11

Comments

Facebook

Twitter

Google

send


Tony Badran

The open secret

The US partnership with Iran and Hezbollah is becoming increasingly obvious

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and US Vice President Joe Biden meet in Washington

Over the past few days, Iranian and Hezbollah-aligned media have dedicated much attention, and animus, to news of the death of Majed al-Majed, the former emir of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, who was recently apprehended by the Lebanese Armed Forces. The Iranians and their Lebanese arm have systematically pushed a storyline tying Majed to Saudi intelligence. The purpose of this messaging campaign is to isolate Riyadh while playing up the emerging US alignment with Iran across the region – a proposition that seems to enjoy support in the US media and policy circles. 

 

Hezbollah's focus on Saudi Arabia is hardly new or surprising. However, especially after the attack on the Iranian embassy last November, for which the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed credit, pro-Hezbollah media has been selling a particular narrative: Sunni extremism is sponsored by Saudi Arabia and is a shared threat bringing together Iran and the US.

 

So, immediately after the embassy bombing, Sami Kleib, the news director of the pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen TV, wrote in the Hezbollah mouthpiece Al-Akhbar that the attack on the embassy actually presented a useful opportunity to push this narrative: "Which is more important to America now, a state like Iran, which can help in combating terrorism from Afghanistan to the Middle East? Or Saudi Arabia, which stands accused since the World Trade Center bombings until today of providing a nurturing environment to al-Qaeda and of arming takfiris?" Kleib added that Lebanese President Michel Suleiman had heard from his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani that "external parties were behind the extremist terrorist groups." This was a reference to Saudi Arabia, where Suleiman had been on an official visit just a few days earlier. 

 

Kleib's article represented the template for the Iranian messaging campaign that ensued, aimed at tying Riyadh to the attack. Sure enough, a few days later, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah openly accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the bombing. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades' claim of responsibility offered a particularly tantalizing opening since its emir, Majed, was a Saudi national (of course, there was little mention in the pro-resistance press that he was on his country’s most-wanted list). Therefore, when news broke that Majed had been arrested, the pro-Hezbollah media was beside itself with excitement at the possibilities for a huge propaganda coup. In addition, the Iranians submitted a request to join in Majed's interrogation. For all these reasons, Al-Akhbar editor Ibrahim Amin made sure to pen a column warning against letting Majed, who was suffering from kidney failure, die in custody, "be it from his disease or murder."

 

Ultimately, the pro-Hezbollah media didn't even wait for the interrogation to begin and started printing what Majed was supposedly going to confess. The gist of it is that he wasn't a mere terrorist: rather, he was a Saudi security officer, working in close collaboration with Saudi intelligence under the direction of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and in cooperation with the Saudi embassy in Lebanon. When Majed finally succumbed to his illness, the disappointment among pro-Hezbollah journalists was palpable. Some Iranian officials even openly accused the Saudis of liquidating Majed. Still, this didn’t prevent Iran and Hezbollah from proceeding with the fabrication of all kinds of stories about his ties to Prince Bandar, or about the supposed arrest of a companion of his, who, naturally, was Bandar’s son.

 

The emphasis on Bandar is not haphazard. Tehran’s messaging campaign is aimed at the Americans, and the Iranians are fully aware that they have a sympathetic ear in Washington. For instance, Iranian officials cannot have missed how some in the Obama administration deliberately leaked US displeasure with the Saudi intelligence chief. One such leak disclosed how, in meetings with US officials, Secretary of State John Kerry “singled out Prince Bandar as ‘the problem,’ complaining about his conduct.” The reason Bandar is “the problem” is because he’s not falling in line with President Obama’s Syria policy, even if it favors Iranian interests over Saudi’s.

 

The alignment of US policy with Iran’s interests extends beyond Syria to Iraq and Lebanon – a fact that Iranian and Hezbollah messaging does not fail to highlight. Pro-Hezbollah pundits now talk of a “front against terrorism” that intersects with US efforts and priorities, stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.

