Thursday, October 29, 2009

Medal of Honor

nowlebanon.com
28 October 09

Hezbollah members parade during a rally marking Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Beirut on September 18, 2009. AFP PHOTO/RAMZI HAIDAR

In a meeting with Loyalty to the Resistance bloc leader MP Mohammad Raad on Monday, Iran’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Shibani, said that not only was the greatest accomplishment of his tenure in the country his service to the Resistance, but that its achievements in recent years were a “medal around the neck of the Arab nations.”

The comment to the Lebanese media was more than a sound bite; it spoke volumes about the state of play in the region and was a worrying reminder that Lebanon could have a government tomorrow and 3 million tourists the next day, but as long as Hezbollah casts the shadow of conflict over our lives, the country will remain on the brink of chaos and viewed with chronic suspicion by the international community.

The “achievements” of which Shibani spoke are, of course, a work in progress. On Tuesday, Katyusha rockets were yet again fired into Israel. Whether it was Hezbollah that did the actual firing is irrelevant. The culture of aggression in a conflict whose aims are as outdated as the Cold War is still rooted in Lebanon’s tragic soil.

Four decades ago, the PLO urged us to join it in its glorious struggle and look where that led us. Today, Iran, at its most confrontational and most muscular in 30 years, has taken up the battle flag to advance its own agenda. The whiff of Uranium wafts across the Middle East and the international community surveys its limited options, while the normally placid countries of the GCC are so twitchy that they are rumored to be arming to the tune of $100 billion amid fears that Tehran will acquire the technology to make a nuclear device. The latter is in all likelihood a very expensive exercise in window dressing, but the message is clear. The mullahs are making everyone nervous.

Hezbollah, as all but the most blinkered or na├»ve must surely now acknowledge, is a key asset in this regional stand-off and the medal that Ambassador Shibani spoke of with such pride has been won at the expense of both the Lebanese people who refuse to embrace Hezbollah’s martial code and the path those same people have chosen toward a modern, democratic and sovereign state.

For let us not kid ourselves. Hezbollah is the biggest long term obstacle facing Lebanon. Forget about the absence of a government. Forget whether or not Gebran Bassil gets his old job back at the Telecom ministry, and forget Walid Jumblatt’s fickle reading of the political runes. Quite simply, the world doesn’t really care.
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When Lebanon does get a government, do not think for a second that the international community will breathe a huge sigh of relief and go back to rectifying CO2 emissions. It won’t, because, rightly or wrongly, what the world really cares about is Hezbollah, its arsenal and the potential destruction that that arsenal can wreak as part of its contractual obligations to the Islamic Republic. If Lebanon has to be sacrificed to snuff out this threat, then so be it.

And yet we are still so blinkered by parochial concerns that we continue to convince ourselves that Hezbollah is a party that is brave, just and good and has Lebanon’s best interests at heart; that it fills a void in the South created by successive disinterested governments or – and this is a favorite of Michel Aoun – that it is the lesser evil to the still-unproven threat of a Wahabi sandstorm poised to turn the region into a medieval caliphate. “At least we can talk to Hezbollah,” the Aounists argue.

The trouble is history has shown they won’t listen. The fact of the matter is that we have been taken for a ride. We loved them in 2000 and tolerated the cheeky claim that the armed struggle had to continue because of a rocky outcrop called Shebaa Farms. Now, after numerous changes to the conditions required for total disarmament – essentially it isn’t going to happen voluntarily – we have the Iranian ambassador saying that the high point of his mission was serving the Resistance at a time when his country gears up for high stakes poker with the international community.

Maybe he should just come clean and say that it was Iran that presented Hezbollah with that medal in the first place.

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