July 21, 2006
Lebanon's AgonyBy Rick Moran
When Hezbollah launched their unprovoked attack on the Jewish State 9 days ago from southern Lebanon, they very well may have destroyed any hope for democracy to take root in the tiny country for the foreseeable future. Responding as they felt they must, Israel may also be contributing to the hopelessness that Lebanese democrats must be feeling at this point, as those who struggled over the last year at great risk to their personal safety are watching as their efforts literally go up in fire and smoke.
Fragile as Lebanon's budding democracy was, it nevertheless was making progress over the last few months in sorting out the tangle of issues which stood in the way of genuine democratic reform. All they needed was time and perhaps some international pressure on Iran and Syria to compel Hezbollah to comply with United Nations Resolution 1559, which among other things called for the disarming of all armed groups and the establishment of
This was easier said than done. Syria's meddling in the presidential election of 2004 in Lebanon led to the passage of a constitutional amendment extending President Emile Lahoud's term of office until 2007. This, and the assassination of the beloved ex—Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on Valentine's Day 2004, and the widespread belief that Syria was responsible, galvinized the nation as the Lebanese people rose up almost en masse to throw off the yoke of their Syrian occupiers.
As inspiring an event the 'Cedar Revolution' was to the eyes of the world, the country's leaders knew full well that that the hard part was yet to come. Kicking the Syrian secret police out of Beirut was one thing; cobbling together a coalition that could govern their fractious society was quite another.
Led by men like Said Hariri, son of the slain leader, the old Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt, current Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, and ex—President Amin Gemayel, a kind of council of wise men was constituted by Parliament. Calling itself The National Dialogue, these Lebanese patriots were joined by some who may not have had Lebanon's national interests at the forefront of their concerns. Hezbollah's 'Spiritual Leader' Hassan Nasrallah led this group along with the Amal (Shia) Speaker of the House Nabi Beri and the larger—than—life personality of ex—President and Maronite Michel Auon.
The Hezbollah—Amal alliance was causing problems, thanks to their dual loyalties, seeing Syria as a patron and paymaster. And Aoun stood aloof from the March 14th Forces (the Future Movement) that coalesced in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and carried off a stunning victory at the polls last summer due to his personal ambition to replace President Lahoud.
This diverse, quarrelsome group nearly collapsed into chaos several times over the intervening months as one faction or another felt slighted or thought that their concerns were being given short shrift. In the end, however, they managed to find consensus on several pressing issues, including normalizing relations with Syria (contingent on the United Nations completing its investigation into the Hariri assassination) and disarming the Palestinian militias outside of the refugee camps.
These were not insignificant achievements given the circumstances of Syrian influence and the personal ambitions and agendas of some of the participants. There was even agreement that President Emile Lahoud should be replaced.
But the Future Movement, fearing General Aoun's rank sectarianism, refused to back him. And in one of the more cynical political moves in his career, Aoun then made a deal with Hezbollah stipulating that Hezbollah disarmament be discussed 'within the framework of a national dialogue' and contingent on the liberation of the Shebaa Farms (claimed by Israel, Lebanon, and Syria) and the release of Hezbollah prisoners from Israeli jails. This basically left the sticky issue of Hezbollah disarmament up in the air for the foreseeable future. No possible agreement on Shebaa could be made with Syria until relations were normalized. And the problem with freeing Hezbollah terrorists from Israeli jails wasn't even addressed.
But despite the problems, the National Dialogue was proving that it had the ability to discuss the thorniest issues in Lebanese society. Could they ever have come to an agreement about Hezbollah's arms? Could they have reformed the electoral laws to make Lebanese politics more representative, more democratic? Could they have dealt with the issue regarding the thousands of Syrian collaborators during the occupation?
It appears now, we'll never know. And the Israelis, enduring constant rocket attacks from Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon on civilians as well as the final straw of an attack on their armed forces, may have finally calculated that the Lebanese government was incapable of coming to an agreement with Nasrallah and decided to act in their own security interests and the devil take Lebanese democracy.
For make no mistake: the Israelis know exactly what they're doing when they bomb Lebanon's power grid, roads, bridges, water mains, gas works, and other infrastructure in the country. They are making Lebanon an international basket case, forcing the world to help them deal with Hezbollah's threat to the Jewish state. If published reports are true, the Israelis expect to establish a 'buffer zone' in southern Lebanon occupied by an international force in order to keep Hezbollah from re—occupying positions from which the IDF has driven the terrorists and their infernal rockets.
How Lebanon's internal political situation shakes out in the aftermath of the fighting does not apparently concern the Israelis as much as degrading Hezbollah's ability to kill their citizens. While this may sound simplistic, it also makes perfect sense for a state confronted, as Israel is, with threats to its very existence. Security first must be their ultimate goal when the knife's edge is held at their throats by people sworn to wipe them off the planet.
But this does Lebanon no good. Israel's attacks have scrambled the political landscape beyond recognition, as it is now unknown how Hezbollah will be seen by most of the Lebanese. Will they be seen as heroic fighters against the even more hated enemy Israel? Or will enough Lebanese be angry at Nasrallah for starting the conflict that is now destroying their fragile economy and setting back the democratic process indefinitely?
One thing is clear. Hezbollah will still have their guns after the dust settles. Nasrallah cannot make any peace that disarms his fighters and still maintain his political position. And the international community will probably not do anything to enforce Resolution 1559 in its entirety since no one wants to get in a shooting war with Hezbollah. So Israel will have its buffer. The international community will pat itself on the back for making 'peace.'
And Lebanon will still be in agony.
In an emotionally charged speech to the Lebanese people last Saturday, Prime Minister Siniora begged the international community for help during this most trying of times for his country. He ended the speech tearfully saying Loubnan sa yabka, Loubnan sa yabka! (Lebanon is here to stay!)
One can only hope that the Prime Minister was talking about Lebanese democracy as well.
Rick Moran is a frequent contributor and is proprietor of the blog Right Wing Nuthouse.