Bombs Over Beirut

The flattened area of rubble is what is left of the Hezbollah headquarters in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, after Israeli air strikes reduced them to rubble early Sunday morning, July 16, 2006.
This column was written by Lee Smith.
It seems like only yesterday that a Hezbollah deputy in Lebanon's parliament was saying that even if Iran wound up playing his beloved Brazilian squad in a World Cup match, he would have to side with Ronaldinho and Co. In the last 48 hours, though, it has become clear that when the stakes are really high, Hezbollah is always going to side with Iran — even if this means holding all of Lebanon hostage.

As I write on the Friday evening of July 14, Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport is closed from the bombs dropped by Israel on Thursday morning. Many of the roads are also closed, and the Israeli Navy has blockaded the sea route out. In the year since the so-called Cedar Revolution, much of the world has been looking to Lebanon, watching and hoping for the best. Now under siege, it is time for Lebanon to look at itself and wonder how it got here.

In the Sunni neighborhood of Hamra, the streets are virtually empty. A parking attendant has taken down his large Iranian flag, but still has two pictures of Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah taped to his booth. I don't know how long the Sunni locals will indulge his infatuation, for the Sunnis are angry. Hezbollah's July 12 incursion into northern Israel and abduction of two Israeli soldiers is likely going to cost them and their country billions of dollars, taking into account the lost revenue in summer tourism, a major part of Lebanon's economy.

The Christians, too, are mad, even though their most popular leader, Michel Aoun, had a "paper of understanding" with Hezbollah, essentially tying their political destinies together. For as long as Lebanon was able to quietly ignore international demands to disarm Hezbollah's militia and had effectively forgotten that their country shared a border with the most powerful military in the region, Aoun's agreement seemed politically clever. Now Ashrafieh, the predominantly Christian section of the city, is quiet, with the wealthier people already having left for their second homes in the mountains and the rest to stay with relatives there. Monot and Gemmayzeh, the two Ashrafieh neighborhoods that have made Beirut a world-famous nightlife spot, are silent.

Meanwhile, the Daheyh, the Shiite suburbs of Beirut where Hezbollah's Nasrallah was headquartered before his home was destroyed, has been shelled repeatedly since early Friday morning. The Israelis have been targeting Shiite regions throughout Lebanon, towns in the south of the country and the Bekaa valley as well as the Daheyh. A community that was historically regarded as Lebanon's unwashed masses is paying a heavy price for putting its political hopes in the hands of an Iranian-backed Islamist militia.
I was talking to two young middle-class Shiites, a man and a woman, both secular and moderate, who nonetheless expressed a fair amount of support for Hezbollah. Why, they wondered, should the rest of the country be unhappy with them? Why did it matter to other Lebanese if the Shiites were the only community under Israeli attack? I was astonished, not so much that they were willing to ignore that the airport, electricity, and other infrastructure belonged to all of Lebanon, and that even before the Israeli air force reduces Hezbollah strongholds to dust, Hezbollah fighters will move to non-Shiite neighborhoods in search of human shields. What I can't understand is that anyone not actively seeking "martyrdom" would think that this was, for anyone, a fight worth waging. It is good that Hezbollah should be put down, but it is sickening to consider that the other Lebanese communities might regard the lives of ordinary Shiites as being of little worth, and consider that the wretched of the Earth are getting what they deserve.

One of the most popular questions in Lebanon right now is: Since Syria provides material support for Hezbollah, why isn't anyone taking this out on Syria? The Syrians are evidently wondering the same and keeping their heads down. Unlike in Amman, where there have been numerous angry protests against the recent Israeli attacks, sources in Syria tell me that in Damascus the streets are quiet. At the border crossing out of Lebanon in the north, the Syrians are even helpfully giving visas to Americans, a practice they had stopped six months ago.