Hezb'allah and the coming elections in Lebanon

No firm date has been set as yet for parliamentary elections in Lebanon. The patchwork quilt cabinet cannot come to an agreement but that's not unusual. The target is sometime this spring, probably in May although at this point, no one is putting any money on their predictions.

This Adam Taheri piece in the New York Post sets the stage:

The biggest recipient of Iran's largesse is Hezbollah (the Party of Allah), a militant Shiite outfit that Tehran created in 1983 and controls through some 500 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and numerous theological and political "commissars."

In the last general election, in 2005, Hezbollah drew some 11 percent of the vote. This time, Tehran hopes the party will win at least 20 percent.

But the key to who will govern is held by the Maronite Christian community.

That's because the last re- drawing of the electoral map - in a deal made by Lebanese parties at last year's "compromise summit" in Doha, Qatar - will make it hard for other communities to change their respective weight in the next parliament.

In the country's south, the two Shiite parties - Hezbollah (led by Hassan Nasrallah) and the Amal (Hope) Movement - will have little difficulty winning almost all seats. Similarly, the Sunni Muslim bloc of parties (led by Saad al-Hariri and backed by Saudi Arabia) is sure to capture all seats in Tripoli and parts of Beirut. And the Druze, led by Walid Jumblatt, will win all the seats in their Shouf Mountain stronghold.

That leaves the areas in which Maronite Christians still form a majority - but the Maronites are deeply divided.

One faction, led by ex-Gen. Michel Aoun (who still hopes to someday capture the presidency), sides with Iran and is running on a militant anti-Western platform. Another, led by former President Amin Gemayel and former militia leader Samir Geagea, ferociously opposes Khomeinism and promises to keep Lebanon within "the family of moderate Arab states with close ties with the West."

Saudi Arabia has not been inactive as they too are pouring money into the election with some of their help going to the anti-Aounist faction. The US, as has been our policy, has been letting King Abdullah do most of the heavy lifting with occasional assistance from the State Department. If we take too visible a hand, Hezb'allah and especially the Aounists will make political hay of it. The Lebanese are extremely suspicious of the west - the US and France - and any overt assistance we might give (outside of the military assistance we are giving the Lebanese army) would taint the pro-western forces.

If the election were held today, the pro-western forces would probably win. But that lead is extremely tenuous. The majority of Christians still support Gamayel/Gaega but once we start getting closer to the election, the prospect of intimidation by Hezb'allah will become possible. They've got the guns and if they sense the election slipping away, anything is possible. They won last year after taking to the streets and overrunning Sunni areas in Beirut, leading to the "compromise summitt" in Doha where the March 14th forces caved in to their demands for veto power in the cabinet in order to avoid a full scale civil war. Such a threat again could cow the anti-Aounist Christians into voting for the Hezb'allah led faction or staying home.

Maronite Christian leaders have been trying to make peace between the factions but it is tough going. The overweaning ambition to be president that led Michel Aoun to make a deal with Hezb'allah seems to be the major stumbling block as the Aounists aren't giving an inch. Any talk of uniting the Christian community inevitably returns to Aoun's demands for leadership. And for the other faction, that is just a non-starter.

So Lebanon will remain a horribly divided country, riven with sectarian and political divisions, and unable to find their way to a peaceful democracy as long as Iran wants to use their territory for a staging area for their war against Israel. And a new report on Hezb'allah military capabilities as revealed during the 2006 war with Israel states that their tactics were more conventional than first thought:

 

Hizbullah's defense of South Lebanon in the 2006 war with Israel employed conventional warfare tactics far more than asymmetrical "guerrilla" or "terrorist" methods, a US government report has said. The report, commissioned by the US Army War College, said that Hizbullah's unwillingness to give up ground to advancing Israeli forces, its use of natural and man-made terrain for concealment rather than civilian populations, its concentration of forces and its "differentiated theater of war" distinguished the group's efforts from those of classic guerilla armies.

"Hizbullah's skills in conventional war fighting were clearly imperfect in 2006 - but they were also well within the observed bounds of other state military actors in the Middle East and elsewhere, and significantly superior to many such states.

"In fact, Hizbullah inflicted more Israeli casualties per Arab fighter in 2006 than did any of Israel's state opponents in the 1956, 1967, 1973, or 1982 Arab-Israeli interstate wars," it added.

Hezb'allah may have had only 500 of its best fighters engaged with Israeli forces in the south during that war. There  are some indications that Iran is seeking to expand that force significantly. It is estimated that Hezb'allah has 1200 of these well trained militia fighters with another 5-8,000 less well trained but armed auxillaries. 

Not enough for a real stand up fight against Israel but, as we saw, able to stand toe to toe with the IDF in small engagements. It is these fighters that proved more than a match for the untrained Sunni militias during the Hezb'allah "coup" last year. (Fighting the Druze was a much different story as the fierce fighters under Walid Jumblatt sent the Hezzies flying from thei Druze stronghold in the Chouf mountains.)

With Iran pouring money into the Shia south to cement their loyalty  while resupplying their proxy with 40,000 short and medium range missiles and  stepping up training of Hezb'allah fighters, the stage is being set for another confrontation with Israel - but probably after the parliamentary elections. Lebanon is still devastated as a result of Israeli bombings during the 2006 war and any repeat would anger the population and most likely turn Christians completely away from Aoun.

