January 25, 2007

Slouching Toward War — Continuously Updated

While I'm finishing up my next article, read Michael Young's latest in Beirut's Daily Star:

For the third time in almost a year Lebanon has averted a civil war, but we're nearing the end of the rope. If the Danish Embassy demonstrations and Hizbullah's mobilization in early December were, ultimately, manageable when it came to Christian-Sunni or Sunni-Shiite antagonism, what happened on Tuesday was, in its permutations, pretty much war. And if anything induced Hizbullah to suspend the protests, it was an awareness that if these continued for even a day, war was inevitable.

...Hizbullah had cut off most roads between the eastern and western sectors of Beirut, as well as the airport road. The irresponsibility of those steps was staggering. Not only did the party take Lebanon back to the symbolism of the war years, but Beirut's Sunnis saw the move as trapping them in their half of the capital. The word "blockade" started being used, prompting the mufti to heatedly muster his community. Wael Abu Faour of the March 14 coalition warned that if the army did not reopen the roads, supporters of the majority would. Hizbullah backed down, aware, let's not forget, that a Sunni-Shiite confrontation is a red line for Iran.

However, that reality only reaffirmed how Hizbullah has been juggling contradictory agendas. The Iranians may not want sectarian discord, but what happened this week was fulfillment of the Syrian side of Hizbullah's agenda. The main obstacle remains the Hariri tribunal and Syria's refusal to permit its creation. How Tehran and Damascus will work out their clashing priorities is anybody's guess. You have to assume that with the Lebanese so close to doing battle, and given the dire implications of what this would mean for Hizbullah and its already dilapidated reputation in the Sunni Arab world, Iran will remind Nasrallah of who pays the checks. On the other hand, the Iranians realize that the tribunal might be fatal to the Syrian regime, depriving the Islamic Republic of a key asset in the Levant.

At a more parochial level, the opposition's actions were self-defeating for being built on a lie. If the benchmark of success was Hizbullah's ability to close roads, then Tuesday was indeed successful. However, that weapon has now been used up, and the government remains in place. The next time the opposition threatens to do something similar, we might as well load the guns or head for the shelters. On the other hand, what kind of confidence can anyone have in a party, and its Christian appendages in the Aounist movement and the Marada, that promises to be peaceful, only to practice intimidation? There is such a thing as Lebanese civil society, one hardened by the 1975-1990 war, and it will unite against such abuse.

Read the rest in the Daily Star.

UPDATE: There were more violent clashes in Beirut even after Nasrallah called off his siege. The clashes, of course, are between Sunnis and Shia. Hezbollah used M-16s, and Hariri supporters used pistols. Beirut is now under curfew.

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UPDATE: According to the Ouwet Front, Hariri supporters burned the office of the (fascist) Syrian Social Nationalist Party in Tareek Jdeede.

UPDATE: From Naharnet:

Police sappers also defused a rocket that was directed at the Moustaqbal newspaper in Beirut, shortly before it was set to launch.

"Luckily they discovered it. It would have resulted in a massacre. The newspaper is packed by journalists at this time of the evening," Editor Nassir al-Assad told Naharnet by telephone.

Moustaqbal is the newspaper for Hariri's Future Movement, by the far the most popular Sunni party in Lebanon.

Naharnet also reports that Hezbollah is attacking buildings in the downtown banking sector.

UPDATE: Thugs from the Hezbollah dahiyeh attacked the Lebanese army.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2007 12:48 AM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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