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The Battle for Lebanon
The battle for Lebanon is a battle between a rich minority (numerically) among Lebanon’s estimated six million people and a poor majority. The minority controls the political and economic fortunes. The divide is primarily political/economic, not religious/sectarian; though, Lebanon is home to 18 religious sects, recognized in the Lebanese constitution.
A Colourful Sectarian Tapestry

The minority encompasses factions among  Christian, traditionally known for their hostility toward Syria and affection toward France and the US. These factions are led by late president Amin Gemayel’s Phalange Party and Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces. The minority includes also Sunni Muslims, led by Saudi/Lebanese Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement and a large faction among Lebanon’s small minority of Druzes, led by Walid Junblat’s Progressive Socialist Party. 

The majority includes Maronite and other Christians; led by former general and current President, Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. The majority includes also the Shiites; led by Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah and Nabih Berri’s Amal movement.

It is difficult to know with accuracy the religious and the sectarian make-up of Lebanon’s population. The last census was taken in 1932. That census gave Christians more than half of the population, with the Maronites a third of the population. However, Christian numbers have been declining since 1932 due to relatively low rates of population growth compared to Muslims’ growth rates, especially the Shiites, and to migration from Lebanon to Europe and the Americas. 

Today, the general consensus is that Shiites represent over 40% of the Lebanese, Christians roughly 35%, Sunnis around 20%, and Druzes about 5%. That no census since 1932 has been allowed to take place reflects the seriousness of Lebanon population issue. The rich minority may be guesstimated to be about a third of the population. 


The Hariri Family

Saad al-Hariri is a son of Rafiq al-Hariri. He holds Saudi and Lebanese nationalities. Rafiq al-Hariri was born in 1944 in the Lebanese port city of Sidon to a Sunni Muslim family of modest means. In 1965, he left for Saudi Arabia, working as an accountant in a construction company. He moved from rags to riches swiftly. Fifteen years later, Rafiq al-Hariri was on the Forbes top 100. After his assassination in 2005, his family members featured in Forbes’ list of billionaires in 2006. 


In 1978, Rafiq and family were made citizens of Saudi Arabia. Rafiq returned to Lebanon in the early 1980’s; supported by the Saudi ruling family to provide a viable Sunni leadership to face the tide of rising power since the early 1960s of Lebanon's Shiites under the leadership of the Musa al-Sadr. Al-Sadr disappeared in 1978 while on a visit to Libya's leader, Muammar Qaddafi. 


In Lebanon, Rafiq al-Hariri established a power base through making large donations to various groups and causes. He laid the groundwork for the 1989 Taif Accord, which Saudi Arabia organized. Taif ended the fifteen-year civil war (1975-1990) and paved the way in 1992 for him to become prime minister from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2000 until his resignation on October 20, 2004. Hariri was assassinated on 14 February 2005. No one was charged with the crime, which happened under the watchful eye of Syria's brutal intelligence services. Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976 following the start of the civil war there. They stayed for 29 years before withdrawing on April 26, 2005, by Security Council Resolution 1559 of September 2004.



The Shiites have been for centuries the downtrodden of Lebanon, suffering abject poverty, illiteracy, and ill health. Marginalized and discriminated against as second-class citizens. Their liberation started in 1959 with the arrival to the coastal city of Tyre of Musa al-Sadr, an Iranian-born Lebanese Shiite cleric, son of a long line of distinguished Shiite scholars. At the turn of the nineteenth century, his ancestors escaped Ottoman persecution from Tyre to Iraq’s holy city of Najaf, then to Iran. 

A close religious connection between Iran and the Shiites of Lebanon had been established some five centuries ago. Shah Ismail made Shiism the state religion of the Safavid dynasty (1502-1737) instead of Sunnism, in order to introduce religious fervor into his wars against the Sunni Ottoman sultans. Lacking the clerics to convert and teach Shiism to his subjects, Shiite scholars from southern Lebanon (Mount Amel) were invited to establish schools and train Persian clerics in Shiism. Ever since that time a theological bridge between Iran and Lebanon flourished.

