Yesterday afternoon at the house of the family that is currently hosting me near downtown Beirut, Samar—a 46 year old mother of three—predicted an imminent repeat of July and August 2006, when dozens of relatives from the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs had descended upon her home in order to avoid being the targets of Israeli surgical precision.
The cause of Samar’s prediction, it turned out, was U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement during a Tuesday press conference in Washington, D.C. with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that, thanks to Syria and Iran, Hezbollah has “more missiles than most governments in the world.” Leaving aside the issue of how most governments in the world do not face regular attacks by the primary recipient of U.S. military aid, it is still unclear why Gates did not devise a similarly precise formula during his recent visit to Colombia, where instead of recognizing that the administration of Alvaro Uribe has “a worse human rights record than most governments in the world” he simply proclaimed Colombia a model for regional security. As for why it is that Hezbollah is more capable than the Lebanese state when it comes to repelling Israel from Lebanese territory, this may have something to do with the fact that U.S. military aid to Lebanon tends to center around less sophisticated weaponry such as night-vision goggles.
Samar’s extended family’s next migration away from surgical precision may not achieve the intended effects, as Israel has threatened to hold Lebanon itself responsible for Hezbollah’s behavior—a curious threat, as Israel has never exhibited much adeptness at distinguishing between Hezbollah and national infrastructure, Red Cross ambulances, UN compounds, or vehicles full of children. The Lebanese General Security Directorate has meanwhile recently failed to make distinctions of its own, and my U.S. passport was confiscated upon my arrival to the country last week and has not been returned, despite a 4-hour interrogation session in which I consistently responded negatively to variations on the questions of whether I liked Israel and whether the Bulgarian stamp in my passport was really Israeli.
Other quizzes included whether the proper terminology for Lebanon’s southern neighbor was Israel or Occupied Palestine, which did not stop my questioner from continuing to employ the first label. My response to the question of who won the 2006 war (Hezbollah) prompted a momentary smile and the announcement that my interrogation was over, which turned out to be a joke when the questioner plunged ahead with a quiz on the names of Israeli intelligence organizations.
As for former directors of such organizations, Ehud Barak has assured the world that Israel does “not intend to provoke any kind of major collision in Lebanon, or vis-à-vis Syria”—an assurance that dwindles in credibility if we recall that Israel’s last Lebanese collision was initially advertised as retaliatory in nature but was later revealed to have been planned far in advance.