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Sunday, November 19, 2006

The beginning of the end for Lebanon? Part 5

One of the consequences of the results of the US elections two weeks ago is that Lebanon will apparently be thrown to the wolves (read: Hezbullah and Syria). In the Beirut Daily Star, where he doesn't even mention his own country, Michael Young sums it up thusly:
Amid the joy surrounding the defeat of the Republicans in last week's midterm congressional elections, I might be forgiven this dissenting observation: With George W. Bush so roundly beaten, don't expect much American interest, in the foreseeable future and probably beyond that, for liberalism in the Middle East. We're returning to the days when the United States put its regional hopes mainly in leaders who were reliable thugs.
While Hassan Nasrallah may not be in line to become a 'reliable thug' in the eyes of the US 'realists,' Bashar al-Assad definitely is. As I noted this morning:
A day after the New York Times reported that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group headed by James "F**k the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway" Baker met with Syrian officials to try to solicit their cooperation in Iraq, the Times of London is reporting that the Chinless Ophthalmologist has named his price: the surrender of the Golan Heights to Syria so that they can once again shoot down on the Jewish communities of the Galilee as they did before 1967. (Keep in mind that Assad's father turned down an offer from Ehud Barak that included all but a few hundred meters of the Golan Heights in 2000, but that would have required Syria to normalize relations with Israel).
Surely part of the quid pro quo for gifting the Golan to Syria would have to be that Assad would become one of the 'realist' school's 'reliable thugs.' Syrian dissident blogger Ammar Abdulhamid is quite clearly prepared for the worst:
Now the neo-cons, because they had a place for us, Arab democrats, in their plans, that is, when victory was eventually achieved, asked us for our advice then ignore it and proceeded to do what they were inspired to do, expecting us to adjust all the while, or, from their point of view, catch up, because of course they knew better. The realists, however, won’t have to play this game with us, because the place they have reserved for us in their particular schemes is right there on the margins of things, in exile or in the dungeons of the ruling regimes. This is where everybody thinks we belong anyway. To everybody’s loss.
The pity in all this is that the weak governments of Israel and Lebanon could not get their act together enough to do things in their mutual self-interest: like fight Hezbullah. Tonight, the game seems to be just about over for Lebanon, even though Nasrallah's 'million man march' has yet to even hit the streets. (Israel Television's nightly news featured Nasrallah instructing his 'troops' this evening). As Rick Moran notes at Right Wing Nut House:

Despite the frantic efforts of Middle East diplomats, it appears almost certain that the March 14th Forces and the opposition led by Hezb’allah are headed for some kind of confrontation – possibly in the streets of Beirut – over the continuing cabinet crisis brought about by the resignation of the Shiite bloc of ministers.

Compromise plans to head off the escalating crisis have come from a variety of sources including the Saudi Arabian ambassador who huddled with Iranian officials yesterday in order to draft a plan that would be acceptable to both the anti-Syrian majority in government led by Prime Minister Siniora and the opposition bloc made up of Hezb’allah, the Amal Party, and the mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement led by ex-Prime Minister Michel Aoun.

Based on reports from local media, the Saudi plan, which would seem to have the blessing of the Iranians, would include a call for immediate resignation of pro-Syrian President Emil Lahoud and his replacement by a candidate not connected to either side. The next step would be a reform of the outdated electoral laws that tend to favor Christians and Sunnis at the expense of Shia representation in Parliament. This would be followed by a Presidential electoral contest and a pitch for early Parliamentary elections after that.

There have also been calls from western diplomats to restart the discussion for a unity government in the context of the National Dialogue. Breakdown in these talks is what precipitated the cabinet crisis in the first place.

But it appears almost certain that Hezb’allah has no intention of returning to the talks....

Indeed, one might wonder why Hezb’allah leader Hassan Nasrallah would consider any kind of compromise at this point; not when it is clear that he holds the whip hand both politically and psychologically.

It seems that Israel will soon be looking at a neighbor to the north that will be more openly hostile than has been the case since Israel surrendered southern Lebanon in 2000. The Lebanese themselves are headed back to the Syrian sphere of influence one way or the other. The March 14th coalition appears to be dead. The Syrians are on the rise, with the backing of the US State Department. And as Michael J. Totten points out in the comments section to his own post, in Lebanon, it's the anti-Democrats who are most hostile to Israel. It's a pity that Olmert and Siniora are both too weak to see the light.

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