No doubt the forces of freedom have a tough challenge ahead of them.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky

 

 



No firm date has been set as yet for parliamentary elections in Lebanon. The patchwork quilt cabinet cannot come to an agreement but that's not unusual. The target is sometime this spring, probably in May although at this point, no one is putting any money on their predictions.

This Adam Taheri piece in the New York Post sets the stage:

The biggest recipient of Iran's largesse is Hezbollah (the Party of Allah), a militant Shiite outfit that Tehran created in 1983 and controls through some 500 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and numerous theological and political "commissars."

In the last general election, in 2005, Hezbollah drew some 11 percent of the vote. This time, Tehran hopes the party will win at least 20 percent.

But the key to who will govern is held by the Maronite Christian community.

That's because the last re- drawing of the electoral map - in a deal made by Lebanese parties at last year's "compromise summit" in Doha, Qatar - will make it hard for other communities to change their respective weight in the next parliament.

In the country's south, the two Shiite parties - Hezbollah (led by Hassan Nasrallah) and the Amal (Hope) Movement - will have little difficulty winning almost all seats. Similarly, the Sunni Muslim bloc of parties (led by Saad al-Hariri and backed by Saudi Arabia) is sure to capture all seats in Tripoli and parts of Beirut. And the Druze, led by Walid Jumblatt, will win all the seats in their Shouf Mountain stronghold.

That leaves the areas in which Maronite Christians still form a majority - but the Maronites are deeply divided.

One faction, led by ex-Gen. Michel Aoun (who still hopes to someday capture the presidency), sides with Iran and is running on a militant anti-Western platform. Another, led by former President Amin Gemayel and former militia leader Samir Geagea, ferociously opposes Khomeinism and promises to keep Lebanon within "the family of moderate Arab states with close ties with the West."

Saudi Arabia has not been inactive as they too are pouring money into the election with some of their help going to the anti-Aounist faction. The US, as has been our policy, has been letting King Abdullah do most of the heavy lifting with occasional assistance from the State Department. If we take too visible a hand, Hezb'allah and especially the Aounists will make political hay of it. The Lebanese are extremely suspicious of the west - the US and France - and any overt assistance we might give (outside of the military assistance we are giving the Lebanese army) would taint the pro-western forces.

If the election were held today, the pro-western forces would probably win. But that lead is extremely tenuous. The majority of Christians still support Gamayel/Gaega but once we start getting closer to the election, the prospect of intimidation by Hezb'allah will become possible. They've got the guns and if they sense the election slipping away, anything is possible. They won last year after taking to the streets and overrunning Sunni areas in Beirut, leading to the "compromise summitt" in Doha where the March 14th forces caved in to their demands for veto power in the cabinet in order to avoid a full scale civil war. Such a threat again could cow the anti-Aounist Christians into voting for the Hezb'allah led faction or staying home.

Maronite Christian leaders have been trying to make peace between the factions but it is tough going. The overweaning ambition to be president that led Michel Aoun to make a deal with Hezb'allah seems to be the major stumbling block as the Aounists aren't giving an inch. Any talk of uniting the Christian community inevitably returns to Aoun's demands for leadership. And for the other faction, that is just a non-starter.

So Lebanon will remain a horribly divided country, riven with sectarian and political divisions, and unable to find their way to a peaceful democracy as long as Iran wants to use their territory for a staging area for their war against Israel. And a new report on Hezb'allah military capabilities as revealed during the 2006 war with Israel states that their tactics were more conventional than first thought:

 

Hizbullah's defense of South Lebanon in the 2006 war with Israel employed conventional warfare tactics far more than asymmetrical "guerrilla" or "terrorist" methods, a US government report has said. The report, commissioned by the US Army War College, said that Hizbullah's unwillingness to give up ground to advancing Israeli forces, its use of natural and man-made terrain for concealment rather than civilian populations, its concentration of forces and its "differentiated theater of war" distinguished the group's efforts from those of classic guerilla armies.

"Hizbullah's skills in conventional war fighting were clearly imperfect in 2006 - but they were also well within the observed bounds of other state military actors in the Middle East and elsewhere, and significantly superior to many such states.

"In fact, Hizbullah inflicted more Israeli casualties per Arab fighter in 2006 than did any of Israel's state opponents in the 1956, 1967, 1973, or 1982 Arab-Israeli interstate wars," it added.

Hezb'allah may have had only 500 of its best fighters engaged with Israeli forces in the south during that war. There  are some indications that Iran is seeking to expand that force significantly. It is estimated that Hezb'allah has 1200 of these well trained militia fighters with another 5-8,000 less well trained but armed auxillaries. 

Not enough for a real stand up fight against Israel but, as we saw, able to stand toe to toe with the IDF in small engagements. It is these fighters that proved more than a match for the untrained Sunni militias during the Hezb'allah "coup" last year. (Fighting the Druze was a much different story as the fierce fighters under Walid Jumblatt sent the Hezzies flying from thei Druze stronghold in the Chouf mountains.)

With Iran pouring money into the Shia south to cement their loyalty  while resupplying their proxy with 40,000 short and medium range missiles and  stepping up training of Hezb'allah fighters, the stage is being set for another confrontation with Israel - but probably after the parliamentary elections. Lebanon is still devastated as a result of Israeli bombings during the 2006 war and any repeat would anger the population and most likely turn Christians completely away from Aoun.

No doubt the forces of freedom have a tough challenge ahead of them.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky