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June 8, 2009 The Meaning of the Lebanese Elections - History

June 8, 2009 The Meaning of the Lebanese Elections - History

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

June 10, 2009 The Mitchell Visit and Netanyahu Prepares For Speech

President Obama’s Middle East representative, Senator Mitchell arrived in Israel. While most Israeli observers were concerned that Mitchell was coming to put more public pressure on Israel, by the time he arrived his mission had changed to one of reassurance. According to observers after Netanyahu's call with Obama (in which Netanyahu told Obama about his upcoming speech), the American administration believes the Netanyahu administration finally understands that it was going to have to get on board.

Netanyahu is meeting with Likud Knesset members in preparation for his speech on Sunday. It is unclear how far he is going to go. However, most people expect him to accept the two-state solution with reservation and announce some limitation to settlement building. There is some talk about Netanyahu having to reshuffle his coalition and include Kadima. Other observers believe Netanyahu is trying to get Mofaz to split from Kadima and join the government.

A North Korean court has sentenced two US journalists to twelve years of hard labor after they were convicted of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the charges “baseless.”

Hillary Clinton: “We are incredibly concerned on both a diplomatic and, on my behalf, a personal basis. I have met with their families, and I share the grave anxiety that they feel about the safety and security of these two young women. We call again on the North Korean government to release them and enable them to come home as soon as possible. We have explored other approaches, including the use of special representatives strictly for this humanitarian mission. But as things stand now, we know that they’re in the middle of a trial in Pyongyang, and we hope that the trial is resolved quickly and that the young women are released.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has announced it is considering adding North Korea back to a list of state sponsors of terrorism and to seek a way to interdict North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.

Why Russia Wants Lebanon

During the Syrian war, Jerusalem used Lebanese air space to foil weapon transfers from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. But in September 2018, Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian military aircraft during an Israeli operation. Moscow blamed Israel and deployed air defense systems to Syria, limiting the Israeli air force's freedom of movement and ability to prevent such transfers.

Russia's attempts to draw Lebanon into its sphere of influence by placing it under Moscow's air defense umbrella and selling weapons to Beirut have been discussed by American experts for years. Some analysts argue that Washington should not try to compete with the Kremlin there while others maintain that any concession is unacceptable. Russian arms sales to Lebanon would likely not affect the region's balance of power, but Moscow's expansion of its Syrian air defense umbrella could tip the balance of forces in the Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts and create a serious challenge for the United States in the near future.

Moscow on the Mediterranean

During the first half of 2018, Russia increasingly expressed unhappiness with Israeli air strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria. On September 17, 2018, Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian Ilyushin IL-20 military aircraft, supposedly by accident, during an Israeli operation. Moscow blamed Israel for the incident and immediately deployed S-300 air defense systems to Syria, significantly limiting the Israeli air force's freedom of movement. Russian military and civilian experts openly insisted that now was the time to show Israel that the Kremlin dictated the rules in Syria. Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy stated: "If Israel were to defy Russia's dominant role, Russia would react and take a stand. This is unlikely to happen because Israel knows Russia defines the rules in Syria."[1]

The main Israeli objective in Syria was to prevent weapons transfers from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Jerusalem used Lebanese air space to foil such transfers. In November 2018, Lebanese president Michel Aoun asked Moscow to protect Lebanon's air space. Russian media reports that the defense ministry was favorably considering the idea alarmed the Israelis.[2]

Earlier, in February 2018, Russian natural gas producer Novatek obtained permission from the Lebanese government to develop natural gas fields in territorial waters in the Mediterranean Sea disputed by Lebanon and Israel. This action signaled that Moscow unambiguously sided with Lebanon and claimed the right to protect its natural gas investments during a military crisis.

The Russians remained neutral during Operation Northern Shield (December 2018–January 2019) when the Israel Defense Forces destroyed Hezbollah tunnels that crossed the Lebanese-Israeli border into northern Israel. However, Moscow's ambition to draw Lebanon into its sphere of influence predates its intervention in Syria and persists to this day. Tensions could rise again at any time.

Russia and Lebanon

Lebanon is the only Middle Eastern country where Moscow can rely on a substantial Christian community. Its natural ally is the Orthodox Church, subordinated to the Patriarchate of Antioch. Currently, the Orthodox community comprises about 8 percent of Lebanon's population. In the Lebanese government formed in January 2019, four ministers represent the Orthodox community politically, including Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health Ghassan Hasbani and Defense Minister Elias Abu Saab. Former minister of defense, Yaacoub Sarraf, whom Russian media had reported as favoring Russian arms sales to Lebanon, is also a member of the Orthodox Church.

Since the Stalin era, Soviet diplomats in Lebanon and Syria have been tasked with holding the Antioch Patriarch within the sphere of influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Under Putin, contacts with the Orthodox Christians have tremendously increased, and Moscow has also sought to ally with the Maronites—Lebanon's largest Christian community. Historically, the Maronites' main international partner was France, but this relationship significantly weakened when the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, Bechara Boutros Rahi, refused to support the "Arab Spring" and welcomed Russian troops in Syria. Because Rahi is subordinate to the Vatican, he tries to maintain a balance between Russia and the West, but his position seems closer to Putin's than to the West's. As he stated on Vatican Radio:

So, if you want democracy, apply it and listen to what the people say. Want to know what the fate of Assad is? Let the Syrian people decide! It is not your place to decide the president of Syria, of Iraq, of Lebanon.[3]

