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Retaking Lebanon

John on November 21, 2006 at 10:05 pm

With America in full retreat, Syria and Hezbollah attempt a coup in Lebanon:

gemayel.jpgPierre Gemayel, scion of Lebanon’s most prominent Christian family and a leading opponent of Syria, was gunned down Tuesday in a brazen daytime hit. The assassination threatened to intensify Lebanon’s power struggle between the U.S.-allied government and the Syrian-backed Hezbollah.

Gemayel, 34, was leaving church when he fell into a well-coordinated attack: One vehicle cut off his car from the front, another rammed him from behind, then gunmen burst out and sprayed a dozen bullets into his passenger-side window.

The killing sent tensions spiraling at a time when Lebanon was already facing a worsening political crisis. The Shiite Muslim guerrilla group Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies have threatened massive protests — as early as Thursday — aimed at bringing down Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s government unless it gives them greater power.

gemayelcar.jpgPresident Bush condemned the assassination and accused Syria and Iran of seeking to undermine Saniora’s government. Bush stopped short of specifically blaming them for Gemayel’s death, though the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, raised the possibility.

Anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon, however, directly pointed the finger at Damascus, and some Gemayel supporters demanded revenge against Syria’s Lebanese allies.

There were some car windows broken and minor violence in response to the assasination, but:

A stunned-looking former president Amin Gemayel — Pierre’s father and leader of the Phalange Party — urged his supporters to observe a night of ”prayer and reflection.”

”We don’t want an outburst of emotions and revenge,” he said outside the hospital where his son died. ”He was martyred for the cause of Lebanon, and we want this cause to triumph. … To all those who love Pierre, we should not be driven by instinct.”

The story also notes that assassination of anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon is nothing new:

Pierre Gemayel, an outspoken opponent of Hezbollah, was the fifth anti-Syrian figure killed in the past two years and the first member of the Saniora government to be slain. Many in Lebanon have accused Damascus in the previous assassinations, including the 2005 bomb blast that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri, a claim Syria has denied.

The situation is actually more complicated. Gemayel was a member of the current Lebanese Cabinet. The Cabinet has a slight numerical advantage over the minority parties which include Hezbollah. How slight is their advantage? Three votes. Hezbollah has been attempting to get three Cabinet ministers to resign and, in effect, force the formation of a new government. With Gemayel’s assassination, they are only two short of their goal.

Any doubt that this was in fact their goal is eradicated by the fact that there was another attempted assassination today:

Gunmen opened fire Tuesday on the office of a minister of state, his office announced, just hours after the assassination of anti-Syrian minister Pierre Gemayel.

The second target who is also a Christian Cabinet member of the anti-Syrian variety. He survived the attack, so Hezbollah is still two resignations bodies short.

Hat tip to Belmont Club and from there Michael Totten for the Cabinet level details. Both of them note that Hezbollah, perhaps in anticipation of a two successful assassinations has scheduled “street protests” in Lebanon today. Had these events taken place three weeks ago, the US response would have been forceful. Instead, all indications are that the resurgence of “realpolitik” in Washington is already affecting the rest of the world.

Finally, some of us have been debating the wisdom of Rick Warren’s recent visit with Assad. I doubt it had any affect on the situation, but it certainly does make Warren look even more naive.

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