Turmoil in Lebanon

Democracy hangs in the balance.

Lebanon is in a state of turmoil. Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite-Muslim guerrilla terrorist organization, is threatening to take over the country if the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicts its members in the murder of Rafik Hariri and demands their arrest. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (Rafik Hariri’s son) “walked” earlier this year in submission to the proverbial Canossa to bow before “Pope” Bashar Assad and asked “forgiveness” for his indirect accusations against the Assad regime, suggesting that it was responsible murdering his father. It now seems that Saad Hariri might swallow the bitter pill of truth about the murderers of his father by avoiding a confrontation with Hezbollah and “re-inviting” Syria back to Lebanon.

The confessional system in Lebanon, whereby a Christian holds the presidency, a Sunni-Muslim the prime-minister’s office, a Shiite-Muslim the speaker of parliament office, a Maronite-Christian the commander of the army post, and a Druze the army chief of staff position, is under siege.

The civil war in Lebanon has reduced the Christian majority in the country, as hundreds of thousands of Christians left the country and joined the large Lebanese-Christian Diaspora in the West.

The Sunni-Muslims led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri are seeking ways in which to enfranchise some of the 400,000 Sunni-Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to gain greater power in the country.  The Shiite-Lebanese, in the meantime, have grown to become the largest confessional group in Lebanon, and are demanding the reshuffling of the National Pact of 1943.

Demographic changes alone, however, do not explain the turmoil in the Land of the Cedars.  Neighboring Syria has reasserted its influence on Lebanon from whence it was ejected following massive demonstrations and international pressure in the aftermath of the assassination of Hariri.  Iran, which supports Syria both militarily and financially, is also the singular force training, arming, and funding Hezbollah, and has become the major foreign power asserting its influence.

The perceived weakness of the Obama administration for having chosen to appease Iran and Syria rather than counter their growing influence over Lebanon, has undermined the emerging Lebanese democracy and the Cedar Revolution in particular. It has enabled Hezbollah to become the strongest military force in Lebanon, capable of intimidating the government and superseding the strength of the Lebanese army.

Revealed diplomatic dispatches via WikiLeaks support the assertion that the Obama administration’s pandering to Syria was an unrealistic fantasy. Obama sought to engage Syria and reactivate the Syrian peace track in order to distance Damascus from Tehran, and he did so against the advice from regional allies such as the Emirates Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed, who cautioned the Obama administration against wasting time on trying to pry Syria away from Iran.

Egypt’s President Mubarak shared with the Obama administration his view that the Syrians (and the Qataris) were “sycophants to Tehran” and “liars.” What is shocking is that the Obama administration ignored the advice of not only Mubarak and Prince bin Zayed, but also that of Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. Instead, Obama chose to rely on the (Islamist) Turkish government and the Qataris.

According to Maariv, an Israeli daily, the WikiLeaks dispatches exposed the fact that during Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Defense Minister Elias Murr guided Israel’s Air Force on where to attack Hezbollah targets in Lebanon and ordered the Lebanese Army not to interfere.  Murr had hoped that by weakening Hezbollah, the Lebanese Army would be able to become the dominant force in Lebanon. Other leaks included Hezbollah’s warning that if implicated in the murder of Prime Minister Hariri, it would commit a coup d’état and take over power in Lebanon.

In November of this year, sources close to the Special Tribunal on Lebanon, the committee charged with investigating Hariri’s murder, suggested that the tribunal might point to leading members of Hezbollah as being responsible for the murder.  Hezbollah’s General Secretary Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah responded by threatening that “he will cut off the hands of anyone trying to arrest his men.”

In a recent visit to Beirut, Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator, made it clear to Saad Hariri that he could not guarantee the future of the Lebanese government or the stability of the political situation until the indictment issue is resolved.  This is a clear indication of Syrian control over Hezbollah, at least on the ground.

This reporter asked Joseph Hakim, a Lebanese native and Vice President of the International Christian Union, to comment on the current turmoil.  Hakim, who is closely connected to the leadership of the Cedar Revolution, had this to say about the situation:

Lebanon is at this time in imminent danger of Hezbollah taking over Lebanon with the collusion of Michel Aoun and the entire March 8 movement.  This would be followed in a couple of years by Hezbollah’s systematic liquidation of all the March 8 movement groups including Michel Aoun, and other operatives.

Hakim further pointed out:

The Hezbollah leadership is wise enough to know that it is being watched by the international community, and therefore would seek to open fire on Israel in order to drag the entire Lebanese government, people, army and the opposition into war.  This would weaken the Lebanese government, and enable Hezbollah to assert further its power grip on Lebanon.  Incidentally, the Hezbollah used the same tactics during its 2006 war with Israel, when it hailed itself as the victor over Israel.

When questioned on how the Lebanese Christian community would react to Hezbollah’s takeover of its country, Hakim responded by saying:

If Hezbollah takes over the country it would cause a bloody war inside Lebanon.  I believe that the Christians will fight to the end, and they will stand united for the most part.  I do not anticipate a serious fight with the Aoun’s [Christians who are allied with Hezbollah at the moment] group.  It will however be "the straw that broke the camel’s back," and I believe that it may result in a likely end to the Christian’s existence in Lebanon.

Hakim cautioned that if the international community remained passive and failed to react to a Hezbollah takeover, Lebanon would become, within two years, a radical Muslim state.  He added, that “the Saudi support of the Sunni-Muslims and Palestinians in Lebanon is also endangering Lebanon’s democracy, the Christians, and other minorities.”

The turmoil in Lebanon is, in part, a consequence of the Obama administration’s weakness and lack of resolve to block the machinations of Iran and Syria with Hezbollah as their blunt instrument.  The U.S. administration must show strength if the Middle East is to avoid a major conflagration triggered by the radical takeover of Lebanon.