shock and awe

(No history of any region is impartial and no telling of events ever objective, but this one from the folks at the Lebanese Political Journal sums up the country’s isolated Christian perspective and addresses many of the conflict’s recent political inflections)

Lebanon: A Primer

To understand the current conflict, one must understand the way Lebanese think about this situation.

I’ll note historical events alive in the minds of Lebanese, and note why Lebanese aren’t “infantile” (the preferred Israeli term at the moment) for blaming Syria and Iran. There are many other events that occurred in this time period, but these are the ones Lebanese focus on at the moment.

1976 – The Syrian Army enters Lebanon.

1978 – Israel invades south Lebanon.

1982 – Full scale Israeli invasion. Path of destruction carved up the coast. Constant shelling and fear. Then, the Sabra and Shatila massacre. During this time, Lebanese hated and feared the Palestinians, but they don’t figure into Lebanese fears at present.

1985 – Israel pulls back, but keeps southern Lebanon.

1989 – The Taef Agreement calls upon Lebanese militias to disarm and restructures the Lebanese government, taking power away from the Christian president.

1990 – Lebanese militias, excluding Hezbollah, are disarmed under full Syrian control.

1992 – Syria calls for elections, even though most political parties argue that it was too early. Christians boycott the elections and continue doing so until 2005.

1994 – PM Rafiq al Hariri’s government orders the military to fire on Hezbollah protestors, killing many. Hariri’s initial economic plan called for an armistice with Israel. Hezbollah also checks his plans to restructure Beirut and Lebanon, halting the Ellisar Project which would have significantly changed the face of Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hezbollah’s stronghold. Many commentators call Hariri’s plan both racist and classist.

1996 – Acting Israeli PM Shimon Peres begins the Grapes of Wrathe campaign against Lebanon. Many Lebanese see this as an unprovoked aggression. Israel was occupying Lebanon, thus Hezbollah’s attacks against Israeli military targets and the Israeli proxy South Lebanese Army were justified.

Lebanese believe Peres began the attack to look strong in the face of PM Rabin’s assassination, and to appear resilient in the face of a strong challenge from Binyamin Netanyahu in the coming election, which Netanyahu went on to win.

The Grapes of Wrathe campaign is most remembered for the Qana massacre, an incident in which Israel killed over 100 Lebanese refugees and UN soldiers on a UN base. The refugees were in the UN compound cafeteria and chapel when they were killed. The Israelis denied that they knew what they were firing on, but video evidence from Norwegian UN peacekeepers note that an Israeli drone was flying over the area, thus presuming that the Israelis could “see” their target.

’98 or ’99 (my memory fails me) – Israeli jets swoop low over Beirut constantly from midnight to 5am. Electricity plants throughout the country are bombed.

2000 – Israel pulls out of south Lebanon without signing any agreements. The UN draws the Blue Line while in constant communication with both Hezbollah and Israel. At one point along the line, a tomb is divided down the center. Israelis claim the tomb belonged to a rabbi. Hezbollah claims it belongs to Sheikh Abad.

Syrian President Hafez al Assad, Director of Lebanese General Security Jamil as-Sayed, and Hezbollah use the questionable affiliation of the Shebaa Farms to provide a reason for Hezbollah to hold onto their weapons, even though they failed to bring the issue of the Shebaa Farms up when the Blue Line was being drawn.

Many Lebanese opposed to Hezbollah hate Israeli PM Ehud Barak for leaving without signing an agreement. They claim that Israel provided Hezbollah with a victory because Hezbollah was not forced to change at all.

2000-2005 Syria keeps the Lebanese military intentionally weak. The biggest supporter of the Lebanese Army is the United States, but this only strengthens the military bureaucracy. It doesn’t add to its might. To show you how unprepared the Lebanese military is for war, during boot camp, Lebanese soldiers get three days off every week.

During this time period, Hezbollah is strengthened both militarily and politically. The Syrians draw the electoral map to ensure Hezbollah political victories and to keep rival Shia political parties from having any possibility of winning in elections. To maintain Hezbollah’s military strength, the Syrians do not allow the Lebanese military or government access to south Lebanon.

Also during this period, Syria and Iran develop closer and closer relations. Hezbollah is the biggest beneficiary of this relationship, and perhaps helped it come into being.

Fall 2004 – Syria extends the terms of incredibly unpopular Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. The Lebanese Parliament is forced to amend the constitution to do this. The United States and France pass UNSC Resolution 1559 calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and the disarmament of all Lebanese militias, ie Hezbollah.

