Radical Disorder Over Lebanon

Barry Rubin, GLORIA
February 18, 2008

The assassination of Imad Mugniyah, arguably the world’s second most dangerous terrorist after Usama bin Ladin, has riveted world attention on the story. But few are aware of the dramatic aftermath.

Here are some dramatic trends to watch:

While I believe this is NOT true, Hizballah is wracked with rumors that Syria killed Hizballah’s chief of international terrorist operations who was also a close collaborator with Iran. All three partners are now suspicious of each other, which may not disrupt their alliance but won’t help either . Whether Mugniyah’s death in Damascus was due to Syrian incompetence (more likely) or complicity (less likely), the Iranians want to be involved in the investigation. This is humiliating for Syria, which has denied any Iranian involvement. Still, the deputy Iranian foreign minister insists that Tehran will be participating and since Tehran pays so many of Syria’s bills, the Bashar al-Assad regime probably will have to accept what Iran wants.

The Syrians are hinted that there was Arab state involvement in the killing, which also means they are going to claim an Arab government worked with Israel on this operation. Again, I don’t believe it but if the Syrians accuse Jordan or Saudi Arabia, these neighbors will be very angry at Damascus, further isolating the radical regime there.

Syria has been preparing for the big Arab summit, whose success would be a big victory for Damascus and undermine the isolation that most Western governments have been trying to use as leverage against it. There are already hints that the Saudis may not send a top-level delegation because of anger over Syrian subversion in Lebanon and is encouraging other Arab governments to do the same suit, turning the summit into a failure. Reuters quoted an analyst with strong Saudi ties as saying the Saudis “will reduce their presence to the lowest representation possible as a means of protest. This will encourage others in the Gulf not to go, or to lower their representation. It will have an impact,” he said.

Hizballah threats to attack Israel in revenge for Mugniyah’s killing have brought the most open and explicit rejections ever from Lebanon’s government and its supporters. They are saying in advance that they will not let Hizballah drag them into war.

Meanwhile, Hizballah has continued its bad strategy of antagonizing everyone else in Lebanon. Syria and the Shia Muslim Hizballah group had so alienated Sunni Muslims that they could only ally with a marginal, very extreme Sunni Islamist, Fathi Yakan, who was simultaneously pro-Syria and pro-al-Qaida. And, of course, Hizballah also sided with Syria, who most Lebanese Sunni accused of murdering the popular Lebanese and Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri.

Now they have weakened and angered their remaining Christian allies. First, Syria and Hizballah broke their promise to support former general Michel Aoun for the presidency. In turn, Aoun is unable to muster his demoralized and deserting supporters in the street during the battle of rallies between the pro-independence coalition and pro-Syrian Hizballah. To make matters worse, by clashing with Lebanese army soldiers, Hizballah activists have seemed to make themselves an open enemy of the last remaining cohesive national institution.

After an 18-month effort to gain hegemony in Lebanon, the tripartite Iran-Syria-Hizballah alliance has made virtually no progress, a fact which is discrediting their power.

The damage inflicted by all these developments equals or even exceeds that inflicted by the death of Mugniyah himself.

Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center university. His latest book, The Truth about Syria was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in May 2007. Prof. Rubin’s columns can be read online at: http://www.gloriacenter.org/index.asp?pname=submenus/articles/index.asp.

February 17, 2008 | 2 Comments »

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  1. Hezbollah outwardly is strong. But the Shiites are not strong to take over the entire country. The Sunni north, the Christians in Mount Lebanon and the Druze in the Chouf are strong enough to resist them. The Islamic Republic ideal in Iran is inapplicable in Lebanon. Hezbollah can veto a government but they can’t institute the Iranian revolutionary model in Beirut.

  2. If Mugniyah has been put down, and it is not clear yet if he is alive or dead after possibly having staged a faked stunt with collaborators, it looks clearly like this was a tactic or a hit done on behalf of Arabs by other Arabs in which once again Israel is the convenient scapegoat.

    If the terrorist is dead, and it is openly revealed that an Arab country did have a hand in this good deed, then perhaps we are seeing the first cracks in what I think will be a future of war and even more terror (if that is possible) between Sunni and Shia, between rich Arab states and those kept artificially poor by their choice to be open terror states, and a schism between those who want a nuclear Iran and those who do not.

    Israel must play this game wisely and with strength. They must let Arab states know that they will not be victimized and attacked for the Muslim sickness of maintaining and supporting terrorism against Israel and then pretending that consequences will not flow from bad decisions and violent acts that have made Muslim nations into terrorism addicts.