Poor Lebanon

Paul Greenberg

8/2/2006 12:01:00 AM - Paul Greenberg

Has any country ever been so ill-served by its leadership as Lebanon?

Well, there is the always a-borning, never-quite-born state reserved for the Arabs of Palestine. In Abba Eban's famous phrase, its leaders - all the way back to the Grand Mufti - have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace. Lebanon's leaders must run them a close second.

For years the Lebanese have given Hezbollah's killers safe harbor and cheered them on when they marched in the streets. They've turned whole neighborhoods and large swaths of that beautiful country over to this state-within-a-state, and have done little but step aside as Lebanon became one big terrorist arms depot.

Beirut's power brokers even took Hezbollah into the country's Cabinet and made it part of their governing coalition. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

None of Hezbollah's murderous attacks - whether on a Marine barracks in Beirut or a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires - were enough to disturb this delicate, ever closer d├ętente cordiale.

So long as the Lebanese economy revived, and the reconstruction of the country after its disastrous civil war could proceed apace, what business was all that extraneous gore to Beirut's boulevardiers?

Lebanon's government never did get around to carrying out the United Nations resolution restoring its sovereignty over the south of the country, which became a staging area for Hezbollah's raids into Israel.

There was no hurry. All those years, it was only other people who were being blown apart. Surely none of that blood would splatter on the simple sharkskin splendor of a Beirut business suit . . . .

And now this. The state-within-a-state turned out to have not just an army within an army, but a foreign policy of its own, too. Which now has dragged the whole country into a devastating war.

Cities, airports, army barracks, television stations, beaches, highways . . . all lie in ruins. Bodies are pulled from the wreckage, as if this were some horrible aftermath of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Refugees stream steadily northward. A vast exodus is taking place, and humanitarian convoys must be organized. And all poor Lebanon did was let evil take root.

The result: pain, suffering, chaos. For wherever Hezbollah was in Lebanon, fire and blood now have followed, and Lebanon's leaders let it go everywhere.

Who knew those Katyushas imported from Iran via Syria would actually be fired?

Even if there were an occasional raid into Israel, and then a pro forma response from across the border, it would end there. It was assumed the Israelis would just go on and take it as they've always taken it. That was the gentleman's agreement, wasn't it? And now this . . . .

Hezbollah has been firing a hundred rockets a day at northern Israel. It embeds its rocket launchers within Lebanon's civilian population, close to schools, mosques, houses, markets and apartment buildings. And terrible things happen. Because, despite the leaflets dropped by Israelis urging people to leave southern Lebanon, many families inevitably chose to stay - or are unable to get out on roads under attack. Destruction rains from the air and it doesn't strike only military targets.

In the latest and worst incident, scores of innocent people, including women and children, perished when Israeli missiles struck an apartment building at Qana in southern Lebanon not far from Tyre - all within Hezbollah's rocket-launching belt. According to the Israeli military, the target was Hezbollah launchers only a couple of hundred meters from the apartment building, and the Israelis had no indication the building was occupied. None of which makes the spilling of innocent blood easier to accept. And now even a theoretical truce in the air war has broken down.

The U.N.'s Security Council, which did nothing to stop Hezbollah's depredations for years, met in emergency session, and eloquent speeches were made about the innocent victims of this latest calamity - as if Hezbollah's presence in Lebanon had nothing to do with it. Particularly impressive was the air of injured innocence and moral outrage assumed by the distinguished delegate from Lebanon. It was the kind of performance the practiced accomplices of terrorism have perfected by now.

One has to wonder: Can it be that Lebanon's leaders thought their policies would cause the deaths only of Israeli innocents?