Israel Fears Siniora Government May Fall

Israel and several Arab states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are increasingly worried that Fouad Siniora's government in Lebanon will fall, resulting in a Hezbollah takeover that would turn the country into what an Israeli government source termed "the first Arab state to become an Iranian protectorate."

As a result, government officials have raised several ideas in recent days for how to strengthen Siniora in the face of the street protests that Hezbollah has launched against his government. The goal is to prove that Siniora can obtain more through peaceful diplomacy than Hezbollah, which has accused him of a "defeatist policy" toward Israel, was able to gain through violence.

One possibility under discussion is urging the European Union to recognize the disputed Shaba Farms region as Lebanese territory. Currently, both the EU and the United Nations consider the Israeli-held region to be Syrian, but Beirut claims that Shaba is Lebanese.

Another possibility is for Jerusalem to reach an agreement with Siniora on an Israeli evacuation of the divided village of Ghajar and its transfer to UN control until a final agreement on its status is reached. Currently, the Israeli-Lebanese border splits the village in two.

Israeli defense officials worry that even if Siniora's government does not fall, the confrontation with Hezbollah will weaken the security arrangements in southern Lebanon that were put in place following this summer's Lebanon war. They also fear that Hezbollah supporters might try to clash with Israeli soldiers stationed along the border.

Meanwhile, a senior government source said this weekend that U.S. President George Bush has told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he has no intention of removing Iran and Syria from the "Axis of Evil."

The Baker-Hamilton Commission, which was established to examine ways to improve the situation in Iraq, is slated to submit its findings to Bush on Wednesday, and it is widely expected to recommend that the United States begin talks with Iran and Syria.

But the government source said Bush promised Olmert that his position on Iran would remain unchanged as long as Tehran remains committed to pursuing its nuclear program. As for Syria, the source said, Bush has conditioned any resumption of dialogue on Damascus' ceasing to interfere with Lebanon and ending its support for Hezbollah, and both the recent murder of Lebanese minister Pierre Gemayal and Hezbollah's confrontation with Siniora make it even less likely that Bush would change his position on this issue.

Last week, U.S. National Security Adviser Steve Hadley said he sees no clear connection between the Israeli-Arab conflict and the situation in Iraq.