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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Some Small Encouraging Signs

Michael J. Totten has some relatively optimistic signs looking from the Lebanese side of the current conflict. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, Michael actually lived in Beirut for some period of time.

1. Hassan Nasrallah is a free man no more. Yesterday I talked to my Lebanese friend Tony Badran (who once guest-blogged for me here and who has his own blog Across the Bay). He pointed out that "Nasrallah is stuck in his bunker – or some other undisclosed location – and may remain stuck there forever." He's right. Hezbollah’s secretary general is a marked man now, and if he comes out of hiding the Israelis will put one in his forehead. Short of some kind of miracle, Nasrallah will be reduced to releasing Jihad TV videos from exile or from the urban equivalent of a cave in Afghanistan. No more boozing and chasing girls in Gemmayze for him! The problem with an attempted Hezbollah coup d’etat is not that they might succeed, but that they could start another war trying.

2. While Lebanese public opinion is overwhelmingly hostile to both Israel and the United States right now (and believe me, it wasn’t this way a few weeks ago), the opinions of the political leadership are what matter most in the short run. If the leaders of the Christian, Sunni, and Druze communities can be brought around to the international consensus (which is where they already were before the war started, sigh) the view on the “street” will have little or no effect on ceasefire negotiations.

3. Threat of civil war is not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously a real civil war would be a disaster for Lebanon, for Israel, for the US, for everyone except Syria and Iran....

4. Another thing Tony pointed out on the phone: Hassan Nasrallah has dragged Lebanon’s Shia community backward in time to where they were in the days before the cleric Moussa Sadr brought them into politics in the 1960s. The Shia have always been the poor and forgotten of Lebanon, cruelly neglected and shunted aside by the Sunni and Christian elite and middle classes.... Their honor and pride may prohibit them from ever admitting Hezbollah’s latest attacks on Israel were a fatal mistake. But their all too terrible punishment may convince them to seek a healthier and more cautious approach to politics in the future.

UPDATE: Tony adds via email: "The development of moderate Shiite alternatives is necessary (there was a recent meeting of Shiite intellectuals, writers, and independents and they are starting to realize all of this and they called for the full integration of the Shiites into the state), and that Jumblat is fully aware of the dangers of the Shiites feeling disempowered again, which is why he is reaching out to them now, and stressing how they are "partners" and stressing how Berri (who now is the moderate alternative in comparison) is "a pillar of the Taef accords" (i.e. an integral part of the current republic), etc. Ghassan Tueni is calling for the same thing, even going to do away with the sectarian system, etc. So there is awareness on the part of the leadership of the dangers of the Shiites suffering the kind of disillusionment that the Christians did in the 90s under the Syrians."

Read the whole thing.


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