Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Lebanon’s national unity government, led by a pro-western prime minister, collapsed on Wednesday after Hizbollah and its allies resigned ahead of expected indictments against members of the Shia party by a UN-backed court....

The resignation of 11 members of the cabinet followed the failure of efforts by Saudi Arabia, which backs Mr Hariri, and Syria, which with Iran is a main backer of Hizbollah, to broker a compromise acceptable to all sides....

Hizbollah has been on a campaign against the international court, insisting that the indictments are based on fabrications by its enemies, Israel and the US. Mr Hariri, however, has refused Hizbollah’s demands to distance himself and the Lebanese government from the court....

Analysts say, however, that Hizbollah, which is Lebanon’s only armed group and fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, is reluctant to again turn its guns against other Lebanese. Whether the opposition will resort to street actions depends on progress in the formation of a new government.

One senior official told the Financial Times on Wednesday that Saad Hariri could well be nominated once again as prime minister by Lebanon’s president, Michel Suleiman, if a majority of parliament members continued to back him. But he would not be able to form a national unity government – which all parties say is necessary given Lebanon’s sectarian make-up – without meeting the demands of the opposition.

It is not clear, moreover, whether any leader from the Sunni community, from which Lebanese prime ministers are usually drawn, would be able to renounce co-operation with the tribunal without severely affecting their credibility within their own constituency.

Debate over the legitimacy of the tribunal has already brought the government of the country almost to a standstill. The opposition has been demanding that witnesses who it claims misled the tribunal be investigated by the Lebanese justice system. Mr Hariri and his allies, however, say this would preempt the tribunal’s findings and is designed to disrupt the international court.

The cabinet has not met for several weeks and there is now a backlog of around 500 issues requiring cabinet discussion, including approval for the development of much-needed broadband internet infrastructure.

Abigal Fielding-Smith, "Hezbollah moves topples Lebanese Government," The Financial Times, 12 January 2010, in

"We view what happened today as a transparent effort by those forces inside Lebanon as well as interests outside Lebanon to subvert justice and undermine Lebanon’s stability and progress. When President Obama met with Prime Minister Hariri earlier today, the President commended the prime minister for his leadership in protecting and advancing the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon and for staying focused on the real needs and interests of the Lebanese people....

Well, first, the United States supported the efforts that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia undertook to try to create a climate and arrive at understandings that would persuade Syria to be supportive of Lebanese sovereignty and independence and to work toward an outcome that would promote both justice and stability. You would have to ask the parties as to why that did not succeed. But we certainly were supportive of the effort, and unfortunately there was not a positive response to all of the Saudi efforts.

But I think let’s keep our eye on what’s really going on here. When the current government entered into their positions, all parties agreed to support the tribunal, including Hezbollah. And the work of the tribunal has been carried out over a number of years. We know that from news reports from the tribunal, they are on the verge of issuing indictments. And this is a matter that should be allowed to proceed as previously agreed to. And I would only add that this not only about the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, but many other people died and were injured as well. So it’s not only to seek justice for a former leader whose murder should not be allowed to go unaccountable, but what about all the other families and all the other people who came from across Lebanon?

So this really goes to a very important point, which is that Lebanon needs now to rally behind its own interests. The Lebanese people need to get beyond political parties. And it’s not political parties that would be put on trial; it’s individuals who would either be found guilty or innocent of having plotted and carried out such a horrific crime....

I think that there’s a long and complicated history between Syria and Lebanon that many of you know and some of you have not only followed, but lived. It is our hope, and as Sheikh Hamad just said, our commitment to try to work with all the parties to determine what is a peaceful way forward. We don’t think it is, at this moment, useful to be pointing fingers or blaming or going about the business of recriminations about what did or didn’t happen and who did or did not do what. We have to deal with the reality as we see it today.

And I think it’s in everyone’s interest, whether it be different elements within Lebanon or Syria or any of the neighbors and many of us who care deeply about what happens to the Lebanese people, to come together around some very simple principles. Lebanon is a sovereign, independent nation. The Lebanese people need to be empowered in order to solve their own issues without outside interference or without threats from within Lebanon. And countries like the two of ours stand ready to help, to facilitate, to support such a process. It’s happened before, as has already been referenced, but we think it’s imperative that everyone try to play a responsible and positive role. And that is certainly the goal of the United States over the next days and weeks".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Remarks with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad
bin Jassim Al Thani," Dohar, Qatar. 12 January 2011, in

To-day's break-up of the Lebanese Cabinet is as Michael Young put it yesterday (in a very prescient prediction), a va banque maneuver. Not of course merely by Hezbollah but of course by Damascus (and to a lesser extent Persia - perhaps), as well. It is Damascus which probably has as much at stake as Hezbollah in any publicly released findings by the UN Tribunal. 1 Why in Assad Fils, decided to in effect end the pour parler discussions that have been going on with Saudi Arabia in the past couple of months is not known at this time. And, while Persia in a sort of sotto voce way endorsed the move, no doubt, it is rather doubtful that it made the decision to end any discussions with Saudis and their Sunni Arab allies in the Levant. Whether or not the majority of the former Lebanese Cabinet were not willing to endorse the wild conspiracy theories being emitted by Hezbollah & Damascus (that Hariri pere was murdered by 'Zionist agents') is not quite clear 2. At least not to me. What does seem clear is that Damascus & its allies on the ground in the Lebanon, seem ready to throw down the gauntlet and engage in political (if not military) warfare in the hopes of completely toppling the pro-Western government in Beirut. In short a sort of coup de main if not coup d'etat. Which in turn begs the question: what if anything are the Americans, French and Saudis going to do, if things on the ground 'get out of hand'? Merely engage in more pour parlers and stand on the sideslines as in 2008, or will something more substantive come into play? If the latter, how far are the Americans and Saudis in particular willing to support the March 14th coalition? And for how long? A situation which definitely bears close watching.

1. Michael Young, "Amid Stalemate let negotiations begin!" The Daily Star, 12 January 2010, in; Nada Bakri, "Hezbollah forces collapse of Lebanese government." New York Times. 12 January 2011, in For a different view of the crisis' origins, see: Zvi Bar'el, "Timing of Hezbollah's resignation from Lebanon government no
coincidence." Haaretz. 12 January 2011, in

2. Qifa Nabki, "Justice in the Bazaar," 6 January 2011, in For the Tribunal itself, see: "The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: and the quest for Truth, Justice and Stability," Chatham House Meeting Report. December 2010, in


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