- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

As Israel has withdrawn the last of its troops, the man who plunged Lebanon into war this summer, Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah, has started to flex his muscles again. Sheikh Nasrallah, targeted for assassination by Israel, came out of hiding to address 350,000 people at a Sept. 22 rally in South Beirut, where he declared that the terrorist group possessed 20,000 rockets after the war with Israel. But the main focus of the Hezbollah leader’s threats wasn’t Israel; for now, his top priorities seem to be putting the Lebanese government in its place and intimidating the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon — peacekeepers charged with preventing renewed conflict with Israel. In addition, there are reports that Hezbollah is stockpiling arms in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon (locations where the Lebanese army does not patrol) and that Iran and Syria continue poring arms in to Hezbollah forces.

The Hezbollah leader called for creation of a “serious” Lebanese national unity government — in essence, a government in which groups sympathetic to Syria and hostile to the United States gain power. This would probably result in the ouster of the current Lebanese government headed by Fuad Siniora, a relatively moderate Sunni Muslim who has on occasion stood up to Damascus and its Lebanese mouthpiece, President Emile Lahoud, a Maronite Christian. Mr. Nasrallah said the Siniora government was not up to the task of reconstruction, and suggested that Hezbollah was prepared to assume the responsibility of “protecting” the country if Beirut is not up to the task. And, lest the U.N. peacekeepers get any ideas about trying to disarm Hezbollah, Mr. Nasrallah issued this threat: “Your clear mission [is to] support the Lebanese army … not to spy on Hezbollah or disarm the Resistance.” To avoid a “collision” with Hezbollah, he added, UNIFIL must refrain from getting involved in “internal” affairs such as Hezbollah’s military buildup.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Mr. Nasrallah’s comments as idle bluster. Last month, for example, Lebanese officials complained to reporters that Hezbollah was rebuilding its war bunkers inside Palestinian refugee camps with Iranian help. Olivier Guitta, a researcher who closely follows Hezbollah and Lebanese politics, says that the security situation in Lebanon is rapidly deteriorating. UNIFIL’s blockade of Lebanon is proving to be a “joke,” he told us yesterday. “Weapons come in from Syria without any problems.”

He also said no one should be surprised if six months from now, Hezbollah and its backers in Iran trigger a war with Israel much larger than the one fought this summer. And Hezbollah finds itself being challenged by al Qaeda, which has in the past demonstrated the ability to fire missiles into Israel from Lebanon, and is strengthening its own forces in the Palestinian refugee camps.

In short, the jihadist forces with a vested interest in preventing Lebanon from governing itself and living in peace with its neighbors remain a clear and present danger.

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