 

To accentuate the alignment with the US across the region, the Iranians publicly offered to help the Obama administration in supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s campaign in al-Anbar province. Moreover, the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar disclosed that Majed's arrest came as a result of a US intelligence tip to the LAF. It’s worth noting that it was the LAF’s Directorate of Intelligence – which is particularly close to Hezbollah – which made the arrest. Consequently, it's hard to read Washington's move as anything other than intelligence sharing with Hezbollah in a case involving an attack on an Iranian target in Beirut – precisely the idea Iran wants to drive home.

 

Selling this alignment in Beirut and Baghdad as support for ostensibly “national” central governments or militaries is convenient for both Iran and the US. In reality, however, Washington has glossed over Maliki's overt sectarianism and effectively consented to a growing synergy between Hezbollah and the LAF. This could explain Hezbollah’s alarm at Riyadh’s $3 billion grant to the LAF, for fear it might eventually take away an increasingly necessary instrument for the Shiite party.

 

Whatever the cover, however, Washington’s emerging alignment with Tehran is at this point becoming an open secret. In any case, the enthusiastic endorsement of this realignment by US policy and media elites, who have bought the White House’s contention that disparate groups of Sunni extremists pose a graver strategic threat than a nuclear Iran, is making Tehran's messaging campaign an easy sell.

 

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.

Biden welcomes Maliki to Washington. (AFP Photo/Mark Wilson)

"Pro-Hezbollah pundits now talk of a “front against terrorism” that intersects with US efforts and priorities, stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon."

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    (continued)... We need an internal revolution before anything else and the first step is to have the courage to stand at an equal and hostile distance from both sides, Sunnis and Shiites, because right now they are defining the problem, yet we know this is not OUR problem.

    January 11, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    To those who criticize my anti-Sunni rants: Read carefully because I despise both sides and any form of religious totalitarian regimes anywhere in the world, let alone in Lebanon. But by the same token, neither Hezbollah's wilayat al-Faqih nor the Saudi Wahhabi threat are realistically possible in Lebanon. As a result, I do not subscribe to the fear-mongering of March 14 or of March 8 or of anyone who writes about the Syrian war as the end of the world because Assad might win or that Assad is a defender of Christians or that Saudi Arabia is a friend and an ally of the West and Lebanon... All of this is false and serves only these other countries, and not Lebanon. I want a Lebanon that is modern, secular, a country of real INDIVIDUAL (not sectarian) freedoms, liberal, open to the world, clean - literally - i.e. no garbage in the streets, no rundown streets with run down buildings, good sidewalks and parks for people, and metaphorically (i.e. no corruption, a decent administration etc), freedoms to criticize and mock one's rulers because their job is to serve us, not boss us to death, ... Just read the selfie postings of Lebanon's young people (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/lebanonnews/529768-lebanon-teen-death-spurs-selfie-anti-violence-protest) or Sara Assaf's open letter (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/newsandpolitics/529781-march-14-resist-the-resistance). This is what we all want. Why can't we work on improving our daily lives first, before defeating Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia or America or Israel. Why not focus on ourselves instead of on everybody else's causes? This is the heart of the problem of Lebanon: Our leaders are corrupt, every one of them, they are all working for outsiders, while we want them to work for us. As long as we jump in the arms of March 14 because they are "defending" us against Hezbollah, or into the arms of March 18 because it is defending us against Israel and Saudi Arabia, we are doomed to live in the cycle of violence. We need an inter

    January 11, 2014

  • ZizouZeGreat

    Hanni - on the Lebanese front, there are March 14 and March 8. I'm not sure Mr. Badran is saying Lebanon should be a wahabi theocracy instead of being a Hezbollah state (or whatever the comparison was). The alternative to Hezbollah in Lebanon is not Wahabi state, although that's what Hezbollah would like everyone to believe, especially Lebanese Christians. Dr. Chatah wasn't a wahabi salafi fundamentalist, especially with a Christmas tree in his house (in case you watched the live coverage from his house the days following his assassination). The difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia is that Iran is directly sponsoring a party that is controlling Lebanon and affecting its livelihood. Hezbollah clearly states that it want a state of resistance (read, para-military state where traditional Lebanese life style is unacceptable). On the other hand, as much as you may not like how Saudi Arabia operates (I personally can't live there) they never said they wanted to change how Lenanon looks like nor sponsored anyone to make Lebanon look like Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah looks like Iran; Future movement does not look like Saudi Arabia, even if it is supported by it.