Putin has also revived a network of religious and secular organizations formed to lobby for Moscow's interests in Lebanon, which went dormant after the Soviet collapse. The most noteworthy is the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS), which had created roughly a hundred Orthodox schools in the region since its foundation in 1872. Sergei Stepashin, former head of the Audit Chamber of the Russian Federation, is the IOPS's chairman, and Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov is a member. During the Russian operation in Syria, Bogdanov, as a special presidential representative for the Middle East, tried to establish a dialogue between Assad and the moderate opposition. Another prominent IOPS member is Oleg Ozerov, deputy director of the Africa Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and former permanent representative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The Association of Orthodox Families of Beirut also lobbies for Russian interests in Lebanon and maintains close links with the IOPS. The Lebanese Sursock family is one of its most influential and cooperated with the Russian consulate general in Beirut as early as the nineteenth century.[4] Robert Sursock, one of the family's current representatives, served as chairman and chief executive officer of Gazprombank Invest Mena from 2009 to 2015.[5]

Lebanese president Michel Aoun (left) meets with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Moscow, March 26, 2019. The Aoun, Hariri, and Jumblatt families play major roles in Lebanese politics, and the Kremlin uses these contacts to its benefit.

Lebanon is the only Arab country other than Syria where pro-Soviet leaders maintained power from the 1970s through the present. Nearly all of Lebanon's most powerful elites, both pro- and anti-Russia, remained in place after the "Beirut Spring" in 2005. The Hariri, Aoun, and Jumblatt families are hardly Russian assets, but they still play major roles, and the Kremlin uses this to its benefit.

Leading Lebanese politicians have long sent lobbyists to Moscow who have strong ties with Russian big businesses established over the past quarter century. Notable among these are George Sha'ban, who has represented the Hariri family's business, Saudi Oger Ltd., in Russia for a long time and has helped Russian oil monopolies break into the Saudi market, and Amal Abu Zeid, President Aoun's representative to the highest rungs of the Russian political and economic elite, including President Putin. Abu Zeid's company, ADICO Investment Corporation, entered the Russian market in 2000, specializing in Russian oil enterprises in Southeast Asia, and in 2014, Abu Zeid was made advisor for Lebanese-Russian affairs in the Lebanese Foreign Ministry. He has active contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church as an influential member of the Lebanese Maronite community.[6]

Russia also influences Lebanese Christians via groups associated with European far-right parties.

Finally, since Soviet times, Moscow, has relied on Russia-educated Lebanese students, and there are some ten to twenty thousand of them now.[7] The Association of Alumni of Soviet Universities in Lebanon was established in 1970 and has since intensified its activities, comprising some four thousand members according to official Russian sources.[8] Russia experts also claim there are as many as eight thousand mixed families in Lebanon formed by marriages of Russian women to Lebanese men.[9] The Russian media often mention that former students now occupy high posts in the Lebanese economy and political system and that mixed families strengthen Russia's ties with Lebanon.

According to Deutsche Welle journalist Benas Gerdziunas, Russia also influences the Christian community via the European Solidarity Front for Syria, which is closely associated with European far-right parties, as well as with Lebanon's radical Levant Party that calls itself the defender of Eastern Christianity in the Arab world.[10]

Pushback inside Lebanon

However, Moscow's growing influence worries some Lebanese politicians. That became clear in January 2019 when Lebanon's Ministry of Energy and Water gave the Russian state-owned oil firm Rosneft permission to manage the oil products storage terminal in the city of Tripoli for twenty years. According to L'Orient Le Jour, Druze leader and Progressive Socialist Party president Walid Jumblatt tweeted that the deal was reminiscent of the colonial powers' struggle for oil in the region a century ago. "With Rosneft in Tripoli," he wrote, "and tomorrow in Banias and Basra, Zarif-Lavrov [the Iranian and Russian foreign ministers] will be the headline of the new Middle East between the Russians and Persians." [11] Despite such statements, Jumblatt and his son Taymour still frequently visit Moscow and maintain close contacts with Russian officials including deputy foreign minister Bogdanov.[12]

Prominent Lebanese leaders signed a petition denouncing the Russian Orthodox Church's character-ization of Moscow's Syrian military intervention as a "holy war." Bishop Elias Audi (above) of Beirut told Russian ambassador Alexander Zasypkin that his congregation "never asked to be protected."

Antioch patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim) opposed using the Orthodox Church for political purposes before he died in 2012. [13] His successor, Patriarch John X, takes a pro-Russian stance on many key issues, [14] making Moscow's soft penetration into Lebanon easier than it otherwise would have been.

At the same time, some Orthodox Christians in Lebanon follow the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople—with which Moscow broke off relations—rather than the Antioch Patriarch. In October 2015, forty-six prominent leaders signed a petition denouncing the Russian Orthodox Church's characterization of Moscow's military intervention in Syria as a "holy war." Russia's claim that it is "protecting Christians," they said, is a pretext for its nationalistic and political goals.[15] They believe that Moscow is using the same ploy to seize a more active role in Lebanon. Bishop Elias Audi of Beirut told Russian ambassador Alexander Zasypkin that his congregation "never asked to be protected." [16]

Audi and his small group of supporters is the only organized political force in Lebanon attempting to prevent Russian interference in the country. The pro-Russian lobby is much better organized and more active.

Russian Objectives and Methods

Russia has two primary goals in the Middle East: to draw as many countries as possible from the U.S. sphere of influence into its own and to achieve a privileged position, if not a monopoly, in the regional weapons market. Both of these goals include Lebanon.

Putin fosters large Russian businesses and increases their profits via the Kremlin's foreign allies.

