Thursday, February 17, 2011
The Lebanese Tinderbox
Readers of the Old Testament know that Lebanon is mentioned in Deuteronomy, Judges and Joshua, Chronicles and Kings, in the Psalms, and the erotic poetry of the Song of Solomon.
Today’s Lebanon was one of several new nations that followed World War One when the Versailles Treaty divided up the Middle East, re-creating Lebanon by splicing it from Syria, while also creating Trans-Jordan for the Hashemite tribe, Iraq, and making Palestine a British mandate to administer. In 1948, Israel declared its independence and sovereignty.
A French colony until it was granted independence in 1943, Lebanon’s political system was created to make sure its Christians, Druze, Maronites and Muslims all had a place at the governing table. For decades it was known as the Paris of the Mediterranean, a place where multiculturalism actually worked.
That ended in 1975 when Palestinians, many of whom had been driven out of Jordan after attempting to overthrow the king, fled into Lebanon, and over time began to demand a larger role in the political life of the nation. A civil war that lasted fifteen years until 1990 ensued. It enabled Syria to insert its troops in Lebanon in the guise of peacekeeping.
Hezbollah, a Palestinian group and an Iranian proxy has been supplied with weapons for years. In July 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, setting off a 34-day conflict with Israel, despite the fact that Israel had previously withdrawn its troops from southern Lebanon in May 2000. That action led the United Nations Security Council to call for a withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2004.
The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and twenty others in February 2005, widely believed to be by agents of Hezbollah acting for Iran and Syria, led to massive demonstrations in Beirut against the Syrian presence. The remainder of its military force was withdrawn in April 2005.
Hezbollah has been so fearful of the outcome of a current UN investigation into the Hariri assassination that it recently pulled out of the Lebanese government. Having been heavily rearmed since the 2006 conflict with Israel, Lebanon could be used to create a diversion from the expected verdict that it came to power via this murderous route.
All this is related in order to provide a brief insight into the way Lebanon has been used as a pawn of other nations in the region and prepared as a platform for Iran’s long stated intention to “wipe Israel from the map.” Israel, caught between Lebanon to the north and Gaza to the south where Hamas is also an Iranian proxy, will once again face another war.
Lebanon has its own small army, supported by French UNIFIL peacekeeping troops. The latter has been sporadically attacked in Hezbollah-controlled towns. They are there presumably to keep the lid on Hezbollah. The UN, however, will run when the first shot is fired.
The situation in Lebanon is now extremely volatile given the withdrawal of Saudi Arabia from efforts to mediate its political crisis. Observers believe that Hezbollah has gained control of Lebanon without firing a shot.
All this is happening as the Obama administration is about to show its true hand in the United Nations. If it fails to veto a Palestinian-Arab Security Council motion to condemn Israel for its settlement policy in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Obama will become the first U.S. President to let an anti-Israel motion stand.
Attention is understandably focused on Egypt, but what happens in Lebanon could have an explosive impact on peace in the region. Much depends on the position the U.S. takes in the U.N.
© Alan Caruba, 2011