My correspondent in Beirut.
Several of you have written in this week asking me to comment on the Israel/Lebanon situation. Sorry I've not said much lately, but it's very hot in my flat and I've not felt motivated to sit down and compose fresh thoughts. I'm not going to start from scratch today either, as there is no need. I have a close friend (and former flatmate) who's half-Lebanese, half-British. He's in Beirut now and naturally I'm concerned for him. His chances of being bombed are relatively light, as he lives in the Christian areas. But his family business is sure to be harmed by the conflict and he's got a muslim girlfriend (don't ask).
He does not share all my views about the Middle East. He despises American Zionists jews for instance, believing that they have a nostalgic impression of Israel that doesn't reflect demographic changes in the last few decades and his view on Neo-Cons is 'I prey for their deaths'. Earlier this week, I asked him whether he would use his UK passport to get evacuated. He told me that he would stay put. Despite not sharing my views, he didn't launch into a diatribe against Israel.
Here are some things he did say. I won't add much to them, except to note that he's not as critical of Israel as all of the people who've written in and it's HIS country getting bombed not theirs! In fact, he barely expresses any criticism of Israel at all.
"Lebanese politicians universally rally around hizbollah in short term. Longer term it could lead to a escalation of issues relating to the role of hizbollah as an armed militias group, this could be a positive as the status quo preserves their existence as an armed force. Local politicians don't have the political will or power to stand against syria in insisting on hizbollah's disarmament. If you do, they tend to kill you.
Hizbollah is a combination of a font of political expression of the disaffected impoverished shia population in the south, and a tool of iran/syria foreign policy. Israel provokes syria with a presidentioal palace flyby. Syria reacts by encouraging hizbollah. Israel bombs lebanese infrastructure. Hizbollah gets what it wants-an escalation of violence and a pseudo justification for their existence as armed force. Syria & Iran gets what they want-political capital in threatening israel without suffering the consequences. Israel gets to make a show of force.
Lebanon gets fucked. The truth is, no one really gives a shit because as long as Lebanon is weak, than the chances of enforcing the nationalisation of the Palestinian refugees within Lebanon is greater. And everyone, bar the Lebanese, wants this.
I made the following point at the time the syrians were evicted from Lebanon....
The only military force capable of disarming hizbollah is the syrians, and i preferred that that the US & International community found a way to make them do this by making concessions on other issues first, before asking them to leave Lebanon. If the US had done this, than they could always turn the heat up on the syrians afterwards on other issues. Asking the syrians to leave without forethought as to how to ensure hizbollah's disarmament was not good forward thinking by the US. This kind of conflict is inevitable if you allow armed militias to roam around the country."
In a later e-mail:
"This isn't a very nice thing to say, but I do hope the shia that are leaving the country get settled where they go. I'm not leaving this country for Hizballah."
In another later e-mail:
I was a lone voice of dissent when the Syrians were asked to leave the country, because, as ever, the US will never commit itself to long term solutions to the region. Their policy is always to react to events with a hopeless short term Israeli bias.
My point then, as now, is that
1 The Leb Army can't and won't disarm Hizballah. They are not strong enough militarily and 75% of army is Shia.
2 Hizballah will never voluntarily disarm.
3 Once Syria leaves they would inevitably encourage Hizballah since they could claim innocence and Israel couldn't retaliate against their positions in Lebanon.
4 The only ground force capable of disarming Hizballah is Syria.
What was needed, was concerted International pressure on Syria to disarm Hizballah. The Syrians usually do what the US tells them. Afterwards, they could step up the pressure and get the Syrians to leave altogether. Given the right carrots, they may well have done this. However, facts are facts and The Lebanese Gov was never going to be in a position to implement 1559 and disarm Hizballah. It was ridiculous to expect this after the Syrians withdrew.
The game now, is that Israel is determined to destroy hizballah's military capability, especially since it is more potent than they first imagined. This could result in Leb Army deployment in the south, as the Israelis are asking. I believe Bush/Blair want this. Hizballah won't back down because they don't care what happens to the rest of Lebanon, they just want war. Whatever happens we need decisive action, preserving the pre-war status quo is unacceptable.
at 1:42 PM BST
Updated: Saturday, 22 July 2006 1:48 PM BST