[Freemanlist2] Iran Changes the Balance of Power in Lebanon by Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall

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Iran Changes the Balance of Power in Lebanon
by  Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
Jerusalem Issue Briefs Vol. 10, No. 24     23 January 2011

    * What is striking about the current crisis in Lebanon is that the 
efforts to resolve it are being made by countries in the region, with hardly 
any initiatives on the part of Western countries, enabling Iran and Syria to 
continue to stir the pot unmolested.

    * Iran no longer hesitates to state publicly that its forward defense 
line now passes through "Lebanon and Palestine." In practice, the 
Lebanese-Israeli border is in fact Israel's border with Iran.

    * For Iran, Hizbullah serves as a live and successful model for 
revolutions, one which is reflected in other organizations such as Hamas, 
Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian terror organizations, as well as 
extreme Shiite organizations in Iraq trained by Lebanese Hizbullah.

    * Hizbullah is nourished by the growing strength and power of Iran and 
draws upon its successes. Both parties recognize that the fall of one also 
signifies the demise of the other.

    * The Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the Hariri murder, 
which is about to publicize its findings, may offer an opportunity for the 
West to reverse the trend and take the initiative to reduce Iranian 
influence in Lebanon, and weaken the power of Tehran to damage the 
Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Iran Offers to Solve the Crisis It Caused

Immediately after the political crisis in Lebanon erupted when Saad Hariri's 
government collapsed following the resignation of the Hizbullah ministers, 
Iran's leadership and media hastened to blame the United States, the 
"Zionist entity" (Israel), and the West for the failure of the Syrian-Saudi 
mediation initiative, in particular, and for "sabotaging" efforts to find a 
solution to the Lebanese political crisis, in general.

As in other issues where Iran operates sub rosa to create and stoke crises 
(Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian issue) and then offers its good 
services to solve them, this applies equally to the Lebanese case. Iran, 
which actually directed its protégé and faithful facilitator in Lebanon - 
Hizbullah - to create a crisis, currently displays feverish activity and 
feigns the image of someone interested in solving it "within a regional 
framework and without foreign intervention," while "preserving the unity of 
Lebanon."


Western Countries Display Little Interest in Lebanon

Given the continued crisis, what is striking is that the efforts to resolve 
it are being made by countries in the region, with hardly any initiatives on 
the part of Western countries, which for some time now have hardly displayed 
any involvement in what transpires within the internal Lebanese arena, while 
Iran and Syria continue to stir the pot unmolested.

At the same time, the Iranian-Turkish rapprochement has also found 
expression in the Lebanese issue during recent months. Iranian President 
Ahmadinejad had a telephone conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan 
regarding the implications of the Lebanese crisis and emphasized that 
countries in the region were the ones who had to find a solution to the 
crisis in which Lebanon had become enmeshed by fully cooperating among 
themselves and eschewing foreign intervention.1

According to reports in the Turkish media, the Turkish prime minister also 
had a telephone conversation with King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and the Emir 
of Qatar, and said that following the contacts that he had with Lebanese 
leaders (a meeting in Turkey with Saad Hariri), Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a 
multilateral meeting was possible with representatives from the United 
States, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt 
participating.

Up to now Iran has refrained from specifying the names of Western countries 
that could constitute part of a mediation initiative and an international 
effort for solving the crisis in Lebanon, and possibly differences exist on 
this issue between Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Iran has no interest in awarding 
Turkey credit in the Arab world as the one who contained the crisis. Iran 
has still not managed to recover from the Turkish success in the Gaza 
flotilla incident and the reverberations that it aroused in the Arab world, 
and Iran has no wish to provide Turkey with a toehold in Lebanon at its 
expense.


