A Lebanese Abroad

Opinions from an opinionated Lebanese abroad about Lebanon's politics, business and the future of a United Lebanon.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hezbollah Is The New Syria

Hezbollah is the new Syria.

It’s obvious, especially after Nasrallah’s latest speech today.

Look at the similarities:

- no Lebanese politician in office is daring to criticize Hezbollah in public
- they have to be consulted before anything major is decided
- they are arrogant but can be charming when they want to (via Nasrallah, e.g. tonight’s speech)
- there isn’t a political conversation you can have about Lebanon without mentioning them
- they confuse the situation by playing both sides
- Lebanon’s future depends on their behavior
- they polarize the political scene: either you are with them, or against them
- they threaten, blackmail Lebanese politicians (and even perhaps killed some of them)
- they lie and can't be trusted
- etc…

You can name other similarities that come to your mind.

The next question is: 15 more years of this?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Can Hezbollah Fix Its Image Abroad?

The Hezbollah reality is now every Lebanese’s problem. After the July war, Hezbollah succeeded in spreading the South Lebanon/Israel conflict into the rest of Lebanon, by making each one of us (via Israel’s attacks) feel it. They succeeded in influencing a larger segment of the population who was previously indifferent to them to take notice and to start feeling for them.

Assuming that the Hezbollah reality is with Lebanon to stay, there still remains a major issue facing Hezbollah: its “bad” image with the Western world (and to some degree- with Arab moderate governments). Here’s how Hezbollah is painted or seen by the West:
- a “terrorist” organization
- a powerful “state-within-a-state” that dwarfs the Lebanese government’s power
- an “Iranian-influenced” group, Iran’s proxy
- a “radical Islam/Islamic fundamentalist” party
- a group of “Shiite trouble-makers”
- a source of instability to the region
- a group that inspires trouble in the Palestinian Territories and doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist

Contrast the above list with the following messages that the late Hariri was promoting about Lebanon, and which the Seniora’s Lebanese government wishes they could just focus on:
- safe for investments
- booming economy
- construction renaissance
- excellent for tourism, world-class services and hospitality
- economic renewal
- banking and financial center for the middle-east
- a model democracy, multi-cultural, multi-confessional, open society

Let’s face it: Hezbollah’s image with the West is an anchor to Lebanon’s economic future because the above messages, when put together contradict themselves.

We should ask: What will Hezbollah do about it? Will they change their name or re-brand themselves? How will they shake-out their “bad boy” image”?

If Lebanon were to be at peace with Israel, (as it “almost” did from 2000 to 2006), would Hezbollah’s bad image just “go away”? Can they eventually become a normal political party that doesn’t endanger Lebanon’s future anymore? Can their military apparatus effectively integrate itself inside the Lebanese Army and become a deterrent force that’s controlled by the Lebanese State, and not by Iran or Syria?

If we, Lebanese are to “accept” and integrate Hezbollah into the Lebanese political system, we have to deal with Hezbollah’s external image issue. We have to ask them the tough questions:

What is Hezbollah’s vision for Lebanon? What is the “end-game”? What happens when Israel agrees to return the Shebaa farms and Lebanese prisoners? Will Hezbollah accept peace thereafter? Once more, how will Hezbollah get rid of its bad image with the West?

Hezbollah succeeded in making their agenda Lebanon’s agenda for 32 days. During the July war, “we were all Hezbollah” meant that we were all united in the fight for Lebanon’s survival, since we suddenly all became victims of the Israeli aggression. Going forward, can Lebanon find its own voice in the aftermath of this war, amidst the brouhaha of Hezbollah’s high octane agenda?

In today’s globalized world, interdependencies matter. We can’t just ignore what the Western world thinks about Lebanon and only focus on the fact that Iran and Syria love us for our resistance to Israel. Why does Lebanon have to be “more Catholic than the Pope” in the fight against Israel? If anything, the July war served a backlash to the Palestinians, since Israel slowed down their disengagement and withdrawal plans from the West Bank and Gaza.

Let’s get real. How will Hezbollah get rid of its bad image with the West?

