Austin Bay

2011's Arab Spring is an astonishing moment. Yes, somewhere on the calendar of the next decade's history a fall of lowered expectations will occur and a winter of cold disappointment -- but the hopes and passions powering it will not disappear.

Michael Totten's new book, "The Road to Fatima Gate" (Encounter Books, 2011), provides a first-person look at Arab Spring's immediate predecessor, Lebanon's Beirut Spring of 2005. Totten then moves to a detailed discussion of Hezbollah's increasing power within Lebanon, followed by a compelling, on-the-ground look at the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli war (the July War, in Lebanese parlance). Totten portrays the war as an Iranian-Israeli war, with Hezbollah as Tehran's proxy.

Totten's introduction to the Beirut Spring begins with the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A bomb destroyed his Mercedes. The Hariri assassination remains current news, for a U.N. investigation implicated Syrian intelligence agents as the culprits, with the order to kill Hariri coming from the highest levels of the Assad dictatorship. Complicity in Hariri's murder is another reason to regard anyone who claims Bashar Assad is a reformist as being inexcusably ignorant or a paid propagandist.

The murder was supposed to cow Lebanon. "It didn't work," Totten observes. "Lebanon exploded in revolt the likes of which the modern Middle East had never seen."

More terror bombs exploded. Totten "hopped a flight to Beirut from Germany," as pro-democracy Lebanese demonstrators rose up against Syria's occupation forces -- the soldiers and intelligence officers of the same Assad regime that this spring is shooting its own citizens. The pro-Syrian marches featured angry Hezbollah supporters carrying pictures of Bashar Assad and wielding pistols and knives.

The Syrians withdrew, suffering a political defeat. But the guns and loyal fighters of Lebanese factions replaced them, not peace and certainly not unity. Iran, through Hezbollah, filled the power vacuum. Through Hezbollah, Totten argues, Iran boosts Lebanese Shia Arab factions, in the same way France and America support Lebanese Christians and Saudi Arabia supports Lebanese Sunnis.

With factional tension increasing, Totten headed south, to Hezbollah land, a "miniature one party state" that was "mobilized" for external and internal war. Lebanese government soldiers and police did not go there. Posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's current supreme cleric, Ayatollah Khamenei, and Lebanese Hezbollah's own Hassan Nasrallah were ubiquitous.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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