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Has Washington lost Lebanon? Part II: Persia Rising
Monday, 20 April 2009 00:38
by Franklin Lamb
“Who can Lebanon trust more to respect and help us, the US or Iran? Were not the American words during the Bush years and to this day that it supports our stability, sovereignty independence and democracy? But the Bush deeds demonstrated that this is true only if the American team is in control and then only to supplement its support for Israel. By its deeds the US is speaking to Lebanon with targeted words: to Hell with the Arabs, Muslims and Christians who Israel regularly kills in Lebanon, Palestine and in any country or continent it chooses! I don’t trust the Syrians or the Americans but Iran has always kept its word.”
-  Service driver for the Mayflower Hotel, West Beirut 04/14/09
Some political analysts have argued that historically, Lebanon has been too beckoning to international powers for its own good, too labile, too prone to foreign influence in exchange for payoffs to local potentates.

Be that as it may, there is a new ‘not business as usual” anti-confessional movement growing in Lebanon to work for an independent Country that is not the one Israel and the Bush administration had in mind.

It may seem incongruous that in 2009, the superpower USA would have much competition from the Islamic republic of Iran for the hearts and minds of the Lebanese, a diverse 18 sect, highly sophisticated population, with a history of western attachments extending back before the Crusades.

Yet is appears to be the case, as the power and prestige of Iran quickly spreads in the region and its myriad relations with Lebanon, which have existed for a millennia, deepen as American influence wanes.

The extent to which Washington has ‘lost’ Lebanon to Iran will likely be clarified in the near term, as the ripples from the Bush legacy, the seismic effects of Israel’s recent slaughter in Gaza, and the results of the coming Lebanese and Iranian elections impact the region.

Wither Lebanon: Northeast or Northwest?

Lebanon’s regional challenge to work with the growing regional power which is not Egypt, Israel or Saudi Arabia, but rather Iran. The 3000 year old civilization, converted to Shia Islam by Lebanese scholars in 1501, is likely to be strategically allied with Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Russia. The Camp David signers competing, despite Hosni Mubarak’s vow to the contrary, for ‘runner-up’ status.

Lebanon is contracting from its relationship with the United States after years of US pressured and purchased collaboration with Israel. The Lebanese appear to be realizing, following the destruction of July 2006, Israel’s 5th war against Lebanon, and the December 2008 slaughter in Gaza, Israel’s 11th attack against Palestine that the Zionist state wants only land, not peace and that given Israel’s occupation of Washington DC that Lebanon’s future should be one of Resistance not obeisance. In short, many in Lebanon are seeking a reliable ally not a continuation of US pressured collaboration with Israel.

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Iran offers Lebanon more than cash

The US Embassy, on 04/14/09, after reviewing the results of ‘in Embassy’ polling data in what is considered in Washington a fateful Lebanese election for Israel, announced at precisely 2:35 p.m. that “the United States will provide the Lebanese army with 12 Raven unmanned aircrafts to be delivered soon” (read: before the election).

Roughly three hours later at 5:55pm 4/14/09 the U.S. Embassy issued another Press Release: “The United States will give the Interior Ministry $1.7-million in aid to help it rise to challenges during the elections”. Amended to: “for “election responsibilities.” If all this was not confusing enough, half an hour later United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Lebanon Mission Director Denise A. Herbol elaborated and explained that the US cash would provide” technical assistance” during the elections. USAID is playing a important role in Lebanon’s 2009 election, as it has done since it arrived in 1951.

(Historical note regarding USAID: Exactly 26 years ago this week, on April 18, 1983 at 1 p.m., USAID Director Bill McIntyre and American journalist Janet Lee Stevens, who had gone to the US Embassy on the seafront Paris Avenue to discuss American policy and the need for urgent assistance to help the dispossessed Palestinians and Lebanese Shia forced from their homes in South Lebanon by the 1982 Israeli invasion, began their luncheon meeting in the Embassy cafeteria. Moments later the ten story center section of the Embassy pancaked from an exploding 2000 lb. bomb transported inside a Embassy van, stolen in 1982, as it rammed into the entrance. Both Bill and Janet died instantly)

US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison, who witnessed the signing of the agreement, altered the description saying the money would help with “the tabulation of election results.”

Some Lebanese were not buying the Embassy’s seemingly frenzied cash dispersal explanations and one American Embassy Hezbollah supporter (there actually are a discrete few-- “I would love to visit Dahiyeh (the Hezbollah area) but we can’t go anywhere!”) claimed the $1,700,000 might end up as ‘walking around money’ for Election Day.

Iran, with a 9000 year old civilization, (more than 90 % Shia) and Lebanon (approximately 52% Shia) are increasingly connected through scores of thousands of inter married families, deep cultural and religious values as well as growing political and economic ties.

