The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Thursday, July 20, 2006


At Salon, a very interesting piece by Juan Cole entitled "Israel's Maximal Option". In it, he speculates that the Olmert goverment is aiming to shift southern Lebanon's Shiite population farther north into the upper half of this (like Israel) geographically very small country.

Apart from allowing the creation of a buffer zone, such a shift would create a crisis between the Maronite Christians, Sunnis, and Druze who populate the north, and "provoke them to use the Lebanese army to rein in or destroy the Shiite paramilitary."It would also displace an entire population. In the words of Cole, "if it comes about, the forced transfer of the Shiites of the south would have several advantages for the Israelis" but "ethically, it [would be] monstrous" and, on a practical level, would be "doomed to failure".

Forced resettlement -- like any form of collective punishment -- invariably leads to a backlash. In this case, the backlash is already happening: support for Hizbollah is increasing, not lessening. And it is spreading across the region. Though Cole does not suggest the possibility directly, the concern of mainstream media with Syria and Iran's role/response to all this might ultimately pale compared to the potential of revolutionary instability in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt where the ruling groups are turning a blind eye to the excesses in Lebanon while their populations seethe. And if the whole region destabilizes, the American project to bring democracy first to Iraq then other countries will fail.

Whether Cole's speculation will turn out to be correct remains to be seen. Possibly it won't happen. Or possibly some variation of it will happen -- after all, the shift of population has already occurred, as civilians flee to save their lives. The question, then, is not whether a population shift will happen, but whether it will be permanent. And if the latter turns out to be the case, it will have ramifications far beyond Lebanon. It will have horrible ramifications for the individuals involved, who will lose much. But it also will have ramifications for the political players outside Israel, who seem curiously unaware of where their long-term self-interest lies. As Cole concludes: "tragically, the United States, as Israel's closest ally, will also have to suffer for its [the Olmert government's] actions".


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