We have for decades now understood the inherent fragility of Lebanon, a weak, divided nation-state trying desperately to contain the growing power of Hezbollah. Analysts have described the nation as in many ways, increasingly a country wrapped around a terrorist group like a thin cloak. All that ends Monday October 31, 2016. As of that date Lebanon becomes a complete fiction, and Hezbollah emerges into the open as ruler of Lebanon.
Lebanon has not had a President since May of 2014. Ever since the factions within the nation have struggled to reach agreement regarding who would become the new President. By law the President must be a Maronite Christian, a nod to a now long gone era of Christian dominance. Christians, however, are an increasingly small minority in Lebanon, so it has been clear for sometime that whoever was installed would be by definition, the puppet of someone.
The Lebanese Parliament has met 45 times in the last two years and attempted unsuccessfully to choose a President. Every time the warring factions that comprise modern day Lebanon have failed to reach agreement. Parliament will meet to debate the question for the 46th time on Monday, and it is all but a foregone conclusion that this time it will select Michel Aoun, former commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Days ago Saad Hariri, leader of the largest and most prominent political movement opposing Hezbollah in Lebanon, isolated, broke and seeing no other options, publicly announced that he would support Aoun for the Presidency. Hariri will now attempt to make the best deal he can for himself and his supporters with the new President. A westernized, pro-Saudi businessman, Hariri will search for ways to accommodate himself to the new reality.
Aoun is entirely a creature of Hezbollah. This is not a matter of inference or supposition. As leader of the Free Patriotic Movement political party he signed a formal alliance with Hezbollah a decade ago. He has supported Hezbollah in lockstep every since. He has championed Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian civil war.
Aoun’s installation as President represents the clear ascendancy of Hezbollah to the top political spot in the Lebanese government. Hezbollah, which has long exercised massive influence inside Lebanon, will now be in direct control of the government and drive its direction, decision-making process and foreign policy.
The implications of this are difficult to exaggerate. Hezbollah is not simply a terrorist organization. It is a massive military and civil enterprise with huge resources. Estimates are that Hezbollah has in excess of 65,000 men under arms. It possesses a huge arsenal, including state of the art guided missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles and tens of thousands of rockets. Its forces are massed in Southern Lebanon in immediate proximity to the Israeli border.
Hezbollah is also a close ally of Iran. Its fighters are in Syria, working with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel, to assist Iranian efforts to prop up the Assad regime. Hezbollah operatives have done Iran’s bidding worldwide in a vast array of attacks against Western targets, and they continue to plan and prepare for such attacks to this day. Hezbollah operatives have been instrumental in helping Iran build a network of Hezbollah clones, Shia militia, across Iraq.
The writing has been on the wall in Lebanon for sometime. Iranian and Hezbollah efforts to seize control of the government have been transparently obvious. The Saudis in particular have pressured the United States government to provide support for anti-Hezbollah factions, to prop up the legitimate Lebanese military and to counter Iranian covert action on the ground. The Obama Administration, obsessed with the goal of achieving a nuclear deal with Tehran, has ignored all such advice and walked away. In disgust, earlier this year the Saudis pulled out of a $3 billion effort to rebuild the Lebanese Armed Forces and washed their hands of the situation as well.
Without firing a shot, the Iranians and their Shia allies are about to complete the process of taking over what was once a stable, democratic, pro-Western regime. They will not be content with that achievement. For them this will be just one for Arab capital to add to the growing list of those they control. Their march to dominance in the Middle East is only beginning.
Image courtesy of Reuters