Sunday, May 11, 2008


So we had the world's first military coup motivated by a 3G network licence, in Thailand; we had the shootout between the Chalabi Boys and Orascom security men in Baghdad. Now, there's the Hezbollah/Amal coup de force (or de folie as Robert Fisk preferred), motivated in part by the Lebanese government's desire to control their secret telecoms network, including a CCTV system they installed at the airport to monitor the comings and goings.

Curiously, I've yet to hear any actual details of the system, except that it provides 99,000 "lines" (an increasingly meaningless metric, but one that implies it has a softswitch architecture rather than straight IP) and uses buried fibre. But there are also tales of WiMAX and other things radio. Apparently, the leader of Hezbollah has claimed that their signals were their most important weapon back in 2006. Perhaps - you've got to know when to move your ATGW team back over the reverse slope, I suppose. Some doubt this on the grounds that a fixed net doesn't seem that useful, but then, all mobile networks are fixed at some point, and if the fibre is dual SONET it needs a minimum of four independent cuts to partition the system. The Lebanese Army has now said that
it would handle the issue of the communications network in a way "that would not harm public interest and the security of the resistance". It also said it was reinstating the head of airport security [CCTV Guy].
Which, I think, means they're going to let it slide, if they don't actually hook it up to their own signals network. This is of course one of the least obvious features of the whole crisis; all the territory Hezbollah and Amal took was immediately handed over to the official Lebanese military, an increasingly powerful force in politics.

Arguably, this suggests that some of the ideas floated in 2006 about incorporating Hezbollah in the Lebanese military as some sort of reserve/militia/national guard/territorial army/jagers/greenjackets/cossacks/whatever else you call those crazy bastards on the border, as long as they don't bother you and keep the roads open, are being put in effect de facto. Perhaps the military have a deal, under which the Shia will support their commander in chief for president (and they do), and in return they will have a free hand to create their not-state in the south? It's a solution to the problem of a bunch of dangerous and independent-minded borderers that has a long pedigree indeed.

You could call it the Haganah-isation of Hezbollah; it's changing not just from a guerrilla force to an army, but also from a political party to an unstate with a shadow administration, an economy, and its own infrastructure, just as the Israeli founding generation built a mixed economy, a trade union movement, a shadow civil service, and a highly capable semiguerrilla army/intelligence service long before the state became a formal reality. I'm only surprised they didn't start a commercial GSM network as cover for their own command-and-control system; perhaps they will.

Meanwhile, again, this is an example of the democratisation of technology. You don't have to invoke a secret Dr Evil to explain how they built this; annoyingly, I see some people are yelling about Huawei and how it's all teh secret Chinese-Iranian plot. Perhaps. But they'll sell to anyone. And if there is WiMAX gear in there, it's cheap; the base stations are already under $10,000, and the biggest expense in a fibre build is always at Layer Zero, that is to say the business of going and digging the holes and renting the transmitter sites. I suspect right-of-way is less expensive in southern Lebanon than it is in Surrey, armies are rarely short of people if they need to dig a hole, and Hezbollah presumably doesn't have much trouble with NIMBYs. (See also.)

Was this a civil war? Perhaps the idea is wrong; it seems to me more like one of Gwyn Prins' "diplomatic-military operations" in one country, perhaps something an unstate like Hezbollah - or the Sadr movement - is uniquely suited to, as this superb article of Spencer Ackerman's argues.

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