Analysis: Between Gaza and Beirut

Saniora is being mocked by Hizbullah as Lebanon's new Mahmoud Abbas.

Nasrallah 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 1 [file])
Nasrallah 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 1 [file])
It's hard to ignore the parallels between Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 and Hizbullah's coup d'etat in Beirut over the weekend. In both cases, Washington's allies suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of forces backed by Iran and Syria. US-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora is now being mocked by Hizbullah as Lebanon's new Mahmoud Abbas. Both the Lebanese leader and the Palestinian Authority president have long been depicted in the Arab world as "powerless puppets" of the Americans and the Israelis. Saniora's political allies at home, Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, are now in the same situation as Muhammad Dahlan and Nabil Shaath, the most prominent US-affiliated Fatah leaders, who have lost their homes and offices in the Gaza Strip. In his speech on Saturday, Saniora sounded exactly like Abbas did when he condemned Hizbullah's coup d'etat. What's interesting is that Hamas and Hizbullah have used the same excuse to justify their deeds. Both have defended their actions as a "counter-putsch." Hamas continues to maintain that Abbas and Fatah were planning to overthrow its "democratically-elected government" with the help of the US and Israel. Similarly, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has accused the Saniora government and its political allies of seeking to turn Beirut into a "base for the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Mossad." It's worth noting that in both the Gaza Strip and Beirut, the US-backed side hardly put up any resistance, to Hamas and Hizbullah, respectively. The only major difference between the two Islamist groups is that Hamas was elected by a majority of Palestinians in the January 2006 parliamentary election, while Hizbullah represents a minority in Lebanon. Many Arab analysts see the events in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon as part of a conflict between two camps in the Arab world - one supported by Teheran and Damascus, and the other openly affiliated with the US. The Iranians and Syrians are using their proxies in Hizbullah and Hamas to undermine the "moderate" Arabs and to thwart what they see as Washington's attempts to consolidate its "hegemony" in the Middle East. "The conflict in Lebanon is not between Sunnis and Shi'ites as the moderate Arabs claim," notes Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily. "Rather, it's a conflict between a program of resistance [against Israel] and a program of surrender. This is a conflict between those who have sided with the US in its wars against the Arabs and those who are on the other side. This is a conflict between those who defeated and humiliated Israel and those who were defeated by Israel." Hamas has succeeded in creating an Islamic state in the Gaza Strip that is largely dependent on Iran and Syria for survival. And Hizbullah is now on its way to turning Lebanon into an extremist country that is controlled via remote control by Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In both cases, the Iranians are providing the money and arms, while the Syrians are serving as couriers and facilitators. The lesson to be drawn from what happened in the Gaza Strip and Beirut is that whenever the US openly backs an Arab, he or she is immediately discredited on the Arab street. Abbas and Saniora are the victims of their public affiliation with the US. On the other hand, Washington's open efforts to undermine Hamas and Hizbullah over the past few years have backfired, increasing the two groups' power among their publics. The regimes in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have good reason to be worried. The triumph of Hizbullah and Hamas is certain to bolster the standing of other Islamic fundamentalists such as the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida.•