Restive Lebanon

November 20, 2006

The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which rocked Lebanon more than a year ago, remains a potent force in the country's politics. The Lebanese government recently endorsed a special international court to try Mr. Hariri's suspected killers, despite protests by politicians backed by the powerful Islamic militant group Hezbollah. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, an ally of Mr. Hariri who is struggling to hold on, has been battling with Hezbollah over its efforts to control the government.

The international community shouldn't ignore this struggle as a matter of internal Lebanese politics, because Hezbollah and its well-equipped militia could become a more destabilizing influence in the region. Hezbollah's power must be contained, not expanded.

To support the Siniora government, the United Nations should press for action on its resolution that ended the Israel-Lebanon war: Before Hezbollah gains any more political stature, it must give up its weapons.

Hezbollah's push for a national unity government is directly related to its summer war with Israel. Its offensive against the Israeli army, despite a bombing campaign in Hezbollah strongholds, increased its popularity - and the ambitions of its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Those ambitions were underscored last Monday in a U.N. report on Hezbollah's recruitment of Somali fighters during the Israeli war. Some experts doubt that Somalis ever arrived in Lebanon, but Hezbollah's outreach to other militias is certainly plausible and a cause for concern. Hezbollah exports its militia training under the sponsorship of Iran and Syria; its forays must be curtailed.

As the voice of Lebanese Shiites, Hezbollah represents about 45 percent of the country's citizens, and its popularity in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region has increased beyond the Shiite community. Allowing Hezbollah a greater voice in the government would increase its influence, and by proxy, that of its backers.

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