NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

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A Hizballah-backed candidate, Najib Mikati, is Lebanon’s new prime minister. Mikati’s rise signals the growing power of the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hizballah.
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Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had once supported Saad Hariri’s government. Jumblatt recently backed Hizballah, giving the group the power to form a new government.

Background: The Situation in Lebanon

A Hizballah-backed candidate, Najib Mikati, is Lebanon’s new prime minister. Mikati’s rise signals the growing power of the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hizballah, a troubling development that the United States and Israel are closely monitoring.

Politics in Lebanon are notoriously difficult to follow. In order to provide some context to current events in the country, Near East Report has put together a timeline of major events in Lebanon since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

2005

February 14 – A massive car bomb in downtown Beirut kills former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others. The attack sparks demonstrations against Syria’s 30-year occupation of Lebanon. Many accuse Syria of orchestrating the assassination.

March 8 – Hizballah and its political allies rally to express support for Syria. The coalition that these groups form, the March 8 Alliance, is named after this date.

March 14 – On the one-month memorial of the Hariri assassination, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens rally in central Beirut. The pro-Western political faction known as the March 14 movement names itself after this date.

April 7– The U.N. Security Council establishes an international investigation into the Hariri assassination.

April 26 – Syria notifies the United Nations that the last Syrian soldiers have left Lebanon. However, much of Syria’s intelligence apparatus remains in Lebanon, in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.

June 19 – Lebanon holds its first parliamentary elections since the Syrian military withdrawal. The March 14 movement secures an election victory, and Fouad Siniora is named prime minister.

October 24 – The United Nations publishes a preliminary report into the Hariri murder. The report implicates members of the Syrian government. Lebanon requests that the United Nations establish a tribunal to continue the investigation and prosecute those responsible for the attack.

2006

July 12 – Hizballah conducts a cross-border raid, capturing two Israeli soldiers and setting off a 34-day war against Israel. During the war, Hizballah fires more than 4,000 rockets and mortars into Israel.

August 11 – The U.N. Security Council passes ceasefire Resolution 1701, strengthening the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon and calling for the disarmament of Hizballah.

2007

May 30 – The Security Council formally establishes the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to investigate the February 14, 2005, bombing as well as numerous other attacks that targeted journalists and political figures associated with the March 14 movement.

December 3 – The Lebanese army chief, Gen. Michel Suleiman, emerges as the consensus candidate to be the next president of Lebanon. His election is held up amid internal gridlock. A new president must be confirmed by parliament, but the speaker of the parliament, Hizballah ally Nabih Berri, refuses to convene the legislature until the government agrees to give Hizballah’s bloc greater power and acknowledge the legitimacy of Hizballah’s weapons.

2008

May 7 – Amid growing tensions between the government and the Hizballah-led opposition, the March 14 movement accuses Hizballah of operating a private telecommunications network. The government removes the airport security chief over allegations that he installed Hizballah’s spy cameras at the Beirut airport. In response, Hizballah launches attacks on civilian neighborhoods in Beirut, placing the country on the brink of civil war.

May 21 – The government and the Hizballah-led opposition reach a temporary agreement granting Hizballah increased leverage in the cabinet. This agreement—known as the Doha Accords, after the city in Qatar where it was signed—gives Hizballah 11 seats in the cabinet, enough to block any major government decision. This deal also paves the way for Suleiman’s election as president.

October 14 – For the first time in their history, Syria and Lebanon formally establish diplomatic relations. Over the next few months, the two states establish embassies and exchange ambassadors. Syria had resisted the establishment of normal relations with Beirut, believing instead that Lebanon is simply part of Greater Syria.

2009

June 7 – Lebanon holds parliamentary elections. The March 14 movement defeats Hizballah and its Christian ally Michel Aoun. Saad Hariri is designated prime minister-elect and declares he will form a unity government with Hizballah. However, the Hizballah-led opposition prevents the formation of a government until Hariri agrees to reestablish their “blocking third” in the cabinet.

November 10 – After five months of intense negotiations, Hariri agrees to Hizballah’s demands and provides the opposition with the veto power it seeks. The new arrangement creates a cabinet consisting of fifteen March 14 ministers, ten March 8 ministers (including two Hizballah officials) and five ministers appointed by the president.

2010

November 11 – Tensions rise in Lebanon as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) nears the submission of indictments. A series of press reports indicate that the indictments are likely to implicate senior members of Hizballah in the Hariri assassination. Hizballah responds by accusing the STL of being an Israeli puppet and urging the government to denounce the investigation. Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah pledges to “cut off the hand” of anyone attempting to enforce indictments against Hizballah officials.

2011

January 12 – After the government refuses to disown the tribunal, Hizballah and its political allies withdraw from the cabinet, causing the government to fall.

January 17 - STL prosecutor Daniel Bellemare submits a sealed copy of the indictment in Hariri's murder to a pre-trial judge who will review the charges before any arrest warrant is issued. During this review period, likely to last between 6 and 10 weeks, the indictments will remain sealed.

January 21 – Following the collapse of the Lebanese government, Hizballah works to secure a parliamentary majority and form a new government. Druze leader and previous Hariri supporter Walid Jumblatt announces his support for Hizballah, providing the group with the necessary votes to name a prime minister and form a government.

January 25 – Hizballah-backed candidate Najib Mikati secures enough support to become the prime minister-designate. Hariri accuses Hizballah of staging a coup but urges his supporters not to resort to violence.

The weeks ahead – Hizballah-backed Prime Minister Najib Mitaki’s first order of business is to form a government and issue a ministerial statement. The government’s new position toward the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will be an important indication of the future of Lebanon. An abrogation of the Tribunal by the government would place Lebanon in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and signal the end of Lebanese independence.

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