In taking over much of Beirut (including Sunni neighborhoods formerly controlled by pro-government forces), Hezbollah has engineered what I call a “coup on the ground.” It hasn’t touched the levers of power or elected government. But by controlling much of the territory of the capital city it has taken physical control of almost everything else. The message from Hezbollah is: “we can topple you at will.” And shows the government to be little more than a paper tiger. It reminds me in some ways (though not precisely) of Hamas’ pre-emptive Gaza coup of last June and one can certainly say that Hamas and Hezbollah have learned from each other to the detriment of their respective adversaries.
I don’t know how this will play out, but Hezbollah has clearly upped the ante which may eventually or immediately require the pro-U.S. Lebanese government to resign under duress and accede to Hezbollah political demands for veto power over most political decisions. This seems a disaster for the viability and integrity of a democratic Lebanon as a whole (if there can be said to be such a thing as “a whole”). It is a sad day.
But the main purpose of this post is to decry the bankrupt U.S. and Israeli policy toward Syria which might’ve help avoid this sorry mess. Both governments stubbornly wore ideological blinders which prevented them from embracing a Syrian track to resolve the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese conflict. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. Now, Syria and her Hezbollah allies sit in the cat bird seat.
Think where Israel and Lebanon could be if Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert had responded positively to Alon Liel’s negotiating track with Syria over the past year or so in which the latter essentially provided the outline for a negotiated settlement with Syria. Instead, Liel was met with stony silence or outright disdain. It appears that over the past few months Olmert has gradually turned the Titanic around regarding Syria negotiations. But it is too late in several senses. It is too late because his political career is almost over in light of his current bribery investigation. And it is too late because Hezbollah has pre-empted any possible future settlement in which it might’ve been neutered or moderated.
When thinking of this conflict I’m always reminded of Abba Eban’s saying intended by him to criticize the Palestinians who, he claimed: “Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Of course, like many who are quick with bons mot, Ebban neglected to understand that this referred to himself and his own government as well.