History will record that Lebanon was integrated into the Iran-Syria empire in early August 2010. Here are some of the stories that mark that turning point, and also show how Western willingness to make concessions and eagerness to avoid confrontation are interpreted by moderates as a signal or surrender and radicals as an invitation to advance further.
Former Lebanese cabinet minister Wiam Wahhab explained that Lebanon is now, in effect, a Syrian province in a television interview, explaining that the country is back to the rule of Damascus that prevailed in the 1980s:, “In the event of a civil war, Syrian tanks will enter Lebanon. Syria is not fooling around.”
No, Syria is not fooling around. But the West is.
Wahhab added that UNIFIL and other UN groups are hostages that Lebanon and Syria can dominate. The last four years has shown that the international community is weaker than Hizballah and won’t defend its own people. The UN and international community did not make a serious effort to implement any of the promises made at the time they brokered the 2006 ceasefire in the Israel-Hizballah war. Once again, Hizballah rules southern Lebanon. It imports weapons and builds military strong points at will. Hizballah will never defeat Israel in this situation but it has succeeded in defeating the entire world.
Meanwhile the Syrian media brags about extensive victories, including the acceptance of Syria’s domination over Lebanon by both Western and Arab countries (the Saudi king’s visit marked the submission of Syria’s main rival in Lebanon), the surrender of the former Lebanese independence forces, the alleged growing influence of Syria in Iraq, and the integration of Turkey into the Iran-Syria alliance.
Most Western governments and media still publicly ignore the transformation (perhaps temporary) of Turkey into part of the radical, anti-Western alliance but Iran, Syria, and Hizballah are quite aware of this huge change. Equally, they pretend that Lebanon still functions as an independent country, though Congress’s cut-off of aid to Lebanon’s army shows that it comprehends the situation.
Meanwhile, Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah charges that Israel killed former Lebanese president Rafik Hariri, the act that set off the short-lived Lebanese national revival against Syrian domination. Everyone in Lebanon knows Hariri was killed by Syria through Lebanese agents, who seem to have included Hizballah officials. But no one in political life has the courage to say so. And if the international investigation does implicate Syrian-Hizballah involvement, all the Lebanese leaders who once shouted in anger against these assassins will now tremble and deny it.
Other Hizballah statements include the claim that the unprovoked assassination of an Israeli officer in the exto incident was a defense of Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They extol the resistance as being so brave and strong that it would not even let a tree be cut down in Lebanon, though it is now established that the tree in question was in Israel.
Western observers might find such points to be foolish or unimportant but few in Lebanon, or even in the Arab world, will hear the truth. They will believe that the shooting incident was a heroic defense of the Arab homeland against still another Israeli act of aggression.
Moreover, many will be inspired by a struggle that will give neither an inch nor a tree. The message is also that the resistance will fight for one tree while the West won’t fight at all. Such arguments are far more powerful than any rational matters of fact in stirring passions and shaping politics in the region.
If the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas-Iraqi insurgent-Turkish regime alliance is looking ever stronger and will kill over a tree, how is the leadership of the Palestinian Authority going to compromise over territory and give up the dream of conquering all of Israel? Now that the West has surrendered and, for all practical purposes, recognized the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip, why should Palestinians believe that the Palestinian Authority is going to be their sole legitimate leader, especially if it makes compromises to achieve peace with Israel?
Perhaps most chilling in the rhetoric coming out of Lebanion is a statement by a Hizballah member of Lebanon’s parliament that the Lebanese army’s murder of an Israeli officer on the border proves the Lebanese army is now part of the radical resistance. The main U.S. activity in Lebanon during the last decade has been to provide aid to Lebanon’s army based on the reasonable argument that it was a bulwark against Hizballah. But that claim no longer holds. To a large extent, Hizballah is governing Lebanon today, either directly, through the intimidation of violence and veto power in the cabinet, or due to the pressure of its Syrian and Iranian big brothers.
Iran offered to subsidize the Lebanese army if the United States cut off aid, an eventuality is unlikely. But the point is that the Lebanese army under the current government serves the interests of Tehran more than Washington. One can certainly make an argument that U.S. aid should continue to avoid an Iranian monopoly and keep open contacts in hope things will get better in future. I’m not necessarily arguing against that idea. But have no illusions that the Lebanese government and army are “pro-Western.”
If some day a war breaks out between Lebanon and Israel, as in 2006, and Israeli forces hit the Lebanese infrastructure hard, remember all of this. Lebanon has now joined—however unwillingly on the part of most of its citizens—the radical, anti-Western Islamist bloc and may well have to pay the price for that allegiance.
Only if the huge Western setbacks in Turkey, the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon are taken into account can anyone get a realistic picture of what’s going on in the region.