Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hezbollah's Other War

New York Times


One evening earlier this summer, Lebanon’s most popular satire show, ‘‘Bas Mat Watan,’’ broadcast a sketch showing an ‘‘interview’’ with Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader and secretary general. ‘‘Nasrallah’’ was asked whether his party would surrender its weapons. He answered that it would, but first several conditions had to be met: there was that woman in Australia, whose land was being encroached upon by Jewish neighbors; then there was the baker in the United States, whose bakery the Jews wanted to take over. The joke was obvious: there were an infinite number of reasons why Hezbollah would never agree to lay down its weapons and become one political party among others.

But it was the rapid reaction to the satiric sketch that sent the more disquieting message. That very night, angry supporters of Hezbollah closed the airport road with burning tires — a warning that they could block at will the main access point in and out of the country — and marched on mainly Sunni, Druse and Christian quarters in Beirut. In a Christian neighborhood, they clashed with the son of a former president and his comrades, and several youths were taken to hospital.

The leaders of Hezbollah defended these actions, explaining that they were the spontaneous emotional response to the mocking of a cleric. It is just as likely that they were a coordinated effort to intimidate critics. In any case, to me the event seemed an essential one, since it symbolized the duality that has defined Lebanon ever since its civil war came to an end in 1990. The duality was once neatly encapsulated by Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druse sect, when he asked, Would Lebanon choose to be Hanoi, circa 1970, or Hong Kong? That is, would it seek to become an international symbol of militancy and armed struggle, particularly against Israel, as represented by Hezbollah, or would it opt for the path laid out by Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s late prime minister and billionaire developer, who sought to transform his country into a business entrepôt for the region, a bastion of liberal capitalism and ecumenical permissiveness?

In seeking to silence critics of their leader, in momentarily shutting down the airport, Hezbollah struck a blow against Lebanon’s tolerant, if always paradoxical, openness. Once again, it seemed, the Lebanese were suffering the consequences of failing to agree on a common destiny. At the time, the consequences seemed bearable. With the outbreak of the current conflict with Israel, they don’t seem bearable at all.

Lebanon today lies ravaged, its inhabitants suffering the consequences of Hezbollah’s hubris and Israel’s terrible, wanton retribution. Since July 12, when party militants abducted two Israeli soldiers and killed three on the Israeli side of the border, Lebanon has been under a virtually complete Israeli blockade. At the time of writing, nearly 1,000 people have been killed, mostly civilians. Predominantly Shiite areas in the south, Beirut’s southern suburbs and the northern Bekaa Valley have been turned into wastelands; Beirut seems empty. Businesses, when they do open, close early; store owners have cleared out their showrooms. The mood is one of ambient disintegration. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of refugees have moved into the capital, even as many of its residents have headed for the mountains. The economy, already precarious before the conflict started, lies in shambles, as does public confidence in the country’s future.

As attention focuses on Israel’s air war and troop movements, there has been less emphasis on the social impact of hundreds of thousands of traumatized Shiites moving into mainly non-Shiite areas. A month into the war, there have been laudable acts of cross-sectarian assistance, with Christian, Sunni and Druse organizations and parties helping refugees in schools and other facilities around the country. Yet there are signs of strain. In an effort to avoid conflicts between Shiite refugees and his own Druse supporters, Walid Jumblatt has allowed the refugees to put up Hezbollah flags and photographs of Nasrallah. The longer the fighting continues, however, the more likely it is that altercations will take place. Israel may have hoped to unite the Lebanese people against Hezbollah and force its government to extend its authority throughout the country. But such unity and such authority are hard to see on the horizon. As recriminations over the war spread, the delivery of aid across group lines will become more difficult, frustration will mount and the sectarian and political divide, already exacerbated by anxiety over Hezbollah's actions and intentions, will only grow.

