November 23, 2006 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 302

Lebanon on the Brink of Civil War (3)

November 23, 2006
Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 302


Against the backdrop of the worsening crisis in Lebanon, Lebanese Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel was assassinated yesterday (November 21, 2006). Pierre Gemayel was the son of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, and he served as the representative of the Phalange party in the Al-Siniora government and was a senior figure in the "March 14 Forces" political alliance.

A group calling themselves "Fighters for the Unity of Al-Sham [Greater Syria] and its Liberty" took responsibility for the assassination in a communiqué that read: "Allah granted us success today as well, in the assassination of the agent Pierre Gemayel, one of those who unceasingly spouted their venom against Syria and against the Resistance [i.e. Hizbullah], shamelessly and without any trepidation. This is the fate of the traitors, agents, and hired hands who do no hesitate to belittle Lebanon's unity, liberty, integrity, and future for the sake of the enemy's interests. All of those who harm those people who have paid the steep price for the Arabs and for Lebanon - may their voices be silent and may their mouths be mute. We crossed out this agent [Pierre Gemayel] from the list of our targets, and sooner or later we will pay the rest of the agents their due..." [1]

Sa'd Al-Hariri, head of the majority "Al-Mustaqbal" faction in parliament and son of assassinated former Lebanese PM Rafiq Al-Hariri, responded to Pierre Gemayel's assassination, saying: "[The Syrians] want to murder every free man and to renew the series of murders they promised." In an interview with CNN, he added: "We think that Syria's hands were in this crime, since in a few days there is supposed to be a second round [in the Security Council to ratify the establishment of] an international tribunal [to judge the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri], and Syria is trying to evade this." [2] Other senior figures in the "March 14 Forces" also blamed the murder on the Syrian regime.

Hizbullah and its partners in the opposition condemned the assassination and warned that the goal of the assassination was "to throw Lebanon into a state of anarchy, destruction, and civil war..." [3] On the other hand, Ibrahim Al-Amin, the editor of the daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, wrote the day after the assassination that "despite the cruelty of the crime, it will not bring about any change in the practical agenda of the two sides in the struggle." He said that "the political struggle will continue... the battle will remain open... for, unfortunately, the agenda of the battle in Lebanon is greater than the crime that took place." [4]

In the days preceding the assassination, there had been a sharp escalation in tensions in Lebanon, and especially in statements by Hizbullah spokesmen. Following Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's speech before the popular action committees on November 19, 2006, in which he called on his followers to take to the streets and to topple the government, Hizbullah's website declared that within a few days a government would be established in Lebanon that would represent the true majority in the country. In addition, a daily close to Hizbullah promised that if the government did not fall within 40 days, it would receive a "decisive blow" that would topple it. For their part, senior figures in the "March 14 Forces" warned that Lebanon was on the verge of a political putsch, and said that it was Syria and Iran that had ordered Hizbullah to create the crisis.

The following are statements on the crisis that appeared in the Iranian and Lebanese media:

Conservative Iranian Daily: Al-Siniora is Taking a Road With a Bad End

An editorial published in the conservative Iranian daily Resalat on November 21, 2006, titled "Al-Siniora's Closed Eyes" read: "...Al-Siniora is taking a road whose end will be very bad for him...

"Now, following Hizbullah's heroic victory... conditions have completely changed in Lebanon and in the Middle East. In light of this, the role... of Hizbullah in the political balance in Beirut has become more important...

"...The Al-Siniora government, which is dependent on the Republicans in Washington, is trying, [through] the U.S. Ambassador in Beirut, to weaken Hizbullah's growing strength, by repeating mantras like the stigmatization of Hizbullah [as terrorists] and the escalation of the psychological war against Hizbullah.

"But in the rest of the Muslim nations and in the Lebanese nation, there is an awareness [of the new conditions] that does not allow Al-Siniora and his supporters in the White House and in Tel Aviv any room for maneuver. This is the reality that the Lebanese PM ignored prior to Hizbullah's victory and that he is ignoring after the war as well. This is a reality that perhaps Al-Siniora will come to know directly when he tastes the bitter taste of his removal from power. If the current conditions continue, this moment is not far; when the people stream into the streets, this historic moment will arrive." [5]

Iranian Foreign Ministry Daily: Opposing the Lebanese People's Demands is Liable to Lead to Clashes

Hassan Hanizadeh, Editorial Editor for the Iranian Foreign Ministry daily TheTehran Times, which is close to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, published an article in which he said that Al-Siniora's opposition to forming a national unity government is liable to lead to clashes in Lebanon and to place Lebanon before severe domestic and foreign challenges: "The Lebanese government's opposition to the legitimate demands of the people [i.e. the demand to establish a national unity government] has brought the country to the edge of the precipice, and is liable to lead to clashes between different religious, ethnic, and political groups in Lebanon... It is clear that the Al-Siniora government cannot continue much longer with its political maneuvering. If Al-Siniora does not establish a national unity government soon, Lebanon will have to deal with severe domestic and foreign challenges in the near future. [6]

Hizbullah Website: It is a Matter of Days Until the Establishment of the Government of the True Majority in Lebanon

"What [can be done] after an illegal government [i.e. the Al-Siniora government] has taken over the executive power in the country?... [The Shi'ite ministers] deprived [Al-Siniora's] rule of its constitutional legitimacy when they resigned from a government that no longer represents the aspirations of the vast majority of Lebanese, and the question of it being replaced has become an inescapable demand...

