January 4, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1414

Despite Arab Diplomatic Efforts, Hizbullah Threatens Violent Escalation – To Begin this Coming Monday (January 8, 2007)

January 4, 2007
Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 1414

Over the past few days, the Hizbullah-led Lebanese opposition has threatened to escalate the conflict through violent protest, that will include the blocking of main intersections so as to "paralyze life in Lebanon."

The editor of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, reported on January 5, 2007 that the "second phase of the opposition's intifada" would begin Monday, January 8, 2007. He wrote: "The opposition has entered a new phase of intensive confrontation with the ruling faction, and, in the last few day, has been deliberating over its plan of action. This comes after it has become convinced that the Arab parties managing the attempts at mediation [i.e. Saudi Arabia and Egypt] have in practice adopted the position of [Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad] Al-Siniora, who, like them, belongs to the 'moderate' camp supported by the U.S. and France." [1]

These threats come despite two weeks of diplomatic efforts on the part of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to prevent a violent outbreak.

The following are excerpts on the topic from the Lebanese press:

The Opposition in Lebanon Threatens Escalation

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, reported on a secret meeting of Lebanese opposition forces on January 2, 2007, in which they concluded that the Al-Siniora government had succeeded in withstanding the opposition's popular demonstrations and that it enjoys Arab and international support. The participants in the meeting therefore decided that the opposition should take new steps. The daily reported that "a prominent senior opposition figure defined the forthcoming steps that were discussed in the meeting as steps of 'violent protests' - which is what former minister and MP Suleiman Frangieh talked about a few days ago… when he mentioned roadblocks and [civil] unrest…"

Al-Akhbar explained that these steps are coming as "preparation for... a new plan that sets out [steps] more severe than roadblocks - such shutting down the activity of government ministries and offices, blocking the routes to the airport and the seaport and blocking central junctions - all of which is liable to completely paralyze life [in Lebanon]." [2]

Similar threats appeared in an editorial posted on Hizbullah's website on January 4, 2007: "In light of the fact that the government has closed the door to solutions to the crisis, and since it continues to violate the Lebanese constitution and is continuing in its political and sectarian escalation and in exacerbation [of tensions] between the two sects [i.e. Sunnis and Shi'ites], the Lebanese national opposition group will very soon begin to formulate a plan of action that is escalatory in nature…" [3]

Diplomatic Efforts to Prevent Escalation

On January 3, 2007, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that the Egyptian and Saudi leaderships had launched a campaign to prevent escalation in Lebanon, after Arab League Secretary-General 'Amr Moussa briefed them on the failure of his initiative - a failure liable to lead to crisis in Lebanon. After mutual consultations, they decided to renew their contacts with the Lebanese opposition, and to conduct discussions on a more senior level.

According to Al-Akhbar, Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Hussein Darar requested an urgent meeting with Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, "a step unprecedented in the history of the relations between the two sides," and passed on to Nasrallah a personal letter from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The paper said, "Saudi Arabia, for its part, urged Nasrallah time and again to make the pilgrimage, upon personal invitation from the [Saudi] king. When Nasrallah was unable to make the trip due to security considerations… it was decided that Nasrallah's deputy, Na'im Qasim, and a member of the Hizbullah faction in the government, Muhammad Fneish, would make a quick visit to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi plane flew them, far from the spotlights, from Beirut to Saudi Arabia, where they met with [Saudi] King Abdullah." [4]

On January 3, 2007, the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Safir reported on a meeting between Nasrallah and the Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon. According to the paper, during the meeting, the Egyptian ambassador repeatedly warned that Hizbullah must be alert to the danger of civil war between Sunnis and Shi'ites. "Nasrallah, for his part, emphasized Hizbullah's concern for maintaining Islamic unity, [but] warned that the Americans would foment an atmosphere of civil war on all fronts - a war that, for Hizbullah, is a line that must not be crossed."

The daily said that the Egyptian ambassador told Nasrallah that he should not expect regional involvement (alluding to Syrian and Iranian involvement), and stressed - echoing the message conveyed by the Saudi king to the Hizbullah delegation - that the solution must be reached through internal dialogue and not by reliance on foreign intervention.

The paper reported that the ambassador said to Nassrallah: "Honesty compels me to tell you that your image [as a hero of the resistance] has begun to erode in light of the situation in Lebanon, and that there are attempts to tarnish your image as a jihad fighter by [invoking] the details [of what is happening in Lebanon, thus] damaging the image of the resistance..."

Nasrallah replied: "We [i.e. Hizbullah] have the courage to admit that mistakes were made on all sides, and not just on one side. They [the March 14 Forces] made mistakes, and so did we... We supported all the Arab and Lebanese initiatives [that attempted to resolve the crisis]... it was always others who sabotaged [these attempts]..." [5]

On January 4, 2007, Al-Safir reported on the meeting between the Saudi king and the Hizbullah delegation. Citing diplomatic sources, it stated that the meeting lasted about three hours and was attended by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, by the head of the Saudi Intelligence Service, and by the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon. According to the paper, "the Saudi king presented [to the Hizbullah delegation] the options for political and economic recovery in Lebanon, and for [Lebanon] to benefit from the Gulf state's oil profits. He urged [the delegation] not to waste this opportunity, 'otherwise, the investments might go to other areas that are more secure and stable...' The king also told the Hizbullah delegation: 'If [you] do not look out for your country, and wait [instead] for foreign [intervention, you will wait] in vain. Any country that allows other countries to toy with it will inevitably [suffer] disintegration and division.'...

"The Hizbullah delegation, for its part, stressed that it regards civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis as a red line [that must not be crossed], and that Hizbullah has always tried to play a role of increasing Islamic unity, even outside Lebanon. The delegation stressed its openness towards Saudi Arabia... and [emphasized] the crucial need for the two sides [Hizbullah and Saudi Arabia] to continue the dialogue.

"The parties [at the meeting] also discussed the issue of the international tribunal [for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri]. The Saudis reiterated their [position] that, if Hizbullah indeed supports the establishment of a tribunal, as it has stated, it must enter into the discussions for working out the details of its establishment." [6]

[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 5, 2007. The article refers to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. and current chairman of the Saudi National Security Council, as "head of the camp which regards the Lebanese opposition as an extension of the new strategic enemy, [namely] Iran and Syria."

[2] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 4, 2007.

[3], January 4, 2007.

[4] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 3, 2007.

[5] Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 3, 2007.

[6] Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 4, 2007.

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