In the past year, Lebanon has undergone a major transformation of the basic operating assumptions, which have underpinned the establishment of order in the country. However, this transformation is not yet complete. Much work remains to be done to completely undo the Iranian-Syrian infrastructure left behind in Lebanon.
The change has nevertheless been significant. As of April 27, 2005, the Syrian Occupation Army and intelligence officers have evacuated Lebanon and Rustom Ghazali no longer operates Lebanon from Anjar. Syrian tanks no longer sit on the ridges overlooking Beirut nor in the central mountain ranges straddling the country. There are no Syrian Army checkpoints along the roads.
The Lebanese people once divided by religion through a long war and then through an equally long occupation have found common cause in their common Lebanese national identity regardless of their confessional orientation. The historic coming together of the people (Christians and Moslems) on March 14, 2005 cannot be underestimated as a genuine expression by a majority of the people to live in an independent Lebanon which makes and acts on decisions of their own, not decisions made for them in some distant or near foreign capital.
Democratic life has resumed and political institutions are attempting to resume their functions. Peaceful elections took place in May and June 2005, and were accepted by all in spite of the numerous objections to the electoral law and the conditions under which they took place. And, true open debates of the issues are taking place.
The Occupation Has Not Ended
These changes, however, do not mark the end of Lebanon’s long period of lost independence and occupation. Optimistically, these events of 2005 may have only marked the beginning of the end of the occupation.
Lebanon effectively lost the ability to maintain order within its own borders in the mid-1970’s. The Lebanese lost that ability in the mid-1970’s when they became overwhelmed by the PLO and then the cure for the PLO, the Syrian contingent of the Arab Deterrent Force, which was deployed in 1976.
From that time to this, the center of power, which has created order in Lebanon, has not been in Lebanon, but in Damascus Syria, and later in Tehran Iran, as well. The removal of the Syrian Army and intelligence officers in 2005 has not worked a power shift from Damascus and Tehran back to Beirut, yet. In addition, there continues to exist in Lebanon a paid network of informants and intelligence operatives which have served as the infrastructure for the planning and execution of the various bombings and assassinations which have taken place in Lebanon over the course of the past year.
The lifting of the physical occupation of the country has found Lebanese political parties, particularly the Christian parties, in disarray. An objective of the Syrian Occupation, a measure taken to insure its longevity, was to disperse and dismantle political organizations, particularly Christian political parties, which were at the heart of Lebanese independence, and this Syria did in a rather relentless way. Through assassinations of its leadership, outlawing of its political parties, separation of the Maronites from their natural allies within Lebanon and the fostering of the rise of an alternative center of power in a Syrian-Iranian protégé, Hezbollah, secular political power in Lebanon was scattered, to say the least.
The State of the Pro-Democracy Movement
Now that the Lebanese have been afforded an opportunity to re-establishself government, there are two distinct trends within the pro-democracy camp, vying for leadership; sorting out their true political weight. After 30 years of war and occupation where pro-democracy movements were suppressed and attacked, Lebanon’s political leadership lacks a national agenda beyond the expressed collective goal of sovereignty and independence.
The first trend is represented by the largest bloc in Parliament, led by the Future Movement headed by Saad Hariri, and the PSP headed by Walid Jumblatt. Included in this Parliamentary bloc are various Christian parties, such as the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb, and members of the Qurnet Shahwan. This block effectively represents the majority of Sunni Lebanese and Druze Lebanese respectively, as well as the Lebanese Christian constituencies. These parties have expressed an interest in building a governing coalition with the Christian political parties operating within the context of this multi-confessional trend, rather than the Christian parties taking a dominate leading role in the multi-confessional coalition.
The second trend is led by the Free Patriotic Movement, also a multi-confessional bloc, headed by former General Michel Aoun, and its allies inside and outside Parliament, which aspires to expand its influence in the country, particularly within Parliament and the Government and which seeks to serve in the leadership role for the pro-democracy coalition.
It is important to note that within the pro-democracy camp, there are numerous Shiite members of the various political parties, such as the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, as well as political figures of a yet forming Third Way movement among the Shiite population. This movement has been struggling under overwhelming pressure from Hezbollah and Amal.
These elements of the pro-democracy movement have not yet congealed into the critical mass necessary to govern Lebanon. The two trends have yet to reconcile on issues of establishment of a governing agenda and leadership issues. As of this time, the pro-democracy movement is not monolithic, but more of a coalition of different parties which share a common desire to break free of Syrian and Iranian hegemony. These cross-confessional coalitions, unseen since the independence of Lebanon from the French mandate back in 1943, deserve the full backing of the American administration and the West as they attempt to come together to form a coalition capable of controlling the government and bringing internal order to Lebanon.
