Robert Rabil & Walid Phares: The Lebanese Government and the US ... Allies Behind Doors?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Dr Robert Rabil is a Professor of Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University and the author of Syria, the United States, and the War on Terror in the Middle East Dr Walid Phares is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracies.]

Blaming the United States for everything gone awry underneath the sun of the Middle East has become the fashion of the day. Interestingly enough, critics are not confined to a specific geographic location. A visiting scholar at the Middle East Center of Carnegie Endowment in Beirut wrote that Washington’s manipulation of politics in Lebanon has been fatal. Supporting his thesis that US-backed allies lose in free elections (in reference to the recent Lebanon’s Metn by-elections in which a former President and a key member of the US-backed March 14 Forces was defeated by a relatively unknown political figure, allied with the Hizbollah-led opposition), a reporter for the New York Times quoted a Middle East expert who stated that “The minute you are counted on or backed by the Americans, kiss it goodbye, you will never win.” Ironically, little, if any, was said about the fact that had it not been for the US swift military and logistical support of the Lebanese army, the radical group, Fatah al-Islam, battling the Lebanese army would have, indeed as it has claimed, created a Jihadi Emirate in northern Lebanon.

These critiques have become fodder for Hizbollah’s leadership who recently asserted that Washington is the party standing against forming a government of national unity and thus against a political settlement of the ongoing crisis in Lebanon. Underlying this accusation is the notion that the United States is the real driving force of the Siniora government. The corollary of this line of thought is that the Siniora government is not nationalist and is only an instrument to help create Washington’s imperial policy of a new Middle East, which Hizbollah is dedicated to frustrate.

This psychological warfare, which Hizbollah has perfected, has had a chilling effect on the March 14 Forces in general and on the Siniora government in particular. In fact, the Siniora government has acted in a way indirectly bearing out Hizbollah’s assertion. Facing off the opposition, the Siniora government has tried to justify its actions as the result of international and American pressure. In this way, the thinking goes, the government, acting in the belief of protecting national unity, would neither provoke nor be held responsible for any potential national rift caused by its actions. However, this has inadvertently and incorrectly confirmed the analysis by the afore-mentioned critics, save sharpening the image constructed deceptively by Hizbollah that the US dictates the government’s policies.

This was put in sharp relief with regard to creating the international tribunal to prosecute those who assassinated Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The Siniora government tried hard to persuade the permanent members of the UN Security Council to set up the international tribunal without a formal request from the Lebanese cabinet. A similar case took place when the Siniora government, over the objection of some members of the UN Security Council, successfully convinced the international organization to raise the number of UNIFIL troops in south Lebanon in the wake of the Hizbollah-Israel conflagration in summer 2006 without the cover of Chapter Seven.

Admittedly, the government’s actions have baffled the permanent members of the UN Security Council. In fact, the recent letter on June 25 by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the UN Security Council requesting the extension of the term of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for an “additional period of one year ending on 31 August 2008, in conformity with the activity of UNIFIL as stipulated in paragraph 11 of resolution 1701 (2006), and without amendment,” has perplexed UNSC members.

Given that the UN itself expressed its concern about arms smuggling into Lebanon from Syria in violation of UNSCR 1701, and that six members of UNIFIL were recently murdered in their area of operations in south Lebanon, some UNSC members found it troubling that the Siniora government did not include an amendment of the resolution’s mandate in its request for an extension of the term of the UNIFIL. This is all the more so because the resolution itself (paragraph 16) “expresses its intentions to consider in a later resolution further enhancements to the mandate.”

Significantly, the recent report by the fact-finding mission of the International Lebanese Committee (ILC) for UNSCR 1559 [17] (which has consultative status with the UN) revealed that Syria still occupies approximately 458 square kilometres of Lebanese territory in different areas adjacent to the border, and that it has changed the topography of the land so as to facilitate smuggling of weapons into Lebanon. The Syrian regime, far from withdrawing from Lebanon (even technically) has created new "facts on the ground" which have made its compliance with a slew of United Nations Security Council resolutions - especially Resolution 1680 [15] (May 2006) and Resolution 1559 [16] (September 2004) - a mockery of the international system.

All this begs the question why has not Siniora’s government asked for an international force to help the Lebanese army monitor the border with Syria? It is hardly possible that the government, or any government for that matter, could extend its authority throughout Lebanese territories with Hizbollah and Palestinian extremist groups, such as Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah-Intifada, are being armed to the teeth by Syria and Iran. It is no idle speculation that the government may indeed be hoping for the international community to come to its help by taking the initiative and sponsoring a new resolution. France has already circulated to the other permanent members of the Security Council a draft for extending the Resolution’s mandate. Unfortunately, last week, the UNSCR voted for the renewal of the resolution as is, wihtout modification. Which means a neutralization of a UN additional role at the eve of crucial Presidential elections in Lebanon. A mistake which will cost more to the Lebaneseand their allies and friends worldwide

Under either condition, the Siniora government should overtly seek the backing of the international community, especially of the US, and expose Syria and Hizbollah’s violations irrespective of national and regional considerations. In this way, the government, which has thus far led the battle for democracy in Lebanon, would reclaim the bold initiative to defend Lebanese sovereignty. No less significant, it would send a signal to the world that it is the one calling the shots and is thankfully standing by the US, thereby ending the stream of distorted and antagonistic analysis of US policy in Lebanon.

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