All eyes turn­ing now to Lebanon


When all the Arabs and the Is­raelis agree on one thing, peo­ple should pay at­ten­tion. We should stop this Ira­nian takeover,” said Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu last month. So we’re pay­ing at­ten­tion now, and we even know where the next war will start: Lebanon. That seems un­fair, as Lebanon’s last civil war lasted fif­teen years, killed around 200,000 peo­ple (out of a pop­u­la­tion of only 4 mil­lion), and only ended in 1990. Couldn’t they hold this one some­where else? Un­for­tu­nately, no. All the other venues are taken. Iraq is still fully booked. The fight against ISIS is al­most over, but the strug­gle be­tween the Arabs and the Kurds has only just got started again. It never re­ally stops for long.

Bashar al-As­sad’s forces, the Rus­sians, and Shia vol­un­teers from Iran and Lebanon are win­ning the war in Syria, but it will be at least an­other year be­fore they sup­press all rebel re­sis­tance. Ye­men’s airspace is too con­gested, with Saudi, Emi­rati, Kuwaiti, Jor­da­nian and Egyp­tian planes bomb­ing the liv­ing day­lights out of the Houthi rebels who hold most of the coun­try (and any­body else who hap­pens to be nearby). No real room for an­other war there.

So the war will have to be in Lebanon, at least at the start. The big Shia mili­tia that con­trols south­ern Lebanon, Hezbol­lah, is closely al­lied to Shia Iran, and it’s a per­ma­nent nui­sance along Is­rael’s north­ern bor­der, so it’s a suit­able place to start rolling back Iran’s in­flu­ence in the re­gion.

Lebanon is a par­tic­u­larly good choice from Saudi Ara­bia’s point of view be­cause it’s the Is­raelis who would have to do the ac­tual fight­ing there. (Saudi Ara­bia does not share a bor­der with Lebanon.) But if Crown Prince Muham­mad bin Sal­man is re­ally se­ri­ous about curb­ing Iran’s power, his own troops are even­tu­ally go­ing to have to take on the job of cleans­ing Syria of Ira­nian in­flu­ence.

You only have to say that sen­tence aloud to re­alise that this project is go­ing to end in tears for the Saudis, the Is­raelis and (if they get sucked into it) the Amer­i­cans. There is no way that the in­ex­pe­ri­enced Saudi army is go­ing to drive bat­tle-hard­ened Hezbol­lah and Ira­nian mili­tia troops out of Syria.

Ac­tu­ally, there is no way that the Is­raeli army is go­ing to drive Hezbol­lah out of south­ern Lebanon ei­ther. In Is­rael’s last war with the or­gan­i­sa­tion in 2006, Hezbol­lah’s troops fought the Is­raeli army to a stand­still in south­ern Lebanon.

Sunni Arab lead­ers and Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter have talked them­selves into the para­noid delu­sion that Iran has a grand plan to es­tab­lish its dom­i­na­tion over the whole re­gion and must be stopped by force of arms. First Iran es­tab­lished close links with the Shia po­lit­i­cal par­ties and mili­tias that now dom­i­nate Iraq. Then it crossed Iraqi ter­ri­tory to save the Shia ruler of Syria from a re­volt by the Sunni ma­jor­ity in that coun­try. Next was dis­tant Ye­men, where the Shia tribes of the north, the Houthi, over­ran most of the coun­try with Ira­nian help. And now the Shia mili­tia Hezbol­lah has gained a pow­er­ful po­si­tion in the gov­ern­ment of Lebanon.

If the Sun­nis don’t stop the Ira­ni­ans now, they’ll all be en­slaved. Or some­thing of that sort. Non­sense. It was Ge­orge W. Bush who over­threw the cen­turies-long rule of the Sunni mi­nor­ity in Iraq on the ly­ing pre­text that Sad­dam Hus­sein was de­vel­op­ing ‘weapons of mass de­struc­tion’. The Shias took power in Iraq in a free elec­tion, and as the only Shia­ma­jor­ity coun­try in the Arab world they nat­u­rally sought a close re­la­tion­ship with Shia Iran.

This made it easy for Ira­nian vol­un­teers and weapons to move across Iraq and help Bashar al- As­sad re­sist an as­sault on his rule by Sunni ex­trem­ists. The Hezbol­lah mili­tia, which rep­re­sents the large Shia mi­nor­ity in Lebanon, also went to As­sad’s help, but you can hardly por­tray this as Shia ex­pan­sion­ism.

There is ab­so­lutely no ev­i­dence that the Houthis in Ye­men are get­ting any ma­te­rial as­sis­tance from Iran. They are not even Ira­nian “prox­ies” in any mean­ing­ful sense of the word. They are Ye­meni tribes who hap­pen to be Shia, en­gaged in a typ­i­cal Ye­meni tribal power strug­gle.

A great many peo­ple will die for noth­ing if the full-scale Sunni-Shia war that Saudi Ara­bia (and Ne­tanyahu) cur­rently en­vis­age ac­tu­ally gets go­ing. But Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad al-Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion a week ago, in which he de­nounced Hezbol­lah’s pres­ence in the gov­ern­ment – de­liv­ered not at home but in Saudi Ara­bia – may have been the start­ing gun for the war.


Cars pass next to a poster de­pict­ing Saad al-Hariri, who has re­signed as Lebanon’s prime min­is­ter, in Beirut, Lebanon.


Holly Reed, 15, has been the vic­tim of bul­ly­ing at Welling­ton East Girls’ Col­lege. She’s pic­tured with her dad Mike Reed.

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