“The choice is between Lebanon as a beach and Lebanon as a bunker. Lebanon could either become an extension of Europe in the Middle East or a bridgehead for Iran on the Mediterranean.”
RIVAL powers are pouring vast sums of money into Lebanon in the hope of influencing the outcome of the general election to be held sometime this spring.
There are no exact figures concerning these efforts to buy the election. But observers of the Lebanese scene claim that hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into the economy, producing an enviable growth rate of around 7 percent this year.
The Khomeinist regime in Tehran has emerged as the “big spender,” showering its various agents, clients and allies with “more money than they could use,” says a former Lebanese army officer. Indeed, “the Iranians have decided to buy enough votes to secure a majority in the next parliament and form the future government.”
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.”
The Aounites have worked within a Hezbollah-led coalition since 2005 and enter the election promising to make Lebanon an ally of Iran, Syria and other “revolutionary forces” that hope to drive the Western powers out of the Middle East, fight Israel and restore “traditional social values” (whatever that means).
If the Aounites win, that coalition will have the seats to form a government, putting the country firmly in the Iranian-led anti-Western camp – and ending plans to turn Lebanon into a tourist destination and global financial center with a high-tech economy.
Lebanon would become the frontline of the war that Iran wants to wage to “wipe Israel off the map.”
If the Gemayel-Geagea faction wins, its support could provide the “March 14 bloc” of democratic parties with a strong majority in the next parliament – allowing Lebanon to draw closer to the West, develop a market economy and consolidate its democratic institutions.
A win by Iran would be a major setback for President Bush’s strategy to help the Middle East take the democratic path – and a moral boost for those who claim that democracy is a Western concoction that has no place in a Muslim environment.
Many Lebanese regard the coming elections as a “make-or-break” (mafsaliyah) moment in their history.
Amir Taheri’s latest book is “The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution.”