Michael Totten

Some Small Encouraging Signs

First, a huge caveat:
I don’t know what’s going to happen in Lebanon and Israel, okay? And I don’t claim to know. Just about anything could happen in the next couple of weeks. Every option I can think of is possible short of Lebanon declaring an alliance with Israel and short of Hassan Nasrallah becoming Ruler of Lebanon.
I’m already on record in opposition to Israel expanding its war against Hezbollah to the rest of the country. But that’s neither here nor there at this point. The consequences I warned about have already come to pass, more or less, so that’s that. I have no more advice. Hopefully the damage done can be rolled back somewhat in the future.
Here are a few positive nuggets:
1. Hassan Nasrallah is a free man no more. Yesterday I talked to my Lebanese friend Tony Badran (who once guest-blogged for me here and who has his own blog Across the Bay). He pointed out that “Nasrallah is stuck in his bunker — or some other undisclosed location — and may remain stuck there forever.” He’s right. Hezbollah’s secretary general is a marked man now, and if he comes out of hiding the Israelis will put one in his forehead. Short of some kind of miracle, Nasrallah will be reduced to releasing Jihad TV videos from exile or from the urban equivalent of a cave in Afghanistan. No more boozing and chasing girls in Gemmayze for him! The problem with an attempted Hezbollah coup d’etat is not that they might succeed, but that they could start another war trying.
2. While Lebanese public opinion is overwhelmingly hostile to both Israel and the United States right now (and believe me, it wasn’t this way a few weeks ago), the opinions of the political leadership are what matter most in the short run. If the leaders of the Christian, Sunni, and Druze communities can be brought around to the international consensus (which is where they already were before the war started, sigh) the view on the “street” will have little or no effect on ceasefire negotiations.
3. Threat of civil war is not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously a real civil war would be a disaster for Lebanon, for Israel, for the US, for everyone except Syria and Iran. But it is precisely this possibility that may convince Hezbollah to surrender before this is over. I’ve said before that the Christians, Sunni, and Druze cannot win a civil war against Hezbollah. But that cuts both ways. Hezbollah cannot take over the country unless they summon armies from abroad. Doesn’t mean they won’t try to take over (they just might be that crazy right now), but they will not succeed if they do.
4. Another thing Tony pointed out on the phone: Hassan Nasrallah has dragged Lebanon’s Shia community backward in time to where they were in the days before the cleric Moussa Sadr brought them into politics in the 1960s. The Shia have always been the poor and forgotten of Lebanon, cruelly neglected and shunted aside by the Sunni and Christian elite and middle classes. Hezbollah was the Shia’s revenge. Hezbollah bullied Lebanese as much as they bullied Israelis. Now the Shia are utterly, tragically, destitute once again. Their urban “belt of misery” south of Beirut has become the Belt of Destruction. They have a case against the other Lebanese sects and political parties, but they did not go about redressing their grievances in the right way. Their honor and pride may prohibit them from ever admitting Hezbollah’s latest attacks on Israel were a fatal mistake. But their all too terrible punishment may convince them to seek a healthier and more cautious approach to politics in the future.
UPDATE: Tony adds via email: “The development of moderate Shiite alternatives is necessary (there was a recent meeting of Shiite intellectuals, writers, and independents and they are starting to realize all of this and they called for the full integration of the Shiites into the state), and that Jumblat is fully aware of the dangers of the Shiites feeling disempowered again, which is why he is reaching out to them now, and stressing how they are “partners” and stressing how Berri (who now is the moderate alternative in comparison) is “a pillar of the Taef accords” (i.e. an integral part of the current republic), etc. Ghassan Tueni is calling for the same thing, even going to do away with the sectarian system, etc. So there is awareness on the part of the leadership of the dangers of the Shiites suffering the kind of disillusionment that the Christians did in the 90s under the Syrians.”