A little over 40-(cough) years ago, I was born in Lebanon. No, not Lebanon the country — Lebanon, the town in New Hampshire that calls itself a city. We don’t even pronounce it the same (the “O” gets “U” sound), but I’ve always felt a bit of vague interest in my home town’s namesake. Hell, we had a governor and a Senator (John H. Sununu and John E. Sununu, father and son) who are of Lebanese descent.
And Lebanon has been a sad, sad state for some time now.
Currently, it’s pretty much without a functioning government. It was a coalition government, and enough members of the coalition quit, so it fell apart. What’s interesting — and infuriating — is the reason those members left.
The members that quit are members of Hezbollah, the terrorist group that is also a political party. And they were upset because a UN commission investigated the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Prime Minister of Lebanon from a very influential family. Hariri’s murder is officially unsolved, but the bomb pretty much had Hamas’ fingerprints all over it.
Hezbollah (Arabic for “party of Allah”) is an Islamist extremist group that is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. They consider themselves at war with Israel, and have started several actual shooting wars — which they’ve all lost, to the detriment of Lebanon. After the last one, the UN brokered a peace settlement, that required that Hezbollah be disarmed and the Lebanese military (which Hezbollah had blocked from operating in the southern tier of their own country). That ink on that UN Security Council resolution wasn’t even dry before Syria and Iran (who jointly control Hezbollah) started re-arming Hezbollah, so they are now better armed than they were before the last war.
Well, the investigation into Hariri’s murder actually came up with names in Hezbollah, and was ready to bring them to justice when Hezbollah (which won enough seats in Lebanon’s government to give them de facto control over the government) decided to simply collapse the sitting government to postpone — if not prevent — that government from taking any action against it.
This resulted because Hezbollah is allowed to have a “militant” and a “political” wing. The group is allowed to maintain the polite fiction that its terrorists are separate from its political activists, that its terrorism is entirely separate from its political deeds, and there is a wall of separation between the two.
It was bullshit when the IRA tried it, but they at least gave the two branches different names (“Sinn Fein” was the political arm) and maintained a modicum of separation and deniability. It’s still bullshit in Gaza, where the terrorist group Hamas is the legally elected authority.
When a terrorist group wins an election, that doesn’t suddenly wash away the blood they’ve shed. It doesn’t instantly absolve them of their terrorist past. And it doesn’t transform them into a legitimate political movement.
What it makes them is a terrorist group that has garnered a bit of political power. They are still terrorists, and ought to be treated as such. And if they win control of a government, they are still terrorists.
What we’re seeing in Lebanon is just a taste of what we would face if we start dealing with Hamas as the legitimate government of the Gaza Strip. There are very valid reasons why we don’t deal with terrorists, and those reasons are not trumped simply because they have won elections.
Lebanon had a chance a few years ago, after the invasion of Iraq. All of a sudden Syria and Iran realized that they really shouldn’t do too much to draw attention to themselves. The Lebanese people rose up, and demanded that the two — especially Syria, whose influence is considerably more overt than Iran’s — get the hell out of their country. And they were succeeding, until Hezbollah decided to start killing its foes in extremely visible fashion, and starting a fresh war with Israel.
For decades, Lebanon and Israel got along pretty well. Until the Palestinians and Hezbollah decided that Lebanon — with its border on Israel — would be a darned good place to launch attacks on Israel. And ever since that started, almost 30 years ago, Lebanon has been torn apart by outsiders bringing their fight with Israel to Lebanon, and Israel hitting back.
Man, am I glad I was born in this Lebanon.