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Default Lebanon on the brink

May 8th, 2008, 16:50
Things are not looking good in one of everybody's favorite slices of prime Middle Eastern coastline. The militias are armed, ready, and at the barricades, the highways between the main ethnic/religious zones in the country have been barricaded off, the airport has been closed for two days now, Hezbollah's Grand Smurf has declared war on the government (OK, technically, he's stated that the government has declared war on it, which amounts to the same thing), and the army is warning that it may split along sectarian lines.

I'm sure *that'll* show the imperalists/Zionists/Syrians/other enemy du jour what's what. Go Lebanon!

I love the hell out of that country, but I'm seriously starting to think that if fifteen years of civil war with over 10% of the population dead in various gruesome ways can't drill some sense into it, they cluckin' *deserve* it.

Next on the agenda: getting the in-laws outta there.
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May 8th, 2008, 17:00
Sorry to hear about the level of unrest escalating to this point, Prime J—and I also have a hard time understanding the motivations of people caught up in these interminable civil confrontations.The definition of "winning" always seems amorphous, to say the least.

Best of luck and best wishes for getting your in-laws to a safer location.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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May 8th, 2008, 17:26
Good luck, PJ, I hope everything turns out alright for your family.

Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Sorry to hear about the level of unrest escalating to this point, Prime J—and I also have a hard time understanding the motivations of people caught up in these interminable civil confrontations.The definition of "winning" always seems amorphous, to say the least.
I think my father put it best when I was a kid: "People in that part of the world hate in ways you and I simply can't comprehend."

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May 8th, 2008, 17:45
Originally Posted by blatantninja View Post
I think my father put it best when I was a kid: "People in that part of the world hate in ways you and I simply can't comprehend."
Oh, we're just as good at hating as they are. It's just that we don't generally speaking live within rock-throwing distance of the people we hate, and we have access to weapons that score over-the-horizon kills.
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May 8th, 2008, 18:38
Anthony Bourdain was in Lebonon filming for The Food Network when the last round of fighting broke out with Israel and managed to capture what I felt was a candid and poignant glimpse of the escalating insanity.

What began as, basically, an interesting vacation video (Bourdain has it made), suddenly turned serious when word quickly spread of the Israeli soldiers' capture. Everyone knew there would be retaliation and wondered what would happen after that.

He and his crew do a good "cooking adventure" show, but they weren't much more than amateur reporters. Maybe that's why they managed to put together sixty minutes of insightful film footage.

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Default …and over it.

May 8th, 2008, 19:46
Hezbollah has moved against the Hariri group's offices; there are heavy firefights on in central Beirut. There's no pulling back now.

Next up: the army break-up. We'll have a pro-government faction fighting a pro-Syrian faction, with some coordination between Hezbollah and the latter. Following that, the territorial break-up, on somewhat different lines than the last time.

We will have:

* "Hezbollistan" in three separate areas: the south along the Israeli border, Beka'a around Ba'albek, and the Southern Suburbs of Beirut.
* Beirut itself. This time, Beirut proper may not fragment; the Sunnis and the Maronites are (mostly) on the same side. A lot depends on what Michel Aoun does, but his position isn't anywhere near as strong as it was last time around.
* "Maronistan" to the north of Beirut, inland, and a stretch of coastline from Jbeil in the north to Kaslik closer to Beirut, including East Beirut. This will probably maintain communication with most of Beirut.
* A combined Sunni/Druze area between south Beirut and south Lebanon. I wouldn't want to be driving along the Beirut-Tyre highway right now.
* Tripoli and surroundings. This is mostly Sunni, and pretty far from the action; it's likely that for now it'll maintain good relations with "Maronistan."

Expect the best pyrotechnics along the line between Furn esh-Chebbak and the Southern Suburbs, the line between Sunni West Beirut and the Southern Suburbs, and possibly some fun stuff in the South.

