While Hezbollah has run roughshod over Beirut, with plenty of help from Syria, the Lebanese Army has done little to support the central government. That, according to The Telegraph, will change starting today. The army issued a warning overnight that they would begin enforcing the law in all parts of the city, engaging in force where necessary, to end the lawlessness:
The Lebanese army, which has virtually stood by and watched Hizbollah militants take control of parts of Beirut unopposed, last night vowed to use force to impose law and order from 6am today.
The declaration could see clashes between troops and militants who warned yesterday that the violence which has killed 81 people since Wednesday would continue until the US-backed government agreed to a new power-sharing arrangement.
“Army units will halt violations… in accordance with the law, even if that leads to the use of force,” the military said in a statement. …
Hizbollah and its pro-Syrian allies have swept through Beirut and hills to the east in a series of dramatic victories since May 7, defeating loyalists of the US-backed government. The Lebanese army, which has stayed out of the fighting so far.
At least 36 people were killed on Sunday in fighting between Hizbollah and its pro-government Druze opponents east of Beirut, bringing the overall toll to 81 dead and about 250 wounded.
One has to wonder what took the army command so long to enter the fray. They may have worried about touching off another civil war, and with it a reoccupation by Syria, in a head-to-head confrontation with Hezbollah. The current fighting looks a lot like a civil war anyway, with Sunnis and Druze fighting the Shi’ite Hezbollah across the country. They too had to wonder when the army would do its job, rather than the government relying on militias and irregulars.
Lebanon’s government blamed the US for not taking action against Syria to force Hezbollah to back off:
Politicians in Lebanon’s Western-backed governing coalition criticized the United States on Monday for not doing enough to counter the opposition Hezbollah movement’s recent takeover of West Beirut. …
One March 14 politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called for “tactical strikes” against Syria to pressure the government to rein in Hezbollah.
Bush, in the interview, offered a stock reply to a question about the possibility of U.S. military action: “There’s always that option.”
They can hardly blame Bush for taking no action while the Lebanese Army sat on the sidelines. Fouad Siniora’s government is correct that Iran and Syria want to turn Lebanon into a forward operating base in the Mediterranean, but Siniora has to help himself first before we will commit to military action against either of them. Expecting the US to bomb Bashar Assad or even complain uselessly to the UN while their own army won’t take action is patently absurd.
Again, this comes from the Lebanese inability and/or unwillingness to deal decisively with Hezbollah after they attacked Israel in 2006. Lebanon had the UN on their side at that time, which passed a resolution demanding the disarming of Hezbollah and an end to militias. Had Siniora acted at that time, he may have gotten the kind of military assistance he needed while Hezbollah remained somewhat prostrate. Instead, he spent his time fulminating against Israel and tried to cut political deals with Hezbollah and their Syrian masters.
When Siniora gets serious, then we’ll get serious. According to the Washington Post, the USS Cole is on its way to the Lebanese coast. That, combined with Bush’s comment about military options, will at least get Assad’s attention.
Update: Carl in Jerusalem has more.