Word from Michael Totten (via Naharnet) that Syria is telling its citizens to leave Lebanon by July 15th in anticipation of a “[p]ossible eruption of violent crisis” and even more shockingly, has already invaded Lebanon. The Syrian army has penetrated to a depth of three kilometers into the Bekaa Valley. They are digging in, throwing up berms and revetments with the evident intent of staying a while.
The invasion, coupled with the call for their citizens to get out of Lebanon means one of two things could be at work here; a gigantic bluff being run by Syria and Hizbullah in advance of the multi-party talks in Paris that will take place later this week or a genuine war warning. With the unpredictable Assad, it’s anyone’s guess at this point what he has in mind. But given the absolute, unbending determination the Syrian President has shown to keep the International Tribunal from meeting added to the fact that no one in the west appears willing to stand with Lebanon in this, her most desperate hour, I am leaning toward the belief that Syria is about ready to manufacture an “incident” that would set off a violent confrontation in Beirut between Hizbullah and the March 14th forces, giving Assad an excuse to re-occupy the country or allow Nasrallah to deploy his well armed, well trained militia against the March 14th amateurs.
Many signs recently have pointed to some kind of resolution to the 7 month long cabinet crisis that has virtually paralyzed the government. Nasrallah promised many months ago that the elected government would be overthrown peacefully and hasn’t delivered. He’s had his followers in the streets of Beirut surrounding the government building while Prime Minister Siniora and his ministers have hung tough in the face of incredible dangers and provocations.
But time is running out on Assad which is why the rhetoric from the opposition has been escalating drastically the last 10 days. Walid Phares:
The main issue now is the presidency of the republic. Elections are currently slated to take place in September. But current, pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will try to postpone the elections as long as he can. The March 14 movement (opposed to the Syrian regime) will try to vote for its candidate â€” not yet selected â€” by late October/early November. The new president won’t be recognized by Hezbollah and its allies.
Hezbollah and its allies will form a government of their own and take control of large parts of Lebanon. This plan is two years old. It is being publicized only now by both parties in the propaganda-warfare realm.
There is a possibility that the “axis” may attempt to break down the Seniora government during the summer (July-September) through ground action, and also by initiating the formation of another cabinet.
Al Mustaqbal, the pro-Hariri daily is publishing reports about a potential coup d’etat by Hezbollah as a “preemptive strike.” The information about Iran-Hezbollah plans for a coup, were made available as early as 2006 by the Lebanese international lobby (also known as the World Council of the Cedars Revolution). The March 14 coalition chose to release this information now, as the other side is also leaking it in an attempt to intimidate the Seniora cabinet. Hence, as both sides are leaking it simultaneously, it has been picked up by international monitors of the various media, including MEMRI. In short, the plan of a coup d’etat by Hezbollah, and backed by Iran and Syria is two years old, but it is surfacing now as the crush moment draws dramatically closer. “
MEMRI is reporting the same thing; that Hizbullah is set to form a “shadow government” in Lebanon:
For the past month, senior officials in the Hizbullah-led Lebanese government, as well as Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, have been threatening to establish a second government in Lebanon, or to take “historical” and “strategic” steps that will be announced in due course.
The crisis between the March 14 Forces and the Lebanese opposition has deepened with the approach of the legal date set for the presidential elections, which the opposition is threatening to prevent, and in light of harsh criticism by the Lebanese government and the March 14 Forces accusing Syria of being behind all the recent attempts to destabilize Lebanon.
On June 18, 2007, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Lebanese opposition, reported that Lahoud had postponed until mid-July the deadline on his ultimatum requiring the opposition to apprise him of their plans against the March 14 Forces. According to the paper, if the crisis is not resolved by July 15, the opposition will form the second government. 
On June 25, 2007, Al-Akhbar reported that the opposition had already discussed plans to form a second government and to take over the government ministries, in the event that the Al-Siniora government continued to adhere to its current positions. The paper added that the opposition had even begun to name the individuals who will form the second government.
A senior member of the Lebanese opposition told Al-Akhbar that he believed that if the second government is established, the Lebanese army will adopt a neutral stance. He estimated that the regions that would be loyal to the second government would be larger than the ones remaining loyal to Al-Siniora’s government. He further said that people from the South, from the Beqa’ valley, and from a large part of the Mount Lebanon region, as well as in the North, would refuse to recognize Al-Siniora’s government. He added that UNIFIL would find itself facing a new reality when it discovered that Al-Siniora’s government was no longer able to support its activities or ensure its security. 
