WASHINGTON - How to keep Lebanon's freedom and democracy alive was the subject of a conference held at the Hudson Institute offices in Washington, D.C. last Thursday.
Meyrav Wurmser, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, moderated the conference and opened the discussion by asserting, "In the current situation, Lebanon's freedom is being threatened. Hezbollah has been strengthened, and a stronger Hezbollah is a stronger Iran."
The conference speakers included Lt. General Thomas McInerney, former assistant vice chief of staff of the United States Air Force and director of the Defense Performance Review, reporting to the secretary of defense. McInerney is also the founder of Government Reform Through Technology (GRTT), a consulting firm that works with high-tech companies. McInerney served for 35 years as a pilot, commander and strategic planner in the U.S. Air Force.
Dr. Joseph Gebeily is president and executive director of the Lebanese Information Center based in Alexandria, Va. Adib F. Farha is the senior policy advisor and spokesman for the Lebanese Information Center, and Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy in Washington, D.C. Badran also serves as the editor of the Levant and the Syria Monitor.
Dr. Gebeily began the panel discussion by offering reasons why it is crucial to safeguard Lebanon's democracy and freedom. He pointed out that aside from moral considerations, a disintegrated Lebanon would become another belligerent state bordering Israel, and forces opposed to regional peace will take over.
The second reason for preserving Lebanon's independence is for the cause of democracy. "Lebanon," Gebeily said, "has been a parliamentary democracy since 1926, and serves as a model for the Arab world." "Religious coexistence between Christians and Muslims" which "could serve as an inspiration for a pluralistic-democratic Iraq" was the third reason mentioned.
Gebeily went on to recount recent history, charging that, "Syria has destabilized Lebanon and has introduced in Lebanon a culture of intimidation, violence, and intolerance - a culture that breeds terror." The passage by the U.S. Congress of the Syrian Accountability Act, Gebeily asserted, paved the way for "independence and democracy in Lebanon," and the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 15, 2005 further spurred its renewal.
Syria created a corrupt system in Lebanon and now seeks to revitalize it, but Gebeily said, "The fight for a free and democratic Lebanon is not over." Syria, he said, is "attempting to affect a coup d'etat through assassinations and, if Lebanon is to be free again, the Syrian and Iranian system must be removed." Gebeily further stressed "the majority of Lebanese reject Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon."
Adib Farha, speaking next, asked "Why is Lebanon important?" and answered, "As goes Lebanon so goes the entire Middle East." "Lebanon," he suggested "is a model for the Arab world." The civil war in Lebanon ended with the end of the Cold War. The current conflict in Lebanon, Farha noted, "is a battleground between the civilized world and Iran and Syria."
"The Hariri assassination" Farha asserted, "inflamed all Lebanese and created the Cedar Revolution. It resulted in the eviction of the Syrian forces from Lebanon, but not its intelligence apparatus and its Lebanese stooges." Farha added, "Syria and Iran have been encouraged by the U.S. war in Iraq."
Farha accused U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and the other U.S. senators who rushed to Damascus of "appeasing and rewarding" bad behavior by the Syrian dictatorship that has employed terrorism in Israel, Lebanon and Iraq. He asserted, moreover, that the "U.S. has delivered Iraq to the Iranians."
Dealing with Hezbollah, Farha pointed out that, unlike its depiction in some of the Western media, "Hezbollah is not a movement for the poor (as the New York Times describes it) nor is it a civil rights movement. It is, however, a vital Iranian asset in the West."
Farha stressed that when Hezbollah resisted Israel before Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, all Lebanese supported it. But, there was no reason for its resistance after the Israeli withdrawl from Lebanon. Although Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah emerged as heroes from the recent war in Lebanon, "in the last four days, Hezbollah showed itself as a brute force."
In ending his presentation, Farha offered the following suggestions to save Lebanon: cease appeasing Syria and Iran; strengthen the central government in Lebanon; end U.S. statements (such as the Iraq Study Group regarding talking to Syria and Iran); and direct U.S. support to the Lebanese army and police.
Tony Badran began by quoting author Michael Oren, saying that Israel should have attacked Syria, not Lebanon. He said that, during the Syrian occupation, the Hezbollah "got a free hand in South Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal." Syria, Badran said, "Made Hezbollah's interests supreme" in Lebanon.
Badran maintained that Hezbollah failed to achieve any strategic gains as a result of the July 2006 war. Bashar Assad found himself in a bind according to Badran, due to U.N. Resolution 1701. Assad, he said, wanted to make the Hezbollah the sole arbiter of Lebanon and turn it into an Arab-nationalist movement. What is emerging in Lebanon after the war is a Hezbollah that is functioning like an Iranian revolutionary guards or Pasdaran.
Nasrallah, according to Badran, believed that he could lure the Sunnis to join him but failed. Iran, he said, "Has used the Palestinian card to capture support from the Sunni Arab world." Nasrallah and Syrian interests, Badran said, "are identical." Nasrallah created a backlash however from all other groups in Lebanon.
Badran warned that Assad is trying to thwart the Hariri Assassination Tribunal, and that the West must block his attempts. "He (Assad) is trying to use Israel (peace talks) to escape the Tribunal. "Assad," Badran said, "wants permanent peace talks but not peace with Israel."
Gen. McInerney focused on Iran, declaring that Ahmadinejad will not use diplomacy and that Iran is driving the conflict in the Middle East. He guesstimated that, "We have no more than a year before we must use the military option." "Iran," he said, "is the cancer infecting the entire region." McInerney reminded the audience of Ahmadinejad's Oct. 26 statement: "Soon there will be a world without the U.S. and the Zionists." He warned that Iran hopes to place a nuclear bomb in American cities. Iran would use containers to ship such a bomb through Mexico and Venezuela.
What happens in Iraq, McInerney declared, will determine the future of the entire Arabian Peninsula. He charged, "The coalition of the willing must stop the Shiite Crescent." Addressing the military option, McInerney said, "24 hours of action will be required to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities." And within 48 hours, he added, "1500 targets could be bombed, including air defenses, command and control and the Iranian navy."
McInerney suggested however that covert operations aimed at taking out the Iranian regime must be conducted alongside military action. "Israel" he said, "should not be involved." He maintained that Russia and China are supporting Iran and that the U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran sanctions will not impact its trade thanks to Russia and China.
"Iran," McInerney said, "is driving today's Islamic extremism and hatred for the West, and it is doing it through proxies." He pointed out that the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon would not have taken place without the U.S. presence in the Middle East (Iraq). Referring to peace in the Middle East, McInerney said, "An Israeli-Palestinian dispute will not be solved until Tehran, Riyadh and Damascus wanted it solved."