By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Contrary to what some of my friends suspect, I hate to go on and on about the Middle East and the games big powers play in this part of the world. But often one is not left with much choice.
Just look at the mess they have unleashed on Lebanon. A country that was beginning to recover from the decades of civil war and overwhelming destruction having built itself from a scratch once again finds itself in a situation that is not much different from the civil war of 1970s and ’80s, all thanks to our friends in the West.
At least then the people of Lebanon knew their enemy. Then it was the people of Lebanon versus the external players like Israel. Today’s Lebanon is divided from within — in a myriad camps and identities. Yesterday it was a united country that faced external threats. Today, it’s an open-for-all war with everyone fighting everyone else. Lebanon is no stranger to conflict. But it has perhaps never faced so many divisions and internal strife of such overwhelming nature in its eventful history.
Who is responsible for this mess? Who has turned the Mediterranean paradise into a veritable hell? No prizes for guessing. Because, as Bob Dylan sang, the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
Pundits are working themselves into a lather over how Hezbollah with its battle-hardened army of fighters has become a state within a state. And Western experts warn the ignorant amongst us how Shia Iran and Syria are arming the Shia militia to take on the Sunni Arab ruling coalition of Lebanon and how the Shia spectre has become a grave threat to Sunni Arab states from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
Washington has accused Hezbollah, Syria and Iran of fuelling the unrest in Lebanon. And Condi Rice has paid rich tributes to the Arab leaders for their ‘unity’ on the issue of Lebanon.
Unity against what Ms Rice? Who are the Arabs supposed to be fighting? Who is their enemy? Hezbollah? Syria? Iran? If one’s memory serves one right, none of these players has invaded or currently occupies any territory or land that doesn’t belong to them.
In fact, this whole circus in Lebanon is not about Hezbollah or its much-hyped weapons. This is not even about its communication and media network or growing military and political clout. This is not a Sunni-Shia conflict either, as many farsighted editorial pundits and friends in the West are bending over backwards to paint it. In deed, this is not even about Lebanon.
This is about Israel and its quest for total supremacy in the Middle East. The Jewish state, backed by its powerful friends in high places, wouldn’t rest until all potential and imagined threats in the region are eliminated or neutralized. Yesterday it was Saddam’s Iraq. Today, Iran and Syria are in its sights. Tomorrow it could be Saudi Arabia.
Since the humiliating defeat of the powerful Israeli army with its fearsome armoury of high-tech weapons at the hands of a ragtag militia called Hezbollah two years ago, the Israelis have been dying to teach a lesson to Nasrallah and his mentors.
The Hezbollah fighters managed to accomplish what the combined forces of big Arab states have so far failed to: beat Israel at its own game.
And before that in May 2000, it was the years of resistance by Hezbollah that eventually drove a red-faced Israel out of Lebanon after 22 years of occupation. Forcing Israel, that tiny state with a population of seven million people, out is something no Arab and Muslim country has managed so far. And let’s not forget, in addition to the Palestinian land that it stole, Israel continues to occupy Arab territory – from Egypt to Jordan to Syria.
No wonder Hezbollah has earned itself the admiration and support of the Arabs, Muslims and others around the world. After all, it has done what many others couldn’t: stand up to the neighbourhood bully.
This was the most embarrassing setback for Israel in its short history of using brute force against a helpless, homeless people. This is why the Israelis attacked Lebanon once again in 2006, essentially to avenge that historic humiliation at the hands of Hezbollah.
And once again, Israel was beaten back and was forced to call off the disastrous campaign after suffering unprecedented losses and total debacle. The Israelis still haven’t — and perhaps never will — forgiven Olmert and his generals for that disaster.
No wonder the Israelis are so desperate to settle scores with Hezbollah and its backers, Syria and Iran. And no wonder the US, France and others are pushing for the disarming of Hezbollah. You don’t need divine powers to see who stands to benefit from the isolation and neutralisation of the movement.
So the Israelis and the neocons have joined hands once again to play the tried and tested, imperial game of ‘divide-and-rule’ all over again. And Lebanon is the new theatre for this proxy war. This rather cleverly pits the Sunnis against Shias and the Arabs against Iranians across the Middle East and elsewhere even as it neutralises all potential threats to the state of Israel.
The process of dividing the Muslim world along sectarian lines began with Iraq. And Lebanon takes it to a new, more advanced level.
I am not a Shia and do not exactly subscribe to Hezbollah’s worldview. But my sympathies and the support of everyone who believes in freedom and justice are with those who stand up to Israel and hold it to account for what it has been doing to the Palestinians and Arabs all these years.
Okay, Hezbollah may not exactly be a party of God. Maybe all this power has gone to its head and it is flexing muscles according to the dictates of its friends in Teheran and Damascus. And Syria and Iran could indeed be playing the great game in Lebanon by proxy.
But can you blame them for doing so, given the long history of interventions by Israel, the US and other Western players in the Mediterranean country? Who started this dangerous game in the first place?
Let’s face it. This is not a tussle between Hezbollah and the government of Fouad Siniora. This is a proxy war between Israel and the US on one side and Iran and Syria on the other. This is not a Sunni-Shia or Arab-Iran conflict. For today more Arabs and Sunnis support Hezbollah than the Shias do.
The issue at the heart of this conflict is not Hezbollah or its military clout but the Israeli occupation and subjugation of Palestinian people with the connivance of the West.
The Arab leaders as well as Iran and Syria must not lose sight of this fundamental reality. More importantly, they must stop playing into the hands of the big powers. The disunity in their ranks is responsible for the current woes of the Arab and Muslim world. They must not allow themselves to be divided and used yet again. Else mutual destruction will be the fate of the Muslim world.
-Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based journalist and commentator. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org)