"The political protection of the American Ambassador in Beirut, Jeffrey Feldman, will not help his government... The mood of this faction is at a low, and fear has overtaken them, despite their claim that they are the majority. This faction's security forces' fabrications are proof of this fear [that has overtaken them]. It is likely that [through these fabrications] they are [trying to] push off the danger of their coming downfall..."

The website wrote that the Lebanese must count "the few days left until the establishment of the government of the true majority in this country," and quoted Hizbullah's Secretary-General, who proclaimed on November 13, 2006, that "this government will soon disappear, and very soon we will bring a pure government..." [7]

"If the Government Does Not Fall Within 40 Days, a Major Activity Will Be Undertaken That Will Deal a Decisive Blow to the Government"

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, reported on the preparations being undertaken by Hizbullah and its allies in anticipation of taking to the streets, and said that the next step will be a boycott by MPs against the government: "The opposition has completed its preparations in anticipation of popular action [with the goal of] toppling the government. Al-Akhbar has learned that Hassan Nasrallah has reached an agreement with all of the senior opposition figures that the decision on the timing, scope, and kind of popular action is at his discretion. It is expected that this action will take place in cities, major intersections, and public squares, and it will begin immediately after Nasrallah gives the sign. The popular action will continue until the government falls, and it is likely to continue [for a period] between one month and 40 days in order to achieve its goal - toppling the government before the Feast of Sacrifice. In the event that the government does not fall in this period, a major activity will be undertaken that will deliver a decisive blow to the government. Then [the opposition forces] will establish a national unity government whose first task will be to draw up a new elections law and to hold parliamentary elections.

"Al-Akhbar has learned that the next step the opposition will decide on... will be a boycott by the MPs against the government. There are preparations for a meeting to be held by opposition MPs, during which they will announce some of their stands, among them: declaring lack of confidence in the government, [defining] the government as unconstitutional and illegal, and calling on MPs to boycott all of this government's legislative activity, as well as non-participation in any meeting of the parliamentary committees and refraining from making contact with any minister..." [8]

Hizbullah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem: The Al-Siniora Government Should Be Put on Trial if It Continues to Function as a Government

"The present government headed by Al-Siniora is an unconstitutional government and its decisions are illegal. If it does not find a solution to its crisis and continues to function [as a government] when it lacks any authority, then it should be put on trial, and it should give a reckoning [for its behavior]... They are standing as an obstacle, preventing the management of the country and obstructing it through a government lacking authority of decision, authority [of being] representative, and constitutional legitimacy. Therefore, we say to this government - resign now, and look for an appropriate [solution to the crisis], so that you will not get in trouble [and bear] responsibility for even greater collapse in this country..."

Concerning the next steps that would be taken by the opposition to topple the government, Qassem said: "The opposition's bin of activities is full, varied, and influential. However, we will only say what the nature of each activity will be at the appropriate time. Our 'saving steps' will not cease until we arrive at a solution and save Lebanon... We will carry out our activity to save Lebanon. Ours will be a 'rolling' plan - one step after another, in an effective fashion, and we will announce each activity with the agreement of our allies. We place the blame for the waste of time and the economic and political deterioration of the country on the ruling government. We place the blame on them for any security problem that might arise... This government, which is illegal, needs to know that it is to blame for everything that occurs to this country. You must not waste time..." [9]

Sa'd Al-Hariri: Hizbullah, Amal, Syria, and Iran Want to Topple the Government

In an interview with the Al-Jazeera English-language satellite station, the head of the Al-Mustaqbal faction Sa'd Al-Hariri said that the current crisis was caused because Hizbullah received orders from elements outside of Lebanon not to allow, under any circumstances, the establishment of an international tribunal. According to him, the alliance of Hizbullah, Amal, Syria, and Iran wants to topple the government and rule Lebanon: "It is obvious that when there is a political party that is funded entirely by [elements] outside of the country [i.e. Hizbullah], then it is run entirely by [elements] outside of the country."

Concerning the current crisis in the government and the resignation of the Shi'ite ministers, he said: "The orders and the decisions came from [elements] outside [of Lebanon], and these orders and decisions lay down that it is forbidden [to allow] the establishment of an international tribunal and that the murderers of Rafiq Al-Hariri, Jubran Tweini, Samir Qasir, and George Hawi must be defended at all costs... The truth is that if there are any civil disturbances whatsoever, this will not be because of the Lebanese [but rather because of foreign intervention]... Today it has become clear that the alliance between Hizbullah, Amal, Syria, and Iran wants to topple the Al-Siniora government, to foil the [establishment] of an international tribunal [for the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri], [to prevent the implementation of] Resolution 1701... They want to rule the country." [10]

Jumblatt: Lebanon is on the Verge of a Putsch

The Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said at a meeting of his party: "I heard from one [of the senior figures in Hizbullah]... that the principle [of establishing] an international tribunal [for the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri] is unacceptable. What can we do, when we are before [the decision on the tribunal] and they are on the verge of a putsch in the country... a phased taking to the streets, collective resignations from directorates, civil revolt, resignations from parliament, etc. What can we do? I am not capable of answering this question right now, since [I have to] consult first with the members of the "March 14 [Forces], and first and foremost Sa'd Al-Hariri...

