Analysis: Gen. Michel Suleiman elected Lebanese president: One up for Tehran and Damascus
The Lebanese army’s chief of staff, Gen. Michel Suleiman, was voted president Sunday, May 25, by 118 deputies to 6 abstentions.
debkafile‘s Middle East analysts report: The enormous relief felt by the Lebanese people at finally having a president after 18 months of political turmoil must be dampened for many by the way he attained office.
Gen. Michel Suleiman won the opposition’s support by flatly refusing to obey the orders of his prime minister, the pro-Western Fouad Siniora, to put down the Hizballah rebellion in the first half of May. But instead of being sacked for insubordination and banished, Suleiman was sworn in as president.
Siniora, who backed the wrong horse, lost his job and appears to be heading for exile and a possible position in the World Bank, according to Washington rumors.
The real winners of this topsy-turvy arrangement, the Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers, Walid Mualem and Manouchehr Mottaki, watched the ceremony in parliament from ringside seats.
Also present was a low-ranking US delegations led by Congressman Nick Rahall, a Democrat from Virginia of Lebanese origin. Two other prominent Western officials there were French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and the European Union’s Javier Solana.
The occasion marks five disturbing developments for the United States, the West and Israel:
1. The new government about to be formed in Beirut will be headed by majority leader Saad Hariri, who until now led the ruling anti-Syrian coalition.
debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that Saad Hariri did not inherit the strong character of his assassinated father, the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, who was willing to pay the price for ridding Lebanon of Syrian and Iranian influence.
In any case the prime minister’s authority has been pared down by the Doha Accord of May 21, which assigned the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hizballah 11 cabinet seats (compared with the majority factions’ 16) and therefore veto power. The weight of authority has now passed to the president.
2. Hizballah, which the Doha Accord declined to disarm, becomes the dominant military force in the country. The bases and weapons systems of Lebanon’s army, air force and navy will eventually pass into Hizballah’s hands, in keeping with the Iranian model, whereby the Revolutionary Guards is the superior military power in the land rather than the army.
This pattern of a dominant armed force subservient to the clerical establishment rather than the government is one of the dictates of a Shiite regime. To all intents and purposes, the Hizballah five-day coup sets Lebanon on the road to this outcome in Beirut.
3. Lebanon’s non-Shiite communities – Sunni, Druze and Christian – because their factional militias did not stand up to Hizballah, will have to watch the shrinkage of their power and national leverage. An exodus is expected to quickly gain ground.
4. The Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah axis took another leap forward Sunday in Beirut. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s claim that his peace talks with Syria will eventually contribute to weakening this alliance is clearly without substance.
5. Lebanon under the Suleiman presidency threatens to become the most anti-Israel administration in the Arab world. The new Beirut will find much in common with the Palestinian Hamas and openly reinforce the solid support quietly provided by Hizballah.