In the panorama of violence that has devastated Lebanon during four bloody years, the latest round of Israeli bombings and a troop incursion are hardly more than a dot on the landscape.
The tormented little country, its once-famed beauty scarred by bombs and bullets, lives by violence. The intensity of it ebbs and flows, ranging from random killings of individuals and bombings of obscure shops to full-scale ware among heavily equipped armies.
More than four years after the outbreak of the civil war that punctured Lebanon's bubble of prosperity, no end is in sight.
An impotent government thrashes about in a fruitless search for political consensus. Foreign armies, private militias and local chieftains settle their scores by killing. The country is effectively partitioned into several zones of control, each unyielding in its dealings with the others.
A psychological lassitude seems to have settled over the Lebanese who have survived and are trying to get on with their lives.
Since nobody has any hope of a quick end to the tragedy, they are learning to live with it and make their way as best they can. That, in turn, contributes to the every-man-for-himself attitude that makes national reconciliation so difficult.
No one who could be thought of as a truly national leader has emerged from the ashes and there appears to be a complete dearth of new political ideas. Conversations with Lebanese politicians sound like tape recordings of conversations of earlier years.
"You'll hear a lot of optimistic reports coming out," said a prominent editor who has lived through it all. "What's happened is that the Lebanese, who used to be amibitious, have learned to live with very little. Maybe a Christian crosses the Fuad Chehab Bridge without getting killed, or a Moslem survives a trip to the Christian side of Beirut. It's a big event, like swimming the English Channel."
Originally the victim of self-inflicted wounds in the civil war, Lebanon is now a helpless cats paw for powerful forces using the wartorn country to struggle against each other-Syria, Israel, and the Palestinians.
On the wall of an office of one of the powerful Christian militias in east Beirut is a poster showing a bombed-out, devastated street in a once prosperous quarter of the city. The photo is inscribed: "Nevertheless, Lebanon wishes you a Merry Christmas."
A well-known professor, talking of the helplessness of the government of reclusive President Elias Sarkis, crosses himself in mock prayer and says, "Please, let them not offer me a position in the Cabinet."
A routine item in a Beirut newspaper's daily roundup of death and violence assures readers that reports of a bomb explosiion at the Iraqi Embassy were not true. It was actually a grenade thrown into a discotheque across the street. Either way, nobody raises an eyebrow.
There are indeed discotheques, theaters, beach resorts and gambling casinos. Life goes on amid the ruins, with the individual Lebanese hoping that whatever happens doesn't happen to him.
"It's not good but it's better than it was in the sense that for now we are freer to move about than we were during the height of the war," a journalist said. But, he said, the slight decrease in political and sectarian violence-caused at least partly by the de-facto partition of the country that has separated the warring sides-has been offset by an increase in criminal violence.
There have been a few encouraging signs since the end of the massive Syrian artillery bombardment that devastated Christian Beirut last October.
Parliament enacted a law aimed at reorganizing the Lebanese Army to make it more politically palatable to all factions, in the hope that it can be made strong enough to take up security duties.
The port of Beirut, shelled shut during the Syrian bombardment in October as it was during the civil war, is working again, with some large ships putting in.
But the port could be closed again any day if one faction or another opens fire, and the reconstruction of the army is proceeding at a snail's pace.
Jaded Lebanese say a more realistic assessment of the situation can be obtained by reviewing the events of one day, April 22.
On that day, heavily armed Palestinian guerrillas were on guard against Israeli retaliation for a guerrilla raid that killed four in Israel, retaliation that later materialized and is still continuing.
The same day, there was fighting in Beirut between Christian militias and the Syrian troops who battled their way into Lebanon in 1976 and are still there, enforcing what law and order there is.
And 11 people were killed in a flareup of violence that day between two rival Christian militias.
That same April 22, the Renegade forces of Christian Maj. Saad Haddad, firing from their enclave alon the Israeili border that Haddad recently proclaimed an independent state, blockaded a U.N. headquarters, inflicting another humiliation on the U.N. troops sent in last year to separate the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Nowhere in this tapestry of violence was there any sign of effective government action to deal with it.
Nor is there any prospect of an early end to the violence that would allow the government to come to grips with the staggering problems of reconstruction refugee resettlement and redevelopment of agriculture that the country faces. As it is, the government's authority hardly extends beyond the presidential palace at Baaba, i nthe hills over Beirut.