by Ali Alyami
May 28, 2008
In recent years, Hezbollah has been playing a dangerous game with the Lebanese government. By exploiting multiple pressure points simultaneously, Hezbollah is making remarkable advances in its radical Shia agenda. Earlier this month, Hezbollah seized the mostly-Sunni Muslim West Beirut by force. This ultimately forced the US-backed Lebanese government to join a new unity coalition that gives Hezbollah 11 seats out of 30 in the cabinet, giving them veto power over any decision of the Lebanese government. They were not pressured to disarm in return for this new political power. Additionally,they are allowed to keep their separate telecommunications network and surveillance equipment at Beirut's airport, and are allowed to reinstall the airport security chief linked to the group.
Understandably, Washington has and will continue to bet on its own horse, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Meanwhile, the West is exacerbating the situation by aiding autocratic Arab regimes outside Lebanon who are playing Washington for a fool.
More so than any other Arab regime, the Saudi ruling family knows full well that if Hezbollah takes over Lebanon completely, it could form a united front with Iran, Syria, Hamas and Muqtada Al-Sadr's martyrs against Israel, the US and pro-American autocratic Arab regimes, especially the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance. In the long term, such an alliance poses a tremendous threat to Saudi Arabia and its traditional dominance of the Muslim world. But what would happen if this scenario actually played out, and who would inexorably benefit?
Despite the Saudi monarchy's public criticism of Iran's support for its proxies in Syria and Lebanon, a Hezbollah that controlled Lebanon both politically and militarily would further the ideological influence of Saudi Arabia's ruling theocrats. In the short term, the fact that Hezbollah is Shia and the Saudis are Sunnis is largely irrelevant. In fact, the Saudi government would prefer to see the democratically elected (mostly Sunnis and Christians) Lebanese government deposed and replaced by a Islamic system, modeled perhaps on the Wahhabis in Riyadh, the Alawites in Damascus, or the Mullahs in Tehran.
Granted, it is no secret that the Sunni monarchy in Saudi Arabia would like to see the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah alliance weakened or dismantled, but their favored method for weakening this alliance makes the Saudis a wild card, not a partner, in America's push for democracy in the Middle East. Specifically, the Saudis know what the Americans fool themselves into ignoring -- that only by force can extremist regimes and groups be countered.
In Saudi eyes, only after Hezbollah seizes all of Lebanon will the US abandon its fantasies of democratization in favor of military confrontation. The goal, then, is to ensure that such a confrontation between the West and the "Shia Crescent" is both imminent and ferocious. What's more, as long as this battle does not spill over Lebanon's borders, the Saudi royals can stoke and benefit from this battle without ever lifting a finger.
Given recent events, if Hezbollah uses the political gains made by its new unity government to consolidate a choke-hold over all of Lebanon (the northern half, as well), then the Saudis expect the Israelis (with US support) to react and, unlike in the summer of 2006, to deal Hezbollah and Syria a lasting, crippling defeat. Riyadh hopes to bait one enemy into fighting another, and in the process, the Saudi royals can ensure their security, survival and ideological reach. This became apparent as the Saudi government frankly blamed Hezbollah announcing that they should "bear the responsibility" for kidnapping two Israeli soldiers which initiated a military response by Israel in July 2006. This is an unprecedented move by an Arab government, especially the Saudi government, which has always led anti-Israeli campaign. The Saudis wanted the Israelis to finish off Hezbollah, but that did not happen.
Now Hezbollah continues to seek the overthrow of Lebanon's legitimate government. However, if Hezbollah continues making gains through its various military and political tactics, then Israel may be forced once again to shape Lebanon to ensure its security, as it tried to do in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Saudi royals are hoping that Israel will not make the same mistakes twice and thus eliminate Riyadh's theocratic competition for them in Lebanon and elsewhere.
Either way, no one should be deluded by Saudi statements and public charades if and when Israel launches such an assault on Hezbollah's infrastructure in Lebanon, Syria and takes out Iran's nuclear installations. The Saudi royal family will undoubtedly condemn the "Zionists" and the US for supporting them; Riyadh will certainly call for an urgent meeting of the insignificant Arab League, the UN General Assembly and the European Union to condemn Israel, which they will do given historical precedence. The Saudi ruling family also will send massive shipments of food, medicine, tents, doctors and nurses to Lebanon to aid victims of the war, and ultimately, to steal the glory from Hezbollah's remarkable social services programs.
But the real prize for Riyadh will come only after the dust settles. The Saudi government, directly and through prominent businessmen and Prince al-Waleed (the financier of Islamic study departments in prominent American and European universities), will invest heavily in the rebuilding of Lebanon's infrastructure. In doing so, the Saudi government will also invest energy in exporting Wahhabism among the Lebanese Sunni population, headed by the Hariri family, to represent Saudi interests in Lebanon. As with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bosnia and other places, wherever Saudi largess goes, Wahhabism follows.
In the wake of Hezbollah's temporary siege of Beirut, many Sunnis have lost faith in their leaders and are increasingly likely to turn to militant Sunni militias for "protection." To put it lightly, however, the offensive nature of such "protection" is a Saudi specialty, and it seems unlikely that Washington has the same outcome in mind for Lebanon. Either way, the Saudi royal family and its Wahhabi religious extremists must not be trusted if anyone is serious about winning the "War on Terrorism."
Ali Alyami is the Executive Director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. http://www.cdhr.info