July 31, 2006
Lebanon: Bloodletting at Qana
I badly underestimated the impact of the bombing in Qana - just one more building full of people. Yes, ironic that it should happen in the same village as the 1996 massacre, but it seemed to be just one more cruel irony added to this war, not the earth-shaking event it has turned into. Hizbullah has taken definitive advantage on the domestic political scene, and a return to the status quo ante looks less and less likely.
Asad Abu Khalil calls it a "coup d'etat":
In the last two days alone, all those Sunni Hariri deputies have clearly distanced themselves from remarks made by Walid Jumblat (although they have not named him): Muhammad Qabbani, Bahiyyah Al-Hariri, `Ammar Huri, Ahmad Fatfat, Samir Al-Jisr, among others). Bahiyya Hariri yesterday criticized the US "green light" on AlJazeera TV. Many of these politicians called AlJazeera live to express their condemnation of Israel and US. Many of them sounded as if they were pleading for their lives. The demonstrators yesterday, who stormed in the UN building in downtown Beirut where my sister works, chanted angry slogans not only against Arab regimes, Israel, and US, but also against Hariri. One chant went like this: "Beirut shall always be free, free; Hariri get the hell out."
A couple days ago, my inherent laziness saved me from making what would now look like a stupid argument. Following the Iron Law of the blogosphere, that every wartime situation is eventually compared to World War II, I was ready to argue, following this Michael Young editorial, that Hassan Nasrallah was likely to meet the same fate as Churchill: loved in war but discarded in peace. The Lebanese can be very pragmatic about what they expect to extract from their leaders, and I figured that they would look to Hariri, his money and his financial connections to rebuild the country once the fighting was over. But things may have swung too far for that.
Anthony Shadid had an article in the Sunday Washington Post that led off with an interview with Walid Jumblatt, admitting Hizbollah had the advantage:
"We have to acknowledge that they have defeated the Israelis. It's not a question of gaining one more village or losing one more village. They have defeated the Israelis," he said. "But the question now is to whom Nasrallah will offer this victory."
Many fear that even if strife doesn't erupt again, a Hezbollah considered victorious would become a kingmaker in politics.
"Hezbollah would be able, for instance, to impose its favorite choice of president of the republic, put a veto on candidates for becoming members of the government, and so on," said Melhem Chaoul, a sociologist and professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut. "We would have a semi-totalitarian state in the form of a consensual democracy."
If things were to stop now, Hezbollah would emerge much stronger from the fight, and would be in a position to stage an effective coup against the Lebanese state, by virtue of its weapons and its ability (and visible desire today) to seek retribution against its critics.
This is borne out by an interview with a Hizbullah leader in the Guardian:
Despite Israel's claims to have inflicted heavy losses on Hizbullah, Ali insists his side is in a strong position. "Things are going very well now, whatever happens we are winning. If they keep bombing us we will stay in the shelters, and with each bomb more people support the resistance. If they invade they will repeat the miserable fate they had in 1982, and if they hold one square foot they will give the Islamic resistance all the legitimacy. If they want to kill Hizbullah they have to kill every Shia in the south of Lebanon."
And even when the battle with the Israelis is over, he adds menacingly, Hizbullah will have other battles to fight. "The real battle is after the end of this war. We will have to settle score with the Lebanese politicians. We also have the best security and intelligence apparatus in this country, and we can reach any of those people who are speaking against us now. Let's finish with the Israelis and then we will settle scores later."
But while the prospect of a Hizbollah-led state gives me (and others) pause about returning to Lebanon, it isn't the worst thing that could happen. Even before the Qana bombing, there has been a disquieting undercurrent in the blog reporting from Lebanon: the Angry Arab and cedarseed both talk (from very different perspectives) about the police or army or militias patrolling to protect non-Shi'ah neighborhoods from Shi'ah refugees; EDB at Anecdotes from a Banana Republic interviews Tony the Killer Mechanic, a Lebanese Forces militiaman who promises that once the Israelis are gone, "Christians, Sunnis and Druze will fight the 'fucker Shia', with arms from the US and France"; Michael Totten (sorry L) sees renewed civil war on the horizon.
Shadid (again) picks up on the topic:
"The country's all ruined now," he said. "Not just what was reconstructed but everything. It's all ruined."
A student at Lebanese American University, Taryaki was blunt. He said Hezbollah would emerge from the war with its organization intact. It would keep its weapons in one form or another, and Lebanon's other sects would have to respond.
"If Hezbollah wins, it will become the leader of the country, and everyone else will start rebuilding their militias all over again to have their say," he said. "If you have a militia, you can survive. If you don't, you can't. It will be just like the 1980s."
Tony fought with the Lebanese Forces during the civil war; they were officially disarmed and disbanded in the early 1990s. When the Danish Embassy in Beirut was attacked last February in protest against the prophet Mohamed cartoons , I saw Tony leave his house with a gun, and head towards the area where the rioters where attacking churches, smashing cars and torching the Embassy (in Achrafieyeh, a Christian neighborhood.)
So today, I visited Tony and asked him if he was getting ready to fight against the Hezbollah. He said that he was getting too old (he is in his early 40s), and that the 18-year olds were mobilizing, but that they don't have machine guns now. I asked him if they would receive weapons from Israel. He said, "No, Israel is the enemy. Before it was different. Israel doesn't care about any of the Lebanese." He prophesized that a civil war will break out a month or two after the Israeli bombing stops, and that Christians, Sunnis and Druze will fight the "fucker Shia", with arms from the US and France.
Posted by tomscud at July 31, 2006 05:20 AM
Filed Under: Levant
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Frankly, I think for the very reason that too many from the first civil war are alive, that there is not going to be a relapse into open warfare.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 31, 2006 06:28 AM
Ugh.. what a mess. Thx for the commentary Tom.
Posted by: Iwasawa at July 31, 2006 11:39 AM