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Lebanon: Stalemate With Terror By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The best that can be said about Monday’s victory for the moderate, pro-Western March 14 coalition in the Lebanese elections is that Hezbollah was concerned enough to warn, “The majority must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state.” The worst that can be said is that few expect Hezbollah and the Iranian-Syrian axis it spearheads to be significantly weakened by the results. 

The elections, in which the March 14 bloc defeated its March 8 rivals by 71-57, thereby gaining one parliamentary seat, appear to have been orderly and comparatively “clean,” and undoubtedly show that something of Lebanon’s best days as a multi-confessional democracy still survives. The March 8 bloc, mainly composed of the Hezbollah and Amal Shi'ite movements and Christian leader Michel Aoun, drew the expected votes from the Shi'ite populace. Aoun’s unexpectedly poor showing in key Christian districts, however, sealed the bloc’s defeat.  

As AP reported, “The Maronite Catholic Church made a last-minute appeal, warning that Lebanon as a state and its Arab identity were threatened, a clear reference to Hizbullah and its Persian backer, Iran.” In other words, sanity prevailed among a dwindling Lebanese Christian community that still values its relative freedom. 

As for the Sunnis, who a year ago found themselves in open military confrontation with Hezbollah, they voted solidly for March 14 and it is thought that Sunni leader Said Hariri, current majority leader in parliament, stands the best chance to emerge as prime minister. Hariri is the son of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, whose 2005 murder—by, it is believed, forces associated with Hezbollah and Syria—precipitated the crisis that drove Syria from Lebanon but also led Hezbollah to tighten its grip on the country.  

Since last year’s clashes that grip has included Hezbollah and its allies’ veto power in the Lebanese cabinet. Before the elections the March 14 coalition vowed that, if it won, it would divest March 8 of that veto power, charging that it enfeebled governmental decision-making.  

Blogger and Lebanon observer Tony Badran calls this “a potential looming crisis on the horizon…especially since Hezbollah and the March 8 groups have shown themselves to be anti-democratic and violent forces who wouldn’t hesitate to paralyze the country and ultimately attack people in their homes to get what they want.” Israeli Middle East analyst Avi Issacharoff, in a somewhat different but likewise pessimistic mode, expects that “very little will change in Lebanon” because “With last summer’s violent showdown, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made absolutely clear who is in charge…The pro-Western camp will seek to stay away from confrontation, and will probably refrain from asking Hezbollah to disarm.” 

Indeed, reactions in Israel were generally muted and cautious. President Shimon Peres warned that “the election results in Lebanon do not change the fact that Hezbollah remains a state within a state.” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said March 14’s win was “definitely a positive sign, but the real proof will be…the government’s ability to enforce order and prevent Hizbullah from continuing military actions in southern Lebanon and throughout Lebanon.”

On that score Itamar Rabinovich, a former ambassador to the U.S. and negotiator with Syria, saw little ground for optimism, noting that the election outcome, while “good news considering the alternative…doesn’t remove even one rocket or missile from Hizbullah’s arsenal”—an arsenal believed to have grown to 40,000 since the 2006 Second Lebanon War and subsequent failure by UNIFIL and the Lebanese army to enforce UN Security Council 1701 that was supposed to keep Hezbollah at bay.

Welcome though this election outcome is, it does not change the fact that whereas Hezbollah is supported by two ruthless totalitarian powers, Iran and Syria, the moderates in Lebanon have much more equivocal support from a West that appears unable to get interested in the stakes of the Lebanese power game.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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