…by Steve Sweeney
Steve Sweeney writes for the Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People’s Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist.
Last week’s killing of seven people in the Lebanese capital Beirut, widely believed to be carried out by a far-right Christian fascist militia, is a worrying sign that the US wants to provoke a new civil war to destabilize the country in a change in its Middle East strategy.
The attack bore all the hallmarks of a US-backed intervention, and it doesn’t take much digging to find the links between the murky hand of Washington and the dark forces behind the bloodshed on the streets and a cover-up by a compliant western media.
Supporters of the Shi’ite Amal and Hezbollah movements were fired upon as they made their way to the Palace of Justice for a peaceful demonstration against what they perceive as the politicization of a probe into last year’s devastating port explosion.
The judge heading up the investigations, Tarek Bitar, is being directed by the US Embassy they claim, accusing him of unfairly and disproportionately targeting their allies while ignoring those close to Washington.
They may have a point. But the debate over the fairness and transparency of the judicial report is a side issue to the events that took place in the Tayouneh district of Beirut last week.
A peaceful march that had been approved by the authorities was fired upon by snipers placed on buildings along its route. It was an ambush by US-backed fascists who are hell-bent on plunging Lebanon into chaos.
None of the seven people killed in the protest were armed. Among the dead was Meryem Farhat, a mother shot through the head as she was getting ready to collect her child from kindergarten. Delivery driver Ali Ibrahim was also killed by sniper fire.
Not that you would know any of this judging by how the incident was reported by the western press. Readers would be forgiven for thinking that it was a Hezbollah march that turned violent, with the movement seemingly responsible for the deaths of its own supporters.
Liberal British mouthpiece The Guardian explained to its readers:
“The trigger for the clashes in neighborhoods near the justice courts, which left dozens more injured, was a protest by members of Amal and Hezbollah, two predominantly Shia political parties, against a judicial probe into the massive blast in the port last year.”
“…eyewitnesses said they heard at least two explosions near the site where a protest was supposed to be held by Iran-backed Shia militia Hezbollah against a judge who is investigating last year’s devastating blast at Beirut’s port. Thursday’s shootings mark the deadliest civil violence in Beirut since 2008,” reported the part Saudi-owned Independent.
It concluded in carefully chosen language: “The heavily armed Hezbollah has accused Mr. Bitar of conducting a politicized probe.”
The Independent failed to mention the Lebanese Forces at all. Instead, it opted to make vague references to ‘unidentified gunmen.’ The Guardian mentioned their name once, but only to say that Hezbollah ‘claimed’ to have been shot at by the Christian militia.
The rest of the article followed a similar pattern to that of The Independent, containing snippets such as ‘chants of “Shia, Shia, Shia’ were heard on the streets.
“Large numbers of men brandishing weapons took to the streets throughout the day, and gun trucks flying Hezbollah and Amal flags paraded through the Bekaa Valley in a show of strength not seen since Hezbollah overran west Beirut in May 2008…” it added, failing to mention that Bekaa is nowhere near the Lebanese capital. This was the crowning glory of The Guardian hatchet job, evoking images of violent Muslims seeking to overthrow Lebanon, no doubt to impose an Islamist caliphate.
France 24 went with: “Last week, Hezbollah led a protest to demand his dismissal. It sparked a gun battle in the heart of Beirut that left seven people dead and reignited fears of new sectarian violence.”
It continued with a paragraph about “hostage diplomacy and what it means for those imprisoned by Tehran” in an exceptionally tenuous attempt to link the shootings to Iran.
That they let the Lebanese Forces, a US-backed right-wing militia led by a war criminal, off the hook is no mere accident.
Nor is the reporting down to lazy journalism. This would be to deny the role of the media as a propaganda tool used and manipulated by western imperialism to manufacture a consensus among the public.
That is that Hezbollah and Amal are the bad guys and it is up to the west, always the good guys in any situation, to step in and save the people of Lebanon from their evil clutches.
The use of descriptions such as ‘Iran-backed Shia militia Hezbollah’ is a not particularly subtle, but deliberate attempt to paint the movement – which is a legitimate political force with representatives in the Lebanese parliament – as a foreign-controlled entity.
The irony of this is, that it is, in fact, the very group responsible for the attack that is in hock to external forces, namely the US, “Israel” and Saudi Arabia who see the Lebanese Forces as its proxy inside the country.
It is perhaps best known in the west for its role in the brutal massacre of thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children on behalf of “Israel” at the Sabra and Chatila camps during the Lebanese civil war.
I visited the camps and met survivors of the three-day pogrom in Beirut earlier this year and they described how the Christian militia raped and executed more than three thousand defenseless people, as the camps were surrounded by Israeli soldiers.
The leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, has been convicted of war crimes, sentenced to life in prison for ordering four political assassinations, including that of former prime minister Rashid Karami in 1988.
For many, he will always be associated with the massacre of scores of people, including the bombing of Sayidat al-Najat church in Jounieh killing 10 people and wounding 54, with Christians also targeted by the bloodthirsty Geagea.
