Oh my God, Moran…not another article on Lebanon. Puh-leeez!
Yes, I can hear the groans from many of my faithful, long suffering readers out there. Give us Obamamama! Give us Hillarybash! Give us baseball! But don’t give us anything more about that crazy-quilt collection of conniving, endearing, brave, cowardly, confusing mish mash of sects, political parties, alliances, and individuals that make up the tragic nation of Lebanon.
Why write about it? Right now – as I am writing this post – the fate of the Middle East is being decided in that little country. Don’t believe me? Read Michael Young, opinion editor for the Beirut Daily Star newspaper. Iran’s most important proxies – Syria and Hizbullah – are up to their necks in trouble as a result of their actions in Lebanon. And the fall of Hizbullah would send shockwaves throughout the region, dealing a grievous blow to the plans of Iran and could threaten the stability of the Assad regime in Syria.
Syria – the first true gangster state – has tried to reclaim what they consider their rightful place in Lebanon by simply murdering enough opposition lawmakers and ministers like a Chicagoland crime boss so that the political opposition friendly to them will have a majority of their own in parliament and thus enable them to wrest control of the country from the elected majority.
Why does Syria want back in after getting kicked out by an outpouring of democratic outrage at their excesses? Like any good “boss of the yards,” Syria was using Lebanon as a cash cow – a font of extorted money, crooked partnerships in major businesses, and outright theft of Lebanese assets. This booty, properly distributed by Syrian President Bashar Assad, kept his corrupt regime afloat by paying off the army, the Baath party, and other elements in the Syrian hierarchy.
Given all of that, if there is any other way to describe Syria except as a “gangster regime,” I cannot think of it.
And the pointed end of the stick Syria was using to do its bidding in Lebanon was the Iranian-created terrorist group/political party/Shia social service agency Hizbullah. A confluence of interests between the two guaranteed that cooperation in Lebanon was a foregone conclusion.
But the recent violence perpetrated by Hizbullah when the legitimate government tried to exercise its authority over the party has changed the game considerably – and not to the advantage of either Syria or Hizbullah.
What’s that you say? I thought the Hezzies were crushing the weak resistance put up by Sunnis to stop their military advances into West Beirut and elsewhere. The media is making it appear that Hizbullah has won a huge victory and that for all intents and purposes, Hizbullah is in control of the country.
To quote John Wayne; not hardly.
First of all, there has not been much in the American media about Hizbullah’s stinging military setback in the rugged terrain north of Beirut where fierce Druze fighters refused to back down and basically handed the hezzies and their allies their butts in a sling. Michael Young explains:
A solution appears to have been found for the immediate crisis that began last week. The airport and roads have been opened, but there never was a way for Hezbollah to emerge successfully from the conflict it created. Militarily, the only way the party could have momentarily broken the deadlock in the mountains was to mount a massive invasion of Aley and the Chouf, using thousands of men and its most sophisticated weaponry. The Druze would have remained united – as Talal Arslan’s supporters and other Druze opposition members were united with Walid Jumblatt’s followers at the weekend. There would have been carnage, and had Hezbollah prevailed, it would have had to hold unfriendly territory indefinitely, locking down resources and manpower. Then what? An invasion of Metn? Kesrouan? Jbeil? The North? Not even the most ardent Hezbollah believer would have seriously argued that such a project was feasible. Military stalemate would have prevailed, and even if the stalemate had collapsed in one area, it would have been followed by myriad stalemates.
Young is writing of the real tragedy represented by Hizbullah’s apparently unplanned but long prepared for military move; the fate of the Shias in Lebanon:
There is great poignancy in the fate of the people of Qomatiyeh. With Kayfoun, the village is one of two Shia enclaves in the predominantly Druze and Christian Aley district. The inhabitants, far more than their brethren in the southern suburbs or the South, must on a daily basis juggle between a past in which they coexisted with their non-Shia neighbors and a present and future in which the neighbors view them as an existential threat. That story written large may soon be the story of Lebanon’s Shia community after the mad coup attempt organized by Hezbollah last week. In the past decade and a half, Hezbollah has injected regional animosities and an antagonistic and totalistic ideology of confrontation into tens of thousands of Shia homes, quarters, towns and villages where such attitudes have no place. Whatever brings the Iranian concept of wilayat al-faqih – the guardianship of the jurisconsult – to Qomatiyeh? Suleiman Jaafar may have been a Hezbollah member, but he was more than anything else a village boy caught in a fight far bigger than him, than all of us.
