Key Players in the Middle East Conflict
Updated Thu. Jul. 27 2006 8:04 AM ET
Bill Doskoch, CTV.ca NewsHassan Nasrallah, leader, Hezbollah
The 46-year-old leader's community sees him as a hero for leading resistance to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, which lasted from 1982 to 2000. The Shiite Muslim cleric has been secretary-general of Hezbollah since 1992.
The militant group has a force of about 5,000 fighters. Nasrallah's eldest son served as one and died in a 1997 firefight with Israeli forces.
Iran and Syria are strong supporters of Hezbollah.
According to a Globe and Mail
article, Nasrallah's office -- before Israeli air strikes destroyed it -- contained portraits of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini and his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The office did not contain a Lebanese flag.
Quote: "You wanted an open war and we are ready for an open war."Fuad Saniora, Prime Minister of Lebanon
The 63-year-old, born into a Sunni Muslim family, is a veteran of Lebanese politics and a banking and finance professional.
He was a close friend of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, slain in 2005. Both men shared a strong anti-Syrian stance. He is also close to Saad Hariri, Rafik's son and a politician himself.
President Emil Lahoud asked Saniora, who headed an anti-Syria coalition, to form a government following national elections in May and June, 2005.
Saniora isn't a supporter of Hezbollah and has urged them to return the two Israeli soldiers taken hostage on July 12, but his government is too weak to force Hezbollah to do anything. His cabinet includes two members of Hezbollah.
Quote: "Israel is imposing a collective punishment that does not have any moral or legal legitimacy."Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel
Olmert, 60, was a fellow Likud cabinet minister with Ariel Sharon, the legendary general turned prime minister responsible for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
The decision led to deep divisions within Likud. Olmert followed Sharon into a new party called Kadima, but then a stroke felled Sharon in January. He remains in a coma.
Olmert became acting prime minister and then won his own mandate in Israel's elections in late March.
As one of the most conflict-ridden parts of the world, being Israel's leader is never easy, but things got more complex when the Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas won parliamentary elections in a landslide, forming a government in late March.
Unlike most recent Israeli leaders, Olmert doesn't have any military leadership experience, and yet now he's dealing with two major security crises - the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier near the Gaza Strip on June 25, and the July 12 ambush and kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers near the Lebanon border.
Both the Palestinians and Hezbollah want to negotiate prisoner swaps, but to date, Olmert has refused.
Quote: "We shall seek out every installation, hit every terrorist helping to attack Israeli citizens, destroy all the terrorist infrastructure, in every place. We shall continue this until Hezbollah does the basic and fair things required of it by every civilized person."Mahmoud Abbas
Abbas became the Palestinian Authority's president in January 2005, after being selected to replace Yasir Arafat as chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
However, in the March parliamentary elections, the militant Islamic group Hamas won a very strong majority over his Fatah Party.
While he retains control over foreign policy as president and has good relations with the United States, Hamas runs the government on a day-to-day basis.
Palestinian militant groups, linked either directly or indirectly to Hamas, attacked an Israeli military outpost near the southern boundary of Gaza on June 25. They killed two soldiers and took a young corporal hostage.
The Israeli military response in Gaza has been fierce, as it has been in Lebanon.
Abbas warns the Lebanon situation is raising the possibility of a regional war.
Quote: "It is important to negotiate with Israel and work toward calming down the situation."Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria
Assad took power from his strongman father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000. On his watch, Syrian troops finally withdrew from Lebanon under strong international pressure stemming from the February 2005 assassination of popular former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Syrian politics are considered hard to read, but Assad is believed to be in the driver's seat while trying to maintain the loyalty of powerful institutions like the military and Baath Party.
However, Assad reportedly wasn't at a July 14 meeting of the Baath Party's national command, after which a communiqué supporting Lebanon and Hezbollah was issued.
While Syria has suppressed Islamist groups within its own borders, it is allies with Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militant group that dominates south Lebanon. Syria has said Hezbollah's demands for Israel to withdraw from occupied territory and give back Lebanese prisoners of war are just.
In addition, Syria hosts the top leaders of Hamas, the Islamic Palestinian militant organization.
Syria also enjoys good relations with Iran. Assad met with Iran's foreign minister on July 17 and told Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud that Lebanon had Syria's full support, and that any Lebanese refugees from Israeli attacks would be treated like Syrians.
Quote: Bashar hasn't spoken publicly on the crisis, but his Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said: "Any aggression against Syria will have a firm and direct response not limited in time or means."Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran
This hardline conservative populist became president of Iran in June 2005. He is fanatically anti-Israel and has made a number of inflammatory statements, including saying that Israel should be "wiped off the map."
He is a supporter of Syria, with his foreign minister meeting with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on July 17 to deliver a letter from Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad warned of a "crushing response" if Israel were to attack Syria.
With Hezbollah being a Shiite organization and Iran a Shiite nation, there is a clear bond. Iran provides financial support. Israel has accused Iran of funneling arms to Hezbollah through Syria. Both Iran and Syria have rejected the accusation.
Britain's The Sunday Times
reported in late April that Ahmadinejad met earlier this year with Imad Mugniyeh, commander of Hezbollah's overseas operations. He wanted Mugniyeh's help in planning strikes on Western targets if Iran were attacked over its controversial nuclear program.
Quote: "If the occupying regime of Jerusalem attacks Syria, it will be equivalent to an attack on the whole Islamic world and the regime (Israel) will face a crushing response."George W. Bush, President of the United States
Bush has been leader of the United States since early 2001. Since then, he's proposed the "road map" for peace in the Middle East that has since become very tattered.
In this crisis, Bush has rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire, saying Hezbollah started the conflict by kidnapping the two Israeli soldiers on July 12.
On July 17, in a private lunch conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the G8 summit in Russia, who largely supports the U.S. position, Bush appeared to think Syria could end the dispute if it simply put some pressure on Hezbollah.
On July 16, Bush said: "Our message to Israel is, look, defend yourself. But as you do so, be mindful of the consequences. So we've urged restraint."
Writing in the July 17 edition of The Globe and Mail,
Lebanese journalist Rami Khouri said the United States is "strangely marginal" in this dispute.
"Its policies have lined it squarely up with Israel. It has sanctioned, and thus cannot even talk to, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and it has pressured and threatened Syria for years without any real success."
Quote: "See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s--- and it's over."Condoleeza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice has been a key security and foreign policy player within the administration of President George W. Bush since 2001.
In Bush's first term, she was national security advisor. When his second term commenced, Bush named Rice as his secretary of state. She also served U.S. President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, between 1989 and 1991, as an advisor on German unification and the Soviet Union.
During her time in academia, Rice specialized in East European and Soviet foreign and defence policy. She has supported the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
During her July 24 visit to Beirut, she met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and Nabih Berri, speaker of Lebanon's Parliament.
However, she didn't meet directly with Hezbollah representatives (Berri is considered to have ties with Hezbollah).
The U.S. sees the marginalization and de-arming of Hezbollah, which it considers a terrorist organization, as a key to Middle East peace.
Quote: "Any peace is going to have to be based on enduring principles and not on temporary solutions."