It should be noted that an article in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is affiliated with the March 14 Forces, estimated that the second government’s jurisdiction would include South Lebanon, that is, the area bordering Israel, and the Beqa’ valley, that is, the region bordering Syria. 
Lots of speculation but little in the way of hard news about the plans and purposes of the Assad/Hizbullah/Iranian axis.
This presents something of a dilemma for Siniora and his besieged cabinet. They know a storm is coming but they don’t know when and are unsure of its magnitude. A Hizbullah move to create a “shadow government” would probably generate a lot of publicity but would hardly change the power equation in the country. Hizbullah has been an independent force for years, exercising authority in the south in opposition to the government. They have their own infrastructure in place already. Any declaration by Nasrallah – even if his “government” included Christians and Sunnis as ministers – would fail to generate much support outside of the Hizbullah stronghold in the south.
This leads me to believe that Nasrallah has something else planned in conjunction with the formation of another government in opposition to Siniora. It could be, as Phares points out above, the initiation of some kind of violence in the streets – past patterns suggesting a series of bombings possibly in Sunni areas of Beirut – that would give legitimacy to Nasrallah’s call for a new government to control the spilling of blood. This would certainly ratchet up the pressure on Siniora. His refusal to accede to Nasrallah’s demands in the face of increasing violence might – just might – give Syria an excuse to move back into Beirut.
Would Assad dare? Michael Totten:
Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?
There has been no outcry about Syria’s moving troops into the Bekaa from the United States, from the French, from the west, from the Arab League whose Secretary General Amr Moussa has been in Damascus talking with Assad in a futile attempt to head off disaster, from the Saudis, nor from the Iranians who MEMRI reports has moved from a position that opposed the idea of a Lebanese Civil War to now supporting Assad’s position that the International Tribunal must be headed off by any means necessary.
Who will stand with Lebanon? Will anyone fight to save what’s left of Lebanese democracy?
Even if Assad doesn’t order his tanks into Beirut, it is clear that he and the opposition forces are slowly gaining the upper hand in this cabinet standoff. Siniora can do nothing except endure the pressure coming from Nasrallah and Assad. They have tried every formula possible – without giving up their majority status – to try and accommodate Nasrallah and his beef about Shia cabinet representation. Every time it appears that a solution is at hand, Nasrallah has backed off and raised the ante. He has variously demanded new parliamentary elections as well as holding hostage the presidential selection process until Siniora is gone and his handpicked toady is in place.
There simply is no placating Nasrallah. Compromise and accommodation are not his goals. He means to overthrow the government and will accept nothing less. The coming talks in Paris beginning Saturday among all parties is just more window dressing for Nasrallah, one more venue where he can spout his lies and sound reasonable, all the while plotting his next move in this deadly game of chess with Siniora and his western backed government.
The answer to the question of who might help Lebanon is unfortunately, no one who could do much good before the storm hits. The United States, already involved in one civil war in Iraq could hardly be expected to deploy any troops to Beirut in order to become embroiled in another. The French, with their long standing affection and sense of responsibility toward the Lebanese people wouldn’t move militarily without some help from the EU and the US even if Sarkozy demonstrated a willingness to do so.
The United Nations would examine the situation carefully and after a couple of weeks of debate would issue a watered down resolution condemning the Syrians for meddling in Lebanon. As far as ordering the 13,000 UNIFIL force in the south to assist the Siniora government, that simply won’t happen. Those forces are not configured for combat and besides, it would be a huge stretch to imagine the UN involving itself in a civil war by taking sides.
The Saudis, as Lebanon’s chief financial ally, could only stand and watch as Lebanon was gobbled up by Assad. King Abdullah has no desire to get into a shooting war with either Hizbullah or Syria. Other moderate Arab states would also condemn any coup in Lebanon but would except an Assad fait accompli as a fact of life.
Except for rhetoric, Siniora and the March 14th forces will find themselves alone to face the tiger. And as the situation moves toward a climax, the painful reality will be that in the face of a ruthless, determined foe, the United States and the west failed to protect and nurture the hope for democracy in one of the most pro-western, secular Arab nations in the world.
Allah also believes the Syrian army’s move into Bekaa presages some kind of political denouement to the crisis. He sees “the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon as guarantors of the new government.” In this scenario, Assad keeps his forces out of Beirut while letting Nasrallah and Hizbullah slug it out with the woefully undermanned and underequipped Christian and Sunni militias. Once Nasrallah has the clear upper hand – something that should happen rather quickly – Assad moves in to prop up Nasrallah’s new government while ruthlessly suppressing any opposition to it. This is something the Syrian intelligence service was born to do, having proved themselves more than up to the task both in Lebanon and rebellious areas of Syria.