warsofLEBANON1968 | 2000

 

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Another Prelude to a War?    
Oliver A. Meskawi  
introduction

the palestinians
begining of the deportation
defeat in jordan
lebanon as last resort
external and internal allainces

israel's policis towards lebanon

hizbullah
history
growth of power
relationship to syria

syria
early interventions
from diplomatic to military interventions to complete control

lebanon's government today

the latest events

another prelude to a war?

notes  
 
 

On March 22nd, 2004, while he was being wheeled out of an early Morning Prayer session, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, founder and leader of Hamas (The Islamic Resistance Movement), was struck by missiles fired from an Israeli helicopter gunship and died instantly, along with seven others.(1) On march 23rd, the PFLP-GC guerrillas fired 3 Katyusha rockets from South Lebanon on the outskirts of the northern Jewish settlement of Margeliot. Israel responded sending a squadron of helicopter gunships on rocketing and strafing missions against the source of the missile fire, killing two PFLP-GC guerrillas and wounding a third, who was arrested by the Lebanese army. (2) On march 28, Hizbullah has declared it would henceforth fight as soldiers of Hamas and under the command of Hamas leadership in the struggle against Israel's U.S.-backed 'state terrorism,' while the Palestinian militant group pledged an 'earthquake-like' revenge from Israel for murdering Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. (3)

After being the catalysts in the war of 1975, the Palestinian guerrilla has again played with fire from within the Lebanese territory. And once again, it has found an ally inside: this time it is Hizbullah, the Party of God, charged as being the no 1 terrorist group on the world, and whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has been set by Israel as a next target of assassination. Yet in his speech during the march in the past weekend, he gave an open invitation for Israel to attack and "we are waiting"! Waiting for what exactly? How much are the Lebanese people able to take on another war, when the internal system is rotten and the entire governmental structure is corrupt; when the fate of the country lies in the hands of greater powers; when the entire population feels disgust of what they saw and still see, in their governors and leaders. Will this be a repeat of the 1975 events? Same script, only a different cast? How far is Nasrallah willing to push this and will he be able to handle it?

Throughout the essay, I will go through the main characters in Lebanon during the war and continuing till now, starting with the Palestinians, Israel, Hizbullah, Syria. I will also take a look at Lebanon"s present political situation, the last events and their impact and possible outcome, and the opposition"s responds and positions.

 

 

 

The Palestinians ^

Beginning of the Deportation

During the vote of the United Nations in November 29 1947, the resolution 181 divided Palestine between Jews and Arab Palestinians. At that time, Lebanon accepted the Corpus Separatum of Jerusalem. By the end of the British mandate, the first Arab Israeli conflicts took place. After this first war, the Israelis controlled more land than stated in the resolution 181. (4). About half the Arab population of Palestine had fled the country or was expelled. The refugees went to Transjordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. After the first Palestinian exodus, the refugees were as such: 150000 in Lebanon, 85000 in Syria, 21000 in Egypt where the majority stayed in the Palestinian territory of Gaza administered by the Egyptian government. (5). In Lebanon, the camps were situated around the major coastal cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Saida. Until the 1960s, the Palestinian population was politically passive, and the refugees either stayed in the camps or took part in the economic and intellectual life of Lebanon. It was not until the emergence of Jamal Abdul Nasser, that the Palestinians started drawing a pan-Arab ideology. The Palestinian activists who were exposed to the diverse political parties in Lebanon, either joined an existing party or worked on creating their own. (6)

 

 

Defeat in Jordan

After the war of 1967 (the Six Days War), Egypt lost its Sinai Peninsula, Syria lost its Golan Heights, the Palestinians lost the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Israel was the big winner of the war. The PLO reconsidered its position, and set on establishing guerillas in the host countries and conducting operations from there against Israel. Israel"s response was reprisals against the host countries. The Israeli raids mounted in 1969 against Jordan, which lead the Palestinians to fortify their positions and camps and create a state within a state. In 1970, the crisis broke and the forces of King Hussein moved to end the military presence of the Palestinians in Jordan. The Palestinian guerillas were pushed across the Syrian border. Syria then deported them to Lebanon. As Syria kept control over the Palestinians in its territory and did not tolerate any attacks from its land. (7)

 

 

Lebanon as Last Resort: a Surrogate Battlefield ^

Following the defeats of Syria and Egypt against Israel, and the expulsion from Jordan, the Palestinians found refuge in Lebanon, which was chosen to be the object of their desire. Weakened by a liberal democracy, reaching decomposition, and by latent conflicts dividing its population, Lebanon seemed the ideal land for a power operation. (8). Under the impulsion of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians, let down by the Arab regimes (states and governments), and by the Nasser regime, started a military organization in order to conquer themselves their own country. (9).

