April 17-20, 2009
Iran Offers More Than Just Cash
It may seem incongruous that in 2009, the U.S.A would have much
competition from the Islamic republic of Iran for the hearts and minds
of the Lebanese, a diverse 18 sect, highly sophisticated population,
with a history of western attachments extending back before the
Yet is appears to be the case, as the power and prestige of Iran
quickly spreads in the region and its myriad relations with Lebanon,
which have existed for a millennia, deepen as American influence wanes.
The extent to which Washington has ‘lost’ Lebanon to Iran will likely
be clarified in the near term, as the ripples from the Bush legacy,
the seismic effects of Israel’s recent slaughter in Gaza, and the
results of the coming Lebanese and Iranian elections impact the region.
Lebanon’s regional challenge is to work with the growing regional power
which is not Egypt, Israel or Saudi Arabia, but rather Iran. The 9000
year old civilization, converted to Shia Islam by Lebanese scholars
in 1501, is likely to be strategically allied with Lebanon, Turkey,
Syria and Russia with the Camp David signers competing, despite Hosni
Mubarak’s vow to the contrary, for ‘runner-up’ status.
Lebanon is contracting from its relationship with the United=2 0States
after years of US pressured and purchased collaboration with Israel.
The Lebanese appear to be realizing, following the destruction of
July 2006, Israel’s fifth war against Lebanon, and the December 2008
slaughter in Gaza, Israel’s eleventh attack against Palestine that
the Zionist state wants only land, not peace and that given Israel’s
occupation of Washington DC that Lebanon’s future should be one of
Resistance not obeisance. In short, many in Lebanon are seeking
a reliable ally not a continuation of US pressured collaboration
Iran offers Lebanon more than cash
The US Embassy, on 04/14/09, after reviewing the results of ‘in
Embassy’ polling data in what is considered in Washington a fateful
Lebanese election for Israel, announced at precisely 2:35 p.m. that
"the United States will provide the Lebanese army with 12 Raven
unmanned aircrafts to be delivered soon" (read: before the election).
Roughly three hours later at 5:55pm 4/14/09 the U.S. Embassy issued
another press release: "The United States will give the Interior
Ministry $1.7-million in aid to help it rise to challenges during
Amended to: "for "election responsibilities." Half an hour later
the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and
Lebanon Mission Director Denise A. Herbol elaborated and explained
that the US cash would=2 0provide" technical assistance" during
the elections. USAID is playing a important role in Lebanon’s 2009
election, as it has done since it arrived in 1951.
(Historical note regarding USAID: Exactly 26 years ago this
week, on April 18, 1983 at 1 p.m., USAID Director Bill McIntyre
and American journalist Janet Lee Stevens, who had gone to the US
Embassy on the seafront Paris Avenue to discuss American policy and
the need for urgent assistance to help the dispossessed Palestinians
and Lebanese Shia forced from their homes in South Lebanon by the
1982 Israeli invasion, began their luncheon meeting in the Embassy
cafeteria. Moments later the ten-story center section of the Embassy
pancaked from an exploding 2000 lb. bomb transported inside a Embassy
van, stolen in 1982, as it rammed into the entrance. Both Bill and
Janet died instantly. I wrote more about Janet last year.
US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison, who witnessed the signing of
the agreement, altered the description saying the money would help with
"the tabulation of election results."
Some Lebanese were not buying the Embassy’s seemingly frenzied cash
dispersal explanations and one U.S. Embassy Hezbollah supporter
(there actually are a discrete few– "I would love to visit Dahiyeh
(the Hezbollah area) but we can’t go anywhere!") claimed the $1,700,000
might end up as ‘walking around money’ f or Election Day.
Iran, (more than 90 per cent Shia) and Lebanon (approximately 52 per
cent Shia) are increasingly connected through scores of thousands of
intermarried families, deep cultural and religious values as well as
growing political and economic ties.
