The Hezbollah militant group staged a simulated coup of Lebanon’s capital yesterday morning as its members strategically spread out across 12 central sites in Beirut without warning or advance notice. Unarmed but wearing black and clutching hand-held radios, the militants quietly gathered around the capital in groups of 30 in a two-hour exercise that warned the government of Hezbollah’s strength.
Lebanese security officials confirmed the gatherings, which came hours after the long-awaited indictments for former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s murder were submitted to the International Court of Justice at the Hague. Although the findings have not yet been released, news outlets have reported that the indictments focus on several Hezbollah members and Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for giving the instructions to kill Hariri.
“What happened in the morning on Tuesday guarantees the ushering in of a new phase in Lebanon…” the Kuwaiti-based newspaper Al-Rai reported. According to sources close to Hezbollah, the drill was “a real exercise to test the readiness of any such plan to takeover Beirut and its periphery, including entries, the port, waters, and the airport.” Hezbollah reportedly considered the drill a success.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia today announced that the kingdom has abandoned its mediation efforts between Hezbollah and caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, saying that the situation in Lebanon was “dangerous.” Turkey and Qatar will continue to try and negotiate a deal with the opposing groups, but with Hezbollah refusing to support Hariri as prime minister and Hariri refusing to discredit the tribunal indicting Hezbollah members, there will be little room for compromise.
Needless to say, given Hezbollah’s strength in arms and the steadfastness of what remains of the March 14 supporters, it appears it is just a matter of time before Hezbollah brings civil violence to Lebanon.