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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

It’s Hizbullah's way or the Beirut-Damascus highway

This Independence Day will find Lebanon free of foreign hegemony for the first time in many years. The Syrian ruler left his Umayyad stronghold in the east, releasing the Lebanese from offering their first-borns to the sub-deity of Anjar. Or so everybody thought until Hizbullah’s fireworks on Monday. True to their party-pooper nature, they ruined the celebration before it happened, creating an uproar among the Lebanese who rightfully resent their unilateralism and attachment to supposedly non Lebanese causes (on this, Hizbullah will disagree, for their Lebanon is different from yours and mine).

Many will be looking east again to blame Syria for this escalation. It’s a perfectly understandable thing to do, considering the Syrian threats and whispers about a plan of attack that largely depends on Hizbullah’s role to succeed. But in our rush to blame this on Syria, and even if it’s partly true, we should not overlook the reality of what we have here: a frighteningly radical monster that is on the verge of a de-facto usurpation of power that only one country can stop. Yes, sadly, only one country can stop Hizbullah, and it’s not Iran. It’s Syria. And this reality is being manipulated to the max by the Syrian regime, which is forcing the country to choose between Hizbullah’s way, or theirs.

Hizbullah’s power

The massive Hizbullah demonstration in March sent a powerful message to the then unified opposition: we are here and we are strong. Through this demonstration, Syria was able to make it clear that it still held the most powerful card in Lebanon. There is a powerful logic that must have guided the Syrian regime’s decision to eliminate Rafik Hariri. Lebanon is not the same country it was in 1943. A civil war and the Arab Israeli struggle have turned it into something drastically different from what the fathers of the National Pact wanted it to be. The Christians noticed the change in the 70s, and Cardinal Sfeir sees it today. Today’s Shiites are yesterday’s Maronites. You take out a powerful Sunni figure, you clear the stage for Hizbullah to step in as the only true and capable power in the country. The Syrian gamble was on the weakness of the opposition and its eventual disintegration. (And what do you know, Aoun comes back and along with Jumblatt they polarize the opposition and weaken it.) The inherent contradictions in the Lebanese system, pre and post-Taef and the lack of national cohesion mean that there will never be a strong national force to offset Syrian influence. Add to that the US apparent failure in Iraq and improbability of military strike on Syria, the Syrian planners must have thought they could get away with murder and re-strengthen a weakened regime. The Syrian regime was on its death bed before the Lahoud extension. Believe Bashar when he said the “plot” to take him out started before the Hariri assassination. Don’t believe him though when he says that he didn’t kill Hariri. Killing him gave Syria the chance to play the most dangerous card it has in its arsenal, the Hizbullah card.

Syria knows the power of Hizbullah, which it helped arm and build. Ironically, it was Hariri himself through his media and apparent loyalty to Syria before his falling out with the regime that helped turn Hizbullah into the monster it is today. Beside a few rare occasions when Hizbullah would spitefully ignite the southern front ahead of major business meetings or opportunities for the country, Hariri’s media machine invariably helped market Hizbullah as a national resistance even when Hizbullah’s own media called it Islamic resistance. Hariri “protected” Hizbullah partly out of loyalty to the Arab cause and partly out of obligation to Syria which in turn promised to let him transform the country into the Hong Kong he settled for after the failure of the Arab Israeli peace process.

Hizbullah’s power today is enormous, politically and socially. We would be mistaken to look at it as a mere Syria proxy, I think. Syria needs Hizbullah perhaps more than Hizbullah needs Syria. With Iran finding safe inroads into the threatened and isolated Syrian regime, Hizbullah has Syria by the neck. In the past, Syria under Hafez controlled Hizbullah’s lifeline and managed its activities to some extent. But Syria’s gradual weakening, which is both the result of the deadlock in the peace process and the success of the anti-Syrian opposition in Lebanon, has made it more dependent on Iran and Hizbullah than ever. A strong Syria is not what Hizbullah needs. A weak Syria that is dependent on Iran is god’s gift to his party.

