Watchman Newsletter

Face-Off In Lebanon

The Media Line (Link) - David E. Miller (October 3, 2010)

Tension between Prime Minister Hariri and Hizbullah reaches all-time high

At least 15 four-wheel drive vehicles, license plates covered, stormed Beirut�s International Rafiq Al-Hariri airport on Saturday. Out of the vehicles jumped armed Hizbullah members and other supporters of a Lebanese ex-security official, who had just arrived on a flight from Paris.

The Hizbullah gunmen surrounded Gen. (ret.) Jamil Sayyed as he spoke to press at the airport, escorting him home at the end of the event.

Sayyed, the former head of Lebanon�s General Security, was arrested in 2005 and held in jail for nearly four years without charge for involvement in the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

�The Beirut airport was turned into one of Hizbullah�s security quarters,� an anonymous member of Lebanese Prime Minister Sa�ad A-Din Al-Hariri March 14 Alliance told the Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. �This dangerously revealed airport security.�

�Seeing the airport incident, it is clear that Hizbullah has decided to attack the regime,� Ghazi Youssef, a parliament member in Hariri�s Al-Mustaqbal (Movement of the Future) bloc told The Media Line. �Hizbullah believes this is part of the democratic game, but what was done was a breach of the law. There are limits to freedom of expression.

Mohammad Shatah, a former Lebanese minister, was less diplomatic.

�The airport scene was surreal. Lebanese could have never seen such a sight in any other country in the world.�

But clearly more than airport security is now at stake in Lebanon.

Before leaving for Paris on September 12, Sayyed called Prime Minster Sa�ad Al-Hariri a liar and urged the Lebanese to topple his government. Upon his return to Beirut, again Sayyed did not mince his words. This time, he attacked State Prosecutor Sa�id Mirza, who called him in for questioning following his threatening statements.

�Mirza is supposed to be a public prosecutor � i.e. neutral � but considering these lawsuits, he became my personal adversary,� Lebanon�s Daily Star quoted Sayyed as saying.

The issue of �false witnesses� has become a main point of contention for Sayyed and his supporters in Hizbullah. The term refers to Lebanese legal and security officials who testified before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Prime Minister Sa�ad Hariri recently rescinded his accusation of Syria as primarily responsible for his father�s assassination in an interview with the Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, acknowledging the existence of false witnesses.

However, on Monday, Hariri reiterated his support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, defying Hizbullah�s demand that Lebanon officially accuse Israel of the murder.

Professor Eug�ne Sensenig-Dabbous, chairman of the Political Science department at Lebanon�s Notre-Dame University, said that Hariri�s overture towards Syria was implicitly implicating Hizbullah.

�If Syria isn�t involved in the assassination, who is?� he rhetorically asked in an interview with The Media Line. �It�s looking more and more like Hizbullah was involved in the assassinations that took place in 2005.�

Sensenig-Dabbous predicted a re-alignment of powers, with Hariri�s March 14 Alliance drawing closer to Syria, leaving Hizbullah isolated with Iran.

�I don�t know if a partnership with Michel Aoun�s Free Patriotic Movement and Iran will be enough for Hizbullah,� Sensenig-Dabbous said.

Samir Al-Sa�adawi, a Beirut-based journalist at the Arab daily Al-Hayyat, said that tensions in Lebanon would likely intensify rather than calm down.

�The situation is tense, and is only escalating,� he told The Media Line. �I don�t know if the regional players, Syria and Saudi Arabia, can stop the escalation � if not, we�re facing more trouble.� �