The militant Shiite group Hezbollah toppled the Hariri government peacefully, even if it was to avoid a possible indictment by a UN panel for an assassination. Using violence now to get its way would only make Hezbollah look guilty for the 2005 bombing, eroding its legitimacy.
Many of the Middle East’s oldest tensions have long run through tiny Lebanon, a nation once again in crisis after the collapse of its government Wednesday. What may be new in this latest crisis is a stronger desire among many Lebanese for democracy and rule of law rather than the use of violence to settle disputes.
Those hopes for a more principled society may help explain why Hezbollah (Party of God), the radical Shiite group and the strongest military force in Lebanon, used constitutional means to bring down the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Hezbollah simply withdrew its support from the ruling coalition, precipitating a political drama that may play out for days, even months. Just two years ago, its militants were killing Sunnis in the streets of Beirut to exert their demands.
In addition, the stronger desire for rule of law is restraining Hezbollah and working against the likelihood that it might use guns to thwart a decision expected soon about its possible role in a high-level assassination. Here’s why:
A United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague is expected to act in coming weeks on a probe of the 2005 bomb that killed Rafik Hariri, a prime minister at the time. He was also the father of the leader just brought down by the Hezbollah-led opposition. A decision by the The Hague’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon to finger any figures within Hezbollah would undercut that group’s efforts to paint itself as a protector of all Lebanese – despite its Shiite roots and close ties to Iran and Syria.