American aid to Israel has exceeded 160 Billion to Israel over the past 40 years, and depending on how one calculates it today, gives Israel between 8 and 15 million dollars every day of the year. Not lost on the Lebanese is the fact that over the past two decades, until the prospect of Iran’s ally Hezbollah becoming the Majority in Parliament in two months time, US aid to Lebanon approximated just 35 million in a good year. Recently, (since 2006) military assistance to Lebanon totaled close to $410 million, being light weaponry for use inside Lebanon rather than to defend the country from Israeli aggressions.

The new Lebanese government will likely legislate Hezbollah’s arms legitimate, with the Lebanese Resistance military capability linked to the Lebanese Armed Forces by a yet to be clarified formula. For the first time in its history, Lebanon will not be subject to the threat of Israeli occupation, and many Lebanese hope their country can play an important role in returning its 400,000 Palestinian refugees to their country, an achievement for the Palestinians and Lebanese that has not been allowed under US tutelage. US and Israeli officials appear stumped by this prospect.

Iranian aid has been more than ten times US aid over the past quarter century and since Lebanon was substantially destroyed with American weapons in 2006 Iran has given Lebanon nearly 75 times combined annual US aid.

Where Lebanon and Iran see eye to eye

21st first century Lebanon, is no longer much impressed with the US Terrorism list (what former Senator James Abourezk calls the “Honor Roll”) which for 12 years has blacklisted Hezbollah, and since 2006 and 2008 Lebanon’s two most productive reconstruction companies, Jihad al Bina and Waad (Promise). Lebanese media and NGO’s have asked visiting US officials to help them understand in which ways it is terrorism to rebuild homes, schools, clinics, churches, mosques and bookstores destroyed by Israel over the past more than forty years with US weapons. It’s unclear to this observer if anyone has revived a coherent answer.

Lebanese-Iranian agreement on Palestine

Another factor influencing Lebanese attitudes toward Iran and the US are the experiences of those whose relatives fought against, or were victims of, serial Israeli aggressions against their country as far back as the 1960’s. Despite the Lebanese love-hate relationship with its 400,000 Palestinian refugees and however much each abused the other at various times since the initial welcome of victims of the 1947-8 Nakba, Lebanon today overwhelmingly supports the internationally recognized Palestinian Right of Return, supported perhaps most assertively by Iran. Both Lebanon and Iran want Lebanon’s Palestinians back where they belong in Palestine. The US is strongly suspected of wanting them anywhere but in Palestine.

Over the past year, one senses a renaissance of Lebanese solidarity with the Palestinian cause and hears vocal support, certainly post Gaza, for regional solidarity and Resistance to challenge Israeli terrorism.

Iran is seen as a better ally of Lebanon because while a majority of Lebanese Muslims are not fervent practitioners they, like Iran, respect Koranic standards of Justice and they realize Iran will not cave in to US and Israeli demands to abandon the Palestinian’s Right to Return. It is this internationally recognized right which Lebanese believe, is the central component of the Palestinian cause which they beleive is the central cause of Arabs, Muslim and all people of goodwill.

The Iranian and Lebanese position on Palestine is shared most strongly among the younger generation in Lebanon. Its includes a recognition that the nearly 50 year “peace process industry” project was a fraud, led by a hugely biased “dishonest broker” and without a “peace partner” from the Israeli side. Consequently, there is little confidence that the Obama administration language of the “inevitability of two States”, “imperative of a just solution” is not just more talk while Israel steals more land and kills more Palestinians. What increasingly makes sense to the Lebanese is what history taught them in their own country with Iranian assistance, that occupation creates resistance and determination and belief in justice and sacrifice trumps conventional military might. The Lebanese are proud of their victories in 2000 and 2006 made possible by Iranian backing their resistance forces while being acutely aware that the US provided the weapons to Israel that have killed their families and loved ones for six decades.

Iranistan in Lebanon or a (Egyptian-Jordanian-Saudi) Shi’ization conspiracy?

While critics of the Lebanese Resistance sometimes joke about “Divine Victories”, and “Victory Mountains” (of rubble from Israeli bombs) the current Egyptian campaign against Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah is viewed as an attack on Lebanon itself, and concocted in response partly to Lebanon’s growing ties with Iran. The local Lebanese reaction, depending on the sect, is as though “Egypt’s new Pharaoh” Hosni Mubarak, blasphemed Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch, Shiite Grand Ayatollah, Sunni Imam, Druze Tribal leader, Armenian Bishop or the late Martyred Rafiq Hariri. Much of Lebanon is offended, and the timing is viewed as an Egyptian trumped up political case to help the US and Israeli backed March 14 group in the coming election. Following discovery of “the plot”, and as if on cue, Shimon Peres, one of the key implementers of Zionist colonial ambitions (emphasis mine), took the opportunity to leak that Israel’s Mossad helped Egyptian intelligence and to declare yet again that “the collision between the Middle East, which is Sunni Arab, and the Iranian non-Arab Shia minority that seeks to take it over, is inevitable. Sooner or later, the world will discover that Iran has the aspiration to take over the Middle East and that it possesses colonial ambitions”.

