'Win or lose, Hizbullah will remain dominant'

Expert: Win or lose in Lebanon's June 7 vote, group will stay strong.

Nasrallah 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Nasrallah 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
No dramatic changes are expected inside Lebanon if the Hizbullah-led opposition wins a majority in June 7's parliamentary election, partly because the Shi'ite organization is already a dominant force in the country, experts say. "Any headline that comes out on June 8 or June 9 that says 'Hizbullah takeover in Lebanon' because of the opposition winning two or three [more] seats... will be the wrong description," Nadim Shehadi, a Lebanon expert at Chatham House in London said on Monday. "The constitution is one of power-sharing. There are so many checks and balances and so many differences of opinion, it's not possible for a small group that has 10 or 15 percent of the parliament to impose any kind of control" over the country, Shehadi said. As far as Israel is concerned, Hizbullah - despite the limitations on its power - already has the upper hand and does what it wants in Lebanon, something that is not expected to change after the election, Eyal Zisser, director of Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, said on Tuesday. "We don't care about appointments in the ministries," he said. "We do care about the smuggling of weapons and [Hizbullah's] arsenal of rockets. This will stay as it is." Indeed, Hizbullah has "already has demonstrated that it holds the balance of power on the ground" in Lebanon even as part of the opposition, said one Western observer in Lebanon. The only attempt to curb Hizbullah's military strength came in May 2008, when the government decided to clamp down on the group's communication's network, he said. "And we all saw the results of that; the takeover of West Beirut." It is clear to everyone inside and even outside Lebanon "that you can't force Hizbullah to disarm," said the observer, who asked to remain anonymous. A more effective approach would be to create the right conditions whereby the militant organization would no longer be able to justify maintaining its weapons, such as the forging of some sort of understanding between the United States and Iran, or the achievement of comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world, he said. While the domestic consequences of a victory for the opposition are not expected to be significant, the main impact would be the perception of such a win in the region. "If the opposition wins, that will be seen as a boost for the alliance of Iran and Syria and Hamas and Hizbullah, and Lebanon will be seen as moving back into that fold after moving away after [former prime minister Rafik] Hariri's assassination in 2005, and [it] will be seen as a blow" to US-backed states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Israel, in the context of confronting Iran, the Western observer said. There will likely be a desire in the international community, particularly in Washington, to continue to deal with Lebanon and perhaps go on providing it with military assistance even if the Hizbullah-led opposition were to win the election, he said. However, there could well be a battle between the administration and Congress over the issue, he said.