Monday, June 08, 2009

Hizbollah Loses--Is Ahmadinejad Next? (Updated)

Hizbollah did not win in Lebanon after all:
Lebanon's pro-Western coalition declared victory early Monday, as local television stations reported the faction had successfully fended off a serious challenge by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its allies to grab the majority in parliament.

Official results for Sunday's election were not expected until later Monday, but the winners were already celebrating by shooting in the air, setting off fireworks and driving around in honking motorcades.
...Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, a leading private Christian TV station, projected the pro-Western coalition to win 68 seats in the next parliament, with 57 for Hezbollah and its allies and three for independents.

That would almost replicate the deadlock that existed in the outgoing parliament, in which the pro-Western bloc had 70 seats and an alliance of Hezbollah and other Shiite and Christian factions had 58.
Already, some in the media seem to be claiming that this is a victory for Obama as well:
The election was an early test of President Barack Obama's efforts to forge Middle East peace. A win by Hezbollah would have boosted the influence of its backers Iran and Syria and risked pushing one of the region's most volatile nations into international isolation and possibly into more conflict with Israel.
There is another reason why Hizbollah may have lost. Leading up to the election, Michael Totten wrote about some explosive news that was revealed in an article in Der Spiegel:

The German magazine Der Spiegel dropped one heck of a political bomb on Lebanon a few days ago when it reported that United Nations investigators are now fingering Hezbollah, rather than Syria, for the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination with a car bomb in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005.

The story is based on information from anonymous sources “close to the tribunal” and documents of unknown authenticity. We don’t know yet if the lead is accurate. Intriguingly, though, the UN’s spokesperson for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon neither confirms nor denies Der Spiegel's report. If a potentially explosive accusation like this one were false, I’d expect the UN to deny it emphatically.

It doesn't seem that the media is playing up this revelation, perhaps because it is not confirmed yet. As it is, as Totten points out, politicians did not play it up either since while on the one hand it would affect public perception of Hizbollah and could affect the outcome, the news could also create tensions that could result in outbreaks of violence.

If this is what happens to the puppet, what might happen to the one pulling their strings--is this an indication of what might happen in the Iranian elections?

According to the LA Times:
Powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran's elite have joined forces to wage an unprecedented behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that he is driving the country to the brink of collapse with populist economic policies and a confrontational stance toward the West.

The prominent figures have put their considerable efforts behind the candidacy of reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who they believe has the best chance of defeating the hard-line Ahmadinejad in the presidential election Friday and charting a new course for the country.
And those who oppose Ahmadinejad are going all out to stop him:
They have used the levers of government to foil attempts by Ahmadinejad to secure funds for populist giveaways and to permit freewheeling campaigning that has benefited Mousavi. State-controlled television agreed to an unheard-of series of live debates, and the powerful Council of Guardians, which thwarted the reformist wave of the late 1990s, rejected a ballot box maneuver by the president that some saw as a prelude to attempted fraud.
Some within Iran itself see Iran as a Middle East version of North Korea--a comparison they do not find flattering:
"We can't run Iran like North Korea," said Saeed Laylaz, a newspaper editor and analyst with contacts among the political elite. "A group of militarists cannot stuff this civilization into a can and put it away. Iran cannot make up for its lack of economic might with nuclear technology, missiles and proxy threats in Lebanon and Palestine and elsewhere."

Ahmadinejad's backers still claim that internal polls indicate that he will easily be re-elected, but that is not stopping his opponents.

If the Lebanese people rejected Hizbollah at the polls, how might the Iranian people react towards their leaders who pull Hizbollah's strings?

UPDATE: Michael Ledeen writes:
The defeat of Hezbollah has regional significance. It will undoubtedly affect the Iranian "elections," since one of Ahmadinejad's major claims has been that his tough line has produced success after success. The Lebanese have given him a spanking, and this will not be lost on the Iranians.
Let's hope.

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