Analysis: Lebanon sitting on the edge

By: David Ignatius

For a generation, Lebanese lived the nightmare of sectarian civil war. Now they are watching a similar vortex gather velocity in neighboring Syria, and many fear that Lebanon will be sucked into a conflict that nearly everyone dreads.

Already, the Syrian strife is starting to bleed into Lebanon. The Akkar region in the northeast has become a transit point for medical and other relief supplies — and the Syrian opposition hopes to use it as a staging ground for operations across the border in Homs, which has become the fulcrum of the battle to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

During a brief trip to northern Lebanon last weekend, I met with a Lebanese man who described the Syrian opposition’s budding supply network in Akkar. He said Sunnis and some Christians in the north sympathize with the anti-Assad forces. The Lebanese army (which includes many Shiites who support Assad) is trying — gently — to control the border. But it’s a delicate balancing act, and when a Sunni cleric was killed last month at an army checkpoint, the region nearly exploded.

Listening to this man from Akkar recount messages from the Syrian armed opposition, I had the sense of a country being pulled toward war by a kind of sectarian fatalism. Like most Lebanese, the man professed to oppose any spread of the war but saw it as inevitable.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati is struggling to keep Lebanon out of the fray through a policy he calls “dissociation.” Though Mikati was seen as a strong Assad backer when he became prime minister last year, he has surprised Americans and even Israelis with his relative independence from both Syria and its patron, Iran.

To make dissociation work, Mikati has pulled back not simply from Assad but also somewhat from Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that is Assad’s key ally in Lebanon. It’s a tricky move, since Mikati heads a government dominated by Hezbollah. But he knows that as prime minister, he must represent the Sunni community, which traditionally holds this post under Lebanon’s religious power-sharing system.

Mikati’s first step away from Syria and Hezbollah was a decision last November to fund the U.N. special tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The evidence is said to implicate members of Hezbollah, which has tried repeatedly to quash the probe, but Mikati threatened to resign if it wasn’t funded. Many doubt the tribunal will ever hold deliberations, let alone reach a verdict, so Mikati’s stand may have been largely symbolic. But it won plaudits in Washington.

A second surprise for U.S. officials was Mikati’s willingness to stiff Iran last month. Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi had traveled to Beirut with a 105-member delegation to complete agreements implementing several dozen protocols on trade and other issues. But Mikati didn’t sign the package, leaving his economics minister to endorse several smaller measures. The Iranian visitor was said to be furious, while State Department officials were delighted.

Even Hezbollah, not normally seen as a voice of caution, is moving carefully these days. I met last weekend with Ammar al-Moussawi, the head of the organization’s international department, who made it clear that Hezbollah supports Mikati’s policy of dissociation. He spoke off the record, so I can’t offer quotations, but I came away with a sense that Hezbollah understands the potency of the Arab uprising in Syria — and knows it must be careful not to isolate itself from popular opinion.

In Hezbollah’s view, foreign countries that supply weapons to the Syrian opposition risk an explosion whose shrapnel will hit Lebanon and other neighboring countries. The group wants a political solution in Syria, but only one that protects the interests of Iran and Hezbollah.

What worries me is the way Lebanese political factions are positioning themselves for the wider war they all claim to abhor. The talk last week was about how, if the fighting continues, Syria will be partitioned, de facto, as terrified civilians seek the protection of armies and militias pledged to defend Sunnis, Alawites, Druze, Kurds and other groups. The Syrian government and opposition both insist they are against sectarian war — but the emerging Sunni-Alawite fault line is clear.

The Lebanese sense what’s ahead because they’ve been down this road themselves. The civil war that began here in 1975 lasted, on and off, for 16 years, and the partition lines are still traced on everyone’s mental maps. As people here know all too well, once the cycle of killing and revenge gets rolling, it’s almost impossible to stop.

Washington Post

  • Fauzia45

    Indeed ,¨sectarian civil war is a nightmare ¨ !Pascal says,¨Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction ¨!!

    • 5thDrawer

      Amen.

      • breakthemould

         That is USA in the fifties. Which is 60 years ago. We ought to do better in 2012

    • dateam

      problem is people dont understand what their religion really means…christian,jew muslim…dosent matter religion dosent teach this hate thats so easily seen now….its politics but religion is used as the tool…its the hate thats being taught…when you learn to hate then you will look at people differently from their religion,skin colour,race creed and even what family they are from….even within each religion there are power struggles….il give u an example…in israel a few weeks ago a building was set on fire housing a group of african jews….why? are they not all jewish? but thats not enough its because their black???? have we come to a point in society where if i see an old man and lady walking down the street i think what religion are they? or do i look at them and say thats an old man and lady???

