April 01, 2007

Hope Over Hate: A Lebanon Diary

My American friend Noah Pollak visited Beirut and South Lebanon with me on my last trip.

He flew to Beirut from Jerusalem (via Amman.)

His long-awaiting essay has now been published in Azure Magazine. Here is an except:
From Israel, Lebanon has a way of appearing as a monolith. Its entire southern border is a Hezbollah stronghold, from which the organization, since Israel’s withdrawal in 2000, has been building a sophisticated battlefield infrastructure, stockpiling weapons, and planning the abduction and killing of Jews. It is thus easy to view Lebanon as a country in which the masses have gladly assented to the establishment of an Iranian forward operating base within its borders. Hezbollah is particularly good at using its territory to attempt to provoke and demoralize Israel; it put up a billboard on the border, facing into Israel, which shows the severed head of an IDF soldier, captioned: Sharon, don’t forget. Your soldiers are still in Lebanon. If you tell an Israeli that you have visited Lebanon, you will typically be met with a guileless stare of worry and astonishment.

But there is a Lebanon that exists in the distance, too far away to see from Israel’s northern border, and too difficult to discern through the opaque and fevered people camped in the South. It is the Lebanon of the Christians, the moderate Sunnis, and the Druze, the Lebanon that earned Beirut the moniker of the Paris of the Middle East. This Lebanon looks West for inspiration and support, not East, and sustains a loathing for Hezbollah (and the Palestinians) that rivals Israel’s. This is the Lebanon of East and West Beirut, of outstanding restaurants, nightlife, beaches, tourism, and Mediterranean joie de vivre. These Lebanese share two vital things with Israel: An aspiration to live in a liberal, democratic society, and a fervent wish to rid their nation of the Islamic extremists who are the perpetual cause of bloodshed, instability, and warfare. Israel and Lebanon, in this regard, are more similar to each other than either of them is to any other nation in the region. In the 1980s, a Lebanese Christian leader declared that “the Western world should either defend us, or change its name.” Israel is a member in high standing of the Western world, and should not exempt itself from sympathizing with such pleas.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 1, 2007 11:16 AM

Comments

Noah is wrong in thinking that we, Israel, are in high standing in the West. Jews are still Jews, and sometimes, Israel is the collective Jew that many bigoted Europeans and some Americans love to hate. I do agree that Israel should be concerned about Lebanon's plight. The situation for both Israel and Lebanon seems especially dangerous or "critical" now that James Baker seems to have the upper hand in Washington. Certainly, American flirtation with Damascus urged by baker cannot be good for either Lebanon or Israel. Yes, there are similarities between Israel and Lebanon. But if Noah believes that EU politicians or US diplomats really care about the welfare of what is called "Western civilization," then I think he is doing wishful thinking. EU leaders, as I see them, are cynical, venal, shortsighted, heedless of decency, etc. Think of Javier Solana who seems to me to reincarnate Pierre Laval. Or think of Jacques Chirac, who stars in a new book called Chirac d'Arabie. The EU leaders have to be embarassed into doing the right thing.

Posted by: Eliyahu at April 1, 2007 03:41 PM

Is this the same "westernized" Lebanon that banned Schindler's List?

Posted by: Sima at April 1, 2007 05:26 PM

Sima, can you say "Syrian occupation?"

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 1, 2007 09:45 PM

Pollak doesn't offer any concrete steps Israel and America should take in Lebanon?

Any ideas?

Posted by: alphie at April 2, 2007 12:55 AM

There are rumors (coming from some Lebanese blogs) that Sunnis of Lebanon are arming and there is heavy Al-Qaida infiltration in Palestinian refugee camps, which is supported and paid for by Saudis, namely by prince Bundar.

Does anyone know if this is true?

Does it mean that another Civil War in Lebanon is imminent and will be fought on behalf of KSA and Iran? Or there is a chance Lebanese can avoid it?

Thank you

Posted by: leo at April 2, 2007 10:23 AM

Eliyahu-

Don't overestimate James Baker's influence- while his absurdly naive recommendations may have been news, most Americans- within and outside government- know better than to take the capitulating old fool seriously.

I'm confident that even now a majority of Americans would be willing to do whatever necessary to protect Israeli sovereignty. Unfortunately Old Europe might just be a lost cause.

Posted by: Hollowpoint at April 2, 2007 02:24 PM

There are rumors (coming from some Lebanese blogs) that Sunnis of Lebanon are arming and there is heavy Al-Qaida infiltration in Palestinian refugee camps, which is supported and paid for by Saudis, namely by prince Bundar.

Does anyone know if this is true?

I daresay the bit about the Sunnis re-arming is probably accurate. Considering what Hizbullah did, and how their status as the last major party with weaponry is what let them get away with it, I'd be inclined to make sure I could retaliate in kind if they tried to do it again.

I dunno about al-Qaeda infiltration of the palestinian refugee camps. I don't know why they would do that, tho- al-Qaeda has always been about fighting the Americans to clear the way for overthrowing the Saudi Royals.

I strongly doubt Prince Bandar is financing any of the above (especially the second one, as he's one of the Saudi Royals al-Q wants very much to get rid of).

Posted by: rosignol at April 3, 2007 06:48 AM

I dunno about al-Qaeda infiltration of the palestinian refugee camps.... al-Qaeda has always been about fighting the Americans to clear the way for overthrowing the Saudi Royals.

They are also trying to set up base in Gaza. A big attack on Israel with lots of dead Jews would do wonders for their sagging popularity.

