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It would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was welcomed in Lebanon on Wednesday for a visit that demonstrated just how far the Lebanese democracy has fallen and how fast the enemies of freedom have risen.
Ever since the Doha Agreement of 2008, in which Hezbollah achieved with guns what it couldn’t achieve with the ballot box, the arc of power and influence of the democratic “March 14th Alliance” has been waning. In Qatar, the Western-friendly coalition made up largely of Sunnis, Christians, and Druze reluctantly agreed to give the Hezbollah-led opposition enough cabinet ministers in government to give them veto power over the majority’s policies. In effect, the hard-won election of 2005 that had given the democrats nominal control was canceled, and the wolf was invited inside where he then proceeded to make himself at home.
Even the parliamentary elections last year that saw another victory by the March 14th coalition was eventually watered down as the “Spirit of Doha” and once again brought the Hezbollah opposition into a government partnership. The political motto of Lebanon — “No victors, no vanquished” — rings hollow today as Hezbollah has bullied and threatened its way to dominance.
There is no doubt that Hezbollah has reached the zenith of its power and influence in Lebanon. By demonstrating a willingness to press its advantages, as well as hold the specter of violence over the heads of the March 14th Alliance, the government now marches to the beat of Hezbollah’s drums. There is something pathetic in all of this if one considers the high hopes of the Lebanese people when the March 14th Alliance first took power in 2005. Since that time, compromise after compromise with the enemies of freedom have sapped the will to resist the constant pressure of Hezbollah and its Iranian masters. In the end, most of the leaders of the March 14th forces have either resigned to the inevitable or are maintaining a lower profile.
This is the backdrop of Ahmadinejad’s triumphal visit to Lebanon. With a newly confident and assertive Syria, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah in de facto control of the country, the minions of the Iranian president now present a united front against Israel and Western interests in the Levant.
Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, summed up the significance of Ahmadinejad’s visit:
The important issue is that we see another step in the ‘Hezbollah-ization’ of Lebanon…Lebanon is further losing its independence and Hezbollah is taking over, with Ahmadinejad encouraging these forces and signaling to the whole Middle East that Lebanon is becoming an Iranian protectorate.
Buttressing the idea that Lebanon has become a virtual client state of Iran were remarks made by Ahmadinejad during the frenetic rally held in southern Lebanon in Bint Jbeil. Hezbollah has made that little town a “symbol of the resistance,” promoting the legend of Hezbollah’s victory during the 2006 war with Israel.
During his speech, Ahmadinejad jumped feet first into the crisis currently roiling politics in Lebanon; the so-called “false witnesses” issue relating to the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). In a nutshell, the UN has been investigating the assassination in 2005 of Rafiq Hariri, former prime minister and father of current PM Said Hariri. The first report on the investigation issued in 2005 by then-prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, implicated high-level Syrian officials in the murders, including President Assad’s brother in law.
But over the years, some witnesses have recanted (they were clearly intimidated), others murdered, and the UN walked back from its initial findings of Syrian involvement. Also, four prominent Lebanese generals who had been jailed until last year, were released because of questionable eyewitness testimony. It is impossible to say at this point how much pressure was placed on key witnesses to change their testimony and whether there really were “false witnesses” in the case.
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