Hezbollah withdrawing from Beirut

So it ends not as a formal coup but as an informal one, with the government temporarily brought to its knees to remind it who’s boss. Think of it as a visit from mafia goons to some poor bastard who’s late in repaying his debt to a loan shark — they broke a couple of fingers this time to let him know they can break his neck if he doesn’t play ball. WaPo says they ended up taking over most of the city; all told, according to the LA Times, it took them about 12 hours to plow through the ragtag Sunni opposition, seize their political offices and media centers, and surround the homes of pro-government leaders. Let the gloating begin:

“During lunchtime if you place food on the table, by the time you’ve finished eating, we can take over,” boasted one grizzled Hezbollah fighter patrolling famous Hamra Street.

He identified himself only by the nickname Zam-Zam. He held what he described as an Israeli-made M-16 assault rifle equipped with a night-vision scope and a laser sight.

“It was an insult for us to fight these people,” he said of the Sunni militia loyal to the government. “We fight great armies.”

Why the pullout this morning? Per yesterday’s post, they don’t want to run the country, they want a safe base of operation against Israel and its western allies without interference from the Lebanese government. Mission accomplished: That Syrian spy network of theirs that the government challenged has now been placed under the jurisdiction of the Lebanese army, and the Hezbollah stooge who was fired from his job overseeing “security” at the Beirut airport has evidently been reinstated. Should we expect the army to crack down on the spy network? Read this and tell me.

As for our next president’s reaction to all this, you can see for yourself here or better yet get it in blockquote form in the course of reading Abu Kais’s reply. There’s no problem that won’t benefit from more diplomacy, even though diplomacy’s failed utterly vis-a-vis the EU’s attempts to slow down Iran’s nuclear program and is doomed to fail with regard to armed jihadist groups like Hezbollah or Hamas, as Noah Pollak explains:

The Hezbollah rampage in Lebanon that we are witnessing should make it obvious to any sentient observer that Hezbollah’s claims to democratic political legitimacy have always been intended only to manipulate the credulous. Participation in politics requires the willingness to persuade your foes, to compromise, to stand down when you don’t get your way. But there is no record of Hamas or Hezbollah ever observing such restrictions: the moment Hezbollah was confronted with political pressure, it responded not within the political sphere, but with warlordism — with an exhibition of violence intended to make clear not just that Hezbollah is the most powerful force in the country, but that challenging it will result in its enemies’ humiliation and dispossession. In the streets of Beirut, with Kalashnikovs and RPGs, Hezbollah is making it abundantly clear that its participation in Lebanese politics ends when Hezbollah is asked to submit to the state’s authority. How many more Middle East “experts” are going to proclaim that the answer to Islamic supremacism is dialogue and political integration?

The one thing Hezbollah has lost this week is the credibility of its claims to being a Lebanese “resistance” movement. Hezbollah has always countered concerns about its military buildup with the promise that it would never turn its weapons inward. The mask has fallen, and now it will never be restored. But it really doesn’t matter, and in some ways this fact might actually free Hezbollah’s hand — the group no longer need maintain any kind of charade at all that it has Lebanon’s interests at heart.

Exit question one: How is it that Sunni Arabs, forever nervous about Shiite influence, have stood by idly for so long while Iran’s built a proxy force capable of crushing the Sunnis in Lebanon in literally half a day? You’d think the Saudis, at least, would have started assembling a Sunni Hezbollah ages ago. And no, Al Qaeda doesn’t count: The Saudis sowed the theological seeds for AQ by spreading Wahhabism, but it’s hard to call them a proxy when one of their core goals is deposing the royals. It’d be like Hezbollah declaring jihad on Khamenei. Exit question two: What lessons might this display of force hold for those eager to pull out of Iraq and let the Iraqi government take its chances with that country’s Iranian-backed militias?