Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lebanon: The Myth of Hezbollah's Victory

Amir Taheri
Asharq Al-Awsa
August 19, 2006

Was it Tacitus who said, "Defeat is an orphan while victory has a thousand fathers"?

Whoever said it, the dictum now applies to the latest war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boasted of a tactical victory, a day after the United Nations Security Council ordered a ceasefire.

President George W Bush has also claimed another victory in his own global war against terrorism, without telling us how or why this was the case.Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah went further by claiming "a strategic victory" which, taken literally, means that his movement is now in a position to crush not only Israel but also "Global Arrogance", i.e. the United States, in the near future.A "strategic victory" comes when the initiative passes irrevocably into the hands of one side and against the other. Churchill spoke of "strategic victory" after Allied forces had landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944.

Truman spoke of "strategic victory" after US planes had dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.By those standards, it is hard to see the basis for Nasrallah's claim.Claims of victory have also been made on behalf of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic and President Bashar al- Assad of Syria.

In Tehran, the foreign ministry spokesman asserted that Israel had suffered "total defeat", implying that Ahmadinejad's promise of "wiping the Jewish stain of shame off the map" was soon to be realised.Some Western commentators have echoed that claim, pointing to what they see as an Iranian success against the United States in a proxy war.

They believe that Tehran is now in a stronger position to face the diplomatic coalition led by the US on the issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions.Also in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali- Akbar Mohtashami, the man who created the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, claimed "victory", presumably for his own genius in setting up theShi'ite militia.

There have been even more bizarre claims of victory.Political allies of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora see the way the war ended as a victory for his government. None, however, takes the trouble of spelling out in what way this might be the case.

We have also had claims of victory on behalf of the United Nations, the rubber stamp used to bestow an appearance of legitimacy on the most hypocritical of compromises.Beyond officialdom, debate about "who won" has raged in the Arab world and Israel, not to mention the Western media.Some Arab writers have continued a long tradition of self-deception that represents every defeat as victory.

Others, a new breed, have manifested acute symptoms of self-loathing. Like anti-American Americans who see every evil under the sun as a result of US machination, these anti-Arab Arabs are always ready to think the worst of their people and deny the Arabs any credit whatsoever. A similar situation can be observed in Israel where Jewish self-loathing seems to have a growing constituency.

The Western media have been divided across traditional party lines. Anti-American newspapers have hailed Hezbollah's victory while supporters of the Anglo-Saxon alliance have tried to portray Israel as the victor.One British newspaper speaks of "a convincing victory" for Hezbollah while another claims that Israel "won by achieving most of its objectives."When all is said and done, however, such claims and counter-claims are irrelevant. The reason that the protagonists know in the heart of their hearts, what the real situation is.

Even those who are delusional genetically know, deep down, whether they have won or lost.So, what is the ordinary citizen to think of all those claims and counter claims?The first point that merits consideration is that the world today seldom allows war to do its job to the full.

War occurs when two or more adversaries realise that there are no other means of resolving a political conflict. The task of war is to help the adversaries discover each other's threshold of pain. Once one adversary is pushed to that threshold he would surrender, allowing the war to end with a clear winner and a clear loser.

Nowadays, however, war is not allowed to continue until that threshold of pain is discovered. In most cases, the so-called "international community", symbolised by the UN, intervenes to stop war before it has done its job. As a result, in the past five or six decades, the world has become full of inconclusive wars each of which has bred an even bigger conflict.

The mini-war fought between Israel and Hezbollah is no exception.It was the continuation of their earlier war in 1996, only on a grander scale. The "international community" did not allow the 1996 war to do its job to the full and come up with a winner and a loser.

The result was this latest war.This is exactly what has happened again, this time with the new UN-sponsored ceasefire. Because neither side was pushed to his threshold of pain, there is no winner and no loser. And, this is a recipe for a bigger war sooner or later.

Let us consider some questions?

