11 questions with ‘Road to Fatima Gate’ author Michael Totten

3. How closely do you believe Hezbollah coordinates its moves with Iran and how has the Iran-Hezbollah relationship changed (if at all) since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war?

Hezbollah is effectively the Mediterranean branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah takes his orders from Iran’s  Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei’s portrait is everywhere on billboards and posters in the Hezbollah-controlled parts of the country, as are portraits of Iran’s dead tyrant Ayatollah Khomeini. Hezbollahland is basically an Iranian satellite state inside Lebanon. And since Hezbollah controls the Lebanese-Israeli border — where the famous Fatima Gate of the title is located — that border has become not only the front-line in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but also the front-line in the Iranian-Israeli conflict and in Iran’s war against the West in general.

4. In 2005, Americans cheered as Syria was forced to end its occupation of Lebanon. To what extent has Syria returned and what influence does Syrian dictator Bashar Assad now have over the direction of Lebanon?

Lebanon is a somewhat anarchic place that no one fully controls — not Hezbollah, not Lebanon’s ostensible government, not Iran, and not Syria — but Assad has much more power there now than he did after his soldiers and intelligence agents were forced to go home in 2005. He and his local proxies have killed enough Lebanese officials, journalists, members of parliament, and random civilians that they can now do whatever they want. They can also force the government to do what they want.

5. What do you think American policy should be toward Lebanon?

We should support our friends and resist our enemies, just like everywhere else. It’s tricky in Lebanon, though, because friends, enemies, and neutrals are all mixed together in one place. It’s not like, say, Korea where our friends are in the south and our enemies are in the north on the other side of the DMZ.

For now, though, as long as Lebanon’s government can’t make its own decisions about war and peace, and can no longer make even a rhetorical stand against Hezbollah’s existence as an Iranian army inside the country, we have little choice but to place the country in the “hostile” column. We do still have friends there, though, who are not now and never have been hostile. They’ll have more power and influence again at some point in the future, so we need to take care not to alienate them or make their ordeal worse by treating the entire country as though it’s a terrorist nest. Lebanon should be thought of and treated as the swing state it is. They’ve taught democracy in schools there for fifty years. Some day it will be okay, after the world around it has changed.