    January 10, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Mr. Badran's thesis is that there is something insidious and suspicious - hence "open secret" - about the Americans honeymooning with Iran, as if implying that this is betraying the Saudis or that the Saudi option is better for America or Lebanon. Primo, I just don't see the benefits to Lebanon of Mr. Badran's warning us of the danger of America's love affair with Iran and Hezbollah. If anything, it might tone down Hezbollah's threat. Secundo, you are utterly mistaken in your assessment that Saudi Arabia does not pose a threat or is not trying to change Lebanon: Just look back at the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s: The war in Lebanon was financed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who backed the PLO and other Sunni mercenaries (Libya etc.) against the very Lebanese state that today's Lebanese Sunnis claim to be defending. They - Lebanon's Sunnis - and their bosses in Saudi Arabia and the GUlf - dismantled Lebanon, collaborated with the PLO Palestinian terrorists, broke up the Lebanese army in 1976 with Lt. Ahmad Al-Khatib's seditious "Arab army of Lebanon", ran the Mourabitoun militia that fought alongside the Syrian army against the Lebanese army, and worse of all, were allies of the Assad Syrian regime all those years up to 2005 when Syria killed Hariri. So, historically, the Sunnis and their Saudi sponsors are as guilty of harming Lebanon as the Shiites, and I will never trust the sudden patriotism of Lebanon's Sunnis because it is solely based on their hostility to the Syrian regime, and not because they finally understand what patriotism really is. Believe me: Remove Hezbollah from the picture in Lebanon, and Lebanon's Sunnis will revert back to being the country's enemy number one. They never wanted to be part of Lebanon in the first place.

    January 10, 2014

  • politik

    Thank you Hanni for so eloquently representing the "Sunni's are the problem" thinking of many Lebanese. It seems there is nothing Sunni's in Lebanon can do to convince some of their fellow citizens that they are patriotic Lebanese. They can have Christmas trees in their house. They can say great things about Christians, they can be Western educated, dress Western have liberal views etc. but it is never enough. For people like you it is always the Sunni's that are the greatest threat. You don't see them as individual Lebanese you see them as a reflection of Sunni's outside Lebanon which is unfortunate. I really could care less about your views and others who support your thinking, but the problem is that you are indirectly supporting Hizbollah who are a clear and present danger that is reflected in their actions. Also that your wholesale rejection of moderate Sunni Lebanese only helps strengthen and increase the number of Sunni extremists in Lebanon. The sad truth about your little essay above is that your fear of a Sunni threat may actually come true, but not because of the Saudi's as you seem to think, but because of people like you and their rejection of moderate Sunni's and questioning their Lebanese patriotism. Shame on you.

    January 11, 2014

  • jrocks

    hani, a friend of mine who lived in tripoli told me that for the first time since the lebanese civil war, you could see lebanese flags on windows and houses in sunni neighbourhoods in tripoli from the late 90s onwards. that, to my chirstian friend, was reason enough to trust march 14 because there was a change in vision of a whole community into something that the christians of tripoli had dreamed about for a long time. and so what's wrong with moderate sunnis?

    January 11, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Words are meaningless. Actions speak volumes. Christmas trees, dress western, etc. don't make a patriot. Your own essay is based on superficial cosmetic appearances, and not on solid actions. The historical facts that I outlined are immutable facts. Beyond their hatred of Assad, the Lebanese Sunnis need to prove a genuine metamorphosis from Arab and Islamic nationalists to simple Lebanese patriots. In fact, the only thing they have in common with their erstwhile enemy, the putrid criminal Geagea and his Lebanese Forces, is hatred for Assad. That does not give me any confidence that the future is any better. What assurances can you give me that given a choice between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, the Sunnis would not choose Saudi Arabia over Lebanon? That choice is coming soon to confront them. Since 2005, the sudden Sunni reversal from Assad collaborators (and before that, from Arafat and Nasser collaborators) to that of Lebanese patriots was welcome, but remains to date without substance. The Sunnis - not as individuals, but as a constitutive community of the Lebanese polity - have been unable to articulate a vision for Lebanon beyond their sudden hatred for Assad for killing Hariri. HATING ASSAD IS NOT LEBANESE PATRIOTISM.

