Why the Lebanese Border Is Heating Up. Hint: It's Not About Israel

Progressive Zionists rightly insist on the right to declare one’s love for Israel and still point out when Israel is in the wrong and the other side has a legitimate case. The trouble is that one neglects to take note from time to time (to time to time to time, actually) when Israel is in the right and the other side is ridiculously, outrageously in the wrong.

Case in point: the incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border earlier this week, when Lebanese Army soldiers shot and killed an Israel lieutenant colonel who was overseeing maintenance work on the border fence that Israel maintains on the Israeli side of of the border. Barry Rubin, the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, trained a sharp eye on Western media coverage of the incident. Two points stand out in relief: first, the inherent vulnerability of the standard he-said/she-said style of objective reporting in the face of systematic mendacity; and second, the tendency in Middle East moments of doubt (which is most moments) to assume that Israel is the bad guy because–well, just because.

Here’s Barry (the embedded links are his):

The biggest thing that’s missing in most coverage is the background to the incident.

Most serious observers seem to think it’s a sign of the growing tension in Lebanon as the U.N. prepares to release its report on the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. The report is expected to finger operatives in Hezbollah, acting on behalf of Syria. Hezbollah is currently the strongest faction in Lebanon, and is hardly likely to turn over any indicted officials for trial; more likely, they will go to war. Nobody wants another Lebanese civil war.

The backgronud to the background is the explosive demographic growth of Lebanon’s Shia community, which has largely eroded the country’s traditional three-way power sharing among Christians, Sunnis and Shias. The factions still control the institutions assigned to them: Sunni premier, Christian president, Shia speaker of parliament–but all of the incumbents now defer to Hezbollah. Syria, which was booted out of the country in 2005, is now the patron and overlord to whom all sides look to keep the peace. And the Lebanese Army, which used to be carefully balanced among the various groups, which had their own units under civil and largely Christian command, is now largely Shia and fast becoming an extension of Hezbollah.

Bottom line: Israel thought it had secured a victory in the 2006 Lebanon war when the Lebanese Army moved south to take over the border region from Hezbollah. Now it seems they’re working hand in glove. So when Hezbollah is nervous over an impending U.N. report, Lebanese Army units get trigger happy.

The Hebrew press has covered all this extensively. The best piece I’ve seen was Nahum Barnea’s column in the August 6 Friday supplement of Yediot. But it’s only in print and only in Hebrew.

The next best piece I’ve found is this excellent news analysis from Asia Times, which draws the lines between the U.N. report, the Shia ascendancy and the border incident. When you’re done, read this analysis by military correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in Haaretz, which deals with the increasing dominance of Hezbollah in Lebanese political calculus and the politics of the U.N. Hariri probe.

Written by

J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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Why the Lebanese Border Is Heating Up. Hint: It's Not About Israel

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