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Syria and Tehran Pulling the Strings in Lebanon

Manuela Paraipan, Bucharest, Romania, December 17, 2006

Lebanese pro-government supporters held a rally Sunday in the town of Deir al-Qamar to support Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose Western-backed cabinet is facing a revolt by a pro-Syrian opposition intent on bringing down the government. (Photo: Anwar Amro / AFP-Getty Images)

With the recent assassination of prominent, young politician Pierre Gemayel, the land of cedars continues to carry with it the label of country of martyrs.

Thousands of people asked then, who benefits from all this tragic human loss? The answer is not difficult to find, but challenging to prove with hard evidence. Who always benefits when Lebanon is in chaos? There are only many names to put on the list. It is either a regional player that is trying hard to regain total control over Lebanon, or one of the players struggling for political ascendancy in Lebanon.

The death of Pierre Gemayel comes as a direct consequence of (1) Israel's failure to completely destroy Hezbollah in the summer conflict, (2) the Lebanese government and parliament's complicity with Hezbollah's presence and activity at the highest decision level, while it maintained its monopoly over the South and a few other smaller parts of the country with the help of its disciplined guerrilla fighters and (3) the vague and hesitant policy of the United States and its allies in the Middle East, and especially toward the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

Damascus threatened Rafik Hariri that if forced to withdraw from Lebanon, all hell would break loose on Lebanon. That was neither a joke nor an empty menace and the Damascus regime actually lived up to its promise.

At Pierre Gemayel's funeral, his father, former President Amine Gemayel called for "the start of the second revolution for the independence of Lebanon, which should start at the top."

He was right and fair in his assessment to ask for broad political reform that would benefit all of the Lebanese. However, some of the Christians in the street and many of the Shias ignored his call and walked over the ones who had paid with their life for independence from Syrian control.

Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement together with Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal brought Lebanon to the edge of destruction. And for what? Blatant self-interest for all parties involved. Thanks to them Lebanon is once again the neutral field where regional players, namely Iran and Syria, do their best to prove to the United States and its allies that they have the last word in the region. Is this a playoff game with no referees in sight? I hope not.

Lebanon is a mirror of the region's deepest problems and fragmentation. This is a battle between the narrow, extremist vision of Iranian influence in the Middle East and the more open, contemporary vision of those who seek an alliance with the free, democratic world.

Afghanistan and Iraq were supposed to stand alongside Israel and Lebanon as democracies that would trigger a fundamental political change in the broader Middle East. The domino effect the free world expected did not happen because (1) of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the struggle of the Sunni and Shias within this trend and (2) the Palestinian problem.

The Lebanese problem can be solved if the current government and parliament refuse to be intimidated by the protests of the Christians who follow Aoun and by Hezbollah. The issue is with Hezbollah, which knows what it is capable of. Since the July war it started with Israel, Hezbollah has continued to stock weaponry. The reputable private research company Stratfor, among other sources, reported that Syria was pouring men and weapons into Lebanon. There must be a reason for Damascus to do this, and somehow peace and unity is not it. Also, the Palestinians from the refugee camps will not hesitate to fight Lebanese Christians and Sunnis. After all, Hassan Nasrallah is among the few important Arab figures that have stood by the Palestinians, not with words, but with deeds.

If negotiations will not work, Hezbollah is prepared for a less peaceful alternative, and as a wise man once said, never underestimate anyone, especially the ignorant and the insane. The latter describes well Hezbollah and its masters in Tehran, but that does not make it less dangerous. If Syria wants to regain control of Lebanon, Iran is looking for three things (1) supremacy in the region, (2) the eradication of Israel and (3) control over the oil in the region.

The Lebanese should unite and ask that United Nations Resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701* be implemented and that the international tribunal in the assassination of Rafik Hariri be completed while continuing the investigations into all the other tragic assassinations and  assassination attempts of anti-Syrian personalities. The following steps are required: disarmament of Hezbollah, elections for a new president and vigorous economic reconstruction. Afterward, when the country emerges from the present chaos, Lebanese political leaders can discuss a new parliament and government.

The present Lebanese political class is not made of angels, but at least they are unwilling to transform Lebanon into a war camp. That is something that has to be seriously considered. It is possible to reduce corruption, to better the justice system, to further allow civil society to voice its concerns and participate at the decisional level if all parties work together for the benefit of their country. What cannot be undone is the harm of a bloody civil war. That is precisely what will happen if Fouad Siniora's government is replaced by Hezbollah and its allies.

The solution to the risky status quo of the region's affairs is not to held talks with Iran and Syria, as the Iraq Study Group has suggested. The United States should not negotiate with states that have vowed to produce a second Holocaust, or with states that support terrorism. Why choose to follow the poor example of Neville Chamberlain?**

After giving in to Hitler, Chamberlain said, "My good friends this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time." Chamberlain was deadly wrong then. So are Baker and Hamilton now.

A paradigm shift is necessary, but not to reward Tehran and Damascus for sponsoring violence and terrorism in Lebanon, Israel and Iraq. On the contrary, anything other than zero tolerance on terrorism would be perpetrating a terrible injustice on all the peoples of the region, denying them the right of living someday in an open, democratic society. If the alliance of the free world fails in the region, it will be replaced by Tehran and its allies, and the region at large will become engulfed in a new version of the Dark Ages, with Sunnis and Shias competing for power and oil resources, and with Christians and Jews caught in the middle with no real support.

* Resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006) called for disarming Hezbollah and other armed groups and extending Lebanese government control over Lebanese territory. Resolution 1701 (2006) authorized deploying a United Nations force in Lebanon to end the July war with Israel.

**Neville Chamberlain: British prime minister (1937-1940) fooled by Adolf Hitler into adopting a policy of appeasement. As a consequence of his faulty logic and actions, the world worsened. He was later forced to declare war on Germany.

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