The WikiLebanon Files (Part IV): The Hezbollah-Amal Electoral Deal that Preceded the Israeli Withdrawal

The Khiam Detention Center, bombed in 2006, was one of the most infamous landmarks associated with the Israeli occupation

The Khiam Detention Center, bombed in 2006, was one of the most infamous landmarks associated with the Israeli occupation

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from the South Lebanon security zone and the subsequent collapse of the South Lebanon Army. People often focus on the military side of the end of the occupation, and forget the political implications that followed, notably Hezbollah’s accelerated rise to power after basking in the glory of ending the occupation in the South. In this post, I’m only going to quote one cable, about one of the direct political consequences of the Israeli withdrawal: How Amal gave up two MPs to the stronger Hezbollah (Via a Syrian-mediated deal) in order to avoid what would probably be a lost electoral battle, and most importantly, how both party feared the new liberated security zone might influence the rest of the electorate in the South. Amal was confident that the Christians of the liberated regions would fear Hezbollah retribution and would side with Berri, and Hezbollah feared that Kamel Al-Assaad would manage to make a political comeback, especially that the security zone is “his power base” and that the “symbol of the old guard” had managed to secure 40% of the votes in 1996.

Just to be clear here, the cable was written in April, the Israeli withdrawal happened in May, and the general elections in late August/early September

This is one of the most awesome/non circulated/informative cables I have read in a while, so I hope you enjoy it.

