Monday, June 8, 2009

Lebanese Elections

It appears that in Lebanon, the March 14th Forces have won 71 seats in the Lebanese parliament versus 57 for the Hizbullah-lead opposition. That Hizbullah did not gain enough seats to knock the March 14th coalition out of power is making waves in the Middle East. Hizbullah has stated clearly that it will not disarm. In the words of Hizbullah MP Mazal Mualem, "The majority must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state."

There is much speculation in the press about the reasons for the unexpected shortfall in votes for Hizbullah (Andrew Exum's blog Abu Muqawama has great links, and he has actually spent time in Lebanon) but the news is extremely significant for the Israeli-Arab conflict. Firstly, it indicates that Hizbullah is not universally seen in Lebanon as the best actor for protecting Lebanon's security interests. It seems that Vice President Biden's remarks in Beirut just prior to the election may have reassured voters that the Lebanese Armed Forces will be funded and supported by the West (though some interpreted Biden's remarks to mean that this support was conditional on Hizbullah losing).

It also indicates that Hizbullah is in a position of isolation. If unexploited by Israel and the West, this is bad. Isolated terrorist groups have a higher proclivity to resort to violence versus groups who participate in government and have some level of accountability. However, negotiating with Hizbullah in its position of weakness could bear fruit for the West, and using the opportunity to thaw the ice-cold Israeli-Lebanon relationship can only help Israeli security and regional stability.


Judging from the way disaffected parties in Iraq behaved after the 2009 provincial elections, Hizbullah's loss is likely to stir up dissent within the ranks. Moderate and radical factions of Hizbullah are likely to clash as the strategy forward is re-calibrated. Most likely, this strategy will be to demonstrate that the March 14th Force is ineffective at protecting Lebanon from security threats, and to continue its social work among its Shia base in the south of the country.

Israel's hand at this point should be to support efforts by the EU and US to engage with the Lebanese government, and support efforts to swing the Lebanese population in a more pro-West direction. The process may be painful, but it will be worth it to cleave Hizbullah from the Lebanese population's support. It's also less expensive than any military option.



Sources:

1) Therese Sfeir, "Sleiman Urges all Parties to join reform drive after March 14 Victory," Daily Star, June 9, 2009.

2) Michael Slackman, "Analysts Cite Obama Effect in Lebanese Elections," New York Times, June 8, 2009.

3) Mazal Mualem, "Defeated Hezbollah Accepts Lebanon Election Results," Haaretz, June 8, 2009.

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