With the ceasefire hanging by a thread, now is not the time for Lebanese
politicians to bicker among themselves and flay around for internal or foreign
scapegoats. Like it or not, Hezbollah has emerged from its face off with Israel
politically stronger and with its military reputation enhanced.
For some in the Lebanese government Hezbollah's success is a source of
national pride; for others it undermines their personal standing or challenges
the agenda of their foreign backers.
There are those who will say Lebanon's fledgling democracy enshrines the
right of free speech. No one can argue with that. But in light of the country's
fractured past and given it has an enemy at its doorstep salivating to go
another round, patriotism should take precedence over posturing.
Someone who appears only too cognizant of this is the Lebanese Prime
Minister Fouad Siniora. He can hardly be considered a natural ally of the
Shi'ite militia, yet in almost every speech since Israel's bombing spree, he
has called for national unity and praised the resistance for its noble defence
Less surprisingly perhaps, Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud,
a Christian, and the Shi'ite Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri have strongly
echoed the prime minister's sentiments defending the resistance at every turn.
Hezbollah's leader Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah has also gone out of his way
to stress the need for unity.
Nasrallah stresses that his militia is Lebanese first and foremost and
refers to the Lebanese army in brotherly terms. When it comes to handing out
wads of reconstruction cash, Hezbollah doesn't distinguish between Shiites,
Sunnis, Christians or Druze.
With the assistance of General Michel Aoun the Maronite head of the Free
Patriotic Movement that has forged a marriage of convenience with Hezbollah
displaced southern Shiites were welcomed in Christian villages. Church bells
rang out in unison when Nasrallah publicly promised to give those who had lost
their homes a year's rent and money for furniture. A poll indicates that four
out of five Christians support Hezbollah.
Bonded by a common enemy, Siniora and Nasrallah two very disparate
characters have been singing from the same hymn sheet. Both want the cessation
of hostilities to hold and the reconstruction to begin. And both fear the
re-emergence of the sectarian strife that plagued the country for so many
It is this common cause, albeit transient, that has facilitated a smooth
deployment of the Lebanese army in the south. Most Lebanese understand that
their army is being hosted by Hezbollah and is allowed to stay in the south on
its terms. They are also aware that many Lebanese soldiers are Shi'ites from
the south and are on cordial terms with at least one or two Hezbollah fighters.
Proof that the army intends to stand side by side with the militia came
when a feted newly arrived Lebanese officer announced, "The army will
deploy on wounded Lebanese land alongside the men of the resistance."
It's no secret that the Lebanese government has given the green light to
Hezbollah to hide its weapons and allow its fighters to temporarily give the
appearance of having substituted their guns for ploughshares.
It's also probable that Nasrallah sanctioned the Lebanese defence
minister's promise to treat any Lebanese responsible for breaking the fragile
ceasefire as "a traitor," along with his commitment that the army
would prevent the import of prohibited weapons.
Elias Murr's hostile-sounding statement came on the heels of an Israeli
incursion into Ba'albek when commandos wearing Lebanese army uniforms drove
around for several hours until their awkward accents gave them away. A fierce
battle ensued resulting in injured commandos having to be ferried from the
scene under cover of Israeli jets.
Siniora backed up by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan blamed Israel for
violating the truce. Israel had the chutzpah to say Hezbollah had broken the
ceasefire by attempting to smuggle in weapons.
Hence, one may deduce that the defence minister's statement was made for
foreign consumption. In other words he wants to get this message across:
"the Lebanese government is fully committed to the ceasefire but in the
event it breaks the world should hold Israel responsible."
Although most Lebanese have rallied around the flag both the Lebanese
standard and Hezbollah's there are some politicians for whom Hezbollah's
triumph is an anathema.
Top of the list is Druze leader Walid Junblatt, who during an interview
on Al Arabiya, derided Nasrallah's folk hero status, doubted whether Hezbollah
would ever recognise the Lebanese state and warned that Lebanon may become an
open battlefield for Syrian and Iranian regimes.
Sa'ad Hariri, son of the slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri, has
demanded that Hezbollah give up its weapons and desist in undermining the
He doesn't pull any punches when it comes to Syria either.
Heaping scorn on the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, he accused Syria
of "making cynical use of the blood of children in the village of Qana,
Gaza and Baghdad."
Responsible Lebanese and Syrian leaders should put their differences
aside, just as the Lebanese and Syrian peoples have managed to do as we saw
when Syria opened its borders to welcome fleeing Lebanese.
Lebanon is at war, Syria is threatened and the enemy of both is Israel,
egged on by Washington.
Squabbles can wait. Lebanon's continued cohesion and security cannot.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on
Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.