 

The Lebanese authorities did not give much attention to the growing number of refugees entering the country. The accepted the rich and qualified Palestinian bourgeoisie and saw in the farmers and workers cheap labor. The refugee camps were creating belts around the major cities and especially Beirut, and becoming almost villages. (10). The Palestinians could walk around freely in the streets of Beirut. The Lebanese border was the only on open for operations against Israel. “By no volition of its own, Lebanon became the last haven of the Palestinian Resistance Movement and had to pay a high price for it.”(11).

 

Even though Jordan (until 1970), Syria (until 1975) and Egypt (until 1973) allowed Palestinian military formations, these were controlled and their operation were monitored by the state and according to its general strategy. With the exception of Jordan until 1970, the camps were put under police security to prevent and breaches in laws and public order, especially concerning carrying guns and training camps. Only Lebanon allowed – rather couldn"t but – the transformation of the camps into actual training facilities, the nursery of the generation of the Fedayin. (12). Incidents between the guerillas and the Lebanese army became more frequent between 1965 and 1967. The Syrian government, while keeping tight control over guerilla activities on its territory, supported actions from the Lebanese territory. With its limited resources and manpower, the army and the internal security were unable to patrol long the Lebanese-Syrian borders to prevent infiltration. Before the Six Days War, the infiltrations were of commandos coming into Lebanese territory on the way to Israel or to shell Israel and go back to Syria. The situation changed in 1968 with collapse of the Palestinian resistance in the occupied territory; the PLO began setting up bases in the south of the Lebanon and recruiting and training in the camps.(13). The eruption of clashes between the guerilla and the Lebanese army lead to a destabilization of the internal security. In 1969, the Cairo Agreement was signed giving the Palestinian armed presence a legal status. The Melkrat Agreement signed in 1973 as an appended document to the Cairo Agreement, detailed the organization of the Palestinian military presence. From 1975 onward, Lebanon became the surrogate battlefield for the Palestinians.

 

Nearly 3 weeks after signing the Cairo Agreement, clashes between the guerillas and the Lebanese army were renewed. The Cairo Agreement lost its relevance. Violated from the start it became more a cease-fire than a binding, enforceable agreement. (14). The lack-of-application of the limitation measures stated in the agreement lead to a disastrous situation as the Lebanese State abandoned its and allowed the formation of several armed militias, military training and introducing heavy arms in the camps. These camps militias became armies fighting each other and the Lebanese army more than Israel. (15) This situation lead to the events of 1973, and later to the events of 1975.

 

 

External and Internal Alliances

The major external support the guerillas enjoyed was that of Syria. Although successfully preventing any activity from its own territory, the Syrian government was supportive of operations lead from the Lebanese territory. During the Cairo talks prior to the agreement, Lebanese Army Commander Emile Boustany presented a detailed account of the evolution of the guerillas activities in Lebanon 1n 1968 and 1969. “Infiltrations from Syria had continued to increase and they were not confined to the Palestinian guerillas; they also included Syrian soldiers who took part in the clashes against the Lebanese Army.”(16). Although clashes would occur later between the Syrian army and the Palestinian guerillas on the Lebanese soil in an attempt to eliminate the PLO, Syria still is a sponsor of the Palestinian cause especially Hamas and the PFLP-GC, still stationed in southern Lebanon.

 

The PLO acquired international recognition in 1974 notably at the United Nations and endorsed the principle of an independent Palestinian state limited to the West Bank and the Gaza strip, and prepared to take part in the international negotiations in Geneva. This meant an end of a latent war for Lebanon, and the possibility to re-establish its sovereignty. Wishful thinking, some would say. Not all the different factions of the Palestinian resistance approved on the compromises, and the circle of violence renewed even more fiercely. (17).

 

On the internal level, the Palestinians had many supporters mainly from the Leftists lead by Kamal Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party. The leftists were mainly Muslims, although several clashes and shifts occurred during the several phases of the war. From allies to enemies, the Palestinians had always the support of the leftists most of them if not all.