ELECTION 2000: AMAL-HIZBALLAH MAKE A DEAL, FOR NOW
2000 April 17, 16:04 (Monday)
00BEIRUT1411_a
CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL
— Not Assigned —
FOR NOW
CLASSIFIED BY AMB. DAVID SATTERFIELD. REASON: 1.5 (B, D)
1. (C) SUMMARY: AMAL MOVEMENT AND HIZBALLAH HAVE MADE A SYRIAN-INDUCED DEAL TO DISTRIBUTE SEATS AMONG THEMSELVES IN THE UPCOMING PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. IF THE DEAL HOLDS, HIZBALLAH WOULD HAVE A NET GAIN OF TWO SEATS, PLUS A STRONGER FIGURE IN A THIRD ONE. THESE EXPEDIENT PAIRINGS ARE TYPICAL OF LEBANESE LEGISLATIVE CAMPAIGNS AND SYRIAN MACHINATIONS. THIS YEAR, DAMASCUS SEEMS EAGER TO SEW UP WINNING COALITIONS NOW, BEFORE ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL, TO ENSURE THAT THE POLITICAL STATUS QUO IS PRESERVED AND TO MINIMIZE INTERNAL LEBANESE RIVALRIES. HOWEVER, MANY OF THESE DEALS ARE BEING CUT SO EARLY, AND SO UNNATURALLY, THAT THEY ARE UNLIKELY TO HOLD TOGETHER UNTIL THE LATE SUMMER ELECTION. BOTH HIZBALLAH AND AMAL MOVEMENT BELIEVE THEY CAN DO BETTER, AND GET MORE SEATS, POST-WITHDRAWAL: HIZBALLAH BECAUSE OF THEIR “VICTORY” OVER ISRAEL, BERRI BECAUSE HE THINKS NEWLY LIBERATED CHRISTIANS IN THE SECURITY ZONE WILL VOTE FOR HIM AS THE STRONGEST ALTERNATIVE TO THE PARTY OF GOD.
END SUMMARY.
2. (C) THE HORSETRADING AND DEALMAKING ASSOCIATED WITH LEGISLATIVE CANDIDATE LISTS HAS BEEN UNDERWAY FOR SOME TIME, AND WILL LIKELY CONTINUE UP UNTIL THE EVE OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN EARLY AUGUST. AMONG THE MORE INTERESTING ELECTION DEVELOPMENTS IS WITHIN THE SHI’A COMMUNITY. THE SYRIANS HAVE GOD- FATHERED AN ALLIANCE BETWEEN AMAL MOVEMENT, LED BY PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER NABIH BERRI, AND HIS ARCH- RIVAL, HIZBALLAH.
3. (C) ACCORDING TO ALI KHALIL, AMAL MP FROM TYRE AND THE PARTY’S CAMPAIGN COORDINATOR FOR THE ELECTIONS, AMAL AND HIZBALLAH STRUCK THEIR DEAL IN FEBRUARY. AMAL AND HIZBALLAH CANDIDATES WILL RUN ON A SINGLE LIST IN THE SOUTH, ACHIEVING MUTUAL AGREEMENT ON ALL NOMINEES FOR THE 23 SEATS THERE. NATIONWIDE, THE DEAL CALLS FOR A NET INCREASE OF TWO SEATS FOR HIZBALLAH, FROM NINE TO ELEVEN IN PARLIAMENT, BRINGING BACK INTO PARLIAMENT EX-MPS ALI AMMAR AND MUHAMMAD BERJAWI. THE CHANGES WOULD COME AT THE EXPENSE OF AN INDEPENDENT SHI’A IN BEIRUT CLOSE TO PM HOSS (EDUCATION MINISTER BEYDOUN) AND A SHI’A FROM BAABDA ALLIED WITH HARIRI (EX-INFORMATION MINISTER SABA), THEREBY SPREADING THE PAIN AMONG OTHER ALLIES OF SYRIA. IN ADDITION, NAZIH MANSUR, AN MP FROM BINT JUBAYL ALLIED TO HIZBALLAH, WOULD REPUTEDLY BE REPLACED BY A CARD-CARRYING PARTY MEMBER. KHALIL SAID AMAL AND HIZBALLAH HOLD REGULAR ELECTION MEETINGS NOW TO COORDINATE CAMPAIGNS, EVIDENCE OF AN AT LEAST SUPERFICIAL EFFORT TO FORGE A TRUE PRAGMATIC ALLIANCE.
4. (C) EVERY ELECTORAL YEAR, AMAL AND HIZBALLAH COME TO TERMS — VIA SYRIAN MEDIATION — ON A “FAIR” DISTRIBUTION OF SEATS. IT IS NOTABLE THAT THE ARRANGEMENT HAS BEEN MADE SO EARLY THIS YEAR, AND THAT AMAL APPEARS WILLING TO CONCEDE THAT IT IS HIZBALLAH’S TURN TO GROW. JUDGING FROM THE ELECTORAL LAW AND THE ACTIVITIES OF SYRIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE CHIEF FOR LEBANON GHAZI KANAAN, SYRIA’S GOAL FOR THE 2000 LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS IS IN GENERAL THE STATUS QUO. POLITICAL RIVALRIES LIKE THE ONE BETWEEN HIZBALLAH AND AMAL CAN ESCALATE INTO OPEN POWER STRUGGLES, POSSIBLY OPENING