October 2004 – Lebanese parliamentarian and former minister Marwan Hamade, a close ally of both Rafiq al Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, is nearly assassinated. Open criticism of Syria by Lebanese politicians is subsequently silenced.

14 Feb. 2005 – Former PM Rafiq al-Hariri is assassinated while campaigning to win the upcoming election. He was predicted to win massively. Especially worrying for the Syrians was Hariri’s ties to the French. The Syrians blame Hariri for UNSC 1559. If anyone could force them out of Lebanon, it would be Hariri democratically winning an election that the Syrians had intentionally tried to stack against him.

8 March 2005 – Nearly 800,000 Hezbollah supporters and supporters of pro-Syrian political parties flock to Riad as-Solh Square to “thank” Syria.

14 March 2005 – Nearly 1.2 million Lebanese flood Martyr’s Square, Gemayze, Tabaris, Monnot, the port, the Jal ad-Dib highway, Fouad Chehab overpass, Bank Streetr, and Riad as-Solh Square. Many of these Lebanese do not support the Lebanese opposition, but wanted Syria out and did not want Hezbollah to define Lebanese public opinion.

March-December 2005 – More Lebanese politicians and personalities are assassinated. Bombs routinely go off in Christian areas. Lebanese politicians flee the country for their lives.

The Lebanese government moves from one crisis to the next, all the while being attacked by pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians, radical speeches by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian court cases bringing charges against Lebanese politicians, and a blockade by Syria that significantly damages the Lebanese economy.

25 April 2005 – The Syrian Army leaves Lebanon, but the Syrian intelligence apparatus remains in place as do Syria’s allies. Since the Syrians ruled Lebanon for 29 years, their reach is extensive. They controlled the Lebanese government, thus all key military and intelligence positions were assigned by them.

Spring/Summer 2005 – The inexperienced 14 March coalition, fearing internal turmoil, makes a political deal with Hezbollah to use Syria’s 2000 election law to govern the 2005 election. Hezbollah sweeps Shia regions. 14 March coalition believes it will be able to sweep the rest of the country and have a complete parliamentary majority in which they can push through any legislation they choose, including the removal of the President.

Christian leader Michel Aoun splits with the 14 March coalition, running against them in the elections. He sweeps most Christian regions. The 14 March coalition garners a parliamentary majority, but does not have the votes to do anything without support from Hezbollah or Aoun. Aoun and Hezbollah make an alliance.

The inexperienced 14 March leaders fail miserably. They spend more time in meetings with Bush, Chirac, and Saudi King Abdullah than they do with each other.

The Lebanese government calls upon Syria to demarcate the border with Lebanon and establish an embassy in Beirut. They refuse. The Syrians also refuse to call the Shebaa Farms region Lebanese, keeping the debate up in the air. UN maps note that the Shebaa Farms are part of the Golan Heights, thus Israel cannot cede the territory to Lebanon until Syria legally notes that the territory is not part of that taken from Syria.

12 December 2005 – Vocal Syrian opponent and editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s oldest paper is assassinated the very day he returns from France.
At the same time, the UN Report fingering Syria in the assassination of Hariri and linking them to all other bombing in Lebanon is released.

January 2006 – Lebanese politicians return from abroad.

Hezbollah pulls out of the government. They continue receiving aid from Syria and Iran. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah meets with Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Damascus. During this entire time, Lebanese PM Fouad Saniora is persona non grata in Damascus.

To end the crisis, the government decides to call Hezbollah a “resistance” movement, not a militia, thus undermining UNSC Res. 1559.

A National Dialogue is called. Lebanese leaders sit down as equals at one table. The main topic of conversation revolves around the most powerful party, Hezbollah. There is no way to force Hezbollah to give up their weapons through negotiations, but other political groups begin to corner them.

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice pushes the plan to remove Lahoud, remove top Syrian appointed military and intelligence officials, strengthen the military, and continue the investigations into the bombings and assassinations. The 14 March coalition does not have the votes to pass any of this, but President Bush and Secretary Rice claim they understand the Lebanese predicament and that they are dedicated to strengthening Lebanese democracy and institutions while isolating Syrian influence.

Throughout this entire period, Lebanese, Americans, and French have been working to disarm Hezbollah, stop the assassinations and bombings, isolate Syria and the Palestinian militias, and bring stability to Lebanon.