According to Alexander Shumilin of the Center for the Analysis of Middle East Conflicts at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy, Putin has a two-pronged approach. As the Kremlin did during the Soviet era, Putin seeks to bind client states to Moscow by providing military assistance and economic support. The upside for the Russians is that the junior ally becomes dependent on Moscow the drawback is that it is expensive. Putin also looks to foster the interests of large Russian businesses and increase their profits via the Kremlin's foreign allies. Each junior ally must, therefore, be financially sound. Both approaches help Moscow fill spaces neglected by Washington.[17]

The interrelationship between these methods is evolving. Putin used the Soviet playbook in Syria and rescued the Assad regime. However, near the end of the operation, tycoons linked to Putin's close aides signed contracts for postwar reconstruction work in exchange for oil, natural gas, phosphate, and other natural resource rights.[18]

After that, Russian expansion into Lebanon significantly changed. Though initially based on the principle of "economics first, then politics," Moscow later rushed to link Lebanon to Russia by focusing on its relationship with Hezbollah and its attempt to sell weapons to the government. This plan meant sacrificing some of the economic benefits it might have reaped had it moved more slowly.

Off and On Military Assistance

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) were restructured in 2005-06, after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian forces. Most of their weaponry came from the United States, though France, Germany, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Syria, and Russia also supplied weapons until 2008. Moscow's contribution comprised of heavy-duty mobile bridges, trucks, cranes, bulldozers, and other vehicles valued at about $30 million.

The UAE contributed most to the small Lebanese air force with nine SA 342L Gazelle combat helicopters armed with machine guns, and France supplied the helicopters with fifty HOT long-range anti-tank missiles. Washington promised sixty-six surplus M60A3 tanks transferred from Jordan (after modifying the tanks' stabilization systems to allow them to fire while moving) and thirty-four M109 155mm turreted, self-propelled howitzers for delivery after 2009, though only 10 tanks and 12 howitzers were actually supplied.[19]

There were, however, two main problems with U.S. military assistance to Lebanon at that time: Washington's reluctance to supply heavy weapons, and internal bureaucratic procedures that slowed the implementation of the agreements. Washington also self-imposed three constraints in order to manage the balance of power:

  • It would provide the LAF with sufficient firepower to counteract Hezbollah and Sunni terrorist organizations.
  • It would not transfer weapons that could be captured by Hezbollah.
  • It would not provoke any escalations at the Lebanese-Israeli border. [20]

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri (left) meets with Putin in Moscow, September 2017. Following a failed 2016 arms deal, Moscow banned Lebanese officials from Russia and refused to engage Beirut with similar initiatives. But the Russians relented as Lebanon is central to Moscow's Middle East goals.

These restrictions were clearly justified from the U.S. and Israeli perspectives but were resented by many Lebanese journalists and politicians. In December 2008, Russia made the first attempt to exploit this dissatisfaction by offering to sell T-54/T-55 tanks for roughly $500 million during defense minister Elias Murr's visit to Moscow. As the deal went nowhere, the Kremlin offered ten MiG-29 jet fighters for free, only to be told by the Lebanese government that its army needed helicopters rather than these fighting aircraft.[21] Many experts in Russia and Arab countries claimed that U.S. and Israeli diplomats killed the deal,[22] but Moscow should have known that Lebanon would not be able to stomach a $500 million price tag.

Either way, the offer sent an important message to Lebanon: If you can afford it, we will sell you heavy weapons without conditions. In addition, Putin had already demonstrated that he did not need approval from Russia's Federal Assembly to sign international agreements. Lebanon could purchase weapons whenever it wanted.

Moscow made another attempt in early 2010 and offered six Mi-24 helicopters, thirty T-72 heavy battle tanks, thirty 130-mm artillery systems, and a significant quantity of ammunition. On February 25, 2010, Moscow and Beirut entered a formal agreement on military-technical cooperation but nothing came of it.

Russia perceived Lebanon as an extension of the Syrian war zone.

Then, in 2013, jihadists from Syria attempted to infiltrate Lebanon. In response, Saudi Arabia pledged $4 billion in assistance, mainly to purchase French military hardware. Riyadh suspended this pledge in 2016 after the Lebanese government failed to condemn attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

Russia again tried to fill the void, and in summer 2016, Lebanon's ambassador to Moscow, Shawki Bou Nassar, revealed that the two states were negotiating the purchase of a wide range of weaponry, including guns, 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, and T-72 tanks.[23] Putin expected the negotiations to succeed and reacted harshly when Beirut failed to sign the deal, temporarily banning Lebanese officials from Russia and announcing the Kremlin's refusal to engage Beirut with these kinds of initiatives again.[24] Nevertheless, negotiations resumed after Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri visited Moscow in September 2017 and continued throughout 2018.

