High Noon in Lebanon

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Nobody wanted it. Few expected it. Many are worried it will lead to armed confrontation in the streets of Beirut.

The fall of the government of Prime Minister Said Hariri marks a significant escalation by Hezbollah in their effort to take control of Lebanon; it also ratchets up tensions between Sunnis and Shias that could explode into violence if not checked.

Eleven opposition cabinet ministers resigned on Wednesday, constitutionally causing the government’s collapse. At issue: the Special Tribunal Lebanon’s (STL) imminent announcement of indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. It is widely expected that high ranking members of Hezbollah will be among those named in the crime – a turn of events that obviously doesn’t sit well with the terrorist group/political party. Indictments would tarnish its image in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world as an incorruptible bulwark and “resistance” force against Israel. More importantly, it would weaken its political position in Lebanon, delivering a body blow to the party’s efforts to achieve de facto control of the government.

Hezbollah is demanding that Prime Minister Hariri not only disassociate the government from the STL, but they also want him to issue a public statement declaring the Tribunal to be a Israeli-US controlled device to destroy Hezbollah. Hariri has firmly refused to do so, saying he would not sit in any room with a cabinet that even voted on such measure while Hezbollah has said they won’t sit in a room with a prime minister who refuses to hold such a vote. Therein lies the seeds of the crisis that came to fruition on Wednesday with the opposition ministers resigning.

What appeared to be the last straw was the failure of a joint Syria-Saudi Arabian initiative to broker a compromise between the two parties. Indeed, the issue is so intractable and the positions of the adversaries so set in stone, that a compromise always appeared to be out of reach. When this became obvious on Tuesday night, Hezbollah jacked up the pressure by demanding that the cabinet, which hadn’t met since December 15th of last year, meet to vote on the issue while threatening to walk if this demand was not swiftly met. The majority March 14th party refused to convene a cabinet meeting with a gun to its head, at which point it became just a matter of time before Hezbollah made good on its threat.

The opposition chose the present moment to make their move as Prime Minister Hariri was in Washington meeting with President Obama. The timing could not be coincidental as the opposition ministers announced their resignations at the same time that Hariri and Obama were holding talks. Mustapha Allouch, a senior member of Hariri’s Future Movement, told AFP that the opposition wanted “Hariri to enter the meeting with the US president as an ex-premier or as head of a caretaker government.”

Hariri cut short his visit to Washington and will return to Lebanon to consult with his coalition about what to do next, after stopping off in France for talks with French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

According to the Lebanese constitution, Parliament will now meet and decide on the next prime minister in consultation with the president. It could very well be Hariri, but the wrangling might open the door for another March 14th politician depending on how wedded the coalition is to the continuation of the Tribunal. It may also depend what happens on the streets of Lebanon’s cities.

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  • SHmuelHaLevi

    This is one case where being close by to the scene helps.
    Hizbollah and Iran as well as Syria are moving to take full control of Lebanon. Unless there is a solid wall of firepower nothing will stop them.

    • jacob

      ISRAEL stopped SYRIA cold in their tracks when it thereatened to attack JORDAN
      but with all that has been going on, will ISRAEL dare stopping the full take over of LEBANON by its sworn enemies ??

      It woukd have to ask permission from OBAMA and we all know what OBAMA's
      answerr will be

      • SHmuelHaLevi

        Valid points but the general feeling here is that Israel is moving on to its own national interests tack. We sincerely hope that those interests and rigid security objectives at some point coincide with the US people's interests, (I did not include the present administration by design).
        Israel is not seeking confrontation in Lebanon but I would say that if Hezbollah-Iran-Syria make any move likely to be interpreted as leading into attacking us, all bets are off. WIth or without Mr. Soetoro's OK… ;)
        Our natural gas and oil fields will not be pawns for anyone else nor are there any more "victims of peace" available.
        I am sure that those wise to reality will read the settings correctly…

  • flaedo

    Where are the Christians while all this is going on?

    • Satori_In_TO

      Ahem! Why do you ask? Would you actively help Christians in Lebanon struggle against Hizbollah?

  • jacob

    And of course, ISRAEL true to Political Correctness,will most assuredly wait until
    the smoking gun's smoke is seen at UN headquarters in New York and then abide
    by the same Engagement Rules dictated by UN's sages….

