Lebanon: Land of Cedars and Sorrow

[National Review/Foundation for the Defense of Democracies] Mario Loyola - The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon was an outpouring of national sentiment after the assassination of former prime minister Hariri, just two years ago; it brought an end to 15 years of Syrian control. But today, many Lebanese are complaining that the revolution's leaders have botched it - allowing the Syrian-backed president, Emil Lahoud, to stay in office illegally; allowing Hizbullah ministers into the government; and not moving quickly enough to fill the vacuum left by the Syrians, or to capitalize on the support of the UN Security Council. One time-bomb is the mounting tension over Hizbullah's missiles. I was told that after last year's war, Gen. Michel Sleiman, the Christian head of the Lebanese army, told Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah: "The situation with the missiles has to be resolved. This can't continue." But as Hizbullah digs in on the north bank of the Litani River, boasting of 30,000 missiles, the strategic situation is worsening dramatically. Hizbullah is clearly arranging its capabilities so as to use UNIFIL and Lebanese army troops as a military shield in any conflict with Israel. The crucial enemy in Lebanon, as in the broader Middle East, is now the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis. Hizbullah seeks to appeal to four disparate constituencies: the religious Shiite base, which is ideologically committed to the Khomeini revolution, but which remains a minority of Hizbullah's support; the nonreligious Shiites who think little of Hizbullah's social doctrines (it is common to see Shiite women in tight jeans and T-shirts) but who increasingly depend upon Hizbullah for social services; the non-Shiite Muslim (and Christian) opinion that tolerates it as an anti-Israeli resistance force; and the worldwide alliance of Islamist and anti-American forces. The U.S. should take advantage of these fissures. First, it should support liberal Shiites. Second, it should work to strengthen the scope and capacity of the Lebanese state in its security presence and in the provision of services. Third, it should bring greater diplomatic pressure to bear against the legitimacy that Hizbullah enjoys as a resistance movement. Beyond Hizbullah lies the problem of Syria. Like Saddam's tyranny in Iraq, the power of the Assad dynasty rests upon an ethnic minority that has no legitimate claim to rule the country. Its borders are meaningless - and terrorism flows past them unimpeded. More than one leading Lebanese politician told me that hastening the demise of the regime in Damascus was the single most helpful thing the U.S. could do.

2007-04-13 01:00:00

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