Was Israel hurt enough to think of surrendering or at least to change its overall policy in the Middle East?What about the United States?

Has Bush been hurt enough to abandon his "Greater Middle East" plans or, at least, stop pushing Iran's back to the wall on the nuclear issue?

Has the Islamic Republic been hurt enough to realise that it cannot challenge the American script for the Middle East through proxy wars?

Has Hezbollah been hurt enough to understand that it cannot offer the Lebanese Shi'ites long-term leadership by dragging them into what is essentially a duel between an aggressive US administration and a defiant Iranian leadership?T

he answer to all the above questions is: no.

Israel could have continued to fight for many more months, if not years without its people thinking of running away from the Middle East. Also, Israel has the firepower to blast the whole of Lebanon out of existence had the war pushed it closer to its ultimate threshold of pain.

The US, too, was nowhere close reaching its threshold of pain, even in purely political terms.Hezbollah could have continued to fight for many more months.Nasrallah's private army was firing an average of 80 missiles at Israel.

At that rate, Hezbollah could have continued the missile attacks for at least six months before it ran of supplies. Even then its losses could have been easily made good with fresh supplies from Iran, enabling it, theoretically, to continue attacking Israeli civilian targets forever.As for Iran, financing and arming Hezbollah represents a very small investment in a big confrontation.

The Islamic Republic could keep Hezbollah, and many militias like it, alive for years.

While we cannot be certain who won in this mini-war we can be certain that none of the protagonists were pushed anywhere close to their respective thresholds of pain.That, however, is not the case with the people of Lebanon who will have to pay the price of the conflicting claims of victory made by the various protagonists.

They did come close to their threshold of pain and were clearly not prepared to see the war continue much longer.That may well be the only good news to come out of this tragedy. Those who wish to plunge Lebanon in another war for whatever reason may have to think twice before they pull the trigger.

Editor's Note: Asharq Al-Awsat is the world's premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, Printed simultaneously on four continents in 12 cities.Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan- Arab and international affairs, offering its reader's in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab World.

Asharq Al-Awsat was the first Arabic daily newspaper to execute satellite transmission for simultaneous printing in a number of major cities worldwide, and is currently the only newspaper to own the Arabic copyright of renowned international syndicates; The Washington Post, USA Today and global viewpoint.Visit:

Amir Taheri was born in Iran and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. Between 1980 and 1984 he was Middle East editor for the London Sunday Times. Taheri has been a contributor to the International Herald Tribune since 1980.

He has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Taheri has published nine books some of which have been translated into 20 languages, and In 1988 Publishers'' Weekly in New York chose his study of Islamist terrorism, "Holy Terror", as one of The Best Books of The Year. He has been a columnist Asharq Alawsat since 1987 .

Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir To Der Spiegel:
"We Don't Want a Proxy War in Lebanon"

Beirut (August 16, 2006; Der Spiegel) As more and more Christians are leaving Lebanon, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, in an interview with the SPIEGEL ONLINE, talked about the on-going Christian exodus, the future of Hezbollah and the influence of Iran and Syria on his country, stating that “Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. We can not accept”.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your Highness, what are you most worried about at the moment?

Sfeir: Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. That's not something we can continue to accept after the war.

The progressive devastation of our country. And the growing outward migration of Christians, who are not returning to Lebanon. We held out in the Arab world for 2,000 years, but now things are going downhill at a rapid pace. The current crisis is dramatically amplifying this tendency.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But Christians in Lebanon don't speak unanimously. For example, General Michel Aoun -- possibly Lebanon's next president -- has forged an alliance with Hezbollah.

Sfeir: Yes. Unfortunately there are also some Christians who make arrangements with Hezbollah -- if only for tactical reasons. It may be unlikely, but if Hezbollah should one day take power in Lebanon, the Christians will leave the country in droves.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does Hezbollah still have a right to exist after this war?