Pro-Syrian-Iranian Forces Have Remained in Place
On the other side of the divide are the pro-Syrian-Iranian parties. Some of them have been disenfranchised from political power such as Omar Karami, Suleiman Frangieh, and their political followers who did not win seats in the last Parliamentary election. Others remain in power, particularly Hezbollah that is highly organized, focused, and agenda-driven, has a number of seats in Parliament as well as Ministerial portfolios. In addition, the Lebanese President, Emil Lahoud remains responsive to Syrian interests in Lebanon and uses the power of the Presidency to aid and assist Syria in keeping its foothold in Lebanon. And finally there is the Amal Party led by Nabih Berri, which is closely allied with Hezbollah under current circumstances.
Through the pro-Syrian and Iranian parties, Syria and Iran continue to meddle in Lebanese affairs and exploit the differences, which persist within the pro-democracy camp in order to undo it and thus keep Lebanon within the Syria-Iran sphere of influence. Thus, Lebanon remains very much in the balance as to whether it will re-emerge as a self governing state, or whether it will be re-submerged into the Syrian-Iranian realm. Syria and Iran are strategically at work attempting to undo the progress of the last year and resubmit Lebanon as a place where their regional strategies can be played out.
Faced with the multi-confessional nature of both parts of the independence movement, Syria and Iran, through their proxies, are sparing no effort in their attempt to re-ignite sectarian conflicts to weaken Lebanon and re-establish their control over it. The incessant arming of fundamentalist movements and the wave of bombings against Christian targets all fall within this strategy, which has so far been successfully resisted.
Regional Dimension of the Crisis in Lebanon
Iran has regional ambitions and this fact is not lost on anyone. In the last parliamentary elections in Iraq, Iranian Fundamentalists parties gave a great deal of assistance to Iraqi Shiites, which won an overwhelming majority in the new Iraqi Parliament. Thus the political infrastructure is now being placed for the expansion of Iranian power from the eastern Gulf region into the very center of the Middle East, threatening further American interests in the region.
The United States is in Iraq and must remain there for the foreseeable future as a check on the burgeoning growth of Iranian power. Their attempt to gain a nuclear capability and thus create a hostile nuclear power in the major oil production fields and shipping lanes is a development that is diametrically opposed to vital US interests in the region.
To the west, Iran is firming its regional alliance with Syria and undertaking a much more dangerous and destructive strategy. At a time when Hezbollah was under pressure to re-evaluate its position in Lebanon as to whether it would become a genuine Lebanese political party and disarm, or remain an armed force, Iran stepped in and gave Hezbollah a carte blanche in terms of financial and logistical support, thus reinforcing that entity as an instrument of power projection into the Eastern Mediterranean.
Such a move would leave the US in a very precarious position that we may not be able to politically survive, as we try to balance our commitment to an ally, Israel, in the face of growing public discontent and by all probabilities wide ranging attacks against US interests.
The events in Lebanon, particularly the crisis that has been created in the Council of Ministers, must be viewed from the perspective of this regional power play that is ongoing. Hezbollah, now as a full-fledged policy instrument of Iran, is demanding that the Lebanese government act only by consensus vote, rather than majority vote, which means unanimous consent on every issue that comes before it. This indirect recognition of being a minority in the overall scheme of political powers in Lebanon, gives Hezbollah, a distinct minority in the Council, a veto over any measure and the ability to paralyze government in Lebanon. Karami served this purpose earlier in the year, also at the behest of the regional Syrian-Iranian alliance. The strategy has been that if Syria and Iran could not control the actions of the Lebanese government in a direct manner, then they would act to put a stick in the wheel and paralyze the government from taking any action at all, indirectly by such positions taken by their political allies in Lebanon. So far they have been successful in inflicting governmental paralysis through this indirect means.
The recent resolution of the Council of Ministers to seek an international tribunal to investigate and try the assassins of Rafic Hariri and Gebran Tueni was the catalyst for the most recent governmental crisis. Now Hezbollah is setting, as the price of its return to the Cabinet, the execution of a letter by Prime Minister Siniora to the effect that the Lebanese have fully complied with all provisions of UNRES 1559, a very dangerous move, which if taken, would put the pro-democracy alliance in direct conflict with the West. It is a patent falsehood that such compliance has occurred when, in fact, the subject has not even been discussed. Yet the pressure is on the cabinet and the ultimatum is that if the letter is not issued to the UN, then Hezbollah will try to force the dissolution of the Siniora Government and thus set the country back to where it was in February 2005 when then Prime Minister Karami was forced to dissolve his government and none could be formed for weeks.
