Lebanon Nasrallah Television 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The political crisis in Lebanon precipitated by the resignation last week of
ministers affiliated with the Hizbullah- led March 8 bloc is now entering its
second stage. The countdown has already begun toward the issuing of indictments
for the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
RELATED:Hizbullah: US controlled Hariri probe to 'light a fuse'Editorial: Can Lebanon find the courage to be free?
indictments are expected to implicate Hizbullah members, including senior
movement figures, in the killing.
Hassan Nasrallah, as indicated by his
speech earlier this week, is desperately trying to build a Lebanese political
fence around his movement, to protect it as much as possible from the impact of
its members being indicted for the murder of a popular, mainstream Sunni
politician. The March 14 movement of current Prime Minister Saad Hariri is
seeking to frustrate this effort by Hizbullah.
At present, the focus of
the action is on internal Lebanese political procedure. Hariri has been invited
by President Michel Suleiman to stay on as a “caretaker” prime minister.
Parliamentary consultations are set to begin to determine the make-up of the
next Lebanese government. The result of these consultations is far from
The Hizbullah-led March 8 bloc has made clear that it will be
putting forward an alternative candidate for the prime ministership.
Karami, the candidate of this bloc, is a former prime minister, the scion of a
prominent Sunni political family in Lebanon, and is closely aligned with the
Syrians. Hariri, meanwhile, is at the moment standing firm and looks set to
contest the issue.
The March 8 and March 14 (pro-Hariri) blocs are
roughly evenly matched in the 128- member Lebanese parliament.
moment, therefore, all eyes are on Druse strongman Walid Jumblatt, who controls
11 seats, and who has not yet clearly indicated which side he will
The indications are that he will favor Hariri’s leading a
renewed “unity” government, although it is not clear if circumstances will make
possible the formation of such a government.
If the current consultations
fail to produce a quick result, with Hariri continuing as “caretaker” prime
minister, then the prospect will open up for increased pressure on the
government from Hizbullah. It is at this point that civil unrest, demonstrations
and possibly sectarian violence will become a possibility, as Hizbullah seeks to
raise the stakes and force Hariri to distance himself from the
If, on the other hand, the new government is formed by March 8,
this will represent an entirely new situation – namely, the rise to political
power of the pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian bloc in Lebanon.
is widely considered to be a less-likely outcome.
Hizbullah and its
backers have little to gain from an open seizure of power. As this issue is
decided, international efforts of various kinds are frantically taking place to
avoid renewed internecine conflict in Lebanon. Turkey and Qatar are among the
regional states involved in these efforts. Saudi-Syrian contacts have not ended,
and it is possible that they will yet produce some type of compromise
With all the current maneuvering, two points need to be borne in
First of all, this process is about Hizbullah’s legitimacy, not its
physical power. What is at stake is the movement’s attempt to present itself as
a patriotic, Arab movement engaged centrally in fighting Israel.
it be tainted with the murder of Hariri, the movement will instead come to be
seen by millions across the Arab world as an alien, Shia force supported by
non-Arab powers and engaging in activities that place it far outside the Arab
Hizbullah dreads this outcome, and the possibility
of it underlies its present obvious discomfort.
At the same time, what is
not at stake is Hizbullah’s real-life dominance of Lebanon.
outcome of the present crisis, the undeniable reality that the Iranian-sponsored
Shia Islamist movement is the strongest force in the country will
Hizbullah thus finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being
without peer in terms of its physical strength, and yet unable to translate this
reality at the present time into a situation to its liking
The result is that the irresistible force of Saad Hariri’s
(current) refusal to abandon the Tribunal tasked with finding his father’s
killers is currently set against the immovable object of Hizbullah’s physical
domination of the means of force in Lebanon.
What will be the outcome? As
speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri put it in an interview with
, Lebanon is currently entering “a tunnel whose beginning we know
but whose end we don’t see.”