The tiny Mediterranean country teeters once again on the brink of sectarian anarchy, manipulated as always by regional rivals like Saudi Arabia and Iran, its people held hostage to a fate they cannot control while their leaders hide to avoid assassination.
Ed Blanche reports from Beirut
The element that probably defines Lebanon’s simmering “war in the wings” is the fact that the two leading adversaries, Saad Hariri, the main Sunni leader, son and heir of the assassinated and widely venerated Rafiq Hariri, and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the charismatic secretary-general of The Shi’ite Hizbullah, the most powerful and political force in the country are both in hiding.
One could say they conduct their campaigns by remote control, in much the same way that the regional rivals who support them, and to a large degree control them, manipulate these two individuals and the forces they command.
Hariri has been in a sort of self-imposed exile since Nasrallah engineered the collapse of Hariri’s “government of unity” – a contradiction in terms in a place as divided as Lebanon – in January 2011.
This reluctant champion of his sect, propelled into Lebanon’s lethal political caldron by his father’s murder, flits between heavily guarded mansions in Paris and Riyadh in his private jetliner, with a phalanx of bodyguards because he fears assassination by the same people who blew up his father, Lebanon’s most prominent statesman in decades and opponent of Syrian domination of his fractured homeland, in a massive suicide bombing in Beirut on St. Valentine’s Day, 2005.
Nasrallah, a cleric who studied at the same eminent Shi’ite seminary in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf in Iraq that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini attended, has been in hiding since the 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel in the searing summer of 2006 because the Israelis want him dead and, according to various sources, have tried more than once to assassinate him.
He has been seen in public in Lebanon only once since 2006, and then only fleetingly, surrounded by a phalanx of hard-faced Hizbullah veterans whose eyes are never still.
A couple of years age he was discreetly driven to Damascus to confer with visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad. Other than that he’s in the shadows.
Nasrallah keeps in touch with his adoring followers via satellite links from one of several heavily guarded bunkers and safe houses he uses in the Dahiyeh, the south Beirut quarter that’s Hizbullah’s key stronghold, and possibly in the Bekaa Valley in northwestern Lebanon, along the border with Syria that is Hizbullah’s heartland.
Hariri also uses satellite television feeds to address his followers and allies, most of whom depend on his largesse, the funds and arms provided by the Saudis to help keep the Shi’ite demons at bay, and the wealth he inherited from his billionaire father..
Like Nasrallah, Hariri has his own TV station to propagate the illusion that he’s down there in the trenches with the troops, and a hard-working press organisation, through which he loftily exhorts his followers to keep up the good fight.
This eerie disconnect sometimes seems to reduce the very real threat of another bloodbath in Lebanon to an almost digital dimension; not Big Brother exactly, but an echo of Hitler in his Berlin bunker, increasingly out of touch with reality while his world crumbles around him.