ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Between Democracy and Hizbollah 10.3.05

Between Democracy and Hizbollah

10 March 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Free and democratic elections in Lebanon continue to be all the rage, despite the pro-Islamic fundamentalist messages sent by the Hizbollah in recent days.

Somehow the outpouring of tens of thousands of opposition demonstrators demanding a full Syrian withdrawal after the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri was interpreted by the West as the popular will, par excellence. Images from the pro-democracy rally were exactly what Americans and Europeans wanted to see. Beautiful young buxom Lebanese girls in jeans and tee shirts with crosses hanging from necklaces projected democracy, freedom, liberation from the oppressive Syrians and especially change.

The West unfortunately is blind to the real forces of change driving Lebanon, call it a Lebanese "New Middle East." It is Shi'ite fundamentalist and led by the Hizbollah. Rallying with hundreds of thousands, Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah demanded that the West stay out of Lebanese issues and let Syrian troops remain. As usual he condemned the "US – Israel alliance," accusing it of a conspiracy to destroy Lebanon. Such is the Lebanese wave of the future and not the combined forces of the Christians, Druze and the Moslem Sunnis, said to be the pro-democracy faction. Hizbollah has 20,000 men under arms and if it wanted to could face down the ineffective 70,000 man Lebanese army. It may be fun to fantasize but no one will give the order to liquidate or even curtail Hizbollah activities.

Nasrallah and Hizbollah are diocentric, taking their orders from God, and no one else. And God resides within the spiritual collective thinking ayatollahs in Tehran. Yet the US is leading the charge demanding the removal of Syrian forces in preparation for the May elections. More than before, it appears the pro-Syrian forces may win that election.

Hariri physically rebuilt Lebanon, but the radical Shi'ite spirit has become more dominant over the years. Many are extremely devout and lower class, seeing their salvation in the next world. The other communities and especially the Christians raise much smaller families and have emigrated in increasing numbers over the years. The Shi'ites are approaching demographic and by extension political domination. Shi'ite martyrdom in the name of Allah is a much more powerful symbol than the frivolous western style "poster girl" image wearing the latest fashions (and often a size too small).

And then there is the Israeli angle. Washington is aggravated with Jerusalem for vociferous public repetition of its demands for a Syrian withdrawal. Everyone knows that such Israeli demands will always gain the diametrically opposed response. What about the conclusion that Israel really wants Syria to remain in Lebanon? A non-democratic Lebanon with Hizbollah reigned in by Damascus is greatly preferable to Jerusalem than a supposedly free Lebanon with Hizbollah as a loose cannon (literally of course). The greatest taboo is to admit that Syria is a stabilizing force in Lebanon, but it is.

The point is that Israel, Syria and the Hizbollah agree that it is best for Damascus to keep troops in Lebanon. Just that no one can admit it. If Syria remains in Lebanon then Israel can remain in the Golan and both sides have an interest in the trade-off.

As for the West, it is perfectly legitimate to push for democracy and a Syrian withdrawal (UN Res. 1559), but a bit of caution would be advisable. Massive Middle Eastern destabilization in the name of an ineffective Lebanese democracy or one dominated by the Hizbollah is not what Washington and Europe are seeking to attain.