    • Constantin7

      Only in Islam though !!! As it is a decree from GOD to KILL !!! In all other religions on earth, none of them order killing !

    • Constantin7

      Only in Islam though !!! As it is a decree from GOD to KILL !!! In all other religions on earth, none of them order killing !

  • Fauzia45

    Indeed ,¨sectarian civil war is a nightmare ¨ !Pascal says,¨Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction ¨!!

    • 5thDrawer

      Amen.

      • breakthemould

         That is USA in the fifties. Which is 60 years ago. We ought to do better in 2012

    • dateam

      problem is people dont understand what their religion really means…christian,jew muslim…dosent matter religion dosent teach this hate thats so easily seen now….its politics but religion is used as the tool…its the hate thats being taught…when you learn to hate then you will look at people differently from their religion,skin colour,race creed and even what family they are from….even within each religion there are power struggles….il give u an example…in israel a few weeks ago a building was set on fire housing a group of african jews….why? are they not all jewish? but thats not enough its because their black???? have we come to a point in society where if i see an old man and lady walking down the street i think what religion are they? or do i look at them and say thats an old man and lady???

    • Constantin7

      Only in Islam though !!! As it is a decree from GOD to KILL !!! In all other religions on earth, none of them order killing !

  • breakthemould

    I see the current situation in Lebanon as a possible window of opportunities. This simply because the Lebanese have had their civil war and tasted it but eventually spat it out.One of the main features of the Lebanese Civil war was the foreign hold on almost all of the Lebanese parties leading them to just be proxy’s for other external interested parties. The opportunities I refer to earlier is the hope that the Lebanese will remember the nasty civil war of their own and instead work together to act as Lebanese statesmen thereby at last acting in the interest of Lebanon and not the outside world. Hoepfully they will realise the risks the current situation in Syria present and decide to stay out of it. 

    • 5thDrawer

      I believe many are trying to ‘break the mould’ … just not getting through to enough yet.

      • dateam

        remember the euphoria when we beat south korea in beirut in the world cup qualifier? when sleiman went down to the players all neat and tidy and came back all ruffled like hed just played for 90 minutes? thats breaking the mould……then recently when qatar said it wanted to play the game without fans??? but they eventually let the fans go and watch??? thats breaking the mould…pitty we lost that day

        • 5thDrawer

          Sorry to say I’m not much of a pro-team sports-type. I always found it curious that ‘fans’ can have euphoria at spending so much to watch any game where ‘men’ act as if they are God’s gift on earth when they score a goal … and some fans go to war immediately after one does. ;-)
          This, of course, happens in all games in all countries. Maybe I’m the curiosity? I enjoyed the girl sitting beside me, and a beer, at a game once … although the beer was warm and half-full when I got back to the seat, the easily excitable girl was interesting to watch. Going to war was the furthest thing from my mind after the game. :-)
          Maybe one should just avoid ‘fans’. Hmmmm … beach-time is so much more quiet.

  • breakthemould

    I see the current situation in Lebanon as a possible window of opportunities. This simply because the Lebanese have had their civil war and tasted it but eventually spat it out.One of the main features of the Lebanese Civil war was the foreign hold on almost all of the Lebanese parties leading them to just be proxy’s for other external interested parties. The opportunities I refer to earlier is the hope that the Lebanese will remember the nasty civil war of their own and instead work together to act as Lebanese statesmen thereby at last acting in the interest of Lebanon and not the outside world. Hoepfully they will realise the risks the current situation in Syria present and decide to stay out of it. 

    • 5thDrawer

      I believe many are trying to ‘break the mould’ … just not getting through to enough yet.

      • dateam

        remember the euphoria when we beat south korea in beirut in the world cup qualifier? when sleiman went down to the players all neat and tidy and came back all ruffled like hed just played for 90 minutes? thats breaking the mould……then recently when qatar said it wanted to play the game without fans??? but they eventually let the fans go and watch??? thats breaking the mould…pitty we lost that day

        • 5thDrawer

          Sorry to say I’m not much of a pro-team sports-type. I always found it curious that ‘fans’ can have euphoria at spending so much to watch any game where ‘men’ act as if they are God’s gift on earth when they score a goal … and some fans go to war immediately after one does. ;-)
          This, of course, happens in all games in all countries. Maybe I’m the curiosity? I enjoyed the girl sitting beside me, and a beer, at a game once … although the beer was warm and half-full when I got back to the seat, the easily excitable girl was interesting to watch. Going to war was the furthest thing from my mind after the game. :-)
          Maybe one should just avoid ‘fans’. Hmmmm

