Posted by Joshua on Sunday, May 11th, 2008
Hezbollah began withdrawing gunmen from Beirut on Saturday and handed control of the streets to the Lebanese army, after seizing much of the city in gun battles with supporters of the U.S.-backed government.
The government backed down on its earlier demands in exchange for Hizbullah’s withdrawal. Siniora has promised that the government will not fire the Shiite director of the airport and will not dismantle Hizbullah’s secure communications network so that it would become vulnerable to Israeli depredations. In essence, the government has retracted the demands that provoked Hizbullah into taking Sunni Beirut.
The spin has begun. Robert Worth in his article for the NY Times reports that “some political analysts here say they believe that the government may have won a moral victory by abstaining from large-scale violence in response to Hezbollah’s aggression. Some government leaders were already accusing the Shiite group of betraying its promise to use its weapons only against Israel.”
The pro-government analysts, of course, are putting the best face on the governments missteps by calling it a moral victory. Jumblatt may be taking some satisfaction in the government’s predicament. He provoked the crisis with his accusations that Hizbullah was behind the string of assassinations in Beirut over the last three years and therefore had to dismantle its secure communications network, which, he conjectured, had been used to plan the various killings.
By pulling back from the city it so easily conquered and by turning over its strategic centers to the Lebanese army, Hizbullah has been gracious in victory.
It has not pressed its superior hand, putting paid to the irresponsible claim that Hizbullah wants to impose an Iranian-style, Islamic mullocracy on Lebanon’s Christians and Sunnis. On the contrary, it can be argued, Hizbullah is trying to broker the type of power-sharing government that the US would only be too eager to see emerge in divided Baghdad.
It is surprising to hear that Hizbullah is not demanding more in exchange for its withdrawal. It accepted to return to the “status quo ante” on rather easy terms. The next few days will clarify whether it is not demanding more.
In the past the opposition insisted on a third of the seats in cabinet; it also hoped to push through favorable reforms to the voting law.
Hizbullah has demonstrated that it can move swiftly and decisively. It has also demonstrated that it can game out its actions and is prepared for its end-game, something that others in the region seldom seem to do. Playing out the various scenarios before launching into action is a virtue that the US and its allies, with all their resources, are capable of doing well. I have participated in several war games in Washington; they are a frequent and valuable tool on the Potomac. But if Washington didn’t try to dissuade the Siniora government from challenging Hizbullah’s communications system and then advised Hariri to make the several demands he did for retracting the order – the most important of which was the immediate appointment of Suleiman as President — Washington was clearly not heeding the advice of its best people. This is a recurring characteristic of the Bush administration.
Hizbullah has done what it said it would do – not more, nor less. The constant grinding among the religious communities is making Lebanon more sectarian with each new conflict. Fewer Sunnis than ever will be able side with Shiites and vice-versa. The Shiites will become ever more convinced that they cannot give up their arms without first getting constitutional guarantees that they will get their fare share of representation. As things stand today, the Shiites allocated 21% of parliamentary seats even though they may represent close to 40% of Lebanon’s population. This is a lingering institutional imbalance left over from Lebanon’s colonial legacy, when Shiites were discounted politically as poor sheepherders and dirt farmers. The notion that Lebanon can achieve stability before these sectarian imbalances are rectified is not a sound one.
The following links are interesting:
Lebanon does not want another war. Does it?
Despite everything that has happened in the past few days, the people have no appetite for yet more civil conflict
By Robert Fisk in Beirut
Sunday, 11 May 2008
I went to cover a demonstration in West Beirut yesterday morning – yes, please note the capital W on “West” – and then I get a text from a Lebanese woman on my mobile phone, asking if she will have to wear a veil when she returns to Lebanon. How do I reply? That the restaurants are still open? That you can still drink wine with your dinner?
That is the problem. For the war in West Beirut is not about religion. It is about the political legitimacy of the Lebanese government and its “pro-American” support (the latter an essential adjective to any US news agency report), which Iran understandably challenges.
Unable to pressure Syria or Iran into halting Hezbollah’s offensive in Lebanon against US-backed leader Fuad Siniora, the United States has opted for “remote-control” diplomacy using its allies.
The Washington Post reported that the United States was pleased with the intervention of Russia and Turkey, which warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that they would hold him responsible for Hezbollah’s actions.
Since Israel’s war against Hezbollah that ravaged Lebanon in 2006 — a war that the secretary of state had supported — Rice has not set foot back on Lebanese soil where her unpopularity undermined the Siniora government.
Publicly, the United States settled for repeating its “unswerving support” for Siniora.
Hizballah humiliates March 14, Lebanon enters new phase by Antoun Issa
Reports also emerged that Hizballah and Amal fighters surrounded the Clemenceau home of PSP Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, as well as his security centres in the Chouf mountains. Nasrallah openly and sternly singled out Jumblatt in his press conference during the week, accusing him of playing lord to the Siniora government and attempting to spark a Sunni-Shi’ite conflict. Jumblatt conceded that Hizballah’s military might is unrivalled in Lebanon, and warned the Shi’ite group that it can’t impose its will on the rest of the country.
But will Hizballah impose its will?