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Lebanon, Much of Middle East: Not a Pretty Picture

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Last July, an Iranian sponsored and Syrian supplied terrorist and public advocacy political party inside Lebanon became engaged in a full scale war with Israel. Hezbollah, with only a few representatives within the lawful government of Lebanon, push that nation into a deepening political crisis.

After 15 years of Civil War, in 1990 Lebanon's political leaders developed a way to peace: a delicate three way sharing of power and prestige among the Christians, the Sunni Muslims and the Shiites.

Now the Shiites control Hezbollah and have taken on a more militant tone. Many of the Christians and Sunni Muslims are provoked that Hezbollah could cause a war for Lebanon with Israel. Christians and Sunnis shared in the devastation and costs of the war even though they were not parties to its initiation.

Shiites now want even more power in Lebanon. They remain closely allies with Syria and Iran. Some fear the push for more Shiite power could re-ignite the civil war.

This conjured up the ugly prospect of another Lebanese Civil War. Between 1975 and 1990, the Civil War in Lebanon at various times drew in Israelis, Syrians, Iranians and military forces from the U.S. and several European nations.

This time, Hezbollah's Shiites have even more clout. Hezbollah's performance against a feared and far superior Israeli army bolstered the militia's standing within Lebanon's Shiite community, and across the Arab world.

Now, filling the center of Beirut with daily rallies, Hezbollah is pressing for a larger say in the running of Lebanon and an end to the Shiites' history of being poor and oppressed.

"Hezbollah wants to change the political role of the Shiites from being led to leading and having a greater influence on decision-making," said Magnus Ranstorp, a Middle East expert who monitors the Lebanese group.

Aljazeera Magazine reported on December 31 that a prominent Syrian journalist saw Hezbollah's new clout within Lebanon as a pathway for renewed Syrian leadership on the world stage.

"The Lebanon War and the Israeli defeat are a source of inspiration and encouragement, and have a mobilizing effect on the Syrian people, that sees itself as a leader among the Arabs," the Syrian writer said.

"There is no doubt that the Lebanon war and the Israeli defeat are a source of encouragement, and also a source for recruiting the Syrian people who see itself as a pioneer and example to other Arab people. It is looking at how the Lebanese defeated and expelled the Israelis from their land while its land remains occupied," the journalist said.

"The Syrian people understood the possibility that a war will break out, even at the price Damascus and Syrian cities being bombarded," he added.

And in the Middle East is there some hope that the United States may be able to broker a peaceful conclusion?

Almost none.

An editorial in the Saudi-based English language newspaper Arab News on January 2, 2007, sums up the feelings of many in this region.

"In recent times, few new years have dawned on the Middle East with more foreboding. Iraq is in chaos, said the Arab News. "Lebanon stares once more at the ogre of civil conflict.

Palestinians have reached a new pitch of despair and humiliation. Iran seems set on becoming the second regional nuclear power, while Israel, the first, remains as obdurate and aggressive as ever. But US President Bush is even now working on a new plan for the Middle East, to be announced within the coming days. Should we all be holding our breath? Almost certainly not.

The bloodshed and enmities now disfiguring the Middle East are largely born of the White House's severely limited thinking, based upon zero understanding of the region."

And the weekly "Monday Morning" based in Beirut, Lebanon, sees the situation in the Middle East this way at the start of 2007:

"Arabs, burned by their experience of gaudy promises ever since the shuttles of Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright and, now, Condoleezza Rice, note that proclamations from Washington lack any mechanism or calendar whose first objective would be to place the issue in intensive care. The only alternative to this is a statement that it is clinically dead."
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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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