The May watershed and Lebanon

We stand at a watershed, and the tides are shifting.

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah and Amal Movement gesture as they ride in a car in Marjayoun, Lebanon May 7, 2018 (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah and Amal Movement gesture as they ride in a car in Marjayoun, Lebanon May 7, 2018
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
This month of May has been exceptionally hot in the Middle East, recording a number of major political events bound by a common thread. The primary focus is Iran and its proxies and allies, while America’s President Donald Trump seeks to shape a new reality. The air is filled with anxiety, the inferno burns in Syria, Gaza, Iraq and Yemen.
• On May 6, amid charges of fraud and intimidation, Hezbollah achieved a victory in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections. This does not change the confessional distribution of seats, fixed at 64:64 Christian-Muslim representation, with the Shi’ites awarded 27, but it does confirm that 67 of the 128 deputies are lined up with the Shi’ite Hezbollah militia. While Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri and his Sunni-led Future Party list declined, the “strategic alliance” binding Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah with Maronite President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement – hardly free or patriotic – held fast. Meanwhile Hezbollah continues to thoroughly dominate Lebanon, an armed state within a faltering non-state, defining foreign policy, provoking Israel, monitoring the Beirut International Airport, smuggling weapons into the country and penetrating the command of the Lebanese Army.
• On May 8, the United States announced its withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, together with the imposition of new and harsh sanctions against the Iranian regime. President Trump’s decision was followed by a major policy statement by Secretary of State Pompeo on May 22, when he outlined demands addressed to Iran: to cease its nuclear program and ballistic missile development, withdraw its forces from Syria, end support to Mideast terrorist groups – Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, stop threatening Israel with destruction, and end attacks against Saudi Arabia. The secretary inferred that the US would assure that all these demands will, if not fulfilled by Tehran’s consent, be guaranteed by US action.
• On May 10, Israel responded to an Iranian-initiated rocket attack from Syrian territory toward the Golan Heights with extensive aerial strikes against Iranian targets – weapons sites and intelligence centers. Twenty-eight Israeli planes participated in the largest attack by Israel into Syria since 1974.
• On May 12, Iraqi parliamentary elections were held in the midst of multiple political challenges facing that war-torn, Sunni-Shi’ite religiously fractured, and Arab-Kurd ethnically divided country. The front-runner victor, winning a plurality of seats, was Muqtada al-Sadr, a patriotic Shi’ite cleric opposing Iranian intervention in Iraqi affairs. Despite the strong showing of the pro-Iranian Fatah party, al-Sadr’s performance registered a certain setback for Tehran and its proxy militia in Iraq.
• On May 14, the US moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in recognition of Israel’s legitimate capital city. The diplomatic uproar was more pronounced in submissive Europe than in the agitated Arab world. The American act, full of boldness and faith, conveyed the intensity of Washington’s ties with Israel, and the significance of this for future regional developments. On the same day, 61 Arabs, mobilized by the terrorist Hamas regime in Gaza, were killed by the Israeli army when their violent protests threatened to spill over into Israel and threaten civilian Jewish communities.
• On May 23, Israelis and Lebanese recalled the IDF withdrawal from south Lebanon 18 years earlier in 2000. While there was an arguable security rationale for the decision, it was carried out in total deception and abandonment of Israel’s South Lebanese Army (SLA) ally, whose soldiers and families were compelled to flee to Israel. The Lebanese lost their homes and country, and suffered humiliation. This moral scar on Israel’s conscience has not been removed to this day.
Iran was definitely at the center of things, as it has been the engine of the evil axis since its Islamic Revolution in 1979. But now the tide was turning against her. Protests against the regime in Iran, from Mashed to Fars province, focused on the high cost of living, currency collapse, unemployment, and a regime marred by corruption and old age. The political ice in Iran was cracking at the end of the spring thaw.
The Iranian/Syrian occupation regime in Lebanon, spreading a pallor of fear in the country, executed its oppressive control over the decades by assassinating opposition figures from all religious denominations – presidents, parliamentarians, army officers, religious figures and journalists. This modus operandi gives insight into why and how Hezbollah made gains in the recent elections.
The American demand for Lebanon’s liberation from the ayatollahs’ iron grip is in accord with United Nations Security Council resolutions 520 (1982), 1559 (2004), and 1701 (2006). These called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and for the disarming of Hezbollah. Yet this terrorist gang and international outlaw parades the formula of “army, people and resistance” as a Lebanese consensus position. It may appear so only because the silent agony of the Lebanese is drowned in tears of subjugation, while the political class – full of traitors, opportunists, cowards and sycophants – has abandoned its responsibility as guardians of Lebanon’s sacred mission of peace, faith and tolerance.
The lack of popular protest in the streets of Lebanon does not reflect heartfelt acceptance of Hezbollah’s abduction of the country; rather the people live in fear, hostages of a hostile and vicious gun-wielding pack of ruffians. Hezbollah took to violence in fighting Sunnis and Druse in clashes in the streets of Beirut in earlier years, this in defiance of their promise that its weapons are aimed only at Israel.
President Trump offers a glimmer of hope that Lebanon will return to embrace its special national mystique when liberated – along with Iran itself – from repression by a religiously dogmatic and repressive Shi’ite regime.
When Hezbollah’s conquest of Lebanon ends, however that may occur, the SLA families in Israel will then be able to return home in safety and dignity. Israel’s flagrant injustice to its Lebanese brothers-in-arms will finally be mended. Nowhere was it written that Israel had a right to determine the fate of the SLA fighters, because in 2000 they could have stayed to fight Hezbollah to protect their families, homes, and native villages.
The writer authored two books on Lebanon: The Conscience of Lebanon: A Political Biography of Etienne Sakr (Abu-Arz) (2003), and Politics and War in Lebanon: Unraveling the Enigma (2015).