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Hariri's Shadow: Hizballah Quits Government

Talks aimed at creating a unity government in polarized Lebanon have come to a sudden halt with internal trouble looming ahead for the first Arab democracy. On Saturday, two elected members of the terrorist group Hizballah have resigned from the 24-member Lebanese cabinet along with three members of the Shi’a Amal movement, a Hizballah ally, in an effort to force the dissolution of the current government. Last week, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah demanded a full third of the 24 cabinet seats under threat of street protests.

Though Hizballah and their allies deny it, the timing of the sudden disruption is widely viewed to be tied directly to the fact that the Lebanese government is set to begin discussions Monday on a proposal for setting up a tribunal to try suspects believed involved with the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad was heavily implicated by the UN investigation that followed, though Syria has successfully dodged consequence thus far, even through a wave of assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese figures in the wake of the investigations. (See - ThreatsWatch.org: Multimedia: ‘Who Is Next?’)

Hizballah’s weekend move is believed to be driven by their Syrian sponsors seeking to evade further any prosecutions and likely resulting sanctions. The situation is being placed within the context of a greater ‘cold war’ over influence in the Middle East, principally between the United States and an Iranian-Syrian cabal.

But Hizballah’s quiting the cabinet does not automatically dissolve the government based on their non-participation and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora rejected the Hizballah resignations. In the United States, the White House issued a statement that criticized the move and condemned Iran and Hizballah, stating that “Hezbollah and Iran remain a dangerous, global nexus of terrorism.”

Hizballah deputy chief Naim Kassem siad that the resignations were but the first step in a Hizballah strategy to assume power within the Lebanese government. “There will be other steps that we will discuss in detail with our allies and which we will announce gradually,” he said.

The complaint over representation stems from the Lebanese government’s sectarian electoral representation being based on a severely outdated 1932 census in which the Shi’a were a very small minority but have after 75 years now become the majority. But the Lebanese who had only recently manage to wrest free of Syrian occupation refuse to submit to the same via an Iranian- and Syrian-supported Hizballah, which dominates Lebanese Shi’a politics and permit a terrorist organization intent on war with Israel to hold difficult sway over their government.