Saturday, May 17, 2008

Michael J. Totten on Lebanon

The Lebanese Civil War (I think it's accurate to call it that) has many wrinkles. I've been reading about Lebanese politics and conflicts for years and still have no clear idea what's going on there, but this brief piece by Michael Totten in Commentary is as good as it gets for anyone trying to make sense of a chaotic situation.

The Druze are among the fiercest of warriors, and everyone in Lebanon knows it. They are well-known in Israel, too, where they often serve in elite units of the Israel Defense Forces and suffer lower-than-average casualty rates in battles with Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups. Most of Israel's Sunni Arabs abstain from military service, but Druze Arabs are as loyal to the Israeli state, and are as willing and able to fight for it, as their Lebanese counterparts are in their own country. There's a reason two of the Middle East's religious minorities--Maronite Christians and Druze--live in Lebanon's mountains in significant numbers: attempts to invade and subjugate them are ill-advised, very likely to fail, and therefore rarely attempted by even large armies.

It's debatable whether or not Lebanon's Sunnis are organized and well-armed or not. Certainly they are not compared to Hezbollah. No one in Lebanon is. But Druze chief Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party proved they have no shortage of weapons, and they fought off Hezbollah's invasion even though he told them not to. A tiny percentage of Druze are partially loyal to Talal Arslan, Hezbollah's only Druze ally, but they defected in large numbers when Hezbollah launched its attack. They fought on the same side as the rest of their community. Political alliances have their limits, and Arslan's people and Hezbollah discovered theirs. It is now almost safe to say that Hezbollah has no friends at all in the mountains overlooking the dahiyeh, their “capital” and command and control center in the suburbs south of Beirut.

Lebanon's mainstream Sunnis in relatively liberal and cosmopolitan West Beirut basically threw up their hands and let Hezbollah take over, in part because they were ill-prepared to do much about it, and in part to make their Hezbollah enemies look like the aggressors and thugs that they are. Don't expect that dynamic to last very long if the violence resumes, however. The Sunnis, as a community, are likely to follow the Druze example even if their leaders--Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and Future Movement MP Saad Hariri--instruct them not to. Former Prime Minister Omar Karami is one of Hezbollah's few Sunni allies. But as Lee Smith pointed out, he “told Hezbollah that if this becomes a sectarian fight, then we have two choices: to either stay home, or fight with our sect.”

More at the link...

No comments: