People say no
Public opinion in Lebanon overwhelmingly rejects US-Israeli plans for cleansing Lebanon of Hizbullah, writes Amal Saad-Ghorayeb*
The latest Israeli massacre at Qana of 60 civilians, over half of whom were children, will only reinforce the shift in Lebanese public sentiment towards Hizbullah, as revealed in the first poll conducted since fighting began 12 July. The Beirut Centre for Research and Information (BCRI), along with myself, conducted a survey to gauge the Lebanese people's views of the main actors and events in the ongoing conflict. The survey's findings suggest that the Bush administration has to seriously rethink its pitiful attempt to frame the US's unbridled support for the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon as part of both its democracy and "war on terror" agendas, as exemplified by Bush's recent contention that, "Hizbullah ... are willing to kill and to use violence to stop the spread of peace and democracy," and his framing of the conflict as "part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror in the Middle East". Such crude casuistry falls far out of step with Arab mainstream opinion, as revealed in poll statistics, which shows that Hizbullah's resistance has unprecedented popular support in Lebanon while the US has lost all credibility as a peacemaker amongst the Lebanese.
Of the 800 respondents polled throughout Lebanon, including the displaced, 87 per cent claimed they supported Hizbullah's "resistance to Israeli aggression", with 80 per cent of all Christians and Druze, 89 per cent of all Sunnis and 96 per cent of all Shias declaring their support. These findings are all the more significant when compared to the results of a similar survey conducted just five months ago, which showed that only 58 per cent of all Lebanese believed Hizbullah had the right to remain armed, and hence, continue its resistance activity. In effect, Israel's aggression against Lebanon has had the unintended consequence of increasing nationwide support for the resistance, which it would not have otherwise enjoyed. Thanks to the high death toll, with close to one quarter on the population displaced, and the colossal material destruction of the economy wreaked by Israel's war machine, Hizbullah's "logic of resistance" and deterrence has been both vindicated and demonstrated. It has stepped in to fill the huge political and military vacuum left by the state, the resistance's ongoing counter-attacks paralysing Israel on the ground. The Lebanese reject the self- designated role that US and Israeli officials have taken on as spokespersons for the Lebanese, along with their purported favour of ridding the Lebanese, once and for all, of Hizbullah.
One can further extrapolate from these findings that Hizbullah is less likely seen as constituting the underlying "root" or cause of the conflict -- which needs to be removed, as Bush and Blair have been reiterating -- but rather, its effect. In other words, Hizbullah, which owes its creation to the Israeli invasion of 1982, is the result of Israel's predatory behaviour and war-mongering, not the reverse. Tackling the roots of the problem therefore lies in pressuring Israel to accept a comprehensive and just regional peace agreement, not in destroying Hizbullah.
Of further interest is the fact that although in the early days of the Israeli assault there was a backlash among non-Shias against Hizbullah for provoking Israel's wrath by capturing two Israeli soldiers, by the time the survey was distributed (between 24 and 25 July), 70 per cent of Lebanese affirmed they approved of Hizbullah's attempt to retrieve Lebanese prisoners in this manner. This shift in perception and blame-apportioning can be attributed to the growing realisation that Israel's reaction was driven less by the capture of two soldiers than by a premeditated plan to eliminate Hizbullah, supported by the US. Hassan Nasrallah's recent assertion that Hizbullah uncovered -- most likely from the scores of collaborators now in custody -- that Israel had been preparing for invasion in September or October, will only lend further credence to such convictions. In short, the notion of a "miscalculation" on Hizbullah's part has given way to the impression that it was Israel who overplayed its hand and fell into a trap of its own making, goaded to do so by the US -- from which it cannot escape without a loss of face.
The notion that the US is complicit in Israel's war crimes against the Lebanese people is evinced by 89.5 per cent of the sample who reject any suggestion that it is an "honest broker" in the current conflict. An identical number did not regard America's stand vis-à-vis Lebanon as being "positive". The fact that 94 per cent of Shias hold these views should not be taken lightly, given their unwavering support for the resistance coupled with their unparalleled group cohesion, sense of embattlement and political alienation engendered by Israel's scorched earth policy and the US's perceived encouragement of it, most especially following its recent shipment of precision guided missiles to Israel. That the overwhelming majority of Druze, Sunnis and Christians share these views of the US should be worrisome for the Bush administration insofar as members of these communities launched the much-vaunted "Cedar revolution". Compared to the far more favourable image these communities had of America's Lebanon role only seven months ago, rising anti-American sentiment becomes readily apparent.
For the vast majority of Lebanese, the US's insistence on "creating the conditions for a sustainable ceasefire", has become nothing more than a euphemism for giving Israel the green light to continue its violent and indiscriminate rampage against Hizbullah and much of Lebanon. An Israeli official's recent assertion that the US's refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire at the Rome conference amounted to "an authorisation to continue our operations until Hizbullah is no longer present in southern Lebanon," will only reinforce this sentiment.
Many Lebanese have gone beyond viewing the US as having merely abetted Israel in its onslaught, now seeing it as having orchestrated the entire military expedition in light of their awareness of the US's adoption of Israel's war on Hizbullah as part of a broader regional agenda. Under the aegis of its "war on terror", the US has made no secret of its desire to weaken Iran and Syria -- indeed all regional actors who refuse to acquiesce to the US-Israeli agenda. Talk by US officials of turning the Lebanon crisis into an "opportunity" to forge a "New Middle East", the "birth pangs" of which the Lebanese are supposedly witnessing, has not been taken well by the majority of Lebanese who do not relish the prospect of the transformation of their country into a battleground from which the US aspires to redraw the political map of the region. With Bush's brazenly neo-Orientalist mindset all too clear -- as expressed in his conviction that "what's right is not necessarily what appears to be immediately popular" -- it does not appear as though the US cares much for what the Lebanese think or feel, nor does it believe that they are rational or politically mature enough to make their own choices. Like their predecessors in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, the Lebanese are starting to equate the US's suffocating desire to bring them "freedom" with the kiss of death.
* The writer is assistant professor of political science at The Lebanese-American University.