Why Hezbollah walked

What's Next for Lebanon?

Franklin Lamb
January 13, 2011

South Beirut — “In case no one has noticed, the Obama administration just
gifted Lebanon to Iran. Washington earlier presented Iraq, Afghanistan,
the Gulf, and Pakistan. Could it be more clear that Iran’s strategic trump card
is America’s subservience to Israel? For Iran, Israel’s strangle hold on the
US government is the gift that keeps on giving.” With this comment, my
neighbor, Lebanese Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil, declared American
hegemony in the region was on a slippery and descending slope and that
yesterday’s political maneuvering in Lebanon likely accelerated American
withdrawal .

My other neighbors in South Beirut appeared to go to bed early last night
following the day’s events which saw the collapsed of Lebanon’s US-Saudi
and Israeli backed government. Some, like my American and Lebanese
roommates were planning for quick evacuations should our Hezbollah
neighborhood-watch guys give us that special knock on the door. Two rapid
raps and a shouted “Yalla!” (Let’s go) and it’s time to head north fast without
looking back. The reason is because, like many here, some neighbors fear
Israel might use this latest government crisis to invade Lebanon again.

Yesterday, our “government” electricity (and internet) was cut from 10 a.m.
until 2 p.m. and again from 6 p.m. to midnight. At least ten hours of daily
power cuts is the norm south and north of the pro-US/Saudi Hamra “chic”
district, where three hours or less daily power cuts are experienced.
Spending lots of hours in candle light probably made the unsubstantiated
rumors even more unsettling. “The armed forces of Lebanon, Hezbollah and
its allies, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Iran are on military alert. The
Americans may send battalions from Iraq!”, the young man who works in
the phone shop near my flat whispered. I could not help noticing that some
of the young men normally hanging out in our hood seemed to have
vanished. Even my phone card guy was impatient with me wanting to
recharge my phone, “ please hurry”, he said, ”I have an appointment and
need to close my shop.”

The assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri

The current government crisis has its origins in the February 14, 2005
Valentine’s Day murder of Lebanon’s prime minister Rafic Hariri and 20
others. The Bush administration declared Syria responsible and saw an
opportunity to force the Assad regime to drop its friendship with
Washington’s regional nemesis Iran, and to end its support for the National
Lebanese Resistance led by Hezbollah.

One of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s State Department lawyers came
up with the idea to use the UN Security Council to set up a Special Tribunal
for Lebanon (STL) to try Hariri’s killers and to hammer Syria into warming
to Israel and to US projects for the region.

What was not considered at the time, but later became a godsend from the
points of view of Israel and the Bush administration was leaked STL
information claiming that Hezbollah members might also be involved in the
assassination. Hardly believing, one imagines, their really good luck,
Israel and the US abruptly changed directions and decided to use the newly
formed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to rid themselves of Hezbollah
once and for all as well as to correct Syria’s behavior, believing that the
Syrian government would also be indicted.

The pressure on Hezbollah caused the party to condemn what it claims is
false witnesses and it strongly urged the Lebanese government to open a case
against them and not allow the STL, which it and others believe has became
fatally politicized by rushing to judgment, to receive Lebanese government
cooperation. Hezbollah’s adversaries hailed the tribunal even if Lebanon’s
stability was endangered. After nearly fourteen months of trying to get the
Saad Hariri government to seriously reconsider its positions on the STL, the
Hezbollah led opposition gave the majority an ultimatum either to call a
cabinet meeting by January 12, 2011 to discuss the STL or the opposition
Cabinet members would resign. What Hezbollah and its allies wanted was
for PM Hariri to convene a Cabinet session to consider whether to stop
payment of Lebanon’s 49 percent share of the financing of the STL, whether
to withdraw the Lebanese judges from the tribunal, consider ending all
cooperation with the STL, and prosecuting the “false witnesses” it claimed
was linked to the UN probe into Rafik Hariri’s killing.

Under enormous pressure from Washington, Paris and Riyadh, Saad balked.
The opposition quickly resigned. Under article 69 the Lebanese Constitution,
the resignation of one-third plus one of Cabinet members automatically
leads to the collapse of the 30-member government. It was the first time in
Lebanon’s politically turbulent history that a government collapsed under
pressure of the resignations of one-third plus one of its members.

