US Senators Press Lebanon on International Tribunal

American leaders continue to demonstrate that changes in the rest of the world, and the deep flaws in our foreign policy which they reveal, will have no impact on our thinking whatsoever. The latest case in point is the position staked out by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) with regard to Lebanon.

Remember Lebanon? Subsequent events have pushed Lebanon out of the news in the United States and even, to a lesser extent, in Israel, which has more reason to be concerned with what goes on there. But the collapse of Lebanon’s government at the beginning of this year remains at issue, and, with all the consternation these days

Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain

about where a post-Mubarak Egypt will end up, Lebanon has at least as much potential for both international intrigue and internal strife as any country in the Middle East.

Lebanon’s political situation is always precarious; it’s only a matter of degree. But with a caretaker government currently in power and the still-looming announcement of indictments by the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Lebanon is a powder keg. And it’s not happening in a vacuum.

The two competing coalitions are each in the favor of a different array of outside actors. The March 8 Alliance, which currently holds 70 of the 128 seats in Parliament, includes Hezbollah and is sympathetic to Syria and Iran. The March 14 Alliance features former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and enjoys much stronger relationships with France, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The STL was set up to investigate the assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, a widely respected leader who was also opposed to the Syrian presence in his country.

Not surprisingly, the STL was, at first, expected to point the accusing finger at Syria. Now, the talk is centered on Hezbollah. The arrest and imprisonment for four years without charge of four pro-Syrian generals who were later freed for lack of evidence greatly increased the politicization of the STL, and this continued as Hezbollah went on a rhetorical offensive about it, including accusing Israel of Hariri’s murder.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s speculations about Israeli responsibility have only minimal evidentiary support, but they are not impossible either. But they served their purpose in further undermining the STL’s credibility.

Hezbollah and Syria both had motive to kill Hariri, and if both or either were involved, they would have every reason to do anything they can to discredit the STL. But the fact that supposedly key testimony has been retracted and that many accusations of false testimony have been leveled; that the direction of accusations was leaked to the public at such an early stage; that four Lebanese generals were jailed for four years without trial or charge and then freed for lack of evidence; that Hariri has publicly retracted his accusations against Syria for the killing of his father; and the campaign against it by Hezbollah and Syria, including the theory of Israeli involvement have all combined to cast the legitimacy into doubt should be giving us serious pause. It isn’t, apparently. Continue reading

A Warning on Israel’s Northern Border

The precise details of the events on the Israel-Lebanon border Tuesday are still unclear. But from what we have now, a picture is starting to develop.

UNIFIL has confirmed that the Israelis who were shot at were on their side of the Blue Line, the de facto border between Israel and Lebanon. There is a security fence near there, but it does not follow the Blue Line precisely, and in

Israel-Lebanon Border

the area where the incident took place, the fence is inside of Israeli territory, leaving a small area of “no man’s land” that Lebanon claims as its own, but which is recognized internationally as part of Israel.

Back in 2006, Hezbollah operatives used surrounding growth to launch a sneak attack against Israeli troops, precipitating the massive Israeli response that led to the war that summer. As a result, Israel routinely removes some of the brush in the area. In this case, it seems UNIFIL and the Lebanese army was notified and, while UNIFIL asked Israel to delay for a day for their commander to return, Israel waited only a few extra hours. But the area in question was on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, so this cannot possibly be called anything more than an annoyance.

The Lebanese army commander in the area apparently was ordered to fire warning shots, and it remains unclear whether he ever did that or whether shots were immediately fired at an Israeli observation post behind the fence, where the one IDF officer was killed and another wounded. In the moment, when soldiers are fired upon from a distance, it is often impossible to know where the bullets were aimed—and, in fear for one’s life, one is not apt to start an investigation on the spot. Continue reading