Hanin Ghaddar, February 19, 2010
A phone call from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah Thursday night sent a shudder down the backs of the Lebanese. Ahmadinejad reportedly told Nasrallah during the call to be ready to confront Israeli threats. “Israel should be dealt with once and for all for the sake of the region,” he said.
The now-infamous phone call – which came in the wake of escalating threats being exchanged among Syrian, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iranian and Israeli officials as of late – has increased fears of a new war breaking out on Lebanese soil between Israel and Iran’s proxies.
But though all sides have been stepping up the belligerent tone, the real chances of a war taking place are still low. Analysts do not see a new conflict breaking out in the region in the near future for many reasons, one of which is that the US prefers to maintain a certain level of stability in the Middle East in order to focus on sanctions against Iran. Also, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah prefers to avoid a war, knowing that the Shia in Lebanon, who accepted the “divine victory” of 2006, might react differently were a new wave of destruction and violence to take place above their homes. As for Israel, the IDF would have already attacked Hezbollah if it were certain of its chances of winning.
The most disturbing part for the Lebanese, then, is witnessing Nasrallah taking orders from the Iranian president and stepping up his war-like rhetoric while ignoring the people and institutions of the country he lives in. This at the same time Iran is facing sanctions and possibly even attack. All this leaves some in Lebanon wondering whether another round of national dialogue dedicated to putting together a national defense strategy would be at all worth it.
“What we want is a retaliation that is up to the level of [slain Hezbollah commander] Imad Mugniyah,” Nasrallah told a rapt crowd during the Resistance Martyrs Day celebration on Tuesday. “We do not want retaliation for the sake of retaliation, rather to protect all the leaders, cadres and the entire cause which was conveyed by Imad Mugniyah.”
The leaders, cadre and cause he was speaking of protecting all belong, obviously, to Hezbollah, not to Lebanon as a whole. Nasrallah then outlined a complete military plan to confront Israel, targets and techniques included. He did not mention at all the rest of the Lebanese, the state or its institutions.
Nasrallah was using the same rhetoric Iranian President Ahmadinejad used when he said in a press conference earlier that week that the Resistance in Lebanon and in neighboring countries would annihilate Israel if it launched a war. Ahmadinejad did not say that his country would be engaged in the fight against the Jewish State, as it is clearly Hezbollah and Hamas’ job to do so.
Nasrallah got the message. He threatened Israel in a show of strength during his speech this week, saying that Hezbollah would retaliate by bombing the country’s infrastructure, factories, airports or oil refineries if the Israeli Defense Forces hit similar Lebanese targets.
Obviously, Iran is trying to protect itself from sanctions, and look after its nuclear program. Hezbollah is trying to “protect its leaders, cadres and the cause.” So who is going to protect Lebanon and the Lebanese?
The Lebanese are stuck with what in effect amounts to a caretaker government, weakened by the compromises that led to the formation of a national-unity cabinet and tied down by MP Walid Jumblatt’s overtures toward reconciliation with the Assad regime.
War and peace decisions, among others, have been hijacked by Hezbollah and Iran, making the possibility of a meaningful national dialogue and the drafting of a substantial national defense strategy – as promised by President Michel Sleiman – unlikely.
Nasrallah made it very clear to us that he makes the big decisions, while the Lebanese government is left to struggle with mundane, everyday issues.
Parallel to all this, it looks like both regional and international powers are trying to shelter Damascus. International mediators have tried to calm the exchange of threats between Syria and Israel, while Riyadh opened up to Damascus. And though the US appointed an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in five years, the Syrian regime hasn’t fulfilled any of its promises to Lebanon, such as demarcating the borders and curbing arms smuggling to Palestinian groups operating outside the refugee camps.
In the absence of a real sovereign state in Lebanon, the Lebanese alone will be paying the price for the next war between Iran and its opponents. The July War took place after the first round of sanctions was imposed on Iran because of its burgeoning nuclear program, which Hezbollah was enlisted to defend. Today, with a round of more serious sanctions possibly on the way, Lebanon might be in line for another devastating war.
If that were the case, who would protect Lebanon?
Not a new national defense strategy. It would be naïve to think our leaders could agree on one. And why even waste the energy coming up with a new defense strategy when we can already rely on the Armistice Agreement, signed by Israel and its neighboring countries in 1949.
There are also the international treaties, mainly UN Security Council resolutions 1559, 1701 and 1757, which, if followed, could safeguard Lebanon from violence, conflicts and direct political interference. But committing to these resolutions requires action, not empty pledges of support. Both the Lebanese government and the international community should take concrete, practical steps to implement these resolutions, and pressure those who are impeding the process.
The Syrian regime needs to be pressured, not pampered, and the Lebanese need to be assured that they will not be used as cannon fodder again if Iran decides it has a score to settle with Israel on Lebanese land.
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