Musa al-Sadr awakened in the Shiites of Lebanon a sense of dignity and self-worth unknown before. He replaced their innate self-pity, sorrow, and submission by a fiery spirit of hope, defiance, and revolution. In 1974, Sadr formed the Movement of the Disinherited, a political movement aimed at social justice. In 1975, the Amal movement was formed as the militia wing of the Movement of the Disinherited. After Sadr’s disappearance in 1978, the momentum of his work gave rise in the early 1980s to Hezbollah, a militia trained, organized, and funded by Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards. In addition to its military wing, Hezbollah organizes extensive networks of social development programs, running hospitals, schools, and social help for the poor.


Geopolitical Shift

Until the cataclysmic events of 9/11/2001, Rafiq al-Hariri was content to rule in Lebanon under Syria’s domination. After 9/11, however, matters changed. The Bush administration’s response to the Wahhabi attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. was to reshape the Middle East. US forces occupied Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in April 2003. They removed the regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, Iran's two most intractable enemies. The occupation of Cabul and Baghdad made Tehran a regional power of serious consequence.

That 15 out of the 19 murderers on 9/11 were Saudis threatened catastrophe to the al-Sauds. Fearing America’s retaliation, the al-Sauds performed an act of preemptive surrender. The Riyadh regime became even more obsequious and obvious in their submissiveness to Washington than ever before. Post 9/11, Saudi Arabia’s interest in Lebanon took a new purpose; install in Beirut a pro Washington government, destroy Hezbollah, and change the regime in Damascus. The instrument would be a Trojan horse loaded with Saudi money called Hariri. 


In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Hariri/Gemayel/Geagea/Junblat alliance, known as 14 March alliance, controlled the Lebanese parliament and the cabinet. Prime minister Fouad Seniora had been for years an employee of Hariri companies serving as finance director. Seniora was made finance minister in Rafiq's cabinets then prime minister in 2005. The 14 March alliance succeeded in removing Syria’s troops from Lebanon in 2005. 

The Saudi plan, however, failed. Hezbollah proved to be resilient. In its July 2006 war against Lebanon, Israel could not destroy Hezbollah, despite 33 days of relentless bombardment from the air, land, and sea using the most sophisticated weapons. The war destroyed much of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure and killed more than 1,000 civilians. The war, on the other hand, made Hezbollah Lebanon's new master. When the Beirut cabinet, for example, decided on May 6, 2008 that Hezbollah’s electronic communication network should be dismantled and the pro-Hezbollah head of Beirut’s airport security must be removed, Hezbollah reacted violently. Clashes with government soldiers forced the cabinet on May 14, 2008, to reverse the two decisions. In the aftermath of this showdown, government and opposition representatives reached on May 21, 2008 in Doha, Qatar a power-sharing agreement in which the Hezbollah-led opposition increased its seats in the cabinet from six to eleven out of 30 seats; winning a veto power over the cabinet decisions. 
Syria's Strategy
Syria objects to Saudi Arabia’s political encroachment over Lebanon. Syria and Lebanon have been over the millennia one society. Natural Syria has always signified Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. A look at the map shows why. Lebanon, a small land of some 10,000 square kilometers, is surrounded by Syria from all sides (375 kilometers), the Mediterranean Sea to the West (225 kilometers) and a strip of land to the south bordering Israel (79 kilometers). Two-hour drive separates Damascus from Beirut. Many of the families in Beirut and Tripoli, for example, have branches in Damascus and Homs. Syrians and Lebanese share the Arabic language, values, customs, habits, food, music, let alone centuries of being ruled as one entity. They became two separate states after the French mandate ended in the mid 1940s. 

The occupation of Iraq in 2003 by President G.W. Bush handed Iraq to Iran on a silver platter, wittingly or unwittingly. In its failure, the Bush project created the Shiite Crescent from Iran to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. President Obama, as if to continue what G.W. Bush had started, empowered Iran further. He allowed Iran to help destroy and occupy much of Syria since the Syrian revolution against the Asad regime exploded in March 2011. Syria’s heavy hand over Lebanon is presently fortified by Iran’s heavy hand over the Asad regime and Hezbollah. As long as Iran needs Hezbollah as its forward military defense line on Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria’s control over Lebanon will be supplemented by Iranian power. Without Syria, the Shi’ite Crescent will be broken, Hezbollah strangled, and Iran rolled back.



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