Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013

Ahram Weekly

Tug of war

In South Lebanon, border towns are marking Liberation Day amid gathering signs that another Israeli war may soon loom on the horizon, reports Omayma Abdel-Latif

Al-Ahram Weekly

The road leading up to the Iranian Garden (Al-Hadeeqa Al-Iraniya) located on top of mountain Maroun Araas in Bint Jbeil is adorned on both sides by newly constructed houses replacing those destroyed by the last Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006. On the garden terrace, facing Israeli settlements, a few children leisurely play ball while the neighbouring Al-Quds restaurant is packed with diners. Such was the scene Saturday night, one week away from commemorating 13 years of liberation from Israeli occupation in 2000.

Almost seven years ago, that same site had been the scene of the fiercest battles between Islamic resistance fighters and Israel’s top notch Golani battalion. The battles of Maroun Araas and Bint Jbeil proved critical in the course of the war, tilting the balance in favour of the resistance. As Lebanon marks Liberation Day on Saturday, 25 May, 13 years after the Israeli occupation army withdrew from South Lebanon that it occupied for well over two decades, this year’s celebration is overshadowed by grim prospects of a fresh round of military confrontation.

It comes amid unprecedented turbulence on both the domestic and regional fronts for Lebanon. While at home Lebanese politicians wasted another week haggling over an electoral law (parliamentary elections were due to be held this summer, but failure to reach consensus over an electoral law remains their biggest obstacle), regionally, the dire situation in Syria and constant Israeli threats of launching a new war on Lebanon mean Liberation Day will be low key this year.

Deceptively, all appears quiet on one of the most treacherous Middle Eastern borderlines today. While talk of an imminent confrontation has been making headlines in most Lebanese dailies, residents of border towns appear less concerned about a forthcoming confrontation.

Hajj Tawfik Saad, a native of Bint Jbeil who spent most of his 70 years in town, believes that any future war is entirely dependent on the situation in Syria. “In short term, I do not think there is conditions for war. But this situation could change tomorrow if Israel strikes Syria again from Lebanese airspace. The resistance [Hizbullah] will not be standing still then,” he said.

Saad has been through the thick and thin of Israeli occupation, and in the 2006 war he with his family lived under fire for 22 days before being rescued by the ceasefire declaration. Still, he remains defiant. “If another war breaks out tomorrow, where shall we go? We will remain here and die here.”

Another resident, Hajj Abu Shawki, seconded this view, saying confidently: “Israel does not dare attack Lebanon now because it knows that we will rain missiles from every corner.” As he spoke, Israeli warplanes were hovering over the area, serving as a grim reminder of how close war could be.

Day to day, however, Bint Jbeil residents appear more concerned about power cuts (on some days electricity is available for four hours only), price hikes, and the incessant influx of Syrian refugees. Talk of war does not appear to occupy a significant space in daily conversations among residents. But municipalities of some southern border towns are taking the issue of a coming war more seriously, and have organised free workshops for locals, to train them on disaster management, including the necessary preparations in case war breaks out.


LIBERATION DAY — A BRIEF HISTORY: In May 2010, Hizbullah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah explained in a speech commemorating Liberation Day the events leading up to the Israeli withdrawal. The six months prior to the day witnessed an incredible surge in resistance operations against the Israeli occupying forces, reaching up to 500 operations. Nasrallah explained how the residents of one occupied town, Qonaytra, defeated the fear factor by deciding to storm an Israeli occupation army crossing and remove all roadblocks leading to their village. “When this took place, every other fence tumbled down on 22, 23, 24 May; and by 25 May the battle was over.”

Bint Jbeil is a key border town with a resident population of 5,000 out of prior a total 45,000, now living mainly in US, Australia and Africa. In 2006, the Israeli propaganda machine hyped-up the image of the town by dubbing it “the capital of Hizbullah” and “the stronghold of the missile launchers”, in order to sell its capture as a major victory and to justify any atrocities Israel would commit against civilians. Israeli failure, however, to capture the town added to its symbolism, although it has little strategic importance. In revenge, Israeli aggression in 2006 flattened the town to the ground. Some 1250 houses were razed, including many of historic value given their age. A reconstruction boom immediately followed. Financed by Qatar, at a cost of $300 million, rebuilding concluded this year with one resident noting Bint Jbeil’s ability “to create life from death and destruction historically inflicted by the Zionist enemy”.


THE POLITICS OF WAR: Since the end of the July War in 2006, in which Israel failed to reach its goal of eliminating Hizbullah, Israel has been itching to complete what it views as its “unfinished business” with the resistance movement. The question going forward is not if Israel will strike again, rather when and under what manufactured pretext. The answer to the second part came this week.

Israeli officials have been harping on the possibility that Hizbullah could lay its hand on high-tech weapons such as advanced S-300 Russian air defence weapons. One Israeli official was quoted as saying that such a transfer would be considered “a threat to Israel, the US and the Persian Gulf”. Israeli propaganda is already propagating that Syria might have transferred Scud missiles to Hizbullah and that there is a reason to believe that S-300 defence weapons might have taken the same route. This had been supported by statement this week by the Israeli premier that Israel “would act to prevent Syrian weaponry reaching Hizbullah and it is prepared for any scenario”.

Newspapers reported Monday that the Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, has received a stern warning from Israel that Israel would “destroy Lebanon if Hizbullah attained high-tech weaponry”. Later in the day, the Lebanese presidency denied it had received any such warning.

Such reported statements may lend support to the argument forwarded by Lebanese analyst Ibrahim Al-Amin, editor of the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper, who, writing about “the biggest confrontation”, explained that Israel is bereft of the ability to reflect on and learn lessons from previous confrontations with Hizbullah, and thus is expected to make another mistake and to return to muscle flexing.

“Israel mistakenly thinks that its enemy is weak and cannot take the lead, so if it decided it is time to go to war, it would be like someone deciding to play chess in a football field.” Al-Amin, who is close to Hizbullah circles, explained that what sets any forthcoming confrontation apart from previous ones is that Israel is no longer free to initiate a war because the opposing axis is ready to turn the table upside down. Another Israeli adventure with American blessings that aims to end what remains of the regime in Syria, smash Hizbullah, and push Iran back into its borders would be a lethal miscalculation on Israel’s part, he said.

“If Israel decided on a pre-emptive strike, this means it chose war and we will be faced with an all-out confrontation which has one title and aim: change the face of the region.”

Israelis, says Al-Amin, before embarking on another military adventure, are better off recalling the images of Israeli soldiers who, in the words of the last commander of the Israeli occupying army in the Western Sector in South Lebanon, were “running away, pure and simple”.


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