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It’s all over the news, yet almost everyone I talk to claims they have no idea what’s going on this week in the Middle East. Now, my personal knowledge of Middle Eastern politics is abominable, but I’ve made it my mission to explain the current problem in the simplest possible terms. Yes, I’ve ignored hundreds of years of history here, and probably insulted everyone involved in the conflict by doing so, but I’m presenting this at the simplest possible level, the very basics, the ‘dumbed down’ version – that is, the level I understand it. So here goes.
Hezbollah is a political and military group in Lebanon, which was formed in the 1980s to drive Israeli troops out of Lebanon. By 2000, they achieved this objective, and so won lots of support from the Lebanese people. So much support, in fact, that they won lots of votes in Lebanese elections, and now have a sizable presence in the Lebanese parliament, and even a representative in the cabinet. Now, crucially, whilst they have a big political influence in Lebanon, Hezbollah is not the Lebanese government. Hezbollah is a separate political and military organisation.
On Wednesday, Hezbollah – this military group – attacked an Israeli town, and in so-doing managed to kill several Israeli soldiers, and capture two. Why they did this isn’t clear, but it may have been an attempt to capture some soldiers with which to bribe Israel into releasing some prisoners which Hezbollah beleives are being wrongly held.
Obviously, Israel didn’t take to kindly to this, with the Prime Minister calling it an ‘act of war’. But, of course, the action wasn’t launched by the Lebanese government, but by Hezbollah – a group that just happens to be in Lebanon, and has a lot of popular support there. Despite this, Israeli troops responded by dropping bombs on Lebanon, and returning into Lebanon for the first time since they withdrew in 2000. That pissed off Hezbollah somewhat, this being the group which had forced the Israelis out of Lebanon in the first place.
On Thursday, Israel continued to pummel Lebanon with bombs, killing at least 35 Lebanese civilians, and essentially said that Lebanon and Hezbollah could forget the idea of keeping the border between the countries at the location they’d agreed when the troops withdrew. George Bush said that Israel was well within its right to beat the poop out of Lebanon given that they’d been suddenly attacked, but the EU were less happy, saying that Israel was being too harsh with their response, given the small scale of the first attack and its unofficial nature.
Also on Thursday, a big bomb was dropped on Israel’s third biggest city. Hezbollah said it wasn’t them, but (probably understandably) Israel didn’t believe them. So on Friday, Israel went and bombed the Hezbollah headquarters, which made the Hezbollah leader pledge ‘open war’ against Israel. By this time, the UN Security Council is starting to get a bit worried, and says that it’s unfair that Israel is killing a whole load of Lebanese civilians, and basically asked it to stop. They didn’t.
As Israel’s attacks on Lebanon grew, so Hezbollah’s responses grew. On Saturday, the Lebanese Prime Minister called for help, because his country was being turned into a ‘disaster zone’. Of course, the Lebanese Prime Minister has no control over Hezbollah, as they’re a separate group, so he can’t stop the attacks that Israel sees as Lebanon committing.
So now, the attacks are getting bigger and bigger. The worry now is that Israel might start being aggressive towards the countries that contribute funds to Hezbollah – namely Syria and Iran. Of course, if Israel attacks, they will be forced to respond, and then the whole region will be at war.
Obviously, war would be bad in and of itself, but it’s got the rest of the world worrying because much of the world’s oil comes from the Middle East, and getting that oil isn’t going to be too easy if there’s a war on. Which means oil prices will rocket, and that will destabilise all of our economies.
But how can we stop this? Hezbollah aren’t going to back down, even though their initial attack did appear to be somewhat provocative. But Israel’s at fault too, for a clearly disproportionate response. A very rough and ready analogy would be if the Lib Dems in the UK were to capture American soldiers to barter for the release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, and America responded by bombing Leeds. There are no good guys in all of this – they’re all at fault.
Israel quite understandably won’t talk to Hezbollah, as it’s seen as a small radical group, and the Lebanese government who Israel will talk to have no control over Hezbollah. But it’s probably unreasonable to ask Israel not to respond to Hezbollah’s attacks, and Hezbollah will continue to respond to Israel’s attacks, tit-for-tat.
So how can it be stopped when the parties involved won’t even speak to each other? Beats me.
For more on the on-going crisis, see the BBC’s special site.