The Premature Demise of the American-French Strategy

Monday, Feb. 6, the Mar Mikhail Church in the town of Shiah near the Lebanese capital saw a rendezvous that defied belief – even in Lebanon’s topsy-turvy politics.

General Christian Aoun, a Maronite Christian leader and a presidential hopeful last year, shook hands with Hizballah secretary general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. It was more than just a friendly handshake – although that, too, made people rub their eyes in disbelief; Syria’s archenemy and Damascus’ champion had come together to sign a memo of understanding.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals that some of the explosive issues it covered were Hizballah’s weapons, corruption in government, Lebanese detainees in Syrian jails and former South Lebanese Army members living in Israeli exile.

After the signing, the two clasped each other in the Arab style and declared themselves allies against the anti-Syrian government of Fouad Siniora and the majority party in the Lebanese parliament, the March 14 Forces, which was born under the leadership of Saad Hariri and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to drive Syria out of the country after the February, 2005, assassination of Saad’s father, ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The newly-established bloc wiped out that majority.

At the time of the assassination, Michel Aoun was still a political exile in Paris. But then presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac chose to bring him home and nominate him as Lebanon’s next president, to displace the Syrian puppet Emil Lahoud.

According to this plan, Aoun, whom the Syrian expelled in the 1990s, was designated the spearhead of the campaign to root out Syrian influence from Lebanon. The two powers staged a massive popular welcome for his arrival home to Beirut.

But then relations cooled. The returning hero accused Washington and Paris of being halfhearted about Lahoud’s removal and siding with some of his supporters. Whatever the rights of the case, a year after Hariri’s murder, Lahoud is still president of Lebanon despite the cloud of suspicion hanging over his head for complicity in the crime.

The pact forged between the Christian ex-general and the Shiite terrorist chief has four key implications for US-French objectives in Beirut:

1. Nasrallah has pledged to back Aoun’s bid for the presidency in return for a Maronite undertaking to scuttle UN Security Council resolution 1559 which evicted Syria from Lebanon and demanded the disarming of all armed militias, including Hizballah. That resolution was the keystone of the combined American-French drive against Damascus and Hizballah.

2. Aoun pledged to refrain from steps to disarm HIzballah and the Palestinians militias. The pact therefore is a serious blow to Washington’s war on terrorism.

3. The March 14 Forces, the anti-Syrian alliance in which Washington invested so heavily is about to break up.

4. Michel Aoun has turned right round and not only signed onto a pledge to “establish relations of mutual respect with Syria,” but has permitted Nasrallah to make preparations for him to visit Damascus and be received by president Basher Assad.

Washington and Paris are at a loss to explain what drove the Lebanese Christian politician to link his fate to ruler of Damascus who has his back to the wall, and whose partner in Iran is under threat of sanctions. The end-result is that their Lebanon strategy is in tatters.

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