American aid to Israel has exceeded $160 billion to Israel over the
past 40 years, and depending on how one calculates it today, gives
Israel between $8 and $15 million every day of the year. Not lost on
the Lebanese is the fact that over the past two decades, until the
prospect of Iran’s ally Hezbollah becoming the majority in parliament
in two months time, US aid to Lebanon approximated just $35 million
in a good year. Recently, (since 2006) military assistance to Lebanon
totaled close to $410 million, being light weaponry for use inside
Lebanon rather than to defend the country from Israeli aggressions.
The new Lebanese government will likely legislate Hezbollah’s arms
legitimacy, with the Lebanese Resistance military capability linked to
the Lebanese Armed Forces by a yet-to-be clarified formula. For the
first time in its history, Lebanon will not be subject to the threat
of Israeli occupation, and many Lebanese hope their country can play
an important role in returning its 400,000 Palestinian refugees to
Iranian aid has been more than ten times US aid over the past quarter
century and since Lebanon was substantially destro yed with American
weapons in 2006 Iran has given Lebanon nearly 75 times combined annual
21st first century Lebanon, is no longer much impressed with the US
Terrorism list (what former Senator James Abourezk calls the "Honor
Roll") which for 12 years has blacklisted Hezbollah, and since 2006
and 2008 Lebanon’s two most productive reconstruction companies,
Jihad al Bina and Waad (Promise). Lebanese media and NGO’s have asked
visiting US officials to help them understand in which ways it is
terrorism to rebuild homes, schools, clinics, churches, mosques and
bookstores destroyed by Israel over the past more than forty years
with US weapons.
Another factor influencing Lebanese attitudes toward Iran and the
US are the experiences of those whose relatives fought against,
or were victims of, serial Israeli aggressions against their
country as far back as the 1960’s. Despite the Lebanese love-hate
relationship with its 400,000 Palestinian refugees and however much
each abused the other at various times since the initial welcome of
victims of the 1947-8 Nakba, Lebanon today overwhelmingly supports
the internationally recognized Palestinian Right of Return, endorsed
perhaps most assertively by Iran. Both Lebanon and Iran want Lebanon’s
Palestinians back where they belong in Palestine.
Over the past year, one senses a renaissance of Lebanese solidarity
with the Palestinian cause=2 0and hears vocal support, certainly post
Gaza, for regional solidarity and Resistance to challenge Israeli
Iran is seen as a better ally of Lebanon because while a majority of
Lebanese Muslims are not fervent practitioners they, like Iran, respect
Koranic standards of justice and they realize Iran will not cave in to
US and Israeli demands to abandon the Palestinian’s Right to Return. It
is this internationally recognized right which Lebanese believe, is
the central component of the Palestinian cause which they believe is
the central cause of Arabs, Muslim and all people of goodwill.
The Iranian and Lebanese position on Palestine is shared most strongly
among the younger generation in Lebanon. This includes a recognition
that the nearly 50 year "peace process industry" project was a fraud,
led by a hugely biased "dishonest broker" and without a "peace partner"
from the Israeli side. Consequently, there is little confidence that
the Obama administration’s language about the "inevitability of two
States", "imperative of a just solution" is not just more talk while
Israel steals more land and kills more Palestinians. What increasingly
makes sense to the Lebanese is what history taught them in their own
country with Iranian assistance, that occupation creates resistance and
determination and belief in justice and sacrifice trumps conventional
military20might. The Lebanese are proud of their victories in 2000
and 2006, made possible by Iranian backing their resistance forces
while being acutely aware that the US provided the weapons to Israel
that have killed their families and loved ones for six decades.
Iranistan in Lebanon or a (Egyptian-Jordanian-Saudi) Shi’ization
While critics of the Lebanese Resistance sometimes joke about "Divine
Victories", and "Victory Mountains" (of rubble from Israeli bombs)
the current Egyptian campaign against Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah
is viewed as an attack on Lebanon itself, and concocted in response
partly to Lebanon’s growing ties with Iran. The local Lebanese
reaction, depending on the sect, is as though "Egypt’s new Pharaoh"
Hosni Mubarak, blasphemed against Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch,
Shiite Grand Ayatollah, Sunni Imam, Druze Tribal leader, Armenian
Bishop or the late Martyred Rafiq Hariri. Much of Lebanon is offended,
and the timing is viewed as a trumped up political case to help the US
and Israeli-backed March 14 group in the coming election. Following
discovery of "the plot", and as if on cue, Shimon Peres, one of
the key implementers of Zionist colonial ambitions (emphasis mine),
took the opportunity to leak that Israel’s Mossad helped Egyptian
intelligence and to declare yet again that "the collision between
the Middle East, whi ch is Sunni Arab, and the Iranian non-Arab Shia
minority that seeks to take it over, is inevitable. Sooner or later,
the world will discover that Iran has the aspiration to take over
the Middle East and that it possesses colonial ambitions".
Few Lebanese believe that Hezbollah wants an Iranian style Islamic
Republic in Lebanon or that it is even a goal of Iran. "The ‘Islamic
Republic for Lebanon’ slogan was from the early 1980’s and has been
repeatedly repudiated by Hezbollah. It was revolutionary stuff to get
the attention of would be recruits when Hezbollah was competing with
Amal and 30 other groups for new members", according to a Hezbollah
recruiter in the Bekaa, near Nabysheet, who helped build Hezbollah
26 years ago. Some anti-Iranian politicians still try to float that
idea from time to time but few in Lebanon believe it.
Many Lebanese, who want good relations with both the US and Iran,
believe that US administrations have squandered many opportunities
for dialogue with Iran due to its inflexible pro Israel agenda. There
is general agreement that Iran has already "won" the nuclear power
issue and will have its nuclear reactors and if it decides to make
a bomb it will achieve that too. Lebanese welcome the US climb down
from the Bush administration’s demand that Iranian enrichment be
suspended as the price to get talks with the US, and don9 9t accept
the spectacle of nine nuclear countries jumping up and down shouting
that a nuclear weapon for Iran is a ‘red line’ while at the same time
all are refining and increasing their own nuclear arsenals. Nor are
many Lebanese unaware of US intelligence community reports that Iran
is not pursuing a nuclear weapon or that under the Obama defense
budget the US will continue to spend on its arsenal (including its
nuclear weapons) more than all the rest of the world put together.
According to the opinion editor on a Beirut Daily, "If the
international community is serious about keeping nuclear weapons out
of the Middle East let it lead a project at the UN Security Council
to decommission all nuclear weapons -[ ie Israel’s] in the area and
forbid future ones. Unless it does, who is to take Osama’s nuclear
disarmament proposal seriously?
Iranian pleas for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East have been
ignored, although everyone but Israel in the region would support it."
Given the likelihood that Obama’s goal of nuclear disarmament will not
be achieved anytime soon, many Lebanese actually support an Iranian
nuclear deterrent meanwhile as a guarantee that Israel does not launch
a sixth war against their vulnerable Country.
A Lebanese University political science professor, attending the
"Jerusalem as the Center of Arab Culture" Exhibition of=2 0Palestinian
Culture at Beirut’s UNESCO Palace on 03/12/09 explained: "Iran and
the Muslim-Christian Lebanese Resistance will keep Israel out of
Lebanon. The US promises to support our sovereignty with a few weapons
that are meant to bolster their friends in coming election. Watch
what the US does if the Opposition prevails on June 7. It is viewed
as not reliable.
Iran has been close to Lebanon for hundreds of years. We may not
agree with all their interpretations of Islam but trust them."
US-Israeli efforts to demonize Iran to the Lebanese, defaming it
as a hotbed of fundamentalist Islamic fascists have failed. Only 46
per cent of Lebanese, in a recent poll taken by the Pew Charitable
Trusts Global Values Project, agreed with the statement, "Religion
is very important to me" while nearly 90per cent of Muslims said
they had a favorable view of Christians. Sentiments like these,
illustrate the Lebanese acceptance of diversity, and explain why
many not very religious Lebanese support religious Hezbollah for its
secular programs and at the same time are grateful for broad Iranian
assistance which is offered free of Khomeinist Puritanism.
Continuing Israeli lobby claims that Iran could acquire a nuclear
weapon, "within months" and mortally endanger Lebanon draw a yawn
from many Lebanese given that Israel is estimated to have between
250-400 and has actually threatened to use them as Golda Meir forced
then President Nixon to airlift massive arms shipments from US depots
at Clark Air force base in the Philippines during the October 1973
Netanyahu’s Passover Confession?
"The biggest danger to humanity and to Israel comes from the
possibility of a radical regime armed with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu
told his new Cabinet last month, making clear his remarks were aimed
Netanyahu’s statement is currently the butt of jokes in Lebanon because
Netanyahu’s "a radical regime" language appears to fit Israel’s,
not Iran’s. "Is it Bibi’s Passover confession?" one English language
Beirut talk show hostess asked her audience.
Netanyahu’s "messianic apocalyptic cult" in Iran is the same one
Israel shipped arms to in the 1980’s when it was trying to weaken
Iraq and it’s the same regime that has not invaded anyone for more
than 500 years and has kept its country at peace, valuing stability
over military adventures while Israel has been occupying and invading
its neighbors for six decades.
US Israel lobby stalwart, Dennis Ross, who effectively promoted
Israeli, not American interests during the Clinton and Bush
Administrations, (now inexplicitly assigned to the Iran file),
hypes a supposed threat of Israeli annihilation from a nuclear-armed
Iran. His major concern is that an Iranian nuclear deterrent would
end Israel’s dominance of the region and that Iran and a new Lebanese
government working together would force major territorial concessions
(including full Israeli withdrawal to the 6/04/67 1949 Armistice line)
and dramatically advance Middle East peace. This was hinted at by
Netanyahu when he told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently that
"a nuclear-armed Iran would create a great sea change in the balance of
power in our area". Lebanese Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil agrees:
"Iran is a threat only to Zionism, nothing more–same with Hezbollah
and all those who make up the growing Palestinian and international
Resistance to Israeli terrorism."
Lebanese appear to believe, as Sergei Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador
to the US mentioned last week, that Iran poses no threat to the United
States or to Lebanon.
The Israel lobby is not entirely happy with Obama. His inaugural
pledge that his administration would reach out to rival states and
"will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist" was
met with a cold glare by the Israel lobby.
When, barely two months later he told leaders in Turkey that "We
want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations,
politically and economically" and added, "We will support Iran’s
right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections, it was
viewed as way20out of Israel-Lobby fixed bounds. Where was Hilary’s
language threatening to obliterate Iran with US nuclear weapons?
Lebanon does not want to choose between Tehran and Washington
Without current natural resources (there may be gas and oil off its
coast) Lebanon continues to work to develop its tourism and banking
industries and to model itself roughly after Switzerland. Many
in Lebanon and in Iran are waiting to test the words of the Obama
As one of Lebanon’s leading clerics, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein
Fadlallah, widely respected in Lebanon, Iran and the Middle East,
told his congregation last Friday at noon prayers, "We have heard
beautiful words from the new American administration. Through open and
honest dialogue and discussing freely all the concerns of each side,
we can resolve our misunderstanding and make a better life for all
Lebanon will resist US pressure to diminish its expanding relations
with Iran as it resists the Bush legacy of "with us or against us." Its
people strongly prefer good relations with both Tehran and Washington
and this will remain the case after June 7.
In a critical sense it is the US government that must choose between
normal relations with the Middle East and much of the world, respond
to the changing mood of the American public toward Israeli crimes, and
continuing connivance with and support for expansi onist Zionism. The
American choice will determine its future presence and status in