Can Lebanon find the courage to be free?

With the US at the forefront, the int'l community should make it absolutely clear how it intends to offer Lebanon’s gov't support in facing down Hizbullah.

Lebanese Saad Hariri in Washington 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Lebanese Saad Hariri in Washington 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, appointed to investigate the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, will soon release its findings, which will reportedly place blame for the murder on Hizbullah. In response, Hizbullah has toppled Lebanon’s government, headed by Hariri’s son Saad, in an attempt to bully it into denouncing the tribunal before it announces its verdict.
So far, Hariri has refused to cave in to Hizbullah, whose fighting forces are known to be stronger than the Lebanese Armed Forces. Doing so would compromise his own, his family’s and his country’s honor, though it demands supreme courage on his part – and assurances of Western support.
Just before his government collapsed, Hariri was in Washington seeking US President Barack Obama’s backing to stand up to Hizbullah. Undoubtedly, Hizbullah and its allies will attempt to place additional pressure on Hariri in the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile, IDF troops in the North are on alert over concerns the political turmoil in Lebanon might spill over into renewed violence.
As The Jerusalem Post’s military correspondent Yaakov Katz noted on Thursday, while Hizbullah is ultimately interested in taking over Lebanon, it hopes to do so not via a violent coup, but in a way that does not undermine its legitimacy. Hizbullah is jealous of Hamas’s 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election victory, which set the ostensible groundwork for its violent takeover of Gaza the following year. The Shi’ite terrorist organization to our north hopes for a similar political success, but a UN tribunal indictment for the murder of a popular Sunni politician would make it much harder for Hizbullah to straddle the Sunni-Shi’ite divide. It would also convince the less politically savvy Lebanese who did not already know it that Hizbullah was responsible for the Hariri murder – not Israel, as Hizbullah preposterously claims.
Getting the Lebanese government to discredit the tribunal would mitigate much of the political damage that would be caused to Hizbullah by the the public punishment of its operatives.
Under this state of affairs, it is absolutely essential that America, France – where Hariri went to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy on his hurried route home from Washington – and other Western countries and moderate Arab nations, in particular Saad Hariri’s patron Saudi Arabia, continue to provide Lebanon’s prime minister with full support.
Cracks are already forming in the consensus calling to prosecute those responsible for Rafik Hariri’s assassination.
Walid Jumblatt, a bellwether of internal Lebanese politics as leader of an embattled Druse minority with well-developed survival instincts, backtracked on his original support for prosecuting those found guilty by the tribunal.
“Madness” was how he described that support in a recent interview with New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who was so impressed by Jumblatt and his arguments that he, too, concluded, “Lebanese stability is precious and tenuous: It trumps justice delayed, flawed and foreign.”
CAVING IN to Hizbullah might enable transient short-term stability, but a state of lawlessness will ultimately only lead to more violence. Assassins not held accountable for their crimes will be encouraged to perpetrate additional assassinations.
With the United States at the forefront, the international community should make it absolutely clear how it intends to offer Lebanon’s government support in facing down Hizbullah, even if that provokes a renewal of sectarian violence among Sunnis, Christians and Shi’ites. But as Elliot Abrams, former US deputy national security adviser, pointed out in a recent blog entry, the present crisis is less a test of the US, France or any other country than of the Lebanese. It is for them to lead the resistance to Hizbullah. Maronite Catholics, Druse, Sunni and, yes, Shi’ites, too, must demonstrate the will to keep their country from complete domination by an Iranian-controlled terror group that spells nothing but doom for Lebanon.
The Lebanese tasted the beginnings of vibrant democracy after mass demonstrations protesting Hariri’s assassination – known as the Cedar Revolution – ousted Syrian occupation forces from Lebanon. This short-lived period of freedom ended traumatically in the spring of 2008 when Hizbullah turned its arms against the Lebanese people to forcibly take control.
Which will hold sway over the Lebanese, the memory of freedom or the trauma of civil war?