Blogwatch

May 28, 2009
Controversy stirs ahead of major election in Lebanon

A memorial for former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005. Recently, Der Spiegel came out with a report linking Hezbollah to the assassination.

Lebanon will head to the polls on June 7 in an election that could alter the political fabric of the country, with Hezbollah and its allies poised to make significant gains.

Hezbollah is pitted against the current anti-Syria majority. For more on the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanese politics, watch the Worldfocus signature story: Hezbollah heads into mainstream Lebanese life and politics.

On a visit to Lebanon last week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden — the highest-level U.S. official to visit Lebanon in over two decades — warned that U.S. aid would be dependent on the outcome of the elections.

For more, listen to our online radio show on Lebanon’s election.

Hezbollah is backed by Iran and Syria, while the U.S. and its allies support the current parliamentary majority. Thomas Strouse writes at the “Informed Comment” blog to break down these two competing groups:

The two major alliances currently in Lebanon, “March 8” and “March 14,” are relatively informal blocs which formed along with events which took place in 2005. Allies and sworn enemies have been known to make dramatic shifts in Lebanese politics over the years. If an opportunity presents itself for one part of the alliance to gain politically, the current alliance framework could easily shift, especially following the June elections.

The March 8 alliance dates back to March 8, 2005 when various pro-Syrian factions held a massive demonstration in downtown Beirut, standing in support of Syria and accusing the U.S. and Israel of meddling in Lebanon’s domestic affairs. The March 14 alliance dates back to March 14, 2005, the one-month anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, when another major demonstration was held in downtown Beirut, demanding an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

In the 2005 parliamentary elections, which were held on four consecutive Sunday’s beginning on May 29, the March 14 alliance capitalized on the anger over the assassination of Hariri and the momentum that they were provided with after successfully pressuring for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon on April 26 of that year.

The elections in five weeks will demonstrate how much support the March 14 alliance has been able to sustain over the past four years.

Frida Ghitis at “World Politics Review” explores the potential effect of a Hezbollah victory:

In the short term, a victory at the polls by Hezbollah’s coalition would not make a big difference inside Lebanon. But that could change quickly. A sharp drop in aid and a return of open Syrian and Iranian involvement in the country’s domestic affairs would raise tensions and could ultimately tip Lebanon into violence. If Hezbollah were to find itself under pressure, it could conceivably divert attention by sparking a confrontation with Israel.

A number of flashpoints could easily trigger a new war, not least of which are the anti-aircraft missiles Hezbollah has been acquiring from Iran. With Israeli surveillance flights regularly crossing Lebanese airspace, the opportunity to use the missiles would present itself directly overhead.

Deen Sharp, a journalist based in Lebanon, wrote about Biden’s visit, concluding that it was for show:

Vice-President Biden is in town and among the tabouleh surrounding his visit he has said nothing new. The policy that US will tie aid to votes was reiterated and the standard we support no one expecpt for the people that we support…

Thus, the same dance between America and Iran is being played out in Lebanon. However, all we be pleased that the tempo is slower and although there is no love music the death metal has at last been put away.

The blogosphere also lit up when Der Spiegel came out with a report linking Hezbollah to the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister. Many regarded the report with skepticism, including blogger Michael Totten:

Der Spiegel might be wrong, and, if not, UN investigators themselves might be wrong. I’m no fan of Hezbollah, but I need more evidence before I’m willing to say “Hezbollah did it.”

Even so, this could be an enormous bombshell in Lebanon where voters go to the polls in a few weeks.

The Der Spiegel story isn’t sourced, so it could be bogus. But NOW Lebanon reports that the UN spokesperson for the tribunal has “no comment.” I’d expect the spokesperson to deny the story if it were false. At this point, I’m willing to assume the UN really does think Hezbollah did it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Travel Aficionado under a Creative Commons license.

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