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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


Iran

  • The UN Security Council rejected the U.S.’s request to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran, with only the Dominican Republic voting in support—11 of 15 members abstained, including France, Germany, and the UK. The embargo expires in October.

Russia

  • Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko told state media he needed to contact Pres. Putin ASAP because the protests are “not a threat to just Belarus anymore.” It seems odd that they’re not already in contact—perhaps Putin is screening his calls.

  • Belarus released 32 of the 33 alleged Russian mercenaries it arrested for trying to disrupt Aug. 9 elections. The 33rd man is still in custody because he also holds Belarusian citizenship. The Ukraine had sought to extradite the men, but I guess that’s not going to happen now.

Beirut

  • Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, isn’t blaming Israel for the port explosion yet, but said that if Lebanon’s investigation showed the blast to be an act of Israeli sabotage then Hezbollah would make Israel “pay an equal price.” I haven’t seen anything that would suggest Israel was involved—it still seems like gross negligence was to blame.

  • Nasrallah may have been reacting to a rise in public anger against Hezbollah; a WSJ article pasted below articulates that anger well.

China

  • The U.S. and China were supposed to hold trade talks this weekend, but the meetings have been postponed indefinitely. No reason was given.

Mozambique

  • I missed this story earlier in the week: Islamic State-linked militants seized the port of Mocimboa de Praia in northern Mozambique, sending government forces fleeing by boat. The port is used to deliver cargo for northern Mozambique’s oil projects, so its capture effectively stalls those projects. The militants have suggested they’ll try to hold the area.

Sahel

  • A new UN report says that Malian army chief Keba Sangare had ample warnings about an imminent attack on Ogassagou in February, but nonetheless allowed troops to withdraw from the area. Thirty five people died in the ensuing massacre.

Other News

  • Apparently Turkish and Greek warships collided in the eastern Mediterranean on Wednesday, although both sides seem eager to downplay the incident. Greece is upset that Turkey is exploring for oil in the area, which both countries claim. France scrambled fighter jets to the scene to show support for Greece and EU solidarity.

Beirut Explosion Unleashes Public Anger at Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Most Powerful Group (WSJ)

The Iranian ally becomes a target of public resistance, particularly from a new generation

The throngs of antiestablishment protesters marching in Beirut after last week’s devastating explosion have turned their sights on one group above all: Hezbollah, the powerful, Iranian-backed Shiite political party and militia that has in recent years become a nearly untouchable force in Lebanon.

Hezbollah, which since its birth has billed itself as a bulwark against Israel and other foreign powers and a protector of Lebanon’s Shia population, is facing new, public criticism as an impediment to political reform. Critics say the group helps cover up systemic corruption and has focused its attention abroad instead of dealing with a deteriorating economic situation at home.

“They are the biggest obstacle to the project of founding a strong state with working institutions,” said Nizar Hassan, a 27-year-old activist with the Lebanese rights group Li Haki. “They are to blame for a lot of this.”

Demonstrators have directed their ire broadly at the entire political system that emerged from the country’s 15-year civil war, with branches of government reserved for different Christian and Muslim religious sects that critics say has spawned corruption and incompetence.

In the case of Hezbollah, it has operated a network of charities and welfare organizations parallel to the state, catering to the Muslim Shiite community. Such organizations often have been more efficient than those of the state, largely thanks to funding from Iran.

Hezbollah—which maintains a large militia and has been blamed for terrorist attacks around the world—is officially labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and many European nations.

Lebanon’s sectarian structures are showing cracks, and not just in cosmopolitan Beirut where a youth-led protest movement erupted last year. Even in Hezbollah’s bedrock Shiite community, from south Beirut to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, dissent is surfacing.

“Hezbollah is part of the corruption that led to the blast,” said Elsherif Sleiman, an anticorruption activist from the Bekaa Valley, who says he strongly supports the movement’s resistance against Israel, but not its politics. “You have no idea how angry we are.”

