Lebanon’s prolonged political crisis erupted in violence last week following the dismissal by the Lebanese government of an official close to Hizbollah and the launch an investigation into the organization’s telecommunications network. Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, outlines the key actors of Lebanon’s worst violence since the end of its civil war in 1990 and their aims.

Key Conclusions:

  • Hizbollah’s immediate goals are to force the government to rescind its controversial decisions and establish a unity government with increased authority for Hizbollah. Over the long-term, they could demand on a larger share of power for Lebanon’s Shi’a.
  • Hizbollah is not eager to elect a new president immediately. They hope to stall until after new parliamentary elections (which must be held before June 2009) in the hopes of having more say in the choice of candidate.
  • The army is under intense criticism for failing to stop the violence but argues it must remain neutral or risk splitting along sectarian lines.
  • Contrary to a similar escalation in December 2006, Iran has not interceded to halt the violence. This could be the result of the latest round of Security Council resolutions and increased hostile rhetoric by the United States. It could also reflect Iranian concerns about the possibility of a Syrian–Israeli agreement.

“The situation in Lebanon remains extremely tense. An Arab League ministerial delegation is to arrive to help negotiate an end to the crisis. The next days will indicate whether the opposition will escalate and widen its military assaults, or whether Lebanon is entering a lull in which discussions and political bargaining will come to the fore,” concludes Salem.