The Lebanese Flag





Fighting 'has dealt a fatal blow to hopes of an independent Lebanon'

By William Wallis* in Beirut

The Financial Times | August 2 2006

Walid Jumblatt, leader of the most powerful clan in Lebanon's Druze community, said yesterday the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas had dealt a fatal blow to Lebanese hopes of a strong independent state, free of Iranian and Syrian influence.

Speaking from his family's palatial 18th century redoubt high in the Shouf mountains above Beirut, Mr Jumblatt said the Shia Hizbollah movement already sensed victory.

He accused the movement of working to an Iranian and Syrian timetable when it kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12, triggering a devastating Israeli retaliation.

In the process, Hizbollah had "stolen the hopes" of young Lebanese whose protests last year helped force Syria to withdraw its troops after 22 years in Lebanon.

But he said that like many Lebanese he had to support the Shia movement in its resistance against "brutal Israeli aggression". They were "a well entrenched guerrilla army, not afraid to die, plus they are fighting Vietcong style", he said. Israel's widening offensive would only cause more destruction and weaken further the Lebanese state.

"After the 12 July, Lebanon is now unfortunately being entrenched solidly into the Syrian-Iranian axis," he said. "The hopes of a stable, prosperous Lebanon where we could attract investments is over for now. It is a fatal blow for confidence."

Mr Jumblatt has navigated the ups and downs of Lebanon's treacherous political landscape, gaining influence beyond the weight of his Druze community, a breakaway sect from Shia Islam that makes up less than 10 per cent of the population.

As a militia leader during Lebanon's civil war, he accommodated Syria's expansionary aims. But last year he emerged as one of the Syrian regime's fiercest opponents in an alliance of groups that came together following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and led a coalition government following elections.

At that time, Mr Jumblatt held out hope that a new wave of democratic activism was sweeping the Arab world. But yesterday he offered a bleak and outspoken assessment of the prospects for Lebanon.

He said among Syrian-backed politicians there was already talk of forming an emergency government to replace Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's coalition. He said he feared that an "organised mob" might be used to force the government's resignation.

Iranian calls for a ceasefire, and the development of a common Lebanese position on outstanding issues behind the conflict with Israel were disingenuous. There "was no Lebanese consensus", he said.

There was also little prospect that Hizbollah, having emerged as a champion in the Arab and Muslim world, would be willing now to incorporate its armed wing under the Lebanese state apparatus - the issue at the centre of international diplomatic efforts to end the conflict with Israel.

"We will be just a weak state next to a very strong militia. Our government will be like the government of Abu Mazen [Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas] next to Hamas or maybe worse like the government of [Nouri al] Maliki in Iraq."

"All American policy in the Middle East is at stake," he continued, "because their failure in Palestine, their failure in Iraq and now this failure in Lebanon will lead to a new Arab world where the so called radical Arabs will profit.

"This is the new Middle East. Not the new Middle East of Ms [US secretary of state Condoleezza] Rice. Darkness everywhere."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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