Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lebanon: A Sinking Ship that the Obama Administration Doesn’t Notice

By Barry Rubin

Let’s not forget about Lebanon even though the Obama Administration has done so.

Walid Jumblatt, once the lion of the moderate coalition, has now deserted it, thus weakening the anti-Hizballah, anti-Syrian, Lebanese nationalist forces that want to keep Lebanon independent.

There is still no government, but two principles have been established.

First, Hizballah will have one-third of the cabinet seats and a veto blocking the government from doing anything it doesn’t like. This makes Hizballah a co-ruler of the country able to block any effort to:

Weaken its militia, force it out of control of southern Lebanon, reduce its arms smuggling, increase cooperation with UN forces policing the Israel-Lebanon border, investigate Syrian involvement in past murders of moderate political and journalistic figures, improve relations with the United States, or do pretty much anything that Iran or Syria doesn’t like.

So it is possible for the U.S. and French governments to pretend that Lebanon is still in moderate, pro-Western, independent hands but that just isn’t true.

Second, the Lebanese government will endorse the “Resistance” philosophy produced in Syria with help from Iran. In other words, the platform of the next government will be based on the following ideas:

Israel is an evil force which should be wiped off the map (not negotiated with), Western influence in the region must be expelled, Hamas is the best Palestinian group, Iran having nuclear weapons is a good thing, and  armed struggle (read: terrorism) is the most appropriate way of responding to the situation, and the best leadership is in Tehran and Damascus.

This will make it harder to hide what’s really going on in Lebanon but no doubt the media and Western governments will find a way. Here’s how:

Rather than saying that Lebanon is being radicalized, they can say that Hizballah is being moderated.

After all, Hizballah has entered politics and even the government. Isn’t this a sign of moderation?

No, not if Hizballah uses this engagement in politics to push through radical policies and gain permissiveness for itself to wage war whenever it chooses and act as a state-within-a state.

And here's a third point. A newspaper which is a front for the Syrians is reporting that Iran is offering to sell Lebanon weapons, including anti-aircraft guns, which would be used to shoot at Israeli reconnaissance planes. The story's importance isn't just what it is saying directly but also the start of a campaign to portray Iran as Lebanon's true ally and protector. This signals the beginning of Lebanon's integration as an Iranian satellite.

Lebanon is a small country and one easy to ignore. But it just happens to be the front at the moment on which Syria and Iran are making the biggest gains, while the West and the United States are taking the biggest losses.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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