Poor Lebanon. Try as it does, struggle after struggle keeps blocking its progress. Lebanon is a hard luck kid, skilled and ambitious but plagued by misfortune. Another wave of foreign hegemony approaches just as it was getting back on its feet.
D-Day is almost here.
Lebanon, a continual theater of world war, is holding its highly anticipated parliamentary election on June 7th and regional power is for the taking. Beirut has already seen its share of pre-election action with more to follow. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited last month and Vice President Joe Biden dropped by the other day for tea.
After meeting with Lebanese president Michel Suleiman, Biden insisted, “I did not come here to back any institution or political party.” At the same time he added, “The US will evaluate the shape of its assistance program based on the composition of the new government and the policies it is advocating.”
America increased its military and economic aid to Lebanon by several billion dollars following the July War in 2006. Biden’s reference to Hezbollah implied that America will cut off economic assistance if the designated terrorist organization wins a majority in parliament. Israel has delivered a similar message, claiming it will consider Lebanon an enemy if Hezbollah gains control of the government.
So goes support for democracy in the Middle East.
It’s difficult enough to hold an election in Lebanon under normal conditions. Fractious division can be found in every neighborhood - those for and against Hezbollah. Further rifts between Muslims have increased tensions in addition to militarized Christian elements, all consolidating their power for June 7th.
The world is rough though; external fuel will be dumped on this fire until the polls open. Israel is simulating war games throughout the week, its so called “Doomsday scenario.” Shlomo Dror, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said, “The Second Lebanon War revealed that the home-front was not well prepared for war and citizens found it hard to adapt to the special situation.”
Israel claims that simulating a Hezbollah-Iranian attack days before Lebanon’s election is coincidental.
As the war games finish, another visitor will sweep through the region two days before the election. President Obama is set to deliver a speech on American-Muslim relations at Cairo University, 360 miles from Beirut, and he will certainly mention Lebanon by name or through innuendo. More timing too coincidental to be coincidence.
American and Israeli pressure alone is enough to distort Lebanese democracy, but these shock waves are compounded by Syrian and Iranian interference. While Syria used to be a primary actor, its influence has been eclipsed by Iranian hard and soft power. Iranian influence in Lebanon is a much more realistic threat to Israel than a warhead.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, recently emerged from hiding (from the Mossad) to address his followers via video link. Cause of celebration: the ninth anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal in 2000 after 22 years of occupation. Never one to back down, Nasrallah’s bravado lived up to his reputation.
Beginning with Biden and Clinton, he warned their visits raised, “strong suspicion and amounted to a clear and detailed interference in Lebanon's affairs.” In a jab at Biden’s limitations on aid, Nasrallah told the crowd in Baalbek, “The Islamic Republic of Iran, and in particular Ayatollah Khamenei, will not hold back on anything that will help Lebanon be a strong and dignified state, and without conditions.”
“Israel is preparing itself and Lebanon is not taking concrete action to strengthen the army and arming it, or even to adopt a defensive strategy,” Nasrallah said unabashedly. “On the contrary, they are working on eliminating the element of strength that achieved victory in the 2006 war. Who can secure these weapons for Lebanon? Vote for the opposition [Hezbollah] and I will point you in that direction.”
Nasrallah then pointed east, towards Iran.
Realistic solutions for Lebanon are scarce. The situation has been brought to such brinkmanship that neither America, Israel, or Iran can blink. All have made clear that they aren’t leaving Lebanon regardless of the election’s outcome. Hezbollah’s permanence intertwines with Israel to ensnare America and Iran. No one could abort even if they wanted to.
Ideally, Lebanon should establish itself as the Switzerland of the Middle East, an obvious dream. Instead its people are being exhausted by outside forces competing at the host’s expense. As long as Lebanon serves as a battleground for the rich and powerful, it will never experience true democracy and thus never stabilize.