Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Lebanon is once again falling victim to the regional tug of war between the US, Israel and their allies on the one hand, and Syria, Hizbullah and Iran on the other. When President George W Bush decided to wrench Lebanon out of Syria’s security umbrella in 2004, he returned Lebanon to the battle ground it had been during the 15 year civil war that it endured until 1990. The Detante that Bush the Father and President Clinton had cultivated between all sides had allowed Lebanon the political calm it needed to revive economically and culturally from its long and devastating civil struggle.
The US under George W. Bush did not have the leverage it needed to pull Lebanon out of Syria’s and Iran’s orbit, just as it failed to destroy Hizbullah, although it got tantalizingly close following the Syrian military withdrawal of 2005 and the Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon. The most famous victim of this tug of war was Prime Minister Hariri. He was the one man able to knit together the waring sects of Lebanon. Without him, Lebanon once again collapsed into internecine battles and confessional back-biting. This fragmentation assured that no outside power could win in Lebanon. It meant that Hizbullah could not be dismantled and that Syrian and Iranian security concerns were minimally guaranteed. For the US, the paralysis of Lebanon’s politics, also served a purpose. It meant that Hizbullah could not be normalized and become an accepted and responsible part of Lebanon’s political architecture. The US and Israel cannot allow HIzbullah’s acceptance. The result was that for much of the Bush years, Lebanon had no government. The Lebanese paid a high price for lying along the fault line of regional great power politics.
Lebanon is returning to its battleground existance of division and confessional confusion. The impending indictments of the International Tribunal raised the Hizbullah question anew. The Doha agreement of 2008, swept Hizbullah’s contested status under the political rug and gave Hizbullah a measure of acceptance as part of a national unity government in Lebanon. Hizbullah’s drive to force Hariri to denounce the results of the international tribunal and dissociate Lebanon from its actions threatened the US , Israel, and its March 14th allies in Lebanon. HIzbullah would become a normal part of the local political architecture.
There will not be war., as some fear. Hizbullah has made it clear that it does not want war. Neither will it carry out a “coup,” as some have claimed. But it will bring government to a stand still as it did from 2005 to 2008.
The highest price for this immobilism will be paid by Lebanon’s wealthy communities. They have the most to lose from a slow down in investment, the collapse of the stock market, and decline in economic growth. MassoudDarhally indicates this well in his fine article copied below. He covers the likely economic effects of the stand-off. This is where the real battle will be fought. Will the March 14th movement that supports Hariri cry uncle first because of economic pain? Can Hizbullah avoid being held responsible for economic stagnation?
The US seems to be willing to allow Lebanon to stagnate in order to avoid empowering Hizbullah. It is unclear how the US can win the battle it lost in May 2008, when Hizbullah soundly defeated Hariri’s untrained militia and proved that the Lebanese Army would work with the Shiite militia rather than try to disarm it.
The US has no leverage, except through international agencies and its allies – Saudi Arabia, France, etc. These allies will walk with the US, but their hearts are not in it and they will look for the first chance to bail out of this showdown which brings them pain and no gain. Israel, too, is not eager for another Lebanon war. The last was very costly.
Lebanon will remain divided and paralyzed for some time to come. It is hard to foresee a different outcome. Hizbullah cannot take over the country and Hariri cannot rule without the opposition. The US will not send troops to Lebanon and Hizbullah will not use its militia unless it is directly threatened as it was in May 2008.
Israel remains a wild card, because it could see in the chaos an opportunity to complete the unfinished business of destroying Hizbullah. I don’t think this is likely. Netanyahu has proven not to be a military adventurer. His plans for the West bank are working well as they are. Most importantly, Obama will press for restraint from all sides. He is not President Bush. Syria and Iran could see an advantage in pressing the issue toward the explosion point in the hope that Israel would over-reach and HIzbullah’s new rockets would prove damaging to Israel, thus forcing a shift in threat perceptions leading to the return of the Golan. But Israel has threatened to draw Syria into the next conflict, destroy its economic infrastructure and overturning the Assad regime. Damascus cannot discount this possibility. It is not prepared for war.
And to think that Lebanon was growing at 8% last year. Now we are sure to see more immobility, sectarian strife, and economic stagnation in the Middle East.
Lebanon Government Falls as Hezbollah Quits Over Probe
By Massoud A. Derhally – Jan 12, 2011
Lebanon’s national unity government collapsed as Hezbollah and its allies quit over a United Nations probe into the killing of former premier Rafiq Hariri.
Energy Minister Gebran Bassil announced the move today at a televised news conference in Beirut. The Shiite Muslim group and its partners held 10 of Lebanon’s 30 Cabinet seats. An 11th minister, Adnan Sayyed Hussein, also quit, the official National News Agency reported, enough to topple the coalition led by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Hezbollah, whose ally Syria is blamed by many Lebanese for Rafiq Hariri’s killing in 2005, has demanded an end to the inquiry while Saad Hariri backs the effort to identify his father’s killers. Bassil, speaking after the failure of a Saudi- Syrian initiative to break the deadlock, said that Hariri had “succumbed to external pressure, including from the U.S.” Bassil called on President Michel Suleiman to take the necessary steps for the formation of a new government.
“The government is considered to have resigned under the Constitution, so until the next government is formed, it can only perform routine administration,” said Chibli Mallat, a Lebanese lawyer and visiting professor at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Tensions have escalated as the UN tribunal prepares to issue an indictment, on concern it may implicate Hezbollah in the killing of Rafiq Hariri. That would raise the prospect of a return to violence in a country that emerged from a 15-year civil war in 1990 and has seen frequent recurrences of sectarian strife since then.
