09 May 2009

* Possible Conflict: Israel-Lebanon?

Several countries involved in the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mission have notified the Lebanese government of their plans to reduce and withdraw their contingents by the end of May....

The Lebanese government reportedly has requested that these countries maintain their troop levels until the end of June, after Lebanon holds parliamentary elections.

UNIFIL is 15,000-strong multinational force tasked with keeping Hezbollah activity in southern Lebanon in check in tandem with the Lebanese army. The force was created after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978. Following the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah summer confrontation, the U.N. Security Council extended UNIFIL's mandate to include helping maintain a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah along the southern Lebanese border.

.... the UNIFIL presence in southern Lebanon would not serve as an effective buffer between Israel and Hezbollah. Early on, UNIFIL stopped doing thorough searches for weapons depots, and any violations it reported to the Lebanese army -- which includes a large number of Shia sympathetic to Hezbollah -- were often ignored. Consequently, Hezbollah managed to rebuild its fortifications in the south and to the north of Litani River in the Bekaa Valley in preparation for another military confrontation with Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In essence, UNIFIL acted as a human shield for Hezbollah to continue its preparations and complicate any Israeli attack plans, given that chances international forces would be caught in the fray would be high.

According an UNIFIL source, the total force is expected to drop to around 5,000 troops. The reduction of UNIFIL forces could be a sign of advanced warning from Israel to UNIFIL host countries of Israeli preparations for an operation against Hezbollah. Such an operation would be influenced by Israel's long-standing desire to clip Iran's wings in Lebanon, particularly
as the Hezbollah-led coalition is expected to make a strong performance in upcoming parliamentary elections at the expense of its rivals in the now-deeply fractured March 14 coalition. 

.... For now, this development serves as guidance for our analytic team to closely monitor Hezbollah and IDF activities, including training exercises, changes in deployments, tunnel construction and other signs that could indicate an impending conflict.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.