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thedrifter
07-31-06, 08:14 AM
Rumors of War
By Lee Smith
Weekly Standard | July 31, 2006

The Lebanese media are the best in the Arab Middle East, and perhaps the freest, not because of any noble principles but because they are so competitive. Every Lebanese media outlet represents a political interest, sometimes several political interests, and all the major political parties own TV stations. (In this regard, Hezbollah really is just like every other political party, though no one else does "martyr kitsch" like the Party of God.) And the people of Lebanon take their cue from the media. Insofar as rumors are also a medium, they, too, represent political interests. My friend Fawaz called last week from Lebanon with reports of a rumor.

"There are lots of stories going around Beirut that Hezbollah M.P. Mohammed Raad is dead," says Fawaz. "And get this--more than 500 Hezbollah fighters have been killed and are lying around area hospitals. That's a lot of virgins on call."

Whether or not such rumors are true, they indicate something about the state of affairs right now in Lebanon. There are many Lebanese imagining, fantasizing, hoping against hope that Hezbollah will be wiped from the face of the earth. Some are even joking about it.

"The new one," Fawaz says, "is that they're going to play the next World Cup in the Daheyh [the Shiite neighborhood]--the whole thing's been leveled nice and flat."

This narrative, including the morbid jokes at the expense of the heavily Shiite southern suburbs and the spectacular number of Hezbollah dead, runs against the current Western news narrative. It seems that U.S. and Western press outfits are determined to claim that the Israelis have driven all of Lebanon, Shiite or not, Islamist or not, pro-Hezbollah or not, into the waiting arms of the Islamic resistance. It is not clear why Western journalists believe this is so, though it seems to comport nicely with the idea that the Israelis are killing too many civilians--a cynical storyline, given that the Israelis are fighting against a militia and without the benefit of weapons capable of targeting only the bad guys.

And it is not just the press that believes what it finds convenient to believe. In his press conference with Tony Blair on July 28, President Bush maintained that Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora's government must be preserved--even though that government still includes Hezbollah. Indeed, insofar as Hassan Nasrallah singlehandedly took Lebanon to war, he is the de facto head of the Leban ese government. Washington should side instead with what you might call, for lack of a better term, the Lebanese government in exile in Beirut--moderate Sunnis, Christians, Druze, and a few Shia who would seem promising candidates to run their country after the war is over, except for the fact that they were incapable of keeping their country out of the war to begin with.

The White House says it wants to save the anti-Syria forces of the Cedar Revolution; however, the problem is no longer a strong Syria but a weak Lebanon. "How will the citizens of Lebanon deal with this heartbreak and shame," says Fawaz, "that their own leaders betrayed their country for 15 years under Syrian tutelage?"

The fact is that many Lebanese do not think that Siniora's government is worth much in this context. After all, Siniora is a Sunni, and all the Lebanese except for the Sunnis--Christians, Druze, and Shiites--believe that the Sunnis are cowards. Coastal Sunnis are merchants, and they do not fight, ever. They have proved incapable of disarming Hezbollah on their own. Moreover, like the Shiite militia that is now fighting to destroy Israel, Lebanon's Sunnis were raised from birth with the idea that Zionism is a historic crime. Even if these moderate Sunnis in favor with the White House wanted to do so, they could not conceivably take on a resistance group that seeks to liberate Jerusalem. It goes against everything they have been brought up to believe.

Even now, three weeks after it has been proven beyond a doubt that Hezbollah's arms are incapable of protecting one inch of Lebanese soil from the Zionists, there are still many Lebanese, including in the government, who credit Hezbollah with having driven Israeli forces from southern Lebanon in 2000. And thus the seeds of Lebanon's current crisis were sown in that willing self-deception of six years ago. The Lebanese could not then discern that Israeli politics all but forced then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak to withdraw from the South; nor could they imagine how the voting citizens of a liberal democracy would later compel its leadership to protect them at any cost. And if the Lebanese thought that an Islamist militia had beaten back the region's most powerful military, then they could hardly forecast, in spite of repeated warnings, that that "resistance" would end up reducing parts of their country to a soccer field.

Lee Smith, a Hudson Institute visiting fellow based in Beirut, is writing a book on Arab culture.

Ellie