11/26/2010, 00.00
LEBANON
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Tensions running high in Beirut as Hariri indictments approach

by Fady Noun
Rumours about the involvement of Hizbollah officials in the Hariri murder have paralysed the government in some measure as the opposition boycotts the cabinet. However, in Lebanon few fear a possible coup by Hizbollah. The ongoing struggle involves regional and world powers.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – The situation in Beirut is increasingly tense as the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) Daniel Bellemare gets ready to issue possible indictments against Hizbollah officials, probably in mid-December, in connection with the assassination of Rafik Hariri (14 February 2005).

Political tensions have partially paralysed government institutions. For the third time in a row, the national unity government did not meet for its weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday because opposition ministers were a no-show. The roundtable on national dialogue is also on ice. Using various pretexts, the Syrian-backed opposition has made it clear to Prime Minister Saad Hariri that it would work with the government only on condition that it gave up on the STL.

The adoption of “security” measures is openly considered or just suggested, adding to the political impasse. On and off, different figures close to Hizbollah warn against possible accusations against Hizbollah, threatening political and military action should the warning not be heeded. For instance, a former minister, Wi’am Wahab, warned that some 50 Lebanese leaders are under surveillance and that they would be neutralised should there be indictments.

Mr Wahab’s statement has not elicited any official reaction because no one is taking the threat seriously. However, Western sources have warned the government in Beirut that that Hizbollah might try to force things its way.

If Lebanese politicians are less sanguine about a Hizbollah coup it is because they know that it is easier said than done, and this despite the fact that Hizbollah has the means to take over some of the country’s regions.

The fact is Lebanon’s security is guaranteed by two powers, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The status quo in Lebanon (and elsewhere, like Iraq) the two agreed to appears safe for now.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman is counting on it. Recently, he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and will soon welcome in Beirut Saudi King Abdullah’s son, Prince Abdel Aziz, who is no stranger to the Syria’s presidential palace.

Furthermore, any military action by Hizbollah would lead to a confrontation with the army, and would completely undermine the party’s military doctrine, which is based on cooperation with it.

At the same time, Lebanon’s military leaders issued a statement saying that they would oppose any internal uprising, viewing the cost of such an operation worth paying in order to fight divisions.

A report by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) last week on the Hariri assassination added to the tensions, confirming Hizbollah’s fears. Based on a United Nations report, the broadcaster reiterated claims made by German magazine Der Spiegel two years ago, adding new elements.

According to the report’s author, Hizbollah groups carried out the attack, but also pointed the finger at the head of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, Col Wissam el-Hassan, a Sunni general and a man Rafik Hariri trusted. This new element makes the indictments against Hizbollah even more credible.

What will the self-styled party of God do when charges are formally laid? How will Syria and Iran react? Will there be violence? Will the political impasse get worse? All these questions are hard to answer until charges are made public. Equally, appeals by countries like France must also be weighed. Paris noted that accusations are against certain people, not against any organisation.

In the meantime, both camps are trying to bolster their positions. Saad Hariri provided visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a mass rally (pictured) similar to the one enjoyed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among Shias a few weeks ago.

For some, the balance of power between these two emerging regional powers is at stake. That may be true, but the final outcome will also have to take into account Damascus, Cairo and Riyadh, as well as Paris, Washington and New York.

Still as the Lebanese like to say, “Too many cooks burn the food”.

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