Hezbollah and Syria deny responsibility for Hariri’s death. Hezbollah has called for the abolition of the UN tribunal, described as unconstitutional by leader Hassan Nasrallah in a Nov. 11 speech. He said Hezbollah won’t allow its members to be detained and would “cut off the hand” of anyone who attempted to make arrests.
President Barack Obama said the collapse of Lebanon’s unity government today shows Hezbollah’s fear of a united country acting for all Lebanese people.
“The efforts by the Hezbollah-led coalition to collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate their own fear and determination to block the government’s ability to conduct its business and advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people,” Obama said in a statement issued after he held a private meeting today at the White House with Hariri.
The prospect of a government collapse pushed Lebanese stocks to the biggest drop since July. The benchmark BLOM Stock Index tumbled 3.2 percent to 1,488.65.
“The fluctuation of share prices on the Beirut Stock Exchange is driven by political sentiment rather than by the underlying performance of listed companies,” said Nassib Ghobril, head of research at Lebanon’s Byblos Bank SAL.
Hezbollah’s withdrawal from the government may also set back an economy that performed “remarkably well” through the global economic crisis because of the “more stable environment” under Saad Hariri, according to an October report by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF projected growth of 8 percent for 2010 slowing to 5 percent this year.
Political tension has already hurt the economy and Hezbollah’s walkout “will further erode confidence and may heighten the risk of a further slowdown,” Eric Mottu, the IMF representative in Beirut, said by phone today. “For growth, investment, consumption and tourism it could be a risk.”
An additional risk is how the resignations “translate onto the street,” said Walid Arbid, a law professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut.
Hariri pledged “to keep the doors open for the Lebanese to reach solutions that ensure stability and calm, and preserve national unity,” in a statement late yesterday.
Hezbollah and its allies say the UN investigation is politically motivated and marred by U.S. intervention. They pledged to block Lebanese funding for the probe, a dispute that prevented parliament from passing the state budget last year.
Rafiq Hariri and 22 others were killed by a roadside bomb in Beirut in February 2005, sparking protests by millions of Lebanese that led to the ouster of Syrian troops from the country after 29 years.
UN prosecutor Daniel Bellemare is expected to file his indictment with the pretrial judge, Daniel Fransen, by the end of March. An initial UN inquiry charged four pro-Syrian officials in Lebanon’s security services. They were held in jail for four years before being released in 2009 by the tribunal due to a lack of evidence, after some witnesses changed or retracted statements. Hezbollah has called for the prosecution of the so- called “false witnesses.”
The last time Hezbollah walked out of a government, quitting the Cabinet of then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in 2006, it marked the start of an 18-month paralysis of the government. That culminated in an outbreak of civil strife in May 2008, when at least 80 people were killed after Hezbollah and its allies seized control of west Beirut.
Michael Williams, the UN’s special coordinator for Lebanon, said in an e-mailed statement today that he is “concerned at the possibility of a prolonged political crisis.” To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, at email@example.com
Officials in Jerusalem estimated that the toppling of Lebanon’s government will not lead to escalation between the two states. … “This is an internal Lebanese affair,” the Foreign Ministry’s Yossi Levy said. “However, we are closely monitoring developments.”
“The resignations will be dangerous as they will cause clashes once again,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal told a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara.
“Thus, we hope these resignations will not take place. They have the potential to cause everything built so far to collapse,” the Saudi minister said, warning of repercussions around the region.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hoped Hezbollah would rethink the resignations and voiced support for Syrian and Saudi mediation efforts.
Secretary Hilary Clinton: “We view what happened today as a transparent effort by those forces inside Lebanon, as well as interests outside Lebanon, to subvert justice and undermine Lebanon’s stability and progress,” Mrs. Clinton declared at a news conference. “We believe that the work of the special tribunal must go forward so justice can be served and impunity ended.”
Qatar Prime Minister Thani said only, “We have enough problems in the region that this problem we have to take care of it, in a way to solve it, not to complicate it.”
Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal, who is close to Hariri, told AFP Hezbollah’s decision to quit the government was aimed at paralysing the state and forcing the premier to reject the tribunal.
“They think that by piling the pressure on him, Hariri will bend but they are mistaken,” Rahhal said. The Sunni premier has held talks in recent days in New York with Saudi King Abdullah, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the crisis.
Mustapha Alloush, a senior member of Hariri’s Future Movement, said Hezbollah and its allies had timed the announcement of the government collapse to coincide with the premier’s meeting with Obama at 1500 GMT.
“They want Hariri to enter the meeting with the US president as an ex-premier or as head of a caretaker government,” Alloush told AFP. “But the real goal is to deal a moral blow to the United States.”
Syria and Saudi Arabia have for months been attempting to mediate the crisis but their efforts have failed, with rival Lebanese camps accusing each other of blocking attempts at a compromise.
“Saad Hariri was on the brink of making a major concession as concerns the tribunal but occult forces prevented him from doing so,” Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a former ally of Hariri, told AFP without elaborating. (AFP)
Can Lebanon Escape?
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
by Elliott Abrams on his CFR Blog
But at bottom this is far less a test of the United States than of the Lebanese. No one will resist Hizballah unless they do. The majority of Lebanese who oppose Hizballah, and who are mostly Maronite Catholics, Druze, and Sunni, must demonstrate that they have the will to keep their country from complete domination by the Shia terrorist group. This is asking quite a bit, to be sure, but Lebanese should have learned from the impact of their March 14, 2005 demonstrations that world support can be rallied and their opponents can pushed back.