Friday, March 11, 2005

Good news! The New York Times says Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon is really, really bad for Hezbollah:

...The Israeli view is that Hezbollah, which is financed and supplied by Iran and Syria, would be more weakened by a Syrian withdrawal than restrained by a continuing Syrian presence.

...[An] official acknowledged there was "some apprehension about Syria leaving Lebanon, but it's a calculated risk one has to take to weaken Hezbollah." Hezbollah has been forced to take a pro-Syrian - and thus anti-Lebanese - stand, the official said, adding: "By distancing Syria from Lebanon, by loosening its grip to some extent, this will definitely hurt Hezbollah. It won't wither away, but it will lose potent support."

...Hezbollah's open support for Syria is likely to hurt it as a political party, the Israelis say....

Er, bad news! Knight-Ridder says Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon could be really, really good for Hezbollah:

 BAALBEK, Lebanon - ...Uncertainty may rule the streets of Beirut after dueling protests for and against Syrian involvement in Lebanon's affairs, but loyalties are crystal-clear in this town built around Roman ruins 6 miles east of the Syrian border.

Hezbollah's green and yellow flags flutter along its streets. Taped to nearly every shop window and plastered across intervening concrete walls, the face of Hezbollah leader Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah broods at passers-by, as it does throughout Lebanon's predominantly Shiite Muslim east and south.

..."The Syrians are trying to leave behind a system they can control. A pillar of that will be Hezbollah," said Michael Young, the opinion editor of Lebanon's English-language newspaper Daily Star.

...Young and others said that Syria, through its many agents and supporters in Lebanon, would move to lift the political restrictions that distribute power to religiously based factions according to an unwritten 1943 agreement that today leaves Lebanon's Shiite plurality underrepresented. That would net Hezbollah more parliamentary seats in May elections....

I don't know who's right, but while we're concentrating on terrorism and "draining the swamp" and all that, are we, yet again, possibly downplaying or overlooking regional/ethnic issues?

...In Baalbek, Mohammed Yezbek, 47, shrugged when he was asked why he had pictures of Nasrallah in his fabric shop and not slain former Prime Minister Hariri, whose posters have adorned buildings across Beirut since his assassination. "He never came to Baalbek in 12 years," during his terms as prime minister, Yezbek said.

Hezbollah, on the other hand, is active every day in Baalbek. Residents say the Islamic group holds a 70 percent share of power in town, including the mayor's seat....

Hezbollah also provides security by patrolling the country's southern border with Israel. Lebanon's army mans a few checkpoints and little else....

(Knight-Ridder link via Rational Enquirer.)

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