Lebanese Poll Results Preset by US-French-Endorsed Deals
The stunning election victory in the Beirut region attributed to Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, is no more than hyperbole. Nine of the 12 seats his camp carried Sunday, May 29, were sewn up in advance.
Beirut’s electorate knew it was being fed a done deal and many therefore did not bother to turn out for the first round of the first parliamentary election to be held in post-Syrian Lebanon.
The only stunning development was the hectic pace at which Lebanon’s political factions made and broke alliances with an astonishing array of partners in the days leading up to the poll.
Round two of the four stages held on successive Sundays will take place next week in the predominantly Shiite south. All four ballots to elect a 128-seat parliament are the products of Lebanese-style prearrangements endorsed by Washington and Paris.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 206 opened a window on these deals ahead of the vote:
It was only a matter of time before the United States and France got sucked into Lebanon’s political quagmire and ethnic animosities. The catalyst was the arranged return to Beirut earlier this month of Maronite Catholic ex-general Michel Aoun from 15 years of Syrian-imposed exile in Paris. They had tagged him originally as frontrunner for displacing pro-Syrian Emil Lahoud as president. Hence the hero’s welcome staged in his honor in Beirut by 100,000 supporters.
But in a twinkling, the favorite slumped from the Lebanese equivalent of Viktor Yushchenko to a fringe figure, who complained bitterly that his erstwhile American and French sponsors had dumped him.
The Maronites took this to mean that the entire community had dropped out of favor too – after spearheading the national resistance movement that helped the United States and France push the Syrians out of Lebanon. Sensing betrayal, Maronite leaders moved fast to grab the first allies that came to hand and set themselves up for the poll that was only days away.
The result was a crazy Levantine quilt and four new political blocs in the Beirut power center. Lebanese politicians were soon touting the new camps as the basic building blocks of The Third Lebanese Republic. However, given the Lebanese experience, these undying pacts are unlikely to endure long. In the meantime, an improbable constellation of parties is running in the national election, round one of which has already taken place.
Most strikingly, the Maronites went their different ways, each faction anchoring itself to a partner with more solid backers and prospects.
Solang Jemayel, widow of the Maronite president assassinated by Syrian agents in 1982, threw in her lot with Saad Hariri for a foothold in the new parliament. She thereby acquired another partner. The Hariri list had earlier struck a secret deal with the Hizballah to run together in the Beirut district and southern Lebanon. It paid off in Beirut. The staunchly Catholic Jemayel had no qualms about joining up with the largest armed Shiite militia in Lebanon.
The Maronites’ second strongwoman, Astride Geagea, wife of imprisoned Phalange commander Samir Geagea, headed for the Chouf Mountains and Deir al-Kamur, stronghold of her husband’s historic enemy, Druze leader Walild Jumblatt. They struck a deal there for Geagea to join the Druze list
These turnabouts left the returning Maronite prodigal Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement high and dry with no support structure on the ground. After 15 years away, he too embraced the unthinkable, a deal with the Syrian stooge, President Emile Lahoud, whom he was meant to depose.
Finally, Hizballah’s Hassan Nastrallah and his sworn Shiite foe, Nabil Berri’s Amal agreed to join forces for the poll and sweep the south.
Why did Washington and Paris suddenly abandon Aoun?
Their overriding objective is a strong and independent Lebanese government that can withstand the pressures Syria is certain to exert for a renewed stake in the country. The United States and France realize that Aoun and the Maronites are too narrow a base to stand on their own. In order to eradicate Damascus’s influence in Beirut once and for all, they must turn the Lebanese political groups still under Syria’s thumb inside out.
Another radical change in the US and French position is their decision to back away from their former insistence on the Hizballah being disarmed forthwith. They are leaving the task to the new Lebanese government and will demand that the Palestinian militias be disarmed first. The Shiite terrorist group can therefore run for election to parliament free of US pressure to give up its weapons.
Neutralizing armed Palestinian groups in the refugee camps of southern Lebanon, the Americans and French believe, will weaken Hizballah and its ties with terrorist elements within the Palestinian Authority.
debkafile adds: The shape of the new Lebanese regime is more or less a foregone conclusion, barring last minute betrayals endemic to this country. But one of its first challenges will be the release of Hizballah’s grip on the south and forcing its retirement to the Beirut region. Israel is therefore casting an interested eye on the next chapter of Lebanon’s post-Syrian history, in the hope that the terrorist Shiite group and its bristling array of 12,000 pointing missiles will be finally removed from its northern border.