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Lebanon: The Syrian Countdown

Whether by chronological measure or by counting the surviving anti-Syrian members of the Lebanese Cabinet, there is clearly a Syrian countdown to the fall of the Lebanese government underway.

David Schenker has written an excellent article for National Review Online that effectively summarizes the critical Lebanese situation and provides proper context for the recent murder of Lebanon's Minister of Industry, Perre Gemayel. Schenker's Pricey Cedar Politics is perhaps the best summary of events available to the average American observer yet in a single, brief read. Properly framed are Lebanese internal politics, Hizballah's power plays and the barely hidden Syrian involvement.

Then, when six pro-Syrian cabinet ministers resigned from the government last week, the Hezbollah-led bloc constitutionally needed only three more cabinet ministers to resign — or die — for the government to fall. For Hezbollah and Syria, Gemayel’s death put the magic number at two.

The context of Gemayel’s murder, of course, is the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. Shortly after Hariri’s death, the United Nations Security Council launched a comprehensive investigation in the killing. As the investigation progressed — and preliminary findings emerged — the Assad regime became increasingly concerned that it would be formally implicated in the crime.

The remaining 17 members of the Lebanese cabinet - those left after the resignation of the minority pro-Syrian bloc (largely Shi'a, including Hizballah seats) and the murder of the anti-Syrian Gemayel - have taken up residence at the Lebanese governmental saray (compound) for their own security.

Make no mistake, the goal of Syria is to have the Lebanese government toppled before an international tribunal to try the suspects of Rafik Hariri's 2005 murder (read: Syrian leadership) can be officially approved by Lebanese parliamentary vote. Hizballah has supplanted Syrian troops as their tool for policy enforcement in Lebanon.

The article is highly recommended as an excellent brief primer.

Mr, Schenker is Senior Fellow, Arab Politics at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and also among the members at the Counterterrorism Blog.