Hezbollah vs. the World

Even if the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) finds members from Hezbollah, or senior Syrian officials, involved in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, no one believes that international justice will have the muscle to punish any of the criminals. What is puzzling, however, is how Hezbollah, which experienced firsthand the power of UN Security Council resolutions, tries to test the will of the international community.

For almost a decade leading to Hezbollah's victory over Israel in 2000, the group sang praise to Security Council Resolution 425, which stipulated an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Hezbollah was instrumental in forcing Israel out of Lebanon, but only because after 22 years of occupation -- in defiance of the UN -- Israel had finally to cave and comply. By the same token, Hezbollah might show its undisputed force domestically, but the Security Council-created STL will never go away.

There are no second guesses for the results of the showdown between Hezbollah and Syria, on the one hand, and the Security Council on the other. The UN will ultimately prevail. So far in the game of testing international will, the world has always won, whether by forcing Saddam's occupation out of Kuwait, or by negotiating the return of Sinai to Egypt. But what pitted Hezbollah and Syria against the world in the first place? The answer is: Hezbollah's overconfidence and Syria's miscalculations.

When the UN suggested that Lebanon's parliament create the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a joint Lebanese-international body, Hezbollah treated the affair as a domestic one. And since the Party of God had become accustomed to imposing its will on everybody else, it felt certain that it could scrap the tribunal by shutting down the parliament.

Meanwhile Hezbollah's allies in Damascus also committed a faux pas. They dealt with the tribunal the same way Syria torpedoed the May 17, 1983 Peace Accord, signed between the governments of Lebanon and Israel but never ratified in a defiant parliament instigated by Syria to kill the treaty. What the Syrians failed to notice, however, was that stopping the Security Council was way too different than killing a bilateral agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

Since 2005, undermining the international investigation, and later the tribunal, has dictated all the steps of Hezbollah and Syria. Unfortunately for these two, time is showing that they have been jumping in hoops.

The resignation of the ministers of Hezbollah and its allies on Wednesday is the third in five years. Instructing supporters to massively take to the streets, burning tires, cutting roads or putting up a tent town in downtown Beirut have also been tried in the past, but failed to end the tribunal.

Should Hezbollah's militia sweep Beirut, like in May 2008, it might force its rivals to concede while inviting the Security Council to perhaps approve yet another resolution that further denounces the group and alienates it. In any case, STL will continue.

Past reports concluded that it is not in Hezbollah's interest to take the country to civil war, which can be swiftly started but cannot be as easily stopped. Civil war will weaken Hezbollah's grip on state intelligence units, on which the party's power depends, both domestically and when confronting foreign enemies.

Similar reports indicated that it is most likely that, while politically turning the heat on its rivals, Hezbollah will stop short of violence. Instead, in the event that the STL accuses members from Hezbollah, the party will remain as defiant as ever.

After all, Hezbollah's officials do not fear that their visas will be revoked. The Hezbollah leadership has rarely been welcome in world capitals other than Damascus and Tehran, and probably Pyongyang and Caracas.

Last but not least, it remains in Hezbollah's interest to maintain an old existing dichotomy inside Lebanon. While the internationally-accepted March 14 coalition represents Lebanon and prevents any possible UN sanctions against it, Hezbollah can hide behind the weak state and spare Lebanon the UN wrath.

Syria, for its part, has employed different tactics. While pushing to civil war in the hopes that the world would come begging for Syria's help to end the Lebanese bloodbath, and in return kill STL, Damascus has also formed the best legal defense team money can buy to fly to The Hague in the case the tribunal pointed fingers at any Syrian officials.

Unlike Hezbollah, Syria cannot afford to stand defiant. In Damascus, there is no dichotomy and therefore there is nowhere for the regime to run and hide.

Amidst overconfidence and miscalculations, Hezbollah and Syria have provoked the world and are now confronting it. Punishing the March 14 coalition or the Lebanese state will do little to end this showdown in Hezbollah's or Syria's favor.

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