by: Fouad Ajami
Lesson for Nasrallah:
"The violence done to Lebanon shall overwhelm you."
BY FOUAD AJAMI
Pity Lebanon: In a world of states, it has not had a state of its own.
A garden without fences was the way Beirut, its capital city, was once described.
A cleric by the name of Hassan Nasrallah, at the helm of the Hezbollah
movement, handed Lebanon a calamity right as the summer tourist season had
begun. Beirut had dug its way out of the rubble of a long war:
Nasrallah plunged it into a new season of loss and ruin. He presented the country
with a fait accompli:
the "gift" of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped across an international frontier.
Nasrallah never let the Lebanese government in on his venture.
He was giddy with triumphal and defiance when this crisis began.
And men and women cooped up in the destitution of the Shiite districts
of Beirut were sent out into the streets to celebrate Hezbollah's latest deed.
It did not seem to matter to Nasrallah that the ground that would burn in
Lebanon would in the main be Shiite land in the south. Nor was it of great
concern to he who lives on the subsidies of the Iranian theocrats that the
ordinary Lebanese would pay for his adventure. The cruel and cynical hope was
that Nasrallah's rivals would be bullied into submission and false solidarity,
and that the man himself would emerge as the master of the game of Lebanon's
The hotels are full in Damascus," read a dispatch in Beirut, as though to
underline the swindle of this crisis, its bitter harvest for the Lebanese.
History repeats here, endlessly it seems.
There was something to Nasrallah's conduct that recalled the performance of
Gamal Abdel Nasser in the Six Day War of 1967. That leader, it should be recalled,
closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, asked for the evacuation of U.N.
forces from the Sinai Peninsula-- clear acts of war--but never
expected the onset of war.
He had only wanted the gains of war.
Nasrallah's brazen deed was, in the man's calculus, an invitation to an exchange of
prisoners. Now, the man who triggered this crisis stands exposed as an Iranian proxy,
doing the bidding of Tehran and Damascus. He had confidently asserted that "sources"
in Israel had confided to Hezbollah that Israel's government would not strike into
Lebanon because Hezbollah held northern Israel hostage to its rockets, and that the
demand within Israel for an exchange of prisoners would force Ehud Olmert's hand.
The time of the "warrior class" in Israel had passed, Nasrallah believed, and this
new Israeli government, without decorated soldiers and former generals, was likely
to capitulate. Now this knowingness has been exposed for the delusion it was.
There was steel in Israel and determination to be done with Hezbollah's presence
on the border. States can't--and don't--share borders with militias.
That abnormality on
the Lebanese-Israeli border is sure not to survive this crisis. One way or other,
the Lebanese army will have to take up its duty on the Lebanon-Israel border.
By the time the
dust settles, this terrible summer storm will have done what the Lebanese government
had been unable to do on its own.
In his cocoon, Nasrallah did not accurately judge the temper of his own country to
begin with. No less a figure than the hereditary leader of the Druze community,
Walid Jumblat was quick to break with Hezbollah, and to read this
crisis as it really is.
"We had been trying for months," he said, "to spring our country out of the
Syrian-Iranian trap, and here we are forcibly pushed into that trap again."
In this two-front war--Hamas's in the Palestinian territories and
Hezbollah's in Lebanon--Mr.
Jumblat saw the fine hand of the Syrian regime attempting to retrieve its
dominion in Lebanon, and to forestall the international investigations of
its reign of terror in that country.
In the same vein, a broad coalition of anti-Syrian Lebanese political
parties and associations that had come together in the aftermath of the
assassination last year of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, called
into question the very rationale of this operation, and its timing: "Is it Lebanon's
fate to endure the killing of its citizens and the destruction of its economy and its
tourist season in order to serve the interests of empty nationalist slogans?"
In retrospect, Ehud Barak's withdrawal from Israel's "security zone"
in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2000 had robbed Hezbollah of
its raison d'Ítre. It was said that the "resistance movement" would need a "soft
landing" and a transition to a normal political world. But the
imperative of disarming Hezbollah and pulling it back from the
international border with Israel was never put into effect.
Hezbollah found its way into Parliament, was given two cabinet
posts in the most recent government, and branched out into real
estate ventures; but the heavy military infrastructure survived and,
indeed, was to be augmented in the years that followed Israel'
s withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
Syria gave Hezbollah cover, for that movement did much of Syria's
bidding in Lebanon.
A pretext was found to justify the odd spectacle of an armed militia
in a time of peace:
Hezbollah now claimed that the battle had not ended, and
that a barren piece of ground,
the Shebaa Farms, was still in Israel's possession. By a twist of
fate, that land had been
in Syrian hands when they fell to Israel in the Six Day War.
No great emotions stirred in
Lebanon about the Shebaa Farms. It was easy to see through the pretence of Hezbollah.
The state within a state was an end in itself.
For Hezbollah, the moment of truth would come when Syria made
a sudden unexpected retreat
out of Lebanon in the spring of 2005. An edifice that had the look of
permanence was undone
with stunning speed as the Syrians raced to the border,
convinced that the Pax Americana might topple the regime in Damascus,
as it had Saddam Hussein's tyranny. For Hezbollah's leaders,
this would be a time of great uncertainty. The "Cedar Revolution"
that had helped bring an end to Syrian occupation appeared to
be a genuine middle-class phenomenon, hip and stylish,
made up in the main of Sunni Muslims, Druze and Christians.
Great numbers of propertied and worldly Shiites found their
way to that Cedar Revolution, but Hezbollah's ranks were filled with the excluded,
newly urbanized people from villages in the south and the Bekaa Valley.
Hassan Nasrallah had found a measure of respectability in
the Lebanese political system; he was a good orator and,
in the way of Levantine politics, a skilled tactician.
A seam was stitched between the jihadist origins of
Hezbollah and the pursuit of political power in
a country as subtle and complex and pluralistic as Lebanon.
There would be no Islamic republic in Lebanon, and the theory of
Hezbollah appeared to bend to Lebanon's realities.
But Nasrallah was in the end just the Lebanese face of Hezbollah.
Those who know the workings of the movement with intimacy believe
that operational control is in the hands of Iranian agents, that
Hezbollah is fully subservient to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The hope that Hezbollah would "go Lebanese," and "go local,"
was thus set aside. At any rate, Nasrallah and his lieutenants did
not trust the new Lebanon.