UP THE COMPETITION TO ANTI-SYRIAN ELEMENTS, SUCH AS FORMER SPEAKER KAMAL AL-ASAD, WHOSE POWER BASE IS IN THE SECURITY ZONE. BERRI’S APPARENT WILLINGNESS TO CONCEDE ANY EXPANDED PRESENCE IN PARLIAMENT TO HIZBALLAH IS ALSO NOTABLE (HIS 19-MEMBER PARLIAMENTARY BLOC HAS ONLY FOUR AMAL MEMBERS; THE OTHER 15 ARE LOOSE ALLIES.) WHILE AMAL MOVEMENT REMAINS THE ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE FOR POLITICS IN SOUTH LEBANON, YEARS OF CORRUPTION HAVE DISCREDITED THE PARTY. BERRI MAY HAVE JUDGED IT BEST TO LOCK IN A MODEST GAIN FOR HIZBALLAH NOW, RATHER THAN FACE HIZBALLAH DEMANDS FOR A GREATER SHARE OF THE SEATS AFTER THE EXPECTED SURGE IN POPULARITY FOR HIZBALLAH AT OCCUPATION’S END.
5. (C) SOUTHERN MPS YASSINE JABER AND SAMIR AZAR, ALLIES OF AMAL MOVEMENT, TOLD US SEPARATELY THAT THE AMAL-HIZBALLAH COALITION, WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A UNILATERAL WITHDRAWAL, HAS QUESTIONABLE LONGEVITY. THEY MAINTAIN BERRI WAS NOT COMPLETELY CONVINCED THAT ISRAEL WOULD ACTUALLY WITHDRAW UNTIL RECENTLY. AS REALITY SINKS IN, HIS CALCULATIONS ARE CHANGING. THEY CLAIM BERRI ASSUMES THAT NEWLY-LIBERATED CHRISTIANS OF THE SOUTH WILL LOOK TO HIM FOR REPRESENTATION, NOT HIZBALLAH, WHICH IS FEARED AS THE PARTY OF POSSIBLE RETRIBUTION. HIZBALLAH’S WITHDRAWAL OF ITS SLA AMNESTY PROPOSAL IN PARLIAMENT IS SEEN AS AN ABANDONMENT OF ITS EFFORT TO APPEAL TO SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN VOTES.
COMMENT
6. (C) SYRIAN HANDLERS FOR LEBANON MADE EVERY SIGN OF WANTING TO SEW UP THE ELECTION RESULTS EARLY ON. THE MOST EFFECTIVE TOOL IN THIS PROCESS IS TO COMPEL ALLIANCES BETWEEN NATURAL RIVALS IN EACH DISTRICT WHICH EFFECTIVELY ELIMINATE COMPETITION AND GIVE “FIXED MENU” COALITION OFFERINGS TO THE VOTERS. IN SOME DISTRICTS FRACTIOUS LEBANESE, EVEN THOSE ON EXCELLENT TERMS WITH DAMASCUS, ARE DEFEATING THIS AIM, AS THE BARGAINING MELEE CONTINUES. THIS HAS BEEN ESPECIALLY ACUTE IN THE NORTH, WHERE TRADITIONAL POWER CENTERS OF UMAR KARAME, SULEIMAN FRANJIYAH, AND NAYLA MUAWID CONTINUE TO MANEUVER IN WAYS WHICH UNDERMINE COALITION LIST FORMATION.
7. (C) IN THE SOUTH, BERRI HAS HIS WORK CUT OUT FOR HIM. OF THE TWO PARTIES, HIZBALLAH CAN EASILY OUTSPEND AMAL. IT WILL NOT BE ENOUGH FOR BERRI TO MARKET AMAL TO THE LIBERATED SECURITY ZONE. AFTER DECADES OF OCCUPATION, DESTRUCTION, AND AN ABYSMAL ECONOMY, PEOPLE WANT ASSISTANCE, NOT RHETORIC. HIZBALLAH COULD GAIN SIGNIFICANT POLITICAL GROUND FROM AMAL IF, FOLLOWING AN IDF WITHDRAWAL, IT ACCENTUATES CONSTITUENT SERVICES. HOWEVER, IN ITS PERPETUAL GAME OF PLAYING FACTIONS AGAINST EACH OTHER, THE SYRIAN REGIME MAY SEE A NEED TO DEFLATE HIZBALLAH FOLLOWING AN ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL, TO KEEP IT OFF BALANCE AND DEPENDENT. BERRI IS THE ONLY RELIABLE TOOL AT THEIR DISPOSAL TO COUNTER HIZBALLAH, AN ARGUMENT HE NO DOUBT MAKES IN DAMASCUS.
8. (C) ONE WILD CARD IS THE SUPPORT RETAINED BY KAMAL AL-ASAD. ALTHOUGH A SEEMINGLY DISCREDITED SYMBOL OF THE OLD GUARD, VIEWED AS TOO ACCOMMODATING TO ISRAEL, ASAD POLLED A RESPECTABLE 30% OF THE VOTE IN 1992 AND 40% IN 1996, AGAINST THE AMAL/HIZBALLAH ALLIANCE LIST. HIS APPEAL IN THE SECURITY ZONE — THE FAMILY’S TRADITIONAL POWER BASE — IS UNTESTED BUT NO DOUBT STRONG. ENSURING HE REMAINS FIRMLY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ELECTORAL SWEEPSTAKES IS A GOAL SHARED IN COMMON BY SYRIA, BERRI, AND HIZBALLAH.
SATTERFIELD

Advertisements