On August 15, Beirut awoke to the news that more than 20 alleged members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had been captured by a group calling itself “the military wing of the al-Miqdad family.” The group had sent footage to the al-Mayadin television network, which was quickly picked up by other local and international channels. In the clip, men dressed in camouflage and black ski masks, and gripping Kalashnikovs, surrounded two prisoners seated in a dark room. A man with his back to the camera posed questions to the prisoners, who replied that they worked for the FSA, on orders from Khalid al-Dahir, a Lebanese parliamentarian affiliated with the Future Movement, the Sunni-majority political party led by Saad al-Hariri.
Two stories regarding Israel and drones appeared last week, illustrating both the dangerous new world of drone proliferation and Israel’s major role in making that possible.
Thanassis Cambanis, A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel (Free Press, 2010).
The year 2011 has brought Lebanon’s political tug of war into the streets again, with thousands of protesters burning tires and blocking roads over the apparent failure of their candidate to secure the office of prime minister. But months of hype to the contrary, this time the raucous demonstrations were not staged by Hizballah and its allies in the March 8 coalition so named after a day of protests in 2005 designed to “thank” Syria before its withdrawal of forces from Lebanon. Instead, the protests were mounted by the rival March 14 alliance, so named for the day of “Syria out!” rallies that followed less than a week later.
After five long years, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is expected to hand down its indictments at long last. By the end of 2010, or perhaps the beginning of 2011, the Tribunal will accuse a number of individuals of direct involvement in the murders of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and several other prominent Lebanese political figures between 2005 and 2008. Officially, the investigators keep mum about the identity of their targets. Unofficially, a steady stream of “insider information” has converged into a kind of received wisdom: High-ranking members of the Shi‘i Islamist party Hizballah will be indicted for association with the engineering of the assassinations. The various actors in Lebanon now treat the “leaks” that formed this received wisdom as a set of established facts.
The term dahiya (suburb) is a staple of Lebanese political discourse, practically shorthand for Hizballah, the Shi‘i Islamist party seated in its infamous headquarters just south of Beirut. Before the civil war, the suburb, or more precisely suburbs, consisted of several small towns surrounded by orchards that began where the capital ended. Today, it is a heavily congested urban sprawl replete with higher-income neighborhoods, such as Jinah, where international chains such as Burger King, BHV, Monoprix, Spinneys and the Marriott have opened since the end of the civil war in 1990. Administratively, the dahiya lies in a half-dozen municipalities, and only one of these, Harat Hurayk, home to Hizballah’s party offices, is usually the “dahiya” that politicians and pundits have in mind.
For many military critics of COIN, the future of war is not to be found in the steamy jungles of Vietnam but rather on the rocky hillsides of southern Lebanon, where Israel was fought to a standstill by the guerrilla army of Hizballah in the summer of 2006. Israel possesses one of the world’s most powerful and technologically sophisticated militaries, yet Hizballah was not only able to withstand overwhelming firepower and to fire rockets deep into Israel, but also to inflict significant damage on its opponent. Unlike the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, Hizballah fighters often held their ground and even maneuvered against Israeli forces in lengthy battles. They intercepted Israeli battlefield communications, shot down an advanced helicopter and even struck an Israeli naval ship with a cruise missile.
Just as reports from Lebanon were indicating that a cabinet would be finalized within days, the notoriously fickle Druze leader Walid Jumblatt announced, on August 2, that his Progressive Socialist Party would withdraw from the governing coalition. Jumblatt criticized his coalition partners in the March 14 alliance, which had claimed victory in the June 7 parliamentary elections, for a campaign “driven by the rejection of the opposition on sectarian, tribal and political levels rather than being based on a political platform.” This view could apply to the campaigns of both major alliances that ran in the elections.
When Israel commenced its bombardment of Lebanon on July 12, 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his general staff declared that the air raids were provoked by Hizballah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers that day. As the destruction piled up over the ensuing 33 days, then, Lebanese did not ask themselves, “Why is Israel bombing us?” Rather, the question in many Lebanese minds, those of ordinary citizens and analysts alike, was “Why did Hizballah provoke this?
Beirut is known internationally for a youthful jet set that likes to be identified with the world clubbing circuit, including such stops as B018, an underground nocturnal haunt reminiscent of a coffin built by Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury upon the remains of a war crime.
Two weeks into the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, the United States stands with only two other countries—Israel and Britain—in opposing an immediate ceasefire. Even Iraqi Prime Minister Jawad al-Maliki, in Washington for reassurances that the Bush administration will “stay the course” in its Mesopotamian misadventure, demanded that the bombing be halted forthwith.
Following Israel’s intense bombardment in the summer of 2006, Lebanon had to undertake a new reconstruction effort before it had made a dent in paying for rebuilding damage done by the 1975-1990 civil war. The government swore to pursue reconstruction policies that would strengthen the state—an open swipe at the “state within a state” led by Hizballah. Yet Hizballah is carrying out its own rebuilding, and consolidating its political strength as a result.
On November 11, 2006, the six Shi‘i ministers in the Lebanese government, affiliates of Hizballah and the Amal movement, left the cabinet in protest of their colleagues’ rejection of their demand for a government of “national unity.” Such a government would give the Shi‘i parties and their Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement of Gen. Michel Aoun, greater representation in the cabinet. The majority in the cabinet argued that Lebanese had elected their government, in the May–June 2005 parliamentary contests that came on the heels of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
During the Israeli war against Hizballah in the summer of 2006, the innocuous Arabic word dahiya, meaning simply “suburb,” achieved an unprecedented notoriety. For several days, Israeli warplanes pounded one particular dahiya, the southern suburb of Beirut, whose neighborhood of Harat Hurayk contains Hizballah’s “security quarter” (al-murabba‘ al-amni). Various media presented Harat Hurayk as a fortress, a place whose destruction was justified because it sheltered terrorists who threatened the security of Israel. About 265 residential buildings, housing more than 3,000 housing units and 1,600 stores and workshops, were razed to the ground or heavily damaged.
After passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and the ensuing "cessation of hostilities," hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese are venturing across bombed roads and bridges returning to their destroyed homes and villages in the south.
Although Israel’s aerial bombardment has ended for the moment, Lebanon’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen because the unanimously passed resolution failed to address Israel’s blockade and the needs of all the internally displaced.
These two major problems demand the world’s urgent attention.
President Bush and many other supporters of the current Israeli assault on Lebanon and its reoccupation of the Gaza Strip justify these military actions on the grounds that Hamas and Hezbollah do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Negotiating with “terrorists” is impossible, they claim, because Hamas and Hezbollah exist only to destroy Israel.
When Israel undertook its aerial and naval bombardment of Lebanon on July 12, one announced goal was to recover two Israeli servicemen seized by Hizballah in a cross-border raid earlier that day. The attacks upon civilian infrastructure—beginning with Beirut International Airport and continuing with ancillary airstrips, bridges and roads, as well as port facilities in Beirut, Jounieh, Amshit and Tripoli—were necessary, Israeli officials claim, to prevent Hizballah from smuggling the prisoners out of Lebanon.