Last year in November, the outgoing Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin predicted the next war in the Middle East could start in Beirut. According to Aviation Week’s David Eshel. “The flashpoint would be an attempt by Hezbollah to overthrow the Lebanese government, with backing from Syria and Iran.” It would be a conflict of potentially enormous destructiveness; a barroom brawl between Israel, Syria and Iran, with a sectarian supporting cast of Sunni vs Shia with Lebanon’s huge Christian minority in the undercard of the main event.
The regional fallout from a war between Israel and Lebanon, Syria and Gaza would be enormous, especially since Iran is likely to play a role in arming and supporting Israel’s enemies. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also expressed concerns about the stability of Lebanon and the regional impact should Hezbollah take over the country.
In August, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah traveled to Damascus to confer with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Abdullah’s objective was to explore ways of preventing an eruption of violence in—and from—Lebanon. Riyadh is worried about Tehran using Hezbollah to provoke war with Israel, a war Iran would exploit to further its regional aspirations to the detriment of Saudi interests.
A few years ago, King Abdullah of Jordan warned that a “Shia crescent” was being established across the region. He was referring to the growing influence of Shiite-dominated Iran in Iraq, its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the evolving alliance between Tehran and Damascus. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s triumphal visit to Lebanon in October and the threat of Hezbollah’s takeover of that country could make the Jordanian king’s warning become reality.
A source attributed to Wikileaks described Hezbollah as the number one threat to Israel. If an Iran and Syria could take over the country to its north then much of Israel would be looking straight down the barrel of a gun.
Hillary Clinton, speaking at a press conference in Doha, issued a tepid, almost colorless statement. It was almost as if she was in some other context, some other situation. She tut-tutted Hezbollah for “trying to bring the government down as a way to undermine the special tribunal is an abdication of responsibility but it also will not work,” citing the power of international diplomacy.
The chief US diplomat said the UN tribunal was supported by many governments, including that of the United States. “Its work will continue,” she said.
She said she and Sheikh Hamad discussed the importance of working with the Lebanese government, the Lebanese people and other partners who “share our interests in pursuing both stability and justice in Lebanon.”
Sheikh Hamad said he continued to support Syrian-Saudi efforts at mediation.
Hamad’s expression of support for the Syrian-Saudi formula was telling because its message was precisely the opposite of Clinton’s. The goal of the Syrian-Saudi mediation was to “fix” the tribunal’s findings so that it was acceptable to the political parties. It’s aim was not to support the special tribunal so much as to reduce it to a mouthpiece. Clinton’s belated support for the tribunal may have gone amiss. Hezbollah accused the US of undermining the Syrian-Saudi effort to manage the “tensions arising from an upcoming UN tribunal report”. They were going to fix the report to make everybody happy, so why was Clinton butting in now?
Hassan Nasrallah issued a confident declaration that some kind of deal was in the works between Sunni and Shia suggested that was Hezbollah confident it take over Lebanon without firing a shot. He seemed all but certain that nothing could stand in his way. Least of all Hillary and her special tribunal.
“There will never be a war between the Sunnis and Shi’ites. We will calculate our steps,” he said, according to the report.
Turkey’s foreign minister said that Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri is traveling to Turkey for talks following the collapse of his government.
Ahmet Davutoglu said that “Hariri will come to our country later tonight and I will meet with him.”
The Lebanese government collapsed on Wednesday after Hizbullah and its allies pulled out over differences stemming from the UN investigation into the assassination of Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Hariri’s trip to Turkey after his abrupt departure from Washington and his brief sojourn in France may mean that he is willing to knock on Ankara’s door to see what they can offer. He clearly needs more ammunition than was available in the Western capitals. But Hezbollah has flatly declared that they will not accept Hariri in a new government, confident that not only can they dominate, but humiliate their opponents. This may indicate a belief that they can get Saudi Arabia, the arbiter of Sunni power in Lebanon, to throw him to the wolves.
Hizbullah told Suleiman that it will not allow Hariri to continue as prime minister, according to a Thursday report by Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar. “He is not fit to have this responsibility, as experience has proven,” a Hizbullah source told Al-Akhbar.
Another Hizbullah source told Lebanese daily A-Safir that Hariri will not be prime minister anymore “because he is part of the problem, not the solution.”
The Former Deputy Head of the Mossad, Ilan Mizrahi, seems to think a deal between the Saudis and Syria is in the works. And like all intelligence professionals, he wonders who was sold down the river. “Like always in Lebanon, I believe there will be a deal between the Saudis and the Syrians, … which price, I don’t know, … more and more, Hizbullah is the owner and real ruler of Lebanon.” Other factions in Lebanon are wondering too. Mizrahi calculated it might buy peace for a few months more, but would Lebanon would remain a place on the verge of civil war. Only one thing is certain, some of it was going to come at Israel’s expense.
Lebanon has not been one Western diplomacy’s great moments. In six years the Cedar revolution has gone from a springtime of hope to near extinction. The time to have indicted Syria and Hezbollah was in 2006 or 2007. Now th “special tribunal” is no longer a symbol of Western power. It is a constant reminder of Western indecision, weakness and foolishness. Hillary Clinton may continue to express her faith in the UN and yet such expressions of fatuousness will do no harm. The diplomats have tied themselves into impotent knots and left the region to face the pack hunters.