"We have before us a number of options. However, we will not be those who will start with domestic civil disturbances, and it is forbidden that we be the ones to start with this. Let them bear the blame for civil disturbances and for the putsch... Of course I must consult [with the others in "March 14"]... Nothing will deter them [Hizbullah], not even civil war, from preventing the punishment [that an international tribunal would impose on Syria]." [11]

Amin Gemayel: We Will Oppose any Putsch Attempt With Every Legitimate Means

In a speech before members of the political bureau and the central committee of his party, former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel addressed Nasrallah's speech, saying: "We see everything that is going on [now] as an attempt to throw the country back to [the era] before April 26, 2005 [the day the Syrian forces left Lebanon]... We are obliged to oppose any putsch attempt with every existing political and democratic means..." [12]

Sunni Sheikh Attacks Hizbullah

The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal published an article by the Sunni Sheikh Sa'id Harmush, who expressed criticism of Hizbullah members' behavior, which in his opinion is contrary to Islam: "...Hizbullah [members] claim [that they are acting in the name of] Islam, but they are doing the exact opposite of Islam! In the past they left in Beirut black fingerprints, in every home and neighborhood. Roving bands of [Hizbullah members] took over property belonging to 'the Sunni brothers', as they call them - houses, land, and shops. Then they started with acts of robbery, slaughter, humiliation, and expulsion, much more than the Jews have done anywhere [in the world]...

"To this day many areas in Lebanon (like Sidon, Tyre, and other areas) are trying to deal with this arbitrariness and arrogance. If this is so, then what Islam are they talking about[?] We are not talking about [unknown things that occurred] in the course of the [last] war - the attacks and assaults that were carried out during the war, from the south up to Beirut. At the time that Zionist planes destroyed some of the areas in Beirut, some of the roving bands [of Hizbullah members] took over private and public lands, and built houses there, as though these lands were spoils of war! So what Islam are they talking about?!

"Today Sheikh Naim Qassem comes to us with the demand that the [Shi'ite] community, or Hizbullah, be partners in government decisions and in building Lebanon... This at a time that Shi'ite ministers left the government in order to exert influence [not to establish] a tribunal that is supposed to punish the criminals who assassinated many Lebanese brothers. So how can they ask to be partners?!...

"You want the government to grant legitimacy to your lies, and if not, then [you accuse it] of collaboration [with Israel]..." [13]

Al-Mustaqbal Reports on Hizbullah Operatives' Gunfire in Southern Beirut

The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reported on November 20, 2006, that immediately following Nasrallah's speech, Hizbullah operatives opened fire in the Al-Dahiya neighborhood, and kept firing for four hours: "The intense gunfire in the Al-Dahiya area [of southern Beirut], which continued for four hours, and began immediately following the speech by the 'new leader of the opposition' [Hassan Nasrallah], is not exactly an expression of the sugary words with which the Hizbullah Secretary-General spoke of popular action that would be 'civilized and peaceful, when the time comes.'"

Al-Mustaqbal characterized the event as "a paradox that points to the gulf between the leader's instructions and his followers' behavior." [14]

Sunni Jihadi Websites: Prepare for Battle in Lebanon

In the past 24 hours since the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, participants in Sunni Islamist forums (for instance, that of have written that battle between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Lebanon is imminent and inevitable, and have even proposed operative steps in preparation for this war. Among the ideas raised have been gathering intelligence on Shi'ite weapons arsenals in order to seize them, purchasing houses and warehouses throughout the country to serve as bases for the Sunni mujahideen, and the "liquidation" of Shi'ite imams and leaders. [15]

*H. Varulkar is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 22, 2006.

[2] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 22, 2006.

[3] Website of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, November 19, 2006;

[4] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 22, 2006.

[5] Resalat (Iran), November 21, 2006.

[6] Tehran Times (Iran), November 21, 2006.

The head of the Middle East desk in the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Ali Asghar Mohammedi, addressed the situation in Lebanon in the course of a talk, saying: "Hizbullah's existence... strengthens Iran's status in regional geopolitics, thanks to Iran's support for Hizbullah." Hayat-e No (Iran), November 20, 2006.

[7] Website of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, November 19, 2006.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 20, 2006.

[9] Website of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, November 19, 2006;

[10] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 20, 2006.

[11] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 20, 2006. Jumblatt already said in the past that Bashar Al-Assad is trying to escape punishment that he will receive from an international tribunal that will judge on the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri:

[12] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 21, 2006.

[13] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 20, 2006.

[14] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 20, 2006.

[15] Further details in part four of "Lebanon on the Brink of Civil War" (forthcoming).

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