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The Dangers of Election Seasons "Bordering" Syria's Flames

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Elections in the Middle East have become a blood-spattered means of exclusion that voids democracy of its core values, as well as a blatant way to monopolize the hold on power. From Egypt to Iran, through Syria and Lebanon, election seasons bring one innovation after another that maintain individuals in their positions and grants them titles that boosts their arrogance and reinforces their obsession with absolute control. In the service of electoral deadlines, wars and battles are being waged that flare up every day, part of them sowing fear in the hearts of those in power, while another part is exploited to fabricate victories. Winning is no longer the result of a local electoral battle to obtain the votes of local electors, but has become a fateful rather than passing occurrence, one with a flavor of permanent rather than temporary victory. The next electoral battle in the Islamic Republic of Iran in mid-summer 2013 is taking on a characteristic of fatefulness, as represented by the war in Syria, a war in which the Iranian regime is participating both directly and through its ally Hezbollah. This blood-spattered Syrian war is based in the eyes of the regime in Damascus on maintaining President Bashar al-Assad in power until elections are held in Syria in mid-2014. Hezbollah is waging the war in Syria alongside the regimes of Tehran and Damascus, while keeping an eye not just on Iran and Syria's elections, but also on those of Lebanon, which it categorically does not want to take place as scheduled, because they would threaten its grip and that of Iran on Lebanon. The arena for these electoral and confessional wars so far remains primarily Syria, but there is today something that threatens to broaden this arena to Syria's immediate neighborhood, and in particular Lebanon, in view of it being subjected to the region's electoral timetable.

Tehran or Hezbollah may have no interest - unlike Damascus, possibly - in the Lebanese scene erupting and civil peace being threatened there, as a result of their desire to "preserve" Lebanon until the features of the heated battle in Syria become clear. And since there are so far no indications of an international decision to detonate or internationalize Lebanon at this juncture, the country may well calm down and recover economically during the "summertime" of 2013. Yet all of this is contingent on a single destructive spark, as well as on the requirements of "electoral standards", in terms of excluding democracy or inflaming confessional strife. Tehran's mullahs realize that the coming elections in Iran may well be the most important and most difficult, amid regional and international circumstances that tighten the grip of the siege imposed on them. Their primary wager is on the US administration seeking a truce with the Islamic Republic of Iran and not wishing to get implicated in any foreign battles for the sake of democracy, unlike the previous administration, which claimed its battle to be that of freedom and democracy.

Those vying for power in Tehran are also competing to either keep away or attract the Obama administration to the electoral battle. Some of them seek a relationship with Washington that would be one of verbal enmity and confrontation, with political discourse that mobilizes the support of an electoral base that is hostile to America and views obtaining nuclear weapons and refusing to submit to the West's threats as a matter of pride. Others find their strategic interest to reside in a relationship of truce with Israel, and not just with the United States - the benefits of this including positioning themselves within a regional balance of power in which would intersect the interests of Iran and Israel in containing and dwarfing the Arabs. What those in power in Tehran want is first and foremost to neutralize any possibility of reviving American support for the opposition in Iran. US President Barack Obama has stopped supporting the Iranian opposition, and those he has appointed - such as Secretary of State John Kerry or Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel - do not want to interfere in Iran's internal affairs and its "elected government." And the priority of the regime in Tehran is to prevent the world - and the West in particular - from supporting the Iranian opposition, and to keep it away from monitoring or influencing the electoral process.

Members of the opposition in Iran are not radically against the regime. Rather, most of them issue from it, and some of them wish to return to it through the gateway of the United States. Toppling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might not be easy, but it is not impossible if Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were to resolve to achieve it and decide to "ally" himself with the man who holds influence and funds, and who has had good relations with America's neo-conservatives in the past - Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. It is a well-known fact that the neo-conservatives' organic relationship with Israel holds priority for them, and that they view Iran in particular from the perspective of the relationship with Israel, whether it is one of truce or of confrontation.

As for its relationship with Assad's Syria, it is a fateful one for Tehran and for the overwhelming majority of those who seek to gain power and authority there. There are in Iran of course those who oppose the role being played by their country in Syria and consider it to be detrimental to Iran's own interests, and not just to the standards they aspire to for Iran's image. But they still represent a minority without influence in the corridors of power and on those who rule, who consider the battle for Syria to be Tehran's battle, and who would defy anyone who says that it will be "Iran's Vietnam."
The current phase of the war in Syria is that of the military balance of power on the ground: the Arab Summit in Doha sanctioned measures to repair the balance of military power on the ground, so as for the scales not to remain tipped in favor of the axis that includes the regime in Damascus, Hezbollah, Tehran and Moscow, in addition to Beijing. On the other hand, this axis has taken the decision not to allow this balance of military power to be altered, and thus directly escalated, openly showing the direct role played by Iran and by Hezbollah in the fighting in Syria.