Adding to the pressure coming from Iran through Hezbollah, is pressure on the government from the Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun. Aoun, having been sidelined by the Siniora Government and having campaigned against its alliance with Hizbullah, is adding to the pressure on the Government by attempting to force actions from it while the state of paralysis persists as induced by the demands of Hezbollah that it act only by consensus. Thus, the pressure on the government is two-fold – pressure to act driven by the FPM, and the pressures being built by the Hezbollah induced paralysis.
Necessity of Countervailing American Support
The nascent Lebanese pro-democracy movement is thus in great danger and is facing regional pressure at a time when it has not yet organized itself so as to be able to fend off the pressures which are being applied to it. It is therefore imperative that the United States, facing such great stakes in the Syria-Iran counter-offensive to undo all that has been accomplished in the region, to stand with the democracy movement in Lebanon and to back it against the regional forces arrayed against it. We in the United States must recognize that we are not writing this history on a blank slate. Rather, our transformational effort in the region is being resisted by a competing ideology advanced by an adversarial regional state. The competing ideology is Islamic fundamentalism and the regional state is Iran. Under this ideology, Iran is seeking to steer an independent course for itself and its resources outside of the American led international system and to bring as many regional states as possible under its tutelage. If the United States is not as diligent as its regional adversary in pushing its agenda; supporting its friends; opposing its enemies; then we stand to lose greatly in a very strategic part of the world.
In Lebanon, the United States has strategic friends. The success of their pro-democracy movement and the defeat of the Iranian sponsored counter effort in Lebanon will have positive repercussions not just in Lebanon but across the region. It is in Lebanon that the United States can begin the process of putting Iran back into its box.
Conversely, it is also in Lebanon, that if we fail, the gateway will have been opened to Europe for the same sort of Fundamentalist inspired instability that so far has been contained primarily in the Middle East. The riots in France during the past year, the presence of Fundamentalist cells in Germany and the UK are precursors to what awaits if we grant Iranian styled fundamentalism a foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Therefore, we in the National Alliance of Lebanese Americans (NALA) call upon the United States to fully acknowledge the stakes and the consequences of current events in Lebanon. There are regional actors at play in Lebanon, which the pro-democracy forces, alone, are currently unable to manage. Events demand an American political, diplomatic and economic involvement to protect American interests in the pro-democracy movement in Lebanon. They need our support, not just to fend off this Iranian power play, but they need an umbrella, sort out their differences, get their legs underneath themselves and pull the elements together necessary to form the critical mass needed to govern themselves again. In the short term, NALA recommends the following:
· Timely response and statements from the Administration. The recentstatements from the Administration threatening sanctions against Lebanon if the Hezbollah position regarding compliance with UNRES 1559 is adopted by the cabinet have been effective thus far in reinforcing the position of the pro-democracy elements vis a vis Hezbollah’s demands and should be expanded. NALA calls for greater coordination between the US Administration and the pro-democracy forces in Lebanon such that Iran and Syria will understand that any move taken in Lebanon to marginalize the pro-democracy movement will trigger a countervailing American response.
· The continued presence of a large highly mobile American military forcein Iraq can serve as a regional deterrent force to give credibility to American diplomatic and political moves with countries such as Syria and Iran, which understand only the language of military force to alter their conduct.
· The US and its allies should persist in their efforts to introduce and passthe UN Resolution against Hizbullah and its illegal military activity in Lebanon.
· The US and its allies must push for the formation of an international court to try those indicted in the assassination of Hariri and Tuini and expand the investigation into the other assassinations in Lebanon.
· Finally, the continued active involvement of the American Ambassador to Lebanon with the various elements of the pro-democracy movement as they work through their differences and seek to find accommodations with each other is essential.
Prepared and distributed by the National Alliance of Lebanese Americans Policy Committee, Toufic P. Nassif, President, Houston TX, Ziad Nassar, Atlanta GA, Ramzi Rihani, Washington D.C., Toufic Baaklini, Washington, D.C., Joseph L. Boohaker, Birmingham, AL Copywrite © 2006