Sfeir: I support Prime Minister Siniora's peace plan, which calls for the disarmament of all Shi’ite militias. As soon as a cease-fire with Israel takes effect, as soon as the two sides exchange prisoners and the Sheba’a Farms are returned to Lebanon, Hezbollah will no longer have the right to maintain an army. Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. That's not something we can continue to accept after the war.

PIEGEL ONLINE: It's common knowledge that Iran takes a different view.

Sfeir: What does Lebanon have to do with Iran's problems? Our country mustn't serve as the one that makes it territory available as a proxy rallying ground and battleground for other states. Neither the conflict over Iran's nuclear program nor any other Iranian issues concern us Lebanese. Iran is a foreign country to us. All Lebanese should take this view.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Please describe your relationship to Syria for us.

Sfeir: What is true for Iran is also true for Syria. We refuse to tolerate proxy wars on Lebanese territory. The Syrian Golan Heights are as lifeless as a cemetery. So why should a struggle for the restitution of the Golan Heights be fought out in Lebanon of all places? We want orderly relations with Syria.

That means Damascus must accept the demarcation of the Syrian-Lebanese border and release our prisoners. But today the greatest danger isn't coming from Syria, but from Iran. Iran is shipping weapons of all kinds into Lebanon, including rockets, and most of all a lot of money. How can an independent state be expected to tolerate that?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your Highness, you yourself come from the Palestinian territories. Hezbollah has always declared itself to be fighting for the "liberation" of Jerusalem. What responsibility does Lebanon have towards the Palestinians?

We can make peace with Israel only when all other Arab states have signed a peace treaty with Israel too.

Sfeir: Of course we wish for the Palestinians to have their own state on their home territory, just like we Lebanese have our own state. The Israeli occupation must end. But the struggle for Palestine cannot be fought from Lebanon, the smallest and weakest state in the Arab world.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: When will Israel and Lebanon live in peace?

Sfeir: We won't follow the example of Egypt and Jordan. We can make peace with Israel only when all other Arab states have signed a peace treaty with Israel too.

Iran Press Service: On orders from the Government Iranian authorities organized on Monday 14 August street demonstrations, where demonstrators, mostly militias on the Government’s payroll, hailed the victory of Hezbollah over the Israelis, chanting “Khameneh’i The Leader”. (Hassan) “Nasrallah the Victor”.

And on Tuesday, Iranian hard line President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad praised the Organisation’s – and the Lebanese’s – resistance to the Zionist regime as the “victory of the Islam nation” over the enemies if Islam.

He again called for Israeli, but also American and British leaders to be brought to an international tribunal for what he termed as “crimes against humanity and war crimes”.

Lebanese anger at both US, Hizbullah grows after truce

Some Lebanese feel they were used as pawns in the conflict.

By Tom Regan

As many families in Beirut and southern Lebanon began to return to what was left of their homes Monday, the shock of the past few weeks was giving way to anger at all of the parties involved in the conflict. While many reports from traditional media reflect Lebanese hostility towards the US, Lebanese bloggers are accussing Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizbullah, of using the country, and its people, to further his own agenda.

McClatchy Newspapers reported last week that Lebanon is in the grip of anti-American sentiment. One example of this, reporter Leila Fadel writes, is a huge banner showing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice with vampire fangs that "looms over the now nearly empty streets of downtown [Beirut]." The change in attitude towards the US comes less than a year after many Lebanese saw the US as a friend on their road to democracy.

"You cannot see the Middle East only through the eyes of Israel," said Misbah Ahdab, a Sunni Muslim member of parliament who was in the political movement that forced Syria to leave Lebanon last year.

"Either this is settled immediately and we hurry and work to rebuild, or it will be a mini-Iraq and all the extremists will come to Lebanon to fight Israel."

Ahdab is disappointed in what he considers to be a pro-Israel policy, which he says has forsaken a Lebanese government that once saw the United States as a friend and protector. "This is a picture of democracy that has been used by the US. You don't want it to be a failure," he said.

