The events in Beirut were likely a sending of messages, not unlike what happened in Khaldeh. The armed Amal and Hezbollah members were fired upon when they were about to enter "Christian" areas in Tayyouneh, as a way of saying these areas are off limits to hostile militias.
They are all the more off limits in that the so-called Shia duo was trying to use intimidation to undermine an investigation, a majority of whose victims were Christians. While Hezbollah has not yet reacted, the party has to take into consideration its alliance with Michel Aoun.
Any effort to attack Christian areas in retaliation will likely unite Christian ranks, Aounists and Lebanese Forces supporters. This is definitely something Hezbollah wants to avoid. More interesting is what it may mean for Aoun and Bassil.
Neither is enthusiastic about the Bitar investigation because one of their guys, Badri Daher, is also in the line of fire of the investigation. But neither can can afford to stand against Christian public opinion by asking Bitar to cease his investigation.
This attack against the Amal and Hezbollah gunmen, if it was a Lebanese Forces operation, forces Aoun to align himself even more with Christian opinion, or lose ground politically. And many Christians openly hold Hezbollah responsible for the port blast, whatever the truth.
Geagea has also scored by warning the Shia duo not to enter Christian areas again, or else it will mean crossing a red line. No more attacks a la Myrna Chalouhi, after Bassil had insulted Berri, or a la St. Joseph University during the thawra, when young men shouted "Shia, Shia!"
Geagea seems willing to escalate because he feels that Hezbollah is using the state's weakness to impose its will, including hushing up a crime that destroyed Christian areas. He also wants to show Hezbollah that it can no longer assume Christian passivity.
Interestingly, the situation also squeezes Bassil. Franjieh supported Hezbollah and Amal, but if Bassil were to do so, his Christian support would evaporate, to Franjieh's advantage. But if he opposes Hezbollah and Amal, what remains of his presidential bid is history.
Like the Khaldeh incident, political actors are drawing territorial lines in anticipation of conflict. Hezbollah has ignored the sectarian rules of the game, and in the Lebanese context that can backfire. The party has few options, but that said, who can be reassured after today?
The only path at this stage is a smooth removal of Bitar, perhaps by moving the investigation to the military tribunal, as some have suggested. That won't be easy, however. Nasrallah's mistake was to put Hezbollah in the forefront of opposition to the Bitar investigation.
Hezbollah definitely does not want a sectarian war, however, and has to dial down the tension. Intimidation will breed more conflict, until it spins out of control. The party has to be modest and assume there are things it just cannot impose, because hubris brings nemesis.

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More from @BeirutCalling

8 Sep
@ChoucairWalid provides a very realistic reading of Bassil's reasons for blocking a government he doesn't control. What is unknown, however is whether Hezbollah will go along with this:…
There are several unanswered questions in his analysis. First, is Hezbollah willing to face the generalized economic and social breakdown that will follow if no government is formed, just for Bassil's sake? The repercussions in the Shia community are already significant.
Second, Is Hezbollah willing to give Bassil space to provoke a vacuum at all levels in the state, and therefore risk entering into a standoff with Syria over the election of the next president, as clearly Damascus will favor Suleiman Franjieh, not Bassil?
Read 6 tweets
27 Aug
There is a growing view in Lebanon that the cabinet formation process is really a sideshow for something much more sinister, namely an effort to accelerate the collapse of the second Lebanese Republic and replace it with a new system.
In this context, Hezbollah and Aoun share a desire to get rid of the post-Taif system and replace it with one more to their liking—in Hezbollah's case a system that gives the Shia community, and by extension Iran, a much larger say in the destiny of the country.
While I see many obstacles to such a plan, it doesn't mean Aoun and Hezbollah are not trying it. For Aoun, the idea is to go back to 1988, as some perceptive analysts are arguing, and rebuild a new constitutional order.
Read 6 tweets
27 Aug
Lee seeks to delegitimize the Palestinians' claim to their land by writing they are "an ad hoc collection of Arabic-speaking people who came from all corners of the Levant, mostly from Greater Syria but some perhaps from as far away as the Gulf."
But in the very next sentence, he has no trouble legitimizing the arrival of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Russia, and Yemen "because they thought of themselves as members of a pre-existing nation returning to their homeland."
Migration is a phenomenon that has shaped all Levantine countries, and is hardly tied to issues of legitimacy. Nor does the "Palestinians are Arabs" line do more than echo a long-standing argument by the Zionist movement to justify the Palestinian "transfer" to other Arab states.
Read 5 tweets
25 Aug
There are interesting possibilities for Syria if there is competition between Iran and Arab states over supplying Lebanon with energy. The Iranian fuel vessel headed for Lebanon may unload in Syria, from where the fuel will be transported across the border.
Similarly, Egyptian gas and Jordanian surplus power may come to Lebanon through Syrian territory. That makes Damascus happy for 2 reasons: It can benefit from the gas and electricity, and politically it signals an Arab effort to reintegrate Syria into the Arab fold.
You can be sure Syria will take a cut of the Iranian fuel transported through its territory. But Syria is also keen to see the Arab project succeed. That means that if Hezbollah views competition over energy as a game Iran must win, then Syria is playing both sides.
Read 7 tweets
23 Aug
It’s apparent that Aoun’s decision to play hardball on a new cabinet is having damaging consequences for him and Bassil. Without a government, all the blame for the catastrophic situation today is being directed against him, impacting his legacy and Bassil’s future.
Aoun thought he could play the populist card by refusing to lift subsidies. But all he did was fall into the trap of the major fuel importers and their political sponsors who kept their products off the market, raising public resentment against Aoun.
By pretending to be alone against the gangsters in the country, Aoun is completely isolated, though more reliant than ever on Hezbollah. But that game comes with few gains and much heartbreak. Aoun is slowly backtracking on subsidies but has, otherwise, only extended the problem.
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2 Aug
Yesterday I posted a thread arguing that unless a government is formed that can improve Lebanon’s situation, Gebran Bassil would be unable to prepare for his presidency. No Mikati, no Bassil, I argued. Here is a more pessimistic scenario to consider.
Bassil feels that unless he can impose his conditions on Mikati, it is preferable to force him out and support a nonentity like Faisal Karami. Assuming Karami will accept Bassil’s and Aoun’s conditions—no certainty—what will happen?
Very likely Karami will be a subpar version of Hassan Diab, who is already a subpar version of anything that moves. Karami will be undermined by the political class just as Diab was, on the assumption that his failure will lead to Aoun’s and Bassil’s failure.
Read 8 tweets

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