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Faint Hope for Lebanon

By David Warren

There is a bit of controversy over who lost that war between Israel and Hezbollah. I'm on record for saying Israel lost. Israelis are fairly certain they lost, but their government says they won. Hezbollah and their Iranian and Syrian sponsors said they won, but their messages were pre-recorded. The Palestinians seem convinced Hezbollah won, but that might be taken as a proof that they lost. Everyone in the Bush administration says Hezbollah lost, but they privately concede it was, at best, a draw. On balance, the Western media assumed Israel had won, until the Israelis denied it. The Arab media are surprisingly mixed. Some papers change their minds every morning. The official view in such so-called moderate states as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, is that Hezbollah at least made a mess. They have returned to condemning Hezbollah for making it. Mirabile dictu, in Lebanon itself, there seems a growing consensus that Hezbollah may actually have lost, qualified by the fact it is still dangerous to say it.

I don't intend to make light of a catastrophe in which so many innocent people were killed, on both sides of what was supposed to be a U.N.-guaranteed international border. The moral question beneath the strategic question of who won, or who was seen to win, is much plainer. By any rational standard of received international law, Hezbollah, and thus by extension the Iranian and Syrian sponsors whose dirty work it was shilling, were fully responsible for every single death, on both sides of that border. They attacked Israel unprovoked, and without lawful authority, and by doing so they dragged Lebanon into the charnel house. If public opinion is in the slightest confused about that, then public opinion needs educating.

Yet the perceptions matter. They determine the likelihood of more pointless carnage and death. If public opinion, East and West, were capable of turning its attention to the urgent task of making Hezbollah extinct, then lives could be saved. If that public opinion wants to give Hezbollah another run; wants to see it further legitimized in Lebanese political life; wants to include it in some warped new "peace process"; and give its sponsors the opportunity to re-arm it -- then public opinion is complicit in the horrors that must follow. For while an evil like Hezbollah never lasts forever, it will not voluntarily expire; and the longer it is allowed to grow, the bigger the final catastrophe. That is a lesson history teaches again and again and again.

What good is the truth if nobody gets it? A great deal of good, because it will prevail in the end. That is a statement of faith, but also a fair observation on the fate of so many extinct regimes. Evil is eventually extinguished. The question is how big to let the fire grow before you put it out.

This is a view I seem to share with Sayyed Ali Al-Min, the Mufti of Tyre, and Jabal Aamal, a courageous leader of the Shia community in southern Lebanon who has had the guts to speak the truth about Hezbollah. He is as anti-Israeli and as unreasonable in his understanding of the "Israeli threat" as I should think most of his neighbours are. But he grasps that Hezbollah is a private militia that does not answer to the Lebanese state. He grasps that it must be disarmed, and replaced by that state, and that there will be hell to pay until this is accomplished. He grasps that without a single government, with a monopoly of force, responsible for the protection of all Lebanese, there can be no peace, nor progress towards it. The only thing he doesn't grasp, is that a Lebanon not housing a threat to Israel will hardly be threatened by Israel. (The interesting interview with him in Beirut's Al-Nahar is translated onto the Memri website.)

He is hardly alone. As even some of our Western correspondents are discovering in the field, Hezbollah's initial triumphalism, and its crass distribution of crisp U.S. banknotes among forlorn refugees after the conflict (courtesy Iran), is not being nearly as well received as expected, not only in southern Lebanon but around the Arab world. It is hard for us to gauge these things, because people who have lived under authoritarian conditions speak publicly with one voice, and privately with many others. But there is some faint hope that real lessons are being absorbed, by the very people whose bodies will provide Hezbollah with its "human shields", the next time out.

© Ottawa Citizen

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