November 21, 2006 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 301

Lebanon on Brink of Civil War (2)

November 21, 2006
Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 301


On November 3, 2006, MEMRI reported on political tension in Lebanon, which has increased to the point where civil war appears imminent - due to Hizbullah's violent struggle to seize a significant portion of the government by instigating street clashes. [1] Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nassrallah even issued an ultimatum, threatening that his people would take to the streets on November 13, but the ultimatum was later postponed, pending consultations between Hizbullah and the "March 14 Forces." The failure of these talks led to the resignation of the five Shi'ite ministers, representatives of the Hizbullah and Amal parties, from the Lebanese government. At this point, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud declared that the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Al-Siniora government was "illegal," a statement later reiterated by Hizbullah and its political allies.

Following these developments, Hizbullah leaders and their political allies stepped up their statements, threatening that "surprise" tactics would be used and that the street protests would begin without warning. It should be noted that these statements and threats are supported by Syria and Iran.

In a special speech on November 19, 2006, Nasrallah declared that attempts to reach an understanding with "the governing faction" [i.e. with the March 14 Forces] had failed, and that the goal was now to topple what he called "[U.S. Ambassador to Beirut] Feldman's government" by taking to the streets. (Previously, Nasrallah had outlined two possible ways out of the crisis: the establishment of a National Unity Government or early parliamentary elections).

Nasrallah did not specify when his people would take to the streets, but called on Hizbullah to be in a state of full readiness, since the protests "might start in less than 24, 12, or even six hours." Al-Jazeera TV, which is close to Nasrallah, stated in reference to this speech that "the zero hour is very near, and may come after Lebanese Independence Day [November 22, 2006]."

As in the case of the recent war in Lebanon, the timing of the current crisis serves the interests of Iran, which is facing a U.N. Security Council discussion on proposed sanctions against it. The timing also serves the interests of Syria, which is currently trying, with Russia's help, to stop an international court from being appointed to tackle the case of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri (a decision that could also harm the pro-Syrian Lebanese prime minister, Emile Lahoud).

However, in the current crisis, unlike in the previous one, Hizbullah will probably avoid involving Israel, in order to prevent any Israeli interference in his attempt to seize a significant portion of the Lebanese government.

The following are statements recently made by Hizbullah and its political allies:

Iranian Daily Affiliated with Khamenei Calls to Change the Political Balance of Power in Lebanon in Favor of the Shi'ites

On November 8, 2006, the conservative Iranian Daily Kayhan, which is identified with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, wrote that in light of the new strategic order that has emerged in the Middle East, the Shi'ites in Lebanon must receive the largest representation in the Lebanese government institutions: "We must see how things actually develop in Lebanon. [This country] is currently facing changes that the existing [government] institutions cannot [handle], so [these institutions] must necessarily change. One of the frameworks that must change is the Taif Agreement signed... by America and France, by heads of Arab states, and by heads of [various Lebanese] groups. Today, these Arab governments - and to a large extent also America, France and those [Lebanese] groups - have lost their role, and have been replaced by new forces. The Shi'ites now constitute 40% of the [Lebanese] population, and occupy 40% of the Lebanese territory. They are the most united [group in Lebanon], and their security-military forces have become the most significant forces in that part of the Arab region [i.e. in Lebanon]. Therefore, they must have the greatest presence in the [Lebanese] government and parliament and in other Lebanese institutions..." [2]

Lebanese Parliament Speaker: "Iran Will Be the Leading Force in the New Phase [That Has Begun]"

On a brief visit to Iran, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Beri met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In his meeting with Khamenei, the latter stressed "the readiness of the [Lebanese] people and of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon [i.e. Hizbullah] to deal with every contingency." He added that Lebanon would be where America and the Zionist entity will meet with defeat, and said that "political developments in the region and the world confirm that a new phase has begun." He stated further that "America's policy in the region and the world is on the brink of defeat," and that "this opportunity must be exploited to the full through determined action and trust in Allah the Almighty."

During the meeting, Nabih Beri said: "Allah has rewarded those who wanted to implement the plan of the Greater Middle East [i.e. the Americans] for their plotting and deception. The latest developments [in the Middle East] are the beginning of the fall of the American empire... The victory of the Lebanese [people] and of the Islamic resistance [i.e. Hizbullah] played a significant part in the defeat of the Republican party in the recent congressional elections [in the U.S.]." Beri added that "America and the Zionist entity are trying to keep the Islamic Republic [of Iran] from exerting its spiritual influence in the region, [but] the Islamic Republic of Iran will be the leading force in the new phase [that has begun]." [3]

In his meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Beri spoke of "the plots of the enemies, and especially [the plots] of the West, headed by the U.S., which are meant to create anarchy and generate dispute among the various Lebanese factions." He stated that "the Arab states must take special steps to thwart the enemies' plot of [instigating] strife," and said that "the Islamic Republic of Iran has a leading and essential role in this regard." [4]

Nasrallah: We will Soon Have a New Government

In the Al-Dhahiya neighborhood in Beirut, Nasrallah told an audience of over 7,000 that "the current government will soon go, [and will be replaced by] a pure government that will [help] you [i.e. the people of South Lebanon] to repair the damage caused by the [Israeli] aggression... The current government is disloyal, since it knew about the [Israeli] aggression [in advance], and asked [the Israelis] to prolong their aggression... This government will not stay [in power]. We will form a new government." [5]

