South Lebanon holds municipal elections on May 23, the final round of Lebanon’s staged local elections. While the Shiite terrorist Hizballah is assured of a majority in the region’s villages and rural areas, its activists are sparing no effort and expense to sweep the four main cities of Tyre, Nabatiya, Bint Jbeil and Sidon, all of which have Sunni Muslim majority populations.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Lebanese experts report that Hizballah is using Syrian military intelligence agents to further its campaign in these towns. They have been offering small fortunes in cash to the heads of the big Sunni clans and tribes in return for telling their followers to vote for the Shiite organization’s candidates. They also promised that Shiite council members once elected would vote to spread financial benefits and development funds around their regions. The promise was guaranteed by Damascus.
By carrying the south, Hizballah will have rounded out its domination of more than half of Lebanon’s municipal government. In earlier rounds, the terrorist group scooped up two thirds of the votes in the Lebanese Beqaa, the central districts, Mt. Lebanon and Beirut, by dint of similar methods of campaigning.
Pro-Syrian candidates swept up majorities in the north where Syria maintains a strong military and intelligence presence. Once the south is in the bag, Damascus and surrogate Hizballah will have commandeered Lebanon’s municipal system.
Our sources describe Hassan Nasrallah‘s use of the ballot box in collaboration with Bashar Assad as a device to confront the US-backed Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri with a “municipal defeat.” Because under Lebanese law, most government funding flows into local government budgets, the victors will have plenty of cash to play with to extend their grip across the country and hold the prime minister hostage.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that high-placed Lebanese partners have joined the Syrian-Hizballah municipal takeover gambit to advance their own schemes. One is President Emil Lahoud. Assad has promised to reward him by engineering an extension on his tenure or even an extra term through a move by pro-Syrian deputies to amend the Lebanese constitution. Another Assad ally is the Lebanese interior minister Michel Almour, a Greek Orthodox who is known as one of the most corrupt members of the Lebanese government.
If the Syrian president succeeds in his manipulations, he will have the pro-American prime minister cornered by three foes: the Maronite president, the Greek Orthodox interior minister and the Shiite Hizballah.
The Bush administration has decided not to let Lebanon fall into the hands of the Syrian ruler and the Hizballah and has embarked on four steps to keep the country from their grasp.
Washington is fielding a fresh weapon by naming one of Assad’s most implacable foes as new US ambassador to Damascus. Harold Kattuf, an American of Arab descent, spends his time organizing steps against the Syrian regime from the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney. He makes no bones about saying the Assad regime is doomed and that Bashar is a “fossil.”
The outgoing US ambassador in Beirut Vincent M. Battle has informed Lebanese politicians in the bluntest terms that the Bush administration will never recognize President Lahoud if he achieves an extension of his tenure by fiddling with the constitution.