Lebanon, Syria

Analysts and Combatants Discuss Qusayr in Lebanon’s Premier Spin Room


Two Thursdays ago, the Lebanese political talk show Kalam al-Nas featured an interesting discussion of Hizbullah’s involvement in the battle for al-Qusayr, and its repercussions on the Lebanese domestic front.  Several guests weighed in (including Ramzi Kanj, Nawfal Daou, Salem Zahran, Mohammad Salam, Saleh Machnouk, and Louay Miqdad), and while no fists were thrown, the show had its usual share of tirades and tantrums.

In case you missed it, I thought I’d draw your attention to some of the juiciest tidbits, which distill the main talking points being bandied about these days, as far as Syria is concerned. This show (and others like Bi-Mawdou`iyyeh) is must-see TV for anyone interested in Lebanese politics. It functions not only as a spin room for all the Lebanese parties, but also as a kind of court of public opinion. This episode was no exception.

0:07:44: The journalist Salem Zahran (who is the `Okab Sakr of Hizbullah) argues that Hizbullah was compelled to go into al-Qusayr to “defuse a bomb” that was going to explode and set off a string of explosions. He says that it did not go to al-Qusayr to kill Syrians, and in fact the party worked out a deal with the armed opposition inside the city to let 610 cars filled with 2000 militants to leave al-Qusayr in the last 48 hours of the conflict, so as to spare further bloodshed and allow the battle to end more quickly.

Later on in the conversation, (see 1:14:00) Mohammad Salam (a journalist connected with the Future Movement) reveals that the defected general Manaf Tlass was the one who actually arranged the deal, working through the Russians. This, I imagine, is probably true, since both Hizbullah and Future are pushing the story.

00:09:35: Saleh El-Machnouk (whom I’ve written about here and here) calls for a public demonstration against Hizbullah’s action in Syria, saying that the Lebanese people will never accept living in “a state of dishonor.” Al-Qusayr, he says, survived 22 days of relentless bombardment before the regime claimed victory. In 2006, he reminds the guests, when the IDF similarly struggled for several days to take the Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras, Hizbullah called this “victory” a defeat that revealed the weakness of the Israeli army. “Today,” Machnouk says, “Hizbullah is Israel, and Nasrallah is Olmert. And the true resistance are the heroes of Qusayr and the Syrian people.” 

00:25:20: Nawfal Daou reminds us that the first time we ever heard of Jabhat al-Nusra was in 2005, when Syria and its allies claimed that this group was behind the Hariri assassinations. “So either Jabhat al-Nusra are our allies and we’re paying money to people so that they can come kill us, or it’s a creation that someone else came up with in the first place.” (The subtext being that the Syrian regime is playing up the takfiri angle for its own gain.)

00:34:09: Marcel asks Salem Zahran to comment on the recent press statement by Louay Miqdad — the spokesman of the Free Syrian Army — to the effect that Syria would be Hizbullah’s graveyard. Zahran dismisses him, saying that he who laughs last laughs best.

01:09:40: Louay Miqdad calls in! He and Zahran proceed to take potshots at each other for several minutes. This is kind of remarkable, when you think about it: how often do you get to hear two military organizations trying to shape the narrative about a recent battle on live television? Try to imagine a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman debating an Al-Qaeda-sympathetic journalist on “Hardball with Chris Matthew” a couple days after the Second Battle of Fallujah…

01:17:30: There is a phone call from a member of the Arab Democratic Party (which represents the Alawites of Jabal Mohsen, in Tripoli). He complains about the treatment of the Alawites by the Sunnis of Bab al-Tebbaneh.

Immediately after that, we get a call from Ziad Allouki (at 1:19:00), the Sunni guy who had been accused just the day before of having an arms warehouse in Tripoli, and was wanted by the police. (Salem Zahran had presented the army intelligence report about the guy earlier in the show.) So Allouki calls in to clear his name! This is what I mean when I say that this show functions as a court of public opinion. Every week, multiple people call in (usually politicians or other public figures) to contest a statement made about them earlier in the show by one of their opponents. This was Allouki’s fifteen minutes of fame. (Get a load of the amazing Tripolitan accent on the guy…)

1:32:28: Mohamad Salam states the Future Movement’s position on the formation of a new government and the current challenge to the extension of the Parliament’s term being considered by the Constitutional Council. He states for the record that anyone who participates in a Hizbullah-led government is a traitor to Lebanon and to the Sunnis (this is directed at Salem Zahran, who is Sunni). He goes on to say that “Israel is our enemy and Hizbullah is our enemy, and Bashar al-Assad and his father are our oppressors. This is a war which will be decided one day soon. And he who laughs last, laughs best.”

Salem Zahran replies: “Why don’t you go help the Syrian revolution in Syria?” And Mohammad Salam  replies: “No, I’m against that. The jihad is here in Lebanon.” When Nawfal Daou protests that they should both stop with this kind of language, Salam stupidly says that Daou’s religion is a forgiving one whereas “We are the people of retaliation. Our religion says: “In retaliation there is life for you, O ye men of understanding…” (Qur’an 2:179). 