    Just imagine where would ISRAEL be if it would have followed all this nonsense in 1967…!!!

  • ObamaYoMoma

    What happened in Lebanon yesterday is the inevitable result of our naïve plans to spread democracy in the Middle East. The reality is, however, democracy just opens up the door for the most radical elements in any Islamic society to rise and seize power. In other words, it is about the most naïve policy possible that we could pursue.

    Indeed, why did President Carter pull the Persian rug out from under the Shah of Iran in 1979? It was because he harbored fantasy-based notions of pluralism and democracy in Iran. Instead, he got the Ayatollah Khomeini and a hostage situation that thoroughly humiliated America.

    Of course, all our current foreign policies with respect to the Islamic world have been formulated on the fantasy-based premise that Islam is a Religion of Peace™ being hijacked by a tiny minority of radicals, and it is this naive assumption, which for some reason never gets challenged, that has been behind all our repeated failures in the Middle East for decades.

    The reality is Islam is not a so-called Religion of Peace™ being hijacked by a tiny minority of radicals. Indeed, for that matter it is not even a religion. It is instead a militant theo-political totalitarian ideology that seeks as its main goal to render the world into Islamic totalitarianism via the imposition of Sharia, and as long as we continue to fail to understand what Islam really is, the longer we will continue to fail to formulate effective foreign policies that can be successful.

  • SteveO

    In all its dealings, Hezbollah has always shown and slow and methodical rise to power — it doesn't do reverse. It would be better for Hariri to just let the STL hang in limbo and plan to dissolve the government — but provide a mechanism to keep basic functions working. Your essay doesn't talk about the financial issues involved.

    One would suppose that all the publicity of these investigations are being followed by the people in Lebanon and it is fairly clear that Hezbollah was responsible for Rafiq Hariri's death. And if the government dissolves, that becomes another chip against Hezbolla.

    The issue is the same stalemate that existed in Gaza between Hamas and the PLO. There's not going to be any solution here. Just find a way to keep basic government functions operating and dissolve the rest.

  • TomSolomon

    What's most discouraging about this, is that the Christians have allied themselves with Hezbollah. Evidently, whomever is deemed to be the more powerful is the side they'll align themselves with.



    • Dick Watson

      Tom if you knew your bible you would know a true christain would ally with Israel not Hezbolla WE HAVE BEEN GRAFTED IN WITH THE JEWS by the blood shed on the cross. The greatest Jew that ever lived IS JESUS CHRIST… AMEN

      • Spirit_Of_1683

        Tom might well have a point. Brigitte Gabriel in her book "Because They Hate" details how she and her fellow Lebanese Christian classmates were taught how to hate Israel and Israelis. She admitted that she and her family only escaped to Israel from the Intifada as a last resort, because of what she and her parents had been taught at school, read in the newspapers, and listened to on the media, and when she and her parents received medical treatment in Israel, she realised that what she had been taught as a child was a load of rubbish. And she admitted in her book that she saw real evil when a Muslim patient who had received life-saving medical treatment in Israel screamed how much she wanted to murder those Israeli doctors and nurses who had saved her life.

    • Yonah

      The Christians or the Druze?

  • Paul

    Genesis 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

    All ‘Christians’ by definition adhere to this. The salvation that YHW promised the Jews that keep his commandments people by birthright was extended to Gentiles through Jesus (Yeshua) as a pathway to redemption for all mankind. YHW is not just the God of Jews but of all mankind.

    Allah ‘is’ Satan and therefore Islam is his evil religion upon this Earth as it is clearly the complete antithesis of the Judeo/Christian meme.

  • Irandissident

    Price of Stability in Lebanon:
    In order to avoid a civil war, avoid aggravating Syria and the Islamic Republic in Iran why not be a little imaginative:
    Lets blame Israel for the Hariri assassination! Everyone will be happy ( except those blood-in-their-Fatir/Matza jews )… Well, what was the down side of all those BLOOD LIBELS throughout history and all the ongoing Libels from Iran, the Arab and Muslim world? Didn't they bring about even more hate against the Jews ?
    So why not do it again?
    News: Iran is continuously threatening to destroy the thousands of years old Esther Shrine in Hamedan, possibly by the next Purim celebrations, a month away.