Tomorrow is the third anniversary of the truck-bomb killing of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri. Quite understandably, many of those most horrified by that killing are planning large-scale marches to commemorate it. This, amidst the the political crisis caused by the failure of the country’s political leaders to agree on a formula for forming the country’s next government. (That bottleneck has also led to the failure of the country’s MPs to form a quorum large enough to elect the new president; the country has been without a president since November 23.)
Obviously, many Lebanese and their friends are concerned at the possibility that the spate of acts of violence that has occurred in recent weeks might, at this very sensitive time, tip over that hard-to-discern brink into a large-scale, outright, very damaging, and possibly lengthy civil war.
Last Saturday, February 10, I wrote a post here in which I said that the real story in Lebanon is actually that there is not, already, a civil war there. I also noted the efforts that many Lebanese political leaders, including those from Hizbullah, had been pursuing in an effort to prevent the outbreak of a civil war.
But on that very same day, MP Saad Hariri, the son of the late Rafiq H. and a leader of the anti-Syrian “March 14” bloc in the parliament, made a belligerent speech in which he said that if the country’s “destiny” is confrontation, then he and his allies were “ready” for that.
The following day, Hariri’s ally, the ever-mercurial Walid Jumblatt, went much further, issuing this very public threat:
- “You want disorder? It will be welcomed. You want war? It will be welcomed. We have no problem with weapons, no problem with missiles. We will take them from you.”
On Feb. 11th, too, at least two people were wounded Sunday in a gunfight between Jumblatt supporters and opponents in Aley, east of Beirut, and shots were reportedly fired Sunday in an altercation between Hariri supporters and members of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s security services.
(When I got to the bottom of my incoming mail pile on Sunday, I found a charming, Christmas card from Walid– featuring a photo he had taken of the snow-covered steps of his family’s feudal home in Moukhtara. Maybe I should have a conversation with him about Jesus’s teachings on nonviolence sometime?)
Back in November, Walid notoriously threatened to unleash car-bombs against the Syrian capital, Damascus. Yesterday, just such a bomb did explode there. It killed Imad Mughniyeh, long wanted by the US government as being the accused architect of the very lethal attacks against US military and diplomatic facilities in Lebanon in 1983-84, and by Israel for his alleged role in organizing very lethal attacks against Israeli and Jewish facilities in Buenos Aires. Hizbullah’s Manar website today described him as “a great resistance leader who joined the procession of Islamic Resistance martyrs.”
No indication, yet, of whether Walid’s threat of last November was related in any way to Mughniyeh’s killing. But did the belligerent words Walid pronounced last Sunday about “We have no problem with weapons, no problem with missiles” have anything to do with yesterday’s visit by US Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman to Beirut?
This AP report tells us that,
- Since 2006, the United States has committed US$321 million in security assistance to the Lebanese army, and has pledged to provide equipment and training to the country’s armed forces.
In the letter Edelman handed (Lebanese PM Fuad) Saniora from Bush, the American president expressed strong support to the Lebanese government and said that Iran and Syria are trying to “undermine Lebanon’s democratic institutions through violence and intimidation.”
This move of accusing Syria and Iran of unacceptable intervention in Lebanese politics is an increasingly common one– from a US administration that is also, (a) majorly intervening in Lebanon’s domestic politics, and (b) quite evidently a non-Lebanese actor. It would be a laughable move to make if the reality that blies behind it– of US arms supplies to the Lebanese army and hostile, escalatory rhetoric– were not so serious.
All power to the de-escalators and the bridge-builders. May their efforts succeed.