During this period, new factors influenced Moscow's Middle East policy. First, Russia's military leaders acquired more political power during the Syrian war, and the media repeated their talking points by pushing back against the opinion that Russian troops should not respond to Israeli strikes on Hezbollah or Iranian positions in Syria.[25]

Traditionally, the Russian military stayed out of politics and refrained from announcing weapons deliveries to other countries. However, after Syria's allegedly accidental downing of the Russian IL-20 aircraft, the Ministry of Defense blamed Israel before the foreign ministry commented. The defense ministry then announced its decision to send S-300 air defense systems to Syria, "in accordance with the President's instruction to strengthen the safety of the Russian military in Syria."[26] Discussion of additional ways to "punish Israel" appeared mainly in the media associated with Russian military circles.[27]

Also, U.S. military strikes in Syria further irritated Moscow. Russia perceived Lebanon as an extension of the Syrian war zone, and its ambassador to Beirut, Alexander Zasypkin, announced on al-Manar, a Lebanese satellite television station affiliated with Hezbollah, that Moscow reserved the right to shoot down U.S. missiles.[28]

Another factor influencing Moscow's Middle East policy was its changing view of possible military action in Lebanon following President Aoun's November 2018 request that Russia extend its S-300 air defense umbrella to Lebanon. Third, Russian news media suggested that a foothold in Lebanon could boost Moscow's recovery and restoration efforts in Syria.[29]

While all this was happening, U.S. aid to Lebanon declined. The Trump administration recommended cutting military and security assistance by 80 percent from fiscal year 2016 to 2018.[30] Moscow responded by offering Beirut a $1 billion line of credit for weapons purchases[31] and even offered some assistance for free.[32] The draft agreement extended beyond the ordinary scope of arms agreements by including the following:

  • Protection of Lebanese territory by Russian air defense systems deployed in Syria.
  • Access to and use of Lebanese ports, particularly the port of Beirut, for entry and repair of Russian warships.
  • Access to and use of Lebanese airspace for passage of Russian aircraft.
  • Access to three military bases, one of which had been used by the U.S.-led counterterrorist coalition until 2017.[33]

The ultimate fate of this proposal remains unclear. Hariri declined it in December 2018, but said he would accept Russian donations to Lebanon's internal security forces.[34]

In March 2019, Aoun met Putin in Moscow when, according to Russian media, they discussed arms transfers in addition to the situation in Syria. However, the official joint statement did not mention an arms deal.[35] Russian experts and Lebanese supporters of an alliance with Moscow accused Washington of pressuring the Lebanese leadership to sabotage the agreement.[36]

In Moscow's view, Hezbollah should not be classified as a terrorist organization.

Putin may not expect his entire proposal to be accepted one or two provisions may be enough to satisfy him. Either way, Russia is reverting to the Soviet principle of prioritizing military and strategic interests over commercial concerns.

Russia and Hezbollah

From Moscow's point of view, the fact that Hezbollah has a so-called political wing means the entity as a whole should not be classified as a terrorist organization. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in early 2006:

The question of legalizing Hezbollah is not relevant. It is a legal, political Lebanese organization. It has representatives in parliament and the government. Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese Shiite community. It is not an imported product.[37]

A political poster shows (left to right) Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, Syrian leader Bashar Assad, and Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin and Hezbollah cooperated substantially in Syria. As many as 2,000 Hezbollah fighters may have been killed in Syria.

Hezbollah members of parliament visited Moscow for the first time in 2011. The Russian media assumed they were probing the depth of Putin's support for Assad.[38] The Kremlin and Hezbollah cooperated substantially in Syria throughout the Russian intervention there.

Since then, Moscow has repeatedly insisted that Hezbollah fighters withdraw to Lebanon, for several reasons. First, Russia and Iran disagree about the future of Assad's army. Tehran wants to maintain a Shiite military bloc in Syria led by Hezbollah that would be subordinate to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Moscow would rather restore the regular Syrian army and leave no place for Hezbollah. Second, some Sunni militias have refused to make agreements with the Assad regime, despite Russian efforts, because local civilians are afraid of Hezbollah. Third, Turkey and Israel have demanded that Hezbollah withdraw. Moscow cannot ignore these demands, especially since they align with its own preferences. According to some reports, the Russian army has even tried to stop a critical source of income for Hezbollah: drug trafficking along the Lebanese-Syrian border.[39]

Hezbollah's current posture toward Russia is ambiguous. On the one hand, it is incensed by its envisaged eviction from Syria. "The world is heading to a new achievement that Russia will cooperate with them to get Iran and Hezbollah out of Syria," Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah complained in June 2018.[40] On the other hand, Hezbollah suffered such heavy losses that it had no choice but to reduce its presence. Despite what the party has won, it lost popularity both inside Lebanon and among other Arabs. According to retired Lebanese Brig. Gen. Hisham Jaber, some 1,500–2,000 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria, and hundreds have been left with disabilities.[41]

Russian efforts in Lebanon have failed precisely because Lebanon is politically competitive.

Throughout 2018, many Russian experts blamed Beirut's indecisiveness over an arms deal on U.S. pressure and the Lebanese government's internal problems. Putin may have expected that the new government formed in January 2019, when a Hezbollah-led bloc emerged with a significant majority, would pursue a more pro-Russian policy. But Hezbollah's political success alarmed the other factions with Lebanese leaders routinely criticizing each other for aligning themselves with Hezbollah and Tehran. In February 2019, the former coordinator of the March 14 General-Secretariat, ex-member of parliament Fares Soaid called for forming an "opposition front" against Prime Minister Hariri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Hezbollah. Walid Jumblatt criticized Hariri as well.[42] Bassil, too, stated,

Hizbollah must admit that had it not been for the Free Patriotic Movement, it would not have managed to persevere in the face of Israel, terrorism or the isolation attempts.[43]

Many are angry at Moscow as well. Even Jumblatt, a Kremlin ally during the Lebanese civil war, said Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Zarif were trying to divide the Middle East as Sykes and Picot did during World War I.[44] Furthermore, in February 2019, Nasrallah began lobbying for the purchase of an air defense system from Iran instead of Russia. In this political context, Russia will have a hard time maintaining an effective lobby unless it uses economic incentives and sacrifices Russian business interests for political gain.

