Hezbollah's offensive in Lebanon has begun

Walid Phares, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
According to sources and contacts as well as statements made in Lebanon over the past few weeks all analysis indicates that Hezbollah is on the verge of an all out offensive in Lebanon to crumble the "March 14" Seniora Government and to seize strategic control in the country.
Following are few points deserving attention (a more comprehensive analysis will follow later):


1. As predicted since July 12, (and posted on the Counterterrorism Blog), the aim of Hezbollah's summer war with Israel, was to provoke a "strike-back" at the Lebanese Government and reshape the balance of power in Lebanon to the advantage of the Teheran-Damascus axis. Nasrallah and his allies across the sectarian divide aimed at shifting the issue of disarming Hezbollah and militias (according to UNSCR 1559) to crumbling the government, which is supposed to implement this disarming process.


2. By mid-October, Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies had begun a political counter offensive aiming at "enlarging" the Seniora cabinet, as a way to paralyzing it further from the inside. The political discussions took longer than anticipated by Hezbollah. Hence, a decision was made in Tehran (and subsequently in Damascus ) to move forward.


3. The perceived results of the midterm elections in the U.S. were read as positive by Tehran and its allies, in the sense that it froze vigorous reactions by the U.S. against any Iranian-Syrian move in Lebanon via Hezbollah. The feelings in Tehran and Damascus, have been that if in the next weeks and months a "thrust" takes place in Lebanon to the advantage of the pro-Syrian camp, Washington will be in no position to react or counter. Ahmedinijad and Assad believe (or have been advised to believe) that "lobbies" are moving in Washington and Brussels to restrain any strong deterrence by the U.S. against the "axis." The theory is that the Bush Administration is too busy "negotiating" with the new leadership in Congress to "dare" a mass move in the Middle East. The analysis also predicts that strong lobbies within the Democratic Party are now positioned to block any serious response to a change in geopolitics in Lebanon. It is believed that the window of opportunity won't be too long before the Administration and the upcoming Congress "understands" the Tehran-Damascus maneuver and create a unified response. Thus, the expectation is that Hezbollah and its allies were told to achieve their goals before the end of the year, and before the new Congress begin business on the Hill.


4. Hezbollah has mobilized its forces from all over the country to position them in the capital and eventually use them in moves in Beirut, the central and southern part of Mount Lebanon, where most government institutions are located. Nasrallah can also bring into "battle" the supporters of General Michel Aoun, the Syrian National-Socialists, the Baathists, and the pro-Syrian Sunni militias, the Islamic Fundamentalists paid by Syria, the Palestinian radicals and the security agencies still under the influence of Syria. This "huge" army can technically defeat the thin internal security forces of the government. The Lebanese Army is an unknown factor, with Hezbollah supporters in control of the military regions in the south, the Bekaa, southern suburbs and other positions. In short, the "axis army" is ready to engage in battle in Lebanon. The issue is when, how, and with what outcome.


5. The projected scenario is as follows: Hezbollah and Amal movement ministers will resign from the Government calling for the resignation of the Government. The next move is to have Hezbollah, Amal, and their allies in the Parliament also resign, thus creating "conditions" for what they will coin as new elections and a collapse of the cabinet. Most of these moves have already been accomplished or are on the eve of being implemented. The pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will declare the Government and the Parliament as "illegitimate," and call for early legislative elections. The latter, if they take place will be under the smashing influence of Hezbollah's weapons (a show of force was performed in the summer) and of the cohorts of militias and security agencies. Result: a pro-Syrian-Iranian majority in parliament, followed by the formation of an "axis" government in Lebanon. The rest is easy to predict: A terrorism victory.


The question today is, how to stop this from happening? While it is very late in the process, the United States must respond in a strong bipartisan way, the Security Council should move immediately to chapter 7, and the Cedars Revolution to take the streets again. Short of these developments, the worse is to be feared on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean soon.


*** Walid Phares holds degrees in law and political science from Saint Joseph University and the Lebanese University in Beirut, a Masters in international law from the Universite de Lyons in France and a Ph.D. in international relations and strategic studies from the University of Miami. He has taught and lectured at numerous universities worldwide, practiced law in Beirut, and served as publisher of Sawt el-Mashreq and Mashrek International. He currently teaches Middle East political issues, ethnic and religious conflict, and comparative politics at Florida Atlantic University.

 

Dr. Phares has written seven books on the Middle East and published hundreds of articles in newspapers and scholarly publications such as Global Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, and Journal of South Asian and Middle East Studies. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and BBC as well as on radio broadcasts. Aside from serving on the boards of several national and international think tanks and human rights associations, Dr. Phares has testified before the US Senate Subcommittee on the Middle East and South East Asia and regularly conducts congressional and State Department briefings.


*Dr. Phares is a visiting fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is Future Jihad, and he was the author of the memo that introduced UNSCR 1559 in 2004.
Visit Dr. Phares on the web at walidphares.com and defenddemocracy.org.
2006 Walid Phares