How long it seems (and yet it is only a year) since the Lebanese were celebrating the Cedar Revolution — or what they always more revealingly called the Independence Intifada. Following the killing of Rafik Hariri in February 2005, it seemed that the Lebanese people were coming together to demand the end of Syrian dominance and the resurrection of their nation’s democracy. In that not so distant past, I had high hopes for the development of a liberal, even libertarian, Lebanon; after all, I reasoned, coexistence, freedom and entrepreneurial drive had been the natural state of the country between independence in 1943 and the start of the civil war in 1975 and even beyond. Maybe I was biased in this regard. My late father was an American, my mother is a Maronite Christian and I spent the first decade of the war living in predominantly Muslim West Beirut, where I came to embrace multiple identities and distrust the exclusivist certitudes of many Lebanese. When I returned to Lebanon in 1992, after several years in the United States, my enduring memories from that earlier time were of a remarkably diverse society that could rebound from its worst calamities, seemingly effortlessly. Many of the clichés were true: a neighborhood firefight might break out between militias in the morning, but by the end of the day people would be repairing their damaged properties. The Lebanese could be infuriatingly anarchic, stupidly selfish, but they were also determined to take initiatives and embrace new departures. This I saw as the essence of the liberal ideal. When the Syrian Army left, I believed, that ideal could at last be fulfilled.

My understanding was a valid one, but in retrospect an incomplete one. The ideals of the Independence Intifada were largely the ideals of an urban middle class — politicians, professionals, journalists and students; mostly Christians and Sunnis but also some Druse — fed up with a vulgar, vampirical Syrian hegemony. But what about that sizable part of Lebanon that had no inclination to see Syria gone?

From the moment of Hariri’s assassination on Feb. 14, 2005, it was clear that the Shiite political parties, particularly Hezbollah, did not share in the national distress surrounding the former prime minister’s death. Certainly, party officials paid their respects to the Hariri family and condemned the crime, but when tens of thousands of Lebanese descended on Martyrs Square in Beirut to bury Hariri, the most obvious question was, Where are the Shiites? Given that Shiites represent perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the Lebanese population, this was no idle question.

Of course, there were Shiites — as individuals. But over the years, Hezbollah had gradually won over a large majority of the community, particularly poorer Shiites, and the party had no wish to assist in Hariri’s elevation from politician to national martyr. It probably sensed as well what many others did at the time — namely that the assassination, blamed by the late prime minister’s allies on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, could be used to end Syria’s presence in Lebanon and curb the influence of Syria’s close ally, Hezbollah itself. While other Lebanese saw the prospect of true independence, Hezbollah saw a threat — and this split vision would have grave consequences. Ultimately, a combination of traditional sectarian tensions, audacious political opportunism and the sheer unmovable force of Hezbollah’s state within a state would contribute to defeating the hopes of the Independence Intifada.

Hezbollah’s dependence on Syria and dominance of local Shiite politics were long in the making. In the early 1980’s, the ‘‘Party of God’’ was a loose collection of shady militant groups organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and dedicated to fighting Israel. After vanquishing its Shiite rival, the Amal movement, in fierce street fights, Hezbollah established its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut. When the civil war ended in 1990, with Syria in effective control of the country, it was virtually the only armed group allowed to retain its weapons. The official rationale was that it needed those weapons to continue fighting Israel’s occupation of the south. But Syria had its own reasons to keep Hezbollah armed: as it negotiated with Israel for the return of the Golan Heights, the Assad regime wanted all the military leverage it could get.

Under Syrian tutelage, Hezbollah began to play a role in Lebanon’s political affairs as well. In 1992, Lebanon held its first postwar election, and when Nasrallah chose to participate, the decision created friction within the party, ostensibly because it implied abandoning the goal of creating an Islamic state in Lebanon but also, and more prosaically, because of personal leadership rivalries. Yet the party won an impressive 12 seats, and while it did not enter the government at the time, it firmly anchored itself in Parliament. Making use of the expanded patronage powers at its disposal, it began filling the civil service with supporters, which was a great boon to its often impoverished constituents. The integration of an Islamic militia into the state attracted considerable attention at the time; optimists saw it as a model of how an Islamist party might be ‘‘moderated.’’ In reality, Hezbollah manipulated this process to safeguard its autonomy, even as it expanded its military capabilities under Syria’s approving eye.

Throughout much of the 1990’s, Rafik Hariri, the Sunni billionaire, built up a glittering new Beirut and attracted investors and plaudits from abroad. The Syrians grew wary of Hariri, however, worrying that he moved far too comfortably in the world’s capitals and would one day try to remove Lebanon from their orbit. Hezbollah, the Syrians understood, could serve as a valuable counterweight to Hariri’s ambitions. More cynically, the Syrians realized that Hezbollah’s pariah status in the world community could work to their advantage, for who but Syria could ever hope to bring the violent party under control? To remain relevant in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East, the Syrians helped create a problem that only they could resolve.

