When Israeli jets were dropping American-made-and-paid-for bombs on Lebanon’s cities, where was the Lebanese “army”? Hiding in its barracks, even as the Israelis reduced their bases to rubble. And where was Lebanon’s prime minister, Fouad Siniora, and what was he doing about it? He was pleading with his masters in Washington to call off their Israeli dogs, and wiping away tears as he broke down in front of the Arab conference, when it became apparent that his pleas were falling on deaf ears. That isn’t all he was doing, however, as Hassan Nasrallah recently pointed out. Addressing 2 million protesters rallying in Beirut against Siniora’s government, he asked: “Didn’t the prime minister of Lebanon work to cut off the supply lines?” Nasrallah and his supporters claim Lebanese government officials colluded with the Americans and the Israelis to rain death on their own country.
The war in which Hezbollah alone defended the Lebanese nation against the Israelis has given Nasrallah tremendous political authority and created a nationalist coalition that rises above sectarian divisions. In calling for a new government of national unity dedicated to preserving Lebanese sovereignty, Hezbollah is joined by other mainstream Lebanese political forces, including Amal and the Lebanese Patriotic Front, the Maronite Christian group led by Michel Aoun. The Democratic Party of Lebanon, a Druze group led by Talal Arslan, also supports the anti-government coalition.
The unifying principle that brings together all these disparate elements is opposed not just to the present government, but to what it represents: a conspiracy of foreigners who want to assert or, in the case of France, reassert control over Lebanese affairs.
The Washington-backed government of Siniora came to power, you’ll remember, in the so-called Cedar Revolution, which followed the assassination of entrepreneur-politician Rafik Hariri and succeeded in chasing the Syrians out of the country. This “revolution” was hailed by George W. Bush and the neocons as yet another example of the “freedom wave” sweeping through the Middle East as a result of the “liberation” of Iraq. It was a very short Beirut Spring, however, cut short by Israel’s aggression and Washington’s active complicity.
Now many of the same people who marched against the Syrian-backed regime are demanding an end to Siniora, and the West is paying the price of betrayal. A wave of anti-Americanism is sweeping the country, as Hezbollah speakers at the daily protests in Beirut declare “there is no place for America in Lebanon.”
This perfectly illustrates the double treachery of a foreign policy that serves neither American interests nor the interests of freedom abroad. For all the rhetoric about the “global democratic revolution” coming out of the White House propaganda operation, the tragic reality of our actual policy was confirmed by the Israeli aggression, which we not only fully countenanced, but, some say, actively encouraged. America is blamed as much as Israel for an attack that killed over 1,000 Lebanese (hardly any of them Hezbollah fighters) and devastated much of the essential infrastructure that made Lebanon a major commercial hub for the region.
The crippling economic effects of the Israeli attack and Hezbollah’s role in throwing back the Israeli assault have driven many Christians into the ranks of the anti-government opposition. As one Christian shopkeeper put it:
“It is tough, prices are up at least 30 percent and I haven’t had any customers in weeks. Look at what is going on now. First there was the war and now the demonstrations, both for the government and against. We are in a state of constant fear and I really believe that people don’t want to leave their homes. Most of the people here support Aoun and want a new government if that happens things will get better, we hope.”
The predominantly Maronite Christian middle and upper classes took a big hit during the war, and Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah and other anti-government elements reflects a decisive shift in the constellation of sectarian alignments and ancient feuds that have dominated Lebanese politics since the end of the French Mandate. Lebanon’s “confessional” constitutional arrangements call for a division of political power according to religious and ethnic allegiances, but the Israeli incursion created something new: a genuine Lebanese nationalism, forged in the fire of war.
