FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Israel on the Lookout

by RAMZY BAROUD

Throughout the years, Lebanon’s demographics have experienced periodic influx. But particularly in the last two years, the demographic shift has been so overwhelming due to the flood of Syrian refugees in desperate need for shelter. The situation is highly charged, if not perilous, considering Lebanon’s unmanageable sectarian balances, let alone the direct involvement of Lebanese parties in the brutal Syrian war. If not treated with utter sensitivity and political wisdom, Lebanon’s vastly changing demographics will not bode well in a country of exceedingly fractious sectarian politics.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 790,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict. The number is constantly increasing, as an estimated 75,000 make the difficult journey from Syria to Lebanon every month. Those refugees also include tens of thousands of Palestinians that have borne the brunt of the war in the last two years.

In addition to approximately 250,000 Syrians working and living in Lebanon, the country already hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Palestine in several waves, starting with the Nakba, or Catastrophe in 1947-48. While the refugees were initially welcomed by their host country – as Syrians were initially welcomed in Lebanon – they eventually became a party in Lebanon’s war of numbers, as each sect was terrified by the prospect of losing political ground to their rivals. It was only a matter of time before the Palestinian presence in Lebanon became heavily politicized, thus thrusting Palestinian factions into the heart of Lebanon’s sectarian brawl. The weakened and fragmented Lebanon was an easy prey for Israel, which has jumped at every opportunity to invade the small country, leaving behind a trail of blood and destruction. And with every Israeli military onslaught came an attempt at rearranging the power paradigm in favor of Tel Aviv’s allies at the expense of the rest.

This bloody legacy is making a comeback due to the sectarian nature of the Syrian war, and Israelis are already on the lookout for a possible future role. Aside from the flood of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, legions of Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah and other groups are fully engaged in the Syrian strife based on clear sectarian lines. Eventually, the fight crossed over into Syrian borders and made it into Lebanon in the form of cars bombs, mortar shells, hostage taking and occasional street fighting. If tension continues to build up, there is little question that Lebanon will become embroiled in its own civil war.

All of this is of course, welcomed news in Israel, which prefers to wait until the warring parties exhaust each other in every way before Israel decides the time and place of the new confrontation. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted in the Jerusalem Post on Oct 24 saying that a civil war between Hezbollah and ‘Global Jihad’ had erupted in Lebanon. “To those who are not yet aware, there is already a civil war in Lebanon. Global Jihad, which has infiltrated Lebanon and is attacking Hezbollah, is blowing up car bombs in Dahia and is firing rockets at Dahia and the Beka’a Valley,” he said.

This is a win-win situation for Israel, which continues to navigate the Syrian war so very carefully, so that it is not directly involved in the war, but ready to deal with its consequences whenever suitable.

History is of the essence here. The Israeli attitude towards the war in Syria and the fledgling civil war in Lebanon is similar to its attitude towards Lebanon a few decades ago in the lead up to the Israeli invasion of 1978 and again in 1982, mostly aimed at destroying the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Lebanon’s political and social upheaval dates back to the pre-existence of both the PLO and Israel, to the years of French colonialism in the Middle East. In 1920, France separated Lebanon from greater Syria, which was under French mandate. The country was then run by various Christian sects who represented a slight majority according to a 1932 consensus.

When Lebanon became completely independent in 1945, a political arrangement on how to run the country was reached. Christian Maronites were given the seat of presidency, Sunnis the premiership, and a Shiite was installed as the speaker of parliament. Other sects received less consequential positions, but the parliament control ratio still favored Christian sects.

The PLO’s arrival to Lebanon in the early 1970’s – following its departure from Jordan – worsened an already difficult situation. The PLO represented Palestinians who were largely Sunni Muslims, and its existence and growth in Lebanon complicated the extremely delicate demographic balance.

The fiasco in Lebanon however was not a simple tit-for-tat action, but reflected internal and external balances and calculations. On one hand, the ruling Maronite leadership was greatly challenged by the presence of the PLO and the alliance between the latter and Lebanese opposition groups. The routine Israeli raids on Lebanese territories undermined the Lebanese army’s role as a protector of the country. Israel was determined to eradicate the “terror infrastructure” in Lebanon, i.e. PLO factions, thus using the civil war as an opportunity to intervene in 1976 by arming Christian militias. Additionally, Syria, who also intervened in 1976, did so first on behalf of the Palestinians, then on behalf of the Maronites, when it appeared that they were losing the fight.

A brief lull in the fighting in 1976, was soon interrupted by violence that engulfed Lebanon for nearly 15 years. In 1978, Israel occupied South Lebanon, driving away thousands of PLO fighters from the area, whose arrival to Beirut had shifted the balance of power, altering the alliances, and, once again Syria’s position. Tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilian casualties however, paid the heavy price of the fighting.

The PLO remained in Lebanon until the Israeli invasion of the country in the summer of 1982. Ultimately, the civil war achieved little for the warring parties except that it fit perfectly into Israel’s strategic goal of removing the PLO from South Lebanon, and eventually the country altogether. When Israeli forces finally occupied Lebanon in 1982, as PLO fighters were being shipped by sea to many countries around the Middle East, a triumphant Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon permitted his Christian Phalangist allies to carry out a notorious massacre in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.

Yes, the circumstances are not exactly identical, and history cannot repeat itself in a carbon copy fashion. But these historical lessons should not escape us as we watch Lebanon descend into another abyss. Judging by the brutality of the Syrian war, Lebanon’s own bloody history, and Israel’s familiar military tactics, another Lebanese war is very much possible. Such a war will revive old animosities and establish new military alliances, but as always the most vulnerable will pay the price as they already have in Syria’s unending bloodbath.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

More articles by:
May 26, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Stage of Capitalism: Germany’s Assault on the IMF
Pepe Escobar
Hillary Clinton: A Major Gold-Digging Liability
Sam Pizzigati
America’s Cosmic Tax Gap
Ramzy Baroud
Time to End the ‘Hasbara’: Palestinian Media and the Search for a Common Story
José L. Flores
Wall Street’s New Man in Brazil: The Forces Behind Dilma Rousseff’s Impeachment
Patrick Cockburn
The Battle of Fallujah: ISIS Unleashes Its Death Squads
John Feffer
The Coming Drone Blowback
Alex Ray
The Death Toll in Syria: What Do the Numbers Really Say?
Richard Pithouse
We Shall be the Prey and the Vulture
Binoy Kampmark
Trump and the Polls of Loathing
Manuel E. Yepe
A Cruise Ship Without Tourists Arrives in Havana
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt Negotiations: Will the IMF Exit the Troika?
Ajamu Nangwaya
Pan-Africanism, Feminism and Finding Missing Pan-Africanist Women
Howard Lisnoff
Israel, a Palestinian State and Anti-Semitism
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail