Destroying Lebanon: Hezbollah’s new suicide mission

Mr. Hariri really has no choice but to stand firm in Hezbollah’s game of chicken: even if he could stymie Hezbollah in the short term by giving in, he would eventually have no authority at all were he to abandon the rule of law. He will have to insist on accountability for his father’s assassins, even if he loses his position in the process. His coalition remains a viable alternative to Hezbollah only as long as it sticks to the pluralistic and law-based values that distinguish it from its theocratic and belligerent enemies…

Simply put, Hezbollah cannot afford the blow to its popular legitimacy that would occur if it is pinned with the Hariri killing. The group’s power depends on the unconditional backing of its roughly 1 million supporters. Its constituents are the only audience that matters to Hezbollah, which styles itself as sole protector of Arab dignity from humiliation by Israel and the United States.

These supporters will be hard-pressed to understand, much less forgive, their party if it is proved to have killed a leader who was loved by the nation’s Sunni Muslims and also respected by Christians, Druze and even many Shiites, who form Hezbollah’s core support. That is why Hezbollah denies any role in the assassination even though it has unabashedly taken responsibility for destabilizing moves like setting off the 2006 war with Israel or pushing Lebanon to the brink of civil war in 2008…

The odds of this strategy succeeding are not great: Hezbollah is likely to emerge the end winner because it is willing to sacrifice the Lebanese state to maintain its standing in the Middle East and its perpetual war against Israel. But Lebanon’s lonely prime minister has no better choice than to play the long shot for a just resolution; otherwise, he’ll become a steward of Hezbollah’s impunity.