Lebanese Elections and Israel

by Gedalyah Reback

The results of the Lebanese and Iranian elections will change the state of relations between the two countries, and will be heavily influenced by Barack Obama’s overtures to the Iranians.

To virtually all Westerners’ dismay, the opposition in Iran has not agreed on a single candidate to oppose Ahmadinejad, while there is squarely support coming from the country’s far right wing for his incumbency.

As of right now, it seems Hizbullah (The March 8th Movement) will make small gains and Ahmadinejad will somehow maintain the presidency. There is no major victory expected for either, but Hizbullah’s hand will be slightly stronger and Ahmadinejad’s slightly weaker.

Lebanon

Hizbullah has demonstrated itself to be an efficient organization to its constituents and is undisputed leader of their political alliance. The gains they made from the 2006 war politically had been on a steep decline, especially after their 18-month general strike and near provocation of a second Lebanese civil war. But those events were balanced by Israel’s second major war in Gaza in less than three years. Though Ehud Olmert’s assertive policy is now a thing of the past, there is a general perception that anything Netanyahu would authorize would be much mroe dangerous.

If Hizbullah were to hold enough sway, it could set defense policy in a new government. This would be possible with or without the Defense Ministry in their hands. Much of the Lebanese Army does not wish to police Hizbullah activity in the south of the country, and integrating the agendas of the two fighting forces is an attractive idea to many Lebanese. For Hizbullah and its allies, it would elevate the Hizbullah paramilitary officially. For supporters of the current ruling coalition, it could moderate Hizbullah’s military policies.

In any case, Hizbullah would have elevated itself as a movement and would likely survive any peace agreement between the Israelis and the Syrians. Hizbullah would likely not provoke a war over the Shebaa Farms. There are plenty of domestic and foreign policy issues Hizbullah needs to consider a national party that go beyond hostile intentions toward Israel. If Assad inks something with Israel, Hizbullah would not collapse as a movement because its original reason of being has been overshadowed by new peace-related developments.

Similar Strategies by Israeli and Lebanese Governments?

Iran will not lose its connections to Syria, and will likely gain stronger relations with Lebanon. Lebanon will again have some sort of balanced government arrangement between the March 14th and March 8th Movements. They might also follow a policy similar to that of Avigdor Lieberman in Israel, which would be to diversify the influence of major powers in the small country.

Lieberman has made it a point to improve Israel’s relationship with Russia and China, an interest of Lieberman’s Russian Israeli constituency. This comes in addition to definite upgrades between Israel and India. If the Indian Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, win this month’s elections, it will elevate those ties further. All this could allow Israel to alleviate some of the pressure coming from the Obama Administration, gain more support from a conservative Indian government, and put a roadblock in front of more Russian weapons deals with Israel’s enemies.

For Lebanon, they will continue sitting between the United States and Iran. But they will also draw on support from Turkey, which recently inked a weapons deal with the Lebanese. Turkey is strengthening its diplomatic power with Syria, and could be the patron Lebanon needs to protect it from Syrian interference and any future confrontation between Israel and Hizbullah (though that might be more unlikely if Hizbullah continues to be slower to the trigger as a full-fledged member of the Lebanese government answerable to tens of thousands of constituents). This is not to mention the role of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon’s best chance at independence is to pacify the Syrians and improve its relationship with all the major powers. The March 14th coalition will need Hizbullah to focus more on national Lebanese concerns than on Syrian or Iranian patronage for that to happen though. The politics are still tense, as the last two years have shown.

An Israeli-Lebanese Agreement?

It’s virtually impossible, since there is no clear leadership in the country and will not be for a long time. Israel will probably withdraw fro the village of Ghajar soon, but no one ever expected any random deal to include that town sine it is unrelated to the Shebaa Farms region. The Shebaa Farms also remain Golani in the eyes of the world, making it dangerous precedent if Israel ever agreed to give it to Lebanon. It would legitimate a sort of post-mortem land transfer, which the Syrians did when they agreed to recognize the area as Lebanese, thereby giving Hizbullah a reason to justify a military resistance against Israel even after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000.

None of this takes into account the fact Lebanon might not be able to enforce any agreements and may fall into civil war before one were ever signed. Plus the harsh political position PM Fouad Siniora has taken for himself declaring Lebanon would be the ‘last Arab country’ to make peace with Israel.

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