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Eye on Lebanon: War(s) Brewing?

Tensions have been rising in Lebanon for some time over the revelation of Hezbollah’s role in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. The hoo-ha last week over the discovery of alleged Israeli spying equipment in Lebanese territory was a fairly transparent attempt to deflect attention by rallying Lebanese popular sentiment in a familiar direction. (The fact that the devices were discovered several years ago, but the indignation reserved for last week, is a clue.)

A UN tribunal set up to investigate the Hariri assassination led directly to the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon after 29 years of occupation, so Sheik Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah’s big cheese) has reason to be uncomfortable. He has threatened a “new era of resistance” directed towards any Lebanese who do not support the group against the tribunal, up to and including current Lebanese PM Sa’ad Hariri — the murdered man’s son.

In May, Spiegel broke the story that the UN was likely to name Hezbollah for the crime. Nasrallah subsequently admitted that Hezbollah members would likely be indicted, but said (three guesses? ) that the tribunal was set up by the Israelis and therefore a pack of Zionist lies. (The prime suspect is believed to be Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior member of Hezbollah and brother-in-law of arch-terrorist and Hezbollah macher Imad Fayez Mugniyah.)

Not long thereafter, Sa’ad Hariri said publicly that he does not believe Syria was behind his father’s murder and that he supports the UN tribunal, which is about as close to a direct accusation as he is likely to get. Nasrallah countered by demanding that the Lebanese government boycott the tribunal, a move that directly challenged the government’s authority (Hezbollah is part of a so-called unity government; it has no right to dictate the government’s actions) and that prompted a swat from the UN.

Last month, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broke the news that substantial additional evidence has been uncovered that “points overwhelmingly to the fact that the assassins were from Hezbollah.” Last week, Nasrallah again directly threatened all Lebanese who cooperate with the tribunal (and he will “cut the hand” of anyone who attempts to arrest members of Hezbollah). Simultaneously with these threats, the alleged Israeli spying devices were pulled out of cold storage.

So what’s next? UN Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen sees a “hurricane” on the horizon, and he may be right. Nasrallah’s back is against the wall, and he will almost certainly see Hezbollah’s only defensive maneuver as an offensive one — or rather two, one against those Lebanese who won’t fall in line and one against Israel. His importunings to the Lebanese people — that Israel is the real enemy — sound increasingly frantic, and a frantic, Iran-backed Nasrallah is a dangerous quantity indeed. His goal is the subjugation of Lebanon, but her people have not forgotten Hariri. They threw off the Syrian yoke, and they will not necessarily submit quietly while Hariri’s murderers ascend.

The UN tribunal’s final report is expected in early 2011. Civil war in Lebanon is a distinct possibility, as is the launching by Hezbollah of a Hail Mary war with Israel.