(Note: Comments are moderated. This means that you will experience a delay between posting and publishing. Please do not post multiple times.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Nasrallah and Assad Made Of The Same Fabric

Do these two clowns know that we are living in the 21st century, or do they think that we are still in the Middle Ages?

I, like many other bloggers was shocked and dismayed at Nasrallah’s speech yesterday. His lecturing style was very condescending and insulting to the intelligence of anyone with an average IQ. Who was he talking to: morons? The Shia’s of Lebanon deserve a better leader that can lead them out of this quagmire.

Then, on top of that, Assad has the guts to make statements of interference in Lebanese politics as he criticized the March 14th movement calling them traitors. Who was he trying to impress: more morons? The Syrians too deserve a better leader than that.

What is still troubling is that no significant Lebanese political leader has rebutted Nasrallah’s comments in a way that starts to tip to the balance towards what UN Resolution 1701 is supposed to be achieving. Where is Seniora when we need him? And what sorts of machinations is Berry up to? The Lebanese are anxious to find out their fate, and it’s such a pity to find out that Hezbollah is calling the shots now.

This is very clear now to anyone who is not a moron: The Iranian-Hezbollah-Syria agenda has been totally exposed. It’s them against the West, being played in Lebanon. A scenario that has been weaved in Iran and baked in Syria.

This article, from Walid Phares explains exactly what could happen as a result of today’s situation in Lebanon. It’s a must read: Iran Poised to Be 'Mother of All World Threats'.

We must act now to save our country. At this point, it’s all in our hands. The international community’s last card was Resolution 1701, which if implemented, can save Lebanon. If it doesn’t get implemented properly,- the US, France and the UN will just be watching, as Israel delivers the coup de gras on Hezbollah, at which point, either it’s done by destroying more of Lebanon, or it’s done by dragging Syria and Iran into it. Either way, the outcome is not good.

Hezbollah’s perception of a military victory must not be translated into their further political advancement at the expense of Lebanon’s democracy. Amidst all the destruction which no one in their right mind likes to see, I really wish that Hezbollah would have been defeated more decisively. Is it too late?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hezbollah Owes It To the Lebanese People To Disarm Now

Hezbollah owes it to the Lebanese to start on the path of disarming its arsenal. Contrary to other beliefs that Hezbollah’s leader voiced regarding a ‘settlement of accounts’ with those that didn’t support them during the war, the entire Lebanese population has supported them and bore the brunt of destruction and deaths, just so that Hezbollah could continue to prove its military capabilities.

Had the Lebanese people and political factions revolted against Hezbollah earlier in this conflict, Hezbollah would have been weaker, Israel might have stopped their attacks earlier, and a lot less damage might have been inflicted on the country.

Now, the fighting is hopefully finished, and we could declare Hezbollah victorious. They won the war, but it’s Lebanon who must now win the peace. If Hezbollah is truly a Lebanese party, they should follow the wishes of the Lebanese people and its government whose majority did not want to be dragged into this war.

What is the worst thing that could happen if Hezbollah gave-up its arms, and became a civilian party that worked relentlessly at re-building South Lebanon? I can’t think of anything worse than what has already happened in the past 32 days. But I could think of several good things that will happen if Hezbollah finally disarms:

- the international community will applaud the move
- the entire Lebanese population will open their arms to the Lebanese Shiites
- more international aid and investments will flow towards Lebanon, especially to South Lebanon
- negotiations will start with Israel on the Shebaa Farms
- prisoners on both sides will be released
- Lebanon and the Lebanese will become more respected worldwide
- Arabs will continue to believe in Lebanon and contribute to its economic growth
- tourism and services will flourish again in Lebanon
- Iran and Syria will automatically be weakened
- Israel will accelerate a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians

One could give Hezbollah credit for their fighting bravery. But let’s not forget that the entire Lebanese population has also sacrificed a lot during the past 32 days so that Hezbollah could flex their muscles to the fullest.