When Salam repeats his statement that anyone who participates in a Hizbullah-led government is a traitor, Zahran asks him: “Even if Saad al-Hariri is prime minister?” Salam replies: “Even if the Prophet Muhammad is prime minister.” Then all hell breaks loose…

Sunni-vs-Sunni sectarianism? Only in Lebanon.


18 thoughts on “Analysts and Combatants Discuss Qusayr in Lebanon’s Premier Spin Room

  1. How do these exchanges and tirades compare to the speeches by the political and military commanders reported on in Thucydides’ “The Peloponnesian War”?

    Posted by honestpatriot | June 14, 2013, 9:08 pm
  2. HP

    If I remember, the greeks were much more civil….. but you must remember Thucydides was Ostracised, so his writings are not always clearly “objective”

    Posted by Enlightened | June 14, 2013, 11:47 pm
  3. The sectarian angle is being played up from the outside. Sectarian differences exist, as does race
    and religion but they damage that it’s supposed to be the cause of is from the outside.
    Israel dropped a bomb on Damascus itself. That is the clear indicator. Not to mention
    their plans to take the Golan for oil.
    Just because some fool says ‘we never heard of Jabat Al Nusra’ doesn’t mean no one else has.
    Not to mention they have shown themselves as being AlQaeda.
    A lot of misguided stupidity but the only thing they’ve shown is that tikfiris are doing this to Syria
    as part of a Kissenger, Zionist plan for the Middle East.
    To try and claim anything else now is stupidity and just immaturity at losing
    a terrible and bloody zionist conflict that one has taken part in.
    Long live Hizbullah and Syria. Sunni and Shia unity.

    Posted by Dorian | June 15, 2013, 3:21 am
  4. Dorian,

    I think you put to much weight on this imagined “Zionist plan” of yours, and you can thank Hizbullah for this overwhelming “sunni and shia unity” you are experiencing.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 15, 2013, 8:41 am
  5. “Sunni-vs-Sunni sectarianism? Only in Lebanon.”

    Zahran is a pantomime for Hezbollah and he speaks for Sunnis as much as Tufayli and Ali al-Amin as speak for Lebanese Shi’ites.

    ‘A lot of misguided stupidity but the only thing they’ve shown is that tikfiris are doing this to Syria
    as part of a Kissenger, Zionist plan for the Middle East.”

    So where Hasan Nasrallah when his Iraqi Shi’ites buddies were busy cavorting with the Neocons and his allies collaborating with the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh I forgot, Hamas is more treacherous than Chalabi and Karzai?!

    Posted by Shamali | June 15, 2013, 1:59 pm
  6. “So where Hasan Nasrallah when his Iraqi Shi’ites buddies were busy cavorting with the Neocons and his allies collaborating with the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh I forgot, Hamas is more treacherous than Chalabi and Karzai?!”

    Nobody but nobody is more demonically treacherous than Ahmed Chalabi. Nobody. Not even HSN. He is unique among men that way and was secular in his bones. Were his antics common knowledge to some Lebanese outside of the banking sector? Who would have been tracking him? Did Nasrallah know that Chalabi had penetrated the Mossad and Israeli military intelligence then onward to the CIA?:

    “The secret meetings in London led Chalabi to a string of discrete visits in Tel Aviv. “He came mainly to acquire an impression from up close who are the Israelis and what the State of Israel like,” says KZ, who waited for Chalabi at the exit of the El Al plane at Ben-Gurion Airport, who made sure his passport was not stamped and who lodged him under a false name in a five-star Tel Aviv hotel.
    The family file collected by intelligence agencies on Chalabi and his wife describe them as “exiles deluxe.” The wife, Leila, is from a respected family in Lebanon, her father was the Lebanese foreign minister. Chalabi’s daughter Tamara, a communications student, was also party to his father’s activities.
    “Chalabi did not make concrete requests of us,” said a senior security establishment official. “Even after he was unable to get the administration’s consent in to train Iraqi exiles in American army camps, he knew, with his honed senses, that Israeli fingerprints on him would be mark against him in Iraq.”
    Another senior security establishment source says: “Chalabi’s and other Iraqi exiles’ efforts to get close to us gave me the chills. I immediately remembered our entanglement with the Phalanges in Lebanon. The more we helped them, the greater their appetite grew, and in the end we were trampled.”
    In one of his visits to Israel, Chalabi was hosted in the office of the defense minister at the time, Yitzhak Mordechai. Chalabi, it turned out, had come to ask for Israeli aid in Congress in Washington, to persuade the administration of President Clinton to fund activity of the exiles’ National Congress, to train hundreds of volunteers in army bases, prior to a strike to topple the Saddam regime. At the end of these efforts, with the help of his Israeli friends and the Jewish lobby in Washington, Chalabi managed to get USD four million. In Washington he met with then minister Natan Sharansky, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and impressed them with his plans for molding Iraq into a democratic country . . . This appeared in Yediot Aharonot on May 2, 2003″

    Good question. Among so damn many good questions about the man and the legions of smart people he apparently entranced. Honestly, if Nasrallah had sounded a warning about the perfidious “exile deluxe”, would anyone have listened?

