Yesterday proved to be a sweeping defeat for Hizballah. Hassan Nasrallah's claim that "the majority" was behind him is now shattered. His political strength melted away as Lebanese from every region of Lebanon and all of its sects rallied behind the banners of "the opposition." One vision for Lebanon finally overpowered the other in what has become an epic political battle that will be written about for years to come!
Three major questions now have to be answered in order to grasp what exactly happened:
- What are these two visions?
- Why did Hizballah make the decision to not join the opposition?
- How was Hizballah defeated?
In order to answer those questions, I have decided to step back and look at the regional and international political spheres. My reason for doing so is simple; international powers interfere far too much in Lebanon's domestic affairs.
International players cannot be overlooked
The three major international-local "couplings" in Lebanon are as follows:
1. Iran - Hizballah
2. Saudi Arabia & Kuwait - the Future Movement (i.e. Hariri)
3. France & the USA - the Future Movement, Qornet Shehwan and the Tayyar (both of which house the most prominent Christian politicians)
Each of these international players have their unique policy positions regarding the most contentious issue affecting Lebanon: the Arab-Israeli conflict.
- Iran remains the only major power in the Middle East that insists on maintaining a war footing against Israel and continues to categorically refuse even to consider normalizing relations. Their reasons could be the need for a close and dangerous enemy; the desire to out-do Saudi Arabia (their major Islamic competitor) in efforts to free the third holiest site of Islam from Israeli occupation; and maybe others that I am not aware of. The point is that the Iranian regime sees Israel purely as a foe and nothing else.
- Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, on the other hand, have all but normalized relations with Israel. We should not forget the Saudi-sponsored Arab League Summit held in Beirut that offered newly elected Prime Minister Sharon full recognition of Israel by all Arab states if Israel withdrew to pre-1967 lines (among other demands).
- And finally, France and the US naturally promote Arab-Israeli peace.
International positions correlate with positions taken by opposing camps
There is an obvious correlation between the positions of the international powers and the two opposing camps in Lebanon; hence “the two visions for the country.” The first is a Lebanon that is an open front in the war against Israel – a war that is increasingly looking like an Iranian-Israeli conflict, rather than an Arab-Israeli conflict. The second vision for Lebanon is of course the contrary. It is a vision in which Lebanon goes along with other Arab countries and signs a peace deal after all is said and done.
Hassan Nasrallah miscalculated by not joining the opposition
Now I will try to answer the more difficult question of why Nasrallah chose not to join the opposition. It is difficult because the opposition was Hizballah’s international umbrella. They were, and continue to be, the barrier that protects Hizballah from being labelled as a “terrorist group” rather than a “national resistance” group.
In my opinion, Nasrallah was either pressured by the Iranians to take his stand, or saw the political void left by Hariri as an opportunity to increase Hizballah’s influence and thus force the opposition to accept its own (i.e. Iran’s) vision for Lebanon. Either way, it is obvious he miscalculated.
Nasrallah miscalculated because he did not foresee the Saudi and Kuwaiti reaction. In the beginning, the “loyalists” consisted of all of Lebanon’s sects – including Sunnis, some Druze and even Maronites. Today, it has become clear that Hizballah is isolated. Tripoli’s demonstration was not cancelled because of bad weather. It was cancelled because the Saudis and Kuwaitis probably placed tremendous pressure on the Sunni notables of the city to cancel it.
The hidden conflict: a fight over influence
The Gulf Sheikhdoms see Lebanon as another battlefront for influence, with them on one side and the Iranian regime on the other. Hizballah, to them, is merely an extension of that regime, and they will not allow Lebanon to fall under its dominance. In Bahrain, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia, the Sheikhdoms have been trying to contain a new Shi’a resurgence. They see Iran as the catalyst, and seem to be very threatened by it. Lebanon, in there eyes, is only the newest battlefield, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to contain the spread of Iran's influence. There lies Nasrallah’s miscalculation – he forgot that in Lebanon all politics is not local… its international! Although his party's position is supported by a considerable percentage of the population, he was not going to be allowed to "set Lebanon's agenda."
Lebanon's Future looks bright...
Behind all this international jockeying, the fact remains that some very powerful events took place on the ground in Lebanon - events that bode well for all Lebanese.
First and foremost, the Syrian Army, along with its intelligence services, is packing up. That reality, in itself, is a Godsend. The second development, of almost equal importance, is the unparalleled unity that the opposition was able to maintain with such impeccable discipline. Finally, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from all sects and from all corners of the country participated in a massive collective enterprise that will forever be enshrined in our memories.
All these developments could be taken as signs of better things to come. Lebanon is not going back to way things were before 1975, it moving forward into a better era.