In order to secure the eleventh cabinet resignation, to add to Hezbollah’s
ten, in order to bring down the pro-US government, Hezbollah Secretary
General Hassan Nasrallah’s key political aide Hussein Khalil, called President
Suleiman’s Cabinet designee, Sayyed Hussein. Khalil reportedly conveyed
Nasrallah’s greetings and his hope that Hussein would decide what to do
based on his conscience. Hussein’s resignation quickly followed and Hariri’s
Premiership ended as he sat with President Obama at the White House.

What the toppling of the Hariri government means for the near term

Regional players reacted more or less predictably with the US accusing Iran,
Syria and Hezbollah of "blackmail", the French warning Syria that it would
be held to account if there is violence in Lebanon and the British warning
of long term dangers. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a
statement: “This is an extremely serious development which could have
grave implications for Lebanon and for regional stability.” One British
diplomat added last this evening, “Good Grief, however can we resolve this
problem anytime soon?”

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said they were "carefully following events"
in Lebanon following the resignations and that "The Lebanese understand
that an attempt by extremist to disturb the peace may turn out as a perilous
gamble," according to Israeli TV Channel 10. Israel is being accused today
in Lebanon of trying to provoke strife and to gain advantage from the
governmental crisis. Yesterday after kidnapping Sharbel Khoury, a shepherd
from near Rmeish (he was released 24 hours later) the Israel navy also
entered Lebanese waters along the coast. This afternoon (1/13/10) Israeli
warplanes overflew Baalbek, Nabatiyeh and Marjayoun. These incursions
constituted Israel’s 7,269 and 7,270th violation of Lebanese sovereignty since
the August 2006 adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 ordering
it to stay out of Lebanon. Several UNIFIL and UN protests have had no
effect on Israel while Washington remains mute on the subject of Israeli
violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

Free Patriotic Movement member and Hezbollah supporter Jebran Bassil,
who was Minister of Energy until yesterday, blamed Washington for the fact
that Saudi-Syrian efforts to prevent the resignations, reached a dead end.
“The other side bowed to external, especially American pressure, ignoring
the advice and wishes of the Saudi and Syrian sides,” Bassil said.

For his part, Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Jumblatt seemed
to agree with the FPM and he attributed the failure of mediation efforts of
Saudi Arabia and Syria to the “forces of darkness,” alluding to leading
Western powers, “It appears the forces of darkness got involved and stymied
the Syrian-Saudi initiative, through which we would have seen a blocking of
the negative repercussion of the STL indictment.”

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea blamed the rival March 8 camp for
seeking what he called “Stalin-like” powers, accusing it of “seeking to steal
away the prerogatives of the president and the prime minister.”

What next for Hezbollah?

The Hezbollah led opposition, as a result of the last election, has a majority
in the 128-member Parliament, which enables it to name a candidate
of its own for prime minister during the president’s soon-to-be-announced
binding parliamentary consultations. At noon on 1/13/10, Hezbollah voting
bloc leader MP Mohammed Raad, announced that the opposition will name
“a personality with a history of national resistance to head the new
government.” Some are speculating that Hezbollah might propose the
longtime Sunni leader Omar Karami, a moderate self effacing fellow with
strong Syrian, progressive, and popular support.

Whatever it decides to do, Hezbollah may well take its time as its ponders
major responsibilities that would envelope the resistance movement should it
decide to govern Lebanon. Some of its supporters are urging Hezbollah to
accept the daunting challenge and implement its 2009 Manifesto and its
recent election platforms and end the mafia like corruption among some
Lebanon’s political leaders. Several Lebanese civil society NGO’s are urging
Hezbollah to do more for Lebanon’s increasingly fragile environment, fix
once and for all Lebanon’s serious water, electricity and infrastructure
problems, and let the Lebanese public decide if Hezbollah is true to their
cause and warrants its future electoral support.

Others continue to lobby the party to immediately end Lebanon’s and the
Arabs' shame and grant Palestinian refugees the internationally mandated
basic civil rights to work and to own a home. If Hezbollah heads the
government, Palestinian prospects for achieving these elementary rights may
be realized sooner rather than later.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and is reachable at
[email protected]*