May 13, 2008


In Lebanon, A Bitter Lesson (HILLEL HALKIN, May 13, 2008, NY Sun)

It would be an exaggeration to say that Hezbollah's taking over the streets of Beirut these past few days has been an armed challenge to Lebanon's government. Lebanon does not have a government. It has not had one since its civil war of the 1970s and 1980s. It has a prime minister, a cabinet, and a parliament, none of which can, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to govern. It used to have a president, an office that has been empty for many months with no noticeable effect on anything. And it also has a small and poorly equipped army that, although it has on rare occasions been known to fight, has mostly preferred to cede the field to others, as it did in recent days to Hezbollah.

Lebanon has been governed, ever since all central authority in it fell apart several decades ago, by shifting coalitions of militias and warlords belonging to the country's different ethnic and religious groups, and by foreign countries allied with them, mainly Syria, Iran, and Israel until its withdrawal from the Lebanese south in the year 2000.

For a long while Hezbollah has been one of these factions, and the military show of strength it now has put on is first and foremost a challenge to the others.

It is a dare to them to step up and fight, and the fact that none of them has chosen to do so — neither the Sunnis, nor the Christians, nor the Druze, nor the Palestinians, nor Hezbollah's erstwhile rivals among Lebanon's Shiites, the now virtually defunct Amal party — is a sign that the old balance of power in Lebanon has been broken.

Hezbollah now has become so much better armed, trained, organized, and motivated than any other armed group in Lebanon that there is no one left to resist it. It may not be strong enough to seize control of the entire country the way its ally, Hamas, seized control of Gaza, but it is certainly strong enough to keep expanding its domain of a state-within-a-state without fear of being checked by counterforce. In a country of militias, it has become the one super militia.

It is a nation. The Lebanon isn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 13, 2008 8:19 AM
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