Crossfire War – Rapid Fire News=Tehran – Beirut – Damascus WATCH – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Hezbollah Consolidates Position as Pro-Government Militia of Walid Jumblatt Defeated in Mountains East of Beirut – Heavy Fighting Breaks Out Again in Tripoli – Israel Raises Intelligence Alert Level – USS Cole Arrives in Eastern Mediterranean off Lebanon
Night Watch: CHOUF MOUNTAINS – Tehran, through Hezbollah, continues to consolidate its hold over Lebanon as France24/AFP report the pro-government militia under Druze leader Walid Jumblatt were defeated and not only by Hezbollah but also by a rival Druze leader who works with Hezbollah, Talal Erslan. At least thirty-six people were killed in the strategic Chouf Mountains southeast of the capital including seventeen Hezbollah fighters. The village of Aley not only overlooks the capital but is on the important Beirut-Damascus highway and the region connects to the Bekaa Valley on the Syrian border and also leads into south Lebanon. Latest news indicates the only stiff resistance Hezbollah is encountering is in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, where some Sunni groups have pieced together a militia in support of the government. Heavy fighting resumed as loud explosions were heard throughout the city as opposing sides used rocket-propelled-grenades, heavy machine guns and mortars. Latest casualty figures are eighty one dead since the fighting began last Wednesday. [FRANCE24]
Lebanon Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh observed it was “not yet an all-out civil war.” He called on Arab nations to intervene saying it is not just a battle for Lebanon it’s “a battle for the Middle East.” A delegation is due to arrive but it is headed by Qatar whose ruler praised Hezbollah two years ago after its war with Israel.
Eastern Mediterranean – Realizing the implications of the region dominated by Iran Washington has ordered the missile-guided frigate USS Cole to take up station once again off Lebanon. Asharaq al-Awsat/Reuters report the ship passed through the Suez Canal Sunday in a show of support for the government of Prime Minster Fuad Siniora. What is significant, though no pro-government militia has made a strong showing anywhere in the field, there has been no change in the negotiation positions of the Prime Minister and his political allies as they refuse to allow Hezbollah any veto on cabinet decisions which has been the basis of the political impasse since December 2006. A Lebanon political source was quoted as commenting, “What has been happening is negotiations by fire.” That is obviously quite true which is why I wonder if the USS Cole is intended by Washington-Paris to strengthen the battlefield negotiation position of Siniora but that cannot happen if the Cole sees no action. That is why I suspect the ship is not on “a routine deployment” as announced by the U. S. Sixth Fleet, but in reality may be ordered to give covering fire to pro-government forces or even joint operations with Israel or both. [ASHARQALAWSAT]
Litani River – In response to these latest developments Haaretz reports the Israel defense establishment has raised its intelligence alert level in anticipation Hezbollah may decide to wage war south of the Litani River as in 2006. The river, in certain points, is less then 20 miles from Israel’s northern border and was the scene of the heaviest ground fighting two years ago. With the 13,000 European units in the area determined to stay out of combat, and may have already made plans to evacuate, Israel will be faced with a more powerful Hezbollah not only in the south but all over Lebanon and with the full support of Lebanon’s army. Tehran is quite possibly using these “negotiations by fire” not to strengthen Hezbollah’s bargaining position but to remove Siniora and his political allies at least from the battlefield if not also by assassination. Hezbollah and its coalition with Christian nationalists would then enter the government building, form a new government, even if some of the rival political leaders are still alive, a mirror of what happened in Gaza June 2007. [HAARETZ]
Jerusalem – And that could be the signal for joint operations to take place between Washington-Jerusalem working with some remnants of pro-government militias somewhere in the country. The Jerusalem Post is reporting Israel defence officials are already stating it would be easier to target Lebanon’s entire infrastructure if the Siniora government is removed. Though the infrastructure was heavily hit in 2006 some targets were considered off limits that would not be the case when Hezbollah takes control. But Tehran-Damascus would not stand by and watch that happen without entering the conflict. Regular readers of crossfirewar.com know I have always suspected the wider regional war this year would begin with attacks by Palestinians from Gaza against Israel but it seems to be forming instead with this new fighting in Lebanon. The West can tolerate extremist groups controlling Gaza but I don’t see how they can allow Tehran to control Lebanon which provides Iran with more of an economic hold over the entire region. [JPOST]