On Point: On the Road to Fatima Gate

by Austin Bay
June 7, 2011

2011's Arab Spring is an astonishing moment. Yes, somewhereon the calendar of the next decade's history a fall of lowered expectationswill occur and a winter of cold disappointment -- but the hopes and passionspowering it will not disappear.

Michael Totten's new book, "The Road to FatimaGate" (Encounter Books, 2011), provides a first-person look at ArabSpring's immediate predecessor, Lebanon's Beirut Spring of 2005. Totten thenmoves to a detailed discussion of Hezbollah's increasing power within Lebanon,followed by a compelling, on-the-ground look at the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli war(the July War, in Lebanese parlance). Totten portrays the war as anIranian-Israeli war, with Hezbollah as Tehran's proxy.

Totten's introduction to the Beirut Spring begins with themurder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A bomb destroyed hisMercedes. The Hariri assassination remains current news, for a U.N.investigation implicated Syrian intelligence agents as the culprits, with theorder to kill Hariri coming from the highest levels of the Assad dictatorship.Complicity in Hariri's murder is another reason to regard anyone who claimsBashar Assad is a reformist as being inexcusably ignorant or a paidpropagandist.

The murder was supposed to cow Lebanon. "It didn'twork," Totten observes. "Lebanon exploded in revolt the likes ofwhich the modern Middle East had never seen."

More terror bombs exploded. Totten "hopped a flight toBeirut from Germany," as pro-democracy Lebanese demonstrators rose upagainst Syria's occupation forces -- the soldiers and intelligence officers ofthe same Assad regime that this spring is shooting its own citizens. Thepro-Syrian marches featured angry Hezbollah supporters carrying pictures ofBashar Assad and wielding pistols and knives.

The Syrians withdrew, suffering a political defeat. But theguns and loyal fighters of Lebanese factions replaced them, not peace andcertainly not unity. Iran, through Hezbollah, filled the power vacuum. ThroughHezbollah, Totten argues, Iran boosts Lebanese Shia Arab factions, in the sameway France and America support Lebanese Christians and Saudi Arabia supportsLebanese Sunnis.

With factional tension increasing, Totten headed south, toHezbollah land, a "miniature one party state" that was"mobilized" for external and internal war. Lebanese governmentsoldiers and police did not go there. Posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran'scurrent supreme cleric, Ayatollah Khamenei, and Lebanese Hezbollah's own HassanNasrallah were ubiquitous.

Fatima Gate had been the major crossing point between Israeland southern Lebanon prior to 2000, when the border closed. Totten found thegate wrapped in cyclone fencing "two stories high." Arabs drove downto the gate to "throw rocks at Israel."

Rocks are one thing, barrage rockets another. From late 2005to the summer of 2006, rockets supplanted hurled rocks. Israeli towns weresubjected to random then increasingly fierce bombardments. Hassan Nasrallahprovided the polemics, but the puppeteers were in Tehran. Iran wanted to goadIsrael into fighting a dirty war on a battlefield of villages interlaced withmines and bunkers. Southern Lebanon became the July War's battlefield.

Totten's chapter on the Siege of Ain Ebel documentsHezbollah's intentional use of civilian homes and churches as fightingpositions. Hezbollah did not care. The more destruction, the better. Ain Ebelis a Christian community.

Totten's road ends with a look at Iran's disputed electionof June 2009. Why Iran when his focus is Lebanon's chaos? Because Iran seedsthe chaos. Topple the ayatollahs' regime, and Lebanon's troubles will diminish. 

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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