Is Lebanon Poised For Another Civil War?

After a few years of relative quiet, the political pot in troublesome Lebanon is being stirred up once again. If you know anything about this country, then you will realize that its recent history has been anything but peaceful. It has been the site of fierce battles waged between the Israelis and the Palestinians, between the Israelis and Hezbollah, and between the Lebanese themselves during their fifteen-year-long civil war, which left an estimated 130,000 to 250,000 people dead, displaced the Christian Lebanese population, and resulted in Syrian forces entrenching themselves even deeper in the country.

Much of Lebanon's post civil war recovery was due to the efforts of Lebanese businessman and philanthropist Rafik Hariri, whose own fortunes grew rapidly after endearing himself to the Saudi royal family through a major construction venture. Upon his return to Lebanon, Hariri slowly became involved in Lebanese politics, and finally became prime minister in 1992, and then again in 2000. Hariri strongly supported both Hezbollah -- the so-called "Party of God" -- as well as Syrian forces in Lebanon, because he believed that they served as a strong deterrent against Israeli aggression.

Following Hariri's unresolved assassination in February of 2005 by radical elements possibly aligned with the Syrian government and Hezbollah, the premiership passed hands several times before being won by Hariri's second son, Saad, in 2009. Saad Hariri's victory was won in large part because, unlike his father, he believed in Lebanon's independence and sovereignty over all of its territories, without Syrian interference. It was in fact through the so-called Cedar Revolution, his leadership of the March 14 Alliance coalition which grew out of that uprising, and with support of the Western powers, that the younger Hariri became the new prime minister.

As a result of the elder Hariri's death, the Cedar Revolution, and the rise to power of Saad Hariri, Syrian forces were eventually pressured into leaving Lebanon. However, in recent years, sources state that the Syrians have found their way back into Lebanon once again.

From the time of his election until now, Saad Hariri has been involved in an uneasy coalition with Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who have formed a part of his national unity government. In fact, Hezbollah has retained veto power. However, that coalition fell apart this past Wednesday -- January 12th -- when Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the Lebanese cabinet. The reason? Sources state that the United Nations Tribunal for Lebanon -- which has been investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri at the insistence of former French President Jacques Chirac, who was a close friend of Rafik Hariri -- is about to disclose that both the Syrian government, as well as Hezbollah, were involved in the death of the elder Hariri.

For its part, Hezbollah denies the charges, and claims that the Israeli Mossad -- motivated by its desire to see the Syrian army expelled from Lebanon prior to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 -- was behind Hariri's assassination. Hezbollah has been vehemently opposed to the Special Tribunal, and according to one source, in October of 2010, Hezbollah conducted a drill in which it simulated a takeover of Lebanon. According to the Wikipedia source, this major operation will be carried out in the event that the UN Tribunal indicts Hezbollah in the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

Whether or not there is any truth to this claim, I honestly do not know. However, while some writers have been quick to promote the sensationalistic viewpoint that Hezbollah would rather tear apart Lebanon with another civil war, rather than face the embarrassment of an exposé by the United Nations Tribunal, personally, I am not so certain that this is what is going to happen.

It is a well-recognized fact that Hezbollah is currently the real power in Lebanon. They have the support of the Lebanese people, and are respected, due to the many contributions which they have made to Lebanese society, much like Hamas has done for the Palestinians. Fixing schools, repairing roads, improving government services, opening health clinics, etc., does more to win the hearts of the people, than all of the political rhetoric in the world. Furthermore, the fact that both Hamas and Hezbollah have stood up to the Israelis and the Western powers, is what has endeared them to the people. That being the case, while I could be wrong, I am not so sure that Hezbollah would be willing to throw away all of the progress they have made so quickly. They may very well have some other tactic up their sleeve, in their endeavors to neutralize the threat of the United Nations Special Tribunal report, which may be published very soon. Whatever the UN Tribunal report may reveal, we can be certain that it will be politically-motivated, and will have been greatly influenced by the Western powers which want to bring Hezbollah to its knees.

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