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All Quiet on the Lebanon Front

For the moment.

Mar 28, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 27 • By LEE SMITH
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For Slim, the question is, What happens to the Shia community once Hezbollah is gone? Will they be able to be integrated, finally, into the country’s social fabric, or will they be made to pay for the indignities that the Islamic resistance forced on the rest of Lebanon? Worse than the costly war with Israel instigated by Hezbollah in 2006 was the party’s coup against the democratically elected government, completed this January but initiated with the May 2008 siege, when Hezbollah slaughtered Sunnis in Beirut and attacked the Druze in the Chouf mountains. “Humiliation is a real emotion,” says Slim, and one for which the Shia may well be held accountable one day.

Still, cautious optimism is the mood in much of Lebanon of late, optimism that Hezbollah may be losing its grip. Besides the special tribunal, which may expose an outfit till now respected in the Sunni-majority Middle East for its resistance to Israel as the murderer of a major Sunni figure, Hezbollah’s financing is also being targeted. The group receives anywhere from $100 to $200 million a year from its sponsors in Tehran (which is now profiting from soaring oil prices), but for some time it has also pursued independent sources of income. 

After designating a number of Hezbollah financiers who fund the group through illicit trade (conflict diamonds, weapons, and drugs) in Africa and Latin America, the Treasury Department last month also designated the Lebanese Canadian Bank as a “primary money laundering concern” used by an international drug-trafficking network moving almost $200 million a month, from which Hezbollah profited. With U.S. financial institutions severing their ties to the Lebanese Canadian Bank, some here say that this is only the tip of the iceberg and that Hezbollah’s funds are being drained. “It’s the Al Capone thing,” says Slim, meaning that the U.S. government is going after public enemy number one via its financial shenanigans.

From Slim’s perspective, Hezbollah should be seen in the same context as the dictatorial regimes across the region that either have already fallen or are now fighting for the privilege to rule, including Hezbollah’s Iranian sponsor and its patrons in Syria, where protests are picking up steam. According to Slim, this process of regional renovation all began in 2003 with the fall of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. “When that statue came down,” he says, “it made possible what was previously unimaginable. I saw the origins of Hezbollah, so I can imagine its end as well.”

Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard. His book The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (Anchor) has just been published in paperback.

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