Just as veteran US foreign-policy "fixer" James Baker is expected to publish proposals to calm Iraq through cooperation between the USA and Iraq's neighbours Iran and Syria, Lebanon has lurched towards a return to civil war - this time between the Lebanese constituencies aligned with Iran and Syria, and those aligned with the USA.
As we write (4 December), the Lebanese government's offices are surrounded by crowds of demonstrators, Shia and dissident Christian, demanding its resignation. President Emile Lahoud has declared the government illegitimate.
The country's army chief has called on troops to be neutral between the government and the opposition.
The backdrop to the confrontation is the increased political clout and standing of Lebanon's Shia-Islamist movement Hezbollah following the failure of the Israeli army to crush it in a bloody campaign of invasion and bombing in July which killed many Lebanese unconnected with Hezbollah, and wrecked social and economic infrastructure.
Hezbollah and its allies demanded a government reshuffle to give them sufficient weight to veto government decisions. Not getting it, on 11 November six ministers resigned. Five were from Hezbollah or from another Shia movement, Amal; one was an ally of president Emile Lahoud, a Christian former general who has links with Syria and with Michel Aoun.
According to Lahoud, Lebanon's constitution requires Shia representation in the government. Since the government now includes no Shia ministers, it is illegitimate.
The immediate trigger for the resignations was that the government was about to approve the UN-designed arrangements for an inquiry into the murder in February 2005 of Rafik Hariri (a Sunni Muslim, and prime minister of Lebanon from 1992 to 2004). The protests that followed the murder forced Syria to withdraw its troops in April 2005.
The inquiry is expected to incriminate the Syrian government. Hezbollah and its allies are broadly pro-Syrian. They accuse the government-majority forces - Sunni, Druze, and Christian - of being pawns of the USA. The government-majority people respond by accusing Hezbollah and its allies of being pawns of Iran and Syria.
On 21 November, Pierre Gemayel, the Christian minister of industry, was assassinated. The government majority accuses Syria and its allies of organising the murder in order to destabilise the government; Hezbollah and its allies suggest that it was organised by people close to the government in order to derail the opposition's campaign for a reshuffle - or new elections, in which Hezbollah is evidently confident of making gains.
Several hundred thousand government supporters came onto the streets for Gemayel's funeral on 23 November. On 1 December, Hezbollah and its allies mobilised 800,000 to counter-demonstrate in Beirut, and thousands stayed on to besiege the government offices.
Hezbollah's allies include the followers of Michel Aoun, a Christian former army chief. Aoun distanced himself from other Christian leaders in 1988-90 by forming links with Saddam Hussein to fight Syria.
Hezbollah's alliance also includes the major force of the Lebanese left, the Lebanese Communist Party (which, historically, has had its base primarily in Lebanon's small Greek Orthodox Christian community). In a statement on 4 December, the LCP aligned itself with Hezbollah's demands, citing the Siniora government's moves for large privatisations and alleged plans to build a US military base in Jbeil.
On 16-19 November an international conference of "solidarity with Lebanese resistance" was organised in Beirut jointly by the LCP and Hezbollah.
The French revolutionary-socialist paper Rouge (of 1 December) carries an enthusiastic report of the conference (by Laurent Carasso, a writer usually more inclined than other Rouge contributors to the "kitsch anti-imperialist" view that any force hostile to the USA must automatically be considered a liberation movement).
The Greek, Portuguese, and Cuban Communist Parties were there, together with Arab-nationalist and Islamist groups and various western "anti-war" groups.
The facts remain, however:
* that Hezbollah is an Islamist (religio-political fundamentalist) group, albeit a canny one;
* that the current conflict in Lebanon is mostly a "reshuffle" of the utterly destructive civil war of 1975-90: now Sunni and Druze are with the majority of the Christians, and some Christians are with the Shia, rather than the line-up being more simply Muslim-versus-Christian;
* that Iranian-Syrian domination in Lebanon is not more desirable than alignment of Lebanon with the USA and with IMF-type economic policies.
Background on Lebanon: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/6886.