PINE BLUFFS ─ Lebanon, one of the few democracies and among the smallest countries in the Middle East, lies on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Bounded by much-larger Syria on the east and Israel to the south, it has experienced internal unrest for perhaps fifty years, as dissident social and cultural groups within the country ̶ Islamic Muslims and Maronite Christians being the largest factions, although the terrorist organization Hezbollah has also made its presence felt ̶ have refused to assimilate, and continue to vie for exclusive unshared power.
No strong man of the stature of a dictatorial Joseph Broz Tito in Yugoslavia has ever emerged to control them. That’s not a bad thing, because although dictators can and do control internal warring factions, they often suppress civil liberties in the process.
In 2006, a crisis was precipitated by the assassination of well-liked Industry Minister Pierre Gemayal, 34, a member of the Phalange Party, shortly after he called upon Syria to withdraw its occupation troops from Lebanese territory and cease meddling in its affairs. His was the most recent in a string of political killings: former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir in June 2005, ex-Communist leader George Hawi in June 2005, and anti-Syrian Member of Parliament Gebran Teuni in December of that year. Since Gemayal’s death occurred shortly after his request for an end to Syrian influence, naturally that country is suspected of having had a hand in it.
The Beirut government’s call for an international tribunal to investigate Syria’s possible role in Lebanon’s cycle of political murders has been seconded by American President, George W. Bush, who has requested “a full investigation to identify those people and forces behind the killings.” See Lebanon: Why is it Important to American Interests? on my website, http://www.saccoservices.com/, Articles page. In characteristically slow fashion, the UN Security Council approved plans in December 2006 for a special international tribunal to try those accused of killing Hariri in February 2005. Although coming twenty-two months after the fact, this did not trouble the Europeans, who strongly believe that they can talk their enemies to death instead of taking action.
The situation in Lebanon has been further complicated by the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which inserted itself into the southern reaches of this tiny nation, between Beirut and its common border with Israel. Attempting to appease Hezbollah ̶ shades of Neville Chamberlain’s handling of Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist (NAZI) Party in 1938 ̶ the elected Lebanese government permitted candidates from that group to stand for Parliament; akin to letting the fox into the henhouse. Several were elected, and together, pro-Syrian and Hezbollah factions in Parliament have been able to exert enough influence to keep Lebanon’s fledgling army from marching to dislodge the much more heavily armed Hezbollah interlopers.
The take-over of Lebanese ground by Hezbollah’s militia ̶ a sort of nation within a nation endeavor ̶ from which it launched frequent rocket attacks against Israel, and Israeli concern that Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and elsewhere were capable of launching attacks against Israel or its facilities worldwide, was what prompted Israel to cross Lebanon’s border to attack Hezbollah in early 2007. But that move was only partially successful. On the night of September 6, Israeli aircraft carried out a raid on a site just inside Syria, against suspected Iranian targets, such as an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) base, and an Iranian-backed arms shipment to Hezbollah. Also troubling to Israel is a recent report of a secret Syrian-North Korean nuclear facility located inside Syria.
To further complicate matters, after Gemayal’s death, Hezbollah and pro-Syrian members of Parliament resigned, seeking to bring about yet another crisis for the elected Lebanese government. For several weeks, with the aid of some ill-informed citizens, Hezbollah staged massive street demonstrations to force the government to resign. This is reminiscent of Communist tactics in the United States back in the 1930s and 1940s, after they successfully infiltrated and took control of the Labor Movement.
Today, three stark scenarios face the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora: civil war between pro-Syrian Hezbollah followers and the rest of the country, a coup d’etat which would place Hezbollah in power with Syrian backing, or the current government successfully moving to overcome Hezbollah.
For the latter to happen, Lebanon’s outgunned army must be bolstered with arms and possibly advisers from America. That move, opposed by Democrats here, was made by the Bush Administration in June 2007, when a shipment of automatic weapons and ammunition was sent.
If the Lebanese people’s efforts to defend their democracy against Syrian and Iranian attempts to foment instability and violence are to succeed, the United States must stand firmly in Lebanon’s corner. It’s well worth the effort, in order to see yet another democracy thrive in that area of the world.