This is likely to get very, very messy indeed.
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May 8th, 2008, 19:49
Oh, and after that… the regional and international powers will step in. IOW, we'll be right in the middle of yet another full-blown Middle Eastern clusterfuck. Isn't this just *wonderful?*
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May 8th, 2008, 19:53
I haven't paid much attention recently, but what prompted this whole fiasco?

Sorry. No pearls of wisdom in this oyster.
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May 8th, 2008, 21:02
According to MSNBC
The violence appeared to begin as a test of wills between political rivals who have been locked in a 17-month power struggle for control of the government. It now could be degenerating into a wider and deadlier sectarian conflict, with the Sunnis’ spiritual leader denouncing Hezbollah and appealing to a largely Sunni Islamic world to intervene.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
Last edited by magerette; May 8th, 2008 at 21:09.
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May 8th, 2008, 22:37
Further clouding the region's stability:
Olmert in trouble, too

Sorry. No pearls of wisdom in this oyster.
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May 9th, 2008, 01:48
What really annoys me, is NONE of this has yet made our TV News!! They are far too concerned with whether a local football player will recover from a sore ankle in time to play this weekend!! Sport Rules!!!!

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May 9th, 2008, 01:59
Well I don't watch too much TV anymore but it has certainly hit the bbc news.
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May 9th, 2008, 02:18
Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
What really annoys me, is NONE of this has yet made our TV News!! They are far too concerned with whether a local football player will recover from a sore ankle in time to play this weekend!! Sport Rules!!!!

SBS is covering it
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May 9th, 2008, 05:49
Where I am this week, we can't get SBS!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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May 9th, 2008, 06:54
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
According to MSNBC

The violence appeared to begin as a test of wills between political rivals who have been locked in a 17-month power struggle for control of the government. It now could be degenerating into a wider and deadlier sectarian conflict, with the Sunnis’ spiritual leader denouncing Hezbollah and appealing to a largely Sunni Islamic world to intervene.
That’s the bland answer you could substitute 17-year power struggle without sacrificing accuracy. The longer answer, and I’ll preface this by saying PJ has a better understanding of Lebanese politics that I do, is that no one really won the civil war (and if they had it would have been very ugly) the settlement they reached left the country and government divided more or less three ways between the major ethnic/religious groups, the Syrian military kept the peace (and interfered shamelessly in politics) and Hezbollah kept its arms and militia. Which was a workable solution while Israel occupied the south, Hezbollah was occupied harassing the Israelis and the other parties were happy to stay out of it. The situation changed with Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon a couple of years ago, without the Israeli presence it was less obvious Hezbollah needed to be armed and there was mounting pressure for them to disarm particularly after Hariri was assassinated (which also led to Syria being forced to withdraw their military in the face of popular and international pressure). This may have in turn been part of Hezbollah’s calculations in provoking Israel with the kidnappings that led to the last war. While that war was a qualified success for Hezbollah there’s been increased international pressure on the Lebanese government to do something about their weapons and move the Lebanese military into Southern Lebanon. With the pressure now on them it looks like Hezbollah has calculated that they’re better off fighting another civil war than disarming.

Would have been interesting to hear some of the conversations in Damascus lately – see the thread on the Syrian Golan proposal. Uncertain how they’ll react to this latest round of fighting, Syria being isolated internationally is not in a good position to openly support Hezbollah but they risk loosing what remains of their influence in Lebanon and I can’t see them sending the troops back in.

I don’t see an overt Israeli intervention being likely either, they got hurt more than they expected when they last invaded and they’re probably not too upset that Hezbollah has other distractions.

