Last week Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement, led by Speaker Nabih Berri, announced the suspension of their boycott of the Najib Mikati cabinet. In October, they started the sanction with the demand to remove Tarek Bitar, the special investigator, from the August 4, 2020, Beirut Port explosion investigation.
Both Amal and Hezbollah have justified their backtracking to serve the public good as their boycott of the cabinet meetings have obstructed the discussion and passing of the country’s budget. Talks are needed to obtain loans from the international community and the International Monetary Fund.
Yet, a proper and sober analysis of Hezbollah’s decision reveals a sinister and pragmatic reason for the resumption of the cabinet. Far from their so-called commitment to serve constituents, it is nothing but a cover for regional developments, specifically the US-Iranian nuclear talks. The Biden administration catalyzed the Levant gas basin discussions, and are also a factor.
Coincidently, Hezbollah and Amal consented to return to the cabinet meetings a few days after announcing that Lebanon would receive natural gas from Jordan and Egypt, obtained from Israeli gas deposits.
While all sides involved have denied the deal’s conclusion, the evidence suggests that Hezbollah has no issues with this. It is happy to have things achieved through its ally and parliament speaker Berri. The group can easily weasel their way out of anything it doesn’t like.
Both Amal and Hezbollah employed this tactic under the Trump administration when they reached out to the United States to jumpstart their mediation efforts, which had stalled with Israel to resolve the dispute over the disputed blocks 8 and 9.
The US effort was dead in the water after the Lebanese side put forward specific demands. Israel dismissed them as being unrealistic. Hezbollah already knew a collapse between all sides would happen. That was its aim.
As things stand, the landscape has changed with US efforts now led by America’s Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein.
It has put more pressure on Lebanon, mainly after awarding the contract for these contested oil fields to Halliburton.
Consequently, Berri, as he did on the maritime border talks, has decided to engage the Israelis and hope that these events peter out on their own.
Suppose one is to put aside the shady gas dealings. In that case, Hezbollah’s and Amal’s return to the cabinet meetings also stems from the High Judicial Council, which oversees the judiciary, being in limbo after one of its members reached the legal age of retirement, preventing the council from convening.
Thus, Hezbollah can continue to derail justice and place more pressure on and bully Tarek Bitar, who thus far has not faltered in his pursuit for justice for the victims of the port explosion.
Nevertheless, the return of the cabinet meetings does not change much from the crisis at hand as the Lebanese economy is beyond salvaging, and the voodoo economics of the Mikati government, along with the wheeling and dealing of the governor of the central bank is far removed from good economic reform.
The proposed budget that Mikati will put forth is laden with taxation that exempts the oligarchs from the burden of recovery. It is the poor that become the primary victims of these so-called reforms.
In reality, neither Hezbollah nor its principal ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, led by President Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil will never endorse the budget. To do so will expose them to a supporter base that may take votes elsewhere, something they must avoid at any cost.
The sequence of events that is seeing the country buying gas from Israel has further exposed the hypocrisy of Hezbollah and the Lebanese political elite that it protects.
Buying time and wagering on the nuclear talks in Vienna will do nothing for the Lebanese. It simply further draws them deeper into the quicksand that years of corruption. Only the foolish believe that Lebanon is too big to fail.