 

 

 

 

Israel's Policies towards Lebanon ^

In a Middle East of constant change, the only politics, which has strategic constants, is Israel"s. It is that constancy and determination of Israel in pursuing its politics that destabilize the structure of the Middle East and most of the Arab societies. (18).

 

The most explicit strategy of Israel is the Palestinian strategy: the Palestinians in Lebanon should not return to Israel. When the Palestinian Diaspora started the revolutionary actions in 1967, Israel started attacking the camps. The Israeli government considered the Lebanon responsible for the Palestinian resistance operations. Israel considered that Lebanon broke the 1949 armistice, and should have intervened against the infiltrations of the fedayin at the borders. Israel"s attacks were directed as much to the Lebanese as to the Palestinians. Against every attack or operations of the Palestinians against Israel, would be answered by retaliation from the Israeli side with raids or invasions. Between 1968 and 1974, the Lebanese army counted more than 30,000 Israeli violations of their national territory: “Israeli “policing” points, blows at the civilian population in the camps or at the resistance leaders in the cities and attacks aimed at Lebanon itself: its border sea, Beirut and further north.” (19).

 

The second strategy, territorial, goes back to the Belfaur declaration and the 1919 debate over the Litany waters. Lebanon was not safe from the Israeli designs to stretch its borders to the Litany river.(20). This strategy also covered the alliances of Israel with the communities and the minorities. Those alliances were not supposed to lead to an independence of those minorities or communities, but to weaken the host countries and break them apart. Concerning Lebanon, Israel intended to have several alliances with the different communities in order to destroy the image of pluralism of Lebanon that negates the religious state of Israel. (21).

 

 

 

Hizbullah ^

History

The origins of Hizbullah date back to June 1982, when Syria decided to permit the Shiite Islamist revolutionary government in Iran to dispatch around 1,000 Pasdaran (members of the Revolutionary Guards) to the Beqaa Valley of eastern Lebanon, an area occupied by Syrian forces. Syria had previously refused to permit the clerical regime in Tehran to directly involve itself in Lebanese affairs, but the Israeli invasion of Lebanon earlier that month and the cordial reception accorded to the Israelis by Shiites in the South convinced Syrian leaders that Iranian involvement could serve to block Israeli influence in the country. An added factor was Iran's supply of oil to the Syrians at greatly reduced prices.

The Iranian delegation, consisting of both military and religious instructors, recruited a number of young, militant Lebanese clerics affiliated with the Lebanese branch of Al-Da'wa, a radical Iraqi Shiite fundamentalist group, and Islamic Amal, a breakaway faction of the Amal movement, which had become more secularized under the leadership of Nabih Berri . Most of the radical clerics who formed the nucleus of Hizbullah's leadership had been educated in the Shiite seminaries of southern Iraq, particularly Najaf, where Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and other ideologues in Iran spent many years in exile. As a result of these ties, they embraced Khomeini's concept of the just jurisconsult ( al-wali al-faqih ), the ideological basis for clerical rule, enshrined in Iran's 1979 constitution. In a 1985 manifesto, the leadership of Hizbullah pledged loyalty to Khomeini and to the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Lebanon.

Hizbullah follows strictly the theological line of Iran's Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini and called for the establishment in Lebanon of Islamic rule modeled on that of Iran. In pursuit of this goal, the party had developed close ties with Iranian representatives in Lebanon and Syria. In terms of secular policies, Hizbullah rejected any compromise with Lebanese Christians, Israel, and the United States. This hard-line approach appealed to many Shiites, who abandoned the mainstream Amal movement to join Hizbullah. These members tended to be young, radical, and poor.

The party's internal structure revolved around the Consultative Council (Majlis ash Shura), a twelve-member body, most of whom were clerics. The council divided among its members the responsibilities that covered, among other matters, financial, military, judicial, social, and political affairs. The party's operations were geographically organized, with branches in Al Beeqa and Al Janub provinces and in West Beirut and its southern outskirts. Among prominent Hizbullah leaders in late 1980s were Sheikh Ibrahim al Amin, Sheikh Subhi at Tufayli, Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah, Sheikh Abbas al Musawi, and Husayn al Musawi; Fadlallah insisted that he had no formal organizational role but was merely Hizbullah's inspirational leader.

