Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rice Midwifes Lebanon's Latest 'Birth Pangs'

by Khody Akhavi

"......Rice and other State Department officials remain deeply unpopular in Lebanon. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, and as warplanes rained bombs down on the Lebanese population, Rice described the conflict as the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."......

But Washington's embrace of Siniora's government came at the expense of the Shia population, the largest of the country's major denominations and which is seeking a political stake commensurate with its demographic numbers. It also occurs against the backdrop of a regional competition for influence between Washington and Hezbollah's chief patron, Iran.

"Iran's growing influence in the region has given organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas the kind of power and strength and backing that they would not have taken a few years ago," said Geneive Abdo, author of a number of books on Islamist parties, Islam, and the Middle East......

"Mrs. Rice's visits have always been a disaster and a catastrophe for Lebanon because the U.S. government never works for the sake of the Lebanese people, but for the sake of their interests in the region as well as Israel's interests," Hezbollah legislator Nawar al-Saheli told the Associated Press Monday.

"We fear Rice's visit this time is aimed at obstructing the formation of the new government, especially if a national union cabinet was not in the interest of the U.S. administration," he said......

Rice has apparently taken note. After meeting with Siniora, the U.S.' top diplomat also signaled Washington's intention to push Israel to return the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon. It is an issue that Hezbollah has used to justify its refusal to disarm under UN Security Council resolution demands.

According to the Lebanese pro-opposition newspaper al-Safir, Washington's allies in Lebanon pushed Rice to "remove all the alibis that give a legitimacy to Hezbollah's weapons." The pro-Western parliamentary majority also backs Lebanon's claim to the small strip of land occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War."

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