Friday, June 13, 2008

The mufti of Lebanon, the highest religious authority representing Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim community has called Hezbollah’s brief but potent military takeover of West Beirut several weeks ago “a military occupation.”

His comments mark a reversal from the full support the Shi’ite organization enjoyed during the summer 2006 war with Israel.

At that time Hezbollah was described as a “resistance force” fighting to liberate Lebanese territory under Israeli occupation.

Years earlier Hezbollah’s unrelenting harassment of Israeli forces in south Lebanon convinced the Israelis to pull out altogether from the south of the country - except for a parcel of land called the Shebaa Farms where the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet.

Hezbollah’s military success against Israel earned it praise and the respect of many Lebanese, including a number of Christians, as well as the Sunnis.

But last month, Hezbollah reneged on an earlier promise never to turn their guns on fellow Lebanese, costing them the support they previously enjoyed.

It also brought back to the forefront the question of Lebanon’s militias and their weapons, and the growing role Iran plays in the Arab world.

Geneive Abdo, a fellow at the Century Foundation, said that some Sunni leaders even described Hezbollah’s military assault on West Beirut as “a Persian invasion.” He spoke Wednesday at a conference at the Nixon Center in Washington, D.C.

Indeed, many analysts believe Hezbollah miscalculated in its assault on West Beirut. To be sure, they scored a quick military victory, but in the process went on to lose the support of a great many Lebanese.

Their greater miscalculation, however, was that by doing so they awoke suspicion and fear in Sunnis throughout the Arab world.

Hezbollah’s hard-line approach to solving a political problem has come as a reality check to traditional Sunni Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who worry they might be losing their influence in Arab affairs to Iran.

Moreover, the political and security void in Iraq that followed the collapse of President Saddam Hussein’s government allowed Tehran to infiltrate all levels of Iraq’s infrastructure and become a force of influence in the country; something Tehran had been trying to accomplish ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the shah of Iran.

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