Hizbollah prepares for war

Hizbollah upgrades its military capability as Israel is accused of assassinating a senior Hamas commander. indigenous leaders are attacked in Bangladesh. Obama approves arms sales to Taiwan. The US Senate backs tougher sanctions against Iran. All this and more in today’s security update.
Oliver Scanlan
29 January 2010

Last Saturday, Hizbollah’s commander in southern Lebanon, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, said that the guerrilla force was upgrading its military capabilities. Kaouk also stated that Israel feared retribution for the assassination of Imad Mugnieh and that its repeated threats against Lebanon raised the real prospect of war that would engulf the entire region. Analysts have highlighted the relocation of Hizbollah rocket sites to areas north of the Litani river, with some caches north of Beirut, suggesting that any future conflict with the Shi’a movement would lead to a broader conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

This Friday, the Islamist political movement Hamas claimed that Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, was behind the killing of one of its senior operatives in Dubai last week. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was one of the founders of Hamas’ military arm, and was personally responsible for the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989.

The openSecurity verdict: Israel does not discuss details relating to Mossad operations, but it is a widespread assumption that assassination has long been a tool of state policy. Certainly both Mugnieh and al-Mabhouh would be regarded as high priority targets for such a policy. After a lengthy career planning and carrying out terrorist acts, including bombings, Hamas unabashedly disclosed that Al-Mabhouh played a “continuous role in supporting his brothers in the resistance inside the occupied homeland” until his death. Mugnieh was operations chief for Hizbollah’s own military wing, and has been described by former CIA operative Robert Baer as "one of the most capable" opponents the CIA had ever encountered.

It is unlikely that Hizbollah would instigate another conflict with Israel. The movement’s general secretary, Hasan Nasrallah, has said that, had he known the consequences of the border incursion that led to the 2006 Summer War with Israel, he would not have permitted it. Hizbollah’s freedom of movement has been hindered significantly by the 10,000 strong UN peace keeping force deployed to south Lebanon in the wake of that conflict. Its legitimacy, even within its Shi’a heartland, was weakened by the perception that it invited the widespread devastation inflicted on Lebanon by the IAF. It also has much to gain from continued stability; although Lebanon’s confessional electoral system cost the Hizbollah-led coalition victory in the 2009 general election, it won a majority of the popular vote.

Israel regards Hizbollah as an Iranian proxy, wholly directed by Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards, a situation which the assassination of Mugnieh has ironically exacerbated. The neutralisation of Hizbollah is considered by many commentators as a sine qua non for military strikes on Iran; many believe the reason for the Bush administration’s support for the Summer War was due to plans being formulated at the time for such an attack in 2006. It is not difficult to imagine Israel using rocket attacks from Palestinian camps in southern Lebanon, over which Hizbollah has no control, as a cassus belli. The Israeli invasion of 1982, justified by the attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador to the UK by the Abu Nidal group to destroy the PLO, is a useful precedent.

The assassination of key leadership figures, the mobilisation of reserves in Syria, the IDF’s reinforcement of its northern frontier reported last week, the relocation and fortifying of Hizbollah’s missile forces all prophesise war. In the context of a continuing diplomatic standoff over Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk warning of renewed conflict in Lebanon may be fulfilled.

Indigenous leaders attacked in Bangladesh

Last week in Bangladesh, several leading indigenous leaders were physically assaulted by mobs of Bengalis. Last Friday, Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, was physically attacked with his wife in the central region of Mymensingh. He was set upon by ten to twelve people, sustaining injuries to his arms.

On Wednesday, Jyotirindra alias Santu Larma and Raja Devasish Roy were attacked at three separate points during their car journey by Bengalis throwing brickbats and shooting firearms. Larma and others in the car with him were injured by shattered glass while Raja Devasish was unharmed. Larma has been president of the PCJSS, the organisation that led the struggle for indigenous rights among the Adivasi peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), since the early 1980s and is currently Chairman of the CHT regional council. Raja Devasish is one of the CHT’s three hereditary circle chiefs, an advocate at Bangladesh’ Supreme Court and an internationally respected activist for indigenous peoples’ rights.

When the current Awami League government came into power in 2008, there were expectations that the rights of Bangladesh’s indigenous peoples would be much improved. With a manifesto commitment to implement the CHT peace accord which ended a twenty year guerrilla war between the Bangladesh government and the PCJSS, it was thought that, with its sweeping majority in parliament, the Awami League would be able to decisively improve the desperate situation faced by Adivasis. Analysts suggest that, with growing discontent among Muslim extremists over the recent execution of Sheikh Mujib Rahman’s assassins, Adivasi communities are easy targets for their resentment. It is unclear at this point what special provisions the government is willing or able to take to protect them.

Senate backs Iran sanctions

On Thursday, the US Senate passed legislation empowering President Barack Obama to pursue tougher sanctions against Iran. Specifically, the bill targets any company internationally that supplies Iran with refined fuels such as petroleum, or assists in the construction of oil refineries and other supporting infrastructure. Such companies will face the withdrawal of US loans and other financial backing.

The bill follows legislation passed in the House of Representatives and the two must be reconciled before the president can act. In his state of the union address on Wednesday, President Obama warned that there would be ‘growing consequences’ for Iran if it did not fulfill its international obligations. Speaking in London, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton emphasised that these measures were not designed to ‘punish the Iranian people’, but to pressure the regime to end its uranium enrichment programme.

US approves arms sale to Taiwan

On Monday, senior congressional aids were reported as saying that the Obama administration had approved a multi-billion dollar arms package to Taiwan. The deal will increase diplomatic strains between Washington and Beijing, and is reported to include Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot PAC 3 missiles, and material to upgrade Taiwan’s defence communications systems. It is reported that F-16 C/Ds had been dropped from the proposed sales for being too provocative.

China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, is likely to view the sale with displeasure. Even without the F-16s, the package will be provocative enough, particularly the Patriot missiles. A defensive system, the Patriot is meant to counter Beijing’s intermediate and short range ballistic missile arsenal, over a thousand of which could target Taiwan. Viewed as naked intimidation by most Taiwanese, China, which has not ruled out the use of force to reunite the island with the mainland, considers its missile forces as a vital tool in deterring a declaration of independence. Many analysts fear that the supply of the sophisticated Patriot system will trigger a Chinese response, risking an intensification of the regional arms race.

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