Barring any surprises, in the next parliamentary elections Lebanon will fall into the hands of Hizbullah and turn into an Iranian colony. We are only minor players in this story. This isn’t 1982, and we have no desire or ability to intervene. We also don’t have powerful allies in Lebanon, so we can’t do anything.
Siniora and Hariri, who head the coalition that pushed Syria out of Lebanon, are currently breathing their last breaths in regional history – and they know it. They reached this situation, among other reasons, thanks to the twisted foreign policy led by Condoleezza Rice.
On one hand, during the months of the presidential crisis the American Administration forbade Siniora to agree to a compromise, which he could have reached, with Hizbullah. On the other hand, the US did not provide Lebanon’s prime minister with the military and diplomatic support needed in order to contend with the Iranian-Syrian coalition.
When it comes to a test of power, the Americans are not there. This is precisely how they acted vis-à-vis Iraq’s Shiites following the First Gulf War: They called on them to rebel against Saddam, and then abandoned them.
The move that Siniora and Hariri attempted to lead in the middle of last week was tantamount to provoking Hizbullah’s interests, possibly aiming to arouse the US and France in the 11th hour so that they do something. What they got in return was no more than American sympathy. The French will likely send Siniora a bouquet of flowers for his brave speech and have a toast in his honor.
Hizbullah response to the Siniora-Hariri move was measured, level-headed, and well-planned. The political force that stimulates the group is indeed Iran, yet the brains behind it are apparently in Damascus, which is deeply involved in developments in Beirut.
Hizbullah operated against clear Sunni targets over the weekend and made sure not to drag the Christians and Druze into the clash, which would have turned the situation into the beginning of a civil war. The group chose three targets: It stopped the flights at Beirut’s airport; it took over the Hariri family’s television station and newspaper, which incited their followers against it; and they created a sort of siege on government offices.
Toppling of Siniora makes no difference for us
By taking over these targets, Hizbullah presented its red lines to Siniora and Hariri. That is, you will not hinder our strengthening process and our arms supplies, and you won’t hinder the continued existence of our autonomy within Lebanon. The siege on government offices was meant to remind everyone who the master of the house is. Hizbullah is in fact telling them: “You only exist on paper. You have neither power nor an army. You live on borrowed time.”
At the end of the day, Hizbullah secured its objectives. Now it shall continue the domestic political dialogue from a position of strength. Another person who gained from this crisis is Lebanese Army Chief Michel Suleiman, who ignored his government and did not confront Hizbullah. By doing so, he apparently bought himself the Lebanese presidency and extended the opposition vis-à-vis the weakening Siniora-Hariri camp.
Israel has been monitoring the Lebanese crisis for about nine months now. It watches with sadness as the “diplomatic achievements” of the Second Lebanon War are dissipating. Israel has two clear interests today: Stability on the border with Lebanon, and seeing that Lebanon does not turn into an Iranian base. These interests can be secured diplomatically, for example, by talking to the Syrians.
However, the Americans are not allowing us to talk to the Syrians about Lebanon, and in any case such dialogue is a long process while political developments in Lebanon can happen quickly. There is also a military way of course, but it is doubtful whether anyone wishes to break the Iranian base in Lebanon using military force.
For Israel, the toppling of Siniora’s government makes no difference. The Iranian hold on Lebanon will continue with or without him. Hizbullah will decide when to heat up the border, and this decision is directly related to Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.
The closer Iran gets to acquiring nukes, time will be running out for Israel, as an Iranian base in Lebanon is a base for eliminating the State of Israel. Under such circumstances, Lebanon will be the Iranian platform of retaliation and deterrence against us. We should keep in mind that Israel’s ability to take care of this base while Iran does not yet possess nuclear weapons is completely different from the abilities we shall have once Iran does possess nukes. Therefore, the question is not whether we should be taking care of this problem, but rather, when.