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What Now for Lebanon?
The Post-War Conflict

30 August   |   2006   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

The latest chapter of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah is over for now. So the United Nations is trying to put together a blue-helmeted force that matches the 15,000 Lebanese troops being deployed in South Lebanon, and there are already protracted negotiations let alone fierce bargains about the nature and mandate of such a multi-national force.

Those of us who realise that this war was unnecessary for Lebanon, unplanned by its government, and unwanted by a large number of its citizens, would also realise that it constituted a battleground for different global ideologies and interests. Intriguingly, Israel in its war propped the American and to a lesser extent European or 'moderate' Arab stances, whilst Hizbullah represented primarily the Iran-Syria axis. So this was not entirely about the Litani River demarcation, or singly about the abducted Israeli soldiers or even about popular nationalism and the still-occupied Shaba'a Farms. It was also willy-nilly about competing forces in the Middle East - about Sunni and Shi'i Muslims touting for regional control, and about the spheres of influence meted out by the USA in its New Middle East project or by Iran in terms of its Islamist agenda. The Middle East is being painstakingly tugged out, and those were merely some more of the firing salvoes.

Let me be quite clear that Israel did not win this war: in fact, the two governmental committees set up this week by the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are an indication - some would add vindication - that the impregnable Israeli army failed to remain impregnable and performed in a less-than-awesome manner. Mind you, the destruction it wrought upon Lebanon was as much reprehensible as it was brazen and vengeful, but a scorched earth policy with cluster bombs does not constitute victory. Israel hastened into war, retreated without much dignity, but managed to save its face with a deft UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that could still become a sign of hope for the whole battered region.

Hizbullah did not win the war either: in the aftermath of this devastating confrontation, an increasing number of Shi'i as well as other Lebanese voices are now clamouring for some justification for the destruction that was brought upon the country and its living cedars. The Lebanese government as well as political forces from different backgrounds are now together calling for some measure of accountability - and by inference for stronger overall democracy - upon a movement that had become a state-within-a-state and was marshalling its agenda as if it alone ran the country or decided its fate.

So the war ended up with a draw. But such a draw, clearly not what was planned initially, leaves the two camps in a state of expectant disarray. I say 'expectant' because it is inevitable now that changes ought to be made on the ground, and 'disarray' because nobody is still sure who would affect the dynamics of those changes for Lebanon and the wider region. However, as Dalal al-Bizri, a noted Shi'i editorialist in the Arab al-Hayat newspaper wrote on 27 th August under the title Dawlati al-Habiba / My Beloved State ,   "we [Lebanese] do not want a weak state in front of a strong armed party, no matter how holy its cause. We want one united and strong state that assembles all the Lebanese people, with all its ridiculous confessional divisions and its historical as well as human foibles. But to achieve this end, we have to stop confusing our beloved state with its faulty system, between Lebanon and the agendas of other countries. Lebanon must come first!" So if it becomes possible to turn this crisis into an opportunity by introducing a sense of national governance and longer-lasting security into Lebanon, then some good might well have come out of this mayhem.

As I see it, UN Resolution 1701 is a hopeful tool not only to strive for a strong Lebanon that could rise - yet again - from the ashes of devastation and ruin through its much-vaunted resilience, but also one to impress upon Israel that brute force will not solve its quandaries, assuage its own insecurities or destroy its so-called nemeses. If anything, it will create more hatred and vitriol in the larger Arab and Muslim worlds against it and its allies or supporters.

But would Lebanon be allowed to rise from its ashes, despite the billions of dollars in pledges, or would it continue to play out the rivalries of the different protagonists and their policies? And equally vitally, would Israel learn the morale of this confrontation and opt for negotiation and compromise, or will it continue with impunity its policies of heavy-handed pounding and rapid pouncing against those it disagrees with - from Lebanon to Palestine? In short, will the region re-start its slow walk toward peace now, or will the forces of intransigence gain the upper hand again? As HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan said to the Daily Star newspaper on 29 th August whilst attending the WCRP 8 th Assembly in Kyoto, Japan, " Ad hoc solutions are not good enough. The time has come to talk about regional peace."

We are at a critical crossroads in the Middle East: will all the key players - from Iran, Syria, the USA and the EU to Israel and Lebanon - rise to the challenge and tailor a comprehensive regional settlement? Or will they go for another fudge?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2006   |   30 August


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