Saturday, February 16, 2008

Australia reconciles, Lebanon divides

It's been a monumental week in Canberra and Beirut with both nations embarking on drastic steps that will have repercussions in the near future.

As Australia moved ever closer to reconciling with its dark history vis a vis its Aboriginal population, Lebanon edged ever further into the abyss.

Australia apologises

It takes immense courage for a nation to expose itself to en masse compensation claims as a result of altruistic measures. Very rarely in our current world where money spins the earth do we see virtuous leaders prepared to give up millions in claims payments to stand up for core human values. For that is what Australia's new, dovish Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did this week as he made action to his promise to apologise to the Aborigines for systematic ethnic cleansing in the better part of the 20th century by the means of the "Stolen Generation".

The nation erupted in joy at the commencement of a new chapter in white Australian and Aboriginal relations, as Rudd attempts to lead the country away from the mistakes of the past and into a united, prosperous future.

Threats abound in Lebanon

That same courage to reconcile with one's history appears to be severely lacking in my other country of the world, Lebanon. Instead of apologising for brutally massacring 200,000 Lebanese between 1975 - 1990, Lebanon's politicians were throwing threats of another war this week, starting off with Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt.

The PSP leader warned he is ready to fight Hizballah in a civil war, and a few hours after his threats, his mob launched an attack on an office of pro-Syrian Druze rivals.

The taunting of Jumblatt didn't faze Hizballah, highlighting the irrelevance of his threats. Despite his tough words, the PSP would not stand a chance against Hizballah in any civil war alone. It would require major external assistance to be able to confront the only Arab force to have humbled Israel. The Shi'ite party continues to refuse to be drawn into attempts by March 14 leaders to engage in internal strife, and Jumblatt's latest attempt has again fallen on deaf ears.

Assassination of Imad Mughniyeh

If there is anyone that can make Nasrallah's blood boil, it is his arch nemesis to his south. Israel successfully breached Syria's tight security network and assassinated Hizballah's number 2, Imad Mughniyeh.

Although the Israelis have brushed off Hizballah's accusations, the country did not offer a complete 100% denial of the incident. t obviously understands why it would be the number 1 suspect. If the Israelis did not assassinate Mughniyeh, it undoubtedly would have played a part in perhaps a cohesive effort by Western and Arab intelligence agencies to nab a crucial member of Hizballah. Some media outlets are touting that the skills, knowledge and contacts of Mughniyeh are irreplaceable, and the death is a serious blow to Hizballah.

Hizballah's next move

The Israelis singled out Mughniyeh as one of the few Hizballah leaders that played an instrumental part in orchestrating the Shia group's tactics in the 2006 war. His loss will come as a blow to Hizballah, and that was obvious in the ferocity of Nasrallah's return speech on Thursday. Declaring an open war with Israel, Nasrallah vowed he would strike back. The presence of the Iranian foreign minister at the rally highlights the importance of the loss of Mughniyeh, and the anger now festering in Tehran and Damascus. Syria, Iran and Hizballah are now working overtime to find a means, time and place to strike back.

Israel's decision to place its embassies around the world, and forces in the north on high alert is a reasonable response. It is aware that Hizballah's influence stretches beyond the southern regions in Lebanon, deep into the Palestinian territories, as well as the Arab Israeli community lying within the Jewish state's borders. Hizballah is capable of striking directly within Israel without claiming responsibility.

Nasrallah won't risk a launch of attacks on his southern border, Israel should be aware by now that it is not playing with fools. Israel has many enemies in the world, an attack on its targets outside or within its borders can easily be disguised as an Al-Qaida-inspired attack. Hizballah will most likely opt for this option.

On the domestic front, the resolve of the Shia party will only be strengthened. It is simple human nature, the more you are squeezed into a corner, the harder your response. If Israel, the West and the Sunni Arabs want to squeeze Hizballah, they must expect a harsh response. If a compromise was on the cards in Lebanon, it is pretty much off the table. Adding Jumblatt's antics on top of the Israeli assassination, Hizballah will be in no mood to co-operate, but instead, press ahead with its aims of claiming power in Lebanon and pushing out American/Saudi/French influence.

The Future Movement seemed to exert the same fear as Saad Hariri, Fouad Siniora and the Sunni clergy all rushed condolences to Hizballah after the assassination. Hizballah is no small couch potato, and any response from the Shia group will directly have an impact on March 14's struggle to hold onto power. March 14 sought a compromise with the 10+10+10, and the Opposition rejected the offer, underscoring its confidence in thinking it will eventually gain the reins of power. The Opposition is content to wait until the 2009 parliamentary elections, confident it will score a majority to kick out March 14. Hopes of reaching a formula before hand seem to have gone out of the window with the latest assassination.

