Chaos in Lebanon

The Associated Press reports that Hezbollah has withdrawn from the government of Lebanon, causing it to effectively collapse.  You know a country is in rough shape when Hezbollah leaving is considered a bad thing.

Hezbollah is bent out of shape over the investigation of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri back in 2005.  Hariri, a beloved figure in Lebanon among both the Sunni Muslim and Christian communities, died of car-bombing complications after being diagnosed with a bad case of independence from Syria.  Quite a few like-minded Lebanese politicians died shortly afterward.

The investigation into Hariri’s murder has been circling around some top Hezbollah figures, which naturally means it must be a “tool of Israel and the United States,” as Hezbollah ringmaster Hassan Nasrallah described it back in October.  To be fair, he didn’t get really upset until the investigation turned gynecological.  It seems agents of the U.N. tribunal turned up at a women’s clinic in Beirut, and were attacked by the female relatives of Hezbollah officials who received treatment there.  Actually, the folks from the United Nations were mugged, as a New York Times report indicates “the women stole several items from the investigators.”  Since that event, Nasrallah has been warning Lebanese not to cooperate with the tribunal.

A conclusive link between the Hariri assassination and Hezbollah would be very bad for the terror organization.  They’re Shiites, and their position will become very delicate if they’re proven to have murdered one of most prominent Sunni Muslim politicians.  Nasrallah thinks the resulting chaos would be the pretext for an attack from Israel.

The situation would, obviously, also become uncomfortable for Syria, which has already been criticized by the United States and United Nations for “flagrant disregard for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon,” to quote America’s ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice.

The government of Lebanon is preparing to soldier on without those lovable chaps from Hezbollah.  The energy minister, Jibran Brassil, is quoted by the AP describing the old cabinet as “a burden on the Lebanese, unable to do its work,” and welcoming the “chance for another government to take over.”  Many observers expect civil unrest in the coming days, with a variety of opinions on how violent they are likely to be.  Some kind of political stalemate, following a bit of window smashing, is viewed as the most likely outcome.

Hezbollah is actually considered the most powerful faction in Lebanon, thanks to their alliance with a Christian leader, Michel Aoun.  This is a strange partnership made possible by Aoun’s decision to back Saddam Hussein in both Iraq wars.  Syria, allied with the United States, sent some representatives to ask Aoun to leave Lebanon, and since those representatives were riding in tanks, he complied.  The one thing he’s got in common with Hezbollah is their dislike of the current Lebanese government.  Some observers think a continued relationship with Hezbollah will weaken Aoun significantly with his Christian supporters.  I hope somebody from the U.S. State Department is spamming his email inbox with reminders of that possibility.

Hezbollah made it clear the price of their continued participation in the unity government was an end to the Hariri investigation.  It’s a demand that didn’t get far with the Prime Minister, quite possibly because he is the son of Rafik Hariri.  Saad Hariri is in Washington, and is scheduled to meet with President Obama to discuss the matter today.  The latest inevitable crisis grinds on, in a tortured country that has seen too many of them.