Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lebanon: Unjust Rewards

This editorial was published in The Daily Star on 28/05/2011 

The explosion that wounded six Italian peacekeepers is of course a tragedy not only for the casualties and for UNIFIL – obviously – but also for Lebanon, underlining how the country is losing its grip on its traditionally tenuous stability.

It must be remembered that the Italian troops – as well as all the members of UNIFIL – have left their countries on a mission to secure peace for Lebanon and to protect it from conflict and harm. An assault on them means an assault on Lebanon and its stability.
Friday’s bombing in Sidon, however, needs to be put into the context of what is happening in Syria and the region. Given the resolve coalescing in Europe and the U.S. against the relentless crackdown undertaken by President Bashar Assad’s regime, the attack could also represent a message to Europe – and the other nations which provide UNIFIL troops – that pushing Syria will have consequences.

The bombing could also be meant to serve as a way to divert attention from the events in Syria by puncturing the fragile calm in Lebanon. Indeed, Lebanon has almost always been a weak state, with a wide array of armed groups operating here in the interests of outside powers. The country has compiled a sad litany of violent incidents intended merely to send a message from one power center to another through mayhem and the loss of civilian lives.
At this time, Lebanon also finds itself tumbling toward its fifth month without a government, so the attack also underscores the worsening absence of authority. Economic and social conditions are spiraling downward, and Friday’s explosion adds the country’s security conditions to the list of the endangered. Not that Lebanon was a paragon of security before Friday – the seven Estonian cyclists are still missing, without any substantial clue of their whereabouts or their kidnappers.

The sorry irony of the Sidon attack is that the Italian Embassy in Beirut had just announced that 50 Italian businesspeople from some 47 companies and associations would be taking part in Project Lebanon 2011. The Italian contingent would be the largest European presence at the construction and environmental-technology trade fair and the largest Italian role to date.
Friday’s attack thus sends a message to Italy about Lebanon: in return for UNIFIL troops, as well as trust and confidence in Lebanon’s prospects, Italian peacekeepers will be the targets of murderous violence.

Regardless of the situation in neighboring countries, Lebanon is sliding toward the category of failed state. The Lebanese authorities must immediately determine and arrest the perpetrators of the Sidon bombing; but who really has any confidence that they will do so? The Italian peacekeepers deserve respect for their sacrifices, but Lebanon’s leaders must recognize the attack as a message to take steps instantly to earn back the respect of the international community.

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