Five thoughts on Lebanon:
There were cultural(1) and economic(2) reasons for Israel to attack Lebanon. But there are several hints that the current attack is a premature ejaculation(3). Disarming Hizbullah is only possible by rearranging the inner Lebanese political system(4). An effective UN force in Lebanon will need a tough air-defense and marine component. A new Lebanese political system has to evolve to secure that nation(5).
1. There is a deep cultural reason, why Israel had to destroy Lebanon. Israel and its U.S. supporters need the clash of civilization myth. They need the picture of Islam as a dangerous civilization that can only be hold back by a Christian-Jewish coalition.
A striving multicultural, multiethic, multireligion country in peace and prosperity right next door to Israel endangers the picture the likutnik and neocons try to paint. Pope John Paul II described Lebanon not only as a country, but as a message for all peoples of a balanced coexistence among peoples of different religions and confessions. Could there be any greater danger to the Hebrew state, the first modern theocracy?
A state that surrounds itself with walls to stay away from its neighbours can not survive when an open secular democracy, even an imperfect one, is blooming next door.
This was on Israeli leaders mind when they argued that the general destruction of infrastructure, would turn the non-Shia Lebanese against Hizbullah. A new civil war in Lebanon would destroy the model Israel fears. So far this has not happened and this objective has not been achieved, but there are voices in Lebanon that call for such a civil war as soon as the war with Israel is over.
2. A second reason why Israel did attack Lebanon is economic competition. Beirut had quite high growth rates during the last years. International companies opened bureaus, tourism and trade achieved record numbers. As Noirette pointed out, the French-language Swiss press is openly discussing the economic background of Israels attack on Lebanon. She cites l'Hebdo:
Israel is deliberately destroying the economy of Lebanon, as it is its competitor in the areas of tourism, banking and transport ...
I have seen similar thoughts in the Lebanese and Turkish media.
Before 1948 Haifa was the areas trade center. After the Israeli state was founded, a lot of this (arab) trade went to Beirut. These two cities are direct competitors.
The all-out warfare against Lebanon in the first days was definitly not targeted on Hizbullah but did hit obviously pure economic infrastructure like powerplants and even a diary factory. This war will throw the Lebanese economy back some 20 years. Unemployment will jump while special important skills of former (and now again) ex-patriots will be lacking.
3. At a point I asked if this war is a premature ejaculation of the October surprise and there are several hints to this.
After Hizbullah took two Israeli soldiers as POWs, the Israeli chief of staff presented one plan, and only one plan, to the civil administration. That plan was the same that had been presented around certain circles in the U.S. for some month before this wars started.
The plan consisted of a phase one all-out air attack we did see and a second phase of fast ethnic cleansing of Lebanon up the Litani river. The second phase was called off for some time by Olmert and Perez because the troops to implement this were not ready. It is now getting implemented but only half-hearted.
The ammunition and bombs Israel did buy were planed to be delivered later this year. Usually such transports are done by ship. Now they had to be rushed to Israel via an air bridge.
But imagine how much easier the second phase would have been, if the troops would have been ready, like during a big fall maneuver, the ammunition would have been in place and the world public would look at a much bigger war scene in Iran.
Hizbullah chief Nazrallah did expect this war but he expected it to be launched in October:
In his statement on Al-Manar, the secretary general declared that Hizbullah knew Israel intended to launch a major military operation in October.
The former chief of the Pakistani secret service ISI, Hameed Gul, predicts a U.S. war on Iran and Syria for October this year.
In the current political landscape in the U.S. a landslight win for the Democrats in the November election is a serious possibility. There is nothing more to fear for the Cheney administration than John Conyers jr. presiding the House Judiciary Committee and having subpoena powers. A big patriotic war on Iran and Syria might be the only chance to avoid this.
So my theory is that a plan existed and exists for the U.S. and Israel (and Britain?) to attack Iran, Syria and Lebanon in October. The Israeli part of this plan was started premature only because of a mistake in the Israeli reaction to the POW taking.
Such a plan would also explain the otherwise irrational U.S. behaviour versus Syria.