But he was released under an amnesty in 2005 following Lebanon’s so-called Cedar Revolution which took place after the assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri, the perpetrators of which have never been brought to justice.
Geagea’s propulsion into the limelight once more comes with the US suffering a series of defeats across the Middle East, including its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan and its failure to dislodge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
His reelection in May has led many Arab and European nations to restore diplomatic relations with Damascus, with border crossings reopening along with the return of ambassadors and consulates as they recognize political reality.
But Assad could not have held on to power without the explicit support of the Syrian people. No leader could have withstood the pressure exerted on him without it.
Not only has he defeated Washington’s regime-change operations – he has come out the other side stronger, having faced down five US presidents; Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and now Joe Biden.
The US now appears to be strengthening its relations with Kurds in the north of the country once more where its soldiers are based as an occupying force. The Biden administration recently announced there would be no troop withdrawal, reassuring Kurdish officials after the debacle in Afghanistan.
Despite Assad’s plans for decentralization announced in April, the Kurdish administration there is pursuing a policy that seeks political recognition from the US. It is a move that has alienated many of its supporters and undermines its dismissal of claims it acts as a “proxy force” in the region.
Having lost the military and now the political war on Syria, it seems logical that the US would change its strategy to foment further instability in Lebanon, with a return to civil war only serving to benefit Washington and Tel Aviv as they hope for the sectarian division of the country.
The hands of the US were all over the Tayouneh attack, which came straight out of the Washington/CIA copybook, mirroring its interventions and use of proxy forces to oust governments or prop up its client states in Latin America and across the world.
Geagea’s militia – many of whom have been trained by “Israel” – would be an obvious choice for the US given his previous overtures to Washington, confirmed in a 2008 Wikileaks cable.
He claimed that the Lebanese Forces had as many as 10,000 well-trained soldiers, telling the US embassy: “We can fight against Hezbollah. We just need your support to get arms for these fighters.”
But, speaking in a public address on Monday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah explained that the Shi’ite movement commands a 100,000 fighters-strong military structure, dwarfing that of the Lebanese Forces. The difference between the two, he pointed out, is that Hezbollah’s forces protect the Lebanese people.
It may be enough to concentrate the minds of the more pragmatic US officials, but the links between Washington and the Lebanese Forces run much deeper than that of Geagea who, despite his delusions of grandeur, remains a marginal figure and is unlikely to be trusted with a leading political role.
Walid Phares, a former leading light in the Lebanese Forces, now acts as a national security advisor and consultant on Middle Eastern politics in the US. Fleeing the country in 1990, he went on to advise the presidential election campaigns of Mitt Romney and then Donald Trump.
During the Lebanese Civil War, Phares told Christian militiamen that they were the vanguard of a war between the West and Islam. He justified the fight against Muslims by saying “we must have our own country, our own state, our own entity, and we have to be separate.”
Despite his peddling of far-right, Islamophobic conspiracy theories, he has rebranded himself as an academic and has testified to international bodies including the European Parliament and UN Security Council on international security matters and the Middle East.
He does not appear to have held any official government post, but his closeness to a former president and his movement in elite circles is clearly a cause for alarm.
The links do not end there. Soon after the shootings, journalist Hosein Mortada claimed to have identified one of the snipers as Shukri Abu Saab – who he said works as a security official at the US embassy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly there has been a blanket media silence over the revelations, while the embassy itself has not responded to the allegations, raising suspicions further.
US ambassador Dorothy Shea has long been accused of using the embassy as an outpost for the imperialist carve-up of Lebanon and opening the country up to the mercy of the World Bank and the IMF.
It may be passed off as a mere coincidence that under secretary of state Victoria Nuland was in the Lebanese capital at the time the ambush took place, pledging an additional $67 million to the country’s armed forces as she demanded economic reform and the need to hold elections as a prerequisite for continued US support.
It also may be a mere coincidence that the Lebanese army changed its narrative of events soon after the US cash boost to appear to blame Hezbollah for its own supporters being shot at. This is despite footage circulating that appears to show a Lebanese soldier shooting at protesters.
But the attempts to destabilize Lebanon came soon after the formation of a new government, ending 13-months of political deadlock, along with the US failure to disarm Hezbollah despite sanctions and other external pressure.
The US is also angered after Hezbollah smashed sanctions imposed by Washington on Iran and Syria, by importing oil to alleviate Lebanon’s fuel crisis. This slap in the face for imperialism was a humiliating defeat, breaking the siege of Lebanon with ease and at the same time rendering the restrictive measures meaningless.
It also exposed the declining power of the US on a global stage, with the dollar at risk of losing its position as the world currency and with it Washington’s ability to control global financial markets.
Solidarity among nations has proved vital in defeating the US, and it is solidarity among the Lebanese people that will help the country rise up once more and consign the likes of Geagea and the Lebanese Forces along with all those who seek to destroy Lebanon to the dustbin of history.