning the assassination was issued in the name of the party) which means either that he is biding his time or weighing his options. Or perhaps both. Expect some definitive word from Nasrallah today.
Meanwhile, the people are already gathering in downtown Beirut for what promises to be the largest demonstration since Hizbullah’s “victory party” last summer. Emotions will run high. And the chances are that the forces represented by March 14 and those supporting Hizbullah will at some point confront each other across the chasm of history and violence.
How that confrontation turns out will determine the immediate future of Lebanon.
Hugh Hewitt compares the assassination of Gemayel with that of Archduke Ferdinand and Victor Davis Hanson agrees:
HH: Is this an Archduke Ferdinand moment with the assassination of Gemayel?
VDH: I think it may be. I really do. I think that Syria realizes that as soon as they saw that the United States was going to cease pressure on them, it was time to go in and start killing non-Shia politicians, reporters especially. They’ve killed journalists, they’ve killed T.V…it’s not just this Gemayel. It’s not just a Christian politician. They’ve been doing this for two years, killing, systematically, any critics. And they sense that they get a green light from us when we pull back. And I think it should be a wake up call for the United States, that when you go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, you don’t go to war in a half measure. You either go to war or you don’t go to war. And we’re in a war in Iraq, and we’re in war with, as the President said, Islamic-facism, and autocracy and dictatorship, and there’s no better examples than Iran and Syria.
There seems to be a consensus emerging among many on the right that leaks from Baker’s Iraq Study Group about some kind of entente with Syria may have emboldened Assad to strike in Lebanon.
First of all, from what we know of the mechanics of the Gemayel assassination, it was meticulously planned and rehearsed. The minister had 4 bodyguards and took enormous precautions to try and insure his safety. The car he was riding in was slammed from behind and 3 gunmen got out and sprayed Gemayel with at least 10 shots, 8 of which hit him. The gunmen then got away.
The bodyguards? I haven’t seen anything yet on whether they flubbed it or whether they may have been complicit in the killing. It seems to me that this was a killing long in planning.
Because of all this, I don’t think that the Iraq Study Group or calls from Dems for dialogue with Syria and Iran had much to do with this assassination. Assad and Nasrallah have their own agendas in Lebanon and I doubt whether much of anything influences them to take an action like this or not. I view it as a continuing effort by Assad to terrorize Lebanese and silence his critics. And if he can influence another two cabinet members into believing that discretion is the better part of valour and gets them to resign out of fear for their personal safety, he achieves his goal of bringing down the Siniora government before the Parliament has a chance to vote on the Tribunal.
Hugh also believes that the assassination may be akin to the Anschluss in the tactics used by Assad. I’ll buy that. The more I look at the situation and the gathering of forces, the more I think it will take a miracle for Siniora and the democrats to survive - literally and as a government. The country is ready to explode - has been ready since the end of the war with Israel. And Assad may have just lit the match.