Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Next Chalibi?

If you have been following the unrest in Lebanon, you will know from the media that the opposition parties have called for a "peaceful uprising" to get Syrian troops out of their country.

This would be a great idea if some Ghandi figure was leading the opposition, but sadly Walid Jumblatt is hardly that man. What he is, however, is someone who "has repeatedly lined up on the winning side in the tangled web of foreign and domestic struggles that have engulfed Lebanon. He is the weathervane of Lebanese politics."

Jumblatt is head of the Druze in Lebanon and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, a position he inherited when his father (who was awarded the USSR's Lenin Peace Prize in 1972) was assasinated on orders from Damascus. In 1982 when Israeli forces invaded Lebanon, Walid at first co-operated hoping to broker a deal whereby Israel would keep the Palestinians out of the Shouf and recognize Druze autonomy. When Israel facilitated the entry of the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) units into the area he prompty switched sides, joining National Salvation Front, a pro-Syrian alliance of militias opposed to the central government and the May 1983 non-belligerency agreement it signed with Israel. He then championed the Palestinian presence in Lebanon and repeatedly called for the destruction of the state and the annihilation of the Christian Maronites. Durinng the 1980s he frequently called for a blood revenge against the Maronites and wanted a repeat of the 1860 massacres.

Armed with massive amounts of Syrian-supplied Soviet weaponry, Jumblatt's militia began driving LF forces out of the Shouf in the fall of 1983. When Israeli forces pulled out of the area in August-September 1983, Jumblatt's forces overran sixty Maronite villages, slaughtering around 1,000 people and driving 50,000 out of their homes. in the mountainous areas east and west of Beirut. When Jumblatt's militia overstepped itself and attempted to overrun the Souq al-Gharb pass protecting the capital, Lebanese army troops brought the offensive to a halt. Nevertheless, Jumblatt's victory made him the undisputed leader of the Druze community, a position which has not been seriously contested to this day.

Throughout the war-torn 1980's, Jumblatt remained within the Syrian fold, supporting the Assad regime's efforts to torpedo any reconciliation agreement that did not explicitly grant Damascus political and military control over Lebanon. In return, Syria made sure he received cabinet-level positions in successive Lebanese governments and that electoral districts were gerrymandered to ensure his reelection to parliament.

However, during the 90's Jumblatt and the Syrians again parted company over Jumblatt's political manouvering. Jumblatt maintained good relations with other external actors, most notably Libya and Russia, and even resumed back-channel contacts with the Israelis, in order to keep his options open. He has even managed to mend bridges with the Christians he used to kill in order to head the opposition coalition although given his record this is almost certainly just expediency rather than a change of heart. Jumblatt also used his connections and political power to achieve considerable wealth. During each of the last three election cycles to 2001, he received around $5-7 million from candidates wishing to join his electoral coalition.

In 2001, "Middle East Intelligence Bulletin wrote of Jumblatt:

Jumblatt's substantive political moves in the future will largely depend on whether overt opposition to Syria within Lebanese society at large continues to spread. If the nationalist current in Lebanon continues to gain ground, Jumblatt will probably remain a key player in the coalition of forces opposing Syrian authority. If it stumbles, whether due to internal fragmentation or external developments, Jumblatt is likely to abandon it.

The mainstream media has missed this, in their efforts to report a "peaceful uprising" which accords so very well with Bush's words in the SotU address. It may well be that Jumblatt is already positioning himself to be another Chalabi.