Across the Bay

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Iran's and Syria's plan

Go read Michael Young's latest piece. It's a must read.

Hizbullah's attitude is only convincingly explained in the framework of Iran and Syria implementing a project to reclaim Lebanon, but more importantly perhaps to eliminate international, particularly Western, involvement in the Levant. After having won in Gaza, Tehran and Damascus are now pushing forward in South Lebanon. Their joint objective, regardless of their different priorities on other matters, appears to be to remove the Siniora government, undermine United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, and create a situation where the international community would have to accept a Syrian return to Lebanon, which would, by extension, scuttle the Hariri tribunal.

How would such a project be carried out? Here's one interpretation. The priority is to emasculate the Siniora government, whether by taking control of its decisions or through the creation by Syria of a parallel government. In this context, the opposition's calls for a national unity government don't favor unity at all. Opposition parties will only enter a Cabinet they can control and bring down. We know that because they rejected the 19-10-1 formula proposed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which would have given them the means to block decisions they didn't like. But the opposition's insistence on a 19-11 division is valid only for torpedoing a government through the resignation of its 11 ministers. The aim is apparent: to bring to office a president sympathetic to Syria.

If its conditions for a unity government continue to be rejected by the majority, the opposition might create a parallel government or engineer a situation allowing President Emile Lahoud to remain in Baabda. There are surely problems in a second government, not least of which that Sunni representation is bound to be anemic. This could create a troubling sense that a Sunni-dominated Siniora government is facing off against a Shiite-dominated pro-Syrian government, which could backfire regionally against Hizbullah and Iran. There is also the fact that Michel Aoun's bloc might begin cracking if the general enters such a government.

What would the purpose of this second government be, beyond wreaking havoc in the country and putting pressure on Siniora's government? Simply, to neutralize the effectiveness of the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL in the South, by making their interlocutor in the state unclear. Many have overlooked that the Nahr al-Bared fighting might have been a stage in a process to render the army less effectual in South Lebanon. Several units have been pulled out of the South in the past six months - first to prevent sectarian clashes in Beirut after the opposition built its tent city in the Downtown area last December; then to engage in fighting in the North. This has given Hizbullah much more room to maneuver in the border area, while also opening space up for groups operated from Syria. Even if Hizbullah did not fire the rockets against Kiryat Shmona on Sunday - probably the work of pro-Syrian Palestinians - it almost certainly was aware of the attack, and did not oppose it.

Iran's, Syria's and Hizbullah's purpose in reopening a northern front against Israel, aside from reviving Hizbullah as a military force (which is essential for its own survival), is to empty Resolution 1701 of its content. Better still, if cross-border rocket attacks continue, it will be Israel, not Hizbullah, that will start casting doubt on the UN resolution's merits. Hizbullah's recent insistence that the Cabinet return to its 2005 policy statement as a condition to end the governmental crisis only showed the party's true intentions toward Resolution 1701. The policy statement defends the right of armed resistance, unlike the later UN resolution.

For Syria and Iran, as well as for Hizbullah, Resolution 1701 is the door through which the international community entered Lebanon in force, after Resolution 1559 and the Hariri tribunal. That's the reason Tehran and Damascus want to render UNIFIL powerless, even though there will remain useful idiots in Europe who think they can reach an understanding with the Syrian regime to protect UN forces. Syria has no interest in this, however, because it has likely taken a strategic decision with Iran to remove any vestige of international influence in Lebanon - as it did in Gaza - with the goal of reviving its domination over the country.

In this context, even an illegitimate parallel government to that of Fouad Siniora could prove useful in the long term. Look what the Soviet Union did in Poland during World War II. It created the so-called Lublin Committee, which initially had far less clout than the London-based Polish government in exile. However, when the balance on the ground in Poland shifted, it was Moscow's puppets who were recognized as the power in Warsaw.

The Syrians and Iranians may be thinking along the same lines in Lebanon. Create a parallel government; erode UNIFIL's effectiveness while compelling the Lebanese Army to manage Syrian-created security brushfires; press your advantage against the drained Americans, the spineless Europeans, and the debilitated Arabs; and then, when the international community and Arab states are truly lost, strike using Hizbullah and drive your coup toward its logical conclusion: a new Pax-Syria in Lebanon, supported by Iran.

As we've said numerous times, the objective of the Syrian regime is very clear. Young just spelled it out once more.