Jeffrey Feltman’s children: The jihadis of Lebanon

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One of the most under (or un) reported stories about the Middle East is the story of the rise of jihadi groups in Lebanon over the last decade. All American correspondents in Beirut are too preoccupied, and emotionally invested, with the story of the Free Syrian Army and the “Syrian revolution.” The developments of Lebanon are of little interest to them, and perhaps because the story is way too embarrassing for US foreign policy. The clashes in the last several months between the Lebanese armed forces and various jihadi groups (operating under the banner of al-Nusra Front or under the banner of ISIS or `Abdullah `Azzam Brigades) got little attention in the Western press and the story was covered merely as an extension of the Syrian war. But there are roots to the modern jihadi groups on Lebanese terrain.

Lebanon has been a major arena for various Sunni (and Shia for that matter) Islamist groups. All at some point or another clashed with the Syrian army (and that includes Hezbollah). Tripoli has been a particular focus for the Syrian army and it launched various military operations (brutally executed as characteristic of the regime) against various Islamist groups in the city. But the ability of the Syrian regime to control the political movements that operate in the underground has never been great. The clashes between the Lebanese army and the jihadis of Dinniyyah in 2000 took the Syrian regime by surprise. And the ability of the regime to contain or restrict those various radical groups was limited especially since the jihadi groups had a general cover from its own clients in Lebanon (people like Rafik Hariri or Najib Mikati or Mohammed Safadi). As long as those groups did not pose a direct threat to the presence of the Syrian army in Lebanon, they were tolerated sometimes and repressed other times. But the salafis had always enjoyed support and received backing from Saudi Arabia (the salafi leader, Da`i Al-Islam Ash-Shahhal, who now does not hide his sympathy for the various Bin Ladenite groups in Syria, ran for a parliamentary seat back in the 1996 election and received almost 10,000 votes (although he failed to win a seat).

In the wake of the humiliating withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon, the US quickly worked to organize a political movement focused against the Syrian regime, Iran, and Hezbollah. Jeffrey Feltman was—it has to be admitted—a very effective diplomat in Lebanon and he is considered the real power behind the creation of the March 14 Movement, and even the so called “Cedar Revolution” (the name was coined by a US diplomat). The various groups that came together were fragmented and the leaders and Zu`ama’ (feudal lords) did not get along and despised one another, but Feltman was able to force them to work together and to feign a fake sectarian unity that would be used as a counter-weight against Hezbollah. Nevertheless, the one failure of Feltman was quite major: that he did not avert the defection of Gen. `Aoun and his movement, and his later “understanding” with Hezbollah.

But the March 14 movement was an elite movement and it lacked the power of the street. To be sure, money was used widely to organize mass protests and to engage in a massively expensive propaganda campaign that elevated the status of the corrupt Rafik Hariri (the key subservient ally of the Syrian regime until the eruption of the Syrian-Saudi conflict sometime in 2003-4) to the status of a god. The muscle of the movement was inevitably the salafis of Tripoli, and `Akkar. The middle class Beirutis were not going to face-off in the streets against Amal and Hezbollah forces. This era also witnessed the launching by Saudi Arabia of a region-wide sectarian campaign of agitation and mobilization against all Shia and `Alawites. The US was a silent partner to this campaign, along with Israel, because the objective was to drive a wedge between Iran-Hezbollah and the Sunni rank-and-file in the Arab world (who had been admiring the performance of Hezbollah against the Israeli occupiers in South Lebanon).

This sectarian movement, which was part of the Hariri movement from as far back as the 1996 parliamentary elections, meant that the most loyal and logical elements would be the salafis and jihadis of Lebanon. That was not a mystery. In fact, the writings were on the wall in 2006, when those same salafis (the very mass base of the March 14 movement) marched in the Christian section of Beirut and ransacked churches, buildings, and embassies in protest against the Danish cartoons that were deemed offensive to [the Prophet] Mohammad. That should have been a sign that March 14 is not entirely comprised of the journalistic elite of Beirut—people who meet with Western journalists in café shops. The Tripoli-`Akkar salafis were also March 14, and they were most enthusiastic. It was only logical that this political movement would be drawn, nay recruited by March 14 leaders due to its strong sectarian anti-Shia doctrine. The US embassy and its allies in Lebanon knew of this movement but they were too obsessed with countering Hezbollah in Lebanon to care that much. Furthermore, the jihadis typically don’t care about fighting Israel which made them an attractive choice for the US mission in Lebanon. March 14 and its Western sponsors knew of this danger but ignored it over the last decade, and the Hariri movement still belittles this danger.

The financing and arming of the those salafis began in earnest after the July War, when the Saudi regime wanted to bring down Hezbollah by other means, having watched as Israel failed to dislodge the movement. The Hariri movement opened up “security offices” in various parts of Beirut to prepare for the right moment to declare an armed revolt against Hezbollah. It was then that the May 7, 2008 happened, when the ill-trained, ill-prepared salafis of the North were routed by Hezbollah forces in a matter of few hours.

The sponsorship of those jihadi groups was provided by the very intelligence service that the US has showered with money and arms (most of which from outside the norms of the Lebanese law and budget). Fir` Al-Ma`lumat (or the Intelligence Branch) was the favorite child of US and Saudi policies and it was created and expanded for the intent purpose of operating against Hezbollah, and for providing intelligence against the organization to its enemies (or some of them).

The sponsorship by the Intelligence Branch of those groups increased after the outbreak of the war in Syria, and those groups were the brethren of the jihadi groups (namely Nusra and ISIS) in Syria. The Hariri movement knew of this association and even liked it but only until the point in 2014 when the Saudi regime decided to declare war on ISIS (but not on Nusra, of course).

Those jihadi groups continue to operate in Lebanon, either in the form of sleeper cells or in under the banner of different names (including the names of key March 14 personalities or the Hariri movement itself). Gulf regimes were also involved in financing those groups, especially that Qatar and Kuwait did not want to fund and support the Hariri movement, which was seen as a mere tool of the Saudi regime. The threat of those groups continue to increase, and it is likely that the retreat of Jihadis from Syria will energize those groups and swell those ranks. All the signs point to further trouble in Lebanon.

Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil.


Interesting. Every specialist know the fact but you give détails which precise the role of some actors and their links.

I am really interested to know is/was there ANY reactionary movement in the ME and beyond that USA or its allies (Zionists including) has not founded or supported?
Regarding this post
Zionist media regularly brag about Syrian "rebels" being treated in hospitals of the Zionist colony on Palestinian land.

Zionists are so powerful that they can get tens of thousands of fighters to work for them? Or are Arabs so easily manipulated?
Either way, pretty impressive. Also impressive that you found the fault of the Jews in this article about intra-Arab conflict.
By the way, would you prefer that Israel allow Syrians to die rather than treat them, as happens in other Mid Eastern countries? Would you then condemn them? Of course you would.

Barry the Zionist i.e. colonizers' apologist tries to pretend that he is stupid - or is he is not pretending?
Zionists usually use USA and others (and vice versa). It is well known that Zionists helped South Africa aparteid, South America death squads, Lebanese Fascists and so on.
Of course, Zionists murder Syrians and other natives of the ME all time, including small children, but Barry the Zionist i.e. colonizers' apologist still tries to pretend that he is stupid - or is he not pretending?

"but Feltman was able to focus them to work together"
= $$$$$$$$$$ in their pockets
Is that how he enlisted their help & cooperation (?)
wink, wink, say no more.

The general course of Western history seems to be the determination to create a crisis that will destroy the world.

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