Lebanese Army steps into Beirut fray
Opposition Hezbollah fighters continue civil disobedience against pro-Western government.
A tense calm took hold in Lebanon Sunday after the government and the opposition, led by the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, reached a tentative agreement allowing the Lebanese Army to arbitrate controversial cabinet decisions that triggered recent violence.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The events of the past week, in which almost 40 people have died, demonstrated that Hezbollah clearly holds the balance of power on the streets and underlined the political limitations of the government and its allies.
But the Lebanese Army has emerged as a "critical player" in the crisis and represents a "factor of transition" in the new political reconfiguration under way in Lebanon, analysts say.
"I think what we have seen is the first soft Army takeover of power," says Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Relations at the American University of Beirut. "The Army has assumed significant power as it is funded and trained by the United States and receives political guidance by the Iranians [via Hezbollah]. It is the first Iranian-American joint venture."
On Saturday, the Lebanese Army, which is seen as the one neutral state institution in Lebanon, proposed overseeing the implementation of three government decisions made last week – declaring Hezbollah's private telephone network illegal, launching an investigation into Hezbollah's alleged monitoring of Beirut airport, and dismissing the head of airport security.
"The Army command calls on all parties to [help restore calm] by ending armed protests and withdrawing gunmen from the streets and opening the roads," a statement from the Army said.
It added that the Army would look into the issue of the telecommunications network "in a manner that is not harmful to the public interest or the security of the resistance."
The government agreed to the proposal, and the opposition said it would withdraw its fighters, but would maintain its campaign of civil disobedience until Prime Minister Fouad Siniora verbally rescinds last week's decisions about the telecom network and the airport.
Army troops patrolled the streets of Beirut on Sunday, but made no moves to remove the earth barricades set up by the Shiite opposition, nor to seek to reopen the highway to the Beirut airport, that has remained closed since Wednesday.
The Lebanese Army refrained from intervening last week when Hezbollah and allied Amal militants surged into west Beirut, trouncing their opponents in the Sunni Future Movement. As the fighting ebbed, the Army began setting up checkpoints and patrolling main thoroughfares.