But there was more to the Syrian-Shiite alliance than that. Many Shiites were genuinely grateful to Syria for helping them overcome decades of marginalization. The community’s economic and political ascent, and its resistance against Israel, were all encouraged by Syria. You could argue, with some irony, that the Syrians had graciously allowed the Shiites to be their cannon fodder, but for Shiites these events were vital steps in their journey from the periphery of Lebanese political and social life to its very center.

Hezbollah’s crowning moment came in May 2000, when Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon after a 22-year presence. Refusing to accept the U.N.’s judgment that the withdrawal was complete, Hezbollah vowed to continue its ‘‘resistance.’’ While Hezbollah never quite made clear whether its resistance was ‘‘Lebanese’’ or ‘‘Islamic’’ in spirit (both terms were used interchangeably), this ambiguity went to the heart of the matter. Hezbollah simultaneously represented radical religious militancy and a peculiar sort of Lebanese patriotism, based on an existential struggle against Israel and the convenient ignoring of Syrian domination.

With Hariri’s killing, two Lebanons entered into confrontation. They were distinguished, in large part, by their different visions of the past. One recalled the glories of a cosmopolitan, multiconfessional prewar Lebanon and admired Hariri for seeking to revive those glories. The other one, mainly Shiite, had little such nostalgia: it recalled a prewar, sophisticated, free-market Lebanon that had left them with little worth remembering.

In fact, both of these perceptions were flawed: the pre-1975 country was only partly a Mediterranean pleasure palace; its liveliness and prosperity were centered on a Beirut surrounded by rings of poverty, where the excluded were many. And Shiite misery, while very real, had been recognized in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, when the state extended its services to the south. It was further alleviated in the 1980’s, and later after Hariri took office in 1992, as Shiite leaders were granted an ample share of the national pie. Any drive around Shiite areas in the last decade would have shown the mark of returning emigrant money in the proliferation of villas, businesses and interests linking Lebanon to communities in Africa, the United States and South America.

Lebanon is a country of simultaneous complex identities, and Hezbollah’s world deftly incorporated paradoxes no less than Hariri’s. The image of a Shiite Lebanon awash in turbans, chadors and prayer beads is a caricature. Secularism and religiousness, wealth and poverty, tradition and modernity, militancy and laid-backedness, Hanoi and Hong Kong — all are present among Shiites, as among other Lebanese communities. Hezbollah’s genius has been to draw from this diversity even as it also seeks to stifle it. It has done so by virtually monopolizing the provision of basic services and patronage jobs to Shiites throughout the country and by convincing its co-religionists that if the party loses political ground, all Shiites lose.

In March 2005, Hezbollah and the rest of Lebanese society faced off in the climactic events of the Independence Intifada. On March 8, as Syrian troops began preparing to leave the country, Hezbollah organized a demonstration in downtown Beirut to ‘‘thank’’ Syria for all its help to Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah spoke to the assembled masses, followed by an array of lesser pro-Syrian clients.

The Hezbollah-led demonstration was of particular symbolic importance. It was held in Beirut’s rebuilt downtown area, Hariri’s jewel and hitherto the setting for weekly anti-Syrian rallies. In his choice of locale, Nasrallah declared that the downtown area belonged to Shiites as much as to Sunni Muslims, Christians or Druse — the communities leading the opposition to Syria. His supporters pointedly marched under the national flag, reminding their countrymen that Shiites were as Lebanese as anybody else. It was an impressive gathering, with between 200,000 and 400,000 people in attendance.

But Nasrallah had miscalculated. Though there was a smattering of non-Shiites in the crowd, the rally was widely regarded as a sectarian Shiite challenge to the Lebanese independence movement — and this created widespread alarm. One week later, on March 14, the independence movement responded by holding a counterrally. There appeared to be at least three times as many people present on March 14 as on March 8 — Sunnis, Christians and Druse, but also some Shiites, all from the farthest reaches of Lebanon — probably some one million people, with tens of thousands more languishing on blocked access roads to Beirut. In a country of only four million, it was an extraordinarily large gathering. The ‘‘March 14 coalition,’’ as it would come to be known, embodied the idea of coexistence and promised a new beginning.

