Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hezbollah’s aggressive campaign to topple the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is just the latest sign of the dark new realities of the Middle East: that Iran and Syria, the Shi’ite terror group’s state sponsors, are on the offensive, emboldened by their successes in fomenting violence in Iraq and undermining U.S. popular support for the war there, and in waging a three-front proxy war against Israel without incurring any substantial retaliation (aside from some economic sanctions) from either the United States, the world’s leading superpower, or Israel, the regional military superpower.

Last summer, Hezbollah, with the encouragement of Tehran and Damascus, plunged Lebanon into war with Israel. In Gaza, Hamas, and a who’s who of terrorist organizations have created a jihadist ministate that routinely fires rockets and missiles into Israel, and the same terrorist groups are also engaging Israel in low-intensity warfare in the West Bank. Best of all, from the perspective of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad, they are able to wage proxy wars aimed at undermining U.S. and Israeli interests at minimal cost to themselves — without endangering their own safety or the well-being of their regimes.

Now, emboldened by its recent “successes” in destabilizing the region, the Tehran-Damascus Axis has turned its attention to driving from office Mr. Siniora — a relatively moderate Sunni Muslim aligned with Sa’ad Hariri, son of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a foe of Damascus who died in a Feb. 14, 2005 car bombing, probably at the behest of Mr. Assad’s regime. Hezbollah wants Mr. Siniora gone because he supports the principle that it should disarm and believes it is unacceptable to continue a situation in which Hezbollah, acting as an agent of Iran and Syria, drags Lebanon into another war with Israel. Hezbollah says openly that it wants more than a third of the seats in the Lebanese cabinet in order to prevent any future democratically elected government from disarming it.

Mahmoud Komati, deputy head of Hezbollah’s political bureau, said one week ago that his organization began to demand greater power inside the government after this summer’s war with Israel, when it came to the conclusion that the Lebanese government could not be relied upon to continue avoiding the issue of Hezbollah’s disarmament. “So, after the war, we had no choice but to demand this guarantee that would give us legal and constitutional strength,” he said. If Hezbollah and its allies gained more than a third of the seats in the cabinet, then the elected Lebanese government “will not be able to impose” disarmament on Hezbollah, Mr. Komati added. In other words, Hezbollah is demanding veto power that will permit it and its allies to paralyze the Lebanese government. Veto power would also enable Hezbollah to block the international tribunal investigating the Hariri assassination from looking too closely at the issue of Syria’s complicity.

As the situation in Lebanon continues to deteriorate, Hezbollah’s cadres have mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Beirut to demand the ouster of the Siniora government. In the aftermath of the murder of Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel, a foe of Syria, last month, cabinet ministers have moved into the seat of government in Beirut for their own safety. For its part, Hezbollah talks out of both sides of its mouth on the question of violence. The organization’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has vociferously denounced violence and called for anti-government demonstrations to be peaceful. But at a rally earlier this month, Naim Qassem, a Hezbollah representative, led a crowd in chants of “death to America and Israel” and denounced Mr. Siniora as a collaborator with the United States.

U.S. officials believe Hezbollah has been emboldened by the substantial support it received from Iran, Syria and private donors in the wake of last summer’s war with Israel, which have enabled the terrorist group to find new housing for its supporters and to furnish their homes. Hezbollah is also shopping for new weapons, including anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles and improvised explosive devices, and some weapons have almost certainly been smuggled into Lebanon from Syria. Hezbollah and its backers in Tehran and Damascus appear determined to leave the door open to drag Lebanon into another war.

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