Tehran, Da­m­as­cus as­cen­dant

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Make no mis­take about it, the quick, bru­tal dis­play of raw mil­i­tary power by Hezbol­lah in the past six days is a win­dow into the grim fu­ture of Le­banon and the broader Mid­dle East: a fu­ture in which Iran and Syria are as­cen­dant and have lost much of their fear of the United States and Is­rael. It sends a mes­sage to Pres­i­dent Bush, who ar­rives in Is­rael Wed­nes­day to com­mem­o­rate that na­tion’s 60th birth­day: that Tehran and Da­m­as­cus can project power when­ever they want in places like Le­banon, and the United States and it‘s al­lies can’t do any­thing about it.

At least 44 peo­ple were killed and an­other 128 wounded in the fight­ing — the worst out­break of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence inside Le­banon since the 1975-1990 civil war. Al­though do­mes­tic Le­banese is­sues played a role in the vi­o­lence, they are in- sep­a­ra­ble from the larger geopo­lit­i­cal is­sues. Ever since the Feb. 14, 2005, as­sas­si­na­tion of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Rafik Hariri, which even­tu­ally forced Da­mas- cus to re­move its oc­cu­pa­tion troops, Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad has wanted to re­claim power in Le­banon. So, on May 9, af­ter sev­eral days of street clashes be­tween pro-gov­ern­ment forces and op­posi- tion forces, all-out war­fare broke out be­tween street gangs loyal to Hezbol­lah and gangs funded by Saudi Ara­bia and loyal to Prime Min­is­ter Fouad Sin­iora, a Sunni Mus­lim. In less than seven hours of fight­ing, Hezbol­lah forces routed the pro-gov­ern­ment side, oc­cu­pied much of West­ern Beirut, and plas­tered walls with pic­tures of the Syr­ian dic­ta­tor. Gov­ern­ment secu- rity forces, equipped and trained by the United States but par­a­lyzed by sec­tar­ian dif­fer­ences, stayed out of the fight­ing.

Le­banese news­pa­pers are filled with pic­tures of bound, blind­folded mem­bers of the de­feated loy­al­ist forces who were cap­tured by the Hezbol­lah side and masked Hezbol­lah gun­men swag­ger­ing through Beirut, boast­ing how they had forced mem­bers of the los­ing side to beg for their lives. Af­ter cap­tur­ing West Beirut, Hezbol­lah re­lin­quished the area to the Le­banese Army — for now. Hezbol­lah (and by ex­ten­sion, its back­ers in Tehran and Da­m­as­cus) have demon­strated that they and not the Le­banese gov­ern­ment con­trol Le­banon. Do not be sur­prised if very soon, an em­bold­ened Hezbol­lah steps up its ha­rass­ment of the United Na­tions peace­keep­ers in South­ern Le­banon, lay­ing the ground­work for an­other bat­tle with Is­rael.

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