  • 5thDrawer

    Small story regarding that line ‘ …. partition lines are still traced on everyone’s mental maps.’ ……
    I travel up to Zgharta – the town and the area – as a passenger with a friend, and take pictures on occasion along the way. All houses and towns along the way appear much the same and there are no really visual divides. And yet …. 
    She automatically chants little warnings as we drive. ‘Camera ok here. Keep camera down here. Camera ok here. Keep camera down here.’ It’s possibly a little funny … and more than a little sad she feels she must make me ‘aware’ years after the great ‘war’. 
    Later, when I insist on taking a picture of a modern-looking Muslim University nestled in beside olive orchards, she almost has a fit, but stopped for me to do it. Her tension was undeniable … I waited for an RPG to follow as we drove away. :-)

  • 5thDrawer

    Small story regarding that line ‘ …. partition lines are still traced on everyone’s mental maps.’ ……
    I travel up to Zgharta – the town and the area – as a passenger with a friend, and take pictures on occasion along the way. All houses and towns along the way appear much the same and there are no really visual divides. And yet …. 
    She automatically chants little warnings as we drive. ‘Camera ok here. Keep camera down here. Camera ok here. Keep camera down here.’ It’s possibly a little funny … and more than a little sad she feels she must make me ‘aware’ years after the great ‘war’. 
    Later, when I insist on taking a picture of a modern-looking Muslim University nestled in beside olive orchards, she almost has a fit, but stopped for me to do it. Her tension was undeniable … I waited for an RPG to follow as we drove away. :-)

  • Mark Mak

    Expect the unexpected !
     This time its different, Its not what we a want, its not something we can control.
    The complications are due to the involvement of selfish,ruthless and non considerate heads of diversified groups who represent followers based strictly on their religious inclinations !
    We are not looking at a conflict between 2 or 3 parties here !! Lebanon has more than 15 different sects and each individual within those sects thinks differently than everyone else !!
    Solve it if you can !! Unfortunately there is no compromise just a coming upheaval .
    Sorry ..

  • Mark Mak

    Expect the unexpected !
     This time its different, Its not what we a want, its not something we can control.
    The complications are due to the involvement of selfish,ruthless and non considerate heads of diversified groups who represent followers based strictly on their religious inclinations !
    We are not looking at a conflict between 2 or 3 parties here !! Lebanon has more than 15 different sects and each individual within those sects thinks differently than everyone else !!
    Solve it if you can !! Unfortunately there is no compromise just a coming upheaval .
    Sorry ..

  • Mark Mak

    Expect the unexpected !
     This time its different, Its not what we a want, its not something we can control.
    The complications are due to the involvement of selfish,ruthless and non considerate heads of diversified groups who represent followers based strictly on their religious inclinations !
    We are not looking at a conflict between 2 or 3 parties here !! Lebanon has more than 15 different sects and each individual within those sects thinks differently than everyone else !!
    Solve it if you can !! Unfortunately there is no compromise just a coming upheaval .
    Sorry ..

  • http://www.facebook.com/nader.soubra Nader Soubra

    at least in islam we are honest a nd open about it

    Only in Islam though !!! As it is a decree from GOD to KILL !!! In all other religions on earth, none of them order killing !

    all other religions want toi kill too

    but they are more poliet and politically correct about it

    just ask the 100 k dead and 2 million injured in iraq aand afghanistal

    no they do want to kill you just eliminate you collateral damage sorry in islam we do not have

    politically correct terms for killings

    • 5thDrawer

      Which ALL is why I can’t believe ANY prophet translated ANY direct communication from ANY god.
      The spirt of both God and the Devil may be in ‘man’ … THAT I could believe. What stupid humans do with it, or what way they choose, is their MAIN problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nader.soubra Nader Soubra

    at least in islam we are honest a nd open about it

    Only in Islam though !!! As it is a decree from GOD to KILL !!! In all other religions on earth, none of them order killing !

    all other religions want toi kill too

    but they are more poliet and politically correct about it

    just ask the 100 k dead and 2 million injured in iraq aand afghanistal

    no they do want to kill you just eliminate you collateral damage sorry in islam we do not have

    politically correct terms for killings

    • 5thDrawer

      Which ALL is why I can’t believe ANY prophet translated ANY direct communication from ANY god.
      The spirt of both God and the Devil may be in ‘man’ … THAT I could believe. What stupid humans do with it, or what way they choose, is their problem.

  • 5thDrawer

    Notes from the BBC … we could be living in THIS ‘fun-land’.

