A Garden Without Fences
Fouad Ajami described the function of Lebanon -- at least from Hassan Nasrallah's point of view -- as an arena in which to act out the geopolitical and religious rivalries of the region. Nasrallah had a choice between being Lebanese and being an agent of Iran. He chose to be an agent of Iran. And in order to prosper as an agent of Iran, he needed a country in chaos.
In retrospect, Ehud Barak's withdrawal from Israel's "security zone" in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2000 had robbed Hezbollah of its raison d'être. It was said that the "resistance movement" would need a "soft landing" and a transition to a normal political world. ... The hope that Hezbollah would "go Lebanese," and "go local," was thus set aside ... That raid into Israel, the capture of the two Israeli soldiers, was a deliberate attack against the new Lebanon. ... At any rate, Nasrallah and his lieutenants did not trust the new Lebanon to make the ample room that a country at war--and within the orbit of Syria--had hitherto made for them in the time of disorder.
Walid Jumblatt reproached Nasrallah with this very fact: that in all of his calculations, Lebanon figured not at all.
I could not find a Lebanese element anywhere in his talk. He reminds me of Arafat's experience in the siege of Beirut in 1982. In the end, Arafat left Beirut, but things are different here ... Iran has decided to fight the US by launching a war against Israel, which is an American [client] state of sorts, in response to the conflict over the nuclear issue. As for Syria, it wants to escape the international tribunal [for its role in the Hariri assassination.] ... Does Hassan Nasrallah have any Lebanese part when he talks about having friends in Damascus and Tehran? This insults our intelligence. As for his saying that whoever supports me deserves praise and whoever does not will be held accountable, that is a message. We received the message.
And if Nasrallah valued Lebanon for anything, it was as cover for his agenda; for its ample supply of civilians to serve as human sandbags with which to fortify Hezbollah's positions; to act as a matrix in which to embed his fortifications. Jan Egeland, pathetically waving a UN report on the Lebanon crisis said:
Consistently, from the Hezbollah heartland, my message was that Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending ... among women and children. ... I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this. I don't think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men
Ralph Kinney Bennett at Tech Central Station described how these human-shield tactics have been refined to an art.
"Civilians" are a weapon to them -- as much a part of the fight as the AK-47 or RPG they carry. Those who have visited any Hezbollah installation in Lebanon over the years always remark on the fact that there are families, women and children, in and around the place. "Secret" bases are usually hidden in plain site. Houses or apartment buildings become weapons storage or even operations centers. An innocent shed or garage may contain a Toyota or a missile launcher.
Seldom, if ever, has a guerrilla movement been able to so openly and exquisitely weave itself into the fabric of a society as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon. If the civilians in and around what are in effect operational bases happen to be of Hezbollah's own brand of Islam they automatically become a part of the "sacrificial," suicidal equation. Often without choice or foreknowledge, they die an "honorable" death in the battle against infidels or apostates.
Israel's response to these tactics has been to declare that certain areas should be evacuated, often listing out the villages against which it will operate and warning that no one's safety in these areas will be guaranteed. It is an extremely harsh method, one guaranteed to displace hundreds of thousands; destroy their pitiful homes and scatter families to the four winds. The only thing that can be said in its favor is that it gives these unfortunates a chance to escape with their lives. But even if Nasrallah doesn't care, most of us nevertheless do. And the moral dilemma is whether to stop the fighting now, knowing it will be worse later. Or continue the fighting now, knowing it will be bad even in the best of circumstances.
This unsavory choice was reflected in the meeting between Condoleeza Rice and Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabi Berri. The Australian reports:
A meeting between Ms Rice and Mr Berri, who is acting as an intermediary for the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group, was marked by "differences," a source close to Mr Berri said after the surprise visit to Beirut by the top US diplomat. "There was no agreement because Rice insisted on a mechanism on a global settlement before a ceasefire," the source said on condition of anonymity. "Rice set, as conditions for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Hezbollah to the Litani river and the deployment of an international force in the area which would, she said, allow the return of displaced people."
Rice wanted the liquidation of Hezbollah as a prerequisite for a ceasefire. Berri held out for a withdrawal by Israel and a chance for Hezbollah to reestablish itself on its old grounds as a precondition for considering any further steps. Haaretz had more details of Berri's proposal.
An official close to Beri said his talks with Rice failed to "reach an agreement because Rice insisted on one full package to end the fighting." ... The package included a cease-fire, simultaneous with the deployment of the Lebanese army and an international force in south Lebanon and the removal of Hezbollah weapons from a buffer zone extending 30 kilometers from the Israeli border, said the official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private. Beri rejected the package, proposing instead a two-phased plan. First would come a cease-fire and negotiations for a prisoner swap. Then an inter-Lebanese dialogue would work out a solution to the situation in south Lebanon, said the official.
From Berri's statements, Hezbollah believes it can hold out until the European diplomats come to its rescue and then reoccupy its old positions. For Israel, Berri's counterproposal means that neither Lebanon nor the Hezbollah have been hurt hard enough for them to forgo a return to the status quo ante. For Hezbollah the status quo ante consists of a restoration of positions with which to attack Israel. But as Beirut Notes observes, for millions of it's citizens, the status quo ante is forever lost.
Lebanon is not mine anymore. I always realized that day was coming. In fact most Westernized Lebanese thought so. I could see it. The misery, the poverty, the inequality. It was bound to explode. Hezbollah was born amidst desperate people and with its mix of preaching, charity and military victories against a supposedly unbeatable foe, it gave meaning to their lives. More than a million people support Hezbollah and idolize its leader Hassan Nasrallah and Israeli bombs today only reinforce the Party of God's grasp on its community. After this crisis, Hezbollah and its allies will rule. And in anticipation I am trying to cut all ties to the Lebanon that I gave 13 years of my life for while others emigrated at the first opportunity that came up.
I believed, but not anymore. Now it is Hezbollah's turn to impose its Lebanon and I do not want to be a part of it. I lived war and refuge from 1975 till 1990 and I do not want to do it anymore.
Foud Adjami called Lebanon: "a garden without fences"; and gardens from time immemorial have called irresistibly to serpents.