The murder of Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon seems to support some of the darker predictions for the Middle East that I have been hearing over the past month. As I reported in my blog on November 9, even members of what might be called the “international peacemaking fraternity” are very gloomy. Several of those who have been predicting a new crisis have been pointing to Lebanon as the place where it will erupt.
Lebanon is not just divided on sectarian lines. It also once again has the misfortune of being the battleground for regional conflicts fought out between more powerful neighbours. Syria is clearly fighting to retain its influence in the country and has been directly accused by several parties of being behind the Gemayel murder. Saad Hariri, the son of the murdered Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, put the accusations most directly when he said on Tuesday: “The Cedar Revolution is under attack. Today one of our main believers in a free democratic Lebanon has been killed. We believe the hands of Syria are all over the place.“
Iran is also a big player in Lebanon. Like Syria it is a major backer and supporter of Hizbollah. And, of course, Israel invaded southern Lebanon over the summer to take on Hizbollah. Behind Israel stands the United States, which is also anxious about expanding Iranian influence. The moderate Arab states also have their own interests. The Israelis and their supporters argue that they are tacitly behind any attempt to cut down Hizbollah and, by extension, Iran. And caught in the middle of all this are the Lebanese – with their own bitter sectarian divisions flaring up again, under the pressure of events.