The explosion, of a cache of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the port for nearly seven years, killed more than 160 people, injured thousands and ripped through Beirut’s liveliest residential and commercial neighborhoods.

The only official reaction from Hezbollah was a speech three days after the event by the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, who called for an investigation into the accident. He said the group had no knowledge of the combustible ammonium nitrate stocked at the port.

“I categorically deny the claim that Hezbollah has an arms cache, ammunition or anything else in the port,” Mr. Nasrallah declared. He said Hezbollah was focused externally. “As a resistance, it’s our duty to know what’s going on in Haifa port” in Israel, “but not Beirut port.”

Hezbollah’s leader—who wept openly for the death of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in January—didn’t publicly display such emotion over the carnage caused by last week’s blast, though he did lament the loss of life and large number of injuries.

“He cries on live TV when they kill an Iranian leader but he is laughing and grinning in the face of a Lebanese catastrophe,” said Gino Raidy, a veteran antiestablishment blogger who has participated in the protests.

Hezbollah didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

Compared with the protests that sprouted from economic grievances last year, the more recent demonstrations have been angrier. They have featured chants denouncing Hezbollah as a terrorist movement. Some protesters strung up effigies of Mr. Nasrallah with his neck in a noose.

Such visible opposition has been rare in Lebanon, where many say they fear violent retribution for such criticism.

The public outrage and protests led to the collapse of the government on Monday. Protesters have been calling for the ouster of the entire political class, not only a cabinet that took office in January. And increasingly they see Hezbollah as an integral part of the dysfunction.

“Hezbollah’s problem is that it doesn’t have a single answer to any of Lebanon’s predicaments today,” said Emile Hokayem, a Lebanese senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But it is watching with increasing anxiety what is happening on the streets of Beirut.”

During last year’s demonstrations, beefy Hezbollah supporters chased down Beirut protesters, beating them with clubs. In his speech last week, Mr. Nasrallah warned protesters against challenging Hezbollah again.

“Hezbollah is bigger, greater and more noble than to be taken down by some liars, inciters, and those who are trying to push for civil war,” he said. “They have failed before and will fail again.”

The group has solid support among its key constituents. Even Shiites who are critical of the movement’s politics say Hezbollah is the only faction capable of protecting them.

“When the Shia feel targeted as a community, they unite behind Hezbollah,” said Amal Saad, a political-science professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut and author of a book on Hezbollah, with another forthcoming. “It’s a very, very dangerous period,” she said.

Although no evidence has emerged that Hezbollah had a hand in keeping the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port, many Lebanese critics assume Hezbollah was aware of the stockpile since its members are so deeply entrenched in the country’s security apparatus.

“I am unconditionally pro-Hezbollah in its jihad and fight against Israel, but I think it’s making mistakes in allying with corrupt officials and covering up their corruption,” said Abbas Zahri, an activist whose brother and four other family members were killed fighting for Hezbollah.

Other critics have focused on Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war where it has been an instrumental ally in Iran’s efforts to save President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

A senior arms smuggler who has fought for years in Syria, and procured weapons for Hezbollah, said he was tired of losing friends carrying out strategic objectives of Iran and others.

“I don’t want someone to give my child a gun and tell him, ‘go die in Syria for Iran.’ I don’t want him to be mindless and obedient,” said the arms smuggler who asked not to be named to avoid angering the group’s leadership. “We want our children to fight to defend our homes from Israel, not to serve Iran.”

In a bid to weaken Iran’s influence in Lebanon, the U.S. has pushed for Hezbollah’s disarmament and tightened economic sanctions on its officials. But while Western officials accuse Hezbollah of taking control of Lebanon, analysts say the group’s goal isn’t to govern the nation. It is to protect its own commercial and security interests, especially now as it comes under pressure from last week’s massive explosion, says Mr. Hokayem.

“Now, Lebanon is not functioning, and that’s a real existential risk,” says Mr. Hokayem. “It happens at a time when there is huge financial pressure on Hezbollah and the Shiite community is starting to see the costs of all this.”

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