Opinion and Editorial

Lebanon’s hour 
of reckoning

Claude Salhani
Filed on September 25, 2010

Reports from the Lebanese capital indicates that the United States has warned its citizens to leave the country by next week amid mounting rumours of a possible takeover by Hezbollah. There has been much talk in recent weeks of a possible coup by the Lebanese Shia militia and speculation that up to 3,500 fighters have been secretly positioned in the eastern side of the capital the Christian sector to emerge at the appropriate time and to take control of key points.

What seems to be confirmed, however, is that tension has been mounting consistently over the expected announcement that the international temporary tribunal established by the United Nations to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected to release its findings incessantly.

Inside sources speculate that the tribunal might name Hezbollah as the party responsible in the Hariri case and therefore the Shia movement could try to prevent that from happening.

But, in fact, there is really much more at stake than just naming the guilty party in the murder of a former prime minister. What is in play here is future demarcation lines—the new geopolitical reality — of the Middle East. And the way it looks now the United States is hardly present. Indeed, US and Western influence in the region is being rapidly replaced by Iran, the new mover and shaker of Middle East politics. And just how did we get here?

The answer to that question is somewhat complicated as it involves many poor foreign policy decision made by the United States.

The first part may be found on a Sunday morning in October 1983 when the US Marines and French forces serving will the multinational force in Lebanon were attacked. Within minutes the US lost 241 men, most of them Marines, the French suffered 58 casualties, most of them paratroopers.

The damage caused by those two bombs had a far greater reach than the men it killed on that October morning. Those two explosions began reshaping US foreign policy in the Middle East. On this new map the United States began to slowly disappear and the Islamic Republic of Iran started to emerge as the center of power. However, these changes were not immediately visible to everyone.

Within days of the attacks the US, French and Italian contingents and the handful of British troops serving the cause of peace packed-up and left Lebanon to its own destiny, along with plans to help rebuild a strong central government. From there on, once the United States began retreating, the message seemed to be widely understood by the enemies of the US: America will not stand up and fight.

The second part of the answer how the US got there relates to US foreign policy vis-à-vis Damascus. By shunning the Syrians, as the have, the US has pushed Damascus straight into the arms of the Iranians. This has given Teheran a firm foothold on the Mediterranean.

It may be a tad too late at this point to save Lebanon from falling entirely under the influence of Teheran. Short of a miracle it would appear that the United States has thrown in the towel. Lebanon may have been a pain, where as far as the US is concerned. But was deep down inside a very pro-American country. In abandoning this loyal friend the US will come to realise just how important that little country was to the geopolitical stability of the region. Once again, here we go.

Claude Salhani is a political analyst specialising in the Middle East

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