Just like champions and sports heroes decide to retire at the height of their careers following a victory, this is a perfect time for Hezbollah to lay down their arms, while they are at the height of their popularity. Let them stop dreaming of that next fight because its outcome will be disastrous for all.

The only reason to keep Hezbollah’s arms is if one believes that these arms are a deterrent factor to imminent threats from Israel. But as Beirut Spring put it so succinctly, “a prosperous, multicultural Lebanon is a stronger foe than a militant Lebanon”. If one believes in eternal militancy, then it’s ok to keep these arms, but if one thinks that we could live in peace with our neighbors and grow the economy instead, then why keep these arms? The rewards of peace are much greater than the price of war.

Now is the time for Hezbollah to turn the page and begin its metamorphosis into a more commonly acceptable phase of its existence. If they could apply the strengths they have in discipline, organization, planning and strategic thinking towards civilian and economic goals solely, then- Lebanon will be a better country. If they dig their heels and don’t seem to care for the lessons of the July war of 2006, may God only help Lebanon.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

What Israelis Don't Understand About Lebanon

What Israel and the Israelis have grossly miscalculated is how Lebanon and the Lebanese would react to the aggression on Hezbollah and Lebanon. Israel thought that Lebanon would revolt against Hezbollah at the same time as Hezbollah would be pounded militarily by Israel.

Reading several blogs and online comments from the Israeli press point one to believe that Israel was really counting on the fact that the majority of the Lebanese population would align against Hezbollah in a way that would help precipitate their fall, after adding to the military pressure that Israel would inflict them.

Paraphrasing these comments sounds like this:
- while you were partying, Hezbollah was arming itself and infesting the South; it’s time that you pay for it, you deserve it
- why don’t you wake-up and get rid of this terrorist organization who is dragging you down?
- why don’t you get a better, stronger government, why are you so passive about it, we thought you were a democracy?
- Tel-Aviv is like Beirut, we have more in common than you think

The dilemma is that the above questions are correct in framing the issues, and they are the right ones to ask. But what differs between Israelis and Lebanese is the approach taken to solve them. Whereas Israel believes that military brute force action can shake things overnight, the Lebanese people are more in favor of a diplomatic, slow-paced, consensus driven solution. And the Lebanese people are a lot more tolerant than Israelis about co-existence even if one doesn’t approve of another party who is living next to you.

For many Lebanese, both Christians and Muslims, Hezbollah’s military and political rise was a big issue that they were trying to deal with. They knew that this hot potato had to be dealt with eventually, and they were buying time to try to resolve it while containing it, as much as possible. Take the analogy of the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel doesn’t like them, so it starts to attack them. The Lebanese didn’t like Hezbollah, but they weren’t attacking them, rather they were trying to work with them towards a longer term solution, starting by strengthening the Lebanese government itself to assert its authority over the entire territory. For many Lebanese, the Hezbollah issue was as grave as the Palestinian issue is for Israelis: people whose behavior you don’t like are living in your backyard.

Now, Israel has a bigger problem on their hand. Before the war, at least 40% of the Lebanese population was openly against Hezbollah. Now, polls show the majority of Lebanese (~80%) have sided with Hezbollah, not because they love Hezbollah,-- but because, of the 2 evils, Hezbollah is suddenly the lesser one. Many Lebanese Christians had warm feelings for Israel, but not warm enough to form bonds with Israel, especially after Israel started bombing Lebanese infrastructure and turning everyone’s life into chaos. In a nutshell, this war has affected every Lebanese person this time: by uprooting them, disrupting their businesses, personal lives, dreams, aspirations and plans one way or the other. Israel has in fact united the Lebanese far more than the Lebanese have ever been united in the recent past.

Going forward, we still have a “Hezbollah problem”, and we still have an “Israeli attitude problem”. Compound to this, we have a “Lebanese passivity problem”, a sort of laissez-faire attitude that allowed the country to thrive, despite of Hezbollah’s thorn in its side, but has prevented the country from being perfect at the same time.

What Israel did not understand is that the Lebanese people were more tolerant of the shortcomings of others, and that they worked around it, instead of facing it, i.e. if you ignore a problem long enough, it often goes away or becomes irrelevant.

