Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Springtime for Nasrallah and Iran, winter for Lebanon and France

 Springtime for Nasrallah and Iran, winter for Lebanon and France


The news from Doha is that the long Lebanese impasse is finally over. Aided by the good offices of the ostensibly pro-Western Qatar government, the Hezbollah has seemingly scored a knockout blow over its Lebanese opponents. Qatar mediated a "compromise" that apparently gives Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran everything they wanted, and puts an end to Lebanese independence in all but name. The crucial issue, which pro-government forces had supported during the many months of the Hezbollah siege, was the question of granting Hezbollah and its allies over 1/3 of the 30 cabinet members in the government. This provides them with veto power, and will probably make it possible to stop the international tribunal that was to try the murderers of Rafiq Hariri.

Beirut will also be redistricted to allow elections that will guarantee a Shi'a majority.

Saad Hariri, leader of the opposition, had been intimidated and harassed, his television stations silenced by Hezbollah goons and his house surrounded by them. Evidently, he no longer felt himself in a position to object.

In reality, Hariri and the forces supporting the government apparently had little choice. Hezbollah made them "an offer they could not refuse." Either their names would be on the agreement, or their brains would be on the agreement. When Hezbollah took over Beirut, France and the United States, the mainstays of Lebanese government support, did nothing more than expostulate (See Lebanon: Frozen in the headlamps of history). "America is tired" as the astute Israeli pundit Nahum Barnea pointed out. That is the meaning of non-intervention in Lebanon. France has been tired since 1918. The most threatening thing to come from those quarters was hot air. The Lebanese army should have been responsible for maintaining order. Instead, it found a way to put the stamp of legality on hooliganism. The army is led by prospective Lebanese president Michel Suleiman, whose speedy election now seems assured thanks to the "compromise." Suleiman demonstrated his usefulness to the cause of the Hezbollah by granting their demands and using the authority of the army to nullify government decisions. With Suleiman firmly in the hands of the Hezbollah and Syria, the way was open to this "compromise." Hariri may object, but how many divisions has Hariri? None. Arming his supporters and starting a civil war would have been pointless. It would have led to an ignominious and bloody defeat, since the army was against him, the Hezbollah has decisive military superiority and the world community will do nothing to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for disarming of all groups. Only Walid Jumblatt, with more valor than discretion, dared to confront the Hezbollah briefly in the north.

Some may have initially had doubts about the value of the victory scored by the Hezbollah. In AsSharqalawsat, Editor in Chief Tareq al Homayed cited "Hezbollah's defeat" noted that Nasrallah had lost his popularity by turning the weapons of the Hezbollah against the Lebanese. Much as one would like to agree with this wishful thinking, Middle East power politics are not governed by popularity contests. Nasrallah has succeeded. Nothing succeeds like success, nothing fails like failure, incompetence and spinelessness. Nasrallah will be a hero for having bested the French and the US. Even better for Nasrallah: Somehow, the Arab popular mind has succeeded, thanks to Hezbollah propaganda, in associating the cause of Lebanese independence with Israel. Therefore, a victory for Hezbollah, Syria and Iran is perceived as a defeat for Israel. Nasrallah has probably retrieved his popularity. And if anyone in Lebanon thinks Nasrallah is not a great gift to the cause of Lebanese independence, they had better keep it to themselves.

When Iran forms a "resistance" group in Qatar and succeeds in taking over their government, presumably the "compromise" will be negotiated in Beirut.

Ami Isseroff

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