Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Status quo ante bellum: A Possibility In Lebanon?

A ceasefire has finally taken place.

Regardless, Hezbollah and the IDF still fired against one another in ‘lighter’ skirmishes post the 0500 GMT deadline yesterday. In fact Sunday night and early Monday morning saw the most intense fighting between both sides as they sought to inflict more damage before the ceasefire was to take effect.

The ‘official’ end of the war brought detrimental economic, civilian and infrastructural damage to both sides. According to the Lebanese government, 1,071 Lebanese have been killed (mostly civilians). On the other hand, the news agencies estimate conservatively that 900 Lebanese have been killed and place an upper aggressive estimate of 1,150. The Israeli side witnessed the death of 114 IDF soldiers and 43 civilians.

Even worse, according to the UNHCR and the Lebanese government, 700,000 – 900,000 Lebanese have been displaced. Human Rights Watch estimates 500,000 Israelis have been displaced as well. The actual 34 days of fighting cost Lebanon a conservative estimate of $2.5 billion in losses and $1.1 billion was incurred by the state of Israel.

However, the costs are just beginning to kick in. Lebanon’s foreign real estate investments as well as the income continuously derived from tourism have plummeted. Moreover, the ‘expected’ income from these two sources for the following years has also plummeted.

The results of the conflict:

1) The passing of UN resolution 1701 which called for a peacekeeping force stationed in southern Lebanon (15,000 Lebanese army personnel and 15,000 UN troops).

2) Israel did not accomplish its goal of ‘eliminating’ Hezbollah. In fact, in many respects Hezbollah has gained more credibility as a viable political and military power in Lebanon.

3) Contrary to the previous point, it is still unclear what will become of Hezbollah’s position within Lebanon’s borders. They have angered many Shia businessmen who had poured millions of dollars in investments around the country.

4) The Lebanese population (to an extent) remains split with regards to their position on Hezbollah. The poor echelons of society see Hezbollah as their liberator and savior whereas on the contrary the richer niches of society see peace with Israel and the absence of violence more beneficial to their well being (regardless of their sectarian affiliation – even Shia).

5) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been greatly criticized in the Knesset by both the Labor and Likud parties for various reasons. Firstly, he initiated a conflict which Israel did not finish and was not able to complete in a timely manner and instead wasted the lives of the civilians and of the IDF. Secondly, he was criticized for not being tougher with Hezbollah thus achieving the government’s goal of incapacitating the group and halting all future threat to Israel.

6) Hezbollah has gained further support from Syria and Iran who rejoiced after Hezbollah’s resistance against Israeli forces and their ability to inflict substantial damage on Israeli soil. Both countries considered the battle a victory for Hezbollah

7) The war was overall a complete waste with lives lost, economies tarnished and no peace agreement signed. However, it did send very powerful messages which have rippled across the Arab world and as far West as the United States. Ahmadinejad and Assad embodied such a message in their post-bellum speeches,

“[Israel] is in front of an historic crossroads — either it [Israel] moves toward peace and gives back rights or faces constant instability until a generation comes and puts an end to the issue”

Hezbollah is much more powerful than Israel previously anticipated and as I mentioned in my previous post, the crux of its foundation relies on an ‘idea’ and a ‘concept’ of resistance which will continue to prevail.

8) The apathy and acquiescence of neighboring Arab governments cannot continue. The conflict proved that one can certainly not rely on the West and especially the United States to find a solution to the overall Palestinian-Israeli conflict as well as the general hatred towards the state of Israel. Leaders of the Arab world must take a more proactive and pragmatic approach to the situation and most importantly need to decide which side they belong to; in this case among Israel, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Iran – quite a decision to be made.

The status quo ante bellum in Lebanon? Not for a while.

Lebanon has much work to do to reach its position prior to July 12th. More important than the mere status quo is the assurance that security will be maintained. While Hezbollah’s future remains somewhat esoteric at this point, the current situation within Lebanon’s borders is floating on a sponge which is willing to absorb a multiplicity of changes such as the:

• Empowerment of Hezbollah politically
• Weakening of Hezbollah politically
• Reintroduction of Syria in Lebanese politics
• Repulsion of Syria from Lebanese politics
• Shifting of relations among the sectarian lines within Lebanon

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Close Observations and Long Deliberations: Hezbollah, Israel and Lebanon

Sincere apologies for my remiss; work, time off and the unprecedented wave of events has abated my frequency of posts.

