- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

As Lebanese voters went to the polls yesterday in the final round of their elections, local and international news organizations were focused on the short-term political outcome — an issue that should be of somewhat peripheral interest to U.S. policymakers as they assess the Lebanese elections in relation to the war against Islamofascism.

Whether the alliance headed by Saad Hariri, son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, captures the 21 seats necessary to reach the magic number of 65, enough votes to gain a majority in that country’s 128-member parliament, is undoubtedly important to the people of Lebanon as they attempt to build a free, independent state after 29 years of military occupation by Syria.

But Mr. Hariri’s political future is less important to Americans (and in the long run less important to Lebanese who wish to live in freedom) than the answers to the following questions: First, will there be a working majority in parliament for enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which would require Hezbollah, one of the world’s most deadly terrorist organizations and the only armed militia remaining from the 1975-1990 Lebanon Civil War, to disarm?

Second, will Syrian President Bashar Assad and his security services be able continue to interfere in Lebanese domestic affairs?

Right now there are deeply troubling signs for the future on both questions.

The Bush administration is sharply critical of Syria’s continuing efforts to interfere in Lebanon following the departure of its army in April. Washington charges that Damascus has developed a hit list targeting Lebanese political leaders, and that Syrian intelligence operatives have been filtering back into the country.

Lebanese opposition politicians, including supporters of Messrs. Hariri and Jumblatt, charged last week that individuals working with Syrian security officers are smuggling weapons into Lebanon and that Syrian security agents remain in northern Lebanon, where they harass merchants and attempt to coerce Lebanese into voting for one or another party.

Perhaps the most disconcerting developments has been the effort by politicians like Mr. Jumblatt and Michel Aoun — the Lebanese Maronite Christian general who had been driven out of the country in fear for his life 15 years ago by the Syrian Army before returning to Lebanon last month — to curry favor with Hezbollah, Syria’s long-time ally. In recent days Gen. Aoun has also sounded like a Syrian PR agent, attacking Lebanon’s interior minister for criticizing Syrian interference in Lebanon. Gen. Aoun is expected to oppose efforts to remove President Emile Lahoud, an ally of Damascus, from office. Whatever the final outcome of the elections, it appears highly doubtful that any of the other major parties in parliament will demand that Hezbollah disarm.

On Friday, U.S. Amb. Jeffrey Feltman, speaking at a luncheon in Beirut with Lebanese businessmen, outlined a very sound, thoughtful response to this situation: He said Lebanon should not expect any international economic assistance unless U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 is fully implemented, and that that includes disarming Hezbollah. This is exactly right. Lebanon should not receive such assistance if it continues to harbor an armed terrorist militia that does the bidding of Tehran and Damascus. Lebanon’s democracy will be in jeopardy if its politicians and its army are incapable of disarming the jihadists on their soil.

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