11 August 2009

* Summer friction with Israel

Officials from Hizballah and Israel have been exchanging hostile words recently. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicated that all of Lebanon would pay the price for any Hizballah transgressions against Israel. Hizballah representatives indicated that the guerrilla group is more than prepared for another confrontation with Israel, and is suspected of possessing over 40,000 rockets.

In 2006, Hizballah and Israel fought a destructive 34 day war that caused billions of dollars in damage and cost hundreds of lives, mostly Lebanese. Israel received a lot of criticism for targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure in areas outside of Hizballah control. However, Mr. Barak said that in 2006 Israel operated with restraint, but the next time they fought Hizballah, this would not be the case.

“What happened in the second Lebanon war will not happen again … at the time a message from the United States indicated we must spare Lebanon’s infrastructure,” he said.

According to Beirut’s Daily Star, “on Tuesday, Barak warned that Israel would not differentiate between the Lebanese government and military action carried out by Hizbullah. He called for the group to surrender its arms and accused the Lebanese Army of tacitly supporting its military operations.”

Hizballah has made strong political gains in Lebanon recently and it seems unlikely that they would risk another- possibly more devastating- engagement with Israel. Also, Lebanon has been spared from some of the more damaging aspects of the current financial crisis and its economy, particularly the banking and tourism sectors, continues to grow. It seems Hizballah has a lot to lose and little to gain from another war with their neighbors to the south.

The verbal hostilities between Israel and Hizballah come as US President Barack Obama is expected to release a comprehensive plan for stability in the region in the coming weeks. The sweeping plan is expected to involve multiple nations, not just Lebanon and Israel or Israel and Palestine. Many experts believe that any effective Middle East peace plan would require multilateral participation from everyone involved, including Egypt, Syria, Iran, and the Gulf states.

As tensions between Israel and Hizballah heat up this summer, it will be interesting to see how each proceeds. Israel clearly feels threatened by Hizballah, but an all out attack on Lebanon would be extremely costly politically, especially as President Obama has made it clear that long lasting stability in the Middle East is one of the cornerstones of his administration’s agenda.

President Obama is already “at odds” with the conservative government in Israel. Any move on Israel’s behalf that was percieved as overly agressive towards Lebanon would represent not just a break in US-Israel relations, but a chasm. For now, this confrontational rhetoric may be just poltical fodder for both sides, but it could escalate quickly if they are not careful.



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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.