Lebanon: A Replay of the 1982 Invasion?

Israeli army at Beirut airport in 1982. (Photo: Al-Akhbar - Archive)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Friday, October 14, 2011

The current political crisis in Lebanon makes one think that the situation is going from bad to worse, similar in many ways to the period before the Israeli invasion in 1982.

Some may want to ignore just how much stronger the resistance has become since its emergence in the 1980s. Political historian and former head of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party Youssef al-Ashkar makes the point well when he says that for the first time in history, we have a resistance that is capable of deterring an attack on its country. Thus, instead of being a force that struggles against an existing occupation or a potential force that emerges in response to occupation, the Lebanese resistance has succeeded in acquiring the ability to prevent occupation itself.

This accomplishment by the resistance has given the Lebanese people a great deal of confidence in confronting external challenges, which primarily consist of pressures to submit to the will of the West and Israel. Some Lebanese fear that if they do not concede, they will be punished externally by Israel or internally by civil war. But this feeling is not shared by all of Lebanon’s political class.

One of the most potent political forces in Lebanon today is General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. Aoun seems to know how to take advantage of the power of the resistance. This may be due to Aoun’s long experience in the halls of government and familiarity with the unrelenting political and economic pressures facing Lebanon.

In response, Aoun’s approach is clear and unambiguous. He takes into account the current circumstances surrounding him, yet he is well aware that international intimidation is meaningless. Due to his long experience in Lebanon and abroad, Aoun knows well the limits of Western power, its priorities and interests, and to what extent it can engage in new foreign adventures.

On the other side, there are two potent forces on the ground in Lebanon with a different approach. The first consists of the Lebanese Forces and its Christian affiliates from the March 14 coalition, and the second is the Future Movement and its Islamist affiliates. Walid Jumblatt, who appears to be fading into irrelevance, tries to maintain a middle ground, strongly benefiting from a lack of accountability by his predominantly Druze popular base.

All these parties are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the crisis in Syria. Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement openly declare their support for Bashar Assad’s reform efforts, while the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces support anybody who is able to overthrow the Syrian regime. Not surprisingly, Jumblatt is sitting on the fence, waiting to see which way the political winds will blow.

Behind closed doors, the Druze leader may express his disdain for the Syrian regime and its two Lebanese allies, but he is reluctant to go public with such views for the time being. All he has to do is tell his base “What can I do?” For their part, his supporters justify his stance by saying: “He is a wise man. He was not in the pocket of March 14 and he will not submit to the March 8 coalition either.”

But why the comparison between the current situation and the period prior to the 1982 invasion?

First, because the West, Israel, and some Arab states are operating on the assumption that they are facing the same enemy: the resistance movements of Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq, along with their supporters, Syria and Iran. There are more than enough reasons for the West to justify an assault on these forces and their allies in the region. And much like 1982, when Israel launched its war with US backing and Arab complicity, these latter actors are not obliged to openly declare a united front.

Second, the Western powers calculate that destroying the resistance will help US-backed Arab regimes survive for another two or three decades at the very least. The West fears that the Arab uprisings will revive the struggle for Palestine after countries like Egypt were forced to sit out the conflict, both on the state and popular levels, going as far back as 1982.

Third, the earthquake that has shaken all the Arab regimes threatens to fragment the region along ethnic, religious, and sectarian lines. This provides the West with a golden opportunity to wage their old war using new means that prey on internal divisions. Such circumstances are also tempting for US-friendly forces in the region to invite and support foreign intervention under any pretext.

Fourth, time is to the advantage of the resistance forces in the region. The past two decades have proven this beyond a doubt: Iran has become a regional superpower politically and militarily, Syria was able to overcome a series of obstacles that would have swept away much bigger countries, and resistance movements like Hezbollah and Hamas have developed their capabilities on all levels.

What has been particularly worrisome for Washington is that the so-called axis of evil has overrun Iraq even as it was under direct US military control. Meanwhile US influence in places like Egypt and Tunisia is declining along with that of Washington’s closest allies in the region, the Gulf Arab states. In Lebanon and Palestine, the balance of forces continues to tip in favor of those forces hostile to the US.

So there are many reasons to be wary in the current period. But the spark for war may or may not be long in coming. The point is that Lebanon is fast approaching the moment of explosion.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition

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