Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, pressed his case for bringing down Lebanon's government in a message broadcast on Sunday, once again calling for peaceful demonstrations to topple what he described as an "illegitimate and unconstitutional" government that is controlled by Washington.
Nasrallah used his televised appearance to try to win political support by playing to the deep resentment many Lebanese harbor against the US for having refused to press for an early end to Israel's war with Hezbollah. Nasrallah sought to characterize his goals in purely domestic terms, insisting that Hezbollah was not doing the bidding for Iran or Syria -- as his opponents have charged.
'Ready to protest'
In a taped speech broadcast on Hezbollah's Al Manar television station, Nasrallah called on his supporters to be "psychologically" ready to protest for days, weeks or however long it would take to force the government to step down. But he also offered a prescription to avoid the protests.
"There are two solutions to resolve the crisis: either the formation of a government of national unity in which all political movements take part, or early parliamentary elections," he said to an audience of followers on the taped message. "Come and let us form a national unity government. Nobody is raising arms; nobody is making a coup or popular revolution."
He also insisted that Hezbollah was not advocating violence or a power grab, adding, "Civil war is a red line; clashes are a red line."
While Nasrallah has won wide credibility for doing what he promises to do, it appeared he was mindful of the risks involved in taking to the streets and was looking to build so much pressure on the government that such a move would not become necessary.
The struggle for power in Lebanon took a new turn after the war with Israel ended in August, and Hezbollah emerged emboldened by its ability to survive the Israeli attack and to bloody Israeli forces. Hezbollah, a militant Islamic organization with a powerful political and aid operation, has pressed its case for changing the makeup of the government to include more of its allies, including the party of General Michel Aoun, a Christian.
But the governing March 14th coalition, a group of Sunni, Druse and Christian leaders that is allied with the West, has vowed not to give Hezbollah as much as it is asking for because that would put veto power for all government actions in the Hezbollah coalition's hands. Members of the governing coalition have said that would paralyze the government and give Syria and Iran undue influence in Lebanese affairs.
Though the conflict is a very domestic battle for power, it also has international component that could influence the future far beyond Lebanon's own border. The governing coalition is allied with the US and France, while Hezbollah is a close ally of Syria and Iran.
Throughout the conflict, each side has accused the other of being a puppet of foreign interests, while denying such accusations against itself. The White House recently issued a statement charging that Syria, Iran and Hezbollah were planning to bring down the government together.
Nasrallah addressed those charges directly, using his speech to insist that his goal was unity, not to empower Hezbollah, Syria or Iran.
The governing coalition has repeatedly accused Hezbollah of wanting to block the creation of an international tribunal to hear evidence in the assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Nasrallah denied that was the case.