Lebanon's New Crisis

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

THE RECKLESS attack on Israel by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement this summer led to the devastation of the southern third of the country. About 1,200 Lebanese died, including many civilians whom Hezbollah deliberately placed in the middle of the fighting, and some 15,000 homes were destroyed. Now Hezbollah's leader, Hasan Nasrallah, has launched an even more dangerous campaign. Through political bluff and the threat of violence, he is attempting to stage a coup against the democratically elected Lebanese government. The pro-Western administration of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which lacks Hezbollah's ruthlessness or military strength, has been resisting. But without help from the outside world, Lebanon could soon experience the reversal of its popular Cedar Revolution of 2005 or even a return to civil war.

As was the case in the summer war with Israel, Hezbollah's new offensive is backed by Iran and Syria and serves those governments' agendas as well as its own. The Shiite Islamic party is demanding that it be given enough seats in Mr. Siniora's cabinet to provide it with a veto over all major decisions. That would allow it to block the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for Hezbollah's disarmament. It could also impede the formation of an international tribunal by the Security Council and Lebanon to try the perpetrators of the February 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Senior Syrian officials, including some of the closest collaborators of President Bashar al-Assad, are among those implicated. Not coincidentally, the six Lebanese ministers already allied with Hezbollah and its allies resigned in the past few days, just as the cabinet was preparing to vote on a preliminary agreement on the tribunal.

To its credit, the Siniora government rejected Hezbollah's intimidation, and the 18 remaining ministers approved the tribunal unanimously. But the crisis is far from over. Hezbollah is threatening to begin street demonstrations that could easily lead to violence. That would serve the interests of the increasingly radical Iran-Syria axis, which is attempting to prevent the spread of democracy in the Middle East, drive out the West and ultimately destroy Israel.

The response to this vicious campaign should be the same concerted multilateral action that followed Mr. Hariri's assassination last year and that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon. First the Security Council should act swiftly to establish the tribunal and begin criminal proceedings. It should also consider other actions against Syria, including sanctions, if Syria continues trying to block the formation of the tribunal and sponsoring political violence in Lebanon. At the same time, Security Council action against Iran for its refusal to suspend its nuclear program is long overdue; governments that are holding it up, beginning with Russia, must be forced to choose between supporting sanctions and breaking off strategic cooperation with the West. Until Iran and Syria are made to pay a price for their attempts to radicalize the Middle East, they will have no incentive to rein in clients such as Hezbollah.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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