Hizbullah tacitly went along with the Taef agreement because it knew it had no choice but to play under the Syrian rules. Hafez kept them as a pressure card against the Israelis, whose brutality and uncompromising position led in part to the collapse of the talks. The more the Israelis stalled, the weaker the Syrians became and the more powerful Hizbullah grew.

The third gate

So it would seem that we are being presented with two choices: Hizbullah or Syria. The first means perpetual state of war until Israel is defeated and an Islamic order is inevitable. The second means a return to a Syrian tutelage but with reduced Hizbullah power—an option that requires Lebanon to abandon the Hariri investigation and somehow help re-empower Syria to enable it to put a leash on Hizbullah. This is Syria’s bet. The Syrian regime knows that what Hizbullah represents is anathema to many Lebanese. In many ways, the Party of God is the PLO of this century. Somebody in Syria must think the Lebanese Christians have no choice but to cry “Help Syria” soon.

Naturally, neither choice is acceptable. This isn’t 1975 even if the similarities are there.

Lebanon’s only hope is someone nobody thought would play the role he is playing today: Fouad Siniora. Siniora was a totally unexpected development. Hizbullah will try to destroy him and Bashar has already started the process. Siniora holds the key to the third gate. What can he do? Wrong question. What can WE do?

Happy Independence Day.

Happy Independence Day to you too Kais :). Seniora has exceeded my expectations in different areas, and I hope he keeps up his work. Great post, as usual.
I really like your posts and enjoy reading it although sometimes I feel that your position could be of need of "cosmetic changes."

The two choices that you have listed are valid but there is a third choice which is a combination "with modification" of your two choices. Here what I suggest: Syria could play the role of controlling HA but with no need to "re-occupy" Lebanon. By blocking the weapons routes HA will run out of weapons. I am talking about heavy weapons not individual arms. Lebanon and "other" forces could stop the flow to arms using the Mediterranean sea.. I think that Lebanon should in the future (not now) control the flow of foreign money to "Lebanese" organizations. Each organization should show its books (sources and expenditures) so no one will depend financially on outsiders and the government should know where that money is being spent!

Siniora is going great and may Allah bless and protect him and Lebanon!
Happy Independence Day everyone!

A choice of solving the HA dilemma was mentioned in Al-Nahar's Sarkis Na'oum article.In his article,and according to a foreign diplomat, he says that a final soultion to HA arms if Syria fails to co-operate, is an Israeli invasion 40 km deep to clear HA arms. I hope we don't have to face this scenario as I realy don't know what would the impact be on Lebanese unity.

There is one thing which i can not but agree with you on Kais that is today's Shiites are yesterday's Maronites.

Anyway hope everything will be resolved peacefully for the sake of Lebanon.

Keep up the good work Kais.
Or maybe, the non-Hezbo Lebanese coud wake up long enough to work for the survival of the nation and face those guys....

NAH! Back to reality.
"Yes, sadly, only one country can stop Hizbullah, and it’s not Iran. It’s Syria. And this reality is being manipulated to the max by the Syrian regime, which is forcing the country to choose between Hizbullah’s way, or theirs.

Both countries have a veto on Hezbollah's actions, but I think that the Iranian influence is stronger, especially after Syria's withdrawal. If Hezbollah is going to destabilize Lebanon, it means that Iran AND Syria gave them the green light.

Now that Syria is out of Lebanon, Damascus only maintains some influence on the Hezb because of history (but that element is going to become weaker) and because of its alliance with Tehran. Which means, as I said on one of my first posts, that Syria needs Iran more that Iran needs Syria. Iran is calling the shots.
"The massive Hizbullah demonstration in March sent a powerful message to the then unified opposition: we are here and we are strong. "

And 6 days later the opposition replied : we are here and we are stronger...
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