Putin's Options

Putin follows the age-old adage of no permanent enemies and no permanent friends.

Russia's primary source of political capital in the Middle East are actions taken by U.S. administrations that regional politicians interpret as weakness. In order to leverage it, however, Putin's image as a strong and resolute leader must be consistent. He cannot abandon his goal of drawing Lebanon into his sphere of influence after expending so much effort. All of Moscow's present clients are dictatorships, and Russian efforts in Lebanon have failed precisely because it is politically competitive.

But, Putin will press forward, and he has several options:

  • To re-bind Lebanon to Syria by nurturing a powerful pro-Syrian coalition in Beirut. Since the formation of the newest government, Lebanon is likely to reorganize its political blocs, and Moscow may attempt to benefit from that adjustment.
  • To establish Moscow as the principal mediator of Lebanese-Syrian relations while guaranteeing Lebanese sovereignty. By actively promoting the repatriation of Syrian refugees from Lebanon, Russia is improving its relations with the Lebanese military, which may lead to an opportunity to police the Lebanese-Syrian border. If it can pull off the latter, Moscow might be able to expand its mission if violence erupts in the border region.
  • If Russian oil and natural gas companies can obtain additional extraction rights in Lebanon, Moscow might be able to justify using private military contractors to protect them. This practice began in Ukraine in 2014, from where it spread to other parts of the world. In early 2018, for instance, over a hundred operatives of the Russian private military group Wagner were killed in combat operations near the Syrian town of Deir az-Zour. The group has been reportedly active in Libya, Sudan, and a number of Central African countries, where its personnel carry out security tasks for Gazprom, major Russian oil corporations, and companies engaged in gold and diamond exploration.[45] Such military contractors are not regulated by Russian law—meaning the Kremlin does not take responsibility for them—and they could potentially intervene in new conflicts.
  • Moscow's best bet is an à la carte offer of protection under Russia's air defense umbrella without strings attaching it to military aid. The strategy would be based on the developments in the Iran-Israel conflict. If Israel intensifies its attacks on Iranian and Hezbollah targets near its northern border, the Russian military lobby will become increasingly anti-Israel. Even if Putin does not want to aggravate relations with Israel, his desire or perceived need to appear strong would pressure him to proceed anyway.

Most Russian experts believe Hezbollah and Israel are stalemated, that neither side will seriously attack the other. But they are wrong. A heavily armed paramilitary organization with fresh combat skills, recent experience, and upgraded weaponry will not be idle for long if it is financially desperate. Hezbollah has only two options if Russia blocks it in Syria: discredit itself by inciting civil war in Lebanon or rally Arab support to its side by attacking Israel with Russian air support.


While Putin follows the age-old adage of no permanent enemies and no permanent friends, he exhibits no such flexibility toward the United States. He has nurtured an atmosphere of anti-American hysteria in Russia since before he even took office and has locked himself into a permanent anti-U.S. course to preserve his legitimacy. If Washington takes action against Iran, Putin will support Tehran both vis-à-vis the United States and in the Iranian-Hezbollah-Israeli conflagration that will likely erupt in such circumstances. This will make Lebanon a major battleground. It is therefore critical for Washington to ensure that any U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria would prohibit an expansion of Russia's defense system to Lebanon. Whether or not Washington and Moscow can agree, a comprehensive U.S. policy toward Lebanon and Syria would be best. The U.S. administration should also focus on Christian communities in Lebanon to prevent them from irreversibly falling under the sway of Moscow, Hezbollah, and its Iranian patron.

Grigory Melamedov holds a doctorate from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and is a Moscow-based, independent researcher.

[1] The Times of Israel (Jerusalem), May 10, 2018.

[2] See, for example, Russkiye Vesti (Moscow), Nov. 22, 2018.

[4] See, for example, Po Priglasheniyu IPPO Associaciya Pravoslavnyh Semey Beiruta Posetila Moskvu, The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society website, June 23, 2014.

[5] "Robert K. Sursock, Executive Profile," Bloomberg L.P., New York.

[6] Mohanad Hage Ali, "Our Comrades in Beirut," Diwan, Middle East Insights from Carnegie, Carnegie Middle East Center, Beirut, Apr. 25, 2018 "Russia-Saudi Arabia Relations: Facts & Details," Sputnik News Agency (Moscow), Oct. 5, 2017 Sanaa Nehme, "Amal Abou Zeid," My Lebanon, Moscow, Nov.15, 2017 Reda Sawaya, "Ibr al-Hudud Bayna as-Siyasa wa-l-Iqtisad," al-Akhbar (Beirut), Apr. 22, 2015.

[7] "Chleny IPPO Prinyali Uchastiye Vo Vstreche S Livancami," The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, Feb. 9, 2015.

[8] "Vsemirnaya Organizaciya Vypushnikov Vysshyh Uchebnyh Zavedeniy," Association of Alumni of Soviet Universities in Lebanon.

[9] Veniamin Popov, "Russkaya Koloniya V Livane," Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Apr. 25, 2013.

[11] Mohanad Hage Ali, "Le Liban, Nouveau Banc d'Essai des Ambitions Régionales Russes," L'Orient Le Jour (Beirut), Feb. 23, 2019.

[12] Ali, "Our Comrades in Beirut" Rosanna Sands, "Hajj Lubnani Nahwa Musku?" al-Bina (Beirut), Aug. 21, 2018.

[17] Alexander Shumilin, "Rossiyskaya Diplomatiya na Blizhnem Vostoke: Vozvrat k Geopolitike," Institut Français des Relations Internationales, Russie.Nei.Visions, May 2016, p. 8.

