May 11, 2008


Lebanon facing threat of civil war (Carolynne Wheeler, 11/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

At stake is whether the factional violence will break down into the full-fledged civil war that plagued Lebanon for 15 years until 1990.

The pro-government forces, backed by the West, include Sunni, Druze and Christian factions. Allied with Hizbollah, which is also backed by Iran, is the second major Shi'ite faction, Amal, and smaller Christian and Druze factions.

So far the Christian groups have stayed out of the fighting. As a result, East Beirut, which is predominantly Christian, has seen life continue almost as normal. But the spreading violence has pitted Sunni against Shi'ite, Shi'ite against Druze, and Druze against Sunni as the factions collide.

Fierce Fighting Breaks Out East of Beirut (NADA BAKRI, 5/11/08, NY Times)
Hezbollah’s military dominance, and its continuing blockade of the main road to Beirut’s airport, have raised pressure on the governing coalition to accept a resolution of Lebanon’s 17-month political crisis on terms favorable to Hezbollah and its allies in the opposition.

Supporters of the Druse leader, Walid Jumblatt, who is allied with the government, and Hezbollah gunmen and their Druse allies exchanged machine gun fire and rockets in several villages, a day after Hezbollah accused Mr. Jumblatt’s followers of killing two of its members and kidnapping a third. There was no word on casualties.

Several hours after the clashes erupted, Mr. Jumblatt urged Talal Arslan, a rival Druse leader allied with Hezbollah, to mediate an end to the mountain clashes and allow the safe deployment of the Lebanese Army in villages where there was heavy fighting.

Mr. Arslan agreed to a cease-fire, but sporadic fighting continued on Sunday night.

Ah, the neocon version of a good guy, Walid Jumblatt:
In June 1982, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon and quickly occupied the Shouf region. For a few months, Jumblatt remained at his home in Mukhtara and maintained contact with occupying Israeli forces, hoping to broker a deal whereby Israel would keep the Palestinians out of the Shouf and recognize Druze autonomy. To his consternation, however, Israel facilitated the entry of the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) units commanded by Samir Geagea into the area. Frustrated, Jumblatt left his home and moved to Damascus to secure support against the LF. Since the new Lebanese regime of President Amine Gemayel had forged political ties with the Arslan clan, Jumblatt was more than willing to join the National Salvation Front, a pro-Syrian alliance of militias opposed to the central government and the May 1983 non-belligerency agreement it signed with Israel.

Armed with massive amounts of Syrian-supplied Soviet weaponry, Jumblatt's militia began driving LF forces out of the Shouf in the fall of 1983. When Israeli forces pulled out of the area in August-September 1983, Jumblatt's forces overran sixty Maronite villages, slaughtering around 1,000 people and driving 50,000 out of their homes. in the mountainous areas east and west of Beirut.

Hizballah's Christian Soldiers? (ANDREW LEE BUTTERS, 8/06/07, TIME)

Khoury's victory is a reflection of the popularity of his patron, Michel Aoun, a charismatic and enigmatic former general who heads the country's largest Christian political party, the Free Patriotic Movement. Aoun's popularity confounds any attempt to read Lebanon as a battlefield in a "clash of civilizations," because he and his party are openly allied with Hizballah, the Iran-backed Shi'ite Muslim political party and anti-Israeli militia that leads the opposition.

What could Lebanese Christians possibly have in common with Hizballah, the Islamist resistance movement? Perhaps it is the fact that Aoun's Christian supporters and Hizballah's rank and file are motivated by a shared animus towards Lebanon's political elite, a handful of families such as the Gemayel, whose progeny resurface in government after government. In fact, many of the supporters of the current government are civil war-era militia leaders, who accommodated themselves rather nicely to the years of Syrian occupation, but who have now emerged wearing business suits and talking U.S.-friendly language about democracy and independence.

Of course, neither Aoun nor Hizballah is a poster child for democratic civil society. Aoun, as head of the Lebanese army in the early 1990s, launched a series of disastrous civil conflicts, while Hizballah sparked a pointless war with Israel last summer that resulted in the deaths of almost 2,000 Lebanese, many of them children. Still, both popular movements tap into the general resentment of average people who have watched as a relatively small number of Lebanese — well represented in the anti-Syria ruling coalition — have cashed in on the post civil-war reconstruction of the country.

The latest election results and the wider campaign against the government reflects not so much an attack on democracy as it does the failure of the country's sectarian system to resolve internal disputes. The system, which reserves the presidency for the Maronite Christians, the Prime Minister's job for a Sunni, the speaker of parliament for a Shi'ite and generally distributes power on the basis of ethnicity and sect, was originally created to achieve stability through a careful balance of power. Instead, it has produced political deadlock and a system dominated by leaders whose domestic power is based on alliances with foreign powers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 11, 2008 7:29 PM

The Butters article from last year is ridiculous. Aoun has squandered almost all his popular support in his quest for the presidency.

Posted by: John Thacker at May 11, 2008 9:08 PM

Also note that Samir Geagea and the Lebanese Forces, mentioned in your third article, are now allied with Walid Jumblatt, and have been for the last few years.

If Geagea and the LF were able to forgive Jumblatt, perhaps you should consider it.

Posted by: John Thacker at May 11, 2008 9:12 PM

Forgive him? He just does whatever it takes to keep power. What's to forgive?

Posted by: oj at May 11, 2008 10:06 PM

Walid is responsible for the ill considered deal that put Hezbollah in the cat bird's seat despite
the reformist victory in the Cedar Revolution. This lead to the power vaccuum where Fatah al Islam, and the Future Movement filled; much like a similar one, 40 years ago after the Cairo declaration and the election of Franjieh;'the Squirrel' in Ignatius's roman a clef "Agents of Influence" that empowered the PLO and led to the proliferation of factional militias (Falangist's
Kataeb, Chamoun's Tiger's, SSNP, etc

Posted by: narciso at May 12, 2008 7:49 AM

Demographics, determination and History put the Shi'a in the catbird's seat. The Druze are in the dodo's seat.

Posted by: oj at May 12, 2008 10:35 AM

This is too funny. The huge Hezbollah cheerleader complaining that anti-Hezbollah factions aren't led by nice people! I'm cracking up over here. Tell some more of these, oj!

Posted by: b at May 12, 2008 3:30 PM

Bingo! No one cares what any of these guys are like, they just choose sides and then whine about how bad the other is. My complaint is that Hezbollah has been insufficiently savage. The fiction of The Lebanon needs to be ended. It has served no one well but the Assads.

Posted by: oj at May 12, 2008 7:20 PM

If Hezbollah becoming more savage leads to the end of Syria and the cleansing of the Bekaa Valley, then let's go!

Posted by: ratbert at May 13, 2008 12:11 AM

An end to the Ba'ath.

Posted by: oj at May 13, 2008 6:31 AM