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Gathering Storm in Lebanon By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, December 07, 2006

When Jordan’s King Abdullah warned early in 2005 about the formation of a dangerous “Shiite crescent” in the Middle East, many dismissed his words as the fears of a pessimist who did not appreciate the strides democracy was making in the region. Today, with Iran-backed radical Shiites continuing (among other factors) to destabilize the situation in Iraq and the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah axis now making a naked attempt to topple the elected government and grab power in Lebanon, Abdullah’s words emerge more clearly as what they were: the fears of a knowledgeable, realistic Middle Easterner.

Lebanon’s Daily Star describes ongoing riots, clashes, and tensions since hundreds of thousands of Shiites flooded the streets of Beirut on Friday to call for the resignation of Sunni prime minister Fouad Siniora’s government. The paper cites Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman as saying the standoff is “drain[ing] the army’s resources and weakening its neutrality. This weakness will make the army unable to control the situation in all areas of Lebanon.”

The Star also reports that “opposition leaders plan to hold meetings in the coming days to discuss taking anti-government demonstrations to the ‘next level.’” The same article notes that “profane and personal attacks on members of the government, particularly Siniora and [Youth and Sports Minister] Ahmed Fatfat, have increased since...Friday, with several participants in Tuesday's funeral procession [for a Shiite killed in rioting] chanting ‘Death to Siniora.’”

Especially ominous is that, unlike past intra-Lebanese strife that tended to cluster along Muslim vs. Christian lines, the present confrontation has a starkly Shiite vs. Sunni character, with the Christians divided between the two camps. Given that the Sunni side is relatively moderate and tolerant whereas the Shiites are spearheaded by fundamentalist Hezbollah and backed by Iran, the only reason some Christian factions, like Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the late Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Party, are siding with the Shiites is power. In the Middle East, being on the losing side can be particularly costly. That some Christian groups would now be hopping on the radical-Shiite bandwagon only underlines King Abdullah’s warning a couple of years ago.

Matters have reached such a pass because of the West’s persistent refusal to recognize the danger posed by the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah axis and confront it effectively. Things looked better when, in the aftermath of Lebanese Sunni leader Rafik Hariri’s assassination by Syria in February 2005, Syria was nudged by American, French, and internal Lebanese pressure into carrying out a cosmetic withdrawal of its military from Lebanon. But Syria maintained its grip by leaving a dense network of intelligence operatives in Lebanon and perpetrating a string of assassinations of its Lebanese opponents culminating in the murder of Pierre Gemayel last November 21.

Other factors have emboldened the radicals since 2005: America’s ongoing, confused struggle in Iraq; the West’s laughable, hollow posturing and threats toward Iran as it continues its march toward nuclearization; Israel’s unilateral flight from Gaza last year and bungling in its war against Hizballah last summer; the Democrats’ win in the U.S. elections amid talk in Republican circles of retreat from Iraq and “engaging”—that is, appeasing—Iran and Syria.

With the West still showing a spark of assertiveness by moving in November to set up a UN-backed tribunal in Lebanon to try suspects in the Hariri assassination, the radicals decided it was time to act. The murder of Gemayel and the massing of Shiite demonstrators (Hezbollah operatives) in Beirut are direct affronts not only to Lebanese Sunnis or to the Lebanese state, but to the UN, the international rule of law, and civilization itself.

The Daily Star reports that on Tuesday German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Jacques Chirac called for “an end to all interference in the affairs of Lebanon. As far as Syria is concerned, we want that country to stop supporting forces that seek to destabilize Lebanon and the region...If Syria changes its conduct, it could hope to resume normal relations with the international community and with the countries of the European Union in particular.”

Apart from such standard empty inducements, it does not appear that Western countries are doing anything aside from watching and hoping the crisis does not boil over. Nor is it clear what they can do as long as the sources of the crisis—the Syrian and, particularly, Iranian regimes—are allowed to keep building their strength.

If not checked, the Shiite tide—with its non-Shiite fellow travelers like the Christian factions in Lebanon, the Sunni Hamas and Fatah terrorist movements, and so on—threatens not only to tighten its grip on Iraq and Lebanon but to foment a conflagration with Israel and endanger the region’s oil-rich Sunni regimes. That the West does not react even to that danger by taking the Lebanese crisis more seriously testifies to its overall failure to cope with Middle Eastern reality.

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P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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