TOPICS : Rebuilding Lebanon key to Mideast security

The UN successfully created a ceasefire in southern Lebanon last month by passing Resolution 1701. After surviving Israel’s attempt to dismantle it, Hizbullah is working to build on its perceived victory by providing generous aid to war-battered Lebanese — winning Middle Eastern hearts and minds along the way. That’s why it’s so important for the global community to rally behind Lebanon’s rebuilding. The first step is security. Making 1701 work requires rapid deployment of the European-led UN peace force to reinforce existing UNIFIL troops in south Lebanon.

Cooperation and restraint from Hizbullah, Israel, and Lebanon’s newly deployed 14,000-man army in the south will be key. The UN development agency says “the damage has annihilated the last 15 years of work on reconstruction and rehabilitation” following the 1975-1990 civil war. Lebanon’s total losses are estimated to be “at least $15 billion,” says spokesman Jean Fabre. Leba-non says direct structural damage reached $3.6 billion, including 15,000 homes (to whose owners Hizbullah is distributing from $10,000 to $12,000 cash).

Israel’s ongoing sea and air blockade, begun right after Hizbullah’s kidnapping of its two soldiers triggered the war, has caused huge losses to Lebanon — and gains for Syria. It has diverted airport cargo worth millions away from Beirut’s port to Syria’s harbours at Latakia and Tartous. Other cargoes for Lebanon have ended up in Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, and Malta. Meanwhile, maritime experts from the UN, Greece, and other European Union (EU) countries have been coping with the pollution caused by a 100 mile spill of at least 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil along the Lebanese and Syrian coasts.

Along with Lebanon’s physical restoration, it is essential to re-establish it as a regional centre of culture. When this reporter first arrived in Beirut in 1965, the city was a vibrant centre of intellectual freedom — and, yes, the kind of democracy, or close to it, that the Bush administration says it’s promoting in the world. A plethora of virtually uncensored newspapers, periodicals, and book publishers reflected a vast spectrum of free opinion. The American University of Beirut (AUB) could be a vital pillar of Lebanon’s restoration. Founded in 1866, it educated generations of professionals, academics, artists, and politicians from everywhere, including Israel. Alumni include heads of state and cabinet ministers, from Turkey and Greece to Saudi Arabia and Iran.

AUB’s faculty, staff, and president, Dr John Waterbury, have held the university together through the tempest. Its green, hospitable campus in west Beirut promises to continue as a beacon promoting the expressed wish of the school’s American missionary founders: “That they (the people of the Near East) may have life and have it more abundantly.” This ought to guide thoughtful architects of a future Middle East, who should abandon calls to arms and instead embrace the region’s physical, cultural, and moral restoration. — The Christian Science Monitor