Saturday, November 24, 2007

No War Yet in Lebanon

Lebanon has been in a political deadlock, pending new elections since the Shiites withdrew from Lebanon's cabinet in December 2006. Now it is starting to seem that this deadlock will continue until the 2009 elections unless elections are called early.

The 2005 elections, held in the aftermath of the death of Hariri, marked the high point for pro-US/pro-Israeli partisans in the country. They'll never do that well again, and they, Hezbollah, Syria, the US and Israel know it. The aim of the West is to get as much done as possible before the next elections. The aim of the anti-Zionists is to forestall any important decisions until after the public has next spoken at the polls, and the bring that time as soon as possible.

It now looks as if the West will not get an executive in place who will try to disarm Hezbollah or who can be counted on the come up with a reason to cancel or "postpone" elections in 2009 so this stalemate will slog on until then.

The West is adamant that its supporters will not give in to demands for new elections or one-person/one-vote reforms of the electoral system and looks as if it will succeed in forestalling those at least until the elections. The West is hoping that the popular mood shifts against Syria and Iran and toward the Israel and the US somehow before 2009. That seems unlikely.

Hezbollah has several big advantages if there was to be another Lebanese civil war. First it is the only armed force that has actually fought a real enemy. Hezbollah's ranks are now staffed by veterans who've been under fire. Second, Hezbollah can be resupplied over land. In a civil war, Hezbollah will attempt, one way or another to take out the airports and ports and is likely to have some success at least rendering them less effective. Third, Hezbollah has control of the most useful territory. It has a long border with Syria and all of the border with Israel. This means not only that Israel cannot intervene over the ground but also that if nobody wins but instead the country splits Hezbollah gets the parts it would want and can fight a battle of attrition for the rest. Fourth the pro-Western Lebanese are rich and soft. They'll up and leave while Hezbollah's supporters will stay. Every day that there are explosions, the balance of forces will tilt a little more toward Hezbollah.

I do not expect a Gaza-type confrontation. Gaza happened because the facts on the ground were being shifted. Dahlan forces were being armed and might reach a point where they could overpower and outlaw Hamas so Hamas struck preemptively.

There is no amount of arms the US can ship into Lebanon that would allow pro-Western forces to disarm Hezbollah. Hezbollah can afford to wait. If the US crosses a line and installs a president over the Shiite veto, then Hezbollah may ("may" not "will") fight over that. If the president invites foreign troops to disarm Hezbollah, Hezbollah will ("will" not "may") fight over that.

I see the chance of civil war as remote for now. The next Lebanese fireworks are scheduled for 2009. The US needs an executive that will rig, cancel or postpone elections and is not likely to have one by then. If there is not, March 14 loses its majority then and the next parliament will be fine with a one-person one-vote system.

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