Ammonium Nitrate, the Latest Manifestation of the ‘Lebanese Arena’ and Its Theory
The map of the Arab Levant is a map of “arena,” one where countries’ territory is merely an amalgamation of battlefronts and conflicting axes: the Lebanese arena, the Syrian arena, the Iraqi arena, and, not far away, there are the Libyan and Yemeni arenas… These arenas may be military, and they may be political, with the potential to be turned into military fronts at any moment. As for the competing factions, the regional and international among them come together in civil conflicts whose players have come to acquire their own “policy” and “diplomacy” vis-a-vis the outside world.
Countries are commons for causes and interests; every faction has a cause that it calls divine and finds groups outside its borders to support that cause and use it to further their interests. International borders, in this state of affairs, are redrawn with water so they can be re-erased, such that Qassem Soleimani can cross and move between them as though he were moving between the rooms of his house, and Hezbollah’s “mujahideen” can go beyond them on their way to and from Syria as trucks smuggling goods leap over them from Lebanon to Syria, and from Iraq to Iran…
Such a situation, which is glaringly apparent in Lebanon and Iraq, is taking sustainable form in Syria, where there are too many foreign and regional forces to count. As for the state, in all of these cases, it is either directly involved in the conflict (Syria), or a mediator between conflicting forces (Iraq), or a mix of both (Lebanon).
But when was the “arena” and its theory implanted in the Arab Levant?
We return to Lebanon in the late sixties, precisely in 1975, the year the mother of regional civil wars erupted.
The phrase “Lebanese arena” became popular at this time, replacing “nation” or “country.” Rockets are launched from this “arena,” and so the Israeli response hits, carrying death and displacement with it. In this same arena, Arab disputes and their terrorist extensions are discharged. For the “arena” is what bestows upon the divine cause- in this case fighting Israel- the ability to operate and flourish. And it allows neighboring regimes, under the pretext of this cause, to fight to expand their influence. As for the “Lebanese homeland”, per the “arena’s” proponents, it is nothing more than isolationism and subordination to the West. Addressing questions about its residents’ interests and choices is treacherous and shameful.
At a time when divine causes render everything permissible, its proponents were helped by Lebanese residents’ disagreement on the meaning of the homeland, as a consequence of its nascent establishment.
But what aided them more than anything else is the frailty of the Baathist regime in Syria’s legitimacy. It was constantly in urgent need of a sponge to absorb its many contradictions, a bulwark between it and its continuously duplicating problems. Thus, the regime, before Hafez al-Assad and especially after him, went about transferring everyone who wanted to fight Israel, or claimed to, to the “Lebanese arena.”
Here were the beginnings and foundations.
The most innocent among us were entranced by the thought that we had returned to a time before states and borders when “mujahideen” would cross them to fight. They married Shakib Arslan, Izz al-Din al-Qassam, and Fawzi al-Qawuqji to Che Guevara, a mix that subsequently gave birth, in the Iranian lab, to Qassem Soleimani. As for the most malicious among us, the regime in Damascus, blessed those innocents, exalted their commitment to Pan Arabism, and patted them on the back; then, it provided them with the weapons they needed to fight in and from Lebanon. And, with its other hand, it was consolidating its borders and its authority.
It seems that arenas soon pervaded. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s adventures were crowned with the 2003 war and the explosion of explicit sectarianism and Iranian expansion. Pandora’s box was opened and released a flurry of the devils and evils that had been lurking inside it. In Syria, the violence of the regime’s clampdown on the peaceful revolution led to the country’s collapse and disintegration. In Libya and Yemen, this task was vigorously and capably taken on by Moammar Gaddafi and Ali Abdullah Saleh, each in his own way.
The prevalence of arenas and civil-regional wars has begun to manifest in tasks that do not always call for armies and fighters but rather require mafias, smugglers, and clandestine deals. The cataclysmic explosion at the Beirut port on August 4 is undoubtedly the most large-scale manifestation of “arena” and its theory in their contemporary mold. As for the cause, it is present, foiling the “imperialist and takfiri conspiracy” against the “patriotic anti-imperialist” regime in Damascus, which Hezbollah militants cross the border to support. Of course, it is sacred because it shortens the path to Jerusalem, and any tools used to kill, barrel bombs or anything else, are thus justified.
This is how we came to learn, through ‘Companies House,’ the UK’s companies registry, as the Lebanese broadcaster Al-Jadid reported, that “Syrian businessmen” close to Assad are implicated in the port explosion. George Haswani, Imad Khoury, and his brother Mudallal, according to this narrative, are the stars of that deal: they are closely linked to Savaro, a company registered in Britain, which, it seems, bought the Ammonium shipment. Some of Haswani and the Khouries’ companies share the same address as Savaro.
The three previously mentioned names were included on US sanctions lists, and some of the actions attributed to them include “coordinating the interests” of the Syrian regime in Cyprus and buying oil from ISIS on this regime’s behalf.
Those mentioned above are, in all likelihood, fierce enemies of imperialism. And who knows, maybe they are also anxious to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque!
Generalized death, after generalized lies, is the birthchild of turning homelands into… arenas.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views and editorial stance of the SOHR.