BEIRUT – Lebanon’s year-old unity government collapsed Wednesday after Hezbollah ministers and their allies resigned over tensions stemming from a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The walkout ushers in the country’s worst political crisis since 2008 in one of the most volatile corners of the Middle East.
The tribunal is widely expected to name members of Hezbollah in upcoming indictments, which many fear could re-ignite sectarian tensions that have plagued the tiny country for decades.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri (son of Rafik) is currently in the US for a meeting with President Obama.
UPDATE 4:45 PM: Here’s the White House readout of the meeting with Hariri:
President Obama met today with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon. The President commended the Prime Minister for his steadfast leadership and efforts to reach peace, stability, and consensus in Lebanon under difficult circumstances. The efforts by the Hizballah-led coalition to collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate their own fear and determination to block the government’s ability to conduct its business and advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people. The President and Prime Minister reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, implementing all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and continuing a wide-ranging and long-term partnership between the United States and Lebanon.
During their meeting, the President stressed the importance of the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a means to help end the era of political assassinations with impunity in Lebanon. The President and Prime Minister specifically discussed united efforts with France, Saudi Arabia, and other key international and regional actors to maintain calm in Lebanon and ensure that the work of the Tribunal continues unimpeded by third parties. The President and Prime Minister expressed their determination to achieve both stability and justice in Lebanon during this challenging period of government volatility, and agreed that all parties should avoid threats or actions that could cause instability.
Over at Ricochet, Judith Levy writes from Israel:
Shiite (i.e., pro-Hezbollah) vs. Sunni (i.e., pro-Hariri) bloodshed is not guaranteed to break out, but if it does, Hezbollah will win. It could then attempt to take full control of Lebanon by force, if that is the will of its Iranian and Syrian patrons. Israel is keeping its head down for the time being, but Sheik Nasrallah has been trying for some time to throw responsibility for the Hariri assassination on us as a deflective measure. That tactic hasn’t gotten him very far, and he is perfectly capable of launching a serious fight with us as a “unifying” measure — indeed, he might calculate that that would be a wiser move than coming out swinging against Lebanese citizens in the streets of Beirut.
Levy promises to keep us posted.