Monday, August 07, 2006

What's going on in Lebanon?

Apparently, a lot of lying.

There have been rumblings about Hezbollah and Lebanese officials exaggerating the damage and death toll from Israeli airstrikes. A bunch of it now seems to be true.

Recently there was a lot of speculation that the incident in Qana was staged, but that appears mostly debunked. Even so, the death toll has been reduced from 50 to 28.

Then we have a Lebanese freelance photographer doctoring photos.

Then we have a report that an Israeli strike killed 40 people -- a number later corrected to one.

The good news is that the Lebanese government, reversing its previous stance, has agreed to deploy up to 15,000 troops to take control of its southern border. For years Lebanon has refused to do so, saying that a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel must be signed first.

One interesting aspect is that Hezbollah says it supports the decision. On the one hand this is good news -- it's doubtful the Lebanese Army could assert control in the face of active Hezbollah resistance. But beyond that, it could have multiple meanings.

1. It might indicate that Hezbollah doesn't think the Lebanese troops will meaningfully interfere with its activities.

2. It could be a sign that the Israeli incursion has hurt Hezbollah badly and it would welcome a chance to rest and recover.

3. Perhaps Hezbollah does not wish to alienate the Lebanese and risk getting kicked out of the country.

It's a matter of speculation, too, as to what prompted the Lebanese change of heart. Perhaps the Israeli air campaign worked, by persuading Lebanon that supporting Hezbollah was too expensive. Or perhaps Lebanon was responding to international pressure. Or perhaps it was none of these. The Lebanese government has no particular love for Israel, but it has no particular love for Syria, either, one of Hezbollah's main backers. Maybe they see this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

So take what you hear from the region with a grain of salt. And hope that the Lebanese plan works.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you note, both sides know how to take advantage of the instant information world.

Lebanon offering 15,000 troops in its southern region is a good sign. Let's eee if Israel (and the US) will honor this very significant development with an olive branch of their own.
I think Lebanon is right in rejecting the US-France brokered UN deal as is. A cease-fire must include the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon and the cessation of its air campaign, as well as put Lebanese troops in the south.
- Caracarn

8/08/2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I didn't mind the US-France proposal, but if Lebanon is willing to commit a serious number of troops that's a more realistic approach and cuts out the middleman.

If Lebanon is willing to take responsibility for what happens along its southern border, that's an absolute good. It will allow Lebanon to finally be held responsible for what does and does not go on in the area.

8/08/2006 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

But Lebanon isn't likely to be able to take on Hezbollah. One of the arguments against the Israeli action, it seems to me, was that it was punishing a Lebanese government that was too weak to do much. Now, you are saying this same government is really going to be able to stand up to Hezbollah. I have my doubts about that.

The fact is, as you say, both sides use civilian casualties for political purposes, but the various guerrilla groups--whether Palestineans, Hezbollah, or Iraqi insurgents, have a history of inflating the death toll from Israeli (or American) attacks. That strikes me as a dumb tactic because when the actual number comes out, it lessens the impact.

The one thing I would like to ask Anonymous is whether he thinks Hezbollah has any responsibility to make the ceasefire work. You say Lebanon is right in rejecting the ceasefire until all the Israelis are out and the bombing stops, but what about Hezbollah committing to stop firing missiles at Israel?

8/08/2006 1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marc, I'm glad you asked that; questions and reasoned debate are the path to mutual enlightenment.
Of course I think Hezbollah has a responsiblity to make the ceasefire work. Considering that their two members in parliament agreed to the Lebanese troop presence AND have stated that they will stop firing rockets into Israel if Israel stops the bombing, it seems as if Hezbollah will play their part. And, the parliamentary agreement suggests that Hezbollah will not oppose the Lebanese troop presence.

A ceasefire resolution that does not require Israel's withdrawal is pointless, IMO, because a major source of aggravation would still exist. Conflict would resume in a short period of time.

The reality is that you must deal with Hezbollah on a diplomatic level. Only the US, Israel, and Canada label them a terrorist organization. Hezbollah has major support in Lebanon and in the Middle East population; and whether we like it or not, they give aid to Arab civilians in various forms. The group formed in response to the 18 year Israeli occupation of Lebanon. While I certainly don't condone their targeting of civilian populations in Israel, I don't view their current action as any worse than Israel's devastation of Lebanon's infrastructure, economy, environment, and civlian population. Resorting to the children's game of "good vs. evil" and drawing lines in the sand will get us nowhere.
- Caracarn

8/08/2006 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Marc Schneider said...


I agree that it makes sense to deal with them diplomatically, if for nothing else to wean them away from Iran. One of the big problems that both the left and the right have, IMO, is an overly moralistic view of politics. Hezbollah is a political actor just as Iran and Syria are and it makes no sense to simply call them evil and refuse to talk. But, I think that diplomacy is more likely to be effective when it is backed up with force. Hezbollah strategy is based, not on destroying Israel at once, but by employing salami tactics, forcing it to make one concession after another. Whether Nasrollah actually thinks he can eliminate Israel this way, I don't know, but it seems to me that, for diplomacy to work, Hezbollah must realize that it will not achieve its maximalist goals. I think Israel completely overreacted here and its actions have seriously inflamed the situation. But I also think that Hezbollah has become a dangerous military player in the region and that it is, to some extent at least, a cat's paw for Iran.

8/08/2006 4:22 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Marc: You and Caracarn are touching on most of the major points, but I wanted to answer this:

But Lebanon isn't likely to be able to take on Hezbollah. One of the arguments against the Israeli action, it seems to me, was that it was punishing a Lebanese government that was too weak to do much. Now, you are saying this same government is really going to be able to stand up to Hezbollah. I have my doubts about that.

I don't think Lebanon can take on Hezbollah. But Hezbollah says it supports the idea, so a fight doesn't appear to be in the offing.

More generally, in the long run Lebanon has to take responsibility for its own territory. So the Lebanese offer represents a big step along the continuum for a stable peace.

The real test will be when push comes to shove and Lebanon seeks to defang the militia. That may require international support. But this is a good step for now -- better then the international force that the U.S. and France are proposing.

8/08/2006 6:40 PM  

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