Middle East : Lebanon breaks the mould

Tuesday 2 September 2008 by CEPRID

Alberto Cruz


Lebanon, thanks to Hizbollah, is breaking moulds in the Middle East. After Hizbollah’s defeat of Israel in the war of the summer of 2006, it has again humiliated the Zionist State by making it carry out another exchange of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners like the one in 2004. (1) It has managed to weaken imperialist and Saudi Arabian strategy in the area with the show of force it made taking over Beirut in just four days. That brought about rapid mediation by various Arab countries, ending with the Doha Agreement by means of which Lebanon’s patriotic and nationalist forces pushed through a government of national unity.

That was something they had been fighting for since the end of the 2006 war against Israel. They also ensured a minority veto within that government, at the same time as they reinforced their political-military position. Also becoming clear is the population’s growing rejection of UN troops in the south of the country, being seen as an extension of Israeli interests in Lebanon and not as the supposed peacekeepers they say they are.

The prisoner exchange

Two years after the 2006 war began, the prisoner exchange is a new success for Hizbollah. This political-military movement, unlike other guerrilla organizations elsewhere, has never given in to pressure from the other side, either to Israel or the UN, on "proof of life" of the soldiers it holds as a result of military action, whether they were alive or not. That gave them an appreciable advantage when it came to negotiations since their enemy has never known for sure what they are dealing with.

Hizbollah has constantly kept the initiative, knowing how to pace its political and military interests. Demands of Hizbollah for some proof that the captured soldiers were alive came from Israel, the UN and especially the news media. That information was never made available.

Even Hizbollah’s negotiator with the German mediator representing the UN Secretary General, never had information on that score because as Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s Secretary General said, "One of the valuable lessons we learned from earlier exchanges (referring particularly to the 2004 exchange, AC) is that the news media complicate such operations, creating preset conditions...because the enemy always wages a credibility war applying leverage to fracture Hizbollah’s positions and that is a policy practised in many parts of the world." (2)

Talks lasted almost two years and Hizbollah has stayed impassive under pressure. Now it is reaping the rewards. The fact that the prisoner exchange coincided with the formation of a government of national unity and that the country’s president Michel Suleiman took part in the reception of the Lebanese prisoners freed from Israeli prisons and representatives of practically all Lebanon’s political factions, even the pro-Western ones, clearly indicates the importance of the operation and how the negotiation itself was carried out.

In it, Hizbollah presented a series of irrevocable principles, particularly that it should include Lebanese prisoners accused by Israel of "blood crimes", that is armed actions resulting in deaths. This is the case of the Lebanese internationalist Samir Kuntar, linked to the Palestine Liberation Front. Israel has always refused to set free militants it categorises as terrorists, but has now been obliged to give in. A precedent that will obviously be followed by other organizations, like Hamas in Palestine, which also holds an Israeli soldier captured in a military operation.

Other issues considered irrevocable by Hizbollah were the return of the remains of Arab dead from the various wars, information on the fate of people disappeared, especially after the Israeli invasion of 1982 and the liberation of Palestinian and Arab prisoners from Israeli prisons. Here, Hizbollah has emphasised the liberation of women and children. It should hardly need saying that although Israel has tried to separate this matter from the others and to say that the liberation about to take place in a few days time is a "good will gesture" with the collaborator Mahmoud Abbas and the UN, the reality is that it is thanks to Hizbollah that those prisoners will soon be set free.

National Unity Government

The formation of a new government of national unity has been a sign of generosity by the strongest party towards its allies. Hizbollah has given two ministerial positions to its smallest allies, a small Druze party opposed to the pro-imperialist Walid Jumblatt and the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party. At the same time it has promoted the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian Maronite party with which it maintains a strategic alliance, handing it five ministries and the post of Deputy Prime Minister. It is worth noting that the FPL did not have a single ministry in the previous government. As if that were not enough, the other political force allied with Hizbollah, the Amal movement, got the Health Ministry as well as Foreign Relations, which will define Lebanon’s future relations with its neighbours, especially Syria, while provoking a clear cooling with Saudi Arabia, a country that has interfered inside Lebanon in recent years.

