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Hizballah Protests Meant to Weaken Western Resolve Against Iran, Expert Phares Says

Hizballah Protests Meant to Weaken Western Resolve Against Iran, Expert Says
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
January 24, 2007

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Iran and Syria are funding Hizballah's "urban intimidation" campaign in Lebanon to crush the emerging democracy and weaken Western resolve to stop Iran's nuclear program, a U.S.-based expert said on Wednesday.

Lebanon was paralyzed on Tuesday by a Hizballah-led nationwide general strike and protests that blocked roads with rubble and burning tires, closing off the capital and virtually shutting down the country's international airport.

Three people were killed in violence that broke out between protestors supporting Hizballah and its allies in their attempts to bring down the government and others who support the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Hizballah and its political allies quit the government late last year in an attempt to force it into giving Hizballah enough power to wield a veto over decisions it does not like.

The strike was called off on Tuesday night because it had achieved its purposes, a spokesman for what is being called "the opposition" was quoted as saying. But he warned of more protest actions to come.

Addressing his nation, Siniora said that the country would stand together "against intimidation" and would "confront sedition for the sake of Lebanon."

The U.S. State Department released a statement saying it was "deeply concerned" about the developments and blamed Syrian allied factions for the trouble.

"These factions are trying to use violence, threats and intimidation to impose their political will on Lebanon," said spokesman Sean McCormack.

Experts have said that Lebanon is a "microcosm" for all the conflicts in the Middle East. As such, it is on the front lines in the clash between Western pro-Democracy forces and Iranian Islamic extremist forces.

Dr. Walid Phares, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Cybercast News Service in an email that Hizballah has two goals in stepping up the protests, which began late last year with a sit-in by government buildings.

"The urban intimidation unleashed by Hizballah aims at blocking the airport, ports and main roads so that civil society is put under pressure," said Phares. The plan was instigated and funded by Tehran and Damascus to crush the Cedars Revolution and emerging democracy in Lebanon, he said.

The "Cedars Revolution" refers to the popular pro-Democracy movement that spontaneously came together following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri two years ago. Many Lebanese believe Syria was behind the assassination.

The movement, which includes most Lebanese Christians, Druze, Sunni and some Shiite Muslims, succeeded in forcing Syria to withdraw troops from the country that had been entrenched there for years.

In the "bigger picture," the Hizballah-led protest can be seen as a "pre-emptive strike" by the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against Lebanese democracy in an attempt to weaken U.S. and European resolve to act against Iran's nuclear program, Phares said.

'Stage to stage'

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, President Bush said that during the past two years, "the enemy" had reacted fiercely to the "desire for liberty" in the Middle East, including Lebanon.

"A thinking enemy watched, ... adjusted their tactics, and in 2006, they struck back," Bush told the nation.

"In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedars Revolution. And Hizballah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon's legitimately elected government," Bush said.

According to Phares, Hizballah has moved from "stage to stage" since the Cedar Revolution began in March 2005 as part of a strategically "well-prepared" attempt to take over the country.

The Syrian-Iranian networks in Iran launched a political assassination campaign of outspoken critics of Syrian involvement in the country. Last winter, Hizballah "faked" a dialogue with other political factions while preparing for war.

In July, Hizballah ignited a war with Israel when it abducted two Israeli soldiers and fired rockets at Israeli civilian centers in an attempt to shift pressure away from Iran and strike a blow at the Lebanese government.

Since then, Hizballah has preparing itself for war against the Lebanese government; making preparations to side with Iran if a confrontation erupts with the U.S., Europe and moderate Arab states; and concentrating on ensuring that United Nations peacekeepers are only deployed in southern Lebanon, Phares said.

United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon have not been allowed to deploy along the Syrian-Lebanese border through which they receive weapons from Iran, Israeli officials have said.

Beginning in November, Hizballah and its pro-Syrian allies launched a "terror campaign" with the assassination of Gemayel and intimidation against the government in November 2006. On Tuesday, Hizballah waged its first day of "urban terror" against Lebanese civil society and government, Phares said.

Tuesday's trouble came as French President Jacques Chirac prepared to host a donors' conference on Lebanon's behalf. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due in Paris for that conference, and a senior U.S. official said here this week that the U.S. is prepared to contribute a "considerable sum of resources" to rebuilding Lebanon. (CNSNews.com)