It was no coincidence that the opposition Hezbollah party and its allies resigned from the cabinet yesterday, bringing down the Lebanese government, at the same moment that Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with U.S. President Obama in Washington.
Party leader Hassan Nasrallah stopped performing only for the Lebanon stage a long time ago. Since the country evolved into an inter-Arab and international political theater, there have been several arm-wrestling contests involving Iran and Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt, the United States and Iran - with Nasrallah the fulcrum around which they strain.
In essence, it's his call whether Lebanon becomes again a theater of violence, or bumbles along with a new prime minister acting in the shadow of Hezbollah.
The immediate excuse for the resignation is Hariri's refusal to wash his hands of the expected indictment regarding his father's murder. But the anticipated U.N.-backed indictment has driven Hezbollah to foment some upheavals in the region, the most significant being increased cooperation between Syria and Saudi Arabia as they tried to head off the crisis. This effort hit a dead end and that serves the Shi'ite organization well.
The United States, which was partner to the consultations between Saudi Arabia and Syria, reached an understanding with them that the charges must be published - as this was a UN-backed tribunal that Lebanon had been partner in setting up. Iran disagreed, rejecting the court's ruling. Syria said it would accept the indictment if it were based on decisive evidence.
Hezbollah's collective resignation yesterday was intended to show Syria the limitations of its influence on the group and to tell Damascus that if it wanted to show Washington it can preserve stability in Lebanon, Hezbollah and Iran will have the last word.
In itself, the resignation does not insure that the indictment - which likely implicates senior Hezbollah officials - would not be released. But it prevents the Lebanese cabinet from functioning or making any cardinal decisions, as these require a majority of two-thirds of the 30 ministers.
Nasrallah, who is not pleased with the strengthening ties between Syria and Hariri and fears they will gnaw at his power, now wants to reshuffle the cabinet, have a new prime minister appointed and split up the coalition. This will increase Hezbollah's strength and could thwart Syria's ability to form a political bloc that would counterbalance the group.
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