Friday, July 14, 2006

I wrote this last night, but couldn't post:

They destroyed Nasrallah's residence and the Hezbollah headquarters (and surrounding homes), as well as bridges and roads and tunnels in and around Beirut. There's a victorious mood here (in the Internet cafe) and on the street outside, after Hezbollah rockets sunk an Israeli warship off the coast of Beirut. Certainly on Al Manar. For now. The Israelis said 4 crew members are missing. (Update, they found one of the bodies in the wreckage).
Angry Arab, who left Beirut just a few days before the bombardment started, analyses Nasrallah's speech and the Lebanese public's sentiments on day three of the Israeli attacks. His sources in Lebanon observe that some people who were previously sympathetic to "the resistance" towards Israel are questioning the wisdom of the operation to kidnap the Israeli soldiers, in light of the Israeli massive bombing campaign, the cost in lives and damage to infrastructure and homes. Lebanon is now under near complete siege: the international airport has been bombed over and over again, as well as two smaller airports (Hariri managed to salvage his fleet of 3 planes which flew to Amman before today's attack); the seaports are blocked, the main highway to Damascus is heavily damaged, as well as many many other roads and bridges. To my knowledge the route via Zahle to Syria is still open, and another through the north. Since I have been somewhat limited in my movements and contacts to the people in this Internet cafe, my friends and taxi drivers, I have this to contribute:

Except for one person that I have spoken to, everyone thinks Hezbollah and in particular Nasrallah is handling the situation well (final disclaimer: yes, I know, this is not indicative of all of the Lebanese). They trust that Hezbollah know what they are doing, what their capabilities are and those of the Israelis, and for many many people this is about meting out some justice for the bloodbath in Gaza. Not about distracting from Iran's nuclear ambitions, and certainly not upon orders from Damascus. Every retaliatory strike by Hezbollah, in particular the electricity black out in Safad, Israel, and the destruction of the Israeli warship, are cause for celebration. Most of my friends have not been directly effected by the Israeli military strikes, except for losing power and sleep to sonic booms; but the people who live in areas that have been bombed -- Dahieyeh in the Beirut suburbs-- are the ones crying with joy for every retaliatory measure and symbolic victory against the Israelis, even if the cost in lives and damage is on the Lebanese side. All of the die-hard Hezbollah supporters that I have encountered, and these are the people whose homes are being destroyed, some of whom are sleeping in this Internet cafe tonight, are solidly behind Hezbollah. And they are paying the heavy price, not the Beirutis who are skipping out on the beach for the sanctuary of the mountains.

Nasrallah declared an "open war" for the destruction wreaked in Dahiyeh (Shia suburb of Beirut) today, and announced that the Israeli warship that did the damage would be destroyed; this was apparently pre-recorded. As his speech was aired, the camera cut to the scene of the warship off the coast of Beirut under attack as it went up in flames. Four crew members (or whatever you call those aboard a warship) are missing. A definite contender for top ten moments in TV history.

Someone asked me to comment on the Shia- Sunni/Christian dynamics: I haven't consulted any of my rightwing sources. None of the Sunni/Druze/Christian politicians can afford to say anything against Hezbollah. On wednesday, day 1, GeaGea, Samir Franjieh and a few other marginal March 14th figures complained that a party other than the state was handling foreign policy by attacking another state (as if Israel were just any old state). The Lebanese ambassador to the US was withdrawn, for making statements in defense of the "resistance". That was when the harm to the tourist industry was still of greatest concern. But the Israeli escalation has effectively silenced any criticism of Hezbollah for now. Hariri hasn't said anything at all. The Israelis want him to, but that would be political suicide. Enter the House of Saud who beg to distinguish between "uncalculated adventures" and "legitimate resistance". The Hariri press made this their headline, while Hariri remained mute from his private jet. Jumblatt used the opportunity to try to get in good with Hezbollah again and declared his support for the resistance. Aoun said something to the effect that disarmament is not up for discussion while the country is being attacked.
But, from parousing blogs like lebanesebloggers.blogspot.com, I know that many people are enraged by Hezbollah's actions, which are pulling the whole country into a state of war. I am certain that many people feel that way, and I can't say that it's not entirely unjustified. We have certainly not seen the worst of it yet. Certainly the cost in lives is appalling, and -- if this were only about the release of three prisoners and the Shebaa farms-- I would say that it hasn't been and will not be worth it. But I believe that this is about more, and I think that most people have their own reasons for or against Hezbollah's actions. This is about Gaza, and will also-- if negotiations take place for a prisoner exchange-- lead to the release of hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian prisoners, which Hamas has been demanding. Hezbollah is in a much better position to make demands than Hamas for obvious reasons; Lebanon is not a besieged playground for the Israelis, Hezbollah is well prepared to fight a long drawn out battle, has weapons that the Palestinians don't have and all this on a turf that the Israelis were never able to control with a populace that was never forced into submission. One of the young men sleeping in the cafe tonight, whose neighborhood was heavily bombed this evening, says that they have nothing to lose. While that's obviously not quite true, one has to remember that the Israelis have not respected Lebanon's sovereignty over the past six years since the 2000 withdrawal and that this is an issue and a score-- aside from the Palestinian one-- that remains to be settled. Most Lebanese, on an average day, see Israel as a threat. Israel regularly violates Lebanese airspace, assassinates Lebanese citizens, and then retaliates with deadly force if these assassinations are avenged with strategic non-deadly attacks. While this episode is not going to eliminate the threat (no one forsees the elimination of the Zionist state from this operation), many people, in particular the Shia, are prepared to fight and sacrifice in this war. And these are not suicidal maniacs; my roommate today said, this is war and we are prepared to fight it.

And finally, a friend who was present at the Security Council meeting today has this to report:
"News from the security council, it looks like the US is prepared to stand back and let Israel finish the job. They are considering this an interstate conflict, and mostly an issue concerning Iran (and Syria). I'm not optimistic that the UN will be able to do much in this situation, considering that hezbollah has to be dealt with one way or another, and no one has proposed a serious international solution that can respond quickly enough to the crisis. Only on a diplomatic level, and here there are no parties to negotiate with."
Hezbollah has offered to negotiate from the very beginning for a prisoner exchange. And the Israelis know that they will not secure the release of their soldiers through any other means, whether they have been transferred to Iran (which I doubt) or are being held in a cave. Tonight, I fear, Beirut will go up in flames. (Update: Beirut did not go up in flames)

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