Hizbullah: Civil Disobedience Is a Legitimate Option

Ghaleb Abu Zaynab of Hizbullah's political bureau said that "civil disobedience is a legitimate option... The interior minister's refusal to issue licenses for demonstrations will not impede our activities. If the government tries to play games of this sort, it will be making a big mistake. But I do not think that it will [try to] prevent the demonstrations, since this would bring the country to a state of maximal tension." [6]

Muhammad Ra'd, chairman of the Hizbullah party in the Lebanese parliament, said on Hizbullah's radio station Al-Nur: "There are [all sorts of] surprise tactics that the opposition may employ, like the resignation of the Shi'ite [ministers], which took the governing faction by surprise. All options are open. The popular action will come at the appropriate time and place, and in a manner that will achieve [the desired] results." [7]

General Michel Aoun: As of Today, the Government's Orders Must Not Be Obeyed

General Michel Aoun, a Christian, said at a convention held by his party, the Free Patriotic Movement, that "the [current] government is illegitimate, and therefore, as of today, its orders must not be obeyed." At the end of his speech Aoun called on the "[opposition's] units" to "get ready to take to the streets as soon as tomorrow," and declared: "We will use the streets to make history - we will either fail or succeed." [8]

In a meeting with students at the American University of Beirut, Aoun accused the ruling faction - that is, the March 14 Forces - of "being afflicted with every kind of mental illness that exists." When asked if Hizbullah meant to take to the streets, he replied: "[Taking to the] streets is one option, but [now] there is a possibility of other arrangements... The [current] situation will come to an end very soon, Allah willing, so we can celebrate the new year [2007] in satisfaction and tranquility."

Aoun added: "I think that the government is responsible for the [current] deadlock, because it has lost its national consensus and is responsible for delaying the resolution of this crisis"... I've called upon [Al-Siniora to resign] and I am now doing so again... His resignation is the only solution that will allow everyone to deal with the situation. But if [Al-Siniora] continues to regard himself as prime minister, we will prove to him that this is unacceptable, and take the necessary steps - and it will be he who is responsible for any negative outcomes [that may emerge]. There is no solution except for [Al-Siniora] to resign." [9]

Hizbullah-Affiliated Daily: The Opposition Does Not Plan to Announce When and Where It Will Take to the Streets

In an article in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, known to be affiliated with Hizbullah, editor Ibrahim Al-Amin wrote: "There is no longer any chance of [of reaching] a partial agreement [between Hizbullah and the March 14 Forces]. Neither side has any way of protecting the state against the evil confrontation that has begun, and not only behind closed doors... The big problem is that the division has reached the point where it is difficult to find a quick solution without significant external intervention... However, according to an Arab diplomatic source, the problem has to do with America's refusal to initiate dialogue with Syria before there are developments in other issues, [unrelated to] Lebanon...

"As far as the opposition [i.e., Hizbullah, Amal, and Aoun's party] is concerned, the die has been cast. The [Lebanese] government and its resolutions must not be recognized; it must be treated as an illegal government. Therefore, the opposition's plan of action does not depend on the current government's agenda, or on receiving its permission [to demonstrate]. Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat hasn't yet comprehended this fact, [and therefore does not understand] why [the opposition] has not yet requested a license to demonstrate... "When the operational [phase] begins, the opposition will not inform the Interior Ministry of the timing and route [of the demonstrations], or about anything else...

"The opposition has decided to take [the following] intra-organizational steps in order to avoid numerous [unfortunate] contingencies:

"The demonstrators of Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement will not enter the inner neighborhoods of Beirut, since this may lead to conflict with the majority group [i.e. the March 14Forces], which may develop into a conflict between sects or factions.

"[The opposition] will recruit hundreds or even thousands of activists who will be in charge... of the popular activities. Among their other [responsibilities, they will] prevent [the demonstrators] from approaching any [government] facilities with the purpose of doing damage. In addition, they will perform activities that serve the purpose of the demonstration, and prevent majority [supporters] from attacking [the Hizbullah demonstrators], unless someone in the majority group [deliberately] leads us into a bad situation. Those in charge of the demonstrations have also been instructed to tolerate any level of oppression [on the part of the Lebanese security apparatuses] including the possibility of gunfire...

"The tasks have been divided among the various opposition forces... The various regions in Lebanon have been divided into zones, which will enable us to flood Lebanon with two million demonstrators in a single day, if such a decision is taken.

"No region will be excluded [as a location for demonstrations] under the pretext that it is under the authority of this or that official institution. [For example], Shuhada Square [in Beirut] will not be considered as [the territory] of one faction only [i.e. as March 14 territory], but will be used [by the opposition] whenever the need arises.

"The decision to take to the streets has already been made, and its implementation depends on matters that appear simple but will [in fact] determine the outcome [of events]. The opposition is determined to keep [these details] a surprise." [10]

*H. Varulkar is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 299, "Lebanon Faces Political Crisis in Aftermath of War: Tensions Escalate Between 'March 14 Forces' and Hizbullah, Pro-Syrian Camp," November 3, 2006, Lebanon Faces Political Crisis in Aftermath of War: Tensions Escalate Between ‘March 14 Forces’ and Hizbullah, Pro-Syrian Camp.

[2] Kayhan (Iran), November 8, 2006.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 15, 2006.

[4] Mehr News Agency (Iran), November 13, 2006.

[5] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 14, 2006.

[6] Al-Nahar (Lebanon) November 16, 2006.

[7] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 15, 2006.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon) November 17, 2006.

[9] Al-Nahar (Lebanon) November 19, 2006.

[10] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon) November 17, 2006.

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