"This is where the US has an opportunity to show a new inclusive Middle East and not only Israel's Middle East."

The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that many Lebanese are skipping over anger at the Israelis to place the blame squarely at the feet of President Bush.

"Thank you, George Bush. Thank you for those 'smart' bombs," says Hassan Dirani, whose wife and surviving son were injured in the attack. [Three of his children were killed.] "I want to ask George Bush: 'What did our children do to him?' Even with this, we love the American people. We love peace and respect Americans," continues Dirani, differentiating individuals from official policies. Unprompted, shell-shocked Lebanese now often skip accusations against Israel, and lay blame on its chief patron.

"I beg Americans not to vote for another butcher and criminal like George Bush," says Dirani, who works at the environment ministry. Tearfully, he says his small daughter, now entombed, had been sharing her excitement about her upcoming sixth birthday party next week; she wrote out an invitation list of 20 school friends. "Why does your system and White House do this to us ... give smart bombs to throw on our people?" asks Dirani. "What are you going to tell your kids [to explain it]?"

The New York Times reported Monday that sometimes the anger comes mixed with a threat.

Four hours after the cease-fire with Israel started Monday morning, Dr. Abdel Munaim Mansour stood staring in disbelief at the mountainous hash of rubble that was once the apartment building where his family lived.

"We will kill every American for this!" Dr. Mansour shouted, his voice cracking with rage. "Every Shiite Muslim will kill Americans! We will grind them under our shoes!"

Columnist Patrick White, writing in the conservative Daily Telegraph, believes that for all "claiming of victory" by both sides, the truth is that "everyone lost," particularly the Lebanese. But the leaders of the US and Britain have lost in a larger political sense.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair do not come out of the conflict well. You do not have to be an Arab or a Muslim to conclude that, for men who present themselves as big-time Christians, they seem little inclined to turn the other cheek. They accepted the Israelis' breezy assertions that Hizbullah was ripe to be smashed and delayed attempts to stop the fighting, even when it was obvious that the campaign was faltering.

Their stance will have reinforced the already dominant conviction among ordinary people in the region that America and Britain will always side with Israel. Talk about bringing peace, justice and democracy to the Middle East is therefore rubbish, just as the radical Islamists have been saying all along.

But in the Lebanese blogosphere, there also has been a strong outpouring of anger aimed at Hizbullah. After Mr. Nasrallah gave a speech Monday where he "declared victory" over Israel, the anti-Nasrallah sentiment was particularly visible.

A Lebanese blogger, identified as Raja [currently living in the US], wrote on Lebanese Bloggers, that as much as he might want to claim a victory, Hizbullah has lost just as much as the Israelis.

It is true that Hizballah survived this onslaught, and in so doing, was able to achieve an unprecedented feat. However, it failed to accomplish anything else, and no matter how much better it prepared for this war, could not have accomplished more.

On that note, I have a message I wish to convey to Nasrallah (and I think I speak for the majority of Lebanese when I say this): ENOUGH!

You are not my leader. You have just been handed your "epic battle" with the Israelis and you could not have wished for a better outcome. Of course, the price WE ALL had to pay for that "victory" of yours was astronomical. Your insistence on keeping your weapons and stubbornly tagging the Syrian-Iranian foreign policy line has brought our country to the brink of oblivion.

ENOUGH, Nasrallah. ENOUGH.

At Cedars Awakening, a Lebanese blogger who identifies himself as 'Vox,' wrote that people are paying too much attention to "military objectives" when they should be paying more attention to political objectives.

