From Lebanon to Iraq and Back

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For
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon all the current euphoria about
the rising New Lebanon, marking the start of a revolutionary change
in the Middle East, must have the feel of dj vu all over again.

After
all, when Israeli troops under the order of then Defense Minister
Sharon invaded Lebanon in 1982 as part of a strategy to expel the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from that country and to
bring to power the Christian Phalangist militias, led by Bashir
Gemayel, Israeli officials and pundits were predicting that a New
Order was about to emerge in the Middle East: an alliance between
the twin pro-Western and democratic states of Israel and Lebanon
would lead to the weakening of the PLO and Syria and help trigger
similar changes in the entire Middle East.

What
had happened in Lebanon in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion
in 1982 would be later advanced by those observers who were warning
the Bush Administration in 2002 not to invade Iraq.

The
Israelis did defeat the Syrian and Muslim Lebanese troops and achieved
their goal of evicting Yasser Arafat and his PLO from Lebanon.

But
Lebanon was not transformed into a stable democracy and an ally
of the West and Israel. Instead, following the assassination of
Gemayel and the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the country relapsed
into another bloody civil war that forced the deployment of international
peacekeeping troops, including American soldiers, and eventually
to the return of Syrian occupying forces to impose order in the
country.

Indeed,
the main legacy of the 1982 Israeli invasion – in addition to close
to 20,000 casualties – was to strengthen the power of the Shi’ite
Muslims in Lebanon while turning them into long-term enemies of
Israel and the United States and intensifying anti-American sentiments,
including terrorism in the region.

Lebanon
demonstrated then – as Iraq would 20 years later – the dilemmas
faced by an outside power as it tries to ally itself with local
national, ethnic and religious players in the Middle East. These
"allies" succeed in drawing in the outsider and in winning its military
support by pledging to promote its interests and values.

In
reality, the local players, whether they are the Shi’ites and Kurds
in Iraq, or the Maronites, Druze and Shi’ites in Lebanon regard their
partnership with a power like the United States as nothing more
than an ad-hoc arrangement aimed at advancing their particularistic
interests in relation to other competing players in the region.

They
might even be willing to quote Thomas Jefferson in exchange for
American intervention on their side. But when an outsider like the
US helps tip the balance in favor of its local partner or if that
power fails to deliver the goods, the local player exposes its real
agenda: trying to win one more fight in the neighborhood in which
the spoils don’t necessarily go to the good guys.

But
tomorrow is another day, and in the next brawl our current "ally"
might exchange one outsider for another. Hence Americans shouldn’t
have been "Shocked! Shocked! Shocked!" to learn that while enjoying
a huge American stipend, their former ally Ahmad Chalabi was also
providing tips to the Iranian security services.

And
they certainly shouldn’t be surprised if and when the supposedly
pro-American and democracy loving Shi’ite groups they helped bring
to power in Baghdad strengthen their links to the Shi’ite regime
in Teheran and erode the rights of women and Christians in Iraq.

Indeed,
the Americans should recall how the Shi’ites in Southern Lebanon,
suffering under the domination of the PLO welcomed the Israelis
with flowers in 1982 only to launch a bloody insurgency against
them a few months later.

And
it was the "pro-Israeli" and Western oriented Maronites who massacred
Palestinian women and children in Sabra and Shatila and who urged
that the Syrians return to Lebanon after the Israelis and the Americans
left Beirut.

And
it is the Maronites, together with leaders of the Druze and Sunni
communities, a coalition of tribal warlords who for years were the
lackeys of the Assad family in Damascus and have been in control
of a political system that reflects narrow sectarian interests,
who have now suddenly reinvented themselves as pro-American democrats.

Hence
one of these warlords, Druze leader Walid Jumbalat, the leader of
the Progressive Socialist Party, who told an Arab newspaper last
year: "We are all happy when US soldiers are killed (in Iraq) week
in and week out" And again: "The killing of US soldiers in Iraq
is legitimate and obligatory." But it seems he has undergone a conversion.
As he explained to an American reporter recently: "When I saw the
Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was
the start of a new Arab world."

What
accounts for this quick conversion from a nasty anti-American barker
into a neocon cheerleader by Jumbalat and the other members of the
(current) anti-Syrian coalition is their interest in exploiting
the current weakness of the regime in Damascus to overcome another
coalition of ethnic and religious groups that is now in power in
Beirut. Contrary to the spin propagated by Washington, this political
infighting has nothing to do with pro-American sentiments and the
struggle for democracy. The new governing coalition in Beirut would
be ready to ally itself with any outside power – if not the American,
then the French – to secure their interests.

Moreover,
those Americans who are hoping that Lebanon become a full-blown
democracy should consider the following: although no reliable statistics
are available, most experts agree that as a result of low-birth
rates and emigration, the Maronites and the other Christian sects
have become a dwindling minority of about 20 per cent, while among
the Muslim majority, the Shi’ites are the rising demographic group.
Some estimates suggest they constitute about 40 per cent of the
Lebanese citizens. Sound like Shi’ite-dominated Iran and Iraq would
soon be joined by a new partner. Thanks America!

March
5, 2005

Leon
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore
. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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Hadar Archives

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