The enduring unrest in the Middle East is staggering. There is a feeling that anytime, anywhere in the region, another explosive outbreak will occur. News of Syria’s massive, violent protests have flooded the covers of newspapers around the world. President Bashar al-Assad’s government has been relentless in its desire to crush the uprising, including the use of military force. It’s possible this regime will get support from other parts of the region. Namely, Lebanon.
The Syrian-Lebanese relationship is important in the Arab world. Syria is supplying weapons and military equipment to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’a Muslim resistance group, political party, and military force. The U.S. has asked Syria to stop the supply of weapons to Hezbollah, but to no avail. Syria has had significant ties with Hezbollah for decades. Hezbollah and Syria are being investigated by the Special Lebanese Tribunal (SLT) pertaining to the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005. This past January, Hezbollah took down the government under Saad al-Hariri, Rafiq’s son, by its members and allies resigning from the government cabinet. It was in response to Saad’s support of the SLT. Hezbollah’s political leaders replaced Saad al-Hariri with Najib Mikati who is the acting prime minister until a new cabinet is put into place. It is evident that Hezbollah holds the strongest role in the development of a new government.
Hezbollah has said that the protests in Syria are a conspiracy against Syria and Lebanon. With Hezbollah having so much political and military power in Lebanon, it is hard to say what role Lebanon will play in the Syrian crisis. The current Syrian regime is of great importance to Hezbollah. It is Hezbollah’s strongest supporter in the region. Iran has also had significant ties to Hezbollah and has supported their military efforts as well, which can only complicate things further. Hezbollah official Mousawi stated, “We can say, with great confidence, that we are in a position of power…we feel reassured about facing regional developments. And what we have spent on reinforcement in defending Lebanon makes us confident that we can defend our nation and our people.” Defending our “nation and people” may also include defending the current government in Syria. Hezbollah is dependent on Syria and does not want a government collapse. As the days pass, and more violence is afflicted on Syrian protestors, we will have to wait and see what role, if any, Lebanon will play. Lebanon and Hezbollah should not be underestimated. Lebanon could fight to maintain the current Syrian government. The question I want to know is: What would the people of Lebanon do? Would the support of Syria bring about protest and potential war? Is there more violence to come? These are questions we must ask ourselves. Lebanon can not be ignored as it so often is. The U.S. would probably ask: “Well, where’s the oil? Is it hurting Israel?” Hopefully, most of us can see the importance of this country beyond those questions. At least that is what I hope.