Why do we keep fiddling with Lebanon?

Mideast_lebanon_syria_xhm112  "Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said yesterday that his government had not requested a U.S. naval presence off its coast, and summoned Ambassador Michele J. Sison to ask for clarification of U.S. intentions.

The presence of the three warships has also sparked anger from militant groups and suspicions in the Lebanese media about long-term U.S. plans, even though the State Department said the ships are about 60 miles offshore — well beyond the 12-mile limit of Lebanese territorial waters.

"The American move threatens the stability of Lebanon and the region and is an attempt to spark tension," Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah member of parliament, told Reuters. "The administration has used the policy of sending warships to support its allies in Lebanon before, and that experiment failed."

The deployment of U.S. warships off the Lebanese coast dates to 1983, when Navy ships opened fire on Muslim militias. Retaliation included the suicide bombing of the Marine compound in Beirut and the death of 241 U.S. military personnel, which eventually led to the Marines‘ withdrawal.

"U.S. gunboat diplomacy in Lebanon did not, does not and will never work. If there is one way how not to help your allies, this is it," said Bilal Y. Saab of the Brookings Institution‘s Saban Center.

Some Middle East experts and both European and Arab allies doubt that the U.S.-Saudi effort will have serious impact on Damascus. "The Syrian regime is playing for time, and reasons that a new administration will be forced to jettison the current policy of isolation," said Emile el-Hokayem of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a defense think tank. "  Robin Wright


It used to be a kind of sick, Beiruti joke that the Lebanese thought Bill Clinton and Hillary woke up every morning and immediately asked what had happened in Beirut overnight.  It was a joke because anyone who knew anything knew that nobody in Washingron who mattered really gave a damn about what happened in Beirut.

Now, unfortunately, Washington DOES care about what the Lebanese are doing to themselves.  The Lebanese would be far better off if America just left them alone to revel in their mutual animosities.  They are so good at it.  It is a kind of art form in the salons and coffee houses of Beirut.

Instead the US revels in hallucination in which the "freedom agenda" fantasy melds with; Israeli and NSC obsession with Hizbullah and Saudi dreams of a restored Sunni triumphalism in the Levant.  The effective interaction of US pro-Likud circles’ loathing of the idea of Shia power in Lebanon, IDF revanchism, and the long standing Saudi Mashrou’ (project) in Lebanon and Syria makes me wonder if they are all actually talking to each other somewhere or if Elliot Abrams is a good and sufficient intermediary.

Three US naval vessels off the Lebanese coast.  Wow.  What a threat!  They can’t be seen.  We have to tell the target of this strategic information operation that they are there.  That will frighten them!!  What are we thinking of?

The Syrians?  Ah well.  This is a hopeless case.  No amount of interest on the part of Damascus and Jerusalem in working out a deal seems sufficient to placate the merchants of conflict in Washington.  Foolish.  pl


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39 Responses to Why do we keep fiddling with Lebanon?

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:


  2. Curious says:

    Lebanon is so last month.
    incidentally, I was wondering why nobody is talking about the entire Lebanon-Israel-Gaza situation. Because it is heating up (albeit predictably as usual.)
    1. Herzliya meeting (neocon last hurrah.)
    2. assassination of mugniyeh
    3. Gaza blockade
    4. increasing Israel activities over gaza (very standard aerial assault)
    Basically, Israel last chance to smack Hamas under Bush/neocon junta, since Hillary’s campaign seems to be failing. Obama is too much of a wild card for the Israeli, they are not taking any chance.
    The ship in Lebanon is to prevent Hezbollah opening second front while Israel whacking Hamas.
    But if I read the situation correctly. Syria and Iran are waiting for Israel next blunder. And observing Israel performance in Gaza. (so far, not very good. ground operation is 1:20 or so, similar to southern Lebanon. And this is after months of blockade.)
    If Hamas survives until late summer, Israel is toast. They will have to engage in 2-3 front wars and dwindling US political support.
    At the very least Israel has to commit large force to reoccupy gaza again.
    Fall out to domestic economy: $4 gas price. (pray somebody doesn’t blow up random oil pipes on the map. otherwise make that $5/gallon and a major bank collapsing.)
    At least neocon doesn’t think attacking Iran is a good idea right now.

