The Syrian crisis is an open-ended one. It is no coincidence that the domestic dispute in Lebanon over an election law, and the trading of accusations over a desire to delay the 9 June polls, are linked to growing division over what is taking place in Syria.
It is not strange that the struggle over these two domestic issues and the Syrian crisis reached their apex in parallel, and simultaneously. It would be naive to not see the relationship between the insistence by President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati to call for elections, even if based on a disputed electoral law that is nevertheless in force, and the counter-attack by the allies of Syria and Iran, along with the call by the Lebanese foreign minister, Adnan Mansour, to lift the decision to suspend Syria's membership in the Arab League. There was also the campaign against him by the 14 March coalition, which believes that the Syrian regime is going to fall, while Mansour was deliberately representing the aspirations of Hezbollah and its allies to re-legitimize the regime in Damascus under the umbrella of the supposed international efforts to arrive at a political solution in Syria.
The link between the two issues sums up the degree to which Syria's allies in Lebanon need political cover from the central government in order to continue a policy of supporting the regime from Lebanon. In this sense, the struggle over the election law and over holding or not holding the elections on time symbolizes the dispute over whether Lebanon should be an arena for helping prolong the life of the regime in Damascus, or whether it should adhere to a boycott of this regime. The government that will be produced by the parliamentary elections will define Lebanon's official political stance on the conflict in Syria. Meanwhile, the current ruling group's strongest and more effective member, Hezbollah, believes that it is waging a momentous battle in defending the regime of Bashar Assad, even if this is taking place by using weapons and sending fighters to Damascus or to Qusair and Homs, to the villages and towns adjacent to the party's area of influence in the northern Bekaa Valley. If Hezbollah can guarantee that the election law will secure it a parliamentary majority, it will support the law that achieves this end. If it cannot guarantee this, it prefers a long delay of the polls. As one of its ministers says, this will secure the survival of this government, the like of which Hezbollah will be unable to form in the future. In addition, it provides the best possible political cover for the party's political, military and security support for the Damascus regime. If another group comes to power, with another government, it will be difficult to approve the sending of fuel, goods and money to Syria; it will be difficult to ignore western sanctions on the regime's leaders and allow regime officials to move around in Lebanon and travel from it to various capitals that support the regime, such as Tehran and Moscow.
Lebanon's parliamentary elections are no longer a purely domestic matter, despite the comments of leading countries' ambassadors in Beirut. Perhaps these individuals have grasped the meaning of not holding the elections on time; they have returned to calling for their taking place, after becoming certain that a delay would extend a situation that contravenes the stances of their governments on the Syrian crisis. If this were not the case, Gulf Cooperation Council countries would not have issued a warning about the need for Lebanon to adhere to its policy of disassociation, after the Syrian regime benefited from a government that was supporting it.
The link between the Lebanese elections and the Syrian crisis reveals the strategic dimension of the identity of Lebanon's future government in the calculations of the powers warring over Syria. What is taking place in Lebanon, and what regional powers are preparing for Lebanon, might be a model for what is being prepared for Syria, from Lebanese territory.
In viewing the regional arena, we see the same strategy being followed by a number of leading states. Iran has footholds that give it a key say in decisions via governments that lack central decision-making, and whose sectarian composition is restricted to certain groups, as in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In parallel, there is a military force that matches that of the state, and imposes its narrow agenda on it, while the state's military and security organizations have various loyalties. This weakens the state and makes it easy for those with influence, inside and outside the state, to control events and decisions, whether in their name, or in the name of the de facto situation.
Iran's direct presence on the ground in Syria, the presence of Hezbollah fighters in many regions, and the training of a popular army loyal to the regime, under Tehran's supervision, will only lead to the establishment of a similar situation, in light of the impending collapse of the central state in Syria.
If the regime in Syria holds on, the parallel army that has been established in Syria will have its say in any political settlement, when the time comes. If the regime falls and the parallel army remains intact, it will undermine the central state that arises. The new state will be unable to exert its authority over all of Syria, which will then be divided up into spheres of influence.
In Lebanon, work is underway to guarantee that the authorities remain intact, with or without elections, and in Syria (and in Iraq) there are attempts to prevent a change in government. If this is not possible, the alternative is to prevent any new regime from taking the reins of power if the war in Syria continues, in order to benefit from the chaos that will result from the absence of any central authority.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.