Hezbollah's Ascent in Lebanon: How Worried Should We Be?

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Protests have broken out in Lebanon following the parliament's nomination of a new prime minister backed by Hezbollah. Najib Miqati, a billionaire and former prime minister, will replace Lebanon's U.S.-backed leader Saad Hariri. The rise of a Hezbollah-backed candidate marks the "generation-long ascent of the Shiite Muslim movement from shadowy militant group to the country’s pre-eminent political and military force," reports The New York Times. Should the U.S., who considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, be worried?

  • A Sign of America's Declining Influence, writes Anthony Shadid at The New York Times: "Hezbollah’s success served as a stark measure of the shifting constellation of power in this part of the Middle East, where the influence of the United States and its Arab allies — Egypt and Saudi Arabia — is seen by politicians and diplomats as receding, while Iran and Syria have become more assertive."
The emergence of a government led by allies of Iran and Syria would almost certainly set Lebanon on a collision course with the U.S. and its key allies, particularly over the fate of a U.N.-sponsored tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, a former Lebanese Prime Minister. Hizballah, in the expectation that some of its members will be indicted by the tribunal, two weeks ago withdrew from the present government led by Hariri's son, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, forcing its collapse. Hariri had defied Hizballah's demand that his government cease cooperation with the tribunal.
  • The U.S. Response  "Ultimately, the makeup of the future government of Lebanon is a Lebanese decision," says State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "We'll see what the final makeup of the Lebanese government is, and then we'll evaluate what that means in our terms of our relationship... The larger the role played by Hezbollah in this government, the more problematic our relationship will be."
  • The Domino Theory Redux  "Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact,"writes J. E. Dyer at Commentary, "but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s."
  • This Is How Democracy Works, writes Andrew Exum at the Center for a New American Security:
Hizballah and its allies control the most seats in the Lebanese parliament, so they have the constitutional right to nominate whoever the hell they like to be the prime minister. In that way, Najib Miqati is as or more legitimate a choice to be the prime minister as/than any of the prime ministers during the 30-year Syrian occupation. And after spending Lebanon's first 50 or so years as its most underrepresented and ignored major sect, the fact that the Shia are now exercising political power in line with their demographic strength is not in and of itself a bad thing.
  • Let's Not Blow This Out of Proportion, writes Daniel Larison at The American Conservative: "There’s no question that Hizbullah is ascendant in Lebanon right now, but all of this is worth keeping in mind. It should help temper wild claims about Hizbullah’s dominance and an “Iranian government” in Beirut:

* In the Lebanese system, the office of prime minister has to be filled by a Sunni.

** The new PM actually ran on Hariri’s list in 2009.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.