Lebanon and Hezbollah / Impotent Beirut Gov't Can't Impose Order

Of all the targets that Israel hit yesterday, as detailed by Lebanese television stations, it seems that shutting down the Beirut airport and the seaports was the harshest blow. "The feeling of siege from both air and sea makes us feel like the Palestinians," said one Lebanese citizen.

But it is hard to predict to what extent these strikes, along with the attacks on bridges and power stations and the civilian deaths, will change the behavior of the Lebanese - or, more importantly, how much power ordinary citizens have to influence their government to pressure Hezbollah.

"It seems now that Israel is acting out of a desire for revenge and punishment," a Lebanese analyst told Haaretz via email. "After Hassan Nasrallah said at his press conference that he doesn't want to drag Lebanon into war, Israel wants to show him and Lebanon that Nasrallah is more dangerous than Lebanon imagines. But you must understand that there are huge swathes of Lebanon that understand the extent of the Hezbollah danger, but are helpless. Don't expect citizens to demonstrate outside government buildings tomorrow and demand that the state disarm Hezbollah. The U.S., France and the UN tried through Resolution 1559 and failed, and you want a weak government that has not yet really begun to govern to succeed? We can do nothing right now but wait, and maybe you will disarm Hezbollah."

That is also the message that slain Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri's son Saad sent to Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, both of whom sought to use their good relations with Israel to curb the military attack.

The message that Israel was trying to send to Lebanon's government and citizens seems unclear. On one hand, the Lebanese hear that the Israeli government does not plan to allow Hezbollah to return to its positions in southern Lebanon. That is too tough a mission for the Lebanese government, so people wonder what Israel wants and why it is attacking targets that are not related to the positions in the south, like the Beirut-Damascus highway or the airport.

On the other hand, Israel warned the Lebanese government that it holds it wholly responsible both for the attack and for the fate of the abducted soldiers. Here again, the Lebanese government has no idea what it is supposed to do - go to war against Hezbollah? "Of course, this government can't go to war against Hezbollah, and can't and wouldn't recruit Syria to rein in Hezbollah," said the Lebanese analyst.

This is because there has been an almost complete disconnect between the Lebanese and Syria ever since the Hariri assassination and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. Moreover, Syria is not dissatisfied with the heavy price that Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government is paying, or with the fact that there are no more appeals from Beirut to Damascus to curb Hezbollah. Syria is now free to claim that without it, there is no Lebanese government that can bring order and quiet to Lebanon.

The only thing that the Lebanese government, and particularly Saad Hariri, can do is hold a series of meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Jacques Chirac to get them to restrain Israel, or at least limit its attacks to ones that will show the Lebanese that the target is Hezbollah, and not all of Lebanon. The only diplomatic development yesterday was the beginning of back-channel talks among Arabs aimed at recruiting international pressure against Israel.

Inside Lebanon, the usual indecision continues. Along with condemning Israel, should they also come out against Hezbollah? No clear voice has yet spoken.