ANALYSIS: Saudi Criticism Does Not Help Lebanon

Many Lebanese say Hezbollah is more Iranian than Lebanese. This doesn't mean they think the gov't can disarm the guerilla group.

In the division of labor accepted among the Arab states, Egypt normally handles the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and Saudi Arabia deals with Syria and Lebanon. Thus, it was natural for Saudi Arabia to take the lead and delineate what is acceptable and what is not: opposition to the occupation is acceptable, but irresponsible actions, such as those of Hezbollah, are not.

This demarcation was not attributed to a specific Saudi Arabian source, but it is clear that the statement came from the royal court, and was therefore worthy of duplication in statements from Jordan and Egypt at the gathering of Arab League foreign ministers yesterday in Cairo.

These statements presented Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as a dangerous gambler, a leader who operates outside the norm common to heads of respectable Arab states. The criticism inherent in this stance is a vote of confidence for the Lebanese government.

But these statements do not necessarily help the government of Lebanon which is under pressure from two enormous forces: on the one hand, it is pressured by the need to preserve the future unity of the country in order to avoid a civil war, and on the other, to ensure that no humanitarian or economic catastrophe ensues as a result of the fighting.

The conflict in Lebanon between opposition to Israel's attacks and anger at the Hezbollah is causing the government to appear hapless vis-a-vis the radical Shi'ite organization, in spite some expressions of opposition to the attack on Israel and the abduction of the two soldiers.

Indeed, more and more commentators are willing to question the value of the Hezbollah operation.

"Let's be a bit modest," Samir Franjieh, a Lebanese parliamentarian, told Bassam Kuntar, whose brother Samir is jailed in Israel for the murder of a family in Nahariya in 1979, when he boasted that the Hezbollah managed to strike Israeli air bases. "They [Israel] have closed down our country. We are under siege. Their country is open," Franjieh said.

On Friday morning, a popular Lebanese commentator on LBC television, suggested that Hezbollah must be viewed as an extension of Syrian and Iranian strategic forces, and not as a group whose motives are solely Lebanese. Similar thoughts were expressed in the Lebanese press. Do these suggest a crack in public opinion and the beginning of public pressure on the government? Doubtful.

Differences of opinion of this kind have been around for a long time and are expressed in periods other than times of war. Lebanese commentators are far from attributing to any Lebanese government the ability to disarm Hezbollah or to deploy its forces along the southern border. Therefore, all eyes are turned to the secret talks between Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Lebanon, and less so to the Security Council deliberations.