July 25, 2006: The latest actions of Israel and Hezbollah are just the continuation
of the Greater Lebanese Civil War ( 1975-1990). That conflict was over control of the Lebanese political system. The old system was set up by the French when their League of Nations mandate ran out in 1943. The government was proportional between the three major groups in the country: the majority Eastern-Rite Catholics, Maronites, who received the presidency; the Sunnis were allotted the office of prime minister, and the Shiites were granted the speaker of the parliament post. Demographic shifts spurred on by Christian emigration to France and the United States, combined with Shia birth-rate growth, led to political debate on what the proportional system should be changed. In 1975 the Druzes, members of a unique branch of Islam, launched an insurrection against the Phalangist Christian government. Things swung out of control in 1980 after the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Lebanon went to war with Israel, and Syria responding by invading Lebanon themselves.
The fighting lasted until 1990 with Syria and Israel controlling much of the country. The 1990 peace was good for most of the groups. The Christians used connections with the West to rebuild. The Sunnis were aided by the Saudi money, and the Druzes managed to secure extra political rights. The bulk of Shiites; however, were left impoverished. The only aid they received was from Iran and Alawite-controlled Syria, and that was mostly directed towards Hezbollah. Most of the gains by Shiites in Lebanon from 1990 to 2005 were accomplished by threats occasionally backed up by violence; especially against Israel. In 2000, Israel withdrew from south Lebanon because the Israeli government lacked the will to continue protecting the area from Hezbollah raids.
Things changed after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Hariri was rallying the Sunni/Christian base of Lebanon against Hezbollah and its puppet master Syria. The Syrians feared losing all their gains from the civil war and ordered Hariri's assassination. The " Cedar Revolution" pitted Christian and Sunnis against Shiite Hezbollah over the future of Lebanon. The United States and other countries applied pressure, forcing Syria to withdraw Syrian troops from Lebanon. Pro-Hariri and other anti-Syrian political parties won most of the parliamentary seats in the election. The south of Lebanon was a different story, where Hezbollah won the seats and continued the process of running a state within a state.
The status quo of two Lebanon's proved relatively stable until July 12, 2006 when Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others. Israel said the attack was an act of war and responded with force.
The surprising thing in this war has been the division in the Arab world. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt see Hezbollah's action as not only threatening the development of Lebanon, but also being backed by Shia Iran. Iran's goals are three-fold: divert attention from their nuclear program, force Israel into a two-front war, and the establishment of Shia state which would be a natural ally of Iran.
The Lebanese government in Beirut is stuck in bad situation. One the one hand most government officials want to finish the rebuilding of their country and wish to see the destruction of the Hizbollah mini-state. The Prime Minister and President of Lebanon have both been harsh on Hizbollah, blaming them for the conflict. However; others in the government have anti-Israel and/or pro-Hizbollah sympathies, and have vowed support the Shia militia. Lebanon and the various interlopers are still at war, some politically and others with arms. Whether or not the latest Israeli incursion into Lebanon can improve the situation, remains to be seen. - -Patrick Abbott