[18] See, for example, RBC News (Moscow), July 6, 2018.

[19] "US Military Assistance to Lebanon: Equipping LAF Not Transforming It," Defense Magazine (Beirut), Oct. 2012 The Times of Israel, Feb. 8, 2015.

[20] Aram Nerguizian, "The Lebanese Armed Forces: Challenges and Opportunities in Post-Syria Lebanon," Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2009.

[21] See, for example, The Times (London), Dec. 18, 2008 Lenta.ru (Moscow), Mar. 1, 2010.

[22] Nour Samaha, "Is Lebanon Embracing a Larger Russian Role in Its Country?" The Century Foundation, New York, Aug. 7, 2018 Tehran Times, Apr. 10, 2011.

[24] Ad-Diyar (Beirut), Dec. 12, 2017.

[25] See, for example, Riafan.ru (St. Petersburg), Federal News Agency, Sept. 22, 2017.

[27] See, for example, Pravda (Moscow), Sept. 18, 2018.

[29] See, for example, Gaseta.ru (Moscow), Apr. 24, 2017.

[30] Hardin Lang and Alia Awadallah, "Playing the Long Game: U.S. Counterterrorism Assistance for Lebanon," Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C., Aug. 30, 2017.

[31] The Arab Weekly (London), Mar. 18, 2018.

[33] Alexander Kuznetsov, "O Vozmozhnom Voyennom Sotrudnichestve Mezhdu Rossiyey I Livanon," The Institute of the Middle East, Moscow, Apr. 13, 2018.

[34] See, for example, al-Akhbar, Nov. 27, 2018.

[35] Joint statement between Michel Aoun, Lebanese president, and Vladimir Putin, Russian president, Presidential Press Office, Kremlin, Moscow, Mar. 26, 2019.

[36] See, for example, Alexander Kuznetsov, "Situatsiya v Livane," The Institute of the Middle East, Moscow, Apr. 7, 2019.

[37] Sergey Lavrov, Russian minister of Foreign Affairs, interview, "'Hezbollah' Ne Importny Product," Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Moscow, Sept. 6, 2006.

[38] Anna Borshchevskaya, "Russia in the Middle East: Motives, Consequences, Prospects," Policy Focus 142, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2016, p. 28.

[39] See, for example, Novaya Gazeta (Moscow), July 22, 2018.

[40] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, speech, reprinted in Alahed News (Beirut), June 8, 2018.

[41] See, for example, Asharq al-Awsat (London), Jan. 12, 2019.

[44] Muhannad al-Haj Ali, "Az-Zuhaf ar-Rusi ila Lubnan," al-Modon (Beirut), Jan. 28, 2019.

[45] See for example, The Moscow Times, Nov. 12, 2014 Grzegorz Kuczyński, "Putin's Invisible Army," The Warsaw Institute Foundation, Mar. 30, 2018 Arti Gercek news agency (Köln, Ger.), July 11, 2018 Novaya Gazeta, Jan. 23, 2019.

Related Topics: Lebanon, Russia/Soviet Union | Grigory Melamedov | Winter 2020 MEQ receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing list This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.

8 historical events that happened in June

Francisco Pizarro died as he had lived, sword in hand. Pizarro, who had defied the odds to bring down the Incas and conquer modern-day Peru for the Spanish, was almost 70 years old. As governor of New Castile (as Peru was then named), he had spent years locked in a bitter feud with a rival conquistador, Diego de Almagro. In 1538 Pizarro had had Almagro executed. But now the latter’s son – also Diego – wanted revenge.

Pizarro was dining in his palace in Lima when Almagro burst in with about 20 armed supporters. Most of the old man’s guests fled, but Pizarro stood his ground, reaching for his sword from where it hung on the wall. According to one account, he struck down two would-be assassins and ran a third through. While he struggled to draw out his sword, however, Almagro’s men stabbed him in the throat. Lying on the palace floor, Pizarro shouted: “Jesus!” The last thing he ever did was to draw a cross on the ground with his own blood and kiss it. The most ruthless conquistador of the age was dead.

Pizarro’s body was buried in Lima Cathedral, but it was not until 1977 that building workers found a lead box, bearing the inscription: “Here is the head of Don Francisco Pizarro Demarkes, Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered Peru and presented it to the crown of Castile.” Forensic scientists reported that the skull was broken by numerous violent blows – perhaps a fitting end for a man steeped in violence.

23 June 1940: Hitler crows over Paris

It was about 5.30 in the morning when Adolf Hitler’s plane landed at the edge of Paris. Three large Mercedes cars were waiting to take the conqueror into town, and the Nazi dictator knew exactly where he wanted to go first – the opera. As he told his minister, Albert Speer, Charles Garnier’s neo-baroque opera house was his favourite building in Paris. And now that the French capital had fallen to Germany’s all-conquering army, Hitler had the chance to live out a dream.

Hitler’s tour of Paris on 23 June 1940 – the only time he visited the city – was one of the greatest days of his life. France lay prostrate at his feet, the shame of 1918 finally avenged. As he toured the city, posing for pictures by the Eiffel Tower, he discussed plans for a victory parade. Yet he concluded that it was a bad idea: “I am not in the mood for a victory parade. We aren’t at the end yet.”

To Speer, the Nazis’ chief architect, Hitler waxed lyrical about the beauties of the French capital. But he was determined that Germany could do better. “Berlin,” he said later, “must be more beautiful. When we are finished in Berlin, Paris will be only a shadow.”

