Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Broken Wings of Lebanon

The Broken Wings of Lebanon October 28, 2006

Ghassan Rubeiz

Ten weeks after the summer war, Lebanon looks like a bird healing its broken wings.
The fragile Lebanese state has always suffered from internal disunity, fratricidal neighbors and Western hegemony. Lebanon is now trying to appease the US and Europe on one side, and Iran and Syria on the other. Hizbullah accuses the Lebanese government of excessive dependence on the US. But the irony is that this militia is itself dependent on Iran and Syria.

During the summer war, the current Lebanese government efficiently negotiated a cease fire and UN resolution 1701 empowering the Lebanese state authority. The government is now trying to lead a vast recovery after the staged but not perfected Israeli withdrawal. Thus far, the US government, the Arab League and the international community are satisfied with the dramatic cessation of hostilities, the progress in humanitarian relief and the partial recovery of businesses. Over ten thousand UN soldiers patrol the international security zone at the southern border and support the Lebanese national army that has recently deployed there

UN Resolution 1701 is proving difficult to fully implement. The central problems that ignited this summer’s war remain. There are signs of skepticism from various stakeholders. Donor countries are concerned with the strong political opposition to the government. Prisoner exchange between Israel and Lebanon has not taken place. Hizbullah, retaining its arms and its mobility, moves north of the Israel-Lebanese border. Israel flies over of Lebanese air space to monitor possible cross-border shipment of arms to Hizbullah. Israel views the summer war as a beginning of a longer military conflict with Iran.

Recovery will take time, if it continues. A million Israeli cluster bombs remain unexploded barring 200, 000 people in the south from returning home and injuring two to three children a day. The Lebanese Mediterranean coast is ecologically threatened with a massive oil spill. Lebanon faces a budget deficit of 42 billion dollars. Unemployment has risen from 13 % before the war to about 20%.

Public opinion is divided. In the south, people tend to embrace the resistance; “the resistance” is a code word for the militia. In the rest of Lebanon, sentiments about militias range from skeptical to supportive. However, people are sobered as the realization of the cost of destruction sinks in. Boosting the credibility of Hizbullah, General Michel Aoun, a secular and popular Christian leader, has joined in supporting this militia in demanding political reforms and the formation of a national unity government.

The country is in transition. If Lebanon’s democracy is to survive, its politicians must unite as they face external threats. Civil war leaders who still dominate politics are not used to reconciliation. After each debacle, party leaders indulge in blame.

The key to Lebanon’s political future is the status of Hizbullah. Hizbullah is complex. It is a militarized movement, a party with socialist leanings, a provider of services, a tribal structure and a national movement of liberation from corruption and hegemony. As an ally of Iran and Syria, and as a popular resistance model for the Arab world, Hizbullah has become a regional symbol.

Hizbullah is also an example of a new and growing trend in non-classical, international warfare. This movement stands as a prototype of grassroots insurgency that relies on civilian protection in facing traditional armies of asymmetrical power. Out of contagious anger and desperation civilians defend Hizbullah fighters with a human shield. Civilians also support the insurgency with ethnic affinity, endless recruits, logistics, human services, and an ideology of martyrdom

Demilitarization of Hizbullah is partially linked to the depth of Lebanese domestic reform and to the future of the regional peace process with Israel. The demilitarization is also linked to the international community’s treatment of Syria and Iran, Hizbullah’s external allies.

Today, an insecure Iranian regime seeks empowerment through nuclear power. In the early seventies, Israel was first in the region to link national security with the possession of the atomic bomb. The Israeli military ascendance over the last six decades, its territorial expansion in Arab lands and its symbiotic alliance with the US have created a military asymmetry in the region that is provocative to Iran and its regional allies.

The Syrian regime demands that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights and Palestinian territories. Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel in 1967 and has been under mild US sanctions for some time. Syria tarnished its international reputation by its extended and abusive military presence in Lebanon. Its current support of Hizbullah and Hamas does not bring this country many friends.

The US/Israeli media assault on Syria and Iran has had an almost magical counter productive effect. The assault makes these insecure regimes more credible and their leaders charismatic. Regime change in the Middle East is best done from within; it takes time and positive intercultural interaction with the silent majority. This social change approach to politics sounds strange to current Administration experts in Washington.

The US approach to Lebanon follows the same fragmented and inconsistent policy we have observed in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. The Middle East conflicts in Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Israel, Syria and Lebanon are interconnected. The solutions to these conflicts require a simultaneous and comprehensive approach rather than a battery of separate approaches to each conflict. Right now, the US is desperate for a solution to its quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it ignores Iran’s potential help as a border country. The Persian state would be more cooperative if given the attention it craves, economic incentives and an elevated standing in the political power hierarchy of the region. Similarly, Syria seems to be willing to cooperate with the US and Israel on Lebanon and all other issues if it receives its Golan Heights from Israel.

If these Syrian and Iranian claims are met their unconditional support of Hamas and Hizbullah would change. When Syria and Iran jointly encourage Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and negotiate for peace Hamas would oblige. A Palestinian state could then be negotiated along the 1967 borders. Israel would then achieve a full regional normalization with the Arab world.

The American public expects a sea change (not “adapting” or “change in tactics” as the President recently opined) in US Middle East policy after this month’s mid-term election. Will this change lead to a US regional integrated approach to the Middle East? Will this new policy encourage direct talks with the “enemy”? Will there be at least a faint admission that reliance on force to guide foreign policy is misguided?

“Staying the course” in this US Middle East policy has proven disastrous, but “cut and run” is also problematic. What is needed is a new foreign policy in response to the region’s aspirations for self determination, peace and economic recovery.

Democracy evolves with increased stability, justice and industrialization. Real peace in Lebanon will only come about through a comprehensive settlement of Middle East conflicts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what you say. Unfortunately change from within is usually accompanied by violence; and the next few months/years are not looking calm for Lebanon.

We lived in Beirut for six years and left during this past summer's war. Salimtik, Libnan, hyati. I hope all will turn out in such a way that the country can eventually thrive and reach its potential.

At this point I'm not convinced that national borders might not be redrawn all over the region. So there may not even be a "Lebanon" down the road.

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