    Posted by lally | June 16, 2013, 1:39 am
  7. Does the Golan have oil?

    I thought it was olives and figs, hence the flaccid attitude of Assad snr and jnr.

    Posted by Maverick | June 16, 2013, 4:18 am
  8. So can we just get a show of hands, I need to know how stupid I really am, Dorian believes that the Takfiris are part and parcel of a Zionist plot to sow sedition in the ME, like the great orator SHN, but I thought that the Takfiris and the salafis and those heart eating extremists were a natural reaction to the atrocities that the regime has committed, and their proliferation came about as a result of a lack of opposition support and aid. You can go further and mention that the regime has released these fanatics to weaken the secular opposition and scaremonger the minorities. You can also add the military aid coming from the Mainly pro-Islamic camp. Add To that the collective subconscious of the Islamists and the brutal annihilation of Hama and the rise of the Islamic wave across the ME.

    Then any simpleton should understand how these Takfiris came to be. Unless really were just stupid and it really is Zionist-imperialist plot.

    Posted by Maverick | June 16, 2013, 4:33 am
  9. Maverick,

    Through the years of posting here or conversations on personal basis; it is almost certain the HA supporters would bring in the “Yahood” or Joos at any turn.

    How can we discuss anything with common sense with people who are hell bent in their blind allegiance to Nassrallah. Even those who live in the west turn totally addle headed and brain dead when it comes to HA. it is sectarianism at its worst/best! Otherwise; pray explain to me how does an invasion of Syria by the militia of HA; fighting Arab Muslims constitute a fight against Zionism!!

    Posted by danny | June 16, 2013, 10:09 am
  10. Give it up alweady, the Jews contwol the wowld but ouw bwave wevolutionawy, awabist, nationalist, Islamist and Husseinist wawiows awe defeating theiw evewy conspiwacy to contwol awow lives and wesouwses.

    Posted by Vulcan | June 16, 2013, 11:28 am
  11. Vulcan,

    Is that tweety or SHN sbeaking in English

    Posted by Maverick | June 17, 2013, 7:15 am
  12. I think it is Pontius Pilate from Life of Brian

    Posted by PB | June 17, 2013, 7:35 am
  13. I just need some west and wewaxation.

    E. Fudd

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 17, 2013, 10:19 am
  14. Food for thought provided via this interview with FSA/SMC(?) Col Aqidi about his difficult experiences commanding opposition reinforcements near the end of the siege of Qusayr. Aside from a fascinating and instructive account of how not to establish authority, the sequestered appearance of Okab Sakr & Louay Miqdad seems to indicate that they are kind of key players.

    This interview was commissioned by a UK guy “Brown_Moses” who has established blogger/tweetdom credibility and $upport for his passion which appears to be ID-ing and sourcing arms being used in Syria. He is not fluent in Arabic so jobbed-out the interview and transcript. The addendum in [my brackets] is from the host’s due diligence; sourcing from Arabic speaking cohorts who alerted him via twitter that the remarks were missing from the transcript:

    “Aqidi: First of all let me clarify that General Salim Idriss is not the head of SMC. General Salim is the chief of staff. SMC is composed of 30 persons, 6 from each front. 10 are officers, 19 are civilians. They’re detached from reality. They have no connections with inside at all. General Idriss is the chief of staff and we, like all other provincial military councils, are under his command. We communicate with him on a daily basis. (or sometimes every 2-3 days according to availability of communications) . As for the SMC they are located in Bab Al Hawa, and some of them are inside, some in Saudi, some in Lebanon… But majority are in Turkey. They’re disconnected from reality. In fact I’m a member of this SMC but I don’t attend their meeting and they don’t matter to me. They lately held a meeting and cancelled my membership after I threatened to fight Hezbollah on their land in Lebanon. I regularly communicate with General Idriss.

    [I’ve also been told he also says that they tried to get him sacked because he said the FSA would attack Hezbollah inside Lebanon and that this came from Okab Saqr (who’s a Shite from Lebanon) and Louay Miqdad whose mother is a Shite, and he ponders why they would want to have him sacked.]”


    This is confusing as Moderate General Salim Idriss has also mentioned taking the fight to Hezbollah within Lebanon. During their secret meeting in Syria, he suggested to Sen John McCain that the USAF should blast away at them in Beirut. From similar comments, one could surmise that Hezbollah is a part of the official opposition’s order of battle.

    Posted by lally | June 21, 2013, 1:19 am
  15. Same as 2006. Nasrallah drags Lebanon towards war with the goal of protecting his weapons from political defeat.

    Posted by Richard | June 22, 2013, 7:56 am
  16. If I had a nickel for every post from Lala that mentioned the US, I’d be rich.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 22, 2013, 11:14 am


  1. Pingback: A Compromise in Syria: The Regime’s View | Qifa Nabki - June 17, 2013

  2. Pingback: A Compromise in Syria: The Government’s View - June 28, 2013

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