From my Lebanese perspective, I have little to gain from this conflict. While I would certainly be happy to get rid of Hezbollah, the cost of this war far outweighs the benefits – especially that, at the end of the day, Hezbollah might still be there. In this case, there won't be any benefits for me, only costs ... I say to the Israelis that they should follow [New York Times columnists Tom Friedman's] advice and make Hezbollah lose – by stopping this war. Israel cannot attain its military objectives, but it has already won the political war. This offensive is not harming Hezbollah anymore, but Lebanon's attempt to establish a democratic – even if feeble – state. There's more to Lebanon than weirdos: don't forget that there's plenty of decent Lebanese who also want to destroy Hezbollah, through peaceful, but more efficient means. To do that, we need peace, we need prosperity, and we need time.

Faysal Itani, blogging Tuesday from Beirut on "The Thinking Lebanese," says both Lebanese and Israelis are left to "contemplate the outcome for which they have paid such a high price."

I have always been ambivalent about the West's recent approach to fighting Islamic fundamentalism. I am no longer ambivalent: if this war was anything to go by, the West is on the wrong track, its policies motivated by a dangerous combination of ignorance and hubris.

The only thing worse than a disasterous outcome is a disasterous outcome so utterly, totally and sickeningly predictable. Earlier I wrote that the outcome of this war would affect the status of the whole region. I also predicted a Hizbullah-Syria-Iran victory. The latter has come to pass. God help the Middle East.

God help Lebanon.

Hizbullah shifts focus from war front to home front

By Scott Peterson, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Wed Aug 16, 4:00 AM ET

BEIRUT, LEBANON - With perfectly pressed robes, the Hizbullah cleric stood out amid the grimy rubble as he tried to give hope to those Lebanese shocked by the destruction of their homes.

"How do we get this help from Hizbullah?" asks one woman, referring to the promise by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to repair and rebuild for owners of 15,000 destroyed homes.

"Where are you staying?" he replies in the manner of a seasoned bureaucrat. He says the family should fill out a claim form listing address, size of house, scale of damage, and furniture lost.

"You will get money in an envelope," reassures the black-turbaned cleric, who gave his name as Sayyed Nasri Nassar. "Don't worry, our people are coming to you."

The 34 days of conflict between Israel and Hizbullah uprooted an estimated 900,000 Lebanese and Israeli bombardment left apocalyptic scenes of destruction across Hizbullah strongholds of mainly Shiite south Lebanon and southern districts of Beirut.

But one day after a cease-fire, and just hours after Nasrallah promised that "the brothers, who are your brothers" would take on the reconstruction, Hizbullah's extensive social services system shifted from a war footing to sizing up the huge rebuild task.

Many non-Shiite Lebanese blame Hizbullah for recklessly bringing the current ruin on Lebanon, which officials estimated suffered $2.5 billion in damages. The government, of which Hizbullah is a part, will be responsible for repairing the widespread damage to infrastructure.

But Hizbullah's immediate promise to rebuild – along with widespread confidence here that the resistance won a victory over Israel – is tapping into fresh anger over the destruction, and winning more support for the "Party of God."

"Sheikh Nasrallah will help us rebuild – and God," says Jamal Mizhir, a pharmacist whose aunt collapsed into tears Tuesday when she saw her destroyed home in Beirut's Hizbullah stronghold of Haret Hreik. "When he makes a promise, he's an honest man," says Dr. Mizhir, sounding a frequently heard refrain here. "He always does what he says. That's why we trust him."

For more than two decades, Hizbullah's social networks have filled in for Lebanon's poor Shiites, when weak governments could not fulfill their needs. They operate hospitals, clinics, schools, and social centers.

That work, financed by rich Lebanese Shiites at home and abroad, through local donations, and with significant funds from outside, especially Iran, has done as much as Hizbullah's battles against Israel to win popular support among the Shiites.

They have provided a safety net, analysts say, that has melded the group – which the US labels a terrorist organization – with Lebanese Shiite society.

Even critics of Hizbullah in Lebanon often say they respect the group's integrity, efficiency, and commitment to helping its followers. Nasrallah promised to pay a year's rent for those with destroyed homes, saying Monday night that "we can't wait for the government."

