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MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 6/07/00:  The following commentary by Robert Fisk appears in the upcoming issue of THE NATION dated 26 June:

                      SOUTHERN LEBANON WAITS

                          By Robert Fisk*

  "After hearing that, do they think I
  want to send my [U.N.] soldiers to
  southern Lebanon?"
                               U.N. Officer
  "It is not the Lebanese Army's job to
  protect Israel's northern border. Nor
  is it the United Nations'."

[Kefer Kila, Southern Lebanon - THE NATION - 26 June 2000]"

The final confrontation between Hezbollah and Israeli troops will stand
alongside Anwar Sadat’s 1977 arrival in Jerusalem and the extraordinary
handshake (fatal for Yitzhak Rabin and perhaps for Yasir Arafat too) on the
White House lawn in 1993. In southern Lebanon in May, after all the years of
bestializing every Islamic enemy as a “mindless terrorist,” Israelis found the
bearded, armed members of the Party of God on their frontier.

Right up against the border fence. Standing next to the gunmen, I was amazed
to see how awed they were by their own victory. One of the world’s smallest
guerrilla forces had driven one of the world’s most powerful armies out of
an entire country.

The Hezbollah, it seemed to me, were as amazed at history’s power as the
Israelis. I asked one of them - a red-faced, bearded man with an M-16-what he
was thinking as he looked over at the Jewish settlement of Mishgav Am.
“Incredible,” he said.

And he was right. Inevitably, US and Israeli journalists recalled the fall of
Saigon and the collapse of the South Vietnamese Army. In just two days,
Israel’s Lebanese surrogates, the ragtag South Lebanon Army, had fallen to

But the parallel was preposterous. In South Vietnam the national army
fought on alone for years with, in its initial stages, high morale. But
Israel’s SLA militia fought for money-$400 a month, often paid in fake $100
bills. And they fought because they were blackmailed into service-brothers and
sisters would be jailed in the notorious Israeli torture prison at Khiam if
their siblings did not enlist. And they fought because they had collaborated
with Israel in the past and had no other future in Lebanon.

Once the Israelis decided to leave, the SLA’s disintegration was inevitable.
It never had a cause to fight for. The SLA was not, as a general once boasted,
the “shield of Galilee.” Nor was Israel’s so-called security zone secure. It
was a myth. The SLA fell apart like a gang of mercenaries in central Africa.
Comparisons with Vietnam are as dangerous as they are childish. The bearded
images staring through the frontier wire were, alas for the Israelis, the
authentic face of southern Lebanon. Many belonged to young Hezbollah men
displaced from their homes in the south during Israel’s military adventures in
Lebanon in 1978 and 1982. Hundreds of them were embracing family members for
the first time in more than a decade.

And right now, it seems, the Lebanese government is in no mood to send its
entire army into the south of the country-nor to sanction a massive UN

There are several reasons for this. The government in Beirut sees
no reason its soldiers should act as a sandbag for the Israelis. It is not the
Lebanese Army’s job to protect Israel’s northern border. Nor is it the United
Nations’. Had Israel abided by UN Resolution 425 when it was passed twenty-two
years ago, things might have been different.

And then there is Golan. All along, Syria has insisted that the “peace
process” among Syria, Lebanon and Israel should be “two-track.” Even the
Americans went along with that. An Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, the
Syrians said, must be matched by a withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights.
And Syria’s pressure point for such a joint retreat was in southern Lebanon:
Bleed the Israelis in their Crusader-style forts east of the Mediterranean,
and they would have to concede Golan as well as southern Lebanon.

That was President Hafez al-Assad’s equation. Golan remained quiet, the 1973
battle lines frozen. The Syrians could regard southern Lebanon’s battle as
theirs-with the advantage that it was the Lebanese rather than the Syrians who
suffered on the Arab side. Now the Israelis have left. Golan-glimmering gray
with dirty white streaks of snow to the east of Lebanon-seems as isolated
politically as it is geographically. Why should the Israelis leave Golan now
that they have left Lebanon? No one is shooting at the Israeli soldiers on Golan.

Already, a member of the Syrian Parliament has suggested that “resistance”
should begin on Golan. But this is a canard. Syria is not going to provoke
Israeli attacks on Damascus. Nor is Hezbollah going to liberate Jerusalem.
When its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, urged the Palestinians to follow
Hezbollah’s example and take their destiny in their own hands, he was telling
the Palestinians that they cannot expect Hezbollah’s help.

Much more disturbing are the fears of the southern Lebanese themselves - and
of the Hezbollah who live there. There are rumors of disturbances to come:
Lebanese troops now maintain checkpoints on every road north, searching for
shells, explosives, guns. Hezbollah officials admitted to me recently that
they are deeply concerned that “provocations” might be attempted in the newly
liberated territories. It’s not difficult to see, for example, how a car bomb
in a southern Lebanese city like Nabatiyah could be presented as the work of
“Israeli agents” and provoke a response from the Hezbollah or from less
disciplined militias. It’s easy to see how some small Palestinian
group-perhaps linked to Damascus-could initiate a lone cross-border raid,
however suicidal, that would provoke an Israeli attack.

Even now, the Lebanese authorities, who remain host to 21,000 Syrian soldiers,
are bickering over the exact border between Lebanon and Israel. What about the
Shabaa Farms, they are asking, the small tract of land taken by Israel during
its 1967 offensive against Syria? Why hasn’t Israel withdrawn from them too?
The UN will have none of this. If the farms are Lebanese territory, it says,
the Lebanese-Syrian border was too poorly defined to prove it. Yet the dispute
over a few square acres of arable land could delay Lebanon’s decision to
deploy UN troops in the south.

And we all know why. Southern Lebanon may be liberated, but it is not safe.
And it may still provide a battleground for other people’s wars. The Hezbollah
would like to consolidate their victory as a platform for autumn’s
parliamentary elections. They would like to represent the Shiites of Lebanon.
The Lebanese civilians would like to enjoy their liberty.

But as long as the Israelis stay on Golan, the Syrians will see no advantage
in giving Israel an easy life behind the border with Lebanon. Damascus has
said that it supports the UN there but added that it was “not responsible”
for any events that followed liberation.

As a UN officer commented cynically, “After hearing that, do they think I
want to send my soldiers to southern Lebanon?”

*Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the London Independent, has lived
in Beirut since 1976.

 Robert Fisk was extensively interviewed for an exclusive series of four
 MER-TV PROGRAMS three years ago.  He discussed in the most candid terms
      the realities of the Middle East "peace process" and the Qana massacre
      that had taken place the previous year and about which he obtained
      exclusive video unmasking the Israeli coverup by showing an Israeli
 drone aircraft actually flying over the massacre scene and broadcasting
 it in real-time to the Israeli army.  The series of four half-hour
 programs, including the exclusive video, is available by emailing to:

For more information go to:  http://www.MiddleEast.Org/fisk.htm

For more articles by Fisk go to:  http://www.MiddleEast.Org/search.htm

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