Hizbullah gained international attention in 1983 when press reports linked it to attacks against United States and French facilities in Lebanon, to the abduction of foreigners, and to the hijacking of aircraft. Nonetheless, Fadlallah (who was himself a target of a terrorist assassination attempt) and Hizbullah spokesmen continued to deny any involvement in anti-American attacks.

In mid to late 1980s the main military activity of the group revolved around attacks against Israeli troops in Lebanon and their proxy the SLA. Initially Hizbullah raids were very amateur and many involved suicide attacks against Israeli positions. Over the years however Hizbullah evolved into an efficient and highly professional force that specialized in guerilla warfare and commando operations. Hizbollah military forces were carrying out an average of two operations a day against SLA and Israeli forces and by the end of 1999 it had become obvious that the Israelis had lost the war in Lebanon. In May 2000 the Israelis withdrew and the SLA collapsed.(22-23-24)

 

 

Growth of Power ^

By the mid-1980s, Hizbullah's military and socio-economic presence had begun to expand from the Beqaa to areas of south Lebanon and the Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut - directly threatening the rival Shiite Amal militia, Syria's closest and strongest proxy. Hizbullah's Iranian financing allowed it to pay its fighters much more than the going "militia wages" and offer much-needed social services to the local population. Amal, on the other hand, had no significant source of external financing and therefore had to raise taxes from the population in areas it controlled. As rank and file Shiites gravitated toward what Amal leaders dubbed the "Petro party," a growing number of the group's military commanders did the same.(25)

 

Emboldened by Syrian intervention, Amal launched an all-out assault on Hizbullah positions in south Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut in April 1988. Although Hizbullah lost ground in the South, its forces seized 80% of the Shiite suburbs in early May through a combination of well-timed assaults and Iranian-financed bribes to local Amal commanders. Syrian forces again intervened to enforce a cease-fire, but clashes, along with reciprocal kidnappings and assassinations, between the two militias continued intermittently for two years. As the Lebanese civil war drew to a close, a number of factors promoted accommodation between Syria and Hizbullah. Iran's ideological domination of the movement was weakened by the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. While the spiritual leader of Hizbullah, Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, had obediently deferred to the Supreme Leader's edicts, Fadlallah felt no subservience to Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Khomeini, who lacked the former's religious credentials. Fadlallah and the movement's political leadership abandoned the establishment of an Islamic state (at least temporarily) and instead looked to maximize their influence in post-war Lebanon. (26)

 

 

Relatioship with Syria ^

The relationship between Hizbullah and the Syrian regime during the last decade was described by one Beirut commentator as a "loveless marriage that endures because their common interests demand it." 4Hizbullah had initially rejected the Taef Accord, negotiated under American, Saudi and Syrian auspices in 1989, because it apportioned an equal number of parliamentary seats to Christian and Muslim sects and barred Shiites from the offices of president and prime minister, precluding the possibility of Hizbullah gaining control over the Lebanese government. After Syria invaded east Beirut and ousted interim Prime Minister Michel Aoun in October 1990, eliminating the last remnants of opposition to Syrian authority, however, Hizbullah agreed to abide by the new rules of the game. The Iranians were also forced to recognize the new political realities in Lebanon and, by 1992 the number of Pasdaran stationed in Lebanon had been scaled down from 2,500 to around 200-300. However, despite quite pressure from Tehran, Syria refused to withdraw its forces from Hizbullah strongholds in Beirut. For the next ten years, Syria would combat Hizbullah's autonomy tooth and nail.

 

While Syria had a clear interest in continuing to sponsor paramilitary attacks against Israel so long as it refused to withdraw from the Golan Heights, it permitted Hizbullah alone to carry out the war due to several important considerations. First, Iran reportedly agreed to assist Syria in the event of war with Israel in exchange for Hizbullah"s virtually exclusive right to remain armed and continue fighting the Israelis. Although other groups were permitted to launch token attacks from time to time, only Hizbullah was allowed to systematically recruit, train and deploy a highly structured military apparatus. Second, Hizbullah's military prowess was unparalleled in Lebanon. According to one informed estimate, between 1984 and 1993, Hizbullah was responsible for around 90% of all armed attacks against Israeli forces in Lebanon. 6Finally, the fact that Hizbullah is an Islamic fundamentalist movement gave a veneer of plausibility to the secular Syrian regime"s denials of complicity in the attacks. In fact, Syria achieved some success in portraying itself to the West as a force of moderation vis-ą-vis Hizbullah.

