Huge demonstration in Lebanon today
Opposition launches protest in Beirut
More than 800,000 opposition demonstrators poured into the heart of Beirut demanding an end to nearly three decades of Syrian military domination Monday.
The stakes are very high:
For Syria the stakes are economic and political. An estimated one million Syrian guest workers reside in Lebanon and remit their wages to relatives back home, and Syrian officials have plundered much of the international aid Lebanon received over the past decade. The Bekaa Valley also serves as a lucrative transit point for narcotics and other contraband. Without Lebanon, Syria’s economy might collapse.
So, too, might the Assad dynasty: Bashar’s grip on power is far less sure than his father’s, and the loss of prestige that a withdrawal from Lebanon would entail might well be politically fatal to him and the minority Allawite clique through which he rules.
For Iran the stakes are strategic. Its elite Revolutionary Guards operate terrorist training camps in the Bekaa. Iran has also placed upward of 10,000 missiles in Lebanon, including the medium-range Fajr-5 rocket, bringing half of Israel within their reach. It thus maintains the option of igniting a new Mideast war at any moment, as well as a hedge against the possibility of a pre-emptive Israeli strike on its nuclear installations. Yet if Syria withdraws, no pro-independence Lebanese government will indulge Iran’s military presence. The Lebanese have had enough of allowing their territory to serve, Belgium-like, as the battleground of choice for foreign powers.
For Hezbollah, the stakes are greater still. During the years when Israel maintained a security zone in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah could present himself as a patriot fighting occupation. But Israel removed its forces from Lebanon in 2000, and now Nasrallah’s support for Syrian occupation exposes a different set of motives: not patriotic, but Jihadist. And the last thing the Jihadists want is for Lebanon to again become a flourishing, pluralist, cosmopolitan Arab state.
Syria’s withdrawal would likely precipitate a Lebanese decision to enforce U.N. Resolution 520, which requires the Lebanese Army to patrol its border with Israel, a function now performed by Hezbollah. At length, it could lead to the disbanding of Hezbollah as an independent militia, though its terrorist wings would likely continue to operate.
Lebanese bloggers post,
The Iranian regime is represented in Lebanon today by Hizballah – that is no big secret.
The protest last Teusday was vintage Iranian – it is easy to have pictured the Iranian “Supreme Leader” or one of the other religious zealots giving a speach rather than Nasrallah.
I hope Iranians see today’s protest. I want the reformists to see Lebanon today — to see the alternative. I want the reformist in Iran to take heart – to be encouraged – to be reinvigorated.
Jeff Jarvis: “today the whole country is the protest venue.”