As for how long and bloody this will be I think it will come down to how committed the government is to disarming Hezbollah and restabilising control over the south. Hezbollah isn’t going to disarm and they’ve got the experience and material to fight a long guerrilla conflict, if the government keeps pushing I don’t doubt they’ll spend the next ten years fighting. On the other hand there’s not a lot for Hezbollah to gain from this so I suspect that they’d be happy to return to the uneasy stand off they’ve managed for the past decade if the government pulls back… that’s the optimistic view, the pessimistic is that this has divided the country again and no one will be able to pull back even if they wanted to.
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May 9th, 2008, 07:23
Sounds ugly, V7, and makes me even more anxious for the civilians there. So whose side is Syria supposed to be on, other than their own I mean—supporting the Sunni government or Hezbollah, or just interested in destabilizing things in general?

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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May 9th, 2008, 08:00
More or less what V7 said. A few things though:

(1) I don't believe the kidnappings that sparked off 2006 were a calculated provocation. The reason is simple: Tsahal soldiers aren't easy to kidnap. You can't just go "Ya Hussein, go get me a couple of Tsahal grunts, willya? I'm getting bored here, we need some entertainment." (In fact, the opposite story — that the kidnappings were orchestrated by the Israeli side as a casus belli for an attack prepared in advance with American cooperation — at least has the advantage of being physically possible. I don't believe it went quite that way either, but that's going off on a bit of a tangent.)

(2) The Lebanese government does not have the means to disarm Hezbollah. The Lebanese army is reasonably well-trained and pretty disciplined, but compared to the battle-hardened Hezbollah veterans they might as well be toting peashooters. Moreover, it consists of Lebanese with dual loyalties — to their community and to the army. That means that in any serious confrontation between the two, the Lebanese army will (a) lose on the battlefield and (b) split.

(3) Hezbollah does not have the means to impose its will on the country either. It has the unconditional support of at least a plurality of the Lebanese Shi'ites, who are the biggest ethnic group in the country, but very little leverage with anyone else. That essentially means that they're unassailable in their strongholds, but can't do much (other than make mayhem) outside of them.

(4) No, the country can't be physically divided along sectarian lines. The geography won't work — it's a mosaic with most areas actually mixed; there are reasonably "pure" enclaves (the Maronite heartland, the Chouf, Ba'albek, a slice along the Israeli border), but the coastal strip where most of the people live is mixed, and the mountains consist of villages with different dominant sects living next to each other. (This is one reason Lebanese civil wars get so bloody — the belligerents start out within shooting, or even rock-throwing, distance of each other.)

So, the ultimate causes for the conflict lie in the make-up of the country, various historical injustices and grudges, and a long, sad history of foreign interference. (In this case, Bashar al-Assad's famous threat to Rafic Hariri, shortly before his assassination, of "smashing Lebanon over his head" springs to mind.)

(5) The proximate cause for the conflict is the power struggle over the presidency and the next government. They had pretty much agreed who would be president, but they hadn't managed to agree about the government, and the conditions under which it works. Specifically, Hezbollah wants a veto over any cabinet decisions, while Sa'ad Hariri's Sunni Future movement and its allies doesn't want to give it. So we have a country with a continuing standoff, no president, and tensions building ever higher. Add to this the fall of the dollar (the Lebanese pound is pegged to it) and resulting price inflation, the economic fallout caused by the instability, and general frustration, and you have a pretty explosive mix. Think of it as a pool of gasoline (the ultimate causes) evaporating in the sun (the proximate ones); all it takes is one spark to make a very big boom.

(6) The immediate cause of the conflict is the governments rock-stupid decision to dismantle Hezbollah's private telecom network. This is obviously one of Hezbollah's most important strategic assets (it's what gave them effective command and control over the 2006 summer war), so they're not about to just go "OK then, go right ahead." (It's rock-stupid because, as stated above in (2), the Lebanese government doesn't have the means to go mano a mano with Hezbollah; therefore, this was about as smart as throwing rocks at a bunch of Hell's Angels. But then if the Lebanese were smart about politics, they wouldn't be in this mess in the first place, would they now?)

