Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations
Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations
Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations

Public Relations

Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations
Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations
Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations
Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations
Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations
Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations

Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations Benador Associates Public Relations

Benador Associates Public Relations

LEBANON FACES UNCERTAIN FUTURE
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
November 29, 2006

Illustration: Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News

By Amir Taheri, Special to Gulf News

It had been advertised as a funeral but turned out to be a political rally as hundreds of thousands of people gathered to pay tribute to Pierre Gemayel, the Lebanese minister of industry gunned down by unknown assailants, last week.

Speakers at the occasion showed that they had not come either to bury Gemayel or to praise him. They had come to draw another line in the sand in the political war that started over the future of Lebanon in February 2005 when ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri was murdered in the heart of Beirut.

It is clear that two visions of Lebanon are now in open conflict.

One vision sees Lebanon as a frontline bunker in a war of civilisations aimed at "cleansing" the Middle East of "infidel presence" and paving the way for the emergence of a new bloc of Islamic powers led by Iran. The other vision depicts Lebanon as a haven of modernity, business and fun.

It is the bunker against the beach.

The two visions have supporters and opponents within every one of the 18 communities that together form Lebanon. The two visions even cause divisions within families.

Even before it emerged on the map as a nation, Lebanon had a chequered history in which periods of prolonged calm alternated with outbursts of violence.

There are signs that Lebanon may be heading for another round of self-harm exactly at a time that everyone expected it to enter a period of peace and reconstruction.

What are the causes of this cyclical Lebanese madness?

Could it be attributed to the country's religious diversity and sectarian differences? Is it, as some Lebanese assert somewhat jokingly, the ancient Phoenician genes that make periodical comebacks to drive their descendants crazy? Or, is it something in the water that goads the Lebanese towards self-harm?

There is no doubt that the sectarian divide plays a crucial role in Lebanese politics. For one thing, it prevents class-based politics, thus pushing secular ideologies into the sidelines.

The Shiite and Druze peasants, for example, would rather side with their respective feudal chiefs than unite against real or imagined class enemies.

Because of the sectarian divide, every political dispute has the potential to be perceived as an existential threat to this or that community. If one community achieves greater power, the others feel their very existence threatened.

The Lebanese system has another problem written in its genes.

It makes it possible for a coalition of just two or three sects to secure a potentially unshakable hold on power. Unlike normal democracies where the minority always has the hope, and the chance, of one day becoming the majority, a ruling coalition in Lebanon could, theoretically at least, keep its opponents out in the cold forever.

Having said all that, history also shows that almost all of Lebanon's internecine feuds have been due to foreign intervention.

There can be no major and prolonged infighting in Lebanon without the involvement of outside powers. As the history of the last Lebanese civil war is pieced together, it becomes clear that the tiny country on the edge of the Mediterranean has been a battleground in broader regional conflicts.

In the last civil war, the major Western powers, notably the United States, Great Britain and France, were mostly content to watch from the sidelines while the Soviet Union, a key player in the region at the time, also tried to avoid direct involvement.

That left Israel, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iraq under Saddam Hussain, Libya and Khomeinist Iran as principal protagonists. The presence of a Palestinian state-within-the-state in Lebanon complicated matters further.

No matter how costly in terms of human life and how disturbing in terms of television images, the last Lebanese civil war was allowed to continue for 15 years because it had little impact on the bigger balance of power in the region.

What about now?

It is no secret that some factions have resumed arming themselves if only in response to the massive arsenal created by Hezbollah with the help of Iran.

In a recent interview, Iran's Defence Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar described the Lebanese Hezbollah as "the most powerful Arab army today".

This may be an exaggeration. Nevertheless, despite its heavy losses in last summer's mini-war with Israel, Hezbollah has maintained almost all of the weapons it could use against domestic foes.

Until last summer's mini-war, Hezbollah pretended that it was not interested in domestic political power. Presenting itself as a selfless force dedicated to liberating Lebanese territory from "occupation by the Zionist enemy", Hezbollah allowed Nabih Berri and his Amal Group to do much of the political running on behalf of the Shiites who represent the largest community in Lebanon.

Two events forced Hezbollah to abandon that posture. The first was the summer war that flushed it out of southern Lebanon, depriving it of its principal operational base against Israel.

Now, if Hezbollah wants to fight Israel it would have to use Beirut and the Beka'a Valley bases. To do that it needs to control the government so that no one would trouble it with United Nations' resolutions and demands that Hezbollah be disarmed.

The second reason why Hezbollah is making a direct bid for power lies in Iran's new regional defence doctrine.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is convinced that, somewhere down the road, a military clash with the United States, and probably also involving Israel, has become inevitable.

This is why he needs both Syria and Lebanon as part of Iran's glacis while using Iraq, and to some extent Afghanistan, as means of exerting political and military pressure on the US.

Last summer's war in Lebanon had nothing to do with Lebanon. It was a dress rehearsal for a bigger war between the Islamic republic and the US.

Lebanon's best interest, of course, is to stay out of a conflict that could bring it nothing but grief, regardless of which side wins.

The reason is that if there is a new war with Lebanon as its first theatre, it is not going to be limited to essentially small operations as was the case last time. This is going to be a big but short war, with the possibility of instantly expanding to include Syria, Israel and, eventually, Iran.

The unnatural alliance between ex-General Michel Aoun, once a protege of Saddam Hussain and Hassan Nasrallah, Iran's standard-bearer in Lebanon, is unlikely to remain solid enough to offer the country an alternative government.

However, it could prove reckless enough to plunge Lebanon into a new war that has nothing to do with it and could lead it into destruction of the kind it did not experience even in its last civil war.

The party of the "bunker" is trying to topple the Fouad Siniora government and replace it with one of its own. But, the Siniora government is as determined to hang on to power. Thus, Lebanon may end up with two rival governments. And, that, in practice, means no government.

Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

Email Benador Associates: eb@benadorassociates.com

Benador Associates Speakers Bureau
Benador Associates Speakers Bureau