Lebanon Breaks the Mould

By Alberto Cruz

Lebanon, thanks to Hizbollah, is breaking moulds in the Middle East. After Hizbollah’s defeat of Israel in the war of the summer of 2006, it has again humiliated the Zionist State by making it carry out another exchange of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners like the one in 2004. (1) It has managed to weaken imperialist and Saudi Arabian strategy in the area with the show of force it made taking over Beirut in just four days. That brought about rapid mediation by various Arab countries, ending with the Doha Agreement by means of which Lebanon’s patriotic and nationalist forces pushed through a government of national unity.

That was something they had been fighting for since the end of the 2006 war against Israel. They also ensured a minority veto within that government, at the same time as they reinforced their political-military position. Also becoming clear is the population’s growing rejection of UN troops in the south of the country, being seen as an extension of Israeli interests in Lebanon and not as the supposed peacekeepers they say they are.

The Prisoner Exchange

Two years after the 2006 war began, the prisoner exchange is a new success for Hizbollah. This political-military movement, unlike other guerrilla organizations elsewhere, has never given in to pressure from the other side, either to Israel or the UN, on "proof of life" of the soldiers it holds as a result of military action, whether they were alive or not. That gave them an appreciable advantage when it came to negotiations since their enemy has never known for sure what they are dealing with.

Hizbollah has constantly kept the initiative, knowing how to pace its political and military interests. Demands of Hizbollah for some proof that the captured soldiers were alive came from Israel, the UN and especially the news media. That information was never made available.

Even Hizbollah’s negotiator with the German mediator representing the UN Secretary General, never had information on that score because as Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s Secretary General said, "One of the valuable lessons  we learned from earlier exchanges (referring particularly to the 2004 exchange, AC) is that the news media complicate such operations, creating preset conditions…because the enemy always wages a credibility war applying leverage to fracture Hizbollah’s positions and that is a policy practised in many parts of the world." (2)

Talks lasted almost two years and Hizbollah has stayed impassive under pressure. Now it is reaping the rewards. The fact that the prisoner exchange coincided with the formation of a government of national unity and that the country’s president Michel Suleiman took part in the reception of the Lebanese prisoners freed from Israeli prisons and representatives of practically all Lebanon’s political factions, even the pro-Western ones, clearly indicates the importance of the operation and how the negotiation itself was carried out.

In it, Hizbollah presented a series of irrevocable principles, particularly that it should include Lebanese prisoners accused by Israel of "blood crimes", that is armed actions resulting in deaths. This is the case of the Lebanese internationalist Samir Kuntar, linked to the Palestine Liberation Front. Israel has always refused to set free militants it categorises as terrorists, but has now been obliged to give in. A precedent that will obviously be followed by other organizations, like Hamas in Palestine, which also holds an Israeli soldier captured in a military operation.

Other issues considered irrevocable by Hizbollah were the return of the remains of Arab dead from the various wars, information on the fate of people disappeared, especially after the Israeli invasion of 1982 and the liberation of Palestinian and Arab prisoners from Israeli prisons. Here, Hizbollah has emphasised the liberation of women and children. It should hardly need saying that although Israel has tried to separate this matter from the others and to say that the liberation about to take place in a few days time is a "good will gesture" with Mahmoud Abbas and the UN, the reality is that it is thanks to Hizbollah that those prisoners will soon be set free.

National Unity Government

The formation of a new government of national unity has been a sign of generosity by the strongest party towards its allies. Hizbollah has given two ministerial positions to its smallest allies, a small Druze party opposed to the pro-imperialist Walid Jumblatt and the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party. At the same time it has promoted the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian Maronite party with which it maintains a strategic alliance, handing it five ministries and the post of Deputy Prime Minister. It is worth noting that the FPL did not have a single ministry in the previous government. As if that were not enough, the other political force allied with Hizbollah, the Amal movement, got the Health Ministry as well as Foreign Relations, which will define Lebanon’s future relations with its neighbours, especially Syria, while provoking a clear cooling with Saudi Arabia, a country that has interfered inside Lebanon in recent years.

With this behaviour, that Marxist theorists might describe as applying the Gramscian principles of hegemonic power and the politics of alliances, the myth of sectarianism and inter-religious confrontation in Lebanon is thrown up in the air. The only ministry Hizbollah kept hold of was the Labour Ministry, significantly, because it is foreseeable that its first action may be to raise the minimum wage for workers as the General Workers Central has been demanding for the last two years and which has been the main demand of the last two general strikes in Lebanon in January 2007 and in May 2008.

The new government arrived following the warning by Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora that he might intervene in the formation of the government if agreement was not reached before June 12th. That displaced pro-Western forces who were still resisting losing power despite the Doha Agreement. They had to accept all the names proposed by the Nationalist Patriotic Alliance.

But in addition, at a June 10th official event with the country’s main trades union central, the CGT, in which he bluntly criticised the United Kingdom’s decision to include Hizbollah’s armed wing in a list of terrorist organizations, Suleiman said that disarming Hizbollah is a long way off, since "Hizbollah is the vanguard of resistance to those who threaten the country’s freedom and territorial integrity". He made a point of saying to the Western adventurers who blithely label as they please anyone who dares to sustain patriotic nationalist positions, "Lebanon will never allow a party that defends the country’s territory to be designated as terrorists." (3)

Rejection of Unifil

And the Lebanese President said something else, in a direct criticism of the UN, "Lebanon will never forget that where the UN, powerless to force Israel to leave southern Lebanon, failed, it was the resistance that managed to free the region." (4) So no one should find it strange that the inhabitants of that Lebanese area do not view the presence of UN troops, the Interim United Nations Force in Lebanon, favourably, despite the fact that, for example, in some places some small businesses have put up signs in Spanish or Italian. In the different villages around Marjayoun, where the Spanish troops’ headquarters is located, one can see signs like "El Corte Inglés" painted roughly at the entrance to a store located in a garage, "Cafeter

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