Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Ghajar Riddle Resolved?

It looks like all the excitement of an imminent withdrawal from Ghajar, the village straddling the Lebanese border with Israel that Israel was set to withdraw from, has been premature.

Now, The Israeli government is saying that it wants to postpone a withdrawal until after the Lebanese elections because rather than bolstering moderates, they fear it could not only boost Hizbollah, but that Hizbollah could establish a presence in this down. According to the article linked to above, Jerusalem now wants Beirut to provide assurances that Lebanese government agents will move into the town, not Hizbollah. This seems as though it may be complicated if Hizbollah wins seats in the election and becomes part of the Lebanese government.

The plot does thicken somewhat though. For starters, it seems that an answer to a question posed in a previous post--what do the people of Ghajar want?--exists. They do not want to be transferred to Lebanon. They claim to be Syrians and currently are Israeli citizens. The argument is that transferring them to Lebanon will have the effect of making them part of yet another country they do not want to be a part of. Ghajar residents argue that they should stay put and wait until their transferred back to Syria as part of a final peace deal.

There's more though. Credit to Niqnaq who found (really, great find) an article explaining that the village of Ghajar overlooks springs which are the only year round source of the Hisbani river which is an important tributary of the Jordan river which is an extremely important river to Israel, period. Ergo, Ghajar and its springs are important. In addition to this piece of the Ghajar mystery puzzle, this article also gives some interesting history of the village and how it came to be Israeli. The article also illustrates out that Israel probably has the most valid legal claim to the springs and the Hisbanai river, but, due to what amounts to a decision made by engineers as to where to build a road, the springs and river are actually in a no-man's land between Syria and Israel.

That being said, these springs and the Hisbani river have been in the news before, in 2002, when Lebanon continued efforts to divert the river and Israel suggested that this could be a causus belli. Hizbollah immediately took up the cause of the defense of the Lebanese diversion project.

Perhaps the guarantees that Israel is really seeking, are that Lebanese presence in the region will not result in the damming of this important water source. Perhaps this is the answer to the Ghajar riddle.


Blackstar said...

An important correction CHarlie: Hezbollah IS currently part of the Lebanese government. In fact, Hezbollah and its allies in government enjoy a veto over their opponents' decisions, and have so for the past year, since the Doha Conference.

I think what you intended to say, and the Israeli government has shifted its stance on, is based on whether Hezbollah and its allies go from being the opposition group to being the majority in the June legislative elections.

Saying that Hezbollah will win or lose the June misrepresents the realities of the Lebanese electoral system. Hezbollah is part of a coalition group known as the March 7 movement, which includes several other political parties including Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement (a largely Christian-based political party). Hezbollah on its own would not "win" the elections and take over the government. If it wins, it will be as part of the March 7 Movement.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Blackstar, thanks for the correction. I don't pretend to know too much about Lebanese policts so I'm grateful for the clarification.

What I meant to say is that Israel is concerned not only that leaving the town could give the March 7th movement and Hezbollah (Hezbollah or Hizbollah by the way? To my ear, Arabic speakers always pronounce it Hizbollah) an electoral boost, but also that Hizbollah's military wing could establish a precence in the area.

This is a concern not only for security purposes, but I've also read, and I can't remember where, that there is concern that the town could become a centre for drug smuggling.