- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

As Lebanon approaches the first anniversary of the Feb. 14 car bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 19 other persons, its effort to build a viable democracy is being subverted from within, thanks in large part to Hezbollah and its patrons in Tehran and Damascus.

The pictures of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and Lebanese Christian leader Michel Aoun smiling in the wake of Tuesday’s meeting — at which Mr. Aoun recognized the terrorist group’s right to bear arms so long as Israel occupies Lebanese territory (a false premise) — are just the latest troubling sign that Lebanese politicians, Muslim and Christian alike, are making peace with the idea that Hezbollah will not be bound by the same rules as everyone else.

President Emile Lahoud, a Maronite Christian, is widely discredited as a Syrian lackey. Sa’ad Hariri, chief of the Sunni Muslim-led Future Movement (the largest party in the parliament) lives outside the country, fearing that he will suffer the fate of his father.

And now, just as Hamas was permitted by the Palestinian Authority to join the political process while retaining its terrorist infrastructure and its weapons, Beirut has capitulated to Hezbollah — a terrorist group which receives $100 million a year from Iran — permitting it to join the Lebanese government without disarming. (All other armed groups in the country were required to disarm when the Lebanese Civil War ended in 1990.)

Last week, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, an ally of Mr. Hariri, acquiesced to demands made by Amal and Hezbollah (both of them Shi’ite Muslim movements with pro-Syrian leanings) that Hezbollah be recognized as a so-called national resistance group rather than a militia. Following Mr. Siniora’s formal capitulation, last Thursday, Hezbollah and Amal ended a seven-week-long boycott of the Lebanese government. This gives Hezbollah exactly what it wants: assurance that the Lebanese government will continue to defy efforts led by the Bush administration to force Beirut to fully implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 — which calls for the disarmament of all Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah.

The day after Mr. Siniora’s announcement, Hezbollah decided to flex its muscles by firing at an Israeli army post near the Lebanese border, sparking a series of new retaliatory air raids by Israel. In the coming days, with Hezbollah growing in strength and its main sponsors, Iran and Syria, both under fire from the international community (Iran over its nuclear program and Syria over the Hariri assassination), Tehran and Damascus have strong incentives to turn Lebanon into a battleground to deflect attention from their own problems.

And, short of dragging Israel in, the rejectionists have ample opportunity to sow discord inside Lebanon. Lebanese opposition groups accuse Syrian special forces of bringing non-Lebanese fighters into the country, and say Syria had a hand in encouraging Sunday’s riots in Beirut, ostensibly aimed at protesting anti-Muslim cartoons. Given the weakness of Lebanon’s central government, Hezbollah and its patrons have ample incentive to continue trying to use Lebanese as cannon fodder.


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