    A Saudi man has been beheaded on charges of sorcery and witchcraft, the state news agency SPA says.
    The man, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, was found in possession of books and talismans, SPA said. He had also admitted adultery with two women, it said.
    The execution took place in the southern Najran province, SPA reported.
    Human rights groups have repeatedly condemned executions for witchcraft in Saudi Arabia.
    Last year, there were reports of at least two people being executed for sorcery.
    Mr Asiri was beheaded after his sentence was upheld by the country’s highest courts, the Saudi news agency website said.
    No details were given of what he was found guilty of beyond the charges of witchcraft and sorcery.
    Amnesty International says the country does not formally classify sorcery as a capital offence.
    But the BBC’s Arab Affairs Editor, Sebastian Usher, says there is a very strong prohibition of some practices from the country’s powerful conservative religious leaders.
    Some, he explains, have repeatedly called for the strongest possible punishments against anyone suspected of sorcery – whether they are fortune tellers or faith healers.
    In 2010, a Lebanese television presenter of a popular fortune-telling programme was arrested while on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
    Though sentenced to death, after pressure from his government and human rights groups, he was freed by the Saudi Supreme Court, which found that he had not harmed anyone.
    More recent cases of death on charges of sorcery include that of a Saudi woman, executed for committing sorcery and witchcraft in December, in the northern province of Jawf, and that of a Sudanese man executed in September, despite calls led by Amnesty International for his release.
    Human rights groups have accused the Saudis of “sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police”.
    There is no legal definition of witchcraft in Saudi Arabia, but horoscopes and fortune telling are condemned as un-Islamic.

    (Virtually anything can be ‘un’-anything when ‘Supremes’ of any type have their own mystical powers in place …)

  • 5thDrawer

    Notes from the BBC … we could be living in THIS ‘fun-land’.

    A Saudi man has been beheaded on charges of sorcery and witchcraft, the state news agency SPA says.
    The man, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, was found in possession of books and talismans, SPA said. He had also admitted adultery with two women, it said.
    The execution took place in the southern Najran province, SPA reported.
    Human rights groups have repeatedly condemned executions for witchcraft in Saudi Arabia.
    Last year, there were reports of at least two people being executed for sorcery.
    Mr Asiri was beheaded after his sentence was upheld by the country’s highest courts, the Saudi news agency website said.
    No details were given of what he was found guilty of beyond the charges of witchcraft and sorcery.
    Amnesty International says the country does not formally classify sorcery as a capital offence.
    But the BBC’s Arab Affairs Editor, Sebastian Usher, says there is a very strong prohibition of some practices from the country’s powerful conservative religious leaders.
    Some, he explains, have repeatedly called for the strongest possible punishments against anyone suspected of sorcery – whether they are fortune tellers or faith healers.
    In 2010, a Lebanese television presenter of a popular fortune-telling programme was arrested while on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
    Though sentenced to death, after pressure from his government and human rights groups, he was freed by the Saudi Supreme Court, which found that he had not harmed anyone.
    More recent cases of death on charges of sorcery include that of a Saudi woman, executed for committing sorcery and witchcraft in December, in the northern province of Jawf, and that of a Sudanese man executed in September, despite calls led by Amnesty International for his release.
    Human rights groups have accused the Saudis of “sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police”.
    There is no legal definition of witchcraft in Saudi Arabia, but horoscopes and fortune telling are condemned as un-Islamic.(Virtually anything can be ‘un’-anything when ‘Supremes’ of any type have their own mystical powers in place …)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TXLYSDFL42RNCT7NQBPOS6SM3A all

    Islam rewards killing while others do not! It rewards the killing in the name of God and Jihad with trophies in the after life. “Trophies of beautiful women and rivers of milk and honey” As if the human being can not peacefully achieve those wishes on earth in this life.
    Islam justifies killing therefor clearing the human conscious as for other religions killing weighs heavily on the killers conscious. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TXLYSDFL42RNCT7NQBPOS6SM3A all

    Islam rewards killing while others do not! It rewards the killing in the name of God and Jihad with trophies in the after life. “Trophies of beautiful women and rivers of milk and honey” As if the human being can not peacefully achieve those wishes on earth in this life.
    Islam justifies killing therefor clearing the human conscious as for other religions killing weighs heavily on the killers conscious. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TXLYSDFL42RNCT7NQBPOS6SM3A all

    Islam rewards killing while others do not! It rewards the killing in the name of God and Jihad with trophies in the after life. “Trophies of beautiful women and rivers of milk and honey” As if the human being can not peacefully achieve those wishes on earth in this life.
    Islam justifies killing therefor clearing the human conscious as for other religions killing weighs heavily on the killers conscious.