Dr. Walid Phares

www.walidphares.com

 

 

 


Phares: Lebanon’s new cabinet was decided by Iran and Syria

 [Dr. Walid Phares]

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

Hizballah gained political supremacy in Lebanon, Monday, as Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a new cabinet dominated by the Lebanon-based Shia terrorist group and its allies.

This, of course, not only grants Hizballah “unprecedented” political leverage in that country, but stiffens its resolve and ability to maintain its illegally-armed militia – a proxy arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which exists in Lebanon despite the presence of UN peacekeeping forces and the legitimate Lebanese army. Hizballah maintains its militia in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 (both of which call for the disarming of all militias in Lebanon).

The new political dominance also strengthens the hand of Iran and Syria – both of which support Hizballah – and places the two state sponsors of terrorism at great strategic advantage in the Middle East.

In an exclusive interview, Professor Walid Phares – a U.S. Congressional advisor, author of  The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, and one of the architects in the effort to introduce UNSCR 1559 which led to Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon – discusses the political evolution in Lebanon and what it means for the region and the world.

W. THOMAS SMITH JR.: What do you make of the sudden decision by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati to declare his cabinet and move forward with it after claiming months of discussions with all parties in Lebanon? Why today?

DR. WALID PHARES: It is clear that the decision to declare this cabinet – based on its political identity – is a Syrian-Iranian decision made in the wake of the regional developments and in particular the rapid rise of popular discontent with the Assad regime.

The Syro-Iranian axis has always had the numbers and the power to declare such a cabinet in Beirut, but they kept that card until the moment they judged best to use it, and that was this week.

In fact, they had the de facto control of Lebanon’s government and security apparatus. Now with this declaration they feel they’ve gotten the de jure control. It is all about Syria’s quasi civil war.

The Assad regime is battling what seems to be a vast popular uprising, bringing together forces that weren’t in one camp before: liberals, civil society, conservatives, left wing, ex-Baathists, Kurds, Christians, and of course an overwhelming majority of Sunnis. And all these forces on one side, and the powerful and well-connected Muslim Brotherhood on the other.

This opposition is too wide to be physically eliminated. Hence the menace against the regime is real, particularly that regional forces are backing the uprising including the Turkish government, now strong with a new majority in Parliament; and let’s be candid about it, most Sunni circles in the region. If Assad goes down, the strategic alliance between Iran and Hizballah will be affected.

Hence today’s declaration of a new cabinet in Lebanon isn’t a matter of local politics in Lebanon, it is a Syro-Iranian offensive to seize Lebanon as a way to consolidate Assad in the ongoing battle over Syria.

SMITH: So in your view the Mikati cabinet is a Syrian-Iranian government?

PHARES: Well it is composed of Lebanese politicians of course but the control is to the pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian forces, and that is not even a secret. All of the portfolios were granted to politicians who are affiliated to either a pro-Syrian or pro-Iranian force. With perhaps a few who are part of what can be called Syrian-Iranian controlled. However the most important development is that the three national security ministries – defense, interior, and foreign affairs – are now in the hands of the Syrian-Iranian axis which will have a major impact on Lebanon’s sovereignty and on the relationship between Lebanon and the free world. When the axis effectively seizes those ministries, they will be considered part of the Iranian apparatuses in the region.

SMITH: How will the U.S. deal with this new government? And how will the rest of the international community deal with it?

PHARES: Diplomatically, do not expect major changes. But strategically there will be a review of the relationships. However the new Lebanese opposition – which is partly the Cedars Revolution and political parties – will have to mobilize the Lebanese public as a way to stop the full takeover by the axis.

As we’ve seen in the region, popular movements can affect international attitudes. But the poor results by the political establishment claiming the Cedars Revolution over the past five years doesn’t indicate that the now new opposition’s establishment can be at the level of the challenge. They would need to innovate and change strategies to oppose the new cabinet. However, Lebanon’s civil society may not tolerate this return to oppression and Syrian controlled institutions. That may change things.

SMITH: But the supporters of the cabinet are claiming this is democracy. They won a majority and thus formed the government.

PHARES: I don’t think they got a legitimate and free majority. Every time the public was allowed to express its opinion freely, a majority against Syria’s regime and Hizballah was produced.

In the 2005 elections, in the 2009 elections and in the major national demonstrations since the Cedars Revolution, it was clear that the majority of all Lebanese were and are opposed to the axis. But see how the axis won the cabinet. Before 2005 obviously it was because of the Syrian military occupation. Then since 2005 it was through urban unrest, wars and last in 2008 via invasion of Beirut and the mountain region. As long as Hezbollah and the pro-Syrian militias are omnipresent and control Lebanon’s national security, Lebanon’s popular majority is unable to get its voice to the government freely.

Democracy begins when militias are disarmed.

SMITH: How will the U.S. Congress respond to this new cabinet?

PHARES: This Congress and all previous Congresses, regardless of majorities, have considered Syria as an occupier and Hizballah as a terror organization, and they have passed legislation to help the Lebanese people. Thanks to the many friends of Lebanon and to the millions of Lebanese-Americans, the U.S. Congress has been steadfast in supporting freedom and rejecting terror in Lebanon.

SMITH: What is the future of the Mikati cabinet?

PHARES: Bleak, because it has linked itself to the Assad regime. So in short, whatever will happen to the establishment in Damascus, will happen to the current regime in Lebanon. They know it and they are playing their last card. They have calculated that this is their real last fight. They are now seizing Lebanon to integrate it to the Iranian-Syrian military and security system while throwing positions to the politicians and making the moves sound like internal politics. But we all know it is not.

– Visit W. Thomas Smith Jr