Peacekeeping: UN Facing Disaster in Lebanon

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November28, 2006: The UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon may find itself in the middle of a civil war that has nothing to do with Israel. Politics, and conflict, in Lebanon have much more to do with Syria and Iran. Lebanon has traditionally been part of Syria. Unfortunately, Syria has not been an independent country for most of the last two thousand years. Instead, Syria was a province of one empire or another. After the Ottoman Turk empire dissolved in 1918, the European nations that did the deed came in, rearranged the pieces of the empire and created a number of now independent nations, including Syria, and, from what used to be western Syria; Lebanon. The Syrians have never officially recognized the creation of Lebanon, but never go so far as to claim it, openly, as their own. But all Syrians and Lebanese know that, if given the chance, the Syrians would annex Lebanon.

Iran became a player during the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990. In 1979, the monarchy in Iran was overthrown. A year later, Iraq invaded, believing they could grab some Iranian oil fields while the nation was still divided by the recent revolution. That didn't work. One of the victims of the subsequent eight year war was Iranian democracy, which was taken over by a clerical dictatorship. The clerics declared an Islamic republic, and proclaimed a long range plan to conquer the world for Islam. That didn't get very far, but Iran did get involved in the Lebanese civil war, coming to the aid of the Shia minority there. Out of that came the Hizbollah organization.

The Iranians made little progress with their religious crusade because only about ten percent of Moslems belong to the Shia sect, which also comprises about 89 percent of all Iranians. But in Lebanon, Shia are about a third of the population. Politically and economically, the Shia were never very prominent in Lebanon, and the arrival of Iranian money, weapons and technical advisors saved the Shia from being crushed, and kept the civil war going for another few years. The aid came via Syria, which had become an Iranian ally at about the same. This curious alliance came about because Iraq and Syria had become enemies. They should have been allies, because both were controlled by the Baath Party. But there was a dispute over which branch of the Baath Party was in charge of the entire party. Once Iraq invaded Iran, the Iranians offered the Syrians money, and other benefits, and an alliance was born. That relationship made it easy for Iran to move aid across the Syrian border to their Shia brethren in Lebanon.

The Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, largely from mutual exhaustion. Part of the deal was a Syrian peacekeeping force of 30,000 troops, there mainly to protect the Shia from the Christians and other Moslems. The Syrian "peacekeepers" gradually turned into an army of occupation, enabling pro-Syrian politicians and business to dominate the country. The majority did not like this, and in 2005, a popular uprising (largely bloodless), and international pressure, forced the Syrians to pull their troops out. The Syrians were not happy with this, nor was Iran or Hizbollah.

And then there's Israel, which Iran has vowed to destroy (as part of its plan for Islamic world conquest.) The situation was made nastier still because Israel occupied southern Lebanon for 18 years, to prevent Hizbollah terrorists from firing rockets into Israel, and staging raids across the border. Israel had help from Lebanese Christians in southern Lebanon, and that enraged the Lebanese Shia even more. When Israel left Lebanon in 2000, along with thousands of Lebanese Christians who feared death at the hands of Hizbollah, things remained quiet until last Summer, when Hizbollah resumed its raids into Israel (it had already been firing rockets and mortars across the border).

Hizbollah declared itself the victor of last Summers conflict with Israel, and the UN peacekeepers have treated Hizbollah like they ran southern Lebanon. Syria is again shipping weapons across the border for Hizbollah. And five anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians have been assassinated in the last two years. Hizbollah has called for its supporters to stage mass demonstrations against the Lebanese government. Meanwhile, the Shia politicians are demanding a new, pro-Syrian, government, or veto power over all government decisions.

The only thing that's stopping another civil war, and the disarming of Hizbollah, is the memory of the last civil war. The horror of that mess is still fresh in the minds of many Lebanese. Moreover, the anti-Syrian groups in Lebanon are themselves divided by political, religious and economic issues. All they can unite on is hatred for Syrian control of their country. Hizbollah wants to turn Lebanon into another Islamic republic, although many Lebanese Shia are opposed to that. But Hizbollah has the money, the guns, and the will to keep pushing. So far, the UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon appear unwilling to push back.

 


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