Thursday, October 29, 2009

Worries grow in still-rudderless Lebanon

From AFP, 29/10/09, by Rita Daou [my emphasis added - SL]:

BEIRUT — With still no government almost five months after a general election, Lebanon's political stability and security could soon suffer more repercussions, analysts say.

The power vacuum was highlighted late on Tuesday when a rocket fired from Lebanon slammed into northern Israel and the Jewish state retaliated with an artillery barrage.

The Israeli army saw the attack as "serious," a spokeswoman said, "and considers that responsibility for it falls on the Lebanese government."

The irony is that Lebanon technically does not have a government.

It has been five months since the polls, when voters opted for a coalition of parties led by Western- and Saudi-backed Saad Hariri, son of former premier Rafiq Hariri, assassinated four years ago.

Since late June, prime minister-designate Hariri has failed to form a government by bridging differences between his own bloc and the opposition, led by Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite party Hezbollah.

...On Wednesday morning, the Lebanese army discovered four more rockets, primed and ready to be fired at Israel from the border village of Hula, the origin of the previous day's attack.

No one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday attack, the fourth this year, but Israel's eyes are bound to be on Hezbollah ...[which] is a key element in the country's continuing instability.

...The "armed Shiite alliance," or Hezbollah and its ally Amal, "can use the threat of a new May 7 at any time," Khoury said.

A political crisis erupted in 2006 when all Shiite cabinet ministers resigned. It climaxed on May 7, 2008 when more than 100 people were killed in sectarian fighting in the worst bloodshed since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

A Qatari-brokered deal led to the formation of a national unity government in which Hezbollah and its allies had veto power over key decisions.

But that cabinet has not met since the June 7 election. It is now just an acting government and cannot make administrative appointments or decisions.

"The obstacles to government formation are internal," said Jean Aziz, a political analyst for daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Hezbollah-led opposition. "It is a battle over political weight, quotas and influence in the country."

The Hezbollah-led alliance accuses the majority of trying to rule unilaterally, while the Hariri camp slams the opposition for trying to impose its conditions on the majority.

...external factors also weighed in heavily.

"Lebanon has become a dumping ground for the region's problems," [Emile Khoury, a columnist with pro-Hariri daily An-Nahar] said.

...Powerhouses Syria and Saudi Arabia recently buried the hatchet over Lebanon and have jointly called for the formation of a cabinet.

Syria was the powerbroker in neighbouring Lebanon for nearly 30 years until the 2005 murder of the elder Hariri, who was close to the Saudi monarchy.

According to Khoury, Lebanon is a key negotiating tool for Saudi Arabia, Syria and its ally Iran in recently launched dialogue.

"Iran is using Lebanon as a lever in its nuclear dossier, Syria in its problems with the international community and Saudi Arabia in its problem with the Huthis in Yemen."

United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams on Wednesday voiced "deep concern" over the delay in cabinet formation, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said last week he was "worried" by the cabinet deadlock and feared it could undermine security in the country.

And US Ambassador Michele Sison said the latest attack highlighted "the urgent need to extend the state's control over all of Lebanon's territory" and "to disarm all militias."
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