The next stage

(edited & updated 19/2)

So it seems clear now: the unfinished ‘harb tammuz’ or July war of 2006 will soon be resumed. In August 2006, there was a ‘cessation of hostilities’ but no ‘ceasefire’, so technically (and in reality) Lebanon and Israel are still at war. The opening shot for this round was fired by Israel – presuming Imad Mughniyeh was indeed assassinated by the Mossad. At Mughniyeh’s funeral in Dahiyyeh on Thursday, Nasrallah was unusually fiery and aggressive, saying ‘The zionists have overstepped the border and enlarged our natural battlefield of Lebanon to include the entire world now. If the zionists want open war, let the world know that’s what they will get.’ By the way, many of M14’s speakers on Martyr’s Square also included Mughniyeh’s name in their lists of ‘Lebanese martyrs’ and Saad Hariri was quick to send his condolences to Hezbollah.

So yesterday, As-Safir reported that 50.000 Hezbollah fighters are being deployed along the Israeli border and all buildings in the zone near the border have been evacuated. Al-Akhbar reports that all the militant Palestinian organisations in Lebanon have put their men on high alert as well, and that Hezbollah military officials have been holding talks with their Syrian and Iranian counterparts. Iranian foreign minister Mottaki has meanwhile been meeting with Khaled Mishal of Hamas and Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, as well as with Syrian president Assad and vice-president Farouk ash-Sharaa. This time at least, the IDF will not have the advantage of the surprise which they had two years ago when they attacked out of the blue. In Washington meanwhile, Bush has been meeting the Saudi foreign minister. Israel has put its army on high alert too, and sent warnings to all Israeli embassies and ‘other organisations’ worldwide. So all are gearing up.

In fact, it is as yet unclear who actually was behind Mughniyeh’s assassination (although Mossad involvement is of course highly probable even if they didn’t dirty their own hands). The man was wanted in some 42 countries, was second only on the US’s list after Osama, and some have been saying that he was in fact a bit of a nuisance to Hezbollah since it became a poitical party too. He was mostly in the service of Iran during the last decades. A joint Syrian-Iranian investigation is underway (although this has later been denied by Syria), and it has already transpired that the bomb was not in his own car but in a car nearby, and was remotely set off when Mughniyeh walked past. The Syrian authorities have arrested a number of suspects, reportedly mostly Palestinians living in Syria, and reportedly not all of those arrested were civilians – suggesting involvement, as al-Akhbar speculates, of ‘foreign Arab intelligence services’. The Jordanians in particular are being mentioned a lot.

Oh yeah, and in the thick of all this, a huge snowstorm expected to last several days is predicted to start on Sunday, while earthquakes of increasing magnitude have been shaking up the region – yesterday around noon there was another one, a 5.1, with its epicentre just north of Sour (Tyre) in the south, but which was felt also in Beirut. Well, let’s hope they were earthquakes – and not somebody’s new secret weapon…

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