One thing the Bush Administration hadn’t counted upon when it pushed for withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon was that the vacuum might well be filled by the paramilitary of the Hizbullah Party, especially in the Biqaa Valley.
The opposition in Lebanon has set demonstrations for Monday in honor of the one-month anniversary of the assassination of former PM Rafiq al-Hariri.
Those of you interested in following the Lebanon situation should consult Helena Cobban’s web log. Cobban is a veteran reporter who has spent substantial time in Beirut and was there last fall.
Salama Ni`mat writes from Washington: “As the White House and the State Department deny any change in American policy toward Hizbullah, an American official expressed his anxiety at the possibility that Hizbullah will exploit the curtailment of Syrian influence in Lebanon to reinforce its own military and political position in Lebanon, in cooperation with Iran and at the expense of the Lebanese Opposition. The official, who requested anonymity, said that Hizbullah “Might prove able to sweep the Lebanese elections, if they are held without foreign interference, and to fill the vaccuum that the Syrian withdrawal will leave behind.” He clarified that Hizbullah, which was yesterday a Syrian ally, might tomorrow be its successor, whether by resort to weapons or by dominance at the ballot box.
Paraphrase: He pointed to Israeli anxieties about the rise of Hizbullah, saying it was among the best-armed and best-trained terrorist organizations in the world, with strong connections to several similar organizations, including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
He maintained that Hizbullah had played an important role in recruiting fighters to go fight the Americans and the Iraqi government in Iraq. [Cole: This is a vast exaggeration; there is no evidence of any significant number of Shiite Lebanese fighters being captured in Iraq, and the guerrillas are almost all Sunnis.]
This official seems to me not well informed, and just full of typical Washington propaganda. Hizbullah cannot sweep the elections, because the Taef Conference set a 50/50 split of seats in parliament between Christians and Muslims. And the tradition has been for the president to be a Maronite Christian, and the prime minister a Sunni Arab. The most that could happen would be that Hizbullah defeats the other Shiite party, AMAL, and takes over the Speaker of the House position.
With regard to Hizbullah’s paramilitary, last I knew it was only 5000 men or so. Contrary to these assertions, I know of no good evidence that Hizbullah has been involved in international terrorism for many years– since about 1997 I think (though I’m glad to be corrected). Its main activity was getting the Israeli occupiers back out of Lebanon, in which it succeeded.
Hizbullah is a party of the poor, is puritanical and often frankly fanatical. I wouldn’t want to live under it. But it probably represents a good 1/3 of Lebanese politically and is a force to be reckoned with. It cannot simply be ignored or dismissed as a terrorist organization.
Hizbullah isn’t that different from the Dawa Party or the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which the US just helped to power in Iraq. The three will almost certainly become fast friends in the new Shiite crescent that Washington is creating.
It used to be said that the British Empire was acquired in a fit of absent-mindedness. It might equally be said that the Bush administration is Shiitizing the politics of the Arab East (mashriq), whether it means to or not.