Hizballah has demonstrated it will not deal with a partner it cannot trust. Mughniyeh's death will only strengthen the voices of the Hizballah hardliners that warn that no one from March 14, or Europe, or the United Nations can be trusted as an equal partner.

We cannot measure the success of this assassination until Hizballah responds. However, as Israel expects, the response won't be a pleasant one. The Iranian-backed movement will react violently in Israel, but more importantly, there will be major political ramifications for Lebanon. We can safely place our bets on more tension and less compromising in Lebanon.

Syria exposed

The assassination has hit a sensitive nerve in the city it took place, Damascus. Security was renowned to be one of the few successes championed by the Syrian state, but now that image is in disarray. Syria boasts its ability to host Israel's arch enemies, under the pretext that their safety is guaranteed in the impenetrable Damascene fortress. Khaled Meshaal, and other Palestinian leaders would not be feeling as secure in Damascus as they have been for decades. Syria's own Baath leaders would be feeling less secure.

How could Syria have been breached?

We can detect some clues from Israel's response. Tel Aviv swiftly denied it was directly responsible, but I would suspect that the Israelis had to have some involvement. It could have been a concerted effort by various agencies to breach an incredibly tight Syrian network and take out a major target in a single attempt. The Israelis even had less luck with Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian territories, how did they get it so perfectly well in Damascus? It leads to the possibility that indeed US, European and Arab secret services had co-operated extensively on this operation, with critical Mossad involvement.

But that still doesn't explain how the attackers were able to accurately track the steps of Mughniyeh, a man known to be incredibly elusive. It would have required deep contacts, a contact that would have been able not only to breach Syria's internal security barrier, but Hizballah's intelligence service (thought to be greater than Lebanon's secret service).

This is one major aspect that would be incredibly worrying to both Syria and Hizballah. Is there a double agent among their ranks?

The majority of the disenchanted

March 14 had been in major preparations to commemorate Rafik Hariri with a massive rally on Thursday.

The assassination of Mughniyeh brought out tens of thousands of Hizballah supporters on the same day. Fears of clashes were avoided, as Hizballah restricted its demonstrations to the south of Beirut.

The rallies did bring out the battle of numbers again, as each side tries to present itself as having the majority of Lebanon's 'hearts and minds'. Hizballah did only have a few days to organise its rally, as opposed to March 14's several months.

The pro-American faction claimed its rally drew over 1 million. Western media agencies, including the BBC, put it as low as a "few tens of thousands".

Final figures are irrelevant, because what we do know is that the numbers of March 14's rallies have been in decline since Hariri's assassination in 2005. Today, the stories of disenchantment are being echoed around the country. The Lebanese came out onto the street in 2005 because they wanted change. We were foolishly under the impression that all our problems were a result of Syria. How foolish indeed!

The reality of Lebanon that we - Lebanese - are now confronting, and now acknowledge, is that the real problems of our country are not a result of either Syria or Israel, but are a consequence of our inability to manage our own country.

The declining numbers in March 14's rallies does not mean the Opposition has scored a few more points. There is a new majority in Lebanon, the majority of the disenchanted. The politicians are fighting for a power that means nothing to the people, for they have become too accustomed to the empty rhetoric of their leaders. They promise the world, and deliver hell. The Lebanese are tuning out from politics. They poured their energy, they demonstrated, with different leaders, waving different colours, only to find out they were all empty promises.

The politicians have destroyed the spirit of the people. Never has it been so low since the civil war. Under Syrian occupation, there was always a feeling that one day it will improve. When the Syrians leave, we will be able to restart. We were sure we learnt our lessons from the civil war, the little baby Lebanon had grown up and was ready to take responsibility. How foolish we were.

I was saddened to see in Lebanon a throng of youth rushing for visas, rushing to get out. They didn't care if they went to Africa to work, they were just tired of having their lives manipulated by an oligarchy of selfish warlords and clan chieftains.

Shi'ite, Maronite, Sunni, Druze, Orthodox, Alawite ... they're all simply labels. At the end of the day, we all cop the same rubbish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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check my group and tell me wht u think; it's called POLITICAL ANALYSIS OF LEBANON.