Counter-point

THERE IS A SPIRIT OF DE­FI­ANCE AMONG THE PEO­PLE OF SOUTH LE­BANON WHO HAVE MAN­AGED TO RE­COVER AND PROS­PER SINCE THE 2006 WAR LIV­ING OFF THE LAND AND TRADE

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - Michael Jansen

Since Hizbol­lah routed Is­rael’s in­vad­ing army in 2006, South Le­banon has re­mained peace­ful and its towns, vil­lages and farms have re­built thanks to inan­cial

sup­port from the UAE, Saudi Ara­bia, Kuwait, and Iran. At that time Hizbol­lah was hailed across the re­gion for a pyrrhic vic­tory which killed 1,200, wounded up to 1,100, drove one mil­lion from their homes and dev­as­tated the towns and vil­lages below the Li­tani River as well as the south­ern sub­urbs of Beirut.

To­day there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of this conlict. De­struc­tion was so

great that ru­ins were razed to the ground and new build­ings erected. Rare bul­let holes can be seen in the walls of the few pre-war homes and shops that have sur­vived.

South Le­banon has re­cov­ered and is pros­per­ous, its in­hab­i­tants live well off the land and from trade. While many Le­banese with roots in the south live in Si­don, Tyre,

and Beirut, they re­turn fre­quently to visit their fam­i­lies. Ties to their home ter­ri­tory re­main strong. There is a spirit of deiance

among the peo­ple. Farm­ers plant their to­bacco and other crops right next to the Un-drawn Blue Line that marks the cea­seire line to

which Is­rael with­drew in May 2000 fol­low­ing 15 years of re­sis­tance by Hizbol­lah and Amal ighters.

Wealthy Le­banese con­struct vast vil­las of stone with red tile roofs on hill­tops which once hosted mil­i­tary out­posts and ir­ing points.

Is­rael has built a sec­tion of wall at the vil­lage of Kafr Kila where lo­cal folk and visi­tors once gathered to throw stones at the fence be­hind which Is­raeli troops pa­trol and Is­raeli set­tlers plant their crops. Bright grafiti dec­o­rate

the white washed sur­face of the wall. Its cen­tre-piece is a col­lec­tion of pho­tos of ighters and civil­ians

killed in bat­tle or dur­ing Is­raeli at­tacks, a con­stant re­minder this land has ex­acted a high price in

blood and tears. Ev­ery vil­lage square has a war me­mo­rial. No one is for­got­ten.

Tehran’s gift to the vil­lage of Maroun al-ras, Iran Gar­den, is a favourite pic­nic spot for lo­cal peo­ple who come on hol­i­days and week­ends in fam­ily groups. Men grill ke­babs on metal trays illed

with char­coal while women lay out on ta­bles be­neath sun shades feasts of hum­mos, sal­ads, pas­tries illed with meat and spinach and

freshly baked bread. Chil­dren run freely along path­ways and climb plat­forms erected to pro­vide wide views of the coun­try­side on the other side of the Blue Line. Green Is­raeli ields stretch back

from the line to colonies planted at a dis­tance of a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres. A golden-domed mosque set on a rise is a tiny replica of Jerusalem’s el­e­gant 7th cen­tury Mus­lim shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which

re­mains un­der Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion and is a sym­bol of oc­cu­pied Pales­tine.

UN force spokesman An­drea Te­nenti told The Gulf To­day that the “last 12 years” of the peace­keep­ing oper­a­tion have been the “qui­etist pe­riod.” The UN In­terim Force in Le­banon (UNIFIL) now de­ploys 10,500 troops from 41 coun­tries in this strate­gic stretch of real es­tate. Peace­keep­ers con­duct “450-500 pa­trols a day. There are no spe­cial alerts,” the force is “al­ways alert” to han­dle force move­ments on the ground, drones and Is­raeli overlights.

Af­ter 2006, UNIFIL’S tech­ni­cal ca­pac­i­ties were ex­panded in or­der to im­prove the force’s per­for­mance. The Le­banese army is UNIFIL’S “strate­gic part­ner,” he stated, re­la­tions are “go­ing well, and “joint ac­tiv­i­ties have in­creased from 10 per cent in 2017 to 18 per cent” this year. Dur­ing

train­ing and joint op­er­a­tions UNIFIL deals with a mixed group of ofi­cers: Chris­tians, Sun­nis and

Shias. Le­banese troops search

homes and other premises for sus­pected arms not UNIFIL per­son­nel. “The goal of the mission is to hand over to the Le­banese army,” which has been grad­u­ally in­creas­ing its de­ploy­ment in the south. De­spite con­stant Is­raeli

threats, he does not ex­pect the sit­u­a­tion to change. Per­haps be­cause Is­rael has shifted its fo­cus to Syria where Is­raeli war­planes have been ir­ing mis­siles

at Hizbol­lah con­voys and bases oc­cu­pied by Ira­nian ad­vis­ers, troops and paramil­i­taries. With the blessing of the US Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, Is­rael may skip over south Le­banon when wag­ing its of­ten promised war against Hizbol­lah and its Ira­nian al­lies. Ire­land was among the irst

coun­tries to de­ploy when the force was cre­ated in 1978. To­day 336 Ir­ish peace­keep­ers, in­clud­ing 17 women, serve in the western op­er­a­tions area along­side 171 Finns and 36 Es­to­ni­ans. Their base is at Tyre near Bint Jbeil, dubbed “the cap­i­tal of the re­sis­tance” be­cause Hizbol­lah suc­cess­fully de­fended the vil­lage dur­ing Is­rael’s 2006 in­va­sion.

Ir­ish con­tin­gent com­man­der Lt. Col. Neil Nolan said the mission op­er­ates in a 111 square kilo­me­tre area con­tain­ing 11 Shia and two Chris­tian vil­lages and one mixed vil­lage. There are also 3,000 Sunni Syr­ian refugees liv­ing here in houses and lats; most of the men

are farm labour­ers.

“The sit­u­a­tion is calm (de­spite) la­tent ten­sion,” he stated. Both sides are “very cog­nisant of the fact our area is sus­cep­ti­ble... Matters can change very quickly...we re­port every­thing.. that we see and hear. Over-lights and ac­tiv­i­ties on the

ground.” The UN holds tri­lat­eral weekly meet­ings in­volv­ing Le­banese and Is­raeli army ofi­cers to re­solve prob­lems and tackle ten­sion.

While mil­i­tary forces ex­ert “hard power” peace­keep­ers pro­vide “soft power” by cul­ti­vat­ing civil­ians in ar­eas of de­ploy­ment and by im­ple­ment­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian projects. First aid, money aware­ness and fe­male self-de­fence classes “build trust and in­crease un­der­stand­ing and re­silience of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties,” he stated.

The three con­tin­gents liv­ing side by side in dif­fer­ent sec­tors of the base and pa­trolling sep­a­rately must not only adapt to the cul­ture of the lo­cal peo­ple but also bridge cul­tural dif­fer­ences with col­leagues as­serted Lt. Col. Nolan. Ir­ish troops have had a great deal of ex­pe­ri­ence here and lo­cal peo­ple are con­scious of the sac­ri­ices of

the Ir­ish bat­tal­ions. Forty-seven Ir­ish peace­keep­ers have died here. Ire­land is neu­tral, the troops have “no colo­nial bag­gage,” and, due to their long strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain, the Ir­ish have the “abil­ity to re­late” to oth­ers.

The view of the Blue Line and north­ern Is­rael from Iran Gar­den.

A me­mo­rial for the 47 Ir­ish sol­diers who died in south Le­banon.

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