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Where do the two June elections leave Hezbollah?
Sunday, 28 June 2009 15:41
by Franklin Lamb PhD., Dahiyeh

Some Legmen for the US Israeli lobby, and even some here in Lebanon appear barely able to contain themselves, such is their felt glee over the Lebanese and Iranian election results. Some supporters of Israel see this election as two recent victories while others calculate that Israel is scratching for some good news given that polling data from Israeli surveys show that more than 50% of its population favors bombing Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Another survey, late last month, found that nearly one third of Israelis polled said they would leave Israel if Iran gets a nuclear weapon which it likely will have-if it decides to-within the next 18 months according to estimates by the Israeli Defense Ministry. Meanwhile US visa applications have broken records, according to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv for three out of the past five months.

One, election Israel hoped would help it maintain its occupation of Palestine was the June 7th Lebanese election (which the Hezbollah led opposition actually won by nearly ten percent of the popular vote.) But it may have to look elsewhere for solace because rather than being defeated and weakened, Hezbollah is currently stronger in Lebanon than it has ever been. The Party is dominating the construction of the next Lebanese government, as it negotiates the terms of its support for Saad Hariri as Prime Minister. Hezbollah’s popular support has increased due it its post election sportsmanlike acceptance of the results and its conduct and efforts at accommodation with its political adversaries.

Yesterday witnessed Hezbollah's ally, the Shia Amal leader, Nabih Berri being elected to his fifth term as the politically powerful position of Speaker of Parliament. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Christian ally Michel Aoun, who also increased his popular vote in the election, picked up more seats for a total of 27. He is now demanding 7 cabinet posts (3 more than in the previous government) for his Free Patriotic Movement while renewing the Oppositions call for proportional representation in the new 128 seat Parliament. There are now 13 political blocks and 11 independent MPs many of whom seek good relations with Hezbollah while curtailing their pre-election complaints about Resistance weapons.

One reason is that the Lebanese public, once more eying Israeli provocations and a military buildup along the blue line have come increasingly to agree that until the Lebanese Army is up to the task it makes sense to have a strong deterrence to the Netanyahu government projects.

The post June 7 election Hezbollah led opposition appears united and ready to reach out to the newly named Lebanon First group (previously known as March 14). Some have suggested that March 8 change its designation to Lebanon Always, but Hezbollah prefers to maintain, at least for now, its Loyalty to the Resistance title.

Hezbollah’s second in command Sheikh Naim Qassem said yesterday that the nomination of the new prime minister ( likely Saad Hariri) must be "an inseparable part" of an agreement on a new government and added it remained unsure who the next premier will be: .

"So far, the identity of the premier-designate is unclear in anticipation of the outcome of(parliamentary) deliberations.”

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Qassim said the opposition will decide on "how to approach the new government based on the designated premier's proposition". This observer interpreted his comments to mean that Hezbollah will support Saad Hariri for Prime Minister but that there must be some clearly agreed benefits for the Resistance, perhaps legitimizing Hezbollah's weapons explicitly or at least adopting the current conciliatory position of Walid Jumblatt who spent hours with Hasan Nasrallah last week and is said to no longer believe Hezbollah weapons are a serious domestic problem.

"Right now, we do not have a specific candidate as we wait for the outcome of the deliberations and the allocations agreement on the government's structure and the distribution of ministries” Qassem coyly added. .

The Iranian election

The June 12 Iranian election also initially created some joy in Israel. However, whatever changes may come to Iran from the election results, they appear more evolutionary than revolutionary and are unlikely to affect either that country’s support for Palestine, expressly mandated by the Iranian constitution, or its commitment to the Lebanese National Resistance led by Hezbollah.

One imagines that no one outside Iran, with Hezbollah perhaps being one of the few exceptions, really knows what is going on across the large diversified country with many power centers and with those reporting from inside tending naturally to report to outsiders developments through their individual political prisms.

Assuming that there is to be a serious ongoing power struggle between an Ahmaddinejad/Khameni group and a Mousavi/Rafsanjani faction, and one prevails over the other, rather than the more likely dialogue, some reshuffling of portfolios, and surface accommodation and slow transformation, many Hezbollah officials doubt it will affect the Party or its agenda partly because support for such groups as Hezbollah and Hamas is ingrained in Iran's ideology, which sees the Islamic republic as a counter to Egypt, Jordan and others that have recognized Israel.

On the subject of finances, this observer has frequently been advised that Iran gives Hezbollah much less aid than if usually reported in the Western media and that Hezbollah's existence is no longer dependent on Iran.

Nevertheless, Hezbollah’s relationship with Iran started with its birth and has deepened since. Virtually all the leadership in Iran is said by Hezbollah to have close ties with it. Iran, and increasingly other countries in the Region and beyond, share Hezbollah’s goals and have pledged to maintain its relationship with its resistance paradigm as well as with its alley Hamas.

According to Hezbollah, the extent of Western and American involvement in Iran's internal affairs is now clear and it blames the US and Britain for some of the recent violence.

Hezbollah's Naim Qassim argues that what is going on in Iran is not a simple protest against the results of the presidential election. "There are riots and attacks in the streets that are orchestrated from the outside in a bid to destabilize the country's Islamic regime.” ."

Consequently, according to Qassim, while Hezbollah is open to talks with representatives of all Western governments this does not currently include the United States even though several U.S.officials have asked to speak with Hezbollah but have been refused. This will likely be its position until the Obama administration removes it from the US Terrorism list.

" According to Qassim: "It is useless to have any dialogue with the Americans since they regard us as terrorists. The Europeans for their part have a role to play, especially as they are taking a different approach from the Americans.”

Hezbollah believes that it will not be affected by the events Tehran and members claims that Hezbollah has nothing to do with Iran's internal affairs and that it does not take sides in internal matters and that the June 12 election was solely an internal Iranian issue.

"What is happening there has nothing to do with our situation," Qassim told the Beirut media on June 25, 2009. "We have our own Lebanese identity and popularity, and these events don't concern us .” adding that Hezbollah believes that the situation in Iran will soon return to normal and that the “Islamic republic has succeeded in overcoming this plot from overseas aimed at destabilizing the internal situation,"

There also has been a hope that Israel could more easily make a case for international acceptance of Israeli action to bomb Iran and increase sanctions. Netanyahu has pressed the point on his trip to Europe this week, trying to persuade countries such as Italy, which are among Iran's more important trading partners, to reduce their economic ties.

According to EyalZisser, head of the department of Middle Eastern and African History at TelAviv University, “The Iranian election is a disturbing signal for Syria and Hezbollah. The weaker the regime is, the less it can provide support for Hezbollah ."

Eldad Pardo, a Hebrew University professor and Iran specialist, agrees, stating that “It is an extremely heavy blow for Iran's power and image and I would even daresay to Islamic radicalism in general."

David Menashri, head of the Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University believes that the system in Iran could be so deeply rattled that it will register among Syrian officials and Iran's other allies including Hezbollah. .

"The legitimacy of the Iran regime and those it supports has been harmed," Menashri said. "This is an opportunity to crack some heads and start solving some problems.”

Others view this position as Israeli bombast aimed at shoring up its increasingly fatigued population who are witnessing an international increase in support for Palestine and for ending Israel's occupation.

Near term, neither the recent elections or events in Iran appear unlikely to fundamentally affect Hezbollah. Neither inside Lebanon's new government or internationally.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at fplamb@sabrashatila.com
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