Author Archives: Nicholas Blanford

Battening down the hatches

Battening down the hatches

Reading Time: 3 minutes After the car bomb attack last month in southern Beirut which left 30 people dead and hundreds injured, Hezbollah now finds itself in a position similar to its enemies in Israel and the West in the post-September 11, 2001 era — trying to maintain security without causing too much disruption to people’s lives. Hezbollah men

Symbolism without significance

Reading Time: 3 minutes The European Union decision to blacklist not all of Hezbollah but only the Shiite organization’s “military wing” last month was a mid-way solution intended to convey displeasure toward the Lebanese group and mollify Israel and the United States while not going so far as to jeopardize EU interests in Lebanon. Distinguishing between different “wings” of

The army’s leadership troubles

Reading Time: 3 minutes The battle last month in Saida in which extremist, Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir was dispatched from his mosque was a moment of triumph for the Lebanese army. The country by and large rallied behind the army, which is regarded as the paramount symbol of national unity and a force for stability. However, no sooner

Hezbollah’s shifting battlefield

Reading Time: 3 minutes The evolution of Hezbollah’s public discourse on its emerging role in Syria over the past year illustrates the organization’s deft ability to shape a narrative acceptable to its core Shia constituency to ensure its continued loyalty. Despite Hezbollah’s ideological and logistical ties to Iran, the party understood long ago that its survival as a powerful

A border erased

Reading Time: 3 minutes The deterioration of security along Lebanon’s northern border from Arida on the Mediterranean to Masharih Al Qaa in the east presents the Lebanese army with an insurmountable challenge. The western half of the border, particularly a cluster of mainly Sunni villages between Abboudiyah and Dabbabiyah, has come under regular Syrian army shellfire since last summer.

Seizing a Golan chance

Reading Time: 3 minutes Israel has had an easy time on the Golan Heights since 1974, when a United States-brokered ceasefire arrangement came into effect and a United Nations observer force deployed in a demilitarized zone between the Israeli and Syrian armies. Israeli settlers moved onto the basalt plateau, planted grape vines and apple orchards and turned the southern

A disappearing border

Reading Time: 3 minutes The deadly February 1 gun battle in the Bekaa town of Arsal illustrates two dangerous ongoing developments in Lebanon: firstly, the rising sectarian bitterness felt by Sunnis against Shias, and secondly, the volatility of the northern Bekaa. The details of the incident are still shrouded in uncertainty. What is known is that a unit from

A tyrant’s tiptoe

Reading Time: 3 minutes There are growing indications that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is using some form of chemical agent against areas held by the opposition. Speculation has been rife for months that Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons — thought to be one of the largest in the world — will be deployed against the opposition.

Lebanese killing Lebanese in Syria

Reading Time: 3 minutes The latest bout of violence in Tripoli in mid-November once again refocused attention on the beleaguered city, in particular the flashpoint combat zones of the Alawite-populated Jabal Mohsen and the surrounding Sunni areas of Bab Al Tabbaneh, Qobbe and Badawi. The fighting this time around was among the most intense yet seen according to combatants

High stakes on the border

Reading Time: 3 minutes At the end of 2011, it was still unclear whether or not Hezbollah was playing a direct role in assisting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian refugees streaming into Lebanon had insisted since nearly the beginning of the uprising in March 2011 that Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards were among the Syrian troops sniping