SPEAKING FREELY Fall of moderates seals Lebanon's fate
By Riccardo Dugulin
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Names such as the Aysha Brigade and the 313 Special Commando are likely to multiply and enter into the day-to-day reality of the Lebanese news. While wounded are still being treated after the August 15 car bomb that rocked Dahiyeh, little illusions should be allowed over the future of the Lebanese stability. History proves to be a great teacher. When armed groups, whether local or foreign, start to come to blows in the
crowded streets of Beirut, the destiny of the small Mediterranean country is sealed.
Unlike 1975, this round of violence has been caused by decisions taken by Lebanese militias, and first and foremost by Hezbollah. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah's decision to wage a full-scale war against the Syrian rebels and the Sunni jihadists operating in Syria has put Lebanon on the front line of one of the bloodiest conflicts the region has known in modern history. Nevertheless, the country's fate was decided before the earliest Syrian demonstrations and prior to any shot fired in Dara'a or Homs. In fact, Hezbollah's will to impose its power over the political and military structure of the country has strongly inhibited the freedom of action of any moderate party.
By pushing for confrontation in 2008 and by ousting prime minister Sa'ad Hariri, the Shi'ite militia has effectively single handedly led to the destruction of a political movement that was a base of the Lebanese economic success, the Sunni moderate political parties.
In a country torn by confessional challenges, the intellectual, social and political sphere that rotated around the 14 March political plan projected the possibilities of a renewed take off into Lebanese economic and geopolitical aspirations. Aiming at the full territorial independence of the country, at the complete authority of the government over its territory and at the economic growth as vector of social stability, the movement was meant to make of Beirut the Paris of the Middle East, once again.
However, the fact that Hezbollah unconditionally favors Iranian interests over the Lebanese ones coupled with the immense arsenal the militia maintains outside of state control hindered any chance of success for the 14 March project. As in 2006, Hezbollah has drawn Lebanon into a war it did not want and that in no way rationally serves its national interest.
By doing so, Hezbollah has unequivocally committed a major strategic error. In fact, since its inception, the self-styled "resistance" movement has been able to gather popular support via social plans and by projecting an image of power and integrity absent till then in Lebanese politics. No Lebanese political party has been able to successfully damage Hezbollah's standing in the eyes of the local voting population. A deeply divided and corrupted society has found in the tenets of the Shi'ite militia some aspects of moralism lacking in the country. However, the 2006 war and the recent intervention in Syria have been eroding this "resistance myth". While this is happening, Hezbollah has made itself a number of new enemies that will put up a serious fight.
Radical Islamists such as Sheikh al-Assir, al-Nusra and the multiple al-Qaeda offshoots operating in Syria have formally declared war against Hezbollah.In less than two months, Sunni fundamentalist movements have fired rockets and detonated car bombs against Hezbollah's positions.
The destruction of moderate Sunnis led by Hezbollah will have tremendous repercussions on the Lebanese society. The need to oppose the Shi'ite militia's policies is increasingly expressed however as fewer leaders are able to address it in parliamentary and political terms, and moreover Lebanese youth is more than likely to be attracted to small and medium radical groups providing them with a solid doctrine and enough weapons to cause damage.
By wanting to extend Iranian hegemony over Lebanon, Hezbollah has put itself in a two-front war where his rear base is no longer protected. Its headquarters and its supporters can be directly targeted while its units are being killed in Syrian cities. However, once a more or less coherent Sunni front is perceivable in Lebanon, Hezbollah's response can be expected to be extremely destructive as it possesses the means as well as the political determination to maintain power. For this, Hezbollah's response coupled with the Lebanese Armed Forces stance will be instrumental in defining the evolutions of Lebanon's stability.
Whatever the short term chain of event will be, it can be certain that no moderate party will be strong enough to impose its policies over Lebanon or Syria in the foreseeable future. The probable fall of Bashar al-Assad will only lead to a bloodiest confrontation between al-Qaeda-led jihadists and Hezbollah forces, a confrontation which may spread from Baghdad to Beirut and which to a certain extent will be of a far more strategic value to Tehran than any other military intervention that has been undertaken in the last two decades.
Riccardo Dugulin holds a Master degree from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and is specialized in international security. He is working in Paris for a medical and security assistance company. He has worked for a number of leading think tanks in Washington DC, Dubai and Beirut.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.