July 18, 2006
In a rather futile attempt to show my support for the battered Lebanese nation, I bought myself a Lebanese flag and hung it from my balcony. I know it makes no difference, but it makes me feel like I’m showing some sort of solidarity with this place that has shown me so much hospitality in the past years. Not many people can see it though since my balcony faces the waterfront.
Given the number of Swedes already evacuated, I’m worrying that the Swedish consulate will contact me soon. Hopefully, though, they are first dealing with all those from more battered areas than mine. I hear there is chaos when people are trying to get on their busses to leave, so maybe it’s actually highly unlikely anyone will call me with an offer to evacuate anytime soon. I’m still in no hurry to get out, but I’m worried I’ll get a one-time offer of evacuation, take it or leave it. In that case I’ll have to go, since there is no telling when my next chance will be, and I really do have to get back to Sweden at some point.
So the Israeli campaign continues. Approximately 400 000 Lebanese are displaced and more than 200 have died, the vast majority civilians. It surprises me somewhat that Hizballah is still able to launch attacks in the way that they do, given the power of the Israeli onslaught.
Speaking as a political scientist for a moment, it would seem Israel is trying to do two main things: one, to decimate Hizballah, both in terms of popular support, and in terms of physical capabilities; two, to force a situation where the international community will have to respond in determination to help the Lebanese government assert its authority over all Lebanese territory (sans Sheba’a farms). But I find it hard to comprehend just how it is helpful to weaken the already weak Lebanese central authority; and I wonder how a grain silo in the Beirut port and a water processing plant can be regarded anything but civilian targets. If these actions, and numerous others like them, are simply directed at creating hardship and terror in the civilian population, well then the current campaign can only be called one thing.
The situation in Lebanon is not as simple as the U.S. president seems to think; you cannot reduce the combination of a complex internal state structure such as Lebanon’s, the presence of an armed militia on its territory, and a regional conflict involving regional powers such as Syria, Iran, and Israel, to the simple equation of “Syrian pressure on Hizballah = end to hostilities.”
Most political scientists would agree that a state not retaining the monopoly of the use of force on its territory is a very weak state, and in the case of Lebanon, the issue of Hizballah’s arms and the party’s control over the southern border with Israel was a – if not the – key issue on Lebanon’s national political scene.
Regardless of how one feels about Hizballah, the reality is that it is an organization to be reckoned with. It enjoys substantial support, especially within the Shi’a community, and is not considered a “foreign tool,” as it is portrayed by the West, but a genuine national resistance. Most observers would agree the 1990’s saw a positive development in Hizballah’s transformation from a militia to a political party. While I do not agree with the means of either Hizballah or Hamas, there are legitimate claims on the sides of both Lebanon and the Palestinians, and unless these claims are acknowledged, there will not be any lasting solution to the current conflict.
As an editorial in the Lebanese Daily Star reminded us yesterday, Israel’s last “cleansing of terrorists” in Lebanon led to the birth of new organizations; the PLO and PFLP gave way to Hizballah and Hamas. It was the crumbling high rises of Beirut during the Israeli invasion of 1982 that inspired Osama Bin Laden to take out the World Trade Center. We have no way of knowing what will come in Hizballah’s place, should Israel succeed in its efforts to weaken it to the point of irrelevance.
I do not want to see the residents of Haifa or any other Israeli city hide in their bomb shelters, any more than I want to see the residents of Beirut hide in their basements. I simply do not believe that Israel will achieve its long-term objectives with its current strategy; I do not believe that this war will bring peace for Israel.
A positive long-term trend could have been achieved in Lebanon, had efforts focused on economic growth, social development, and – in the very long run – an end to patronage and sectarianism. In this process, Hizballah’s interests would have become increasingly civilian and its arms would have become less crucial to the party, making it easier to disarm Hizballah fully within the next couple of years. But the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the massive long-term damage to Lebanon’s ability to recover economically threaten any positive development toward a stable peace between Israel and Lebanon. Instead, hatred toward Israel is likely to increase. I suspect no one is happier about Israel’s actions today than Syria and Iran; hardliners tend to like when other hardliners play into their hands…
Lest it be thought I simplify as much as the U.S. president, and see this conflict as a strict black and white situation with sole blame to be placed on Israel, let me say that I have my own opinions of Hizballah, as well as the so-called “anti-Syrian” government in Lebanon. Personally, I blame the government’s inability to ensure Hizballah’s restraint on internal bickering with other Lebanese politicians, as pretty much the same bunch who ruled the country under Syrian tutelage try to redress themselves as “anti-Syrian.” Regardless of this, the Lebanese people are not to blame, but they are being punished.
Talking to people here, there is a sense of hopelessness that I haven’t seen before. It has been my experience that the Lebanese are a pessimistically optimistic bunch; they express pessimism, but act in optimism. Now they are just pessimistic; leave, they tell me, it’s not going to get better. It’s heartbreaking to see the deserted streets of Hamra, the foreigners still here are pretty much awaiting evacuation, like myself. A friend has a view of Dahiyeh from his house. He used to live there and knows every street that you now see demolished on TV. The other day, they were sitting on his balcony, watching as bomb after bomb hit; first a flash, then a thundering boom.
I saw another Israeli warship off the coast yesterday; it’s a weird kind of feeling to know that they are out there, capable of firing a missile at us at any moment. And now two helicopters just flew by outside my window. They weren’t heading in the direction of Israel; they were going north along the Lebanese coast. I wonder just what their destination and mission is.