 

However, in return for granting Hizbullah a virtual monopoly on war against Israel, an important source of the movement's support within Lebanon and Iran's prestige in the region, Syria placed strict military and political constraints on its autonomy. During the last decade, Syria has maintained firm control at the strategic level of Hizbullah operations against Israeli forces in south Lebanon and of all indirect mediation between Hizbullah and the Israelis. At the operational level, Hizbullah was required to closely coordinate its operations with Syrian and (Syrian-appointed) Lebanese military and intelligence personnel.

 

The Syrians also established clear constraints on Hizbullah's political influence. The group's representation in parliament is explicitly set by Damascus, roughly on par with Amal, but hardly commensurate with its support among Lebanese Shiites. This discrepancy has been a source of considerable tension between Syria and Hizbullah.

 

It is not difficult to fathom why Damascus imposed such strict limits on Hizbullah's political representation. Syrian control over Lebanon is rooted in the pervasive corruption that infects Lebanese politics at all levels, and Hizbullah has been the most vocal critic of this corruption. Moreover, the readily observable asceticism of its leaders and efficiency of its social-welfare network contrast sharply with the pervasive corruption and ineptitude that has infected the Second Republic.

 

Interestingly, Hizbullah's domestic political agenda has led many of the movement's activists to coordinate at the grassroots level with members of the anti-Syrian Free National Current (FNC) in opposing corruption and political patronage. For instance, when the Lebanese doctors' association held elections in March 2001 for a new chairman, Hizbullah and the FNC joined together in backing the losing candidate, Dr. Saad Bizri, over Dr. Mahmoud Shuqair, who enjoyed the firm backing of such political heavyweights as Hariri and Berri.

 

In January 1998, Subhi Tufaili, former secretary-general of Hizbullah backed by Syria, occupied a Hizbullah religious school touched off a violent confrontation with the Lebanese army. The Lebanese authorities issued a warrant for Tufaili's arrest, while Lebanese army units conducted a massive sweep of the Beqaa. To the surprise and chagrin of most Lebanese, however, the head of Syrian military intelligence in Baalbeck, Col. Ali Safi, stepped in and forced advancing Lebanese army units to permit Tufaili and around 100 of his fighters to escape to his hometown of Britel, 9where he has remained under Syrian protection to this day. Tufaili's militia, swelled by the influx of disaffected Hizbullah militiamen, established control of a number of strategic positions in the Beqaa. In April 1999, Tufaili's forces overran a Hizbullah arms depot in the village of Nabichit, near Baalbeck, seizing large numbers of machine-guns, rocket-launchers and other military equipment. Tufaili now openly hosts gatherings at his residence in Douris near Baalbeck without fear of arrest. Early reports that Tufaili's supporters would run against Hizbullah in the 2000 elections were apparently intended to pressure Hizbullah into an electoral coalition with Amal.

 

    After the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon in May 2000, many observers expected Hizbullah to end its war against Israel and focus its energies on much-needed economic reconstruction in the South. However, after an initial lull of nearly five months, the group launched a new war, this time against Israeli soldiers stationed in the Shebaa Farms area of the Golan Heights, an area that Syrian and Lebanese officials claim is Lebanese. Meanwhile, Syria prevented the Lebanese government from sending troops to south Lebanon (although the Lebanese army maintains two token garrisons in the towns of Marjayoun and Bint Jabeil, it has made no attempt to approach the border).

 

While Hizbullah attacks against Israeli forces (and vice versa) have been far less frequent than during the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, the resumption of hostilities has perpetuated the economic deprivation of both the South and the country as a whole by scaring away investors. As a result, Hizbullah's new war has not been popular in Lebanon, even within the Shiite community.

 

While Hizbullah may have been motivated to renew hostilities by the Palestinian revolt against Israel, the decision was clearly related to the growth of Lebanese opposition to the Syrian occupation throughout the Fall of 2000, beginning with the release of a September 20 statement by the Council of Maronite Archbishops calling upon Syria to "completely withdraw" its military forces from Lebanon. Subsequent Hizbullah operations over the next six months closely followed major outbursts of Lebanese opposition to the Syrian occupation.

