On November 1, 2010, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah and Syria, reported that on October 28, 2010, Hizbullah conducted an "electronic and on-the-ground simulation" of a takeover of Lebanon – an operation that is to be carried out in the event that the international tribunal for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri indicts Hizbullah.
According to the report, the drill included the deployment of forces countrywide within two hours, the cordoning off of extensive areas of the country, the arrest of wanted individuals, and the seizure of ports and border crossings.
The day after Al-Akhbar reported the story, the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat stated that the simulation was an illustration of a practical plan by Hizbullah, Amal and other pro-Syrian forces to take over Beirut and other parts of the country.
As of this writing, the March 14 Forces have not yet responded to these reports.
The following is a review of reports from both Al-Akhbar and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:
Al-Akhbar: Extensive Security Deployment on the Ground in Under Two Hours
The report on Hizbullah's takeover drill was included in an article in Al-Akhbar by Fidaa 'Itani. It read: "Before Nasrallah began his short speech [on October 28, 2010], a major force in one of the opposition's special units conducted an electronic and on-the-ground simulation of what will happen at approximately zero hour, on both the security and the political level.
"The Lebanese simulation – which by chance preceded an Israeli electronic simulation of a scenario of a future war with Hizbullah reaching [all the way to] Tel Aviv – was predicated on the international tribunal's release of an indictment against Hizbullah [in the Al-Hariri assassination].
"[According to the Hizbullah simulation,] as soon as the indictment is released – or, as others say, even a few hours prior – security and political forces will be massively deployed, without weapons, gunfire, or bloodshed, and without harm to civilians or population centers.
"In less than two hours, an extensive and rapid security deployment had taken place on the ground. A secret security and military cordon of large areas in the country was completed, including specific targets: political, security, and military centers, sites, and personnel. Wanted individuals were pinpointed [and detained] under arrest warrants [issued against them in Syria], or for their role in attempts to instigate ethnic fanaticism – [and all this] was carried out during the simulation, within less than two hours. [The drill also included] specifying the locations or hiding places of these [wanted] individuals, [to facilitate their] arrest and prevent them from spreading incitement or moving around.
"[Another part of the simulation was] the seizure of main cities and sensitive political sites, from the capital and its suburbs all the way to the Keserwan [Heights] and the North, as well as the seizure of ports and border crossings, to prevent people from fleeing."
The writer added sarcastically: "It's possible that the prime minister was unaware that his office and building had been taken over and surrendered to the [opposition] fighters who were deployed throughout the area, without the soldiers who guarded him having noticed a thing, and that he [himself] had already been isolated and prevented from moving freely."
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: Hizbullah, Amal, Pro-Syrian Elements Coordinate Lebanon Takeover Plan
The next day, the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat wrote that the simulation reported by Al-Akhbar was "an actual plan drafted on paper and approved by the relevant persons, one which will be carried out at zero hour – that is, [when] an indictment [in the case of] the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri is issued."
Citing a knowledgeable Lebanese security source, the daily reported that "the Lebanese security apparatuses have received information of periodic and intensive meetings between Hizbullah, Amal, and other Syrian allies, in which they simulated coordination in the setting of a battle [aimed at] taking over Beirut and [its] southern approach, and neutralizing other areas – Christian and Sunni [areas]."
The daily added: "Lebanese sources reported that the meetings focused on 'the division of areas' among these forces, with each group receiving its own special map for the 'zero hour' confrontation. These forces in turn held internal organizational meetings, and allocated missions within each team. According to the information, Beirut was divided into three military zones, with the missions therein being split primarily among Amal, Hizbullah, and the Syrian National Socialist Party. Likewise, an alternative plan was drawn up, under which Hizbullah would provide logistical aid to those forces, in the case of problems which might prevent the plan from being implemented.
"According to the reports, the zero hour is linked to the release of an indictment, unless the relevant parties decide to move it up. In any event, the first scenario was based on the issue of an indictment, at which time fired-up youth would go out into the main streets, blocking them in protest. Then the situation would develop into clashes with security forces or with supporters of the March 14 Forces, particularly of the Al-Mustaqbal stream, and thus [the Hizbullah, Amal, and pro-Syria] forces would complete the takeover of the capital."
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted retired Brigadier General Amin Hoteit, who has close ties to Hizbullah, as calling the Al-Akhbar report "highly realistic." Hoteit claimed that "Hizbullah's current strategy is based first and foremost on preventing fitna [civil strife]... and therefore strives [to maintain] contact and dialogue. If it cannot prevent fitna... it will attempt to stop it from exploding into anything serious. If it cannot ward off the explosion, then it will turn to deciding [matters] on the ground...
"Everyone knows that the fitna will be limited geographically to areas with a Shi'ite presence – Beirut, the central Beq'a, and the south – giving Hizbullah a chance to decide [matters] without delay. In Beirut, because of the Shi'ite and [Hizbullah] allies' majority, the situation will be decided within 24 hours at most... If fitna does break out, Hizbullah will take the area within three days or a week at most. But it won't end there – because what happens on the ground will be translated into politics. Then the equation will reach the point where the indictment issued in the assassination of [former] prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri will end the Al-Hariri era in Lebanon forever."
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat added that although the daily had contacted a senior official in the organization regarding the matter, "Hizbullah neither denied nor confirmed the report..." The paper noted that "Amal, which is headed by Nabih Berri, denied that it had participated in any 'field plan'..."
Al-Akhbar: We Have Proof That the Indictment Is About To Be Released
Both sources noted that the "zero hour" would be when the international tribunal released the indictment, or even sooner. These reports attest to the current tension and suspense both within Lebanon and abroad, in anticipation of the indictment's release. Saudi Arabia and Syria are working together to arrive at an agreement in this matter, as are other international key players such as Iran, Egypt, France, and the U.S.
Against this backdrop, Al-Akhbar correspondent Qassim Hamadi wrote that he had in his possession copies of secret correspondence between the international tribunal, the Swedish Ministry of Justice, and the Swedish Embassy in The Hague, showing that the release of the indictment was imminent.
Hamadi added: "Contrary to what Prime Minister S'ad Al-Hariri told MP Walid Jumblatt and Hussein Al-Jalil, a political aide to Hizbullah's secretary-general – [namely] that, according to [Al-Hariri's] information, the indictment's release has been pushed back to March 2011 – Al-Akhbar has obtained secret letters sent between the tribunal, the Swedish Justice Ministry, and the Swedish Embassy at The Hague which reveal that the release of an indictment is nigh." To further reinforce this claim, he wrote that in France there was no confirmation of Al-Hariri's claim of the indictment's postponement until March 2011, and that the U.S. was insisting that an indictment be released before the end of the year.
In his column in Al-Akhbar, the paper's editor, Ibrahim Al-Amin, also wrote that the international arena is bustling with unprecedented activity aimed at arriving at an indictment within a few weeks, if possible.
Below is a photocopy of the correspondence that accompanied Hamadi's article: