Obama could make surprise visit to Lebanon before elections
Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Lebanon on June 7th. The coming elections have already received considerable attention from the Obama administration with visits to Lebanon by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. And now there is increasing speculation that President Obama may make a surprise visit to Lebanon just days before the election. President Obama is currently scheduled to deliver a speech to the Muslim world from Egypt regarding the Israeli/Palestinian solution among other issues that concern the region.
Both Clinton and Biden engaged in doublespeak during their visits. They both proclaimed that they were not there to intrude or pressure the citizens of Lebanon to vote one way or the other, however these assurances where quickly followed up with threats to withdraw aid if Lebanon citizens elected officials that did not see eye to eye with the US/Israeli vision for the region. The US has sent over 1 billion dollars to Lebanon in aid since 2006, which is an overwhelming sum considering Lebanon’s GDP is only 31 billion.
The two main competing blocs in this election are the “March 8th” group, which is supported by Hezbollah, the group is generally in favor of Syria and doesn’t not want to see Hezbollah disarmed. The second group is the “March 14th” group; this group is currently in power in the parliament. They would like to see Hezbollah disarmed and are in good standing with both the US and Israeli governments. It is generally believed though not confirmed that they receive a great deal of their funding for the elections from Saudi Arabia.
There are only 30 contested seats in the election and the Hezbollah backed March 8th bloc would only need to gain 7 seats to claim control of the parliament. This possibility terrifies Washington. The Obama administration likely sees the possible repercussions a Hezbollah controlled Lebanese parliament would have not only in Lebanon, but the example that it would set for the moderate Arab nations such as Jordan and Eygpt. A Hezbollah controlled parliament could also have an effect on talks between Israel and Syria.
Taking another step back and looking at the entire picture through the eyes of those in Washington, both in the Pentagon and the White House, Hezbollah coming to power democratically is a disaster. The most important reason it is a disaster is that is puts in jeopardy their favorite reason to intervene in other countries affairs, namely the spread of democracy.
Israel is applying pressure of its own on the Lebanese citizens to vote against the March 8th bloc by carrying out war games on the their border with Lebanon later this week. The message to those war games is clear, essentially “if Hezbollah takes power, clashes between us will become inevitable.”
We’ve seen this before with Hamas in the 2006 elections in Gaza and we saw the manifestation of the threats most recently just months ago with the Israeli offensive on Gaza.
Hezbollah in Lebanon, however, is a completely different animal. It is an organization that held their own against Israel in 2006 and with that war, gained respect and support from the citizens as a legitimate protector and provider. Add to that the fiery and charismatic Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and you get a force that increasingly troubles Israel.