Will Hizballah Attack U.N. Troops?

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Lebanon failed to elect a President Tuesday, continuing its drive along the abyss. A new parliamentary session is set for October 23, with the hope that a two-thirds quorum can finally be assembled by then to choose a successor to outgoing President Emile Lahoud. But his term runs out on November 24, and the chances of finding a compromise candidate, sources in Hizballah tell me, are nil.

The same sources tell me that Hizballah will never compromise with the March 14 movement, which it considers an American puppet. The March 14 movement is a political bloc that has promised to disarm Hizballah and take to trial the murderers of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The same Hizballah sources told me that an interim administration that shares any part of the March 14 agenda is also not acceptable to Hizballah, which controls a third of the seats in the parliament.

How determined is Hizballah to block the election of a President? "We will do whatever it takes to keep a pro-American President from coming to office," Hizballah said.

What that means is that aside from refusing the two-thirds quorum needed to elect a President in parliament, Hizballah is considering an attack on the French U.N. contingent in southern Lebanon. The aim of such a move would no only be to convince the French to stop meddling in Lebanon, but also to serve as a response to France's implicit threat to bomb Iran if Iran does not stop its nuclear development.

Hizballah has no obligation to tell me the truth, but I have little doubt that if provoked it would turn over the table and plunge Lebanon into another civil war. Hizballah is stronger than the Lebanese army, and its threats are not idle.

During the last 25 years the indelible red line for Hizballah has been keeping its arms. It says it needs them to drive the last Israeli forces out of Lebanon — a small slice of land called the Sheba Farms — and force Israel to release its remaining Lebanese prisoners of war. But it's more than that. Hizballah's military is its raison d'etre. If Hizballah gives up its arms, it is just another party in the dog's breakfast of Lebanese politics.

Israel's September 6 bombing of Syria has further incited Hizballah. "They hit something, but, come on, it wasn't nuclear," a Hizballah source said, refuting rumors in the press the Israelis had hit some sort of North Korean nuclear shipment going to Syria.

Hizballah didn't offer any evidence, but they believe the September 6 Israeli strike was an attack on a missile shipment — and possibly a prelude to an Israeli attack on Iran and Hizballah.

None of it bodes well for the election of a President — and that's about the one thing the American Embassy in Beirut and Hizballah agree on. On September 24 the embassy issued a warning to Americans living in Lebanon that the potential for violence is high.

Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is TIME.com's intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down.