Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Lebanon Crisis: A Simmering Powder keg about to Explode?

Outgoing Military Intelligence chief Maj. General Amos Yadlin warned last week that Israel’s next war would be fought on several fronts – causing far heavier damage and casualties than other recent conflicts. He was referring to mounting tension, fearing of a conflict in Lebanon following last week’s announcement by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that he knew the UN tribunal probing Hariri’s 2005 murder was set to indict Hezbollah members. Nasrallah made clear that he would not accept any indictment of Hezbollah members and has questioned the credibility of the tribunal.
His announcement has sparked fears of a new sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon, similar to one that brought the country on the verge of civil war in 2008.
Last week, a Canadian report, quoting unnamed sources, implicated Hezbollah in the assassination of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. The report was based on circumstantial evidence, having been unearthed by United Nations investigators, naming a former Lebanese intelligence officer, who was assassinated following these revelations. It is not surprising that Hezbollah leaders have immediately responded that it would not accept any indictment of its members in connection with the assassination.
Meanwhile tension inside Lebanon is already rising dangerously. Following the high profile visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Lebanon earlier this month, Hezbollah has gained substantial power status, strengthening both its political and military prestige, among an already weakened Sunni- Christian led, decade-long existing, sectarian-strifed nation.
According to undisclosed intelligence reports, aired by the Israeli media, early November,  Hezbollah conducted a secret command exercise  in all parts of Lebanon to test its armed militia’s readiness for, what its leaders called “zero hour”, asserting its grip on Lebanon by “cornering” Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The “zero hour” exercise demonstrated, “the quick implementation on the ground” of the necessary deployment. They claimed that in “less than two hours” they were able to “maintain a security and military grip of large areas of Lebanon.” These are no empty words either. In May 2008, Hezbollah actually seized most of western Beirut following a third day of clashes between opposition and government supporters. The “coup” was sparked by a government move to shut down Hezbollah’s secret telecommunications fiber network.
Back In 1975 Lebanon was plunged into a lasting, bloody civil war, in which the Syrian Army invaded the country and virtually controlled it for years.
These days, the situation in Lebanon is even more dangerous and if allowed to explode, could shake the Middle East beyond repair. Earlier this summer, Israeli chief of staff, Gaby Ashkenazi said that an earthquake was in store for Lebanon later this year, when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) names Hezbollah in connection with the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
As usual in the past, events in this region much depend on the attitude of the United States. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has so far done very little to subdue the simmering powder keg, which is about to explode. In fact, the Muslim world and especially the extremist Islamic jihadist, regard Washington’s recent hasty withdrawal from Iraq and Obama’s untimely announcement of his intended disengagement from Afghanistan, as a sign of weakness in facing a serious crisis situation.
Should the Canadian report be based on genuine information from the STL, Hezbollah might act with force to take control over Lebanon. With the Hezbollah in power, Lebanon might turn into becoming an active part of the Iranian Shiite sphere of influence- the so-called “Shiite Crescent”. This will create a highly sensitive situation: Syria, which regards Lebanon as part of its geopolitical domain, never having accepted the colonialist post WWI Anglo-French agreement, which made Lebanon into independent statehood, will no doubt react negatively on any trespassing into its traditional protectorate.

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