Michael Totten

On the Brink

The Iranian- and Syrian-backed militia Hezbollah just took down Lebanon’s government. It did so without firing a shot—which, so far as I know, is unprecedented for a terrorist army—yet its action could be just the nonviolent prologue to a deadly serious, possibly region-wide crisis. Eleven ministers from Hezbollah and its aligned parties resigned from the Lebanese cabinet, leaving the government short of the number it needed to continue.

At issue was the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is expected to indict Hezbollah in March for assassinating former prime minister Rafik Hariri with a car bomb in 2005. Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, had been pressing the current prime minister, Hariri’s son Saad, to condemn the tribunal and preemptively discredit the looming indictment, but Hariri refused. He and his allies in the “March 14” coalition—named after the date when a million or more people demonstrated in central Beirut against the Syrian occupation in 2005—have surrendered to Hezbollah on several points of contention, not the least of which was the number of ministers that Hezbollah would get in the cabinet. But the son of the slain former prime minister would not surrender on this. He’d rather lose his government and his job than give even tacit approval to Hezbollah’s ridiculous story that the Israelis were behind the attack that killed his father, one of the most liberal prime ministers in the Arab world’s history.

At the time of the bombing, most observers, including me, assumed that the culprit was the Syrian military regime then occupying Lebanon. Hezbollah, while certainly capable, had less motive. In hindsight, however, it’s obvious that Hezbollah should have been on a short list of suspects. It is, after all, a terrorist organization. The Party of God has expressed its loathing of the UN tribunal ever since the investigation was authorized in 2005, long before anyone talked seriously about accusing Nasrallah or any of his lieutenants.

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