Arab‘ Spring’ out­come? Check ‘Beirut Spring’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

2011’s Arab Spring is an as­ton­ish­ing mo­ment. Yes, some­where on the calendar of the next decade’s his­tory a fall of low­ered ex­pec­ta­tions will oc­cur and a win­ter of cold dis­ap­point­ment, but the hopes and pas­sions pow­er­ing it will not dis­ap­pear.

Michael Tot­ten’s new book, “The Road to Fa­tima Gate” (En­counter Books, 2011), pro­vides a first-per­son look at Arab Spring’s im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, Lebanon’s Beirut Spring of 2005. Tot­ten then moves to a de­tailed dis­cus­sion of Hezbol­lah’s in­creas­ing power within Lebanon, fol­lowed by a com­pelling, on-the-ground look at the 2006 Hezbol­lah-Is­raeli war (the July War, in Le­banese par­lance). Tot­ten por­trays the war as an Ira­nian-Is­raeli war, with Hezbol­lah as Tehran’s proxy.

Tot­ten’s in­tro­duc­tion to the Beirut Spring be­gins with the mur­der of for­mer Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Rafik Hariri. A bomb de­stroyed his Mercedes. The Hariri as­sas­si­na­tion re­mains cur­rent news, for a U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tion im­pli­cated Syrian in­tel­li­gence agents as the cul­prits, with the or­der to kill Hariri com­ing from the high­est lev­els of the As­sad dic­ta­tor­ship. Com­plic­ity in Hariri’s mur­der is an­other rea­son to re­gard any­one who claims Bashar As­sad is a re­formist as be­ing in­ex­cus­ably ig­no­rant or a paid pro­pa­gan­dist.

The mur­der was sup­posed to cow Lebanon. “It didn’t work,” Tot­ten ob­serves. “Lebanon ex­ploded in revolt the likes of which the mod­ern Mid­dle East had never seen.”

More ter­ror bombs ex­ploded. Tot­ten “hopped a flight to Beirut from Ger­many,” as prodemoc­racy Le­banese demon­stra­tors rose up against Syria’s oc­cu­pa­tion forces, the sol­diers and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers of the same As­sad regime that this spring is shoot­ing its own cit­i­zens. The pro-Syrian marches fea­tured an­gry Hezbol­lah sup­port­ers car­ry­ing pic­tures of Bashar As­sad and wield­ing pis­tols and knives.

The Syr­i­ans with­drew, suf­fer­ing a po­lit­i­cal de­feat. But the guns and loyal fight­ers of Le­banese fac­tions re­placed them, not peace and cer­tainly not unity. Iran, through Hezbol­lah, filled the power vac­uum. Through Hezbol­lah, Tot­ten ar­gues, Iran boosts Le­banese Shia Arab fac­tions, in the same way France and Amer­ica sup­port Le­banese Chris­tians and Saudi Ara­bia sup­ports Le­banese Sun­nis.

With fac­tional ten­sion in­creas­ing, Tot­ten headed south, to Hezbol­lah land, a “minia­ture one party state” that was “mo­bi­lized” for ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal war. Le­banese gov­ern­ment sol­diers and po­lice did not go there. Posters of the Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini, Iran’s cur­rent supreme cleric, Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei, and Le­banese

Tot­ten’s road ends with a look at Iran’s dis­puted elec­tion of June 2009. Why Iran when his fo­cus is Lebanon’s chaos? Be­cause Iran seeds the chaos. Top­ple the ay­a­tol­lahs’ regime, and Lebanon’s trou­bles will di­min­ish.

Hezbol­lah’s own Has­san Nas­ral­lah were ubiq­ui­tous.

Fa­tima Gate had been the ma­jor cross­ing point be­tween Is­rael and south­ern Lebanon prior to 2000, when the bor­der closed. Tot­ten found the gate wrapped in cy­clone fenc­ing “two sto­ries high.” Arabs drove down to the gate to “throw rocks at Is­rael.”

Rocks are one thing, bar­rage rock­ets an­other. From late 2005 to the sum­mer of 2006, rock­ets sup­planted hurled rocks. Is­raeli towns were sub­jected to ran­dom then in­creas­ingly fierce bom­bard­ments. Has­san Nas­ral­lah pro­vided the polemics, but the pup­peteers were in Tehran. Iran wanted to goad Is­rael into fight­ing a dirty war on a bat­tle­field of vil­lages in­ter­laced with mines and bunkers. South­ern Lebanon be­came the July War’s bat­tle­field.

Tot­ten’s chap­ter on the Siege of Ain Ebel doc­u­ments Hezbol­lah’s in­ten­tional use of civil­ian homes and churches as fight­ing po­si­tions. Hezbol­lah did not care. The more de­struc­tion, the bet­ter. Ain Ebel is a Chris­tian com­mu­nity.

Tot­ten’s road ends with a look at Iran’s dis­puted elec­tion of June 2009. Why Iran when his fo­cus is Lebanon’s chaos? Be­cause Iran seeds the chaos. Top­ple the ay­a­tol­lahs’ regime, and Lebanon’s trou­bles will di­min­ish.

Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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