Hitler’s visit was astonishingly brief, and by nine in the morning he was already heading back to Germany. “It was the dream of my life to be permitted to see Paris,” he told Speer as they drove back to the airfield. “I cannot say how happy I am to have that dream fulfilled today.” Speer himself was struck by his master’s mood. “For a moment,” he wrote later, “I felt something like pity for him: three hours in Paris, the one and only time he was to see it, made him happy when he stood at the height of his triumphs.”

26 June AD 363: A Persian spear fells Rome’s last pagan emperor

16 June 1883: 183 children crushed to death in concert tragedy

The poster for Sunderland’s Victoria Hall seemed wonderfully enticing. “On Saturday Afternoon at 3 o’clock,” it said, “the Fays from the Tynemouth Aquarium Will Give a Grand Day Performance for Children – The Greatest Treat for Children Ever Given.” There would, it added, be prizes, “a handsome Present, Books, Toys, &c”. When Mr and Mrs Fay took the stage on 16 June 1883, an estimated 2,000 children were packed into the concert hall.

What followed was a tragedy of heartbreaking proportions. At the end of the show, an announcer declared that children with specially numbered tickets would get a prize on the way out. Meanwhile, performers began handing out treats to children in the front row. Many of the 1,100 children in the gallery rushed towards the stairs, worried they were going to miss out.

At the bottom, however, they found a narrow door, bolted to allow only one child through at a time. As more children stampeded down the stairs, a crush began to develop. Parents rushed to help, but could not get near the door.

Children started falling, bodies piling up near the door. By now it was obvious that a terrible disaster was under way. In all, 183 children died that day, some as young as three. In the aftermath, legislation provided for better emergency exits, with doors opening outwards, not inwards. Queen Victoria sent a heartfelt letter of condolence quoting the words of Jesus: “Suffer little children to come unto me… for such is the Kingdom of God.”

18 June 1178: Monks witness an extraordinary lunar event

11 June 323 BC: Alexander the Great dies after drinking binge

Alexander of Macedon, master of the world from the shores of the Adriatic to the mountains of Afghanistan, spent the early summer of 323 BC in Babylon. Only a year before, his troops had persuaded him to turn back from a planned invasion of India. But already he was planning new conquests, hoping to strike at the heart of Arabia. On top of that, the 32-year-old king was pressing forward with his plans to integrate Persians and Macedonians, even urging his officers to take Persian wives. And then, some time around the beginning of June, disaster struck.

Accounts of Alexander’s death differ widely. The most popular, told by the historian Plutarch, holds that he was taken ill after a drinking session with his friend Medius of Larissa. In the next few days, Alexander developed a fever. Although he managed to put in an appearance before his worried troops, his condition worsened until he could no longer speak. At last, some time in the night between 10 and 11 June, he died.

His death had a shattering impact. Within weeks the Macedonian empire was already falling apart, as his officers began to carve out their own rival dominions. Even Alexander’s sarcophagus, hijacked and taken to Alexandria, became a weapon in the civil war. “I foresee great contests,” he is supposed to have said, “at my funeral games.” He was right.

4 June 1989: Hundreds die in Tiananmen Square

Other notable June anniversaries

29 June 1613

When a cannon misfires during a performance of Henry VIII, accidentally igniting the theatre’s thatched roof, the Globe Theatre in Southwark burns to the ground.

3 June 1937

In a chateau near Tours, the Duke of Windsor – formerly Edward VIII – marries Wallis Simpson. His brother, George VI, forbids his other brothers from attending the nuptials.

7 June 1494

Spain and Portugal agree a treaty to divide the New World between them, carving up the newly discovered Americas along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands.

9 June 1934

The world’s most famous duck, Donald, makes his first appearance in the short Walt Disney cartoon The Wise Little Hen, based on the fairy tale of The Little Red Hen.

27 June 1358

Following the Treaty of Zadar, the Republic of Dubrovnik throws off Venetian rule and comes under the protection of Louis I of Hungary.

25 June 1978

In San Francisco, the artist Gilbert Baker designs a hippie-influenced rainbow flag with eight stripes, to be flown during the city’s Gay Freedom Day Parade.

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine

So it’s June 7th, the elections day! I went to two areas in the morning, Tarik Al-Jadida and Karantina.

Tarik Al-Jadida was a living hell, people were everywhere around the polling stations, and it took the lady with me around 1 hour and 30 minutes to cast her ballot. On the other hand, it took me 5 minutes to get in and out at the Karantina polling station, and I got back with these photos (You can click to enlarge)

Hizbullah supporter at Ras El-Nabeh

Khaled Bin Al-Walid polling station at Kaskas

Khaled Bin Al-Walid polling station at Kaskas

The Lebanese army on the way from Kaskas to Tarik Al-Jadida

People gathering outside one of the Future Movement stations in Tarik Al-Jadida

One of the Future Movement ladies giving me a bottle of water while saying

These two boys thought I’m a journalist (due to my big size cam!) they told me they will be waiting for their image to appear on TV tonight! I said OK!

Yet another Future Movement station

This is a polling station at Karantina, no traffic jam there.

On the way back, Charles Helou road was almost empty

I wish I was able to take more photos but I was driving at the same time! Not to mention that it is somehow difficult to take photos while army, bodyguards, and internal security forces are all around you!

Anyway, in addition to these photos, I also filmed the whole voting process using my cell phone!! (Illegal??) And I will try to upload it as soon as I can.

Correcting Past Errors By Present Errors?