    January 11, 2014

  • politik

    Your historical facts are pre-assasination of Hariri Post Hariri you run out of facts. Besides I don't see any Lebanese patriotism from any side during the war. Further I'm not saying that March 14 are an ideal ruling party. Far from it. But they do represent a general understanding of the Lebanese state functioning as an independent entity. And for that their are a lot of facts. Unlike Hizbollah and its sponsor Iran who have no interest in the state and use it as a cover for wider regional goals. And for that there are lots of supporting facts pre and post Rafic Hariri.

    January 14, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    @POLITIK: So you agree with me that post-Hariri, there are no facts to show a substantive shift to "Lebanese patriotism" by the Sunnis, other than the superficial hatred of their former master Assad for killing Hariri. Not enough to make me trust them. I need real actions, and I will name one such action only because it is the one that underlines the entire catastrophe that has beset Lebanon since the 1960s: The Lebanese Sunnis should join their fellow Christian Lebanese and call for peace with Israel, regardless of what the other Arabs might think because it is in the interests of preserving the Lebanese entity. Lebanon's Sunnis should no longer defer their decisions to the approval of other Arabs, they should stop saying things like "Lebanon will be the last Arab country to sign peace with Israel". Just as Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, Palestinians, and other Arabs have done, we have every right to shield Lebanon from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and pull the rug from under Hezbollah's "resistance" claims, and get on with building a functional country. Right now, the Lebanese Sunnis sit on the fence: They are for fighting Israel, but they are against Hezbollah or against using the Lebanese army to fight Israel. What the heck do they want? Lastly, you are wrong that there was no Lebanese patriotism during the war: Those who were fighting to protect the state and its institutions against the barbarian Palestinian, Syrian, Libyan etc. hordes, those who fought in the same trenches as the Lebanese army, etc. were patriots, and that means the Lebanese Front, the Kataeb, the Guardians of the Cedars, the Tanzim, etc. Unfortunately, they were all labeled as "Christian" when their fight was to preserve the state that the Sunnis today - after dismantling it then - claim to be defending. Actions, my friend. Actions.

    January 14, 2014

  • politik

    Events leading up to 1975 hardly make any Lebanese leader or party’s actions admirable plus there was massive outside pressure and manipulation. Further, Lebanon pre’75 some citizens were more equal then others and those parties you mention were not offering an inch to democratize the country further. The question of peace with Israel has never been presented and debated openly with the Lebanese people so it is unfair for you to brand the Sunni’s as against it. The majority of Sunni’s in Egypt and Jordan seem to be ok with their peace agreement with Israel so I presume will Sunni’s in Lebanon when the opportunity arises. It seems that the “nationalism bar” for Sunni’s keeps getting raised higher by Christians every time they come close to it. If the moderate Sunni’s in Lebanon received support from all Christian parties they will be able to do more for the country and their popularity and strength will increase in their community. By putting roadblocks on moderate Sunni’s, the Christian community is strengthening the extremist factions. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; the blind fear of Sunni radicalism leads to actions that further propagate and empower Sunni radicalism in Lebanon. Sad.

    January 15, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Mr. Badran, your vitriol against Hezbollah and Iran is justified. I wholeheartedly embrace and endorse it. In fact, I have more hatred in my heart to the Shiite terror organization Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsor than to any other Sunni terrorist organizations and their sponsor Saudi Arabia. However, your constant hammering of a two-alternatives-only solution just doesn't hold: Either one is with the Sunnis (as radical and extremist as they can be), or one is with the Shiites (no less radical and extremist). How can any reasonable rational human being accept your proposition that the Saudi line (theocracy, Wahhabi radical Islam, sponsorship of Al-Qaeda and affiliate terror, etc....) is better than the Iranian line (theocracy, Shiite radical Islam, sponsorship of Hezbollah terror etc...)? How can you be asking the American government, Congress, and people to trust Saudi Arabia more than Iran? Instead of your endless litanies against Hezbollah (which we all know and agree with), can you provide any positive - underline positive - argument for siding with the Saudi line of radical Islam? How about a position of proactive and forceful neutrality that supports the reality that both views of the Middle East - the Sunni and the Shiite - as ultimately harmful to US interests and to everyone in general, particularly to my country of Lebanon?

    January 9, 2014