Edit: (7) I don't see any external military interventions happening at this time either. Israel certainly doesn't have much stomach to go a second round against Hezbollah; Syria has nothing against the country going up in flames (their long-term plan _could_ be that after a couple of years of fighting and couple of hundred thousand dead, they can ride in again to rescue the country from itself… and re-establish dominance there.) The Americans are, um, busy, and their last trip to Beirut wasn't much fun anyway (although they might send in a battleship to parade along the coast and maybe shell a few goats, y'know, as a "show of force"), the French are too smart to get embroiled in this mess… and, well, that's about it.
Last edited by Prime Junta; May 9th, 2008 at 08:09.
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May 9th, 2008, 08:04
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Sounds ugly, V7, and makes me even more anxious for the civilians there. So whose side is Syria supposed to be on, other than their own I mean—supporting the Sunni government or Hezbollah, or just interested in destabilizing things in general?
Syria supports Hezbollah, Amal (the other Shi'ite party, headed by the President of Parliament Nabih Berri), and the Michel Aoun-led Christian faction. However, I'm not really certain that it's on their _side_ per se. Syria is seriously sore about getting run out of Lebanon on a rail back in 2005; in addition to the loss of face (which is a BIG thing in that part of the world), they lost access to billions of dollars in revenue quietly siphoned out of the country. I figure that Damascus's priorities are to (a) preferably get Lebanon back, but (b) if this is not possible, destroy it in revenge (if it can get away with it).

Syria *was* a stabilizing influence in Lebanon after the Civil War; now it's very much a destabilizing one. If there are any good guys in this round of the fight, the Syrians aren't them.
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May 9th, 2008, 08:31
The government is split between the Sunnis and the Maronites and technically Hezbollah as well although they tend to get isolated when the first two work together. Hezbollah also runs an extensive state-within-a-state social, education, health program so they've not exactly been acting in good faith with respect to the idea of a unified Lebanon (but its dizzying trying to follow the cycle of justification and counter-justification here). Syria was originally invited to intervene in the civil war by the Maronite government (Maronites are the wealthy Christian mostly urban group that dominated the country prior to the civil war) during the civil war there were pro and anti-Syrian factions but I believe they're generally less than thrilled that the Syrians stayed so long after it ended. The Sunni's are probably even less pleased with the Syrians following Hariri's assassination. Ironically, given that one of Syria's original reasons for intervening in the civil war was to get at the Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood (who opposed the secular Ba'athist government in Damascus, yes that’s the same party as in Iraq although they were captured by different strongmen in Syria and Iraq and moved away from their pan-Arabism.. but I digress) .. so, having gone in partly to dismantle the Islamist organisations active in Lebanon Syria was by the end of the war allowing Hezbollah to operate in the areas it controlled and acting allowing them to get support from their real backers in Iran. That relationship doesn't appear to have changed much following the Israeli withdrawal and there's a number of ways you could view the relationship now - Hezbollah upsets the Israelis and Syria would really like the Golan heights back, they're a spoiler in Lebanon keeping the country divided and providing an excuse for Syrian interference, they may offer an outlet for frustrated islamists in Syria itself, and Syria may just not want to upset Hezbollah and Iran.

In terms of the current conflict I don’t think the government would invite the Syrians back having only just got rid of them (nor would they want to risk the popular backlash) and while Hezbollah would probably love an international intervention supporting them I don’t see that happening either.
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May 9th, 2008, 08:42
There we go — Hezbollah shut down government communications, not the other way around.

[ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7391600.stm ]

Edit: the article says "…after the government shut down Hezbollah's telecom network." I believe that's incorrect — they decided to do so, but I have heard no credible evidence yet that they've actually succeeded in doing so, or even acted to do so. Yesterday Sa'ad Hariri said that it was a "misunderstanding" and that in any case the operative decisions would be the army's.

Second edit: BBC amended the article; they rephrased that to "…after a move to shut down…".
Last edited by Prime Junta; May 9th, 2008 at 09:41.
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