Western countries, and most prominently the United States, Britain and France, who hold permanent membership in the Security Council, are burying their heads in the sand and refusing to hold Tehran accountable for the role it is playing in Syria, under the pretext that they hold no proof of its involvement there militarily. The fact of the matter is that these countries want to avoid confronting Iran at the Security Council - out of fear of Russia - knowing that the Security Council has adopted a clear resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter banning Iran from exporting weapons, equipment and fighters beyond its borders, and warning it of measures to be taken if it were to violate this resolution. The other reason seems to bear the clear mark of Catherine Ashton - the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton - who wants to maintain a channel of communication with Tehran on the nuclear issue. Thus Europe in turn becomes a direct party in making use of the blood-spattered arena of Syria for bilateral and regional trade-offs, as are the United States, Russia and China equally.

The confessional war between Sunnis and Shiites is getting inflamed primarily in Syria, although it is present in Iraq and threatens to erupt in Lebanon. Indeed, there are Hezbollah combatants fighting in Syria, while the al-Nusra Front has threatened the Lebanese President that it will "burn Beirut" if Lebanon does not truly dissociate itself from the war in Syria and if Hezbollah does not stop fighting there. Such escalation cannot be considered mere political discourse for any of the parties concerned with the fighting inside Syria. Rather, these are battles for survival, and such threats will not remain verbal if things remain as they are. Lebanon becoming implicated in the war in Syria requires President Michel Suleiman to call for an urgent meeting of all political partners to thoroughly clarify this matter. It requires the Lebanese army to have a comprehensive security plan to ensure dissociation. It also requires of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to take the initiative of forming a government to hold the elections no matter what, just as it requires absolutely rejecting the notion of suspending the elections.

Regional parties too must take decisions and measures. Noteworthy here is the fact that the role played by Saudi Arabia, in the person of the KSA's Ambassador in Beirut Ali Awad Assiri to stem strife, call for dialogue and reassure the economic sector, has had a positive effect during a phase of pessimism and tension. The fact that Assiri welcomed any official request Hezbollah might make to visit Saudi Arabia was also a positive matter, albeit an evident one for a country that opens its doors to all Muslims - regardless of sect - so that they may perform the pilgrimages of Hajj and Umrah. The fact that Assiri opened the doors of the embassy was a professional measure, because the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia cannot close its doors, especially as it was the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, himself who called for dialogue between Islamic confessions. If only he would call for an urgent meeting at the center he has established for this dialogue, so as to focus on the necessity of preventing confessional strife.

Many believe that radical confessionalism in Lebanon is structurally weak, and that there is therefore no need to fear it within such a framework. Yet the fear is of those who hold the decision of war and peace in Lebanon - Hezbollah and Iran - bearing in mind that they now have what is nearly a major military base. The priority for them both is the Syrian front, and they may well find in Lebanon a safe military center which there is no need to open doors to. There are those who consider the extent of the understanding that accompanied consensus over Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to be nothing more than "tactical repositioning" by Iran, and one in which it is putting its well-known skillfulness to use by taking one step forward and two steps back. The same applies to Hezbollah, which realizes that the results of the elections, if they were to take place, would not be in its favor. Those who are of this opinion say that their attention is also focused on current investigations into recent bombings, specifically in Canada, where the alleged relationship between Iran's Quds Force and al-Qaeda is being investigated. This is not the first time such a connection has emerged, and if the investigation in Canada were to prove that such a relationship does exist, then the issue would become completely different at every level - for then the chapter of internationalization would begin under new headlines.

There are those who wish on a whim that the "boogeyman" of Sunni extremism in Lebanon would show its true face and engage in destructive activity, so as for the international community to stop "managing the conflict" in Syria and be forced to "internationalize" in the Lebanese arena. They resemble those who say: if only the regime in Damascus would make use of chemical weapons to force this international community to stop managing the crisis and move to actually put an end to it... Internationalization or regionalization... This is while the international community is fleeing forward and facing, or turning a blind eye to, what is happening in Syria, in terms of the migration of Syrians to neighboring countries, countries in which they have come to form a time bomb for both themselves and their neighbors.

Public disagreement between Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Nabil El-Araby over armament in Syria and the prospects of a political solution only show part of the rift which their joint envoy, Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, is suffering from. He is the one charged with wearing two hats: the hat of the political solution accompanied by the regime's rejection of dialogue, and the hat of the political solution accompanied by altering the balance of military power with weapons.

Between the various hat colors and election seasons lies a delicate and fragile phase that requires a mixture of careful wisdom and of rushing to take the initiative.

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