Trouble Brewing in Lebanon

Several days ago, prominent Lebanese billionaire and ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was car-bombed to smithereens, along with over a dozen bystanders. Hariri was friendly with both Washington and France, and had begun calling for Syria to end its illegal occupation of Lebanon shortly before his death.

It did not have the effect intended, as the Lebanese have been galvanized to more and more aggressive action against the occupying Syrians. But I had been waiting for the reaction of Hizbullah, and it is not surprising at all. Hizbullah is backed by Syria, of course, and it is hard to believe that their situation would improve when their patrons are booted from the country. The question is, will they actually violence against the Lebanese opposition?

This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, mostly revolving around France. France has historically given diplomatic support to Hizbullah, calling them a legitimate political party with legitimate grievances against Israel. But France also has a habit of being much more ruthless when such groups cross them directly, and Hariri was a close personal friend to Jacques Chirac. Apparently Chirac has taken his death with considerable anger, and will look askance at any party that supports Syria in the struggle to come.

Keep in mind also that the United States has a long score to settle with Syria and Hizbullah, dating back to the Beirut bombing in which 241 Marines were murdered. More recently, during the Falluja battle U.S. forces captured men, documents and GPS systems with overwhelming evidence that Syria was directly supporting the terrorists in Iraq. Lately the official rhetoric towards Syria had been heating up anyway, with open speculation about Special Forces raids on Syrian military assets, and within a day of the Hariri murder the U.S. ambassador to Damascus was recalled. In diplomat-speak, this is a serious escalation.

Syria's other neighbors bear it little goodwill. Iraq doesn't care for the Ba'ath Party too much, or for a government that funnels thousands of murderers across the border. Turkey is on such bad terms with Syria that the Turks felt compelled to sign a mutual-defense treaty with Israel some years back, to be activated in the event of a Syrian attack on either party. Israel, of course, would love to see Hizbullah and Syria both sent straight into the abyss.

I would not be surprised if this ends with the Syrians kicked out of Lebanon, and Hizbullah sent scurrying after them. That itself would precipitate a major crisis for the Assad dictatorship. I can hardly wait; the fall of the Assads has been long overdue.

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