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The Regional Challenge in Lebanon

The American initiative in the Middle East, commenced as the Greater Middle Eastern Initiative, and adopted as the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative by the G-8 at the Sea Island Summit of June 8-10, 2004, serves as the context and cornerstone for the democratic movements fostered by the United States in the region ever since.[1] International efforts in Afghanistan which resulted in an elected president; efforts in Iraq which have resulted in a popularly adopted constitution and a popularly elected Parliament; elections Lebanon in May-June 2005 for a new Parliament and elections held on January 25, 2006 for a new Palestinian Parliament are all the product of this new initiative fostered by the West led by the United States.

 
The effort is being resisted. In Afghanistan, the Taliban continue to operate, continue to give sanctuary to Ossama bin Laden and have resumed their trade in heroin and cocaine to finance their resistance.[2]
 
In Iraq, Coalition Forces are confronted with a stubborn insurgency comprised of foreign jihadists and Iraqi irregulars who have not reconciled themselves to majority rule.
 
In the Palestinian Authority territories, Hamas has made a comeback in Gaza which was recently evacuated by Israel.
 
And most acutely, the effort to install a liberal form of democracy is being resisted and opposed by Iran at a local, regional and international level. Locally, Iran has infiltrated the nascent Shiite political parties in neighboring Iraq, which are led by Shiite clerics and are transforming the democratic victory won by the Shiite parties into a fundamentalist victory. Regionally, the Iranians have broken the IAEA seals and have resumed testing to produce bomb grade nuclear material.[3] This has touched off an international crisis as efforts are underway by the USG, the EU and UN to work with Russia and China in an effort to end the Iranian tests.
 
Regionally, Iran has been active in shoring up support for the regime of Bashar al Assad as he has resisted efforts by the United Nations through the UNIIIC to conduct investigations into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Iran has also given Hezbollah, in Lebanon a carte blanche in order to continue as an armed presence in Lebanon, acting outside of Lebanese command and control, but under Iranian direction, as an armed presence in southern Lebanon.[4]
It is through the Iranian alliance with Syria and use of Hezbollah as a vehicle of power projection that Iran is confronting implementation of the Broader Middle Eastern Initiative with respect to Lebanon. The combined efforts of Syrian loyalists in the Lebanese government and the presence of Hezbollah as representatives of the Shiite community within the government has combined to paralyze the freely elected Lebanese government so as to make it non-functional.
 
Let us be clear, we in NALA perceive a definite regional component to the government crisis that exists in Lebanon. This regional component dates back to August 30, 2004 when Syria imposed its will, contrary to the wishes of the Lebanese people and the international community acting through the UN in the adoption of 1559 to extend the term of Assad’s “agent in Lebanon” Emil Lahoud. This set off a series of events that are still being played out in Lebanon. The assassination of Hariri was accomplished so as to retard the effort of the Lebanese to break free of Syria as Hariri was preparing to take his Parliamentary bloc into the Opposition camp at the time of his murder. The Spring of 2005 saw the Syrian protégé, Omar Karami, working in concert with Lahoud to paralyze the government by failing to form a cabinet following Karami’s resignation of February 28, 2005. The failure to adopt a new electoral law, due to the delays of Nabih Berri, another pro-Syrian actor in Lebanon meant that timely elections would result in the pro-Syrian Hezbollah taking the lion’s share of the Shiite vote and be in position to have Ministerial portfolios.
 
Now that all of these pro-Syrian elements are in place in Lebanon, they are still acting in concert with one another to freeze any action by the government. The strategic objective of Syria in Lebanon has been and remains to control it completely. At this time, while its military and intelligence occupation forces have been forced to quit Lebanon, its objective is to hold the free government of Lebanon hostage and frozen until such time as it can, once again rule Lebanon from Anjar or Damascus.
 
