Statement by W. Thomas Smith Jr.

regarding the Lebanon Blog Posts

 

Part I: Facts and Part II: The story behind the story

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Part I: Facts

 

In my NRO post of Sept. 25, 2007, I wrote:

"Between the airport and the committee's office, we (my escorts and I) passed by the sprawling Hezbollah tent city — some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen — positioned between the parliament and the Serail, ..."

I was with members of the pro-democracy movement in Lebanon. I asked them how many men were in the camp. There was no way I or anyone there could have physically counted them at the time or any other time. I was told there were more than 200 militiamen there at any one time (that number - actually a number slightly higher - was told me by another source: an anonymous insider serving in the national defense apparatus). When the camp opened months earlier, the estimates were reported to be 1,000-plus. Parliamentarian Walid Jumblatt himself said, back in April, that camp is a "military camp not a sit-in protest stage." And in late November, despite the fact that the camp numbers had dwindled since I was there more than a month earlier, Hezbollah was reported by AFP as saying that its numbers in the camp were some 600. So who knows?


Now, it's since been reported that I said I "saw" 200 men, and that anyone could just "jog" through the tent city. Of course, it's obvious to anyone reading my original post that I did not say that I “saw” 200. I said matter-of-factly what the tent city was. What the tent city was -- but was not clear in my short blog post -- was based on what I was physically seeing and what was being explained to me by those I was with at the time (and confirmed by others* not with me), again which made its way as a short snippet in my blog post. Also regarding the size of the tent city -- and the ability of anyone to be able to walk or jog through the area -- it was reported as late as Jan. 12, 2008 in Ya Libnan:

“... the estimated 100 other tents [keep in mind, these are huge tents capable of accomodating many men in each] that have been erected by the Hezbollah-led opposition in downtown Beirut since Dec. 1, 2006 with the declared objective of toppling the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora ...”

and 

“Hezbollah guards also prevented news photographers and cameramen from entering the Tent City to cover the development.
A police source told Naharnet the department could not carry out an investigation into the incident because Tent City is 'off limits' to the Lebanese state authority.” 

 

In an unedited e-mail of Nov. 13 sent to NRO and me, Toni Nissi, general coordinator in Lebanon for the International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, wrote:

 

“There is many more than 200 fighters carrying weapons in the downtown hizbullah camp and they are prepared to attack the government palace. Also if you know the place , its a very close place to a hizbullah security square where they are deployed 24/7 hours.
And saying that they walked and joged in this area is a bull**** because its a forbidden place for civilians , there is hizbullah guards in all the gates leading to the camp , the only place that you can see the camp is from the highway because its seven meters higher than the camp .Also this camp can handle thousands of hizbullah fighters, watch it on google earth and you will see how big it is.”


In an article published by World Defense Review on December 12, Tom Harb -- secretary general of both the International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the World Council of the Cedars Revolution – writes:

“Who do they [Smith’s attackers] think they are kidding? There were more than 200 in September and October. Smith actually underreported. And the militants who have occupied downtown Beirut are armed and their weapons are hidden in their tents and in different locations. So again, Smith's attackers are flat wrong, as are any Lebanese reporters who would dare to say otherwise.”


In my post of
Sept. 29, I said:

"Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here. Not sure what or when. But a few days ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling “show of force,” positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city. ..."

I was told by two independent reliable sources* that the brief deployment did take place, so I reported the information I gleaned from those sources. Some in the blogosphere have accused me of saying Hezbollah "infiltrated" or "took over" parts of East Beirut. I never said or suggested anything of the sort.

 

One of my detractors said this event, “simply never happened,” because “every journalist in town would have pounced on that story, and he’s the only one who noticed?” Another detractor said that “on the day that Smith says Hezbollah 'deployed' to East Beirut, I was doing some shopping.”

 

Frankly, I too was surprised that I was the only one who learned of it. And there were other amazing stories that other journalists should have “pounced on” while I was in Lebanon. But they did not. And I’m not sure why.

Regarding the date that I supposedly “said” Hezbollah deployed to east Beirut (the date my detractor said he was shopping), I actually never mentioned a date. I didn't have a date. Because I did not know the date. I simply said, “a few days ago...”

I also said, Hezbollah was rehearsing for something big. Not sure what or when.

Fact is, it was widely reported in the international press a few weeks later -- after I had returned to the States -- that Hezbollah deployed in the thousands south of the Litani River. And though the question of whether it was an actual deployment or a paper deployment was brought into question, it is today widely accepted that the exercise did take place.

And though I was obviously correct, I did not have a crystal ball when I said “Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here.”

But I did have superb sources*.
 

Then according to Nissi in the unedited email dated Nov. 13:

 

“Of course they have deployed in east Beirut, they went out of there security square and made an exercice like the one they did in the south few days ago. I think they were trying how fast they are able to take over some specific places whenever they decided to take away Sciniora government by force.
And None other than Tom Talked about that deployement because no one dares to abuse hizbullah. If you remember , the first newspaper that talked about hizbullah exercice in south Litani was AL-AKHBAR newspaper which is a hizbullah affiliated newspaper getting support and money from Iran because hizbullah wanted that exercice to be knkown otherwise it could passed and nobody new about it.”
 