  3. Harper says:

    To add to your perfectly precise and cogent comments on Lebanon mess, I am also hearing that the US deployments may also be related to another piece of insanity: Israeli plans to invade Gaza and “remove” Hamas from power by military force. If things go as bad as expected with such an IDF invasion, it might require US Naval intervention to extricate the Israelis from the mess. For anyone with a memory of the Liberty ship incident, that is a hell of an irony.

  4. Andy says:

    Oy, the conspiracy theories are getting a bit overwrought.
    First, one destroyer and two oilers cannot prevent Hezbollah from doing anything, much less prevent them from opening a second front. Cole is 60 miles off the coast – not an arbitrary distance when one considers the capabilities Iran gave Hezbollah in the 2006 war. The US is not about to risk a warship to fire a few 5″ shells ineffectively into Southern Lebanon.
    Secondly, what can one destroyer do to “extricate the Israelis from the mess” of a Gaza intervention? Nothing.
    This is a show of force, nothing more, similar to hundreds conducted around the world for decades by Presidents who want to make a point that appears cost-free.

  5. Mo says:

    To answer the question, Lebanon is important to the US because the Litani is important to Israel. And in Hariris govt. they have a Lebanese administration that, for the first time since ’83, is, lets say, amenable to a deal with the US and Israel.
    In regards to the boats, the USS Cole is a guided missile destroyer. My first instinct was that this was a card being deployed to protect Israel in the event that Nasrallahs “surprise” be something of the kind.
    The odd thing here is that it is being joined by the Nassau which is leading an ESG of five other ships. Except that the Navy Times reported in early Feb that the Nassau left without its Marines or materials.
    So one guided missile destroyer and 6 empty ships to threaten Hizballah?
    Even by this administration’s standards this is really odd behaviour.

  6. blowback says:

    I’d have more respect for this if the USS Cole appeared off Beirut towing some scantily-clad waterskiing co-eds wear Stars and Stripes bikinis. That would do a lot for the USAs reputation in the Middle East. Perhaps they could include a water-skiing elephant just to remind the Lebanonese that the Decider has decided!

  7. Another great chance for the Cole to be sunk.

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I heard the same comment about Litani almost 30 years ago. I do not think Litani is that important to Israel.

  9. taters says:

    From the WaPo piece Col. Lang linked.
    “The Syrian regime is playing for time, and reasons that a new administration will be forced to jettison the current policy of isolation,” said Emile el-Hokayem of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a defense think tank.

  10. Kevin says:

    Is this a pretext for a 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Lusitania, Gulf of Tonkin, USS Liberty, or another -USS Cole- incident?
    A pretext for attacking Iran?

  11. zanzibar says:

    Ever since the last IDF “shock & awe” in Southern Lebanon I have felt that Israel will have another go at it just to right their pride for that humiliation.
    This time they seem to be spending far more time on preparation and not falling for Gen Halutz’s bomb them till they cry uncle military strategy.
    With the neocon support in Washington and Saudi support in Lebanon and likely elsewhere the Israelis seem to be ready to assert their dominance. Maybe they have a deal with Camp Hariri to provide an internal front to squeeze Hizballah to fight an assault from Israel and protect their resupply lines from Hariri militias.
    Israel “scoped” out Syria with their bombing run on the alleged nuclear site. Then they whacked Mugnieh. Letting Syria know they better keep their heads low. Now they are “taking care” of Hamas in Gaza. Hariri probably has been well armed to do the internal fighting. Saudi money and intelligence support likely has been well spread.
    Is this the attempt at the Hizballah coup de grace? How will they perform? Are the oil markets sensing this with their strong run over $100/bbl? Is the US naval presence in reality an evacuation project?

  12. Jack K says:

    fury that signifies nothing. The Italians took over naval watch off the Lavant coast from the Germans, at the same time that the Cole moved into place. so what. Everyone chill. The apocalypse is not at hand (see Baram for more instructions).

  13. Jose says:

    Funny thing is the neocons don’t reflect and learn on the lessons of their madness:
    1. Hizzbollah emerged stronger after the Israeli WAr.
    2. Hamas will probably emerge stronger after an invasion of Gaza.
    3. Neocons are currently going after Obama because he is opposed to their agenda, which only makes him stronger in the Democratic Primaries.
    4. Neocons want to prevent Syrian/Iranian influences on Lebanon so US/Israeli influence will reign, just look at the popularity of the current Neocons approved governments, both in Lebanon and USA.

