beirut burning 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
"The assassination of Pierre Gemayel will undoubtedly lead to a major confrontation, though probably not a civil war in Lebanon. Hizbullah has more arms and its soldiers are better trained and more professional. A full-blown civil war is therefore not in Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's best interest," Dr. Boaz Ganor, founder and the Executive Director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, predicted after news out of Lebanon emerged.
"Saniora," Ganor stated, "has several courses of action: he can depict Hizbullah as a foreign agent whose interests are not driven by a desire to promote Lebanese interests. He can also mobilize the international community to join this denunciation and exert further pressure on Syria and Iran. The Lebanese prime minister can also use the international forces currently deployed in Lebanon under the auspices of UN resolution 1701 to bring about the disarmament of Hizbullah," he said.
According to Ganor, "Tuesday's assassination is one move in a series of actions that Hizbullah and the pro-Syrian camp are trying to carry out in an attempt to topple Saniora's Western-backed government in order to put themselves in a position to form a new coalition government."
"After the war in Lebanon," Ganor noted, "I estimated that Hizbullah would be in power within five years. The Christian side has come to realize that it has little cards left for them to play. The main reason for this is that the Ta'if agreement is no longer relevant because of demographic changes in Lebanon that favor the Shi'ites. Hizbullah is openly saying that it wishes to take advantage of these changes to take control of the government."
Former head of the Lebanon desk in Israeli intelligence and currently an ICT researcher, Lt.-Col. (res.) Moshe Marzouk, was of the opinion that "Hizbullah would not attempt to launch a civil war, at least not in the short term. It has yet to recover from this summer's war."
According to Marzouk, "Two intertwined forces may be behind this assassination: First, Syria or pro-Syrian agents in Lebanon whose aim is to deter the anti-Syrian camp from cooperating with an international tribunal for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Contrary to recent political assassinations in Lebanon, this operation was executed with guns and not an explosive charge. Whereas explosives can point to, for example, Syrian-made TNT, gun shots leave very little traces.
"The second force is Hizbullah, which is seeking to take control of Lebanon. The group's fingerprints increasingly demonstrate that its aim is to bring about a radical change in the Lebanese political landscape. According to the Lebanese constitution, a party that holds one-third of the cabinet seats can torpedo any move by the majority party. Historic agreements in Lebanon created a distribution of power that is no longer represented on the streets. Hizbullah, aware of its growing demographic strength, is seeking to reach this mark and beyond."
According to Marzouk, "The situation in Lebanon is very complex. Regional and international powers are involved. France has very good connections with the Christian community; the US is backing Saniora's government and knows very well that if the Christians lose power a second Iran would be established in the Middle East. Clearly, Israel would also do everything in its power to prevent such a development."
Contrary to his colleagues, ICT analyst Dr. Eitan Azani believes Lebanon is on a course leading to a full-blown civil war. "It is far closer to that pole than the pole of reconciliation," he said.
According to Azani, "The recent history of Lebanon has demonstrated that political assassinations result in a drastic change of course. It is still too early to say exactly what effect Tuesday's events will have on the situation in Lebanon. A lot rests on the response of Saniora and his government, whether it will fold or take on a much harsher approach against the pro-Syrian camp."