With this behaviour, that Marxist theorists might describe as applying the Gramscian principles of hegemonic power and the politics of alliances, the myth of sectarianism and inter-religious confrontation in Lebanon is thrown up in the air. The only ministry Hizbollah kept hold of was the Labour Ministry, significantly, because it is foreseeable that its first action may be to raise the minimum wage for workers as the General Workers Central has been demanding for the last two years and which has been the main demand of the last two general strikes in Lebanon in January 2007 and in May 2008.

The new government arrived following the warning by Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora that he might intervene in the formation of the government if agreement was not reached before June 12th. That displaced pro-Western forces who were still resisting losing power despite the Doha Agreement. They had to accept all the names proposed by the Nationalist Patriotic Alliance.

But in addition, at a June 10th official event with the country’s main trades union central, the CGT, in which he bluntly criticised the United Kingdom’s decision to include Hizbollah’s armed wing in a list of terrorist organizations, Suleiman said that disarming Hizbollah is a long way off, since "Hizbollah is the vanguard of resistance to those who threaten the country’s freedom and territorial integrity". He made a point of saying to the Western adventurers who blithely label as they please anyone who dares to sustain patriotic nationalist positions, "Lebanon will never allow a party that defends the country’s territory to be designated as terrorists." (3)

Rejection of Unifil

And the Lebanese President said something else, in a direct criticism of the UN, "Lebanon will never forget that where the UN, powerless to force Israel to leave southern Lebanon, failed, it was the resistance that managed to free the region." (4) So no one should find it strange that the inhabitants of that Lebanese area do not view the presence of UN troops, the Interim United Nations Force in Lebanon, favourably, despite the fact that, for example, in some places some small businesses have put up signs in Spanish or Italian. In the different villages around Marjayoun, where the Spanish troops’ headquarters is located, one can see signs like "El Corte Inglés" painted roughly at the entrance to a store located in a garage, "Cafetería" in a small store near the Fatime Gate, right beside the Israeli border or "Hairdressing - men only".

Unifil patrols are constant along the narrow southern roads. Armoured vehicles frequently go by with the soldiers mounted on top bearing machine guns, always waving when a vehicle passes. In this way they comply willingly or not with orders to try and win over a population that sees them as just one more embodiment of Israel. Testimony to that effect is not lacking, nor actions.

Since the Unifil troops arrived in southern Lebanon there has been no shortage of incidents, especially to do with the Spanish and Italian contingents. The most serious, mentioned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in his reports, took place in February 2007 (5) and in March and May 2008.

According to what appears in paragraphs 21, 23 and 24 of Ki-Moon’s last report (6) Unifil soldiers were involved in incidents in two separate zones. In the village of Jibal al-Butm when unidentified armed men stopped them from checking a truck, although no fire was exchanged, and in Adchit al-Qusair, where the population stoned a Unifil patrol (nationality not specified in the report) that was photographing "suspicious looking" cables. The population did not just throw stones but also blocked the highway so the Unifil patrol could not leave and were forced to delete from their cameras the photographs they had taken of the "suspicious" cables, as Ban Ki-moon relates.

One has to remember that it was precisely the previous Lebanese government’s attempt to dismantle Hizbollah’s communications network, vital to victory in the 2006 war against Israel, that was one of the things provoking Hizbollah’s takeover of Beirut. So one has to understand Unifil’s actions for what they are : serving the interests of Israel.

And high level contacts between Unifil’s leaders and the Israeli army are the order of the day, not just for issues involved in applying resoultion 1701. Israel wants a more aggressive Unifil authorised to use armed force. This was reported in the Israeli daily paper Ha’aretz, according to which for the last few months Israel has been talking to the UN about Unifil so as to clarify its rules of engagement since Israel thinks Unifil is too limited by its mandate. The Israeli army could put it more loudly, but not more clearly, "We would like UN soldiers to carry out dynamic searches for weapons in southern Lebanon, including inside houses and that they should be able to use force where necessary to carry out their mission and not just when the lives of their soldiers are at risk, (as is currently the case)." (7)

On that score, Italy’s current Foreign Affairs Minister, Franco Frattini - Italy commands the Unifil contingent at the moment - has met the main Israeli political leaders as well as Israeli General Amir Eshel. Such meetings are not infrequent, whereas no meetings take place with the Lebanese side. After the formation of the new government, and especially once next year’s elections have been held, the UN ought to take very much into account the new government’s composition and the decisions taken in this area. Especially if Lebanon follows the example of the Nepalese government to be formed after the Maoist triumph there and where it has already been decided that the presence of the UN in that Himalayan country has to be reduced by 70% by 2009. In Lebanon the situation could be similar also next year.

