Sunday, 18 February 2007

Lebanon: the next Iraq? (part 1)

Bad news about Lebanon, along with the announcement by the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, that he would continue to fight to bring down the current, corrupt US-backed government (though it is all empty rhetoric; remember Hezbollah has a large say in the government and, like Hamas, has two faces: the moderate political one and the militant, charismatic, radical one). However, the fact that Lebanon is in such trouble may just be the thing holding factions like Hezbollah together in it. In a state where around one-third of residents are Shia Muslims, the government structure supposedly set up to lower religious political tension only exacerbates it.

CFR report:

For the last two months, Lebanon’s embattled government has barely managed to stay afloat in the face of massive street protests demanding the formation of a “unity government” in which the opposition would have a stronger voice. That opposition, made up of the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and its political allies, says a desire to avoid civil strife (al-Jazeera) is all that keeps them from toppling Lebanon’s leadership. But recent clashes among rival factions in Beirut have raised fears (Al-Ahram) of another Lebanese civil war.

An International Herald Tribune editorial says at the crux of the country’s unrest lies an “archaic and unfair political system that divides the country’s top offices among rival religious communities.” But all along the front lines of Lebanon’s power struggle, broader regional forces are testing their hands (USNews). The region’s widening Shiite-Sunni rift (Economist) has become particularly contentious in Lebanon, where the recent uprising was only diffused after the region’s major Shiite and Sunni powers—Iran and Saudi Arabia, respectively—intervened (AP). Iran bears substantial responsibility for the current state of affairs in Lebanon. Last week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah matter-of-factly acknowledged what has long been asserted by regional analysts—that his group receives money and weapons from Iran (Haaretz) by way of Syria.

Syria, too, has much at stake in Lebanon. Near the heart of Beirut’s political power struggle is a proposed hybrid court that would try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The subject of an ongoing UN investigation, Syria’s involvement in the assassination is widely presumed.

From a political and humanitarian/human rights perspective, this is some good news dealing with Lebanon.

Lebanon Daily Star:
Two US Senators introduced legislation this week that would protect civilians from the deadly effects of cluster munitions - a bill that Human Rights Watch (HRW) said deserved "strong support." If passed into law, "The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act," sponsored by senators Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy, would prohibit the American military from using cluster munitions in populated areas and would ban the use and transfer of cluster munitions with submunitions that have a failure rate of 1 percent or more.

"If this bill passes, it would an important step toward controlling the deadly use of cluster bombs in the world," Nadim Houry, HRW's representative in Lebanon, told The Daily Star on Thursday.

Cluster munitions, which contain dozens or hundreds of small explosive submunitions, are typically dropped from aircraft or fired from artillery or rocket systems.

Cluster bombs pose a double danger to civilians as there is an immediate danger during attacks due to their inaccuracy and wide dispersal pattern, and a long-term danger after conflict, as many remain fail to detonate and can explode years later.

The US has a stockpile of millions of cluster munitions that contain between 720 million and 1 billion submunitions. Only around 30,000 of those submunitions have safety features that might bring the failure rate below 1 percent. The acknowledged failure rate for some of the others is more than 20 percent.

"This is the second attempt at presenting this kind of bill; the first was presented after the summer 2006 war with Israel," said Houry.

According to the United Nations, Israel released millions of cluster bombs in South Lebanon, where civilian casualties are still resulting from the weapons.

"The bill is being brought up again as there was a recent change in the Senate majority," said Houry.

During the 2006 war, The New York Times reported that Israel had requested delivery of surface-launched M26 artillery rockets for use against suspected Hezbullah positions in in Lebanon. Of course, the Israelis are not targeting civilians on purpose, while Hezbollah is.

According to the HRW, the wide dispersal pattern of submunitions from M26 rockets makes it very difficult to avoid civilian casualties when [deploying] the weapons in populated areas. "If bill passes, then Israel won't be able to get the M26 rockets, as their failure rate is higher than 1 percent," said Houry.

During and following the Lebanon (Hezbollah)-Israel conflict last summer many fretted over some of the weapons used by the Israelis — for example, some of these cluster bombs (supplied by the US) — and the civilian deaths and injuries they have caused. Both sides exercised injustice: Israel in irrational decision-making, Hezbollah in the aggressive acts that set off the conflict.

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