New Reality Has Taken Over

"The army should enter the governmental palace and remove [Lebanese Prime Minister] Fouad Siniora," Wiam Wahab, a Druze member of parliament allied with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, declared yesterday.

"This demand is Hezbollah's immediate goal, and it will not retreat from it," agreed an associate of Christian General Michel Aoun, another Nasrallah ally, in a conversation with Haaretz. "This government's days are numbered. One can imagine 1,000 proposals for resolving the crisis, with involvement by the Arab League, religious scholars or anyone who wants to deal with this crisis, but Siniora's removal, the establishment of a national unity government in which the opposition has a veto, and amending the election law are our [Aoun's] and Hezbollah's minimum demands."

A few hours later, Aoun reiterated these demands publicly.

The Christian general's announcement came in response to a statement by former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel, head of a rival Christian party that belongs to the governing coalition: "Hezbollah must promise that it will never again aim its weapons inside Lebanon."

To Gemayel, that is a precondition for any political dialogue. But it also represents a retreat from the government's support for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which demanded Hezbollah's disarmament. This retreat was also evident in the fact that several government spokesmen called for reaching understandings with Nasrallah yesterday, while Nasrallah himself remained silent.

Instead, his troops spoke for him, through their rapid takeover of Beirut and key cities around Mount Lebanon. This included successfully disarming the militia of Siniora's Druze ally, Walid Jumblatt. On Sunday, Jumblatt sounded defeated: He ordered his men to turn over their weapons to the Lebanese Army, and begged Nasrallah not to translate their personal rivalry into a campaign of revenge against the Druze in general.

"Those who previously demanded that Hezbollah be disarmed are now being compelled to disarm themselves," noted one Lebanese commentator. "Lebanon needs to start getting used to the new reality."

This "new reality" has sowed panic among many Lebanese Christians, in part due to rumors that Nasrallah planned to take revenge on his erstwhile opponents. Aoun publicly pledged yesterday that no Christians would be harmed, but that failed to assuage their fears.

The bottom line is that the Arab League delegation due to arrive in Beirut today faces a seemingly irreversible reality that will force it to grant a seal of approval to Hezbollah's political takeover. Over the weekend, Yemen's president said publicly that Siniora ought to resign. And that, it seems, is likely to be the basis for any plan to resolve the crisis.