It’s been almost one month since Israel started its bombing and ground force campaign against Lebanon. The estimates of those killed during the attacks has varied, the IDF has confirmed 98 Israeli citizens and soldiers have died while the Lebanese authorities have placed a conservative estimate of 750 civilians (with some sources reporting as high as 900).

For the last few weeks, these are the observations which have recurred or have been reinforced in my mind:

1) Hezbollah is the only true Arab organization (pseudo state actor) which has put up a formidable resistance against Israel since the 1980s.

2) Hezbollah has made the puppet leaders of the Arab world (i.e. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan and King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia) look shameful in the eyes of their citizens as they remain idle and acquiesce to Israel’s aggression.

3) Hezbollah has started to gain more support among skeptical Lebanese citizens as the savior, guardian of Lebanon per se and not the instigator of violence (however the opposite is also true and still exists). Hezbollah’s popularity has also increased among Michel Aoun's Tayyar Wataniya al-Hur, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) since the FPM has been welcoming Shia refugees in to their homes and supporting them.

4) Hezbollah has been able to inflict more damage on Israel and IDF than previously anticipated. Hezbollah’s arsenal has proven to be more destructive than had been initially calculated.

5) The war looks like an adapted version of Vietnam minus the jungles. In addition to the difficult terrain, the true difference is that this time the war is taking place in the Middle East with much more sophisticated guerilla warfare.

6) The asymmetric war has frustrated Israel who has inflicted a much higher fold of citizen casualties than Hezbollah fighters – this has been the protagonist in fueling opposition to the war (i.e. the bombing in Qana dubbed Qana II after Israel bombed the same area during the 1980s).

7) The Bush administration has absolutely no idea what is truly going on within Lebanon’s borders and in the region on the whole. It is easy for them to support Israel in its fight against ‘terrorism.’ In fact this has been the easiest way out for the Bush administration in justifying its acts as well as those of Israel.

8) A ceasefire is essential at this point, however Israel will not stop until it feels it has disarmed Hezbollah.

9) It is difficult to defeat Hezbollah since the organization is an ‘idea’ a ‘concept’ and an ‘outlet’ for resisting Israel. This implies that even if Hezbollah is defeated militarily, the legacy and the support the organization has will live on and a new Hezbollah will surface with a vengeance, more powerful than ever (i.e. a la al-Qaeda and Zarqawi in Iraq).

What next?

A UN backed ceasefire will take place sooner or later and it is merely a matter of time. Hassan Nasrallah has publicly stated through Hezbollah’s owned broadcasting station al-Manar that if Israel’s halts the shelling, Hezbollah will stop as well – a simple tit for tat.

Lebanon will have years of rebuilding to come. The 1980s civil war was obviously much more detrimental however the damage the country has inflicted has been absolutely disastrous. The war will also leave room for a ‘reshuffling’ of sectarian order and hierarchy – a little early to determine the ultimate outcome since it rests on Hezbollah’s residual influence (i.e. post-war mortem analysis).

The geo-politics of the region will certainly change. A peacekeeping force will probably be deployed in Southern Lebanon in order to patrol the border and maintain order. Ehud Olmert has sarcastically stated that Lebanon’s voluntary decision to send 15,000 troops to help patrol is “interesting,” highlighting the lack of responsibility he places on the Lebanese government. Granted Syria stays out of the war militarily, Bashar al-Assad could find this a golden opportunity to extend his umbrella of influence back in Lebanon after Syrian troops were kicked out after the Cedar Revolution of 2004 and the assassination of former Lebanese prime-minister Rafik Hariri in February of 2005.

Israel is frustrated and has severed a blow to its confidence. The war has fueled more anger towards it as well as the US and the UK since they are the only three countries which continue to support the war and believe that a premature ceasefire would only make things worse.
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