When US Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Beirut on Friday May 22 – hastily dispatched there by President Barack Obama in the middle of his Balkan mission – he will see the evidence of aggressive Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah spadework for sweeping the pro-Western government factions out of office in Lebanon's general election June 7.
And if they fail by the ballot, the trio has prepared Plan B for seizing power by the bullet.
Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah believes he can execute this takeover unaided, repeating his performance of last September. He has bent his militia's political and clerical cadres to the task of organizing the Shiite contingent, which makes up 60 percent of Lebanon's 75,000-strong national army, for joining hands with Hizballah at the critical moment.
Hizballah commanders and their Iranian and Syrian “advisers” are confident the forcible takeover of government in Beirut can be accomplished quickly, smoothly and without much bloodshed. Other than President Michel Suleiman, who can order the army to put up resistance – which he failed to do as chief of staff last September – there is no credible military force in Beirut capable of fighting off this coup.
US vice president Biden will find Lebanese political circles, including the pro-Western faction leaders, fatalistically resigned to losing power to the radical threesome.
Monday, May 18, the Christian Phalange Party leader, former president Amin Gemayel, spoke of “The Third Republic,” a Lebanon that is “purely a Hizballah state” taken over “in isolation of the views of the Lebanese people.”
A senior Lebanese source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “These elections are not being fought over seats in parliament but over change in Lebanon, regardless of their outcome.”
Lebanon's Christians are undone from the inside
Driving Lebanon toward this change are four radical anti-Western elements, according to our sources:
1. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is personally orchestrating Lebanon's election campaign.
Iranian intelligence agents, working out of Iran's embassies in Damascus and Beirut, are acting under direct guidance from the president's office in Tehran.
Ahmadinejad recently outfitted them with tens of millions of dollars to buy votes among Lebanese civilians and the army.
2. From his palace in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is running an estimated 450 military intelligence agents in Lebanon to make sure pro-Syrian candidates are elected. He too has poured many millions of dollars into the effort.
In the past week, Assad expanded his team of agents and poured more funds into the Lebanese campaign, a move taken in Washington as lashing back for President Obama's decision on May 8 to renew the sanctions against Syria and brand his government a sponsor of terrorism.
3. Former Lebanese president, Gen. Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement are a prize asset for Tehran and Damascus in Lebanon because, as a Christian, he is worth his weight in gold as a bulldozer to fragment his community, traditionally the bedrock of pro-Western support in his country.
Aoun is working tirelessly for the March Eight Force, which consists of his adherents along with Hizballah and pro-Syrian candidates, for the sake of Iran, which he believes to be the rising Middle East power against waning American strength. The Christian leader is lavishly supplied by Iran and Syria with funds, arms and intelligence.
4. Nasrallah and Aoun have struck a power-sharing deal. The latter will sit in the presidential palace in Baabde, customarily a Christian preserve according to Lebanon's multiethnic accords, whereas Nasrallah will displace pro-Western Fouad Siniora as prime minister.
Many Middle East intelligence experts read into Nasrallah's speech of May 8 – addressing a graduation ceremony at the Sayyed Shouhada religious-paramilitary college complex in Beirut's Shiite southern suburb – an attempt to prepare his audience for his coming seizure of power.
Nasrallah baits the trap – with Israel as the fly
“I tell you that the minds and the hearts and the wills that defeated the strongest state and army in the region [Israel] are capable of running a country that is 100 times stronger than Lebanon.”
He went on to add: “They accuse us of seeking to create an empire in the region, if this is the case, then 10,452 square kilometers will not be hard to manage. Like we managed, with Lebanese hearts, minds and sacrifices, to liberate our land and detainees and to protect our country, we are capable God willing to build our country.”
On Monday this week (May 15), in a recorded video address, Nasrallah accused Israel of scheduling provocative military maneuvers in advance of an offensive against Lebanon and Hizballah. He called up reserves and placed his militia on war alert.
This move, two weeks before Lebanon's general election, has positioned Hizballah's armed forces in position for a military coup in Beirut. DEBKA-Net-Weekly military and intelligence sources disclose that unit commanders have been armed with maps and diagrams of the section of territory they are to overpower and codes for summoning help against resistance.
Those sources wonder what Washington can do to stop these carefully-laid plans besides sending Joe Biden to Beirut. The answer is: Not a lot.
Our military sources note that in early April, President Obama ordered US aircraft carriers and strike forces withdrawn from the Persian Gulf and seas off Syria as a token of good will to generate a positive climate for dialogue free of a hovering military presence. Washington would therefore be hard pressed to deploy strength close enough to Lebanese shores to deter Hizballah and its backers from staging a putsch in Beirut.
If they get away with it, Barack Obama would be faced with his first foreign policy defeat. His talks with Tehran would start off on the wrong foot from a position of weakness, after Iran had hoisted itself up to top position in the Persian Gulf and eastern Mediterranean.
Will Israel take this lying down?
Its only option for applying the brakes to the Iranian-Syrian juggernaut is military. But whether Jerusalem will decide to apply this option is far from self-evident given the way the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu comported himself in his talks with President Obama Monday, May 18.