A test of strength in Lebanon
The international community cannot behave as a mere bystander as Nasrallah tries to topple Siniora's government.
The demonstrations launched by Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut are meant to topple Fouad Siniora's elected government and replace it with a new one. The immediate pretext was the Siniora government's approval of a resolution to establish an international tribunal to try those responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri in February 2005. The tribunal's opponents, in both Damascus and Lebanon, fear that senior officials in the Syrian and Lebanese regimes, including political leaders, might find themselves accused, and the tribunal would thereby serve not only as a court, but also as a political tool to bring about a political revolution.
But it seems that the argument over the tribunal is merely serving as a launching pad for Nasrallah's political ambitions. These are evident in his efforts to empty a significant portion of Security Council Resolution 1701 of all content, to prevent his organization's disarmament and, in the long run, to establish a new political structure in Lebanon whose composition and goals he himself would determine. Nasrallah's ambitions have a basis on which to build: The country's majority Shi'ite population is under-represented in government institutions and suffers from chronic budgetary discrimination. The years of neglect of southern Lebanon and the Bekaa are now liable to exact a heavy political price from the Siniora government: What appears to be an internal political demonstration - so far conducted nonviolently - against a government that the demonstrators view as illegal, corrupt and unrepresentative is liable to end with the establishment of a pro-Syrian government, which would be under the influence of Nasrallah and his supporters, including the Christian Michel Aoun.
The explosiveness of Lebanon's political situation is, first and foremost, a matter of concern for Lebanon's citizens, who carry with them the tragic memories of civil war. Even though Nasrallah stressed he has no intention of waging street battles, and his rivals in the government have instructed their supporters not to clash with the demonstrators, one cannot ignore the potential for a flare-up in Lebanon. This threat impacts directly on other countries in the region, including Israel. Violent clashes would provide a convenient environment in which terrorist organizations could act more freely; they would weaken the central government's ability to impose order and maintain control over the nation's borders; and they might well give Syria a pretext for intervening directly.
Therefore, this is a situation in which the international community, which mobilized quickly to adopt Resolutions 1559 and 1701, cannot behave as a mere bystander, watching as the progress achieved in Lebanon is blown to bits. The Siniora government currently needs more than declarations of support. A meeting of donor states, which would help the Lebanese government to extricate itself from the economic crisis that engulfed it after the war, is an urgent necessity. At the same time, it would be wise to move forward on an Israeli withdrawal from Shaba Farms, which would grant the Siniora government a diplomatic achievement. And more important than either of these is the conducting of effective negotiations with Syria, whose goal would be to remove Syria's label as an "evil state" that supports terror in exchange for its keeping its hands off Lebanon, completely and permanently.
This is a task of the greatest importance if the international community, the region and Israel do not wish to see the start of another local war.