When Ehud Olmert acts, he naturally has the support of his cabinet, and most of his country. He has a powerful army that can act with impunity. He also has the nearly unconditional support of the United States, the most powerful country in the known universe.
Fouad Siniora, on the other hand, has limited support at home, and meaningless support abroad. His army is not really his, and it’s weak. There are no security forces to speak of in his country. For a long time, the country’s security services were tools for the Assad regime.
Some on this blog have criticized Siniora’s recent performance, specifically his reluctance to openly condemn the Hizbullah militia. Interestingly, Siniora’s performance did not please Hizbullah either, which rejects most of the seven point plan he presented in Rome. The plan included deploying a UN force along the border and in the Shebaa farms as a prelude to extending state authority. The plan also included demands for a cease fire and exchange of prisoners.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad announced his rejection of the Siniora plan, and said anything other than an immediate ceasefire and indirect negotiations only “expresses points of views from here or there”. Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker who sent his supposedly dissolved militia to fight alongside Hizbullah, shares this opinion.
Watching the Lebanese news, I see little has changed in Lebanon since the war began. The Israeli attack, if anything, has left some leaders who in the past called for the disbanding of Hizbullah looking like traitors.
So it’s politics as usual in Lebanon. Siniora’s promises are now bound to be neutralized at home. This war, allegedly designed to weaken Hizbullah militarily, has not weakened its political grip. It has left Siniora with two options: Move against Hizbullah, angering its rabid supporters, many of whom are now refugees in Sunni and Christian areas, or try to absorb some of their demands and at the same time promise Lebanese sovereignty. He finds himself asked to please all, when he should be allowed to represent his country’s interests.
Siniora’s position has not changed much since he came to DC asking for US pressure on Israel to withdraw from Shebaa. This blogger attended his talk at the Wilson center and angrily asked him to go home. Siniora, in peace, disappointed me. In war, however, he was given no opportunity to change or “radicalize”, if you will, his position. That is why, apart from the civilian casualties, I am opposed to this useless military solution.
To give you an example of how this misguided war has hurt Lebanon, take the Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, whose term was extended under pressure from the Assad regime. Lahoud has been touring areas and praising Hizbullah and its leader Nasrallah “who will enter history.” The legitimacy few Lebanese give him, is being handed to him by this attack and the slew of international reporters (ironically American, CNN and ABC) who are rushing to interview one of the least respected politicians in Lebanon.
And Hizbullah has certainly not learned any lessons, if indeed the objective of this war was to teach it not to mess with a greater power.
Speaking to Assafir today (temp link), Raad said that “only our resistance will compel the enemy to stop its aggression, and time will tell.”
In an interview with an Arab newspaper, Hezbollah Chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah popped-up to mock Israel, saying Israel celebrates the capture of tiny Maroon Al-Ras as if it were the fall of Stalingrad.
Israel is not learning anything either. Its army will step up the attacks, interpreting the lack of agreement on a cease fire in Rome as permission to continue its war:
On Wednesday, a high-level Mideast conference in Rome ended in disagreement, with most European leaders urging an immediate cease-fire, in contrast to U.S. willingness to give Israel more time to attack Hezbollah.
Ramon, who is close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that the government interprets this as a green light to continue its offensive.
"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world" to continue "the operation, this war, until Hezbollah is disarmed and no longer remains in Lebanon," he told Israel Army Radio. "Everyone understands that a victory for Hezbollah is a victory for world terror."
What will Siniora do? I don’t have an answer. And I am not sure he is allowed to have one. He can certainly allow himself to have many, but the man does not speak in bombs, which is the official language of the Middle East these days.
It’s not easy being Fouad Siniora. It’s very easy, however, being Ehud Olmert.