Tuesday, March 15, 2005

the clash of two visions: Arab-Israeli peace vs. Iranian-Israeli conflict

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.


Doha said...


I would like to add two points which you failed to consider in your analysis:

1) Egypt and Jordan are two forces in the Middle East that cannot be overlooked and that can perhaps be grouped with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Jordan does see in Islamic fundamentalism and the Shiite crescent a threat, as admitted by King Abdullah in a interview held with him not long ago. Moreover, Egypt has also pushed for the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in compliance with international and local pressures, in a bid to protect the region from more instability (and itself of course). In fact, Egypt was the first Arab country to step into what used to be called a "Lebanese-Syrian internal" affair.

2) Your extrapolation behind the reason why the Tripoli pro-Syrian demonstration was "postponed"(Saudi and Kuwaiti pressure) is not necessarily true. In my assessment, I believe that Karami did not want to polarize the northern street further...especially that we know of the "militancy" that occurred on the streets and against Opposition members just by the simple resignation of Karami two weeks ago. Karami also thought that he is playing it right by waiting for consultations, playing the waiting game...he for instance postponed an LBC interview that was scheduled for yesterday. Unfortunately, the results of the consultations today were not that positive; it seems that he's not giving in to the Opposition's demands. Let's see if the demonstration will take place this Friday, as "promised"....

Solomon2 said...

Lebanon is not going back to way things were before 1975, it moving forward into a better era.

Really? Mubarak is visiting Asad -- do you think they're talking only about the weather? Or is it more likely that they are talking about how to turn Lebanon and Syria into Egyptian-style "democracies" where the citizen-subjects are embittered yet submissive?

I think Lebanon's battle for freedom is just beginning. You can't rest now!

BP said...


Excellent analysis. Thanks. I wish for the day when Lebanon becomes free from ALL international players, whether they are western, Iranian, or saudi. When I was in lebanon, I saw beautiful Broumana literally occupied by saudis. I hope you guys wont subsitute the syrian/iranian occupation with a saudi/Arab one!

Anonymous said...

Wishing you guys all the luck. The demonstrations yesterday were outstanding.

I hope it will all be in the best interests of Lebanon.



Raja said...


you are right in one aspect: Arab leaders are trying their best to "contain" what happened in Lebanon, and subdue it.

Remember, the Saudis and the Kuwaitis only encouraged yesterday's protest because they felt they had to. Al Jazeera's scant coverage is merely one indicator of how they feel towards it.

My hope (and it is only a hope) is that Lebanese have felt the happiness... the beauty of protesting... the carnival of democracy.

Yesterday, people were happy. It showed! We all saw it through the pictures and videos...

This stuff is unprecedented. Whether the leaders like it or not, I don't think there's any going back to the way things were!

As for Assad's visit to Egypt (or visa versa), I wouldn't read too much into it! Syria is in a bind. Assad is kissing ass.... He has stumbled into political crisis after political crisis. All he is trying to do is save his ass right now... nothing more.

Raja said...

gm & anonymous,

thanks! I wish for the best too! And also hope that all goes well in Iraq and Egypt!

Raja said...


good point. However, I do wish to emphasize the following:

If I remember the king's exact words, he said "I have no problems with the Shia population... this is not a religious confrontation, it is political, with us on one side and some elements of the Iranian regime on the other."

To emphasize that point even more, it is important to note that the "Shia Crescent" he refers to is made up of countries where Shias are in fact the minority: Syria and Lebanon. However, they make up the crescent because of the Ba'ath/Alawi regime in Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon - both of which have intimate ties with the theocratic regime in Iran.

Solomon2 said...

Raja, in the past revolt against the Asad grip was unthinkable because the dictator could always send more forces into the country and turn Beirut into Hama II. But now, with U.S. troops on Syria's doorstep and the French firmly against him, Asad can't do so; U.S. forces could make a "Thunder Run" into Damascus within a week, this time with all of it legitimized by the U.N. Security Council.

