Hezbollah's Gambit in Lebanon

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The Lebanese government has collapsed after Hezbollah and its allies resigned their seats in the cabinet, leaving it without a governing majority. Hezbollah had threatened to resign over an ongoing United Nations investigation that is expected to blame the group for the 2005 bombing that killed then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. His son Saad Hariri, the current prime minister, refuses to condemn the investigation as Hezbollah demands. Here's what Lebanon-watchers are saying about this developing political crisis and what it means for the country.

  • Hezbollah's Mission to Dominate Lebanon  Thanassis Cambanis writes in the New York Times that this is "the final stage in Hezbollah’s rise from resistance group to ruling power. While Hezbollah technically remains the head of the political opposition in Beirut, make no mistake: the Party of God has fully consolidated its control in Lebanon, and will stop at nothing--including civil war--to protect its position." However, "Hezbollah cannot afford the blow to its popular legitimacy that would occur if it is pinned with the Hariri killing. The group's power depends on the unconditional backing of its roughly 1 million supporters. Its constituents are the only audience that matters to Hezbollah."
  • Can Lebanese People Resist Hezbollah?  The Council on Foreign Relations' Elliott Abrams writes that "the majority of Lebanese who oppose Hizballah, and who are mostly Maronite Catholics, Druze, and Sunni, must demonstrate that they have the will to keep their country from complete domination by the Shia terrorist group. This is asking quite a bit, to be sure, but Lebanese should have learned from the impact of their March 14, 2005 demonstrations that world support can be rallied and their opponents can pushed back. But they must take the lead." He concludes, "Those who wish Lebanon well must also hope that its political leaders and its populace show the considerable courage that this crisis demands of them."
  • Dilemma for Hezbollah and Its Sponsor, Syria  "Neither Hizbullah nor Syria is pleased with what is going on," The Beirut Daily Star's Michael Young writes. "For the party, all the contentious means of crippling the tribunal have grave shortcomings. A serious political or security escalation would only harden discord at a moment when Hizbullah’s primary goal is to show that Lebanon is united in its rejection of the special tribunal. As for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, if he pushes too hard, he may lose for good the Lebanese Sunni card, which he has worked for years to regain. Hariri alone can issue Hizbullah with a certificate of innocence, and if the prime minister decides to sit the coming period out of office, it is difficult to see how any opposition-led government would function properly."
  • No Good Options for U.S. Here, The New York Times' Mark Landler and Robert Worth explain: "In contrast to the Iranian case, where the Obama administration doggedly stitched together a sanctions campaign that it claims has delayed Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb, the United States has fewer options in Lebanon." While the U.S. supports Hariri and opposes Hezbollah, there's not much they can actually do. "The American role has largely been confined to advising Mr. Hariri to stand firm in his support for the tribunal."
  • Hezbollah's Distorted View of Itself  The Center for New American Security's Andrew Exum points out that Hezbollah is in part motivated by a misguided sense of "insecurity." While the group is very powerful, it "sees itself as so very weak." He explains, "To an outsider, Hizballah looks like the big bully in Lebanon--which it most certainly is. But from within the organization, all many can see are enemies: Saudi Arabia, Israel, March 14th, the United States, etc. Just because you're paranoid does not mean people are not out to get you, and we know that Hizballah's domestic enemies have conspired with forces outside Lebanon to weaken Hizballah's standing."
  • How This Might End  "In the end, and this may well have been Hezbollah's intention," predicts Steven Heydemann in Foreign Policy, "the collapse of the government could pave the way for an exit from the current stalemate." In the short term, "A new Lebanese Prime Minister-with Saudi and Syrian backing-concedes to Hezbollah's demands and rejects the findings of the Special Tribunal, while a neutered Hariri and his supporters rail against the injustice from the back benches of Lebanese Parliament." This would "avoid outright bloodshed" and "reinforce [the UN tribunal's] already politicized image in the Arab world." In the long term, "It would decisively consolidate Hezbollah's standing as Lebanon's dominant political force, and signal with a whimper rather than a bang, the final demise of Lebanon's Cedar Revolution."

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