Lebanon Three Years on from the War against Israel

Calm Before the Storm

Beirut is bursting at the seams – only three years after the war against Israel in 2006, tourists are flooding back into Lebanon. Although the country's situation is relatively stable, relations with Israel remain tense, as Birgit Kaspar reports from Beirut

Tourists in Lebanon (photo: Birgit Kaspar)
The majority of tourists are émigré Lebanese and Arabs from the Gulf states, but Americans and Western Europeans holiday in Lebanon as well

​​ On the sun terrace of the Sporting Beach Club, directly facing the sea, the white plastic loungers are lined up in narrow rows. Marwan Abu Nussar, the 46-year-old manager, is happy with the situation: "Many of our old customers, Lebanese nationals who live abroad, are coming back. And more foreigners are coming to Beirut again now."

Abu Nussar doesn't let the daily verbal threats exchanged between the Israelis and the Shi'a Hezbollah get him down. Worrying too much makes you neglect your business, he says. The Lebanese are renowned for always getting back on their feet: "We build things up again and look to the future."

Tourists from around the world

Beach in Beirut (photo: Birgit Kaspar)
"I don't know if I'd call the situation stable, but I feel safe," says 35-year-old Dima, who lives in Paris

​​ The majority of the tourists are Lebanese nationals living abroad who have returned to visit their families. The second largest group is made up of Arabs from the Gulf states, who descend on Lebanon in the summer when it is much hotter in their own countries. But there are also travellers from the USA and Western Europe who want to explore the country and enjoy Beirut's glamorous nightlife.

35-year-old Dima gazes out at the sea from behind her Chanel sunshades. She comes to the Sporting Club almost every day during her vacation. She usually lives in Paris, although she holds a Lebanese passport.

"I don't know if I'd call the situation stable, but I feel safe," she says. Her country is used to war, she comments, and you can't just stop living your life.

Fragile stability

Enjoy life – that's the motto of the Lebanese and the tourists alike; no one can tell how long it will stay so calm. Only recently, the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak declared that Jerusalem would consider military action if Hezbollah continued rearming and obtained modern anti-aircraft missiles. Barak also said the Israeli army would have greater freedom to target the entire Lebanese infrastructure in the next conflict.

Lebanese military (photo: Birgit Kaspar)
The threats exchanged between Israel and Hezbollah are escalating: the war is not really over, according to Paul Salem from the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, but briefly interrupted

​​ And an Israeli military commander reportedly warned that the northern front might explode at any time. Across the border, Hezbollah's head Hassan Nasrallah threatened that the Shi'a militia would attack Tel Aviv if Israel were to bomb the mainly Shi'a southern suburbs of Beirut again.

Continued state of war

Another high-ranking Hezbollah man warned that if Israel did anything foolish its government would soon find out that "July and August 2006 were just a bit of fun." This is a continued state of war, as Paul Salem from the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace puts it.

"All that's going on now is management. UN Resolution 1701 and the UNIFIL peace troops in South Lebanon merely serve as a buffer." They have managed to keep the situation relatively calm, says Salem, but we mustn't forget that both sides want this calm.

Both Israel's military actions and those of Hezbollah violate UN Resolution 1701. The Shi'a militia openly admits it has been rearming on a grand scale, even if its military positions are now north of the UNIFIL territory. Discussions on disarming Hezbollah are no longer on the agenda in Lebanon. Israeli troops, meanwhile, are still occupying the northern, Lebanese part of the border village of Ghajar.

Deterrence and retaliation

The Israeli air force flies over Lebanon on an almost daily basis, also in violation of Resolution 1701. If all these problems are not soon solved as part of a comprehensive peace process, Salem warns, a new war cannot be ruled out. "I believe Hezbollah is currently not interested in attacking Israel. They are concentrating on deterrence and retaliation."

Israel, however, might well have an interest in a new war with Hezbollah in the next one to two years, says Salem. "Only this time they'd try to win."

Living in fear

Sunset at a Lebanese Beach (photo: Birgit Kaspar)
Fragile stability: "As long as there are no bombs falling on us and nobody's shooting at us, we just try our best to survive another day," says Elias (42), who usually lives in Paris and North America

​​ Despite the tense political situation in Lebanon, the tourists are in finest holiday spirits. The sun still sets dark red over the sea, and a few suntanned beauties wait for this magical moment every evening at the Sporting Club.

For 42-year-old Elias, who normally lives in Paris and North America, this moment inspires philosophical reflection. Lebanon's stability is very fragile, he comments; the status quo has feet of clay. "But as long as there are no bombs falling on us and nobody's shooting at us, we just try our best to survive another day."

Birgit Kaspar

© Deutsche Welle / Qantara.de 2009

Birgit Kaspar was manager of the ARD's Middle East radio studio in Amman in 2003. She now works as a correspondent from Beirut for the journalist network Weltreporternet.

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