 

Syria's role in determining the timing of Hizbullah attacks and strong-arming Lebanese politicians into accepting the new war had become so blatant that, following the April 14 operation, Israel abandoned its moratorium on retaliation against Syrian forces in Lebanon. On April 16, the Israeli air force bombed a Syrian radar station in the Dahr al-Baidar region. On July 1, Israel launched a second air strike against a Syrian radar position in Lebanon, wounding two Syrian soldiers, two days after a Hizbullah missile attack injured an Israeli soldier.

 

In March 2001, Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir returned from a trip abroad to rally diplomatic support for a Syrian pullout and received a tumultuous reception from tens of thousands of supporters. Anxious to organize a counter-demonstration in favor of the Syrian presence, the Syrians persuaded Nasrallah to speak out during an April 4 rally before 300,000 followers. The presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon is "a regional and internal necessity for Lebanon" and a "national obligation for Syria," declared Nasrallah. "Should the Syrian leadership take its army out of Lebanon, we as Lebanese will stand up and tell them they are wrong and are doing something which is not in Lebanon's interest."

Over the last year, Hizbullah's unqualified support for the Syrian occupation - at a time when opposition to Damascus has been growing among all sectarian communities in Lebanon - has elicited an unprecedented degree of support for the movement from President Assad.(27-28)

 

Hizbullah growth of power on the Lebanese political scene has been of some magnitude that Gebran Tueni, editor of An-Nahar daily newspaper and one of the opposition figures, asks Who Sets Lebanon's Policies: Hizbullah or the Government?

 

 

 

Syria ^

Early Interventions

After the independence from the French mandate in the mid 1940"s, Syria became a central point in Arabic politics. With the rise of Jamal Abdul Nasser, the Syrians were seduced by the revolution he created leading to a union of Syria and Egypt in February 1958. The first major intervention of Syria in lebaon"s internal matters came in the same year of the union. The pro western government of Lebanon was disliked by the Syrians who plotted to destabilize the country and so encouraged and greatly assisted the rebels through mainly covert operations, leading the 1958 civil war. Syrian covert action became so obvious and widespread that the Lebanese government lodged a complaint with the UN Security Council in June 1958. (29), p. 4) Press reports and government documents alike confirm a massive covert Syrian intervention that included supplying arms to the opposition, training paramilitary forces and using Syrian soldiers to carry out terrorist attacks. Further confirmation came from a seemingly unusual source, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP). The SSNP believed that the leftist rebels wanted to liquidate them as part of a communist inspired plot because the SSNP opposed the plans of President Nasser of Egypt for union with Syria. Although the war took a toll of some 2,000 to 4,000 lives, it was regarded by many as a comic opera, especially when 5,000 United States Marines were landed on the beaches near Beirut and waded ashore among sunbathers and swimmers. The Marines' role, in a situation described by the Department of Defense as "like war but not war" was to support the legal Lebanese government against any foreign invasion, specifically against Syria. The Marines were summoned because General Shihab, commander of the Lebanese Army, believing that units of the small Lebanese army would mutiny and disintegrate if ordered into action, had disobeyed President Chamoun's orders to send in the army against leftist rebels. (30).

 

 

From Diplomatic to Military Interventions to Complete Control ^

Syrian interventions increased with the rise of the Palestinian revolution in the 1960"s. With the arrival of Hafez el Assad, the former minister of defense and commander of the airforce, to the head of the state, Syria became a major Arab power in it sown right. The position of isolationism taken by Egypt during the Sadat mandate made Syria the country with greatest influence over Lebanon, interfering on several occasions in the favor of the PRM (Palestinian Resistance Movement). The Syrian involvement started at the early stages of the war in 1975. (31). Until June 1976, Syria"s intervention was on diplomatic bases, trying to find compromises between the fighting parties in Lebanon and the Palestinians. After the diplomatic attempts to reach a settlement failed, Syria decides to move. On June 1 1976, 2,000 regular Syrian troops with 260 tanks entered in the North, much of the outrage of most of the right wing leaders and some of the leftists, mainly Kamal Jumblatt. (32).