Or did it? While the March 14 rally was interpreted by many as the defining moment of a new, multisectarian Lebanon, while it was an unforgettable experience for those who attended — and I was there — it also emerged from the viscera of Lebanese sectarianism. Anger against Syria, sorrow over Hariri’s murder and the hope for a free Lebanon all contributed to March 14, but so, too, did revulsion at the image of hundreds of thousands of poor Shiites descending on Beirut’s pot of gold, its downtown area, that receptacle of mainly urban Sunni and Christian achievement. The hinterland had laid claim to the wealth of the capital, and it had done so in the name of a Syrian regime that was also a product of the hinterland. The reflex of Lebanon’s elites and middle class — those who prided themselves on their openness — was to close the door.

Hezbollah, for its part, had much the same reflex. The Lebanese majority, you might think, had spoken. But that night, Hezbollah’s television station, Al Manar, presented the demonstration in the narrowest of sectarian terms: as a resurrection of the right-wing Christian politics of the civil-war era. Viewers were shown images from the march suggesting that a onetime Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces, was staging a comeback. The implication was that collaborators with Israel were at the forefront of the movement. It was pure demagoguery, since the Lebanese Forces had much earlier broken with Israel. But the station’s intent was to sound a persistent Hezbollah trope: those who opposed Syria were really acting on behalf of the United States and Israel — and this was no time for subtlety.

There was something inherently unstable in this situation. On the one hand, the Christians, Sunnis and Druse who (rightly or wrongly) regarded themselves as defenders of Lebanese tolerance and liberalism were animated in part by their own prejudices. On the other hand, the Shiite community was expressing its form of Lebanese patriotism through an implicit reaffirmation of autocratic Syrian rule. Who could untwine such contradictions? The great Lebanese journalist George Naccache once observed that ‘‘two negations do not make a nation’’; he was describing how Lebanon’s Christians and Sunnis had built the newly independent Lebanese state in 1943 on a strange compromise: the Christians would not look to join the West, and the Muslims would not seek to become part of a wider Arab nation. His words remained relevant: if March 8 and March 14 were both founded on negations, the prospects for a united Lebanon were dim.

It was widely hoped that the elections scheduled for May and June 2005 would put Lebanon’s new freedom on a more stable footing. But political maneuverings leading up to the vote soon dashed this hope. Lebanon’s famously complex political system is founded on sectarianism: in an effort to guarantee a voice to every religious group, political offices and parliamentary seats have been apportioned to different sects, depending on their size, ever since independence. The result is a system that requires consensus — even as it also hardens social divisions and encourages bizarre alliances and deals among bitter foes. It should be little surprise, then, that the very elections that were supposed to confirm the end of Syrian rule by handing political power over to the majority of March 14 also ended up tearing that majority apart.

The March 14 coalition was made up of a disparate array of parties, led by the largely Sunni Future Movement of Saad Hariri, the son and political heir of the late prime minister. It also included Walid Jumblatt’s Druse-Christian bloc and a collection of Christian and secular parties. Aligned against the coalition were Hezbollah and the other pro-Syrian Shiite party, Amal, and a flotilla of smaller pro-Syrian groups. For a time, at least, it appeared that the pro- and anti-Syrian factions would face off against each other in a clear contest.

But in Lebanon things are rarely that simple. When Gen. Michel Aoun, a Christian populist and former prime minister, returned from exile in France in May 2005, the March 14 coalition was wary of his intentions: Did he wish to join the movement or take it over — or perhaps wreck it? Aoun was popular in Lebanon’s Christian strongholds and had impeccable anti-Syrian credentials: he had battled the Syrian Army in the final days of the civil war. But his sweeping denunciations of the country’s elites and his apparent willingness to hasten his return by making deals with pro-Syrian politicians, and probably the Syrian regime itself, gave the March 14 leaders pause.

At this point, the volatility of Lebanon’s politicians and the complexity of its political system gave Hezbollah a crucial opportunity. Walid Jumblatt, the Druse leader, was concerned that Aoun’s candidates would take seats away from him in one of two districts the Druse leader considers his reserved constituencies. A cunning, contrapuntal politician, Jumblatt has always advanced his interests through triangulation — working both sides of an issue until one emerges stronger and he can capitalize on it. That is why it was jarring, but not surprising, to see him reach out to Hezbollah and Amal in late March 2005. Jumblatt needed Hezbollah’s votes to overcome the Aounist challenge, and to make sure he got them, he engineered a deal. A new electoral law would protect Hezbollah’s representation in Parliament. In return, Hezbollah would instruct its constituents to vote for Jumblatt’s candidates. The Druse leader forced the inexperienced Hariri to go along with an effort designed to marginalize Aoun and create three large blocs in Parliament: a Jumblatt bloc, a Hariri bloc and a joint Hezbollah and Amal bloc.

