A hard dose of world news for you as we try to emerge from the “all Arizona, all the time” cycle.
Has there been a single day since this site started five years ago where the above headline couldn’t plausibly have been written? The cause of the impending collapse is, as usual, Hezbollah’s unease over the UN tribunal that’s been investigating its role in the assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri for fully five years now. Rumors that Hezbollah itself, rather than Syria, will soon be indicted have been swirling for months; tensions between Lebanese Sunnis, which include the Hariri clan, and the Shiites who compose Hezbollah’s base are so high that Lebanon’s current prime minister — Rafiq Hariri’s son, Saad — has publicly considered asking the UN to cancel the tribunal for the good of the country. His choice, in other words, is either to risk a new civil war with Iran’s most lethal proxy army or to keep the peace by exonerating his own father’s murderers. It’s Greek tragedy in an Arab setting.
This is what the Cedar Revolution has come to.
Members of the powerful Hezbollah movement and its allies brought down Lebanon’s unity government Wednesday after resigning from Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet.
Minister of State Adnan Sayyed Hussein turned in his resignation along with 10 members of the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, meaning that the threshold needed — 11 resignations from the 30-member Cabinet — to collapse the government had been reached.
Hariri was meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House as the political crisis erupted in Lebanon.
“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.
From Washington Hariri left for Paris, likely to sound out Sarkozy as to whether, as Richard Fernandez says, the west will provide any meaningful support if he confronts Hezbollah and war breaks out. A former deputy Mossad chief told reporters yesterday that he doesn’t expect a new civil war, that somehow the Saudis and Syria will strike some kind of bargain to keep the peace between the Sunnis and Hezbollah, but all that means in practice is Hezbollah taking over the country through slower, nonviolent, “political” means. In return for agreeing not to march on Beirut, Hezbollah will be appeased with some sort of official government denunciation of the Hariri tribunal’s findings as illegitimate plus, perhaps, an increase in its representation within the cabinet. They had 11 ministers as of yesterday; maybe, as part of a new extortion deal, they’ll get 15 for their trouble. Thus somehow does a murder indictment become political leverage for the murderers.
Given how much power Hezbollah has over the Lebanese state — remember this episode? — I’ve honestly never fully understood why they fear the indictments so much. Surely Lebanese citizens on all sides already suspect the group and its Syrian patron of Hariri’s murders. If formal indictments are issued, they’ll be blithely dismissed as an American/Zionist conspiracy to discredit a saintly political organization who, until recently, counted among its leaders one of the world’s most notorious terrorists. And then life will go on, with everyone grudgingly holding their tongues in order to avert a new war. The best explanation I can come up with is that Hezbollah’s using the tribunal mainly as a pretext to extract concessions — i.e. “if our legitimacy is questioned, we’ll have no choice but to defend ourselves … unless we’re mollified with more political power, of course.”
Obama has reportedly urged Hariri not to fold and to stand by the tribunal, although what that means in practice if Hezbollah decides to call his bluff, I have no idea. Presumably the White House will put heavy pressure on Syria to make Hezbollah stand down. What that pressure might involve — sticks or carrots? — I guess we’ll see in the next week or two. What could go wrong?