Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lebanon Update

A tense quiet has settled in Lebanon. The Lebanese army took up positions in West Beirut that were vacated by Hezbollah gunmen and the streets have emptied of armed fighters. Army commanders declared they would suppress by force, if necessary, armed or other paramilitary activities by the various parties and factions. Supporters of the government have expressed some satisfaction with this outcome, although they were disappointed by the army's failure to intervene over the weekend. While some have explained the army could not for fear of spllitting the soldiers and officers along communal lines, others, like Christian far right winger Samir Gagea, questioned keeping the army intact at the price of letting the country fall apart. In any case, the army is ill equipped and untrained to quell factional fighting or less violent demonstrations, so it will be unlikely to intervene effectively, even should the commanders want that. So the main effect of the declarations is to give the various sides an excuse to take a break (or more hopefully step back from the brink), before the next flash point comes up. That will be next month, when the Lebanese government, having today passed on voting for a new president, is now scheduled to meet for that purpose.

An op-ed piece in Le Monde calls Hezbollah's actions a coup d'├ętat. Actually they were more a rehearsal for one. Political scientists and schemers know that the neutrality of a country's army is vital for the success of a coup d'├ętat. Hezbollah now knows (or believes) it can count on that if and when it goes for the real thing.

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