If Hezbollah was the fly in the ointment, the Israelis approach has been to bring a magnifying glass into that small fly to make it look much bigger, then get the big sledge hammer and slam it, regardless of the collateral damage around it. The Lebanese people would have solved the same problem by filtering the oil slowly and allowing the fly to get trapped, and then deciding the fly’s fate after the oil was clean.

Of course, one can argue that Israel wanted to stop the firing of rockets into its territory, but the military approach is not the solution to a safer Israel. Rather, Israel must start to better understand their neighbors if it wants to live in peace with them in the future. This isn’t 1967, nor 1973. Israel may have military superiority, but crushing neighbors doesn’t solve its problems, but rather compounds them.

At the end of the day, we all want to live in peace, not war. Sure, Israel could win the war, but can they win the peace? It is time to seize this moment and revert to a “peaceful solution” that addresses all roots of the problem from all sides.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lebanon: The Tipping Point

Lebanon: The Tipping Point

30 days of a devastating war later, and we are now entering a critical phase where Lebanon is once again at the fork on the road. Two choices: 1) a once-in-a-lifetime chance to re-dress and get back in shape on the path to peace and progress, or 2) fall back into the abyss of a downward spiral, basically heralding the end of Lebanon, as we know it.

Let’s go back to pre-July 12th. Lebanon wasn’t perfect, but at least it was peaceful. However, deep inside, a number of factors were brewing, which reached what is commonly called the “tipping point”, and in this case, contributed to the “perfect storm”, a situation where all forces heighten their contribution towards a disaster.

Only a few weeks ago, I was thinking that wars were irrelevant in Western societies because they don’t accomplish anything. Much more is at stake from an economic point of view than anyone would be willing to give-up. But in Lebanon, this logic doesn’t seem to apply because we are being led to believe lies, such as,-- that war will achieve “liberation” objectives, or that the burden of the entire Middle-Eastern conflict in all its ramifications rests on the shoulders of Lebanon, or that Hezbollah is the ticket to defeating Israel, etc...

There is reason for worrying. I’m afraid that so far, it appears that Hezbollah has won the outcome of this war. Just by standing still and keeping their arms, they have been truly emboldened. Not a single Lebanese politician in the government has dared to challenge them, or even declare that Lebanon must turn the page now, and look forward to the future, instead of being dragged into the past. Only Jumblatt, Gemayel and Geagea are sounding the alarm bells on the dangers of letting Hezbollah dictate Lebanon’s future. Lebanon's Druze leader says Hezbollah agenda will lead to disaster, Gemayel here, and Geagea here.

The Hezbollah agenda is sending the country on the path of destruction and irrelevance. Israel is on a course to “teach Lebanon a lesson”, and they will not be deterred by the destruction that precedes reaching that objective. On the other hand, the more destruction Lebanon faces, the more Hezbollah will thrive, because it vindicates their raison d’etre.

The root of this whole problem, and its solution rest in having a STRONG LEBANESE GOVERNMENT that not only asserts its authority across the entire Lebanese territory, but also in being a truly functioning, highly effective, sharply coherent, and corruption-free government that leads Lebanon with the right vision while commanding the respect of the international community.

It’s very simple. Lebanon fell into the 1975 civil war when the Lebanese government was so weak, it allowed the Palestinian state-within-the-state phenomenon to become bigger that all of us and it created the tipping point for that perfect storm. Today, the same symptoms of Lebanese government bickering and inaptitude of the past few years have brought us to yet another tipping point: the Hezbollah state-within-the-state phenomenon, where the tail is wagging the dog and pushing the country to a disaster that is brewing.

We have a choice. We can learn from the lessons of history, or we can watch passively the country sink.

Is this too much to ask for? Wake-up Lebanese people! Let’s take our country back!

Or, they will take it from us.

(Note: I’m back to blogging. One year after I stopped. One year after I had given-up hope that independent voices like mine don’t matter in influencing the future of a better Lebanon for all Lebanese.)