Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister for much of the time between 1992 and 2005, has become even more important since his murder on February 14, 2005. Hariri now is a focal point in middle east politics, proving again that what happens in Lebanon does not stay in Lebanon.
So far, the Obama Administration has made it clear that it supports both the inquiry and the Lebanese government - a position which draws inevitable Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah condemnations.What is still not clear, however, is what the U.S. administration will do if and when Hizballah tries to take over Lebanon by force.
What is needed is a clear statement that the U.S. insists on the publication of the report, and will not allow the terrorists to bring down the democratically-elected government of Lebanon -- a statement amounting to an American guarantee for the independence and territorial integrity of Lebanon, as well as for the preservation of its legal government.
When Hariri, and over twenty other innocent Lebanese, were murdered, it seemed clear that the culprits could be found in Damascus and
Shi'ite-dominated south Beirut -- another Syrian-Hizballah co-production. The likes of which had first occurred in 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon, when the American embassy and the marine headquarters were bombed, causing nearly 300 American fatalities.
If the perpetrators of the Hariri murder were convinced that removing their rival from the Lebanese scene would pave the way for a smooth political takeover of that country, they were wrong. Throngs of Lebanese, representing a criss-cross of the communal mosaic of that traditionally fragmented country, took to the streets in what became known as the cedar revolution. This protest triggered a chain of events, leading to the withdrawal from Lebanon of the Syrian army of occupation, and dealing a major blow to the Assad regime in Damascus as well as its main Lebanese ally, the Hizballah terror organization. In death, Hariri achieved his first great political victory, further highlighted by the election of his son, Sa'ad Hariri, as Lebanon's new prime minister.
This development became possible not only thanks to the strong will of many Lebanese, but also to the effective support of their protest
from outside forces.
When the Saudis, who all along patronised Hariri, mobilized the Arab League to demand a Syrian withdrawal, the Bush Administration also lent its support to the Lebanese opposition, as did other western powers, notably France.
In 2005, when the U.S. presence in Iraq still seemed a threat to Syria's president Assad, he apparently felt he had no option but to withdraw from Lebanon.
His and Hizballah's troubles, however, did not end with that decision. The U.N. heeded a Lebanese demand to commission an international inquiry to find and bring to justice those responsible for the murder -- another victory for the dead Hariri.
Now, after years of inquiry, delayed by political pressures from Syria and Hizballah, the last chapter of the drama is about to unfold. Judging by the volume of rhetoric and diplomatic activity, this chapter may very well be bloody, with repercussions spreading beyond Lebanon's borders. As the stability of middle east might be endangered, the stakes could not be higher.
Hizballah leaders have made it clear that if the inquiry blames them, as seems to be the situation, they would initiate a total takeover of Lebanon; and pro-Hariri forces, mainly Sunni-Muslim and Christian factions, have started arming themselves, preparing for another round of civil war.
Syria and Iran back Hizballah, their Lebanese surrogate; President Ahmadinejad's recent visit in Lebanon can be viewed against this backdrop.
The regional lines are drawn: terrorists, enemies of peace and their backers on one side -- but who is on the other?
Not, unfortunately, the Saudis, who seem to have abandoned not only the Hariri family, but, more importantly and contrary to their traditional policy, the Sunni community.
All indications point to their having pressured the young Hariri not to support the impending U.N. report, and thereby yield to the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah demand not to seek justice for the murder of his father.
The Israelis, while advised to maintain a low profile, are also playing a role. They recently announced their readiness to withdraw from the northern part of the disputed village Ghajar, making it plain that by so doing, they are trying to prop up the Hariri government. At the same time, they have made it clear that the Israel Defense Force is on the alert in case Lebanon explodes.
The U.N. is maintaining its resolve to publish the report and issue international arrest warrants against the designated Hizballah members. Judging by past performance, however, one wonders what the U.N. will actually do when the moment of truth arrives.
These efforts, even if they happen, may not prevent the mayhem that Hizballah and its backers are planning for Lebanon, and possibly for the wider middle east.
It is certain, however, that if the U.S. does not do what is necessary, the result will be disastrous for Lebanon, as well as for the cause of peace in the entire middle east. The U.S. cannot afford to let this take place.