In the annals of current Middle East crises, the collapse of the ever-polarized Lebanese government normally would not attract much attention. Lebanese governments come and go with disturbing regularity. Moreover, with riots in Tunisia and Algeria, and interreligious strife between Copts and Muslims capturing headlines, let alone the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the diplomatic dueling over Iran's nuclear ambitions, there's a lot of bad news already to depress any already depressed Middle East soul.
Don't be fooled. Lebanon is about to push itself over a cliff and once again up to the top of anyone's Mid East OMG list.
When Hezbollah and its Christian allies walked out of the cabinet today, effectively dissolving the shaky government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, it heralded perhaps the final showdown between Hezbollah and the so-called western-backed moderate "March 14 democratic alliance" -- a showdown which centered on Hezbollah's purported bloody role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (the current PM's father) and 22 others (not to mention the other 494 injured in a tirade of Mexican-style disappearances and limb removals).
Prompting the walkout is the much anticipated and imminent announcement by the United Nations Tribunal doing the investigating of the killings of official indictments against Hezbollah terror operatives reporting directly to Hezbollah's Secretary General Sheikh Nasrallah -- Hezbollah's mini ayatollah and Iran's puppet agent provocateur.
A UN indictment of Hezbollah members has enormous political consequences for Sheikh Nasrallah, who has exalted Hezbollah and its impressive weaponry as the ultimate arbiter and protector of Lebanon's independence and sovereignty against any Israeli encroachment, rather than a terror-cum-mafia operation using its arms to kill other Lebanese, let alone prime ministers of Lebanon.
Hezbollah is betting that by provoking a political crisis and threatening the resumption of civil war that the UN Tribunal and the Lebanese Government would be blackmailed into conveniently postponing the indictment and/or delaying indefinitely any effort to prosecute Hezbollah's guilty killers. Nasrallah has even tried to pin the assassination on Israel and is trumpeting conspiracy theories galore to repeat the lie enough times to make the gullible believe it.
There is a lot of diplomatic wrangling going on to prevent Hariri from having to succumb to Nasrallah's blackmail and to call his bluff. In the meantime, a foreboding and growing wave of fear is hovering over Beirut as the U.S., France, Saudi Arabia and Syria frantically try to find a way to prevent another round of bloodshed after the collapse of an effort to find a fig leaf solution by Saudi Arabia and Syria (who are the key powerbrokers in Lebanon).
Lebanon is about to fall into another dark period. But this time, the forces of Hezbollah and its patron Iran seem finally to have the upper hand. With a provocative infusion of tens of thousands of sophisticated new missiles allegedly to defend Lebanese "sovereignty" (that's a bad joke) and financing to buy off or bump off any Lebanese authority that stands in its way, Hezbollah may ironically be on the verge of converting its dastardly assassination of Hariri into a golden opportunity to finally seize full power in Lebanon, by deploying its militia to confront Lebanon's much more ill-equipped armed forces.
The question is whether justice denied is a "better" alternative to what passes as stability in Lebanon. After all, the only way to avert a crisis is for anyone inside or outside of Lebanon opposing Hezbollah to back down for the sake of keeping the country from disintegrating.
It's a hard, callous call that has to be made and so far, there is a lot of resistance to letting Hezbollah off the hook. To succumb to Hezbollah's blackmail would, in the annals of "nothing ever surprises me in Middle East politics," be a real, new low with grave consequences to the U.S. and the region.
Given what passes as justice in the Middle East does it really matter that another Iran-backed Middle East terror group was let off scot free in the name of the "greater good," even if it has the former Lebanese prime minister's blood on its hands?
In the case of Lebanon, absolutely.
Even if Hezbollah blackmails the international community into submission, Lebanon is increasingly becoming a satellite of Iran, and there is nothing Iran wants more than for Hezbollah to emerge as the only power left standing in Beirut, waiting impatiently to do Iran's bidding as its frontline Frankenstein against Israel. Memo to Syria: You're chopped liver when it comes to Iran's real Lebanese proxy, Sheikh Nasrallah.
Should Lebanon's leaders swallow Hezbollah's Kool Aid by declaring that the indicted conspirators had "gone rogue" they may avert a showdown; for now. Or maybe not. The Lebanese tinderbox is always on a short fuse, and waiting in the wings are Iran and Israel, each of which view Lebanon's day in court as a new and ominous chapter in the proxy war Hezbollah has been waging against Israel at Iran's beck and call.
If, as everyone expects, the UN Tribunal indicts Hezbollah, it must be held accountable because Lebanon's future as a sovereign nation depends on showing the Lebanese what Hezbollah really is: a radical Islamic political and social organization that will deal with Lebanon's Sunni and Maronite minorities as it dealt with Hariri: through assassination, intimidation and expulsion.
President Obama has yet another nasty Middle East crisis waiting in his in box.
Follow Amb. Marc Ginsberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ambmcg