W. Thomas Smith, Jr

Lebanon is a “wild place,” so-said a counterterrorism expert in a personal conversation with me days before former Lebanese president Emile Lahoud stepped down and declared the army in charge of that troubled state, last week.

On the one hand, Lebanon is an amazing country with a marvelous history and culture, and a society that places a premium on high education. It’s also known for its stunning vistas, a unique sense of style and fashion paralleled only by the Parisians and the Milanese, a renowned nightlife, and its breathtakingly beautiful women.

On the other hand, Lebanon has no president. They’ve been unable to elect one in several attempts. And if the country’s parliamentarians – many of whom are heavily guarded and under threat of death – do not elect a chief executive by the end of this week, the power vacuum will continue to grow. The army leadership may feel compelled to tighten its authority over the country (perhaps declaring martial law). The old civil war militias may rise up. The parliament may splinter. And Hezbollah – a Shiia Muslim group and one of the world’s most formidable terrorist organizations – may decide the time is right to consolidate its forces in Lebanon and attempt to seize power.

Consolidating would be easy. According to independent analysis published by Strategic Forecasting (StratFor): “The Damascus highway links Hezbollah strongholds in the central and northern Bekaa Valley with Beirut's southern suburbs, while the coastal highway between Beirut and Sidon connects Hezbollah bases in the South with Beirut's southern suburbs.”

Hezbollah, described by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s senior terrorism advisor, Richard Kemp, “is probably the world’s most effective terrorist organization, and that includes Al Qaeda.” Worse: Hezbollah’s guerrilla-force strength – numbering in the thousands -- and position in Lebanon has never been stronger.

The group, supported by Syria and heavily financed and trained by the Islamic (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard Corps, has tremendous influence, nationwide (and a dangerous and growing footprint throughout the rest of the world): Their yellow and green fist-and-rifle flags fly all over the country. They have permeated the ranks of the armed forces at all levels. They control or influence many of Lebanon’s businesses, other commercial enterprises, and telecommunications. They have a very strong lobby in the Lebanese media. They even control some Lebanese-based international media. And they are armed to the teeth.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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