Lebanon will be first victim
of Iran crisis
By Robert Fisk
Independent" -- -- How easily the sparks
from the American-Israeli fire fall across the Middle
East. Every threat, every intransigence uttered in
Washington and Tehran now burns a little bit more of
Lebanon. It is not by chance that the UN forces in the
south of the country now face growing suspicion among
the Shia Muslims who live there. It is no coincidence
that Israel thunders that the Hizbollah are now more
powerful than they were before last year's July war. It
is not an accident that Sayed Hassan Nasrallah,
Hizbollah's leader, says he has brought more missiles
Why, the Lebanese ask, did President Bashar al-Assad of
Syria visit President Ahmadinejad of Iran last weekend?
To further seal their "brotherly" relations? Or to plan
a new war with Israel in Lebanon?
The images of Iran's new missile launches during three
days of military manoeuvres - apparently long-range
rockets which could be fired at US warships in the Gulf
- were splashed across the Beirut papers yesterday
morning, along with Washington's latest threats of air
strikes against Iran's military. Be certain that the
Lebanese will be the first to suffer.
For the West, the crisis in Lebanon - where Hizbollah
and its allies are still demanding the resignation of
Fouad Siniora's government - is getting more serious by
the hour. Up to 20,000 UN troops - including Nato
battalions of Spanish, French and Italian forces - are
now billeted across the hillsides of southern Lebanon,
in the very battleground upon which the Israelis and the
Hizbollah are threatening to fight each other again.
If Israel is America's proxy (which the Lebanese don't
doubt), then Hizbollah is Iran's proxy. The more the
United States and Israel warn Iran of its supposed
nuclear ambitions, the more Hizbollah increases the
pressure on Lebanon.
Already, there are dangerous signs of what may be to
come. Spanish troops were stoned by youths in a Lebanese
village last week. French soldiers who arrived at Maroun
al-Ras with their weekly medical convoy for local
Lebanese civilians were told in no uncertain terms that
they were not welcome. The French left immediately. Was
this because President Jacques Chirac, busy
commemorating his murdered Lebanese friend Rafiq Hariri
in Paris on Monday, is now talking of placing UN forces
not just along the Lebanese border with Israel but along
the country's frontier with Syria as well?
M. Chirac is warning that last summer's war between the
Hizbollah and Israel could "re-plunge Lebanon into a
deep crisis". If the Lebanese don't pull themselves
together, the French President added, they could "slide
once more into a fatal chasm". These are not words which
are likely to commend themselves to President Assad or
his opposite number in Tehran.
Add to this the statement by Brigadier Yossi Baidatz,
Israel's head of research for military intelligence -
disputed by Amir Peretz, the country's Defence Minister
- that the Hizbollah "is building up more firepower than
it had before the war... some is still en route from
Syria", and it's not difficult to see why a visiting
delegation of Italian senators in Beirut have been
expressing their fears for their own country's UN troops
in southern Lebanon.
An Italian major general, Claudio Graziano, has just
taken command of the multinational force, Unifil, and
has been described by the Israelis as an expert in
"counter-terrorism" - not quite the praise that General
Graziano is likely to have wanted from the Israelis as
he faces the dangers of the coming weeks and months. In
fact, generals seem all the rage in Lebanon these days,
the latest of whom - the Lebanese army commander General
Michel Sulieman - has made a speech of remarkable common
sense, effectively blaming Lebanon's politicians for not
creating the unity which might resolve its problems.
In last month's street fighting in Beirut and other
towns, General Sulieman's soldiers achieved the
extraordinary feat of repeatedly breaking up riots
without killing a single one of their own citizens.
"Lebanon cannot be governed by its military or through a
dictatorship," he said. "It is a country satiated with
democracy... but such a great amount of democracy in
Lebanon might lead to chaos.
"Soldiers are even more conscientious than many leaders
in this country."
Up to 70 per cent of the Lebanese army - which is now a
volunteer, rather than a conscript force - are Shia,
which is why it cannot be used to disarm the Shia
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited