First, some new information, and then there are a couple of excellent articles, each of which contain an overall analysis of the situation and what we may expect to see:
Israel Warns Hezbollah
As Lebanon's political crisis deepens, Israel is warning the militant Islamist group Hezbollah against any spillover of violence.
Uzi Landau, a member of Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, spoke on Israeli radio Thursday and warned that Israel is prepared to hit hard if Hezbollah strikes at Israeli interests.
He said that what Israel needs to do now is tell the Lebanese a simple thing: that Israel, he said, is prepared, the minute it is attacked, to not only react but seek what he said would be a complete victory. The minister said Israel will exact a proportional price from any terrorist activity that harms Israelis.
Some in Israel now are concerned that incitement by Iran - which on Thursday blamed the Jewish State and the U.S. for the collapse of the Lebanese government - might prompt Hezbollah elements to attack Israel.
It is hard to know if the following report has any significance, but it is worth reporting:
2 grenades thrown at office of Hizbullah-allied party
Two hand grenades were thrown on Thursday night at an office belonging to Lebanese politician Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, which is considered an ally of Hizbullah.
The attack came after Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah promised that his group's withdrawal from the Lebanese government, causing it to collapse, on Wednesday would not lead to civil war in the country.
An official Lebanese news agency reported that the grenades were thrown at a structure of Aoun's Christian party in the village of Beit Habab, about 25 km from Beirut.
According to reports, only one of the grenades exploded and inflicted damage to the property, and no one was hurt.
Now, two articles containing overall analysis of the situation:
Analysis: Hizbullah will keep turning up the heat
The resignation of 11 ministers associated with Hizbullah from the cabinet of Prime Minister Saad Hariri raises the curtain on the next act in the permanent political drama that envelops Lebanon.
Wednesday’s action marked the first time in Lebanon’s turbulent history that a cabinet was brought down by the withdrawal of the required one-third-plus-one ministers from it. London-based Lebanese analyst Nadim Shehadi called the latest development a “leap into the unknown.”
But while it is impossible to predict precisely what lies ahead, there are recent precedents that may serve as a useful guide.
It is worth remembering that the mini-civil war that Beirut witnessed in May 2008 was preceded by 18 months of roiling political tension following the resignation of Hizbullah ministers in November 2006.
It is likely that the next phase in Hizbullah’s efforts to destroy the Special Tribunal on Lebanon will also feature mass protests and a gradual escalation of violence by the movement and its allies.
So we have an almost identical model for this recent action, as the same events occurred in 2006-2008, and based on this we could expect to see "a gradual escalation of violence". That isn't very comforting.
While such protests are likely to be ostensibly based on economic and social demands, their real purpose will be to intensify an atmosphere of tension designed to intimidate Hariri and the March 14 movement. The hoped-for result of this will be renewed mediation, and a climb-down by Hariri from his current refusal to openly abandon the tribunal investigating the assassination of his father.
The likelihood of armed violence during this phase remains relatively low. Hizbullah is a long-term Iranian project designed to build the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Arab world by engaging in conflict with Israel. In May 2008, Hizbullah and Iran witnessed the potentially disastrous consequences for the success of this project that might result from the movement’s turning its guns against its fellow Lebanese and Arabs.
That makes sense - we know that ultimately, Iran is pushing the buttons with Hezbollah. So it really depends on what Iran's intentions are at any given time.
Hariri and his allies have no “military option” of their own. Hence, Hizbullah is likely hoping that sustained civil pressure, plus the threat of a possible swift activation of armed force à la May 2008, will be sufficient to produce the desired results – namely, as Lebanese analyst Michael Young put it, a “certificate of innocence” for the movement from Hariri.
Should Hariri continue to refuse to withdraw Lebanese funding for and involvement in the tribunal, the possibility for more serious violence may come onto the agenda.
This is really a form of blackmail. If true, then the immediate future of this whole region could depend on whether Hariri continues with this tribunal. It is expected that he will, but that could always change.
In this regard, it should not be forgotten that in recent weeks, Hizbullah has been seeking to present the tribunal as an “Israeli project” aimed against the “resistance.” The movement has suggested that Israel was responsible for the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and is seeking through its machinations to turn the Lebanese against one another.
Syria is a junior partner in the Iran-led regional bloc, with little leverage over Hizbullah. Hizbullah’s position is accurately represented by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s recent statement that the tribunal is “null and void.”
Now we get to the "bottom-line" on this whole situation:
Hizbullah, as the strongest single player in Lebanon, chose this week to flex its muscles and raise the stakes in its campaign to induce Hariri to concede. Hariri, for whom surrender would mean disgrace, has so far refused to do so. Hizbullah now looks set to raise the stakes once more.
The results cannot be predicted. But the basic power equation in all this should not be forgotten. There is currently no force within Lebanon able to stand firmly against the physical power of Hizbullah.
This fact is known to all. For as long as it remains the case, it is likely to prove decisive in the eventual outcome of the crisis.
Obama administration proposes in abstentia trial for Hizballah
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are determined to bring Hizballah officials to justice for their involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut five years ago – even after they toppled the Lebanese government by their ministers' walkout Wednesday, Jan. 12. If a transitional government in Beirut declares the international tribunal – STL – invalid and refuses to honor its summonses for Hizballah security officials, Washington intends to obtain authorization for trying Hizballah suspects in absentia, DEBKAfile's Washington sources report.
This is a most interesting development, and Hezbollah will not be happy if this is the case. After all, their main goal is to somehow abort this entire tribunal.
Below is another good analysis of the situation, but the last bit of information may be even more revealing:
The Lebanese crisis which erupted dramatically Wednesday, Jan 12 (click here for the DEBKAfile report which first broke the story) may therefore drag on for months.
For fear of further Hizballah violence, our sources in Beirut report that the members of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's close circle started taking precautions in the last week of December. Many of them took advantage of the holiday season to send their families out of the country to the US or Europe on "extended vacations" or in remote corners of Lebanon. Bodyguards were hurriedly hired.
The picture is beginning to emerge and at this time several things seem clear (understanding that the situation is very fluid and may change rapidly):
- There are no signs that the tribunal will end any time soon.
- The situation is highly unstable.
- Hezbollah will probably resort to "Plan B" is the tribunal continues forward, and there is no telling what the next step could involve.
- With every "next step" we see the possibility of wide-spread violence, particularly given the model from 2006-2008, where we saw various events escalate to outright war.
This situation is evolving rapidly now.
The "next step", as taken by Hezbollah may be close by, as the tribunal continues forward. Updates will be forthcoming as information becomes available.