Michael Totten


I can never quite decide whether I’m in a country at war or in a country at peace. Lebanese people argue amongst themselves, sometimes in front of me, which is really the case. If there is a state in between, this is it. Overwhelmingly Lebanon looks and feels like a country at peace. Other times, though, things are different.
(Photo courtesy of Beirut’s Daily Star.)
Even though Lebanon and Israel are technically at war, Lebanese soldiers and Israeli soldiers have never once fired at each other across the border. But that’s not enough to keep the border a calm one. Hezbollah, not the army, controls Lebanon’s side.
On Monday the border erupted in violence yet again. Hezbollah fighters stormed into Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and engaged the Israeli army in battle. They also fired mortars and rockets at Israel’s Abbassiyeh post. Israel retaliated with air strikes against the villages of Shebaa and Kfar Shouba, the Al-Mari Valley, and at Hezbollah positions outside Khiam and southeast of the coastal city of Tyre. More than 250 explosions were reported.
On Sunday I drove my mother and my brother (who went home this morning) as close to that border as the army would allow.
Say what you will about the wisdom of going down there at all, let alone taking my family with me. But I warned them that the border sometimes heats up, and they were willing to take the small risk. It doesn’t look or feel dangerous, even though clearly it is. At least neither Hezbollah nor the Israelis target civilians on either side. So there’s that to be said for the relative “safety” if you want to visit.
We didn’t see any conflict on the day we went down there. We were a day early for that, not that we were looking for conflict. The Lebanese army didn’t allow us into Monday’s hot zone in any case. (We were about five or so miles from where the conflict later erupted.) The army has set up checkpoints at what they call the border between government-controlled Lebanon and the Hezbollah-controlled belt in the south. They wouldn’t let us go all the way to the fence. They did, however, let us pass the first checkpoint where we were allowed to reach Beaufort Castle. From there you can look down into Israel.
Below is a shot of Israel in the background and the warning of land mines in the foreground.
Stop Mine.jpg
Behind us was the castle. Although it is worth seeing, it is not a tourist destination. Hezbollah uses it as a post to watch the border. They fly the flag from what remains of its towers. And they were there with us. We saw Hezbollah guerillas on the tops of the walls and their propaganda right next to the walls on the outside.
Hezbollah Castle.jpg
Beaufort Outpost.jpg
Military Media.jpg
Today I’m writing an article about the conflict in the south and the border region in general – I did get all the way down there by myself a little while ago. The region is, from a political-historical point of view, one of the most interesting places in Lebanon. The article should appear just after the Thanksgiving holiday. Watch for it, along with a lot more photos (I will time them to coincide) on this page.