THE ARMY IS BACK, BUT DON'T EXPECT IT TO DISARM HIZBOLLAH
Published: 18 August 2006
Now you see them, now you don't. Hizbollah weapons? None to be seen. And none to be collected by the Lebanese army. For when this august body of men crossed the Litani river yesterday, their officers made it perfectly clear that it would not be the army's job to disarm the Hizbollah. Nor was anyone in Lebanon surprised. After all, most of the Lebanese troops here are Shias - like the Hizbollah - and in many cases, the soldiers who crossed the Litani are not only from the same southern villages but are related to the guerrillas whom they are supposed to disarm. In other words, a typical Lebanese compromise. So whither UN Security Council Resolution 1701?
True, the French are on their way - or are supposed to be. It is the French - whose own General Alain Pellegrini already commands the small UN force here - who will run the new international army in Lebanon. But are they supposed to disarm Hizbollah? Or fight them? Or just sit in southern Lebanon as a buffer force to protect Israel? The French are still demanding - very wisely - a clear mandate for their role here. But Lebanon does not provide clear mandates for anyone, least of all the French.
The Lebanese gave their soldiers the traditional welcome of rice and rose water when they drove over their newly built military bridges on the Litani. But then, some of the same villagers once gave the same traditional welcome to the Israelis in 1982 - and to Hizbollah after that. But the Lebanese army represented peace in our time - at least for a while - to those who are still digging the corpses of their dead families out of the hill villages of southern Lebanon.
It looked good on television, all those clapped-out Warsaw Pact T-54 tanks and elderly Panhard personnel carriers on flatbed trucks, supposedly returning to the far south for the first time in 30 years. Of course, it wasn't true. Though not deployed on the border, thousands of Lebanese soldiers have been stationed in southern towns since the civil war, dutifully turning a blind eye to Hizbollah's activities, providing none of their fighters were rude enough to drive a truck-load of missiles through their checkpoints.
Among those Lebanese soldiers most familiar with the south were members of the 1,000-strong garrison at the southern Christian town of Marjayoun, who fled after Israel's small ground incursion a week ago. And herein, as they say, lies a tale. For their commander, the Interior Ministry Brigadier General Adnan Daoud, has just been arrested for treason after Israeli television showed him taking tea with an Israeli officer in the Marjayoun barracks. Even worse, Hizbollah's television station Al-Manar - which stayed resolutely on air throughout this latest war despite Israel's best attempts to bomb it out of existence - picked up the Israeli tape and rebroadcast it across Lebanon.
Prior to his arrest, General Daoud was even rash enough to unburden his thoughts to Lauren Frayer, an enterprising reporter for the Associated Press who arrived in Marjayoun in time to record the general's last words before his arrest. The Israelis, he said, "came peacefully up to our gate, asking to speak with me by name". An Israeli officer who introduced himself as Col Ashaya chatted to Daoud about future Israeli-Lebanese military relations.
"For four hours, I took him on a tour of our base." the general said of "Ashaya". "He was probably on an intelligence mission and wanted to see if we had any Hizballah in here." But an hour after the supposedly friendly Israeli left, Israeli tanks blasted their way with shells through the gates of the Lebanese garrison. The Lebanese soldiers did not fire back. Instead, they fled Marjayoun - only to find that their long convoy, which included dozens of civilian cars, was attacked by Israeli pilots who killed seven civilians, including the wife of the mayor, who was decapitated by a missile.
In Beirut, all this was forgotten as the Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, repeated that there would be no more "states within a state" and that the Hizbollah would leave the area south of the Litani. This statement came under the category of "a likely story". Not only do most of the Hizbollah live in villages south of the Litani but several of their officers made it clear that they had told the Lebanese army not to search for weapons. So much for the disarmament of the Hizbollah south of the Litani river. And so much for President Bush's "war on terror" which the Israelis claim to be fighting on America's behalf.