The current situation is a good chance to bring peace between Israel and Syria and to drive Syria away from Iran. Giving back the Golan Heights to Syria for a Syrian promise of non-intervention in Lebanon plus a cut off of Hizbullah from military supply through Syria should be an attractive deal to all sides. Unless someone does not want a deal at all, but has something different in mind.
I still have to think through how this premature war on Lebanon might effect the October plans. Please let me know your ideas.
4. This point is one I found in Joshua Landis recent interview.
The Lebanese political system was introduced in 1943 based on a census done in 1932. The seats in the parliament were divided on a 6-to-5 ratio of Christians to Muslims. Through emigration of mostly Christians and high birth rates within the Muslim communities the demographics have changed significantly. The representation ratio in the parliament was changed to 50:50 in the 1989 Taif accord. But this still does not represent the current demografic distribution.
The CIA world fact book estimates 60% of Lebanese people being Muslim. Within the underrepresented Muslim community, the Shia are again underrepresented. Landis estimates that one Sunni vote equals two Shia votes. Juan Cole has estimated that Shia are some 40% of the total population. Landis explains that a informal side deal within the Taif accord, a Shia condition guaranteed by Syria, was for the underrepresented Shia Hizbullah to be allowed to keep its weapons.
As long as the Shia are underrepresented, they will of course stick to this deal and these weapons. To convince them to disarm will only be possible if they can achieve a political role that represents the demographic facts.
5. The mandate under which new UN troops really could help Lebanon must take into account the above mentioned points and therefore should be primarily focused on guaranteeing the integrity and security of the Lebanese state.
These are endangered from the outside by Israel and Syria and from the inside by sectarian strife.
Since it departed from Lebanon in 2000 Israel has continuesly violate Lebanon's air- and seaspace. This has been documented in several UN papers. Israeli war planes did intrude Lebanese airspace nearly daily. This at low attitudes and sometimes even with braking the sound barrier deep within Lebanon's territory.
To deter Israel from continuing this, the UN force should include significant (3 batallions worth) of high and low attitude air defense. Overtime it could train the Lebanese army to handle the systems and donate them to Lebanon when its mandate runs out. For the same reason some small navy capability should be included. An armoured infantry brigade should secure the southern boarder in both directions by strict control of an area of 1 kilometer of no man's land north and south of the boarder (shoot on sight order within a more narrow part of this corridor.)
Lebanon has been part of a greater Syria until the parting French colonial power decided it to be in its favor to cut Syria up into pieces. It is not possible to correct this. But one has to acknowledge that there is a deep cultural and political relation between Syria and Lebanon and some Syrian involvement will always be there. But I do not see any immediate danger of a Syrian military involvement in Lebanon.
The relations between the countries have to stay, but the weapon flow from Syria to Lebanon should stop. A (civil) UN component could take control of the boarder traffic points and control at least some of this flow. Air reconaissances and a mobile interdiction border guard component could subdue green boarder smuggling. It will be impossible to hinder all weapon flow, but these measure would make a difference in the size of such a flow.
To disarm Hizbullah by military means is impossible, there has to be a political solution. The Shia will demand a real representation as substitution for their weapons. The other groups do fear a dictatorship of the muslim majority. A model for a democratic system taking this into account could be a parliament with two chambers. A "house" elected without quotas in general elections for day-to-day business and a "senate" with significant overweight quota for smaller constituencies would guarantee a balance. Such a "senate" would be involved in all power altering decisions including the budget. The "senators" would be voted for within the different constituencies.
Only the protection of Lebanon's security form outside and inside enemies can induce the return of international business and an economic and cultural revival.
The above scetched plan is of course not in the interest of Israel (see 1 and 2) and their protection power (see 3). It is therefore unlikely to be implemented.
But maybe some components can be negotiated into the coming temporary solution. France, the most likely "taker" of the UN mandate, will at least request some of these elements. Pressure by the EU on Israel (i.e. commerce restrictions) should give it some leeway.
Still the big question is of course the planed neocon October war orgasm and how its build up can be interupted. If it can not be avoided, all bets, not only in Lebanon but in the greater Middle East and beyond, are off the table.
crossposted to Moon of Alabama