Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, as of today, could not be voted leader of Lebanon because of the 1989 Taif Agreement which established the ethnic distribution of Lebanese power centers following the country's blood-soaked civil war.
According to the Taif Agreement, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the Parliament, a Shiite Muslim. Beyond this, even after Hizbullah's historic decision to take part in Lebanese elections, the organization is still claiming that it can't realize the full extent of its power due to the delineation of voting districts, which, according to them benefit other ethnic groups.
Hizbullah supporters in Lebanon. Will they bring Nasrallah to power? (Photo: AP)
Yet, there are some people in Israel who believe that this unrealistic scenario could become reality. "Hizbullah could definitely take power in Lebanon within a few years. I wouldn't want to commit to a specific date, but this could definitely take place even within five years," said Dr. Boaz Ganor, deputy dean of the Lauder School of Government and Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center and executive director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism.
Dr. Ganor has a reasonable explanation why a religious Shiite committed to the establishment of a sharia state in Lebanon could take power within a few years.
"Nasrallah and Hizbullah have two objectives, short- and long-term, in two different arenas – in Lebanon and in the region," he explained. "In the Lebanese arena, the short-term goal is changing the political balance in such a way that will improve the status of the Shiite community in the eyes of the other ethnic groups in Lebanon and their political representation.
"In the long-term, the goal is to turn Lebanon into a Shiite caliphate according to sharia law similar to Iran. On the regional level, Hizbullah's short-term goal is to expel Israel from Lebanon, and in the long-term to eradicate the State of Israel and establish a radical Islamic regime in its place. When we look at these objectives, we see that Nasrallah has achieved the goals he set for himself in the short-term.
"The only thing left for him now is to complete his long-term objectives," Ganor explained.
If we are already speaking about the long-term objectives, how tangible is the goal of gaining political control of Lebanon?
"In my opinion, on the agenda of Nasrallah, Hizbullah, and Iran, the goal is to take control of Lebanon. However, Nasrallah and his friends are cautious enough not to say so out loud. They present themselves as Lebanese patriots and make do with expressions of dissatisfaction with the existing political order."
There is no lack of such expressions, but one must listen carefully to Nasrallah in order to find them. On September 22, Nasrallah and his followers celebrated the victory over Israel in Dahiya Square. In his victory speech, Nasrallah boasted about the "divine victory" of his movement for more than an hour. Headlines in Israel mainly focused on his declarations that his organization has more than 20,000 rockets ready to be used against Israel.
Shiite power in Lebanon on the rise
A real population census hasn't been taken in Lebanon since 1932 (this census has received wide criticism for its attempts to tip results in favor of the Maronites at the expense of others), and yet estimates claim that Shiite's make up some 40 percent of the general population.
Detractors claim that Shiite numbers stand at about a third, and exaggerators claim that they are more than half the population. One way or another, Shiites represent a respectable portion of the population whose numbers have grown in recent years relative to other ethnic groups in Lebanon.
How can Nasrallah and Iran use this situation to their benefit?
Dr. Ganor explains, "Shiite numbers have risen above those of the Christians in Lebanon. In the last decade, there has been increased Christian emigration out of the country, mainly to the West and to Latin America. It is clear that the demographic trend tends to benefit the Shiites.
"This emigration certainly hasn't started today, but accelerated after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Accordingly, the Taif Agreement established the balance of powers as they were in 1989. However, today the picture is different and in another five years, will be even more to the advantage of the Shiites.
"Therefore, we shouldn't be surprised when we hear hints about changing the existing order from Nasrallah. All of this stems from the desire and the aspiration of Iran to bring about a radical Shiite regime in Lebanon, and I estimate that in a not-so-long time this will happen.
"In my opinion, within a few years from now, we will see them trying to strengthen themselves even more and perhaps even to take hold of power centers such as the parliament or the cabinet. It is also likely to reach a coalition government headed by Hizbullah. All of this depends on the Iranians and the funds that they are willing to invest in this objective – funds that will capture more and more hearts in Lebanon."
Conflicting opinions: Nasrallah wants to be prime minister, but not now
Dr. Ganor isn't the only one in Israel who thinks Nasrallah can become the head honcho in Lebanon. Political sources in Israel who are proficient on the subject have accepted in principle the given analysis.
Does Nasrallah want to become the leader of Lebanon? "Yes, but not now," an official source said to Ynet. "Theoretically, Hizbullah wants t reach this situation some day, but only when circumstances allow it and this isn't the situation today. It is definitely likely that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons and the demographic growth of the Shiite community in Lebanon continues, this will give Nasrallah the tailwind and self-confidence to make political demands that he is not making today.
As of now, he prefers to be an influential figure in Lebanon, but not to take responsibility. Such circumstances could make him want to approach center stage," explained the source.
In contrast, the IDF hasn't identified any definitive signs of any such desire from Hizbullah.
"We have no evidence that Nasrallah is moving toward this, and they aren't that concerned with this. We have detected caution not to reignite the civil war amongst Hizbullah," explained a senior officer in military intelligence to Ynet. "The burning issue for us right now is the establishment of a national unity government in which another five ministers will be added to his supporters giving him veto power in the government.
"However, this doesn't mean that if Nasrallah feels threatened or pressured, he won't do that. If he feels pressured, he could launch the most aggressive attack against the forces of the 'new order' in Lebanon," explained the military intelligence officer.
Dr. Boaz Ganor has warm advice for the decision makers in Jerusalem.
"Israel needs to wake up and understand that it is not the only actor in the region and that the arena is dynamic and changing. In light of the strengthening of Hizbullah and the potential strengthening of the Shiites in Lebanon after the last war, a foundation has been created to identify common interests with what are referred to as the 'moderate Arab states' such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and even Syria for all intents and purposes, which are worried about a strengthened Hizbullah and want to see it weakened.
"Israel could take this into account and examine how to think out its steps in advance in a way that is synergetic with others interests and in a way that will complement others' interests for the good of the entire region," advised Dr. Ganor.