Across the Bay

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Shebaa Farms: The Last Hoorah?

No one should be surprised to hear Naim Qassem claim that the disengagement from Gaza is a "victory for the armed resistance." Nor perhaps should we be surprised by the following statement by Qassem:

"If the Israelis withdrew from the Shebaa Farms, it would be the third victory in five years," Kassem said.

"But this would not change things; the resistance is there to protect Lebanon and is a defence force in Lebanon's hands to confront Israeli threats which are not limited to Shebaa Farms."

The last part is something they've been saying for a while now, and no one in Lebanon is interested. The first part, however, may be interesting. There have been rumours that during her visit to Beirut, Condi Rice mentioned the possibility of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms, in order to further pressure Hizbullah to disarm.

I have no idea if that is the case or not (I tend to believe it's not), nor am I sure, as Qassem's remarks clearly indicate (that's their purpose), it would make a difference for Hizbullah (it won't). They would definitely claim it as a victory, and have a one-day party about it, trying to revive their brief moment in the sun. But it would be short-lived, as the Lebanese (esp. Aoun) and the intl' community would immediate jump on them, as Aoun already has, to disarm, now that all territorial disputes with Israel have been solved, and to send the Army to the border, including Shebaa.

Of course Hizbullah will reject that and continue in its current policy of evasion and contempt, but it would add more domestic and international pressure. How wise would that move be? I am not sure it's that great.

I also wonder what the Syrian reaction would be should that scenario take place. What would Syria, who has not officially handed over the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon, and who has not properly demarcated the borders with Lebanon, think of HA planting their flag in Shebaa, and how would it react to that?

Obviously this is all hypothetical, and remains to be seen. In the meantime, Naim Qassem can claim, preemptively, one final, short, and hollow hoorah.

Update: Michael Young's op-ed today:

What Hizbullah misses is that the Lebanese system of communal compromise works differently; the imposition of one's power on other communities may well provoke a furious, confessional backlash. It has to be bluntly stated: Hizbullah is increasingly, and unfortunately, seen as a threat by Lebanon's Sunnis and Christians; and even Walid Jumblatt, who has defended the party's right to bear arms, has done so for reasons of political calculation, though he is as alarmed by Hizbullah's pre-eminence in the state as anyone else; indeed, when Jumblatt demands a dismantling of the security apparatus protected by President Emile Lahoud, he indirectly targets Hizbullah's pivotal role in that order.

Here's my fundamental point of disagreement with Michael, on his point of a new national pact. While I agree that a new pact is necessary (especially in light of the March 14th shift in Sunni attitudes), I don't think Hizbullah can ever be in the center politically. That's what you need for a new pact. So far, the center is the Future Movement and the FPM. While the Shiites are needed in order to complete the pact, their leadership, as in 1943, has so far proven incapable of providing that alternative (due in large part to Hizbullah authoritarianism, and Berri's nepotism, both of whom teamed up to crush everyone else in their community). Until proper alternatives emerge, that parallel the developments, say, in the Christian community, it's a waste of time.

I thought the point about violence and placing the onus of violence on Hizbullah was very interesting. I'm still weary of the possibility, which I've expressed before, that Nasrallah, falsely emboldened by Iran's lunatics, will lead us to conflict.

Update 2: Hisham Melhem reporting in An-Nahar today:

[US] Sources said that the easing down on criticizing and publicly demanding the disarmament of Hizbullah in past weeks, which came out of respect for the wishes of certain Lebanese figures, including Saad Hariri and Fouad Seniora, is now over, because Hizbullah misinterpreted it as backing down from the official US position, well-known to the party, and also because US official doubted its validity in the first place.

US sources expressed relief at the fact that the matter of Hizbullah's weapons was no longer taboo in public critical inquiry, as it once was. They added that there were encouraging elements in that regard, which emerged since the formation of the cabinet and the prominent role of Hizbullah not just in appointing a representative in the cabinet, i.e., Minister Muhammad Fneish, but also in the insistence of the Hizbullah-Amal alliance on appointing a Shiite Minister sympathetic to Hizbullah's agenda, Fawzi Salloukh, as Foreign Minister, which prompted questions and open debate in Lebanon on Hizbullah's weapons, especially when Hizbullah's participation in the cabinet and its insistence on Fawzi Salloukh are aimed at protecting Hizbullah and its weapons in the face of expected international pressure.

The sources expressed their hope that the public debate about Hizbullah will touch on the Party's benefitting, under previous cabinets, from particular "services" it obtained from various Ministries, including hundreds of free international phone lines, which earned Hizbullah lofty sums (there were hundreds such free international phone lines at the service of former Syrian intelligence officers in Lebanon, as well as prominent Lebanese officials), and other such practices, including government aid packages spent in some areas through Hizbullah.

Don't let Helena Cobban hear that. You see, Hizbullah for her is the vanguard of non-corrupt secular democracy and reform. And yes, she's serious. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Update 3: Perhaps validating the previous quote about breaking taboos, Edmond Saab (who I don't usually read regularly or particularly like) wrote a devestatingly tough piece against Jumblat and Hizbullah. One of the things that really upsets me in the predominant line in Lebanon's papers is that only Lahoud is a problem, and implicitly, Aoun and the Patriarch are maintaining Syria's man as long as they provide him with cover. Never, and that's why Saab's piece stands out, do the commentators make a reference to Hizbullah (whose leader smooched Rustum Ghazaleh and gave him a farewell gift, and brought thousands of people to the streets in the hope of emasculating the rest of the Lebanese), and Jumblat's alliance with them, and how that torpedoed the March 14th alliance (Saab's piece touches on that and says that perhaps Jumblat "shouldn't have been assigned to lead it"). As if all of a sudden, Hizbullah is no longer Syria's main ally in Lebanon, and as if Hizbullah isn't intimately linked to the military intelligence apparatus. Ali Hamade's piece the other day somewhat exemplified that type of writing, although he does cryptically and in passing touch on the Hizbullah problem, but comes nowhere near to properly addressing that serious problem, which when compared to Lahoud, is far more long term.