Thursday, January 13, 2011

This Can't Be Good...

Lesson learned - if you are the leader of a country in turmoil, don't leave for a foreign trip if you expect to stay in power. 

Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon is now a caretaker courtesy of Hezbollah.  Hezbollah toppled the government over a long-running dispute linked to a U.N. probe into the 2005 assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri which is poised to indict several Hezbollah members for their involvement.  Hezbollah has been threatening that if Hariri did not disavow the investigation then they would take action. 

Syria is Hezbollah's main ally through which it receives money and other support from Iran.  Iran needs Hezbollah to keep its foot in the door in the Levant and to threaten Israel. The scene is about to become a lot more complex and dangerous.

What is Syria's interest here?  First and foremost, it sees Lebanon as Syrian - perhaps no longer physically, but certainly politically.  But Hezbollah, which has served Syrian interests, is dead in the water without Iran. Syria is going to have to make a choice between its interests and those of Hezbollah and Iran.

If Hezbollah succeeds in seizing control of the government, Syria may be faced with the unpalatable choice of reducing its support to Hezbollah by constricting its supplies or another Israeli assault which could easily suck in Damascus. From a geo-political standpoint, Syria should not want Iran to increase its footprint. Some sort of Syrian intervention is going to be necessary, but likely will not come until after the UN indictments. Then, Syria has its excuse.

Turkey may also become involved both to increase its influence at the expense of Iran and reduce tensions to avoid a military escalation. But it remains to be seen what influence Turkey can actually muster.

I find it hard to believe that Hezbollah is indulging in the type of power play that might result in a severe problem for itself and Syria. However, this is Lebanon where nothing is clear-cut.

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