Life is not easy if you are the smallest child in the playground of a rough school. That is Lebanon’s situation: a small and poorly armed country between Israel and Syria, and with fraught relations with both. As someone who was badly bullied at school, I can sympathise with an instinctive desire to retreat into one’s shell. But there has to be a moral limit to what you are willing to do to avoid trouble.
The Lebanese authorities have well and truly stepped over this red line by deporting Syrian refugees, some of them injured, back into the tender hands of Assad’s thuggish security services. They even arrested two Syrians in a Lebanese hospital with serious bullet wounds in the head – for not having the proper stamps in their passports.
The Guardian quotes a handwringing Lebanese official:
“It’s not easy to be Lebanon in this situation,” the official said. “The lack of government [in Beirut] weakens any attempt to form a humane policy, while at the same time, we have to battle Syrian accusations that all of their demonstrations are the result of terrorists infiltrating Syria from places like Tripoli. They’ve threatened to send troops into northern Lebanon repeatedly, and with that area’s history of Sunni tensions with the Alawite, we consider Tripoli and area around it to be on the verge of exploding into violence already. So we are concerned that as more Syrians enter Lebanon in the north, that situation might become just like what we’re seeing in Syria.”
Lebanon must call Assad’s bluff: he will not invade northern Lebanon. Not because Lebanon’s armed forces would stop him (they have no air force and little heavy weaponry), but because it would force the international community to intervene to protect Lebanese sovereignty as guaranteed by a series of Security Council resolutions. Assad knows that there is no appetite for foreign intervention in Syria, but invading Lebanon would tear up all previous calculations in Western capitals and at the UN.
The violence of the Assad regime is shocking and it is morally imperative for anyone who can help its victims to do so. Where is the backbone Lebanon showed when it helped to pass the resolution authorising intervention in Libya? When Hitler ordered that all Jews in occupied Denmark should be rounded up to be sent to the concentration camps, ordinary Danes bravely organised the evacuation of virtually all of them to neutral Sweden. And Sweden took them in, despite being surrounded by Axis territory and very vulnerable to Nazi anger.
As a wise person said: “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the recognition that some things are more important than fear.” The Syrians who wade over the Kabir river into Lebanon carrying their wounded in blankets are more important than fear.
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