So Asad needs to keep his army at home. Lebanon may never have a better opportunity to assert itself! Make the most of it! (You may want to take a page or two from Portugese history for inspiration; they were occupied by Spain for over a generation before they regained their independence!)

RG said...


As you indicated, Hizballah and Iran have close ties. If Israel attacked Iran's Nuclear facility that is under construction, would that harm the movement to democracy in Lebanon.

Would Syria use that as an excuse to move forces into South Lebanon claiming to support Iran, even though I do not think Syria would actually attack Israel with the US so close. But they could use that as an excuse to stay in Lebanon longer.

I may be way off on this but what are your thoughts on such a scenario.

Anonymous said...

I hope that my post on the 12th of March was not the reason you blocked the comments. I was only joking about the "neo-con" thing, if that was the reason you had to delete your comments it was not my intention. I apologize for a joke that was made in poor taste (if that was the problem.)

reem said...

thanks for your analysis, in particular the role of the Gulf Sheikhdoms. I was wondering whether the fact that Hezbollah has not joined the opposition actually strengthens the opposition and keeps it more united. However, this arm wrestling will have to stop at some point if things are to move forward.

Raja said...


no, it wasn't your post about the neo cons. It was someone else.

Raja said...


had Hizballah joined the opposition, Lahoud and the security apparatuses would have collapsed a long time ago. You have to remember that their only popular base is now Hizballah's constituency.

I'd also like to make two related points. The first is that this arm twisting was a fight for dominance - not elimination.

Therefore, compromises will be made. In other words, we're not going to be signing a peace agreement any time soon (maybe something in between though). Hizballah is just too important in local politics to be ignored.

My second point is that the Future Movement led by Bahia Hariri has already started reaching out to Hizballah, and has moderated its rhetoric. Doha pointed this out in her recent post, and we should all wait and see what Nasrallah will say in his interview tonight.

ThinkingMan said...

Raja- you are a great thinker, and you are right.

Raja said...


concerning your inquiry into what would happen if Israel destroyed the Nuclear reactors in Iran, I will say the following:

For over two years, Israel continuously complained that Hizballah was being armed with longer range missles - if I remember correctly, some said that those missles could reach Tel Aviv.

The way I see it, Iran might be trying to create the North-South Korea stalemate. North Korea has piled up so many artillery pieces within range of Seoul that both the US and South Korea would think twice before trying to oust that regime.

The North Koreans are basically telling them that if they try anything "stupid" Seoul will be blown to bits.

Hizballah simply does not have that kind of an arsenal, but I think they have enough to make Israel think twice before striking Iran.

I don't feel like I need to go into details about what would happen to Lebanon in such a scenario. Let me just say that it would extremely painful.

Solomon2 said...

So let me get this straight: Israel attacks Iran, and Hezbollah attacks Israel from Lebanon, because Hezbollah takes its orders from Iran?

Do the Lebanese really think that Hezbollah drove Israel out, or is this just accepted as a convenient fiction? A crucial issue propelling Israel to invade Lebanon in the first place was missile and artillery attacks from Lebanon into Israel itself. When an Israeli government came to power that thought this purpose could be better served by withdrawal, the Israelis left.

What will happen to Lebanon if mass attacks start once more?

Raja said...


Israeli troops withdrew when their commanders decided that the cost of staying in Lebanon was too high.

Hizballah could have, and did, hit northern Israel with missiles during the occupation. Therefore, you cannot conclude that the troops withdrew because they had accomplished their mission.

My personal belief is that Israeli commanders felt they could protect Northern Israel as effectively behind internationally recognized borders as they could in Southern Lebanon. More importantly, they wouldn't have to pay the price in lives and treasure that they were paying to sustain the occupation.

Had there been no resistance that continually harrassed the Israeli Army in a war that cost hunderds of lives every year, I don't think there would have been an incentive to withdraw. In fact, we might have seen settlers comming to Lebanon and claiming the Land as their god-given right!

Anyways, I don't want to go there.

Raja said...

As for Hizballah's allegiances, there are two: its religious and patriotic. I sometimes wonder which one comes first.