Hizballah’s Election Gains Upset Regional Strategic Balance

Israel Faces Prospect of Entire Country Controlled By Terrorist Hizballah

DEBKAfile Intelligence

24 May 2004

Partial results from the local elections held in southern Lebanon on May 23 indicate a sweeping victory for Hassan Nasrallah’s Hizballah on the heels of similar wins in municipal votes in Shiite southern Beirut, the Beqaa Valley, Baalbek and Mt. Lebanon.

Election success was conferred on the Hizballah by Syrian agents, who dumped his great Shiite rival, Nabih Berri’s Amal, Damascus’s faithful mainstay in Lebanon for decades.

Syria annihilated Amal for two main reasons.

1. To punish him for his good relations with the pro-American Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, whom Damascus regards as its foe. Berri campaigned with Hariri’s support.

2. Syrian agents branded Berri and his wife Randa as unacceptably corrupt - even by the low standards of Syrian military intelligence officers in Lebanon, who are on the take themselves and involved in money, arms and drug smuggling.

In the rest of Lebanon, Nasrallah with active Syrian help captured more than half of the country’s municipal councils, gaining a two-thirds majority in most. In the northern regions, Syria used its powerful military and intelligence presence to push pro-Syrian candidates into office on local councils. Together, Syrian forces in Lebanon and the Hizballah have now acquired the use of the generous government funding allocated municipal budgets to spread their influence through the country - to Hariri’s detriment and at central government expense.

The pro-Syrian Hizballah breakthrough in Lebanon has far-reaching implications for American Middle East tactics and Israel’s strategic position in the region.

By transforming itself into a political force, the Hizballah has come up with a counterargument against its listing in Washington as a terrorist organization, cooperation with which makes Damascus a sponsor of terrorists. Nasrallah has no intention of giving up his terrorist, intelligence and military capabilities for the sake of international respectability. However, he will leave it to Syrian officials to point out that Hizballah’s involvement in local politics is evidence of the moderating process overtaking the organization and, therefore, the Bush administration can no longer claim justifiable cause for attacking Syria as a sponsor of terrorists.

For Israel, the strategic consequences of Hizballah’s success are grave. By scooping up a large part of Lebanon’s municipal government, the Hizballah has for the first time maneuvered itself for a claim on ministerial posts in central government. Furthermore, the defeat of Amal, long the dominant Shiite party in the country, opens the way for Nasrallah’s organization to grab the post of Parliament Speaker, traditionally the preserve of the largest Shiite political grouping. This is the third highest post in the land after the president and prime minister, and it carries great authority and clout in Lebanese politics.

Israel, which avoided a showdown with the Hizballah as the most aggressive force in South Lebanon, faces the prospect of an entire country under Nasrallah’s thumb on its northern border.

Hizballah elements are already present in the West Bank and Gaza Strip propping up the Palestinian side of the counter-terror war in which Israel is engaged. The Lebanese terrorists with Iran are also heavily involved in Palestinian weapons smuggling from northern Sinai. Nasrallah’s looming advance on central government in Beirut is an ominous development for Israel and a strategic victory for the Hizballah leader and his partner-in-terror Yasser Arafat.