Saad Hariri and George Mitchell
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell meeting Lebanon PM Saad Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday Jan. 19, 2010. Photo by AP
Text size

I have to admit that sometimes I experience a feeling of déjà vu regarding the recent events taking place in Lebanon. Here we are again, ahead of another tense summer: Hezbollah is smuggling long-range rockets into the country, the current Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, like his predecessor Fouad Siniora, must walk on eggshells (he's stuck between the rock that is Hezbollah and the hard place that is the White House) and tensions are escalating between rival camps in Lebanon amid the country's municipal elections.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah militants went boasting to Time magazine reporter Nicholas Belford that their motivation has reached peak levels and that during the next war "God willing, you will see the end of Israel." (http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1988131,00.html)

It seems that, God willing, Israel's end will not come from the next bout of violence with the Hezbollah; however, the Shi'ite organization might embroil Israel in yet another dangerous endeavor.

Next week, Lebanon's Prime Minister Hariri is due to leave on his first official visit to the Washington since being elected. Hariri will undoubtedly be greeted with friendly hospitality and enjoy a pleasant meeting with United States President Barack Obama -
something that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can only dream of these days. However, Netanyahu shouldn't envy Hariri, who finds himself in one of the most complicated and sensitive positions in the Middle East, even more so than his Israeli counterpart.

As far as Hariri is concerned, the most problematic issue has been and still is Hezbollah, which today is part of Lebanon's government. On one hand, the Lebanese leader must avoid conflict with the group regarding its acquisition of weapons, but on the other hand, he cannot be indifferent to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's arms race. A recent report in the Arabic language political daily As-Safir, which claims Hariri supports the alleged transfer of Scud missiles to Hezbollah, was refuted by the prime minister's office. Meanwhile, two Hezbollah ministers serve in Hariri's government, a fact that Israel depends on in order to justify a future attack on Lebanon in the event that tensions flare with the Shiite organization.

Regarding Lebanon's ties with Syria, Hariri (whose father Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005 in an attack for which many blame Damascus) was forced to travel to its neighboring country to open a new page in diplomatic relations, mostly in light of thawing ties between the U.S. and Syria.

Yet Hariri is still conscious about embracing the Syrians, as was his former ally in the March 14 alliance, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. (The March 14 Alliance, a coalition of independents and political parties calling for Lebanese sovereignty, was established after the Hariri killing in 2005.).

When Jumblatt recently reconciled with Syria, he left one dominant ethnic group - the Sunnis - in the March 14 Alliance, while the Christians remain divided among themselves, with some supporting the March 8 Alliance, a pro-Syria and pro-Hezbollah group that opposes Hariri's March 14 Alliance.

But Hariri's problems don’t end there. Municipal elections are currently being held across Lebanon, and the Hariri family, the country's most dominant Sunni family, faces growing political rivalry in the battle over municipal control. These elections will not
necessarily provide a clear gauge of the political gains between the two rival alliances, however, they are inflaming tensions between the March 14 Alliance and the March 8 Alliance. Nevertheless, the elections can give an indication about Hariri's balance of power within the Sunni faction. He needs to make sure that powerful families, such as the Karam family in Tripoli or the Bizri family in Sidon, do not oust his associates at the polls.

Despite this, the Shiites are undivided in their campaign: If in the past the Amal Movement, which advocates for greater rights and resources for Lebanon's Shiite population, and Hezbollah struggled for control over local municipalities, they have now joined forces.

At the end of the day, Hariri's concerns are based on Siniora's bitter experience during the summer of 2006. Hezbollah ministers served in Siniora's government as part of a joint coalition. At the time, the organization dragged the entire country into a military conflict that took a heavy toll on all Lebanese residents, despite the fact that Israel avoided officially attacking civil and national infrastructure.

Hariri is obviously concerned that just as he acted in 2006 by declaring a peaceful summer, Hezbollah has an agenda that differs from that of the country's - that is to say an Iranian agenda, and it is likely to reignite the front with Israel as part of its attempt to
attain more long-range missiles or other forms of technologically advanced ammunition.