With Lebanon possibly next in the US crosshairs following the Valentine’s Day car-bomb assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the Hezbollah militia movement marked the Shi’ite holy day of Ashura with a massive rally in Beirut. Amid requisite chants of "Death to Israel, death to America," Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told hundreds of thousands of followers, "Resistance is the choice of our nation and the enemy cannot disparage us." He called the White House "an enemy to this nation because it supports Israel with money and weapons, because it wants to humiliate our people," and described the US government as the "biggest thief of our oil and resources, while hundreds of millions [in the region] remain unemployed." In a statement clearly directed Bush, he added: "Those who try to put us on the terrorism lists will fail again, for our being on the terrorism lists will make us more determined in continuing our path." (UPI, Feb. 19)
Hezbollah is, of course, on the US State Department terrorist list, but the European Union is resisting a White House push to add it to its own official terrorist list, with France predictably leading the resistance. Just as predictably, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland are in the US camp. (NYT, Feb. 16)
Hezbollah has traditionally been backed by Iran, and now apparently also by Syria, which has thousands of troops in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Pointing to a possible convergence of Iranian and Syrian interests in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s current leader Nasrallah is former leader of the rival Amal Shi’ite militia, traditionally backed by Damascus. (The Scotsman, Feb. 20)
Who is really behind Hariri’s death remains murky. The UK Observer notes Feb. 20 that he had no shortage of enemies: "Hariri was hated and distrusted by many in equal measure – not for his politics, but for his controlling interest in the giant post-war Lebanese reconstruction company Solidere, which has been accused of carrying out forcible evictions, corruption and wholesale political graft."
Israeli left-wing commentator Uri Avnery had this to day about the new Lebanon escalation:
This week, the Muslim leader Fariq al-Hariri…was assassinated in Beirut. It is not yet known who did it. The huge American propaganda machine, which includes the Israeli media, has pointed at the Syrians. If they are indeed guilty, it was an act of supreme folly, since it was obvious that it would help the Americans…arouse a storm of anti-Syrian sentiment. It happened at exactly the right moment for anyone interested in starting a campaign against Syria, under the slogan “End the Syrian Occupation!"
There is something laughable about this demand, coming as it does from two occupying powers: the Americans in Iraq and the Israelis in Palestine.