Monday, January 29, 2007

Can Lebanon Stand on Its Own with a Hizb'allah Albatross on Her Neck?

I think there are quite a number of observers who never imagined that Lebanon would fall prey to those who daily stoke the fires.


I'm reading Nasrallah speeches now. It seems to me that he wants an Iranian-style take-over, which was relatively bloodless. Those who are chiding him for thinking that he can take over Beirut like it was Tel-Aviv have the wrong reference - he seems to be after the Kohmenei model, including things like "veto" for himself (his own jurisprudence, of course).

But, that is only what I think when being charitable.

The truth is, HA's actions also follow a far more pernicious route. Increasingly cornered, they find ways to get out from under the glare. Israel puts enormous political pressure on Hamms by withdrawing from Gaza, unilaterally? No problem - kidnap or assassinate, whenever there is cooperation or alignment. Laws not going your way on holding onto a militia or protecting your rice-bowl feed from Syria? No problem - stoke a lawless, sectarian war to focus everyone on old rivalries and dilute the attention on your own lawlessness.

After 31 years in this country, I never truly believed I would see again what I witnessed on the streets of Beirut yesterday, thousands of Shia and Sunni Muslims, the first supporting the Hizbollah, the second the government once led by the murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri, hurling stones and hunks of metal at each other. They crashed down around us, smashing the road signs, the advertisement hoardings, the windows of the bank against which seven Lebanese soldiers and I were cowering. Again and again, the soldiers ran into the roadway to try ­ with a desperation all of them understood, and they were brave men ­ to drag the youths from each other. Some of the Shia men, Amal members, loyal (heaven spare us) to the Speaker of Parliament, wore hoods and black face masks, most wielding big wooden clubs.

Their predecessors ­ perhaps their fathers ­ were dressed like this 31 years ago when they fought in these same streets, executioners-to-be, all confident in the integrity of their cause. Perhaps they were even wearing the same hoods. Some of the troops fired into the air; they shouted at the stone throwers. "For God's love, stop," one young soldier screamed. "Please, please."

But the crowds would not listen. They shrieked "animals" at each other and obscenities and on one side of the street they produced pictures of the Hizbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and of Michel Aoun, the Christian ex-general who wants to be president and is Nasrallah's ally, and on the other side of the street, the Sunnis produced a portrait of Saddam Hussein. Thus did the cancer of Iraq spread to Lebanon yesterday. It was a day of shame. - Robert Fisk

Superb journalism, here, the line cut on the body politic:

BEIRUT, Jan. 26 -- During Lebanon's 15-year civil war, the Green Line divided Beirut into predominantly Christian and Muslim halves along a road that became a symbol as telling as it was intimidating. In time, in a war in which more than 100,000 people were killed, it was less a front line and more a no man's land, named, some say, for its unkempt weeds and bushes.

Little remains of the Green Line today, save the Barakat Building near the downtown, its stately columns and arches still honeycombed by the damage of war. Like much of Lebanon itself, the other scarred buildings along the road are sheathed in a thin facade of concrete, stone and glass.

These days, the front has shifted to the Old Airport Road, a mile-long stretch of which divides its residents by Muslim sect -- Sunni or Shiite. The emerging border evokes the old and the new of Lebanon's two-month-old crisis: civil war memories and the sectarian schism transforming Lebanon and the region around it.

"This is the line of confrontation," said Ahmed Itani, sitting with friends around a corner from the airport road, in the Sunni neighborhood of Dana. "They're there, we're here, and if something's going to happen, it's going to happen in between."


In the claustrophobia inspired by Lebanon's shoe-horned diversity, many Sunnis were upset that Shiites had dared to encroach upon what Sunnis consider their turf, and they set up their own checkpoints in the Bekaa Valley and on the coast south of Beirut. Along the Old Airport Road, residents wrestled with the knowledge that civil wars often start through accumulated accidents, not by design.

Nasrallah is already blowing his horn that it is everyone else's fault, but it is everyone else who will *pay* for his "opposition":

Lebanon’s strong external support, as demonstrated in the Paris 3 pledges, should be a blessing for the country, and the structural reforms in state finances that will be enacted as part of this process should also benefit all Lebanese. There is a chance that this will not happen now, which could plunge the country into years of low-intensity conflict and simmering tensions -- well below the level of the 1975-1990 civil war, but enough to keep Lebanon mired in perpetual mediocrity and stagnation.

The stakes are very high, and very clear. Lebanon is at an ominous moment of reckoning, and sadly its fate might be determined by the vagaries of gangs of angry and fearful young men with sticks and guns. The modern Arab state is tested once again, and is not doing very well.

-Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, and co-laureate of the 2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award.

blogospherical redux:

I don't think even the superbly pernicious propagandists at al-Manar can turn this one around, but against the backdrop of a poor and uneducated underclass, maybe:

Nasrallah: Bush made Lebanon chaos

Nasrallah spoke as thousands attended Ashura ceremonies in south Beirut [Reuters]

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has accused George Bush of creating chaos in Lebanon, and rejected the US president's latest criticisms of the Shia group.

Speaking at Beirut ceremonies marking the climax of the Muslim festival of Ashura, Nasrallah accused the US of ordering Israel to launch last year's attack on Lebanon.

"The one who fomented chaos in Lebanon, who destroyed Lebanon, who killed women and children, old and young in Lebanon, is George Bush and (Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice who ordered the Zionists to launch the war on Lebanon," Nasrallah said.

As an aside, here is what Juan Cole is saying - it's remarkable, yes?:
Hizbullah's energies have not been put into killing Americans during the past two decades, but rather into getting the Israelis back out of their country [emphasis added]. In fact, it isn't clear that the Lebanese Hizbullah has done anything to the US for 20 years. link

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