The Arab League met to resolve the problem and decided on what is known as the Arab Deterrent Force, which seems useless from the start as its goal was to insure a withdrawal of the Syrian troops but at the same time had Syrians within its ranks. The ADF gave the Syrian presence in Lebanon a legitimate status. (33). By November, the Syrians had occupied most Muslim held areas of Lebanon, including West Beirut and Tripoli. In the following after fierce battles, the Syrian army, among the ADF, had grown to 27,000 troops. By January 1977, the ADF consisted of 30,000 men 27,000 of which were Syrians.

The Syrians were here to stay, fighting against everybody and making alliances with everybody. The Christian militias welcomed the Syrian entrance in 1976, but soon became Syria"s fiercest enemies. Syria fought the leftists and later with them, supported the Palestinians but then worked on destroying the PLO in Lebanon and taking control over the Palestinians. In the late 1980"s, Syria fought against the Lebanese army (by then transformed into a militia under General Aoun"s command) and the Lebanese Forces (under Samir Geagea"s command), to later join with the latter to defeat Aoun.

Throughout the war Syria"s control over Lebanon grew constantly to become absolute in 1990 with the defeat of Aoun and the implementation of the second republic headed by a pro-Syrian president, Elias Hrawi. Nowadays, Syria decides of Lebanese matters, appoints ministers, deputies, protects or dilutes whomever it desires. (34).

 

 

 

Lebanon's Government Today ^

A corrupt system, a controlled government, and an unrestricted party… the list of “horrors” describing today"s Lebanon goes on. The corruption has infected the system itself and the players in this government: the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Speaker, followed by the deputies and the ministers and the administrators in the official institutions. After the withdrawal of Israel from the south of Lebanon, debates, demonstrations, conferences and speeches criticized the presence of the Syrian army in Lebanon. The first major criticism came form the Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, followed by a declaration by the Maronite Bishops, then several politicians in the parliament started questioning the Syrian army (Walid Jumblatt was the most surprising, as he is known to be pro-Syrian).

 

As mentioned before, the Patriarch"s criticism was countered by a declaration by the president of Hizbullah stating the need of the Syrian presence. Walid Jumblatt"s speech at the parliament ("I do understand the importance of stationing some Syrian troops (in Lebanon) for strategic purposes and the requirements of Syrian national security in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict," Jumblatt told the parliament, "but I do hope the Syrian leadership will review some of the points which have nothing to do with strategic requirements." He added that Prime Minister Hariri's claim that the Syrian occupation as "necessary, legitimate and temporary" was too vague. "If the presence is necessary, let us decide its timetable." 6) outraged the Syrian president. A few months later, Reuters reported that Syrian army units deployed into the Shouf and took up positions around Mukhtara (Syrian troop movements in the Shouf had been earlier been reported by the Lebanese press). 12 Jumblatt told reporters that he would "rather not discuss" the matter, while carefully noting that he did not mind if Syrian forces deployed in the Shouf for "strategic purposes." 13 However, news of the deployment caused uproar during a parliamentary session devoted to budgetary matters. "What does the Syrian deployment in the Shouf today, with heavy weapons, mean? ... I demand to know what the government's position is on these actions which take place on Lebanese soil," declared MP Albert Moukheiber, touching off acrimonious exchanges between pro-Syrian MPs and a handful of other Christian opposition deputies.(35)

 

The demonstrations lead by students are usually countered by forces of internal security. Many get arrested and questioned, especially members of the Lebanese Forces, Free Patriotic Movement and the National Liberal Party. All those parties are mainly or exclusively Christian. (36)

 

The Christian opposition got together to try to bring all the different parties together in what is known as the Qernet Chehwan Gathering. Many compared this gathering with Lebanese Front created in the 1970"s. The so-called leaders of the country are constantly bombarding this opposition, the most important and outspoken. The last of those bombardments came from Speaker Nabih Berri saying: "there are in Lebanon those who want to bring down the three top positions and to take revenge on Syria", meaning the Lebanese Opposition. Replying to Berri, was Gebran Tueni, editor of An-Nahar and member of the Qernet Chehwan Gathering in his editorial of March 26: “The opposition wants a state that respects the law, the institutions, the principle of separation of powers, and the right of all citizens to freedom and dignity. It wants to overthrow the three top officials, not the three top offices, because the failure of their political performance has led to the paralysis of the institutions, and the Legislature has become a conniver with the Executive in the decadence, bankruptcy and suspicious transactions. And the Executive, in its turn, split into hostile groups loyal to the President, the Speaker or the Prime Minister, and the President of the Republic is taking sides rather than remaining neutral. As to the Judiciary, we all know that it fights for its independence and insulation from political tensions. This performance is the real danger that threatens Lebanon and the Constitution. That's why the opposition considers that it is necessary to change the people in order to save the country!"(37)