Posted by: Mertel at April 3, 2007 09:57 AM

Rosignol, Mertel,

Thank you for your response.

Here is one of many Lebanese blogs, which are discussing this subject.

http://www.lebforces.org/forum/showthread.php?t=22741

I see this type of discussion more often these days at different Lebanese places.

Posted by: leo at April 3, 2007 10:52 AM

Pollack says: "It is the Lebanon of the Christians, the moderate Sunnis, and the Druze ..."

This is the second argumentative comment I've placed on this blog, but I am a stickler for truth, facts and logic. The above statement implies that Shiites are not at all part of this group that earned Lebanon it's moniker. That's not true at all. Understand that there is a distinction between Shiites and Hezbollah, maybe all Hezbollah are Shiites, but not all Shiites are Hezbollah. And not all Shiites are Islamic extremists. I believe it is very irresponsible to make such a statement, that gives such an incorrect impression.

Thanks for listening!

Posted by: Jas at April 3, 2007 10:47 PM

The bit about rearming is not quite true, nor false; we all kept light and medium weapons. And the Security services have been beefed up by Sunni "contractors".

In addition, Hezb's focus on heavy weapons such as rockets will play against them; in a war where all are opposed to them, and where their power centres are insulated from one another, number or terrain count. In this context, the Druze and Christians have the terrain, and the Sunnis the numbers. We've got bombed before to the tune of 4,000 shells a day, so they're 30,000 rockets will be exhausted in a week, if they get a chance to deploy them.

Posted by: Jeha at April 4, 2007 05:40 AM

in addition, Jas makes a good point that not all Shiites are Hezb. The Mullahs may be confronted by some strong opposition from "within".

Can't fight a war without a "rear echelon"...

Posted by: Jeha at April 4, 2007 05:42 AM

"We've got bombed before to the tune of 4,000 shells a day, so they're 30,000 rockets will be exhausted in a week"

Actually, I am looking for signs that it wouldn't come to that (I mean bombings).

"Can't fight a war without a rear echelon ..."

Syria? Iran?

Posted by: leo at April 4, 2007 06:23 AM

I fear it has come to that; it all looks eerily familiar to the setting in 1973.

While I understand Hezb's concerns about their own safety, their adamant refusal to relinquish their weapons is ensuring a war starts... Deep down, the Lebanese are unwilling to accept another "Cairo agreement", even if some do not voice it for reasons of political opportuinism.

And no, Syria and Iran would be poor rear echelons in case of war, for the simple fact that there are no direct lines of communications. Hezb's "battleline" is interrupted in 3 key areas.

First, even before the war started, the Southern Suburb has already fallen militarily, with supply lines effectively closed at Damour.

Second, coastal cities (except for Tyre, maybe), as well as the region around Hasbaya and Marjeyoun is not securely under Hezb control, even in the absence of UNFIL. Hezb's actions effectively antagonized the inhabitants of the region.

Third, the Bekaa around Baalbeck may be a Hezb stronghold, but its supply is effectively controlled from Anjar, the rest are mountain passes, excellent for smuggling, but poor for logistical support in times of war. In addition, the northern Bekaa is a stronghold of Shiite clans, such as Dandash and Jaafar, who are only opportunistically allied with Hezb. In addition, any alliance Hezb makes with one clan upsets all the others... This was demonstrated during the demos in Downtown, when many clans fought one another in the "tent city", a fact that went unreported by the clueless Western media.

That is not to say Hezb is not preparing for a fight; there are many reported stories in the media about land purchases, aimed at creating some contiguity among those areas. But this will take time, and the vulnerability remains; if a war starts, it will not be Hezb who starts it, no matter how it is spun. Most likely, others will move to preempt Hezb, either in the summer, or after next year's rainy season.

Posted by: Jeha at April 4, 2007 09:05 AM

Jeha,

Thank you very much for your analysis.

Posted by: leo at April 4, 2007 10:15 AM

I read an article recently that Christians are fleeing Lebanon. If true, doesn't that vitiate the argument about the wonderous liberal Lebanon just beyond the horizon? Why would Christains want to live as a minority admist Moslems? They know how quickly the situation can turn bad. And, why would they want to be drawn into Islam's rampant anti-Semitic campaign?

Posted by: Seymour Paine at April 4, 2007 11:10 AM

"Syria and Iran would be poor rear echelons in case of war, for the simple fact that there are no direct lines of communications. Hezb's "battleline" is interrupted in 3 key areas."

I do not know. Unless Israelis will decide to intervene and will start plucking Syrians off the sky over Lebanon as they did in 80s, I do not see how HA would have logistical problems.
Given how much love Israelis have for HA and Syria it is possible. On the other hand, Israelis are pragmatic. One can never know what they would perceive as lesser evil.

Posted by: leo at April 4, 2007 06:40 PM

Jeha, I hope everyone in Lebanon can find a way to work this out. Nobody wins with another civil war and it would be a shame for Lebanon to suffer from it.

I don't want to sound like I am lecturing you (I bet you would say the same thing if Brazil or the U.S. was falling into civil war), but sects can live together and be better because of it. Finding a way to avoid a pointless war will be best for all sects and Lebanon and you all need to man the fuck up and avoid the next war so everyone in Lebanon can enjoy the peace dividend.

Posted by: mikek at April 4, 2007 10:38 PM

Mikek,

We proved, on that famous March 14th, that we wanted to live together. Our destiny, however, may be different, as each goes back to his own side, there is little we can do but do our best to survive, or leave.

Posted by: Jeha at April 5, 2007 06:32 PM
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