The tragedy in Lebanon

This past week I’ve heard about the situation with Lebanon and Israel. Lebanon seemed so promising not long ago. It was asserting its own right of existence again. The Lebanese pushed out the Syrians in their own peaceful “Cedar Rebellion” after it was found out the Syrians had assassinated their president. I managed to watch one news feature story on Lebanon last year, where one of our broadcast networks interviewed one of their leaders. I got a real sense of promise from this man, that Lebanon was going to assert itself and become a peaceful neighbor in the Middle East. It was pointed out that the leadership is always under the threat of assassination, and that the security situation is precarious, but it looked like they had a good security apparatus. I think the person doing the interview even called Lebanon the “Paris of the Middle East”, as a compliment. It was good to see. It may have been too good to be true.

The tragedy is Lebanon has become a pawn in an international game of chess, just as it used to be. The Iranians are behind this violence, even though they’ve apparently not admitted it. Hezbollah started the fighting by copying Hamas and kidnapping two Israeli soldiers, demanding the release of prisoners Israel is holding. Israel responded by moving militarily into Lebanon to get their soldiers back.

Like Hamas in the West Bank, Hezbollah is part of the government in Lebanon. It has been for years, in fact. The problem, as I heard it aptly characterized yesterday on the McLaughlin Group, is that Hezbollah is not fully integrated into the government. It has its own media operation, and it has its own militia. Imagine, if you will, that the Democrats and Republicans owned their own TV networks and had their own militias, separate from the U.S. military. The government apparently has no control over Hezbollah’s militia. This is not healthy, especially for the length of time that Hezbollah has been involved with the Lebanese government.

From what I have heard, the linkage to Iran is that Hezbollah does the bidding of Iran. Technically the group is linked to Syria, but it’s financed by Iran, so they have a say in large part in what the group does. The foreign policy analysts I’ve heard from have said that Hezbollah started the violence on the day that Iran was supposed to say whether or not they would agree to the “no nukes” deal offered by the Europeans, and endorsed by the U.S. I think we have Iran’s answer. Instead of addressing the issue, Iran is trying to change the subject, to avert our attention away from the nuclear issue. True, Israel has played a part in this diversion. You could say that Hamas and Hezbollah picked a fight with Israel, and Israel took the bait. Israel had two choices. They could’ve either agreed to a prisoner swap, which they’ve done in the past, though I think the wisdom of that is dubious, or they could go after these terrorist groups and try to get them themselves. They chose the latter.

The problem is not necessarily that Hezbollah was part of the Lebanese government. The problem was that it was never disarmed. In a rational governmental system, the government must regulate their own military, and any militias, and that authority must be respected. If this is not the case, you get what’s going on now between Hezbollah (not Lebanon), and Israel, though Lebanon and Israel are the ones getting hurt.

As the saying goes, war is politics by other means, and politics is war by other means. What I’ve learned from listening to what’s going on in Iraq is that the different factions and tribes there have had a history of using war as a means of exercising politics. They need to be convinced and taught that they can win their battles and exercise power, at least for a limited time, without killing each other: war by other means. The same lesson could ultimately be applied to Hezbollah, though I doubt this would take place without the threat of overwhelming force against them, demanding they disarm. It could also be applied to Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank. I realize these groups have had a long, terrible history of killing innocent civilians, but in the case of Lebanon and the West Bank, they’re part of the government now, and they are a force to be reckoned with. That’s just the reality.

In Iraq they’re doing something similar, though it’s my understanding that they’re being selective about which insurgents/militant groups they’re trying to bring in to the government.

The Israeli bombing in Lebanon has struck me as misplaced, though I’ve been gradually understanding the strategy. Hezbollah is primarily based in southern Lebanon. For those not familiar with the geography, Lebanon is situated on the northern border of Israel. Israel bombed the airport in southern Lebanon, because reportedly large airplanes had been coming in delivering munitions to Hezbollah. They’ve also been bombing highways leaving southern Lebanon, because they’re trying to cut off escape routes, where Hezbollah might try to move their hostages. They’ve bombed the headquarters of Hezbollah.

They’ve been bombing electricity stations, fuel depots and gas stations as well. This part is a mystery to me. Perhaps someone could explain. One foreign policy analyst I heard explained that Israel is trying to put a lot of pressure on the Lebanese government to act against Hezbollah, but the government has thrown up its hands, saying they have no control over Hezbollah’s actions. They’ve acted shocked at what the Israelis are doing. My guess is the Israelis are trying to eliminate Hezbollah for them, since the Lebanese have proved powerless of doing it themselves. Israel has a habit of doing this. It’s been eliminating and imprisoning terrorists that the Palestinians have said they’re powerless to control, for years.

All around it’s a tragic situation. I wish the Lebanese and the Israelis well. The Lebanese government has been a noble effort, though I think this conflict proves that they still have their work cut out for them.


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