CNN Senior Editor Mideast Affairs
Lebanon is a tiny country caught in the middle of aggressive, competing, dangerous powers. It made a major choice this week by voting for a majority in parliament that opposes Iran's and Syria's influences on the country. Like many in the Middle East, Lebanese people listened and liked what President Obama said in his address to Arabs and Muslims. The surprise results in Sunday's elections is a strong sign that a sizeable amount of Lebanese voters decided they much rather deal with a Lebanese government that's with Barack Obama than one that's against him.
Lebanon held its parliamentary elections for the 128-seat assembly pitting a US-supported coalition against one supported and funded by Iran. The result was a surprise majority win of 71 to 57 in favor of the pro-western coalition made up primarily of Sunni Muslims, Druze and Christians. Those two tiny numbers speak volumes about a country’s path, its people, their politics and their future. They might even influence the Iranian presidential election coming up later this month.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/05/lebanon.vote/art.hezbollah.afp.gi.jpg caption="Hezbollah party workers in the southern town of Nabatiyah in anticipation of the elections on Sunday."]
At face value, the 71-57 margin of victory means that the parliamentary majority will have a stronger say in determining the House Speaker required by the constitution to be a Muslim Shiite. The majority’s leader, Saad Hariri, is expected to be Lebanon’s next Sunni Prime Minister. Those two positions along with the Christian Maronite presidency make up Lebanon’s Executive Branch. It guarantees a balance of power among Lebanon’s main religions. It is also natural that the parliamentary majority will have the upper hand in determining who holds key portfolios in the new cabinet.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/05/26/lebanon.analysis/art.hezbollah.afp.gi.jpg caption="Hezbollah supporters at a Beirut rally holding a poster of leader Hassan Nasrallah. "]
Joe Von kanel
You may have noticed that Vice President Joe Biden was in Lebanon last Friday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a visit last month. What's the sudden attraction of going to Lebanon? An upcoming election there could be very interesting!
Lebanon's Parliament is up for grabs and unlike any legislative body in the U.S., all 128 seats in the Lebanese Parliament are determined by religion: Christians and Muslims each get 64 seats – exactly half. Since Christians haven't been united for centuries, various Christian denominations are guaranteed a certain number of seats. The largest single bloc, 34 seats, goes to the Maronite Christians.
Of course, Muslims aren't united either. The two major sects - the Sunni and Shia– get 27 seats each. Lebanon's Shiite political party Hezbollah - yes, the same Hezbollah that the U.S. has labeled a "terrorist organization - has brokered a coalition of Shiite parties that has thrown-in with the Maronite Christians. The groups are running on a "reform" agenda, promising to clean-up corruption. Guess who could win? And guess who the U.S. really doesn't want to win? The U.S. is backing a Sunni-dominated counter-alliance.
The election is on June 7th. We'll be watching!
Abdel Monem Said Aly
The Wall Street Journal
On April 8, Egypt announced it had uncovered a Hezbollah cell operating inside its borders. This startling pronouncement offers a rare insight into the way Iran and its proxies are manipulating Middle East politics.
According to Egyptian authorities, the cell was tasked with planning attacks against tourist sites in Sinai, conducting surveillance on strategic targets including the Suez Canal, and funneling arms and money to Hamas. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has admitted that the ringleader of the cell was indeed a member of his organization to provide "logistical support to help the Palestinian brothers in transporting ammunition and individuals."
These latest actions by an emboldened Hezbollah have been spurred on by Iran, which is seeking to further its quest for power in the Arab Middle East. In the past six months, there have been irrefutable signs of Iran's determined effort to sabotage Egypt's attempts at regional stability. At Tehran's instigation, Hamas rejected the renewal of the six-month, Egypt-brokered cease-fire last summer between it and Israel. This rejection led to the Gaza war in December. At the height of that war, Mr. Nasrallah called on the people of Egypt and its army to march on the city of Rafah to open the border to Gaza by force, a highly inflammatory appeal aimed at causing insurrection.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/WORLD/meast/12/28/gaza.israel.international.reaction/art.gaza.wounded.afp.gi.jpg caption="A wounded man is lifted onto a stretcher after arriving at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Sunday."]
Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi
The Wall Street Journal
A quarter century has passed since Israel last claimed to go to war in the name of peace.
"Operation Peace for Galilee" - Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon - failed to convince the international public and even many Israelis that its goal was to promote reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world. In fact, the war had precisely the opposite results, preparing the way for Yasser Arafat's disastrous return to the West Bank and Gaza, and for Hezbollah's ultimate domination of Lebanon. And yet, Israel's current operation in Gaza is essential for creating the conditions that could eventually lead to a two-state solution.
Over the past two decades, a majority of Israelis have shifted from adamant opposition to Palestinian statehood to acknowledging the need for such a state. This transformation represented a historic victory for the Israeli left, which has long advocated Palestinian self-determination. The left's victory, though, remained largely theoretical: The right won the practical argument that no amount of concessions would grant international legitimacy to Israel's right to defend itself.
Editor's note: CNN's Cal Perry filed this reporter's notebook from Beirut, Lebanon about what it was like being caught in the middle of a fire-fight. Here's the quick back-story:
Gun fire broke out in downtown Beirut last week after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said recent government actions amount to "a declaration of open war." The latest tensions between Lebanon's U.S.-backed government and Hezbollah were sparked when the government declared Hezbollah's communication system illegal.
The government threatened to dismantle a Hezbollah telecommunications network discovered at Beirut's international airport claming Hezbollah had installed cameras and other monitoring equipment at the airport. The government believes that Hezbollah was using the equipment to keep tabs on anti-Syrian government officials, possibly funneling the information to Syria. Syria has been accused of carrying out assassinations on anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians, a charge it vehemently denies.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/WORLD/meast/05/08/lebanon.hezbollah/art.tires.afp.gi.jpg caption="Government loyalists add tires to a burning barricade outside Beirut."]
Can’t stop thinking about what one of my former security advisors from Iraq said to me in a cafe here in Beirut just two days ago. “It’s quiet now Cal — but this is Beirut … at any moment, within 24 hours, the city and country could be thrust into complete chaos.”
Today, chaos is what happened.
The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a speech in the afternoon, reacting to what the government had said about Hezbollah’s telecommunication network (a private network used by Hezbollah for communication.) It was exactly as expected — a fiery speech in which he said the government’s actions were tantamount to a declaration of war against his group.
After the speech we headed out into the streets to tape a brief “piece to camera,” while it was still light outside. Within minutes, deafening gunfire broke out all around us. A group of Lebanese Army soldiers starting yelling at us to come towards them and take cover behind a large building. The rounds were snapping close to us as we ran behind the building.
Cameraman Christian Streib, who has lived in Beirut for a decade, snapped into action — immediately filming. We tried to do a “piece to camera” but with all the gunfire, I could hardly hear my own voice. I found myself screaming at times, and gave up pretty quickly.
The firefight was raging when Christian spotted gunmen on a nearby rooftop. He remarked that he got it on film — something I still cannot believe. I kept telling him he was making me nervous as he filmed about, but the truth is he’s a seasoned as they get, and it was the simple gunfire, now coupled with large explosions from rocket-propelled grenades that was really making me nervous.