Hizballah — the Lebanon-based Shia terrorist group, which U.S. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff says “makes Al Qaeda look like a minor league team” — has forged a seemingly unlikely alliance with a group of Sunni Salafist factions in Lebanon. The alliance, signed Monday, was temporarily frozen Tuesday. But sources say the deal still may be on.
I say “unlikely alliance” because Salafism is the root-ideology of Sunni Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and Shia and Sunni extremists are commonly believed to be irreconcilable enemies.
Nevertheless, on Monday, leaders from Hizballah and the Salafist Belief and Justice Movement met at Beirut’s Al Safir Metropolitan Hotel and signed a “memorandum of understanding” aimed at preventing further bloodshed between the Shia and Sunni in Lebanon, and a more focused effort against the United States.
On Tuesday, the Salafists — under pressure from anti-Hizballah Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal, one of the founders of the Salafist movement in Lebanon — claimed they were temporarily backing away from the agreement until differences could be worked out.
Sources however are telling us the deal was not “cancelled,” but will be “implemented in stages” to appease “the more Saudi-inspired Salafists like al-Shahhal.” Additionally, the Salafists who signed the memorandum have received “funding, and quite a bit of it” from Hizballah’s primary benefactor, Iran. And they are not likely going to want to give that money back.
Shelved or not, the memorandum is the latest in series of disturbing events since Hizballah and its allies launched armed attacks against the Lebanese government and citizenry in May. The fighting — basically a week-long, one-sided victory for Hizballah — greatly increased the political power of the terrorist group (giving it more cabinet seats and veto power over government decisions) and shored up its strategic military positions from its extensive telecommunications system to its mountaintop outposts and underground bunkers.
Within the last two weeks, Hizballah has managed to establish itself as an official arm of the Lebanese defense apparatus, eliminating almost any chance of ever disarming the group as mandated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559.
Since the May attacks, which began in west Beirut and quickly spread across the country, Hizballah guerillas have fired on villages in several regions of the country. And in the north, in-and-around Tripoli, Sunni Salafists have clashed with Alawites, a Syrian-rooted Islamic offshoot — neither Shia or Sunni — allied with Hizballah.
“Security” is the primary reason both signatories have given for Monday’s agreement. But according to our sources, the real catalyst has been the Iranian money paid to the Lebanese Salafists in order to undermine moderate Sunnis — even Shia — who are attempting to move toward democracy in Lebanon; building ties with Lebanese Christians and Druze. Keep in mind, Iran already finances Hizballah to the tune of $1-billion annually.
“Iranian and Syrian support to Islamist Salafist groups is not new,” Dr. Walid Phares, director of the Future of Terrorism Project for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, tells HUMAN EVENTS. “For years Tehran has been funding Sunni Islamists in Lebanon, and since 2003 Syria has been shipping Jihadi Salafists to Iraq from Lebanon.”
Phares adds, “The latest media show [the memorandum of understanding] is only the official stamp on this collaboration.”
According to Phares, the alliance will accomplish three objectives for the Jihadists in Lebanon: First, it will make it easier for Hizballah to maintain and expand its militia forces inside the Sunni communities (particularly occupied neighborhoods which Hizballah never withdrew from after the May attacks), thus weakening the resolve of any Sunni politicians opposed to Hizballah. Second, Hizballah will perhaps be able to recruit members from within the Sunni communities. Third, Hizballah’s parent company, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, will be able to expand its reach into new zones inside Lebanon.
All of these aims will further weaken the progressive, pro-democracy Sunnis like those of the Mustaqbal (Future) Movement, which was heavily targeted by Hizballah in the May attacks.
Beyond Lebanon’s shores, the alliance serves as an overt signal to Jihadists worldwide that Shia and Sunni radicals do — and should — work together toward the mutual aim of defeating the West on every possible front. The alliance also should serve as proof that, as Phares says, “Western analysis has again failed.”
Phares doesn’t suggest that there were not some of us who were clearly aware of Shia-Sunni coordination of effort. But he does point to the mass assertions by far too many American, Canadian, and European academics who dismissed such an alliance as impossible. Then there are the politicals, primarily on the Left, who have argued that those suggesting an alliance between Sunni and Shia were only propagating the so-called “politics of fear.”
But it’s the politics of reality: Shia and Sunni Jihadists have been operating together for years. And the Jihadists could not have sent us a more obvious signal than when Hizballah’s mad-bomber Imad Mughniyeh was killed in February and nearly every radical Islamist leader from Indonesia to Somalia to Iraq to Argentina praised him as a great warrior and called for revenge killings. That same month, a lesser-publicized albeit huge terrorist cell was discovered and shut down in Morocco. The members of the cell had received tactical training by Sunni Al Qaeda and financing by Shia Hizballah.
The new Hizballah-Salafist alliance — on, off, now back on in stages — seems to confound Western media which often struggles in its understanding of the dynamics of Middle East politics, particularly when it comes to the deal-cutting between the radicals who go to great lengths to confound us.
Despite his hardline, Sheikh al-Shahhal is saying he is open to dialogue with Hizballah leaders.
Meanwhile, Hizballah is praising the agreement as “courageous” and simultaneously commemorating the two-year anniversary of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah war with static displays (in the south Lebanese city of Nabatiyeh) of smoking tanks, fake skeletons dressed in Israeli military uniforms, and the late Mughniyeh’s pre-recorded voice giving the command to “open fire.”