  14. Curious says:

    Secondly, what can one destroyer do to “extricate the Israelis from the mess” of a Gaza intervention? Nothing.
    Posted by: Andy | 01 March 2008 at 04:48 PM
    To prevent supply by sea for Hezbollah and electronic surveillance. Russia already park their behind back in Syria. And Israel went banana over several Russian ship with supply.
    Israel is still paying down the cost of last Lebanon war. A new massive bombing isn’t going to help their military budget. (hell, Israel can’t even afford blockading Lebanon on their own dime. Why is that anyway? still having integration problem with that old ship I guess?)

  15. J says:

    what is also interesting is that the saudi embassy has urged their citizens to exit lebanon asap. and it appears that more nations are also sending exit calls to their citizens to exit lebanon asap. could the idf be up to something as in possibly another incursion into lebanon or could they be also looking at syria? hizbollah is now more powerful than they were in 06 when israel got stupid and thought that their lebanon incursion at that time was going to be a cake walk. if israel tries it again, from what i can see, hizbollah will have some suprises waiting for the idf they haven’t even imagined that hizbollah could pull off. hmmmm……..

  16. Mo says:

    Ben Gurion recognised its importance enough to demand it be part of the new Israel.
    Dayan recognised its importance by designing a plot for the specific purpose of taking it.
    And if you do some research into Israels current water situation you may find the notion not so easy to dismiss.

  17. Mark Pyruz says:

    It’s an empty game of posturing, similar to the more exaggerated version that continues to be played out in the Persian Gulf.

  18. libhomo says:

    The Bush regime seems to have an obsession with overextending the US military.

  19. fnord says:

    Mo: I am still hard pressed to see how an incursion into Lebanon will be possible without the extraction of the UNIFIL forces…

  20. Lebanon! Interesting state created to allow the French a piece of Syria in the post WWI world. Okay this is out of the box but it seems that partition of Lebanon might make sense. What use is it to the world to have a playground for terrorist and sub-state actors. Give Syria its path to the mediterran sea and give Israelis the southern portion below Litani River. Of course this needs to be a package with iron-clad guarantees about religious freedom, full citizenship and NO repeat NO military positions within the former Lebanon. Essentially have ratified by UN and violations enforced by designated nations. I would put the Turks at the top of the list. It would help their economy and it is time they grow up and participate in helping police the part of the Islamic world that supports sub-state terrorists of course under UN supervision. Hey, we need the Paris of the eastern med back again. Make it an international tax free zone welcoming of all religions and political beliefs except for exclusion of those who violate the law or are sub-state terrorists. Perhaps an international police force. Syria does need a window on the med and Israel needs security. All must be internationally recognized. And the US should bite the bullet and guarantee this agreement and assist with foreign aid. Whatever is necessary to promote mid-eastern peace.

  21. William Cumming – Syria has plenty of frontage on the Mediterranean Sea. Look at your map north of Lebanon. Josh Landis of Syria Comment is the son-in-law of a Syrian admiral. (Amir al ma’, I recently read, Prince of the water)
    Any attempt to “give” South Lebanon to the Israelis will cause great suffering and death for all the parties affected. No Lebanese in South Lebanon wants Israel to take our land.
    And if such a scheme were carried out (how?), what is Israel supposed to do with the indigenous Lebanese and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in South Lebanon if it is “given” S. Lebanon below the Litani? Those Israelis have enough trouble with the three million Palestinians they effectively control in the West Bank and the indigenous Israeli Arabs they’ve got inside the ’67 borders.
    Unless you are one of those maniacs who likes to talk of transfer – as some do on the Israeli side. Boxcars I assume, and concentration camps, and tattoos on arms to keep track of the population being transferred. It has been done but it takes a level of organization I don’t think the Israelis possess. In the end even the biggest attempted transfer/extermination project in human history could not expunge every trace of its intended victims.
    It would be Israel’s graveyard.
    Who the hell are you to go giving land to people because they whine for it? It’s more rational to give half of California, from Sonoma to the S. D. border, back to Mexico. At least Mexico actually had a claim to lower California before 1849.
    Read Uri Avnery’s latest, posted at Tony Karon.
    Israel can kill hundreds or thousands of Palestinians in this possible Gaza incursion, but Israel will end by negotiating with Hamas. Giving parts of Lebanon to Israel? A vicious pipe dream. You might as well fantasize about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

  22. Cantaloupe says:

    I’m not sure you can reason with a neocon, though, at a certain point it’s more about their personality disorder than a lack of sound judgement, or intellect.
    So it’s a bit of a quandary.
    Syria is doing the right thing for itself, by not dealing publicly with Bush and Cheney, why bother, no real progress would be made, as the two are inferior. In some sense, Syria seems to have the upper hand, recognizing any battle would result in internecine warfare. Too bad Cheney’s advisers aren’t as bright.
    I wonder if Putin is assisting Syria?
    But everyone has their own agenda anyway, and very little of it seems to do with mid- east stability.

