U.S. warship stirs Lebanese fear of war.
The USS Cole has deployed off the coast of Lebanon as that nation's political crisis deepens.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
While the US State Department says the Cole and other warships are being sent to the eastern Mediterranean to support regional stability amid Lebanon's political crisis, the move seems to have embarrassed the besieged Western-backed administration of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and provided ammunition for the pro-Syrian opposition, led by the militant Shiite Hezbollah, to accuse the government of being a US pawn.
"It has done Hezbollah a huge favor," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center in Beirut. "It's a sign of political bankruptcy on the part of the US. They have failed to achieve anything in Lebanon; all they have left is military muscle-flexing." Analysts here are divided over whether the USS Cole's presence is intended as warning for Hizbullah or Syria. But it has reminded Lebanese of the last time the US sought to intervene militarily in Lebanon, an involvement that had disastrous consequences.
In September 1983, midway through Lebanon's 16-year civil war, US warships shelled the Druze-dominated Chouf mountains south of Beirut in support of the Lebanese Army, then battling pro-Syrian militias. The shelling further convinced those Lebanese who were opposed to the then US-backed Lebanese government that Washington was not a neutral peacekeeper in Lebanon.
In October 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was destroyed by a suicide bomber, killing 241 US servicemen. Two months later, the USS New Jersey, a World War II-era battleship, fired on Syrian troops and allied militia positions in what was the heaviest shore bombardment since the Korean War.
Many Lebanese still recall the "flying Volkswagens," the name given to the huge shells that struck the Chouf. The sporadic barrage, which lasted nearly two months, killed the top Syrian general in Lebanon.
In early February 1984, pro-Syrian militias took over West Beirut, spurring President Reagan to order a Marines evacuation. The Marines left by the end of the month, ending what then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger called a "particularly miserable assignment."
The alleged architect of the Marine barracks strike, Imad Mughnieh, was assassinated last month in a Damascus car bombing. Hezbollah, which blames Israel for the attack, has sworn to avenge the death of Mr. Mughnieh, who was post-humously identified by the group as its top military commander. Israel is taking the threat seriously and has placed its embassies on alert and reinforced its troops along Israel's border with Lebanon.
"To have an American warship here is highly symbolic, given that Imad Mughnieh is accused of the 1983 bombing," Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb says.
Some analysts say that if Hezbollah deals a heavy retaliatory blow to Israel, it could force Israel to launch another offensive against the Shiite group. Both Israel and Hezbollah have been preparing for another possible war following the 2006 conflict between the two foes.