Iran Blames the U.S. and Israel

The Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, has held separate 
meetings with various powerbrokers in the Lebanese arena (Druze leader Walid 
Jumblatt, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Beri, head of the General Union of 
Agriculture, Industry, and Trade Chambers Adnan Qassar, and army commander 
General Jean Kahwaji) to discuss the political crisis. Following his 
meetings, the Iranian ambassador declared: "The U.S. and the Zionist regime 
(Israel) caused the Saudi-Syria initiative to fail in order to create an 
atmosphere of disunity. At this stage, these are the Lebanese that can 
transcend this critical situation through their wisdom."2 Druze leader Walid 
Jumblatt's recent announcement that he will support Hizbullah ahead of 
internal Lebanese discussions to pick a new prime minister has increased the 
chances of the formation of a Hizbullah-led, Iranian-influenced coalition, 
which would constitute a major victory for Iranian interests in Lebanon.3

Other Iranian spokesmen accused "foreign elements" of creating the crisis in 
Lebanon. Acting Iranian Foreign Minister and the Chairman of the Atomic 
Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi declared immediately 
after the outbreak of the crisis that "the involvement of malevolent foreign 
elements who do not really care about the Lebanese issue" was the backdrop 
to the failure of the Saudi-Syrian mediation initiative in Lebanon, and he 
called upon the parties in Lebanon to display vigilance and preserve unity. 
He added that this initiative had won the backing of various countries in 
the region and could bring about a solution to the crisis.4

Mohammad Reza Raouf-Sheibani, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Middle 
Eastern Affairs, also claimed that the United States and Israel "sabotaged" 
the initiative and efforts to bring about a solution to the political crisis 
in Lebanon, and therefore one should blame them for everything related to 
the collapse of the Lebanese government. The Iranian press declared that 
"the United States and Israel are trying to sow discord between the various 
groups in Lebanon in order to goad Lebanese society into civil war."5

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehman-Parast said that the 
various groups and organizations operating in Lebanon could reach agreement 
among themselves: "Since different Lebanese groups enjoy great political 
wisdom and maturity, they can find a proper way to arrange for the future 
status of their country through consultations within a legal framework."6 He 
added, "What has come about in Lebanon is completely natural and there is no 
concern. Groups and parties in the country are highly politically 
mature....A complete political process accompanied by democracy is emerging 
in Lebanon and we hope that vigilance, tact, and national unity will not 
allow interventionists to play a destructive role."7


Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy

The long-term strategy adopted by Iran towards the Lebanese arena, with 
Hizbullah playing a decisive role in its implementation, constitutes part of 
a broader strategy that allows Iran to position itself as a rising regional 
and international power and in practice as the "just, Islamic alternative" 
to American hegemony.

In this context, the provocative visit by Ahamadinejad to Lebanon in October 
2010 constituted an important milestone, and the well-planned crisis that 
Tehran and Hizbullah have executed is but another stage in the 
"Iranian-Shiite Conquest of Lebanon." The Iranian success in Lebanon stems, 
inter alia, from the U.S. failure in the Lebanese arena and its continued 
neglect (and that of the West, in general), to the benefit of Hizbullah and 
Iran, that has intensified during the stewardship of President Obama.


Dashed Hopes

While during the administration of President George W. Bush, Lebanon became 
the major hope for Arab democracy (after Iraq), the country was almost 
totally neglected during the Obama era. The problematic Syrian regime was 
also partially whitewashed (a short while before the crisis in Lebanon 
erupted, the new U.S. ambassador to Damascus arrived in the Syrian capital). 
Syria and Iran could again feel at home in Lebanon after a brief 
"cooling-off" period that followed the assassination of former Lebanese 
Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, while they flagrantly ignored UN Security 
Council Resolution 1701 at the end of the Second Lebanon War.

President Bush's message that democratization constituted a balm against 
terror, which rattled the cage of the status quo in the Arab world, reached 
Lebanon and "threatened" the Iranian Islamic model that Hizbullah was to 
implement in stages. In practice, Lebanon became the arena for a clash 
between two overarching concepts engaged in a struggle to achieve the 
greatest influence in Lebanon, in particular, and the entire Middle East, in 
general: Western democratization (represented by the former American and 
French support for the government of Fouad Siniora) and revolutionary 
Iranian Islam (Hizbullah and the opposition to the pro-Western government in 
Lebanon).

