Friday, March 11, 2005

Uri Avnery: the Next Crusades

One of the reasons that I have become so enamored with Gen. Zinni is his pretty constant insistence that Americans often pay little to no attention to the cultures we are trying to influence. So when the celebrations began last week over the Anti-Syrian push made in Lebanon I warned friends of mine to damper their elation, because Lebanon is a seriously fractured society that has been fighting an on-again off-again civil war for the last 30 years (a war that encouraged America, Israel, and Syria to occupy the country). Today I found this analysis of the region which I found to be right on target

Uri Avnery: the Next Crusades:
Lebanon is a country with a peculiar topography: a small country of high mountain ranges and isolated valleys. As a result, it has attracted throughout the centuries communities of persecuted minorities, who found refuge there. Today there are, side by side and one against the other, four ethno-religious communities: Christians, Sunnis, Shiites and Druse. Within the Christian community, there are several sub-communities, such as Maronites and other ancient sects, mostly hostile to each other. The history of Lebanon abounds in mutual massacres.

Such a situation invites, of course, interference by neighbors and foreign powers, each wanting to stir the pot for its own advantage. Syria, Israel, the United States and France, the former colonial master, are all involved.

Exactly 50 years ago a secret, heated debate took place among the leaders of Israel. David Ben-Gurion (then Minister of Defense) and Moshe Dayan (the army Chief-of-Staff) had a brilliant idea: to invade Lebanon, impose on it a "Christian major" as dictator and turn it into an Israeli protectorate. Moshe Sharett, the then Prime Minister, attacked this idea fervently. In a lengthy, closely argued letter, which has been preserved for history, he ridiculed the total ignorance of the proponents of this idea in face of the incredibly fragile complexity of the Lebanese social structure. Any adventure, he warned, would end in disaster.

At the time, Sharett won. But 27 years later, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon did exactly what Ben-Gurion and Dayan had proposed. The result was exactly as foreseen by Sharett.
And yet America seems incapable of taking any lessons from Israel's experiences:
In Lebanon, all the diverse communities are in action. Each for its own interest, each plotting to outfox the others, perhaps to attack them at a given opportunity. Some of the leaders are connected with Syria, some with Israel, all are trying to use the Americans for their ends. The jolly pictures of young demonstrators, so prominent in the media, have no meaning if one does not know the community which stands behind them.

Only thirty years ago these communities started a terrible civil war and all of them massacred each other. The Christian Maronites wanted to take over the country with the help of Israel, but were defeated by a coalition of the Sunnis and Druze (the Shiites played no significant role at that time). The Palestinian refugees, led by the PLO, who formed a kind of fifth "community", joined the battle. When the Christians were in danger of being overrun, they called on the Syrians for help. Six years later, Israel invaded, with the aim of evicting both the Syrians and the Palestinians and imposing a Christian strongman (Basheer Jumail).

It took us 18 years to get out of that morass. Our only achievement was to turn the Shiites into a dominant force. When we entered Lebanon, the Shiites received us with showers of rice and candies, hoping that we would throw out the Palestinians, who had been lording it over them. A few months later, when they realized that we did not intend to leave, they started to shoot at us. Sharon is the midwife of Hizbullah.
This last sentence is what really grabbed me- because when you start or enter a war with a fundamentally flawed strategy or understanding of the true lay of the land you are bound to create unforeseen consequences that may make you even less secure.