Across the Bay

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Hezbollah and the Iran Question

To follow up on my last post, check out this interesting editorial in NOW Lebanon:

Syria’s priority remains controlling Lebanon, and so we return to our riddle: How can Syria save itself from the Hariri trial by refusing to surrender on the idea of hegemony over Lebanon?

Second, the mystery. Will Hezbollah continue to help advance Syrian interests in Lebanon, on the grounds that without a Syrian comeback, the party has no future? We fear that Hezbollah has already taken a strategic decision on that matter. It is, after all, thinking in existential terms. If Lebanon were to become truly free, sovereign and, well, normal, the party would be unable to justify retaining its weapons against a majority of Lebanese who would like to see Hezbollah place itself and its largely autonomous areas under the authority of the state.

If the mystery of Hezbollah’s behavior is uncovered, and we find that the party intends to push ever harder to help Syria in Lebanon, then this will, in all likelihood, lead to a civil war that consumes everyone, including Hezbollah. Worse, that war will be one pitting the Shia against the other Lebanese communities.

Which leads us to the enigma: Will Iran allow Lebanon’s Shia to enter such a dark political alley? Has the Islamic Republic spent billions of dollars on Hezbollah and its supporters over the years just to see it all go up in the smoke of a new Lebanese Armageddon?

We don’t know, but we don’t have obvious answers to any of the questions posed above. The chances are that Syria will continue to press forward because it cannot, by its very nature, accept yielding on Lebanon. Hezbollah will continue pressing forward because without its weapons, the party has no reason to exist. That leaves Iran. We can only pray that it will restrain its allies before they go over the edge – and take us with them.

Syria is pressing in Lebanon because Lebanon is the key to its regional relevance, which it can only sustain through sponsorship of terrorism -- its only foreign policy asset. This subversive regional extension is intrinsic to the regime's domestic standing -- hence the reference to the regime's nature in the editorial, as I read it. It is indeed the nature of this regime that dictates its so-called policies, as Barry Rubin has convincingly demonstrated in his recent book.

I've discussed this issue at length, and quoted this important article by Eyal Zisser, and it's why all the fantastic theories about a Syrian "strategic reorientation" are so ridiculous and laughably ignorant. Syria cannot change its behavior and its support for terrorist groups and its colonialist aspirations and its strategic alliance with Iran because this regional posture is related, indeed central, to the regime's domestic standing and legitimacy, and the regime's priority is its survival and continuity.

The surge in Iraq terminated the Syrian lie that it has a "card" in Iraq (they never had any asset in Iraq. They only had the dispatching of jihadists to kill Iraqis and US troops, which the surge is successfully confronting with the help of Iraqi Sunnis and tribes.). Their attempts to use the Israeli window for renewed regional relevance through a revival of the Israeli-Syrian track have not succeeded. The Moscow conference, already a mere consolation prize, is not going anywhere, and the Arab states have threatened Syria to isolate it regionally (through the Arab summit) and, more significantly, to not back its quest to restart talks with Israel should it continue subverting Lebanon. In other words, there is no horizon for Syria's wish to force a "deal" over Lebanon that would reinstate it as Lebanon's colonial master.

Which is why Syria is attempting to force that outcome through terrorism, violence, and the instigation of a civil war. It is a zero-sum game, as I recently noted. There's no "middle ground" solution. An independent Lebanon is non-existent in the Syrian Stalinist mindset.

The question is whether Iran is going to watch its very expensive, and most successful, investment go up in smoke in a desperate attempt by Syria to forcefully restore its hegemony over Lebanon, in what would be, as Michael Young put it in his op-ed, a war not just against the Lebanese Sunnis (which is crucial for the sectarian Alawite Assad family regime) and the independence coalition in which they are a central part, but also a war against the Arab world.