Middle East In Focus
Six months after parliamentary elections, talks about the formation of a new government in Lebanon remain at an impasse. At the heart of the disagreement between the various political factions remains the role of Hezbollah in the government and the question of whether to include smaller Hezbollah-supported Sunni political parties. More broadly, Lebanon continues to remain a victim of larger geo-political movements which are unlikely to go away anytime soon.
In a recent article for Arab News, Najia Houssari cites Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who, on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the country’s independence, “told the Lebanese people in a national address that to be an independent nation, the homeland needs to be the master of its decisions and its land, and to be able to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in all issues relating to its national affairs. President Aoun’s speech came as hopes of forming a new government in Lebanon faded in light of Hezbollah’s insistence on the need to represent its six Sunni MPs in the government and the refusal of Saad Hariri, the prime minister-designate, to accept this demand.”
The political stalemate in Lebanon, according to Al Jazeera’s Asma Ajroudi, though a consistent feature of the Lebanese political system, owes much to current regional dynamics: “[I]n a country that recognizes 18 official religious sects, all with a stake in governance, cabinet selection is more about political representation than technocratic efficiency. The debate over the Sunni MPs, dubbed in Lebanon the ‘Sunni tangle’, is only the latest episode of political maneuvering that has defined the formation talks.... The ‘Sunni tangle’ is a microcosm of Lebanon's inter- and intra-sectarian politics, as well as entrenched foreign interests.... Some of these MPs are believed to have ties to Syria's regime, which Hezbollah has been fighting alongside during the country's civil war. With that conflict nearing an end, granting a cabinet seat to an affiliated MP could strengthen Damascus and Tehran's influence over Lebanese politics.”
Concern over Iranian interference in Lebanese politics is also evident in this editorial by Gulf News, which singles out Hezbollah in particular for its deleterious effect on the country’s political and economic situation: “For years, Arab states have complained of Iranian interference in their domestic affairs as well as fomenting sectarian strife in order to weaken Arab states. This is perhaps most evident in Lebanon where Hezbollah continues to do Iran’s bidding. The sanctions have constituted a challenge to the Iranian leadership, and the party wants to show that it holds sway in the country. Of course, it comes at the expense of the Lebanese people who continue to suffer because of Hezbollah’s antics. The militant group must put politics aside and work in the interest of the country it claims to represent. For far too long, it has carried out destructive policies in Lebanon, which have effectively rendered the government powerless and restricted its abilities to deal with long-standing and pressing issues that the country is grappling with.”
Asharq Alawsat columnist Eyad Abu Shakra delves a bit deeper into the economic challenges related to the current impasse, while managing to find a silver living: “Given his incessant talk about the economy, [PM Saad] Hariri seems to be obsessed with the worrying economic situation, which is why he wants to form a government that receives and manages the promised and much-needed international aid, in the hope that it saves Lebanon from an economic collapse.... In the meantime, the Lebanese continue to wait for the formation of the new cabinet around five months after the general elections in early May. Many would rather be optimistic, even with few encouraging signs that the future will be better than the present. One of those is none other than PM Hariri. Enjoying the much hoped for economic well-being may become a common denominator that brings the Lebanese together.”
Criticizing Hezbollah for its destabilizing effect in Lebanon and more broadly in the region, The National’s editorial suggests that the militia-cum-party’s influence may start to fade as the attention of the international community turns to Hezbollah’s alleged involvement in the drug trade: “Layer by layer, Hezbollah’s thin veneer of political legitimacy is being torn away, exposing a corrupt organization as steeped in the worst excesses of the global drugs trade as it is embroiled in the export of Iranian-inspired terror.... With the trial in Paris of a Lebanese crime ring accused of trafficking cocaine for a Colombian cartel, and laundering the profits to buy weapons for the group in Syria, the world will see the inner machinations of Hezbollah in all their sordid, callous detail.... It is clear that the world’s patience with Hezbollah is running out. This month, a fresh wave of sanctions was announced in Washington, targeting among others Jawad Nasrallah, the son of the organization leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and Al Mujahidin Brigades, a military group in Palestine with ties to Hezbollah.”
Not that Lebanon’s neighbors are standing by in the meantime. Underscoring the volatility of the situation in Lebanon and the possible consequences of Hezbollah’s incendiary rhetoric, Jerusalem Post’s Anna Ahronheim reports that specialized Israeli military forces are preparing for the possibility of a two-front war against Hamas and Hezbollah: “Commando units of the military are currently in a 10-day-long drill to improve their preparedness for a two-front war, the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit announced Saturday night. The cross-country exercise will see troops from the Maglan, Egoz and Duvdevan units training in a variety of scenarios, including fighting on two different fronts – in the Gaza Strip against Hamas and in the north of the country against Hezbollah. The exercise includes broad cooperation with the Israel Air Force, including the launching of strikes in close proximity to troops. During the exercise, troops also practiced the transition between fronts and combat zones, as well as fighting in both open and urban areas.”