Scorpions in a Bottle
I can’t tell you how anguished I feel watching Lebanon, my new adopted home, being attacked by American-made F-16s and Israeli artillery. To hear that the Israeli Defense Forces have imposed an air and sea blockade on the country. To know that the only link Lebanon now has to the outside world is … Syria.
I can’t reach any of my friends on the phone, although email seems to be working. My friend Irina reported that in Hamra, people are going about their business in the hot and humid Beirut summer. The Lebanese will take this in stride, having endured worse at the hands of numerous enemies, but this is only the first day of what looks to be a prolonged attack. The shutting down of Hariri International Airport will hit hard on the economy. This is the high tourist season and many Gulf tourists with their Gulf money will either be unable to get in or flee through Damascus — although the road to Damascus has been bombed. The IDF has said a naval blockade is in effect and all ships entering and leaving Lebanon’s ports will be stopped. Israel is trying to box Lebanon — and Hezbollah — in.
This will have serious repercussions in Lebanese politics. It could start another civil war. The Shi’a overwhelmingly support Hezbollah and the other political parties of the March 14 alliance are in a bad spot. Who will reign in Hezbollah? Will Lebanon’s already fragile political arrangement collapse into a Shi’ites vs. everyone else arrangement, with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah on one side and Christians, Druze and Sunnis on the other backed up by … Israel? And/or the United States and France? I’m just not sure how many Christians will turn on Hezbollah, even though they blame them for bringing the wrath of Israel down on the country.
Then there’s the Palestinian question. Groups allied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, are not based in the big Fatah-run camps and are instead loyal to Syria. They are effective partners to Hezbollah. But with the current operation against Gaza going strong, I would guess that _all_ Palestinians would ally with Hezbollah against Israel and whatever allies it might pick up in Lebanon.
I’ve been told by very smart people that another civil war in Lebanon is impossible, not because the Lebanese people don’t want one — so what? Wars usually happen despite the wishes of the populations involved — but because no one would pay for one. Well, one side is being armed by Syria and Iran. If Lebanon splinters into two (or more camps), you can bet the Israelis and others will arm those hostile to the Party of God, the idea being that if Israel has to fight a two-front war, Hezbollah can be made to fight one, too.
But won’t that bring chaos? Again, so what? Looking at Gaza and the West Bank, it’s pretty clear that Israel will tolerate some chaos on its borders as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and can be kept at arm’s length. Israel was quite willing to let Fatah and Hamas militias slaughter each other as long as they didn’t stray over the border too much.
So where to go from here? More fighting, it looks like. Israel today is starting to make bellicose statements about “enforcing 1559” (which calls for the disarming of Hezbollah and other militias) and not letting Hezbollah back near the border (by a new occupation of a 1-km-wide “security band” on Lebanese territory). This is a recipe for chaos, violence and renewed civil conflict, and it’s very real and very close.
But for Israel, keeping a bunch of weakened scorpions in a bottle may be exactly what they want. It’s a crime that it’s the Lebanese people who will get stung.
*UPDATE 7/13/06 9:22:13 PM:* IDF is reporting two missiles have struck the port city of Haifa in northern Israel. Haifa is about 35km from the Lebanese border, which is deeper than Hezbollah has ever managed to penetrate. This indicates the missiles are probably not Katyushas, but larger — and possibly more deadly — rockets. I’m also getting conflicting reports of a journalist wounded in a rocket attack in Nahariya, a coastal town about 7km from the border.