They finally did it, old Hezbullah. Never ones to shy away from the public eye, Nasrallah and his party have throw their ultimate political trump card today by their resignation from the fragile coalition that forms Lebanon’s government. The country is precariously balanced as Saad Hariri steps up to lead the new temporary government, and the world’s eyes are slowly being pulled back to the Eastern Mediterranean again. Nasrallah’s timing is pure theatre, clearly intended to draw maximum effect just as Obama meets with the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss the rising tensions at home. But there remains a chance, just a small chance, that Nasrallah has used up his ace too early. The pot is certainly boiling, but Lebanon may be hoping that Nasrallah has thrown himself into the flames too.
It is no surprise that the outside world is preparing, at least verbally, for the ghastly spectre of civil war in Lebanon. Hillary Clinton’s statement that the Hezbullah actions are an attempt to subvert justice and undermine stability in the region are technically correct, but it is equally important for Lebanon’s secure future that the war of words is not overblown. The UN Special Tribunal on Lebanon is likely to issue its judgment irrespective of the Hezbollah position, or indeed, irrespective of the absence or presence of any formal government within Lebanon. That conclusion seems supported by the fact that the Tribunal President has spoken publicly about the conclusions of a Canadian documentary, “Getting Away with Murder” last week which supposedly leaked original documents and conclusions. These have been assumed very widely to point to Hezbullah’s involvement in the assassination of Hariri, which Hezbullah denies vigorously. Many would argue that the party protests too loudly, and the sudden resignations from government suggest panic in the party’s hierarchy. Moreover, since the government will take months to regroup, there will be no one in place from Hezbullah to denounce any conclusions of the Tribunal. In addition, Hezbullah, despite widespread support in large parts of the country, may have outmanoeuvred itself by failing to show popular support as it has done before.
In Lebanon there is certainly concern, but also a sense of deja vu. There is always the potential for sudden violence within Lebanon, and the troubled country remains a flashpoint, caught between the politics of all of its neighbours. The coming days will be tense indeed, but there is no appetite in most of Lebanon for yet more war. The embattled nation will carry on, and hope that an international war of words does not fan the flames even further. Nobody spoke up for Lebanon when Israel bombed it in 2006. Now it is important that words are used wisely so that Hezbollah is not allowed to become a misguided hero for the Arab cause. The pot is boiling, but optimists will be praying that Nasrallah jump has created enough early splashes to put out the eventual flames of the tribunal indictment against his party.
January 13th 2011