Loud and Unclear

Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. JOSEPH EID/AFP/GettyImages

Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. JOSEPH EID/AFP/GettyImages

The contending Lebanese factions have taken their fight from the streets of Beirut and Tripoli to those of Damascus and Homs. Yet, battling it out elsewhere does not mean that Lebanon is sailing toward stability or prosperity. Lebanon's leaders continue to enjoy their fiery statements, often attacking each other and taking opposing sides on all issues, both domestic and regional. This infighting does little to alleviate Lebanon’s many political impasses, such as forming a new cabinet after the dissolution of the last one in late March.

Of Lebanon's politicians, Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah stands out for his firebrand orations, which have recently increased in both frequency and intensity. Defying whatever national sentiments the Lebanese might have, Nasrallah has in the past sworn allegiance to Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Nasrallah has openly taken sides with Syria's embattled dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, and has stuck with his unrelenting threats against Israel.

Nasrallah's statements count in a country where he has become the most influential man, and where his party, Hezbollah have become the de facto ruling party—even if unofficially. However, despite his amplified cries, Nasrallah's political chest-thumping rings as hollow as ever. In private, the Hezbollah leader offers conflicting rhetoric on the crisis in Syria.

In a special report published by Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai, Nasrallah was quoted as saying that "Lebanon is crossing into a new phase with its [to be explored] oil and gas," and that with its estimated fossil fuel fortune, the country "is heading toward prosperity, the improvement of living conditions of its citizens and the upgrading of its infrastructure so that it stands on par with modern nations."

Nasrallah then contrasts this rosy picture of Lebanon with his prediction of open-ended strife in Syria. The report quotes Nasrallah as saying that there will be "no good outcome" for the conflict in Syria, an idea that echoes the view of Washington and other world capitals and their reasons for staying out of the crisis. The crucial difference is that Nasrallah is actively participating in the conflict by deploying fighters from his formidable militia to Homs suburbs in a bid to tilt the balance in favor of Assad. Yet despite Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, the report suggests that Nasrallah believes that what happens in Syria should stay in Syria.

Two revelations in the report show that Nasrallah's understanding of the conflict in Syria is skewed on many counts. He believes that the West is still focused on the Middle East's oil resources, and that the West sponsors conflict in order to create jobs for its "arms factories" and post-war reconstruction companies, both suffering from the recession.

In fact it is in the interest of the West, and China and Japan, to keep Syria's oil flowing in order to keep the world market price low. This requires stability, not revolutions. However, it is in the interest of Russia and Iran—both oil-producing giants—to take other oil-producing countries, even puny ones like Syria, offline, so that prices can go up, thus increasing their profits.

This scenario does not match the current alignment of Russia and Iran with Assad, who promises both dictatorship and stability, and the West that is pushing for more democracy even at the expense of stability. This means that Nasrallah’s theory on Syria's oil production, a meager 385,000 barrels per day in 2010, does not compute with the realities of the Syrian crisis.

As for arms production, Russia has long been one of the top nations exporting arms to Syria. Russia's contracts with Assad dwarf whatever arms the rebels may receive from the West. Nasrallah appears to be unaware that arming civil wars is not rewarding for the West's military industry, which needs big contracts to turn profits. Such business is possible only with stable governments.

Nasrallah's amateurish views of world politics and economics explain a lot about why, even though Lebanon is not going to war, it is not moving forward either.


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