Young points out that Hizbullah’s major problem is ignorance – they don’t have a clue about the reasons behind the political compromises necessary for the Lebanese state.
Lebanon is a polyglot collection of religious sects, clans, and powerful families kept together by a tradition of compromise and an awareness that one sect or another should not dominate. Young shows where Hizbullah really blew it with their attempt to use their militia to throw all those carefully wrought living arrangements between the parties out the window:
The Shia community is obeying a leadership that cannot be said, in any way, to have ever understood the essence of the Lebanese system. Hezbollah and its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, will often insist that sectarian compromise requires handing the party, and Shia in general, veto power over political decision-making. But that’s not what the consociational system is about; the point of the sectarian arrangement is not to build a system based on mechanisms of obstruction. It is to force the different communities to reach compromises in order to avert mechanisms of obstruction. Hezbollah has repeatedly tried to ignore this by imposing its will in the street or through its guns. The result has been a gathering, strengthening alignment of adversaries that will fight hard before allowing Hezbollah or the Shia to gain hegemonic power.
But wasn’t this reaction always obvious? Apparently not to Nasrallah and his Iranian sponsors, who never had any liking for the baroque but necessary give and take of the Lebanese order – let alone respect for the retribution that has always crippled those ignoring its fundamental rules. Through its contempt for Lebanon, Hezbollah has left itself with two stark choices: either to integrate fully into the state or to control the state. But since it will or can do neither, we are in for a long and harsh standoff between Hezbollah and the rest of Lebanese society.
There is some speculation that the government of Fouad Siniora maneuvered Nasrallah into taking the drastic military steps that have brought Lebanon to the brink of civil war. Indeed, by challenging Hizbullah’s status as a state within a state by trying to reclaim an absolute monopoly on telecommunications in the country, Siniora and the government gave Nasrallah little choice; the offending ruling must be revoked or it would only be a matter of time when the government would go after Hizbullah’s arms.
That is now a virtual certainty. And it is clear that Siniora will have the rest of the country supporting him in that effort. The fact is, without its militia, Hizbullah is just a political party with little chance of becoming part of a majority coalition.
Will Nasrallah see the writing on the wall and start to integrate his “resistance” into Lebanese security forces?
The clock began counting down in May 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. This threatened to deny the party its reason to exist, even though it tried to keep “resistance” alive through the Shebaa Farms front. In 2005, once the Syrians departed, everything collapsed. The party found itself having to justify its private army against a majority of Lebanese that opposed Hezbollah’s state within a state and its lasting allegiance to the Syrian regime. In 2006, as the national dialogue prepared to address the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, Nasrallah sought to turn the tables by kidnapping Israeli soldiers and imposing his version of Hezbollah’s defense strategy on March 14. The plan backfired when Israel responded by ravaging Lebanon and the Shia in particular. And now, having fully discredited its “resistance” in the eyes of its countrymen, having ensured that an antagonistic population will be to its rear in the event of a new war with Israel, having weakened its non-Shia allies, Hezbollah, as both an idea and a driving force, is in its death throes. The party may yet endure, but the national resistance is finished.
Unfortunately, Hizbullah will not go quietly into that goodnight. And here is where the international community can be of most help. Not in forcing Hizbullah to give up its arms but by drastically strengthening the Siniora government. The recent Hizbullah offensive caused the Lebanese people to ask themselves “who is on our side” when only pro-forma denunciations were forthcoming from the US, France, and the United Nations. By doing everything we can to prop up Siniora – openly supporting his government with money and arms – Hizbullah will find itself isolated and unable to effect national events the way they have recently.
If, as Young says, the “national resistance” is finished it may be that a much stronger central government will help Hizbullah see the truth in that statement and attempt to integrate themselves into the rest of Lebanese society. It won’t come easily nor probably without bloodshed. But Hizbullah has painted itself into this corner and has only itself to blame if it can’t find an easy way out.