June 8, 2009 The Meaning of the Lebanese Elections

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

June 8, 2009 The Meaning of the Lebanese Elections

The most important news today was the surprise defeat of Hezbollah in Lebanese elections. There was an expectation Hezbollah might gain control of the Lebanese government after the election. It would seem there are number of factors that may explain Hezbollahs defeat. First, the Saudis poured a great deal of money into the election. Second, Nasrallah did not try to distance himself from Ahmadinejad and Iran. Instead, Nasrallah touted his close ties to the Iranian President. Third, there can be no doubt the war that Nasrallah began two and half years ago, was not a popular war in Lebanon and certainly hurt Hezbollah and his allies. Finally, one should not ignore the Obama factor. Obama's speech was well received in the Arab world, well enough that it may have impacted just enough voters to shy away from the extremists and vote for a continuation of a western leaning anti-Syrian state.

What is the larger meaning of the vote? It does not mean the rise of the Shite in Lebanon has ended, rather, it means the rise has clearly been slowed. The big question is whether this election will have any affect on the elections in Iran on Friday. Will the momentum of the moderates gain additional speed? Will the failure of Ahmadinejad's proxy reflect poorly on him? If it does and he loses, we will be at potential crossroad in the Middle East. For the first time in a number of years the momentum may indeed be with the moderates. The extremists, be they the Taliban in Pakistan or Hezbollah in Lebanon may have overreached. Without becoming overly Pollyanna, there might be a moment when a true change could take place. Of course, at the moment, Netanyahu is the "odd man out".

Today Netanyahu had a twenty-minute phone conversation with President Obama. The White House read of the conversation stated: "The President reiterated the principal elements of his Cairo speech, including his commitment to Israel’s security. He indicated that he looked forward to hearing the Prime Minister’s upcoming speech outlining his views on peace and security. See the picture below that was taken while the President was on the phone with the Prime Minister. What Netanyahu will choose to actually say in the speech is the million dollar question. Keeping Obama and the American government happy and keeping his coalition together will be quite difficult.

There is non-sensical talk coming from the Israeli right on the ways Israel can try to undermine the U. S. and fight Obama. I certainly hope the government understands how misguided that could be. By the way, Israel currently does not have an Ambassador in Washington. The outgoing ambassador, Sali Meridor, refused to stay at his post and the incoming Ambassador, Michael Oren’s, appointment has been delayed due to buerecratic problems on the U. S. side.

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