Iran has a concurrent interest in the Lebanon file. It sees this venue as a place to confront the Western-led Initiative, referenced above, and to expand and deepen the roots of its protégé, Hezbollah. Iran is anticipating the time when it becomes a nuclear power, to use Hezbollah as a policy tool to project its power against Israel and the West. Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese elections and use of the democratic process as a means to achieve a fundamentalist end is being mimicked by Hamas in the Palestinian elections. Elections earlier this week resulted in the secular Fatah winning 42% of the vote and Hamas winning 34%.[5]
 
The United States must confront this counter effort, being made by Iran, particularly in Lebanon. When viewed from the regional and international perspective, not just Lebanon, but the G-8, the UN and the entire international community have a stake in insuring that the Iranian led counter initiative in Lebanon fails. NALA recommends the following actions:
  • The Extended Mandate of Emil Lahoud as the President of Lebanon must come to an end. It is intolerable that the extended mandate of Emil Lahoud should continue in light of the fact that it was Hariri’s opposition to that extension that resulted in his assassination and in light of the fact that it was accomplished in response to and in defiance of the imminent adoption of UNRES 1559. Lahoud’s presidency at this time remains as a daily reminder of Syria’s defiance of the international community and the will of the Lebanese people.
The presence of a Syrian protégé in that office has done more to block the progress of the democratic front in Lebanon than even Hezbollah. Efforts to ignore Lahoud or work around him do not lessen his ability to paralyze the Lebanese government, but work to weaken the power and prestige of the Lebanese Presidency. In the hands of a Lebanese nationalist, much can be done from the office of the President to advance the cause of self-government in Lebanon. The United States must make as its priority the development of legitimate avenues by which this extended mandate can be brought to an end and a new President assume office.
 
This will require the recruitment of Michel Aoun as he has the necessary credibility with those nationalist elements in Lebanon to be credible with the people, credible with the Lebanese Army, have the capacity to send the Army to the south and to oversee the standing down of Hezbollah as a militia. However, Aoun must be brought into the fold. From the outside he is a divisive force. He and the FPM have to be reconciled to the March 14 Movement and the divisions ended. This will take the active mediation of the United States and the reaching of firm agreements by all sides with regard to how they will all move forward together.
  • The United States must intervene, if necessary to resolve the divisions that exist within the pro-democracy front and assist the elements to accelerate their coming together so as to be capable of governing Lebanon and maintaining order throughout all of Lebanon’s sovereign territory. The process is taking too long, on its own. In addition, the process is under severe pressure from determined regional forces working actively to insure that the divisions which exist will persist and that the entire movement break apart. The United States has a vested national interest to insure that the democratic front in Lebanon come together and remain together and should take action in this regard.
  • American support for complete implementation of UNRES 1559 must remain unconditional until such time as Hezbollah and the Palestinian factions in Lebanon have surrendered their arms to lawful authority;
  • American support for UN measures to investigate the assassinations in Lebanon of prominent pro-democracy players must remain unconditional with the perpetrators brought before an international tribunal;
  • American support for UN measures aimed at investigating the mass graves located at Anjar and Yarzi must remain unconditional and the perpetrators brought before a war crimes tribunal.

 


[1] What the G8's Sea Island Summit Means for the World Ahead
The New US Proposal for a Greater Middle East Initiative: An Evaluation
Accomplishments at the G8 Summit
NATO's Frontiers: Eurasia, the Mediterranean, and the Greater Middle East
by Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
Heritage Lecture #919
 
[2]A Harvest of Treachery
Afghanistan's drug trade is threatening the stability of a nation America went to war to stabilize. What can be done?
[3] The Board of Governors for the IAEA will meet on February 2, 2006 to address the Iranian issue. http://www.iaea.org/
[4] Hezbollah Finances: Funding the Party of God
By Matthew Levitt
Chapter from Terrorism Financing and State Responses in Comparative Perspective, February 2005
[5] New York Times, January 25, 2006
A Narrow Win for Fatah Expected in Palestinian Elections

 

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