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Iran's Motorcycle Urban Warfare - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iranian security forces took a feather from Hezbollah’s cap this week in the method it tackled the civil unrest that had erupted following the announcement of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election victory. During a televised debate, Anis al-Nakash, a political analyst who supports the current Iranian regime said that Ahmadinejad must “take up the Hezbollah method of organizing large public demonstrations in order to confront the supporters of Mir Hossein Moussavi. This follows in the footsteps of what Hezbollah did in Lebanon to confront the opposition supporters [i.e. supporters of the March 14 Alliance].

The Iranian security apparatus and the Hezbollah movement have come together in their use of motorcycles. The Iranian riot police are using motorcycles to quickly travel from one area to another; helping to suppress the demonstrations seen throughout the streets of Tehran. In some cases protestors set fire to motorcycles [in an attempt to hinder the riot police]. It is also well known that motorcycles have played a large role in combat undertaken by the Iranian army, especially during the Iran – Iraq war.

It is obvious that this mode of transport is a prominent symbol for the Hezbollah movement and its members, and aids their movement around Beirut at “sensitive” times. Whenever one enters an area controlled by the Hezbollah movement one cannot help but notice a group of motorcycles parked outside of a mosque or other similar structure. These motorcycles can be deployed to deal with any security disruptions in the area. Motorcycles play an important role for Hezbollah, and represent the backbone of the movement, enabling it ease of movement [throughout the streets] as well as aiding in communication. In some cases these motorcycles can be likened to carrier pigeons [as they are used to deliver important orders] while at other times they are used for purely security purposes due to the ease of movement that they afford.

The role of motorcycles was most effectively seen during the Israeli attack on Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Prior to 2006, the motorcycle phenomenon was not as significant, however during the 2006 Lebanon war motorcycles played a large role, and was one of the few motor vehicles that could be seen on the streets of Beirut, serving as couriers and taxis.

Hezbollah previously used motorcycles as a quick means of monitoring movement on the ground that may have represented a security threat; however this mode of transportation has evolved, along with the changes in Lebanon where Hezbollah is a major player. Reflecting the security situation seen on the Lebanese street, motorcycles began playing a “negative role” that reached a peak on the events of 7 May 2008 [when Hezbollah took over certain areas of Beirut]. The streets and alleyways of Beirut were overtaken by Hezbollah motorcycles that could play a number of different roles “on the ground.” For example, monitoring what is happening on the ground, monitoring the suspicious figures in the area, as well as being used as “couriers” to pass on messages, or “quick reinforcements” to be transferred from one area to another. These motorcycles were also used on security details surrounding cars belonging to senior officials.

Since then motorcycle riders have expanded their operations to include emergency work, as well as hiring out as private “couriers.”

Due to this success of using motorcycles for non-routine purposes, their use has been adopted by the entire Lebanese street. And so motorcycles are now in use by the Amal movement, as well as the Sunni Tarik Al Jadidah movement that is present in the Barbour region of Western Beirut.

Motorcycles can also be used to indicate one’s position in the hierarchy. For example, one riding a normal motorcycle is not in “advanced position in his organization” whereas one riding a modern, stylish motorcycle is likely to be a “party official.” The motorcycles belonging to members of Hezbollah are the best due to their ability to be ridden off-road, as well as on the motorways, and through the neighborhoods of Beirut regardless of weather conditions.

Over the past four years, the negative impact that motorcycles play in Beirut has been on the increase, and they have become a source of disturbance to both pedestrians and motorists. Motorcycles have been used by members of gangs to carry out robberies and other crimes. Lebanese Minister of the Interior, Ziad Baroud, attempted to implement a 6 pm curfew for motorcycles in Beirut, but his motion failed, and motorcycles are a staple of the Beirut road.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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