Bid for Impunity
In an ugly power play against justice and accountability, Hezbollah has withdrawn from Lebanon’s cabinet, bringing down the unity government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. It must be resisted by all responsible Lebanese politicians and Arab governments, with strong support from the international community.
Hezbollah says it will give its support only to a Lebanese government that abandons and denounces the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister and Saad Hariri’s father. The tribunal is preparing indictments, and Hezbollah members are expected to be among those charged.
The elder Mr. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was widely respected for helping rebuild Lebanon after its civil war. If Hezbollah, a Shiite militia and political party, is implicated in his murder, it would damage the group’s claims to be a champion of broader Lebanese and Arab causes.
The tribunal, backed by the United Nations and partly financed by the Lebanese government, is an important part of a multiyear effort to strengthen Lebanese institutions and re-establish the rule of law. Undermining it risks plunging Lebanon back into the era of assassinations and impunity that nearly destroyed it.
Hezbollah’s move was timed to coincide with Mr. Hariri’s visit to the White House this week where he sought assurance of continued American support for the tribunal’s work. He got that assurance, and the president’s message was conveyed directly to Arab capitals by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France also declared his strong support. More international support for the tribunal, and Mr. Hariri, is needed, especially from the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, recently stepped back from its efforts to persuade Syria to rein in Hezbollah and help resolve the crisis.
Syria’s leaders are no longer prime suspects in the Hariri inquiry. But they need to understand that any further effort to undermine Lebanon’s fragile democracy — by Syria or its client Hezbollah — will only lead to more isolation for Syria.
The Syrian government needs to press Hezbollah to end its political extortion and rejoin a national unity government. Hezbollah’s huge Lebanese-Shiite electoral constituency makes it hard to ignore. But impunity for assassination is too high a price to pay for its support.
Hezbollah depends on Syrian money and arms and responds to pressure from Damascus. Enlisting Syrian cooperation will be the first challenge facing Robert Ford, the new United States ambassador, who arrives in Damascus next week.