  23. Mo says:

    We simply disagree on the UN’s mandate. You believe they are there to keep the peace I believe they will never fire a shot at an Israeli. If Israel attacks, UNIFIL will revert to being observers in my opinion. But, I would be overjoyed if you were to be proved right and I proved wrong.
    William R.,
    I presume your ideas are not saracasm, but if they are consider me to have bitten.
    The Lebanese are socially, culturally and idealistaclly very different to the Syrians. The country may be hewn from a Syrian state topographically recently, but historically has always been different.
    Give Syria a path to the Med? Syria has its own Mediterranean coast sir.
    Give the Israelis the Southern half? If it wasn’t for the “sub state” actors they would have it and then some. Your ideas, like so many before them take everyones needs into account but the Lebanese. And as long as the ideas ignore Lebanese wishes, we will continue to support our “sub state actors” above our so called “state actors” every day.

  24. Monl says:

    “Lebanon! Interesting state created to allow the French a piece of Syria in the post WWI world. Okay this is out of the box but it seems that partition of Lebanon might make sense. What use is it to the world to have a playground for terrorist and sub-state actors. Give Syria its path to the mediterran sea and give Israelis the southern portion below Litani River.”
    This is disgusting. Yes, who cares about the Lebanese. Obviously not you. In fact, you seem to think the Lebanese are the same as Syrians. I suppose the whole Middle East is simply one homogenous Arab population? Not to mention your ignorance of geography: Syria already has access to the Mediterranean! But you would rather sell out an entire country, thus letting the Syrian autocracy achieve its goals completely, at the cost of the freedom of an entire country.
    And why even talk about giving Lebanese land to Israel? They don’t want it! You are really out to lunch here, it’s incredible.
    The OP and all the comments have distinctly ignored the desires of Lebanese to be independent, something they have been pushing for ever since the Syrian army finally left. I really don’t see what there is to gain by letting Syria get absolutely whatever it wants, at no cost, and while it constantly threatens the stability of the region. What kind of behaviour are you rewarding? Not to mention the utter lack of regard for the Lebanese themselves. Disgusting.

  25. different clue says:

    Doesn’t Syria already have
    a Mediterranean coastline, with port cities like Tartus, Latakia, etc.? (Just my memory of course..)

  26. Brian Hart says:

    Is it possible that they are being sent as a contingent for evacuating civilians from Lebannon?

  27. Trent says:

    William Cummings, are you joking? You know that Syria has Med access already, right? Just curious, who is going to “give” Israel southern Lebanon?

  28. Curious says:

    Israel pulled back? And what exactly did that operation accomplice? Killing several dozens people and revealing operational strategy and tempo? I thought the very least they gonna blow up few underground caves.
    I want to meet the genius who planned this operation. (probably smack him upside his head) What was he thinking?

  29. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Here is an interesting piece in Vanity Fair.
    “Middle East
    The Gaza Bombshell
    After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.
    by David Rose April 2008 …..”
    It is interesting that the United States corporate media avoids the issue of the current alliance between Hizbullah and the Christian Community-Aoun.

  30. frank durkee says:

    Co.d I’m not sure where to fit this. Vanity Fair is reporting that Abrams, Rice and otheres were involved in the Fatah attacks on Hamaas that led to the latteers take over of Gaza. What’s your take on this?

  31. zot23 says:

    This is the military’s version of the FED’s dropping of the interest rate. In a stable situation, it has the desired effect and stimulates the situation. But after you’ve done it a few times it’s pushing on a string; less and less effect for more and more effort. The FED cannot drop rates low enough because this latest recession is a direct result of all the cheap cash dumped during the last recession (2000-2001.) In the same way, US warships threatening a coast in the Mid-east is almost silly with the continuing madhouse in Iraq from the last misguided US adventure.

  32. agog says:

    Israel’s water:
    1/3 from West Bank aquifers
    1/3 from the Golan Heights.
    How odd that the Occupation of both seems neverending.
    The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change (CSIS)
    p. 62

  33. Abu Sinan says:

    I wonder if Hizb’Allah will open a second front if the Israelis decide to have a go at Gaza?
    The Israelis would have to call up reservists for Gaza, if Hizb’Allah started something up north it would have them rather stretched.

