Lebanon's choice

It is perhaps understandable that the Lebanese government would want to project defiance of Israel - yet everyone knows where that path will lead.

Saniora 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Saniora 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
In his speech yesterday to the Knesset, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, "The UN Security Council unanimously accepted this historic resolution, which clarifies that there is only Israel and Lebanon. There is no longer a state within a state... And no longer is a terror organization allowed to operate within Lebanon, as the long arm of the axis of evil which reaches out from Teheran to Damascus, uses Lebanon's weakness and transforms it, its citizens and its infrastructure, into a tool for its war." This may be an accurate description of this fleeting moment, a moment in which the IDF is still sitting in southern Lebanon. Yet it is more a description of a possibility than of reality or a certainty. Whether this possibility envisioned by the Security Council, fought for by Israel, and prayed for by many Lebanese patriots who wish to live in peace and independence, will become reality depends on how many different actors behave now. The most important actor, despite its perceived weakness, is Lebanon itself. "Lebanon will be, I think, the last state to sign a peace treaty with Israel," Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations Nouhad Mahmoud said after the cease-fire resolution passed. He also said that Lebanon would not disarm Hizbullah by force. It is perhaps understandable that the Lebanese government would want to project defiance of Israel, and even of the UN mandates that it has officially accepted. Yet everyone knows where that path will lead. The question is whether that is where the Lebanese people and government want to go. The reason for Lebanon to choose a different path has nothing to do with love for Israel. As an editorial yesterday in Lebanon's Daily Star, which hardly minces words in its attacks on Israel, put it: "Lebanon has a rare opportunity to strengthen its army as it extends control over Lebanese territory. Israel's wanton destruction of Lebanon has made a very strong case to the Lebanese people for the need to have a creative and viable defense strategy. The best strategy would be one where Hizbullah's arms and expertise were institutionalized within the Lebanese Army." Incorporating Hizbullah into Lebanon's army would seem to be a risky strategy for Lebanon, but the principle - that the government should, like any normal government, have a monopoly of and control over the use of force - is a sound one. Lebanese leaders should keep asking themselves and their public a simple question: why should Hizbullah remain armed? If it is to fight Israel, then why should Hizbullah and not the Lebanese government decide when and how to do so? And if it is not to fight Israel, but to represent Iranian interests and impose its will by force within Lebanese politics, how does this square with Lebanon's hard-won independence? It is claimed that hundreds of thousands of people who carried out the "Cedar Revolution" against Syria used to be similarly opposed to Hizbullah's remaining armed, but that this war brought many of these people into Hizbullah's camp. This too may be understandable at a time when Israel is fighting a war against Hizbullah on Lebanese soil. But just as Israelis are now examining their own decisions and blind spots accumulated over the last few years, Lebanon's political class needs to do some thinking as well. In essence, Israelis and Lebanese should be dedicated to correcting the same mistake: allowing a third party, controlled by foreign countries with the interests of neither of our countries at heart, to start a war between us. Lebanon could, under the pressure of Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah's remaining power, decide that it will neither disarm Hizbullah, nor prevent Hizbullah from rearming to its former strength. Lebanon could continue the path of weakness, victimhood, defiance UN mandates, and - perhaps most psychologically satisfying - defiance of Israel. Maybe, however, what is bad for Israel is not necessarily good for Lebanon. Maybe Lebanon's Shi'ites, for their own sake and the sake of their country, should shake off the yoke of Syria and Iran. The Cedar Revolution proved that the capacity for bravery in the pursuit of freedom and independence exists in Lebanon. The Lebanese must choose between their love for Lebanon and their hatred of Israel. The next war is not inevitable if Lebanon's government and people once again choose to stand up for themselves.