Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Lebanon once more poised for civil war -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: A United Nations commission investigating the assassination of Lebanese
prime minister Rafic Hariri five years ago is expected to announce its findings soon.

There are fears it could shatter the fragile peace Lebanon's managed to build since his murder.

Many believe it'll blame Lebanon's most powerful military force, Hezbollah, for the bombing, and as
Middle East correspondent Ben Knight reports, that has the potential to reignite the civil violence
of 2008 and possibly draw the entire region into conflict.

BEN KNIGHT, REPORTER: When the Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri's car exploded in 2005, many
Lebanese suspected the hand of Syria was behind it, along with its local ally in Lebanon,

And after years of Syrian interference in their country, this was the last straw for many Lebanese.

In what became known as the 'Cedar Revolution', Syrian troops were driven out of Lebanon and the
country began its journey towards creating a new independent government without foreign

But it hasn't been easy because Lebanon still faces a major problem within its own borders.

ROBERT MALLEY, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: Hezbollah is the most powerful actor in Lebanon, both
politically and militarily. It will remain so.

BEN KNIGHT: That's largely due to Hezbollah's military force, which is larger and better equipped
than Lebanon's own national army and Hezbollah is only getting stronger.

Lebanon is a gradual takeover by the Islamists of this country.

BEN KNIGHT: For Israel, there was no better evidence than the shootout on the border this month
between Israeli and Lebanese troops. Many were expecting troubles here, but they assumed it would
be Hezbollah doing the shooting, not the Lebanese Army.

EFRAIM INBAR: What we've seen recently is a growing presence or a growing influence of Hezbollah
within the Lebanese Army, which is another source of concern. And this is part of the growing
influence of Iran in the region.

BEN KNIGHT: Hezbollah was born during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was inspired by
the Ayatollah Khamenei and trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and it became the voice of
Lebanon's large but downtrodden Shiite population.

Four years ago, Hezbollah fought a war with Israel that neither side won, which was bad for Israel,
but only made Hezbollah more popular.

ROBERT MALLEY: We're not about to see a divorce between Hezbollah and its constituency and I think
that's something that the Bush administration learnt at its expense. It learnt that you can't - and
many Lebanese learnt - you can't stabilise Lebanon by going after Hezbollah and you can't reach
equilibrium in Lebanon at Hezbollah's expense.

BEN KNIGHT: The last attempt was two years ago when the Lebanese government tried to shut down
Hezbollah's private phone network. Hezbollah immediately and violently took over the streets of
Beirut while the Lebanese Army looked on.

When the shooting stopped, Hezbollah was even more powerful than it was before. It had won a power
of veto in the Lebanese cabinet and would never again be threatened by the Lebanese government.

But five years after the death of Rafic Hariri, his assassination could once again be the catalyst
for trouble. Lebanon's government is now headed by his son, Saad Hariri, who understandably wants
to know who killed his father.

But what if the United Nations tribunal looking into his death finds that Saad Hariri's coalition
partner Hezbollah was behind his father's assassination?

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has already predicted as much, but he's also said that he
will defy the tribunal and therefore the Lebanese government.

ROBERT MALLEY: There's been a lot of turmoil surrounding the tribunal in recent weeks, but as of
yet no indication that it will spill over into violence or attract foreigners in that violence.

BEN KNIGHT: But tension is so high that last month there was an unprecedented joint visit to
Lebanon by the Syrian president and the Saudi King to urge calm.

How Lebanon resolves any coming crisis will determine whether the country holds together or once
again falls into civil war.

And across the border, Israel is watching with increasing concern. It says Hezbollah has been
re-arming since the end of the 2006 war, with the help of Syria and Iran, turning border villages
into weapons dumps and with an estimated 40,000 rockets pointed south, putting every major Israeli
city within range.

For the past two years, Israel has held massive civilian defence drills built around rocket attacks
from the north. In the past, Israel has dealt with such growing threats with pre-emptive military
attacks, so why hasn't it done the same this time?

EFRAIM INBAR: I think the Israeli military as well as the Israeli political elite is much more
concerned about potential public opinion repercussions in case of an Israeli use of force.

BEN KNIGHT: There's no doubt that Israel's international standing has been affected by things like
the war in Gaza, the alleged assassination in Dubai and more recently the deadly raid on the
Turkish flotilla that was headed towards Gaza. And on the Israel-Lebanon border that build-up of
arms that's taking place does seem to be keeping the peace.

But the question is: how long does that last?

ROBERT MALLEY: Over time the equilibrium is not sustainable, the balance of power is not
sustainable, and that were a confrontation to erupt, it would be much more serious than what we saw
in 2006.

BEN KNIGHT: Until then, this will remain one of the most tense borders in the world.

Ben Knight, ABC News, Jerusalem.