I later asked Jumblatt why he had conducted this maneuver. He answered that he hoped to bring Hezbollah into the national consensus in a post-Syria Lebanon and to bargain with it from a position of strength. That was disingenuous. The fractured Lebanese system invites expediency, but also destructiveness. Through his efforts, the Druse leader infuriated the Maronite Christians, notably their patriarch, Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Syria's most stalwart and courageous opponent. The community felt betrayed. It had endured the most political isolation during the Syrian years, and it had taken to the streets after Hariri’s death more actively than the initially timorous Sunnis. What it got was a Parliament that made most Christian candidates effectively dependent for their seats on the whims of Hariri, Jumblatt and the Shiite parties. Many Maronites saw this as a denial of their place in Lebanon’s new equation.

In the end, Jumblatt’s maneuver worked: he, Hariri and their Christian allies were able to assemble a parliamentary majority true to the spirit of the March 14 movement and, by consequence, a cabinet majority. But Hezbollah and Amal also had a large bloc, and following Lebanon’s customs of consensus-based governance, they were invited to join the cabinet. The opposition was led by Aoun; in a masterful electoral swerve of his own, the onetime anti-Syrian firebrand had allied himself with various pro-Syrian politicians and acquired their votes. Thus, in only a matter of weeks, the dizzying duplicity of Lebanese politics had swept all concord away, and the idealists of the Independence Intifada either found themselves standing against their former comrades or too disgusted to trust the political class.

It was to the credit of the new prime minister, Fouad Siniora, one of Rafik Hariri’s closest collaborators, that he tried to chart a way through this wilderness of mirrors. Siniora’s job was not an easy one. His first priority was to help the United Nations begin its investigation of Hariri’s assassination. Given the high probability of Syrian involvement, he knew Lebanon would face a reaction from the worried men in Damascus and also from their Hezbollah allies in Lebanon. As anti-Syrian politicians and journalists were marked for assassination throughout the year and a series of bomb explosions tore through Christian areas, these fears seemed justified.

Meanwhile, Siniora also had to handle relations with Hezbollah. Five of the ministers in his cabinet were Shiites, either members of Hezbollah and Amal or named by them. Members of the parliamentary majority affirmed their desire to see Hezbollah integrated into the armed forces and to see the state regain control over all the national territory — meaning Hezbollah must no longer rule over the border with Israel. But desiring Hezbollah’s disarmament was one thing; achieving it, another. When it came to such matters, the parliamentary majority was reluctant to act like a majority. Hariri was especially diffident, probably because his Saudi sponsors advised him to avoid precipitating any Sunni-Shiite showdown that might boomerang in the kingdom. But the chief obstacle, of course, was Hezbollah itself. The militia realized that without its weapons, it would lose its reason to exist as a militant movement, lose its élan and lose its value to Syria — as well as its ties to its main financier and advocate, Iran.

It did not take very long before the rift between Hezbollah’s supporters and detractors was reflected in the cabinet. The most divisive episode came late last year, when the government majority sought to approve a mixed Lebanese-international court to try the suspects in the Hariri assassination. The Shiite ministers refused to go along, arguing that the move was premature. The majority saw this as a ploy to protect Syria at a time when Nasrallah was publicly reaffirming his alliance with the Assad regime. On Dec. 12, in the tense hours following the assassination of the prominent anti-Syrian journalist Gebran Tueni, the government broke the deadlock by voting to approve a mixed tribunal. This was constitutionally defensible, but the Shiite ministers claimed it broke the rule that all important decisions must be made by consensus. They walked out of the government but did not resign. Hezbollah was not about to lose the convenient cover of legitimacy provided by participation in the cabinet, but it had every intention of gumming up the system so that the cabinet majority would not act as a majority again.

For all its efforts, Siniora’s government became less and less able to govern. Early this year, Nabih Berri, the speaker of Parliament, proposed a ‘‘national dialogue’’ of leading politicians to address the most divisive issues — like the fate of Hezbollah’s weapons. But little came of this. In the dialogue, Nasrallah would make concessions and then invariably step back from implementing them. The final straw was the July 12 abduction of the Israelis. For most of the ministers in the government, the operation was nothing less than a coup, a brazen effort to show that the majority had no control over so basic a matter as a declaration of war.

