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Lebanese Post-War Politics

The 34-day war in Lebanon triggered by Hezbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 has dramatically affected Lebanon’s domestic politics. Rami Khouri, editor of the Beirut Daily Star, says the war was a major polarizing force. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA New Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Khouri says some people support Hezbollah and others strongly criticize it. And, he adds, the war has also polarized attitudes toward the two foreign powers, Iran and the United States, both of which are viewed as “meddling” in internal Lebanese affairs.

Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has emerged as an even more controversial figure than he was before the war. Still, Rami Khouri says he thinks Sheikh Nasrallah’s recent apology to the Lebanese people for unintentionally provoking a war in which Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure was devastated was “quite sincere.” While his popularity may have grown in the eyes of many people in Lebanon and the Middle East, others have found the destruction “quite frightening,” Mr. Khouri says.

Lebanese-born journalist and UPI international editor Claude Salhani says he was quite impressed with Sheikh Nazrallah’s apology, which he calls “quite a change from typical Arab leaders who rarely, if ever, admit to having made mistakes.” Mr. Salhani says some members of the Lebanese political establishment view the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers as “very stupid.”

Jordanian journalist Rana Sabbagh says she found Hassan Nasrallah’s apology ironic, and she notes that, when the “moderate” Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan – suggested that Hezbollah was embarking on an “unplanned scheme” with unknown consequences, other Arab nations condemned them. Ms. Sabbagh adds that “a lot of Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites” identify with Sheikh Nasrallah whom they regard as the “only Arab leader able to inflict damage on the Israelis.”

On the other hand, Rami Khouri says that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Sinoira’s performance during the war engendered much admiration and strengthened his political hand. And, most important the Prime Minister has emerged as a “figure around whom all the Lebanese could rally.” Claude Salhani agrees and calls Mr. Sinoira the “shining star of this war.” And that’s partly because the ghosts of the 1975-1990 civil war are “always present in the minds of most Lebanese,” who are “terrified” of another civil war. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy for the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah, even if joined by a substantial international peacekeeping force. Mr. Salhani thinks it “more likely” that Hezbollah’s arms will disappear until “they are needed the next time.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is currently on an 11-day trip to the Middle East has, urged Hezbollah to release the two captured Israeli soldiers and has pressed the Israeli government to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. But Mr. Annan’s pleas thus far have been rebuffed.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above