Saturday, September 16, 2006

Forgotten Lebanon

I wanted to briefly turn our attention back to Lebanon today. Damage from the 34 day conflict this summer is estimated to be at a cost of $3.6 billion. More than 15,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, as well as substantial infrastructure including 80 bridges and 94 roads. The Beirut airport and most seaports were severely damaged or disabled. Combined with the Israeli blockade that was lifted only this past week, this has actually resulted in an economic boom for none other than Syria. Diverted cargoes worth millions have been sent away from Beirut's port to Syria's harbors at Latakia and Tartous.

The economic cost of rebuilding will naturally be difficult for a small country that already carries a foreign debt of $34 billion from its rebuilding efforts over the past two decades. Lebanon's manufacturing sector is limited and its strongest industry had actually been tourism, which naturally was dealt a crippling blow by the war. The government had projected 1.6 million visitors to Lebanon this year. This will certainly not happen now or anytime soon.

To that end, representatives of more than 60 nations met recently in Sweeden to raise $500 million for Lebanon. Sadly neither the U.S. or Israel has taken the lead in this initiative. That's right - despite all the sentiment from Israel that it was at war with Hezbollah and not the Lebanese people - for all my research for this piece, I was able to find no evidence of Israeli aid to the people of Lebanon.

Lebanon has received grants of $500 million from Saudi Arabia and $800 million from Kuwait. In comparison, President Bush proposed $230 million in aid. However, a legislative hold was immediately put on the measure by Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos. Lantos instead intends to introduce bipartisan legislation to provide more aid to Israel, which already receives more than $2 billion annually in assistance from the United States. Great!

In contrast, one group who is doing something is Hezbollah with the backing of Iran. Each of 5,000 families made homeless by the war has received a $12,000 grant from Hezbollah. Hezbollah's efforts are not limited to dispersing funds. They have taken the lead in the dirty work of rebuilding - clearing rubble, arranging for construction, and providing temporary housing. And they're actually doing it very well as 35% of devastated southern Lebanon is again considered habitable following its utter destruction only 2 months ago.

So who wins here? Once again it is Hezbollah, naturally. And Iran too. Afterall, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's charitable activities (as well as his military efforts) are largely funded by money from Iran. "No one has ever paid attention to us Shiites here," an elderly Lebanese man Hassan Karut recently told the Christian Science Monitor, "except Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah."

And so far it looks like the U.S. loses. Whether Bush is hands-on (Iraq) or hands-off (Lebanon), his foreign agenda in the Middle East has been disastrous. Yet again the hearts and minds of more Muslims are won by groups openly hostile to America. Does it have to be this way? In most cases, I still don't think so. And the lesson learned is that unquestionably supporting the actions of Israel may not in our best interests afterall.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?