Several months ago, I began participating in a series of informal discussions with orphans of this wretched state of affairs. Our group is heavy on southern Lebanese, both Shiites and Christians, and its very modest ambition is to create a forum for exchanges between individuals unable to identify with any of the major blocs in Parliament. For the Shiites in the group, there is a pressing desire to loosen Hezbollah’s grip on their community. Several come from the 1970’s left, but that is by no means the rule. The organizer of the group is a journalist who was close to Hezbollah a decade ago, having been the host of a program on Al Manar, the Hezbollah television channel, while another, also a journalist, hails from a prominent southern religious family.

Endeavors like these are worthy because their starting point is the assumption that Lebanon really must be governed through mutual concessions and dialogue. Amid the general sectarianism, this may sound absurd. The ideal of Lebanon as a mosaic of separate but collaborating communities has been shattered so many times that it is difficult even to know what collaboration might mean. But it is also true that grounds for hope exist. Over the past half-century, the once-marginalized Shiites have steadily integrated themselves into Lebanese politics and society. While Shiites today largely accept Hezbollah’s claim to be their representative and protector, in the future new forms of Shiite politics and expression may emerge — must emerge.

And yet the current war is pushing the country in precisely the opposite direction. The great fear expressed by many Lebanese is that the country can absorb neither a Hezbollah victory against Israel nor a Hezbollah defeat. If Hezbollah merely survives as both a political and military organization, it can claim victory. The result may be the expansion of the party’s authority over the political system, thanks to its weaponry and its considerable sway over the Lebanese Army, which has a substantial Shiite base. This, in turn, might lead to a solidification of Iranian influence and the restoration of Syrian influence. A Hezbollah defeat, in turn, would be felt by Shiites as a defeat for their community in general, significantly destabilizing the system.

As the violence continues, retribution is in the air. Israel has focused its attacks on Shiites, leaving Sunni, Christian and Druse areas (though not their long-term welfare) relatively intact. Amid all the destruction, many a representative of the March 14 movement has denounced Hezbollah’s ‘‘adventurism,’’ provoking Shiite resentment. As one Hezbollah combatant recently told The Guardian: ‘‘The real battle is after the end of this war. We will have to settle score with the Lebanese politicians. We also have the best security and intelligence apparatus in this country, and we can reach any of those people who are speaking against us now. Let’s finish with the Israelis, and then we will settle scores later.’’

This essentially repeated what Hassan Nasrallah told Al Jazeera in an interview broadcast a week after the conflict began: ‘‘If we succeed in achieving the victory . . . we will never forget all those who supported us at this stage. . . . As for those who sinned against us . . . those who made mistakes, those who let us down and those who conspired against us . . . this will be left for a day to settle accounts. We might be tolerant with them, and we might not.’’

Meanwhile, the country has sunk into deep depression, and countless Lebanese with the means to emigrate are thinking of doing so. The offspring of March 8 and March 14 are in the same boat, and yet still remain very much apart. The fault lines from the days of the Independence Intifada have hardened under Israel’s bombs. Given the present balance of forces, it is difficult to conceive of a resolution to the present fighting that would both satisfy the majority’s desire to disarm Hezbollah and satisfy Hezbollah’s resolve to defend Shiite gains and remain in the vanguard of the struggle against Israel. Something must give, and until the parliamentary majority and Hezbollah can reach a common vision of what Lebanon must become, the rot will set in further.

In his Al Jazeera comments, Nasrallah made it clear that the imperatives of ‘‘resistance’’ still trumped those of conciliation. But he sounded a little more conciliatory in a subsequent speech on Al Manar, when he emphasized that Hezbollah was struggling on behalf of all Lebanese. With hundreds of thousands of his brethren displaced from their homes, with Lebanon already facing an estimated $2.5 billion in direct losses, with Hezbollah having alienated many of its countrymen, even as it has fired off its prize weapons in a war of little benefit, maybe Nasrallah saw something he hadn't earlier: that his party may not always be the only party to hold the weapons. Faced with his intransigence, unable to peacefully settle their differences with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s other communities will likely rearm. The result may be a return to civil war. And if that happens, nothing will put Lebanon — let alone liberal Lebanon — back together again.

Michael Young is the opinion editor of The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper published in Beirut, and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

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