Hezbollah is variously portrayed by the neocons as “pro-Syrian” and a creature of the Iranian mullahs, but it is neither. The “Party of God” was born in resistance to the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1980s, and soon branched out into electoral politics. It also morphed into a social-service agency providing a wide array of functions: healthcare, charities, business associations, as well as physical protection from foreign forces. Hezbollah’s reconstruction efforts have dwarfed those of the UN and the U.S. It is, in short, a private alternative to the profoundly dysfunctional and infamously corrupt Lebanese government. As a result, Hezbollah enjoys wide support from Christians and Druze, not just from Shi’ite Muslims, who make up around 40 percent of Lebanon’s population. As Michel Aoun explained in this interview, Hezbollah has gone beyond its origins as a sectarian organization and come to embody rising Lebanese nationalism:
“We managed to get Hezbollah to limit their demands to purely Lebanese issues. They stopped talking about Jerusalem, a global Middle East solution
we got them to focus on purely Lebanese issues, such as the Shebaa Farms, an area I know very well having served there as a young lieutenant. Yes, the Farms belong to Lebanon.
“As soon as the [Lebanese] territory [occupied by Israel] is liberated, Hezbollah’s weapons should become defensive weapons and become integrated in a defensive strategy under Lebanese Army command. And from the moment the Shebaa Farms are returned to Lebanese sovereignty, Hezbollah’s weapons would no longer be used against Israel.”
Shebaa Farms is a small area in southern Lebanon that is still occupied by Israel as a result of the 1982 invasion. The return of that land to Lebanon, according to the terms of a UN resolution, is a long-standing demand of all Lebanese nationalist parties, one made all the more pressing in the wake of the IDF’s summer blitzkrieg.
The 2005 murder of Rafik Hariri has roiled the Lebanese political landscape, and it underscores Lebanon ‘s status as a launching pad for a Western destabilization campaign aimed at Syria, and, ultimately, Iran. As the Christian Science Monitor reported,
“The White House, and in particular White House advisers who belong to the neoconservative movement, allegedly encouraged Israel to attack Syria as an expansion of its action against Hezbollah, in Lebanon. The progressive opinion and news site ConsortiumNews.com reported Monday that Israeli sources say Israel’s ‘leadership balked at the scheme.’
“‘One Israeli source said [U.S. President George] Bush’s interest in spreading the war to Syria was considered “nuts” by some senior Israeli officials, although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has generally shared Bush’s hard-line strategy against Islamic militants.
“‘After rebuffing Bush’s suggestion about attacking Syria, the Israeli government settled on a strategy of mounting a major assault in southern Lebanon aimed at rooting out Hezbollah guerrillas who have been firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.'”
The neocons haven’t given up, however: the frame-up of the Syrians over the assassination of Hariri and, now, Pierre Gemayel came to a head when the Siniora government approved the UN “tribunal” assigned to find and prosecute Hariri’s killers. The Hariri case, however, is so convoluted and complex that I challenge anyone to examine the facts and come up with an unambiguous verdict. In any case, as I have written before, the evidence against the Syrians is far from convincing. Hezbollah and others opposed the government’s action for this reason, as well as in defense of Lebanese sovereignty: after all, how would Americans like it if the UN decided to establish a “tribunal” to establish who was behind, say, the assassination of John F. Kennedy?
In reality, the UN tribunal is a kangaroo court that will deliver the verdict ordained by the Great Powers, especially the United States and France, who both have their own reasons for going after Syria. Any judgment rendered by them is bound to be politically motivated. In all probability, we will never know who killed Hariri or Gemayel but one can say that, of all the various suspects, Syria had the most to lose by carrying out this particular hit.
In any case, the focus of the continuing crisis in the Middle East now centered on Iraq is scheduled to shift back to Lebanon sooner rather than later. As the Israelis seek vengeance for their humiliating defeat, and the neocons in Washington plot their next move, the Levant will figure prominently as a battleground of growing importance. Thanks to the scheming of foreigners and their native collaborators, the specter of civil war is hanging over Lebanon.
Is it too much to hope that the much-touted triumph of “realism” in Washington circles will derail the War Party’s plans to take the offensive in Lebanon? Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert doesn’t think so, and I’m afraid he’s right. Yes, there is a growing rebellion against our Israeli-centric Middle Eastern policy stance, but I’m afraid it doesn’t extend to the White House. The power of “the Lobby,” as John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt call it, has been increasingly challenged, but is not yet broken. Washington, as Pat Buchanan so trenchantly and colorfully put it, is still “Israeli-occupied territory,” and until we liberate our policy from the depredations of Israel Firsters, there is no chance of formulating a foreign policy that serves both American interests and the interests of all the peoples of the region.