So then it is easy to imagine the impression made on the UN troops when they see on their daily patrols banners with slogans in Arabic and English saying things like "thanks to the weapons of the resistance we are going to free our prisoners". Or what they think of the banners that fly the length and breadth of the country, but especially in the south, of the parties whose militants died in the various wars against Israel: the red ones of the Lebanese Communist Party, the green of Amal, the yellow ones of Hizbollah.

They are symbols that go beyond celebrating the exchange of priosners and remains of the dead to be a warning to foreign adventurers. And it is outrageous that the State that most flouts international law, one that repeatedly and with the acquiescence of democratic Western governments fails to comply with all and every UN Security Council resolution and the most fundamental human rights should say that Resolution 1701 that served to end hostilities with Hizbollah has failed. Not only that, but because Resolution 1701 has not managed to disarm Hizbollah, Israel has also asked European countries, during the Europe-Mediterranean Conference, especially Italy and France, to meet Israeli demands for a more aggressive Unifil, able to use armed force against people in southern Lebanon. (8)

The Shebaa Farms

The latest diplomatic moves indicate that the belt of Lebanese territory occupied by Israel, the Shebaa Farms and the Kfar Shuba hills, may pass under UN control shortly. This is the last Lebanese territory occupied by Israel and, until last May, the latest Zionist government systematically opposed withdrawing from that territory. After the takeover of Beirut by Hizbollah and the collapse of pro-Western forces in the first days of May, the US and other Western countries like France have pressed Israel to abandon the Shebaa Farms and hand over the territory to provisional UN authority so as to leave Hizbollah without arguments for the need to maintain its armed wing so long as a belt of land remained occupied. Israel would be ready to withdraw so long as it gets in exchange what was stressed above, that Unifil will be allowed to use armed force whenever it deems necessary.

If that position is accepted more dead will once more be offered up to the greater glory of Israel since Hizbollah has already said that struggle, not diplomacy, is what will free Lebanese territory and that while Shebaa may stay under UN control that does not mean all of Lebanon will have been freed, since it would be "an incomplete liberation".

Lebanon has been pathfinding for Arab peoples for two years. The firmness of principle, the patriotic resistance and political unity for common objectives regardless of religious belief or political option is breaking the stereotypes of sectarianism with which Western so-called news-media and their Arab allies treat the situation. It worries them for the example it offers to other peoples in the region. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan all look with much concern at what is happening in this small country because their own future is there as well.

In fact, the most worried at what is regarded as a strategic defeat for imperialism and the sectarian Wahhabi project, the King of Saudi Arabia, at every opportunity (9) shows his frustration at the strength of Hizbollah and the patriotic nationalist Lebanese organizations. The elites in other Arab countries, meanwhile, look more and more concerned at the example being shown and at the almost unchanged support for Hassan Nasrallah in the Arab street since the 2006 war. Nasrallah has been compared ever since with the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, for example by the Egyptian progressive daily paper Al Destour. (10)

Two questions : firstly, why did the Sunni majority in the Lebanese city of Tripoli renew sectarian confrontation just when the prisoner exchange was announced between Hizbollah and Israel? Secondly, why are are the Sunni trying that confrontation again in a city just a few kilometres from the Nahr al Bared Palestinian camp where Sunni Islamists of Fatah al Islam started a rebellion which permitted the Lebanese army to enter a Palestinian camp for the first time and where it still controls who does what, who enters and who leaves.


1 - Alberto Cruz, “La lección de Hizbulá” http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=34516

2 - Al Manar (Lebanon), July 2nd 2008.

3 - The Daily Star (Lebanon), July 10th 2008.

4 - Al Manar, July 10th 2008.

5 - Report of the Secretary General on the implementation of Resolucion 1701 (2006) of the UN Security Council. S/2007/147. March 14th 2007.

6 - Report of the Secretary General on the implementation of Resolucion 1701 (2006) of the UN Security Council. S/2008/425. June 27th 2008.

7 - Haaretz (Israel), July 9th 2008.

8 - Haaretz, July 14th 2008 y Al Manar, July 14th 2008.

9 - Al Seyassah (Kuwait), July 2nd 2008.

10 - Al Destour (Egypt), May 13th 2008.

Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and writer specializing in international relations.


Translation Copyleft Tortilla con Sal

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