Few Lebanese believe that Hezbollah wants an Iranian style Islamic Republic in Lebanon or that it is even a goal of Iran. “The ‘Islamic Republic for Lebanon’ slogan was from the early 1980’s and has been repeatedly repudiated by Hezbollah. It was revolutionary stuff to get the attention of would be recruits when Hezbollah was competing with Amal and 30 other groups for new members”, according to a Hezbollah recruiter in the Bekaa, near Nabysheet, who helped build Hezbollah 26 years ago. Some anti-Iranian politicians still try to float that idea from time to time but few in Lebanon believe it.

Iran’s credibility fairly solid in Lebanon

Many Lebanese, who want good relations with both the US and Iran, believe that US administrations have squandered many opportunities for dialogue with Iran due to its inflexible pro Israel agenda. There is general agreement that Iran has already “won” the nuclear power issue and will have its nuclear reactors and if it decides to make a bomb it will achieve that too. Lebanese, welcome the US climb down from the Bush administration demand that Iranian enrichment be suspended as the price to get talks with the US, and don’t accept the spectacle of nine nuclear countries jumping up and down shouting that a nuclear weapon for Iran is a ‘red line’ while at the same time all are refining and increasing their own nuclear arsenals. Nor are many Lebanese unaware of US intelligence community reports that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon or that under the Obama defense budget the US will continue to spend on its arsenal (including its nuclear weapons) more than all the rest of the world put together.

According to the opinion editor on a Beirut Daily, “If the international community is serious about keeping nuclear weapons out of the Middle East let it lead a project at the UN Security Council to decommission all nuclear weapons in the area and forbid future ones. Unless it does, who is to take Osama’s nuclear disarmament proposal seriously? Iranian pleas for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East have been ignored, although everyone but Israel in the region would support it.”

Given the unlikeness that Obama’s goal of nuclear disarmament will not be achieved anytime soon, many Lebanese actually support an Iranian nuclear deterrent meanwhile as a guarantee that Israel does not launch a sixth war against their vulnerable Country.

A Lebanese University political science Professor, attending the “Jerusalem as the Center of Arab Culture” Exhibition of Palestinian Culture at Beirut’s UNESCO Palace on 03/12/09 explained: “Iran and the Muslim-Christian Lebanese Resistance will keep Israel out of Lebanon. The US promises to support our sovereignty with a few weapons that is meant to bolster their friends in coming election. Watch what the US does if the Opposition prevails on June 7. It is viewed as not reliable. Iran has been close to Lebanon for hundreds of years. We may not agree with all their interpretations of Islam but trust them”, he continued.

US-Israel efforts to demonize Iran to the Lebanese, defaming it as a hotbed of fundamentalist Islamic fascists have failed. Only 46% of Lebanese, in a recent poll taken by the Pew Charitable Trusts Global Values Project, agreed with the statement, “Religion is very important to me” while nearly 90% of Muslims said they had a favorable view of Christians. Sentiments like these, illustrate the Lebanese acceptance of diversity, and explain why many not very religious Lebanese support religious Hezbollah for its secular programs and at the same time are grateful for broad Iranian assistance which is offered free of Khomeinist Puritanism.

Iran is seen by many in Lebanon as a better ally than the US because while a majority of Lebanese Muslims are not fervent practitioners they, like Iran, respect Koranic standards of Justice and they realize Iran will not cave in to US demands for Israeli hegemony in the Levant and trade away their independence and sovereignty.

Lebanon rejects fear tactics

Continuing Israeli lobby claims that Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon, “within months” and mortally endanger Lebanon draws a yawn from many Lebanese given that Israel is estimated to have between 250-400 and has actually threatened to use them as Golda Meir forced then President Nixon to airlift massive arms shipments from US depots at Clark Air force base in the Philippines during the October 1973 Ramadan War.

The Lobby continues crying wolf, much like earlier Israeli claims that: “Iran will have a nuclear weapon by 1999 (Shimon Peres 1996) or “Iran is the center of terrorism, fundamentalism and subversion and is in my view more dangerous than Nazism, because Hitler did not possess a nuclear bomb, whereas the Iranians are trying to perfect a nuclear option.” (Peres’ 1992 )

Or recently, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.” Israeli PM Netanyahu (03/09)

Netanyahu’s Passover Confession?

