US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell was in Beirut on Friday. But before coming to Lebanon, Mitchell visited Damascus, where he stated that a peace deal meant an “agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, between Israel and Syria, and between Israel and Lebanon and the full normalization of relations between Israel and its neighbors.”
Next month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is coming to Beirut with the opposite message, one that says he wants Lebanon to be the battlefield on which Iran can fight to protect its regional interests.
The war is to be fought by Hezbollah, but the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is an obstacle that needs to be removed before the end of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Although any indictment handed down by the STL will not force Hezbollah to cooperate (it knows that the Lebanese government cannot force the Party of God to do so), Hezbollah would prefer to remove anything that could weaken it internally, and in the last few days the opening salvos in the battle to dismantle the tribunal has started.
Rumor has it that if former General Security chief Jamil as-Sayyed is summoned by Attorney General Judge Said Mirza over comments made by Sayyed at his press conference last Sunday, civil violence similar to – or according to some people, even worse than – that of May 7, 2008 will take place.
Mirza summoned Sayyed “for questioning over the latter’s threats against the Lebanese state, judiciary and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.” But Sayyed was in Paris and will be back today, Saturday.
Hezbollah issued a statement on Friday saying that Mirza’s request to summon Sayyed on Thursday was “political par excellence.” The party added: “We were surprised by the judiciary’s decision… which is political and oppressive to those who declare the truth.” Hezbollah also called for revoking the judiciary’s decision to summon Sayyed for questioning.
Hezbollah’s MPs have also demanded that Lebanon stop funding the STL, prompting March 14 MPs to withdraw from Thursday evening’s session of the Parliamentary Finance and Budget Commission to prevent a quorum and a vote on the 2010 state budget clause pertaining to the court’s funding.
Meanwhile, MTV reported that Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Hassan Fadlallah said in Thursday’s session that parliament should abolish the STL before the end of September, otherwise “the matter [will be] very dangerous.”
The message from Hezbollah and March 8 is clear: Lebanon should stop funding the tribunal, parliament should agree to abolish it, and Prime Minister Saad Hariri should make an unequivocal statement that the STL is politicized and that he can no longer trust its impartiality.
Simply, nothing else matters. And the tensions that currently plague Lebanon – the threats, clashes and political campaigns – are linked to the STL. Those who criticize the tribunal, such as Jamil as-Sayyed, will be protected, no matter what they did in the past, while those who trust it and hope it will deliver justice will be deemed traitors.
But what can Hezbollah really do? After the Saudi-Syrian agreement at the Beirut Summit on July 30, it has become clear that Syria will not side with Hezbollah in any violent sedition. The Syrian regime has cooled its backing of Hezbollah, while Syria’s allies – including Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the recently-reclaimed Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt – have distanced themselves from Hezbollah’s campaigns. Both said that they can differentiate between an indictment handed down by the STL and the court itself. Hezbollah’s only ally is the increasingly-isolated Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.
Under these circumstances, another May 7 is probably unlikely, as is a coup d’état. Politically, Hezbollah and Aoun cannot do it alone. They can burn the streets, but if Syria is not on their side, the political balance is difficult to alter.
But is the Saudi-Syrian deal that solid? It was supposed to have been based on two commitments: Syria’s promise to back Saudi Arabia in Iraq by supporting Iyad Alawi in his bid for the premiership, while Saudi Arabia was expected to support Syria’s interests in Lebanon. Due to the complicated political scene in Lebanon, and mainly to the Iranian influence in both Lebanon and Iraq, these two commitments have not been easy to fulfill.
The deal has not collapsed, but it has become less effective, as many Lebanese expected, while the calm that prevailed since the Beirut Summit has also evaporated.
Yes, Hezbollah is trying to stymie the Saudi-Syrian deal. Iran does not want the Syrian regime to “return” to Lebanon on the back of a Saudi-brokered deal because this would make the ties between Syria and Hariri stronger than those between Syria and Hezbollah. Such a deal might also strengthen any prospects for peace, something that Hezbollah and Iran do not want.
Attacking both Hariri and President Michel Sleiman through Aoun and Sayyed is therefore the beginning of the confrontation. Hariri, in the meantime, is expected to make more compromises to Syria and tame all those who are still criticizing or seeking to thwart Syrian interference in Lebanon.
Torn between Hezbollah’s campaign to bring him down and Syria’s demands, Hariri will be walking a very thin line in the coming weeks and months. If the Saudi-Syrian deal survives, Syria will clearly be “back.” If it fails, Hezbollah will be able to carry out its threats. Until then, the only solution left for those who still believe in the principles of March 14 is to show a united front through improved rhetoric, clear commitments and a unified position.
More about STL ->20100420 – RPE Snapshot EN