August 06, 2010

Two Quick Friday Hits on Lebanon

1. Regarding those asking whether or not soldier within the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) might be sympathetic toward Hizballah and their operations in the South: one of the quirks of the LAF is that with a little wasta, you can get stationed close to where your family lives. (This is actually not that much different than the U.S. military: at Fort Drum, we had a disproportionately high number of soldiers from New York and New England.) Thus the sectarian complexion of units in the LAF tends to reflect, more or less, the sectarian make-up of the area in which they operate. For this reason, even though Sunni Muslims are a minority in Lebanon, Sunni Muslim Lebanese soldiers died in disproportionate numbers during the 2007 fighting at Nahr al-Bared in heavily-Sunni areas in and outside of Tripoli. (For more on Lebanese casualties during the fighting, check out Aram Nerguizian's authoritative study of the LAF (.pdf).) Shia Muslims, meanwhile, are thought to comprise an overall majority within the LAF's enlisted ranks. Hizballah, the violent non-state actor and political party in Lebanon that is almost exclusively Shia in its composition, is strongest in the heavily Shia areas of the Biqa'a Valley, the South, and Beirut's southern suburbs. The LAF in those areas is ... okay, by now you get my point. Even if there is no overt coordination between the LAF and Hizballah, Lebanese soldiers in southern Lebanon are statistically more likely to be openly sympathetic on an individual basis to Hizballah.

2. I always enjoy reading Mohamed Bazzi's analysis on Lebanon, but I don't see why "U.S. officials must eventually reach out to Hezbollah" to avoid further conflict. (I am, in fact, somewhat dubious that Hizballah would even consent to meet with U.S. officials.) Bazzi says we have to engage with Hizballah but never really makes a clear case as to why. What will the United States be able to do through direct engagement that it cannot already do now? How has the United States been poorly-served by the inability of its diplomats to conduct face-to-face meetings with Hizballah leaders?

Finally, many thanks to those of you who made this report of mine (.pdf) the most down-loaded CNAS report this summer. It has nothing to do with Lebanon, but you should read it anyway.