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Lebanon’s latest national hero

Israel and Hezbollah completed their swap today. The deal, which we described here, brought Israel the bodies of two dead soldiers — Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. In exchange Hezbollah received six terrorists previously held by Israel. Among them was Samir Kuntar who buthered the Haran family, including a four-year-old girl, in 1979. Israel also gave Hezbullah the bodies of 200 terrorists, agreed to provide Hezbullah with information on four missing Iranian “diplomats,” and agreed to release an unknown number of Palestinian terrorists from prison.

As expected, the return of the murderer Kuntar was greeted in Lebanon with elation and celebration. Hezbollah and its Lebanese suporters plainly viewed the swap as a victory, and to a degree it was.

But, as Noah Pollak reports, more distressing than Hezbollah’s predictable reaction was that of Lebanon’s March 14th movement. Named after the date of the Cedar Revolution, this is a coalition of anti-Syrian political parties and independents in Lebanon. Today, two of its leaders — Fouad Siniora, the Sunni prime minister of Lebanon, and Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze, both of whom are embraced as American allies — celebrated the return of Kuntar as a victory for all of Lebanon. Siniora had this to say:

The success of Hizbullah in the negotiations led by a third party is a national success for the party and for the struggle of the Lebanese because it secured national goals which Israel always refused to respect.

Meanwhile, Jumblatt promised that a delegation from his party would welcome and congratulate Kuntar, and called his return a “national occasion.” The government followed suit by declaring the day a national holiday. Many, including Pollak, have held out great hope for the March 14 movement. That hope now seems badly misplaced.

I’m far from an expert on Lebanon. However, it seems to me that Israel’s failure to defeat Hezbollah during the war two years ago shifted the balance of power in Lebanon to the point that leaders like Siniora and Jumblatt feel constrained to follow Hezbollah’s line in matters like this one and many others. If so, and after today’s spectacle, Pollak seems correct to question whether it makes sense for the U.S. to consider Lebanon an ally in any meaningful sense.

Meanwhile, the man who brought Israel both the botched war and the one-sided prisoner swap, the corrupt Ehud Olmert, remains in power in Israel.

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