Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Middle East — Rick Moran @ 8:00 am

Despite the cessation of hostilities with Israel and the establishment of an international buffer force under the auspices of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, the internal political situation in Lebanon has slowly metastasized into a cancerous growth that, if not excised, could lead to the downfall of the Siniora government and the reestablishment of Syrian hegemony over the tiny nation.

Prime Minister Siniora’s headaches actually began during the war with Israel. Deliberately initiating hostilities by kidnapping Israeli soldiers, Hezb’allah leader Hassan Nasrallah virtually took over the Lebanese government during the course of the conflict. It was Nasrallah who decided questions of war and peace, treating the Prime Minister as little more than an errand boy. In effect, Nasrallah claimed veto power over any efforts to negotiate an end to the war, thus making himself de facto head of the government.

In the aftermath of the conflict, with much of Lebanon’s infrastructure in ruins and tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens homeless, Siniora re-established his control over the government with both shrewd political maneuvering and a healthy infusion of cash from several Arab neighbors that helped alleviate some of the immediate suffering of the people.

The March 14th Forces who formed a coalition in the wake of the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and helped throw the Syrians out of Lebanon after a quarter century of occupation, subsequently winning a legislative majority in Parliament, at first seemed stunned by developments. Remaining relatively quiet during the war while Hezb’Allah dominated the government, it was only after the conflict was over that the democrats got busy. They strongly denounced Hezb’allah’s warmaking and rightly pointed to Nasrallah’s role in superseding the elected government of Prime Minister Siniora.

But what Siniora and the March 14th forces didn’t count on were calls by the opposition in Parliament for the formation of a “Government of National Unity” within days following cessation of hostilities with Israel. And the chief troublemaker on this front turned out to be the leader of the largely Christian party the Free Patriotic Movement’s Michel Aoun.

The former General, head of the Lebanese armed forces, and Prime Minister has proven himself to be something of a thorn in the side of the March 14th forces since his return from exile in Paris just prior to the parliamentary elections in 2005. Refusing to ally himself and his party with the democrats- largely because they refused to endorse his desire to replace President Emile Lahoud - the FPM garnered 21 of the 128 seats in the elections and, in a surprise move, allied themselves with the opposition headed up by Nasrallah’s Hezb’allah. Their “Memorandum of Understanding” called for Hezb’allah’s disarmament - but only after several conditions had been met including the “return” of the Shebba Farms to Lebanon (the tiny enclave has never been part of Lebanon) and a settlement with Syria had been affected.

All of this was to take place in the context of the National Dialogue, a group of party and religious leaders representing all factions in Lebanon who have been given a mandate by Parliament to come up with solutions to some of Lebanon’s thornier problems. These include a new electoral law that will rid the nation once and for all of some of its more arcane sectarian political divisions as well as deciding the fate of the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. The agreement between Aoun and Nasrallah effectively cut the legs out from underneath the group and little in the way of progress was achieved.

Indeed, one of the most important issues facing the country - and the proximate cause for much of the current political unrest - cannot be addressed by the leadership group. The formation of an international tribunal to try those responsible for the assassination of Hariri as well as more than 20 other acts of terrorism and murder carried out since the February 14, 2005 death of the former prime minister threatens to precipitate a political crisis that would oust Siniora and bring to power a government under the thumb of Hassan Nasrallah and through him, Syria and Iran.

The United States has become so concerned about the potential for Syrian and Iranian troublemaking in this regard that it has taken the unusual step of issuing a warning to the two states to keep their hands off Lebanese sovereignty:

The United States has said there is “mounting evidence” that Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are planning to topple the Lebanese government.

The White House said Syria hoped to stop the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the killing of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

Spokesman Tony Snow said any attempt to destabilise the Lebanese government would violate UN resolutions.

Aoun and Nassrallah’s calls for a national unity government are basically a smokescreen. Their real goal is for a new government that would feature Hezb’allah veto power over any important decisions made by the cabinet. By agitating for one third of the ministries to be awarded to the Nasrallah/Aoun coalition in any new ministerial lineup, the March 14th Forces would be stymied in their efforts to keep Lebanon out of the clutching grasp of Syria. And the prospect of nationwide political paralysis which could lead to another civil war would become more pronounced.

Quietly and without any fanfare, and important member of the March 14th Forces paid a visit to Washington this week for talks with Secretary Rice and other officials. The old Druze warlord and head the Progressive Socialists party Walid Jumblatt, who has become one of the more outspoken opponents of Nasrallah and Hezb’allah, may have had something to do with the US government warning to Iran and Syria. Jumblatt has been sounding the alarm for months about Nasrallah’s designs as well as never missing an opportunity to tar the Hezb’allah leader with being a cat’s paw for Syria and Iran:

Lebanese leader Walid Jumblatt has warned that Hezbollah’s advocated street demonstrations to topple PM Fouad Siniora’s government will paralyze the country and cause “chaos.”

Jumblatt ’s comments were made Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, at the end of a U.S. visit where he met with top U.S. officials.

On Hezbollah’s demands for the formation of a national unity government, Jumblatt said that the Shiite group and its Christian ally General Michel Aoun intended to form a new cabinet so they could control one-third of the government.

If the current government is overthrown, Jumblatt said, “the country would live in paralysis.”

He said that the reason behind this demand “is to cause chaos, stop the international tribunal” and interrupt the implementation of U.N. resolutions.”

Jumblatt, whose father was assassinated by Syrian agents and whose family has led the Druze for generations, may himself be in danger. More than once, Nasrallah has warned the March 14th Forces not to criticize “The Resistance” as Hezb’allah wants to be known. But this hasn’t stopped Jumblatt and others from resisting Nasrallah’s demands.