“The biggest danger to humanity and to Israel comes from the possibility of a radical regime armed with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told his new Cabinet last month, making clear his remarks were aimed at Iran. Netanyahu’s statement is currently the butt of jokes in Lebanon because Netanyahu’s “a radical regime” language appears to fit Israel’s, not Iran’s. “Is it Bibi’s Passover confession?” one English language Beirut talk show hostess asked her audience.

As Roger Cohen pointed in the International Herald Tribune on 4/09/09 Netanyahu’s “messianic apocalyptic cult” in Iran is the same one Israel shipped arms to in the 1980’s when it was trying to weaken Iraq and it’s the same regime that has not invaded anyone for more than 500 years and has kept its country at peace, valuing stability over military adventures while Israel has been occupying and invading its neighbors for six decades.

Lebanese, like most Arabs, have rejected US and Israeli attempts to convince them that non-Arab Iran, not Israel, is their real enemy. For the Lebanese, the evidence to the contrary is all around them as they continue, nearly 33 months after Israel’s July 2006 War, to rebuild their homes and mourn their dead. And the Lebanese are rebuilding lives shattered by Israel substantially with Iranian assistance.

US Israel lobby stalwart, Dennis Ross, who effectively promoted Israeli, not American interests during the Clinton and Bush Administrations, (now inexplicitly assigned to the Iran file but may lose his job due to his violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act), hypes a supposed threat of Israeli annihilation from a nuclear-armed Iran. His major concern is that an Iranian nuclear deterrent would end Israel’s dominance of the region and that Iran and a new Lebanese government working together would force major territorial concessions (including full Israeli withdrawal to the 6/04/67 1949 Armistice line) and dramatically advance Middle East peace. This was hinted at by Netanyahu when he told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently that “a nuclear-armed Iran would create a great sea change in the balance of power in our area". Lebanese Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil agrees: “Iran is a threat only to Zionism, nothing more—same with Hezbollah and all those who make up the growing Palestinian and international Resistance to Israeli terrorism.”

Lebanese appear to believe, as Sergei Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the US mentioned last week, that Iran poses no threat to the United States or to Lebanon.

Can the US still dictate to Lebanon?

Some in Lebanon see growing signs that the United States is headed towards a strategic withdrawal, not only from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from the whole Middle East. The reasons include pressures of the financial crisis which could topple all the “rescue plans”, and the pressures of the redistribution of power in the global financial system with Europe, China, Russia, India, and Brazil. Some in Washington are redefining the real security threat to the United States as not a political threat of misnamed “terrorist cells”, but rather a social threat that menaces the whole global capitalist system. The ability to apply American pressures abroad, is at its weakest since WW II, while US domestic political pressure to reduce the financial hemorrhaging from a loose cannon Israel, and supports this thesis.

Is Obama soft on Iran?

The Israel lobby is increasingly unhappy with Obama and to its dismay sees a hint of Iran-symp in him. His inauguration speech language that his administration would reach out to rival states and “will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist” was met with a cold glare by the Israel lobby.

When, barely two months later he told leaders in Turkey that “We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically” and added, “We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. It was viewed as way out of Israel Lobby fixed bounds. But when Obama deviated from the AIPAC script and failed to mention the “a nuclear-armed Iranian regime is unacceptable” language it was blasphemy, and final straw was Obama’s message to Iran:

“Or the government (of Iran) can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all." Where was Hilary’s language threatening to obliterate Iran with US nuclear weapons? It appears likely that in the coming months, and as the first Obama-Israel clash over Israel’s acceptance of a Two State Solution occurs, the Israel lobby will mobilize to target the President on Iran as well as Palestine and Lebanon. It remains to be seen if the ardent Zionists Obama has surrounded himself with in his administration can parry the most vicious Israeli assaults, without being smeared as anti-Semites or self hating Jews themselves. Some think Obama may have appointed some of them for just this outer perimeter defensive purpose.

Lebanon does not want to choose between Tehran and Washington

Without current natural resources (there may be gas and oil off its coast) Lebanon continues to work to develop its tourism and banking industries and to model itself roughly after Switzerland. Many in Lebanon and in Iran are waiting to test the words of the Obama administration.

As one of Lebanon’s leading clerics, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, widely respected in Lebanon, Iran and the Middle East, told his congregation last Friday at noon prayers, “We have heard beautiful words from the new American administration. Through open and honest dialogue and discussing freely all the concerns of each side, we can resolve our misunderstanding and make a better life for all our people”.

Lebanon will resist US pressure to diminish its expanding relations with Iran as it resists the Bush legacy of “with us or against us.” Its people strongly prefer good relations with both Tehran and Washington and this will remain the case after June 7th.

In a critical sense it is the US government that must choose between normal relations with the Middle East and much of the World, respond to the changing mood of the American public toward Israeli crimes, and continuing connivance with and support for expansionist Zionism. The American choice will determine its future presence and status in this region.

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

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