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What is really happening in Lebanon?

Clashes between supporters of the US-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition have shaken Lebanon. Six days of deadly sectarian bloodshed is the worst violence in the country since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990. The Real News Network analyst Pepe Escobar examines what is happening in Lebanon.

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Story Transcript

VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Six days of deadly sectarian bloodshed have shaken Lebanon, pitting supporters of the US-backed government against the Hezbollah-led opposition. The recent violence is the worst since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990. But what’s really happening in Lebanon?

PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Lebanon was on the verge of becoming a new Iraq—a lawless, failed state run by militias. But then what emerges? A total political and military victory for Hezbollah and Iran, and a crushing defeat for a Lebanese government supported by the West and Saudi Arabia. So what was the real story? Last week, the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, decided to shut down the communication and surveillance network at Beirut Airport. He said this was illegal and unconstitutional. Well, not really. This network, operated by Hezbollah, was immensely useful during the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. Siniora also fired the security commander of Beirut Airport, a Shiite, for being an alleged Hezbollah proxy. That’s when Sheikh Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, stepped in. He told all Lebanese that when Siniora became prime minister in 2005, he pledged to, and I quote, "support the resistance" and allow Hezbollah to conduct its, I quote, "war of liberation" against Israel. So the government badly miscalculated. They assumed that Sheikh Nasrallah would just watch his security system be torn to pieces. Instead, Sheikh Nasrallah said that "We will cut the arm of anyone trying to interfere with Hezbollah’s weapons," and he considers a security network as a very valuable weapon. It took less than 24 hours for the new balance of power in Lebanon to conquer the streets. This was a true cakewalk. Hezbollah soldiers, very well trained—after all, they had fought successfully the powerful Israeli army in 2006—they were facing a ragtag militia trained in Jordan. They were loyal to the parliamentary majority leader, the Saudi-connected billionaire Saad al Hariri, and they were also fighting people loyal to the Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt. The Hariri political faction, backed by the US, had trained the Sunni militia. They were disguised as private security companies for one year. But when the going got rough, the tough fled, surrendered, or disarmed, and then Hezbollah handed them over to the Lebanese army. So was this a coup d’etat? No. Sheikh Nasrallah was adamant. He said, I quote, "Had we wanted a coup, they"—government leaders—"would have woken up to find themselves in jail or thrown in the sea." Hariri had the gall to call a press conference and say that his militia was not armed. The professor As’ad AbuKhalil, born in Lebanon, host of the Angry Arab Website, he commented dryly that if Hariri, I quote, "did not have his billions, he would still be in elementary school learning how to add and subtract." As for Jumblatt, the so-called hero of the Cedar Revolution, he admitted he lost the battle and that he only wanted to ask Sheikh Nasrallah for, I quote, "protection." So Hezbollah, they got in the streets what they couldn’t get politically—the actual means to veto shady government decisions in Lebanon. The role of the army, apparently neutral, was very interesting. General Michel Sulaiman, the army chief, he saw the way the wind was blowing, and in fact he supported Hezbollah. But anything goes in Lebanese politics. Had the really unarmed militia got some better training in Jordan, the general would have supported them and not Hezbollah. Sheikh Nasrallah, once again he proved why he’s arguably the most popular statesman in the Arab world, even among Sunnis. He saw it would be politically impossible to control Beirut, even though he proved he could do it on the ground in less than 24 hours. Last week, he said, and I quote, "If they told us to come and take over, we would say, ‘No, thank you.’" Was this a proxy war between the Lebanese government backed by Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah backed by Iran? Yes, but there’s much more to it. The Hariri faction is totally responsible for what happened, and that means the US and Saudi Arabia are also responsible. That’s one more instance of what the Bush administration is doing. They are provoking and [financing] civil wars, and not only in the Middle East: the Hariri gang against Hezbollah in Lebanon; Fatah against Hamas in Palestine; the Maliki government against the Sadrists in Iraq; wealthy white landowners against Evo Morales in Bolivia. The list is endless. Could there be a solution for Lebanon? Well, it’s possible. The key to understand the Middle East is that factions will keep fighting each other forever. Sooner or later, they sit down and they negotiate. This is not a land of winner takes all. Everyone in Lebanon knows the country’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious. So Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians, eventually they will have to share power in a government of national unity, no matter what the agenda in Washington and in Saudi Arabia.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.