In a recent interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, Secretary Rice referred to the possibility of political assassinations, including a “new list” of potential targets:

Now, in terms of — we know that Lebanon has unfortunately had too many assassinations, too many tragic circumstances. You know that better than any. And so the evidence is there that foreign influences have — ever since the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — have tried to use assassination and intimidation against the Lebanese people. But the Lebanese people are very resilient people, and they keep coming back to their desire to have a democratic future and to live together, not to be driven again into civil war. We worry these days that –

QUESTION: But no specific information about the assassinations?

SECRETARY RICE: You get information from time to time that there are forces that would want to do this. But if there is specific information, of course, we will pass it on to the Lebanese so that they can try and guard against it.

QUESTION: We heard about new list.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we too have heard that there are people who would like to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Siniora. We’ve heard that there are people who would like to intimidate or assassinate again. They’ve done it before in Lebanon.

QUESTION: Well, what about (inaudible) –

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s not any great secret that there are concerns about what Syria, which once occupied the country, might try and do through continuing contacts in the country. But I don’t want to accuse any one place; I just want to make very clear that the international community believes there should be no foreign intimidation of the Lebanese people

And to go along with this kind of intimidation, Nasrallah himself has threatened to send his bully boys into the streets in order to foment violence that could threaten Prime Minister Siniora’s hold on power:

Hizbullah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, warned late Tuesday that Hizbullah and its allies will take to the streets “for as long as it takes … to either topple the government or hold early and new parliamentary elections,” if consultations to form a national unity government should fail.

In an interview with Hizbullah’s Al-Manar television, Nasrallah said it is a democratic right to demand the change of a government through “peaceful demonstrations.”

“Those who are currently in the government demonstrated in the streets last year until they toppled the Cabinet of Premier Omar Karami,” he noted. “Why aren’t we allowed to do the same? If we demand this right, they call us rioters?”

All of these political maneuvering and threats are taking place against the backdrop of the formation of an International Tribunal to try the perpetrators of the Hariri assassination. Evidence gathered first by UN Prosecutor Detleve Mehlis and his successor Serge Brammertz points the finger squarely at the highest levels of both the Syrian and Lebanese governments including President Bashar Assad himself who pointedly warned Hariri just days before his death that he would bring “Lebanon down on your head” if Hariri dared oppose the extension of President Lahoud’s term in office. Others, including Assad’s brother in law who heads up the Syrian secret police and Lebanese army officers were also implicated in the plot.

President Lahoud himself may have had a hand in the assassination or at least knew of the plot’s existence. With all of these figures at risk of being prosecuted by a non-Lebanese judicial body, is it any wonder that both Syrians and their allies in Lebanon are anxious to quash the formation of such a court by overthrowing Siniora and placing their own toadies in power?

Herein lies the danger for Siniora and the March 14th forces. In order for the international body to be seated, the cabinet must approve. Already, President Lahoud is setting up roadblocks in the form of a lengthy 32 page protest, couched in constitutional language, that would throw a monkey wrench into the entire process. Coupled with the threatened street demonstrations by Hezb’allah, Siniora will have his hands full trying to maintain control while getting his cabinet to agree on the composition and makeup of the tribunal:

Many political observers have commented that Syria is extremely nervous about the International Tribunal. This is why they say Syria is trying to destabilize the country by trying to dump Prime Minister Siniora and his cabinet through Hezbollah and its main ally General Michel Aoun.

One observer said “Lahoud is heavily indebted to Syria for forcing the Lebanese parliament in 2004 to change the constitution in order to extend his term by another 3 years”. It is obvious the observer added ” Syria told Lahoud what to do and this is exactly why he is trying to stall the tribunal”. The observer concluded ” what a shame for a country to have its president as a foreign agent” .

At the moment, the March 14th Forces are standing firm, united in their opposition to Nasrallah’s interference. But with the prospect that the National Dialogue will reconvene and have on its agenda the possibility of urging the formation of a National Unity Government, Prime Minister Siniora’s political skills will be tested as never before over the next few months.

Whether he can succeed in his efforts to remain in power while trying to keep Lebanon from descending into chaos will decide whether a weak an fragile Lebanese democracy - stretched to the breaking point during the war - can survive for much longer.


  1. The Mideast, 198 (November 2, 2006)

    Lebanon’s agony continues: despite the end of the war, “the internal political situation in Lebanon has slowly metastasized into a cancerous growth that, if not excised, could lead to the downfall of the Siniora government and the reestablishment of…

    Trackback by Pajamas Media — 11/2/2006 @ 11:25 am

  2. On 8/16, Siniora was on FOX TV and stated that the war was started by America and Istael because they knew that Lebanon was starting to get back on it’s feet, and we couldn’t stand it. So we started a war. He also refused to condemn Hezbollah rockets being fired at civilans in Isael. On 10/17, the Jerusalem Post reported that Siniora stated that Lebanon would be the LAST country to sign a peace pact with Israel. Great neighbors, huh? I have no sympathy for that anti-semite, and am getting so tired of having to worry about my own security because of the civil unrest and slide into chaos in another Arab/Muslim country. And to think that millions of tax dollars will go to help rebuild Lebanon. I know we probably HAVE to help them, but i think it will be a waste. The won’t quit hating.

    Comment by Mitzi — 11/2/2006 @ 4:08 pm

  3. Sorry for the typo’s. I meant to say THEY won’t quit hating.

    Comment by Mitzi — 11/2/2006 @ 4:38 pm

  4. Good post Rick!

    Comment by Dale in Atlanta — 11/2/2006 @ 5:47 pm

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