 

 

 

The Latest Events ^

Going back to the last events and the reactions triggered. The Israelis had a very clear explanation for the assassination of Ahmad Yassin, Israeli generals expressed concern that Israel will be seen as fleeing the Gaza Strip and have advocated harsh strikes against Hamas. They said they do not want to see a repeat of Israel's hasty withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which was acclaimed as a victory for Hizbullah and was seen as one of the causes for the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising months later. (38). "The Pandora's box has been opened. We are counting down to the next terror attack and the question is how many Israelis will be killed," said Yossi Beilin, a dovish Israeli politician. The first strike came from Lebanon, as troops of the PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command) fired the rocket the day following the assassination.

 

The Lebanese army was reported to have served an ultimatum on the Syrian-backed radical Palestinian guerrilla faction that it would be militarily suppressed if it repeats missile attacks against northern Israeli settlements from South Lebanon. Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command has been told that Lebanon will not allow the Palestinian-Israeli conflict be transferred to Lebanese territory. "Only the presence of Hizbullah's resistance is permissible in South Lebanon. The army will not allow a repetition of Tuesday's event and will not tolerate any infiltration into the region," (39) This move from the army command came as a bit of a relief. A couple of days later, things became edgy again as the only military presence allowed in the South, and the only presence allowed to conduct military actions, declared its support for Hamas and any decision they decide to take. The army ultimatum is gone astray with this declaration, as what the army feared can be induced by any military operation conducted by Hizbullah and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will return to Lebanon.

 

 

 

Another Prelude to a War? ^

First, I would like to go back to the very important question of Ghassan Tueni: Who Sets Lebanon's Policies: Hizbullah or the Government? The last declaration of Hizbullah have undermined the credibility of the Lebanese leadership and raised questions as to where decision-making powers lay. As in 2003, when Hizbullah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy, Naim Qassem, in which they linked the group's resistance to that of the Palestinian struggle against the Israelis. Now again Nasrallah declares the same in a more "concrete" way than just conceptually. He wants to join forces with Hamas and create an army. Quoting Gebran Tueni again: "Has the Lebanese government confined the destiny of Lebanon and its people to Hizbullah?"

 

The Lebanese people has payed a high enough price for the arab-israeli conflict on behalf of all the Arabs, and Lebanon has served for a long time as surrogate battlefield for Palestinians, Syrians and even Israel as such. It is time for this country to rest.

 

Since the defeat against Israel in 1973, Syria's frontier with Israel was tightly sealed to prevent cross-border attacks, then why Lebanon was being denied this privilege? Who is ruling who? The answer is quite simple: Syria is ruling and the government and Hizbullah. In the past war, Lebanon lost its sovereignty over the South when Yasser Arafat's Palestinian fighters were based there. The same is happening with Hizbullah, especially that Syria does not allow the Lebanese army to spread in the South of Lebanon and re-establish sovereignty of the Lebanese State.

 

Looking back at its recent history, Lebanon has never witnessed such a period of decadence and indignation like the ongoing one. It has become marginalized, stripped of its freewill and self-determination, a country that nobody cares about and whose State no one respects. So I ask again, what does Nasrallah want? Does he want to drag Lebanon and the region to a wholesale suicidal war? Does he want Lebanon's suicide or slaughtering Lebanon? Why give Israel reason to hit and attack? As Gebran Tueni put it already a year ago: "I honestly believe that the real danger threatening our country lies in the prospect of providing the Israeli enemy with a pretext to wage a war on Lebanon and Syria, and such a pretext can only be provided by carrying out military operations from the Lebanese borders. The parties that are capable of carrying out such operations to provide the Israelis enemy with a pretext for war are none other than those in possession of weapons and who might seemingly incur damage from any peace process in the region, i.e. Hezbollah – Sayyed Nasrallah's party – and the radical Palestinian factions in the refugee camps. Another way of putting it is to say that the danger which Hezbollah's secretary-general refers to emanates directly from the weaponry of his own party!"(40) So, will this go further and become indeed another prelude to a war?

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