Everyone in Lebanon knows someone who has been assassinated. We also know people who may soon be assassinated. Israel wants to murder the Hizballah leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah–just as it killed his predecessor with his wife and son in 1992. Syria’s intention to murder the Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, is no secret–any more than was its assassination of his father in 1977. Last summer, while Israel was bombing Lebanon, I visited many friends whose houses were barricaded–not against the Israeli rockets–but to deter Syrian car bombs. Young Pierre Gemayel, whose uncle was murdered in 1982, is only the latest casualty in a war between Israel and Syria on Lebanese soil that threatens to return the country to the pointless war that it fought from 1975 to 1990.
Ghassan Tueini, the editor and publisher of the leading Beirut daily An Nahar, called the civil war “la guerre pour les autres.” The others were Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, Americans and Soviets. He has the same opinion now of the unfolding calamity and little love for Syria or Israel. His mountain house above Beirut once welcomed visitors of all backgrounds without appointment. Now, cars stop at security gates, where armed men check them before they can enter. His son, Gibran Tueini, was murdered last December for the prominent role he played in the opposition to Syria’s residual influence in Lebanon–killed as were the brave journalist Samir Kassir and the former Communist Party chief George Hawi.
Ghassan Tueini, who is now eighty years old, finds his name on all the lists circulating in Lebanon of those Syria allegedly wants to eliminate. I asked him why Lebanon couldn’t settle down after its long war. “Why do you expect us to be different from other people?” he asked me back. “Remember the trauma of the people of Berlin. Germany did not recover overnight.” Germany, like Lebanon, remained occupied for years after the war ended. Lebanon’s formal military occupation by Syria in the north and Israel in the south may be over, but neither of the former occupiers will leave it alone. It is time for them to withdraw their interference just as they did their armies. But who will force them?
Lebanon is one piece on a chess board, and its fate cannot be decided in isolation from the rest. Syrian and Israeli policies have more impact than the decisions of Lebanon’s elected leaders. Both neighbors–probably the worst any country could ask for–have visions of the Lebanon they want. Syria prefers one where it can choose the president, parliament, prime minister and cabinet. Israel wants to rid Lebanon of what is undoubtedly its most popular political party, Hizballah. It would also like a compliant, pro-American president and government of the kind it tried to implant by force in 1982.
So, what can the United States do? I can tell you what it has done. In 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger approved the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. In 1982, his successor, Al Haig, encouraged Israel’s invasion. Then, in 1990, another American secretary of state, James Baker, gave the go-ahead for the Syrian army to return to the parts of Lebanon from which it had been excluded in 1982. Neither Syria nor Israel entered Lebanon without an American okay. An American diktat could keep them both out, if the US cared as much about Lebanon as its politicians claim.
The only solution for Lebanon is for Syria and Israel–as well as, now, Iran – not to interfere in its internal affairs. Many Lebanese were grateful in 2005 for American and French support of UN Resolution 1559 that forced the Syrian withdrawal. Their gratitude however did not extend to thanking America for permitting–actually, abetting–Israel’s thirty-four day onslaught on the country this past July and August. Nor are they thankful for the Israeli air force’s continuing intrusion into Lebanese airspace. The United States, whether or not its obedient acolytes in London lend rhetorical backing, could draw some red lines: neither Israel nor Syria should be allowed to use the other as a pretext for toying with Lebanon. The US could go a step further and sponsor a treaty between Israel and Syria over the occupied Golan Heights.
The Middle East lurches from crisis to crisis–often on Lebanon’s fertile ground–because no one in Washington has the integrity or the wisdom to force a peace that gives the Palestinians a place to live independently and Israel the chance to be something more interesting than a local military superpower. When Israeli soldiers stop uprooting olive trees in the West Bank and protecting settlers on the Golan, the Lebanese won’t live in fear that someone is inciting them to war once again.
Charles Glass lived in Lebanon from 1972 to 1976 and from 1983 to 1995. He was ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent from 1983 to 1993 and was kidnapped by Hizballah in 1987. His new books on the Middle East are The Tribes Triumphant (Harper Collins) and The Northern Front (Saqi Books). His website is www.charlesglass.net. ]
© Charles Glass 2006