  34. Just out of curiousity what percentage of Lebanese-Americans are Christian and what percentage are Muslim?
    How many Lebanese have US dual citizenship? Classified Secret or above?
    The brutal reality of this 21st Century is that purported nations that cannot control their own internal security are doomed to cease being nation states! This goes for Lebanon, Israel, and the US.

  35. Leila says:

    Clearly my rant had not been approved to print when Monl wrote his comment. Please read. Although I am an American first, I am also part Lebanese and I think I did speak forcefully for Lebanese desire to be independent of foreign occupation.
    Anyway, Israeli occupation of South Lebanon went so well for them for two decades that they pulled out in 2000 with their tails between their legs. It would go equally well again if they were so foolish as to try.

  36. fnord says:

    mo: While I am not familiar with the depth of the current Unifil mandate, I would suppose it is deeper than 200 meters of border (info on this would be appreciated, the disposition of the UNIFIL troops vis a vis Hezbollah front positions will obviously be very crucial). . If Israel is to roll through a 5 click perimeter unopposed by UN troops unopposed, that will dwarf Srebrenica. So they need to be disengaged first, under some pretext, if the Cheneys are going in. Remember that Israel has bombed UN forces several times, and are NOT popular in the core. So that is the major obstacle in play I am waiting to see. If the UN does not engage, it is the end of UN in the ME, then we are back to total dog eats dog.

  37. elkern says:

    Two interesting dots to connect on this thread:
    1. USS Cole will “…be joined by the Nassau which is leading an ESG of five other ships. Except that the Navy Times reported in early Feb that the Nassau left without its Marines or materials.” – Mo
    2. No “…incursion into Lebanon will be possible without the extraction of the UNIFIL forces…” – fnord
    Would Nassau be there to pick up rather than drop off?
    – elkern

  38. Mo says:

    Disposition of Unifil positions can be seen at
    Hizballahs forward positions are, unsurprisingly, not published.
    It is not UNIFILs mandate I question. It is their commitment to supporting/defending Lebanese civilians from an Israeli attack. Experience may be a red herring as pre-06 they were an “observation force” but I would be massively surprised if the respective govts of many of the countries involved would allow a single shot to be fired at the Israelis. You may be right that they may be disengaged first but considering that would spoil any element of surprise it would be surprising.
    It must be noted that in the year and a half since the war, Israel has come across the Blue line twice (a third is being reported as I type this), killed 3 Lebanese civilians, targeted UN warships and continues to practice daily violations of res.1701 through overflights. At no point were the Israelis engaged by, challenged by or confronted by UNIFIL forces, bar the official letter of complaint. I have no evidence or reason to believe that should a major Israeli incursion occur that they will behave any differently.

  39. Curious says:

    Unifil seems to be in good shape.
    a) Israel wants them to be there as a buffer. It’s their plan B for Lebanon invasion. In the event they can’t destroy hezbollah, the very least they want a credible international buffer) They also can’t cross it. It’s european, so they’ll have a hard time explaining if they kill the troops there.
    b) hezbollah is in no position to have another long land battle. So they can use several years of regrouping.
    But then again. Israel was dumb enough trying to start a war with Syria twice since. And now they are tangled in Gaza conflict.
    If I read it correctly, Israel will be in 2-3 front ground wars within a decade. It won’t be a high intensity war, but enough to cripple their economy.
    The prospect of sea war with hezbollah is also emerging.
    Basically it’s a giant mess for Israel. Egypt is flipping. Abbas I think will pretty much flip soon. Entire oil producing world seems to be holding. The oil war preventing us from further Bush adventure in middle east.
    Jordan would be interesting to watch. The minute it has internal rift. It’s gone. But I don’t think Saudi will let that happens.
    The big trend:
    – $6/gallon
    – Abbas flipping
    – Egypt flipping
    – Hamas becoming increasingly organized and effective
    – decreasing US domestic political support, increasing internal economic problem.
    btw, anybody watching Somalia, ethiopia, Kenya? (I wonder why nobody is commenting) Those geniuses who starts a war in somalia now is now dealing with unstable Kenya. Give it another 5 yrs, the entire horn of africa will collapse. Another Condi and neocon handy creation.
    Pakistan I think now is in the process of sliding. I wonder how much mess these geniuses are going to create next.

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