Also according to Nissi in a phone call on Dec. 17, and confirming what both he and Dr. Rachid Rahme said an e-mail sent from Nissi on the same date:

 

“[Dr. Rahme] and I both agree 100 percent that there were 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah fighters on the road in east Beirut in a ‘show of force’ in late September.”

 

On Dec. 18, Nissi again e-mails:

 

“I believe it wasn't only a show of force, it was also an exercise like the one they did in south Lebanon, and they are doing many other exercises to test the ground and no journalist living in Lebanon or willing to come to Lebanon will dare to talk or write about [it].”


In a telephone call on Jan. 11, 2008, Al Sayed Mohammad Ali El Hussieni -- a high-ranking Shiia cleric and ex-Hezbollah deputy commander, who some in Lebanon say was being groomed to take over the position of Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah -- said that the Western media attacks” against me were actually engineered by Hezbollah. 

I have no proof of this other than the fact that several sources inside Lebanon warned me of that possibility while I was there. And, in addition to Hussieni, several high ranking leaders within the pro-democracy movement inside Lebanon and leaders within the Lebanese Diaspora in the U.S. have since said this indeed is what has taken place. 

Husseini -- who in fact outranks Nasrallah in the Islamic heirarchy -- had grown disillusioned with Hezbollah because the organization was increasingly implementing an Iranian agenda instead of a Lebanese one. Also, he and Nasrallah had purportedly "butted heads" on many issues. I met with Husseini twice while I was in Lebanon. Also while I was there, an attempt was made against his life.

In the Jan. 11 phone conversation, Hussieni said:

 

“Hezbollah made a deliberate campaign to target and discredit you [W. Thomas Smith Jr.] in the Western media. This is exactly one of their means of international influence. This is part of the war of ideas. There are quite a few American journalists who are Hezbollah sympathizers. ... Many are paid a lot of money.” 

In a Jan.-16 response to a report published by Stratfor (which produces strategic analysis for general and media consumers), internationally respected counterterrorism expert Dr. Walid Phares wrote:  

Isn't it interesting to see how back in the fall of 2007 Western-based media, friendly to Hezbollah, attacked an American journalist reporting from Beirut, [W. Thomas Smith Jr.], for daring to mention that Hezbollah has ever deployed forces in Beirut, while according to [the Stratfor report], the organization is sending in -not only regular militiamen, but special forces.”  


On Jan. 27, Hezbollah and its allies were widely reported to have aggressively moved en masse into areas across Lebanon, burning tires, destroying cars, firing weapons, and clashing with Lebanese forces. Several were killed. Among the moves were those reported into east Beirut, exactly the same area I had previously reported a less-aggressive "testing" show-of-force made in late September.    

On Jan. 28, an article in the Washington Times stated: 

Mr. Smith's enemies — including Hezbollah, Hezbollah's sympathizers and their apologists in the West (many of whom wrongly view Hezbollah and other terrorists as less threatening than they actually are) — had to shut him up. They tried, as Mr. Smith has been savagely and widely accused of "lying" and "fabricating," though such accusations have absolutely no basis in fact.


Moreover, his attackers created fancifully inaccurate stories about what he actually wrote in order to discredit and destroy him. In short, it was Mr. Smith's enemies who openly lied, not Mr. Smith, enabling others to repeat the lies — classic propaganda — so that the reality of Mr. Smith's reporting was wrongly negated in the process.
...
Until the West, especially its own media, wakes up to this enemy's clever tactics of denial and deception, it is clear that the reporting of the more fearless journalists like Mr. Smith will be silenced.”
 



Links to related stories:


* Smith is a Hero by Tom Harb, Secretary General of the International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, at World Defense Review

*
American Mercenaries of Hezbollah by Tom Harb at Family Security Matters

* Bernard Goldberg was Right by Carol A. Taber at Accuracy in Media

* A Clear and Present Danger to the Left by George McFarlane at The Minority Report

*
War of the Words by Kay Day at Creative Writer US

* Sometimes, I'm ashamed of my profession by Kay Day at Covering Florida

* Syria's Jihadists and Hezbollah are two arms of one body by Dr. Walid Phares at Mideast Newswire


*
W. Thomas Smith, Jr., The Saga Continues by Steven Foley at The Minority Report

*
W. Thomas Smith, Jr. Goes on the Record by Steven Foley at The Minority Report

*
A Note to Readers at NRO


* A NOTE ABOUT MY SOURCES:  My sources in Lebanon included extremely reliable men and women, who enabled me to gain access to members of parliament, mayors and other municipal leaders, the grandson of a late president of Lebanon, one of the highest-ranking (perhaps the highest-ranking) Muslim clerics in Beirut, multiple high-ranking military and intelligence officers, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the head of the national police, and the special forces and counterterrorist strike force commanders. And not all of those defense types were friendly with my civilian sources, and many of my sources had no idea I was talking with the others.

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Click here for The story behind the story.