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    Resignation of Hezbollah Ministers Collapses Lebanon’s Government

    In protest of the UN tribunal into the murder of Lebanon’s ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, Hezbollah ministers quit the Lebanese government Wednesday, effectively collapsing the government and plunging the country into crisis.

    Eleven ministers from the Hezbollah-led March 8 opposition alliance, which is backed by Iran and Syria, tended their resignations on Wednesday. They called on President Michel Suleiman to form a new government after the Shiite organization’s demands for cabinet intervention in the Hariri investigation were not met.

    Hezbollah had demanded that Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the murdered Rafiq, hold a cabinet meeting in which the Shiite alliance would once again call on Hariri to disavow the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Hezbollah issued their demands on Tuesday, giving the Western-backed Hariri until Wednesday to convene a meeting on the STL.

    As Hariri was meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington to discuss Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and stability, the prime minister’s presence was almost impossible to guarantee. Hezbollah subsequently claimed that their demands had not been met and went ahead with the previously threatened resignations, leading to a situation which has brought down the coalition government.

    For the government to collapse, one-third of the 30 ministers plus one needed to resign. The state-run National News Agency announced that the eleventh minister to resign – Minister of State Adnan Sayyed Hussein – tipped the scales in Hezbollah’s favor, triggering the collapse.

    Hezbollah has been continually pressuring Prime Minister Hariri to reject the STL, with the Shiite group claiming that it is part of a US-Israeli plot against it. Rumors have circled for months that the STL was preparing to indict senior Hezbollah members in connection with the 2005 assassination.

    Disagreements over the Tribunal have crippled the government with Saad Hariri resisting calls from his opponents to ignore the STL’s findings and discredit the process. With the shadow of potential indictments hanging over Hezbollah, the tensions have increased to such a level that sources within Lebanon have expressed real fears that sectarian conflict could explode should the tribunal accuse the Shiite group of the murder.

    Lebanon’s future thrown into doubt

    Before Wednesday’s events, the potential collapse of the unity government has been stoking fears of a return to armed conflict in Lebanon and the danger of wider destabilization across the Middle East. What happens next, analysts say, is a matter of not only national, but also international concern.

    The collapse of the Lebanse governing coalition could have a significant local and regional impact,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Deutsche Welle. “It could bring political instability and the real threat of external military intervention in Lebanese affairs.”

    Ulrichsen said the Lebanese political scene was already “on the brink” owing to the impasse over how to move forward with the UN tribunal.

    The rise to power of the March 8 Alliance could prove a tipping-point into a new conflict in Lebanon,” he said.

    Doreen Khoury, [member of the Democratic Renewal Movement executive committee] program manager at the Middle East Office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, warned that the domestic situation in Lebanon could become very unstable with outbreaks of violence, following the collapse of the government and the installation of the Hezbollah leadership in its place.

    If a compromise cannot be found, the March 8 opposition could name a new prime minister and form a government without representation from Saad Hariri’s March 14 alliance,” Khoury told Deutsche Welle. “This government would cancel funding to the Tribunal and withdraw judges, among other things.”

    However, such a government would be in a very precarious international and regional position, if it was not seen as legitimate in the eyes of the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, she added.

    International concerns increase over prospect of war

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who – along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – had been holding talks with the Lebanese prime minister in Washington this week, expressed concern over the developments.

    “I’m deeply worried about the efforts to destabilize Lebanon,” Clinton said in a statement. “We should do everything we can to make sure those warnings (of a regional conflict) are not accurate.”

    “It’s very important we look at how disastrous a war would be for everyone and it still is a fact there is no solution to the problems that beset the area through war,” she added.

    Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, echoed Clinton’s concerns by warning that Lebanon’s political instability posed “a great danger” for the region.

    “This may lead to a conflict and this poses a great danger,” he said. “Lebanon may face the problems it faced before and this will affect the countries in the region.”

    Analysts believe that, should Hezbollah take control of Lebanon, war with Israel will be almost unavoidable.

    Any Hezbollah-led government would face almost certain war with Israel,” Khoury said. “One scare scenario predicts that a Hezbollah-led government would be at war with Israel within weeks as Israel would most likely launch a pre-emptive attack if a March 8 government is able or allowed to form.”

    Ulrichsen believes that an Israeli attack on Lebanon would have potentially disastrous repercussions for the greater Middle East. An Israeli intervention against Hezbollah would also heighten the tension with Iran, he said, particularly if Tehran were perceived to counter Israeli actions by extending material or armed support to Hezbollah or other spoiler groups in Lebanon.

    Inter-regional competition between Syria and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, led by Saudi Arabia, might also intensify, and contain the seeds of further instability if each channelled support to proxy elements within the domestic Lebanese scene,” Ulrichsen said.

    Nick AMIES
    Deutsche Welle
    12.01.2011

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