Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Switzerland of the Middle East (for some periods of Swiss history)

There is a fascinating post at Pat Lang's about a study trip to Lebanon which involved meeting some interesting and alarming people (Samir Geagea, described here as "a bit Lyndon LaRouche" - well, whatever hard things have been said, quite understandably, about the latter, he never commanded a militia that cut huge crosses in the bodies of its enemies). Bashir Assad's wife is apparently an Obama Girl, Walid Jumblatt is losing his wits, Saad Hariri is an arrogant twit, Rafiq Hariri's sister is considerably smarter than Saad, Siniora is a Mann ohne Eigenschaften, and all the Hezbollah representatives they met were very impressive indeed, once they laid off the war porn propaganda pix.

Apart from this Lebanese version of the Spectator at its best, I was interested by this:
Amin Gemayel was not particularly forthcoming, and seemed badly out of touch. When pressed for details on a number of points he was completely at a loss. He seemed to resort to stock politician phrases even in personal conversation. My impression was of a man losing vitality. I tried to push him on the question of what a real 'national defense strategy' would be, seeking some common ground between him and Hezbollah. He replied that he envisaged a 'Swiss model' of every citizen owning a gun. Incredulous, I asked him if that would really deter Israeli or Syrian aggression. He responded evasively, citing the importance of various UN resolutions. When I cornered him privately after the session, he said that in the 1970s they had tried to acquire Crotale air defense systems but were thwarted by Israeli pressure, indicating that similar factors were at play today.
Not that he means much these days, but I can't see what the objection to a "Swiss model" would be. In fact, Hezbollah's total strategy down south appears to have been exactly that in 2006. And given that Lebanon will always be surrounded by bigger powers with dubious intentions, and it is unlikely to be allowed to create a manoeuvre-warfare capability even if it can afford to (see above), it's hard to see what other policy is available.

Further, the availability of cheap ATGWs and electronics is a big boost to the strength of such a force, and there is no shortage of people to use them. In some ways it's a lot like the development of another well-known army in the Levant, which was founded on the guerrilla wing of an integrated political party/economic development organisation/rebel army. Can anyone guess which it was? Of course, the Israelis concentrated on buying tanks - but then, they weren't in the mountains. The other good thing about such a policy is that it would be a handy way of dealing with the existence of militias - wrapping them into some sort of national command structure.

And, of course, Lebanon used to call itself the Switzerland of the Middle East. The similarities are actually more than you think - cantons of differing linguistic/religious identities, mountain frontiers, a profitably discreet and profitably dubious banking sector. You can even ski. But, you know, Switzerland as an island of perfect peace is quite a new idea, created by its neutrality in the world wars - before then, well...there's a reason why the pope has Swiss guards, which is that back in the day, Swiss mercenaries scared the hell out of Europe so much that some international treaties specifically bound the parties not to recruit them for use against Christians. (Savages, well, that was OK.)

The overall impression is that the system is gradually working its way back into equilibrium, not least as a result of Bush no longer having an active policy. "Have you figured them out?" asked Zaphod. "No, I've just stopped fiddling with them.."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Drunken charge of a timeship is a pretty serious charge, you know. They tend to lock you in some planet's Stone Age and tell you to evolve into a more responsible species.

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