The West's weak response and lack of long-term commitment failed to 
neutralize or contain the growing Iranian influence in Lebanon via 
Hizbullah, and those Lebanese who had sensed a fluttering of democracy 
became increasingly disenchanted.


Lebanon Transformed into a Forward Iranian Outpost

Iran exploited the hesitations and changes in Western policy toward Syria 
and Lebanon, transforming Lebanon into a forward Iranian outpost with tens 
of thousands of rockets and missiles of various ranges aimed at Israel. Iran 
no longer hesitates to state publicly that its forward defense line now 
passes through "Lebanon and Palestine." In practice, the Lebanese-Israeli 
border is in fact Israel's border with Iran. Hizbullah has become an Iranian 
organization in every sense of the word and the organization's 
secretary-general serves as the Iranian leader's representative in Lebanon. 
Lebanon, which is used to suffering and civil wars, has become a 
battleground for Iran and Syria and an efficient tool for promoting their 
national security interests.

In this context, one should recall the tremendous importance that Iran 
attributes to Hizbullah's confrontation with Israel during the Second 
Lebanon War and its results. While the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in May 
2000 marked for Iran the first victory of the Islamic Revolution outside of 
Iran, the Second Lebanon War and the Gaza operation (Operation "Cast Lead") 
which followed in 2009 have become epic and celestial events.

For Iran, Hizbullah serves as a live and successful model for revolutions, 
one which is reflected in other organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, 
and other Palestinian terror organizations, as well as extreme Shiite 
organizations in Iraq trained by Lebanese Hizbullah. Hizbullah is nourished 
by the growing strength and power of Iran and draws upon its successes. Both 
parties recognize that the fall of one also signifies the demise of the 
other.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the Hariri murder is about to 
publicize its findings that cast blame on Hizbullah and, according to 
newspaper reports, also on Iran for having ordered the killing. This offers 
an opportunity for the West to reverse the trend and take the initiative to 
reduce Iranian influence in Lebanon, and weaken the power of Tehran to 
damage additional processes in the region such as the Israeli-Palestinian 
peace process.

Lebanon currently constitutes one of the main fronts in a quasi-Middle 
Eastern Cold War. On one side stands a self-confident and confrontational 
Iran that is leading the "resistance camp," together with its protégés, 
Hizbullah and Hamas, who oppose a "Pax Americana." On the other side are the 
United States and the West, which have hitherto vacillated in everything 
connected to handling Iran. At the moment, the initiative (and the safety 
catch) are in the hands of Iran and its protégés who are capable of 
initiating violent crises when the timing is suitable from their standpoint, 
in accordance with developments in the various arenas (Lebanon, the 
Palestinian issue, Iraq).

Will the West and, first and foremost, the United States take advantage of 
the report incriminating those responsible for the murder of Hariri, and use 
it as a lever to reverse the trend and efficiently contend with the growing 
shadow of Iran over the Middle East? One hopes they will understand that 
dealing with "Iran first" is a precondition for handling regional crises, 
though the plausible assumption is that they will not do so.

*     *     *



Notes



1. http://abna.ir/data.asp?lang=3&Id=221327

2. http://www.presstv.ir/detail/160221.html

3. Jumblatt leads a bloc of 11 parliamentarians and his support is vital to 
decide who forms the new government.

4.  http://tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=234106

5. Quds, January 13, 2011.

6. http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8910251005

7. http://www.isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-1695412&Lang=E



*     *     *

Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, Middle East analyst and consultant 
at the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, is a former Head of 
the Iran and Persian Gulf States desk in IDF Military Intelligence. 

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