Ibram X. Kendi argues that we should bully one race until it comes to understand what it is like to be bullied. He writes, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” In Kendi, we see the clear motive of Critical Race Theory and anti-racism activism. This is a distortion of a biblical principle which now reads, “Do unto others as they have done unto you.”

CRT and its practices are dis-unifying and disrespectful of Martin Luther King’s hard-fought legacy. Character over color was the mantra. Today, melanin over merit is the practice. One has to be of the right skin color to advance, while all others are increasingly instructed not to apply.


(Arabic, Jabal Lubnan), a mountain range in Lebanon, extending 170 km along the eastern Mediterranean coast and bounded by the Biqa Valley in the east. The highest peak is Mount Qurnet el-Sauda (3,083 m). The range is composed primarily of limestones and sandstones, and, in the north, also of basalts. The climate is Mediterranean. The eastern slope is drier than the western slope, which receives more than 1,000 mm of precipitation per year. Maquis and phrygana (xerophytic shrub and semishrub vegetation) predominate, and in some places there are groves of oak, Aleppo pine, maple, cypress, and cedars of Lebanon. The Jeitta karst cave is on the western slope.

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A Woman's Place, in Lebanon

Nadya Khalife

If you think Lebanon is a complicated place, the state of Lebanese women's political participation should be no surprise. Lebanese women won the right to vote and to participate in national elections in 1952, 19 years before women in Switzerland. Yet, today, political participation by Lebanese women remains dismal at the national level.

In the June parliamentary elections, only 12 women ran for office and only 4 were elected out of 128 seats. Since suffrage, in fact, only 17 women have served in Lebanon's Parliament.

The reasons are complicated but male domination of the country's politics is one major reason. Another is that political parties are focused on sectarian interests, marginalizing women's voices.

Male Dominated, Family Affiliated Political Culture

Since Lebanon's independence from France in 1943, our political structure has been dominated by men. Our patriarchal political culture dominates our parliament, ministries, and municipalities.

This has continued through a system of what amounts to hereditary political positions, especially at the national level. The same family names that were powerful in the 50's and 60's still echo today.

All four women who won seats in June are affiliated with elite families and entered politics with the help of their fathers, brothers, or husbands, often due to the premature death of a male relative. While some had no prior political career, their affiliations have helped them gain exposure, and taught them skills to support them in their political careers -- a privilege that not many Lebanese women have.

Political Parties and Sectarian Interests Marginalize Women

A rather interesting aspect of Lebanese politics is the plethora of political parties vying for power and control. There are 18 political parties, though seven currently dominate.

Men control their leadership, sidelining women's voices. In fact, women's wings of political parties have effectively become non-governmental organizations, with little clout in the party structures.

To make matters more complicated, Lebanon officially recognizes 18 religious confessions of Muslim and Christian denominations. The political structure sets quotas for each sect based on a 1932 census.

The major political parties thus include Hezbollah and Amal( Shi'a) Future Movement, led by the son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik el Hariri (Sunni) Phalange Party and the Lebanese Forces( Maronite Christians) Progressive Socialist Party (Druze) and the Free Patriotic Movement which in theory has members from all confessions, but remains predominantly Christian.

Today, especially after the civil war from 1975 to 1990, political parties compete to preserve narrow sectarian interests, not those of a unified Lebanon. In such arigid system, women are less likely to be nominated or elected.

Beginning From the Grassroots

These circumstances have discouraged women from seeking political office. But, these obstacles will always remain if we women do not try to overcome them.

I believe we should encourage women to run for local and municipal elections. At this level, women can learn new skills and become better known in their communities. They can establish a political record to use as a platform for national elections.

At the same time, since the political parties clearly aren't going away, women should apply pressure for equality within their parties and press to become part of the decision-making process.

Women's organizations should also work to amplify women's voices in the political process. They should train women in decision-making, public speaking and campaign management and rally support around women running for office, either as independents or representing parties.

Finally, women's organizations and political parties must ensure that women have access to money to run their campaigns. A ceiling on campaign spending would help women to be able to compete.

The Struggle that Lies Ahead

For women, like me, who believe in fairness and equality, women's exclusion from the political process is a sign for civil society to step up. The parliamentary elections are over, but municipal elections are on the horizon in 2010. We must mobilize women to become politically active, to participate in the daily decisions that affect our lives.

We cannot wait for our political system to be transformed. In fact, I believe our voices are greatly needed and the changes we aim to make on the ground will become the clarion call to revolutionize our political system.

Lebanese women like other women across the globe -- in the United States and elsewhere -- battle a male-dominated culture in politics. We can be well-educated, financially independent and successful entrepreneurs, but when it comes to political affairs -- to drafting laws and policies and to making decisions about the welfare of the state and its citizens -- this becomes a man's world. It has taken decades for women in the developed world to transcend these barriers, and I don't expect the change will come overnight in Lebanon, but we must start from somewhere, and we should start now.

Recommended Resources

CFR’s Global Conflict Tracker follows Lebanon’s history of political strife.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Brian Katz argues that Hezbollah poses a bigger threat to Israel than ever before in this Foreign Affairs analysis.

Monahad Hage Ali examines Hezbollah’s relationship with Syria in this 2019 analysis for the Carnegie Middle East Center.

The Wilson Center discusses Hezbollah’s evolution from an underground militia to a political powerhouse.

Journalist Michal Kranz argues in Foreign Policy that Hezbollah’s base of support is spreading beyond its Shiite roots.

Watch the video: Inside Story - Lebanese elections - 08 June 09 (May 2022).