"We don't believe in the government," says Marvat Dahaini, a woman dressed head-to-toe in black. "We believe only in Sheikh Hassan [Nasrallah]. He is our government."

"Hizbullah has a very clean record; anything could have been stolen from here but it wasn't," says Hanadi Mehdi, a literature teacher, casting her arm toward her damaged apartment block, as her brother emerged from a burnt doorway with his computer.

"Some things can't be replaced, like family photos. Your home is your history," says Ms. Mehdi. "The way people think, they have full confidence in Nasrallah, and feel they can confide in him.... Even people who don't support [Hizbullah] respect them."

That respect has built since Hizbullah was created in 1982, forming a model of public service and militancy – conducted efficiently, in a way that local governments could not – that translated into political power. The model was followed by Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and, without the militants, by the Welfare Party in Turkey in the late 1990s.

One example came when this conflict began a month ago and Hizbullah social services adapted to the influx of tens of thousands of displaced people to schools, public parks, and private homes.
In Beirut alone, Hizbullah organized 10 mobile medical teams that cared for 14 schools each, in two-day rotations. This aid helped 48,000; another 70,000 people in houses were treated by other professionals.

"People are shocked: All their needs are covered by us, and their gratitude is great," says Ali Taha, a doctor who organizes the teams. He says half the needs of the displaced have been handled by service organizations linked to Hizbullah, such as orphans and martyrs foundations that have kept databases on the refugees.

"The pressure and responsibility of those institutes is much greater than before, to satisfy everyone," Dr. Taha said, the day before the cease-fire sent a stampede of people returning to their homes. "In peacetime, Hizbullah used to give medical services free to the poor, or for a small fee. Now everything is free."

It's a similar story nearby, in a Hizbullah kitchen near downtown Beirut. Volunteers work shifts over vats of rice and stew, to provide 8,000 hot meals a day – part of a 50,000 daily total they distribute across Beirut.

"[Hizbullah guerrillas] are sacrificing their lives, so this is the least we can do," says volunteer Hussein Saloum, who sold fresh fruit juice until falling buildings crushed his shop. "They are giving as much as they can, but the main gift is defending our lands in the south."

"This has a humanitarian purpose, and I feel I'm on a mission," says cook Ali Sirhan, whose restaurant in the southern suburbs of Beirut was damaged. "If I didn't fight there [in south Lebanon], I can fight here."

To understand that depth of support – and how Nasrallah still is seen to "win" here, even though his militia precipitated such a devastating Israeli attack – may depend on understanding the Shiite culture of martyrdom that stretches back to the 7th century.

"This is amazing ... people [still] say, 'We give all our spirit and soul to you [Hizbullah],' " says schoolteacher Mehdi. "You have to go back to collective thinking. People are not so materialistic, but believe in dignity, honor and sacrifice."

"It's really contradictory, because we carry the roots of both fatalism and optimism in us," says Mehdi. "We see people die, and the next day mourn them, and then hear music at night. People are so resilient."

But do people here blame Hizbullah? "Maybe in their heart, but they don't say it," says Izzat Shahrour, a bulky man with arms covered in bomb dust.

And a little help from Hizbullah can ensure that you are a believer. When Mr. Shahrour sent his family away from this district a month ago, he stayed behind to protect his immobile mother. But bombing destroyed a host of adjacent buildings, and the two were trapped in a basement for days.

Then a Hizbullah activist came around, calling out if anybody was left in the area. Shahrour was able to get his arm out through the debris. The man told him to wait. Thirty minutes later the rubble was removed with equipment and a car arrived. At the sound of a whistle, Shahrour scooped up his mother in his arms and raced with her to the car.

"They helped me out," says Shahrour. "They asked me how long we had not eaten, brought us juice, and said: 'Where do you want to go? We are ready.'

I am sure Nasrallah will help, because people believe in him, trust him ... he must help," says Shahrour, of the Hizbullah rebuild promise. "When he spoke, he gave us hope."